Godless Provenance: Chapter 18
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
"Tell me about Jolinar."
Buffy silently twisted on the hard platform, her eyes drifting to where Sam and Martouf were sitting side by side against the far wall. The major's words had been a quiet whisper to her companion, and were it not for her slayer hearing, the soft request wouldn't have even registered above the hum of the teltak's engines. As it was, Daniel's head never lifted from the book he was reading, and Teal'c never turned from where she could see him through the open doorway into the front of the craft.
Though she had been resting for a long time, actual sleep had been elusive. Her thoughts had wandered from one subject to the next as SG-1 alternated between sleeping, talking quietly, and moving restlessly about the small ship. No one had yet to disturb her, and Buffy was grateful for the solitude that was offered - for the respite that had been given. Her world as she had come to know it had been tossed upside down over the last day or so, and the breathing room was a gift that she wasn't beyond accepting.
"The last night we spent together before she was captured by Sokar, we walked along the ridge of Noctana," Martouf replied in a whisper equal to Sam's own, his answer coming after a long, weighted pause.
The major had settled against the wall quite awhile back, and after much hedging and pacing, Martouf had joined her not long after. Since then the two had sat in companionable silence, their bodies touching along their shoulders and hips, and yet their eyes never once meeting. Buffy had been secretly watching them, the obvious attraction and chemistry between the two a welcome diversion from her own troubled thoughts - and yet it wasn't just attraction and chemistry that linked them, but also a heavy sadness that at once attracted and repelled them from one another, and which caused the Tok'ra's shoulders to seem weighted.
"There were two moons out that night," Martouf continued. "We didn’t speak of Jolinar leaving. We both knew it was dangerous, but she had to go. We stayed up all night together," he murmured as his eyes, filled with so much sadness, drifted to the ceiling.
"Martouf," Sam murmured, his name a soft sigh of condolence as her hand came to rest gently on his arm. Slowly, Martouf turned until their eyes finally met, and Buffy found herself looking away from the heat that sparked between the two. There was so much yearning, so much passion, and yet so much history - one that wasn't even their own - in those gazes that Buffy sharply felt her intrusion into a moment that belonged to the two of them, and the two of them alone.
Too bad she couldn't just turn off her slayer hearing.
"I should have said this earlier," Martouf's voice whispered, carrying to Buffy despite her best effort to tune them out - to give them the privacy that they deserved. "I know my relationship with Jolinar is a source of discomfort for you."
"No, not discomfort," Sam corrected, her voice faltering.
"And for that I do not blame you," he continued. "But you must understand that my feelings for you are not because you were host for Jolinar, but because of you alone. Lantash feels the same way, for really it is quite impossible for one of us to feel what the other does not."
It was at that moment that Buffy physically turned away from the conversation and the stark reminder that Martouf carried a goa'uld symbiote that was twined around his vertebrae. Or was that a Tok'ra symbiote? Buffy wasn't sure she understood the difference. All she knew was that it was creepy to hear him reference his symbiote's feelings after she had spent the last however many hours trying to forget the fact that he was a host to one of the things that she still had nightmares about.
Even after witnessing the phenomenon, Buffy still found it hard to imagine that someone wanted to willingly share their body with one of the creatures that had been so hell bent on dominating her. The goa'uld symbiotes had felt so vastly alien, so wrong, and so evil
that Jack had a difficult time selling the idea of symbiotes that apparently weren't of the bad. Then again, seeing as how Jack obviously had difficulties buying what he was selling, it was no wonder that she had been left feeling extremely skeptical. She knew first hand that an implantation of a goa'uld symbiote was never a good time - and this knowledge came from many, many
instances where she had to endure the agonizing pain, the revulsion, and then the horror as something invaded not only her body, but forced its will upon her mind. It was rape of the most demoralizing kind, and she had been brutalized again, and again, and again. Then, as if her experiences of the last six months hadn't been bad enough, another goa'uld had thought to round it off by taking away even her most basic physical safety and freedom. Janus couldn't overcome her mentally, and so he had tried to dominate her through one of the most abhorrent, base acts that probably dated back further than any written language. And he would have succeeded, too, had it not been for that meddling goa'uld.
