Riley checked the time. It annoyed him that he was so nervous about the meeting happening in one hour, forty-five minutes, and twenty-eight seconds. He had to stop counting the seconds. Absolutely had to. But he was nervous. Even though Buffy was not going to be there, he would probably still see both Willow and Xander. And of course, Giles would be there. Even with the back up of Major Davis and most of SG-1, Teal'c having been left behind at the hotel for obvious reasons, he felt exposed. Riley would have felt better having Graham there or any of 'his' team. C'mon, Finn, he told himself, you can get through this. You don't have to worry about seeing Buffy, and the worst that Willow can do is turn you into a newt. And you can take Xander; he's only human. Of course, Xander had survived growing up on a hellmouth, so calling him 'human' might be a bit fallacious.
Riley checked the time again. Damn. As a distraction, he mentally went over the events that had occurred since the meeting with General Hammond, Major Davis, and SG-1. The major decision arrived at, once all explanations had been made, was to contact Rupert Giles and arrange a meeting to discuss voluntary recruitment of slayers to help deal with the Goa'uld situation. That done, follow up meetings had been scheduled, during which all details had been ironed out regarding the approach to be made. Ultimately, they had decided to be absolutely honest with Rupert Giles and any other members of the new council present, regardless of the signing of confidentiality agreements. Major Davis had the President's authorization to provide those exemptions. Once explanations had been made, their 'plan' would be presented.
The plan had been worked out by SG-1 and Riley during several closed-doors meetings. It called for any participating slayers to be split up among existing SG teams, giving those teams more flexibility in the field. Having a slayer on board would make scouting much easier. It would also make each unit tactically stronger in the event of a combat situation. The superior tactics employed by the SG teams would allow for the absolutely best use of their slayer 'assets'. The slayers participating would be paid as consultants, but would be part of the chain of command, required to obey orders just like any other soldier. Riley had winced at that one. High pay or not, he didn't think Giles would go for the U.S. military having what could only be described as complete control over any slayers joining them. He had objected, but ultimately Colonel O'Neill had made the call when they had been unable to arrive at a consensus. Riley hoped that Colonel O'Neill had only kept this particular part of the plan in order to give them negotiating room when it came time to discuss the use that SG Command would be making of the slayers. Otherwise, they were looking at a seriously fubar'd situation, at least as far as negotiating with the council was concerned.
Riley thought that the main reason Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter had supported the decision to put the slayers under the command of military personnel was primarily a lack of understanding of exactly what a slayer was and could do. Both saw the slayers as merely stronger and faster fighters. Riley knew from experience that Buffy had an entire set of instincts and intuitions, many of them more than human, that allowed her to truly shine in combat situations. She hadn't taken down the two Initiative capture teams just because she was stronger and faster than them, but rather because she had analyzed their tactics, whether consciously or subconsciously he wasn't sure, and had then simply used their own tactics against them. When he had asked her afterwards, she had replied “I knew what they were trying to do, so I just reacted.” Graham had once said that fighting Buffy had been like fighting a force of nature: a tornado or an earthquake. The best way to fight her was to simply not be there when she hit. Riley had been surprised at the depth of Graham's understanding. Based on the many times he had spoken with various Scooby gang members, he had realized that the only time when Buffy had been beaten, even temporarily, had been when she had been outmaneuvered. Essentially, taken out of position by a distraction. Angel had apparently done the best job of it. Or maybe that was just Riley focusing more intently on something negative about his least favorite of Buffy's exes. Some vampire called the 'Anointed One' had also done it, according to Xander.
Riley thought that what the slayers needed wasn't someone trying to guide their tactics, except perhaps with some familiarity training to help integration, but more with strategic planning. Long range planning had always been Buffy's blind spot. Even Giles, as smart as he was, couldn't seem to think more than a week or two past the the latest catastrophe. Riley didn't expect that to have changed significantly. Given a goal and the means to accomplish it, a slayer or team of slayers would be almost unstoppable. Basically tell them what you wanted done, but not how to accomplish it. Leave that to them, getting the hell out of their way. Riley believed that trying to spread them out into the other teams would be a serious waste of their abilities, essentially 'diluting' them. He thought the opposite approach, a 'concentration' of slayers, would be most effective.
