Godless Provenance: Chapter 4
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o OWhat's the big deal?
Shaking his head in mute wonder, Jack paused in his pacing to give Buffy's sleeping form a quick, assessing glance. The girl had managed to stay awake long enough to answer many of Daniel and Carter's questions, but all too soon Jack had been forced to order them to let her get some sleep - and that had been hours ago. He remembered well the sickness that had plagued Carter after Jolinar's death and as she had been forced to endure the rapid decomposition of the snake within her own body, and it took just one look at Buffy's pale features from where she lay fast asleep, her head cradled in Daniel's lap, to show that the young woman's body was desperately fighting the same problem. Luckily, in the time that she had been sleeping they had actually been left alone, which left him plenty of time to try and make sense of the young woman's claims:
A mystical warrior, previously a normal teenaged girl, that was bestowed the strength and speed of Superman, the intuitiveness and understanding of weaponry and stratagems of G.I. Joe, and the kind of healing capabilities that would make Doc Fraiser positively drool.
A classic struggle between Good and Evil that had been secretly waged since before man walked the earth - and one that was still being fought on American soil, no less, and right beneath the ignorant nose of the government that signed Jack's paychecks.
Aliens, or the 'demons' of every myth and legend of things that go bump in the night, living and breathing (well, at least some of them breathed) in their own goddamned country, with the rest of the world too blind or unwilling to see them.
And then, of course, there was the wormhole that was apparently established independently of a stargate, which was opened by the spilling of the native Californian's blood, and closed only when her blood stopped flowing - and which, according to Carter, along with their bad timing, was most likely the culprit behind their ending up in the lap of Apophis - although he sensed that Buffy was leaving some of the story out on that one.
And here he thought that his life couldn't get any stranger.
The only good news seemed to be the consensus that the self-proclaimed hell-goddess, Glorificus, with whom Buffy had been fighting somewhere out in California, before
she took a swan dive into an unstable wormhole, was in fact not
a goa'uld. While there were certainly enough similarities, the fact that the host's body literally morphed
into another person really put that idea to rest. Then again, how this could all be construed as the good news really put things into perspective.
Grumbling quietly to himself, Jack ignored Teal'c's arched brow and Daniel's inquisitive glance as he slid to the floor and glared at the shielded doorway to their cell. After encountering the bizarre on almost a daily basis for the past two years, he would have thought that he had become immune to the skepticism that had caused his eyebrows to raise higher and higher with each incredible word the girl had spoken. Then again, there was a huge difference, at least in his mind, between encountering the bizarre on a planet thousands of light-years away than to finding it in his own backyard. Not that he had believed her at first, but Carter had vouched for the girl's apparent super-human speed and strength, and when the pop-culture references really started gaining strength in her speech and phrasings, even he couldn't refute that at the very least, the young woman was most definitely American.
Which meant that they had a real problem on their hands.
Being stuck in a cell on Apophis' mothership was never a good thing in his book, and it was bad enough that he had his team here with him. The snake-god had a serious score to settle with Teal'c, he was married to the snake that had taken over Daniel's wife, and after Jack and company had blown up his ship the last time they had met, Jack was sure that he and Carter weren't sitting too well, either, on the slimy bastard's list of favorite people. But this was a risk that his team had agreed to when they came to work each morning. Such danger went hand in hand with the job they did, and the risk had always seemed worth the chance to knock the goa'uld down a step or two. But Buffy... Buffy was an unknown, and mystical warrior or not, she was still an American citizen - a civilian - who hadn't signed up for any of this. And she was sharing their cell. Add the fact that she had already displayed her uncommon strength and speed (both of which he was having difficulty imagining let alone believing), and her apparent ability to destroy a goa'uld symbiote from within her own body, and she had just unwittingly made a bad situation that much worse.
Thumping his head back against the wall, Jack shifted his gaze to where the young woman slept peacefully beneath his jacket, her pale features unlined and innocent. Whether it was her nationality, her youth, or the sickness that she was powerless to hide, Jack couldn't help but feel responsible for her, and in a situation that was admittedly out of his control, he knew that feeling was going to come back to bite him in the ass before too long.
