Sorry about how short the update is. I hope to have some time to write over the Thanksgiving Holidays. Have a great Thanksgiving everyone.
Riley stared. He couldn't help it. Buffy looked... great. Amazing, even. Skin: tanned, golden, and touchable. Eyes: clear and sparkling, although a faint shadow lay in their depths, more felt than seen. Figure: slim and lithe, possessing curves she'd never had while she dated Riley, although he'd seen them in old photographs. The way she wore her hair, wisps curling around her face, made her look ridiculously young, even younger than the college freshman Riley remembered. The outfit Buffy wore, from short black skirt to red silk blouse, emphasized her body without being overtly revealing, a Buffy trademark. Riley tried to pull his eyes away, but couldn't. He felt his face redden as her eyes met his. He couldn't understand what he saw in her eyes. Hoping she couldn't read him as easily now as she had back when they'd dated, he looked away. My God, Riley thought, she still makes my skin hum. Heart beating painfully fast, he waited to see what would happen.
Sam stared. She couldn't help it. Here was Supergirl in the flesh. Okay, not really, but Buffy had done things almost as amazing, including saving the world a multitude of times. Standing there, Buffy looked ridiculously young and stylish, making Sam more aware of the faint lines that creased the corners of her eyes as well as her somewhat stodgy dress blues. Sam put that thought aside, focusing more on the matter at hand. How did someone who looked like she weighed around a hundred pounds throw a human male, weighing more than twice that, thirty feet through the air? She briefly computed the force needed. It was astounding, and just didn't compute coming from Buffy, or anyone really. Briefly, Sam met Buffy's eyes, feeling a shiver going down her back. I wonder what she's thinking, Sam thought to herself. After Buffy's gaze moved on, Sam forced the thought aside, just as she'd done earlier. Now, to get back to her analysis of the combat scene she'd seen. That leg-kick, how much force would be needed to do that...
Daniel stared. He couldn't help it. Here, in the flesh, was the embodiment of those ancient stories he'd spent the last couple of days researching. Throughout his career, Daniel had read many stories and legends, written in a multitude of languages, some dead and some not, that all dealt with a female figure who saved the world. Until finding out the Slayer was real, he'd always seen the female figure as an allegory, representing the power of femininity in the ancient world. Now, not so much. Now, he had to take the stories as fact, at least partly. The girls in the stories had killed monsters, demons, and other horrible creatures, saving the assorted villages, towns, and cities. Daniel briefly wondered how humanity could have lost sight of something that was once so visible. Not just the world of the supernatural, but the girls who saved humanity from that world. How did we lose sight of the sacrifices so many girls made to keep us safe. Meeting Buffy's eyes, Daniel felt his natural sympathies reach out to her, only to be rebuffed. He couldn't understand what he saw in her gaze, and finally had to look back down at the table, shaken to the core. It was like looking up, expecting to see a dog, but instead coming face to face with a wolf. Suppressing a shiver, Daniel briefly wondered if a wolf's gaze wouldn't be less alien.
Major Davis stared. He couldn't help it. How could she be here? Rupert Giles had lied to him, leading him cheerfully in front of a firing squad without even a final request before ordering them to shoot. Davis tried to muster anger, but couldn't. He was a fool to have expected anything else. It was just the stories of a split in the loyalties of the core Scoobies had led him to believe it was possible that Giles would keep this meeting from Buffy. Briefly he wondered if the stories had been created and spread for no other purpose that to give the appearance of weakness where no weakness existed. Lure your enemies in and conquer them at your leisure. Shaking his head, he dismissed the thought. The entire thing was entirely too Machiavellian for him. Briefly he met the eyes of the oldest slayer. He wasn't sure what he would see there, but sympathy was the last thing he'd expected. Buffy's eyes seemed to pierce his soul. Finally, Davis could meet that gaze no longer, and looked down at the table. Shaken, he thought about the events that had led him to this place. Could he have made better choices?
Jack stared. He didn't try to be subtle about it. He was interested in the girl, err... woman, standing on the other side of the table. Jack didn't begin to pretend to understand the dynamic that existed between Buffy Summers and Rupert Giles. But he very much wanted to. When she'd burst in, Giles hadn't hesitated to chide her gently for being late, almost like a father to a beloved daughter. And the affectionate glance she'd sent him, only reinforced that view. But standing there in front of Jack, with Giles seated to one side, the dynamic between the two was no longer obvious. It almost appeared to be one of a counselor to a queen. Jack watched as she looked at each of the members of his team, noting in turn their reactions to her gaze.
Finally Buffy's eyes met his. At that moment, Jack dismissed Rupert Giles from any more consideration. Not because Rupert Giles was unworthy or a weak man. Jack dismissed him because, looking into the eyes of the oldest slayer, it was foolish to even pretend not to understand who ruled here. Buffy might take advice from her watcher and friends, but at the end of the day, it was only advice. She would make the final decision. Jack knew he was looking into the face of a general. Young perhaps, but not unblooded. She carried the weight of her dead on her shoulders like a great yoke, yet stood straight and unbowed. Jack felt odd thinking those thoughts. After all, they all lived in the United States in the twenty-first century. Buffy's eyes belonged to some ancient warrior-queen, ready to lead her legions into battle, while never forgetting the cost. As Buffy's gaze finally moved on, Jack briefly considered the strategy his team had come up with during their lengthy meetings. Now he understood why Riley had argued against so many of the things they had decided upon. While Jack didn't think Riley had true understanding of the woman standing across from them, he did understand her well enough to see obvious failure paths. With the faintest feeling of amusement, Jack dismissed all of their careful planning, tossing it like so much rubbish into the trash. Oh well, he thought, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Jack already knew that a new approach would be needed. And he knew just what to say.
