Disclaimer: None of the characters or settings are mine; all properties belong to their respective owners.
A/N: I'm working on my other ongoing stories, I swear, it's just that when I noticed this challenge and all of the responses, I had the urge to toss my own offering onto the pile.
WARNING: This one goes to some dark places, and features CHARACTER DEATH... Death... death.... (ECHO... Echo... echo....)
Ship of the Line: An Unquenchable Fire
Chaos Event minus 11 Days
"Seriously?" Xander knew he looked like a fool, staring at her that way, eyes wide and mouth gaping, it was just that he couldn't help himself. "I mean, it would be great; greater than great, even, but... seriously
Buffy smiled impishly back at him, clearly amused by his reaction.
"For Halloween, you will not only dress up in a full costume, but you're going to let me pick the character? And the outfit
?" Xander was still having trouble believing this wasn't all a dream; especially since he'd had
this exact scenario play out in his dreams. Frequently.
"Yep." Something in his face must have awoken some small concern, because she blinked, regarded him narrowly for a few seconds, and then nodded warily. "It's the least I could do, since you did save my life and everything, when the Master killed me." Her smile turned rueful. "Plus there's that whole thing from a few weeks ago, when you forgave me after I tried to drive you crazy with that sexy dance at the Bronze."
He felt himself flushing at the memory of that dance.
"Oh, don't sell yourself short, Buff. You did
drive me crazy with that sexy dance. I'll get over it eventually, though." He gave her a mock-serious glare that was rather more serious than mock. "It'll take years, mind you, possibly decades, but I'll get over it."
Buffy made a sympathetic noise, her lips pursed in a devastatingly attractive moue that sent a stabbing sensation through that part of him that would always and forever be desperately, hopelessly in love with Buffy Summers.
"Well, all right then," She said, shaking her hair back and giving him a expectant look. "Since I acted so badly, and played with your manly-yet-fragile emotions, this is your chance to play with me
." Buffy paused, he raised his eyebrows at her inquiringly, and she shook her head. "Let me rephrase that: this is your chance to play dress up
with me, as in, 'dress up my body', not any other sort of playing. With my, um... body."
Xander was seventeen, and had whole mental libraries of fantasies regarding Buffy's body, entirely separate from his pure and undying love for Buffy herself. With a Herculean effort he managed to push that aside and concentrate on the opportunity he'd been given.
"Got it. And don't worry, I already know exactly what I'm going to do with you."
Her eyes widened.
Xander nodded slowly.
"Oh yes, my pretty. Ohhhh yesssss...."
* * * * *
Chaos Event minus 74 Hours
"--So Willow and I looked all through Giles' office, only we couldn't find anything in the Watcher's Diaries about human Angel anywhere
--" Buffy was saying from inside the tiny bathroom, her voice strained as she struggled with something. "Which reallyreally bugs me, 'cause I want to know more about him, you know? Only he's--my God
this is tight, Xander--only he's not exactly 'share guy' at the best of times, and whenever I ask him about his life before he got all vampy he totally goes into maximum-strength brood mode...."
"I think Giles must have started keeping some of his books at his apartment," Willow added, without looking up from what she was working on at her desk. Like the rest of her bedroom, it was strewn with bits and pieces of costume and costume-making materials. "It's almost like he's afraid we'll go snooping around or something, which is sort of insulting."
"It's totally insulting," Buffy agreed from behind the door, followed by a bump, a thud, and a grunt, in that order. "Xander, I swear
I'm going to get you back for doing this to me. Bad enough that I have to dress up as this evil person, but changing the outfit around like this is just--"
"If I wanted to see the original version, I'd watch the movies again," Xander told the door, glancing over from where he sat on Willow's bed. "Coming up with a new take on things is half the fun of doing this." Lowering his voice to a faint murmur, he continued. "And getting to see you wearing it is the other half of the fun. Okay, more like ninety percent of the fun...."
"I heard that
!" Buffy called. "Super hearing, remember?" A series of squeaks and creaks followed, and he and Willow shared a look, and a grin before going back to their respective tasks. "...And I dare anyone who isn't super strong to try and get this thing on." More squeaks, a grunt or two, and at least one heartfelt sigh. "Couldn't you have gotten it just one size bigger, so it would fit me?"
Ignoring the fact that she couldn't see him, Xander shook his head.
"If it's that hard to get on then it does
fit you. It's supposed to be sexy, not comfortable." He finished tracing the outline of the cardboard pattern onto the sheet of springy black plastic, set the marker aside, picked up the shears, and carefully started cutting. "Besides, that was the only one they had in the costume shop."
"Oh." The bathroom door swung open, and she stepped into view. "Okay then, if tight is what you were looking for then 'mission accomplished', I guess."
This statement was followed by several long seconds of complete silence and utter stillness, as Buffy stood there, Xander stared in stunned admiration... and so did Willow, though his attention was too fixed for that to really register.
