Song and DanceAuthor:
The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.Rating:
FR-13Summary: SG-1 meets with Wesley Wyndham-Pryce a second time, and the former Watcher makes the decision that will change the course of his future.Spoilers:
A:tS up to "Ground State" (4.02). Stargate SG-1 through "Redemption, Part 2" (6.02), and AU from there.Notes:
This is a sequel to "Starting Over", and the first of my Wesley crossover fics for the tth5000 challenge.
Jack watched Carter and Teal'c drive away from the park with a grimace. The initial interview they'd scheduled with Pryce hadn't gone at all as expected, and the fun wasn't over yet. He ambled casually to a corner of the park where there weren't any nearby ears and the play equipment around him would disturb anyone trying to pick up his conversation from line of sight, and flipped open his cell phone to dial a familiar number.
"We got a live one here, General," he said without preamble when Hammond answered.
"What do you mean, Colonel?" came the surprised reply.
"Either we've found our new linguist, or he's some kind of Goa'uld spy," Jack said bluntly, boiling the meeting down to the barest essentials. "Or even NID. It's too early to tell yet. But he's been acting suspicious from the get-go, and when Carter asked if he would sign the confidentiality agreement he said something to Teal'c in Goa'uld before agreeing."
"That's... unexpected," Hammond replied. "We've looked into his background, and according to what we've uncovered his degrees and research were all in the European mythologies, not those of ancient Egypt. Even Dr. Jackson never found much explicit evidence of the Goa'uld presence on Earth. Where would Mr. Wyndham-Pryce have come across any remnant of their language? Especially without Dr. Jackson being made aware of the discovery through academic channels?"
," Jack said firmly. It was one too many coincidences for his peace of mind; it had to mean something, though he couldn't tell yet what that something might be.
Hammond sighed. "Very well," he said. "I'll send SG-2 and Mr. Quinn as back-up. They can be there in three hours."
While Jack appreciated the support, Jonas Quinn was not
his favorite person in the galaxy, a fact he knew the general was well aware of. "Quinn, sir?" he asked, wincing.
"Either he'll be joining your team, and you'll have to get used to him sooner or later, or I'll be putting him with SG-2 and they will," Hammond replied, pragmatically. "He's a very intelligent young man, highly motivated, and he did bring us the naquadria at high cost to himself. The only thing he's asked in return is the chance to join an off-world team and make a difference. I believe he deserves that chance."
"Believe me, sir, you don't need to explain to me how deserving
he is," Jack said, sourly. "Carter and Teal'c have done that already." At length. Over lunch and in elevators, when a man should have been able to escape that kind of thing. And it wasn't that they didn't have a point; Jack just didn't want to hear it. "And heck, I've met the guy," he continued. "But I'd still prefer not to have him on my team."
A sigh echoed over the line. He knew that sigh; it was the sigh of every parent and superior officer the world over who really expected better of their juniors. "Jack, what happened wasn't his fault."
that, sir," Jack replied. "But if Pryce doesn't
turn out to be a spy, he'll
be on my team, and that's that. We were lucky enough to snag one
geek who already had some idea about the truth behind the garbage in our history books before he ever came on the project. A second one, from a different background entirely, who might have insights Daniel didn't? We'd be a fool to let him go in favor of a guy whose knowledge is all recycled from Daniel's journals, no matter how bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Quinn might be."
He heard another sigh, this one more thoughtful and resigned. "Very well, Jack, you've made your point. But do me a favor; at least wait until SG-2 arrives to get yourselves in hot water."
"I'll do my best, sir," Jack said, a hint of flippant salute in his tone, and ended the call. Then he tapped his chin thoughtfully with the cell phone for a moment and made a few quick plans.
