Title: Where My Love Lies, Waiting

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: T

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: B:tVS/SG-1. Colonel Mitchell's description surprises a giggle out of Tara, and she instinctively covers her mouth as if to remind herself how it feels to smile. 2500 words.

Spoilers: B:tVS post-"Chosen", though AU after 6.19 "Seeing Red"; Stargate-verse vaguely post-series

Notes: For theraces, who asked for a tag to "More Jean Grey, Less Wolverine". Title from the Paul Simon song, "Homeward Bound".

Tara balks, without any real intention to, when the brown-haired Colonel aims a device at the invisible patch of air his team had emerged from and a small, cylindrically shaped ship wavers into being.

The other military member of the team who've found her, the blonde woman who reminds Tara a little of an older Buffy, misinterprets the look on her face and reaches out to rest her fingertips against Tara's forearm. "I know it might not look like much," she says, "but it's perfectly safe, I assure you. It's a thirty-minute flight back to the gate, and we can be back on Earth in time for lunch."

Tara can't quite stop herself from flinching at that gentle touch, either. Carter- Sam- doesn't say anything about it, but Tara can feel the eyes of the rest of the team on her, taking note of her reaction. It helps a little that she can see auras, even more clearly in this place than she had on Earth, and knows that none of them have a cruel spirit; even so, she's been alone for a long, long time. She feels crowded, even in the wide open space outside their vessel.

"It- it isn't that," she replies, hesitantly, to fend off those assessing looks. "It just looks... a little small."

It isn't, really; it's about the size of a large passenger van, not much smaller than the sleeping cells in Loki's complex. She'd never been claustrophobic before the rogue Asgard scientist stole her from her bedroom, but the weeks she'd spent locked into one tiny room before she'd figured out a way to magically defuse Loki's technology have left their mark. She has no such guarantee that she'll ever be leaving this tiny space once she steps into it, and that terrifies her.

The dark-haired woman whose name she hadn't yet been offered exchanges an alarmed look with the Giles-y fourth member of their team, the one with the glasses, at Tara's reply. Then she steps forward, deliberately drawing Tara's attention, body language projecting openness and warmth.

"I know what you mean," she says, in a cheery, confiding tone. "You'd think if someone went to all the effort to design an interstellar shuttlecraft, they'd take a little time to introduce a few creature comforts. A little more space, a few frilly cushions- maybe even one of those jet baths, a Jacuzzi." She pronounces the word like it's unfamiliar to her, a reference borrowed from a foreign language. "It's a trial, traveling with these people, I tell you. Oh; and I'm Vala, by the way."

Whether it's the tone of voice, the flickers of understanding sparking throughout the woman's aura, or the bemused but guardedly approving look the scholar shoots the woman during her little speech, something about it soothes the ragged edges of Tara's nerves. Almost despite herself, she nods in agreement. "That would be nice. The bath, I mean. It's been a long... I don't... I guess his people don't use water to clean themselves the way we do."

She's made do. But she misses showers. Glorious cascades of clean, hot water- heavenly alone, even better when shared with a certain beautiful, red-haired witch that last year or so in Sunnydale.

"His people," Sam replies slowly, her expression cautiously inquisitive. "You mean, Loki's people. The Asgard?"

"Little gray guys, about yea high?" Colonel Mitchell adds, gesturing at a level just above waist height. "Walk around naked all the time? I never did get used to that." He shudders theatrically.

The description surprises a giggle out of Tara, and she instinctively covers her mouth as if to remind herself how it feels to smile. "Yes. I never met any others, just Loki, and he disappeared not long after he brought me here. But I remember he called his people the, the Asgard, when he explained about the genetic research he did here."

"Genetic research?" Sam and Mitchell glance at each other at that.

Some kind of unspoken conversation passes between the two Colonels, and then Mitchell nods to his teammate. "Okay, change of plan. I can see you're chomping at the bit to get into the computers. You want me to leave Jackson with you, or Teal'c?"

