Disclaimer: Joss and co. own all things Buffy, and SFC owns Stargate. No copyright infringement is intended, so please don’t sue. I don’t have any money anyway.
Dedication: To Helen and Nikki, for whom I do everything. And my angels, Jordan and Jessica, may they rest in peace.
Summary: Three years after the end of the series (BtVS), a group of former Scoobies have a new mission. Kicking interplanetary undead ass.
Author’s Note: Special thanks to DaBear, Sirius, Miss Kayl, Big G, Rob Clark, Darklight, Eykar, S.M., charmedfanatic3000, Alexandra, slbwhitewolf, Mytryk, Calia, WBH21C, RickW22, lmichelle1, Jwolf, Enjael, Jen007, and Thundertb for the feedback. It’s much appreciated.
August 13, 2006
Colorado Springs, CO
Xander and Willow were sitting together eating lunch. Not an unusual occurrence in and of itself, but for the fact that they were eating lunch in the mess hall of a military facility inside Cheyenne Mountain.
A lot of things had changed since Sunnydale was destroyed three years prior. For one, the world was full of slayers now, giving the rebuilt Watcher’s Council a virtual army to battle the forces of evil. It had taken a little over a year for what was left of the Council to organize again, and begin a program for recruiting slayers in the Eternal Battle. And thanks to Giles, many of the Council’s older and more barbaric practices had been put to rest. Slayers were treated with respect now, as people instead of just as tools. The Council had things well in hand now, which left many of the Scooby gang asking themselves what they were going to do with their lives now.
Giles remained in England with the Council, spending his days in their immense library with his first love, books. Buffy and Dawn eventually settled down again in California. More than anything, Buffy wanted a normal life for her sister. She still kept in touch with the Council, and consulted with the local Watchers and slayers on the latest evils, but she kept her schedule light. Willow and Kennedy moved to New York, where they both enrolled in NYU. Willow also consulted with the Council on an as needed basis. Faith, despite her happiness at the end of the ordeal with the First Evil, became restless with all the downtime and decided that she wanted to be where the action was. She, along with Robin Wood, moved to Cleveland to safeguard the city against the forces that the Hellmouth drew to it. Xander for the most part felt like he didn’t have anything left to cling to. He went to Cleveland with Faith and Robin for a while, but ended up setting out on his own. He was bitter, angry at the universe for all that it had taken from him. At the time, the loner lifestyle appealed to him, and he crisscrossed the country, killing any demons or vampires that happened across his path.
Until one day when Xander was approached by an Air Force Colonel named Jack O’Neill, and he was given an offer that he couldn’t refuse. It was a chance to make a real difference again. With Xander’s help, the same offer was extended to some of his friends, and a few of them accepted as well.
But then, some things never change. That’s what Willow was thinking as she looked across the table at her oldest friend as he wolfed down a slice of lemon meringue pie. Xander’s appetite was still rivaled by no one, and the two of them found themselves best friends again. Closer than they had been in years. They made new friends as well, Colonel O’Neill and the rest of his team among them. And Willow could see that light in Xander’s eyes, or eye rather, slowly returning. He was a lot like his old self again, brave, loyal, with that same sense of humor in the face of danger, and that same lopsided grin. But there was an edge to his personality now too, a sadness and a seriousness sometimes. He would never be one hundred percent the same as he was, Willow surmised. Nor should he be. People change, they grow up. It’s the natural order of things. She herself was a far cry from that shy, mousy girl she had once been. If someone had told her then, that someday she would one day be sitting in a military facility wearing fatigue pants and a black tee shirt, looking through a pair of wire-framed glasses at her oldest friend who was dressed exactly the same, save the eye patch and the dog tags hanging from his neck, and she would have said they were crazy. But here she was.
Xander peered up at her from where he was hunched over his dessert. “You’re staring again,” he said with a mouth full of pie.
“Sorry,” Willow said, shaking her head. “I was just thinking.”
“Just how much everything has changed. Sometimes I look around and I still can’t quite believe where we are, what we’re doing.”
“I know what you mean,” Xander agreed. He took the last bite of his pie and checked his watch. “SG-1 should be getting back soon. You think we’ll get the call?”
“If Daniel translated those tablets accurately,” Willow said. “It definitely looks like a job for us.”
“I hope so.”
“Are you really that eager for action again?” Willow asked. “It hasn’t even been a week since we got back from PX-1109B2.”
Xander grinned. “What can I say, action is my reward.”
Willow couldn’t help but smile back. She opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by the PA.
“SG-13, please report to the briefing room, ASAP.”
Xander smiled again as he stood and drained the last of his soda. “Looks like you get your wish, Spider-Man,” Willow joked.
“To the Bat-poles!” Xander announced as he and Willow left the mess hall.
“I hate it when you mix your superhero metaphors.”
When Willow and Xander got to the briefing room, General Hammond, Colonel O’Neill, Major Carter, and Dr. Jackson were already there. Jack had a bandage on his right forearm. “Where’s Teal’c?” Xander asked immediately. “Is he okay?”
“He’ll be fine,” Samantha answered. “He’s in the Infirmary now, he took quite a beating.”
“If it wasn’t for him we never would have gotten back to the gate,” Daniel added.
“What happened?” Willow asked.
“Colonel O’Neill asked that SG-13 be included in this briefing,” General Hammond said. “We should wait until the rest of your team gets here. Have a seat Captain Harris, Ms. Rosenberg.” Xander and Willow sat at the other side of the table, across from SG-1.
They didn’t have to wait long. A minute later Faith walked in with a towel around her neck, wearing track pants and a black sports bra. “Hey guys, what’s up? Damn, you guys look like hell,” she said, catching a look at SG-1. “Told you you should have let us come.”
“I’ll remember that next time,” Jack said, rubbing his head. Faith took a seat next to Willow.
A moment later, the fourth and final member of SG-13 entered. He snapped to attention and saluted as he entered. “Reporting as ordered, Sir,” he barked.
Hammond returned the salute. “At ease, Lieutenant Finn. Take a seat, SG-1 was just about to brief us on their latest mission.” Riley nodded and took the last seat next to Faith. “Colonel,” Hammond said, turning to Jack.
“Carter, why don’t you start,” Jack said.
“Yes, Sir. Well, as you know when we first sent a reconnaissance drone through the stargate to PX-201V8, we found a stone tablet with writing on it near the gate. Daniel translated it, and we discovered that it was a warning. It said that their world had been overrun by creatures of enormous strength, who could not be killed and seemed to live forever.”
“Yeah, we know all of this already,” Faith cut in. “Get to the part where you guys got your asses kicked.” Jack shot her a glare. He was hardly a paragon of military discipline, and he understood the need to have civilians on SG teams, but the young slayer got on his nerves sometimes.
“The only other thing the drone saw were ruins, no signs of life,” Jack continued. “We thought the tablet referred to vampires, nothing we couldn’t handle. Two blasts from a zat and they’re dust in the wind. That’s why we decided that SG-1 could handle it alone.”
“Not vampires then?” Xander asked.
“Bigger,” Jack said.
“Slimier,” Daniel added.
“With…antlers,” Sam finished.
“Chaos demons,” Xander and Willow said in unison.
Faith smirked. “Never send a man to do a slayer’s job.”
“That’s enough Ms. Williams,” General Hammond warned. “Continue Colonel.”
“Teal’c and Daniel explored the ruins, while Carter and I scouted ahead a little further to see if we could find any signs of civilization. We found a couple of stone structures, but no people. We were heading back through the ruins to the temple where we left Teal’c and Daniel when we spotted movement in the distance.”
