Godless Provenance: Chapter 20
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
The dimly-lit tunnel was quiet save for her quiet, carefully placed footsteps and the reassuring tread of the man that walked beside her. They had left the others back in the small cavern, much to their complaint, but Buffy had been firm and Jack had been adamant. They were on the hunt for Apophis, and Buffy and Jack had insisted that they wait to reveal the existence of SG-1 on Ne'tu until the last possible moment, less Apophis have any more incentive to betray them. The others would make use of their time - or at least, Martouf was going to make use of the time as he used the Tok'ra healing device on Jacob. Buffy had wanted for Jack to stay and also undergo the healing effects, and Sam and Daniel had agreed, but Jack had been equally adamant that there was no way in hell he was letting Buffy out of his sights - especially so that she could go and hunt down Apophis all on her own. Buffy had attempted to remind him that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, and had managed to get his team there all in one piece. In return, Jack had glared - a glare that was only softened as his gaze shifted down to the wrist that had been broken in the assault that had taken place only three days prior.
And so Buffy and Jack moved through the twisting tunnels of Ne'tu, glaring down any denizen they passed in equal mistrust and hatred, ever on the look out for their elusive query. Not that Buffy was paying half the attention that she should have. Oh, she knew that she should have been focused on her environment - keeping her senses attuned for company and her muscles loose and ready for action; she knew that she should have been working through their upcoming confrontation with Apophis - the creature that was responsible for months of torture and the slow breaking of her spirit, not to mention her rescue from Janus' prying hands that would have finally finished what Apophis had begun; she should have been analyzing their 'plan' from every corner, and working through every detail. Buffy should have been doing all of this and more.
Jack was walking beside her, his long stride somehow a perfect match for her hurried pace. Jack was holding her hand, lean, nimble fingers entwined with her smaller digits in a loose, gentle embrace. Jack was with her, beside her, breathing the same toxic air and bumping his hip against her side. He was distracting, invigorating, and he made her skin tingle with an awareness that had nothing to do with the supernatural, and everything to do with the way her heart hammered at his simple touch; he made her tremble with a heat that had nothing to do with the fiery moon in which they walked, and everything to do with the dawning realization that Colonel Jack O'Neill was far more than a fellow prisoner, a fellow inmate. No, somehow, someway, sometime during their captivity, this man had wormed his way into a heart that had already been cracked by her father's abandonment, broken when Angel had walked out on her for the last time, chipped by Parker's callousness and her own foolish, girlish actions, fractured by Riley's downward spiral and hasty departure, shattered by her mother's death, and then ground into dust by a world that had finally demanded too much when it asked for her sister. There should have been nothing left - nothing left to lust and nothing left to love - certainly not after leaving a world that she had willingly forsaken only to enter into a world of torture, death, and the rape of body, mind and soul. That this cracked, broken, chipped, fractured, shattered, and grounded heart could somehow have been mended in such an ugly world only gave further testament to the man that walked beside her - the man that was responsible for healing a heart with his soft smiles, his open laughter, his sharp wit and burning sarcasm, and the gentle touches that she had unwittingly missed so much when she had been torn from this and returned to a world that should have been safety, love, and home.
all of those things, always would be, and yet Buffy now knew that unless there was a Jack O'Neill somehow, someway a part of that world, that life, it would forever be lacking in the most fundamental of ways.
"What?" Jack returned, the word clipped with the tension that suddenly thrummed through his body and into the hand that had unconsciously tightened upon her own. The crushing grip would have hurt a normal person, but Buffy barely noticed the twinge of pain as she turned towards him and looked at him with serious, haunted eyes. A moment later she felt Jack relax as he realized that her uttered curse had nothing to do with an impending threat, and he turned to her with warm brown eyes that were crinkled with concern. "What's wrong?" he asked, his brow furrowed and lined with deep-set wrinkles that marked his forehead and framed his serious gaze - wrinkles that she had counted and smoothed with small hands while he slept in her embrace.
"What's wrong?" Buffy parroted as she rounded on him, her eyes flashing her ire. "You're
what's wrong!" she accused as she withdrew her hand from his and planted her fists upon her hips. Her feet were spread shoulder-length apart, her muscles tight and quivering, and Jack unconsciously responded to her movements as his body mirrored her own, even as his features creased in confusion.
