“What's going on, Chris?"
Chris shrugged without looking up from the notebook he was scribbling in. "I don't know. No one's said anything yet."
"But you always know!"
"You're whining, Andrew."
Andrew scowled, dropping into a seat beside him. "I am not."
"Only dogs can hear you. But it'll probably make training your devil dogs easier, so..."
"Monkeys,” Andrew reminded him. “I trained evil flying monkeys to attack the school play. But that was in my evil past and now I’m good."
"Uh-huh. What makes you think I'd know anything anyway?"
"Because you always know everything. I think you use your powers for evil."
"Let's hope not." Chris flipped his notebook closed, sitting back. “Halliwell magic doesn’t much like being used for evil.”
Andrew winced at his tone, glancing around. "Everyone's here, though. Well, except Xanthe."
"Xanthe's never here. You'd think a Seer would know when we're having meetings in time to get here."
"Seriously," Andrew insisted. "Xander and Dawn, Willow and you, Kennedy and Rona, me...this is the whole Circle."
"Buffy isn’t here," Chris pointed out.
"She’s in Spain."
"Neither is Giles."
"On his way. I passed him in the hall."
"Never comes anyway, that's why Kennedy and Rona are here."
"Huh. Maybe it is the full Circle. That's unusual."
"She didn't come. The message didn't say to bring her, so she’s still at home. Probably sleeping, it’s supposed to be her day off."
He started to stand, but Xander caught his eye. "Don't bother – you don't need her. This isn't a full Circle meeting."
"It looks pretty full."
"There'll be a full Circle meeting later. We just didn't want to drop this on you with no warning."
"Uh-oh," Andrew breathed. “That sounds ominous.”
Giles came in, closing the door behind him and glancing around distractedly. "Is everyone here?"
"Xanthe," Andrew said, half-raising his hand.
"I've spoken to Xanthe. Xander?"
"Yeah. Heads are here."
"So I see. Very well." Giles passed the files he was holding to Dawn. "We have been contacted by the US government. Specifically, the Air Force base in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs. They have been searching for people with a particular genetic trait, and they believe they've found it in the Council."
"What trait?" Chris demanded.
"They call it ATA," Dawn explained. “It's something in the genes. They say it’s complicated, but it's important to them, and it's very rare. Something like one in ten thousand or less."
"Who has it?" Andrew asked.
"And the winner is." Xander raised a hand. "They want me to go to their base for further tests."
"We are opposed," Giles said, raising his voice over the sudden noise. "Andrew, please stop yelling. No one is going to experiment on his brain, I assure you."
"Right. I like my brain," Xander agreed. "Now, if they wanted to experiment on my spleen..."
"Not funny," Dawn warned him. "Where are you going?"
"Initially to Cheyenne Mountain,” Giles told her. “Another base was mentioned, if the tests go well, but I don't believe they said where it was. They referred to it only as the Project."
"They're not going to disappear him, are they?" Andrew was tugging on Giles’ sleeve. Chris reached over to catch his shoulder, jerking him back into his seat.
"That is why we're here." Giles paused until the room quieted down. "I've spoken to Buffy, and our current plan is to form a team with Xander as its head. This team would accompany him wherever he goes. The military have been informed that those are our terms."
"Form a new team?" Rona asked.
"That's the idea. Xander has agreed -"
"In theory," Xander said firmly.
"In theory," Giles agreed. "Kennedy, we would need two Slayers."
"My girls are busy," Kennedy said with a frown. "Rona?"
"Ok. I’ve been thinking about this since you told me earlier and I have an idea. Emily Lightman."
"Emily's still in training," Dawn pointed out.
"Technically, yes. She could have graduated three months ago, but it was the middle of her senior year in high school. I didn't pass her because she would have had to leave the training house."
"Emily might be a good idea," Kennedy mused. "She's smart and she reads people well."
“That’s what I was thinking. She’s fast, too. And she’s so small, people underestimate her.”
“You’ll need a senior Slayer as well,” Dawn said thoughtfully. "Don't we have a Slayer from Colorado Springs?"
"Cassie Frasier," Rona agreed. "She's inactive - college. I've already talked to her; she was willing to come, but her guardians refused."
"College and still living with her guardians?" Chris said in surprise.
"Her mother worked for the Project. So does the current guardian. Cassie doesn't need permission, not the way Emily does, but they won't pass her through.”
“Am I the only one who thinks that's a really bad sign?" Andrew asked. "If someone on the Project doesn't want their kid involved..."
"It's not the most hopeful sign," Xander admitted. "But this is a volunteer mission. Cassie hasn't volunteered, that's fine, and no one will hold it against her."
"She's asked to be left out of the mission completely," Rona added. "No planning, no information sessions."
"And we are all going to respect that," Xander said firmly.
"You still need a senior Slayer," Willow pointed out. "Emily's sweet but she's never led a mission."
"Vida Rocca," Kennedy said suddenly.
Willow frowned. "Vida's a witch."
"A found witch, yeah, but she's also a Slayer, a pretty good one. She's used to working in a team, and nothing she saw in training or in the field ever phased her.”
"Where is she?" Xander asked.
"She's inactive. Not on my roster."
“Somewhere in California,” Rona offered. “I’ll track her down when we’re done.”
“How’s her magic?” Chris asked Willow.
“Good. She channels through a wand, but she thinks on her feet. Strong affinity for wind.”
“She’ll be there as a Slayer, not a witch,” Kennedy reminded him.
“Can’t hurt to know what she can do.”
“Speaking of witches,” Giles said before Kennedy could answer, “any names coming to mind, Chris?”
“You?” Andrew said in surprise.
Chris shrugged. “Wyatt can handle San Francisco. There’s enough cousins to help him if he needs it. And having a quick way out at short notice might help. Beside, not to brag, but there aren’t any witches stronger than me.”
“Chris, I’m trying to say this as nicely as I can,” Xander said carefully. “You’re not – the teamiest of team players.”
Chris laughed softly. “I’ll play nice with the other boys and girls, don’t worry.”
“And your second?” Giles asked.
“I’ll play nice with them, too.”
“Good to know, but not precisely what I meant. Who do you think will be your second?”
“I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to talk to Parrish.”
“Very well. Please do so before the full Circle meets tonight.”
“Is that all?” Andrew asked. “Two witches and two Slayers?”
Giles looked at Xander, who shook his head. “Don’t look at me. You know how I feel about this.”
“She’s powerful, and if Xanthe is right –“
“Good, she and Emily can keep each other company,” Kennedy said loudly. “Who are we talking about?”
Giles looked at Xander, who held his gaze without answering. Sighing, he said, “Ariel DuBois.”
“Psychic,” Willow said softly.
“She talks to dead people.”
“So do you,” Xander pointed out. “Granted you usually kill yours, where Ariel’s more with the solving of crimes, but...”
“Who’s Ariel?” Chris asked.
“She’s one of Xanthe’s inherited psychics,” Willow told him. “She, her sisters, her mother and her uncle, all have some degree of ability.”
“Blonde,” Andrew added.
“Oh, yeah, I know her. Is she underage?”
“She’s seventeen. Xanthe seemed confident she would agree, but whether that’s something she’s Seen or not...”
“She’s not a Seer, not really,” Kennedy said.
“She has visions,” Andrew protested.
“She has dreams.”
“She works full time for the Council?” Chris asked quickly. “She’d be able to come, I mean?”
“She’s in her gap year,” Andrew told him. “Giles, what about some of my group?”
“I don’t believe it would be wise. Your group have certainly proven themselves, but they do tend to be rather – alarming, to the uninformed. We don’t wish to provoke anything.”
“They can’t help it,” he muttered.
“Yes, granted. We shall hold them in reserve. I’m told the Air Force will also be assigning us two military liaisons. They’ll ensure we –“
“Don’t start any major international incidents?” Xander suggested brightly.
“Something along those lines, yes. Now everyone please make whatever arrangements you need to before the Circle meets tonight.”
Chris leaned over his notebook, flipping to a new page and scribbling quickly. The others headed out, talking quietly. When he looked up, only Giles and Andrew were still in the room, Andrew lurking by the door and Giles gathering his files together.
“Giles.” He ripped out the sheet, passing it over. “Parrish is going to need someone as her second if I’m going to be on Xander’s team. Those are my suggestions. Let her pick someone from them.”
Giles scanned the sheet, frowning. “There are no Halliwells on this list.”
“Your cousins are the strongest born witches in the world, surely they –“
“My cousins are magical royalty,” Chris said evenly. “We run the Magic School and the Elders listen to us. When the Council approached us no one even asked any other witches. It was just us. We’re protectors, not dictators. It’s time the rest of the population got a say.”
Giles studied him for a moment before nodding. “Very well. I will discuss the matter with Parrish.”
“I’d better talk to her first.” Chris glanced at his watch. “She’s probably not even on the base yet. What time is it in San Francisco?”
“It’s not lunch time yet,” Andrew offered.
“Right. She won’t be here yet. I’ll go track her down.”
Full Circle didn’t happen very often. Mostly, the various departments of the new Watchers’ Council ran semi-independently, and the heads of several of the new departments had nothing to do with any of the others. In theory, of course, Buffy knew everything any department was doing. In practise, she killed things and the others ran the Council for her.
Giles generally tried to be the first to a full Circle meeting. It usually didn’t work, because there was always something else he needed to hear or sign off on or make a judgement about. No matter how early he left his office for the meeting room – they had a meeting room now, that was still strange to him after years of the library or Magic Box or Buffy’s living room – he was almost always held up along the way.
Today, though, only the Halliwell cousins were there ahead of him, arguing fiercely over Chris’s notebook. Giles cleared his throat, but their only reaction was to start arguing softly over the notebook instead.
Until the reformation of the Council, Giles had had almost no interaction with the Halliwells. He was aware of them, of course, as all Watchers were; as the premier Wiccans in the world, the Council had occasionally deigned to work with them. That tradition had died with Patty Halliwell, though, as her mother had refused to work with them at any time. By the time Patty’s daughters had come into their power, the Council had already been crumbling. One of Giles’ first acts had been to get back in touch with them, and they had agreed to send two of their own to help them deal with born witches. Chris was, as Xander had put it, not the teamiest of team players, but he was loyal and dedicated, and with his cousin Parrish to help him he ably represented the born witches who worked with the Council.
“Problem?” Giles asked, when the two continued to argue in whispers.
“No,” Chris said quickly.
“Just discussing Chris’s second on your new team,” Parrish added.
“Seems to be quite a vehement discussion. Who are your candidates?”
“Still working it out,” Chris said, glaring at his cousin.
“Because Chris refuses to listen to my suggestion.”
“I’m not –!”
“What is your suggestion?” Giles asked.
Parrish lifted her chin, watching him challengingly. “I’ll go.”
Giles glanced at Chris, who lifted his hands helplessly. “I see. Remind me, Parrish, you are how old?”
“Eighteen.” Catching Chris’s look, she added quickly, “Halliwell magic is strongest when used with Halliwell magic. That’s why our parents were so successful. There’s no other witch who could help Chris as much as I can. And there’s the other thing.”
“She’s good at calming people down, it’s her magical heritage. Parr...”
“I’m coming,” Parrish said firmly.
Andrew appeared before anyone could answer, hesitating. “Whoa. What’s up with the vibes in here?”
“Nothing,” Chris said, shoving away from the table to lean against the back wall.
“Uh-huh.” Andrew skulked in, settling in his seat and reaching for Chris’ notebook. Parrish slid it across to him, watching Chris, who didn’t react.
“Urgh. I can never read your spells.” Andrew flipped the notebook closed, passing it back to Parrish.
“You’re not supposed to be able to. Those are Halliwell spells,” Chris reminded him.
“They’ll be useful for the team, though,” Parrish said.
“Oh, you’re on the team? Awesome! The Halliwell cousins, fighting injustice with our two beautiful Slayers and our pretty Seer...and Xander...”
“Hey,” Xander protested from the door. Giles glanced up, registering the blonde girl at his side. It took a moment – too many people in the Council, and isn’t that the oddest thing you’ve thought in a while? – for him to recognise Ariel DuBois.
“Come in,” he said. “Andrew, do stop.”
“...bringing justice to...”
“Andrew,” Xander said, ushering Ariel in. “Giles, where is everyone? We can’t be that early.”
Giles blinked. “I expected everyone to be here.”
“I’ll go look for them,” Andrew offered.
“They’re coming,” Ariel said quietly. “Rona’s late, but the others are coming.”
“Thank you,” Giles said automatically.
“That’s so cool,” Andrew whispered.
Ariel grinned, easing into a seat. “I was making it up.”
“Except about Rona. She really is going to be late.”
Andrew narrowed his eyes. “Did she tell you that? Is that how you know?”
“No, that one I really...” she gestured vaguely.
Kennedy and Willow arrived in, Dawn on their heels. “Rona’s going to be late,” Kennedy said, rounding the table to her seat. “Something about the training house.”
“Xanthe will not be here, but Ariel DuBois is attending in her place. Ariel, do you know everyone?” Giles gestured vaguely around the table.
“Yes, I know who everyone is,” she said, glancing once around the group.
“You know what this is about?” Xander asked.
“Yes, Xanthe told me.”
“And you agree?”
He studied her for a moment before nodding. “It’s a volunteer mission. You can back out any time you like.”
“I know. Thank you.”
Giles nodded briskly. “Good, everyone understands and no one’s feeling put upon. On to other matters. Kennedy, have our Slayers given us an answer?”
The liaisons arrived four days later. Both Vida and Emily had agreed to join the team, though both Xander and Giles had had to reassure Emily’s father that she’d be safe and able to leave at any time. The two had trained together once or twice to get used to each other’s styles, and Xander had arranged a couple of team nights – one evening of bowling, where Vida and Emily decimated the others and Ariel won all the bets, and one movie night, which degenerated into MSTing after a while, mostly led by Chris. The group was still a little uncertain, but they were starting to come together.
On the fourth day Dawn was called down to the lobby to find Graham Millar outside, along with an unfamiliar woman in Air Force fatigues. Xander gathered the team together and met them in the conference room, along with Giles, Dawn and Andrew.
“I see you’ve expanded,” Graham said, looking around.
“Turns out the Council owned a few banks,” Xander told him. “That money was supposed to be going to help the Slayers, and now it is. Wanna meet my team?”
“Yeah. First, though, let me introduce Lieutenant Taylor Earhadt. She was recruited to the Programme a couple of years ago and will be serving as your second liaison. Taylor’s going to be teaching you specifically about the Programme. I’m general military.”
“Hi, Taylor.” Xander shook her hand, pausing to add questioningly, “Lieutenant Earhadt?”
“Taylor, then.” He waved them both to sit. “How much does she know, Graham?”
“Broad strokes. She doesn’t know who any of you are.”
“Saving the best for last,” Chris noted. Graham nodded, smiling faintly.
“Right.” Xander turned to Taylor. “If I start going too fast, stop me. I’m not really used to doing this any more.”
“I think I can keep up.” She folded her arms, leaning back in her seat.
Distantly, Xander realised that she hadn’t reacted to his eye patch at all. He wondered if she’d been warned, or if she’d seen injuries like his before.
“Alright. My name is Xander Harris and I am apparently the guy your Programme wants. I’m also the head of both this team and the Watchers segment of the Council. You know who the Watchers...?”
“Back up for the Slayer, but I was told they were pretty ineffectual. No insult intended.”
“No insult taken. They used to be pretty bad, but we’ve completely revamped since then. Including dividing out the responsibilities. Watchers are sort of the brain to the Slayer’s brawn, although Watchers are required to have a certain level of self defence and Slayers are encouraged to learn as much as possible. Watchers specialise in demon species, mostly, how to identify and kill the different species, how to recognise different rituals and how to safely stop them, demon languages. Some Watchers specialise in prophecies, and Giles heads them up. Dawn is his second. Neither of them are on the team.”
“With you so far,” Taylor said when he paused.
“Good. The only other person in here not on the team is Andrew. He’s my second in the Watchers and he also deals with the friendlier demon species, several of whom help us out from time to time.” Glancing around the table, he continued, “The two Slayers on the team are Vida Rocca, senior Slayer, and Emily Lightman.”
“Junior Slayer, I presume,” Taylor drawled.
“In terms of experience, yes. Emily’s very skilled at reading people, though, she’ll be in the front of the team.”
Vida had been eyeing Taylor since she’d sat down and now she announced, “I was part of the Ranger programme in Briarwood.”
“Oh? I was in Turtle Cove.”
“That was a few years before me, I think. Yellow?”
“Mmm.” Taylor studied her. “Pink?” she said doubtfully.
“Yeah.” Vida fingered the pink ribbon sewn onto her sleeve. “Our Yellow was a guy.”
“I’ve never met a male Yellow. I hear they’re more excitable than we are.”
“You could say that,” Vida agreed. Glancing up, she caught Xander’s look and smiled innocently. “Fire ahead, boss.”
“Sure? You’re definitely done? Don’t want to rush you or anything.”
“No, we’re good. We can catch up later. Go on.”
Xander made a face at her and turned back to Taylor. “Chris and Parrish Halliwell are our witches. Ariel is our Seer –“
“Seer?” Graham repeated.
“Psychic. Ariel sees things. Our head Seer told us to bring her along.”
“I used to work with a psychic,” Taylor said thoughtfully. “Well, sort of.”
“Good. So you’ll understand that if Ariel says stop, we stop, if she says we don’t trust someone, we don’t trust him.”
Taylor raised an eyebrow. “Mine wasn’t quite that specific – yes, Xander, I understand. Ariel’s your showstopper.”
“Good. Graham, you’ve worked with witches before, right?”
“With shamans,” he said doubtfully.
“Closer to Ariel’s area of expertise,” Chris said when Xander looked at him. “Shaman are mystical conduits to the dead. In theory. Some healing spells, that kind of thing, but not much offensive power.”
“Ok. Well, it’ll be nice for Graham to be on your team, then.” Glancing at Graham, he confided, “Other witches measure themselves on the Halliwell scale.”
“Is that right,” Graham said blandly.
Xander nodded, sitting down. “I think we’re ready for your part now.”
Graham nodded, shoving back his seat and standing to find a file folder in his bag. “I need you to sign NDAs first – don’t look at me like that, Xander, they’re important.”
“Your Programme came after me, not the other way around,” Xander reminded him.
“Yeah, I know, and now they want you to sign your NDA so they can tell you why they want you.” He waited until Xander scrawled a name across the form; picking it back up, he sighed. “They want you to sign with your name, not Hooby McDoofenmeyer.”
Xander shrugged innocently. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
Taylor passed him a fresh form, collecting the others while he signed. “Emily and Ariel, you need a parent’s signature...”
“Pass them here,” Xander told her. “I’m in parent locos for them while they’re working for the Council.”
“You’re in loco parentis,” Dawn corrected him.
“Well that just sounds crazy.” He signed Emily’s form with a flourish and slid them across to Taylor. “Ok, we are all agog. What’s the big secret?”
“Aliens,” Graham told him, sitting back and folding his arms.
“Pffh. We had aliens years ago.”
“An alien,” Giles murmured.
“He ate crazy people,” Xander confided to Taylor.
“Ours don’t do that,” Taylor said easily. “They’re more likely to take you over and control your body. Or else suck all the life out of you with their hand. It depends which group you meet.”
“Andrew, you are not allowed to speak for the next ten minutes,” Xander said.
“Oh, but –“
“No. Talking. Andrew.”
"Big sci fi fan," Dawn explained to Graham.
He nodded, sitting forward and shuffling through his files. "There's a lot of background, which you'll be given when you reach Project Headquarters, but the basics are; we can travel to different planets. We have working spaceships, and we're at war. Is he alright?"
Giles followed his gaze to Andrew, who had clapped both hands across his mouth and was bouncing excitedly. "Andrew, do try and contain yourself. Please continue, Graham."
Graham eyed him, but continued. "Here in the Milky Way we're fighting the Ori-"
"Religious fanatics with the power to back it up," Taylor said.
"Self-replicating Meccano spiders with bad tempers."
"And the remains of the Goa'uld."
"Body stealing snakes with a god complex."
"Over in the Pegasus galaxy, they're fighting the Wraith-"
"Bug people who suck life."
"And some Replicators."
"Self replicating Meccano people with bad tempers."
"What about the ATA thing?" Emily asked.
"It's a genetic sequence. There was a race we call the Ancients who lived both here and in Pegasus. Most of them are gone, although one or two have shown up. A lot of their technology is genetically keyed and the ATA is what lets us make it work. Not many people have it naturally. It can be artificially induced, but it doesn't always work very well."
"Oh, me!" Andrew burst out. "I'll try it!"
"I don't think it'll give you superpowers of any description," Xander told him.
"Depends on your definition," Graham said. "In Atlantis, our base in Pegasus, things like lights and some of the doors are ATA keyed. You get a strong enough expression of the gene, there's a lot you can do without ever leaving your chair."
"Uh huh. And just how strong am I?" Xander asked.
"It's hard to test cold, but it's looking pretty good. There's a lot of Ancient tech being funnelled back to us and we don't have the ATA users to test them properly. That's what you'd be doing, at least initially."
"Turning things on and off, basically," Taylor added.
"Huh. Tell me more. What's the Project's real name?"
"It's called Stargate Command." Graham smiled, real enthusiasm lighting up his eyes. "Let me tell you about the Stargate."
Quick clarification: in this universe, the SGC already know about the things that go bump in the night. Xander and his team will not have to make explanations.
"Please put me on the team. Please, please, please?"
"For the last time, Andrew, no. Too many of the Circle are going as it is. I can't afford you to be gone as well. I need you here to deal with Clem."
Andrew sighed, slumping in his chair and folding his arms. Giles ignored the theatrics, heading out of the room. "No fair," Andrew muttered.
"Whining. Anyway, it's your own fault for being indispensable," Chris told him. "Here, look."
He squinted at the display on the screen, trying to read what looked like a map. "Is that it?"
"Cheyenne Mountain," Chris agreed. "It's well done, too – the scans don't show anything particular down there."
"It is a secret base," Dawn reminded him, tapping at the control. The map vanished. "They want us there as soon as possible. Xander is thinking day after tomorrow. Does that work for you?"
"Yeah. Have we got communicators?"
"Willow's just finishing up. It's more of a tech job, really – I think she misses doing that kind of thing."
"I should go see if I can help," Andrew announced, wandering off.
"You ok?" Dawn asked Chris.
"Hmm? Yeah, fine. Why?"
"You were very quiet in the meeting."
"Enough people were talking, I didn't feel like I had anything that really needed to be added." He studied her for a moment. "We'll make sure Xander's alright. That's why we're going, right?"
"We want you all to be ok," Dawn told him. She held his gaze for a moment before grinning. "Otherwise we'd have to deal with Wyatt, and that's just not something we want to have to do."
"I can see your point there," Chris agreed. "We'll do our best, promise. Where are the other two? The military?"
"Graham's gone to his room. Vida took Taylor off somewhere to talk. You should go home, Chris. Spend tomorrow with your family."
"Yeah, good idea," he surrendered. "I'll go find Parrish and bring her along. I'll see you morning after next."
"That's fine. See you then."
Xander came in as Chris orbed out. "He gone home?"
"Yeah. Well, to find Parrish and then go." She called the map back up, staring at it.
"It's not that far away, Dawnster," Xander told her. "And Chris is going to stick with me all the time. We'll be back here the second anything even looks like going wrong."
"I know. Just make sure Andrew doesn't hide away – he really wants to see those aliens."
"We're not even going off base!"
"Try convincing him of that."
When Chris and Parrish came back to Slayer Headquarters two days later the place was bustling. Emily and Vida were carefully checking all their weapons; Ariel, without any specific preparations to make, was watching bemusedly. Andrew was talking at them about the various kinds of aliens they might meet. None of them was paying much attention, though Chris couldn't blame them. Andrew was currently discussing the finer points of Klingon cuisine.
"Parrish!" Kennedy appeared around the group. "Willow wanted you to go see her, she's putting together some herbs and stuff for you and she wants to make sure you have everything you need. Chris, Xander wants you. He's up in his office with Giles."
"Thanks." Chris leaned in over Ariel to snag a nice athame, passing it to Parrish and turning away.
"...if we should need it," Giles was saying when he pushed open the office door. "Ah, Chris. Come in, please."
"Didn't mean to interrupt," he offered, folding his arms and leaning against the nearest wall. "What's up?"
"Chris, how many people can you orb at once?" Xander asked, looking up from the computer.
"Me and two others, maybe. Why?"
"Only two? What about Parrish?"
"She can't orb at all. Why?"
Xander grimaced, looking at Giles. "This isn't exactly a volunteer assignment for me."
"What?" Chris straightened. "What do you mean?"
"I mean the military made it very clear that I either show up at the base, or they'll arrive to bring me. This ATA is in short enough supply that they don't care who they trample on to get it."
"You run an army of super powered warriors."
"They run an army with bombs and guns and all manner of long range killing implements. Plus they can shut the Council down if they want. The ISC is strong in the supernatural world, but they're stronger in the real world and that's the one we're living in."
Chris grimaced. "I can't manage more than two, but I can drop them and come straight back. And Parrish could call for Leo or Paige. That's the best I can do."
"Right. If it comes to it, get Ariel and Parrish out and come back, alright? That's Plan...O, for orb, I guess."
"Got it," Chris agreed. "Plan O, Ariel and Parrish." He glanced at the files spread over the table. "Got everything you need?"
"Almost. We're not going to run into any demons, as far as we can tell, so I don't need much from here. Did Willow find Parrish?"
"Kennedy did. We brought stuff, you know."
"Can't hurt to have extra," Giles said. "Where is Ariel?"
"Down with the Slayers. You want her?"
"Yes, if you wouldn't mind."
The group around the Slayers had grown – Chris had never met a Slayer who could resist a nice blade – and he had trouble extracting Ariel from the middle of it. Finally he yelled over everyone's heads until she appeared.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
Chris shook his head. "Nothing's wrong. Xander and Giles want to talk to you, if you're free."
"Yeah, sure." She pressed the cleaning cloth she'd been holding into the nearest Slayer's hand and followed him back upstairs. "Is this place always so chaotic?"
"Your first time?"
"Almost. I usually stay in the Observatory with Xanthe and the others. If the Slayers are going out we stay out of their way."
"Most of them get pretty excited about weapons. You ever need to distract a Slayer, show them a weapon they haven’t seen before. They haven't pulled out the Scythe, have they?"
"No, I don't think so."
"You'd know," he assured her, tapping on the door and pushing it open again.
"Ariel!" Xander said brightly. "Come in come in. Sit down somewhere. Wherever."
Chris leaned against the wall again, watching as Ariel perched on the edge of a seat. "Is something wrong?" she asked.
"No. Not at all. I just wanted to make sure you were alright about the team, and the mission and everything. I know it's your first, really, but you used to help out your mom in Phoenix, right?"
"Yes, but we were sort of supposed to keep it secret. Well, we used to. Most people know about us now. I'm fine about the mission, I'm just not sure what you want me to do exactly."
"I just want you to make sure you tell us about anything that triggers your instincts. Even if it seems like a tiny little thing, Ariel, we want you to tell us about it anyway."
“I don’t always see things,” Ariel warned him. “And it doesn’t happen on command. I can’t decide that I want to know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
“We understand all that. You’re not going to be blamed, I promise. But if you think of anything, tell me or Chris straight away, ok? Interrupt us if you have to.”
"I will," she promised, rising to her feet. "Is that it?"
"Yep. See if you can find Graham and Taylor, will you? I've no idea where they are. Make sure they've eaten something and get them down to the main hall. We'll be going as soon as I find Emily and Vida. Chris, you should rescue Parrish from Willow. She's probably getting threatened."
"You think?" Chris asked, sensing for Parrish as he spoke.
"I love my Willow, but subtle she ain't. We'll be going soon. Head down to the main hall, ok?"
"Sure," Chris agreed, orbing out.
Willow was brandishing various kinds of herbs at Parrish, who was refusing most of them. "Honestly, Willow, I have pretty much everything I need."
"You can never have too much dogwood," Willow insisted.
"Dogwood's only going to be any good if we need to blow something up and don't care who gets hurt. I think that's unlikely where we're going."
"You think?" Chris murmured.
"Yes, Chris, I think it's unlikely," Parrish said firmly. "We don't hurt people, remember?"
"No, you're right. Thanks but no thanks, Willow." Touching Parrish's shoulder, he added, "Are you ready? We've got to meet the others in the main hall."
"Yeah, I'm ready. Got everything. Let's go."
Chris nodded, orbing them away.
The first problem came when the guards on the main gate outside Stargate Command tried to confiscate the group's weapons.
"Oh, come on. I have no depth perception. What could I possibly hit?" Xander protested.
"You cannot pass this point with weapons, sir," the guard said for the fourth time.
"Tell you what," Vida offered. "If you can touch it, you can take it."
Neither guard looked ready to take her up on it, Xander noted thankfully, but they didn't look ready to budge either.
"I can hide them," Chris offered.
"No, they know we have them. Ariel, any ideas?"
"Hand them over," she said with a shrug. "They're hardly going to steal them, and they're definitely not going to let you in with visible weapons."
Xander stared at her for a moment before looking at Graham. "Not going to let us in with visible weapons, huh?"
"Nobody here is permitted to touch you unless you threaten someone. But there are detectors."
"You heard the man." Xander met Chris's eyes before turning back to the guard. "You are now personally responsible for the weapons we are about to hand over, understand? Nobody touches them, nobody moves them anywhere without your knowledge and permission from one of our group. Say 'yes, Sir.'"
The soldier looked to Taylor, who shrugged. "You heard the man."
Xander handed over his axe. Vida and Emily, between them, contributed nine daggers, stakes, and crossbow-and-bolts. Chris put the athame he'd been carrying into a carry case himself.
"Make sure no one touches that," he said warningly. "I'll know. No one touches it."
The soldier nodded, gingerly closing the case before looking at Ariel and Parrish. "They don't carry weapons," Chris told him. "Can we go now?"
"Yes sir." The soldier saluted sharply before carefully lifting the carry cases and turning away.
Graham directed the group to the elevator, grinning when Xander caught his eye. "Nice," he murmured.
"Just make sure no one tries to pat us down."
"No one's going to pat you down."
"Shame," Parrish said from just behind them.
"Parrish!" Chris protested.
"Oh, come on, Chris. A girl can look."
"Not while I'm around, she can't," he said firmly.
Another soldier met them at the elevator door, walked them through a scanner which utterly failed to pick up anything, and led them to a conference room. Xander's almost-forgotten soldier memories stirred, and he saluted the general in charge without hesitation. "Sir."
"Mr Harris. Please, sit."
Chairs had been left empty along one side of the long table. Xander took the one beside the general, sensing Vida take up a guard position behind him; Emily sat at the far end, where she'd be able to see everyone. Ariel sat next to Xander, and Parrish slid in beside her.
"There's enough seats for everyone," the general said mildly. Xander turned to see Chris standing by the shuttered windows behind their seats.
"Chris," he said loudly. "Sit."
"I'm fine right here, thanks."
Xander rolled his eyes, glancing at Graham. "You guys sit. You're on the team now. Em, move up a couple."
They reshuffled themselves quickly. Graham leaned forward to meet Xander's eyes. "Xander, General Landry, head of the SGC. Colonel Cam Mitchell, head of SG1. Colonel Sam Carter, Dr Daniel Jackson, Teal'c and Vala Mal Doran. Dr Lam, CMO."
Taylor quickly named everyone on their side of the table, ending with, "And Chris Halliwell lurking at the back there."
"Pleasure," Landry said briskly. "Mr Harris –“
" – you understand why you're here, yes?"
"To make your shiny technology work," Xander said innocently.
"I'm sorry," Ariel said abruptly. "What are you?"
Vala elbowed Dr Jackson. "I believe she's talking to you."
He looked up from his file, startled. "I'm sorry?"
"What are you?" Ariel repeated.
"Me? I'm, uh, head of linguistics and anthropology..."
"No." Ariel shook her head, pointing first at Vala and then Teal'c. "She's an alien, and so is he. You're not, but you're something else."
"He is definitely something else," Mitchell agreed. "But it's a long, complicated story. Can we maybe do it later? He'd just love to tell you himself."
