~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Buffy felt a strange mix of emotions; anger at Amy; pain at hearing the coldness in Dawnie’s voice; confusion at the possibility of Rack’s involvement in her friends’ disappearance, and dawning resignation.
Amy was right, they couldn’t kill a person; Buffy protected people, she didn’t kill them and she would never let Dawn kill; her sister would regret it later. Out of all of them in the room, the only person she felt sure could kill another for cold-blooded necessity was Giles.
“Dawn, we’re going into the other room,” she ordered.
She didn’t want her sister know what she was asking; she
didn’t want to be asking it of Giles, silently or otherwise. But she knew that he would do what had to be done; what she couldn’t bring herself to do.
She couldn’t kill a person; it was a line she couldn’t afford to cross.
“What? No!” Dawn protested, her face flushed with anger, “This is Willow and Xander; we have to get them back.”
Buffy nodded grimly, “We will, but not your way; not by you.”
Dawn glared, “I’m not a kid, Buffy.”
Her sister stormed out of the room, taking some of the tension from the room. Buffy sighed, her sister may not consider herself to be a kid; Buffy hadn’t thought of herself as a kid at sixteen either, but Dawnie was her little sister, and she knew that their mom would never let either of them get their hands that
dirty- especially not Dawn.
She had to think like her; it was the only sure way Buffy had of making sure she didn’t screw up taking care of Dawn.
Turning to look at Giles, she nodded and silently left the room.
“That’s a lot of Goa’uld,” Ben remarked warily.
“Indeed,” Thor concurred, “this Star system is within a Goa’uld neutral zone; providing you leave all your weapons onboard the ship you will be in no danger.”
He nodded, “Right.”
Did he sound unsure?
He hoped Thor knew what he was doing; he really didn’t want to waltz into Goa’uld Town unarmed!
They had come to the decision that Jack, being the designated human representative of Earth, and Thor would head-up the negotiations, while Sam and Ben would look after the kids- good thing they all came along really, he couldn’t imagine allowing two young children to run around a ship with only the Asgard for company.
Both the children walked further into the room, both their expressions held a bleakness he hoped he would never see in their faces after the Treaty was fixed.
Jack knelt down, ignoring that way his knee clicked, and pulled both Willow and Xander into a hug; they’d both remained very quiet throughout Thor’s talk, “We’ll be back; leave the porch light on, okay?”
“We don’t have a porch light,” Willow’s voice was muffled against his shirt. “Do you have to go?”
“Yeah,” Xander piped up, “you can stay up here. We’ve got...um, MRE’s!”
Jack felt Willow nodding her head against his shoulder in agreement, “You save me some... All that talking we have to do would give anyone an appetite.”
Even for MREs.
The kids looked at him dejectedly, but nodded acceptingly; not losing the anxious expressions on their faces.
“We’ll just be talking,” Jack said, “no weapons or fighting.”
Xander stared at them, “But they’re the bad guys; they might be lying.”
Jack smiled, “I’d agree with you on that; but the Asgard, the ship we’re in, won’t let that happen.”
Xander nodded, looking slightly better; though still worried.
Sam ruffled Xander’s hair affectionately, “When he gets back, and we get back to Earth, we’ll get you the biggest ice-creams.”
Xander smiled hesitantly, “Chocolate?”
“Strawberry!?” exclaimed Willow, staring at Sam and then Jack like her life depended on it.
“Any flavor you want,” assured Sam.
Jack clapped his hands lightly over Willow’s shoulders, “Why not get all of them?”
Xander’s eyes had widened.
“O’Neill,” Thor spoke up, “We are ready.”
Yeah, okay; can’t keep the snakes waiting.
“We can have all the flavors?” Willow asked, her hands tightening around his arm anxiously.
Willing him not to go.
“I swear,” he promised, starting to get up. “Hold that thought ‘til we get back.”
Willow’s eyes were downcast.
Xander looked as though he was holding back tears.
He stepped away from the children, towards the space in front of Thor. Did Asgard transporters ever miss?
When he turned back, he saw that Willow had stopped Sam from getting up; they both stared at each other, the latter’s hand grasping Sam’s arm; then she met Jack’s eyes. Willow sniffed, “I-I... I wish you and Sam had been... had been our p-parents.”
Jack swallowed hard as Xander nodded tearfully.
