Chapter Twelve: Twelve Little Monkeys Hoppin' on the Bed
They ended up not throwing their four new prisoners down in the basement. Jack saw Buffy take one look at the closed door and think better of it. Instead she ordered the unconscious, groggy, and struggling agents into the sitting room, sending Dawn and by extension Courtney, for rope.
"Garbage ties would be better," Jack told her before the two girls left the room. "They won't be able to get out of those." Buffy stared at him a moment before blinking.
"Right. Human," she said and then nodded to her sister approving the change as followed them out. Jack shook his head and let the comment pass. There was no time right now for processing the last two minutes. These men had to be taken care of first. And kindly questioned as to what the hell they thought they were doing trying to kidnap his son. Jack glanced back at Xander who was flapping Carter away while she tried to check him out.
"It's fine. No stars, no birdies, and only minimal residual anvil," his son was telling her. Carter had that exasperated but determined set to her jaw that said she was having none of it, a look Jack knew and hated well.
"Xander, let me check you out, or I'm calling a doctor."
"I'm fine. I don't need a doctor," said Xander stubbornly.
"Fine, then we'll take you to the hospital," said Carter briskly. "Daniel, could you help me get him to the car?" Xander jumped back, wobbled a bit then refound his balance.
"Xander, just let her look at you!" Jack snapped, finally fed up with them. "If you're really fine there's no harm done."
"I'm not going to the hospital," Xander grumbled defiantly but allowing Carter to check his visual tracking nonetheless.
Jack rolled his eyes at Teal'c who raised an amused eyebrow. A moment later, Dawn and Courtney came back in with several lengths of rough rope.
"We don't have any garbage ties," she said apologetically as she held them out to him. "They're all drawstring."
"There were twist ties, if you still want them," Courtney offered. "But they're kinda short."
Jack resisted a cutting a remark at the thought of hooking together bits of paper covered wire to restrain trained agents. The kid was only trying to help after all. "Rope's fine," he said, accepting a piece and efficiently binding his prisoner's hands and feet. He went to help Teal'c with his live one while Daniel took care of the unconscious men.
Buffy was back by the time they finished, carrying with her a glass of water. Her face was unnaturally chipper as she smiled at Teal'c prisoner who was the only one in any condition to talk. "Are you okay?" she asked while Jack and Teal'c pulled him into a chair. "Don't be so mean!" she looked indignantly at them, her eyes wider than normal. Jack had to restrain another snort at her obvious attempt at playing 'good cop'. From the way he was looking at her, the agent wasn't buying it either. "You want some water?" she asked him.
"No thanks," the agent said with sweet sarcasm.
"I really think you should reconsider," said Buffy in the same innocent-little-girl tone.
"Oh yeah?" challenged the agent. Jack had enough of this.
"I don't think we've been properly introduced," he said. He stepped over in front of Buffy so he was squarely facing the agent. "Colonel Jack O'Neill, United States Air Force. The young man you just tried to abduct is my son. You," he pointed directly at the man's face, "are going to one of the finest prisons in the country whether you cooperate with us or not. You tell us who you work for and who you get your orders from and we'll see about cutting a deal. So start talking."
He had the agent's complete, if insolent attention, and Jack briefly wondered if that's what he looked like to the Goa'uld. It was damn annoying, so he figured it must be close. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Buffy staring at him, her innocent act gone and replaced by irritation that he had just taken over like that. But really, she wasn't helping.
"What do you think you're doing?" she demanded of Jack, one hand dangerously settled on her hip.
"Interrogating the prisoner," Jack shot back. "Being nice to him is not gonna help."
"Fine. Hold this." She handed him the glass of water then abruptly grabbed the agent by the front of his shirt until his face was inches away from hers. Jack made no move to stop her for the moment, wondering just what she was up to. "I know two things," she said darkly. "One, you attacked my best friend. Two, you are going to drink that water." As she said this, one hand let go of his shirt and twisted his jaw open. Panic flooded the agent's eyes at this startling display of strength. Surprised himself, Jack had no time to protest as her other hand took the glass from his and poured it down his throat. Some dribbled down his chin but Buffy gave him no choice but to swallow the rest with her hand clamped across his mouth and nose. When it was over she stepped back.
