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, Thundertb and weirdfrog for the feedback. It’s much appreciated.
Colorado Springs, CO
It had been five days since Willow was introduced to the Stargate program, since she learned about the existence of things that she never would have imagined exist. But she hadn’t spent that time learning more about different alien species, or alien technology, or the physics of wormhole travel the way she would have liked. No, she was buried hip deep in a good old-fashioned demonic mystery. She was almost disappointed, but she understood the importance of her task. How did vampires, and demons as well she assumed, get off of Earth? This question was fundamental in understanding exactly how big a problem they were facing.
She had already worked through and dismissed several hypotheses. One, demons evolved on other planets naturally. She and Daniel looked through quite a few tomes of history and mythology from various alien races, and found no reference to vampires or demons that she recognized. More importantly, it didn’t make sense that vampires would evolve exactly the same way on another planet as they had on Earth. And the vampires SG-8 had encountered seemed to have the same strengths and weaknesses as the Earth variety. Theory number two, dimensional portal. Since demons all originate in one way or another from some kind of Hell dimension, she theorized that Hellmouths could have opened on other worlds, and vampires and demons could have spread from there. But again, the evolution followed too close. The vampire that came through the gate with SG-8 was burned by a cross at one point in the fight. This was very telling Willow thought. Which brought her to her current theory. At some point in the past, a group of vampires and possibly other demons somehow left Earth. Most likely, through the stargate.
Willow was trying to put together a library. She never realized how much she had relied on Giles’ books until they were gone. All of her books were about magic, not demon history. If the SGC was going to put together a team for the purpose of fighting demons on other worlds, than they would need a decent research library. They gave her a room on the base to work in, as well as quarters where she could stay. Day by day, more books came in, and her workspace was looking more and more like Daniel’s. She was spending so much time in her burgeoning library that Xander had taken to bringing her her meals there so she wouldn’t forget to eat.
She found a few references to the Chopa’aye, the Goa’uld word for stargate, in several of the demonic history texts she had acquired, but only in passing. Nothing she could find went into any detail as to how, when, or why any demons used it. Or more importantly, where they went. It was time to pull out the big guns she thought, as she dialed a now familiar number into the telephone on her new desk. It rang a few times before someone picked it up.
“Hey Giles, it’s me, Willow.”
“Willow,” Giles said, a smile in his voice. “How are you?”
“Oh, I’m okay.”
“I haven’t heard from you in a few weeks, is everything okay? How’s school? Are you having fun in the, oh what do they call it, the big apple?”
“Actually, I’m not in New York anymore. I’m in Colorado.”
“Ah, I see,” Giles said, not sounding too surprised at all, which just confused Willow. “Helping out Xander then.”
“How do you know about that?”
“He wrote me, a week or so ago. He mentioned that he found a new mission, as he put it. Said he was going to ask a few of you for help. He wanted to let me know in case I needed any of you for an emergency or something. I had a feeling you’d go.”
“Did he ask you to come?”
“No, he mentioned that he knew how busy I was here in London, otherwise he would of. He said it was another reason he was writing, he didn’t want me to feel slighted should I hear about it through the grapevine.”
“Did you get the message I left for you the other day?”
“About the books, yes I got it. ‘Tobin’s Prophecy Guide’ and ‘Gray’s Demonology’, not your usual fare. But now that I know you’re helping Xander, it makes more sense.”
“I’m trying to put together a little research library. Nothing like yours of course, much more meager, just enough to get us by, you know.”
Giles chuckled. “It’s all right Willow, I understand. Is there something specific you’re looking for?”
“Actually yes, that’s one of the reasons I called. Have you ever heard of something called the Chopa’aye?”
“It sounds vaguely familiar,” Giles said. “What is it?”
Willow paused, choosing her words carefully. “I don’t know much, only that it’s a portal of some kind. I’m looking for any instances of demons using it en masse.”
“Give me a moment.”
Through the phone, Willow could hear the sounds of typing. “Giles, am I hearing what I think I’m hearing?” she asked with quite a bit of surprise.
