“I thought he was changing,” O’Neill said as he watched Willow follow Xander into his room.
“He is,” Faith said. She was relaxing on the couch across from O’Neill and had been very interested in Xander’s reaction to Dawn’s bikini-clad self. “Why?”
“Doesn’t changing often involve nudity?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“So they’re going out.”
Faith snickered. “Nah, just old buds.”
“Old buds…” O’Neill said. “With benefits?”
“Hell no,” Faith said without explanation. Dawn came out wearing some comfortable jeans and a light white top, her still-damp hair across her shoulder.
“So,” O’Neill said, somehow unable to wrap his mind around the concept. “She’s just in there with him… naked.”
Faith sighed. “Hey, who here’s seen X-man naked?”
She raised her hand, as did Buffy and Dawn. Buffy cleared her throat and Giles reluctantly raised his hand as well.
Faith and Dawn looked at him oddly.
“Some things are better left not spoken of,” Giles said. “Suffice to say we do on occasion live in too-close quarters.”
“Or we just spy on him in the shower,” said Dawn.
Buffy looked at her sister.
“What?” Dawn asked. “The girls get curious.”
“Anyway,” Faith said, “happens often enough that we don’t really care about it anymore.”
“Not that you ever did,” Buffy interjected.
“Hey, got it, flaunt it, I say,” Faith said with a grin. “So what’s your deal?”
“My ‘deal’?” O’Neill asked.
“Yeah,” Faith said. “How’d you get roped into this top secret gig?”
“Victim of circumstance,” O’Neill said. “I’m in the Air Force. They pretty much tell me to do whatever they want.”
“Hey,” Faith said, dropping her voice down low so only he could hear. “You got a thing for that Carter chick, huh?”
“I what?” O’Neill asked. He glanced over at Carter to find she was still discussing things with Daniel, Giles and Dawn.
“Your eyes rest on her longer than anyone else, even little B. And I know she gets most men’s motor’s runnin’.”
O’Neill looked her over. “You know, you’re not exactly hideous.”
“Thanks, gramps,” she said, patting him on the leg as she stood up and grabbed a pack of cigarettes, “but I ain’t into the older men scene.”
“Not that old,” O’Neill grumbled.
Faith winked at him and slipped out onto the balcony.
* * * * *
“I was um… curious, actually,” Daniel said, “about a couple of volumes you asked for.”
“Oh?” Giles asked. He had been scribbling notes furiously about Daniel’s thoughts on some of the texts they were both seeking, and took a moment to sit back from his notepad and take a sip of his tea. Dawn picked up his notes to glance over them. “Which ones?”
Daniel reeled off the names of a few of the more… volatile texts that Giles had submitted queries about. Giles removed his glasses and polished them with his handkerchief before continuing.
“What, um, precisely were you curious about?”
“Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but why would you want them? From what I know, they’re mostly about uhh… well, death and destruction, frankly.”
“Mmm,” Giles said. “Yes, that’s true, they are. However, useful information can often be gleaned from depictions of – or even instructions for – evil doings. It is my belief that by… by educating people to the nature of evil, we can make them more aware of it, more prepared.”
“That said,” Giles continued, “we requested these particular volumes because, frankly, we wanted to ensure nobody had them who wasn’t appropriately informed and, well, and careful. They’re far too dangerous to be left in the hands of anyone who is not fully aware of their contents.”
“You don’t think people can handle this type of information?”
“Generally, I am not in favor of censorship. There are, however, exceptions. These among them.”
“Hmm,” said Daniel, sitting back in his own chair.
“We’re not trying to destroy the world, Dr. Jackson,” said Giles, with a slight smile. “Were that the case, we’d just have gone to bed earlier.”
Daniel looked embarrassed. “That obvious?” he asked.
Giles shook his head. “Only if one knows what to look for.”
“Which I don’t,” Dawn said, frowning. “I totally missed the vibe.”
“You’re eighteen, Dawn,” Giles said. “Recall at your age, I was meddling in the dark arts and causing mayhem.”
Dawn sighed. “I’m all tapped out on mayhem,” she said. “I’m not even up to shoplifting anymore.”
Xander’s door opened and he and Willow returned to the common room.
