"D, C, B, and A. Happy with that?" Dawn grumbled to the nurse who was running her through the typical post-head injury questions. Jon had to admit he was impressed. In addition to the alphabet question, the nurse also asked Dawn questions about what she remembered in the moments before the concussion, and Dawn gave the same fabrications mixed with truth answers every time.
In the interests of more space, the group had moved out of Dawn's infirmary room and into an empty conference room in level 23. Jon approved of that. Just because Dawn had ties to some sort of weird secret organization that had friends at the Pentagon didn't mean they had to give them information on the Stargate unasked. So now they sat and stood around a room slightly larger than the official briefing room containing the expected oversized table and reasonably comfortable chairs. Willow, who had given no indication if that was her first or last name, had placed herself carefully in between Dawn and Jack at the table, seeming to position herself so that she could grab ahold of Jon and Dawn and teleport them out of the room before anyone else could react. In the mean time, she politely deflected questions from Daniel and Jack, all the while looking just a little bit odd for the mix of BDUs, flip-flops with silk flowers along the straps, and hair dyed a red color only a civilian could get away with.
As Dawn answered one more question for the nurse, Jon picked up on the sound of boots in the corridor outside the room. After some brief muffled discussion, the door to the conference room opened, and a brown-haired man dressed in a black tee and khaki pants walked inside. He paused a moment as he scanned around before his eyes finally locked onto Jack.
"Colonel Riley Finn, Joint Task Force on Archaeological Preservation, at your service, General O'Neill," Finn said, delivering a neat salute toward Jack. Jon mentally filed Finn into the box labeled 'Special Operations'. There were very certain types of people who moved like Finn did while dressing in clothes you'd find at any Gap in America.
"Colonel, welcome to Cheyenne Mountain. I understand you're here to help clear up some misunderstandings that have happened," Jack said, rising from the table to greet the other soldier.
"JTF Archaeological Preservation is legit in some way or another," Daniel said to the side of Jack as he also reached to shake hands with Finn. "I've gotten boxes from them a couple of times. I'm Dr. Daniel Jackson, Air Force Archaeological Analyst for the bases in Colorado and New Mexico."
"Riley," Willow said as she got up and walked around the table. She was grinning now. The smile on her face took several years off her estimated age to the point that she didn't look that much older than Dawn. "It's been to long, you big old hunk of a everything's top secret mister soldier guy."
"Good to see you too, Willow." Riley said, his face softening as he was enveloped in Willow's fierce hug. "How's Kennedy doing?"
"Really well. I'm sure Sam's still Sam and making the rest of us all feel like we can't compete with her fabulousness and all. You know you two really need to come down to our place some time when it's not an emergency and just take some vacation time. Carnival season would be great. You know, come down, watch the parades from our balcony while drinking up a bunch of caipirinhas by the pitcher. And did I mention that, hey, major monster season that time of year, yeah lots and lots of monsters then. Kennedy will probably have to stop a major demon from eating entire blocos."
"Doesn't sound like much of a vacation to me," Jon said as he glanced at the other side of the table. At he might have expected, Jack looked concerned at Willow's words while Daniel looked like he wanted to ask a million more questions.
"We've one of those weird karma deals. I mean statistically, Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations are about as safe from your bad guy sub-terrestrials as you can get because they're fundamentally celebrations of the powers of light and good, and you'd have to spend too much energy trying to overcome the goodness you wouldn't have much energy left over for a fight. But if we actually talk too much about how the pre-Lenten season is a metaphysical lull time for the nasties, then something really bad is going to come along and happen next time that time of year rolls around," Dawn said.
"Like how you'd never say 'What's the worst thing that could happen?" Jack said.
"Or that everything is happening as expected," Jon said.
"Exactly," Dawn said as Willow finished her greeting of Finn and slid back to her seat between Jon and Dawn.
"And I'm serious about you two and social visits. There's more reasons to come by than just because you're glowing blue and can't get the curse off on your own."
"Glowing blue?" Daniel said.
"It wasn't that important of a problem in a big picture sort of way," Finn said. "Now don't get me wrong, and I'm glad to see you, Willow. You too, Dawn." Dawn gave a friendly wave to the soldier. "But I'm not quite sure why I'm here."
"Because I thought Dawn had gotten kidnapped by one of the bad, creepy parts of the military, and I might have overreacted just a wee little bit, and then I discovered that Dawn was actually just hanging out with what is probably the non-Adam-like good guys part of the military, and they seemed to be nice enough folks even though they're hiding the existence of aliens from the rest of the world and I figured you'd be all like the right person to clear up any misunderstandings because I just don't speak military very well, and because with our luck we'll end up having to work with them some day, so I want to keep it friendly."
