The tiny figure hugging her knee gave a squeeze and a whispered, "Thanks, Buffy."
Resting her hand briefly on the dirty, matted locks before the little girl scampered into the ship to join her parents, Buffy let herself revel in her moment of success.
"Quit looking so damned impressed with yourself," a deep voice said from her left.
Okay, reveling over…
"I know it's a new concept to you, but doing good things usually has the side effect of feeling good about yourself. You should try it sometime," she said, cocking her head to look at Bal.
At about eight feet tall with blue skin and dark, creeping tattoos on his arms and neck, he was someone who would've been on her "Slay now, talk never" list back in Sunnydale. But this wasn't Sunnydale and Bal, while being an ass ninety percent of the time, was one of the few people Buffy trusted.
"And if I said I'd take these people for free…"
Buffy frowned and then shrugged. "Okay, so I'd wonder what you were up to."
"See, you force me into not doing nice things with your suspicions. Now give me my credits," he grinned, holding out his hand.
With a head shake and a snort, Buffy handed over the money and watched Bal saunter back into his ship with a wave over his shoulder.
"See ya next time, Slayer," he called as the door to his ship closed.
Buffy gave the departing ship a wave of her own as she watched it lift off the rooftop and disappear into the hazy night sky. Well, that was fun - a job well done and all that - but she had a fan waiting patiently at the base of the building she should probably pay a visit to. Maybe she'd Spiderman it down, freak him out a little. She stretched her arms out above her head and gave an evil little smile before taking a running leap over the side of the building.
This wasn't her first time careening off this building to scare the hell out of some jackass waiting to ambush her – she knew right where the ledges were on the next building over; where the handholds were; how not to end up a smear on the road below. Leaping out from about forty feet up, she caught hold of a huge pole jutting up from the ground for who-knew-what-reason and slid down it to ground level, humming the Mario theme song as she went.
She landed in a crouch in front of the wide-eyed rat-looking alien and gave a little pout.
"Shouldn't I get some coins or a castle or a princess or something after that? You're a total let-down."
A muzzled mouth opened a couple times before snapping shut and, after one last wild look, he took off in a scrambling of claws.
Buffy watched him go with a sigh. Sometimes she felt like that was the worst part of her new home away from home – that all her awesome wit and pun-age and pop culture-y fun was completely lost on the locals.
Well, that and she was in a crap-hole of a city without her friends or family or-
Not going there again.
Taking that deep, familiar "not going to freak out" breath, Buffy focused on the good as she headed off the main strip into a warren of alleys.
She'd helped a family leave this place today. A husband and wife and their little girl would be starting over somewhere new and non-craptastic because of her.
She'd also met someone interesting - the super cute Mr. "Mace", who may or may-not have actually just been a better class of criminal than the good guy her instincts were telling her he was, but was at least new and shiny.
She scrambled to keep the good thoughts going.
And she had a little money and food and a place to live! She had a bed that was kind of comfortable (she'd just needed the past six months to get used to it, that was all), a bathroom (equipped with some pretty weird stuff that she still hadn't completely figured out), and she even had hot- well, warm… ish water.
Ugh, okay, so she'd become a willing minion for some hell beastie for a hot shower, a curling iron and a blow dryer.
She shook her head slightly as she rounded a corner, half her mind on scanning for threats while the other half scolded her for being ungrateful. She was alive. She'd jumped off a huge freaking tower to save her sister and the world and she'd made it out in one piece. Maybe not where she wanted to be, but it was way better than being dead.
It had taken her a while to come to terms with that - to accept the idea that she'd probably never see her home again. The first few months had been spent in a haze of anger, depression and denial (she'd earned a lot of her reputation in that time – she'd been pretty low on goodwill and mercy at that point). But slowly the feral city she'd landed in had shown her that a Slayer could still do good without having any demons to fight. There was still plenty of evil without Hell as an added ingredient and lots of people that needed some help.
Although, getting used to fighting with aliens instead of demons had taken some getting used to.
And she'd thought living on a Hellmouth had been the epitome of weirdness…
She was good, though. Not that she wouldn't jump at a chance to go home if the opportunity presented itself, but she'd come to grips with the fact that magic didn't seem to be a part of this… world, universe, whatever, that she'd landed in and that another portal probably wasn't going to just pop up and give her a ride back to good old Sunnydale.
But even though she knew all that and had accepted it, sometimes… sometimes there was just this burst of homesickness that left her scrambling for a minute. So, she'd do this clichéd moment of reminding herself of the good and not focusing on the bad. It'd helped keep her sanity intact so far.
Optimism reestablished, she headed home for her hot- warm- warm-ish shower. Buffy instead let her thoughts drift back to the yummy "Mace" from earlier. She wondered if she'd made the right decision cluing him in on Greely's operation. Her first thought had been that he was some kind of undercover cop.
