Jack paused, considering Buffy's question. Why they were here and what did they want. He wondered briefly if he should answer honestly and say, “Well Miss Summers, we're here because we're slowly losing a war against a technologically superior foe and hope to borrow a few teenage girls from you to help balance things out. Oh, and could you throw in a couple of magic spells as well? What do you think?” Yeah, that would go over well, he thought. Instead of answering, he asked his own question, “Miss Summers, I didn't expect you at this meeting. Why are....”
Buffy interrupted him. “Why am I here? Please. You really didn't expect Giles to freeze me out on this, did you? Asking him not to include me? Talk about stupid. But then, you are
the military. Let me repeat the question slowly. Why. Are. You. Here? And. What. Do. You. Want?”
“All right, I'll call you Buffy if you call me Jack. Buffy, I understand you have serious trust issues with the military. It was believed that having you here would be a serious liability. Especially so after the events of last summer.” Jack was trying to buy time before answering Buffy and Dr. Giles's questions about the reason they were here. If he could get her talking about her problems with the military, he might be able to make her understand that Jack and the others were not the bad guys, no matter what she might have experienced before.
As soon as Buffy heard Colonel O'Neill speak, she knew. They were here to talk about last summer and to pin it on someone. They were all about the pinning. Stupid military. They probably also wanted to use those events to pressure her and the others into doing what the U.S. military wanted. Why else mention last summer? It was one of the scenarios that she and Giles had discussed. Now it was coming true. Buffy was unaware of how bleak her eyes became as she replied, “Last summer, huh? What exactly do you mean?”
Jack didn't understand the increased tension from the other side of the table. He felt like he'd made some kind of mistake, but didn't quite know what. He decided to go on. “Two slayers kidnapped. Sixteen men dead in those two raids alone. Four 'mysterious' deaths of senior NID officials. And a United States senator currently in prison. Those are the events I'm referring to.”
Buffy's stomach sank. It was out on the table. So be it. Almost unaware of what she was doing, Buffy stood. She felt Giles come to his feet next to her. Ignoring him, she stared icily at Colonel O'Neill, giving him the full focus of her gaze. It was time to accept responsibility. In an emotionless tone, she said, “I'm responsible for what happened to those men. I either killed them directly or caused their deaths to happen. And I would do it again.” Buffy felt lighter having said that. She'd harbored guilt for a long time over the deaths of those men. She also felt bad about the younger slayers having to kill as well. Now she'd confessed her sins. Buffy needed to receive absolution and pay penance. Unfortunately, the military didn't grant absolution and she didn't think the 'penance' part would be particularly enjoyable.
Jack was puzzled. Whatever he'd expected Buffy to say, it wasn't that. And the tension had just gone up another level. Both Buffy and Dr. Giles were now standing. He glanced briefly to his right, looking for a sign from Captain Finn as to where he'd gone wrong. There was an answer in Finn's eyes, but Jack didn't know him well enough to interpret it. An almost infinitesimal shake of the head was the only answer he received. Slowly getting to his feet, Jack attempted to ratchet down the tension. “Buffy, I'm sure you were not the only person there. You aren't the only one responsible for what happened.”
So he wasn't going to let her take the responsibility, Buffy thought, her mind racing. Damn the military. “No one else was there. I killed those men. If it happens again, either I, or another person, will do the same. Am I making myself clear?”
Riley sat, listening to the conversation. Buffy appeared as stressed as he'd ever seen her. The usual result was intense and immediate violence. That her hands were gripping the table and unconsciously flexing, making the wood groan, made Riley think violence was imminent. Suddenly, Riley knew where Colonel O'Neill had made his mistake. With the smallest wave of his hand, Riley caught his attention. With a faint nod, Riley indicated that he knew the problem. He watched as Colonel O'Neill paused for a moment, then turned to him, saying, “I think it would be best if Captain Finn took over for a moment.”
Rising to his feet, Riley said to O'Neill, “Thank you, Colonel O'Neill. Buffy, Dr. Giles, please sit back down.” Riley waited until both had hesitantly sat before continuing. “The reason we're here is to ask for your help. It's the only reason we're here. Not to force you or anyone else to help us. Not to blame you or anyone else for anything, especially relating to what happened that summer.”
Buffy stared ferociously at Riley. He met her gaze unflinchingly, a trait she'd always admired. That and his inability to lie. It didn't appear that anything had changed on that front. Riley still appeared unable to lie convincingly. Plus maybe she still trusted him a little. Gathering her thoughts, Buffy replied in a tone still laced with anger, “If all you wanted was our help, then why was last summer the first thing Colonel Sanders over there brought up?”