"I'm what's wrong?" he returned with a baffled expression. "How can I be what's wrong? I haven't done
anything! I haven't had time
do do anything! You disappeared and have been gone
and you only just got back! How could I have-"
"You- You-" Buffy interrupted, only to flounder for an explanation. How could she put into words the realization that Jack O'Neill had somehow made something shattered and broken into something whole? How could she explain that by doing so, he had saved her - and by saving her, he had also doomed her? She had a past and a track record that was impossible to ignore. She wanted love; she needed
love; but more and more she was beginning to think that Buffy Summers was one person who just wasn't supposed to have
love. Love always ended in messy, messy ways in which there was brokenness, and heartache, and badness. Her life was complicated in the deadly kind of way - full of heated battles and enemies that were constantly after her blood. She could die at any moment, and the world, ever unaware of the war that she fought and the front line on which she stood, would never even notice her passing.
Startled, Buffy turned away from her inner struggle and lifted her gaze to find Jack staring at her with a sad sort of understanding. "Oh?" she parroted, but then she saw that his eyes were filled with compassion as he lifted his hand and brushed his bruised, scraped knuckles against her dirt-streaked cheek - and then he smiled. He smiled in that full, open way that caused Buffy's heart to flutter and her mind to clear.
"Oh," she returned, her own face flooded with that same sad understanding. Colonel Jack O'Neill had a past and a track record that was impossible to ignore. Once upon a time, Jack O'Neill had a wife whom he had loved dearly, and a son that he had cherished. Charlie had died, tragically, and Jack had turned away from the wife he had loved and his marriage had crumbled. It had crumbled because Jack's heart had been cracked, broken, chipped, fractured, shattered, and ground into dust, same as hers. He had believed that even though he wanted love, needed
love, perhaps it was something that Jack O'Neill just wasn't supposed to have. Love had ended in a way that was messy, and in which there was brokenness, and heartache, and badness. It had ended in a way that had him turning from this world. Besides, his life was complicated in the deadly kind of way - full of heated battles and enemies that were constantly after his blood. He could die at any moment, and the world, ever unaware of the war that he fought and the front line on which he stood, would never even notice his passing.
"Oh," she repeated, and this time there was a matching smile on her face as she impulsively moved to the tips of her toes, her hands fisting in his tattered black tee-shirt, and she kissed him softly, but firmly, on his wonderfully thin, dry lips. Jack returned the kiss, all hard, angular lines, and she felt his arms wrap around her back until she was enfolded in his embrace, his breath sighing through her and reminding her that as wonderful and confusing as he had made her life, she had somehow managed to return the favor. She had Sunnydale, and he had Cheyenne Mountain, but somehow Buffy figured that they would make it work. Some things were just too good to let go that easily. Hell, if they managed to mesh so well on the big stuff, what was a little problem with geography?
Grinning through the kiss, Buffy finally pulled away, her hand once more twining with his as she pulled him down the quiet tunnel.
"Do we, uh... need to talk about this?" Jack casually asked, causing Buffy's smile to grow as she heard the uncertainty in his voice. Talking was one thing, but to talk about their feelings
? Well, that was something entirely different, a fact that Buffy had grown to understand during their months of captivity.
"Nah, it can wait until later," she offered glibly, amused with his soft sigh of relief. "Then again, if you want to talk now..."
"No, no... later works for me," Jack quickly assured, and Buffy's smile deepened - and then froze.
"Ahead," she muttered, her movement stilled as she strained to make out the quiet conversation that had caught her attention. The voices were coming from around the next twist in their tunnel. "Apophis... Pishtik," she muttered, her eyes narrowing in concentration before she mutely shook her head. "I think they're alone," she stated, before her own words finally sunk in.
"That little snake!" she hissed as she hurried forward, Jack falling into step behind her. It had to of been only hours since she and the rest of the rescue party had run into her closest ally - an encounter from which she had allowed him to walk away unscathed. No other denizen had been permitted to view SG-1 and live. Yes, Sam, Daniel and Martouf could have been mistaken for any other denizen out on the prowl for an escaped Tok'ra, just another inmate to this prison world, but all it would have taken was word of Haremakhet and three strangers reaching the wrong person, and the right conclusions to be drawn, for their cover to be broken and the rescue plan thwarted. Buffy had been so careful...