The trip to the Air Force officers' suite at the Sheraton wasn't the friendliest in Wesley's memory, but neither was it the most hostile; that honor belonged to his frequent trips to the docks with Justine over the long summer they'd spent hunting for Angel's coffin. The large, dark-skinned demon Major Carter referred to as "Murray" kept a close watch on him, as he had ever since Wesley had spoken to him in the language of his masters' race, but Wesley had spent a significant portion of the last three years working with a brooding master vampire, and that had rather skewed Wesley's perspective of intimidation. He saw beyond the stern facade to the curiosity and hint of warning in the Jaffa's attitude, and turned his attention to Major Carter as a likelier source of information.
The blonde woman was clearly bursting with questions, but just as clearly reigning herself in until the necessary legalities could be satisfied. She seemed to be an intelligent and capable woman, but also one likely still used to operating within the boundaries provided by rules and regulations, unlike her team leader. The gray-haired Colonel had held the power of life and death for many in his hands more than once, unless Wesley was very much mistaken in his reading of the man, and would take the initiative to do what was necessary if the situation required it regardless of what his actual orders might say. Wesley had seen the look often enough in the Powers' so-called Champions since his introduction to Sunnydale to recognize it, and had seen it in his own mirror more than once in the days leading up to his disastrous attempt to save Angel's son.
Carter glanced at him in the rear-view mirror a few times, blue eyes wide with interest, then fumbled for a safe topic of conversation. "So," she finally commented. "How long have you lived in Los Angeles?"
Wesley was tempted to give her a flippant reply, but he could not afford be rude to her; there was no telling how long he might be required to work with her or those who reported to her as he sought to determine the scope and nature of the current Goa'uld presence on Earth, nor what steps might be required to close that Pandora's box again and wall the intruding demons back into their own dimension.
"More than two years," he replied mildly, searching for a safe question to ask in return. 'And how long have you been working with demons?' seemed a little abrupt. Likewise, 'So how did Dr. Jackson actually die?' He was almost afraid to find out; it would be terribly ironic for the man to have died at the hands of the very class of beings the Council had attempted to recruit him to research and fight all those years ago.
Daniel had been a very intelligent man, but stubborn, and had had no patience for what he'd perceived to be an elaborate scam; in attempting to be enticingly mysterious, Travers had neglected to provide tangible proof of the Council's claims, and Daniel had written the group off as lunatics at best, religious fanatics at worst. Wesley had, of course, been included in that number, as he had attempted to defend his chosen-- destined-- career. At the time, Daniel's obstinacy had thoroughly irked Wesley, and though he understood his former friend's attitude much better so many years after the fact, he still felt it had been a terrible waste of opportunity.
Murray spoke before anything else came to mind. "And during that time, you have worked as a private investigator," he commented, the words mild but backed with an impressive degree of quiet intensity.
Wesley wondered how much they knew of his recent history; very few of the actual facts of his time as an employee of, and later the manager of, Angel Investigations were a matter of public record, and the private firm he'd formed in the last few months had even less to do with regular legal channels. Nevertheless, a paper trail obviously existed; the private investigator's license he'd pulled strings with old friends in the Watcher's Council to obtain was registered to his current address, and some of his current and former clients worked both sides of the fence, supernatural and otherwise. Someone would have talked, the only question was who, and how much.
"I have," he said cautiously, answering the question as minimally as possible.
"For what reason did you choose this career?" Murray continued, one eyebrow slightly raised.
That was an even thornier question, given that a demon was asking it; if he did not already know, then the Army project formerly known as the Initiative had apparently kept their records sealed and classified beyond what the Air Force group in contact with Murray's species and their masters currently had access to. Wesley may not have been involved in the actual resistance against the Initiative's operations in Sunnydale, but the group had not lacked for intelligent personnel, and Wesley knew he was down in their files as a person of interest due to his connection with Buffy's former vampire associate-- Angel.
That lack of awareness was a positive development, from Wesley's perspective; the Goa'uld demons had been absent from the Earth for more than 5,000 years, and must not yet have realized that the Watcher's Council was the modern evolution of the coalition of sorcerers, Slayer, and alleged travelers from the future who had been responsible for guiding the uprisings and shutting this world away from them so long ago. He had no idea how the Goa'uld would react to the knowledge of the wider variety, and community, of demons extant upon this planet were they not already aware of them, nor how they would regard his role in preventing said demons from attaining their various predatory goals in this part of the world.
