With many thanks to jrabbit for rapidly betaing this one. Merry X-Mas I will post more in the New Year some time.
Buffy studied what looked like a scene of carnage as she approached with her rifle ready to fire. The MALP looked fine, but as far as she could see from the uniforms the remains of a SGC USMC Stargate team was scattered around the Gate like they had been tossed there by some sort of explosion. Thankfully they all looked like they were just stunned. However, she only counted four of them, which meant that there were several missing, and there had only been one body aboard the wreck of the Tel'tak; that meant nothing good.
"Two neural disruptors," her mom said, and nodded towards the expended ammunition next to the DHD.
Buffy spotted a group of equally stunned civilians a bit further out. They looked nothing like a normal group of SGC scientists, especially due to the lack of the standard issue BDUs. "Who are they?" she asked.
"I don't know," her mom replied, and signaled for them to advance towards the Marines.
"Hey there Sergeant Bell," Buffy said, and knelt next to the huge black man shaking him to check if he would wake up, but he stayed unconscious.
"How long does this usually last?" Buffy asked. The only time she had gotten hit with a disruptor grenade had been when Thoth had captured her, and he had kept her sedated a good while after its effects had worn off.
"Nearly 24 hours and then they'll be blind for up to half an hour after waking up," her mom replied.
"Crap, we're gonna need a medical team then. There are people missing," she said.
"I know. Let's dial Earth and call this in. They'll get support here immediately. Daniel told me on the radio that they have control of the shipyards, but we need more people to help protect it, especially if Baal has gotten wind off our attack already," Sam explained.
"We should also try and find some way to recover Bra'tac and the others. We have to at least warn the Rebels that they need to change everything up, because Baal has Bra'tac for now. We need to do the same given Ba'al's predilection for interrogation," Buffy said.
"I'm sorry honey," Sam said. "None of this is your fault. We can't win them all," her mom continued.
"Yeah yeah I know, you tell me that every time we lose. That won't stop me from trying to win them all either. I don't see you going in half-hearted," she said.
"And I'll keep saying it until I am certain you don't go beating yourself up over something that it really was a team effort, and therefore a shared failure... And I guess it's a Carter thing, because I feel like you do," her mom explained.
But Buffy realized she was heaping too much on herself again. "I'm glad I have you to help me not do this to myself every time something doesn't go my way," she said, while her mom dialed Earth.
"Likewise, when I get too mixed up in some problem I can't solve," her mom replied. They both smiled.
The gate blew open as usual and her mom signaled Earth, reporting the downed men at the gate, and told Jack about the general status including that they had lost Bra'tac.
"What about those civilians?" Buffy asked glancing their way. Four people lay just on the edge of the plateau in a small group. She could make them out with her nightvision and they looked more like tourists than someone from the SGC. They also didn't look like Goa'uld or Jaffa either, so she decided that they were probably one of the new international groups that had been flooding into the SGC for a while now. She wondered if they were Europeans or something, having dressed so casually, and she wondered if she could get a chance to do the same. She really wanted to try and go into the field looking less like Special Forces Barbie, and more like Buffy, but Jack usually shot down every request she had made.
"I'll get a Medic team to get them back to the SGC. Why, are you going back to the Shipyard?" Her mom asked.
"I wanna go make sure everything works out with the Reen. When the SGC guys come through just I'll go take the Glider back to the Shipyards, okay?" Buffy suggested.
"Sure," her mom agreed. The gate shut and then a few minutes later it opened back up. Soon SG-6 and 7 came through, accompanying a group of SGC field medics. Buffy nodded to her mom, and ran for the glider. She wanted to go be diplomatic with the Reen, but her real reason for wanting to hurry for the shipyards was to talk to Teal'c and explain that she had failed to rescue Bra'tac, as well as to hear him out on how they'd arrange to go save the old man.
Dawn felt like she had been on spring break, but without the pleasant memories, when she came to. She opened her eyes and saw nothing. She felt a soft mattress beneath her body instead of the expected sand. The last thing she had remembered, they had stumbled across what had seemed like US soldiers in the middle of a desert on what she had presumed was a random planet in parallel universe, where supposedly Buffy had been kept for over 5 years. A strange light and some rings had teleported something down, there had been a noise, and now this. She tried to pull herself up. Someone in soft shoes moved to steady her as she sat up. Dawn reached up and touched the hands; they felt warm and soft.
"It's okay, you're safe. The weapon used on you will make you temporarily blind for a few minutes after waking up; your sight should be returning soon," the reassuring voice explained. It was a voice filled with both authority and empathy. Also, it spoke English with an American accent.
"Where are we? Did we land in Iraq or something? Is this a US military base?" Dawn asked wondering if Willow had actually landed them on a parallel Earth anyway.
"Iraq? You thought... No, you're not in Iraq. Listen, I need to ask you some questions, and I thought that having someone to talk while your eyes recover might be good idea," the woman said.
"Thanks," Dawn said. She thought about laying in the dark just waiting. There were faint nearby noises of medical equipment and distant voices. She was in some sort of infirmary;some sort of US military infirmary if her guess was right. Ancient stories of Buffy and the Council's past flashed through her mind. "Who are you?" Dawn asked realizing that she might not be safe where she was either. She reminded herself to at least be careful.
"Oh, sorry, where are my manners? I am Dr. Janet Fraiser," the voice explained.
"Dawn Marie Summers - just call me Dawn," she replied.
"Really, Dawn Summers, huh?" the woman replied sounding perplexed for a moment.
"Yeah, my dad wanted something sensible and my mom just thought I was such a ray of sunshine that I needed to live with the moniker Dawn for the rest of my life," she replied while mentally reminding herself that at least she hadn't been saddled with a name like Buffy. She loved her mom and honored her memory, but her influence on her girls' names had been unfortunate.
"You sound like you'd rather just be Marie," the voice of Janet Fraiser said with tinge of humor, showing that this woman was certainly not a dull person privately.
"Do I look like a Marie to you?" Dawn asked.
"Don't know, the only Marie I know is a very nice nurse," Janet explained.