Buffy looked from one to the other (and frowned in faint puzzlement at Willow) before lowering her eyes in embarrassment.
"I look ridiculous."
"Not even a little," Xander told her, in absolute seriousness. Willow, eyes wide, managed only a tiny squeak, and a vigorous nod of agreement.
The Slayer was all in skintight black, a sleek, gleaming bodysuit that left her looking like she'd been coated in liquid obsidian. From the base of her throat to the tips of her fingers and toes, it covered her completely... while simultaneously showing off every gorgeous inch of her form. The one concession he'd made had been to allow her to add a skirt; for all her confidence and courage, Buffy suffered from the all-too-common belief that her butt was either oversized, underfirm, or some combination of the two. From what Xander had seen of the backside in question (and he had studied the matter extensively, though covertly) she had absolutely no need for concern on either count. Nevertheless, he had allowed her the skirt, and he had to admit that it looked good. It was one of the 'high/low' sort; hitting her legs high on the thigh in front but falling lower and lower from there so that in back it actually trailed on the floor for two or three feet behind her. The black, satiny material complimented the bodysuit perfectly, and made a nice callback to the dramatic, billowing cape of the original character.
Xander got up and stepped closer, to get a better look. Up close, the material of the suit had a subtle shimmer about it, creating a sense of depth to the shine that was lacking in the other latex clothing he'd seen. Those pieces, though undeniably sexy, also tended to look cheap, or even just tacky. The suit Buffy was wearing made her look like she was wearing a flawless black mirror. Realizing he was staring (like Willow was still staring, openmouthed, from her chair) he met her eyes and grinned.
"You look amazing. Not one single person will laugh at you, believe me."
Finally recovering her voice, Willow agreed.
"Cordelia will go insane
when she sees you. Or, when she sees all the boys seeing you, and ignoring her, I mean." She frowned a little, looked down to where her hands were fiddling awkwardly with the soldering tool she was holding, and muttered something that that Xander didn't quite catch, something about 'boys, only the boys, definitely just boys', which of course made no sense whatsoever. Buffy, seemingly reassured by their words, looked thoughtful.
"Even Angel? I've been trying to get him to pay attention to me, instead of Cordy, only...." She ran a hand up and down her opposite arm, considering the gleaming material that encased her. "You don't think this is too much of... too much?"
Xander sighed. The vampire was, honestly, his least favorite topic of conversation, but if it made her feel better....
"Absolutely. Nobody with a pulse is going to be able to--" Seeing her look he stopped short, then tried again. "Strike that. I mean, nobody who is now, or has at any time been alive, will be able to look away. That is, provided they were, you know, attracted to women at the time of their aliveness." He couldn't help smirking a bit, and continuing along that line. "Which of course
Angel is--er, I mean, was. Attracted to women, that is. Despite all the rumors and speculation to the contrary. I mean, what do you think Giles doesn't want you to see in those Watcher's diaries--"
A playful, mock-angry punch from a Slayer could bruise to the bone, so he'd finally had to ask her to stop doing it. Now she simply reached for him, purposely slowing the move to give him time to dance back out of reach, smiling goofily. She scowled at him, though her eyes twinkled.
"If I wasn't wearing these shoes, I'd chase you down and pummel you badly," She grumbled. He glanced down at the footwear in question and shrugged.
"Hey, those were already in your
closet; it's not my fault they work so well with the outfit. Your character is tall: he looms. You need all the height you can get."
The shoes were shiny black, of course, of the style that some people uncharitably called 'stripper heels'. These were actually fairly tame examples, however, with the platform beneath the toes about two inches high, though the heels themselves were more than three times that. Buffy peered down at them, and flushed slightly as she looked back up.
"Hate to break this to you, Xand, but even with these I don't loom."
Sure enough, even though he was only middling tall, she still had to look up to meet his eyes.
"Eh, close enough. And they do give you a plus two bonus on the 'induce drooling in all onlookers' ability that all of you hot girls have, which you absolutely knew when you bought them, you little minx."
Her grin was utterly unrepentant.
"What can I say, sometimes you have to use your powers for evil. Besides, my father took me shopping so many times over the summer that I ran out of tasteful things to buy. So I had no choice; I had
to get these. Even though they are, um, horribly impractical, clearly indicative of the inequality of the sexes, and demeaning to all women everywhere." She nodded slowly, her voice solemn. "And I, as a modern, strong and independent woman would never, ever wear them, unless forced to do so by an awful and sexist male who is only fantasizing about females who can't run fast enough to get away from him."
"Right. Because girls never dress up just because they like looking great. Also, a tuxedo is not
the most comfortable thing a guy can wear, either, yet we still have to wear them when you female-types make us. And lastly, I don't for one second believe you're helpless just because you're wearing hyper-girly shoes; you could probably do a gymnastics routine, flip a car over by kicking it, and set an Olympic record in the 400 meters right this minute, all without breaking a sweat."
