"Ms. Summers," the general said, standing as she entered the briefing room. "Thank you for coming."
Buffy smiled thinly at him and shook the proffered hand, applying just enough Slayer strength in her grip for him to notice, then took a seat opposite him at the table. "Sure thing, General. Colonel Mitchell said you authenticated the book of prophecies I gave him?"
He had a file folder open in front of him, a sheet of paper with her picture on it visible at the top, and he glanced down at it before answering. "We've determined that its age makes it unlikely to have been created as a hoax," he began, diplomatically. Then he knit his fingers together atop the open file, giving her a direct look made more fierce by a pair of distractingly bushy eyebrows.
"However..." she continued for him, tilting her head as she copied his pose.
"However," he nodded, "we find the coincidence of your offering it to our personnel exactly when the pivotal stanzas would prove applicable just a little... too coincidental to easily believe."
She sighed. She'd been expecting something like this, but it still annoyed her. Most delays would, she suspected, until she actually had Daniel back. "General Landry, I don't know how much Mitchell told you-- but I made no secret of the fact that I had this book. I loaned it to Daniel months ago, not long after I realized he potentially fit at least one of the prophecies and that he was collecting literature on the Grail, and I know he at least skimmed the whole thing. But prophecies can be really hard to interpret before they happen."
"Yet you seem to have interpreted them well enough," the general replied dryly. "It never occurred to you to flip to the relevant page and point it out to him?"
"Don't you think I would have, if I could be sure it was that simple?" Buffy frowned back. "Have you actually read it? Most of ones I guessed might be relevant are totally vague, which is pretty much the norm for prophecies, and until Daniel actually went missing there was nothing I could conclusively point to and say, 'there, see?' I didn't have any proof, not even a convincing argument."
"You were his girlfriend. You didn't think that laid any obligation on you to tell him? Or on him to believe you?" Landry sounded even more skeptical at that.
"Let he who's actually been the subject of a prophecy cast the first stone," she replied, equally crisply. Duh; of course she felt guilty. Sticky, heavy guilt that clung and weighed her down every morning she woke and remembered he was gone. But that was between her and Daniel. "You think it helped me when I was sixteen and someone told me I was prophesied to die? Or six years later when I kept hearing 'from beneath you, it devours'? Hell to the no. But it's not just that." She sat back a little, crossing her arms. "I see you have my file. I'm guessing that means someone decided to clue you in on my playtime with Maggie Walsh?"
Landry snorted. "I'm not sure yet how much of that I'm going to believe, either."
"Try all of it," Buffy said. "There were enough survivors I'm sure you can get all the confirmation you need. But just assume for the moment it's true-- then you know the first thing I thought when I read about a prophecy mentioning demons and hell was that whatever was going to happen, was going to happen on my turf. I planned to start easing Daniel into it later in the year, so he'd believe me when I told him; vampires are usually a good place to start. The whole alien thing? Came as a total surprise."
"Hmm. I'm still not convinced I should even have let Colonel Mitchell tell you that much," he replied, pursing his lips. "And there's still an awful lot of 'she said' for me to accept in that explanation. Without Dr. Jackson here to corroborate, how can I be sure you're telling the truth?"
She rolled her eyes. "I've never seen Daniel's office, but if it's anything like his apartment, he keeps notes on everything. Have someone take a look."
"I've already had Colonel Carter looking into that while she's convalescing," he admitted, nodding. "So let's say she does find it. What, then? Will you give us 'Aurora's gift' and instruct us in its use? And what, exactly, does it do that will cause Heaven to be 'laid waste'?"
Buffy paused for a long moment, deciding exactly how much to tell him, and went with the least vulnerable option. Daniel, she'd have to tell about Dawn. Maybe his team. If a general had to be in on it, then okay, maybe O'Neill; Daniel had invited her to one of his barbeques, and it would take a blind woman not to see how tightly they were still bound. For Daniel's sake, he'd keep Dawn's abilities secret. But she couldn't read Landry that clearly, and she wouldn't trust Dawn's safety on a maybe. So she'd start with the last of his questions, and hope he didn't press.
"Actually, the thing is, it doesn't lay anything to waste. Not by itself. Not most of the time, anyway. Like I told Mitchell, it just... makes portals."
"Like the Stargate makes portals?" Landry asked, visibly perplexed. "Why would we need it, then?"
"I can't be sure," Buffy said. "But my guess is, it's because the portals that-- that the gift makes? They aren't just one way. And they aren't limited by distance or origin point. If he has to go somewhere or send something off the normal network...." She shrugged. "There's all kinds of possible reasons."
