Godless Provenance: Chapter 17
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
The embarkation room was everything that Jack had promised it to be. It was large, it was grey, and it contained a stargate for a centerpiece. For Buffy, the impressive stone gate wasn't anything new. She had seen the one on Apophis' ship, and even seeing it activated - the huge vertical tidal wave funneling out, only to suck right back in until it became a pool of standing water - wasn't anything of the new and wacky. The familiarity was increased by the fact that she now contained centuries worth of nightmare-inducing memories that she had never wanted, and that she did her damnest to keep firmly locked up in a far corner of her mind. None of this was new, and yet Buffy was surprised to feel a whole belly full of butterflies start fluttering the second that she walked through the ridiculously heavy steel door.
Xander was beside her, his mouth agape, and Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c were gathered with General Hammond, Martouf, and his two buddies at the base of the metal ramp that led up a gentle incline to the open wormhole. In the brief twenty minutes since the meeting had adjourned, she had been kitted out with a jacket to match her green pants, a black tac vest with pockets filled to bursting with an assortment of crap that she hadn't taken the time to investigate, and a green baseball cap that she had already stowed into the backpack that weighed more than she did. Maybe even more than two Buffys. She wasn't sure she knew, and was pretty sure she didn't care, but as she had effortlessly lifted it and slung it over one shoulder, even she had to admit that the look on the soldier's face who had given her the bag was certainly amusing.
Oh, and she also had a gun strapped to her thigh - and how weird was that
? Rocket launchers aside, her only experience with automatic weaponry hadn't really ended in her favor. One could argue that Professor Walsh had a lot to do with that - actually, everything
to do with that, but the fact remained that in her line of work, Buffy generally stuck to things that were pointy and, well, medieval. Yet when their next stop had been the armory and everyone else started loading up, Buffy had been quick to demand a weapon. She had been hoping for a P90 like Sam, or a staff weapon like Teal'c, but when the guy running the armory had merely arched an eyebrow at her demand, Sam had made him give in to a compromise and outfitted her with a handgun to match Daniel's. Better than nothing, she supposed, for the idea of going back to Netu unarmed was just crazy.
The one and only thing that she had personally added to her already heavy pack was the extra set of clothes in Jack's size. Daniel had overheard her request to the guy who was in charge of such things (and seriously, how much would that suck to work your way into serving for such a highly classified government project, only to be placed in charge of providing uniforms to everyone else?), and his expression had warmed that much more in response. She, of course, had immediately become defensive and tried to brush it off with a detailed commentary on how badly Jack stunk, and the various reasons why. Xander had then told her to give it up, because the big, fat hickey on her neck, the one that had been revealed the moment she put her hair back in a ponytail, and the one that her slayer healing seemed to be conveniently ignoring, had already let the cat out of the bag.
Buffy hadn't bothered to point out that she could only hope that Jack was the reason behind that little love bite.
"So..." Xander murmured, his voice trailing away as he jammed his hands into his pockets and began rocking on the balls of his feet.
"So," Buffy repeated, pushing down the butterflies long enough to flash her friend what she hoped was a confident grin.
"Taking a wormhole to another planet," he prompted, his whole body twitching with a strange mix of nerves and excitement, and maybe a touch of jealousy.
"Before taking a spaceship to a planet far, far away," Buffy agreed as she absently tugged on one of her backpack straps in a vain attempt to keep it from cutting into her shoulders. "Well, moon, actually."
"Dressed as GI Jane, no less," Xander continued with a cheeky smile.
Sighing, Buffy followed Xander's gaze to her scarily monochromatic outfit. "True, but that's still much better than the Hell Refugee look that I've been sporting for the past six months," she commented with a small shrug, even as she tried to ignore that pesky little voice that pointed out how much she was going to stick out once she got back to Netu. Not because of the clothes, for the denizens came from all walks of life on so many different planets that there wasn't exactly a trend to follow. No, she was going to stick out because she was clean. The kind of clean that didn't even happn with the recently condemned, and that... well, that could end up being a problem. Then again, when the only other option consisted of getting themselves purposely dirty and stinky upon arrival to Netu, well, Buffy couldn't help but think that the sticking out and the not blending would still be worth the not stinking and the not being dirty. Magic didn't exist to the people of this world - the world of goa'ulds and spaceships. Escape wasn't possible - or so came the general consensus on Netu. Let the other denizens wonder. She was pretty sure that whatever explanations they came up with, none of them would venture anywhere near the truth.