The typing stopped suddenly, almost as if Giles had been caught doing something illegal. “I…well, that is…” he started before sighing. “In my absence the Council had computers installed in their main archive, much to my dismay. I only use the infernal thing out of necessity.”
Willow smiled. “That’s the same reason we all use them Giles, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Yes, quite. In any case, I believe I’ve found what you are looking for. Have you ever heard of the Last Age?”
“The Last Age of the Demons, right? The end of demon rule on Earth, when humankind finally drove them away.”
“Exactly. There’s a reference here to one of the Old Ones, a demon by the name of Ro’chok. It says that during the end of the Last Age, he led his legions through something called the Chopa’aye. The way the word is used implies it’s a portal of some kind.”
“Does it say where the portal led to?” Willow asked.
“It may. There’s a portion of this text that was never translated. Some kind of symbolic language, almost like Egyptian hieroglyphs. Council scholars spent years trying to decipher it, but they never found the language it was written in. It isn’t anything we’ve ever come across, human or demon.”
“That sounds like exactly what I’m looking for,” Willow said. “Giles, can you send me a copy of that text, along with anything you can find about the Last Age and this Ro’chok guy. It’s important.”
“Can you tell me what this is about, Willow?”
“Actually, no, I can’t.”
“I thought as much. Xander’s letter was very cryptic as well. I trust that you two know what you are doing.”
“We do Giles, I promise.”
“All right, I trust you both. I’ll have the books and documents for you in a few days. Tell Xander I said hello, and to be careful, both of you.”
“We will Giles. Thanks again.”
“Any time. Feel free to call me, even if the world isn’t ending. I always like hearing from any of you.”
Willow briefly wondered if Giles was taking guilt lessons from her mother. “I will,” she said.
“You too. Bye.”
“We come in peace?! Why didn’t you just say take us to your leader!”
“Hey, I didn’t hear you coming up with any bright ideas!”
Xander and Willow sat back to back on the floor of the cave, tied together, their wrists and ankles bound. One burly looking human with a sword stood a few feet away watching them. Their captors had yet to say a single word to them, or each other for that matter as far as they could tell. They just poked them a little with their swords and pushed them to the ground, where they tied them up. They didn’t even take Xander’s gun from him, probably because they didn’t know what it was he surmised. Willow had dropped her zat before they tied them up, and Xander’s was out of his reach on his thigh.
It didn’t make sense. These humans had obviously been fighting the Chaos demons, and the two of them hadn’t done anything threatening toward them.
“Why would they tie us up?” Xander wondered aloud.
“Why wouldn’t they?” Willow said. “They don’t know us. If they’ve survived this long on a planet with Chaos demons, my guess is they’ve learned to be cautious.”
Xander nodded. “Hence the no talking.”
“Sound echoes in a cave. Looks like they’ve learned to live silently, to avoid attracting any unwanted attention.”
“So what do you think they’ll do to us?”
“Looks like they’re deciding that right now. Look over there by the fire.”
Xander looked and saw a group of men gathered by the fire, including the one he had seen earlier with the claw marks on his chest plate. They were gesturing at each other, speaking in some kind of sign language. Their body language told him that Claw, as he nicknamed him in his head, was definitely the leader. “Ah, so that’s why my ears are burning. Why don’t they just talk to us?”
“We don’t even know if they speak English. Or if they remember how to speak at all.”
Xander looked at the man who was guarding them. “Hey, Stinky. Your breath smells like wet dog ass, and your feet are on fire.”
The man looked down at his feet, which were perfectly fine. He looked back up and sneered at Xander.
“Oh, that’s a good idea, antagonize them more.”
“At least now we know they understand English.”
The guard pointed his sword at Xander and grunted.
‘I don’t think he wants us to talk anymore,’ Willow said in Xander’s head. Xander pulled his fingers across his mouth, miming a zipper. The guard sneered again and backed off.
‘Yeah, I got that impression too,’ Xander thought.
‘We have to tell these people that we’re not their enemy, that we’re here to help them,’ Willow thought.
‘I’m open to suggestions.’
Xander looked over at the fire again, at what he assumed were the leaders of this group gesturing at each other. Claw and another man with a bushy gray beard seemed to be arguing. Every few seconds the man with the beard would point at them emphatically.
