Godless Provenance: Chapter 19
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
Buffy and company moved through the underground, twisting tunnels of Netu in starts and stops that made a short trip stretch into something that was beginning to try Buffy's patience. It was strange. She had only been gone from the prison-moon for a little over 72 hours, and yet in that time so many things had changed that it seemed as though she had really been gone for much longer. Everything was exactly as she had left it: familiar tunnels that were rounded in such a way that it was obvious that they had not been created by nature - a reminder that long ago there had been a civilization here. This far below the surface the rock floor wasn't as hidden beneath blankets of ash, and so the dusty, scattered bones of the denizens that hadn't survived their time in Netu were easily seen by the hellish red light that seeped from the magma flows, filling the tunnels with scorching heat. The toxic fumes, while not nearly as intolerable as on the surface, were still so thick that in places she could see
the gases wavering in the weak light.
It was all as she had left it, and yet so much had changed.
The denizens were everywhere. Men and women and those only men and women-like, scarred, dirty, and looking even more shifty than usual, prowled the tunnels in small, lethal groups with their hand-fashioned clubs and knives. It took every bit of skill Buffy possessed to steer the small rescue party away from the patrolling, marauding groups of prisoners that looked as though they were on a manhunt, and in the end, she had no choice but to make a suggestion that she had been desperately hoping to avoid.
"You want us to what?" Daniel had asked as Buffy dropped the heavy pack beside her, her hazel eyes filled with regret.
"Martouf wanted us to blend," she had sighed with a fierce scowl at the Tok'ra who hadn't hesitated in following her instructions, "and so it's time we blend." Without another word, Buffy had ripped off one sleeve of her brand new black tee-shirt before cutting a large rip in the other. She then proceeded to twist, pull, and tear her clothing before she began the even more dreaded task of rubbing ash over her clothes and every inch of exposed skin. While it had taken her nearly an hour to scrub away the dirt, grime, and sweat of Netu, it had only taken five minutes to put it all back, and while the others took it a step further and mussed their hair, Buffy refused.
A girl had to draw the line somewhere.
So now they blended, somewhat, but Buffy still erred on the side of caution and avoided the main tunnels, instead directing them through small, cramped passageways that were seldom used and took them well out of their way in order to avoid the main points of activity - though even then some encounters were unavoidable.
Buffy didn't recognize the first two denizens that had been unlucky enough to stumble across their small party, but that didn't stop her from acting with the full and efficient savagery of the slayer. Thanks to her enhanced hearing, she had known that the encounter was unavoidable minutes before the two had even turned into the cramped tunnel that she and the others had been quietly moving down. Sam and Daniel had instinctively gone for their side arms, but before they could fire and alert all of Netu to their presence, Buffy had already stepped into their line of fire. The denizens were non-humans, and since Buffy didn't sense the presence of a goa'uld symbiote, she took them down the old-fashioned way.
With a grim smile that she had a hard time repressing, Buffy darted towards her fellow inmate that looked like an extra from Star Wars - the really hairy kind that made that strange trilling noise. A Noogie? A Bookie? Only this one looked a lot less friendly and really, really unpleasant. Even as Buffy aimed a powerful kick at his knee that sent him crashing to the floor with a gurgle of pain, she couldn't help but wonder if he was so grumpy because of the hair that covered every inch of his body. The thing had to be even more hot than she was, and that was bound to ruin anyone's day, she figured as she snapped his neck with a quick, brutal twist before moving to his companion - something that looked decidedly fish-like, only on two legs.
Or was it three?
Buffy didn't waste time counting and instead grabbed two of its tentacles and twirled behind him quicker than the eye could follow. The denizen gave off one short, strangled gasp before she twisted his own tentacles around his neck and choked him until he finally stopped moving.
