Chapter Thirty: Fate's a Funny Thing
AN: Summary and disclaimer found with prologue.
Well guys, this is it. Last chapter of Phantoms and Slayers. Of course, that doesn’t mean it all over yet. I mean, I can’t leave it this way, can I? Well, I could.... :-)
Anyway, special thanks time:
NosiParker, FaithDaria, Ash, MuseInspiration, Lulubell, meekster, Keshkreature, Rizka, Tally, Naitch, JoeDineen, Valkyrie, FireDragon, aja, and grd.
If I forgot anyone, please forgive me. I really appreciate you guys taking time out to review and can’t thank all of you guys who do enough. It just makes my day when you guys do, so, thank you.
Also, special thanks to my ever lovely and talented beta, Charlotte. Thank you again sweetie.
Oh, and the formate is a little weird, but remember time passes differently in the two dimensions. So, the whole chapter takes place a the same time, but it's been about a week for Ben and Anakin, but it's the same night for Qui-Gon and Buffy. Just to clear that up before I start getting emails about. Okay, then, enjoy the last of Phantoms and Slayers.
Fate’s a Funny Thing
Obi-Wan stood in the center of the Jedi Council, his hands held stiffly behind his back with squared shoulders and lifted chin. His straight ahead gaze wasn’t locked onto anything in particular as he spoke, which really wasn’t unusual since that was how most Jedi delivered their reports to the Council, but there was still something about the gaze that was unsettling. Or perhaps it was more of the completely detached way he spoke as he reported his last mission and how his former Master and current partner both disappeared along with the creature he only knew as George. Then again, the detachment and apparent utter acceptance of the situation was a trait that the Jedi cultivate within themselves their entire lives, and Obi-Wan was close to mastering it.
Once he was finished, Mace uncrossed his legs and sat a little straighter in his seat, while Yoda brought his small, clawed fingers to rest against the edge of his lips.
“Positive, you are, that they are gone?” the small Jedi Master asked, though he already knew the answer. They all felt the stark absence of Qui-Gon Jinn’s presence in the Force, and the more powerful and focused Masters could also sense that Buffy’s smaller, more erratic signature was missing as well, but he still had to ask for the records sake.
Obi-Wan blinked and focused his gaze on Yoda. “Yes, Master. I am sure. I -.” He drew in a deep breath and held it momentarily. “I can no longer sense them. Either of them. And neither can Anakin.”
And those words finalized it. If neither Anakin nor Obi-Wan could sense either one of them through their bonds, than they simply weren’t there to sense.
It had always been thought that only death could fully sever a bond as thoroughly as he was describing, but both Anakin and Obi-Wan had insisted that they had not sensed either Master Qui-Gon or Buffy’s demise. They were simply...gone. As if they had vanished off the face of the universe. Which, if Obi-Wan were honest, should only be expected from Buffy. She always did know how to make an entrance and an even more spectacular exit.
Yoda sighed sadly and shook his head. “Heavy, this makes my heart, to not know. So very sad it is.”
A loud silence hung in the room momentarily as a comradery of grief and respect was shared for the two lost. Buffy and Qui-Gon might have caused trouble for the Council, they may have questioned them continuously and often disobeyed orders, but they were allies and friends and very good at what they did.
“Missed, their presences shall be,” Yoda said, as if following along with Obi-Wan’s thoughts.
Obi-Wan pressed his lips. There were still other matters to be dealt with. “What will happen to Anakin, Master?” The question was not asked gently or out of sympathy for the boy, it was flat and out of concerned curiosity to his fate.
Master Windu was the first to speak. “What of him?”
Obi-Wan decided to phrase his question in a slightly different way. “What will be done with him?”
“He has lost his Master,” Master Ydra said. “His fate will be the same as other padawans who lose theirs.”