"Hold it there. Aliens?"
"Yeah, they thought I was one at first, and then I was picking up some major not of this Earth but still of this dimension vibes from somewhere or somebody when that nice sergeant was helping me find some pants. Let me tell you, I've learned my lesson about teleporting and making sure I was wearing clothing appropriate for what's on the other end."
"Okay, I guess I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't believe in the possibility of aliens too. You'd just think I'd have run into one of them by now."
"Maybe we have at some time, and you know how you end up seeing what you'd expect to see, and we just didn't see them," Dawn said.
"Colonel Finn?" Jack said. The question was polite enough, but it strongly suggested that there needed to be an explanation soon.
"Sorry there, sir. Ms. Rosenberg's group tends not to operate in a very linear fashion."
"And Ms. Rosenberg's group would be?" Jack said. They apparently had a last name for Willow now. Jon was sure that what was said in the room was being recorded, and that now someone was rushing to search out information on one Willow Rosenberg.
"The Ragnarok Group is a paramilitary organization that at times works closely with American Armed Forces in protecting both the United States and the planet of Earth from sub-terrestrial threat."
"Hey, who are you calling military? Makes us sound like a bunch of gun-carrying testosterone-poisoned gorillas or something," Willow grumbled. Between the talk of stealing explosives and the way Willow hadn't hesitated to take out the guards in the infirmary, Jon would have called it paramilitary too, but if they wanted to call themselves something different, then he wasn't going to be the one to say nil.
"Okay, how about the Ragnarok Group is an organization devoted to stopping sub-terrestrial threats that consults with the Pentagon and the JTF Archaeological Preservation on a case by case basis, " Riley said.
"Much better. I mean I know it's channeling my mother to say it and all, but words really do have the power to shape the way we think about things," Willow said.
"Hold it there. Sub-terrestrials? What's a sub-terrestrial? Some sort of giant bug that lives in New York subway tunnels?" Jack said.
"File it all under things that go bump in the night. Demons, vampires, people who have actually sold their souls to the devil for physical immortality and a bonus chance to take over the world. And some of our people actually did have to deal with a dimensional portal last year that was causing a giant not-of-this-Earth bug problem in New York City subway tunnels. So do you subscribe to the National Enquirer then, General? I understand they had quite the good write up of parts of that whole mess."
"National Enquirer, Weekly World News, you name it," Daniel admitted. "Because sometimes they do come up with something that we need to check out."
"Just no messing with Bat Boy. He wants to live a quiet life these days, and we take it personally if his right to privacy is not respected," Willow said in all seriousness.
"I am willing to accept that there might be creatures that go bump in the night, as you say. Have to be a bit of a hypocrite myself if I wasn't willing to accept there's more out there than just Earth," Jack said. Jon knew that it wasn't as simple as Jack suddenly believing in vampires. In coming days, there would be discreet research on many fronts to check out Willow and Finn's stories and see if there was some sort of technological explanation for her sudden appearance in the infirmary. But in the mean time, Jack had seen too much to dismiss the concept out of hand.
"And if you want proof, maybe on parents' weekend, I could take you and Jon and Dr. Jackson there away from camp and we could hit the skankier parts of Colorado Springs for a good old-fashioned demon bar crawl. Believe it or not, there's something up in Manitou Springs that draws them to the area like white on rice," Dawn said. Willow shot her a quick look. "Hey, growing up quickly here, and do you really want to go into the metaphysics of me and the legal drinking age right now?"
"Of course, that all depends on us making sure we feel like you're trustworthy," Willow added. "Sitch, Riley?"
"You know how it goes. We're on the road so much, we're out of the loop on the fifteen different factions inside the NID and who's playing by the rules at any given time, or who's honest and who's not. But there are two things I can tell you about this particular part of Cheyenne Mountain. First, the men I've gotten in my unit that have also served here have been men that I've learned I can trust with my life."
"So if you've had people come from here to your team, how didn't you know about the space aliens part?" Dawn asked.
"Because whatever happened here was five levels beyond top secret, and I wasn't going to recruit people to my team if they opened up their mouth about something like that. I don't want people who talk on my team either."
"Makes sense. Though it's not like people would believe what got said any more than they'd believe the truth about Sunnydale," Willow said. It was another clue about the Ragnarok Group. SGC had sent multiple teams to the site of the Sunnydale disaster to make sure it had not been caused by alien technology. They had reported back that while the disaster didn't seem totally natural, there was not a single bit of evidence of alien technology involvement.
