Chapter Fourteen: Fourteen Gazillion to Go
Jack didn't know what was worse, knowing the kind of things Xander fought or letting his imagination fill in the blanks. It had been two months since he'd fought his first demon and it seemed like his calls to Xander kept getting more and more irregular. Granted, part of that was his mission schedule but Xander's was just as erratic.
They'd come to a sort of agreement about what they talked about. If Jack wanted to know what was going on, he asked point blank and Xander would usually answer with watered down answers. "Just a snake thing that took longer to track down than we thought," or "Some kids at the high school getting in over their heads with the magic." Jack tried not to be too pushy about it, but when Xander sounded exhausted or down he always asked.
For his part, Xander asked even fewer questions but that seemed more because he was tired of the endless lack of details that Jack could provide. But somehow he always knew when Jack got hurt or when he was worried about a wounded teammate. Jack had asked after the third time how he knew, wondering if it was more magic, but Xander instead told him simply that he called later. Jack remembered feeling slightly uncomfortable when he'd heard that and thinking that his son was too perceptive for his own good. Or rather Jack's.
That was why he was staring at the phone right now instead of picking it up and dialing. Xander would know that this wasn't a normal call. Jack's mind flickered over the last few days. The mission to extract the Ancient's library device, Anubis's attack, and now, way too much knowledge in his head that could kill him in a matter of days.
Last night when his team had been over, Daniel had asked him what he was going to tell Xander. Jack had replied, "That I was saving the world." The truth was he didn't know what he was going to say. The problem was he also couldn't not call. Taking a deep breath, he reached for the phone. Maybe he'd get lucky and Xander would be at work.
The phone rang once, twice, three times. When it got to five, Jack was ready to let out a sigh of relief - that was quickly dashed when a breathless "Hello?" answered.
"Hey, Vi, it's Jack," he said pleasantly, recognizing the teenager's voice. With an ease that comes from years of practice, he staunchly ignored the feeling of dread that clung in his stomach.
"Hey, Jack!" she cheerfully replied. "How you doing? Xander's upstairs, just a sec. XANDER!"
Jack smiled at the quick transfer figuring he had interrupted something or other. Usually he would at least have a chance to answer questions and ask how things were going before Xander was shouted for.
"Hey, Jack," his son's light tone greeted him all too quickly. "You're calling early for once."
Jack nodded and said, "Yeah, thought I'd change things up." It was two in the afternoon on a Sunday. So much for the at-work plan.
"Uh-huh," said Xander. Crap, thought Jack. "So what's up?" Double crap, Jack amended. He should have asked that first.
"Oh, you know, same old, same old," said Jack evasively. "How are you?"
"In need of a new job."
"What's wrong?" Jack asked suddenly concerned.
"The one I have is boring me to tears," said Xander. "I've had some crappy jobs before but I usually managed to get fired before I got too bored with them. Here, my boss actually likes me and says I do good work and doesn't mind my switching shifts at the last minute."
"And that's bad?"
"For my other job, no. But I feel like I'm going to go insane if I have to keep this up. I hate retail."
"Ah, the joys of knowing that the customer is always right," said Jack sagely.
"'Right' is a relative term," said Xander with a sigh.
"Yeah," Jack agreed. In more than just the retail sense, he thought. If he . . . he would miss this, the idle chatter about life, knowing how he was doing, what was good, what was bad. Jack closed his eyes. "Have I told you how proud I am of you?" he half whispered. He heard Xander's breath catch on the other end of the line.
"Jack?" Xander's voice was breathy and uncertain. "What's wrong?"
Jack felt like an idiot now for even saying it. He was a man of action, not words, and his only relief was that Xander wasn't there to see him shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "Nothing really - "
"Jack," Xander cut him off harshly. "You don't start a 'goodbye' speech when nothing's wrong."
"Xander - "
"No, you started a 'goodbye' speech! 'I'm proud of you, I love you.' If every thing is just puppies and rainbows you don't say that!" Xander snapped. "Now what's wrong?!" A little taken aback by the vehemence in his son's voice, Jack was shocked into silence for minute. "Jack!" Xander prompted.
"I, uh," Jack struggled for a way to explain that wouldn't be breaking a zillion laws. "I kinda did something stupid," he finally said. "But given the situation, there wasn't really a choice." He paused and Xander remained silent, waiting. "I can't go into detail, and it's not hopeless, just . . ."
"Dire?" Xander finished for him. Jack winced.
"Well, I might die," he quipped quietly. Dead silence. Jack wondered for a moment if Xander was still there.
"That bad?" Xander finally said, his voice tight even as he tried to keep it light. "Is this a scheduled death or are you just ad libbing?"
"If it happens, and I stress the 'if,'" Jack hesitated, remembering the last time he'd spouted alien words and felt himself lose his mind, "sometime next week."
"Got it all planned out, huh? Decided life was too boring under your mountain, and hey, let's give death a try. Next Thursday good for you?"
Jack winced at the raw sarcasm. "It's not like that," he said a little exasperatedly. "If you must know it's probably going to save the world." Maybe Xander would understand in terms he seemed to be familiar with.
"Great," said Xander bitingly. "I'll have to let the others know that Apocalypse Season has opened early this year. Good to know I rate at least a phone call."
"Xander," said Jack.
But Jack didn't have anything to say. He felt empty, like a tin can that someone was still trying to hammer the last of the beans out of. "I'm sorry," he said. Sorry for . . . everything. God, he hadn't felt this bad about anything in years.
"Don't be sorry," said Xander, his voice softer than it was before but no less hurt. "Just make sure you don't die. Or I swear to whatever gods there are that I will have Willow resurrect you so I can kill you myself."
Jack couldn't help but smile at the threat. "Guess I better not die then."
"No." Xander sighed. "Look, call me when you're not going to die any more."
He was going to hang up. "Xander," said Jack quickly, not wanting his last chance to slip away.
"No," his son interrupted. "Call me when you're not going to die." And he was gone. Jack held the phone a moment longer, staring at it blankly before replacing it in the cradle. Unsaid. Too much had been left unsaid. His head fell into weary palms. Xander sure wasn't letting him off easy. There had been no 'ifs' in his demand. Jack was just going to have to make sure he was alive to tell him.