"Now," she said in a normal tone of voice, quite pleased with herself. "Tell me who you work for, who gave you your orders, who they work for, and what you were supposed to do here?"
And to Jack's surprise, and the agent's for that matter, he started talking. His orders were simple and came from a man named Kielly who from the looks Buffy and Dawn exchanged was familiar to them. Their primary objective was to apprehend Xander and take him to a secure facility in the countryside. The agent kindly provided them with the location. Their secondary objective was to investigate the disappearance of the first team. He didn't know much more than that. They were just the field agents after all, following their orders like any good bad guy.
Once his guts were spilled, Buffy smiled, patted him on the cheek and punched him across the jaw, knocking him unconscious.
"Hey," said Daniel. "Was that really necessary?"
"I don't like people who kidnap my friends," Buffy glared at him. She turned to Jack. "So did that mean anything to you?" she asked all business.
"Uhh, not really. You?" he asked back, wondering if she'd share what she knew. Surprisingly, she did.
"Kielly was the one who sent the first group," Buffy said glancing at her sister.
"We couldn't find out who he got his orders from," Dawn finished. "The rest is like what the others said."
Jack looked over at Daniel who stared back then after a moment shrugged and nodded as if to say, 'yes I'd tell them, but it's up to you'. Given the vast amount of information Xander's friends had uncovered already, it probably wouldn't hurt. Besides, Jack didn't think there was anything they could do about it without drawing more unwanted attention to themselves.
He turned back at Buffy. "The man who's behind Kielly is Dick Kinsey," he said.
A second or two passed while it sunk in, only surprisingly it was Dawn who exclaimed, "as in the next-Vice-President Kinsey?!" while Buffy remained confused.
"We have another Vice President?" she said. "That means we have another President too, right? Why doesn't anyone tell me these things? And how do you know?" she turned annoyed to her sister who sighed heavily in exasperation.
"Hello? Eighteen now. Got to vote for the first time."
"Did you know about this?" Buffy turned this time to Xander who had rejoined them with Carter around the unconscious men.
"You were here for her birthday," he said with a confused look at Jack who couldn't believe what he was hearing. How could Buffy not know it was an election year? It was impossible to ignore with all the news and ads and bumper stickers everywhere, even for him and he wasn't even on the planet most of the time.
"No, the election. That's the second one I've missed," she whined. "That's so not fair! I've got rights to exercise here, but noooo, too late! They're gonna get out of shape and flabby and then where will I be? Stupid country," she grumbled.
"You were saying?" Xander pointedly turned away from Buffy's sour mutterings to Jack. "Our next Vice-President wants to kidnap me to get to you?"
"You've met him?" asked Courtney, awestruck by the idea of meeting such a famous person.
"He's really not a nice guy," Jack told her. "Quite a . . .butthole actually," he quickly caught himself.
"It's okay, you can say 'asshole'," said Courtney with a patient nod. "I'm not a kid, I've heard it before."
"Good to know," he nodded seriously, though that's exactly what she was to him. And she really shouldn't be swearing at her age. Across from him, he saw Daniel politely cover a grin with his hand. "Anyway," he got back to the point. "To cut a long story short, he doesn't like me, or us, or the fact that he can't control our project, so - "
"He wants to use Xander to get to you," Buffy finished. She still looked a little put out from before. "You didn't vote for him, did you?" she asked Dawn suddenly.
"It's none of your business, but no," the young woman replied. "Didn't help though since Ohio did."
"You tried and that's what matters," said Xander consolingly.
"Look, forget the election," said Jack. "We're stuck with him and there's really not much you can do about that."
"Hey - "
"But," Jack cut off Buffy before she went off. "He doesn't know the attacks have failed yet."
