Disclaimer: Neither Stargates nor Buffy the Vampire Slayer belong to me. I claim no ownership of them and recognize that they belong to the various people and companies who own them. I do this solely for my own enjoyment and, should our interests mesh, the enjoyment of others. I have made no money off of this and do not ever plan to. Anything that even looks vaguely familiar (such as brand names, culture references, etc) also does not belong to me.
Series: Return to the Blood Lands
Story: Welcome to the Keep
Sora closed the door behind her and then leaned on it. She had a resigned sort of look on her face but rather than looking burdened, she seemed calmer and more relaxed, like whatever that had been bugging her had been resolved. Xander wanted to ask what the problem was but really didn’t want to start another fight.
Sora froze when she saw him, a slightly guilty look passing over her face before it passed. She pulled away from the door, an apologetic look on her face. Just seeing that expression made Xander open to forgiving her picking. He was generally a pretty forgiving guy- at least for people who had pulses.
“You look nice.” She offered, noticing he dressed up for the occasion. Xander couldn’t help but preen a little- he so rarely had the option to claim vanity as a sin. He pulled on the hem of his new shirt a little.
“Isn’t it?” He even wore his best pair of pants with it. Not he had much choice- he only had two pairs.
“This is a very rare material.” Sora noted, plucking at his sleeve.
“Nasha gave it to me.” Xander said proudly. And it did fit perfectly, which gave Xander mixed feelings. It was great that it fit and he knew Micah was big, but was Micah really THAT much bigger than him? How aggravating!
“You wear it well.” She smiled and looked up at him, her hand lingering on the sleeve. “She will be very happy to see you wearing it.”
“Thank you. Really.” Xander said sincerely, covering her hand with his own. “I know we… bicker but…” He paused. “I have nothing but respect for you.”
“It makes me happy to hear that. Really.” Sora smiled again, looking pained this time. Without warning, she pulled away. She wandered over to the quasi-sink area, trying to look busy but Xander had already done the dishes.
Realizing she couldn’t hide, she turned back to him, leaning against the sink. “But there’s a lot about me you don’t know. A lot that I want to tell you about.” It worried him that she put the table between them.
“Like how you think your people have what it takes to fight the Wraith?” Xander asked quietly. He respected the sanctity of her shield, but violated the spirit of it by leaning across it.
“Yes. And other things too.” She was watching him warily, like she expected him to throw a chair. Xander probably deserved that, with how he yelled at her during their last argument. But then again, she always watched him like that, like he was a half wild animal pacing the confines of human civilizations.
He figured she just had issues with males and the only reason why he didn’t always trip her male peeve was… well, he was ‘one of the girls’. It was just one of those things that both blessed him (he hung out with HOT girls!) and damned him (said hot girls would NEVER date him).
“You don’t have to tell me now.” He said, generous to her in the way she wasn’t to him. “We have lots of time to talk.” She nodded, but she would not keep his gaze. Figuring she was still smarting from their last fight, he walked around the table and put a hand on her shoulder. He tried to let her know he wasn’t angry any more. “Come to the akenda.”
She immediately started shaking her head. “I don’t-”
“It’ll be fun!” Xander refuted cheerfully. Sora looked up at him suspiciously.
“You have no idea what the akenda is about.”
“No, maybe not exactly.” Micah’s explanation had a distinct lack of explanation. “But Trisya- you know, Pokin’s niece? She said she was going to bring her bread.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Her nutty sweet bread.”
“I guess I can go, just for a little while.” Sora capitulated grudgingly, folding at the mention of her one vice. Xander tried not to look too amused, lest she hold out and not go just on principle.
“So, what’s an akenda?”
An akenda WAS akin to a house warming celebration, except for the fact that no one went into the house. There was some kind of superstition about people being in the house before the owners of the house crossed the threshold, so everyone was forbidden to enter.
Which was silly, because Xander had been in there a few hours earlier, making final adjustments and yet no one said he was violating any superstition. He tried to explain the silliness and hypocrisy to Pokin, who elbowed him into submission. Apparently, the man couldn’t multi-task and listen to two people talking at a time. Damn that man and his boney elbows!