It was over in a matter of seconds, and when she turned back to her companions she wasn't surprised to find Daniel looking at her in a strange mix of shock and horror, while Martouf stared at her in dismay. Sam, however, merely blinked for a moment before the older woman stepped forward and passed over a wicked-looking hunting knife that the major had pulled from her utility belt. "Here, this might work better," she had stated as she offered the knife to Buffy.
And it did. Those that they couldn't avoid Buffy now took down quickly and quietly with a single stab of the hunting knife to the back of her adversary's neck. The blow was lethal for just about anything, including a goa'uld, for a knife thrust to the back of the neck severed the spinal column and the goa'uld symbiote that was wrapped tightly around the fragile bone.
"Our intelligence never gave us cause to believe that Netu would be so... populated," Martouf commented as Buffy finished off another denizen with quiet efficiency.
"Oh, Sokar has a lot of enemies," Buffy returned as she grimly wiped the blade clean on her own clothing, further staining the ratty tee-shirt and adding to the authenticity of her costume. "But they're not usually so... social," she finished with a worried frown as her sensitive hearing picked up the approach of yet another denizen - this one traveling alone.
"Then something's happened since you left?" Daniel asked as he carefully stepped over the goa'uld she had just killed - his eyes carefully avoiding any prolonged contact with the unseeing gaze of a woman that may have once been young and pretty, but without the healing aid of a sarcophagus, was now wrinkled, dirty, and very, very dead, despite the best intentions of her symbiote. "Could someone have noticed your absence?"
"Aside from Jack?" she asked as she readied her blade and slipped into a crouch. By now, both the major and Martouf were so attuned to her every move that they were able to recognize the signs that company was coming. Like Buffy, Sam had taken to carrying a knife, though she had yet found occasion to use it, and even Martouf's body visibly tensed, as though in preparation for battle. Daniel, however, was persistently oblivious to any incoming danger and reacted with surprise every time Buffy eliminated a threat he hadn't been aware of. "I can think of a few people who might have noticed," she muttered as one such person rounded the corner and froze at the sight of Buffy and her companions, and more importantly, the dead denizen a little further behind them.
"Pishtik," Buffy returned as she warily stood from her crouch, her gaze never once leaving the dark, wide-set eyes of her most trusted contact. He was little taller than Buffy, but his dark, oily skin covered a lean, muscle-hardened body that moved with a powerful, serpentine grace.
"It has been some time since I have seen you. I was... concerned," Pishtik stated with a small smile and a mocking dip to his head. "And who are your companions?" he asked, his eyes slipping past her slim figure to the three people that stood uncertainly behind her. "The rest of your search party, perhaps?"
"Something like that," Buffy returned with a negligent shrug, even as she quietly wondered what the little snake was talking about. "But we'll have to catch up later. Right now we have... searching to do," she murmured with a steely smile that was all teeth. Pishtik seemed to get the message for with nothing more than a respectful nod of his head and a speculative look at her companions and the dead goa'uld, the small creature slid past them and continued on his way, leaving them alone once more. "Well, that isn't good," she murmured as she looked in the direction that he had just disappeared, a small frown pulling at her lips.
"Why did you not kill him like the others?" Martouf questioned, his voice sharp as her uncertainty fed his own.
"He's a friend... sort of," she returned as she tried to force her worry aside.
"Then why are you concerned?" the Tok'ra persisted, causing Buffy to turn to the taller man with a scowl.
"Did I say I was concerned?"
"Well," Daniel offered with a small shrug, "you certainly don't seem-"
"Daniel, we're on Netu," Buffy interrupted with a roll of her eyes. "Aside from Jack, there's no such thing as a real friend. I trust Pishtik more than any of the other denizens, but that doesn't mean that I actually trust
him. Now come on - we need to get our move on."
"Where to?" Sam asked as she shifted her grip on the knife that remained tightly gripped in one hand, even as she fell into step.
"First we find Jack, and then we'll worry about your dad," Buffy returned as she led the group further and deeper into the underground labyrinth of Netu.
