Godless Provenance: Chapter 16
Legalese: See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.
Author's Notes: Thanks again to everyone who has reviewed this beast. You may have noticed with the last chapter that I'm trying something new: actually responding to the reviews that have been left. It's actually trickier than one might think, so I apologize to any that I missed! In addition, a huge thanks to Ava for the awesome artwork that she did for Chapter 15. It's a part of her Skin Deep album, which can be found on TTH and my website at www(dot)equinoxium(dot)com.
The klaxon's peal was piercing as Sam met up with General Hammond, falling into step beside the older man as he waved for the guard to open the sealed gate room door. "It's the Tok'ra," he informed her by way of greeting, and Sam couldn't help the small thrill of hope as the door slid open, revealing the slanted walk that led up to the open wormhole. Even now, years after her first time through the gate, the sight of the vertical blue pool was enough to steal her breath, and yet this time she was more excited about the possibility that her father would be their unexpected guest.
It had been months since she had heard from him, and though such absences weren't uncommon, it was still hard to realize that she had no idea where he was, what he was doing, and whether or not he was alright. She had been the one to urge him to hear out the Tok'ra, to take in the symbiote, Selmak, and though the move had saved his life from a painful death by lymphoma cancer, that still meant that she felt as though she had pushed him into a life of constant danger. He had come back to Earth for the last time just weeks after SG-1 had escaped from Apophis' ship, and his support during that painful period, during the confusion surrounding the colonel's whereabouts, had been something that she had been missing for years during her and her father's confused and often distant relationship. That relationship had been repaired and strengthened in the time since he had become a Tok'ra host, and yet their time together was all too brief and sporadic.
Surely after receiving word that Jack wasn't dead, as presumed, and of his impossible position of prisoner to a goa'uld overlord - surely that meant that he would come back now, no matter what his mission had been. Surely he would-
"Martouf," Sam murmured as the familiar figure emerged from the open wormhole, two unknown Tok'ra accompanying him on either side. "How are you?" she continued, her disappointment palpable. Still, she tried her best to salvage the smile that she had been wearing as the handsome Tok'ra came to stand before her, a small, shy smile on his face. He was, of course, exactly as she remembered him: tall and lean, a long face, straight nose, thin lips with a cleft in his square chin, and bright blue eyes that shone from a face that betrayed every emotion. His brown hair was cut short, and was matched by his high-necked, long-sleeved shirt, tunic, and pants of matching muted colors. He was a study of brown and tan hues, with only his bright blue eyes to off-set his boyish features.
"Samantha," he greeted as he took her hand in his, his eyes filled with a warmth that was familiar from both her own encounters with him, as well as from the hazy memories that she carried from the woman that he had loved. She had been host to the Tok'ra, Jolinar, for a few days only, and yet it was because of her that all of Sam's time spent with Martouf was both wonderful and so very disconcerting. Wonderful because she couldn't deny the chemistry between them, and yet disconcerting because she could never quite be sure if the chemistry was borne from her own attraction to him, or from the memories of the love that had been shared between Jolinar and the man that she had loved. "General Hammond," he continued, breaking their gaze just long enough to acknowledge the general before returning his attention to her. "Well enough, under the circumstances," he stated, responding to her earlier question.
"Then you received our transmission about Colonel O'Neill," the General prodded, causing Martouf to once more turn away.
"And about the captive Tok'ra agent, yes," he admitted, his earnest expression shifting into something that she recognized as discomfort.
Sam supposed that in this way, Jolinar's hazy memories were a blessing as she could read Martouf as though she had been the one to know him for centuries. Right now it was easy to see that he had come here with news, but news that he wasn't eager to share. "What's wrong?" she asked, a sick feeling twisting in her gut and causing her words to come out sharper than she had intended - something that both Martouf and the General noticed as they turned to her in concern.
"Maybe we should discuss this elsewhere," Martouf returned, his expression faltering.
"It's my father," Sam stated, her voice flat. This time she didn't even need to see Martouf's bleak expression to know that she was correct. Somehow, in the moment that they had stepped through the wormhole instead of her father, she had known. Her father was many things, and their relationship had been all but nonexistent until just under a year ago, but now... now nothing would have stopped her father from coming when she needed him, not unless-
"We were able to contact all of our operatives except for him and Selmak," Martouf stated, his expression a strange, boyish mix of earnestness and despair. "I am afraid he's been captured by Sokar."