"And what's the second?" Dawn may have been willing to let the conversation drift to some degree, but her curiosity always made her come back to the original point.
"That someone at the Pentagon that we're sure we can trust one hundred and ten percent has instructed us to send any Egyptian-themed artifacts directly to offices here once we were sure there was no immediate risk associated with those artifacts."
"So you're that Riley that shows up as a signature on some of the customs slips when I get packages from JTF Archaeological Preservation? I'd really like to talk to you about some of the sites where you found those artifacts," Daniel said.
"Hold it there? You just turned over some potentially dangerous objects, with no questions asked? Just hello, drop them in the mail like you'd drop off a Christmas card, no questions asked?"
"First, I was following orders, from someone I trust, and who I think has proven themselves to be trustworthy to your group as well, and they vouch for these people. If there was any chance that anyone here would misuse those artifacts, they would never be sent here."
"Gee thanks," Jack muttered.
"And then, call me only a normal human being, but you know how it's been since Sunnydale fell. Our indicators say situations are up six hundred percent since then, and we're just barely keeping up with preventing major events. If the Air Force wants to take responsibility for old Egypt, I'm cool with that. I'm at the point where if I got a message that the Marines were now in charge of little green men claiming to be Norse gods, I'd be good with letting the Semper Fi crew handle that."
"Actually, if you're talking little gray men claiming to be Norse gods, we'll take them too," Daniel said in all seriousness. Jon glanced at Jack, and in one of those moments of perfect understanding, knew he was also amusing himself by picturing Thor trying to figure out Willow Rosenberg.
"Noted, and will pass that along to my people. Are the little gray men, um?"
"Part of our research and diplomatic sphere," Daniel said.
"Understood," Riley said.
"And no more questions about little gray men than that?" Dawn said.
"Course I've got questions. But unlike you guys, I'm not in a position to demand answers. And I don't mean to rush you guys, but I've got men back on the plane, and I'm wondering if I should get word to them that I'll be back soon, or if I'll be there a while and we should find them rooms so we can head back to Santiago in the morning."
Dawn and Willow glanced at each other.
"Think we're about ready to wrap things up before too long. I mean it's not like I'm going to be bestest buds with the General there, but it seems like he's a guy I can put on my Hanukkah-slash-Winter Solstice cards list," Willow said.
"But there's so much more I'd like to talk about with you," Daniel said.
"Kennedy's going to get upset if Willow's gone too much longer without checking in, and trust me, you don't want to get Kennedy mad. She gets nasty," Dawn said. Jon was surprised to hear Willow's presumed significant other as a her. "As for me, I've still got that whole recovering from significant injury thing going on, and I'm feeling too tired to talk more. And speaking of missing things because of the headache, Riley, was there something about you flying out of Nevada?"
"Please don't tell me you were out in Death Valley."
"We might have been in the area."
"Damn it!" Dawn went from cranky to pissed. "And here I thought we cleared out the Polgara infestation for good. Do you know how many times we rechecked the area to make sure we got them all. Then I had to send the girls to Vegas for a week to recover from all that too much sunshine and heat. You so don't want to know how much Giles chewed me out when the bill from the Bellagio Spa got back to HQ."
"No Polgaras, but a whole bunch of something-elses move in there instead. You know how nature hates a vacuum."
"Guess we'll have to start doing regular sweeps out there then. Squash it all before anything gets a foothold out there," Dawn said. Jon and the military men in the room didn't flinch at the word. They were all too good at hiding their emotions for that. But her casual use of it did make him worry a bit at just what would happen if there ever were too many vampires that Dawn, Willow, and Finn couldn't keep what they were doing secret anymore.
"So, um, Riley, Santiago, Chile?" Willow said.
"That would be the correct Santiago."
"Can I, um, hitch a ride with you then. I ended up rushing out of our apartment without grabbing my passport, and it would be kind of hard to get back home without it," Willow said.
"Wasn't the only thing she rushed out of her apartment without," Dawn said. Willow shot her what was supposed to be a sharp look, but was spoiled by her cheeks going as red as her hair.
"Keep it up, and if I ever run a trace on you and find out you're in the middle of getting audited by the IRS, I'll leave you where you are," Willow said.
"No problem, Willow. And Sam and I might just have to escort you all the way back to Rio, what with your lack of proper documentation and all."