"What?" This was a surprise for the kids.
"We know it's Kinsey because he sent an aide to demand my retirement papers. Yesterday the aide was still asking about them. Kinsey doesn't know," Jack explained.
"We're working with a contact in the NID about establishing a connection between Kinsey and these attacks," said Carter. "If we can do that, then we have blackmail material."
"Since our last blackmail is no longer any good," Jack muttered. And damn Kinsey for getting away with it.
"Will it work?" asked Buffy. "I mean with sleeper cells he can just keep on attacking us until he accidentally finds out something he shouldn't. I don't want to deal with the military again."
Carter looked at Jack and he read the uncertainty there. Buffy was right, as long as the rogue NID existed and Kinsey was in a position to gain from SG-1's removal, he would keep trying, and eventually he would get through. Before he could put a reassuring spin on it though, the sound of police sirens intruded into their conversation.
"Shit!" Buffy spun to face the window. "Basement now!" she snapped gesturing frantically at the bodies on the floor. Jack made for the one in the chair only to be grabbed by the arm by Xander and pulled to the front door.
"Ready to play Dad?" he asked humorlessly.
"I'll be there in sec," said Buffy, but Xander shook his head.
"I got it," he said. "Just get them out of here." They ended up having more time than expected. Jack watched with Xander as the two police officers went to the neighbor two doors down first who must have made the call. By the time they came walking up the front steps, the NID agents and Teal'c were hiding in the basement while Daniel, Carter, Buffy, Andrew, and the kids hung back in the TV room.
This time the officers were legit, and Jack got the chance to play the supporting role of the family patriarch to Xander's superb storytelling. No, don't know where the shots came from. Sounded almost like New Years firecrackers going off early. They were just as startled as the neighbors had been. They quickly got the kids inside just in case. The scuffle marks in the snow? Snowball fight, sir. The car is my dad's here. The other cars belong to my aunt and uncle, do you want me to get them?
It didn't hurt that Courtney poked her head around the corner, the image of a curious little kid wondering why the police were at her house. Satisfied, the officers left after a few minutes. Xander slumped against the door in relief, apparently he'd been more nervous than he'd let on.
"You're good," Jack commented mildly, both impressed and disturbed by how easy it had been to get rid of them. Xander was a good liar and he didn't know how to feel about that. "Where'd you learn that?"
"From the Sunnydale police," Xander grinned at the irony. He straightened and started for the den. "You wouldn't believe what they called all the supernatural stuff that went on in town." Jack had an idea, a certain two motherships coming to mind. Unfortunately he didn't get a chance to ask as they joined the others.
"So Kinsey," Buffy began only to be interrupted by a cry from the kitchen hallway.
"What?" Willow's voice snapped.
"Uh oh," said Xander. "I think she just found out about the new guys."
Sure enough, two seconds later, Willow stormed into the living room looking madder than Jack had ever seen her. Her jaw was set and her eyes narrowed as they scanned the room. "They sent more?" she asked, her voice a shade lower than normal.
"Calm down, Willow, we already interrogated them," said Buffy.
"Calm down? They came back. Again. I'll calm down when I'm good and ready! Nobody gets away with attacking Xander twice!" her voice rose only slightly but its intensity doubled until she was practically hissing the words. From Xander's and his friend's reactions, this wasn't a good sign.
"Willow, I'm all right. We took care of them," said Xander with his hands outstretched in a calming gesture. Behind her, Kennedy made an aborted move forward, deciding to let Xander handle her girlfriend instead.
"Who sent them?" she demanded.
"We were just talking about that," Carter started only to get a glare from the red head.
"Who sent them."
"Willow," Xander snapped, getting in her face. "Get a hold of yourself! You're losing it here and we can not afford that right now."
"Come on, Will," Kennedy stepped up this time. "Deep breath. I got you, all right?"
Willow visibly shook as she slowly inhaled and exhaled, her eyes closing. She allowed Kennedy to take her back into the kitchen.
