In Paul Davis' considered opinion, his long-delayed promotion to Lieutenant Colonel had come as a bit of an anti-climax.
He wasn't changing bases; he was still assigned to DC, still riding a desk in the Pentagon. He wasn't changing his basic job description; he still coordinated between those higher up the chain of command and certain classified programs that dealt with the fate of the world on a distressingly regular basis. He still wore oak leaves on his shoulders, and he still saw a lot of Jack O'Neill and his favorite team.
If that desk was now officially a part of Homeworld Security rather than between Homeworld and the Joint Chiefs; and if those oak leaves were silver instead of gold; and if O'Neill was now his boss instead of the most frequent disruption to the balance he had to maintain between the Stargate program and the Pentagon; well... six of one, half a dozen of the other. Paul was good at what he did, and he believed wholeheartedly in the people he worked with. His new rank didn't change that.
The only thing that had changed significantly, so far as he'd noticed, was a shift that had been a long time coming: he would never again be the bearer of bad news to Cheyenne Mountain. He'd have a staff of his own to take over that role. General O'Neill had told him, somewhat sarcastically, that after the high-wire act he'd pulled for so many years it was time for him to raise the bar a little-- and then handed him a beer and asked him how much he knew about a little NID project called the Initiative. He now oversaw Homeworld's interactions with the more esoteric classified groups lumped in under the department's banner, most of which made the SGC's eccentricities seem tame by comparison.
He didn't have anything against the work he'd previously done with the SGC; as a matter of fact, he had only the greatest respect for the people employed by the program, especially those soldiers and scientists who had been there since the beginning. It had only taken him a few visits, back when his assignment as liaison had been brand new, to realize that the personnel under Cheyenne really were the best and brightest available; that they really did accomplish six impossible things before breakfast on a regular basis. But it had been his particular duty to balance their faith that they would always save the day with the Pentagon's concerns regarding what would happen if they didn't.
He'd been the guy who always showed up when the situation was dire, made dark predictions and reported alarming facts, and then disappeared again the moment SG-1 pulled yet another miracle out of their hats. The guy whose appearance at 'Area 52' always prompted a new round of 'incoming Major Disaster' jokes and rumors around the water cooler. Getting them what they needed to do their jobs had never got old-- but being the eternal outsider looking in on their close-knit camaraderie certainly had. It was a matter of intense-- and somewhat guilty-- pleasure for Paul to finally be firmly on the 'us' side of that old 'us versus them' equation.
Even if some days the lines defining 'us' and 'them' were a lot more fluid than he could ever have imagined when he first put on his country's uniform, he mused, as he drove by a sign listing the mileage to Cleveland. He was on the third week of a rather long tour, arranging first meetings with the groups now under his purview; he'd found he got a more complete picture by visiting their areas of responsibility from the ground floor rather than stooping in by air and taking off again without ever seeing more than a few square yards of tarmac and a selection of cookie-cutter meeting rooms. Some of the arrogant behavior of the scientists in that Oregon thinktank, for example, had made a lot more sense after the isolating-- and impressively beautiful-- drive up into the hills where it was sited.
He wasn't sure what prompted him to pull over when he saw the dark-haired woman in motorcycle leathers sticking out a thumb at the side of the road. Maybe it was something in the way she stood: self assured, balanced, even predatory as she paused and turned her head to track his approach. Maybe it was the bike she was leaning against: an expensive, obviously well-cared-for machine that wouldn't have looked out of place in Sam Carter's garage. Or maybe it was just that he'd been married to his job for so long any attractive shape made his eyes linger. It couldn't have been recognition-- because it wasn't until he was already rolling down the window to ask her where she needed to go that a shock of familiarity went through him.
"Miz Lehane," he said, blinking at her in surprise.
She'd been in the middle of sauntering up to the car when he greeted her; hips forward, thumbs in her belt, shoulders back in a way that suggested she knew who she was, was aware of the effect she had on other people, and damned anyone who thought less of her for it. It was an attractive degree of confidence; something that Paul had long since realized he encountered more through his job than anywhere else, yet another reason he'd been single so long. The confidence didn't change when he spoke her name-- but her expression did, taking on an added layer of caution and wariness.
