Chapter Twenty-Four: Second Time's the Charm

Outside, the dazzling lights of Coruscant lit up the night sky. The tall towers of duracrete and ferrocrete spearing up into a velvet colored atmosphere. Buffy didn't have time to look outside or admire the view. But even inside the domed circle, she could hear the whizzing hum of speeders as they flew by. She wondered if Anakin could recognize what different makes and models were out there, just by the sound. To her it always sounded like the humming of bees and nothing more. He was the ship lover. But she knew that now was not the time to ask him. The Council Chambers were so far up; so far above the rest of Coruscant that Buffy was sure the tip nearly touched the stratosphere. Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy could see the beauty, almost feel it at the back of her mind. It was disturbing. Even more disturbing to think that all the shining dots that were so far above them were also planets and harboring billions more people. All that life, humans and aliens living together, it blew her mind just trying to think about it. People on Earth, Xander, he would have killed to see this, to stand in front of Jedi Masters in a galaxy far, far away. Buffy didn't feel so lucky. Instead, all she felt was nervousness and sweaty palms.

Taking a few deep breaths, she followed Obi-wan Kenobi into the Jedi Council Chambers. This was her second time facing them down and the second time that she'd been nervous over the prospect of standing before them. However, this time, it was not tiredness or fear of electronics that made her knees shudder and her thighs twitch. No, this time it felt like Principle Snyder had once again dragged her into his office, like she was walking into a fifty-fifty situation that would almost certainly lead to her expulsion. And I'm not even enrolled yet. Not that she expected the same knowing look of glee on the faces of the Jedi Masters like she had with Snyder, they were far too stoic and serious for that. And dare I say sarcastic? In truth, they seemed to be about as fond of cutting sarcasm as she was of puns and witty comebacks. This filled Buffy with an odd sense of irony. It was almost enough to make her snort trying to hide a laugh. At least it means we have something in common. Right? She tried to keep her face smooth, but it was hard. Let's get together, yeah, yeah, yeah… Buffy hummed at the back of her mind. Just you and me combi-ined, It'd been a long time since she'd thought of that song. Almost at once, she longed to have her own version of The Parent Trap, wherein alter-universe, twin Buffy was walking in to face the overly stern faces of nine Jedi. With me back home pigging out on junk food and playing anywhere but here with Willow. That was a nice little dream but probably not one she'd be getting any time soon.

Buffy linked her hands behind her back.

No. No James Dean to massage her feet on a beach, no Freddie Prinz Jr. in Italy to bring her a gelato. She sucked in a breath as quietly as possible. It was hard to pretend that she wasn't nervous. The chamber was silent, tense, and she watched eleven pairs of eyes turn as she and Obi-wan entered the room. It didn't take a quick pan and scan to realize that Qui-Gon and Anakin were already there, standing in the center of circled and seated Jedi Masters. Their stilled, formidable expressions on the faces told her that they'd been waiting for a while. Yet, Qui-Gon looking rather placid, his hands tucked within his robes. If he was nervous or concerned it didn't show on his face. Instead, he looked confident, like he was sure that things were going to go his way. Probably something to do with the will of the Force or whatever. Buffy swallowed, looking out at her true obstacle: the Jedi Masters. They were watching her, listening as her footsteps rang out across the ferrocrete floor. But beneath those stern faces does the Buffy detector not detect a hint of disappointment? No. It didn't. Instead, there was an almost twinkle in little green Kermit's eyes. Master Yoda. She self-corrected. I agreed that I want to be a Jedi, I might not be a Jedi yet but… She had to be honest with herself, she was more than a little intrigued about this Force thing, about the power that was dormant inside her. Or not so dormant. Buffy thought as she remembered Qui-Gon's guidance during the pod race. I wish I had pockets and less of a motor mouth. It was probably going to get her in trouble again.

"Late you are again, young Skywalker." Master Yoda said as Buffy and Obi-wan walked into the circle. Buffy almost detected a smile on the small Jedi's face. But who could really tell from all those wrinkles? "I take it, a habit with you this is?"

"Eternally tardy, that's me." Buffy replied as she stepped up beside Anakin and took her place in front of Qui-Gon. Her palms were growing even more sweaty as she felt their stares narrowing in on her and Anakin. She fixed her eyes forward, trying to hide any worry or discomfort. "It's a thing. Kinda."