Buffy could only shrug reluctantly at the truth of this.
"Still, I'd hate to fight even one above-average vampire in all this, much less Spike and his whole gang. If Giles wasn't absolutely sure that all the nasties take the night off--"
sure," Xander told her, moving to the bed to retrieve what he'd been working on earlier. "So relax, enjoy yourself, and most importantly, hold still."
He draped the still-incomplete arrangement over her head and settled it over her shoulders. There were nine interlocking pieces of cut-up plastic that made up each shoulder, joined together from beneath with a fairly cunning arrangement of wire and shoelaces. Surveying the result of his work, Xander nodded happily.
"Not bad if I do say so myself."
"Annnnnd you just did," Buffy helpfully informed him, smirking.
"Yeah, well, a little sanding, a few coats of paint, and you'll have a set of 'armored' shoulder pauldrons there that will look incredibly badass." He took a step back to get an overall impression, and nodded again. The modest bulk of the shoulder pieces went a long way towards changing Buffy from a beautiful girl in skintight black to a threatening figure in black who only happened to also be a beautiful girl. It was a matter of emphasis, and there were still a few things to be added that would further strengthen the effect.
"I've got the blinkies working," Willow chimed in. "Wanna see?"
They both went over to look, and Xander couldn't help notice that despite her protestations, Buffy's Slayer dexterity made walking in the super-high heels look smoothly graceful.
"Okay, so you said you didn't want that control box thingie in the middle of your chest, which I understand because, you know, guys can put things there, but girls already have
something in the middle of our chests, right?" Willow was almost painfully earnest and eager to please; even moreso than Xander she was caught up in the geeky joy of making the costumes, though in her case there was the added technical challenge of the electrical bits. "So what I did instead was put all of the little controls and lights on everything else instead."
Buffy smiled down at her (Xander saw her do a double-take, then bounce lightly on her toes in silent delight as she realized that she was now tall enough to loom over Willow quite satisfactorily), and gave her best friend a one-armed hug.
"They're very blinky, Wil," she told the girl, looking approvingly at the items spread out on the work surface.
"Aren't they? See, here's your bracelets, and these go on your upper arms, and these are for the belt... only I'm still waiting for Xander to finish that part, but here's the boards and the batteries for them." She pushed little buttons on various things and smiled proudly as the tiny glowing lights obligingly turned on, off, or shifted the pattern and speed of their blinking. Even Xander was impressed, and he'd been watching Willow tinker with similar things since they were small children.
"Nice work," he told her in all sincerity. "I was afraid it would be too chunky, especially the wrist pieces, but these are--"
"It's because I used watch batteries," She told him excitedly, pointing. "See, this is where they go in." She looked up at Buffy. "Be careful not to turn them on till we're actually at the party, 'cause I've got them loaded pretty heavily with this many LED's, so they'll probably only last a couple of hours."
"Got it," Buffy told her. She tilted her head slightly to the side and reached out to poke one of the objects with a finger. "What's this?"
Xander picked it up and showed it to her.
"A gorget." At her blank look he tried again. "A choker, basically, only made out of armor. In this case, the same 'let's pretend it's armor' that we're using for your shoulders and for Willow's whole suit."
Buffy reached out to take it from him, and considered it.
"Okay, this is fine, but there's not going to be a helmet, right? I do not want to have to wear that huge helmet and mask thing."
He shook his head, and she gave a very visible, very audible sigh of relief, to which he replied in a hyper-serious, Giles-like tone.
"Buff, do you honestly think I'm going to go to all this trouble, get you all dressed up, and go with you to that party at the Bronze without making sure everyone there sees how gorgeous you are? And, obviously, how awesome I am, by association?" She smiled brilliantly at that, exceedingly pleased. A moment later, however, her expression darkened, and she turned slightly, nudging him sharply in the side with her elbow, nodding at Willow. The other girl, having witnessed the previous exchange, was staring fixedly down at the blinking devices on the desk. "Ow! Both
of you are. I meant to say, 'how gorgeous both
of you are." Willow looked up in surprise, and gave them both a look that basically said 'Who, me
Buffy made an affectionate, exasperated sound and tugged lightly at the girl's red hair.
"Yes, Wil, you're gorgeous... or you would be, if you'd only try a little." She stopped there, eyes narrowing as she considered her friend. "In fact... let's run with that."
"Huh?" Sometimes, mega-genius or no, it took Willow a few seconds to process the unexpected. However, when Buffy strode over to a carefully organized assortment of shiny white 'armor' and gathered it up in her arms, she reacted very quickly indeed.
"Hey! Buffy, be careful
, I've been working on that for days--Ack!"
Thrusting the outfit into Xander's arms, Buffy smiled brightly.
"Congratulations, Xander; you are now a... whatever this is. Enjoy."
He looked down at the outfit, then over at Willow, who looked to be equal parts stunned and confused.
