See Part One for disclaimer and details. Hello, and welcome to the final chapter of the story! It's been fun, but after a lot of debate we decided to end it here, and move on to other things. We just want to say thanks again to our beta reader, Greywizard (the guy did an awesome job, as always) and thanks to everyone who's reviewed the fanfic:
Ant Crown, fullhans1, IUseAFakeName, kyro232, amac1688, highlander348, Quathis, Firehedgehog, ElDani, uo-chou, Guest, Alkeni, Womgi, Rob, Pyro-Neko-Isis, Wonderbee31, Loatroll, Swanboy, and anyone else we might have missed.
Okay, with all that out of the way, please enjoy the final part of WNZHGB – and please tell us what you thought of it, once you get to the end!
Part Five: Closure
Cordelia Chase's quarters, USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-E
Cordelia was honestly wishing she could scrub out the insides of her brain, to get rid of all the memories of the last few hours. She wanted to erase not only what she and Guinan had witnessed taking place between Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher in the red-haired woman's bedroom a few hours ago, but also that which Q had inserted into her mind not long before he'd vanished off the ship – and sent her ex-boyfriend away, as well.
( Well, at least Xander's still alive, ) Cordelia thought to herself hollowly, unable to prevent herself thinking about what would have happened between them, had Q Junior not intervened that day. She had been in contact with 'Deep Space Nine' after reporting what had happened to the ship's first officer, Commander William Riker, and Cordy had learned that Harris had recently been released from Dr. Bashir's care. ( I'm gonna have to head over there to that ugly-as Cardassian space station and talk to the dorkhead, the first chance I get. Not only about what Q did to him, but about all these damned memories in my head as well... )
The recollections of that other life were actually threatening to overwhelm Cordelia's sanity, as a matter of fact. The four years she would have spent as Angel's seer in Los Angeles were not all bad, granted, but the knowledge that she would have been used and abused and then tossed aside like a piece of trash – dying after spending nearly a year in a mystical coma, of all things – was truly horrifying.
( And what the hell, I actually thought I was in love with Angel? Was I tripping on acid or what? ) Cordelia asked herself incredulously. Thinking of Angelus and all the deaths he'd caused, all the destruction, all the chaos, and the apocalypse that monster had almost brought about during 1998 – it almost made the former May Queen ill contemplating spending her life in Los Angeles, with the ensouled version of that vampire.
Because the memories had not made her into the Cordelia who had FOOLISHLY decided to let that two-faced mercenary Skip demonize her, in order to remain useful to Angel; the Chase woman was still herself, still the same Starfleet officer who, nowadays, had spent more years in the 24th century than in the 20th. Q hadn't given her the emotions that the Vision Girl would have experienced, just the memories; and as Cordelia glanced over at the photo of herself and Xander taken during a romantic holiday on the planet Risa, she gave thanks to whoever might be listening Up There that that was the case.
"Come," Cordelia instantly said, as the door chime suddenly sounded. ( It's probably Captain Picard, wanting an explanation for what happened in his ready room; not to mention when I stunned him in Dr. Crusher's quarters. And hoo boy, he is NOT going to like hearing the truth about that! )
The doors slid open, but instead of Jean-Luc Picard...two other individuals entered her room. One of them was a tall humanoid who looked like a native of Tau Ceti, whom Cordelia had never met before. The other, however...
"Wesley," Cordelia stated uncertainly, staring at Beverly Crusher's son. They didn't know each other well; in fact, they had only met the one time, after Wesley had decided to drop out of Starfleet Academy during the Dorvan V incident three years ago.
But then, Cordelia didn't have to know Crusher well in order to decipher the expression on the young man's face. "I take it you've already heard the news?"
"That Q forced Captain Picard to rape my mother? Yes," Wesley growled, looking pissed as hell over what had happened. He didn't explain how he had learned that so quickly, after being away for so long, but Cordy didn't press him for answers; she had other things on her mind.
"Ah, technically, it wasn't exactly rape in the sense that, um, they both wanted it," Cordelia said delicately, before she saw Wesley send her a look full of ire and condemnation. "Not that I'm defending what Q did, of course, but – well, I'm sure you know how close your mom has gotten to Captain Picard over the past decade, Wes. Even I could tell that something's been building between them over the years, ever since you left; so who knows, maybe what happened last night was, y'know, sorta inevitable. Even if the circumstances really do suck."
