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Phantoms and Slayers

Rating: PG-13
Summary: During “Anne”, Buffy is unsuccessful in escaping from the ‘hell’ dimension and instead finds herself passed off to another owner on the world she now lives on. Takes place during TPM of the Star Wars movies.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Joss owns all things Buffy. George Lucus owns all things Star Wars, including the characters, story idea, and some of the dialogue found in this fic. I’m just playing with the characters for my own twisted amusement. Please don’t sue me.
AN: Nothing much. I just thought that, since I've hit a bit of writers block with my other stories, that I'd try a x-over that doesn't seem to be used that often that doesn't center around Xander. Just something for me to play around with, and I'm not sure how often I'll be updating, so...

Prologue: Collecting Wages

Thom walked along the lower corridor of his Mistress’ home, his steps echoing off the dirty, water damaged walls. Unlike the upstairs that was clean, well lit, and smelled of food and artificial fragranced air, the lower part of the palace was dark, covered in mildew, and smelled of urine and fear. From somewhere in the dark came the sharp sizzling sound of a disobedient slave being discipline with a prod. It was soon followed by a painful scream that dampened to a groan.

He hated it here. It was below him to be in such a place. He was, after all, Gardulla’s own personal servant and therefore should not soil himself by coming down here where the worst and most stubborn of the slaves go. So why did he find himself wadding through filth? Because of a damn Toydarian, that’s why.

Watto, a junkyard owner, had won a bet against his Mistress a few days prior and had come to collect his winnings that evening. However, he had not been satisfied with the two slaves that Gardulla had chosen to be his prize. The dirty little Toydarian had taken one look at eight-year-old Anakin and claimed him to be half a slave, not the full one that he had rightfully won. The wretched creature should have been gratefully that his Mistress was even honoring the ridiculous bet, yet he had the gall to question her. Disgusting creature.

In order for the other Hutts not to know that she had lost to the Toydarian, Gardulla agreed to let him have one of her other slaves, but one of her choosing as well. He had not been happy about that – Thom had seen him eyeing him – but had agreed nonetheless. When she could come up with no one who was useless enough to her that she could pass off to Watto, Thom suggested that she give him the girl the Gythons had sold her a few weeks ago. Gardulla had smiled – or, he thought she had, one could never really tell when it came to Hutts – and agreed.

The Gythons were a strange race of creatures that lived on the far side of the planet, mining the mountains. It had been rumored that they had hundreds of human slaves in their possession and had discovered a way to keep a never ending supply of them. Thom never put stock in such stories and didn’t care where they got their humans as long as they stayed away from him. Gythons did not have the best reputation when it came to their slaves. They made Hutts look like as harmless as a baby Jawa in comparison. However, their methods did work and they produced the best and most subservient slaves.

When they offered to sale his Mistress one, she had jumped at the chance to own a Gythons slave girl. She would be her crowning jewel of her collection. It wasn’t until after did they learn that the girl had lead a rebellion against her former master, had killed several Gythons, and helped a dozen slaves - including the one that killed their Master - escape. If she didn’t give Gardulla bragging rights about owning a real Gython slave, she would have had the girl terminated. She had already tried twice to start a rebellion within the palace and kill a number of her betters. Thankfully, the novelty had worn off finally, and she was Watto’s problem now.

Thom reached her cell and grabbed the controller that was hanging on a nearby wall. It went to the correctional cuffs and collar she wore. Should she try to attack anyone, he could shock her with enough electricity to take down a banthas, which was usually how much power they had to use.

Maybe that was why she had been such a problem. Gython slaves – the good ones – were fully human. The girl could not be. Not with her strength and endurance. He doubted even a Jedi could withstand the shocks they gave her just to slow her down, let alone drop her.

Her cell door squeaked opened, letting some dull light into the otherwise black cell. She was sitting against the wall across from the door, hugging her knees to her chest with her head tilted downward. Her face was hidden behind her dirty, matted blonde hair, but her correctional collar reflected some of the light. The cuffs were hidden beneath her shirts long sleeves.

It was hard to believe that this girl who was barely sixteen-standard-years-old could be dangerous. She was small and fragile-looking until one saw her eyes. Then, the correctional devices were obvious.

“Get up,” Thom said. “You’re leaving.”

“Aww, but I was having so much fun,” she said with a strange accent. She lifted her head and Thom just stopped himself from backing away in fear. “What, with the daily beatings and electroshock therapy and all. I was having a real blast.”

“Just get up and try to look presentable for your new master, slave,” Thom said.

He had no idea that someone could move as fast a she, but he found himself standing face-to-face with the now sneering girl. He was sure she would have had her hands around his neck were it not for the correctional cuffs. They restrained her from lifting a hand against anyone who carried the controller. The stench coming off her body from not being able to bath or brush her teeth made Thom want to gag.

“My name is Buffy,” she said. “Buffy Summers. Got it, Uncle Tom?”

“Indeed,” Thom said, then pressed to button that sent the girl sprawling on the ground in pain.

Stupid girl.

Well, she was that filthy Toydarian’s problem now. Thom hoped he enjoyed his winnings.

Chapter One: No Place Like

The first rays of the first sun were breaking on the horizon, shattering the blackness overhead. The brightest of the stars started to fade away into the cool morning blue sky. The sand in and around the city began to glow with early light, as the hut-like homes windows started to shine when the occupants began their morning routines. From somewhere in the city, a drunken song drifted through the alleys and streets. Off in the horizon, the faint outlines of mountains were starting to take shape, though they still were blending into the sky this time of day. By the time the second sun rose – which would be in an hour or so – the city and desert would be well lit and full of people.

In a way, she could see how this place could almost be considered beautiful at dawn. Or she could, if she didn’t know that this was the dry spot on hell’s ass.

Buffy scrunched her nose.

Did hell even have an ass? Well, it had a mouth back home, so maybe. Of course, back home, she was the guardian of that mouth.

She wondered who was guarding it now. The gang? Maybe. But what could they really do? They didn’t have her strength. Her destiny.

Well, she supposed she didn’t have that destiny any longer. Kind of hard to be a vampire slayer when you’re a slave on some backwater planet in a different dimension. Especially when – even after a year – you’re still forced to wear correctional cuffs and collar and are unable to even leave the city without your Master without being shocked so badly that it nearly kills you.

Stupid cuffs and collar.

She wished Ani would hurry up and figure out how to disarm them. When he did, well, Watto and all these losers from space would find out what a Slayer was.

Speaking of Ani…

“Any sign of him yet?”

Standing up from the wall she had been leaning against, Buffy turned to see Shmi Skywalker in the doorway of their small home. Her face bore a permanent look of worry, but this morning it appeared to be more deeply etched into her features. There was good reason, though. Anakin had not returned home all night.

The previous day, Watto – the little demon that owned all three of them – had sent Shmi’s nine-year-old son into the desert to deal with a group of Jawas and bring back a new batch of droids. They knew it would be an all day trip, but he was supposed be back before sundown. As of yet, there had been no sign of him or the droids. Watto had been in a state yesterday when he had let Buffy go home, but she was sure it wasn’t because he was worried about Ani’s safety as much as what had happened to his new merchandise.

“I’m sure he’s fine,” Buffy said. “You know Ani. He probably saw something shinny and just got stuck wherever he was.”

Shmi pressed her lips. “I hope you’re right.”

“About ADD boy? Of course I am,” Buffy said.

Shmi tilted her head, a sign as to that she had no idea what Buffy meant, but didn’t ask. She never did anymore. When she had first come to live with her and Anakin a year ago after Gardulla’s place, both Shmi and her son were always give Buffy odd looks when she spoke. Kind of like Giles did, only more clueless.

Buffy’s breath caught as she thought about her Watcher. Thinking about him led to her thinking about the others. Led to thoughts of home.

No, that wasn’t home anymore. She had left there and ended up here a year ago. This was home now. Here, with Shmi and Anakin.

“I’m just so worried about him,” Shmi said, drawing Buffy back from her musings. Wrapping her shawl tighter around her body, Shmi stared out over the city. “He’s been acting…odd lately.”

“You think he’s acting odd now, wait a few years,” Buffy said, sitting down on the small stone wall. Shmi frowned even more, if that were at all possible. Sighing, Buffy said, “Look, he’s a kid. They’re supposed to act all weird and stuff. It’s like normal or something.”

“Did you?” Shmi asked.

“Me? Please. By the time I was fifteen, I was the queen of the weird.” Comes with being the slayer, Buffy added silently. Shmi didn’t need to know that last part. No one did. She wasn’t the slayer anymore. Just a girl. A slave girl.

Shmi shook her head. “I just wish – Ani!”

A land speeder raced up the dirt path that lead to the Skywalker/Summers home. A small boy was driving, his head barely above the dash for him to see. At one time, Buffy would have found that an amusing – if not slightly disturbing – sight. Now, she hardly thought anything of it anymore. Besides, at least Anakin could drive; a skill which she had yet to master.

In the backseat was one of the boy’s as-of-yet unfinished projects, C-3PO. He had given a number to the annoying pile of parts a few days ago. Ani gave him the number three because of her, since she was always threatening that the droid had to the count of three to shut up or she was going to turn him back into the scrape pile that Anakin had built him from.

Behind the speeder, a new group of droids marched awkwardly along, looking stupidly about their new surroundings. Dumb things.

The speeder slowed to a stop in front of the small home and Anakin jumped out. He had already unloaded Threepio by the time his mother and Buffy reached them.

“Where have you been?” Shmi asked. “We’ve been worried sick about you.”

“Sorry, Mom,” Anakin said.

“Sorry? That’s all you have to say?” she asked.

Anakin dropped his head and kicked a small pile of dirt. It was at times like this that Buffy remembered how young he really was.

“We just kind of got…distracted,” Anakin said.

“You were talking with those pilots again?” Shmi asked. She let a breath of air, releasing some of her anger and worry. “Ani, how many times do I have to tell you to not go near those men? They could be dangerous. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”

Threepio shifted next to Anakin, reminding Buffy a small child who had a secret but couldn’t tell it to anyone. Raising an eyebrow, Buffy noted to ask Anakin about it later. For right now, she needed to help save her little brother from the wrath of ‘Mom’.

“Well, he’s in one piece, so no big, right?” Buffy said. Before giving Shmi a chance to reply, Buffy had her arm around Anakin’s shoulder and was leading him into the house. “Come on. Watto’s going to be PMSing all day, so you better eat up before we go into work.”

Anakin gave her a grateful smile and let her lead him.

As they walked inside, Buffy said, “Okay, so spill. What happened?”

Shifting, Ani dropped his head and placed his hands behind his back. “I found a Tuscan Raider.”

Buffy froze. “Please tell me that’s some kind of new ship.”

Anakin was careful not to look at her.

“Anakin!”

“He was hurt. He must off fallen off the cliff side in the canyon and got buried under some rocks. I had to help him. He would have died if I didn’t.”

Drawing a deep breath, Buffy shook her head and patted him on the shoulder. “I swear, Ani. Sometimes, you’re too good for your own good.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Buffy stood at the counter, her head resting on her chin as she spun a curved piece of metal like a coin. Business was slow that day. Even with the new droids, no more than a handful of people had come into the little junk shop in the middle of Mos Espa. They were too small of a business for anyone to really notice. At least that was what Watto believed. He thought that if they were like some of the larger stores, business would be much better. Buffy just kept herself from snorting at that. The reason business was so lousy was because the owner was an overgrown hairless rat with a personality of a grapefruit and no one wanted to deal with him. If he wanted business to pick up, he should just leave the store for her and Ani to run. Not that that would happen.

“What are you doing?”

Watto hovering in the air before her. The controller to her cuffs and collar hung from his belt and he sneered nastily at her.

True to her prediction, Anakin’s lateness in delivering the droids had lead to a moody Watto. For the past two days, he had done everything in his power to make Ani’s life miserable, mostly by making him work over time to finish all his work related projects. Ani was holding his own pretty well, which just aggravated Watto even more. This afternoon, he had Anakin cleaning out the bins out back – which mostly had sharp, rusted metal parts inside – while he had her working in the store. Watto knew Buffy was stronger, so the job would take Anakin twice as long, but that was why they called it punishment.

Buffy was also good to keep up front because the human male population of Mos Espa found her attractive. Watto didn’t get what they found so appealing about her. He did, however, understand that pretty girl equals better sales. Of course, that only worked when there were customers, which there were none at the moment.

“Nothing,” Buffy said, stopping the metal from spinning.

She pulled at the long scarf that was wrapped around her neck and head, holding back her hair and covering the correctional collar. Watto made her wear it at all times in public, especially when she was working up front in the shop. Men did like to buy things from her, but not when they caught sight of the smooth metal band around her neck. It was a sign that she was dangerous and no one wanted to go near a dangerous girl.

It was also a sign of a poor slave who was disobedient and their master had no other choice than to constantly punish them, which looked bad for Watto. The fact that she was small and appeared as if she should be easy control didn’t help the matter any. It was true that he could take the collar and the bands around her wrists – which were carefully hidden beneath her tunic’s long sleeves – off but that would be even worse for her owner. Mainly, because he knew she’s probably kill him if they weren’t there.

“Well, get to doing something,” Watto said. “Business is slow enough without your laziness, girl.”

Buffy frowned and opened her mouth to retort, but stopped when she felt something tug at the back of her mind. Someone powerful was nearby. Not that that was anything new here, either. Since she had arrived on Tatooine a year ago, her slayer senses had gone nuts daily. It was so bad that it had taken Buffy several weeks to find out that it was actually Anakin who sending the strongest slayer tingles her way. He was powerful, she could tell, but it was wild and unfocused.

Whoever was heading for the shop, however, had his power focused. Whether he was good or bad, though, Buffy couldn’t tell.

Watto was still sneering at her when a group of people walked in. They were an odd assortment of travelers. One was a tall amphibian-like creature that looked like the lovechild of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck on acid. Though she wasn’t there, Buffy could almost feel Willow shutter. Way to frog like for her friend to handle.

He moved awkwardly through the shop, looking at the different objects set about with a great deal of curiosity. As he reached to touch something, a tall, older man cleared his throat, a warning for the creature to stop. The man had on a poncho that reminded Buffy Clint Eastwood. The only thing missing was the hat. He was also the one she was getting the sense of power from. She’d have to remember to be careful around him.

The other human member of their party was a girl a few years younger than Buffy herself. She was dressed like a peasant, but the way she moved and regarded the things around her made it obvious that she was anything but. She held herself with such pride and grace…well, she would have made a great Cordette back home.

The final member of the party was droid that looked like a rolling trashcan. His top swirled and various lights flashed as he beeped.

The group didn’t appear out of place in Mos Espa, but they to Buffy. Something was up and Buffy was sure that it wasn’t just the sky.

Watto fluttered over to the group much quicker than his old body should have been able to move. But, then, money could be involved, and that made the Toydrarian move with the swiftness and grace of a leopard. Or a really fat housecat about to be feed.

Before Poncho Man could really look around, Watto was hovering in his face, speaking the most common language of Tatooine, Huttese. Even though Buffy didn’t speak the language – or at least not well enough to understand what her boss was saying all the time – she caught that gist of what he said. With his usual charm, he had demanded to know what they wanted from his shop.

“Just can’t learn ‘Can I help you?’ Can you?” Buffy muttered to herself.

Poncho Man, for his part, at least was able to keep his contempt and annoyance at the little alien well hidden behind a kind smile. A skill, Buffy noted long ago, most people around there lacked.

“I need parts for a J-type 327 Nubian,” the man said.

A tooth smile rose behind Watto’s trunk-like nose. Not a pleasant sight at all. “Ah, yes! Nubian! We have lots of that.”

Buffy searched her mind. Nubian. Nubian. She had heard that somewhere before…

Oh, yeah. That crate of parts that Watto had won during the last Podrace. He had made her and Ani spend the better part of a day sorting through that junk for stuff that was usable and parts that were worth more as extra pieces of scrap than put together. Not that Buffy knew what was usable and what wasn’t. She just trusted Anakin to tell her where to put what during that delightful little task.

But that they had loads?

“Hardly,” she said under her breath.

Watto glared at her as the customer gave her a curious look. Her owner’s hand was hovering close to the controller. Buffy dropped her head and was sure to keep her thoughts to herself for the rest of the conversation.

She could still feel the man’s eyes on her, but he wasn’t staring at her like most human men did. It was like he was trying to see through her, to something she kept locked tight within her. She didn’t like it, but what was she going to say? Stop it?

“Can you help us or not?” Poncho Man asked, turning his attention back to Watto.

“Can you pay me or not – that’s the question!” Watto said in a matter-of-fact way. “What kinda junk are you after, farmer?”

Buffy raised an eyebrow. This guy might be one of hundred of thousands of things, but a farmer? There was no way.

“My droid has a readout of what I need,” the man said.

Watto studied the droid for a moment, as if he were trying to decide whether to get the parts Poncho Man wanted, or tell him to take his business elsewhere. Not even Watto was that stupid, so he turned to the salvage yard door and yelled in Huttese for Anakin. Buffy knew the phrase well enough, or at least part of it. He told Ani to get inside, but he hadn’t called the boy by name. Instead, he had called him a name that would have made Shmi turn red.

A few seconds later, Ani ran into the store and came to an uneasy stop in front of Watto and the customer. Much like he had with Buffy, Poncho Man was giving Ani a strange look, though he was doing a much better job of hiding curiosity than he had with her.

Watto spun around and raised his hand slightly as if he were about to strike Anakin. The small piece of metal Buffy had bent like paper in her hands as she watched. If he did strike him, there would be nothing that she could do; but that didn’t mean she had to like it.

“What took you so long?” Watto asked, even though Ani had appeared nearly before the Toydarian had finished calling for him.

Anakin apologized in Huttese, then said, “I was cleaning out the bin like you-.”

Watto shouted at him to shut up, than said in Basic, “Never mind the bin! Watch the store! I’ve got selling to do!”

He then turned his angry stare at Buffy and used the same Hutt phrase to make her come to him. Placing the piece of bent metal back down, she came around the counter to stand by her owner. Buffy knew the reason he wanted her to come with him was because if it was something heavy, she could easily pick it up and he wouldn’t have to strain himself doing so. Well, Giles would be proud to know all that time they spent training were finally paying off.

Watto sneered at her, showing how yellow his teeth had become, then turned back to Poncho Man. “So, let me take you out back. You’ll soon find what you need.”

Going through the door Ani had come through, Watto barked at Buffy to follow. Rolling her eyes, she marched out after him and into the hot, twin suns. Poncho Man waited long enough to tell someone to not touch anything, then followed with the droid.

Buffy hated going into the scrape yard. It was to hot and the suns were always reflecting off something or another blinding her. Reaching up, Buffy shielded her squinting eyes, searching for Watto. He had disappeared somewhere and would be angry if she didn’t find him soon.

“He’s over there, I believe,” Poncho Man said from behind her, pointing towards a large scrap heap in the corner.

Buffy didn’t put down her hand as she turned towards the man. Some sunlight reflected off the metal on her wrist and shined in the man’s eyes, causing him to flinch. She released too late that one of her cuffs were exposed. She quickly put her hand down, but the damage had already been done.

He tilted his head. Buffy could see him preparing to ask what was on her wrist, so she cut him off. “Thank you,” she said, then hurried off in the direction that he had pointed.

Watto’s fat, round body could be seen bobbing in front of pile of junk, and Buffy swiftly went to join him. After a few seconds, the man and the droid joined them.

“Let’s have the list then, eh,” Watto said, holding out his three fingered hand towards Poncho Man.

He retrieved a chip or something like it from the droid and handed it over. Watto reached to his side for his for his portable memory bank, which was next to the controller. When Poncho Man saw the controller, it took him less than a second to figure out what it was for. He turned towards her, but Buffy kept her head down. She hated the looks people gave her when they realized that she had to wear those stupid things.

“Ah, here it is. A T-14 hyperdrive generator!” Watto said. “You’re in luck. I’m the only one hereabouts who has one.”

Buffy just stopped herself from snorting. She knew Watto knew very well and good that D’Arc had one as well – or he had last week. And Ani would be so proud of her for remembering that. If the man went to him, he could probably get for a whole hell of a lot cheaper than what the Toydarian would try to swindle out of him.

Watto waved his hand haphazardly in the air. “But you might as well buy a new ship. It would be cheaper.” See, Buffy thought. “Speaking of which,” Watto went on, “how’re you going to pay for all this, farmer?”

“I have twenty thousand Republic dataries to put towards-.”

“Republic credits? Republic credits are no good out here! How much are Republic credits worth here, girl?”

“Nothing,” she replied.

Buffy raised an eyebrow at the ‘farmer’. Even though she had no idea what the Republic was – except the bits and pieces that Ani and Shmi had told her – even she knew better than to take their credits. So why was this guy trying to pass them off on them?

“See. Even the girl knows that, and she knows nothing! I need something better than that, something of value…” Watto said, shutting off his portable memory bank.

Poncho Man shook his head. “I don’t have anything else.” Then, in the strangest barging act that Buffy had ever seen, the man raise his hand and pass it casually in front of Watto’s face. “But credits will do fine.”

“No, they won’t!” Watto snapped.

The man frowned, then tried again. “Credits will do fine.”

That Watto sneer was usually reserved for Buffy or Anakin whenever they did something that he didn’t like, like breathe in his direction. “No, they won’t! What do you think you’re doing, waving your hand around like that? You think you’re some kinda Jedi? Hah! I’m a Toydarian! Mind tricks don’t work on me – only money! No money, no parts, no deal! And no one else has a T-14 hyperdrive generator, I can promise you that!”

With a tight frown, Poncho Man turned and walked back into the shop, his little droid following close behind. As Buffy watched them go, she got the distinct feeling that this was not going to be the last time she saw him.

Once they had disappeared inside, she and Watto headed in as well. They could hear Ani tell one of the people that he was glad to meet them, but whoever it was was gone by the time they walked in.

“Outlanders!” Watto said. “They think because we live so far from everything, we know nothing!”

With a dreamy expression on his face, Anakin said, “They seemed nice enough to me.”

Buffy hid a smile. She knew that look. She had had it many times before in her life. Ani had a crush. Probably on that girl who had been with Poncho Man. At least, Buffy hoped it was on the girl, because as open-minded as she was, she would have to have a talk with Ani if it was on that amphibian thing.

Watto snorted. “Clean up this mess, the both of you! Then you can go home!”

Anakin cheered to himself, then quickly began to cleanup with Buffy’s help.

Chapter Two: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Buffy walked along side Anakin, a small smile on her face as he happily chatted away about the new friend he had made that day.

“She’s just so…” Ani said.

“Pretty?” Buffy supplied.

The little boy considered the description. “Well, yeah, but more, you know. I guess I just didn’t know that there could ever be anyone as beautiful as that.”

“Gee, you sure do know how to make a girl feel pretty,” Buffy said, her tone as dry as the air.

“You know what I mean,” Anakin said. “You’re…you. Buffy - .”

“The elephant girl,” she teased.

Anakin redden, seeing no way to climb out of the hole he was digging for himself; a fact which Buffy found amusing. Taking pity on him, she placed her hand on his shoulder and pulled him to her side for a small hug.

“Don’t worry about it, Ani. I get it. Cause, no matter how old and good looking you might get, you’ll always be Grease Face to me, too.”

“Gee, thanks,” he said dryly, but was smiling.

The pair laughed together as they rounded the corner. Suddenly, Buffy stopped and pulled Anakin to a halt.

“What is it?” he asked.

There was a small group gathered near a restaurant. The gang was easily recognized as Sebulba’s ‘friends’, along with a few passerbys who had stopped to see what was going on. In the center of the crowd, Sebulba towered over the amphibian creature that had been at the shop a short while ago. Though the creature had a good three feet on the Dug, Sebulba had him on the ground and was sitting on top of him so he could not get up. There was something clutched in the grimy Podracer’s hand, which he was shoved in the amphibian’s face.

“Stay here, Ani,” Buffy said, heading towards the crowd.

It wasn’t that she didn’t think Anakin couldn’t handle the situation, but she didn’t like Sebulba being within a hundred feet of the boy. Especially when there was a good chance that he could hurt Ani and no one would think twice about it. He tried to kill Anakin enough during the races; he didn’t need another chance off the track.

“What’s going on?” Buffy asked, crossing her arms. Sebulba and the creature turned towards her. The amphibian was frightened, while the Dug just sneered.

“No business of yours,” Sebulba said.

“Me no do nothing, Miss,” the amphibian said. “Tis accident, it was.”

Buffy tilted her head. “God, you’re like a stereotype waiting to happen, aren’t you?”

The creature blinked it’s eyes. “What, me?”

“You know what, never mind.” Buffy turned back to Sebulba. “Now, let him go or the only races you’ll be entering any time soon will have the word ‘Special’ in front of the title.”

Dropping the creature’s tunic, Sebulba slowly turned towards Buffy. His whole body was tense, like a spring in a windup watch. Or like Xander waiting for Giles to tell him to stop researching and go get some donuts.

“Are you threatening me, slave?” he asked with a hiss.

“You catch on quick, Speed Racer,” Buffy said.

The Dug took three large steps and stood in front of her at full height. Perhaps if wasn’t chest height to her, he would be more intimidating. As it were, he was not. At least, not to Buffy. Maybe to others, but, hell, she had faced Angelus and the Master. If it came to it, she could take this thing apart in five seconds flat. In fact, she kind of hoped it did come to it; she’d been itching for a fight for quite awhile now.

“I don’t take threats lightly,” Sebulba said, his rotten breath making her nose scrunch. “Especially from someone like you.”

“And I don’t like people’s fish breath taking the curl out of my hair, so I guess we’re even,” she said.

If it were possible, Buffy would have sworn she saw him turn red...der. “Why you!”

“Leave her alone,” Anakin said, squeezing between them and forcing Sebulba to back up a bit.

“Stay out of it, Ani,” Buffy said, but the boy nor the Dug heard her.

The racer yelled something at the boy in Huttese heatedly, which Anakin returned just as fierce. Clinching his jaw, Sebulba raised his fist in the air and prepared to strike Ani. Buffy grabbed Anakin’s shoulders and drew him back, but the fist never moved. Instead, a large, human hand was wrapped around it, keeping it in place.

Poncho Man was standing behind the Dug, holding his fist back. “Is there something the matter?” he asked gently.

Jerking away, Sebulba said, “No business of yours, outlander.”

“Perhaps not, but I can’t see how striking the boy or his sister could possibly fix the problem,” he said calmly.

“They’re slaves,” Sebulba said. “They need to be taught their place among their betters.”

“I’ll show you ‘betters’,” Buffy said, stepping forward, but the man held up his hand to stop her. He then waved it in front of Sebulba’s face, just as he had Watto earlier.

“They’ve learned their place,” Poncho Man said.

Sebulba glared at her and Ani, then said, “I think they’ve learned their place.”

The man waved his hand again. “Now go back to your meal and think nothing more of them.”

With a snort, Sebulba turned back to his table and left the small group standing in the middle of the street. Buffy blinked several times after him. Okay, what just happened?

Behind Poncho Man, the Cordette wannabe helped the amphibian to his feet while the little droid rolled up to the man. Its doom top was swirling and it made a series of beeps and whistles. Buffy didn’t even pretend to understand what it said.

Poncho Man looked over the amphibian, then turned back to her and Ani. “Are you both alright?”

“Um…yeah. Peachy with a side of keen,” Buffy said. “What did you just do to evil Dale Ernheardt back there?”

“It was awesome!” Ani looked up to Buffy, silently asking her if ‘awesome’ was the right word. Wordlessly, she nodded.

Poncho Man titled his head. “Evil Dale Ernheardt?”

“She means Sebulba,” Anakin said. “That Dug you just sent off.”

The smile returned on the man’s face. “Oh.”

“So?” Buffy asked.

“Just a trick I picked up in my travels,” he said.

“Uh-huh,” Buffy said.

Anakin, however, was more than willing to except the answer. “Cool.”

The Cordette, who was now standing beside Poncho Man, blinked. “What?”

“It means something is good, right, Buffy,” Ani said.

She nodded her head, but never took her eyes off the man. There was just something not right about him. He definitely wasn’t who was pretending to be, but she didn’t think that any of the people there were. Well, maybe besides the amphibian.

The stare the man returned said that he thought much the same about her.

“Yeah,” Buffy said, her hands still on Anakin’s shoulders and holding him close. “We better get going. Shmi will be mental if we’re not back before sundown. Thanks again for your help.”

“Thank you for yours,” the man returned.

Buffy began to move away from the group, but Anakin refused to go. “There’s no rush, Buffy. We still got loads of time before we have to be home. And I bet they’re hungry.” Before Buffy could stop him, Ani ran over to the girl, grabbed her by the hand, and dragged her down a connecting street. “Come on. I know a good fruit stand right over here.”

The girl gave the man a helpless look, but followed Anakin. The amphibian and droid followed along, leaving Buffy and Poncho Man to bring up the rear. They exchanged a glance, as if trying to decide if the other was some sort of danger that needed to be taken care of. After a few second, the pair turned in sync and walked side-by-side after the small group.

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Jira was old. There was no other way to describe her. Her face was wrinkled and had a look of dry leather from years of being overexposed to the twin suns. Her smile was tired and her eyes were little more than tiny slits now, since she couldn’t see that well and had to squint all the time. She reminded Buffy of her great-grandma Rose right before she died a few years ago. It wouldn’t surprise her any if Jira didn’t make it another year, though she wouldn’t tell Ani that.

When Anakin dropped one of his coins into the dirt, the ‘farmer’ bent down to pick it up. Ani, never one to be able to hide surprise, widened his eyes momentarily when he saw something underneath the man’s poncho. Buffy frowned. He better have seen something hanging from that man’s belt and not other things, was all she had to say. When they got home, she’d be sure to ask him about it.

“Here you go,” Ani said, taking the pallies from Jira and handing one to the girl, amphibian, and Poncho Man. “You’ll like these.”

“Thank you,” the girl said as the man nodded his thanks. Anakin beamed.

A strong wind blew through the street, causing Buffy to pull on her scarf a little tighter to keep it from flying off. Damn.

Jira groaned. “Gracious, my bones are aching,” the old woman said. “Storm’s moving in. You and Buffy better hurry on home, Ani.”

“We should head back to our ship, then,” Poncho Man said.

“Is it far?” Anakin asked.

With our luck, yes, Buffy thought.

“Just on the outskirts of the city,” the girl said.

Anakin frowned. “You’ll never make it in time. You should come home with me and Buffy.”

The man frowned. “I’m sure that won’t be -.”

Aw, hell, Buffy thought. “He’s right,” she said. “Sand storms around here aren’t something you want to mess with. You better come with us.”

The man’s surprise was evident on his face, but he nodded his head. Buffy returned it, then headed toward her and Anakin’s home.

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Upon arriving home, Buffy finally found out who these people were when they introduced themselves to Shmi. She had not been happy about their impromptu guests – probably because she was like Buffy’s mom and would have scrubbed their home from top to bottom before letting in strangers – but had welcomed them all the same.

Ani stayed up front just long enough to learn the others names, then grabbed Padmé’s hand and drug her back into his room to show off C-3PO. Why, Buffy didn’t know. Okay, she’d admit, building your own droid when you’re nine was like acceptance into MIT worthy, but…it was 3PO.

While Jar Jar had sniffed around the kitchen, Qui-Gon – God, did anyone here have a normal name? – and Shmi did their best to make small talk. When that became too much of an effort, Qui-Gon reached into his one of his pockets and pulled out several food capsules. Shmi took them and moved into the kitchen, leaving Buffy and the man alone at the small table.

Buffy leaned back in her chair, trying to give the appearance of someone relaxed. Qui-Gon was openly studying her, as she was him. They both knew there was something more to the other and felt caution was the best course of action. Giles would be proud of her adopted practice, since it was a far cry from her previous ‘kick ass now, find out why later’ attitude back in Sunnyd. But, when you’re a slave, patiences was a skill you have to develop or die.

Qui-Gon locked his fingers in front of him, except for his two index fingers. They were pointed upward and touched his bottom lip. He reminded her of a cross between Principal Snyder and Principal Flutty; calculating exactly who she was in his mind but not wanting to find anything bad about her.

Buffy crossed her arms and quirked an eyebrow. If Shmi weren’t standing three feet away, she would have put her feet up on the table.

It wasn’t that she didn’t liked Qui-Gon. He had helped her back at the shop, stopped Sebulba from waling on Ani – though she was a little annoyed about that because she could have given the Dug the beating of a lifetime – and had been nothing but polite and friendly since she met him. But, as her mother used to say, if something seems too good to be true, it usual is.

That definitely applied to people. Just look at the whole Ted thing. Not that she thought Qui-Gon was psycho droid out to kidnap them and kill them the first moment they did something he didn’t like, but she knew he was keeping something from them. Something very important.

If his expression was anything to go by, he thought the same thing about Buffy.

After several more minutes of their staring contest, Qui-Gon put his hands down and rose from his chair. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to inform the crew that we will not be returning until after the storm,” he said.

“Of course,” Shmi said, wiping her hands on a towel. Buffy hadn’t heard her come up behind her, but she hadn’t startled her. “Buffy, would you mind helping me…?”

She knew an order when she heard one. “Sure,” Buffy said, getting up from her seat. “Just as long as I don’t have to, you know, actually cook or anything.”

Shmi smiled then gave her the only Buffy-safe kitchen job she knew of, setting the table.

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The conversation at dinner was sparse at best, at least for the adults. In the fashion of young boys, Anakin was more than happy to relay the facts about his life as a slave with no embarrassment whatsoever. Buffy got the impression several times during the course of his one-sided conversation that Shmi would like nothing more than to wrap her hand around Ani’s mouth and tell him to be quiet, but she restrained that urge. Or failed to be able to do so because he was across the table and she couldn’t reach him.

In an attempt to make their guest understand the severity of their position in life, Shmi said, “All slaves have transmitters placed inside their bodies.”

“I’ve been working on a scanner to try to locate them, but so far no luck,” Ani said, a small pout on his lips that look suspiciously a lot like a certain slayers.

Shmi smiled. “Any attempt at escape…”

“…and they blow you up!” Anakin finished. “Poof!”

“Puts a real downer on all those ‘Hey, Pete, we’re bustin’ out of here’ planes,” Buffy said, shoving a fork full of food into her mouth.

The others, beside Anakin – who had picked up a bit on her slang – cocked an eyebrow at Buffy, but didn’t comment.

“I can’t believe that there is still slavery in the galaxy,” Padmé said gravely. “With the Republic’s antislavery laws -.”

“Republic doesn’t exist out here in the boonies, princess,” Buffy said. “Hell, I didn’t even know what the Republic was until I came to work for Watto and the first thing he drilled into my head – well, besides the whole ‘you’ll never escape from me, Skeletor’ thing – was Republic credits, bad. Hutt money, good.”

“You had never heard of the Republic?” Padmé asked.

“That’d be a big old nope,” Buffy said, popping the ‘p’. She could see the girl was about to ask how, so Buffy cut her off. “Let’s just say I’m not from around here.”

The finality of the statement seemed to stop any further attempts into Buffy past and an awkward silence fell over the table.

Like most nine-year-olds, Ani found the silence to strenuous shortly after it begun, so he started up what he hoped would be a safer topic. “Have you ever seen a Podrace?”

At the same time that the question was being asked, Jar Jar struck his tongue out and wrapped it around a piece of fruit in the bottom of the bowl in the center of the table. Qui-Gon frowned at the action, while Buffy balked.

“Eww, gross,” she said, scrunching her nose.

Jar Jar avoided catching anyone’s eyes as he ate the fruit. Slowly, as to not draw attention to herself, Buffy placed her hand on top of the knife next to her plate.

“They have Podracing on Malastare,” Qui-Gon said. “Very fast, very dangerous.”

Anakin grinned, while Jar Jar eyed another piece of fruit in the bowl. “I’m the only human who can do it!” Anakin said happily. A sharp glance from Shmi wiped the look off his face. “Mom, what? I’m not bragging. It’s true! Watto says that he’s never heard of a human doing it.”

As the words finished coming out of Anakin’s mouth, Jar Jar’s tongue shot out once more. Both Qui-Gon and Buffy reacted at the same time. Swiftly, his fingers pinched the Gungans tongue. But he was surprised by the loud thud as the knife Buffy had been fingering sliced through the fruit, missing Jar Jar’s tongue with surgical precision, and pinned the fruit to the table.

All eyes were on her, as she held the handle of the knife and coolly said, “Anything else that comes out of your mouth, you’re not getting back. Comprenda?”

Jar Jar frantically nodded his head. Qui-Gon released his hold on the tongue while Buffy held the fruit pinned to the table. He watched her coolly, but Buffy tilted her head as if to say ‘what?’ Then, without warning, she wrenched the knife out of the fruit and table, sending it catapulting towards the Gungan. Now unprepared for it, the fruit hit Jar Jar square in the back of the mouth, knocking both him and the chair over. He chocked on the floor for a few seconds, then swallowed the fruit and got back up.

The awkward silence returned, but was accompanied by stares at Buffy. Any trust from Padmé that she might have had was gone, and she was on thin ice with Qui-Gon. Okay, maybe not the brightest move on Buffy’s part, but at least she wouldn’t have to worry about that amphibian doing that nasty tongue thing anymore.

Rising from the table, Shmi began to gather the empty plate and frowned pointedly at the teenager. “That was very rude, Buffy,” she said, sounding like her mother whenever she made a smartass remark to an adult.

“Yeah,” Anakin agreed.

The silent order to apologies rang through the room.

Frowning, Buffy barely spared Jar Jar a glance. “Sorry.”

“Tis okeday,” Jar Jar said.

“You have incredible reflexes,” Qui-Gon said, his previous anger changing to curiosity.

“Thanks,” Buffy said. “Yours aren’t too bad either.”

Anakin jumped back into the conversation. “That’s because he’s a Jedi!”

Shmi, who was in the middle of cleaning the table, froze while picking up a plate. Padmé shifted in her seat. And Qui-Gon shifted his half surprised/half impressed gaze from Buffy to Anakin.

Buffy, however, looked as if Ani had just declared that Qui-Gon was the Queen of Mars and had requested they all join him in singing a showcase of melodies by Andrew Lloyd Webber. “He’s a huh?”

“A Jedi!” Anakin repeat.

“And what makes you think that?” Qui-Gon asked.

Less sure of himself now, Ani swallowed. “I saw your lightsaber. Only Jedi Knights carry that kind of weapon.”

Buffy’s body tensed. This guy had a weapon and she didn’t know it?

Qui-Gon waved his hand at her. A calming sense over came Buffy, as if she knew that he meant them no harm. Relaxing, Buffy slouched in her chair. However, she was unable to make hand release the knife she had been holding. Some part of her brain - probably the slayer - refused to relax since she knew he was armed and had no idea what his intentions were.

Certain now that Buffy was not about to attack him, Qui-Gon leaned back in his chair and turned to Anakin once more. “Perhaps I killed a Jedi and stole if from him.”

The knife nearly broke in Buffy’s hand, but she still felt no real need to try and protect Ani.

“I don’t think so,” Anakin said. “You can’t kill a Jedi.”

A solemn smile settled on Qui-Gon’s lips. “I wish that were true…”

Buffy blinked several times. Wait, she had a question. “What’s a Jedi?” she asked, cutting Ani off from whatever he was about to say.

Once again, they looked at her curiously. “They are Knights of the Republic,” Padmé said. “Defenders of the people and peacekeepers of the galaxy.”

“Oh,” Buffy said. “You guys are the cops of the universe.”

Anakin made a show of rolling his eyes, like he often did when Buffy severally underestimated something. It was kind of the same look he gave her whenever she had boiled Podracing down to a chariot race with big engines.

Qui-Gon was hardly able to hide his amusement. “I’m afraid that it is a bit more complicated than that, Miss Summers.”

“Usually is,” Buffy said. “So, what’s a copper doing way out here in hell’s litter box?”

“Buffy,” Shmi said.

“No, it’s alright,” Qui-Gon said. “We were on a mission to Coruscant when our ship was damaged. We had to land here for repairs.”

“Wow,” Ani said. “What kind of mission are you on?”

“A very important one,” Qui-Gon said. “It’s of the utmost importance that it be kept a secret.”

Buffy just kept herself from snorting for what seemed like the thousandth time that day. “Don’t worry. Secrets we can do.”

This was just Buffy’s luck. Not only was she a slave in an alternate reality where she gets electrocuted on a regular basis, but she had to met up with people on a top secret mission that sounds very much like it could get whoever was involved even the slightly bit killed. Did she have great luck or what?

“How are you planning on paying for the parts you need if you don’t have any money?” Shmi asked.

“We’re not sure yet,” Qui-Gon said. “But I’m sure that a way will present itself.”

Buffy glanced over at Ani. The tip of his tongue peeked out of the corner of his mouth, as he stared off into nothing. Buffy knew that look, it was the same one he got before every one of his big ideas.

“I know,” Anakin said, his face bright. “You could enter the Podrace coming up! I’ve been building my own racers and it’s practically finished. You could enter it and I could fly it for you!”

Buffy groaned and placed her head in her hands. Well, she had asked.

Man, did those PTB have a sick sense of humor or what?

Chapter Three: Patrol and Blood Tests

Buffy lay on her back, staring up at the stares. The storm had died down a while ago, but it was so late that Shmi and Anakin thought it right to offer the Jedi and his friends a place to stay. Jar Jar was curled up like a golden retriever on the kitchen floor, snoring loudly, while R2 sat off in a corner turned off. Anakin offered Qui-Gon some space in his room. Buffy was sure Ani talked his ear off until the boy passed out. Buffy had given up her bed in the room she shared with Shmi to Padmé, making up for her rudeness in one move – at least in Ani’s eyes.

Buffy had planed on sleeping in the dinning room/work area, but Jar Jar’s fog horn snores chased her out into the warm Tatooine night. She curled up next to the small retaining wall on the back porch. Most people of Mos Espa would never sleep outside unless they were homeless; too afraid of the misfortune that might befall them if they did so. But, lucky for her, she wasn’t most people. And every one knew better than to mess with the crazy blonde that stayed with the Skywalkers.

Placing both her hands behind her head, Buffy crossed her legs as she continued to stare upward. There were so many stars up there. She wondered if her home was among them.

Space travel was not something she had ever given much thought to, especially since you had to be an uber-genius with five hundred degrees to do it. However, here, in this place, space travel was as common as getting into your car and going down the street for a carton of milk. A fact that made Buffy dizzy to think about.

She and heights were not on speaking terms most of the time. Sure, she could get on a plane or go to high places if she had too, but that didn’t mean she liked them. It came from the reoccurring dreams she had had since she could remember. She dreamed she was standing high on a platform, staring over a city as the sun was coming up. Then she would fall.

Buffy shivered as she thought about it.

Anakin had no fear of heights whatsoever.

He wanted to be a pilot more than anything. He had mad piloting skills, everyone knew that. To watch the boy fly a Pod, one would have thought that he had been born with controllers in his hands. She hoped it happened for him, if nothing else for the pure selfish reason of that he could fly her around searching for her home for free.

Home. She missed it, a lot. She missed her mom, Giles, Xander, Willow, Oz, and – God help her – she even missed Cordelia! She missed someone else too, but she wasn’t going to think about him. It had been over a year and she still couldn’t let herself think him. It was just too painful.

“Crap,” Buffy said with a frustrated sigh.

It was past midnight and she was still wide awake. That almost fight with Sebulba had wound her up and being on guard around Qui-Gon and the others for so long hadn’t helped either. She needed to do something to take the edge off, or she was never going to get any sleep.

Getting up, Buffy decided to indulge herself with something she rarely did any more, patrolling. Once upon a time, she hating it. But, having given it up for awhile, she found herself desperately needing to go – if nothing else than for her own sanity. A slayer can only bottle up her aggression for so long. And what better way to get rid of it than protecting people who can’t protect themselves?

Of course, this was nothing like the way she used to patrol. Back home, she would carry a weapon and kill the nasty things she came across. Here, she couldn’t. These people weren’t demons, no matter how much they may look like them. In fact, most were friendly.

Besides, she was pretty sure she would be charged with murder if she did kill them. Or at least the wrong ones.

As she headed out, Buffy failed to notice the tall figure slip from the house and follow her.

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The streets of Mos Espa were quite tonight. Most people had gone inside to find shelter from the sandstorm and would not return until morning. The damage to the port was minimal, only a few turned over stands and large piles of sand that needed to be removed. Nothing like the damage he had read about that sandstorms of Tatooine were capable of.

Qui-Gon used his stealth abilities as he tracked the girl through the shadowy streets. Most times, he wouldn’t have bothered with a human. As far as races went, his own was generally the most oblivious to things going on around them. Unless they were Jedi, of course.

He was certain that Buffy was not a Jedi. She had no knowledge of what they were before that evening. It was true that she could have lied to them, but he did not believe she had. He had felt the sincerity of her emotions as they explained it to her. While he had felt her surprise, confusion, caution, and a thick wave of protection for Ani, Qui-Gon never felt dishonesty from her.

Well, except when she was forced to apologies to Jar Jar.

However, he did sense there was something different about her, even before the display at dinner. At first, he had thought that she had mixed blood. There were a few races that had Jedi-like reflexes and qualities, the same as she. However, the longer he was around, the less resolve he had in that conclusion. She felt too human.

Perhaps she was like the boy. Qui-Gon sensed a great deal of power in him. In fact, he had never felt anyone with as strong a Force signature as young Anakin. It would stand to reason. Force sensitive people had a tendency to run in families. However, he didn’t sense a strong signature with Shmi. Maybe their father. But, it had to be fathers because they had different last names.

Qui-Gon shook his head. When an opportunity presented itself, he would have to have Obi-Wan run a test on their blood and settle the matter.

Buffy turned into a dark alley when Qui-Gon sensed a disturbance. A panicked, high pitched scream soon followed. Using Force-enhanced speed, Qui-Gon raced towards the sound. What he found was not what he expected.

At the end of the alley, a Rodian and a large human male had a little girl of around seven between them. It did not take someone like Master Yoda to figure out what they planned to do to the child. Tears tracks flowed down the girl’s cheeks, smearing the dirt on her face. A large bruise was swelling on her jaw from where one of them had hit her.

Qui-Gon found it difficult to release his anger into the Force this time.

His fingers twitched dangerously close to his lightsaber when Buffy removed herself from the shadows. Her body had a relaxed tension about it. The scarf she wore to conceal her correctional collar – something Qui-Gon had still yet to inquire about – was still wrapped around her neck but no longer covered her head. Her sun-streaked blonde hair reflected coolly in the moonlight as she strolled over towards the pair.

Sensing that it would be better to watch the exchange than participate, Qui-Gon pushed himself further into the shadows.

“Please, stop,” the little girl said, the words sounding like a whimper.

“Who gave you permission to speak, slave?” the human asked.

Panic rushed over the child when he raised his hand, reading to strike her once again. However, it never descended. Instead, both to the human and Rodian’s surprise, there stood Buffy, holding his beefy hand in her petit one.

The contained rage on her face would scare a Sith.

“I don’t think so, Tiny,” she said, shoving his hand.

The man stumbled back a step, then bowed himself up as he walked back to the much smaller woman. “This is none of your business, slave,” he said.

“Leave, or we’ll do the same to you,” the Rodian said in it’s native language.

Buffy raised an eyebrow at the creature. “Yeah, womp womp to you too, buddy,” she said, clearly having no idea what it had said. “But if you don’t mind, the grownups are talking.”

The Rodian tensed at her words, but Buffy didn’t seem to notice. Instead, she crossed her arms and tilted her head to the side. It was close to the same look she had given Qui-Gon at the dinner table, only a clear threat this time instead of just suggesting one.

“Now, unless you want to have a boot-ectomy from the foot I’m about to put up your ass, I suggest you leave. Now,” Buffy said.

The two men laughed. Unlike Qui-Gon, they found nothing threatening about the petit woman who had placed herself between them and child. They must both be blind, was the only explanation he could come up with. That or stupid.

“My, my, that’s quite a mouth you have on you,” the man said. He stepped forward and ran his finger down the side of Buffy’s face. “You must keep your master guessing on what you’re going to do next.”

“You have no idea,” Buffy said, not pulling away from the touch but not leaning into it either. “Now, Michael. You and Tito here have until the count of three before I get angry. And you don’t want to seem angry.”

The man laughed again. Buffy shrugged one shoulders.

“One.”

Her palm shot out so quickly, Qui-Gon barely saw it before it connected with the human’s nose. The sickening sound of it breaking echoed faintly in the alley as he yelled in pain and blood began to pour down his face.

The Rodian grabbed his blaster. Buffy saw the movement and jumped as he aimed the weapon at her. She did a somersault high in the air and landed behind the Rodian. Before he could turn around, she kicked him hard in the back. Yelling pain, the creature’s middle lurched forward, while his top bent backwards to an unnatural angle.

At the same, the man had recovered somewhat from her attack and had drawn his blaster. As he fired, Buffy grabbed the Rodian and used him as a shield. The force of the shot knocked both of them backwards. Falling hard on her backside, Buffy tried to scramble to her feet as the man stalked towards her and his fallen partner. Before she could get up, the man seized her by the neck and hauled her to her feet. Slamming her against the wall, he pointed his blaster at the side of her head.

Qui-Gon grabbed his lightsaber. She needed his help.

“You’re going to pay for that,” the man said with a hiss.

Her laughter stopped Qui-Gon in his tracks.

“What?” the man asked. “What’s so damn funny?”

Coolly, Buffy said, “Two.”

Her forehead slammed into his face, cracking his nose in the opposite direction that she had already broken it. He stumbled backwards, letting go of Buffy. Her feet had hardly touched the ground when she spun and kicked him across the face. He did a cartwheel from the force, before slamming into the ground.

Buffy stood over him for a moment, her fists raised in a tense fighting stance. Once satisfied that he was out, she relaxed and hurried over to the crying child. The little girl yelped in fear and tried to back away.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Buffy said gently. “I’m the good guy here.”

The little girl didn’t look as if she believed Buffy, but found her less threatening than the two men. She relaxed a bit, allowing Buffy to come closer.

“You okay?” she asked, looking for injuries.

The girl nodded her head.

Pausing, Buffy asked, “These guys don’t own you, do they?”

The little girl shook her head.

“Good. Unless the guy who owns you let them do this. If he did, I so want his name so I can go thoroughly kick his – Ugh!”

The smell of burnt flesh from the blaster shot emanated in the air as Buffy reached for her arm. A large black mark sizzled there. The ‘unconscious’ man slowly sat up, the blaster pointed at Buffy’s head. Moving quickly, Buffy placed herself in front of the child to protect her.

Qui-Gon’s lightsaber hummed to life as he thrust it forward, slicing it through the man’s back. Buffy fell onto her butt, her eyes wide as the green beam came out of the man’s chest. The man made a series of chocking sounds, then slumped in death. When Qui-Gon turned off the lightsaber, the body fell to the side.

The only sound that could be heard in the alley was the little girl crying. Qui-Gon clipped his lightsaber back to his belt and knelt next to Buffy.

“Are you alright?” he asked, moving the fabric of her sleeve to have a better look at the wound. It wasn’t too bad, more of a graze than anything.

“Been worse,” Buffy said with a shrug. “The kid okay?”

Qui-Gon looked at the child. She had no injuries that he could see or sense.

“She’s fine. Now come along,” he said lifting Buffy as he rose. She winced from the pain, but didn’t fight his help as he had expected her too. “Let’s get you both home.”

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Buffy sat on the retaining wall, watching as Qui-Gon cleaned and disinfected the wound on her arm. She had forgotten what it was like to have someone else dress her injuries. The ones she had had over the past year, she had taken care of herself. First because there was no one else; then because she didn’t want to worry Shmi or Anakin with them. This was part of her life she didn’t want either one of them to be aware of. Mysterious wounds raised questions, ones that she didn’t want to answer.

Frowning, Buffy looked at the tunic she wore during the fight. The nasty scorch mark on the sleeve was smeared with blood, and there were several bloody marks dripped on the front. She had damaged enough of her clothes before to know when something was beyond saving. It was a damn shame too. She didn’t have that many long sleeved tunics.

She was wearing a tank top that she had made from another tunic she ruined months ago in a fight with some aliens whose species name she couldn’t even pronounce. Buffy noted how pale her arms were now from always having to wear long sleeves because of the cuffs. Amazing the damage two little bands of metal could do to her tan.

“Hand me the bandage, please,” Qui-Gon said.

Wordlessly, Buffy picked up the strap of cloth and handed it to him. As he wrapped it around her arm, she asked, “So, am I going to make it, Doc?”

“Unless an infection settles in later, I think you’ll be fine.” His eyes cut to a faint scar that Angel’s sword had left on her arm. “Somehow, I don’t believe that this is your first time with such an injury.”

“Well, yes and no. I’ve been injured on the arm before but it’s the first time I’ve ever been shot.” She scrunched her nose. “Oz was right. It hurts. A lot.”

He made a sound that sounded like a cross between a snort and a laugh as he finished tying the knot. “You should rest your arm for a few days and let it heal.”

“And say what? ‘Sorry, Watto, but I can’t come into work today. I was shot last night.’” Buffy flexed her fingers, trying to work through the pain shooting through her arm. “Thanks for the advice, Dr. Quinn, but I’ll be fine.”

Buffy could tell he wanted to argue the point, but how could he? She was a slave and a slave worked when their master said so. It didn’t matter if they were injured.

As he sat down next to her, Buffy said, “So, you going to ask or not?”

“Ask? About what?”

“Gee, I don’t know. How I waylaid those guys. How I saw more air time than Michael Jordan and have more moves than Jackie Chan. Something.” She fiddled with a piece of string hanging from her shirt. “I know you want to know.”

“And how do you know that?” Qui-Gon asked.

Buffy gave him her best ‘duh’ look. “Cause they always want to know.”

Drawing in a deep breath, a soft smile appeared on Qui-Gon’s lips. “I am curious, Buffy, but I find letting the person come to me about such matter is generally the best course of action.”

“While you investigate them in the meantime,” Buffy said. Qui-Gon laughed. “That’s what I thought.”

“Your insight servers you well,” he said. “You are correct, I am very curious about who you are. But, from what I witnessed tonight, you are not a threat, except to those who wish to do harm to others. I believe that you and I are not all that different in that aspect.”

“Otherwise you would have sliced and diced me with your beam-sword thingy, right?” His silence was enough of an answer. “Fair enough.”

Rising from his seat, Qui-Gon straightened his back in an attempt to work some of the tension. “When I go speak with Watto about Anakin entering the race, I will see what I can do about getting you some time off. That arm needs time to heal.”

Buffy snorted. “You better brush up on your mind control thingy because that’s the only way he’d let me off,” she said.

A weary smile settled on his lips. “We shall see.”

As he turned to go back into the small house, Buffy said, “Qui-Gon.” He paused in the doorway. “Please don’t tell anyone what you saw. Shmi and Ani would freak and, well, you can guess what Watto would do if he found out.” Buffy shook her wrist, rattling the correctional cuff around it.

“You have sworn to keep my secret, I swear to keep yours,” he said with a small bow. With that, he disappeared into the house.

Buffy sighed as she sat down on the cot she had made for herself earlier. He hadn’t asked her to explain about herself tonight, but she knew that it would only be a matter of time. She didn’t know how she knew, but she did. Just like she knew that something bad was going to happen to Principal Flutty. Just like how she knew that the organ falling on Spike didn’t kill him. She just knew.

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Qui-Gon stepped over Jar Jar, who had rolled out of the kitchen area and was now laid spread-eagle in the middle of the floor. Everyone was still asleep but dawn was nearing and that would change quickly. He would like to have some answers before then.

Tucking himself off into a corner, Qui-Gon pulled out his communicator. Knowing his Padawan as he did, Obi-Wan was probably resting near the comm. center, waiting to see if he would need his help.

“Obi-Wan,” he said quietly.

There was a long pause before there was an answer. “Master? Is everything alright?”

“For now,” Qui-Gon said. “I need you to run a midi-chlorian test on the sample I am about to send you.”

He could feel Obi-Wan’s wonder of why this could not wait until morning, but the boy for once held his tongue. There was another long pause before his Padawan spoke again. “Near five thousand. Not high enough for admittance to the Temple, but higher than that of a regular person.”

“Only five thousand?” He would have sworn she would have a higher count than that.

“You sound disappointed, Master,” Obi-Wan said. “Did I just inform you that you have in fact not found the Chosen One?”

The amusement left Obi-Wan when Qui-Gon answered. “No, I do not believe that she is the Chosen One.”

“Master?”

In the women’s room, Qui-Gon felt Shmi start to wake. “I will contact you later after my meeting with the Toydarian.”

Switching off his comm., Qui-Gin slipped back into Ani’s room just as Shmi came out of hers. Buffy had proved to be a bigger mystery than he had expected. But, as Obi-Wan often to point out, he did love a good mystery.

Chapter Four: Questions and a Pod

Late afternoon was the hottest time of day on Tatooine. The twin suns hung low in the sky, and, with no clouds to block them, the planet’s surface spent the day soaking up their heat. The light reflected off the yellowish white sand, so there was a glow from beneath ones feet as well as light from above. It was the closest way one could come to walking on an actual star.

At least it was in Qui-Gon’s opinion.

He stood on the Skywalker’s back porch, watching as Anakin and the others gathered about the Podracer the boy had made. It was a simple design, nothing extravagant like he had seen at the races on Malastare. Since it was so simple, it was much smaller than an average racer, but that was an advantage if one knew how to use it.

It had been easy enough to make Watto let the children have the day off. Though the Toydarian had little faith that Anakin would win, he was still sponsoring the Pod and it would look bad for him if the boy showed up driving a piece of junk. So, he gave them day to complete repairs on it - or for Ani to complete the repairs. He had laughed and said that the only thing Buffy was capable of doing was lifting heavy objects and making human men sputter like idiots.

It amazed Qui-Gon that Anakin and she could be brother and sister. Anakin was a kind, giving child who thought nothing of himself and displayed a mature that could only come from someone who had to grow up far to quickly. Buffy was brash and bold and clueless about how the universe worked - which was a constant source of puzzlement to Qui-Gon. Whatever world she grew up on before rejoining her mother and brother must have been even more backwater than this one. But Buffy too showed maturity beyond her years. She acted childish at times, but Qui-Gon could see it in her eyes. She wasn’t any younger than he was. In fact, she might even be older.

As the others worked on the ship - or provided commentary as Buffy was - Qui-Gon took out his communicator and contacted Obi-Wan to inform him what was taking place. Once he filled his Padawan in on what was going on, he concluded by saying, “If all goes well, we will have our hyperdrive generator by tomorrow afternoon and be on our way.”

Obi-Wan paused. Qui-Gon knew he was choosing his words carefully. “What if this plan fails, Master? We could be stuck here for a very long time.”

“A ship without a power supply will not get us anywhere,” Qui-Gon said. “We have no choice.”

He switched off his communicator and looked to Anakin and Buffy. She was leaning against the Pod as Anakin made some adjustments to the engines. He was laughing, giving Buffy a ‘I can’t believe you just said that’ look. Padmé, too, was laughing, though she was doing her best to hide that she was.

“And there is something about these children,” Qui-Gon said to himself.

Shmi came out of the house and joined him. They watched the group together for several minutes in silence.

Finally, Qui-Gon spoke. “You should be very proud of your children. Anakin gives with no thought of reward. And Buffy has a very kind heart.”

“I am proud of them,” Shmi said warmly. “They are so special.”

“In many ways.”

Shmi looked at him wearily.

“They have...special powers. Don’t they?” he asked. Shmi pressed her lips, giving Qui-Gon his answer. “Anakin, he can see things before they happen, can’t he?”

She drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment. “Yes.”

Qui-Gon nodded. “It’s why he appear to have such quick reflexes. It’s a Jedi trait.”

“What about Buffy?” Shmi asked. “Her reflexes are just as sharp as Anakin’s. Maybe even more so.”

“That she may be. But the Force isn’t as strong with her as it is with Ani.” Reaching up, Qui-Gon ran his fingers through his beard. “I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but might I ask about their father. Perhaps the answer lies there.”

If the subject was painful or off limits, Shmi’s face didn’t show it. Instead, she sighed softly as she crossed her arms and looked to the children once more.

“I can’t tell you anything about either one of them,” Shmi said. “I never knew Buffy’s father. Or her mother for that matter.”

Qui-Gon looked at Shmi. “She’s not yours?”

Slowly, she shook her head. “Last year, my and Ani’s former Mistress, Gardulla the Hutt, lost us in a bet to Watto. When he came to collect us, he found out that Anakin was a child. He was furious, claiming that Gardulla was trying to swindle him out of the ‘full slave’ that he rightfully won. To keep him quiet - or teach him a lesson, I suppose - she agreed to let him have another one of her slaves, the Gython slave girl she had bought only a few months before. Buffy.”

Qui-Gon blinked, the only sign that he was surprised. Anyone who knew of the slave trade that still existed knew of the Gythons. They were a cruel race that would work or beat their slaves to near death. Then, when they became to old to work any longer, they would send them back to wherever they got them from - many of the Gython slaves were humans who had been kidnaped from other galaxies - or simply kill them. In the past twenty years, the Senate and the Jedi had made tremendous strides in stopping them and it had been thought that they were no longer a threat. However, it appeared that they just became better at hiding what they did.

Shmi sighed and continued. “I didn’t even know who she was when Thom - he’s Gardulla personal servant - brought her up from the dungeons.”

“Dungeons?” Qui-Gon asked.

Nodding, Shmi said, “Yes. Buffy was placed there shortly after her arrival. She tried to organize a rebellion. It’s why she has to wear those cuffs and the collar.”

“Your Mistress was afraid of her,” Qui-Gon said. A Hutt afraid of a human girl. How odd.

Shmi shook her head. “No. The Gythons were.”

Qui-Gon was unable to hide his surprise this time.

“Buffy told me that was why they sold her to Gardulla,” Shmi said, then laughed softly. “Mistress thought she was getting a prize, but instead bought the girl who killed several Gythons her first day there and helped others from her world escape.”

“And Gardulla passed her on to Watto,” Qui-Gon said.

“Yes,” Shmi said.

“Does he know about her past?” he asked.

Shmi’s eyes were wide. “Heaven forbid! He only thinks that she’s an unruly, useless slave. If he knew that she was that girl...You won’t tell anyone. Will you?”

Qui-Gon shook his head. “Her secrets are safe with me,” he said.

She studied him for a long moment, then relaxed her shoulders. “I’ll keep you to your word on that,” she said.

Nodding, Qui-Gon turned back to the children. Buffy was standing in the shade, a pout on her lips as the others continued to work. She looked like a sullen child who had just been told to stand in the corner, but at the same time was trying to keep herself from laughing.

She truly was a mystery. The more he found out about her, the more questions he had.

Anakin ran to her and handed her some odd-looking tool. Qui-Gon couldn’t hear what he said, but Buffy pressed her lips in mock anger and swatted at him as he ran back to the Pod laughing.

Anakin. He was the other mystery Qui-Gon was trying to solve.

“What about Anakin?” Qui-Gon said. “What of his father?”

Shmi stood silent for a moment. Then, she said, “There is no father.”

They both stood there silent for a long moment. It appeared that Anakin was proving to be as big a mystery as his sister.

“Can you help them?” Shmi asked.

Drawing in a deep breath, Qui-Gon held it for a moment, a delay move he had picked up from his Padawan. “I don’t know.”

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The day had not gone as Buffy had expected. Though she had gotten little sleep after Qui-Gon had left, she was still up and ready to go to work with Ani, albeit with a slightly grouchier attitude than usual. However, if Anakin had noticed – as he often did – he said nothing. Upon arriving at work, Anakin had set immediately to work on manipulating Watto into letting him race his own Pod. After having worked for the winged rat for so long, Ani knew exactly what to say to get him to agree. By the time Qui-Gon and the others arrived, Watto was ready to let them have Anakin race.

Watto got so caught up in everything, that when Qui-Gon had suggested he allow Buffy and Anakin the day off to help prepare the Pod, he hadn’t objected. Anakin and the other spent the day working on the Pod, but quickly dismissed Buffy when she proved herself to more of a klutz around machines than Jar Jar.

Dinner that night was no where near as tense as the one before, but had a buzz about it from anticipation for the upcoming race. Even the stuck-up princess had pulled some of the rod out of her ass to enjoy the charged atmosphere. No, she shouldn’t think such things about Padmé. She was nice enough, when she wanted to be. Buffy just had to be careful around Anakin if she thought such things. He had a huge crush on the girl and a nagging ability to know what Buffy was thinking.

She listened to him now, while he sat outside on her wall, speaking with Qui-Gon about the stars and childish dreams until Shmi called him to bed. Like he had her the pervious night, the Jedi was dressing a wound that Anakin had not noticed he had until recently. However, Ani had called him on the ‘checking for infections’ thing. Buffy, not really having had medical treatment here since her arrival, had not realized that it was not a standard practice to do so. The thought made her frown.

“Anakin, I won’t tell you again,” Shmi said, sounding more irritated than the first time.

Ani ran past Buffy as he came inside, never seeing her as she leaned against the wall beside the door. Shmi smiled wearily at her, than went back towards their room where Padmé had already retired. Jar Jar was once more passed on the kitchen floor, and the little R2 unit and C-3PO were in the court yard painting Ani’s Pod. With it so quiet, Buffy could easily hear Qui-Gon’s conversation.

“Run a midi-chlorian test,” Qui-Gon said quietly.

What was a mini-chlorine test?

“Another one, Master?” a voice asked dryly.

Buffy could see Qui-Gon frowning, though he had his back to her. However, before the Jedi could respond, the voice came back.

“There must be some mistake. This reading is off the charts. Near twenty-thousand! No one has a count that high. Not even Master Yoda.”

What was reading off the charts? Those mid-codeine thingies?

And who or what was Master Yogurt?

Qui-Gon sat quietly for a long time, staring off out into the dark streets of Mos Espa’s slave district. Apparently, he hadn’t expected that answer. That or had and didn’t know what to do now. A few seconds later, he said goodnight to someone - though she couldn’t hear who - and switched off whatever it was he was speaking into.

Not wanting to get caught eavesdropping, Buffy placed a large smile on her face and walked outside. “Hey,” she said with a cheery tone. “Heading in for the night?”

“I believe so,” Qui-Gon said. If he thought there was something suspicious about Buffy’s behavior, he didn’t show it. “How is your arm this evening?”

Buffy looked at her arm. She had inspected the wound a few hours ago and figured it would be nearly healed by tomorrow night. Being the slayer had some kick-ass advantages, and slayer healing was definitely one of them.

“Pretty good,” she said, flexing the muscle.

“I’m glad to hear that,” he said.

“Is everything alright?” Buffy asked, placing her best ‘I didn’t hear anything’ look on her face.

Qui-Gon gave her a tired smile. “Everything is fine. Now, try to get some rest tonight. Tomorrow is a big day.”

“Which is code for ‘keep your butt here and don’t pick any fights’,” Buffy said.

Laughing softly, Qui-Gon patted her on her shoulder. “Goodnight, Buffy,” he said, walking inside.

“Good night, Master.” Buffy heard him stop and turn around, but she began to make her bedding for the evening. He stood there shortly, then headed inside.

Chapter Five: Fifty on the Kid in the First Race

Racing day was always a big day in Mos Espa. Business closed. Slaves were given the day off. And the betting began early in the morning. That was why Qui-Gon was not surprised to find Watto at the track even before Anakin and the others had brought in the Pod.

Currently, the Toydarian was going on about how Anakin didn’t stand a chance against the Dug that had picked a fight with Buffy the other day. The creature didn’t seem to remember Qui-Gon and barely spared him a glance before going back to the slave girls feeding him.

Then, Watto provided him with the opening that Qui-Gon had been waiting for. Laughing at his own comment about how Sebulba always wins, Watto said, “I’m’ betting heavily on Sebulba.”

Qui-Gon managed to keep his face neutral. “I’ll take that bet.”

Watto instantly stopped laughing and jerked as if the Jedi had burned him with his lightsaber. “What? What do you mean?”

“I’ll wager my new racing Pod against...” Reaching up, Qui-Gon rubbed his beard. “Against, say...the family you own.”

If Watto had been eating or drinking, Qui-Gon was sure that he would have choked. “A Pod for slaves! I don’t think so! No Pod is worth three slaves!” Then, he thought better. “Well, maybe one. The girl. She’ll will do nice for you. Young. Pretty. Human.”

“What about the boy. He can’t be worth much to you.”

Qui-Gon didn’t like driving Buffy off the barging table, but he knew she could take care of herself and would most likely make it off this rock even without his help. Anakin, however...He needed to get him. If he was who Qui-Gon thought, the Galaxy might depend on it.

“The boy is not for sale,” Watto said. “I’ll be generous and bet you the girl and the mother. Two slaves for a Pod - eh, it’s not an equal bet, but it’s not like you’ll win, outlander.”

Watto chuckled with self assurance. Qui-Gon realized he was trying to get rid of Buffy. He might have suggested the three of them, but Qui-Gon wasn’t stupid enough to think Watto would agree. At best Qui-Gon would get away with one because no one would bet two slaves for a Pod. The fact that Watto was letting him basically have Buffy in whatever bet he laid said how much he thought of her.

“Two human women for a Pod,” Watto said. “A man such as yourself will not find a better deal.”

Qui-Gon crossed his arms. “The children then. Or no bet.”

Watto hung in midair for a moment, contemplating the bet. If he didn’t take the bet, he lost his chance at winning the Pod or possibly getting ride of the girl. Either way, it was a win-win situation for him.

Reaching into his pocket, Watto pulled out a dice that had four sides painted red and two sides painted blue. “We’ll let fate decide,” he said tossing the dice from one hand to the other. “Blue, you get the girl and the boy. Red, you get the girl and the mother.”

Before Qui-Gon could agree, Watto threw the dice. Rasing his hand, Qui-Gon nudged the dice with the Force, insuring it would land blue side up. True, cheating did go against the Jedi Code, but what was a little suggestion when the universe could be at stake. The dice hit one, twice, rolled, and landed with blue facing up. Watto trembled in anger.

“Bah!” he said. “You won the toss, outlander, but you won’t win the race I think, so it will matter little.”

Watto flutter away, running right towards the small group entering the hanger with the Pod and engines. Anakin and Padmé were riding an eopie that was dragging one of the massive Radon-Ulzer engines. Buffy rode behind Anakin’s friend Kitster on the second one, dragging the other engine behind them. Behind the beasts, moving slowly, were the droids and Shmi.

Anakin’s eyes widened when Watto flew up to him and said, “Better stop your friend’s betting or I’ll end up owning him, too!”

Watto glared at Buffy, then hurried off to where he would be watching the race.

“What’s got his panties in a bunch?” Buffy asked, sliding off the animal before helping Kitster down. “Usually he’s as happy as a hippy at Woodstock on racing day.”

Qui-Gon didn’t even pretend to understand what she meant. “I’ll explain later,” he said.

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As expected, nearly everyone in Mos Espa had arrived for the race. The stands were full, some people holding colorful banners in support of one driver while bands played for others. There was a great deal of energy in the air as they waited for the race to begin.

Buffy wondered if those NASCAR races back home were like this. Not that she cared for them - she found them about as exciting as the wonderful world of Algebra. Of course, during those races, people didn’t put money on who would be the first killed. Or if they did, they were considered way sick.

Anakin was making a few last minute adjustments when Buffy saw Sebulba come up and inspect the Pod. The two exchanged words, but, since it was in Huttese, Buffy didn’t understand most of it. The only word she really understood was poodoo, which she knew translated into a bad word that children shouldn’t hear.

As she walked towards the pair, Sebulba sneered one last time at Ani then headed towards her. Purposely, he hit Buffy in the side as he passed. She sent one of her best ‘fear me’ glares, but the Dug just laughed and kept walking. Shaking her head, Buffy continued on to where Qui-Gon was helping Ani into the Pod.

“Are you all set, Ani?” Qui-Gon asked calmly. Anakin nodded while the Jedi Master held his gaze. “Remember, concentrate on the moment. Feel, don’t think. Trust your instincts.”

Anakin nodded again.

Qui-Gon placed his hand on his shoulder and said, “May the Force be with you, Ani.”

Buffy nodded to Qui-Gon as he followed the others. They had already started towards the platform where they would be observing the race from.

Smiling, Buffy patted the top of Anakin’s old helmet to get his attention. When he looked up, she saw he already had the goggles down and now looked more like an owl than a boy.

“Hey,” she said. “You ready to kick some Dug butt?”

“Yup,” Ani said.

“Good.”

Reaching into her pocket, Buffy pulled out the only thing of value she owned. When she had first come to this place, she was sure that they would have taken it from her, but she guessed starling silver wasn’t worth much here. Since she had to wear the collar, Buffy couldn’t wear it anymore but always kept it in her pocket.

“Here,” she said, slipping the chain around Anakin’s neck. The large cross was nearly sitting in his lap when he picked it up.

“You’re letting me take this?” Ani asked, awe in his voice. He knew that she didn’t let anyone touch her necklace, so her putting on it him was huge.

“It’ll bring you luck,” she said. “Not that you’re going to need any, Mr. Gordon.”

Anakin beamed. Once before another race she had called him that and, afterwards, she had explained that he was a famous racer on her planet. Ever since then, she made it a point to slip the nickname in before a race.

“Now, remember what I told you,” Buffy said.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he said. “Keep my head up, my eyes opened...”

“And your butt firmly strapped in,” Buffy finished with a smile. “Good luck, Ani.”

She patted him one last time on the back of his helmet and then ran towards the platform where the others were waiting. By the time she reached them, Buffy could tell that Padmé was not pleased by what was going on around her or with Qui-Gon. She looked even less happy when Qui-Gon whispered something, then left her with a grin on his face.

“You assume to much,” Padmé said as the platform headed upwards.

“Most guys do,” Buffy said. Padmé continued to frown, but didn’t disagree with what she said. Instead, they gathered with Shmi and Qui-Gon to watch the race from the handheld viewscreen Shmi had.

When racers started their engines, the roar was deafening. The crowd cheered and waited for the giant slug - Jabba - to start the race.

Standing next to Qui-Gon, Jar Jar covered his eyes and ducked his head. “Me no watch. Dis gonna be messy!”

Buffy frowned and leaned onto the railing. Ani’s ship looked like a toy boat in a sea of ocean liners. Glancing up, he saw Buffy and quickly gave her a thumbs-up, the sign she had taught him to let her know he’s okay. Buffy returned it.

“You can do this, Anakin,” she whispered.

Then, the light turned green and the race began.

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Qui-Gon pressed his lips when Anakin’s Pod stalled at the beginning of the race, but he had faith in the boy. In the Force. If Obi-Wan were there, Qui-Gon knew that he would be groaning and insisting that they had made a mistake. As it were, Padmé appeared to have that aspect of pessimism covered fairly well. When the ship stalled, she gave Qui-Gon an ‘I told you so’ look. Still, he had faith.

A few seconds later, Anakin’s Pod roared to life again, and he shot off after the others with a high-pitched screech. Qui-Gon and the others pushed closed together so they could watch the race. The camera switched quickly, following the leader, Sebulba as he twisted and turned through the caverns.

Padmé jumped when the ship beside Sebulba’s exploded into a fiery crash. A few people on the other side the platform laughed and nudged each other, finding great amusement in the racers misfortune. Buffy shook her head.

“Aren’t the locals such great people,” she said.

“I can’t believe they can find pleasure in that man’s death,” Padmé said. “It’s barbaric.”

Qui-Gon wasn’t inclined to disagree with her.

The race continued on. More racers crashed before Sebulba and the rest of the front runners screamed passed them again, staring their second lap. They had yet to see Ani again.

“Where is he?” Padmé asked.

Buffy covered her eyes and squinted to look out over the desert. “There,” she said, pointing towards a small cluster of mountains in the distance.

Qui-Gon could see a dot with dust flying up behind it racing towards them. How had she been able to see that?

Less than ten seconds later, Anakin screeched past the stands to a loud cheer. At the rate he was traveling, he would catch up to Sebulba and the others halfway through this lap.

Shortly after, the viewscreen showed Anakin again as he leap-frogged over one Pod, then flipped over another. He was closing in on Sebulba.

One of the ships in front of Anakin exploded, forcing him to fly through the debris. Somehow, one of the cables from the engine to the Pod disconnected, causing the Pod and Anakin to spin while being dragged. Shmi winced and looked away, unable to bear the sight. Buffy wrapped hear arm around Shmi’s upper arm and held her close. Qui-Gon drew in a breath and held it.

They lost sight of him because the viewscreen switched back to footage of Sebulba in the led.

“Come on, Ani,” Buffy said.

It wasn’t until they came out of the canyon did they see Ani again. When they came out at the turn, Anakin was behind Sebulba by just one racer.

A few Tuscan Raiders shot at the Pods as they went by, just grazing the back of Anakin’s racer. The Pod in front his, however, exploded when one of the shot hit the fuel line.

“Stupid Raiders,” Buffy said.

The viewscreen then showed Anakin closing in fast behind the Dug. Buffy looked up as they approached the stadium. Seconds later, they went past in a blur and started the final lap.

The two continued on. They were so far ahead of the others, that everyone knew one of them would win unless they both crashed. With the way the race had been going, Qui-Gon knew that was a possibility, but he had faith that the Force would bring the boy through.

