Summary: Buffy is sent on a diplomatic mission on behalf of Amber. . .the task requires her personal touch.

Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine, as they remain the property of their owners and/or creators.

Rating: PG-13, for violence and mild language.

Time Frame: Alternate universe, after the end of the third season.

Author's Note: This story is the third in the "Unicorn and The Slayer" universe. Buffy has discovered that she is the daughter of Bleys, Prince of Amber, and has taken up residence in Amber while checking back home now and again

Dedication: To Jen, on the occasion of her birthday.


I stood on the deck of Gérard's flagship and concentrated on the delicate features of my best friend. The Trump depicted her quietly sitting at her desk, reading. After a moment, the scene blurred and shifted, and I saw she was sitting on her bed, sorting her mail. She turned and smiled as she called out, "Yes?"

I grinned and met her eyes, asking, "I'm not catching you in the middle of something, am I?"

Willow smiled and replied, "No. . .I'm just getting over my first set of midterms. Harvard is not for the timid." With the Hellmouth sealed, Willow had chosen to accept the full ride that Harvard had offered her, taking advantage of my newfound skill at making Trump sketches to save airfare home or elsewhere when the occasional crisis arose. She grinned at me and asked, "Did you want me to bring you over?"

I met her eyes and replied, "Definitely. . .it's beyond past time for us to have a long heart to heart. . .accompanied by lots of ice cream." I extended my hand, and Willow reached out and clasped hands with me. A moment later, I arrived in the room. I blinked and was moved to chuckle and comment, "Sure beats business class, doesn't it?" I glanced around and spotted a chair, which I pulled over to her bed. I sat down and looked over at her and smiled again as I asked, "So. . .what's new?"

We had been doing this on and off for months now, and we had the routine down pat: we started with Willow catching me up with her doings while I raided Willow's freezer for her stash of chocolate chocolate chip ice cream. I winced as Willow described her midterms in chemistry and physics, remembering that I would be going back to school once Benedict and Fiona were satisfied that my training in Amber would be sufficient to keep me relatively safe. . .and the stuff I learned in high school seemed distant already.

Oz was on tour with the Dingoes: I had quietly arranged for them to receive some financial backing, and for all of Oz's self-deprecating comments about the quality of their music, a lot of people seemed to like it. The werewolf situation was still an annoyance, and I had been talking with Fiona about finding a solution for that problem, but nothing had come of it yet.

Xander had stayed in Sunnydale, and was involved with Faith, this time on a more permanent basis. I had not been thrilled when I heard about it: for all of her assurances that she wouldn't cross me again, the memory of her betrayal of us all still nagged at me. . .but Giles and Angel assured me that she was on the straight and narrow, at least for now, and Xander had seemed happy when I talked to him. Hell, who was I to question what made a healthy relationship? Faith was probably perfect for him: screwed up and desperate for someone to trust.

Willow had finished telling me her news, and I had just started to tell her about a certain incident in a tavern in Amber when I felt the tingle of a Trump contact. I rolled my eyes and stopped speaking, causing Willow to look at me in concern for a moment before her eyes widened with comprehension. I relaxed my mind and called out, "Yes?"

The view before my eyes blurred, then cleared again, and I saw Fiona standing on a balcony of Castle Amber. She smiled and greeted me, "Hello, Buffy. I'm sorry to interrupt your girl's night out, but there is a matter of some urgency that we need to discuss. Could you come back at once, please?"

I sighed and responded, "Damn. . .just when we were getting settled in." I turned to Willow and apologized, "Sorry, Will. . .duty calls and all that."

Willow frowned and placed her hand on my shoulder, allowing her to perceive Fiona as she scowled at her and complained, "Fiona! I hardly ever get to see her any more and she just got here. . .it's almost like she's still the Slayer."

Fiona smiled fondly at Willow and replied, "I'll make it up to you, Willow. . .I've been doing some spell research, and I've found a ritual that will make Oz's condition much more manageable. . .and more importantly, non-contagious. . .interested?"