Ariel stared at him for a moment before turning to Xander. "They're going to take you to the other base. The one in Pegasus."
Vida jerked Xander out of his chair, pushing him towards Emily and slipping into a guard position. Landry was already protesting; Taylor was trying to shout down Chris and Ariel and having very little luck.
The piercing whistle shocked everyone into silence and they turned as one to glare at Colonel Mitchell. “That’s better,” he said calmly. Neither he nor any of his team had moved, though Daniel had one hand on Vala’s arm. “Let’s all just calm down for a minute. Ms DuBois, no one is going to ‘take’ anyone anywhere. Yes, we’d like to have Mr Harris’s talents on Atlantis, but we’re not in the habit of forcing people to work for us against their will.”
“No,” Daniel told Vala as she went to speak. She subsided, scowling, and he let go of her arm. “Ariel, what is it you think you saw?”
“I don’t think I saw anything. He’s going to be on Atlantis.”
“That doesn’t mean we force him there,” Daniel pointed out calmly. “Do the things you see always happen?”
“Then let’s not worry about it just yet. We won’t be forcing him to go anywhere during this meeting at least, alright?” He glanced at Xander, repeating “Alright?”
“Yes,” Xander decided, stepping past Vida to reclaim his seat. “Alright. Vida and Emily, stand down.”
Emily sat back down, leaning forward slightly. “They aren’t deliberately lying.”
“Good to know, thank you. Vida, find a seat and sit in it. Now, please.”
Vida backed off, dragging a chair from the other end of the table to sit behind and between Xander and Ariel. “I’m sitting, boss,” she said when he turned to glare at her.
“Good. Stay there.” He turned back to General Landry. “We’re listening.”
“The Pegasus expedition has sent back various pieces of technology. We would appreciate your help in examining some of them. And yes, we would very much like to have you visit Atlantis, but I’m well aware that that must be your choice, not ours. We would not attempt to force you there.”
“Good to know. Tell us about Dr Jackson over there. Not an alien?”
“It’s a really, really long story,” Mitchell warned him.
“I like stories. Impress me.”
Ten minutes later he gestured a time out. “Ok. I give up. Summarize.”
“He used to be floaty energy, now he’s not,” Vala said before anyone else could answer. “Also he’s been evil, but who hasn’t a few times?”
“Not helping,” Daniel muttered.
“No, actually, that does help,” Xander said thoughtfully. “So what’s the plan?”
“Colonel Carter will walk you down to the lab and show you the equipment we have right now. Most of it is touch activated for someone with the gene.”
“I just touch it?”
“Sometimes you have to think ‘on’, too,” Mitchell advised him.
“Ok. Touch, think. I can handle that.”
“Doing two things at once? Might be tricky,” Chris noted. Xander flipped him off amiably.
“I can show the rest of your team to their quarters,” Mitchell offered. “There’s no need for you all to go down to the labs.”
“Ariel, you and Emily come with me. Chris, get everyone else settled in, alright?” Xander rose to his feet. “Nice to meet you, General.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr Harris.”
“Xander. My name is Xander.”
Xander followed Colonel Carter, eyeing the guard behind them curiously. “We rate a guard?”
“Hmm? Just until one of your liaisons catches up,” Carter said absently.
“How is Cassie?”
Carter glanced at him, frowning. “I’m sorry?”
“Cassie Frasier? You know her, right? Her mother worked here.”
“I know Cassie,” Sam agreed.
“I wasn’t at the training house while she was there, but I heard she did very well.”
Sam stopped, stepping into his path. “Forgive me, Mr Harris –“
“ – But Cassie left your organization. Why do you care?”
Xander shrugged. “You can take the girl out of the Slayers...she doesn’t have to come back, Colonel Carter, she can hide out up here for as long as she wants. But she’s still a Slayer and I’m responsible.”
“He’s just asking you how she’s doing,” Emily added. “Not where she is. I trained with Cassie for a little while, I liked her.”
“She’s doing fine.”
“Thank you.” Xander smiled innocently. Sam frowned, studying him for a moment before turning back towards the lab again.
Touching things, it turned out, was not as much fun as it sounded. Most of them didn't work at all. Some lit up feebly but stopped as soon as Xander let them go. Only one or two stayed working when he put them down.
"Are there many more?" he asked after a while, putting down another unresponsive one.
"We can stop if you want," Sam told him, making a quick note before looking up at him. "It's fine."
"No, no, I said I'd help." He reached for the next one with a sigh.
"Emily!" Ariel was on her feet, hand locked around Emily's wrist. Emily's hand was hovering a few inches from a piece Xander had tried and discarded.
"What?" Emily drew back; Ariel didn't let go until her hand was in her lap. "What's wrong?"
"That was..." Ariel grimaced, reaching out. Her hand hovered over the piece without touching. "Sorry. You shouldn't touch it, though."
"That one isn't working, Ariel," Xander said carefully.
"It isn't working for you."
Sam frowned, sorting through the pieces they hadn't tried yet before holding out what looked like a smooth, rounded stone. "Emily, can you take this please?"
"What is it?" Xander asked with a frown.
"It's decorative. Not dangerous at all. Emily?"
Emily glanced at Ariel, waiting for her nod before taking the piece. It lit up under her touch, glowing feebly. Xander reached over to take it from her and it glowed brightly under his fingers, throwing coloured light over the walls and remaining lit when he put it down.
"Emily, have you been tested for the ATA?" Carter asked.
"No," Xander answered for her. "The Council doesn't test for it - although maybe we should be - and we didn't give your medical department permission to do any testing."
"Would you let us test? It's just a blood test."
Emily glanced at Xander, who shook his head. "We'll discuss it as a team and if we agree, you can test all of us. Are we done here?"
"Yes, we're done." She glanced at Taylor, who'd turned up about half an hour after they'd started. "Escort them back to their quarters, please."
"Yes ma'am," Taylor agreed. "This way, guys."
Xander gestured Emily out ahead of them, falling into step beside Ariel. "What was going to happen?" he asked softly.
"I don't know exactly. That thing was bad, though. You should ask them to make sure no one tries to activate it again."
"I will." He grinned, bumping her shoulder. "See, this? This is exactly what I meant. Your instincts are good."
"I guess. Thanks for listening."
"That's what we brought you for. I'd be a fairly crappy team leader if I didn't listen to my team."
Ahead of them, Taylor glanced at Emily. "You guys didn't test anyone for the ATA?"
"As far as I know, we didn't even know about the ATA until the IOA contacted the ISC." Emily paused, thinking. "There are way too many initials in that sentence. Um, no, the Slayers aren't typically tested for anything. We don't contract or carry diseases except in very unusual circumstances. We don't need to be tested."
"Huh. What about the other groups?"
"They can carry stuff, I guess, but we can't really make them take tests that we aren't. That's not very fair."
"No it isn't," Xander agreed. Taylor jumped, looking over her shoulder at him.
Emily smiled placidly. "The first thing you learn at the training house? Xander hears everything. That's his gift, knowing everything."
"Gift, curse, potayto, potahto. Is anyone expecting me to know my own way around this place? Cos I'm totally lost."
"No, that's why we're here," Taylor told him. "Is anyone hungry? We haven't eaten in a while."
"I could eat," Xander agreed. "Girls? Taylor, can you get the others to meet us there?"
"Yeah, I can get Graham." She toggled her radio, talking to it for a minute. "They'll meet us there."
"Good. I've got some cards to lay on the table. I don't think we can afford to hide things anymore."
Xander waited until everyone had some kind of food and had stopped complaining about it. The Council had a couple of really good chefs on staff, but the SGC quite obviously didn’t.
"So I have some things to tell everyone," he said. "Graham and Taylor, would you mind moving to another table for a couple minutes? I'm about to ask everyone what they think of your Project and you might not want to hear the answers."
"We're assigned to make sure you're safe at all times while you're working for the Project," Graham said. "That includes internal threats as well as external and your views won't change anything."
Taylor nodded without moving from her slouch. “That said, keep your voices down a little. There are a lot of people in here and I don’t know all of them.”
"Thanks," Xander murmured. "First of all, what do you guys think so far? Chris?"
"I'm not sure yet," he said slowly. "Most of the actual people seem to be ok, but the Project I'm not sure about."
"I think we can trust the ones who are here. But they take orders from other people, and if they get orders to hold us here – well, they can't actually do it, of course, but they'd try."
"I agree with them." Ariel was pale. "I think the best thing for you is to leave now. But it's not good for the Slayers if you do."
"Thank you. Emily?"
Emily shrugged. "I like Dr Jackson. Mitchell and Landry seem honest. I can't really read Vala or Teal'c, I think because they're actual aliens; I need to spend more time with them. But the others were nice."
Vida shrugged. "Tell me who to hit, I'll hit, boss, but I don't read crowds. That's not why you brought me."
"Fair enough." He sighed, looking around. "I haven’t been quite honest, and I'm going to tell you everything now. I would like everyone to count to ten when I'm done speaking before you try and answer, and I want Emily and Vida to stay in their seats." At their nods, he quietly explained the threats the Council had received, the IOA’s promise to have them closed down and everyone under their care taken into custody. "Basically, it'd be Initiative mark 2, except they would also be focusing on parahumans. All our witches, Seers, Slayers – everyone would be marked, all our contacts, everyone we know of. Giles, Buffy and I discussed it, and while they were willing to risk it, I thought it was worth checking it out here. As long as Chris and Parrish are with us, they can't hold us against our will, and if there's a peaceful way out of this..."
He trailed off and Graham grimaced, shaking his head. "I'll make a call. Ry's got some pull, and no reason to want to see the Initiative rising again. He might be able to rein them in some."
"Don't do it yet," Chris said. "I mean, if you can alert him, do, but don't let him start talking yet. If the IOA know you're looking for support they might move against you anyway. Are there cameras in our rooms?"
"Yeah, but there's blind spots. I'll show you. Why?" Taylor asked.
"I'll go talk to Dad tonight. I should be able to work it so that any of you can call him if you need to. Parrish and I are good, but we can't be everywhere at once. At the worst, Wyatt will agree to listen for you. He doesn't have any charges yet."
"What does that mean, he'll listen for you?" Taylor asked.
"We have a form of teleportation," Chris explained. "My brother and father and I, we can also hear people from anywhere, but only particular people and only if they say a certain word – usually our name. If I can set this up with Wyatt, any of us can call him at any time and he'll be able to get us out of here if it becomes necessary."
Graham leaned forward over the table. "Through anything?"
"Anything you have here. There are spells that can block us, but they have to be specifically laid and even in the magical community they're not well known. It's not likely anyone here will know enough about us to lay them."
"Good," Xander said. "But if we all have to bug out we've lost. Or at least, the Council has lost."
"We'd go to war if it came to it," Vida said. "Don't do more than you have to."
"Don't worry. I'm not the self sacrificing type."
He let them laugh for a minute before quieting them down again. "All right, all right. I am still the boss here. Stop laughing at me."
"We're not laughing," Emily assured him, taking a long swallow of her drink. "Honest. We're fine."
"OK." He glanced around the table. "Graham, Taylor, you know anything about this IOA? Our sense is that they'd go through with their threats."
"The IOA aren't actually that bad," Taylor said. "Most of their members are actually human. But they're not just an American group, there are other countries in there too, and they might go after the Slayers even if the Americans aren't."
"You want to be careful of the Trust, though," Graham added. "They’re an offshoot of the old NID, they're sort of the anti-SGC and if they get a whiff of your girls, they'll never be safe again, not anywhere. The SGC actively fights against them but they have people in the IOA and if this information gets to them..."
"Right. Trust bad, IOA sort of mostly ok, NID really bad but defunct, kind of. Got it. Why do they all have initials?"
"It's quicker?" Taylor suggested.
"Speaking of – well, of nothing, but anyway. What's this programme you and Vida were in together?"
"We weren't in it together," Vida corrected him. "We were years and states apart."
Ariel blinked. "Really?"
"That's creepy," Vida told her.
"You're screaming it. I can't help."
"We were in the Power Ranger programme together," Taylor told Xander, ignoring the byplay.
"Really?" Xander said in surprise.
"Mmm. I was Turtle Cove's Yellow. I was Air Force first, I took leave to join the Ranger programme, and afterwards they shifted me in here. Only Power Ranger in the Armed Forces, so I have to join the most dangerous combat group the Air Force has."
"It's a security level thing," Graham said absently.
"Vida?" Xander asked, looking at her.
"I was Pink. Briarwood. That's how I found out I was a witch, actually. All my team were found witches. Well, most of us."
"Pink?" Parrish repeated.
"Yes, I know, I'm the least pink girl you know. Everyone says it."
"No, I was going to say I can see it. Pink would suit you, I think."
"Not sure that's a compliment, but thanks anyway."
"Ok," Xander said, suddenly quiet. Chris blinked, following his gaze to see that Daniel and Vala had just walked in. Catching his eye, Vala waved vigorously. "We're all on the same page now, so what's the consensus? We can run, right now – you too, Graham and Taylor, if you want, or we can go when you're not with us – or we can stick this out a little longer and see what happens."
"Stay here," Emily said. "A little longer can't hurt. We won't leave you alone. Not ever." Vida nodded, taking a sip from her cup.
"Chris, Parrish? You guys in?"
"We're in," Chris agreed. "At least until I talk to Wyatt. We'll see what happens after that."
"It's better for you if you leave," Ariel said again. "But it's best for the Slayers if you stay."
"And what about you?"
"I'll stay if that's the team's decision."
"Thank you." Xander sat back as Vala and Daniel arrived, Vala throwing herself into a seat next to Chris.
"Hi guys, may we join you?" Daniel asked pointedly. Vala grinned up at him, helping herself to some of Graham's fries.
"Sure, join us," Taylor agreed, shoving some empty plates aside to make space.
"How's it going?" he asked, settling in and passing a plate to Vala. "I understand Emily has the ATA?"
"Oh, that was the other thing," Xander blurted. "Emily may have the ATA – she started a thing, a sort of torch, earlier, and they'd like to test us all. Team decision, guys."
"I don't mind," Ariel said with a shrug.
"They already know I have it," Emily agreed.
"They think you have it," Xander corrected her. "They don't know anything yet. Beg pardon, Daniel." Daniel nodded quickly and he turned to Chris. "Well?"
"No. Can't do it, I'm sorry."
"Why not?" Graham asked, frowning.
"Because there are reasons that I would rather not tell you. Parrish and I will not give our blood for any kind of test."
"That's that, then," Xander said with a grimace.
"They could just line you all up and give you a piece of Ancient technology to hold," Vala pointed out. "That would tell them without any need to test your blood."
Chris glanced at Parrish before nodding. "That kind of test we can do. If they're willing to do that, Xander, we'll agree."
"I'll tell Colonel Carter tomorrow. Or – later. I have no idea what time it is. How do you deal with being down here all the time?" he asked, looking at Daniel and Vala.
"We're not down here all the time," Daniel told him. "A lot, yes, but not all the time. We go out on missions every few days, and we leave the base...sometimes."
"Only if sometimes means never, darling," Vala said airily. "He leaves the base for missions and not much else."
Daniel turned deliberately to Ariel. "Are you liking it any better down here?"
"Am...? Oh, yes. Thank you. It's a lot better now."
"When do we get to see the 'Gate?" Chris asked.
"I can take you up right now if you like. SG7 are due back in in about twenty minutes, you could see them come in."
“Sounds good. Anyone want to come with?”
Xander was lying on his bunk, staring at the ceiling, when Chris came back in. “How was it?”
“Pretty cool. It looks great, anyway.”
“What’s up with the blood test?”
Xander sat up. “The blood test. Why’d you refuse like that?”
Chris shrugged. “Volunteer mission, remember?”
“That wasn’t about the mission.”
“No.” He sat on the second bed, twisting his hands together in his lap. “Halliwell magic is in our blood. Literally. It can be transferred with a blood transfusion, it’s been done before. But only Halliwells can handle it. It’ll drive anyone else who tries to use it insane. Kill them, eventually.”
“And you think the doctors here would try transferring it?”
“Maybe not here,” Chris admitted, “but the government gets a hold of it – sooner or later they’d decide it was worth the risk of insanity and death to get soldiers with those abilities. A soldier who could appear anywhere he wanted and kill without laying a finger on his target or using a weapon?”
“Chris, they have that now. Their spaceships have transporters, they can get anywhere they want anyway.”
“It doesn’t matter. I can’t risk it. Parrish and I will not give blood, not willingly.”
“Alright,” Xander agreed. “That’s fair enough. Let’s just hope nothing serious happens and you need a transfusion.”
“I’m O. Parrish is B pos.”
“Ok. Got it.”
“If you call my dad, he’ll fix it, anyway.”
Xander nodded. “Ok. That only applies on Earth, though, right?”
Chris snorted, settling back on the bed. “Very funny.”
Three days later a second meeting was called. The Council team sat along one side again; the only difference was that this time Chris took a seat, right at the end of the table.
Sam quickly summarized their findings so far. The 'line everyone up and give them an artefact' plan had proven itself the best way to find out who had the ATA, given Chris’s adamant refusal to have blood tests; Emily's ATA was very weak, only just enough to turn some things on or off, and no one else had reacted to any of the artefacts they'd been given.
"We've gone through basically everything we have to hand, sir," she said now, leafing through a file. "Area 51 has some other items, but they've mostly been disassembled for study so bringing them here would have no benefit. Xander has no instinct for how these things work, he can only follow our instructions, though he has a lot of control if he knows what he's supposed to be doing. Emily has so little power that it's barely measurable."
"So what is your recommendation?" Landry asked.
Sam winced. "Sir, I think that unless he agrees to go to Pegasus – perhaps on a trial basis – there is very little else he can help us with."
"I don't suppose you want to be stationed in Antarctica to man the weapon down there, do you, son?" Landry asked.
"Don't really like penguins."
"You can't send him against his will," Chris added.
"That's not our intention."
"Threats were made..."
"Not by anyone in this organization, nor in my chain of command."
Xander found himself believing Landry. He knew a little about each person now, mostly based on Emily and Ariel's insights, and he genuinely thought Landry was a fair and honest man.
"But nonetheless, threats were made," he said quietly. "I believe it wasn't anyone here, or anything you knew about. But my girls will end up just as dead no matter who it is."
"We could protect 'em," Mitchell offered.
"What, by moving them all down here? Your cable bill would never recover. Anyway, the girls would fight if I wanted to walk away. They’d rather fight."
Both Emily and Vida nodded firmly, and Landry sighed. "You shouldn't have been brought into this," he said. "We're working on finding out who's in on this. But for now..."
"Do or die," Xander muttered. "How long can you draw out the testing, Colonel Carter?"
"I can have some pieces sent from Area 51, but not long. A few more days."
"Ok. I need to speak with my team, please. We'll be ready to go in five days. Can we draw it out that long?"
"I think we can manage five," Carter said uncertainly. "Definitely no more than that, though."
"That's alright. Five's enough."
"Xander, you can't go," Chris said as soon as they were back in his quarters. "I won't be able to orb from there, it's too far. You'll be stuck."
"As long as I'm playing along, they have no reason to deny us access." Xander sat on the bed, running a hand over his face. "Look, guys, none of you have to come. Ariel, Emily and Parrish, I'm mostly talking to you. You can all go back home and forget about this if you want."
"And leave you with half a team?" Parrish protested.
"We can find other people for the team," Chris said quietly. "Xander's right, it doesn't have to be you."
"Doesn't have to be you either," she retorted.
"Xander?" Ariel said quietly. "I'll stay on the team, but it's my sister's birthday day after tomorrow. Can I go? I'll come back before you leave."
"Yeah. Of course. I'll tell the general tomorrow. Wish her a happy birthday from us. And talk to your parents, Ariel. If they're unhappy about this..."
"My mom has this whole 'she has to choose her own future' thing going on. She won't fight me if this is what I want to do."
"Make sure it is what you want to do," he warned her. "Chris, are you going to go?"
"Talk to Leo? Yeah, he should have heard back from the Elders by now. Taylor, where is..."
Taylor shifted, lifting her chin towards one corner. "Just over there. Be careful."
"Mmm." He stalked towards the corner, folding his arms and leaning back. "Right here? Emily, turn on the main light."
Emily did so and as the light flared, Chris orbed out. The blue light of his orbs was obscured under the main light.
"Nice," Xander noted. "No one go near that corner until he comes back. Emily, you want to leave?"
"No, I'm with you. We're your team, Xander."
"Thank you," he murmured. More loudly, he added, "Everyone go get some rest. Think about things. I've got a busy day of pretending to do stuff tomorrow."
It was almost four hours later before Chris reappeared, muttering angrily to himself.
"Well, that doesn't bode well," Xander noted, sitting up. "What happened?"
"The Elders have refused to help us. They were never that happy about us working with the Council anyway – some other higher power is responsible for you guys, and the Elders didn't want to get involved."
"The Powers," Xander agreed. "They're kind of dicks. No offence to your higher powers, I'm sure they're lovely."
"No, dicks about covers it." Chris threw himself on the second bed, scowling up at the ceiling. "Wyatt's going to listen out for us anyway."
"What about when we leave?" Chris was silent, and Xander rose from the bed to glare at him. "You did tell them we were going to be leaving the galaxy, right Chris?"
"I may have not told them about that part yet."
"Too much information all at once," he said dismissively. "I'll go back in a couple of days and tell them then."
"You'd better. Or I'll call them up myself."
Ariel left the team the next day, promising to be back in two days. Graham took charge of her to get her back to Phoenix.
"On a military jet," Daniel said absently, when Chris asked how they were going to get her there in time. "General Landry commandeered one from the Air Force base. That'll get her there in time."
"You guys can do that?" Parrish asked in surprise.
"We're at war, there's not much we can't do as long as we phrase it the right way. Xander, are you sure this script doesn't mean anything to you?"
"Languages, really not my forte. Am I supposed to know what it says?"
"No," Daniel admitted. "But if you'd spontaneously shown a talent for reading Ancient, we could have kept you here a little longer." He put the book down, meeting Xander's eyes. "We're working on it. And at least on Atlantis you'll be out of their reach."
"I will. My family won't."
"We'll do our best for them too."
"And you'll be helping your country," Vala said brightly. "Rah rah."
Xander smiled. "Yeah. Rah rah."
"Vala, go find something to do," Daniel told her.
"I've tried that. Sam and Mitchell both threw me out, and Muscles is avoiding me."
"I wonder why," Daniel muttered, not quite under his breath.
"It is a mystery," Vala agreed, leaning further over the desk. Her arm brushed a pile of books, sending them flying to the ground.
"Val-!" Daniel cut himself off, seeing the books hover in mid air.
"Vala, move," Chris ordered. She hopped off the desk; he waved a hand and the books slid back into place neatly.
"Interesting," she murmured.
"Cassie didn't tell you about that?" Parrish asked. "There was a telekinetic at the training house while she was there, she must have seen some of it."
"Cassie was able to do that for a while," Daniel said, gingerly prodding the pile. "It was artificially induced, though, and it transferred a lot of heat into the objects she moved."
“I don’t think she told us about that,” Chris said, frowning. “Something here?”
“Something specific to her, and a one time use only item. Once it was gone there was no chance of its being triggered again, so I suppose she felt no need to tell you.”
“I suppose,” he agreed.
“Was she happy in training? She didn’t tell us anything about it when she came back home.”
Chris shook his head. “I don’t have anything to do with the Slayers’ training. Emily knew her a little; you should ask her.”
“I will. Thank you.”
Mitchell leaned around the door, scanning the group. “Xander! The general wants your group to suit up. We’re going for a practise run through the ‘Gate.”
“Practise run?” he repeated.
“Sometimes stepping through the ‘Gate can upset people, make them sick or dizzy,” Daniel explained, closing down his computer. “All our ‘Gate teams take practise runs to planets we know are empty or friendly, just to get used to the experience. Because it takes longer to get to Atlantis, it’s especially important.”
“Ariel isn’t here,” Chris reminded Xander.
“Leave her alone, she can catch up afterwards. Let’s go.”
“Take your time,” Daniel coached him. “It’s weird the first time. No rush.”
“You say that, but I can see those techs looking at their watches.”
“That’s because you have your back to the ‘Gate,” Vida said unsympathetically. “Just close your eyes and take a couple steps. Look, I’ll do it first.”
“Playing on my masculinity doesn’t work,” Xander warned her. “I spend my life surrounded by little girls who can pick me up and juggle me.”
“I’m coming back for you if you’re not right behind me,” she told him, stepping backwards through the ‘Gate.
“Show off,” he muttered. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and stepped though the 'Gate.
He almost fell over Vida, who'd apparently collapsed as she rematerialised. Chris was already coming back towards her; Emily had spun, holding Cam and Teal'c at bay with an upturned hand. Parrish stepped through behind Xander and moved immediately to one side, blocking Daniel and Vala when they followed.
"Emily?" Xander called.
Not something affecting Slayers, then. He looked at Chris, crouched over her. "Any ideas?"
"Not sure. Her energy's all messed up." He touched her shoulder, grimacing. "Can we get her back to Earth?"
"Yeah. We need to get her off the plinth, though."
"Need some help?" Daniel asked mildly. He was holding Vala's arm, but neither had made any attempt to pass Parrish – and they had to know they could have. Parrish's powers wouldn't have stopped them.
"Do you know what's wrong with her?" Chris asked, sitting back on his heels.
"Can I...?" Daniel gestured to them.
"Give your gun to Vala," Mitchell said from the other side of the plinth. Xander glanced at him in surprise; Mitchell's gun was slung over his shoulder, as far from his hands as it could be, and Teal'c's staff was leaning against the MALP, just out of his reach.
It was Vala who knelt by Xander, carefully showing her empty hands before efficiently checking Vida's vitals. "Nothing I can sense," she said, words directed at Mitchell. "Nothing I recognise. We should get her back to Earth fast, though."
"Why?" Mitchell asked, following Emily forward and gripping Vida's arm.
"Her heart's slowing down." To Xander, she added, “I don’t think she’s injured her neck. You should be fine if you’re careful.”
Daniel was already dialling the 'Gate. Xander counted quickly and they lifted Vida to one side, out of range of the wormhole as it burst open.
"I shall carry her," Teal'c offered.
"Thanks, but we've got it." Chris gestured and Vida drifted up into the air, floating until Xander could get his arms under her.
"Jackson, go through and get a medical team," Mitchell ordered. Daniel nodded, gesturing at Vala to follow him. "Emily, you alright?"
"Stand down, Em," Xander said absently. "Chris, you got her?"
"Yeah. Go on."
Xander nodded, carefully stepping into the wormhole. Parrish went with him, hovering just off his shoulder.
"Ready to go, Emily?" Chris asked, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"Yeah." Emily nodded, deliberately turning her back on Teal'c to step through the 'Gate. Chris followed her, shrugging at Mitchell.
"I can walk, Xander!"
He almost crashed into the knot of people on the ramp. Circling them, he joined Parrish to one side of the room. "When'd she wake up?"
"Soon as we hit this side. She's got bruises, from falling, but it seems like that's it. Xander says she has to go to the infirmary anyway, but she really doesn't want to."
"Get on the trolley!" Emily's voice rose above the argument. Scowling, Vida boosted herself onto the gurney.
"Chris, you guys too," Xander ordered. "We all need to be checked just in case."
"Plus if it's a witch thing I'm going to need you."
He grimaced, reluctantly following as the med staff pushed the gurney towards the infirmary. "Parrish, as soon as you came through?"
"Within a few seconds, anyway. Why?"
"I think I have something. Vida's a found witch."
"So? What does...oh. I think I see where you're going."
"Makes sense, right? Hey, Xander! We think we know what happened."
"There are two classes of witch," Chris explained later.
Out of deference to Vida, still stuck in the infirmary, they were holding the meeting there. Xander had only brought Emily and the Halliwells, but the room still felt crowded; SG1, Landry and the base doctor, Lam, were all there. Lam was unhappy at the invasion, but she was listening just as intently as the others.
"We call them 'born' and 'found' though that's not really accurate,” Chris continued. “The main difference between the two is that born witches’ power comes from within them. Found witches draw power from the world outside them. Often from one specific element, but not always."
"Vida's a Slayer," Mitchell protested.
"And not deaf," she snapped.
"She is," Chris agreed, glancing apologetically at her, "and that saved her life. Vida's a found witch and when she was cut off from this world, her system went into shock."
"Looks like you need another senior Slayer, boss," Vida said lightly. “One who won’t fall down on the job.”
Xander stirred. "That's it? Nothing to do about it?"
"Not necessarily," Parrish said. "Vida, your Slayer side was compensating, it just wasn't doing it fast enough. Chris and I are born witches, we don’t run out of power. We can siphon some to you until your Slayer half kicks in.”
“We think,” Chris clarified. “We think we can do that.” To Landry, he added, “We’d need one or two more trips through the ‘Gate to test it.”
“If we go through and it doesn’t work,” Mitchell said slowly, “Emily’s not going to attack us again, is she?”
“She didn’t attack you this time,” Vala pointed out.
“Attack?” Landry repeated.
“Vala Mal Doran is correct. Emily Lightman did not attack us,” Teal’c told him. “But she was very clear we should not approach Vida Rocca.”
“She wouldn’t actually have hit you,” Xander offered. “Probably. Look, Slayers are built for battle. You guys are our allies, but Vee’s on her team and they are sisters. There’s no way to turn off that instinct.”
“I’d have backed down,” Emily said. “If either of you had tried to go past. You were surprised, it wasn’t something you’d done or known about. I’d have backed down.”
“Good to know,” Landry said briskly. “Carolyn, how long before Miss Rocca can leave?”
Dr Lam glanced at the chart in her hand. "If her vitals remain stable for another hour I'll release her back to her quarters. They stay stable overnight, she can leave the base."
"It would be better if you let her leave the base tonight," Chris said, frowning. "If she goes home her body will start processing magic more quickly and she'll be fine."
"How would you get her home?" Daniel asked curiously.
"Chris could take her," Parrish told him. "There and back in the blink of an eye."
"It's not something you can learn or reproduce," Chris added quickly. "I can't show your troops how. But I can get Vida home tonight and bring her back tomorrow morning."
Landry looked at Dr Lam, who nodded reluctantly. "Give her two hours, then, to be sure her vitals are stabilising. Then you can take her."
"Very good." Landry rose to his feet; Mitchell quickly followed suit. "Is that everything for now?"
"We're good," Xander agreed. "Are we free to leave?"
Dr Lam looked up in surprise. "Yes, all your tests came back completely clear. You can all go."
"I'm starved," Chris announced. "Who's up for a trip to the commissary?"
"You can go anywhere you want and you choose our commissary?" Vala asked. "Clearly a sheltered life."
"Something like that," he agreed, amused. "Parr, you coming? Xander?"
"Sounds good,” Xander said brightly. Parrish nodded, and SG1 and the rest of the Council Team joined them.
Daniel waited until they were settled at one of the larger tables to ask "Why do you call them born and found? If that isn't accurate, I mean."
“Three minutes,” Mitchell murmured to Sam.
“He’s getting better,” she agreed, just as softly. “I was expecting him to ask as soon as we left the infirmary.”
Parrish glanced at Chris, who was halfway through a bowl of soup and showed no signs of stopping. "Mostly," she said, turning back to Daniel, "mostly, but not always, born witches are born and grow up in witch families. They know what they are and they grow up learning to handle it. Found witches tend to discover it later in life. Like Willow – she represents found witches on the Council and she's very powerful. She was seventeen when she first did any magic. Chris and I are true born witches; we belong to a magical dynasty that stretches back to Salem. Vida and her sister are the first in their family to use powers and they only discovered them in their late teens, which makes them found – Xander, Willow can't come."
He looked up in surprise. "Why not? She's much more powerful than Vida."
"Yes. She'll be much more affected. And she doesn't have a Slayer side to fall back on."
"Seems counterintuitive," Sam noted. "That a stronger person will be hit harder."
"Not necessarily," Vala said mildly. "Adria was far more discomforted by the anti-prior device than Daniel was. I'd imagine the more power of that type one has the dependant on it they become." To Mitchell, she added, "Don't look so surprised, darling. Brains and beauty, remember?"
"One or the other, anyway," he agreed.
