Author's note: So this is the last chapter. As you'll note when you read it, it's left very open for a sequel. I am working on it; I have the outline and parts of it are written up. It will appear, I promise.
I would really love to know what you'd like to see, though. Characters, plot points, anything at all. Let me know: all submissions will be carefully considered.
Thanks for reading this far, and I hope you enjoyed it. :D
Vida woke up about three hours later. Chris tested her carefully, finally opening the door of the brig and suggesting she leave. She looked at it uncertainly, but stayed where she was. Chris called Ariel down to look at her; Ariel pronounced her black cloud free and went straight back to the infirmary to sleep.
Xander woke about half an hour after that; he remembered everyone’s names and knew where they were, though he was a little fuzzier on the current American President when asked. Chris declared that a pre-existing condition, and Beckett said he could leave.
They left Emily with Ariel and went to the commissary’s balcony. After a while Sheppard and Ronon joined them; Sheppard reminisced about the various times someone either in Atlantis or the SGC had been mind controlled.
“It’s sort of a rite of passage around here,” he said. “Get controlled by something evil, make out with the alien princess – or prince, whatever – die and come back to life. Dr Jackson has the record on that one at the moment.”
“He can have it,” Xander said. “Buffy’s on her third life at the moment. I’ve been a hyena, a soldier, controlled by Dracula...”
“Dracula?” Sheppard repeated. “This I have to hear.”
Xander launched into the story, highlighting Giles’ ‘peril’ at the hands of Dracula’s ladies and minimising his own part. When he was done, Chris related some of his mother and aunts’ adventures. The wood nymphs were the most popular, for whatever reason.
Eventually Emily called Xander to tell him Ariel had woken up, and the team cleared up to head back. Sheppard got Xander on his own for a moment. “It’s not a big deal, you know.”
“I’m starting to gather that,” he agreed.
“You missed the group going back to the SGC. The next one’s in a week, so we think you should wait for that.”
“Sounds good to me,” he agreed. “You guys willing to put up with us for that long?”
“I think we’ll manage. You haven’t broken anything irreparable yet.”
“Possibly my pride, but I’m sure I’ll regain it at some point.” Xander grinned, going to rejoin his team.
They headed out to see the Athosians a couple of days later. Xander piloted the ‘Jumper, and they brought some more trade items. Teyla was offworld and unable to come, but they brought messages and a couple of small gifts she’d left for them.
In the sunlight Ariel seemed to relax for the first time. She’d been jumpy and nervous since Xander and Vida had recovered, flinching if they moved too quickly and staring suspiciously at the air over their heads. Both had tried to be careful around her, but there was only so much they could do.
In the open air, though, she was more relaxed, laughing and joking with Jinto and his friends. She even helped them catch harahs, though she only held them for a few moments at a time, long enough to pass them off to someone else.
“She seems better,” Chris noted to Xander after a while.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I think she likes it here. Maybe she should stay.”
“Here in Pegasus? With her family on Earth? I don’t think so.”
“No,” he agreed reluctantly. “I guess not.”
Emily came to join them, flushed and laughing from the spontaneous game of tag that had developed. “You’re it,” she said, tapping Chris on the shoulder.
“I only play orb and go seek,” he informed her. “And I’m a little short of competition in that game.”
“Well, why don’t you orb somewhere, and I’ll seek?” She threw herself down in the grass at Xander’s feet, closing her eyes. “Let me know when you want to be found.”
Chris grinned. “Where’s Parrish?”
“She went off somewhere with Jinto. They’re getting on very well.”
Chris’s eyes widened and he hurried off. Xander laughed, joining her on the ground. “That was cruel.”
“I know, I’m evil. It’s my father’s influence.”
“You’re remarkably sanguine about it.”
“Well, you learn to deal with these things. I’ve gotten over it.”
“Good for you. I’m glad you’re happy.”
“Very.” She propped herself up on her elbows, studying him. “What about you, Xander? Are you happy?”