"Hmm," was all Master Yoda said in response. Buffy had sort of expected more, maybe some witty repartee with messed up grammatical structures. But no, nothing. It was like he'd expected this reaction from her. He probably already had.

Would it kill him to give a chiding rebuke? Buffy wondered. She was surprised by how much she'd wanted some kind of response. "Really?" She asked. "That's it? Nothing else? Just a 'hmm'? Like an old man version of a grumpy Mr. Rogers? I mean, I was kinda expecting some sort of chewing out over my lacking the leap to attention when ready response or you know, getting early to bed and early to rise." She paused, her voice slowing as the patient eyes of the Jedi all centered on her. Even Anakin was looking at her funny. "Makes a young girl healthy…wealthy, and keeps people from…um…dying?"

"Neither you're tendency towards tardiness nor your lack of respect is the subject of this meeting." Mace Windu said. His fingers steepled beneath his lips as he stared down his nose at her. His disapproval was palpable and Buffy swallowed. "Though I'm sure that given enough time the subject will eventually come up."

Well, excuse me for being me… Buffy thought, biting her lip. Wait, what does he mean by 'will eventually come up'.

Ki-Adi-Mundi's eyes slanted towards Master Windu and he sighed. "What Master Windu means, young one; is that we have already acknowledged that you accept this particular character flaw and know that it is one you will address on your own time." He turned to Master Yoda with a deferential nod. "For now, we must focus our minds on the subject at hand, the why of the matter, and the reason you are here."

"Oh." Buffy managed.

She felt that in one moment Master Conehead had both complimented her and insulted her. She felt unbalanced. Usually, in a normal world, the whole compliment and insult thing went one way or another. Buffy swallowed again, her mouth dry. Somehow, what frustrated her most about the Jedi was that she couldn't goad them, nudge them, trick them, or force them to go with her flow. Again, it wasn't like dealing with Giles, she could usually at least tease him. It was like dealing with Snyder, except that the Jedi seemed more flexible. More focused on the esoteric and less of the out to make everyone's life miserable. And since it was her and Ani's future on the line, she supposed that made sense. In it's own weird way. Buffy wasn't used to someone else deciding her destiny, but at the same time she didn't see any way out of it. These Jedi would either decide to take her and Anakin or they wouldn't. Her fingers tightened behind her back and she felt all eyes return to Master Yoda.

But it was Master Plo Koon, one of the Jedi who was of a race unfamiliar to Buffy and sitting next to Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, who spoke. "It must be agreed," his voice came out in a gentle gurgle from between the plates of metal covering his squid-like mouth. Large fleshy tendrils curled around each side of his face like oddly shaped elephant ears. His skin was a soft tan color, pinched and bunched around the skull like brain tissue. The eyes were hidden behind what appeared to be some sort of goggles and compounded together like an insect's. "That the Force is strong with them."

"They are to be trained then?" Qui-Gon asked. His voice was clear and crisp as it carried across the room, Buffy felt her own back straighten at the confidence with in it. He sounded so sure of the Council's decision, of their potential. Even if it was only really for Anakin, Buffy was glad to have someone believe in her.

"The girl, yes." Master Windu said; sounding like it pained him to say it. "But not the boy."

Buffy started. "What?" The words escaped her mouth before she could stop them. She glanced back at Qui-Gon and then down at Anakin. Why me? Why not Anakin? A part of her, a very large part had been sure that they'd take Anakin, not her. I expected them to say I'm too old or something. Even though they'd taken the opportunity to test her. This is confusing, way more confusing than that one time in computer class when Miss Calendar and a goldfish and… The thought trailed off and she swallowed again. Seriously, her mouth just could not stay wet.

"No?" Qui-Gon's hands swept out from within his sleeves, coming to his waist in one smooth motion. There was no anger there, no frustration, just surprise. This was clearly not the answer he'd been expecting either.

Mace Windu shook his head. "He is too old."

"But why me?" Buffy asked, stepping forward. Qui-Gon might not be feeling angry, but she was. It didn't make any sense! The answer for why they won't take Ani is that he's too old, but they'll take me? But I'm older than Anakin! "Why take me? I'm sixteen! That put me out of the acceptable age range to ride the ride! Right?"