Of course, Murray could be merely pretending
not to know the truth of Wesley's affiliations. That did not truly signify, however; either way, the penalties for understating the truth were likely to be less severe than the consequences of overstating. Better not to address the subject until and unless they brought it up themselves.
"I was sent to Sunnydale a few years ago to assume control of a project previously run by an employee who had been fired for partisanship," he summarized, carefully choosing words that avoided the supernatural aspects of the job. "I was not properly prepared before I was sent, nor made aware of the full details of the situation, and when I inevitably failed in spectacular fashion I was fired as well. Rather than attempt to return home, I decided to make the best of things, and accepted an offer of employment from an acquaintance in Los Angeles."
"I'm surprised you didn't look for another job in research or translation, given your skills and credentials in those areas," Major Carter commented, a trace of disbelief in her tone.
"Yes, well," Wesley said dryly, "when one's previous employer is as old, established, and well thought of in one's field of expertise as the IWC, a negative recommendation carries a great deal of weight. And you'd probably be surprised how often my academic skills have actually played a significant part in the successful resolution of a case."
"Really," Major Carter said. He could see her raising blonde eyebrows in the rear-view mirror.
"Indeed," Wesley replied, raising his eyebrows in return.
She glanced back up at the mirror, meeting his eyes with an expression of startlement, then glanced over at Murray; the large Jaffa glanced back at her with an amused expression and inclined his head.
"Yes, well," the major said, clearing her throat and gesturing at the Sheraton sign visible through the windshield. "Looks like we're almost there. The colonel shouldn't be far behind us."
No further questions of substance were asked or answered as the car was parked and Wesley accompanied the Air Force officer and her demonic associate up to their suite. They moved as though intimately familiar with one another, barely noticing the intrusion of the other into their personal space, but both seemed highly attuned to Wesley's every step; that was either a very good sign, indicating that the demon had been present on Earth and a part of the human's team for quite some time without feeling any noticeable urge for world conquest, or a very bad sign, indicating that she herself had been possessed by a subtle master-species demon with which Murray, whatever his true name might be, was well acquainted.
When they reached the suite, Major Carter offered him a chair and a sheaf of papers requiring his signature. Lilah's face rose unbidden in his thoughts as he read through the paperwork, and he wondered absently what she would make of his disappearance from Los Angeles so immediately after their latest encounter. She had never been secretive about the fact that she would like to recruit him as an asset for Wolfram and Hart, and he had just as clearly insinuated that his life at Angel Investigations was long behind him. That had been a lie, of course, the first step in an imagined longer campaign; their interaction had always been of the use-and-be-used variety, and it had seemed like a waste not to reap what benefit he could from the situation. Still, what he'd told her about not being concerned any longer about what happened to his former friends wasn't very far from the truth. If Lilah was as skilled at her job as she professed to be, he didn't doubt that she would have discerned the sincerity of his emotions.
Would Wolfram and Hart complicate his legal standing in an effort to disrupt the Air Force's acquisition of him? Did it even matter? Any branch of the armed forces that dealt with a topic as secretive as the supernatural would certainly have methods of getting around such problems. Wesley shook his head and applied pen to paper, slowly and deliberately signing his name.
The loop of the last E was still drying on the page when the door opened, admitting the missing colonel. The man looked much less displeased with the world at large than he had when Wesley and the others had left him behind in the park; clearly, something of importance had transpired in the meantime. Hopefully, whatever it was would work to Wesley's benefit, not detriment.
Colonel O'Neill eyed him curiously, then turned to his second and asked, "So, you done the song and dance yet, Carter?"
"No sir," she said, smiling faintly as she shook her head at him. "We figured we'd wait for you."
"Good," the man said, snagging a chair from the small table Wesley was seated at. He turned it around backward, then sat down, crossing his arms over the top of it as he stared at Wesley. "I was kind of hoping you'd answer a few questions for us before we got to that part," he continued. "Like where you learned to speak Goa'uld."
