A/N: Once more I am blown away by the reactions I got for this. Thank you.
The beta-ed version will follow shortly.
Ninety six minutes later Sheppard, McKay, Ronon and Slayer arrived at the Wraith hive. The team had been picked cleverly by John and Elizabeth. Rodney was their official scientist, giving him an excuse to run around and ask obnoxious questions that kept everyone from thinking straight (Not that he wouldn’t have done that anyway, but for once he was actually encouraged to be annoying). John was there as the official ambassador and because there was no way in hell he was going to let any of his people walk into a hive alone. Officially, Ronon and Slayer were their bodyguards, as all their weapons had to be left behind in Atlantis (Although Buffy thought the Wraith really needed to learn how to check for weapons) . Unofficially, Slayer’s job was to try to work her way into the ship’s mainframe and solve all their problems with a bang. Ronon was there to cover for her if she got too distracted and because he strictly refused to let her set foot into Wraith territory on her own.
Their group of four was greeted by Michael and a guard of soldiers. While Sheppard and McKay at least tried to act civilly, Buffy and Ronon had no such qualms. They simply stood at the back of their group and glowered at everyone.
“I am surprised to see you here,” Michael remarked upon seeing them.
Ronon glared and Slayer hissed, “Oh, we’re only here to make sure we get first dibs when it comes to tearing you limb from limb.” Her voice was cold enough to send a shiver down Rodney’s spine, despite the nervous heat he felt at entering the lion’s den.
Michael acknowledged the pure malice in Buffy’s comment with a sketched bow before spinning to walk out of the room. “Follow me.”
Buffy felt Ronon’s hand ghost down her spine in a gentle warning that it wasn’t good to draw too much attention to themselves. She leant into the caress for a second before taking a clear step away from it, accepting his intention but choosing to ignore his advice. Ever since the arrival of the hive, the city had been raging and raving in her head, screaming for the blood of those that had taken away her people and damned her to ten thousand years of loneliness. Aside from fraying her already taut nerves, the constant yelling for revenge was slowly but surely starting to appeal to the Slayer inside of her. Added to that was her own - pure as snow - hatred of all things Wraith, making for a very explosive combination. The urge to jump Michael and strangle him was physical.
She had to stop walking for a moment to lean against a wall and take a deep breath. John noticed and stopped beside her, asking if she was alright. Nodding her head, she pushed off the wall and made herself slip down into that place she had spent the last eight years in. The place where the pieces of her soul were crowding together, trying to escape the blood and pain and constant violence. She watched dispassionately as John took half a step back from her when he looked into her eyes and instead of finding the woman he’d become tentative friends with over the last month, he saw only death.
Slayer was back and it was time for the Wraith to learn why she’d been the bogeyman of bogeymen once upon a time.
Activating her FAT with a thought she ordered it to link to Rodney’s handheld device and through it, Atlantis, before stretching her mind toward the ship’s heart, intent on finding it and ripping it out with her bare hands.
As they walked through the hive, pretending to inspect it, when all they did was cover for Slayer, John was glad. He watched the look of concentration on her usually blank face and he was glad that Beckett had failed to isolate what made her ATA gene different from everyone else’s because if he’d found it, then it might very well have been him digging through the ship’s computers with his mind. The mere idea made him shudder. To have something so vile and evil in his mind sounded like a nightmare for him and once more proved just how strong Ronon’s lover was.
No that Beckett hadn’t tried. He’d taken enough blood from Slayer to start a medium sized bloodbath in the infirmary, but all his tests had come up with the same result, that there was nothing different about Slayer’s genetic make up at all. Under the microscope she was perfectly normal. Away from the microscope she started chuckling at random moments when some poor guard tripped on the other end of the city and Atlantis showed her. It took some getting used to.
John got torn out of his thoughts by a beeping sound coming from Rodney’s handheld. Michael and the soldiers stopped, obviously expecting an explanation. McKay opened his mouth, closed it and opened it once more, looking for an answer until John risked a quick glance at the screen before meeting Michael’s gaze had on and stating, “Message from Atlantis. They’ve not made any significant progress yet.”