"Sir, what are we going to do?"
Eyes slipping closed, Jack didn't bother to turn to his 2IC where he knew she sat beside him. "Currently, Captain, I'm thinking of killing Apophis, escaping this cell, dialing out of here, or perhaps stealing a ship to fly home in, and of having a beer - not necessarily in that order."
"Right, sir," she responded, and this time he could hear the wry amusement in her voice. "I guess I meant for the moment. You know that Apophis isn't going to leave us alone forever - none of us," she added, and by her tone he knew that she, too, was thinking of the civilian they now had in their midst.
"I know, Carter, but unless you can find a way to short out that shielding..."
"Sorry, sir, but I already checked," Carter interrupted, and with a heavy sigh Jack slowly turned until he could see her eyes. She never had been very good at hiding what was on her mind, at least not from him, and he easily read the fear and uncertainty in her clear blue depths. But, as always, that fear was tamped beneath the iron control of a soldier.
"Carter, do you really believe all this?" he asked as he waved his hand awkwardly towards where the girl slept, her head still pooled in Daniel's lap.
"If you're asking, sir, whether I believe in vampires then the answer is no," she responded with a wry smile. "But," she murmured as her eyes became distant, as though seeing something that only she could see, "if you're asking whether I think it's possible that she's telling the truth... well, yes, I do."
Frowning, Jack stared at his second for a moment before shaking his head in confusion. "Isn't that the same thing?" he asked as she blinked slowly before returning her gaze to him.
"No, not necessarily," she returned as she tapped a long finger against the floor. "I certainly don't believe in the vampires of myth and legend, but as Daniel would say, every myth and legend started for a reason. It could be that there is another species on Earth, one similar to the goa'uld in that they need a human host - or perhaps an infection that's spread when a victim is bitten."
"And the mystical warrior?" Jack persisted, unable to dispel the disbelief that shied away from even Carter's educated musings.
"I'm afraid that I'm at a loss on that one, sir," Carter admitted, her brow furrowing as she, too, turned towards the younger woman. "I saw how fast she moved, and how inhumanly strong she was, and I still have a hard time accepting the fact that she's human - worse, an American citizen. She walks, talks, and acts like any normal teenage girl, but-"
"Come on, I really don't look that
young, do I?"
Eyes narrowing, Jack turned to find Buffy's tired hazel eyes locked on him and Carter. Her head was still cushioned in Daniel's lap, and though he knew the question was rhetorical, he couldn't help but take another measure of the young woman. Her face, unlike his own, was unlined by years or hardship, her skin still smooth and supple, and though the roundness of youth no longer filled out her features, her petite stature contributed to that misconception. But it was her eyes that really captured him, for they weren't the eyes of a teenager, or even of a young woman. They were the eyes of a soldier who had seen too many battles, who had lost too many good people, and who was on the downward spiral, even if they didn't quite realize it yet. "No, you don't," he returned, his heart heavy with what he saw.
"Well... good," Buffy murmured, obviously thrown by his answer as she slowly pulled away from Daniel and slumped against the wall behind her. "Because though my birthday didn't contain the usual flood of bloodshed and doom, I still consider my step from teenage-dom to twenty-somethings a real landmark... maybe because
there was no torrential bloodshed," she mused with a thoughtful frown. "You know, with all of the imminent death and dying, I don't think we even took time to appreciate this fact. I think this was a landmark Buffy birthday. Completely doom-free."
For a moment, Jack didn't know whether to smile or wince in sympathy at the girl's words. Then Teal'c took the matter from his hands as the large Jaffa turned towards the small blonde and inclined his head in what could have been anything from pity, to consolation, or even a laughing nudge in the ribs.
"It sounds as though you have led a life filled with violence and despair."
Ah - so that would be understanding. Frowning, Jack turned his gaze to the big guy and made a mental note to find out Teal'c's birthday so that they could celebrate with cakes and cookies and brightly colored balloons the next time it came round. If they ever made it back to Earth, of course.