"She is not wrong, Wesley," the alien known as The Traveler said consolingly to his protégé, as Crusher turned to stare at him. "In our travels between parallel dimensions, we have seen for ourselves how, more often than not, your mother becomes romantically involved with Captain Picard. So you should try not to take what happened too personally-"
"It's my MOM who was violated that way! How can I NOT take it personally?!" Wesley shouted, before he stormed out of Cordelia's cabin.
The Traveler just sighed wearily, before he noticed Cordy staring at him. "He is angry and troubled. Much like yourself."
"Don't even start, buddy. I am seriously not in the mood," Cordelia hissed, coming closer to the native of Tau Alpha C. "Who are you, anyway?"
"Call me The Traveler; no human can pronounce my true name. And I meant no offense," the alien said calmly, not looking at all scared of the thirty-something woman's wrath. "The truth is, there is a reason why I described you thusly. In addition, there is something I must show you. Please, take my hand." The Traveler raised his right arm, offering his hand to Cordelia.
The Starfleet commander hesitated for a moment, but then reached out and grabbed The Traveler's hand firmly. With a slight smile, the humanoid focused his thoughts on altering his current reality – and just like that, he and Cordelia were translated into another time and another place, far away from the 'Enterprise'.
The Vulcan Embassy, San Francisco
Cordelia materialized, feeling somewhat dazed and disoriented, as she struggled to get her bearings. Shaking her head a little, the brunette looked around – and she instantly knew something was wrong.
There were a number of people in Starfleet uniform present in the room, but it wasn't the current grey style with the undershirt's color indicating the occupation specialty; the uniforms these people were wearing looked like something from the previous decade, at least. "What the-"
"Please do not be alarmed," The Traveler interrupted softly, causing Cordy to turn around and look at him. "We are perfectly safe, here and now."
Nobody could accuse Cordelia Chase of being dumb. "Are you seriously telling me that that you took me back in time? How the hell did you pull THAT off? Xander and I tried everything we could think of way back when, and we couldn't accomplish squat!"
"The situation has changed," The Traveler tried to explain. "The old rules which the youngest Q had imposed upon you and your male companion have been...overturned, so to speak, by the rest of the Continuum. You are now free to travel anywhere, and anywhen, you wish; even if Xander Harris is not."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"For the foreseeable future, at least, the Q you met a few hours ago has confined your former mate to 'Deep Space Nine'," The Traveler confessed. "The ambassador is alive and well, but trapped and unable to leave his prison. Even I cannot release him from his bondage."
Cordelia blinked. A number of thoughts started crashing into one another inside her mind, but eventually she focused enough to say, "And just how do you know that?"
"The members of the Q Continuum and I have met before, a number of times. Do not ask me to explain the circumstances; all that you need know is that my information sources are trustworthy. At least, as trustworthy as any Q can be," The Traveler shrugged.
"Get me out of here," Cordelia barked authoritatively. "I don't care how you do it; just take me to 'Deep Space Nine', right now!"
"There is nothing you can do for him, then and there," The Traveler said gently. "However, there is something that you can do for the man here and now. Observe."
Cordelia turned her head, and gasped as she saw a younger-looking Xander talking with the two DTI agents named Marion Dulmur and Gariff Lucsly. Cordy instantly made the connection; all this had taken place roughly thirteen years ago, not long after she and Xander had split up in New Berlin, and she had transferred aboard the 'Endeavour'. Xander had later told her that this was the day he had first met his mentor, Sarek; after the two bureaucrats had pissed him off so much that he had stormed away, and literally bumped into the Vulcan diplomat.
"You need to hurry," The Traveler advised her, as Cordelia turned to face him again. "Ambassador Sarek is about to leave the room. If you do not prevent him from departing, Xander Harris will subsequently follow a career path other than diplomacy – and he will die at the Utopia Planitia shipyards, approximately seven years from now."
Stunned, Cordelia almost couldn't process that – she'd nearly forgotten the accident that had taken place, while she'd been stationed there – but if nothing else, the Federation's war with the Dominion had taught her not to overthink things. Her body was already in motion, as she placed her back to Xander so that he couldn't see her face. "Ambassador Sarek!"
The Vulcan ambassador and his aide named Sakkath both stopped, and turned to stare at her. "The ambassador must depart to meet with his wife, Perrin. May I assist you?" Sakkath asked politely.
