Sorry about the delay in updating. I plead life and the company I work for being bought out. I'm trying to get my writing a little more regular from here on.
The diplomatic quarters, as the General had called them, turned out to be a very comfortable suite, with a sitting room and three bedrooms. There weren't any windows, however, and their guard — Xander knew full well that they were under guard, but it was the best cell he'd ever been in — wouldn't tell them where they actually were. The place was familiar, though, but probably only in the way that all underground military bases were the same.
"Do you think we made the right choice?" Dawn asked, moving ever so slightly away from him. It broke his heart to see her so uncertain, so scared, but the last year had been rough on her. It had been rough on them all, but he hadn't been the sole focus of the enemy.
He did his best to avoid thinking about the fact that the two of them was all that was left of the 'all'.
When the Ori had first appeared back home, they hadn't thought much of it. Crazy preachers with powers; it was Caleb all over again, and they'd beaten him, hadn't they? And they'd sent the first few Priors packing, easily. But that hadn't stopped them. They'd kept coming, and as time went by, they'd started gathering followers. And then the first Slayer had fallen to them; not in battle, but in heart. With that, everything had started to go downhill. The beginning of the end.
"I'm not sure there was any other choice to make," he said with a sigh. "We can't just leave, so we trust Willow's spell." He let out a ragged breath, but held it together. He did his best not to think about Faith and Willow, and their probably fate back in the world they'd come from. Ten years ago he'd lost the first of his childhood friends; now the other one was gone. Everything he'd every known was gone, except for one last thing. They'd all promised Buffy, years ago, that they would protect Dawn, and he would continue to keep that promise.
There was a soft knock at the door, and stepping in front of Dawn, Xander called out an invitation.
A young man in uniform, curiosity in his eyes, pushed in a cart. Two covered dishes sat on top, which he transfered to the table in the sitting room, and he pulled out several bundles from the bottom shelf of the cart. He left as silently as he'd arrived.
The bundles turned out to contain green jumpsuits in their sizes — much better than the scrubs they'd been given in Medical, if not much more fashionable — and toiletries.
Lifting the lids on the trays, Xander found servings of lasagna with garlic bread, and meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. Glasses of milk, chocolate cake and Jello rounded out the meals, making him think well of whoever had set the menu for them. There'd been food at the meeting room, but Xander was still hungry. He couldn't remember the last time he hadn't been hungry. "Which do you want?" he offered generously.
"Um, meatloaf?" Dawn said. Xander pushed the plate in her direction, then dug into the lasagna. His stomach flipped slightly at the first taste of the rich sauce, but he controlled it through practice. Food was fuel, not to be wasted.
And for a military base, the food was pretty good, although Dawn picked at her plate, eating mainly the mashed potatoes. It worried Xander slightly, but he didn't press. At least she was eating something. The dark circles under her eyes worried him more, he thought as he indulged in the chocolate cake, although he stopped after only a few bites of the rich frosting.
The food finished, Xander steered Dawn towards the bedroom furthest from the main door, and tucked her into the bed. "Sleep, Dawnie," he crooned softly, stroking her hair.
She grabbed for his hand, hanging on tightly. "Don't leave me alone," she said softly, the tiniest tinge of panic in her voice, even though her eyes were heavy with sleep long delayed.
Xander sighed softly, then climbed into bed with her, staying on top of the covers. He continued to stroke her hair until she fell asleep, resisting the urge to yawn. He pressed a kiss to her forehead, then closed his own eyes.
He still wasn't sure why he'd been so willing to unload so much so quickly, especially to the military, although he wasn't going to admit that to Dawn. The urge to distrust them — the Initiative had shown him just what the military was capable of, and how quickly they could screw it all up — had been strong, but at the same time the urge to tell all had been equally compulsive. And now that he had, it felt like a burden had been lifted from his shoulders.
He could justify it to himself that if the Ori had a foothold in this reality, these people would need to know everything so that they would know how important it was to protect Dawn. No matter how devoted he was, he knew that he couldn't do it alone. Plus, he wasn't made to go it alone. A team was needed. Whether these people had the making of a team, he wasn't sure, but his instincts were pushing him, and he wasn't in any shape to push back.
Trust Willow's spell, he told himself, then slipped into a light sleep.
Xander woke some time later, although he had no idea what time of the day it actually was. He hadn't slept a full eight hours since... Well, since before the Priors. Life on the run didn't allow proper sleep habits. He considered trying to get some more sleep — he certainly could use it — but knew that at this point, trying to force himself to sleep would be inviting the nightmares that lurked in the dark corners of his mind.