“They were using the ruins to cover their approach,” Carter continued. “They seemed to come out of nowhere. If we hadn’t have had the little bit of warning that we did, we’d probably be dead. As it was we at least had time to draw our zats.”
“I hit one of them with three shots,” Jack said. “But they still kept coming.”
“How many were there?” Xander asked.
“Three,” Jack said.
“Were they wearing clothing? Did they speak at all?” Willow asked.
“No, no clothes,” Jack said. “And all I heard were grunts. Does that really matter?”
“Demons evolve in much the same way that humans do,” Willow said. “It’s important to know where they are developmentally. These guys sound like primitives. What about the buildings you saw, how advanced do you think the people of this planet were?”
“Mostly stonework,” Daniel answered. “From what little I saw of the writings in the temple, I’d guess they were middle to late Iron Age equivalent. I saw pictographs depicting swords and other metal tools.”
“What about any Goa’uld influence?” Riley asked. “Did you see any reference to the Egyptian gods?”
“No, none,” Daniel answered.
“Anyway, after they attacked we radioed Teal’c and Daniel and told them we were bugging out,” Jack continued. “Teal’c’s staff weapon did a little more damage on these guys, it slowed them down but it didn’t stop them. One of them managed to gore Teal’c. He tried to block the antlers with his staff, but he was only partially successful. He still got stabbed. When they were on the ground, he fired his staff weapon again at close range. This time he took the thing’s head off. We managed to hold off the other two with zats enough to get us back to the gate. They followed us until Carter dialed us home and the gate opened. I guess it must have spooked them, they took off.”
“Thank you, Colonel.” Hammond said with a nod when O’Neill was finished with his report.
“Sir, I recommend we send a couple UAV’s up to scout as much of the surrounding area as possible and see if there are any humans left on this planet,” Xander said. “I also recommend that my team be sent in to clean house and evac any refugees.”
Hammond nodded. “Alright, you have a go Captain Harris,” he said. “Just be careful.”
“We always are, Sir.”
The General nodded again. “You leave in one hour.”
Ten minutes after the briefing, Willow found Xander in the base’s gym, doing pull-ups on the bar in the corner. His shirt was off, and there was a thin sheen of sweat covering his skin. She took a moment to admire how much more toned he had become in the last year and a half. Serving in the SGC definitely agreed with him.
“I thought I might find you here,” Willow said. “We’re leaving on a mission in forty-seven minutes, don’t you have anything better to do?”
“It takes me all of ten minutes to get dressed for duty,” Xander replied between pull-ups. “You know how tense I get before a mission.” Another pull-up. “I’m just trying to work off some of that nervous energy.”
“Well, don’t work off too much. You don’t look that nervous to me.” The fact was, Willow didn’t appear to be nervous either. But Xander knew her well enough to read her, she was. She was just enough of a professional that she didn’t let it show, and she didn’t let it interfere with her work.
Her eyes locked onto the tattoo that now graced Xander’s right bicep. It was the upside down V shape that had become the symbol for the SGC, the seventh chevron. Above it in block letters it read, ‘USAF – SGC’. And below it in cursive script, it read ‘Lucky 13’. Willow still wasn’t used to seeing it on the body of her best friend, it just seemed so strange, so anti-Xander. It happened the night after they got back from PX-1109B2, five days previous. Xander and Riley went out and got drunk that night. They weren’t falling down, sloppy drunk according to Xander. But they were buzzed. They showed up the next day at the base with identical tattoos on their arms. Faith thought they were great, but not exactly her style she said. She already had barbwire tattoos on both biceps, but she promised to get something in the near future to commemorate her service to SG-13 along with her teammates. Willow declined. Considering how dangerous their line of work was, and the possibility that someday her parents might get that phone call from General Hammond, well, she just wanted to make sure that they’d be able to bury her in a Jewish cemetery, as she knew would be their wish. And that meant no body art.
General Hammond on the other hand was not pleased at all. He was ready to march the pair down to the infirmary and have Dr. Fraiser laser them off, but Xander pointed out that the tattoos gave away no secret information that their uniforms didn’t already. General Hammond finally agreed to let them keep them, though he still wasn’t happy about it. Which prompted Faith to announce that if she did decide to get a similar tattoo, she would make sure that she put it someplace where the General had no business looking, which left most of the men in the room blushing. Riley hadn’t been too happy about it at first either, blaming Xander for talking him into it while they were drunk. Xander offered to pay for the laser surgery, but whether it was the idea of the pain or that Riley secretly did like the tattoo, he declined. He tended to keep it covered up though whenever he could. Xander on the other hand was always proud to show it off, along with the body that he worked hard to maintain.
Xander let go of the bar and landed on the floor. He picked up a towel from a nearby stationary bike and wiped the sweat off his face. “You’re staring again,” he said. This time however, he knew why. “Does it really bother you that much?”
“It isn’t the tattoo that bothers me, it’s the reason you got it.”
“You mean because I was drunk?” He almost sounded afraid when he said it, and he was. Afraid he had disappointed Willow.
“No, Xander, not that. I know you don’t drink that often, and when you do you can handle it. You’re not your father, and you’ll never become him, no matter how much you drink. It’s just not in you.” Xander just smiled and nodded slightly, silently acknowledging the encouragement and thanking her for it. “I’m talking about what happened on PX-1109B2, and what almost happened. The reason you and Riley went out and got drunk. That tattoo will always be a reminder of that.”
“Willow,” Xander said softly. He held his arms open and Willow stepped into them and hugged him back. “It’s meant to be a reminder of everything that’s happened here in the last year and a half, the good and the bad. I had been thinking about getting it for a while, way before PX-1109B2. I just…I’ve lost so much over the years, we all have. I wanted something that I couldn’t lose, something that I’ll have for the rest of my life to remind me of what we’re doing here.”
Willow pulled back enough to look Xander in the eye. “You won’t lose me, Xander. Not ever again, I promise.”
Xander smiled. “I know, Wills.” They both still had a lot of regrets over the way they had drifted apart those last few years in Sunnydale and afterwards. But they were working through it together.
“Good,” Willow said. It was at that moment that she realized that she was hugging a shirtless Xander, and that her hand was resting on a rather well defined bicep. She coughed slightly and looked away as she stepped out of the embrace, fighting the blush that was creeping up her face.
Xander chuckled. “You’re blushing. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that you were hot for my bod,” he said jokingly, striking a pose. Willow laughed, her embarrassment forgotten. “Of course, we all know that you’re a fan of the fairer sex. Especially Major Carter.”
Willow’s smiled turned into a glare. “You’re not going to let me forget that, are you?”
Xander laughed. “Sorry Wills, I love you, but no.”
“You get a little tipsy at one office Christmas party and start hitting on your female superior officer who doesn’t know your gay, and your best friend just can’t let you forget it.” She was trying to sound indignant, but she could help but smile.
Xander smiled too. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I won’t mention it again.”
“I appreciate that, thank you.”
“Your welcome. We should probably get ready,” Xander said, checking his watch. He pulled his tee shirt back on and walked toward the door with Willow. “I’m sure Major Carter will want to say goodbye before we go.”
Willow smacked Xander on the arm. His laughter could be heard ringing through the halls of Cheyenne Mountain.
Forty some odd minutes later, Xander was standing in the gate room with the rest of his team, watching the disc on the stargate spin as it dialed out. Klaxons sounded, warning people to stay clear of the gate as it dialed, and a voice spoke over the intercom announcing every chevron that locked into place.