‘Check out Grizzly Adams over there,’ Xander thought. ‘I don’t think he likes us very much.’
‘What did we ever do to him?’ Willow added.
A few more minutes of arguing, and Xander saw Claw dejectedly nod his head, like he was reluctantly agreeing with whatever point Grizzly was making. Grizzly then motioned for two other men to follow him as he turned and headed straight toward Willow and Xander.
‘I think we’re about to find out.’
Grizzly stopped a few feet away and glared down at them. When he spoke, his voice was quiet but powerful.
“I am Tribe Second. You will answer my questions.”
Xander could tell that he wasn’t asking, he was telling. “Sure,” he answered, keeping his voice as quiet as his.
“How many are you?”
It was English, but by the way he stumbled over the words, Xander could tell he hadn’t spoken it in a long time. “Just the two of us,” Xander lied. He still didn’t know what these people were going to do to them, and he wasn’t going to put Riley and Faith in danger.
“How did you survive attack on stronghold?”
“I don’t understand.”
“How did you survive?”
“We’re not from around here, we’re just passing through. We want to help you. We’re not your enemy.”
“You came from the demon tunnel. You have betrayed us to them.”
“What? No, no we didn’t betray you to anybody. The demons are our enemy too.”
“You betrayed us to save your own lives.”
“No!” Xander insisted. A little too loudly apparently, the two men on either side of Grizzly stepped forward and pointed their swords at him. “Sorry,” he said, lowering his voice again. “We didn’t betray you, we’re here to help you. We can take you someplace safe, away from the demons.”
“Only safe place is caves. Stronghold fell to the demons.”
“No, we’re not from any stronghold. We’re from another…place, very far away, where there are no demons. We can take you there.”
Grizzly shook his head. “You try to trick us. The tribe has decided. You are to be put to death for your betrayal.”
“What?!” Again the guards pointed their swords at Xander.
“The safety of the tribe must come first.”
“No! We’re not your enemy, we’re trying to help you!”
“Silence!” Grizzly gestured to one of the other guards, who produced two strips of cloth. He walked over to Willow and Xander and gagged them. Xander reached for his P-90, but the guard saw him and stopped him. He took the gun away, looking at it strangely. Xander mentally kicked himself.
“The safety of the tribe must come first,” Grizzly repeated. “May the gods have mercy on your souls.”
Colorado Springs, CO
Xander downed the rest of his beer a put the glass down on the bar. “Set us up again, Sully,” he said to the bartender.
“What are we doing here, Xander?” Riley asked from the stool next to him. He slid the empty glass in front of him closer to the bartender as he set two more full glasses of Guinness in front of them.
“What are we doing? We’re celebrating the fact that we’re still alive. We almost bought it back there on that rock,” Xander said, taking a sip of his beer. “Not to mention five days of living off of nothing but rations and rainwater makes a man appreciate a good beer.”
“It doesn’t feel like we’re celebrating,” Riley said, taking a sip of his own. There was an awkward pause. “Listen, about what you said back there on that planet…”
“I thought I was going to die, Riley. I wouldn’t take anything I said too seriously.”
Riley could tell he was trying to play it off, but he had a feeling that there was more to it than that. “You can say what you want, I think you were being real. I’m your friend, I’m not going to say anything to anybody, you know that. But what you said, if that’s really how you feel, I think you should do something about it.”
Xander snorted a bitter laugh and took another drink from his beer. “It’s not exactly that simple,” he said.
“Somebody once said that life is the process of going from absolute certainty to absolute ignorance. It happens to me again and again. Just when I think I’ve finally got a handle on things, that I might actually know what I’m doing, somebody pulls the rug out from under me and turns my world on its ear. Back in high school, I thought I knew what the world was all about, and then I found out bloodsucking demons were walking the street. After Sunnydale became a crater, I thought I knew what evil was, and then I met Jack and found out that evil extended a lot farther than my narrow mind could comprehend.
“And now, my own heart betrays me. I’m finally starting to realize that I’m not certain about anything anymore.”
“Are you still sure we’re here to celebrate?” Riley asked.