"No, uh, I need to speak directly to him. It's, it's a matter of life and death," Cordelia semi-babbled, desperately trying to stall. ( Come on, Lame Boy, where the hell are you?! )
Right on cue, Xander strode past her – and collided directly with Sarek. "Oh! Sorry, Mr. Ambassador, guess I wasn't looking where I was going..." Harris immediately apologized.
As soon as both Sarek and Sakkath were distracted, Cordelia started to back away – but then she stopped, as she felt The Traveler's hand on her shoulder. An instant later, they both vanished from 2360, arriving safely aboard the Enterprise-E within Cordelia's quarters.
"Well done," The Traveler stated with small smile, before he vanished from Cordelia's quarters.
"I HATE time travel," the female Starfleet officer grumbled, as she strode out of the room straight towards Ten-Forward. She had already decided to take Guinan up on that offer of a very stiff drink...
Close by Lake Sunnydale, California
Today was the twenty-year anniversary of the day they'd arrived into this future era; and so, perhaps not unexpectedly, Xander and Cordelia had decided to spend today together. Here, at the exact same place where they'd materialized, back in 2354. To remember the past, and consider the future.
A great deal had happened in the months since that meeting with Q aboard the 'Enterprise', Xander's return to the Bajoran space station, and Cordelia's brief sojourn into the past.
For example, the Dominion war had kept going long after the Battle of Deep Space Nine, with the Romulans and the Breen eventually choosing sides and getting involved in the conflict. The hostilities had, in the end, been terminated only when that female Founder had decided to stop the war; not out of the goodness of her heart, of course, but in order to save her species from annihilation.
Which was all thanks to a lethal virus that had infected the Great Link and was slowly killing all of the Changelings, everywhere. As an aside, it was too bad how the Cardassians had almost been wiped out of existence for changing sides before the cease-fire took place, but since they had willingly aligned themselves with the Dominion in the first place...
Well, as Captain Sisko had put it whilst in the throes of an Emissary vision, "The locusts had come to Cardassia," and they'd had to pay the price for their actions.
In any case, just as The Traveler had told Cordelia, Xander had found himself stuck aboard 'Deep Space Nine'. He'd kept on doing his job as best he could, of course, even though Harris had also continually tried everything he could think of to depart the space station, once he'd realized the situation. But he'd been a prisoner right up until the point when, after the war was officially over, Sisko had stopped Kai Winn and Dukat's mad scheme to destroy the Prophets – given how the religious woman had lost her faith completely, and turned against the gods she had served all her life.
The aftermath of that battle must have been the catalyst for Q backing off and allowing Xander to leave 'Deep Space Nine', because Sisko's corporeal existence was over after ending the threat of the Bajoran traitor and his Cardassian arch-nemesis. The Emissary had found himself amongst the Prophets in the Celestial Temple, with a new role in life as a higher being. Which more or less explained why the wormhole aliens had said to the Starfleet captain 'the game must not end', way back when.
"Place hasn't changed a bit, has it?" Xander asked, looking around at the woods and holding Cordelia's hand tightly.
"Nope. Kinda hard to believe it's been two decades since we showed up here," Cordelia replied, looking around towards the lake. "And that it's managed to recover so much since the 21st century."
"What?" Xander didn't get that.
Cordelia confessed that she had scanned this area from aboard the 'Enterprise' a few months ago, when Picard and his crew had chased the Borg back in time to the year 2063; to prevent the cybernetic villains from interfering with Earth's historic First Contact encounter with the Vulcans, and assimilating humanity when it was at its most weakest. Cordy asked Xander, "Do you remember those pictures we were shown during sophomore year History class? The ones from the battlefields during World War One, near the Somme river? That's what this place looked like, then. Nothing but scorched earth and dead trees, and the water in the lake was like completely black."
Xander was instantly glad he had never seen that. Nonetheless he asked, "You didn't see anything...?"
"Familiar? No, nothing," Cordelia shook her head, clutching Xander's hand tighter. "Sixty-five years is a long time, Xander. Sunnydale was completely gone, and when I saw the disaster area it had become that night, it was really kinda hard for me to believe the town had ever existed here."
"It existed." Xander pointed at the strait separating them from the region's northern peninsula. "The Sunnydale docks were located right over there, actually." He pointed towards the further shore. "That rise over yonder, on the far side, that's what's left of Kingman's Bluff. I've been doing some research, trying to reconstruct where everything was – still, I couldn't tell you where the high school was located. Or the Bronze. Or your house, or mine, or Willow's or Buffy's..."