“Chevron six…encoded. Chevron seven…locked.”
The gate lit up and flushed sideways as the wormhole was established. No matter how many times Xander saw it, it never failed to fill him with amazement. So beautiful, and yet at times so frightening. You never really knew what to expect on the other side, no matter how many precautions you took.
“Stand clear of the launch pad,” the Sergeant’s voice came over the PA again. Xander glanced at where the UAV sat on its pad, making sure that everyone was clear. After a second its rockets came to life, and the automated drone blasted into the air and through the stargate.
Willow looked down at the device in her hand, the link to the UAVs as a group of soldiers lifted the second one onto the launch pad. A few moments later it blasted through the gate as well.
“Second UAV away,” the Sergeant announced.
“Receiving telemetry from both,” Willow announced, looking down at her remote unit. “Commencing grid search.”
“Good luck, SG-13,” General Hammond said over the intercom.
Xander turned and nodded to his superior through the observation window before turned back to his team. Willow tucked the remote unit for the UAVs onto her belt and did a last minute equipment check. She carried most of their communications and surveillance gear, and a zat on her thigh for protection. Xander carried a zat as well, along with a P-90. Riley had a P-90 too, along with C4 and some other explosives in his pack. Faith traveled light, a broadsword tucked between her and her pack. They all carried emergency field rations and water, in case their stay ended up being longer than planned.
“Alright team, let’s move out,” Xander said, leading the way up the ramp. Watching the gate may have always filled him with amazement, but stepping through it still gave him chills. Something about the idea of his body being sent hurdling through the galaxy at untold speeds. He tried not to think about it though. He just held his breath, and stepped through. The rest of his team followed behind him.
Xander pulled his jacket around himself tighter as he stepped out of the bar and into the bitter Philadelphia winter. He silently asked himself for what seemed like the hundredth time why he couldn’t have picked Miami, or Dallas, or New Orleans, or one of the other hundred Southern cities where it wasn’t currently thirty degrees outside. Of course, he never really picked where he went, he just sort of ended up there. Sometimes he was on the trail of something, sometimes he just followed his curiosity, and sometimes he just took the first bus or train that was leaving, regardless of where it was going. At the moment, he couldn’t remember which had led him to Philly, and he didn’t much care.
He pushed his hands into his pockets as he made his way down Delaware Avenue, the city’s hotspot for nightlife of the human variety. It was after midnight, close to closing time for most of the bars judging by the throngs of people that clogged the sidewalk. A group of less than sober Eagles fans poured out of a sports bar ahead of him, hooting and hollering, celebrating the Superbowl victory from nearly a month before no doubt. Xander tried to pass them, but one heavyset man with a goatee blocked his path. “Eagles, Woooohoooo!” he yelled. Xander stepped around the drunken idiot without comment and continued on his way. “Must be a Raiders fan,” the man said, covering his left eye with his hand, mimicking Xander’s eye patch. “ARRRRRR!” His friends laughed.
“Jackass,” Xander muttered to himself. Most of the people on the sidewalk were just milling around, waiting for cabs or friends. So when Xander heard footsteps keeping pace behind him, he noticed. And when the footsteps were still there after his detour with the Eagles fans, he started getting worried. He sped up and slowed down a few times, and each time the footsteps behind him matched his pace. He resisted the urge to look over his shoulder, he didn’t want to tip off whomever, or whatever was following him. He ducked down a side street, keeping his pace casual.
He kept this up for nearly twenty minutes, taking smaller and smaller streets until he was far away from the crowds of drunken club goers, and the streets were practically deserted. Xander was getting ready to turn around and confront his pursuer, when a woman’s scream cut through the night. Xander couldn’t help but roll his eye. “This just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it,” he mumbled to himself. His shadow temporarily forgotten, he took off at a full run down the alley where he heard the scream come from.
Xander saw two backlit silhouettes as he got to the front of the alley. The smaller of the two was cowering on the ground, while the bulkier one stood above her. The telltale growling noises he heard told him he wasn’t dealing with just a mugger. He pulled a stake out of his pocket as he ran toward the demon. When facing a stronger enemy, the element of surprise was crucial. And nothing is more surprising when you’re getting ready to eat than somebody jumping on your back and punching you in the face repeatedly. The vampire staggered around angrily for a few moments before backing into the alley wall, slamming Xander against it. He fell to the ground still clutching his stake as the vampire turned to face him.
“Stupid human, just for that I’m going to make your death especially painful,” the creature said as it stepped into the light of the nearby streetlamp, giving Xander his first clear look at the demonic-visaged behemoth.
Xander just stood up silently. No pithy comeback, no witty banter, he just prepared himself for the attack to come. He didn’t have to wait long before the vampire made a sloppy swipe at him with the back of his hand, leaving his chest unguarded. Xander easily ducked under the swing and drove his stake home. The vampire’s face had just enough time to register surprise before it disintegrated into ash. The whole fight took less than ten seconds.
Xander brushed the dust off of his jacket and put the stake back in his pocket. He slowly walked over to the woman who was still cowering on the alley floor, looking up at him in shock. “Are you okay?” he asked her. She didn’t respond, she just kept staring at him. “Do you need to go to the hospital?” Finally, she shook her head no.
“What…what was that thing?”
“A bad dream,” Xander said, holding out his hand to help her up. She took it and he pulled her to her feet. “At least that’s what you’ll tell yourself tomorrow. Do you live near here?”
She nodded, still in shock. “Up the street.”
“Go home, lock your doors, get a good night’s sleep. Everything will seem better in the morning, I promise. And no more shortcuts through dark alleys at night, okay?”
“Okay,” she said, moving numbly back toward the street. “Okay.”
Xander watched her walk up the street until she got to her house and went inside. He knew she’d be okay, that by tomorrow she will have convinced herself that the whole thing never happened. It was the way the human mind worked, it rejected what it couldn’t understand.
To the man creeping up behind Xander, he looked lost in thought. Like he wasn’t paying any attention to the world around him. It wasn’t until Xander whirled around and he found himself staring down the barrel of a .45 that he realized how wrong he was.
“Boy did you pick the wrong guy to mug,” Xander snarled, adjusting his grip on the pistol.
The man raised his hands slowly. Xander noticed that he didn’t look scared, only annoyed. “How do you know I’m not a vampire?” the man asked.
“I’ve heard you tailing me since I left the bar, not even newbies are that loud. Besides, a vamp wouldn’t have flinched at the gun.”
“I’m not a mugger. My name is Colonel Jack O’Neill, I’m with the Air Force.”
Xander looked the man up and down. “Are you armed?” he asked after a moment.
Jack paused. “Yes,” he said simply.
Xander just stared at the man, unmoving. After a few seconds he lowered his gun. “I appreciate your honesty. You want to tell me what you were doing following me?”
“I have a…proposal for you.”
“Sorry, I don’t swing that way.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “The Air Force needs your help, Mr. Harris.”
“My father is Mr. Harris, call me Xander.”
“Let me be straight with you, Xander. The people I work with, we recently discovered the truth about the existence of demons. And we’ve discovered that they are far more dangerous to humankind than anyone one this planet realizes. We need intelligence. We need people who’ve dealt with this kind of thing before. In short, we need you.”
Xander just stared at the Colonel for a moment before laughing bitterly. “I’ve had a rough night Colonel, I’m not really in the mood for jokes. So if you’ll excuse me…” he drifted off as he turned to walk away.
“People are dying, this isn’t a joke.”