The two fought for first place, Anakin doing his best to scrape by the much larger Pod while Sebulba did all he could to block his way. When they came upon the service ramp, Sebulba forced Anakin up it at full speed.

Buffy gasped and slapped her hand down hard onto the railing. “That son of a -!”

“And Skywalker takes the lead!” the announcer said as Anakin managed to jump in front of Sebulba.

A small pout formed her lips. “Sebby’s still a Dug-hole,” she said.

Jar Jar, who had covered his eyes when Anakin’s ship veered off course, peeked at the viewscreen. “Hesa no go squish?”

Anakin’s ship stayed ahead of Sebulba’s, but the Dug was closing in fast. His large twin engines were coming in close to Anakin’s Pod, threatening the boy with the energy binder beam. Then, the left engine of Anakin’s race caught fire and caused a trail of smoke to flow back in Sebulba’s Pod. All the smoke made the Dug veer away while Anakin had to slow down.

“What happened?” Padmé asked, looking from Buffy to Qui-Gon.

Buffy pressed her lips while Qui-Gon crossed his arms.

Anakin fixed whatever was wrong with his engine as they entered the home stretch. Sebulba wasn’t that far ahead, and Anakin was at his side again in no time. The two raced side-by-side, each trying to gain those precious few inches that could win them the race. Then Sebulba slammed his Pod into the side of Anakin’s and it appeared something caught, locking the two engines together.

“Oh no!” Jar Jar said.

They were still flying that way when they came into view from the arena. The crowd was on their feet trying to see what was going on. Buffy was leaning so far against the rail, Qui-Gon thought she might go over the side.

He was never sure who jerked away from whom, but the next thing Qui-Gon saw was Sebulba’s ship crack apart and shatter against the desert sands. Anakin’s Pod speed away from the fiery crash, heading into the arena.

The announcer was quit correct when he said the crowd was going wild.

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An hour after the race, the arena was near deserted, except for a few droids, pilots, and debt collectors looking for the people who owed them money. The Pods were put up or being repaired, and a few of the hopeless cases were strapped onto antigrav repulsorsled and drug off to junkyards by eopies. A couple of Jawas were nosing around, trying to lift some parts without anyone noticing. One was snooping around Ani’s Pod when Buffy caught it. The little creature screeched, then hurried off into the shadows.

“What was that?” Anakin asked, his head popping up from inside the Pod’s cockpit.

“Just a Jawa.”

Buffy bit the inside of her cheeks to keep from laughing. Except for his eyes, which had been covered by goggles, Ani’s face was covered in dirt and sand. He kind of looked like a racoon, only with white circles around his eyes instead of black.

Ani tilted his head. “What?”

Finally allowing herself to giggle, Buffy stepped up to the Pod. “Come here.”

Ani jumped out of the Pod and Buffy tried to brush some of the dirt off his face. However, she only managed to smear it around. Okay, that wasn’t working.

There weren’t many people in the hanger and the only people close to the Pod were Shmi and the others. Jar Jar, 3PO, and R2 were busy checking over the engines while Shmi and Padmé watched from nearby. Qui-Gon was walking towards them. He had disappeared somewhere after the race, but apparently he finished whatever business he had attended to.

Since there were so few people, Buffy decided it wouldn’t hurt anything and took off her scarf. Anakin’s eyes widened as she did so.

“Buffy, what are you doing?” he asked, his head whipping back and forth to see if anyone noticed the band around her neck. “Watto will blow a gas leak if he sees you!”

“That’s ‘gasket’, Ani,” she said, wiping the dirt off his face. “And, if someone sees, I’ll handle it.”

Qui-Gon walked up to them before Ani could say anything more on the matter. He looked at Buffy’s neck for a moment, but didn’t say anything. Instead, he smiled kindly at Anakin.

“You’re a bit worse for wear, Ani, but you did well,” he said, before ruffling the boys hair.

Shmi and Padmé joined them. When Shmi saw Buffy’s collar, she smiled wearily at her then turned a much warmer one at her son before kissing him on his now clean cheek. Padmé, not having seen the collar before, opened her mouth, but Qui-Gon placed his hand on her shoulder and shook his head. She still looked as if she wanted to ask, but turned to Ani as Shmi had. Buffy nodded to the Jedi and mouthed ‘Thank you.’ He nodded in return, then walked to where Watto had delivered the hyperdrive parts.

“It’s so wonderful, Ani - what you’ve done here. Do you know? You’ve brought hope to those who have none,” Shmi said, hugging her son. “I’m so very pround of you.”

“We owe you everything,” Padmé said, giving him a intense, warm look.

Ani blushed deeply.

Buffy laugh. “Ani, if you get any redder, people are going to mistake you for a Dug.”

“Shut up,” he said, trying to glare but the smile on his face took out the threat.

Buffy just laughed more while Shmi smiled and Padmé giggled.

“Padmé, Jar Jar, let’s go,” Qui-Gon said. “We’ve got to get these parts back to the ship.”

Jar Jar joined the group as they walked over to the eopies, still laughing at the siblings. Padmé quickly hugged Anakin and kissed him on the cheek before climbing onto the eopie behind Qui-Gon. Ani blushed...again.

Jar Jar swung himself onto and off of the other eopie. R2 beeped him some encouragement, and he managed to stay on with his second try.

Goodbyes and well-wishes were exchanged, and then Buffy and the Skywalkers watched as the Jedi and his friends road out into the hot mid-day sun.

“We should head back,” Shmi said. “I’m sure you’re both hungry.”

“Yeah,” Buffy said, wrapping the dirty scarf around her neck once more. Taking hold of Ani’s shoulders, she turned the boy away from the hanger doors that led to the desert and took him towards the ones that lead into the city. Ani hesitated a bit, trying to get one last look at the group, then allowed her to lead him.

“Do you think we’ll see them again?” he asked.

Buffy glanced over her shoulder towards the hanger door. She knew they would see Qui-Gon again soon because he had to bring back the eopies. But she knew that wasn’t what Ani meant.

“Yeah, Ani,” she said, squeezing his shoulders. “I think we will.”

Chapter Six: Coming and Going

After lunch, Buffy was bored.

Qui-Gon had told them before he left that Watto had given her and Anakin the day off, so they were free to as they pleased. Ani had stayed long enough to put 3PO in his room and deactivate him, eat, then he went off into the city to find some of his friends.

Since nearly everyone in Mos Espa was either afraid of Buffy, thought she was beneath them, or wanted to sleep with her, she didn’t have any friends besides Anakin and Shmi for her to hang out with. So, she found herself sitting at the kitchen table, board out of her skull while Shmi worked on something for Watto. It was one of those ‘No Buffy touchy’ things, so she couldn’t even help her.

God, did she wish these people knew what a TV was.

A tingle in the back of her mind told Buffy that two powerful and familiar people were coming back. “Shmi, Anakin’s home,” she said. “And he’s brought Qui-Gon with him.”

Stopping what she was doing, Shmi came out of the little work area just as Anakin ran through the front door with Qui-Gon close behind.

“Mom! Mom!”

“I’m right here, Anakin. There’s no need to yell,” Shmi said, walking towards her son.

“We sold the Pod!” he said, holding out a handful of money. “Look at all the money we have!”

“My goodness,” Shmi said, taking some the credits from him. “Ani, that’s wonderful.”

“I have more good news,” Qui-Gon said. Shmi and Anakin both turned to him with a curious look on their faces while Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Anakin and Buffy have been freed.”

Buffy grabbed the side of the table to keep from falling out of her chair. “What?”

Qui-Gon turned to her. “You are no longer a slave,” he said. “Neither one of you are.”

Shmi stared at Qui-Gon with a mixture of shock and disbelief. For a moment, Ani just stood there, then shock wore off and he began to cheered and jumped in glee.

“Freed,” Buffy said, lifting her arms. The correctional cuffs peeked out from underneath the end of her sleeves. “I’m free?”

With a kind smile, Qui-Gon nodded. “Yes. You are.”

Buffy blinked once more, then launched herself at the Jedi, wrapping her arms around his neck. It was obvious that Qui-Gon was not used to such displays of affection, and awkwardly held her by the waist as she hugged him.

“Buffy,” he said horsily. “I understand you are grateful, but I’m having a rather difficult time breathing.”

“Oh, sorry,” she said, letting go. “I sometimes forget Buffy shouldn’t squeeze the puppy to hard or it’ll go to heaven.”

He tilted his head but laughed. “You are a strange one,” he said.

“Us being freed, that was part of the bet, wasn’t it?” Anakin asked, bouncing up to Qui-Gon and Buffy.

Nodding, Qui-Gon said, “Yes. It was.”

Anakin laughed and jumped some more until Shmi took him by the shoulders and drew him towards her. The usual worry was gone from her face and was replaced by a look Buffy had never seen before. It was like Shmi suddenly understood something - something huge - and had made peace with a very painful decision.

“Now you can make all your dreams come true,” she said, touching Ani’s cheek. “You’re free.” She turned to Buffy. “You both are.”

With bright eyes, she released Anakin and turned to Qui-Gon.

“Will you take them with you?” Shmi asked. “Is Anakin to become a Jedi?”

Buffy blinked. Okay, that had just come out of left field...sort of. Well, Qui-Gon had been watching Anakin pretty closely, but he had her too. But, then, now that she thought about it, she had heard him use the words ‘Jedi’ and ‘Anakin’ a lot in the same sentence. God, did she need to start paying attention or what?

Qui-Gon hesitated for a moment. “Our meeting was not a coincidence. Nothing happens by accident. You are strong with the Force, Ani, but you may not be accepted by the Council.”

Buffy drew in a deep breath. Anakin trained as a Jedi? She really didn’t like the sound of that. From what she had seen and heard from Qui-Gon, they were a lot like her. They were guardians, protectors...warriors. She didn’t want that for Ani.

But, Buffy noted, there were a lot of ‘if’s’ being said. Maybe she was worrying herself for nothing. They might not even take Anakin to train. Qui-Gon didn’t sound as if he was convinced they would even take him on.

However, Anakin didn’t seem to consider that. “A Jedi!” he gasped. “You mean I get to go with you in your starship and everything.”

Wait. Starship?

Kneeling in front of Anakin, Qui-Gon took Anakin by the shoulders. “Anakin, training to be a Jedi will not be easy. It will be a challenge. And if you succeed, it will be a hard life.”

Anakin shook his head, trying to dispel Qui-Gon’s warning. “But it’s what I want!” he said.

No, it’s not, Ani, Buffy thought.

“It’s what I’ve always dreamed about!” he said. “Can I go, Mom?”

“This path was placed before you, Anakin,” Qui-Gon said. “No one else can decide for you.”

Like hell, though Buffy. He’s nine and a former slave. Everything was decided for him; when to eat, sleep, work. And now this was just thrust at him to decide? How could he? He had never made a decision his whole life. Not really.

“You’re just asking him if he wants off this rock, not making him agree to become a Jedi. Right?” Buffy asked, crossing her arms.

Qui-Gon blinked at her. “The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive, Buffy.”

“They should be,” she said.

A tense silence fell upon the room as Qui-Gon and Buffy stared at one another. He didn’t appear to understand why she should be objective to Anakin being trained, but Buffy had her resolve face on. Anakin, too, didn’t seem to understand why she was acting the way she was.

“It’s what I want, Buffy,” he said.

“You don’t know that, Ani,” she said.

“How would you know that?” he asked.

As Buffy opened her mouth to answer, Qui-Gon stepped between the two in attempt to stop the fight. “This is nothing that has to be decided now. Anakin will need the Council’s approval to begin his training anyway. Right now, all I am asking is if Anakin wishes to try.” Calmly, he added, “And it is his decision, Buffy.”

If looks could kill, Qui-Gon would be a big pile of dust on the floor. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” Buffy drew in a deep breath to control her anger, then said, “And if he doesn’t want to? Are you going to leave us here?”

“Of course not,” Qui-Gon said. “If you wish to leave this world, but do not wish to continue on with us, I will do my best to find you some place suitable.”

Buffy pressed her lips for a moment. “Fine,” she said. “Ani, you want to go?”

He was nodding his head before she finished asking the question. “Yes!”

With a small laugh, Qui-Gon said, “Then go pack your things.”

Jumping again, Ani hurried to his room. He got to his door when he suddenly stopped and turned back to the adults. “What about Mom?” he asked. “She’s coming too. Right?”

Heavy silence hung in the room as Qui-Gon and Shmi looked to one another. Though she knew it was childish, Buffy felt a certain amount of satisfaction knowing that Qui-Gon was going to have to be the one to tell Anakin no.

“Have fun explaining that,” she said, pushing past Qui-Gon and heading into her room to pack what few things she had.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Buffy pulled the strap of her bag a little higher on her shoulder as she and Anakin followed Qui-Gon into the hot afternoon streets of Mos Espa. Anakin was clearly upset, though he was doing everything in his power to be brave. Placing a hand on his shoulder, Buffy pushed him on, but looked back at Shmi. She was still standing in the doorway of their home, watching as both Buffy and Anakin walked out of her life and into another that she could never provide.

Buffy had promised her that she would watch out for Anakin and do her best to keep him out of trouble. That was going to prove to be a difficult enough task without Ani becoming a Jedi. She didn’t know what she would do if he was excepted to train.

They followed Qui-Gon in silence all the way to Watto’s store. The Toydarian grumbled the entire time they were there about how unfair it was that he should have to loose his slaves, but did sign the papers to free them and had their chips deactivated.

Watto hesitated when he handed over the controller to Buffy’s cuffs and collar to Qui-Gon. “Eh, you won’t let her go before your off planet. Will you, outlander?” he asked.

“What? Scared I’m going to hurt you?” Buffy asked coolly, crossing her arms.

Watto fluttered there, clutching onto the controller as if it were his only means of protection from her.

“Good to know you’re not as stupid as you look,” Buffy said.

“Perhaps it would be wise to wait until we leave,” Qui-Gon said. Buffy glared at him, but he didn’t seem to notice. After a few more seconds, Watto handed over the controller. Buffy sneered at him, causing the Toydarian to jump back slightly.

As the group left, Ani insisted they stop by to see Jira. He gave her some of the money he had gotten from the Pod and told her to by a new cooling unit.

“You’re the nicest boy in the universe, Ani,” she said as they left.

Buffy drew in a deep breath as they walked towards the outskirts of town. So, this was the last time she was going to be here for awhile. Maybe ever. She had never liked Mos Espa or Tatooine, but it was the only place she had known since coming here. Leaving it was a bit scary. It was like when she left LA with her mother to move to Sunnydale. Only, she wasn’t moving a few hours away. She was moving to a completely different planet!

Buffy was so lost in her own thoughts that when Qui-Gon drew his lightsaber and sliced through a droid she pulled Ani behind her and just stopped herself from attacking the Jedi. The droid laid in two pieces on the ground. The sun reflected off its shiny black exterior, as sparks flew from the now exposed wires.

Relaxing, Buffy released the death grip she had on Ani’s shoulder. He winced and began to rub the spot she had been holding him.

“What was that?” she asked, kicking at one of the broken pieces.

“Probe droid,” Qui-Gon said, switching off his lightsaber. “Very unusual. Unlike any I’ve ever seen.”

He looked around, as if trying to see if there were anymore, then touched Buffy’s back.

“Come on,” he said. “We better hurry.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Qui-Gon took them out of the city as quickly as possible. Something was coming. He could feel it.

A short distance outside the city, a silver ship waited. Unlike most of the ships that landed in Mos Espa that were old and tattered, this one looked new. It was almost like looking at a mirage of water shimmering just above the desert sand.

Qui-Gon and Buffy ran towards it. Both seem to know that something was coming and they needed to get on that ship before it caught them. Anakin, however, was having a hard time keeping up with their pace.

“Wait!” Anakin called from behind them. “I can’t keep up with you!”

Both Buffy and Qui-Gon slowed only a few meters from the ship.

“Ani,” Buffy said, turning back towards Anakin. She gasped when she saw a black-cloaked figure flying at him on a speeder bike. “Hit the deck!”

Anakin dove the ground seconds before the bike past over him. Qui-Gon turned towards Buffy as she growled like a Wookie mother seeing her youngling in trouble, then charged at the figure on the bike.

“Buffy! No!” Qui-Gon yelled.

The speeder hadn’t stopped when the figure leapt into the air. Buffy slid to a stop less than a meter away as the attacker flew over her head, igniting a lightsaber. Drawing his lightsaber, Qui-Gon prepared for duel he knew was about to come. Flipping, the figure landed between himself and Buffy. Lifting his hand at Buffy, he threw a blast of the Force at her, knocking her to the ground, before turning towards Qui-Gon.

The red lightsaber beam came at him fast and furious, cutting through the air with expert precision of someone trying to land a fatal blow. The attack was so quick, so angry, the Qui-Gon could do nothing but defend himself. A counter attack was just not possible, the attacker wouldn’t allow it.

Buffy pushed herself up on her elbows as Ani reached her. He helped her to her feet.

“Get to the ship!” Qui-Gon yelled to the children. “Tell them to take off!”

His duel with the creature raged on.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Anakin grabbed Buffy’s hand to pull her to the ship, but she didn’t move.

“Go,” she said, pushing him. “Do what Qui-Gon says.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll be fine. Now go!”

Ani hesitated for a moment longer, then ran towards the ship.

Pressing her lips, Buffy turned towards the pair that were fighting savagely. The green and red lights hissed with each strike and moved so quickly Buffy could hardly keep up.

Okay, so what was her brilliant plan? Besides getting sliced, diced, and turned into curly fries.

Okay, what’s the first thing Giles taught her about finding herself in a fight without any weapons? Well, never be caught without any weapons was the first thing he taught her. But the second thing was if for some reason she were, improvise.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Qui-Gon ducked as the red lightsaber swung over his head. The attacker was gaining ground on him. If Qui-Gon were ten years younger, than perhaps he would have been able to keep up with the frenzy the attacker was unleashing against him. But it wasn’t ten years ago and Qui-Gon could feel himself slowing.

The attacker brought his lightsaber blade around for another attack, when suddenly he used a burst of the Force to knock Qui-Gon back a few meters while he slashed his blade behind him. A rather large rock laid in two halves on the ground and another one was hurtling at the attacker’s head. It too was sliced in half.

“Hasn’t anyone told you its not nice to pick on the elderly?” Buffy asked, throwing another rock.

“Buffy, stop!” Qui-Gon yelled, running at the figure, ready to continue their duel.

The attacker merely raised his hand at Qui-Gon again and threw him once more. He landed hard on his back, his lightsaber knocked from his grasp.

Pushing himself up, Qui-Gon grabbed for his lightsaber then turned back to the attacker and Buffy. With a twisted smile on his face, the attacker raised his lightsaber up and charged at Buffy with Force enhanced speed.

“NO!”

The red lightsaber blade swung at Buffy’s head as she dropped to her knees. As she did so, she grabbed a hand full of sand and, before the blade could come back, threw it in the attackers face. By instinct, his hand went to his face to try and get some of the sand out of his eyes. As he did so, Buffy kicked him in the chest, knocking him several meters away.

The ship was nearly on top of them by the time Qui-Gon saw it. “Buffy, jump!” he yelled as he did so.

As the ramp passed over her, she leapt into the air. She almost fell, her left foot slipping off the back of the ramp. Qui-Gon grabbed her by the arms and pulled inside. They stumbled up the ramp, then both fell onto the ground at the top before the hatch sealed.

Buffy pushed herself up onto her knees as Qui-Gon sat up.

“‘Not nice to pick on the elderly’?” Qui-Gon asked.

Buffy shrugged. “It got his attention. Didn’t it?”

The door sliding open drew their attention away from each other. Standing at the end of the hall were Anakin and Obi-Wan. It was hard to tell which one was more worried.

“Buffy!” Anakin yelled, running and hugging his sister.

“I’m alright,” she said, running her hand through his hair before standing.

“Are you alright, Master,” Obi-Wan asked.

Qui-Gon nodded and allowed his Padawan to help him to his feet. “I think so. That won’t be a surprise I’ll soon forget.”

“What kind of circus reject was that thing?” Buffy asked, pulling Anakin close against her.

Qui-Gon shook his head. “I’m not sure. Whoever or whatever he was, he was trained in the Jedi arts. My guess is that he was after the Queen.”

Buffy tilted her head. “Queen?”

“Do you think he’ll follow us?” Anakin asked quickly.

“We’ll be safe enough once we’re in hyperspace,” Qui-Gon said. “Though, I have no doubts that he knows our destination. If he found us once, he will be able to find us again.”

“You’re really one of those ‘the glass is half full’ kind of guys, aren’t you?” Buffy said.

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow at her while Qui-Gon laughed softly. “I’m just realistic,” Qui-Gon said. Both Anakin and Buffy were looking curiously at his Padawan, who was doing the same at them. “I suppose introduction are in order. Buffy Summers, Anakin Skywalker, meet Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

“Please to meet you,” Anakin said, holding his hand out. Somewhat reluctantly, Obi-Wan took it.

Buffy, however, just blinked. “You know what, that’s it. I’m sick of everyone having such weird names around here! Shmi. Qui-Gon. Padmé. Whatever happened to - I don’t know - David or Luke or something normal! Obi-Wan. That’s not a name. That’s-that’s...a profession!” She pointed at Obi-Wan. “From now on, you’re...Ben. Ben Kenobi.”

Obi-Wan drew back as if he been struck. “What? You can’t change my name because you don’t like the one I have.”

“Can. Did,” Buffy said. “Come on, Ani. Lets find something to eat. I’m starved.”

She turned herself and the boy towards the hall he and Obi-Wan had just come from. Anakin gave Obi-Wan a half shrug/half apologetic smile as Buffy pushed him away.

Flabbergasted, his Padawan watched them go, then turned to Qui-Gon. The Jedi Master never thought he’d see the day, but someone had finally left Obi-Wan Kenobi speechless.

Qui-Gon couldn’t hide the amusement on his face and just kept himself from laughing.

With a chuckle, Qui-Gon said, “I think it’s a good name.”

Chapter Seven: Where No One Can Hear You

The ship was quiet, except for the low hmm of the lights and the recycled air pumping through the vents. It would be several hours before they reached Coruscant, so nearly everyone had decided to get some sleep while they had the chance. There were a few droids moving about the ship, but Obi-Wan hadn’t run across any other life forms that were awake since he left his Master.

He looked down at the controller in his hand. It was easy enough to understand and it would not take long to get those cuffs and collar off that girl. Qui-Gon had asked him to do it while he rested, but Obi-Wan wished he would have asked someone else. Though he had only known the girl for a short while, Obi-Wan could already tell that she was going to cause trouble. Then, most of the pathetic life forms his Master collected did.

And who did she think she was, changing his name like that? His name had served him well for the past twenty-four years, he saw no reason to change it just because she didn’t care for it.

Obi-Wan’s musing were cut short when he reached his destination. He could hear Jar Jar snores outside the central chambers and sensed two other humans inside. Opening the door, Obi-Wan stepped inside.

Jar Jar was leaning back in a chair by the table, his head lulled back and his mouth cracked opened. Obi-Wan expected at any moment for the chair to slip out from under the Gungun and send him sprawling onto the ground in a mess of arms, legs, and broken furniture.

R2 was shot off in a corner, a few of his lights blinking rhythmically.

The siblings were curled up next to one another. One of the handmaids had wrapped her coat around Anakin, which mostly swallowed the boy. His head was resting in his sister’s lap and he appeared to be sleeping peacefully enough. The girl was asleep sitting up, her head titled slightly to the side as one of her hands rested on Anakin’s shoulder. The long scarf she wore was slack, allowing the collar around her neck to be seen.

Obi-Wan frowned, then went to medical cabinet. He heard of the prolonged burns that correctional cuffs and collars could leave. Besides, Qui-Gon wanted him to look at her arm to see how her wound was healing. Once he had the medical supply, Obi-Wan turned back to the siblings.

He jumped when he saw Buffy was watching him. How did she do that? He hadn’t felt her wake up.

Tilting her head, she looked at him for a long moment. No, not looked. Studied him. Her eyes were calculating and cool, but the rest of her face betrayed nothing of her thoughts.

She reminded Obi-Wan of an animal he had Qui-Gon had once come across. He couldn’t remember its name or the name of the planet they had found it on - it had been nearly ten years ago - but he remembered what it looked like; sleek, beautiful, deadly. While returning from a meeting with the town’s people one night, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon crossed paths with one of the creatures. It stood in their way, staring at them intensely, waiting for them to make some sort of move.

Buffy had that same look.

She blinked and the predator was gone. Instead, she now looked like a young Padawan who had just been caught by her Master cheating during a duel with another student.

“You know, I was just kidding about the whole ‘Ben’ thing,” she said, sounding somewhat nervous. “So, no reason to bring the ‘Buffy bad’ controller.”

“What?” Obi-Wan then remembered the controller he had in his hand. “Oh, no. Master Qui-Gon, he asked me to take your cuffs and collar off.”

“Oh. Um...Okay. Just give me a second.” Gently, she lifted Anakin off her lap and slid out from under him. He moved around a bit on the now empty seat but didn’t wake up. Satisfied that he was still asleep, Buffy then walked to Obi-Wan. “Do you mind if we go somewhere else. I don’t want to wake him up.”

Jar Jar snored particularly loud at this moment, as if to say if this didn’t wake Anakin up, nothing would. But, if she did have burns, it wouldn’t be good for the boy to wake up and see them.

“Alright,” Obi-Wan said, then lead her out of her out of the room.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

After some searching, he took her to a large room in the center of the ship. It was bare for the most part, except for one large seat set near the center of the room. It was slightly elevated, probably to make whoever was sitting on it look even more important and intimidating.

“Let me guess. This is where her highness does her Queen thing on to go,” Buffy said.

“What?” Ben asked.

“Never mind,” Buffy said.

No matter what she said about ‘Ben’ being a joke, she couldn’t make herself stop calling him that. Maybe because he looked like a Ben. Or maybe it was because Obi-Wan was way to close to OB-GYN. Either way, in Buffy’s mind, he was now stuck with the name.

They sat down on the raised platform in front of the thrown. Wordlessly, Ben took her hand and began to inspect the correctional cuff around her wrist. He turned one way with her palm facing up, than with her palm facing down. It was as if he were trying to find a trigger that would open them without the controller.

His hands were large and warm, making hers look like a child’s hand in comparison. Though he was handling her with a light touch, Buffy could feel the strength they held. Those were hands of a fighter, much like her own.

“This should only take a moment,” Ben said.

Still holding her hand, he took out the controller and brought it next to the cuff. After he punched several codes into the controller, the cuff made a high pitch sound before it clicked opened. Carefully, Ben took it off. There were some blotchy, angry red marks on her skin, places where the current of electricity were the strongest. They would scar, she had no doubt, but they would fade to where they wouldn’t be noticeable in no time. Way to go slayer healing.

Placing the cuff down between them, Ben then took her other arm and began to work on the band locked around it.

Buffy could tell he wasn’t big on conversation with people he didn’t know, but silence wasn’t something she was good at. That was why she never could and never would be able to win the Silent Game. Buffy bet Ben could probably be the Grand Champion. If it was a Jedi thing, whoever got to teach Ani that was going to have their work cut out for them. That is, if he got to be taught.

“So, why is it so important you guys get this Queen back to Coresant?” she asked.

He looked up from the other cuff he was trying to unlock. “Qui-Gon didn’t tell you?”

She shook her head, biting off a sarcastic remark that popped into her head. If she wanted answers, she needed to be Nice Buffy, not Bitchy Buffy.

Pressing his lips, Ben looked at her for a long moment as if he were trying to decide whether he should say anything. “I suppose you’ll find out sooner or later,” he said, turning his attention back to the controller. “She’s the Queen of Naboo. Qui-Gon and I were there to try and negotiate a peaceful end to a blockade the Trade Federation had set up around her planet when they invaded.”

“They invaded?” Ben nodded. “Let me guess. You guys failed Negotiations 101, didn’t you?”

“We kept them short,” he said with a glare/smirk. Then he put in the last code to open cuff. “We have to get the Queen to Coruscant so she can plead her peoples case to the Senate,” he said, taking it off her wrist and placing it with the other one. “Pull back your hair and take off your scarf.”

Buffy did as he said and he leaned in closer to get a better look at the collar. Anyone coming near her neck automatically made Buffy tense. One of those pesky side affects from being born to fight creatures of the night that literally went for the jugular. Picking up on that she was uncomfortable, Ben moved away and kept as much distance as he could while working on the collar.

After several awkward seconds, Buffy asked, “So, the Senate, they’ll what? Send in the Marines and make this Trade Federation play nice nice with the Naboo?”

He paused. “Marines?”

Wait. He and Qui-Gon were Jedi.

“Oh, um, I guess you guys were the Marines,” she said. “So, what’s going to happen? They’ll send in an army or something?”

Ben shrugged and continued to put different codes into the controller.

“More than likely the ‘or something’,” he said as the band around her neck clicked.

He put the controller down then turned back to her. It wasn’t until he brushed some stray hair off her shoulder did she realize how close he was to her again. Slowly, he removed the band, then tilted her head from one side to the other, inspecting the wounds around her neck.

“These burns aren’t that bad,” Ben said. “You should feel lucky. Most people are permanently scared after having to wear those for only a few weeks.”

“Yup, that’s me. Buffy, the luckiest girl in the universe,” she said.

He smiled softly. “Well, that explains how Master Qui-Gon found you then.”

Ben took something that looked like white out pen with a rolling head from the medical supply. Taking the top off, he took her hand again and began to gently rub small circle on the burns. Instantly, they began to cool and feel better.

“Oh, God, you are officially my favorite person on this ship,” she said with a sigh, savoring the relief the medicine gave. Those burns had been a nagging reminder for so long, she had forgotten what it felt like to live without any sort of pain. She was sure she looked rather ridiculous, closing her eyes and smiling like she had just had chocolate for the first time in years, but she really didn’t care. After a moment, she opened her eyes again and added as an afterthought, “Just don’t tell Ani, okay.”

Ben laughed. “The wrath of a seven-year-old. The one thing we Jedi fear.”

“He’s nine and you should so be afraid. Ani can be uber-scary when he wants to be,” Buffy said smiling. They sat there silently for what seemed like a long time as Ben took care of her burns on her wrists. Finally, Buffy said, “Um, look, I’m sorry about the whole ‘Ben’ thing. It’s been kind of a long couple of...years, and the name thing been bugging me for awhile.”

“It’s alright,” he said.

“It was so not okay. I was totally channeling Cordelia. And I’m...sorry about that.”

Ben looked at her for a long moment, then nodded his head, excepting her apology.

Well, she finally proved her mother and Giles and, well, everyone else she knew wrong. She did know how to apologies in a non-sarcastic kind of way. Okay, not well and it wasn’t an easy thing to do, but she did it. So there. They could all be proud of her.

He finished with her wrists, then gave her pen. “Put that on your neck,” he said, then began to push up her sleeve.

“Whoa. Wait. What are you doing?” Buffy asked, pulling her arm away.

Ben blinked. “Master Qui-Gon wanted me to take a look at where you had been shot.”

He reached for her arm again. Buffy quickly got to her feet and backed away. “Thanks, but you can tell him it’s fine.”

Standing, Ben said, “Miss Summers, I must insist that you let me see your arm.”

Unconsciously, Buffy covered the spot with her hand. She couldn’t let him see it. It was almost fully healed. How would she explain that? Say it was the Force or whatever that Qui-Gon was always going on about Ani having?

“I told you it’s fine,” she said.

“It could be infected,” he said.

Buffy crossed her arms. “Oh, since you put it that - no!”

He crossed his arms and frowned. “Miss Summers, stop being childish and let me see your arm.”

She shifted her weight to one foot. “Oh, you haven’t begun to see childish, Benny.”

The ‘Giles’ look’ was quickly growing on his face, the one that said ‘I’m tired, now do as I say.’ “Miss Summers -.”

“My name is Buffy,” she said. “Buf-fy. Say it with me.”

He pressed his lips. “Fine, Buffy, if you’ll just listen to reason...”

“Reason this, Jedi Boy, you’re not looking at my arm. I don’t care if it turns green and starts to rot off, you’re not going near it.” She knew that wasn’t going to happen, but Ben wasn’t backing off as easily as she hoped he would.

And he was losing his patience fast. “Buffy-.”

“No,” she said. “If you can’t understand that, 3PO taught me how to say it in a whole bunch of different languages.”

“Buffy-.”

“No.”

“If you’ll just - .”

“Nope.”

“It won’t take -.”

“Any time, because it’s not happening.”

She wondered if Jedi were allowed to turn that shade of red. “I’m trying to help you, you-you insufferable woman,” he said in a very controlled tone.

“Who asked you too, Jedi?” she asked.

“Buffy?” Anakin stood in the doorway, his eyes wide with curiosity. Neither one of the adults turned towards him or even acknowledged his presence. He looked from Buffy to Ben than back to Buffy. Awkwardly, Ani shifted on his feet and asked, “Is everything okay?”

Buffy narrowed her eyes briefly at Ben, then drew in a deep breath. Forcing herself to smile, she turned to Anakin. “Yeah, gooder than good.” In a ploy to distract Anakin, she held up her wrists which were now cuff-less. “And, hey, look.”

Apparently forgetting about the tension he had walked in, a bright smile came onto Anakin’s face. “They’re gone!” Hurrying to her, he took her hands into his and began to inspect the now bare skin. His face quickly turned from happiness to worry when he saw the burns. “You’re hurt.”

“I’m fine, Ani,” Buffy said, touching the side of his head. “In a few days, you won’t even know those burns are there.”

He still didn’t look convinced.

“Hey,” Buffy said. “I swear to you on a stack of Cosmos - which, I’ll have you know, is sacred to the women of my planet - I am fine.”

Ani pressed his lips, but seemed to accept what she said. His smile slowly returned and was soon large on his face again.

“Come on. We have to go show Mr. Qui-Gon!” he said, grabbing and pulling her towards the door. “Thank you, Obi-Wan,” Ani said, halfway into the hallway.

Buffy glanced over her shoulder at Ben. He hadn’t moved and was watching the pair closely. No, not them, her. She held his stare until the door shut between them.

Chapter Eight: City Space

Buffy stood at the front of the ship with Anakin, watching as they came closer to the strange, silvery planet. It was the oddest planet she had ever seen. Okay, she hadn’t seen a lot of planets in her day, just pictures from her ninth grade science class, but she was pretty that none of them looked like the disco mirror ball of space.

Ships of all sizes sailed above the planet’s atmosphere, some heading down to the surface while others headed away. The closer they came, the more defined the lines of traffic appeared. They look like rows of ants on a picnic table to her.

Buffy had to close her eyes. The sight was making her dizzy and nauseous.

“Buffy, you okay?” Anakin asked.

“Yeah,” she said, opening her eyes and giving him a weary smile. “Just a little dizzy is all.”

“We’ll be landing soon, Ma’am,” Ric Olie, the ship’s pilot, said.

The ship smoothly sailed through the planets atmosphere. Buffy forced herself to look up, her curiosity of why the planet looked so odd winning out over a little motion sickness. What she found made her blink once...twice.

It was a planet of skyscrapers.

“Wow,” Ani said, leaning forward.

Olie laughed. “Coruscant, capital of the Republic, an entire planet evolved into one giant city,” he explained. “Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

“Okay, New York is throughly eating it’s heart out,” Buffy muttered.

As they cruised through the traffic and stayed in what seemed like a lane, Olie explained how it all worked to Anakin. Buffy could tell he was only half listening, he was more interested in the ships and buildings they were passing than what the pilot had to say about traffic laws.

Jar Jar was crouched low behind Anakin, terrified by everything he was seeing. Obviously, he had never seen anything like this place either.

Qui-Gon and Ben stood at the back of the cabin, watching silently. Qui-Gon had said nothing about Buffy not letting Ben inspect her wound, but she could tell he wanted to know. She didn’t know what she’d tell him when he finally did ask, but she was sure she could think of something.

Ben stood beside his Master, his attention more focused on her than the planet. He had the same look on his face that Kendra had had when they found out they were both slayers. He didn’t know what to make of her, and, like his Master, decided to be cautious around her.

“Look,” Olie said, pointing to something on the viewscreen. Buffy glanced over and saw a landing platform that seemed to be magically hanging in mid-air. Another ship was docked there and several people were coming out. Another person was already waited. “Chancellor Valorum has come to meet us. And there. Senator Palpatine is waiting.”

The ship landed softly and Buffy followed the others towards the exit hatch she had jumped on the day before. When they arrived, a large group of people were already waiting. Most were men dressed in the same uniforms the crew wore. Olie went up to a tall dark-skinned man and spoke to him softly. Buffy guessed whoever the guy was, he was in charge of the solders and crew.

A group of young women dressed in red and yellow robes - Buffy recognized Padmé as one of them - stood around a woman. She must be the Queen Buffy had heard so much about.

She was dressed in black with a few trims of gold, appearing as if she were going to a funeral instead of meeting. On her head, she wore a head dress that had a bunch of feathers sticking up. Buffy thought it looked like a vulture dove into her head. The headdress covered her hair and most of her head, expect for her face. In stark contrast to the black, her face was painted white with two red dots on her cheeks and her top lip the same color. Her bottom lip had a single red line drawn down the center and the rest was colored white. The out gave her an air of someone unattainable and superior to those around them. However, all-in-all, Buffy thought she should fire whoever dressed her like that because one didn’t have to dress in ugly clothes and have bad makeup to still look superior and unattainable.

The landing hatch opened and the Queen nodded to Qui-Gon. Understanding what she wanted, he and Ben led the way, with Buffy, Anakin, and Jar Jar following close behind. The Queen and her entourage brought up the rear.

Buffy squinted and covered her eyes with her hand as she stepped out of the ship. It was overwhelming here. On Tatooine, she could just pretend she was in the deserts outside of Las Vegas or in New Mexico where her grandparents had lived. Here, there was no pretending because she had never been to any place like it.

She glanced at Ani. He appeared to be struggling as well and was very careful to concentrate on Qui-Gon or her. Buffy smiled trying to reassure him. If it worked, she didn’t know.

They approached the group waiting for them. Two men were dressed in classy outfits were flanked by men who Buffy assumed were guards. When Qui-Gon and Ben reached them, they bowed. Jar Jar and Anakin followed suit, but Buffy just nodded. One of the men, the shorter one with more than a few wrinkles, ever so slightly raised his eyebrows at her. He wanted to say something, Buffy could tell. Instead, he placed a large, controlled smile on his face and turned to the group coming up behind her.

Buffy didn’t like him. He reminded her of the creepy guy who used to live down the street from her Aunt Sophie and Uncle Harvey in Baltimore that liked to watch children a little to much. There something majorly off about this guy, but she couldn’t put her finger on what.

As they stepped to the side, allowing the Queen to come forward, Buffy pulled Anakin closer to her. She watched the man - who turned out to be the Senator Palpatine Olie had pointed out - carefully as he and the Queen spoke.

They didn’t speak long. It was mostly an introduction of the Supreme Chancellor Valium - no, that’s not right. Volvo. Voice-over. Crap. It started with a V, she knew that.

After the introduction, Palpatine moved to the Queen’s side and led her to the shuttle parked against the platform. The Queen’s entourage and the newcomers guards followed, as did Jar Jar. Anakin started to follow, but Buffy held him back with her and Jedi. He looked at her curiously, then over to Qui-Gon.

“You best go with them, Buffy,” Qui-Gon said. “Obi-Wan and myself have some business we must attend to.”

She shook her head. “I don’t like that guy.”

“Who?” Ben asked. “The Chancellor?”

“No. Papatine,” she said, holding Ani a little closer. “He gives me the creeps.”

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan exchanged a look as Padmé stopped near the edge of the platform. The others were already getting into the ship as she looked back to Anakin and Buffy. “Ani! Buffy!” she called.

Buffy looked to Qui-Gon, silently pleading for him to let them go with him and Ben. Drawing a deep breath, he shook his head, then touched her back. “We’ll come get you as soon as possible,” he said lowly, pushing her towards the others.

Buffy frowned at him, then squared her shoulders and walked towards the ship.

She really didn’t like this.

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Qui-Gon watched them leave, a frown on his face well but not a defined as Buffy’s. She had been acting odd - well, odder - since she boarded the Queen’s ship. Obi-Wan told him of her refusal to allow him to inspect her wound. A simple ‘no’ would not have aroused much suspicion since Buffy appeared to be the type that didn’t take offered help all that often. However, she did not mind when Obi-Wan was tending to her wounds from the correctional cuffs. Why was the one on her arm so different?

And now she didn’t want to go with the Queen because she didn’t like Palpatine? Qui-Gon would admit, he didn’t care of the Senator either, but Buffy was acting as if she were almost afraid of him. Not afraid for herself, but more for Ani.

Qui-Gon turned to Obi-Wan. He could tell his Padawan was just as confused by Buffy as he was.

“What a peculiar girl,” Obi-Wan said. “Why must every stray you find be off somehow, Master?”

Qui-Gon frowned at his Padawan, but ignored the comment. “Come. We must speak with the Council.”

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Buffy stood at the window, watching as the traffic flew by - some lines traveling much slower than others. They still looked line ant lines against the sky to her, only now she was looking up at them instead of down. One of the traffic lines flew directly in front of the window she stood looking out of. She recognized none of the ships that passed or the creatures that drove them. She was quickly finding out that is this place was far more diverse than the desert planet of Tatooine.

Ani, overcome with awe and bewilderment, sat quietly beside the glass office door with Jar Jar. He watched his feet and hands, doing his best not to look like he was eavesdropping like Buffy knew he was. Well, what did they expect the boy to do, leaving the door slightly cracked like that and all?

The Queen and Palpatine were inside, discussing, Buffy assumed, the fate of their people. When they had arrived at the building, they were given a bit of time to refresh themselves and cleanup. To Buffy, that meant she washing some dirt off her face and running a comb through her hair so she wouldn’t scare people. To the Queen, that meant changing outfits.

She and Cordelia would so be best friends.

Buffy frowned as she thought about Cordy. Not because she missed her at that moment, but because she could hear now if she saw her. In comparison to the Queen and her handmaidens elegant robes and perfectly groomed hair, Buffy looked something like a sick desert rat with a skin problem. Even if she had spent the last year as a slave, Cordelia would quick to point out that that was no reason to ignore fashion.

Grabbing a handful, Buffy began to inspect her hair. Long gone were the soft locks she had when she first came to this awful universe. Instead, her ends were split and dry, making her hair a double for straw. Buffy pouted. She missed her shiny hair. Maybe Padmé could help her get it back to its once fine condition. That or she could shave it off and start all over again.

She better be careful with Padmé, though. If she did the Queen’s hair, than shaving it off would be the far better choice.

Stupid world with it’s good-hair, high-fashion people. Making her feel all frumpy...

“Buffy?” Ani staring at her oddly. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she said sighing. Leaving the window, Buffy walked across the room and sat down next to him. “Just mourning the loss of my once ‘soft, silky, manageable hair’.”

Ani blinked at her, still obviously not understanding what was wrong. However, he knew better than to ask and would just chalk it up to another one of those ‘weird Buffy’ things.

“So, what’s the what?” Buffy asked, nudging her head towards the office.

“Mr. Palpatine is telling the Queen how long the Senate is going to take and that it doesn’t matter anyway because the Chancellor is corrupt,” Ani said, not even bothering to try and hide the fact he was eavesdropping from her. Considering she taught him how to do it right, there wasn’t much point in pretending to be innocent. “Do you think that’s true?”

“What, that the Chancellor’s crooked?” Buffy asked. Ani nodded. “Don’t know. Could be. But, personally, I would trust this Palpatine guy as far as Jar Jar could throw him.”

The Gungun frowned, but Buffy ignored him.

“Why?” Ani asked.

Buffy drew in a deep breath and held it. What could she say? That Palpatine made her feel as if not all was well in Jockeytown? She just kept picking up bad, slayer vibes off him. Like he was hiding something. Then, he was a politician, and who had ever heard of an honest politician who was actually honest?

“Because he gives you the creeps?” Anakin asked, using her own phrase from earlier.

That would work. “Yeah, Ani. He does.”

As if hearing them talking about him, the Senator and the Queen marched out of his office. Anakin and Jar Jar jumped to their feet, but Buffy rose deliberately slow. As they passed, the Senator looked at her for a long moment, then turned his attention back to the Queen.

No, there was nothing right in Jockeytown with that guy around.

And was it just her, or did the Queen look...different somehow?

Chapter Nine: Trials

Of all the places she had been since coming to this universe, Buffy would say that the Jedi Temple was the place she was most impressed with. One of the largest building on Coruscant, just to stand outside of its walls was awe inspiring to her. Ani, who had been overwhelmed with everything on the planet since they arrived, stared at the building slack-jawed.

“Wow,” he said, his head tilted all the way back as he tried to see the top of the building.

“I see your ‘wow’ and raise you a ‘whoa,’” Buffy said.

The Padawan who had been sent to retrieve them did a poor job of hiding her annoyance at them.

Shortly after the Queen’s meeting with Palpatine, the Padawan girl - who reminded Buffy of a female version of Ben - had shown up to inform them that they were to report to the Temple. The Council wanted to meet them. Upon their arrival, Anakin was to report to the Council so they could administer their test. While he was doing that, Buffy was going to meet with Qui-Gon and Ben in one of the training rooms. She had a good guess what was going to happen there.

“Well, come along,” the Padawan said, before turning and heading inside the Temple.

If Buffy and Ani had been impressed by the outside, they were blown away by the inside. The hall was grand and wide, with columns on both sides of the room. The room itself was several stories high, and walkways that looked over into the main lobby were placed on every floor. Painted white and lit with soft lights, the place had an almost heavenly glow to it - nothing like the sharp reds and glass of the Senator’s office or the Queen’s apartment.

Several stories up, Buffy watched as a group of children ran along a hallway and disappeared into one of the connecting rooms. One of them stopped and peered over the railing at her. The child was an odd looking creature, with patchy red and white skin and large, oval shaped black eyes. Like the others, it wore the same karate uniform inspired outfit that the Padawan leading them, Ben, and Qui-Gon wore. Rasing it’s four-fingered hand, it waved to Buffy. With a smile, Buffy waved back. The child smiled - showing off it’s shark-like teeth - then disappeared into the room the other children had already entered.

The Padawan kept up her brisk pace, causing Buffy to nearly run and making it quite difficult for Ani to keep up.

At the end of the hall, Buffy could see Qui-Gon and Ben waiting for them. However, they were not alone. Beside Qui-Gon stood a tall, dark skinned man whose bald head was reflecting the light in the room nicely. Next to him, stood a three foot tall gremlin with gray hair and a wooden walking stick.

The Padawan stopped several feet in front of the group and bowed. Anakin followed her led, but Buffy once again just nodded. If she didn’t bow to the head of the government or to a Senator or to the Queen even, what chance was there that she was going to bow to a man whose forehead was blinding her and a creature that should be guarding a bridge somewhere?

The group bowed to the Padawan, who then stepped aside, leaving Anakin and Buffy to face them. The tall man and gremlin studied them for a moment, giving her much the same look that Qui-Gon had the first night she meet him and that Ben have given her that morning in the cockpit. It didn’t bother her much. A year of receiving harder, more accusing looks from Snyder everyday for just passing him in the hallway had harden her against them. Ani, however, shifted under the intensity of their stares.

The gremlin reached up and held his chin. “The children, these are?” he asked with a Fozzy Bear-like voice.

Qui-Gon nodded. “Yes, Master Yoda.”

That was Yoga? Funny, she pictured someone taller. And less green. And more...manish.

Yogi raised one of his eyebrows at her, as if he heard her thoughts. “Surprised, you are, at my size,” he said. “Different, you imagined I would be.”

“Well, yeah,” she said. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know powerfully things can come in small packages but...”

“Bridge guarding, you believe, I should be,” he said.

Buffy paled. “Did I say that out loud?”

Bald Guy looked more annoyed than Yoyo, but less annoyed than Ben. At the same time, Qui-Gon reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose. Funny. Giles used to get that look on his face all the time.

With a small sneer, Bald Guy turned to Qui-Gon. “Let’s get this over with,” he said, before walking towards an open door. As he passed Ben and the Padawan, they fell into step behind him, leaving Qui-Gon, the children, and Yogurt behind.

Qui-Gon watched them for a moment, then turned back to Buffy and Anakin. “Ani, go with Master Yoda. He’ll take you to the rest Council for your test. Buffy, you’ll come with me.”

Apprehensively, Ani looked up to Buffy. She smiled at him. She might not like the idea of them wanting to train Ani, but, at the same time, she didn’t want them to say that he wasn’t good enough to train.

Well, it seemed whatever was going to happen, was going to happen soon. Never one to wait, Buffy figured they might as well get it over with.

Drawing a deep breath, she patted the back of his head like she always had before a race, then turned and followed Qui-Gon.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The day had been crazy and rushed since Qui-Gon stepped foot off the Queen’s ship. After leaving the children to her care, he and Obi-Wan went straight to the Council to report all that had happened since their departure the week before. After the formal report on the activity with the Queen, the Trade Federation negotiations, and the warrior they had encountered on Tatooine, Qui-Gon approached the Council of the matter of the children. The matter was...discussed loudly for some time before the Council agreed to test Anakin, and further discussion was made before they agreed to look at Buffy.

Qui-Gon quickly pointed out that he did not believe that Buffy should be trained as a Jedi. But the girl had skills that could not and should not be ignored. Though not one of them, she could be valuable if she allied with them.

It was decided that Mace Windu would administer and observe Buffy’s test while the rest of the Council looked at Anakin. Qui-Gon wasn’t completely sure what he had in mind in how to test her. Unlike Anakin, she showed no signs of being able to read things telepathically, which was the usual test administered when children were old enough to speak. But, since Mace had asked them to meet in one of the training rooms, Qui-Gon had an idea of what was about to be done. Mace wanted to see if he had been lying about the girl’s fighting skills.

Buffy followed him into the training room where the others were waiting. It was one of the plainer ones, white walls except for one. It was a large window that looked into the city, which had now became bathed in late afternoon light.

Obi-Wan and Tinkah - Master Gashoo’s Padawan - stood off to the side and out of the way, ready to observe whatever was about to happen. Mace stood in the middle of the room, his hands hidden in the sleeves of his robes. His face was even and calm as it always was, though he was watching Buffy carefully. Qui-Gon could tell he felt there was something different - powerful - about her.

When he reached the Council member, Qui-Gon bowed, then quickly stepped to the side with Obi-Wan and Padawan Tinkah, leaving Buffy alone.

She stood there for a moment, her mouth pressed as she waited. When Mace said nothing, she asked, “Okay, so, what’s the stitch? I’m just suppose to stand here while you look at me?”

“I am gong to test you,” Mace said. “To see how skilled you are.”

Buffy shrugged. “As long as there’s not like a written portion to this test, I’m good.”

“I wish to observe your fighting skills, Miss Summers,” he said as if he had not heard her. “To determine if you really are as skilled as Master Qui-Gon believes you to be.”

Buffy turned to Qui-Gon, but, before she could say anything, Mace tossed an object at her. Reacting quickly, Buffy caught it with one hand. Mace had given her a lightsaber. Qui-Gon could tell it was one of the training sabers that the younglings used, so - at full power - the best it could do was burn someone. Or, at least, the best a normal person could do with it was burn someone.

The weapon came alive with hiss. Sleek and deadly, the teal color blade hummed as she tested it’s weight. From the wonder on her face, one could easily tell she had never handled a weapon like it before. However, from the way she handled the weapon, it appeared as if she had since she was a small child.

“Cool,” Buffy said, watching the blade with awe. “Hey, does these things come in other colors? Because blue really doesn’t do anything for me.”

Once again ignoring her, Mace held up a small training droid. Pinching the small black circle between his fingers, he made sure that Buffy was no longer solely concentrating on the training lightsaber and was once again listening to what he had to say.

“You are to block the attacks from this droid,” he said, releasing it. “Once you touch it with your blade, it’s attack will cease. Do you understand?”

Buffy appeared as if she wished to say something, but wisely kept her mouth shut. Instead, she nodded her head.

“Good,” Mace said.

The training droid slowly moved through the air and around Buffy, forcing her to turn her back on the Jedi. Holding the semi-small saber handle the best she could, Buffy fell into fighting stance and stared intently at the droid. Her face was no longer joking or calm. It was hard and determined. It was the same look she had back in Mos Espa when she rescued the girl. It was the same look she had when the Sith went after her. She wasn’t going to lose.

“One last thing, Miss Summers.” Before Buffy could turn, Mace was standing behind her, wrapping a blind fold around her head.

“Hey!”

“Now, block the attacks,” Mace said, stepping back to where the others were.

Buffy stood there for a moment before raising the blade again. The droid hovered in front of her for a second, then zoomed to her side. Buffy continued to face the direction it had been in when the blindfold was placed over her eyes.

Pausing, she turned towards them and asked, “You guys aren’t going to like start throwing rubber balls at me, are you?”

As she spoke, the droid fired at her. The laser struck her in the hip, causing her to jump and yelp. “What the...?” she asked, twisting towards where she was struck.

The droid was gone, however. Instead, it hung above her head, then fired again, this time striking her twice. One in the shoulder than again in the arm.

Silently, Mace turned towards Qui-Gon. The Jedi Master didn’t need the Force to know the Council member was throughly unimpressed. Obi-Wan appeared to be of the same opinion as Mace.

Qui-Gon didn’t understand. This was a simple children’s exercise. Why was Buffy having such a hard time with it? True she had a low midi-chlorian count, but he had seen her fight. No human could fight like that without help of some kind.

The droid fired again. This time, it hit her in the leg.

“Concentrate, Buffy,” Qui-Gon said.

Mace glared at him, warning him to stay quiet. This was her trail and she should need no help.

“Concentrate, yeah, I hadn’t thought of that,” Buffy said more to herself than the others. “Alright you little horsefly from hell, where are you?”

The droid zoomed in front of her, bobbing in mid-air. Lowering herself slightly towards the ground, Buffy turned her head from left to right, as if searching for the droid. The room was silent except for the hum of the lightsaber. The droid twisted, then fired.

With surprising quickness, Buffy leapt into the air, avoiding being hit again. Somersaulting over the droid, she swung the sword. The blade hit the droid hard, knocking it straight at Mace at high-speed. The Jedi Master reacted quickly, stopping the training device with the Force mere centimeter away from his head.

Buffy frowned, the blindfold still tightly tied around her head. “Hey, why didn’t my beam-sword thingy not do that whole slice and dice thing?”

Turning his head slightly, Mace nodded. Padawan Tinkah returned it. Then, igniting her lightsaber, she lunged at Buffy.

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When Master Windu nodded, Obi-Wan had not been sure what was about to happen. Then Tinkah attacked.

Tinkah was one of the best fighters of the Padawan learners. Not only was she strong with the Force, but the race of humanoid she came from were warriors. They were the people often chosen to be the Chancellors Royal Guard or to become Jedi. Tinkah, though young - she was only slightly older than Buffy - was talented. How Master Windu expected some such as Buffy to keep up, Obi-Wan didn’t know.

Buffy spun and dropped as Tinkah attacked, the Padawan’s lightsaber slicing through the air just a centimeter or two above Buffy’s head. Their lightsabers crashed and hissed angrily against one another as Tinkah brought her blade around for another attack. Than another. Buffy blocked each with expert precision.

Taking the led of the fight, Tinkah pushed Buffy across the training room. However, each swing of Tinkah’s saber was blocked by Buffy. When they neared the edge of the room, Tinkah swung low, causing Buffy to leap into the air. By the time she landed, Tinkah had brought the saber over her head and swung down at Buffy. She barely got hers up in time to block it. Tinkah pushed downward as hard as she could, but Buffy was able to hold her blade at bay.

“Didn’t your mother teach you it’s not polite to attack people who can’t see?” Buffy asked.

She then pushed upward, knocking Tinkah’s saber to the side. Before the Padawan could react, Buffy’s fist shot and struck her in the face. Tinkah’s head popped back with sickening force and it was clear she had been stunned. Spinning, Buffy kicked her in the head, causing the Padawan to flip. Using the Force, Tinkah turned the flip into a hand spring and landed on her feet.

Once surefooted again, Tinkah raised her hand and sent a blast of the Force at Buffy. It wasn’t as powerful as a blast that a Master could conjure, but it was enough to knock Buffy flat on her back. Using enhanced speed, Tinkah charged Buffy, saber at the ready. Obi-Wan could tell she wanted to end this fight.

When she reached Buffy, the blonde’s feet struck upwards, knocking Tinkah in the stomach and throwing her halfway across the room. This time, the Padawan couldn’t concentrate enough of the Force and fell onto her back with a grunt.

Rolling back onto her shoulders, Buffy leapt to her feet as Tinkah got to hers. They began to circle one another; Tinkah on the far side of the room while Buffy moved closer towards Obi-Wan and the Masters.

“Okay, that whole ‘throwing Buffy across the room without touching her’ that was cheating,” Buffy said, moving slowly and with deliberate steps.

“That was using the Force,” Tinkah said, mimicking Buffy’s steps.

Obi-Wan felt a rush of disappointment from Buffy. It was gone nearly as soon as it came. Glancing over at the Masters, he wondered if they had picked up on it too. He also wondered if they were having as much trouble feeling what Buffy was going to next as he was.

“So, that’s the Force I’ve been hearing so much about,” Buffy said, almost in front of Master Windu. The training droid had drifted about a meter in front of him and was directly in Buffy’s path. When she stopped, if she reached to her side she could grab it if she wished. “Got to say, not all that impressed.”

Tinkah frowned. “You wouldn’t be, considering you don’t have it like I do.”

Buffy smiled. “Maybe. But you know what I do have?” Tinkah tilted her head. “A great Babe Ruth impression.”

Buffy swung her lightsaber, hitting the droid with more force than she had before. Barreling through the air, the droid was heading directly at Tinkah’s head. Her blade shot up to block it, causing the droid to smash into the blade. The impact was very much the same had Buffy thrown it against the wall with all her might; it broke into million of pieces on the floor.

It was only then that Obi-Wan realized that Tinkah had turned her lightsaber down to a training level. That made sense, since the blade probably would have cut through Buffy’s if it had been at regular levels.

Buffy charged her, running at a speed that he could only achieve with the Force. Tinkah barely had her saber blade up in time to block the attack Buffy launched against her. The blue blades crashed against one another. Buffy’s blade held Tinkah’s and pushed it downward to the floor, causing her to look up at the blonde. As she did so, Buffy kneed her under the chin, knocking the Padawan upward in a daze.

Twisting so her back was to Tinkah, Buffy’s elbow shot out and hit her in the face, making her fall to the ground. As she fell, Buffy plucked her lightsaber from her hand. The moment Tinkah hit, Buffy was on top of her; her legs locking Tinkah’s arms to the ground while the lightsaber blades crisscrossed just above the Padawan’s neck.

Tinkah tried to struggle, but there was little she could do. Unused to long battles, the fight had drained her considerably, and - though Buffy was smaller than her - she was much stronger physically.

“Now would be a good time to say uncle,” Buffy said.

“That’s enough,” Master Windu said.

For a moment, Buffy didn’t move, just kept Tinkah pinned to the floor. It reminded Obi-Wan of what some animals did when they proved themselves stronger than another. She was making sure that Tinkah knew that she was not to challenge her again.

After a short time, Buffy stood up, allowing the Padawan to get up as well. She turned off the lightsabers, then tossed Tinkah hers. Buffy then reached up and pulled off her blindfold.

Tinkah was frowning, not having liked being beaten, but also being beaten by a woman who wasn’t overly strong with the Force. At least, not that they had been able to sense.

But she must have something. No one could fight like that without help. Maybe the Force was much stronger with her than they had been able to tell, but not with the Light Side. Master Yoda did always warn them that the Dark Side is much harder to sense than the Light. Maybe that was where she got her power from.

Obi-Wan dismissed the thought almost as quickly as he thought it. It was true, he did not particularly like his Master’s newest collectable; she was brash, hardheaded, ignorant of the ways of the universe, stubborn, odd, and pig-headed, but evil...He did think so. He sensed the good in her, the love...

Though, at this moment, she felt a bit ready to murder someone.

Obi-Wan glanced over at Master Windu. He seemed to be having the same conflicting thoughts.

Still frowning, Buffy turned away from Tinkah and walked to Master Windu. Her face was hard as she shifted her weight to one foot.

“I didn’t appreciate that sneak attack. If you wanted me to kick the Jedi-In-Training butt all over the matt, I would have gladly done it,” she said coolly. “Do it again, and you’ll find out why the Gythons made me were those cuffs and collar.”

Before anyone could respond, Buffy took the training saber in both hands and snapped it in two. Obi-Wan was unable to hide his surprise. Lightsabers were made to be durable. Yes, they could be destroyed - cut in half by another saber or crushed somehow - but he had never seen anyone - let alone a human! - able to break one in half with just their hands.

Obi-Wan could feel the surprise from the others as well. Masters Qui-Gon and Windu were able to hide it from their faces, but Tinkah just stared slack-jawed.

Buffy dropped the two halves onto the floor. The metal clicking as it hit, echoing through the silent room. She sneered at Master Windu for a moment longer, then turned and walked out the door.

Chapter Ten: Meetings and Missions

Twilight bathed the city of Coruscant in warm, bright oranges and reds. Sunlight reflected off the windows and shiny metals of the buildings. Refraction of lights split off ships and speeders in the broken lines that flew on every level of the city. Darkness was coming, chasing the light away.

Buffy frowned and stepped away from the window. She had been wandering around the Temple since the incident in the training room. Really, she was surprised that they let her go without sending someone after her, but she supposed - if they were anything like Ani - they knew where she was and that she wasn’t going to hurt anyone. Well, maybe that bald guy for setting her up, but no one else.

After wandering for awhile, she found out where that gremlin had taken Ani. Of course it had to be on the top floor and there had to be lots of windows. Stupid heights.

With a sigh, Buffy looked at the Council chamber doors for the millionth time. She had been waiting outside for Ani for half an hour and there had been no sign of him as of yet. If fact, there had been no sign of anyone. That would be just her luck. The person she asked for directions from would send her here just to torture her. Probably some Jedi version of a joke or something.

Proving her wrong, the door opened and Anakin stepped into the hall. His head was tilted down with his light blond hair falling into his eyes. The last time Buffy had seen that look on his face was when he had wreaked Watto’s Pod and the Toydarian had spent an entire afternoon belittling him and his mother.

“Things went that well, huh?” she asked.

He paused. Apparently, he hadn’t realized she was waiting outside. Slowly, he shook his head.

“I don’t think they’ll let me become a Jedi,” he said, sitting down against the wall and drawing his knees to his chest.

Buffy drew in a deep breath and sat down beside him. She couldn’t say that she wouldn’t be thrilled if they said no to training Ani, but she just wished he it wouldn’t hurt him if they did.

“I really wanted to be one too,” he said. Leaning forward, he placed his arms on top of his knees and rested his chin on them.

“I know,” Buffy said, rubbing his back. “But, hey, you could do something else, like be a pilot or Podracer or, you know, something that lets you go really, really fast and will make me turn white-headed way before I’m suppose to.”

“I guess,” Ani said, still depressed.

Buffy patted him on the back once more when the Council doors opened again. A woman stood there. She looked human enough, with jet black hair and olive skin. There was a dot in middle of her forehead, reminding Buffy of the mother of the Pakistani family that lived down the street from her in LA.

“Miss Summers,” she said with a soft, quiet voice. “The Council wishes to see you now.”

Why wasn’t she surprised that they knew she was there?

Buffy turned to Ani. She really didn’t want to leave him there while he was still upset.

“Go,” he said. “I’m suppose to wait here for Mr. Qui-Gon anyway.”

Pressing her lips, Buffy pushed herself to her feet. “I’ll be right inside if you need me.”

He smiled weakly at her, then went to staring off into nothing.

“Miss Summers,” the woman said.

Sighing, Buffy followed the woman into the Council room.

It wasn’t a large room, but felt it thanks to the windows. The Council sat in a circle, each of the chairs designed for the comfort of the Council member who sat in it. Considering how diverse the members were, it seemed smarter than trying to design one chair that they all found comfortable. The woman led Buffy to the center of the room, then took her seat.

She found herself no only standing in front of Yogi, but Baldy as well. He must have come up whenever she had been wondering.

“Miss Summers,” Baldy said.

“Mr. Clean,” she said.

“Unpleased you are with Master Windu,” Yoda - that’s it! - said.

“Gee, what gave you that idea?” Buffy asked, turning her glare from Windex to Yoda.

He considered her for a moment, his old eyes focused on her, but beyond her at the same time. It was how Qui-Gon looked at her the first night he meet her. It was how Ben looked at her that morning. It was also the same look that Cordelia sometimes got when she saw a new dress. And why did every Jedi she meet have to look at her like that? It was fine at first, but it was really starting to get annoying now.

“Anger, I sense in you,” Yoda said.

Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Did the Force tell you that? Or did you, I don’t know, look at my face?”

Out of the corners of her eyes, Buffy could see the other Council members exchanging looks. Apparently they weren’t used to someone talking to the gremlin like that.

Shifting her weight to one foot, Buffy said, “I just spent a year in hell’s liter box, playing nice nice with the scummy locals, only to be brought here, where Mr. I-Wanna-Be-Shaft here launched a sneak attack against me while I was blindfolded. So, yeah, I’m not exactly Sally, the Smiling Girl Scout right now. Now, why don’t you get on with whatever you wanted me for so we can all get on with our lives.”

“You are a forward one, aren’t you,” a man who sat next to Window said. He was some sort of alien that Buffy had yet to run across. He reminded her of that old SNL alien family the Coneheads.
“Comes from having a low BS tolerance level,” Buffy said.

Yoda clicked his cane against the floor. The Masters turned to him. It was like watching a group of people have conversation, but not being able to hear a word. When Can-do nodded, Yoda said, “Forward she wants. Forward she shall have.”

“We want to know who you are,” Windu - yeah, that sounded right - said.

Buffy shrugged a shoulder. “Fine. I’m Buffy Summers and I’m a recovering slave.”

“Hmmm,” Yoda said. “All you are, that is not.”

“What you asked, that was not,” Buffy said.

Yoda pressed his lips and made a grumbling sound. Beside him, Windu locked his fingers together while his eyes narrowed to dangerous slits.

“Very well,” Windu said. “What are you?”

Raising her arms, Buffy smiled and said, “Just a girl.”

She was screwing with them. She knew it. They knew it. While she liked Qui-Gon and even Ben - when he wasn’t being a complete ass - she didn’t like these people. Then, they were a Council and Council plus Buffy never equaled to anything good. Besides, everything she told them was true, just not everything to tell. Half truths were such wonderful things.

“Just a girl,” Yoda said with a half snort/half laugh. “Just a girl, you are not. More, you are. Much more.”

Buffy tilted her head as if to agree but said nothing.

Outside, sunset turned to twilight.

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Palpatine sat behind his desk, watching the sun set on the city horizon. All day, he had forced himself to play the part of the dutiful Senator and concerned citizen of Naboo, when all he wanted to do was laugh. He had waited years for this moment. He had it all planned.

After twenty years of watching Queens come and go, one had finally come along that he knew he could manipulate. She was a child - younger than any of the other Queens who had served during his service as Senator. And she was a pacifist at that. Her age and innocence provided the perfect opportunity he needed to execute his plan.

If she had signed the treaty and died like he originally planned, the Senate would have voted him the next Chancellor in the elections that were going to take place within a year. However, her coming to the Senate had provided an even quicker way to the Chancellor seat. Sympathy. What a lovely manipulative tool.

Still, there was the chance that he would not be voted in. True, it was a small, but there nonetheless. But, once again, the Queen had provided a way. Foolish girl, believing that her presence on Naboo would somehow make a difference. Well, she was quite right, it would make a difference. Her death after that passionate presentation at the Senate will seal his bid for Chancellor.

Even with all his careful planning, a few problems had arose. He had not planned on the Jedi being sent to Naboo by Chancellor Valorum. However, they posed only the most minor of problems and actually helped him in the end. Maybe even more so than they realized.

That boy, Anakin, he had power. More power than Palpatine had ever felt in another living being. If those Jedi did not take the boy on, then they were even bigger fools than he originally thought. If they did, they could train the boy and he could reap the benefits without the hassle of having to train him himself. Manipulation was, after all, an art Palpatine was well trained in - that was what made him such a fine Senator - and he was confident that he could turn the boy later on.

The problem would be the sister.

The Jedi were idiots, not being able to sense the Dark Side even if it jumped up and bit them in their ass. That was the grand thing about the Dark Force he served, it could cloud itself so no one around would even know it was there. It could - he could even hide his true nature from Master Yoda - the most powerful of the Jedi.

Yet, that girl...

He had seen it in her eyes. He had felt her immediate dislike and caution when she saw him. She knew. Maybe not that he was the Sith Lord, but she knew that he was not who he seemed to be. She knew the be mindful around him, to watch him. Yes, she could very well be a problem.

She didn’t have the Force, at least not that he had been able to feel. But there was something about her. Like her brother, she had power. It was concentrated, honed for specific tasks, but what? And why would a slave girl have it?

The wise thing to do would be to kill her, but that could pose another problem. Palpatine - no, Darth Sidious wanted the boy. If he killed his sister, the child would never turn to him. Yes, he would have hate and yes it would led him to the Dark Side, but Sidious would never have control over him. He would never be his Master.

But, if she were to die in battle, or if the Jedi were to turn against her...

Those were options to consider, but for a later time. The Queen would be leaving soon and Palpatine was sure the Jedi Council would send Master Qui-Gon and Padawan Obi-Wan back with her. Perhaps if he were lucky, maybe even the girl and boy would go along with them. Well, if they did, it did not matter much at the moment. He needed to contact Darth Maul and the Viceroy and let them know to expect company soon.

He also needed to remind them that he would not tolerate failure once again.

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It seemed to Anakin that he had been waiting outside for Buffy for a long time. But, he guessed that should have been expected. When they talked to him, they kept him there for nearly an hour, asking him all sorts of questions. Most of them he didn’t mind, they were just dumb things about him they wanted to know. But he hadn’t liked it when they questioned him about his mother.

He did miss her. There hadn’t been a moment since he left Tatooine that he hadn’t thought of her. They accused him of fearing to lose her. Of course he feared that. Every kid he knew was scared that their parent was going to get sold to someone else without them or get hurt or die. Master Yoda had then gone on about how fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate lead to suffering. If they really could see through Ani like they said they could, thinking about Buffy snorting and saying that was ‘a load of crap’ probably didn’t help redeem himself to the Council.

Buffy, at least he did have her. Anakin never realized how much he wanted a sibling until he got one. It was true, they didn’t always get along - especially when Buffy had first shown up - and she could be way overprotective and odd and ditzy and clumsy and, well, really scary when she was mad, but she was his sister. And no matter how much she annoyed him at times, he was glad she was.

The elevator doors opened and Mr. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stepped into the hall. Anakin quickly got to his feet and brushed some imaginary dirt off his pants as they approached.

“Hello, Anakin,” Qui-Gon said. “How did the test go?”

Anakin shrugged. “All right, I suppose.”

“I’m sure you did fine,” Qui-Gon said, placing his hand on Anakin’s shoulder.

Ani pressed his lips. He wasn’t so sure about that.

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said, stopping his musings before they could take over. “Have you seen your sister?”

Ani nodded his head, then pointed at the Council chamber doors. “She’s inside.”

“Inside?” Qui-Gon asked, his face slightly pale.

“Yes, sir,” Anakin said. “They came and got her about fifteen minutes ago.”

The two adults looked at one another. Qui-Gon appeared worried. In response, Obi-Wan’s raised his eyebrows and slightly shook his head as if to say ‘there was nothing to be done now’.

Ani knew those looks. They were the same ones that he and his mother used to get all the time after Buffy did something she wasn’t supposed to.

“She did something weird, didn’t she?” Anakin asked.

Obi-Wan blinked, breaking the stare he held with Qui-Gon. “What makes you think that?” he asked.

“Cause Mom always made that same face Mr. Qui-Gon’s making whenever she did,” Anakin said.

The adults turned to one another again. They were discussing something, Ani could tell even if he couldn’t hear them. Then, whenever they agreed, they turned back to him.

“Anakin, does Buffy do...odd things often?” Qui-Gon asked.

Like most children, Anakin didn’t know how exactly to answer that, so he shrugged his shoulders.

“What I mean is,” Qui-Gon said, “is she sometimes able to do things that other people can’t?”

Anakin thought about that for a moment. What would a Jedi consider odd?

“She can roll her tongue, if that’s what you mean,” Ani said.

Though he held his face in a natural pose, Anakin could tell that Qui-Gon thought that was funny. Behind him, Obi-Wan just shut his eyes and shook his head.

“No, Anakin,” Qui-Gon said. “What I mean is, has Buffy ever anything that a normal human being couldn’t do. Like lift equipment in the junkyard that was far to heavy or run faster than anyone you’ve ever seen.”

“Or break a lightsaber in two with her bare hands,” Obi-Wan said quietly to himself.

Anakin scrunched his nose. “Not that I remember,” he said. When Qui-Gon sighed, Anakin said, “But there was this one time... She had just come to live with me and Mom and we were heading home after work when this gang of Rodians and humans started to bother us. Watto owed them some money, so they decided they’d take it out on us. One of them grabbed Buffy from behind, so she grabbed his arm and threw him over her and into a wall! And it cracked! Then they started coming after her and totally wiped the street with them.” Anakin paused for a moment, suddenly realizing what he said. “You won’t tell her I told you, will you? Cause I was kinda forgot she made me swear not to tell anyone that.”

Qui-Gon smiled softly at him and patted him on the shoulder. “No, Ani, we won’t tell her you told.”

“Master Qui-Gon, Padawan Obi-Wan, Anakin Skywalker.”

The three turned towards the doors. Once again, the strange looking woman who had called Buffy in was standing there again.

“The Council wishes to speak with you now,” she said, before disappearing inside.

Drawing in a deep breath, Qui-Gon held his chin up and walked in after her. Anakin and Obi-Wan paused a moment longer, then headed in themselves.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Buffy stood off center of the circle the twelve Jedi seated made. Playing the Jedi version of Twenty Questions had made an already cranky Buffy even crankier, and she didn’t care if they could sense it or not. See, this was why she was so glad that the Council back home was all the way over in London and pretty much left her alone because she would have so had someone’s head on a pike outside the library to warn off other Council members if they did crap like this. Why anyone - let alone Anakin! - would want to be one of these people, she’d never know.

Okay, so she got that they were the good guys and everything. But being a good guy didn’t mean total repression of everything you felt like these people seemed to believe with a cult-like mentality.

And if Gremlin Boy and Shaft didn’t stop with the penetrating stare, she was so going to add them to her slay list.

The good news was that she had been able to keep her secret a secret so far. She never thought she would be grateful for all the years she had to lie to her mother, but all that practice had really focused her ability to tell just enough of the truth for it to be true, but not tell everything. The Council knew she was holding back, but - without knowing the exact thing to ask - they’d never get the full truth. And she wasn’t about to give it to them.

Buffy was so caught up in her stare-down with the head Council members she didn’t hear the others come in. It wasn’t until Anakin was standing in front of her and Qui-Gon beside her did she realize they were there. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Ben hanging a little behind them; enough to let the Council know he was part of the group but didn’t exactly agree with them.

“Have a nice chat?” Qui-Gon asked her quietly.

“Yeah, it was a blast,” Buffy said.

While they spoke, the Council members once again spoke silently with one another.

Buffy picked up Ani’s tension. This was the moment that would determine how he would led his life; whether it be as a feeling repressive, bad fashion sense Jedi, or...Well, she didn’t know what else yet, but he was nine so there was time to figure it out.

Finally, Yoda nodded, ending the silent conversation. “Finished, we are, with the examination of the children,” he said. To Buffy, he looked tired. Whether she did that or if it was normal, she didn’t know. “Correct you were, Qui-Gon.”

Buffy looked over at the Jedi Master. Correct about what? She didn’t even know there had been a question.

Windu nodded his head in agreement. “Skywalker’s cell contain a very high concentration of midi-chlorians.”

“The Force is strong in him,” Conehead agreed.

Qui-Gon had the faintest of satisfied smiles on his face. “He is to be trained, then,” he said.

Buffy pressed her lips. She was torn for Anakin’s sake. Half of her wanted to scream at them to say no, so Ani could finish growing up a normal kid and be a normal person - or what was normal for here. The other half, however, didn’t want him to get hurt, and she knew their rejection would do that.

Uncomfortably, the Council members looked at one another. Finally, Windu spoke. “No. He will not be trained.”

Buffy closed her eyes and let out a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding. Qui-Gon was visibly shocked - something that she had not even managed to make him do with her little ‘break the lightsaber’ routine down in the training room - and ignoring the ‘I told you so’ look Ben was sending his way. Anakin’s shoulders dropped and his head did a little. He was crushed, Buffy could tell even standing behind him.

“No?” Qui-Gon said quietly, as if he had never heard the word before.

Windu nodded. “No. He is told old. There is already too much anger in him.”

If they really were able to sense anger, they must have been picking up waves of it off Qui-Gon at that moment. “He is the Chosen One. You must see it!”

Buffy blinked.

Chosen One? Did she just hear ‘he’ - as in Anakin, her little brother, brat extraordinar - was a ‘Chosen One’?

“What?” Buffy asked.

