1. What the Hell was that?
Update: Nominated for the 2008 Crossing Over Awards in two categories – Best Stargate Crossover & Best Portrayal of Xander. Exercise your right to vote.
Disclaimer: All characters copyright MGM or Joss Whedon/Twentieth Century Fox/Mutant Enemy. Only the plot is mine. This is a non-profit fan story not intended to infringe the rights of MGM, Showtime, Gekko or Double Secret productions. Nor those of Joss Whedon, Twentieth Century Fox, or Mutant Enemy.
A/N: Sequel to 'A Sarcophagus in Sunnydale'. I love Xander and Jack.
Xander Harris could not believe his luck. He'd left Sunnydale after graduation, Jack Kerouac under his arm…well, okay on the passenger's seat, but who was counting. His graduation trip, his first and probably only chance to get completely away from the Hellmouth for three whole months, and what happens? He ends up sitting in what he can't help but think of as the stockade of a military base in Colorado.
He'd been on the tour of NORAD at Cheyenne Mountain. It wasn't much of a tour but, still it was home to NORAD and USSPACECOM, so he wasn't complaining. He knew it was probably geeky as hell but he'd been enjoying it.
He'd been minding his own business, trying to catch up with the tour group after a bathroom break, when a freaky-looking bipedal demon had rushed him from an elevator. Having lived in Sunnydale for as long as he had, and having fought beside the Slayer for the last three years, instinct kicked in before thought and he took the thing to the ground, going down with it.
Next thing he knew the thing had thrown him headfirst into the wall. He managed to take most of the impact on his hands, but still got a pretty good bump on the head. By the time the demon had managed to get to its feet they were both surrounded by black-clad soldiers. The part of Xander's mind that contained the memories of the Soldier he'd been the Halloween before last was already putting his hands up, having identified the men with guns as Special Forces.
The demon, obviously realizing it was surrounded, made an odd grunting sound and twisted something on its outfit. It took him only a fraction of a second to figure out that the flashing lights were bad and then, men-with-guns be damned, he'd been up and heading for the nearest cover, where the corridor turned a corner. He must have yelled something as he started to move since nobody had shot him and everyone else had dived for cover with him. He couldn't actually remember that part.
All he remembered was pressing himself against the wall, around the corner from where he'd been thrown. There was a flash of light, the corridor shook, and he heard the telltale wet sounds that marked flesh hitting the wall at high speeds. His last clear memory was of turning to the soldier next to him and asking, "What the hell was that?!"
In retrospect he thought that last had probably been a mistake. After a quick discussion they'd hauled him through what was left of the thing, loaded him into the elevator, and headed what had felt like miles straight down. All of it was one big blur and he was sure he was missing time.
He'd woken up in this cell, though it was more like he'd pictured solitary confinement to be: reinforced metal door with a slot for a food tray and unresponsive guards outside. After trying to talk them into letting him out and not even getting a twitch, he'd lain down on the bed and begun thinking.
He'd accessed his SoldierBoy memories, trying not to think of the last time he'd had to, and begun sorting through what he could get out of them. He wanted to know what to expect in the near future and what responses were likely to get him out of here the fastest. It was a given that they'd question him. He decided to stick as closely to the truth as possible; only replace demon with guy in a weird mask, probably on PCP. It worked in Sunnydale after all. Xander only hoped it would work as well on these guys.
"…I think he was on PCP or something 'cause he was pretty strong, you know?"
"You didn't think there was anything funny about him besides how strong he was?" the uniformed man asked.
"I…I don't remember anything much except that," Xander admitted. "I think I hit my head, most of the before and after is a big blur…"
Colonel Jack O'Neill, USAF, leaned against the wall and grinned as he watched Major Davis questioning the teenager who'd been caught in the tail end of their foothold situation. He couldn't help his expression, though it was getting him funny looks from Sam Carter, his 2IC, and General Hammond, his commanding officer. They were watching the interrogation from the observation room behind the two-way mirror.
The kid's a pro, the colonel thought with an internal chuckle. The Harris boy was lying through his teeth and Jack was watching everyone but himself buy it. It was a good excuse, hiding behind his head injury like that. Doctor Fraser had done a thorough medical examination of the teen before allowing him to be questioned. His MRI had been clean but she had indicated that Harris had a mild concussion. Enough of one, Jack was betting, that he'd have gotten away with claiming memory loss.
Except that Jack O'Neill knew this particular teenager and had seen the kid shake off being thrown into a wall, get up, and charge back into a fight. Then he'd walked home, on point guard for the group, and secured the house before sitting down and allowing his wounds to be treated. And his friends had seemed equally as tough, reacting to a surprise attack like it was nothing and taking damage of their own in the fight. He was tempted to let Harris get away with it but…he really, really wanted to try to recruit the kid. Especially since it might just bring his friends into the fold as well. They way they operated, they'd have the Goa'uld running in fear in no time. And they'd give Hammond and the Pentagon someone other than SG-1 to complain about. Jack couldn't just let the opportunity pass him by.
"Colonel O'Neill," General Hammond interrupted Jack's thoughts. "Care to tell me what is so funny about this situation?"
"Just thinking happy thoughts, sir," Jack replied.
"Colonel…" Hammond warned.
"It's something I think Major Davis should hear as well, sir," Jack said. "Recommend we wait for him to join us back here. He's nearly finished anyway."
George Hammond considered the man in front of him for a moment, then nodded briefly. Beyond the general, Major Samantha Carter had raised her eyebrows at him. He shrugged a wait-and-see and she subsided.
"Sir, recommend we let this kid go," Major Paul Davis said as he entered the observation room. "He doesn't remember much and what he does remember he's managed to justify to himself with a set of perfectly plausible explanations."
Jack snorted and tried to cover it with a cough. Hammond and Davis both glared at him.
"I would normally agree, Major," Hammond said. "But Colonel O'Neill claims to have some information to share."
Carter, Davis and Hammond all turned to Jack for his explanation.
"Normally, I'd agree with you too, Major," the colonel began, "But I've met this kid before. He was instrumental in acquiring that sarcophagus Daniel and I brought in last year."
"The one we still haven't cracked?" Davis asked. Jack nodded.
"What does that have to do with this, Colonel?" Hammond asked.
"I've seen Harris fight, sir," Jack said. "Being thrown into a wall, concussion or not, isn't going to wipe his memory."
"It's not necessarily the concussion causing it," Davis said. "People often blank out events that are too traumatic for their conscious minds to deal with. Meeting your first alien, and it throwing you into a wall and then blowing itself up would qualify, I'd think."
Jack shook his head. "Trust me," he said. "That kid knows that something less than human attacked him today, he's not the type to block the bad memories. He's dealt with worse since he was sixteen, possibly before."
"Colonel?" Hammond said inquiringly.
"Remember that place that Daniel and I weren't when we got that sarcophagus?" Jack asked. The general nodded warily.
"Well, that place is the center of weird and dangerous. I'd go into more detail if I thought you'd believe me but, trust me on this one, Harris knows more than he's telling."
"If he's not telling us," Carter pointed out logically, "he's probably not going to go around telling anybody else."
"I don't think he will," Jack agreed.
"They why are we still holding him?" Hammond asked.
"I'd like to recruit him, sir."
They'd bought it, Xander thought triumphantly. Hook, line and sinker, that Major Davis guy had bought his concussion story. No need to mention seeing anything out of the ordinary, just claim everything's a blur.
He was sitting, relaxed, in his chair in the room they'd brought him to be 'interviewed' in, and had an insane urge to tilt the chair back on two legs and whistle a jaunty tune. He was already planning where he'd go from here. He'd reached the conclusion that 'as far from Colorado as possible' was probably the best idea when the door opened again. He groaned internally because the man that stepped through it was familiar.
"Harris," the older man said cheerfully. "Fancy meeting you here."
"Do I know you?" Xander tried, looking blankly at the guy. An ironic look was the only response.
"Drop the act, Harris," Jack O'Neill advised. "I already told them you were lying."
"Now why'd you go and do that for?" Xander asked, disappointed. "They were buying it."
"Alas," O'Neill said without much sympathy. "Now they don't."
Xander sighed. "You know I'm not about to go around telling everyone."
"I do," O'Neill acknowledged. "And so does my commanding officer and everyone else involved. And you are free to go, after you sign a non-disclosure agreement."
Xander shot to his feet, already heading to the door. Halfway there he stopped as it hit him, if they were really just letting him go it would have been Davis telling him that and waving the form under his nose. Jack O'Neill wouldn't have been involved.
"But…?" the young man prompted, turning on his heel to face the colonel.
"But, since you're here and all," O'Neill said with a grin. "I thought I'd offer you a job."
"Does it have to do with the self-destructing demons running around attacking the tourists?" Xander asked dryly.
2. Doubts, Fish, and Secrets
Xander Harris had agreed to, and signed, a non-disclosure form and then Jack had escorted him up to the briefing room. When they got there the blast doors had been closed to cover the windows into the embarkation room. Waving Harris to a seat, General Hammond pulled Jack aside for a whispered conference.
"I have doubts about this, Colonel," Hammond said.
"I don't, sir," Jack said.
"He's an eighteen year old civilian, Jack," Hammond said.
"I know that, sir," Jack said. "But I also know he can keep a secret. Hell, sir, you know that too."
"That's a large part of my concern, Colonel," the general said seriously.
"He understands the danger of the general public finding out secrets this big, sir," Jack assured his CO. "He's been keeping something similar a secret since age 16 or earlier. I know we can trust him with this." The general looked like he might object again so Jack kept going. "More to the point, sir, I would never have suggested his involvement if I didn't think he'd be able to make a valuable contribution to the program."
"You really think he can help?" Hammond asked.
"I really think he can."
The general sighed. "I trust your judgment, Jack. Tell him. But he's your responsibility. Anything goes wrong, now or later, because of him and it will be on your head."
"I understand, sir," Jack said. He hoped his faith in this kid wasn't misplaced. He turned to face the table as Hammond took a seat. Jack clapped his hands together and grinned.
"First, introductions; everyone this is Alexander Harris. Harris, the people you don't know are Major General George Hammond, Major Samantha Carter, and Teal'c. Daniel you've met."
As the Colonel went around the table Xander nodded sharply to each of them. He would have preferred to stick to his usual casual wave but he was busy controlling the urge to salute. He wasn't sure if it was the concussion or being surrounded by military personnel but his SoldierBoy instincts were flaring. Usually that only happened when he accessed them deliberately. He decided that as long as he could still control them it wasn't anything to worry too much about.
"And here's Dr. Fraser, who you've also met," O'Neill said, sounding surprised and staring at the door.
Xander swiveled his chair and began to worry. The doctor's face said that whatever had brought her was not good news. Her eyes flicked to him and then back to O'Neill as she entered the room. A quick whispered conference between O'Neill, Hammond and Fraser had all three staring at him like he'd grown a second head.
"Something wrong?" Xander asked. "Have I grown a third eye or something?"
"I don't know, can you?" O'Neill asked.
"Can I what?" Xander asked confused.
"Grow a third eye," O'Neill said. "Doc here says you aren't completely human?"
"What?!" Xander yelped. "So not true. I am human. Completely… As far as I know. What'd you find?"
"A routine test found fish proteins in your blood," the petite doctor announced.
"I had fish for lunch," Xander offered. He was lying through his teeth, of course, but it was worth a shot.
"Not the kind you'd get from eating fish," she explained. "The kind you get by being one. Or at least by having fish DNA."
"Oh. That." Xander said, relaxing. "Jeez, way to scare a guy."
"What that?" O'Neill asked. Fraser looked just as confused.
"Didn't you look at my medical records?" the teen asked. "You're a doctor, you can do that, right?"
"Well, normally, yes," she said, sounding exasperated. "But I can't get into yours. It keeps asking me for a password I don't have."
"Oh. Oops," Xander said, smacking himself lightly on the forehead. He regretted it when he hit the bruise already there. "Ow. I forgot about that. It's frogs."
"The DNA?" Fraser asked.
"The password," Xander assured her. "The DNA is definitely fish. Shark, tuna and some... other things. I tuned the full explanation out as soon as they said they could fix it."
"So this isn't a surprise to you then?" Jack asked.
"I joined the swim team last year. Coach was criminally insane. There were steroids and fish DNA, it wasn't pretty," Xander explained breezily. "It's a long story, but I was only exposed three times. They said they'd gotten most of it out."
"It's there at very low levels," Fraser admitted. "But it shouldn't be there at all."
"Yeah, well," Xander shrugged. "Welcome to life at Sunnydale High. My graduating class's major achievement was to have the lowest mortality rate in the history of the school."
All the adults blinked.
"That bad?" Daniel asked. "I mean, I knew what you were doing was dangerous but…"
"You were the ones touring around Sunnydale, you didn't notice the number of cemeteries and churches?"
"Not especially," Jack answered. "Why?"
"One Starbuck's town like Sunnydale: 43 churches, 12 cemeteries."
"And you know that because…?" Hammond asked.
"How much detail did you put in the report you wrote about your little retrieval mission?" Xander asked Jack.
"Don't give me that, this is the military. You're all about the paperwork. Especially with the truck and sarco-whatsit."
And how do you know that, kid? O'Neill thought. "Daniel wrote the report," he admitted. "Daniel?"
"Um, I may have left the least believable parts out of it," the archaeologist said. "With only a passing mention of you and your friends."
"For which we sincerely thank you," Xander said, with a little half-bow. "Or we would if all of us were here. Since it is supposed to be a secret, I'd rather if nobody's name but mine comes up in the future."
Jack and Daniel both nodded. If the NID got hold of information about what was essentially a hok'taur it would not go well. They would almost certainly try to grab her and that would not be pretty.
"Why not? What the hell is going here?" Hammond asked, running out of patience.
"Because, General, I have people to protect. I assume you're the general that sent the colonel and Dr. J to Sunnydale in the first place?" Xander asked.
"Dr. J," Jack murmured, delighted. Daniel glared.
"Then you're the one that was forced to order them out of there by the President. I assume you were looking Sunnydale up in the computers. Found some weird things, and whatnot?" Xander asked.
"Yes," Carter answered. "I was the one that looked them up. I was kind of hoping those crime statistics were a clerical error…"
"Every year for the last hundred years?" the kid asked wryly. "They are wrong, but not the way you think. And it's not because of an error. It was a deliberate cover-up. I'd rather not go into the details since it's been taken care of but…" he looked Jack and then Daniel in the eyes for a moment. Jack knew the kid was going to lie, and he was going to let him. And shut Daniel up if the archaeologist hadn't gotten the message.
"Sunnydale has had a gang problem almost since it was founded. Gangs being what they are, most of the bad things happened in or around the high school. All of the- gang wars and things…people got in the way and got dead."
"Then why the cover-up?" Carter asked.
"The Mayor was behind a lot of the gang crime. Brought the gangs in and used them for, um, illegal…stuff. Murder, assassination, stealing, starting riots even."
"You said it was dealt with," Hammond said. "Is it too much to hope that he was arrested?"
"He was giving our commencement speech at graduation and there was a gas leak. The school exploded with him in it."
The breeziness in the kid's voice and the contrasting hardness in his eyes told Jack that there was a hell of a lot more to it than that. But it sounded like that was the official line and the kid was planning to stick to it. Jack couldn't blame him, but he resolved to get the real story for himself later.
There was silence for a moment and then O'Neill cleared his throat.
"Well, now that we've cleared that up," he said. "Back to what we were going to talk about. You want the long version or the short version?"
"Short," Xander answered. O'Neill hit a button and the blast doors began to rise. Xander stood up to get a better look at the view. Raised eyebrows were his first reaction.
"Pretty," he commented. From his tone of voice he might have been talking about flowers or a painting. "What's it do?"
"Opens a wormhole so we can go to other planets," O'Neill said in much the same tone.
"Yep, looks like it," the kid said. "Walk through?"
"Yep," O'Neill agreed.
"Electricity bill must be a bitch."
When O'Neill started laughing, Xander realized he'd said that out loud. He blushed a little, embarrassed.
"So, that thing upstairs…alien?" he asked to change the subject.
"I thought you couldn't remember what he looked like," Hammond commented.
"Miraculous recovery," Xander smirked.
To one side he saw Dr. Jackson roll his eyes.
"Now I know why you like him, Jack," the archaeologist said. "He's just like you."
Xander and Jack shared a look as the others laughed and both decided to ignore the comment.
"So this has something to do with the why of you ruining a perfectly good cover story?" Xander asked when the laughter had quieted. It took Jack a couple of seconds to work out what the kid had said and then he nodded. A jerk of his head in the direction of the table and everyone went to sit down again.
"Actually," Jack said. "Now that you've graduated I wanted to offer you a job. Working here. Occasionally saving the planet from the alien fiends that want to kill and enslave us."
"Colonel," Xander started, refusal already in his voice.
"Just hear me out," Jack said. "I've seen you in action. You keep your head and you do what needs to be done. You can read languages even Daniel has trouble with. And you know enough about the military and about geeks to be comfortable with both. That's a pretty rare quality all by itself."
"He can do what?" Hammond asked sharply.
"Which part, sir?" Jack asked
"The languages," Hammond demanded. "What languages?"
Be honest, Jack thought, catching Harris' eye.
"Um…Sumerian, Egyptian, Thraxal, Latin, Kel'ta…Some other really old languages. I can't remember the names of the rest off-hand. Other people are better. My accent in most of them is laughable at best."
"Most other people can't read them at all," Jack pointed out.