"You remember the instructions that Dr. Frasier gave you?" Xander asked, breaking her from her thoughts as he pulled her into a tight hug - one that somehow managed to fit all the way around her, bulging backpack and all.
"You mean the 'Care and Feeding of a Buffy' instructions that she gave to Daniel while I was standing right beside him?" Buffy returned with a wry smile that was hidden amongst the folds of Xander's tee-shirt. "Yeah, I think we're good. They went something along the lines of no more than small, bland MREs given in four hour increments to prevent a Buffy from overloading on MRE grossness."
"Sounds about right," Xander agreed before reluctantly allowing her to pull away. "And you'll be careful, right? I mean, really, really careful? The kind of careful where you come back with all of your Buffy pieces in all of the appropriate Buffy places?"
"Every single one of them," Buffy agreed, her smile growing.
"Because you do realize that last word from good ole Sunnydale had me sticking to your side like superglue," Xander reminded with a fierce frown. "They're not going to be happy to hear that my superglue isn't so super."
"Oh no, your glue is very, very super," Buffy reassured as she gently squeezed her friend's arm. "It's just that today it's more like really, really good, stretchy rubber cement than superglue."
"Like the still gooey kind?" Xander returned.
"You know it," Buffy confirmed before she offered him one more confident smile and turned resolutely away. Daniel was still waiting for her by the general, but Martouf and his buddies had already stepped through to the other side, and Sam and Teal'c were waiting patiently at the top of the ramp. It was time to go - time to step through a wormhole so that she could be broken down into tiny Buffy bits, only to be reassembled on the other side. The thought caused her confident smile to waver as she stepped beside Jack's best friend, her eyes remaining fixated on the gate as Sam and Teal'c stepped through - a small ripple marking their passage until it cleared back into the undulating vertical pool.
"What's wrong? Nervous?" Daniel asked, his eyes sympathetic and his expression warm.
"Well, I am pretty sure that the only time I've ever gone through one of these things I was already dead," Buffy reasoned as she adjusted her pack one more time before falling into step with him, feeling his, Xander's - and well, practically everyone else's eyes on her the whole time. Together they ascended the gentle incline only to pause once more, this time just before the wavering pool of light.
"I'd, uh, recommend exhaling before you walk through," Daniel suggested with an encouraging smile.
Smiling weakly in return, Buffy took one last look at where Xander watched her from below before she scrunched up her face, blew out her breath and stepped through the event horizon.O o O o O o O
Jacob had been right - not that Jack would have ever admitted it to the older man's face. After all, as Jacob liked to point out, he was usually right. Apparently, a person didn't become a general by being in the business of being wrong, and no matter how innocently his friend had smiled when telling him this, Jack couldn't help but think that the comment was in some way a pointed jab to the fact that Jack himself was still just a colonel.
Did that, by definition, then mean that Jack was in the business of being wrong?
Evidently more so then a general, as Bynarr was indeed tearing Netu apart in the hunt for his missing Tok'ra prisoner. The fact that Hoftan had been killed wasn't really an issue. What was murder to a murderer? That whole issue was overlooked in lieu of the greater transgression - namely that someone had whisked away his Tok'ra prisoner, and more importantly, Sokar's Tok'ra prisoner.
Sokar was not going to be pleased.
That meant, of course, that Bynarr wasn't pleased, and when the warden of your prison wasn't pleased, each and every single prisoner felt that wrath as it worked its way down the chain of command. Search parties made up of Bynarr's guards and a few loyal (i.e. less treacherous than most) prisoners were already in place and scouring the many tunnels and cells that burrowed its way through Netu's molten core. Food and water supply drops had been suspended, and everyone watched everyone else with an even more suspicious eye than normal.