Xander whirled around. “People have been dying for thousands of years! Just because the Air Force has decided to take notice doesn’t mean that’s going to change! This is a losing battle, always has been, always will be. You want intelligence, I suggest to look up an old Army project called the Initiative. They’ll have all the research you’ll need. Just don’t make the same mistakes they did.” Xander turned away again.
“We already know about the Initiative,” O’Neill said. “How do you think we got your name?”
That got his attention. “What?”
“They had extensive files on all the members of your group.”
“So why come to me? If you want information, go to the Watchers. If you want muscle, get a slayer. If you want magic, find a witch. I’m none of those things.”
“We’re still new to all of this. Slayers, witches, vampires, they’re all variables to us. My superiors are uncomfortable placing such an important mission in the hands of an unknown. As for the Watchers, they’re based in England. And my superiors are also reluctant to ask a foreign power for help with something like this, even if they are an ally.”
“Again, why me?”
“The difference between you and them is the difference between choosing and being chosen. You weren’t born into this, you weren’t destined for it, you don’t have any special talents that make you suited for it. You saw what was happening and you chose to fight. That’s something we respect.”
“Everybody chooses. You can talk about destiny and serendipity until you’re blue in the face, at the end of the day we all have free will. I’m not special just because I’m…not special.”
“So is this the life you’ve chosen now? Alone, never staying any one place long enough to get attached to anything or anyone, fighting whatever evil you happen upon.”
Xander shrugged. “It’s a living.”
“I know it might not seem like it right now, but the time will come when you’re finished mourning, and you’ll want to live your life again. When that happens, if you’re interested, we could use your help.” Jack pulled a business card out of his pocket and handed it to Xander. “Give us a call.” Xander took the card and Jack turned to walk away.
“Wait,” Xander said after a second. “What are you offering?”
Jack stopped and turned around. “An honorary commission in the Air Force, provided you pass the physical and an equivalency exam.”
“What makes you think I can do that?”
“You have military experience.”
Xander looked puzzled for a moment. “The solider memories? Those are long gone. Nothing left but shadows and bad dreams.”
“We have…technology that can help you with that. If you want, that is.”
“We want your help finding others, approaching them with similar offers.”
“I thought you didn’t trust slayers and witches.”
“We trust you.”
Xander paused. “Let’s just assume for the moment that I’m interested. Where would I be working?”
“Well, you’ll be doing a lot of traveling, but you’ll always make it home for supper. Most of the time anyway.”
“What part of the Air Force are we talking about here?”
“It’s a top-secret program called the SGC. Let’s just say when I told you humankind was in more danger than you realize, I wasn’t exaggerating.”
Xander and his team stepped out of the stargate and onto PX-201V8. He let out the breath he had been holding through the billion or so mile trip, and shaded his eyes from the sun as he looked up at the UAV slowly getting smaller on the horizon. The gate closed behind them, and Xander looked to make sure everyone was there.
Willow was staring intently at the UAV remote unit in her hand. “Not picking up anything yet. They could be underground.”
“Okay, let’s spread out,” Xander said. “Riley, Faith, take a look around the ruins. That’s where SG-1 was attacked. Willow and I will go this way and see what we can find. Stay sharp.”
Riley and Faith nodded as they headed off toward the ruins. Xander and Willow started off in the other direction, Xander cradling his P-90 cautiously while Willow kept an eye on the remote unit’s display screen.
“Chaos demons have been known to live in underground caves in some primitive societies. Since even the more modern ones lack any kind of organizational skills, they evolve quicker physically than mentally or socially,” Willow said.
“Thanks for the demonology lesson,” Xander said.
“What I’m saying is that even though they’re big and strong, they wouldn’t be able to build a shelter if their life depended on it. They’re dependant on existing structures, like caves. However, they have been known to dig tunnels for shelter, or even for hunting in some cases. And considering that the UAVs still haven’t picked up any movement or heat signatures large enough to be a Chaos demon, I think it’s a reasonable assumption that they’re using tunnels. Remember what Sam said, that it seemed like they came out of nowhere?”
Xander sighed as he looked around. “Great, demons popping up like frickin’ prairie dogs. ‘Cause our lives weren’t exciting enough.”
“I thought action was your reward.”
“Yeah, well, that sounded a lot better in the mess hall than it does out here. Any signs of people or civilization?”
“Nope. Maybe they escaped through the stargate.”
“Daniel said late Iron Age, right? What are the odds they could figure it out?”
“The tablet with the warning was near the stargate, that suggests that they at least knew what it was. Besides, Daniel said the *ruins* were late Iron Age. What if the first thing an alien saw of Earth was the Roman Coliseum, what would they think of us? There could be a more advanced civilization here.”
“You picking up any radio signals?”
Willow pulled her radio off her belt and scanned through the bands. “No,” she said, somewhat dejected.
“No signs of a mass exodus through the gate either,” Xander said. “In fact this whole area looks pretty untouched.”
“Maybe they left centuries ago,” Willow suggested.
“Or maybe they were wiped out centuries ago.”
“Realist,” Xander corrected.
“Okay Mr. Realist, care to put your money where your mouth is? I say they left, you say they’re dead.”
“And if we don’t find evidence either way?”
“Then it’s a push.”
They both held out their hands and wrapped their little fingers together, pinky swearing on the bet.
A moment later, Xander’s radio barked. “Xander.” It was Riley’s voice.
Xander grabbed the microphone on the front of his shirt and pressed the button. “Go ahead.”
“We found a tunnel entrance hidden in the ruins. A Chaos demon popped right out of it like a frickin’ whack-a-mole.”
“You guys okay?”
“Yeah, Faith took care of him, no problem. Permission to investigate?”
“Granted, but be careful. We’re on our way back. Radio check in fifteen minutes.”
“Copy that,” Riley said.
Xander turned to a smiling Willow. “Well, that makes one thing I was right about. I’m batting a thousand so far.”
“Game ain’t over yet,” Xander said as the pair turned around and headed back the way they came. “Let’s get a move on.”
Colorado Springs, CO
“Unscheduled off-world activation!”
Alarm klaxons accompanied the announcement as the entire base was put on alert. General Hammond and Colonel O’Neill arrived at the gate control room just as the incoming wormhole was established. With the iris closed, the only indication the gate was open was the reflection of it’s water-like surface on the back wall of the gate room. A battalion of armed men rushed into the room, taking up positions around the gate.
“We’re receiving a transmission,” the Sergeant seated at the console said. “It’s SG-8, Sir.”
“They’re not due back for another week,” Hammond said, mostly to himself. “Open the iris, Sergeant.”
The large metallic disc slid open and a moment later a man in a SGC uniform stepped through carrying another man in a fireman’s carry. A second after that, two more men came though the gate back-first, their weapons still trained on whatever had been chasing them. “Close the iris!” the last man through yelled. A moment later the iris slid shut and they all breathed a sigh of relief.
General Hammond leaned down and spoke into the PA microphone. “Medical team to the gate room, double time!” he ordered, before heading down to the gate room himself, O’Neill following behind him.
“What the hell were those things?” one of the men with the guns asked aloud to no one in particular. He looked shaken up. In comparison, the larger man carrying their injured comrade looked calm, more angry than scared. He slowly lowered the body he was carrying to the deck, a slender man with dirty blonde hair and a bloodied bandage on his neck.
“I don’t know, Hauser,” the other armed man said. “They didn’t look like any snake head I’ve ever seen, but they sure as hell weren’t human.”
Hammond and O’Neill entered the room a second ahead of the medical team. “Major Jamison, report,” Hammond ordered while Dr. Frasier and another doctor knelt down to examine the injured man.
