: These Things We Know to Be TrueAuthor
: Jedi ButtercupRating
: The words are mine; the worlds are not.Summary
: B:tVS/SG-1. Cam had been his usual impulsive, emotionally driven self – and the plans he'd made with his new girlfriend had fallen by the wayside.
: SG-1 season 9, especially 9.14 "Stronghold" & 9.15 "Ethon". Post-series for B:tVSNotes
: For the Twistedshorts August Challenge, and for kerrykhat, who asked for an entry in the Ring of the Gods 'verse. Not action, though; the interlude before the next action, and a little angsty due to the timing.
Cam pulled up in front of his house after his commiseratory beer with Jackson – and subsequent detoxing time – feeling even more morose than when first he'd walked into his teammate's lab. Not only had the SGC lost Colonel Pendergast and nearly a third of the Pegasus
crew that week, an entire nation not too unlike theirs had been razed to the ground partly through enemy influence and partly their own sheer bloody-mindedness. And the worst part – well, far from the worst, but the thing that kept dragging at him now it was over – was that it had all started with one man trying to do the right thing … and that he couldn't stop wishing that that one man had just let his country claim its victory without dragging them into it.
It would all have come down to the same thing: Caledonia refusing to bow the knee and ordering a missile attack, while their Rand Protectorate opponents wielded their Ori-given satellite like a baby Death Star in retaliation. But if Senator Jared Kane had been just a little less noble – if he hadn't sacrificed his own career reaching out to Jackson for help – they wouldn't have taken nearly forty Tau'ri soldiers with them, Earth's only completed Milky Way-based mothership, and a vast chunk of the SGC's morale. That was irony for you.
There was just no winning with the Ori, and Cam's optimism had taken some pretty severe hits over the last few months already. Pendergast's memorial had come pretty close on the heels of his old friend Bryce Ferguson's, and he still wasn't sure where to put the guilt that
had left him with.
At least he'd been able to fill Ferguson in before he'd died. And at least Pendergast had gone saving the lives of two thirds of his crew. Heck, the way things had gone in the skies over Tegalus, Cam had narrowly escaped earning an 'at least' for his own tombstone, too.
He sat in the truck a moment, listening to the engine tick, then rubbed a hand over his face and got out. He'd been sorely tempted to stay on base that night, but he just hadn't been able to face the VIP rooms, not with the news hanging over the SGC like a funeral pall. He'd figured even a few hours away, sleeping between his own comfortably worn sheets, would make the trip worth the effort.
He still had the nagging feeling that he'd forgotten something that day, but it didn't fully register what it was until he stepped out onto the concrete and it almost literally smacked him in the face. Cam caught a foot in the door, shot out a hand to keep himself from face-planting on the roof of the sporty Jeep parked on the other half of the drive, then gaped, abruptly remembering what day of the week it was.
Wincing, he walked up to the front door like a man condemned, bracing himself for Buffy's reaction. It was bad enough he went off world all the time where she couldn't follow. Now he'd managed to lose himself on
world when he was supposed to be with her for the third time since they'd decided to give the thing growing between them a chance.
He could see the flickering light of candles guttering low as he turned his key in the lock and opened the front door, and he could smell fresh-cooked pasta in the air. He should have remembered to call her, or at least send a text to warn her that he'd decided to hand-deliver Landry's letter to Pendergast's family himself. But Cam had been his usual impulsive, emotionally driven self – and the plans he'd made with his new girlfriend had fallen by the wayside.
"Buffy?" he called, tentatively, as he stopped over the threshold. "Sweetheart? I'm so sorry."
Explanations – excuses, really – stacked up behind his tongue, but he didn't even try to air them. For all she couldn't go on missions, Buffy was at least as much a part of the SGC as he was; O'Neill had hired her not long after Cam had crashed defending his team in that dogfight over Antarctica. They both owed their current careers to the legendary former leader of SG-1 … but she'd had that whole year he'd spent healing to sink roots in the program, and since she worked with Slayers assigned to a variety of duty stations and positions she probably knew more people there personally than he did. And though she never talked much about her life before, he knew it had been rough, and not all that different from what she was doing now. She'd understand, better than most.
