Godless Provenance: Chapter 6
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.O o O o O o O
So this was hell, Buffy thought as she stared blankly at the glowing walls of the sarcophagus. True, it wasn't the literal hell that she had visited when she had run away to LA for that summer, but as the panels slowly slid back, she realized that it was something that was infinitely worse. She had never been a whiz at languages, but she now understood the Goa'uld word for medical lab. The word had been seared into her memory from the very moment she had been led into the lab after Jack's death.
She had already been so weak and tired by that point. She was numb - the battle with Glory, her imprisonment, the invasion of the Goa'uld symbiote and being zapped by too many zat guns finally catching up with her. And then to lose their only chance at escape, to have to lay there and watch as Jack was killed... it was too much - at least, she had thought it was, up until she had recognized the Goa'uld who had dialed into Apophis' ship, thereby providing the final symbol needed for Jack's team to make their escape.
Haremakhet. His name would be forever seared into her mind as well - the name of the alien scientist that had ordered her to strip, and had then ordered the Jaffa to do it for her when she had refused. She would always remember the name of the creature who had brought her to that final low point, hours, perhaps even days after strapping her to a table, naked and vulnerable, so that he could run his tests and experiments. Apophis had wanted to know why she was different from other Tau'ri - why she was stronger, faster, and resistant - lethal to the Goa'uld symbiote. They couldn't understand that the difference was mystical. Supernatural. There would be no scientific answer - no quantitative reason that they could duplicate or eliminate. Instead Haremakhet was left to continue poking, prodding, and slicing as his tests became more invasive and debasing - and painful. God, she couldn't forget painful.
After a time, she had grown weaker as her body began to lose the battle against the damage being done. Her will was stretched and torn beneath her humiliation at the violation to her body, her pride shattered, and all hope of escape was instead replaced with a simple hope for the end. She had yearned for that peace when she had jumped into the portal to save Dawn, only to be thwarted when Death evaded her to leave her stranded as a prisoner. But at that point, she could feel that Death was coming again - she could feel it at the edges of her graying vision - and she had accepted its invitation with the grace that was left to her.
Only to be thwarted once more.
She didn't know how it was possible, but as the lighted panels dimmed and her eyes met the glittering gold ceiling above, she knew that any and all methods of escape were beyond her. Even death. She had felt it coming - she had recognized its icy fingers as it lay claim to her mortal body - and yet even now she could feel the steady beat of her heart as it pushed blood through veins that had been damaged, past skin that was once more unbroken, and she felt her full slayer strength lying in wait as rough hands seized her arms and bodily lifted her from her tomb. Her body had been rejuvenated, and even the snake that had been rotting withinher seemed gone, the debilitating weakness no longer pulling at her limbs and causing her stomach to clench in painful waves, but it was all a lie, for the memories of what had been done to her were still too close. She couldn't pretend that it had all been a dream, which meant that she was resigned to this hell and whatever torture they brought next.
Numb, despondent, she allowed them to guide her through halls that twisted and turned until one door slid open to reveal a room that she recognized all too well - and only then did her resolve return in a burning rush of fear. The room was small and empty of objects, gold paneled walls meeting gold paneled ceiling and floor, with nothing but the solid, gold paneled alter to break the monotony. Even the alter itself seemed ordinary in an otherwise blindingly-golden room. It was around seven feet long, and three feet wide - a solid block with nothing but tiles of gibberish to catch the eye. And yet this room, filled with guards and priests, had become more terrifying to her than anything that her horror-filled mind could ever hope to devise.
"No!" she gasped, panic fueling her as she struck out against the guards, feeling her strength coil in her lean arms, rushing in the sharp snaps of her legs, and driving her to do the kind of damage that would forever prevent these people from ever hurting her again. This time there was no remorse as she took life after life, for the only thing that mattered was leaving this room and never returning.
She had been wrong before.
There had been one thing worse than the tests that Haremakhet had run on her. It was this room and all that had happened here. The humiliation and pain of Haremakhet's experiments had been debasing, mortifying, but the invasion that had taken place in this simple room had been a terror of the likes she had never before known, and had desperately prayed to never know again. She couldn't take it again. She wouldn't.