I could feel Willow straightening up behind me as she whispered, "Most definitely." I sighed again: blood ties or not, I had the feeling that Fiona liked Willow more than she did me. . .but, then again, Willow was her shadow, and I suspected that my enigmatic aunt had more than the typical level of narcissism for an Amberite. . .not that I would ever bring up THAT subject, no sir.

I grinned at Willow and gave her a hug, then reached out and took Fiona's hand. A moment's disorientation followed, and I found myself on the balcony looking at Fiona. Her face, as usual, betrayed nothing. She nodded for me to follow, and led me into what I immediately recognized as Random's audience chamber. Fiona led me to a seat, but I remained standing, as I knew that I wasn't supposed to sit until the king was seated.

Fiona smiled with approval at my remembering the brief lessons in court etiquette that Flora had passed on to me, then turned to the doorway. Gérard entered first, and gave me a friendly nod before moving to his seat. Benedict, looking his usual grim self, inclined his head in my direction before moving to the seat at the right of the head of the table. I was surprised to see Corwin enter next. . .during my time in Amber, Corwin had not been there much. . .Fiona had hinted at a conflict between them that had involved Rinaldo, Brand's son, and I noticed that he greeted no one as he moved to his chair, even Gérard. Flora breezed in, winked at me, and moved to her chair at the left of the head of the table.

We waited for a minute or so, then Random strolled in, wearing an orange T-shirt and carrying a pair of drumsticks, which he unceremoniously dropped on a table next to the door before he heavily dropped into his chair, apologizing, "Sorry I'm late. . .but that last piece just seemed to be a little off. . ." He looked at the rest of us and noticed that we were still standing, then commented, "Oh, crap. . .I always forget. . .sit down."

We all sat down, and I barely restrained myself from chuckling as I saw the deadpan expressions on my aunts and uncles' faces. . .they were so used to hiding their emotions that even over something trivial like this, they didn't want to betray irritation or amusement. . .I would have to cultivate that skill myself, if I was going to last here.

Random cleared his throat, and looked at all of us in turn before announcing, "OK. . .this meeting is called to order. Flora, you made the initial request. . .why don't you fill us all in on the basic problem, so that Buffy can be up to speed and the rest of us can pick up on anything we might have missed?"

Flora nodded and began, "As most of you know, we recently opened negotiations with the shadow known as Andon by its inhabitants for the purpose of giving them Golden Circle status. Andon is rich in a number of various rare minerals that are not found in Amber, and our operatives there have found that they also have discovered a chemical compound that, like Avalonian jeweler's rouge, will function in the same manner in Amber as gunpowder does on Shadow Earth and places with similar laws of nature."

I saw a shadow briefly cross Corwin's face: I knew from what Bleys and Fiona had told me that it had been Corwin who discovered the properties of the jeweler's rouge, and I knew quite well about the impact it had on the recent history of Amber. If Andon discovered that their compound could create firearms usable against Amber, they would be an immediate threat; on the other hand, it made them a very powerful potential ally, explaining why a recently discovered shadow was getting the red carpet treatment from Random (and Flora, in her capacity as chief ambassador to the Golden Circle worlds).

Flora continued, "The good news is that firearms are just curiosities there still. . .if we bring them into the Golden Circle and offer them military protection, they won't really have any need to develop them further, and we can quietly corner the market on their compound on whatever pretext works for us."

I frowned and piped up, "So what's the problem? Most shadows jump at a chance to get Golden Circle status. . .I may just be a kid with mediocre grades, but I've seen the reports on what joining the Circle does for the economy of a shadow. . .they'd have to be crazy not to accept."

Random chuckled and replied, "If people were always rational, kid, you wouldn't have had to kick your uncle's ass back to the Abyss of Chaos a while back." He nodded at his sister and ordered gently, "Go on, Flora."

Flora nodded in assent and continued, "The hold up is that Andon is a martial culture. . .and their leaders are chafing at an arrangement that, regardless of the benefit to them, leaves us in the driver's seat about a lot of things. . .their attitude is that we have something to prove before they assume a subordinate position to us in any area." Her nose wrinkled in distaste, and she concluded, "Basically, we have to send someone to Andon to defeat their toughest warrior in single combat, or it's no deal."