"What just happened?" asked Jack looking from the kitchen hall to Xander who sighed and put his hands on his hips.
"That is why we really need to stop Kinsey," he said.
"Or someone's gonna get killed," added Andrew quietly which earned him a scowl from both Xander and Buffy.
"Andrew," Dawn elbowed him.
"What? You know it's true," the young man defended himself.
Buffy rolled her eyes at him. "It's the magic," she told Jack and the others. "Dark magic . . . messes with her. She's normally not like this, but the spell . . ."
The spell that both she and Xander hadn't wanted to talk about earlier. If this was what she was like now, Jack wondered how bad it had gotten before. He looked thoughtfully at Andrew who had scooted away from Dawn, pouting.
"So Kinsey," Buffy said pointedly.
"Right, Kinsey," Jack nodded. "Don't care for him."
"You already said that."
"Oh, right," Jack frowned. They had also covered just about everything else too. "We're working on it."
"That's not good enough," said Buffy, which made Jack glare at her. What did she expect, miracles? Magic? 'Cause she was the one with the hyped up witch.
"Sorry, I left my wand in my other pants," he said sarcastically. "There's not much more I can do here besides wish he were gone."
"So what are you doing exactly?" asked Buffy. She crossed her arms in front of her impatiently.
"We're - " began Carter again when Dawn cleared her throat and interrupted.
"Uh, Buffy, he said the w- word," she said. Every eye from SG-1 turned to her in surprise.
"The 'w-word'?" asked Daniel for them. What the hell was the w-word, wondered Jack. Wand?
"W-i-s-h," she spelled absently still staring at her sister. Buffy looked at Xander like she had suddenly gotten an idea.
"Do you think there's a patron demon for disgruntled voters?" she asked.
Jack stared at her, then looked at his teammates to make sure he wasn't the only one confused - or rather blind-sided - by this sudden question. Just what was a patron demon?
"We could always ask," said Xander quietly. And that's when Jack noticed that Xander didn't look too happy about whatever it was they were talking about.
"I'll get Willow," Dawn volunteered quickly, disappearing from the room.
"Uh, what's going on?" asked Jack waving his hand to get their attention. "And patron demon?"
"And why is 'wish' a four letter word?" added Daniel.
"Because it has four letters. You know, more than three, less than five?" said Xander, oh-so-helpfully.
"So good to know you can count," said Jack starting to really get annoyed with them and all their cryptic bullshit. "Now that we've cleared up that mystery not at all, care to fill us in?"
"Vengeance demon," said Buffy right as Dawn, Willow, and Kennedy returned. "We're gonna see about commissioning a wish to take care of Kinsey."
"Oh, of course." Jack turned to Daniel, Carter, and Teal'c. "We're commissioning a wish," he told them as if he knew what that meant. "Will it cost much?"
But they were ignoring him now. Instead Xander and his friends were standing in a loose circle around Willow who had arranged herself cross- legged on the floor. Exchanging nervous glances with Daniel and Carter, Jack didn't comment, figuring, given her earlier outburst, that that probably wouldn't be a good idea.
And then she began to chant in some language that Jack did not speak in slow measured tones. He cast an inquiring glance to Daniel who was concentrating on the words that he apparently understood. The linguist sidled up to them so their whispers wouldn't disturb the proceedings.
"She's praising blood and vengeance and asking someone - can't quite distinguish the name - to speak to them," he said, he listened a little more and grimaced. "That's gross." But he didn't elaborate. Assuming it was more of the same, Jack watched with the others. There was nothing spectacular about it, it was more like a ritual than anything magical. If this was a spell, Jack was beginning to doubt that it worked or that any spell actually would.
And then, before he could even finish the though a burst of flame erupted in front of Willow a figure in its midst that was not human colored. Jack blinked. This was new. Maybe not surprising after all the things they'd seen on other planets, but definitely new and there was a freaking holographic fire in the living room! That talked.