"Pishtik saw me with the others!" Buffy returned in a harsh whisper, her steps never faltering. "He's going to tell... Apophis," she finished as she turned the corner, the goa'uld's head lifting from his conversation with the small, reptilian man - his eyes glinting behind his mask with the knowledge that she had been hoping to withhold. Then again, maybe it was inevitable, she reasoned with little conviction. Despite their bedraggled appearance, Apophis would have recognized her BDUs as something that she could only have gotten from Earth. He wasn't stupid, but without Pishtik's observations, the question of her BDUs would have left him off-balance.
She had liked the idea of an off-balance Apophis.
"Haremakhet," Pishtik chirped in surprise, and Buffy felt her ire change directions as she glared at the oily little cretin that had sold his information to Bynarr's right-hand man.
"Pishtik," Buffy returned as Jack stepped beside her, his expression cold and impassive. "And Na'onak," she added as her eyes swept over to meet Apophis' knowing gaze - a golden-hued gaze that shifted towards Pishtik as his staff weapon was raised and discharged, killing his informant without uttering a single word of warning.
Buffy was stunned. There was movement beside her as Jack shifted to stand protectively before her, as though he believed that Apophis would turn his staff weapon upon them next. There were harsh words exchanged, but Buffy's eyes were riveted upon the look of surprise that was etched upon Pishtik's dead features.
Pishtik had been her closest ally, her
informant, and he had betrayed her. He had reported on her and the rest of SG-1 to Na'onak, and in doing so he had sealed his own fate. Pishtik was dead, and if Buffy was honest, he should have been dead the moment that he first saw Buffy and the others in that tunnel, just a few hours previously. But she hadn't killed him. Buffy had let Pishtik go because despite her months of captivity and her hellish experiences, despite her very nature as a slayer, the Chosen One, Buffy just didn't have it in her to kill someone that had been something like a friend - an ally. Yes, she had done it before, but only when there seemed no other option. Never had she done so in cold blood, and secretly, Buffy couldn't help but hope that she would never reach a time when such a thing was possible for her.
"How could it be that your team is here? On Ne'tu?" Apophis was demanding as Buffy finally turned back to the heated conversation.
"You're a god. Shouldn't you already know the answer to this question?" Jack returned with dry contempt, his posture slouched and his arms crossed defiantly across his chest - the perfect image of bored disdain.
" Apophis hissed the word as though it were a curse - something that just caused Jack's lips to lift in a cold smile.
"Don't you mean insolent
Tau'ri?" the colonel needled before waving a casual hand in the face of Apophis' anger. "I'd think you'd be used to that by now."
"But getting back to the point," Buffy broke in with a gentle elbow to Jack's side. Seriously, she understood the desire to antagonize one's enemies, but not when they needed aforementioned enemy in order to make their escape. Then again, looking back on her first partnership with Spike, she imagined that she hadn't been much different. With a shrug, she moved until she was standing at Jack's side and nodded at the goa'uld. "Jack said you wanted in on the escape plan. Is this still true?"
As Apophis' gaze shifted towards her, his hand tightening on his staff weapon, Buffy had her answer.
"Good. If you can help us get to Bynarr's quarters, we all have a way to get off of this moon."
Behind his mask, Apophis' eyes narrowed. "If you are referring to the rings, that will only transport us as far as Sokar's planet. It would be a suicide mission."
"Yeah, we had something a little different in mind," Jack returned with a negligent shrug, his hands thrust deep into his ripped pockets as he rocked back on his heels.
"And what guarantee do I have that you will not simply turn around and kill me the moment that we have arrived in Bynarr's chambers?"
"Uh - how about the fact that we have a deal?" Buffy replied, her lips tightening with the lie.
Apophis gave his reply in the form of an incredulous snort.
"Hey - we're the good guys, remember?" she demanded, offended that he didn't believe her even as she ignored the fact that he had good reason not to. The plan was, after all, to kill Apophis the moment they gained access to Bynarr's chambers. Crossing her fingers behind her back, she solemnly stated, "We don't break our promises."
"And this is not the first occasion on which I have had to deal with the Tau'ri," Apophis returned with a disdained glare.