"Violence, yes," Buffy admitted with a small shrug, "but usually not a lot in the Despair Department. I mean, yes, things have been bad before... really, really bad," she admitted, a searing pain flashing in her hazel eyes before she purposely straightened. "But there has been a lot of good, too. Like this, for example."
"Wait," Daniel interrupted with a puzzled frown. "This is good?" he asked as he waved to their cell.
"Well, it's better than the alternative," Buffy amended with forced cheer as she pulled her borrowed jacket tighter around her waifish frame.
"Which would be..." Jack offered, his brow arching expectantly.
"Allowing the doorways between worlds to stay open," she returned with a small shrug. "As it was, I saw a dragon come through my end before I jumped."
For a moment Jack could do nothing but gape at the girl as she nonchalantly straightened the wispy veils of her skirt to afford the most protection in the cold room. "A dragon?" he finally asked, his mind spinning at the implications. "In Southern California?" he added as he tried his best to figure out what sort of a spin they could put on that
one. The boys at the Pentagon weren't always the most creative when it came to cover stories, Deep Space Radar Telemetry as the story behind the SGC being a perfect example, but a dragon? That would tax even the most creative of minds.
"Don't worry," Buffy assured with a small smile. "I'm sure that my friends will be able to take care of it before it does too much damage. Spike will probably even be thankful for the challenge," she added with an expression that teetered between irritation and fondness.
"You have a friend named Spike?" Carter asked, her brow arching in time with the question - although for all Jack knew, his 2IC could of had a stockpile of friends named Spike. Captain Samantha Carter was brilliant, of that there was no doubt, and she was a scientist as well as a soldier, but he knew that there was a side to her that many didn't get to see. She had a Harley, after all, and any woman who rode a hog and yet had an IQ that probably rivaled Einstein's no doubt had a many-faceted personality.
"I wouldn't go so far as to call him a friend," Buffy demurred. "He used to be one of my greatest enemies."
"So what happened?" Daniel asked as he pushed his glasses up the rim of his nose.
"He was neutered," Buffy returned, a sly smile lifting her lips. Yet before Jack could continue with that alarming train of thought, the small slayer, as she had called herself, was already pushing away from the limelight as she struggled to her feet, Daniel instinctively mirroring her moves as the younger man hovered anxiously beside her. "So, anyone figured out our ticket out of here?" she asked as she began a slow, shuffling walk towards the shielded doorway.
"We have not," Teal'c intoned as he watched her through narrow eyes, obviously ready to pull her back if she got too close to the electrified doorway.
"I wouldn't recommend touching that, if I were you," Jack offered from where he lounged against an adjacent wall. "It gives off a nasty jolt," he explained as he absently rubbed his fingers against the side of his pants, remembering well the sharp jolt that had left his fingers tingling for hours. When he caught Carter's knowing smirk, he quickly slipped his hands back in his pockets. Apparently he was more transparent to his teammates than he had thought.
"And how long did it take you to realize that firsthand?" she asked, ignoring his scowl.
"Only a few minutes after he woke up," Daniel returned as he studiously ignored the glare that Jack swung in the younger man's direction. "Judging by how loud he was cursing Apophis' birthright, I'm pretty sure that it smarted - and are you really sure that you should be up and moving so soon?" he questioned as he gently gripped Buffy's arm, ignoring her frown.
"I'm a quick healer," she stated dryly before gently disentangling herself from his grip. Yet by the way she casually moved towards the wall and leaned against the paneled surface, Jack could see that she wasn't quite as recovered as she pretended to be. With narrowed hazel eyes, she inspected the doorway as she made a show of standing on her own two feet, stubbornly portraying a faltering image of strength and solidity.
An image that Jack wasn't buying.
"So if not the doorway, what's our other options? The walls look solid," she commented as she slowly slid down until she was sitting cross-legged on the floor, her lap a mess of rumpled silks, satins, and veils. "I don't suppose we can use any of this junk to, I don't know, short-circuit the door or something, can we?" she asked as she pulled at one of the heavy bangles that slid down her slender arm.