I laughed out loud, then commented, "Well, they're in for a shock. . .just wait until Benedict, Corwin or Gérard shows up and kick his ass. . ." I stopped, noticing that everyone was looking expectantly at me, and I had a feeling it wasn't because they were annoyed at another interruption. I blinked, then concluded in a small voice, "Oh." Irritated beyond belief, I complained, "Why are you sending me? That's like sending Leon Spinks when you've got Dempsey, Marciano, and Ali sitting around doing nothing."

I was mildly gratified to see my plaintive comment provoke a small smile from Corwin as Flora replied, "Obviously, Buffy, without slighting your abilities in the least, we would have preferred to send one of them-or your father, perhaps-but there is another complication. . .Andon is a female dominated society, and while men do fight in wars, women are the only ones allowed to participate in duels of honor. . .and the rule applies to all who would challenge them. That leaves me, Fiona, Llewella, and you, I'm afraid. . .and you are the best fighter among us. . .it has to be you."

I saw Corwin's face cloud over, and I knew he was thinking of Deirdre, who certainly would have been the one sent on this assignment if she had lived. I gave him a sympathetic smile and looked over at Random, sighing, "Well, I guess I'm elected, then. . .when do I leave?"

Flora nodded at Benedict, who replied, "The combat is in a week. . .Flora will be there by then and will bring you through by Trump when the time comes. In the meantime, my own operatives have gathered information about the combat styles used on Andon, and we will use them in preparatory training until you need to go to the match."

Gérard coughed, then commented, "I'll be in on that too, Buffy. . .apparently the Andonians are masters. . .or mistresses, I guess. . .of unarmed combat, and that's my specialty. . .I can teach you a few tricks you might be able to use."

I winced, having heard the stories of Gérard's strength, then smiled and nodded at him as Random commented, "All right then, Buffy. . .I appreciate that you're willing to take this on, and we'll all do our part to make sure that you get all of the support you need. All right, everyone. . .that's it." Random stood up, retrieved his drumsticks, and exited the room without further comment.

The others stood up, and Flora gave me a smile before exiting in Random's wake. Benedict and Gérard walked up to me, and Benedict ordered laconically, "Be in the training room in four hours." He nodded and left, and Gérard shrugged apologetically and winked at me before following. Corwin left without saying a word to anyone, and I looked to see that Fiona was looking after her older brother with a frown on her face. After a moment, I nodded in leave-taking to Fiona and departed myself. I could really have used some rest before once again being at Benedict's tender mercies (to think I used to bitch about Giles riding me too hard!), but there was something I needed to do first.

* * * * *

The door was ajar when I walked up to it, as I expected it to be. I quietly slipped in and found him staring out the window. I was silent, but after a moment he called out softly, "Hello, Buffy," and turned back to me. Corwin's eyes reminded me of Giles' and Willow's: green and intense. He managed a wistful smile and commented, "I didn't think you knew about this place."

"I asked a servant where her room was," I replied, taking in the décor of the room as I approached Corwin. Deirdre had good taste in interior decoration: that much was clear. I walked up next to Corwin, and looked out of the window. The view was beautiful: it gave a panoramic view of the main harbor of Amber, and the sun glistened off of the deep blue water as the tall-masted ships glided in and out of the port. I smiled and commented, "Pretty."

Corwin nodded and replied, "I served in Amber's Navy when I was young, and was away for extended periods of time. Every time I came back, I would be standing on the bow of the ship, and I looked over to this window. . .she was there, every time." He sighed, then admitted, "I still look for her there when I come into the harbor. . .and part of me is still surprised to not see her there."

I reached out and grasped Corwin's hand and squeezed, and he turned to me with a questioning look. I locked eyes with him and quietly said, "I'm not trying to take her place, Corwin. . .I promise you that."