"It's an Advanced Stormtrooper," She said, more or less to both of them, though of course he'd already known. "Which, okay yeah, I sort of made up, but since I was doing all the buttons and blinkies for yours, it was easy enough to do some for my outfit too...."
Buffy was shaking her head firmly. The white outfit had
come equipped with a full, face-covering helmet, and she held Willow's gaze as she effortlessly crushed it to bits in her tiny, delicate hands.
"No more hiding. If I have to wear this, then you have to dress up in something sexy too." Her smile was ever-so-slightly evil as she eyed the girl. "You know, basically everybody on Earth has seen these movies, even me. And I think I know exactly what outfit we'll use to unleash your inner hottie."
Justifiably worried, Willow shot Xander a look. Shifting the jumble of armor in his arms, all he could do was shake his head sadly.
"Sorry, Wil. Our Dark Overlord has spoken, and we must obey."
Besides, he had a pretty shrewd notion of which outfit Buffy had in mind, and it simply wasn't in him to interfere with anything that might get Willow into that
. Assuming all went well, he would be walking into the Bronze with a beautiful girl on each arm. That fact alone would keep him supplied with Man-cred for the rest of his high school career. The fact that Willow and Buffy would both be decked out in utterly sexy sci-fi costumes? Well, that wouldn't just count for cred among his geekier acquaintances--it would very likely result in them hailing him as their God.
* * * * *
Chaos Event minus 81 minutes
"Are you sure
you're okay?" He asked for the third time. "We still have time to get you out of that if you're having trouble breathing--"
, Xander," She told him, glancing over from where she sat in front of her dresser. Her perfect posture and whispery, slightly breathless voice were both the product of the corset she wore over her bodysuit; a beautiful thing of soft black leather that had come, like so many other bits of their outfits, from Ethan's costume shop. It had taken Xander and Willow, working together and using every bit of strength they had, a full twenty minutes to lace Buffy into it. His hands were still aching a little even now from gripping the cords, and he felt a little guilty at how much of a good sport the Slayer was being about the whole thing, when she could end the entire affair with a single word.
"If you're sure," he told her back, his discomfort coloring his voice. "We've gotten sort of carried away with all of this, and I know you weren't expecting things to get this crazy when you said yes to--"
"Xander." She turned around in her chair to face him, her movements a little tentative as she worked out how to deal with the various ways in which her outfit constricted her. "Listen to me," She said, her clear, green gaze trapping his own. "I know everyone forgets it sometimes, but I'm not just
the Slayer, you know? I'm a girl. More than that, I'm a girly-girl type girl, from way back." She smiled wistfully, the focus of her eyes slipping for a moment as she regarded some fond memory. "If you'd known me before any of this started... God, I made Cordelia
look serious and responsible...." Her eyes came back to him. "What I'm saying is, I like dressing up. I love
getting crazy with clothes and shoes and makeup. I know, I've never done anything like this costume thing, exactly, but--" She smiled again, and this time it wasn't wistful, it was peaceful, perfect and content, and it somehow warmed his soul and broke his heart, all in the same instant. "You and Willow are my friends, and I love you both, and I can't imagine anything else I'd rather be doing tonight than spending it with you guys. We've had tons of horrible things happen to us, and we've done what we had to do to survive all of that, but it's time for a break. If this is the one night when we can be sure none of the bad guys will cause trouble, then I say we deserve a chance to play."
Xander nodded, looked away so that she wouldn't see the tear trying to escape from his eye, and cleared his throat.
"All... alrighty then," he said, no doubt dazzling her with his amazing wit. "Um... so, the children-supervising thing Snyder has us doing... how long do you think that'll take?" In his peripheral vision he saw her turn back to the mirror and put one last pin in her hair before reaching for her makeup.
"Not very long, I think. Willow has the schedule, but I doubt they want us to keep them out very late. We'll still have plenty of time to get to the Bronze."
He nodded, and decided it was time to get serious about getting into his own costume. His initial idea had been simple; dark blue pants, white dress shirt, and a black vest, with a gunslinger's belt and a plastic laser pistol from the collection he had in his basement. It was iconic, it fit with Buffy's outfit, and it was a character he held in very high regard. Now, thanks to Buffy's decision to give him Willow's nearly-complete armor, he'd had only three days to come up with a new concept. Luckily, he had certain resources he could draw on for that.
He was also aware that Buffy, leaning close to her mirror and skillfully applying layer after layer of makeup, was sneaking occasional peeks at him as he geared up.
"So... This isn't
that Stormtrooper thing Willow was thinking of when she was making that outfit? Or that Booba Feet guy from the third movie?"
His 'armor' was much easier to put on than Buffy's; he slid the leg sections on one at a time, hooked them onto the belt, then attached the individual pieces that fit together to cover his groin and backside. The black sweatpants and tee shirt he wore underneath everything would prevent any pasty-skinned peek-a-boo from between the white plastic shapes.
