Thanks to everyone who reviewed and for your patience in waiting for this next instalment. Over the summer I have moved cities, jobs and houses so I did have a genuine excuse honest! Hopefully I’ll be updating more regularly now.
The skull vibrating bellow of the Gate klaxon reverberated through his skull as he padded down the Stargate ramp but Daniel hardly noticed. He was exhausted, he stank and he hadn’t had a cup of coffee in days. Not a good combination. Not for any of them. In fact in front of him he could see the slight catch and drag in Jack’s gait that revealed that his bad knee was playing up again, something that only usually surfaced when the Colonel was so exhausted that his normally iron self control wavered. But after the mission they had just had even Jack was drained to the edges of his physical endurance.
The mission had been screwed up from the start, SG-1 sent in to try to repair the fiasco that SG-7 had inadvertently caused by accidentally breaking a few of the emergent culture’s more highly regarded taboos. Hammond had sent Daniel and SG-1 after them, trying to fix the mess before it escalated. Unfortunately before they had got there some of the more reactionary members of the host culture had decided that two of the members of SG-7 needed tobe sacrificed in order to placate the “gods”. So of course SG-1 and the rest of SG-7 had had to go in with guns blazing, even Daniel seeing that diplomacy needed to fall beside the wayside when two of their own were about to ceremonially burnt alive. And with the basic Celtic background of the host culture…well talk about shades of the Wicker Man. The whole thing had seemed so surreal that at times Daniel expected to see Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee pop up from behind a boulder. And then of course they couldn’t have a nice steady retreat back to the Gate. No that would have been too easy. Instead they got pursued half way across a continent and across several tribal territories, the various clans involved alternating between joining in pursuing the blasphemers and gleefully taking advantage in order to revenge inter tribal wrongs done generations ago. A sort of vast glorified version of what cousin Angie said about Aunt Gale at cousin Bob’s wedding. Basically a gigantic free for all of mass mayhem with the two SG teams having to make a giant loop in order to finally get back to the gate. So what was initially expected to take 4 days had taken three weeks and they had left behind a previously flourishing tribal system which was now on the edges of all out war. Not exactly the SGC’s finest hour. In fact if he was being honest there were times that he wasn’t sure if it wasn’t going to be SG’S 1 & 7’s last hour. Some way to go - not heroically battling the Goa’uld but rather sacrificed in a giant special effect wicker man by a culture that had nothing more advanced than iron swords and numbers on their side.
But they had made it, as they always did, SG-1’s reputation as un-killable still intact. And they had managed to bring back all the members of SG-7 as well so that was at least one score for the good guys. Even if Johnson’s arm was mostly unusable. Hopefully Janet could fix it – she could pretty much fix anything else.
With a subdued sigh of pure exhaustion Daniel padded after Jack to the locker room and as always these days when he wasn’t concentrating his mind drifted back to his new e-mail correspondent. It must be nearly 2am in Cleveland and he bet she was probably tucked up warm in bed, fast asleep by now. And at this particular moment he would do almost anything to trade places with her. He bet she didn’t ever have to put up with hours like this. But then he supposed the life of a security consultant tended to differ a little in importance compared to fighting the Goul’d and saving the planet. But still….
Lucky girl. Sometimes he really wished he could be in her shoes.
Xander ducked as part of the X’orkin came flying over his head, adroitly dodging the splatters of demon blood goo with the agility that came from long experience. Beside him Eleanor, the newest and youngest slayer assigned to the Cleveland hellmouth twitched and bounced, clearly torn between a natural slayer-ish desire to dive into the fight and the knowledge that interfering now could fatally distract one of the other three slayers currently decimating the pack with such efficiency. Plus she had strict instructions that she was to act as Xander’s bodyguard and she knew that if she left her post the wrath of Buffy would rain down on her head and that was something that she very sensibly was extremely reluctant to court. And also there was the fact that she was learning a heck of lot just from watching and listening to Xander’s running commentary on the various techniques being used by her sisters in slaying. But oh did she want to fight.
Xander dodged another flying limb and continued his running analysis, sympathetic to the burning desire in his young companions eyes but determined to keep a leash on her despite it. Since Buffy had designed and instituted the organisation wide programme for the initiation and initial training of newly called slayers they had seen fatalities drop by a massive 20%. And he wasn’t going to botch that record just because Eleanor was twitching to throw herself into her first fight. And as he cast an admiring eye over the forms of the three female figures fighting so effectively, he admitted it wasn’t as if they exactly needed the help.