Startled by a hand on her arm that was just a little too small and a little too wide to be Jack's, Buffy instinctively twisted out of reach, only to come up against a wall and... nope, just a wall, but daunting and unmovable all the same. Eyes lifting, Buffy came back to herself in a rush of expelled air as she offered Daniel a weak smile. The archaeologist's book was sitting on the floor beside him, a scrap of paper marking his place, and his warmth was tempered by a sadness that she chose to ignore.
"Your stomach was growling. You should probably eat something," he prodded with a nod toward her backpack.
Frowning, Buffy realized that Daniel was right, and after a quick glance to see that Sam and Martouf were still immersed in their quiet conversation, she slid off of her makeshift bed and settled on the floor beside the older man. With a sigh of resignation, she pulled her pack before her and began sorting through her choice of MREs with the air of one who was doomed to eat something truly gross. "Instant oatmeal with cinnamon, instant oatmeal with raisons, instant oatmeal with honey... what, no instant oatmeal with brownie surprise?" she asked as she finally settled on an instant oatmeal option with apple flavoring - and seriously, who came up with this stuff?
"I think I still have a cookie left from my ravioli MRE," Daniel offered as he pulled over a tray of dinner leftovers that only vaguely resembled raviolis. Catching her leery expression, he nodded in commiseration. "You should probably be grateful that you were given a stockpile of instant oatmeal. It's very hard for them to mess that one up," he explained as he proffered the promised cookie.
Smiling weakly in return, Buffy accepted the dessert - oatmeal raison, of all the ironies - with a nod of thanks. For a moment, a comfortable silence fell between them as Daniel returned to his reading and as Buffy munched on her cookie and tried to avoid looking at Sam and Martouf. After a while, Daniel seemed to notice her aversion to the couple's corner of the room, and he smiled knowingly at her.
"You can hear them," he guessed, and Buffy turned to him with a quick explosion of breath and a fervent nod.
"I'm really, really trying hard not to," she admitted. "Right now they're comparing their love lives, and while Jack shared with me a lot of stories about you guys and your adventures, that never included her past experiences with men. She's telling him now about some guy she was engaged to-"
"Jonas Hansen," Daniel supplied with a pained nod. "Yeah, that one didn't end very well."
"So I'm gathering," Buffy agreed. Eyes pressing closed, she lifted small hands and rubbed at her temples in quick, hurried movements. Her skin was cool - cooler than it had been in months - and it felt dry and unburdened by layers of sweat and dirt. With conscious effort, she focused on the feel of her skin beneath her fingers, the cool of the circulated air that brushed against her cheeks and hands, and the steady beat of Daniel's heart from just a few inches to her right. A heart that was slowly starting to pick up speed, the steady thud-thump striving to match the rasp of pages turning back and forth, thick, calloused fingers scraping along the edges as they toyed with the thick paper. It was a complete immersion in her senses, limited to the area just surrounding her figure, and a technique, a meditation, that Giles had taught her many a year ago - and it was also helping to turn her attention away from a conversation that she had no right overhearing.
"Jack spoke about us."
The words were spoken as a statement, and yet there was enough tentative questioning and quiet yearning that Buffy opened her eyes and turned to find that Daniel was indeed toying with the pages of his book, his eyes locked on something that wasn't in the same room as the rest of them. "All the time," Buffy agreed with quiet assurance and a little bit of compassion to his quiet hurts. They were the hurts that were borne from grief and the kind of missing that a person does when someone they love is so far out of reach.
She had felt that same kind of missing when her father had gone away, and later when Angel had left for LA, when Riley had gone, and now, to a different degree with Jack. The thought caused a small, wry smile to lift her lips as she realized that out of all of the men in her life, Jack was different. He hadn't left her - not really. No, she had left him
, and she was going to do what none of the others had the strength to do.