Xander looked dejectedly down at his beer. “Yes,” he said after a moment, looking up like the realization just struck him. “Absolutely. Listen to me, feeling sorry for myself. I’m alive, I’ve got great friends, a great job where I get to make a difference and help people. We *should* be celebrating. I guess that’s the point, right? Nobody is certain about life, nobody’s got a handle on things. That’s what life is all about, throwing you curve balls.”
“Wow, you get philosophical when you’re drunk,” Riley observed.
Xander ignored him. “You just have to remember. That’s what I need, something to remind me of what I do, why I do it, and the people I do it with. Something to remind me that I don’t need to be in absolute control of my life, just control the way I handle it.”
Xander stood from the barstool and reached for his wallet. He threw a couple bills down and patted his friend on the back. “Come on Riley, we got one more stop to make tonight.”
“Oh, Xander, I don’t know. Sam’s already going to kill me when I come stumbling home tonight. If I show up with a tattoo she’ll make me sleep on the lawn.”
“I’ll let you sleep on my couch.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
Xander smiled and called down to the other end of the bar. “Sully, we’ll see you Monday night for the Raiders’ game.”
“Take it easy, Xander,” the bartender called back.
The two friends walked out of the bar, leaning on each other more than a little, and headed straight for the tattoo parlor on the corner.
Willow and Xander sat bound, and now gagged, on the floor of the cave. The home of what appeared to be the last group of humans left alive on this planet. Several of which were now sharpening swords, preparing for their execution. Xander was mentally beating himself up as he tried to subtly reach for the zat on his thigh. It was no good though, the rope that wrapped around he and Willow kept his arms from reaching far enough.
‘Stupid, stupid, stupid,’ Xander mentally chided himself.
‘Xander, this isn’t your fault.’
‘The hell it isn’t. I take it you can’t make with the mojo.’
‘I can’t move my hands, and I can’t speak, which means I can’t cast.’
‘If I’d just kept my mouth shut they wouldn’t have gagged us. Damn it! Can you reach my zat?’
‘No. Even if one of us could reach it, you’d only get a couple shots off before they killed us. And I don’t think that would go a long way toward proving that they’re wrong about us.’
‘Too late for that. We can’t convince them of anything if they won’t listen to us.’ Xander tried reaching for his zat again, but there just wasn’t enough give in the rope. ‘Damn it!’ he cursed again in his head. He let out a groan of frustration as he let his head fall back against Willow’s.
Xander forgot for a moment that Willow was listening to his thoughts. ‘This is exactly what I was afraid of. I was right, I can’t cut it. And now Willow is going to die, and it’s all my fault, and there’s nothing I can do about it. If I could just…reach…DAMN! I’d kill every last one of them if it meant saving Willow. Or at least I’d die trying, instead of tied up and slaughtered like an animal.’
‘Xander, no,’ Willow projected. ‘You can’t think like that, don’t ever think like that.’
Xander’s head shot up as he remembered she could hear what he was thinking. He realized what nerve he touched, remembering what happened after Tara was killed. Never had he understood it as much as he did now.
‘This is *not* you’re fault. What do you mean, you can’t cut it, that this is exactly what you were afraid of?’
Xander wasn’t going to answer at first. He was trying to keep all of this from her. But one look at the men sharpening their blades changed his mind. ‘End of the line,’ he thought. ‘No reason to hold anything back now.
‘Back on PX-1109B2, I had a lot of time to think while me and Riley were lying in that ditch. Maybe they made a mistake, making me a Captain, putting me in command of SG-13. I led us straight into that ambush, and we almost didn’t make it out alive. You want to know why I was so eager to go on this mission? I convinced myself that I was wrong, that I *was* good at my job. I wanted the chance to prove it to myself, that I do know what I’m doing. But I wasn’t wrong. I’m unfit for command. I have no right to wear this uniform.’
‘Xander, how can you say that?’
‘How can I not? We’re sitting here about to be executed because I screwed up again. I’m sorry, Willow. I’m sorry I got you into this. I’m sorry I couldn’t just let you live a nice normal life in New York.’
