Three hours later...
“Well I, for one, vote no. Riley is the only one of that outfit I trust, and even he has to obey orders.” Xander's remaining eye burned with fierce determination as he made his emphatic statement. The debate had gone back and forth for several minutes now. Finally, they were coming close to a decision.
“What do the rest of you think?” Buffy asked, looking at the remaining people seated around the table. Giles, Willow, Dawn, and Andrew would all have an opinion, she was sure. It was funny, Buffy mused, how quickly the meeting with the military had broken up once she'd declared that she had received enough information to make a decision. Only Colonel... Jack had tried to say anything else. She'd cut him off immediately, after asking him what part of her statement didn't he understand. Probably she'd offended him again, but who really cared. The thing she had cared about was gathering everyone up for this meeting. Predictably, both Willow and Xander had been pissed at her for not including them. Oddly, Xander had been the first to understand why she and Giles had done it, not that it had cooled his temper one bit. He'd actually threatened to put her over his knee the next time she did something like that. When she'd asked how he expected to accomplish it, he merely fired back 'You don't think I could find a dozen or two bored slayers to help me?' Her 'no' hadn't been particularly convincing. Surely considering the awe all the various slayers held her in, they wouldn't help Xander hold her down. Buffy decided that discretion was the better part of valor, at least in this case. Luckily the threat had helped clear the atmosphere, probably Xander's intention, and everyone had been able to get down to work.
Willow was the next to respond. “Do you really think that in light of the Powers That Be's threats, it would be a good idea to send off part of the slayers? I know they haven't acted overtly, but we're still dealing with the fallout from their deal with Wolfram and Hart.”
Buffy looked at Giles for an answer to that one. Taking off his glasses and slowly polishing them, he responded, “I do not think that the Powers are going to make an overt move. They are not gods after all. We've already discovered they cannot affect the Slayer Spell, or there wouldn't be any slayers other than Buffy or Faith around now. More importantly, they might be acting through intermediaries again here, using the Goa'uld to further their mission. I would vote in favor of helping, with a few provisos, of course. I think...”
“We should definitely help the aliens defeat the evil empire! Buffy would be just like Luke Skywalker facing the Emperor. May the force be with us!”
Andrew's enthusiastic voice interrupted Giles's ruminations. With a glare at the one-time super-villain, Giles stated, “You aren't coming along no matter what.” He watched with satisfaction as Andrew wilted at his words. Unfortunately, he wasn't one to give up without a fight, as his next words showed.
“But Mr. Giles, someone who understands the mentality of the alien must be along to further alien-human relations. I am the most qualified for the post. I have almost every bit of Star Wars memorabilia ever made. Can any of the rest of you say that?” Andrew knew his arguments would sway them. After all, wasn't everything he'd just said completely obvious?
“I vote yes. We can't just leave the fate of the world in the hands of someone else. I know I, for one, would feel safer knowing we have some input into the next apocalypse. It's what we do.” Dawn had made her decision after she'd heard everything Buffy and Giles had to say about their meeting. Besides, she'd have to go along with Buffy. And the ratio of cute, in-shape guys to girls in a military base had to be excellent. Carefully Dawn tamped down that niggling thought about seeing Riley again. He obviously was still into Buffy, and she into him. Major suckage, but what can you do?
Buffy's quiet tone broke into Willow's thoughts. She worried about saying the wrong thing and causing everyone to run off and get killed. At the same time, she didn't want the world to be destroyed. One thing Willow had finally understood as she'd delved ever deeper into the arts was the necessity of balance to all things. Not the stupid balance of the Powers That Suck, but true balance such as existed in the natural world. Realizing the others were waiting for her, Willow finally replied, “I think we should send someone.” At Xander's betrayed look, she explained further, “I'm sorry, honey, but we have to face facts. The world's in danger, again. And do we want the U.S. Military to be the only ones who are around to save it? I think that if we send only a few slayers, maybe ten or so, we'd still have plenty around to deal with the next move of the Powers. Right now, I think cranky snakes trump cranky demi-gods. I just don't know who we should send to be in charge.”
“I'm going.” Buffy's bald statement brought everyone's heads around, as she knew it would. “I've thought long and hard about this. The logical one to keep the military on its toes is me. I'm not sure any of the other girls would have the strength of personality to be able to resist a direct order from a general or even the President.”
“Whereas you would tell him to jump in a sewer?” Xander challenged Buffy with a raised eyebrow.