Mace Windu glanced at her. His eyes still said that he was against the idea. "Yours are extenuating circumstances. Ones that the Council cannot overlook."

"Right," Buffy snapped. This was why she found the Council annoying, it wasn't like dealing with a whole room full of Giles-es it was like dealing with a whole room full of…something worse that definitely could only be caught was wearing tweed. And just when I think I've figured them out, they throw me another curve ball. Talk about unfair. "And I don't suppose you guys have got a little more info to go with that side cryptic?"

"Buffy." Qui-Gon's hand was on her shoulder, the warning clear in his voice. Buffy tried to force herself to relax, but it was hard. "I assume you're speaking of her gift at creating Force bonds?"

"A dangerous ability," Yoda said. He lifted a small finger and pointed sharply at Buffy. It was not accusatory but a warning. Buffy felt a cold pit settle in her stomach, it was icy. There was something in Yoda's words that scared her. But she couldn't place what. "It could become. Troubling for the future, if left untrained."

"I don't get it." Buffy said in a small voice as she looked up at Qui-Gon Jinn. "What does he mean?"

"Within you," Ki-Adi-Mundi said. "You posses the ability to make strong connections with others through the Force. There is no evil in this gift, young one, and nothing for you to fear. Force bonds themselves are a natural occurrence, one that often happens between Master and Apprentice or two people who are both Force sensitive. It develops when one truly understands another and developed through time and understanding."

"But why is it—"

"Because," Mace Windu cut in. "You form connections with strangers as easily as you do friends. You form connections with those who cannot sense the Force at all. You make such bonds freely and that is dangerous. Both to you and those whom you are connected to."

Buffy felt her heart tighten in her chest. It felt like they were talking about something dangerous, that she was doing something wrong and unnatural. She could feel her shoulders tightening. She wasn't sure how to fight. Not sure what witty, snappy comeback would work. The Jedi made her feel unbalanced, like she was standing on a plywood board over a basketball, sliding from side to side, always about to fall.

"No matter how Master Windu warns against it, young Skywalker." Master Bilba said, her voice echoing out from behind them. "This is not something unnatural." Buffy glanced back at her and she was surprised to find a gentle smile on the Jedi's face. It was warm and encouraging. "It is a gift that is rare, even among those who serve the Force. A mark of a natural leader."

Ki-Adi-Mundi sighed. "And as with all things, there are dangers that come with it. There was a Jedi once, like you Buffy Skywalker, who also had this gift. She is recorded in the Jedi Archives only as the Exile. For as her name suggests, at the end of the Mandalorian Wars she was exiled from the Jedi Order."

"Buffy," Qui-Gon said gently. "The Exile was strong in the Force and her will resonated, echoed in those she was bonded with. And when she fought in the Mandalorian Wars, thousands of years ago, she exerted great influence over her comrades in everything she did."

"But Force bonds can be dangerous." Ki-Adi-Mundi continued. "A bond between two living beings is not one that is easily broken. Break such a thing would be like turning away from the Force itself, even as your feelings change, even if your will echoes through those you are bound to. Once created, a Force bond cannot be undone. Not even in death. It will continue to exist inside of you. Empty. A wound." Ki-Adi-Mundi lifted his finger. "I do not intend to scare you, young Skywalker. That is not my wish. But you must understand, when the Exile returned from Malachor V, after witnessing the destruction of all the Jedi there, all those soldiers she had served with, bonded with, she herself became empty. A wound in the Force, capable of doing nothing but consume."

Buffy sucked in her breath. They were serious, deadly serious. This is way, way worse than being a Slayer.

"This is why you must be trained." Ki-Adi-Mundi continued. "Why you must learn to guard your feelings and understand the connections you make. If you were left to wander, the simple nature of your existence could do irrevocable harm to the galaxy."

"And should you fall to the dark side," Mace Windu added. "Depending on the nature of your strength of will, you may take all those who have been bonded with you. Even those who have been fully trained in the Force." His eyes swept over Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-wan Kenobi.