"But how are we going to find Jack?" Daniel persisted from his position in between Buffy and Sam, with Martouf once more bringing up the rear. This place is a maze!"
"True, but this rat has lived in this maze long enough to know her way around," Buffy countered with a confidence that she didn't quite feel. "Follow me - we'll try our place first, and move out from there," she instructed, never once giving voice to the doubts that plagued her every step.
Netu was the same as when she had left it, and yet in all the ways that mattered, so much had changed. The denizens were on the prowl, hungry for blood, and someone had given Pishtik the impression that she was on a search party - but why and for whom was she supposed to be searching? What had happened in the few days that she had been gone to make a simple rescue mission suddenly seem that much more complicated?O o O o O o O
With a grace that belied his long, lean frame, Jack stepped over the trip wire to his homemade alarm system and ducked through the small opening into the cavern that he and Buffy had once shared. Jacob was already standing against the far wall, a small, jagged rock clutched in one hand and a fierce look darkening his stern features. Once he recognized Jack, his hand lowered and the deep lines in his face softened into a look of profound relief.
"Damnit, Jack, don't do that to me! You were gone so long that I was starting to think that something had happened."
happened," Jack countered as his thin lips twisted into something that twitched from a smile to a frown and then back again. He jittered forward and then eased back, his hands refusing to stay still even as he paced in the small confines of the cavern. "We have a problem," he admitted, and yet he couldn't put the right amount of worry into his voice, and the statement came out sounding more like a question. "It turns out that Bynarr's right-hand man is none other than Apophis, and Apophis knows that I'm the one that broke you out."
"Jesus, Jack," Jacob breathed as he sagged back against the craggy wall, his trembling hand reaching up to wipe at his sweaty forehead.
"But then there's the good news," Jack countered as his lips finally settled into a big smile. Hell, he was practically beaming
, and yet he couldn't seem to stop, couldn't seem to care as he clapped his hands together. "I finally figured out what happened to Buffy - how she disappeared."
"Your companion? The woman from Earth?"
"You betcha," Jack confirmed as he finally stopped in his pacing to turn the full force of his grin on his friend. "It was magic," he stated, dropping the bombshell with all of the gusto of a man who had just realized that the world wasn't as godawful as he had recently been led to believe.
"Magic," Jacob parroted, but there was no excitement or relief in his voice. There was confusion and sadness. Despair. In the few seconds that Jack stood and grinned at his friend, it looked as though the former-general had aged a few more years as more worry and care lines became etched into his solemn features. "Jack, what's wrong with you? We need to focus on... on what to do here! On how to get out of here before Sokar tortures and kills us both!"
"Which is exactly what I'm doing!" Jack returned with a grin that refused to be diminished by his friend's growing concern and his obvious belief that the colonel had well and truly lost it. "If Buffy got out of here by magic, that means that she's not dead, and probably back on Earth! Which means that she's probably already gotten a hold of the SGC and that help is-" Jack broke off as their small little chamber became clouded with an infusion of billowing ash in the same moment that they were both deafened by the sound of crashing rock.
It was the alarm system that Jack had spent days, maybe even weeks perfecting, and even as he noted how well the thing had worked, he was already jumping into action as he bodily shoved Jacob back into the corner furthest from the small opening into the chamber. Someone had tripped the wire in the black depths of the outside tunnel, causing a cascade of rocks and boulders to hammer the tunnel floor. The plume of ash had been the unintended side effect, and Jack was both cursing and praising this development as he stood protectively in front of his friend, safely hidden from sight behind the thick ash cloud, but now also blind in his safety.
"Daniel," a soft, familiar voice sighed with a strained patience that he had come to recognize over countless months of inactivity, "I said to step over
the trip wire, not on
Jacob had stiffened behind him, and Jack was struck dumb and mute by the voice he had so desperately missed - so much so that not even the next voice was enough to break him from his paralysis.
"Yes, well not everyone has superhuman power of sight."