Startled, Buffy violently twisted the neck of the battered guard and turned towards Apophis, her hands instinctively lifting protectively before her as she recognized the zat gun and the fire of blue electricity that slammed into her. Once more agonized screams were torn from her throat as the world dissolved into a mad mass of jittering limbs and blurred vision. She tasted blood and knew that she had bitten her tongue in her convulsions, but even the pain was a passing thought to the horror that her limbs were jerking out of her control. Without control, her fate was no longer in her hands, and she was powerless to prevent the remaining Jaffa from lifting her small body and placing it on the freezing alter. By the time the energy surge had passed, it was already too late as she felt the invisible iron bands encase her, once more preventing her from making the smallest of movements. She couldn't even turn her head to spit the mouthful of blood that coated her teeth and coursed down her throat, and was instead forced to swallow the copper fluid or choke on the bloody wad.
"Begin the rite of implantation," Apophis ordered as he waved a casual hand at someone that was beyond her line of vision.
She couldn't see what was happening, no matter how hard she strained, and instead Buffy was resigned to listen to the wet squelch as another mature symbiote was pulled from a Jaffa's pouch. Her heart was hammering hard and fast now, a rapid staccato beat that drowned out his approaching steps until the impassive face of another Jaffa priest finally came into view. Terror had stolen her voice, she realized, as her eyes strayed down, almost unwillingly, until she saw the hissing creature that was Evil personified.
She was helpless, powerless, and this demon knew this as it darted from the priest's hands and slid around her neck, under her head, and then tore through the newly healed skin at the base of her neck, invading her body and soul. It was every awful thing Buffy had ever imagined, worse than her worst nightmare - and yet, unlike in a nightmare, here she was unable to wake up. She could feel the mature symbiote as it wrapped itself inside of her - could feel its mind as it brushed against her own, and in that moment, as before, Buffy knew this creature, just as it knew her. She knew its name and the name of the queen who had spawned it. She knew its sordid history and every horror that it intended to commit with her own hands. It knew her secrets and desires, just as she knew its own baseless and craven wants - and that was before the true battle began.
Agony came and seared the very act of thinking from her fumbled grasp, and inexorably she felt its will dominate her own, its presence driving her down and back to a place where she would be helpless - forced to watch and feel, but no longer able to control ought save for her thoughts. But this prison was already inhabited by one she had placed there long ago - one that she kept hidden there until need drew her out. Terrified, weak, and helpless, Buffy was forced into that dark place, and then - then the Slayer awakened and Buffy knew that the true battle for dominance would begin. The Slayer's sole purpose was to defeat the demons that plagued the world, and this was an invasion in the truest and most perverse of ways.
Willingly, Buffy submitted to the Slayer in a way that her iron control had never before allowed. The mind of the symbiote was hideous, and so dirty that she felt its stain would never leave her. She couldn't fight this battle. She couldn't win this battle. No human could, for it was an impossible task. The Slayer, however, surged forth and did her sworn duty. The battle was longer than last time, the outcome less certain, for despite how strong she had become since her certain death in Haremakhet's hands, her body still suffered. And yet, when Buffy next opened her eyes, she did so of her own volition. The symbiote was dead and she was in control - and Apophis knew it.
Exhausted, Buffy didn't even have the strength to prevent the Goa'uld from turning her chin towards him, her eyes locked with his dark gaze. "The rites of implantation are to be repeated until they are successful," he stated, his words directed as much to his priests as Buffy herself, her body growing cold as his smile deepened. "And they will be successful. She is weary, and in the end, the goa'uld will emerge victorious. Her body, her mind, and all of her secrets will be ours."
She was wrong.This
was Hell.O o O o O o OArrogance. Such blind arrogance. Can't they see themselves for what they are?You displease me. Burning power through the hand, pressure and then release. Death.You please me. Soothing power, pressure and then easement. Life.So many lives. My control... Control. Power. Life or death. My choice.I am a God.