"Naw," he answered her a few moments later, when he was sure the arrangement would allow him to walk without too much difficulty. "Willow is all about staying out of the spotlight. Me? I'd rather be somebody more important than just another piece of cannon fodder, y'know? And Boba Fett was cool, and I thought about going there, but to be honest, it took me hours to adjust this up from Willow-size to me-size, and I didn't have enough time to build that backpack rocket of his, or do the repainting."
Buffy nodded in understanding, turning her head slightly from one side to the other and eying her reflection critically. From what he could see, she looked much too pale and unnatural, but she seemed pleased, and moved on to applying even more liner around her eyes.
"Speaking of Willow, I'm feeling kind of bad about bullying her like this," she said, the ultra-tight corset still limiting her breath to shallow sips and her voice to little more than a whisper. "She worked really hard on that costume--and on mine--and then I go and push her into dressing in that... well, in that
Xander was in the midst of fasting the front and back halves of his torso armor in place with the hidden snaps along each side.
"Hey, sometimes you gotta be firm with people. You're one hundred percent right about her needing to come out of her shell. If she doesn't, then in fifty years we're going to have an insanely rich Willow, living in a penthouse somewhere with all the windows painted over, wearing tissue boxes for shoes and ranting about how everybody on Earth has alien implants in their skulls."
"I guess. Speaking of Willow...." Buffy turned her head and called towards the open door to the hallway, straining mightily to manage any sort of volume or projection. "Hey, Wil! Are you doing all right in there? We need to leave soon!"
From down the hall, the other girl's voice came back, faintly.
"No! I mean, yes, basically, except for...." There was an unhappy pause, then: "Okay, yes, almost ready!"
Xander smiled to himself as he pulled on the arm sections of his armor. Since Buffy's mother was out of town the three of them had decided to use her house as their base of operations for the night, largely because Willow couldn't bear the thought of her own parents seeing her in the costume she'd be wearing.
"Xander? Who is
this person you're dressing up as, exactly?"
He pushed the button to activate the lights on his left arm display, admired the gleaming blue and red results, and switched them back off.
"He's in the movies, you probably just didn't notice him; starship captain, one of the guys with the evil British accents." He tapped another button, frowned, whacked the forearm with his palm and then nodded as more lights flickered to life. "See, back in the day, me, Willow and Jesse all played the RPG based on this. You know, the pencil and paper game, like Dungeons and Dragons? Well, one of Jesse's characters was this sort of guy, a ship captain, only Jesse got tired of being gunned down by every pirate and smuggler who boarded the ship. So he came up with something a lot like this: Bridge Officer Armor, like the stuff the grunts all wear, only with lots of communications gear, because a ship's captain would need that to do his job."
Buffy made a sound of agreement instead of speaking, since she was busy applying something very pale to her lips with a tiny brush. It was impressive, how deftly she managed that, given that her hands and fingers were encased in gleaming black latex.
"Anyway, because it was Jesse, that Officer's armor also came with a built-in blaster, dart thrower, anti-concussion fields (because seriously, every
space movie shows people getting thrown around the bridge of their ship, and you gotta be ready for that), comm links to the ship's computer, twenty-four hours of life support, low-power thrusters for moving around in weightlessness...."
Her reflected gaze met his, and he saw the sympathy there as he trailed off.
"I wish he could be here, Xander. I would have liked for him to get to wear that tonight."
He cleared his throat, and concentrated on pulling on his gloves.
"He would have loved it. He got obsessed over this even more than the rest of us." He smiled faintly, even through the sadness, at one memory in particular. "The ship my character commands is pretty amazing; it's got a write-up in two or three different rulebooks, right? Well, we read those, and neither of us agreed with what they'd listed for it. So we spent a whole weekend writing up everything we could think of; the weapons, the defenses, sublight and hyperdrive stats, what kind of droids were on board, what they could do and how many there were. We pretended we were going to do that planetary assault they did in the second movie, and then wrote out what kind of vehicles and support ships you'd use if you weren't
a total idiot."
Buffy, finally done with her cosmetics work, settled a wig over her own short, pinned-down hair, and very carefully didn't say anything, for which he was grateful. This was a girl who could, if she so wished, be every bit as popular and admired as Cordelia. She could be one of those beautiful, vapid girls who treated people like he and Willow like peasants. That she chose not to do so was amazing to him.
"I know," he said. "That's the kind of thing only geeks with no lives would do."
"Wrong," she answered with surprising fierceness, in a sort of whispery growl. "That's the kind of thing friends
do, same as all of this." She used a small, oddly-shaped comb to make a few adjustments to her faux hair, then made a few more. "Bear in mind, I still might kill you before the night is over, for putting me through all of this." With that, she set down the comb, rose smoothly and carefully to her feet, turned to face him, and spread her arms to either side.
"All done. How do I look?"