"I've never even heard of two of them," Daniel said.
"Well, they're dem—obscure. Really obscure," Harris said.
"Where did you learn them?" Hammond asked.
"Archaeology club," Harris said. With a straight face even. "I thought we weren't here to talk about me. Aliens, remember?"
"We're trying to recruit you," Jack pointed out. "That makes talking about you necessary."
"I wasn't going to let you, though," the kid pointed out. "Recruit me, that is. I'm on vacation, not looking for a job."
3. A Vacation from your Vacation
"Sir, I'd like to take Harris through the 'Gate."
They were standing in the general's office. The kid wasn't budging on his refusal and Jack, seeing opportunity slip away, had asked to speak to Hammond in private.
"Are you insane, Colonel?" Hammond asked. "Why is recruiting this…child so important to you?"
Harris lived in a war zone and he hadn't let it beat him down or break him. More to the point, he'd seen Harris and his friends assess a complicated situation and come up with a workable plan in less than ten minutes. The plan had been to rob a museum, granted, but it had been for the greater good. Within twenty-four hours they'd implemented their plan and succeeded in the heist and Jack and Daniel had been on their way out of Sunnydale with a newly-stolen Goa'uld sarcophagus. That nobody had ever so much as reported missing.
He remembered thinking that the System Lords would hate these kids more than SG-1 in no time if they were let loose on the wider universe. Now he had the opportunity to recruit at least one of them and he wasn't about to let it pass without giving it his best effort.
"I'd rather not give details, sir, but I've seen this kid work. He may not come across as much but when the sh- when the going gets tough, he stands up and hits back. I believe he could be an asset to the SGC."
"Based on what, Jack? His language skills? Granted they're unusual in an 18 year old American teenager but he said himself that there are other experts out there."
"Not his language skills, sir. Based on my personal observations, he's tough and he keeps his head in a crisis. And somehow or other he's picked up some military training along the way. How many experienced field personnel, that we've spent time and money training, have washed out or been transferred off of field teams for psychological reasons?"
"Too many, Colonel. You know the numbers as well as I do."
"He won't wash out, sir. Not from what I've seen of him. Actually, I'd really love to recruit his friends as well but I'm pretty sure they'd be at least as resistant to the idea as he is. I wouldn't even have tried to recruit him except he's here and it was too good an opportunity to waste."
"You're that sure of him?" Hammond asked sceptically.
"I'm that sure of him. Let me take him through the Gate, sir. It's not like there isn't a precedent. Remember Cadet Haley?"
"Cadet Haley was not an eighteen year old civilian." The general thought for a moment then sighed. "But I'll let you take him through. Get him a physical and check him out on firearms. SG-1's mission briefing remains as scheduled."
"Thank you, sir." Jack turned to go, then turned back. "Not to jinx my good luck just now, but why did you just agree?"
"You used the word 'precedent', Colonel. And 'asset'. And 'resistant'. And the phrase 'for psychological reasons'. When you start using words like that it means you're making a serious effort to talk me into something. Which means you really think this boy is worth it, which means I'm willing to give it a chance."
Jack worked through that one for a moment, then nodded. "Thank you, sir."
"Hey, kid, how about a little vacation?" O'Neill asked, bouncing back into the conference room.
"I'm already on vacation," Xander pointed out. "Or I was until I got attacked in the hallway and then someone blew my cover story."
"Think of it as a vacation from your vacation," O'Neill suggested.
"Wouldn't that make it like work?" Xander asked. "I know what you're trying to do, Colonel. And the answer's no. I've still got about 25 states to drive to. I do appreciate the effort you're putting in. I'm confused…but appreciative."
"I'm just trying to be friendly," O'Neill objected weakly. "After all, you guys did help us out. C'mon…you know you wanna go. Strange new worlds, old civilizations, you'll love it. Besides, someone has to give Daniel some competition in number of dead languages that he knows."
Xander couldn't help smiling at the colonel's enthusiasm. Realizing that the older man wasn't going to give up until he'd at least given this whole Stargate thing a chance, Xander gave in. What could it hurt? he thought. At the very least it might make a great story. That I can't tell anyone. Whatever.
He still couldn't figure out why O'Neill was so keen to recruit him but he had figured out why he was going along with it. It had a lot to with the colonel having a better you-kicked-my-puppy face than Willow. And it wasn't like he had anywhere specific to be right now. Also, it did kinda sound like fun and it was nice to be seen as something other than Buffy's side-kick for once.
4. Into the Breach...for the first time
He wasn't sure what he'd said to convince the kid but, not about to question his luck, Jack had whisked Xander down to the armory and begun quizzing him on makes and models of guns while pulling out the ones that every team carried with them off-world. He disassembled them, laying out the parts on a handy table. When he was done he gestured Xander forward.
"Let me guess," the kid said, "this is the part where I have to pass a test?"
"Oh, you're good," Jack informed him. "Wanna guess what the test is?"
"I'm thinking…target shooting?" he asked hopefully.
"We'll get to that," Jack assured him. "First, though, I wanted to see how much you know about handling guns already. Starting with putting them together."
"How do you know I know anything?" Xander asked.
"You said some things," the colonel responded. "After that fight."
"Your memory is way too good."
Jack smirked and put a finger to his lips. "Shh. It's a secret."
He was pleased when the kid grinned back at him. After a moment of shared conspiracy, Jack got back down to business.
"Okay. Assemble these, if you can. I start timing you the minute you touch the first piece and stop when the last piece is in place. There's a nine millimeter handgun, an M-9, and a P-90. Start whenever you're ready."
Xander eyed the disassembled guns on the table as O'Neill stepped back. It was a bit of a shock after two years of, mostly, disuse to find the names of the different gun parts still at his fingertips. It was even more of a shock to find his hands reaching for two separate parts of the nine mil and slotting them together. A picture of the gun parts and how they slotted together, one that he'd never seen before, flashed up from somewhere in his subconscious. It was disconcerting for a moment.
SoldierBoy, he thought to himself as he identified the diagram as coming from a US Army manual. It was similar to the one he'd been working from when he'd made the detonator for the bomb they'd used to take out the Mayor. Suppressing the more recent memory and surrendering to his 'instincts', he reached blindly for another piece of the nine mil, then another and another.
Moving smoothly and steadily, he completed the nine millimeter and then the M-9. He stalled about halfway through the P-90 when a piece wouldn't fit where his subconscious insisted it should go. That was the problem with a set of static memories masquerading as instinct, especially since they were someone else's memories.
He pushed aside what his subconscious wanted and figured out the next most logical place for the part to fit. It did and he continued to work, though more slowly and much less smoothly than before. When Xander finished and placed the last completed weapon on the table, Colonel O'Neill hit a button on his watch and half-smiled.
"Not bad," he commented. "Not good, but not bad either."
"Oh, thanks," Xander said sarcastically.
"You were doing really well until you hit the P-90," O'Neill offered.
"Well, nothing goes in the right place," Xander said defensively. "Not even the clip."
The colonel smiled. "The good news for you is that you don't actually have to be able to pass the timed P-90 assembly to come along as an observer. Now, let's see how well you can shoot what you just put together."
O'Neill had him secure the guns (double-checking that the safeties were on) and they proceeded to a firing range even deeper within the base.
"This place just goes on forever, doesn't it?" Xander said as they walked, more comment than question.
"Twenty-eight stories below ground, we've got a lot of space to spread out in," Jack explained. "Nobody else is after our real estate down here."
"Heh. No kidding. How many people know just what you've really got under here?"
"The people that work here, obviously," Jack answered. "The Joint Chiefs. The President. A few other politicians. Some science people. A few potential recruits, like you." He paused in thought. "That's about it, earth-wise."
"And this place is Top Secret?" Xander asked, incredulously. "That's, like, half the country. I don't see why Hammond is so worried about me, half the country doesn't know the important secrets in my life."
"Yeah, well," Jack said, amused. "You also don't have to submit and justify a multi-billion dollar budget for approval once a year."
"That is true." Xander snorted. "Thank God."
O'Neill grinned. "You may be good at keeping secrets, kid. Let's see how good you are at shooting paper targets."
Jack dumped his report detailing Xander Harris' field readiness onto the table and sat back while Hammond and the rest of SG-1 read it. He was feeling ever-so-slightly smug and had to actively stop himself from breaking into the grin that he could feel tugging at his lips. It had been a good day. In fact, it had been a good couple of days. It always was when he was right about something.
For a kid just out of high school, Harris had acquitted himself well. Very well. And the only one not going to be surprised by that was Jack himself. And possibly Daniel, who'd also seen the young man in action.
The colonel's prediction was confirmed by Carter's low whistle when she got to the page with Xander's shooting scores. Daniel looked up at her reaction and leaned over to see what had impressed his teammate.
"I don't shoot that well," Daniel said grumpily, "And I practice every day."
"And you'll note he says that's the first time he's shot anything besides an M-9," Jack couldn't help pointing out.
"And when he did get the chance to do that?" Carter asked. "His father in the NRA or something?"
Jack snorted. "Nope." At Carter's exasperated glare, he relented his vicarious bragging a little. "He said something about military training but wouldn't say where or how."
"And you decided not to press the issue?" Hammond asked, incredulous.
"The only other thing he'd say about it was that it was something he'd been volunteered for by the school principal," Jack admitted. "Knowing his hometown, it was probably some kind of student self-defense initiative."
"You think the explanation's that innocent?" Hammond asked.
Jack traded glances with Daniel before meeting his superior's eyes. "Harris was involved in a take-back-the-night group run by a couple of the high school teachers. They didn't use guns, that we saw, but that town did have a gang problem. You have to know the basics about guns to handle them safely, even if you're just trying to protect yourself from other people using them."
Hammond held his eyes for a moment and Jack kept his gaze straight and direct. He would normally have felt bad about lying to his commanding officer, but it was no more than half a lie and the truth was not something he'd be willing to tell anybody without immediately available proof. Which they didn't have. Frankly, he still found it hard to believe and he'd seen plenty of proof. So Hammond wouldn't be finding out the full truth unless they happened to come across a situation that required him to know.
"Well," Hammond said after a moment, "if you're satisfied with his abilities, Colonel, so am I. However he may have acquired them. And since Dr. Fraser says his concussion is fully healed and he's in better than average physical condition, I can't find any reason to bar Mr. Harris from going along as an observer on SG-1's next scheduled mission. You leave tomorrow morning. Make sure he's at least skimmed the Offworld Manual before you leave."
"Thank you, sir," Jack said, standing as the general did. The older man's tone was clearly a dismissal and Jack took the hint.
"And, Colonel?" Hammond called as O'Neill reached the door.
Jack turned and raised his eyebrows.
"Try not to let him get killed. That would look very bad for us with Senator Kinsey at the next budget review." It was mostly a joke.
"Yessir," Jack acknowledged.
Not entirely sure that it was actually good news, Xander did his best to pretend happiness when O'Neill told him that he was officially cleared to go along on SG-1's next offworld mission. Still, that offworld thing was pretty cool and the colonel's excitement was infectious, so it wasn't that hard to pretend. In spite of the small corner of his conscious mind that was busily listing all the things that could possibly go wrong. And his Hellmouth-honed instincts insisting that something worse than he could think of would. At the worst possible time.
This isn't the Hellmouth, he reminded himself, the odds are not automatically against me here. Nothing's going to go wrong. Probably. I'm ninety…six percent sure. Okay, maybe only ninety. Still…
Reading the Offworld Manual that O'Neill had said he should skim the highlights of hadn't really helped his nervousness. It was the kind of rulebook that held a strong note of setting fire to the gym after the vampires had escaped. They were the kind of rules that had been put in place exactly because somebody had already done whatever-it-was with bad results.
So he was vacillating between excitement (offworld!) and a healthy dose of terror when he finally fell asleep in the early hours of the morning. His dreams were full of Halloween memories, fragments from what could have been either SoldierBoy or too many war movies, but was more probably a mixture of both. These progressed into facing off against people with glowing yellow eyes who started out as vampires, only to morph into aliens dressed in Ancient Egyptian Nouveau Riche. The aliens then became hyena people who turned into actual hyenas and were suddenly the good guys, fighting alongside him against a mixture of the aliens and vampires. And then he was a hyena himself, leading the pack as it fought alongside faceless soldiers with SGC shoulder patches.
It was one of those nights where he was glad that he had to be up early, even though he hadn't gotten to sleep until very late. Some days he hated being in his own head and wondered what the attraction had been for those beings that had chosen to possess him. Yet, even though it had been a bad night, his first thought on waking was gratitude that for the first time in weeks he hadn't dreamt about Graduation.
Shaking it off, moving forward, he got dressed and went in search of breakfast.
Xander checked the straps on his pack one more time, then looked up at the big, honking stone circle dominating the room in front of him.
It looks a lot bigger from this angle, he thought, swallowing hard. He'd never admit it to the girls – oh, who was he kidding? Everyone knew that he was just a coward at heart. Often the first to suggest retreat, the one more focused on staying alive than he was on winning; though the two were usually paired goals since winning most often meant the best chance of survival for everyone he loved. Still, if he had a motto it was fake it 'til you make it, so he'd become the master of pretending to be brave. He was hoping that somewhere along the way he'd actually become brave and not have to feel this sickening fear every time he faced the unknown.
He turned to O'Neill to distract himself from the terror still trying to well up. "So you, just, like, step through on this side and what…walk out halfway across the galaxy?"
"Yep," Jack confirmed. "Carter's the one to ask if you want the science explanation. It has something to do with apples and worms or...something…which I don't exactly get."
Xander gave him a look that made Jack want to squirm because it said: 'You understood every word she said, you're just playing dumb, and I don't know why you'd do that but I'm not going to call you on it. Not yet, anyway.' The kid was too perceptive by half, which was one of the reasons that Jack wanted him at the SGC. And Harris proved another reason by looking back at the 'Gate and diffusing the tension with a joke.
"As long as it doesn't, like, replace me with an evil twin or something, I'm good. Willow's the one that's big on the science explanations. I just make dumb suggestions and do what they tell me."
"You two really were separated at birth, weren't you?" Daniel asked with amusement, walking past them as the inner ring began to spin.
"That would be physically impossible, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said. "Unless Xander Harris is much older than he appears."
Xander and Jack both smirked.
Carter added her two cents to the discussion. "If Teal'c wasn't right about it being impossible, I'd second Daniel's question."
"Nothing's completely impossible, Carter," her CO advised her. "Remember that mirror doohickey."
She rolled her eyes. Jack smiled, pleased at that bit of snark from his 2nd in command. She was coming along nicely from the slightly uptight, rule-oriented young Captain that he'd first met. By the time he was ready to retire she'd be enough like him to continue his legacy of giving her commanding officers grey hairs for years to come. Heh. The people in Washington pushing his retirement didn't know what they were in for. Except possibly Maybourne, whom she'd reportedly called an idiot right to his face during the recent Foothold situation. Double heh.
When the sequence finished dialing and the 'Gate opened, Hammond came over the PA to say his traditional "You have a go."
Jack waved his acknowledgment, in the form of an analyst's salute, and continued the arm motion to gesture his team forward through the 'Gate. He and Xander were the last two, and the latter couldn't resist lifting a hand to touch the event horizon, then flicking it with his fingers and watching it ripple.
"Cool." Xander turned his head to O'Neill. "You're sure it doesn't hurt or anything?"
"It's a little cold is all," the man assured him. "You get used to it. On three?"
Xander nodded, facing forward again so O'Neill couldn't see his nervousness. The colonel put a hand on his shoulder.
"One," Jack counted. "Two-" He pushed Harris firmly through the event horizon and smiled to himself. "Three," he finished cheerfully before stepping through himself.
5. Trips and Treks
Daniel Jackson, knowing his friend, had expected Jack's little prank and was standing in about the right place to catch Xander and prevent him from falling completely on his face. The young man was cursing the O'Neill name under his breath; fairly imaginatively actually, Daniel noted. He also noted that about a third of the curses were in some language other than English. The archaeologist wondered how long the "Archaeology Club" excuse would work on Sam and Teal'c before they'd a need a better explanation for why a teenager would have learned long dead languages in high school.
The trip (pun intended) through the wormhole had been vicious, and Xander's first view of another planet was a close-up of the nearest bushes as he emptied his heaving stomach. When he recovered from the dizziness and nausea that the others apparently expected, Xander was able to smile grimly at O'Neill, making sure the promise of payback was visible in his expression.
"I am going to get you for that," he promised.
"You can try," the colonel said with a smile as he waved for them to move out.
"I can succeed, too," the teen muttered under his breath.
Looking around, Xander noticed that this world looked a lot like Earth. There were trees in front of them, grass in the area around the Gate itself; the sky was blue, the vegetation was (mostly) green and all in all it looked a lot like he'd pictured the Pacific Northwest. The air was noticeably cleaner than any he'd been exposed to in his life but given that this world had, according to the briefing, not discovered the internal combustion engine or even steam power that probably shouldn't have surprised him.
They were going to discuss some trade treaty with the local village chieftain and Xander was kind of looking forward to having nothing to do but explore the differences of this place to his home planet and try to keep himself out of trouble. That last had been O'Neill's suggestion but it sounded like a nice change of pace to Xander. At least they knew in advance that the locals were friendly.
"Hey," Xander said conversationally as they walked the trail, "is it just me, or does this place seem real similar to home?"
"More trees," O'Neill sighed.
"Most worlds we can access through the Stargate tend to be similar in atmospheric mix and vegetation to Earth," Sam Carter answered, rolling her eyes at her CO's complaint.