Buffy thought for a moment. “I think I would. Xander, I've always challenged authority...” At Giles's loud cough, Buffy sent him a glare before continuing, “And I've always come out okay. I'm not always right, and would be the first to say it, but I really think I need to be the one to lead the girls who go. My trump card is the way the girls feel about me. No general or president would be able to overrule me in their eyes.” Buffy smiled at Xander's acknowledging nod that showed he understood her point.
“How many do you think you will need?” Giles asked calmly, glad that the discussion hadn't descended into acrimonious debate. Not that he'd really expected it to, but you could never be sure.
“Take Alpha and Beta teams. That's the ten of the best slayers, period, other that you and Faith. I just want you to be safe.” Alpha Team was more commonly referred to as Vi's Wildcats, while Beta Team was called Molly's Banshees. The reason they were the best was simple: none of them wanted to do anything but slay. They had few outside interests, and none of them wanted to go to school, get married, or buy a house. Instead, they were all dedicated to the hunt. Each of them had also been completely checked out on the top-of-the-line ordinance that Xander had procured from certain questionable sources. They would be a great help to her. Buffy looked at her oldest friend, before getting up, going around the table, and hugging him. Xander smiled down at her. “Just don't die on us again. If you do, I don't promise not to bring you back. Got it?”
Buffy smiled up at him. “Got it. Willow, you really are the luckiest girl.”
“You couldn't have figured that out back in sophomore year?” Xander's plaintive question set everyone laughing.
“So ten slayers, Buffy, and me. Anyone else coming?” Dawn stated casually. Uh oh, she thought, seeing Buffy's quick frown. Buffy HAD been planning on leaving her behind. That bitch!
“Dawn, you're not...”
“Shut it! Don't even try that! I am too going. You're my sister. You're not going anywhere without me. Final answer.” Dawn dramatically crossed her arms under her breasts for emphasis as she made her statements. Smiling, she noticed Xander working on not noticing how her stance intensified her cleavage. Poor Xander. Dawn was always interested in tormenting him. Being eighteen years old and a still a virgin was something she was happy about. But being the sister of The Slayer made it hard sometimes to date. Even Andrew
threatened her dates!
“Dawn, it wouldn't be safe for you to go. Here at least, you're safe. The school is the safest place around. And...”
“You do realize that if it weren't for taking a year off, I would be in college right now? Which means, not here. So don't try that 'safe place' crap. No place is really safe. Especially if there's a war with aliens. You're going to need me. Who else, besides Giles, speaks ten languages and can translate twenty more? Me, that's who. Who else gets along with all of the crazy slayers? Me, that's who. Who else can keep you from becoming Buffy of the big head? Me...”
“Dawn, that's enough. I still think..”
Once again, Buffy was interrupted, this time by Willow. “Buffy, I think you should take Dawn along. You're going into combat. With humans and human-like aliens. We all saw how stressed you were after having to kill those commandos. Dawn will help keep you grounded. She's good at that. Plus, I'm having a premonition that Dawn should go. And she's not going into combat herself. She'll be safe at the base or at your home in Colorado Springs.”
Grumpily, Buffy looked at Dawn's smug expression. Finally, she muttered, “Okay, you can come.” Buffy almost put here fingers in her ears at Dawn's excited squeal. Had she ever been that young?Across town...
“So, how did she look?”
Graham's question lingered in Riley's mind as he prepared for the late afternoon meeting that Colonel O'Neill had called for. When the meeting with Buffy and Giles had broken up, his group had returned to their hotel room with the admonishment from Colonel O'Neill to 'Put on your thinking caps, ladies and gentlemen.' He had also indicated that they were meeting again in his room around 15:00 hours to discuss possible responses to Buffy when she announced her decision tomorrow. Riley had returned to his room, but restless, had decided to call Graham before working on his notes.
“Amazing. She looked... so stunning. Better than back in college. She's been eating and was obviously under less stress than back then. And of course she was wearing some absolutely inappropriate outfit for the meeting...”
“Remember when she wore that red halter top the first time she went with us on a seek-and-destroy? I thought Professor Walsh was going to have a coronary. She looked hot.”
“I remember. That was the first time we ever...”
Suddenly there was an indefinable tension in the air. Riley had gotten the occasional odd vibe back-in-the-day from Graham over his relationship with Buffy. He'd always put it down to Graham thinking she was bad for him. Riley wondered if Graham still thought that way. It had been Graham who'd brought the conversation back to Buffy after Riley had explained what a SNAFU the meeting had turned out to be. Still... he was brought out of his reverie by Graham's next question.
“Did you see anyone other than Buffy and Giles?”
Riley laughed. “Oh, yeah. Remember Dawn?”
“Yeah, the little gangling girl with the big eyes. How's she doing?”