Xander stared at the phone he had slammed down. Bastard. That stupid, damn . . . bastard. Unconsciously he clenched his jaw, so angry that he couldn't do more than glare holes in the phone and hope they burned Jack. He was going to kill him. And he wasn't going to die, oh no, Jack was going to stay nice and healthy until Xander could get his hands on him, then he would show him what dying was all about. If - but Xander squelched the thought before it had even formed. Jack was going to call him in a week, and Xander was going to scream at him for being an idiot. Three rules of slaying: if it's bad, run; always make plans for the day after; and don't die! And then of course there was always the addendum rule that was true beyond slaying that girls were always right. At least one of them. But not the point here.
No, the point here was simple. Jack was an idiot. And a bastard. And Xander would never forgive him if he died.
Suddenly feeling the urge to hit something, he slammed down to the basement, made a beeline for the punching bag, and started beating the hell out of it. His thoughts gave way to mindlessness and the burning anger that he refused to let go of. He didn't know how long he was down there but he was sweaty and pleasantly tired when he finally stopped, leaning forward to rest his head against the bag.
Dawn was sitting on the bottom stairs when he finally turned around. Large eyes watching out of a considering face, but she didn't say anything, just followed his progress as he came and sat beside her. They sat in silence for a minute before Dawn broke it.
"Jack?" she asked. Xander nodded. "What happened?"
He didn't look at her. "Said he did something that could kill him to save the world."
Neither one of them said anymore. They didn't move until Andrew came and asked what they wanted for dinner. And that evening, they all went on patrol.
The next three days were tense. After Jack's phone call, Xander was paranoid about everything going to hell - literally. He was also snappish and bad tempered with everyone, which didn't help, matters much, even if they knew why. Sort of. As Xander kept ranting, Jack hadn't given them any useful information about what was potentially going down so they didn't know what they were looking for in the first place.
Xander had alerted Giles and the others, and the scattered research department had gone to work combing for any kind of a clue, but nothing came up. Jack still hadn't called.
It was on Tuesday when they finally figured it out. Xander was at work checking stock in the back with the radio on for company when the commercial break suddenly turned into a news report. "We have a special weather report from the National Weather Station. An unexpected meteor shower is in progress across much of the Western Hemisphere. People are advised to stay indoors as there have already been reports of meteors striking the surface in Texas and Bolivia. Scientists say that it should pass within the hour."
The report brought Xander up short and he stared at the radio for a second before bolting for the door. Unexpected meteor shower, his ass. Those things were tracked, predicted. He should know since Dawn and Andrew dragged them all outside to watch the shooting stars when they came. And if they were already hitting the Earth? No way was it natural.
Xander made it to the staff room at the other end of the building in under two minutes. It took him another thirty seconds to find his cell phone and call Andrew.
"Andrew, turn on the news. I think we have our world ending event," he said quickly. "Call Giles and let him know."
"Meteors?" said Andrew and Xander could hear the TV on in the background. "Xander, I don't think there's much we can do against meteors."
"We can stop whatever's causing them," Xander said, though he had no idea how they would do that. "Look, call Giles, see what he says and call me back." He glanced quickly at his watch. It was a little after two. His shift didn't end till four and the girls wouldn't get home from school until around three thirty. Xander wondered if they had that long. "How are the wards on the hellmouth?" he asked waiting a minute as Andrew went and checked the crystal.
"No change," he reported. "I'll call if it does."
"All right, thanks. See you later." He hit 'end' and sighed. There really wasn't much he could do now until he heard back from Giles and Andrew. He might as well get paid for the next two hours.
But even as he went back to the stock room and started counting nuts and bolts again, Xander couldn't help but worry about what was going on and feel a frustrating sense of helplessness about it. And wonder what Jack was doing at that very moment. It sucked. He couldn't concentrate and ended up recounting the packs of nails four times. He'd been at it an hour or so, his mind wandering from nails to nasty creatures crawling out of meteors when the question of what was going on suddenly became a lot less academic.
Xander felt it. Suddenly, in every fiber of his being he felt a tug that grew ever more insistent, building and building through his bones and muscles like liquid fire until suddenly a part of him was ripped away like duct tape being ripped off of skin. It was so hard and fast that the force of it knocked him to his knees, his whole body burning for an instant before slowly melting away in a throbbing pulse. Xander gasped for breath, wondering what the hell had just happened and at the same time, afraid of the answer. Nothing in his life had ever felt like that, nothing, and Xander had undergone some wacky spells in his time.
It took him a few minutes to stand, a wash of dizziness forcing him to pause with his head between his knees to prevent his lunch from ending up on the floor. When he finally did manage to get to his feet and stay on them his head had cleared considerably and the burning sensation was all but gone, leaving him with a killer headache and something else that niggled in the back of his head. It wasn't until he stepped out of the stock room and saw the rest of the store acting as if nothing had happened that Xander, now more confused than ever, realized that everything felt just a bit off. 'Everything' as in the artificial light, the sounds of people talking, the way his feet felt against the ground - and at the same time everything was just as it always had been. Exactly alike except for that feeling.
He quickly fished his cell out of his pocket and hit the speed dial for home. It took three rings for Andrew to answer and when he did, Xander knew that he had felt whatever it was too.
In fact, one frantic phone call from the high school, one from Giles, one from Buffy, and a panicked call from Kennedy confirmed that anyone that had anything to do with the supernatural had felt it. And in varying degrees. In Brazil, Willow was still unconscious. Of the Cleveland crowd, Dawn had been hit the hardest, but even she had woken up after a few hours. Vi and Diana and the other slayers had taken it hard as well but with a much faster recovery time, though it had been longer than Xander's and Andrew's. And everyone felt the same shift in perception that couldn't be described as more than a feeling of something off, almost like when ears wouldn't pop when they needed to, only not quite as concrete a feeling.
And that wasn't even the bad news. No, what currently had the five continent conference call's attention was the fact that the slayers' powers were greatly diminished. Buffy had noticed it first since she had been on the prowl in Europe at the time. One minute she'd been fighting a vamp, the next she'd been fighting for her life.
"I haven't been able to contact the Bath coven," Giles was saying. "I believe, given Willow's reaction, that they were hit hard as well." Xander glanced around the dining room table. Andrew was clearly scared and nervous and trying to hide it. Dawn, pale and still in pain sat huddled in a blanket beside him. Diana refused to look up from the tabletop while Vi met Xander's gaze with a frightened yet determined one of her own. "The force seems to be proportional to the amount of magic used by the individual. What ever it was, it ripped away innate power."
"So how do we stop it?" demanded Kennedy anxiously.