"The Ancients," Daniel picked it up, "they were the gate builders, seeded plants and animals from Earth all over the galaxy. When the Goa'uld took over the gate system, they did the same, only with humans."
"The Goa'uld are the evil snake people, right?" Xander asked.
"And these Ancients…that's not, like, another word for Old Ones, is it?"
"Uh, it might be." The archaeologist adjusted his glasses. "Why? Who are the Old Ones?"
Xander glanced around and saw Carter talking animatedly with O'Neill, while Teal'c was bringing up the rear and out of normal human earshot.
"Before time, before man, the Old Ones walked the Earth. They made it their home, their hell." The teen's tone of voice was slightly bored as he recited what they'd dubbed Vamps 101. "When they were driven out of this dimension to make way for the animals the last demon to leave this reality fed off a human, mixed their blood. That created the first vampire; a human form possessed, infected by the demon."
"Vampires have a creation myth? I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," Daniel mused without giving Xander a chance to respond, "every culture has one."
"Not so much myth as recorded history," Xander pointed out.
"Things that live for centuries tend to have fairly long memories," the teen noted.
"I guess that makes sense," Daniel admitted. "What else can you tell me about them? Do they have their own culture? Rituals, things like that?"
"Whoa, Dr. J. One question at a time, please."
"Promise to call me Daniel, and I'll go easy on you," the archaeologist half-joked.
Xander smirked and began answering as many of the other man's questions as he knew the answers to as patiently as he could. He surprised himself a couple of times with how much he'd actually absorbed from their research sessions. Deep inside, he was wondering what O'Neill and Carter were talking about and whether he could get Dr. J interested in it.
"All due respect, sir," Sam Carter was saying, "but I don't get why we're bringing a teenager out into the field with us. He only barely graduated high school. His marks are so low that even if he was interested in the Academy, and he's made it clear he's not, they wouldn't take him."
"Not everything is about getting good grades, Carter," O'Neill replied in the tone of one pointing out the obvious. "He may not look good on paper but I guarantee you, and I already told Hammond this, that he's everything we look for in an SGC recruit. If he doesn't look like it on paper, maybe we've been looking for the wrong things in our field people."
"How could you possibly know that without having seen him in the field?" she demanded.
"Carter," the colonel sighed. "You know more went on in Sunnydale than Daniel or I admitted to anybody; even you or Teal'c. Him and his friends were at the center of the weirdness. You saw his medical records."
"And?" She dropped her voice with a glance around at the subject of their conversation; currently deep in his own discussion with Daniel. "They showed a history of abuse, sir, and possible gang activities. I don't see how either of those things suits him for this kind of high pressure environment."
Her CO looked at her for a moment with that grim and distant look he got sometimes when recalling his days in Black Ops. "If it tells you anything, those kids mostly patch themselves up. He's been through more than you can tell from his medical records and he's still ridiculously stable. That's why I want him on a team."
"His medical records were pretty colourful, sir," she argued. "I find it hard to believe that they're incomplete. Anyway, you said when you came back that they'd turned out to be some kind of Take Back The Night group. You said that to General Hammond yesterday."
"Look, Carter," O'Neill sighed. "That's true as far as it goes and, frankly, if either of us got any more detailed, you'd have me and Daniel committed. So would the general. So would anyone who hadn't seen for themselves. Just…trust me, Carter, the kid's a natural. He'd pass the entrance tests without even trying. You saw that much for yourself."
"If you say so, sir." The doubt was clear in her voice but, thankfully, she dropped it. "Think we'll make the village by tonight?"
Jack squinted at the sun, low in the sky, and the forest track stretching out ahead of them. "Prob'ly not," he admitted eventually. "We should start looking for somewhere to set up camp in the next hour or so."
6. Of Dreams and OLBs
The mayor looked up at the sky as the eclipse began, early, and tried to continue his speech even through the pangs of the changes beginning to alter his body. It wasn't long before he gave up, speaking regretfully about the paragraphs on civil responsibility that he'd written.
Just change already, Xander thought. He saw the same impatience flicker over Buffy's face where she stood a little way over. Then Richard Wilkins' human body was gone and there was a giant blue-purple snake-shaped Demon Lord taking up the stage and then some. Ignoring the former mayor's continued comments and the panic of the teachers and parents, Xander looked around at his friends. Exchanging a nod with Buffy told him that the time was right.
"Now!" He and the blond slayer yelled in unison, shedding their graduation robes in favour of the battle-gear concealed beneath. Their command had kicked off their classmates to do the same and Xander's dream began skipping through the battle itself.
Part of him was aware that he was dreaming, knew what was coming after three weeks of the same, but the rest of him battled on.
His unconscious mind flashed up the demon mayor laying into the front line, then skipped to the jury-rigged flamethrowers failing early, and its wielders paying the price in the pause while the archers switched to hand weapons.
Then it all went pear-shaped, as it hadn't in real life; the vamps surprised them from behind and Xander fought on unable to help the friends and classmates around him as they fell to the vampires or the demon-snake. Buffy, Willow, Oz and Cordy were the last but him to die.
And then, just as the mayor was coming in to finish him off, he felt hands on his shoulders and came abruptly awake.
Not yet entirely conscious, he kicked his way clear of his sleeping bag and rolled clumsily into a crouch facing his attacker. His left hand held a wooden cross at arms' length; his right clutched a wooden stake in a defensive position.
The dark figure who'd woken the teen held both hands up in the universal symbol of surrender and eventually clarified to Xander's rapidly dark-adjusting eyesight as Colonel O'Neill. It took a second for him to remember where he was and why but the shock cleared the rest of the sleep from his brain.
"Colonel O'Neill?" he asked, keeping his voice low. "You trying to give me a heart attack?"
"You're too young to have heart attacks," O'Neill informed him dryly. "You were having a bad dream, thought you might appreciate a wake-up call. You all right?"
"Yeah," Xander answered. "It was just a dream. No big." It hadn't been, once, but he didn't need to tell O'Neill that. The mayor couldn't hurt them now and that was what counted. "Appreciate the thought, though. Thanks."
Xander paced over to join the colonel by the fire and they settled on the ground facing it.
"You always sleep with those?" O'Neill asked after a pause.
Xander looked down at the objects he was still holding in his hands and blushed a little, placing them carefully to one side. "Not at home," he answered. "Not much can enter a house uninvited, but out on the road…yeah. Motels don't count and neither does a car, even when you're living in it. It's pretty safe outside of Sunnydale and the big cities but, you can't be too careful, you know?"
"I do now," the colonel murmured. "You brought them on this little side trip because…?"
"Call them a security blanket," Xander said, grumpily.
"Against your dreams? 'Cause, I don't think that's working."
The teen snorted. "Dreams are just dreams. I just… have this feeling, like something bad is gonna happen. It's probably just healthy paranoia."
"Healthy, paranoia?" O'Neill said it with a half-grin and raised eyebrows.
"It's healthy when you live in Sunnydale," Xander countered wryly. "Or did I not make the Mouth of Hell part clear?"
"Ah. Why not bring a knife or something then?"
"Eh," he shrugged. "Knives are alright, though swords are better because mostly you have to cut off the head and that's a little hard to do with just a knife unless they're unconscious. And guns, like you guys have, are fine for some things but there's a lot they'll just piss off."
"You wanna talk about it?" the colonel asked.
"Pissing things off?"
"About the dreams, smartass. I know a thing or two about dealing with nightmares about things you've lived through."
"Awwww," Xander drawled sarcastically. "Next you'll be offering to tuck me up in my sleeping bag with a cup of warm milk and I don't think we really know each other well enough for that."
"I'm not big on the warm milk thing, myself," O'Neill responded with equal sarcasm. "Only works on five year olds."
"I'll tell Willow you said that." Xander answered, the implication clear.
O'Neill snorted and let a moment's silence fall.
"I was being serious, you know," the colonel offered eventually. "It can help to talk about it. To the right person. And if you knew me better, you'd realize the irony of it being me telling you this."
Xander sighed. "I realize you're trying to help, but please just drop it. I told you, I'm fine. There's nothing to deal with, it's just leftover…nerves from graduation."
"It was that bad? 'Cause from what you were saying while you were dreaming, it sounded like combat flashbacks."
"Shit." The youth closed his eyes, and leaned heavily forward to rest his elbows on his knees, head down. "I didn't realize I was a sleep talker." The only sound for a few moments was the crackle of the fire. "Graduation…was intense. There was this, thing, we had to deal with and a lot of people got killed. I honestly never expected to live through it, myself; a third of our class didn't and that's…a lot my fault. I've done worse, or almost. It's nothing I won't get over. Eventually."
Jack opened his mouth then closed it as the first thing it occurred to him to say was probably exactly the wrong thing. Instead, he said, "I want to say: I'm sure it's not your fault but, you don't seem like the type to take on more than your share of blame. So let's leave it at: I've gotten people killed before, too. One of the hazards of command. So I do know what I'm talking about. Just so you know."
As they approached the village in the early afternoon of the next day the Sunnydale teen was concentrating on spotting the birds he thought he'd seen flying through the canopy a moment before when he first saw the smoke trail rising into the sky above the forest ahead of them. That was when the misgivings he'd been having since O'Neill had first proposed this little excursion came back in full force. It could just have been campfire smoke, or village chimney smoke, maybe, but Xander knew with the instincts of someone born on the mouth of hell that it was much worse than that.
"Uh, Colonel," he called ahead to where O'Neill and Daniel were arguing.
The older men only just had time to turn their heads, expressions curious, when a round metal object about the size of a grapefruit landed at Xander's feet.
It was beeping ominously and the teen felt his eyes widen as his Soldier memories identified it as an OLB (Object Likely to go Boom). He was diving away from it even before O'Neill and Jackson yelled warnings. That was his last memory before the world first went completely white then completely black.
A/N: A word of warning - Xander gets thumped somethin' awful in the upcoming chapter, poor boy. Beware.
Xander woke up but the world stayed dark. He waved an experimental hand in front of his face. Nothing. Next he carefully felt his own face and assured himself that both his eyes were still there and that his eyelids were actually working. The last thing he remembered was a bright flash of light and noise of a decibel level that beat out even the explosion that had taken out his high school.
"Colonel O'Neill?" he called out over the ringing in his ears. "Dr. J? Major Carter? Teal'c? Anybody?"
"I am here, Xander Harris," Teal'c answered. "I do not believe the others have yet awoken."
"'M awake, 'm awake," O'Neill protested in a mumble. There was the sound of someone rolling over, then: "Carter? Daniel?" the colonel called out, sounding much clearer already.
There was the sound of movement and a quick intake of air, followed the noise of a boot kicking a wall and thump. "I'm here, sir," Major Carter answered a moment later from the direction of the sounds.
"Daniel?" O'Neill asked again.
"Unless I've got my hand on you or Teal'c, sir, he's over here," Carter said. "I don't think he's awake yet."
"So," Xander began, keeping his tone determinedly conversational, "are we trapped in a windowless dungeon or have I gone blind?"
"We've all gone blind," O'Neill answered him, sounding resigned. "It's only temporary."
"We know this because…?" Xander fished.
"It's a side-effect of the sonic grenade they hit us with," Major Carter answered. "We've been through this before. It should wear off fairly quickly."
"Oh, good," Xander said with sarcastic good cheer. "Because, you know, I was almost worried there for a second."
O'Neill snorted softly. They were all quiet for a moment and Xander sat up, leaning against the wall behind him to steady himself.
"This is supposed to convince me to work for you guys, right? I have to say: right now? Really not working." Xander joked.
"Hey!" O'Neill protested. "This doesn't happen that often!"
"Yeah? 'Cause you just kinda implied that it did. Also, your little rule book that I read last night? Pretty much the same."
Carter started laughing softly. She was interrupted by the sound of panicked movement from her right.
"Jack?" Dr. Jackson's voice asked groggily.
"We're all here, Daniel," the colonel reassured his friend. "Just a sonic grenade. It'll wear off soon."
"About that, how soon?" Xander asked.
"Any moment," Teal'c answered. "I am beginning to get my vision back."
"Me, too, I think," Carter volunteered.
Xander blinked and noticed that the black was thinning to grey. And then the grey faded into…yellow? Worried that the blast had permanently damaged his sight, no matter what the others said, Xander waved a hand in front of his face and was relieved when a pinkish blur crossed his vision.
"What's with the yellow walls?" he asked. "Was their decorator feeling depressed or something?"
That got another snicker from O'Neill, though it hadn't actually been a joke. Xander could now see the other man lying on the floor and as his vision cleared the teen took a closer look at the walls.
"Ah, gold," he said. "That makes more sense."
"How?" O'Neill demanded.
"The whole 'look at me, I'm better than you' thing. Nothing says that better than gold walls."
"What, what? It's true."
"Actually, he's right, Jack," Daniel Jackson chimed in, slowly sitting up. The way the archaeologist was holding himself told Xander that the other man couldn't really see yet. That did not stop him from lecturing, though. "The megalomania that's characteristic of the Goa'uld would require visual displays of power and not just to their subjects, to each other and their enemies. Things like having large numbers of Jaffa, body-slaves, maintaining a priesthood; all of it's a show of power."
"And that has what to do with gold walls?" O'Neil asked. It wasn't as if they could do anything else until they could all see and understanding your enemy could be helpful.
"Well, historically, money is power, so displays of wealth –"
"Like plastering gold on the walls," Xander contributed.
"Like sheathing the walls in gold," Daniel agreed, "would be an easy way to do it. There's no better way to flaunt your wealth than to waste it on superfluous ornamentation."
"Not to mention having large, well-equipped armies, a fleet of spaceships and planets full of slaves," Carter added.
O'Neill grunted and changed the subject. "Can everybody see yet?"
There was a chorus of agreement from the other four and Xander asked what was going to happen next.
"I'll have Carter try to short-circuit the door while we try to figure out which Goa'uld has us and how the snakehead knew when and where to find us."
"That's it?" Xander asked. Not that the Scoobies had had many better plans when trapped in cages but he'd sort of expected better of the military.
"If we're really lucky," O'Neill said sarcastically, "the snake'll turn up to brag."
The Goa'uld did actually show up shortly after that. Apparently, she'd only been waiting for them to be awake and able to see her. She swept into the room like she owned it, which Xander supposed she did. Still, that was no excuse for her outfit, or the excessive melodrama she seemed to think was necessary.
"I am Nilea and you will bow down before me as your goddess before you die."
The disbelieving sound escaped before Xander could stop it, but he wasn't the only to scoff so it didn't attract her attention right away.
"Oh, please," O'Neill said. "Like that's gonna work."
She ignored him initially, looking each of them over with a critical eye. "You are SG-1. Colonel O'Neill, Major Carter, Daniel Jackson, and the Shol'va. Plus one."
Xander did not like the look in her eyes or the way she smiled when she looked at him. He especially didn't like the way she licked her lips as she sashayed, and there was no other word for it, towards him. She had that 'I think I'll torture you for awhile, maybe try to seduce you, and then kill you, won't that be fun' look in her eyes. It was one he was getting better at recognizing. The demon magnet factor strikes again, Xander sighed internally.
Outwardly, he did the only thing he could think of to do; he stood his ground, looked her straight in the eyes, and refused to show fear.
"Such a young thing you've brought to me," she purred. "And so very innocent, for he does not fear me. I think I shall start with him."
Nilea gestured to her guards. Jack lunged forward at her words but one of the guards stopped him by the simple expedient of clubbing him on the head. The colonel went down hard. Xander considered fighting but decided that whatever happened next, he wanted to be conscious for it. Well, not wanted to but it would be better than the alternative, which was not to know what they might have done while he out of it.
With a groan Jack O'Neill came back to consciousness. He sat up quickly and immediately regretted it. "How long was I out?" he asked through the throbbing in his head.
"Not long, sir," Carter answered "Considering how hard he hit you."
"Maybe half-an-hour," she guesstimated. The guards had taken their watches along with everything else.
"She still have Harris?"
"Yes, sir." His 2IC sounded worried.
"This is my fault, Carter, not yours," O'Neill insisted. "I'm the one that pushed him into coming with us."
"Yessir." Carter didn't sound convinced. It didn't matter. Whatever that bitch did to the kid, she was dead.
Xander had expected it to hurt. That was…well, not okay, exactly, but at least something he could prepare for. What he hadn't expected was just how much it was gonna hurt. Apparently, that huge gaudy bracelet she wore was for more than show.
But Xander Harris was familiar with pain, and with the need to keep secrets even when it would stop the pain. Even if he'd known anything useful he wouldn't have told her. Not that that made it hurt any less but having made that resolution gave him another focus for thinking through the pain in his head. The bitch was going down and Xander tried to think through how to take her out the second she dropped her guard. Try to, anyway.
"What is the code for the Tau'ri Chappa'ai?" she demanded in that weird double-tone voice.
"How…hell…would I…know?" he gasped. The shooting pain in his head was making him nauseous and he was out of breath from the screaming. "Even..if I…did…I wouldn't… tell you."
That succeeded in getting her to shut off the glowy hand-thing, back-handing him viciously across the face instead; almost as strong as a vampire. He'd been hit harder and come back swinging, mostly because he'd learned a long time ago how to take a hit.
"You hit like a girl," he taunted her as he picked himself up slowly. He spat out blood at her feet hoping it would annoy her enough to leave off with the pain-glove. It did and she back-handed him again, which still hurt less than the bracelet-thing.
"You still defy me?" she snarled.