As the call had gone out, Jack had left Jacob sitting in the relative safety of his and Buffy's hideaway to join the other denizens in the massive cavern, one that allowed Bynarr to address his flock with ease. There the overweight, burly warden had issued threat after creatively vicious threat to any that may have helped in the escape, or those who may be housing or hiding the missing Tok'ra agent. His bald head glimmered with sweat, and his one good eye flashed with golden light as his deep voice reverberated throughout the open space. He was colorful in his description of exactly what he would do if any connection was found between a denizen and the escapee, and his promises of rewards, in contrast, came off all the more sweetly to anyone who could come forth with information about their fellow neighbor.
Jack should have been frightened - terrified at the realization of what his brash action may yet cost him. He should have been queasy with nerves at the graphic imagery, perhaps even shaking with uncontrollable fear. He should have worried about his life, and dreaded how closely, and how dreadfully his end would come.
Jack was bored.
Seriously, you hear one tyrant yak it up about how awfully you were going to die, you've heard it all. And Bynarr? Not even that frightening. Thanks to modern American cinema, he was thoroughly indoctrinated into the category of Scary Villains. Now those guys - those guys were creative.
"Where is your master, Slave?"
Brown eyes narrowing at the intended slur, Jack turned from Bynarr's impassioned (boring) speech to find that Buffy's favorite contact, Pishtik, had snaked up to his side sometime during the seemingly endless diatribe. The man, and he used this term loosely, only came up to Jack's shoulder, with wide-set eyes and a flat, reptilian nose. His skin was dark and oily, smooth and hairless in a way that made Jack's skin crawl. He obviously wasn't human, but he was close enough that both Jack and Buffy had agreed that he had to have some human blood in him somewhere.
He had been Buffy's contact - the closest thing to a friend to be found in this hell. He had provided them an 'in' to the underground network that had supplied them with the occasional fresh water, weapons and tools that they had in turn traded for other items that had been essential at the time. Nothing came without a price, but Pishtik had been fairer than most, and a valuable source of information. He had respected Haremakhet by reputation, and later that respect had transferred to Buffy as Haremakhet's host, and grown through each dealing. Unfortunately, to Pishtik, Jack was nothing more than Haremakhet's slave - and according to Buffy, as she had so casually informed him with a lecherous smirk, her concubine.
"I haven't seen Haremakhet for a few days now," Pishtik continued, and Jack didn't need to see his eyes skipping suggestively to where Bynarr continued to ramble for him to understand what the little snake was implying. It was yet another example of how, aside from Buffy, and now Jacob, there was no such thing as friends in Netu. No friends, no comrades, and certainly no loyalty. Pishtik thought that there was a connection to Buffy's conspicuous absence and the missing Tok'ra, a connection that while completely false, still led one uncomfortably close to the truth, and he was going to collect on it if Jack didn't either come up with a damn good reason, or Buffy in the flesh.
Too bad he was out of both.
"Haremakhet is leading the search for Bynarr in another quadrant of Netu."
Startled, Jack turned with Pishtik to find Na'onak, Bynarr's second-in-command and first prime, eavesdropping behind them. Jack had never bothered to cross paths with Na'onak before, and with good reason. The goa'uld was about his height, maybe a touch shorter, and as lean as the rest of the starving population of Netu, yet he carried a staff weapon that he had proven on more than one occasion that he wasn't afraid to use. Even now, as he and Pishtik gaped at the elusive creature, Na'onak powered up his staff weapon, causing the top to burst open in a flare of fiery light.
It was a show of strength, and one that worked as Pishtik hurried away, leaving Jack and Na'onak in their own little bubble of cleared space amidst a sea of hulking denizens. Alone amongst so many, Jack met Na'onak's gaze without fear, and was surprised to find that there was something familiar about the two dark orbs that burned out from the metal mask that hid the first prime's features. A sheet of something closely resembling chain mail covered his face from his nose down, and despite being hidden, Jack would have sworn that Na'onak was smirking at him. Bynarr's first prime then nodded once, slow and casual, before turning and moving through the denizens that parted like the Red Sea before Moses.
The whole encounter had been strange - or maybe strangely ominous - and Jack found his mind spinning as he turned and began moving in the opposite direction. He had to get back to Jacob, Bynarr's tedious threats be damned, and work out what in the hell had just happened, for as it was, he could only come up with two answers:
Either Buffy had disappeared from his arms only to reappear in another part of Netu, just in time to join in the hunt for the missing Tok'ra - and all without contacting him to let him know what in the hell had happened, that she was alright, that she was safe, and to stop his slide into insanity...