“Buffy,” Anakin said, but this time she didn’t turn to look at him.

She could feel most of the Council’s gaze shift from Qui-Gon to her, but her eyes were narrowed in on the Jedi Master at her side. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Ben’s hand drifting towards his lightsaber. Qui-Gon, however, ignored her.

Master Yoda, too, paid her no mind. “Clouded, this boy’s future is. Masked by his youth.”

Qui-Gon’s mouth straightened into a stiff line as he nodded. He didn’t like the decision, but he would accept it. Somewhat, anyway. “Very well. I will train him then. I take Anakin Skywalker as my Padawan apprentice.”

That pulled everyone’s attention away from Buffy, including Ben’s. He looked as if Qui-Gon had just slapped him in the face...hard.

“An apprentice you already have,” Yoda said. “Impossible, to take a second.”

“We forbid it,” Windu said darkly.

“Damn right we do,” Buffy said just as coldly.

Qui-Gon spared her a glance, but only a brief one. “Obi-Wan is ready for the trials.”

Blinking, Ben came out of his daze and shook his head. “I am ready,” he agreed.

“Ready, so early, you are?” Yoda asked. “What know you of ready?”

“See,” Buffy said, crossing her arms and still glaring at Qui-Gon. “You still got your Padawan, so no making my little brother your new one.”

Drawing in a deep breath, Windu said, “Now is not the time for this. The Senate will vote tomorrow on a new supreme chancellor. Queen Amidala returns home, we are advised, which will put pressure on the Federation and widen the confrontation. Those responsible will be quick to act on these new events.”

“Drawn out of hiding, her attackers will be,” Yoda said.

“Events are moving far to fast for distractions such as these,” Conehead said.

Windu turned to the other Council members, then back to Qui-Gon. “Go with the Queen to Naboo and discover the identity of this dark warrior who attacked you, be it Sith or otherwise. That is the clue we need to unraveling this mystery.”

“Decided later, young Skywalker’s fate will be,” Yoda added.

Qui-Gon pressed his lips, seeing a small light of hope, and nodded. “What of Buffy?”

The Council tensed for a moment. Yoda said, “Her fate, decided with Skywalkers, it shall be.”

“They are your wards so take them with you to Naboo, and protect the Queen,” Windu said. “But do not intercede if it comes to war until we have the Senates approval.”

That statement was enough to pull Buffy out of her ‘glare menacingly at Qui-Gon’ marathon. “What?” she asked.

Really, she needed to get her hearing checked. She could have sworn that she just heard them say that they were about to go into a possible war zone. Not only that, but, if there was a war, the Jedi were not supposed to get involved? Okay, that so didn’t make sense.

Sleepy eyed Yoda finally turned to Buffy. “Wish to say something, you do,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said. “Are you people stupid?”

“I beg your pardon,” Windu said.

Buffy crossed her arms and threw some of her hair over her shoulder. “Well, I was just wondering, you know, because of the whole ‘if there is a war, don’t get involved until the Senate says so’ thing. Cause, I got to say, that just says dumb to me.”

Frowning, Windu said, “You do not understand how the government works here. You’ve said so yourself. Therefore you have no right to question our decisions.”

“I do when they’re idiotic,” Buffy said. “You can’t send fighters to a war zone and tell them to sit on the sidelines. God, that’s like making Tiny Tim tapdance to get his cruch.”

Even though Windu - nor anyone else for that matter - had no idea what Tiny Tim was or why it was bad for him to tapdance, they understood enough of what she meant. “You do not understand the political restrictions we have to follow,” Windu said.

“You’re right, I don’t,” Buffy said. “But I do understand this. If there is a war, people are going to die. Men. Women. Children. And whatever in the hell Jar Jar is. These people are going to need help. They can give it to them.”

Sighing, Yoda said, “Our place, to take side, it is not.”

“Oh, please,” Buffy said. “You’ve already taken sides when you sent these two to ‘negotiate’. Which, I got to say, worked out so well.”

“This is not an issue that is up for debate, Miss Summers,” Windu said. “Master Qui-Gon and Padawan Obi-Wan are not to get involved until we have Senate approval. Is that understood.”

Qui-Gon nodded. “Yes, Master.” Ben echoed him.

Nodding, Windu turned back to Buffy. “Are we clear, Miss Summers?”

Buffy forced a tight smile onto her face. “As glass.”

“Good,” Windu said.

“Now, let me make myself clear, Master Windu,” Buffy said. “You can tell them what to do, but you can’t tell me. If there’s a war and I can help, I will fight.”

With that, Buffy grabbed Anakin and walked out of the Council’s chambers.

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Qui-Gon watched the children leave. He would hand it to Buffy, she knew how to make a lasting impression. Of all the years he had served the Council, had followed Master Yoda and Mace, he had never heard anyone question them the way she had. Judging by the faces of the Council members, neither had they.

Mace, who was obviously having a difficult time releasing his anger into the Force, pressed his lips. “Go,” he said. “And make sure that Miss Summers doesn’t start an intergalactic war.”

“Yes, Master,” Qui-Gon said, bowing.

“May the Force be with you,” Mace said, nodding his head.

“Need it, you certainly shall,” Yoda added.

Qui-Gon glanced over at Obi-Wan. They certainly were going to need it for this mission. “May the Force be with you, Master,” Qui-Gon said with a respectful bow to Yoda, then left the Council with Obi-Wan following close behind.

In the hall, the children were waiting. Buffy leaned against the wall they had found Anakin sitting against earlier, her eyes closed and her head tilted downward, while Ani glared at his sister. He wasn’t happy with her, Qui-Gon could tell that without Force. Buffy, however, did not seem to care. She was mad in her own right; mad at the Council, mad at Mace’s test, mad at him for keeping Ani destiny a secret.

When he approached them, Buffy opened her eyes and looked at him, but never lifted her head. The frown on her face seemed even more defined that way.

Drawing in a deep breath, Qui-Gon held it for a moment and stepped up to the girl. “I am sorry for not telling you about Anakin, but you have to understand how important he is. Being the Chosen One means that he will bring balance to the Force and destroy the Sith. Buffy, you have to understand, it was what he was born to do.”

She stood there for a moment longer, just looking at him. Her cold stare betrayed nothing of what she felt or thought. It was unnerving to meet someone who could be so open with her feelings at times, then could cloud them so much that he couldn’t tell a thing about her.

Finally, Buffy stepped away from the wall and placed herself in front of him. Since she was much shorter than him, she had to tilt her head back somewhat to look him in the face. She just stood there, staring at him as if she had never seen him before in her life.

Then she flashed him a bright smile.

“Oh, I understand,” she said.

And punched him in the face.

Chapter Eleven: To Worlds Unknown

There was a tension about the Nubian ship that had not been there during the flight to Corucsant.

The crew and Queen’s guards were on edge because they were returning to their home planet that had been invaded. As it was commanded of them, they would serve the Queen in whatever plan she had. However, they had never been in a situation like this and were unsure of themselves and quite frightened. Yet, they would still serve.

The Queen herself was tense, but did her best to hide it behind a cool mask of composure, emphasized by layers of white makeup. Though she herself was little more than a frightened child, she was the leader and held herself as one.

The last and probably greatest source of tension came from the Jedi and the recently freed slave children. Upon their arrival from the Jedi Council, a great deal of frustration, anger, and mistrust could be picked up when they were in each other’s presences. The Master Jedi - whose jaw was considerably bruised when they returned - and his Padawan were arguing, though doing a fairly well job of hiding it. The boy was mad at his sister. And the girl, well, she appeared to be just mad in general.

Ric Olie knew better than to try and get involved with their business. His job was to fly the ship safely to Naboo, nothing else. Those were his orders and he would carry them out. However, Ric also knew that those people would be valuable in the upcoming battle, and the fight amongst themselves could cost his people dearly. Something needed to be done.

Anakin, the boy, sat next to him in the co-pilots seat, watching as Ric flew the ship. His attention was focused on the controls and what they did. Every so often, he would ask Ric what they did, but he was trying to memorize the panel at the moment.

“You’re a pretty smart kid,” Ric said.

Anakin shrugged. “If Buffy and the Council won’t let me be a Jedi, I wanna be a pilot.”

“As fast as you’re catching on, that shouldn’t be a problem,” Ric said. “In fact, if you’re half as talented as I’ve heard, it would be my honor to fly with you any day, Anakin Skywalker.”

The boy’s cheeked colored slightly and ducked his head. “Thanks,” he said.

A spark of silver peeking out from beneath Anakin’s tunic drew Ric’s attention. In the folds of the boy’s shirt, an odd looking pendent was twisted sideways. If the ship were to bump, Ric was sure that it would fall out and into his lap.

“What’s that?” Ric asked.

Anakin blinked, bringing himself back from whatever world he had slipped into, and looked down. Frowning, he picked the pendent up and pulled it as far away from himself as the chain would let him. It was a strange charm, just two oversized bars that crisscrossed like an intersection. Ric had never seen anything like it before and couldn’t imagine why someone would wear it.

“Oh, that’s Buffy’s cross,” Anakin said. “She let me wear for luck back at the race. I guess I forgot to give it back to her.”

“I’ve never seen a pendent like that before,” Ric said. “Does it mean something?”

Anakin shrugged a shoulder. “I asked her once. She said that on her planet, it was some kind of symbol that people wore to ward off evil or something like that. She said a good friend of hers gave it to her to keep her safe.”

“And she let you borrow it?” Ric asked.

Anakin nodded his head.

“She must really love you, then,” Ric said.

Anakin frowned again and looked at the pendent in his hand. “I guess,” he said, tucking it safely back into his tunic.

The far away gaze returned to the boy’s face. Ric decided to leave him be this time and just let him think. They would be at Naboo soon anyway.

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Buffy splashed some water into her face, the cold temperature washing some of the sleepiness she felt away. She hadn’t had a good rest since the night before the Bonnta Eve Podrace and even that hadn’t been the greatest sleep, what with the nightmares of Ani dying in a fiery crash and all. When this was all over, she was going to find the biggest, comfiest bed she could and sleep until she was twenty-one. Sure, Ani might feel a little neglected, but he could still see her whenever he wanted. After all, someone would have to turn so she wouldn’t get bedsores.

Well, he might not be so willing to help her right now, since he was mad at her. She wished she could tell him why she didn’t want to become a Jedi, but that would mean telling him who and what she was. How do you explain to a nine-year-old that you’re a vampire slayer from another dimension? That you know what being the Chosen One really was and you wouldn’t wish that life on your worst enemy, let alone someone you love. And what more, how do you tell the kid that he’s going to have to keep it a secret from everyone, including people who she was pretty sure could read minds?

Besides, Buffy had question who exactly the Chosen One was. The Jedi only thought that Ani might be it, but she knew she was one of her titles. She would ask Qui-Gon about it, but it was kind of hard to ask someone for something after punching them. Maybe she could ask Ben. Okay, she had waylaid his Master, but she hadn’t hit him, so that could count for something, right? Besides, him and Qui-Gon were fighting themselves about her and Ani. And she and Ben were on the same side about ‘no training Anakin’, so maybe he would answer her questions.

“Miss Summers,” a female voice said, knocking softly.

Buffy went into the bedroom, opened the door, and found one of the Queen’s handmaids - Rabies or something like that - standing there. She was still dressed in robes, but was holding several pieces of folded clothes in her hands.

Giving the clothes to Buffy, the handmaid said, “Padmé thought that you would like to have these to wear.”

“Oh, um, thanks,” Buffy said.

The handmaid nodded, then said, “The Queen wishes a meeting soon and Master Qui-Gon believes you will wish to attend. Get dressed and we will send someone to collect you before it starts.”

Before Buffy could say anything, the handmaid left. Buffy stood there for a moment, watching the young woman’s retreating back, then closed the door.

Deciding that she had the time, Buffy dropped the clothes on the room’s small bed and went back into the bathroom for a quick shower. One of the handmaids - Padmé she assumed - volunteered use of her quarters for Buffy during their trip to Naboo. Buffy guessed Padmé decided to like her since she was willing to help her people, even though the slayer had never met them. At least, that was what Buffy was assuming. Nothing like volunteering for a suicide mission to redeem oneself.

Buffy wondered where Padmé was anyway. She hadn’t seen her since they landed on Coruscant, and she didn’t think Ani or anyone else had either. But, then, those handmaids uniforms made it quite difficult to see who the person was unless they were very close. Padmé probably had just been busy with everything going on. Buffy had been, what with that stupid test and even stupider Council.

Finishing her shower, Buffy grabbed a towel and wrapped it around herself before stepping back into the room. She froze as soon as her foot the carpet.

“BEN!”

Ben, who was standing beside the bed with his back to the bathroom door, turned around. His eyes widened when he saw her and he swiftly turned back the way he had been facing.

“I am terribly sorry!” he said, careful to keep his back to her.

Buffy pressed her lips, held the towel tightly around her body, and stretched to grab the clothes off the bed. She didn’t want to get any closer to him than she had to, but that made it difficult to get her new outfit, since it was right beside him.

“Don’t you Jedi know how to knock?” she asked, her fingers barely brushing against the clothes.

“I did,” he said. “You didn’t answer.”

“So you just let yourself in. Didn’t the running water and clothes on the bed give you a clue that maybe you should, I don’t know, wait outside?” Buffy asked, reaching for the outfit again and once more failing to get it.

Ben turned his head slightly for moment, looking to see what she was trying to do. Frowning, Buffy said, “Eyes forward, Jedi Boy.”

His head snapped forward. Then, he raised his hand at the clothes and pushed them with an invisible force to the end of the bed. Buffy just looked at them for a moment, then grabbed the bundle and headed back into the bathroom to change.

“What are you doing in here anyway?” Buffy asked, pulling the outfit on quickly.

“The Queen is about to begin her meeting,” Ben called. “She asked me to come get you.”

“Why didn’t she send one of her handmaid people?” Buffy asked, fastening the belt. Grabbing her wet hair, she pulled it back and began to search for a holder.

“They’re busy at the moment, I believe,” he said.

Buffy frowned. Why wouldn’t they give her something to put her hair up with?

“You better hurry,” Ben said. “I’m sure they’re expecting us.”

Coming out of the bathroom, Buffy held her hair back with one hand and asked, “Hey, do you have a pen or something thin, sharp, and pointy?”

Turning around, Ben sighed in relief to find her dressed and then began to search his pockets. After a few seconds, he opened a pouch on his belt and removed a then very thin tube. Touching the bottom of it, the tube extended to about the size of a ballpoint pen with a sharp point at the end.

“Here,” he said, handing it to her.

“What is it?” she asked, before placing it in her mouth. She ran her hands over her hair several times to get any bumps out.

Ben raised his eyebrows slightly as she made a final pass with her hands, then began to twist her hair into a makeshift bun. “It’s a tool I use to make adjustments on my lightsaber.”

When her hair was finally tight enough, Buffy took the tube out of her mouth and stuck it through her hair, holding the bun in place. It felt a little loose, but it would stay. And it beat having wet hair on her shoulders and down her back.

With a smile, she said, “Now it’s a fashion statement.”

Not giving him the chance to respond, Buffy turned and headed out the door.

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Obi-Wan had a bad feeling about this whole mission. Well, truth was, he had had a bad feeling since before they had left on their original mission to Naboo more than two weeks ago and it had yet to go away. He didn’t know what it was about the planet that set him on edge, but something did. Maybe it was the fact they were on the brink of war. Or maybe it was because the Trade Federations brazen invasion. Whatever it was, this mission felt like from the beginning that it was going to change everything.

Well, he supposed it had. When he left two weeks ago, he had been Qui-Gon’s Padawan learner and had no incline that he would leave that position any time soon. Now his Master was ready to trade him in for a boy he found on a desert planet of Tatooine. Had the Council told Obi-Wan before hand that he was ready for the trials and suggested that Master Qui-Gon begin to search for a new Padawan, it would have been one thing. To be rejected in front of the Council - and for them to dismiss the idea that he was ready for the trials - was another.

Obi-Wan knew he should harbor those ill feelings, but he found it hard to just let go of them. Master Qui-Gon was like his father - the only one he had ever known. To have him just brush him aside in favor of another...He could be as old as his Master and he doubted it would hurt less.

Yes, the boy had changed much in the short time that they knew him.

And Obi-Wan got the feeling that Anakin’s sister would do the same.

He walked beside her now, towards the ship’s throne room. The very same room that he had taken her to the night before to dress her wounds - which appeared to be healing incredibly fast for someone not under a Force induced healing trance. The violent red splotches around her neck had dulled to a faint pink, making them now look like somewhere she had just scratched to hard. Yet another odd thing about Buffy Summers.

She was a strange one. Never in all the years he had traveled with Master Qui-Gon across the galaxy had he meet anyone like her. With any luck, he would never meet anyone like her again.

Also, if he had any luck, he would successfully be able to forget that horrible incident back in her room. Obi-Wan had always lived in such open places - first the Temple as a child, then in the apartment he shared with his Master - and the doors there were always opened to him. He knew that wasn’t the case in most other places, but it was hard to break habits of just walking into a friend’s room - which, he supposed, Buffy really wasn’t - that he had just not thought about it. Now he had the image of her standing there in nothing but a bath towel engraved in his mind, and it took all his control of the Force to keep from blushing when he looked at her.

She was wearing a Nubian uniform now; trousers, tunic, and boots. Obi-Wan had seen another one of the handmaidens dressed in a similar outfit, though it had a long-waisted overcoat that Buffy’s uniform did not. Unlike the slaves outfit that made her appear rather weak and fragile, the military-style uniform she wore now emphasized an inborn confidence and grace of movement that he had only seen during her duel with Tinkah. The slave outfit hid her, hid who she was. This uniform brought it front and center.

As they approached the throne room from one end of the hallway, Qui-Gon came from the other end. There was a troublesome look on his Master’s face, made even noticeable thanks to the bruise Buffy had given him. Obi-Wan was rather grateful for the amount of time they had to wait to get to Naboo from Coruscant. It gave his Master some time to heal a bit of the bruise. Going into a battle with an obvious wound was not something Jedi wish to do. It made him appear weaker, something that they couldn’t afford if the Sith would be there as they believed.

Buffy tensed. Obi-Wan briefly picked up a strong sense of betray and disappointment from her, but it was gone rather quickly. Squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, Buffy set her face as his Master approached.

Through their bond, Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon apprehension as Buffy stopped in front of him and the doors to the throne room. It was probably best to be cautious around her, considering that they hardly ever knew what she was going to do until the instant she did it.

“Buffy,” Qui-Gon said, bowing slightly.

“Master Jinn,” Buffy replied.

The tips of Qui-Gon’s lips briefly turned downward into a barely noticeable frown. Drawing in a deep breath, he asked, “How are your wounds?”

Buffy shrugged a shoulder. “Fine. How’s the face?”

Qui-Gon reached up and rubbed the side of his face she had hit. “It has been better, but worse also,” he said.

“Good,” she said.

Qui-Gon sighed. “Buffy -.”

She held up her hands and stopped whatever he was about to say. “Look,” she said, “I really don’t want to hear about it now, okay. Let’s just go in there and do the war room thing and deal with this crap later.”

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. He got the distinct feeling that Buffy was a big advocate for dealing with problems later.

His Master preferred that things be settled quickly, but he understood that there were more pressing matters at the moment, so he nodded. Buffy nodded in return, and the issue causing trouble was placed aside for the time being.

“Good,” Buffy said. “So, any ideas what her Funky Hairness has in mind tactics wise?”

Opening the door, Qui-Gon said, “Not the faintest idea.”

“Good to know we’re not going in blind,” Buffy said, then walked inside.

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon following close behind.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The others were already present when they arrived. Buffy counted only around eight people in the Queen’s throne room, but she had estimate that there maybe thirteen people actually on bored the ship. Hmm, thirteen people against and entire army. She rather liked those odds. Hey, if she can stop the Master and his minion from sucking the world into hell with just her, three high school kids, a souled vampire, a computer teacher/gypsy, and a librarian/Watcher - and all the while wearing a prom dress - she could do this. She hoped.

Yeah, maybe if she told herself that enough times, she would believe it.

The Queen sat upon her throne, watching the group with a cool composure. The soft, violet robes nearly blended in with her lily white face, making her dark eyes look darker and harder in contrast.

Qui-Gon and Ben bowed to the Queen while Buffy nodded. She hung back beside Ben, allowing Qui-Gon to appear as if he were in charge of her. As if, Buffy thought, just stopping herself from snorting.

The guy in charge of the Queen’s guards - Pancake, wasn’t it? - stood next to Qui-Gon. Judging by his expression, he thought this whole thing was ludicrous, but he had pledged his loyalties to the Queen. There were no take backs with something like that, no matter how much he might have wanted there to be at that moment.

“When we land on Naboo, it is my intention to act on this invasion,” the Queen said to Qui-Gon. “My people have suffered enough.”

Panic’s dark face hardened at her word. “When we land, Your Highness, the Trade Federation will arrest you and force you to sign their treaty!”

“Maybe, but we’ll put one hell of a fight before that happens. Won’t we, Your Highness,” Buffy said.

The smallest of smiles passed on the Queen’s lips. “Indeed we will, Miss Summers.”

Pack-mule’s face flickered with suppressed anger. “That’s well enough to say, girl, but what good would we ultimately make in doing so? There are only thirteen of us! That is not the army we will need to win this war.”

Buffy tilted her head. Of course they wouldn’t win this war if that was the kind of attitude they were taking with them. “You ever thought of becoming a motivational speaker?” Buffy asked the dark-skinned security officer.

He glared at her in return.

Ignoring Buffy, Qui-Gon said, “I agree with Captain Panaka, Your Highness. The Jedi cannot fight a war for you, only protect you.”

Pressing her lips, the Queen turned her attention to the wall behind them that Jar Jar was trying to disappear into. “Jar Jar Binks,” she said.

The Gungun stiffened and gulped. “Me, Your Highness?”

“Yes,” the Queen said. “I have need of your help.”

Buffy balked. “His help?”

The Queen briefly shifted her gaze from Jar Jar to Buffy. “Yes.”

Swallowing hard, Buffy turned to Ben. Quietly, she said, “Wesa all goin’ ta die.”

Chapter Twelve: Swamp Thing Switch


Naboo was a planet in the Outer Rim territory. Small and peaceful, no one had ever given much thought to the world until the Trade Federation’s blockade and following invasion. Then the planet that had mainly been known for producing artists and musicians and being a nice place to take a holiday, suddenly had become the place on everyone’s mind. The consequences of one false move there could ring throughout the Republic and cause enough strife and mistrust among the Senate to tear it in two. One little planet, in the middle of no where, could destroy everything.

Qui-Gon sighed as he watched the ships crew move about the swamp, waiting for the return of Jar Jar. Perhaps he was just being overly dramatic, it was a childhood trait he long thought himself rid of. But on occasion it would make itself known, as if to remind him wasn’t as old mentally as he liked to think himself as being. That wasn’t a bad thing, he supposed. A young heart and a sense of humor were two things that he always felt a Jedi - especially field agents - needed. It was what kept him alive on many occasions, as it had Master Yoda.

Qui-Gon often worried about Obi-Wan’s serious attitude. He was too much like Mace at times. Oh, yes, Mace Windu was one of the best of the Jedi and there was hardly a field agent that came before or would come after that could top his record. But Qui-Gon remembered something that hardly any of the rest of the Order did. Once, a long time ago, Mace knew how to smile. He knew how to laugh. He knew how to see the humor in things. His time on the Council had finally been able to stomp out that linger trace of the boy Qui-Gon had once attended classes with at the Temple, and molded him into the perfect Jedi it had always wanted.

And Obi-Wan wondered why he did not care to sit on the Council?

Qui-Gon looked to his Padawan now. Obi-Wan had hardly spoken to him since they left Coruscant, and was doing a marvelous job of avoiding him all together, even while being trapped on a rather small ship. The feelings of betrayal and hurt forged a large gap between them, stretching their bond to a near breaking point. Qui-Gon did not like it.

Padawan’s were the children that Jedi were never permitted to have. From the time the Master chose a child from the Temple, the bond shared between the student and the teacher was as strong - if not stronger - than that of the bond shared between a parent and child. Perhaps that was what made his and Obi-Wan’s bond was so much stronger than some of the others. They chose the child to their Padawan. The Force - by way of a conspiring little troll - had thrust the responsibility of a near thirteen-year-old boy into Qui-Gon’s care. Like an unexpectant parent, he had not asked for the boy, but he couldn’t imagine what his life would have been like without him.

And one disagreement threatened to destroy that.

Qui-Gon turned from Obi-Wan and back to the swamp. Buffy stood at it’s edge, peering into the dark waters as if it held the secrets of the universe. Her posture was stiff and her face set, if not slightly bored. It was how she looked the first time he saw her, standing behind the counter of Watto’s junk shop.

The Queen and her entourage stood near the woods speaking to one another in low voices. Captain Panaka and several of the guards were keeping an eye out for danger, while the pilots talked. R2-D2 sat off to the side alone, his top swirling from side to side as if he too was looking for danger.

Anakin was beside the ship, speaking with Padmé. The handmaiden had reappeared shortly before they landed, dressed in the same uniform as the Queen. She was sad when speaking to the boy. Anakin was as well, but for a different reason. Then, Padmé smiled at Ani, touched his shoulder, and joined the Queen. Ani watched her for what seemed like a long time, then turned to Buffy. Pressing his lips and drawing a deep breath, the boy then walked towards his sister.

Qui-Gon was glad that one of them finally decided to try and talk to the other.

From behind, Qui-Gon could sense Obi-Wan approaching. “I’ve been thinking,” Qui-Gon said, keeping his eyes on the others. “We are treading on dangerous ground. If the Queen intends to fight a war, we cannot become involved. Not even in her efforts to persuade the Gungans to fight with the Naboo against the Trade Federation, if that’s what she intends by coming here. The Jedi have no authority to take side, no matter what Buffy thinks.”

“But, as I’m sure she would point out, we are to protect the Queen by order of the Council,” Obi-Wan said.

Qui-Gon turned to him. “It is a fine line we walk, then.”

Drawing a deep breath, Obi-Wan let it out slowly and said, “Master, I behaved badly on Coruscant and I am embarrassed. I meant no disrespect to you. I do not wish to be difficult in matters concerning the boy and...her.”

When Obi-Wan glanced at Buffy and Anakin - who appeared to be making up as well - Qui-Gon picked up a thick feeling of embarrassment and the slightest hint of blush on his Padawan’s face. Qui-Gon frowned. He was confidence that Obi-Wan would never knowingly go against his teachings about attachments, but the key word there was knowingly. He was still young, an easy time for such mistakes to be made, especially when a pretty face was involved.

Picking up what his Master was thinking, Obi-Wan’s head shot around to face him so fast that Qui-Gon was sure the boy would develop a case of whiplash. “It’s not like that, Master!” he said, his eyes wide.

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow in response.

“I swear it’s not!” Obi-Wan said. “It’s - I...” The embarrassment coming off his Padawan was nearly choking. Squaring his shoulders, as if it would it would make what he was about to say less difficult somehow, he said, “I walked in on her coming out of the shower.”

Qui-Gon fought to keep the smile at bay and kill the laughter in his throat. It proved all for not when Obi-Wan finally could not stop his face from turning redder than his hair. As quietly as he could, Qui-Gon laughed.

“It’s not funny, Master,” Obi-Wan admonished, though he was beginning to smile as well.

Qui-Gon’s laughter quieted to nothing more than an amused smile. “It would seem, my young Padawan, I was quite correct.”

Obi-Wan tilted his head. “Correct about what, Master?”

“That you are ready for the trials.” Placing his hand on the younger man’s shoulder, Qui-Gon said, “Because any man who could walk out of that situation without so much as a scratch, is ready to become a Jedi.”

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For a swamp, this place was actually kind of nice. Well, at least, a lot nicer than the pictures of swamps Buffy had seen back home.

When they had arrived at Naboo, Buffy had been fascinated by it’s look in contrast to Tatooine and Coruscant. Unlike those two planets, Naboo was the closest world she had found that favored her home. Blue oceans, green land, and white capped mountains, this jewel of a world was breathtaking and homey. Buffy liked it here.

She just hoped she still liked it after the war was done.

The Queen’s ship had landed on the planet in the middle of the swamp. Buffy had told the reason was a) because it would take the droid’s a lot longer to find them out there and b) because the Gungun capital was supposedly nearby. As Jar Jar dove into the water, the terrifying image of hundreds of versions of him coming back crossed Buffy’s mind and made her shudder.

Standing on the edge of the water, Buffy peered down into it, trying to make out any forms of life below the surface. Her reflection waved and shook in the water, reminding her of one of those fun house mirrors back home. Other than herself, she saw nothing.

“What are you doing?”

Turning around, Buffy found Ani standing behind her. His arms were crossed and his held was slightly tilted to the side. God, how can someone who is not related to her by blood look so much like her?

The off-white tunic and pants he wore, which were designed to be cool and reflect the heat of the suns on Tatooine, made Ani look out of place in the deep greens and browns of the swamp. He reminded Buffy of an angel. An annoyed angel, but an angel nonetheless.

A small smile touched her lips. “You talking to me now?”

Looking down at his feet, Anakin shrugged a shoulder. He kicked at some dirt and avoided her gaze. He may be talking to her again, but that didn’t mean he had to look at her.

Shaking her head, Buffy turned back to the water. “I was trying to see if Jar Jar was on his way back.”

“Oh?” Anakin moved to the edge of the water. Buffy felt her heart jump as he leaned over so far that he was about to fall in.

“Whoa,” she said, grabbing the back of his shirt and pulling him back to a safe distance. When he frowned, she said, “Ani, I know Shmi taught you a lot of stuff, but I’m pretty sure swimming was one of them. Unless, you know, Mos Espa had a public pool that I knew nothing about. Which, if they did, I’m so going to smack you for not telling me.”

Anakin continued to frown, but more out of playful annoyance than actual anger. “I guess that’s something you’re going to have to teach me to do, huh?”

“Only if you want tomorrow’s paper to read ‘Anakin Skywalker, who survived a lifetime of slavery and the war on Naboo, drowned yesterday under the watchful eye of his sister,’” Buffy said, turning and walking towards the Jedi.

Anakin fell into step beside her. “You wouldn’t let me drown.”

“Not on purpose,” she said. “But, hey, if you’re really stuck on this whole ‘teach me Buffy’ kick, think of this way, I’ll finally get to try out that CPR stuff I learned with Willow.” Giles had insisted they both take lessons after Buffy’s own little drowning experience, and she was pretty sure she remembered everything.

Ani laughed, though she knew that he didn’t know what CPR was. “Maybe Mr. Qui-Gon can teach me.”

Buffy stopped, forcing Anakin to do the same. The Jedi were only a short distance away, speaking to each other quietly. Ben glanced at her, but quickly turned away. Next to him, a look of concerned crossed Qui-Gon’s face.

What was that about?

“Maybe,” she said, turning her attention back to Anakin.

The boy frowned from the flat tone. “You’re still mad at him,” Ani said.

“A little,” she said. “You still mad at me?”

Anakin shrugged and started walking towards Qui-Gon and Ben. Apparently, Ben must have accidently said something terribly amusing because Qui-Gon was laughing quietly while the Padawan blushed.

“A little,” Ani said.

“What if I promise to buy you a speeder when you turn sixteen,” she said.

A large smile broke out onto his face. “I’ll be a lot less mad at you.”

Buffy laughed and wrapped her arm around his shoulders. “Ah, I have trained you well, young Padawan,” she said, hugging him to her side. “Of course, you do realize, we’ll have to live in that speeder if you hold me to that.”

With a mischievous smile, Ani said, “I’ll let you have the backseat.”

As Buffy laughed, a dark figure splashed through the surface of the water. Jar Jar pulled himself onto shore and shook himself, slinging some of the excess water off. Losing any grace that he found in the water, Jar Jar took large, awkward steps as he approached Buffy and Ani.

Taking Ani by the shoulders, Buffy held him close to her as the Jedi and Captain Panaka approached. The group and Jar Jar reached Buffy and Anakin at the same time.

“Tis nobody dere! Dey all gone!” Jar Jar said.

“Gone?” Buffy asked.

When Jar Jar nodded his head, his ears flapped some water onto her. “Dere was a fight, mesa think.”

“Do you think they escape?” Ben asked.

Panaka shook his head. “Wiped out, more than likely.”

“Mesa no think so,” Jar Jar said carefully. “Gungans too smart. Go into hiding. To the sacred place, mesa think.”

“Sacred place?” Buffy repeated.

“Can you take us there?” Qui-Gon asked.

Sighing heavily, as if he knew that it was pointless to argue, Jar Jar walked into swamp, waving them to follow. The others immediately began to follow. Buffy hesitated for a moment, then fell in step behind the Jedi. R2 followed behind her.

She wasn’t sure how long they walked through the swampland. The only thing she knew for sure was that the cute boots that Padmé had leant her were ruined and that some of the bugs on Naboo were the size of small house pets.

“Where’s a can of Raid when you need one,” Buffy muttered to herself as a particularly big bug buzzed by her head.

Ani looked up at her, probably to ask her what Raid was, and tripped on something hidden in the grass. Catching him before he fell, she set him back on his feet.

Ruffling his hair, Buffy said, “You got to be more care- umph!”

Buffy pitched forward as her foot caught on another stray root. As she fell, she felt two pairs of hands grab each of her arms. Qui-Gon held her up by one, while Ben held the other. With slightly pink cheeks, Buffy straightened herself up and pulled out the imaginary wrinkles in her tunic.

“I meant to do that,” she said, pushing ahead. Behind her, she could hear Qui-Gon chuckle and she could feel Ben smiling.

Stupid Jedi.

“Is it much further, Jar Jar?” Padmé asked. There was no whine or weariness to her tone, just simple curiosity. They had been walking for some time and it was a question they had all asked themselves, the handmaid had just been the first to voice it.

No sooner had Jar Jar turned to answer her when a Gungan riding an odd-looking creature jumped in front of the group, throwing them into a screeching halt. On instinct, Buffy fell back into a fighting stance as a group of them surrounded them, electorpoles and energy spears at the ready. Reaching, Buffy went to pull Anakin behind her, only to find he wasn’t there. She glanced behind her and found that Qui-Gon and Ben already had the boy safely tucked between them.

The Gungans didn’t appear to concerned about any of them, just rather annoyed that they were there. Especially Jar Jar, not that she could blame them for that.

The leader pulled the reigns of the creature he was riding and frowned at Jar Jar. “Binks! Notta ‘gain!”

Jar Jar shrugged. “Wesa come ta see da Boss.”

The Gungan rolled his eyes. “Ouch time,” he said. “Ouch time maybe for you all.”

Herding them together, the Gungans led them deeper into the swamp. After several minutes, they came to a small clearing on the water’s edge. A large head of some kind of stone carved deity rested between two trees, half covered in moss and half underwater. Other smaller broken pieces of stones and carvings littered the water and tall grass, giving the impression that at one time this place had been a building of some type. However, thanks to time and neglect, it was little more than ruins slowly being taken over by the swamp.

Buffy could sense a good many Gungans gathered in the area, but only saw a handful. A particularly large one stood on top of the partly submerged head, his fat body threatening to throw him off-balance and into the water at any moment. So, that was what Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy’s love-child would look like.

“Jar Jar Binks,” he said, his voice as loud as he was wide. “Whadda you doin’ back? Yous suppose ta take de outlanders and no come back! Yous pays good, dis time.” His fleshy head seemed to swell as he took a deep breath and turned to the group behind Jar Jar. “Whosa you bringin’ to Gungan sacred place?”

The Queen stepped forward, her elaborately painted face and ordainment designed hair appearing out of sorts with the low dress of the uniform she wore. “I am Amidala, Queen of the Naboo,” she said with her usual cool, in-charge tone.

The Gungan Boss hissed. “Naboo! Wesa no like da Naboo! Yous bring de meccanics! Dey bust up our homes! Dey drive us all out!” Lifting his fat arm, he pointed at the Queen. “Yous all die!”

All at once, the Gungans that Buffy had sensed near by came out to surround them. Some looked upon them with curiosity as to why there were there, but most were just angrily gripping their weapons. Buffy’s fist balled and her foot slid behind her to the stance Giles had taught her. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see the Jedi had not moved, but their hands were hanging awful close to their lightsabers.

R2, the little trash-can droid, beeped nervously.

The Queen drew in a breath and tried again. “I wish to form an alliance with you.”

“Wesa wadda nothin’ from you,” the Gungan Boss said.

The Gungans that surrounded them moved a little closer. Buffy slightly raised her arms as her slayer senses assaulted her. “This is not good,” she said to herself.

Abruptly, Padmé broke away from the group and moved in front of the Queen. “Your Honor,” she said, then made a strange series of clicking noises.

Anakin started to move to help her, but Qui-Gon’s large hand grabbed him by the shoulder and held him back. Buffy could tell by the look on his face the Jedi just had a lightbulb moment. Probably the same one she just had.

“Whosa dis?” the Gungan Boss asked.

Drawing in a deep breath and straightening her back, Padmé said, “I am Queen Amidala. Sabe,” she nudged her towards the faux Queen, “serves as my decoy and is my loyal bodyguard. I am sorry for the deception, but given the circumstances, I am sure you can understand.”

Buffy glanced at the Jedi and Anakin. She knew that Qui-Gon had figured it out about the same time she had. If Ben was surprised, he hid it well. The only one who appeared to be in total shock was Anakin, who was doing a poor job of hiding his surprise.

Buffy turned back to Padmé as she began to speak once more. “Although our people do not always agree, Your Honor, we have always lived in peace. Until now. The Trade Federation has destroyed all that we have worked so hard to build. If we do not act quickly, all that we value will be lost forever.” Stretching out her hands, she said, “I ask you to help us, Your Honor.” Then she thought better. “No, I beg you to help us.”

Padmé then dropped to one knee in front of an astonished Gungan Boss and equally surprised Nubians. Buffy understood. Pride was not something one could afford to have when asking for the kind of help she needed.

“We are your humble servants, Your Honor,” Padmé said. Slowly, the handmaids and guards sank to their knees. “Our fate is in your hands. Please help us.”

Buffy felt something hit her in the back of the knees, causing her to fall to them like everyone else. Turning, she saw Qui-Gon - who was on his knees along with Ben and Anakin - titled his head, telling her he was the one who gave her a little help. Well, she would have done it eventually. Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow as if he heard her. Pouting, Buffy faced forward again. Well, she would have.

On top of the head, the Gungan Boss began to laugh as if he had never seen anything more amusing in his life. “Oh, mesa like dis! Dis good! Yous no think yous greater dan da Gungans.” Jumping off the head with a grace something so large should not have, the Gungan Boss walked over to Padmé and helped her to her feet. “Yous talk wit me. Maybe, wesa be friends after all.”

A collective breath was released from the group as Buffy smiled.

Well, good to know her new pants weren’t ruin for nothing.

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The castle in the Naboo’s capital of Theeds was large, airy, and bright. The walls were decorated with paintings of long dead heros and snippets from local legends. Though the planet was a peaceful one, they did appreciate the beauty and art from scenes of war and death. However, every painting that contained either were ruined with the triumphed hero either pushing back the forces of darkness or defeating it all together. None of the art in the Palace were missing goodness of the Light. They all had hope.

It made Darth Maul sick to think of them. This place was far to cheery and good. How his Master ever survived here was beyond his comprehension.

“The lap of luxury is burdensome at times,” Darth Sidious said, the tall holographic image of him flickering. “But no concern of yours, my apprentice.”

“Yes, Master,” Maul said, ducking his head a bit lower.

The Sith had arrived on Naboo a mere hour ago and had called his Master as instructed. The Neimodians how coward away somewhere, not wishing to face the Dark Lord until they had more information on the Queen’s doing. The scouts were schedule to arrive soon, but Maul doubted that they would tell them any more than they already knew. The Queen was trying to gather allies, the primitives of the planet - the Gungans - were her only logical choice.

It was quite an aggressive move, one that they had not expected to come from the child Queen.

“Indeed, it is far to of an aggressive move for her,” Sidious agreed. “I believe the time she has spent with the Jedi and on that filthy planet Tatooine has made her quite reckless.” Sidious laughed. “All the better for us.”

Maul kept his head down and any amusement he felt well hidden. He asked, “What is it you wish of me, my Master?”

“The Jedi are with her, but you know that,” Sidious said.

“Yes, Master.”

“There are also two children in her care,” he went on. “I believe you had the pleasure of meeting them on Tatooine. A young boy and his sister.”

Maul lifted his head slightly. His Master was speaking of those slave children, the boy he had nearly ran over with his bike and that girl. That damn slave girl who had kept him from killing that fool Jedi. That damn girl who was not strong in the Force but still managed to get the better of him.

“Easy, my apprentice,” Sidious said, his voice oily with a hint of amusement laced in the tone. “You shall have your revenge for her humiliation.”

“You wish for me to kill her as well, Master?” Maul asked.

A deep rumble of laugh echoed from Sidious’ throat. “My apprentice, I want you to kill them all, save the boy. Bring him to me. I foresee great things coming from him.”

Maul nodded. “Yes, my Master.”

Chapter Thirteen: Tactics to Theeds

It was a simple enough plan, in a complex kind of way. The Gungans - who thankfully, were not all instinctive inept as Jar Jar - would distract the droid army while they snuck into the castle, went around or overpowered the guards, go to the throne room, and captured the head bad guys. While that was going on, the handful of pilots they had would go back up into space and do their best to take out that big bull’s-eye looking ship. Yeah, no problem. If things go smoothly, they should be having lunch in the palace.

But Buffy was with them, so she knew things were not about to go smoothly or according to plan. She just didn’t have that kind of luck.

Pressing herself close to the wall, Buffy followed behind Ben and Qui-Gon. They had entered the capital city, Theeds, shortly after Captain Panaka and his team. So far, things had been going to plan. Theeds was deserted, save the droids left to guard the palace in case someone should make it past their army. There were quiet a few of them, but nothing that Buffy was sure they couldn’t handle.

Ani tried to peer around Qui-Gon, but R2 beeped at him. Noticing how exposed Ani was, Buffy grabbed the back of his tunic and pulled him back.

She didn’t like him being there, but she knew they didn’t have a choice. There was no safe place on Naboo where they could leave him. The ship was surely discovered by now and the Gungan sacred place was to close to where the big battle was taking place. The only choice they had was to bring him with them. At least this way they could keep an eye on him because Buffy knew Ani wouldn’t see anything dangerous about jumping right into the fight. For someone who was a slave his whole life, he sure didn’t seem to understand that his actions could get him killed.

As they approached the courtyard, Padmé held up her hand, signaling for them to stop. The yard was filled with droids and tanks. Frowning, Buffy unhooked the blaster from her belt.

It was her fun new toy.

After Padmé’s meeting with the Gungans and the small rebellion to discuss tactics, Captain Panaka pulled Buffy aside and, by order of the Queen, gave her the weapon. Really, she wished she could have one those cool staff thingies that the Gungans carried - and had secretly hoped that maybe Qui-Gon would just so happen to have an extra lightsaber for her - but she could see where the blaster would be more effective on their mission. The staffs could only reach so far, and the droids would be shooting at them. Better to have something she could fire back with.

Before testing her ability, Panaka spoke slowly to her as if he were explaining how the blaster worked to a five-year-old. It wasn’t like it was that hard to understand. You point, pull the trigger, and the thing you fire at dies or blows up or does whatever a droid does when you kill it. Then he pointed to a small target he had step up on a speeder about thirty yards away and told her to hit it. She did. She also managed to take out the nasty looking bug that was buzzing next to the Gungan Boss’ ear who was roughly a hundred yards away. Funny how Panaka didn’t say anything to her after that.

Padmé glanced back the group she was leading, her eyes scanning all of them before finally resting on Qui-Gon. Drawing his lightsaber at the same time as Ben, the Jedi Master nodded his head. Padmé returned the gesture, then held up a small lazar light to signal Panaka, whose group was on the other side of the courtyard.

Quietly, Buffy whispered to Anakin, “Stay between me and Qui-Gon.”

“Once we’re inside, find a safe hiding spot and stay there, Anakin,” Qui-Gon added.

Ani barely had time to nod before Panaka fired at the droids. One the tanks exploded and the droids shifted their attention towards Panaka’s group.

Igniting their lightsabers, the Jedi followed Padmé as she slipped into the courtyard. Buffy and the others trailed behind, providing cover the best they could. Ani ducked low, trying to say out of everyone’s way, as Padmé opened the door to the hanger. Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy saw the lightsaber blades deflecting blaster fire away from the Queen.

Man, Jedi really did have good reflexes.

As the hanger doors opened, a blast of cold, artificial air washed over Buffy, overtaking the hot muggy air of the city. They moved inside quickly.

More droids were in the hanger. Unlike the others outside, who were ready at a moments notice to fight, the ones in the hanger had a bit of delay time. They were programmed to guard, not expect a sneak attack. Buffy and the others destroyed several of them before they even realized that they were under attack.

“Get to your ships!” Padmé shouted to the pilots as she fired her blaster.

Buffy kept firing, providing what cover she could as the pilots ran for it. A few fell before they reached their ships, but most made it. The bright yellow ships pulled out slowly into the fire fight, easily deflecting the shots with their shields. Then, one by one, exited through the bay doors. It was only a small group that would be flying, but a small group was better than no group.

Cannon fire rang out after each ship that flew out the hanger. One of the ships was caught by the blaster fire. Buffy just saw a yellow streak and black smoke, then nothing more.

Two more ships took off after that ship went down. Unlike their predecessor, they made it. Or, if they hadn’t, Buffy didn’t see them go down. There were no more pilots for the remaining ships. The bright yellow vehicles remained silently in place, oblivious to the firefight going on around them.

Glancing to her side, Buffy was pleased to note that Anakin had disappeared somewhere, hopefully a safe place.

A streak of blue cutting off a blaster shot heading at her head drew Buffy’s attention. She turned as Ben sliced through the droid that had fired at her, then threw three more of the advancing droids with same invisible force he had used to push her clothes with earlier. Firing the blaster, Buffy took out two more droids before running up next to Ben.

“So this is what you do for fun?” she asked, firing at a nearby droid as Ben deflected another shot with his saber.

Raising his hand, he threw another pair of droids out of the fight. “No,” he said, blocking another shot. “Sometimes, Master Qui-Gon makes me fight like this blindfolded.”

“Oh, funny,” Buffy said, firing again.

It was the last shot fired before the gunfire died down to nothing. The droids guarding the hanger laid broken on the floor; some in pieces, others whole but with large scorch marks on their chests. Scanning the area, Ben made sure there were no more immediate threats before powering down his lightsaber. It was only when he did so that Buffy lowered her blaster.

Padmé, the handmaids, and several of the guards headed towards a large pair of doors. It was then that Buffy realized that Captain Panaka and the others had joined them as they marched with the Queen. Qui-Gon, who had power-down his lightsaber as well, walked with them. As he passed, Ben and Buffy fell into step with him.

“Well, that was about as much fun as you can have without, you know, having any,” Buffy said, her grip still tight on the blaster.

Both Ben and Qui-Gon smiled at her wearily.

As they past one of the remaining ships, Anakin popped his head out of the cockpit. “Hey! Wait for me!”

“Ani, stay in the cockpit,” Qui-Gon said, his tone leaving no room for argument.

Or at least, for no normal person to argue. “But -.”

“Anakin!” Buffy bit, resolve face firmly in place. “Stay!”

The boy swiftly sat back down without another word. Raising an eyebrow, Ben silently asked her how she had made Ani do that with so few words.

“Big sister privilege,” she said as Padmé and the others reached the hanger doors. Beyond them was the most direct pathway to the throne room.

Buffy paused mid-step. Qui-Gon took one step before stopping to see what was wrong. Ben paused after him.

“Buffy?” Qui-Gon asked.

Her slayer-y-senses were sending big, flashing neon sign warnings to her. There was danger on the other side of those doors.

“Padmé, stop,” Buffy said.

The young Queen had barely paused when the hanger doors slid opened eerierally slow. It reminded Buffy of those old horror movies that Xander used to make them watch; where the group of stupid teenagers would go to the old, haunted house and the door would open on it’s own, beckoning them to their ultimate deaths. This was not good.

As the doors opened, a short, hooded figure stood in the way of the group. His face and body were covered by a dark cloak, and his feet were parted and planted. He was not going to move and was daring them to try and make him. Lifting his head, a pair of yellow eyes peered out from under the hood.

With a small snort, Buffy said, “Oh, look, it’s Tattoo Boy.”

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Qui-Gon stood still, staring at the Sith in their way. Buffy was indeed right, it was the tattoo attacker from Tatooine. Even though Qui-Gon couldn’t see his face, he knew it had to be him.

And Buffy had known even before he - the Jedi Master - had sensed his presence. Qui-Gon knew the Sith was in the palace, he had picked up on that when they were outside of the city. However, he had failed to realize that the dark force-wielder was this close to them. The Dark Side shielded him, making it difficult for anyone of the Light to pinpoint where he was. So, how had Buffy known?

Qui-Gon shook his head, freeing himself from that line of thought. That was question for another time.

Turning, the Jedi moved forward. Obi-Wan and Buffy fell into pace with them, his Padawan on the far side and Qui-Gon’s young female ward between them.

Padmé and the others stood there for a moment, unsure what to do. That was the way they needed to go, but this guy vibrated with power and death, making the Queen hesitate to move her people forward.

“We’ll take care of this,” Qui-Gon said.

The words had no sooner left his mouth when Padmé turned and headed in another direction. “We’ll take the long way.”

“Looks like Round Two is about to begin,” Buffy said, still standing between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan.

“Go with the Queen, Buffy,” Qui-Gon said.

She blinked. “You’re kidding, right?”

The look on Qui-Gon’s face said he was anything but. Thinking quickly - because he knew she wouldn’t leave because he just said it was too dangerous for her - he said, “I need you to say with the Queen and protect her while Obi-Wan and myself take care of this.”

Buffy pressed her lips and Qui-Gon flexed his fingers. He was fairly sure that Jedi mind control wouldn’t work on her, at least not completely. Back on Tatooine, the calming suggestion he placed on her had been a powerful one and even then she held onto the knife. To make her leave against her will now would probably be impossible, but he would try if he had to. Well, he knew what Master Yoda said about trying, but Qui-Gon got the distinct impression that getting Buffy do anything could only be a ‘try’ situation.

After a moment, Buffy nodded her head. “You so owe me,” she said.

Her eyes were locked on the Sith as she backed away to follow the Queen and the others. His yellow eyes followed her as well. The creature smirked at Buffy’s hard features. Silent threats were taking place.

Finally, Buffy turned around and ran after Padmé’s group. Returning his gaze to the Jedi, the Sith pulled off his hood and cloak, tossing it to the side. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan did the same. Grasping his overly extended lightsaber handle, the Sith held it up and ignited the weapon...on both ends. The Jedi once more followed suit.

It was time for the real fun to begin.

After a momentary pause, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan attacked.

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As Buffy caught up with Padmé and the others, three rollie-pollie type droids rolled in front of them.

“Destroyers!” someone yelled, though Buffy had no idea who. She did know, however, that with a name like that, the droids hadn’t come to have tea and crumpets. And, oh God, did she just actually mentally quote Giles?

The droids rolled back onto their spidery legs and brought up the blasters they had instead of arms. A blast from one of the insect-like droids hit a storage box near Buffy, slinging pieces of yellow metal flinging at her. One piece managed to cut into her back, but, as with most slayer related injuries, it wasn’t deep enough to make her stop fighting.

Blaster fire rained around them, causing the group to seek shelter behind pillars and boxes. Buffy slid behind a pillar, wincing as her injured back touched the rough wall. Drawing in a deep breath, she moved from behind her hiding place and fired at the droids. Their shields deflected the shots.

“Shields? They have shields?” she asked. The guard - who had ducked behind the same pillar as her - looked at her strangely as she said quietly, “I couldn’t land in a dimension where my biggest worry was whether my fruity drink was filled or if I was getting an even suntan. Oh, no. I had to land here. Where I get to be shot at by bug droids that have shields.”

Twisting from behind the pillar, Buffy fired three more shots before one of the blasts from the droids hit the pillar she sough shelter behind. The blast had enough force to crack the stone, sending small chips of it skidding across the floor. Buffy ducked once more, pressing herself flat against the stone as another shot flew by. Her back stung from the wound, but she continued to ignore it.

As the guard moved around her as best he could to return fire, Buffy drew in several short, shallow breaths. Raising her blaster again, she said to him, “I hate this stupid dimension.”

She fired at the droids once more.

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Anakin peered over the top of the cockpit, the flashes of red, blue, and green light swinging through the air drawing his attention. By the hanger doors, he could see Mr. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan fighting a dark figure with red and black tattoo skinned. Though he hadn’t gotten a good look at him at the time, Anakin knew that it was the same man from Tatooine. The one that had tried to run him over and kill Qui-Gon.

He reminded Ani of one of the demons from Buffy’s stories.

She told him the best stories at night, after his mother had gone to bed. Most were about this legendary warrior on her planet called the Slayer. In them, the Slayer had to fight demons - hellish creature whose soul purpose in life was to kill and spread darkness. The Slayer kept them at bay and saved people. She - weird that it was always a girl - was like the Jedi, a warrior for the Light. She always won. And Ani was sure that if she were here now, she could kill that stupid demon.

But she was just a story and the Jedi were going to have to be the ones to stop him.

R2 - who had accidently been picked up by the ship Anakin was hiding in - beeped wildly behind him. As Ani turned to see what was the matter, several explosions rang through the hanger. Buffy, Padmé, and the others were pinned down by blaster fire coming from three Destroyer droids.

Oh, no!

“We got to help them, R2!” he said, looking for a way to start the ship.

The droid was already ahead of him and started the ships engines, igniting lights across the panel. Randomly pressing buttons, Anakin looked for a way to fire the ships cannons. A startling jump lurched Anakin forward as the ship began to move.

“Oops, wrong one,” Ani said. Desperately, he pulled a level next to him. The glass top to the cockpit slid closed. “Crap. Not that one either.”

R2 beeped loudly, pushing out a handle with a small red button on it.

“Thanks, R2,” Anakin said, grabbing the controller.

The ship turned towards the opened bay doors, the same doors that the other ships had exited through earlier. The ship was on autopilot was the only thing Anakin could figure. As luck would have it, the Destroyers were near those doors.

Pressing his lips, Anakin fired at the droids.

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Buffy ducked as a blaster bolt flew over her head, hitting the guard next to her. His body jumped in the air before falling onto the ground. Reaching around the pillar, Buffy fired again at the droids.

“This is totally pointless,” she said.

“Keep firing!” Padmé ordered. “We have to get through!”

Just then, one of the droids exploded. Buffy turned her head and saw one of the yellow ships slowly making its way towards the bay doors.

“Anakin?” Buffy said, glancing where the ship her little brother was supposed to be safely hiding in should be. As she expected, it was gone. “What the hell does he think he’s doing?”

Anakin fired again, slicing through the Destoryer’s shield and hitting the droid. The third droid turned to fire at the ship as it fired back. That blast missed, but the next one did not. The path out was now clear.

The ship was quickly picking up speed. Within seconds, it was out the bay doors.

As the others headed out of the hanger, Buffy ran towards the doors the ship had disappeared out of. One of the handmaids ran up next to her to make sure she wasn’t left behind.

As she tugged on her arm, Buffy said, “Okay, he is so grounded when he gets back.”

Chapter Fourteen: Doubles

Blue and green blades struck against the angry red blades, filling the air with the smell of lightening. Twisting the twin lightsaber like a staff, the Sith blocked Obi-Wan’s attack with one end of his lightsaber, before successfully knocking back Qui-Gon’s blade with the other.

It had been many years since Qui-Gon had come upon a foy as skilled at the Sith. Most people the Jedi dealt with carried blasters or other such weapons that were no match for lightsabers. It was a weapon designed and built specifically for Jedi. Sleek and deadly, it took years of training for the wielder to master it. And one must have the Force to successfully wield the weapon, else a person’s reaction time would never be swift enough to block blaster bolts or stop another lightsaber from cutting through their defenses.

Qui-Gon was a master of the lightsaber. His skill was nearly equal to that of Mace Windu, one of the best in the Order. Perhaps, when he had been in his prime, he was even better than the Council Member. But his prime had long since past. A trade off, he supposed, for wisdom and experience.

Obi-Wan tried to attack the Sith at a high angle while Qui-Gon went for the legs. The twin blades of the Sith’s lightsaber were to quick and blocked both their attack with ease.

The Sith’s youth gave him an advantage over Qui-Gon. The red and black tattooed warrior was at his prime. This was his fight. Though, to an outside viewer, it would appear as if the two Jedi were gaining ground on the Sith, Qui-Gon had been in enough battles to know better. He was leading them somewhere.

Leaping into the air, the Sith jumped a safe distance from the Jedi and began backing towards a closed pair of doors. He kept his eyes on them as he raised his hand and used the Force to manipulate the door controls. A sinister smirk was on his face as the doors to the power station slid opened and he brought up his lightsaber again.

The station was made of many catwalks and large generators, suppling energy for the starships that were stationed in the hanger. The room was overly large and filled with the noise of working machines. Light filtered through the long tubes that transferred the energy, filling the room with a warm glow that no one felt.

The Sith led them back onto the platform that over looked the area. His back was still to it, but he stopped before he reached the edge.

Qui-Gon held up his lightsaber. Next to him, Obi-Wan mimicked his position, just as he had taught him. Though he wasn’t moving, Qui-Gon could sense the tension coming off his Padawan in waves as they waited for the Sith to make a move. Thinking better, Qui-Gon silently singled Obi-Wan through their bond that they would be taking the advance.

Obi-Wan faked a forward attack to draw the Sith’s attention before Qui-Gon struck from the other side. The creature was far to quick to fall for the ploy and easily deflected their blades.

Sensing he needed more ground to move, the Sith then jumped to a nearby catwalk. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan followed close behind.

The Sith attacked as soon as they landed, the twin red blades slicing through the air. Obi-Wan leapt back to avoid being struck as Qui-Gon brought his blade against one of the Sith’s. Then, Qui-Gon blocked while Obi-Wan advanced.

It was a dance between the three of them, each moving in perfect harmony with the other. Each step was accident by crashing, slicing blues, greens, and reds. If one of them died, it wouldn’t be because of less talent. It would be because of a single misstep on their part.

Such as the step that Obi-Wan just took.

While blocking a blade, his Padawan accidently left himself opened for the briefest of seconds. The Sith held up his hand and used the Force to push Obi-Wan over the edge of the catwalk.

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Within the group heading for the throne room, Buffy stopped cold from a dead run.

There hadn’t been many droids on the pathway that Panaka was leading them through, only a stray one here or there. They had been easy enough to take care of. Though, everyone in the group knew that it would only be a short time before they would meet the guards the Viceroy would have about the palace. So, Padmé was quite confused as to why Buffy would stop.

Was there danger ahead that she was somehow aware of? Or perhaps danger behind them.

Buffy was looking back towards the hanger, a torn expression on her face. She wanted to go back, but why?

Not that it mattered. They did not have time to wait for her to make up her mind.

“Buffy,” Padmé said.

“There’s something wrong,” Buffy said quietly.

When she turned back to Padmé, the young Queen saw her expression had changed. No longer was it torn, but hard. It was one she had not seen on the blonde before. It wasn’t anger or fear, but cold determination.

“Keep going,” Buffy said, then turned and ran back towards the hanger.

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Buffy didn’t know what happened. As agreed, she went with Padmé, intent on helping her take the throne room. Then, that nagging little voice in the back of her head that had been berating her for leaving the big show in the hanger, suddenly began to shout, scream, and throw a full fledge tantrum about the wrongness going on down there. She had to go back.

Running faster than was humanly possible, Buffy reentered the hanger. On the far side of the room where they had entered from the courtyard, a group of droids were marching in. Their weapons were drawn and they were searching for any intruders. Which they found.

God, she did not have time for this.

“There,” she heard one of them say. “Fire!”

“Roger. Roger,” a mechanical voice replied.

Blaster fire hit the wall behind Buffy, barely missing her as she ran. If she had been any slower, she was sure she would be dead. Small pebbles from the wall hit the back of her legs, as Buffy returned fire. How many times had she heard it was harder to hit a target while it was moving? Well, try hitting it while you’re moving. Even with her slayer aim, she still only managed to hit one or two droids before she ducked behind a large crate.

Blaster fire flew overhead and around her. The box shook with every direct blast it took. Buffy knew it wouldn’t last long.

She needed a distraction. Nothing big, just something to give her enough time to get into that room with the big light poles. They were in there, she knew they were. That was where she needed to be. The room wasn’t that far away, if she could just find a way...

One of the blaster shots blew a large hole through the crate, missing Buffy’s head by mere inches. Okay, she so had to do something.

Twisting around on her butt, Buffy leaned back, bent her knees, and placed both feet against the box. It was heavy, filled with whatever these creates were filled with. Gritting her teeth, she drew her legs back and kicked it with all her might.

The create skidded across the hanger at high speed, sparks shooting out from under it as the metal bottom brushed against the floor. Smashing through the droids, it took out all but two of them. Before they could react, Buffy shot both of them.

“And she picks up the spare,” she said before getting to her feet and running for the energy room.

Buffy slowed to a stop as she stepped inside. The room was huge and opened, with catwalks crisscrossing high over her head and, she was sure if she looked down, below as well. She had to squint as her eyes passed over the tubes of light. The air smelled charged, like air after a storm.

Or like the training room had after her duel with that bitchy Padawan.

A quick scan of the two catwalks in front of her told her that Ben and Qui-Gon weren’t there, but she could feel their power nearby. And her slayer senses were tingling, letting her know that Tattoo Boy was with them.

She doubted they had gone to one of the catwalks overhead, so that just left the ones below. Great.

Hurrying onto the catwalk, Buffy looked down, searching for her friends. She spotted Qui-Gon and the ‘I-Wannabe-A-Demon’ guy at the end of a catwalk about two stories down. Ben was no where to be seen, but she could still sense him.

Buffy gulped. She could make the jump to the catwalk, but she had to land just right or she could hurt herself. At least, she hoped she wouldn’t hurt herself.

Tucking the blaster in the holster, Buffy backed up a few feet, drew in a deep breath, and jumped.

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Obi-Wan stood on the catwalk below the one his Master and the Sith were fighting on. Sensing Qui-Gon beginning to weaken, he knew that he had to get back up there. His master was one of the best, but Obi-Wan knew he could only hold his own for so long against a Sith.

If Qui-Gon had just waited for him...

Drawing upon the Force, Obi-Wan leapt upward and landed gracefully on the catwalk in a crouch. He had barely taken a step forward when someone landed with an ‘umph’ about a meter ahead of him. Obi-Wan drew his lightsaber and ready to battle when he realized who was in front of him.

“Buffy?”

She looked up, slinging some of the hair that had come loose from her bun out of her face. “Oh, hey, Ben,” she said. As if anticipating what he was about to say, she said, “I just thought I’d, you know, drop in and see how you guys were doing.”

Obi-Wan frowned. He didn’t have time to deal with her right now. “Stay here,” he said, then ran after Qui-Gon and the Sith.

“Um, how about not,” Buffy said, taking off after him.

Normally, Obi-Wan was able to run much faster, but the fighting he had already done and the jump had drained him of his energy. Still, he was able to run much faster than a normal human being could achieve, even at top shape. So, how was Buffy able not only able to keep up, but actually out run him?

They darted towards the lazar doored corridor that the Sith and Master Qui-Gon were fast approaching in their duel. Qui-Gon spun and ducked as the Sith’s lightsaber blade cut the air over the Master’s head. Bring his green blade up, he blocked another attack and moved down the now opened corridor.

“Hurry up before those laser wall thingies go up,” Buffy yelled to Obi-Wan, picking up a bit in her speed. Frowning, he did his best to keep up with her.

At the far end of the corridor, Obi-Wan watched as one of the lazar doors closed between Qui-Gon and the Sith, separating them. The doors were closing fast, but Buffy showed no signs of slowing as they approached the first one. Reaching out, Obi-Wan grabbed her by the back of her tunic, pulling her to a stop with him just as the laser wall appeared.

“Hey!”

“You wouldn’t have made it,” Obi-Wan said, switching off his lightsaber.

Buffy pouted and frowned at the same time. “Yeah, well, we won’t know that for sure now, will we?”

At the far end of the corridor, the Sith smirked at them as he turned off his lightsaber. Was it just Obi-Wan, or did he seemed overly pleased to see Buffy was with them once more?

Master Qui-Gon, never glancing back, turned off his lightsaber and dropped to a meditative pose, drawing upon the Force to help him finish the fight. Though he hated to admit it - even to himself - but Obi-Wan knew that his Master was going to need all the help he could get.

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Five minutes. That was how long the laser walls would stay up according to Ben. Five painfully long minutes. Like, five listening to one of Snyder’s ‘inspirational’ speeches painfully long minutes. And then, from what Ben estimated, they had about thirty seconds to make it the ‘hundred meters or so’ to the end of the corridor before the ‘doors’ would closed again.

“God, who designed this stupid place?” Buffy asked, pacing.

Ben stood in front of the wall, still as a statue. His shoulders were straight and tense, and Buffy could tell he wanted nothing more than to be down there with Qui-Gon. But, like her, he didn’t have a choice but to stand there and wait.

“My guess would be the architect,” he said dryly.

She paused in her pacing, a deep frown on her face. “Oh, you are so not with the funny, Jedi Boy.”

Buffy began to walk the small path she had laid out. Five steps to Ben’s right, turn around, ten steps the other way, turn around, ten steps back. Repeat.

She didn’t like this. Waiting was yet another thing that she wasn’t good at. It was like she had often told Giles, she was Action Girl. Point her in the direction of danger, tell her to go kill the bad thing, give her something to do, but don’t make her wait. Or research. That was another Bad Buffy area.

“You need to stay here,” Ben said, drawing her out of her musings. “Leave this to me and Master Qui-Gon.”

“Didn’t we already go over this?” Buffy asked, not bothering to hid the annoyance in her voice. “Because I seem to remember telling you ‘no’ earlier. And, if I didn’t, well, then, hell no.”

“You don’t know what you’re dealing with,” Ben said coolly. “That thing down there is a Sith. He will kill you. You will die.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” she said quietly to herself. If Ben heard her, he didn’t comment.

At the far end, Buffy could see the Sith had stopped pacing and was now standing directly in front of Qui-Gon. The Jedi Master was still knelt on the floor, meditating and appeared to have not noticed.

Yeah. Middle of battle, not the best time to take a mediation break.

There was a loud click at the end of the corridor. A half a second later, the lazar wall between Qui-Gon and the Sith disintegrated to nothing. One of the Sith’s red blade swung at Qui-Gon, but the Jedi reacted quickly, using his green blade to block. Leaping to his feet, Qui-Gon resumed his battle with the Sith, driving him back - or being led back - into the room at the end of the corridor.

Slowly, each one of the five walls disintegrated, one right after another. Buffy, who was now standing next to Ben, bounced on her feet lightly, waiting for the wall in front of them to disappear. She had to get down there.

The wall in front of them dissolved and Buffy ran. She was vaguely aware that Ben was a step or two behind her again - as well as yelling at her to stop - but she ignored him. There wasn’t much time before the walls would come back up.

The closer she got to the end of the corridor, the clearer the sounds of a lightsaber battle going on became. The clash, the hiss, the low nearly inaudible grunts coming from Qui-Gon. He wouldn’t last another five minutes against Horn Boy. He needed help.

The room was in sight, only a few yards away. Just a little further.

The walls of the corridor clicked. The lazars were about to come back up just as she reached the last one. Buffy didn’t slow her pace. She could imagine Ben reaching for her tunic again, to stop her before the lasers cut her in half, but she couldn’t let him. Leaning away from his hand, Buffy dove forward, out of the corridor and into the adjoining room. Her toes had just cleared the area when the laser wall came back up, locking Ben out.

As she fell, Buffy ducked into a ball to roll across the floor. However, she had forgotten about the injury to her back. Hitting the ground hard, Buffy couldn’t stop herself from yelping in pain as the cut on her back ripped further opened from the impact. The momentary pain was enough to make her lose her concentration and keep moving when she should have stopped.

Her eyes widened when she noticed the large hole in the middle of the room. Unable to stop her self, Buffy gasped as she rolled over the edge.

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Block left. Advance right. Pivot. Jump. Block. Duck.

Qui-Gon was aware of the moves he was making, but not at the same time. Like he and every other Jedi had been taught, he let his actions be guided by the Force. To win the fight, he would need it to flow through him, guide his blade to block the double bladed lightsaber the Sith wielded. With a calm fury, Qui-Gon’s lightsaber cut through the air, keeping in step with the tattooed warrior before him.

He knew he wouldn’t able to keep it up for much longer, though. While he did have the Force to guide him, his body simply no longer had the endurance and strength to keep up with someone as many years his junior as the Sith. For a while, yes, but not forever. Being caught in the service corridor to the melting pit had provided him a short time to refocus his energy, but that was quickly being spent. Qui-Gon needed to finish this soon if he stood any chance of winning. The problem, however, was that the Sith knew this and refused to give the Jedi Master the opening he needed to put an end to this battle.

The melting pit was a circular room with a very large hole in the middle in its center. The hole led to subterranean converters, where any matter that was placed in side it would be, well, melted down and converted into energy to run the generators outside. Both he and the Sith had to be mindful of the edge because it would be a unpleasant end to anyone unfortunate enough to go over.

Jump. Duck. Block right. Block left. Forward thrust. Block left.

Qui-Gon had become aware of two other presences at the end of the service corridor during his meditation. He had expected Obi-Wan to be there, but the other had made him frown.

What was Buffy doing here? He had pacifically told her to go with the Queen. She had gone with the Queen. So why was she back? And what good did she believe she could do here? As capable as Qui-Gon believed her to be, he knew she stood no chance against a Sith. The only purpose she could serve here was getting herself killed.

The Sith swung one of his blades at Qui-Gon’s head, then tried to use the other to cut off his legs. The Jedi Master barely had time to duck and jump to avoid the blades.

Perhaps he should take time to contemplate the girl’s stupidity another time.

Then, she and Obi-Wan were rushing towards the battle at that very moment. Qui-Gon just hoped his Padawan would be able to keep her from getting herself killed.

If something should happen to her, Anakin would be crushed - maybe to the point where it would be far to dangerous to train him. It had been hard enough for him to leave his mother, should Buffy die and leave the boy alone...No, he would not give into that dark line of thought.

There was also that nagging thought that Qui-Gon himself had become rather fond of her. One didn’t come across a spirit such as hers often, and - though she could be rather violent and unpredictable - she had a good soul. Besides, it was rather nice to have someone besides himself who was unafraid to tell the Council off.

As he blocked another attack, Qui-Gon heard the first energy barrier click to life. Obi-Wan and Buffy were close - perhaps right at the melting pits entrance. He hoped that Obi-Wan would make it through.

Bringing his lightsaber up, Qui-Gon struck at the Sith’s side, only for one of the red blades to meet his green in a block. Twisting on his feet, the tattooed attacker sliced at the Jedi from the right with the other blade. Qui-Gon leapt clear of it.

Just as the first laser door at the entrance to the room closed, a figure dove through. From the deep burgundy tunic, Qui-Gon knew that Buffy had made it through, but Obi-Wan had not. Careful to keep his concentration on the fight, Qui-Gon was only vaguely aware of the fact that Buffy had landed hard on her back, which caused her to cry out in pain. As she rolled across the floor, she twisted to an odd angle in attempt to stop herself. And failed to do so.

By the Force, she went over the edge!

The Sith took advantage of Qui-Gon’s momentary distraction and advanced to a more aggressive battle style. The combination of slight fatigue and surprise was enough for the Sith to gain ground on Qui-Gon. The Jedi blocked several angry blows that forced him back with each strike.

It was then Qui-Gon realized that the Sith had been toying with him, wearing him down so he would be an easier kill. The fighting tactics he had switched to were closer to the style he had used on the dunes of Tatooine. These blows were meant to kill.

Quickly bringing his lightsaber up, Qui-Gon blocked a blow that was aimed high - probably meant to cut through the neck. However, the Sith suddenly stopped his blade from coming contact with Qui-Gon’s. Instead, the Sith turned and elbowed Qui-Gon in the face momentarily stunning him.

Bracing himself, he saw a swirl of black and a flash of red. Qui-Gon knew he had taken a misstep and it was going to cost him dearly.

Chapter Fifteen: What's A Slayer?

Buffy gasped as she clung onto the side of the pit, the fingers of both her hands pushing down so hard onto the metal rim that she was sure she felt it bend beneath them. Below her, her feet hung loosely in the air, trying and failing to find some sort of footing in the smooth wall. The closest thing to stand was on of the four round cylinders that were sticking out about another foot below her and to the left. Well, that would do her any good.

She had been lucky to stop. Really, she didn’t know how she did. By the force she had been rolling with, she should have never been able to hold onto the side of the pit and successfully keep herself from literally going down the tube. But, as she went over the side, Buffy felt herself come to a screeching halt and had been able to hold onto the side.

With a grunt, Buffy pushed herself upward and peered over the side. Ben was staring at her, his eyes wide. The hand he had been holding up slowly began to descend as a relieved look passed over his face. A tight smile of thanks graced her face as she lifted herself out of the pit and onto the side.

As Buffy stood, the loud crash of two lightsabers colliding reminded her of the duel she had run in on. The Sip - wasn’t that what Ben called it? - was attacking Qui-Gon furiously. The creature’s twin blades were moving so swiftly that they looked like red streaks to Buffy. Qui-Gon was moving in time with him as best he could, but was doing a much poorer job of it than he had previously in the fight. His green blade was moving slower, only barely reaching the position it needed to be in to block Tats’ attacks.

Both were so caught up in their attack and defensives moves that they had failed to notice her.

Then, the inevitable happened. Horn Boy made a move for a high attack and Qui-Gon went for the block. However, instead of completing the attack, the black and red creature cut it short and struck Qui-Gon in the face, dazing him. As the Jedi stumbled back, the tattooed attacker spun and brought his blade around for she was sure would be a fatal blow.

Her hand seemed react on it’s own, pulling the blaster from it’s holster. The next conscious thing that Buffy was aware of was firing at the creature.

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Qui-Gon gasped as the blade cut into his abdomen, but he was even more surprised when it was suddenly ripped out. It did not cut deep enough to be fatal, as he expected it to be, but was still very painful and caused his to slightly bend forward.

The red blade flew upward and deflected a blaster bolt.

“You again,” the Sith said.

Qui-Gon looked past the attacker and saw Buffy. She was standing next to the melting pit, with her blaster raised.

“Didn’t we already have this talk about you picking on old people?” she asked, before firing again.

The Sith’s blades twirled in the air, blocking the shots and sending them slinging back in Buffy’s direction. One blast hit near Buffy’s feet, while another fizzled when it the laser wall that kept Obi-Wan from the fight. She kept firing, not giving the Sith enough time to do anything but deflect her attack.

Seeing an opportunity, Qui-Gon struck at the Sith. However, the attacker managed to block his green blade before the other red blade struck up and deflected a blaster bolt. Taking advantage of Qui-Gon’s slower reaction time, the Sith kicked him hard in his wound, causing the Jedi to stumble back. As he did so, Buffy fired again.

The red blade flew up and blocked her shots once more. However, the Sith then raised his hand and used the Force to pull the blaster from her grasp. As it flew across the room, he then used another Force blast against Buffy, lifting off her feet and slamming her into a nearby wall.

“Buffy!” Qui-Gon yelled as she slid down the wall with a groan.

The Sith smirked, then swung at Qui-Gon once more. Raising his blade, Qui-Gon deflected the attack, then struck down to block another. Turning, Qui-Gon tried to attack the Sith from the right, but he was far to quick.

Seemingly tired of playing with the Jedi, the Sith faked an attack from the left to draw Qui-Gon’s blade. However, before they crashed together, the tattooed attack kneed him in his wounded abdomen, stunning the Jedi once more. Qui-Gon’s arm flew carelessly to the side, giving the warrior the opening he wanted. As the Sith sliced downward, Qui-Gon watched his hand being cut off. When he yelped from the shock, the Sith twisted his lightsaber and used the other blade to cut deeply into Qui-Gon’s thigh.

Searing pain rippled through the Jedi’s body; his injuries finally making him fall to the ground. Groaning, Qui-Gon turned his head. He could see his hand nearby, still clutching his now deactivated lightsaber.

The Sith chuckled softly in his throat and leaned down close to Qui-Gon. “I am going to kill that girl. Then I will kill the other Jedi. And then you will be allowed to die with the knowledge that there was nothing you could do to save them.”

“God, you finally decide to say more than two words and you choose that?”

Both the Sith and Qui-Gon turned at the voice. Buffy was weakly pushing herself up against the wall, the hair that had come loose from her bun hanging in her face as she kept her head slightly tilted downward.

“Well, you are full of surprises,” the Sith said, leaving Qui-Gon and walking towards Buffy.

As he pasted the lazar barrier, Obi-Wan eyes locked on him. The Padawan clenched and unclenched his hands, waiting to be on the other side so he could fight. The Sith smirked wickedly at him, as if to say he wouldn’t have to wait long.

Buffy didn’t move from her spot. Just stared forward at the approaching warrior. Coldly.

“You have hate in you,” the Sith said, a touch of amusement to his tone. “Jedi don’t entertain such feelings.”