Groaning, Buffy slipped from her dream haze into a world that was far too real to her weakened body. She ached in places she didn't even know that she could ache, and her eyes felt heavier than the troll hammer she had used in the fight against Glory. Even breathing seemed to take effort, a concentration of each inhale and exhale as her hands convulsively tightened around the thin material that was bunched into her tight-fisted grip. Great shudders shook her small frame as the cold battled with the sweat that poured from her overheated skin. She was burning alive even as she froze solid, and the contradictions tore a soft whimper from her clenched lips.
"Shh, it's okay. I've got you," whispered a low voice against her ear as strong arms tightened around her. Belatedly, her sluggish mind began to awaken and she realized that she was cradled in someone's lap, like a small child, her body curled into the hard planes of another's chest with her head tucked under a chin that scratched her with sharp bristles, and her hands fisted in his shirt.
His shirt. Black shirt. Cotton. Jack's shirt. Jack's voice. Colonel Jack O'Neill. Dead Colonel.
Jerking back, Buffy somehow found the energy to try and pull away, to try and scramble from the dead man's grip, her wide, horrified eyes locked with those of an animated corpse. A living, breathing animated corpse whose arms were too strong and refused to let her go, whose warm breath fanned against her face as he looked at her with serious brown eyes, and whose heart beat slow and steady beneath her twisted grip in his thin black tee. "But... you're dead," she murmured, her voice low and scratchy as she abandoned her efforts as fruitless. She was too weak, and besides, it wasn't like she'd never been in the embrace of a dead man before.
"Not anymore," Jack returned with a small, tired smile. "Apophis and I go back awhile, and that kind of death would have been far too easy. Instead, I got a first-class trip to the sarcophagus," he explained.
"Yeah, I've seen it," Buffy acknowledged with a small frown. "I've actually had the occasion to visit it twice already," she added as she tried to shift into a position where she could have this conversation while at least pretending that she wasn't cuddled up with a near stranger. As before, the symbiote decomposing in her body made her feel just as bad as the first time - maybe even worse, but that could have been her recent foray into the tortures of being a lab rat that was speaking.
"Sorry, you've been pretty out of it since they brought you in a few hours ago," Jack apologized, interrupting her musings as he apparently understood her thinking, and with a sheepish smile he helped to settle her on the floor beside him. He left the question of what had happened to her while she was away unasked - for which Buffy was grateful. Either that or he already knew. Maybe it was obvious.
With a soft sigh, Buffy stretched out her legs before her - and frowned as she saw that her skimpy outfit and gaudy jewelry had been replaced with a simple brown dress that did absolutely nothing for her petite figure and which screamed destitution. For a moment, she contemplated being insulted by this fact, and annoyed that someone had changed her clothes for her, but then she was reminded that she had been pretty much naked since the last time she had seen Jack, and decided to be grateful that at least this time she had a little more protection from the cold. Besides, while she wasn't sure if she could claim that she had been through worse than Haremakhet's tortures in her relatively short stint as the slayer, she did know that no matter how awful the memories, it would take a hell of a lot more to break her. What was the essential raping of her body compared to the raping of her soul? Yes, they could strip her body down, but they had no where near the power that Angelus had once wielded, not to mention that evil little thing called Cancer. "So back to the sarcophagus thing," she murmured, forcing her mind away from too-recent horrors and on the conversation at hand. "What does the glowy box have to do with you being not dead?" she continued forcefully as she finally noted her surroundings - a familiar ten foot by fifteen foot cell of uncompromising gold gaudiness, dimly lit by lights she had never been able to locate, only with the added addition of what seemed to be a goa'uld toilet.
"Everything," Jack supplied as he lifted his hand to adjust a baseball cap that was no longer there. Annoyance flashed across his weathered features, and his hands jittered in his lap, as though they were unaccustomed to sitting still. "Carter could explain the science of it better, but basically it can heal just about anything, and even brings the recently dead back to life," he admitted as he settled on drumming his long fingers against his knee.