Ultimately, the point might be moot. If their request for help was refused, they had no recourse. The President had directed there to be absolutely no coercion used to attain the cooperation of the slayers or the council. Even if there was total refusal, they were to act professionally with all possible courtesy. Riley had been surprised at that, halfway expecting to have to listen to redundancy plans on how to deal with 'uncooperative' slayers. That is, until Colonel O'Neill had explained to him, that just because they received a 'no' now, didn't mean they wouldn't receive a 'yes' in the future. The better they maintained the relationship, the better chance that they would be able to work together in the future. Additionally, behaving honorably and with integrity, would only improve the relationship, improving the chances of working together. Most nations operated on similar principles. Or at least tried to. Politicians often made the process fall short of the ideal. Between nations, it was called diplomacy.
Riley hadn't been surprised at hearing about this tactic. He'd already known about it. He'd even used it himself, both with the Initiative and with the SGC. He just hadn't expected to see it employed here. I'm getting way too cynical in my old age, he thought to himself. He should think better of Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter. And Dr. Jackson would never be a party to intimidation and coercion. They weren't the NID. Again, he cursed the NID idiots who had so spectacularly fucked up, making their team's task so much more difficult. The last thing Colonel O'Neill had said, almost as if it were an afterthought, completely unimportant, was that doing things this way was the right thing to do. Looking him in the eye, Riley realized that for O'Neill, it was the only way to do things. Riley forced himself to think about something else. Of course the only other thing that was on his mind was Buffy.
Riley almost wished that Buffy was going to be at the meeting. Partially because he would like to deal with the unresolved feelings he still had for her, and partially because seeing her and Colonel O'Neill going head to head would be extremely entertaining. Even on his best behavior, the colonel was snarky as hell. At his worst, he could pretty much insult anyone. Of course, during the negotiation, he would be on his best behavior. General Hammond had audited one of their planning meetings and had reinforced THAT concept pointedly. Colonel O'Neill had worn a 'butter-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth' expression throughout the lecture, while Dr. Jackson had looked like he was trying hard not to laugh, his eyes shining from the effort. Major Carter had looked amused as well, while Teal'c had been his usual, stoic self. Of course, if Buffy decided to 'slay' Colonel O'Neill because of said snarkiness, it would pretty much derail the negotiations. So it was probably best that she wasn't going to be there. Jenny Calendar School for Girls, Cleveland, Ohio...
Buffy looked at herself in the mirror one more time. Everything had to be perfect. It wasn't just that she was going to be seeing an ex-boyfriend, but there was also a chance she was going to be arrested. She might as well look her best when they dragged her off to the big house. Exactly was the latest style in prison-wear? Sighing, she stopped lying to herself. All of the primping, the endless changing, it was because of seeing Riley Finn again. Last time she'd seen him, she had been at the lowest ebb of her entire life. Basically a walking disaster. Working in a greasy fast-food restaurant. Wearing a goofy hat, for God's sake. And he was married to little miss perfect. He even had a new scar that had only added to his good looks. With all his combat gear and high tech toys, Riley totally had the whole James Bond vibe going for him. At least now Buffy had her life together. For the most part. About the worst thing that could be said about her was that she was bored nearly to tears. All talk and no slay made Buffy a dull girl. At least prison might be interesting. Maybe afterwards, she and Faith could compare tats?
Gazing critically into the mirror, Buffy looked over her latest outfit. Black silk skirt, five inches above the knee, coupled with a matching black silk jacket, both in the latest fashion, nicely set off the bright red silk blouse she wore. She wondered if the red silk was too much? Ultimately, she decided to go with it. It made her look both business-like and sexy-as-hell at the same time. She finished the look off with black stockings and black pumps with a discreet three-inch heel. Dealing with Riley and possibly Sam, she needed every inch she could get. And since God, in his infinite wisdom, had decreed Buffy to be lacking in the inches department, she made for it by artificial means. Bless the man who'd invented heels. Beneath everything, Buffy wore black silk underwear, Victoria's Secret at its best. Even though no one but her would know, it gave her that little extra 'oomph'. Buffy unbuttoned one more button of her blouse. Not too slutty. Smiling at her reflection, she gave her image the seal of approval.