"Who dares summon me?" a deep booming voice echoed through the room. Xander rolled his eye at all the dramatics. "Bow before the great and powerful - oh, it's you," D'Hoffryn said in a lighter normal tone of voice, standing face to face with Buffy. Abruptly, the fires went out and the demon dressed in long robes put his hands on his hips with an annoyed expression on his face. "You know, I really don't like you very much."
"Good to see you too," said Buffy dryly.
"So glad we had this chat. I'll just be going now." But before he could do more than wave, Willow's voice snapped out.
"Hold it right there, mister. We're not finished with you!"
"Willow!" D'Hoffryn turned with a look of genuine delight crossing his face. "I thought it was you! A little tang of the bitter in the casting. Say, you're not going on a rampage are you? 'Cause we can do this later. I've got five to one on you cracking within the month and a little revenge served cold would turn this whole unpleasant summoning into my lucky day. I'll even give you a cut of the pot." His voice dropped to a pseudo whisper. "Succulent Mihratti spawn. Very hard to come by."
Willow glared at him, her nose wrinkling in disgust. "Eww, no," she said. "Unless I start on you."
"Ooh, aggressive," D'Hoffryn grinned. "You're not by any chance accepting the job?" When Willow glared harder, he merely grimaced. "I though not."
"But we do want to make a wish," Buffy jumped in.
That stopped the demon cold. Slowly he turned to face the Slayer. "You?" Disbelief was etched into every line in his body.
D'Hoffryn glanced at Willow, obviously wondering why she wasn't taking care of it personally. "Must not be such a pressing need if no one's been called to you," he said as he swept his eyes over them all. "But I'll bite. In as much gory detail as possible please."
"There's a politician that wants to kidnap Xander. We want to stop him by wishing him out of power, or something," Buffy smiled.
Xander suddenly found himself under the D'Hoffryn's smoldering gaze for a moment before the Demon Lord slightly bowed his head to him. "We were very sorry to hear of your loss. Anyanka is dearly missed by all."
Startled by the sudden sympathy, Xander nodded. "Thank you," he said. He felt a lump rise in his throat and hastily swallowed it down before it could choke him. Out of the corner of his right eye he noticed Jack watching him but he pretended not to notice. Instead he focused on the conversation unfolding before him between Buffy and D'Hoffryn.
"Now, about this wish," the Demon Lord was saying. "Normally I would say yes with copious amounts of glee, but I know you too well for old fashioned trust." He gave them an insincere smile. "It's going to cost you."
"What do you want?" asked Buffy, her chin rising stubbornly.
D'Hoffryn's teeth gleamed white. "I want a bound contract that forbids you meddling in the vengeance business forever."
"Forever, huh?" Buffy snorted at the stipulation.
"Since you have an bothersome habit of not staying dead . . ."
"What's this 'bound contract' thing?"
Willow cleared her throat and answered this one. "Umm, it means that you forfeit your soul if you, you know, break the contract."
"Like The Little Mermaid?" Andrew squeaked. All heads swiveled to where he stood by Dawn, suddenly shifting uncertainly. "You've all seen it, too," he mumbled defensively.
"Yes, delightful film," said D'Hoffryn. "Only you won't just be losing your voice and no amount of kissing will save you."
Xander tried to banish the image of D'Hoffryn singing Disney songs because that was just disturbing. "Who would have to sign this contract?" he asked.
"All of you. No meddlers allowed."
"Just me," Buffy bartered. "No one else will be able to stop a wish on their own."
"What do you take me for, a fool?"
"What do you mean 'meddle'? Because that's pretty vague," said Willow. "We'll need a precise definition before we cast any contract."
"Can I be the Party in the first part?" asked Xander which only earned him his own set of confused looks. "Never mind."