A veil of sadness passed over Corwin's eyes for a moment, then he squeezed my hand in return and replied, "I know, Buffy. . .things change, even for us, and duties remain regardless of how we feel." He chuckled, then commented, "I may even forgive Fiona eventually for getting me perforated a few years back." He released my hand, then smiled at me and concluded, "I bear you no malice, Buffy. . .and from what I've seen of you so far, the younger generation may yet put the rest of us to shame. Now, you'd better get some rest: I've trained with both Benedict and Gérard, and you'll need all of the rest you can get." He smiled at me once more, then turned back to the window, and I left him there, feeling a strange mixture of pride, relief, and sadness.

* * * * *

Andon was not a place that I'd recommend for a summer vacation. It was unpleasantly warm and humid, even indoors, and the mosquitoes seemed to be the size of hummingbirds: I briefly regretted not packing toothpicks for some impromptu stakings. Flora seemed annoyingly unaffected by the uncomfortable conditions. . .was it simply the grace that a centuries long lifetime would grant anyone, or was she taking advantage of some subtle magic that I was as of yet unable to master? I decided not to dwell on the matter, and moved forward to greet the Prime Minister of Andon, who was standing near Flora.

"Greetings to you, Buffy, Lady of Amber, daughter of Bleys, Duchess of Buffonia." The Prime Minister delivered the greeting with a straight face, and I had to restrain myself from giggling at hearing it. One of the perks of being a member of the Royal Family of Amber is having control over a certain part of land in Amber proper (subject to the overriding rule of the King of Amber). Remembering Xander's rather flowery praise of me in that eighteenth century dress caused me to request that my own freehold be known as "Buffonia". . .Xander's expression when I told him was truly memorable.

I responded politely to the Prime Minister's greeting, and ignored her obvious surprise at my diminutive stature as she led me to the preparatory area for the duel of honor that would be taking place in less than two hours. She walked me into the relatively Spartan room and left after bowing, and I stripped, pulling the fighting clothes I had in my bag as I contemplated the training sessions I had been through in the last week.

Training with Benedict is good for developing one's sense of humility. . .from what I was able to gather, Benedict's only exposure to the fighting arts of the Andonians was the verbal descriptions of his lieutenants, along with an evening's study of a couple of texts describing their finer points, and still he seemed to have complete command of them. He pressed me to my limits, then stepped up the pressure as I learned the basic elements of the Andonian martial arts one by one. My impression was that whoever invented their fighting arts was doing it from a mental place that made Faith look like Little Bo Peep. All of the moves seemed designed to quickly put down the opponent, without any real thought about defense. Of course, since it was Benedict using them, I was too busy trying to avoid having my head taken off with the wicked scimitar-like blades we were using to think of trying to exploit the obvious openings that the style was forcing him to reveal. He made sure I noticed them, though, and pointed out ways I could exploit them.

Then, of course, there were the training sessions with Gérard. I had visited Corwin's son Merlin in the Courts of Chaos, and he had been only too happy to fill me in on what he knew about the family history. . .including Corwin's description of having fought Gérard with bare hands. Ugh. Corwin apparently overcame, by one means or another, every one of his brothers who he butted heads with during the whole Patternfall mess (including Benedict, which is really damned impressive). . .except for Gérard, who casually kicked his ass once and would have done it again if the disguised Oberon hadn't stepped in and taken him out. . . and little old me was faced with sparring with him.

I needn't have worried, of course. Gérard, for all of his intimidating bulk, is a sweetheart compared to Benedict as an instructor. He showed me the moves that he had learned from his own brief observations in Andon and his study of the same texts that Benedict had examined; naturally, the unarmed moves were as brutal as the armed ones, but Gérard carefully pulled his blows every time. . .I could see him doing it, and the strain of holding back blows that could otherwise shatter heavy timber was visible on his face every time. In spite of his restraint, he picked up the pace enough that by the time we were finished I was confident I had seen moves as nasty as I was likely to see from any native Andonians. With the blessing of my two instructors, I spent the last day before the combat resting and meditating. . .and healing the various scratches and bruises that my uncles had inflicted on me in spite of the fact that they were taking it easy on me. . .*sigh* It's going to be a good long while before I'm anything more than a lightweight in this family.