"Goa'uld?" Wesley replied, frowning as he repeated the word. From the notes in the files, he'd been under the impression that the word was more properly spoken with three syllables, rather than one. But the degree of linguistic drift that had occurred over the last several thousand years was rather irrelevant to the colonel's question.
"I am a student of ancient cultures, Colonel," he said. "I spent a good deal of time while I was studying at university in the archives of the private institution I was later employed by, the IWC, and amongst their records are a great many personal accounts of ancient events, including many documents not preserved elsewhere. One such is a codex, thought to be a fabrication due to the unusual durability of the materials from which it is made, describing a-- foreign species-- known as the Goa'uld who, with their slaves the Jaffa, ruled Ancient Egypt before the coming of the Scorpion King. A limited lexicon of terms in the Goa'uld language was included by the author."
O'Neill's expression grew progressively more blank as Wesley spoke; when he finished, the colonel glanced over at Major Carter and shook his head like a dog shaking off water. "Damn, he talks like Daniel, too. Translation, Carter?"
She narrowed her eyes at him, but humored him anyway. "He found an ancient diary, sir, with a dictionary in it."
"How... convenient," O'Neill said, a hearty dose of skepticism in his tone, as he turned back to Wesley. "And what made you think this... diary... of yours had anything to do with our coming here?"
It was Wesley's turn to raise his eyebrows as he responded dryly, "Daniel's areas of research and my own overlapped in very few areas, that I recall. I am no expert on Egyptian mythology, and he was well aware of that; the fact that he still recommended me to you-- and that the government acquired him and saw fit to assign him to a front-line military team based out of Colorado, of all places, judging by your body language with one another-- rather limits the field of possibilities as to why your team is here."
"And you decided that the most likely possibility was that the Air Force was in contact with aliens
?" Major Carter blurted, then subsided a little, looking a bit embarrassed at her outburst. "Sorry, but I just don't see how you jumped to that conclusion."
"Aliens?" Wesley said in surprise, raising his eyebrows. "No, I rather thought it was demons."
?" Colonel O'Neill replied in disbelief.
"Demons?" Carter echoed him. "Do you mean, like in the Greek sense, of daemons being entities intermediate between gods and men?" Off her superior's still incredulous expression, she continued, "What? The Goa'uld set themselves up as gods over the people they control; it would make sense, even if an ancient scholar were convinced that the Goa'uld weren't actually divine, for he or she to still assign them supernatural power based on their seemingly magical technological superiority."
Wesley winced, wishing he could take back his instinctive response to Carter's question, and began to wonder whether the situation at hand was something other than what he had initially believed it to be. Demonic or not, for these Air Force officers to believe these beings to be literal extraterrestrials, they must have a credible reason for that belief-- provided they were not in fact puppets to the will of a conquering Goa'uld.
"That is the designation used to refer to them in the text," Wesley replied, deflecting the question with seeming assent.
"The Goa'uld are not demons, any more than they are gods," Murray spoke up, stepping forward until he stood just behind O'Neill's shoulder. "They are parasites." In his eyes flared the spark of the true believer, one who had passed through fire and hoped to prevent others from suffering the same. A defector, then, as Wesley had speculated earlier-- provided, again, that this was not all an elaborate setup. Though, who would waste such time and energy on Wesley's
Wesley raised his hands before him, palm out, and replied quietly but firmly. "I believe you," he said. "But I think perhaps it is time for you to answer a few questions; it is clear that my knowledge of the matter is incomplete."
Wolfram & Hart was a practical organization, for all that it was evil; he doubted it would spend so much on him without guarantee of a return. And the majority of Wesley's other enemies were either connected to the Watcher's Council, or by proxy of his association with Angel; the former group had washed its hands of him, and the latter would not waste time with Angel's betrayer when they could instead approach those whom Angel still cared about, such as Connor, Fred, or Gunn. No, surreal as it might seem, he was truly in a room with Air Force officers who believed in-- and likely fought-- beings they thought of as extraterrestrials, with at least one such actually living and working in their midst.