"Ah, well I'm not a nurse," said Dawn.
"So, Dawn, where are you from?" Janet asked.
"California," Dawn said, sure that her accent had given it away anyway.
"I guessed as much," Janet said.
"So, you wanna go for the hard questions now?" Dawn asked.
There was a sigh. "I guess it's time. Dawn, how come a Californian was where you were? How did you get there?"
"I... we flew. Got away from our tour group, maybe," Dawn said trying to see what, if anything, a lie would reveal of what the US military, if it was even them, was doing where they had landed. The sky hadn't looked like the Middle Eastern sky: she had been there a few years back going on the trip through Israel that her and Buffy had talked about before her kidnapping.
"Dawn, I think you'll have to work on that explanation a bit. How did you get off Earth?" Janet asked.
"Off Earth? Uhm, I don't know. We took... I... can't say," she finally admitted.
There was another sigh. "I understand. Your friends said the same," Janet explained.
"Where are they?" Dawn asked.
"Nearby. They're having the same problems you are," Janet explained.
Dawn realized she was beginning to see shades and motion in the darkness. "I think my vision is coming back," she said.
"Good," there was a noise as something was wheeled closer. A hand took hold of her chin and slowly turned her face a bit. "Dawn, do me a favor and tell me when you can see my penlight," the doctor said.
A few moments later she could see the faint light and after a few more moments, it was as if a switch was thrown and her sight returned. In front of her sat a nice brown haired woman with kind eyes, dressed in a white coat hung over a uniform. Dawn noticed an insignia on the uniform that puzzled her. Along with all the US military stuff there was a patch with an Egyptian hieroglyph that was unlike any other she had seen before in her studies. That rung an alarm bell to her: the men who had abducted Buffy and that other Slayer had worn Egyptian inspired uniforms. Carefully she glanced around the room. It was a large and advanced looking room filled with loads of expensive looking electronic devices and a long line of beds. A lot of it also looked like it was in the middle of construction.
"You have to excuse the accommodations, we're halfway through a major expansion of the entire facility, but at least after it is over, I'll have a proper place to treat my patients," Janet said.
However, Dawn was more concerned with the number of watchful guards, all of them dressed for combat rather than regular guard duty, complete with body armor and assault rifles. Most of the guards also carried a weird purplish gun in their belts that looked like a coiled snake had been mounted on a gun.
A set of double doors opened and a group of chatting soldiers and civilians covered in grayish mud, yet seemingly quite happy, walked in. The doctor looked up, sighed and got up. "More customers. Now Dawn, please stay put for a little while. You're not a prisoner, but you're also not cleared to leave the infirmary, and if you try the guards will restrain you," Janet said.
"So not a prisoner, but I can't go anywhere. Do we have different definitions of the term?" she asked, but Janet seemed not to have heard her as she moved off to talk to the muddy newcomers. Dawn looked around and saw Xander and Giles lying unconscious nearby. Neither Satsu, Willow or Faith were anywhere in sight. Dawn almost got up but a warning look from both a guard and a worried look by a nurse stopped her.
Buffy and Teal'c slowly walked down the ramp into the SGC. Teal'c needed her support, which given their size difference made her feel a bit more like a hand rail than a shoulder to lean on. Teal'c was healing quickly thanks to his tretonin, but it was not at all like in the days when he had still had Junior. He was unhappy about it too; she knew that much, but they both knew that the advantage of the tretonin in removing the need for a Goa'uld larvae far outweighed the loss of a few extra abilities. The ever stoic Jaffa had said nothing, except asking her to take him to the SGC after she had told him of Bra'tac. He needed to get in touch with the other Rebel leaders, and set up a meeting with them. That he could have done from the bridge of his flagship; however, he also needed to get in touch with the Tok'ra and ask for their help in recovering Bra'tac, before their old friend was broken or killed. That meant he needed Earth, because even with their alliance, the Tok'ra and the Jaffa weren't exactly buddies, and all communication went through Earth at the Tok'ra's behest.
A medical team rolled up with a gurney. Teal'c ignored it. Buffy looked up at him. "You need to go in for a check up either way, and I am not carrying your ass to the infirmary and then back up to the conference room. You're no good to Bra'tac until you're a little bit better - then we can go out and get on with rescuing our friend. Oh, and get on with killing Ba'al," she said in Goa'uld.
Teal'c stared at her. She realized it was almost violating his personal code to consider getting help like this: Jaffa, and especially Teal'c, could be obtuse that way. "Respectfully Teal'c, you can hate me all you want, but you're either getting onto that mattress or I'll dropkick you and leave it to whoever is around to lug you out of here," she said continuing to speak Goa'uld.
He sat heavily on the bed, but resisted the medic's attempt to get him to lay down.
"Buffy, I think I preferred it when you were under my command," Teal'c said.
"Sorry, but your health is more important than respect or your stubborn pride," she said and watched as they wheeled the Jaffa away.
Buffy felt her mom approach before Sam announced her presence.
"Men, and oh how the Jaffa need to be extremely manly men," Buffy said.
"Yet we don't like them if they're not, at least partly, cavemen wanting to possess us underneath," her mom said.
"Boyfriend trouble again?" Buffy turned and asked while lifting an eyebrow.
"No, not having one kind of helps with the problems, and don't you think you'd know if I had a boyfriend, never mind trouble with one? No honey, there isn't one," her mom explained.
"Okay, I just thought that date with the police guy had led to something maybe while I was in Israel," Buffy hinted.
"It didn't. There are at least four people missing from the USMC SG team," her mom continued.
"Damn, poor guys. No one deserves that. Ba'al or his toadies will torture them for sure," she said. Jack had told her stories about his treatment at the hands of Ba'al a while back.
"I know. We're going to get them all back," her mom said. Buffy vigorously nodded. She felt like the mission to Harakesh had turned bad on them, and now they had to find some way to find those lost to them. Even with Teal'c rescued, losing Bra'tac and four SG team members, felt like too much of a price.