“We were continuing with our survey of the ruins on P3X209 when we came under attack,” Jamison said.
“Jaffa?” O’Neill asked.
“No, Sir. They were…it’s hard to explain.”
“Take your time, son,” Hammond said.
“Humanoid, with ridged brows and sharp pointed teeth. One of them grabbed Dr. Shepard. We opened fire one them, but they just kept coming. It was like…the bullets weren’t doing anything.”
“Some kind of body armor?” O’Neill guessed.
“No, Sir,” Jamison insisted. “They were taking the hits, but they just kept coming. Like they were zombies or something.”
“Vampires,” the large man said, speaking for the first time since coming through the gate. The others looked at him.
“The one who grabbed Shepard took off with him,” Jamison continued. “We tried to go after him, but those things just wouldn’t stay down. By the time we found him, he was unconscious, bleeding from the neck. We dressed the wound quickly and hauled ass back to the gate.”
“We should have left him behind,” the large man said, staring down at Dr. Shepard’s body as the doctor’s worked on him.
“I told you Mendez, no man gets left behind!” Jamison snapped. “Not on my watch.”
“He is not a man,” Mendez said, his voice low and solemn. “Not anymore.”
“What the hell are you talking about?!” Jamison snapped again.
Mendez turned back and faced General Hammond. “I know what those creatures were that attacked us, Sir.”
“How could you?” Jamison asked.
Mendez reached into the collar of his shirt and pulled out a chain with a crucifix hanging from it. He looked at it for a moment before speaking. “My grandmother used to tell us stories when I was very young. Stories about where she grew up, in Honduras. She told us about the creatures that stalked the night. Stronger than ten men, faster than the wind. They were the living dead she told us, feasting on the blood of the living to survive. Vampires. I thought they were just stories, made up for scaring children. Until I saw one of them myself. I told myself I had imagined it, that what I saw couldn’t possibly be real. But I never forgot the face of the monster I saw, the face I still see in my nightmares to this day. It was the same face as the creatures that attacked us. They were vampires General, I’m sure of it. And now Shep is one of them.”
For a long few seconds, nobody said anything, they all just stared at Mendez. Even Dr. Fraiser was looking up at him from the floor next to Shepard’s body. Finally, Jamison broke the silence.
“Have you lost your mind!”
Hammond just turned to Dr. Fraiser. “How is he, Doctor?”
“I’m sorry Sir, he’s dead. There wasn’t anything we could do, he’s lost too much blood. You should take a look at this, Sir. Here around the wound on his neck, there appear to be teeth marks.”
Hammond looked down at the body and then back up at Mendez. “We have to burn the body,” Mendez said. “As quickly as possible.”
“That’s enough.” Hammond said. “I know you and Dr. Shepard were friends son, but I just want the facts here, not folklore and fairy tales. His body will be turned over to his family, and furthermore…”
The General was cut off when Shepard’s hand shot out and grabbed Dr. Fraiser’s arm, causing her to yell out. “He’s alive! Somebody get a ventilator in here…”
“Get away from him Doctor, now!” Mendez warned. But it was too late. Before anyone else could react, Shepard sat up and wrapped his other arm around Dr. Fraiser’s neck.
“I’d really rather she didn’t,” Shepard said around his new fangs. Everyone around him jumped back, except Mendez. He didn’t budge an inch.
“Holy shit!” Jamison exclaimed. “That…that’s what their faces looked like, just like that.”
“Seal this room!” Hammond barked. The exits quickly slid shut as the combat team took aim at the vampire.
“Let her go Shepard,” Jack said. “We can help you.”
“Shepard is dead, Colonel,” Mendez said, not taking his eyes off the vampire. “That thing is just a demon wearing his face.”
Shepard rose to his feet, dragging Fraiser with him. “Come on Charlie, you’re hurting my feelings. I thought we were friends,” Shepard said to Mendez with a wicked smile. “I’m still your old pal Shep. The same guy you eat lunch with, the same guy you told your grandmother’s stories to. Remember the dig in Honduras next month, you were going to try to come with me.
“I tell you what, I’ll turn you and then we can share her. We’ll walk out of here together, what do you say?”
“You’re not leaving this room alive,” Mendez said, his expression cold as ice as he took a step closer to the vampire.
Shepard smirked. “And who’s going to stop me? You? Those guns are useless against my kind, you know that.”
“Maybe,” Mendez said taking another step closer. “But this isn’t.” And with that, he reached out and opened his hand, exposing the crucifix he still held there. Shepard instinctually cringed away from it, giving Mendez an opening to grab Fraiser out of the vampire’s grasp and push her clear before jumping on top of him and tackling him to the ground.
A second later, Mendez was launched into the air and halfway across the room, landing hard on the floor. Shepard stood up and growled, there was a cross-shaped burn mark on his cheek. He touched it tentatively and winced. “You’re going to pay for that, blood bag,” he growled.
O’Neill and Fraiser rushed over to Mendez. His face was twisted in pain but he was still conscious. Fraiser leaned down to check his vital signs while Jack looked up at the vampire stalking toward them. No one was quite sure what to do. They had all heard Jamison and Shepard both say that guns did nothing against these creatures, which left them with very few options.
Jack reached behind his back and pulled out a zat. He had grabbed it from the weapons locker in the gate room while Shepard was busy with Mendez. He took aim at the approaching demon and fired once. Shepard staggered as the shot hit him, but he didn’t lose his footing. His eyes shut as he growled in pain, shaking his head to clear it. It looked to be slowing him down, but it wasn’t knocking him out. O’Neill turned and looked at Hammond. The General frowned and nodded once. Jack turned, raised the weapon and fired again. Shepard howled in pain as his knees hit the floor. Everyone watched as before there eyes his body started to turn brown, withering like a piece of fruit that had been left out two long, before exploding into dust.
A few seconds of stunned silence filled the room as everyone tried to comprehend what they had just seen. Dr. Fraiser broke the silence. “I need some help over here! He’s bleeding internally, we have to get him to the infirmary!” The medical team that had been dispatched for Dr. Shepard snapped into action, loading Mendez onto a gurney and rushing him out of the room.
“Stand down,” Hammond ordered the combat team. They lowered their weapons and slowly started filing out of the room. The General walked over to where O’Neill and the remaining two members of SG-8 stood. “What just happened here?” he asked.
“I wish to God I knew, Sir,” O’Neill said. “I wish to God I knew.”
Riley and Faith nodded before heading off towards the ruins, while Xander and Willow started in the other direction. Riley cradled his P-90 as he watched the area ahead intently, looking for any signs of danger. In contrast Faith’s expression was much more casual, like it was just another Sunday afternoon stroll. She slowly rolled her head from shoulder to shoulder, stretching out the kinks as she pulled at the straps on her back, readjusting them.
“I hate having to carry all this crap,” she complained. “I feel like I can’t move. Slayers are supposed to travel light, we’re like…golfers.”
Riley’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Okay, I’ll bite. How are slayers like golfers?”
“Golfers travel light, they have to keep their head in the game, they have to concentrate. So, they have a caddy who follows them around, carrying all their stuff, giving them advice on which club to use. See, the caddies are like watchers.”
“You’ve given this analogy a lot of thought, haven’t you?”
“Do you think General Hammond would let me bring a caddy on missions? Just picture it, some dude in ugly pants carrying a golf bag full of weapons. ‘I think you should use the broadsword for this shot, Ms. Williams.’ It would be great.” Riley just stared at her for a moment like she had grown a second head. “It was just an idea.”