"It's already over," said Giles. "Until we know what caused it, I don't think there's much we can do except wait and see."
"Any ideas?" asked Buffy.
"The meteor shower," said Xander.
"Yes, quite," Giles sighed. "Hardly coincidental that it stopped after the event."
"We need to contact all our slayers and let them know what's going on," said Faith.
"Giles?" said Dawn suddenly, "if something ripped all the magical energy from everyone around the world, where did it all go?"
There was a brief silence. "I don't suppose there's energy heaven," suggested Buffy quietly.
"No," said Giles.
"So we need to find out what that meteor shower was, why it stopped, and where all our magical energy went," Buffy gathered their agenda together.
"And who's behind it," added Vi who quickly paused after realizing that she had actually spoken the thought aloud. "I was just thinking," she went on a little more hesitantly, "you know how everything feels off? What if it's not just the witches and magic users, but all magic? Someone trying to disable the wards and natural protections around the hellmouth."
"Everything's connected," murmured Kennedy, reciting Willow's catchphrase into the ensuing silence.
Xander shared a look with Vi. If she was right, they had a serious problem on their hands. Natural magic was everywhere. According to Willow, it connected everything, made some places more sacred than others, prevented vampires from entering occupied homes, allowed essence to pass from a person to a treasured object, provided natural resistance to opening the hellmouth . . . the list went on.
"Giles, test that theory," said Buffy urgently, as aware as Xander of the formula for disaster. "Xander, Vi, you guys take care of the meteor research. Kennedy, get in touch with Riley, let him know what's going on. Faith, Robin, get in touch with the rest of the watchers. And everyone start calling your slayers."
The call ended as they all hastened away to follow orders, the democracy of the Board falling away in crisis. Xander refused to let himself think of what could go down - or come up - if the wrong demons figured out that the Earth's magical forces had suddenly been drained. Crap. He got to his feet abruptly and went to the kitchen to make sure they had enough coffee.
Over the next day and a half, no one got any sleep. The girls stayed home from school to 'recover' from their fainting spells and everyone camped out in the dining room. Andrew took the books looking for any and all references to apocalyptic meteor showers while Dawn took the Internet, printing and processing whatever she could get her hands on. Diana and Xander called the slayers. Vi hit the streets to check out the usual demon bars and hangout for anything useful, though so far she'd only come up with confused and scared demons. Their contacts had no idea what was going on either and quite a few were packing up to leave town in self-preservation.
Vi and Diana's slayer strength was returning although slowly and only due to their proximity to the hellmouth. Elsewhere around the country, and globe for that matter, slayer powers were returning at about half that rate, which left none of them in any condition to fight. Going by Vi's estimation it would be another few days for her and Diana, and at least a week before the rest of them were up to full power.
Wednesday night, Giles confirmed that all magic, not just that of casters, had been ripped away by the force. The Bath coven had been knocked unconscious as Willow had though when they had awakened twenty-eight hours later, Willow had still been unconscious. Simple spells were impossible and normal magical objects were no longer expressing their otherworldly qualities. Dawn even tested the truth potion which failed to force Xander to say he had one eye.
But it was Dawn's report that was perhaps the most telling. "All the places that were hit by meteors yesterday were communications arrays. And there's been reports of satellites down for a couple of companies." The phone was on speaker setting in the middle of the dining room table. The Board was all there with the exception of Willow.
"So you're saying that the meteors weren't meteors?" asked Buffy through the speakerphone.
"We think it's aliens," said Andrew with a quick look at Xander. They had talked about it earlier when Dawn had found the first news reports. Coupled with Jack's 'end of the world' timing, it made sense. Of course, they still had no proof.
"Aliens," said Robin with a little skepticism.
Xander ignored him. "Kennedy, did you reach Riley?"
"No, he still hasn't gotten back to me."
"That still doesn't explain the drain of magical energy," said Giles getting back to Dawn's point. "Only the meteor shower."
"Which stopped after the drain," said Buffy.
"But we haven't been invaded yet," Andrew pointed out. "That means the aliens were stopped by the magic. We think." He grinned as he told them what he had figured out from watching way too many sci-fi movies.
There was a pause as the others took this in.
"Are you saying the Earth is frickin allergic to alien attacks?" asked Faith.
"Whatever happened, if this is what Jack was talking about, the military knows," said Xander.
"Or at least has a place to start," said Buffy quietly. "Xander, it looks like it's up to you guys to go chat them up."
"Not till we hear from Riley," Xander said. He did not want to get locked up before he could even talk to someone.
"Make it soon. We gotta figure out how to get the magic back in balance or we are so screwed." Talk turned then to status reports. In the US, the lack of mojo was still not common knowledge as far as they could tell. In Africa and South America communications were so bad there was no way to really tell. In Italy, however, word of the slayers' weakness had already spread leaving Buffy at a loss of what to do. She couldn't wait a week for her powers to come back - she needed them now. If word from Europe got across the ocean . . . well, Cleveland would probably become the next great demon vacation spot.
Riley finally called around five am Thursday morning, waking Xander from a fitful sleep. To make matters worse, he stubbed his toe on the doorframe as he stumbled across the hall to the office. "'Lo?" he said, sitting heavily at the desk, rubbing his poor foot.
"Xander? Riley. I hope you have a suit."
"What? Riley? Hi," Xander mumbled still mostly asleep. "What did you say?"
"I got Kennedy's messages yesterday about the magic. Happened to us too. One of our mages is still in a coma," Riley explained sounding far more awake than necessary. "If you're right about the barriers we are in deep shit."
"Tell me about it," said Xander dryly as the sleep started to clear from his brain. He was sitting on the damn hellmouth.
"We called out people in Washington," Riley went on. "They talked to the Joint Chiefs who didn't give them the time of day 'til they mentioned your aliens."
"What'd they say?"
"I think they were a little upset about us knowing."
"Ouch," Xander sighed. Perfect, now the government was going to be after them on top of all this.
"General Taylor backed us up though," said Riley.
"General Who?" asked Xander, more than a little surprised.
"Army Chief of Staff. I've met him a few times. He's a good man. He's the one who keeps tabs on our operation and unofficially on yours."
"What?!" This was news to Xander. "Why didn't you ever tell us?" he asked, feeling slightly betrayed.
"Relax. It's strictly surveillance. He was in on the Initiative and knows better than to interfere. But he's got a vested interest in protecting his country too, you know."
"Right, sorry," Xander sighed. He really shouldn't have been surprised, and it was a credit to this General that he was staying out of their way.