Turning from the mirror, she glanced at the clock. Oh my God! She was five minutes late to the meeting! And Giles had wanted her there thirty minutes before to discuss their 'strategy' one final time. He was going to be pissed. Probably make clucking noises at her. Grabbing her purse, Buffy frantically closed and locked the door behind her. Running in high heels would have been difficult for anyone not her, but years of practice had made the feat surprisingly easy. Buffy raced down the hallways at thirty miles per hour. She hit the doors of the meeting room at 9:07 AM, throwing them open hard enough to drive the little metal stoppers into the wall. Oops. Xander was not
going to be happy with her. This was the fifth set of doors this week she'd broken. Hurrying inside, Buffy came to a crashing halt. Six pairs of eyes watched her: three with interest, one with shock, one with surprise, and the last showing bemusement mixed with displeasure. Staring at the meeting that looked like it had already started. Buffy walked up next to Giles, gave a little wave, then stopped and stared. Is that guy going to faint, she wondered?Cleveland, Ohio, 30 minutes earlier...
Jack smiled, glad to be at the site of the meeting. Traffic had been particularly nasty, making him glad he'd insisted on leaving ninety minutes early. Arriving at 8:36 AM gave them plenty of time for introductions before the actual meeting took place. Driving through the beautifully maintained grounds of the Jenny Calendar School for Girls, he had looked with interest at the subtle and not-so-subtle signs of this facility being more than just a school. Heavy stone walls, over ten feet in height, were topped with razor wire. The gate, while decorative, was heavy enough to stop any vehicle short of an M-1 Abrams tank. Even the tank would have had trouble with the decorative moat that surrounded the actual buildings, connected by several bridges to the rest of the grounds. Decorative or not, if you blew the bridges, the moat made a formidable obstacle. There were hints of concrete shapes in the bottom that looked as if they would hinder both vehicles and personnel attempting to cross. The buildings themselves, while classically elegant, were also made of heavy stone, and at least three feet thick, based on the depth of the window casements. Thick steel bars defended the windows. Each building was essentially a fortress. The weakest point, the double doors on which he was about to knock, were protected by large stone 'planters'. The planters appeared to be attached with heavy steel rebar to the concrete walkway, making them an effective anti-vehicle defense. There was one other thing. Everywhere he looked, Jack saw odd shapes that seemed to blend in with the stonework. Shapes that gave him a odd, queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. Stone couldn't move, could it? Shaking off the feeling, he walked up to the doors.
Jack rang the doorbell. He did not hear a tone, which made him think that either it was a very quiet bell, or the doors were so thick that they were essentially soundproof. He was aware of Sam and Daniel to his rear and Major Davis to his right. Captain Finn stood to his left, fidgeting slightly. Aha! He'd finally found Finn's kryptonite. Jack had been looking for a crack in Finn's facade for months now. That it was his super-powered ex-girlfriend just made it that much funnier. At that moment, the door opened, interrupting his musings. As it opened, he checked the door. Yep, it was thick enough to be soundproof. He smiled at the young girl who opened it.
“Colonel O'Neill and party here to see Rupert Giles,” Jack stated with a smile.
The girl, who couldn't have been a day over fifteen, stared at him suspiciously. Long blonde hair framed a delicate, oval face, currently set in a frown. The girl was about five feet tall. She was dressed in pink sweats and sneakers, appearing to have just come from a workout. After a long pause, she finally asked, “Are you evil? The last military guys that I was around were evil.”
The comment surprised a laugh from Jack. He wished he could keep the girl around for meetings with the NID and other oversight committees he had to deal with. Let's see those guys answer that question honestly. “No, no evil here. I'm Colonel O'Neill, but just call me Jack. What's your name?”