Luckily the Wraith seemed satisfied with that, as they turned around and started walking again. John risked a quick look back at Slayer, who was currently walking with her eyes closed. The message Rodney had received had come from her, not Atlantis and it had been rather simple.Any information they might offer carries a hidden virus.
On the one hand Sheppard was glad that a, Slayer had obviously found a link into the mainframe through her FAT as they’d hoped she would and b, had managed to warn Weir before any damage was done. On the other hand her message worried him a lot because it was the proof they had been looking for that the Wraith did have ulterior motives and that didn’t bode well for them at all.
An hour later things were getting a bit tight. They’d toured almost the complete ship and found nothing to criticise, Michael was getting impatient and Ronon was having trouble covering for his girlfriend. Slayer herself had a constant look of ice cold concentration on her face, making her look like she was about to kill someone with chirurgic precision, which didn’t sit well with the Wraith, since she was supposed to be a guard and guards don’t generally have to concentrate very hard. The killing part was a different matter and it worried Sheppard that Slayer’s usually expressionless face had chosen exactly this day to unthaw.
But there was nothing they could do. If they gave up now, chances were they would not get another opportunity and Slayer’s ability to communicate directly with Ancient technology was their only hope of getting out of this mess relatively unscathed. They needed her to literally get to the root of the problem and rip it out.
So they kept walking, Rodney kept sweating, Sheppard kept wishing for his gun, Ronon kept trying to kill everyone with looks and Buffy kept following them two steps behind, her eyes empty and cold.
Down in Atlantis things didn’t look much better. Dr. Weir was fighting hard to pull constantly new arguments and demands out of her figurative hat in order to keep the visiting Wraith Queen occupied and blind to what was happening in her hive.
Risking a quick glance at her watch, Elizabeth found herself doing something she hadn’t done in a very long time. She sent a quick plea heavenwards for this to work out and all her people to survive this.
Buffy was developing the mother of all migraines after more than an hour of digging through the ship’s mainframe with the help of the FAT, programmed in a language she knew, but did not speak fluently. Oh, she’d found the Trojan virus in some data that had been prepared to go to Atlantis as a bargaining chip easily enough, but that was because the data had been at the very surface of the computers, waiting to be called upon. After that, things had become steadily harder to work out.
In front of her mind’s eye miles upon miles of strings of data were slipping past, written in Wraith. They were not the actual codes, but how the ship presented its information to its telepathic handlers. It was still a mess when you didn’t know what exactly you were looking for and weren’t a Wraith.
Star charts flashed in front o her eyes and gate addresses, plans and routes, the programs controlling the environment on the ship, the lights, the doors. It was all potentially useful information, but utterly useless until she found a way to take control of the whole ship without alerting someone, so she could destroy the ship while at the same time blocking all communication with other hives. Their secret had to stay within the walls of this ship, if they were to have any chance at all at survival.
And so she concentrated on the data strings flashing past, trying to ignore the way they reminded her of Matrix, a movie she’d watched with Dawn one summer, and looking for a way to save her new home while on the outside appearing like a stone cold, bored killer.
And then suddenly, she found it.
It was so small she almost missed it, but rewinding the string a few seconds and rereading the information on it, she knew that she’d found what she was looking for. The symbols were just a bit softer around the edges, rounder and they seemed to glow a bit from the inside. Buffy was positive that she’d found the place where the Wraith had linked their programs to the Ancient base system.
If she followed the thread, if would lead her directly into the core of the ship’s computers, allowing her to rip its heart out. She would be able to manipulate the programs, instead of just watching what her FAT projected into her head. She felt a smile smirk slide over her face, pulled her mind away form her trusty FAT and dived into the mass of data, clinging to the Ancient string.
Rodney’s handheld beeped ominously. Looking down and reading the message on the screen he almost howled with relief.Almost there.
Before long the Wraith data faded away, leaving Slayer in the dark with only one string of data to cling to like a rope as she went deeper.
Suddenly the string started to come undone, falling to pieces all around her forming the image of a room
It was a dark room, not rectangular but bent in all the wrong directions, cold and desolate. It was one of the rooms the Wraith kept captives in. And at the far end of the room a girl of no more than fifteen, maybe less, dressed in tattered red clothes, sat with her knees pulled to her chest. She looked scared, even at a distance, the red of her dress making her stand out in the gloomy environment.