... Or Na'onak had just covered for Buffy, knowing full well that she wasn't where he just claimed her to be. That, of course, left the immediate and worrying question of why
.O o O o O o O
"You're in trouble, Mister
"Uh... hi Willow," Xander returned with a weak smile that his best friend had no way of seeing. "How'd you know it was me?" he asked as his hand tightened on the phone receiver. "You're not doing anything... witchy, are you?" he asked, finishing the thought in a low whisper even as he pasted on a bright grin and threw a jaunty wave to the guy with the gun that was busy standing guard outside the small office that he had been ushered into. Buffy had been gone already for a few hours, but it had taken him this long to convince General Hammond, or more accurately, to convince General Hammond's aide, the one that had been given the thankless job of babysitting him, that he had desperately needed to make a phone call.
" Willow sighed through the connection. "It's called caller ID.
"Oh. Right," Xander murmured with a muttered idiot
beneath his breath, before a small, puzzled frown pulled at his lips. "But wait. If you didn't know it was me because you were being all Witchy Willow, then how did you know that what I was going to tell you meant that I was going to be in trouble?"
This time the silence was more pained than exasperated, and Xander could picture his best friend's green eyes slipping closed, her head shaking tiredly from side to side, fine wisps of red slapping her cheeks - all in perfect time with the sigh that slipped through lips that were narrowed in a fierce frown. "I didn't - at least, not until now. What happened? Where's Buffy?
"Well you see, that's why I'm calling," Xander began with a dry, nervous chuckle.
"Xander, hold on a sec
," Willow interrupted before he heard a short, muffled exchange with a deeper, male voice. "Giles, if the military did something wrong, do you really think they'd be letting him call us to tell us what's wrong?... Giles... Giles, I don't think.... Fine
," she breathed, the last said with a burst of exasperated air. "Xander, Giles wants to know if the military has done something Initiative-ish
"Uh, that would be a negative," Xander returned, his hand flexing on the phone receiver as he nervously shuffled from foot to foot.
"He said no, Giles... Dawn, I'm not going to... That doesn't make any sense. Dawn, do you really think-.... Fine
," she huffed, before evidently turning back to their conversation. "Xander, Dawn wants to know if they're making you say that they're not doing anything Initiative-ish
"Uh... no?" Xander returned as he looked around the empty office, his nervousness increasing with each second that he didn't get to spill the news that he had failed at his one and only assigned task.
"No, Dawn, they're not making him say that... Which is exactly what I was trying to say earlier. If they're making him say that everything is not all Initiative-badness, he wasn't about to go off script just because... Well, no, there's no way to... You want me to WHAT?... No, I'm not asking him-... Giles! I really don't think that... FINE! Xander
," Willow continued, and this time there was definitely a note of tension in her voice. Tension and something else. "Xander, Anya wants me to ask you... she wants me to ask you where you were having sex last week when she... well, when she did that thing that you apparently like so well
Instantly Xander felt himself turn red as he quickly turned his back towards the open doorway, and the guard that was no doubt listening to every single word he spoke. Maybe they were even recording this. "Uh... do I really have to... I mean, do you really need to-"
"Just answer the question, Xander
," Willow sighed.
Closing his eyes, Xander leaned his forehead against the wall and then slowly began knocking it, repeatedly, against the hard surface. "We were on the research table in the Magic Box," he muttered, only to pull the phone away as Willow 'sqeed' in his ear.
"Oh, gross! Xander, we
eat on that table!
" Willow exclaimed, apparently right along with the others as there was a chorus of muffled 'eeews' that echoed through the phone line. Then there was another muffled exchange, this one held away from the phone, before another voice came on the line.
"Now that we have determined
," Giles began, his voice somehow managing to sound both disturbed and flustered in a way that was purely Giles, "to the best of our ability that you are acting of your own free will, perhaps now you can tell us why it has taken you this long to call, and more importantly, where is Buffy
"Yeah, that," Xander agreed, somehow betting that Giles was busily cleaning his glasses while the phone was tucked between his chin and shoulder. "Well, you see, you remember that team that she had mentioned?"