He didn't answer immediately; one didn't come face-to-face with a goddess, or an artist's masterpiece, and then blurt out the first thing that sprang to mind.
The bodysuit and trailing skirt, the completed shoulder pieces, belt, bracelets and armbands; those he'd seen already in various stages over the last week or so. The rest of it had been up to Buffy to manage, and she'd done very well with it indeed.
With the addition of the wig, her hair was now a sleek mass of white-blonde platinum, falling dead-straight to the small of her back. The ends of her long bangs were tinted a sooty black, as was a border down and around to either side that served to frame and emphasize her face. All those skillfully applied cosmetics had transformed her sun-kissed California attractiveness into a thing of icy perfection; her skin pale as snow, her features as stark and cold as sunlight reflecting off a glacier.
"Wow. I... wow
He saw her silvery-white lips quirk slightly before she caught herself and schooled her expression into an emotionless mask. Turning slightly to one side, she struck an imperious pose, like a conqueror surveying a field of fallen enemies. The monochrome beauty of her, all in shimmering silver and gleaming ebony, held him there, staring and spellbound for what seemed like minutes. Eventually, when he made no further comment, she quirked one pale, perfect brow.
He couldn't tell her what he was really thinking--that she looked like a duelist's rapier; slender, delicate, and intensely lethal. He most definitely
couldn't tell her that, at least in that moment, he would happily murder her beloved Angel right in front of her if there was even the tiniest chance she would someday forgive him, and come to love him as he loved her. What he could
do was what he always did: act the clown, play things off with a joke, a laugh, and a smile.
"I am in awe," he told her, which was only the truth. "And I hereby renounce spandex. From this day forward, my loyalty shall be to clothing made of latex, and latex only."
Buffy grinned, and giggled, which ruined the illusion of cold arrogance she'd been projecting a moment earlier.
"I know I'm supposed to be all scarred and nasty underneath the helmet, but honestly, does anyone really believe that these people have spaceships, and these amazing robots, and not
Given the vision before him, Xander had no intention of arguing.
"I hear you. Besides, if I can rewrite my guy, it's only fair for you to tweak yours a little too."
"That's good, 'cause I'm not going to do that weird breathing thing, either."
That pained him a little bit, just from a fan boy point of view, but he spread his hands in acceptance.
"No problem. We'll just say that your suit feeds some kind of medication or liquid into your veins that helps oxygenate your blood or something. Besides, you're already doing a slightly weird breathing thing, without even trying, so it's all good."
She started to answer him, stopped short, and gave an exasperated sigh instead.
Xander followed her gaze to the door, where a figure stood, draped in a white sheet. The black eyeholes stared back at them in mournful contrast to the upbeat 'BOO!' emblazoned upon the ghost's chest. He frowned in exaggerated confusion.
"Kudos to you, Wil; this is not
the costume I was expecting. Bonus points for the successful fakeout." Buffy stalked past him, her skirt trailing along the floor behind her, and reached out to grab the sheet.
!" Willow squeaked, then it was too late, as the covering was yanked away in an instant, leaving her exposed.
Leaving lots and lots
of her exposed, Xander thought to himself.
The details of the costume was burned indelibly into the visual cortexes of roughly two and a half billion men: the metallic gold and red of the bikini top, the slinky red cloth of the separated skirt panels, which showed the sides of her legs all
the way up. Princess Leia's slave girl outfit was legendary, and Xander had privately wondered if his mousy friend would be able to carry it off. Looking at her now, however, any doubts were quickly cast aside. Because, even though the sight of Buffy in her
outfit had effectively immunized him from ever again feeling lust for any other woman, there was no denying that Willow absolutely did it justice.
"Ack! Give that back, I can't
--" The red-haired girl paused as the breathtaking wintery goddess before her fully registered. "Buffy, you look amazing."
The Slayer tossed the sheet aside and leveled the full force of those clear green eyes at her friend.
"And so do you, Willow. You're a dish. Really
Xander watched her fidget and fumble, making aborted motions to try and cover herself only to pull back and fidget some more.
"I--are you sure?" Her hands went to her long red braid, tugging at it anxiously as she looked longingly to where her ghost costume had landed. "I do better with being laughed at when I'm covered up, so if people are going to do it anyway, I'd really rather have my sheet back."
Xander threw his own moral support in alongside Buffy's, putting his gloved hand beneath Willow's chin and turning her head slightly so that her eyes met his.
"You know that fake laugh that the cheerleaders do, when they're jealous of someone and trying to pretend they aren't? That
is the only kind of laughing anyone will be doing. You look fantastic, Wil. And if you're brave enough to leave that sheet off, you're going to get all the proof you need when the guys start lining up just hoping for a chance to talk to you."
Willow stared back at him, obviously torn, but finally she took a deep breath, held it, then let it out in a rush.
"O-okay, I will... be brave, then, I suppose, and... and face the peril. Or... peers. I will face the perilous peers."