She was going back to him.
"We talked about a lot of things," Buffy continued as she looked away, giving him that small bit of privacy to deal with his quiet hurt. "What we missed, and those that would miss us. We talked about what we would eat when we finally got home, and what we would do. But the funny thing was, even when we were talking about food and movies and places... the people that we had left behind were always right there. Jack was always talking about when his team would take me to O'Malley's so that I could try the best steak known to mankind, or sitting me down with you guys to watch Star Wars, because it's Teal'c's favorite movie."
"And his cabin," Daniel supplied with a small, knowing smile. "I bet he wanted to take you to his cabin to go fishing."
"In the lake with no fish," Buffy agreed with a friendly nudge. "Yeah, he said that you were always particularly fond of doing that."
"I've missed him," Daniel sighed, and as Buffy glanced over to where Martouf's arm was now settled comfortably over Sam's shoulders, she couldn't help but agree wholeheartedly with that statement.O o O o O o O
It was amazing how quickly bad could spiral into worse when it came to life in hell. Bynarr's impassioned (demented) speech had roused the denizens in a way that Jack hadn't seen since the riot that occurred earlier in his imprisonment. There was activity everywhere
, and worse, that meant that there were eyes
everywhere. Everyone watched everyone else, and violence simmered beneath every heated glare and muttered word. Walking the twisting caverns of Netu meant a constant flux between looking mean enough that the weak wouldn't bother you, and harmless enough that the strong didn't wipe the arrogance from your face. If it had been safe before, it certainly wasn't now, and if Jack was smart, he would have remained holed up with Jacob in his and Buffy's little hidden cavern. Problem was, Jack was
smart - smart enough to see through the illusion of safety that their hideaway carried.
With everyone searching everywhere, it was only a matter of time before their home was discovered, and Jacob along with it. Time was running out, quicker than Jack could account for, and that meant that his hand had finally been pushed in a direction that he and Buffy had been avoiding for however long they had been trapped here. Buffy had confided in him from the very beginning that there was
a way off of Netu that didn't necessarily end in death - death was just a most likely
Bynarr had a secret set of rings in his chambers that could transport Jack and Jacob into the heart of Sokar's fortress on the planet that their prison-moon orbited. Sure, there was every chance that the room in which they arrived would be filled with guards and he and Jacob would be killed within seconds, but there was also a chance that the room would be empty, and that he and Jacob would be able to find their way to a set of rings, or a ship, and that they could then escape this hellish existence for good.
He never said that it was a good
chance, but the (really big) chance of imminent death via the rings was still better than the certainty of death that staying on Netu would bring.
Jacob hadn't liked the plan, but he also couldn't come up with anything better. He had been sullen and frustrated when Jack had left him, alone, battered, and sulking upon the pile of rags that Jack and Buffy had called their bed. The older man wanted to help, needed
to help, and Jack could well understand that need. When someone made you a victim, the only way to crawl back out of the dark place you had been thrust was to take the power back. To act
. Unfortunately, it wasn't Jacob's time to act just yet, for while they now had a plan, it was the details of the plan that were still a little bit vague.
Okay, so they were really, really vague. They had a goal in mind: get to the rings in Bynarr's quarters and from there (hopefully) not die and make their daring escape. The big, looming problem, however, was that Jack had no idea where Bynarr's quarters were located. When one was trying to lay low and stay unnoticed in hell, one didn't exactly make a point of strolling past the warden's house.
And so Jack was off, roaming the tunnels of Netu and varying between looking big and threatening and small and meek, all while trying to figure out where he would live if he were the goa'uld in charge.
The word had been hissed in a tone that was used to being obeyed, and yet it was a name that Jack hadn't been called in a long, long time, and that, more than the tone used to convey it, was what caused him to spin towards yet another darkened tunnel that branched from the one that he had been exploring. From the dim, hell-red light of an open vein of magma, Jack could barely make out the shadowed figure of a tall, slender man - one that carried a staff weapon.
