Godless Provenance: Chapter 21
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
In that one horrible moment when Jack heard the gunshot that ended Charlie's life, time felt as though it slowed to a crawl. He had been sitting on the front step, Sarah cradled between his legs, looking at Charlie's school pictures when the shot rang out. They had both looked up towards the second-floor window, and Jack could remember everything standing still as his mind recognized the shot for what it was, but not for what it meant - not yet. But then everything clicked and Sarah was screaming out Charlie's name. Jack had raced upstairs, moving as fast as he could, but everything was so slow... so slow that there had been too much time to remember each and every moment that he had ever spent with his son. Time was moving so slow that his thoughts flashed on every possible future he had ever envisioned for his little boy.
And there had been Charlie lying on the floor.
His handgun was on the floor beside his child's unmoving hand.
Slowly... so slowly...
Jack had cradled his dead, bleeding son in his arms.
The world should have stopped moving. Time should have stopped turning.
His son was dead.
Charlie was dead.
The paramedics came and they took Charlie away, and Jack began to wonder if time would ever resume its normal pace.
In the moment that Apophis shot Buffy not once, but twice, at point-blank range and in the chest, time did the opposite. It sped up. It sped up to the point where he was on the floor beside her before his mind had the chance to register the thought that Apophis had shot Buffy. Apophis had shot Buffy
. Just bam, shot, and then he was on the floor beside her, his mind frozen into stillness as the rest of the world fell silent.
She was lying on her back with a rapidly spreading pool of blood beneath her. Her camo-clad legs were twitching, spasming in pain - boots skittering against the hard floor. Her black tee-shirt was saturated with blood, the scorched cotton melted to the large, grisly wounds: one just above her left breast, above her heart, and the other high in her abdomen. The smell of burnt flesh and fresh blood coiled in his nose, made his empty stomach heave, but Jack ignored its roiling protest as his gaze finally lifted and settled upon her bloodless, tortured features.
Buffy was in pain. So much pain. Shudders wracked her small body and blood bubbled from between her tightly clenched lips as she somehow managed to withhold her screams. Tears trailed down her pale cheeks, and her eyes were clenched shut, and all Jack could think was that there shouldn't have been red staining her lips and dribbling down her chin.
Everything was happening so fast - too fast. He heard the others yelling at Apophis, was vaguely aware that Carter and Daniel had their sidearms aimed at the snake, but the snake was using Jacob as a shield and they couldn't get in a clear shot. Martouf was there, somewhere, but they were all moving at the speed of light and Jack didn't have time to focus on them.
So he focused on Buffy.
His training told him that he shouldn't move her, and instructed him to put pressure on the wounds and try to stop the bleeding. So Jack did. He lifted shaking hands and pressed one against each gaping hole, feeling her hot blood ooze between his fingers, charred skin and cotton crumbling beneath the pressure, and her body bucking beneath his touch as a jagged scream was finally ripped from her tightly clenched lips. And then Jack was sobbing as he withdrew his bloody hands and threw his training out the window.
Her eyes were open, wild and hazed with pain, as he grabbed her shoulders and heaved her up until she was cradled against him. She screamed with the movement, and he thought that he may have screamed with her. He wasn't sure. There wasn't time enough to figure it out. Once more he pressed his hands against the wounds, and once more she cried out, her body bucking beneath the pressure before falling limp against him. He thought she may have passed out from the pain, prayed that she had, but then her hazel eyes were open, they were clear, and they were looking up into his own.
He was supposed to tell her not to move, but when she lifted a quivering hand and pressed it against his cheek, even for the briefest of moments, he smiled.
He was supposed to tell her not to talk, but when she returned his smile and whispered to him, he felt that smile crumble.
"I'm sorry - so sorry. Just... just wanted you safe," she murmured as the tremors began to slow, her panicked, pained breathing easing. And Jack understood. She wasn't apologizing for coming back for him when she had finally been safe; for risking her own life to save his own. She was apologizing for Apophis shooting her, for making her bleed in his arms, just like Charlie.
She was apologizing for the conversation that they would now never get to have.
"I think I... I've fallen... in love... with you."