“Cherie. You sure look evil.” Still frowning, she seemed lost in thought. “Well, okay. Giles said to let you in, so I guess I have to.” Continuing to eye them all suspiciously, she opened the door. Gesturing for them to enter, she stood to one side, watching. After Daniel came through, she closed it behind them. “Follow me.” She took off, setting a pace that even Jack had trouble keeping up with, short of breaking into a jog. Must be a slayer, he thought with amusement. Or maybe one of those speed-walkers. Hurrying down the corridors, they followed the teen to an oak-paneled door, identical to the rest in the hallway. There wasn't a name on it. Knocking, then opening it, Cherie stuck her head inside, saying something to the person within. Jack couldn't quite make it out. After a moment, she turned back to Jack. “Stay here. Dawn'll be out in a sec.” With one final suspicious stare, she raced off.
Jack fidgeted. Not exactly the greeting he'd hoped for. Definitely active hostility. And since the indians typically reflected the feelings of the chiefs, that probably meant they could expect something similar from Rupert Giles and the rest of the brass. Damn, he'd hoped for at least indifference. Just then the door opened, another girl coming through. A young woman rather, Jack corrected himself. Tall, at least 5' 8”, and absolutely stunning. Long, wavy, chestnut-colored hair framed pale, delicate features set off by startling large, gray eyes. Full, sensuous lips were set above a dimpled chin. The young woman was dressed in skin-tight, low-rise jeans and a hot pink top, cut low enough to show she wasn't wearing a bra. There was a scowl on her face. It was probably meant to be intimidating, but was completely ruined by her reaction upon spotting Captain Finn off to Jack's left.
“Riley!” She shrieked, making Jack wince. She leaped towards him.
Riley had about two seconds to get a look before a human blur grabbed him in a tight embrace. “Dawnie? Is that you?.”
Gray eyes looked up at him as she continued to hug him. Riley was disturbing aware of that Dawn was no longer the little girl he remembered. For one thing, she had curves in all of the right places. Currently those right places were pressed much too tightly against his chest. Trying to be objective, he cataloged the changes she'd undergone. The girl he remembered had been all huge gray eyes, pointed chin, and gangly limbs. Now she'd grown into the eyes. Her lips were soft and sensuous, currently smiling widely. The full breasts currently pressed against his chest were indications that the gangly part was definitely of the past. The full, bra-less breasts. Disturbed, he tried to think about other things. Like, umm... Dawn's height. She had grown inches since he'd last seen her. She was at least 5' 8” without heels. He could tell because that was how tall Sam had been. Dawn's chest was pressed against him in about the same place Sam's had. Okay, enough thinking about Dawn's chest, he told himself.
Riley was careful to keep his hands well above the waist as he hugged her back before finally settling them on her shoulders. Pushing her back, ostensibly to get a better look at her, although actually because he was more than a little uncomfortable, he said, “You look great, Dawnie. All grown up.”
Riley figured out that he'd said the wrong thing when Dawn punched him, hard, in the arm, saying, “The name is Dawn, not 'Dawnie'. Got it?” The punch made things jiggle a bit. Riley somehow kept his eyes on her face, cursing peripheral vision. He was starting to sweat.
“Ouch. Umm... sure. Dawn. Got it.”
“So how are you? How's Sam? What have you been up to? Kill any interesting demons recently?” Dawn rattled off questions. She was amused by Riley's double-take upon seeing her. It reminded her a little of how Xander had reacted on seeing her dance with RJ back in High School. At least based on Willow's description. She'd had tons of fun teasing him over the next few weeks after she'd found out. Sitting in his lap and wiggling, bending over in short skirts in front of him, even pressing her breasts against his arm, back, shoulder, or neck. All had been tactics she'd used. Ultimately, it had been Buffy who'd put a stop to Dawn's give-Xander-a-boner game. Dawn pouted mentally as she contemplated how often Buffy had interfered with her social life. And her fun. Shaking her head, she focused back on Riley.