Raising an eyebrow, Buffy asked, “Do I look emotional repressed? Or like I have bad fashion sense?”

The Sith tilted his head. Though he clearly understood what she meant, he didn’t understand the way she said it. “No, you are no Jedi,” he said. “But nor are you the slave you pretended to be. So, girl, what are you?”

“My name is not ‘girl’. It’s Buffy.” The tension slid from Buffy’s body as she stood at full height, her shoulders relaxed and a large, almost friendly smile on her face. “The Vampire Slayer.”

Through the shock and pain, Qui-Gon still blinked in surprise.

Vampire Slayer?

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Vampire Slayer? Obi-Wan thought.

What in the name of the Force was a Vampire Slayer? What was a vampire, for that matter?

The Sith laughed. “Vampire Slayer,” he said repeated aloud. “And what, girl, is a Vampire Slayer?”

Crossing her arms, Buffy shifted her weight to one foot. “Well, there’s a whole speech that goes with it. One girl in the world, bla bla bla, fight the vampires and demons, bla bla bla, the Chosen One, bla bla bla. Cliff Note version, I kick evils ass.”

Chosen One? She was the Chosen One? No, Buffy couldn’t be the Chosen One. Anakin - his midi-chlorain count...Obi-Wan had run the test himself! If there was a Chosen One, according to the prophesy, it had to be the boy!

Obi-Wan shook his head. Now was not the time to dwell on whom was whom. He needed to be ready for when the wall went down and keep an eye on Buffy. With Qui-Gon unable to protect her, she was going to need someone to help her in the fight she was trying to pick with the Sith. But what could he really do for her? She was unarmed, practically at the mercy of the darksider, and she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. If she were to stand any chance of surviving until this Force forsaken wall came down, she needed a weapon. No, a lightsaber.

Forcing himself to look away, Obi-Wan caught Qui-Gon gaze. His Master was already ahead of him. Though he was to weak to do it himself, he knew Obi-Wan could. Still clutching his injured arm, Qui-Gon nodded then turned his attention back to the Sith and Buffy. Obi-Wan closed his eyes and began to concentrate.

He hoped this worked.

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Though she appeared to be relaxed, even cocky, to the outside world, Buffy couldn’t keep her heart from racing. This guy - this demon - was powerful. She could feel it oozing off him, chilling her with a sense of dread that she had not felt since her last battle with - with Angelus. It was similar to the wiggy feeling she got from Palpatine back Corcan’t, only less guarded.

And when he laughed, it took all her will power to keep from shivering. It was such a cruel sound, not mention foreign coming from him. Buffy knew that he couldn’t laugh often, and - when he did - it was at something that only he could see some kind of sick and twisted humor in.

“Such a lofty boast from someone so small,” he said.

“What can I say,” Buffy said with a shrug, slowly moving away from the wall so she would have more room to maneuver. “I’m not really a bragger, but, you know, when you got it...”

“It’s a boast you shall not make again,” Tattoo Boy said, following her steps carefully. “You fight with the Jedi. You die with the Jedi.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. You break it. You bought it. I know,” she said.

Falling into a fighting stance, Buffy brought her fists up and pulled one of legs behind her. Okay, so he could throw her across the room with a thought and was wielding a weapon that could cut her in half with a single blow, she still had slayer strength going for her. Yeah, fist-to-cuffs was going to work. Of course, he was thinking ‘tiny girl, must not be a problem killing’, so that should give her some advantages. She hoped.

He laughed again. Apparently, he found her very entertaining. A fact that annoyed Buffy greatly.

“We going to do this or not, Horny?” Buffy paused. “Okay, that sound a whole lot less pervish in my head.”

The smirk remained on the creatures face for a fraction of a second longer, then fell angrily as he struck at her. The red blade swung high, causing Buffy to duck so as to not be decapitated. Still leaning forward, she jerked to the side as he twirled the lightsaber staff and lunged one of the blades downward like a club. She could feel the heat from the weapon brush by her as she moved.

Before he could attack again, Buffy shot up and grabbed hold of his wrists that were still holding one of the ligtsaber’s blades downward. Forcefully prying one of his hands off the weapon, Buffy held his arms apart so his front was facing her. Before he could react, she pulled him downward and kneed him in the face. The satisfying sound of the crunch of his nose breaking momentarily filled the air.

Since he was probably trained to ignore the pain like her, he was able to pull his hand that did not hold the lightsaber free from her grasp, and backhanded her across the face. Hard. Buffy held on tight to the arm that held the lightsaber, holding it at bay. She could take blows from a fist, but not cuts from a weapon like that.

When he brought his fist around to hit her again, Buffy used her free arm to knock it away, then stepped forward with her back leg so she was holding his arm and the lightsaber in front of her and he was actually to her side. Clutching her fist, she backhanded him across his face as hard as she could. His head jerked to the side at sickening speed, but came to face her again just as swiftly.

Grinding his teeth together, Tattoo Boy put his hand up palm forward and threw her with the Force once more. Buffy noted that it wasn’t as powerful as the last one he used against her. As she fell, Buffy twisted in the air and did a single hand flip that turned into a series of back flips. Tats was running after her. As she reached the wall, he was close enough to strike a blow with his saber’s blade. On her final flip - which was far to close to the wall for her to be able to land on her feet - he struck down. Leaping into the air, Buffy just missed the blade as she did a somersault before springboarding off the wall. As she did so, he ducked, causing her to miss him. Buffy tucked and rolled across the floor before landing in a crouching position. In a swirl of black robes, he turned to face her.

Buffy frowned deeply. This wasn’t going to work. He had a lightsaber and now knew how strong she really was. She doubted he would let her get close enough for fist-to-cuff again.

She needed a weapon.

A cylinder shot across in front of her. Plucking it off the ground, Buffy blinked. Qui-Gon’s lightsaber.

Okay, she needed a portal to hell to open up and swallow Horn Boy.

Tats crouched low to the floor, holding his lightsaber in front of him with one hand, while stretching his other arm behind him.

Crap. Well, it was worth a try.

Turning the green blade on, Buffy rose. Though time did tend to go a little wonky on her when she was in the middle of a fight, she figured that she had about another minute to go before the wall went down and Ben could join the fun. A minute. Yeah. She could do that. As long as he didn’t use that Force throw-y-thingy to push her down the well.

“Yeah, green is so more my color,” Buffy said, twisting the lightsaber. “I would say that maybe you should think about changing you blade’s color, but I think red works for you.”

“Do you ever shut up?” Horn Boy asked, whatever amusement he had found in her earlier now gone.

“Um...no, not really,” she said, then charged him.

Green and reds swirled before her; a high block for one attack and then immediately having to twist the blade to block a low attack. As he twirled, she brought the green blade up in front of her just in time to stop a blow aimed for her chest.

Three strikes into the fight, Buffy realized that this was perhaps not the brightest move she could have made. She had learned some time ago that it didn’t take long for her to tell who was a better fighter in a battle. Usually within the first five blows, she knew whether she would be able to out do her opponent by just using physical strength or by having to outwit them. Either way, Buffy knew that she would win somehow in the end. Even against the Master and Angelus she knew. She was not going to let them beat her.

Fighting this guy with lightsabers, however...

She was stronger than him physically, but he had better lightsaber dueling skills than her. Damn, that was so not good.

Buffy ducked as one of the red blades swung over her head, then brought her lightsaber’s green blade up to block the other red one. Forcefully, she pushed the blade to the ground. Holding it there, she balled a fist and tried to backhand him. However, he was prepared for it and twisted his lightsaber so the blade protruding from the other end cut into her shoulder and side. Since her blade was holding his other at a certain angle, the cut couldn’t go that deep because he couldn’t twist it far enough, so it was more of a tap to through her off.

Yelping - more out of shock than pain - Buffy stumbled back. As she did so, he cut low at her legs. She jumped, but, as she came back down, Tat brought his blades back around and grazed the side of her leg before she was able to block it. The smell of brunt flesh and lightening lingered in the air as she fell to the ground on her back. A cruel smile passed over his lips as he drove one blade of his lightsaber straight down at her head. Buffy’s eyes widened as she jerked to the side. The blade drove through the metal floor to the hilt of the handle next to her head, burning some of her loose strains of hair. Before he could pull his weapon out of the floor, Buffy dropped Qui-Gon’s lightsaber, grabbed his wrists again, then brought her uninjured leg up and kicked him in the stomach. Hard. But, being at such an awkward angle, she was unable to knock him away from her as she had hoped. Instead, he just grunted and then kicked her in the face.

Stars appeared before her eyes and she felt herself let go of his wrists. The blade slide out of the floor with a hiss and Buffy - still dazed from the blow - was only vaguely aware he had raised his weapon to strike again. Blinking, she sucked in a sharp breath when she saw a flash of red coming at her.

Tattoo Boy suddenly was thrown backwards before he could finish the blow. He sailed across the room and slammed against the wall. Twisting, Buffy turned to see Qui-Gon laying on his side, the hand that was still attached raised at them. He looked tired and was breathing deeply. That little blast had apparently taken a lot out of him.

Scrambling to her feet, Buffy scooped up Qui-Gon’s lightsaber and shifted her weight to her uninjured leg. Tats pushed himself from against the wall, his eyes locked on Buffy. She could tell he was tired for her and wanted nothing more than to kill her on the spot.

However, the laser wall finally dissolved and Buffy soon found herself standing next to Ben. Unlike herself and Qui-Gon, he had no injuries and was ready to fight. Buffy grinned to herself. The odds just evened out.

“Could you be any later?” she asked.

“I didn’t realize you would start without me,” Ben said. “Which, I might say, was very foolish on your part. Even if you are this Vampire Slayer.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t do waiting.”

“Perhaps you should. Then maybe you will live longer,” Ben said.

No sooner had the words left his mouth when Tats attacked. Blue mixed in with the streaks of light, moving much more swiftly and accurately than the green to block the reds. Buffy pivoted and blocked a high attack from the right as Ben swung high at the creature from the left. The other red blade shot up in time to block him and the other blocked the low attack Buffy tried.

It seemed to her that they moved this way for a long time. Each person’s steps perfectly following the others. Tats went high, her or Ben would block it while the other went for an attack. No one gained ground or lost it in this fight. At this rate, the only way someone was going to die in this fight would be from old age.

Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy saw Ben spare her glance. As if picking up what she was thinking, he nodded. She pressed her lips, hoping that whatever it was he was thinking meshed with what she was thinking.

As Horn Boy brought his blade at a high angle attack, Ben ducked, causing the blade to swing over his head. Before it struck Buffy, however, her green blade struck downward, knocking the red blade to the ground between her and the Jedi. As she held the blade down, Ben turned and took a powerful swing with his lightsaber at Tat’s head. The creature dropped low, the blue blade missing him by a mere inch. Staying low, Tattoo Boy held up his hand at the Jedi and threw him the same way that Qui-Gon had thrown him with. Ben shot backwards at breakneck spend and crashed into the laser wall that had just gone back up.

“Ben!”

Buffy watched with sick fascination as power surged through the Padawan. He appeared to hang there against the wall for what felt like was a long time - but was probably only a few seconds - then fell to the ground on his knees. Groaning, he fell flat on his face, his fist clenching and unclenching as he lay there. His lightsaber laid about a foot away from him and he was making no move to pick it up. That jolt had done a number on him and it would probably take him a few minutes to recover. Minutes they really didn’t have.

Buffy turned back to Tats. That evil smirk was back on his face, as if he knew he had just won.

With his free hand, he backhanded her with enough force to nearly knock Buffy to the ground. As she stumbled backwards, he used the same Force trick on her...again. God, she needed learn how to avoid those things. And this guy needed to learn a new trick too.

Buffy was prepared when she hit the wall this time. It still hurt - especially with her injuries - but she just gritted her teeth, the only outward she gave that she had felt any pain. Glancing to the side, she saw Qui-Gon’s lightsaber out of reach to her right.

Buffy looked up in time to see Tattoo Boy charging at her at an unnatural speed. Gasping, she ducked to the right as his blade sliced downward in a blow that would have cut her in half. However, instead of bringing the other blade around for another blow, his hand shot out and wrapped around her neck. Lifting her off the ground, she held onto his wrist as he choked her.

“I do not wish to soil my blade with the likes of you if I do not have too,” he said, then squeezed tighter.

Buffy gagged, the spots reappearing. She needed to do something and quick. Still holding onto his wrist with one hand, her other shot out palm forward and smacked him in his broken nose. Out of surprise more than anything, he dropped her to the ground. However, before she could move, he brought his lightsaber around and stabbed her through the stomach; not all the way through but deep enough to do major damage.

Buffy stared down at the blade for a moment, then back up at him as if she had never seen anything stranger. A coppery taste began to fill her mouth, then a sharp pain as he tore the blade out of her. Leaning against the wall, her breaths starting to burn as she took them.

And the bastard was still smirking.

She’d wipe that smirk off his face if it was the last thing she did.

Growling, Buffy pulled the sharp tool Ben had given her out of her bun and stabbed Tattoo Boy through the temple. It didn’t have the immediate effect that she had expected. Well, truthfully, she’d never stabbed anyone through the temple before so she wasn’t sure what she should have expected. Immediate death seemed logical to her, but he just started at her. The smirk was gone, replaced shock and that ‘how the hell did this happen’ look that demons used to get when she killed them and they didn’t know that she was the slayer. As she pulled the tool out of his head, Tats clumsily stumbled backwards. The duel lightsaber fell from his grasp and clattered on the ground.

From one corner of her eyes, Buffy saw Qui-Gon push himself to his knees, the wrist that his hand had been severed from tucked close to his chest. He was watching the creature with a great deal of curiosity.

From the other corner of her eye, she saw Ben rise to his feet. He had the same look on his face as his Master.

Buffy stared straight ahead at Tats, and he stared back.

He backed to the very edge of the hole and stopped, as if he knew better than take another step backwards. Buffy frowned. Stepping forward, she threw the tool. It embedded itself between Tattoo Boy’s eyes and knocked him backwards down the well.

They all stood there for a moment. The only sound she could hear was herself breathing and the blood pumping in her ears.

“Buffy.” She turned to the voice. Ben was looking at her, concern etched on his face. “Are you alright?”

“Peachy,” she said, trying to keep herself from hissing in pain. “You guys good?”

Ben looked over at Qui-Gon. Slowly, he nodded his head.

“We’re alright,” Qui-Gon said carefully, pushing himself to his feet.

“Good,” she said.

The next thing she remembered was the ground rushing up at her, then nothing.

Chapter Sixteen: Stately Discussions

Buffy frowned as she hurried through the dark and crowded hall, clutching the strap of her weapons bag as her loaded down book bag slapped against her back. Overhead, several of the florescent lights flicked before one of them went out, making the dim corridor seem even darker. The students around her didn’t seem to notice, however, just continued on with their ideal teenager chit-chat as they walked to the next class. The bell rang and the crowd magically became thicker, making it difficult for Buffy to move through them without hitting someone.

God, she was so late.

As she passed under a banner announcing the upcoming Winter Formal, Buffy slammed into a female student with bright blonde hair and wearing an expensive outfit. Her face scrunched up in shock and annoyance, making her look like a pug dog that had just been startled awake from a nap. Wait. Buffy knew her.

“God, rude much,” Harmony said, the scold she had learned from Cordelia firmly one her lips. The other Cordettes surrounded her, all with similar expressions on their faces. Buffy briefly wondered why Cordy wasn’t with them, but then realized she didn’t care.

“Sorry,” Buffy said, pushing past them.

She was sure Harmony had said something, but she wasn’t paying close enough attention to know what. Giles was already going be all extra Watcher-y/prison warden-y for her being gone this long, she really didn’t want to give him any reason to add on an extra ten minutes to his lecture about her lateness because of Harmony vapid ‘repartee’.

The crowd thinned just as Buffy found herself in front of the school’s library. She paused outside of the doors for a moment as the oddest feeling that this wasn’t right, but was, pasted through her. That was weird. She came in here every day. Why would she get a wiggy feeling now?

Buffy shrugged it off. Okay, that was the last time she stopped for a Grande Mocha before school. From now on, she’d have to remember to stick to a Tall instead.

Pushing the swinging door opened, Buffy stepped inside the library. As usual, the gang was gather around the table, each absorbed in what they were doing. Or as being as absorbed as a teenagers could be.

Xander was leaning back in his chair, his feet propped up on the table with a book opened in his lap. There was a glazed look on his face, like he was sleeping with his eyes opened. It was his ‘research face’. At least, that’s what she and Willow liked to call it. Buffy half expected him to start snoring and hoped he’d kept the drool leakage to a minium if he did drift off.

In the chair next to him sat Cordelia. Instead of reading one of the many thick and dusty books spread over the table, she had a copy of SEVENTEEN. Unlike Xander, she was reading what she had in front of her. Or at least studying the pictures very carefully.

Across the table were Oz and Willow. Oz - who was currently sporting an interesting shade of green for a hair color - had several different books opened in front him and concentrating on one particularly thick volume. Well, Buffy thought he was concentrating. It was kind of hard to tell the difference between his look of concentration and, well, his other expressions.

Willow sat next to him, her laptop opened and her fingers furiously typing away. Her hair was cut the shortest Buffy had ever seen - shoulder length - and the color was more red than it had been before. Pressing her lips, Willow typed something else into the computer, then went to a book opened next to it for a reference.

It was kind of odd that none of them had noticed her yet, but researching can be distracting.

“Oh, Buffy, there you are.”

Giles stood in front of his office door, a cup of tea in one of his hands and a book in the other. He wasn’t scolding like Buffy had expected. Instead, he was calmly sipping his tea. Well, if he wasn’t going to yell at her for being late, she was so not going to remind him that she had been.

“Hey, Giles,” she said, placing her weapons bag on the floor.

Hearing her voice, the others looked up from what they were doing. Willow smiled and waved, while Oz nodded. Xander grinned from ear to ear and tossed the book in his lap onto the table, grateful for the distraction Buffy was offering. Cordelia just glanced up for a moment, rolled her eyes, and went back to the article she had been reading.

“Hey, Buff,” Xander said, pulling his feet off the table. They hit the floor loudly. “Where’ve you been?”

“Ducking evil,” she said, putting her backpack on the counter before joining her friends. She grabbed the box of donuts off the table, but frowned when she found it empty. See, this is why it sucked to be late for Scooby meetings.

“Ah,” Xander said, leaning back in his chair as far as it would let him. “I take it Commandant Snyder been reading Hitler’s Top Ten Ways to Running a More Efficient School again.”

Dropping the empty box back onto the table, Buffy rubbed her hands together then shrugged. “Probably just the first five chapters.”

“I heard they wanted him to be their spokes person on the book tour, but he couldn’t grow the mustache,” Oz said.

“Well, that would explain why he’s suddenly not being the gleaming ball of sunshine we all know and loved,” Xander said.

Smiling, Buffy stepped up to the table and scanned over the books they were looking through. She didn’t recognize any of the titles, but, then, unless they had some weird kind of drawing on the front cover, she rarely did. “So, who’s the new Big Bad and how do I kill it?”

“Oh, we’re not looking for that, Buffy,” Willow said, the laptop in front of her all but forgotten.

“You’re not?” she asked.

“No, we’re not,” Giles said, placing the book he had been reading on the table and picking up another, seemingly at random. “If you would have been here, you would know that.”

Buffy pouted. She should have known he would say something about her being late. And he did it that sneaky British ‘it’s a simple fact I’m stating’ way too.

“If she would have been here, we wouldn’t be looking through these musty old things,” Cordelia said, tossing her magazine onto the table. Picking up one of the books, she dropped it almost immediately and scrunched her nose in disgust as she rubbed her fingers together. “God, Giles, you could like dust these things you know.”

As Giles glared at Cordy, Buffy tilted her head. “Okay, backing the blame truck up here. What’s me not being here have anything to do with the research party?”

With an expression that so clearly said ‘duh’ that blind people could hear it, Cordelia said, “Why do you think?”

“Cordy,” Xander said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Leave her alone. She doesn’t know.”

“Know what?” Buffy asked. Okay, this was getting a little more than weird.

Nervously, Willow laughed and waved her hand. “Oh, um, nothing. Nothing for you to worry about. It’s, you know, our problem, so you don’t have to like worry about it or anything. We can handle it. See, researching ergo handling the problem.”

Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Wills, are you okay?”

“Yeah, just a Mocha induced sugar rush, is all,” she said. Before Buffy could respond, Willow looked down at her watch and yelped in surprise. “Oh no! Buffy, you need to go!”

Jumping out of her seat, Willow wrapped her arms around Buffy’s shoulders and led her back to the double swinging doors. “Huh? Go where?” She glanced back at the group, who had already gone back to their researching, and noticed the empty donut box. “I thought Xander was the official Scooby snack-getter.”

Smiling, Willow rolled her eyes and shook her head. “No, Buffy. We’ve got that covered. But you need to go. He won’t wait forever.” She paused mid-step. “Well, I guess he could, being dead and everything, but, you know it’s just bad manners to make someone wait like that.”

Buffy blinked. “Willow?”

When they stopped in front of the library doors, Willow suddenly hugged her. Having been caught off guard, Buffy stood there awkwardly for a moment before returning it.

“Don’t worry. We’ll be waiting right here until you get back,” Willow said somewhat sadly. “And, hey, we’ll see each other soon, right?”

“Um, yeah, I guess,” Buffy said. When she let go of her friend, Buffy looked at the doors. She had to go through. She didn’t know why, but she knew she did. “I’ll see you when I get back, okay?”

Willow nodded her head. “We’ll see you then.”

Drawing in a deep breath, Buffy stepped through the doors. She found herself no longer in Sunnydale High, but instead standing in the middle of a mansions living room. No. Standing in the living room in Angel’s mansion.

It looked just how Buffy had left it over a year ago. The doorway to the garden was still opened, letting the scent of roses and sea air waif through the room. The curtain between the living room and the room they had tortured Giles in was still hanging there. Piles of dust of Angelus’ former minions and broken furniture scattered the floor. An over turned wheel chair still laid on it’s side near the doorway. And Acathla stood in front of the fireplace, the sword firmly embedded in his chest.

Yes, it was just how she remembered it.

Buffy walked towards the statue, her steps slow and almost dragging the floor. She would almost swear she could still see blood on the blade protruding out of Acathla’s chest. Could still see Angel’s blood.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she turned away. It wasn’t her fault. She had no other choice.

“Of course you didn’t,” Angel said, stepping up from behind to stand next to her. “I didn’t give you one.”

Buffy couldn’t raise her gaze to meet his, but knew he was just how she remember him as well. Tall, hansom, and able to make her heart do a salsa with just one glance.

Why did he have to be here? Didn’t he know she didn’t want to see him? To think about him?

“I know, Buffy,” he said, gently placing his hand under her chin and forcing her to look up at him. She had forgotten how tall he was. Did he always tower over her like that?

“I miss you,” she said lowly.

“I know. I miss you too.” Placing his other hand underneath her chin, Angel leaned down and pressed his forehead against hers. “Just remember, no matter where you are, I will find you. I promise you I always will.”

Drawing in a small breath, Buffy pressed her lips. “Angel - .”

--------

Buffy woke with a sharp breath, the ghost of a touch lingering on her face.

A dream. She should have known.

And where was she? The last thing she remembered was...a demon...red lights, and...Ben and Jerry? No. Ben and Qui-Gon. They had been with her fighting the demon - um, Sit? Yeah. And she killed it, but not before it hurt her. Stabbed her. And then she -

Oh, God, she had passed out in front of the Jedi! Buffy felt her cheeks start to as she pressed her lips. God, how humiliating.

But where had they brought her?

Buffy stared up at deep colored, vaulted ceilings, with arches that crisscrossed into one another. The lights were lower on the wall, hanging only a few feet above were Buffy laid. Their warm glow didn’t reach high upward and cast shadows against the ceiling. A circular droid hung over her bed, a very dull light shining on her from it to provide more illumination should it be needed.

Turning her head to the right - which caused her to wince from the pain that shot through her throat - Buffy saw several occupied beds lined up against the wall. Droids and a few humans tended to the patients in the beds, all of whom had varying degree of injuries. Like her, they had the light droids hanging over them, though the lights were adjusted to different levels for those who were awake, those who were asleep, and those who didn’t know what was going on.

Lifting her head slightly, Buffy saw that the wall across from her were also had beds lined against it, which were filled as well.

Great. She was in a hospital. Just where she wanted to be.

Though, she would admit, it was a hospital with a great view. On the far end of the room, instead of having a regular wall, there was a window that reached from floor to ceiling. Outside were cliffs with several large waterfalls spilling over their edges. It was dark out, and the artificial lights made it difficult for Buffy to make out the details, but the moon was full so she could make out enough to know that, normally, she’d probably be gapping at the sight.

Well, since they weren’t being overrun with those droids solider things, she guessed they won. Mark one for the good guys.

In the bed next to hers, laid a young man. He was wearing the same white tunic as the other patients and had a long deep cut that reached from his forehead, over his eye, and down to his top lip. Buffy didn’t recognize him and figured he must have been one of the captives. As many people that were in the room, she figured most of them had been.

Seemingly sensing her stare, the young man opened his eyes returned the stare. The eye that the scar crossed over was different from the other, but it took Buffy several seconds to realize why. The pupil kept readjusting, like a camera lense that couldn’t quiet get the focus right. It was artificial - high tech artificial, but still not real. She probably wouldn’t have known if it pupil hadn’t kept changing. They even got his eye color right, matching it with the other so he had a pair of blue eyes the color of the sky of Tatooine on a clear day. The same color eyes Ani had.

Oh, God!

“Anakin!” She jerked as she tried to sit up, but a sharp pain shot through her body, causing her to lay back down.

But she couldn’t stay here. She had to go find him and make sure he was alright. And then kill him for doing such a stupid thing! But she had to find him first.

God, if anything happened to him -

“Buffy.”

She turned sharply towards the voice, which had come from the other side of her bed. Sitting in an uncomfortable looking chair next to her was Anakin. Sleepy eyed and his hair disheveled, he looked like he had just woken up. His usual clear blue eyes were red and splotchy, and Buffy figured that he must not have gotten much sleep. There was worry in his face as well, though it seemed to be quickly shifting over to relief.

“Ani,” she said with a sigh and a small smile.

The bed she was laying in was slightly raised, so Buffy began to push herself up to sit up. Sharp pains sliced through as she did so, but she ignored in favor of finding a more comfortable position. Once she found one, she held out her hand to him.

“Come here,” she said.

Not having to be told twice, Anakin got up and went to his sister. When he was close enough, Buffy grabbed him somewhat roughly and pulled him into a near bone-crushing hug. Normally, he didn’t like it such obvious forms of affection in public and would have pushed her away. This time, however, he grabbed the hospital tunic she wore and pulled her close, burying his face against her neck.

“Don’t you ever do that to me again,” Buffy said.

“I won’t if you won’t,” he said.

Instead of answering, Buffy bent down and kissed the top of his head. That wasn’t a promise she could keep. She knew she couldn’t. The Slayer wouldn’t let her.

But, then, she got the feeling that Anakin wouldn’t be able to keep it either. He had made it through a battle - a war - and didn’t so much as have a scratch on him. She had to stop kidding herself. Ani wasn’t normal, not any more than she was.

Squeezing him lightly, Buffy laid her cheek against his head and closed her eyes. She’d worry about that later, when she was finished thanking whatever power that was out there that he was still alive.

And that these hospital outfits had pants and a tunic instead of an open-backed paper gown. It would make sneaking out later a whole lot easier.

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Even though it was the middle of the night, the city remained wakeful and weary. It was true that underlining current of joy and relief breathed through its streets, but it remained somewhat cautions, as if they believed at any moment the droid army would reactivate and retake them. There would be a time for celebration, but not now. The people were still reeling from the effects of the invasion, the following war, and their independence from the invaders, all which had happened in less than a week and half. They would need time to process and except what had happened to them, then perhaps there would be a much larger celebration going on than the one occurring in the local bars.

Obi-Wan walked along one of open-air walkways of the palace. A cool wind blew off one of the many rives, causing chill bumps to rise on the back of his neck. The scent of a native flower that Obi-Wan couldn’t remember the name of filled the air, with the linger smell of hour old explosions mixed in.

Qui-Gon stood in the middle of the walkway, his hands locked behind his back and his eyes closed in meditation. The gold plate of his Master’s temporary new hand looked dull in the shadows but still obviously out of place on his body. When they returned to Courscant, Qui-Gon would get a permanent hand - eventually - which would hopefully not stand out as much.

“Padawan,” Qui-Gon said, never opening his eyes.

Still, Obi-Wan bowed in respect. “Master.”

After a momentary pause, Obi-Wan turned to stand beside the taller Jedi. The high walkway allowed him a good view of the courtyard they had snuck through earlier that day. Though the droid bodies were gone, the tank remained - yet another reminder of the battle that had taken place.

“I have spoken with the Council,” Qui-Gon said. “They will be arriving with Chancellor Palpatine to discuss what has occurred here.”

Obi-Wan nodded his head. “The Senator was successful in his bid, then?”

“Yes,” Qui-Gon said. “It would seem that the disturbance here helped him gain the votes he needed.”

“The Queen will glad to hear of his election,” Obi-Wan said. “Though, I believe Buffy will not be pleased.”

“Indeed, she will not.” Qui-Gon drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment before releasing it slowly. “Is Anakin still with her?”

“He has refused to leave her side.” Pausing for a moment, Obi-Wan pressed his lips. “His attachment to her could pose a problem during his training.”

A nightbird flew over the courtyard. Though neither one of them could see the creature, they could track it’s path by the shadow it cast on the ground thanks to the bright moonlight. Finding no pray, the bird quickly moved on to a different area.

Obi-Wan could feel his Master’s gaze on him, even though Qui-Gon had not turned his head except for a single centimeter. “You believe he should be trained then?”

The Padawan stood there in silence for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “He survived a space dogfight and destroyed the droid command carrier. The other pilots claim they were unable to get close enough to even try because of the shields, yet this boy was able to break through and destroy it from the inside. The Force is incredibly strong with him, and he heeds it’s guidance without consciously knowing it, if his piloting skills could be used as any proof. As dangerous as I believe it would be to train him, I also think that it might be more dangerous not to.” Tuning, Obi-Wan meet Qui-Gon’s gaze. “Though, that’s something you already knew. Isn’t it, Master?”

A ghost of a smile crossed the older man’s lips, letting the Padawan know that he was correct. However, the gesture was gone almost as quickly as it had came, replaced with a serious look. It struck Obi-Wan how old the expression made his Master appear.

“It would be far to risky to leave the boy to his devices, especially now that the other Sith will be looking for a apprentice,” Qui-Gon said.

Obi-Wan blinked. “You don’t believe the one we killed was the only one?”

The serious look on his Master’s face was now accented with a deep frown. “There can never be only one Sith, my young Padawan. As Master Yoda says, there must always be two. A Master and an Apprentice.”

Solemnly, Obi-Wan turned his attention back to the courtyard. The nightbird had returned and had perched on the destroyed tanks cannon. It’s black feathers reflected the moonlight with a blue hue as it twisted it’s fist-sized head to an unnatural angle to study the two Jedi better.

Qui-Gon sighed. “We cannot leave Anakin untrained. He would be far to easy pray for the Sith if we do so.”

With a touch of humor that he really didn’t feel, Obi-Wan said, “That is to say if the Sith could get past Buffy, something that would prove a much more difficult task than he would expect.”

“But still possible, I’m afraid,” Qui-Gon said. “Even with her being this Vampire Slayer, I do not believe she would be a match for a Sith on her own. After all, the last one nearly killed her.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What a mystery she posed. A single declaration had seemingly given them most of the answers they sought, but, being that they did not know what a Vampire Slayer was, it left them just as much in the dark as before. Perhaps even more so. All they knew for sure was that she was strong - stronger than a normal human should be. And fast. And had impeccable aim. And, apparently, was a Chosen One.

When she finally awoke, perhaps she would provide some answers to their questions. But, this was Buffy, so chances were they would walk away more confused than before.

And there was the Council to think of and how they would react to this latest development.

Pressing his lips, Obi-Wan asked, “What do you think the Council will do to her once they find out who she really is?”

Through their bond, the Padawan feel what his Master thought. It would be foolish of the Council to do anything besides offer or accept help from Buffy. In fact, he felt it would be as foolhardy thing to do as denying Anakin his training.

“I don’t know, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon said instead.

The comm on Qui-Gon’s belt beeped, the sound echoing throughout the walkway and spilling into the courtyard. The nightbird, having been startled, cawed as it flapped it’s wings and fled for the safety of the night sky.

Qui-Gon reached for the small device with his new hand, but stopped at the last moment. Instead, as if he were afraid the mechanical hand would do damage to the comm, he drew it back and used his real hand to pick up the device.

“Yes,” he said.

“Master Jinn,” a droid said on the other end. If Obi-Wan didn’t know better, he would almost swear the thing sounded nervous. “There is a problem concerning the patient Buffy Summers that you brought in.”

Qui-Gon blinked and looked over at Obi-Wan. Neither one of them had felt any sort of disturbance in Force from her. But, then, Buffy’s very presences was hard to read at times.

“What sort of problem?” Qui-Gon asked calmly.

There was a long pause, as if the droid was trying to decide what to say. “Well, Master Jinn, she’s...missing, sir.”

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Buffy moved along the corridor, her steps light and stealthy. Of all the halls she had been down, this was the only one that had been completely devoid of people or droids, which put Buffy on slayer stealth mode out of habit.

So far, no one had really noticed her, and she wondered if those damn medi-droids or whatever had even realized she was gone. They were kind of busy, so hopefully not. The last thing she wanted was to be dragged back so she could finish her ‘treatment’. That’s was slayer healing is for, people. She could heal just fine on her own, away from the creepy Star Trek hospital she had woke-up in.

Buffy paused mid-step. How sad was it that she could stare down evil demons who are trying to achieve either world domination, world annihilation, or world suck-age to hell, but science fiction-y hospitals was what gave her major wiggins? There was just so much wrong with that, that the word funny couldn’t even come up.

At least Ani had provided her a cover so she could sneak out. He really didn’t want to and had made her promise to come back as soon as she was done ‘looking around’, or he was going to come find her and bring Ben and Qui-Gon with him.

And it was so unfair that the Jedi Master wasn’t stuck in a hospital bed somewhere. He had way worse injuries than she did. Hello, she still had both her hands. Probably let him out because he was a Jedi, like that makes a difference. She bet they didn’t have the whole quick self-healing thing going for them like she did.

Soft talking from the end of the hall drew Buffy out of her musings. Someone was coming, and she really rather not get into the whole ‘hey, what’s with the hospital uniform’ thing. Quickly, she quietly ducked into the first open door she could find. As the voices drew closer, Buffy pressed herself against the wall next to the door and held her breath to keep from making a sound. When the speakers were close enough, Buffy recognized one of voices as belonging to Captain Panaka.

“Do you really think she could have made it this far, sir?” a voice Buffy didn’t know asked.

Panaka gave a frustrated sigh. “Normally, I would say no, Sargent, but that blasted woman has been full of surprises since she bored our ship, so I wouldn’t put it past her to come here. Why those Jedi did not leave her back on Coruscant is beyond me. The situation could have been handled just as well without her presences. Then we could have been with the others discussing the cleanup measures as we should be instead of looking for a runaway patient.”

Damn. They were looking for her. And Panky sounded like he was in a great mood too. Then, Buffy couldn’t remember a time since she meet him that he had been.

Pressing her lips, Buffy glanced around the relatively dark room. At it’s far end was a huge desk set in front of the a dark window. There were several empty chairs in front of it which faced one another, making the area appear as if there should be a meeting table there instead of empty space. There were also several large columns spread about the room, which were large enough for her to hide behind.

Panky was getting close, so Buffy ducked behind the nearest column and carefully kept herself behind it.

No sooner had she stepped into her hiding spot when Panaka and the Sargent walked into the room. Barely peering around the column, Buffy watched as the two men glanced on either side of the large room before Panky pointed to the opposite side. “You look over there,” he said. “I’ll take the other.”

She quickly ducked back behind the column again as began to walk her way.

Crap.

“Captain Panaka,” a cool and rather detached voice said from the head of the room.

Buffy looked forward and felt her face drain. The Queen stepped out from behind the large chair at the desk, making her presences known. From the position she stood, Buffy knew she could see her.

She had on a black dress - well, robe actually - with silver trimming that seemed to blend in with her pure white face. Her hair was pulled up into an elaborate design, with two silver disks seeming sown into the hair. Her face cool and even, once again projecting the air of superiority about her as the Queen always did, no matter who she was.

Honestly, Buffy couldn’t tell which one it was by just looking at her. Even in direct sunlight people were unable to tell the difference between Sabe and Padmé when they were dressed as the Queen. Of course, that was the whole point of a double.

As the two men snapped to attention and bowed, the Queen glanced at Buffy before looking back to her men. Neither of them noticed.

“What are you doing here?” the Queen asked.

Buffy couldn’t see Panaka’s face, but she could almost feel him frowning. “We’re looking for the Summers woman, your Highness. She escaped from the medical facilities some time ago and we were asked to find her.”

“Escaped, Captain?” Though her face never changed, Buffy would swear that the Queen was frowning as well. “I was unaware we were holding her captive in the first place.”

Realizing his mistake, Panaka backtracked quickly. “That is not what I meant, your Highness. I simply meant that the girl was gravely injured during the battle and it would be in her best interest to return so that she may be treated.”

“It would seem, Captain, I was also ill-informed about our polices in addressing people who helped save our world for I would have certainly never known to use a derogatory remark such as ‘girl’ when speaking of one of our new heros,” the Queen said coolly.

Buffy smiled to herself. This had to be Padmé because she was pretty sure Sabe would never get away with speaking to the Panaka like that.

The Captain squirmed a bit under the Queen’s harsh words. “I meant no disrespect, your Highness.”

Padmé waved the rest of his pleas off with a flick of her wrist. “I have not seen her, Captain. If I do, I will inform her that she should return to the medical facilities at once. Now if you gentlemen will excuse me, I have work I must attend to before the Chancellor arrives in the morning.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the two men said in one loud voice. They then bowed and scurried out of the room.

After standing there for several seconds, her gaze set forward, Padmé turned around and went back to her desk. “You can come out now, Buffy.”

Drawing in a deep breath, Buffy stepped out from behind the column and slowly moved in front of the desk where Padmé now sat. Buffy shifted uncomfortably on her feet, unsure what to say or do. This was Padmé - the stuck-up, but an actual good person handmaid she had meet on Tatooine that Anakin was head-over-heels in love with - but she was now also the Queen of Naboo. Buffy had always been a firm believer in the whole ‘created equal’ thing because all humans were vamp chow in the waiting back home, and she was their protector; everyone’s protector - rich, poor, young, old, Democrat, and, begrudgingly, the Republicans too. So, the high and mighty thing never really meant anything to her.

The problem here was that these woman acted as two completely different people solely based on what she was wearing, and Buffy treated them differently because she hadn’t known better. Now that she knew that Padmé the handmaid was actually Padmé the Queen of Naboo, Buffy couldn’t decided whether she should keep treating her like the handmaid or go with how she had treated the Queen.

“I am still the same person, Buffy,” Padmé said, as if reading her thoughts. “I’m simply dressed a different way.”

With a small, almost humorless laugh, Buffy said, “Yeah, well, the clothes make the man.”

Padmé raised an eyebrow. “If that were so, then you yourself should have been nothing more than slave, not the fierce - not to mention confounding - warrior that helped save my people.”

Well, honestly, she had her there. Not that Buffy would admit it. Ever.

Leaning back somewhat, Padmé gestured for Buffy to take one of the empty seats in front of her desk. When Buffy hesitated, Padmé said, “I’m sure your injuries are bothering you. Please, sit.”

Scratching at an imaginary itch where the wound in her stomach was, Buffy frowned. Sure, she was swore like she was after she fought any other demon, but the sharp pains she had felt when she woke up had reduce to nearly nothing. But, Padmé didn’t know that, so it’d probably be best to keep up appearances.

“Thanks,” Buffy said, making herself wince as she sat.

“Are you alright?” Padmé asked.

“Oh yeah. I’m good,” Buffy answered, trying to make herself as comfortable as she could, though the chair seemed to be fighting her on that. Stupid furniture. “I guess these things are designed to keep people awake here, huh,” she said, shifting yet again.

Padmé tilted her head. “I should hope they would find our discussions enough incentive to stay awake.” A small smile passed over the Queen’s lips. “But I do suppose the furniture helps.”

A moment of silence past between the two women, neither one of them knowing what to say. They weren’t exactly the best of buds and conversation was hard coming. Well, that wasn’t exactly true. Padmé had that look in her eyes, the same one everyone else Buffy had meet over the past couple of days had at some point or another, though the Queen hid it rather well. Maybe better than anyone else so far. Still, Padmé wanted answers.

Finally, the Queen said, “You’ll forgive my bluntness, Buffy, but I have a question I would like answered.”

Buffy pressed her lips. Here it came.

“Are you a Jedi?” Padmé asked.

She blinked. Okay, not exactly what she was expecting.

“What? No!” Buffy scrunched her nose. “Wouldn’t be one either. Have you meet their Council? They make Travers and his goons looked relaxed and lax with their rules.”

Not questioning about who Travers was, Padmé said, “Then, may I ask, what are you?”

Drawing in a deep breath, Buffy shrugged a shoulder. “A girl dressed as a patient right now.”

Padmé was silent for a moment, taking in what she had just been told. She then tried a different tactic. “Buffy, you have never given me any reason to not trust you, but questions to who you are will be asked. I must be able to tell my people something of one of the person who helped saved them.”

Pressing her lips, Buffy stood. “I don’t care what you tell them. Making something up. Or, better yet, leave me out of it. Ben and Qui-Gon did most of the fighting anyway.”

The Queen frowned. “Master Jinn and Padawan Kenobi informed me that you were actually the one to strike the killing blow against the Sith.”

Double crap. Next time she saw them, she’s have remember to kick both their butts and then explain the whole ‘slayer secret identity’ thing.

“Um, well, they softened him. I just, you know, got lucky.” Seeing that that wasn’t going to work, Buffy sighed. “Look, Padmé, it’s really important that my secrets stay my secrets. I know you get that.”

“My secrets were kept for the best interest of my people,” Padmé said, using her ‘Queen’ tone.

“So are mine.” Dropping her shoulders, Buffy glanced to the side of the room as if it would provide some sort answer. “You kept your mouth shut about the whole Queen thing because you knew if anyone found out it could have led to major badness, right? Well, I have the same problem. The less people who know Buffy’s ‘special’ the safer everyone will be. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not exactly a beacon for the normal. And people who find out what I’m all about, usually aren’t either.” Placing her hands on her hips, Buffy shifted on her feet. “It’s better not knowing, Padmé. Trust me on this.”

Another long moment pasted in silence. Buffy could tell Padmé didn’t like being left in the dark, but there was nothing she could tell her. She had learned long ago anyone who found out that she was the Slayer had a seriously screwed up life following the announcement. Just look at Willow and Xander. They were perfectly happy-go-lucky teenagers - well, they weren’t suicidal and were living somewhat normal teenage angst filled lives - oblivious to the fact there were vampires and demons. Then they meet her and boom, six hours later they were attacked by vamps.

She was bad luck, like thirteen broken mirrors on Friday the thirteenth in October bad luck, and things just got worse after someone found out slayer. Qui-Gon and Ben were at least trained warriors, so they stood a fighting chance if they decided to hang out with her. Padmé, however, well, she might be a good shot, but she’d need a lot more than that to survive knowing Buffy’s secret.

Ani didn’t even known. Buffy knew that she would have to eventually tell him, especially with this whole Chosen One thing that’s come up, but she would put it off as long as possible. At least then he might have a chance of having a few more years of living in ignorant bliss to the fact that his sister was a Big Bad magnet.

Finally, Padmé gave a quick and somewhat angry sigh and said, “I have no reason to distrust you, Buffy. No matter how much I do not like secrets being kept from, I fear there is nothing I can say or do that would make you tell me what I wish to know. But if any harm should befall my people because of your secret, I will hold you responsible.”

“Ignorance isn’t always a bad thing, your Highness,” Buffy said. “And I promise you it is so better this way.”

“I do hope you are correct,” Padmé said.

Nodding, Buffy turned around and headed for the door. Quietly, she said to herself, “Trust me, Padmé, I am.”

Chapter Seventeen: Needing Giles

The day was bright and clear, the sun washing Theeds with its calm radiance that few in the city felt. The uneasiness left over from the invasion lingered in the air like the a foul smell that had only begun to fade. Perhaps once the Viceroy was off planet the people could begin to let go of their tension, but Qui-Gon knew it would a long time before they felt the ease that they had before the invasion.

Next to Anakin, Qui-Gon glanced at the Viceroy and his men. He was speaking with the Queen - or the Queen was scolding him with a touch of gloat in her tone - as they waited for the shuttle to dock and allow its passengers to disembark. The feeling of worry and dread flowed off the Viceroy and his accomplices in giant ripples like a pond after a rock had been thrown into it’s calm waters, crashing against all those who stood near them. He would be facing the Senate shortly and wasn’t sure that he would be able to squirm his way out of this one.

Anakin looked around curiously, trying to decide if he were actually feeling the uneasiness himself or was picking it up from someone else. A week ago, the boy would have never thought that what he was felt wasn’t his own feelings, but now he knew that he could pick up others emotions. That would cause anyone to question what they felt until they knew the difference. It wouldn’t take long for him to show Ani how to know the difference. In fact, Qui-Gon decided, that would be their first lesson when they began his training.

Qui-Gon still felt strongly about that, even more so now that there was a lone Sith roaming the universe. He would train the boy - with or without the Council’s approval - if for no other reason than to give Anakin a chance to be able to defend himself against the Dark Side. It was true there were chances in training him. Anakin had a temper and often let his emotions guide him, but he could be taught to control those things with the right guidance. Qui-Gon was confident he could do that. He had seen one of his Padawan’s turn to the Dark Side, so he knew the signs to look for. Not that he thought Anakin would turn, especially with Buffy around.

Despite himself, Qui-Gon smiled at the thought of the young woman. As he had discovered on Tatooine, others were catching on that this mysterious slave girl was full of surprises.

A chance to speak to the Buffy alone had yet to present itself, which Qui-Gon found rather irritating. He had hoped that he or Obi-Wan would have found her after her rather daring escape from the hospital ward, but she returned to the ward before they had.

How she convinced Anakin it was a good idea to make those droids run into one another - which caused another one to veer off its course to avoid running into them and it ended up crashing into a medical supply cabinet - so Buffy could sneak out during the confusion, was beyond Qui-Gon. She said she wanted to go for a walk. However, Qui-Gon was convinced she was trying to escape the ward until she realized she had nowhere to go and had to come back. At least, if he bet on anything besides Podraces, that’s what he put his credits on.

Afterwards, Anakin was banished from the medical ward. Captain Panaka - who was very irritated with Buffy - ordered for someone stand guard over her to make her stay in the ward until the medical droids declared she was clear to leave. Neither Buffy or Anakin were happy with that, but the Captain did not back down. Qui-Gon was impressed with the lack of fear Panaka had shown when he told the children. True, his hand had been firmly placed on his blaster the entire time, but he still held firm against the youngsters.

The Captain had agreed to let Obi-Wan be the one to watch Buffy, a fact that she was more comfortable with than if it had been a random guard. Plus, there was a slightly greater chance Obi-Wan would actually be able to make her stay put. Or more so than some guard who had no idea what she’s capable of.

The ramp to the ship descended with a hiss. A stately group stood at the top of it, waiting for it settle before walking down. At the head of the group was Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Ignoring the terrified Viceroy as he passed by, the Chancellor strolled proudly forward towards Qui-Gon and Anakin.

Qui-Gon respectfully bowed. Rather awkwardly, Anakin followed his lead. The boy still wasn’t used to such formal greets, but he would learn with time.

“Master Jedi,” Palpatine said.

“Chancellor,” Qui-Gon answered, carefully hiding his surprise. He had not expected for Palpatine to address anyone but the Queen.

“It seems we owe you a debt of gratitude for what you and your Padawan have done,” the Chancellor continued. “For you both to take on a Sith and survive...You should be proud, Master Jinn. Both for yourself and for young Kenobi.”

Qui-Gon noted that the Chancellor had failed to mention Buffy. Had the Queen not told him all that had happened?

“Thank you, Chancellor Palpatine,” Qui-Gon said carefully. “But pride is not something we Jedi entertain.”

A smuggler smile graced Palpatine’s lips. “Of course not, Master Jedi. Though, if you’ll bare one more compliment from an old politician, I must say that, thanks to your tutelage, I see young Kenobi becoming a great Jedi.”

While nodding his thanks, Qui-Gon fought to keep a frown off his face. He didn’t know why, but the Chancellor mentioning Obi-Wan sent a protective wave wash through him. Yes, his Padawan could take care of himself, but Qui-Gon sometimes forgot that the boy was no longer the wide-eyed naive child that he had taken on all those years ago. Still, he felt the need to protect him from time to time, and something about the Chancellor flared up that side of him.

Oblivious to the Jedi’s ill feeling of him, Palpatine laughed softly and began to walk towards the Queen. As he left, the Chancellor patted Anakin on the shoulder. “And you, young Skywalker, we shall watch your career with great interest.”

Placing his hands on Anakin’s shoulders, Qui-Gon drew the boy closer to him. Perhaps Buffy’s dislike for the Palpatine was amplifying his own distaste for him or maybe it was that by nature he was distrustful of politicians, especially those who gained power by other’s misery. Either way, Qui-Gon found himself even more uncomfortable around the new Chancellor than before the invasion. And when he smiled at Anakin, it took most of Qui-Gon’s will power to not pull the boy behind him.

The Jedi blinked.

What was he thinking? Palpatine may be one of many things, but a threat to Anakin or Obi-Wan, hardly. He was just an old man with great ambitions. And Qui-Gon was just an aging Jedi who was spending far to much time with a blonde Vampire Slayer.

Still, ambition such as Palpatine’s was not a trait that Anakin should entertain, so Qui-Gon would have to remember to keep contact between the two to a minimal. That in itself was an odd thought, since the Jedi and the Supreme Chancellor hardly ever had personal contact. The look of interest in Palpatine’s eyes when he gazed at Anakin, however, told Qui-Gon that the Chancellor would be willing to make exception for the boy.

Upon reaching the Queen, Palpatine flashed a large, toothy smile. “Your Highness.”

Stoically, the Queen nodded in return. “Congratulations on your election, Chancellor.”

“It is I who should be congratulating you, your Majesty,” Palpatine said. “For it was your bravery and leadership that saved our people.”

If the Queen was grateful for the flattery, it never showed on her lily face. “There is still much to be done, Chancellor,” she said before turning back towards the palace. Palpatine fell in step beside her, with the others trailing a few steps behind.

Qui-Gon, however, stayed where he was and brought his attention to the approaching Jedi Council. Bowing once more, he noted that Anakin followed more fluently this time, though there was an uneasy tension welling in the boy. Probably anxiety from what the Council would say what was to be done with him. The Council, led by Master Yoda and Mace, bowed in return.

“Masters,” Qui-Gon said.

“Master Jinn,” Mace answered.

Yoda leaned on his wooden stick, his sleepy, large eyes studying Anakin with interest. Feeling Anakin’s tension from the stare, Qui-Gon squeezed his shoulder. It seemed to help some. Slowly blinking, Master Yoda shifted his gaze from the boy to Qui-Gon.

“Much to discuss, we have,” he said.

“That we have,” Qui-Gon agreed. “It would seem that the situation is much more complicated than we originally believe.”

It certainly was. Not only were the Sith involved, but now they also had to decide what to do with the valiant and powerful warrior known as the Slayer.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Ouch! Hello, girl here. Not a pin cushion.”

Buffy leaned back on her elbows allowing the medical droid to check her injured stomach. Apparently, they thought the best way to treat her was to poke at her with needles. That just proved what she always thought, whether human or droid, all doctors were idiots.

A pale patch of skin surrounded by an angry red circle showed where she had been stabbed. The doctors had explained about the artificial skin graph they placed over the wound to keep scaring to a minimal, but Buffy didn’t really understand or care. All she knew was that she would get her pretty slayer tummy back to looking the way it should a whole lot faster than if she just let her slayer healing do the whole thing. Okay, so maybe there were a couple of instances when doctors were of the good, but not many. And the poking they were doing to make she had skin sensation was really start to tick her off.

As far as wounds went, she knew it could have been a lot worse.

One, it could have not done that cool yet disgusting and painful burn thing that stopped the bleeding before it started. The way Buffy understood it, it was like taking a red-hot poker and pressing it against an open wound, only it was instant because the burn came from the weapon. Which was good because lightsabers leave a pretty big holes.

Two...

Well, there really wasn’t a two. One pretty much covered why she didn’t do an impression of a slaughtered pig and turn into Buffy the Friendly Slayer Ghost.

It was quiet in the hospital ward that morning. Most of the oh-so-lucky patients were released earlier to return to their homes, or - if allowed - went to go greet the new Chancellor and watch with glee as the Viceroy was carted off in the Republic’s custody. That was where Qui-Gon and Anakin had gone to. The Jedi Council was arriving with the Chancellor and they had things to ‘discuss’. Buffy bet a big part of that discussion was the girl shape slayer laying in the hospital ward.

Ben stood off to the side of the bed, watching as the medical droid inspected her wounds. Buffy knew he’d rather be with Qui-Gon to greet the Council, but, like the good little Jedi he was, he obeyed his orders and stayed right there to squash her escape attempts. Really, what was the big deal about her leaving for a couple of hours? She felt fine and, hey, she came back didn’t she? Okay, she had no other place to go, but that wasn’t the point. It’s called trust, people.

Catching her eyes, Ben raised an eyebrow as if he heard what she thought. Okay, he and Qui-Gon can swear all they want about not being able to read her mind, but those knowing looks they give her were way wig worthy.

The medical droid stopped poking at her skin, causing Buffy to sigh in relief.

“So, what’s the verdict, Doc?” she asked, sitting up and pulling down her tunic to cover her stomach. “Is it finally Happy Buffy time?”

Buffy paused. Crap, she just did not say that. Did she?

A single glance at Ben told her she had. He had a ‘Giles Look’ on face, the one that said ‘please tell me that didn’t mean what I thought it meant.’ Oh, God.

Fighting to keep a blush off her cheeks, she said, “Happy Buffy as in ‘she can leave and doesn’t have to come back’. Not Happy...Happy Buffy.”

God, she could probably fry eggs on her cheeks. Stupid Jedi. And since when did they have such dirty minds? Wasn’t that like against their code or something?

What was she saying? For the Jedi prodical that was shoved up his ass, Ben was still a guy. If Xander was right, sex was never to far from any of their minds. But still. It was Ben! He was like mini-Giles, only cute and having the Force and wearing way less tweed. If he could think about sex, than so could Giles and that just led to dark, scary non-Buffy belonging places.

Oblivious to Buffy’s terrifying line of thought, the droid said, “You are healing at a rapid rate. Your body is regenerating itself at a speed that humans are incapable of, but your genetic makeup clearly shows that you are human. How is this possible?”

Buffy blinked. Oops. Hadn’t thought of that. “Um...I eat my Wheaties everyday?”

If it were possible, she would swear that the droid looked confused. “What are Wheaties?”

“Um...” Buffy said, fumbling for an answer.

Thankful, Ben stepped in to saved her. “Is she to be released then?” he asked briskly, placing his hands behind his back. His tone and stance gave him an air of superiority, which probably could influence a human or alien doctor, but Buffy wasn’t so sure about droids.

“Yes,” the droid said. “But -.”

Like Qui-Gon had done on Tatooine, Ben passed his hand through the air. “Than perhaps you should tend to your other patients.”

The droid beeped and turned away from them. “I should tend to my other patients,” it said, before leaving.

Buffy blinked once. Than twice.

“Okay, you are so teaching me how to do that,” she said, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed and standing.

As she stretched her stiffen limbs, Buffy winced when one of her wounds pulled. If she had stitches, she was sure that she would have pulled a few. Okay, no stretching for Buffy for awhile.

Sensing her discomfort, Ben took a step towards her, but she waved him off before he got to close.

“I’m good. Just sore. And ready to get the hell out of here,” Buffy said.

Nodding, Ben brushed his hand against the small of her back and nudged her towards the door. Not having to be told twice, Buffy quickly headed for the exit. Ben fell in step next to her.

“Her Highness had a room step up for you,” he said as they stepped into the hall. “Master Qui-Gon suggested that you might want to go there first and change before the Council calls for us.”

Buffy stopped mid-step, forcing Ben to do the same. Crap. She really hoped that she would have to talk with those people again before...never.

“Do I have to?” she asked, scrunching her nose. “Can’t I just stay here instead.”

Ben chuckled softly. “No,” he said forcefully but playfully at the same time. “Now, unless you wish to face the Council wearing a hospital uniform and having hair that looks like electrocuted Wookiee fur, I suggest you follow me.”

With that he continued down the hall. Buffy wait a moment or two before following. She made several mocking faces behind his back. Though he had said nothing offensive to her, Buffy got the distinct feeling he was making fun of her somehow.

Stupid Jedi and his stupid comments about her clothes and -

Buffy froze, her hands flying to her head. White faced, she exclaimed, “My hair looks like what?”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Obi-Wan led Buffy through several halls before they arrived at the room the Queen assigned for her. Over the past few days, he had learned the path to these rooms well, since his and Qui-Gon’s rooms were directly across from hers and Anakin’s, which was next to Buffy’s. They had been setup together for when Buffy was released from the medical ward. Queen Amidala knew that the brother and sister would want to be close to one another, so she ordered that this room be kept opened for Buffy. Obi-Wan thought that was good of her, considering all the important people that would be arriving at the palace that day.

Opening the doors, Obi-Wan smirked as Buffy stepped inside. She wandered to the center of the room, her jaw slack and her eyes wide.

It was overly large - far bigger than just for a single person. A family of four could build a home out of the space used, but it was a room in the royal palace, so what should he have expected. The ceilings were high and vaulted, with hand-carved molding trimming the edge, and paintings of mythic warriors decorated the walls. A single raised canopy bed decorated in deep maroons and golds was pushed against a far wall, it’s colors matching the furniture in the sitting area. Two sets of tall, glass doors were opened, allowing a stone balcony to be seen. A view of the cliffs and waterfalls could be seen over it’s edge.

On a far wall next to the refresher was another door that lead into the room next door. It was nearly identical to this one, expect it didn’t have a balcony, just windows. It was also the room that Anakin was staying in.

“This is so what I’m talking about,” Buffy said, flopping backwards onto the bed. The mattress seemed to swallow her, molding itself around her body. “Oh my God. I’m never moving from this spot. Just forward my mail and tell Ani I’ll see him at Christmas, cause I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’m sure the Queen will be pleased to hear you approve,” Obi-Wan said. He briefly wondered what Christmas was, but didn’t ask.

Buffy - who had rolled over onto her side and had her face buried in the bunched up comforter - mumbled unintelligibly into the sheets, though Obi-Wan was pretty sure she said something about Padmé and rocks. She laid there like that for several seconds, her hair spread about the bed and over her face with her eyes tightly shut. A flash of her laying on the ground days before, much in the same position, crossed Obi-Wan’s mind.

They had been so sure that she would die; Qui-Gon, the doctors, himself. Even when Obi-Wan had picked her up and ran for help with her in her arms, he knew she would not make it. Everything that he had been taught about what the human body could survive told him that it was impossible for her to do so. She had been stabbed in the stomach with a lightsaber, for Force sake!

Only the boy, Anakin, had believed she would be alright and had viciously verbally attacked anyone who suggested otherwise. Whether it was because he could sense her body was healing itself or because he had that childlike faith that everything would always work out in the end, Obi-Wan didn’t know. All he knew was that the child was correct.

She lived the twenty minutes it took for him to find someone to treat her. Then she lived to an hour after the attack. Then another hour. And another. And less than two days later, she was awake and had planned and executed an escape from the hospital ward.

The medical droids who treated her were baffled. If there had not been so many other wounded citizens wandering in from the camps and the battle, Obi-Wan was sure that there would have been more questions. The fact there had been so many people was the only thing that saved them having to answering them. And they only had one answer if they were asked. It had to be because she was this Vampire Slayer.

That would explain why she didn’t want him examining her arm on the ship. And why those burns were not as bad as they should be and healed so quickly. Fast healing must be part of her being the Vampire Slayer.

Buffy sat up quickly, somewhat surprising Obi-Wan. He very much hated that he could not predict what she was about to do. It was very disturbing for the Jedi.

“Ooo, what’s the bathroom look like? I hope it has a whirlpool,” she said, bouncing off the bed running for the refresher. “Oh my God! Look at that tub!”

Obi-Wan blinked at her childish enthusiasm.

Well, he was certain that was Buffy, the girl he had seen kill a Sith with an adjustment tool. Yet, here she was acting...like a teenage girl. Which she was. Force, he had forgotten how young she actually was. The way she watched over Anakin and demanded respect from those around her, it was easy to forget that she was only a little more than a child. Well, he supposed that she wasn’t any more of a child than he was at her age.

The door to the refresher closed with a hiss, and was soon followed by the faint sound of running water. Usually, Obi-Wan would retreat back to his own room and give her some privacy - and not have a repeat of what happened on the ship - but Qui-Gon ordered him to stay with her until the Council called for them. He probably could leave her be since she already knew there was no place for her to go, but he would follow his Master’s orders.

At least the closet was connected to the refresher, so Buffy wouldn’t have to walk back into the room wearing only a towel again. He had already been embarrassed enough from her statement about being ‘happy Buffy’. His mind would have never wondered to that place if her’s hadn’t. Even though the Force didn’t allow him to read her mind, he had still picked up what she associated ‘happy Buffy’ with, which was quiet shocking coming from a young woman. Obi-Wan was quiet pleased with himself that he had at least managed to keep himself from choking from her dirty thoughts.

Walking onto the balcony, Obi-Wan took a deep breath of the watery air and leaned against the railing. From where he stood, he could see kilometers of lush, green lands spread before him. Cuts of tranquil blue rivers and lakes broke up the greenness, as well as some rather large mountains in the distance.

Obi-Wan could see why so many of the upper class would enjoy vacationing here. And with Queen Amidala as ruler, he could also understand why the lower classes flocked to Naboo on refuge barges.

Amidala - Padmé. There was another girl who was aged beyond her years. However, unlike Buffy, whether she was dressed as the Queen or as the handmaid, Padmé exhibited maturity at all times. Obi-Wan found it rather sad for her sake. She was a child - hardly fourteen - and she already had the responsibility of an entire world resting on her shoulders. Any decision she made affected everyone who lived on Naboo.

This entire episode must have been extremely taxing for her, but she had handled it as well as anyone could expect. Better even. Though she had been terrified - more so for her people than herself - Padmé had never once shown the fear and did what had to be done. Like Buffy. The two women were so much alike; both were strong, determined, and kept many secrets about themselves.

Though, Obi-Wan had to admit, he was a bit more surprised to find out that the handmaid Padmé was actually Queen Amidala than he was that Buffy was some sort of chosen warrior. The reason was because Padmé did a much better job of hiding who she was, while Buffy let little things slip. Braking the lightsaber in half, well, that had been a pretty big clue that Buffy was not the slave girl she pretended to be. Still, he would have never guessed that she was a Vampire Slayer.

What was that, anyway? He knew it was a warrior of some type and that she healed quickly because of it, but, beyond that, he knew little of her. Since being assigned to watch over her, Obi-Wan had looked for an opportunity to speak with her about it; but that would be a very private conversation and he knew the hospital ward was not the place to have it. However, they were alone now and Obi-Wan was fairly certain they had quiet a bit of time before the Council would call for them.

He stood on the balcony for a long time, staring off into nothing, until the door to the refresher opened once more.

“That is so much better,” Buffy said, using a towel to dry her hair. “A clean Buffy is definitely a happy Buffy.”

Must she keep using that phrase? he thought to himself with a sigh.

Unlike on the ship, Buffy had dressed before leaving the refresher. Though the closet was full of beautiful dresses and the first most fashion on Naboo, she had chosen to put on a simple tunic and trousers as an outfit. Her feet were bare and padded softly on the carpet as she walked towards the sitting area.

She glanced up at Obi-Wan when he walked in from the balcony, but was not surprised to see him like she had been on the ship. Instead, she tilted her head to the side and continued to dry her hair.

“You take the whole ‘watch her’ thing real serious like, don’t you?” she asked, sitting on the couch. “I’m not going anywhere, Ben. I mean, hello, guards everywhere.”

“Which you managed to get around last night,” he pointed out, coming to stand in front of her.

Buffy stopped drying her hair and frowned somewhat. “Uh-oh. You have Mom face.”

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. “Mom face?”

“Yeah, you know that face that they make right before they say ‘we need to talk, young lady,’” she said. “I’m guessing you don’t want to talk about my grades, huh?”

“Um, no.” He paused for a moment, trying to think of the best to approach the Vampire Slayer subject.

“Direct is best,” Buffy said, as if reading his thoughts. Or quiet possibly his face. She seemed to be good at that.

“All right,” Obi-Wan said. “What is this Vampire Slayer you claim to be?” When she opened her mouth, he quickly added, “And please don’t give me - what did you call it? The Cliff Notes version?”

A small pout formed on her lips, before she sighed and leaned back in her seat. “You better sit down cause this is going to be a long story.”

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“Okay,” Buffy said, shifting uncomfortably. “Ah...Okay. Well, um, I guess I should, you know, start with the whole slayer speech thing. To bad Giles - he’s my Watcher. He’s kind of like you guys, only, you know, more tweed friendly. Anyway, he so lives to give this speech. He complains whenever I tell people who I am, but then his face lights up when he realizes that he can give ‘the speech.’ Which, it must be like the Watcher’s moto or something because even when he goes on Concussion Boy on us, I still think he can say it.”

“Buffy.”

She turned around, facing the person who had spoken. Qui-Gon stood a few feet behind her, a calm and encouraging look about his face.

The Council had collected her and Ben nearly an hour ago and brought them here. Like every other room in the palace, it was large and spacious with columns and windows. Whoever designed this place obviously never heard of the phrase less is more. Not that she blamed them. If she had a palace she would want it to have giant rooms too.

Qui-Gon titled his head, making bits of his long hair fall over his shoulder. A step or so behind him, stood Ben.

She hadn’t seen Anakin since they arrived, but Qui-Gon had told her that was because he was off being prepared. When she asked for what, he had told her something that Buffy had really hoped she wouldn’t hear. The Council had accepted Anakin to be trained as a Jedi. She noticed how tense Qui-Gon was when he told her, as if he fully expected her to either yell or take a swing at him, but Buffy had just sighed and dropped her head and shoulders. She didn’t like that they had agreed, but she also knew that it was probably for the best.

Anakin was different - powerful - and, as Giles had tried to drill into her head, someone with that kind of power who doesn’t know how to use it could be dangerous. That was why they took slayers and trained them from such a young age; why the Council was so weary of her. He had told her of the odds of a slayer going rouge if they were not trained from childhood. Only she and a handful of other girls throughout history had not either gotten themselves killed within the first year or had not let their powers go to their heads after being chosen. A handful. Buffy didn’t like those odds.

Anakin knew of his powers now. He knew he had Jedi traits and could be one of them. Buffy knew him well enough to know that he would do whatever he could to learn how to use his powers. It was better for someone to teach him how to use them correctly, she supposed, than trail and error that could lead to big time disasters.

Still, that didn’t mean she had to like this.

Qui-Gon waved his hand, encouraging her to continue on with what she was saying.

He did not know what she was about to say, only that she was about to give him the answers he had been waiting quiet some time for; who she was, what she was, and what she could do. God, did he have no idea how much he really didn’t want to know this.

From next to his Master, Ben was doing on hell of a job of avoiding her gaze. He was confused and torn, as he had been since she answered his slayer related questions. Unlike Qui-Gon, he knew quiet a few of the bazaar details of what she was about to tell the Jedi Council.

He was taking it well enough. Or, at least, a lot better than she had first thought he would. He had sat and listened and only claimed she was insane like four times. Compared to her friends and her mother and herself, he had taken it really well. The only person she had ever seen take the news about vampires and demons and dimensional portals better was Oz, but that was because it was Oz. She could have told his head was on fire and he would have just shrugged and asked for someone to grab a fire extinguisher.

“Continue, we ask,” Yoda said, pulling Buffy out of her thoughts.

Facing the Council once more, Buffy drew in a deep breath and held it.

Master Yoda tilted his head to the side, his tired eyes full of curiosity. Windu sat next to him, his fingers locked together. Unlike Yoda, he clearly thought that whatever she was about to say was nonsense, even though he had not heard anything beyond what Qui-Gon knew. Well, if these Jedi could read minds, he wouldn’t be calling her a liar for long. Well, he could and probably would, but he still be way wrong.

The rest of the Peanut Gang were spread about the room, though they had somehow managed to form a circle around her. Yeah, that made her feel so much more comfortable. Being surrounded by powerful Jedi just screamed relaxation, didn’t it?

“Ah, right,” she said. “Anyway, so, um...Okay. Let’s see.” Buffy paused a moment. How did it go? Crap, maybe she have actually listened to Giles once or twice when he gave the speech. Well, she would just have do her best and give them the version she gave Ben. “Okay. Ah...In every generation, a girl is born. She alone has the power to fight the demons and vampires and...Richard Simmons and the Disney Corporation - you know, the forces of darkness. She is the Chosen One. She is the Slayer. Bla bla bla.”

Buffy sucked in breath and braced herself. Here they go.

“What are demons and vampires?” a female voice asked, though Buffy didn’t know who had voiced the question.

Okay, she knew how to answer that one in a way they would understand. “Dark creatures,” she said. “Demons are real easy to spot - well, at least where I’m from - and it generally equal badness when they’re around. Vamps are little trickier because they look human until right before chow time. Then they go all fang-y and ‘grr’-like.”

“And you are the slayer of such creatures?” Windu asked, the skepticism clear in his voice.

“Would my life be this weird if I wasn’t?” Buffy asked herself more than anyone. When Windu raised an eyebrow, she sighed. “Yes. I’m the slayer. She’s me. We’re...each other.”

God, did that sound as lame as she thought it did?

“Heard of you before, we have not,” Yoda said. “Odd, that is.”

“Well, not really,” Buffy said somewhat lowly. “Considering I’m not from around here.”

Several of the Council members blinked or tilted their heads, not understanding what she meant. “Of course not,” Conehead - she really needed to find out what his name was - said. “You are from Tatooine like your brother. Correct?”

“Oh, darn, you were this close. But we do have some lovely parting gifts for you.” More bewildered stares answered her. Groaning, Buffy rolled her head back, then let it fall forward again. “No. I’m not from there. I’m from Earth.”

“Earth?” Windu repeated. “I have never heard of such a planet called that before.”

“Well, it’s not that hard to find,” Buffy said, shifting her weight to one foot and crossing her arms. “All you have to do is go to the edge of your galaxy, hang a right, and - oh yeah - go to a completely different dimension. You can’t miss it.”

A hushed surprise traveled through the group. Despite herself, Buffy smiled. She bet she was one of only a few people who had ever been able to shock this group into complete silence before. It was because they didn’t believe her - she wouldn’t believe her if she were them - but it was still fun to watch.

Windu was the first to regain the power of speech. “You expect us to believe that you are from a different dimension?” His tone made it clear that he did not.

Frowning, Buffy said, “Yeah, well, you’re the mind-reader, Miss Cleo. You tell me if I’m lying.”

Windu was about to retort, but Yoda raised his small green hand to silence him. Though his face never changed, the taller Jedi was not pleased that whatever he was about to say would remain unsaid, but sat back in his chair, allowing the gremlin to take charge of the conversation.

“On Tatooine, how did you become?” Yoda asked.

Something about his tone made Buffy pause. Unlike Windu, there wasn’t a hint of mistrust or disbelief. In fact, he spoke as if Buffy had just told him that her hair was blonde or the sky was blue. He believed her. Huh. Maybe he wasn’t the arrogant garden gnome with bad hair like she originally thought he was.

“I was working in a dinner when I ran across this girl I had saved from a vamp cult in my hometown the year before,” Buffy said. “She was freaking because her boyfriend was all AWOL and she had no idea where he went. Went looking for him and found the Gythons instead. They sent us on an all expenses paid trip to their slave camp on Tatooine through some nasty looking water portal they had. The staff had an attitude, so I kicked their butts and helped Lily and some of the others bust out but I got caught. Been here since.”

Placing one curled finger against his mouth, Yoda stared intensely at Buffy. It was the same penetrating stare he had given her during their first meeting back on Coruscant, only stronger somehow. Buffy shivered. It felt like he was looking right through her to the very essence of who she was. She pulled her arms a little tighter around herself as if that would offer some protection, but it did nothing to help.

Breaking eye contact, Yoda turned his attention to the other Council members. As they began their silent conversation, Buffy glanced back at Qui-Gon and Ben.

The younger Jedi was still avoiding looking at her and was instead concentrating on staring straight ahead at nothing. Buffy sighed. She had told him a whole lot more than she had the Council, like about the Scoobies and the edited ‘Buffy didn’t die’ version of her face-off with the Master and was just getting to her second year in Sunnydale when they had sent for them. Maybe it hadn’t been such a good idea to drop all of that on him like that, but it had just been so long since she had anyone she trusted enough to talk to like that that she just couldn’t seem to shut herself up. It probably had been a mistake to dump it all on him at once, but to late to change that now.

Beside him, Qui-Gon stared at her with something liken to a cross between curiosity, bewilderment, and ‘what the hell is she talking about?’ She could tell he didn’t know whether to believe her or not. Oh, he fully accepted the fact that she this slayer, it was just everything else that went along with that he was having trouble with. She didn’t blame him. She’d have trouble with it too if she were him.

Giving her attention back to the Council, Buffy found Windu frowning deeply at Yoda. He didn’t like what was going on, but, with a sharp nod of his head, had agreed to whatever they decided.

Still frowning, Windu said, “Padawan Kenobi.”

Ben, who had remain quietly beside Qui-Gon during the whole conversation, quickly moved forward and bowed. “Yes, Master.”

This time, Yoda spoke. “Believe her, do you?” Even though it was formed as a question, it sounded more like a statement to Buffy.

Ben quickly glanced at her, but not in the eyes. “I sense no dishonesty from her, Master,” he said.

“Ah, but hard to read, the slayer is,” Yoda said.

Drawing in a deep breath, Ben held it for a moment, buying time as he collected his thoughts. Once satisfied with his answer, he let the breath out slowly before speaking. “I have known Buffy only for a short amount of time, Master, and found her to have a great many admirable and not so admirable traits. Brutal honesty when she is honest being one of them.”

Buffy glared at Ben. She was so honest, but not in the brutal sort of way. If they wanted brutal, they need to talk to Cordelia. At least I have tact, Buffy thought with a small pout.

Ignoring her glare, Ben said, “I do not believe that she would lie about such a thing. She would gain nothing from it.”

Yoda studied him for a moment, as if he knew there was more that Ben was not telling them. “Confided in you, she has.”

“Stand right here, she is,” Buffy snapped.

Gremlin Boy turned his attention from Ben to her. Instead of apologizing, Yoda simple leaned forward and said, “Trust Padawan Kenobi, do you?”

Blinking, Buffy glanced once more at Ben. “Well, uh, yeah.”

Nodding, Yoda said, “And trust her, do you, Padawan?”

“Yes,” Ben said without hesitation.

Buffy frowned. Why did she get the feeling this was a setup? And not in that, ‘hey, Buffy, meet my friend Ben. I think you’ll like him,’ sort of way either. No, this felt more like the time Giles had asked her if she felt like going to the mall and had sent her on a recon mission for some demons that were attacking people in the parking lot.

“Good,” Windu said, leaning back in his chair and locking his fingers together.

Yoda nodded in agreement. “Master Jinn, you will join, Miss Summers,” the troll said.

Buffy frowned and considered arguing for a moment, but did as told. “Could have at least said please, Gizmo,” she muttered as she went to stand next to Qui-Gon with her arms crossed.

Once satisfied that she was out of the way, Yoda turned his attention back to Ben. “Kneel, you shall, Padawan Kenobi,” he instructed.

Ben did as told.

Standing from his seat, Yoda began to pace in front of Ben. His cane clicked against the floor, accenting every step he took. “Proven yourself with your last mission, you have,” Yoda said. “Agreed, the Council has. Confer upon you the status of Jedi Knight, it does.”

Even though Buffy couldn’t see his face, she could tell Ben was both pleased and surprised. Next to her, Qui-Gon allowed the briefest proud smile to cross his face. Judging by his lack of surprise, he knew that they had already decided that Ben was going to get to be a Jedi before they walked in. Or, at least, he had strongly suspected it. But, hey, Benny had helped take out a Sith. Can’t be a test much harder for them to give him than that.

“Thank you, Master,” Ben said.

Windu glanced over at Conehead, as if to say he didn’t think Ben would be thanking them long. Buffy scrunched her nose; the sense that this was a setup came over her again. She looked up at Qui-Gon. With a raised eyebrow, he looked back. He was picking up on it too.

Stopping in front of the newly knighted Jedi, Yoda said, “Mission, we have for you, Knight Kenobi.”

“Mission, Master?” Ben repeated.

Yoda nodded.