"Thanks to the power of peer-pressure potently applied," Xander murmured, only barely managing to duck out of the way when Buffy made as if to punch him. "Annnnnd on that note, I think we should get ourselves over the school, so we can be issued our tiny groups of tiny people, right?"
The two girls nodded and accompanied him into the hall and down the stairs into the Summers' living room, Buffy doing so with carefully precise grace because of her towering heels, and directing a brief level three glare at their relatively practical and comfortable footwear.
"Do you think the kids are going to be okay with all of this?" she asked, gesturing to herself and Willow.
Xander smiled at her reassuringly.
"Well, since none of them will have hit puberty yet, they won't be affected by either of your powers, so I think it'll be fine."
Willow was tugging at her braid again.
"I hope you're right. If Snyder calls my mother, I'll be in so much trouble--"
"It'll be fine," he told her.
They exited the house, and lit by the last rays of the setting sun, they headed down the sidewalk, Buffy on one side of him and Willow on the other.
"You had better be right about that," the Slayer said, her soft voice teasing. "Technically, I'm your boss you know, even if you are the captain of some ginormous ship. If you screw up, I might do something very nasty to you." She tapped him lightly in the center of his chest with one shiny/shimmery, black-clad finger for emphasis, her lips quirking up at the corners.
Xander widened his eyes to show the appropriate level of terror, and made an audible gulping sound.
"I promise I'll try very hard not to disappoint you in any way, my Lady."
She gave him an amused, sidelong look.
"You'd better not."
* * * * *
Chaos Event plus 6 Minutes
"You have disappointed me, Captain. Severely
Her soft, breathy voice caressed his ears like the blade of a knife made from purest silver, even as the life was slowly crushed from his body.
"Mm-My--My Lady!" Piett gasped, straining to force the words from a chest that was being squeezed ever-tighter by an inexorable, invisible something
. "It isn't... isn't my f-fault!" His armor, though it was constructed from immensely tough and resilient alloys, did nothing to protect him from this. The technology it contained, weapons and defenses alike, were unlikely to save him either. "N-not m-my fault
The power that held him transfixed, spread-eagled and hovering a full meter above the deck, yanked him around to face her.
"Oh, isn't it?" She asked, that unsettling voice seething with quiet rage.
Even through his pain and terror, her beauty struck him again, as it had every time he had laid eyes upon her. Almost painfully young, yet radiating power and danger, the dark Lady of the Sith leaned close and whispered.
"Where is my crew?"
She gestured at the vastness of the ship's bridge all around them; a vastness that remained shockingly, impossibly bereft of the hundreds of personnel who should have manned it's stations. Whatever held him relaxed it's grip slightly, and he drew in a long, shuddering breath before answering.
"I do not know, my Lady."
Her eyes, those cold, bottomless eyes, never left his own, even as she half-turned and paced three slow steps to the side.
"Where is my fleet?"
Piett licked his lips nervously, his eyes flicking to the floor-to-ceiling viewports along the bridge's forward arc. The stars were there, and a planet below them, but of the Executor
's battlegroup there was no sign. He could try begging for the chance to run yet another sensor scan, but the three previous attempts had all provided identical negative results.
"I--I do not know, my Lady."
She turned and paced back past him, her gaze still holding his own.
"Where have you brought us, Captain? What world is that below us? Not Hoth, obviously, despite my orders."
"There mus--must have b-been some Hyperspace a-anomaly--"
She faced him fully once more, silvery lips moving into a faint, mocking pout.
"Captain...." She sounded almost disappointed that he would even attempt such a childish excuse.
"I do n-not know, my Lady," he admitted, hoping against hope that she would show him mercy. She was by far the youngest of the Sith Lords, and her habit of acting on impulse and emotion instead of reason made it difficult to predict what she would do in any given situation. "My Lady, if you will only give me a chance to correct my mistake--"
The power gripping him tightened suddenly, then, terrifyingly, continued to tighten. The pale girl shook her head, that flawless face utterly without compassion or pity.
"I think... no."
Piett gasped, struggled to twist free, struggled to move at all, and failed.
"Your cowardice disgusts me," she said, observing his struggles as one might observe an insect caught in a web. "Perhaps, if you managed to fight back in any meaningful way, I might change my mind...."
He activated the thrusters in his armor; even without his helmet in place, the suit would respond to the short-range signals from his cranial comm implant. There was a whine, and he shifted in place a few centimeters in one direction, then another, but that was all. The thrusters was never meant to sustain actual flight in a gravity field, and the girl's grip was far too strong for them to overcome.
"Trying to run is not the same thing as fighting, Captain."
His ribs creaked as he triggered the anti-concussion field, which surrounded him out to arm's length in a bubble of pale blue light. It was designed to buffer the wearer against low-velocity kinetic impacts, not telekinetic assault, and it did exactly nothing to protect him now.
"That sort of stupidity is what brought you to these straits; it will not remove you from them."