And he understood that, too. If things weren't moving so fast, if he had time to move his stubborn lips to form words, he would have told her that he, too, had fallen in love. Despite the brittle thing that had become his heart, despite how jealously he guarded his solitude, she had found a way inside that cold, dead thing and she had breathed new life into it. She had given him a reason to live, and a reason to hope.
And with her next words, she destroyed what she alone had built.
With those words time, as it had a way of doing, once more clicked back into place and Jack felt everything slow in a way that it had no right doing. Buffy's eyes were closed, her body limp in his arms, but her grisly, wounded chest still moved with the slightest breath of air. His mind was now operating at the correct speed, and he found himself turning to his team, his friends. They were in a stalemate, Jacob in jeopardy and Apophis still breathing, but though time was moving slower, there still wasn't enough and so he ignored this fact and instead turned to the tok'ra that he loved to torment. "Martouf, hurry!" he demanded as the alien in question raised an eyebrow before hesitantly doing as ordered. Jack would have yelled and berated some more, but some part of him already understood the tok'ra's reluctance.
Martouf dug the healing device out of the dropped bag and knelt beside him, his eyes full of knowledge and compassion. Jack hated those eyes - hated that knowing - but Martouf said nothing as he lifted the healing device and held it over Buffy's torn, bloody chest. The device began to glow and Marty's eyes slipped closed in concentration, but the forlorn hope revealed itself for what it was when he lowered the device only a moment later.
"I am sorry, Colonel O'Neill, but she is too injured," he murmured as he shook his head and backed away. What he didn't say, but what Jack heard nonetheless, was that the healing device was just that: a tool for healing. It wasn't a sarcophagus and it was incapable of healing wounds so severe - so mortal. Jack knew this - had known it from the moment he had knelt at Buffy's side and assessed the damage with weary, knowing eyes. "There is nothing I can do."
"But there is something I
can do," Apophis stated, his voice too loud, too harsh in the quiet turmoil of Jack's mind.
But it was a voice - a voice that broke through the void and caused Jack to lower Buffy gently, tenderly to the ground before surging up in a tidal wave of blood-red fury. He rushed forward, murder in his mind, his eyes, and his outstretched hands when both Daniel and Carter intercepted him, their muscles straining, quivering as they held him back.
"Sir!" Carter gasped, the word a cry of sympathy and a plea for the father that stood between them and his objective.
Jack heard; Jack cared; but Jack was hurting and angry and blinded by fury and so he surged forward once more, his horror spitting out in a roar that deafened him to his team's grunts of exertion. "You betrayed us!" he roared at Apophis, even with the sure knowledge that Buffy was bleeding, bleeding, dying
on the floor behind him.
"I was only beating you to the betrayal," Apophis returned with a calm flippancy that only managed to enrage him further. "We both know that you would never have allowed me to live."
"And so you kill Buffy? Why?
" Jack demanded as his fight began to flee beneath the oppressive knowledge that Buffy was dying
on the floor behind him. She was bleeding, bleeding, dying
on the freaking floor and he wasn't there, he wasn't there
and she was dying.
"No," Apophis returned, his voice filled with contempt. "I mortally wound her and then provide you with a solution that is mutually beneficial."
Jack wanted to turn from Buffy's killer. He wanted to look away from the tortured disgust that twisted Jacob's features. He wanted to look away, but he couldn't, for to look away would also mean to look at Danny's empathy, and Carter's pity, and Buffy dying
. He couldn't do that. He couldn't sit there and watch as another person he loved died. Not again. Not when-
"What solution?" Daniel asked, dragging Jack's attention back to the snake that had killed Buffy, the one that was responsible for making her bleed all over the floor behind him. He could feel the wet press of her blood against his knees from where it had soaked through the legs of his pants. He could feel the tackiness of it on his hands from where he had pressed them against her wet, gaping, burnt wounds.
"My symbiote can heal her."
With those five words, Jack felt the encroaching fog of shock dissipate as his gaze snapped back onto the smug visage of a masked monster. Daniel and Carter were no longer restraining him, but that was fine because Jack was through with the rushing and the need to kill, maim, and destroy. No, now his attention was riveted upon the monster that had killed Buffy, and yet was also promising to save her. But Apophis was a snake, a monster, a villain, and Jack remembered this, knew
this, and so his attention shifted to where Jacob was looking behind him at Buffy's prone form.