It had taken Dawn a lot of time and experimentation to figure out how the portals worked, most of it on her own-- she'd been worried, and she'd been right to be, that Buffy and Willow would completely freak if they found out she was cutting herself in the name of magic. Or any reason; Buffy had to admit, the Key was not the first thing she'd thought of when she'd caught Dawn with a razor blade. Once that misunderstanding was past, though, and she'd screamed herself hoarse in secondary panic over the idea of losing her little sister and maybe the whole universe to the tearing magic that had killed her, Dawn had confessed she'd gone to the Devon coven with a few questions. Apparently, without a very specific conjunction of time and space, the Key's magic should actually be possible to control.
It still required blood. It still resulted in the origin and destination points sort of... bleeding into each other as long as the portal was open, due to the way the Key 'folded' space so Dawn could create the connection. And the portals tended to persist exactly as long as it took for Dawn's fresh wound to clot, rather than shutting off the instant she wanted them to. But she could create them on demand now with a good enough visualization to guide her, and no one had to die to close them, either.
She'd never actually tried it on a galactic scale before, which was a little worrisome now that Buffy had some idea what was actually going on. But she had done the moon, right after she and Buffy had sent the prophecies off with Mitchell-- given that Daniel's official cover was 'Deep Space Radar Telemetry', and the Hellmouth was being a lot quieter than usual, they'd decided to take the 'space' part rather than the 'hell' part literally and see if it was possible. That had been a real trip, even before Willow had freaked over losing her connection to Gaia and lost control of their air bubble.
Landry narrowed his eyes as he parsed her explanation. "Then perhaps you'd better bring it in early so we can test it at interstellar ranges. Maybe see if it'll allow someone past an Ori vessel's shield, things of that nature."
"Sorry, no." Buffy shook her head at that attempt at an end-run. "It really is a big red button, limited use kind of thing. You'll just have to trust us to provide it when the moment comes. If Daniel decides to use it then. And if you find him before he faces that decision."
"So let me get this straight," he said, beginning to grow angry. "You give us a prophecy that says people will burn unless this thing is used, but you won't tell us what it is, or even let us see it, or so much as have it on hand in preparation, and you want me to brief your completely under-qualified sister on the project as well? You, at least, I can find some justification for," he gestured to the file, "but if the IOA asks why an undergraduate college student who isn't even ROTC has been granted access?"
"You'll find a reason," Buffy said.
"Is that meant to be a threat?" he exclaimed.
While Buffy was staring at him in frustration, trying to figure out a way to get through to him-- why couldn't O'Neill have been in Colorado this week, like she'd thought he'd be while Sam was recovering?-- a knock came at the door, disrupting the tension.
"It better be important," Landry called out.
The door cracked open, and an efficient Sergeanty guy whose voice she recognized from the phone stuck his head in. "General? Colonel Carter's here; she says she's found something."
Landry sighed, then threw Buffy a pensive look and nodded. "All right. Send her in."
The Sergeant pulled back, and Sam limped in a moment later, shutting the door behind her. She had a sheaf of looseleaf yellow ruled pages in her hands and a worried expression on her face.
"Colonel Carter? You've found Dr. Jackson's notes?" he prompted her.
She took a careful seat at the table with her pages, one hand pressed to her side, and nodded. "Yes-- though there's not much there. Just that he did read the prophecies, a few notes about the references to a Quest or the Sangreal in specific, some question marks, and a notation about researching prophecy in general for evidence of Ascended interference. That's not what really brought me here, though; one of the things he copied out was a description of the Quest party, and, well, I think you should hear it."
"Go on," he said, curiously.
Buffy already knew this part by heart-- it was near the beginning, and one of the first things she'd clicked on after she met Daniel-- but she still listened with bated breath as Sam read it off:
"Galahad Secundus, he who vanquisheth Ba'al
and pulleth sword from stone: his coming shall herald
the doom of which Merlin warned. He shall gather
up The Lazarus Scholar, the Knower of Names;
The Warrior Queen, She Who Carries Many Things;
The Knight who gave his honor for his kingdom's souls;
And The Lady of Ecstacy, Mother of Death.
All fate shall balance on the outcome of their Quest."
It mostly didn't rhyme. The twelve syllables per line didn't even fall in consistent sextameter. But it rang all ominous, all the same, raising the fine hairs on the back of Buffy's neck.
"The Knower of Names; that's how I picked out Daniel," Buffy nodded to her. "Though I really hope the Lazarus part doesn't mean what it sounds like it means; I thought it was some kind of metaphor before I found out about the alien thing."
Sam winced. "Not... exactly a metaphor. But the rest of this... I know you haven't had much of a chance to socialize with the team, so you may not have realized. But-- sir?" She glanced at Landry.
"Carries many things-- that's one way to define 'Carter', isn't it?" he said.
"And Lady of Ecstasy-- Daniel said once, when I asked about Qetesh, that she was supposed to have been a fertility goddess of sacred ecstasy and sexual pleasure," she added.
