George Hammond stared across the table at the being calling herself Illyria. She was flanked by Dawn Summers and Eve Matthews. Two of them were staring at him with varying pleading expressions on their faces. You could even add Illyria to that mix. If you could call a look of cold disdain pleading. But even Illyria had finally said please as she communicated her desire to travel to PXX-5473. He was going to hate to have to disappoint them all.
“Ladies, nothing would please me more than to allow you to send your message to Buffy. However, we have a situation on our hands. There are currently hostile Jaffa holding the gate to PXX-5473. We can't get anything through. So you can see that it is impossible for you to get through to Buffy at this time.”
Illyria's eyes narrowed. “How many Jaffa hold the gate?”
George stared into those alien eyes. “Between one and two hundred. We were unable to get a closer estimate before the drone we were using was shot down.”
Illyria snorted. “Bah! That is not enough to challenge one such as myself. Let me through and I will slaughter the minions of the Goa'uld. I will tear them apart with my bare hands. I will build a pyramid of skulls to celebrate their destruction. I....”
Illyria stopped at Dawn's, “Hmmmph!”
George looked over at Dawn. “Is she serious?”
Dawn nodded, apparently unfazed by Illyria's attitude.. “I'm afraid she is, General Hammond.”
“Can she take on that many Jaffa?”
Illyria spoke in a cold tonee, “Do not discuss me as if I am not present. They are puny, mortal creatures that cannot stand against me. I could kill ten thousand of them as easily as two hundred. I...”
Dawn interrupted, “Lyri, what do we say when we want something? And hint: it's not 'I'll eviserate you if you don't give it to me.'”
Illyria turned her strange gaze to Dawn, who just stared patiently back. With an angry toss of her hair, Illyria said, “Please, General Hammond, allow me to slaughter the Jaffa who control the Chap'pai so that I may aid Buffy Summers.”
Dawn beamed at her. “See? That wasn't so hard, was it?”
Eve just shook her head. “I need a camera. No one's every going to believe this.”
Illyria stared down at the red-haired teen. “Discuss my humiliation at your own peril, annoying one.”
Eve stuck out her tongue at Illyria, then turned back to George. “So, General Hammond, you going to let us take care of that little Jaffa problem for you?”
George Hammond shook his head in disbelief. If anyone had told him there was anyone that was more arrogant than a Goa'uld, he would have called them a liar. Now having met Illyria, he could safely say he had met the most arrogant being in existence. Which made it all the more surprising that she would bend enough to ask politely to use the gate. Could she take on that many Jaffa and not only live, but triumph? Possibly. George wasn't sure, but he was concerned enough for his people and the Slayers with them to take the chance.
“All right, ladies, you have a deal. Illyria, do you need any time or special weapons to prepare for this battle?”
With a look of haughty grandeur, she stared across the table at him. “No. Lead me to the Astria Portia so that I may slaughter my enemies.”
George nodded. “I will shortly. First, we need to set some ground rules.”
Dawn spoke up, “What do you mean, General Hammond?”
He gave her a stern look. “While I may concede that Illyria can take care of herself, I make no such concessions for you two young ladies. I do not want either of you going through the gate.”
George watched Dawn's face as his words sank in. Finally, she nodded and said, “All right. We will stay here until Lyri clears the gate area.”
“That's not what I said, Dawn.”
She gave him a level look. “I know. But that's all I can give you, General. I know you're worried about me and Eve, but we can take care of ourselves. And I can't help but feel Buffy is going to need us all before this is over. So please do not stop me from helping my sister.” Eve nodded her agreement.
George stared, feeling helpless in the face of the young women's determination.. After a moment, he nodded. “All right. Ilyria can clear the way, but you are going to stay here until there are no more hostile Jaffa on the other side of that gate.”
Dawn countered, “In the immediate area.”
'Touche,' George thought. Smiling, he nodded. “In the immediate area.” After all, they would be accompanied by over one hundred troops when they went through the gate. And how much trouble could even these two get into with that kind of escort?