"Na'onak," Jack warily returned as he slowly shuffled forward and joined the other in the cramped tunnel. His mind, already occupied with the questions surrounding Buffy's absence in combination with his and Jacob's escape plan, barely had the computing power left to figure out this new mystery - to connect puzzle pieces that just didn't seem to want to fit together. And yet he found that he didn't want to turn away from the cold, assessing eyes of Bynarr's first prime.
"What has happened to Buffy Summers?" the goa'uld demanded, the familiar dual tones of his voice once more causing the fine hairs on Jack's dry, parched skin to raise to attention. "Her wounds did not appear to be fatal, and yet Pishtik is right. She has not been seen in many days and the denizens are talking."
While Jack's mind clamored over the casual use of Buffy's name as opposed to that of the goa'uld that she was impersonating, it was Jack's heart that took control as he finished the distance between them until he was standing nose to nose with a snake that could kill him without a second thought. He held his shoulders straight, and his muscles quivered with remembered anger. The goa'uld didn't back away, but met Jack's narrowed gaze, and the colonel's eyes traced over the featureless mask that hid whatever gross deformities no doubt marred the face beneath. Only Na'onak's impassioned brown eyes were visible, and they flashed with golden light in a show of the goa'uld's impatience. But Jack could care less, for with Na'onak's question came a flood of recent memories that Jack had been trying his damnest to ignore:Buffy, calling to him in a voice that was so quiet, frightened, and so unlike the proud, brave, and confident young woman he had come to know, respect, and possibly even love. The shattered look in her wide, haunted hazel eyes that were filled with tears that slowly brimmed before overflowing to trail wet, salty marks down her dirty cheeks. The urgent need that was betrayed by her every stilted movement as he gathered her against him, pressed hot, searing kisses against her lips, throat, neckline...
No, her injuries hadn't been life-threatening in the physical sense, but mentally? That was something different, and something that the goa'uld standing before him would never understand. "Injuries?" he asked, when everything else seemed suddenly so unimportant.
Yet his response was apparently not what Na'onak had been expecting, as the goa'uld's eyes narrowed in thought. "Surely you know about the attack that Janus launched upon her?" he asked, even as Jack filed away the name of the creature that had dared touch Buffy. She had said that her attackers were dead, but Jack was half tempted to find them just so he could kill them again - slowly.
Na'onak must have read some of this in Jack's dark expression, for he saw something shift in the goa'uld's eyes - something like delight causing them to widen before narrowing once more. "Janus had a dark history with Haremakhet and would have used her, brutally, and then allowed his companions to do the same," the goa'uld continued with a negligent wave. "He would have killed her only after he had destroyed her - had I not stepped in and killed them all, of course."
Jack was distracted by both thoughts of vengeance and the familiarity that grew with each passing moment, and yet not even that was enough to stop him from arching his brows in disbelief at the first prime's bold claim. "You're trying to tell me that you
saved Buffy?" he asked, and once more he had the feeling that he had given the wrong answer as Na'onak's eyes scoured his face.
"She did not speak thus?" he demanded, and his frown deepened. "You were surprised to see me," he continued in the manner of a person that was trying to work out a difficult puzzle. And then it was as though the metaphorical light bulb went off, and his eyes widened in a way that would have been comical if his next words hadn't caused Jack's thoughts to stutter to a helpless halt. "She did not reveal my identity to you."
It was a statement, not a question, and yet Jack still found himself floundering back a couple of steps as the familiarity he had been feeling finally clicked into the stuttered name of his nemesis. "Apophis?" he half-questioned, half-groaned as he instinctively looked for a weapon - any
weapon. But then the rest of his brain kicked in gear and instead he found himself staring suspiciously at the goa'uld that just refused to die. "Why would you
help Buffy?" he demanded as he easily fell back into the insolent tones that the goa'uld had always hated.
"Do you really think I would want to stay in Netu any more than you?" Apophis snarled, his body quivering with suppressed rage that only caused Jack's mood to lighten further. "I command vast armies and am god to many worlds! I have servants. I serve no one!