"Well, it's my best thing," he explained, swaying a little on his knees.
She lifted him up by the throat, eyes flashing a golden-orange. He wondered if she'd stop when he was unconscious, then he wondered why he didn't care more. She dropped him as the darkness was swamping his eyes and his knees buckled. He fell to the floor, gasping, as she paced in front of him.
Before he completely had his breath back, she'd grabbed him by the hair and pulled him to knees.
"Why do you not fear me?" she demanded.
"Lady," he said wearily, "I faced down a sixty-foot demon snake less than a month ago. How are you scary after that?"
She screamed in rage and threw him to the floor. He managed not to hit face first but she'd thrown him with enough force that it still hurt like hell. He knew he was in trouble when she picked up a stick from a nearby table and made to jab him in the back of the neck with it.
8. Escape Plans and Local Myths
The kid was unconscious when the guards brought him back to the cell. Or, at least, he seemed unconscious until the guards had dumped him on the floor and retreated, hauling Teal'c away with them.
As soon as the guards were gone, Harris rolled onto his side.
"Colonel," the young man rasped out.
"Harris, you all right?" Jack demanded, moving to the kid's side. He was appalled at the split lip and bruises on the kid's face.
"I've been better," Harris' voice sounded raw and Jack could guess why. Reading the look on the older man's face Xander gripped the colonel's arm and locked eyes with him. "Not your fault."
"I think it is, kid. And I'm the colonel here. That means you're not allowed to argue with me."
Harris snorted, then groaned and clutched his head. "Ungh. Laughing hurts. Anyway, it's really not your fault. 'S mine. Smart mouth. Always gets me in trouble."
"What did she do to you?" Daniel asked, on his other side. "Is anything broken or…?"
"Not-not broken. Lots of bruises. Mostly my, brain, hurts. Stupid hand-bracelets. It's still tacky as hell. And something- she called it a, pain stick, how unoriginal is that? Back of the neck. That really hurt."
Jack half-smiled grimly and saw that Daniel was as well. They were probably both thinking the same thing; if the kid was up to giving editorials on Goa'uld interrogation techniques, he'd probably be all right even though he seemed at best semi-conscious at the moment.
"If that's it," Carter murmured where she stood on Daniel's left, "he'll feel a lot better with some rest, though what he really needs is some medical attention."
"Nu-uh," Harris protested, trying to sit up though his eyes weren't more than halfway open. "No docs. Ask too many questions."
Jack met Daniel's eyes and made a face. The kid definitely wasn't all the way in his head just now.
"Yeah, that they do," the colonel agreed softly. The teen's eyes fluttered closed. "Harris. Xander! Wake up! Look at me." The kid opened his eyes and looked confused.
"You recognize me, kid?" O'Neill asked.
"Colonel O'Neill," Harris said groggily. "Girls thought you were cute, for an old guy. I don't see it." Daniel snickered and Jack rolled his eyes. "I hang out with too many girls…" Xander ended on a sigh and his eyes closed again. Then they opened and focused back on Jack, his head apparently clear again. "Something to tell you. She called, someone. A-pop-toast or, a-pot-vest or…something. Said she, had you, and, was something, 'bout a reward." Harris was fading again, struggling to hold on to consciousness. "Five hours. Thought I was out of it. Hah! Takes more than that to…" he trailed off, mumbling to himself. "She hits like a girl," he announced suddenly. His eyes locked with Jack's. "Can I pass out now?" he asked.
"Yeah, kid. Why don't you get some rest while we work out an escape plan?" the other man suggested gently.
Harris let out a long breath and his eyes drifted all the way closed. A second later his body went limp. Daniel checked the boy's pulse even though it was clear he was still breathing.
"We need to get out of here," Jack said to his teammates. "Before Apophis shows up."
"No kidding," Carter agreed. Daniel nodded.
Their brainstorming session was punctuated by mumbles from Harris as the teen slept on a bench to one side of the cell. He seemed to be having bad dreams. Not a huge surprise given the circumstances and what Jack knew about his life.
Three hours later the guards had taken each of them to suffer the attentions of the Goa'uld, returning the last time with a semi-conscious Carter. Daniel was trying combinations on the door lock, since they didn't have anything to pry the panel open with. Xander had been awake off and on but Jack was starting to worry about him.
Nilea obviously felt the door locks were enough to keep the team contained because there were no guards outside. If they could just get it open, then they had a chance of sneaking out, grabbing their gear and high-tailing it to the 'gate. Jack's thoughts were interrupted when Harris got restless and his sleep mumbles became clear speech.
"Archers, keep firing! Front units, hand-to hand….No! Pull back! Everybody! Pull back!" The teen was sitting up, eyes still closed, deep in his dream. Daniel and Teal'c were watching the kid worriedly, Jack moved to wake the young man since it sounded like much the same dream he'd had last night.
"Oh, god," Harris mumbled. "Keep firing! Work in pairs! Buffy, Willow! No!" Harris sat up and his eyes shot open just as Jack reached his side. He was breathing heavily, just short of hyperventilating. His eyes focused on Jack and there was a look in them that the colonel had only ever seen looking back at him in a mirror before now. Last night it had been too dark to see Harris' waking expression clearly but Jack realized there was more to the graduation story than Xander had admitted.
"It was just a dream, kid," O'Neill re-assured him.
"No, it wasn't," Harris whispered, eyes staring into the middle distance with a haunted look. "Not all of it. People died because I wasn't good enough. Didn't prepare them enough. Didn't- we should have thought of it earlier, we could have trained them, made sure the flamethrowers wouldn't fail early…something." he sighed and rubbed his face, concealing eyes wet with unshed tears. He pulled in a deep breath and rested his forehead on his upraised knees.
Every word had hit Jack like a gut blow. He'd been right last night. More than survivor's guilt, this was command-level survivor's guilt. Xander sounded like he wanted to curl up in a fetal ball and cry and Jack wasn't the least bit surprised. No seventeen-year-old should have to deal with this and especially not alone.
"Kid –Xander," Jack said. He waited until the teen met his eyes. "I don't know the details, unless you feel like sharing them?"
Xander shook his head, looking away briefly.
Jack nodded. "But I do know you. And everything I've seen of you, and your friends, tells me that you did everything you could. It doesn't matter what war you're fighting, people are going to die. You said two-thirds of them survived and I bet that's a lot your fault, too."
Xander swallowed hard and nodded reluctantly, seeming to shake his depression off a little. "That…actually makes me feel a little better. Thanks."
Jack smiled a little, gave a modest half-shrug. "You slept about two hours overall, how's your head?"
"Better," Xander admitted. Not much for introspection at the best of times, the young man was grateful for the change in topic. "How's the escape going?"
"Not well," Daniel said, still keying in lock combinations.
Xander looked around and saw Teal'c keeping watch through the bars and then noticed Sam Carter with her back propped against a wall, looking wrecked.
"She all right?" he asked the colonel in an undertone.
"Better off than you were when they brought you back," O'Neill answered. "She really did a number on you."
"I pissed her off," Xander shrugged. "I'm good at that. Should I be, helping with something? My whole body hurts but I'm not much good with the sitting around doing nothing while in grave peril thing."
"We can't do anything until we get the door open. How's it coming, Daniel?' O'Neill asked the archaeologist.
"I've been methodically trying every combination possible but none of them have worked yet," he answered.
"Couldn't you just, short it out?" Xander asked.
"Sure we could," Carter answered, eyes closed, "if we had something besides our fingernails to get the panel open with and something to short it out with that won't electrocute whoever's doing it. And if they ran on electricity, which they don't."
"Oh." Xander thought about it. "Would a knife help?"
She opened her eyes to shoot him a 'duh' look. "Of course it would, but we've been disarmed."
Xander smiled at her and reached into his boot, pulling out a short and thin blade. "It's mostly silver," he said apologetically, "but there's enough steel that it should work."
She stared at him briefly, her lips pursed and her eyes thoughtful. "I…don't wanna know, do I?" she asked.
"Probably not," he agreed. "What?" he asked of the other three, who were staring at him as if he'd grown a second head.
"Where did you get this?" O'Neill asked taking the weapon and examining it.
"I always carry it. Why?'
"How did they not find it when they searched you?" O'Neill demanded.
"It's really small, and it was in my boot. What? The cops at home really don't like us. I got good at carrying concealed."
"I thought you said knives weren't very useful?" Jack demanded.
Xander blew out a breath. "It's blessed, and silver, and steel. Most things only react to one of those three. Makes it a useful backup weapon or extra cross if I need it."
"The guards return," Teal'c interrupted them.
The knife disappeared from Jack's hands and the colonel faced the door with a guilt-free expression. When they entered the cell, one of the guards covered O'Neill and the other two headed straight for Xander. The young man shook his head repeatedly.
"Not again," he pleaded. "Come on, guys." He struggled this time as they grabbed his arms and but they didn't even seem to notice as they dragged him from the room.
Jack lunged at the guards hauling Xander away and got a staff to the knee, his bad knee, for the trouble. The colonel went down with a grunt of pain, grabbing his knee.
"Sir?" Carter got up and went to his side.
"Ungh," Jack grunted in reply, waiting for the pain to subside a little. "How come they always hit the same damned knee?"
"Can you still walk?" Daniel asked, looking worried.
Jack, half on his side, flexed his knee a few times and winced as each movement pulled at injured cartilage and muscles. "I won't be going fast. Someone's gonna have to carry the kid if he comes back unconscious again."
"I can do it," Daniel volunteered.
"As can I, O'Neill," Teal'c volunteered.
"Do you still have the knife, sir?" Carter asked.
Jack produced it and handed it over to her. She examined it, nodding in reluctant approval, and handed it to Daniel. The archaeologist was almost as good as she was by now at jimmying Goa'uld equipment and she was still pretty woozy from her turn under the hand-device.
She might have been a little out of it but that didn't mean she hadn't been paying attention. Her CO's focus on recruiting the Harris boy had seemed strange from the beginning and had only seemed stranger when the colonel insisted on bringing the kid along on a mission. She knew it all somehow had to do with Sunnydale and with the events he and Daniel refused to talk about that had resulted in their driving away with a sealed Goa'uld sarcophagus in a stolen Army truck. Neither of which had ever been reported stolen.
She and Janet had speculated several times in the intervening months about why Colonel O'Neill had asked for the records on so those kids and why their searches had been shut off so abruptly and finally from Washington. Jack and Daniel had refused point-blank to talk about it once they'd turned in their, apparently doctored, reports.
Jack had seemed less surprised than gleeful about Harris' shooting and physical fitness scores, and the looks he'd exchanged with the kid had been similar to ones he often exchanged with Daniel when they were talking about Ra or Sha're. Specifically, when something they'd left out of the original report came back to bite them in ass.
Daniel had been peppering the kid with questions about something for most of the first half of the hike and the only thing that usually kept the archaeologist interested for that long at a stretch was something within his field. And since when does a slacker kid a) join an archaeology club and b) learn ancient, long-dead languages by doing so.
Then he started having combat flashbacks in his sleep, and not for the first time given Jack's reaction. If that weren't enough, it turned out he carried concealed as a matter of course. And that was just his backup weapon. She'd thought that meant he was in a gang until the rest of what he'd said had registered.
"Why was it important for the knife to be silver? And blessed?" she asked.
Her question was met with slightly worried looks from Daniel and Jack. Teal'c looked briefly away from his watch outside the door to ask a question of his own.
"He spoke of things that would react to those elements, presumably in its use as a weapon. Did he refer to creatures of some sort? What is the importance of the cross that an extra might be necessary?"
"It's a religious symbol on earth," Sam explained when neither Jack nor Daniel looked like they were going to give an answer.
"Is Xander Harris particularly religious?" Teal'c asked. "He did not seem so to me."
"He's not, that I ever saw," Jack admitted. "It's a thing with him and his friends. A--"
"Safety blanket?" Teal'c filled in for the colonel.
Jack narrowed his eyes at the former Jaffa. "You were awake last night, while we were talking?"
"My kel'no'reem is not deep enough to be uninterrupted by late night conversations," Teal'c admitted. "What is this 'mouth of hell' he spoke of?"
"Ah," Jack said. He and Daniel exchanged an entire conversation in a couple of glances.
"We could tell you," Daniel admitted. "But you, ah, wouldn't believe us."
"There are stories among my people of creatures that appear as Goa'uld, with golden eyes and the strength of ten Jaffa," Teal'c countered. "They are often brutal and sadistic and joy in the torture and killing of humans. But, unlike the Goa'uld, they are banished to the night and may not enter even the quarters of the lowliest slave without an invitation. And they are said to wear the faces of our dead."
"That sounds like –" Sam started.
"Vampires," Daniel and Jack chorused the last word with her.
"Maybe he would believe us," Jack said to Daniel with a shrug. He looked at their teammates and then back at the archaeologist. "We might as well tell them."
"If you say so," Daniel said, unconvinced. "But if they try to get us committed again, I'm gonna deny everything."
"You and me both," Jack shrugged.
There was silence for a moment as Daniel looked expectantly at Jack and the colonel shook his head and gestured for the other man to get started.
Daniel glared at him before turning to the other two. "All right. This is what really happened in Sunnydale…"
9. The Great Escapes
A/N: I've rated this 18. It kinda disturbs me, and I wrote it.
They took him to a different room this time and Xander wasn't sure if that was a good sign or a bad one until they arrived and he got a look at the place. That was when he decided it was the worst possible thing after torture.
This room was still more or less gold all over but the walls were draped with fabric in shades of white and gold and in the center of the room was a huge bed with sheets of white trimmed with gold stitching. And in the center of the bed, wearing a draped length of sheer fabric that only nominally qualified as a dress, Nilea was lounging.
Xander gulped and looked anywhere but at her. I can't get a date with a normal girl for love or money, he thought to himself. What is it about me that attracts the scary chics?
"Bring him to me," she commanded. "Then leave us."
They grabbed Xander roughly by the arms and hauled forward until he was next to the bed. Brute force applied to his shoulders put him on his knees, head still determinedly down, and then he heard the goons clunk off.
How in seven hells did guys that make that much noise sneak up on us? The irrelevant thought crossed Xander's mind as he tried to keep his mind on anything except what he knew was coming. Of course, it only worked until Nilea's hand took hold of his chin and forced him to look at her.
"That's better." She smiled at him, her eyes deceptively warm. "I am going to assume that you have kept your eyes lowered out of respect, but if I did not want my body appreciated, I would wear more coverings. Keep it in mind."
Don't you mean your host's body? Xander thought rebelliously, even while he nodded in pretend submission. As he swallowed nervously, the young man resolved to keep his eyes glued to her face as much as possible. If he hadn't known for certain that she was evil, he would have admitted to finding her really attractive.
They were alone in the room, but the guards were presumably still within calling distance, so he was only going to have one shot at getting out of this. His best chance not to miss an opportunity was to keep his mind clear, however much his body wanted to do otherwise. The last time he'd let an inconvenient attraction dictate his actions, he'd lost his girlfriend and nearly lost his best friend since kindergarten. Not ever again.
"Vampires?" Sam couldn't keep the skepticism out of her voice. Not that she was trying very hard.
"You heard us," her CO grumbled.
"Yeah," she agreed. "But…Vampires?" There was a plaintive note to her voice this time. "Really?"
"Would we lie to you?" O'Neill asked disingenuously.
She was spared having to answer as Daniel rolled his eyes.
"Jack," the archaeologist chided.
"Daniel." It was the verbal equivalent of a shrug.
Sam had never entirely understood how two such different men could have entire conversations using only each other's names; a verbal shorthand apparently developed over the course of a single mission. At least the interruption saved her from having to call her CO a liar to his face.
"I know how it sounds, Sam," Daniel said to her. "Believe me, I know. And it's not like we have any proof on hand, but I swear to you: we're not making this up."
"And it's up to a bunch of teenagers to stop them?" she asked incredulously.
"Well, they're not all teenagers," Jack pointed out. "There's that Giles guy. And the computer teacher."
"What about their parents? Or the police?"
"As far as we could tell, none of their parents knew," Daniel said.
"Or would have cared," Jack muttered. "And they didn't seem to think much of the cops. That Giles guy kept having to remind them that some things would be police problems."
Sam was quiet for a few moments, thinking hard. She had so far managed to suppress her instinctive reactions of you've got to be kidding and that's crazy, but that was only because they'd denied both charges before they even started explaining.
"Well?" O'Neill demanded an answer.
She sighed. "I want to believe you. Just…vampires? How does that even work? What about rigor mortis? And how come they don't start decomposing? And why blood and not, spinal fluid or something? And—" she cut herself off with a helpless shrug.
"Did I call it, or what?" O'Neill asked Daniel, openly gloating.
"You did," the archaeologist conceded reluctantly. "What if we could prove it to you?" he asked Sam.
"I thought you said you didn't have any on hand," she pointed out. "Unless you're gonna tell me that you're a vampire. That it's only Earth's sun that can hurt you or something?"
"Sam," Daniel sighed, exasperated.
"How would that make any sense?" Jack asked. "Sunlight's sunlight, whatever sun it's from. Except on those couple of planets."
"How do vampires make any sense?" she countered, standing.
"There are things we have encountered in our travels that your science could not explain," Teal'c pointed out, apparently having accepted Jack and Daniel's story for truth.
"Well…" she stalled. "Yeah. I guess. But it was always still, some kind of – technology."
"And therefore scientifically explainable?" Daniel asked.
"At least in theory," Jack said unhelpfully, his tone slightly mocking.