"By the way there was something strange about the group we found at the gate," her mom explained as they headed through the scanners mounted beside the big entrance doors to the gate room. They cleared them, showing as Goa'uld free, and they continued on into the corridor.
"Well?" Buffy asked.
"They didn't come there through our Gate. Diplomatic is drooling at the chance we've stumbled across another gate-traveling human society that we might be able to form an alliance with," her mom explained.
Buffy realized she didn't really care: she was a lot more concerned about the entire Ba'al and Bra'tac thing to be excited about visitors. "Oh, well at least they get to do the talking themselves for once, rather than bugging us to be more approachable," she said.
Her mom chuckled. "You're just a little upset that they forced you to take all those diplomacy classes. At least it worked with the bug."
Buffy just raised an eyebrow. "Water under the bridge. And well, they did have that unfortunate incident with the fire alarm and the sprinklers last week, so that is meant literally. So does the General know about the Bra'tac thing?" she asked.
"He does, and Jack says that when we get solid intel, we will mount another rescue attempt. However, just in case, we've changed the GDO frequencies, and communications is distributing the news and new codes to the rebel Jaffa," her mom explained.
"Teal'c wants to meet with the Jaffa leaders and the Tok'ra. He thinks that they might be willing to pool their resources, and get some sort of clue on where Bra'tac could be held. You think Intelligence knows anything?" Buffy asked.
"Doubt it, we still rely almost entirely on Tok'ra and Jaffa spies for our stuff. In their defense, their department is only a few months old, and its harder for humans to infiltrate Goa'uld organizations. Still it can't hurt to ask. At least they can give you an assessment of Ba'al's forces, and maybe even likely locations where they could've hidden him. Bra'tac is as tough as they come, but I don't know if he will last; I hope for all our sakes he does. Getting either Tok'ra agents or Jaffa leaders here could take several days," her mom said.
"I'd be more worried about Teal'c's patience. He loves Bra'tac like he was his father. I don't know if he'll stay off his feet, or even here to wait, more than a few hours, but then again I might just be projecting my impatience and concern into my thinking," Buffy said. She had learned a bit more about herself and her thinking after years of therapy with Karen, the SGC shrink.
Sam put a hand on her shoulder as they came to the lockers. "You should consider going home and relaxing for a while too. You've been in the field for several days, and you did most of the talking. I'll be off duty in about two hours. We could sleep in and then tomorrow forget all about work, Goa'uld and Replicators," her mom suggested.
Buffy considered it seriously. Her need to help people, her love and concern for friends like Master Bra'tac, all of them called for her to stay and press the issue. But the years of therapy, as well as the constant reminders from everyone who knew her, had made her realize that, unless she let herself take time off, she'd burn out. It had taken her a while to realize that burning out was in the end worse for those she wanted to protect as well as herself. "Sounds wonderful," she said.
"It's a deal... Uh, how about we eat on the way. There is a new Thai place that I really want to try out," her mom suggested.
"Sure," Buffy agreed, "see you topside in about two hours." She headed into the locker room and looked eagerly towards the showers. It was time to rinse days worth of desert travel off.
Dawn had not been allowed to leave her bed or the infirmary since waking up. The nurses were really strict. It was getting to be more than annoying. She needed to talk to Xander and Giles, who looked like they were stirring. She needed to know what was going on and if anyone had seen Willow, Faith or Satsu. Then she needed to find a way out of the base so she could find her sister. She was, she realized, too busy to stay in her bed.
A large black man with a faint golden tint in his skin and a large golden emblem glued to his forehead had been wheeled in nearby and lay there impatiently tapping his fingers, while Dr. Fraiser fussed around him with an urgency that told her the man was important. He did have an air of authority around him that she had previously only seen with some Watchers, like Giles or Xander. It was a charisma that surrounded some strong leaders. Dawn suddenly realized that the golden emblem reminded her of the tattoos that had been on the foreheads of the warriors that had kidnapped Buffy. Willow had shown her a drawing of the sign once, but it was different from the one on the big man's forehead.
She sighed and got up, deciding it was time she talked to Giles and Xander. The Doctor looked her way, but when one of the nurses approached her, the Doctor subtly shook her head and the nurse turned away and went back to her work.
Dawn headed over to Xander's bed side. "Hi Dawnster, so you've got the full bifocal thing back in action," Xander said as she approached.
"Huh. Oh. Yeah I can see just fine. You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah, both me and the G-Man are fine. We're more worried about Will and the crazier kids we brought. You think maybe they've been confined somewhere else for their own good?" he suggested.
"No, not unless they think we're completely harmless,” said Giles. “They're even allowing us to see each other. I think if they wanted to imprison or interrogate us for real, they'd isolate us; at least they would in our universe."
"Things might be different here. Hey, maybe pigs can fly here too," Xander said.
"I believe we should consider whether these people might be either Buffy's captors, or if we're lucky for once not even remotely interested in our affairs," Giles said.
"I don't think you should expect that. The Doctor dropped several hints that they want desperately to ask us questions, but that they don't want to insulting about it. Apparently the planet we ended up on wasn't this world's Earth, but I think we might have been brought back to Earth already. I know, we have no idea where we are, and unless the US military are in the business of building off-world bases in this universe, I think they might have moved us. Do you think they have some sort of portal magic here? Willow said that they had nearly no magic so I really do wonder how that might be," she said.
"Giles, the university people broke Dawn and mended her using boring bits," Xander commented.
"I believe we're about to have company," Giles replied, ignoring the younger watcher's remark.
Dawn turned and watched as a woman clad in immaculate business attire that screamed 'federal something' walked up with a saccharine smile pasted to her face and a clipboard. Dawn decided the woman looked like an FBI agent overdosing on happy pills.
"Hello, and welcome to planet Earth. I've been made understand that you all speak English. Is that correct?" the woman asked.
"Yes," Giles said. The woman noted that down.
"Oh, good. That makes my life so much easier. My name is Lynn Fields and I am a diplomatic representative of the United Nations of Earth," the woman said but didn't offer her hand.