I dressed in my fighting clothes, then settled into the meditative state that Benedict had taught me how to settle into. I had been skeptical at first. . .I was well aware of the advantages that my emotions gave me in my most dangerous fights, and I was worried about losing my edge. Benedict nodded, then reminded me that while emotions can be an ally in a fight, loss of control can cause one to be worse off than they would be fighting coldly. . .as he had good reason to know after his defeat by Corwin. "Do not reject emotions in combat, Buffy," he had intoned, "for they remind you that you fight for your own life, in addition to what has brought you to the situation at hand. But do not let them be your master. . .for while a team of mighty horses may allow one to travel swiftly, without a firm hand at the reins they will only lead one to disaster." I had nodded gravely, carefully concealing my thought that Benedict really needed to update his metaphors.

I relaxed, letting the sense of inner peace fill my body and chase away my lingering doubts about this whole thing. I had survived six days with Benedict and Gérard: how bad could this be?

* * * * *

At the appointed time, a man in clothing that would have sent Cordelia into spasms of laughter arrived and led me out to the arena where the combat would take place. There was a rather comfortable looking chair in the place he indicated, and I took the opportunity to sit down and survey my surroundings.

The arena was about the size of the baseball field at Sunnydale High, and I figured that there was room in the stands for about ten thousand people. . .and every seat was filled. I quickly spotted the royal box, where the king and queen of Andon sat and stared down at me. . .couldn't blame them, I guess. . .I was the intruder who was trying to get them to change the whole way they did things here. . .it would be a bit unreasonable to expect them to hug me or anything. The people in the stands were also staring at me and murmuring. . .oh well, better than them throwing bottles at me, I thought.

I looked around some more and saw the area reserved for dignitaries from Amber. . . Flora was there, giving me a reassuring smile. Gérard and Benedict sat next to each other, probably watching me for signs of nervousness: I gave them the poker face and a brief nod. Surprisingly, both Fiona and Corwin were there, giving me encouraging looks while ignoring each other. I looked for another familiar face, but was disappointed. . .oh well, I knew from the start that Dad tended to wander a lot. . .a little duel of honor was probably not enough to get him interested. I sighed and turned to stare at the door that I knew my opponent would emerge from.

After a few minutes, there was a rather loud blaring of trumpets, and the door opened. A figure walked out, and my jaw dropped a few millimeters. How should I describe her. . .let me put it this way: if Arnold Schwarzenegger and Julie Strain ever had a love child, she would look a lot like the chiseled figure who was approaching me with an arrogant stride and a cold look on her face. She was six foot three if she was an inch, and she had a big frame to go with it, yet she was anything but fat. Her hair was long and black, and dark eyes like Faith's stared at me as I studied her. She wore a short sleeved white robe that went down to about her knees, leaving none of the impressive musculature of her calves and arms to the imagination. . .great, my first real job for Amber and I had to fight Xena on steroids.

I blinked, then decided I was damned if I was going to let her intimidate me. I stood and walked across the arena until I was standing three feet away from her, then let her have it with The Glare. . .the one that sent vampires running for their lives. . .caused nine foot tall demons to stop in their tracks momentarily. . .and could even intimidate Xander enough to stop him from grabbing the last Twinkie in the pantry. She met it, blinked once, then her eyes hardened and the muscles on her arms visibly tightened. So much for that approach.

At that moment, the trumpets blared again, and several officious looking individuals led the two of us to opposite sides of the arena while a tall man walked to the center of the arena and called out in a very loud voice, "May I have your attention, please?" The murmuring of the crowd died down, and he continued, "Your Royal Highnesses, honored visitors, and fellow Andonians. . .welcome to the duel of honor to be contested between the Royal Family of Andon and the place known as Amber. This duel will continue until one champion yields or is rendered unconscious or dead." He turned to me and continued, "Representing Amber will be Lady Buffy. . .Slayer Emeritus." The crowd began murmuring again, and I congratulated myself for thinking to ask to be introduced by that title. . .let the Amazon over there wonder what it meant.

The man cleared his throat, and the crowd subsided again as he turned to the other side of the arena and intoned solemnly, "And representing the Royal Family of Andon. . .the undefeated Royal champion for the last decade. . .Princess Lorelei."