Parrish rose to her feet, murmuring to Chris and slipping out of the room. Chris waved off Daniel's inquisitive look, telling Xander, "I'll find a born witch to come with us. There's a firestarter boy who's very strong. I'll talk to Parrish about it."
"I thought Parrish was your second witch," Sam protested.
"She was. Not she's not. I don't want her leaving the galaxy."
"Atlantis is safe."
"Ish," Vala murmured.
"She wouldn't be in danger."
"Vala," Daniel said warningly.
"What? The place is under siege."
"No, it's not!"
"They're at war with life-sucking alien bug people."
Apparently deciding it was safer to ignore her, Daniel turned to Chris. "Ariel and Emily are still going?"
"As far as I know."
"They're younger than Parrish," Mitchell pointed out.
"Emily's a Slayer. And I have no control over what Ariel does or doesn't do." When Mitchell didn't look convinced, he continued, "Parrish and I are the liaisons between the Council and the magical community. I didn't like both of us being on the team anyway, but it was alright because we weren't actually going anywhere. I'm not leaving the Council without us."
"Chris, you have like seventeen cousins – “
"Five – “
"And Wyatt, who's worth at least five more," Xander continued determinedly. "Parrish has two sisters. One or another of them could handle it."
Chris shoved back his chair, rising to his feet. "She's staying here." Turning sharply on his heel, he strode out of the room.
Nobody spoke for a moment, until Vala whistled. "Uncomfortable," she noted, rocking back in her chair.
Parrish stormed into Chris and Xander's room, grabbed her cousin by the arm and yanked him out into the corridor without acknowledging Xander. "Ow!" he protested.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she snapped. "Did you want to organize the rest of my life without telling me?"
"Don't Parr me, Chris, I'm angry at you."
"I can tell," he agreed. "Look, it's not safe..."
"So you're going to go instead? You're going to take Ariel instead?"
"I've fought in a war."
"A magical war! Not an alien war! You don't have any more experience at this than I have, and you're not leaving me behind."
Just inside the door, Xander frowned, mouthing 'magical war?'
"He didn't have a Parrish," Chris said after a minute.
"His loss, your gain. I'm coming and that's that. Have you told our parents yet?"
"No. If you want to come, we'll do it now."
"I want to come."
Without raising his voice, Chris said, "We'll be back in a few minutes, Xander." The blue light of his orbs washed in through the crack in the door before Xander could answer.
Left alone, he repeated out loud, "Magical war?" Frowning, he went to look for Emily.
“A war?" she said thoughtfully. "Maybe. Sometimes he moves like some vets I've met."
"He's twenty two."
"You've been fighting a war since you were sixteen," she pointed out. "Maybe he has, too. Have you asked him?"
"No...I don't think I was supposed to hear it. Parrish was just really angry."
"Good for her." Emily grinned at him. "Listen, Teal'c offered to spar with me. And Vida, when she gets back. Do you want to come?"
"Sure. Think you can beat him?"
"That's what we're sparring to find out. Come on."
Teal'c was waiting for them in the gym, idly spinning a long staff. Xander eyed it curiously. "Nice workmanship."
"Thank you, Xander Harris."
"May I see?"
"Certainly." Teal'c passed over the staff, watching as Xander weighed it carefully and then spun it once or twice to feel the balance.
"It's very well made. Did you make it?"
"It was a gift from a friend."
"That's a good friend."
Teal'c bowed his head, taking it back. "He is. Do you wish to spar?"
"No, thanks. I'm just going to watch first. See how Emily does against you. Word of warning?"
"I would be most interested to hear your wisdom," Teal'c agreed.
"Emily's little, but she's very, very fast."
"I see. I will take this under advisement."
Xander nodded, taking a seat on a bench at the side of the gym. "Em, you got a weapon?"
"No," she said cheerfully. Teal'c, watching them, carefully laid his staff aside.
Twenty minutes later Mitchell arrived, called in by another soldier. "Should we be separating them, or something?" he asked Xander. "How long have they been fighting?"
"Twenty minutes, give or take. Emily's probably getting tired, but she won't stop on command."
Teal'c disengaged and took a step back, away from Emily. "I yield," he announced. "I cannot defeat you."
Mitchell wandered across as Emily accepted Teal'c's hand up. "Is this one of those, 'I can't defeat you, I can only beat you' things?"
"No. I believe that I would be unable to defeat her."
"He's very strong," Emily said, catching the towel Xander threw to her. "But not that much faster than regular humans, and not stronger than a lot of things we fight. I could probably have got him eventually."
Teal'c bowed solemnly. "I very much enjoyed our match, Emily Lightman."
"Thank you. When Vida gets back, maybe we'll double team."
"I would enjoy that."
Emily grinned, crossing to drop down to sit next to Xander.
"Was she really beating you?" Mitchell asked Teal'c quietly.
"Short of a serious injury, I do not believe I could have stopped her. She refused to stay down."
Mitchell glanced over at Xander. "Really. Huh."
"I believe they could be formidable warriors on our side."
"Maybe they could have, if the Trust hadn't soured them on us first."
"I do not believe Xander Harris holds their actions against us."
"Well, let's hope we get this sorted out fast."
"Won't matter," Xander said, rising to his feet. "Slayers are in the supernatural business, not the Army business. They won't follow your men's orders."
"They follow your orders," Mitchell pointed out.
"Well, I'm a special case. Come on, Em, I'm hungry. And you must be too, after that fight. Let's go."
The two headed out, leaving Mitchell and Teal'c behind.
Chris patiently repeated the number. "It takes about four minutes," he added. "Or six weeks by ship. Space ship, I mean."
"You're taking this very calmly," Piper noted.
"Mom, when I was a year old I was orbing stuff around. Other worlds, not really that much of a surprise." He glanced at Leo. "Did the Elders know?"
"Yes, they knew there are other worlds, both here and in the Pegasus galaxy, with human-descended populations. It's never really meant anything, though, because no one on those worlds is a magical practitioner – it's died out everywhere but Earth. Mostly on purpose."
"It was deliberately cut out?" Chris asked with a frown. "Does that mean there won't be any magic there, then? There wasn't in the Jurassic."
"Cretaceous," Leo said automatically. "No, there should be magic there. It's inherent in everyone whether it's practised or not, so you should be fine that way."
"Make them let you test it before you go," Piper suggested.
"Will do, Mom," he promised.
"The Elders have no power there," Leo said, troubled. "There are no practitioners. No practitioners means no whitelighters and no whitelighters..."
"Means no one bossing us around," Chris said gleefully.
"Chris," Piper snapped. He rolled his eyes but subsided, flopping onto the nearest couch.
"Will we still have our powers there?" Parrish asked, coming in. Wyatt trailed behind her, folding his arms and leaning against the wall.
"We were talking about that, and we think so," Leo told her. "It's still our universe, not an alternate dimension or anything, so you should be fine."
"You don't have to come, Parrish," Chris said gently. "The Council's swimming in witches. They'll find someone else."
"Not someone who works so well with you."
"She's right," Leo said quietly. "Warren magic works best with itself. No one else will be able to work quite so easily with you."
"She still doesn't have to," Chris repeated. "I went to Magic School to learn how to work with other witches. I can deal with it."
"Aunt Piper," Parrish said, deliberately loud, "why are the boys talking about me instead of to me?"
"I don't know, sweetie." Piper very carefully did not laugh.
"I want to go," Parrish said firmly. "Chris and me, we both go or we both stay. Uncle Leo, where's my mom?"
"She's at her office. You want me to send you there?"
"Parrish," Chris protested, sitting up.
"You're not going alone," she told him. "Why are you so determined to do it alone?"
"Just following the wonderful example I set myself."
"Well, he was an idiot. I want to go. I'm going to talk to Mom and Dad." She nodded to Leo, who orbed her out with a wave of his hand.
Wyatt stirred from where he'd been leaning against the doorframe. "Can we get there, Dad?"
"No. It's too far, and we don't know where it is." Chris half-lifted his hand, and Leo shook his head. "No, it's not the same thing. You don't know where it is relative to here, so you can't get there."
"I don't know where Hawaii is relative to here, I got there fine."
"It's a lot closer."
Wyatt dropped to sit beside Chris. "You really want to go?"
Chris lifted one shoulder in a half shrug. "They're doing good work, apparently. San Fran doesn't need me, not with Super Witch around. Their guy said we could come home." He laughed softly. "I'll be surrounded by soldiers and Slayers, Wy, how much safer could I be?"
"Yeah." He frowned and then, on an obvious impulse, blurted, "You want the Book of Shadows?"
"Wyatt!" Piper and Leo protested in chorus.
Chris just shook his head. "Thanks, Wy, but between the two of me I know it pretty well. And Xander will be bringing the Council database."
"Parrish's good at extemporising," Leo added.
Wyatt nodded, obviously not convinced. "If you say so. I've gotta go do a couple things. Don't go anywhere, ok?"
Chris nodded patiently, watching him orb out. "What?" he demanded, when neither of his parents spoke. More softly, he added, "Ask me not to go."
"Would you listen?" Piper asked curiously.
She smiled, shaking her head. "The Council was good for you, Chris, and I think this might be good for you too."
"You're sure you can come home?" Leo asked.
"Any time I want," Chris promised. "It doesn't even take long. A few minutes to travel. Almost quicker than orbing. And we can email all the time. It goes through in batches every week. And if anything goes wrong here, the Council will make sure your message gets to us."
Chris and Leo both winced. "She's so loud," Chris complained, half to himself. "Aunt Phoebe's calling," he added to Piper. "I'm guessing Parrish's just explained how far away this will actually be."
"I think you made the numbers up," Piper teased him.
"Possibly. I can't remember everything they told us," he agreed easily. "I'm going to see Aunt Phoebe. Do you want to come?"
"Face Phoebe in that kind of mood? No thanks. You go talk her down. I'll see her later."
Chris made a face. “Tell Wyatt I’ll be back in a few, as soon as I’ve calmed Aunt Phoebe down.” He orbed out to face his aunt.
Four days after the last meeting, the Council team was as ready as they'd ever be.
Practise trips through the wormhole had confirmed both that Vida could be alright if supported by Chris and Parrish, and that magic could be used on other planets. Ariel had been held up; she’d made it back only that morning, just in time to be kitted out by the SGC.
Xander firmly refused weapons for both Ariel and Parrish. The weapons that had been taken from the team were returned and they were offered others from the armoury. Xander let the girls take a couple of knives, but that was all.
Taylor had gone briefly to Atlantis to make sure things were ready. Emily and Vida had insisted that the group be housed together, and Taylor had passed along that request and several others.
Xander stood, staring at the open ‘Gate. "Ok, team, this is your last chance. You can turn back now if you want, no repercussions."
"Apart from Faith kicking our asses and calling it training for the next year," Vida said, not quite under her breath.
"Apart from Faith kicking your asses and calling it training for the next year," Xander agreed. "But that only applies to you and Emily. The others are consequence free." Graham raised a hand, and Xander added, "Or if they aren't, I don't want to hear about it."
"Nobody's going anywhere, Xander," Chris told him. "We're your team. Let's go."
"We're all going somewhere," Parrish murmured.
"Nobody's going anywhere except Atlantis," Chris corrected himself. "Smart alec," he added to Parrish.
"Xander," Ariel said quietly. Her gaze was locked on the 'Gate and she didn't refocus until he stepped in front of her, blocking her view.
"You should let Graham go first."
She shook her head. "I'm not...he should just go first."
"Everything ok?" Colonel Mitchell asked, wandering up to them.
"Yep. Just some last minute things, you know how it goes." Xander straightened, looking around the group. "Graham! Lead us off?"
"Sure," Graham agreed easily, turning to Colonel Mitchell. "Permission to go, Colonel?"
"Yes. Permission granted." Mitchell studied the group and added, "Have fun."
"Thank you, sir." Graham shifted his backpack, turning to walk up the ramp and through the 'Gate.
Emily glanced at Vida, who shook her head quietly. "Chris, you and Parrish go next."
Chris nodded, heading up the ramp after Graham. Vida gestured Xander on next; she and Emily were on his heels, directly behind him. Ariel trailed after them and Taylor followed behind her.
Daniel wandered up beside Mitchell as the 'Gate shut off. "Think Atlantis is ready for them?"
"That's what I thought. Jello?"
"Ooh, do they have any blue?"
"I'm not sure..."
The trip through the wormhole was mildly disorienting; Xander was glad Vida and Emily were close enough for him to surreptitiously lean against them for a moment while he got his bearings. The length of the trip obviously really did make a difference. Ariel, when she came through, was pale and shaky; Taylor, just behind her, hurried to prop her up.
Graham was talking to several people in the Atlantis uniform, but when he saw them he murmured something and came across to the little group. A man in a blue uniform followed him, smiling cheerfully at them.
"Ariel, this is Doctor Beckett. You ok?"
"Mm-hmm." She nodded, but she was still holding onto Taylor.
"First time through the 'Gate?" Beckett asked.
"I missed the practise run," she agreed.
"Aye. First time hits people like that sometimes. Come over here and sit down for me." Taylor helped Ariel across the room, following Beckett.
"Xander," Graham said quietly, "come meet our hosts." Xander nodded, following him; Emily stayed with him, glancing around curiously.
"Xander Harris," Graham said formally, "meet Richard Woolsey, head of Atlantis. Colonel Sheppard, military head. Dr McKay, scientific head."
Xander murmured variations on 'nice to meet you', shaking hands with each of them. "This is Emily. Chris, Parrish and Vida over there, Vida's the one with the green streak in her hair, and Ariel's sitting down somewhere."
"Nothing serious, I hope," Woolsey said politely.
"No, first time through the 'Gate is all." He glanced at the man and woman standing a little further back.
"Teyla and Ronon," Sheppard told him. "Part of my team."
"Nice to meet you." He waved at them. "So what's the plan here?"
"Get you settled in, do the tour, figure out exactly how you're going to be useful," Sheppard said with a shrug. "Sound good?"
"I have work to do," McKay said abruptly, turning away. "You can handle this without me?" he added over his shoulder, already almost gone.
Sheppard waved it off, glancing across the room. "Doc?"
"Aye?" Beckett called back.
"How's the kid?"
"My team aren't kids," Xander said, talking over whatever Beckett was saying. "They've saved the world a few times. Probably as often as you have."
"I am certain John meant no offence," Teyla offered, taking the couple of steps to join them.
"Right," Xander agreed. "Of course he didn't. Ariel?"
"Yes." Ariel stood, coming back to join the group.
"Thank you, Dr Beckett."
"No problem, lad," Beckett said cheerfully.
"Just a second." Chris came to join them, waving Parrish back when she started to follow him.
"What's wrong?" Xander asked.
"Not wrong. Are we doing meet-and-greet?"
"Later. It's night time here. Why?"
Chris half-turned, addressing himself to Woolsey. "Parrish is a little face blind. Sometimes she has trouble recognising people. Not always, but it's worse if she's trying to remember a lot of new people and especially in a place she doesn't know that well. It'll fade as she gets to know you, but..."
"Parrish isn't face blind," Xander protested. "She's on the Council."
"Yes, with ten other people, one of whom she grew up with. And she never deals with anyone outside the born witches – she went to school with most of the people she meets there." He looked back at Woolsey and Sheppard. "It shouldn't be an issue. I just wanted you to know about it in case."
"Thank you," Woolsey said. "Parrish is the long-haired girl, yes?"
"Yeah, my cousin."
Xander caught Chris' arm as he turned to go back. "Vida ok?"
"Yeah, the link seems to be holding. The Slayer half's kicking in, she should be fine shortly."
"Problem?" Sheppard asked.
"No, it –“
"Don't ask," Xander said over him. "Really. It's all about energy transference and native energy fields. No problems, anyway."
"If you're sure," Woolsey said politely. "Colonel, please show our guests to their quarters."
Sheppard nodded, turning to Xander. "Need a hand?" He gestured to the small pile of bags near the girls' feet.
"No thanks. We're good." Raising his voice, he added, "Wagons ho, guys."
Vida got to Ariel's bag before she could, throwing it over her shoulder with her own. Emily, Xander and Graham sorted out the rest between them.
"It is this way," Teyla said politely to Chris, who happened to be closest to her. He nodded, waiting for Emily to catch up before following her.
"Unfortunately we are short of rooms," Teyla continued. "We are attempting to find a section where you can be housed together, but it is taking longer than we had hoped. For the moment we have cleared a corridor of four rooms and a common area. It is quite private. Your liaison told us it would be acceptable."
"I'm sure it's fine," Chris agreed. "May I ask you something, Teyla?"
"You're not from Earth?"
Teyla smiled. "No. My world was called Athos. We were culled shortly after your expedition's arrival and they offered their aid."
"He is of a world called Sateda. I would not ask him about it, were I you. Colonel? Do you wish to use the transporter?"
"Yeah, we can confuse them with the corridors later."
She nodded, touching the control on a nearby door. "I do not believe we will all fit."
"Taylor, Ariel, go with them," Xander said, waving them on. Ronon jogged forward to join the group.
They regrouped...somewhere else in the facility. Teyla led her group to an outside window while they waited for the others, pointing out the main control tower as well as some of the labs, the 'Jumper bay and various other landmarks.
"How big is this place?" Ariel asked, leaning against the window to peer out.
"It has been compared to...Manhattan? I am not sure what that signifies, but we occupy only a small portion even now, after several years."
"Manhattan's a very big city on Earth," Ariel explained. "One of the biggest and busiest."
"I see. We are not so busy here."
“ ’Cept when someone tries to kill us, of course,” Ronon added, grinning when Emily turned to look at him.
The second group appeared at the other end of the corridor, and Teyla stepped away from the balcony. "Your rooms are close by, down this way. There are no other rooms in use within two floors. You should not be disturbed; no one should be here unless specifically coming to you."
"Thank you," Xander said, catching up with them. "See that view, guys?"
"Yeah, it's something, huh?" Emily agreed.
"It's definitely something."
Teyla gestured to a short corridor on the left. "This is it. Four bedrooms, and there is a common area at the far end."
"We put a couple things in there for you," Sheppard said. "Games system, couple other things."
"Thanks," Xander said, surprised.
Teyla glanced at Sheppard before turning back to Xander. "We are aware that you and your companions were...I believe the term is shanghaied?"
"That's definitely a term," Xander agreed. “They weren’t shanghaied, though. They’re just loyal.”
"Right," Vida announced, stepping deliberately between Xander and Teyla. "Emily, you and Taylor and Ariel in that room." She pointed to the first door. "Me and Parrish in this one." The door across the hall. "Xander and Chris...sorry, boss, we can't leave you alone...on my other side. Graham in the last one."
"Sounds good to me." Chris took Xander's bag from Emily and headed down the corridor.
"We will need to fetch a third bed," Teyla said apologetically to Taylor. "We were misinformed as to your numbers."
"I told you how many of us there were," Taylor pointed out.
"Yeah, you told Woolsey. He thought Parrish was male. We have a David Parrish here already," Sheppard said lazily. "We'll get it sorted. Plenty of spare cots around."
"It's fine," Emily said quickly, touching Taylor's arm and taking her bag when she turned, distracted. "We'll work it out."
"Good." Sheppard glanced at his watch. "Someone's gonna be down to give you your equipment and run through the basic rules with you. There's a Marine on duty back at the transporter...you remember how to get there? If you need anything else, he'll be happy to help you out."
"Got it," Xander promised. "Thank you."
Sheppard nodded, turning away. Ronon wandered after him.
Teyla smiled. "Please feel free to ask for anything you need."
"We will. Thank you," Emily said, waiting for her to turn away.
Teyla smiled, withdrawing and joining John and Ronon at the transporter. "What do you think?" John asked.
"I think those girls could be dangerous," Ronon said. "They carry themselves like fighters, and they're carrying weapons."
"Yeah. Woolsey wanted to disarm them."
"I think that would not have been wise," Teyla said quietly. “They are very on edge here and I think adding to that would not have helped."
"I agree, 's why we didn't do it. You think they're dangerous to us?"
"My instinct is no, they will not harm us." Teyla glanced over her shoulder. "As long as we do not harm them."
"That's what I thought, too," John agreed. Glancing at the Marine on duty, he added, "Fill any reasonable requests they make. Contact me or Mr Woolsey if you're not sure. And get an extra cot down here."
"Do not try and bring it into the room yourself," Teyla added. "Inform them that you have it and allow them to set it up themselves. They will not appreciate anyone entering their rooms."
John nodded, turning to enter the transporter. When the other two joined him, he tapped his radio. "Lorne? Got a little job for you."
Xander called a meeting a little later. The common room was actually quite nice, furnished with couches and including a games system and hand-burned DVDs of various movies and TV shows.
"Alright." He was juggling the little radios they'd been issued; no one had bothered telling the Major who'd handed them out that they had their own, far more secure versions. "I know we've only been here a few hours, but I'm going to ask anyway. Opinions?"
"I like the hardware." Vida was holding the slim laptop. Each of them had been given one, mostly because, as the Major explained, it had the various protocols and procedures on it. The team weren't military, so they wouldn't be held to the same standards, but they would be expected to at least be familiar with them.
"I like the Major," Emily added. "He was nice, and he was trying to help us. Plus he's ATA positive."
"Yeah, how is that going, Xander?" Taylor asked. "Noticed anything weird?"
"Not really. There's a sort of hum, kind of like...you know when you hear music with a loud beat, and you can feel the beat in your bones? It's sort of like that. Sheppard says it's normal for someone with the ATA and I shouldn't worry about it."
"Emily, can you feel that?" Ariel asked curiously.
"Not really. It feels like I should be able to, but it's not clear enough. I can do this, though."
The lights in the room dimmed and then strengthened, and down the corridor a bedroom door opened itself.
"Nice," Xander said admiringly.
"Is that safe?" Graham asked.
"Safe," Emily repeated.
"You're not screwing with their systems?"
"By turning the lights on? I don't think so. I won't do it anywhere else, though."
"It's cool," Ariel said with a smile.
"What's your feeling, Ariel?" Chris asked.
"It's...I don't know, it's hard to explain. It kind of feels like...it's like people can fit in here even if they don't anywhere else. Like Atlantis makes itself fit around them."
Graham smiled faintly, sitting upright. "Colonel Sheppard was on the verge of being DD'd when he was reassigned here – it was a one way trip at the time. Dr McKay, you met him very briefly, there's no one back in America or Russia who'd willingly work with him. Too abrasive. The first run was supposed to be the best and the brightest but there were also a few...well, the IOA was trying to clean house. Get rid of a few undesirables."
Chris nodded. "I can see that. It is a beautiful place, though."
"Very beautiful," Parrish agreed. "And very alien."
"Yeah, it's making me a little twitchy, too," Xander agreed. Taylor looked up, surprised, and he added, "Spent too long fighting non humans, I guess. This place is very, very non human."
"You have the ATA," Taylor pointed out. "There's something of them in you."
"I know. Creepy, isn't it?"
Chris shrugged, glancing around the room. "Not much we can do about it now. Anyone want to watch a movie? Or, at least, stare vaguely in the general direction of the screen?"
"Sounds good," Xander agreed. "Anyone got a preference? Em, can you run down to the guard at the transport thingy and ask if it's possible to get food sent up? I don't think we want to head out tonight."
Emily nodded, rising to her feet and leaving the room. Ariel began to flick through the DVDs, muttering the titles under her voice.
None of them even tried to get any sleep that night. Jet lag wasn't fun, but Xander decided that it had nothing on 'Gate lag. They'd left the SGC in the middle of the afternoon, arriving on Atlantis in the middle of the night. That meant that by the next morning they'd already been up for some twenty hours.
Parrish was carefully studying every face as they were introduced. Chris, beside her, was repeating everyone's name softly. Ariel, standing by Xander, was watching them closely.
"I'm not as used to this as I was a few years ago," Xander murmured.
"I'm sorry?" Ariel said in surprise.
"A few years ago," he repeated, "this would have been nothing. Twenty hours? Pffh! We'd stay up two or three days, sometimes, when the apocalypses were looming."
"Wrong time of year," Emily said from behind him. "Didn't that usually happen in May?"
"Usually but not always, grasshopper. How're you doing?"
"I can't get a read on anyone in particular, but overall they seem pretty happy to see us. Except Ronon, but I get the feeling he doesn't really like any new people."
"Very perceptive." Sheppard had approached in time to catch the end of the sentence.
"That's what she's here for," Xander said easily.
"Not to be your bodyguard?"
"Well, that too. She's multi talent...um, I should find a different way to say that."
"Please do," Emily agreed.
Sheppard grinned. "Speaking of Ronon, he's eager to spar with your girls. We got some stories from the SGC. Did you really fight Teal'c to a standstill?"
"We sort of mutually decided to stop," Emily said. "I'd be happy to fight Ronon. No weapons, though. I don't know how skilled he is."
"Very." Sheppard's voice was a little sharper.
"Well, if he'll demonstrate his skill first, then I'll fight him."
"And if she won't, I will," Vida added. "Weapons or not. I don't care."
"I'd like to see that," Sheppard agreed. "What about anyone else?"
"The rest of us aren't really here for fighting," Xander said.
"I'll fight someone," Chris offered.
"Maybe not Ronon," Xander said warningly.
"Well, no, what's the point of beating the top guy straight away?"
"No point, I guess," Xander agreed thoughtfully. "But Sheppard, not today. We're 'Gate lagged. Let us settle a little first."
"Fair enough. Look, I think you've met pretty much everyone important. If you want to head off, it won't matter much."
"Thanks. Might take you up on that pretty soon."
Sheppard nodded, wandering off. A few steps away he paused, hesitating before turning back. "Listen, we caught some power fluctuations coming from your section last night. Playing with the lights?"
"Yes, sorry." Xander said quickly. "I was just testing. I'll be more careful in future."
"No problem. Long as we know what it is. Just be careful outside your own rooms. We've got a couple other ATA positives around, it can get confusing sometimes."
"I'll be careful."
"Good." Sheppard nodded, heading off again.
"Emily, don't say anything," Xander ordered her, glancing around. "Graham!"
"Yeah." Graham wandered up to join them.
"What are the chances our rooms are bugged?"
"Slim to none. The rooms are fine. Why?"
"Just checking. We're going to head back to the rooms. Can you send the others back over the next little while? Not all at once."
"Yeah, no problem. Xander, you and me need to talk later."
"No, no problem. Just gotta talk."
"Got it." He grinned, gripping Emily's shoulder and turning away.
“But they already know I have the ATA,” Emily was protesting when Chris and Parrish got back to their quarters. “The SGC will have told them.”
“Yes, but the SGC said you wouldn’t be able to affect anything. Let’s not tell them otherwise just yet.”
“We really shouldn’t lie to them.”
“We’re not lying, we’re just leaving something out. It might be important. Go get some rest, we’ll argue about it when neither of us is about to fall asleep.”
Parrish followed Emily towards the rooms. Xander glanced at Chris.
"You should head to bed too, Chris. Graham and me are gonna sit up a while. Taylor'll come spell us later on and I'll probably send you out with her."
"You think we need a guard?"
"No. I'm just being paranoid right now. Indulge me and go and get some sleep. How's Parrish doing?"
"Not too bad. We think she's got most of the main people down."
"Good, that's good. I'm glad. Go on, now."
Chris nodded, closing the bedroom door behind himself. Xander settled into a seat, eyeing Graham. "So what's up?"
"I've been going through some of the procedures," Graham said, hefting his laptop. "Xander, you guys are going to have to try to stick to military protocol. At least a little, enough that they can tell you're making an effort."
"Ok. Any particular reason for that?"
"It's a military base, at least in theory. Woolsey’s a civilian but they run it mostly on military lines. They have rules in here for everything. Your team, our team, are technically military contractors and that's how we're going to be treated."
"You seeing problems?"
"She is not the very model of a model major general," Xander agreed. "I'll talk to her, tell her to tone things down a little. There are limits, though, you know that."
"I know," Graham said. "But they've got to try a little.”
"They'll try," Xander promised. "Talk me through the major stuff."
"You haven't looked at it?" Graham asked.
"I am done reading things. Except maybe for fun. I could deal with that. That's my limit."
"Well, no, I'd probably wait for the movie. Whatever, teach me."
Taylor wasn't sure what had woken her. She lay perfectly still, mimicking sleep as best she could, listening intently.
There...someone was moving around the room. Towards the window, she thought, but she wasn't familiar enough with the room’s layout to be sure. She sat up, pushing her blanket away. "Hey."
"Hey," Ariel said softly after a moment. "Did I wake you?"
The lights rose. Taylor glanced over to see Emily sitting up, watching them. Mildly disturbed that she hadn't heard the younger girl move, she turned her attention back to Ariel. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I can't sleep. Figured I'd go outside and read the manual." She held up the computer she'd been issued.
"Want me to come with?" Emily offered.
"No, I'm fine. Go back to bed."
"Ariel, what are you looking at?" Taylor asked suddenly.
"What?" Ariel blinked. "I'm looking at you."
"No you're not. What are you looking at?"
"Is someone here?" Emily added.
Ariel looked around, eyes wide. "No."
"Who'd be here?" Taylor asked.
"Ariel sees dead people."
"No one's here! I couldn't sleep, that's all. I'm jetlagged." She let herself out of the room, computer tucked under one arm.
The lights dimmed a little as Emily lay back down. Taylor hesitated uncertainly, staring at the door.
"Leave her alone," Emily said quietly. "She's alright."
"Yeah. She's fine. If she does that again tomorrow night – tonight, I guess – we'll sit on her."
"No, not that one!"
"That's the one you told me to touch!"
"It's not the one I meant you to touch!"
"Unfortunately, my mindreading powers are off line today."
"Oh ha ha, very funny!"
John leaned against the door, watching in amusement. It wasn't often Rodney met someone who could deal with him on his own level. Xander had no idea what he was activating, but he could keep up with the abuse no problem.
Radek caught sight of him and wandered over. "Radek, how goes it?"
"It goes. Xander is quite unique amongst our ATA holders; he has no concept of how things work. He can make them do anything they are designed for, but he must be told how. He has no instinct."
"It's probably because he's magically blank," Parrish offered. "Xander has, like, no magical aptitude at all. Most people can manage the really simple spells, but Xander can't. He’s only good for spells where he's just loaning energy."
"Magical aptitude, if such a thing can be measured, should have no impact on his ATA," Radek protested.
"Chris has a very high magical aptitude, and he's making leaps of understanding here. I'm not too far behind him, and I can trace some of the simpler systems." She shrugged faintly. "It might not be the explanation, but it's an explanation, right?"
"Can you please stop doing things until I tell you to?" Rodney demanded.
"I haven't been!"
"The table, Dr McKay, I touched the table."
"Time to break up the party," John murmured to Radek. Louder, he added, "Rodney, I need to borrow Xander for a while."
"What? We're just starting to make progress here!"
"What he means is, we've sorted out a bunch of things that don't actually work," Xander said, leaning back in his seat. "So far we've seen a light, a little scanner, and some sort of database control. And twelve non working things."
"It's important to see what's working and what isn’t!" Rodney protested.
"Uh huh. I still need Xander. You can have him back later."
"It's so nice to be needed," Xander told Parrish.
"Doesn't it just make you feel all warm and fuzzy?" she agreed.
"Where are we going, Colonel Sheppard?" Xander asked John.
"Just need to talk to Mr Woolsey."
John shrugged, heading for the nearest transporter. "He didn't say."
"Ok. Can we stop by our quarters? I need to pick up Emily."
"Suuure," John said doubtfully.
"Thanks." Xander tapped his radio. "Emily, can you meet us at the transporter please?"
"Got it," she answered.
Woolsey was waiting when they reached his office. "Mr Harris. Ms Lightman, Ms Halliwell."
"My name is Xander, Mr Woolsey," he said patiently. "This is Emily and Parrish."
"I kind of like Ms Lightman," Emily protested, waiting for him to sit before taking up a position just behind his shoulder.
"Really? Alright. My name is Xander, hers is Parrish, and this is Ms Lightman."
"Er – quite," Woolsey agreed. "How are you settling in?"
"Apart from the carpal tunnel I'm developing from picking things up for Dr McKay? Fine. The quarters are nice, thank you."
"You're quite welcome. Is there anything else you need?"