"O-Okay, I'm Dawn. That's Xander, and the nice older man is Giles," Dawn said. The woman promptly wrote that down. Giles' expression changed to a grimace for a moment.
"Ah fascinating. Now if I may ask, what is the name of your homeworld?" Lynn asked.
"Erh. Earth of course," Xander replied.
"Really. Fascinating." The woman made another note then looked up. "And how did you get to the planet we found you on?" Lynn asked.
Giles, Xander and Dawn stared at each other for a few moments. Finally Giles said, "We traveled using a portal leading there. We do not come from here on this Earth; we come from a parallel universe."
The woman looked up and studied them for a few moments. Dawn was surprised when Lynn didn't give them a look of disbelief or derision, she just efficiently noted down what they said.
"Well, that might be a problem. You haven't been experiencing moments of extreme pain or any other symptoms like that?" Lynn asked.
"No, no of course not," Giles replied.
"That's good. Maybe there will be none of that cascade business I was told about. Meanwhile as you're visiting in our universe, I must tell you that you stumbled inadvertently into a dangerous situation. The place we found you was until recently in the hands of an enemy of Earth, and until we have verified your story, you will be given over into the custody of the SGC, an international military organization tasked with the protection of Earth from Extraterrestrial and Extradimensional threats of any kind. Please understand this is done both for ourprotection and yours . The Galaxy is a dangerous place, and all visits from other dimensions have been equally fraught with danger," Lynn explained.
"Please be kidding. We can't hang out here. Besides we came here with three friends, where are they? Have they also been confined?" Xander asked.
Lynn looked up her eyes showing a hint of something akin to pity. "Where these people with you on that planet?" Lynn asked.
"Yeah," Xander replied.
"You were the only people, aside from the SG team, that were retrieved by the medics. Either your friends have hidden themselves in the deserts there, which according to my information is a very unhealthy prospect, or even worse they've been taken hostage by the forces that attacked and stunned you," Lynn explained.
"They couldn't have run - they were stunned like us: they must have been captured. Who has them?" Xander asked.
Dawn, meanwhile, wondered what role Buffy played in all of this, and on what side. Wasall of this about Buffy and the other captured slayers, or had they just stumbled into something bigger, which would be typical.
"That is a very complicated subject, Mister, all of which is classified," Lynn said.
They noticed a tall woman with short blond hair, equally charismatic as the black man, enter the room. She wore a simple unadorned uniform, but still pretty much everyone except the doctor saluted her as she headed over to speak with the black man; that woman was someone important. It was also clear from the get-go that the man and woman were friends, looking at their body language.
Buffy was done early with all her after action stuff which included a long bath. She glanced at her wrist watch; she still had half an hour before she was supposed to meet her mom topside. Deciding that a short visit with Teal'c was in order, she headed for the infirmary to see if he had already bolted, or was about to.
"Now, Mister Giles, the sooner you explain to me why you came here, the faster we can resolve all of this,” continued Lynn. “The SGC has some experience with parallel universe travel, and we may be able to help you get back home and we will, of course, offer our help with recovering your friends should the opportunity arise. However, we also need to understand your situation better? Now, why did you come here?"
Again the trio looked at each other. Dawn noticed how neither Giles nor Xander looked interesting in telling the woman anything at all. The doors to the infirmary opened again, and she looked over. The room seemed to change tone. The nurses smiled and the Doctor walked up to the tiny figure that had just entered. Dawn couldn't see past Dr. Fraiser, but it was clear this was just like the black man and the tall blond - someone important and well liked.
Lynn finally noticed her long look to the back of the room and cast a glance in the direction Dawn was looking. "Ah, those are some of the officers serving here," Lynn explained.
Dr. Fraiser moved and Dawn saw a large mop of gently curling stark blond hair atop a tiny slender female shape, dressed in a grey military T-shirt and baggy green pants. The upper shape was unmistakable even after five years: it could only belong to the biggest hero in her life. "Buffy!" Dawn gasped.
Lynn looked alarmed for a moment and took a step back as if Dawn had just sprouted another head. Dawn realized that clearly knowing Buffy was not something they expected, or wanted from their visitors.
"Dawn?" Giles asked.
"That woman over there - I'm sure that's Buffy ," she said, and pointed.
Xander practically jumped out of his bed. The guards nearby, clearly already made nervous by Lynn's reaction, and seemingly permanently on edge, pulled out the snake headed guns they wore. The heads on the weapons rose making them look more dangerous. Dawn recognized them from the descriptions of the weapons used by the people that had kidnapped Buffy.
Across the room the figure she had identified as Buffy whirled around as did the tall woman next to her and the Doctor.
"No way!" she yelled. Dawn watched as the tiny woman sped across the room faster than she could see, and launched herself into a hug. Dawn felt her feet lose contact with the floor as Buffy grabbed her and held her. She also felt an old nostalgia as her senses one after another told her she was in the arms of someone she completely trusted. Even the smell was of Buffy: the natural smell of her sister and a slightly vanilla scented perfume mixed into something she remembered in the core of her being.
"Dawnie is that really you?" Buffy's voice whispered, buried as it was against her shoulder. It sounded shaken and shocked.
"All proud and tall," she replied looking over towards Giles and Xander. Dawn was unsure what to feel except happy. Xander had his hands up, and Giles had a pained look that Dawn knew only too well. The Englishman had seen something he didn't like. She wanted to yell at him for dirtying her moment with Buffy, but then she also noticed that the guards were still wearily watching them with their weird weapons drawn, while the entire group including the huge black man was walking towards them with the tall blond woman in the lead looking surprised.
"How? How did you get here?" Buffy asked still holding Dawn in a neigh unbreakable hug.
"Buffy... air please..." she begged.
"Oh, sorry," Buffy said, relaxing her hold. Dawn noticed how Buffy had actual muscle definition - something she had never seen on her sister before: Buffy had always been in shape, but never to the degree that her body had looked seriously athletic.