"Yes!" she answered, ignoring their tones.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," Jack countered. At his team's surprised looks, he added, "What? I read."
"You never answered my question," Daniel pointed out to Sam, re-directing the conversation. "If, when we get back, we could prove it to you?"
"Can you?" she asked, starting to lose her skepticism in light of their united front of belief.
"There were plenty in Sunnydale," Jack murmured. "If I hadn't dusted a couple myself, I wouldn't believe me either. I bet we could find one if we went looking."
"For now, how about we settle for suspension of disbelief?" Daniel offered a compromise.
"I would be most intrigued to encounter one of these…vampires," Teal'c said. "Most Jaffa consider them to be no more than a myth used to frighten children or justify an unreasoning fear of the darkness."
"When we get home," Sam said. "We'll see what happens. If you think you can prove it, I'll give you a chance to. For now, let's go with suspension of disbelief and work on actually getting home."
They were all grateful for the change of subject. Except Jack.
"We're not going anywhere without the kid," Jack insisted. "We don't make our move until we bring him back."
"You sure they're going to?" Sam asked, concerned.
"My Lord Apophis cares only to acquire SG-1," Nilea was saying. She'd switched positions to lie on her front, face to face with Xander where he was still kneeling next to the bed. Her eyes were warm and she had a happy little smile on her face as she contemplated him. "You, he cares about not at all. He's promised you to me."
Xander tried to control his expression but some of his panic at the thought must have slipped through. Luckily for him, she interpreted it as fear of Apophis rather than of what would happen to Xander if SG-1 was gone. He really didn't know the iris codes, once SG-1 was gone there would be no more chances for him to get home unless someone came for him.
"Do not worry," she said reassuringly, running a hand softly down his cheek. "He will not change his mind. You will always have a place of honour, here at my side. And in my bed."
Oh, bad bad bad bad bad, Xander thought, the litany running through his mind even as his back-brain began to form a plan.
She was buying his act as a good little slave, which was odd since he'd been so mouthy while she was torturing him and bad guys didn't usually buy the sudden personality change.
Unless they were really arrogant, which the Goa'uld in general had already proved they were, or also crazy, which this one definitely was. Going with his survival instincts, which had always been strong, Xander went with the only plan he had, and leaned his face against her palm where it still rested on his cheek. He smiled at her, forcing it to reach his eyes.
Jack O'Neill paced the cell, ignoring the pain of his wounded knee in favour of the movement that would clear his head. He cared about Xander, liked the kid, and felt responsible for his being here. It was absolutely not acceptable to leave him here. But they were running out of time before Apophis arrived and they were guaranteed to be split up once that happened. Carter was right, and Jack knew it; it was starting to look like the guards weren't bringing Xander back. They had to move, and soon, or they'd lose the chance to move at all.
He stopped moving and turned to his team, absently rubbing his knee. "Get the door open," Jack ordered. "We're getting out of here. We get our stuff, we get the kid, we get back home. That's the plan. Any questions?"
Far from that, they looked relieved to have action to take and Carter began fiddling with the exposed door panel crystals. Daniel moved to keep an eye out the door, watching for guards. Teal'c moved over to Jack's side and placed a silently supportive hand on the colonel's shoulder.
Xander broke off the kiss and murmured into Nilea's ear. "You seem tense, my lady."
"Oh?" she asked, pulling away slightly, eyes half-lidded. It was a familiar look for Xander. She was testing him and he'd have to pick his phrasing very carefully. If he'd learned anything from Cordelia, and from hanging around the girls, it was that this would be a bad point in time to mention any other girl.
"There's this thing we do on Earth," he said. He knew he sounded nervous and while it was actually because he wasn't sure she'd fall for this, he also knew it wouldn't hurt his chances because she'd already shown that she'd assume whatever was the most flattering to her. "When someone is tense because of, say, all the pressures on their shoulders –"
He caught the flat look she was giving him and frantically rewound his words to see where he'd gone wrong. Pressures, he realized. She would not take well to the implication that she found anything difficult, especially not if it was something humans also felt.
"Not that, that that's the only reason," he stuttered, "or that I would ever compare you to anyone from home, but I'm guessing even gods feel tension sometimes. Not that us mortals could ever understand the reasons." Her smile came back out like the blinding sun and Xander breathed a little sigh of relief. "But there's this thing, called a ne-uh," probably she wouldn't be keen on her having her actual little snaky body in the neck handled, "shoulder rub, that can help to…make someone feel better. Relax. It can be part of what we call, foreplay."
Xander could feel himself blushing, talking about this stuff. It wasn't like he had a lot of practice, but it was the only way he could think of to get himself into a position to escape. If she called out, he was screwed, and probably dead. And if he failed the first time, he wouldn't get a second chance. The only equivalent he could think of for her strength and speed were slayers, or vampires; which meant she couldn't see it coming or she'd have time to react. He needed to take her out from close in and behind.
She smiled like a cat that had gotten into the cream, practically purring, and Xander knew he had her even before she spoke. "How…civilized you Tau'ri have gotten over the years." She kissed him, lingeringly. "I'm so glad you saw the advantages of becoming my consort. These shoulder rubs of yours sound," she giggled, "divine."
Moving behind her, Xander resisted the urge to roll his eyes. In a room with this many reflective surfaces, he wasn't going to take a chance on whether or not she'd be able to see it. He kneeled next to her and flexed his fingers before beginning at the outer edges of her shoulders. It was Cordelia that had taught him to do this, insisting that if he was going to be the root of her stress then he could damn well learn something useful to help her relax. He slid his fingers over the skin of shoulders and began pressing down, finding and releasing knots of tension. He started with the outsides of her shoulders, not sure how she'd react to his hands near her neck, since that was where the actual Goa'uld was.
She sighed happily as he went to work on the deeper muscles around her shoulder blades and Xander let his mind shut down, concentrating solely on the job at hand while he waited for his subconscious to come up with a second half to its brilliant plan. Preferably before the foreplay turned into, well, play.
"Got it," Carter said triumphantly, as the door locks released and the doors themselves opened.
Jack nodded a 'good job' at her and took point down the hallway as Carter replaced the cover over the door controls. Daniel was behind him and Teal'c waited until Carter was done, silently taking their six. Having done this before, they knew their stuff would likely all be in the armoury. Since most Goa'uld weren't actually interested in their 'inferior' technology, they didn't bother to sort things out, just dumped it wherever was handiest.
They moved silently down the corridor, sticking to the edges behind the pillars where they were least likely to be spotted; Jack and Daniel on the left, Teal'c and Carter on the right. They slowed as they reached an intersection and heard the heavy footsteps of Jaffa in full battle armour. It didn't sound like there were more than two of them and Jack gestured his team into ambush positions so they could at least get themselves armed.
Teal'c took one, Jack took the other one, while Sam and Daniel kept watch both ways for anyone else coming down the corridor. It was an unfortunately familiar routine and they all knew what to do, just as they had all long ago memorized the layout of a ha'tak. So it was kind of a shock when Jack broke the routine once they'd disposed of the guards bodies.
"Teal'c, you, Carter and Daniel get our stuff back," he ordered. "Then get out. We'll meet you at the Gate. I'm going after the kid."
"Not alone, you're not," the archaeologist argued. "I'm going with you."
"Daniel, we don't have time to argue."
"Good. Let's go."
"Sir, Daniel's right," Carter interjected. "One of us should go with you."
Jack stopped himself before he actually growled but only just. "Fine. Carter, with me. Daniel, go with Teal'c. T? Try to keep him out of trouble."
The warrior nodded solemnly and they all moved out.
Xander had moved his hands gradually closer to her neck and she wasn't objecting. He knew what he had to do now, just wasn't sure he could go through with it. His soldier memories, which had been so active in the last few days and more active than usual since as far back as Graduation, had provided part of the answer. The other part had, surprisingly, come from the remnants of the Primal Hyena that had never quite left after its possession of him.
Humans were animals, had once been as fair a prey as any other mammal until they got too dangerous and stopped being an easy meal. The memory was there and along with SoldierBoy gave Xander a disturbingly good idea of exactly how to kill a person quickly and silently. He just wasn't sure he could do it in cold blood.
He'd killed before, more often than most people, even his friends, would have believed; but never a human in cold blood. If someone was a genuine threat to his friends, had tried to or was going to kill them, that was one thing but this… He'd killed vampires before and they looked human but they weren't. They were demon-animated corpses and the people whose bodies they were had moved on, with one exception.
And this woman was an alien. Except she wasn't. Because the Goa'uld were like vampires, but they weren't. The host was still there inside. He didn't feel anything but cold rage when he thought of killing the Goa'uld, same as he felt about vampires. But he couldn't stop seeing the host in the young woman sighing under his hands.
If I had been possessed by a murderous psychotic alien in my brainstem, who'd been torturing people in front of me for maybe hundreds of years, killing and hurting strangers and people I love—Xander stopped that train of thought and re-phrased – If I'd been possessed by Angelus and knew there was no way out except to die, what would I want? Death.
Can I do this? He looked deep into himself and, past the horror at the idea of deliberately taking an innocent life to get the alien who was possessing her, felt the hole in his own conscience that told him he could. It was that same emptiness inside himself that had allowed him to lie to Buffy about Angel being re-souled.
Should I do this? The answer, if was honest, was: Only the host can answer that but if it was me? Absolutely, yes.
Do I have any other choice? The answer: Not unless I want to be this psycho's love-slave until she gets bored with me. I don't want to know what happens when she gets bored with me, 'cause it probably won't be pretty. And then there's the risk of me acquiring a snake at some point.
And the thought of being possessed again, by an evil being that just happened to be an alien, and being forced to watch helplessly as his body terrorized and killed people. It turned out that that was what it took to turn Alexander Lavelle Harris into a killer.
He massaged up the sides of her neck, avoiding touching the moving lump of the Goa'uld as much as possible. When his hands were in the correct positions, Xander found that empty place inside his soul and let it fill him. He snapped her neck.
He was still dealing with that a second later when he realized that the Goa'uld was still moving under the skin and he remembered that they didn't always die with the host. He had to kill it before it could heal her, if it could, or, worse, tried to take him as a host. Looking around frantically, wishing for his own knife that he given to O'Neill, he spotted something that looked usable on what had to be a vanity table. It was a set of four of what looked like those chopstick-things Buffy and Cordelia had both occasionally worn in their hair.
He tripped over the sheets on his way but managed to roll and scrambled the rest of the way, glad at least that he had all his clothes on or this would be much too close to a bedroom farce where the lover runs off as the husband walks in. He fumbled two of his potential weapons off the tabletop, scattering the others to the floor in the process.
The Goa'uld had twisted itself around and was just breaking through the skin at the back of the neck when Xander ran over and plunged first one, then the second of the hair-things into its open mouth and up into its head.
Breathing heavily, he stared at the two corpses in front of him and felt grief for the host but only satisfaction at the death of the thing that had tortured him and SG-1 and probably hundreds of others. After a few moments his eyes moved to the door and back to the bodies on the bed. If anyone but SG-1 walked in now, and the odds of that were low, he was a dead man.
He swallowed hard, pushing down the bile alongside the feelings of guilt and grief, and moved the human body so that she was lying on her back on the bed. He rested her head on the pillows, tucking the mini-snakezoid out of sight (doing his best to leave the chopsticks in, in case it turned out that the damn thing could regenerate somehow). When he was satisfied that she would pass as still alive to a casual glance, he tucked the covers around the body and gently closed her eyelids.
He found himself whispering an apology as he did.
He looked around, finally relaxing enough to take in the whole room and realized that he could only see one door and it was the one that there were guards on the other side of. How the hell am I gonna get outta here?
10. Running Blind
Xander looked again at the door before letting his gaze sweep the main room. He tried not to let his eyes rest on the body- bodies- on the bed even though that was where they wanted to linger.
I've seen dead bodies before, he reminded himself.
Not ones you made that way, whispered his conscience. He wrenched his mind away from the thought and forced himself to take his eyes off the bed and think.
The room fit the personality of the parasite, right? And the damn things were paranoid as hell… Is it still paranoia if they really are out to get you? Fine. Distrustful, then. Either way, if this was where she slept, no way was there only the one door.
The walls, fabric-draped as they were, could hold any number of concealed exits. He moved to the far wall, brushed the fabric aside and began searching.
Jack led the way from memory until they reached the room in which they had each been so recently interrogated. It was empty when they entered, the tools of the trade laid out neatly to one side of the room, including the hand device. That was unusual. The Goa'uld usually kept that particular toy on at all times, seeing it as a personal weapon as much as anything. That meant wherever Nilea, and therefore Xander, were she didn't think she'd need protection from him. Jack didn't even want to think about what that could mean, except that when they found her at least she might be vulnerable.
"They're not here," Carter said, turning to face Jack.
"What was your first clue?" the colonel growled.
She made a face at him; the one that made it clear he wasn't helping and could they please just get this done without the sarcasm. And his 2IC was right. As usual. Dammit.
"Well then, where are they?" Jack asked, more to himself than because he expected Carter to know. "We don't have that long before Apophis gets here and they realize we're gone."
"Yeah," she agreed. "But unless she's a queen and has a spawning room, I'm out of ideas."
There was a sound at the door, and both their eyes turned that way.
"Then let's ask someone," Jack said quietly, indicating that they should find cover.
The boy that walked in wasn't a Jaffa, didn't look like any kind of warrior, and so must have been some kind of servant. They ambushed him after he'd closed the door behind him, Carter distracting the guy while Jack snuck up behind him. The servant froze at the feel of a pain stick, off, at the back of his neck. Jack had swiped it from the table when they'd hidden.
"Where's Xander?" Jack growled.
"W-w-Who?" the boy stuttered.
"The boy, the kid that was captured with us," Jack clarified.
"Nilea had him taken from his cell," Carter said. "And brought to her. Where?"
Jack prodded him.
"I don't know!" the boy finally got out the complete sentence.
"Take a guess," Jack said, his tone dead level.
The boy had eventually spilled the location she sometimes…entertained young men that had recently come into her service. Jack had forced him, at zat point this time, to take them there. They'd approached cautiously and Jack had knocked their informant out before they got in sight of the guards. They'd stuffed the unconscious young man in a room about the size of a broom closet and had decided to take the walk-straight-up approach to dealing with the guards.
The stepped out around the corner and walked forward, apparently deep in conversation. They kept it up until the one of the guards eventually shouted at them.
"What?" Jack asked, as though he'd only just noticed the guards. "Oh, hi. Listen, her ladyship asked for us, so you know."
The misdirection made the guards hesitate for just long enough. Four blasts in a row from Jack's weapon and there were two dead guards in front of her door. The two Air Force officers relieved the guards of their more portable weapons and another set of zat blasts ensured there was no evidence left.
They entered the room, weapons at the ready, only to find the Goa'uld there, apparently fast asleep, and no sign of Harris.
"Where is he?" Jack barked at the woman. It should have been loud enough to wake her. Hell, their entrance should have been loud enough to wake her, but she didn't stir. They paused, thrown off by the lack of reaction.
Carter edged forward, closer to the Goa'uld, while Jack hung back keeping his weapon trained on her.
"Carter." The colonel murmured the warning out of the corner of his mouth.
"I don't think she's breathing," the major murmured back, warily.
"What?" Not something he'd expected her to say.
Not answering, the major reached out carefully to put her hand on the pulse point at the alien's throat. At the contact Nilea's head rolled bonelessly to one side and Carter recoiled reflexively at the sight of the dead and still double-skewered corpse of the snake, partially trapped within its dead host.
"Carter?" Jack asked urgently. Still standing back with his weapon trained on Nilea, he couldn't see what had put that disgusted look on his 2IC's face.
"They're dead," she answered, eyes wide and still locked on the pair of corpses. "They're both dead. You don't think…? How would he have even…?" She finally looked over at him, her shocked disbelief evident.
When he met Carter's eyes, Jack could see the thoughts the major didn't want to articulate. He thought back to the bleak despair in Xander's eyes when he'd woken from his dreams - memories - earlier, and he thought about the battle fatigue that the eighteen-year-old only leaked out in occasional slips. He thought about the kinds of things a man would have to be willing to do, to have done, to stay alive not just in a war zone but on the front lines of a war against creatures as strong and fast as the aliens he was familiar with. And then he thought about the things he had done, had been prepared to do, to survive a similar experience in Iraq all those years ago.
Carter, Jack knew, had seen all those thoughts cross his mind before he looked away, back at the body – bodies – on the bed.
"I don't know exactly how," Jack said softly, "but, yeah, I do think."
God, kid, I'm so sorry. I got you into this, told you you'd be safer than at home, and then this happens. Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.
"He's loose, just like us," Jack added. "Probably looking for us. We need to get back to the cell. Or at least get on the path between the cells and the front door."
"How did he sneak past the guards?"
"I don't know, Carter," Jack said, exasperated. "When we catch up to him, why don't you ask?"
At his signal she headed out into the corridor ahead of him. Jack stopped at the door and took another look at the thoroughly dead Goa'uld on the bed.
"If we catch up," he muttered as he followed Carter out. So much for a rescue. At this rate they'd catch up to the kid at the 'Gate and that was only because Harris didn't have the Iris Codes.
Xander could not believe these guards. They marched down the corridors making the most possible noise and never looked left or right despite the fact that there were alcoves every couple of feet that might as well have been designed for people to hide in. At least it made getting around unseen relatively easy. He didn't quite trust it, though. Surely some of them must have an idea of the holes in their security.