With a slow dip of his head, the former-general marked the transition of control from himself to Selmak. "I cannot say for certain, but such damage may not be beyond a symbiote's ability to heal, provided the symbiote is strong and healthy," the tok'ra stated, her words slow and measured and deep.
"Then either Lantash or Selmak should do it," Daniel quickly interrupted. "They can temporarily abandon Martouf or Jacob and heal the damage, and then return to them once Buffy has been healed."
The suggestion was only out there for a moment before Jack, himself, quashed it. "No," he stated, feeling everyone's eyes shift to him in surprise. "No, we can't risk it," he muttered as his gaze returned to the smug, self-satisfied grin of the monster that had killed her. "Buffy has destroyed countless symbiotes since our capture. She may not be able to tell the difference between a goa'uld symbiote, or the tok'ra symbiote that is trying to help her," he explained as his mind took over where his heart could not. He was once more shutting down his emotions and he began to think with the cold, analytical mind of a soldier. "Once Buffy got her strength back, she would kill the symbiote."
"Then why aren't you afraid that Buffy will just kill you, too?" Daniel asked with a puzzled frown as he, too, turned his attention back to Apophis.
"Haremakhet was able to rule her for a time," Apophis returned, giving the answer that Jack had already known, "and Haremakhet was weak."
"But why Buffy?" Jack asked, even though this, too, he thought he understood. "You could have chosen any one of-"
"No, any other choice would have been foolish," Apophis stated with bald disdain. "You would have never allowed me to use any of your team as hosts, for you would have never been able to force me to flee my new host, but Buffy Summers... we both know that eventually she will regain strength enough to destroy me - if I haven't already left. And I will leave," he continued. "Once we are clear from Ne'tu, you will allow me my freedom. When I have obtained a new host, I will set her free."
The argument was elegant in its simplicity. Immediately Daniel began to debate with himself, aloud, about what decision should be made - what was right versus what Buffy would want. Carter and the others were silent, apparently lost in their own internal deliberations, but Jack knew that the answer was simple, really. He knew without a doubt that Buffy would rather die than ever have to go through a blending again. Each time she was forced to endure the process was just another time that she came that much closer to breaking. She had once admitted that having a symbiote climb its way inside you, wrapping itself around your spinal cord and merging with your mind was pain beyond belief, and an intrusion on the worst kind of scale. It was rape in the spiritual, emotional, and mental sense, and Buffy had already had to endure countless rapes. The last straw had been Harry, because Harry had defeated her, if only temporarily, and as a result she had been forced to not only share headspace with him, but share in his every horrific memory.
And that was just a minor goa'uld. To force Buffy to have to endure memories of every horrible thing Apophis had ever done, to live it as if those memories were her own, and worse, to never really lose those memories, those sensations... it was a horror beyond horror.
And it was also the easiest decision that Jack had ever made.
"Do it," he ordered, the soft command overriding Daniel's arguments and stopping the others cold.
Apophis met his eyes, read the intention there, and nodded once before lowering his staff weapon and stepping around his hostage. Carter bypassed the goa'uld and hurried to her father's side, slipping into his embrace, and Daniel and Martouf both stepped out of the way - Danny shooting him concerned, uncertain looks all the while.
Jack ignored them all.
He ignored them as he followed Apophis over to where Buffy remained prone and unmoving upon the blood-stained floor. She was very pale now, and a thick line of blood trailed from her unmoving lips, but Jack saw the blood bubble ever so slightly and knew that their deliberation hadn't stolen her only chance.
It was hard seeing her so grievously wounded and still upon the floor. Buffy was never still. She was a constant ball of energy and movement; a constant flux of fluidity and grace and wit. She was none of these things now. She was silence. She was stillness. She was the on-rush of death.