Buffy twisted in mid air; taking the energy of the tentacle that had thrown her and transferring it back against its hapless owner. The scythe danced in her hand, as natural an extension of her body as her arm and the tentacle was perfunctorily parted from its owner, purple blood spraying across her face and shirt as the demon bellowed in fear and pain. Inwardly some part of her twitched in annoyance at the wanton destruction at yet another chunk of her wardrobe but outwardly she was silent as she spun and twisted, swiftly and efficiently decapitating the rest of the demon, letting it join its pack mates in the welter of purple gore and demon flesh that the three slayers had made of this corner of the deserted field over the last 10 minutes. For a second she stood over the corpse and caught her breath, allowing full awareness of those things that her focus on the fight habitually reduced to peripherals to flood in, Kaylie and Sydney still cleaning up the more juvenile members of the pack with habitual energy, Xander almost having to physically restrain Eleanor, so eager and so newly called from joining in as he continued his commentary on the girls work. As she tracked the situation his gaze briefly flashed across hers and he quirked an eyebrow in an acknowledgement that rapidly switched to alarm as he vectored in on a trio of adults that had somehow managed to sneak up on Kaylie and had pinned the teenager in a corner. With a quick glance Buffy checked that Sydney was holding her own with her opponent and then with a nod to Xander she literally flew into the fray, cannon balling into two of the demons and knocking them away from the other slayer who lay winded, before proceeding to destroy them with habitual and almost psychotic silent efficiency, the only sound the slash of blade on flesh, the shrieks of the demons and her occasional panting breath. Wistfully she remembered when she used to joke as she worked but just now the young girl who had quipped as she had slain and mocked her adversaries seemed very far away.
Xander dodged into the edge of the fight and pulled Kaylie up and away by the arm, keeping her balanced between Eleanor and him as the three of them watched Buffy decimate the remaining pack members with characteristic ferocity. There was something strangely compelling about her when she fought like this, a ballet of death so graceful it was almost beautiful, and like all top athletes she made it look so easy, so trivial, as if it wasn’t her life on the line with every move she made. He tore his gaze away with an effort and checked out his two charges, Kaylie thankfully seeming little worse the wear despite her near death experience. Just now she didn’t even seem to notice her wounds, both girls completely focused on watching the senior slayer in her Kali like dance of destruction. And on their faces were matching expressions of admiration so strong it was almost awe.
Xander bit his bottom lip ruefully, already seeing the signs of the almost cult like hero worship with which the less experienced slayers regarded their older comrade seeping into the youngest slayer’s face as she watched the older blonde in action. It was something he and the other Watcher’s had hoped to prevent, Giles especially being concerned about its ability to warp the others slayers independence and the effect it would have on moral when Buffy did eventually stop beating the odds that had taken down all her predecessors. But despite all they did to prevent it this odd veneration had slipped in, and Buffy herself while generally ignoring it and certainly not encouraging it had not deliberately set out to dispel it either. And it wasn’t helped by her position as Head Trainer or her continuing tendency towards independent action, often acting on Slayer dreams without informing others in the council, simply turning up in the nick of time to help out a beleaguered slayer, or simply destroying the problem before it became a problem with little fanfare, her actions only being apparent days or even weeks later. It drove Giles nuts but she was impervious to his admonishments, simply regarding him with a cool mint green stare and continuing on in the way she had chosen.
On a number of occasions Giles had tried to enlist Xander on this particular crusade, believing that somehow his opinion would have more weight with Buffy than the oldest Watcher’s currently did. Or at least hoping that Xander could utilise his permanent position as Watcher to the Cleveland Hellmouth to counter balance and dispel the mythos that had coalesced around the senior Slayer. But Xander was reluctant to get involved, as always seeing the situation from both sides. As Buffy had pointed out to him, and with the benefit of the military mindset that had never really left him after the Halloween incident so long ago, a certain level of command structure could be a desirable thing. As long as it was only utilised in extreme situations when more than two or three slayers were necessary in order to fix the problem. After all part of the reason their fatalities were lower than might otherwise be expected was due to the element of discipline and teamwork that he and Buffy had instituted through the initial training programme. If that meant that in extreme situations he and she had created a system whereby each slayer knew who to listen to and rely on and that eventually they all looked to Buffy as titular general, well it wasn’t totally a bad thing. After all one thing that both Xander and Buffy were determined to ensure was that there would never again be a repeat of the Sunnydale First Evil fiasco where the lack of a clear command structure and the in fighting among the group had led to so many unnecessary deaths, and Xander admitted silently, the betrayal of the senior slayer by her friends. And he knew that if Buffy hadn’t come back despite that betrayal - probably no more world. But even though she had returned, her friends’ actions had shattered the unspoken trust between them, the repercussions still echoing even now, apparent in every unilateral action she made and every barrier she had built up against their tentative overtures.