He watched with difficulty as Sam embraced both children, and muttered something in their ears; when she finished saying... whatever it was she’d said, she turned towards him; he saw that a muscle in her jaw was ticking. When she looked back at the kids, he saw that her face was set and controlled.
Jack stared at Willow and Xander, then parted the fingers of his right hand into the ‘we come in peace’ sign and threw them a smartass smirk.
Carter’s cough sounded suspicious.
White filled his vision; the sound of laughter filled his ears.
Jacob was up in a flash, he eyed Kae’lyn as she strode into his quarters; he still found it rather jarring that none of the ‘rooms’ had doors. So they didn’t have anything to hide, didn’t mean they couldn’t have some privacy.
The voice in the back of his mind, Selmak’s actually, told him that as a race they were focussed on whatever task was presented to them and, as such, a Tok’ra would not be disturbed for anything less than important- for the most part.
Still, she could have at least knocked.
“I’ve received additional information from our operative,” she said, and she looked a little impatient, “The Goa’uld summit within the Hasara System has been called by the Asgard Thor, they were preparing to drop out of Hyperspace at the time the information was relayed.”
Jacob felt his eyebrows disappear into his receding hairline, “The Asgard, but-
Willow and Xander-
Jacob stared at his fellow Tok’ra, “They’re being taken to
What the hell were they thinking?
Selmak, ever the wise one, stated that the Asgard were a highly intelligent race; they would not make such a mistake as to bring the children within close proximity with any Goa’uld without some kind of plan.
There were few times when Jacob was glad of Selmak’s two-thousand years of experience, but this instance was definitely one of those times; he felt the disbelief and anger dim a little, “Selmak thinks this summit may be a ruse.”
Kay’lyn nodded, “Perhaps so, but the idea of the Goa’uld being so close to that power... it is worrying.”
“Very,” Jacob conceded, “but there’s little we can do now.”
Kae’lyn seemed to deflate a bit, “Yes. I will keep you apprised of any new developments.”
Jacob nodded, Selmak was hoping that any ‘new developments’ would be good ones; Jacob smirked at his symbiote for its wishful thinking.
Selmak’s response was the Tok’ra equivalent of bite me
Maybe he was a little too cynical.
Buffy swallowed nervously as Giles stepped out of the room that held Amy, he looked a little weary; she was suddenly reminded that Giles, her mentor and father, was not that young. His hair was shot through with grey, and he looked tired... and jaded.
She shouldn’t have asked him to do it.
Some part of her knew that Giles would have done it anyway, he cared about their missing friends too; Willow and Xander had been missing too long, they all wanted to know if they were okay; if they were hurt.
If they were even still alive.
Buffy shied away from that thought quickly, knowing that it would come back soon to taunt her.
Willow and Xander had to be alive, if they weren’t...
Then she’d quit.
Willow and Xander had been with her from the beginning when she first got to Sunnydale, they always backed her up- maybe they’d lost faith in her a few times, hell she’d lost faith in herself in the past- and they’d never let her fight alone.
Buffy’s destiny had been to fight alone.
Her destiny had been to die at the hands of the Master, even to unwittingly aid in his escape.
Because of Willow and Xander she’d been able to duck the first, and recover from the second.
If they were dead, she’d take Dawnie and retire... Why not?
Their army of Slayers had grown so much since Sunnydale; Faith and Giles had more than enough experience between them to lead them all.
“You look pensive,” Giles remarked, lightly.
Actually, she was pretty sure she looked like shit.
“Just thinking about Willow and Xander,” she admitted, then she shrugged, “and Dawn and me.”
Giles’s eyes softened, and he touched her arm, “They will be safe- eventually.”
Wherever Amy had sent them, it wasn’t safe; she wondered how bad it was over there.
“Giles, what if they’re not the same,” she whispered, “they could have landed anywhere.”
“One thing at a time.”
Buffy sighed, “What did you find out?”
Giles removed his glasses and wiped them on his jacket, “I believe I have the location of the instrument Amy used.”
“How do we get it?” Dawn had just walked into the room, arms crossed over her chest defiantly, as if to dare anyone to leave her out.
Giles replaced his glasses, “We go home.”
The others had started to join them in the room now: Faith, Robin, Andrew, Vi and several other Slayers. They all looked at him with varying degrees of confusion and worry; perhaps wondering if their ex-Watcher had finally cracked.
Buffy frowned, “Home.”
Whistler sighed as he watched through the window, mindful of the street lighting around him; he remained in the shadows.