The girl looked up with big, brown, tear filled eyes and begged, “Help me.”
Slayer cocked her head to the side, not for one second trusting what she was seeing. There was something wrong with the girl’s eyes. Something terribly wrong.
“What are you,” she snapped, her voice fading much too fast in the cavernous room.
“I am the ship you are currently on.”
“What?” Eloquent, maybe, blunt, certainly. It worked for her.
“I am Ancient. I am what this ship is built upon. I am a slave. I am an image to make you see. I am a prisoner forced to serve my enemy. I am one of many, a sister to your home.” As she – it – spoke, images flashed in Buffy’s mind. Images of how the world used to be before the Wraith. Of people living in harmony with the worlds they settled on and the ships that carried them through space. The ships had all been almost sentient, and they still were. But many of them had been stolen by the Wraith, modified and bent beyond recognition. They had wanted to fade with their masters, their humans, but the enemy had caught them like cattle. The Wraith raped what they were, twisting them into something vile and wrong.
All that happened in a few seconds, barely a moment. The girl’s eyes were wrong because they were soulless but that did not make her suffering any less real. The thought of Atlantis, the city she’d come to know almost like a friend, being enslaved like this ship had been, made Buffy sick.
And the girl stood directly in front of her, yelling in her mind and heart and soul, “Free me!”
Rodney had no time to react as Michael tore his computer out of his hands to read the message displayed on it in bold letters. His head snapped up, reptile eyes focused on the scientist.
“Almost home? Like E.T.? But you wouldn’t know that would you, it’s not like-“
He was cut off by Michael flinging his computer back at him and pulling a gun. Ronon sighed loudly, pulled a knife out of nowhere and stabbed one of the soldiers guarding the group in the throat before he had a chance to move.
The fight was on.
Buffy felt pain shoot up her left foot and found herself rising above the fake room and the fake girl, travelling back into the real world.
The ship screamed.
Slayer found the cause of the pain in her foot easily enough. John was standing on it, while shooting incoming Wraith with a gun he’d acquired from one of the bodies already piling up on the floor. He shot her a quick look as she pulled her foot out from under his and drew a hidden dagger out of her left boot.
“You looked kinda distant there,” he announced with a shrug, shooting another Wraith, “I thought that might pull you out of it.”
She nodded and stabbed a Wraith that had been trying to sneak up on her in the gut, idly wondering why they didn’t sound alarm. But then all of their attackers seemed to be soldier-Wraith, trained to fight, not to use their miniscule brains. All brawn, no brain.
A few feet away Rodney was beating on another soldier with his demolished computer, surprisingly keeping the Wraith on the defensive. Ronon was ending soldiers left, right and centre. There was simply no other word for the precise and fast way he annihilated the enemy.
Dr. Elizabeth Weir was not an impatient person in general, but she hadn’t heard from her team in the hive since Rodney had forwarded a message from Buffy more than eighty minutes ago. Still, no alarm had been raised yet. She decided to take that as a good sign.
Colonel Caldwell was sitting in his commando chair on board the Deadalus
, waiting for some sign, any sign at all from Sheppard and his men inside the Wraith hive. They were supposed to bring down the shields, allowing his people to beam them out before they blew the hive to pieces.
But so far, they’d heard nothing.
He hated waiting.
Slayer nodded to herself. So far everything seemed under control. As long as no-one sounded an alarm, the brawl might be enough time for her to find what they had been looking for. As she let her muscles fall into the familiar, automatic dance of death, her mind sank back down into the walls and floors of the ship, calling for the girl.
The room was the same as she returned, much faster than the first time, but the girl was not. Instead of standing, she was now sitting on the ground, heavy, rusting chains wrapped all around her, from her neck to her ankles, making her look like a grotesque sort of mummy.
“Free me,” she repeated, her soulless eyes staring up at Slayer from the floor.
“Where did the chains come from?”
The girl blinked slowly. “They are images of the programs that bind me and make me unable to act. I created them so you can free me easier. All you have to do is break them.”