It was when Buffy leaned back that the real surprise struck her. Buffy was physically as short as ever, and the way she carried herself, self assured and dominant, was still in full effect, making her feel like the tallest person in the room. However, she was also looking like she still belonged in high school. In fact she looked like she was significantly younger than she should have been, like she was still seventeen or so. Dawn barely remembered her sister from the days she had looked like this. That had been before their mom dying - even before Angel turning into Angelus the first time. And there was another thing: it had never been too serious or deep a secret that Buffy colored her hair. This was either a week old super professional hair-do, or Buffy had found a way to become really stark white-blond haired. Her sister gently wiped away a tear on Dawn's face, while ignoring her own. They stood there studying each other silently for what seemed like many long minutes.
"Honey, who are these people?" the tall woman asked Buffy breaking the moment. Dawn recognized the tone to her shock. It was the tone their mom had used too.
"Eh, I . . . Hmm. Well this is. This is Dawn, my lit. . . my sister from my old universe," Buffy said.
The words: 'Old Universe' echoed through Dawn's mind. They sounded so final. Here she had just found her sister after having mourned her as dead and she was calling their home that, like it was a weight she had discarded.
"Buffster, you look. . . well like they have really great facials here," Xander commented.
"Xander, I don't believe it. I am so glad to see you," Buffy said and gave Xander another Slayer strength hug that ended a bit quicker than the one, Dawn had gotten. Buffy looked completely overwhelmed as she leaned back from the hug. Xander looked equally happy to see his old friend.
"Oh my god. Giles," Buffy said her eyes full of tears as she grabbed Giles and gave him a much more careful hug and then a tender kiss on his cheek. The older Englishman looked genuinely unable to speak. Dawn knew that he wished he could draw off his glasses and wipe them while facing away to hide his feelings, but the Watcher couldn't given Buffy's hold on his hands.
"Buffy are these your old friends? Are you sure?" the blond woman with the very military bearing said.
"Yeah, they're themselves and all that. I can feel it. I don't believe it you guys. I was so sure you had no way to get here or that you'd come earlier. Mind you, that would have been a bit disturbing for you," Buffy said, clearly thinking about something in her past.
Xander looked a bit abashed for a moment. "We were tricked by the Powers that Be. It was almost as if they didn't want you back at all. The oracles and seers all said to consider you dead, and when the black hats figured out that you were alive and decided to try and get to you, they still told us to leave you alone. In the end Willow pulled off a bit of the hardcore mojo and got us here," Xander explained.
"Is Willow here too?" Buffy said and looked around.
"Probably. Your military friends here probably have Willow, Faith and one of her sisters by the name of Satsu stashed somewhere else," Xander suggested.
Dawn noted Buffy's immediate scoffing look: her sister trusted these people just as much as she had trusted Xander and Willow in the early years of their time in Sunnydale. That much, she could see from her sister's expression. Eerie as it was to see her sister look and act younger than her real years, Dawn was fairly certain she could still read Buffy's expressions.
"Buffy, explanations to follow yes?" the tall blond asked using a turn of phrase that Dawn recognized as full on Buffy speak. That woman definitely must have spent a lot of time with her sister.
"Of course," Buffy said then turned back towards Xander. "We didn't pick up anyone but you three at the Gate. I was there and there was only you three. And that means that Ba'al has gotten himself Willow, Faith and this Satsu on top of a collection of SG people and Bra'tac. The rescue op just went from 'Critical' to 'Do or Die'," Buffy turned around.
"You know what I told you off Willow and Faith. Their power in Ba'al's hands would be pure horror. I guess Faith could hold her own against a Goa'uld being implanted in her head, but we still don't know how much of my resistance is my own, a gift from the Universe or direct intervention. We can't bet on it working for Willow either. Using all her power, and pure genius, a single snake could become a System Lord that would end upa threat as dangerous as Anubis," Buffy explained.
Dawn had no idea what Goa'uld meant, but Anubis was an old god reference as was Ba'al. This didn't bode well for what was going on.
"Why were they picked up and not some of the SG team," the woman argued.
"There are several possible reasons really. First one: They were close to the gate and were amongst the people taken before we blew away that transport. Second: They were somehow resistant to the neural disruptors and so that bastard decided they might be interesting. That is unlikely though unless Thoth specially modifed the disruptor he used on me a few years back," Buffy reasoned.
Dawn cast a glance towards Xander and Giles, who were looking exactly like she expected she was looking. For all her impressive memories of her sister in battle or planning tactics, Buffy had never been one for much analysis or thorough thinking on strategy. Now, it seemd, Buffy was good at it.
"Excuse me but. Huh?" Xander said.
Buffy turned to Xander and gave him an apologetic smile. "An alien parasite infesting a human, and using what you'd consider science fiction technology, was escaping through the metallic ring you ended up close to – we call it a Stargate. He dropped two bombs on you which stuned everyone in the vicinity, after which he made off to another world through the Stargate before I could blow his ass away. When he escaped, he probably left with Willow and the other, two as well as another dear friend of mine. We need to rescue them quickly because the alien parasites thrive on infecting people with power, and when they gain access to the hosts memories and complete control of their body. They're the enemies of Earth, and rule most of our galaxy," she explained.
Giles and Dawn looked at each other then back at Buffy. Dawn couldn't stop herself from laughing. After a while she stopped and looked at her sister, who was giving her a frustrated look. "Sorry, I just think you're the only person in the history of humanity, who could escape life as Slayer Number One to get involved in an interstellar war in another universe," Dawn explained.
"It was no coincidence. I was brought here for a purpose, and it's really more like intergalactic war at this point," Buffy said.
"Buffy, I think we should move this to the conference room. I think we need to properly brief your friends here, and I want to know their intentions," the tall woman said with a tone of complete authority.
Dawn waited for Buffy to scoff and protest, but aside from a wince her sister just nodded. Buffy sighed and said, "No rest of the wicked then. You picked a hell of a week to show up; we're kinda busy. I barely even got to enjoy my vacation."