“Hey,” Buffy said. “You all caught up?”
“As can be,” said Xander, once again looking over their guests. “By the way, none of you guys are priests, are you?”
Murray, Carter, Daniel and O’Neill all looked at him oddly. Xander shrugged. “Worth a shot.”
“Xander,” Giles said. “Why don’t you go over your plans with General O’Neill? He might have some input.”
Xander nodded and ducked back into his room. He came back grinning like a fool.
“So,” he said happily. “What do you know about fire trucks?”
* * * * *
“You’re sure this will work?” Buffy asked.
“It should,” Willow said. She, Xander and Faith had personally tried it out, and they were certain this wouldn’t work any differently.
“Well,” said Giles, “it certainly makes things easier.”
“I’m just happy we don’t have to bless the whole water system,” Xander said. “And my little IV bag was just too complicated. This is much easier.”
“Hey, check me out,” Dawn said. She was stomping around wearing a fireman’s suit, from helmet to boots. It looked ridiculously large on her. Buffy turned to Xander.
“This is what you knocked yourself out over?” she asked him.
“I blame my lack of depth perception and ignorance of whom I was ogling. Hey Faith, you almost ready with those?”
Faith looked up from the table where she was stuffing rags into glass bottles filled with gasoline. “Just about,” she said. “Hey, who’s takin’ the other side?”
“I am,” Amy said proudly. The young slayer had begged to be allowed to do something, arguing that it was no fair all the old people got to have all the fun. The ‘old people’ agreed to let her and her brother Terry control the fire hose at the rear of the warehouse.
“I’m gonna check them one more time,” Xander said. “Just for my peace of mind.”
“Xander, we checked it,” said Buffy. “Faith and I couldn’t budge it. The water won’t, either.”
Xander picked up one hose. A cross, blessed by St. Anthony of Padua, had been welded to the front of the nozzle. A similar cross was welded to the other hose. Dr. Jackson had originally suggested that a holy relic might impart the same power as a blessing. Giles happened to have these crosses with him, and they were able to test the theory. It was a lot simpler.
“We’re good to go,” said Faith.
“And we’re certain they’re inside?” Giles asked.
Buffy nodded. “Yup,” she said, as she downed the last of a bottle of water. “Dawn and I had it staked out early this morning. There’s twenty-three vamps inside and no sewer access. Unless they wanted to get crispy, they’re still there.”
“Good,” said Giles. “Xander, if you would?”
Xander flipped open his cell phone and dialed. He spoke to General O’Neill for a few minutes, then nodded, thanked him and hung up.
“Okay,” he said. “They’re intercepting all emergency traffic. Anybody reports our little fire and O’Neill’s group will be the only one’s to hear about it.”
“Good,” said Buffy. “We ready to do this?”
“You wouldn’t start without me, would you?”
Everybody turned and saw Riley and Sam Finn striding up to them – with a cane in Riley’s case. Greetings were exchanged and hands shaken.
“I thought you were in Fiji,” said Willow.
“We were,” said Sam. “Riley whined so much about missing out on the fire trucks that our CO let us off the hook. Graham’s wrapping things up down there. He says hi.”
“Not like I was being useful anyway,” Riley said, smiling at them.
“Yeah,” Xander said. “Not like that was on purpose.”
“What’d you do to your head?” Riley asked.
Xander shook his head. “You don’t want to know.”
“Yes he does,” said Buffy. “Xander was pervin’ on my sister’s ass, slipped and knocked himself out.”
“Wow,” Riley said, grinning at Xander. “You’re right, I really did want to know that.”
“All right, Gimp,” Xander said. “What do you want, hose holding or Molotov launching?”
“I think I better leave the hose to your little butt-wielding fireman over there,” he said, nodding at Dawn. She grinned at him and struck a pose that made her look even more ridiculous.
“All right,” Xander said. He reached over Faith’s shoulder and grabbed a couple of their homemade bombs, and handed one to Riley.
“Amy,” Giles said. “You and your brother get in position. Buffy –”
“With them, right,” she said.
Giles nodded. “Willow,” he said, pointing to a row of windows just above head-height on the warehouse wall. “If you would.”