"Are you sure you don't want to work for me?" D'Hoffryn asked Willow. "Christmas and Easter off." All he got was another glare. "Darn it," he sighed. Buffy claimed his attention then as she started haggling with him over what constituted interference in the job of a vengeance demon. Basically he didn't want a repeat of what happened with Anya. Buffy didn't want to be limited in her response to threats on humans. It didn't take long for them to realize that this was going to take more time than they had thought so Buffy invited D'Hoffryn into the dining room with her and Willow. Xander watched them go, not feeling like listening to them squabble, remembering the last time he'd seen D'Hoffryn when he'd killed Halfrek to take back Anya's wish and remove her powers.
Kennedy, Dawn, Andrew, and Courtney drifted away as well, the teenager asking a million questions about why Buffy had summoned and not killed the demon. The complicated story of the grayness that was their life, thought Xander when he overheard. The bad guys are not always who they seem to be, and even the bad guys have their own rules and ambiguous morality that can be useful from time to time.
"So, you know each other?" Xander started at Jack's voice by his side, the older man having joined him now that details were being hammered out.
"Yeah," he replied. A quick glance showed Jack looking surprisingly calm about the whole demon summoning.
"And he's not an alien?"
"Demon. Well, demon lord, I suppose," amended Xander. "His deal's vengeance."
Xander swallowed. "Anya." He could feel Jack's surprise but refused to look at him and offer an explanation.
"Anya as in . . ."
"My ex-fiancée." The other three looked at him sharply at this, Daniel and Sam clearly surprised and Teal'c doing the eyebrow thing that seemed to be the only way he expressed emotion. All three glanced at Jack, taking their cue from him.
"Oh." Jack was quiet then putting the pieces together, "She didn't look like - "
"She was human while we were together." Xander just decided to ignore the rest of them; he didn't care what they thought anyway. Nonetheless, his eye darted to Jack to see how he was taking it.
"Oh." Jack was calm as before. No judgement, no anything, and Xander wasn't sure how he felt about that. He expected something more reactive than acceptance, but the shock might still come later he knew. For the moment, Jack was an unreadable mask. "So that was a . . . demon?" asked Jack again. This time Xander just looked at him. Hadn't they already been over this? "I thought you, you know, killed them."
Not just Courtney had questions then. "D'Hoffryn doesn't really exist in our dimension. He's from somewhere I can't pronounce," Xander shrugged. "He's actually not so bad for a demon if you ignore the people he kills."
"Always good to have murderous friends," said Daniel sarcastically, a little anger mixed in with the shock on his face. Xander let out a humorless snort at how true that was.
"He may be a bastard but he'll take care of Kinsey," he said. With both Buffy and Willow working on him, Xander had no doubt of that. "And that's what's more important right now."
"When you say take 'care of' . . ." Sam let the question hang.
"That'll be up to us. Whatever vengeance we wish upon him. That's how it works," Xander explained. "We won't kill him or anything. Willow will probably come up with something good." Though now that he thought about it, in her current mood she really shouldn't be deciding anything. She might choose something rash and permanent. He looked at the dining room door anxiously. Buffy wouldn't let her do anything stupid.
"Wish, huh?" Jack gave him a measured look. "Guess we better be careful what we wish for."
Xander nodded. "You have no idea," he said.
Jack waited for Xander to elaborate sensing a story there, but his son didn't seem to want to share. Instead he patiently answered Carter's other questions about how this 'wish' thing worked. It didn't sound too bad overall as it was restricted to the creativity of the human wisher. But then again, humans could be very creative in thinking up punishments, Jack knew, especially if they didn't think they would be carried out. A messed up system after all. Why were they talking with this guy, thing, again? And how did they know him in the first place? Though Jack could probably guess given the rather interesting conversation that they had started out with. And the mention of Xander's ex-girlfriend who had died two years ago when a lot of other nasty crap seemed to have gone down.
Jack sighed to himself and looked behind him for an armchair to fall into. Too much information in bits and pieces had filtered in over the last few days. God, had they really arrived just yesterday morning? So much had happened.
"Your planet is full of surprises, O'Neill," Teal'c interrupted his thoughts sitting near him on the couch. "I never expected to see a creature appear in fire in someone's living room."