Cordelia frowned. Seeing the pain visible on Xander's face, and hearing the huskiness in his voice, told her more than Harris realized. "It's been twenty years – but you still miss them like crazy, huh?"
"Always," Xander nodded, quickly getting his emotions under control with the techniques learned from Sarek. "Giles and Oz, not so much anymore; but those two were my family, Cor. My REAL family. I could care less about my parents, but I HATE the fact that I can't even visit Buffy and Willow's graves! I mean, who knows where they ended up getting buried! Damn that Q kid for not even-"
There was a short burst of white light, and Q Junior appeared. He looked somewhat older than he had twenty years ago, but only in terms of weeks or months, not years or decades. "I heard my name mentioned?"
"YOU!" Cordelia barked out angrily. "What are you doing here?"
"Please, you can relax. This is just a friendly little visit," Q Junior said benevolently. "I promise, I come bearing no hostile intentions towards either of you."
"And yet somehow, I find that very hard to believe," Xander replied acidly.
"Why?" Q Junior asked frankly, now sounding very much like Q. "Because I did you and your lady friend here a favor, as I'm sure both of you know by now. Father did say he'd given you memories of the lives you two would have had if I hadn't intervened, isn't that correct?"
"Yeah," Cordelia abruptly shivered, not wanting to recall that...that nightmare. "But still, you had no right to bring us here without our permission back then!"
Q Junior instantly looked annoyed. "Be honest; would either of you have granted it, if I had asked politely? Of course not – so the end justified the means, to borrow a human phrase. If you like, think of what I did as holding down a screaming child as it's given a painful vaccination – in order for it to live, and fulfill its potential. Which you two have certainly done..."
He gestured to Xander, "After all, the hero who exposed Section 31? The man who sponsored the first Ferengi to enter Starfleet? The individual whom your dearly departed friend Sarek recommended for a medal, with regards to that Romulan plot to induce world-wide pon farr on Vulcan?"
Q Junior then gestured to Cordelia, "The heroine of Veridian III? The creator of the Chase Maneuver? The woman who, now that Starfleet is desperately short of command officers, is certain to be promoted to captain of her own ship within a year or two?"
"What?" Xander and Cordelia both demanded, looking dumbfounded.
"Unless I'm very much mistaken – something which, Q and all, is quite frankly impossible – there'll be four gold pips on your collar soon enough," Q Junior smirked, suddenly looking as arrogant as he had two decades ago. "And as they used to say in the 20th century, you can take that to the bank. Well, what passes for a bank in the Federation's moneyless economy nowadays, but why quibble over technicalities?"
"All that still doesn't change the fact that you took me away from Buffy and Willow," Xander said stonily. "Sure, I wouldn't have lived all that much longer had I stayed with them-"
"Yes, and don't forget how instead of an equal, those two would have treated you as a powerless liability for your rest of your life, less than six months after you met me," Q Junior interrupted brusquely, causing Harris to flinch in pain and Cordelia to stare at Xander in amazement. "And not only them but everyone else you knew, as well. Apart from that vengeance demon you would have gotten betrothed to-"
"WHAT?!" Cordelia interrupted, looking at Xander in shocked disbelief. "You would have become engaged to a freaking demon, if we hadn't been abducted that day? Mister, you never told me that!"
"No, Cor, uh – it's, it's not what you think," Xander shook his head rapidly. "I mean, I was a totally different person by that point – plus, I would have left my fiancée on our wedding day, almost three years after you left Sunnydale. Not exactly my finest hour, I'll admit, but-"
"But nothing," Q Junior interjected triumphantly. "Go on, admit it; I saved you from that particular embarrassment. So, you owe me for that, if nothing else!"
"I owe you? Fine. Then what do you want from me, Q, in order for us to call it even?" Xander demanded stiffly.
"Get over the past, as Aunt Kathy would put it," Q Junior said simply, recalling his human godmother; who was currently stranded on the opposite side of the galaxy, along with her ship's crew.