“Umm... I'm fine. And Sam... Sam's fine, I'm sure. Not too much. None recently.” Riley was aware of the silent amusement of Colonel O'Neill at his side. The Colonel had always seemed to resent his poise in dealing with the Stargate, aliens, and other sundry weirdness. He was getting his revenge now. Riley felt anything, but poised under the barrage of Dawn's questions. Praying, he hoped she wouldn't catch his hesitation when Sam's name came up.
“Sam's fine, huh? You don't seem too sure. Now why would that be? What's up, Riley?” Dawn continued her interrogation.
“Well, umm.. you see. SamandIgotdivorced.” Riley rattled the last part off, horribly conscious of being in the presence of three senior officers and one civilian consultant. He was never going to make Major after this. Riley knew he was blushing, which only him more self-conscious.
“Wait, you got divorced
? Oh my God! What happened?” Dawn's exclamation was only slightly lower than her initial greeting had been.
“Dawn, volume, please.” Riley's frantic whisper caused her to eye him quizzically. Dawn seemed to be enjoying humiliating him. Riley had always thought she liked him. She'd hugged him after all.
“Sorry Riley. Sorry everyone, just ignore the whole part about Riley being divorced.” Blithely, Dawn ignored Riley's strangled gasp as she went on. “Let's get this show on the road. We're going to the small conference room, which is pretty close, just around the corner.” Dawn led off, fast, but at least followable. Riley carefully kept his eyes off of her hips as they swung back and forth, emphasized by the cut of her jeans, which barely covered her ass. Three turns and they were in front of a set of double doors. They'd arrived. Thank god, he thought. Pulling open a door, she gestured for them to head inside. As Riley walked by, she grabbed his shirt. “Before you leave, we'll have to catch up. I've got the latest dirt on everybody. Bye for now.” After a quick peck on the cheek, Dawn disappeared, leaving a befuddled Riley behind.
Riley stood there, shell shocked. He'd forgotten the drama of dealing with the Summers sisters. Hearing a throat being cleared behind him, he quickly looked behind him. Major Carter nodded her head to where Colonel O'Neill was holding the door. Fighting back another blush through sheer force of will, Riley went in.
As Finn walked by him, Jack suppressed a smile with great difficulty. Seeing Finn interact with Dawn Summers had been one of the funniest things he'd seen in quite a while. So much for that famous poise and reserve, Jack thought with a inward chortle. Releasing the door, he walked over to the large, oval table, taking in the room. The others had already taken seats at the end of the table facing the door. The table dominated the room. It had room for fifteen to twenty people to sit around it. It was constructed of some dark wood, nearly black, and polished to a mirror sheen. The chairs around it were black leather and looked very comfortable. Watching Daniel sink into one, sighing blissfully, Jack scratched the 'looked' part. The only other item in the room was a huge, black, marble backdrop, covering the majority of one wall. It was covered in thousands upon thousands of tiny gold plaques, about a half inch square. Jack looked closer and realized there was writing on them. He was about to see what was written there when the door opened.
A man walked in, around Jack's age, give or take a year or two. Distinguished in appearance, he carried himself with a quiet authority, obviously used to being in charge. He had piercing eyes, only partially concealed by the wire-framed glasses he wore. He had a generous mouth, well used to smiling, currently set in stern lines. He was dressed in an elegant, dark brown suit with a red silk tie. He looked intelligent and civilized. Striding to the end of the table opposite Jack and the others, he looked them over before announcing, “My name is Rupert Giles. I am the head of the Council of Slayers and Watchers. If you would all be so kind as to introduce yourselves before we begin this meeting.” He looked expectantly at Jack.
“Colonel Jack O'Neill, United States Air Force.” Jack stated.
“Major Paul Davis, Pentagon Liaison,” Davis said.
“Major Samantha Carter, Air Force. But please call me Sam,” Carter said with a smile.
“Dr. Daniel Jackson, Egyptologist and linguist.” Rupert Giles's eyes lit with interest at Daniel's introduction. Uh oh, Jack thought, another nerd. The last thing we need is for the two of them to bond. Although, Jack mused, maybe that would work to their advantage.