When he hadn’t spoken for several moments, Ben asked, “What is my mission, Master?”

Drawing in a deep breath, Yoda and the rest of the Council turned their gazes back to Buffy. She glanced from side to side, expecting to see whatever it was they were looking at behind her. When she found nothing, she shifted on feet.

“What?” Reaching up, she patted her hair. “I don’t have burnt Wookiee fur hair, do I?”

Chapter Eighteen: A Waltz in B Sharp

Anakin stood at the bottom of the large staircase, trying his best to blend into his surroundings. It wasn’t difficult to disappear today, he found. Most people didn’t glance his way or ignored him when they did notice him. It was almost like being a slave again, only he didn’t have to be afraid of someone suddenly hitting him for no other reason than because they felt like it. It also helped that his very tall, very imposing new Master was standing next to him.

Frowning, Anakin pulled on the ends of his new uniform’s sleeves. It was a bit itchy, more so than his old tunic, but he would get used to it. The tip of his braid rested against his shoulder. Jerking his head, Anakin tried to throw it over his shoulder. It was too short and pulled when it caught, so he pulled it back to where it had been. He still didn’t understand why the braid was so important, but he had to have it because he was now a Padawan. Qui-Gon’s new Padawan.

“Anakin,” Qui-Gon said softly.

His tone made the boy stop fidgeting momentarily, though Anakin still felt the jumpy edge flowing through him.

“Sorry, Master,” Anakin said, forcing himself to be still. That proved a difficult task, considering how nervous he was.

In less than half an hour, they were supposed to be taking part in a huge celebration to commemorate the defeat of the droid army and they new found alliance between the Naboo and the Gungans. The whole thing was Chancellor Palpatine’s idea. He said that the best way for the people to start to get back to their normal lives was to remember in celebration that they had won and they were safe once more; only then could they begin to move on. Being a kid, it seemed like a good idea to Anakin, but he could tell that some people didn’t think it was. However, Padmé agreed with the Chancellor and that had been the end of that.

What was making Anakin nervous, however, wasn’t the ceremony itself, it was that he was going have to be part of it. Since he had taken out the droid ship, Padmé and the others had reasoned it was only right for him to be up there with her and the other ‘heroes’; but the thought of all those people staring at him was more than a little uncomfortable for Anakin. He wasn’t afraid of being in front of large crowds, he had done that often enough when he Podraced. But, when he was racing, he had something to do, something to distract him from everyone staring at him. He did have that today. There was nothing for him to do but stand there and look back at the people looking at him. At least Master Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan and Buffy were going to be with him so he didn’t have stand there alone like an idiot.

A group of the Queen’s Councilmen descended the stairs, speaking loudly to one another. One of them must have said something funny because the others in the group laughed, one louder than the rest. It echoed through the large hall and caused more than a few people who were passing-by to stop and stare. Behind the Councilmen were several well-dressed women, who had been speaking quietly. A black and white haired woman in a green dress was horrified and embarrassed by the loud laugh. Anakin reasoned that the laugher was her husband.

“What could possible take her this long?” Obi-Wan asked, drawing Anakin’s attention away from the Councilmen.

The new Jedi Knight was standing on the other side of Master Qui-Gon. In contrast to his former Master’s calm and patient composure, Obi-Wan was tense and annoyed. He had been that way all morning, since Buffy had thrown him out of her room because he kept pestering her about getting ready quicker than she was. Anakin could have told him that wasn’t a smart move, but he figured that Obi-Wan knew better than to try and hurry Buffy up. Apparently he figured wrong.

“Patients, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon said gently. Anakin could tell his Master was highly amused. “She will be here.”

“She will make us late, is what she’ll do,” Obi-Wan retorted.

Obi-Wan wasn’t they kind of person who’s feathers were easily ruffled, but it seemed Buffy only had to walk into the room or open her mouth, and she would have him off balanced. Really, Anakin thought, she had that effect on a lot of people, but more so on Jedi than anyone else for some reason. And more so on Obi-Wan since their meeting with the Council the night before.

Anakin wasn’t sure exactly what they talked about or what the Council wanted from Buffy in the first place. He couldn’t sense or control the Force very well yet, but he could tell enough to know that she wasn’t strong with it like Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan. So why would the Jedi Council be interested in her? Oh, yeah, he knew she was way different, but was that enough to strike their interest? And if it was, why?

He would ask Buffy about it, but Anakin got the feeling that she wouldn’t tell him ‘for his own good’. That protective streak in her was really annoying at times. Anakin knew he could probably wear her down if he pestered her long enough, but, once they got back to Coruscant, he didn’t think he would be seeing her to much. His Jedi training would be taking up much his time, and Buffy was probably going to be busy doing whatever it was that she was going to be doing with Obi-Wan.

That was what their meeting with the Council had been about, or at least partly, but no one had told him to much of what happened. The only thing they had let him know was that Obi-Wan was now a Jedi Knight - which freed Anakin to be Qui-Gon’s Padawan learner - and that he was going to be helping Buffy and she him. They promised to explain it to him more clearly later, but later had come and gone and they had still told him nothing. Maybe on their way to Coruscant he could get one of them to explain...

Several minutes ticked by and the hall began to empty as the people moved outside for the parade and ceremony. By now, even Master Qui-Gon was starting to appear nervous at Buffy’s lateness. “Perhaps someone should go check on her.”

“It won’t do any good,” Anakin said with a wave of his hand.

Both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan looked at him curiously. “Why not?” Obi-Wan asked.

“Because Buffy won’t go anywhere before she’s ready,” Anakin said as if it were a well known fact. “That why Mom always use to say that Buffy would be late for her own death. And when death finally did find her, she’d ask for five more minutes so she can do her hair.”

“Five minutes? Please. I couldn’t get my hair brushed in five minutes. I’d be so asking for at least ten. Maybe more.”

If Anakin didn’t know her voice, he wouldn’t have recognized that the woman carefully descending the staircase was his sister.

Since Buffy had come to live with him and his mother, he had never seen her look like she did now. Gone were the tunic and pants that she wore since she declared that the skirts his mother gave her were ‘frumpy’ and ‘so not for junkyard work’. Instead, she wore a silk dress that was tight around her chest and fell into loose layers. It was dark blue at the top but faded away to white by the time the colors reached the bottom, giving it the appearance of a waterfall almost. Soft, scarf-like sleeves hung low on her arms, making her shoulders bare. She showed them off by having her now shiny and curly hair pulled into a ponytail with a few loose strains hanging on either side of her face to frame it. Her makeup was soft and used merely to accent, not cover up like Padmé’s Queen makeup, and the only jewelry she wore was a small blue-stone pendent that rested against her collarbone.

Anakin blinked, hard. Nope, he wasn’t imagining it. She really looked like that. Somehow.

He glanced over to Master Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Though they were doing a much better job of hiding their surprise, he could tell they thought the same thing.

Buffy smiled brightly when she reached them. “So, am I wait-worthy or what?” she asked playfully.

Blinking, again, Anakin said the first thing that came to mind. “You look like a girl!”

“That’s because I am a girl,” Buffy said with a tight, yet amused, smile. “I mean, come on, Ani. I know you can be a total space cadet, but you had to of noticed that.”

“I know you’re a girl,” Anakin said, frowning. “But you’re my sister! You’re not supposed to be pretty.”

His eyes widened as Buffy gaped at him. Oops. That’s not what he meant.

“I mean, you’re you and you can’t be pret- umph.”

Anakin was silenced by a large hand wrapping itself around his mouth. Master Qui-Gon stared down at him, an amused yet somewhat scolding smile playing on his lips. Something about the Jedi Master told his Padawan he would show him the properly respond to such a question posed by a woman, and that Anakin should take note if he didn’t want Buffy to kill him before they started their training.

Once satisfied that Anakin wasn’t going to say anything more, Qui-Gon removed his hand, and turned his attention back to bemused and insulted young woman before them. “You look lovely, Buffy,” he said, with a small bow.

“Yes, for someone who claims blue is not your color, you certainly wear it well,” Obi-Wan added.

Smiling brightly, Buffy somewhat glared down at Anakin. “See, that’s girl-friendly language,” she said, walking around Anakin to join Obi-Wan. As she passed him, she reached out and flicked Anakin in the back of the head, painfully. “Tact Boy.”

“Oww,” he said, rubbing the now sore spot.

Obi-Wan waited until Buffy was next to him, then fell in step beside her as they headed for the door. Pouting, Anakin began to follow, but Master Qui-Gon laid his hand on his shoulder and staled him a few steps.

There was still quite a bit of amusement in his Master’s face as he spoke. “I know your dealings with women on superficial levels are somewhat limited, Anakin - so is mine, I must admit - but you must always remember one thing. Whether they are an angelic Queen or a lowly slave girl, one must never insult them by claiming they are not the most beautiful creature in the universe when they ask you if they look nice.” Lowly, he added, “Especially one that hits like a Wookiee.”

“And has bat-like hearing,” Buffy shouted back to them.

Laughing, as if it was perfectly normal for Buffy to be able to hear what he said, Qui-Gon placed his hand on Anakin’s back and nudged him forward.

Anakin chewed on his bottom lip. She and Obi-Wan were nearly outside and so how did she hear that? And why didn’t Master Qui-Gon find it odd?

His thoughts were interrupted as he and Qui-Gon stepped outside where Buffy and Obi-Wan were waiting. Thousands of people lined the streets, cheering and laughing as a festive air filled the city. Bits of shiny paper and flower petals floated over the people and streets, as colorful banners moved gently in the wind. A band played a bright tune somewhere in the distance - or perhaps close by, the loud crowd made it difficult for Anakin to tell exactly where the music was coming from.

Padmé and the others were waiting to make their way out onto the stage set in front of the capital building. The governor was speaking with her and holding a large, glowing orb. It reflected brightly off of Padmé’s white dress, but made her look more angelic than ever.

It was hard for him to believe that only few days ago the city had been deserted and full of fear. Now, it seemed, that was nothing more than a distant memory.

Buffy laughed softly and shook her head. Under her breath, Anakin heard her say, “This is way better than Brozing it.”

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This was way worse than Brozing it, Buffy thought, fighting to keep herself from yawning.

One of the Queen’s Councilmen was going on about the political differences between the Nubian and Gungan governments - where he was casually dropping hints of the superiority of the Nubian system - for the past twenty minutes to the group Buffy found herself apart of and unable to escape from. Whenever she did try to step away, the Councilman noticed and would ask her opinion on some point that Buffy knew nothing of and didn’t really care about anyway. When she told him that she didn’t know enough to form an opinion - though she liked the Gungan leaders a lot better than this guy, and they had threatened to kill her the first time she meet them - he apparently took that as a challenge to sway her to his line of thinking. Personally, Buffy thought he could shove his opinions into an incredibly tight and painful spot on his body, but she had promised Qui-Gon and Ben she’d be on her best behavior tonight.

Stupid promises to stupid Jedi.

The ceremony earlier hadn’t been so bad. Of course, that could have been because of the people. Everyone in Theeds had shown up to watch the parade and help celebrate the peace between the Gungans and Naboo and the victory over the Viceroy and his men. The joy and excitement reminded Buffy of the time she went to the Prom after defeating the Master. Everyone had just been so happy and carefree for once, that it was easy to forget all the pain and suffering that had come days before.

Here, however, at the political and upper-class, invites only ball that she found herself at, well, things weren’t as happy as they had been outside. It wasn’t that these people weren’t glad and relieved like everyone else, but most of the guest were politicians and their wives. They had been taught from a young age the ‘appropriate’ way to act in such settings, and relaxing and having unbridle fun wasn’t it. Smiles, polite conversation, and talk of what was going on in the Senate or on Coruscant were the parting ways of these people.

To bad she could just gnaw off her own leg to get away like coyotes did to get out of traps. Maybe if she faked a stroke. Oh, or better yet, heart attack. That always worked in, well...theory.

As the rest of the group laughed at something the Councilman said, Buffy tried desperately to find someone to save her. Qui-Gon and Anakin were on the other side of the crowded dance floor, speaking with Windu and Conehead - God, she needed to find out his name. Well, Qui-Gon was actually speaking with them, Anakin simply stood back and watched the discussion.

Padmé and Chancellor Palpatine were in the middle of their own discussion with the Gungan Boss and a few of the Gungan leaders.

Chancellor Palpatine, now there were two words that didn’t belong together. Like ‘tan-able vampire’ not belonging together. Didn’t anyone besides her pick up on the wiggy vibes he sent out? Especially the Jedi. That was supposed to be their thing, right?

Or, maybe they did, but just didn’t care. Now there was a comforting thought.

No, for all their oh so stuck-up, ‘we know all, so don’t question us’ faults, they were still the good guys. If they thought something was brewing in Badsville, they would do something about. Well, as soon as they got Senate approval, they would. Of course, with Palpy at the head of the Senate, that would probably be a problem.

With another turn of her head, Buffy saw Ben standing alone next to one of the pillars. His hands were tucked under his robes, which also hid the lightsaber clipped to his belt - just like all the other Jedi present. The long braid behind his ear was gone now. It had been cut off shortly after he was knighted the day before. It was strange for it not to be there, but even stranger to now see Anakin with one. At least that Padawan buzz-cut they gave her little brother would give her hours of entertainment by picking on him about it.

Though Ben’s face was impassive, Buffy could tell he was just as bored as she was. Sensing her stare, he glanced in her direction and held her gaze for several seconds. It was the longest he had looked directly at her - minus the surprised gape on the stairs - since the Council newest assignment for him.

They had gone in some detail in trying to explain exactly what they wanted him and her to do, but Buffy knew that it basically boiled down to they needed him to ‘keep Buffy from doing stupid things’. Okay, that was the basic of the basic boil downs, but that was still the bottom line-ish of the situation. He was also supposed to help her research for ways to get her back home - which was going to be a real trick since she could only read like five words in Basic. They so needed a English to Basic dictionary. Her life would be so much easier if they did.

On the brighter, less boring side, she got to train with him. She wouldn’t be getting the full ‘convert me to a Jedi’ experience like Anakin, but more of the ‘we’ll let you play with a lightsaber even though technically you’re not one of us’ kind of deals. They figured it would look a lot less suspicious if she somewhat looked and acted like a Jedi, than if Ben was just spending way to much time with a girl. And that sounded way wrong no matter how she spun that in her head.

Once the Council trusted her enough, she’d probably be going with Ben on other missions too; at least that was what Qui-Gon thought. He reasoned that there would be no telling how long she could be stuck here - or if they would ever find any information that could prove helpful to getting her home. The number of Jedi Knights was already stretched thin, so it stood to reason that Ben would be needed for other missions eventually. And, since they were helping her, he also reasoned that they would view it as a way for Buffy to help them. That made sense. Plus, since she was technically not Jedi, she didn’t strictly have to follow of their...restrictions.

Baddies of the universe look out. The Slayer’s going to be unleashed. Well, as unleashed as she could be with Ben watching her anyway.

They were still trying to figure out what to tell people who knew that she wasn’t really a Jedi, namely Anakin. He knew Buffy was different, but even he would be curious about her lightsaber lessons. Hopefully, her and Ben’s lessons could fly under Ani’s radar for awhile - or at least until they had a really good and believable excuse to give him. That or Qui-Gon would have to keep him so busy with his own lessons that he wouldn’t notice hers. She’d have to remember to talk to the Jedi Master about that option.

The other person they would have to look out for about this was Palpatine. Even though he should have no real interest in the Jedi, Palpatine seemed to have gained one, at least with Ani. If he kept eye on him, chances were he would keep one on her too. He knew she had been just a slave and would certainly be curious as to how and why a slave girl was training with a Jedi Knight.

“Excuse me,” a cultured male voice said, breaking Buffy out of her thoughts.

A young man, maybe a few years older than herself, stood next to her, with a small smile playing on his lips. Judging by his dress, he was one of the aristocrats or one of Naboo’s younger politicians. He was cute, she supposed, in that ‘I have enough money to blow on really bad clothes that are just to stylish for you to get why I look good’ kind of way.

Blowing slightly, he said, “I was hoping that you would allow me the honor of having this dance?”

Buffy blinked. Was this guy for real? “I -.”

“Oh, you’re not leaving now, are you, Miss Summers?” the droll Councilman asked. “I was just about to explain the differences between Her Majesties great leadership and the Gungans Boss’ ruling.”

With wide eyes, Buffy quickly wrapped her arm around the young man’s. “And I’m sorry I’m going to miss that,” she said. “But it’d, you know, be rude of me to not like socialize with others. And, hey, I don’t want to be Rude Girl. Come on, let’s go.”

They were halfway out onto the full dance floor when the cold realization that she had no idea how these people danced hit Buffy. Oh, she knew some simple formal dances from back home - her Grandma Rose, her dad’s mother, had insisted that every thirteen-year-old lady should at least know how to waltz - but Buffy got the felling that her meager knowledge wasn’t going to help much here.

Crap. Now she really wished she was back at the Bronze. That kind of dancing she was good at.

“Um, look...” She paused. She didn’t even know this guys name.

Smiling, he said, “Kintel.”

“Kintel,” she repeated, the word sounding strange in her mouth. “I’m total Grateful Girl for the rescue back there, but I don’t think we should really, you know, do the dance thing.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Cause I kind of figured you’re attached to your toes.”

Laughing, Kintel placed one hand on her waist and brought up their conjoined hands with the other. By reaction, Buffy placed her free hand on his shoulder and was sure to keep her elbow straight, just as her grandmother had always harped on her to do.

“Just follow my lead and you’ll be fine,” he said as a new song started and couples began to move.

Uneasily, she followed. “Okay, but don’t say I didn’t do the whole warning thing.”

Five songs, six stepped toes, and two partners later, Buffy was finally getting the hang of it. Okay, so they weren’t going to give her the best dancer of the evening award, but at least she was completely sucking at it like she thought she would. Really, most of the dances weren’t any different from the ones her grandmother had taught her, just a step here or there. In fact, the waltz was no different, though she was sure they called it something else. If and when she ever got home, she would have to remember to call her grandparents and thank them for being such snobs.

The guy she was currently dancing with was some older, military guy. Buffy recognized him as one of the resistant leaders that Panaka had brought back before the big showdown. He was a good bit older than Buffy - not like Qui-Gon old, but at least her mother’s age - and took a great deal of joy in telling Buffy how much she reminded him of his daughter. She was one of Padmé’s handmaids, though Buffy had no idea which one. Her name ended with an é was all she knew.

The band was just staring a new song - a waltz, thankfully - when Buffy slayer senses yelped at her. A fraction of a second later, a wither-y old hand land itself on her dance partners shoulder, stopping both of them from moving. Chancellor Palpatine smiled and pulled back his hand.

“I hope you don’t mind if I cut it, Captain Vetch,” he said, keeping his gaze squarely locked on her.

Buffy frowned deeply, trying to send out the silent warning that she would mind. Palpatine and Vetch, however, didn’t notice or ignored it.

“Of course not, Chancellor,” Vetch said with a bow before backing away.

Palpy bowed in return, then turned to Buffy. He stood there and stared at her for a moment as she all but snarled at him to stay away. Still, he didn’t take the hint that she didn’t want him to touch her.

“Come now, my dear,” he said smoothly, like she was some sort of wild horse he was trying to calm. “I won’t bite.”

Wish you did, then I could stake you, Buffy thought. Residing to the fact that he wasn’t going to go away, she stepped closer to him, placed one hand on his shoulder and the other in his raised hand, and began to move with the beat. She was careful this time to not miss a step and followed his lead with slayer precision.

Buffy could feel several eyes watching them, but she didn’t need the Force to know who they were. Qui-Gon and Ben were probably both wondering why she was dancing with the old geezer because they both knew she didn’t like him. The Jedi Council was probably picking up on her ill feelings as well. And Ani, well, he was probably just wondering how Buffy knew how to dance like that at all.

“You dance very well, my dear,” Palpatine said after several tense and silent moments. “I’m surprised that someone from your station in life would know how.”

“I’m sure there’s a lot of things I know how to do that’ll surprise you, Chancellor,” Buffy replied.

“I’m sure there are,” Palpatine agreed. “I would be most interested in knowing that they might be.”

“Let me know yours and I’ll let you know mine,” Buffy said with a tight smile.

To her surprise, he chuckled. “A good dejarik player never lets his opponent know his next move, Miss Summers,” Palpatine said carefully. “And neither does a politician.”

“Then I guess we’ll both have to just wait and see, huh, Chancellor,” Buffy said

“I suppose we will,” he agreed.

The song ended and the polite applause to the band from the dancing couples briefly filled the room. Buffy stepped back from Palpatine as if she were afraid he was about to strike her, but he held tightly onto her hand. Though she stood a full arms length away and was frowning, he was still smiling like he knew all her secrets and bowed slightly, bringing her hand awful close to his lips. It took everything Buffy had to keep from ripping her hand from his.

“Thank you for the lovely dance, Miss Summers. I look forward to sharing another with you someday,” he said, before lightly kissing her hand.

She could have crawled out of her skin at that very moment. Forcing herself to keep from shuddering, Buffy said, “So do I, Chancellor. So do I.”

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Obi-Wan had watched from across the hall as Buffy curtsied to the Chancellor, then quickly made her way towards the nearest exit. The way people moved out of her way reminded him a bit of an old story he had heard as a child in the Temple, where a powerful Jedi had cut a clear path through a thick battalion of warriors with a single look. Apparently, that was a power that the Slayer possessed as well. There were a few whispers of the girl’s rudeness, but most people there were already to drunk to care or didn’t care about her at all in the first place.

Well, Buffy was technically his charge, so be best go talk to her. It wasn’t a prospect he was looking forward to, but one he would do. Carefully, Obi-Wan made his way through the crowd and out the door Buffy had used to leave.

It didn’t take him long to find her. She was in one of the gardens, sitting on a large fountain, with one of her hands plunged into the cold water while the other rubbed against the skin in a scrubbing motion. Specks of water splashed onto her dress, making the areas a darker blue than they should be. The wet fabric clung to her legs. The white straps of her sandal shoes shone brightly in the moonlight as she toed them so she could lean a little bit further over the fountain’s edge.

After several seconds of vigorous scrubbing, Buffy groaned and jerked her hand out from beneath the water. “Is there any way to burn off a layer of your own skin without it hurting?” she asked while her back was still to Obi-Wan.

It didn’t surprise him that she could sense him. In fact, Obi-Wan was fairly certain she could probably sense him much better than he could her.

“That’s a bit beyond my knowledge, but I’m sure we could ask one of the medical droids,” Obi-Wan said, walking up next to her. The faint sound of music from the ball drifted in the cold wind, but neither of them heard it. Keeping his hands covered with the bottom of his sleeves, he said, “You didn’t care much for the Chancellor’s touch, I take.”

The glare she shot at him would have a killed a lesser man. “The Force tell you that, Jedi Boy?”

“No, your excessive scrubbing of the top of your hand in a cold fountain was enough of a clue for me,” Obi-Wan said dryly.

From somewhere in the garden, a nightbird chirped. It sounded oddly like a child’s laugh.

Buffy glared at him for a moment longer, then looked away to the flowing, clear water. “I don’t like him, Ben. He makes my spidey-senses tingle.”

Obi-Wan tilted his head. “Spidey-sense?”

“My slayer sense,” Buffy said. “He sets them off.”

Trying to remember exactly what she told him that particular power did, he said, “And that’s a bad thing.”

“Oh so bad.” With frustration, Buffy covered her face with her hands, groaned into them, and pulled her fingers hard down the sides of her face. Obi-Wan noted that she was careful not to smug he makeup she wore. “Problem is, even Jar Jar sets off a tingle.” Sighing, she slapped both her hands down onto the stone beneath her and said, “I hate this stupid universe! Back home, something sets off my slayer sense, I kill it, then we partied. Here, every alien or Force wielder I pass makes it do the Mamba, and I’m can’t tell the difference between the non-threating people and the slay right now people unless they are like uber-bad.”

He considered her words carefully for several seconds. “That’s how you knew that Sith was there in the hanger,” Obi-Wan said thoughtfully. “You could sense his presence, even though he was shrouded with the Dark Side.”

Scrunching her nose, Buffy said, “Well, yeah. Sensing the ‘Dark Side’ is kind of like part of the slayer package. I mean, hello, I hunt dark creatures for a living. If I couldn’t sense them, I’d be screwed in so many different ways.”

Well, that did make sense, he supposed. But how was she able to sense it? Even Master Yoda couldn’t do that. Then, Master Yoda wasn’t a Chosen One to fight - how did she put it? - ‘baddies of the night?’

“And you are sensing something dark from Chancellor Palpatine?” Obi-Wan asked carefully.

“Well, yeah...I think.” She blew out a short, blast of air between her somewhat puckered lips, and dropped her head. “That’s just it. I don’t know if it’s bad, badness I’m picking up off him or if just some wiggy creepy old man vibe he’s putting out because he’s, well, you know...a creepy old man.”

Pressing his lips, Obi-Wan sighed.

“We should inform the Council of this,” he said.

He could feel her call him crazy. “And tell them what? ‘Oh, Buffy’s got a bad feeling about Palpatine. Or could just be cramps. She doesn’t know yet.’” Picking at her dress, she said, “Hate to break it to you, but we’re going to need more than that, Sherlock.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” he said, drawing in a deep breath. “However, in the meantime, I suggest we stay on guard around the Chancellor. If there is truly something evil about him, I do not think he will wait long to do something. Not with the kind of power he now wields.”

They were both silent for a long time. The only sounds that could be heard in the garden were an upbeat tune the band was now playing and a song between two nightbirds.

“Should we warn Qui-Gon to stay on guard?” she finally asked, turning to face Obi-Wan.

“Master Qui-Gon is always on guard,” Obi-Wan said with an almost dismissive tone.

Force, what were they going to do? More to the point, how could they know Buffy’s ‘spidey senses’ or whatever she called them, were correct? If every non-human or Force wielder did set them off, then how could they know if it was because Palpatine was truly evil, or because he might have a distant relative who was an alien? Or because he might have latent Force abilities that were never cultivate. The last was probably the most likely. Palpatine did have an ability to read his opponents well, too well.

Obi-Wan suddenly found himself frowning when he looked down and saw Buffy’s hand was starting to change to a pale blue. “Sith!” he swore, sitting next to her. “Give me your hand.”

As he took her hand between his own, she smiled with amusement. “Sith? What is that, like some kind of lame Jedi swear word or something?”

Obi-Wan rubbed the top of her hand to try and create some warming friction. As he did so, the seriousness of the conversation they were just having seemed to melt away with each pass of his hand. The mystery about the Chancellor wouldn’t be discovered tonight, and they both knew it.

With a rueful smile, Obi-Wan said, “I wouldn’t call it lame.”

“Oh, please, it’s so lame,” Buff said, rolling her eyes somewhat. “That’s like the non-bad words in place of real bad words that my seven-year-old cousin uses.”

A scandalized look passed over Obi-Wan’s face, but was ruined by the smile that remained. “I’ll have you know I was quite severely punished for using that word once during one of my lessons as a child,” he said.

“You’re kidding,” Buffy said.

He shook his head. “No, I am not.”

Twisting around in her seat, Buffy smiled curiously at him. “What happened?”

Obi-Wan tried not to laugh, but was doing a poor job of controlling his own amusement. “We were practicing lightsaber technics when a childhood rival of mine took a cheap shot and burned my leg. I swore so loudly that everyone in the room stopped and stared, including my teacher, Master Yoda.”

“Oh, that’s not good,” Buffy said. “What did the little gnome do?”

“He calmly walked over to me, and said ‘Even in combat, a Jedi speaks not such foul language.’ He then gave me kitchen duty for the next two months.”

Force, that had been so long ago and one of Obi-Wan’s more embarrassing moments. Being reprimanded in front of everyone by a great Master like Yoda was not something any Jedi or Younglings wanted. Even a week ago, the thought of the incident had filled him with shame. Now, he was laughing about it? How did that happen?

Buffy laughed brightly yet softly. The pleasant sound echoed in the cool air.

Obi-Wan shrugged lightly. “Yes, well, laugh all you want. But I can still wash and dry a plate as fast as any cleaning droid.”

Her laughter dulled to silence, but her eyes still twinkled with amusement. “Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi Bus Boy. Definitely has some ring-age to it.”

He stopped rubbing her hand looked down at the now red skin. Warmth was finally starting to return, though it was still far to cold to be exposed like it was. As if agreeing with him, a small shiver traveled through Buffy’s body. The dress she wore wasn’t for warmth, and the wet spots on her skirt did nothing to help her. Buffy pulled her hand away from his and rubbed her exposed arms.

“Thanks,” she said, softly.

Obi-Wan frowned for a moment, then stood, pulling her up with him. “Here,” he said, pulling off his robe. “You look cold.”

“I’m fine, Ben,” she said, protesting somewhat weakly as he wrapped it around her shoulders.

“You’re shivering, Buffy.”

As he pulled it close around her, she gave him a tired smile. “Thanks,” she said, reaching up and touching his hand. When she did so, a small electrical charge popped them. Surprised, Buffy pulled her hand away and then held it up. “Sorry. Silk and...whatever this robe is made out of must caused me to turn into Electro Girl.”

“It’s alright,” Obi-Wan said. “Now, come on. Let’s go back in before we both freeze.”

Nodding, she followed him back up the walk and into the Palace.

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Palpatine stood next to the large window which overlooked the nearest garden, the same garden that Knight Kenobi and Miss Summers were sitting in. What an interesting pair those two made. Both were still so young and should be of no threat to him or his plans, yet Palpatine knew they were.

Miss Summers didn’t like him, didn’t trust him. She knew that there was something not right about the Chancellor, the dance he had shared with her confirmed that. He had used ever ounce of his Dark power to try and sway her mind into trusting him, but his efforts had been meet with a snarling growl. No normal, non-Force sensitive human should have been able to resist that, but she had. Somehow, she was completely immune to his dark influences. How very peculiar.

Palpatine had no doubts that she was poising Knight Kenobi against him as well. He had not lied when he told Master Qui-Gon that he foresaw Kenobi becoming a great Jedi someday. The boy had all the makes needed to become one of their pathetically weak Masters. If he too became suspicious of Palpatine and told the Jedi Council, than his carefully laid plans could be ruined. No, that would not do at all.

Kenobi and Summers together was not something he wished to see happen. The girl was far to dangerous an influence.

As they stood, Kenobi took off his Jedi robe and wrapped it around Miss Summers. He couldn’t see Kenobi’s face, but the look on Miss Summers face caused the Chancellor to pause. Palpatine raised an eyebrow as a cruel smile slowly raised on his lips.

Then again, maybe the two together could work to his advantage.

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Qui-Gon frowned as he watched the young pair walk inside from the garden. After Buffy and Obi-Wan had been gone for some time, he had come to see what was taking them. What he found was not something he liked.

Not all of that conversation was strictly becoming of a Jedi, and Obi-Wan knew that. The problem was, Qui-Gon didn’t think his former apprentice realized it either. To him, it was probably just a friendly conversation and probably had been, up until he had given Buffy his robe. Then, for a split second, Qui-Gon had seen...Well, he wasn’t quite sure what it was. There was just something about the way they looked at each other that had gave him a bad feeling.

The beginning of a tight bond forming between the pair. The Council had sensed it. That was partly why they assigned them to be together.

Qui-Gon had first sensed it during the battle with the Sith, though neither Buffy nor Obi-Wan seemed to have noticed it yet. It explained how Buffy had known they were in trouble during the fight. From what Qui-Gon was able to gather from what Padmé had told him, Buffy didn’t feel the need to go back until when Obi-Wan had gone over the edge of the catwalk. She hadn’t felt they had been in danger. She had felt that Obi-Wan had been.

A bond like that formed that quickly between such different people could be a good thing, as the Council hoped. But Qui-Gon knew it could also be a very bad thing as well.

Buffy wasn’t a Jedi. She didn’t follow their rules or restrictions. Yes, she was a great fighter and, yes, he would trust her with his life, but there were guidelines that the Jedi must follow that he knew Buffy would not understand. She had already thumbed her nose at the rule of not being ruled by one’s emotions. Qui-Gon knew she was going to have a very difficult time with the rule of no attachments.

Drawing in a deep breath, he let it he worry go into the Force. The bond she was forming was with Obi-Wan, after all. He was brought up in their ways and would do all he could to stay true to them, even if it cost him on a personal level.

Unfortunately, Qui-Gon had a bad feeling that it was going to cost his Padawan and Buffy quite a lot.

Interlude: Let's Make a Deal

Roon was a planet of beauty and a planet of darkness. Located just beyond the Cloak of the Sith nebulosity, the small half dark, half green and blue world was surrounded by asteroids and debris, making it look like a marble in a dusty beam of light. The land was lush and green, with snow capped mountains and dense forests, but the majority of the seen world was made up of crystal blue seas. The other half of the world was black, lost in perpetual night created by the Cloak. Each side of the world remained the same, no matter the rotation of the planet. Half made of light, half shrouded in darkness.

Some of the planets more screwball, religious fanatics called it an outward expression of the good and evil that resides in ever living being or physical manifestation of the Light Side and the Dark Side that those hooky Jedi were always going on about. To Therakav Nolullen, it was just...neat.

As a child, Therakav’s treasure hunting father uprooted his family from their home on Muunilinst and brought them here in hopes he would find some of the legendary Roonstones. There were only about thousand in known existence thus far, but Therakav’s father was sure that he would find one, hidden in the back of some cave just over the next mountain. In his thirty year career as a treasure hunter, his father collected a moderate fortune from the gems he found, but the Roonstone remained evasive. He continued to look, though, up until the cave-in that claimed his life.

Therakav took the money his father left him and invested it in a more lucrative business, bounty hunting. Since then, he tripled his family’s wealth. No, what he did for a living was not something his father would approve of, but the old man was dead so Therakav didn’t think it mattered much.

He sat in the back corner of a dive cantina, his face impassive except when he took a sip from the swill drink. Then, he was just disgusted. The drink was dreadful. Therakav wished those this guy would hurry up and get there. Then maybe he could find a place that served a descent drink, or at least one that didn’t make you want to spit it onto the closest person.

A few tables over, a fat pilot with two large robotic arms laughed loudly as he hit a much smaller humanoid in the shoulder. The creature glared at his companion, but that just added to the pilot’s amusement. Across the table, an alien with purple skin, a long neck, and even longer arms and hands, leaned back in her chair and rolled her large oval eyes. The serving droid quickly skid around her chair, narrowly missing knocking the tray of drinks out the it’s hands.

“Nolullen.”

Therakav jumped and turned. He was surprised to see a humanoid creature sitting on the other side of his table, a bored expression on it’s face and a thin, white stick - that looked almost like a death stick - smoldering between his fingers. Horrible scars ran in odd directions all over its face, hands, and other exposed areas of flesh, reminding Therakav of one of those burn victims from last year’s fire on the north docks district in Fivix. He species wasn’t a type that Therakav was familiar with, so he didn’t know if those scars were normal or from some terrible battle in the creature’s earlier days of life. Not that it really mattered, other than the bounty hunter’s mere curiosity.

Plastering on what he hoped was a friendly smile, Therakav said, “I was beginning to wonder if you were going to show.”

“Yeah, well, I did. So, you’re Therakav Nolullen, huh?” the creature said, taking a puff from the white stick and exhaling the smoke into the air. “Thought you’d be taller.”

Therakav frowned briefly, but didn’t comment. “And you are...?”

“Your cash cow. Other than that, call me none of your damn business,” the creature said.

Therakav shrugged. “Hey, as long as I get paid, I could care less who you are. Just being polite and all.”

“Oh, you’ll get paid, as long as you deliver,” he said, putting out the stick on the table. A small scorch mark was left behind, but the creature brushed most of it away with a few passes of his hand. “So, you as good as I hear or am I going to have to go find that human and kill him for lying to me?”

Laughing lightly, Therakav relaxed back into his chair and held up his hands. “Best of the best, my friend. Won’t find anyone better.”

The creature raised an eyebrow. “Funny. I heard the best was a fellow going by the name of Jango Fett. Thought your name was Nolullen.”

Bristling, Therakav’s face tightened as his eyes flashed. “Jango’s a prissy son of a Calaci with to much luck and not enough brains.” Forcing himself to relax, Therakav drew in a deep breath and resumed the calm composure he had moments before. “Besides, I heard he’s retired now. No one’s seen or heard from him in - what? Over three years now? So that makes me the best.”

“By default,” the creature said casually.

“Because I am,” Therakav said through gritted teeth. “If you want, friend, I could have Chancellor Palpatine himself sitting across the table from you by the end of the week, dead or alive.”

A lazy smile drew itself across the creature’s face as he leaned back in his seat. “I don’t really have any interest in this Chancellor Whats-his-face. But the person I do want you to retrieve will prove to be a challenge, I can guarantee you that. They’ll fight, bite, scream, kick, and hit, probably all at the same time and accurately enough to do some damage if you’re not careful.”

Therakav tilted his head, smiling. It had been a good long while since he had a challenge. “Sounds like fun.”

Reaching into his robe’s pockets, the creature pulled out another white stick and a strange looking lighter. As he popped the stick in his mouth, he said, “I’m sure it will be.”

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The smell of lightening, garbage, and cigarette smoke filled the cool yet humid night air as George stepped out of the old building and into the quiet city street. His fourth cigarette of the night hung lazily between his lips as he glanced up and down the sidewalk, seeing who else was unfortunate enough to be out tonight. A group of teenage humans, dressed in far to few clothes for the coolness of the night, laughed as they exited the local night club that looked ready to close for the evening. Other than them, George saw no one else. He knew better, however. Even if he couldn’t see him, he knew his employer was nearby.

“Probably being trite and hiding in the shadows,” George said to himself, taking a drag off his cigarette.

“Hiding in the shadows isn’t trite. It’s classic,” a familiar voice said from behind him.

Turning, George pulled the cigarette from his mouth and raised an eyebrow. “Please, it’s a tired and predictable. Even six-years-old know that move,” he said, dropping the stick to the ground and putting it out beneath his boot. “Really, you use to be so original back in the old days.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sure I can still think of some ‘original’ and very painful ways to kill you,” his employer said.

George laughed. “I’m sure you could. But then you won’t get what you want.”

The other man growled lowly, knowing that George was right. Drawing in a deep, calming breath, George’s boss straightened an imaginary wrinkle out of his shirt. “For your sake, I hope you’ve made some progress.”

“Do you think I would have come here if I hadn’t?” George asked with an annoyed tone. His employer looked even more annoyed than George sounded. “Yeah, I made progress. I hired a guy who’ll get what you want by the end of the week. Maybe even faster if you want me to give him the right...incentive.”

His boss shook his head. “I’ve waited this long. I’d rather it take time and be done right than for something to go wrong and it blow up in our faces.” Still frowning, he asked, “This guy does know not to hurt anyone, right?”

George just barely kept the tight smile on his face. “Corse he does. But, you know, if something should happen -.”

Moving faster than was humanly possible, his boss pinned George against the grimy wall of the building he had just exited from. “Nothing better happened,” he said, the threat ringing clear in his tone.

Holding his hands up, George said, “Fine. Fine. I was just saying, is all. No need to get all scary on me.”

He was held against the wall for a moment longer before the other man let him go. However, before releasing George’s shirt, his employer warned, “If anything does ‘happen’, it will ‘happen’ to you too. In a much, much more painful and lethal way. Understand?”

“Perfectly,” George said, straightening out his clothes. Once satisfied they were undamaged, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his fifth smoke for the night. “Anything else you want to threaten me with, or can I go now?”

His boss tilted his head. “I think we’re good for now.”

Then, without another word, he turned and disappeared back into the night. George watched him walk away for a few seconds as he light his cigarette, then turned to leave in the other direction.

Taking a calming drag off the cigarette, George blew out the puff of smoke slowly. The white smoke twisted and twirled in the air, hanging visibly before him only for a few moments before disappearing into the atmosphere.

Snorting, George tucked his free hand deeper into his coat pocket, and did his best to adjust his collar by moving his shoulders, but not actually touching the cloth. “I hate being a greedy bastard,” he said lowly to himself. “My life would be so much easier if I wasn’t one.”

Overhead hung a bright, clear full moon, and, somewhere in the night, two wolves howled.

Chapter Nineteen: On a Rainy Day


Through the low rumble of thunder, she heard air being cut as something moved through it. Reacting quickly, Buffy pivoted on her toes, narrowly missing the low voltage blaster bolt that the training droid shot at her. As she turned, she gripped tightly onto the handle of her lightsaber and swung the blade - that had been pointed towards the ground - in upward arch. Buffy heard the familiar sizzle of metal being sliced in half, then the pieces clanking against the ground as they hit, and smiled to herself. Well, that was a whole lot better than the first she had to fight a -

A sharp burning sensation hit her lower back. Yelping more from shock than pain, Buffy twirled back around, only to be shot two more times - once in the leg, the other in the chest. The last shot, had they been a full force blaster bolt, would have killed her.

Okay, she knew that she had only set up one training droid before she started, but she knew where the other one had come from. There was only one place for it to come from.

Pulling off the blindfold, Buffy turned a murderous glare towards Ben. He was standing at the edge of the training mat, his arms crossed and hidden within his Jedi robes. Gloomy light filtered through the window wall of the Temple training room, making Ben appear almost menacing. Almost, but not quite.

Though his lips appeared straight, Buffy could tell that he was actually frowning at her in disapproval. Younglings and some Knights might have found the look intimidating. Buffy just found it annoying.

“Okay, you have exactly five seconds to tell me why I shouldn’t kick your butt from here to Tatooine and back again, starting now,” she said, clicking off her lightsaber and placing one hand on her hip.

“Because one should always be prepared for the unexpected,” Ben said calmly, stepping onto the mat and walking towards her.

Buffy just stopped herself from rolling her eyes. “Why is it every time I threaten you with violence, you throw Jedi logic at me?”

He stopped in front of her and plucked the training droid out of the air. The tiny light on the device blinked twice, then died, signaling that it was off. Pocketing the droid, Ben said, “Because it’s usually enough to dissway you from said violence.”

Buffy quirked an eyebrow. “Okay, that makes sense in the none kind of way.” Taking a step back, she twisted the inactive lightsaber in her hand and a small smirk appeared on her face. “So I guess it’s time for your ass kicking.”

Tilting his head, Ben said, “Is that right?”

“Hey, I told you to give me a reason not to. It’s not my fault you didn’t listen.” Pulling her foot behind her, she shifted to a fighting stance and activated her lightsaber.

The green bladed weapon had been a gift from Qui-Gon for her eighteenth birthday, which was less than two weeks after the battle of Naboo. Well, that was the day Shmi and Anakin had decided to mark as her birthday. After the Gythons locked her away, Buffy lost track of time since she didn’t know when one day changed over to the next. Because of that, she really didn’t know when her birthday came and went. When she told Shmi and Ani that, they declared the next day to be her birthday and that was the day she celebrated it since then.

On her eighteenth, Qui-Gon gave her the lightsaber because, well, she needed one. Also, they seemed rather afraid to let her try and build her own. That was fine by her. She’d probably still be building it if she had too do it. And she probably would have made the blade red, too, which would have been bad since apparently only bad guys have red lightsaber blades.

Buffy smiled and brought the blade upward. “Come on, Benny. You’re more fun to fight with than a droid. Well, sort of, anyway.”

Raising eyebrow, Ben walked towards the edge of the mat as he took off Jedi robes. “Was that an attempt to get a rise out of me to throw me off?”he asked, dropped the robe onto the floor. Unclipping his lightsaber, he turned back to her. “You know that doesn’t work.”

“If you say so, Jedi Boy,” she said, starting to circle him.

“I believe I did say so,” he answered, activating his lightsaber and mimicking her movements in the opposite direction. As he moved, he twirled the blue blade several times in large circles at his side.

They moved that way for several steps, each carefully watching the other and preparing for the other’s moves. They stopped when they reached where the other had been standing moments before and slipped into fighting stances. The only sound in the room was the humming of their lightsabers.

A crash of thunder - the loudest yet - echoed through the training room. Buffy took that as the PTBs way of ringing the bell. Ben, too, apparently took as the Force’s way of telling him to begin.

They moved at each other at the same time. Drawing back, Ben struck first at her with his lightsaber blade swinging it at her head. Buffy’s blade easily blocked his and the second and third attacking strikes that followed. She leapt into the air as he swung low at her legs and brought her blade around to meet his before her feet touched the ground once more. The blue and green blades crackled and popped as the were tightly pressed against one another, each one trying to dominate the other. Finally, Buffy pushed hard, knocking Ben’s blade out of the way. This time, she attacked.

They moved this way for several minutes, moving across the training room with a series of pivots, jumps, back flips, and somersaults. The blue and green blades moved and crashed against one another in streaks, making the room’s scent match that of the gathering storm outside. The fight looked choreographed to an outside observer. Each step they took, each swing of their blade, was matched by their opponent. Years of fighting had taught them how the other moved and reacted, so it was quite easy to know which step to take.

Ben went for a high attack and brought his blade downward in a moved that would slice Buffy in half. She easy sidestepped it and brought her own blade down on top of his and held it there. Then, her elbow shot out and hit him in the face. Dazed, Ben stumbled backwards.

Before Buffy could attack, his hand shot up and he Force blasted her across the room. She fell onto her back with a grunt, but quickly rolled onto her shoulders and jumped to her feet. Ben was already circling her and she quickly mimicked his movement.

“Do you remember the talk we had about where Force blasts were cheating?” Buffy asked, trying to sound more annoyed than she actually was.

“Yes, but I also recall how your use of excessive Slayer strength would be considered cheating as well,” Ben pointed out.

“That so wasn’t ‘excessive’. That was completely within the cessive amount allowed,” she said, though she knew that wasn’t true. Okay, so she hit him a little harder than she should have, but he was a Jedi! He should be able to take it.

Ben raised an eyebrow at her. “I might suggest that you not lie to someone you share a bond with. Especially since you have yet to master a way to block your feelings from me,” he said, raising his lightsaber as he readied for an attack.

Crap. God, did she hate that stupid bond.

Before she could respond, he attacked.

Block left. Pivot right. Duck. Attack right. High block left.

Buffy twisted and turned with each move, trying to find an opening for her own attack. Apparently, Ben was determined not to give her one.

When he swung at her legs, Buffy jumped into the air and did a backwards somersault, which placed her a few feet away from the Jedi. Crouching as she landed, Buffy lunged at Ben with her lightsaber blade. He took a step to the side, the blade barely missing his chest before he turned. Before she could pull back, Ben grabbed her extended arm and forcefully pulled her back against him.

Buffy, having been caught off guard by the move, stumbled against him, her back hitting his chest while he held her arm with her lightsaber down. Before she had a chance to break her wrist free from his grip, Ben snaked his hand that held his lightsaber around her shoulder and held the blade less than an inch from her neck. The heat from the blade popped at her skin, causing Buffy to pull her head a little further back.

“It appears I have won this time,” Ben said.

Buffy smirked. “I don’t think so,” she said, then slammed the back of her head into his face.

The surprise threw Ben off enough to send his lightsaber away from her neck to a safe distance and allow Buffy to break free of his grip. Reaching down, she grabbed behind his knee with her free hand and pulled up, sending Ben crashing to the ground onto his back. Before he could get up, Buffy was sitting on his chest with her lightsaber against his neck.

“I win,” she said with a smile.

Ben frowned up at her as she deactivated her lightsaber. “Now that was cheating, Buffy,” he said, sliding out from under her a bit and sitting up the best he could with her still over him.

“It was not,” she said as he turned off his lightsaber.

“Yes it was. The duel was over and you attacked. That is considered cheating.”

Pouting lightly, she crossed her arms. “Haven’t you ever heard ‘it’s not over until it’s over’?”

“It was over,” he said flatly.

“Was not,” she countered childishly.

His frown deepened. “It was.”

“Not.”

“Was.”

“Not.”

“Was.”

“Not.”

Three sharp taps against the floor drew the pairs attention away from the childish argument. Turning in unison with Ben, Buffy saw an old, small green figure standing at the edge of the training mat. The pair scrambled to their feet. Ben automatically bowed, while Buffy nodded.

“Two younglings, you sound like,” Master Yoda said, hobbling towards them with the aid of his walking stick. “Um, yes. Too old, you are, for such childish fights.”

Buffy felt her cheeks heat up a little. It wasn’t that childish.

Next to her, Ben bowed a bit deeper and nodded his head. “Yes, Master,” he said, raising himself back up to full height. “We apologies. We should have not acted so badly over a simple difference of opinion.”

“Um, yeah. What he said,” Buffy said.

Lightly, Yoda chuckled to himself. “Difference of opinion, it was not. Difference of point of view, it was.” The old Jedi began to pace back and forth in front of the two, as if they were two younglings whom he was teaching. “Over, the duel was, from Obi-Wan’s point of view. Not so, from Buffy’s. Right, who is?”

Buffy glanced over at Ben and he did her. Well, she could see how he thought the duel was over. In real life, it probably would have been kill since whoever had her like that would most likely have cut her. But, if they did just hold her like him which they sometimes did, she would have done the same thing to them that she did to Ben. So, without a ref, really who was the winner?

“Not know, do you? Um, yes, you do not,” Yoda said, sounding rather triumphant. “Wise, it is not, to argue, when not you know why you are right.”

“Yes, Master,” Ben said, easily understanding what Yoda had said.

Buffy, however, had bit more trouble understanding the phrasing. She scrunched her nose, repeating the phrase over in her mind until she could make sense of what the gremlin Jedi had just said. It took her a moment, but she finally nodded and echo Ben, sort of. “Yes, Yoda.”

Yoda nodded once, then turned to the business of why he was there. Ben was requested to meet that evening with the Council along with Qui-Gon. They already knew Qui-Gon had a meeting with the Council tonight, but Buffy couldn’t help but wonder why they wanted to speak to Ben as well.

Stepping away from the two Jedi, Buffy turned and looked out the large window wall of the training room. Outside, it had begun to rain.

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Coruscant wasn’t known for its unpredictable weather like so many other planets were. Perhaps it came from the fact that, unlike most other worlds, there was no natural vegetation or bodies of water to feed an unstable atmosphere here. That was not to say that they only had bright, sunny days. Coruscant was known to have fog so thick to roll through the city that one couldn’t see more than a meter in front of them. And when it rained, it wasn’t a sprinkle or a light shower, it stormed, long and hard. Such as it was that afternoon.

Qui-Gon blinked as a bolt of lightening lit up the Senate building, temporally blinding him and a few school children who were visiting the capital. The crack of thunder that immediately followed made one of the younger children jump from surprise, and caused the others to have a laugh at his expense. Blushing, the young boy hurried ahead, trying to out walk his friends. However, they too speed up and easily caught up with him. Qui-Gon couldn’t hear what they were saying, but, judging by the embarrassment coming off the child, it wasn’t anything good.

Anakin walked steadily behind Qui-Gon, doing his best to keep up with the older man’s long strides. Since his last growth spurt, it had become increasingly easier for the boy to keep pace with his Jedi Master, but there were still times when he almost had to run behind him. Today was one such day.

This wasn’t Qui-Gon’s ideal choice of weather to be traveling around in just to meet the Chancellor, but it was apparently the will of the Force for it be as such.

This wasn’t the first meeting that the Chancellor had requested with him or other active agents of the Jedi Order. Qui-Gon heard that just last week Palpatine had called in Aalyan and her Padawan learner for a report first hand on their latest mission, and the week before he had spoken with Tinkah about her mission to Corillia. Compared to the other Chancellors and their attitude towards the Order, Palpatine’s behavior was just plain odd.

It was true that nothing he asked was ever out of the ordinary. They were the same questions the Council asked Jedi upon their return from any mission, and the Chancellor had always recieved a copy of the Council’s report. But Palpatine hadn’t seemed interested in reading reports. He wanted to hear the account from the person lived them.

The Chancellor claimed the reason he wanted to hear the reports for himself was to improve the relationship between the Senate and the Jedi, but few - if any - believed that excuse fully. Perhaps the truth was, as most believed, that Palpatine had grown tired of the monotony of Senate business and simply wished for something different. However, no matter how hard he tried to convince himself of that, Qui-Gon didn’t think that either one were the man’s true motivations.

Qui-Gon and Anakin stepped into the turbo-lift silently. The rain splashed hard against the glass, making difficult to see the city and the traffic that was flying by at high speeds. Without a word, Anakin pressed the familiar floor button, then stepped next to his Master, who was still lost in his own musings.

It seemed to Qui-Gon that he and Anakin were asked to the Chancellor’s office far more than the rest of the Jedi. It felt as if he and his Padawan were called to Palpatine’s office nearly every time they were on Coruscant. Then, so were many of his colleagues, much to their annoyance and his.

The only people who appeared immune to Palpatine’s curiosity were Buffy and Obi-Wan. That was only because the Slayer’s open hostility towards the Chancellor, though, even their reports went to him - at least their official reports did. Any mention of their investigation into a way to get Buffy to her home dimension or the fact that she was the Slayer was kept strictly to the Council and Qui-Gon himself.

Though, Buffy’s constant presences with Obi-Wan did raise suspicion with Palpatine. He did not believe for a moment that Obi-Wan was simply helping her look for her home planet or that the Jedi would waste his talent on such a thing that a droid would be more suited for. Still, the Chancellor played along, as if waiting for the day when all her secrets would be revealed to him.

Anakin had oddly not asked many questions about Buffy’s presences in the Temple or her training with Obi-Wan since their explanation during the return flight from Naboo all those years ago. After some dodgy answers that had not satisfied the boy’s curiosity at all, Buffy had pretty much told him the truth of the situation. Pretty much being the key phrase. She told him that on her world, she was a warrior and that she needed to find a way home. The Council had agreed to let Obi-Wan try and help her, and, at the same time, train with him so she could stay in the shape she needed to be in.

She hadn’t told him that she was actually the Slayer - Qui-Gon discovered the boy knew about the mystical warrior from the stories Buffy had told him - or that she was from a different dimension. At the time, she reasoned, that he wasn’t ready to know and Qui-Gon had agreed. But Anakin was thirteen now. He was old enough to know the truth about his sister and deserved to be told. Now if Qui-Gon could just convince Buffy of that.

Another crack of thunder rattled the lift as the Jedi Master and his apprentice approached the top floor. Both man and boy glanced upward, trying to see how much further they would have to wait, but were unable to see through the thick rain.

Anakin then glanced briefly at Qui-Gon, before he turned his attention forward again.

“You’re unusually quiet today, Master,” he said. There was no curiosity or demands for an answer in the way Anakin spoke, he was just stating a simple fact. However, Qui-Gon could feel the curiosity swelling in his young apprentice.

“Just thinking is all, my young Padawan,” Qui-Gon said, patting the teenager on the shoulder. Not giving Anakin the chance to ask what he was thinking, the Jedi quickly asked, “Do you still plan on spending the evening with Buffy?”

Anakin’s thirteenth birthday had passed recently during one of their missions. The ever dutiful sister, Buffy had promised - via a comlink - to take the boy out as soon as they returned to Coruscant to celebrate, just the two of them. Unfortunately, in the week since their return, neither Anakin nor Buffy’s schedules had allowed her a chance to make good on her promise before tonight.

This was actually the first time all four of them were going to be on Coruscant at the same time in six months. It was just the way things had worked out lately. For the past year, Qui-Gon and Anakin had been sent on more than fifteen missions for the Council, and the number of missions Buffy and Obi-Wan had gone on closely matched that.

There was also the number of personal missions that Qui-Gon’s former Padawan and Buffy went on in search for clues to return her home. Those themselves had kept the Jedi and Slayer away a great deal of the time, at the beginning at least. Those sort of trips were becoming less and less frequent, and Qui-Gon looked for them to stop all together soon. Not because the answers were not out there, hiding with the Gythons - who had moved to a safer ground somewhere in the Outer Rim - but because Buffy had decided somewhere along the way that she was home. She had family here. She had friends. She might miss the other universe, but nearly four and half years had passed. Time had moved on, and so was she.

The voice of his Padawan quickly drew Qui-Gon back into their conversation. “Unless you think you’ll need me, Master,” Anakin said, the dread of a ‘yes’ reply evident in his voice.

Lightly, Qui-Gon chuckled as the lift reached its destination. “I do not believe so. I am quite capable of handling the Council.” Stepping out of the lift, Qui-Gon added, “Besides, I believe spending time with your sister will do you both good.”

“As well as relieve Obi-Wan of her for the evening,” Anakin said with a smile.

“It will not be to much of a relief, since the Council has requested his presence tonight as well,” Qui-Gon said.

Anakin’s eyes glittered with curiosity. “They requested both of you to be there?”

Qui-Gon nodded.

“Why?” the boy asked, then snapped his mouth shut when he realized that he had questioned the Council wishes...yet again. It was a nasty habit that he had picked up from both Buffy and Qui-Gon himself; a habit that Obi-Wan often chided Anakin for having, while Buffy encouraged him from behind the Jedi’s back.

“We will find out soon enough,” Qui-Gon said gently before changing the subject. “Will you continue with Buffy’s flying lessons this evening?”

Teaching Buffy to pilot a ship was a difficult experience for anyone foolhardy enough to try. So far, that list included himself, Anakin, Obi-Wan, and about five other Jedi who swore to leave the Order if that girl set foot near any ship they would be flying in.

It wasn’t as if Buffy was stupid - far from it - but it seemed as if her talents were horned in such a way that she was exceptional with what she could do, but failed miserably when it came piloting. It was amazing really. Buffy could hit a target the size of a training droid from five hundred meters away, but she was unable to stir a twenty ton ship through simple air traffic without destroying something.

Anakin balked at the suggestion as they reached the door to the Chancellor’s private office. “I don’t think so, Master.”

Qui-Gon was given no chance to respond because the doors to the office slid open with a hiss.

The Chancellor’s office was red as blood. To some - most really - the massive use of the color was off-putting and abrasive, yet seemed to fit the withered old man by some means. The tan motif that Valorum kept had been more calming and welcoming, but, then, so had been Valorum himself. Even if he was corrupt - which Qui-Gon had doubts he actual was, or at least to the extent that Palpatine claimed - he was still more appealing than the man behind the desk was now.

The Chancellor smiled at his new guest and stood, but turned his attention quickly to one of the chairs in front of his desk. It wasn’t until then that Qui-Gon realized that someone else was in the room.

A tall, humanoid creature with scared features stood. He was dressed in simple brown robes, giving him the appearance of a monk, expect for the odd-looking black boots that laced up the front that he wore.

The stranger was off-putting, however, in that his Force signature was very clouded, muffled, and nearly completely hidden from the Jedi. Perhaps if Qui-Gon knew that it was normal for his species to feel that way in the Force, he wouldn’t be so apprehensive of him. However, he was completely unfamiliar with what type of creature the stranger was, and had no bases to judge with.

Qui-Gon glanced over to Anakin. The boy was assessing the stranger with the same critical eye as his Master, and was just as apprehensive of the conclusion he drew.

It seemed that even Chancellor Palpatine would be glad to be rid of the creature’s company, if what Qui-Gon was picking up off the man were his true feelings. It was hard to tell with the Chancellor sometimes.

“I guess this would be a good time for me to go, huh,” the stranger said, pulling on his robe. As he turned to leave, he paused long enough to glance back at the Chancellor. “Think about what I said. It could be worth something to you one day.”

“I’m sure it will,” Palpatine said with a patient smile. “Now, if you will please excuse us.”

“Corse,” the stranger said, waving his hand and turning to leave.

Qui-Gon tilted his head at the man’s action. He was acting as if he were leaving an old friend at a bar instead of saying goodbye to the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic.

The disrespectful action did not go unnoticed by Palpatine, who frowned deeply at the stranger’s back.

As he approached Qui-Gon and Anakin, the stranger gave them a toothy smile that had no warmth behind it. Unconsciously, Qui-Gon took a step forward, placing himself between the creature and Anakin. The action just made the stranger smile even more, though this time with amusement.

No, Qui-Gon did not like this person at all.

As the stranger approached the door, a bolt of lightening struck nearby, filling the room with light for a moment and blinding those inside the office. When Qui-Gon regained his sight, the stranger was gone.

It wouldn’t be until much later did the Jedi Master realize that he never heard the door open or close.

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Buffy squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out the annoying flashes of light and concentrate. Okay, she’d done this a million times, she could do it now. It was just a little lightening, nothing to be distracted by. She just had to breathe deep and find her center.

Find her center. She never understood what that was supposed to be exactly. Oh, she understood that she was supposed find her balance or whatever there, but why not just say ‘find the balance within yourself’ or something like that? Why find the center of herself? Which, she guessed, would probably be located somewhere around her stomach. Or was it between her stomach and chest?

“Buffy.”

Cracking her eyes opened, Buffy saw Ben sitting across from her. His sitting position mimicked hers, legs crossed with his hands placed on his knees, and his eyes were closed as he concentrated. The bruises she had left him during their fight had colored a bit, but the few hours of meditation they had undergone after leaving the Temple had helped heal them somewhat. To her annoyance, the frequent flashes of blinding light from the storm outside didn’t bother him in the least.

“Try and concentrate,” Ben said, never opening his eyes as he continued his meditation. “Focus inward. Not on the external.”

Pouting, Buffy shifted, trying to find a more comfortable spot and wake-up her sleeping legs. Easy for him to say. He’s been doing this since he was - what? A zigoat?

“Actually, Master Qui-Gon taught me how to meditated like this shortly after I became his Padawan.” And stop fidgeting, he sent to her silently before opening his eyes.

Buffy frowned. “Okay, one, we’ve been sitting like this for hours. My legs are asleep and if I don’t move them soon, I won’t be able to do the whole walking thing ever again. Two, I was concentrating. And c, no none verbal mind talking. We don’t have mouths just so we can wear pretty lipstick.” Shivering a bit, she pushed herself up onto her uncertain legs. “Besides, you know it wigs me out when you do that.”

It might not bother him, but it the whole idea of someone being able to read her thoughts like that really did wig her out. Okay, so that wasn’t exactly how it worked. After all, she couldn’t read his thoughts unless he projected them to her and supposedly it was the same with her. But still that nagging little voice in the back of her mind was constantly worried that that was just something they told her so she would swallow this whole ‘bond’ thing a lot easier. Not that she could have taken that news any worse than she had. But, hey, at least now she knows that Ben can take a punch. Or better than Qui-Gon could, anyway.

Once sure that her legs weren’t going to give out from under her, Buffy headed into the small kitchen and began to make some tea. That was one good thing about having these sessions in Ben’s or her apartments. For some reason, meditating always made her very thirsty, and, at least here, she could get her something to drink.

She felt Ben watch her walk into the kitchen, then heard him stand. After all this time, he knew better than think that they were actually going to continue their meditation session now that she was up.

“I am sorry, Buffy. I did not mean to make you feel uncomfortable,” he said, walking into the kitchen after her. As she put the water on to boil, he reached into the cabinet and pulled out two cups, a random one for himself and the violet one with the chipped handle that he kept at his place for her. He paused for a moment and raised an eyebrow. “I thought ‘c’ was a letter in your language, not a number.”

“Um...yeah,” she said, quickly pouring their tea. Before Ben could respond, she shoved his cup at him and picked up her own. “So, what do you think that the Council wants to speak with you and Qui-Gon about tonight?”

Ben smiled into his cup as he took a sip of the overly strong tea. Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as the first pot she made all those years ago, but he so couldn’t fault for her that. She told him she was a coffee girl and that wimpy tea wasn’t going to do it.

Did he listen? No. Did he choke on his first cup from her? Yes.

Taught him not to listen. Didn’t she?

“I’m not sure,” Ben said, watching as Buffy put her cup down and jumped up on his kitchen counter.

“Does Qui-Gon know?”

Ben leaned back against the counter opposite the one Buffy sat on and crossed one arm while continuing to hold his cup with the other. “If he does, he gave no indication to me about what the subject would be when I spoke to him.”

Buffy paused and frowned. There was something he wasn’t telling her. Even if that annoying bond thing wasn’t telling her he was keeping something from her, she would have been able to tell by the avoiding look on his face. Most people probably wouldn’t have been able to distinguish it from his normal, near impassive expression, but Buffy had known him long enough to be able to tell the difference. She could read him just as easily as she could read her little brother.

“Ben,” she said, sounding like her mother whenever she caught her in a lie.

Sighing because he knew it was pointless to lie to her anyway, he said, “I was only able to speak to him briefly because he and Anakin had been called to the Chancellor’s office.”

“Again?” Buffy exclaimed, jumping off the counter.

As she did so, Buffy accidently knocked her cup off the counter, sending it flying towards the ground. Ben acted quickly - his reaction time for such occurrences having been sharped quite a bit since meeting Buffy - and stopped the cup before it hit the ground, though not before it spilled some of its contents onto his floor.

Buffy didn’t notice his actions. “That’s - what? - the fifth time this year? No one else has had to report to the principal’s office that many times!”

She tried not to growl from frustration, but found that a lot harder than she thought it should be. Three years. Three years of her and Ben carefully poking around Palpy’s past, and they hadn’t so much as come up with a parking ticket.

On paper - or data pad as the case may be - the guy was perfect; no evil doings whatsoever. In person, he was perfectly polite and sympathetic to others needs and a great mediator and fair and just and the all around defender of Christmas and puppy dogs. He was, well, perfect. Which just fueled Buffy’s belief that he was evil even more.

No one was that good. Even Yoda had his faults - his most noticeable being the sadistic pleasure he got from the riddle-like way he spoke. Really, who was he kidding? He had been on Coruscant since - what? - the dawn of time. He could speak right if he wanted too. He also seemed to like to hit people with that walking stick of his to ‘teach them a lesson’, which wasn’t of the good. Buffy still had a lump on the back of her head from the time the little gnome observed her and Ben’s lightsaber training lesson and she didn’t execute a move correctly. Stupid Jedi troll.

“I know,” Ben said calmly, placing the tea cup back onto the counter. Satisfied that it would not fall again, he turned his attention back to the irritated blonde. “Perhaps that is the reason the Council wishes to speak with us. Surely they have noticed the Chancellor’s favoritism as well.”

Buffy arched an eyebrow and titled her head as if she had never seen anything odder than Ben Kenobi. “You’ve met the Council before, right?”

“On many occasions,” Ben replied lightly. “And between yourself and Qui-Gon, I have probably spent more time in the Council chambers than most of the Council members themselves.”

“Like it’s always mine or Qui-Gon’s fault you end up in front of the Watcher Wannabes?” She casually placed a finger over her lips as she acted as if she were in deep thought. “Cause I so remember having to explain to the Justice League upstairs about a certain detour during an important mission just to help some thieves on Datooine and how that was all a certain Jedi Knight’s - whose name rhymes with Banobi - fault. Face it, Ben. You’re just as good at getting into trouble as the rest of us. You just perfected the whole Innocent Guy look.”

Chuckling lightly, Ben poured out the rest of his tea along with Buffy’s now forgotten cup. “Perhaps so, but at least one of us needs some credibility with the Council if we wish to continue on with our investigations. Both of our investigations.” His expression turned serious. “Don’t doubt for a moment that they would put a stop to all our inquiries into the Chancellor’s personal business in a nano-second should they ever discovered them.”

“Even if they thought there might be something to it?” Buffy asked.

Gravely, Ben nodded his head. “Even then, I believe.”

Pressing her lips, Buffy let her head drop towards the floor and closed her eyes. No matter how much she might not like them as a whole, she really did wish she could tell the Council about her suspicions of Palpatine. The thing was, she believed that they might actually believe her, which was the problem.

It was one thing for her and Ben to do some independent poking of Palpy’s past; it was another thing for a full blown investigation by the Jedi Council. If they thought that they could keep that under wraps with so many people in the know, they were kidding themselves. For one thing, the other Jedi would be able to sense that there was something going on and would do all they could to prepare for whatever was about to go down.

Another thing, everyone knew that the Jedi Temple was gossip central; it came from all the teenagers and children who lived there. The adult Jedi might know better, but most of the kids didn’t understand about the badness of spreading gossip about missions and investigations. News - or at least rumors - of an investigation would reach Palpatine’s ears before the Council would even finish deciding what to do about the Chancellor. That would lead to all around badness for everyone.

If they could just find something - anything! - then maybe...

What? They could go to the Senate? Palpatine ran the Senate, in the literal sort of way. But if the Jedi Council didn’t have to go looking for proof and had it right off, then maybe they could do something and not get into trouble over it. Maybe.

Leaning back against the counter, Buffy groaned and covered her face with one hand. Thinking about Palpy always gave her a headache. Why couldn’t he just be a run-on-the-mill vampire Master? They were easy. Just add one wooden stake to the heart and *poof* no more problem.

Playing politics. Now that was hard.

God, how did Padmé put up with it?

Ben moved to stand next to her. “Try not to worry. I don’t sense any immediate danger from the Chancellor,” he said gently. “We could still be working ourselves up over nothing. We haven’t found any solid reason to distrust him, after all.”

“Except for his whole ‘I’m so good, I must be doing something evil’ act,” she said, rather annoyed that they were yet again having this conversation.

“How do you know it is an act?” he asked.

Buffy knew he was asking because Jedi were trained to look at a problem from every possible angle, but it still annoyed the hell out of her.

“Oh because of the ‘too good to be true’ factor,” she said dryly.

Sounding a bit to much like one of the Council members, Ben said, “Factors aren’t always fact, Buffy.” When she opened her mouth to respond, he added quickly, “But, we will continue our search. Do not misunderstand me. I have known you long enough to know to trust your instincts and, therefore, do not trust the Chancellor myself, but we cannot do anything about him without proof. Until then, we must continue on with our assignments and not interfere when the Chancellor continues to call for Master Qui-Gon and Anakin.”

Pouting slightly, Buffy crossed her arms. Stupid Jedi logic. “I know, but I don’t have to like it.”

Sighing, he placed his hand on her back and held it there, letting her know that he neither did he.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The storm was over now. The dark clouds still loomed overhead as the day fast approached night, but the driving rain had finally ceased to fall. Chilled winds blew through the airways and between the tall buildings, making the people on the walkways pull their cloaks and coats tighter around themselves. By tomorrow morning, Palpatine was sure that this part of the city would be covered with a thick fog. It always seemed to roll in after a heavy rain.

He stood at his office window, watching as some of the air traffic flash by at high speeds, while others moved at a much slower speed because of congestion. Though the glass was soundproof, he could imagine the sounds of the screeching ship engines as they flew by, hurrying to whatever destination they were heading for. City noise, one of the many things that he loved to hate about Coruscant, much like the flourishing life on his homeworld of Naboo.

Today had not exactly gone as he had expected it too, though it had not been a waste like so many that had come before it.

His meeting with Master Jinn and young Skywalker had provided him with no information, except for a progress report on Anakin’s abilities. Palpatine had known all about their latest mission to negotiate a settlement between two disputing mining companies squabbling over the same piece of land. The report from the Jedi Council had been mundane at best, and Master Jinn’s account was just as plain. Anakin’s recount was the most colorful, though the Jedi Master had not been pleased when Palpatine had asked for his view on the mission.

Though he was always interested in the seeing the progress Skywalker made from mission to mission, Palpatine knew that he would not be able to call the boy nor Master Jinn back in for a formal report for quite some time. Jinn had already been suspicious of him before Palpatine had ‘taken’ to these direct reports from the Jedi, and that suspicion has grown since. Time was needed to allow the Master and the Council to think that Palpatine wasn’t doing this to keep track of Skywalker training. Thankfully, time and biding it was something Palpatine was a master of, all true Sith were.

In the meantime, perhaps he would look into what that interesting creature he had met today told him, though, he would decide nothing until the test was completed. Then, maybe, he would think about it. After all, if it were true, just think of the advantage he could have over the Jedi.

A cruel smile spread across Palpatine’s lips. Yes, today had not gone as expect, but it most certainly had been an interesting one.

Chapter Twenty: Bad Luck Birthdays

Despite the unease he felt, Obi-Wan couldn’t help but let the smallest of smiles pass over his lips as he stood next to Qui-Gon in front of the Council. It seemed like a lifetime ago when he had last stood next to his former Master, waiting for the Jedi Masters to speak - whether it was a reprimand for some unbecoming behavior by either Obi-Wan or Qui-Gon or both or the latest mission to some far off planet. Oh, it was true, Obi-Wan still saw the Council fairly often - now mostly thanks to Buffy - and at times Qui-Gon and Anakin would be there as well, but this was the first time in over three years that it was just himself and his former Master.

Upon realizing this, it took most of Obi-Wan’s will power to not take three steps back to stand behind Qui-Gon like all Padawans were supposed to when meeting with the Council. It felt a little odd to stand next to Qui-Gon, but Obi-Wan forced himself to stay put. After all, Qui-Gon wasn’t his Master anymore, just a fellow Jedi.

“Are you alright, Knight Kenobi?” Plo Koon asked.

Many of the other Masters - include Qui-Gon - turned and looked at him. Obi-Wan cleared his throat and thoughts.

“Yes, Master,” he said.

Yoda eyes pierced the young Knight a fraction of a second longer than the other Masters had, blinked and then refocused his gaze to include both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. “Wonder, you do, why we have called you both.”

“Yes, Master,” Qui-Gon said.

Master Windu leaned back in his chair, his fingers locked together except for his index fingers and thumbs, which were pressed together in an L shape. “I am sure that both of you have heard of the recent disappearance of Master Pei.”

Obi-Wan glanced at Qui-Gon curiously, then said, “Yes. He was negotiating mining rights on Roon when he disappeared. That was a standard week ago, and there has been no sign of him since.”

“Correct and incorrect, you are,” Master Yoda said. “Received word from Master Pei, we have.”

Obi-Wan blinked. It was the only outward sign that showed his surprise. That they had received word from Master Pei was wonderful news, since they now knew that he was alive - or at least up until he sent the message. However, Obi-Wan couldn’t help but wonder what this had to do with Qui-Gon or himself? They had both know Master Pei - Obi-Wan was fairly sure that Qui-Gon had been friends with him during their time at Temple - but he was not close to either one of them now, or Buffy or Anakin. So why inform them first?

Chancing a glance at his former master, Obi-Wan could tell that he thought very much the same thing.

“We received this a few days ago,” Master Windu said as the lights dimmed slightly and a holographic image of Master Pei appeared about a meter in front of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon.

The blue image was shaky and fizzled in and out for several seconds before finally flickering into a somewhat stable form of the Jedi. A human man with black hair and small, slanted eyes stood before them, his Jedi robes - which were torn, wet, and dirty - pulled tightly around himself as a powerful wind blew against him. Obi-Wan wasn’t sure if it was rain or snow that was hitting Master Pei, but the Jedi was freezing, that was easy to see.

He was also shouting, but no sound besides static could be heard.

“We believe the auto transmission must have been damaged,” Master Ki-Adi-Mundi said.

Master Pei stopped for a moment and glanced over his shoulder. It was then Obi-Wan noticed the deep wound on his neck. It was still bleeding even as he sent the message. Quickly turning back, he continued to speak, but still, all that could be heard was static.

The image jerked and flickered violently, blinked out for a moment, then reappeared. When it returned, a few words could be heard, breaking up the line of static.

“...darkness....blood....deformed....”

Obi-Wan drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment. He didn’t like the sound of this.

“...want...I....Slayer - .”

Sith. He knew he wasn’t going to like it.

------------------------------------------------

When the sun set on Coruscant the city finally became alive. Clubs opened, as did the bars. The young went off in search of cheap entertainment to relieve the boredom of their everyday lives, while the middle-aged and elder went to bars or high-class social functions that never really started until the night was half over. The students and teenagers knew where to go for a good time on their measly budget. The Senators and businessmen knew where to go to blow the astronomical abundance of cash they had. When these people slept - or how they were able to still go to work in the morning perfectly refreshed - was a secret Buffy didn’t know, but they were able to, and that was all that seemed to matter.

Buffy and Anakin were weaving their way through a crowd that evening as they made their way from Dex’s - a little dive of a diner that she and Ben frequented - to the holo-theater or whatever they called it. Movies. They had movies here, a fact that still made Buffy smile. Sure, they were 3D images and it often looked more like watching a play than a film, but it was still something that made this place seem a little more like home.

Dex’s diner worked the same way. Really, what were the chances of finding a fifties diner in a completely different dimension? Okay, instead of burgers and fries, he serves things that Buffy can’t pronounce - and Ben had advised against her ordering on several occasions - but the place still reminded her of those old Happy Days episodes that her mother used to love to watch on Nick at Nite. The only thing missing was the Fonz.

Anakin walked next to Buffy, happily chatting about his and Qui-Gon’s latest mission that had ended with some ‘aggressive negotiations’ - a phrase Anakin had proudly coined in jest about Buffy’s ‘diplomatic’ skills in ending disputes. Well, that’s why the Council had Ben handle the political stuff, because she really didn’t have the patience to listen to a bunch of BS for too long. Aggressive negotiations usually worked better anyway, at least with some groups like the Trade Federation.

Buffy was only half listening to him and kept trying to wrap her mind around the fact that Anakin was now as tall as she was. And he was only thirteen! That so wasn’t fair. She was older. She should be taller. That’s how it works, right?

Stupid genetics. Why did she have to be so short?

Well, maybe he would stop growing around Ben’s height, so he wouldn’t be towering over her like Qui-Gon. Then again, Anakin probably could end up that tall. Kind of hard to tell when you didn’t have a father to compare too.

“And then I told Master Qui-Gon if he wanted to wear pink, that would be fine, but at least leave those spiked heel shoes in the room,” Anakin said.