Obi-Wan frowned. The same as the others. At Anakin’s age that meant there would a very small window of opportunity for another Jedi to take him as their padawan and he could only stay their learner if the bond between them took. If no one chose him, or their bond did not form, he would be shipped off to become a farmer. Considering that most in the Order thought Anakin was too old and to unpredictable in even join the Order in the first place, Obi-Wan did not foresee many willing to take him, especially after they hear of what he did in that Gython’s office. Then again, Obi-Wan also knew there was an even smaller margin for those who Anakin would be willing let become his new Master anyway.
Far too headstrong. Just like his sister.
There was something that Obi-Wan was in the position to do, or at least try to. The Council would not let him most likely, considering their shared background, but he had to try. It was what his Master would have most likely wished.
Preparing himself for another long conversation, Obi-Wan pulled his shoulders back and looked squarely at Master Yoda. “I wish to take Anakin as my new padawan.”
Faith sat on the arm of Giles’ couch, her arms crossed as she watched the Scoobies closely.
Buffy - who Faith decided she was going to call B - was sitting one in Giles’ ‘good’ chairs, her legs curled into her body and her head resting on the back of it. There were bruises and burn marks starting to really color on her neck and face, but she didn’t really seem to notice them. B’s attention was too focused on those around her.
To say B had been shocked when she realized that it was actually Angel there to greet her would be such a great understatement that it would be a bit like saying the Grand Canyon was just a little hole in the ground. Then, as if to top that, her surprise had gone up several notches when she realized that she was actually in Sunnydale. Her friends were the ones that had sent that demon George guy to find her, and that they were all waiting back at Giles’ for her to come home. After that, B had just sort of gone into shock. Sure, she spoke and was telling them what had happened to her since she been gone, but the fact that she was really there hadn’t seemed to have caught up with her yet; unlike the tall man she had introduced as Master Qui-Gon - whom Faith had also given a nickname - who seemed to be taking everything in alright.
Xander was sitting next to Faith, his eyes trained on the blonde curled up in Giles’ chair. It was like he fully expected B to disappear into thin air right in front them if he looked away. And, really, being on top of the Hellmouth meant that was possible, just not likely. Usually.
Red sat on the other end, staring at her friend in a similar manner, though there was something more sympathetic to her. She kept glancing down at B’s hands, like she wanted to reach for one of them but was too scared or too unsure whether she should. B wasn’t exactly giving off that ‘hey, I’m glad to be back, let’s all hug’ vibe they had all seemed to have expected, so Red was at a loss as to what to do. Though she seemed to have decided that just sitting near her and listening would be the best thing. That way she would be close enough just in case hugs were needed.
From her seat across from Buffy’s, Cordelia looked torn between actual interest and sympathy, and the blatant want to get the hell out of there and back to LA. Though, judging by the intense way Angel was staring at B, that was going to be awhile.
“So, George just showed up and took your friend...O-B-Juan?” Willow asked in careful disbelief.
Faith didn’t know why she sounded so surprise. They had dealt with a demon, something they all knew better than to do. Most lied, cheated, and stole to get what they wanted, kind of like politicians, a little kidnapping and attempted murder wasn’t anything big to them.
B grinned lightly. “Obi-Wan. And yeah. He did a whole Limberg baby thing and everything.”
“I’m rather afraid to ask, but then what happened?” Giles asked, leaning forward to rest his arms on his legs. He had moved a dinning room chair next to B’s and was now close enough to be considered invading her personal space. Faith could tell he had been itching to take his glasses off and clean, but had managed to resist the urge so far.
B glanced at him and then back at Master Q, though what exactly he was supposedly a Master of Faith hadn’t figured out yet. He nodded back and answered Giles’ question.
“My apprentice and I arrived shortly after Obi-Wan went missing and went to assist Buffy in her rescue mission.”
“And she went in with a half-baked plan and a prayer that strangely seemed to work, right?” Xander asked. Master Q seemed surprised and yet not at that and nodded his head. Turning his attention back to his friend, Xander flashed a bright smile and said, “That’s our Buffster. Our Lady of Luck.”