Xander glanced at Parrish before shrugging. "I think we're good right now. Emily and Vida are ready for that sparring session with Ronon whenever he is."
"Good to know," Woolsey said uncertainly.
"I'll take care of that," John said from where he was leaning on the wall by the door.
Woolsey nodded. "Mr Har...Xander, one of our exploration teams has uncovered an Ancient outpost. The systems seem to be mostly intact, but we need someone to initialise it."
Xander frowned. "Isn't Colonel Sheppard on your primary team?"
"Yes, and unfortunately they already have a mission scheduled for tomorrow that may take up to a week. The planet's been scouted, it's quite safe." Glancing at Emily, he added, “You're free to bring your team, of course."
"When is this happening?"
"Tomorrow, preferably. You'll be accompanying Major Lorne's team, along with Dr Zelenka."
"Sounds like fun," Xander decided. "I'll talk to my team. We might not all go."
"But we probably will," Emily added.
"Most likely," Parrish agreed.
Xander shrugged. "Was that all?"
"No, I've also received a message from Earth. General Landry tells me that they have made a small amount of progress towards identifying the Trust agents responsible for your – assignment here, and they are working towards a speedy resolution."
"Good for them," he said brightly. "When does the next message burst go? I would like to send some emails."
"I'll get you the schedule," John said.
“Thanks.” Xander glanced at Woolsey.
“If you’re sure you don’t need anything else...”
“No, we’re good.”
“Very well. Thank you.”
“Where is it to?” Chris yelled from his room.
“I don’t know, they said a bunch of numbers. Would it mean anything to you?”
“Maybe! I saw the mapping programme, so I’d have an idea.”
“What are you doing?” Parrish asked, getting up from the couch and crossing to lean against his door.
“I’m looking for my computer.”
“It’s out here, you were using it earlier. Hurry up, Xander wants us.”
“What, another meeting?” Chris sighed, grabbing his notebook from the side of the bed and following her into the main room.
“Meetings make me feel like I’ve achieved something,” Xander said. "Woolsey wants us to go on a mission. They've found some kind of – something – and they need me to go switch it on."
"And they need all of us for that?" Chris dropped onto the end of a couch, propping his notebook against his laptop and starting to scribble furiously.
"They don't need all of us, there's a team going from here, but they need me and you guys can come. I'll just bring Vida, it's not a big deal."
"I'll go," Parrish offered. Chris raised a hand, still scribbling, and she added, "And so will Chris."
"That ok with everyone?" Xander asked, looking around. "Emily, Ronon will be gone on some mission, but wander down to the gym and see if you can join in with something anyway, alright? We need to start blending a bit more."
"We can't blend more, we haven't blended any yet," Ariel said. Looking up, she blinked at the stares she was getting. "I said that out loud, didn't I."
"Do you want to come?" Xander asked. "Any feelings?"
"No. I mean, no to both. I don't feel anything either way."
"Who's going?" Chris asked.
"Lorne and his team and Zelenka."
"Lorne has the ATA," Chris protested.
"He can't turn things on, apparently. Not reliably, not when they've been off for this long. But he's much better than I am at using something once it's initialised."
"And we trust this?" Chris said. "The Trust would find it much easier if you were gone, remember."
"If Xander was gone, every Slayer in America would rise up," Vida said flatly. "The Trust needs him to be alive, even if he is stuck out here."
"I don't think Lorne has anything to do with them anyway," Emily added. "I trust him. He seems like a good guy."
"Good enough," Chris agreed. "When are we leaving?"
"Tomorrow. Lunch time, I think. Sheppard's team are going out in the morning. What movie are we watching?"
"What?" Ariel looked up with a start.
"What movie are we watching," he repeated patiently. "You've been looking through them for the last ten minutes."
"Oh. I don't know. I thought I'd go back to my room, I'm not really in the mood. Someone else can pick."
"You ok?" Xander asked in surprise.
"Yes, I'm fine. Just not in the mood for a movie. I'm tired, I think I'm still a little gatelagged."
Xander watched her go before turning to Emily. "Em?"
"I'm not sure. She hasn't been sleeping much, as far as I know, but she hasn't really had anything to do yet. Maybe we need to find her something."
"That might be an idea," Chris agreed.
"I'll talk to Sheppard after the mission," Xander promised.
"Why aren't you going?" Vida asked Graham.
"We've got training with the Marines here. They need to know what we can do in case it becomes necessary."
"Like a foothold or something," Taylor added.
Vida nodded, glancing at Xander. “Foothold is when the bad aliens come here," she said, deliberately over enunciating.
"Oh! Is it? Nothing to do with rock climbing then?" He grinned cheerfully at her. "Pick the movie, Vee."
Ariel was already awake and in the common room when Xander left his room the next morning. "Xander, do you have a minute?"
"Yeah, sure." He closed the door, bouncing over the back of the couch to join her. "Are you alright? You look tired."
"I can't adjust to the days here. I'm going to talk to the doctor, see if there's anything he can do. That's not what I wanted."
"Ok, what is it?"
"You need..." She took a deep breath, knotting her hands together in her lap. "When you're on the mission, be careful of Chris."
"Careful in what way?"
"There's some...it's really hard to say. Something, like he's fighting something, but it's himself..." She flushed at his look. "I don't know. I can't explain it. But I think about him on this mission, and I get very worried."
"I can call him off. Leave him here, bring Vida instead."
"No. If you do that, you'd have to leave Parrish as well, and I think you need her. But just be careful of him."
"OK." Xander took a deep breath. "Should I be worried about something that's going to happen, or something he's going to do?"
"To do, I think...I don't know, Xander, I can't see it any clearer than that."
"That's perfect. You're perfect." He smiled, laying a hand on her shoulder. "Thank you."
She shrugged, slouching down into the seat. "That's why I'm here."
"Now let me walk you to the infirmary."
"I know the way."
"I know. Let me walk you anyway."
She gave in, accepting his hand up. "Thank you."
They passed Graham coming out of his room; Xander paused briefly to ask him to get everyone to the commissary, promising to meet them there.
Dr Beckett was on duty in the infirmary and met them when they came in. "Good morning. Anything wrong?"
Ariel shrugged. "Not wrong, exactly. I'm having trouble sleeping, I can't adjust to the days here."
"Gate lag still affecting you, lass?" He took her wrist, counting under his breath. "Anything else gone wrong?"
"No, nothing else. I just feel really tired. Kind of floaty."
"The lag can sometimes be difficult to get over. D'ye think you can get through today? I'll give you a sleeping pill, but it would be best if you waited until tonight to take it. Get your rhythms sorted out."
"Yes, I can wait. Thank you."
Beckett nodded, turning away to fetch the pills. "If you want," he said, handing her the packet, "you can come back here tonight. Take the pill, and if it doesn't work, the doctor on duty can prescribe you something else. Just to be sure."
"I'll try it out tonight. If it doesn't work I'll come back tomorrow, maybe."
“As you like, love.” He turned to Xander. “I hear your team is going on a mission. Do you need to bring anything?”
“Epinephrine, particular painkillers, anything like that.”
“Oh! No, I don’t think so. Vida’s not allergic to anything, and as far as I know I’m not. I’ll check with Chris and Parrish and come back to you if we need anything.”
“That’s fine. I have your blood types, anyway.”
Xander eyed him. “I was told it’s uninhabited and not dangerous in any way, shape or size.”
“Aye, but you learn to be paranoid here. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Lorne’s team usually is.”
“Good to know. Let’s go, Ariel.”
“Ariel?” Beckett added quickly as she started to turn away. “Sometimes staying in the sunlight can help a body adjust to timelag. It can’t hurt, anyway. Sit out for a little while today.”
“I will. Thank you.”
Xander nodded his thanks and followed her out.
When they reached the commissary he paused at the counter. “Can we eat outside? It’s a nice morning.”
“Sure, go ahead,” the worker told him, waving vaguely. “I don’t think anyone’s out there, but feel free.”
“Thanks.” He took a couple of trays and went to the table, loading the nearest plates on.
“I wasn’t finished,” Vida protested.
“You’re still not finished. We’re moving outside.”
“Why?” Parrish asked, watching forlornly as her cup went onto the tray.
“It’s a beautiful morning and I like a bit of breeze on my face.”
“And also, Dr Beckett said that some sunlight might help my gate lag settle down,” Ariel added.
“Oh.” Vida stood, pulling the last couple of plates closer to the trays. “You could have just said that, Xander.”
“I could, but where’s the fun in that? Trust me, when you girls meet a demon who gives advice in cryptic verse, you’ll be glad I was here to train you up.”
“I know I count my blessings every day,” Emily said solemnly. “Xander, give me that tray. We’d all rather our breakfasts didn’t end up all over the floor.”
Chris grinned, pushing a chair out of Ariel’s path. “Anything to worry about?” he asked softly.
“I don’t think so. Dr Beckett said it often takes a few days for gate lag to settle down. He gave me some sleeping pills to try and kick start it, and if that doesn’t work he’ll try something else. But he’s not worried.”
“Good.” He held the door open, waiting as Taylor and Parrish stepped through.
“Wow.” Ariel took a few steps towards the railing. “That’s some view.”
“It is beautiful,” Chris agreed. “Not sure I’m a fan of the height, though.”
“Chris, you hang out on the Golden Gate Bridge for fun,” Parrish pointed out. “This can’t possibly be higher than that.”
“I guess,” he said doubtfully. “It feels different, though.”
“Yes, this actual floor is much less sturdy than the Golden Gate’s pillars – that’s my cup, Xander.”
“Sorry.” Xander finished handing the meals back out. “This looks good.”
“Yeah, this place actually had pretty good food.” Chris carefully fished something that looked like a vanilla pod, apart from its’ disturbing blue colour, out of his breakfast. “Mostly.”
“May I join you?”
Xander turned to see Teyla standing in the doorway. “Sure, come on out. Chris, can you get a chair?” Chris nodded, waving at the nearest chair. It dragged itself across the ground to fit neatly at one end of the table.
“Impressive,” Teyla noted, sitting carefully down.
“I thought you had a mission today,” Xander said.
“My team has gone. There is a flight going to my people, and I asked to leave the mission to be on the flight. I have not seen my son in some time.”
“I didn’t know you had a son,” Parrish said in surprise. “Sorry.”
“He spends much time with my people,” Teyla said easily. “Mr Woolsey kindly allows me many chances to see him, even when it interferes with missions, as it does today.”
“What’s the flight for?” Emily asked suddenly.
“Bringing trade items that have passed through here. My people are traders and we handle many of Atlantis’ trade agreements.”
“Sounds interesting. Can I come? Another pair of hands?”
“I have no objections,” Teyla agreed. “Mr Woolsey must give his permission, but I cannot imagine he would have any reason to refuse.”
“Cool. Ariel, you want to come too? Could be fun. Get out of here for a while, see some new places?”
“Sounds good,” Ariel said warily.
“Great. Teyla, how does it...do we ask Mr Woolsey ourselves, or the head of the mission, or whatever?”
“I will speak to Mr Woolsey. Assuming that is alright with you, Xander.”
“No problems here. Emily, keep an eye on Ariel. Ariel, keep an eye on Emily. Anyone else want to go?”
No one spoke up and he nodded. “Alright, Teyla, they’re yours for the day. Emily’s a lot stronger than she looks, too, so don’t be afraid to get her lifting things.”
“I promise,” Teyla agreed solemnly. “Emily, Ariel, if you will accompany me.”
“Vida, you ok for the ‘Gate?” Xander asked, eyeing it warily. The Atlantis body armour was at least more comfortable than the SGC’s.
“Yeah, Chris and Parrish are both coming so I’ll be fine.”
“Good. Let us know if you start feeling rocky.”
“Will do, boss.”
Lorne came to join them, absently checking his weapon. “Everyone ready? You’re not taking weapons, Xander?”
“Parrish isn’t. The rest of us are.” He turned enough to let Lorne see the axe strapped to his back. Lorne blinked, glancing at Chris, who held up a dagger.
“They work for us,” Xander told him. “Are we going?”
“We’re going,” he agreed. Half-turning, he added, “Where’s Zelenka? Parr – David! Seen Radek?”
“He’s on his way! He stopped to get some kind of portable doohickey from his lab.”
“Doohickey?” Chris repeated, eyebrow raised.
“Some kind of power monitor. I’m not sure exactly what it is. He said he needed it.”
Zelenka appeared from one of the corridors, holding a small device in one hand. “Sorry! Sorry.”
“No prob, Doc,” Lorne said easily, taking the machine from him. “Are you ready?”
When Zelenka nodded he waved up at the control room to dial up the ‘Gate.
“That is so cool,” Xander murmured, watching the wormhole flow outwards. “Andrew would love that.”
“Shame he’s not here,” Chris agreed. “Then he could be getting into trouble instead of us.”
“We haven’t gotten into any trouble yet.”
“Yet! It’s the yet that bothers me.”
Xander grinned, stepping through the ‘Gate instead of answering.
The planet seemed deserted. Xander and his team followed Lorne towards the Ancient outpost, chatting easily on the way.
“Why do these planets always look like Earth?” Xander asked curiously.
“The ‘Gate network’s set up that way. So that humans settle on planets that are hospitable,” David Parrish explained.
“Yeah, but they’re exactly like Earth. Where’s the pink trees or yellow skies?”
“Those are normally indicative of non-hospitable atmospheres.”
“You want life sucking bugs, or life-sucking human/bug hybrids?”
“Ick,” Parrish muttered.
“This planet’s safe,“ Lorne said. “It’s been checked.”
“When was the check exactly?” Chris asked, slapping at a mosquito-type bug.
“A few weeks ago, I think. We haven’t managed to free up anyone to come turn the place on until now.”
“Is Colonel Sheppard really that busy?” Parrish asked.
“Well, generally when he’s not on a mission, recovering from a mission or preparing for a mission, he’s...well, he’s never not one of those. That’s why the labs were happy to get you,” David said, nudging Xander.
“And I’m thrilled to be here.”
“Here we are,” Lorne announced.
The base had been built into a cliff; only the opening was visible, gaping widely at them. “Good thing the planet’s deserted,” Chris noted. “Otherwise they’d have found it by now.”
“Lucky for us,” Lorne agreed. “Xander, you come in right behind me, ok? Think ‘on’ as hard as you can.”
“Think on,” he repeated. “Vee, stick close.”
“Something wrong?” she asked softly.
“Not sure. My spidey sense is tingling.”
“Got it.” She slotted herself in at his shoulder, glancing around as they stepped through the doorway.
The lights came up sluggishly; Xander frowned, looking around. “They’ve been off for a really long time. They don’t want to come back on.”
“Can you get it?” Lorne asked.
The lights strengthened, flickered a couple of times and then steadied. Around the room, control panels lit up as well.
“Yeah.” Xander grimaced, shoving a hand through his hair. “That was...much harder than it should have been.”
Zelenka came in, glancing around the room before moving to one of the consoles. Leaning over it, he tapped at a few of the controls.
“I believe I have the log here, sir,” he told Lorne. “Give me a short time, I will hopefully know what was being done here.”
“This is a scientific outpost?” Lorne asked, looking around.
“I believe so, yes.”
“Xander?” Parrish said softly. Xander glanced around, crossing to the console she was standing in front of.
“What do you think this is?”
He studied the screen, frowning. “Looks like a map of the area. That’s the ‘Gate...that must be here.” He touched a flashing dot at the centre of the map.
“Right. If I zoom it in, look, there’s a bunch of different dots, so it must be reading all of us individually. But look, if I zoom back out...” The map zoomed out to its’ widest extent, and Xander frowned.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“There are life signs in the next valley.”
“What?” He came to join them, frowning.
“There’s life signs.” Xander pointed to the group of dots on the side of the screen.
Lorne studied it for a moment before resizing the map to zoom in on the dots. “The whole area was checked. There shouldn’t be anyone there.”
“Well...” Xander gestured to the screen. “Look, I’m done here, right? Why don’t we wander over there and see what we can see.”
Xander shrugged. “Vida’s getting bored, and that tends to led to broken things. Besides, if they’re not anywhere near the ‘Gate there’s got to be a reason, right?”
“Usually it means they expect an attack from the Wraith,” Lorne explained. “Hang on.” He headed back to his team, gathered around Zelenka.
“I’m not getting bored,” Vida murmured.
“Yes, you are, you’re getting very bored,” Xander disagreed. “You’re feeling an incredible urge to break things or hurt people. Or maybe toss your weapons up and down menacingly. Something like that.”
“Oh. Yes, now that I think about, I really want to break something,” she agreed flatly.
“Good girl. I knew you did. Parr, Chris, come or stay?”
“I’ll come,” Parrish said. “A walk could be fun.”
Lorne came back towards them, blinking as he saw Vida idly tossing her dagger up and catching it. "Xander, do you want one of the Marines to go with you?"
"No, we're happy to go ourselves, thanks." He glanced around the group. "Right?"
"Sure," Vida agreed, adding a twist to her dagger tossing.
"Stay on the radios," Lorne told them. "Don't do anything dangerous.”
"Please. Staying out of danger is my middle name."
"Your middle name is LaVelle," Chris corrected him.
"You just got cut out of my will," Xander said. "Come on. Let's get going."
The walk through the forest was actually very pleasant. The sun was warm, but not too hot, and there was a slight breeze. Xander let them enjoy it, ambling along at an easy pace; even Chris managed to smile a little.
Parrish was playing with a leaf she'd picked up when Vida crested a slope and immediately paused, waving them to wait. Chris caught Parrish's arm, stopping her in her tracks.
Vida slid back down the slope. "There's a whole town over there," she said. “I thought they searched this place."
"They did, for about seventy clicks all around the 'Gate. How big a town?"
"It's not a huge town, but it's there. Maybe two hundred people."
"We'll never blend in, not if there's only that many people around," Chris said.
"No," Xander agreed. "So we'd better not try. We'll be careful not to get too close."
Vida glanced back at the slope. "I can go wander round. They won't see me."
"Alright," Xander said reluctantly. "We'll hang out here. Don't be too long, ok?"
"I won't." She headed back up the slope, sliding over the edge.
Chris wandered back towards the treeline, idly shifting branches into different shapes. Parrish sat beside Xander, still playing with her leaf.
"You're sure that’s not poison ivy, right?" Xander asked.
"It hasn't hurt me yet," she said with a shrug.
"Nice," Xander sighed. "I'm going to close my eyes a little, alright?"
It was only a few minutes later that Vida came flying back over the hill. "Move!" she yelled, ploughing towards them. "Go!"
"What's wrong?" Xander yelled, climbing to his feet and shoving Parrish towards the trees.
"They saw me! And they're xenophobic! Go go!"
Chris was waiting inside the treeline, reaching towards them. Parrish was almost in reach when she tripped, going down hard. Xander fell over her legs; Vida avoided the pile up but stopped to help them up.
They were still scrambling upright when the villagers surrounded them. Xander raised his hands warily, taking a step forward. "We're peaceful..."
One of the villagers swung the staff he was carrying, catching Xander under the ribs. It wasn't enough to really hurt him, just knock the breath out of him, and he stumbled backwards into Vida.
“Talking seems to be out," Vida noted.
The one who seemed to be in charge stepped forward, one hand out. "Weapons!"
Xander unslung his axe, handing it over. "We're not here to hurt anyone," he tried again.
"Sure," Xander said with a sigh. "Chris, Vee?"
Chris dropped his dagger. "Oops," he said apologetically. "Sorry."
One of the villagers stooped to pick it up, hissing and jerking backwards. "Oh, yeah," Chris added, "it's hot. Careful."
The leader scowled. "Pick it up and give it to me!"
"Chris," Xander said warningly, cutting off whatever he'd been about to say. "Just pick it up. Give it to the man. Alright?"
"Sure, boss." Chris picked up the dagger, holding it out. The leader shoved another villager forward to take it.
Vida had already passed over three weapons. "Now what?" she asked, taking a step back so her shoulder brushed Xander’s.
"Now you come this way!" The leader gestured back to the village.
"How'd you even get seen?" Chris asked Vida.
"There's a hatch in the wall where they dump - stuff - and I was under it. Shut up."
“You all shut up!”
Xander rolled his eyes, but he gestured the others to silence and they followed their guards back towards the town.
“Careful,” Xander said as the guard shoved Parrish through the door. Chris caught her, steadying her easily.
The cell was small and dingy, with one barred window high above the floor, almost against the ceiling. Xander thought they were probably partially underground. They’d gone up and down several sets of steps inside the building.
Oddly, this was the only fully completed building in the village.
The leader of the villagers slammed the cell door. “Enjoy your last day,” he told them. “Tomorrow we take you to the Wraith.”
“Can we skip that?” Xander asked. “I don’t do well with new people.”
He smirked, stepping back and up the stairs.
Xander crossed to the window, linking his hands together. Chris stepped into them, letting him boost him to reach the window. “We’re surrounded,” Chris reported. “And they look pretty angry. There’s some weapon shaking going on out there.” He slid back down, leaning against the wall.
“So maybe we should get out of here?” Xander suggested.
“Yeah. Parr, c’mere.” He laid a hand on her arm, glancing around.
Xander frowned when nothing happened. “Chris...”
Chris waved a hand, glaring at a blanket. “Nothing’s happening.”
“We noticed,” Vida agreed.
“No, he means nothing’s happening. No magic. Something’s wrong,” Parrish said.
“No orbing?” Vida asked.
“No orbing,” Chris confirmed, still trying to move the blanket.
Xander turned to Parrish. "So, this calming people down thing you do? How well does it work?"
"It doesn't always," Parrish said reluctantly. "And it helps if the people are willing to be calmed. And it might not at all, not if Chris’s powers aren’t."
"Try it anyway," Vida said. "The guy holding Xander's axe is the ring leader. If you can get the others to back off – he won't be as loud without support."
Parrish nodded and took a deep breath, exhaling loudly. Chris winced, watching their captors carefully, but none of them reacted.
"Chris?" Xander murmured.
"It'll take a minute. Relax. You're not making it any easier."
"Funny thing about that? It's hard for me to relax when I'm being held prisoner by crazy villagers who want to hand me over to life-sucking alien vampires."
"Xander," Chris said warningly.
"Alright, alright, I'm relaxing." He took a breath, noting absently that he did actually feel a little better.
"Good," Chris was coaxing Parrish. "That's good, Parr, just concentrate..."
"Chris? Sweetie?" She didn't open her eyes. "No offence, but knock it off. It's easier when you're not talking at me."
Chris grimaced, backing off.
"Hey, I think it might be working," Vida noted from the door. "I'm seeing some dropped weapons over here."
"Good," Xander murmured. He was starting to feel pretty relaxed himself.
"Xander, don't get too relaxed," Chris warned him. "We're not carrying you out of here."
"Spoilsport." Xander shook his head sharply. "Wow, that is good stuff."
"Yeah, she's pretty strong alright," Chris agreed, still watching her.
"Ok, I think we have results," Vida noted. "Everyone's kind of wandering off. We might be able to get out of here now."
"Good. Chris, can you get Parrish back with us?"
"Yeah." Chris started murmuring again, leaning down slightly to watch her.
"Vida, can you bust through a wall, maybe?"
"Yeah, I think so. It'll make some noise, though."
"They won't care for a while," Parrish said distantly. "We've got some time. Where are we going?"
"Away from here to start with," Xander said firmly. "Lorne and the others have to be around somewhere. They’ll have missed us by now." Tapping his radio, he added, “If we’d given him one of our radios we could be back in touch already. What’s the point of these things if they don’t even work?”
"You have no plan," Chris said flatly.
"I'm usually the one being rescued. Can we just go? Vida?"
"Yes, if you'll get out of the way." She gestured irritably at him until he backed up to stand next to Parrish. When he was out of the way she turned back to the window, took a deep breath and jumped, wrapping her hands around the bars and bracing her feet against the wall. Dust and chips of mortar flew as she yanked at the bars.
Chris half turned, shielding Parrish as best he could. She didn't seem to have realised anything was wrong, and Xander eyed her worriedly. "Chris, is..."
"She's fine," he said firmly. "Watch out..."
Vida bent the bars sharply enough that one snapped, sagging into the room. She bent it as far out of the way as she could. "Why can't you orb, again?" she demanded. “Or yank the bars out yourself?”
"Like I know? Something's disrupting me, I don't know what it is. There shouldn’t be anything here that can block me." Chris let go of Parrish, pushing her into Xander's arms before crossing to the window. Leaning down, he laced his hands together. “Here."
Vida stepped into his joined hands, pushed off and launched herself at the window. Catching the sill, she drew herself up neatly and slid through it.
"I hate it when they do that," Xander groused, gently leading Parrish across to the window. "Vida!"
Vida reappeared at the window, leaning in. "Boost her."
Between them they got Parrish out. She was still mostly unresponsively, but at least she wasn't fighting them. "I'll boost you," Xander told Chris. "You're taller than I am, you can lean back in."
"Vida's going to be the one pulling anyway, and we're all on our oath not to let anything happen to you. Just get up there."
Giving up, Xander let Chris boost him high enough for Vida to catch his arm. It was harder for him to fit through the window, and he could feel the broken bar scrape along his side.
Vida leaned straight back in for Chris, and Xander took the opportunity to pull his jacket more tightly around himself. Parrish, watching, came to touch his side gently.
"It's fine," he told her softly. "It's not serious. I'll get them to look at it back at base."
"Or in a little while if we don't find the team."
"Or in a little while if we don't find the team," he agreed.
"Ow!" Chris hissed from behind them, and he turned automatically. “Nothing, I’m fine, don’t worry about it.”
“Sure?” Xander asked, giving him a hand up.
“Yeah. That’s tight.”
“Sort of the idea, I believe. Vida, where are we?”
“We need to head that way.” She pointed at an angle away from the building.
“Ok, first we need to get as far away from here as possible, though,” Chris pointed out.
“How come her powers worked and yours didn’t?” Vida asked, heading away.
“Oh, what, I’m supposed to know everything now? Probably because that power’s passive and mine are active.”
“Passive?” Xander repeated.
“It’s always on,” Parrish supplied. “I have to block it most of the time. That’s what I get for having a cupid for a father.”
“I have to ask,” Vida started.
“No bow or arrows, no wings, and no diaper,” Parrish reeled off. “I’ve gotten that one before.”
They reached the treeline; Vida kept going straight for another minute before going off at an angle. The group hurried on for several more minutes before she let them stop.
“Stay here for a minute,” she said softly. “I’m going to mix up our trail a little and see if they’ve figured it out yet.”
“They will pretty soon if they haven’t already,” Parrish said. “It’ll be wearing off around now.”
“How come cupid powers mean calming everyone down?” Xander asked, leaning against the nearest tree.
“You can’t accept love if you’re riled up,” Parrish told him. “Conflict is the enemy of love, in any form.”
“I guess,” he agreed dubiously.
“Besides, my mother’s an empath. It’s some kind of mix of the two powers.”
“Can you make people fall in love? Or – lust?”
“No. I can just calm them down, and I’m a little more persuasive than most people.”
“That is very good to know. Chris, anything?”
Chris glanced around, waving a hand. A nearby branch failed to move. “Not yet.”
“Gah!” Xander twisted away from the tree, glaring at Vida. “Don’t do that!”
“Sorry,” she said apologetically. “I was trying to be quiet.”
“And succeeding, and now my heart is trying to crawl out of my chest. What do you think?”
“I think I might have seen Lorne’s lookout. A couple of clicks in that direction.” She gestured vaguely, pointing out a path on a slight angle away from them. “I tried contacting him, but the radios still aren’t working.”
“He’s not doing much good if you’ve seen him,” Xander noted.
“How can you possibly have seen him from two kilometres away?” Chris asked.
“I climbed a tree.” Vida said it as though it were obvious.
“You climbed a tree. Of course you did. Why didn’t I think of that?”
“I don’t know. Why didn’t you?”
“Guys,” Xander said firmly. “Vida, what about the town?”
“No sign yet, but there’s movement down there. I think they’ve figured out we’re gone, they just don’t know what to do about it.”
“Let’s get going then.” He headed out of the clearing, Parrish on his heels.
The trip in the ‘jumper was a lot of fun. Emily and Ariel hadn’t been in one yet, but it was a lot of fun.
“It’s talking to me,” Emily murmured to Ariel.
“What’s it saying?”
“That it loves flying.” Emily was grinning widely.
“Good for it.”
The trip didn’t take very long. When the ‘Jumper landed they were met by a man Teyla introduced as Halling. He thanked them solemnly for their help and offered them some tea.
“Thank you,” Emily said, smiling, “but we haven’t done any actual work yet. Let us unload the supplies and then I’d love some.”
“Me too,” Ariel agreed distractedly, looking around the area. “You haven’t been here very long, have you?”
“No, only perhaps two years,” Teyla said. “Is something wrong?”
“No, of course not.” Ariel smiled, turning back to them. “Where should we bring the supplies?”
Halling directed them to a storehouse and several Athosians pitched in to help. Emily was carrying three packages to every one of Ariel’s; that didn’t really bother her, but the fact that she had to keep reminding Ariel what they were doing did.
When they were done Emily guided them to Halling’s home and sat her down. “Ariel, what’s going on? You’re going to have to tell someone. We’re all seeing it now.”
“I know,” she agreed softly. “The last people who lived here were culled.”
“Probably. Most of them seem to be.”
“Not probably.” Ariel’s head tilted as she watched something Emily couldn’t see. “They were culled. There was a family...” She lifted one hand, tracing a path across the encampment. “There. And they almost made it, they were almost safe...”
“Ariel,” Emily said firmly.
“Yes.” Ariel looked back at her. “Sorry. That’s not like me, I don’t see dead people. I have dreams, I have instincts, but I don’t see dead people. Not at home.”
“Maybe there aren’t as many there?” Emily suggested. “This galaxy’s been at war for thousands of years.”
“No, they haven’t.” Ariel buried her face in her hands, but her words were perfectly clear. “It’s not war when one side can’t fight back.”
Emily glanced up at a noise and found Halling standing just inside the doorway. “My apologies,” he offered, turning as though to leave.
“No, please. It’s your home.” Emily rose to her feet.
Halling came in, stoking the fire and looking curiously at Ariel. “Your friend is unwell?”
“She...no, just a little overwhelmed and overtired, I think.”
“I’m fine,” Ariel seconded, but she didn’t lift her head. “I just need to sit for a moment.”
“Certainly. I will prepare the tea. Please take as much time as you need.”
“Is Teyla’s son here?” Emily asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“Ariel, do you mind if I go see?”
“No, it’s fine. Go ahead. Tell her I’ll be there.”
Emily glanced at Halling, moving towards the door. He followed her, waiting patiently as she hesitated.
“There’s no stimulants in the tea, right?” she asked finally.
“It is a most soothing blend. Very calming.”
“Good, I think that’s what she needs.”
“What has she seen?” He smiled at the look on her face. “Teyla told me something of her gift.”
“A lot of people have died here.”
He nodded understanding. “I shall watch over her. Please, enjoy your visit with Teyla.”
Emily nodded. “Ariel? I’ve got my radio, if you want me.”
“Got it.” She looked up long enough to nod. “Go on. I’m alright.”
Emily ducked out of the house. Halling turned back to the fire, stoking it up and moving the small kettle over the flames. He didn’t speak.
After a few minutes Ariel uncurled, shifting to sit nearer the fire. Halling smiled at her, gesturing to a cushion on the floor. “More comfortable to sit there.”
“Thank you,” she said politely, moving around. Halling poured the hot water into a pair of cups.
“They should steep for a few moments before we drink,” he explained. “This tea is made from a leaf which we grow just outside town. I picked these today, myself.”
Ariel nodded, watching the fire jump. “Teyla told you about me?”
“A little, I think. She told me you often have instincts about things that have yet to happen.”
“She thinks it has weighed on you since your arrival. The City of the Ancestors is a wonderful place, but many have died there.”
“Yes,” Ariel said again, her voice very low.
Halling smiled, testing the tea. “I think we can drink now.”
Ariel wrapped her hands around the cup but made no effort to drink. Halling took a sip of his, watching her.
“I don’t see dead people,” she said after a moment. “I never did at home. I didn’t even dream much. Sometimes I would see something when I was awake, but mostly it was just instincts. So I never...I never had to stop.”
Halling nodded. “There is no way to keep the dead from appearing to you?”