“Why don’t we save the jokes for later and concentrate on what we’re doing here?”
“Oh, lighten up Cornbread,” Faith said. “Like we haven’t done this a hundred times before.”
“Be that as it may, I don’t have super strength, speed and healing to fall back on if we get ambushed.”
Faith rolled her eyes. “Here we go again,” she sighed. “You know, Xander doesn’t have any special powers either, you don’t hear him bitching every five minutes. Plus, he would have laughed and appreciated my attempt to lighten the mood.”
“First of all, I am not ‘bitching’. I’m just pointing out that this job is a little harder for those of us without powers, and I’d like a little credit for that once in a while. Secondly, Xander is a professional when it comes to the job. He’s not the same lovable goofball he was back in high school.”
“See, that’s where you’re wrong Cornbread. He may have gotten his soldier mojo back thanks to the Tok’ra, but deep down he’s still the same old Xander he ever was. And thank God for that. This job is hard enough as it is, can you imagine if we had gotten some regular Air Force hard ass instead of the X-Man? I wouldn’t be here, Willow sure as hell wouldn’t be here, and you want to know something? I don’t think you would be here either. Xander is the glue that holds this team together.”
“I agree,” Riley said. “But it’s not because he laughs at your jokes!”
“Fine, but it’s not because he’s all G.I. Joe either!”
“No, it’s because he’s both! Because he can bridge the gap between the military and the supernatural so easily, because both us and the Air Force trust him so implicitly.”
Riley’s face scrunched in confusion. “If we agree, what are we arguing about?”
Faith opened her mouth to say something but then closed it again, her own face taking on a puzzled expression. “I don’t know,” she admitted. She smiled, which after a moment turned into a laugh, which after another moment was joined by another from Riley.
“There’s that smile,” she said. “I knew I’d get you to lighten up.”
“You’re right you know,” Riley said after a moment.
“Natch,” Faith replied. “But just so we’re on the same page, which one of the many things I’m right about are you referring to?”
“I wouldn’t have joined the SGC if it hadn’t been for Xander. They couldn’t tell us what the project was about until after we joined, so all Sam and I had to go by was Xander’s assurance that it was worth it. He has this way of making you trust him. It’s like…” Riley trailed off, not being able to find the words.
“Like a blanket of empathy,” Faith supplied. “Like you can tell just by looking at him that he understands every emotion you’re feeling even before you understand it yourself. I used to think he had enough compassion for the whole world. Turns out he has enough for a whole slew of new ones too.” Faith turned and noticed Riley staring at her. “What?”
“Sorry, that’s just…really poetic. I’m surprised is all.”
“Get bent, Cornbread.”
Riley chuckled. “Now that’s more like the Faith I know.”
They continued on in silence for a few minutes until Riley spotted something. “Do you see that?”
“That broken pillar, there’s loose dirt underneath it.” The pillar Riley pointed to was leaning against a stone wall at a twenty degree angle. The dirt under the end touching the ground was in fact loose, in contrast to the hard, dry soil that covered the rest of the area. Riley approached it slowly, keeping his gun at the ready. Faith followed behind him, watching his back.
Riley squatted down next to the column and pulled a flashlight form his belt. He shined the light under the pillar, exposing a large hole in the ground. He moved the light around as he looked inside. “Willow said they might be underground. Looks like a tunnel,” he said.
“And the shadow this pillar casts covers it perfectly,” Faith added.
“These demons might be primitive, but they’re not stupid.”
“How do we know the people on this planet didn’t dig it?” Faith asked.
“The loose dirt at the end there, it’s from moving the pillar up and down repeatedly. See how deep it’s dug into the ground? This isn’t just camouflage, it’s a door.”
Faith nodded. “And no human would be able to lift this thing.”
“Except maybe a slayer,” Riley said looking up at her.
Faith smiled and cracked her knuckles. “Stand back.”
Riley tucked the flashlight back into his belt and stood back from the pillar. Faith reached out and hooked her arms under the stone column and started to lift. For a second, it didn’t look like the thing was going to budge. But slowly Faith managed to lift it, higher and higher until one final push sent it falling to the ground with a loud thud, fully exposing the tunnel entrance.
Riley stepped closer and peered down into the hole. “I wonder how deep it goes,” he pondered aloud.
Faith was dusting herself off when her head snapped up. “Get down!” she yelled as she rushed toward Riley, shoving him away. Not a second later a snarling Chaos demon flew out of the hole, backhanding Faith across the face as it landed, sending her tumbling to the ground.
“Shit!” Riley cursed as he brought his P-90 up and fired it. The bullets struck the demon in the chest, but it barely seemed to notice as it roared at him.
Faith was back on her feet in a heartbeat. “Come on Ugly, I’m the one you want!” she shouted. Just as the demon turned to face her, it caught a roundhouse kick to the face from the raven-haired slayer. It staggered back, narrowly avoiding falling back through the hole. Faith kept on the creature, delivering a right cross that snapped its head back and a kick to the midsection. The demon made a few clumsy swipes, which she easily dodged. Another kick to the face and the demon hit the ground. Faith drew her sword and brought it down through the creature’s neck, decapitating it.
Riley rushed to Faith’s side. “Are you okay?”
Faith nodded, catching her breath. “Five by five,” she said. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a cloth, using to wipe her sword clean of the demon’s blood.
Riley nodded as he reached over and pressed the button on the radio mike clipped to his shirt. “Xander,” he said into it.
A second later, Xander’s voice came through the radio. “Go ahead.”
“We found a tunnel entrance hidden in the ruins. A Chaos demon popped right out of it like a frickin’ whack-a-mole.”
“You guys okay?” Xander asked.
“Yeah, Faith took care of him, no problem. Permission to investigate?”
“Granted, but be careful. We’re on our way back. Radio check in fifteen minutes.”
“Copy that,” Riley said. He let go of the radio and turned back to Faith, who was replacing the now clean sword to the scabbard on her back. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Faith replied.
Riley nodded as he took out his flashlight again and shined it into the hole. “Then let’s go earn our paychecks.”
New York, NY
Kennedy sat at the foot of the bed staring at the wall with a frown on her face. Behind her, Willow was packing a suitcase. The sound of the hangers scraping against the metal rod as Willow moved another handful of clothes from the closet echoed through the room, a testimony to how quiet it was.
“I still can’t believe you’re leaving,” Kennedy said softly, breaking the silence.
“Xander needs me,” Willow said
“And what about what you need? What about finishing college, what about having that normal life we talked about?”
“People like us don’t get normal lives.”
“That’s a cop out and you know it. There’s always a choice, nobody is forcing you to go.”
Willow stared down at her suitcase for a moment. Kennedy was right, there always was a choice. Something Xander once said suddenly struck her. “We’re all chosen, chosen to know the truth. What we do after that is up to us.” She paused. “Xander said that, back in high school when we first got caught up in…all this. I don’t think I really understood what he meant at the time. Years later when we graduated, I had a choice. I could go off to some Ivy League school and leave the Hellmouth behind, or I could stay and fight. I chose to fight, and it’s a choice I’ve made a thousand times since then, and one I’ll make a thousand times more. I can’t just ignore what is happening in the world. Not when I can so something about it. So you’re right, it is my choice.”
“That’s not the only choice you’re making,” Kennedy said.
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re choosing him over me.”
“This isn’t about you, and it isn’t about him!” Willow insisted. “It’s about the fight.”
“You don’t know what this is about because Xander won’t tell you!”
“He told me that he found a new mission, that it’s important, and that he needs my help. That’s all I need to know.”