“Well, the gangling part got taken care of by nature. She looks... amazing. It was actually disturbing hugging her. Felt like hugging Sam. And she dresses less appropriately than Buffy if you can believe it. Of course, she completely embarrassed me in front of SG-1 and Major Davis. At least when she barged in during the middle of the meeting with snacks, she brought me a couple of ham, cheese, and egg croissants. Those were good.”
Graham started laughing. “I think little Dawn's in love.”
“What?! No! She was like my little sister, Graham.”
“Look, I'd better get started on my ideas for the meeting. I'll call you tomorrow after the meeting.”
“Sure thing, Finn. Give 'em hell.”
Graham slowly hung up the phone. It had been hard keeping himself from giving away some hint of how he felt during the conversation with Riley. Especially in light of the depth of his feelings. At least Buffy was looking good. It touched him deeply that she was happy. He still remembered the stressed-out girl he'd met up with during Riley's health crisis. The weight of the world had been pressing down on those slender shoulders. Sometimes he cursed Riley for leaving her behind. Then he cursed himself for not saying something when he'd spotted her running after the chopper on that night. Ultimately the reason he hadn't was because he didn't think Riley was a good fit for her. At least that was what he told himself late at night when the guilt gnawed at him. That Riley had so quickly gone from her to Sam had seemed to confirm his feelings. But who really knew? Certainly not one Lieutenant Graham Miller, USMC.The next day...
Buffy looked across the table at the members of SG-1, Riley, and Major Davis. There was one additional person at the meeting today on their side. The large brooding black man with the shiny gold tattoo on his forehead hadn't been what Buffy had expected when Riley had called her last night and said he was bringing an alien to the next meeting. The feelings she got from the area around his midsection on the other hand, were exactly what she'd expected. More or less. Definitely waayyy wigsome. So that was how a Goa'uld felt. Interestingly, none of the other slayers had felt as strongly the wrongness of the immature Goa'uld as had Buffy, although all of them could detect it. That had been the reason for the presence of seventeen slayers in the hallway as O'Neill and his group were escorted back to the meeting room. To make sure they could detect the aliens. And, if Buffy was to be completely honest, to provide that slight bit of intimidation towards the military group. Undergoing an intense examination by the focused, predatory eyes of seventeen vamp-deprived slayers was difficult in the extreme. With satisfaction, Buffy noted that even Colonel O'Neill appeared slightly uneasy as he sat. Only the new addition, Teal'c, appeared completely at ease, as if all of the slayers he had just passed weren't just aching to kill him. Well, enough silence, she thought. Time to get this show on the road.
“I discussed your proposition with the Executive Committee of the Council of Slayers and Watchers. We decided that...”
“Before you go any further, I would like a chance to further explain just what we're facing in the Goa'uld.” Jack examined Buffy's face for any hint of her thoughts as he interrupted her. He hadn't thought the meeting the day before had gone particularly well. Before she said no, he wanted to try again to explain just how much jeopardy the world was in. And how helpful it would be to have super-powered help. Unfortunately, Buffy appeared to have other ideas.
“Colonel O'Neill, don't interrupt me again. I really hate that.” Staring Jack down, Buffy saw the grim look in his eyes. So, he thought she was going to say no. Well, by the time Buffy made all of her terms of the slayers' participation clear, he might prefer that she had, she thought. “We are going to help you by doing the following...”
“You're going to let us recruit slayers?” Jack was aware that he was interrupting again, but what did she expect? He'd gone from strike out to a home run. Then Jack noted the anticipation in Buffy's eyes and wondered if he was going to like the next thing she said. As her anticipation was expressed by the hungry smile curving her lips, he decided he was definitely not
going to like the next thing she said. And boy, was he right.
“No, we are not going to allow you to recruit slayers. We are assigning a slayer force, under the command of one of our own, to aid you in scouting and such missions as we deem appropriate. We will stage out of Colorado Springs, which means no bunking in the mountain. You will be buying us two six-bedroom houses within a block of each other for the slayers to live in, the deeds to which are to be signed over to us. You will provide living costs of $10,000 per month to pay for groceries and any other 'incidentals.' You will pay the group assigned to you at the following rate: $200,000 per year, each. In return, we will help you with such missions as the overall slayer commander decides are appropriate for slayer abilities. However, we reserve the right to veto any mission without providing an explanation. We will provide our own weapons, but you will provide ammunition as needed. You will provide body armor and clothing as needed. By the way, absolutely no uniforms. Finally, in the event of an emergency here, we reserve the right to take an indefinite leave from service, until the emergency is taken care of. Oh, I almost forgot. In the mountain, you will make sure to stock the following flavors of ice cream, Rocky Road, Mint-Chocolate Chip, Cookies & Cream, French Vanilla, and Double-fudge Chocolate Chunk. No less than ten gallons of each are to be on hand at all times. Slayers exiting the gate-thingy are to be allowed immediate access to ice cream. Those are our terms.” Buffy was still smarting from Giles refusal to allow her to insert a shoe allowance into the terms. He had been adamant that she didn't need any more shoes. Solely based on one look at her closet, too. How could he believe that three hundred and fifty pairs of shoes were sufficient for every occasion? It sooo wasn't, Buffy thought. Still, the salary should take care of buying shoes and any other items needed. Especially since they would still be drawing their Council salaries. Mentally, Buffy high-fived herself at that bit of negotiating.