"Oh my God," Sam whispered, barely feeling the General's hand upon her shoulder as he nodded towards the door.
"I think we better take this upstairs," he stated before turning to a hovering aide. "Paige Dr. Jackson and Teal'c," he ordered. "Have them and our two guests meet us in the Conference room."
As the two men shuffled through the small opening into the small space that Jack and Buffy had made their home, Jack tried to see the room through the eyes of a stranger. The pile of rags that was their bed looked small and dreary, their meager supplies nonexistent, and the dim lighting from the single open vein of magma cast everything in a muted hell-light. "Sorry for the mess," he muttered, more force of habit than any real attempt at levity as he gestured for Jacob to take a seat on their bed of rags, not missing the sadness that marked Jacob's gaze as the older man quietly took in the small chamber.
For a moment Jacob struggled for a smile before finally letting it slip, as though even here, in this place of refuge for Jack and Buffy, happiness or even humor was such a distant memory. Jack had known some sort of happiness while here, but it was all thanks to the small blonde that had brightened this small dwelling with her wit and her soft touch. Now, it was dark and hot - and yet so very cold at the same time.
"So where is this Buffy that you mentioned?" Jacob asked, obviously striving for something to break the stifling silence that had fallen as flat as Jack's joke. "Who is she?" he asked, even as the mere mention of her name was enough to send a piercing pain through Jack's heart.
"She's from Earth - California, actually," Jack returned as he turned away, absently scrubbing his hand against his tired eyes.
"It's a long story," Jack interrupted as he turned back and offered the other man a grim smile that never reached his eyes. "But it doesn't matter anymore. Buffy's gone."
Instantly Jacob's shoulders dropped as his slowly shook his head. "God Jack, I'm so sorry," he muttered, his voice a tired string of words that held little meaning. "How long ago was she killed?" he asked, the simple question somehow breaking free a brittle laugh from Jack's throat as he quickly shook his head.
"Oh no, she's not dead," he countered, cutting off the laugh before it got away from him. Before it turned hysterical, or worse, manic. "She disappeared out of thin air a few hours... a few days ago."
At this, Jacob arched a graying brow before evidently letting the matter drop. Jack was grateful for his discretion - immensely so. Everything that had to do with Buffy was still too fresh and raw. He had been able to lock her away long enough to investigate the Tok'ra that had landed himself in this hell hole, and somehow in doing so he had been able to switch out one friend for another. Perhaps this thought should have made him feel better in some way. Now he wasn't alone any longer - he wasn't alone to face the prison that he was beginning to believe he would never leave. But no matter how grateful he was to see a familiar face, Jacob's weathered features couldn't replace Buffy's sweet curves. His gruff, practical words and experiences couldn't counter Buffy's sly wit and darkened past. There could be no replacing her, and Jack accepted this as best he could - even as he mentally slapped himself for not remembering sooner that Jacob wasn't the only one trapped in this hellhole.
"Hey, how's Selmak doing?" he asked, his eyes softening in concern. "I haven't heard from her yet," he admitted.
Jacob grimaced in response as he settled his head back against the craggy wall behind him. "She was badly injured when we were first captured," he admitted. "They used an instrument that sends a current of electricity directly to the symbiote."
Wincing in sympathy, Jack slowly nodded his head. "Yeah, they used the same thing on Buffy when we were first captured," he stated, remembering how even though Haremakhet had been in control, the sounds of Buffy's screams had been horrifying. "Will she be alright?" he asked, returning his attention to Jacob and surprising himself when he realized that he really did care about the other man's answer.
"I hope so. I certainly hope so."
As Buffy stepped back into the conference room from before, this time clothed in unfashionable camo-green pants that hung loose around her legs and then cinched tight around her ankles, she was aiming for a look of studied indifference. Her long blonde hair hung in a straight, gleaming wave down her back, and her clunky combat boots made little sound on the thinly carpeted floor. She was the exact replica of any other person on base, and yet she had the feeling that she had monumentally failed in her feigned indifference if the reactions of the three strangers were anything to guess by. All three were male, and cute in that way that younger, fit people managed to be, and yet all three jumped from their seats so quickly, their arms practically waving in their excitement, that all cuteness factors were lost beneath the ridiculousness of their red-faced sputtering.