“See, that’s exactly my point. All he has to do is crook his finger and you come running. How am I not supposed to see that as you choosing him over me?”
Willow just shook her head as she headed back to the closet for more clothes. “You’re acting like a child, everything doesn’t have to be a competition. You’re free to come with me, Xander said. In fact his exact words were, the more the merrier. So don’t act like I’m the only one making a choice here.”
Kennedy sighed. “I just…I want a normal life again. Where the biggest problems I have are that I’m failing chemistry and I have a zit on my nose, not am I going to live to see the next day. I want to go to the movies, or for a walk in the park on a sunny day. And I want my girlfriend to live in the same state as me. Is that really so much to ask for?” Kennedy asked as she reached up and wiped the tears from her eyes.
Willow sat down next to her on the bed. “No, it’s not,” she said. “Unfortunately being with me and having a normal life are pretty much mutually exclusive.” She paused. “I’m sorry. I really am.”
Kennedy turned and wrapped her arms around Willow, hugging her tightly. Willow hugged her back, smoothing down her hair. “I guess this is it then,” Kennedy said into Willow’s shoulder.
“I guess so,” Willow said, her voice cracking a little. The hug was no different than a hundred others they had shared, but it felt different to her. It felt like goodbye, and Willow hated goodbyes.
She kissed Kennedy on top of the head and broke the hug. She walked back over to her suitcase and zipped it up, lifting it off the bed and setting it on the floor. She picked up her backpack from next to the bed and slung it over her shoulder. She locked eyes with Kennedy. So many things she wanted to say, but nothing sounded right.
“You’ll get your happy ending some day, I promise,” she said. “And I’ll just be a fond memory you look back on now and then.” She just couldn’t bring herself to say goodbye, so instead she just leaned down and kissed her on the lips gently. One last kiss that would have to live in both their memories for a long time.
Then she stood, picked up her suitcase and walked out the door. Out of Kennedy’s life forever.
Kennedy reached up and touched her lips. “Goodbye,” she whispered, to the empty room.
Xander shined his flashlight down into the hole they found in the ruins. “*Big* frickin’ prairie dogs,” he mumbled to himself. There was a rope tethered to a nearby pillar, which led down the hole, no doubt left behind by Riley and Faith, so he was sure they had the right hole. That and the decapitated corpse of a Chaos demon that laid a few yards away. Xander followed the rope down with his light and whistled.
Willow looked up from where she was examining the demon’s body. “What?”
“Nothing,” Xander said. “I’m just not big on heights, you know that.”
“Want me to hold your hand?” Xander replied by subtly scratching his good eye with his middle finger. Willow just laughed.
“Find anything interesting?” he asked.
“Nothing I didn’t already know,” she said. “No clothes, a primitive. The hooves are more curved than usual, for digging. The pupils are large, compensating for the lack of light. It’s definitely a tunnel dweller. It looks emaciated, which is to be expected. The UAV’s still haven’t picked up any large animals, and of course no people so there’s not much around for them to eat.”
“I guess these guys aren’t big on salads.”
“Not so much, no. My guess is a small population. With their natural prey gone, they’re dying out.”
“What a shame,” Xander said mockingly. “What do you say we climb down and give them a hand with that.”
Willow stood from where she was crouched next to the demon’s body and dusted her hands off. “Lay on, McDuff,” she said, motioning toward the hole.
“You better go first, I might need something to break my fall.”
“Very funny,” Willow said. Xander just smirked.
Willow took out her own flashlight and shined it down the hole. She then clipped it to her belt, leaving it turned on, and closed her eyes. A moment later she began to levitate off the ground. Slowly, she floated forward, and then down through the hole.
“Show off,” Xander muttered under his breath. He walked around the hole to where the rope was. He hooked his own flashlight to his belt before picking up the rope and clipping it to the metal ring also attached to his belt. He pulled the rope behind him and held it with both hands before leaning back and testing the line with his weight. Slowly but surely, he started to repel down into the hole. A few minutes later, he reached the bottom.
Willow was already examining the tunnel walls with her flashlight while he unhooked himself from the line. “Took you long enough,” she teased with a smile.
“We can’t all be Superman, some of us have to be Jimmy Olsen,” Xander said.
“I could have given you a lift.”
“Thanks, but no. If I’m going to be dangled a hundred feet in the air, I’m at least going to have something to hang on to.”
“You find something?”
“Yeah, take a look at this,” Willow said, leading him down the tunnel a few yards. She shined her light on an opening to an adjoining tunnel. Xander looked inside.
“It’s another tunnel, so?”
“So, look at the size. It’s much smaller than the one we’re in.”
Xander nodded. “Too small for a Chaos demon to fit through,” he said, finishing Willow’s thought.
“If there are still humans here, they could be using these tunnels to hide from the demons.”
“It’s worth checking out,” Xander said. He reached for the radio mike on his shirt and pressed the button. “Riley.”
A second later Riley’s voice came through. “Go ahead.”
“We’re in the tunnel now. We found an adjacent tunnel that looks about human size, we’re going to check it out. Any more action on your end?”
“Nothing so far,” Riley said.
“Alright, stay sharp. I know how restless Faith can get.”
A second later Faith’s voice crackled over the radio. “Bite me, Harris.”
Xander smiled. “Maybe some other time, I’m kind of busy right now. Keep in touch guys, and be careful.”
“Copy that,” Riley answered.
“I’ll take point,” Xander said. He snapped his flashlight into the top of his P-90 and stepped into the smaller tunnel. “Keep your eyes peeled.” Willow nodded and followed behind.
March 11, 2005
Xander walked past the guards standing outside what looked to be an elevator, flashing his ID badge at them. Willow followed behind, tentatively holding up her own badge. She looked at it again while they waited for the elevator. Special Visitor’s Pass, it said next to her name. Clearance - Sierra Golf Charlie. She didn’t know what it meant, but it sounded important.
The flight from New York had been long, filled with soul searching and introspection. She thought a lot about how her and Kennedy had parted ways, about the things they both said. She was sad about it, but in the end she realized that there was really no other way for it to end. They both just wanted different things, and there wasn’t anything either of them could do about that. In a way, she felt relieved, like a weight had been lifted from her. The weight of pretending to be a normal college student, pretending that evil wasn’t lurking in the shadows around her. She felt like she could be herself again, and she was excited about being able to sink her figurative teeth into a new supernatural problem.
Seeing Xander again was wonderful. He was there when she got off the plane with a hug and a smile, and for a moment it was like the two of them had never been apart. On the ride from the airport they talked and laughed and caught up. Xander asked her about college, and she happily babbled on from there about everything from her classes to what New York was like. He seemed reluctant to talk about what he had been up to when Willow asked, steering the conversation back to her. She made a mental note to ask him about it later.
She was about to ask him what this big secret mission was all about, when she noticed that they were pulling up to the entrance of Cheyenne Mountain. Xander wordlessly handed the guard an ID badge, and a minute later, the guard handed Xander back two. He passed the second to Willow as the barrier in front of them lifted and he pulled ahead.
Now they were standing in front of an elevator, waiting, and Xander still hadn’t said a word as to what this was all about. The elevator doors opened and they stepped inside. Xander pressed the button and the doors slid shut. Willow was starting to get nervous, as images of the Initiative’s last days flashed through her mind. “What’s this all about Xander, what are we doing here?”
Xander blew out a long breath. It was clear that he wasn’t looking forward to this moment. “First let me say, I know what you’re thinking. And this is nothing like the Initiative. I’ve been here for almost a month now, and I’ve seen what they do. It’s an important job, and it has nothing to do with demons. At least, it didn’t used to. Well, it mostly still doesn’t but…”
“Xander, you’re babbling,” Willow interrupted.