He'd figured out where he was in relation to the cells by finding the front door to Nilea's room and tracking back. There had been no one there and the door-control crystals on their former cell were still exposed, meaning SG-1 had probably escaped. That was good and bad. Good because at least they were all free now, bad because they were separated and Xander didn't know the team well enough to be able to predict their actions. O'Neill would probably look for him but Xander didn't have time to wait around for the colonel to find him. Not with guards running all over the place and a dead 'goddess' likely to be discovered at any moment.
If they couldn't find him, Xander had to assume that the team would head for the gate and hopefully they'd assume the same about him. So the trick now would be to get out of here, Xander thought on his way out of the cell block. Wonder how I do that? He almost started laughing. If it wasn't one thing, it was another.
He decided to follow the guards. They couldn't all be interior patrols, after all, some of them had be going somewhere; with all those guards in the woods and at the 'gate there had to be changeover. A group would lead him to the exit eventually, likely faster than blundering around on his own would find one, he could only hope that he found the right group before that Pop-Tart guy turned up. From the way SG-1 had reacted, that guy was bad news, stupid name or not.
His first efforts at following a Jaffa group led him to a room full of weapons, an armory. They must have been coming in after a patrol because they left the room still in uniform but without staff weapons. Xander decided since the gods had seen fit to provide him with weapons, he might as well arm himself. He waited until they were all gone and then a little longer to be sure the coast was clear before sneaking in. The door needed a code but it didn't seem to be a secret and he'd had a clear view of the patrol leader entering it.
The room had closets, presumably where the weapons were stashed, and table on which a few zats and a staff weapon had been partially disassembled. Probably broken. With no knobs on the closet doors it took Xander some time to figure out how get them open but he finally got his hands on some working zats. He'd have tried for a staff weapon but they were big and hard to hide and he didn't think they'd let him keep it back on Earth anyway.
He took two of the little energy weapons, one as a backup. His heart was pounding a mile a minute with the fear of discovery, not only of himself but of SG-1's escape or Nilea's death. This room would flood with Jaffa in either case as they increased patrols to try to round all five escapees up again. Not to mention avenge the death of their goddess. It was somehow more nerve-wracking to be in an empty room than out in the corridors with all the Jaffa. That probably had to do with this room only having the one exit. At least out in the halls there were potential escape routes.
Now armed, the teen stood in the shadows beside the door and listened for the heavy clump-clump-clump of Jaffa combat boots in the corridor. How did they sneak up on us, is what I'd like to know? Xander thought to himself. Not exactly subtle, these guys. It's embarrassing, is what it is.
He risked opening the door and peered cautiously around the doorframe, eying the corridor with disfavor. It was clear, so he got moving. Assuming the guys he'd followed had been coming in from patrol, Xander traced their route back to where he thought he'd picked them up and waited for an armed and armored patrol to go past the other way. He wasn't actually completely sure he was in the same place because the halls all looked more or less the same everywhere he'd been so far. Still, without a map this was his best option. Sigh. He settled down to wait.
The kid hadn't been at the cells or on the route in between. Which meant he'd either been and gone, was somewhere behind them, or had gotten completely lost and was wandering aiml— no, not aimlessly, blindly. If it was option #1, and Jack would put money on it, the teen would likely be trying to find an exit. Xander knew that the rendezvous point if they got separated was the 'gate. Jack didn't need Carter to tell him that wandering around a hostile ship trying to find someone whose destination or route you couldn't predict was a lost cause. With Apophis approaching they had to get to the 'gate and hope that either the kid could get himself there or that they'd run into him on the way. Dammit.
With an irritated sigh the colonel lead the way towards the transport rings that would get them out of the ha'tak.
They were about halfway there when they turned the corner and surprised a patrol of Jaffa coming the other way. The patrol group had paused for some reason, which was why neither USAF officer had heard them. It didn't take either group long to react and the shooting started even as Jack and Carter both dove for cover, one to either side of the hallway.
Xander stayed frozen in place, hidden in a side-corridor around the corner from the group of guards he'd been following. He'd been about to give up and move to another location when this group had gone clumping by, armed and ready. He only hoped that he'd been right in his assumption about the general direction of the exit. He'd frozen just now because they'd stopped abruptly up ahead, almost as if they knew they were being followed. They couldn't have seen him because he'd been following the sound of their combat boots rather than risk getting caught.
As the seconds ticked by he started to worry that maybe he was being an idiot. Maybe the exit wasn't a door but some kind of technology thing that didn't make noise and was at the end of the corridor just up ahead. Maybe they were gone and he'd missed his chance to watch how to work the stupid thing. He started to inch forward, ignoring the bad feeling that he had about this move. He stopped before he actually got to the corner when the sound of zat and staff-weapon fire reached his ears. He flinched instinctively before realizing that it wasn't aimed at him. It was too much to hope that the alien soldiers had turned on each other, which could only mean it was SG-1 getting shot at.
With the guards distracted Xander risked a quick look around the corner and caught a flash of blond hair behind a pillar on the right side of the corridor and an equally brief glimpse of the colonel's gray opposite. He saw no sign of Teal'c or Daniel and wondered briefly if those two would need to be rescued or if the team had simply split up to achieve some tactical goal.
He thanked whoever'd been listening to his more or less continuous prayer for aid and then took the second zat out of his waistband, preparing to start taking out the bad guys from behind. It took him a moment of fumbling to get both guns comfortably settled in his palms. He did not want to risk dropping the weapons in the middle of a shootout.
This is stupid, the selfish part of his mind whispered. They're soldiers, they can take care of themselves.
That doesn't mean I shouldn't help if I can. I am not my father, Xander countered. That, as always, was the winning argument. His own fear of turning into another Tony Harris, a selfish bystander, was what had propelled him into the world of vampires and demons. It was a secret that he was pretty sure no else had yet realized. His fear of himself would always be greater than his fear of anything they faced.
The others thought he fought for Jesse's memory and that was partly true but not completely. Death was easy. Living as a better person than you knew you were deep inside, that was hard.
With a deep breath Xander walked out from behind the corner and opened fire. There were only six of the Jaffa but they had ducked for cover just as O'Neill and Carter had, so that the two team members had no clear shots at their enemies. Only one of the aliens was facing the rear and Xander aimed at him first, two zat blasts put him down. The teen began to methodically aim at the other Jaffa, one by one, sending a double energy blast in the direction of each. He hit the rearguard and one other. More importantly, his unexpected attack had the effect of sending the remaining Jaffa moving for cover against him. That put the enemy soldiers in the sights of Carter and O'Neill, who took out the remaining four between them.
There was a pause after the shooting stopped and then O'Neill and Carter both emerged from their respective sides of the hallway. O'Neill raised an eyebrow at him while the major refused to meet his eyes, looking with a troubled expression at the bodies now littering the hallway. Xander smiled wide at them both, delighted to see them regardless of their reactions.
"Boy, am I glad to see you guys," he said with relief.
Jack looked around at the bodies of the Jaffa patrol that Xander's distraction had helped to defeat. "Isn't that my line?" the colonel asked.
"Yeah, except… do you have any idea how much of the same this place is?" Xander demanded plaintively. "I have no idea where I am and even less of one on how to get out of here. And all this gold is giving me a headache. Can we leave now? Please?"
Jack clapped the teen on the shoulder as he walked by to lead the two to the exit. "You did good, kid. Let's go home."
It wasn't that easy, of course, even though it seemed for a little while like it might be. Their escape ran smoothly at first. Xander geeked out slightly at the ring transporter but managed to catch most of the Star Trek references before they made it past his lips. They worked them using the wrist remote from the patrol leader they'd taken out earlier. Jack had appropriated it before they left the hallway. The way out through the temple was pretty much deserted and Xander wondered why until he saw a couple of Jaffa bodies slumped over in the shadows of a side hall and realized that O'Neill must have sent Daniel and Teal'c ahead to the 'gate. The teen had noticed their absence but hadn't had a chance to ask yet. It also explained why the ring transporter hadn't been guarded, either.
The lack of obstacles didn't last, though. They'd only just made it to the tree line when the temple began to spit out groups of Jaffa like swarms of angry, armored bees. Xander almost didn't notice them at first, having glanced back to get a better look at the alien ship parked, weirdly, on top of the temple. In the pictures the temple had had a triangular roof and he wondered, not for the first time, about the intelligence of the aliens who styled themselves gods. Given the amount of unusable space you'd have to design into the center of the ship in order to park it like that, the whole thing seemed not only dumb but dangerously impractical.
You'd need a lot of people to run a ship like that, Xander mused. You'd have to have separate repair crews for separate parts of the ship.
His train of thought was cut short by some creative curses from O'Neill. Xander glanced at the colonel and followed his line of sight to see the Jaffa beginning to accumulate outside the temple door.
"Uh, oh," he murmured without thinking. "Guess they found her."
"Or they checked the cells and found us gone," O'Neill said. "Or both."
"Probably both," Xander replied.
"You're too young to be such a pessimist, kid. Leave that to the professionals."
"Yes, sir," Xander mock-saluted him. "What now?"
"Get to the 'gate," O'Neill said. "And fast."
11. Flights of Escape
They moved through the woods as quickly as they could, sacrificing stealth for speed in a gamble to get to the 'gate before the Jaffa boiling out of the temple could close their search net and block them from getting home at all. Hoping like Hell that Daniel and Teal'c were already there waiting for them, possibly even already in control of the Stargate itself. It had been lightly guarded and the two men, with stealth on their side, were more than a match for a few Jaffa.
As they ran, Xander noticed Carter glancing at him sidelong. Her eyes had the same troubled look that they had when she'd refused to meet his eyes back in the ship's hallway. Neither Air Force officer had yet asked how he'd gotten away from Nilea or what he'd meant on seeing the massing Jaffa that they'd 'found' her. Her current expression, coupled with her previous irritation at his inclusion in the mission, told the teen that she'd seen or heard something that had made her re-evaluate her opinion of him.
O'Neill and Carter must have split from their teammates in order to rescue him. Their lack of curiosity about Xander's escape meant that they must have stumbled across Nilea's and her host's bodies. He had a feeling the major would be moving from troubled to angry fairly soon if she was anything like the other adults the Scoobies had ended up including in their nighttime activities. O'Neill had been pissed as hell at Giles and Ms. Calendar both for 'allowing' the teens to fight. It wasn't until the colonel had realized that Giles had had no choice that he'd forgiven him. The group of teens had made it clear, as soon Jack started, that they'd all made their own decisions. The young man wondered, without a Giles to lay the blame on, whether she'd be angry at Xander himself or find someone else. There was no question of not telling her now, he realized, his combat reactions demanded an explanation and lying would be too much work when he had people she trusted to vouch for him. But he needed to talk to O'Neill and Dr. J before they talked to her and Teal'c.
The two men had seemed to realize that some of the information they'd learned in Sunnydale wasn't theirs to tell. That was good, but Xander wanted to make sure that they realized: vampires and demons were one thing, the true identity of the Slayer was not their secret to tell, ever.
Xander pushed the worries to the back of his mind as he ran, concentrating on now and the problems he currently had. They seemed to be ahead of the Jaffa search net but, running as they were, they couldn't be sure how close the warriors were until they could see them over their shoulders. And the point of running was to make sure the Jaffa following never got that close.
The 'gate clearing seemed empty when they reached it; but then it had when they'd arrived, too, so that didn't tell them anything. The three circled the clearing, staying within the cover provided by the bushes growing all around. It wasn't a big clearing so their caution didn't cost them much time. They were three-quarters of the way around from where they'd started when a rustle up ahead put them all on alert.
O'Neill gestured for Xander to crouch down and wait, then the colonel and Carter split up to flank the area the noise had come from. A figure suddenly stood up in the middle of a copse of bushes and Xander's finger had started to tighten on the zat trigger before he realized it was Dr. Jackson. He felt himself sag with relief when Teal'c also appeared next to the archaeologist. That was everybody. The team members greeted each other happily and the two who'd been waiting in the bushes said that there had been a couple of Jaffa watching from near the trail but that they'd been dealt with.
O'Neill ordered them to wait and went into the clearing alone to dial the 'gate, leaving the rest of them to watch his back. That left Xander and Carter to give the other two men a quick update on the danger approaching from behind and the possible reasons for it. That was when Carter confirmed Xander's assumption that they'd found the bodies of Goa'uld queen and host while looking for the teen. Left to himself, Xander wouldn't have mentioned his own part in the escape. Nilea was dead and the five of them were now known to be missing, that was all the important information as far as he was concerned.
Not Carter. She didn't go into details, exactly, but she did say more about the situation than Xander thought was necessary. In a reversal of the usual, Dr. Jackson's face was the one that was hard to read while Teal'c actually looked slightly impressed. It wasn't that the archaeologist was wearing a blank face, it was just that his expression wasn't one Xander had seen before.
It didn't matter anyway because by the time they'd done with their summation, Jack had the 'gate open and was gesturing them forward. The colonel typed in the Iris code on the GDO he'd acquired from Dr. Jackson even as the other four ran for the open portal. They all kept their weapons out even as they ran, though Xander only held the one zat now. He'd tucked the other one away as soon as the firefight in the hall was finished. He was not ambidextrous and firing two at once had been a move of desperation.
They fled as though the Jaffa might start shooting from the woods any minute, though they seemed to have outrun their pursuit so far, there was no point in risking everything so close to success. They went through the 'gate in pairs, Jackson and Xander first, followed immediately by Carter and Teal'c. The last through was O'Neill.
Xander, still running as he went through the wormhole, stumbled on the other side, thrown off by the cold, the dizziness and the sudden change of surface material. The ramp, though he'd known it was there, caught him off guard while he was still off-balance and he fell, rolling to the bottom.
Very graceful, Xander, he congratulated himself sarcastically. Well done.
But he didn't bother to pick himself up yet, acutely aware of the men with big guns behind him who might have to start shooting if something followed them. The teen did not want to be in the way. He also hurt and there was no urgency now to keep moving.
The Iris slid closed at O'Neill's command and the 'gate, after a tense wait, disengaged without incident. The colonel's eyes found Xander immediately and the older man raised an eyebrow at seeing him on the ground.
"Ow," Xander enunciated into the sudden silence. He felt that that pretty much summed up his day so far.
"SG-1…and guest, report to the infirmary," Hammond's voice said over the intercom, "debriefing in two hours."
O'Neill looked up into the control booth and saluted casually, acknowledgment and greeting all in one, before striding over to offer Xander a hand up.
The teen took it gratefully, starting to feel his injuries as the adrenaline wore off. If it hurt this much already, Xander really hoped the doc had some awesome painkillers. He hadn't been kidding about the headache.
The visit to the CMO and her nurses involved more than bandaging their wounds. There had been needles and tests, including a full body MRI. That had been fun with his already pounding headache, though one of the nurses had been kind enough to give him some Tylenol it hadn't yet kicked in at that point. They'd also had to give a brief rundown of the mission to Fraser, specifically including details of technology that had been used on them and as well as how they'd gotten any other injuries. Fraser had given him a peculiar look when he'd admitted to goading the Goa'uld into slapping him because it hurt less. She also hadn't at first believed that he'd gotten away from the alien without anything sexual happening but she'd let it go when Xander insisted.
He'd met her eyes and held them for a moment. "Nothing happened. Really. I'm not being macho or anything, I swear. My two best friends are girls who can kick my ass, and have when I deserved it, there is no macho left. Trust me."
She'd seemed to believe him, then, and had moved on to other questions. There were things he didn't want to admit to, like killing Nilea and those two Jaffa, because he didn't want to dwell on it. He did tell her, though, because he knew the members of SG-1 would be answering the same questions and lying would only get him a longer stay here. They seemed nice, these people, but all of those he cared about were in Sunnydale or LA. However much he hated the Hellmouth and loved the idea of exploring the stars, danger and all, he couldn't abandon his friends now.
Once they'd been turned inside out medically, all five trooped up to the briefing room in which this whole little side-trip had started. Hammond was there, already seated, a stack of reports in front of him. The general waited for them to seat themselves before beginning.
"You came back early," the Texan stated, "and, according to Dr. Fraser, in desperate need of medical attention. What happened?"
So they told him. O'Neill started, outlining the mission right up until they woke up in the cell, making a point of telling the general that Xander had been the first to sense something wrong. Each team member had picked up the thread from when they'd been taken from the cell through to their return, if they remembered it. Xander did his best to downplay the severity of the torture. He did the same at Scooby meetings in an effort to prevent the girls from trying to sideline him again. It was second nature to the point that he didn't even think about it. Not until O'Neill slanted him a glance and a raised eyebrow once he'd finished. The colonel didn't say anything but the eye contact made Xander pay a little more attention to Carter's dispassionate recounting of her own experience. They'd all been subject to much the same treatment and Xander, reviewing his own words, realized just how much he'd glossed over the experience. He shrugged to himself. It wasn't behavior he'd be willing to change anytime soon, he was not going to be relegated to fray-adjacent again.
O'Neill did the narrating for the group in the cell after Xander's second departure, continued through splitting up and finding Nilea's body and up to the shootout in the corridor. Then the colonel prompted Xander through a recitation of the events that had taken place in the bedchamber and then through his mostly-blind wanderings through the interior of the alien ship up until the end of the firefight. The teen's attempts to leave out the unimportant, to him, details were useless under the group's questioning. Xander kept his eyes on the table, not wanting to see their expressions as he admitted to murdering a presumed innocent in order to kill the thing using her body.