Buffy nodded her head then paused. “What?”

“I knew you weren’t listening to me,” Anakin said with a grin.

“I so was,” Buffy said. “I heard you say...things.”

“What things?” Anakin asked.

“Um, something to do with Qui-Gon and...spiked high heels. Fine, I wasn’t listening. Sorry.”

Chuckling triumphantly to himself, Anakin slid into the somewhat smug stride he used whenever the universe twirled backwards and Buffy had to admit that she was wrong and he was right. It didn’t happen often and she usually wouldn’t admit anything, but it was his birthday. The brat better enjoy it because it so wouldn’t be happen again any time in the next say millennium or so.

Buffy paused mid-step, causing the man who was walking behind her to run into her. The force he hit her with knocked her forward and probably would have sent her sprawling to the ground if it wasn’t for her slayer reaction time. He glared at Buffy with a deep frown as he straightened himself up and continued on his way, leaving her just standing in the middle of the walkway.

Buffy hardly noticed and instead was scanning the crowd. She could have sworn she had just felt...

“Buffy? What’s wrong?”

Jerking her head around, Buffy saw Anakin was standing in front of her. Curious and concerned, he tilted his head and began to look around as she had.

“Did you see something?”

After one last quick glance around them, she placed a large smile on her face and chuckled. “I thought I saw someone I knew, but I guess I was wrong.” Before Anakin could ask any more questions, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a handful of credits and shoved it at him. “Hey, do me a favor. Save me a seat, would you. I forgot something back at Dex and I have go get it before, you know, Dex hawks it.”

Not giving Anakin any chance to protest, Buffy turned around and headed back towards the restaurant, though she had no intentions of going there. God, did she hope she hadn’t felt what she thought she felt. If she did, well, the best she could do then is hope that they were the only ones here.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Anakin frowned as he watched his sister’s retreating form vanish into the crowd. If she thought she was leaving him behind, she was crazier than Master Yoda after to much ardees. Something was wrong - big time wrong. He could feel it. And she needed help, no matter what she thought.

Well, he was the Jedi-in-training so he was more likely to be able to take care of it than her. Yeah, she might be some kind of warrior from her home world, but he was (going to be) a Jedi. He would know what to do.

With one swift nod of his head, Anakin set out after Buffy.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

No sooner had Pei said the word ‘slayer’ then he sharply turned and ignited his lightsaber. He blocked several shots that were fired at him from out of view. A moment later, something slammed into him from behind, knocking both of them out of view. Judging by the surprise on Pei’s face, he hadn’t expected or sensed the creature approaching or readying for attack. The hologram then died to nothing, and the lights in the Council’s chambers rose to a normal setting.

Obi-Wan’s frown deepened.

What had happened? Why hadn’t Master Pei defended himself from the attack? Who or what were those things?

And how did Master Pei know that word? Slayer.

Briefly closing his eyes, Obi-Wan reached out through the Force in search of Buffy. It only took a moment to find her and he could tell she was safe - and slightly annoyed - wherever she was on Courscant. He let out the breath he didn’t realize he had been holding. Her curiosity as to what he wanted echoed back to him, but he sent back a feeling of reassurance that everything was fine before turning his attention back to the meeting.

Obi-Wan was embarrassed to find that the Council had waited until he finished his communication before resuming their meeting.

“Know now, why we have called you,” Master Yoda said.

“Yes, Master,” Obi-Wan said. “But why did you not call Buffy as well? This obviously concerns her.”

Obi-Wan could feel Qui-Gon looking at him, but he ignored him and listened for the Council’s answer.

Mace tilted his head slightly and opened his mouth to speak, but never had the chance to answer because at that same moment, Qui-Gon jerked violently. Obi-Wan jumped in surprise, as did a few other Council members, when Qui-Gon bolted for the door.

“Master?” Obi-Wan said, watching his former Master leave before turning towards the Council.

Master Yoda appeared grave and troubled, as did Mace. “A disturbance, I feel,” Yoda said. “Danger, young Padawan Skywalker, is in.”

Quickly, Obi-Wan searched for Buffy to ask her what was going on, but he received no answer in return.

With a sharp breath of worry, he took off after Qui-Gon never hearing Mace calling for the other Jedi to go help look for Buffy and Anakin.

--------------------

Buffy walked along the sidewalk, her senses stretched out in search of the tiny tingle she had felt only minutes before. Though she tried to convince herself she had only imagined it, she knew she hadn’t. If there was one thing that the PTB made sure of was that the Vampire Slayer could sense a vampire.

Unlike demons or even the ‘darksiders’ here, they sent a tingly feeling down Buffy’s spine that was all their own. So distinct, in fact, that it was possible to tell one vampire from another if they’re around long enough. The Master, Drusilla, Spike, she could pick them out in a crowd as easily as she could Ben. Even Angel and Angelus had individual vamp tingles to them. This vamp, whoever it was, wasn’t going to live long enough for her to learn his unique tingles.

Which, sounded so wrong, even to her.

Buffy wasn’t given much time to think about the wrongness of that statement when her bat-dar pinged once more. It was stronger than it had been before, which meant that the vamp was probably nearby. She took in her surroundings and saw a small, dark stairway that lead down to the one of the lower levels of Coruscant. It led to one of those places that, if she were back in Sunnydale, she would be sure to find at least three or four vamps a night feeding on some stupid kid who had thought that it would be cool or impressive to go explore the dark, dangerous looking place. Tonight, Buffy would settle for just the one and hopefully put an end to a vampidemic before it could start.

That put another question, the one that she was doing her best to ignore, to the forefront of her mind. Where did batboy come from in the first place?

She had been in this stupid dimension for - what? - four years now? In that time, in all the planets that she and Ben had visited and the places she had gone, she had never had so much as a blip on her vamp radar. Oh, it was true, her slayer senses were on high alert all the time because off the aliens and darksiders and - must be evil - chancellors that she’s come across, but never once had her vampire warning system gone off. In fact, she hadn’t sensed a single vampire since...Angelus.

Pressing her lips, Buffy shook her head free from the thought. Now was not the time to for thinking about exboyfriends. Now was time for slaying the blood-sucking fiend of the night relative of the exboyfriend. Well, she assumed he was a relative because weren’t all vampires somehow related to each other? If she ever made it home, she would have to remember to ask Giles about it.

It was warmer but danker on the lower level. This level was a polar opposite to the one she had just come down from. Up there, the city teemed with life and light was everywhere no matter the time of the day. Here, she only saw a few people and darkness seemed to ooze about the place.

It made Buffy think about a movie she had watched one time with her film-obsessed cousin right before she moved to Sunnydale. She couldn’t remember the name of it - only that it was way wiggy and eww worthy - but she did remember what her cousin said the first scene of the movie was trying to say. It showed the beautiful, picturesque little town, with this somewhat cheerful music playing in the background. Then, the camera moved beneath the surface as an old man passed out and showed all these worms crawling everywhere. Her cousin - without any prompt from Buffy at the time - had explained that the director was trying to say, ‘beneath the beauty of the surface, there is ugliness and decay.’

This part of Coruscant seemed to be a living embodiment of that saying.

No one really looked up as she walked along the dark pathway, which somehow seemed odd. It was clear that they didn’t see many petit blonde women in this area - or at least not one that was dressed in what they might consider fashionable clothes - but they kept walking by her without a word. Of course, that could have to do with the fact that she had on her best ‘fear me’ face and had a blaster and lightsaber hanging at her side. Whatever the reason, Buffy didn’t care, just so long as they kept to their own business and stayed out of hers.

Her vampire radar was getting stronger, so she knew it had definitely come this way. Made sense. People down here weren’t exactly the elite of Coruscant society. People wouldn’t notice if they went missing or mysteriously turned up dead from neck trauma. A vamp could eat a like a king down here for the rest of its unnatural life and no one would ever be the wiser.

Buffy felt a pull on the bond. Ben was checking on her, which annoyed her more than a little, but also made her curious about what he wanted. He wasn’t the type to randomly check on her - well, at least not since that incident involving the pirates - so he had to want something. If she hadn’t been so busy trying to find vampboy, she might have noticed the hint of worry coming from him. Instead, all she felt come from him after she asked what he wanted was a sense of ‘everything is fine’, then nothing.

Well, that was weird, even for Ben. Usually, she can’t get him to leave her alone when he calls her through their bond. True, that was generally because he’s convinced that she had done or is doing something wrong, but -

Buffy sensed the vampire was nearly right on top of her. At the same time, she heard a heavy footstep nearly directly behind her. Not giving the vampire a chance to attack, she swirled on the balls of her feet, grabbing and igniting her lightsaber as she did so. The green blade cut through the dark air in a graceful swoop, heading straight for the neck of her assailant.

The tip stopped a quarter of an inch from a wide-eyed Anakin’s throat.

“Anakin!” With a frustrated - and somewhat terrified - cry, Buffy pulled the blade away and deactivated it. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? You know better than to try and be stealthy around me! I could have killed you!”

Anakin blinked. “I -.”

A sharp pain cut through Buffy as something pierced through exposed skin on her neck. She had enough time to pull the small dart out of her skin, look at it, and blink. ‘Crap,’ was the last clear thought she had before the dirty ground came rushing at her.

------------------

Anakin sucked in a sharp breath as he watched Buffy crumple to the ground.

“Buffy!” he yelled, his voice echoing in the virtually empty darkness. “Buffy. Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” He couldn’t keep the slight tremble from his voice. “Buffy! Wake up!”

Her head rolled carelessly on the ground, her glassy eyes reflecting the flickering artificial light that was over them. Crouching next to her, Anakin took her face into his hands, holding it steady to try and force her to look at him, but her eyes remained unfocused and dull. Not dull with death, but with semi-consciousness created from a fast working drug. Fast acting, highly effective drug that kept it’s victim in state between lucid and consciousness for hours on end.

The kind of drug bounty hunters use when they want to catch their prey alive.

It was also the same kind drug that slavers used when they caught escaped slaves and potential slaves.

With Buffy, either scenario was likely.

Clenching his teeth, Anakin reached for his lightsaber and scanned the area, looking for whoever might have done this to his sister. He didn’t sense anyone nearby, but that dart hadn’t materialized out of no where. So where was the no good son of a Calaci who did this?

“Well, that was a disappointment.”

Anakin jumped in surprise from the voice, and twisted on the balls of his feet to look behind him.
Standing no more than two meters away from him were three people, two men and a woman. One of the men, the one that stood in the middle of the group, was taller than the other two and was frowning, leading Anakin to believe he had been the one to speak. The electric blue-haired woman looked bored, while the man on the far side was smiling like a predator that just spotted slow-moving prey.

Judging by their pale complexions and breathable and flexible clothing, they were bounty hunters. It was odd that there were three of them because bounty hunters usually liked to work alone. Then again, everything about this group was weird.

Anakin swallowed hard, not from fear of having to fend off three bounty hunters by himself - he could do that with his eyes closed - but because, try as he might, he could not sense them. He could see them, hear them, and even smell at least one of them, but, according to the Force, there was nothing there. Just...blackness.

“Well, I’m not complaining,” the smiling man said. “From what you told us, she’d a been a real hell fire if we tried to take her regular style. Go for the easy way, I say.”

“You would say that,” the woman shot back, a deep frown on her face.

“Course I would,” he said with a shrug. “Less likely to damage the merchandise this way.”

“But I would have liked to damage the merchandise this time,” she said. Scrunching her nose, she spat, “I mean, really. She’s with the Jedi. Deserve a little roughing up for that alone.”

Anakin blinked. They thought Buffy was a Jedi?

“That’s enough, children,” the tall man in the middle said. Tucking a small dart gun back into its holster, the tall man said, “Well, are you two just going to stand here all day or are you going to go get her?”

“Right, boss,” the other man said, moving with the woman towards Buffy.

Leaping to his feet, Anakin activated his lightsaber and placed himself between Buffy and the bounty hunters. Sneering, he said, “Stay back.”

It was only then that they even seemed to notice Anakin was even there. The woman chuckled, crossed her arms, and took a few steps closer, clearly unafraid of Anakin.

“Well, well, well. Looks like we got ourselves a baby Jedi to deal with,” she said with mocking cruelty. “Oh, no, Wilk. What will we do?”

“Don’t know, Ji,” Wilk said, moving just a slowly and deliberately as the woman Ji. They were spreading themselves so that they would be placed on either side of him, but Anakin didn’t move, just watched them both. “I guess this means we’ll have to give up. He has a lightsaber after all.”

“True, but we’ve got this.”

Her face shifted. The bones literally shifted in her face! Her forehead became ridged, her nose seemed to pull back on it’s own, and her clear eyes turned a burning yellow color. When she smiled, Anakin could see her teeth had extended, making it look more like the mouth of a nexu than a human. And then she growled at him.

Out of shock, he gasped and took a step back, accidentally hitting Buffy’s arm with his heel. He’d never seen anything, human or alien, that had been able to do what this woman just did.

Another growl rumbled in the dark. Turning quickly, Anakin found that Wilk’s face had changed to the same deformed features.

Gripping his lightsaber so tightly that Anakin thought it might break under the pressure, he set his face and pulled the weapon up high, reading for the attack he knew was coming. “Was that supposed to scare me?” he asked, careful to keep his voice calm.

Ji laughed again. “No. But Tully might.”

What happened next went by so fast that later, it would be difficult for Anakin to remember which came first.

He felt Buffy grab his leg and say his name, a warning evident in her tone. Then, as he turned his head to see what she was trying to warn him of, a large, meaty, and hard fist hit him in the head with enough force to knock him literally off his feet. Dazed by the blow, Anakin felt himself fall, but then the hand that had hit him, grabbed his arm and pulled him back to his attacker. Anakin felt his back knock against a large, protruding stomach before the grip on his arm squeezed and shoved its palm forward against his flesh, causing his bone to snap. Yelping in pain, Anakin had no time to readjust his hold on his lightsaber before the attacker’s other hand grabbed his arm and twisted it painfully. The arm didn’t break from the movement, but, being his weaker side, the lightsaber fell to the ground.

The safety on the weapon kicked in when it left Anakin’s hand, automatically deactivating the blade. He was grateful for that because his blade would have probably cut Buffy in half if it hadn’t.

Ji and Wilk laughed, but the tall man was less than pleased.

“Careful, Tully,” he said, stepping forward. “We don’t want to hurt the girl, remember.”

“Sorry, boss,” a deep voice said. Anakin felt the voice vibrate through the stomach he was held against and figured that Tully must be the one holding him.

“Let me go!” Anakin yelled, struggling against the strong grip that held him and ignoring the pain shooting up his arm. If he could use his hands, he knock them all to the ground using the Force, but they seemed to know that and kept them firmly locked at his side.

The group laughed at him again.

“Well, aren’t we the feisty one,” Ji said, before turning to the tall man. “The guy only wants the girl, so can we have him?”

“I’m getting kind of hungry myself,” Wilk said in a way of agreement. “It’s going to be a long trip back, too, so we better eat now.”

What? What were they planning on eating? And what did it have to do with him?

The tall man shrugged and began to walk past them to Buffy. “Don’t see why not. But leave a little for me. Jedi blood has a nice kick to it.”

Anakin didn’t have to contemplate what he was saying because the next he knew, Ji had pushed his head to the side and bit deeply into his neck.

------------------------------------------------------

Therakav sighed as he passed his feeding crew. He really was disappointed. His employer had promised him a real fight this time, a challenge finally worthy of him and the new powers he had. To take down a girl who, for all purposes, was a Jedi and bring her back to him. No, not a Jedi. She was supposed to be better.

Of course, she was also supposed to put up a fight, but looks like he was wrong there too.

When he met up with his employer, he would have to remember to laugh in his face over his warnings.

After she seemingly passed out from the drug, Therakav knelt down to pick up her small body. As he did so, he could hear Ji bite into the boy’s neck and begin to feed. “Don’t slobber too much onto him, alright,” he said, lifting the girl. “You know I hate it when - .”

Therakav felt something hard slam into his face, rather than saw the fist launched at him. Dazed, he stumbled back, releasing his hold on the young woman. She fell to the ground in a crouch, her head tilted downward but her eyes looking up at him through the loose strands of hair covering her face. Dread filled Therakav as he realized that he was no longer the predator in this scenario.
The thought had barely registered when she struck at him. There was a snapping hiss of a lightsaber, a flash of green, then the taste of ash filled his mouth.

--------------------------------

Anakin sucked in a sharp breath as he felt his blood being pulled forcefully through the two small punctures in his neck. Muffled questions rattled in his brain, searching for some sort of rational explanation of what was happening to him, but he couldn’t find any. The only thought that kept coming back to him were the horror stories about blood eating demons of Buffy’s slayer stories. Vampires. That was what she had called them. Where these things and those things one and the same?

Somewhere in the shuffle, he reached out for Master Qui-Gon, only to discover that he was already on his way. As usual, he knew when Anakin was in trouble before Anakin had known. His Master was close, but Anakin knew that there was no way that he could reach them in time.

Then he heard it. The cracking pop of someone being hit in the face. Less than a second later, the hiss of a lightsaber being activated before it sliced through something. Then another sound, one that Anakin wasn’t familiar with. It sounded a bit like something being vaporized.

Weak and dizzy from blood loss, Anakin limply fell against the woman Ji as Tully let go of him to see what was happening. Ji had released her hold on his neck and also turned towards the sound. She was holding Anakin up with a tight grip on his shoulders, so he didn’t have a choice but to look in that direction as well.

Buffy stood less than a meter away, her lightsaber activated and pointed towards the ground. Her head was tilted towards the ground, seemingly not watching the amazing and horrifying sight of a decapitated body dissolving to ash. In less than a second, any evidence of the bounty hunter was gone.

For what seemed like forever the only movement in the corridor was the humming lightsaber that seemed to vibrate lightly. Then, with a slow twisting of her head, Buffy turned her deadly gaze to the group.

“Let him go,” she said slowly.

“Kill her!” Ji screamed, twisting Anakin around so he would work as a shield for her.

The other two attacked Buffy at that instant. Tully, being closer, reached her first. For such a large man, he moved quickly and precisely, dodging Buffy’s blade with a grace that no one his size should be able to obtain.

He ducked under her blade as she swung for his neck. Before she could draw the blade back, his took a swing at her, only to have his fist caught by Buffy. Her much smaller hand squeezed down on his large, meaty one and pushed backwards. From where Anakin stood, he could hear several - if not all - the bones break in Tully’s hand.

As Tully gasped in pain from his injuries, Wilk attacked from behind Buffy. However, unlike Tully who decided brute strength would take care of Buffy, Wilk was armed with Anakin’s lightsaber. Anakin tried to call a warning to her, but found that he was to weak to do so. Luckily, it didn’t seem that Buffy needed to hear his warning anyway. As Wilk ungracefully swung Anakin’s lightsaber blade at her, Buffy released Tully’s hand and leapt high into the air, missing the blade by a centimeter. Somersaulting over Wilk’s head, Buffy landed behind the creature. Before he could react, she sliced through his neck. Like the leader, Wilk screamed as he dissolved into ash.

Not bothering to wait until Wilk was completely gone, Buffy stepped through his dissolving form and seized Anakin’s lightsaber. Now with a lightsaber in each hand, Buffy walked towards Tully, who had seemed to recover from the pain that her last wound had given him. He charged at her, but Buffy calmly met him. Twisting to the side, she elbowed him in the face hard. Then, before he could move, she crisscrossed the blades and decapitated him as well. Buffy then turned to face them.

Anakin had never seen his sister like this before. Even during the worst battles, she was always quick with a comeback, but today she didn’t say a word. Even if Anakin didn’t have the Force, that action alone told him one thing about her now. Buffy was beyond pissed.

Then, Buffy did something yet another thing that surprised Anakin, she laughed. “You know, you guys are so far beyond pathetic that there isn’t even a word to describe it. I mean, what did you think was going to happen? I was just going to stand there like a good little slayer and say ‘okay, nice Mr. Vampire, I’ll lay here quietly while you eat my little brother’? Um, that’s a whole lot of hell no. First thing, you are going is move away from the brother. Then, I’m going to kick your skanky, lopsided alien ass from one side of this sorry universe to the other. And then, maybe I’ll kill you nice quick like your friends. But I don’t think that’s going to be likely somehow.”

A small but powerful hand wrapped around Anakin’s neck, squeezing lightly. The slight pressure added to the dizziness that he already felt, but he was still to weak to fight back.

“I’ll pop his neck if you don’t back off,” Ji said. “You know I will.”

“Let him go,” she said, clinching her fists.

Ji laughed. “I don’t think so.”

“But I do.”

Anakin felt Ji’s grip being pulled away from him, as if someone had snatched her from behind. Once free of her support, Anakin felt his legs give out from under him causing him to fall with a thump.

Anakin closed his eyes and smiled softly to himself as he slipped into unconsciousness. That lousy vampire not only had his sister to deal with now, but also his Master.

---------------------------

Obi-Wan followed Qui-Gon through the streets of Coruscant. They had immediately headed towards Dex. Considering that was the exact direction Master Qui-Gon had headed when they left the Temple, and that was the same direction Obi-Wan had felt Buffy was in, it seemed like a good place to start. They were halfway there when Qui-Gon suddenly stopped and grabbed his neck as if he had been bitten.

“Master?” Obi-Wan asked.

Qui-Gon drew in a sharp breath and shook his head. “We must hurry.”

They rushed onward and Obi-Wan soon found himself following his old Master down into one of the lower levels of Coruscant. Buffy was nearby, Obi-Wan could sense her. And she was very angry and annoyed, far more so than he had felt be in quite some time. Anakin was there as well, weak and bordering on consciousness.

There were other people there, faint, like an echo. It was an echo. An echo he wasn’t feeling through the Force, but through the bond he shared with Buffy. From what he was sensing through the Force, there was nothing there but Buffy, Anakin, and darkness. But from he was sensing through Buffy, they were her, Anakin, and three other people.

Two other people...

One other person.

Obi-Wan wondered if Qui-Gon knew that there was another person present as well. Or what happened to the other two for that matter.

They turned a corner and found Buffy with both Anakin’s lightsaber and her own activated in her hands. Anakin was being held by a blue-haired woman who didn’t look much larger than Buffy herself, but there was something different about her. Though it was dark, Obi-Wan could see how disfigured her face was, like the creature that had attacked Master Pei in the holovid.

“Let him go,” Buffy demanded in that tone that was usually reserved for Council whenever they did something to annoy her.

The creature laughed. “I don’t think so.”

“But I do,” Master Qui-Gon said, raising his artificial hand and using the Force to jerk the woman away from Anakin.

The boy sank helplessly to the ground, as the woman slid away from him across the ground. Buffy launched herself after the creature, the two blades raised and ready to strike in unison. Qui-Gon let go of the woman before she hit a nearby wall. No sooner had she landed then Buffy attacked, decapitating the blue-haired woman.

Obi-Wan sucked in a breath as the creature screamed and dissolved to a pile of ash. It was an act that he had heard Buffy speak of only creature every doing.

By the Force.

“A vampire.”

Obi-Wan frowned. Did he just say that out loud?

Qui-Gon didn’t pay any attention and neither did Buffy. Once the creature was dispatched of, they both headed for Anakin. Qui-Gon, being slightly closer, reached the boy first. Lifting up him up slightly, Obi-Wan saw a large amount of blood straining the front of Anakin’s tunic. There were also two puncture holes identical to the wounds Master Pei had.

“We need to get him to a hospital,” Buffy said, the lightsabers now deactivated in her hands. “He’s lost a lot of blood. And I think they might have broken his arm.”

Qui-Gon nodded and headed back the way they had come from. Buffy took off after him, but Obi-Wan found himself starting at the ash on the floor.

Vampires. Where did these vampires come from?

And why did they go right after Buffy? She was the slayer, after all. Shouldn’t they know better than try and go after her?

“Ben!”

Obi-Wan turned around and found Buffy staring at him. She was growing impatient with him, but she was refusing to leave without him.

“Obi-Wan. Come on. Please.”

Obi-Wan blinked. She was worried to leave him there alone. She was scared those things would come after him as well.

With one last look at the ash, he followed Buffy back towards the surface.

--------------------------------

George frowned as he watched the Jedi trail after the slayer back towards the surface.

Those stupid vampires. He should have known better than to hire them to go after the slayer but he had hoped that, between the four of them, that they might form one functioning brain. Unfortunately, he was wrong.

Well, that just proved what his mother always told him. Never send a vampire to do a real demon’s job, unless you want to screw it up.

This little exercise did teach him something though. Something very important that would help him bring the slayer in.

With that thought, George smiled and disappeared into the shadows.

Chapter Twenty-One: Lies Told

They were in their training room located off the first floor. Even without the Force, he knew that was where she would go; and, if she was there, Ben would be also. Qui-Gon couldn’t fault the boy for following her. After what happened that night, that would be what the Council would want. However, that didn’t mean that it didn’t annoy him more than a bit since they both snuck off and left him to deal with explaining to the Healers and Council members what happened.

Qui-Gon’s frowned deepened as he walked through the Temple halls. As Buffy was fond of saying, they so owed him for that one.

Two younglings walked out of the dinning area and turned toward the dormitories. Both boys froze upon seeing Qui-Gon approach. They were frightened, but whether it was from his scolding expression or the large amount of Anakin’s blood that was drying down the front of his tunic, he didn’t know. Before he came too close for their comfort, the boys turned and headed in the opposite direction. They didn’t run from him, but moved at pace brisk enough to be considered a form of fleeing.

Qui-Gon wondered how many new rumors he just started by walking through the Temple now. And how many more would soon be believed by the younglings once they saw Anakin at their lessons. Qui-Gon could hear the stories now, each more elaborate than the last. The Force knew there were enough still running around from his time teaching Obi-Wan, but Qui-Gon got the distinct feeling that this incident would be spoken of longer than most of those stories had been. If for no other reason than those two boys who had just ran away from the blood covered Jedi Master. They were ‘eye-witnesses’, so-to-speak, and would surely not let anyone forget.

Normally, Qui-Gon would have changed before venturing onto the Temple floors where he was likely to run into someone, but he had felt it more important to find Buffy and inform her of Anakin’s condition. He was awake and the Healers felt that, after a bit of bed rest, he would be fine by the next day. It would take some time for his arm to heal - that creature had nearly shattered his bone - but the blood loss had caused no serious damage, as they had first feared.

After briefly speaking with Qui-Gon, Anakin wished to speak to his sister. She did have a lot to answer for.

When Qui-Gon realized that both Obi-Wan and Buffy had turned off their communicators - probably from the fear that the Council would continuously harass them - he volunteered to go retrieve them. In the meantime, the Council members would ask Anakin about the events that had occurred on the evening in question. Buffy had fled before they had a chance to question her and Qui-Gon’s knowledge was limited to only what had happened at the end of the fight.

It hadn’t taken Qui-Gon long to realize where they must have gone. Buffy’s apartment was located too far away from the Temple for her to go there; she would stay close by until she heard word that Anakin was awake and alright. No one was answering at Obi-Wan’s place; Qui-Gon knew his former Padawan well enough to know that he couldn’t stand to let the room communicator continuously ring. That just left the Room of a Thousand Fountains or their training room. Since Buffy would surely be too wound up for Obi-Wan to talk her into meditating, the obvious choice could only be the training room.

They had unofficially claimed the room as their own, and most of the Jedi and Padawan’s knew better than to try and challenge them. It wasn’t Obi-Wan so much as Buffy who had formed an unnatural attachment to the room. It had been the room that Mace had tested her in and, ever since, she preferred to train there. Qui-Gon could never quite figure out why, but there were many things that the Slayer did and said that he could never understand and, honestly, didn’t want to. After all, to understand her mind would be to understand insanity, and who in their right mind would want that?

Qui-Gon reached the training room, but paused just beyond the open doorway.

Obi-Wan was sitting at the edge of the mat, watching Buffy carefully. She was in the center of the mat, pieces of broken droids littering the ground as more droids attacked her from all sides. Some were simple training droids, firing randomly at her; others were the more advanced fighter droids that some Jedi used for training. The metal hurt like hell when someone hit it with their fist or feet, so most Jedi used them for saber practice instead of actual hand-to-hand combat. Buffy hand’s were bloodied as she fought those droids barehanded, only using her lightsaber to fight the training droids.

He sucked in a sharp breath and held it. The way she moved - her blocks, her attacks - they were dictated by her feelings. There was nothing clinical, nothing scripted about this fight, which, by all rights, the droids should have won long ago. She allowed her emotions to guide her, something no Jedi would ever do.

It was strange. Beautiful. Dark. And mostly frightening.

What was more frightening was the fact that Obi-Wan sat by and let her fight in such a way. His Padawan knew better and should not tolerate it in anyone, no matter how upset they might be. Which begged the question of why? Obi-Wan was devoted to the Jedi Order and would never allow such behavior, yet here he was. Why?

Buffy leapt into the air, narrowly missing two blaster bolts. She landed behind one of the fighter droids, who awkwardly tried to follow her movements. However, it only managed to throw itself off balance. She took advantage of its disoriented state and kicked it hard in the back, sending it crashing into one of the training droids that had fired at her. The two crashed to the ground, as Buffy attacked the other training droid with her lightsaber, slicing it clean in two. Before the fighting droid could get back to its feet, she used her still activated saber to cut through it’s neck, then kicked it’s head like a ball at another training droid. The impact destroyed the last droid in a shower of sparks and flying metal.

“Feel better?” Obi-Wan asked, rising to his feet. There was a slightly annoyed - if not worried - edge to his tone. It was so faint, that one could easily convince himself that he had not heard it.

Buffy jerked her head in one direction then the other, looking for more opponents. A frown was etched deeply onto her face. “Oh yeah, tons.”

Drawing back her foot, she kicked a broken training droid across the room. It smashed against the wall, breaking it beyond any hope of repair.

She had her back to Obi-Wan and therefore didn’t see him approaching her. She had to have felt him, though, because she didn’t so much as flinch when he spoke. “You have to let it go.”

She snorted. Loudly.

“I’m serious, Buffy,” Obi-Wan said calmly.

“What’s so sad is I know you are,” she said snidely. She kept her back to him for a moment longer before turning to face him. “Question is, how do you expect me to let it go? Huh? How am I supposed let it go and be okay with being a big, neon, blinking beacon of danger again? Tell me, oh great Jedi guru because I would so like to know.” With a shake of her head, she started to leave. “You know what, don’t bother. You don’t understand.”

Obi-Wan grabbed her arm as she passed and forced her to face him again. “I don’t understand? Why? Because I’m a Jedi? Because I’m ‘emotionally repressed’?”

“No, because you don’t have ‘Chosen One’ tattooed across your forehead,” she hissed, jerking her arm away from him. “You can’t understand because you can’t imagine how suck-tastic the Slayer gig makes your life. To have everyone you care about, everyone you love, in constant danger just because they know you. Because they care about you. What happened to Anakin, believe it or not, is par or a first down or whatever that sports term used for normal is. My friends - my - my family - when I’m around, they get hurt. They die. And it’s because of me. It’s because of what I am. So no. You can’t possibly understand.”

Buffy sighed, the brief speech releasing some of the anger she felt. Instead, she now just seemed tired. She dropped her head, as if she no longer had the energy to hold it up.

“What happened to Ani tonight, it’s just the beginning. And now that the vamps of this universe have got wind that there’s a slayer on the loose, it’s going to get worse. A lot worse. People I care about, people I love, are going to suffer.” Finally, she lifted her eyes and looked at him. “If you’re smart, Ben, you’ll run in the other direction and not look back.”

Obi-Wan took a step closer to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. “I can take care of myself, Buffy. You know that.” He smiled at her. “Besides, I can’t leave. Someone needs to be there to bail you and that foul mouth of yours out of trouble.”

A faint amount of amusement rebelliously rose within Buffy. Obi-Wan had baited her, but she didn’t mind. In fact, she seemed rather grateful for it. “Oh, please. Since when I have needed you to bail me out of trouble?”

He raised an eyebrow at her. “Do you want that in chronological order or start with the most recent events and work my way back?”

She tried not to, but a small smile appeared on her face. “You know I didn’t need your help with those Hutts.”

“Uh huh.”

“I didn’t! I had it taken care of.”

“Then how did you end up in that slave girl outfit?”

“That was part of my plan,” she said defiantly.

“You’re plan included you becoming a slave again?” Obi-Wan asked. “I must say, that’s not a very good plan.”

“Yeah, well, it would have worked if it wasn’t for a stupid Jedi and his stupid ‘rescue the Buffy’ plan. Although, seeing a Hutt trying to slither away and realizing that it’s too big to fit through the door definitely ranks up there with my top ten funny slaying stories.” The amusement drained out of her as quickly as it rose and she dropped her head once more to stare at the ground. “I didn’t need you to rescue me, Ben. I don’t need it now either.”

“I’m not trying to, Buffy,” Obi-Wan said. He then reached up and pushed some of her loose hair back over her shoulder. As he did so, she looked back up at him and he said, “I’m just reminding you that, no matter what you think, you’re never alone here.”

She smiled faintly and held Obi-Wan’s gaze for several seconds.

Oh no. He couldn’t believe it, but he did. He had seen it, the signs, but he had hoped...

Qui-Gon knew that he needed to step in at this point before things turned worse.

“Buffy,” Qui-Gon said, stepping forward.

The pair jumped slightly, obviously not having noticed him. Obi-Wan ducked his head, but Buffy stepped forward. Worry was flowing from her. “Is Ani - ?”

“He’s fine,” Qui-Gon quickly said. “And awake. He would like to see you.”

Not needing further provocation, Buffy headed for the exit. Obi-Wan went to follow her, but Qui-Gon stepped into his way, causing the Jedi to stop. His former Padawan furrowed his forehead, but Qui-Gon sent him a stern look that Obi-Wan was very familiar with from his younger days. It was times like these the Qui-Gon missed his bond with Obi-Wan because the boy would have known he wanted to talk to him and what about and why it concerned him. Now, however, he had to actually try and explain it all to Obi-Wan.

Buffy paused a few meters from the door once she realized that neither of them was following her. Or perhaps she was picking up on Obi-Wan’s confusion. With the bond, either was plausibly.

Carefully placing a gentle smile on his face, Qui-Gon turned to Buffy. “It’s alright, Buffy. I just wish to speak with Obi-Wan for a moment.”

“Everything alright?” she asked with an unbelieving tone.

“Everything is perfectly fine,” Qui-Gon assured her. “Go on. We’ll be along shortly.”

She stood there for a moment longer, her lips pressed. Shifting her gaze, Buffy caught Obi-Wan’s eyes. They only looked at each other for a moment, and Qui-Gon assumed she was asking him if he wanted her to go or not. Though, she clearly wanted to leave. Obi-Wan nodded so lightly that one could have easily missed the motion. Buffy drew in a deep breath, held it for a moment, and nodded in return.

As she turned to leave, Buffy looked at Qui-Gon for a moment. There was no bond between them - and his sense of her Force signature was fuzzy - but the expression on her face was clear. The only other person he knew of to ever have that protective expression on their face in concern to Obi-Wan was himself. Then, she turned and left.

Qui-Gon stood just beyond the doorway, watching it for several long moments after she left. He would give Buffy credit. She was very protective of those she cares about, even when she didn’t do it purposely.

“Master?”

Qui-Gon turned back Obi-Wan. His head was tilted in curiosity, something that he had picked up from Buffy, as he crossed his arms, hiding them within his robes sleeves.

Pressing his lips, Qui-Gon did his best not to sigh. Now that he had his former Padawan alone, he had no idea how to begin this conversation. Then again, how does one go about asking someone when did they fall in love?

------------------------------------

Anakin sat in his bed, trying to meditate. He drew in a deep breath and kept his eyes firmly shut as he breathed in and out evenly. Agreeing to this was the only way that the Healers and the Council would agree to leave him alone. That had been the main reason he had agreed to trying meditation. Plus, it really did kind of help when it came to healing.

The problem was the tranquil state needed to really begin the healing meditation was elusive to him. His mind was too busy, in too much disarray. Everything that had happened tonight. All those stories that Buffy had told him as a child were true. That meant everything else that she had told him wasn’t true. He had been lied to - by his own sister! - for years. Years!

And then there was Master Qui-Gon. He hadn’t seemed surprised by what happened tonight. Anakin knew that Qui-Gon knew about the old slayer bedtime stories Buffy had once told him, but it was more than that. His Master knew. He knew what Buffy really was, who she really was.

Obi-Wan did too. He had too. He had worked too long and too closely with Buffy for him not to know.

And the Council, they knew too. They were too calm about everything he told that happened. No one could be that calm if they didn’t already know. They knew.

They all knew. She had told everyone but him. Her own brother. Everyone in the Order knew but poor, dumb little Anakin Skywalker and his own sister was the one to tell them!

The pitcher of water and glass sitting next to his bed shattered causing Anakin to jump slightly. He hadn’t meant to do that, but he was just so upset - angry - that he was having problems controlling his power. If Master Qui-Gon were there, or the Council, serious reprimands would have been made against him. But Anakin was alone except for a few medical droids. Alone and fuming.

The door to the infirmary slid open and Anakin saw Buffy before he felt her. She headed right for him, ignoring the medical droids as they cautioned her to leave and let Anakin have some rest. She had clearly been worried about him, it was written all over her face.

Yeah, but if she was so worried why hadn’t she been there when I woke up? A nasty voice asked in the back of his mind. Anakin didn’t ignore it or the dark feelings that it rose up in him.

“Oh, thank God,” Buffy said, flopping onto his bed and wrapping her arms around him.

Anakin didn’t hug her back, but instead reached up and grabbed her arms as if he were about to push her away. Partly because he was mad at her, but also partly because he was having difficulty breathing. Buffy didn’t seem to notice his distress.

Pulling back from the hug, she said, “Are you okay? Because if you’re not, I’ll bring that vamp bitch back and slay her again.”

He pressed his lips. “I’m fine,” he said frostily.

Buffy blinked, clearly surprised by his tone. “What’s wrong?”

What’s wrong? How could she ask that?

It took a moment for Anakin to regain control of his anger enough to where he trusted himself to speak without yelling. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

The silence that stretched out was deafening. She was trying to come up with an answer to appease him, he could tell.

“Anakin,” she said slowly.

Hearing her say his name for some reason made him even angrier than he already was. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he yelled. “I had the right to know.”

“Anakin, calm down.”

“Calm down? I find out my sister is a Force-forsaken vampire slayer and you want me to calm down?”

“Anakin, calm - .”

“No! Not until you answer me!”

Standing, Buffy said, “Is that why you wanted to talk to me? To yell at me?”

“No, I wanted to talk to you because I want to know why you told everyone but me that you’re the Slayer,” he shot back. “I’m your brother, Buffy! How could tell the Council and not tell me?” The shocked expression on her face made Anakin laugh bitterly. “No matter what you think, I’m not stupid. That’s why they let you stay and train with Obi-Wan, isn’t it? Because they knew what you are.”

She drew in a deep breath and sighed it out. “Yeah. It’s why they let me stay.” Dropping her eyes to the floor, Buffy added, “And I don’t think you’re stupid, Ani.”

“Could have fooled me,” he said under his breath, though he was sure that Buffy had heard him.

Lifting her head, she tried again to get him to listen to her. “Ani, let me explain - .”

“You know what, I’m really tired.” Lying down, Anakin twisted himself so his back was to Buffy.

He could feel her eyes on him, but he didn’t care. Looking at her made him angry until he just couldn’t handle it anymore. He really was tired and didn’t have the strength to fight with her the way he wanted too. Anakin knew he shouldn’t walk away from a fight without settling things, but he didn’t care at this point.

Besides, that nasty voice said, after what she did, she should suffer for awhile.

He listened as Buffy stood there for a moment longer, and then heard her footsteps as she left.

-----------------------------------

Obi-Wan rode silently next to Master Qui-Gon in the turbolift, his mind reeling from the conversation they just had. If the conversation hadn’t been such a serious one, Obi-Wan would have probably laughed at what Qui-Gon had said.

Love. Qui-Gon thought that he, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight and devoted member of the Jedi Order, was in love with Buffy Summers. What a preposterous thought.

Oh, he freely admitted he cared about her. They had been friends and partners for far too long for him not to develop those sort of feelings for her. But to love her in the way that Qui-Gon thought he did. Never. That would go against every teaching he had ever received. Go against his code.

No, Master Qui-Gon was mistaken on this. He didn’t love Buffy. She was his friend and partner that was all. There was absolutely nothing going on between them and they had never done anything that the Council would disapprove of.

Well, there was that one time she had ambushed him and -

No, that was on her, not him. Besides, that had no relevance whatsoever. That had just been Buffy’s way to prove a point. The Council couldn’t fault him for that. They had, after all, met Buffy before and could very easily understand that he had been helpless in that situation. Besides, nothing really happened anyway. Just a little kiss is all.

They had just stepped out of the turbolift when Buffy rounded the corner, heading straight for the lift they had just stepped off. She was incredibly upset; if it was possible, even more so than earlier. Her face was impassive and hard, and she looked more angry than upset. No one but him could tell the difference and that was only because of the bond.

As she approached, Qui-Gon opened his mouth to ask her something, probably what had happened, but Buffy quickly snapped at him, “Don’t.”

She walked between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon and headed right for the turbolift doors. The lift hadn’t had time to leave since their arrival and opened immediately for her. When she stepped in, she turned back to face them, particularly Obi-Wan.

When Buffy locked her gaze with his, he could feel her question whether he was going to come with her or not.

Obi-Wan pressed his lips and thought quickly.

On the one hand, she really needed someone to be with her right now. An emotional upset vampire slayer on the loose without supervision was, in his experience, a very, very bad thing.

On the other hand, if he let her go that should prove to Qui-Gon that he didn’t love her. No one who loved someone else like Qui-Gon claimed Obi-Wan loved Buffy would let them go without offering comfort.

Taking a step backwards towards Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan gave Buffy his answer. In return, he felt her become even more upset and a strong sense of betrayal before nothing. Force, she had finally figured out how to block him out completely and it had to be now, didn’t it?

With more force than was necessary, she slapped the down button of the turbolift and disappeared behind the closing doors.

Obi-Wan felt a hand rest on his shoulder. Master Qui-Gon was now standing next to him, and patted his shoulder reassuringly before walking towards the infirmary. Well, he approved of the action.

But he wasn’t the one who was going to have to deal with the Slayer later on.

Sith.

Buffy had never realized how close she lived to the Temple before, and had never wished that she lived further away. Normally, she wished she lived closer. She liked being near her friends and family there, but now, after tonight. Well, Tatooine was far enough away.

Grabbing the comfy pajamas she had bought on Alderaan, Buffy headed for the shower. Well, tonight had been the night from hell and it was all her fault. If she had only agreed to go to that stupid meeting instead of threatening violence against the Council...

Mace had caught her as she had been leaving Ben’s earlier that afternoon. He had told her that they had just gotten some of the auditory transmission from some message unscrambled and that it might be important that she come to the meeting tonight with Master Qui-Gon and Ben. Buffy had politely told him that she had already had plans with Anakin and wasn’t going to change them for something Ben could just tell her about later. When he began to insist, Buffy had politely once more pointed out that she could make it possible that when he had to turn on his lightsaber, he would only need to press his bellybutton. Well, maybe that part hadn’t been as polite as all that, but she had still made her point. Only in a more colorful fashion.

Now she kicked herself for not going to that damn meeting. Sure, it would have been boring as hell, but at least Anakin wouldn’t be hurt. And wouldn’t hate her.

This was all her fault. Anakin should have never been anywhere near that lower level. And those vampires should have never gotten near him. And he should have never found out that she’s the Slayer like that.

It was all her fault.

Now he hated her because he knew. It was just like with her mother.

Buffy sucked in a sharp breath and steadied herself. Anakin hated her just like her mother hated her. Because she was a freak. A freak that got people she loved hurt. Got them killed.

She couldn’t blame people for leaving her when they found out what she was. Being the Slayer meant that anyone she cared about was bound to end up in pain somehow. Hell, she’d leave too, if she could, but she was stuck. She was stuck and alone.

No matter what Ben had said, she would always be alone. All slayers were.

Buffy had hoped that he hadn’t been lying to her earlier, when he told her that she’d never be alone while she was here. But he had lied. Obi-Wan Kenobi, someone she would have never thought capable, was a liar.

“Liar, liar,” Buffy said to herself, turning the shower off.

She quickly dried off and dressed. Though she wanted nothing more than for this day to end, she was starving and knew she would never get to sleep unless she ate something.

Buffy frowned as she began to towel dry her hair and headed towards her kitchen. What was it about slaying that always made her so hungry and - ?

She stopped as she stepped into her living room. Ben was standing near her table, some boxes of takeout food from the restaurant - if you could call it that - that was on the ground floor of her apartment building. He didn’t hide the guilt he felt from what had happened at the turbolift from her, but he didn’t comment on it either. It was more as if to say that he was sorry about it happening.

“I thought you might be hungry,” he said. “You always seem to be after a fight.”

Buffy was smart enough to recognize a peace offering when she saw one. It was true, she was still kind of mad at him, but she just didn’t have the energy to fight with someone else she cared about. Not after the fight she just had with Anakin.

“Yeah,” she said, dropping her towel on the back of one of the kitchen table chairs and picking up the small box she instantly recognized as the one that held her favorite dish from downstairs. “Thanks.”

He gave her small smile, picked up the other box, and then sat down next to her on the couch where they ate in silence.

---------------------------------------

Obi-Wan glanced over at Buffy as she stuffed the string of noddles in her mouth. She was still slightly mad at him, he could tell, and that oddly made him happy. Not that she was mad at him, but that he could tell she was. That meant that she wasn’t shutting him out anymore. That was a definite step in the right direction.

After they had left her, he and Qui-Gon had gone to the infirmary where the medical droids had quickly informed them about the fight between the siblings. Obi-Wan had felt like kicking himself after that. Oh, he knew that she and Anakin had had a fight, but he just hadn’t known that it had been as bad as what the droids had told them it had been.

And then what he had done to her...

It amazed him sometimes how little things could mean so much at times.

Leaving Master Qui-Gon to talk with Anakin, Obi-Wan headed for Buffy’s apartment. Not because he loved her, but because he was her friend and he knew from what he had felt before she shut him out that she needed one. His being here was about their friendship, nothing else.

Yes, nothing to do with love whatsoever.

Absolutely nothing.

He hoped.

Chapter Twenty-Two: Safe Journey

The Council room was silent, still, and dark that morning, as it often was when important information was being revealed to outsiders. Those present watched quietly as the tiny holographic image of the lost Jedi Master flickered and shifted, shouting desperately for them to hear. But only a few of his words had made it through, and even less were understood in meaning. One word, however, was clear.

“Slayer - ,” Master Pei said before being tackled from the side, thus ending the transmission.

The artificial lights and window shades rose, bathing the Jedi Council’s room in a ghostly white light thanks to the thick fog outside.

Buffy saw Qui-Gon glance in her direction, but when she made no move to return his gaze, he went back to looking straight ahead at Master Yoda and Windu. Anakin stood on the other side and a few feet behind the tall Jedi Master. His hands were locked behind his back and his face was as impassive as he could manage, though Buffy thought she saw the slightest hint of worry in his expression.

Before they had shown Buffy the holomessage, the Council had both she and Anakin give an official report of what had occurred the night before. Neither one of them had given their account with any sort of enthusiasm, just spoke plainly and to the point as they had learned to do when reporting to the Council. That had often been a difficult task for Ani, since he had always told all this stories with boyish zest, but not today. Then again, Buffy guessed it was a little different to do so when he realized that he was the juice box and the vampires were the thirsty first graders.

Vampires. How the hell did vampires end up here? And why were they all attacking now? What was the connection, besides the fact that apparently Jedi blood was a delicacy?

Buffy paused for a moment. If Jedi blood was a delicacy, then did that make Padawan blood? Veal?

Ben stood on the other side of her, his stance matching that of Master Qui-Gon’s, though he hadn’t bother to try and catch her eye. He already knew what she thinking - or, well, feeling anyway - about the situation.

Buffy noticed that he had been acting odd since last night at the turbolift, but she wasn’t quite sure why. Unlike Anakin, Ben knew who and what she was. He had seen her fight and had even sparred with her plenty of times. True, he had never seen her fight a vamp before, but that was no big. Then again, seeing someone turn to dust before your eyes is kind of wiggy. But Ben wasn’t the type to get wigged. Ever. So what was his problem?

Frowning, Buffy shook her head. Thinking about stuff like this in front of the Jedi Council was so not advisable.

Each of the Jedi Masters present - and one holographic image of Master Aalya, who was off on some assignment - stared at Buffy silently, as if waiting for her to suddenly give them some insight about the message that they had somehow missed. She didn’t know what that could be, though. It was pretty straightforward to her, as it should be to those present. Pei had been attacked by vampires, just like she and Anakin had been.

“Agree with the Council, you do,” Yoda said, putting a stop to that line of thought before it took off. “Believe Master Pei was attacked by your vampires, you believe.”

“They are not ‘my vamps’,” Buffy said, crossing her arms. “But, yeah. Looks like he found himself some. Where did you say he was when he sent this?”

“A planet called Roon,” Ki-Adi-Mundi said. “He disappeared there over a standard week ago. Surely you heard about it.”

Buffy shrugged. “‘Fraid the gossip mill kind of passed over the river of Buffy,” she said.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ben sigh and pinch the bridge of his nose. Buffy was picking up on his belief that he given her this information already. Just because he told her something didn’t mean she actually listened to him. Really, they had been partners for four years. He should know by now that she doesn’t hear half the things he says.

Shifting her weight, Buffy crossed her arms and asked, “So, what’s Broom like? Judging by Master Pei, I’d say really cold and wet.”

A curious glance was exchanged between the Masters. Well, that wasn’t good.

“What?” she asked.

“You’ve never heard of Roon?” Windu asked carefully.

“Um...no. Hence with the asking,” Buffy said. Glancing over at Ben, she saw him tilt his head, also clearly confused. Not by her not knowing about Roon, but because the Masters seemed so confident that she would.

Hey, just because there were vampires there didn’t mean she knew anything about them. Hello, the last vamp she saw before last night was over four years ago in Sunnydale. Unless all of California got sucked into a portal that she knew nothing about, it was a pretty safe bet it wasn’t any of them. She would have to remember to explain to them that Vampire Slayer doesn’t mean that she automatically knew where every vampire in the universe was at all times. She didn’t even know where she was half the time. How did they expect her to know where the Undead and Pathetic Society were?

“If I may ask, Masters,” Qui-Gon said, taking a step forward and drawing the room’s attention to him. “If Buffy is not familiar with Master Pei’s disappearance, why should she know that planet? It is not exactly a world that we Jedi frequent.”

Buffy held in a smile. Well, one thing no one could ever accuse Qui-Gon of was taking the long way around a question. With her belief in ‘direct is best’, that quality was one of the reasons she loved going to Council meetings with him. The fact that those same questions successfully pointed out the Jedi Council’s stupidity was just an added bonus she enjoyed.

Windu frowned, surprise, surprise, and - .

Uh-oh. He was locking his fingers together. That never led to any safe and happy Buffy moments.

Seemingly ignoring Qui-Gon’s question, Windu asked, “Ms. Summers, what do you know of the peop - er, vampires that attacked you and Padawan Skywalker yesterday evening?”

Buffy raised an eyebrow. Didn’t she answer this question like three times already? “Besides the fact that they were vampires and had even worse fashion sense than you guys? I got a whole lot of nothing.”

Wait. Vamps on Ron attack Master Pei. Bounty Hunting vamps attack her the same day the Council gets the message about vampires now calling Moon home. Damn. She might be blonde, but she wasn’t stupid.

Catching onto Buffy’s line of thinking, Ben said quietly to her, “It could be a coincidence.”

“Uh-huh and Yoda could be the King of the Leprechauns,” she replied just as softly, though she was sure that both Qui-Gon and Ben heard her.

By the looks on Windu and Mundi’s faces, they must have heard her too. If Yoda heard her, he didn’t comment, though Buffy did catch a spark of amusement in his eyes.

Cutting them all off from commenting - or scolding her - on what she said, Buffy quickly added, “Let me guess, the undead and loving it squad from last night are from Room, right?”

Closing his eyes, Yoda gave her a single nod. “Gather we have, information to indicate yes.”

“Great,” Buffy muttered and blew a loose piece of hair out of her face. “So, what are we going to do?”

A look passed between the Council members. It was a look that Buffy had long become familiar with over her years of ‘working with’ the Jedi. She had first seen it when they assigned her and Ben as partners, and it had reappeared several times over the years. Each mission that followed had ended with varying degrees of badness for themselves and others who had unfortunately gotten involved. That look could only mean one thing...

Crap.

This was why she hated working for any kind of Council.

-----------------------------------------------

George yawned as he walked along the dimly lit catwalk. His Doc Martins hit heavily against the metal floor, causing an echo to follow him and allow others to track his movement. Or they would have been able to track him, if it weren’t for the near deafening sound of machinery and cries of pain and suffering.

A particularly loud scream caused George to glance over the railing with mild interest. Several stories below, a group men in uniforms stood over a young woman dressed in dirty rags. She was on her knees and the equipment she had been carrying lay forgotten on the ground next to her. One of the men, a Gython, was screaming at her and began to beat her with leather whip. The snaps it made were faint and muffled by the machine noise, but George could clearly see the red stripes that were forming on her back, legs, and arms. The flimsy material she wore offered no protection against the strap and cut open as easily as her skin.

After several moments of this, the Gython seemingly grew tired of ‘punishing’ the woman. As he gathered the strap and placed it back onto his belt, she glanced up at the guard with a thankful, relieved expression on her face. However, that fell to terror when he motioned to the other men gathered around, allowing them to have her. Though George couldn’t see their faces, he knew they were vampires and they would kill the woman. She screamed as they descended onto her, each grabbing whatever part of her they could. The Gython guard walked away from the bloodlust orgy, yelling at another slave nearby. The slave, a human male, quickly went to where the equipment the woman dropped was and gathered it up. Neither he nor any of the other slaves even glanced to where she was meeting her very violent end; they just continued their work.

George shrugged and then continued his way to the end of the catwalk where the office was. Gython guards silently stood on either side of the entrance doorway. Neither bother to hide their disgust at seeing George, but he smiled brightly at them and waved to the one on the right.

“Gentlemen,” he said.

They growled in response.

The inside of the office didn’t look any better than the rest of the mining facility. Except for a large window behind the desk that overlooked mining area, dirty, black metal made up the walls and ceiling. The desk was large and curved into a half circle around the chair behind it, while two much smaller chairs were placed in front, making those who sat in them feel less significant. There were no shelves or anything that could remotely be considered personal affects, like the occupant expected at any moment to pick up and move again. Which, with the business that the Gythons dealt in, could very well make that possible.

Several men were already gathered in the relatively small space. Two Gython guards stood on the inside of the doorway, near mirror images of the ones that were stationed outside. Two more guards stood on the other side of the desk, a Gython who stood directly next to the man in the chair, and a vampire who was skulking back in the shadowy corner. Unlike the other guards, the vampire openly showed he was displeased to be there, not because of George’s company, but because of the Gythons. Just beneath his Nazi type jacket collar, George saw a metal band wrapped around the vamps neck.

The Gython behind the desk smiled in what George assumed was supposed to be a friendly manner. Wtar was a businessman, pure and simple. His sole concern was to make money and how to continue to make money. The slaves he kept and used weren’t there because, like most demons, he drew pleasure out of other’s suffering. They were there because they were cost efficient to him. There were no galactic guidelines on how to treat slaves - except not to keep slaves - so he could treat them and do with them however he liked. Well, as long as he wasn’t caught, that is.

He and George were a lot alike in that aspect.

Then, last week when George was securing an agreement with a bounty hunter that Wtar employed, a nosy Jedi nearly ruined everything. However, instead of turning into disaster, the Jedi’s interference had provided an interesting and untapped business venture that could give both George and Wtar riches and power beyond anything they ever dreamed. Or, at least, could once they have approval and they got rid of the Slayer.

“Sorry I’m late,” George said, flopping down into one of the empty seats in front of Wtar’s desk. “Had to do a little reassuring to another client before I could come back here.”

“Nothing that will get in the way of our plans, I hope,” Wtar said, sitting back in his chair.

George laughed. “Oh, no. Once I finish with that business, nothing will get in our way.”

Raising eyebrow, Wtar asked, “So, the final meeting on Coruscant was successful?”

“Almost,” George said. “He wants more proof that what we’re selling will be useful.”

Wtar balked. “More proof? How much more proof can he want?”

Shrugging, George reached into his pocket and pulled out his cigarettes. Popping one into his mouth and lighting it, he said, “Don’t know. Thought after seeing what happened to that Jedi he’d order up a whole bunch of them. But he said he wanted to think about it. Then I really thought we had them after what they did to that so-called Chosen One of the Jedi, but he was just pissed after that. Interested, but pissed.” Taking a drag off the cigarette, George added, “Oh, you’re going to need to train some new bounty hunters.”

Wtar frowned. “Oh? Why?”

“Because the four Stooges didn’t listen to me and underestimated their mark,” George said. “But, thanks to the morons, we’re going to get the chance to really prove our idea is the way for old Sid to go. Not to mention let me finish my other business. With your help, of course, since it was your guys who screwed up in the first place.”

Shifting forward in his seat, Wtar leaned over his desk and studied George for a moment. “What is about to happen?” he asked carefully.

Smiling, George pulled the cigarette from his lips and let out a puff of smoke. “An opportunity of a lifetime. As long as we, you know, don’t do something stupid like screw up or die.”

With a sigh, Wtar leaned back in his chair. “I hardly find that reassuring, George. But there is nothing to be done about it now, is there?”

“Nope,” George said, popping the p which was accented by another puff of smoke. “But, I’d say we have about a week, which is more than enough time to make sure that the welcome wagon is ready for our guest.”

“Agreed,” Wtar said with a nod of his head. “I just hope you’re right about this.”

“Trust me, Wtar. In a few weeks, we’re going to be very rich men, the slayer will be just a memory, and no one will be able to stop Sidious’ newest pets.” George then dropped his finished cigarette to the ground and crushed it beneath his boot.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was one of those nights that someone could easily get lost in. A fog as thick as cotton had blanketed itself throughout this part of the city, covering everything but the very tips of the tallest buildings. Whereas normally a space traveler would see the sparkling shine of Coruscant even at a distance from space, now all that would be visible from this quadrant of the world would be a dull, powdery look, as if an ocean of white had flooded through the empty spaces between the buildings of the city planet.

Buffy unconsciously drew her jacket a bit tighter around herself. Just the thought of the cold, watery air made her back tense with an imaginary chill. It was unnerving to fly in this weather, even though she knew it was perfectly safe. The driver had flown through fog such as this many times and had never had more than minor accidents, but Buffy still didn’t like it.

A ship in an opposite lane shot through the fog next the mainly empty bus she rode in, causing Buffy to flinch away from the window. Crap. She hated it when they did that.

“Are you alright?” Ben asked.

Closing her eyes, Buffy suppressed the urge to rub them. She spent enough time doing her makeup before they left, she really didn’t want to do it again. Besides, green mascara and pink eyeshadow looked even worse on her hand than on her face, if that was believable.

“Yeah,” she said with a sigh, opening her eyes and looking up at Ben.

He was standing a few feet away from her seat, next to Master Qui-Gon and near the exit. Buffy had to press her lips to keep from smiling as she took in his ‘new’ appearance. The traditional Jedi robes had been exchanged for a loose tunic, a tight pair of pants, and a pilots jacket, none of which matched. A utility belt hung around his waist and a blaster was strapped to his thigh. It looked odd hanging there instead of his lightsaber, but was necessary to complete the appearance he needed for this mission. Besides, the lightsaber was still there, only hidden beneath his right arm sleeve. His Jedi mullet that all Knight’s sported to show their rank - which, if she ever got half a chance she would cut his off herself - had been pulled up into a ponytail and a stubbly beard had begun to grow on his face. Somehow, he seemed dirty to her, rougher; like how smugglers and bounty hunters appeared to outside observers.

If she didn’t know it was Ben, Buffy would have not recognized him immediately. The Ben she knew, the Jedi Knight, was neat, clean, and proper, not like he was now. Not...scruffy-looking.

Buffy knew she looked worse. Whereas Ben got to at least wear comfortable clothes and was allowed to drop nearly all his grooming habits to fit the part, Buffy had to double hers and got to wear clothes that even a streetwalker on Tatooine wouldn’t touch. The outfit - and she used the term loosely - that she was currently wearing would make a young boy hit puberty head first at ninety miles an hour, even one that had been confined within the walls of the Jedi Temple his whole life. Her once golden hair was now half dyed bubble gum pink, giving her a more exotic appearance and making her loud makeup seem more natural somehow. To top off the slutty Slayer look, she wore a necklace that came to a sharp tip, pointing down to her chest as if to say ‘look at my breasts and cleavage’.

Whoever at the Temple chose this outfit and the other clothes for her on this undercover mission was so getting slayed when they got back.

Yeah, that was what had been decided at the meeting with Jedi Council earlier that day. While Anakin and Qui-Gon would go to Roon as the official investigators into the disappearance of Master Pei, she and Ben would head there undercover for the ‘unofficial’ investigation. From what Qui-Gon, Ben, and the others had told her, Roon wasn’t exactly a welcoming place towards the Jedi, so the Council thought that two undercover agents would stand a better chance of finding out what actually happened to their fellow Jedi.

There was also a greater chance of them being able to discover who sent those bounty hunters after Buffy and why. The people they would be associating with are ‘those sorts of people’ after all.

Currently, they were on their way to a public transport that would take her and Ben to Corellia, where they would catch another ship that was heading to Roon. Their cover was that they were ex-miners looking for work, of which Roon would be the place to go.

Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy glanced at Anakin as she readjusted one of Ben’s jackets to make sure that she was fully covered. God knew she had already given him enough mental problems to make some psychologist rich someday, she didn’t needed to screw him up even more by showing him her ‘natural assets’. No boy should ever see his sister like that because, well, that led to a new level of eww.

“We will be arriving at the station shortly,” the driver announced.

“Thank you,” Qui-Gon replied. He then motioned Ben closer to him and continued their quiet conversation.

Reaching into the coat pocket, Buffy wrapped her hand around the cool metal inside. Even if Anakin was mad at her, she had to do this, if for no other reason than to put her mind at rest over his safety. She stood up from her seat, careful to keep the coat firmly shut around herself, and walked over to her brother.

Anakin looked up at her curiously and annoyed, but didn’t say anything. His eyebrow was cocked and he tilted his head to the side silently asking what she wanted. Pressing her lips firmly together, she pulled out the cross necklace from her pocket and dropped it into his lap.

“When we get back home, I want that back.”

The shuttle shook lightly as it settled onto the landing platform. From the window next to Anakin, Buffy could see the lights from the transport flashing from a few platforms down. Humans, aliens, and droids carefully made their way through the thick fog and passed the bus they arrived on. Some were saying goodbye to family and friends, while others just walked by with a single destination in mind and no time for whatever was going on around them.

Anakin picked up the chain and held the pendent in front of his face for a better look. It was a little worse for wear than the last time she had let him borrow it, but the cross was still in relatively good shape, though she had had to replace the original chain. After a moment, Anakin looked up back up at her with confusion this time. Buffy just nodded in return, then turned to join Ben at the exit.

“Buffy.”

She paused just as Anakin stood up from his seat. At first, Buffy thought he was going to give the necklace back, but she was going to insist he take it. She didn’t know if he remembered from her old ‘slayer stories’ that crosses warded off vampires, but if he tried to make her take it back she would remind him. Instead, Anakin reached into his tunic and pulled a necklace he was already wearing from around his neck.

“Here,” he said, shoving it to her. Buffy couldn’t hide her surprise when she found that he had given her a cross necklace he had made from some string and two pieces of wood. He laughing at her expression and said, “I do listen to you sometimes, you know.”

Smiling, Buffy wrapped her arms around his neck and held him tight for a moment. “Be careful, okay,” she said softly.

“Hey, you know me,” he said, pulling away from the hug.

“Yeah and that’s what worries me,” Buffy said. Her smile turned soft and she squeezed his shoulders. “Good luck.”

“You too,” Anakin said before Buffy turned and headed out into the fog with Ben.

--------------------------------------------------

Obi-Wan repressed the urge to sigh as he and Buffy walked away from the bus and into the foggy night.

The day had been long and taxing, perhaps even more so than the previous day, which was an incredible thing to believe. The Council meeting had stretched long into the afternoon thanks to the planning of the separate missions that he, Buffy, Anakin, and Master Qui-Gon were about to partake in. After it was finally over, he had to return to his quarters and pack a few things for their trip, even though the Council had provided him his clothes for the mission. He still couldn’t get use to the feel of this new fabric against his skin and longed for the comforts of his Jedi robes, but at least he didn’t have to wear what Buffy was wearing.

If the stress from having to leave on a mission less than six hours after being assigned it wasn’t enough, Obi-Wan also had to spend the trip to the launching bay listening to Master Qui-Gon’s lectures about his keeping a strictly professional relationship with Buffy. No matter how many times Obi-Wan had assured him that that was the type of relationship he and Buffy shared, Qui-Gon did not believe him. Obi-Wan wasn’t sure how to convince his old Master, since Qui-Gon simply refused to believe his word, but Obi-Wan hoped he would find a way soon.

Besides, if Qui-Gon should be worried about anyone’s attachment to Buffy is should be Anakin’s. It had been three years since the boy had become a Padawan learner, and he still had a close attachment to his sister, something that none of the other members of the Temple were allowed to have. Obi-Wan knew the Council only allowed it to continue because they hoped to gradually wean the boy from his attachment to her instead of just jerking her away like he was from his mother. Yoda thought that if they did that with Buffy, it would breed far more anger in Anakin than was already present, and it had seemed like a good idea at the time. However, no matter how long they are apart, once they were together again it is as if hardly any time had passed and the siblings were as close as they could be.

Obi-Wan also suspected that the attachment was allowed to continue because most of the Jedi were...nervous of what Buffy would do to them if they tried to take her little brother away. Though, he was also fairly certain that none of them would admit to that, ever.

“Hey, Coruscant to Ben. You in there?” Buffy said, dragging Obi-Wan out of his musings.

He blinked and shook his head, trying to clear his mind. “I’m sorry. Did you say something?” he asked.

“Yeah. I asked if you remembered what the ship’s number was,” she said.

“Oh, um, no need to remember the number. It’s the last one on the platform, so we can’t miss it.”

Buffy raised an eyebrow at him, but shrugged it off and adjusted his oversized coat she was wearing. With what she had on beneath it, the coat made it look like she were wearing nothing but it and a pair thigh high boots. He had already sensed several men lusting after her as they walked by, but that happened even she wore her ‘normal’ clothes. Though, Obi-Wan would admit, it was bothering him now more than it usually did, but he didn’t quite know why.

As they passed a ship with some very questionable characters boarding it, someone’s near overwhelming sense of lust for Buffy hit Obi-Wan, causing him to look in the direction it came from. Several men were standing near the ships hatch, all of the human males - and a few alien - watching her walk by with approving eyes.

The one Obi-Wan was sensing was a tall, dark-haired space pirate that was standing in the middle of the group of men. The Force was telling Obi-Wan that he was the owner and Captain of the ship the men were gathered around. Obi-Wan frowned as the man openly ran his gaze up and down Buffy’s body, his eyes lingering slightly longer on her butt and legs.

A few of the men around started to laugh and nudged the man, pointing to Obi-Wan.

“Better watch it, Solo,” he heard one of them say. “Boyfriend looks like he wants a fight.”

“Wouldn’t worry about Jacen,” another one of them said. “He could take that little wannabe apart.”

Jacen just laughed in response and held up his hands in mock surrender.

“What are you glaring at?” Buffy asked, glancing back in the direction of the group of men.

“Nothing,” Obi-Wan said. “Come on. We’re going to be late.”

Chapter Twenty-Three: On the Town

It never ceased to amaze Qui-Gon how differently the owner of a mining company could live from the people they employed. Over the many years he had been with the Jedi Order, he had handled more issues concerning the minors and their squabbles over land and mining rights then he had spent training to become a Jedi Knight. It seemed as if they were always involved in something that eventually led to Jedi involvement, and things were never solved simply. The people who ran the mines were a greedy, conniving, manipulative sort. Business people, in short.

Though most of the mines on Roon were found along the Twilight Rim and deep within the Dark Zone, the mining offices were located in the major ports and cities in the Light Zone. Like most faces of business, the offices were what the public saw and thus associated with what they thought when they thought mining. Clean, cold beauty that was supposedly obtainable if one worked hard enough and long enough. That they, the normal little person, could somehow be one of the elite someday, if they just walked through these doors and agreed to work as a miner.

Most people knew better than to believe that pipe dream. Miners didn’t become business people. They lived literally with dirty hands. Something that Qui-Gon didn’t think that any of the people who worked in this building knew anything about.

While they had been waiting for the president of Trasdim Mining Company, Anakin let his curiosity get the better of him and had begun to snoop around the office. He wasn’t going through the drawers obviously, but anything in plain view was fair game. Currently, Qui-Gon’s Padawan was inspecting an odd sculpture that was strangely designed to look like a mummified hand. It wasn’t the type of thing Qui-Gon would normally expect to see in the office of the president of a mining company, but he knew very little of the man they had come to speak with.

Tilting his head, Anakin reached out to touch the statue.

“Anakin,” Qui-Gon said, causing Anakin to stop mid-reach.

“Sorry, Master,” Anakin said.

“Oh, it’s quite alright if he wishes to look, Master Jedi.”

Qui-Gon and Anakin turned nearly in unison towards the new voice. A short, balding man walked into the room, his elaborate and expensive robes billowing around him. Though he looked human, Qui-Gon sensed that he wasn’t, not fully anyway.

At his side was a very pretty woman with long silver hair that sparkled unnaturally in the rooms mixture of artificial and natural light. A band was wrapped around the back of her head with two lights blinking rhythmically just above her ears. A droid. A dressed up protocol droid, but one none the less.

She handed president Alturn - Qui-Gon knew it had to be him - a datapad, which he quickly read over as he walked to his desk. “I would advise that you be careful, though, young Padawan,” Alturn said, signing the datapad and handing it back to the droid. “That statue supposedly has mystical powers. If you believe in such things.”

“I assure you, Mr. Alturn, we Jedi do not,” Qui-Gon said, bowing to Alturn. Anakin did the same as he came to stand by his Master once more.

“Of course not,” Alturn said, taking his seat behind his desk. “Please, have a seat.”

Qui-Gon nodded and lowered himself into one of the empty seats, while Anakin quickly slid into the other. Alturn went about his business, rummaging through the disks and datapads scattered about his desk top, as if hardly paying any attention the two Jedi seated directly across from him. However, Qui-Gon knew that Alturn was acutely aware of their presence. He could sense the man’s tension and easily took notice of the every brief and infrequent glance that Alturn continuously gave them during his search for whatever was on his desk.

“I take it you are here about that other Jedi, the one that disappeared,” Alturn said. He paused in his search, as if he was having trouble remembering something. “Master Pie? No, Master P. No, that’s not it. Master...?”

“Pei,” Qui-Gon said, though he felt that Alturn knew the name all along. “And yes. He is the reason we are here.”

Alturn nodded thoughtfully and reached for a datapad on his desk, seemingly at random. “I don’t know what you would like me to tell you. I don’t know anything more than what I told security. It should all be in their reports already.”

“Oh, it is,” Qui-Gon said, gently. “We are just re-interviewing everyone that we know of who Master Pei had spoken to. In fact, as far as we can tell, you were the last person to speak to him.”

“Really?” Alturn asked, looking surprised. “I had no idea.”

Qui-Gon was careful to keep his expression neutral but friendly. Alturn felt about as much surprise as Qui-Gon would if someone pointed out that he was a Jedi. Not mentioning it, Qui-Gon continued on with the conversation, “If you could please tell us what you spoke with him about on that day it would be most useful to our investigation.”

While Alturn pressed his lips in thought, Qui-Gon glanced over at Anakin. The boy was studying the president closely, like he had been studying the hand statue. Much like his Master, Anakin could tell there was something wrong with Alturn. Not only because the man was lying through his perfect teeth, but there was something else about him. Something slightly familiar, but different at the same time. Something like meeting someone who looked somewhat like a close friend. But why?

“There is not much tell,” Alturn said, bringing Qui-Gon’s full attention back to the situation. “From what I can remember, he came into my office, we discussed the Buave Corporation’s claims that I had illegally moved in on their territory in the Twilight Rim and the Dark Zone. I gave him my version of events and he said he would talk to Cylmen. Then he left.”

Qui-Gon nodded thoughtfully. “Anything else you can remember about the conversation?”

Alturn feigned thinking for a few more seconds. “Nothing that particularly stands out. No.”

Drawing a deep breath, the Jedi Master held it and thought. He knew Alturn wasn’t going to give them any more information than that, but Qui-Gon could tell he was leaving out quite a bit of information.

Then, they did have Master Pei’s records up until a few hours before he vanished, so it wasn’t as if Alturn’s information was completely necessary anyway. Qui-Gon had simply wanted to ‘get a feel’ for the man - as Buffy might say - to see if he was as viable a suspect as they already believed him to be. Considering that Qui-Gon had sensed nothing but hostile honesty from Cylmen - including the colorful suggestions for places to store lightsabers Cylmen made when he tossed the Jedi and Padawan out of his office - Qui-Gon did not believe he was the one who had harmed his Jedi brethren. Oh, that might have made him a likely suspect, but Qui-Gon just did not feel that Cylmen had done it.

Alturn, on the other hand...

The slight smile remained on his face as Qui-Gon stood from his seat. Anakin, once more, closely followed his Master’s example.

Qui-Gon said, “Thank you for you time and help, Mr. Alturn.”

“You’re welcome, Master Jedi,” he responded. “If there is anything more I can do for you, please, don’t hesitate to ask.”

Qui-Gon nodded, bowed, and then headed out the office door with Anakin close behind him. They walked in silence through the hallway and passed through the group of people who were exiting the turbolift. However, once they stepped inside and were alone, Anakin finally spoke.

“He’s lying, Master.”

“I know.”

“Do you think he knows where Master Pei is?”

“Perhaps, my young Padawan. Perhaps not.”

“But you do think he knows something?”

“Yes.”

Anakin paused for a moment, as if thinking how to phrase his next question. “What are we going to do, Master?”

Qui-Gon pressed his lips lightly as he thought. “Continue to follow what leads we have. If Mr. Alturn is involved, I have no doubts that our paths will cross again in time. In the meantime, we should contact Obi-Wan and Buffy and see if they have found any new information.”

Anakin didn’t exactly seem thrilled with his ‘wait and see’ approach, but then he hardly ever was. Anakin was too much like his sister in that aspect, always had to be on the move or he wasn’t happy. However, as Qui-Gon expected, Anakin simply nodded in agreement. Yes, they would just have to wait and see.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Yashma was a natural miners club located in the city of Motecelo on the darker side of the Twilight Rim. Named after the small bird that miners supposedly used at one time to check for poisonous gases, Yashma was known as a place where miners went to relax, blow off steam, and spy on members from opposing companies that visit there as well. No one would dare admit that was what they were there for, but everyone knew to be wary of the other miners present. Regardless, everyone managed to have a relatively good time.

The city was located in the middle of a ravine. So, like most of the buildings, the interior of the club was cut into the ravine walls. When entering the club, weapons were checked to insure the safety of the patrons. The weapons were locked away in small metal boxes that slid in and out of the walls. Beyond that, there was a freestanding staircase that led down into the main area.

The floor was natural stone, and open cracks held small pools of hot spring water. Railings had been built around these pools, insuring that no one accidentally fell into the boiling water but were able to enjoy the warm steam they put off. The walls were similarly bare with holovids of sporting events and news showing on the screens placed inside the natural holes formed in the wall.

The only exception was the wall on the far side of the club. There, a large holovid screen was playing a recording of some band’s concert. Their music blasted through the club at a near deafening tone, supplying the beat for the many patrons who were swaying and grinding with one another on the dance floor. It was a far different cry from the kind of dancing he was used to seeing, there was no doubt in that.

Obi-Wan sat at one of the bars, sipping his drink, while carefully scanning the room for any immediate danger. For a room full of miners, smugglers, space pirates, and just general bad people of the universe, he felt very little threat in the room. People here weren’t interested in outright violence, but more in a good time that the alcohol and pretty females here could provide. Thus far, Obi-Wan himself had been solicited more than once - and by more than one gender and specie - in the hour or so that he had been sitting there. He had sent them all away, of course, with a slight Force suggestion that they and their friends should not bother him again.

Not surprisingly, he had not seen Buffy since their arrival. Well, in all honesty, he had not seen her then either. They had deliberately arrived at the club at separate times because, according to Buffy, that gave them a greater chance of ‘catching something’ in regards to their vampire hunt. The thought was that they - the vampires - would be more likely to approach someone they assumed was alone. Especially if that someone happened to be young, small, and female. They would on occasion take a couple, she had said, but for the most part they prefer singles.

If either of them should stumble upon one, they could easily inform the other thanks to their bond. So far, however, they had yet to come across one that they knew of at least. He and Buffy were sure that sooner or later one would show up here, though. The reason being was that for the past several months, at least ten people reported missing in the area had been found dead with serve neck trauma, the telltale signs of a vampire according to Buffy. The one thing that they had in common was that they had all last been seen in this very club. Though, being a place that was known to have people disappear and then found murdered didn’t seem to diminish the clubs number of patrons.