"She carries a symbiote!" one of the strangers finally managed to call out in a strangled gasp, thankfully giving reason for their hysterics.
Rolling her eyes in response, Buffy sidestepped Daniel and moved unhurriedly towards the seat that she had occupied just hours earlier. Xander was only a few paces behind her, snickering openly and ignoring her annoyed sigh. "Let me guess - the Tok'ra?" she asked as she leaned back in the leather chair as far as it could go.
"So they're really aliens?" Xander asked from beside her as he leaned forward, always at a contrast, his eyes curiously examining the wary trio. "Huh," he muttered. "I guess I expected them to look a bit more... I don't know, alien," he admitted with a dismissive shrug, causing General Hammond to glare at the tall scooby before waving the Tok'ra towards the row of chairs to his left and across the table from them.
"Gentlemen, if you'd please take your seats," he stated more than asked, while Sam, Teal'c, and Daniel filled the places to his right - Daniel settling beside Buffy's chair. "Buffy Summers, Xander Harris, these are our allies, the Tok'ra - Martouf, Sentil, and Lumben."
"I don't understand," the one called Martouf interrupted her, his blue eyes darting between Buffy and the General. "I can clearly sense the presence of a symbiote, and seeing as how she is not of the Tok'ra-"
"No," Sam interrupted with a small smile, one that didn't quite reach her eyes, "what you sense is the high levels of naquadah in Buffy's bloodstream from the numerous goa'uld symbiotes that were introduced to her body before being destroyed."
"Destroyed? Destroyed how?" he returned, his sight so focused on a certain blonde major that it was as though the rest of them weren't even in the room.
"Bad house guests," Buffy quipped, answering for the major and preventing a lengthy explanation that, frankly, wasn't any of the Tok'ra's business. Besides, she didn't like being ignored or overlooked, something that happened very rarely since she had been called as the slayer, and it was a feeling that had been happening all too recently since she had arrived on base. "So did you guys work out how we're getting Jack off of Netu?" she asked as she firmly inserted herself in the conversation - or at least, that was her intention.
Instead, Martouf merely looked at her uncertainly before turning back to the General and SG-1. "Jacob Carter and Selmak had spent many months positioning themselves within Sokar's forces in order to gather valuable intel for the Tok'ra," he explained. "Due to the precarious nature of their mission, our contact has been very limited. However, thanks to your information about a Tok'ra prisoner on Netu, we were able to determine that your father is in fact that captive."
Instantly Buffy felt her heart stutter as she chanced a glance in the major's direction while simultaneously sinking lower in her seat. Now she understood why Sam's shoulders were weighed down, and why her smiles didn't reach her eyes, no matter the yumminess of the Tok'ra that had the obvious hots for her. What were the odds? That was the very question that she had placed to both Jack and Sam when they had raised concerns that Sokar's captive Tok'ra would be Sam's father. What were the odds, indeed.
"As far as we know he is still alive," Martouf added, his words doing little to reassure anyone as Sam quickly leaned forward.
"As far as you know?" she asked, causing Martouf to actually stop his explanation, turn from the others and lean across the huge table in order to place his hands over Sam's.
"I am sorry, Samantha," he intoned, both his familiarity with the major and his evident compassion causing Buffy to arch a brow, even as Xander elbowed her in the side, as if she wasn't somehow already aware of the undertones and obvious chemistry between the two. Now that she thought about it, Jack had mentioned something about a Tok'ra that was all hot and heavy over his 2IC. "I know this must be difficult," he continued, evidently unaware of his interested audience. "Once captured, Selmak and your father would have been brutally tortured, but Sokar would rather see his victims suffer than die."
Rolling her eyes at the guy's idea of comfort, Buffy leaned forward and cleared her throat - breaking Martouf and Sam's little lack-of-comfort fest and drawing the attention her way. "Listen, Jack said that the Tok'ra was being held in the Pit-"
"And that sounds any better how?" Daniel probed, evidently feeling the same about Martouf's version of cold comfort.
"Okay, so yes, that's definitely not of the good," Buffy admitted with a small frown, one that she hastened to amend when she saw Sam's crestfallen expression. "But don't worry, Jack was planning on checking out what was going on with the Tok'ra. I'm sure that he'll find a way to keep your dad safe."