A rib cracked, then another, and the pressure was so great now that he could not draw breath at all. Piett triggered the armor's weapons, hoping against hope to do the girl some kind of damage.
Blaster bolts fired from his right arm, burning small, molten pockmarks into the heavy grey alloy of a structural beam at the far end of the bridge. From his left wrist, a stream of explosive darts licked out, tearing a flashing, booming line across three of the tertiary control stations. The power that held him in place prevented him from moving his arms to target her, rendering those weapons useless.
The young woman before him tilted her head a bit to one side, her silvery hair rippling slightly as she considered him.
"What a small, pathetic, passionless creature you are, Piett. Don't you want
More ribs went, and his vision was going black around the edges. More blaster fire did nothing, and even though one of the blazing arcs from the omni-directional electrical discharge actually crackled across her torso, the black polychrome of her own armor shed the discharge effortlessly. As the world faded into a muddled confusion of roaring sound and gathering night, he thought he saw her shake her head sadly.
"None of you are really strong enough to be of any use to me, are you? None of you have any fire
After that it all went to ringing and roaring and shadows and darkness, and the very last thing Xander Harris thought as he came back to himself for one brief moment was that this was not in any way her fault. He still loved her, and he always would
And then he died.
* * * * *
O'Neill knew the next few minutes would be tricky. Fortunately, since he was largely responsible for designing the security measures intended to keep someone from breaking into the Control room and seizing control of the Stargate, he was well-qualified for the task at hand. Namely, breaking into the control room and seizing Control of the Stargate.
Dressed in their covert-ops uniforms, and burdened with a full weapons loadout and a fairly ridiculous amount of C-4, he and the others managed to reach the lower access corridor without incident. While he entered his passcode, Carter started up yet another round of questioning.
"Daniel... are you sure
about the timeframe of this? I mean, given that the Goa'uld invasion you witnessed took place in a parallel reality, there's nothing to say that the events there, if they occur in our world at all, might not be months, or even years away."
The archeologist shook his head in frustration; he'd been trying to get someone, anyone
, to take his story seriously for days, and the strain was definitely showing.
"Sam, all I have is the Gate address. We know the Goa'uld are coming and we know that they'll crush us when they get here. I don't think it'll hurt anything if we get there a little early... and it isn't like we have a choice, since Kinsey has already given the order to shut us down."
The door slid open, and they all filed through. Carter secured the doors behind them. There were others ways to access the Control room, but those would have to be sealed from a console there. O'Neill hurried up the stairs, applied his palm to the plate beside the interior door, and typed in another code when the readout there prompted him.
"Kinsey is as big a problem as the damn snakes, or near enough," he told the others as the door slid aside and they entered. "If he wasn't so busy throwing his weight around, we could do this right, send through some probes, get a feel for what we're getting into."
"The time for caution has passed, O'Neill," Teal'c said, watching as he and Carter got to work powering up the boards. "All that is left to us is to strike boldly, and hope surprise is sufficient to carry us to victory."
O'Neill glanced at him, then smiled faintly as he started keying in the sequences that would isolate them from the rest of the base.
"'Fortune favors the bold'? I always liked 'Fortune favors the guy with air superiority and secure supply lines', but I suppose we'll just have to take what we can--"
Alarm klaxons sounded, and every single light in both the Control and Gate rooms suddenly blazed to life. He shot a look over at Carter, and she shook her head.
"It wasn't me, sir. Someone's put the entire base on full alert, and I don't think it's because of anything we did."
He scowled, looking down at his half-completed work. They still hadn't dropped the blast doors in the access corridors, and it would take them at least two minutes to power up the Stargate. He thought fiercely for several seconds, trying to decide whether to fully commit to their impromptu mission or deal instead with whatever threat had triggered the alert. It was only a few seconds' hesitation, and still it was too long, and the choice was made for him.
The upper-level doors slid open, and a full operations crew hurried into the Control room, with General Hammond following close behind. He stopped when he saw them there, staring back at him with their black clothes, stocking caps, and bulging backpacks. Jack watched him realize exactly what they'd been about to do, and exactly where they'd intended to go. He opened his mouth to say... well, something
, only to have the older man cut him off with a shake of his head.
"Save it, Colonel, we have more important things to worry about than whether or not you were about to do something stupid."
Carter had stepped back to let the technicians take their positions at the control stations. Now she looked at the General inquiringly.
"What is it, sir?"
He gestured for them all to follow, and headed up the stairs to the briefing room.
"At the moment we're not sure. However, given the timing, I think it's fairly likely that it's Doctor Jackson's Goa'uld invasion."
Daniel literally stumbled in shock, and his face went white.
"We're too late. It's going to happen; what I saw, everyone dying, it's all going to happen. Again."
Much as O'Neill wanted to offer something in the way of optimism, he couldn't think of anything that didn't sound hollow.
* * * * *