"Anyway," Riley went on. "He's taking us seriously. When I got Kennedy's second message about the natural magic and the hellmouth and the Italian demons I called him and since I'm in the jungle, he got you clearance to learn about what happened and fix the problem.
"Me?" said Xander completely awake now from the jolt of adrenaline at the news. "Why me?"
"He's sending you to a military base. Who else is there? Dawn?" Right, no high school students allowed. "Now the people at the base haven't been cleared about the Council so don't tell them anything. Someone's picking you up at six. Codephrase: 'Lovely day to walk your dog to Mars'. Then you say 'Only if it's raining in Hell'. Got that?"
"'Only if it's raining in Hell,'" Xander repeated, the cloak and dagger stuff making him smile. Andrew was going to be so jealous. Then again, unless he wanted to be spouting codephrases for the rest of his life, he probably shouldn't tell him. But he would be so jealous. "Thanks, Riley."
"Just doing my job," said his friend. "Let me know what happens. I gotta get back."
"Good luck," said Xander before they hung up. He closed his eye, feeling a light draft waft through his uncovered eye socket. It was way too early to be up let alone thinking. With a final shake of his head, Xander went back to sleep for the remaining twenty minutes before he had to get up for real to meet whoever Taylor had sent to talk to him about Mars. After setting his alarm, Xander's last thought as he drifted back to sleep was that he didn't have a suit.
Xander didn't start to get nervous until they were driving up the mountain. He'd only been half-awake when Major Davis had showed up on the front step, then the car ride and subsequent flight to a still undisclosed location had put him soundly back to sleep. He'd tried to stay conscious, really, but his body had refused to cooperate.
Now that they were off the military transport and on their way to the mysterious base he couldn't ignore the worms crawling around in his stomach. Though that was partly hunger, which was a good thing because it gave him another thing to think about. Namely donuts.
His escort, Major Davis, hadn't been very chatty the whole trip aside from their initial meeting. Xander knew that he hadn't been expecting a kid with one eye hopelessly underdressed in khakis, dark blue button-down shirt, red snowman tie, and a winter jacket that had old gore stains on it. The covert looks the Major sent his way were still trying to puzzle him out. What a way to make an impression.
When they got to the base that went into the Cheyenne Mountain, Xander suddenly knew where they were. Jack's base. Major Davis led him through two checkpoints where Xander's driver's license and Council ID were checked and rechecked before they were allowed onto the elevator that went down ten floors before stopping. When they got off, they were at another checkpoint. Xander idly wondered if they had any confidence in the people upstairs at all as he once again showed them his ID. Paranoid didn't even begin to cover it. And then they got onto another elevator. And this one went down for a lot longer than ten stories.
"Welcome to the SGC, Mr. Harris," Major Davis said when the elevator door finally opened. Xander shot him a startled look at the familiar designation that he wasn't supposed to know. SGC, Bluebook, Area 52 - really, really top secret military base that had at least one alien on staff. He took a deep breath and followed the Major down the cold gray halls. He sure hoped he didn't have to get out of here in a hurry because there was no way he was going to be able to remember all these twists and turns.
While they walked, Xander took in the uniformed men and women around him. Most were in plain green or blue fatigues striding purposefully from one place to another. They all looked at Xander curiously, their expressions guarded and evaluating. He tried to ignore the sensation of too many eyes crawling all over him, but it was rather difficult, too much like a vampire's gaze as it sized up dinner for comfort. It was almost a relief when they reached the conference room.
The conference room was very spacious and very empty when they arrived. The walls held tasteful hotel pictures except for one wall whose windows were covered by a blast shield. It took Xander a moment to process what was wrong at first and then it hit him - there were windows underground.
The center of the room was dominated by a large table surrounded by comfy looking chairs. Two flags stood against the far wall where another door stood ajar. Major Davis walked confidently up to it while Xander followed with a little more trepidation. He really shouldn't have been nervous since this was Jack's base and Jack had told General George about them. It should make everything easier in the long run, but nevertheless Xander felt like a kid dragged off to the principal's office. Or maybe that was the human in the vamp nest talking.
"Dr. Weir," said Major Davis knocking on the doorframe. Xander stopped short. Uh, Weir? he had a second to wonder as a tall, brunette woman stood from behind what was obviously her desk and came to greet them.
"Ah, Major Davis," Dr. Weir smiled warmly, her eyes briefly meeting the Major's before settling on Xander. "And you must be Director Harris from the International Watcher's Council."
"Yes, it's good to meet you," Xander managed without stammering as he shook her hand. Meanwhile his mind was doing some hasty rearranging. Not General George but Dr. Weir. Not someone who knew but someone who most definitely was not in the know, and wasn't supposed to. On the plus side she wasn't military. Which begged the question of what she was doing in charge of a military base. And . . . doctor of what?
"Please," she gestured for the two men to join her at the conference table. Xander couldn't help but appreciate all the room it offered as he sat opposite Davis while Dr. Weir took the seat at the head.
"Dr. Weir, Mr. Harris has been authorized to be briefed on the Stargate Project, in particular, the events of the past few days to evaluate their impact," said Davis. Weir nodded, the introduction obviously a confirmation.
"I just got off the phone with the Joint Chiefs," she said with a small smile. "They aren't much for giving notice. I'm afraid they didn't explain what your organization does exactly." Her voice turned upward in an invitation to explain.
Yeah right. Xander was very tempted to say 'classified' and leave it at that but he decided to be nice. "Um, I can't really say other than that we are concerned with the fate of the world," he said as clearly as possible. Weir nodded and didn't look put out in the slightest. In fact, Xander had no idea what she was thinking. She was calm and collected and all the things Xander didn't feel at the moment.
"Of course," she said. "Well, as I was just briefed four days ago, I've asked Dr. Jackson to come join us as I'm sure he'll do a much better job of explaining."
"You're new here?" Xander asked. He did some quick math in his head. Four days ago was after Jack had called but before the drain. Crap, power struggles.
"Yes," said Weir calmly. "And yourself, how long have you worked for the Council?"
"Longer than four days," he replied which earned him another smile though he wasn't sure why. He didn't have time to ponder it however as the doors at the opposite end of the conference room burst open as a man barreled through.
"Sorry I'm late," the man said. His arms were laden with file folders, one hand gripping a cup of coffee. In green fatigues, it took Xander a moment to recognize him as Daniel. At the same moment, the haggard archeologist, who looked like Xander felt, stopped short as he caught sight of their guest.