"Yeah, but for how long?" Daniel demanded, causing Buffy to turn a glare in the archaeologist's direction.
"And thus with the big hurry I've been in to get here before there was the sitting, the waiting, and the wasting of time," she countered dryly.
Immediately Xander leaned forward, his hands rubbing eagerly together as though that would somehow compensate for her own lack of tact. "So we're talking about a rescue mission?" he asked, all Xander-eagerness.
"Unfortunately, to our knowledge no one has ever escaped from Netu," Martouf explained, his voice grim.
"Aside from the Buff-ster," Xander added, this time prompting General Hammond to glare at her friend in such a way that he immediately shut his mouth and returned to his resigned slouch. To be honest, Buffy was impressed. No matter how many times a day Giles leveled his own patented glare at her friend, he had never received that kind of result.
Martouf, meanwhile, merely gave Xander another strange look before pointedly turning back to the others. "No one except for Jolinar," he finished, the words obviously meaning something to everyone else as they shared a look full of deep meaning.
Well, everyone but Buffy and Xander, who exchanged puzzled glances before Buffy lifted her hand in question. "So who's Jolinar?" she asked.
Another one of those deep, something glances were exchanged - most of them centering on Sam and Martouf as the older woman frowned apologetically at the Tok'ra before turning to Buffy. "Jolinar was the Tok'ra symbiote that I hosted for a few days up until her death."
"Okay," Buffy agreed, shrugging blithely. "So how did she get out of Netu?"
"She never said," Martouf returned, his eyes firmly locked on his clasped hands.
"And no one ever asked her how she escaped from an inescapable prison?" Daniel asked incredulously, causing something to spark in Martouf's eyes as the Tok'ra matched the archaeologist's agitated glare.
"She was found unconscious and badly injured in a Teltak, a cargo ship, floating in space," he explained, the first hint of steel entering his voice. "Her recovery was long and painful. She was encouraged to remember how she escaped but she refused to speak of it," he continued before lapsing into silence.
It was then that Buffy recognized that spark of something in Martouf's eyes as pain and love, and suddenly the heated looks that were constantly being exchanged between Sam and Martouf began to make a little more sense. Not that Buffy thought she would feel any sort of attraction to any of Ass-Hat's ho's if she ever came across them, but his memories and his feelings towards them would always be resting just under the surface. Still, something about Martouf's words struck a chord with her, and Buffy found herself scrunching her brow as she tried in vain to track down the elusive thought.
"Why wouldn't she tell how she had escaped?" General Hammond asked, pushing the conversation back on track.
"I implored her but she would not say," Martouf replied, his eyes once more downcast.
"Well that's convenient," Xander muttered beneath his breath, even as Sam slowly shook her head.
"I only carried Jolinar for a short time," she murmured apologetically. "I've never had anything more than scattered flashes of her memories, occasionally some dreams, but never anything like this place Buffy has described."
"The Tok'ra have technology that aids in the recall of memories-"
"Don't bother," Buffy interrupted with an angry sigh as she finally figured out what had been bothering her. Yet with that realization came the desire to beat her head against a wall.
"You have thought of something, BuffySummers?" Teal'c questioned, his dark eyes locked on her own.
"Yeah, the rings," Buffy explained as she shook her head at her own stupidity. "And I'm really an idiot for not thinking of this sooner," she muttered, realizing anew her mistake and all of the time it had potentially cost them. "Jolinar must have somehow gotten access to the rings in Bynarr's quarters," she explained. "I knew about them because of Ass-Hat's memories-"
"Ass-Hat?" one of the nameless Tok'ra murmured.
"Haremakhet," Daniel supplied before waving for her to continue, even as Martouf's eyes widened in recognition.
"Yeah, Ass-Hat was one of the original architects of Sokar's play land, and so Jack and I have known for a while about the set of rings that he had installed in Bynarr's quarters," Buffy explained. "They connect directly to Sokar's palace on his home world, and they allow Bynarr to go up and share the juicy details of his torture sessions in person. Jack and I talked about making a break for them," she admitted with a negligent shrug, "but that would only land us on Sokar's planet, which is heavily fortified. While things were pretty bad where we were, we had decided that we weren't desperate enough for a potential suicide mission quite yet. We were actually still holding out for better odds when Willow pulled me out."