Only the colonel and Dr. J, who had an idea of the life he'd lived since he was sixteen, stood a chance of understanding what had made him capable of doing it. The colonel wouldn't judge him, Xander was pretty sure. The others…it wasn't so much that he cared what they thought, they were virtual strangers after all, but they could make his life difficult if they chose. He wondered if he'd have to tell the general about vampires as well. Through the description of events Xander did his best to maintain the flat, neutral tone that O'Neill had used while reporting his side of things.
There were no editorial comments from anyone while the tale was being told. The only interruptions were questions, mostly requests for clarification about one aspect or the other of the mission. The teen listened interestedly to Daniel and Teal'c's report of their escape and to O'Neill's account of events after he and Carter had met up with Xander. The things the older man had noticed that had escaped Xander's attention were fascinating to the teen. And Carter chimed in where necessary about other things that she had noticed.
When they were done with recounting the mission, the questions and comments really started. The team's actions were analyzed and dissected, discussed and improved on with hindsight. Notes were made of ways to prevent the situation from happening to another team and praise was given as freely as criticism. Part of the definition of debriefing meant critique, Xander quickly realized.
The young man stayed silent for the most part, unless he was directly addressed or someone was in danger of getting something wrong. This was unusual for him but he'd gone back to the strategy of trying to be invisible. The team and their CO seemed willing to let him for the moment. It took hours and by the time they were done, Xander's headache had come back almost full force.
The teen was dismissed with the rest of team, only the colonel staying behind with Hammond to discuss some things further. The others dispersed with brief goodbyes and Dr. Jackson, the last to leave, offered to Xander that he'd probably be in his office if the young man wanted company. Xander had thanked the archaeologist but demurred, waiting for the man to leave before turning to the poor schmuck who'd been detailed to escort him around the base.
"Which way to the infirmary?"
Doc Fraser had been kind and understanding, for once not looking at him funny. She'd examined his pupils, again, told him to report to her if the headache was worse rather better in the morning and given him enough meds to last until then. He'd swallowed the first couple then and there with the glass of water she'd brought with her and then retreated to the room he'd been assigned.
He lay in the dark with his eyes closed until the pounding eased. He slipped into sleep without really noticing as he wondered what, when, who he was going to have spill some secrets to the next day.
12. Conversations with Non-Dead People
Jack O'Neill accepted the glass of scotch his CO handed to him without a word. They'd retreated to the general's office as soon as the team and Xander had left. The two sat in silence for a little bit, Jack having decided that letting Hammond have the first word would be the better part of valor in this case. That the general had resorted to the bottle he kept hidden in his office was a bad sign. That he'd given Jack a glass was a good one.
The two men sat in silence for a long moment.
"When I asked you a year ago whether or not I wanted to know what was really going on in Sunnydale, you said no. I believed you, Colonel," Hammond looked at him, as if for confirmation. Jack nodded, remembering.
"I still believe you," The general confided. "But I think this is past the point where what I want has to do with anything."
Jack reluctantly nodded his agreement with that assessment but waited for the base commander to ask the question they both knew was coming. The general surprised him.
"He killed a Goa'uld with his bare hands, Jack."
"I know, sir." And he couldn't help feeling just a little pride over the regret. Not sure now where his CO was going with this, Jack pointed out, "If he hadn't we might have still been there when Apophis got there."
"I'm not questioning his actions, Colonel," Hammond said with a heavy sigh. "He did the right thing in the circumstances. Most of the soldiers in this command would have done the same in his position. He did what he had to do, without hesitation. What bothers me is…Name me even three of our academy recruits who could have done the same thing at age 18 without any formal training or experience."
Jack let the pause stretch to see if that had been rhetorical before answering. "I can't, sir."
"He reacted like a combat veteran."
"Yes, sir," Jack agreed somberly.
"You knew he would." It wasn't a question.
"Explain to me how growing up in small town California turned that boy into a combat veteran," the general demanded.
Exactly what Jack had been afraid of. "You're never gonna believe me, General."
"Try me, Colonel."
"What's going on, Daniel?"
The archaeologist had expected a visitor tonight, but he'd been hoping it would be Xander or Jack. Not that he didn't usually enjoy Sam's company; but until she saw a vampire for herself, and maybe not even until she got close enough to examine it, she'd never believe the truth about Sunnydale. And he didn't want to argue about it until he could show her that proof. So he took a page from Jack's book and played dumb.
"What's going on about what?" he asked, swiveling his chair to look at her.
"He's teenager, Daniel," she said as though that were an answer to his question.
"So..?" He was stalling, giving himself time to think. The anthropologist in him thought he knew what her problem was. She wasn't here about vampires, after all. At least not directly. He'd known something was bothering her about Xander when they'd all met up at the Stargate but he hadn't realized it was something about Xander himself that was the problem.
"He killed Nilea. Snapped her neck and then skewered the Goa'uld with chopsticks or something. And he shot two Jaffa."
"You'd have done the same thing if you'd had the opportunity," Daniel pointed out. "Any of us would have." He could see in her face that she wanted to argue but knew he was right.
"What's really bothering you?" he asked when the silence stretched too long.
"That it didn't bother him!" she exclaimed; then paused, as though she'd surprised herself. "It didn't bother him," she continued, in her thinking-aloud voice. "He took the time to pose Nilea so she looked like she was asleep. And he barely even seemed to notice the bodies of the Jaffa. Just grinned at us and said he was glad to see us. Okay, he was defending himself but at eighteen…killing another person, even in self-defense, would still have bothered me. Killing someone hand-to-hand still bothers me. I mean, in combat it's one thing, but like that…"
"Does it really surprise you that much?" Daniel asked. "You knew from the pre-mission briefing that he had a tough time in high school. Jack even admitted to having seen him in action."
"I didn't think he meant it literally." She sounded exasperated. "If you hadn't known, would you have?"
Daniel thought about it. "Probably not."
"Surviving a high school with gang activity shouldn't make you that comfortable in combat unless you were in a gang. And even then…"
"How about if you were protecting other people from the 'gangs'?" the question came from the doorway. Both scientists could hear the quotation marks around the last word.
When they looked over, Xander was leaning against the doorframe looking tired. He smiled at them. The airman escorting him looked slightly worried, like he wasn't sure that letting the visitor interrupt an SG-1 meeting was a good idea.
"Hey, Dr. J. Major."
"Xander, come in." Daniel dismissed the worried airman with a wave and offered the younger man a seat. "You okay?"
"Headache," the teen explained, "from the bracelet-thingy. Doc says it should be gone by morning."
"If you sleep it off," Daniel pointed out.
"I slept a bit," Xander said with a shrug. "Prob'ly sleep more later. I'm not used to a full eight hours. Anyway, Major Carter never answered my question."
"The police protect people from gangs. Not high-schoolers," she objected, apparently having forgotten, or not realized, that gang was the code word for vampire.
"Please," Xander snorted. "The Sunnydale PD couldn't detect their way out of a wet paper bag with both hands and a flashlight. Much less protect anybody from anything."
"So you stepped up? Out of the goodness of your heart?"
Daniel's eyebrows raised just about to his hairline. Sam could be harsh sometimes but that seemed a little uncalled for.
His eyes hardened. "They killed one of my best friends. Tried to kill me and some other friends of mine. Not to mention most of my high school class at one time or another. I mean, I might not have liked most of the people in my class but that doesn't mean I'm just gonna let somebody kill them. Not when I can stop it." His eyes softened with self-mockery and a hint of humor crept into his voice. "Well, not when I know the person who can, anyway. Honestly, I mostly just play bait. Get my ass kicked as a distraction."
Before this went any further Daniel thought he needed to let Xander in on the fact that they'd told Teal'c and Sam about vampires. The team had left it out of the debriefing by unspoken consensus. "We told her the truth," Daniel interrupted. "Teal'c, too. After they took you away the second time."
The teen raised his eyebrows in a silent question.
"We didn't get much past vampires," Daniel admitted.
"Ah," the young said knowingly. "Just so we're clear: You do understand that by 'gangs' I meant 'vampires', right?"
"-don't exist," Xander chorused with her. "Yeah, yeah. If they hadn't just tried to eat me the first time somebody told me about them, I'd have said the same thing." He turned to Daniel. "You sure you wanna go down this road?"
"We promised her proof," Daniel said apologetically.
Xander's eyes widened almost comically. "Is it me or yourselves that you're trying to get killed here?" Xander yelped, slightly incredulous. "Slayage is deeply dangerous. I know you're all big bad military but I didn't think you were stupid."
"Slayage?" Sam asked.
"As in: of the vampire," Xander clarified. "You can't just walk up and introduce yourself and ask to see their fangs. I mean, you could, but you'd only get to see them for a second before he went to drain you dry…"
"…and yet you claim to hunt them," Hammond countered, several hours later.
They were in the conference room again, this time going over the same ground he'd recently covered with Carter and Jackson. Only this time the general and Teal'c were present as well.
"I said I played bait," Xander corrected, exasperated. "For people who are trained. In fights, I mostly provide a distraction by being a punching bag. Look, it's not that I expect you to believe me without proof, it's just that I don't wanna have to explain to the US Air Force how I got their super-secret-base's commander and his favorite team killed. No offense."
Hammond and Carter were watching him with narrowed eyes while Teal'c remained as unreadable as ever to Xander.
"You know we'll just go out on our own if you say no, right?" O'Neill asked him from where the other man was slouched in a chair.
Xander glared at the colonel. It was the winning argument and they both knew it, but it pissed the teen off to be that predictable. Letting them go out on their own would be worse than taking them with him. It was stupid because intellectually he knew that they were no safer with him than they were without him but he still couldn't let them do it.
"Just don't bring guns," he grumbled, giving in ungracefully. "Shooting them'll only piss 'em off." He looked over at Carter. "Can you get into the police or coroner's computer from here?"
"Why?" she asked.
"Research," Xander said, tetchily. "If we find a vampire, I want it to be a fledge not a 150 year old master vampire; which means going through the police and coroner's reports of suspicious deaths for the last three days." In the silence that followed, the implications of what he'd just said sank into Xander's brain. "You, didn't, just, hear that. Please?"
He saw the general look at O'Neill, who nodded, then back to Xander. "Fine. Major Carter, I believe this is your area of expertise. I leave it to you. Until tonight."
"Sunset's at about 8:30," Xander offered before the general could retreat to his office. "We should probably leave around nine."
Hammond nodded and left. The rest of them headed almost immediately for Carter's lab and her computer.
Xander had finally made his way to the surface, in the company, still, of an airman. This one was a girl, though, not that it mattered except that he'd been able to charm her into showing him the way up. He was still on the base, somewhere on the side of the mountain. He didn't mind. The view was great, the sun was the right one, and no one was currently trying to kill him.
He leaned against the rock of the cliff behind him, closed his eyes, and smiled as the peace of being bathed in a warm summer sun filled him. He refused, at this moment, to think about the future or the past. It was the now that was important. It was always the now that was important. And right now he was happy just to be alive. As he soaked up the sun and kept his mind deliberately blank he felt the last vestiges of his bracelet-headache fade.
He'd singled out three possible fledges fairly quickly, using a combination of police reports, coroner's reports and experience-born instinct. Then he'd gone to have another nap and had slept for about six hours solid in the total dark of his underground room. He decided when he woke to late afternoon that he must have needed it, especially when he discovered he didn't even need the remainder of the doc's painkillers. He'd eaten and had coffee and had thought of going to find O'Neill or Jackson. But all that time spent in an underground base and on another planet had had him feeling disconnected, so he'd talked his security escort into showing him a way to the surface. She was standing a discreet distance away, letting him have the illusion of privacy.
He'd been there for about two hours soaking up the sun and the peace of the deserted mountainside. He'd been waiting, he suddenly realized, to watch the sun go down. For all that he knew of the dangers that night brought, sunsets were still beautiful. It would be a while yet before it went down, but for once being a still point in a turning world didn't bother him.
Xander didn't move or open his eyes until he heard footsteps crunching in the gravel. It was O'Neill who walked up beside him, settled himself with his back to the cliff next to the teen. The older man wore jeans, sunglasses, and a brown leather bomber jacket. He slouched against the cliff, looking into the sun without acknowledging the younger man's presence. So Xander ignored him until he spoke.
"How'd you sleep?" the older man asked eventually, not looking over.
"No nightmares so," Xander shrugged, "pretty good. No more headache. You?"
"Same," the older man said. There was silence for awhile. "What really happened at Graduation?"
Xander swallowed hard but found that the time he'd spent out here had restored his balance a little. He no longer felt like crying just from thinking about talking about it. And he knew, if anyone could understand how he felt it would be O'Neill.
"The mayor," Xander started, stopping when his voice cracked. He swallowed and began again, keeping his voice determinedly neutral just like in the briefing room. It helped. "The mayor was planning to ascend to a pure demonic form and use our entire graduating class as his first snack. We stopped him. All of us together. We armed the students, set out an order of battle and trained them the best we could. But we didn't have enough time, couldn't prepare enough, and people died."
"But how many would have died if you hadn't done anything?"
"I don't know," Xander admitted. "Maybe everyone. Maybe, if we'd told them to run instead of stay and fight…maybe no one. But it was my battle plan. I put the flamethrowers together and they failed too early—"
"Wait," O'Neill interrupted. "Start at the beginning."
Xander had to think about it to pinpoint the actual beginning. He started with Faith, then realized the colonel didn't know about Kendra and what that meant and began again with that. In the end, he found himself telling the colonel everything that had happened from the fluke with Willow to Faith's defection to his own role in the battle their graduation ceremony had turned into. How that night he'd been grateful just to have survived himself and to have seen his friends survive as well. The guilt didn't hit him until the next day, when he'd read the roll call of the dead and missing in the paper and had realized that it was his failure to plan properly that had resulted in those deaths.
He poured out how pissed off he was at Angel for feeding off Buffy to save his own miserable hide; how angry he was at Buffy for forcing the vampire do so when she knew what was coming; his irritation with himself that he'd sat on the sidelines waiting for Buffy to come up with a plan when he knew her head wasn't in the game, he'd covered for her before after all this shouldn't have been any different. He also found himself admitting his confusion when it came to Faith and finally how he felt like an outsider sometimes around the girls especially when they both pulled away from him as they seemed to do regularly. And how he was afraid that with them at UC Sunnydale and him, well, not, that they'd pull away even more and he'd be left alone.
The colonel didn't offer much advice about the personal stuff except to say that he should give it time and that that the girls likely missed Xander more than the young man thought. But the older man had had some things to say about the burden of command; that what Xander felt was normal and that he should only start to worry if it ever got easy to send people into certain, or even possible, death. O'Neill pointed out that letting the guilt eat away at him would only land him in a straightjacket or on the sidelines where he couldn't do anybody any good.
"You saved most of them," the colonel pointed out. "Gave them all a fighting chance or enough warning to run away. Sometimes that's all you can do. It's still more than they'd have gotten otherwise."
"Yeah," Xander agreed half –heartedly. "It still sucks."
The conversation had taken over an hour and while he felt kind of bad for so completely unburdening himself on a man that was basically a total stranger, Xander also felt surprisingly lighter for it. It was good to have someone to talk to.
The two men were silent for awhile as the sky went spectacularly red with the sunset then began to fade to orange once the sun itself had dropped below the horizon.
"I killed an innocent," Xander said, finally getting out the last thing that was really bothering him. He kept his eyes on the orange glow to the west. "The host. I mean, I assume she was innocent. And I know, in her place, I'd have rather died but…I made that decision for her."
"Xander, if you hadn't done it, I sure as hell would have," O'Neill said matter-of-factly. "Same for Carter, or Teal'c, or even Daniel. Sometimes there's just no other way."
The teen looked over with startled eyes.
"Most of the hosts, if the snake's been in them for awhile, don't survive its removal anyway. Their bodies have had too many rounds in the sarcophagus, or their minds are broken, or their spirits, or both. The ones I've talked to were happy to finally get some peace."
"I've been telling myself something like that," Xander admitted. "It's not helping much."
"It will," Jack assured him. "Give it time."
"That's so clichéd," Xander complained in a sudden, determined switch from serious to lighthearted. The orange-gold afterglow of sunset was fading from the sky. He pushed away from the cliff face and looked at his watch. 8:38.
"Let's go hunt us some vampires," the teen drawled, rubbing his hands together in sarcastically exaggerated glee.
"Like that wasn't a cliché," Jack griped, following the younger man's lead as they headed back underground.
13. Vampires and Vacations
"I'm going over this once, so listen carefully. These are the best ways to kill a vampire: fire, beheading, stake to the heart," Xander ticked the points off on his fingers. They were in a van borrowed from the base with O'Neill driving. The teen sat in the first bench row in the back running an impromptu seminar on how not to get killed while hunting vampires. "Sunlight works, too, but that's gonna do us much good. Holy water burns like acid but unless you feel like stopping at a church, that's not gonna matter, either. Crosses'll keep 'em at bay for awhile; if the cross is big enough and the vamp isn't too old. Otherwise, stake to the heart's the best way to go. But if you're doing that? Don't miss. That would be bad." He paused. "You still sure you wanna do this? 'Cause we could just…go for ice cream or something."
The young man looked around hopefully but ended up on the receiving end of unfriendly glares from the major and the general, and an upraised eyebrow from Teal'c.
"Yeesh," Xander muttered. "Tough crowd. Fine, any questions?"
"How does one identify a vampire?" Teal'c asked.