Xander quickly shook his head at him and said hastily, "Dr. Jackson, I presume?" Please get it, please get it, he chanted mentally. If they knew each other, Weir would want to know why and then all these awkward questions would come up and Xander really wanted to avoid that. At all costs.
Daniel stared at him for a long second before snapping his mouth closed and saying, "Uh . . . yeah, Daniel Jackson." He came around the table next to Davis and carefully put down his coffee and papers.
"Dr. Jackson, Director Harris of the Watcher's Council," Weir introduced them as they shook hands. "He's here to be briefed on the project."
"Right." Daniel frowned briefly, then grabbed his folders, checking a few before sliding one over to Xander. "Right," he repeated. He looked at the folder in his hand for a moment then looked up and fixed Xander with his gaze. "The Stargate Project rose out of a discovery in 1928 on a dig in Egypt. An artifact was uncovered, a giant ring that had been purposefully buried."
"How big a ring?" Xander interrupted as he tried to get a picture of it in his head.
Daniel grinned slightly. "Big enough to walk through. Also covered in symbols. The US government ultimately took possession of the ring and a few years ago figured out what it was: a stargate."
"A gate to stars and aliens," said Xander in not quite a question. Across from him, Major Davis sat up straighter and frowned, obviously wondering how he'd jumped to that conclusion.
Xander spared him a glance. "A meteor shower that only takes out communications arrays? I'm sure that was a coincidence. There is a reason we wanted to talk to you." He resisted the urge to roll his eye. He caught another grin from Daniel, who continued.
"Other planets actually. But essentially . . . aliens. In fact most of the people we encounter are humans descended from people here on Earth." Daniel paused to let that sink in, going on when Xander nodded. It did make sense and explained why Teal'c looked human and why the Air Force had archeologists. "Originally they were taken there by another alien race called the Goa'uld who are a parasitic species that take humans as hosts. There's a picture in there." Daniel motioned for him to open his folder. Xander found the picture of the freaky snake-like thing that looked like a tentacle from the demon they had killed last August. Except smaller. "The Goa'uld pretend to be gods and they take humans as slaves. Whole civilizations were uplifted and moved to other planets." Xander looked up at Daniel's tone, meeting eyes that mesmerized him with their intensity. "They are pure evil. There is no talking, no negotiating, and no mercy. We've been at war with them for about seven years now."
Xander felt his heart clench, his mind going back to Jack's phone call in a panicked rush. "And . . . they attacked," he said slowly.
"Yeah. One of them."
Xander looked back at the picture, only half listening as Daniel rambled on about them being feudal and having their own armies and ships and not playing nice together. It was so small. He wondered how it took control over someone. Demons did it so many different ways - there used to be a book on parasitic ones that would burrow through your back or only attach after sex or eating. He wondered if this should be harder to wrap his head around.
"Director Harris," Dr. Weir's gentle voice interrupted Daniel's flow. "Are you all right? I know this is difficult but I can assure you that it is very real."
"What?" Xander looked up out of his thoughts into her sympathetic eyes. "Yeah, real," he agreed absently. "How does it take a host?" he turned back to Daniel.
"Through the back of the neck or the mouth. They attach themselves to the brainstem. There's an MRI."
Xander flipped though his folder till he found it. It gave him the shivers just looking at it, a pale serpentine form wrapped around the brainstem. Ick. "Now there's something that would drive you mad. I don't suppose they pay rent?"
"Uh, no," said Daniel with another ghost of a smile, reaching for his coffee. Weir and Davis both shifted uncomfortably at the joke, which pleased Xander no end. Not so confident now, were they?
"So the guy who attacked. What happened?" he asked, putting aside the MRI for now.
"Anubis," said Daniel. "He wanted to take over Earth, kill us, enslave us."
"Doesn't like us much, does he," Xander commented.
"We tend to piss them off," Daniel replied. Beside him Davis smiled a bit. Daniel went on and explained the happenings of the last few days. How the older, more advanced alien race that had made the stargates had left a weapon behind in an outpost in Antarctica. How they had recovered the location from a library device on another planet. How his CO, Jack O'Neill, now had so much information in his head from the device that his brain would deteriorate.
Daniel's eyes held Xander's as he told him this last bit, soft and kind while Xander felt an emptiness rush through him. "He used his knowledge to activate the weapon which destroyed Anubis's fleet and afterwards he was frozen and placed in stasis. At least that's what we think."
"Is he . . . alive?" asked Xander.
"We think so."
But frozen in Antarctica with stuff in his head that could kill him. Would freezing him help?
"Director Harris," Dr. Weir said, pulling him out of his introspection. "What sort of analysis do you need of the last few days?"
Xander shook his head to clear it. Focus, he told himself. Twisting his thoughts away from Jack, he turned towards her. "I need to know everything you can tell me about the weapon that was used," he said. From the descriptions, that had to be it.
"The weapon?" said Dr. Weir. "May I ask why?"
"Aren't you supposed to cooperate?" he shot back.
"Director, you were given clearance for the Stargate Project and recent events. It was not my understanding that you were allowed access to knowledge about a very powerful weapon." Weir's voice was stern but still on the right side of polite.
"Right, cause I'm gonna run home and make one in my backyard," Xander said before he could stop himself. "Look," he said more seriously before Weir could say anything. "Something happened when that weapon did its thing. Something drastic." Xander searched for words that wouldn't give too much away. "I could care less about the weapon. If I wanted to blow something up I'd go steal a rocket launcher. So help me out here."
Dr. Weir regarded him for a minute with that same unreadable expression while Xander tried to look sincere.
"Dr. Weir, there's no way he could get access to the site and with as little as we know about the Ancients' technology, it can't hurt," said Daniel into the silence. Finally Weir nodded.
"I'm afraid there's not much we can tell you," she said, sitting back in her chair with a sigh. "Access to the weapon has been severely limited due to the political situation. We're having difficulty getting even Colonel O'Neill back."
"But you will get him back, right?" Xander asked suddenly sidetracked by this news. Jack couldn't stay in Antarctica forever, cause even in stasis he would waste away.