“Okay, I’m not saying I don’t believe,” Cordelia said, though her tone sounded like she didn’t, “but why go through all that? I mean, hello, he was your big ticket home. Why not just go up to your door and say ‘Hey, your friends got me to look for you in this crazy hell dimension and I can take you home. Come on’?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because Georg-y was trying to run a scam or whatever with the Gythons and knew I couldn’t let him do that, even if that meant not getting back to you guys. Or maybe he was just a jerk.” Sighing, Buffy drew her knees up closer to her chest and touched her head as if she had a headache. “And I wasn’t in a hell dimension. I mean, yeah, it had some pretty wiggy stuff and evil demons like Palpy but, you know, no lake o’ fire or eternal torment or anything like that. Though.” She glanced back at Master Q. “Some of those meetings with the Council felt like it.”
He grinned his agreement. “Our dimension does have its share of problems, but I assure you that it is not a hell dimension.”
Red frowned and glanced at the others. “But that girl Lily said -.”
“Lily was with me with the Gythons,” Buffy said. “They made you think you were in hell, but it wasn’t real.”
The room once again turned silent, each member of the Scooby Gang shifting uncomfortably in their seats. They had done all of this because what that girl Angel had found in LA had said, and now it turned out she wasn’t even right. Faith barely knew Angel really - he had only sporadically come back to Sunnyd over the past year to fill the Scoobies in on new leads in finding B and to help them when the Mayor tried to make Sushi bar out of the graduating class of 1999 - but she knew him well enough to know that he would have never called up Georg-y to get B out in such a hurry if he knew she wasn’t actually in a hell dimension. They would have planned. They would have done recon or some shit like that. They wouldn’t have put their trust in some mercenary demon and put rush on the order on top of that if they knew. If Angel knew.
“I’m sorry, Buffy,” Angel said quietly. “I’m so sorry you and your friends had to go through that.”
She smiled weakly at him, but only spared him the briefest of glances. “It’s okay. You didn’t know. Besides, I belong here, right?”
“She’s right,” Willow said. “We didn’t know. And this is her home.”
Faith wasn’t sure who she was trying to convince more. Angel or herself.
“Hey, I think the record will show I officially thought it was a bad idea to trust the demon that looked like he lost a fight to a lawnmower,” Xander said.
Willow threw him a sharp look, as did Giles. Cordelia, however, was more vocal. “No one asked you, Snack Boy.”
Oh, great. Here they go again. Faith was just glad Xander had left Anya at home, or else this probably would get really messy.
Xander opened his mouth to reply, but Willow beat him too it. “Guys! Not. Now.” She pointed at each one of them in turn and her ‘resolve’ face firmly in place. Xander and Cordy both glowered at one another for a moment, but didn’t say anything more.
Faith was surprised and impressed.
“Way to go, Red,” Faith said, nodding.
B too was surprised and delighted. “Look at you, all ‘I am Willow, hear me roar’.”
Blushing, she said, “I’ve gotten some practice in over the past year you’ve been gone.”
The other Slayer froze. “Year?” she repeated, not sounding like she believed. Judging by the expression on Master Q’s face, he didn’t seem to understand that word either.
The Scoobies once more exchanged glances. Finally Giles spoke. “You’ve been missing for the past eighteen months, Buffy.”
She blinked and turned back to Qui-Gon. “Eighteen months... I’ve only been gone a year and half.”
“Only?” Xander repeated.
Understanding finally dawning on her, Willow said, “Time moves differently in different dimensions, remember. Angel was gone only for a few months and when he came back it had been over a hundred years for him.”
B’s eyes flickered over to Angel. She had been curious about what he was doing here from the moment she realized that she was back in her home dimension, but with all the questions they had bombarded her with, she had hardly had the chance to ask. Now she had the chance, but Angel wasn’t going to let her have it just yet. Besides, that was probably a private conversation anyway.
And of course this was the moment someone had to show up at Giles’ door. Who the hell would be coming here this late at night? Xander must have ordered a pizza or something, which sounded pretty good to Faith at the moment. Revealing a painful past should never be done on an empty stomach.