"So you know, then, where the rings are located?" Martouf questioned, his eyes meeting hers for the first time.
"If you guys can get us to Netu, I can get us to Jack and your missing Tok'ra, and get us to Bynarr's quarters and the rings," Buffy agreed before slowly shaking her head. "But that will still only get us a one-way ticket to Sokar's home planet, which from Haremakhet's memories, I can assure you is really not a place that we want to be visiting. And that still brings us back to the problem of a spaceship, and our apparent lack thereof."
"The teltak that we require for our journey awaits us on the planet Vorash," Martouf responded, something like a smile causing his already boyish features to look even younger.
"Okay, so we have the ship," Buffy agreed with a negligent wave. When Martouf merely stared at her blankly, she sighed impatiently. "What about the part where the rings are just going to bring us to Sokar's front door?"
"We will use the teltak," Martouf responded decisively, his explanation doing little in the way of actually explaining anything - except, apparently to Sam.
"Is that possible?" she demanded, her eyes growing wide.
"What?" Buffy asked at the same time as Daniel, while Teal'c slowly nodded his head in approval while General Hammond looked on quietly. Xander was apparently the only one not interested in any kind of an explanation, but that was because he seemed to be too busy trying to bend a paperclip that he had found into some kind of spring.
"The cargo ship has rings that work like stargates, only over shorter distances," Sam quickly explained, her eyes bright. "They transport a matter stream, and if that matter stream is intercepted..."
"Yeah, I remember this now," Buffy agreed, and at Daniel's startled expression, she quickly held up her hands. "Oh, not this crazy techno babble," she hastily reassured, "but what Sam is like on the crazy techno babble. Don't you remember? Her trying to explain stargates and how they work and how we were lost?"
As though she was used to such things, Sam merely frowned before turning back to the general. "Sir, if we can maneuver the cargo ship into the correct position, theoretically we should be able to use the rings to transport back aboard the ship."
"Theoretically?" Daniel repeated, a small frown pulling at his lips.
"How do we find the right position?" Buffy added, only to blush a moment later as Xander tuned in apparently long enough to find the sexual innuendo of her innocent question.
"The ring mechanism has sensors that can locate other rings," Martouf responded with such a straight face that Buffy was certain he didn't catch the double meaning. "The ship should be able to detect the coordinates."
Frowning a moment more, Daniel slowly shrugged his shoulders in response. "Well, it's not like we haven't had to make do with worse," he argued, his eyes skipping over his teammates before finally landing on the general with whom the ultimate decision would land. "Besides, if there's even a chance that we can rescue Jack and Jacob, don't we have to at least try and get them back?"
With a resigned sigh, General Hammond nodded once to the major that sat beside him. "Alright, SG-1 has a go-"
"Hey, don't forget about what I said," Buffy quickly interrupted as she sat forward so quickly that it left her chair squeaking in protest. "Either I go with or I find my own way back to Netu - and you lose all of your much needed intel in the process."
At her words, General Hammond's lips thinned into a disapproving line. "And while I don't appreciate being blackmailed," he admitted, "I did check out your story. While I was not given any details about Project Initiative, my superiors have ordered me to allow you to accompany SG-1 through the gate and on this mission." As Buffy's smile grew at his words, his own features only darkened. "For the record, I don't agree with their decision, but it is officially out of my hands."
"What about me?" Xander asked, his knee starting to bounce with nervous energy.
"That, son, would be called 'pushing your luck,'" the general returned with a hard smile before he stood in a move that clearly signaled the end of the meeting.
Everyone that was military, meaning Sam, hurriedly stood as well in some strange military custom. Buffy, meanwhile, turned to her friend to find him watching the general with wide eyes and a slack jaw - as though he was so floored by the older man's outright dismissal that his brain hadn't yet caught up with the rest of him. "Sorry, Xander," she murmured, and in that moment, she realized that she truly was sorry that Xander wouldn't be able to come with her on their rescue mission.
The thought stunned her, for while she had become accustomed to relying upon her friends in the years since she had been called, she had also just spent the last six months without any kind of scooby support system, and had become used to relying on, and on being relied upon by no one but Jack. The thought of once more leaving her planet, with none of the scoobies by her side, shouldn't have bothered her - shouldn't have fazed her, and yet already it seemed as though she had gotten used to having her friends back in her life. "Maybe you can go on the next spaceship?" she offered, her smile faltering when Xander finally seemed to shake of his shock, only to have his customary goofiness replaced by a fierce frown.