My opponent took a step forward and bowed to the cheering crowd as I groaned inwardly. * Great. . .daddy's little girl fighting for her family honor. . .sound familiar, Buffy? Now not only do you have to win, you have to keep from damaging her too much, or the royal types will be pissed off and call off the whole Golden Circle deal. . . * I stretched visibly and waited for the crowd noise to die down, after which the man called out, "Princess Lorelei, under the rules of the combat you have the choice of weapons. . .what say you?"

My opponent spoke for the first time, and though her voice was rather more pleasant than one would expect from someone who made a life out of beating the crap out of people before cheering crowds, the tone of disdain was evident in her voice as she glanced dismissively at my petite frame and replied, "I choose bare hands."

I felt more than a little ambivalent at that news. . .less chance that one of us would be grievously injured in the fight, but I knew what that bitch was thinking. . .she didn't need a weapon to take me down. . .I smiled coldly: she was in for a shock.

The announcer called out, "The Royal Champion has chosen bare hands as the weapon." He motioned to both of us to come forward, and we did, stopping five feet apart. We locked eyes again, and I could see in her eyes that the thought of losing never even occurred to her. . .must have been nice.

Abruptly, the announcer called out, "Begin!", and Lorelei (I'm royalty too, damn it. . .I don't see why I need to stand on ceremony while narrating) snapped a hard kick in my direction. I had been expecting it from Gérard's drills, though, and I managed to sidestep it enough to send her spinning to the ground with a hard block. She rolled to her feet, then approached me more warily.

Most of the work that Benedict had put into my training involved unlearning the habits I had picked up fighting vampires and other demons that didn't tire like normal humans, or even Slayers. There was little point in trying to wear one down: you either killed it, or got a lucky shot in and knocked it unconscious. Attrition wasn't really a factor with them, while I most definitely would get tired if I fought long enough. As an Amberite, I would be fighting other humanoids far more often than I had, and humanoids did generally get tired far more quickly than I would, given the stamina that is the birthright of my family. With this in mind, and remembering that defense was not one of the strengths of this society's martial art forms, I went on the defensive, waiting for Lorelei to show me her moves.

She did, and before long I was feeling more than a little banged up. Lorelei could have kicked my ass no problem before I died at the hands of the Master, and she probably would have been an even opponent before I walked the Pattern. She was strong. . .probably stronger than Angel, and considerably faster than any normal human I had ever seen. She had apparently given more thought to defense than most of the fighters her society had produced: my occasional probing attacks were blocked with only moderate effort on her part. Still, she had several obvious weaknesses in her defenses; unfortunately, unless I used them to instantly put her down, they would all open me to vicious counterattacks that could do me some real harm. . .perhaps even put me down if she got lucky. Both of my teachers had told me that the first rule of combat is survival. . .but I also had a duty to try to obtain the best diplomatic situation possible for Amber. . .and crippling or killing the Princess would probably not work for that. I frowned as I blocked a right cross and did a backflip to avoid a spinning kick, then I smiled as I remembered a move that I had learned a while back. . .I had never used it in a fight, since it was useless against vampires and most demons, but Giles had assured me that the effect was devastating.

I circled Lorelei , and I gave her a mocking smile and a "come and get it" gesture. She stalked towards me, apparently intending to grab me and break me over a knee. I stepped at her and began throwing a flurry of punches in the direction of her head. One connected and snapped her jaw back, and she snarled in anger as I turned my back on her and began walking away. I listened for the sound of her movement, then at the last possible second I launched myself into a high back flip.

A second later, I landed facing her, two feet away. She had been caught off guard and was still turning, and I half-stepped forward and drove two stiff fingers into a spot that I prayed had the same significance to Andonians as for the inhabitants of my shadow.

Lorelei gave out a choked cry and I could see her visibly twitch: the nerve cluster I had just struck was causing her muscles to spasm uncontrollably. It wouldn't last long, and I didn't hesitate. I struck her hard in the stomach, which made her bend over, then a quick uppercut propelled her back five feet where she dropped into a quivering heap, then slumped into unconsciousness.

