Kirk: I take it the odds are against us and the situation is grim.
Picard: You could say that.
Kirk: Sounds like fun!
~Star Trek: Generations
I had always been impressed that there were some people that could speak precisely what was on their minds regardless of whether or not it would hurt someone. I had always been shy, in my youth and as an adult. So to hear Buffy yelling at Cloud, using arguments that he had never even considered applied to him and our group, was entertaining indeed. The Turks at our table were looking smugly at the swordsman and the martial artist's obvious distress at the parallels she drew.
I could have gone without seeing the kiss to the redhead's cheek though. He kept smirking at me, as if he knew the way my stomach had clenched with despair the moment her lips met his skin.
I thought, although I could never be certain about such matters, that there had been a moment earlier, before our privacy had been compromised, where we had shared…something. Felt something…
I stood and wordlessly threw enough gil to cover both mine and Buffy's drinks onto the table. The polished wooden floor of the bar made loud thumps as my plated boots moved over them, and I was thankful for the relative quiet of the night when I left the bar behind me.
What the devil was I doing? I loved Lucrecia. Only Lucrecia. I couldn't have feelings for Buffy, I told myself as I stormed towards the Inn. It was a betrayal. Blasphemy. No, I wouldn't allow it.
I wandered for a while, passing the Inn multiple times as I mentally flogged myself for my desire for the blonde immortal. How could I have such feelings for the woman if I loved Lucrecia? I had loved the same woman unfailingly for over thirty years, although admittedly I was in a coffin for most of that time. But this thing with Buffy? No, it would be better if I ignored such trivialities entirely.
Satisfied with my decision, I entered the Inn, snuck past the snoring man at the counter, and up the stairs. One of the doors was slightly ajar and a soft light was spilling into the hallway.
I approached the door and peaked in the open doorway.
The room contained two large bed pallets, traditional Wutai decoration, blue satin comforters tucked in delicately around the mattresses on the floor. There were silk fans and the quintessential paper lanterns that characterized the culture of Wutai.
I had always been so accustomed to all the conventions of the city, being born and raised here. It wasn't until I was seventeen and had arrived in Midgar that I realized the décor I was so used to was considered relatively exotic. And seeing the blonde, green-eyed woman sitting within the room made it look even more so.
Or perhaps it was just her.
"Well, are you coming in or not?"
I stared with shock at being caught unawares. It wasn't often anyone got the drop on me. I slid inside the door and shut it softly. Buffy sat upon the far bed pallet, cross-legged and braiding beads back into her damp hair, not even glancing in my direction. Clearly she had taken a shower in the time it had taken me to wander about town and mentally flog myself. Before her was an unfolded piece of white paper which seemed to hold all her attention.
I sat down on the bed closest to the door and watched her small fingers deftly manipulate the sections of her hair into a few little braids decorated with the orange and blue beads I had never seen her without. She, still staring at the paper in front of her, ran her fingers through the rest of her hair.
I glanced at the document. It was covered in the loopy handwriting unique to a teenage girl and, spying a coiled green ribbon, I realized she was reading the note she had received on the bridge of the airship. The one attached to her sword. The one from another world.
"Dear Buffy," the woman read aloud and I looked up to see a blank expression on her face. "You're gone and so's your trunk. Sword's still here, but it probably won't be for long, so I gotta be quick, ya know? And there's so much I want to say to you.
"Thank you for everything you've done for me. And I'm not just talking about saving the world. I mean, what you did for me personally. Consoling me when Home was destroyed. Talking me out of my crush on Tidus, and then the one on Auron. Helping me through Wakka's prejudice. You helped make me into the person I am now and I will never forget it. I always wanted a sister, and I feel like I found one in you. Don't forget us. E muja oui. Rikku."
She folded the piece of paper and tucked it into the pocket of her pants.
"I thought you would not read it in front of the others," I said softly. "Why share it with me?"