"Yes, eventually," Weir smiled. "Major Davis, the latest science report is on my desk, if you would." The Major nodded and went to fetch it, back a moment later. Weir smiled a thank you as she accepted it and slid it to Xander. "What we do know is that the weapon is controlled mentally by a person, in this case Colonel O'Neill." Between her and Daniel, they explained the very vague particulars on how the weapon worked. Basically, you plugged in the power source, sat in a chair, and thought real hard for globules of energy to come out of the floor. The energy packets could be consolidated or could work independently of each other. Except Xander reasoned the energy was magic and what they thought was a power source was probably a key or something. Dangerous, whatever it was, if it unleashed the full magical power of the Earth. And now that magical power was in space. Great. Xander rubbed his eye tiredly as they finished up. Why couldn't this be easy? Just once?
"So what's the prognosis?" asked Daniel cautiously.
Xander smiled humorlessly, his gaze flickering from him to Weir and back. "Do you want the bad news or the bad news?" he asked.
"With the nice energy shake in space? We've got . . . issues," he said not sure if Daniel understood what he meant or not.
"Issues?" asked Weir sharply.
"Yeah," Xander nodded, unsure of how much more he could say. The scary part was, he had no idea what to do about it. The person best suited to solving this problem was Willow and she was either still unconscious or still sick from the backlash. And what were they going to do until the Earth naturally restored itself? Crap. Crap, crap, crap. With a cherry on top.
Xander leafed through the science report again, ignoring the words that were far too technical for him and focusing on the pictures of the underground room and the equipment covered in strange symbols. And then suddenly he was staring at Jack through a block of ice like some warped piece of art. He was staring at nothing, his face blank and lifeless, and Xander felt something akin to panic flutter in his chest. Jack in Antarctica, frozen with something in his head that would kill him if he woke up. It hit him then that he might not ever see him again, alive. This picture might be his last. Killed from knowing too much.
Abstractly, Xander knew he should be focusing on the weapon at hand, but Scooby instincts to protect people first and deal with the consequences later kicked in and he couldn't look away. "What's been done about getting Jack back?" he asked.
"We're working on it," said Dr. Weir. "Several countries have just been briefed on the Stargate Project given the recent attack and are reluctant to let us take anything from the site, but it is a priority. That's not really relevant to this discussion, however."
Xander looked up at her. "So he's just being left there?"
"Director Harris - "
"He's got all that stuff in his head that's killing him and you're just leaving them there?" He couldn't believe it. Wasn't he the guy that had just saved all their asses by knowing what to do? Even if he inadvertently caused the drain to make the weapon work . . . And if he was left there he was as good as dead. Wasn't there some way they could fix him?
"So this problem you're addressing," said Daniel slowly yet abruptly shifting topics. "It has to do with the . . . energy . . . and how it works?"
"I think so, yeah," said Xander watching the archeologist carefully as he obviously thought through something.
"Then Jack should know," he said finally. Daniel sat up straighter but seemed hesitant to continue. "He's got the knowledge of the Ancients who built the weapon. In theory if we revive him, he should be able to tell us what you need to know before . . ."
"His brain leaks out of his ears?" Xander suggested. It was obvious, of course, more so now that it had been thought out loud. And it was terrifying because that would only speed up the deterioration of Jack's brain once he was thawed, if it had even been stopped at all. He couldn't risk that, even if what he could tell them would help. "Waking him up will kill him." And that was the bottom line.
"We're working on that," Daniel shifted slightly in his seat with a quick glance at Davis. He tried to smile reassuringly though the worry never left his face. "We're not going to let him die. We have some allies that can help and when they get here we can do it. We won't rush into anything." He turned to Weir. "But there's got to be a way we can use that to get him back here."
Peripherally, he heard Daniel, Weir, and Davis start talking diplomacy but he ignored them and instead looked back at the picture of Jack encased in ice, cold and dead-like. Xander wouldn't lose him this way. He couldn't. In his head he heard Jack's words come back to haunt him, words he'd shoved down with anger so they wouldn't become goodbye. Words he needed to hear again suddenly because sometimes being able to say goodbye was worth it.
There it was, the traitorous thought he'd managed to keep away for the last six days. Jack could die. Was probably going to, in fact. And Xander didn't want to lose him.
"How much can you tell us about why you need to know about the weapon?" Weir interrupted his morbid thoughts.
"Nothing anyone would believe."
"Then there's not much we can bargain with. Barring an act of God, this is going to be very difficult."
"Then just go kidnap him in the middle of the night," Xander suggested the simplest answer he could think of. He probably should have kept his mouth closed given the raised eyebrows he was getting, though Daniel did seem more amused than shocked. "Or something," Xander added hastily.
"Not a bad idea," Daniel muttered and from the expectant look he gave Weir, Xander figured he must have been harping on getting his best friend back since it had happened.
"I'm just saying . . ." Daniel lifted his hands in his defense.
Dr. Weir gave him a final warning look before she turned to Xander. "We'll see what we can do. You're welcome to stay on base. Dr. Jackson, perhaps you could show Director Harris to the commissary?"
"Sure," Daniel nodded, rising and gathering his things while Xander followed suit and shook hands with both Weir and Davis before following him out the door.
"You want to see the stargate?" Daniel asked as they exited through the door through which Daniel had entered. Xander didn't even have a chance to say yes as suddenly he was looking at it through the window of the control room they were in. It was large. Slate blue-gray in color with symbols and funny triangle things around its edge and a metal pinwheel across its face.
Xander stared at it for a second before saying the first thing that came to mind. "That's cool!"
Daniel grinned. "Wait till you see it in action. Come on." With a last look at the portal to other planets - planets! Xander thought excitedly - he followed his guide down the steps into the corridor below. He almost wanted to try it. Andrew was going to be so jealous.
"I was surprised to see you here," said Daniel giving Xander a quick look as they started down the hallway. "You look like you've had a rough couple of days."
"Yeah, well, getting all the magic sucked out of your body while your dad uses it to save the world on top of finding out that he might die afterwards will do that to you," Xander replied. That got Daniel's attention, his step faltering a second before reestablishing itself.
"Jack called you?" he asked. Xander nodded. "And the . . . magic . . .?"
Xander sighed and returned the curious gaze, clear and hiding nothing. Xander was relieved that there was someone else who knew about his world that he could talk to in this cold place. Another person who, even if he didn't get it all, wouldn't disbelieve him or the magnitude of what they were facing. It probably broke all the rules, but he didn't care. Rules were made to be ignored. "I'll tell you over breakfast."