"Yeah, that one. Well, Buffy kind of went with them to go and rescue her friend, Jack."
"She went WHERE? How? And why on earth did you let her go without you?
"Hey, not with the having of many choices over here. I think I was lucky that they even let me in the building, let alone letting me watch her go through their wormhole thingy," Xander explained in his defense.
"She went through WHAT?
"Yeah, it looked pretty cool, too," Xander agreed as he made a conscious effort to not picture the way that Giles' face had to be looking the color of a ripe tomato about now. "Kind of like a big, stone toilet bowl that flushed out instead of down - only without the actual toilet bowl. But the wormhole only took them to another planet where a spaceship was waiting to take them back to that Nato-place.
"Oh, and would you believe that I got to meet a couple of aliens, too?" Xander continued with a bright smile. "To be honest, it was kind of anticlimactic. They look just like us - well, except for Teal'c. He looks more like Mr T. Only without hair. Or all of the gold chains. And what was with all of the bling, anyway? Hey, do you think that he was like the founder
of bling? I bet-"
"Hi Xander, it's Tara
," Tara's quiet voice cut in, interrupting the roll that he had been riding. "Giles is slightly... upset right now
," she continued apologetically, to the accompaniment of much muttering, curses, and the sound of Dawn's muffled sobs. "Are we to understand that Buffy... well, that she's no longer... that she's
"Oh yeah, Buffy has definitely left the building," Xander offered, taking pity on Tara and sparing her from trying to get the words out. Yes, they lived weird lives, but seriously - this was stretching it, even for them. "Heck, she's probably out of the solar system by now," he continued with a small, pained shake of his head. "There was no convincing her not to go, she and this Jack guy apparently got really, really close while they were gone," he explained, thinking of the hickey that just wouldn't go away. "And there was no way that they were going to let me go with."
A soft sigh was his only response before he heard Tara mutter something to someone else. "Okay, Willow said that we'll... well, I guess we'll just hang tight until we hear back from you. Unless... do you think it would help if we came to you?
"No," Xander quickly returned, the very thought causing his head to start aching. "You wouldn't be able to do anything besides wait here, either, and I don't think that they'd let you in. You should probably just..." And what could he possibly use to finish that sentence? Go back to work? To school? Continue on with your lives until they received word that Buffy, their friend, sister, daughter, slayer, hero, their everything
was done cavorting out in the galaxy and was ready to finally come home after her half a year of being dead, tortured, prisoner, gone
"I'll call when I hear something," he finished with a small, soft sigh. "And tell Anya that I love her," he added before replacing the phone to its cradle.
Yeah, waiting sucked.O o O o O o O
Her bed was a hard platform that stretched from one end of the room to the other, no doubt hiding either cargo or equipment or maybe even a wookie or two, and her pillow was her puffy green jacket, all bunched and fluffed to just the right angle. She had slept for a time, her mind finally caving to her body's demands, but that had been hours ago, and now Buffy found herself growing restless as she stared up at the dull golden ceiling - so familiar and so alien at the same time.
The trip through the wormhole had been disorienting, dizzying, and it had taken a tremendous amount of will power to prevent herself from losing her most recent meal of bland foods all over the scuffed dirt that made up a vast majority of Vorash. Her reaction was apparently quite typical, as Daniel had been by her side in seconds, a strong hand gripping either arm, steadying her against him while staying clear of anything she might have wanted to offer back to the gods. This time she had been feeling too unsteady to try and shy away from his gentle hold, but he must have understood her aversion to touch by now, for he waited only long enough for her limbs to stop shaking before he gently released her and stepped around her to offer a tentative smile.
Yet whatever thanks Buffy had been about to offer became frozen as she really took in her surroundings. One foot had stepped off of a metal ramp in a base hidden far beneath the earth's surface in wintry Colorado, and the other had found its footing on a world that was covered in dirt and sparse vegetation. The sky was blue - not the blue of summer in California, but the blue of the mountains found far, far away from the drifting smog of Los Angeles. The air was cool and sweet, and the sun... no, the suns, for there were two of them, were the wrong color and size to be the one that she had lived with all her life.