When no one got up to open the door, Faith rolled her eyes and stood up. “Yeah, don’t get up. I’ll get it.”
“How long was it for you?” Angel asked, ignoring Faith as she walked by.
She barely heard B’s reply of, “Longer.”
Opening the door, Faith found that it wasn’t the pizza man Xander - or probably Giles - had called. “Where is she? Is she here? Where is she?
Much like her daughter, Joyce froze for a moment, staring over Faith’s shoulder and into the living room. Her hand then drifted upwards to cover her mouth as her eyes widened to near comical size. With strength Faith didn’t know she had, Joyce pushed past her and was heading straight for her oncoming daughter.
They met somewhere between the doorway and the living room in a tangled mess of hugs and sobs. The two women clung to one another tightly, B’s arms clenched around her mother’s neck while Joyce cried thankful prayers to whoever might be listening. It was only then that Faith noticed Joyce was the only one crying. Buffy was glad to see her mother, that was easy to see by the way she held onto her and the savoring relief look on her face, but there were no tears of joy on her part. Faith didn’t know if she respected B more for that since girly crying was never something Faith thought was necessary no matter the reason, or if she hated her a little for it because Joyce was a damn good lady and mom to them all. If anyone deserved a few tears, it’d be her.
In the end, Faith decided it was a little of both.
The moons were full that night on Coruscant, but their light was hardly useful. Unlike the skies of other planets, the darkness wasn’t littered with billions of stars, but dotted by ships of all kinds that were coming in, going out, or simply racing from one side of the planet to the other. It was the beauty of a city at night, different from the beauty found in the country or deserts, but there was still something breathtaking about if one knew how to look.
Palpatine stood at the wall window behind his desk, staring out into the Coruscant night. Well, that small business excursion with that...creature certainly did not turn out as well as he had hoped. Yes, the idea was sound - dark creatures which the Jedi could not sense would most certainly have been useful to him in his upcoming plan, even if they were a bit unpredictable - but the execution was sloppy and ill-planned. No matter what that thing George said, he under estimated his enemy and failed because of that. There would be no army of dark Jedi willing to do his bidding and, worse still, the Jedi were now aware of the creatures called vampires’ presences in the universe. They would be far more cautious now in regards to them and not so blindly wander into their traps like Master Pei. That really was too bad. Vampires could have been of real use to him, but his plan had no real dire need for them. They would have just been a nice...bonus.
Well, no need to cry over spilt blue milk.
That things little debauchery did prove to be beneficial. Not one but two thorns in his side had been removed and now the path to the Chosen One was that much clearer for him. No sister to protect him. No Jedi Master to stand in his way. Only one Jedi, hardly into his third year of Knighthood and with no experience training a Padawan. Oh, yes, this is far too easy. Pity really, Palpatine was almost going to miss the challenge Ms. Summers and Master Qui-Gon posed. Almost.
And he would be seeing her again, in time. He knew this as well as he knew that one day Anakin Skywalker will call him Master. Only, the next time he saw her, she would be doing the same. And, now knowing who she was, that brought a smile to Palpatine’s face. Oh, yes, George was an idiot, but the information he gave him was something much more valuable than Palpatine had ever dreamed. Thanks to it, he would soon he have his own Vampire Slayer bowing at his feet. And that was going to be a truly great day.
Anakin lay in his bed, his knees drawn up as he played with the pendent between his fingers. The soft, overhead lights reflected harshly off the mirror-like metal, scattering bright spots on his face and the wall behind him. The still too long chain was wrapped around the palm of his hand and one of his fingers, while the latched section pooled on his chest.
Buffy would have killed him for getting so many fingerprints on the surface and not wiping them off. She had always been a bit compulsive when it came to the piece of jewelry, but Anakin didn’t think it really mattered now. She was gone and he could get as many fingerprints on the cross as he wished. It was his now, after all. She had left it, just like she had him, so now it was officially his since there really wasn’t anyone else to take it. Maybe his mother, but he wasn’t ever going to get to see her again either to give it to her, so it was his.