“Oh, this is not ‘analyse Xander hour’, Em. Go have fun with the others.”
“Come with me. Have some fun. See how the world doesn’t end.”
“Yeah. All right.” He climbed back to his feet, reaching back to give her a hand up. “Oh, and Emily?”
He smiled warmly, gripping her shoulders. “Emily Lightman...you’re it.”
He was gone before she reacted, dashing towards the others with a yell of delight. Emily grinned, chasing him and taking care not to go too fast. She didn’t want the game to end.
They stayed to eat, at Halling’s insistence, eating outside as there were so many of them. Kanaan joined them with Torren and they passed on Teyla’s presents to him. Jinto had managed, despite Chris’ attempts to block it, to get a seat next to Parrish, and they spent the meal laughing and joking – quite deliberately on Parrish’s part, Xander though. She loved yanking Chris’s chain.
Xander himself was tired and happy, sitting propped against Vida and chatting amiably with Halling. They’d developed a fast friendship in their few meetings, and Xander knew he’d miss the steadfast man when he returned to Earth.
“Earth,” he said out loud, without really meaning to.
“Are you returning home, Xander?” Halling asked.
“Yeah, pretty soon. Time to face what’s coming to us, I think.”
“All of you?” Halling glanced at Ariel, who was laughing at something Jinto had said.
“I’d tell her to stay if I thought she’d listen, but her parents and sisters are on Earth. She won’t abandon them.”
“Family is very important,” Halling agreed. “Very precious. One must hold on to it tightly, both born and made.”
“Yeah.” Xander smiled faintly. “I know what you mean. Family’s the best.”
“I am pleased you have found yours.”
“You know, that’s what Ariel said about Atlantis. That it took people who didn’t belong anywhere else and gave them a place. It fits itself around them, she said.”
“Ariel is wise. There are many on Atlantis who, as you say, don’t fit anywhere else.”
“It’s a beautiful place. I’m glad I saw it. But I’m ready for home now.”
“I wish you well on your journey,” Halling said solemnly. “In fact...please wait one moment.” He rose to his feet, picking his way through the group and entering his home.
When he came back out he pressed a small bundle into Ariel’s hands. “Tea,” she said in delight.
“Our best teas. All picked by Jinto or myself.” To Xander, he gave a small wooden carving of Atlantis. “It is not accurate, of course. But it will serve to remind you, when you are far away. There is a place where you belong.”
Three days later, Xander’s team gathered in the ‘Gate room. Vida was back to full strength; Dr Beckett had signed her off the day before. Xander was also pretty much back to normal, though he was on warning not to do anything too strenuous.
Ariel was sitting at the base of the steps, watching the team mill around. Emily dropped to sit beside her, grinning. “You ok?”
“Yeah. I just, you know, just got my sleeping straightened out.”
“The times are a lot closer this time,” Emily assured her. “They’re only about an hour out. You shouldn’t have any lag to deal with.”
“Oh, good. How’d that happen?”
"Atlantis runs on a twenty eight hour day, so it's always changing." She studied Ariel for a moment. "Are you sure you're ok?"
"I never really liked seeing ghosts. I mean, I grew up with it. We all did. But it always kind of...creeped me out."
"And now it doesn't?"
"Not as much, anyway. Helia was trying to help, as much as she could. It makes it easier."
"Uh huh. Glad you came, then?"
"Good. Come on, we're just about ready."
Woolsey came out of his office and came down to join them. "I know that Mr Harris has already told you," he said. "But I feel I must say it again. If any of you wish to stay here, you are welcome."
There was dead silence for a moment. Xander turned and eyed his group.
"Thank you, sir," Emily said clearly, "but we're Xander's team."
"So I see. Very well." Looking up at the balcony, he said, "Please dial the 'Gate for Earth."
The rest of the troops filed through first. Xander watched his team walk though before nodding to Woolsey and Sheppard. Graham followed him as he stepped through.
Colonel Mitchell met them at the base of the ramp. "Welcome back."