She leaned against the passenger side door, arms crossed on the sill of the rolled-down window, and looked in at him with suspicious, kohl-outlined eyes. "It's Faith, not Miz Lehane, if you expect me to answer. And who's asking?" she said, challengingly.
The back of his neck prickled a little, just as it had during the long weeks he'd spent with SG-7 on Dakara, meeting with Jaffa after Jaffa who hadn't appreciated what they saw as a Tau'ri attempt to control and subvert their newly acquired freedom. Authority issues; right. Best not to lead with his rank.
"I'm with Homeworld Security, ma'am," Paul said plainly, meeting her gaze-- and carefully ignoring the firm cleavage framed in front of him. "We're scheduled to meet with the Watcher's Council on Tuesday, I believe?"
Faith blinked at that, eyebrows drawing together a little, and raked a quick look over his casual weekend attire, lingering briefly on the fit of his jeans and the seam of the leather jacket across his shoulders. "No way," she said, as dark eyes met his again. "You're one of the classified military dudes Ri-Ri outed us to? Some coincidence, you happening by just when my bike broke down."
Paul didn't much believe in coincidences anymore, but he had to concede they did occasionally happen. "That depends on where you're headed," he said. "I was planning on doing a little reconnaissance in Cleveland before the meeting; and I believe that's where your offices are?"
"Offices?" she snorted, straightening slightly at his explanation-- backing off the physical distraction just a little. "Not my office, unless you count the Hellmouth; Ken's the one who runs the Nor-Am branch, and B and her watcher take care of the rest of the paperwork. I just do the job."
Right. And Daniel Jackson was just a civilian consultant, Paul thought, wryly. "I'll keep that in mind," he said. "And for the record, we were aware of your group before Agent Finn passed on his information; it just never seemed worth the risk to make contact before the number of Slayers multiplied enough to be a significant factor."
"Significant?" Faith frowned at that. "I think we might have to have a little talk about your definition of the word." Then she looked down at the oversized silver watch she wore and swore. "Later, though. I'm about to be late to an apocalypse-- the demon who hexed my bike took my phone out, too, and I need to be at Slayer Central by midnight, since I'm bringing the doohickey Andy said we need to stop it. Think it's worth the risk to give me a ride on into town?"
"Late to an apocalypse?" Paul blinked at her casual use of the term. "As in, the end of the world?" Even at the SGC, they weren't quite that blasé about it-- well, unless they were SG-1. Which, come to think of it, would explain a great deal about the records of the Watchers' Council leadership, if he reframed his view of them along those lines.
"As in, it happens a couple times a year around here, you'll get used to it eventually," she shrugged, smirking at him. Her expression and attitude reminded him more and more of Vala now that he saw the comparison-- though there didn't seem to be the same air of brittleness underlying Faith's attitude. She might be jaded by her experiences, but not quite as badly scarred.
"So, you in or not?" she asked.
He eyed the bike, then nodded to her, thumbing the button to pop the locks. "I don't have room for your motorcycle, but one passenger on a fast trip to town? That I can handle."
Faith's eyebrows went up, but she lifted the saddlebags from her bike and opened the car door before commenting. "I have yet to meet a man that can handle me, but you're welcome to try," she said huskily as she slid into the seat.
Paul swallowed at that, putting the car back in gear and easing back out onto the road with a satisfying spray of gravel. "How about we revisit the topic when the apocalypse is over?"
Then he really thought about what he was doing-- and chuckled as he pressed the accelerator toward the floor. "I guess being promoted just means going from Major Disaster to Lieutenant Colonel Stormcrow," he said, shaking his head at himself. Herald of woe, indeed.
Faith snorted. The saddlebags settled in the back seat with a solid thump as she leaned over to drop them behind her. "Better than, what, the Blue Wanderer?" she said, eyeing the uniform hanging from the door hook in the back.
He gave her a startled look, surprised that she'd got the reference-- then grinned. "And more appropriate, in the company of a shield maiden of such renown," he said.
She laughed at that. "I'll have to watch that silver tongue of yours," she replied. "So what's your name, then, Stormcrow?"
"I didn't mention it? Where are my manners? I'm Paul Davis." He took a hand off the wheel, offering it to her.
Faith took it, bemused. "Glad to meet you, Paul," she said. "I think we're going to have some fun together, you and me."