Illyria stood at the ramp of the Astria Portia (she refused to use its Goa'uld name, Chaapa'ai), staring into the event horizon. That part of her that was still Fred made absentminded notations of how it operated. Essentially, it was an enormous superconductor, capable of harnessing power from a wide variety of energy sources, especially electricity. When entering through the event horizon, the matter passing through is converted to energy, and then rematerialized at the event horizon on the other end. Inwardly, she shuddered at the primitiveness of the device. Where once she had merely to exert her will and way between the planes and worlds would open, now she was reduced to using this... toy. Still, it was better than being bound to this mudball forever. Perhaps if she was able to...no, she would not even think on that matter. If it happened, so be it. If not, so was her fate written in the winds.
“You're cleared to go, ma'am.”
Illyria did not acknowledge the words of the lowly being behind her, its term of respect unknown to her. Again, Fred's memories provided the background of the word. Almost she turned around to rend it limb from limb, but decided it would be better to take out her pique on those lying on the other side of the Gate. She stepped through, aware as she did so, that the humans' mechanical watcher trailed behind her.
General Hammond watched the monitor, waiting for a picture to form from the camera aboard the MALP that accompanied Illyria. After a few seconds, they had video. Illyria appeared to be just standing in front of a number of Jaffa who were shouting at her in Goa'uld. Beside him, Dawn spoke, translating.
“Who are you? How dare you enter a world belonging to Morrigan ? You are now the prisoner of the Jaffa of Morrigan. Come quietly or we will... urk!” This last based on the throat of the speaker being torn out before his dying body was tossed to the side.
George then witnessed one of the most horrifying sights he had ever seen as Illyria went into action. She moved so fast she made the surrounding Jaffa appear to be moving in slow motion, or as if mired in thick mud. Of the first dozen she killed, only one even had the time to raise his weapon before he died. More frightening even than that was just how she was killing them. Weaponless, Illyria was depending on her own brute strength to destroy the Jaffa. Which worked fine as every blow struck resulted in a death. Bone snapped and skulls shattered under the battering power of her blows. With one hand, she tore the arm off of a Jaffa in a spray of blood, only to use it to beat him and one of his comrades to death with the severed limb before discarding it
George turned to his audience, wishing he could shield their eyes from the horrifying sights being depicted on the screen. However, he apparently shouldn't have been concerned. Eve was glued to the action on the screen, absently chewing gum and occasionally blowing pink bubbles. There was none of George's horror on her face, instead it was a mixture of envy and a strange yearning. What a frightening child, he thought, remembering her casual affection from earlier. George turned to his other guest.
Dawn was not even looking at the screen, but staring fixedly off to the side. She also did not appear to be bothered by what was happening on the screen in front of her. Then George noticed how bright Dawn's eyes were, full of unshed tears. Gently, he put an arm around her as he asked, “What's wrong, Dawn?”
Stubbornly, Dawn continued to stare off into space, but finally, as a tear found its way down her cheek, she softly said, “Looking at what Illyria is doing... it just reminds me of something that I saw before. It was this hell god named Glorificus. She did the same thing to a bunch of knights that tried to stop her. I mean, she slaughtered them all. They never had a chance against her. I know those guys are the enemy, but I just hate to see them die like that when all they're doing is being loyal.”
George nodded in understanding. He spoke gently, “Everything is going to be all right, Dawn. You can't help the things that you see. You...”
Eve's voice interrupted George's speech, “Guys, I think Illyria's in trouble.”
They both turned back to watch the screen. The MALP's video angle allowed them to see what had occurred. Both weapons platforms had opened fire on Illyria, despite her being surrounded by Jaffa. The analytical portion of George's brain noted that this had likely occurred because the commander of the Jaffa felt that a few 'incidental' deaths was a small price to pay to destroy the one killing his men. Illyria was being bombarded by blasts from staff weapons much more powerful than the hand-held one that Teal'c carried. She seemed to stumble in the midst of the dying Jaffa, then a stray blast hit the MALP and everything went blank.
Buffy swam upwards towards consciousness, aware of voices around her. Someone male seemed a bit upset based on the angry tone of his voice. Buffy briefly wondered why, then became distracted by a warm touch to the skin of her face. It felt just like a hand stroking her hair back from her forehead. Wanting to find out more, she slowly opened her eyes. Stormy gray eyes gazed into hers, surrounded by the longest eyelashes she had ever seen on a guy. “Graham,” she murmured.
“Buffy,” he acknowledged gravely. “How are you feeling?”