Apophis was really getting into full swing, and Jack did something right then that felt good, right, and so vastly normal. He laughed. He laughed right in Apophis' face, and the way that the goa'uld's eyes flashed with golden light just made him laugh harder. Even when Apophis' hand shifted, tightened, and shifted again on his staff weapon, Jack laughed, for not only did it feel really, really good, it also served the dual purpose of pissing Apophis off even more.
It took a few minutes, but in that time Jack was neither shot by a staff weapon or walloped upside the head, and as a result, he realized something else. Apophis needed him. "What, you think we have an escape plan?" he asked when his chuckles died to a minimum snort between breaths.
"I was uncertain before," Apophis growled with as much dignity as possible, "but now I know for certain. If you did not, then why would you have rescued the Tok'ra?" he demanded in a lofty tone. "Not even you
could be that monumentally stupid," he finished with enough disdain that caused Jack's chortles stop cold with a wheezing hiccup.
He was suddenly very grateful for the dark shadows that hid his flush, because yeah, apparently he was
that monumentally stupid. Then again, he had been called worse, and hopefully he'd have time to do more monumentally stupid things when they got off of this hell-moon. "And why would we let you in on our escape plan?" Jack asked as he crossed his arms across his chest, one eyebrow arched in a way that would have done Teal'c proud. "Don't tell me you actually buy into that whole 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend' bullshit enough that you think it would overcome the fact that we're mortal enemies? And that I hate you? A lot?"
"Oh. Well... it doesn't."
Jack got a snort in response. A snort. Since when did goa'ulds snort? And how did they make the snort sound so damn condescending?
"Besides," Jack continued as he twisted his lips in a manner that he hoped conveyed severe derision, "Buffy and I didn't exactly get around to all of that before she disappeared."
At first, he wasn't certain if it was the derision or the words that caused Apophis' eyes to narrow even further, but as the goa'uld took a halting step forward, Jack had his answer. "Disappear? Of what do you speak, Tau'ri?" he demanded, and with a sigh Jack realized that they were back to the Snide Goa'uld that he had always hated.
"Yes, disappeared," Jack agreed, and this time he felt nothing but tired. Very, very tired. "She disappeared days ago, as in out of thin air," he explained with a heavy wave. Suddenly he wanted nothing but to get back to his and Buffy's little hideaway and curl into a small ball and just wait for the end to come. Buffy was still gone, she was-
"Such a thing is not possible. There is no technology capable of such a thing," Apophis argued as Jack turned his back on the goa'uld that had made the last few years of his life a living hell.
"Who ever said anything about technology?" he sighed. "Who knows? Maybe it was magic," he muttered, only to freeze as his own words hit him like a punch to the gut. Magic. Buffy was gone, had just disappeared right out of his arms, and Apophis was right - as to their knowledge, there was no technology that could just make her vanish
as though she had never been there, living, breathing, and hurting just second before. There was no reasonable explanation for what had happened... which meant that the previously unreasonable suddenly began to make sense. Buffy was fervent in her belief of magic, and while Jack had always been skeptical before...
All along Buffy had voiced the hope that if her friends only realized that she wasn't really dead, they would find a way to get them back. If she had been right, if they had somehow found a way to save her, then that meant that... then that meant that he may yet have a better option for escape than the likely suicide he had been seriously considering.O o O o O o O
"We have arrived at the coordinates."
Teal'c's announcement was as unexpected as it was eagerly anticipated. The journey from Vorash to Netu had taken forever, and though Buffy thought she would have become accustomed to forever during her imprisonment in hell, the need to rescue Jack was too great and her patience had been nonexistent. But now they were here, and as Buffy joined the others in the small cockpit, she couldn't decide if it was anticipation or horror that caused her stomach to clench painfully around the small bit of instant oatmeal that she had managed to choke down.