"Not so fast," O'Neill countered, grimly. "You're saying you expected
to find out the Air Force was up to its neck in fire and brimstone?"
Wesley didn't know what to say to that, but fortunately did not have to answer; O'Neill barely paused before speaking again.
"I'm not going to waste our time offering a place on my team to someone with a screw loose. So I gotta know. Did you think we were mixed up with ghosts and goblins just because of something out of a book? Or are you speaking from personal experience, here?"
"Sir--" Carter began to object.
"It's all right," Wesley said, throwing her an apologetic glance. "It is a valid question, considering the subject matter." Wesley wasn't one hundred percent certain which answer the colonel was looking for, but he rather suspected it was the latter; this wasn't another scholar he was talking to. This was a man of action, for whom the evidence of his senses would carry more weight than any dry theory discovered in a dusty tome.
"I would call it... personal experience," he continued, stroking the still-livid scar across his throat, and stopped there, watching O'Neill for his reaction.
The colonel's eyes dropped to the arm he'd gestured with, and he raised his eyebrows at the bandage visible through the sleeve. "That, too?" he asked, lightly.
Wesley's lips thinned. No point in lying about the wound, but the details had best be kept brief. "The nightlife around here can be... a little rough."
The colonel nodded thoughtfully, then sat back and gestured to Major Carter. "Okay. Good to know. Your turn, Carter; hit him with it."
"That's all you're going to ask?" Carter asked her superior, brow furrowed. "Sir, the existence of the supernatural--"
"Seems a little less impossible when you consider, say, Orlin? Or Oma? Or, you know, that guy with the Darth Vader fetish?" O'Neill prompted her.
"But that's--" Carter said, then paused, frowning. "I suppose, provided that-- well, it could appear that-- Huh." She thought a moment more, then turned to Wesley abruptly with a bright smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.
"All right, then. Our story begins in Giza, in 1928, when Dr. Langford..."
By the time Major Carter finished explaining the discovery of the Stargate, Daniel Jackson's role in the program, and an abbreviated history of the ever-evolving mission of Stargate Command, Wesley had reached three conclusions.
Firstly, that though the Shadow Men had, according to this version of the tale, fallen victim to Clarke's Third Law, these modern soldiers had likely also fallen afoul of its reverse. To a woman who walks through wormholes to other planets on a daily basis, any sufficiently advanced magic would naturally be indistinguishable from the impossibly complex technology she uses on a daily basis. If the ancients who described the Goa'uld empire on Earth had got the mechanism of the demons' transportation circle wrong, they were unlikely to have been completely off the mark when they described the nature of the creatures themselves; portals and wormholes were indistinguishably different to one who had no inkling of the science underlying their structures, but magical detection of demonic essence was something the Shadow Men had understood very well indeed.
Secondly, that if he took these people, SG-1, up on their offer, he would effectively be the fifth man on their team, not the fourth. It would be the early days at Angel Investigations all over again, with the ghost of the fallen hero always influencing the way the others perceived him. He didn't know if he had the strength to start over as a second-class team member again after all that he'd experienced since his arrival in Los Angeles.
But thirdly, he could not let this opportunity pass him by. He could continue to skulk through the streets of Los Angeles, poaching the least attractive supernatural cases out from under Angel Investigations and waiting for something dire to come up that would cause his former team to need
his expertise, or he could join this
team and forge a new path for himself, continuing to protect the world from threats that the average citizen would never learn about, nor understand.
He had also come to a rudimentary, and reluctantly admiring, opinion of the men and woman who would be his team, should he agree to go with them. Carter was a brilliant woman it would be a pleasure to match wits with, the Colonel a gifted soldier with a taste for sarcastic commentary, and Teal'c-- for such was Murray's true name-- a tower of strength, both physically and emotionally, for his chosen family, his adopted world, and the people he had left behind among the stars.