Buffy slowly took inventory of herself. Everything seemed to be attached and still functioning, even her toes, although she had to rub them around the inside of her boots to make sure. And she was lying down, partially propped up in Graham's arms. Not a bad feeling at all. After a moment, “Surprising good. What's going on?”
He leaned a bit closer. She could feel his warm breath caress her cheek. “I need to tell you something.”
With the same grave expression he always wore, his eyes incredibly intense, Graham softly stated, “I love you. I've loved you from the first time I ever saw you before I even knew your name. You were walking across campus and did something silly and graceful, and so typically Buffy. I couldn't take my eyes off of you. I was going to go talk to you, but something came up with the Initiative at that moment. Then the next time I saw you, you were with Riley.”
Buffy stared up into Graham's eyes. “What do you want me to say?” she asked softly, confusion coloring her thoughts.
Graham touched his index to her lower lip and gently stroked across it before cradling her jaw. A faint smile touched his own lips. “I don't need you to say anything. I just wanted to tell you how I felt. I couldn't live with myself if I had any chance with you and lost it because I was too afraid to tell you how I felt.”
Smiling slightly, Buffy continued to look up into his eyes. “I kinda could tell.”
She really liked the way his eyes crinkled as his smile deepened. “I was obvious, huh?”
Buffy rubbed her cheek into his strong hand. “Just a little. But it's nice to hear you say it, too.”
An ascerbic voice interrupted them. “You know, as touching as all this is, maybe we could get some things resolved since you're now awake, Summers.”
Buffy closed her eyes, counted to ten, then opened them. Nope, it didn't work, he was still there. “Jack, tell me we didn't rescue you. I'm completely sure I gave very specific orders that you were not
to be rescued.”
“Hardee har har, Summers. Get off your butt so we can talk about the tactical situation. You've had enough rest.”
With a groan, Buffy sat up, biting back a comment. Graham's hand stroked her back and she leaned back into him for just a moment, before getting the rest of the way to her feet. She felt a little odd, but considering she had just done something uberweird, that was to be expected. Meeting Jack's sardonic gaze, Buffy managed not to blush, even when he gave a pointed look to the hand still resting on her back. Standing still, she made no move to dislodge it. She nodded to Samantha Carter, who stood at Jack's side, before asking, “What do you want, Jack?”
“Your second in command seems to think we should stay here, waiting, while there are at least two hundred Jaffa still guarding the Gate. Which just happens to be the only way home.”
With a sigh, Buffy turned to look for Molly, only to find her standing a few steps behind and to her right. “Molly, what's going on?”
With a suspicious look at Jack, Molly reported, “I have everyone squared away. All of the corpses are stacked over by the treeline. Everyone who needs medical attention has gotten it. We're currently getting some food fixed. You know Slayers, hungry and h.. hungry” She changed what she was about to say after a glance at Jack. She finished with, “I almost had to shoot Amber to keep her from eating one of the dead Jaffa.”
This last drew an offended, “Hey!” as sensitive ears heard her from a hundred feet away. Buffy could smell food cooking, which reminded her of just how hungry she was. She felt like she could eat a horse, hooves and all. “Thanks, Molly. It sounds like you handled things great while I was out of it.”
Molly beamed at her. “Thanks, Buffy.”
Buffy could feel Graham's hand on her back, it's calm strength feeling good to her. Turning, she asked him, “Would you grab me some of whatever's cooking? I'm really starving.”
Graham smiled down at her. “Sure, Buffy. I need to check on my team first, then I'll rustle you up something. Sir. Ma'am.” This last to Jack and Sam, then he headed off.
Buffy smiled as she watched him walk away. Graham told her he loved her! She wondered if she should have told him she loved him back, even if she wasn't one hundred percent sure. Then her attention was brought back to the present.
Buffy's smile froze as she looked back at Jack, who seemed upset still. Frowning at him, she commanded, “Okay, spit it out, Jack. Give me the 411 on what your problem is before I am forced to devour my own boots in hunger.”
Jack briefly considered yelling, but decided that it wouldn't get that much accomplished. Summers would probably get that stubborn look on her face and be that much more resistant to common sense. Then Carter would act all reasonable and somehow make him feel like an idiot. So calm was the word. “We still don't have any intel on the Jaffa by the Gate, Buffy. As a soldier, I understand an army travels on its stomach, but we should at least send a scout team to the Gate to find out how many we're facing.”