"Thank you, Colonel." Xander glanced past him, automatically logging his team's presence. "Did we miss anything exciting while we were away?"
Mitchell appeared to think about it. "The final of American Idol was last week."
"I said exciting, not mind-numbingly boring."
"Then, no. You're gonna have to go to the infirmary, but we're gonna send you to quarters first, get through the returning troops. Is that ok?"
"Sure." He followed Mitchell out of the room.
Back in the familiar quarters, Xander flopped onto his bed. "I'm beat," he announced.
"You feeling all right?" Chris asked, glancing at the hand he'd pressed to his side.
"Yeah. Just tired. Listen, when we're done in the infirmary I need a favour."
"Sure. What's up?"
"Take Emily home for a little while. And take Ariel home for a while. And you and Parrish go home for a while. And Chris? If anyone doesn't come back? There won't be any notice drawn to it. Got it?"
"You're my team," Xander said over him. "Take them home and see what happens. If anyone comes back, brilliant. If Ariel decides she wants to stay home and go to college instead of fighting in a war she didn't start, that's fine too. Please?"
"Sure," he agreed. "I'll take them."
"Thanks." Xander pulled out the pillow, burying his face in it. "Now I gotta get some rest. Wake me up when the doctor wants me."
"What's the plan?"
Xander glanced up, one hand pressed firmly to the spot on his arm where his blood had just been drawn. "Sorry?"
"The plan," Mitchell repeated, pushing off the wall and pacing into the room. "You have a plan, right?"
"My plan is to talk to Buffy, Willow and Giles, and see what their plan is."
"Uh huh. Look, you know if you want..."
"You'd hide the Slayers down here. I know. But they can't do what they need to if they're trapped down here."
"They can't do what they need to if they're being hunted down, either," he pointed out sharply. "At worst, we could send them through to Pegasus. They could start hunting a new type of vampire."
"I will keep that in mind," Xander promised. "It's a good plan, actually. Thank you."
"No problem. Anything we can do to help."
Dr Lam came back in. "Xander, you can go if you want. We'll have to wait a while for the blood test to come back, but everything else checks out."
"Thanks." Xander slid down off the bed. "Is anyone else still here?"
"Taylor's waiting for you, but the others are gone back to your quarters."
"Thanks." He nodded to Mitchell, heading out.
Chris found Emily in her room, reading a magazine. "Hey," he said softly. "Got a minute?"
"Sure. Is something wrong?"
"No. Xander wants me to take you to see your parents. Just in case anything happens."
"Oh. Ok." She stood, letting him touch her shoulder.
They appeared just outside the Lightman building, Emily's father's business. "Emily," Chris said, catching her shoulder as she turned to go inside. "I'm going to be back here in an hour. If you're not here, I'm going to go back to the base. Understand?"
Emil nodded quickly. "Yeah. I understand. But I'll be here."
"That's what I said, but you know Xander. See you in an hour." He glanced at his watch before orbing back out.
Ariel's reaction was much the same as Emily's when Chris explained it to her. She asked him to stay with her, because if her mother was on a case she could be anywhere.
"Anyone home?" she called, letting them into the house.
"Ariel!" Her father appeared from the bedroom, scooping her into a hug. "What are – why didn't you tell us you were coming home?"
"It was sort of last minute. I can't stay long, Dad, we've got to go back to headquarters pretty soon. Xander just wanted us to come home for a visit first."
"I like Xander," Joe declared, letting her go. Noticing Chris, he added, "Hi, Joe DuBois."
"Chris Halliwell. I'm on the team with your daughter."
"Nice to meet you, Chris. Can I get you something to drink?"
"Thanks, that’d be great."
"Dad, where're Mom and the girls?" Ariel asked.
"Your mom's at work. She should be picking up the girls and be on her way home pretty soon. How long can you stay?"
Ariel glanced at Chris, who shrugged. “A couple of hours, maybe. Unless you want..."
"No," Ariel said quickly. "No, a couple of hours is fine. We'll have plenty of time."