Internally, Riley winced. Sneaking a glance to his left, he checked Colonel O'Neill. He looked offended. It was nice to know that Buffy still retained her ability to piss off senior officers. Riley could only be thankful that she'd never met any generals. She seemed to offend in direct proportion to the rank of the officer she was speaking with. Buffy would probably offend a general so much he'd explode, and they would probably still be picking up the pieces. Glancing over at Colonel O'Neill, Riley saw he still had the green light, so went on. “Colonel O'Neill was trying to set you at ease. Obviously it didn't work, but it was a sincere effort. Buffy, I swear that you don't have to worry about those men that died. They were rogue agents, for sale to the highest bidder. As were those two NID bureaucrats. Major Davis told us that after they died, the investigation into their deaths uncovered all sorts of irregularities. The President himself signed an Executive Order barring anymore interference with your or any of your group from anyone in any of the U.S. Intelligence services.”
Jack caught Finn's eye, indicating he would take it from here. With a quick glance, Riley acknowledged him. Jack was definitely going to tell one Captain Riley Finn “Thanks” after this meeting was over. Assuming he survived. “Captain Finn is right about that. I apologize for not understanding how you might misinterpret our visit. I regret that my remarks caused you any undue worry.”
“I might not have 'misinterpreted' your visit if you had not tried to exclude me from this meeting.” Buffy was still prickly, but the worst of her anger was fading. Okay, so they weren't here to haul her off to jail. She still wondered exactly why they were here. “Colonel O'Neill...”
“Just Jack.” Jack smirked slightly as he corrected her. He felt a little freer to be himself, now that tension levels were dropping back down to Def Con Two levels.
“Okay, Just Jack. You still haven't answered my question about why you're here. What exactly do you want from us?”
Sharing a brief glance with his team and Finn, especially, Jack thought carefully before replying, “We would like to be able to recruit slayers. We need their help with....”
“No!” Buffy glared at Jack all over again. Those bastards, she thought. “If that's all you came for, don't let the door hit you on your way out.” Standing up again, she stared across the table at Jack. Who the hell does he think he is, she thought. She watched Jack swallow his first response. Coolly, she waited for him to reply.
Riley decided to step in before tempers flared again. Riley could tell Colonel O'Neill was biting his tongue, so he decided to field this one. “Buffy, please sit down. We aren't asking this casually. It could mean the difference between life or death for the entire world.”
Daniel watched Buffy's internal struggle, fascinated. He hadn't spoken, and didn't intend to unless it was needed. But regardless, he found the entire discussion interesting. He'd never seen Jack react so much to another person. Of course, usually the other person couldn't pull your arms and legs off. Daniel doubted that was entirely though. He suspected that Jack really hated asking for help from anyone, but especially a civilian. He was just glad that Captain Finn was along. He'd already stepped in twice now, when things started going south. Finn seemed to know how to handle Buffy, although that was probably the wrong term for it. Daniel watched as Buffy finally sat down. She was alternating glaring at both Jack and Captain Finn. Daniel was glad he was not on the receiving end of her heated stare as he watched both men shift uncomfortably.
“Gentlemen, you have yet to present any argument beyond the most minimal to support your request. I would suggest if you have any evidence to support your request, you produce it now. Or, as Buffy just stated, this meeting is at an end.” Giles smiled internally as Buffy briefly squeezed his leg, acknowledging her gratitude for his support. After the events leading up to the collapse of Sunnydale, he'd made the decision to support Buffy no matter what. Argue with her, counsel her, comfort her. Yes, he would do all of those things. But when it came time to make the decision, he would back her up. Buffy had become the leader he'd always envisioned and he couldn't be more proud of her. And he would not make another mistake that would damage the fragile trust they had been building the last year and a half.
Jack let Finn know he had the baton again. Two saves now, Jack thought. At this rate, he'd owe the captain dinner. Dismissing the thought for now, he cautiously began, “Miss Sum... err, Buffy, we can brief you on the why we need your help. However, first we need you to sign these confidentiality forms.” Jack gave Major Davis an impatient look as Davis fumbled with his briefcase, finally getting it open and handing two stacks of forms to Jack. Silently Jack passed one each to Buffy and Rupert Giles. He raised his eyebrows as Buffy promptly took the form out out Rupert's hands, stacked it with the one she held, and tore both into little pieces scattering them over the table. “Buffy...”