"I don't have
super-vision. It's just called good genes," came the wonderful retort even as his straining vision caught a shifting in the ash. One moment there was nothing but gray swirls that stung his dry eyes and caused his forehead to pinch in furrowed concentration, and then there was movement, the sound of soft footsteps, and suddenly Buffy was there, standing before him with a bright, sunny smile on her face.
For one long moment, nothing else mattered. Buffy stood an inch or two taller than he remembered, and as his eyes slowly moved from head to foot, he took note of her upswept ponytail of long, glistening blonde hair, her mangled black tee-shirt, the strap of a backpack digging into one shoulder, the familiar green BDUs and the black combat boots that were responsible for her added height. Her clothing was torn, her skin marred by dirt and ash with small rivulets of sweat, and yet even from where he was standing he could still smell the fresh, clean scent of her shining head of hair. She was like a vision - a beautiful, unbelievable vision in the darkness that was Netu.
"Hey stranger. You miss me?"
Jack started forward, but as always, Buffy beat him to it as she dropped her pack and launched herself the few short steps forward until her small body was molded against his long, lean frame. There was no time for thought or careful deliberation as Jack pulled her up until her powerful legs were wrapped around his waist. Her arms encircled his neck and he crushed her against him, all soft curves and familiar, burning heat as his lips greedily found her own. Her mouth was soft and pliant, his was hungry and demanding as he poured all of his fear, his grief, and his desperation into a kiss that could have lasted an eternity...
... if someone hadn't offered a pointed and polite cough from behind them.
At once the world came crashing back, and with a jolt that closely resembled joy - pure and unadulterated joy - Jack remembered the other familiar voice from the tunnel that led into his little haven. With some regret, he unwrapped himself from Buffy and eased the small slayer to the floor beside him, his eyes eagerly darting towards the little opening that served as the only entrance to their little home. By now, the ash cloud had settled and he found Daniel standing just inside the doorway, with Carter crouched in the opening behind him. For a moment, silence fell in the cavern as he eagerly devoured the features of the teammates that he had missed so desperately, all the while aware of their own careful inspection. They seemed dismayed by what they found - emaciated frame, tattered clothing, sallow, sweat-streaked skin, but Jack was nothing but elated. Sure, they were dirty, their clothing torn, and they looked a little more worn around the edges, but they were whole, healthy, and he'd be damned if Danny hadn't gotten an actual haircut since they'd last parted.
"Well, it's about damn time!" he stated with a bright grin that felt like it was stretching his face to the breaking point. His words broke their quiet appraisal, and immediately the worry and concern fell from Daniel's expressive face to be replaced by a look of such relief and happiness that Jack had no doubt as to how much his team had missed him - had grieved
"Sorry we're late," Daniel returned as he ambled forward with a casualness that was belied by the crushing strength of his hug. It was the kind of embrace that was rare between men. It wasn't the casual, keep-your-distance-and-pat-the-back kind of hug, but the I'm-going-to-hold-you-close-and-try-to-crush-you-with-my-manliness kind of hug. It was the kind of hug that you shared when death had been too close, and the possibility of never seeing one another again had loomed large and real. It was the hug of a separation that had been too long and one in which everyone had secretly thought to be permanent. In short, it was the girliest hug that two manly men could share.
"Apparently the news of your demise was greatly exaggerated," Daniel stated as he squeezed one last time before pulling back. The emotion in his shining eyes, however, said everything else.
Grinning, Jack took his cue and stepped back, squeezing his friend's arms one more time before turning back to the door and throwing a wide smile at his 2IC. "Damn, Carter, you're a sight for sore eyes," he called in welcome, military protocol staying her at the door even as she leveled a huge grin at her CO.
"Sir-" she began, her words faltering as she finally noted the man standing behind him. "Dad!" she called out, her rigid posture breaking as she hurried forward to be swept into her own embrace with her father.