He still needed to apologize, though. The way he'd been raised, a guy was supposed to put his gal first
as much as he could, and he'd been falling down on that job. Cam wasn't an expert on building long-term relationships, but he was pretty sure 'taking her for granted' didn't qualify.
"Buffy?" he called again, dropping his keys in the tray on the hall table and his duffel on the floor. Then he went hunting, pinching off candles as he trailed through the living room and running water to soak the solitary plate and fork crusting with sauce in the sink. She wasn't in the guest bedroom, either, where he'd stowed the change of clothes she left last time she came over. Just the traces she'd left behind. She'd made an imprint on so much of his life already, he wasn't sure what he'd do when she decided she'd had enough. He'd promised he wouldn't let things get 'weird' between them if it didn't work out, but honestly, he figured he'd have better luck quitting the program than he would treating her like an ordinary colleague again.
Finally, he pushed open the door of his bedroom, and in the flickering light of the muted television he spotted her napping atop the comforter. She wasn't wearing anything deliberately sexy, just one of his tee shirts, long enough to skim halfway down her thighs, but the picture she made caught at his breath all the same: a slight smile curving her relaxed mouth, Air Force blue nail polish winking from her dainty toenails, and one hand curled in front of her chest, reaching toward him.
"Buffy?" he said for the third time, quietly, heart in his throat.
She blinked her eyes open, slowly, then focused on him with a drowsy frown. "Cam?"
"I'm so sorry," he repeated himself again, quietly. "I just got home – it completely slipped my mind that you'd be here tonight."
She arched her back in a long, toe-curling stretch, rucking up the tee shirt far enough to make his palms sweat in anticipation. "Mmm. Figured," she said, then scooted up to prop herself against the pillows and headboard. She didn't seem angry, though; just concerned – which he both appreciated, and made him feel worse about screwing up. "You look wrecked. What happened?"
He winced. "Went to the Pendergasts … heard the news from Jackson about the Tegalans. Did you...?"
"Yeah, I was sparring with Sam when the Daedalus
reported in." She pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them, looking troubled. "It never gets any easier, does it."
"What doesn't?" he asked, taking off his shoes and cautiously sliding onto the bed next to her.
"You think you're doing the right thing – you're so sure
of it, down to your bones, about whatever or whoever – but then it all goes horribly wrong. People die because of your decisions, and even if they technically chose
it, even if it technically wasn't your fault. If you'd chosen just a little bit differently...." She trailed off, letting him fill in the blanks for himself.
"Survivor's guilt," he said hoarsely, reaching automatically out to wrap an arm around her shoulders in comfort. Whether for him or for her, though, he wasn't quite sure. "'S'what Ferguson called it."
Buffy shifted against him, snuggling in close and pressing her cheek against his chest. "He was right," she said, softly, then took a shaky breath. "Did I ever tell you how my Mom died?"
"No." Cam knew the only family she had was her younger sister and a few friends from high school, and she knew about his parents, but they hadn't yet gone into detail about their pasts. "What happened?"
"Aneurysm. Just like your friend. She had a tumor, and they took it out, and we all thought – she was so much better. Happy. Dating again, and everything. But then I came home from college one day – and, and found her. On the couch." She clenched her fingers agitatedly in his shirt.
"Aw, hell." He couldn't imagine. He pulled her closer, wrapping his other arm around her, heart aching as he tucked his chin against the top of her head. "How old were you?"
"Old enough to be appointed my sister's guardian," she replied, dryly, "but young enough to do a terrible job of it, not even counting the part where I was dead for a few months myself."
"Dead?" He blinked, jarred briefly out of the heavy mood by that impossibility. Only it wasn't – not in the Stargate program. "Right; I forgot. Jackson said once your record for that's nearly as bad as his is."
Buffy snorted. "Not even. I've only been dead like three times. About Mom, though … Bryce was right."
"You mean, about all the what if's?"
He sighed, stirring strands of blonde hair against his mouth, then relaxed his grip a little, shifting so he could get a better view of her face. "Thank you for coming with me when I took him the game, by the way; he was really tickled that I'd brought you to meet him. Said you brightened his last hours, like concentrated sunshine, or some other such nonsense."
She chuckled at that, as he'd intended, smiling faintly. "No problem. I might hate the institution, but I can handle a few hours in a hospital for a friend's sake. He seemed like a nice guy. Kind of a Xander."