"If they're not in game face? Dated wardrobe, super-pale, no heartbeat, no breathing. But the big clue is usually when they go to bite you. That's when they go into game face."
"Game face?" Hammond asked.
"That's when the fangs come out," Xander explained. "The rest of their faces go all knobby and fugly and their eyes turn yellow. That's the demon coming out to play."
"Demon?" Carter exclaimed. "You expect us to believe in demons, now?"
"Did I not just say? Vampires are demons," Xander replied. "Well, half-breeds. Well, okay, not even, according to Anya. Vampires are demon-possessed corpses. Like the Goa'uld, but the host is gone. They have most of the person's memories and tend to take on their personality a little bit so they can fake being human but that's it."
"Who's Anya?" Daniel asked interestedly.
"Former vengeance demon," Xander muttered, hoping they wouldn't ask too many questions.
"He took her to prom," O'Neill chimed in, sounding entirely too gleeful in Xander's opinion.
"She asked me," he protested grumpily. "And it was that or go alone." Xander glared at O'Neill then at the others, silently daring them to comment. "Anyway, don't go off on your own in the cemetery, I don't care what you hear or think you hear, see or think you see. Vampires aren't the only things out there that consider humans a tasty snack."
"You expect to run into anything else?" O'Neill asked, serious now.
"This isn't the Hellmouth, so probably not." Xander answered with a shrug. He caught the major's skeptical look. "How should I know? This is your town."
The first two cemeteries were a bust, dark and deserted. Xander was perched on a gravestone that let him keep an eye on the second potential fledge's grave. He was starting to wonder if the whole night would be a bust; the first potential vamp had been cremated by his loved ones, not a detail anybody official had chosen to note in their reports, and now this second one didn't seem inclined to rise either. Not that Xander wanted to come across a vamp, but it would least shut Carter up. She and Hammond were starting to make noises about wild goose chases and wasted time.
Xander set his chin on his hand and sighed. "If this was Sunnydale, we'd have been attacked by something by now." He paused, surveying the graveyard, eyes lingering on the 7-11 he could make out beyond the fence to his left. "You know, this is a lot more fun with nachos and slurpies."
O'Neill perked up at that suggestion, following Xander's line of sight, but a withering glare from his CO settled the colonel down before he could offer to make a food run. When the general looked away, O'Neill shrugged semi-apologetically at Xander. The teen rolled his eyes in return but turned his head when he caught movement in the street out of the corner of one eye. The cop car cruising by could have been a different one than the one that had done a pass of the cemetery ten minutes ago but Xander wouldn't bet on it. He waited until the car was out of sight behind some trees before jumping off his perch.
"Time to go," he announced.
"What? Why?" Carter asked. "Nothing's happened yet."
"Exactly," Xander agreed, already moving. "And also, cops. That was the second car in ten minutes. I don't know about you but I don't want to have to explain to the nice police officers why I'm hanging around in a graveyard at close to midnight. Let's go," he entreated them when they seemed reluctant to move. "I never thought I'd miss the Sunnydale PD," he muttered to himself.
He made his way across the graveyard in a direct line for the gate they'd entered through with a total lack of concern for the graves he was walking over. He scoped the street out for cops and other dangers before sauntering oh-so-casually out onto the sidewalk. He didn't sneak or skulk but acted as if he was just out for a late night walk. The other five followed suit.
"This is our last shot, kid," O'Neill murmured to Xander as they made their through the last cemetery of the evening. "How sure are you about this one?"
"I appreciate the solidarity," Xander answered. "But as far as I'm concerned if they really want to see vampires they should come to Sunnydale. I've only seen a couple of vamps this entire trip so far and it's not like I can afford better than a Motel 6. Thinking about it, I'd be surprised if there were any anything around here with the amount of military around."
The colonel grunted in understanding and squeezed Xander's shoulder briefly as they walked.
This cemetery was quiet, too, but something about the quality of the silence bothered Xander. He stopped briefly, letting the others go on ahead, and listened. O'Neill had stopped with Xander, and looked at him expectantly.
"What is it?" the older man asked.
"I have a bad feeling," the teen said slowly. He abruptly started walking again, moving quickly enough to catch up to the others.
"Is there something wrong, Xander Harris?" Teal'c asked.
"No crickets," Xander said tersely, having finally figured out what was bothering him.
Carter finally looked interested rather than grumpy, while Daniel looked around worriedly. General Hammond's brow wrinkled. He opened his mouth to ask a question but was cut off by a voice from the shadows.
"Well, well. What do we have here?" it asked. "Luck must be a lady tonight. Here we were just about to take our newest childe hunting and dinner shows up all on its own."
Crap, Xander thought. Not just a fledge. But at least I was right about this one. He'd learned better than to even mutter the curse under his breath, vampire hearing would pick it up no matter how quietly he said it and it would give the game away. Letting them know you were less than totally confident put you halfway to losing, unless you wanted them to underestimate you. Instead of letting his own feelings show, the teen gave the time-honored Scooby response to lameness.
"Oh, please. Can't one of you come up with something original to say? Just once, that's all I'm asking."
A figure stepped from the shadows, seeming almost to materialize from the shadows. It was a man, very handsome, with a chiseled jaw and curled brown hair hanging to his shoulders. He was dressed all in black, from his coat to his boots. His entrance was ruined by the glare he was sending Xander. The man recovered his poise quickly.
"So you know what we are? Good. Your fear will make the meal sweeter."
"Dude," Xander said, incredulous at the Anne Rice dialogue. "First of all, what we? There's just you. And secondly, I'm from Sunnydale. Class of '99. Don't think for a second that I'm afraid of you."
"Sunnydale?" That seemed to startle the vamp into dropping his affectation. "Then what the hell are you doing here?"
"You know, I've been asking myself that same question," Xander said conversationally. "I could be at Disney World by now, but instead I'm here. And you would not believe the last couple of days. It's just… my friends here wanted to see a vampire up close and: hey, here you are. I don't suppose you'd be willing to show them your fangs and then die quietly like a good little vampire?"
Xander thought he sounded nicely confident through his little speech. He'd done his best to sound the same as he would have on patrol in back home but underneath he was acutely conscious that there was no Slayer here to save his ass if he got in over his head. He figured the fact that he was telling the truth would give him some credibility. A lot of vamps really could tell if you were lying.
The vampire grinned. "Oh, I'll show you my fangs," it said, its face changing to its demonic form; eyes flashing yellow. "But I won't be the one dying tonight."
Xander rolled his eyes and attacked before the vampire could.
Sam Carter had seen a lot of strange things while working for the Stargate program; parasitic aliens, Roswell greys, the Nox. She'd come across technology she'd never dreamed possible, not least of which was the Stargate itself but this…was something new. If the man who'd stepped from the shadows had already been in what Xander called 'game face' she would have thought he was wearing prosthetics or a mask. But he'd looked…normal. Except for the clothes and the way he talked, which were a little high school drama club but otherwise unremarkable. She'd actually wondered whether the colonel, Daniel, and Xander had hired this guy to play a vampire as the bad end to a practical joke.
Then the stranger's eyes had flared yellow, a deeper glow than the Goa'uld, while his face had become deformed with ridges around the nose and forehead and his canines had lengthened. At least, she assumed his canine teeth had lengthened to form the fangs that were now so prominent but she hadn't seen it happen. Like the brow ridges and the glowing eyes, they were just suddenly there. She drew her sidearm as the stake Xander had been holding went tumbling to the ground and the creature lifted him from the ground by the single hand wrapped around the boy's throat.
She took a shot at its head, which hit but didn't seem to effect it except to get its attention. It was startled into dropping Xander and turning, hissing, towards the major. The Sunnydale teen coughed a couple of times as he scrambled for his weapon then yelled,
"I said no guns! What part of that didn't you understand?"
Sam ignored him in favor of firing a full clip into the centre of mass of the creature now bent on attacking her. That slowed it to a walking pace but it continued to advance, smiling. It grinned around its fangs as the firing pin clicked on empty.
Shock didn't hold the major in place for long and she drew a knife as the creature closed the distance. She would never be entirely sure how it happened exactly but in less than a second her knife was gone and she was on the ground with her right wrist dangling uselessly, broken. The creature was on top of her a moment later and it took all of Sam's strength just to keep his suddenly very real-seeming fangs away from her jugular.
She felt a thud as someone apparently tried to tackle the vampire -it couldn't be anything else- off of her. It didn't budge except to throw its attacker off one-handed. There was the muffled thump of a body impacting earth some ways away. One of the vampire's hands was choking her so tightly that she thought she was imagining things when its head jerked and she thought she saw fire come out the other side.
Sam realized that it wasn't a hallucination when the thing screamed and rolled off of her. She scrambled in the opposite direction, being careful of her wrist. The colonel and the general were both firing their sidearms but only O'Neill's was doing any damage. It wasn't doing enough damage, though, because as soon as the clips ran out the vampire staggered to its feet and came towards them again.
It didn't take a genius to realize that the vampire would be on them again before they could reload.
That was when Xander suddenly came out of nowhere from behind it and used what looked like his entire strength to shove the wooden stake he'd held earlier through its back. The pointed tip of the wood showed briefly through the thing's chest before, with a look of surprise on its face, the creature and the weapon that had killed it dissolved into so much dust. Xander closed and opened his hand a couple of times.
"Dammit. I liked that stake," he muttered to himself. He looked up, caught Sam's eyes and then Hammond's. "Now you see why I said this was a bad idea? How's your arm?"
It hadn't hit her until he asked, but her wrist started throbbing as soon as he did. "I think it's broken," she admitted, gritting her teeth. "Where are Teal'c and Daniel?"
The eyes of all three men turned to the same spot and Sam followed their gazes to see Teal'c and Daniel laid out on the grass.
"He threw Teal'c into Daniel," the colonel explained. "I think they both hit their heads on that gravestone when they landed. They're both unconscious."
Sam would have headed over to check on her friends but just trying to stand up without help turned out to be a bad idea. Using her uninjured wrist to brace herself against the ground, the major got no more than halfway up before the black spots that started dancing across her vision combined with a sudden lightheadedness to make lose her balance. The fall jarred her broken wrist and her vision briefly went completely black. She cradled the injured limb protectively into her chest and stayed as still as she could until her vision steadied and she stopped feeling nauseous. Staring at a solid point seemed to help, which was why her eyes were on the ground near the general's feet when two hands shot upwards out of the earth and grabbed Hammond's ankles.
The Texan swore in surprise and managed to kick off the groping hands, stepping quickly out of range with a look of unnerved revulsion on his face. His pistol swung up to point steadily at the grave where the corpse was rising.
The hands were quickly followed by arms, the shoulders and a head and torso. The dead man stopped then and opened his eyes, looking confused.
"What's going on?" he asked. "Why are you pointing a gun at me?"
Hammond's arm dropped as he hesitated, the confusion in the dead man's eyes starting to convince him that this was a man who'd been buried alive by mistake. Seeing the general's hesitation, the stranger smiled as he pulled himself the rest of the way out of the ground. As his last foot came free of the clinging earth, the dead man launched himself at Hammond, face changing even as he covered the distance.
Sam cried out a warning but it was too late for the general to correct his mistake in lowering his weapon. That might have been the end of Hammond except that Xander, seeing what was happening from where he was checking on Teal'c and Daniel, didn't bother with a verbal warning. The young man tackled the general to the ground, rolling away and back to his feet, another stake in hand, almost as soon as they landed.
The second half of the teen's movement turned out to be unnecessary. Jack, with a clear body shot this time once Hammond was out of the way, shot the vampire three times through the heart with his special ammunition.
"No, this isn't fair," were the last clear words the vampire spoke before combusting from the inside out into so much dust.
There was silence for a moment then Xander blew out a breath. "I hate vampires."
"You and me, both, kid," Jack agreed. "You and me, both."
"What?" came from their left. "What happened?"
The questioner was Daniel, who, along with Teal'c, was looking groggy but awake.
"I, too, would like to know what has occurred," Teal'c seconded.
"Given any more thought to sticking around?" Jack asked.
They were back in the SGC infirmary, deep underground. They'd checked Teal'c and Daniel over as well they could at the graveyard and gotten everybody back to the car where they'd had the full emergency kit. They'd splinted Carter's wrist and checked her over as well, then headed back to the mountain for real medical attention.
Xander, cuts and scrapes bandaged, was being examined for the concussion they seemed to expect him to have. He'd protested to anyone who'd listen that he hadn't hit his head this time but no one had believed him. The colonel was sitting on the examination bed across from Xander's as the teen got a penlight shined in his eyes.
"Yes," Xander answered. "The answer's no."
Jack was silent for a moment, digesting that. "Mind telling me why?"
Xander waited until the nurse finished with dilation test and disappeared before meeting the older man's eyes.
"What you do here is pretty important, Colonel, don't get me wrong. And I'm flattered, more than you probably realize, that you want to recruit me. But I'm not going to abandon my friends. I can't. Even with the mayor gone there's still plenty of the bad out there. You've got the entire armed forces available to deal with this. There's five of us to protect the Hellmouth. That's it. Now, which group do you think needs the extra person more?"
O'Neill nodded, acknowledging the truth of that. Frankly, it was the answer he'd more or less expected after getting to know the teen a little better but he'd had to try.
"There's something I have to know. What ammo were you using back there? We haven't really used guns but mostly because we found out pretty quickly that bullets don't work on most things. But those weren't just bullets, were they?"
"Incendiary rounds," Jack explained. "I figured they'd be worth trying. I was hoping lighting them on fire would dust 'em but it looks like you've gotta hit the heart for that to work."
"Better than nothing," Xander murmured, obviously thinking about where he could get a hold of some.
"They are illegal," Jack felt obliged to point out.
Xander looked at him and raised his eyebrows. "I stole a rocket launcher for Buffy's sixteenth birthday present. And demolition charges to blow up my high school on Graduation Day. Not to mention that sarcopha-thingy."
That more or less said it all, O'Neill thought. On the other hand, he felt like he should discourage the kid from committing any more illegal acts than necessary while helping his friends. "And you also don't have a firearms license or a concealed carry permit. Those two you can fix, though."
It was tacit acknowledgement that any weapon that helped would be used by the youth whether it was legal for him to have or not. But it was also a way of pointing out that just because the teen was comfortable with his own code of honour not entirely matching with the law didn't mean he had to risk getting caught for the small, stupid stuff. The colonel was pleased to see Xander looking thoughtful after he spoke so he decided to risk a little more advice.
"If you really want to help your friends, you should get trained. I know you know some stuff from whatever happened that Halloween but…memory will never beat regular practice."
"Where would I get trained, though? I don't want to join the army, or the cops. And I don't have the money to get lessons. By the time I get home I'll have maybe a month's leeway to get a job and I'm not qualified to do anything." He narrowed his eyes at Jack. "You have an idea already, don't you?"
"Have you thought about ROTC?" Jack suggested, grinning at his protégée's perceptiveness. "You'd have to go back to school, and keep your marks up this time, but you'd get training and enough practice to keep the skills you've already got. And you'd be going to school with your friends."
Jack had kinda thought that last argument might be a selling point and he could see that the kid was starting to like the idea. It would put him on the same playing field as his friends, keep him in the same social circle as the two girls.
"Wouldn't I need decent high school grades to get in, though?" Xander asked.
"Yours weren't that bad," Jack told him. "And a recommendation from a colonel isn't nothing."
"You've known me for what, like, four days total? Why would you, do that?"
Jack smiled. "You're smarter than you act, cool under fire, and… I like you, kid. Always have. I trust my instincts about people. And they're telling me you're doing a lot of good but you're gonna get yourself killed the way you're going. With some training you could keep doing good and stay alive."
"Alive is good," Xander agreed. His chewed his lip for a moment. "I…I'll think about it but… thanks."
"Not a problem. Hungry?"
"Always," the teen agreed, pushing himself off the bed.
Jack got up as well and matched steps with Xander as they headed towards the mess hall.
"So, uh, how's the major dealing with…you know?"
"Better than I expected," Jack answered.
"That well, huh?"
"It might take some time but, she'll come around," Jack said, confident in his 2IC's ability to adapt to new circumstances.
"And the general?"
"I think he's avoiding me," Jack admitted, "but it won't last."
"Where you headed in the morning?"
"I've been thinking about it and I wanna go somewhere with lots of sun so I'm thinking…DisneyWorld."
"You wanna hit NASA, too, just say the word," Jack offered.
"I think I've had enough adventures in space for awhile," Xander demurred. "The magic of Disney is closest I wanna get to adventure for awhile."
"Your loss, kid."
In an office deep in Cheyenne Mountain, Samantha Carter looked around the hallway outside her lab then closed and locked the door. She pulled out a set of keys and unlocked one of the lower drawers on her lab bench. From within the drawer she retrieved two plastic bags, each containing a small amount of dark gray, sandy material.
She placed them on the bench-top and sat down. The major stared thoughtfully at the bags of vampire dust, wondering where to start.
A/N: Omigod, you guys. This thing is done!! :happy dance: Thanks to all those who have continued reading and reviewing. You guys are awesome, even though I didn't have time to reply to everyone who reviewed. And a belated thanks to whoever nominated me for the CoA though I didn't respond in time to put myself in the running.missinglink and to RachelK for the ideas they gave me that I shamelessly used. And cookies to those who spotted any mistakes (spelling or continuity-wise) whether or not I corrected them.
Special thanks to
Apologies to those who thought Xan was going to join the SGC. I just couldn't see it happening with post-High-School Xander. My next goal is to finish Rising. Wish me luck. :)