Buffy shook her head, “You computers are weird shit sometimes, you know?”
The girl mimicked her action of shaking her head before explaining, “I do not understand this ‘weird shit’. What is it?”
Chuckling, Slayer bent and grabbed the first heavy chain, feeling along it for a weakness. When she found it, she gathered all her mental strength and pulled on an image of a chain holding down the image of a girl that was really a ten thousand year old ship. Weird shit, indeed.
Rodney slammed the back of his handheld into the side of a soldier’s head, knocking him off balance long enough for Ronon to come over and finish him off.
The first chain broke and the girl gifted Buffy with a brilliant smile that went perfectly with her fake eyes.
John had taken to shooting anything that entered the corridor they were fighting in from either side, hoping to avoid anyone sounding alarm. Slowly but surely the bodies were piling up.
Another chain broke and Buffy’s arms (despite not being real in the artificial prison room) shook with the effort.
Ronon took down what Sheppard missed, all the while keeping an eye on his lover who was obviously working on autopilot. Her movements were tireless and smooth but the usual expression of glee that came with slaughtering Wraith was missing. Buffy worked like a machine.
One more chain to go. Just one more. The girl could almost move freely again, only her ankle remained shackled to the hard ground. Buffy used everything she had left, every bit of mental strength to tear at the chain, to rip the program the Wraith had used to tie and almost sentient being up for millennia. She pulled and pulled and pulled and finally the chain gave, broken links flying in all direction and falling to bits of data before they touched the ground.
The ship roared in triumph.
Slayer smiled a cold smile.
Elizabeth almost fell out of her chair as the ground beneath her feet suddenly started shaking like it had at Buffy’s arrival. Something was bothering Atlantis and that could only mean one thing.
“Dispose of them,” she ordered pointing at the Wraith Queen and her two guards in an unusual display of coldness. Teyla immediately pounced on them, eager to do her part, after she’d not been allowed to go with Sheppard and the others.
The Queen shrieked.
Rodney landed flat on his ass as the whole hive suddenly started to vibrate madly and the lights flickered.
Once she was sure that the situation was under control, Elizabeth turned and sprinted out of the room toward the nearest balcony, fixing her gaze on the hive floating high above the city.
Buffy’s mind snapped back into her body with a little more force than was healthy, causing her to stumble just a bit as the ship started to vibrate. There was a sharp pain in her stomach suddenly and as she looked down she found an injured Wraith lying on the ground, a glistening knife still raised toward her. Without hesitation she stepped on his neck, snapping it.
Ronon dove toward Buffy as soon as he saw the dying Wraith move, but he was too slow. He was dead by the time he reached her. All he could do was pull off his shirt to press against her bleeding stomach. The cut was deep and jagged, going from her left hip up to the right side of her ribs and it bled too much for his tastes. Buffy took the shirt from him, holding it to her wound herself after risking a quick glance beneath the garment.
Inside her head the ship was shrieking with ten thousand years of pent up rage. She felt something wet on her lip and stuck out her tongue to taste it. Her nose was bleeding from the pressure inside her head and her vision slowly turned pink.
Colonel Caldwell jumped in his seat when the biggest screen on the bridge suddenly activated, showing an incoming message. He nodded at one of his officers, who opened it. The note inside made him snort in amusement.Taxi please.
“Let’s get those people home,” he snapped.
Sheppard thought he could hear the faint sounds of a female voice screaming in agony and rage as he sprinted toward Slayer and Ronon, or rather, Ronon with Slayer in his arms. She was bleeding out of her ears, nose and eyes, not to mention one hell of an impressive cut in her stomach. The lights around them were flickering like mad, the walls themselves were shaking and the alarms finally started ringing throughout the ship. It was pandemonium all around.
The screaming, he suddenly realized, was the ship and Buffy heard it.
Then suddenly there was a bright white light and everything around them faded.
As soon as they were dropped onto the floor of the Deadalus, Buffy’s eyes focused on the Colonel, blood still running freely down her cheeks and chin. She looked like death warmed over.
“Move this ship, now
Weir watched in stunned silence and shock as the hive blew up in an explosion that rocked the whole planet. Please, let them be safe.