Jack just knew
that both Daniel and Teal'c were looking at him, no doubt remembering his similar suggestion, but as Carter shook her head and flashed the younger woman a slightly patronizing smile, he found himself gladder than ever that he hadn't been the one to voice the idea. "I'm afraid that goa'uld shielding is a little more advanced than that," his genius cum captain returned in a tone that he recognized well from his own dealings with his 2IC.
"Oh," Buffy sighed as she frowned down at where her hands were twisted in her lap. "So what's Plan B?" she asked as she determinately looked at his team. "I mean, I don't know about you guys, but I can think of plenty of other places I'd rather be right now. And since my friends must think I'm dead, as I probably should be, I can't really count on them coming to the rescue... which leaves your friends," she finished with a small frown that showed her reluctance at relying on strangers for her ticket to freedom.
"Our friends?" Jack parroted as he watched the young woman straighten beneath his gaze.
"Yes, your friends, or your unit, or whatever," she supplied as she stared at him expectantly. "I mean, someone has to have noticed that you four are missing, right? So when does the cavalry arrive?"
"The cavalry?" he continued, his lips twitching in amusement.
"Well obviously," she scowled as she crossed her arms across her chest and glared at him. "Isn't it army motto or something? Never leave a man behind?"
"Ah, well that would be your first problem," Jack surmised, his thin lips lifting in a smirk. "We're Air Force, and besides-"
"A rescue operation isn't likely, or even possible," Carter interrupted, obviously intent on ruining his fun. "This place was not our intended destination and I doubt that the SGC has any idea where we are. And even if they did know that we were on Apophis' ship, they would still have no way to reach us by stargate," she continued, her voice growing more animated as she pointed out every flaw with her usual pessimistic flair.
"They would need a point of destination, and being on a ship, their point of destination, or our point of origin, is constantly changing."
"Carter-" he tried again, his eyes boring into the blond woman that sat beside him.
"We couldn't dial out even if we were given the chance - not without that final coordinate."
"Carter!" he yelled, her eyes finally turning innocently to him.
"I think we all get the point," he growled as Buffy tentatively lifted a hand.
"Um - no, actually I missed the point," she stated with a small shrug. "To be honest, I think she lost me somewhere around... well, around the part where we're lost," she admitted.
Scowling first at Buffy, and then at Carter, Jack was about to silence both women when, per usual, Daniel interrupted in his diplomatic way. "I think what Sam was trying to say was that there isn't going to be
a rescue - not from your friends, and not from ours. We're just going to have to find our own way out of here."
"Oh," Buffy returned, her lips curving in a small smile that made Jack think she had been toying with him all along. "Well why didn't you just say so in the first place?"O o O o O o O
It was amazing how slowly time could pass when there was nothing to keep you occupied. To Buffy, it felt like days had gone by since she had been thrown into the cell with the others, but Jack insisted that it had only been sixteen hours. Yet as her stomach let out another loud rumble, Buffy realized again that sixteen hours was long enough. "So we're sure that this Fish guy has nothing to gain from starving us to death?" she asked as she allowed her head to thump back against the wall behind her.
"Pretty sure," Daniel sighed from where he lay sprawled on the cold floor, his boonie hat bunched beneath his head and one arm thrown over his eyes, the rim of his glasses pinched between two fingers and dangling off to the side. "Then again, Apophis is an evil sadist, so who am I to predict what he'll do," he continued, causing Buffy to frown at his dispassionate tones.
"Gee, that's oh-so-reassuring," she muttered as she drew her legs up to her chest, long since past the point of caring about the impropriety of her revealing clothes. What was a little bit of skin between cellmates, she wondered as she wrapped her arms around her knees in a futile effort to warm her bared skin. Not that she needed to care about her thighs hanging out for all to see. Jack and Sam were out cold, getting sleep while they could, Teal'c was meditating by the door that wasn't really a door, and Daniel was playing dead. She understood that she should have been trying to get some rest as well, for even though she felt a lot better than when she had first awoken, she was still nowhere near one hundred percent. Then again, every time she closed her eyes, all Buffy saw was her sister's tear-streaked face as she told her goodbye.