‘Xander, I love you, but you’re thick in the head, you know that?’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘First of all, you didn’t force me to leave New York, it was my decision. Just like it was my decision to stay on with the SGC, just like it was Faith and Riley’s decision. We know the risks. Secondly, not everything bad that happens is your fault. Yeah, it was an ambush, but you couldn’t have known that. We had bad intel, that wasn’t your fault. And when we started taking fire, you were calm and cool, and you got me and Faith out of there right away.’
‘What about Riley?’
‘You made a command decision, and a damn good one. If you had ordered Riley to go too, you would have been overrun and killed, and we probably never would have made it to the gate. Making hard decisions is what makes you a great commander. It’s the reason all of us are alive right now. You more than deserve to wear that uniform, and you more than deserve to lead this team. And I know for a fact that Riley and Faith feel the same way.’
‘If I can’t trust my own decisions…’
‘Questioning your decisions doesn’t make you a bad leader, it just makes you a good person. You care so much, Xander. More than I thought humanly possible sometimes. You care about everybody, and you care about doing what’s right. It’s the reason I…it’s the reason I love you.
‘I wasn’t going to say anything, but like you said, no reason to hold anything back now. Ever since that day, when I thought…that I might lose you, ever since that day all I can think about is how much you mean to me. I can’t remember my life without you in it, I can’t even imagine it. You’re a part of my soul. Maybe once I thought that was just friendship, and maybe once I took it for granted. I didn’t realize until I was faced with the very real possibility of your death, until my heart sat at the bottom of my stomach for five straight days…that I love you. I love you, in every definition of the word, in every way humanly and inhumanly possible. I love you.’
Xander didn’t say anything. He just turned his head and leaned it against Willow’s. She closed her eyes and leaned back, the barest hint of a smile on her lips. If they truly were about to die, then she was glad she told him, no matter how he felt. All that mattered was that they were together. That’s all that ever mattered.
Minutes passed, or maybe it was hours. They came and took off the rope that held them together. They pulled them to their feet, and cut the ropes binding their ankles so they could walk. Xander thought, as one of the larger men led him by the arm, a quick elbow to his stomach and he could grab his zat. Then maybe…
There was no hope for them left. Even he did get free and get a few shots off, it wouldn’t be enough to save their lives. It would just be killing for the sake of killing, and that’s the last thing Willow wanted in her name. He understood that.
They were taken closer to the fire. The women and children were out of sight, which was to be expected. They stopped in front of Grizzly and a few others. Claw was nowhere to be seen, which surprised Xander. The guards removed their gags and pushed them down into a kneeling position. Xander’s eyes never left Grizzly’s. To his credit, he didn’t look happy about what was about to happen. Xander understood. If they truly believed what they said, that the two of them were sent to somehow lure them out for the demons, then they really had no choice. For the good of the tribe. Xander understood, but it didn’t mean he was going to make it easy for them. So he stared at him, daring him to look away, to show any kind of hesitation in this bloody deed. Grizzly never looked away.
After a moment, the guards, or executioners he supposed, pushed his head forward so that he was looking down at the ground. Xander could feel the point of a sword touching the back of his neck. At least it would be quick and clean, he thought. One swift stroke and lights out.
“I love you too, Willow,” Xander said in barely a whisper. “I’ll see you on the other side.”
Grizzly raised his hand, preparing to give the signal.
‘As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil…’
It was Grizzly’s voice, and for a brief instant a glimmer of hope flashed inside of Xander.
“Take their clothes, we can use them.”
And just that fast, the glimmer went out again. Xander rolled his eyes. Why do they have to prolong this anymore, just do it.
They cut his hands free and started pulling at his jacket. Xander pushed them away and took it off himself. He stripped down to his tee shirt, and when he pulled that off he heard the guard next to him gasp. Xander looked up and saw the man looking down at him strangely.
He didn’t even see Grizzly step closer to him. He hoisted Xander to his feet, and stared intently at his bicep. The tattoo, Xander’s tattoo, that’s what they were looking at he realized. Grizzly poked at it and rubbed on it, looking at his hand to see if it came off. Of course it didn’t. He turned to one of his men. “Find the Tribe First, tell him to come here,” he ordered. “Go, now!”