Teal'c must be the fifth and last member of the team, the tall, muscular, deep-voiced one who'd been the first to spot her; he tilts his head amiably as Tara glances over at him, giving the impression that he would be content with either outcome. There are gray streaks in the dark hair at his temples and a raised golden mark on the dark skin of his forehead that remind her of all the research Willow did on Egyptian magic before casting the spell to resurrect Buffy. Everything about him looks intimidating- but he also radiates a very centered, protective calm that effectively offsets that impression.

Sam glances between them, then gestures to Jackson. "Daniel? I could probably use your help translating any files we find- I'm reasonably fluent in formal Asgard engineering terminology, but Loki's interests overlap a lot more with your areas of expertise, and the place seemed pretty deserted on our way in. Unless there've been other visitors since Thor captured Loki?" She raises her eyebrows at Tara.

"N-no," Tara says, shaking her head more at the casual reference to yet another Norse god than at the prompt. "There are animals, but nothing you won't be able to scare away with- with your guns." She gestures at the boxy weapon, larger than a pistol but nothing like the rifles and shotguns her father and brother had kept in the house she'd grown up in, that all of them but Dr. Jackson seem to be carrying.

"Or your... unique talents?" Jackson asks, cautiously. She stills at the remark, but he's quick to hold up a pacifying hand. "It's all right. If you're worried about being studied, or kept in a secluded facility back on Earth- don't. We've encountered human beings with telekinetic gifts and other advanced mental abilities before; even if we could hold them safely, we wouldn't even try."

"Why should I believe that?" Tara swallows, nervously, not ready to admit to anything yet.

He sighs. "We've been doing this for a lot of years, now. I won't lie to you, we can't always help the people we encounter as much as we'd like, and there've been occasional- missteps. But the President is fully read into the project, and the general assigned to Homeworld Security was one of us; no one disappears into the system on Jack's watch. You don't have to take my word for it, either; talk to Teal'c, on your way back. Ask him how he joined the program, and why he stayed." The corner of his mouth tugs up a little as he nods in his teammate's direction.

His aura doesn't waver at all as he speaks; it remains a clear, balanced blue, nearly as much so as his quieter friend's, and though the situation still seems a little unreal to Tara she can't help but believe him. They're all so earnest, like they're trying to gently ensure her comfort while not forgetting their own objectives, and the matter-of-fact way they're going about exploring another world where beings worshiped as deities once walked reminds her of the Scoobies on their better days.

"Even prison on Earth would be better than staying here," she says lightly, trying another shaky smile on for size. "You won't talk me out of going with you."

"Good." He brightens a little at that, clearly pleased, and she gets the sense that he understands somehow, in some way she doesn't yet know enough about him to fathom. He'll be an interesting guy to get to know, she thinks- if she gets the chance to do so. If they don't just send her home as soon as possible...

Home. A sudden desperate hunger she hasn't allowed herself to feel since those first, wretched days of captivity wells to the surface of her thoughts, bringing with it the image of Buffy's house as she'd last seen it: the first place she'd felt like family since the death of her mother. The bedroom she'd shared with Willow. The sister she'd found in the Slayer. The pseudo-daughter in Dawn.

"We'd best get going, then," Mitchell interrupts, drawing her attention back to the present. "I'll send SG-5 back with a couple of extra computer geeks to help you take this place apart. Don't touch anything before they get here, all right? You and Jackson have already used up your quota of rescue missions for the year; I'm still behind O'Neill's record in the gray hair stakes, and I want to keep it that way."

"Understood," Sam smirks back at him. "Don't get lost on the way there. It would be a long walk to the Stargate on foot."

"She's exaggerating," Mitchell says confidingly, shielding his words with a hand as though he isn't talking loud enough for his teammates to hear. "I never get lost. Not when I'm the one driving. You ready, or is there anything you want to fetch before we go?"

Tara glances around, taking in the low, overgrown buildings, the soft grasses that tickle her feet, the spindly trees that sing low lullabies during the planet's occasional windstorms, and the greenish-hued sky overhead. It's been the only home she's known for seven years, but- she shudders at the thought of taking any piece of it back with her, and crosses her arms protectively over her chest. The only things she can really claim as hers here are the threadbare clothes she's been wearing ever since her abduction, carefully cleaning and mending them as the months passed. Nothing else- nothing- is valuable enough to warrant bringing reminders of her extended captivity back with her.