Xander let out another breath. “I know. I’m no good at explaining things. Okay, let me start again. You know that feeling you get when you’re talking to somebody who doesn’t know about demons or magic or anything, that feeling like you live in two different worlds. That if they knew what you knew, it would turn their world on its ear.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Okay, have you ever felt like maybe you could be in the same position? That there could be some really, really big secret out there that you don’t know.”
“I…guess,” Willow answered tentatively, not really sure where this was going. “I never really thought about it before, but I guess there has to be. I mean, nobody knows everything, right?”
“Right,” Xander agreed. “You see, these people, the SGC, they have a really big secret of their own. And recently they discovered that our secret and their secret…intersect. They discovered the truth about demons and vampires. And not only that, they discovered something about them that no one else knows. That’s why they need our help, because we have more experience with this kind of thing than they do.”
“But why us? If they need information, why not the Watchers?”
“This project is uber top secret, and they’re very careful about who they trust with knowing about it. Somehow they gained access to the Initiative’s files, including the files on us. They approached me first because…well, I’m still not really sure why. They say they trust me, but maybe it’s just because I’m less of a threat than any of you guys.”
“So if they don’t trust any of us, why are they letting you bring me here?”
“They know how I feel about you, that I trust you more than anyone else in the universe. They know how powerful you are, they know about…what happened. But they’re willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and trust you with the biggest secret they have. I think that says something about these guys. I know it probably still sounds a little fishy to you, but I swear, if you decide you don’t want any part of it you can walk away at any time and that will be the end of it. All I’m asking is that you hear them out.”
Willow paused as she considered what Xander had said. “Okay Xander. I trust you, and if you say these guys are on the up and up, that’s all I need to know.”
Xander smiled. “Great. We’re almost there, then we can start the long part of the explanation. I’m sure you and Dr. Jackson will be talking for hours. He’s the second smartest person I know,” he said with another smile.
Willow didn’t miss the compliment as she smiled back. It was only then that she realized that the elevator had been moving down throughout the whole conversation, and they had been on the ground level when they got on. “How far underground does this place go?” she asked.
“Don’t worry,” Xander said. “When we get close to the Earth’s core the air conditioning will kick on.”
Several hours later, Willow and Xander were still in the briefing room with General Hammond and SG-1. Just as Xander had thought, Willow and Daniel sparred like the mental giants they were. It wasn’t long before Willow had the whole story, including a live demonstration of the gate opening as SG-11 came back from a mission.
“This is all just…incredible,” she said, looking up from the laptop computer Sam had lent her for the briefing. She was looking through everything from technical schematics of Goa’uld technology, to mission reports, to actual video Death Gliders in action. “There’s so much to absorb. But what does all of this have to do with demons? What do you need us for?”
All eyes turned to General Hammond. “Approximately three months ago, one of our SG teams came through the gate after being attacked by unidentified creatures. One of the team members had been bitten. He was dead by the time they came through the gate, blood loss. One of the other team members said he knew what the creatures were. He said they were vampires. Of course we didn’t believe him, that is until the deceased team member sat up and attacked the doctor who had been treating him. Mendez, the man who knew what he was, attacked the vampire and saved the doctor’s life.”
Willow noticed how sullen the mood in the room suddenly became. “What happened?”
“He was thrown across the room,” Hammond answered. “He later died from internal injuries.”
“I’m sorry,” Willow said. The General just nodded. “What happened to the vampire?”
“I killed it,” Jack said.
“How?” Willow asked.
“Some kind of alien energy weapon,” Xander answered when no one else did. “Turned him to dust in two shots.”
Willow looked surprisingly at Xander, who just nodded in return. “I didn’t think any modern weapon could do that.”
“From what they’ve told me, these zat guns pack some serious firepower. One shot stuns, two kills. As to why they work on vamps, your guess is as good as mine. Actually, it’s probably better than mine.”
“Mr. Harris,” General Hammond said. “That information is classified.”
“You remember my terms, General,” Xander said. “Anybody I put you in contact with gets the whole story, nothing left out. I’m not letting any of my friends decide whether or not they want to join this operation unless they have all the facts.”
Hammond didn’t look happy, but he nodded. “Fair enough.”
“So what do you think Wills, interested?”
“Definitely,” Willow said. “But there’s something I still don’t understand. Why us? Why me?”
“Easy, we need that giant brain of yours,” Xander said. “We still have a lot of unanswered questions.”
“Well,” Daniel piped in. “We know that humans were taken from Earth by the Goa’uld, as slave labor.”
“The sixty-four billion dollar question,” Xander said, “is how did the demons get off Earth?”
Xander kept his light and gun pointed forward as he and Willow moved through the tunnel. Willow shined her light on the tunnel walls as they walked, looking for any markings or other evidence of who had dug the passage.
“Anything interesting?” Xander asked about ten minutes after they started.
“Just that this tunnel was definitely not dug by a Chaos demon, but we already knew that. The walls are too uniform to have been dug by hand, or hoof. And I’ve spotted a few what appear to be tool marks.”
“So what direction do you think this tunnel was dug in?” Xander asked.
“It looks like we’re heading toward the point of origin.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too. Which makes me wonder, did they intersect the demon tunnels on purpose or by accident?”
“Why would they do it on purpose?”
“I don’t know, but it seems like an awful big coincidence if they didn’t. Have you noticed the incline, we’re moving up.”
“Yeah, I noticed. Could be they started in a natural cave, someplace to hide from the demons. Hey, do you see that?”
“Kill your light for a second.”
Xander put his hand over his light, plunging them into darkness. Up ahead though he saw a faint glow. He took his hand off the light and readjusted the weapon in his hands. “Stay close to me,” he said, lowering his voice. “And keep your zat ready, just in case.”
Willow nodded. She turned off her own flashlight and clipped it to her belt. She put one hand on Xander’s shoulder and drew her zat with the other. Together they continued through the tunnel, their pace a little slower.
As they got closer to the light source, they began to hear sounds. Movement, and possibly voices, it was hard to tell. The tunnel started to widen, and the walls started to look less uniform and more natural. After a few minutes, they found themselves in a large cave. Roughly fifty yards ahead of them was the source of the light, the opening of the cave. And just inside the opening, there was a fire burning. But it was what stood between them and the fire that surprised Xander and Willow the most.
Scattered throughout the cavern, but mostly near the fire, were thirty or so humans. They were dirty, disheveled, and most appeared to be malnourished. Most were adults, but there were a few children as well. Their clothes were nothing more than rags, though several of the men appeared to be wearing pieces of armor. Nothing elaborate, a chest plate here, a shin guard there, all of it dented and tarnished. They also carried swords, and makeshift spears.
It wasn’t long before Willow and Xander were spotted. The armed men put themselves between the pair and the others in seconds, approaching them slowly. One man in front appeared to be the leader. He carried a bulky long sword, and wore a chest plate with three diagonal claw marks gouged into it. Xander noticed something tied to the bicep of his sword arm as makeshift armor. It was only when he was closer did he realize what it was, a piece of antler.
Xander resisted the urge to fire his gun into the air. He didn’t know how stable this cave was, and he didn’t want to hurt these people. He felt Willow nudging him from behind. “Say something!” she insisted in a hushed tone.
“Um, hi,” Xander said, putting on a smile as he addressed the men in front of him. They didn’t respond, they just kept coming closer. “We come in peace?”