He felt Buffy approaching before he saw her take the empty seat next to him. His eyes involuntarily widened when he saw what she was wearing. The outfit was entirely white, making her stand out from most of the other people in the club. The top looked like a piece of white cloth had simply been draped around her neck and then flowed down and barely covered her front in what could be considered a decent manner. The cloth stopped just below her chest and was connected to a string that was tied behind her back. Around the upper part of her arms the sleeves of the outfit were tied on and flowed loosely down to her wrists. Much lower on the widest part of her waist was another string that held on her airy-looking pants. They were open on the sides, except for the string on her waist and one tied around her ankles, and showed off most of her legs.

He knew she had weapons on her, but for the life of him he couldn’t imagine where she was hiding them.

Obi-Wan frowned. She was fully covered, but at the same time there was something very naked about her. Must be because the outfit gave an air of someone wrapped in a bed sheet instead of regular clothes. The fact that she let her hair fall freely around her face and neck and that her makeup was slightly smudged from the sweat she had worked up from dancing didn’t help much either.

Crossing her legs, Buffy placed her handbag on the counter and ignored Obi-Wan as the small, holographic image of the Rodian bartender appeared before her. “Can I get a Meadowsweet, please,” she said, pulling a few credits from her bag and dropping them into the slot built into the bar.

The holographic image of the Rodian turned to something off screen. The little image shimmered out, then the space where it had been began to rise. A yellowish, red colored drink rose up from under it on a small platform and was quickly shoved at Buffy. She had barely picked it up when the platform disappeared back into the bar.

“Isn’t that a little strong for you?” he asked, taking a sip of his own drink.

“I’m not that much of lightweight, Ben,” she said with a small glare before taking a sip of her own drink. Obi-Wan tried not to laugh when her face scrunched up, but had hard time of it. Still scrunching her nose, she looked at him and said, “Shut up.”

Chuckling, he placed his now empty drink on the counter and asked her, “Have you sensed anything?”

Buffy shook her head. “Not really, but I’m not surprised,” she said. “To much interference.”

“Do you think one’s here?”

“I’m not sure,” she said, gazing over the rather large crowd. “It feels like there might be, but...”

“You can’t be sure,” Obi-Wan said knowing.

He understood what she meant. Since they had arrived at the club, he had sensed something here; some evil that had cloaked itself in the vacuuming void of the Dark Side. Buffy felt it as well through her slayer senses. The difference between them was that for Obi-Wan it was like trying to pinpoint a single atom in a black hole. However, for Buffy, she could sense them as clearly as she could him. The problem was that there were so many different species that it was throwing her senses off, making it difficult for her to pin-down the person or persons they were trying to find.

Still, they were both certain that at least one vampire was here.

Buffy took another sip of her drink and scrunched her nose. Obi-Wan grinned again. She really was cute when she did that.

“Better get back out there,” she said.

Standing, Buffy accidentally dropped her handbag, spilling its contents all over the stone floor. Obi-Wan sucked in a breath when, along with her makeup and a few credits, a sharp, pointed stick hit the side of his boot. While Buffy grabbed up the weapon, Obi-Wan quickly glanced around them to see if anyone had noticed it. From what he could tell, no one had.

“Where did you get that?” he asked with an almost hiss, watching the weapon disappear back into her bag.

Raising an eyebrow, Buffy said, “I made it before we left Coruscant.”

“Coruscant?” A bewildered look settled on Obi-Wan’s face. “Where did you get the material for that on Coruscant?”

There weren’t any trees that grew naturally on Coruscant, and wood was expensive there because it was rare. But he was certain that Buffy hadn’t bought any recently, at least not that he had seen in her apartment. In fact, the only place he could think that she could get a hold of any would be in the Room of a Thousand...

Obi-Wan’s eyes widened.

Buffy grinned. “That’s for me to know and for Mace to yell at us about later.”

Before he could respond, she turned her back on him and bounced back towards the dance floor. He tried not to sigh, he really did, but when it came to Buffy’s antics it was very hard not too.

Pushing his empty glass towards the dispenser, Obi-Wan was about to call the bartender when someone knocked him hard in the back. Grabbing the side of the bar, Obi-Wan steadied himself to keep from falling out of his seat. Once steady, he glanced over his shoulder and saw a group of still partly uniformed security officers from one of the mining companies heading for the dance floor. Half the group were men and the other women, and all were laughing about something.

One of the couples apparently had hit him as they passed, but didn’t seem too concerned about who they had hit. However one man, the one who still had his whole uniform on, looked back Obi-Wan and gave him an mischievous smirk, as if daring him to try and make something of it. The man had a look of someone searching for a fight, but Obi-Wan certainly wasn’t going to be the one to obligate him. After all, he didn’t want to hurt an innocent person, no matter how rude he and his friends might be. That would be more like something Buffy would do. Their company logo flashed and blinked from the ID cards he wore clipped to his jacket, and Obi-Wan had the horrid feeling that Buffy would end up in a fight with a Trasdim security officer before the night was through.

His comm beeped. It was a soft sound, lost in the overpowering beat of the up-tempo song the club was playing, and probably wouldn’t have been heard by most people. Obi-Wan himself had barely heard it, and had to bring it close to his ear to hear Master Qui-Gon.

“Qui-Gon?” Obi-Wan asked as loudly as he dared. He couldn’t hear what his old mentor said, but did recognize his voice. “Qui-Gon, I can’t hear you. Give me a moment, will you?”

Standing from his seat, Obi-Wan looked to the dance floor. Buffy stood in the middle of a group of dancing men and women. She had her arms lifted over her head as she swayed her hips to the beat. The way she moved was hypnotic, calling to the men in the room to watch and want her, and many of them did. If she were another woman, Obi-Wan wouldn’t consider leaving her to take care of herself in a place like this. But this was Buffy and he had no doubt that the only person who would get hurt if they went after her would be the attacker.

With a nod of his head, Obi-Wan turned and headed out the side door. Snow flurries fluttered around him as he stepped onto the metal grate platform that overlooked the ill lit lower half of the city. It wasn’t a large platform, maybe reaching two meters from the door to the railing. Warning signs written in basic and several other common languages were hanging from the guard railing, telling those to keep a safe distance from the edge. Glancing down through the grating beneath his feet, Obi-Wan could see why. The platform was in an awkward position, so beneath them wasn’t another part of the city, it just went straight down into the dark ravine below.

Lifting the comm, he said, “Master? Are you still there?”

“Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon answered. “Where are you? I could barely hear you earlier.”

“Buffy and I think we may have a lead on the vampires,” he said, leaning against the dirty stone wall.

“From the sound of it, a lead that took you to a club,” Qui-Gon said.

Obi-Wan nodded, even though he knew his old Master couldn’t see him. “From what Buffy has told me, it’s a prime hunting ground for their kind. Though, I must admit, we have yet to find onet.” Crossing his arms for a bit more warmth, Obi-Wan asked, “What of your investigation?”

“We think that we may have a lead,” Qui-Gon said. “It seems that Mr. Alturn, the president of Trasdim, has not been completely honest.”

The president of Trasdim had something to do with Master Pei’s disappearance? Wait. Trasdim. Obi-Wan felt his face drain. Oh, sith. Buffy.

“Obi-Wan?”

Before Qui-Gon could say any more, Obi-Wan clicked off his comm and headed back into the club.

--------------------------------------------

The music in the club was loud and driving. With a pulsing baseline, the song sounded tribal to her. Buffy closed her eyes and easily pictured herself and the other dancers in some dark, no name desert with their only light being the bright stars and a full moon. She felt hot, flushed; partly from dancing but from that side of her she had always been careful to keep controlled. That part of her that was full Slayer and lived for blood and violence. The part of her that was thrilled to be let loose to hunt the dark creatures it was always meant to. It was a part of her that was made to seek and destroy vampires. Something she had not had a real chance to do in years.

When they had first arrived on Roon, Buffy had been worried that she wouldn’t be able to pick them up. That Coat of Sith or whatever that bathed half the planet in darkness was really messing with her slayer senses. She could sense there was something here, something dark and dangerous and in need of major slaying, but it was hard to pinpoint. It reminded her of the time she had to enter the Hellmouth to face the Master. There was so much darkness there that it had cloaked his evil signature until he was nearly on top her. This place was much the same way. She could tell they were here, but not how many there were or where they were hiding.

The different tingles she was getting from the other species present didn’t help matter much either.

Then, as if knowing her frustration of not being able to find them, Buffy felt a tug in her mind. They were here and very close. And there was more than one.

Still dancing to the music, Buffy brought her hand down to touch the handbag she had tied to her pants. The comforting weight and shape of the stake inside hit against the bare skin of her hip in rhythm with the song. For a fleeting moment, she wished she had her lightsaber with her because God knew she could end a fight with a bunch of vampires very quickly if she had one. Then again, it would be nice to use a stake, if for no other reason than to see how sharp her skills with one still were.

Opening her eyes, Buffy searched for the vampires. A couple was dancing nearby, if you want to call it that. In actuality, what they were doing was closer to something that would probably make Ben and most of the Jedi Council - not mention Giles - blush and stutter. However, much like herself, they were also eyeing other people who were dancing around them with an evil, hungry gaze. They too were on the hunt.

Another female vamp had her arms draped around some very large miner who probably thought that he had just found the girl of his dreams. She rubbed against him like a cat in heat and he responded by grabbing her butt and pulling her closer to him. Okay, that was just gross.

Another female danced in the middle of a group of people, much like Buffy had been doing only a few minutes before. Unlike her friend who had latched onto a large human male, this one didn’t seem to care what gender or species she caught as long as she caught something.

Buffy spotted the last one - or she assumed the last one - leaning on the railing on the overloaded catwalk. He was talking to a light green Twi’lek female, who smiled brightly at something he said. Taking that as a good sign, he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her close so he could whisper in her ear.

Buffy frowned. Five to one odds. Not the best for a slayer who hadn’t slayed anything but four amateur vampires in the past four years, but nothing she couldn’t handle. Besides, if she needed help, she did have Ben...wherever he was.

What did bother her were the uniforms they were wearing. They were familiar, but she couldn’t quite place from where at the moment. Like something she had seen in a forgotten nightmare.

With a quick shake of her head, Buffy forced herself to forget about the uneasy feeling she got from looking at the uniforms. She had a job to do and people to protect. Not to mention the slayer in her was just itching to kill a vamp.

Putting on her best ‘I’m innocent and alone’ face, Buffy moved towards the dancing couple. She caught the man’s eyes first and gave him her best flirt-y smile. His gaze ran up and down her body in a way that made Buffy feel a little bit more than disgusted, but she kept the smile on her face and even began to sway her hips in a somewhat suggestive manner. Tearing his gaze away from her, the vampire leaned down and whispered into the female’s ear. The look the vamp bitch teetered somewhere between lust, hunger, and a bit of jealousy. Whether it was because she stole her companion’s attention or because Buffy was cuter than her, she wasn’t sure.

They moved towards her as one, the man coming around so he was standing behind her and the woman moved in front of her. The hairs on the back of Buffy’s neck stood on end as the male vampire came up behind her and took her by the waist, pulling her against him. Buffy fought hard not to cringe at his touch.

Instead, she wrapped her arms around his and said, “Hi, there.”

“Hello, yourself,” the man said, pulling her closer against him.

Buffy winced in disgust. That better be a blaster.

Twisting her head and closing her eyes, the woman sniffed the air and smiled.

“You’re different,” the woman said. “Human? Half -breed?”

“Human, hundred percent,” Buffy said, forcefully ignoring the hand that was traveling down the bare skin of her thigh.

The woman tilted her head. “Funny. You don’t smell human. Not a hundred percent, anyway.”

“Smells good to me,” the man said into Buffy’s hair.

Okay, somebody should really tell vamps that the whole sniffing thing was way gross.

“Any female smells good to you,” the woman chided.

Forging innocent and confusion, Buffy asked, “You can tell I’m different by the way I smell? That’s weird.”

The woman laughed. “Not for our kind it’s not. But, I think you know that.”

Buffy raised an eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”

“Because you feel and smell like you’re just a little different from us.” Blinking, the woman let her demonic features slip over her human face. Smiling to show off her now very sharp teeth, the woman moved closed to Buffy asked, “Are you one of us, little girl?”

Buffy grinned at her in response. “No. I’m something better.”

Latching onto the hand that was coming dangerously close to molesting her, Buffy reached up, grabbed the male vamp by the back of his neck, and threw him over her shoulder and into the female vamp. They crashed into a few other dancers, knocking them over as they all fell to the ground. Around Buffy, people quickly moved away, forming a circle around them. Slipping into a fighting stance, Buffy glared down at the two vampires as they scrambled back to their feet.

The man charged at her like a linebacker and Buffy felt the other female coming at her from behind. Leaping into the air, Buffy did a flip just as they reached her, causing the male and female vampires to comically crash into one another. Landing in a crouch, she fumbled with her handbag in an attempt to get her weapon, but the other vamp bitch lunged at her. Buffy rolled onto her back and put up her feet, causing the woman to run into them. Then, with all her strength, she kicked her. The vamp flew across the room and crashed into one of the bars, destroying it in a shower of sparks and broken glass. Buffy could hear the vamp bitch scream in pain as she fell into the boiling hot water that the bar was built around, but her attention was once more on Dumb and Dumber.

Springing to her feet, Buffy managed to get her stake out of her bag and held it up for the other two to see. Unlike most vampires, who usually hesitated when seeing the weapon, the two attacked her without hesitation.

“Oh my God,” Buffy said, “you guys really are getting stupider.”

The male, who she had dubbed Dumb, swung at Buffy’s head, knocking her to the side. However, Buffy locked the fingers of both her hands around the stake and hit him across the face, stunning him. Buffy sidestepped just as Dumber flew at her from the side. Using her own momentum against her, Buffy grabbed the back of Dumber’s shirt and threw her across the dance floor. Much like the vamp bitch, she skidded across the stone floor, forcing people to jump out of her way, before finally crashing hard into the wall.

Buffy turned her attention back to Dumb just in time to be punched in the head with enough force to knock her to the ground. Landing in a crouching position, Buffy did a sweep kick, but he jumped and easily avoided it. As he hissed and began to descend on top of her, she rolled back onto her shoulders and mule kicked him in the face. As Dumb stumbled backwards, she leapt to her feet and fell back into a fighting stance. Hooking the stake with her foot, Buffy kicked it into the air and caught it easily with one hand. Dumb just growled.

“Growling. Oh, yeah, that’s intimidating,” Buffy said dryly. “You going to try and hump my leg next?”

Dumb’s response was a series of punches aimed at Buffy’s head. She ducked and dodged with swiftness and grace and actually found herself thanking the Powers for those damn little training droids. So, they actually did serve a purpose than just burning holes in her clothes.

When she saw an opening, Buffy shot her palm at his face. The well place hit easily broke his nose and stunned him. Before he could recover, Buffy twisted around and plunged the stake into Dumb’s heart. With a primal howl, he exploded into a cloud of dust.

Shocked gasps and screams echoed through the crowd and Buffy could see people starting to flee for the exits. However, there were several people who were too stunned to move and could only manage to stare at the dust that was floating to the dance floor. Ignoring them, she looked over to where Dumber had crashed into the wall. There was a crack there, but no sign of the woman.

Something heavy landed on Buffy’s back and she felt sharp claws starting to scratch at her face and neck. “Hey, off!” Buffy yelled, twisting sharply from side to side in a vain attempt to throw her. “Do I look like Trigger to you?”

With Dumber’s legs locked around her waist, Buffy knew that she wasn’t going to be able to throw the vampire. Instead, she dropped her stake and grabbed the scratching girl’s hands. Then, while jumping, she pushed backwards, causing them to fall to the ground with Dumber on bottom. They landed in a heavy heap, which stunned the vamp. When Dumber’s legs loosened from around her waist, Buffy flipped and landed in a kneeling position that had her sitting on the vamp’s hair. Dumber hissed at her, so Buffy quickly grabbed the stake and held it up next to her head.

“You know, the chick fight thing, so lame,” she said before driving the stake into the vamp’s heart.

Now, where was the other one?

“Buffy!”

She heard a familiar hiss and saw a few streaks of blue from a lightsaber as it sliced through the other attacking male vampire. With a final stroke of the blade, the vamp’s head was removed from its body, showering her in a spray of dissolving ash.

“Jedi!” someone yelled, and the few people who had stayed in the club ran.

Ben stood there for a moment, holding the ignited blue blade down towards the ground as if waiting to see if there were any more about to attack before turning his attention to Buffy. Holding out his hand, he helped Buffy to her feet and asked, “Are you alright?”

“Peachy,” Buffy said, brushing some of the dust off herself.

“Are there any more?” he asked.

“Just the vamp bitch,” Buffy said, quickly scanning the fleeing crowd.

Ben raised an eyebrow. “Who?”

A growling hiss drew their attention to behind them. Vamp bitch stood a few feet behind them, badly burned from the boiling water she had fallen into.

Gripping the stake, Buffy said, “Her.”

“I’m going to kill you!” the vamp screamed.

“Sorry, love, but no one is going to get to kill the slayer but me.”

Before any of them could react, a familiar face stepped from the shadows and stabbed the vampiress in the back. She screamed in agony as she dissolved into ash, leaving the uniformed man.

Buffy felt the blood drain from her face. No way. The Powers That Be could not hate her that much. Yeah, she knew they didn’t like her, but to hate her like this. They couldn’t. Could they?

Stepping more into the light, Spike smirked and said, “Hello, cutie.”

Oh, God. They really did hate her.

Chapter Twenty-Four: Past and Present


Obi-Wan tilted his head as the vampire stepped from the shadows and into the dusty light. Unlike the other vampires, his face still wore its human features, making him indistinguishable from any other human being. But there were little things wrong about him; the nearly invisible yellow tint to his otherwise crystal blue eyes, how his teeth were slightly elongated and sharper even in their ‘normal’ state, the way his muscles were still tense even when he appeared relaxed. They all said that he wasn’t as human as he appeared to be.

Obi-Wan could feel it through Buffy and the Force that he wasn’t human either. This creature presence was clearly absent from the Force, like all vampires seemed to be. When Obi-Wan had the time, he really wished to sit down and try and figure out why that was.

Thanks to Buffy, he could sense this creature. Like with the other vampires, it was just an echo felt through their bond, but he could still sense them. It was unnerving, to see something and not be able to feel it in the Force. Obi-Wan knew he would never get used to it and hoped that this would be their last mission involving them for a while.

There was something more about this creature, though. He was more to Buffy than just a vampire. She knew him. He was familiar to her. Her slacked-jaw and shocked expression was enough to tell him that, never mind the bond.

The vampire was dressed as a security officer in full uniform. The gray jacket was a little too big for him, but was buttoned to the top and the collar was upturned around his neck. His company ID was clipped to his breast pocket, but Obi-Wan couldn’t quite make out his name. The matching gray pants were neatly pressed and creased and his black, polished boots shown in the dim club light. He looked liked a commander of an army, or would if his hair wasn’t a grown-out and two-toned brown and an unnatural blond that even Buffy wouldn’t wear.

After a moment, Obi-Wan realized that this was the same man that had intentionally tried to pick a fight with him earlier.

Then, the creature smirked and said to Buffy, “Hello, cutie.”

Obi-Wan frowned at the endearment, but had little time to consider why it bothered him. Suddenly feeling a surge of intense hatred, Obi-Wan barely had time to turn to Buffy before she sprang at the vampire with a feral growl. For his part, the creature’s smirk became more defined and larger at her actions.

He moved twice as fast as the others had. Sidestepping the stake Buffy lunged at him, he grabbed her extended arm and held it away from him. Buffy retaliated by backhanding him as hard as she could, but whereas it would normally throw someone to the ground, it merely knocked his head to the side. She then grabbed his shoulder with her free hand and kneed him in the stomach. Still, he held her arm at a safe distance away from himself.

“Will you stop it,” he grunted painfully. He paused. “Hmm, deja-vu, eh love.”

Buffy answered him by punching him again. Grabbing her free arm, the creature pulled her to him and slammed his head against hers. The moved stunned Buffy and knocked Obi-Wan out of his stupor. Raising his lightsaber, he had barely managed to take a single step towards them when the vampire saw him. Turning slightly, the creature slung Buffy at Obi-Wan, causing him to quickly click off his lightsaber to catch her. Her back crashed hard against his front, knocking them both back a step or two. However, Buffy quickly straightened herself up, fell into a fighting stance, and raised her stake. Behind her, Obi-wan placed himself into a similar stance and clicked his lightsaber back on.

The creature’s eyes widened and he quickly held up his hands, “Easy there, pet. Just want to talk is all.”

“You brought five of your little fanged friends, but you just want to talk,” Buffy asked in disbelief. “So not buying it.”

With an uneasy smile, he said, “It’s the truth, love. Want to white flag it here, alright.”

“How many times do I have to tell you this, Spike,” Buffy bit coldly. “We’re - .”

“‘Mortal enemies’ and ‘don’t get time-outs.’ Heard it all before, slayer. In this exact same conversation, I believe.”

Buffy opened her mouth to say something, but he quickly cut her off. “And I can already see that pretty little brain of yours wanting to know what I’m after, but I suggest we take this conversation elsewhere and right quick like. Because in about a minute this place is going be crawling with Security and unless you and Lightsaber Boy there want to explain to them what happened to the security personnel from Trasdim that you slayed, or what the bloody Jedi are doing here, you better move. Now.”

Obi-Wan glanced towards the front entrance and frowned. The vampire - Spike - was right. There were at least two units of the local town Security heading straight for the club that he could sense, and he was sure that more were on their way. Places like Motecelo did not take what could be mistakenly considered rival mining company warfare on neutral territory lightly. And if local Security found out that there was a Jedi investigation going on and they were not informed about it, there would be even more problems to deal with.

“He’s right, Buffy,” Obi-Wan said, turning his attention back to her. “We need to leave.”

Clenching her fists so tightly that Obi-Wan thought that she was about break her stake in half, Buffy sighed and put the weapon down. “Fine. Let’s go.”

Spike nodded and turned towards the backdoor. However, Buffy was in front him before he could take a single step in that direction. Blocking the vampire’s path, she gave him one stern ‘you so much as breathe in my direction and I’ll rip out your stomach and use it as a purse’ glare, and then headed out the door first.

Spike glanced over his shoulder at Obi-Wan, but the Jedi merely raised an eyebrow. Buffy obviously wanted Spike between the two of them so they could keep an eye on him, and Obi-Wan didn’t think that was a bad idea. Sliding his deactivated lightsaber a little higher up his sleeve, Obi-Wan nodded towards the back door, telling the vampire to go. Growling, Spike followed Buffy out, with Obi-Wan trailing behind them.

----------------------------------------------------------

Accommodations had never really meant much to Spike. Most didn’t believe that, but it was the truth. Frilly upscale places were always more Angelus and Darla’s thing. Annoying as hell that was. Spike couldn’t count the times they had almost ended up extra crispy because Captain Hair Gel couldn’t quite convince some poor sod to invite him into his mansion or townhouse. Sure, in the end he had always managed to get them in and it was good eating after that, but that wasn’t the point. Not when there was generally a dozen suitable empty flea-ridden dumps they passed by just to get to the nice neighborhood. But Angelus and his family couldn’t be caught dead, so to speak, staying a place like that. After all, even vicious, soulless creatures of the night had their reputation to think of.

Spike had never much shared Angelus’ need to live the high life. Oh, sure, he loved money and a posh place to sleep was always good, but it wasn’t something that he had to have. Long as he had a place that provided cover from the sun, he was all right. Didn’t matter if it was an abandoned warehouse or a dusty crypt, long as the walls didn’t have cracks and there was a place for him to lay down he was happy. However, even his standards were too high to stay in place like this.

Shifting uncomfortably in his chair, Spike looked around the Slayer’s room and said, “Nice place, love. Kind of like Motel Six, only nicer.”

“Shut up, Spike,” Buffy spat, not pausing one step in her pacing.

The Slayer was wound up. Her tight little body sang with unreleased tension with every step she took across the dirty floor. It was like watching a tiger in a cage, only he didn’t have the safety of the bars between them. If she decided to go after him, he’d have to fend for himself. That didn’t matter, though; he could handle her. He was the Slayer of Slayers after all.

However, it wasn’t just the Slayer he’d have to worry about. Glancing out of the corner of his eye, Spike saw the Jedi leaning against the wall next to the window. He was dressed similar to the smuggling scum that liked to pass through Roon to avoid people like him, but Spike wondered how anyone could mistake him for one of those people. No, the Jedi was too rigid. Back ramrod striaght, and without a hint of drunkenness or depravity to him. Like a little solider just waiting for a command. No smuggler was like that.

Still, he was a Jedi and had a lightsaber. Spike was fairly sure that if the Slayer said so, he wouldn’t hesitate to use said lightsaber against him.

The Slayer stopped in front of Spike’s chair, her arms crossed and a deep frown on her face. It was rather funny, considering that she was still dressed as an intergalactic stripper. How she managed to keep that top in the right place even during the fight really was a mystery. Of course, the Jedi had given her his coat when they left the club, but Spike thought that only made it worse. The way the coat covered the ‘blouse’ made it look like she wasn’t even wearing anything up top at all. So, when she crossed her arms and pushed up what little God had given her, well...If he didn’t know what a colossal bitchy brat the Slayer was, he would almost be willing to shag her into the next century.

“What are you looking at?” Buffy bit out, shifting her weight to one foot.

Spike smirked, making it a point to look at the bare skin and slight cleavage her crossed arms made, before lifting his eyes to meet hers. “Nothin’ much, love.”

Scrunching her nose in confusion, she glanced down and realized what he was staring at. A deep blush rose on her cheeks, but whether from embarrassment or anger Spike wasn’t sure. Judging by that death glare, however, he would probably bet on anger.

The Jedi moved, not far or in a real way that could be considered threatening, but really was at the same time. He caught the Slayer’s attention as well and she quickly faced him. Watching closely, Spike raised an eyebrow when the pair locked gazes. If he didn’t know better, he would swear they were communicating somehow. Finally, Jed sat back. Slayer seemed a little worried, but quickly turned her attention back to Spike.

“You’ve got exactly five minutes to tell me what you want. Take any longer than that and I will stake you.”

“Well, someone ordered up an extra side of bitchy tonight, didn’t she?” Leaning back in his seat, he asked, “What happened to the fun loving Slayer I knew and loathed.”

“She’s tired, dirty, and in no mood for your crap,” Buffy said. “And you have four minutes and forty-five seconds left.”

Sighing dramatically, Spike said, “Fine. I need your help.”

She stared at him for a moment, blinked, then stared again. “You’ve got to be kidding?”

“Fraid not.”

“And why would we help you?” the Jedi asked coolly.

Spike turned his curious gaze towards. “Don’t believe I was askin’ for yours, mate,” he said.

“I don’t think you have a real choice in the matter, friend,” the Jedi replied evenly.

“Really now,” Spike said, not bothering to hide the amusement in his tone. Turning back to the Slayer, he said, “Well, isn’t that interestin’.”

“Just answer the question, Spike,” Buffy bit out coolly.

“Well, since you asked so nicely,” he said with sickeningly sweet sarcasm. Reaching up, he pulled down the collar to of his uniform, and revealed a thin, metal band around his neck. He knew she knew what it was. After all, from what he understood, she had to wear one herself for quite some time. Drawing in an unneeded breath, Spike said, “Cause, once again, love, we find ourselves facin’ a common enemy.”

Letting go, he let his collar pop back in place to hide the control collar. Buffy just stared at him and Spike found himself chuckling. Well, shocking the Slayer enough to the point that she’s actually quiet is quite a feat. Doing it twice in one night...Well, if he were in Vegas, he’d be a very rich man.

“The Gythons,” Buffy said quietly.

“Got in one,” Spike said.

“Great,” she sighed, leaning back against the wall and looking like all her energy had suddenly been drained from her body. “That’s just...great.”

-----------------------------------------------------------

The room was warm with sunlight and smelled of fresh flowers and seawater. It was early afternoon and all morning the sky had been bright and clear with only a few stray white clouds to mar it’s appearance. But the ocean water had been choppy and winds strong and brisk. A strong storm was coming. In fact, Qui-Gon could already see the dark clouds gathering on the ocean’s horizon and, if he looked closely, he could see a few lighting strikes.

Turning away from the window, Qui-Gon turned to see Anakin standing quietly with a frown upon his face. Qui-Gon’s former Padawan had commed him back a few minutes earlier and was currently filling them in on what had happened since their transmission has so abruptly ended. Thus far, none of it had been anywhere near what could be considered good news.

Normally, Anakin would have the decency to at least pretend he wasn’t listening to his Master’s conversation, but he didn’t bother with those manners now. Not that it bothered Qui-Gon at the moment. It just saved him the trouble of having to tell him all of this later on.

“Master?” Obi-Wan’s voice asked from the small communicator in the Jedi’s hand.

“We are here,” Qui-Gon answered quickly. Drawing in a deep breath, he continued, “So, according to this Spike fellow, the Trasdim Corporation is actually a front for the Gythons? And Master Pei was unfortunate enough to stumbled upon this fact?”

“Yes, Master,” Obi-Wan said.

Qui-Gon pressed his lips tightly. He wished he could say he was surprised by that revelation, but he hardly was. In fact, it answered the question of why Mr. Alturn had felt so odd to him earlier that morning. It had always been rumored the Gythons could disguise themselves as humans and move freely throughout the universe. However, since they are most certainly not human, they would not feel so in the Force. That was probably what drew Master Pei’s attention to the Trasdim Corporation and what ultimately lead to his disappearance.

With a quick sigh, Qui-Gon asked, “What more can you tell us?”

“Not much, I’m afraid,” Obi-Wan said solemnly. “All this Spike person would tell us was that Master Pei found them. However, seeing how these Gythons have more than a few vampires in their employment and the fact that we Jedi seem to be unable to sense them...I’m afraid that Master Pei is likely one with the Force now.”

“Perhaps so,” Qui-Gon agreed. Locking his stare with Anakin’s, he added, “Or perhaps not. We do not know enough about what happened to draw any real conclusions. There may be still hope yet of finding him alive.”

“Perhaps,” Obi-Wan reluctantly agreed.

With a quick nod of his head, as if to convince himself that there was still hope the Jedi Master was still alive, Qui-Gon asked, “Did you learn anything more from this vampire?”

A long pause answered him.

Oh, dear. This could not be good.

From outside, he heard the first faint rumble of distant thunder.

-----------------------------------------------

Buffy held one of her arms tightly around herself as she pushed back the curtains and looked out into the dark night. Ben was standing next to the guardrail with his back to her, speaking softly into his commlink. The artificial streetlight bore down brightly on him, bathing him in dull yellow and illuminating the increasing number of large snowflakes that fell around him.

He was worried, she could feel it. Not that she blamed him. In all honesty, she was worried too. Then, after what Spike told them, who wouldn’t be?

“Well, you gone and got yourself involved with a Jedi, eh,” Spike said, drawing Buffy out of her musings. “Got to say, didn’t think you would go much for their kind. Would have thought they were kind of dull and rule abidin’ for your taste. Not to mention that Council of theirs I’ve been hearin’ about. But, seein’ how they don’t seem to be the type wipe their bums without their permission, I’m supposin’ that you must be workin’ for the wankers yourself. Else you wouldn’t be here with him.”

Dropping the curtain, she turned her attention back to the formerly bleached pain in her butt. He was still sitting in the chair that they, well, sat him in and was lightly bouncing, like a small child at the dinner table. Most people might have mistaken his fidgeting as a sign of either nervousness or maybe ADD, but Buffy figured that his extra energy had more to with the fact that he was a vampire, locked in a room with a Slayer, and they weren’t fighting. That is what nature intended for them to do, after all. Plus, knowing Spike, he was probably dying for a cigarette.

Although, now that she thought about it, she probably wouldn’t rule out the whole ADD thing either.

“So, what’s the attraction here?” Spike asked, tilting his head as if to study her. “The pay better, or well, since your Council doesn’t pay you at all, I’m assuming any pay they give you is better. Maybe it’s the traveling, cause, I’ve got to admit, as much fun as this bloody little hell-hole has been, can’t wait to get out of here myself. I mean, really, one can only take so much of insult-the-boss, insult-his-goons, plot-revenge, insult-the-boss. Though, I have to admit, the food’s good. Little exotic at times, but good.”

“Oh my God, do you ever shut up?” Buffy bit, cutting off his annoying rambling.

She knew she could talk forever, but even she had her limits. Stupid vampire and his stupid non-need to breathe.

Chuckling, Spike asked, “What’s the matter, pet? Am I gratin’ on those pretty little Slayer nerves of bitchiness?”

“You know, you’re about five words away from getting personally acquainted with Pointy Jr.,” she said, crossing her arms. “And one joke about my stake’s name and your Dust Buster food.”

“Fine, love, fine. Just trying to make friendly conversation is all,” he said, obviously loving that he was getting on her nerves.

Leaning forward in his chair, Spike smirked and ran his tongue against his teeth. Why did Buffy get the feeling she was going to have to smack him for what he was about to say?

“So, Slayer, do the Jedi let you have your own, or do you only get to play with his lightsaber?” he asked, nudging his head towards the door and wiggling his eyebrows.

Buffy’s eyes widened as she felt the heat rise to her cheeks. “God, you’re a pig!” she yelled. When he laughed in response, she punched him hard across the face, knocking him to the ground. Pinning him to the ground with her foot, she pulled out her stake from her pocket and said, “One more word out of you and you’re a coat rack. Understand?”

“Alright, Slayer, alright,” he said, holding up his hands in mock surrender. “No need to get violent.”

She stepped on him a little harder than was probably necessary, before letting him sit up. He glared at her in return, and gently rubbed the sore spot on his chest that she had caused. Buffy smirked sweetly in response.

“Bloody hell, love,” he said, pushing himself back to his feet. “You spend a year in this stupid hell dimension and you’ve already lost what little sense of humor you had.”

Buffy scrunched her eyebrows. “What?”

“Oh, you deaf now too?” he asked, straightening out his jacket.

“No, I mean what do you mean I - .”

A shrill, loud beeping sound cut off the rest of her question. It took her a moment to realize that the sound had come from Spike, who somehow had managed to make himself look paler than usual.

“You’re neck’s beeping,” Buffy said, titling her head. “Why is your neck beeping?”

His only response was a low muttering of, “Oh, balls.”

-------------------------------------

The snow flurries had turned to regular snow by the time they left the rented room and headed back to the dock where Spike had left the company’s speeder. Sheets of snowflakes gently fell around them, sticking to the ice that had formed on the metal and stone pathway that they walked. There were also a few considerably large flakes dusting his jacket, but they quickly melted away from his body heat. However, the ones that dusted Spike’s clothes and hair took much longer to melt - if they did at all. One of the drawbacks of having a body temperature that was regulated by the surrounding temperature, Obi-Wan supposed. Well, considering that Spike did not seem at all bothered by their cold surroundings, perhaps it was not the drawback that Obi-Wan took it for.

Adjusting his coat, Obi-Wan followed closely behind the vampire.

According to Spike, if he did not go back soon, the Gythons would activate the collar. Only, instead of just a ‘love tap’, as he had called it, they would send enough electricity through him to ‘pop his head like a dusty and bloody firework’. The expression on Buffy’s face couldn’t have said ‘eww’ any louder than if she had screamed it.

When Buffy insisted that she was not going to let Spike wander around the city by himself, Obi-Wan had volunteered to escort Spike back to the platform. His reasoning was simple. If Buffy went with the vampire, chances were only one of them would make it to the platform, and they would be out an important informant. There was also a great chance that, even if Buffy did manage to get Spike to his ship, she would not make it back to the room before finding some kind of trouble. Trouble that they truly did not have time to deal with at the moment.

Obi-Wan frowned as he thought about what the vampire had told them. Well, Buffy had told him that it was all connected somehow. She certainly turned out be right about that.

“So, the Slayer got herself a Jedi to be her new boy toy, eh.” Glancing over his shoulder, Obi-Wan saw a small sneer on Spike’s face before the vampire snorted. “Got to admit, mate. She usual likes ‘em taller.” He paused for a moment and appeared to look more closely at Obi-Wan. “And with more forehead. But, no worries there, what with male pattern baldness bein’ what it is. I’m sure in no time you’ll be able to compete with Captain Forehead on that front.”

“What are you talking about?” Obi-Wan asked, failing at his attempt to ignore the vampire. Really, this Spike fellow was far more annoying than Buffy ever dreamed; a fact that he was certain no one at the Temple would believe.

Confused, Spike raised an eyebrow and asked, “Don’t tell me she’s failed to mention the broodin’ wanker.” The confusion quickly melted to joy. “No, wait. Please tell me she didn’t. That’ll kill him.”

“If you are referring to Angel, than yes, she has told me about him.”

“Damn,” Spike said softly.

Ignoring the comment, Obi-Wan said, “What I wanted to know was why you were insinuating that myself and Buffy are something more than what we claim to be.”

They passed the club and Obi-Wan’s frown grew more defined at the direction they were heading. Spike was leading them into Buave territory. If any member from a different mining company was found there, they would not hesitate to attack and the local Security would do nothing to stop it. And Spike’s security uniform did not hide who he worked - or was forced to work - for.

“Wasn’t tryin’ to insinuate nothin’,” Spike said slyly, never changing his pace even as they headed deeper into hostile territory.

Obi-Wan glanced around their surroundings, reaching out with the Force. He couldn’t sense anyone nearby - that was awake anyway. Hopefully, it would stay that way until he made it out again. However, being this close to the Dark Zone, it was hard to get a clear sense of anyone. Obi-Wan had the sickening feeling that quite a few people could walk up on them and he would not sense them until it was far to late.

“Well, there is nothing to insinuate about,” Obi-Wan said. “Buffy and I are just friends.”

Spike snorted...again. “Right, friends.”

“It is the truth of the matter,” Obi-Wan said, following Spike out onto a platform.

An old, dull tan speeder was parked on the far end, looking for all purposes quite out of place when surrounded by the far newer models. Like most speeders, it had no top which Obi-Wan could see, but the front lights had been modified to give the driver better vision in the near constant darkness of this place. Not that Spike needed them. From what Buffy had told Obi-Wan, vampires saw as well in the dark as a normal human being did at noon on Tatooine. It was ‘part of the vamp package’ according to her.

Spike chuckled to himself, as if what Obi-Wan had said was somehow amusing. Before Obi-Wan could comment, however, Spike jumped over the edge of the old speeder and quickly settled himself into the drivers seat.

“Tell the Slayer I’ll be gettin’ in contact with her soon for her answer,” he said, starting the speeder’s engine. “Oh, and piece of advice. Get some good insurance. The Slayer’s boyfriends tend to end up needin’ it.”

“I am not her boyfriend,” Obi-Wan snapped, but Spike was already pulling away from the platform.

The old speeder swiftly disappeared into the snowy darkness, leaving Obi-Wan standing alone. That man - vampire - certainly was a nuisance and Obi-Wan was certainly glad to see him leave. With any luck, it would be the last time that they saw one another; however, that was highly unlikely. Obi-Wan got the distinct feeling that he would be seeing him again soon, much sooner than he would like.

Chapter Twenty-Five: Between Us


Anakin drew his Jedi robes closer around himself, trying to keep the thundering rain from completely soaking him. It had been less than an hour since his Master had spoken to Obi-Wan and the distant storm he had seen gathering had finally come ashore in a powerful blast. For safety reasons, all outbound ships - space or otherwise - had been ordered to stay put and no inbound ships were allowed to even attempt to land in the port until the storm had passed. People closed up the shops and the streets were deserted; even the stray animals seemed to know better than to wander in this weather.

It wasn’t like the storms on Coruscant. Anakin could still remember the first time he saw it rain there. Unlike Kitster, who had never believed the stories about how water would actually fall from the sky, Anakin had been both startled and fascinated when it began to do so on his new homeworld. All during his first storm he had worried that the water would never stop falling and the whole world would drown from all the water. Both Master Qui-Gon and Buffy found his worries terribly amusing, but they at least never made him feel bad about it.

However, as powerful as Coruscant storms were, they had never once made people put a pause on their lives until it passed over. No, this reminded Anakin more of the sandstorms back on Tatooine. No one but a fool would go out during one of those and apparently the same went for here.

So, of course, Anakin and his Master were about to leave.

Master Qui-Gon went to retrieve a speeder that they could take into the Twilight Rim. It would be a long drive and a ship would have been much faster, but they were trying to hopefully arrive without being noticed by the local Security. If a ship with two Jedi arrived, then they would be immediately notified. However, a small speeder with just two passengers would more than likely go unnoticed. At least, that was what they were hoping.

Though his tunic, Anakin clutched the pendent Buffy had given him and try to squash that awful feeling he had in the pit of his stomach. Something was going to happen. He could feel it. Whether it was good or bad, Anakin couldn’t decide, but he knew that whatever it was it was going to change everything.

“Anakin.”

He turned to find that Master Qui-Gon had returned. A speeder was parked a few meters away, waiting patiently in the rain for its passengers. Of course, it didn’t have a top.

“Time to leave,” Qui-Gon said, turning back to the vehicle.

Anakin nodded and quickly followed without a word.

----------------------------------------------------

Pressing her lips, Buffy flopped down onto her bed and dropped one of her traveling bags in front of her. It was already halfway opened, revealing the few clothes that she had brought from her own wardrobe, which basically consisted of a couple of warm pair of pajamas and some workout clothes. The rest of the time, she was stuck with the awful outfits that the Council had given her for this mission. Stupid slutty outfits.

The bag also had a couple of other of her personal items; her shampoo, her makeup, and her extra weapons. That mainly consisted of a couple of extra stakes she had made in case something happened to Pointy Jr., her blaster, and her lightsaber. But she wasn’t interested in any of that at the moment.

Buffy pushed aside the other items and dug to the bottom of the bag. Come on, she knew she had packed some. Unless Ben somehow had found them. Then she was so going to kick his -

“Yes,” Buffy said quietly, pulling out the small package of tartwater candy.

She smiled brightly as she stood up and headed back into the common area she and Ben shared. Okay, it was also acting as his room since the only place they could afford had only one actual bedroom, but they still shared it. Though, she wasn’t going to share her candy because, well, she was starving.

Ignoring the dull throb that the vampire’s scratches caused her, Buffy frowned as she popped a piece of candy into her mouth. She couldn’t help but wonder what it was about slaying that made her so hungry afterwards. Just one of the many drawbacks of a night of slaying, she supposed.

Buffy refused to think of the other drawback that could easily be fixed if she just found herself a boyfriend.

Instead, she focused on the cause of her latest tension. Namely the leather loving leech that had just come crashing back into her life like some kind of fanged wrecking ball.

He wanted their help. She would like to say that she was surprised, but...this was Spike, and nothing about him surprised her. Okay, him showing up in the same alternate dimension that she found herself in was a bit of shock, but was she surprised it would be him? Not a chance. Somehow with Spike, anything seemed...plausible. Especially if it somehow screwed up her life even more than it already was.

She didn’t really get the chance to ask exactly how he ended up as one of the Gython ‘butt-monkeys’ - to quote Xander. Instead their conversation had focused more on what exactly Spike wanted and why. As usual, his reasons were selfish. He wanted revenge - revenge and freedom. They had made him a slave, as much of one as she had been. The collar insured his obedience, or so they had thought. However, they made the mistake of sending him and a handful of others out to find ‘the Slayer’ and ‘her Jedi’ friend, and Spike had seized the opportunity.

Thanks to Spike, she and Ben did find out some interesting facts. Some they had already guessed but others were new. Fact one, Trasdim was actually the company front for the Gythons. It explained why they had not seen any miners wearing the Trasdim logo except for the vampire security personnel that Buffy had slain. Fact number two, Master Pei had accidentally stumbled upon fact number one. Spike hadn’t gone into detail as to what happened to him after that, but Buffy had little doubt there wouldn’t be a rescue mission for the Jedi Master. Fact number three, the guy who had hired those bounty hunters to go after Buffy was also working with the Gythons on some business deal that involved the Jedi. They also knew that Buffy and the others were on Roon and where. What the plan involving the Jedi was or why this guy wanted Buffy, Spike swore he didn’t know. Buffy believed him, mainly because Spike knew if he wasn’t up front with her, she wouldn’t hesitate to turn his undead ass into dust if she thought for a minute he was trying to screw her over.

In the end, Buffy had let him leave thinking that they might have a deal, but she was going to turn him down. She was with him on with the revenge and for taking down the Gythons, but what he wanted was too high a price to pay. Spike was dangerous. Buffy wasn’t afraid of him, but she never forgot for a second that Spike had killed more people than most wars. He couldn’t be allowed to roam the Galaxy on a free pass, and the Jedi would never be able to keep him under control - especially since they couldn’t sense what he was doing. No, he was a problem she was going to have to take care of herself. But since he had helped that night and had given them some useful information, she let him go back so his head wouldn’t explode. As funny as that might be, she didn’t really want to see that cause...eww.

Ben had agreed to ‘escort’ him to the edge of the city and make sure that Spike left. Since Ben knew better than to take his eyes off Spike, Buffy really wasn’t too worried about Spike trying anything. Besides, before he left, she made herself perfectly clear that if he did, she would personally eject his undead ass into a nearby sun. Considering she actually had access to space ships, it was more than an idle threat and Spike knew it.

Buffy hadn’t realized how long she had been sitting there thinking about him until she reached for another piece of candy, only to find they were all gone. Great, she hadn’t meant to eat that many, and now they would go straight to her thighs. Stupid Spike. Even just thinking about the annoying formerly bleached wonder made her life more miserable somehow.

Dropping the now empty bag into the garbage can, Buffy headed back into her room for a pair of her comfy pajamas. Then, she went into the bathroom to get cleaned up.

To top off all the weird stuff that was already happening, there was the strangeness with Ben to deal with. He had been acting so wiggy around her lately. He had started to block off most everything he felt from her, and what he didn’t block felt very controlled to her.

Then, other times, he wouldn’t catch himself in time and she would pick up things, strange things that she had long ago assumed that Jedi just didn’t allow themselves to feel. Like when they had left Coruscant. She had heard those pilots, she knew that they were watching her. It wasn’t anything that hadn’t happened a million times before and she had long ago learned to ignore them. Ben had never even noticed it before, but he did then. What she felt from him before he cut her off from his feelings was difficult for her to describe. It was...jealousy? No, that wasn’t it. Protectiveness? That was closer, but still not really it. It was like for the briefest of moments, his subconscious - she was sure it was that because there was no way that Ben would allow himself to think this for any amount of time - screamed at the men to ‘back off’ before doing so itself. It was weird, and that was the only way she could describe it. Since it had never happened before, she had let it go and just assumed that it must have been stress related.

But tonight, it had happened again. When Spike had made one of his lewd comments about her chest, she had felt the same thing from Ben as she had on the platform. It was still only for a second, and, from what she could tell, he hadn’t even realized what he had felt at that moment, but it was still there.

Buffy sighed as she pulled on her Happy Hairball pajamas - which were actually cartoon drawings of Wookies. This stuff with Ben worried her. There was only one thing she could think of that would make him act that way, but she squashed that thought as quickly as it came. Ben was Jedi Boy, through and through. He’d never let that happen, which was why she was careful to crush or ignore any similar feelings towards him. She was satisfied with being his friend. He was the same with her.

And that’s how things had to stay, she thought with a firm nod of her head.

Grabbing her hairbrush off the counter, Buffy went back into the main room. As she sat down on the couch - which was doubling as Ben’s bed, the door opened and Ben hurried inside. He quickly brushed some large snowflakes off himself and out of his hair before sliding his coat off and tossing it over a nearby chair.

“Spike give you any trouble?” she asked, running her brush through her hair.

“Not directly,” Ben said, sitting down in the chair that his coat hung from. Buffy raised an eyebrow, watching as he pulled off boots. Sensing her question, Ben never looked up from his task as he answered. “Your friend apparently thought it would be fun to park his speeder in Buave territory.”

“Sounds like Spike,” Buffy said. “But it doesn’t look like you got into any trouble.”

“The Force was with us on that count, I suppose.” Ben finally looked up at her. “Spike,” he said, scrunching his nose as if some rotten smell had just passed under it, “really is quite annoying, isn’t he.”

“Hey, choir here. Don’t need preaching to,” Buffy said, sweeping her hand around her head to gather her hair.

Pulling it over her shoulder to brush, Buffy frowned when she noticed the smear of angry red on her hand. Her frown became more defined when she touched the side of her face and drew back bloody fingers. Damn. By now, her Slayer healing should have taken care of those scratches, but she must have turned her head wrong and pulled one opened. Wouldn’t be the first time and, knowing her, it wouldn’t be the last.

“Buffy?”

Her head snapped up and she saw Ben was looking at her oddly. Of course, that might have something to do with the blood on the side of her face and on her hand.

“One of the vamps clawed me pretty good,” Buffy said, wiping at the bloody wound. “Every time I turn my head the wrong way, I pull it open.”

Sighing, Ben grabbed a disregarded towel one of them had left on the desk and knelt in front of her. “Well then I suggest you don’t turn your head so much,” he said rather playfully, inspecting her wound more closely and wiping away the blood. “It’s really not that bad. Nothing to be worried about.”

“Didn’t say it was. Just annoying. Really annoying.” Buffy smiled. “Kind of like Spike.”

Ben grinned. “I hardly think it is that bad. Then, honestly, I can hardly think of anything that could be.”

Satisfied that the bleeding had stopped again, he drew the towel away, reached into the one of the pouches on his utility belt, and retrieved several butterfly bandages. The only real use they had was to keep the wound from reopening, which was why Ben carried them with him. She could heal fast, neither doubted that, but her problem has always been her pulling her wounds open. Thus, these little bandages came in real handy for her.

As he turned her head slightly to the left to apply the bandages, Buffy said, “I don’t know. Being trapped with Jar Jar on a small ship for more than, well, a second, comes in pretty close second.”

“True, but Jar Jar means well. He’s just clumsy. Spike, on the other hand, seems to just do so for the pure enjoyment of being a...”

“Pain in the ass the size of Texas?” Buffy supplied.

“Quite,” Ben agreed, though Buffy was sure he only had the vaguest idea of how big Texas actually was. “There. That should keep it from opening again,” he said, using his thumb to wipe away what little blood was left smeared on her cheek.

Turning her head to face him, Buffy was surprised by how close he was to her and her breath caught. She wasn’t exactly sure what happened at that moment, or what changed. All she knew was that one moment she was talking and laughing with her friend. The next she was looking at him, really looking, and seeing...him.

Oh, Buffy had looked at Ben a million and half times before, so she knew that he was very handsome. Even the Jedi mullet couldn’t change that. But she couldn’t let herself really see him like that. The reason was because he was Ben - Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was her friend. Her partner. And he was a freakin’ Jedi! There was no ‘hitching of breath’ because him or noticing of how hot he was. It wasn’t allowed.

But there was something in the way he looked at her this time. Something in how close he was to her. It made things feel...different. And it terrified her.

Buffy stood so quickly that it nearly knocked Ben down, but she didn’t notice. All she knew was that she had to move before - before they started something they both knew they couldn’t finish. The Slayer part of her screamed at her, demanding that she remain close to the only man in the room. The handsome and...strong man. The same one that she had, on more than one occasion, wondered what it felt like to -.

Stop that, she mentally hissed at herself. No bad thoughts involving him allowed. Bad thought are...bad and he can’t be in them. Nope. No way. Uh-uh. Not going to happen.

Crossing her arms, she took a step away from him and weakly said, “Thanks.”

Great resolve voice, Summers, she thought with a frown.

Though her back was to him, Buffy was keenly aware that he was now standing directly behind her. He was close, close enough that she could smell the smoke and alcohol scent that lingered in his clothes from the club. It wasn’t a scent she cared for, really, but right now she didn’t mind.

Buffy licked her suddenly dry lips, then pressed them tightly together. She had to get out of there...that was all she could think. Perhaps if she calmed herself, she could feel that Ben was feeling the same way, but she wouldn’t dare acknowledge that link between them at that moment. She knew what she had to do.

“We better go to bed,” she said. Her eyes widened and her cheeks began to burn when she realized what she had said. Spinning around, she quickly added, “That’s so not what I meant. I mean, it is, but to, you know, sleep not...”

“I know what you meant, Buffy,” he said, his tone torn between amusement and sincerity. “And you’re right. Master Qui-Gon and Anakin will be here tomorrow and there’s no telling how much time we have before that Spike fellow will try to contact you.”

“Um, yeah. Right.” Buffy shifted uneasily on her feet. “Uh...goodnight, then.”

Then, by sure reaction, she did the stupidest thing she could. She rose up on her feet and kissed him on the cheek. It wasn’t the first time she had done it, but the second she kissed him she knew she had made a mistake. A very bad mistake.

Pulling away, Buffy slowly lowered herself back flat on her feet, one of her hands still on his shoulder and the other one on his chest. She bit down lightly on her bottom lip and held her breath. Her eyes closed when his nose brush against hers and then she felt his lips softly and timidly touch hers.

----------------------------------------------------

She tasted like tartwater candy. That was the only thought that was able to filter through Obi-Wan’s brain. Oh, he was vaguely aware of some part of his mind yelling at him that this wrong. He was also keenly aware of the rest of his mind telling him that it wasn’t and he should want more. But the only part that made any sense - the part that he could actually understand and not have to question - was that simple fact. She tasted like tartwater candy.

The kiss had started timidly enough, proving his inexperience in this field. Then, unlike others his age, he only had instinct to go on, though it seemed to be working well enough. But soon Obi-Wan found that shyness was quickly being taken over by something much more...passionate.


There is no passion; there is serenity.

Obi-Wan abruptly broke the kiss and sucked in a breath.

There is no emotion; there is peace.
There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.
There is no passion; there is -

“Ben?” Buffy said, breaking his line of thought.

Obi-Wan’s eyes snapped open and reality came crashing back to him. Sithspit, he kissed her! He had forgotten his Code, his vow, and he kissed her!

Sith. Sith. Sith!

“Ben?” Buffy said again.

Not looking at her, he quickly moved away. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have...”

Obi-Wan was aware that she was saying something to him, but he wasn’t listening. Instead, he quickly pulled on his boots and jacket and headed for the door. He had to get out of there, before he accidentally looked at her again and something worse happened.

“Obi-Wan,” Buffy said.

Her tone made him pause, but he forced himself not to turn around and face her. They stood there that way for what seemed like a long time, him facing the door with his back to her. In actuality it was probably only seconds.

Finally, he drew in a breath and said, “I am sorry.”

The next thing that Obi-Wan heard was the door sliding closed behind him. A cold blast of wind hit him hard in the face, causing him to suck in a sharp breath. It burned his lungs and throat.

Force, what had he done?

Sighing, he leaned back and rested his head against the cold metal door. He could sense her. She right on the other side. Closing his eyes, he pressed his palm flat against the door.

Sithspit, Buffy, Obi-Wan thought with a frown. What are we going to now?

-------------------------------------

Buffy curled her knees against her chest as she laid her head against the door. He hadn’t left yet. She could still feel him standing right outside. Reaching up, she touched the back of her hand against the door and sighed.

She was so screwed.

Why had she kissed him? She had known better. She should have just listened to herself and got the hell out of there when she had the chance. But did she? No. She had to kiss then...well, kiss him. God, she was an idiot!

Despite herself, Buffy snorted a laugh.

Did she have great taste in men or what? First, a vampire with soul, who could never be with her because he has an evil gypsy curse on his ass that he loses said soul if he has one moment of happiness. Now, the next guy she finds herself even a little interested in just has to be a Jedi, who have very strict rules against things like...liking her.

Lifting her eyes to the ceiling, Buffy sighed and said, “Let me guess, the next one’s going to be a gay priest. Right?”

---------------------------------------------

George smiled to himself as he leaned against the catwalk railing, watching the little Jedi as he pushed away from the door and head off into the snowy night. Well, well, well, looks like the lovely little couple had a bit of spat.

He briefly wondered if it had something to do with the formerly bleached vampire he had sent to greet her earlier, but then realized he really didn’t care. The important thing was, Jedi boy was wandering off into the city by himself and didn’t seem too concerned about his surroundings. Tsk, tsk, Jedi. What would your Masters say?

Chuckling softly to himself, George moved away from the catwalk railing and headed for the shadows.

It was time to finish this job.

Chapter Twenty-Six: Works for Me


Buffy walked towards the statue, her steps slow and almost dragging the floor. She would almost swear she could still see blood on the blade protruding out of Acathla’s chest. Could still see Angel’s blood.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she turned away. It wasn’t her fault. She had no other choice.

“Of course you didn’t,” Angel said, stepping up from behind to stand next to her. “I didn’t give you one.”

Buffy couldn’t raise her gaze to meet his, but knew he was just how she remembered him as well. Tall, hansom, and able to make her heart do the salsa with just one glance.

Why did he have to be here? Didn’t he know she didn’t want to see him? To think about him?

“I know, Buffy,” he said, gently placing his hand under her chin and forcing her to look up at him. She had forgotten how tall he was. Did he always tower over her like that?

“I miss you,” she said lowly.

“I know. I miss you too.” Placing his other hand underneath her chin, Angel leaned down and pressed his forehead against hers. “Just remember, no matter where you are, I will find you. I promise you I always will.”

Drawing in a small breath, Buffy pressed her lips. “Angel - .”

“Buffy!”

She turned sharply, startled by the cry. Around them, the world had changed. No longer were they standing in the middle of the mansion, but they were now surrounded by rock and fire. It smelled of burning oil, human filth, and death. Buffy’s eyes widened as she realized where she was. Angel was still smiling gently at her, not noticing their surroundings.

“Do you know where we are?” she asked in a low whisper.

He titled his head and laughed softly. “ I know where you are,” he said.

She blinked at him. “Then why won’t you help me find him?”

“Because you have all the help you need,” he said.

“Buffy!” the familiar voice called again.

“See,” Angel said. “You better go. I’m waiting for you.”

Buffy’s eyes snapped opened as she drew in a sharp breath. Blinking, it took her several seconds to cut through the fog the sleep had caused and remember where she was. She found herself lying on the couch, her arm under head and her feet tucked between the cushion and the armrest in an effort to keep them warm. Frowning, Buffy sat up and rubbed one of her eyes with the palm of her hand. Her neck was sore and one of her legs had fallen asleep from being stuck in an awkward position for too long. How Ben could stand sleeping on that thing was beyond her.

Speaking of which, why was she sleeping on the couch instead of Ben?

Her frown turned sad as she remembered what happened the night before. That’s right. She and Ben had...and then he freaked. Not that she was surprised. Buffy knew how he felt about stuff like that. It was ‘too dangerous’ and could ‘lead to attachments’ and according to the Jedi Code - which Ben believed in with the same kind of ferociousness that Giles believed that computers were created by demons to destroy books - could lead to the utter destruction of everything the Jedi believe in.

Buffy didn’t believe it, of course. Her attachments had saved her life and kept her grounded and she would fight anyone who suggested she should give them up. But Ben believed in the Code, just as much as she rejected it. As hard of a time as she gave him about it, she tried to respect his belief. He did the same for her, after all, so she might as well return the favor.

But now...

Maybe they were both blowing this into a way bigger thing than it actually was. It’s not like they slept together or secretly gotten married or anything. It was just a kiss, one little kiss, and nothing else. Hell, it wasn’t even their first kiss, though she would admit that the pervious one had been more her way of throwing Ben off balance than anything. Last night’s kiss had been, well, something else.

She had gone to the couch to wait for him to get back last night so they could talk about it, sort of. Okay, maybe it was more of a ‘let’s just pretend it never happened’ or ‘what happens in Motecelo, stays in Motecelo’ kind of deal, but that still counted as wanting to talk. Unfortunately, after about an hour, she had drifted off to sleep on the couch that could double as a Sith torture device. Stupid couch.

Standing up slowly, so she didn’t fall flat on her face because of her numb legs, Buffy made a quick trip to the bathroom to brush her teeth and then looked into her bedroom. She hadn’t felt or heard him come in, but he must have by now. From the dim light around the window curtains, she could tell it was mid-day. Ben had to have been back. However, her room showed no signs of him having slept there or that anyone else beside herself had ever even been inside it.

Now somewhat concerned, Buffy closed her eyes and reached out through their bond. She was relieved and annoyed when she hit his mental shields. At least she knew he was still alive, but not where he was or what he was doing. And he wasn’t answering her. Just as she sent a wave of annoyance at him, she felt two other powerful signatures approaching. Qui-Gon and Anakin had arrived.

Smiling, she moved to the door controls and unlocked it. Before Qui-Gon could even knock, Buffy slid the door opened.

“Hey, guys,” she said, stepping out of their way.

“Hello, Buffy,” Qui-Gon said with a respectful nod as he entered the room.

Anakin followed close behind his Master and Buffy bit back a frown. While Qui-Gon appeared as if he might be slightly cold, Anakin looked half frozen. Small bit of snow fell off his robe as he wrapped it around himself tightly, trying to keep warm in the damp piece of clothing. Great. Buffy wouldn’t be surprised if Anakin were sick for a month after this.

“Sit down and I’ll make some tea,” she said, heading for the kitchen. Okay, so it was just a small warmer on a counter, but it would still work to make a hot drink.

“Thank you,” Qui-Gon said, settling into one of the chairs.

“Well, this ought to wake us up,” Anakin muttered to himself before flopping onto the couch.

Buffy noted that he was still careful not to jar his previously injured arm too much, even though the bone should have been nearly healed by now. Knowing Qui-Gon, he likely had Anakin go under a healing trance the whole way to Roon from Coruscant, and probably a few hours every night as well until the arm is completely mended. However, seeing that they probably traveled straight through the night to get to Motecelo, Ani likely didn’t have the opportunity last night. She just hoped it wasn’t bothering him too much.

Choosing to ignore his comment - mainly because she was still half asleep and didn’t feel like it - Buffy went about making the tea.

“Buffy,” Qui-Gon said after several silent moments. “Where is Obi-Wan?”

Frowning, Buffy was careful to keep her back to him as she began to pour the tea. “Don’t know,” she said, picking up the cups and handing them to the Jedi and Padawan. “Haven’t seen him since early this morning.”

Ani choked on his drink; not from what she said but because of its strength, but quickly continued to drink it down. Qui-Gon, however, raised an eyebrow.

“Oh,” he said.

“You guys have another fight?” Ani asked, finally starting to get a little color besides blue into skin now that he had something warm in him.

Buffy smiled sadly. “Something like that,” she said.

For a moment, Buffy would swear she saw something flash through Qui-Gon’s eyes indicating he knew what the ‘something’ was. However, a rather perplexed looked settled on his features and he said, “A disagreement or not, it is rather odd that he has not returned yet.”

Buffy pressed her lips. Maybe he didn’t know what the ‘something’ was after all. Still, he was right. Ben’s never been gone this long without getting in contact with her somehow.

“I tried the whole ‘reach out a touch someone’ with the bond thingy, but all I got was a busy signal,” she said, the slight worry she had felt earlier creeping into her tone.

“Have you tried using your comm?” he asked. Though his voice was calm, Buffy could pick up on the slightest hint of worry in his tone as well.

Without a word, Buffy went into her room and grabbed her handbag off the dresser. As she dug through it for the small device, she could feel Qui-Gon and Anakin step into the room behind her. Upon finding her comm, she quickly clicked it on and said, “Ben? Ben, you there?” Silence answered. Frustrated and now really worried, Buffy said, “Obi-Wan Kenobi, you answer this comm or I’m going to track you down and kick your -.”

“I take it this must be the lovely Miss Summers I’ve heard so much about.”

Buffy felt her face drain at the unfamiliar voice. That so wasn’t Ben and he didn’t even let her use his comm. That could only mean...

“Who are you?” Buffy asked, careful to keep her voice even and calm.

A light chuckle answered. “Degeorgakiv,” he answered. “But you can call me George.”

-------------------------------------------------------------

An extreme sense of annoyance was what woke him, annoyance and physical pain. The back of his head throbbed excruciatingly and a small moan of protest escaped from his throat before he could stop it. Obi-Wan couldn’t remember much of what had happened, why his head hurt so badly. All he knew for sure was that one moment he was walking through the streets of Motecelo, then next he...He couldn’t remember. He was just here, wherever that was.

Obi-Wan was on his knees, but his hands were locked over his head, limiting his mobility to near non-existence. He could not stand, not without dislocating his shoulders, but he couldn’t sit either because his chained wrists would hold him off the ground. In would seem the only position he could be in was the one he woke to find himself in, no matter the severe discomfort it caused.

Obi-Wan opened his eyes slowly and then blinked several times, trying to clear the fog from his brain, but having a very hard time in doing so. Everything was so jumbled, so distant, even in the Force. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t quite reach it...

With a defeated sigh, Obi-Wan raised his head and looked upward. He recognized the symptoms. Someone had put Force inhibitors into his system, which only allowed a minimal connection with the Force.

He could still remember his first encounter with the device straight from the bowels of Sith hell. It had been his first year as Qui-Gon’s Padawan learner when he had been captured by some slave traders. Seeing he was a Jedi, they had put a collar around his neck that blocked out the reassuring light of the Force and leaving him in near complete darkness. Master Qui-Gon rescued him soon after his capture, but the panic he had felt while he had to wear the collar was a nauseating feeling that haunted him for years.

Judging by the lack of collar, his most recent captors must have the latest design. The type that were injected into the blood stream. They were thought to be only be rumors and nothing more. Rumors that Obi-Wan unfortunately found were true.

“It’s good to see you are finally awake, son.”

Obi-Wan swiftly turned his head towards the voice and instantly regretted it as a nauseating dizziness hit him.

“Careful, son. I think the bastard that did this to you might have cracked your skull.”

A pair of refreshingly cool hands touched his head, causing Obi-Wan to open his eyes. “Master Pei?”

The kindly Jedi Master smiled warmly and nodded his head. Obi-Wan couldn’t hide the shock on his face. In all honesty, he never expected to find the lost Jedi alive.

“We feared that you were one with the Force now, Master,” Obi-Wan said. He winced as Master Pei drew back his hand from the back of Obi-Wan’s head. There was a bit of blood smeared on his fingers, but the Jedi Master made no move to wipe it off.

If Master Pei found what he said offensive, he had a very odd reaction to it. He laughed. When he leaned forward, Obi-Wan sucked in a breath as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. There was some terribly wrong. He could feel it.

“Who said I’m not?” Master Pei asked, and then grinned madly.

Then, before Obi-Wan could fully process what he had said, Master Pei stuck his bloody fingers in his mouth and licked them clean. Obi-Wan thought he was sure he was surely going to be sick.

“You know, Kenobi, I truly believe you’re going to like being one of us,” said Master Pei as his face shifted and took on demonic features.

With a hiss, Master Pei lunged at Obi-Wan’s neck. Obi-Wan tensed and prepared for the sting of the bite, only to see Master Pei being ripped away. The former Jedi Master flew across the cell and crashed hard into the wall. Growling, he scrambled back to his feet, but stopped when Spike stepped between him and Obi-Wan.

“Now, now, Pie. You know better than to try and sneak a snack,” Spike said, crossing his arms. When Master Pei growled threateningly, Spike said in a deadly cold tone, “You best remember who the Master is now, Jedi. And I say leave the boy.”

“Why?” Master Pei asked. “We’re going to turn him anyway. Why wait?”

“Because if you kill him now, the Slayer will know. Seein’ as how he is her boy, after all,” Spike said. “Then she’ll show up, guns a blazin’, and we’ll all be screwed. Now, do you understand that, or do I need draw you a picture?”

Master Pei glared but said nothing response.

“Good,” Spike said. “Now, go tell our boy George that the Slayer’s pet is awake.”

Without a word of protest, Master Pei left. Then, Spike turned his attention to Obi-Wan.

“Why did you help me?” Obi-Wan asked.

Smiling, Spike knelt in front of him and said, “Exactly why I told the Jedi nutter to leave you. Slayer doesn’t take kindly to her boyfriends gettin’ hurt. Tends to enjoy droppin’ organs on people when they do, and that’s not as much fun as it sounds.”

“If memory serves me, you have a bit of experience in that field,” Obi-Wan said, forcing himself not to yell at the vampire yet again that he was not Buffy’s boyfriend.

“Told you a bit about me, did she?” Spike asked brightly.

“Not really,” Obi-Wan answered. “But I have heard about how she dropped something she called an ‘organ’ on some annoying and stupid vampire who was making her life miserable. Seeing as you fit that description...Well, it doesn’t take someone with Master Yoda’s wisdom to figure out that she was referring to you. Even if she never did feel you were important enough to be mentioned by name.”

Something dangerous flashed through Spike’s eyes at Obi-Wan’s insult, but the vampire just continued to smirk and laugh. “Share the Slayer’s policy on showing gratitude to people who save your life, don’t you Jedi?” he asked. “But, I’m guessin’ you got no real worries about me havin’ to protect you for long, seeing how your girlfriend is probably saddlin’ up to save your ass right about now.”

Despite himself, Obi-Wan snapped, “She is not my girlfriend!”

-----------------------------------------------

“It’s a trap, Buffy,” Master Qui-Gon said calmly, watching the Slayer as she stormed back into the common room carrying a bag. “Surely you must realize this.”

Anakin leaned against the far wall, watching his sister and carefully staying out of her way. Her face was set and her eyes were cold as she dropped the bag heavily onto couch. In all the time that he had known her, he couldn’t think of a time when she had been this angry. Well, maybe when that Sith had attacked him back on Tatooine, and then when those vamps attacked them on Coruscant. But this was the first time she has been this angry because someone besides him was in danger. It wasn’t a comforting sight.

Ripping the bag open, Buffy began to remove the weapons from inside as she said, “Don’t care. They’ve got Ben. I’m getting him back.”

“Well, it’s good to see that you’ve thought this through,” Qui-Gon said dryly, eyeing several sharp pieces of wood - Anakin remembered her calling the weapon a stake one time - she pulled from her bag.

“You want to just leave him there?” Buffy asked coldly.

“Of course not,” Qui-Gon said. “But this George person obviously has a plan. We need one as well if we want to have any hope of retrieving Obi-Wan without finding ourselves in a situation that we cannot possibly hope to win.”

Buffy snorted as she checked the sight on her blaster. “This coming from the guy who ran head first into a war zone - with its fun Sith attachment at no extra cost - with only his Padawan at his side and a Slayer to watch your back?”

“Yeah, but at least Padmé had a plan,” Anakin said, having grown tired of being left out of the conversation. “What do you plan to do, besides get us captured and killed?”

Frowning, Buffy turned her icy glare from Qui-Gon, to Anakin, and back to Qui-Gon. “You guys want a plan. Here it is. We go in. We find Ben. We kick some Gython ass. We party. Now you can either help me or get the hell out of my way. Don’t really care which.”

Sighing, Qui-Gon glanced at Anakin, who shrugged. “Of course we will help,” the Jedi Master said.

“Good.” Crossing her arms, Buffy shifted her weight to one foot. “George is Jonesing for the Slayer so bad? Well, he’s going to get one and then he’s going to find out what a Slayer really is.” She paused for a moment, her frown shifting from anger to a contemplation. Looking down at her clothes, she said, “That would have been more intimidating if I wasn’t wearing my Happy Hairball pajamas, wouldn’t it?”

“Worked for me,” Anakin muttered to himself.

Judging by the look on Master Qui-Gon’s face, he agreed.

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Playing to Win

For a secretive, evil corporation that was one of the worst abusers of human rights and strived to fly under the Republics radar, Trasdim mines were easy to find. Settled just beyond the Twilight Rim in the Dark Zone, the desolate facility was located on the side of a black mountain that blended perfectly into the eternal night that surrounded it. If one weren’t paying attention, they could easily crash into the side of it and never be the wiser as to what they actually hit.

The facility itself was what probably saved some travelers from that fate, since it was rather well lit and stood out brightly in the darkness. Unfortunately, there was no saving light at the end of their tunnels, only pain, madness, and death.

Qui-Gon silently and swiftly moved along the edge of the mountain path toward the docking bay cut into the side. By way of security, there was not much to see. A few guards stood at the docking bay entrance and he was sure that there were a few security cameras, but there was nothing more. They were not afraid of intruders or that their ‘employees’ might try to escape. Their over-confidence was definitely their weakness, just as Buffy had predicted.

Pausing at the edge of the end of the path, which had a good two and half to three meter gap between it and the edge of the docking bay platform, Qui-Gon glanced back at the children. Anakin was guarding the rear. His lightsaber and the stake that Buffy insisted that he take - which speciously look liked a branch from the recently vandalized Xal’ter tree in the Room of a Thousand Fountains - were still clipped and tucked into his belt, but the tension the boy exuded told that he was ready to draw either one at any given moment.

In all honesty, Qui-Gon was rather surprised that Buffy had not insisted that Anakin stay behind. As much as her confidence in him and his abilities had grown over the years during his training, Qui-Gon found that she still often viewed his Padawan as the innocent nine-year-old that she had watched over on Tatooine. Qui-Gon wasn’t quite sure what made her overlook her natural instinct to protect Anakin for this mission. Perhaps it was because she knew that they would need his help or perhaps it was because she knew a Padawan must follow his Master’s orders or perhaps it because she was having a harder time of seeing him as a child because he was now as tall as her. Which ever was true, he was glad to have Anakin here and not having to waste any time trying to convince Buffy to let him come. The mission had a greater chance of being a success with Anakin at his side.

Buffy stood between Qui-Gon and Anakin. Unlike the two Jedi, who were careful to guard against any personal feelings they might have about this mission, she projected anger, worry, and cold determination to all those around her. Those were dark and dangerous feelings - for a Jedi. For the Slayer...It bothered him, but Qui-Gon had learned long ago that when Buffy decided to do something, there was no stopping her. At least this way he and Anakin could keep an eye on her.
Since Buffy had found the clothing in the wardrobe the Council had given her unsuitable, she was currently dressed in one of Obi-Wan’s smuggler outfits. The already loose fitting black pants appeared as if they were only being held up around her waist by the much too large belt, and what part of her petite frame wasn’t hidden by the oversized tunic she wore was swallowed by the jacket she had on over it. A pair of Anakin’s boot finished off her outfit. Her lightsaber was clipped to the belt and her blaster hung loosely at her side, but Qui-Gon knew she had used the bagginess of her clothes to conceal several other weapons. The cross Anakin had given her on the airbus hung low against her collarbone.

Buffy raised her gaze to meet Qui-Gon’s and gave a very small nod. Returning it, Qui-Gon drew in a deep breath and turned his attention back to the platform. As his Padawan was fond of saying, here’s where the fun begins.

Gracefully and silently, Qui-Gon easily made the jump to the platform. Landing in a crouch in the shadows, he swiftly moved to the darkened wall for cover as Buffy and Anakin made their own jumps. They both quickly hid behind a nearby speeder. As Buffy peeked around it, Qui-Gon turned his attention to the guards.

Neither of them had noticed their arrival.

Raising his artificial hand, Qui-Gon prepared to send a suggestion through the Force to them that there was a noise that they should go investigate. Buffy, however, had other plans. Standing, she walked into the open area that formed a runway for the speeders and ships parked around the hanger. By the Force, what was she thinking? Qui-Gon wondered as both he and Anakin scrambled after her.

The way she moved was casual and friendly, like there should be nothing wrong with her being there. He and Anakin flanked her, making them almost look like her bodyguards. Unlike her, they both carried a great amount of tension in their steps, which grew the closer they came to guards. Qui-Gon hoped that Buffy knew what she was doing.

The guards stiffened and raised their weapons, but Buffy still seemed unconcerned. Instead, she smiled brightly and said, “Hey there.”

“Halt,” one of the guards said. “Stay where you are.”

Buffy continued on as if she had not heard him. “We were wondering if you guys could help us. See, we’re looking for a friend of ours and we wanted to make sure we got the right place and that he’s not at the other evil mining company ran by a bunch of ugly-ass demons. We got the right place?”

The Force warned Qui-Gon a moment before they opened fire. He and Anakin moved in sync, both drawing their blades far quicker than either of guards could see. Anakin easily blocked the only shot fired, before they cut their enemies down with a few simple movements of their lightsabers. The guards bodies had barely touched the ground when he deactivated his lightsaber, clipped it back to his belt, and turned back to Buffy.

“There were far easier ways to deal with them than that,” he snapped rather irritably at her.

“I don’t know. Looked pretty easy to me,” she said, her tone no longer chipper but even and detached.

“They look human,” Anakin said, staring at the body at his feet. “Are they vampires?”

Shaking her head, Buffy knelt next to the guard Qui-Gon had killed. “Just a disguise. Probably for in case someone accidentally shows up.”

Grabbing the side of the guards face, she easily peeled it away to show a disgusting looking creature beneath. Ignoring the slight look of disgust on Anakin’s face, she quickly collected the guard’s ID and tossed it to Qui-Gon.

“Security pass,” she said, moving to the next body to retrieve his ID as well. “If they’re like the Special Ed branch from Tatooine, these cards should get us into anywhere inside. As long as they don’t, you know, find these guys just lying around.”

Nodding in understanding, Qui-Gon grabbed the feet of the guard he slain and drug him out of site. Anakin quickly followed suit with the other guard.