Apophis knelt beside her, and Jack wanted to turn away, needed
to turn away, but he also knew that he couldn't. He was responsible for this decision, and the least that he could do was bare witness to the atrocities that he had brought upon her. And so he knelt opposite of Apophis and took Buffy's still, cold hand in his own and he watched - watched as Apophis removed his mask and revealed a face that was hideously disfigured. He watched as his nemesis leaned over the woman that he loved and bent forward until his lips were pressed against her own in a bloody kiss - and he prayed that someday, somehow, Buffy would be able to forgive him.
She didn't struggle. She didn't shake. There were no convulsions or seizures or screams to mark the transition. Just one moment Apophis was leaning over her and she was still, and in the next Apophis was falling back, eyes wide and terrified while he stammered in a language that Jack didn't understand.
But that was no longer Apophis.
Jack knew this, recognized it, and as Daniel hurried forward and answered the terrified, scarred man in that flowing language, Jack turned back to Buffy and watched as her eyes opened and her stare turned towards him. The beautiful hazel eyes were a stranger's, and they flashed with golden light before dimming once more.
They were Buffy's eyes, and yet Jack swore that he could recognize Apophis in their depths.
"Assist me," she spoke... he
spoke in a voice that was Buffy's, but not. It was deep, distorted, and again, Jack swore he could hear Apophis in the cold, commanding tones.
Woodenly, Jack reached for Buffy's arm... Apophis' arm, as Martouf took the other, and between them they levered Buffy... Apophis
to his feet. He couldn't stand on his own, and so Jack supported him, Buffy's arm draped over his shoulder, and Martouf bearing the other half of her... his weight. Between them they managed to maneuver themselves into the golden circle that marked the rings. Distantly Jack heard Daniel communicating with Teal'c, Sam working with her father at the ring's controls, and then there was a flash of light and...
... and they were free.O o O o O o O
The teltak's shower was nothing like home, but the water was hot, the pressure pounding, the supply unlimited, and so Jack lingered under the scalding spray. His thoughts drifted to his house, and he wondered if they had sold it, if they had kept his stuff, or if he was homeless and without possessions, without mementos of a life once lived. Most of his things could be replaced, with time, but there were some that were irreplaceable: photos of Sarah and Charlie, letters, medals, ribbons, a few things that had belonged to his parents, his Simpson video collection. This was all that remained of a life that he had fought so desperately to return to.
At least there would be a life to which he could return.
As his soft sigh rattled in the small, alien bathroom where goa'uld gold met cold metal, Jack's thoughts then turned to the man that had hosted Apophis' symbiote through countless centuries - perhaps even millennia. There was no way to know just how long the man had been held captive, forced to live a life that was not his own, to do things beyond his control - a prisoner within his own body. By all accounts the man should have been crazy - stark raving mad - and perhaps he was. There was no way to know this, either, for the man was dead.
Carter said that the shock had been too much for his system; for his mind. He had been dominated and shoved back to bear witness to all of the atrocities that Apophis had committed - and there had been many. Over the course of his imprisonment he had been the unwilling participant to rape, torture, and murder, but he had also been the unwilling recipient to torture, murder, and resurrection. So much he had done, and so much had been done to him. In the end, he had been freed, and he had died free.
To survive so much only to die when he was finally a prisoner no more... it was sad and it was wrong, but in a way, Jack couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't also a mercy. Martouf had seemed to think so, and Teal'c as well... or maybe the big guy was just grateful that even if Apophis was not yet dead, the image of his former master was
Their reunion hadn't been wrought with tears, or even manly hugs, but it had included a slow nodding of the head, a solid hand upon his shoulder, and a glimmering in a pair of warm, proud dark eyes. The deep, grave silence had exuded friendship, respect, and an understanding for what it meant to endure hell. It was also an understanding that for Jack, the hell was not yet over.
"Showering, Daniel. I'm showering and rinsing and scrubbing," Jack sighed as he leaned back against a wall that remained cold despite the onrush of steaming water.
"And you've been showering and rinsing and scrubbing for over two hours," Daniel returned in a voice laced with regret. "Sam wanted me to tell you that the ship carries only so much water, and while its systems are significantly advanced to clean and recycle the water you're using, they can only take so much."