Jack was aghast. General Hammond would go ballistic if he brought back the slayers with those restrictions. Unfortunately, the President had tied his hands. However, he hadn't said Jack couldn't negotiate. “That's completely unacceptable. Separate living quarters off-base? Separate chain of command? Taking off at any time? Ice cream allowance? Next thing you know, you'll be asking for a shoe allowance.” Jack stopped at the sudden icy glint in Buffy's eyes and the amused one in Dr. Giles's. Had she wanted to ask for a shoe
allowance? Jack grabbed hold of the reins of his emotions and went on. “It's important that you stay within the same chain of command as the rest of us. Otherwise, its going to be difficult to keep discipline within ranks. Also...”
Buffy interrupted. “Colonel, those terms are non-negotiable. As far as discipline within ranks, the commander of the slayer force will maintain her own discipline. It's not as if you could discipline a wayward slayer anyway. And what's so ridiculous about a shoe allowance anyway? I'll have you know that shoes are one of the most commonly damaged personal items of any slayer. Why I ever let Giles talk me out of making you pay a shoe budget, I'll never know...”
This last sentence was muttered in a low tone of voice, but was still audible to Jack's side of the table. She had been serious about a shoe allowance. Momentarily closing his eyes, and rubbing the bridge of his nose, Jack contemplated the deal. It was far from ideal, but beggars-can't-be-choosers, he thought absently. Opening his eyes, Jack was about to offer another slightly more favorable option when Major Davis decided to join in.
“Your terms are acceptable. We will happily provide the living quarters you requested, the money, and the ice cream. We will need to know the specifics of what you believe to be 'slayer-appropriate' missions so to be able to coordinate your forces and ours. Is there anything I missed?” Major Davis surveyed his side of the table. From the glum expressions on his team's faces, they obviously thought the SGC had gotten the worst of the deal. What they didn't realize was that once the slayers were in the mountain, things would change. It would be extremely difficult for any young woman, most likely in her late teens, to continue to resist the benign pressure of the United States Government. The slayers were children
for God's sake. He and Jack and discussed this idea at length during the meeting they'd held yesterday. It had been the first time Paul had actually been himself since being so badly discombobulated during the morning meeting with Buffy.
Pompous ass, Jack thought. Davis had obviously been planning to accede to any demands the slayers made in order to be able to recruit them. Davis thought that once the girls were present within the mountain, even if just as daily visitors, it would be almost impossible for them to keep their distance from the day-to-day operations. According to him, it would be easy to pressure them into joining various missions. They were young girls after all. That he had so obviously thought of a trump to one of Buffy's main demands even before it had been presented, made Jack give him some respect. Jack still felt uneasy. If they could come up with the scenario, what made Davis believe that Buffy and the others couldn't as well? That they didn't have some kind of plan in reserve to deal with the situation? Oh well, Jack thought, no point in worrying about something before it comes up. Deciding to find out something he'd been curious about since Buffy made her declaration, Jack asked, “So how many slayers are you sending to help?”
Buffy paused a moment then answered, “We're sending two teams of five slayers each. Vi's Wildcats and Molly's Banshees are two of the best teams we have available. They will be accompanied by a couple of support personnel and the overall slayer commander.”
“And who's that going to be?” Jack was starting to tune out. This was the boring part. Things should heat up once he got a chance to actually meet the various girls coming to the mountain, but right now, he was less than interested. Until Buffy's next statement that is.
“I'm going to be the overall slayer commander. I'll be there to make sure that all of the terms we negotiated today are honored to their fullest. Any questions?” Dead silence resulted, only broken by the sound of Major Davis's pen dropping onto the table. He looked... stunned. Jack couldn't blame him. Holy shit, Jack thought, Buffy
was coming? And Davis thought they would be able to manipulate the slayers? Jack didn't know whether to laugh or groan as he contemplated the days that lay ahead of them. Well, on a positive note, at least he was no longer bored...