When Friends Are Strangers
Thank you for all the positive reviews. They're very encouraging! I didn't realize my muses were directly fed by feedback, but I guess the root of the word should have clued me in. Also, thank you to all the silent readers who may never comment. I appreciate you taking the time to read my story, and I'm terribly sorry I took so long to continue this. I'm not satisfied with this chapter, but I thought going ahead with it was the best idea.
Chapter Two: When Friends Are Strangers
Carter laid a comforting hand on the stunned man's shoulder. “I understand this must be very shocking, but--”
“Hate to break the moment, Carter, but this is not the place to discuss this,” interrupted Jack.
A slight tightening of the skin around her eyes betrayed annoyance. Deliberately, she finished, “But please stay calm and keep your voice down.”
Xander shook his head. He spoke softly at first but grew progressively louder. “Shocking? Hell, yeah, I'm shocked. The government's supposed to be super-secret keeper, not 'we made our top secret program' into a multi-million dollar TV series!”
The three former-team members communicated with a glance. Then they were standing, hustling their unexpected companion from the restaurant with a hasty wave to the server for the check. Jack paused to flick his eyes over the chit before hastily shoving a few bills at the waiting man.
Once in the deserted parking lot, they slowed.
Determined to handle the situation with the aplomb of his position, Jack began, “I know you must be shocked. Hey, when I found out all the crackpots insisting aliens were real maybe weren't cracked, I was a bit surprised myself. I had time to sit at home and suppress the feeling before anyone tried to interrogate me about it, though,” he grinned.
Xander shook his head as if clearing it. “Are you kidding? I already thought aliens were probably real. Of course, I thought they probably didn't interfere because if they were all let's-destroy-the-humans, I would've found out about them a long time ago, but hey, I can handle a little change in my view of the universe.”
“Accepting the existence of hostile aliens is minor to you?” Carter asked in disbelief even as Jack said in annoyance, “If it doesn't bother you, why were you making so much noise in O'Malley's? Were you trying to draw attention?”
The civilian glared intimidatingly, the expression surprisingly convincing. “I couldn't believe you could be so careless with a secret that affects the safety of the entire planet.”
“It was special circumstances,” Jack complained.
Xander smirked. “Actually--” then he broke off, frowning in concentration. “Well, I guess it was special circumstances.”
Another look of silent communication, and Carter stepped closer to the truck. “Just how much of what Daniel knows do you know?”
“Uh, everything,” he blinked at the inane question. “Sort of. If I try.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Could you be a little less clear?”
“I too did not understand,” Teal'c agreed.
Then the door to O'Malley's opened and a half-drunk couple exited, clinging to one another and laughing. They stopped on the curb, obviously waiting for a ride.
“Maybe we should take this somewhere less public,” Carter suggested.
Xander glanced cautiously at the vehicles. “Uh, um, it might seem odd to just ask this, but tact's kinda failing me right now, so, ah--”
“Go ahead,” Jack said impatiently.
“Am I going to disappear?”
Carter firmly shook her head. “No, you are not going to disappear. The U.S. government—the program here—won't allow it.”
Xander thought for a moment. “Okay,” he nodded. “Since Jack here's all-powerful general-man, and you seem to have some pretty good guys on your base, lead on.”
Faith paced just outside the door to the eldest slayer's office. Most of the girls were gathered around George (never Georgette if you wanted to sleep safely), comforting her as she sobbed over killing a magically-vamped Haley.
Faith's growled, “Toughen up! We don't even know if it was Haley yet. Xander switched with his costume. Maybe
Haley traded places with her costume.”
The girl sniffed, hope blossoming as her tears momentarily dried up.
Then Miriam asked, “Then where's Haley now? She dressed up as Drusilla. Isn't she in hell?”
Faith stiffened at the thought, which was as good as flinching for her, and the sobbing started again, even harder.
Inside the office, several slayers lounged across the furniture, reminding Daniel of a pride of young lionesses as he stood before Buffy. She felt her temper roaring silently to life as she tried to deal with the not-very-convincing Xander impostor.
“So you're all-knowing, but you can't tell us or do anything? You're even more useless than the regular Xander-version!”
“Who's going to fix my door?” whined a red-haired slayer.
“Door?” Buffy asked ominously. “What door?”
The girl fidgeted nervously with a bit of expertly styled hair. “Uh, it's just a little crack in my bedroom door where I accidentally opened it too hard this morning,” she faded away into mumbling.
Arms crossed, the slayer arched an eyebrow in fine imitation of an irritated diva. “And what about the agreement we had for going trick-or-treating?”
“But it was an accident! It's not like I didn't do my homework.”
“Um, excuse me, ladies,” Daniel interrupted hesitantly. “But don't you think you should be concentrating on something more important?”
Buffy narrowed her eyes. “I thought you said you couldn't tell us anything.”
He shrugged. “That was a question, not information.”
Miriam nibbled her lip. “Sounds like the advice my dad gives my sister when he's trying not to make her mad. She's older than me,” the youth confided.
The eldest slayer nodded in disgusted agreement. “Bureaucrats.”
“Semantics,” the linguist corrected. “And personally, I'm very grateful for that particular loophole. Now, shouldn't we be talking about something more important?”
“Shoes?” asked Audrey, a sixteen-year old slayer who'd unfortunately never quite recovered from a severe head wound.
“We're getting nowhere,” Buffy declared. “I'm calling Giles.”