"Oh," Buffy murmured, her eyes trained on the staccato beat of pink flesh against green camouflaged cloth before his words finally penetrated. "Oh
," she repeated, her eyes growing wide as everything clicked into place. She remembered the energy of Glory's portal ripping her to pieces, the pain bringing darkness, and then the darkness erased by the light of the sarcophagus. She remembered her body growing weaker and weaker during Haremakhet's testing, until darkness took her.. and then once more the light of the sarcophagus obliterated Death's dark hold. She had
died, but Apophis' damn sarcophagus had robbed her of that opportunity every single time. "Jerk," she muttered, her eyes narrowed before she caught Jack's wry smile and met his amused glance. "Well, I guess that's good news then," she offered, even though she was really having a hard time convincing herself to the truth of her words.
"No, not really good news," Jack countered easily as his fingers finally drew still, his head falling back against the wall behind them.
"So... not being dead is bad news?" Buffy countered as she paused and then looked once more around their all-too-familiar cell. "Okay, seeing how death could be a possible improvement," she admitted before her gaze slid back to the man that was stretched out beside her, "but that seems like a pretty pessimistic view. Isn't this the point where you go all optimistic and tell me how your team is coming to the rescue?"
"Nah, I was saving that part till later," Jack confided as his fingers once more got to drumming against his bent knee. "I was referring to prior experience with the sarcophagus. Let's just say that Daniel spent a little too much time with one earlier this year and it didn't exactly enhance the finer points of his personality."
"So... more time in the sarcophagus makes a grumpy Buffy?" she queried, a slight smile touching her lips.
"In a way," Jack agreed as he abandoned his drum solo in favor of pacing the cell. Amused, Buffy watched as he aimlessly wandered back and forth, occasionally offering the pretense of checking on the invisible shielding, but mainly content in his constant motion. In a flash of insight, she realized that this was less a demonstration of nervous energy, and instead an inherent part of the colonel's personality. "Though according to the Tok'ra," he continued, oblivious to her scrutiny, "the more time spent in a sarcophagus means the more damage done to your soul, if you believe in such things, or whatever it is that makes you who you are - not to mention an addiction that puts cocaine to shame."
"Oh," Buffy returned, her smile slipping. "Well let's try and avoid that, then," she murmured as she drew her knees up to her chest. She had been put in the damn thing twice already, and while she felt more sick than anything, she didn't think
that she felt any less soulful than normal. Would more time in the sarcophagus be the equivalent of an instant happy for Angel? The thought did little to make her feel better, and Buffy quickly turned to Jack to help banish the bad memories that seemed so much closer due to just how weak and overall rotten she felt. "Listen, I'm really sorry about... well, everything," she offered as Jack finally paused in his incessant movements and turned to her with narrowed eyes. "I know that I was slowing you down, and your team-"
"Is off of this damn ship, and that's thanks to you," Jack interrupted, his features unreadable.
"But they left without you-"
"My command, my decision," he cut in again, his expression softening somewhat as he moved closer and settled beside her. "Besides, you're a civilian. It's my duty-"
"Yeah, speaking of duties," Buffy interrupted with a weak smile, "I'm pretty sure that mine outranks yours. Sacred duty over sworn duty, and all that." With a small shrug, she let her head settle back against the hard wall, her eyes slipping closed as she wrapped her arms around her knees and attempted to conserve some amount of warmth. "This is what I was born to do, whether or not I always wanted to admit that. And while yes, my friends and I did manage to save Earth from total meltdown, we're still ultimately responsible for your team getting pushed out of the wrong gate."
"We knew what we were signing up for-"
"What? Demons, apocalypses, and slayers?"
After a brief pause, Buffy felt Jack's shoulder shrug against her. "Okay, so I don't remember any of that being in the fine print. I think the Air Force tends to stick with the more broad definitions, like 'threats to our nation,' and the real stickler, 'do what you're told no matter what you're told.'"
"Ah, right... I always knew there was a reason that I never enlisted," Buffy admitted as she felt Jack hesitate for a moment before sliding his arm around her to pull her against his side, sharing his warmth with her.