Daniel and Xander's interesting breakfast took place in a forgotten corner of the dining hall and was joined midway through by Jack's other friends Sam and Teal'c. Xander eyed them carefully at first - he hadn't seen them since Christmas - but nevertheless recapped what he'd already told Daniel and finished with the guesses the Scoobies had made. Daniel and Sam both asked questions focusing on the details of the drain, which they accepted as magic with little protest, and on the nature of magic in the world and what its loss meant. Surprisingly, they knew more than Xander had first thought they did.
"We had a long talk with Mr. Giles," Sam told him with an amused smile when he asked.
"And did a little reading on our own," Daniel added with a shrug. "You'd be surprised at how many Internet sources there are on the supernatural the way you described it."
"Trust me. They're all bookmarked on our computer," Xander replied with a grin of his own that the others shared. Except for Teal'c who was starting to make Xander uncomfortable as always. Xander didn't think he would ever figure the guy out.
He took another bite of soggy French toast as silence fell over them briefly, the other three not bothering to fill it with chatter as they turned back to their own neglected cups of coffee. It was kinda funny how they had just pulled them into their circle. Sam and Teal'c's arrival had effectively shielded Xander from the rest of the room. At Christmas, he hadn't talked much with them beyond the little stuff so it was a little awkward not knowing what to say. But on the other hand, there was no pressure. Sam smiled when his eye met hers, and Daniel seemed to be distracted by his thoughts again. He was probably thinking about Jack, wondering like Xander was about what would happen to him.
"How was he when he . . . you know . . . fired the weapon?" Xander asked suddenly. Jack's friends all looked at him then each other before Daniel answered.
"He'd already lost the ability to speak English," he said quietly. "The migraines hadn't set in yet though."
"So when they wake him up . . . You can fix him, right?"
"We've been trying to get in touch with the Asgard," said Sam. "They took the library out of his head last time."
"Asgard?" Xander didn't recognize the name that must have belonged to the allies Daniel had mentioned earlier. And more importantly, "Last time?"
"Another alien race with advanced technology," Daniel explained. "We met them the last time it happened."
"O'Neill is friends with a commander in their fleet," added Teal'c. "If they can help, they will."
The relief that surged through him that Jack had lived through this before was short-lived. "When did you call them?" The question sparked another round of worried looks and Xander knew that it had been far too long ago for comfort.
"Last week when he downloaded the library," Sam told him.
"I'm sensing a need for plan B," said Xander, abruptly putting down his fork. He wasn't so hungry anymore. Of course, what did he know about getting in touch with aliens, anyway? Even if the three people sitting with him thought it was taking too long and were worried and -
"Xander," said Daniel gently. "We'll get him back."
"You sure about that?"
"Yes," said Teal'c, surprising Xander enough to look up at him. "We will find a solution. If the Asgard do not come, then we will find a way to replenish the Earth's magical forces and your friend will restore him in your manner." The calm confidence in his voice was reassuring and the belief that Willow would be able to cure Jack comforting. "O'Neill will never stop fighting. Do not give up on him."
"I know. I'm not. It's just . . ." Xander picked his fork back up and started resolutely picking at his sodden toast, unsure how to put his feelings into words.
"He's your father," said Daniel for him, and Xander heard in his voice understanding of what he was going through because the three of them were struggling with the same thing for their friend, their brother.
"Yeah," Xander quietly agreed looking around at knowing eyes. And it didn't seem so weird that he was a part of this group, in this place, at this time. Not so weird at all.
When they met back in the conference room a few hours later, Dr. Weir greeted them with a smile. "Good news, gentlemen," she said. "The ambassadors have managed to come to an agreement. Dropping the name of your organization did wonders for the negotiation," she looked at Xander with unvoiced questions undoubtedly running amok behind her eyes. "Once the British ambassador heard you were looking into the situation he apparently disappeared to make a few phone calls and came back supporting Colonel O'Neill's return to us."
"What can I say? We're connected," Xander said modestly, giving grudging points to the old Council.
"Yes, you are," Weir agreed with the unreadable look. "We're expecting his return once the scientists have figured out how to get him here."
"Thank you," said Xander in relief. One obstacle down, fourteen gazillion to go.
"I've assigned you quarters in the VIP rooms while we wait. Until then I only ask that you stay with your escort." She nodded to the airman by the door. "Dr. Jackson, if I might have a word?"
The meeting obviously over, Xander went and followed his new friend to the ugly little room they'd given him a few floors up. Dark colors, boring walls, what was it with the military? And of course, absolutely nothing to do. So Xander did the only thing he could: kicked off his shoes, threw his coat on a chair, and went to sleep.
A few hours later a knock on the door woke him with a start, his new surroundings confusing him for a minute before he put two and four together to get three in the missing spot. When he got up to answer it, he found Daniel at the door grinning like a loon.
"You're not gonna believe this," he said excitedly.
"No, not that, but almost as good," Daniel shook his head coming in. "Kinsey has just been quarantined in the infirmary."
"Kinsey? The guy who wanted me kidnapped?" Xander stared at him. The Vice President of the United States Kinsey?
"The very same. Did you know the President fired him during the attack?"
"He did what?!" Xander found a chair and sat in it, Daniel joining him
"Fired him. Dr. Weir just told me when she told me he was back and in quarantine." Daniel was still grinning. "Apparently he tried to run to another planet to hide."
"And the President fired him?"
"Yeah." Daniel paused and looked thoughtful for a moment. "You know under normal circumstances I would feel bad for the guy, but considering how much I hate him . . . Anyway," he pulled himself back from his rambling thoughts. "He was on his way back to Washington when he suddenly developed a nasty case of boils on his ass." Daniel lifted innocent eyebrows at Xander who couldn't stop the glee from surfacing. "Now the firing is . . . understandable. Normal even. But the boils . . . well they figure they're some sort of alien virus that he picked up here. Funny thing is, no one else seems to have the same symptoms."
"You know, I have this friend," said Xander conversationally as he leaned back in his chair, very satisfied with life for the moment. "And you really shouldn't try to hurt people she cares about. She gets a little cranky."
Daniel smiled, his arms crossed comfortably across his chest as he too sat back very satisfied with poetic justice. A major pain in the ass for the major pain in the ass. "Does she like presents?"
By dinnertime, Xander was bored. Very bored. All this free time waiting and nothing to do. Not even a TV to rot his brain on. He'd hung out with Daniel for a while, but he hadn't been too interested in all the translating stuff and eventually he'd drifted back to his room with a book on mythology that wasn't nearly as interesting as Daniel had said it was. He couldn't get out of there fast enough when the Sam came by to ask him to dinner.