"Your days are still in the system,” the blond woman said. “Besides, you have a month of vacation time saved up on top of those you used. You'll get the time off just as soon as you decide to take things a bit more slowly." Dawn wondered if the woman had been tasked with arranging for Buffy's time in the military. Was she her sister's nanny and keeper? Dawn was also annoyed: she wanted time alone with her sister. She wanted them to talk, and then she wanted them to go back to their castle in Scotland in their own universe.
"Sure, but really Miss 'I could take several years off on what vacation I haven't used yet' shouldn't be doling out wise advise on my time off," Buffy replied. Dawn recognized the flippant babbling: Buffy was confused and overwhelmed by the situation. Something was bothering her sister about them being there, and that surprised Dawn more than anything else.
The woman grinned and said, "Right right, fair enough. Buffy, how about I bring your friends to the conference room and you go explain to Jack that you've made our lives a good deal more complicated. Again."
"Me? Okay, but no showing of embarrassing pictures, or telling of even more embarrassing stories. I will let them in on the sordid details of my new life soon," Buffy explained and ran off. Dawn realized after Buffy left the room that her sister had been really tense. She wondered if that woman had just gotten her sister out of the room to give Buffy a chance to collect herself? If that was the case ,then that woman was like crazy close to her sister in a way she herself hadn't been since she had become a teenager.
The blond woman turned and gave them a nervous, and temporarily, vulnerable look. It was as if she was wrestling with some difficult issue coming from looking at them. It was as if she wanted to say something, but didn't dare. "I am happy to finally meet you. I have heard so much about you. Welcome to the SGC," the woman said in a tone that suggested that maybe she wasn't all that impressed with the stories she had heard.
"Glad to be here, Miss?" Giles offered and poured on with his considerable charm which he so often kept carefully hidden.
"Carter. Colonel Samantha Carter, US Air Force," the woman rattled off.
"So where are we going?" Xander asked.
"Since you're already been given a clean bill of health, and passed the Goa'uld detection tests, I am taking you to the conference room. It's close by. I guess we're in for a long conversation or two," Colonel Carter said.
The tall and massive black guy studied the Colonel then turned and limped towards the door.
"Teal'c where do you think you're going?" the Doctor called out.
"My presence is required in the conference room," the tall man with the weird name replied in a deep throbbing bass tone.
"Teal'c, you're not going anywhere. You've been tortured, you have several burns, three broken ribs and I am pretty sure you're recovering from a concussion. You'll have to stay here," the Doctor walked up to the huge black man, while the Colonel shook her head and took them towards a side exit after telling their ever so bubbly welcoming committee of one that she was taking over. Dawn was more interested in the black man however.
The last she heard, was the black man telling the Doctor in a fierce tone: "I will not allow Samantha Carter or Buffy to face this trial alone." Then the door closed behind them and they entered a grey concrete tube like tunnel with metallic doors in the walls and a lot of people walking along either in uniforms or lab coats,
It felt like everything around was whirling, but Buffy knew that both she and the world were standing still. The world was fine; it was her mind that was disturbed. She had long ago given up on ever seeing anyone or anything from her old life, and, to what she now decided should be her shame, she had tried to completely ignore it all, because in the end it had been convenient and less painful to do that. Living in the now, and dealing with her weird little life had been enough. This world hadn't revolved around her: she had been apart of something huge, but not its center. She mattered, but she wasn't responsible for it all, and that had been good for her. It had been the responsibility, or rather the thought that if she had a bad night someone would die. Or that many people would die. Or the world would end. That had been her problem back in her old life: everything had been life or death back then, and everyone had looked to her for solutions, even if she felt woefully inadequate to fulfill their expectations in her. Here, it was different.
And now, she realized as she now slowly walked a path to Jack's office, she would have to face her old life, and as she wandered the halls, she knew that it had come to pull her back. It was almost as if she had been given a near decade-long vacation filled with joy and, yes, moments of numbing fear, but it hadn't been a nightly war to stop the always imminent end of the world. Still, Xander, Giles, Willow, Faith and Dawn were here, and that meant they wanted her to go back.
As she thought about it, she realized that it wouldn't be that simple. She didn't want to go. That made her feel horrible, but she had learned to, at least, be honest to herself. She could never say it to her friends and family, but she had not liked her old life a lot of the time. After Sunnydale, a part of her had wished to end her life as a Slayer and just be normal. Saving the billions of people on Earth from complete obliteration more than seven times at the cost of so much of her life had worn her out, but there had been no stopping. She had made thousands into Slayers and their lives had become her responsibility. Now she had a new life here. Her new life, her mom, Jack, Daniel, Teal'c, Jonas and everyone else at the SGC, the friendly aliens out amongst the stars were here. She didn't want to leave them. Life at the SGC was something she loved. Sure, it wasn't perfect either, but it was better, flaws and all.
However, there were also things she missed on this side. She had still not found someone who would be able to love her and whom she loved back. She knew that there were at least two in her old world, who in their own way loved her deeply and truly in a way beyond what family and friends could offer. There was also Dawn: a sister in her memory, and in a weird roundabout way that they never brought up, born from her blood.
It had been strange to see her again. Dawn looked like always. Well almost: her eyes had been wiser, her tone more thoughtful, and as always, her sister had gotten even taller, but in the end she had just turned into a twenty something, while Buffy, who like Xander and Willow, should have been heading for thirty, had instead been reduced to a late teen again. Xander had been distant and hard in a way she now related to officers used to taking soldiers into the field. He had probably stayed with the Slayers as a Watcher to guide it all; that was bound to harden anyone. Giles had looked older and more worn, but not to the point of being out of the game. He reminded her of a softer well read version of Jack, or maybe a cross between Jack and Daniel. She shook her head to clear it before she knocked on Jack's door. She really wished her vacation hadn't ended early, but then another voice in her mind reminded her that she had also missed all of the people she had just thought about.