Willow nodded, gathered some energy around herself and let fly a small spell all of the windows shattered as one, sending glass flying inside the warehouse. Shouts of surprise could be heard.
“Faith. Xander. Riley. Please do try not to miss.”
Faith smiled, pulled out her lighter and lit the rags in their bottles. “Bet mine goes farthest,” she said.
“Wow, a suggestion of competition from a Slayer,” Xander said. “Color me shocked.”
“Here’s an idea,” Riley said, eyeing his bottle. “Let’s throw these before we die.”
Xander and Faith glanced at each other. “Wuss,” they said simultaneously.
Riley ignored them and chucked his bottle through a window. A loud explosion and a sort of a ‘whoomf’ were followed closely by screams. As one, Xander and Faith hauled back and chucked their bottles into the warehouse with similar results. Within a minute, smoke was pouring from the windows and the vampires inside could be heard screaming.
They stepped back to watch their handy work. A minute later, able, apparently, to take it no more, the door burst open and a vampire ran into the street. Dawn – with Sam helping to hold the hose steady – turned on her spray and smacked the vampire with high-pressure holy water. The combination of that, the sun and the fire made for a spectacular pyrotechnic show, and ended with a sudden explosion of steam when the sun and fire mixed with the holy water.
It was quite a show.
Six more vampires tried to run out the front of the warehouse, and nine ran out the back. All of them became, in the end, nothing more than steam puffs. Once a sufficient amount of time had passed, both teams doused the inside of the warehouse with holy water (to put out the fire, and just in case) and Willow magically smothered any hot spots left.
They inspected their work.
“This,” Riley said, looking around, “is a fine piece of work.”
“Very well charred, if I do say so myself,” said Xander.
“Oh, and,” said Buffy, “I wasn’t the one who burned it down. Yay me!”
“Yeah,” said Dawn, “that’s like a whole new thing for you.”
“Turnin’ over a new leaf, B, right on,” said Faith. “Instead of being the arsonist, you’re just an accessory.”
“You hear that?” Buffy asked, nudging Amy. “You too can aspire to a dwindling life of crime.”
Amy grinned at them. “Guys,” she said, “that was really cool. You totally rock.”
“We do kind of rock, don’t we?” asked Willow.
“Much rocking is done by us,” agreed Xander.
“Mmm,” said Giles. “However, Amy, I should warn you against the notion that everything –”
“Giles!” the rest of them whined.
“Stop ruining things,” said Dawn, with a hearty ‘harrumph.’
The group gathered their materials, called General O’Neill and let the emergency calls flow freely.
The debriefing came later.
* * * * *
It was as informal a meeting as Jack had ever been to. Their hosts (sans Amy and Terry, who were having a brother/sister breakfast before Amy flew out again) were in either tweed (in one case) sweats (in numerous cases) or pajamas with shrimp on them. Jack wasn’t quite sure how to act.
Fortunately for him, both Carter and Daniel seemed able to compose themselves and had gotten the meeting off on the right foot. They were managing, it seemed, to ask all the right questions about all the right topics without seeming like they were prying.
Jack leaned down, picked up the cup of coffee in front of him and took a tentative sip. It was probably the best coffee he’d had in years; the stuff at the base was rarely fresh-brewed, and he usually didn’t drink the stuff at home.
The group, or ‘Scoobies’ as he heard them refer to themselves, seemed very relaxed. Jack was amazed that they’d seemingly gotten out of this without really revealing anything about themselves, or at least nothing too heinously top secret.
Somebody knocked on the door, and Faith got up to answer it. A tall young blond man and a tall young dark-haired woman were standing on the other side.
“Oh. Uh, hi Riley,” said Faith.
Riley shot a sideways glance at her. “Uh. Hey, Faith,” he said.
Yeah. No tension there. Jack leaned over to Xander, who was just taking a sip of his coffee.
“Hey,” he whispered, “did those two used to date or something?”
Xander spit his coffee half-way across the room, eliciting a shocked scream from Dawn. Xander grimaced as Dawn ran into her room, wiping herself off as quickly as she could. Everybody looked at Xander expectantly.