Ariel lifted one shoulder in a half shrug. “I can get very drunk. That would do it. I’m not sure Xander would like that, though. It turns off the instincts as well.”
“It seems a short term solution,” Halling agreed.
She drank some of the tea. “This is nice.”
“I’m glad you like it.”
She sighed, sitting up. “I could ask them to stop coming. In the City, at least.”
“Will they obey?”
“They might. My mom said the people she saw, they usually wanted something. But the ones I’ve been seeing, they just seem to...be there. They’re not trying to get my attention, I think.”
“Perhaps you should try talking to them,” he agreed.
“This is really good.” She finished the tea, laying the cup down carefully.
“I will make sure you have some before you leave.”
“The fire’s very warm.” Ariel scrubbed at her face.
“Rest a little,” Halling suggested. “There is no hurry. Teyla does not plan to return for some time.”
“Mmm.” Ariel eased herself down, curled on one side. “I’ll just close my eyes a little bit.”
Halling slipped out of the house, glancing around. Teyla was sitting with Kanaan on a nearby wall, watching Emily play with Torren.
“Halling,” she said in greeting. “How is Ariel?”
“Emily said she has been having trouble. I’m glad she can rest here.”
“She has been seeing the spirits of people who have died in the City.”
“We thought perhaps she was.” Teyla sighed. “Does she know how to prevent it?”
“She plans to ask them to leave her alone.” Halling smiled. “That or become very drunk.”
“Let us hope her first plan works.”
Emily came towards them, holding Torren’s hands as he toddled along. “He’s so cute, Teyla,” she said, grinning as he let go of her to grab Teyla’s legs.
“Thank you.” Teyla scooped him up, smiling. “Hello, Torren.”
“How’s Ariel?” Emily asked.
“She is sleeping. I believe that simply telling someone what she was seeing has eased her mind greatly.”
“Thank you. I’ll go and sit with her.”
“Drink some tea,” Halling suggested as she stepped past him.
It wasn’t Lorne’s lookout.
“Seriously?” Chris griped. “You can’t tell the difference between one of our soldiers, and one of them?” He glared at the nearest Wraith.
“From two kilometres away? Apparently not. Remind me who actually broke us out in the first place?”
“Remind me who got us caught in the first place?”
“Guys,” Xander said firmly. “Keep it down, ok? I’m getting the idea that the less attention we gather,
A Wraith halted beside their little group, eyeing them. “You,” it said, finally settling on Xander. “Come with me.”
“Sure,” Xander agreed, levering himself to his feet. Parrish started to rise and he dropped a hand to her shoulder, pushing her back down. “Don’t, it’s fine. I’ll be back.”
“Xander,” Chris protested, eyes very dark.
“Do nothing. I’ll be back.” Turning, he followed the Wraith out of the tiny clearing, one hand pressed to his side.
“Why is he holding his side like that?” Vida asked.
“He hurt it on the bars getting out,” Parrish said absently. “Chris, I could try again...”
“No,” Chris said quickly. “We don’t know what it would do to them. We can’t risk it.”
“Xander’s fine.” He looked deliberately down; following his gaze, she saw several twigs dancing under his outstretched hand. “He’ll call me. He knows I’m listening. Just don’t do anything right now.”
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
Author's note: There is some discussion of war and killing in this chapter. Not much or detailed, but it's there. Be warned.
Xander wasn’t quite sure why these Wraith had apparently set up camp in the woods instead of on a ship, but they must have been here for quite a while to have the elaborate series of barriers and tents built up. Several Wraith were standing around, watching as he was shoved along, and there were several captives being held beside what looked disturbingly like a pile of dead bodies.
He was shoved to his knees in front of a female Wraith, the first female he’d seen. “The strangers’ leader, my Queen,” his guard announced.
“What is your name?” she demanded, taking a step towards Xander.
“Kell,” he answered instantly, easing back onto his ankles.
“You are not of Sateda.”
“No, but my parents were big fans. Not that they didn’t enjoying the culling and destroying as well. That was some very nice destroying.”
“You came to this world with some Earth soldiers,” she announced. “Tell me who they were.”
“What, those guys? We came through the ring of the ancestors with a group from a trading planet. I’ve no idea who they were, we didn’t swap addresses.”
The Queen glared at him before snapping an order at the guard. Xander’s head was suddenly yanked back and he yelled as the new position dragged at the wound on his side. Before he could adjust the guard tipped a pitcher of water over his face; Xander spluttered, fighting the urge to choke, and as soon as he was let go he leaned forward, coughing harshly. Some of the water was swallowed, though, and he groaned. That couldn’t possibly be a good thing.
The Queen leaned over him, examining him minutely. “This,” she said, laying one finger against his cheekbone, just below his empty eye socket. “How did this happen?”
“In a war,” he said warily, leaning back a little to escape her touch. “A soldier on the other side figured it would be the easiest way to get me out of the fight.”
“Yet he left you the other.” She touched his other cheek, and he realised with dull horror that he couldn’t lean back any further. “Surely he should have taken both.”
“He was interrupted.”
“Why did he not simply kill you?”
“He wanted to demoralise my team.”
“I see.” She tapped the finger on his cheek thoughtfully, and he winced as the opening on her palm flashed briefly into view. “Was he successful?”
“Briefly. But I wasn’t the leader of that team, and she rallied us to win.”
Stop talking! he yelled mentally. He didn’t feel any different, there was no fog over his thoughts or any urge to serve the woman-thing in front of him, but he couldn’t stop answering her questions.
“Where is this leader now?”
“She’s not here.” He managed to clamp down on the rest of the sentence.
“Oh? Where would such a brave warrior be?”
“Fighting against what?”
“All kinds of things. Demons, mostly. Some vampires.”
“What are these things?”
She still sounded tolerantly amused, and he was surprised. Normally people were irritated at him by now.
“Vampires. Kind of like you, but they drink blood, not life.”
“Ah, so you do know what we are. I had wondered. You don’t seem afraid.”
“I’ve faced down a lot scarier than you, lady.”
The guard kicked him in the side and he fell, gasping and curling around the wound. “Gah...”
“That looks so painful,” she cooed. “Surely you won’t refuse our help. We could heal it for you.”
“No thanks,” he gasped, levering himself back onto his knees. “Pretty much all the demonic women in my life want to kill me. I’m not so sure you’re any different.”
Her eyes flashed and she cuffed him across the top of the head, sending him to the ground again and snapping something at the guard. “Perhaps the young girl will be more talkative,” she finished, deliberately loudly.
“You stay away from her,” Xander growled, struggling upright again. He couldn’t quite make it all the way to his knees, though.
“Then perhaps you should simply answer my questions.”
“Lady, I’ve answered everything you’ve asked so far.”
“Answer them truthfully.”
Xander grimaced. “Well, one man’s truth is another man’s lie, and so on and so forth.” The hand he’d pressed to his side was wet and sticky, and he winced, scrubbing it against his knee.
“You talk a lot,” the Queen noted.
“It’s been said. I’ve heard it a lot, actually. People often tell me that I talk too much.”
Xander’s radio clicked; he gazed down at it in utter incomprehension for a moment, then threw himself flat on the ground. Gunfire erupted all around the clearing, riddling the Wraith Queen and the guard.
Xander felt a hand on his arm and his surroundings blurred briefly. When he could focus again, Chris was leaning over him, carefully inspecting the wound.
“Did someone kick you?” he asked softly.
“Mmm. Where is everyone?”
“Parrish is back at the ‘Gate with one of Lorne’s guys. Vida’s killing something behind us. The others are shooting.”
The shooting was trailing off and Xander risked lifting his head. “What’s going...Chris, behind you!”
A Wraith caught Chris’ shoulder before he could react, yanking him away from Xander. Chris crashed into a tree and slumped to the ground, momentarily stunned.
The Wraith stalked up to Xander, weapon outstretched. Before it reached him, though, it paused, staring blankly at him and then spinning.
Chris was propped up on one elbow, blood dripping from a gash in his forehead. His other hand was closed into a fist, shaking. The Wraith took a step or two towards him before pausing, clawing at it’s own chest. Chris squeezed his fist even tighter and it gasped, collapsing.
“Chris, what the hell?” Xander demanded.
Chris scrambled back to his side, absently scrubbing at the blood on his forehead. “Doesn’t matter, it’s dead...we need to get you back to the ‘Gate. Can you walk?”
“I think so...”
Lorne appeared behind Chris. “Oh, good, you’re...”
Chris spun, one hand lashing out. Lorne was flung off his feet, hurled across the clearing and pinned against a tree, hanging four feet off the ground.
“Chris, let him go!” Xander grabbed at his arm, trying to get his attention off Lorne. “Chris, that’s Lorne, he’s on our side! Stop it!”
He jerked Chris around to face him, distantly registering the thump as Lorne was released from his telekinetic grip and fell to the ground. Chris stared wildly at him for a moment before recognition flooded back in.
“Oh, Christ,” he breathed, dropping his head into his hands.
“Hey!” Xander said sharply. “Break down later, go check on Lorne now. Now, Chris!” He shoved the other boy away, reaching for his radio. “Vida, are you done killing things? We need some help over here.”
Chris stumbled to his feet, crossing to kneel beside Lorne. “I think I broke his arm,” he reported unsteadily.
“Is he conscious?” Xander asked.
“Vida, get Lorne’s team on your way. Big trouble.”
“Got it, boss,” she agreed easily. “We’re on our way.”
“Xander?” Parrish chimed in. “Do you want me?”
“No, you’d better stay...actually, yes, if your guard will bring you back.”
“Bring her back,” Lorne said. Xander looked up; Chris had leaned back away from Lorne, but neither was moving.
“Aye sir,” presumably-the-Marine said, and the radio clicked off again.
“Lorne?” Xander got to his feet with the help of the nearest tree; Chris stood and came to help him closer to them. “You alright?”
“Yeah, I think it’s just my arm.” He looked sharply between Chris and Xander. “What happened?”
“We were attacked by a Wraith just before you got back. When you came in...”
“I attacked you,” Chris interrupted. “It was me.”
“I got that part.” Lorne eased into a seated position. “Xander, are you alright?”
“Yeah, mostly. I’ve had worse. I still have the same number of body parts as I started out with, so that’s always a good day.”
Parrish and her Marine shadow arrived at almost the same time as Vida and the rest of the team. Zelenka was nowhere in sight. Xander took Parrish to one side while Vida poked at his side and the others crowded around Lorne.
“Parrish, Chris attacked Lorne,” he said softly. “I really think he didn’t know who he was. I thought for a second he was gonna attack me. Lorne’s not making a big deal out of it, but...you have any idea what happened?”
“Ideas, yeah,” Parrish murmured. “Zelenka’s back at the Ancient base trying to get the defences on line. I’m going to get Chris to take me back there so we can pick up the supplies. We’ll meet you at the ‘Gate, ok?”
“Parrish.” Xander caught her arm as she turned. “Is he alright?”
She hesitated, glancing across at Chris. “Can I answer that later?”
“Not too much later.”
“Xander, this needs help,” Vida announced. “More than I can do for it.”
“Throw some disinfectant and a bandage at it. We’re going back to base now anyway.”
“It needed help when it happened,” she said sharply.
“We were a little busy at the time, Vee.”
“Always something with you,” she noted.
“It’s the demon magnet powers. Willow was wondering if it would work on aliens. I’ll be able to tell her it does.” He considered for a moment, biting his lip as she tied off the bandage. “I wonder who’ll win the pot.”
“There’ll be a pot. ‘How long before a demon finds Xander’, or ‘How long before Xander finds himself in a life threatening position even though he’s supposedly on a secure base’. Something like that.”
“Who comes up with the titles?”
“Faith. She’s not subtle.”
“Xander.” Lorne limped across to join them, arm tucked into his gun strap. “We’re going. The Wraith may have had a beacon, we don’t want to be here if their reinforcements show up.”
“No,” Xander agreed.
“Can you walk?”
“I hope so.”
“Xander. I have to report it, you know that.”
“If you don’t, I will,” he said grimly. “Let me talk to him, though.”
“Yeah. Do you need help? David, can you give Xander a hand?”
The trip back to the ‘Gate was slow and fairly awkward, but they made it eventually. Zelenka dialled the ‘Gate as soon as they were in sight, and there was a med team ready to take Xander and Lorne directly to the infirmary.
“How is that you, going to the uninhabited planet to turn on a computer, ended up attacked by Wraith, while we, going to a war torn planet to look for information about the Wraith, have come home without a scratch?” John asked.
“Or any information,” Rodney added.
“Sir, I’m sorry, I can’t remember the question,” Lorne apologised. “That was too long.”
“Keller gave you the good stuff, huh? What happened?”
“Oh – it looked like the Wraith had set up a camp and brought some worshippers along. They were building a small town, and there was a Wraith encampment in the woods. Xander’s team went into the town and got caught. They escaped, but the Wraith found them anyway.”
“And the point of going into the town was...?”
“To see why it had turned up so suddenly.”
“Ok. And the injuries?”
“Xander was hurt escaping, and I think the Wraith kicked him a few times.”
John glanced across the room. Xander was in the scanner, smiling at something Keller was saying. “Right. And your arm?”
“We had to attack the Wraith to free Xander’s team. I got thrown into a tree.”
“I did it.”
John turned to see Chris standing behind him. Blood was still smeared across his forehead; there was a nurse hovering, but Chris was fending her off without looking at her.
“Someone looked at that?” John asked, gesturing to his forehead.
“I threw Lorne into the tree.”
“I heard you.”
“They’d just been attacked,” Lorne explained. “And Chris got that knock. I guess he didn’t realise who I was.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Chris gritted. “I threw him into the tree, I would have killed him if Xander hadn’t...”
“Chris,” John said sharply. “I heard you. Get your head looked at and I’ll deal with this later.”
“You should deal with it now.”
“If I deal with it now I’ll be throwing you into a tree! Now go get your head looked at. Maybe you’ll get lucky and you can blame this on a concussion.”
Chris bit his lip, studying them for a moment before abruptly turning away. The nurse followed him.
“Ronon, keep an eye on him,” John said softly. “Don’t start anything.”
“I never start anything,” Ronon protested.
“Uh huh. Just go keep an eye on him.”
He turned back to Lorne as Ronon vanished around the curtain. “What do you think?”
“He didn’t do it on purpose,” Lorne said immediately. “He didn’t know who I was. I’m sure of it.”
“Ok, but that’s not a good sign either. We can’t have him here if he’s likely to start forgetting who we are.”
Lorne shrugged, wincing as he resettled his arm. “There’s something else, too.”
“Oh great, that’s all I need.” John sighed. “Go on.”
“One of them killed that Wraith. My money’s on Chris. But there wasn’t a mark on it, and neither of them had a weapon.”
“No blood. Not even any branches around they could have used and discarded. There was nothing. One of them killed that Wraith without laying a hand on it. And if it was Chris, and he gets out of Xander’s control...”
“Yeah. Alright, thanks for telling me. Get some rest.”
“Sir?” Lorne added as he started to turn away. “If it’s worth anything, I don’t think Chris would harm us in his right mind.”
“I don’t either, but that’s not the point.” John tapped the end of the bed once or twice before turning away again.
He didn’t notice Parrish slipping away.
Emily lost track of time after a while. The warmth of the fire and the scent of the tea combined to ease her into a doze, though she never really fell asleep. The lack of windows in the house made it harder to tell time.
She was on her feet the instant Halling threw the door open, though. “You must return to Atlantis,” he said urgently. “Your team has returned and some of your teammates are injured. Teyla and your pilot are waiting.”
“Who’s hurt?” Emily demanded, kneeling beside Ariel. “Ariel...come on, we’ve got to get going. Come on.”
“Mmm. I’m awake,” Ariel murmured, stretching and sitting up. “What’s going on?”
“We have to go,” Emily said again. “Halling, who?”
“I was not told who,” he said apologetically. “Only that they would recover, but you should return at once.”
“Someone got hurt on the mission,” she said to Ariel’s questioning look. “Come on.”
Halling held out a wrapped package. “Tea,” he said when neither made a move to take it. “Teyla knows how to prepare it.”
“Thank you.” Ariel took it from him, smiling.
“My pleasure.” Halling bowed, stepping out of their way.
Teyla was waiting at the door of the ‘Jumper. “Come,” she said quickly.
“What do you know?” Emily asked, hauling Ariel up the ramp and pushing her towards a seat.
“Ow,” Ariel said mildly.
“Sorry.” Emily grimaced. “Sorry.”
Teyla nodded to their pilot, who took off straight away. “We have heard from Atlantis,” she said. “Your team returned a short time ago. Xander was injured, but I am told he will be well. Chris also received a slight injury.”
“Just them?” Emily asked.
“Major Lorne has a broken arm, and there are various minor injuries.”
“What happened?” Ariel asked.
“I believe they met some Wraith.”
“On a deserted planet? Only Xander,” Emily muttered. “How long until we get back?”
“A few more minutes,” the pilot called back. “Hold on tight.”
Parrish stepped around the curtain surrounding Xander’s bed. Dr Beckett was just finishing up, scolding him lightly for not getting the wound seen to when it happened.
“And you will not leave this bed,” he ordered, stepping away from the bed. “Hello, lass,” he added to Parrish. “He is not to leave this bed.”
“I heard,” she agreed. “Don’t worry.”
“Aye.” Looking back at Xander, he said, “I’ll come back and check on you in a while. If you need anything, give a holler.”
“Will do, doc,” Xander agreed. "Well?" he added when Beckett had gone.
"I'm not sure. Colonel Sheppard’s really angry with him, he won’t even talk to him right now. Lorne thinks it wasn't his fault, but..."
Parrish bit her lip. "Chris has some problems," she said finally. "He really didn't recognise Lorne, I know that much."
"And what triggered it?"
"The fighting, probably. Or you being nearly killed. Fighting's not good for him, it makes him lose focus."
"He grew up in a family that's been fighting with demons longer than I've been alive!"
"Yes. And it's not good for him. That's why we thought it was a good idea to send him to the Council. He doesn't have to fight there."
"But you agreed to him coming here."
"Where you were supposed to stay on base all the time and nothing was going to happen."
“Well, my apologies for that. In future I’ll only take the mission to death planets.”
He glanced around. “Where’s Chris?”
“Being treated a few beds over.”
“Go stick with him. I don’t want him on his own right now.”
Xander shifted again as she left, trying to find a comfortable position. He’d refused the good meds, not wanting to be too foggy to deal with Chris, but it was starting to wear on him.
Dr Keller put her head around the curtain. “Xander, we’re going to move you to a private room,” she told him. “Orderlies’ll be in in a minute. You ok? Need something stronger?”
“I’m good,” he assured her. “Just peachy, in fact. Peachy with a side of cream. How’s Chris?”
“Concussed, but not seriously. He’ll be ok.”
“Good.” He shifted, grimacing again.
“Xander? Seriously, do you need something?”
“No thanks. Maybe later, though, to sleep.”
“Sure. Just ask anyone.”
She glanced up as the orderlies appeared. “Great. Through there, guys.”
The actual moving of his bed blurred into one long moment of pain for Xander, but finally he registered that it was over and that Ariel was holding his hand, talking softly.
“Maybe later,” she said, and then, a moment later, “Thanks, that would really help.” And then, “I appreciate it. Thank you.”
“Ariel,” he murmured.
“Hey, you’re awake. Do you want a drink? Dr Keller said you could have one.”
“Awake?” he repeated. “I wasn’t...was I?”
“Not really. Just sort of out of it for a little while. They weren’t worried.” She lifted the pitcher on his table and frowned. “Oh. It’s empty. Hang on, I’ll be back.”
“Where’s Chris?” Xander asked, catching her arm.
“Waiting outside, I’m pretty sure.”
Ariel nodded, putting the pitcher back down. “No getting excited. The doctor said you weren’t to.”
“No excitement,” he promised. “Just some gentle, calm yelling.”
“Do you know what he did?”
“Yes. The whole team knows, he keeps confessing to people. I think it’s the concussion. So far we’ve kept him from confessing to anyone else, but...” she shrugged. “I think he’s genuinely upset.”
“He’d better be. They’re this close to throwing him off Atlantis.”
“You’re making that up, you haven’t talked to anyone yet.”
“I’d be this close in their shoes.”
She rolled her eyes, opening the door. “Come in.”
Chris came exactly four steps in before stopping, arms folded. Parrish drifted in behind him, perching on the end of the bed and smiling at Xander. He reached down to pat her hand comfortingly.
Ariel came back for the pitcher, glancing at Parrish. “Don’t let them yell too loud,” she said warningly. “We’re still in the infirmary.”
“Yes boss,” Xander snarked. “I’ll just die of thirst over here...”
Ariel grinned, letting herself out.
Xander waited until the door closed before rounding on Chris. "What the hell was that?"
"Yes, you overreacted! You always overreact! You've just put one of their men in the infirmary, you're lucky they're not throwing us all out!"
"I'm sorry," Chris gritted. "It won't happen again."
"It better not, Chris. Otherwise I'll be looking for a new witch, got it?"
"It's not his fault," Parrish protested. "He's PTSD, he can't..."
"I am not!" Chris rounded on her, using his height to crowd her against the bed. "Stop telling people I'm PTSD! None of it even happened, there's nothing to be stressed about!"
Xander frowned, looking from one to the other. "Chris, back off," he said sharply.
"It's fine," Parrish said, sliding sidewise along the bed until she could step past Chris. He didn’t move, continuing to glare at the wall over her head.
"It's not fine. Whatever he's failing to deal with, he can't talk to you like that."
"Tell him," Parrish told Chris softly.
"It doesn't matter," Chris murmured.
"And he doesn't have to," Ariel added from the door, full pitcher in her hand. Chris half-turned, eyeing her with a frown.
"You're going to be here for a while, Xander," he said abruptly. "Would you like to hear a story, to pass the time?"
"Sure," Xander said warily. "I like a good story."
"Want to call in the others?"
"Do I need to?"
Chris didn't answer, and after a moment Xander touched his earpiece. "Council Team, infirmary please."
"Problem?" Carson asked.
"No. I just need to talk to my team. We'll be quiet."
"Xander, us too?" Taylor asked.
"If you're free," Xander agreed. Emily came in as he signed off; Vida was a minute behind her, and Taylor and Graham were just behind. Taylor had obviously come straight from training; Graham snagged a towel from a nearby trolley and tossed it to her.
"Chris is going to tell us all a story," Xander said once everyone was in and mostly settled. "We're all going to be quiet and listen. Ariel, you're excused if you want."
Ariel shook her head, pouring a glass of water and leaving the pitcher within reach. "No thanks. I like story time."
Chris turned, leaning against the back wall and folding his arms. "Once there was a family in San Francisco. Mother, Father, two boys and a girl – baby sister – aunts, uncles and cousins. They were a Wiccan family and the children were born with their powers and raised to protect those around them. The problem was that the boys had been born into a line of power that was traditionally difficult for males to handle. And on top of that, circumstances surrounding the older boy's birth meant that he was naturally inclined towards evil. But for a long time everything was fine. The boys learned the morals and ethics that had guided their parents, and they seemed to be absorbing it all.
"When the oldest boy was sixteen..."
"Can we get some names?" Vida asked.
Chris's smile looked more like a grimace. "It's a true story."
"Sixteen," Parrish said quietly when he didn’t continue. She was carefully not touching him; Xander could see her holding herself back.
"Yes. Older Brother was sixteen. Middle Child was fourteen. Baby Sister was eleven. And she was home with Middle Child and Mother when they were attacked. Baby Sister got away, but Middle Child and Mother were trapped. And they fought, and Mother was killed."
"Parrish, stop," Chris said quickly. "That doesn't matter."
"It does. It's part of it." He grimaced and she repeated, "It took just over an hour for Baby Sister to find any of her family. So by the time they got back, Middle Child had been sitting with his mother's body for almost an hour and a half. He never talked about it, no matter what his family did, but it took more than a year for him to step back into that room again."
"Father was kind of absentee," Chris continued, almost talking over her. "Not on purpose, really; it was his job. He did his best, once Mother was gone, but it was difficult. And after a while, the kids started to realise that something was wrong with Oldest Brother. He was different, colder. Mourning for Mother turned into revenge for Mother turned into killing for the joy of it. And he grew colder and colder until eventually he decided that anyone who wasn't with him was against him. And he started destroying those who were against him. The aunts and uncles. The cousins. He tried for his siblings, but they knew him well enough to keep out of his reach. The rest of the world didn't have that defence, though, and things were going very badly."
Xander glanced over at Ariel, who had her head in her hands. Nudging Emily, he gestured to the Seer. Emily got up, picking her way around the room to sit next to her.
"Eventually the siblings came up with a plan. Middle Brother would go back in time and figure out what had sparked this. There had to be something, they thought, it couldn't just be the trauma of the death. Middle Child went back about twenty five years, leaving Baby Sister to help the rebellion while they waited. Ariel, are you sure you don’t want to leave?”
“No, I’m fine. Sorry. I saw some of what – Oldest Brother did. I’m fine. Keep going.”
Chris nodded, blinking rapidly. “Middle Child was twenty two when he travelled back. His brother had been evil for four years and almost destroyed the world. But in the past he was barely a year old and still good. Middle Child spent just over a year in the past, and in the end he and his parents and aunts saved Oldest Brother from the event that had shaped his world view, that had turned him so very cold. And his parents knew about it now, so they were able to watch as he grew up, to make sure he turned out good. The future version of Middle Child was killed fulfilling that mission. But his younger version had just been born, and he grew up with a loving Older Brother and a father who spent a lot of time with them.
“And then one day, when he was fourteen, he woke up with all the memories of his other self in his brain. Everything that other him had seen and thought and done. Older Brother got some from his other self, too, but not nearly so many or so clearly. Not enough to know how evil he could be. Baby Sister never got any at all.
“It was good, in a way. Middle Child knew spells he’d never learnt, he had experience, and his powers grew to match it. But – it also wasn’t so good.”
“Chris has problems with letting people get hurt,” Parrish said quietly. “He has a lot of problems that aren’t really his at all, and they get worse when he’s fighting, because the other one spent so much time fighting. Life and death. He can’t –“
“Enough, Parrish,” Chris said quietly, turning and leaning his forehead against the wall.
“My turn,” Xander said loudly, drawing attention away from him. “My story starts like all good stories, with a girl. The one girl in all the world. Let’s call her...Muffy.” Chris snorted a laugh; Xander grinned, continuing, “Muffy came to live in Sunnyhell, Califorbia, and on her first day a boy called Lander fell head over heels for her. Literally: skateboard, railing. Not a good combination.
“Muffy was beautiful in every sense of the word. She was also part of a mystical line of female warriors who were all triggered in adolescence and tended to die within a year or two. There was only ever one at a time. When he found out that she was secretly fighting evil every night Lander decided that he would help out. He and his friend Billow joined her in the fight, helped her as best they could. They even saved her life, once, when she’d been overpowered by an enemy. There was a man called Siles, too...”
“Sounds like a Bond villain,” Vida noted.
“It does, doesn’t it? He was even British, and his job was to help Muffy in any way he could – bar actually fighting with her, of course, his employers frowned on that. But Siles was a bit of a rebel, and he helped out, too. Later we even decided that it was because of our friendship that Muffy was able to fight as well and as hard and as long as she was.
“So Muffy and Lander, Billow and Siles became a team, fighting the good fight, killing bad guys. Other people came and went, but there were always those four. Unbreakable. Mostly they won. Sometimes they lost. They had friends who left, they had friends who died. And then...” He sighed. “Anya. Anya the beautiful, Anya the crazy. Anya the girl Lander would have married, but he screwed it all up. He hurt her, he hurt their friends, he hurt himself. And just as they were coming back together, the Hellmouth intervened and Anya was killed saving the world.” He looked up, waiting until Chris turned to meet his eyes to continue. “I don’t lose people. Not anymore. We’ll help you deal, cos we’re not losing you either. Got it?”
Chris nodded, folding his arms again. For a moment there was silence, until Emily sat up.
“Suddenly I feel very inadequate,” she announced. “I just grew up with divorced parents and then went to the training house in Kansas. Although my father was very good at scaring my potential boyfriends away. Nothing like someone who knows if you’re being honest when you’re asked about your intentions.”
“Nothing exciting here, either,” Parrish agreed. “Chris and Wyatt got all the interesting in our family.”
“Your father is a Cupid,” Chris pointed out.
“Your father’s an Elder. Half-breed doesn’t mean exciting.”
“I saved the world from evil magic-users,” Vida said offhandedly.
“Me too,” Taylor agreed. “But evil nature-spirits, not magic-users.”
“I was part of a secret government lab that experimented on demons,” Graham offered.
Ariel shrugged when they looked at her. “I see dead people. You knew that.”
“Tell us about that,” Emily said. “You’ve told me some things, but...”
“Do it properly,” Xander added. “Once upon a time...”
“...there was a woman called Allison,” Ariel said obediently. “She was married to a man called Joe, and they had three daughters, Bridgette, Marie, and Ariel. Allison and her daughters and her half-brother Michael had all inherited psychic powers. Allison’s mostly came in the form of dreams, but sometimes she saw dead people or knew what people were thinking. She worked – I’m sorry, I can’t keep that up. She works with the District Attorney and a local detective to help solve crimes, and she’s very good at it. Bridgette mostly knows things. Marie – Marie sometimes knows what people are thinking, but she’s also watched a TV channel we don’t actually get and played an oboe perfectly the first time she picked it up.”
“What about Joe?” Emily asked curiously.
Ariel smiled. “Joe is not at all psychic, not even a little bit, but he helps to ground Allison and deciphers her dreams with her. And sometimes, when it’s all he can do, he sits with her while she makes things better.”
“And you?” Vida asked. “I mean, Ariel?”
“Ariel had her first dream at ten years old. Saved the life of a girl three years older than her.” Ariel shrugged. “I don’t dream often, but I do know things. Without even trying, sometimes.”
“Can you read minds?” Chris asked.
“Sometimes I can see a thought, but I usually have to be looking and you always have to be focusing on it very hard. I read the answer to a math problem out of my teacher’s mind once. Nearly got expelled for that.” Blinking, she looked across at Xander. “I heard that.”
“Don’t think about pink elephants,” she said warningly.
“Got it. No pink elephants. Geez, I thought it was bad when this happened to Bu – Muffy. Bumuffy, we used to call her.”
“Think I’d get away with calling her that when we go back?” Vida asked Emily quietly.
“Sure. Just remember she’s the Prime Slayer for a reason.”
“Because of Lander and their friends, right?” Parrish said innocently.
“If you’re going to call her Bumuffy to her face, let me know,” Xander told them. “So’s I can be elsewhere. Preferably a different planet.”
“That seems more likely than not, now,” Chris pointed out.
“Mmm. It does, doesn’t it? Weird.” He glanced up as a nurse tapped on the door, pushing it open. “Hi.”
“Time for your sedative, Mr Harris. Doctor’s orders.”
“Right,” he agreed, waiting until she’d given him the injection and gone before continuing, “Chris, take Emily and go find Sheppard. Apologise and take whatever punishment you have coming, got it?”
“Because she did something similar when Vida went down on our test run, remember? Mitchell will have told Sheppard, and having her there may remind him that these instincts are built in. Plus, she can tell me how mad he is. Also and, I’m team leader and what I say goes. Now scatter.”
Emily glanced at Vida, who nodded, slouching down slightly in her seat. Xander rolled his eyes but didn’t object, watching as the others left.
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
John was in Woolsey’s office when the two found them. Graham had accompanied them that far and he now leaned against the wall outside, waiting.
Woolsey closed the door. “Please, sit,” he said, gesturing to the two seats in front of his desk.
“How’s Lorne?” Chris asked, sitting on the edge of his seat.
“He’s resting,” John said. The anger in his voice was clear.
“Mr Halliwell, we are writing this up as friendly fire,” Woolsey said. “Can you clarify this at all for me? I understand you were attacked just before Major Lorne found you?”
“Yes, a Wraith,” he agreed. “It surprised us, threw me into a tree. Knocked me out for a second. When I woke up it was attacking Xander, so I got it off and then when Lorne...”
“Hold on,” John ordered. “You ‘got it off’ how, exactly?”