He had got the ‘cloak and dagger’ routine down pretty well; no one had noticed him yet.
They seemed to be rallying the troops, so to speak.
He knew that their subject of conversation was Willow and Xander. The Slayers were working to get the witch and the boy home, to spring them from whatever dimension they thought their two friends were in.
Shaking his head, he turned away and tried to put the futility of their actions from his mind.
He felt a shiver course through him; the darkened sky seemed oppressive, perhaps highlighting the trouble heading straight for them.
If things didn’t balance out, they’d all be in for a Hell of a ride.
Jack’s hands were itching to grab his non-existent sidearm, the soldier in him rebelled against being unarmed in enemy territory; pretty stupid idea, if you wanted to keep all your limbs attached. Seeing as he liked to keep his limbs in all the right places, Jack settled for a mute glare.
He hated this.
Was it the fact that the room was packed with System Lords and symbiotes?
Or was it the fact that the System Lords were eating
He was glad that Danny wasn’t with him; commenting on the System Lords dubious tradition of eating their kind, and doing it every evening for as long as the summit lasted.
Lucky he hadn’t puked yet.
He wondered how Carter was doing.
Maybe she wouldn’t be too surprised about the eating habits of these guys; maybe Jolinar already knew, and if they had...
Would it have hurt to warn him?
Jack kept his face impassive as the last of their crunching noises finally stopped; relieved, he hoped that the summit would be over sometime tomorrow.
the second round of Goa’uld cuisine.
He didn’t think he could stomach another.
The summit wasn’t a complete washout; they had, at least, agreed that having Willow in the clutches of any one System Lord or Goa’uld was something that could not happen.
They were all singing from the ‘if I can’t have it, no one can’ hymn sheet, and that sat quite well with him; as long that they mistrusted one another Willow would be safe... relatively speaking.
“Let us all convene tomorrow,” announced one System Lord.
“Yes,” agreed another, “decisions shall be better reached at a later time.”
Seems as though he wasn’t the only one hoping for the summit to be over; a couple of the snakes looked a little less haughty than they had at the start, perhaps realising that the Asgard would keep the balance between them.
Jack blinked, that had to be bad...
When was the last time he and a System Lord had had a common goal?
Willow hugged Jack tighter; the elation of his return hadn’t lessened.
And neither had the bright red sparkles surrounding her hands.
“You sure you’re okay?” asked the redhead. “You were over thereforever
He couldn’t agree with her more, “Certainly seemed like it.”
He felt Willow smile into his shoulder, his knees were starting to ache a little- they’d been kneeling down for a while.
Still, anything was better than watching the System Lords eating...
Jack grimaced and pushed the imagery away, he climbed slowly to his feet, one of his hands lightly brushing Xander’s hair, “All right, kids. It’s getting late.”
Willow raised her head from his shoulder, and suddenly gave a very Jack-like smirk, “You can tell?”
Jack blinked, and then slid a glance out of the ship’s windows; eyeing the sea of black around them. He drew his eyes from the window and pointed at his watch, “Oh yeah, I can tell.”
Willow sighed, not looking impressed by the idea of sleeping, “I’m not tired.”
Xander shook his head, “Me neither! Can we stay up a little longer?”
Jack gave them a look, “It’s been a long day, kids.”
Sam grinned, and Jack grasped Willow’s hand and stood up, “C’mon, I’m sure the
Colonel’s brought a story or two along.”
Xander’s face lit up like a Christmas tree, “Which one!?”
Willow just nibbled on her lower lip, looking a lot less enthused than her friend. Sam gave her a sideways look, “We can make up some really good voices.”
The kid brightened at that, and smiled.
Buffy watched as Rona, Vi, Giles and Dawn climbed into the bus; they’d all volunteered to return to their ‘home’... or the ‘home’ of Buffy, Giles, Dawn, Xander and Willow, at least. Andrew and Faith had wanted to come too, but the Cleveland hellmouth still needed protecting and they really couldn’t afford that many plane tickets, or that many seats on the bus.
They were going to have two extra people coming back too.
Buffy wasn’t going back to Cleveland without them; she wasn’t even going to think about whether or not the mystical talisman would work. It had to; it was the only lead they had on how to get her friends back, after all.
Following her sister onto the bus, Buffy glanced at her watch and tried to quell her nerves; the flight time would take about five hours.