Anakin wasn’t sure really what happened to most rest of her belongings. All he knew was that the apartment had been emptied and, aside from a small box of belongings Obi-Wan had given to him, it was almost as if Buffy had never even existed. Her or Master Qui-Gon, whose things had disappeared from the apartment shortly after their arrival home. Not that he had much, nothing like the amount of stuff Buffy had, but everything was gone all the same. The Order seemed to have taken to the idea that his sister and his former Master no longer existed, so none of them should think any more on them. Let it go and move on.
Even Obi-Wan agreed with them. Since he had found Anakin in the workers pit and told him what had happened, he had hardly spoken to Anakin about either Buffy or Qui-Gon. They were gone. They could not rescue them. This was beyond all control of the Jedi or anyone else in the universe. They had no choice but to bow to the will of the Force and let their fate unfold as it willed. That was what the Jedi believed and that was why Anakin should accept it without a fight.
Though Anakin couldn’t admit it even to himself, but somewhere locked deep inside him, he hated them all a bit for that. They just gave up. They were not going to look for them. They were not going to try and help them get home. They just...accepted it.
It wasn’t right. No matter what they told him, he knew it wasn’t. There was always hope until he said otherwise, until he gave up. Buffy had taught him that. She never gave up. Not when she knew there was something she could still be doing. Not when she knew that she could still be fighting to save those she cared about.
And it was then that Anakin decided that he would be the same way. There might not be anything he could do now, but someday, when he was older and stronger and more powerful, he would fight for those he loved and he would never willing accept them being taken from him again.
The sun was just rising when Buffy and her mother arrived home. It was a dim, cool November morning, and nothing much had changed since that day in May when she had snuck into her own home, packed her clothes and few belongings, and left Sunnydale. She thought for forever. Her mother hadn’t wanted her anymore and, after what she had done to Angel, she couldn’t be here anyway. Then when she was trapped in the other dimension, she knew she would never see her home again. Buffy never gave up hope that she might, but she knew it was unlikely. Still, she had made friends, made herself a new family, and being trapped there with Anakin and Ben and Shmi and Qui-Gon made being there for the rest of her life not sound like such a horrible idea any more. But forever turned out to only be a few years and she was home now.
Despite herself, Buffy grinned. Home was where the Hellmouth is.
The house was the same. Her room was the same. The fleeting thought that it was like she had died passed through her mind. She had never thought her mother to be one of those women who kept their kid’s rooms like a shrine if they were killed young, but, then again, that was something she had never seen her mother deal with. Who knew how someone was going to react until it actually happened to them.
“We’ll go and buy you some more clothes later if you want,” her mother said, peering into her rather bare closet.
Buffy had forgotten how many of her clothes she had taken with her when she left. It seemed stupid now for her to have taken so much, most of it had been stolen from her one night while she was at work anyway. She didn’t know what happened to the rest of it. Knowing her old landlord, he probably just threw it all out.
“Yeah, that sounds great,” Buffy said, wandering over to the edge of her bed and sitting down.
Mr. Gordo was still sitting in front of her pillows, his black button eyes staring straight ahead into nothing. With a small smile, she reached over, picked up the stuffed pig, and clutched him to her chest. She was glad she hadn’t taken him with her. She missed him and was glad to have him back.
She barely caught the laugh in her throat. Oh, what would Anakin think if he could see her now?
“Hey,” Joyce said, sitting down next to her. Wrapping her arm around her shoulders, she asked, “Are you okay?”
Buffy’s smile was a little too bright. “I’m fine. Just...tired. And still kind of in shock, I guess.” The grin slipped from her face and she looked back down at Mr. Gordo. “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”
Pushing some of Buffy’s hair behind her ear, Joyce sighed and said, “I know. I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again either. But you’re home now. That’s all that matters.”
With a quick kiss, Joyce stood up and brushed her hands over her damp cheeks. Buffy had even realized she had been crying again.