"Oh, thank you!" said Xander. "I was ready to tear out the pages and play wasteketball. Here, take this," he handed off the book before harm accidentally befell it.
Sam only grinned at his antics. "You're as bad as the Colonel," she said fondly, which made Xander shake his head in embarrassed pleasure. He was his own person, had been for a long time, but it was still nice to hear.
"Hey, you've had something to do all day," Xander defended himself. "I have done nothing but catch up in sleep and imagine how much pain Kinsey must be in."
"You guys really did it, didn't you?" said Sam with a bit of amazement thrown in her tone. "I honestly didn't think it would happen," she shook her head. "When I heard he'd been fired, I thought Hayes had just finally seen him for the jerk he was. Nothing magic about that. But the boils . . . how the hell did you manage that?"
"Wishful thinking," Xander deadpanned. Sam cut her eyes at him with a look that told him she knew there was a little devil somewhere behind that innocent expression.
As they rounded the next corner, it took a few seconds for Xander to notice it. And when he did he though it was just the hall and the strange place. His steps slowed and Sam stopped as he did, staring at him curiously.
"Xander, are you all right?" she asked, worry at his abrupt change in behavior now marring her brow.
Xander held very still, one hand coming up in the universal 'wait' gesture. Senses suddenly turned on to their max, he listened, his eye darting back and forth trying to pinpoint whatever it was, though he had a fairly good idea. Things were shifting. Subtly and more slowly than before, but nonetheless sliding back into place, feeling inexplicably right.
"Something's happened," he said quietly, his eye finding Sam.
"Xander?" She stepped towards him and laid her hand lightly on his arm.
"In Antarctica. Everything's right again. Or getting there faster than it was."
"Everything . . ." Sam trailed off getting it. "We need to tell Dr. Weir."
"No!" said Xander. At Sam's startled expression he explained. "If we tell her, I have to leave, and if I leave I won't see Jack."
"We still need to figure out what caused the correction," said Sam. "You don't have to leave till after we figure that out."
She was right, he supposed. They had to know what had changed so they would know what not to do to prevent the drain from ever happening again. At the moment though, Xander needed to make a phone call.
In the end, Sam did convince Xander that they needed to tell Weir, but only after he called Giles so it looked like the confirmation was the original report. Weir listened and agreed that Xander could stay until the situation was resolved and after two days and a lot of confusing reports that Xander was only too happy to let Sam translate, they had an answer. Sort of.
The simple explanation was that it had to do with unplugging the thing Jack had plugged in. The complicated part had to do with connections and energy and Laws of Thermodynamics that made Xander's head hurt. The plan was still to pick Jack's brain before it up and walked out on him, but for that they were still waiting on the Asgard. Xander was waiting on Willow.
But Xander didn't really care about any of the 'whys'. As far as he was concerned, the crisis had been averted and he didn't really care about the details. All they had to do was not use the key thing again and they wouldn't have any more problems.
No, what Xander cared about was the other significant event that took place that day: the return of Jack's partially frozen body. He'd arrived that afternoon, the surprising de-stasitizing process already begun by the key's unplugging in Antarctica, but it was thankfully slow going. The doctors were all scratching their heads, trying to figure out how he wasn't dead as he slowly recovered his normal body temperature like a thawing turkey left to sit on the counter. At a loss, they had finally stopped hovering for the night. A little nurse distraction by Daniel and guard distraction by Teal'c and Xander found himself in a chair in the isolated room where Jack lay as still as death.
But not dead yet. Xander had been sitting there just watching him since Sam had left some twenty minutes ago. Silver hair framed a peaceful if pale face with lips that were a little too purple for comfort. Jack looked older, tired. Frail. It was at once frightening and heartening to see him there so vulnerable but still alive. The monitoring equipment hummed in the background.
"I know I told you to call me," Xander finally broke the silence softly. "But then you had to go popsicle on me and now I'm the one calling on you. I hate hospitals but I guess you know about that with Dawn and all." He stopped. They always said talking helped. Sometimes Xander wondered. "Sure made a mess of things, huh? But it got you back anyway. Can you believe those guys, fighting over who gets what with you just stuck there? I'll never get politicians. Oh, and you'll never guess what happened to Kinsey . . . though I think I'll tell you when you wake up. You'd appreciate it more." He paused again while Jack continued to breathe in and out, in and out. Xander hated watching him. Hated sitting by his bed waiting. He hated knowing that the last thing he'd said had been harsh and cruel and deep in denial.
"I'm sorry I was mad at you," he said. "I'm sorry I didn't let you finish saying what you needed to say. I just couldn't . . . couldn't think about losing you." Xander sat forward and rested his elbows on his knees letting his head sag down a moment before looking back up at the man who had just waltzed into his life last summer. Had it really been almost a year already? "It was kind of scary actually. When you said you were proud of me. Not a run-for-your-life scared, but you know . . . It's been a long time since anyone's said that to me. My dad, Tony, when we talked he would yell. Of course, he was drunk most of the time - you can imagine how pleasant that was." Xander let out a dry chuckle. "In less than a year and from another state you managed to be more my dad than he'd been since . . . a long time. I keep saying that - 'long time.'
"I guess what I'm saying is that you can't die on me, Jack. You can't die on me because I don't want it to be another long time before someone decides to hop a plane for me because of one crazy phone call in the middle of the night. Not that you have to do that every time, but it's the thought that counts, right? Right." He trailed off.
"Teal'c says we'll find a way to put your marbles back in your head. You've got some cool friends, though I almost killed one of Daniel's books. Sam said I was as bad as you about that. I can see that. You know I have an irrational fear of old books? Comes from reading too many trying to save the world. Giles just loves them. It's always about the books with him. Though I did find a TV at his apartment back in Sunnydale, so there is proof that he's moved into the twentieth century. Hasn't made it to the twenty-first yet, but we're working on him. Did I tell you about how he killed his cell phone? There was a demon involved but I think Giles just used that as an excuse."
Xander rambled on, talking about anything and everything that popped into his head. He didn't know how long he sat there, just that he couldn't stop talking. He talked until he no longer made sense to himself and the pauses between ramblings grew longer and longer. The whole while, Jack breathed in and out, in and out, steady and strong until he seemed to be more sleeping than just lying there half-dead. And when Teal'c came in and told him to go to bed, Xander left feeling at peace for the first time since Jack's phone call. His father might not have been out of the woods yet, but he was going to be fine.
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