“…And to health and wellbeing, we wish you.” Nasha’s father proclaimed happily, his face red with the effects of the village’s sweet fruit wine. Like most beverages and spices in the village, it could knock you on your ass if you weren’t careful. “May your home be as happy and plentiful as the one you just left.” There were some hearty chuckles at the self-compliment.
Nasha’s father stumbled off of the ‘stage’, which was just a glorified box on its side. Micah and Nasha took to the stage next. Xander was reminded of why he liked Micah so much. Though the man was silly and awkward and rather heavy handed with most things, he treated and handled his wife with such gentleness and love that Xander was feeling the cavities form from even way in the back, were he was.
It WAS nice. He just really wasn’t used to couples so demonstrative of their love. Hell, he wasn’t really even used to couples even LIKING each other.
There was hearty cheering for the couple. Nasha smiled and blushed at the attention while, behind her, Micah grinned like an idiot, one hand on his wife’s shoulder and the other one resting possessively over her rounded stomach. Through the noise, Micah tried to talk.
“We’d all like to thank you-” He suddenly stopped talking, his mobile face going expressionless and still. Like he was the catalyst, the crowd suddenly became silent, many faces tilted up to the sky. Xander, unnerved by the relative silence, shifted from foot to foot, looking from face to face and wondering ‘What the hell is going on here?’
The various fires threw many faces in shadow but from the faces he could see, he realized that they were all intent on something. They were WAITING for something. There was a stiffness and a tension within them all, like a rabbit that quivers at the sound of a predator but stays absolutely still so they don’t get caught.
Xander found himself doing the same, looking, waiting, and listening. Finally, he heard the noise that Micah had heard over the noise of the crowd. It was like a faint buzz in his ears, a soft and far away scream of noise.
It was familiar.
“It’s the Wraith.” Someone whispered and suddenly the rabbit knew it had to run. “It’s the Wraith!” At the second cry, the villagers panicked and started running every which way. Xander was jostled from side to side for a moment, uncomprehending as Micah shoved his wife into his house (heedless of precious tradition) and people scrambled back into their houses or out into the forest in sheer terror.
He was given motion too, eventually. Sora snuck up out of nowhere and grabbed his wrist with bruising force, yanking him behind her so hard that he was forced to run and keep pace with her or eat dirt. They ran out into the forest.
“The house-!” Xander called out as they passed it. It was the most obvious shelter. He had a sudden burning desire to hide under his bed. The fact that his bed was on the floor rather than raised above it did not occur to him.
“The Wraith will attack the houses first.” Sora said with grim knowledge. Xander had half of a mind then to turn back and get Nasha out of her house, but if Sora wasn’t letting him stop, she certainly wasn’t going to let him turn around.
A whisper of something dark and evil floated in the wind. Xander jerked, seeing something smooth and nearly transparent suddenly zip beside them. He turned his head , trying to catch sight of the strange phantom but it would not stay in one place. It was nowhere. It was everywhere. It was right behind them.
“What’s that?” Xander finally asked as they ran, not recognizing the tight tense SCARED voice that came out of his mouth.
“Pay no mind to it!” Sora called over her shoulder. Instead of slowing down to look at what Xander was freaking out over, she sped up, her gaze firmly set forward. “It isn’t real.” Xander was forced to watch his own feet or trip because she was running fast, so he didn’t pay attention to the phantoms anymore.
Xander started recognizing some of the trees. “The outpost!” He needed no more dragging. In fact, he was now running faster than her and she was forced to let go and follow behind. “There might be something in here that can help! Something we missed before!”
He slid to a stop before the rock and, with a groan, moved the heavy thing out of the way- or, at least, out of the way enough so they could get in the outpost. A shrieking whine tore through the air at that moment and Xander instinctively ducked, looking up at the sky as one of the Wraith ships darted by. They had to hurry. It was going to come back eventually.
“Sora, I-” Xander found himself on the wrong end of a lightning fast kick to his ribs. He blocked it, just barely, and didn’t have enough time to block the elbow that followed. It caught him underneath the chin. He had the awkward angle to thank for dodging a full impact with his throat but he still staggered away from her, coughing.