She was on an alien planet - a real-life alien planet - and though she had spent the past six months trading one hell for another, going from a spaceship to a moon, both had been so vastly different from her own world that she had accepted the differences with the grace of one who had grown accustomed to weird. She had spent the past six years seeing weird and the truly bizarre on a nightly basis, that the spaceship wasn't anything to blink at, and the truly alien environment of Netu was just like stepping foot into a hell dimension - something that she had already had the misfortune of doing. Yet this... Vorash was so similar to Earth, so achingly and strangely familiar, and yet different in just enough ways that it brought home the reality of her situation like nothing else.
Okay, so maybe being invaded by a goa'uld symbiote had also brought with it a certain sense of the strange and alien, but once more - hello, demonic presence anyone? Demonic presences she was born, bred, and trained to deal with. But this?
At that moment, Buffy hadn't been too proud to admit, at least to herself, that she was feeling a little out of her element. Then there was the big, honking spaceship that was parked next to a nearby dune to really drive home the point. But if she had been expecting the rush of stepping through the gate to carry over through the quick hop to Netu, she would have been disappointed - and for the record, she was.
Disappointed, that is.
Very, very disappointed.
It turned out that the relatively small spacecraft, a teltak, was the very same ship in which Jolinar, the Tok'ra symbiote that Sam had hosted for a short time, was found adrift after her escape from Netu. It had been severely damaged, and though Martouf assured them that the essential flight mechanisms had been repaired, the hyperdrive engines were only able to run at forty percent without too much risk.
Their ride to Netu was a really, really slow and long
ride. As Daniel had tried to explain it to her, it was like they were taking a camel instead of a stallion. As Buffy had then explained back, it was more like they were trying to take one of those motorized bicycles instead of the neighbor's Ferrari.
Yeah, Daniel really needed to work on his similes.
After some quick exploration - for really, there wasn't a whole lot to see - Buffy had discovered two main sections to the ship. Up front there was a pilot and a co-pilot's chair situated before a panel and a view screen, just like on any airplane, only the buttons were fewer and looked less complicated, and the space was much more open. The air had that same metallic taste to it that she had come to recognize from her time aboard Apophis' ship, and everything had that dull golden sheen that seemed to make up Goa'uld technology - indiscriminate metal paneling in every direction that you looked, and four very familiar looking pods lining the back wall, with an open doorway leading into another room meshed in between. That room was larger in comparison, and open with only the occasional crate and platform, like the one she was using as her bed, to fill the space. Cargo room, obviously. As for the bathrooms... yeah, her bladder was beginning to remind her that finding one of those in the near future would be a good idea. Lunch hadn't been all that long ago and Xander had forced a lot
of water on her.
The teltak had been familiar to Sam, thanks to her vague memories from Jolinar, and to Buffy as well - though she had kept that realization to herself. The only difference was that Sam was more than willing to explore those hazy thoughts of a life that wasn't her own, while Buffy purposely blocked anything at all that didn't belong to her and her alone. She had enough creepy flashbacks and horrors from her own life that adding to her repertoire just seemed like overkill.
But once more, that had been hours ago. Teal'c had taken over the wheel, so to speak, and it had been decided that he would stay behind while the rest of them headed down to the surface in the four descent pods. The decision made sense, though probably not for the reasons that had Sam agreeing with Martouf. The major trusted the Tok'ra implicitly, but for Buffy... well, she just didn't know the guy. He seemed nice enough, and once upon a time, the fact that everyone else trusted him probably would have been enough, but that was prior to spending the past six months in hell. Now she just needed a bit more to go on.
Everything that Jack had told her about the Tok'ra had indicated that they were more intel gatherers than soldiers, and when it came to Netu, Buffy silently admitted that she would much rather have had another soldier at her back then the Tok'ra that was slated to accompany them. Especially when that soldier was as solid as Teal'c. She knew him, if even only a little bit, but more importantly, Jack knew Teal'c and trusted him. And yet after some quiet deliberation, that was the same reason that Buffy had stayed quiet when the decision of who would go and who would stay had been decided. She trusted Teal'c, and she needed someone she trusted to remain on the spaceship and ensure that he would be there to pick them up when they were ready to leave.