Buffy interrupted him. “I'm not going to sign something saying I can't talk about whatever you're about to tell me. Look, I'm pretty good at keeping secrets.” Buffy ignored Giles's snort from next to her. “I have to be able to use my own judgment as to who I trust. I can't wait for permission from some group whenever I make a decision. That would handicap me too much. Besides, you're crazy if you think I'm not telling my sister and friends about this meeting. You can either tell me or hit the road. Got it?”
Riley watched as Major Carter handed a smirking Dr. Jackson twenty dollars. He remembered the bet they'd made on whether Buffy would sign the confidentiality agreement. Major Carter had been certain she would, because it was the right thing to do. Dr. Jackson had said it was unlikely, especially with her mistrust of the government. Riley would collect his own twenty dollars from Colonel O'Neill after the meeting. He still didn't know where he'd gotten the balls to make that
bet. Not that it was much of a bet. Riley knew Buffy would never sign the agreement. She hadn't done so with the Initiative, one of the many things she'd done that had driven Dr. Walsh batty. Remembering those days, Riley smiled.
Jack sighed. Moodily he thought, there goes twenty bucks. Looking over the table at Buffy, he stated, “You don't have to sign the confidentiality agreements. We weren't sure you would, but someone,” Jack looked at Major Davis, who sat looking stubborn, “thought it would be worth at least trying. Okay, the whole thing boils down to this...”
With a bang, the doors opened. Startled, Jack looked up. People seemed to be very abrupt here. At least this time, he hadn't almost gone for his gun. He watched as Dawn walked in, bearing a huge tray of donuts, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches, along with paper plates and napkins. She set them in the middle of the table. Turning, Dawn looked back at the damaged doors. Jack smiled internally as, with a smirk, Dawn asked, “What happened to the doors? Hurricane Buffy?”
'Hurricane' Buffy glared at her. “If you didn't just come in bearing donuty goodness, I wouldn't let you get away with that, Dawn. Which leads to the next question. Why did you come in with donuts? Ooohh, and croissants?”
“Giles asked me to stop by when I had time. I finished translating that Gnosh scroll way early, so I figured I would just stop by. Don't worry, Giles,” Dawn said, handing him a separate bag, “I have your jellies here. Three raspberry-filled and one custard. I know better than to put them on the tray where Buffy can get her hands on them.” Ignoring Buffy's offended look, she turned to the rest of the room, letting her eyes linger briefly on Riley. “Feel free to grab whatever you want, guys.” Dawn rested her hands on the table and leaned forward, giving SG-1's side of the table a clear view down her cleavage. “Riley, I got you three of those ham and cheddar croissants you like so much. Those are the ones with the yellow wrapping.” With a quick look to her left, she told Buffy, “Make sure you keep your mitts off those, got it?” At Buffy's cool nod, Dawn straightened up, turned, and sashayed out, swinging her hips. She missed the dark look Buffy sent her way.
For the umpteenth time, Buffy wished Dawn would start dressing a bit more conservatively. The top and jeans Dawn wore were almost as bad as the ones she'd worn during one memorable night at the Bronze, when she'd been dancing with AJ, he of the cursed letterman's jacket. Little sisters, Buffy thought, you don't know whether to hug them or strangle them. Or do both at the same time. Or maybe just spank them. Dismissing that thought with a shudder, Buffy dug into the feast in front of her. Grabbing a paper plate and some napkins from the tray, she loaded up six donuts, three éclairs, two cream cheese danishes, and four sausage-egg biscuit thingies. Biting into the first of her biscuits, she devoured it in three bites, making little sighs of pleasure. She loved greasy, sugary food. Yummy.
Riley smiled as he bit into a ham and cheese croissant. He couldn't believe Dawn remembered he liked them, especially since he hadn't seen much of her in the past four years. She'd definitely grown up to be a lovely young woman. As attractive in her own way as Buffy. With alarm, Riley put a stop to those thoughts. Thinking about Buffy 'that' way was good. Thinking about Dawn the same way most definitely wasn't. Frowning, he hoped Buffy was vetting Dawn's boyfriends. Of course knowing Buffy and the other Scoobies, they probably threatened Dawn's boyfriends on a regular basis. He pushed thoughts of Dawn aside. Finishing up his second croissant, he watched Buffy still finishing up her feast. Riley was glad that she'd gotten over her food issues. All throughout the time they'd been together, Buffy had never really allowed him to see that side of her. Her need for large amounts of calories was just another thing he'd never really known about. It was another nail in their romance. And she'd gotten thinner and thinner as a result of hiding it.