Wesley could not help but be reminded of his former co-workers as he watched them: Fred the brilliant scientist, Gunn the muscle with a quip, and Angel their backbone; or, in an older example, Willow the bright budding witch, Buffy the witty agent of action, and Xander their foundation and heart. Yet neither group was complete without their agent of knowledge; the Scoobies had Giles, and for one small, impossibly distant and implausibly happy stretch of time, he had assisted Cordelia in filling that role for Angel Investigations.
SG-1 had had Daniel Jackson. And Daniel had recommended him-- Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, whose last conversation with the man had been full of acrimony-- as one qualified to follow in his place. Had the archaeologist come to wonder, over the years, if he might have been a little hasty turning down the Watcher's Council's offer all those years ago?
"So, what do you think?" O'Neill asked, breaking into his thoughts as the silence began to drag out in the hotel suite.
Wesley swallowed the last of the tea in the bottom of the cheap plastic cup the hotel had provided, then met the man's gaze. Somewhere behind the cynicism and the press of destiny, he felt a sense of wonder struggling to emerge: these people traveled to other planets-- to other galaxies-- on a regular basis, and had access to knowledge beyond the reach of even Wolfram and Hart, whose connections with other worlds were reached via dimensional portal, not extraterrestrial travel.
Yet he could not appear too eager, lest he strengthen O'Neill's suspicions-- and he could not forget why he had taken O'Neill's invitation to talk in the first place. This was business, not pleasure. Though he might no longer be a Watcher by profession, he was one still at heart, and whatever role he might fill for these people that would remain his true purpose: to seek out, study, and confront evil in whatever form he might find it.
"I think that you have given me a lot to consider," he said, slowly. "I think that I have several cases waiting that are in urgent need of my input, and that it would not be wise to make a final decision tonight. Might I return tomorrow to discuss this further?"
O'Neill nodded, appearing paradoxically to relax at the idea of a delay. "I thought you might feel that way," he replied. "We'll be here until day after tomorrow. Take your time. Just, you know, don't go sharing the news with any of your friends in the meantime; we were serious about that confidentiality thing."
"I quite understand, I assure you," Wesley told him wryly, then set the cup down and stood, stretching muscles that had gone slightly stiff over the course of the interview.
"It was good to meet you," Major Carter said, extending a hand to him.
"Likewise," he replied, shaking the hand firmly. She had slightly callused palms, manicured nails, and a strong grip; as in all else, he realized suddenly, like a mixture of Cordelia and Fred, save for her blonde hair and her occupation. He would have to remain cautious in his dealings with her.
Tealc, who had been mostly silent during the extended question and answer session when the subject did not concern either his people, his role in the project, or the Goa'uld themselves, merely inclined his head by way of farewell, bending slightly at the waist. It was a beautifully formal gesture. Wesley could not help but once more compare the-- man, for he surely deserved the term-- to Angel as he bowed in return; a former master of his own kind, working with a small, dedicated human team to fight against everything he'd previously stood for.
Wesley took his leave at a considerately unhurried pace, aware that he would likely pick up a tail on his way back to his apartment, and took a cab back to the park where he had left his vehicle. O'Neill had left the suite more than once during Carter's explanation, more than likely meeting with other associates; a wise move, strategically, and one that would mean Wesley could not be sure of recognizing whomever was set to follow him. The best course, he knew, was to present no suspicious behavior, or even awareness of any observers he happened to spot, until he reached his apartment; from there, he could arrange a distraction and escape through the nearest sewer access to go about his business.
If nothing else, Mrs. O'Leary's case needed to be resolved immediately, and he would have to inform Diana, Hawkins and the others that he would be out of town indefinitely. Hopefully, he would not run across Angel or any of his other former associates while he was out. He did not fancy having to explain fresh injuries when he returned to the Sheraton the next day.
Hope struggled in Wesley's breast again, and he squashed it down ruthlessly. There was no new beginning here, no fresh start, however it might seem. He was merely going undercover in a new theater of operations, nothing more.