"Great! I'll have to call Kennedy on the way and tell her to get the guest room ready. It was very good to meet you General O'Neill, and Dr. Jackson. If you ever have something that turns out not to be an E.T. after all, get in touch with Riley, and he'll get you in touch with us if necessary. Jon, it was great to meet you, and I'm impressed with how well you handled the weirdness. Dawn says you're hooking up with the Air Force when you get out of high school, but if you're interested in some other career, get in touch with Dawn, and we'd be glad to have you on board. I can tell you we've got a more relaxed dress code, you get to sleep in late, and you would not believe the dental plan our human resources, um, person found for us."
Riley reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He looked down for a moment, then fished out a business card that had nothing on it other than a phone number in northern Virginia. Jon guessed it went back to the Pentagon somehow.
"General, if you've got any further questions about what you've heard here today, or want some proof of our activities, and no, Dawn you are not going to take the General to a demon bar, please call this number, and they'll forward any messages to me. They'll claim to be a Chinese restaurant and laundry service, but be persistent, and a message will go through."
"They're also a real Chinese restaurant. Pretty good cover, and their food's not too bad as long as you stay away from the General Tso's. You so don't want to know what really goes into their special sauce. I'm not a squeamish girl, but I wish I didn't know," Willow added.
"Also give him a call if you've got any more vampires showing up on Academy ground. I didn't mind working on my alleged vacation and all, but my group does try not to encroach on Riley's peoples' work too much unless we're in the middle of apocalypse season. Plus, easier to explain his people being on military land than little old us," Dawn said.
"Apocalypse season? You've got a season for that? Does it tie back into any of the ancient calendars? I'm trying to remember if there was some sort of Inca connection there," Daniel said.
"We've never really sat down and cross checked it all, but we do know we get demon activity spikes from May first to June fifteenth, and again from December twenty to about January third," Willow said.
"And during apocalypse season, it ends up being strictly first man, um, group that gets the call about the situation deals with it. We're too busy those times of the year to worry about bureaucratic turf wars," Riley said.
"Something certain other people in the Armed Forces could stand to learn," Jack grumbled.
"Well it was good to meet you, General, and Dr. Jackson. It probably would be good for us to get together in the near future, since somewhere down the line, we are going to have some sort of situation where one of our groups runs into what the other group normally handles. Wouldn't be surprised if it's already happened and we missed it because we weren't looking for it. And one more thing," Finn said, pausing briefly as he glanced back toward Jon. "I'm not one to tell you how to run your side of things, but I can tell you that every time we've run into a cloning situation, it's gotten ugly somehow. Trust me, you don't want to go all the way with it."
"And trust me, Colonel. For all that we're glad that there was a good outcome in it all, it wasn't our idea, and it's not something that will be repeated," Jack said.
Dawn looked at Jack, looked back at Jon, and then whispered to him that she expected a full story from him on it later on.
"And Riley, feel free to drop in next time you're somewhere close to L.A. Don't know if we can top Rio, but we'll try."
"Will do that, Dawn."
"And Dawnie, be careful. I'll send you something to help out with the hand so the fingers heal up before Buffy hears anything about it. But no more going to places where you're out of contact."
"Think you can do something to my cell phone to deal with the dead spot problem then?"
"I'll get with Andrew since he's mister fuss with electronics guy these days, and see what we can do," Willow said.
And with that, Willow and Finn left the conference room, their first step on the way back to South America. Not that there was anything simple about the meeting or their exit. Jon knew that SGC's research department was going to be digging up any information they could find on Willow Rosenberg, the Ragnarok Group, and JTF Archaeological Preservation by the time Willow and Finn made it to the next elevator shaft. Before he left, Jon was going to have a talk with Jack and Daniel about his own experience hunting vampires, and not too long after that, SGC was probably going to take either Dawn or Finn's offer up to show them what they considered to be the supernatural world. And he didn't doubt that Dawn's group would be doing some investigation of Deep Space Telemetry on their own. He wondered if they'd dig deep enough and go in the right direction to learn about the Stargate.
Jon also let himself briefly think about Willow's work offer. He had always planned on going back into the Air Force because he knew he would be doing something valuable to help protect America and the world there. But what if there were other ways that he could do the same thing without living Jack's life the second time through? Suddenly his future on a personal level seemed like it might not be what he had always assumed it would be.
A/N- That's the story for now. It was always supposed to be essentially an overgrown one-shot story based on a forum discussion about oversharing information early on, with a couple of one-liners and bits I couldn't resist throwing in there. Though I guess some day I might try to figure out what would happen if Jon ended up spending a Christmas vacation with Dawn and her friends.