“I...” Chris swallowed. “I crushed its heart.”
“Crushed its heart,” Woolsey repeated.
Emily nudged Chris lightly, holding up a stake by one end. Chris lifted one hand, closing it into a fist; the stake splintered in two, crushed in the middle by an unseen grip.
“I didn’t know if it would work,” he said. Emily carefully laid the two pieces of the stake on Woolsey’s desk; John picked them up, studying them. “I wasn’t even sure if they had hearts. But they were people once, so I thought they’d have to. It nearly didn’t go down...” He turned his hand over, palm up, displaying the cuts his nails had inflicted as he gripped.
“You didn’t think to warn us you can kill things with your mind?” John asked, putting the stake back down.
“It wasn’t supposed to be relevant. Xander was never supposed to be in any danger.” He looked back at Woolsey. “I’m sorry I hurt Lorne. I didn’t mean to. I wasn’t thinking, not at all.”
“He shouldn’t have come up behind you in a combat situation,” Woolsey admitted. “This does not excuse you, you understand.”
“No, I understand.”
“Please consider yourself restricted to quarters until we reach a decision. You may visit with Mr Harris in the infirmary. That is the only other place you will go, understood?”
“Understood,” Chris agreed, rising to his feet.
Emily followed him out, smiling once she was out of view of the doors. “I think you’ll be ok,” she said. “They’re upset, of course, but they’re not really angry with you. I think they understand. Do you want to go back to Xander?”
“You go. I’m going to go and lie down.”
“Ok. Did they give you painkillers?”
“Yes, I have them here. I’m fine. Go on.”
Graham quietly followed him back towards their quarters. Emily went back towards the infirmary, detouring through the commissary to get a drink.
Xander was dozing when she let herself back into the room. Vida glanced up from the magazine she’d been flicking through. “Hey,” she murmured. “How’d it go?”
“Not bad. He’s restricted to quarters right now, but I think he’ll be ok. I’m not sure what they can do to punish him, anyway. How’s Xander?”
“He finally let the nurse give him the good stuff. He’s sleeping, pretty much.”
“I am not,” Xander mumbled into his pillow. “I c’n hear ev’ry thing you’re sayin’.”
“Good, cos I’m saying go back to sleep,” Vida said without looking up.
“Sounds good,” he agreed, sighing.
Two days later Dr Beckett released Xander from the infirmary with orders to stay in his quarters and rest. Chris was released from their quarters the same day, but he was only allowed to visit the commissary, the gym and the labs with Xander. He hadn’t spoken to anyone about the fight since, though he’d visited Lorne several times.
“They’re actually getting on really well,” Vida reported. “It’s a little creepy. Lorne’s going to train him in hand to hand when he’s signed off.”
“Sounds like fun,” Xander said absently. “How’s Ariel?”
“She’s sleeping, at least,” Taylor said. “And she seems better the last couple of days. Less distracted. The trip with Teyla must have really helped.”
“How was the training you guys went to?” he asked.
“Nothing I didn’t know already. Nice to meet some of the other Air Force soldiers, though.”
“Anyone you knew?”
“They’ve all passed through the SGC at one point or another. No one I was very close to.”
Xander’s radio beeped. “Mr Harris?”
“Yeah,” he said automatically.
“We’re receiving a call from the SGC. Can you come up here?”
“On my way. Do I need anyone else?”
“They haven’t asked for anyone else.”
Xander frowned. “Vee, you’d better come anyway.”
“On it, boss.”
He could hear the yelling from a whole corridor away. John was lurking at the base of the control room stairs, listening.
“What’s going on?” Xander asked.
“Someone called the SGC and demanded to talk to you. And somehow persuaded them to put the call through. They’re threatening people with various painful things if you don’t come talk to them.”
Xander rolled his eyes, heading up the stairs. “Willow!” he yelled as soon as he was in the room. “I’m fine!”
Several voices overlapped each other for a few seconds. Xander sighed, coming to lean against the console. “Seriously, guys, I’m fine.”
“You got injured!” Willow protested.
“Yes, and it’s fine, they’re taking really good care of me.”
“We didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“I know. It’s all good, Will, honest. How’s it over there?”
“Mr Harris?” Woolsey said. “I hate to appear rude, but this call is costing the SGC several million dollars. Perhaps now that they’re convinced you’re well, you could continue this by email? It’s much more efficient.”
Xander rolled his eyes. “Gotta go, Wills. Call off the Buffy patrol, all right? I’m fine. Promise.”
“You’d better be, or I’m coming after you.”
The wormhole shut down and Xander sighed, leaning back. “My apologies, Mr Woolsey. To the SGC, as well, next time you’re talking to them. Willow’s a little single minded.”
“How did she even know you were injured?” Sheppard asked, coming to join them.
“Magic of one kind or another. I don’t know. I don’t ask, usually. It’s enough that it works.”
“I see. Well, thank you for convincing her.”
“Oh, she’s not convinced. I’m gonna have to go write an email with all our inside jokes in it now, otherwise she’ll just assume I was lying. They may not be able to get here, but they could do some damage to the SGC if they put their minds to it.”
“Oh,” Woolsey said faintly. “I’m – going to finish some reports. I’ll hold the databurst for your email.”
“Thank you.” He levered himself up from the console, glancing at Vee. “Let’s go.”
Ariel was watching Emily spar with Teyla a little later when a blonde woman in the uniform of the Ancients sat down beside her. “She fights well, your friend,” she noted.
“They both do,” Ariel agreed quietly. “I thought you all agreed to stop coming to me.”
“We did agree,” she said. “Forgive me. There is a message you must hear.”
“Things are about to get very dark for your friends. You must be very careful.”
"Get dark how?"
The woman shook her head. "They need to be careful."
"Yes, you said that. What is it with ghosts? None of you ever say things right out."
"It's hard to see, from this side," she said thoughtfully. "It's not linear. It's difficult even making sure I came to you on this side of the event, whatever it is. I've seen the results, but not what it is."
"I see. Thank you for the warning."
"You're welcome, Ariel."
"Ariel?" Emily called from across the room. "You ok?"
"Yes, I'm fine," she said automatically. She glanced to her side, assuming the woman would have vanished.
She was still sitting there, watching patiently. "Is there more?" Ariel asked.
"My name is Helia," she said quietly. "I was not kind to the expedition here. It's clearer from where I am now."
"What's it like there?" Ariel asked softly.
"Non-linear." Helia smiled. "Be careful, Ariel."
Emily was still watching her when she stood. "You sure?"
"Yes, everything's fine. Ronon, do you know the name Helia?"
"She's dead," Ronon said briefly.
"Yes. Thank you. Emily, I have to go. You stay here."
"Ok," Emily agreed.
"What'd she say?" Ronon asked.
"Helia. What'd she say?"
"Oh." Ariel shrugged, pulling her jacket on. "Something dark is coming, we need to be careful, blah blah cryptic blah. Dead people never make much sense."
She smiled faintly, heading towards the lab.
Xander was sitting, hands in his lap, waiting while Radek rummaged around in a box. "I know there are more here," he said, voice slightly muffled.
"Take your time," Xander said idly. "No rush."
Chris, sitting cross legged on a counter, glanced up when Ariel came in. "Hey, Ariel."
"Hey Chris," she said absently. "Xander?"
Changing her mind, she looked towards Zelenka. "Dr Zelenka?"
"Yes?" He backed out of the storage area, looking towards her.
"Who was Helia?"
He frowned, coming to join them. "Commander Helia controlled an Ancient warship called Tria. It was damaged in the war and left far from the galaxy. Helia reclaimed Atlantis for the Ancients, but she and her crew were killed by the Asurans, the Replicators. Why?"
"She's here in the City." To Xander, she added, "Darkness coming, be careful."
"Anything more helpful than that?"
"No. But I get the impression it really is pretty bad. She says things aren't really linear where she is so she hasn't been able to see what's going to happen, but she's seen the results."
"Ok. Are you feeling anything?"
"Well, there's not much we can do then. Have you spoken to Mr Woolsey?"
"No. I thought I should talk to you first."
Xander nodded, turning to Zelenka. "Excuse me for a little bit. I'll be back."
"Of course. You want me to come along?"
"No, thanks. I think we'll manage it between us. Chris?"
"Coming," he agreed, sliding off the counter.
"She didn't tell you anything useful?" Woolsey asked.
"No, just that something dark is coming and we need to be careful. That's all. She was trying, I think, but she just didn't know."
"Sounds like Helia," John muttered.
"I really think she was trying," Ariel said again. "She was more helpful than most of the dead people I've seen."
"Whatever it means," Woolsey said before John could answer, "there's little we can do but be cautious. Mr Harris, we'll keep you and your team on Atlantis for now."
"That's fine," Xander agreed. "Zelenka's got lots of stuff for me to touch."
Ariel nodded. "If she comes back, or if I figure anything out, I'll come tell you."
"I'd appreciate that, Ms DuBois."
John watched them leave, frowning. "You think she's right?"
"She knew Helia's name."
"It's in the database. It's in the mission reports, and she has access."
"You don't trust her?" Woolsey asked.
"I'm not sure. Maybe. Teyla seems to like her."
"Teyla's judgement is usually sound."
After three days, of course, Xander was starting to get claustrophobic. He’d turned several labs’ worth of equipment on and off, but since he couldn’t use anything it did very little good.
John and Woolsey eventually decided that they could risk sending the team to the mainland to visit the Athosians again. It was more to save the Marines than anything else; without any other outlet, Vida and Emily had taken to training for most of the day, and the Marines had decided en mass to stop visiting the gym.
Teyla told the Athosians they were coming, and Halling was waiting to meet them. “Hello,” he said politely. “Welcome.”
“Thank you,” Xander said easily.
Ariel introduced her team to Halling and Kanaan. “And thank you for the tea,” she added. “It’s almost all gone.”
“You are very welcome,” Halling said.
“Can we help with anything today?” Emily asked. “I don’t think they want us back at base until this evening.”
“No, thank you. This is not a day for work. Today is a festival.”
“A festival,” Xander repeated.
“Yes. It is the day of the Revered Dead,” Kanaan said. “To remember those taken from us, by age or illness or by any other method.”
“Dias de las Muertos,” Emily said. “Cool.”
“Please join us,” Halling said. “There is a meal shortly, and then dancing.”
“I’m always up for food,” Xander said brightly. “Are you sure we can’t help?”
“No, all is prepared. Please, come this way.”
He guided them through the village to a wide open area. A bonfire was burning cheerfully in the centre of the clearing and the rest of the Athosians were gathered there, laughing and playing.
A young man ran up to them, laughing breathlessly. “Father! See what I’ve caught!”
“My son Jinto,” Halling told the team. To Jinto, he added, “What is it?”
Jinto held up his cupped hands, opening them a little. A small animal something like a frog, but an odd shade of blue, sat there, staring at them.
“Ah!” Halling reached in to stroke a gentle finger down its’ back. “A harah. They are very hard to catch,” he explained to Xander. “It’s a good omen.”
“Harah,” Xander repeated. “Is it the last harah?”
“No, there are many more,” Jinto said, frowning when Vida had to turn away to stifle a laugh. “I will show you, if you wish.”
“I’d like to see,” Ariel said quickly.
“Yeah, I’ll come,” Emily added. “Shame on you,” she added as she passed Xander.
“What? It’s just a little joke!”
“On Earth,” Chris told Halling, “there’s a phrase, the last hurrah. It usually means something good is coming to an end, and the last time it happens is the last hurrah.”
“I see,” Halling said solemnly. “There are many harahs here.”
Kanaan reappeared with several cups balanced on a tray. “Please, enjoy,” he said, offering the tray to Xander. “I must find Torren.”
“Halling, it’s not alcoholic, is it?” Parrish asked.
“No. This one is not. There is a different drink, but it is easy to tell apart. The other smells like a fruit – I believe Colonel Sheppard said it smelled like apples.”
“Cider,” Xander said. “Or something. Everyone avoid the apples.”
Ariel came back towards them, hands cupped together. “If that’s a harah,” Parrish warned her, “get it away from me.”
"It's not a harah," Ariel said innocently.
"It's a harah, get it away from me." Parrish backed up, stepping around Chris to keep him between them.
"It's just some pretty leaves." Ariel's fingers slipped and she quickly readjusted her grip.
“Ariel, if you start making a habit of lying, we'll never believe you when you predict things," Parrish said, but she stopped moving away.
Which was when Emily came up behind her and slid the tiny harah onto her shoulder.
Xander sat back, smiling. "Now that's a meal."
"It was good," Chris agreed. He was lying down already, hands crossed over his chest.
"You shouldn't go asleep. It's probably disrespectful, or something," Vida said from his other side.
"What, I should never sleep again?”
"Not at the ceremony designed to...what exactly are we doing? Celebrating death? That's not a great message."
"Death is your gift," Xander said solemnly.
"Yes, every Slayer hears that an average of twelve times a week. It still doesn't mean we should be celebrating it."
"We're remembering people who have died," Emily reminded them. “It's not quite the same thing. Besides, death by old age is something to celebrate here."
Jinto bounded up to them, flushed. "Parrish," he said quickly, "the dancing is about to begin. Will you dance with me?"
"Go on, Parrish, have a dance with Jinto," Xander agreed. "Show us how it's done."
“I’m not very good at dancing, Jinto,” she said apologetically.
“It is very easy. We will show you. Please? It’s fun.”
“Alright,” she surrendered. “I’ll try.”
“Thank you!” He grinned, catching her wrist and towing her towards the circle starting to form on the other side of the bonfire.
Chris sat up to watch them, leaning against a log. “How much longer are we staying?”
“I don’t know, a while. C’mon, Chris, we’re breathing actual air and eating actual food, and we’re not in any danger of death by boredom or Wraith. What else do you want?”
Parrish’s laugh carried across to them as she followed Jinto through the dance. Ariel grinned, climbing to her feet and headed towards the figures. An Athosian boy standing on the sidelines smiled and took her arm, leading her into the movements.
Halling came to sit beside them, smiling at the distant figures. “It’s good to see the children enjoying themselves,” he said.
“Yeah,” Xander agreed. “Emily said you helped Ariel, when she came before. Thank you.”
“I merely gave her tea,” Halling said, shaking his head. “She is a strong girl.”
“Yes,” Xander agreed.
“Will you not join the dance, Xander?”
“Ah, I’m not the most graceful person around,” he declined. “I’m happy to sit here and watch.”
“If you are sure. There are many partners if you change your mind.” Halling nodded to the group as a whole and left again, joining the dancing himself.
“How does anyone dance with him?” Vida murmured. “He’s so tall!”
“He seems to manage well enough.” Xander sighed, watching the group. “Anyone else want to dance? Go ahead. We’ll be leaving in a while.”
Emily and Vida wandered towards the dancing. Chris didn’t move except to close his eyes again.
After the successful trip to the mainland, Woolsey began scheduling Xander’s team for missions again. They were only sent to planets that had been checked thoroughly, and only if Xander was needed.
Sheppard trained Xander to fly the ‘Jumpers, and he flew to the mainland or on missions a couple of times. He had none of Sheppard’s instincts, but he was careful and he learned quickly.
At one point a team returned from a planet to report that the town was under siege from a small group of bandits. The bandits were breaking into the town at night and attacking livestock as well as damaging property. Xander sent Vida and Chris with the team who went back to help the townspeople.
Vida had a broken wrist when they returned, but her eyes were bright. “It was great, they came rushing up and Chris was just...” she waved the bad hand, apparently not noticing the way it hung. “And they kept going flying backwards. And the villagers were attacking them with, like, spades and hoes and things, and then I got in there as well, and Chris was still knocking them over when they got too close, and eventually we beat them all back and the villagers forced them through the ‘Gate. They’re going to keep watch for a while just to be sure, but they don’t think they’ll come back. And we did it without killing anyone.”
“Chris?” Xander murmured.
“I don’t know, she’s been like that since the fight. Isn’t it a Slayer thing?”
“Not like that. Vida,” he added more loudly, “how’s your wrist?”
“What?” She looked at her good hand, frowning.
“Your other wrist.”
“Oh! It hurts a little, I guess.”
“Come down to the infirmary with me, lass,” Dr Beckett said, coming up in time to hear the last comment. “Chris, are you injured?”
“No, I’ll be down in a minute. I just need to talk to Xander.”
“Alright. Don’t take too long.” Glancing at an orderly, he added, “Wait for Mr Halliwell, there.”
Chris turned back to Xander. “She wasn’t like that before the fight, but I didn’t see her being hurt, I don’t know how it happened.”
“Edge of a weapon, a spear shaft or something like that. Side of a shield, maybe. Doesn’t matter. I’ll ask Taylor to go keep an eye on her – they can bond over being Rangers some more.”
“Alright,” Chris agreed, turning back to the orderly. “I’m ready now.”
Taylor went off to the infirmary and Xander put it out of his mind. For someone without an official job description, he seemed to generate an awful lot of paperwork, and he’d been putting it off for a while. Ariel was busy helping him with it, mostly by pointing out his spelling mistakes.
“How are you this bad at typing?” she complained.
“Hey, my computer teacher died halfway through the semester,” he protested. “I only got a few classes.”
“You’ve just misspelled your own name.”
“I know. I was just waiting for you to point it out.”
Chris and Graham came in, Chris absently dropping into the nearest couch. “But I didn’t attack anyone except the bad guys,” he said.
Xander glanced up, frowning, but Graham was answering. “I know. But the orders stand. You’re not allowed to roam the City by yourself.”
“Right. I might PTSD someone through the nearest window.”
“Not funny,” Xander warned him. “How’s Vida?”
“She refused any painkillers when they set her wrist. It wasn’t fun.”
“Probably less fun for the nurse she nearly hit,” Graham added.
“Oh, another of our team attacking someone. Are we trying to be banished, guys? I’ll have to swap out my whole team!”
“You’re not going to have to replace anyone,” Ariel told him. “You’ve just misspelt Athosian.”
“That i is in the wrong place,” he muttered, shoving the laptop at her. “No replacements?”
“No. We are as we are.” She typed quickly for a moment before closing the screen.
Emily leaned in around the door. “Xander? They’re looking for you down in the infirmary, you and me both.”
“Coming. Apparently I’ve just finished my paperwork.”
Dr Keller was talking to Woolsey when they arrived, but she broke off to ushering them into her office. “Mr Harris, do you have access to Vida’s medical records?” she asked quickly.
“I’d have to send back home for them. Why?”
“Because we took a blood sample, and it looks like there’s an infection. But I can’t identify it, and since there are some differences in her system anyway, I can’t tell if they’re alien to her or not.”
“Something that’s making her ill?” Xander asked.
“She is definitely unwell," Dr Keller agreed. "I can't tell what's causing it, though."
"I'll go see what I can do,” Xander promised. "Emily, give her a blood sample."
“Xander," Emily protested.
“There's keeping our secrets, and there's letting Vida suffer for our secrets. Let her take a blood sample. It won't tell them enough, anyway." He glanced at Woolsey. "Can I get in touch with someone on Earth?"
"The fastest way may be to send you back," he mused.
"If that's what you're doing, send Chris. He can go the headquarters straight from the SGC, he won't have to be sent anywhere."
"I'll make the arrangements at once," Woolsey said, turning to leave.
Xander hurried back to their quarters." Chris, you're going back to Earth briefly," he said. "We need Vida's medical records, there's something wrong with her. Ariel, can you go to the infirmary and sit with her?"
"Sure," Ariel agreed quickly.
“What's going on?" Chris asked.
"Something's wrong with Vee," Xander repeated. "Woolsey's gone to dial up Earth. I need you to step through the 'Gate and orb to Headquarters to get her medical records, and bring them back. Or at least bring them back to the SGC, if you don't want to come back here."
"I see." He rose, leaving the room in silence. Graham threw a worried look at Xander before following.
Left alone, Xander stood in the silence for almost half a minute before giving up and heading up to the control room. He was just in time to see the wormhole shut down.
"The SGC are contacting your people," Woolsey said when he noticed Xander.
"Doesn't matter. Chris is there already. What time is it there?"
"Something in the early morning. Perhaps seven or eight o'clock."
"Thank you." Xander leaned against the railing, waiting for the 'Gate to start lighting up again.
It took almost ten minutes; he didn't move during that time. Chris and Graham stepped back through and Chris immediately orbed out. Graham glanced around, frowning.
"We should have had your records all along,” Woolsey said quietly.
"Mr Woolsey, you remember why I'm here, yes?" Xander said evenly. "Under the circumstances, you'll understand why I wasn't eager to share anything more than I had to."
"Please step into my office, Mr Harris," Woolsey asked.
Xander leaned over the railing. "Gray! Can you come up here, please?"
Graham nodded, following him into the office. Woolsey closed the door and turned to face them.
"Mr Harris, I understand your desire to keep as many secrets as you can. Were I in your position, I would do the same. But there is keeping secrets, and there is hampering our ability to help you."
"There are things that we don't share," Xander said. "You haven't shared much about this place with us."
"We've given you everything you need," Woolsey said sharply.
"How do you need to know what Chris can do, or what Vida's blood looks like? None of that helps you." He took a step back. "I would like to go and see my girl, please."
"Certainly." Woolsey sighed, gesturing to the door. "Mr Millar," he added, and Graham paused. "When you have a moment, will you please speak to Mr Harris?"
"Yes, sir," Graham agreed. "I can't guarantee he'll listen, but I will certainly speak to him."
"You understand my position."
"Yes sir, the people under your command can't have secrets from you. I understand."
"I don't suppose you'd tell me what he's hiding."
"With all due respect, sir? I'm not under your command. I'm under his." Graham nodded sharply and left, following Xander.
Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
Dr Keller threw most of them out after a few hours. Emily's blood sample and Vida's records had proved nothing except that whatever was in Vida's blood shouldn't have been there. They couldn't identify it; they were trying to treat Vida's symptoms for the moment.
Ariel stayed to sit with her while the others headed for the commissary.
"You're not going to tell me I should go confess everything to Woolsey, are you?" Xander asked when Graham managed to cut him off from the others.
"You chose everyone on your team because they had a skill, something you needed. Chris and Vida were able to help a team here because Woolsey knows what they can do. If he knew what the others can do..."
"We have nothing here," Xander said softly. "Only what they give us. I can't go home unless I want my friends, my family, to be hunted down as criminals. Those secrets are the only thing I have."
"They're useless," Graham disagreed. “They don't give you any power. Secrets for the sake of secrets, there's no point to that."
"I don't know. I'm too tired for this argument. Can we have it later?"
"Yeah. I'm not trying to argue with you."
"I know. Sorry. Later, I promise."
"Come on. Eat something before you fall over."
None of them ate much. After half an hour, Emily had managed maybe three forkfuls of - whatever they were serving today. It tasted like glue, and she had trouble getting it down.
"Alright," Xander said finally. "If no one's going to eat anything, let's go back to the quarters and not sleep. Chris, in half an hour or so, go let Ariel go. Tell her to eat something. Emily and Parrish, need to talk to you when we get back."
Emily nodded, following him back to their quarters and into Parrish's room. Vida's jacket was thrown across the end of her bed and she picked it up without thinking.
"What's up, boss?" Parrish sounded tired.
Xander gestured Graham in as well, sighing. "Mr Woolsey is starting to get tired of our secrets. He wants to know everything. He knows most of the others already; it's you two I'd be outing."
Emily attempted to think it through, but she couldn't focus. "Whatever you think, boss," she said finally. "I'm happy for you to tell him if you like."
"Me too," Parrish agreed. "I don't mind him knowing."
"He'll probably insist you're kept out of meetings from now on," he warned them.
"Suits me, they bore me anyway."
Emily smiled faintly. "Ditto. I don't mind."
"Right. Get some rest, then. I'll go up and talk to him in a while. Graham, you'll come with?"
"Yes, of course. Get some rest first, though."
"Yeah," he agreed, leaving the room.
Emily stared blankly at the bed for a moment before realising where she was. "Oh. Sorry. This is your room. I'll..." she gestured to the door.
"You can stay," Parrish said. "If you want."
"Mmm. Not sure I'd make it across the corridor. Thanks." She carefully shifted Vida's things across the bed.
"Here." Parrish passed her a spare pillow and she nodded in thanks, collapsing onto the bed. She was asleep almost straight away.
Xander woke about two hours later. He felt oddly refreshed, considering how short the rest had been.
Chris was flipping absently though his laptop, apparently looking for something. "Hey," he murmured.
"Hey," Xander said thickly. Glancing around, he found a water bottle on his bedside table and took a long drink. “Where's Ariel?" he added when he was finished.
"She's back in the infirmary. She got something to eat, but she said she couldn't sleep and she'd stay there until some of the rest of you woke up."
"Ok." Xander scratched his head. "Have you talked to Graham?"
"Do you want me to tell him about Middle Child and Older Brother?"
"Alright." Xander blinked suddenly. "You came back."
"You're under house arrest here."
"And you were there. You could have stayed."
"We're your team, Xander. Go talk to Woolsey and stop trying to irritate me."
"It's a skill, what can I say." He grinned, rolling off the bed and heading for the door.
Graham was already in the control room, as it turned out, and Xander headed up to meet him there. John arrived just behind him.
"Ah. It's a sharing session," Xander noted.
"Chris's secret had military applications," John pointed out.
Xander laughed softly, sitting down. "Sorry. I find that funny."
"Mr Harris, I understand your reluctance to tell us anything," Woolsey said.
"Yeah, yeah, secrets and hampering, blah blah blah. It's fine. I talked to the girls and they're fine with me telling you."
"The girls," John repeated.
"Emily and Parrish."
"Parrish is a witch. We were aware of that."
"Yes, she is a witch. She also has the ability to make everyone around her very calm and placid for a short period of time. That's how we escaped the first time, on the Wraith planet. They didn't care that we were breaking out."
"How long does it work for?" John asked.
"Mmm, maybe ten minutes? I wasn't keeping track too well. But it affects everyone, it got me too. And it wiped her out for about five minutes afterwards."
"That is her specific power?" Woolsey asked. "And Chris's is telekinesis?"
"As I understand it, yes. I'm not the person to talk to about magic."
"Did it affect the Wraith?" John asked.
"She didn't try it in the camp. Chris didn't want her to wear herself out when she might have had to run or fight."
"I see." Woolsey made a quick note on his computer and then looked up. "And you said Emily?"
"Emily reads body language. Very accurately. She's almost never wrong, and she can predict people fairly well based on it."
"Anyone?" Woolsey asked.
"Exposure makes it easier for her. She had a lot of trouble with Teyla and Ronon to start with, because they have a completely different cultural background. But she's gotten better now, and she can read almost anyone else here."
"That is why you brought her," Woolsey said slowly.
"That and the Slayer thing. But we knew we could only bring a few people. Vida's strong, and she's fearless. Emily's fast and she reads people. Ariel's instincts are spot on. Chris is strong and very powerful, and Parrish magnifies him. Between them all, we're a pretty solid group."
"And what can you do, Mr Harris?" Woolsey asked.
"Me? I switch things on and off."
"Your Council is willing to risk war with every country on Earth on your say so."
"They're very loyal."
Graham stirred. "Xander sees people. He sees potential and destinies and people, the real people underneath everything else. The old Council used Slayers as weapons. Xander saw a person and he reminded her that she was not merely a weapon, and his Slayer has more than twice outlived the next oldest. He turned a demon good and every Slayer would kill on his word, because he knows who they are."
Xander was flushing, and one hand rubbed uncomfortably at his eye patch. "You make it sound a lot cooler than it is," he muttered.
"That's what Dawn says, anyway," Graham finished. "They will go to war for him. The Trust is expecting them to roll over, but they won't."
"Thanks, Gray, enough."
Woolsey was staring at them. "Graham told me earlier,” he said, aiming the words at Xander, “that he's under your command, not mine or Colonel Sheppard's."
"Graham and Taylor were attached to our team by the SGC and until our team is disbanded that's their first loyalty." Xander shrugged. "I thought you knew that. How often did SG1 do something for each other against the orders of the SGC? Didn't your team help you steal a 'Jumper from the SGC and break back in here, Colonel Sheppard?”
"They did," he agreed. “It’s not quite the same situation, though.”
“I disagree. If things had gone differently, assuming you hadn’t been killed, you couldn't have returned home. You wouldn’t have been hunted, but it’s not that different.”
“Yes, well, I believe we’re getting off target,” Woolsey started.
His radio beeped suddenly and he reached for it automatically. “Yes?”
“Sir, you’d better come down to the infirmary,” Dr Keller said. “Vida’s in trouble.”
Xander was getting sadly familiar with the way to the infirmary. He didn’t remember it this time; he came back to himself standing beside an examination bed. Ariel was lying on it, eyes closed and face screwed up in pain.
“...away from the bed,” Dr Beckett was saying. “She tripped over an instrument trolley and pulled some muscles. Painful, but not dangerous. It’ll ease itself out in a few days.”
“Sorry,” Xander said. “How did she fall?”
Dr Beckett frowned. “She didn’t fall, Mr Harris. Vida pushed her.”
“It’s the fever.” Ariel’s eyes were open when he looked down. “She didn’t know. Honest. It wasn’t really her.”
“That seems to be a recurring theme,” Woolsey noted.
“Her fever is climbing,” Dr Beckett said. “It’s quite possible she mistook Ariel for someone else.”
“She said Leelee,” Ariel put in. “Dr Beckett, can I sit up?”
Xander moved to support her. “Do you know what’s wrong with Vida yet?” he asked quietly.
“No, lad, I'm sorry. The infection seems to be dying down, though. If she can beat the fever, she has a good chance."
"If she can beat the fever," he repeated.
"Her body doesn't seem to be reacting as it should to the illness."
"She's not used to actually being sick," Ariel pointed out. "Her immune system stops illnesses from getting in at all, she never has to fight them off."
"Huh. Then why is she sick at all?”
“I guess Pegasus bugs are different enough to fool her immune system. Dr Beckett says childhood illnesses have taken the base down a couple of times, no one has any immunity.”
“So it's like being a normal person. That must be weird for her." He glanced down as Ariel shifted, biting her lip. "You ok?"
"I'll get you something for that, lass." Dr Beckett moved away.
"Mr Harris," Woolsey said quietly. "I'm going to have to ask you to change your team."
"Excuse me?" Xander went to stand up; Ariel stiffened, and he relaxed again. "You have no say over who's on my team."
"Mr Harris, two members of your team have been violent against other people. One against her own team member."
"One under battle conditions, and one while delirious with fever. She doesn't know what she's doing."
"Her strength poses a danger..."
"So does Ronon's! He can throw your Marines around, I've seen him. If he contracted a fever - protecting your trade allies, at that - and accidentally hurt someone, would you send him away?"
Woolsey sighed. "Yes, I suppose you're right. Forgive me."
"Mmm." Xander glanced up as Dr Beckett returned, passing two pills and a cup of water to Ariel. "I'll ask Vida if she wants to go home, once she's better. Chris has already turned down a chance." He looked down at Ariel. "Do you want to go home?"
"No. I told you, we are as we need to be."
"Fair enough." He met Woolsey's eyes. "They all know they can go home if they want. The Trust doesn't care about them."
"Good enough for me," Sheppard murmured.
"Yes, I am forced to agree," Woolsey said.
“Oh, and while we're being honest?" Xander added. "Emily's ATA is the one that's been opening all the doors and turning on the lights around the place. I find it really hard to do, but she got it straight away."
"I see." Woolsey took a deep breath. "Any other little secrets?"
"No, I think that's it. If I remember anything else, I'll let you know."
Chris came in, glancing from Xander to Woolsey and Sheppard with a frown. “Hey, Ariel, how're you feeling?"
“Can she go back to our quarters, Dr Beckett?" Xander asked.
"Aye. Be careful moving around, Ariel. Take it very slow."
"She won't be moving." Chris took a step forward, taking Ariel's weight while Xander slid backwards a little. "Oh, Willow sent you a message. She said that Dawn won the pot, and she's going to take you out for a meal when you get back to celebrate. I meant to tell you earlier."
"Good to know. Thanks." Chris and Ariel vanished in blue lights, and he added, "Nice to have something to look forward to."
“Pot?” John asked.
“The ‘how long before Xander finds himself in danger’ pot. It was tripped when I met the Wraith.” He rose from the bed. “Excuse me, please. I should go see Vida.”