She gave a soft snort at the thought. She wasn't even sure there were such things as cops here. At least she'd never seen anything of the sort. She'd heard some of the kids talking about "Jedi" before – some kind of intergalactic protectors that used telekinesis and wore robes. She actually let out a soft laugh this time. Which was more naïve of her - wanting to think that the cute guy she met today was some kind of space cop instead of a scout for a rival crime syndicate or believing some child's tale about some religious cult of protectors that could move stuff with their minds?
Sensing something ahead, Buffy pulled her thoughts away from cute criminals and cops with brain mojo.
"Buffy, is that you?" A quiet voice came from the dark.
"Sure is, Alec," Buffy whispered back, seeing a tiny head pop up from behind a pile of scrap metal. "What're you doing out here? It's late."
"No it's not, it's early. See?"
A small hand appeared with a finger pointing toward the faint, filmy lightening of the sky.
"Well, look at that," Buffy said, feigning shock and making the little boy giggle. "Time just flies when you're having fun."
He cocked his head like a curious puppy at the expression, and Buffy's throat closed up a little at the thought that maybe it was the word "fun" that confused him more than her choice of words. This place wasn't big on the fun factor…
"Mommy made you breakfast!" He said, apparently deciding his news was more important than any questions. He scrambled out from behind the pile, pulling a little box out with him. "I wanted to make sure you got it on your way home."
She cleared her throat and squatted down in front of Alec. He and his mom, Bria, were two of Buffy's favorite people – she'd been trying to get them out of there from the day she'd met them, but Bria was stubborn. She said Alec was going to be an artist and was saving to take him somewhere beautiful. Pilots that came there just didn't make regular trips to beautiful places. To get one to take Alec and Bria would be expensive. Probably in more than money…
Bria was saving though, and so was Buffy. She was determined to see them get out of this place.
"That was really nice of her. Will you thank her for me?" At his nod, she accepted the box and gave him a stern look. "And thank you for bringing it but you have to be careful, okay? It's dangerous out here."
He gave her such an adult look of "No? Really?" that she had to bite back a smile. She ruffled his hair and stood up, twirling him around by his shoulder and giving him a light shove.
"Okay, get home you little rebel. You promised me a picture for my wall, remember?"
The kid's eyes lit up and he gave her a huge smile. "I already started it! It's really… cooool."
She hoped he thought her grin was from excitement instead of how adorable she thought it was when he used a word he learned from her. He hated it when she got all gooey over how cute he was…
"Can't wait. And Remember to thank your mom for me," she called after him as he bounded down the alley.
Resigned to the fact her shower would have to wait, she followed silently behind - a guardian shadow. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same...
Throwing the strip of fabric that had been wrapped around his head to the side, Obi-Wan ran his hand vigorously through his hair as he sat down across from Qui-Gon.
"So, you're saying Slavis Greely isn't the mastermind we were led to believe?" Qui-Gon asked, stroking his beard thoughtfully.
"Definitely not," Obi-Wan answered. "He's brutal and ambitious but definitely not the brains behind an operation of this scale. He's got a lot of connections and has no problem finding and convincing low level criminals to follow him – a problem that absolutely has to be dealt with – but I'm positive that if we removed him another would be brought in to take his place almost immediately."
"I'm surprised you were able to find so much in such a short period of time. I'm impressed, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said.
Obi-Wan leaned back in his seat, on the verge of crediting his newest contact with his wealth of data, but something stilled his tongue. Instead, he gave his master a cheeky grin.
"Anything would be impressive compared to the complete lack of information you came back with."
"That's not true at all. I found out my Padawan has an affinity for finding contacts in unlikely places. And I found out that eating at the establishments in the area was an unwise decision," Qui-Gon said, turning toward the control panel and rubbing his stomach ruefully.
Obi-Wan watched him for a second longer before turning away, wary of his Master's lack of questioning about his "contact". But more than that, he found he was surprised by his own reluctance to share his encounter with the Slayer. What purpose could keeping her existence a secret have?
"You're still thinking too much, Obi-Wan. Trust your instincts."
"I think… I should stay," Obi-Wan said slowly. "I don't know why, but-"
"Very good," Qui-Gon interrupted, priming the thrusters. "It's of the utmost importance that you trust yourself - that you open yourself to what the Force is trying to tell you."
Obi-Wan nodded, but noted that Qui-Gon was still preparing for take-off. "Then I should-"
"But you're not staying here."
"What? But, you just said-"
"Yes, and my instincts are telling me that you remaining here would lead to nothing good," Qui-Gon said seriously. "And since I have Master instincts and you have Padawan instincts…"
Pinching the bridge of his nose, Obi-Wan leaned back in his seat. Was it any wonder he was still a Padawan with tutelage like this?
"I heard that."
Obi-Wan shook his head and looked out over the depressing landscape. No matter what his Master said, his instincts were telling him that this wasn't the last time he'd see this landscape.
He pointedly ignored the sidelong glance from Qui-Gon as they took to the sky.