Sam watched Buffy eat, amazed. How could someone who didn't even mass one hundred pounds eat what had to be over fifteen hundred calories? It was even more eye popping when she heard Buffy casually mention to Dr. Giles that she hoped this would tide her over until lunchtime, a little more than two hours away. Sam wondered if her metabolism was boosted in the same manner as her other abilities. It made sense that Buffy would need more calories than a normal person if she could do the things she did. Sam realized she was staring when Buffy stopped eating long enough to give her an intense look back. Sam felt the full force of Buffy's gaze for the first time. Sam made herself look away casually. She admired Jack for unflinchingly meeting that gaze during the first part of the meeting, when it had burned much hotter. Still looking away, Sam casually picked out one donut and took a bite. Maybe they should make this a tradition back at the mountain, Sam thought, licking the sugar from her fingers. Food couldn't really hold her attention right now, except as to how it applied to a certain person. Sam wondered exactly how many calories Buffy needed for optimum operation. With a sigh, she continued to ponder the mystery of Buffy Summers.
After a few minutes, the entire contents of the platter were gone. No one commented on the fact that Buffy had eaten as much as everyone else combined, going back for seconds. Jack looked around the table. It was time to come clean. Dismissing the carefully thought out arguments the team had decided upon, Jack went with the simple approach that Captain Finn had advocated. So far, Finn seemed spot on. “Dr. Giles, Buffy, the danger the world is facing is not a domestic one. Or even a terrestrial one. Instead it's an extraterrestrial one. In the 1920's, a dig in Egypt uncovered an artifact. It was a large stone ring. It turned out to be made of a material not native to Earth. It changed hands several times, but eventually it ended up in the hands of the United States Air Force. With the help of several language experts, we eventually translated the inscriptions on it. But we couldn't get it to work. Finally, four years ago, Dr. Jackson...” Jack broke off at the growing look of horror on Rupert Giles's face. He wondered what was going on with the man. He didn't have to wonder long.
Giles was stunned. They had dug it up? After the trouble the Council and the Slayer had gone to burying it? He should have known the wankers running the Council in those days would make a balls up of things. Just how do you lose a ten foot in diameter stone gate? Upset, he rose to his feet, eerily mirroring the moves Buffy had made earlier. With iron control, he asked, “What possible reason could you have for using the Chappa'ai? Especially after all of the trouble we had burying it all those years ago. If you could read Egyptian hieroglyphics surrounding the area where it was buried, then you know it said 'danger, beware.'” Giles wanted a strong drink about now. He was aware of a bemused Buffy watching him go on what was, for him, a tirade, but he didn't care. He hadn't seen an act of such utter ignorance since finding the mask of Ovu Mobani on the wall of Joyce's bedroom. Bloody Americans.
Jack was surprised by Dr. Giles's vehemence. He started to reply when Daniel eagerly asked, “You know about the Chappa'ai? You have records going back that far?”
Giles looked at Dr. Jackson for the first time since introductions. The gleam in his eye was a clear indication that he was fascinated by the possibility of learning more about ancient Egypt. And usually, Giles would only be all too willing to discuss the subject. However, the unearthing of the Chappa'ai had to take precedence over intellectual discussions, no matter how fascinating. With that in mind, he replied, “I am not at liberty to discuss that subject at this time. I must insist we stay on topic. Currently the topic of discussion is the Chappa'ai. It was a notorious gateway into a demon realm and could not be destroyed. That's why we buried it. I now understand why you need our help. You've unearthed the Chappa'ai and run into something you cannot handle. It's disappointing, really. I would have hoped for better from scholars such as Dr. Jackson. Exactly what kind of demons have you run into?”
With a glare at Daniel when he started to open his mouth, Jack took back control of the conversation. “Not demons, Dr. Giles.” Jack heard Buffy's doubting “Hmmph” and glared at her. She smiled with saccharine sweetness back. With a sigh of exasperation, Jack pondered what Captain Finn had told him about Buffy and the others. If they wanted it straight and to the point, then that's how they were going get it. “All right, people. Get this straight. Until two days ago, none of us have ever seen or heard of demons, with the exception of Captain Finn. We've spent the last three years fighting a group of parasitic aliens called the Goa'uld. They're worms who take over people. Not demons. They use technology, not magic, which I still don't believe in. Any questions?” Jack saw Captain Finn's eyes widen. Okay, maybe he had been a bit too blunt and to the point. Sue me, Jack thought.
Buffy raised her hand. With a fake smile, she said, “I have a question. Are you crazy? Cause I gotta think anyone not Andrew talking about little green men is touched in the head. And come to think about it, Andrew probably is crazy.”
“They're not green. At least the Goa'uld aren't. Think slimy snakes.” Jack hoped he didn't need Finn to rescue him again. It was getting annoying.