"If you're sure." He took the soft drink Joe offered him, moving to sit on the couch and let them catch up.
When Ariel's mother and sisters arrived, Joe came to join him. "Ariel says you got hurt on the last mission. Nothing serious, I hope?"
"Oh...concussion. Nothing too bad, and it's better now."
"I'm glad. She seems well."
"Yeah. She was brilliant, she really helped us." Chris eyed Ariel over Joe's shoulder, busy admiring a picture Marie had drawn.
"Chris, tell me something," Joe said quietly. "Bridgette's been talking about something bad coming, something Ariel's going to be part of."
"She doesn't have to be. She can stay here, we won't stop her. I think Xander would even prefer it. He doesn't like her being in danger."
"It's hard to talk her out of something when she's made up her mind. What is it she doesn't have to be part of?"
"It's looking like maybe a war. Not one we've started, or one we want. We've been trying to avoid it. But we can't seem to get away from it."
"I see." Joe sighed, taking a sip of his beer. "And she's determined to be part of it, I suppose."
"She can help us. She's proved that. But if she wants to stay here..." Glancing at his watch, he rose to his feet. "Excuse me please, Joe. Ariel! I've got to go pick up Emily. When do you want me to come back?"
Ariel glanced from him to Joe and back. "Give me an hour. Then I'll be ready."
"If you're sure. I'll see you then. Thanks for the drink, Joe."
Emily was waiting patiently on the front steps, accompanied by a young, dark-haired man. Chris jogged up to join them.
"Wasn't sure you were coming back," Emily said pointedly.
"Sorry. I was with Ariel and her family."
"Chris, this is Loker, he works with my dad. Loker, Chris Halliwell."
"Hi, Chris." Loker shook his hand. "I'm obliged to tell you that if anything happens to Emily, you'll be hunted down."
"My dad wanted to come out and tell you himself," Emily added, "but I wouldn't let him."
"I appreciate that." To Loker, he added, "We have no intention of letting anything happen to Emily. Thanks for the warning."
They headed back to the SGC; Chris left her in their quarters and went back for Ariel. When she came back, he found Parrish and they headed for San Francisco.
"You're not going home, Xander?" Emily asked, leaning on the end of his bed.
"Home is the ISC and we're all going there tomorrow anyway. Full military escort." He sat up suddenly, studying her. "What do you think of Taylor and Graham?”
"You know Graham better than I do," she pointed out.
"Longer, not better. He was Riley's friend and Riley was Buffy's boyfriend. I didn't spend much time with them." He shrugged. "They've both offered to come with us. Mitchell says he can get them assigned to protection detail, leave them with us permanently."
"We have fighters," Emily said warily. "And they wouldn't be at the top of the command chain with us."
"They wouldn't exactly be at the bottom, either." Xander rose from the bed, thinking. "Mitchell and Woolsey kept telling me they'd help us any way they could. There are American soldiers all over the country. If we had some way of knowing which ones were safe and which ones were working for the Trust..."
"You want to put Graham and Taylor at the head of a soldier section, like Andrew heads up the demons."
"No, just Graham. I have something else in mind for Taylor. Could you find her, and Vida, and bring them back in here?"
When they came back in Xander was scribbling furiously in Chris's notebook. "Guys, you were both in the Ranger programme, right?"
"Yeah," Taylor agreed, "but years apart."
"I know. But you must know other Rangers, right? From other teams?"
"Safe houses. I don't want your guys to fight – you have something else to fight, and it's just as important – but if we need somewhere to lay low for a day or two..."
"My team could do that," Vida said easily. "We have a pocket realm, you could hide there."
"We could manage something," Taylor agreed.
"So if Mitchell were to attach you to the ISC, Taylor, you could help us with that?" Xander asked. "Tell us who lives where and if they’d be willing?"
"Yeah, I could do that," Taylor agreed.
"Good. Then I need to talk to Graham, and then Mitchell." Xander took a deep breath. "We may have a chance yet."