It was amazing to think that less than twenty-four hours had passed since she had been standing on that rickety tower, with all of Sunnydale spread before her. Even now it was far too easy to recall the relief at finding her sister relatively unharmed, only to have it replaced by a numb horror at the understanding that she had been too late. She had been unable to keep Riley from leaving and she had been unable to save her mother. She couldn't keep Tara safe, or prevent Giles from being hurt, or keep any of her friends from what they all knew was coming. And in the end she had faced a hell goddess... and she had ultimately lost. Even though Glory had been defeated by her hand, even though a promise of never to return had been secured, she had still lost the battle. She had been too late, and the world demanded a sacrifice for her error. The world had demanded her sister, and when push came to shove, she had gladly given herself instead. Even now some small part of her tried to argue that her actions had been honorable and just when she had taken her sister's place.
She knew better then to believe her own lies.
For so many years the world had pressed upon her shoulders, pushing her further and further down until she felt old and bent beneath the immense weight. Her strength had faltered - her shield cracked - and it would be so easy to believe the pretty words that the weakness in her whispered: that this had been her gift to her sister, and that she had already outlived her time. She had died once already - a death that was final enough to have triggered the calling of a slayer. Maybe she was supposed to have stayed dead in that dank cavern. Maybe she had been living on borrowed time since then. If that were true, then it was only right that she finally accept her role and take Death's place for her sister, thereby giving Dawn a chance at life that she would otherwise be denied.
It would be so easy to succumb to that fantasy, but Death hadn't claimed her - not yet. Instead she was neither in some metaphysical Heaven nor Hell. She was alive, and while not well, she was getting there, slowly but surely. She was in outerspace, of all places, with people that, while not necessarily innocent, were still trapped there through no fault of their own. These were real people, and as always, it would come down to her to somehow see them to safety. She was needed, her duty as the Slayer calling to her, and there was no time for her to delve into fantasies of her own making. Instead, she had no choice but to face up to the real reason why she was here.
Yes, she had jumped in Dawn's stead to keep her little sister safe, but that wasn't the only reason - or even the real reason for her seemingly altruistic leap.
She had been selfish, and weak, and deep down Buffy knew that she had jumped in order to escape a world that had become too harsh and ugly - a world that had demanded too much from her, and one in which she had no longer wanted to live. Not when Dawn was the required sacrifice - not when it meant losing her, too. So she had jumped into that portal ready to accept death and whatever came next. She had not, however, expected to jump through that portal, only to land herself as a prisoner on a spaceship with a bunch of evil aliens that wanted to destroy Earth. Never in a million years, despite the strange life she already lived, could she have ever expected this twist.
Right now, she imagined that the Powers were having a really great laugh at her expense.
"Bastards," she muttered, not realizing that she had spoken the word aloud until Daniel twisted his head to the side, his blue eyes looking in her general direction in confusion. "Sorry, not you," she sighed as she waved away his upside down glance of curiosity. "Just cursing the jerks that landed me here. Us here," she amended with a fierce frown as she huddled deeper into Jack's jacket, the green fabric smelling of something that wasn't fear or desperation, but strong and resilient - determined.
Or maybe that was just Jack's laundry detergent she was smelling, mixed as it was with whatever god-awful perfume and scented oils that someone had apparently tried to drown her in.
"I stink," Buffy muttered, more to keep the silence at bay than out of any need to inform her cellmates of her olfactory issues.
"Give it a few days," Jack called out from the back of the cell, proving that the man wasn't as asleep as she had assumed, "and then you'll know the true meaning of stink."
"Fantastic," she breathed in response, a small smile nonetheless curving her lips at the familiarity to be found in even the most banal of verbal sparring. "Soon I'll have you guys crowding me just to get a whiff of this perfumed- crap," she muttered, the rest of her diatribe forgotten as the distant ring of metal shod feet reached her sensitive hearing.
"Yes, crap will soon be the issue," Jack agreed as Daniel groaned in protest, both men obviously unaware of their burgeoning problem.