Buffy shrugged. “Sounds like demons to me.”
“Do demons have big honkin' rayguns? And forcefields? Oh, and huge ships that can travel all over the galaxy? Cause if they do, I have to admit, I don't quite understand how you whipped their butts.” Jack's sardonic tone didn't go over well with Buffy. He could tell that because of the pissed off look on her face. It didn't disturb him. Anything that got her engaged was a good thing in his opinion. Harder to say no that way. With a smirk on his face, Jack awaited a reply. He didn't have to wait long. It just wasn't Buffy who replied.
“Colonel, I don't mean to imply you are mistaken. It appears obvious that you believe what you are saying. However, our records from the early days of the Egyptian dynasties indicate the presence of self-styled 'gods' who ruled using magic. They were demons who appeared human, but possessed powers greater than human along with guards who also were more than human. They were eventually driven out by the Egyptian masses, led by Anoushka, the slayer of that time. She personally killed the leader of the guards of the 'god', Ra, forcing him to flee. He left behind most of his guards, who eventually overwhelmed Anoushka, although she killed many. The remaining guards were killed by the Egyptian mob. After the carnage was done, Anoushka's watcher made sure the Chappa'ai was buried. And erected warnings to prevent the gate from being opened by future generations.” Giles's voice was cool and factual as he recounted the history he knew. Dr. Jackson practically squirmed in place, obviously wanting to ask questions. It made Giles think better of him that this time he had the discipline to keep silent. But it was Colonel O'Neill who most interested him. The man wore an amused, slightly condescending expression as he listened. An expression that was reflected in his tone.
“Dr. Giles, those 'gods'? Goa'uld-possessed humans. That 'magic'? Goa'uld are able to use a type of advanced hand device called a 'ribbon device', enabled by the presence of a rare extraterrestrial mineral in their blood called naqahdah. Also, their guards used zats, a blaster-type weapons. As Daniel would say, any technology sufficiently advanced cannot be distinguished from magic.” At Daniel's astonished look, Jack exclaimed, “What? I pay attention.” At both Daniel and Carter's doubting looks, Jack admitted, “Well, at least that time. The rest of the time? Fer cryin' out loud, its boring.”
As Giles appeared about to protest further, Buffy stepped in. She'd watched Riley's face throughout the entire explanation and just from his expression alone was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Besides, she'd seen that creepy snake-creature, that Glory had summoned. After the Queller Demon, it wasn't too much of a stretch to believe in slimy alien snakes. “Give it a rest, Giles. Aliens really aren't that much harder to believe in than demons. I don't think the colonel and his people are complete idiots.” Buffy watched everyone on the other side of the table frown as they considered whether they'd been insulted. Not really caring if they felt that way, Buffy continued, “They can probably tell if something's alien or not. That doesn't let them off the hook for digging up the Chapstick thingy though. Tell me, Colonel O'Neill, why exactly I should help you? Why don't you just rebury it? Wouldn't that solve the problem? Or is there something you want there on the other side? Something like, saaayyy, weapons, for instance? That it?”
Jack was feeling somewhat insulted at being called an idiot. Although, apparently he wasn't a 'complete' idiot. Said the girl who called the Stargate, the 'chapstick thingy'. Shrugging it off, Jack focused on Buffy's reaction. Jack was surprised by Buffy's quick acceptance of the existence of extraterrestrials.. Most people didn't believe it until they had seen more proof. He was just as surprised by her shrewd question about why the gate was still open. Although he shouldn't be; Riley had warned him how Buffy used the 'airhead' schtick to lull people into underestimating her. And he'd seen her demeanor when first she'd come through the door. It just threw him off at how she faded in and out of that persona. Resolving to think more about it later, Jack focused on the reasons for the Stargate. Weapons and technology were part of it. But only part. The main reason Jack and the others wanted the gate left open was to help free those under the bondage of the Goa'uld. They also understood that once the 'Pandora's Box' that was the Stargate was open, it couldn't be closed. The Goa'uld knew they existed and saw Earth as a threat. The Goa'uld would come after them. And it was only a matter of time until they found Earth with their spaceships, gate or no gate. When they did, Earth needed ships that could fight off the Goa'uld Ha'taks and Deathgliders. Slowly he explained his thoughts on the matter, watching as Buffy absorbed and processed the explanation. He couldn't tell if she agreed, disagreed, or was completely neutral on the validity of his argument. Her eyes gave nothing away. Jack wondered what she was thinking. He didn't have long to wait though, as Buffy began to speak...