I stood waiting as the announcer walked over to examine Lorelei, then walked to the center of the ring and called out, "Princess Lorelei has been rendered unconscious: the winner of the duel of honor is Buffy, Slayer Emeritus, Lady of Amber."

The crowd was murmuring in disbelief, but after a few moments applause began, and while it was not thunderous, it was enough to make me think that I wasn't going to get mobbed by angry Andonians. I looked into the stands and could see that Flora was already conversing with the King and Queen of Andon, who still had stunned looks on their faces. She glanced at me momentarily and smiled broadly, then returned to her discussion. I looked away and saw that Benedict, Gérard, and Fiona had come down from their seats and were approaching me. I walked over to them, and Gérard immediately caught me up in a bear hug that, as Willow once put it, was making oxygen an issue before he put me down and commented, "Good job, Buffy. . .that princess was quite a piece of work."

I smiled and thanked him as Fiona laughed and remarked, "Flora is going to want you for permanent diplomatic duty, Buffy. . .you seem to have a knack for coming up with the best approach even when beating someone senseless is the order of the day." She saw the horrified look on my face and concluded, "Of course, occasions like this one are vanishingly rare. . .fortunately."

I nodded emphatically in agreement and turned to Benedict, who noted, "Buffy. . .I don't recall teaching you that move. . .did Giles?"

I nodded again in response and elaborated, "He taught it to me years ago. . .just never had a chance to use it before. . .usually, when I've fought someone it's been for keeps. . .funny that I used it now, really."

Benedict nodded sagely and replied, "One never knows when a tool will be needed, so it is best to keep them all ready for use at a moment's notice."

I nodded (I had that motion down after a bit of time with my new family), then glanced up into the stands and saw that Corwin was slipping off. As if sensing my scrutiny, he turned back and locked eyes with me for a moment before smiling slightly and giving me a slight nod before slipping off into the crowd. I smiled: from my brooding uncle, that constituted a more than adequate salute.

I sighed and took my leave of my aunt and uncles before slipping back out of the arena to change. As I walked down the dimly lighted corridor, a familiar voice came from a side passage: "Is it too late for you to receive congratulations from a late arrival?"

I turned and smiled broadly as I called out, "Bleys!" My father stepped out of the shadows wearing his usual red and orange, and offered his arm to me. I divined his intent and locked forearms with him, while I looked into his eyes, seeing the visible pride there. After a moment, he released me and gave me one of his most radiant smiles while I exclaimed, "This is a surprise. . .I thought you wouldn't be able to make it."

Bleys nodded and replied, "It was a close thing. . .I got here just as you and the Princess were being introduced. . .that was quite a fight, daughter, and a delicate situation, which you handled magnificently. . .I think you deserve a vacation."

I grinned at him and responded, "I can't disagree. . .what did you have in mind?"

He smiled enigmatically and replied, "I think I'll keep that a surprise. . .but we'll stop off in Amber to pack." He looked at me with some concern and ordered, "You need to get cleaned up and maybe take a long soak for some of those sore muscles. . .I'll meet you back in your quarters in Amber in six hours." He winked at me and disappeared into the shadows.

I nodded at where he had disappeared, and I turned back towards the changing room. . .a long soak sounded good, all right.

* * * * *

When I arrived back in my room, Bleys was waiting for me, and a beautiful fur lined ski jacket was lying on my bed. I turned to him and commented, "You do know that I've never skied in my life, don't you?"

Bleys shrugged and replied, "Somehow. . .I think you'll pick it up just fine, Buffy. In any event, the place I have in mind is lovely, and one can do other things there besides ski. We'll finish packing, and we'll Trump there in an hour."

I smiled: Bleys was apparently pulling out all of the stops to make this a great vacation, and I was certainly game for some fun after getting pummeled. There was something nagging at the back of my head, though, and I knew that I would not be able to enjoy this time without dealing with it. I met my father's eyes and asked, "Dad?"

Bleys noted my serious tone and sobered immediately as he replied, "Yes, Buffy?"

I blinked again, and considered the dark-eyed Slayer who had caused me so much anxiety, and the uncle who still visibly bore the burden of loss, before voicing my request:

"Tell me about Deirdre."

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.