“I think we’ve spent longer sitting around recovering from injuries than we have doing anything else,” Parrish said a few days later.
Vida’s fever had broken two days after her injury. As Ariel had predicted, her Slayer immune system seemed unable to handle it, and she’d recovered only slowly. Today was her first day out of the infirmary, and she was only allowed to go as far as the commissary.
Ariel was still a little stiff, but she was moving much more easily. The strained back had kept her in bed for one miserable day before she’d recovered enough to move around.
“This is what happens out in the field,” Xander said absently.
“Hey, ki – guys. Can we join you?”
Xander waved agreement and Sheppard and Teyla joined them. Teyla was holding Torren, and Sheppard had both their trays.
“Hey, Torren.” Emily leaned over to tickle him.
“Are you feeling better?” Teyla asked, looking first at Vida and then Ariel.
“Yes, thank you.”
“Much,” Ariel agreed quickly.
“Xander,” Sheppard said, sliding Teyla’s tray down to her, “there was a message for you in the databurst this morning. Might want to check it out.”
“I will. Thanks.”
“What do you guys have planned for today?”
Before anyone could answer, Teyla said calmly, “If you have no plans, I would like to ask for your help.”
“What’s up?” Xander asked.
“Two of the young Athosians wish to marry. By tradition, the village will help raise their new home. But there are few of us, and it is harvest time. There is much work to do.”
"Sure, we can help with that," Xander agreed. "Unless there're any missions," he added, glancing at Sheppard.
"Not that I've heard. I'll check it out." He rose to his feet, shoving the seat back in.
"I'll come with you." Xander leaned over to grin at Torren before rising to his feet. "Vida, you’d better stay here for the day. Go down to the gym if you want, just don’t beat anyone up too badly. Em, are you done?"
"Yeah." She followed him out and up to the office.
Woolsey confirmed there were no missions scheduled for the day and agreed that the Council team might enjoy helping the Athosians for the day. He couldn’t spare anyone to go with them, unfortunately, and Sheppard’s team was going on a mission so Teyla couldn’t come, but Xander could fly the ‘Jumper perfectly well.
"Xander," Woolsey added, "there was a message for you in this morning's databurst. You should watch it before you go. Here, you can watch it here."
Xander blinked but nodded, moving around the desk. Woolsey found the file and pulled it up on his laptop before going to leave. "Ms Lightman?" he said softly. "You should wait outside."
"Do you know what the message is?" she asked.
"Broad strokes, yes. Please. You can wait just outside."
She studied him for a moment before nodding, following him out and closing the door behind her. "Is anyone dead?"
"No. Nothing like that." Woolsey glanced over her shoulder at Xander before turning away. "I will make sure there's a 'Jumper ready for you."
"Thanks," she murmured, turning back to watch Xander.
Xander waited for them to leave before hitting play on the file. The screen shifted and blurred for a moment before Daniel Jackson stepped into focus.
"Xander," he said. "I'm sorry. It's not good news. We've done everything we can, called in every marker we have, and we can't find the Trust. We don't know who threatened you. The only thing we know is that they can do as they've threatened.
"I spoke to your friends. I told them what I've just told you. They said I should say 'Snoopy dance' so you'd know this was really from them.
"Come home. They want you back here. They're ready to fight.
"The SGC will bring you back whenever you're ready. Good luck, Xander."
The camera shifted and faded to black again.
Xander sat absolutely still, staring at the screen.
After a while Emily tapped at the door. Xander raised his eyes to meet hers. "What is it?"
"We're ready. What's wrong?"
He took a breath to answer, considered, and shook his head. "Later. Let's get going." He flipped the screen down on the laptop, leaving it behind.
The Athosians swept them straight into work and Xander lost himself in carpentry. The Athosian style was similar to what he was used to, and he was able to show them a few tricks he knew.
Emily carried things and the others helped out where they could. Ariel and Parrish, after a while, went to help with the harvest rather than the house. Xander sent Chris with them and buried himself in the work again.
Halling came around a little before sunset and praised the work. The house was basically done, now; it only needed furnishings, and he assured the team they had those. "We have been preparing for this day for some time," he explained cheerfully. "Thank you very much. We are in your debt."
"It's nice to get to do something positive," Xander replied, grimacing as he straightened. Cramped muscles complained and he stretched, trying to ease them. "Where is everyone?"
"Eating. As you should be. Come."
Xander glanced around the village. “Maybe I should retire here."
"You would be welcome," Halling said, but he looked confused.
"Nothing. Only that you do not strike me as the type of man who could retire."
Xander laughed. "No. I suppose not. It's nice to dream, though."
"Yes," Halling agreed.
The others were already eating. Xander settled down beside them, enjoying the fresh food and joking with them. It was late when they finally left, loaded with more tea, trinkets and presents from the grateful Athosians.
"See, if we go back to Earth, maybe we should do that," Xander said to Chris as they headed back towards Atlantis.
"Raise houses? I'm not sure there's much call for it."
"Well, no. Just...it was nice to do something good. We could wander around, you know. Help people."
"Get paid in tea?"
"We could stay here and do that," Chris pointed out carefully. "There are thousands of planets here. Most of them could use a hand."
"Not go home?" Xander stared blankly at the controls for a moment. "We can't, Chris. If I vanish from Atlantis..."
“I know," Chris agreed. “If you fall off the radar the Trust declare the Council outlaws and start hunting down everyone even remotely attached to it."
"Including your family," Xander reminded him. "Your parents, your siblings, your cousins."
"I know, Xander. I understand it."
Xander thought for a moment, easing into an approach to Atlantis. "You could do it, if you wanted. You and the others. Just take off on the next mission. They couldn't follow you. They probably wouldn't try very hard.”
Chris smiled faintly. "No, because you're the important one, right?"
"Not what I meant. They're trying to help us."
Ariel leaned in from the back compartment. “You know we can hear you from back here, right? You didn't actually close the door."
"It wasn't a secret discussion," Xander said easily, shutting the 'Jumper down and running through the checklist.
Ariel stepped into the cockpit, waiting until the others were gone. "When are we going home, Xander?"
"Shouldn't you be telling me?" he asked without looking up.
"No. I haven't seen anything. I just think you're thinking about going home."
"Yeah." He sat back, studying her. "You know why we're here, right?"
"Mmm, keep the Trust from attacking the Council."
"Right. The SGC were hoping they could prevent it, they sent us out here to keep us safe, but they can't. The Trust is too well hidden and too deeply rooted and they can't stop it. We follow along like good little doggies or they make good on their threat."
Ariel sank into the co-pilot's seat, staring at him. "I think you'd be ok," he said thoughtfully. "Your mom's pretty prominent, and you could just go back home and keep your head down and you'd be fine. Chris and Parrish can do it too. But Vida and Emily are too obvious if you know what to look for, and there's nowhere I can hide. I'm too well known in certain circles."
"We'll stay here," Ariel said. "As long as you want us."
"It's hiding. Buffy taught me a lot of things, and I learned a lot more, and a biggie was; no hiding. It doesn't help. I hid on my wedding day and I destroyed the woman I loved."
"It's not hiding, it's...strategic. You're planning and preparing for going back to fight them."
Xander smiled, pulling her forward and planting a kiss on her forehead. “Thank you," he told her. "When I figure out what I'm doing, I'll let you know. Can you go check on Vida for me please?"
"Sure," Ariel agreed, leaving the 'Jumper.
Zelenka was checking something on a control panel by the door. Ariel paused, watching him. "I don't suppose I can convince you to put off checking the 'Jumper for a while?"
"Why?" he asked absently.
"Because...I feel like you should." Zelenka turned to study her; Ariel quickly looked as innocent as she could.
"I see," he said finally. "And have you any feeling on when I should complete the checks? 'Jumper may be needed at short notice."
"I feel like it should be at least a couple of hours," Ariel said firmly. "Yes, I think a couple of hours."
"Very well," he agreed. "Should I warn Xander away? I see him in there."
"Uh..." Ariel blinked, trying not to blush. "No. I think he's ok."
"That is very good to know. I would not wish him to be harmed. I will return later."
"Thanks," Ariel murmured.
Zelenka grinned at her, disconnecting his computer from the wall and leaving the bay.
"Xander, do we really need another meeting?" Vida complained. "That's all we ever do, is have meetings."
"Yes, we need another meeting," Xander said absently. "Where are Graham and Taylor?"
"They're on the way," Chris said from the doorway. "What's the point of the meeting, Xander?"
"Tell you when they get here," he murmured. Ariel, sitting on the windowsill, looked up at that.
"Something serious," Emily noted, watching them.
"Yes. Something pretty serious."
Taylor and Graham arrived and Chris followed them in, perching on the edge of the counter by the TV monitor.
"I got a message from the SGC this morning," Xander said without standing up. "They haven't been able to root out the Trust, and they don't think they can."
"So?" Taylor asked.
"So our choices are to stay here, where we're not really contributing anything, or go back to Earth and plunge the Council into a war. A war they'll have trouble winning, because Slayers can't kill humans. It's the cardinal law. And whatever else the Trust are, they're human."
"Debateable," Chris muttered. Xander glanced up at him, and he shrugged. "It's your choice, Xander. It's always going to be your choice. We're your team, we'll stay or follow you." Thinking for a moment, he added, “As long as it's not for more than about seven months. Parrish's birthday is then, she should really have it at home."
Xander laughed softly. "It won't be that long. I promise. It won't be very long at all." Looking at Taylor and Graham, he continued, "Once we go home, we won't be the team anymore so you guys will be released. In case it happens soon, I wanted to thank you. We couldn't have done this without you, and I hope you haven't burnt too many bridges you might need."
"It was fun," Taylor said lazily. "Like dealing with Max and Danny again. Never mind," she added when he raised an eyebrow. "It's mostly a private joke."
"You're always on my team,” Graham added. "If you're going home to a war I'll go with you."
"What, and get DD'd? Nah. Stay here. They need good people."
"Xander," Ariel said abruptly.
"Don't go home tomorrow. It can't be tomorrow."
"Not tomorrow. Got it." He looked at Emily and Vida. "Any opinions, girls? You know that if you wanted to stay here or at the SGC they'd make room for you."
"Yeah, but we'd have to follow orders," Vida pointed out.
"You're supposed to follow my orders!"
"Yes, of course we are, boss."
"And we do," Emily assured him brightly. "Honest. Every order. Really."
Xander groaned, throwing his hands up in the air. "I give up. You're going to do what you're going to do, I guess."
"That's very philosophical, boss,” Parrish said, patting his knee.
"Alright. Enough doom and gloom. Someone find a crappy movie and we'll make fun of it for a while."
Chris pulled the box around, eventually finding a movie they could all mock with very little effort. The group settled in for the night, ending up in various stages of curled around each other.
Ariel was still awake when Helia picked her way through the crowd and sat carefully next to her. "Is that what you meant?" she asked softly, keeping her voice down. "The war? Is that the darkness?"
"Perhaps. I told you, it's hard to see from over here. No, I came to say goodbye. You won’t see me or any of the other spirits in the City again.”
“Thank you,” Ariel murmured. “Is there anything I can do? To help you, or them?”
Helia thought for a moment. “You understand that, sometimes, the fate of a great many may depend on the actions of one, or very few?”
“Yes,” Ariel agreed, sitting up.
“A moment is approaching, and everything will depend on someone close to you. I don’t know when, or who, or what the choice will be. But if you see it, if you recognise the moment, help them make the choice.”
“I will,” Ariel promised quietly.
“And be nice to your sisters.”
“I’m always nice to them,” Ariel said mildly.
Helia smiled, rising to her feet and picking her way out of the room. Ariel watched her go.
Emily was watching her when she turned back. “Ok?” she asked softly.
“Yes. She’s just saying goodbye.” She smiled at the look on Emily’s face. “Never mind. Nothing wrong.”
Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
For the first time, Woolsey joined Xander in the commissary the next day. The rest of the team was
scattered around the base, but Graham was sitting with some Marines at a nearby table.
“Good morning, Mr Harris,” he said politely. “May I join you?”
“Sure,” Xander agreed, sitting up a little straighter.
“Where is your team?”
“Ariel is down with Vida. Dr Keller wanted to check her over one more time before signing her off. Chris and Parrish are doing something back in our quarters, some witch thing. Emily’s with Torren and Teyla on one of the balconies. They’re getting along really well.”
Woolsey smiled, nodding. “Teyla usually gets along with anyone who likes Torren.”
“I can see that,” Xander agreed.
Woolsey pushed his cup to one side, steepling his fingers. “Mr Harris, an exploratory team in the City discovered a section devoted to housing two days ago. They’ve been checked and declared clear by the science department. Shall I assign them to your team?”
Xander shook his head slowly. “No. Thank you. We’ll be going home soon.”
“I thought you might. You know that if your team wants to stay...”
“I know. I told them that.”
“The SGC will likely make the same offer.”
“Mmm. I told them that, too.”
“The Trust will fall eventually.”
“Yes. We’ll still be around. You can’t stop the Slayer line. It always keeps going.” He sat back in his chair. “I wonder why Slayers never rose on other planets. I mean, not here, but the human populations in the Milky Way are all from Earth originally, right?”
“As far as we’re aware, yes. Perhaps something in the atmosphere? There are always minute differences between planets.”
“Maybe. I should get Andrew onto that. It’s the kind of thing he’d enjoy researching.” He sat forward again, watching Woolsey carefully. “Thank you, for all the help you’ve given us. I’m sorry we were trouble.”
“On a scale, you weren’t trouble at all.”
“That’s the scale with AR1 at the top, right?”
“And the agoraphobic botanist down in the greenhouse on the other end, yes.”
“He grows good tomatoes,” Xander said absently.
“Yes. Good everything else, too.”
“When should we go?”
“There’ll be troops returning from here to the SGC in three days. We’ll send you through then, if that suits.”
“Yeah. That’ll be enough time for Vida to get back up to fighting trim.”
“Is she having trouble?”
“Not trouble, exactly. She’s just not used to being sick, and she keeps trying to do more than she should. She’ll get there.” He rose, picking up his tray. “I’ll go talk to everyone. Let me know if you want us to do anything in the meantime.”
The next day John found Xander in the gym, watching Teyla spar with Vida. Emily was on the other side of the room, watching the movements closely.
Teyla paused when John came in, glancing questioningly at him. John waved her off and she nodded, turning to Vida and demonstrating a move in slow motion.
“Might be a good thing you’re going,” he said, leaning against the wall beside Xander.
“Why’s that?” Xander didn’t look away from the fight, watching through narrowed eye.
“Your description’s being circulated with a reward attached. I had to guess, I’d say that Wraith you escaped is pissed.”
“Demon magnet,” he said with a sigh. “Never fails. Are any of the others listed?”
“Sort of. Tall dark haired man; young girl, long hair; young woman, short hair, temper.”
“Nice to be overlooked sometimes.”
They watched the fight for a minute. Xander winced as Vida’s leg slipped, but she recovered, forcing Teyla away for a moment so she could catch her breath.
“Tag!” she called, and Emily pushed off the wall, sliding into her place. Vida backed away, breathing quickly.
“Vee?” Xander asked.
“Fine. Just catching my breath.” To John, she added, “She’s very good. I’d love to bring her back home and unleash her on the baby Slayers.”
“We need her here, I’m afraid.”
“Yeah, she’d never get Torren back from them anyway. She’s probably safer here.”
Teyla swept Emily’s feet from under her, but before she could pin her the younger girl rolled away, regaining her feet. “Tag!”
“This isn’t really fair on Teyla,” John noted.
“It’s the only way they can keep in the fight,” Xander told him. “But if she’ll tag you...”
Teyla grinned, taking a step back and offering her weapon to John. “Tag.”
John took the weapon, swinging it a couple of times before sliding into a stance. “Ready.”
“You didn’t have to hurt him,” Xander protested.
“We were sparring. He saw how we fight and he wanted in anyway. I didn’t hurt him badly.”
“Vida, you nearly broke his nose! He’s gonna be a racoon for days.”
“He should have ducked faster.”
Xander threw up his hands, turning away. “No more sparring, unless it’s Ronon, Teyla or Emily. Got it?”
“Got it, boss.”
“He’s fine,” Chris said warily, watching Xander pace.
“Yes. He’s fine. Except with two black eyes and a nearly broken nose. He had to be sedated because he kept choking because he couldn’t breathe through his nose!”
“Xander.” Ariel stood, laying a hand on his arm. “It’s fine. No one’s angry. Teyla and John both agree that it was an accident and that he started sparring after already seeing them move. Everything’s fine.”
“You didn’t see all that right now,” Xander muttered.
“No. Emily’s down in the infirmary, we’re chatting.” She picked up her laptop, turning it to show him. “See? Everything’s fine. Relax.”
“Relax, right. I can do relaxing.” Xander dropped onto the nearest couch, throwing his head back. “One day. One day where nothing happens. Is that so much to ask?”
“Xander?” Graham put his head in through the door. “Woolsey wants you.”
“Thanks,” he muttered. “Ariel, ask Emily to come meet me.”
“Woolsey’s in the infirmary. You’ll have to go there.”
“Oh.” Xander glanced at Graham for confirmation. “All right, then. Everyone try not to hurt anyone else until I get back.”
Graham was smiling when Xander joined him in the corridor. "You shouldn't be too hard on her."
"She gave him two black eyes!"
"Yeah, and he admits it was his own fault, and everyone thinks it's cool. Sheppard's always getting hurt one way or another."
As they reached the infirmary Xander heard Dr McKay's voice rising above the noise. "It's not enough you throw yourself into danger on every single mission, you have to do it here on base too? You know those girls are stronger and faster than you are! Can't you be satisfied with Teyla kicking your ass every few days?"
"McKay," Sheppard was protesting, but McKay was continuing without pause.
"Ignore him," Dr Beckett advised him, walking past. "He does that every time Sheppard gets hurt. Mr Woolsey is in the office, if that's who you're after."
"It is, thanks. Do you know where Emily is?"
"Oh, she was helping one of the orderlies move some supplies. I'll send her in to you."
"Thanks," Xander said, heading for the office.
Woolsey was scanning through some files on his computer when Xander tapped on the door frame. "Mr Harris, come in."
"First of all," Xander said without moving, "I apologise on Vida's behalf. She didn't mean to..."
"That’s not why I asked you down here," Woolsey interrupted him. "Teyla and Colonel Sheppard are both very clear that this was the Colonel's fault. It's not the first training accident we've ever had. Vida is not in trouble."
"Oh. Thank you." Xander came in, sinking into a seat. "What's up, then?"
Woolsey clasped his hands on the desk. "There's an Ancient observatory on an otherwise empty planet..."
"We all know how that works out," Xander protested. "Send Sheppard."
“There's a time factor, and Colonel Sheppard has been removed from the mission list for a couple of days."
"This is that urgent? It can't wait three days?"
Woolsey shook his head. "Our scans indicate that the planet's sun is in the final stages of a supernova. It will collapse between two and five days from now. The information in that observatory could be very important, but we have no way to get at it without Colonel Sheppard."
"Right, so I have to go get it."
Emily slipped inside, taking up position just behind Xander's shoulder. "Mr Woolsey wants us to go to a planet under threat of supernova to find some information that may or may not be in an Ancient observatory," he told her.
"Business as usual, then,” Emily said brightly.
"Yeah. What do you think?"
"It might be a good idea to get Vida out of here for a little bit."
"True." He looked at Woolsey. "Can we take a 'jumper?”
"It's a Space Gate, so you'll need to. I'll send Dr McKay with you, he'll be able to determine quite quickly whether what we need is in the computer. Do you want a pilot?"
"No, I think between Dr McKay and me we'll manage. The planet is definitely empty?"
"Yes, there's something in the atmosphere that makes it impossible for any higher form of life to survive long term. Perfectly safe for this mission, but nothing has ever evolved there."
"I see. Well, I'll go talk to my team and see who wants to come. We'll be ready in..."
He trailed off and Woolsey offered, "An hour."
"We'll be in the 'Jumper bay in an hour."
"Thank you." He glanced in the direction of the infirmary. "I'll go inform Dr McKay."
"Good luck," Xander offered, leaving the office.
Ariel offered to come with them. Xander decided that three of them was enough. Vida was told in no uncertain terms that she was coming with them.
Dr McKay was already complaining when they reached the 'Jumper bay. "I have other things to be doing! Defences to upgrade! Scanners to fix! Surely someone else could do this?"
"Do you trust anyone else to check the computers properly?" Woolsey asked easily.
"No," McKay admitted.
"Dr Zelenka is going to keep on with the defence upgrades while you're gone."
"Don’t let him implement anything until I come back!"
"I'll tell him." Woolsey nodded to Xander and hurried out.
"Do you want to pilot?" Xander asked.
Dr McKay considered it. "Hmm. Risk crashing at your hands or reach the observatory unprepared."
"It's a tough choice," Xander agreed, turning to Ariel. “Ariel, which of us should fly?"
Ariel blinked, looking from him to Dr McKay and back. "You should. Definitely, you should."
"Thank you. After you, Dr McKay."
"I don't believe in psychics," Dr McKay announced. "I choose to let you pilot because I have preparations to make."
"That's fine by me. Let's go."
Xander insisted on orbiting the planet once to check for lifesigns. Reassured that it was in fact deserted, he landed them neatly by the observatory.
"That was not completely terrible," Dr McKay announced, standing up.
"Thank you. Vida, you first please."
Vida bounced down the ramp, quickly checking the outside of the building. "Nothing,” she announced. "No one's been here in a very long time."
"Good." Xander set the ‘Jumper to warn them if the star showed any signs of destabilising. He closed the rear door and glanced around. “Dr McKay, can you see a door?"
"Give me a minute." He poked at the screen of his lifesign detector. "Yes, it's over that way."
Xander nodded, glancing at Ariel. "What about you?"
"Nothing. I don't think anyone died here. It feels...not happy, exactly, but satisfied. Like it did what it set out to do."
"Here," McKay said more loudly, from further down the outside of the building. "It's not responding to my ATA."
"Let me try." Xander followed him down, touching the control panel and concentrating.
The door grumbled halfway open before freezing. Xander sighed, turning sideways to edge through. “Hang on,” he said. “I might be able to – ow – open it from inside.”
“You ok?” Vida called.
"Yeah, fine! Just lost a little skin, no big deal."
Ariel slid in behind him. "Wow, this place is cool," she said, voice echoing oddly.
The door ground open another foot or so before stopping with a jerk. "I can't get it any further!" Xander called out. "It's physical damage. Can you get through?"
Vida slid inside, turning back to take McKay's bag. "Yeah," she said, watching critically as he shoved himself through. "Let's hope we don't have to leave in a hurry, though."
The lights flickered up. Almost half had stopped working and the remaining ones were weak, throwing patches of light rather than lighting up the whole area.
"All right. Let's see what we've got here," McKay said, taking his bag from Vida and crossing to the nearest console. “Xander, come and turn this one on for me."
Xander stepped out of a patch of shadow. "Boo," he said as he passed Vida. "Run a perimeter, will you? Better safe than sorry and all that."
Vida nodded, heading off towards the nearest wall. Ariel was standing there, studying an engraving there.
"Something wrong?" Vida asked, pausing beside her.
"No, no. I just...no, it's nothing. Go on. Xander? Borrow you for a second?"
Vida wandered off to check the perimeter. The room wasn't that big, and she could hear Xander and Ariel murmuring behind her.
Abruptly the room flooded with light and she hissed, dropping into a crouch. Her eyes adjusted rapidly and she looked around.
"Sorry!" Xander called, rubbing his eyes. "Sorry, my bad."
Vida glanced upwards. The roof had telescoped open, letting the sunlight pour in.
"Nice," McKay said grudgingly. "A little warning next time, maybe?"
"Sorry, that was me," Ariel said. "I just figured, it's an observatory. It had to open, right? Xander just thought 'open'. My fault."
"Whoever it was, remember to warn us next time."
Vida turned slowly on the spot, examining the room. Two passages opened from the main room, disappearing into darkness.
"Xander?" she called. "Just going to check those out."
"Don't go too far."
"I won't." She wandered down the first passage.
The sunlight didn't stretch this far and the lights were flickering, throwing shadows. Vida drifted from one to the next, staying out of the light out of habit. There were several rooms off the corridor, mostly living areas, all striped and completely empty. There was a small kitchenette at the end, also completely stripped and empty. Some of the furniture was covered in clear plastic sheets.
She went back through the main room, where McKay was complaining that Xander just wasn't trying hard enough and Xander was protesting that if he tried any harder his eyes would pop out. Ariel was sitting on a non working console, legs swinging as she watched them. Vida caught her eye and gestured to the second passage; Ariel waved her off.
This corridor had only one room, right at the far end. The door was locked; Vida stood on her toes, peering through the tiny window set into the door. The room was pitch black and she couldn't see anything inside.
Back in the main room McKay had found the log and was studying it, frowning. "What's up?" Xander asked.
"It doesn't seem like the Ancients." He turned the screen so Xander could see it.
"I can't read Ancient."
"It's talking about a thing, something they found and brought back. Something that affected them.." He scanned down the screen. "It's all in fragments."
"It didn't save properly?"
"It saved. They weren't writing it properly. Look, here it's talking about the research they did, and then it mentions screaming and then just stops. And here, it's saying something about the lights..."
Ariel and Xander both automatically looked up. Several more of the lights had faded, unnoticed because the roof was open.
"Ok," Xander said abruptly. "Dr McKay, is there anything useful in there?"
"Good. Find it and let's go. Ariel, give him a hand. I'm going to find Vida."
Ariel pointed him to the second passage and he nodded, heading down it at a jog. The lights had almost totally faded here. "Vida? Vida!"
She was still on tip toes against the door, one ear pressed to it. "Hey, Xander, c'mere," she said, catching his arm and pulling him towards the door. "Do you hear anything?"
"I hear someone who shouldn't be here. We're getting ready to leave."
"We just got here!"
"And now we're getting ready to leave."
"Listen," she insisted, pinning him against the door with one hand.
"Vida, ow!" He pushed at her arm without result. “All right, I'm listening, see?" He pressed his ear against the door. "No. I don't hear anything."
"Someone’s in there."
"No one's in there, the place has been deserted for ten thousand years. Come on, Vida. Let me go."
Ariel called their names from the other end of the corridor. "We're coming!" Xander yelled. "Stay with Dr McKay!"
"Open the door," Vida said, finally letting him go.
"Open the door. Then we'll know. You think there's nothing in there, so opening the door won't hurt anything. Just open it."
Xander touched the door, thinking 'close close close!' as hard as he could. "Sorry, Vee, it must have rusted up like the outside one. Let me see if I can get the lights on."
That one he genuinely tried to do. He didn't think the lights could do any damage. Only one of the lights inside powered on, though, lighting up one small corner of the room.
Vida pushed him to one side, rising onto her toes again to peer through the window. Xander took the opportunity to reach for his communicator, squeezing it lightly. Ariel's would now be beeping an alarm. Unfortunately, the ones on Atlantis would probably be beeping as well, but there was nothing he could do about that.
Ariel vanished from the top of the corridor. Xander breathed a soft sigh of relief.
"Look!" Vida caught his arm again, pulling him against the window.
"Vida, you're hurting me," he said firmly. She ignored him, pointing excitedly.
"Look, look! Right there!"
Xander looked to humour her, and then frowned. "Is..."
"Movement, someone's moving in there!" Vida beamed proudly.
"Ok, but Vida, think about this. The place has been empty for ten thousand years. Whatever's in there isn't human, and it's probably angry."
"Not human doesn't mean evil, and maybe it'll be glad we let it out!"
"Unfortunately, we can't, because the door's stuck. Remember? Come on, we have to go."
"We can't go, it'll die when the star goes nova. Xander, open the door."
Xander took a deep breath. "I told you, I can't. It's stuck, or frozen or something. We have to go, Vida. Let me go."
"Where's your axe?"
"I didn't bring it, Vee...ow!"
Vida shoved him to one side, hard enough that he crashed into the wall. Drawing her dagger, she began trying to force it between the door and the jamb.
Xander blinked, rubbing his head. The bang left him slightly fuzzy and for a moment he couldn't remember what was happening.
"Xander, help me get the door open," Vida said impatiently.
“Yeah, all right," he agreed dully, climbing awkwardly to his feet. He didn't have a dagger – h wasn't wearing a weapon, for some reason – so he started scrabbling at the gap with his bare hands.
"This is ridiculous," someone complained from somewhere far away. Vida was turning away when she stumbled, collapsing against him. There was a hand on his arm, tugging him away, and he went vaguely.
In the main room the person pushed him gently against a console until he sat. "Xander."
"Yeah, Ariel," he said distantly.
"What were you doing?"
"Opening the door."
She vanished for a minute and he stared blankly into space until she came back, pale and shaking. "Come on, time to go."
He followed her obediently. McKay was waiting at the half-open door, Vida propped against him. "Ready?" he demanded.
"Yeah. Hang on. Xander, you need to go out first and then help Vida, ok?"
"Yes," he said agreeably, taking a step forward.
"No, no, me first. Then you. Then...?"
"Good." Ariel glanced at McKay. "Hold onto her for a second."
"Yes, yes, let's just get out of here."
Ariel slipped through the door. Xander followed her, reaching back for Vida.
"You're going to have to pilot," Ariel told McKay as he joined them.
“Yes, I'd guessed. Let's go, then."
The 'Jumper was still exactly where they'd left it – Ariel had been half expecting it to have vanished – and she hustled her teammates inside. "Sit down here, Xander. If you want to go to sleep, you can."
"Ok," he said agreeably.
"Are you tired?"
"A little bit."
"Get some rest then. We're going back to Atlantis, ok?"
McKay finished the preflight and called over his shoulder, "Ariel, come here and sit down." Ariel slipped into the co pilot's seat beside him. "Here we go. Do you know the 'Gate address for Atlantis?"
"Yes. I don't know this planet's symbol, though."
"When I tell you, dial the ones you know."
"Hey!" Xander's voice, sounding baffled, rose from the rear section. "What are you doing?"
Ariel twisted to look over her shoulder. Vida was tearing at the back of the 'Jumper, trying to get it open.
"Does that door lock?" she demanded.
"It won't open while we're flying, not unless I tell it to. It's a safety precaution."
Vida was eerily silent, tearing mindlessly at the door. Ariel shuddered at the dark cloud surrounding her.
"Start dialling," McKay ordered. Ariel turned back around, pressing the symbols quickly. McKay leaned over and pressed the last one.
"Atlantis, this is 'Jumper three, we're coming in. Med team to the 'Jumper bay."
"What's wrong, Dr McKay?" someone asked.
"Some kind of mind control. Get Ronon up here, Vida's been affected."
"Get Emily as well," Ariel added.
"Just Vida?" Woolsey asked.
"Xander, a bit, but he's just sort of quiet and pliable. Vida's desperate to get back there. She's trying to rip the door off."
"You can come through, Dr McKay," Woolsey announced.
A crack echoed up from the back as they exited the wormhole and Ariel spun. Vida had ripped an access panel from the door and was smashing at it furiously.
"Do your guys have zats?" she asked grimly.
McKay stared at her for a moment before triggering the radio again. "Ronon, better bring your weapon, and be ready."
"Got it," he agreed.
The 'Jumper slotted into place in the Bay. McKay grimaced as Vida redoubled her efforts. "Ronon?"
McKay triggered the door and Vida charged, panel held high. Ronon shot her, holding the blast on her for longer than usual. Vida wobbled, letting the panel drop, and glared at him.
"Again,” Emily said from the side, and he fired again. Vida wobbled, finally going down. Emily darted in quickly enough to catch her before her head hit the floor.
Ariel had roused Xander and they shuffled down the ramp together. "Xander, do you know where we are?" she asked.
"Uh..." He looked around uncertainly. "That place...not the SGC, the other one."
"Close," she muttered. "You remember Dr Keller? Can you go with her? I'll go find the others and we'll come down and meet you."
"Ok," he agreed. He was watching Dr Beckett fasten a strap across Vida's stretcher, keeping her in place. "What's wrong with Vida?"
"She's tired. Going to have a little rest." Ariel handed him over to Dr Keller and winced, scrubbing her hands against her top.