So Giles could complain all he wanted. Xander wasn’t going to mess with what was right and necessary, and more to the point with what worked. Anyway he owed her one and he always would. He wasn’t free of his own guilt at the betrayal of a friend.
So he watched in silence as the other slayers drank in her style with respect tinged just slightly with awe, and didn’t even comment when he heard Eleanor whisper very quietly - “She’s so good” in tones of wonder. And when Buffy had finished off her last opponent and carefully cleaned the purple demon blood from the scythe he let her lead the other slayers home, absentmindedly answering questions as she went, a deadly Pied Piper leaving behind a trail of destruction, with the children following her home.
Buffy leaned back against the closed door of her little apartment within the larger Cleveland house and sighed in relief. Another patrol done, another night finished with no serious injuries or fatalities. Another triumph for the forces of good – well whoopdedoo. She was aware that her attitude was somewhat lacking but couldn’t be bothered to extend the effort necessary to pull herself into a more positive frame of mind. She’d had enough of being inspiring and positive for tonight thank you very much.
The rug was soft under her boots and she crossed over to the kitchenette, shedding her jacket onto the couch as she went and hitting the spacebar on her laptop as she passed, the quiet of the room broken as the machine hummed into life, a bright chirp announcing the presence of new email. While it warmed up she changed out of her demon stained clothes, her nose wrinkling in distaste at some of the more out there stains. Eughh – the goo had even got inside her boots. No wonder she had felt as if she was squelching all the way home. Sitting down in front of the laptop she tapped the sequence to access her heavily encrypted personal account, cleaning her boots as she waited while the laptop gamely laboured through the various firewalls and protocols that an ever hacker conscious Willow deemed necessary.
As always when she was physically inactive her mind wandered, and as it often did recently it wandered to a certain archaeologist. Daniel had proved to be an entertaining e-mail correspondent, never ceasing to make her laugh to herself at his description of the characters he met in his travels as a globe trotting archivist and translator for various archaeological projects. In fact if she was lucky he might have finally got back from his most recent trip and there would be an email waiting for her. That would be nice, a change from the normal dry emails from Giles or the slightly less formal ones from Dawn and Willow, all laden with unspoken guilt and weighted with the baggage of emotional expectation. Daniel at least never left her feeling bad about herself, and after the initial shock of their one meeting when he had somehow pierced through all her defences he had had the tact to never push in that direction again, simply focusing on keeping her spirits up. And she, being as anxious as he was not to sever the tentative friendship, had spun a careful web of half truths and lies, shyly laying some of her thoughts and experiences in front of him, currency for a budding relationship. She liked him. It was as simple as that. And she didn’t want this friendship, so strangely begun, to disappear under the weight of her duty and her calling as so many had before. So as far as he was concerned she was a security consultant for an international non governmental organisation and she didn’t dig too deep into the occasional slips he sometimes made that hinted at a more complicated lifestyle than his official occupation might have led her to expect. Time enough for that later, and she of all people understood about how sometimes full disclosure was not practical or even desirable.
She sighed as she dumped one stained purple boot on the floor next to its abandoned neighbour. Whatever he did she bet he didn’t have to put with these kinds of hours or this kind of shit. Or face death on a nightly basis. And she was willing to guarantee that at 3am he would get to be in a nice comfortable bed, like any other normal person. Sometimes she really wished she could be in his shoes.
The email finally opened and her mouth quirked into a small smile as she saw that yes, he was indeed back from parts unknown. She clicked on the message and smiled a little wider as his words blinked into life in front of her. Sleep could wait a little longer, after all what use was a Slayer constitution if you didn’t abuse it sometimes?
Just got back, sorry about the long delay. I met this guy, he said….."
Smiling slightly she settled down to read the latest adventures of Dr Daniel Jackson, errant archaeologist and linguist, and what ever else he might be hiding, a genuinely nice guy.