Sora watched him with a neutral expression, in a ready position to attack again. She let him back away and recover but he noticed she was keeping him between her and the outpost. It was a strategic position. With little effort, she could knock him back into the darkened bunker and close the door behind him. Maybe even rest the rock against the door and lock him in forever.
Xander got the why of the strategic positioning, but he didn’t get the WHY- the bigger question of this situation. Why was she doing this? She had only the slightest hint of a frown on her face, the only indication Xander had that he wasn’t dealing with a pod person but he leapt on it.
“Sora!” Xander got out when his voice box decided to work again. She seemed agitated by something. Her name, the sound of his voice, the fact that he was talking- he couldn’t say. “What the hell are you doing? This is NOT the time to choose to be evil!” Very very BAD time to come into one’s own, if she was evil all along.
What he had assumed was a return to the more confident Sora he had known was actually a reversion to a colder Sora. Which one was the real one? Xander could see nothing of his Sora in that impassive face. But he remembered Kendra and Faith and a thing or two about masks. He was pretty sure his Sora was in there somewhere. He just had to get her to think rationally again!
“Sora…” He said slowly, opening his hands in a submissive gesture. Oddly, she took a step back. She shook her head and dropped a bombshell.
“Every night you fell asleep, you lived to see the morning only because you’re different.”
“You… you were going to kill me?” Xander asked, hurt. That hurt quickly became anger. “MURDER me?”
“Do you kill a rabid animal or do you put it down?” Sora asked rhetorically. Xander flinched at the analogy. “I didn’t trust you. I almost killed you that first week, even though you were a part of the plan.” She looked away for a moment. “You were hurting. You were suffering. You had nightmares every night during those first few weeks. Eventually, you adapted.” There was emotion on her face suddenly, frustration that she couldn’t keep hidden. “Keepers don’t adapt, Xander! They’re broken people!” She shook her head and dipped her head down. When Sora lifted her head back up again, her eyes were bright. “It’s one of the lesser known powers of the Wraith, you know- their knowledge of the human spirit. How much pressure to apply before it shatters entirely. They’ve had centuries to perfect their technique.”
“Sora…” Xander said, shaking his head. He wasn’t getting it. Sure, he was a little screwed up but who wouldn’t be? He had suffered the worst six months of his life in that Keep! Sora continued to mutter.
“Even now, the inclination towards destruction is minimal.” She wasn’t getting it either. There was confusion in her voice, like being told two plus two equals four but suddenly getting the answer five. “I attacked you. You should have killed me.”
“Sora, you’re a better fighter than I am.” Xander said slowly, as if he was speaking to a child.
“You’re the better killer. You adapted. You’re BETTER.” She gestured to him. “You see?”
“I don’t see!” Xander snapped.
“You will.” Sora looked up at the stretch of sky above her, a sigh falling from her lips. “The Wraith will cull this planet. Everyone will die.” She didn’t sound surprised.
“You knew.” Xander realized. She looked down at him. “You knew all this time that this was going to happen. That’s why you’ve been so irritable! That’s why you stayed away from everyone! That’s why you looked so damn guilty all of the time!”
“My commander gave me one last order and I planned to fulfill it.” Sora took in a deep breath. “And then I met you.” She smiled bitterly. “You were a part of my plan too, but you… you’re DIFFERENT.” Xander almost didn’t want to ask but he couldn’t NOT know.
“What was the order?”
“The Wraith don’t like stepping on the toes of the other Wraith.” Sora crossed her arms over her stomach. “If a Wraith culls a planet in one section of the galaxy, it is said that all the other planets in that section of the galaxy will escape the culling for a least a year.” Her arms tightened slightly. “I was asked to buy my world some time.”
Xander suddenly understood. It was a horrible understanding, nearly making him sick with the knowledge of it. It did not even begin to mesh with his overall understanding of Sora but in some aspects, it made such horrible sense.
“You’re sacrificing Aromos? What, for your planet?” He asked, hoping he was wrong. When she didn’t deny it, his sorrow abruptly turned to anger. “After they took you in and everything!”