"Safe houses," Mitchell repeated.
"Yes. Bases that you know are safe from the Trust, places our girls can stay for a night if they had to. Graham's agreed to be the liaison, if you'll agree to help him with it."
"It sounds like a good idea in theory," Landry said. "But the Trust are constantly recruiting new members. We would never be absolutely certain that any given base was safe."
"I know. But it's still a lot better than anything else. And even if the Trust know where the girls are, they may hesitate to attack an Armed Forces base."
"Sounds good to me," Mitchell declared. "We keep tabs on the Trust anyway, sir, as best we can. It wouldn't be difficult to share that information with our allies."
"True,” Landry agreed. "And your people have agreed to this?"
"I haven't brought it to them yet. I wanted to make sure you'd agree first."
"Well, I think we can agree," Landry decided. "We will have to discuss specifics, of course, but I think we can come to an agreement."
"You want to hire us out to the Army?" Buffy asked in surprise.
"Not hire," Xander said for the third time. "Consult. They occasionally run into problems that are more in our line than theirs, and they’d like us to come in and help with that. In return, they'll help keep the Trust off us as best they can and make sure that we can stay a night on any base that's safe, if we need to."
"They'd really love it if some of the Slayers went to Atlantis," Vida added. "They want to see what a team of us can do against the Wraith – Emily really impressed them, apparently. But that's up to us, if we can spare anyone once this War finally breaks."
"And they will not force us into anything?" Giles asked.
"No. They'll request our services when needed, through Graham, and he'll be kept up to date on which bases are safe and who to avoid. If we decide we can spare some Slayers to Atlantis, we'll deal with it then. It might be a good way to get some of the baby Slayers out of the line of fire if this war turns out to be as bad as we think it might."
"Maybe," Buffy agreed slowly. "But that won't work for everyone. We can't send the found witches, remember. Or the demons, probably."
"No. But it would help a little."
"And what about the Rangers?"
"Same thing. Taylor says her team leader knows a lot of the other leaders. It would give us some extra safe houses if we needed to, though we should probably avoid them if we can. We don't want to drag the Rangers into this, they have their own war to fight."
"Safe houses are never a bad," Buffy said with a shrug. Leaning sideways, she hugged Xander. "You did good, Xander. Welcome home."
"Thanks. It's good to be home." He rested his head on hers. "I missed my Buffy."
"We missed our Xander." Willow came to join the hug. "You should never go away again."
"I don't plan to." He sighed, relaxing into the hug.
"Giles?" Dawn tapped on the door, shoving it open in the same movement. "Sorry to interrupt, but you need to put on the TV. Right now."
Giles got up, turning the TV on and leaning against the table.
On the screen, the serious looking newsreader laid down a sheet of paper. "To repeat," she said calmly. "An explosion in St Louis has rocked a boarding school, and the death toll is rising. Responsibility has been claimed by a new terrorist group. The FBI say they've been hunting this group for some time now. If you see any of these people –" Pictures of Buffy, Giles, Dawn, Xander and Willow, and several of the Slayers, flashed onto the screen. "– do not approach. They are considered highly dangerous. Report any sighting of them at once to the authorities. To repeat, they are highly dangerous and must not be approached under any circumstances."
"Right." Xander took the remote from Giles, flicking the TV off.
"Dawn, we're evacuating right now," Buffy said quickly. “Tell the girls. We've got to split up and get to ground. Get them into the main hall in the next five minutes with the emergency kits."
"Got it," Dawn agreed, heading out at a run.
"Em, Vee, go help her," Xander told them, and they followed behind her.
“Ok.” Buffy smiled, turning to face them. “We knew this was coming. We’re ready, we’ve trained. We can do this. Willow, get Xander to his team.”
“See you on the other side,” Xander murmured, following Willow out of the room and into the war.
(For those of you keeping track, fandoms represented in this fic were:
Lie to Me
Power Rangers: Wild Force and Mystic Force
I own neither those shows nor the characters in them and I make no money from this.)