She blinked at me for a moment. "Because you aren't like the others, are you?" Buffy said with a small smirk. "You don't feel like the rest of them anyway."
I didn't get to ask what she meant by that because she quickly changed the subject.
"When I made the deal, the one with the Powers, I had a sister named Dawn. Seventeen. Bratty. Stole my clothes all the time." She smiled wryly. "I loved her so much. So much I died for her once."
I raised my eyebrow at this but said nothing. I got the distinct impression that she wouldn't have told me if I had asked anyway.
"I've met a lot of teenage girls in my…travels. Hermione. Ginny. Luna. River. Penelo. Relm. Jack. Claire. Usagi and her friends. But none of them reminded me of Dawn the way Rikku did. She was quirky and awkward and she had this way about her. This way of worming her way into somebody's heart. No matter what kind of barriers I had up, no matter how much I wasn't interested, I couldn't help but adore her."
Buffy stood and turned down the bed, her back to me as she continued to speak. "She just attached herself to me like a fungus and there was nothing I could do. I miss her."
She slipped her pants down her hips and climbed into her bed as I tired desperately to avert my eyes from the sight of her green panties. They matched the bra we had all glimpsed earlier when she had donated her undershirt to Tifa's wound. I felt lecherous and disgusted that I was looking, but she didn't notice as she lay down and extinguished the lamp by her bed. She closed her eyes and, after watching her for a few minutes, her breathing evened out and she slept.
I removed my cape and boots and lay atop the bed on my back, hands folded behind my head. So much for my steely resolve. She had opened up to me, like a friend. Like a confidant. And it affected me more than the sight of her half-clothed did. Lucrecia had never been so casual with me.
I had often wondered why she had never told me that she and her husband, Hojo, intended to use their unborn child as a test subject for the Jenova project. Did she not trust me enough to confide? Did she know I would oppose it so vehemently I'd get myself killed? Or, and this was the point that had caused me to stay in the coffin for so many years, did she truly never care about me the way I cared for her? She had flirted…but was I only a source of amusement to pass the time? I didn't know. Could never be sure.
It was with those tortured thoughts that I fell asleep.
The moment I began to dream, I knew it wasn't mine.
The landscape, the people, the fortress on which I stood, I had never seen before. Only one thing was recognizable.
Buffy strode through the people on the battlements with two men, one tall and slender with long, blond hair and pointed ears, and the other a dark haired man with the scruff of a beard only periodically shaven and a pleasant face. People stirred smartly to remove themselves from the path of the three. For all three were warriors. A blind man could have seen it.
They stopped halfway along and Buffy, clad in dark leather pants and a green tunic, hopped up on the battlement, landing in a low crouch. The blond man leapt up beside her and together they stood.
"Legolas. Dagnir. See you anything?" the dark haired man asked.
The blond man, Legolas, looked down at his companion, his countenance grave and his eyes grim. "Ten thousand strong at least," he said. "You were right, Aragorn."
Buffy jumped down, her face determined. "I'd say we've got little over two hours until they get here."
"Well then, lass," a new voice said, "we'd best get to the armory and shore up our defenses." The gruff sound came from a small, stout man approaching them. He gave Buffy a critical once over from his short height. He barely reached the small woman's shoulder. "I doubt there's going to be anything to fit you," he told her. "Not a lot of armor made for women."
Buffy laughed as she and the other two men followed the newcomer off the battlements and down into the center of the fortress. "Gimli, I've never worn armor before and I'm not about to start now!" she exclaimed as she walked. "And besides, if this backwards world would just let women fight…"
"Dagnir," Aragorn interrupted, "this convention is not up for debate. Just because you are a warrior, that does not mean every other woman must be one as well."
"Most men would prefer not to watch the women they love march to war," Legolas added softly. "I do not seem to have that blessed luxury."