They should be staring into Sunnydale’s crater by lunchtime.
Ben wound his way around yet another corner. He really shouldn’t stray too far from their temporary quarters; he had the unfortunate habit of getting lost, and if he found the SGC disorientating the Asgard mothership was positively mazelike.
His eyes rested, finally, on the room he’d been looking for; the wall visible to him was
covered in squiggles of paint.
Needless to say, he’d found the right room.
Crossing the threshold, the first person he saw was Colonel O’Neill, followed by Major Carter; Willow and Xander. A smile tugged at his lips at the picture they made, O’Neill was wide awake and staring back at Ben.
But he was the only one who was; Major Carter was sitting on the side of the bed they were on, dozing against the wall behind her; Willow was flopped out, asleep, against Carter; Xander slumped between the latter two and against O’Neill.
O’Neill gave him a guarded, albeit amiable, look and waved a children’s’ book in his grasp offhandedly, as if to answer some unspoken question Ben had asked, “Little Red Riding Hood.”
Ben smiled, amused.
Carter shook her head lightly, waking up. She stared at the book in her CO’s hand, “Did we even finish that, sir?”
O’Neill shook his head, “Nope; knew they were tired.”
Sam nodded, then studied Ben thoughtfully, “You get any sleep?”
He’d been too busy exploring the ship; getting lost; meeting more Asgard. He was on a spaceship! He was hardly going to sleep through it... his inner geek loved every bit of it.
Well, except the potential danger Willow and Xander were in.
Both Sam and O’Neill seemed to almost read his mind.
O’Neill sighed, exasperated.
Sam grinned, “It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?”
Ben sat down on the bed opposite, “Yes, the ship’s huge; I keep getting...”
Getting lost... but he didn’t want them to know that; he had a feeling he’d gain himself a babysitter if he admitted it.
Sam nodded, as if understanding, “Make the most of it; if everything goes well, we’ll be leaving for Earth sometime tomorrow, I think.”
Back to Earth... Back to the SGC...
Ben smiled, and remembered that look Janet had given him before they’d left; that little half-smile...
Why were they looking at him like that?
Oh yeah, because he was blushing like a school kid.
“Umm...” Ben blinked, hoping to draw their attention away from him. “Ah...”
Sam gave him a teasing look, “Plus, Janet will be there.”
He was a goner.
Faith was sparring with one of the newest junior Slayers when she realised how much time had passed; a few hours, B and the others ought to be arriving in LA anytime soon; another couple of hours and they’ll be looking over the crater formally known as Sunnydale.
Hopefully, they’ll be getting Red and Xander back soon- so long as everything went the way it should.
The hairs on the back of her neck prickled.
She had a feeling that something was going to go wrong... other feelings too; she was antsy and she was pretty sure that Buffy, had she not been so focussed on her buddies, would have noticed it too. Something was going to go down, she didn’t know what it was and neither Giles nor anyone else seemed to be concerned.
They were missing something.
Something bad was passing straight over their heads, and they didn’t even know it.
Maybe there was something in those dusty old book Giles kept.
Maybe it was her imagination.
At first she’d dismissed the feeling as just being worried about Willow and Xander, but they’d gotten stronger over the last few days and she was wondering if it wasn’t something else.
She’d mentioned it to Giles before they’d gone off to Sunnydale, and he’d said that he would get Andrew, their resident mini-Watcher, on the case as well as a few other researchers. She’d thought about involving a few of their Slayers but research really wasn’t their area of expertise.
Also, she remembered the last
time one of Giles’s book had had juice or coffee spilt over it... the lecture had been Hell-on-Earth.
Faith sighed as she dodged another kick from the rookie; she really hoped it was just her imagination. All the same though, she’d tell Giles and the others again as soon as they got back; she’d feel like a complete dumbass if it turned out to be nothing.
Was she the only one feeling a little wigged?
No one had said anything.
She had noticed a little tension around the place... but then, the ‘place’ was full of moody teenagers with super strength.
Thing was, if something big was going down, wouldn’t they know it?
Slayer dreams were kind of a package deal when it came to Slayer powers.
And she’d had none so far.~*~
A/N: Okay, I know I said that this chapter would be the last one, but it turned out to be a little bigger than I expected; also, I need someone to beta the next (and last) chapter mainly because I'm not entirely sure how realistic it is. I haven't started the next chapter but I have an idea of how it's going to end.