"You don't understand," he stated, his gaze solemn. "I'm under strict orders from the home front not to let you out of my sight."
"Strict orders?" Buffy parroted, arching a single brow that challenged his heavy statement. "Besides, when did you even have a chance to contact the home front?"
"What, you don't think I had time to phone home sometime during one of the numerous Buffy feed-fests?" Xander returned, the barest hint of a smile pulling at his lips.
"Feed fests?" Buffy scoffed with a roll of her eyes. "Did you not notice the tiniest of portions of the blandest foods known to man? I mean, does Dr. Fraiser really think that after all of the sludge I ate on Netu, that a single freaking candy bar is going to do me in? Or a nice, juicy hamburger for that matter?" she asked as she patted forlornly at her obscenely flat stomach.
It was almost amusing to think that not once during her 15 hour road trip with Xander did she even give food a passing thought. Sure, she had eaten, for Xander had seen to that. A burger here, a bag of chips there - just the usual road trip fare, and despite the fact that she had been craving just those kinds of foods for far too long, she paid such scant attention beyond the mechanical movements of opening her mouth, chewing and then swallowing, that she couldn't even remember what it had felt like to have those sweet tastes on her buds once more. No, at the time she had been far too consumed with thoughts, worries, and fears for Jack - too overwhelmed by the moving car, the scenery flashing past, the cold, and the vast wrongness with so much open space around her.
Now, however, with nothing to do but sit and wait, Dr. Fraiser had taken it upon herself to order a strict feeding regimen for her starved patient. Not only was she being fed, but she was being fed often, and yet with portion sizes so small, and with food so bland, that Buffy found her mouth watering with even the hazy recollection of greasy goodness.
Frowning, she pushed the reminder of her six-month build-up of cotton mouth from her mind and focused her attention back on her friend. "And somehow during this conversation you were given strict orders," she reminded him, picking up where they had left off without even missing a beat.
Nodding gravely, Xander leaned closer. "Dawn said that Willow was using her resolve face," he confided, and with those small words, Buffy felt something wonderful spread from her heart to warm her whole body as she leaned forward and pulled Xander into a tight hug.
"Don't worry, I've got this," she whispered into his ear as she felt him return the hug with such strength, that slayer healing or not, her cracked ribs loudly protested. Yet she barely felt the pain, and Buffy instead reveled in the almost foreign sensation of being held by someone that wasn't Jack, and allowing it to comfort her further before she reluctantly pulled away.
"We'll take good care of her," Daniel offered, surprising them both as they found him standing patiently beside their chairs.
In that moment, Xander lost every single one of his warm, fuzzy lines as he stood from his seat until he was towering over the older man, his brown eyes narrowed in a cold glare. "You better, because you've got a couple of vampires, two witches, a watcher, and a former vengeance demon that plan on holding you to that."
At this obvious threat, Daniel's smile wavered as he looked back and forth from Buffy to Xander before slowly backing away.
Shaking her head, Buffy playfully slapped Xander's arm as she stood beside him - officially breaking his intimidating stance. "Anya?" she asked, her eyes narrowed in disbelief. "You threatened him with Anya?"
"Well, you have to admit that 'former vengeance demon' sounds pretty impressive."
"True," Buffy admitted, her eyes crinkling in thought. "Then again, if you really wanted to drive the point home, you should have mentioned that she was the vengeance demon of scorned women, and what she used to do to the men that vengeance was called down upon."
"You don't think that would have been over kill?" Xander returned as he slung an arm over her shoulders.
"Nah. Now if you had mentioned that you had a werewolf on retainer, well, that would have been different."
"Ah, Oz... he came to your funeral, you know."
"Really?" Buffy asked, her eyes sparkling.
"Yep - he even gave one of your many eulogies."
"Jerk," Buffy muttered as she shrugged off his shoulder and began heading towards the door where the others were waiting. "Now I know you're lying."
"Are you kidding?" Xander countered as he hurriedly dogged her steps. "It was really moving - a little long, but moving nonetheless."
To be continued...