"Meaning that if you don't finish it up in the next ten minutes, Sam said that you're going to make the ship explode," Daniel returned, and Jack could hear the shrug in his voice. "I've also left some clean clothes, as well as a few other things that Buffy picked up for you before we left." And here was where Daniel's voice faltered. There was a hitch of breath, audible over the pounding of the water, and then Daniel continued on, his voice bright with false cheer. "So, just finish up in there and we'll, uh... we'll be out here."
Jack waited until he heard the door close before he released the breath that he had been holding. He was pretty sure that the impending explosion was an exaggeration on Daniel's part, but he took the message to heart and finished scrubbing off the final layer of Ne'tu-contaminated skin, even as he did his best to not think about the one subject that he had so far managed to avoid. Not that it helped.
Outside the shower, Jack found a small towel, a fresh pair of BDUs in his size, clean socks and a pair of underwear, and an assortment of small, simple treasures. There was a new razor and a can of shaving cream - shaving cream
- and so Jack spent another half hour taking his time in shaving off the grizzled hair that hid a face that was scraped and raw-looking. For a moment, he looked at his face - hallowed cheeks, sunken eyes, sallow skin. He looked like someone who had spent the last six months in hell, shaving without a mirror, soap or shaving cream, while using nothing but the rough, sharpened edge of a knife fashioned from bone. There was also a real honest-to-god toothbrush
. Brushing his teeth became so much fun that Jack did it three times, just for the hell of it. The last item was a container of deodorant, and it was that last treasure that cracked his firm resolve and left him sitting on the bathroom floor in a hurting daze.Buffy.
Daniel didn't need to say it for him to know that the petite slayer had been the one responsible for all of the simple pleasures that were spread out before him like a personal hygiene buffet, not when he had spent the last six months dreaming with her about these same things. Only Buffy would have understood the wonders of shampoo, and she, too, would have been overcome by the simple pleasure of polishing six month's worth of grime from her teeth. She would have understood the pure, blissful wonders of clean underwear. Of deodorant. Buffy would have understood all of these things and more, because it had been Buffy who had been trapped with him in hell. It had been Buffy that had kept him sane.
It was Buffy's blood that he had spent the first few moments of his shower washing away.
In the aftermath of their rescue, despite Apophis' intervention, those first few hours had been a struggle to save her. The wounds had been horrific, the damage impossibly severe, and yet they could do nothing for her but apply heavy gauze bandages to help stem the tide of blood that Apophis was slowly working to counter from the inside. In time, the bleeding had slowed and the bandages had no longer been needed, but Buffy had lost so much of the precious fluid that were it not for Apophis, she would have died from blood loss during those first few hectic hours. Last he saw, the wounds were scabbed and angry looking, the flesh still marred with burns, and the snake had entered into what Jacob had called a healing sleep.
It was the healing sleep that had broken him, for she had lain there looking for all the world like Buffy
. It was impossible to look at her feminine form, the soft curves of her face, and not
think of her in terms of she, her, Buffy
. But the fact remained that the person strapped to that hideous, gold-plated bench wasn't
Buffy. It was he, him, Apophis
There had been talk of using a healing device to speed the healing, but Jack had been uncertain as to how that could affect Buffy eventually regaining control. No, better to wait and allow the healing to come as naturally as possible. He wouldn't dare.. couldn't dare risk the possibility that through their meddling, Buffy would somehow be unable to finally kick Apophis out and set herself free. But the watching and waiting had been killing him.Killing him.
This waiting, this watching - it was nothing new, not really. Back on Apophis' ship Buffy had been overcome by Harry, and the whiny, spineless goa'uld had run the show for a few days before the small slayer had reemerged victorious. During that time he had mocked Harry, antagonized him, and hated him all the same. He had looked into Buffy's eyes and he had seen a stranger. It had been hard, but this was proving to be impossible. Yes, Harry had been a stranger, but Apophis was no stranger. Apophis was his enemy - his nemesis. He was looking into the eyes of the woman he loved and all he could see was the person that he most hated.
He hadn't slept, not really, and he had barely eaten. He knew that the others were worried, that his team, his friends
were concerned for him, but every time he even looked at food, his stomach would rebel. Every time he closed his eyes, Buffy's choked words would come back to him. He couldn't sleep, he couldn't eat - not until Buffy overcame Apophis and finally gave him the death that he deserved.