"What're you talking…about…" Buffy trailed off as the full implications of his words registered and she stopped walking, staring over at the blond man with bewilderment. "Uh, you guys go on without me. I'll meet you at the ramparts," she said before she turned and sprinted away, her braided hair swinging behind her.
Legolas and I both stared after her, even though I was fully aware that it was a dream and there was no way for me to offer my assistance to the trouble woman. Or the heartbroken man, for that matter.
He began to go after her, but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder, Aragorn's, and the words of the small man.
"Let her go, lad," Gimli said kindly. "Let her be."
I, on the other hand, followed Buffy to a fairly abandoned corner of the battlements. She sat down against the stone wall and buried her face in her hands, pulling her knees up to her chest.
She looked so defeated and I wasn't sure what it was about the comment that had bothered her so. I sat down next to her and wished this wasn't a dream, that I could comfort her in some way. And I realized that the statement was completely at odds with everything I had resolved while wandering through Wutai. How could I remain emotionally distant if I cared so much? I knew I wouldn't have done the same thing for the ninja or the pilot. Why should Buffy be any different?
But somehow, she was.
Footsteps approached a few moments later and we both looked up to find Aragorn standing on Buffy's other side, looking out over the battlements at the approaching army.
I hadn't bothered to look at it myself.
"Shouldn't you be in the armory?" she asked him, her voice muffled by her hands.
The man glanced down at her with a self-depreciating smile. "The Prince of Mirkwood and I have had a disagreement," he said. "He believes we're all going to die."
Buffy looked up at him in surprise. "He's usually not so depressing."
Aragorn shrugged. "Well, it is not every day one tells a woman he loves her and she runs like a frightened deer. Perhaps it is affecting his mood."
The woman groaned and rose to lean against the ramparts. "Why did he have to say that?" she asked despairingly. "It's not going to change anything. It can't."
Her compatriot placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Why can't it, Dagnir? You push us from you and you suffer, day by day. We all see it. Could it really hurt to let him in? Even for a short while?"
Buffy sighed heavily and stared over the wall. I rose, and for the first time, I looked as well. There, over a rapidly darkening plain, were thousands of dark creatures. Not men, but lesser things, marching down to the fortress. I glanced around at the handful of soldiers and the plethora of old men and young boys holding swords and wearing armor far to large for their slight frames, casting terrified looks at each other.
I rather agreed with Legolas. These people hadn't a prayer.
"I really thought you would understand," Buffy finally began. "I can't get too close. What would be worse? Rejecting him now? Or giving in and being blissfully happy, running around Middle Earth and killing things until the Ring and Sauron are destroyed and we win and all is right with the world…until I get forcefully pulled away from this place and deposited somewhere else, to start all over with a different group of people? Don't you think this is hard for me, doing all this? I can't let it get any more complicated."
Aragorn nodded sagely, but had one more thing to say before he let the subject drop. "Perhaps, if he believes we will all die here, he did not want you to perish without knowing of his feelings. Or perhaps he believes he will not survive this fight. Or maybe he wanted you to realize that, even when your quest is done in Arda and you have left our world for another, you will know that there is someone, the elf prince of Mirkwood no less, that loves you."
Buffy didn't reply. There was no need as there was nothing to say to that. For a few minutes more, they stood together in silence and watched what might be their doom bearing down upon them.
Finally, Aragorn spoke again. "Come. Let us go the armory. It should be empty by now."
I watched them walk off and wondered if I should follow. After a few moments, I realized I needed to. There was no one else there I knew and it was only a dream, clearly speared on by the story Buffy had told us as she removed the bullet from Tifa's arm.
But why in the name of Shiva was I dreaming about it? It made no logical sense.
And yet, I followed her slender form as she and Aragorn walked through the mulling makeshift soldiers. They entered the armory and looked at the few usable pieces of armaments that seemed to remain. As Aragorn pulled on a rusty shirt made of interlocking metal rings, Buffy fingered the remnants on the walls, dusty knives and ancient, broken swords.