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" Jack asked, the perfect picture of indignation.
"It means," Apophis parroted, his head tilting to the side, "that I will need an additional guarantee. One that will ensure that I will not be double-crossed."
"Such as?" Jack sighed.
"The Tok'ra," he decisively returned, his eyes hard and his voice firm. "The Tok'ra will remain under my guard, as is only fitting for this ruse to work. If any of your team double-crosses me, he will be the first to suffer my wrath."
"Agreed," Jack returned. Just as quickly Buffy turned to him in surprise, but he ignored her questioning glance and nodded at the goa'uld. "Wait here for us, and we'll return shortly with Jacob and the others. And remember - this is your only ticket off of this tugboat. Double-crossing us won't get you into Sokar's good graces, and then you'll have to settle for being Bynarr's servant
until your host finally gives out." Without waiting for a response, Jack grabbed her hand and pulled her back in the direction that they had come.
"You know," she muttered as they rounded the corner and hurried back in a very meandering, haphazard fashion towards their hidden cavern, "somehow I really doubt that Sam is going to like this idea."
"She doesn't have to like it," Jack returned, his stern expression dimming as he turned to her with a small smile. "Besides, I imagine that it's going to be a long trip home, and I doubt that even Apophis will be able to keep Jacob under guard all that time without slipping. Now come on - let's get the others and get the hell off this hell-moon. I've been craving a nice, juicy steak since the moment we all stumbled into this mess."
Rolling her eyes, Buffy hurried to keep pace with his longer strides. "Yeah, well you might as well keep on dreaming about your steak, because if your Nazi-Doctor has her way, you're going to be eating oatmeal until you're old and gray... well, older and more gray," she amended with a smirk before skipping ahead, his chuff of outraged laughter following in her wake.O o O o O o O
Under normal circumstances Jack O'Neill really hated to be wrong. He was a Colonel in the United States Air Force, second-in-command of the Stargate program, and the leader of the program's premiere gate team - or at least he was all of that before he got sentenced to Ne'tu. Regardless, he was responsible for making first contact with innumerable alien races, had been infused with the library of knowledge of an ancient race of beings, and had even been told that he may be the next step in human evolution. It was a pretty lofty place to be, and you just didn't get there when you were in the habit of being wrong. Not that he'd never been wrong before. When your team consisted of a cultural and language expert, a certified astro geek, and a guru of alien worlds and battle techniques, you actually grew quite accustomed to being wrong - but that certainly didn't make the being of wrong any easier. This day, however, Jack was quite happy to concede that he had been wrong and that Buffy's 'Scooby' idea had been right.
This idea was good
Yes, actually getting Jacob to the place where they could meet up with Apophis had been rather difficult and had involved a lot of bloodshed. Luckily, all the blood that had been shed had belonged to the unfortunate denizens that they had been unable to avoid along the way. And yes, the actual point of integrating their group with Apophis hadn't exactly been without stress. Apophis was, after all, responsible for kidnapping Daniel's wife, sticking her with a goa'uld, not to mention getting her pregnant, only to steal her back once she gave birth. Awkward was putting that meeting very mildly.
Still, blood hadn't been shed and they had been able to cement plans and begin their ruse. Since Buffy knew the way, she was leading their little entourage, with Jacob, an impressive facade of defeat clouding his features, following, with he and Carter keeping guard to either side. Apophis was, of course, following immediately behind his 'prisoner,' his staff weapon charged and pressed against the former-general's back. Danny and Martouf filled out their rear-guard, and while Jack wasn't really happy with the idea of Danny being out of his direct line of sight, he figured that this was a better situation then having Danny in a place where he couldn't see Apophis. As it was, the sight of Buffy's taut back and the soft sway of her hips was the only thing that alleviated the itch of having a sworn enemy with a weapon at his back.
Not that Buffy seemed entirely at ease with the situation, either. Despite the fact that all he saw was her backside, which, truth be told, was entirely enjoyable, the fact remained that though she held her head high, her shoulders were stiff with a tension that radiated through her body with every step that took them deeper into the hordes of gathered denizens. It seemed as though word of their 'capture' had spread, and the wide hallways and open caverns in which they passed were filled with faces that were shadowed with jealousy, hatred, and a burning anger. Bynarr had promised much for the capture of the missing Tok'ra, and it was only through fear of Na'onak, Apophis' guise, that kept them at bay.