They were in orbit above Netu, and Buffy found it impossible to tear her eyes away from the barren red wasteland that was spread so far beneath the viewscreen. This place had been her home, her prison, for a very long time, and though she really, really
didn't want to go back there, Jack was down there; alone, hurting, and probably going crazy wondering what had happened to her. That meant there really was no choice at all.
"Sokar would not send someone down to Netu with weapons."
Pulled from her thoughts, Buffy turned to find Daniel and Sam checking their weapons and ammo, while Martouf stared at both with a look of warning, his lips pulled thin in a disapproving line.
"If the weapons are discovered on you," the Tok'ra continued, "the Denizens will know that we were not sent by Sokar. "We must attempt to blend in the hope that we will be able to move about freely as Denizens."
Buffy couldn't help it. She laughed.
While the Tok'ra had a point, he was also speaking as though he was an expert on all things Netu. It was an arrogant assumption, especially when Buffy knew from first-hand experience that no one blended in on Netu. How could you when it was a prison-moon that housed aliens from all walks of life? Everyone looked different and there was no status quo except for the dirty, sweaty, and grimy conditions that everyone had been forced to live under. Even Bynarr, Lord of Netu, wasn't a pretty sight. But Martouf was right - the only weapons on Netu were the weapons that the denizens themselves had crafted. Still, that didn't change one thing.
"If you think I'm going back there unarmed, then you're even more of an idiot than Jack said you were," Buffy stated with a fierce frown as she crossed her arms defiantly across her chest. Daniel immediately turned a snicker into a cough, and she could feel Sam's reprimanding look, but Buffy didn't care. There was no way in hell she was going back there without a weapon.
Buffy slipped out of her bulky green jacket. The teltak had been kept relatively cool, but she easily remembered the scorching heat of Netu. The jacket would have been overkill. Heck, even the tough cotton of her military-issued green pants were going to be a change from the loose, flowing fabric of her Ass-Hat costume. With a small shrug she pulled her handgun from her thigh-holster, pausing for a moment to stare blankly at the unfamiliar weapon, before she quickly pulled back the slide, popped out her cartridge of ammunition, pushed it back into place and then moved to slide it against the small of her back. Sam stopped her with a hand on her arm, and Buffy turned to the taller woman to find an ankle holster being offered with a thin smile.
"How about a compromise?" she asked as she indicated to where Daniel was already securing his weapon against his own leg, hidden beneath his loose pants. Like Buffy, he had already shucked his jacket and was busy checking over the small pack that they had agreed on carrying. It held only the essentials, like a small amount of food, ample water, and a goa'uld healing device that Martouf had been kind enough to supply.
"I can do compromises," Buffy agreed as she accepted the holster and set to work trying to figure out which strap went where.
"How do we communicate with Teal'c?" Sam asked as she turned back to where the Jaffa was watching with calm eyes.
"We believe that this device will be able to penetrate the atmosphere," Martouf explained as Sam accepted the small, round communicator.
"We believe?" Daniel countered as he finished his inspection. He was about to lift the pack to his shoulders when Buffy scooped it up with ease.
"You should be able to speak to Teal'c as long as the ship remains in orbit of the moon," Martouf explained as Daniel moved forward to look out of the viewscreen and at the moon so very far below.
"That’s err... that’s still a long way down," he pointed out as Martouf readied the pods for launch.
"The pods are launched at a great velocity," the Tok'ra explained with a negligent shrug as a final button push had each of the pods opening with a hiss of escaped air.
"And that’s supposed to make me feel better?" Daniel weakly returned.
"They are equipped with heat dampening shields and anti-gravity wave generators that will slow our descent-"
"Hey," Buffy broke in as she picked her pod and stepped inside as though her insides weren't quaking. "If it makes you feel any better, we didn't die the first time," she offered as she settled back, the pack pressed against her feet.