"Eww," Buffy agreed, "but still not the issue at hand. I was merely saying crap as in company's coming," she explained as this time they heeded her words without argument. As she slowly got to her feet the others got to work at waking Sam, smoothing their uniforms, and adopting nonchalant poses that worked much better on Jack and Teal'c than either Sam or Daniel. Buffy, meanwhile, took that time to take a slow measure of herself.
Slayers were remarkable creatures, capable of many amazing feats, and yet even someone who had been a slayer for over five long years had her breaking point. Over the course of her slaying career, Buffy had gotten to know what her physical limitations were, and how far she could push those limitations when circumstances demanded something that was above and beyond the call of duty. In the past year, when the threat of Glory became undeniable, she had pushed herself harder than ever, and with Giles' help, she knew that she was faster, stronger, and a better warrior than ever before. She had gone up against a hell god, and while ass kickage really only happened with the help of a troll hammer, she had still prevailed to live another day... or to die, as the case would have it, by jumping from an unstable tower into an even more unstable wormhole. The point was that she had prevailed, and as a direct result, she then had the opportunity to be insulted, jailed, electrocuted, and infested by an alien snake that wanted to take her over and dress her body as an Egyptian prostitute.
This had not
been her day.
Thus, as Buffy unobtrusively stretched the sore muscles in her legs and worked the kinks from her arms and back, she nonetheless plotted as she huddled deeper into Jack's over-large green jacket. Even though she usually had Xena's ass kicking abilities, the fact remained that she still wasn't in top form - or even in half form, and as usual, she looked less threatening than the heroine's inept sidekick. Heck, she looked less threatening than the heroine's inept sidekick's great aunt might appear. She knew this, and in a situation this uncertain, she actually took advantage of this fact instead of railing against it. Within a few steps she found herself allayed beside Daniel, and next to his tall frame and with Jack's large jacket hanging loose around her, she managed to make her waifish frame seem even smaller. With eyes cast humbly to the floor, she allowed a measure of her abject misery to show on her face as she played up her part - going even so far as to lean against the bookish man, as though she needed his support to remain standing.
For a brief moment she thought about moaning piteously, but feeling Jack's questioning eyes upon her, she realized that such theatrics bordered on overkill. Instead, she helped Daniel to feel useful and manly as he wrapped an arm around her and held her protectively against his side as the Jaffa train rolled into the station.
"Unless one of you guys are pushing a food trolley, you might as well just keep on walking," Jack called out as he lounged lazily against a gold slatted wall, one foot propped behind him and his arms crossed casually across his thin black tee-shirt. "No, seriously, this may come as a surprise to you guys, but we really do need food and water just as much as the next guy," he continued as Buffy counted four Jaffa, all armed with the staffs and zats that Daniel had described to her while Sam added in a bunch of techno mumbo jumbo that went straight over her head. Like a good Slayer, Buffy had fallen back upon the tried but true method of smiling and nodding, the same method that she had come to perfect with Giles - and either she was better at it than she had realized, or else the captain had previous experience with this tactic, for she had given up relatively quickly.
"Jack, I don't think they're here to give us dinner," Daniel stated unnecessarily, and Buffy felt his arm draw her closer against his side as one boulder of a man triggered the door release while two of his friends stalked into the cell, heading straight for her and Daniel.
Even as she hated herself for doing it, Buffy cowered against the archaeologist's side, issuing lame protests as they manhandled her from Daniel's desperate grip and towards the staff-covered doorway, her cellmates all the while noisily voicing their concern. What she hadn't counted on, however, was Daniel playing hero. One moment she was being none-too-gently guided towards the hallway, and in the next she was sharply jostled and then shoved roughly against the wall. Grunting as she rebounded off the unforgiving metal, Buffy turned in time to see Daniel being shrugged off the back of one nameless Jaffa, while the other brought his staff down too quickly for anyone to intercept, the base striking the archaeologist's head so hard that Buffy was surprised the staff didn't break. As it was, Daniel went down without a sound, the sickening crack of blunt object against skull reverberating in the room as his already injured head rebounded off the floor before lying still, one ashen cheek pressed against a slow seepage of dark blood.