Sam wondered what, if anything, she should be talking about with the three strangers whom she knew so much about from her daughter's stories. They were different than she had imagined. The former librarian had a barely hidden intensity and roguish charm, Buffy's old friend Xander reminded her more of a slightly happier and round faced version of Jack, and Buffy's sister seemed to have gotten all the height Buffy hadn't, along with a piercing wit. It was on Dawn her thoughts centered though: try as she might to avoid admitting it, she really wanted to just turn and tell those three emissaries from her daughter's old life that they could not be allowed to take Buffy away, but she respected Buffy and her past too much to do such a thing. She had long ago decided that she should never try and keep Buffy's old life at bay. Buffy had been brought to their world against her will, and even with what their universe had wrought on Buffy, Sam could not claim Buffy as entirely hers, so she didn't feel it fair to prevent her daughter from following her heart, wherever it led her.
Still she wished with all her being that Buffy would, for once, prove selfish and choose to stay with them instead of sacrificing herself to duty, a duty Buffy should long ago have been allowed to lay down in Sam's opinion.
"Excuse me, Colonel, but I can't help but noticing that your uniforms are adorned with an Egyptian symbol I have never seen represented before on our world," Giles asked.
"Interesting. In our Egyptian culture that symbol was interpreted to mean Earth in a way. Actually we now know that the symbol predates the Egyptian culture by millions of years. The symbol is originally from an alien language, and was a part of their name for Earth before humanity even existed," she explained. As they spoke, she realized it was easier to keep things formal and factual for now.
"Isn't it all classified?" Dawn asked.
"Not in the way it used to be. We had an incident a while back that revealed the existence of the aliens to the world. But besides that, for now you're our guests. Your friends have been taken by aliens, and if I remember correctly from the stories, you'll insist on helping us recover them. That, and the fact that you're from another universe, and probably going back there soon, means I can tell you more than is public knowledge," she said. Sam was rather proud of working the hint to make them talk about their plans for the future, and going back home, into the conversation.
"You bet we're gonna insist on helping. So is Buffy your alien hunter or something?" Xander asked. Sam was surprised to see in his expression that he fully expected her to say yes.
"Not really; Buffy is a consultant, but yeah she works here. Usually we rotate her into teams that need extra tactical support, strategic consulting, or if one of our allies are working with the team," she replied.
"What's that," Dawn asked as they walked past Gate Control on the way up to the Primary Conference Room. Dawn was standing at just the right angle to see a bit of the Gate. "It looks like the ring artifact that was on the planet," Dawn continued.
"That's true," she agreed but decided against elaborating for the moment. "The conference room is up this way. I was thinking that maybe I should call out for some food,unless you've already eaten in the infirmary," Sam looked around at the three who vigorously shook their heads.
"Okay then," she said and looked towards Walter, who had unobtrusively joined their entourage on the way up.
"Sergeant, our guests are hungry. The General, Buffy and I are gonna be there as well. Would you arrange for some food to be brought up?" she asked.
"Of course, Colonel. Should I have them refer to Buffy's diet schedule?" he asked.
Sam thought back. Buffy had eaten well in the field, but given all the fighting, and the desert trek, Buffy had to have metabolized more than her usual amount of calories. "Yeah, tell them to prepare something for her," she replied.
She turned to see three people studying her clearly curious about what she had said. Sam guessed it was about Buffy's food. "You looked confused about something?" she asked as she cleared the stairs, and went towards the chair next to the end of the room, where she'd usually sit right on Jack's right hand.
"Yeah, I was wondering, why Buffy gets special food and does she know?" Xander asked, his voice filled with distrust.
Sam was confused for a moment, wondering why that man was so distrusting of her. "Of course she knows. I would never give Buffy anything she wasn't aware off. She is on a special high-calorie diet so she doesn't burn through her fat reserves and start cannibalizing her muscle tissue. You know about her metabolism, right?"
"Slayer Metabolism?" Xander asked and looked over at Giles.
The librarian nodded. The older man headed to a chair and sat down. "You seem to know Buffy quite well. How long have you known her?" he asked.
"In principle, eight almost nine years, but according to regular calendar time I'd say almost five or so," Sam said.
"Nine? How?" Dawn asked.
"We had a small time travel incident," Buffy's voice replied, coming from the entrance to Jack's office. Sam could hear Buffy's well hidden turmoil in her voice: Buffy kept a very tight rein on those things in public, but Sam had learned to see through that to the truth.
Jack practically stormed in as Buffy walked over to sit next to her.
"Sit please," Jack asked. Sam noticed he was wearing his full uniform, but then it wasn't uncommon for him to do that. She also realized that while she wouldn't say anything to stop Buffy from leaving, Jack either already had, or would. She remembered him when he first met her daughter years back and had to suppress a smile. Buffy had completely won him over in the end.
All three of Buffy's friends and family sat down. Dawn sat next to Buffy, while Giles placed himself across from her and Xander took the seat across from Dawn.
There was a heavy step and a complaint from the stairs, "You're too heavy," Daniel groaned. Sam looked over to see Jonas and Daniel supporting a groggy, but defiant looking, Teal'c up the stairs
"Hello," Daniel said as they got Teal'c into the first seat they came close to.
"And suddenly we're a crowd," Jack commented giving Daniel a look.
"We wanted to offer our moral support, and Teal'c needed a hand," Jonas said.
"Dr. Daniel Jackson," her friend said after walking over and offering his hand to Xander. Xander gingerly shook it. Daniel repeated his introduction, going from Xander to Giles, then reached over to Dawn. Jonas copied his move adding a friendly smile. Sam noticed that none of Buffy's friends said much more than their names, and Xander seemed especially unhappy.
"Ah yes, introductions. My name is General Jack O'Neill - that's two l's - you've met Carter, and the big man at the other end of the table is Teal'c. I guess you know the rest by now. I know your names, and I see the descriptions match as well," Jack said. Sam nearly winced at his tone: it was playful in that way that, she knew from experience with Jack, could turn dangerous any moment.
"So, I understand you share a problem of ours. You were headed over to meet our team, were knocked out, and found yourselves missing a few team members," Jack asked.
"Yes: Willow Rosenberg, Faith Lehane and Satsu Matsuda. Are they in danger, Mister O'Neill?" Giles asked.
