Godless Provenance: Chapter 7
See Chapter 1 for disclaimers and ratings.Author's Note:
For the nitpickers: while we never see Buffy referred to as Elizabeth anywhere in the series, we also never receive firm confirmation that Elizabeth is not
her official name. Thus a little bit of creative license, as in my universe I'm going with the fervent belief that Joyce and Hank didn't really
name their child Buffy at birth, but rather Elizabeth Anne Summers, and have always used one of the shortened versions of Elizabeth (like Liz or Beth). O o O o O o O"We just have to hang around until the others get back with the cavalry."
When Jack had spoken those words to Buffy - what had to be well over three weeks ago - he hadn't allowed himself to believe that it would really take his team this long to return. Somehow he had landed himself in yet another impossible situation, but this time even he had to admit that it was not only unreasonable, but completely unfair to place such high expectations of rescue on his team, even if they had always managed to miraculously come through for him in the past. Yet ever since his imprisonment in Iraq so many years ago, or after the more recent horror of losing Charlie, he was at a loss as to where else to put his faith if not in the team members that had never failed him. Gods were fickle, but his team? They were worth a hundred of any religion.
Not that any sort of faith was coming very easily these days.
His watch had been taken about the same time that his favorite cap had disappeared, and without his dependable timepiece he was powerless to tell exactly how long he and Buffy had been locked in their own little prison. For a while he had tried to mark the passage of time by when they were given food and water, but all too soon he realized that such luxuries were more after thoughts of their ever-changing guards, and never reliable. He had then attempted to judge the passage of time by how often he was taken before Apophis so that the slimy bastard could get his thrill out of beating him senseless - more for personal enjoyment than out of any real desire to pump him for information about Earth. However, that, too, had proven unreliable as Apophis' interest in him had waned - something to do with another System Lord, Sokar, and the rising hostilities between the two super powers - or so he had gathered from snippets of overheard conversations. Unwillingly, he had then been forced to try and track the passage of time by how often the guards came for Buffy in order to stick yet another snake in her head in hopes that this one would finally gain control - but even that proved impossible, as the frequency of the horrors that she faced had only increased with the inevitable passage of time.
He had lost count of how many occasions she had been taken while he was helpless to do anything but receive a good beating for his protests and fruitless efforts to keep her safe. In a way, he couldn't help but feel that perhaps this was the real torture that Apophis had devised for him - for what could be worse than sitting by and watching as someone literally wasted away before him? Buffy was steadily growing weaker, hour by hour, minute by minute, and there had been no reprieve from the deceptive healing powers of a sarcophagus. Instead they would come for her, Jack would fight, he would be struck down and Buffy would be taken. Time would pass and then they would return, Buffy's unconscious form being dragged like a broken doll between them. She would sleep, her body wracked with tremors and her pale, sweaty brow creased in pain. She would wake, she would reassure him that she hadn't yet been defeated, that she was still 'hanging on,' and then she would joke, smile, and talk to him about any and everything except for the horrors of their current surroundings. At these times he would force away his burning anger, he would smile, he would laugh, and he would join in her lie as he talked about hockey, the Simpsons, his favorite opera, and most often, his team. He would do anything, by this point, to keep her sane.O o O o O o O"I spy with my little green eye something.... gold.""Buffy," Jack sighed, his voice tinged with annoyance, "I thought we had agreed that playing the 'I Spy' game was an act of futility. As I pointed out the last time you insisted on playing, everything is gold here, aside from my green pants, black tee-shirt, and slightly gray hair, and your brown dress and very dirty blonde hair - all of which we covered in the first five minutes.""Yes, but if everything is gold, that means that you have lots to choose from," Buffy argued from where she lay against the back wall, her smile bright despite her pale pallor and the fevered sweat that beaded her upper lip."Which means that it will take me forever to figure out what you spied," Jack countered, his arms crossing determinately across his chest. He didn't know how, but she was even worse than Daniel in somehow getting him to give into whatever she wanted, no matter how hard he valiantly tried to resist her fluttering hazel eyes or the pout of her lips."What? Do you have somewhere else you have to be?" she countered, and with that smug grin, he knew that he had lost. Again.With a put-upon sigh, Jack let his head thump back against the wall behind him. "Is it the... little circle with the squiggly line by the upside down triangle in the top left of the wall to our right?""Nope - but good guess," Buffy assured with a glittering smile. "Try again."O o O o O o O
At times, however, Colonel Jack O'Neill couldn't help but wonder if all of their lies and pretenses were for nothing. There was no cavalry coming - they both knew this - and yet Jack also knew that saying these words out loud would be the equivalent of breaking whatever was left of the young woman that clung to him as though he were the only thing that could keep her sane. Saying the words out loud would finally smother the fire that still burned in her eyes, and extinguish the hope that their moment would come, the one little break that they needed in order to finally steal their freedom.