Opening the door, Buffy quickly entered with Qui-Gon and Anakin once more helpless but to follow behind. Muttering lowly, Buffy said, “I’m baaaack.”

-------------------------------------

They hadn’t gotten far inside when they split up. It was part of the last minute plan they had come up with in the speeder on the way over. Well, sort of. Buffy had actually started coming up with the plan about five seconds after she hung up on Georgie Boy. Sure, it was half-baked and relied more on luck than skill, but so did most of her best plans. Hey, just look at the whole Judge thing. Or the Angelus thing...okay, bad example. The point was, no matter what Qui-Gon and Anakin had thought at first, she actually did have a plan. She just hoped that all her favors with the PTBs hadn’t already been called in just yet.

Buffy pressed herself against the wall at an intersection and glanced over at Anakin as he slid in beside her. Though Qui-Gon wasn’t happy about it, she had insisted that Ani come with her. Logically she explained it away as the fact that Ben might be hurt and she would need Anakin’s help to get him out of there. In actuality, it had more to do with the fact that Buffy didn’t want her little brother running around a mining company full of demons and vampires that he couldn’t sense with a Jedi who couldn’t sense them either. At least with her around she should be able to give him a heads-up if she felt badness approaching.

Qui-Gon, well, he was kind of on his own. But, hey, Jedi Master, right? Well, so was Master Pei. But Qui-Gon knew about vampires and how to make them go poof, so maybe he had a bit more advantage than Master Pei did. She hoped, at least.

Buffy held her breath as she heard footsteps approaching. By the feel of them, some were demons, four, maybe more, but there was probably at least ten more people with them. Ani felt them, the people, and curiously leaned forward to get a better look. Buffy quickly reached over and pushed him back against the wall and shook her head.

A moment later two large Gython guards marched by. Since Buffy and Anakin were against the wall that was in the direction they were coming from, they passed by without noticing the pair of humans hidden in the shadows.

Behind the Gythons were two rows of humans. They were shuffling along silently with their heads turned down to the floor and their hands cuffed in front of them. They were older and most had long, matted hair and were wearing dirty, torn sack shirts that the Gythons were so fond of having their slaves wear. Each wore an identical shackle around their necks, which had a long chain connecting the slaves together in a line. Buffy didn’t see why they had those on. These people weren’t going to run.

As if hearing her, one of the men lifted his eyes from the ground and looked at her. Buffy breathed in sharply, praying silently to anyone who was listening that he didn’t alert the guards to their presence just yet. That thought was quickly left when she realized that he wasn’t actually looking at her, but through her; like she was part of the wall. His eyes were dead except for the smallest flicker of utter despair.

Buffy turned her head away, unable to look at him anymore. She had seen those eyes enough the last time she was in a Gython mine. She didn’t need to see them again.

“Lily,” the man muttered quietly, causing Buffy’s head to shoot up again. However, by then, his head was turned downward once more and he seemed to have forgotten all about seeing her.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Anakin looking at her curiously, but she just kept him pressed against the wall with her arm until the two other Gython guards passed by. Once they were a good ten feet down the hallway, she released Ani and quietly moved into the adjoining hallway and in the opposite direction.

They hadn’t gone far when they reached another intersection. Buffy froze in her tracks when she sensed the vampire waiting there. Reaching for the stake, she glanced back at Anakin. He was smart enough to know she meant for him to arm himself, so he unclipped the lightsaber from his belt. With a nod, Buffy raised her stake and went for the vampire.

The stake froze in mid-air halfway to its unconcerned target. Spike, who was in the middle of smoking what actually looked like a cigarette, raised an eyebrow.

Okay, why didn’t it surprise her that Spike would somehow manage to find cigarettes in a dimension that didn’t even have them?

Dropping the half smoked stick and stomping it out with his foot, Spike said, “About bloody time you showed up. I was startin’ to get bored.”

“And I’m caring, why exactly?” Buffy asked, tucking the stake safely back into her belt.

Childishly, Spike made a face at her before turning his attention to Ani. “You brought refreshments? That’s awful good of you, pet.”

Her fist struck him faster than even Spike realized it could. “Look at him like that again and you’re going to wish the Gythons had made your head do the funny exploding thing,” she said in a deadly tone. “Now where’s Ben?”

“Bloody hell,” Spike said, cupping his hands around his nose. “What is about you and going for the nose?”

Ignoring him, she snapped, “Spike!”

“Right down to business, eh,” Spike said, wiping the blood off his face. “Well, that’s no fun.” Before Buffy could respond, he backhanded her hard across the face. “That was.”

Anakin responded before Buffy could, throwing Spike against the wall with a powerful blast from the Force and pinning him there. Spike growled dangerously.

“Stop it, both of you,” Buffy bit out at both of them. “Ani, put him down.”

“Ani?” Spike repeated with a chuckle. “I’m bettin’ recess is hell for you.”

“Shut up, Spike,” Buffy said, before turning back to her little brother. “Anakin, let him go now.”

After glaring briefly at her for the order, Anakin did as she said. Spike easily fell back to his feet as Anakin said, “Don’t you touch her again.”

“Ooh, help me, Slayer. I’m being threatened by the mini-Jedi,” Spike said, holding up his hands shaking them dramatically. “What you goin’ to do, Harry Potter? Turn me into a soddin’ toad?”

“Spike!” Buffy said irritably, drawing the vampire’s attention away from Ani. “Ben, take us to him. Now.”

With one last growl at Anakin, Spike turned his smirking attention back to Buffy. “Fine, pet. But just you remember what we talked about. I’m expectin’ a thorough back scratchin’ for this,” he said. “Alright then, kiddies. This way to our special exhibit. Now remember, no tappin’ on the glass or feedin’ the Jedi. Wouldn’t want to get him all riled up, now would we?”

The trio, led by Spike, turned and headed down the hallway. Buffy and Anakin trailed behind the vampire, neither to eager to get close enough to him for fear of him trying to make ‘civil’ conversation with them. However, Anakin wasn’t one to keep silent for long, not anymore than his sister was.

“Buffy,” he said, apparently not listening to Spike as he prattled on about ‘the soddin’ Gyths are goin’ to curse the bloody day they took him’. Though, Buffy would admit, he did have some interesting ideas about how to use those collars.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Can I stake him?” The way he asked the question, like he was asking for the last dinner roll, made Buffy smile. “Please.”

“Sorry, An, but you’re going to have to get in line for that,” she said with a grin. “And trust me, it’s a long, long line.”

“A lot of people want to stake him, huh?”

“Only anyone who’s ever met him,” Buffy said.

“I can hear you, you know,” Spike said over his shoulder.

Smiling, Buffy said, “Oh, we know.”

With a shake of his head, she heard Spike mutter, “Bloody Slayer.”

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Stealth was not something that came naturally to Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan and Buffy were built for it, but Qui-Gon, even with all his gracefulness with most movement, was much too large and lumbering for stealth. Oh, his height and overall largeness could be valuable asset - it still surprised him how many lifeforms would crumble and cower or simply listen to him just because he would expand himself out to his full height - but it was troublesome in others.

Many years ago, when Qui-Gon was still a Padawan learner, his Master, Master Dooku, swore many times over that if a mission ever depended on Qui-Gon’s stealth skills, all was lost. As much as he admired Master Dooku, his blunt truthfulness often came across as callus and even cruel, no matter how he meant the statement only to be for Qui-Gon’s own benefit. A weakness is only a weakness if you let it be, had been his Master’s philosophy. So, Qui-Gon refused to let it be his weakness. He worked for years on improving his stealth abilities until he was finally able to do it to his Master’s satisfaction. As the years passed, it became more of an instinct for him to move this way on missions and he was now quite skilled at it, but he never forgot for a second that if he was not careful, he could easily be given away.

So far this night, the Force had been with him. What guards he had come across he had easily avoided.

The last real obstacle he had to face was making it from one end of the catwalk that the hallway opened to, to the main security office that was at the other end. It was designed that way to keep people like him from making it to the security office without being noticed, but also allow the guards to be able to keep an eye on the slaves working in the pits below as they come and go to the office. Qui-Gon drew in a deep breath and held it for a moment. This was going to be a real trick.

Gathering up the Force, Qui-Gon checked one last time to see if anyone was looking at the catwalk. Once satisfied that they were not, he ran for the office door with Force induced speed. His steps were quiet and quick, and he appeared as little more than a blur should anyone look up at the catwalk at that moment. Perhaps he would be able to make it to the office before drawing any attention.

A half a second after that optimistic thought crossed his mind, Qui-Gon heard the door of the office begin to slide open. He couldn’t sense who was on the other side, which was not unsurprising considering that it was difficult for him to sense the Gythons and impossible for him to detect vampires for some reason. However, it didn’t really matter. Unless he wanted to alert everyone in the facility to his presence by fighting this person off, Qui-Gon knew he needed to disappear.

---------------------------------------------------------

The sound of rushing air made Marked look up from his data pad as he exited the security office. The badly scarred fledgling vampire, who had only been bumped up the food chain a mere two weeks prior, still hadn’t gotten control of all the new enhancements that his promotion had given him, so he wasn’t sure at first of whether he had actually heard something, or simply imagined it. Yet, there was something there. Something that made him feel as if the world around him was off.

Oh, the smell of fear and death still filled his nose with its all too pleasant scent; and that darkness and decay the mines offered that had once frighten him so now filled him with a sense of wonder and joy. But there was something new in the air. Something that made this shadowy world shine with the slightest glimmer of light.

Marked walked to the middle of the empty catwalk, but paused where the odd feeling was strongest. He could smell a human. He could hear a strong, steady heartbeat, that told him whoever it was, was unafraid. And they were nearby.

Moving to the edge of the catwalk, Marked peered over the railing into the workers pits. Directly below him were two slaves. One had clearly been there for quite some time, as he - or possibly she - kept their dirty head down and worked in silence.

The other one, however, was being anything but. Marked took in his still relatively clean tunic and the quite, yet passionate way he was trying to speak with to the other slave and smiled. There was one in every group of newbies. One that thought that somehow they would escape or bring down the company. None ever succeeded, though. At least, not that he knew of.

Putting away the data pad, Marked headed for the nearest lift that would take him into the pits. It was time the newbie found out that there was no longer any such thing as hope.

------------------------------------------------------------

Qui-Gon held tightly onto one of the bars that hung under the catwalk. His legs were stretched out the length of the catwalk from left to right, and his feet were neatly slipped into the identical pipe that hung down from the other side. His long hair fell down around his face as he looked below into the workers pit. He watched and listened as one of the slaves tried to discuss a possible escape plan with the other one he was chained to. From what Qui-Gon saw, the other was not interested and didn’t even appear to hear him.

Qui-Gon rather felt sorry for the poor boy as the creature that was standing directly over his hiding space began to walk away. He knew the boy had been spotted by whomever it was that had come out of the security office. Qui-Gon also knew that it was most likely because of him that he had been spotted. As much as he wished to leap down to the pits and protect the young man from the fate he had brought upon him, Qui-Gon realized that he could not do so just yet.

However, if he was successful in his task, then perhaps the slave stood a chance.

Acting quickly, Qui-Gon briefly scanned the worker’s pit to make sure no one was looking. Then he slipped his feet out from the bar and swung back and forth like a gymnast on the uneven bars. Once he had enough momentum, he let go and flew upwards. Using the Force, because it would have been impossible to pull this off otherwise, he twisted and turned himself so that he landed safely and silently back on the catwalk.

Pulling out the security card Buffy had given him and grabbing his lightsaber with his artificial hand, Qui-Gon continued on to the security office and prepared himself for the fight he would encounter inside. He failed to notice the pair of once familiar dark eyes that were watching him were now tinged with sparks of yellow and madness.

-----------------------------------------------

Spike led them down several corridors, which eventually took them to the lower levels. They were much darker than the upper levels, with only the most bare minimum of light being emitted from dull glow rods spaced every fifty feet or so. Much of the walls of the passage were roughly carved into the mountain, but some of it appeared as if it had occurred naturally. It only took Buffy a moment to decide that the Gythons must have found this cavern and simply turned it into a holding area for their new ‘guest’. Probably because the cave made the new slaves even more decisive in their thought that they really were now stuck in hell.

Score one for creepy decor in the Gythons psychological warfare.

When they passed several empty holding cells - which had the cliched iron bars and everything - Buffy had to resist the urge to shiver. It seemed like yesterday, and a lifetime ago, she that had awoken in one of those with Lily. If she closed her eyes, Buffy could see Lily curled up in the corner, her knees held tightly to her chest, as she muttered on and on about how they were now in hell. This wasn’t hell, but it was the closest that Buffy had ever come to it.

Palpy’s office ran a pretty close second.

Anakin walked closely beside Buffy, his head continuously moving as he searched for any signs of danger. So far, they had not really come across any. That wigged Buffy. That George guy knew they were coming. Hell, he engraved the invitation. Yet, Buffy hadn’t seen any extra guards or more security or anything like that. So, that meant one of two things. Either Georgie didn’t tell the Gythons that they were coming, for whatever reason. Or this really was a big fat neon sign trap and she had just led her brother and Master Qui-Gon to their doom.

I’ll take ‘Neon Sign Trap’ for two hundred, Alec, Buffy thought. They had figured as much before they left for this little outing. But it was like Ben had told her once. Sometimes the only way to move forward is to set off the trap and see what happens. She just hoped they didn’t get smashed to pieces in the process.

Spike led them into a large, intersecting cavern, which reminded Buffy of a beehive. Three stories had been cut into the walls, with walkways that only had one or two guards walking. The floor level, which Spike was taking them out onto, had a small unit of guards gathered near one entrance. The mixed group of Gythons and vampires were laughing and speaking cheerily among themselves and didn’t seem the least big concerned that they might be attacked in the very near future.

Halting at the end of the hallway, Spike peered out into the cavern then turned back to Anakin and Buffy.

“Jed’s in a holdin’ cell cross the way, but we got company. ‘Bout twelve of them out there,” he said, glancing over his shoulder and into the cavern once more to be sure of his count. “And ‘bout three more patrollin’ the upper levels.”

“We can handle that,” Anakin said confidently.

Spike had a measured look in his eyes. “Don’t doubt it, Bart, but how far out there do you think me, you, and Lisa here will get in this little rescue operation before one of the boys out there sounds the alarm?”

“He’s right,” Buffy said, peering around Spike. “The closer we can get to them before attacking the better. Ideas?”

Spike smirked and Buffy frowned. Why did she get a bad feeling about this?

“Tell me, love,” he said. “Did you ever see that Zorro movie that came out a few years ago?”

------------------------------------------------

Obi-Wan tried not to wince as he twisted his wrists in the shackles. He could feel the edges cutting into his skin, but he had to ignore the small burning pain it caused. He needed out of them. Once that was done, he could worry about the next part of his plan, getting out of his cell, then past the guards, and finally finding a way out of here completely. Step one, first, though.

Really, he knew he could get out these shackles whenever he pleased, but, in doing so, he might hinder himself in the rest of his escape. Yes, the pain could be ignored, but fighting with two dislocated and potentially broken thumbs might make some things rather difficult; like operating a weapon or driving a speeder and such. Still, he needed to get out, and the sooner the better. Especially if Buffy was on her way.

“Let me go you bleached blond moron!”

Obi-Wan sighed. Too late.

His cell, like the others that lined the walls of the cavern, was of an old fashion design; three stonewalls, bare except for the cuffs attached to them, a cold, dirty floor, and one wall made of bars and a matching door. Obi-Wan had to turn his head to peer through them, but he could easily see out into the main prison area. The main prison area, he might add, that was full of guards.

Across the room, Buffy and Anakin stumbled in as Spike pushed them roughly from behind. He had both Buffy and Anakin’s lightsabers clipped to his belt and was carrying Buffy’s blaster. However, neither Buffy nor Anakin appeared to be harmed, and Obi-Wan knew the fight they would have both put up to keep their weapons with them. Also, both their wrists were bound in front of them with what looked like the cable, which seemed odd. Why not use the cuffs like they had him bound in?

Obi-Wan frowned. There was something wrong with this situation. When Buffy’s eyes caught his, he knew it for certain. This was not what it seemed.

And was she wearing his clothes?

“Bleached blond moron?” Spike mocked. “Oh, you can do better than that, pet.” Before she could answer, Spike turned to the curious guards. “Look what I found snoopin’ about.”

One of the guards - a Gython - stepped forward and peered at Anakin and Buffy curiously. “Those the ones the boss been waiting for?”

“Yeah. Bit of a disappointment, though. The Slayer here used to be a real hellcat. Must be her old age.” Obi-Wan was quite surprised that Buffy’s ‘death glare’ didn’t cause Spike to turn to ash. Of course, the vampire ignored her. Instead, he looked up at the catwalks overhead and ordered, “Oi, you up there. Run and tell Georgie and his Baldness that we’ve got their Slayer and another Jedi.”

There was a faint sound of boots clanking against metal that faded quickly. Spike, Buffy, and Anakin seemed to watch whoever it was disappear, then turned back to the other guards. Anakin glanced at Buffy, who nodded her head ever so slightly. Pressing his lips, he returned it and stared intently at the two nearest guards. Obi-Wan then saw the Padawan twist his wrists and work his hands out of the bounds that held them together.

“Right, then,” the Gython guard from earlier said, grabbing Buffy forcefully by the arm and pulling her close to him. “Let’s go, sweetheart.”

“Sorry. But I don’t date minions,” Buffy said with a chipper smile.

The Gython just had time to blink before Buffy pulled free from his grip, locked her fingers together, and smashed her giant fist into his face. The force of the hit lifted the guard nearly a foot in the air. When he crashed to the ground, Buffy reared back and kicked him in the head, rendering him at least unconscious.

She barely had time to look up from what she had done, before three more tried to tackle her. Sidestepping one, Buffy somersaulted high in the air and landed directly behind the other two. She kicked one hard in the back and spun to kick the other. However, the guard - a vampire - caught her foot and used it to spin her.

Buffy fell to the ground on her stomach with a grunt. She rolled onto her back just as the vampire lunged at her. Popping her feet into the air, she grabbed his jacket and rolled back onto her shoulders until she flipped them so she was now sitting on his chest. Twisting her wrist in few simple gestures, Buffy now held the cable pulled taut in her hands before wrapping it around the vampire’s neck and pulling it with all her might. A second or so later, the vampire guard lost his head and dissolved to ash.

Unseen by her, at the same time Buffy was fighting off the one vampire, Spike had gone after the two other guards that had attacked her. Tackling the Gython to the ground, he knocked him across the face several times with a look of perverse pleasure resting on his own features.

“Soddin’ space Nazi,” Spike spat with a smile as he punched him in the temple. The smile slipped to a frown as the guard lay unconscious under him. “Soddin’ pansy space Nazi. Come on, you could take more than that!”

The other guard hit him in the back of the head, knocking Spike to the ground. However, instead of being dazed, the vampire just rolled onto his back and the smile returned.

“Now this is what I’m talkin’ about,” he said. Spike then leapt to his feet and attacked the guard.

At the same time Buffy attacked, Anakin raised one of his free hands at another guard and threw him across the room with a powerful Force blast. The guard crashed into another one, knocking them both to the ground. A vampire guard launched at Anakin, but the boy quickly ducked, making the vampire fly over his head. During those same moments, Anakin used the Force to call his lightsaber to him. Just as the vampire attacked again, Anakin ignited his lightsaber’s blade. With two swift cuts, the vampire guard was nothing but a pile of dissolving ash.

Getting off the floor, Buffy calmly walked to where Spike and the guard were currently trying to pound each other unconscious. Never breaking her calm stride, she reached into her coat and promptly produced a stake and drove it into the guards back. His body became ridged for a split second before he dissolved.

“Hey!” Spike said, appearing as if Buffy had just broke his favorite toy.

Instead of answering him, she just grabbed her lightsaber from his belt and then shoved the stake into his hands. “Go help Anakin,” Buffy said, but added, “and try to place nice with the other children.”

“Don’t I always, pet,” Spike said waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

“God, you’re just all about the ‘ew’ aren’t you?” Buffy asked, scrunching her nose.

“Always,” Spike agreed. “Now, go toddle off and save you’re boyfriend. Me an’ the midget here can take care of the rest of them.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Buffy said, turning and heading towards Obi-Wan’s cell. If she saw Spike roll his eyes or say ‘right’, she didn’t comment.

Thanks to her lightsaber, Buffy made short work of the cell door.

“Took you long enough,” Obi-Wan said, moving slightly as she came to examine the shackles that held him in place.

“Well, you know me. Had to do my hair. And then I had to find something to wear, but that wardrobe the Council gave so wasn’t doing anything for me. Then we had to, you know, find the place.” She paused and bent down near his face. “Really, Ben. Next time you plan on getting kidnapped, let me know like three hours ahead of time. You know, so I can get ready in advance.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said dryly.

She frowned at the cuffs and pulled at them. They remained firmly in place.

“Close your eyes,” Buffy said, raising her lightsaber.

Obi-Wan’s eyes widened before he squeezed his eyes shut and pulled his body forward, trying to put as much distance between himself and the blade. He felt the heat from green blade pass dangerously close to the back of his hands before he found himself falling forward to the ground. Twisting mid-air, Obi-Wan landed hard on his side and groaned.

“You okay?” Buffy asked, clipping her lightsaber back to her belt and kneeling next to him.

“I will be,” he said, weakly pushing himself up. Half a second after he got to his feet, his legs decided that that wasn’t a good idea and he found himself falling once more.

Buffy caught him half way down. “Whoa, easy.”

Slipping his arm around her shoulders, Buffy wrapped her arm around his waist and pushed him upright with her free hand. Her face was uncomfortably close to his, and he felt her cheek brush against his as she adjusted his weight.

“Are you okay?” she asked again.

He smiled and looked away from her. “Yes.”

“Good,” she said. Buffy then slapped him hard in the chest. Obi-Wan coughed and winced. “You stupid jerk! What we’re you thinking? Oh ‘la la la, even though one Jedi has already disappeared on this stupid planet, I shouldn’t have worry about that. You hear that demons I can’t sense? Come and get me.’”

“Buffy.”

“Cause I thought you Jedi had more sense then that, but nooo. Just had to prove me wrong - again, didn’t you?”

Obi-Wan sighed. “Could we please discuss this later?”

“You can so bet your Jedi mullet we are,” Buffy said.

“Oh, somebody’s in trouble,” Spike said in a singy-song voice.

Obi-Wan and Buffy looked up at the same time to see the blond vampire standing in the doorway. His arms crossed and a condescending smirk playing on his lips as he causally leaned against the metal frame. He almost appeared friendly. Almost.

“Get out the way, Spike,” Buffy said coolly.

A chuckled rumbled in Spike’s throat. Obi-Wan felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

“Sorry, love. Bit of a change of plan.”

Chapter Twenty-Eight:Axis,Allies,and the Undecided

Clicking off his lightsaber, Qui-Gon frowned at his handiwork. The vampires had been easy, dissolving quickly into nothing more than a few tiny piles of ash. The few Gythons - thankfully, there were only three - were left lying on the floor, their bodies to one side and their heads to the other. Because he couldn’t sense vampires and could barely sense Gythons it had just been easier to take their heads so he wouldn’t make the mistake of leaving a vampire ‘alive’ and free to attack him. It wasn’t a pleasant way for anyone to die, but a necessity in this case.

He quickly he glanced out the large window over the control panel to make sure no one on the floor had noticed - which, surprisingly they hadn’t, but that was probably due to the fact that the office was so high up they couldn’t see into it anyway - and then scanned over the security system. It wasn’t overtly difficult to understand. This should all be done with in a manner of minutes. He just hoped that Buffy and Anakin had been able to make it too Obi-Wan by now.

Qui-Gon was nearly through hacking the codes when he felt the Force scream at him before something hard hit him against the head. Falling hard to the ground, Qui-Gon scrambled back to his feet.

“I knew once young Kenobi was capture that you would not be far behind,” a dark, lean figure said, leaning against the wall next to the door. “Hello, Qui-Gon.”

The figure still wore his Jedi robes, though his presences was absent from the Force, and, if that were not enough, the disfigured face and yellow eyes confirmed what Qui-Gon feared. Pushing himself to his feet, Qui-Gon said, “Hello, Master Pei.”

Pei smiled and pushed off from against the wall. His stride was playful and bouncy, but predatory at the same time. He moved nothing like a Jedi should.

Slowly, Qui-Gon’s hand drifted towards his lightsaber. Though Pei had his hands behind his back as he walked, Qui-Gon felt certain he had drawn his weapon as well.

“The Council received my message, I see,” Pei said. “Of course, that was nearly two standard weeks ago that I sent it, but better late than never I suppose.”

Pei stopped about a meter away from Qui-Gon and glanced at the bodies laying at his feet. “I’m impressed, Master Jinn. We Jedi never really enjoy the act of decapitation, but you seemed to have a good grasp on that particular form of execution.”

Frowning, Qui-Gon ignited his lightsaber. Pei raised an eyebrow, but continued to smile.

“I am sorry about this, Master,” Qui-Gon said.

“Don’t be, Qui-Gon,” Pei said. “In fact, I’m quite looking forward to this.”

Then, before Qui-Gon could response, there was the familiar click-hum of a lightsaber being ignited and Pei attacked.

-----------------------------------------

Anakin was pushed to the ground in a kneeling position next to Obi-Wan and in front of a large desk. Both Jedi had their hands cuffed and locked behind their backs, which made Anakin’s still healing arm throb a bit, but he refused to show that he was in any sort of pain or discomfort. Qui-Gon had taught him better than that after all.

Two men were behind the desk, one standing and one sitting. Well, neither one of them were really men, Anakin supposed, but it was a close enough description. Anakin recognized one of them. Mr. Alturn, President of Trasdim Mining Corporation.

The other was a large, scared man that looked familiar to Anakin, though he couldn’t quite place were he had seen him before. Anakin assumed he must be this George guy he had heard so much about.

“Hands off, demon boy,” Buffy snapped as the Gython guard shoved her to the ground on the other side of Obi-Wan. Her hands were bound as well.

“You will be silent, girl,” the Gython sneered and backhanded her hard across the face.

Anakin jerked to try and help his sister, but another guard grabbed him and held him in place.

“You’re going to regret that,” Obi-Wan said coolly.

“That’s enough,” George said with a frown.

The Gython smiled down at Buffy, then went to join the other guard. Spike chuckled as he walked past Buffy to lean against Mr. Alturn’s desk. Buffy glared at him in return.

They really had been stupid to trust the vampire. The moment Buffy had disappeared into Obi-Wan’s cell, Spike turned on him. Anakin wasn’t really sure what he did to him, only that one moment he had been fighting next to the vampire and then next thing he could remember was being dragged down the hall by a pair of vampire guards. His head hurt - though he was doing his best to ignore it at the moment - and it wouldn’t take someone like Master Yoda to figure out that he must have been hit over the head.

Anakin frowned and pulled at the binders around his wrists. He was sure how long he was out, but surely Master Qui-Gon should almost be finished. Well, in truth, he should have been finished by now, Anakin felt certain of that, but there must have been some sort of problem that needed to be taken care of, so they would just have to buy time until then. Though there was nothing to tell him, he felt certain that Obi-Wan and Buffy understood that. And, knowing his sister the way he did, Anakin knew that wouldn’t be a hard job for her.

With a growl, Buffy said, “Spike, you two-timing, son of a -.” She then sighed and a sarcastic smile fell on her lips. “You know what, forget it. I can’t even act surprised.”

Spike smirked and then, oddly, placed his and Buffy’s lightsabers on Mr. Alturn’s desk. Of course, Anakin wasn’t about to point out his stupidity for putting their weapons so close, and neither were Obi-Wan or Buffy for that matter. Spike then picked up a small package off the desk. George’s frown turn on him, but Spike didn’t seem to notice. Instead, he opened the pack, put one of the white sticks inside between his lips, and lit the end.

“What can I say, love? They had a better offer, what, them letting me keep my head an’ all. Besides.” He leaned in close to Buffy’s face and blew a large amount of smoke in her face. “I hate you, remember?”

She scrunched her nose and coughed. “Trust me, the feeling’s mutual.”

“I’m sure it is, pet,” Spike said.

Buffy smiled and shook her head, but there was no amusement behind it. “I’m so going to stake your sorry bleached ass.”

“Ooh, promises, promises,” he said, waggling his eyebrows.

A nervous cough drew Anakin’s attention back to the men behind the desk. Mr. Alturn shifted uncomfortably in his chair and turned to the scarred man next to him. “So, this is the girl?” he asked, nudging his head towards Buffy.

Anakin suppressed a sigh. When were people going to figure out not to call Buffy ‘girl’? It just made her kick their asses that much hard when she got free. And judging by the look on her face, they were already in for the beating of a lifetime as is.

He caught Obi-Wan’s quick eye-roll. Apparently the Jedi knew that as well.

George eyed her carefully now smiling. Really, he looked very familiar somehow. “Yup, that’s her,” he said, sounding rather pleased and completely ignoring both him and Obi-Wan.

“Not much to her, is there?” Mr. Alturn said, tilting his head.

“Hey!” Buffy snapped.

George chuckled. “Now, now, Tar-y. You should know better than anyone that looks can be deceiving. Just look at yourself. Or that little green troll that runs the Jedi Council. Size doesn’t always indicate power.”

He took a step to the side so he was now standing directly in front of her. “And she’s definitely a little green troll.”

After staring at George for a moment, Anakin turned his gaze to meet Obi-Wan’s. It was a look of pity because they both knew what Buffy was going to do to him for that comment. Anakin might not know a lot about women, but he knew you never called them a ‘troll’, let alone a ‘little green troll’.

Gritting her teeth to apparently stop herself from making one of her trademark remarks, Buffy instead said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I mean, look at me. I’m small, blonde, pretty.” That last part was directed at George. “I mean, like, what could I really do to you big, strong demon-y guys?”

She batted her eyelashes for a good measure and Anakin had to literally bite his lips together to keep from laughing. Oh, yeah, like anyone was going to believe that.

Spike snorted and pushed off the desk, muttering a complaint about the smell from some kind of pile Buffy apparently made.

George just continued to grin. “You know, Ms. Summers, I think that might be the biggest lie I’ve heard since ‘I am not a crook’. Or maybe ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’. Those run pretty close together, if you ask me.”

Buffy shrugged a shoulder. “Worth a shot. You’d be surprised how often the ‘dumb blonde’ thing actually works.”

“Not as often as you like to think,” Obi-Wan said quietly. This time, Anakin did laugh in remembrance of the numerous time Buffy had tried to pull that ‘dumb blonde’ act on Watto or even his mother - nearly all of which had failed miserably - but Anakin quickly changed it to a cough when Buffy turned a murderous gaze on the too.

George just chuckled. “Well, be that as it may, Ms. Summers, it’s not going to work here ‘cause, unlike most the morons here, I know exactly who you are. Which, I think means, you’ll understand.”

Anakin sat up a little straighter. Even without the Force, he could hear there was something terribly wrong in George’s tone. Judging by the way Buffy was practically bowing her body now, she heard it too.

Come on, Master, Anakin thought, we really need you right now.

“Understand what?” Buffy asked carefully.

“Why this is necessary,” George said, then snapped his fingers.

Moving faster than was humanly possible, the guards descended on Buffy. Obi-Wan snapped at them to leave her alone. Buffy spouted off a sonnet of vile curses that would make even a space pirate blush. And Anakin could remember jerking towards them to try and help, again, only to be held in place once more by the same guards that grabbed him before.

The commotion last only briefly, happening and ending before Anakin had really registered what had happened, but the results were clear from the shiny metal band wrapped snugly around his sister’s neck.

The anger on Buffy’s face was deadly and, though Anakin knew it was no way directed a him, he found himself rather glad that Obi-Wan was set between him and his sister. “Get this thing off of me,” Buffy said with a tight jaw and baring her teeth at George.

“Yeah, right,” George said. “How stupid do you think I am?”

“Oh, I really don’t think you want her to answer that,” Obi-Wan answered, surprising Anakin and George. “She has a tendency ramble on once she gets started on something she knows she right about and I’d really rather sit here like this for the rest of night. How about you, Anakin?”

Anakin understood well enough. It was their turn to try and buy some time because at least they wouldn’t get shocked to near death for being annoying. And, as his sister often pointed out, being annoying was something Anakin was good at.

“Um, no,” he said, shifting himself as if he were uncomfortable. “And he’s right, you know. She really can ramble. Talk, talk, talk. That’s all she does. Really annoys the Masters back at the Temple.”

“Quite,” Obi-Wan agreed.

“I do not!” Buffy snapped. She actually looked irritated with them.

“Buffy, you were banned from the Archives because you refused to remain silent,” Obi-Wan pointed out not unkindly.

“And the holo-cinema near Dex’s,” Anakin added not so kindly, but he did refrain from adding ‘which is why we had to go to the one seven block over and two floors up the other night’. “Of course, I think that had more to do with her throwing food at lead female and telling her ‘to pick up the knife and fight back, you stupid cow’ than her actually talking through the whole thing. But the Temple of Delia on Iknd told her not to come back until she learned to keep her mouth shut. And - .”

Anakin snapped his mouth shut when George lifted his hand and Buffy suddenly fell over and began to convulse. She tried to shut her eyes, but the pain coursing through her made her face contort in agony and her eyes roll somewhat up into her head. Still, she refused to scream.

Stunned him for a moment, Anakin was unable to do anything stare. He was aware of Obi-Wan doing something - yelling and getting to his feet, only to be restrained - but it took a moment for the whole situation to catch up to him. When it did, Anakin raged.

“Leave her alone!” Anakin said, jumping to his feet. At the same time, a powerful blast of the Force ricochet through the office, knocking everything and everyone around him a few feet back or to the ground.

Obi-Wan and the guards that restrained him fell to the floor and landed in an entangled mess of arms, legs, and bodies. Spike jerked back and hit the wall of the office. The desk shot backwards and knocked Mr. Alturn hard in the chest, forcing George to stumble backwards, and cracking the window behind them. The controller fell from his grasp and Buffy stilly on the ground.

Anakin knew it was wrong for him to be like this. Wrong to let his hate get the better of him and wrong to use the Force through it, but he didn’t care at that moment. As angry as he had been with Buffy lately, she was still his sister and no one was going to hurt her like that. He’d do anything to stop it.

Then, with a groan, Buffy rolled her head to face him and blinked. “Ani,” she said softly and her tone made him freeze. He needed to stop. She needed him to stop.

As if he had been slapped, Anakin stumbled backwards. His heart pounded in his chest and his blood pumped loudly in his ears. By the Force, what had he done? What had he almost done? Buffy and Obi-Wan, they had seen him...And Master Qui-Gon had to have felt...Oh, Sith. Sith. Sith. Sith! What was he - ?

A loud thud accompanied by a sharp pain to the back of his head cut off Anakin’s line of thought. Someone had hit him, hard, and the world around him felt heavy and was growing dark. In less than an hour, he had been knocked unconscious twice. And three times in a week if you included that night with Buffy. That had to be some sort of record, he thought ideally before his knees gave and he found himself falling to the nearly blacken floor.

-------------------------------------

Qui-Gon ducked and dodged and countered as Master Pei moved fought swiftly and gracefully and with deadly position. The similar green blades cut through the darken room, one always blocking, the other always advancing. They moved fast, stopped hard against one another, and moved again. Neither winning. Neither losing.

High block. Pivot left. Duck to the right. Block right. Jump. Block left.

It was a familiar dance. Pei may not be a Jedi any longer, and Qui-Gon might not be able to sense what he was about to do next, but Pei was trained to be a Jedi and therefore fought like one. As Buffy often pointed out, originality in fighting skills was not one of the Jedi’s strong suits, and Qui-Gon oddly found himself thankful for that fact.

It was hard work maneuvering through the small area, which was made even more difficult by the three bodies that littered the ground and the fact that Qui-Gon could not let Pei harm the console. He still had work to do, after all, and that console was vital.

Pei grinned as he duck Qui-Gon’s blade. Had he been a fraction of a second slower, it would have decapitated him. Pei brought his blade back up and knocked Qui-Gon’s back forcefully.

Master Pei wasn’t as old as Qui-Gon, but there was only a few years between them. Pei shouldn’t be as fast as he was now, or as strong - his age shouldn’t have allowed it. But Buffy had explained about human’s becoming more agile and having increased strength once they turned, so Qui-Gon was hardly surprised by that.

What worried him, though, was that he didn’t know if Master Pei still had mastery over the Force or not. If he did, and the way he wheeled his lightsaber suggested that was true, then it had to come from the Dark Side. If that were true, then they were all truly in serious trouble if he did not stop him.

Pei’s blade came down hard onto Qui-Gon’s, knock it towards the ground. Then, before Qui-Gon could react, Pei’s fist shot out and knocked him backwards. Well, he was certainly starting to fight like Buffy. Stumbling back, Qui-Gon quickly steadied himself and brought his blade back up, but Pei apparently had become board with him and settled for pacing a few feet away from him.

“I must say, I’m rather disappointed,” Pei said, looking down at his fingernails and acting as if Qui-Gon was no threat whatsoever. “After all the talk about how you and your apprentice defeated that Sith a few years back, I would have thought for certain that you would be some sort of challenge. Apparently, I thought wrong.”

“Well, you are hardly a Sith Lord, Master, so you cannot expect me to fight the same way with you,” Qui-Gon pointed out and blinked.

By the Force, he needed to stop speaking with Buffy so often.

Pei continued to grin and chuckled. “No, I suppose not. But that can change soon enough.”

Qui-Gon frowned. “What do you mean?”

This time Pei laughed. “Surely you can feel it, Qui-Gon. Even way out here, in the middle of no where, you have to feel. Smell it. Taste it full in your mouth.”

Pei stepped closer to him and Qui-Gon bristled but forced himself to remain still. Timing would be everything in the next attack.

Smiling, Pei said, “Change is coming, Master. In fact, I think it’s already here.” Hysterically, Pei began to laugh and Qui-Gon felt an ice cold chill travel down his back from the sound. “Don’t you get it, Qui-Gon? The Jedi are already dead and they don’t even know it.”

Apparently this was another side effect of becoming a vampire. Insanity. Buffy hadn’t warned them about that.

“I assure you, Master Pei, the Jedi are still strong,” Qui-Gon said.

The humor dropped quickly from Pei’s tone and demeanor. “And I assure you, Master Qui-Gon, you are quite mistaken.”

Qui-Gon opened his mouth to counter when a sudden, intense rage echoed through the Force and nearly knocked him backwards in surprise. The shock of nearly took his breath away, but not because he had felt it, but because of who it was coming from.

“Anakin,” he said quietly.

Pei was looking in the same direction as Qui-Gon and the grin rose on his lips again. “Well, he might be a bit of fun to play with, yeah?” Pei said. “But, I guess I have to finish with you first.”

Then, their battle continued.

-----------------------------------

Spike blinked as the boy crumpled to the ground...again. Really, the kid should learn to look out for people behind him.

While the others gathered the whits back about them, Spike pushed off from against the wall and brushed some imaginary dust from his uniform. “Well, that was a bit dramatic, wasn’t it?”

“Had no idea the kid had it in him,” George-y said, picking up the controller and slipping it back into his pocket. “No wonder everyone’s so interested in him.”

George stared at the boy’s body for a moment, then turned to his Baldness.

“You know, we could get a really good price for him.”

Baldy the Great balked and said rather coldly, “Don’t even think it. I rather like my life the way it is now, with me being alive to live it.”

“Yeah, yeah,” George said with a dismissive wave of his hand.

He then walked around the desk and threw the Slayer over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. The guards had to once more restrain Jed from doing anything. Spike tried not to smirk, but it was rather hard not to. George may say that he knew about the Slayer and what she was capable of, but he was carrying her around like that suggested that he really didn’t.

“You’ll never get away with this, you know,” the Jedi said, causing George to turn to him.

When he did, the Slayer barely lifted her head and caught Spike’s gaze. Her eyes were hard and telling, and Spike gave her the slightest nod of understanding.

“Oh, please tell me he really didn’t say that,” George said with laughing, spinning around to face Spike and Baldy.

Spike shrugged and idly began to pat his pockets in search of the cigarettes he had lifted off George-y Boy. “Guess this is the part where you say ‘I already have’. Of course, then, you’d have to get your ass kicked, you know.”

“Yeah, well, really rather wouldn’t.”

He adjusted the Slayer’s weight on his shoulder, and in the process grabbed her ass. Spike was really rather impressed by the Slayer’s restraint of not kicking him in the head. That, or that shock had weakened her more than he thought. If that was so, maybe he should rethink this whole thing.

“Well, I better be going. He’s already going to be pissy enough as is because I had to shock her. God forbid I’m late on top of that,”George said turning and heading for the door. “Oh, and I might suggest pumping that kid full of whatever those things were that you used on the Jedi here. Just to be on the safe side.”

“What do we do with the Jedi?” Baldy asked.

Spike rolled his eyes. This was his capture. Well, he definitely wasn’t the real brains of the operation, now was he?

“I say go ahead and do what we were planning to do in the first place. Pei should be finished with the other Jedi by now. Then we can have three to show off, plus hand over Chucky here,” George said almost as if an afterthought before disappearing out the door.

Spike frowned. Well, this certainly wasn’t going the way they thought it was, but then hardly any of the Slayer’s plans did. He just wished that bloody Jedi would hurry the hell up. When he did, then, well, then the real fun would begin.

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Taking Over the Asylum

The twin green blades crashed against one another in a mesmerizing beat. It was rather like a storm in the desert night, flashing and crashing and destroying anything that was unfortunate enough to get in the way, which included half the console - thankfully not the important part - and several chairs. One blade moved a fraction faster than the other, the other having grown tired from the battle. This had gone on for far too long for both of them. It was time to end it.

Qui-Gon yelped in shock and pain when Master Pei brought his blade around and slashed his leg. He stumbled and saw a victorious smile rise on Pei’s face. As the former Jedi raised his blade, Qui-Gon gathered his energy and the Force and quickly released a powerful blast. Pei flew backwards and crashed hard into the wall, which would have at least winded a normal opponent, but a vampire didn’t need to breath.

In those moments that Pei gathered himself, Qui-Gon began to collect what he could of the Force again. For this to work, he needed to concentrate.

Chuckling, Pei pushed himself off from the wreaked wall. “Is that the best you can do, Qui-Gon?”

“No,” he replied and raised his blade high. “It’s really not.”

With a feral growl, Pei launched at Qui-Gon. As he almost literally flew towards the younger man, Qui-Gon ducked and leapt to the side, causing Pei to crash into the side of the console. It would have been funny, had the situation not been so dire. A few sparks flew into the air and Qui-Gon hoped that nothing of vital importance had been broken.

Stunned, Pei barely had time to sit up when Qui-Gon directed two parts of a destroyed chair to fly at him. Pei easily dispatched them, destroying one even further with this lightsaber and sending the other crashing through the window. If no one had noticed them before, they surely had by now. Not that that mattered. This was all going to be over in a matter of moments.

Solemnly, Qui-Gon raised his blade again and said, “I am sorry about this, Master.”

Then Qui-Gon drew back his hand as if he were about throw another powerful blast of the Force at Pei and tossed him out of the broken window. Pei instinctively braced himself and unconsciously took one hand off his lightsaber’s handle to grab the edge of the console to prevent himself from flying away. He should have realized that Qui-Gon was far too close in the proximity to the vampire for him to let his guard down like that for even a fraction of a second, which was all the Jedi needed.

Instead of releasing a Force blast, Qui-Gon concentrated the Force in his attack. Moving almost quicker than the human eye could follow, Qui-Gon pivoted on the balls of his feet and twisted his lightsaber to make a large circle at his side to gain the right momentum. Then, before Pei could react in anyway, Qui-Gon grabbed the vampire’s hand that held his lightsaber and pulled it away. At the same time, Qui-Gon brought his own lightsaber blade up in a smooth slice and cut off Pei’s arm that rose to try and protect himself from the blow before finally slicing through the neck. It went through at an awkward angle, and Qui-Gon felt ill at the thought of what kind of mess it would have made had he been using an actual metal blade and Master Pei weren’t a vampire. Instead, he only had to listen to the unnatural sound of a body crumpling to ash and the gentle, familiar hum of his own weapon.

Qui-Gon stood there for a moment, watching the ash fall and float downward, covering the floor and the console. Master Pei was one with the Force now, and Qui-Gon truly hoped that he had found peace. But mourning would have to wait until later. He had a job to do and people he cared about were counting on him.

Brushing aside a little of Master Pei and the broken glass, Qui-Gon went quickly about his task. Far sooner than he had hoped, there was a confirming beep. The prison cells were unlocked. The binders connected to the system were unbound. The controller cuffs and collars were deactivated.

The slaves and prisoners - be they man, alien, vampire, or Slayer - were free.

-------------------------------------------------

Buffy laid over George’s shoulder, watching the office door get smaller and smaller as the demon - she knew he had to be one - carried her across the catwalk. That shock from the collar had weakened her, and her throat now burned as old scars reopened, but she ignored it. She had been in worse pain than this before, and she’ll be in worse still...which wasn’t as comforting a thought as she had hoped it would be. Still, until Qui-Gon did his part, there was not much she could do at the moment, what with her hands bound and a control collar around her neck. Sure, she could do some damage, but she really wanted to inflict the maximum against this guy and the Gythons, so she could wait. Though she wasn’t sure for how long.

Steam hissed out of one of the machine’s below and rhythmic clicks and clangs of in-use mining equipment and the slave chains echoed in the chamber. Other than the sound of work, the occasional whip lash, and George’s footsteps, the work area was eerily quite for a place filled with people. That was the thing she hated about being in the place; the pain and badgering and abuse she could handle, but the silence she could not.

“So, do I get to know where you’re taking me?” she asked.

Though she couldn’t be sure, Buffy thought George chuckled. For such an evil SOB, he sure was a happy guy. “Away,” he said.

“Gee, thanks for clearing that up,” she snapped.

Buffy paused for a moment.

“You better mean ‘away’ as in ‘some actual place far, far away’ and not ‘I’m taking you away to be my demon bride’,” she warned. “Cause, I got to tell you, I’d make a lousy wife. I so don’t cleanup after people, I’d make it a point to be rude and violent towards your friends, and if you expect me to cook for you, you’d better get used to the taste of charcoal. And arsenic.”

“You really don’t shut up, do you?” George asked.

He shifted her weight, again, and Buffy clenched her jaw. Qui-Gon so better get his Jedi ass in gear before she does something she wouldn’t regret.

When she didn’t answer him, George said, “No, Ms. Summers, I have no intention of making you my ‘demon bride’. Not that I don’t think you’re cute, but I’d really rather not wake up with a stake in my chest.”

“Smart,” Buffy said.

“I like to think so,” George said, as the reached the end of the catwalk.

Instead of taking her back towards the hanger, however, he turned in the opposite direction in the hallway and took her through a labyrinth of corridors before entering a large room. Buffy twisted as best she could to try and see the space better when he stepped into it. Her heart stopped and leapt painfully all at the same time when she saw the dark, slender pool placed in the middle of the room.

He dropped her on the floor near the edge of the room and went to the pool side, peering over into the dirty liquid with no uncertain amount of disgust. “That’s really nasty,” he said. “But I can’t jump dimensions carrying you like a sack of flour, so I guess we’ll have to make do.”

“You’re taking me back?” Buffy asked blankly, staring at the pool.

Something in her mind corrected her. He was taking her home. All this, everything he had put her and Anakin and Ben and Qui-Gon through, and he did it all to - what? Take her back? Take her home? But why? Didn’t he say he was supposed to take her to someone? But who knew she was here? Giles and her friends and her mom had no idea where she was, so, who?

Did it really matter? She was going home. She could fight her way away from anyone he took her to. And she could go home to Sunnydale.

But what about Anakin? He was her brother. He needed her, didn’t he? If that little display back in the office was anything to go by, he did. No, she couldn’t just up and leave him without so much of an explanation or a goodbye.

And what about Ben? They had that whole bond thing going. If she just up and jumped dimensions, she might make both their heads explode!

Buffy purposely ignored the other reason she really didn’t want to leave him. Thoughts like that weren’t something she could deal with at that moment.

Luckily, she was saved the worry because she felt the binders around her wrists click open and the burning sensation the collar caused suddenly stopped. Pushing the thoughts about going home aside for the time being, Buffy felt a somewhat feral smile grow on her lips. Oh, Qui-Gon was so the man.

And no one - no one! - will know she actually used the phrase ‘the man’. Ever.

Slowly and quietly, Buffy slipped her hands out of the binders and placed them on the ground. The correctional collar followed soon after. Once she was free, she silently rose to her feet and started towards George.

“Yup,” he said in answer to her question, popping his ‘p’ and stupidly keeping his back to her. “Course, this is a one-way ticket, you know. Had Wtar set it up special for us. Portal closes the second me and you go through. I drop you off into his waiting arms, and then I pop back over here using my species oh-so excellent dimensional traveling ability and then me and Tar-y start raking in the dough from our, eh, other little project.”

By the time he finished, Buffy had managed to sneak up directly behind him.

“You just have one tiny little problem with that plan,” Buffy said.

George jumped and spun around. She smiled brightly at him and tilted her head to the side.

“Me,” she said, and then hit him in the side of the head with a powerful punch.

The only reaction his body had to the hit was his head shooting backwards. He held it there for a moment and laughed, the slowly lifted it again to look at her.

Okay, that so wasn’t good.

“Not really a problem if it’s just you trying to stand in my way, girly,” George said, before hitting her hard across the face and nearly knocking her to the ground.

Yeah, so not good.

------------------------------

Obi-Wan held himself ramrod straight with his chin lifted defiantly in the air. Alturn was looking nervously towards Spike, as if unsure the vampire would do as he said, and then back towards the guards who held Obi-Wan and Anakin. Another guard that had been present had been sent to retrieve the Force inhibitors to put into Anakin’s system and would probably be back shortly.

The boy had yet to come back around and laid slack between the two guards, though they were still obviously nervous about it. After that display, Obi-Wan understood perfectly well why, but, as much as he would like to lecture Anakin on his use of the Dark Side - even for the briefest moments - now was hardly the time. Besides, it would probably help if he were awake during it; though, knowing Anakin as he did, it would probably take just as well either way.

Still, now was not the time to worry about such things. There were bigger problems at hand. How they were going to escape. What were they going to do about Alturn and his ‘business’.

Whether Buffy was alright.

Spike still leaned leaning against the wall with his arms crossed and something of a smirk playing on his lips. But he was staring at Obi-Wan, hard, as if he were trying to see right through him.

“How long will it take for him to wake-up after you turn him?” Alturn asked Spike, though the vampire continued to stare at the Jedi.

“Couple of hours. More than enough time to slip a collar around his scrawny neck, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Then, Obi-Wan felt it. The binders around his wrists loosened with a click and, should he choose, he could wrench them free.

But, at the same moment, he saw Spike’s smirk turned predatory. Though Obi-Wan was already starting to feel the pinpricks the Force starting to get stronger within him, he didn’t need it to know that he was free as well.

And the bad feeling that had been plaguing Obi-Wan since he awoke in this place turned gut wrenching.

“Of course, your Baldness,” Spike said, turning his smile from Obi-Wan to the Gython. “You’ve got bigger worries now.”

With a growl, Spike shifted his face and launched at Alturn. At the same time, Obi-Wan pulled himself free and grabbed the lightsabers off of the desk, hoping that he could somehow keep a bad situation from turning even worse.

----------------------------------

Sam was working at the end of a line, chipping away at the wall with his pickaxe, when the commotion started. At first, he thought that maybe one of the new kids had started a ruckus and drew the attention of the guards; it wouldn’t be the first time. Sam himself had been their focus of attention more than once and knew that shouting usually meant that someone had made themselves a target.

It was probably that boy they had hooked on the end of his gang, the one that still answered with ‘Jack’ every time they asked him his name. Stupid of him, really. Sure, defiance was a good thing to have in a place like this, but defiance and stupidity were two different things. You keep your name to yourself and mouth it with barely a whisper to those on your gang when none of the guards are paying attention. And when asked, you give those things the answer they want. That’s what keeps you from getting beat. That’s what keeps you from getting killed. That’s how you’re not driven insane and actually forget who you really are. And the rate this kid was going, he’d never learn that.

However, that was not what was causing the commotion, and it only took Sam a moment to figure that out. Just as he straightened himself up to see down the line and placed the pickaxe on his shoulder, he heard a click at his feet and then saw the chain connecting him to the middle-aged woman next to him fall to the ground. Sam knew that they weren’t normal chains and that they worked off some kind of mechanical or magnetic principle because the guards had to use some kind of controller to connect or disconnect them from one another.

A brief wave of panic rose through him as he thought that perhaps he had done something wrong and was about to be punished. But there were no guards around waiting to drag him off to a cell or strip him of his clothes and whip him in front of the others for an example. And there were others down the line, standing up with their work tools in their hands and looking about with the same bewildered, worried expression. One boy - Jack, Sam thinks - even picked up the chain and inspected it.

Sam moved his attention from his gang to the others that were working around them. Some continued on as if nothing different had happened - those would be the ones that had let this place get to them; the ones that had given up all hope, just like the creatures had wanted. More than a few, most, actually, stopped what they were doing and looked around.

A woman that carried the chipped rocks to the waiting carts stood almost rooted in her place, her hand going to the collar around her neck. Carriers always had to wear the shock collars because the creature’s felt they were the most likely to try and flee since they were bound to no one. It was a painful job, both because of the collar and the backbreaking work, and the people who did it learned fast not to touch the thing around their neck if they didn’t have to. This woman, however, reached up and simply pulled the thing off like a cheap necklace.

What was going on?

Of course, the massive halt in production drew the attention of the guards. A small group of no more than three descended onto Sam’s gang. They were yelling threats at them, flashing the only weapons they carried in the pits - a whip - and telling them to get back to work.

“No,” Jack said.

Sam could see him down the line, still holding the chain in one hand and his shovel in the other. There was a guard near him and he quickly swooped in on Jack. With a quick raise of his hand, he backhanded Jack across the face. Impressively, Jack remained on his feet.

“You will obey!” the guard hissed.

“No,” Jack said again.

While the argument was going on, Sam thought that he heard glass break and someone scream, but he couldn’t take his eyes away from them long enough to see if he really had.

Whatever was about to happen, it was going to be bad.

---------------------------

Qui-Gon hurried out of the security office and looked over the catwalk railing. Just as he had thought it would, the chains that connected the slaves with electronic locks had come undone and they were now free from one another. The tools the Gythons used might have looked old, but Qui-Gon was certain that was for the benefit of the slaves. A scare tactic and nothing more.

He was please to note that far more people than he had expected had stopped doing their work once they were free, though none seemed to know quite what to do. Maybe these people hadn’t quite turned into the sheep that the Gythons had thought.

The boy he had seen earlier was still standing directly below him, and was now holding the chain in his hand. However, by this time the guards’ attention had been drawn and they were trying to keep things running as usual. Though the Force was still muffled by this place, Qui-Gon could still sense that some were not going to be compliant. The boy below most certainly wasn’t, but was the only one to voice it.

The guard backhanded him across the face and ordered him back to work. Qui-Gon gathered up the Force and his body tensed. When the boy refused again, the guard raised his fist again and Qui-Gon jumped over the railing.

----------------------------------

The guard jerked his arm back to strike Jack again when a robed figure dropped next to them. He landed silently and Sam felt his stomach tighten in fear when for a brief moment he thought he recognized him as the one of the new, more insane vampire’s that had recently been created. But then the man shot up to a standing position, clicked on some strange, glowing bladed weapon, and pointed it the guard’s throat.

“You will not strike this boy again,” the man said calmly.

“Jedi,” the guard hissed, making Sam wonder if the word were some sort of ancient curse.

Then, before any of them really realized what was happening, the three guards attacked the ‘Jedi’ as one. Sam watched with something that he could only liken as to awe as the man - who was rather tall and large - gracefully and swiftly moved, cutting his ‘sword’ through the air and guards with practiced ease that only someone who had used that kind of weapon their whole life could. The others watched as well, all with similar looks on their faces. In fact, Sam was fairly certain that Jack had a new hero.

When the last guard fell to the ground, Sam found that he and the others had unconsciously moved into a circle around the stranger. The man looked somewhat sad at what he had done, but resolved all the same. Sam just stared.

They could be killed. These demons - these creatures - they could die just as easily as them.

“You saved me,” Jack said as if he couldn’t quiet believe it. He then looked down at the chain in his hand. “You freed us too.”

There were some shouts from across the work area along with the sound of running and Sam knew that more guards were coming. Judging by the jerk of the man’s head and the way he stood a little straighter, he had heard them as well.

“Not quite yet, I’m afraid,” the man said solemnly. “You can be free, but I’ll need your help.”

“Got mine,” Jack said eagerly, dropping the chain to the ground so he could grip his shovel with both hands.

The others, however, were more reluctant. Though there really wasn’t time, most stopped and looked at one another, as if their actions were going to be decided by the person standing next to them instead of them having to make up their own mind. Sam could see some wanted to fight, wanted a chance to be free, but weren’t quite ready to be the one to take that first step. Weren’t quite ready to put their lives completely into the hands of a stranger who had fallen from the sky and had already saved one of their own.

The shouts were growing louder and Sam thought for a moment he could already hear others starting to fight back. Had they found out that these things can die just like them?

They could die. They could be killed.

“Quickly,” the man said. “There’s not much time.”

These things could be killed by people like them.

Drawing a deep breath, Sam gripped his pickaxe and stepped forward. “Lead the way.”

The man nodded and then headed towards the sound of the guards. To Sam’s surprise, most everyone followed.

-----------------------

Spike heard the Jedi ignite at least one the lightsabers and cut through someone, but he hardly cared. His focus was on someone else, and he didn’t think that the Jedi would do much to protect him at the moment.

Alturn or Wtar or whatever you wanted to call him pushed himself back into his chair with wide eyes and Spike seized his arms and pinned them to the armrests. He was in full game face and could practically smell the fear and surprise oozing from his ‘boss’s’ pores. His heartbeat was rising, and Spike felt his muscles clench with excitement.

“Release me,” Balderella said, raising his chin defiantly.

A chuckle rumbled in Spike’s throat. “Now, do you really think I’m going to do that? Especially since you asked so nice an’ all.”

“You will do as you are told,” he spat back. “You are my property to do with as I wish and I wish for you to release me this instant.”

Spike stared at him for a moment, honestly shocked at the arrogance that this ponce had, and then began to laugh a deep belly laugh. He laughed until tears were rolling down his face and his stomach began to ache.

“Oh, you are full of piss and vinegar, aren’t you?” Spike asked merrily.

“I am deadly serious,” Baldy said.

All the humor in Spike’s tone dried instantly. “No, mate. You’re just dead.” Leaning in close to his soon-to-be former boss, Spike added, “Consider this a hostile takeover.”

Before his Baldness could react, Spike grabbed the front of his shirt and his belt and threw him out the window. The glass shattered on impact, sending pieces of it flinging out into the open air along with the Gython.

Spike smiled as he listened to his screams and then that satisfying crunch when he hit the floor.

A blaster bolt crashed near Spike’s head, causing the vampire to jump. Turning, he saw that the Jedi was quickly doing away with the slow moving guards and Spike got the distinct feeling that now would be a good time for him to leave.

Even if the Slayer had promised him a twenty minute head start, he highly doubted Jed here would listen or comply with that. Spike had betrayed them, after all. Well, sort of. Slayer knew all about it, but somehow he didn’t think she let the others in on that part of plan, which would be bloody typical of the little bitch.

Well, if he was going to stay alive, he best be going. Not many guards to distract the Jedi for much longer.

And with that thought, Spike drew the Slayer’s blaster and scampered out of the office in a manly fashion.

--------------------------------------------

Buffy’s back hit the door to the room hard, briefly knocking the breath out of her. George was on her before she had regained her senses fully, but she managed to duck and dodge his well aimed punches. Blocking one of his hits, Buffy raised her foot and kicked him square in the chest, knocking him a few feet back. Without much thought, she opened the door and hurried into the corridor. There wasn’t much more room to fight out there than in the room, but at least she wasn’t trapped in a relatively small room with a big pool that threatened to take them to another dimension square in the middle of it.

Quickly, before George had a chance to join her in the hall, Buffy drew the stake she had hidden in her boot.

“You’re kidding me, right,” George said lazily as he stepped into the hallway and spotted Buffy’s weapon. “I’m not some stupid vampire, you know.”

“Maybe not, but I bet a stake to the heart isn’t exactly on your ‘feels oh-so good’ list,” Buffy said snidely.

The smile George briefly flashed made her think otherwise and scrunch her nose. Why did all demons have to be so gross?

“We’ll see,” George said, then launched at her.

------------------------

Obi-Wan swung the blades effortlessly through the air, dispatching the guards quickly. It wasn’t much of a fight. Most didn’t even have a chance to get to their blasters before Obi-Wan had done away with them. The one that did - which also happened to be the one that backhanded Buffy - had fired a few shots when Obi-Wan had cut the blaster in half with one blade, and took his head with the other. In a manner of a few minutes, the only people left where himself and Anakin.

Spike had unsurprisingly disappeared.

With wearily glance at the spot the vampire had vacated, he deactivated the lightsabers. Obi-Wan knelt next to Anakin and gently touched his shoulder. Using the Force the best he could, Obi-Wan nudged at the boy’s consciousness. Anakin’s eyes twitched before they opened and he groaned.

“You alright?” Obi-Wan asked, helping Anakin to his feet.

“I think so,” Anakin said with a small shake of his head.

Obi-Wan sighed, patted the boy on the back of the head, and handed him his lightsaber. Anakin was going to have to answer for a lot of things when they got back to the Temple, but for now there were still more pressing matters to attend to; such as finding Buffy and Master Qui-Gon and sorting this whole mess out.

“Come on,” Obi-Wan said, running out the door with Anakin following close behind.

They were halfway across the catwalk when something caught Obi-Wan’s attention. Across the work pit, he could see the distinct glow of a green blade engaged in battle in the semi-dark room. It, along with the sound of other men fighting, was drawing attention, more and more with each passing moment. And if Obi-Wan’s guess was correct, more and more people were also joining in.

The guards below them - who looked to be both inspecting a body and attempting to keep the slaves around them in line - had seen it also and some were moving towards the area where his former master and the others were fighting.

Anakin had stopped and was peering over the edge before turning his attention back to Obi-Wan. “Master Qui-Gon needs our help.”

Anakin was right. Qui-Gon did need their help and Obi-Wan knew that Buffy was quite capable of taking care of herself. He would have known had something happened to her, and he knew nothing really had so far. In fact, she had most likely taken care of her little problem by now and was probably on her way back to rescue them.

“Let’s go,” Obi-Wan said, jumping over the railing and allowing the Force to guide and buff his landing. Anakin once more followed and had his lightsaber ignited before his feet even touch the ground.

In a matter of moments, Obi-Wan found himself in yet another battle. He just hoped that Buffy was having better luck then him.

----------------------------------------

Buffy’s head snapped back as George hit her hard in the face. She came back with a punch of her own to his stomach, before dropping to the floor and trying to sweep him off his feet. George easily leapt into the air and Buffy had to swiftly dive to the side to avoid his flying fist. She tucked, rolled and sprang back to her feet in a fighting position in a single fluent movement that gymnast and dancer would be envious of.

There wasn’t much room to move in the hallway and the dusty, moldy walls were making Buffy sneeze. Stupid walls.

George was surprisingly strong, even for a demon, and damn fast. Faster than Buffy would have thought he’d be. If she weren’t used to training with those stupid little training droids for saber practice, she wasn’t sure if she could keep up with him.

He hit her again, nearly knocking her to the ground, but Buffy laughed. “You know, I’d say you hit like a girl, but that’d just insult my gender.”

“And I’d say you hit like a seven-year-old boy, but that would be insulting to them,” George shot back with a bloody grin.

She punched him in the face. Hard. Then she brought the hand that held the stake up high in the air, but he easily blocked it before it came in contact with his chest. While holding the stake away from him with one hand, George came around and hit her hard in the side. Buffy flinched, but jerked her wrist free from his grasp and punched him again.

George’s head was knocked to the side and Buffy spun on the ball of her foot and kicked it back in the opposite direction with a round house. There was a loud crack when she connected and George appeared to stagger. She reached down to finish him off with an upper cut, but, as her fist came up, one of his meaty hands caught it while the other hit her in the face. The force of it knocked Buffy to the ground and briefly caused stars to appear before her eyes.

Straightening his shirt, George stood over her and kicked the stake she had accidentally let go of when he knocked her to the ground out of reach. Spitting a little blood to the side, George once more grinned and said, “You’re going to have to do better than that, Ms. Summers.”

The same bright smile returned to her lips. “Okay,” she said. Then lifted her foot and kicked him between the legs.

While George went crossed eyed and he swore, Buffy rolled back onto her shoulders and drew her knees to chest to mull kick him in the face. However, George moved faster than she anticipated, grabbed her ankles and managed to flip her onto her face and stomach. She thought she felt something pop in her leg, but couldn’t worry with it at that moment. He had to let go of one of her ankles to complete the flip, so the second she could, Buffy twisted onto her side and swept George’s own feet out from under him. He landed hard on the ground and she kicked him in the stomach to make him release her other foot.

Instead, he once more grabbed onto her free leg and pulled himself up her body. She squirmed and pushed and tried to get him off of her, but he held on. Then he was straddling her chest, pinned her down with his weight, and had his hands wrapped around her neck. As she gagged for breath, Buffy saw the stake lying nearby. Still holding onto his wrist with one of her hands, she reached for it, but only the tip of her fingers barely brushed it. Damn, she was still too far away.

“What? No witty comeback?” George asked through gritted teeth as he squeezed her throat.

The stake rolled a little bit towards her grasp. Just...a...little....further.

He glanced over to see what she was reaching for and grinned. “Not this time, sweetheart.”

Then, George pulled up on her neck and then slammed her head back against the floor causing stars to reappear before Buffy’s eyes. The stake rolled out of her grasp. He slammed her head again. Darkness clouded the edge of her consciousness.

No! He couldn’t -

He slammed her head for a final time, and she was out.

---------------------------------

Qui-Gon moved through the workers pit swiftly, trying to lead the people to safety. Word had spread quickly among the Gythons and vampire guards about what was happening. The slaves were rebelling. Their boss was dead - Qui-Gon had seen Alturn’s body near where Obi-Wan and Anakin were fighting. And there were at least three Jedi loose in the compound.

Qui-Gon had noticed a sharp decline in the number of Gythons in the fight. Those that got caught were force to take part in the battle, but most of the creatures had fled when they realized that their slaves were no longer afraid to fight back. Fear had been the Gythons’ greatest weapon in keeping their slaves in line, but they no longer appeared to care enough anymore to really be afraid. All they knew was that they had a chance for freedom, and that spark of hope was something many of them were now willing to fight and die for.

The vampires, however...

Some ran with the Gythons, either driven by similar fear or because they had a strong survival instinct. Simple mathematics put the odds in the favor of the slaves because they outnumber their ‘masters’ by a large margin. However, this didn’t deter some of the vampires. They fought and fed with sickening smiles on their faces. This was what they longed for, what they lived for; blood, violence, and chaos.

Qui-Gon dispatched of one of the creatures as it fed off an older woman and then glanced around the pit. There was a fair amount of fighting still going on, but some of the more intense battles had died down. Just as Qui-Gon and Buffy had hoped, the entire rebellion seemed as if it would be over in the matter of a half an hour.

The boy he had helped save knelt next to the woman, tending to her wounds and trying to calm her, while another man with a pickaxe swung the weapon threateningly at another nearby vampire. The creature hissed and laughed and Qui-Gon raised his blade for show.

“You know, I help kill the other one like you,” the vampire said, eyeing Qui-Gon with what he could only liken to as glee.

“And he will be the last Jedi you kill,” Qui-Gon said.

The vampire opened his mouth to retort, but was cut off by a hissing hum. The creature screams echoed hollowly as it disintegrated in ash and revealed the younger Jedi. Obi-Wan stood quietly, ignoring what he had just done and instead focused on his former Master.

“Are you alright, Master?” he asked, glancing around for other dangers.

“As much as I can be,” Qui-Gon responded, watching as the two men pulled the woman up between them and took her to where the others had started to gather now that most of the danger was over. “Where’s Anakin?”

Obi-Wan didn’t have to answer that because Qui-Gon spotted his Padawan. The boy was helping a group of slaves defeat the last of the vampire guards. The remaining vampires had seemed to take the same opinion as the Gython and fled for safety.

“And Buffy? Is she alright?” Qui-Gon asked.

He had yet to see her, which didn’t necessarily mean anything. She was small after all. But, then, Buffy was often hard to miss, especially in a fight.

Frowning, Qui-Gon reached out with the Force, trying to locate the Slayer’s signature. It was faint and muffled to begin with, and the Cloak made it nearly impossible to pinpoint her, but Qui-Gon had known her for long enough that he should be able to find her. However, he couldn’t, and that was very troubling.

Obi-Wan tensed and glanced back towards the catwalks. “No, she’s not,” he said, running back to a catwalk with Qui-Gon following close behind.

Without thinking, Qui-Gon gathered a large amount of the Force and leapt up onto the catwalk. It took him a full three seconds to realize that Obi-Wan hadn’t followed. Glancing back down into the pit, he saw his former Padawan staring up at him.

“The Inhibitors are still blocking too much of the Force,” he yelled up in explanation. “I’ll have to take the long way.”

Qui-Gon frowned, not quite understanding, but didn’t comment. If Obi-Wan could, he would have followed, he was sure of that. “Where is she?”

Obi-Wan gave him speedy directions consisting of left and rights that Qui-Gon did his best to remember as he ran for the corridors.

----------------------------------------

With a grunt, George picked up the Slayer and tossed her back over his shoulder. Really, she was far more trouble than she was worth, but he had already been paid half of what he was owed for her. Besides, his ‘boss’ would hunt him down and do some serious damage to him if he just didn’t show up, with or without her. Sure, George knew he was a lot - a lot! - tougher than he looked - this little exercise with the Slayer just proved that - but she was just a Vampire Slayer. One little girl, that was all. His boss, well, he had resources and wasn’t afraid to use them. And if anyone could figure out how to kill him, George didn’t doubt that it would be him.

Besides, he already told Sid he was getting rid of Muffy here. One ticked-off, scary boss type was bad enough. Add a pissed Sith Lord, and George’s life could become very uncomfortable in both dimensions. In fact, he’d probably have to go back to Pylea or Quortoth and lay low for a couple of...centuries. Like hell he was going to do that.

So, off he goes. Carting a Slayer around like he was some kind of taxi driver. He snorted. She probably wouldn’t even tip him for the ride.

And he was going to be in trouble anyway. Girly already had bruises on her face and her mouth was bloody, which were going to be hard enough explain; he couldn’t even begin to think of an excuse for the bruises and burns on her neck. He just hoped that it was dark in that room when they arrived or else he was going to have to make a quick getaway.

“Bet he doesn’t appreciate what it takes to bring in someone like you,” George said to the unconscious figure that lay over his shoulder...again. “No. He’s just ‘bring her back’, like it so easy. Got to wonder if he even remembers what you’re like.” Walking into the room with the portal, George paused halfway to the pool. “And if he does, I’ve got to wonder why he wants you back in the first place.” He shrugged. “All well, not my problem, is it?”

George once more walked to the edge of the pool and frowned down into the ‘water’. He hated jumping dimensions like this, but he didn’t really have a choice if he planned on taking her with him. Oh, sure, he could open a portal between the realms big enough to take them both through, but he would have to find a ‘hot spot’ and cut himself, and he hated doing that worse than just jumping through some nasty water. Besides, even with him controlling the portals, there was no guarantee that both him and the Slayer would end up in the same place on the other side, and the last thing George needed was to lose her just when he made it back.

“Well, standing around here ain’t getting us nowhere, is it, girly?” he asked.

“I’m afraid you will not be going anywhere,” a male’s voice said.

George rolled his eyes. Great. Now what?

Turning, George frowned when he saw a tall man dressed in Jedi robes standing in the doorway. His lightsaber was drawn and ignited and looked as if he were ready to do whatever he had to stop George from leaving with the Slayer.

Oh, goody. This must be the other Jedi that Pei was supposed to have taken care of. But no... George couldn’t be that lucky, could he? Pei probably just had to go and be a damn idiot and get himself killed. Really, what was it about being turned into a vampire that turned humans stupid...er?

Sighing, George said, “I don’t have time for you. I’ve got a schedule and I’m already behind thanks to Patty Punch-It here. So, if you’ll excuse me.”

Not giving the Jedi a chance to react - because even George was scared of what a pissed-off Jedi could do with a lightsaber - he hopped backward and fell through the liquid. It was cold and gritty feeling, making George feel like he was falling through cold motor oil, but was over quickly.

George landed in a crouch in a dark, dirty and thankfully empty storage room. The portal was already starting to close, leaving the threat of the Jedi and his very deadly weapon back in the other dimension. Well, maybe this night wouldn’t turn out as badly as he thought it would.

Then, as if ‘The Powers That Be’ had said ‘screw you, Degeorgakiv’, a cloaked figure dropped from the half closed portal. The blade of his weapon was already swinging right for his neck.

“Aw, fu-,” George managed to say before nothing else.

------------------------------------

Obi-Wan skid to halt behind Qui-Gon just as George jumped backwards and disappeared into the murky, dark water with Buffy. Suddenly, something within Obi-Wan’s mind felt as if it were being pulled out by a great force. He lurched forward from the pain of it.

Qui-Gon was already moving by this point, running with Force enhanced speed for the pool. Obi-Wan felt his stomach clench. “Master, no!”

But Qui-Gon was already disappearing beneath the liquid.

The pain in Obi-Wan’s head became blinding after that. It felt as if part of him was being pulled and stretched so far that he was sure it had snapped. But he forced himself to ignore it. Forced himself back to his feet - which he hadn’t even realized that the pain had caused him to fall to his knees - and stumbled over to the pool. Where there had been liquid moments ago there were now stones.

And Obi-Wan knew that both Master Qui-Gon and Buffy were lost to them.

------------------------------------

Anakin froze mid-step in horror when he felt it. Master Qui-Gon was gone. His Master, his teacher, his mentor was...gone. He hadn’t died, Anakin would have been able to tell if he had, but he...just wasn’t there anymore.

A hand touched his shoulder, causing Anakin to jump. One of the men that had been with Master Qui-Gon earlier - Sam, he thinks - was staring at him with concern. “Are you alright?” he asked in a gentle tone.

Anakin could only blink in response.

He never even realized that he was clinging to the cross-pendent through his tunic.

------------------------------------

A terrible headache plagued Qui-Gon, but he pushed it aside. Deactivating his lightsaber, he quickly clipped it to his belt and knelt down to check on Buffy. She had fallen to the side of the body, and was so still that Qui-Gon was momentarily afraid of what he might find. Wherever this creature had taken them still greatly muffled to the Force, maybe even more so than before, and though Qui-Gon was kneeling next to her he was still having trouble sensing Buffy’s presences. But then she groaned softly when he touched her and rolled her slightly to the side.

Her eyes were glassy when she opened them and, judging from the large amount of blinking, Buffy was having trouble focusing them. “Ben?” she rasped horsily. The hand-prints around her neck gave a stark explanation for the condition of her voice.

She coughed and Qui-Gon smiled gently. He was really going to have to do something about her and Obi-Wan’s attachment to one another. “No,” he said, “I’m afraid not.”

She blinked again and this time her eyes seemed more in focus. “Oh, hey, Qui-Gon,” Buffy said, her voice not quite as horse as before. Her head rolled to the side to face the creature’s body. She asked, rather confused, “I kicked his ass?”

Chuckling despite himself, Qui-Gon said, “Once again, I’m afraid not.”

She nodded. “You kicked his ass.”

“I hope you don’t mind,” he said, trying to sound playful and serious all at the same time.

Smiling, Buffy said, “Kind of, yeah.”

“I thought you might, but there was really nothing to be done about it,” he said.

“Guess not, but don’t do it again or I’m going to have kick yours too.”

When she pushed herself into a sitting position, Qui-Gon stood and helped her to her feet. She wobbled and he thought she was about to fall again, but she finally managed to steady herself.

“Ow,” Buffy said, putting her head in her hands before looking up at him. “Since you’re already on a ‘save Buffy’ kick, do you think you could do something about the little men trying to blast their way out of my head?”

Before he could answer her, she took in their surroundings and asked, “This doesn’t look like the Gython away camp.”

Qui-Gon drew in a breath and said, “No, I’m afraid we’re - .”

“Who the hell are you?”

Both Qui-Gon and Buffy jumped and turned to the voice. A dark-haired girl stood in the doorway of the room, her arms cross and her lips where caught somewhere between a scold, a smile, and confusion. She held herself like Buffy, he noted.

Before he or Buffy could question her, the girl spotted the body on the ground and her casual tension turned rigidly deadly. Qui-Gon’s hand drifted back towards his lightsaber and Buffy became tense herself. “And what the hell did you do to Scar Boy?”

“Faith?”

A large, dark-haired man stepped in behind the girl and Buffy froze. For a moment, Qui-Gon was certain that she forgot anyone else was even in the room. He watched the tall man as he carefully moved around the girl and took a step towards them.

“Buffy,” he said with a small smile.

“Angel.”

Chapter Thirty: Fate's a Funny Thing

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.

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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."

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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."

"Oh."

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?

"Mom?"

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.

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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.

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