Rupert gazed upon the figures seated across from him. He could feel Buffy like a lodestone at his side, pulling their gazes away from him. He allowed himself a moment of bemusement, but refused to allow it to descend into self-pity. Rupert had always been astonished by how effortlessly Buffy could dominate, not just a room, but any group of which she was a part. Even back in high school, she drew the attention of the others to her, merely by her presence. One of those most affected had been Xander. Rupert had never bought into Xander's relentless lust for Buffy's body. . He'd always thought Xander pursued Buffy, not because of how attractive Xander found her, but because it was the only way to translate his feelings for her into something his twentieth century teenage male psyche could understand. In another age, Xander would have knelt at Buffy's feet as she knighted him, swearing his undying loyalty to her. He would have guarded her life with his own. After all, as he'd grown and matured, wasn't that essentially what he'd done?
Rupert had never spoken of the parallels he'd seen between the tales of Arthur and his knights and the lives of the youths under his charge. Willow, Xander, Oz, and Dawn, they all played a role in an epic tale. He'd watched them all make mistakes, similar to the ones made by Arthur and his companions, yet somehow always emerging victorious. But now they would face Buffy's Camlann, and he feared for the future. Oh, how he feared.
Throwing off his weighty thoughts, he wondered what Buffy was thinking. While he would have preferred to have had one final discussion of their strategy for the meeting, he couldn't really fault her for not coming early. They'd beaten the subject to death last night. Rupert had presented her with dozens of scenarios. She'd listened to every syllable, but he didn't know if she planned to use one thing he told her. Ultimately, Buffy would do whatever she chose. I wonder, Rupert thought, if Buffy is Arthur, am I Merlin? If so, what does that make Willow?. Inwardly chuckling, he focused again the figures seated across from him.
Buffy looked at the figures seated at the table across from her. She made no effort to sit down, instead staring at each in turn. Meeting Riley's eyes, she clamped down on her feeling for him, refusing to be pulled into his gaze. Refusing to be pulled into the heartbeat racing through his chest. It was an old trap, one she might have fallen into yet again before the events of last year. She wasn't the Buffy she'd been when last they'd met. That Buffy had died in a cavern along with countless thousands of Turok-Han. Dealing with the First, then killing men who attacked her girls, had hardened her in some ways, tempered her, just as numerous quenchings temper a blade. At best, she could imitate her old self, playing a game of pretend. When next the world ends, I wonder if I'll be able to feel afraid again?
Buffy met the eyes of the soldier-scientist and the scholar-archaeologist in turn. She felt the Slayer look out from her, evaluating them. One offered her curiosity, an endless thirst for knowledge that could never be satisfied. Measure and calculate until all of the secrets of the world are laid bare. The other offered her empathy, trying to understand her. See deeper into the girl behind the slayer. Both flinched from whatever answers they found in her eyes. Buffy wouldn't allow an ironic smile to touch her features. She wouldn't. But, it was tempting, as she could almost hear the whir and click of the thoughts racing through their heads.
Looking at Davis, the one who had orchestrated the entire meeting, the last thing Buffy expected to feel was sympathy. Sympathy for the devil. But the man seated across from her wasn't Lucifer or even particularly evil. Whatever his reasons for attempting to circumvent her attendance, he appeared to be paying for them. Pale and sweating, he appeared to be truly frightened. Of her, she wondered? Since he knew what she'd done to the last group of NID that she'd encountered, perhaps he expected her to do the same to him. Finally pulling her gaze from him, Buffy dismissed him. Whatever he felt, it was unimportant to the meeting. No one who displayed such weakness would be a worthy opponent. Davis was simply too weak to matter.
With only the last member of the invaders left, Buffy's gaze met his with almost a ringing sound, like blades crossing. Colonel Jack O'Neill. Buffy struggled to remember what Giles had told her about the man. He had extensive experience in black ops, but worked on some boring project now. Seeing him in the flesh made her re-evaluate the man. While he might have been a spy at some point, the man sitting across from her was a soldier, a leader. His gaze pierced, seeking an advantage. Buffy could feel him sitting there, calculating the odds, trying to figure out a weakness that would allow him to win. But at the same time, there was an openness about him, an innate honesty that bred trust in those around him. The best way Buffy could come up with to describe Jack O'Neill was that he was genuine. What you see is what you get. He was also the leader of the other side. Despite Major Davis calling for the meeting and Riley attending, the true leader of the other side lay revealed. And it wasn't just his rank. Buffy would consider him the leader if Riley were the colonel and O'Neill the captain.
Buffy allowed the Slayer to heat her gaze as a test. The colonel didn't flinch. Instead, it seemed to deepen his interest. With amusement, Buffy realized that just as she had dismissed the others in his party as irrelevant, so had Jack dismissed Giles. Buffy could count on her fingers the number of people perceptive enough to be able meet with her and Giles and actually be able to see their true relationship. Giles was her mentor, her counselor, advising her when she had questions. Buffy made the final decision. She'd done so within a year of their meeting, although for the longest time they'd both carried on with the pretense that Buffy would do what Giles asked. Eventually, Buffy had outgrown the pretense. That Jack could see through the act so quickly made him a formidable judge of human nature. Buffy wouldn't take him for granted. Stifling a sigh of impatience, she decided to jumpstart the meeting.
Seating herself next to Giles, Buffy asked in clear, almost ringing tones, “So, Colonel O'Neill, why exactly are you here? And what is it you think you can get from us?”
Oh crap, Riley thought. The shit was about to hit the fan. At least he had a ringside seat, he thought as he settled deeper into his chair. With fascination, he watched the battle of wills taking place before him as Buffy and Jack O'Neill stared into one another's eyes. I wonder who's going to flinch...