“Are you hungry? Do you want some breakfast?” her mother asked. “I have stuff for cereal. Or eggs and toast. Or...well, that’s really it. No one eats breakfast here and there’s no real need to buy a bunch of stuff when it’s just me.”
“No, I’m fine,” Buffy said. “I think I just want to sleep for awhile. Okay?”
“Oh. Okay,” Joyce said with a nod. “If you want to get cleaned up, there’s some fresh towels in the linen closet. And I could - .”
“Mom!” Standing up quickly, Buffy took two large steps and took her mother by the shoulders. “Breathe, okay.”
Drawing a deep breath, Joyce still for a moment and let it out slowly. “I know. I’m trying too hard. I’m just...” Bringing her hands up, she cupped Buffy’s face. “If I close my eyes, you’re not going to disappear on me again. Are you?”
“No, Mom,” she said, taking hold of her wrist. “I’m all Houdini-ed out. I just want to sleep is all.”
“Okay. I trust you.” She kissed Buffy’s forehead, then let her go and headed out of her room. Buffy was halfway back to her bed when Joyce said from the doorway, “And, Buffy. Houdini was an escape artist. David Copperfield is the one that makes things disappear.”
“I thought he was an orphan that liked to beg for more food.” The look on her face was completely serious, throwing Joyce for a moment until the small smile started to play on her lips. Laughing, she shook her head and left her daughter alone in her room.
Buffy sat there a moment, staring at the door her mother had shut. There was some silly poster pinned to the back of it. It seemed so childish now, most of her room did. Maybe when she wasn’t so tired and her head didn’t hurt so badly she would do a little redecorating. Right now, all she cared about was curling into her bed and sleeping for say the next ten months of her life.
That was the good thing about being home. She got her nice, comfy bed back. Yeah, she had gotten used to the one back in her apartment, but still nothing really compared to this one. Well, maybe that one in Padmé’s palace. And that one in the sweet she and Ben stayed in on Alderaan was pretty nice. But this was her bed and she was glad to be back in it.
She just hoped that Giles’ couch wasn’t going to be too painful for Qui-Gon. She remembered when Giles fell asleep on it once and came to school all bent-over and complainy because of it. Then again, she had seen the Jedi Master sleep on a steel bench before and wake-up perfectly refreshed. A few stray springs shouldn’t be that much of a problem for him.
After pulling off Anakin’s boots and Ben’s jacket, she pulled back the covers and slipped between them. If she let herself think about it, she did feel dirty and knew that her clothes were filthy and messing up her sheets, but she was too tired to think about it.
There were a lot of things she was too tired to think about, really. Things like what she was going to do now that she back home on top of the good old Hellmouth? Was she going to have to start patrolling with Faith now? Were her friends back home alright? Was Giles going to make her do a total recount for his Watcher friends? What was Palpy going to do now that she and Qui-Gon were gone? Did Angel just expect them to pick where they left off? Would the Council come down from their Ivory Tower and do something if he tried something? Did she want too? Was Anakin okay? What was Qui-Gon going to do here? Was Ben? Did she have to go back to high school?
Even with her eyes closed, Buffy sneered at the thought. Great, she just got rid of one short, evil man with a Napoleon complex, now she gets go back to school and deal with another one. Wait, didn’t Xander hint that something happened to him? Something to do with a giant snake, wasn’t it? She couldn’t remember. Besides, wasn’t she too old to go to regular high school? She was already twenty - Oops, eighteen months. That meant here she was only seventeen. Just a kid. She couldn’t even vote yet.
Seventeen. That was how old she was when she met Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. How old she was when she and Anakin were freed. When her whole life changed again. But here, it was like those years never happened. Like her entire new life never happened. She was back to being the Vampire Slayer, the girl who protected the Hellmouth; who would sacrifice everything to do so.
That thought alone made her feel very tired. So she went to sleep and dreamed of space ships and laughing and the freedom from her destiny the other dimension she had called home had given her that she never truly appreciated until it was gone.
That and about a guy with a tray of cheese.