"No, that doesn't make me feel any better, either," she heard Daniel refute before the door closed with a quiet hiss. It was like being enclosed in a metal coffin, with cool, rounded panels clutching you close and darkness pressing against you from all sides. Luckily, Buffy had never before had the displeasure of being buried alive, so while the pod was anything but comfortable, it was also doable. It should have helped to know that she had experienced this before, but Buffy had worked hard to repress any memories of when Ass-Hat had been in control, and especially of his memories of Before. Thus, it didn't help - not really. And after the dark and the silence there came the movement, the heat, the noise, and the all-consuming panic as sudden weightlessness was replaced by the weight of a familiar gravity.
Then, of course, came the landing. And that... well, she did remember that part, if only from the burst of pain that was quickly followed by the nothingness of unconsciousness. Her last thought was that it really was too bad that the pod was designed for people much taller than her. Perhaps if she had been bigger she wouldn't have been thrown around so much. That, and she was really, really getting sick of getting knocked unconscious.O o O o O o O
Awareness returned with the sluggishness of a minor concussion. Her body ached from various bruises and a sharp pain pulsed in her temple with every beat of her heart. She felt heavy and lethargic, and there was an uncomfortable press of hot rock against her back. Every breath drew in a familiar, gaseous poison that tightened her lungs and shortened her breath, adding to her confusion, her disorientation that not even the familiar jumble of voices and words could help ground her.
" DanielJackson, can you hear me? DanielJackson, respond."
"Yeah, Teal’c, we’re in one piece - I think. Just hang tight, we’ll be in touch," a male voice responded before there was movement beside her. "How is she?"
And then there was the cool press of unfamiliar hands against her arms, her legs - hands that pressed against new aches and pains, and hands that awoke something dark, terrified, and primal within her. In an instant Buffy's eyes were open as she shoved the person that was crouched beside her and rolled forward into an easy crouch. Her breathing was even, her muscles loose, and her mind calm as she fell into a rhythm that was instinctive. She was reaching for a weapon that could be used to protect herself and harm her enemies when she looked up into Daniel's startled gaze.
And just like that the spell was broken and she came back to herself. Sam was laying in a stunned sprawl at her feet, Martouf crouched beside her, and Daniel stood with hands held up in open supplication before her. They were on Netu's surface, and the eerie landscape was spread before her: a dark crust that was blanketed beneath deep mounds of loosely shifting ash, stirred by the constant dry wind. Jagged spires that were a mottled red color dotted a horizon that was lit by sporadic bursts of lightning, with open streams of boiling lava cutting through the barren rock. All around their small group great gaping maws belched toxic fumes, polluting the air and squeezing the water from their pores. The sky was a mottled blackish-gray and Sokar's large, deadened planet loomed in the distance through the hazy gray atmosphere.
And in her hands was a gun that she was pointing straight at Daniel's heart.
Without saying a word, Buffy lowered the weapon and returned it to her ankle holster. Her dignity was shattered into small fragments that littered the ground in jagged pieces, but Buffy lifted her chin with a pride that she didn't feel and met the archaeologist's wary gaze with a flat stare of her own. And all the while she tried to ignore the memories that their stares had triggered. For Daniel, and Sam, and even Martouf had looked at her, just then, the same way that she had looked at Angel when he had returned from his hundreds of years in hell. They looked at her with pity, yes, but also sadness, worry, and fear.
Raw, primal fear.
Shaking her head at the thought, Buffy picked up her pack with feigned nonchalance and offered the group a small, shallow smile. With a nod of her head, she indicated the direction they should take and then started out at a leisurely pace - one that would allow them to scramble for the supplies they had dropped, finish their worried, whispered conversations that she couldn't help to overhear, and then hurry after her before she had gotten too far.
Partly she felt anger at her slip in control, and she wanted to berate herself for causing them to look at her that way. The other part, however... oh yes, there were recriminations for her slip, but then there was also a surge of satisfaction, for if these people, her newest allies, could look at her with such fear - just imagine how her enemies were going to look when she finally had the chance to make them pay for every bruise, every maltreatment, and every bad memory that they had ever given her and Jack.
Yes, it was good to be back on Netu. For the first time in six months she had weapons, she had an escape plan, and even more importantly, she smelled pretty.
Netu was going down.