Never in his life had Jack been a man of inaction. It just wasn't in his nature to sit and wait for help to come, and as he had learned during their captivity, the same could be said for Buffy as well. Thus, despite his urgings to wait for the cavalry to arrive, both he and the small slayer had plotted their escape whenever the memories of their past became too painful. They had put their not-inconsiderable experience together, and he had lost count of the number of bids for freedom they had attempted - only to fail dismally, time and time again. Buffy was sick and weak - barely able to stand on her own - and the Jaffa guards had learned long ago not to underestimate either of them.
"No," Buffy whispered, breaking Jack from his dark thoughts as she twisted his tattered tee-shirt in her small fists, obviously lost in whatever dreams held her captive.
"Hey, hey - it's okay," he murmured, his arms tightening around her as his gaze remained riveted upon the unadorned golden wall, as always eerily lit by some muted, unidentifiable light source. Again he cursed the fact that there was no bed on which the tired slayer could rest, no blankets to cover her shivering form, and instead he had done the only thing he knew how as he drew the trembling young woman into his arms, cradling her in his lap, any and all personal boundaries long ago forgotten during their forced imprisonment.O o O o O o O"I have to go to the bathroom," Buffy announced, long past the point of blushing.The proclamation caused little more than the arch of a slender, dark brow - one interrupted by a thin scar that she hadn't yet got around to asking about - before the older man's features creased in concern. "Need any help?" he asked as he stood as quickly as his battered body would allow and moved until he was hovering over her slouched form. And though she wanted to bristle at the assumption that she would ever sink that low, reality instead reasserted itself with the understanding that soon that offer wouldn't be so unwarranted."Thanks, but I think I can manage," she returned, her tone dry as she painfully accepted his assistance in at least gaining her feet before beginning the slow shuffle to the toilet that was located in the back corner of their cell. Upon reaching her destination, she paused to ensure that Jack was in his assigned position before the invisible shielding to their cell, his back to her with his hands stuffed deep in his pockets as he rocked on his heels - the only privacy that could be afforded. Nodding in satisfaction, she then hiked up the hem of her sweat-stained brown dress. With a sigh of relief she sank onto the cold rim of the toilet, her aching muscles and quivering thighs showing their appreciation for the brief respite from even the small chore of holding her weakened body upright.Per usual, however, her bladder refused release until all impending tinkling could be masked, and with that thought in mind, she commented upon the first thing she could think of, her stray thoughts prompted by the glimpse of her legs, her glorious tan now nothing more than a memory. "Have you noticed how not hairy I am?" she asked, her question directed at Jack's back, and with the words, her bladder finally released its hold. Quickly she hurried on, thankful that the colonel didn't turn at her question. "I mean, not that I ever was a really hairy person, but after this long even I should have gorilla legs and arm pits. I should be utterly disgusting right now, but my legs are so smooth that you'd think I just got done waxing them - and I'm not talking about the cheap wax you buy in a box at the store, but the really good stuff you get when you go to a salon and they do the dirty deed for you."For a moment there was silence, but Buffy was finished by this point, and didn't mind the pause quite so much as she readjusted her dress and then began the slow shuffle back to her corner of their little cell - all the while fondly remembering the simplest luxury of toilet paper. Even the cheap, thin stuff that felt like sandpaper would be a welcome change. When the silence continued, Buffy paused in her slow lumber long enough to notice that the colonel's back had grown stiff, the muscles taut and quivering. "Jack?" she asked, concern coloring her voice - and not for the first time, she cursed the weakness that prevented her from going to the older man in the same manner he had always unfailingly done for her. "Jack, what's wrong?" she persisted, on the verge of making the attempt, weakness be damned, when he finally turned and allowed her to see the pain that caused his thin face to crease and appear that much older."I had noticed," he admitted, and for a moment Buffy was confused by the solemn admission - unable, at first, to connect his grim statement with the seemingly-innocent question that she had posed. When she did, his response seemed so off-kilter for the triviality of the matter that she couldn't help but shake her head in puzzled confusion. "I think they must have done something when they prepared you to be host for Klorel's girlfriend," he explained, only adding to her confusion."You mean aside from making me look like I was from an ancient Egyptian whorehouse, and besides trying to drown me in the