"That's the Goa'uld that Vala was host to," Landry frowned. "So the Death part-- that's Adria."
"And I already figured out Mitchell had to be Galahad Secundus," Buffy added. "Mostly because of the heralding part. When he showed up with the news...." She fell silent, remembering the way her breath had caught when she'd seen the lieutenant colonel waiting in the living room with his hat in his hands. She'd thought she'd have a lot more time before anything happened to the complex, intelligent, deeply intense man she was just starting to learn how to love.
And she hadn't missed that 'not exactly a metaphor' line, either. Of all the things it could have turned out that they unexpectedly had in common, why that? She had no doubt the possibilities would be turning up in her nightmares for awhile.
"Actually," Sam said, "The herald part-- I think that actually took place earlier. He became the leader of SG-1 only days before the accident with the communication stones that drew the Ori's attention to our galaxy. At that time, none of us were actually a part of the team. I was headed to Nevada, Daniel to Pegasus, and Teal'c to the 'kingdom' his line talks about, the Jaffa Nation; and Vala first came here just after his arrival. He gathered us."
"And we're absolutely sure that book wasn't faked," Landry said, eyebrows raised.
"Positive, sir," Sam said, looking grim. "The pages, the ink, all of it, are several hundred years old at a minimum. Dr. Lee is working on a more precise date range, but-- there's no way anyone wrote this after the events it describes happened, unless they were a time traveling Ancient. I think we can take it as read that they are the real thing."
She threw Buffy an apologetic glance as she continued. "And sir, if that's the case, it might be proof that Daniel's still alive. We might have lost him and the Sangreal to the Orici, but these two lines further on...."
She shuffled through the pages in her hands, then paused to read a rhyming couplet:
"With further challenge shall virtue be rewarded;
Maintain the last, lest by evil ye be thwarted.
"Sir... the last virtue we tested against Morgan's safeguards was faith. Daniel walked through a wall of fire, literally, to prove our worth. And the last we saw of him, he was facing the avatar of the Ori, false gods who represent themselves with images of fire. I think he's still being tested. The Quest is still ongoing. We may still have a chance at the Sangreal."
"Heav'n laid waste," Landry said thoughtfully, quoting the later part of the prophecy he'd been arguing over with Buffy. Then he sighed. "All right. All right. Ms. Summers, you may bring your sister in. And be as secretive as you like about Aurora's gift. But I want you here, and no excuses, ready to go for the foreseeable future. I don't care about your job, your sister's college, whatever; we'll hire you, fund your sister's schooling in Colorado Springs for the time being. But you'll be here until this-- this 'choice of sacrifice' happens, and we have Dr. Jackson back."
Willow and Xander would squawk. But it wasn't like they were in Cleveland all the time either, and Faith would probably frankly be glad to have Buffy back out of her hair. They got along better than they used to, but not perfectly, and they probably never would. Dawn might not take it as well-- but Buffy thought intergalactic portalling possibilities would make up for it. And Buffy herself didn't have many responsibilities these days, other than generaling when an apocalypse came up. Which? This completely qualified.
Other worlds. Who would have thought, back in the days when the only alien she'd ever heard of was a Queller demon, that The Slayer might one day walk among the stars?
"Deal," she said. "You won't regret it."
And she didn't, either. Not through the move, or all the tests she was put through going incognito as a newbie to the program, or the couple of weeks where Sam suddenly went missing during a test with a funky invisibility slash intangibility device that had been malfunctioning practically ever since they first got their hands on it. Buffy slept in Daniel's backup quarters on base, went by his lab to breathe in the scents of books and coffee and ancient pottery once a day, and picked fragments of story about him from the pages of old SGC mission files, filling in the background of the vivid mental picture she'd formed of him in the few short months they'd been dating.
She'd fallen for the man he was. But now she was getting some idea of what had made him that way, both the wondrous and the terrible. After she got him back, she was definitely going to have to drag him through Cleveland after dark to return the favor, and get Giles to talk to him; she felt almost guilty, wedging herself further into his life when he wasn't around. But at least it was a distraction from the worrying.
And then one day, almost six weeks since he'd gone missing, SG-1 came back from a mission off-world to report a new soft-sell Prior with a very familiar face.
"You were right about the Demon Queen's snare," Mitchell said, as she and Dawn joined them at the urgent briefing. "And we're about to bust him free of it. So it's time to ask you guys. You got 'Aurora's gift' ready to go?"
Buffy exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Dawn, who was still a little pale from her first official trip down those deep elevators. "Yeah," Dawn said, nodding firmly. "Yeah, we're good."
"Then suit up, Summers," Landry said, grimly. "Operation 'Favored of Merlin' is a go."