Reasonably, she pointed out, “You could have always sent an SG team to scout the Gate. Or some of the Free Jaffa.”
Don't yell. Don't yell. Don't yell. He could feel Carter at his side willing him to calm. After a moment, Jack managed to get out through gritted teeth, “That was what I was going to do. Molly wouldn't let us leave.”
Buffy showed him a suitably grave expression, but mirth danced in her eyes. “I'm really sorry, Jack. I'll make sure to straighten her out right away.”
“That's fine, but do you think you could send a team of Slayers over there to check things out? They can get there and back much faster than an SG team.”
Buffy's smile turned slightly nervous. “Actually, Jack, we know how many Jaffa are there. There are two hundred and two Jaffa at the Gate.”
Jack shook his head. “Molly told me you scouted the Gate before you rescued us. Good move, by the way. But they could have done any number of things with that strength, including reinforced it with even more troops. So...”
Buffy interrupted him. “They haven't.”
Jack stared at her. “They haven't what?”
Sighing, she said, “They haven't reinforced. Nor have they split up. There are still exactly two hundred and two Jaffa at the Gate.”
Jack could feel his suspicions intensify. “Buffy, how do you know that?”
“I just do?”
“Sir, if I may interrupt?”
Jack threw up his hands in exasperation. “Sure thing, Carter, interrupt away. It's apparent that Buffy doesn't want to talk to me.” He wondered if his little dramatic move would get him anywhere with Summers.
Bingo! “Jack, it's not that I don't want to tell you. It's... complicated.”
With a hand up to forestall Carter's questions, Jack commanded, “So uncomplicate it. Start with this: How
do you know how many Jaffa are at the Gate?”
Hesitantly, Buffy said, “I can feel the Jaffa, even from a fairly long distance. They register on my spider-sense.”
Frowning, Jack asked, “Why didn't you tell us about that ability before?”
“Because I didn't have it before.”
Carter interjected, “Buffy, have your abilities been changing?”
Jack started to speak, the stopped, struck by what Carter had asked. Noting the quietness of the blonde in front of him, he repeated the question. “Buffy, what's going on? Have your abilities been changing?”
Buffy looked away from both of them. Jack let her be, figuring she would talk when she was ready. Finally, she turned back and met his eyes. There was a strange fear in Buffy's eyes that he couldn't identify. He listened to her words.
“Yes. My abilities are starting to... concern me. I can do some pretty scarifying things. Plus the more I use them, the stronger they grow. The stronger they grow, the more tempted I am to use them. I...”
She stopped talking, biting her lip. Jack could see that she was upset, seemingly on the verge of tears.. He was almost tempted to take her into his arms, but remembering what she did to that concrete wall kept him at arm's distance. Gently, he coaxed her, “Buffy, do you know what is happening to you?” Jack could feel Carter at his elbow silently encouraging her to answer.
Buffy didn't speak. She appeared to be thinking deeply. Finally with a sigh, she said, “Yeah, I think I do. Jack, I told you about the Powers, right? How we're hoping to be able to contact some of the ascended races to help us against them?” At Jack's nod, Buffy continued, “There's a reason they want the spell reversed. At first, I thought they were worried about the balance, but it's not that. There have been too many clues. They're worried about me. The thing is, the only time God-type people get worried is either because of apocalypse season, or because of competition. I don't see any apocalypses on the horizon, Jack.”
It took Jack only a second to put the pieces together. His second took even less time. Before he could speak, Carter exclaimed, “You're becoming a God, Buffy?”
Buffy's sighed again. Then with a little smirk, said, “How does it feel that you might be praying to me soon, Jack?”
Jack could only stare at her in disbelief. “Fercryinoutloud!”
Buffy looked faintly amused. “I know. I can't get used to the idea myself. I...” She stopped speaking, seemingly to be listening, her head cocked to one side.
Concerned, Jack asked, “Buffy, is something going on?”
As Buffy met his eyes, Jack felt chilled. There was a strange distance to her gaze, as though even though she was looking at him, she saw something... other. In a far away voice, Buffy stated, “The Jaffa at the Gate are dying. Almost a third of them are dead, but more are dying even as we speak.”