( I really ought to do something to help her and her people, but not yet, ) Q Junior reminded himself. ( Not until everyone aboard 'Voyager' fulfills everything they're meant to accomplish in the Delta Quadrant, anyway. )
Q Junior then focused and said to Xander, "Live your life in the present and in the future – or what you mortals think of as the present and the future, anyway. And by the way, your witch friend and your tempestuous little Slayer crush? Their ashes were eventually scattered into the water, right over there." Q Junior gestured towards the lake, and then the youngest member of the Continuum vanished with a quick burst of white light.
"I REALLY hate it when they do that," Cordelia growled, before turning back to face Xander. "All right, doofus, now I want details! Tell me all about this demon woman you would have almost married!"
"Anya wasn't a demon, Cor, at least – not anymore," Xander replied hastily. "I mean, not that I enjoy remembering how I would have humiliated her that day, or even how she'd have died about a year later...but I can remember how Ahn would've become a good person, after she learned what it meant to be a human being again. Which, after spending 1100 years killing unfaithful guys before she ran into you, wasn't exactly-"
"Hold it. Never mind; I've decided I don't want to know," Cordelia cut him off, dimly recalling that undercover demoness before dismissing the decades-old memory with a grimace.
"Right. Just like I don't want to know about what would have happened between you and Deadboy, if you had gone to Los Angeles after Graduation," Xander shrugged. Cordelia had mentioned something about her and Angel getting involved in that other life, much to his surprise and horror. "And I guess that Q sorta had a point; I need to get over the past. I mean, for better or worse, after all this time – this is where we belong now."
"And the Buffy and Willow situation?" Cordelia asked, still feeling somewhat jealous about Anya.
Xander shrugged again. "I'll set up a memorial stone close by the lake for them, I guess. For them, and for everyone else we knew back then. Even if it's nearly four hundred years too late, it still feels like the right thing to do. It'll mean something, especially to me."
"And me," Cordelia admitted, causing Xander to look at her in surprise.
Their eyes met, and time seemingly stopped. For the briefest of moments, a wave of compassion, affection, and trust passed between them. With a start, Xander let go of the breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding, as a strange shiver swept down the man's spine.
Taking him by surprise, Cordelia reached up and kissed Harris softly on the lips. It was utterly unlike any of the kisses they had shared before, either as teenagers or adults, which had been driven by an insistent – and oftentimes scary, and confusing – passion and desire.
This time, although such an undertone of fiery sensuality was definitely present, it was tempered by mutual care and hope, understanding and acceptance. All things which contained the foundations of real love, like that between a husband and wife.
Just as Xander was beginning to return Cordelia's kiss, though, she twisted out of his grasp, grinning impishly. She took his hand and pulled him along, "Come on, Xander, we can't stay here all day!"
"Well, of course we can't," Cordelia nodded, still pulling her newly reclaimed boyfriend along. "I mean, what's the point? What's there to see and do here? It's 2374, so let's live a little! Go to San Francisco, maybe; I mean, it's been years and years since I've talked with the Academy gardener, Boothby..."
Xander quickly shut her up with another kiss, taking the woman into his arms and firmly plunging his lips onto hers. They stayed that way for what seemed like forever, before finally moving on from the past completely.
And as Q Junior watched them from within the Continuum, a look of smug pride and self-satisfaction appearing on his face, Q stared at his son in hopeless resignation and sighed wearily. In the way that parents of all teenagers everywhere did.
"Just what was all this supposed to accomplish, anyway?" Q asked waspishly.
"Examine the time stream," Q Junior replied haughtily. "You'll soon see what I've managed to engineer."
Using his foresight, Q scanned ahead twenty to thirty years into the future, and saw how the firstborn daughter of Xander and Cordelia would join together with the son of Jean-Luc Picard and Beverly Crusher – the son whose existence that he, Q, was indirectly responsible for. Something Q Junior had very subtly manipulated him into doing last year, without him even noticing it.
Grimacing and scanning even further ahead, Q foresaw how the secondborn child arising from that union would eventually have a massive effect on the entire Federation, becoming a major political figure that cited all four grandparents as significant influences in his life.
"You and Mother always used to tell me to be more...subtle with regards to the humans, Father," Q Junior said triumphantly. "So, how do you like the results of my plan?"
Q exhaled in exasperation, not bothering to answer the rhetorical question. Despite being somewhat impressed with the boy's efforts and skill, he knew his son would be almost impossible to deal with now; especially if, one day, Q Junior decided to further meddle in the lives of Xander and Cordelia's descendants.
The entire galaxy would most likely never be the same again!