most god-awful perfumed bath possible - which you were right, I am missing right now," she admitted as she took a whiff of her under arms. "But aside from that, and from putting some of the gaudiest gold jewelry on my arms and around my neck... they also made my legs and arm pits not hairy?" she asked, carefully measuring each statement with narrowed eyes and a small frown."I'm sorry, Buffy," Jack whispered as he quickly crossed the distance and settled on the floor before her, his larger hands catching her own and squeezing them tightly, obviously misinterpreting her expression. "I can't imagine the snakes wanting to bother with such mundane things as shaving the host's legs every day, and I wouldn't be surprised if they've come up with a way to permanently make it so they don't have to.""So what you're saying is that it's permanent?" Buffy asked, her frown twitching. "That I'll never have to shave either my legs or my arm pits again?" she prodded, waiting for Jack's solemn nod before a large grin spread across her face. "Well, it's about damn time that something good came of this!" she exclaimed as she settled happily against the cold wall."You're not upset?" Jack returned almost hesitantly, in the way of all men when they're confounded by the fairer sex."Upset? Why would I be upset?" Buffy returned as she stared at Jack in disbelief. "Don't you understand how annoying it is to have to shave your legs nearly every day in order to keep them smooth? You go even one day of being lazy, and suddenly you're pricklier than a cactus and liable to scratch yourself or anyone that dares brush against you. No, the only choice is to either suffer through the horrors of shaving your legs every single day, or else wait enough time that the hair becomes so long that it's actually grown soft-""Eww," Jack interrupted, a grimace twisting his features."Double eww," Buffy agreed with a guilty smile at remembered laziness before reaching out and fondly tugging at the dark, gray-speckled whiskers that covered Jack's cheeks and chin. "You're just grumpy because they didn't give you the no-hair treatment - although maybe the treatment doesn't work on old-""Stop right there," Jack cut in, his eyes narrowing in warning, "unless you plan on snuggling with the toilet when you need a pillow later on.""Alright, alright," Buffy laughed, holding her hands up in surrender - ignoring the tremors that had long-since become a way of life in their imprisoned world - and instead allowed her head to fall on Jack's shoulder as his arm dropped familiarly around her shoulders. "Snuggling wins again," she sighed, feeling him draw her closer to his side. "Although I can't help but wonder... think they do boob jobs as well?"O o O o O o O
Slowly, day by day, the snakes were wearing her down. Each time the internal struggle lasted a bit longer, and with each new goa'uld death, he was helpless to watch as another part of her became lost to the battle. "It's okay," he repeated, his eyes moving to the crown of her tousled blonde head. "It has to be," he added, his low words rumbled for her ears alone as he sheltered her with his larger frame, his eyes carrying the unspoken fear that things would never be okay again.
"No, it's not," Buffy whispered, surprising him as she slowly tilted her head, her wide, hazel eyes looking far too large in her pale, gaunt face. She had only been returned from the last failed implantation a few hours ago, and it was unusual that she would be awake so soon. "They're coming," she whispered, her eyes telling him that once more she heard footsteps that were just beyond his hearing, and finally he understood what had woken her from the sleep her failing body so desperately needed. Truly, it was the only thing that could have woken her by this point, and Jack felt his anger burn brighter and hotter than ever. It was too soon - too damn soon for them to be taking her back to have yet another snake stuck in her head. He knew this, and by the fear that he had long ago recognized in her shadowed gaze, Buffy knew this too.
"Buffy," he murmured, her name the best reassurance that he could offer as she burrowed her face into the crook between his shoulder and neck. He could feel her warm breath fan against his skin, but it was the warm splash that soaked into his torn collar that caused him to stare down at her tangled hair in growing misery. He wasn't disturbed by the fact that she was crying silent tears, for truth be told, after all that she had endured these past weeks - and especially those things she refused to speak on - even the strongest of men would have broken down long ago. No, his main concern was that these were the first tears she had shed, and to do so now could only mean that she, too, understood that the end was finally drawing near.
"I can't do it again - not so soon," she whispered desperately, voicing his fears aloud as he instinctively crushed her small, trembling body again him. In the last few implantations they had foregone using a newly matured symbiote for one which had abandoned its previous host to try for dominance. The snakes were growing more confident in their coming victory, and all it took was one look at the terrified young woman that he cradled in his lap to see why.