“Uh,” he said, waving weakly at his coffee. “It’s hot?”
The other ‘Scoobies’ laughed, and turned their attention to their visitors.
“What’s up?” Buffy asked.
The man held up a few manila folders. “What you asked for,” he said, as he and the woman stepped into the room.
“And these would be?” Jack asked.
“Ah,” said Giles. “How rude.” He proceeded to introduce Jack’s team to the new people – Riley and Sam Finn – and the two sat down with coffee of their own, taking Faith’s seat. She shoved Xander over and sat next to him.
Dawn re-entered the room, wearing an entirely different ensemble of sweats. She glared at Xander who affected his best puppy dog face. Dawn rolled her eyes and shook her head which, judging by Xander’s happy reaction, was an ‘apology accepted.’
Willow snagged the folders, flipping through them happily as Daniel and Sam continued questioning the group, who were answering questions with ease. Willow pulled Buffy closer for a second to point to something in the files. They both looked at Daniel with sympathetic eyes.
“Uh,” Jack said, interrupting the flow of conversation. Everyone looked at him. “Does anybody mind if I ask what’s in those files?”
“Not at all,” Xander said. He hadn’t even looked at the files, but he knew what they were.
“Okay,” Jack said. “What’s in the files?”
“That would be um… the complete records on all four of you,” said Giles.
Jack and Sam shot up from their seats. “What!?” they yelled simultaneously.
“Calm down,” Riley said, sipping his coffee. Jack glared at him. “Um, sorry, sir. I’m not used to this whole ‘being subordinate’ thing anymore. They’ve been cleared for personal history, but certain specifics of your jobs have still been left out. For instance, what it is you actually do.”
“Why do they get anything at all?” asked Jack.
Riley shrugged. “They wanted it. I’m their liaison, so I got it for them.”
“You guys have a military liaison?” Jack asked. “Jeez.”
The room’s phone rang, and Giles picked it up.
“Hello?” he said. He listened intently for a few moments, then signaled for a pen and a piece of paper. He scribbled furiously for a few moments, asked a couple of innocuous questions like ‘Are you sure?’ and ‘And this is confirmed?’ then thanked the other person and hung up.
“That was Robin,” he said. Jack caught Faith rolling her eyes, and Xander suppressing a laugh at the action. “It appears we have another job for you. Um, Faith, if I might suggest…”
“What’s up?” she asked.
“This assignment seems to be of a rather… delicate nature,” Giles said.
“Want me to sit it out?” she asked.
“I think it might be beneficial,” said Giles.
“Don’t,” said Willow.
“It’s cool,” said Faith. “I can –”
“No, I just think… I mean, if it’s delicate, then that’s an opportunity to learn, right?” Willow said.
“That’s a good point,” said Xander. “And anyway, sometimes delicate situations need a forceful voice.”
“I suppose,” said Giles. “Well, if you think it’s best…”
Willow and Xander nodded.
“All right,” said Giles. “So be it.”
“Well,” said Jack, “I think that’s our cue to leave. Folks, it’s been… interesting.”
Everybody took their cues from Jack, stood and began the long process of bidding each other farewell. When they were just about to leave, Jack looked back in the room. “Oh, uh, Faith. Could I… have a word?”
Faith looked around, as if to confirm she was in fact the Faith he was speaking to, then shrugged and followed him out of the room. Jack shooed his friends farther down the hall and leaned in to speak quietly with the slayer.
“So,” he said. “You’ve kinda got a thing for one-eyed handymen.”
Faith squinted. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.
“Well, your eyes rest on him longer than anybody else. Even Murray, and I know that women often find him… more than adequate looking.”
Faith opened her mouth to deny his claim, then closed it and glared.
Jack grinned and held out his hand. “Your secret’s safe if mine is.”
Faith gripped his hand and squeezed… harder than she needed to.
“Just remember,” Faith said. “I can do more than just bend steel rebar.”
She released his hand, and he looked at it. His skin was white and his hand hurt like hell. Faith winked at him and opened the door.
“Later, flyboy,” she said, slipping back into the room and shutting the door behind her.
Jack turned back to his team and smiled. He tossed a thumb over his shoulder and grinned.
“I like her.”