"Didn't meet the age requirements?" he teased, causing a smile to pull at her lips.
"I'm twenty, not ten," she reminded as she dug an elbow into his side. "Besides, aren't you too old to be playing army?"
"Air Force, and forty-eight is not old. Well, it's not that
old," he clarified gruffly. "And you're just upset because you probably didn't meet the height requirement."
"Okay, that's a low blow," she muttered grumpily before silence fell once more. At least this time it was a more comfortable silence as Buffy allowed her thoughts to drift - happier times and happier places causing a serene smile to pull at her lips. While it was true that she felt sick enough to want to roll over and die, having Jack for company was a soothing consolation. His wit was sharp, his tone sarcastic and gruff, but his hard exterior seemed like a poor cover - either that or he had a weakness for sickly blonde girls that looked like death warmed over.
"I doubt that we'll manage to engineer another escape attempt," Jack mused, and though she wasn't looking at him, she just knew that he was glaring at the shielded doorway. "Especially since all of my geniuses are hopefully safely back on Earth, not to mention my Jaffa muscle. Which means that we'll just have to hang around until the others can get back with the cavalry."
Snorting in disbelief, Buffy rolled her eyes as another shiver wracked her small form. "And how realistic is the hope for a rescue party?" she asked, deciding for the moment not to mention the fact that in her line of work, she was
the cavalry. "Weren't you and Sam going on and on about how it was impossible to use the gate-thingy to get onto a spaceship that never stays in the same place for very long?"
"Now who's being the pessimist?" Jack returned, his voice clipped as his body tensed beneath her cheek.
Sighing, Buffy closed her eyes and relaxed her own aching body against his, feeling the heavy drug of sleep trying to drag her down. She understood what he was doing - he needed to believe in his friends and in their unspoken promise to return for him. He needed to hang onto that hope, no matter how futile, for it was the one thing that allowed him to hang onto his brevity, to hold onto his strength and share it with her. He talked like a man who had been in such a situation before, and from the obvious fact that he had survived whatever hell he had endured, he had the faith in his friends, and perhaps even in himself, to survive it again. All in all, that meant that his request was something that she would strive to grant - of course, she always had her own cornerstone to depend upon. "Well as soon as your friends get back home, they can let my
friends know what's going on, and between the two groups, we'll be out of here in no time. We've always managed to find a way to fix..." she trailed off, finally noticing the slow shake of his head. "They won't find my friends?" she guessed, her frown deepening.
"Buffy, you never even told us your last name," Jack explained, his voice gentle. "You explained a lot, but you did it in a way that never really gave us anything concrete to work with. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You live on the Hellmouth, otherwise known as Sunnyhell, in southern California - which I doubt is the real name of your town. You have a friend who is a witch, a magic store owner who is your watcher..." he trailed off with a helpless shrug. "Is Buffy even your legal name, or is it shortened from something else?"
"Elizabeth," Buffy grudgingly admitted as she sagged against him, her hopes dwindling even further. She was so used to living a lie that she hadn't even realized how little information she had given when she had admitted her supernatural side. Even while locked in a prison cell on a spaceship, she still worked to protect her friends and family... and now that instinctive urge was going to prevent her and Jack from getting the help that they so desperately needed.
"Even if they were able to find your friends, my team still wouldn't be able to approach them with the truth of what happened to you. We work for a top-secret government project, and your friends would need the highest of clearance in order to learn about the Stargate program. I'm sorry."
"So am I," Buffy admitted before slowly shrugging her shoulders. "I guess we'll just have to hang on till your friends get here, then," she agreed sleepily, even as she vowed that the next chance she had, she was taking it. They had to get out of there - preferably before
she had to endure another visit to the implantation chamber - and without Willow, Giles, and the others working on a magical solution, she knew that her time was limited. She didn't know how much longer she could keep this up.
"You keep it up as long as we have to," Jack replied, startling her with his response to a thought that she had never intended to speak out loud. "As long as we have to."