“The Dr. Jackson? The one who wrote the paper about the pyramids being landing sites for alien spacecraft?” Giles was surprised to say the least at the presence of an archaeologist of Dr. Jackson's standing being present. Especially one whose theories had been discredited. It was those same theories that had prevented the original Watchers' Council from recruiting him. Giles hadn't heard anything about him for over four years, since shortly after his paper had received near-universal derision.
“Yes, exactly that one. I am currently working for the Air Force as a civilian consultant, specializing in languages and ancient cultures. Are you the same Dr. Rupert Giles who was assistant head curator of the British Museum a few years back?” Daniel was surprised to see a man of Dr. Giles's academic background mixed up with a situation like the one they were dealing with. The man could speak and translate at least as many languages as Daniel did, and he was supposedly an expert on ancient Sumerian culture. How did he end up here, Daniel wondered?
“Yes, I am. Although, I'm no longer involved with the museum these days. Captain Finn, obviously you do not have to introduce yourself. It's good to see you. I hope you've been well?” Giles looked over Riley. Riley appeared the most nervous of the group, which Giles took as a bad sign. If these officers were here to investigate and possibly bring charges against some of his 'kids' for the deaths of those agents killed in the kidnappings, then it made sense that Riley would be ill at ease. Additionally, Riley, more than the others, knew just how difficult it would be to arrest anyone here without that person's consent. That might be another source of stress. Hopefully, he would find out soon. Giles waited patiently for Riley to reply.
“Mr.. err Dr. Giles, it's good to see you. I'm doing fine. I hope you're doing well also.” Riley forced himself to relax. He was here. He'd already been embarrassed. What else could happen?
“Well enough, considering the times. Colonel O'Neill, you and Major Davis requested this meeting. I am going to allow you to speak, but first we need to wait for one more person. Once she arrives, we may begin.”
Jack had been surprised that only Rupert Giles had shown up for the meeting. Based on Finn's information about the group dynamic, he'd expected to face both Willow Rosenberg and Xander Harris, as well as one or two more of the so-called 'Scoobies'. That Dr. Giles was alone did not bode well. Hearing that someone else was coming gave him a small measure of relief. If there was to be at least one more person present, it appeared that the council was, at least, willing to seriously listen to their proposal before deciding. Jack wondered who else was coming. Since it was a her, he asked, “Is the person we're waiting on Willow Rosenberg?”
Giles looked over the group, waiting a moment, then answered, “No, we're waiting on..”
Jack jumped, his hand going to his nonexistent sidearm at the sudden noise. He stared as the heavy doors slowly began to close behind the figure who had just burst through them. One door hung slightly crooked now. Both doorstops had been driven into the walls, and the doors had actually left an imprint in the room's paneling, such had been the force opening them. The figure standing in front of them was female, slender, standing perhaps 5' 2” tall. Golden hair, of an indeterminant length, had started out pinned up. Wisps had escaped from their imprisonment, framing a delicate, heart-shaped face. The effect made her look startlingly young. Big green eyes dominated delicate features with a cupid bow mouth beneath. The young woman wore an extremely short black skirt and matching business jacket over a red blouse, unbuttoned to show the barest hint of black lingerie. Black hose and heels finished the outfit. The young woman looked extremely young, amazingly attractive, and supremely confidant. Striding forward with an almost feline grace, she stopped next to Rupert Giles. With a sinking feeling, Jack realized who this had to be.
Raising one eyebrow, Giles said, “Ah, Buffy, good of you to join us and only ten minutes late.” The feeling hit bottom. Dropping the irony, Giles continued, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Buffy Summers, the Slayer. Now that she's arrived, we can start the meeting. Colonel O'Neill, Major Davis, exactly what was it you wanted to talk about?”
The girl gave a small wave. Major Davis looked like he was about to faint. Buffy Summers were here. Buffy Summers, who was not supposed to be attending. Buffy Summers, who hated and distrusted the military. Shit, Jack thought, now what do we do?