The man eyed the immortal carefully and then he began to speak in a quiet, confident voice. "Even though I know Arwen leaves this shore with the last of her kind, no other woman, elf-kind or not, will hold any appeal for me. Is that part of why you resist Legolas' overtures? Because of the love you left behind?"
Buffy blanched as she whirled around to stare at him. Her face was open and vulnerable for a moment before it closed down and hardened completely, an expression I had seen on her face many times in the short period I had known her. Her vibrant green eyes were flinty and a seasoned warrior stood in place of the girl.
"He has nothing to do with this!" she growled. "Don't even talk about him! You think you know something about me just because you have a doomed, forever love thing going on with Arwen? You don't know anything!" A single tear coursed down her cheek. She turned away from him and took a deep, shuddering breath. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "I spent so long defending my actions and feelings for Spike that I think I do it without thinking."
"Worry not, Dagnir," Aragorn said kindly. He walked forward and placed a large hand on her thin shoulders. "I am not offended. I just want you to be sure that your love for this man will not define you all the years of your life. It has been a very long time, Buffy. No man, no matter how honorable and great, for I am sure he was, is worth thirty years of guilt and grief. Do you believe yourself to be the only one that has lost someone? The only one to fail the people you care for?" he asked seriously, his eyes trained on the woman's pale face.
"You're kind of a hypocrite, you know that, right?" she said with a grim smile, reaching out to touch the chain of a necklace resting at the dark haired man's throat.
He smirked and covered her hand with his own. "You are like kin to me, Buffy. I have no wish to see you waste away because of an impossible dream. Not when there is an elf, a dear friend, waiting to win your affections," he said.
Buffy snorted. "Winning them is so not an issue," she muttered.
"Ah," Aragorn laughed knowingly. "I see. So the fair prince already holds sway over our Dagnir's heart."
The woman sighed. "Aragorn, I love you like a brother, like a Scooby, but believe me when I say I will hurt you if you so much as mention anything."
"Just think about it, Dagnir," he said. "Love is a beautiful gift. It may never come again."
"I understand," she said, and then she smiled at him just as Legolas and Gimli entered the armory.
Legolas' face was carefully neutral at the scene before him, but when Buffy turned her grin on him, he had no choice but to return it. He moved toward her, perhaps powerless to do anything else.
Aragorn and Gimli both took a few steps back, giving the other two a semblance of privacy.
"I must apologize, my lady," the elf said softly, casting his eyes down. "I did not mean to upset you."
"No, Legolas," Buffy murmured quietly. "You don't have anything to be sorry about." She reached out and grabbed his hand in hers. "I shouldn't have run. There's no excuse for it. I can only say that your words frightened me because of what I feel for…"
Suddenly they both stiffened.
"Did you hear that?" Buffy demanded of the blond prince in front of her.
Legolas nodded. "That is no orc horn."
As one, they ran for the door and everything went black. I turned around for a few moments, my arms outstretched and searching for something. Anything. A wall. One of the neglected and rusty swords. But there was nothing.
I stumbled and groped for what felt like a year. No sound. No light. Void.
I woke with a start to find Buffy already up and getting dressed. It took me a moment of blinking to realize I was awake and no longer dreaming. The blonde woman gathered up her meager belongings and prepared for the walk back to the airship. I stood, refastened my cape and donned my boots, and watched the girl move about, debating the relevancy of my dream. Did it mean something or was it merely force of suggestion that caused it?
We walked slowly back to the airship. The ex-SOLDIER, Tifa traveling along behind them, was carefully guarding the thieving ninja child and Buffy and I were bringing up the rear.
She had been silent all morning and the other members of the party seemed to be relatively angry at both her observations from the night before and the offer to join the Turks. I wasn't surprised that the redhead had extended it. Not after I had seen her fight and not after I had seen the cold way she had viewed Corneo's death. Had she used a gun, she may have been a better assassin than I ever had been. At least, in the stereotypical sense.