"Buffy, you just have to hold on a little-"
"They're taking me over," she interrupted, her head tilting back until he could see her haunted gaze. "They're overriding my thoughts. They're polluting me. The last one - he was so strong and he's still in here," she continued as she tapped her head with a hand that shook with fatigue, sickness, and a desperate fear. "His thoughts, his memories - they're all here! I can't win again! I can't feel what they feel - remember what they've done as though I-" she broke off as the guards finally appeared in the corridor outside their hellish prison. "Jack, please don't let me go," she begged, and in that moment, Jack knew that this time would be the last that he would see Buffy as she was ever again.O o O o O o O"So do you really think that they're still bugging our cell?" she asked, breaking the comfortable silence that had fallen between them. Already she felt her energy waning as sleep once more caused her to smother a large yawn against her cloth-covered knees."What? You think they already got tired of hearing about Danny's tendency to add to the gray in my hair? Or how much Carter always bored me with her geek-speak? Or of all the embarrassing stories Teal'c would tell us about Apophis-""Most of which I still think you're making up," Buffy interrupted with a sly smile."Your doubting hurts more than words can say," Jack sighed dramatically, his eyes twinkling. "But even if they get tired of my own amusing stories, what about yours? Hyena packs and the consequences of drinking too much beer?" he countered, this time referring to her own carefully structured tales of her past. It was amazing, really, how much they could tell each other without actually sharing anything that could harm their friends or help Apophis - if Apophis was even still listening."You say that, and yet I bet that there's a room full of Jaffa on this ship, crowded around some doohickey with a bowl of popcorn, laughing their asses off at our collective wittiness," she countered with a tired sigh - a small smile curving her lips. "You just wait... you'll see," she breathed, her eyes slipping shut almost of their own accord.The last thing she knew before sleep claimed her was the comforting feeling of Jack's arm pulling her closer until she was settled against his side.O o O o O o O
The armed Jaffa triggered the door and two of their brethren stepped confidently into their prison, their heavy boots ringing off of the metal floor as two others followed them in with their zats primed and aimed. Even now they were wary, their eyes cold and hard as they seized Buffy's too-slender arms and tried to muscle her from his tight grip. But Jack wasn't letting go - not this time, and instead he cursed them in every language he knew as his arms became bands of steel that held Buffy against his chest. Her fingers were dug like claws into his back, breaking skin and drawing blood, but the pain only fueled his determination against the hopeless battle.
And it was a hopeless battle.
They both knew this, even as they struggled to hold on to one another - and yet their struggles were in vain.
With one swift stroke, an armed Jaffa pistol-whipped Jack with his zat'nikatel, causing the colonel's head to explode in a wash of bright colors. Immediately he felt his empty stomach contract as he sagged helplessly against the wall, his arms falling away and a feeling of emptiness consuming him as Buffy was brutally torn from his grip.
"Jack! Let me go! Jack!"
"Buffy?" he returned, his voice a hoarse whisper as he swung his head drunkenly towards the small slayer's panicked voice. The world was spinning chaotically around him, and once more he felt his stomach contract, trying to push out what little it contained as the nausea seized him. Groaning, he fought against the urge to curl into the pain and instead forced himself to his unsteady feet. With slow, faltering steps he moved towards the shielded doorway only to realize that the guards were long-since departed, and even Buffy's cries were a dim remembrance. Cursing, he slammed his closed fist against the wall, only to stumble against the smooth surface as the world tilted - the hammering in his head growing deeper as gray began to edge his double vision.
Hissing, Jack finally succumbed to the inevitable as he backed against the wall and slid down until his butt rebounded off of the hard floor - adding yet another bruise to the assortment that he already sported. Eyes slipping shut of their own volition, he dropped his head against his raised knees, unwilling or unable to prevent his dark thoughts from turning to his team and the realization that they weren't coming. He was being unfair, and he knew it, for if there had been any way possible for them to return, they would have done so long ago - and yet that thought did little to ease the hurt betrayal that darkened his memories of the teammates that had become his family in the two years that they had been working together. Carter, Teal'c, Daniel... he would have died for each and every one of them, and to feel abandoned by them now....
With a pained groan, Jack crushed the heel of his hand against his closed eyes, seeing a patchwork of bright lights behind his closed lids. He was too tired, too hungry, and in far too much pain to allow his thoughts to continue on this dark thread, and instead he allowed the fatigue to claim him. He was so tired, so sore, and he felt so heavy...
With a startled oath, Jack felt the world tilt, and only his instinctive curling into a small ball prevented his already injured head from cracking open against the far wall as his body slammed into the hard surface. For a long moment, he lay there - stunned and hurting - before common sense once more reasserted its hold and he recognized the rocking of Apophis' mothership for what it was. Ignoring his assorted aches and pains, Jack managed to roll with the next upheaval of his world, all earlier condemnations for his missing team forgotten beneath a wave of relief.
They were here.
His team had finally come for him.