"I'll have to take your word for that," he replied; he hadn't met her Cleveland-based friends yet, but he knew she meant it as a compliment. "But, yeah. The world's a poorer place without him."
"Isn't it always," she sighed, expression going distant. "Even Navel-guy probably made someone smile at least once in his life. But the Ori don't care if you're happy. They only care that you worship them."
Cam guessed she meant President Nadal, the Rand leader who'd ordered the Prometheus
destroyed even while Colonel Pendergast was trying to surrender, and made a noise of disgust. "Well, they aren't going to get any worshipers out of the mess on Tegalus now."
"Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet," Buffy said, darkly, "and better no survivors than resisters who might infect others with their poison, right?"
Cam shuddered. "I hate that you're probably right about that. Scratch that; I hate the Ori, full stop. And the Ancients, too. How the hell are we gonna stop an opponent that powerful without their help?"
Buffy tensed, to the point it was like wrapping an arm around a bundle of steel cabling rather than a live, yielding woman. "You never give up," she replied.
"And never surrender?" he snorted.
He'd been expecting another subdued chuckle at the sci-fi joke, but she pulled out of his arms instead, the rejection almost torn from her throat. Then she sat up straighter, staring at him with a blazing ferocity that reminded him that her official job was an actual description
, not just a title
, never mind the laughing blonde façade she wore most days.
"You don't even know," she said. "I know you've fought losing battles before. I know you've experienced things you'll never forget or forgive. I know you've been tortured, and hurt, and believed you might not live to see another day. But you don't know
what war on this level is like, against beings that don't think like you, don't feel like you, and could squash you like a gnat if they thought you deserved that much attention. When your best weapons fail you, when your friends die, when they rip away the things that matter most and expect you to choke on them, when you have to make impossible decisions just to seize a microscopic chance at victory – even then, you never give up
"And then..." he murmured, amazed by the passion radiating from every cell of her body.
He wondered if the rest of SG-1 had felt that way, during the worst of the struggles against Apophis and Anubis. It would explain a lot about their sometimes uncomfortably reserved or fatalistic attitudes, like Teal'c's or Jackson's, if they all carried that kind of banked ferocity under the surface. No wonder he still felt like an outsider sometimes. Cam hadn't rolled off the turnip truck yesterday, not when it came to war, or guilt, or pain – but all his experiences before the SGC had been on a much more human scale. No mission report could ever have prepared him for the reality of fighting beings with the reach and power to get away with calling themselves gods.
"And then you have to live with it," she said, deflating. "But they won't
. And that has to be enough."
"Only that?" he said softly, reaching out to lift her chin with a finger as he collected himself to reply. "I mean. I know I'm no real prize, and I probably won't stop screwing up anytime soon, but I like to think I've had a hand in a few moments lately that were better than just enough
She blinked, then snorted suddenly and shifted back in close, bracketing his thighs with her own. "I don't know," she said, melting from warrior back into woman again, "you might have to give me a few more demonstrations before I can make that kind of assessment...."
His mouth opened to hers, and he slid a hand up under the hem of her loose shirt as nimble fingers worked at the button of his jeans.
Several moments later, noticeably bright-eyed and shorter of breath, Buffy pulled back and pressed a palm to his cheek. "About today, though. I knew what I was getting into with you, dumbass. I've had
a boyfriend who also just so happened to work for the government, and I've dated a soldier who just so happened to also be my boyfriend. I know the difference. And I know you're more door number two. Duh; so am I. Just don't ever lie to me, and we'll work it out."
Then she broke into a mischievous grin and – wriggled. "Though, making it up to me every time? That'll help, too."
Cam laughed, feeling lighter than he had all day, and moved to indulge his lady's whim.
Later, much later, after Cam finally got up to lock up the apartment and they soaped each other up under the warm spray of the shower, she murmured one more truth against his caressing palms: I wish I was out there fighting with you
. I wish you were, too
, he murmured back, remembering the visitor who'd woken them up to each other in the first place. The other Queen Slayer. Maybe someday you will
The next day at noon, a text message appeared on Buffy's phone:
> AMULET BROKE. CALLING KNDRA 2NITE. DID UR BOSS GET HER PAPERS?
Timing was everything. Maybe someone other than the Ori was listening, after all.