It was ironic. After the closing of the Sunnydale Hellmouth and the activations of all the Slayers, life had seemed easy. Sure, there was a lot of work, finding the new Slayers and getting them training, but with so many, they'd actually been able to relax a little. Finish college, travel, build lives outside of the fight against the things that went bump in the night.
A pity that had only lasted only a little more than two years.
Xander checked that Dawn was still asleep, then made his way to the bathroom. He didn't really need one, but he indulged himself in a nice long shower. Hot water was a blessing he would never take for granted again. And if he used all the hot water in the place, well, the military would have to just deal.
Finally, wrinkled as a prune, he turned the shower off and wrapped a towel around his waist. He grabbed the toothbrush that he'd claimed as his own and wiped a hand across the fogged mirror over the sink.
There was someone standing behind him, rendered completely indistinct by the moisture smeared across the mirror. The only thing he could tell from the wavery figure was that it was female. Maybe. And far too close for his comfort.
Xander spun around quickly, brandishing his only weapon — the toothbrush — and found himself looking at the back of the bathroom door, and there was no place for a person to hide. Looking back over his shoulder, the only thing that could be seen, was his own vague image in the mirror. "You're losing it," he told himself, shaking his head as he turned back to the sink.
There was a knock at the door, just as he was spitting out the rinse water. "Yeah?" he called out, making sure that his towel was cinched tightly around his waist.
"Are you nearly done?"
Xander smiled brightly and pulled the door open. "All yours, milady," he told Dawn with a bow, ruined slightly by the need to grab for the towel as it stared to drop. "I think I left a little hot water for you," he added.
"Hog," Dawn said, a ghost of a smile appearing on her face, and he gave himself a mental high-five.
They did the doorway dance getting past each other, and he headed back to the bedroom to get dressed. Dressing in army green brought back ghosts of memories from happier times, and he ruthlessly pushed back memories of a bouncy blonde dressed in historical gear and a curvy brunette with cat ears. He needed to focus on the present and the future, not a past that was as dead as... Well, dead.
Xander emerged from the bedroom, hair drying, clean clothes, and feeling almost optimistic. His stomach was also grumbling, and he was wondering if he should just open the door and ask the nice soldier who he could almost feel standing out there to order them some breakfast. Assuming that it was morning. On the other hand, it was always morning somewhere in the world.
He had taken a single step towards the door when a knock caught him off guard. He gave the bathroom door a quick glance, then called out, "Come in?"
The door opened, and a man in uniform stepped in. Xander checked his memories, and identified him as Mitchell; one of the military people at the debriefing the day before. At least, he thought it was the day before. Without a watch or a clock in the place, it could have been three days ago for all he knew, although he was pretty sure that it wasn't.
"Good morning!" Mitchell said cheerily. "Breakfast, anyone?"
The bathroom door opened, and Dawn emerged. She'd been smarter than he had, Xander noted. She'd taken the new clothes with her, and was also dressed in a green jumpsuit that was about ten sizes too large for her. "Miss," Mitchell said with a gallant bow.
Dawn gave a brave imitation of a smile, then scuttled off to the bedroom, emerging a moment later with fresh socks from the packages, and the battered remains of her sneakers and his work boots that they'd been wearing on arrival. "Thanks, Dawnie," Xander said, sitting down to cover his feet. "So," he said casually to Mitchell as he tightened the laces, mentally noting to see if they could get new footwear and maybe better clothing from their hosts. Something that wouldn't stand out like a sore thumb if they needed to leave the base. Whether their hosts would want to let them to leave didn't really enter into the discussion. "You been knocking every half hour to see if we were awake?"
"Not really," Mitchell said, just as casually. "Occasionally, we have guests of the not entirely friendly sort, but don't want to insult them either." He pointed up at the corners of the room. "Motion detectors in the sitting room tells us when the guests are up and moving around."
"And the bedrooms?" Xander asked with a frown.
Mitchell shook his head. "Nothing in there. And no cameras. Trust me, I don't *want* to know what a Goa'uld system lord does in his bedroom at night. I sleep better not having those images in my mind."
He seemed completely to be telling the truth, but Xander made a mental note to double-check the place anyway. He didn't like strangers watching him without his knowledge. But he didn't say anything to that effect. Instead, he stood up and gave Mitchell his best goofy grin and said, "So, breakfast? Any chance of waffles?"
Mitchell's grin was almost equal in goofiness. "If there isn't, I'll lodge a complaint with the kitchen. Breakfast without waffles just isn't a real breakfast."
Again, apologies, and the next part will certainly come sooner. And hopefully be a little longer.