"Something wrong?" Ronon asked.
"They're...dirty. There's this cloud, it's worse over Vida and a little over Xander, and it feels slimy. Dirty." She scrubbed her hands against her top again.
Woolsey stepped around the stretcher and came to join her. "Ms DuBois, can you please tell me what happened?"
"There's a room in the station, and there's...something...trapped in it. Something not human, not really...and it wants out. Vida was trying to break down the door. She’s still trying to get back to it. Xander’s just sort of pliable. Vida told him to break down the door, so he did. We’re lucky she didn’t say to open the door, he’d have done that too and we’d all be dead.”
“You think he’s ok?”
“I hope so. “ Ariel scrubbed her hands against her top again. “There’s something there, I can see it on them. Like a cloud.”
“All right. Thank you. Please report to the infirmary.”
“You need to isolate Vida, probably sedate her.”
“We will,” Woolsey assured her.
Ariel turned away. She was shaking, she realised distantly.
Someone touched her shoulder and she turned. Ronon was watching her.
“I’m, uh...” she held up one hand, watching it shake.
Ronon glanced over his shoulder. “McKay! I’m gonna walk Ariel down to the infirmary.”
“Fine,” McKay said, waving him off. “I’ll meet you down there.”
“I’m all right,” she said.
“I have to go down there anyway. Sheppard was complaining about being bored.”
Chris was waiting just outside the infirmary. Ariel took a step towards him and stumbled, reaching desperately for him. Chris caught her, pulling her tight against his chest.
“Shock,” Ronon said over her head.
“Thanks,” Chris said. “Ariel, can you walk with me?”
She nodded, following blindly as he led her into the infirmary. Emily murmured something she didn’t quite hear, and Chris let go for a moment before guiding her up onto a gurney.
“Is she all right?” Dr Keller asked as she passed.
“It’s just shock, she wasn’t hurt,” Chris assured her. “How...”
“Xander’s fine. We suggested he might be tired and he agreed and went straight to sleep. We’ve had to sedate Vida, she was already throwing off the blast effects.”
“You’ll need to keep sedating her,” Emily warned. “We burn it off very quickly. Isolation might work better.”
“The isolation room isn’t designed for someone as strong as Vida. If it comes to it we’ll have to use the brig.”
Ariel shifted, drawing away from Chris and straightening. “Hi,” Dr Keller said gently. “How are you feeling?”
Ariel lifted her hand and watched it shake. “Not sure. How’s Xander?”
“Xander’s fine, he’s sleeping.”
“Good.” She glanced at Chris. “Sorry. I got your shirt wet.”
“It’s fine.” He smiled, rubbing her arm lightly. “I grew up with lots of younger cousins, remember? I’ve had worse things on me.”
The orderlies pushed Vida’s bed through the ward. Ariel swallowed hard, staring at the cloud of darkness swirling over her.
Chris was still talking, but she couldn’t hear his words. Gasping, she whirled, burying her face against his chest again.
“What are you seeing?” he asked into her ear.
“It’s dark, like a cloud, it’s all over her...” she gasped. “I can’t...Chris, I can’t...”
“It’s all right, it’s all right. Shush. It’s fine.”
Dr Keller murmured something and Chris nodded; she felt the movement through her head. There was movement around the bed for a moment.
“Ariel, I’m going to touch your arm, ok?” Dr Keller said. “I want to check your pulse.”
She didn’t jump at the touch, but she did push her face more firmly into Chris’s shoulder. The pinch didn’t surprise her; the warm feeling that swept rapidly through her body was almost welcoming.
Ariel fell asleep almost straight away. Chris carefully eased her down until she was lying on the gurney, gripping his sleeve tightly.
“Em,” he said, scrubbing at his face with his free hand, “Find Graham and Taylor, please, and Parrish. None of us are alone until we sort this out. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to take the bulk of watching Vida. I can help once Ariel wakes up.”
“Got it,” she agreed, heading out of the room.
“You need a chair?” Dr Keller asked.
“Thanks. I don’t think I’m going anywhere for a while.” He shifted slightly. Ariel’s grip on his sleeve only tightened.
Xander woke up several hours later. He was still just as pliable, but he was much more confused; he couldn’t seem to remember anything he was told for more than a few minutes. He recognised his team, with prompting, but he couldn’t remember where he was or recognise anyone from Atlantis.
Chris was still sitting with Ariel when she started to wake. She’d let go of his sleeve a little while before, but she still reached for it every few minutes.
“Hey,” he said gently when her eyes opened. “How’re you feeling?”
“I’m tired,” she murmured.
“You remember what happened?”
“Mmm.” She scrubbed at her face. “Chris, if she looks like that, I can’t...”
“It’s all right. We’re going to be careful, you won’t have to see her.” Leaning away from the bed, he scanned the room. “Dr Keller?”
She came towards them, smiling when she realised Ariel was awake. “Hey there. How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” she said again, “but all right. Not about to break down all over Chris’s shirt, anyway.”
“Always a good sign.” Dr Keller put her chart down with a smile. “Let me see your wrist?”
She ran through the checks again and finally pronounced herself satisfied. “You can go back to your quarters if you want.”
“Can I see Xander?”
“If you want. He’s a little confused, but he’s not in any danger, all right?”
“Got it,” she agreed. When Dr Keller walked away, she added softly, “That seems like a bad sign, if she has to stress the danger he’s not in.”
“It’s kind of scary. But come on, anyway.” He helped her out of bed, guiding her through the ward to Xander’s room.
“How come he gets a room and I got a curtain?” Ariel protested.
“He’s tried to wander off a couple of time. This seemed safer.”
Ariel blinked. “He’s not...”
“Trying to get back there? No. He just doesn’t know where he is.”
Taylor was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching Xander roam around the room. “Hey, Ariel,” she said, smiling. “Hi Chris.”
“Hi.” Ariel watched Xander for a moment before saying, “Hi, Xander.”
“Hi Ariel,” he said distractedly. “Where are we?”
He thought about it, screwing up his face. “No,” he decided. “Where are Buffy and Giles and...and...”
“And who?” Ariel asked gently.
“The girl,” Xander whispered. “With the red hair. Ariel, I don’t remember, I’ve known her my whole life, better than anyone, and I don’t...”
“Willow,” she told him. ”Her name is Willow. It’s all right, Xander, everything’s fine.”
“Willow,” Xander repeated. “Willow, Willow, Willow, Willow, Willow.”
When he looked up his eyes were clear. “Ariel?”
“What’s wrong with me?”
“We’re not sure,” she admitted. “Something got hold of you and Vida. Something on that planet, do you remember?”
“No...yes. Something behind the door.”
“Right. You didn’t let it out, and you warned us, but Vida’s still trying to get back to it.”
“It can’t get out,” Xander said quickly. “It’s so dark, Ariel, it can’t get out...”
“It won’t. The sun’s about to go nova, remember? It won’t get out.”
“Right, right, yeah. I remember. Nova, yeah.”
“Dr McKay’s looking through the information he brought back to figure out what it is, the thing. They’ll get there.”
“Ok. Thanks.” Xander patted her on the shoulder as he paced past her.
Ariel jerked backwards, almost falling off her seat. Xander blinked, turning back towards her, and she threw out a hand to ward him off. “Don’t...”
“What?” he demanded, staying exactly where he was. Taylor got to her feet, moving around the bed to help Ariel up.
“Sorry.” Ariel sat on the edge of the bed, leaning over and wrapping her arms around her stomach. “I’m sorry, Xander, you can’t touch me.”
“It’s in you. I can’t look at Vida, even, but you’re fine if you don’t touch me. That’s all, just don’t touch me.”
“OK.” Xander nodded jerkily. “Ok. I’ve got it. Sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” she whispered. “I have to go.”
“Yeah. I’ll be here.”
She slid off the bed, letting herself out of the room. Xander watched her go, frustrated.
“It’ll be ok, Xander,” Taylor offered.
“What?” He looked back at her, eyes wide and blank again. “Where are we?”
Ariel spent most of the rest of the day sleeping in their quarters. Chris left Parrish with her and stayed in the infirmary himself, helping Emily keep an eye on Vida. The infirmary staff were still keeping her sedated.
Taylor stayed with Chris for a while longer before switching off with Graham. He never recognised them again, nor his surroundings, but at least he wasn't getting violent; just confused.
At the end of the evening Chris left Graham with Xander and sent Emily and Taylor to get something to eat, telling them to pick up Ariel and Parrish on the way. Vida's sedatives were starting to wear off – Slayer or not, there was only so much a body could take – and he watched as she became more and more restless.
When she woke she lay absolutely still, staring at the ceiling.
"Vida," he said quietly.
She rolled her head to the side, studying him. "Chris," she said finally.
"How are you feeling?"
She tugged lightly at her straps. "Constricted."
"You'll have to forgive that, they're a bit afraid of you breaking out and hurting someone."
"Uh huh. Isn't that more your line?"
Chris sucked in a breath. "Vida..."
"No, I'm sorry,” she said over him. “That wasn't fair, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. I just...what the hell is happening, Chris?"
"Tell me about the door, Vida."
He saw her tense, but she relaxed and tried to brush it off. "Door?"
"The door on the planet. Tell me about it."
"The one that got stuck? We all had to turn sideways. I thought McKay was going to get stuck."
"Not that door."
"Oh..." She shuddered once, helplessly. "Chris, please, we have to get it open, he has to come out..."
"No. No, he's going to stay right where he is."
"He'll die!" She arched off the bed as much as she could.
"Good. Maybe he'll let go of you, then."
Vida yanked fiercely and one of her straps gave way. Chris grimaced, waving a hand to pin her in place.
"How long can you keep that up?" she hissed, watching him. “I've seen you in fights, Chris, you're useless. You're a sprinter. I'm a marathon runner."
"I can hold you there as long as I have to," he said calmly. "Keep yelling, Vida, it doesn't mean anything to me. Soon enough they'll be in to give you another sedative."
She jerked, but his grip held firm and she collapsed back against the bed. "We'll see."
"Yeah," he agreed. "We will."
They moved Vida to the brig on the third day.
Ariel was spending most of her time with Xander, now. Her presence was only just enough to lift the blanket from his mind, but it still worked and so she stayed with him as much as possible. Chris and Emily traded off staying in the brig, keeping an eye on Vida. The med staff had been forced to stop sedating her, and she spent her time pacing the confines of the cell, over and over. She'd tried pressing against the bars, deliberately burning herself, but Chris was able to force her back into the centre of the cell and she'd given up after a while.
The rest of the team kept them fed and stayed out of their way. Sheppard kept a couple of guards in the brig, wandering down every so often to make sure they were ok. Woolsey checked in on all of them once or twice a day and made sure they had everything they needed. Between them, Zelenka and McKay had gone through everything in the observatory's database. Nothing had explained what the creature was or how it had managed to take control of them.
"Why is it affecting them so differently?" Dr Beckett asked, watching as Ariel coaxed Xander into eating.
"Xander hadn't a hope of getting through that door, even in a frenzy. Vida did. She'd do anything to get through. Xander would have killed himself without getting anywhere, but there are other things he'd be good for, so it just made sure he was listening." Ariel rubbed her hand against her top. The move had become habit for her now.
“Are you all right, lass?”
“It’s wearing me down,” she murmured. Louder, she added, “I’m all right for today, anyway. Promise.”
“All right, then.”
Xander stiffened suddenly, toppling off the bed and beginning to seize. Dr Beckett shoved the bed out of the way, saying sharply, “Call the nurse!”
“Infirmary, we need a med team in the brig, on the double!” the intercom yelled. Ariel grabbed the first nurse she saw, shoving him towards Xander’s room and touching her radio. “Chris?”
“Xander is too...do you think they...”
“Let’s hope,” he said grimly. “Stay up there, we’ll let you know what’s happening.”
Ariel slipped back into the room, plastering herself against the wall by the door. The seizure seemed to have ended; Dr Beckett and the nurse were lifting Xander back onto the bed.
Dr Beckett sent the nurse for a syringe and some medicine and noticed Ariel, smiling tiredly. “It’s all right, lass, he’s fine.”
Ariel nodded without speaking. She was watching the dark cloud dissolve like smoke, drifting into nothingness. When it was completely gone she risked taking a step forward, leaning one hand against Xander’s shoulder.
Nothing happened. She closed her eyes in relief; when she opened them, Dr Beckett was watching her closely. “Should I take it that he is not being controlled anymore?”
Ariel nodded. “The sun must have...it’s gone, it’s all gone and he’s fine. She’s going to be fine.”
“Good,” Dr Beckett said briskly. “Well done. Now, take a step back for a few minutes, lass, while I check his vitals.”
Ariel did so, touching her radio again. “Chris, Xander’s fine. He’s still asleep, but it’s gone, the cloud.”
“Good,” Chris said, sounding relieved. “Vida hasn’t woken up yet, but they say she’s fine, so...they won’t move her up there until she wakes up, I’m guessing, but it looks good right now.”
“Great.” She turned the radio off. “Dr Becket, I think I need to sit down.”
He caught her arm quickly, helping her into the nearest chair. “Y’are a wee bit pale, love. Put her head down between your legs and I’ll fetch you something to drink.”
“Thank you,” she murmured.
Chapter 11: Chapter Eleven
So this is the last chapter. As you'll note when you read it, it's left very open for a sequel. I am working on it; I have the outline and parts of it are written up. It will appear, I promise.
I would really love to know what you'd like to see, though. Characters, plot points, anything at all. Let me know: all submissions will be carefully considered.
Thanks for reading this far, and I hope you enjoyed it. :D
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Vida woke up about three hours later. Chris tested her carefully, finally opening the door of the brig and suggesting she leave. She looked at it uncertainly, but stayed where she was. Chris called Ariel down to look at her; Ariel pronounced her black cloud free and went straight back to the infirmary to sleep.
Xander woke about half an hour after that; he remembered everyone’s names and knew where they were, though he was a little fuzzier on the current American President when asked. Chris declared that a pre-existing condition, and Beckett said he could leave.
They left Emily with Ariel and went to the commissary’s balcony. After a while Sheppard and Ronon joined them; Sheppard reminisced about the various times someone either in Atlantis or the SGC had been mind controlled.
“It’s sort of a rite of passage around here,” he said. “Get controlled by something evil, make out with the alien princess – or prince, whatever – die and come back to life. Dr Jackson has the record on that one at the moment.”
“He can have it,” Xander said. “Buffy’s on her third life at the moment. I’ve been a hyena, a soldier, controlled by Dracula...”
“Dracula?” Sheppard repeated. “This I have to hear.”
Xander launched into the story, highlighting Giles’ ‘peril’ at the hands of Dracula’s ladies and minimising his own part. When he was done, Chris related some of his mother and aunts’ adventures. The wood nymphs were the most popular, for whatever reason.
Eventually Emily called Xander to tell him Ariel had woken up, and the team cleared up to head back. Sheppard got Xander on his own for a moment. “It’s not a big deal, you know.”
“I’m starting to gather that,” he agreed.
“You missed the group going back to the SGC. The next one’s in a week, so we think you should wait for that.”
“Sounds good to me,” he agreed. “You guys willing to put up with us for that long?”
“I think we’ll manage. You haven’t broken anything irreparable yet.”
“Possibly my pride, but I’m sure I’ll regain it at some point.” Xander grinned, going to rejoin his team.
They headed out to see the Athosians a couple of days later. Xander piloted the ‘Jumper, and they brought some more trade items. Teyla was offworld and unable to come, but they brought messages and a couple of small gifts she’d left for them.
In the sunlight Ariel seemed to relax for the first time. She’d been jumpy and nervous since Xander and Vida had recovered, flinching if they moved too quickly and staring suspiciously at the air over their heads. Both had tried to be careful around her, but there was only so much they could do.
In the open air, though, she was more relaxed, laughing and joking with Jinto and his friends. She even helped them catch harahs, though she only held them for a few moments at a time, long enough to pass them off to someone else.
“She seems better,” Chris noted to Xander after a while.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I think she likes it here. Maybe she should stay.”
“Here in Pegasus? With her family on Earth? I don’t think so.”
“No,” he agreed reluctantly. “I guess not.”
Emily came to join them, flushed and laughing from the spontaneous game of tag that had developed. “You’re it,” she said, tapping Chris on the shoulder.
“I only play orb and go seek,” he informed her. “And I’m a little short of competition in that game.”
“Well, why don’t you orb somewhere, and I’ll seek?” She threw herself down in the grass at Xander’s feet, closing her eyes. “Let me know when you want to be found.”
Chris grinned. “Where’s Parrish?”
“She went off somewhere with Jinto. They’re getting on very well.”
Chris’s eyes widened and he hurried off. Xander laughed, joining her on the ground. “That was cruel.”
“I know, I’m evil. It’s my father’s influence.”
“You’re remarkably sanguine about it.”
“Well, you learn to deal with these things. I’ve gotten over it.”
“Good for you. I’m glad you’re happy.”
“Very.” She propped herself up on her elbows, studying him. “What about you, Xander? Are you happy?”
“Oh, this is not ‘analyse Xander hour’, Em. Go have fun with the others.”
“Come with me. Have some fun. See how the world doesn’t end.”
“Yeah. All right.” He climbed back to his feet, reaching back to give her a hand up. “Oh, and Emily?”
He smiled warmly, gripping her shoulders. “Emily Lightman...you’re it.”
He was gone before she reacted, dashing towards the others with a yell of delight. Emily grinned, chasing him and taking care not to go too fast. She didn’t want the game to end.
They stayed to eat, at Halling’s insistence, eating outside as there were so many of them. Kanaan joined them with Torren and they passed on Teyla’s presents to him. Jinto had managed, despite Chris’ attempts to block it, to get a seat next to Parrish, and they spent the meal laughing and joking – quite deliberately on Parrish’s part, Xander though. She loved yanking Chris’s chain.
Xander himself was tired and happy, sitting propped against Vida and chatting amiably with Halling. They’d developed a fast friendship in their few meetings, and Xander knew he’d miss the steadfast man when he returned to Earth.
“Earth,” he said out loud, without really meaning to.
“Are you returning home, Xander?” Halling asked.
“Yeah, pretty soon. Time to face what’s coming to us, I think.”
“All of you?” Halling glanced at Ariel, who was laughing at something Jinto had said.
“I’d tell her to stay if I thought she’d listen, but her parents and sisters are on Earth. She won’t abandon them.”
“Family is very important,” Halling agreed. “Very precious. One must hold on to it tightly, both born and made.”
“Yeah.” Xander smiled faintly. “I know what you mean. Family’s the best.”
“I am pleased you have found yours.”
“You know, that’s what Ariel said about Atlantis. That it took people who didn’t belong anywhere else and gave them a place. It fits itself around them, she said.”
“Ariel is wise. There are many on Atlantis who, as you say, don’t fit anywhere else.”
“It’s a beautiful place. I’m glad I saw it. But I’m ready for home now.”
“I wish you well on your journey,” Halling said solemnly. “In fact...please wait one moment.” He rose to his feet, picking his way through the group and entering his home.
When he came back out he pressed a small bundle into Ariel’s hands. “Tea,” she said in delight.
“Our best teas. All picked by Jinto or myself.” To Xander, he gave a small wooden carving of Atlantis. “It is not accurate, of course. But it will serve to remind you, when you are far away. There is a place where you belong.”
Three days later, Xander’s team gathered in the ‘Gate room. Vida was back to full strength; Dr Beckett had signed her off the day before. Xander was also pretty much back to normal, though he was on warning not to do anything too strenuous.
Ariel was sitting at the base of the steps, watching the team mill around. Emily dropped to sit beside her, grinning. “You ok?”
“Yeah. I just, you know, just got my sleeping straightened out.”
“The times are a lot closer this time,” Emily assured her. “They’re only about an hour out. You shouldn’t have any lag to deal with.”
“Oh, good. How’d that happen?”
"Atlantis runs on a twenty eight hour day, so it's always changing." She studied Ariel for a moment. "Are you sure you're ok?"
"I never really liked seeing ghosts. I mean, I grew up with it. We all did. But it always kind of...creeped me out."
"And now it doesn't?"
"Not as much, anyway. Helia was trying to help, as much as she could. It makes it easier."
"Uh huh. Glad you came, then?"
"Good. Come on, we're just about ready."
Woolsey came out of his office and came down to join them. "I know that Mr Harris has already told you," he said. "But I feel I must say it again. If any of you wish to stay here, you are welcome."
There was dead silence for a moment. Xander turned and eyed his group.
"Thank you, sir," Emily said clearly, "but we're Xander's team."
"So I see. Very well." Looking up at the balcony, he said, "Please dial the 'Gate for Earth."
The rest of the troops filed through first. Xander watched his team walk though before nodding to Woolsey and Sheppard. Graham followed him as he stepped through.
Colonel Mitchell met them at the base of the ramp. "Welcome back."
"Thank you, Colonel." Xander glanced past him, automatically logging his team's presence. "Did we miss anything exciting while we were away?"
Mitchell appeared to think about it. "The final of American Idol was last week."
"I said exciting, not mind-numbingly boring."
"Then, no. You're gonna have to go to the infirmary, but we're gonna send you to quarters first, get through the returning troops. Is that ok?"
"Sure." He followed Mitchell out of the room.
Back in the familiar quarters, Xander flopped onto his bed. "I'm beat," he announced.
"You feeling all right?" Chris asked, glancing at the hand he'd pressed to his side.
"Yeah. Just tired. Listen, when we're done in the infirmary I need a favour."
"Sure. What's up?"
"Take Emily home for a little while. And take Ariel home for a while. And you and Parrish go home for a while. And Chris? If anyone doesn't come back? There won't be any notice drawn to it. Got it?"
"You're my team," Xander said over him. "Take them home and see what happens. If anyone comes back, brilliant. If Ariel decides she wants to stay home and go to college instead of fighting in a war she didn't start, that's fine too. Please?"
"Sure," he agreed. "I'll take them."
"Thanks." Xander pulled out the pillow, burying his face in it. "Now I gotta get some rest. Wake me up when the doctor wants me."
"What's the plan?"
Xander glanced up, one hand pressed firmly to the spot on his arm where his blood had just been drawn. "Sorry?"
"The plan," Mitchell repeated, pushing off the wall and pacing into the room. "You have a plan, right?"
"My plan is to talk to Buffy, Willow and Giles, and see what their plan is."
"Uh huh. Look, you know if you want..."
"You'd hide the Slayers down here. I know. But they can't do what they need to if they're trapped down here."
"They can't do what they need to if they're being hunted down, either," he pointed out sharply. "At worst, we could send them through to Pegasus. They could start hunting a new type of vampire."
"I will keep that in mind," Xander promised. "It's a good plan, actually. Thank you."
"No problem. Anything we can do to help."
Dr Lam came back in. "Xander, you can go if you want. We'll have to wait a while for the blood test to come back, but everything else checks out."
"Thanks." Xander slid down off the bed. "Is anyone else still here?"
"Taylor's waiting for you, but the others are gone back to your quarters."
"Thanks." He nodded to Mitchell, heading out.
Chris found Emily in her room, reading a magazine. "Hey," he said softly. "Got a minute?"
"Sure. Is something wrong?"
"No. Xander wants me to take you to see your parents. Just in case anything happens."
"Oh. Ok." She stood, letting him touch her shoulder.
They appeared just outside the Lightman building, Emily's father's business. "Emily," Chris said, catching her shoulder as she turned to go inside. "I'm going to be back here in an hour. If you're not here, I'm going to go back to the base. Understand?"
Emil nodded quickly. "Yeah. I understand. But I'll be here."
"That's what I said, but you know Xander. See you in an hour." He glanced at his watch before orbing back out.
Ariel's reaction was much the same as Emily's when Chris explained it to her. She asked him to stay with her, because if her mother was on a case she could be anywhere.
"Anyone home?" she called, letting them into the house.
"Ariel!" Her father appeared from the bedroom, scooping her into a hug. "What are – why didn't you tell us you were coming home?"
"It was sort of last minute. I can't stay long, Dad, we've got to go back to headquarters pretty soon. Xander just wanted us to come home for a visit first."
"I like Xander," Joe declared, letting her go. Noticing Chris, he added, "Hi, Joe DuBois."
"Chris Halliwell. I'm on the team with your daughter."
"Nice to meet you, Chris. Can I get you something to drink?"
"Thanks, that’d be great."
"Dad, where're Mom and the girls?" Ariel asked.
"Your mom's at work. She should be picking up the girls and be on her way home pretty soon. How long can you stay?"
Ariel glanced at Chris, who shrugged. “A couple of hours, maybe. Unless you want..."
"No," Ariel said quickly. "No, a couple of hours is fine. We'll have plenty of time."
"If you're sure." He took the soft drink Joe offered him, moving to sit on the couch and let them catch up.
When Ariel's mother and sisters arrived, Joe came to join him. "Ariel says you got hurt on the last mission. Nothing serious, I hope?"
"Oh...concussion. Nothing too bad, and it's better now."
"I'm glad. She seems well."
"Yeah. She was brilliant, she really helped us." Chris eyed Ariel over Joe's shoulder, busy admiring a picture Marie had drawn.
"Chris, tell me something," Joe said quietly. "Bridgette's been talking about something bad coming, something Ariel's going to be part of."
"She doesn't have to be. She can stay here, we won't stop her. I think Xander would even prefer it. He doesn't like her being in danger."
"It's hard to talk her out of something when she's made up her mind. What is it she doesn't have to be part of?"
"It's looking like maybe a war. Not one we've started, or one we want. We've been trying to avoid it. But we can't seem to get away from it."
"I see." Joe sighed, taking a sip of his beer. "And she's determined to be part of it, I suppose."
"She can help us. She's proved that. But if she wants to stay here..." Glancing at his watch, he rose to his feet. "Excuse me please, Joe. Ariel! I've got to go pick up Emily. When do you want me to come back?"
Ariel glanced from him to Joe and back. "Give me an hour. Then I'll be ready."
"If you're sure. I'll see you then. Thanks for the drink, Joe."
Emily was waiting patiently on the front steps, accompanied by a young, dark-haired man. Chris jogged up to join them.
"Wasn't sure you were coming back," Emily said pointedly.
"Sorry. I was with Ariel and her family."
"Chris, this is Loker, he works with my dad. Loker, Chris Halliwell."
"Hi, Chris." Loker shook his hand. "I'm obliged to tell you that if anything happens to Emily, you'll be hunted down."
"My dad wanted to come out and tell you himself," Emily added, "but I wouldn't let him."
"I appreciate that." To Loker, he added, "We have no intention of letting anything happen to Emily. Thanks for the warning."
They headed back to the SGC; Chris left her in their quarters and went back for Ariel. When she came back, he found Parrish and they headed for San Francisco.
"You're not going home, Xander?" Emily asked, leaning on the end of his bed.
"Home is the ISC and we're all going there tomorrow anyway. Full military escort." He sat up suddenly, studying her. "What do you think of Taylor and Graham?”
"You know Graham better than I do," she pointed out.
"Longer, not better. He was Riley's friend and Riley was Buffy's boyfriend. I didn't spend much time with them." He shrugged. "They've both offered to come with us. Mitchell says he can get them assigned to protection detail, leave them with us permanently."
"We have fighters," Emily said warily. "And they wouldn't be at the top of the command chain with us."
"They wouldn't exactly be at the bottom, either." Xander rose from the bed, thinking. "Mitchell and Woolsey kept telling me they'd help us any way they could. There are American soldiers all over the country. If we had some way of knowing which ones were safe and which ones were working for the Trust..."
"You want to put Graham and Taylor at the head of a soldier section, like Andrew heads up the demons."
"No, just Graham. I have something else in mind for Taylor. Could you find her, and Vida, and bring them back in here?"
When they came back in Xander was scribbling furiously in Chris's notebook. "Guys, you were both in the Ranger programme, right?"
"Yeah," Taylor agreed, "but years apart."
"I know. But you must know other Rangers, right? From other teams?"
"Safe houses. I don't want your guys to fight – you have something else to fight, and it's just as important – but if we need somewhere to lay low for a day or two..."
"My team could do that," Vida said easily. "We have a pocket realm, you could hide there."
"We could manage something," Taylor agreed.
"So if Mitchell were to attach you to the ISC, Taylor, you could help us with that?" Xander asked. "Tell us who lives where and if they’d be willing?"
"Yeah, I could do that," Taylor agreed.
"Good. Then I need to talk to Graham, and then Mitchell." Xander took a deep breath. "We may have a chance yet."
"Safe houses," Mitchell repeated.
"Yes. Bases that you know are safe from the Trust, places our girls can stay for a night if they had to. Graham's agreed to be the liaison, if you'll agree to help him with it."
"It sounds like a good idea in theory," Landry said. "But the Trust are constantly recruiting new members. We would never be absolutely certain that any given base was safe."
"I know. But it's still a lot better than anything else. And even if the Trust know where the girls are, they may hesitate to attack an Armed Forces base."
"Sounds good to me," Mitchell declared. "We keep tabs on the Trust anyway, sir, as best we can. It wouldn't be difficult to share that information with our allies."
"True,” Landry agreed. "And your people have agreed to this?"
"I haven't brought it to them yet. I wanted to make sure you'd agree first."
"Well, I think we can agree," Landry decided. "We will have to discuss specifics, of course, but I think we can come to an agreement."
"You want to hire us out to the Army?" Buffy asked in surprise.
"Not hire," Xander said for the third time. "Consult. They occasionally run into problems that are more in our line than theirs, and they’d like us to come in and help with that. In return, they'll help keep the Trust off us as best they can and make sure that we can stay a night on any base that's safe, if we need to."
"They'd really love it if some of the Slayers went to Atlantis," Vida added. "They want to see what a team of us can do against the Wraith – Emily really impressed them, apparently. But that's up to us, if we can spare anyone once this War finally breaks."
"And they will not force us into anything?" Giles asked.
"No. They'll request our services when needed, through Graham, and he'll be kept up to date on which bases are safe and who to avoid. If we decide we can spare some Slayers to Atlantis, we'll deal with it then. It might be a good way to get some of the baby Slayers out of the line of fire if this war turns out to be as bad as we think it might."
"Maybe," Buffy agreed slowly. "But that won't work for everyone. We can't send the found witches, remember. Or the demons, probably."
"No. But it would help a little."
"And what about the Rangers?"
"Same thing. Taylor says her team leader knows a lot of the other leaders. It would give us some extra safe houses if we needed to, though we should probably avoid them if we can. We don't want to drag the Rangers into this, they have their own war to fight."
"Safe houses are never a bad," Buffy said with a shrug. Leaning sideways, she hugged Xander. "You did good, Xander. Welcome home."
"Thanks. It's good to be home." He rested his head on hers. "I missed my Buffy."
"We missed our Xander." Willow came to join the hug. "You should never go away again."
"I don't plan to." He sighed, relaxing into the hug.
"Giles?" Dawn tapped on the door, shoving it open in the same movement. "Sorry to interrupt, but you need to put on the TV. Right now."
Giles got up, turning the TV on and leaning against the table.
On the screen, the serious looking newsreader laid down a sheet of paper. "To repeat," she said calmly. "An explosion in St Louis has rocked a boarding school, and the death toll is rising. Responsibility has been claimed by a new terrorist group. The FBI say they've been hunting this group for some time now. If you see any of these people –" Pictures of Buffy, Giles, Dawn, Xander and Willow, and several of the Slayers, flashed onto the screen. "– do not approach. They are considered highly dangerous. Report any sighting of them at once to the authorities. To repeat, they are highly dangerous and must not be approached under any circumstances."
"Right." Xander took the remote from Giles, flicking the TV off.
"Dawn, we're evacuating right now," Buffy said quickly. “Tell the girls. We've got to split up and get to ground. Get them into the main hall in the next five minutes with the emergency kits."
"Got it," Dawn agreed, heading out at a run.
"Em, Vee, go help her," Xander told them, and they followed behind her.
“Ok.” Buffy smiled, turning to face them. “We knew this was coming. We’re ready, we’ve trained. We can do this. Willow, get Xander to his team.”
“See you on the other side,” Xander murmured, following Willow out of the room and into the war.
For those of you keeping track, fandoms represented in this fic were:
Lie to Me
Power Rangers: Wild Force and Mystic Force