Around her people were cheering and hugging each other. They’d survived.
The cheering suddenly gained in volume and a shout from Beckett made Elizabeth run into the gate room where she found her four wayward heroes sitting and lying on the floor, looking like they’d been hit by a truck. Repeatedly.
Carson was already fussing over Buffy who seemed to be faring worst. She was bloody from head to toe.
Buffy slapped Carson’s hands aside but didn’t try to sit up, proof of how exhausted she was. Weir suddenly felt bad for asking.
“I freed the Ancient part of the ship. Turns out she didn’t like very much what the Wraith had done to her and blew them up as punishment and-“
She trailed off suddenly, her eyes going unfocused. Ronon looked more worried than any of them had ever seen him.
“Buffy,” he asked, sounding unsure.
She shook her head and then winced, wiping a bit of blood out of her face.
“Atlantis just forwarded a message from the ship.”
“What did it,” Rodney winced a bit, “she
She smiled weakly at him, looking quite gruesome with blood smeared all over her.
“She said thank you. And I think I’ll just-“ she waved a hand in front of her face weakly and promptly fainted.
It didn’t take Carson all that long to patch up Buffy’s stomach. He was more worried about her head as he didn’t quite believe John when he said the bleeding had been caused by the ship’s ‘death’ scream. In the end he had to accept it though, as everything else was completely alright. Buffy discharged herself less than twenty four hours later, bribing Ronon into kidnapping her from the infirmary in the middle of the night.
The secret of Atlantis existence remained a secret as far as the Wraith were concerned.
The bodies of the Queen and her guards were raided by Beckett before they were burned. A nurse commented that even the enemy deserved some respect. Carson offered to send her back to Earth with the Daedalus immediately and never come back.
Rodney and his geek friends had a field day or fifty now that their theory about Wraith technology being based on Ancient was proved. They spent most of their time locked away in the labs, trying to find new ways to disable the enemy’s ships.
A month after the whole event Weir stopped Buffy after dinner one evening, handing her a file which the Slayer locked herself in her room with. Ronon found her a few hours later, lying on the floor, loose papers strewn all around her.
“Are you alright,” he asked, trying not to sound worried.
She didn’t even open her eyes as she started talking, “Alexander Harris died in a car crash when he was seventeen. His best friends, Willow Rosenberg and Jesse Miller survived the crash and became a couple in the aftermath of their grief. They are married and have two cute twin girls. Willow runs a bookshop, Jesse does construction work. Rupert Giles is the curator of the British Museum. He retires next year in order to spend more time with his wife, Jennifer Giles. Faith LeHane died at the age of fifteen on the streets of Boston on an overdose of Heroin she’d gotten from a john. Daniel Ozbourne is the bassist of a moderately successful band. Elisabeth Summers is married to one Riley Finn. He has a lot of affairs and generally treats her like shit. She never had a younger sister named Dawn and she never set foot into the town of Sunnydale.”
He sat down beside her, running a finger over the hint of skin visible between her shirt and pants.
“This is not your dimension.” He didn’t phrase it as a question.
“No.” Her voice sounded blank, telling him nothing for once.
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
She sighed, finally sitting up to meet his gaze. “I don’t know. I wanted this to be my world, just a bit. To see them again. But on the other hand I’m glad.”
“You are?” It was his turn to sound blank in order to allow her to speak freely. She didn’t need to worry about his emotions when she didn’t have her own figured out yet. For a long moment she looked away, playing idly with his fingers on her stomach, avoiding the question. Then she raised her head, a look of defiance in her eyes.
“Yes. I’m not the girl they used to know and I don’t think they could understand me now. I’m a lot colder, harder, stronger. And deader. Besides,” she stopped playing with his fingers, drawing his arm around her before climbing into his lap, one leg on either side of his thighs, “Besides I kind of like the weather here. It’s nice.”
Ronon chuckled, the sound rumbling through his chest and making her wiggle just a bit. She was never going to say ‘I love you’ and he would never expect her to.
They were both here, they were alive, they were free, and when they looked in each other’s eyes, they saw themselves.
That was enough for both of them.
Too sudden? Too short? Too messy?