"I'm ready," she replies, tipping her chin up determinedly. "I just want to go home."

"I just bet," Vala says, sympathetically. Then the other woman steps closer, hovering a hand near but not quite touching Tara's elbow. "Come on, then; you can sit with me, and we'll swap stories. I'm not from Earth myself, you know, and I haven't yet had the chance to meet many Tau'ri women outside the Stargate Program."

Tara allows herself to be guided into the muted gray, tubular craft, aware that Vala is managing her but grateful for the distraction all the same. It makes it easier to try not to worry about putting control of her circumstances into the hands of virtual strangers, and Vala does seem genuinely interested.

"I'd be glad to," she says, "but you sh-should know; I'm not a typical, um, Tau'ri."

"All the better!" Vala adds brightly, ushering her to a seat in the back of the craft. Mitchell and Teal'c exchange a few more words with their teammates as Vala launches into a description of her birthworld, then walk through to the cockpit area, preparing the little ship for departure.

Vala's story is a fascinating mixture of the familiar and the very, very strange- which is familiar enough in its own way to a veteran of Sunnydale. Tara finds herself alternately amazed, sympathetic, and impressed as she listens, and finds herself sharing more than she'd meant to in return, only replacing any mention of her mother's magic and her own abilities with vague references to 'gifts'. She barely notices when they take off, and the slightly oppressive sense of being crowded in a small, curved space with more beings all at once than she's seen in seven years fades to an almost unnoticeable background niggle. Teal'c joins them after a few minutes, emerging from the cockpit to seat himself across from her and Vala, and shares the bare bones of his story as well, conveying worlds of meaning and conviction in short, carefully chosen sentences. It's just as unbelievable- and just as recognizable, in a few key, basic ways.

Tara had spent more time in Loki's compound than she ever had in the free environment of Sunnydale- and longer than that under the thumb of dominating male relatives intent on convincing her that she was less than human. The more she speaks with Vala and Teal'c- the more she observes their reactions to their very ordinary, cheerful, and only nominally commanding officer- the more it sinks in that her ordeal is ending.

Tara isn't dreaming. Nor is she leaping from the frying pan into the fire. She's actually going home.

The flying ship finally slows to a halt in front of an arched metal shape that has to be the gateway they've mentioned, just large enough for the rounded ship to pass through it. She can easily see it through the forward window from where she is seated; closely fitted, smooth reddish stones spread around the base of the standing circle like a platform, and nearby, a mushroom-shaped pedestal rises from the ground. Mitchell hovers the ship near the pedestal, then starts keying a sequence of buttons on a panel between the pilot's and copilot's stations.

"This is the gate- the Stargate," he explains for Tara's benefit. "I'm guessing this is the first time you've seen one, if Loki brought you here by ship?"

She nods. "I've never seen anything like it. It's, it's amazing."

Mitchell smiles. "It is, isn't it? Think of it like a giant rotary phone dial: you just enter the digits to tell it where you are and where you're going, then give it a whirl and voila, your call is placed." He presses the seventh key in the sequence; then a portal springs to life in the center of the ring. A splash of turbulent energy- some kind of overflow she guesses, though she's never seen anything like it with the magical equivalent- reaches out toward them; then it settles into a gently undulating blue plane, captured within and bounded by the ring of strange metal.

"The Rainbow Bridge," she murmurs in recognition, awed by the display.

Could a 'Stargate' have been the inspiration for the Bifrost of legend? She's always assumed that the oldest 'fairy' tales have magical roots, but since meeting Loki she's wondered how many have technological origins instead- and how much difference that difference really makes. She's seen the evil in both demons and aliens, and good in each as well; advanced technology and magic aren't really the same thing, but it seems they might as well be from the casual observer's perspective.

"And on that note," Mitchell replies, "one trip over the rainbow coming up." Then he pushes at the throttle, aiming straight for the shining portal.

It swallows them up, three endless, stifling heartbeats of nothingness; she feels her connection to the planet's magic rip loose, but then the world rushes dizzily back into focus, bringing the welcome touch of Gaia with it. She's here. She really is: despite the odds, after everything that's happened.

Tara casts her spirit out to the welcoming currents, smiling through her tears.

Willow, I'm home.