It was a good plan.
That didn't mean that Jack was liking the idea that they were walking right through a horde of very angry, very scary people.
With a soft sigh of relief, Jack watched as Buffy finally stopped before a double door that was guarded by two lumbering denizens. She arched a slender brow at the brutes, utterly unconcerned with their fierce stares, and Jack felt a flash of pride burn through him. It hadn't taken long for Jack to realize just how strong Buffy truly was - not only physically strong, but emotionally. She had survived hell, literally, and despite the many abuses that she had suffered, she still hadn't been broken. Not now, not ever. And from her earlier outburst, and everything that hadn't been said, but which he had read in her confused gaze, Jack knew that at least part of the reason for her continued survival was the same reason that he was still up, moving, and slinging insults against his worst enemies: Buffy had given him the strength he had needed, when he had needed it, just as he had done for her.
More than that, however, was the realization of how much he had grown to care for her, without thought or intention. When she had disappeared, it had nearly been enough to break him. This small slip of a girl had somehow crept into a place long kept locked away and she had breathed warmth and life into what had been deadened and cold. She had kept hope alive in him - hope for rescue, and more importantly, hope for a future in which there was more than just the love for his team and his country. It was a hope both alien and heart-breakingly familiar, and a hope that Jack would
talk about with her, no matter how much his male pride shied away from the idea.
"We come to see Bynarr, Lord of Ne'tu," Apophis ordered, breaking Jack from his scattered thoughts. Carter was shooting him looks that were dotted with concern, but he ignored his second-in-command as he instead checked on Danny before turning and following the others into Bynarr's chambers.
The room was large, and obviously something that dated back to a time when a civilization, and not a prison, had inhabited the moon, though it seemed as though Bynarr had introduced his own decorating scheme. The room was dark and shadowed, torch-lit. The floor was stone, and the walls seemed to be overlaid with bones - leg bones, arm bones, and the occasional skull. It actually reminded Jack of the catacombs beneath Paris - though not in any sort of a good way.
As one they shuffled forward, but as Bynarr, much taller, fatter, and uglier in person, stepped forward in greeting, his arms spread wide and a large, fierce smile lifting his lips, Jack, Sam, Daniel and Martouf fell back. Bynarr's bald head glistened with sweat, and while his good eye was piercing as it swept over their entourage, Jack couldn't help but become fixated by the eye that had, reportedly, been gouged out by Sokar himself as punishment for some transgression or another. The wound had healed, but badly, and the skin was torn and misshapen and it oozed a yellow pus that smelled foul, even from a distance.
"Na'onak! Haremakhet, old friend!" he greeted in a voice that boomed in the large enclosure. "I see that you have captured the Tok'ra," the overlord of Ne'tu continued as he stepped before Jacob, his eyes shrewdly inspecting his catch even as the tok'ra in question lowered his eyes in a show of meek subservience. Apophis remained directly behind his captive/hostage, his staff weapon pressed into the man's back, and Buffy moved forward at the greeting and nodded with false respect. The greeting was apparently what was expected, and with a negligent wave of his hand, Bynarr dismissed the two guards. As they retreated from the room, slowly closing the door behind them, the goa'uld turned his attention to Jack and the others. "And are these the denizens responsible for breaking the Tok'ra free?" he demanded, his eyes glinting as he raised his hand device towards them.
"Nope, that'd be him," Jack quickly stated as he jerked his thumb at Marty. All eyes followed the movement, Carter and Daniel's full of recrimination and Marty's filled with wounded surprise - but it was the opening that Apophis had been waiting for as the snake shifted his staff from Jacob's back just long enough to fire a killing shot at the back of Bynarr's neck.
It was over before it started, almost anticlimactic, and Jack couldn't help but wish that more of their missions could go this smoothly. Maybe he had been a bit hasty when he had described Buffy's scooby plans as something that never went off as they had intended.
But then Apophis shifted his staff weapon just a bit further, and the next two shots hit Buffy right in the chest. The momentum was enough to propel her back, and she hit the ground hard - sliding a short, blood-streaked distance before coming to rest in a splay of deadened limbs.