"I'd really like to talk with just Buffy," Dawn mumbled. Sam wasn't sure, but she guessed only she and Buffy had heard.
Sam also heard Buffy's whispered, "Later I promise."
"That's General, not Mister,and yes, they are in danger," Jack replied.
"Jack, before you boys start breaking out the testosterone, which I am sensing is in the offing here, let me just say that anyone fighting in here will have to deal with a severe case of 'Buffy's fist in face syndrome', and its associated aftereffects. We all have people missing. Let's just focus our energy there,please." Buffy gave Jack, then Giles, and finally Xander a pleading look.
Daniel leaned forward. "I just came back from Harakesh, and I can say that, according to the Reen, only a few of Ba'al's Jaffa are still running around in their desert." He gave Buffy a look. Buffy grimly nodded. She guessed they were both thinking about the Reen eating habits.
"So we're thinking they got kidnapped like the Marines from SG-18?" Jack asked.
"Definitely, General. I had a chat with one of the captured Jaffa, and I convinced him that we would be lenient if he would tell me about Bra'tac's captor. Herod, that's the Goa'uld that escaped, had mentioned that he had promised Ba'al several prisoners. I guess the loss of Teal'c made him desperate and he took what he could get," Jonas explained.
"Good work, Jonas Quinn," Teal'c said.
"Thanks," Jonas replied with a smile.
"So that means they're all headed to prison and torture with Ba'al, or one of his close underlings. Given that Bra'tac is along with them I think we should expect either Ba'al, or a consort of some sort. I remember one of the Tok'ra reports said he liked keeping one or two Goa'uld playthings around at all times," Buffy added.
Sam noticed all three at the table looking slightly confused by Buffy's words. She put it down to Buffy using terms they had no understanding of yet.
"Excuse me, but I am from another universe. What does Ba'al, Goa'uld and all that other gobble gobble you spouted mean?" Dawn asked.
"Alien parasite speech remember? Goa'uld is the name of the parasite race. Ba'al is a System Lord: a leader with huge armies, space fleets, and who has loads of technology, most of it stolen from another much more dangerous Goa'uld called Anubis that died a year ago," Buffy explained.
"Oh okay. And he has the girls? So it's like Scoobies saddle up and to the rescue?" Xander asked.
"Not unless you happen to know what address those people at the Gate dialed," Jack asked clearly not expecting an answer.
"Address? Dialed? do you think you're making sense?" Xander asked.
"Not to you kid, but I can promise you the professionals of this universe know what to do here. You just stay, relax, take a few days off to rest your eye," Jack offered.
"Jack!" Buffy warned.
Jack just smiled roguishly at her daughter in reply.
"I think what the General means, Xander, is that it doesn't matter if we understand. They will rescue our lost team members along with their soldiers, because they know what is going on," Giles said. Sam was impressed with the cool and dispassionate way he could look at things even when he was so clearly emotionally invested.
Xander looked ready to say something, but a glance around the table stopped him.
"So, how about we address the real elephant in the room now?" Dawn asked.
"Huh," Jonas said.
"Are you going to let Buffy come with us when we leave, or are you going to try and stop us?" the girl blustered.
Sam felt the words like a punch in the gut. Buffy winced. Xander and Giles just looked calm and waited. Daniel and Jonas glanced at each other, but the two diplomatically gifted scientists said nothing and, showed even less in their demeanor. Jack openly scoffed, and Teal'c wore an otherwise unreadable expression - at least Sam thought so until she saw his eyes. They held a promise of danger aimed at Buffy's friends that Sam hadn't expected. They would not be allowed to drag Buffy away: not without a fight from the leader of the Jaffa rebellion.
"Wake up! Come on Red, we need you. Now get up," Faith's voice called her back to the living.
"Where am I? What's happening?" Willow yelled. She was blinded physically and astrally. Then she remembered the magic here was too weak to let her see the truth of the ephemera.
"Relax. I just wanted you awake. We're in a funky Egyptian jail cell of some sort. Satsu is over across the hall in the other cell. We're bunking with a Marine, who says the blindness will wear off sooner or later. I don't know how long - it was gone when I woke up. Satsu's room without a view has more marines in it. They all say we're in mad trouble: in this joint they torture people while they ask the questions . We don't have good answers, so this might get rough," Faith explained.
"Oh," she said while the surprisingly gentle touch of the battle roughened hands of the brunette Slayer helped her to a comfortable sitting position. Willow sat there thinking for a few moments: she considered taking a bit of the slayer's lifeforce so that she could regain her eyesight, but decided that would be selfish, and unnecessary. Besides, as she was captured, her ability with magic, which was probably something unexpected in this universe, would be an important secret to keep.
"So are you trying to tell me something?" Faith asked.
Willow turned her head in the direction where she thought the slayer was.
"Yeah, first time I see ya since the empty casket thing for Buffy, and you get me dropped back in the joint," Faith asked then chuckled.
"Very funny. You know Faith, I think I might have been hurt when we got taken," she replied and couldn't help smiling.
"Why?" Faith asked suddenly sounding more attentive.
"I just realized I have missed you," Willow answered. Faith laughed and a deeper male voice joined with them.
Then a fourth voice said, "You must all be Tau'ri." The man had an accent Willow couldn't place, and its owner had said Human with a tone that indicated he was not.
"Yeah, mostly," Faith agreed.
"Bra'tac," another younger sounding male voice said in surprise. Willow wondered about that name right off the bat.
She knew she probably looked like she was sleeping. Samantha Carter, the Replicated, and much improved version of her predecessor, lay in the single open space within a starship made from the collected knowledge of her race, and built using her race as building material. All around her in space, she was aware of more ships like hers, all of them loyal to her. They were getting ready for their move.
First the threat of the Goa'uld would be eliminated, and then she'd take what rightfully belonged to her. She opened her eyes and stared at the holographic representation, with her golden blond locks of gently curling hair,and innocent hazel eyes staring back at her. "I will be the one who keeps you," RepliCarter said, and smiled at her daughter to be.