I was musing on such things when Tifa slowed her pace to fall back alongside us. She looked Buffy up and down for a moment, and I noted out of the corner of my eye that she centered on her left arm.
"How'd you get that one?" Tifa asked, pointing. Clearly she was trying to dispel some of the awkwardness between all of us by choosing to ignore it.
Buffy looked up, startled, and extended the arm in question. For the first time, I noticed the deep scar in the flesh of her outer forearm. It was so pronounced, I was shocked that I had failed to notice it before.
She gave the appendage a sad smile. "It's a souvenir from the very first dimension I was dropped into. The Powers had never done anything like it before, so they didn't send Whistler ahead. They just dropped me, quite literally, and unfortunately into the center of a group of soldiers from the East India Trading Company."
She chuckled a bit at our blank looks. "It doesn't really matter who they were. The point is, because I was wearing pants, which was something women didn't do there, I was thrown into a jail in the nearest town, but not before they heated up and iron brand, 'P' for pirate, seared me, and scheduled me to hang."
Tifa stared at her, openmouthed. "But…but…how did you manage to escape?"
Buffy scoffed. "I didn't. Not on my own, anyway. A few hours later, another prisoner was brought in. A real pirate. A man named Jack Sparrow. He took a liking to me. We talked all night about life and death and everything in between since we thought we were going to die. But another man named Will Turner came and helped Jack escape early the next morning, needing his assistance with something and Jack said he wouldn't leave without me. So they took me with them."
She stretched her arms over her head, arching her back until it popped. "It was the first time I ever had to take direction from someone else. I had always been the one in charge, you know?" she said with a grin. "And the first person I had to take orders from was Jack freakin' Sparrow. Man, that was tough. In the first two weeks, when we sailed from Port Royale to Tortuga, I learned how to crew a boat and how to follow. And I made my first friends outside of the same ones I had always had in Sunnydale. Back home."
We walked on in silence until the airship came into view. The team met us outside, where Cloud began the arduous task of explaining all that had happened. Buffy slid through the group, entirely unnoticed, and slipped back up into the ship. I waited only a moment before following.
She wasn't hard to find. She sat before her trunk in our room. I watched from the doorway as she opened it, removed the top insert, and reached into the far left corner, retrieving a long bundle wrapped in a tattered and stained, red and white striped cloth. She placed the package on her lap and stared at it, head bowed, with an almost imperceptible smile on her face.
I felt, more than saw, Tifa come up alongside me. We both watched as Buffy slowly pulled the cloth apart, revealing a few items. She palmed a crude looking pistol the likes of which I had never seen.
"It's called a flint lock," Buffy said quietly. She looked sideways at us and jerked her head, indicating for us to enter. "No self respecting pirate ever goes anywhere without one. This," she said, handing the item to me as I passed her to sit on the bed, "was the height of gun technology for three hundred years. I have no shot for it and no gun powder, but since I was already talking about Jack and Will, I thought I'd pull out the stuff they gave me and attempt to O.D. on nostalgia."
I turned the gun over in my hands. It was made of dark smooth wood and glinting metal. I pointed it at the wall, testing its weight. It was heavier than I had first imagined.
"Jack Sparrow was given that when he was marooned on a desert island by his first mate, Barbossa. It had one shot in it. That's no help for hunting, but after a few days in the sun with no food, that shot starts to look pretty friendly, I imagine. He escaped the island, though, and carried the damn thing for years until encountering the mutineer again and he finally shot him. Then he gave it to me, along with this," she said, holding up a silver ring decorated with intricate skull embossing on the sides and a large emerald in the setting. She slid it on to the middle finger of her right hand.
As she admired it momentarily, Tifa craned her neck to attempt to see the contents of the trunk from her perch on the bed. "So…what else is in there?" she asked slyly.
Buffy stared at her for a moment and then grinned widely. "Want me to show you?"