Just as quickly, however, Jack's attention was drawn back to the door as a second man entered through the small entrance and into the cramped chamber. "Marty!" he acknowledged, surprise coloring his features. "Damn, it's even good to see you!" he admitted as he clapped the younger-looking man on the back - and yet through all of the greetings, Jack was constantly aware of Buffy's small, soft presence by his side. She had stepped back and made room for his friends, gave them the space for their heartfelt greetings and embraces, but not once did she fully move from his side. Her eyes had never left his shadowed, craggy features and her small, soft smile hadn't once lifted from her lips. Jack knew this because even as his attention became solely focused on his team members, he had never once allowed her to move from the corners of his eyes.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Jack turned fully towards Buffy and arched a single brow in her direction. "How-"
"Long story short?" Buffy interrupted with a gentle smile. At his nod, the small slayer took a slow breath before nodding towards the others. "Okay, but Sam still won't like it," she cautioned.
"Is that because it has to do with magic?" he asked with a knowing grin, his eyes drifting to where Jacob was scowling at him.
"You betcha," she returned with a broad wink - the familiar expression causing both Carter and Daniel to exchange knowing looks. "Willow pulled me out with her magic and a lot of help from the others, but she couldn't send me back for you. So, that long story short is that Xander and I took a road trip to Colorado Springs."
"Once Buffy explained what happened," Sam interrupted, "we contacted our allies looking for either support or information, and in doing so, we learned that Dad was missing as well, and that he was most likely captured by Sokar," she explained as she turned and nodded towards her father. Her blue eyes betrayed her for the briefest of moments - showing her grief and fear - before they hardened. "Thanks to help from the Tok'ra, we were able to devise a joint rescue mission, which General Hammond approved."
"Now that's more like it," Jack agreed with a small smile as he clapped his hands together. "Remind me to buy him something nice when we get back. Maybe a big hat," he added before turning and pointing a long, slender finger at Jacob. "See, and you thought I was crazy for busting you out."
"Well, you've certainly stirred things up," Buffy retorted with a frustrated sigh as she finally allowed some of her protective mask to fade. The small slayer lifted a weary hand and rubbed it against her forehead, redistributing the dust and ash into new places. "Jack, I don't know if you've noticed, but it's a madhouse out there."
"Yeah, I have noticed," Jack admitted with a grimace as he slowly, painfully lowered himself down onto the floor with his back pressed against the craggy chamber wall. For a moment, he pretended that everyone wasn't staring at him in concern and he lifted his hand, palm up, and met Buffy's eyes. With a smile Buffy accepted the invitation, her small, sweaty hand becoming entwined with his as she settled beside him with much more grace, ease, and fluidity. Jack glowered in response, but the glower turned into a smile as she took the opportunity to burrow up against his side with her head pillowed against his shoulder.
To Daniel and Carter's credit, he only caught another look flit between them before they purposely turned away - Carter to her father who she subtly helped settle on the part of the floor that made up the bed, and Daniel to a restless sort of pacing from one corner of the room to the other, his eyes curiously moving over the rock walls, the thin vein of magma, the rags, and the small articles of bone and metal they had traded and fashioned. Still, Jack couldn't help but notice that neither Carter nor Daniel had moved too far away from him - a feat made easy at how small the chamber was, and ill-made for such a large gathering. Plus there was the casual touches that they dropped on him, a hand brushing against his arm as Daniel made a circuit, Carter's foot brushing against his as she settled closer to her father. He could relate to that need to be close to one who had been gone, he realized as his gaze fell upon the crown of golden blonde hair that was nestled beside him.
"So what is
the plan?" he finally asked as his eyes swept up to look at the room at large. "And where's Teal'c?" he asked, his gaze narrowing on his two teammates and the significant lack of a third.
In response, Daniel paused in his aimless pacing and lifted a small, silver piece of shiny metal to his lips. "Teal'c, come in. It's Daniel," he stated, rather unnecessarily, Jack thought as Teal'c's wonderfully deep voice filtered through the small device.