Buffy felt herself swallow again, nervously. She got what they were suggesting. This was more than just about her. Learning about the Force, learning control, it was about Anakin too. And Qui-Gon, and even Obi-wan. Even if he didn't seem to like her much. But this didn't seem to be about whether someone liked her or not. She was doing something unconsciously, something that could harm people she cared about. I might not want to do this, but I have to.

Ki-Adi-Mundi smiled reassuringly "But the choice to join us, Buffy Skywalker is up to you. The Jedi take no one by force, we value the right of all sentient beings to choose their own path."

That surprised Buffy, she was expecting them to point out that she had no choice, just like her Watchers had. Being unable to escape my destiny. But she didn't have a destiny. Not here, not in front of these Jedi or in this galaxy. "But what about Anakin?" She asked, still not quite convinced. "I thought he was your Chosen One or whatever?"

Qui-Gon's hand tightened on Buffy's shoulder and she swallowed, realizing that she shouldn't push it too far with the Council. They were being kind, she got that, they were explaining to her when they didn't have to. But she was still confused. If Anakin is the Chosen One then why don't they want him? To her it sounded the same as if she was hearing Watchers rejecting the Slayer, the one girl in all the world who was capable of fighting the demons, the monsters, and the vampires. It was confusing and senseless. But I'm beginning to get that there are many things about the Jedi that I don't understand. She swallowed again. And there might be a thing that they understand better than me. This wasn't earth and Anakin wasn't a Slayer. Him being the Chosen One could mean something completely different.

Yoda gazed at Buffy for a long moment, then he smiled sadly. Closing his eyes, he tilted his head back and let the Force flow through him. "Clouded, this boy's future is." He replied.

Buffy could practically feel the disappointment settling on Qui-Gon as he let go of her shoulder. The sense of defeat. Somewhere in her stomach, she could feel disappointment settling in. A part of her, a very large part, she realized, wanted Qui-Gon to be her Master. She trusted him. She blinked, surprised by the tears and the jealousy. It left a bitter taste in her mouth. I shouldn't be jealous of Ani. I knew he was the one that Qui-Gon was interested in training. But then, she was not the future of the Jedi Order.

"I will train him then." Qui-Gon said as he stepped forward, placing both hands on Anakin's shoulders. He glanced around the room. "I take Anakin as my Padawan Learner."

Buffy had sensed it coming, but she was surprised to see the sudden glance that Obi-wan gave Qui-Gon. Her stomach tightened slightly and her spirits rose. She wasn't alone with the sudden feelings of hurt and abandonment. It was a perverse sense of pleasure but Buffy would take comfort where she could. She brought her arms forward and crossed them across her chest, putting a little more weight on her back leg. The perfect image of the standard rebellious teenage girl. She glanced around the room at the assortment of gathered masters. If Qui-Gon isn't going to train me then who will? She sure didn't want it to be Baldy or Kermit, though Master Conehead didn't seem so bad. But I'm pretty sure that he doesn't want to train me.

"An apprentice you already have, Qui-Gon." Yoda snapped. "Impossible to take on a second."

"The Code forbids it." Mace Windu added.

"Obi-wan is ready." Qui-Gon replied, glancing at his apprentice. He was proud of Obi-wan, his student had learned much and they'd had many journeys together. But he also knew that the time had come for Obi-wan to stand on his own as a Jedi Knight, to go out and use what he'd learned in the galaxy.

"I am ready to face the trials." Obi-wan said, stepping forwards.

This surprised Buffy, she'd expected Obi-wan to disagree with Qui-Gon. She thought she'd seen it in his eyes. Maybe I'll ask him later. Though the thought didn't sound like an appealing one. But teasing Obi-wan, it could be a fun thing. Not like teasing Xander, who teased back, or the boys at SunnyD, who, well, couldn't keep up. She expected the conversation would amount too much sly sarcasm and punny one-liners.

The Jedi Masters glanced at one another. Silently conferring in glances and nods, they didn't even exchange words under their collective breath. Buffy almost found herself frowning. She half expected them to dismiss the idea as rash and move on. But once again, they surprised her.

"You are truly committed?" Master Windu asked. His chocolate gaze rose and centered on Obi-wan, piercing the other's chilly blue eyes. "Truly prepared to face the next step in your training?"