As for Martouf, it was a small consolation to see that the handsome Tok'ra seemed to be at as much of a loss with her as she was with him. To his credit, he had used a healing thingie (Goa'uld Healing Device - stupid Ass-Hat memories) to fix her bum ribs and her broken wrist, which meant yay, no cast. Sure, they would have healed on their own soon enough - and true to word, probably before they even reached Netu. Still, it was a nice thing to do, and yet it was plenty obvious that the guy still didn't know what to make of her. He didn't know her, and though everyone had told him that she was from Earth, a Tau'ri, she triggered the goa'uld version of his spidey sense, knew things that she had no right knowing, and was as unapologetic and rude as... well, as she imagined that Jack had been. The thought made her want to smile. It felt good to channel her inner-Jack. It somehow made his absence that much more bearable.
Still, for being as old as he probably was - which, for the record, was much, much older than the thirty-odd years that he looked - Martouf still seemed to be a bit naive as to the workings of the world. The kicker was when he had been laying out their planned arrival."The only way to reach the surface is through the rings, which would prematurely reveal our exit strategy," Martouf explained in his slow, measured tones, "or in the descent pods, which is how all the damned are sent to Netu by Sokar, and how we must also arrive if we are to convince the denizens we can be trusted," he continued - only to be interrupted by Buffy's derisive snort."No denizens can be trusted," she had pointed out, only to subsist at Sam's quelling look.
And that had been the next surprise. This Sam - the captain that had been promoted to major in Jack's absence - wasn't quite the woman that Buffy remembered, nor the woman that Jack had painted in the stories he had told. Buffy hadn't been the first to receive Sam's mothering attention, for several times already the older woman would clear her throat and look pointedly at Daniel, causing him to lower his hands from whatever he had been touching with an expression that somehow managed to be guilty and contrite all at the same time. The clearing of the throat, and more importantly, what the clearing of the throat stood for - namely the reeling in of one errant archaeologist - was what Buffy recognized as something that Jack would have done. What he had
done on more than one occasion since the team had been formed. But Jack wasn't here, and the more that Buffy thought about it, the more it seemed as though in the time that Jack had been gone, Sam had been forced to step up and do her best to fill the colonel's shoes. She had taken over the mothering that kept Daniel out of harm's way. She now shared the quiet looks with Teal'c that managed to say a lot without ever speaking a word. And yet Sam looked worn - strained - and Buffy began to see how difficult it had been for her to step up and fill that role. She couldn't always keep a handle on Daniel, and despite her best efforts, Buffy could tell that she couldn't always read Teal'c's quiet looks. Jack's shoes were too big for her to fill, especially when she still had to balance in her customary role. Everything felt off-kilter and off-balance - and it was a feeling with which Buffy could well relate.
After her mom's death, and before her own, Buffy, too, had been forced into a role that wasn't her own. She had tried to play mother in addition to sister, and found the job not just trying, but impossibly difficult. Joyce hadn't been perfect - no one was - but she had been scarily close to that. She had been a wonderful mother to her and Dawn, and without her, the world had seemed that much harder, that much colder. She and Dawn had suffered a tremendous loss with her death, and though some part of her had argued that it was unfair that she was being forced to play mother to her sister, that Buffy herself was too young yet, and that she
still needed her mother, another part of her had realized that at this point in their lives, Dawn truly needed a mother more. And so Buffy had done her terrible best - and had wished for her mother's return each and every day that she shouldered a burden that was slowly breaking her with its weight - until she had
broken. And in doing so, she had freely accepted her own death.
How strange to actually be thankful that someone, maybe Fate, had stepped in and prevented that very thing from happening - at least for long. She had been beaten down, crushed by her many heavy responsibilities, but her time in hell, her time with Jack
, had shown her how much she still had left to fight for. He had helped her to regain her equilibrium, first with his humor, his sarcasm, and his unending optimism, and later with his soft touches and warm smiles.
He had saved her from her greatest foe.
He had saved her from herself.
And for that, if nothing else, Buffy would march back into the depths of Hell and bring him home.