"This is Teal'c. Have you located Colonel O'Neill, DanielJackson?
Or maybe it was just a communicator thing, Jack mused as he accepted the little device from Daniel with a bright smile. "Big Guy - it's great hearing your voice again!"
"As it is to hear yours, ONeill,
" Teal'c returned, and though Jack doubted that either Buffy, Jacob, or Martouf could have detected a difference in the deep rumble, Jack could
, and his heart warmed all the more for the honest joy he could hear in the Jaffa's voice.
"Where do they have you stashed?"
"I am in a teltak in orbit above Netu,
" Teal'c explained in that same voice while Jack raised an eyebrow at his 2IC.
"Buffy told us about the rings in Bynarr's quarters," Sam explained, the months of separation doing little to break her understanding of his silent commands. "You see, sir, Martouf and I believe that-"
"To make a really, really long and extremely boring and technical story short," Buffy interrupted from beside him as she tilted her face back to meet his gaze, "Teal'c should be able to intercept the rings with the ship."
"Good enough for me," Jack stated, nodding his head in agreement. "But just one problem. How are we supposed to get Jacob there without discovery?" he asked, his smile turning into a look of puzzled concentration. "Bynarr has flashed his face around to all of the other denizens, and everyone is hoping to collect the reward for his capture. And to make matters worse, I just ran into Apophis - who is apparently Nao'nak-"
"Yeah, sorry about that," Buffy muttered beneath her breath with a soft squeeze of his hand.
"-and while he didn't know that you were gone," Jack continued without pause as he returned Buffy's squeeze, "he does know that I'm the one that broke Jacob out. The only reason he hasn't turned us in yet is because he wants out of here just as bad as we do." At Daniel's skeptical look Jack shrugged his shoulders. "He thinks we have an escape plan and he wants in on it."
Just as Jack knew he would, Daniel stopped short in his pacing and turned towards him with an incredulous expression. "That's-"
"Not such a bad idea," Buffy concluded for the archaeologist, but as he and everyone else turned to her, mouths agape, Jack just knew
that wasn't how Daniel was going to finish that sentence.
He was right.
," Daniel stressed, the archaeologist's eyes narrowed upon the small blonde that remained passively tucked against Jack's side. "Buffy, you may not know the full story about Apophis," he began, causing Jack to inwardly cringe. "He's evil and he can't be trusted. He's killed hundreds - thousands of people. He's tortured-"
"Yeah, I sort of picked up on that during the months that I spent getting tortured by him," Buffy returned with a soft snort.
" Teal'c's voice called out, reminding Jack that he was still holding the communicator's button, allowing the Jaffa to follow their conversation from his place orbiting in space, "if you understand this truth, then you must also see the folly in any plan that involves Apophis as an ally.
"No, what I understand is that with so many people out hunting for Jacob, it will be nearly impossible to get him anywhere near Bynarr's quarters," she returned without a single ounce of bite to her voice. "Sorry guys, but there just ain't gonna be any sneaking going on."
"Which means..." Jack trailed off, his eyes narrowed on the small, calm pile of slayer that lay pooled against him.
"Which means that maybe we should just use plain sight."
With a soft, tired sigh Jack leaned his head back against the craggy rock wall. "This is going to be one of those Scooby plans that you've told me so much about, isn't it?" he asked, already noting the hint of resignation that colored his question. "The really crazy ones that never should have worked-"
"-and yet always do?" Buffy returned as she angled her head back so she could smile cheerily up at him. "Yeah, it's one of those," she confirmed with a pleased nod before turning back to the others. "All we have to do is enlist Apophis' help. As Bynarr's first prime, no one is going to blink as we parade our prisoner all the way to Bynarr's quarters. Then, we just kill Bynarr and make our escape."
"You mean, kill Bynarr and
Apophis, right?" Jack clarified as Buffy turned her brilliant smile towards him.
"Yeah, I have no problem with that."