"I am." Obi-wan replied, his voice firm. If any part of him was not confident, he didn't show it.

"And you, Master Qui-Gon?" Mace Windu asked. "Are you certain?"

A sigh of relief almost escaped from Qui-Gon. "He is headstrong." He said. "And he has much to learn of the Living Force, but he is capable."

"Then let this next mission to Naboo be the first of your trials, Obi-wan." Yoda said. "Though accompany you Qui-Gon will, on other charges, his attention must be."

"Your goal will be to draw out the Queen's attacker." Ki-Adi-Mundi added.

"But now is not the time debate is over." Mace Windu said, before Buffy could find a way to break in again. "The Senate is voting for a new Supreme Chancellor and Queen Amidala is returning home. This could put pressure on the Federation and widen the confrontation." He glanced at Buffy. "It is apparent that young Buffy Skywalker's training cannot be put on hold and that is why we will allow her and the boy to go with you."

"And go with you they must." Ki-Adi-Mundi murmured. "I'm sure that Master Windu senses as I do, that these two are key to a peaceful resolution to the conflict on Naboo." He glanced at Master Windu, inclining his head. "Is that not so?"

Buffy watched the corners of Mace Windu's eyes tighten; it was almost imperceptible. She didn't think he was angry, just…annoyed? Maybe? She wasn't sure, his face was so placid that she couldn't see any other indicators that would lead her to a more solid conclusion. It's like watching Jeopardy without a board, letters, or the ability to request a vowel.

"I will not countermand the will of the Force."

"Qui-Gon." Yoda said and the other master lifted his head. "For now, allow you to train, Buffy Skywalker we will. Anakin Skywalker's fate will be decided later." Buffy blinked. She got the feeling that the discussion was over as the small Jedi lifted a hand and said. "May the Force be with you."

Buffy opened her mouth, but tug on her forearm from Anakin and the hand of Qui-Gon on the back of her neck forcing her head downwards in a bow to the Council. It was a bit of a shock and so rushed. They accepted me for training. Me. Buffy Summers. Buffy Skywalker. They accepted me. It wasn't like a dream come true, but instead a strange odd rush that sent butterflies fluttering through her stomach. They want Qui-Gon to train me. At least for now. She wondered if she'd get reassigned when they got back. Buffy found herself following after Qui-Gon, Anakin, and Obi-wan as they backed out of the room. She herself was also backing up. These Masters were her masters now, she'd been accepted into the Jedi Order. Me a Jedi? It sounds so weird and so wrong! Especially not when hadn't taken Anakin. She wanted to give some outburst, some angry sentiment about how she wouldn't allow herself to be taken for training if Anakin wasn't included. Something like that. That's what the old her, the girl from SunnyDale, California would say. But Buffy didn't. Back in California she'd been needed, she'd had pull. Here she didn't, she had nothing, even her ability to create Force bonds… They wanted to help her get in control, reassert herself, keep her from hurting other people. But here that was all superficial. She had no say in Anakin's fate. Joining the Jedi is my choice. They don't need me. She had nothing to bargain with.

Buffy watched the great round doors to the Council Chambers close and sighed. For the first time in a long time, she really hated not being a Slayer anymore.

But the Jedi Council didn't need a Slayer either, did they?

Outside, darkness covered the sky from horizon to horizon. The bright lights of the city below blotting out even the far away stars and the lights of the closest planets. The sky was dark, seemingly empty even though the galaxy was teeming with life. The great spires carved their way up into the sky, the speeders hummed as they whizzed by, and everything on the planet from it's darkest underbelly to it's most glamorous tip was at peace, unaware of the great war of regret that was raging inside of Buffy Summers. Hopelessness, despair, and the emotion she was most ashamed of. Optimism. For her future.

A/N: Yes! This chapter was very hard to write, so I hope you all enjoy it. I do have a hard time with the Jedi Masters, mostly because sounding wise is hard. I get a lot of help from Wookiepedia when it comes to the Force and Force abilities, and the idea for the Force bonds and the Exile come from a video game called Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords . The series is definitely a must for any Star Wars fan.

Again, I hope you've enjoyed. Please leave reviews, lots of reviews, because they make me happy! :P