“I thought I could come up with a way to save them too. The Wraith usually destroy activated weaponry of the Ancestors and then avoid that section of the galaxy for a while without bothering to cull the planet. But…” Sora waved a hand at the outpost. “It was an option that never was.”
“If I didn’t do it, someone else would have. If I had told them to run, then that would have defeated the purpose. There’s just no way…” Sora trailed off, looking conflicted. “I failed my people once. Commander Kolya said that this was the only way I could make up for it.”
“You and your goddamn pride!” Xander shouted, throwing his arm out to the side and pointing at the village. “This was not the choice-“
“It was the only choice, and you know it!” Sora shouted back, her voice cracking with emotion. She suddenly started advancing on him. Her voice became lower, more venomous. “Just as the only choice you had in the Keep was to kill the other Keeper. Because to sacrifice yourself… and know it was for nothing, that it would MEAN nothing… it was too much, wasn’t it?” She was vibrating with anger.
Sora always came across as slightly impassive and distant. Xander now realized that she had just been trying to detach herself from them all, knowing what hell she would heap on their heads. In reality, Sora was far from an unemotional person and now she was nearly bursting with all of that buried emotion. It was coming out all at once as she shouted at Xander.
“Would you have had me choose Nexion? It has a population of seven hundred men, women, and children- enough to feed two Hive ships! Would you have had me choose Yuinca? Even though it is the only planet in this galaxy that has the material needed to create bombs, which are needed to fight the Wraith?” Together, they were circling around- Sora unwilling to back off and Xander unwilling to let her come any closer. “Or would you have had me choose my planet, one of the few powers in the galaxy that has a CHANCE of defeating the Wraith?”
“Aromos has the smallest population. It has no important minerals or exports. It contributes nothing to the war effort. It is… a suitable sacrifice.” She said the last with a shudder and he knew it had taken her a while to get to that conclusion. “Aromos and its people… they’re casualties.” She straightened up. “I made the best choice, Xander! The only REAL choice.” She was begging for him to give her some kind of absolution, Xander realized. He slowly shook his head, watching her deflate. “You don’t understand. It’s okay. I don’t understand it myself. But it’s something that I HAVE to do.”
“I won’t let you.” Xander declared, knowing it was stupid and ineffective but needing to say it anyway. The Wraith were already on Aromos. Hell, he probably had given her just the tool she needed with his stupid detector thing. Why didn’t he ask to look at it after she had taken it out? Why the HELL did he trust her with it?
She probably turned the goddamn thing on one of those nights she left the house while he sat awake in bed, WORRYING about HER!
“You were supposed to break.” Sora said quietly. “You were the unknown factor that I added to the plan.” She smiled . He could hear the tears in her voice. “If Aromos REALLY was the wrong choice, then you would have killed me before I started. Freed Keepers… they can’t be socialized. They’re violent, destructive, and homicidal. When they break, people die.” She shook her head. “But you never broke. You adapted. You resocialized. You made FRIENDS!”
“But…” Xander’s mind was whirling. Yeah, he was a little more violently inclined than he was seven months ago, right before the Keep. But you could say he had always been a little violently inclined- ever since Jesse was turned. Just because he was a Keeper didn’t mean he was inherently violent! There was something so wrong with her reasoning, he didn’t even know where to start.
“Therefore-” Sora said forcefully. “Therefore… The Ancestors must agree. Aromos is the suitable sacrifice in the war against the Wraith. Had they not agreed, they would not have helped you recover.” Xander thought vaguely about the necklace that no longer worked, but then thought she might have been talking about his mental health too.
“The Ancestors had NOTHING to do with that!” He told her, feeling a sudden hatred for these high and lofty Ancestors he knew so little about. Whoever or whatever they were, they played a major part in what was happening. And for that, they could all go to Hell.
“Xander. You really don’t understand, do you?” She shook her head at him, something like affection in her voice. “I wish you stopped me.” Sora looked up at the sky, shaking her head as a scream came out of the woods around them. “I wish you could stop this.” She reached inside her shirt and pulled out a smallish bundle of cloth. “Here, catch.”
Stupidly, he caught it.