"You and me both," Jack commented his gaze flickering back to Xander who was still speaking with Carter while Daniel listened with a reluctantly interested expression on his face.
"There are no limits," Xander was saying. "If the girl you cheated on says she wants your, you know," he stuttered embarrassed, "to fall off, it'll fall off in the most painful way possible. Probably with boils."
Jack shuddered at the mental image, noting that both Carter and Daniel looked away uncomfortably at the example.
"Is he suggesting what I think he is suggesting?" said Teal'c with a non-expression that bordered on distaste.
"I think so, yeah," Jack nodded, shifting in his seat slightly. It was just painful to even think about. He almost missed the Jaffa warrior doing the same it was so subtle. But he did and it made Jack feel immensely better for as much as Teal'c was his unflappable friend it was still nice to know that he was flappable.
The ringing of a phone prevented any further discussion. It was the normal ring from the kitchen that Xander hurried out to answer leaving SG-1 on their own. They were all silent as they glanced at one another to see how everyone was taking the last ten minutes.
"Well, that was oddly familiar," commented Carter. "I think I'm less surprised than I should be."
"Wait till the lack of technology settles in," suggested Daniel with a wry smile. "Then it'll start to bug you." Carter nodded and smiled at that as did Jack, all of them knowing how true it was. The archeologist's smile however quickly faded away.
"Daniel?" Jack asked what was wrong. His friend sighed, a hand coming up to rub the back of his head.
"Nothing. I think it's just bothering me already," his lips twisted up as he glanced at Carter. "It's just . . . anyone else feeling out of our league? I mean we see cultures that are simultaneously similar and different from ours, or what we know of, all the time. We face hostile . . . ss," he caught himself in time, "too but they're never so . . ."
"Flamboyant?" Jack couldn't resist.
"That," Daniel acknowledged not rising to the bait but smiling a bit anyway. "Or just . . . personable. When was the last time an enemy of ours offered us Christmas and Easter off just to switch sides?"
"When was the last time Hammond gave us Christmas and Easter off?" Carter asked back dryly.
"Good point. Think we should switch sides?" asked Jack.
"Leave the service of the SGC for a demon lord?" Teal'c looked amused.
"Hey, if we can be patron demons of . . . intergalactic victims," Jack threw out there. It didn't sound half-bad actually.
"I believe many of the System Lords already see us as such," commented Teal'c. "An official title in addition would make us that much . . . more intimidating."
"Teal'c, it's okay. No one's here to overhear you say 'cool'," Jack patted him on the knee reassuringly. Both Daniel and Carter grinned at this as they came over to join them in the sitting area.
"Do you think this wish will really work, sir?" asked Carter after a moment.
Jack shrugged. Honestly, he didn't have the first clue. He was tired of thinking of all this crap. "Xander does," he said, and as he did he realized that despite the ludicrousness of everything, it was enough for now.
When Xander answered the phone he half expected it to be Giles and so was surprised when another familiar voice answered his crisp 'hello.'
"Xander?" Riley Finn queried from who-knew-where.
"Riley!" said Xander delighted at hearing his friend's voice. "You called!"
"Yeah," Riley chuckled at the obvious.
"I mean, of course you called since you're on the phone," Xander stopped, realizing that smoothing it over only made him sound more like an idiot. Then the present finally caught up with him and he remembered that he was the one who had called Riley first, or rather the long chain of flower shops that kept them in touch. "I'm glad you called."
"Yeah, I heard you were having some troubles."
"Standard kidnapping that leads all the way back to the Vice President and something top secret in Colorado," Xander explained. "You probably figured out we don't want certain other things known to the nosy government beyond you."
"That wasn't in your message," said Riley clearly surprised. "Did you find out why they wanted you?"
"You're not going to believe this," Xander began with a grin. He still almost didn't believe it himself. Briefly, he told Riley about Jack and what they had found out so far - which wasn't much beyond the next VP wanted control of the top secret project that Jack worked on. Riley listened patiently and when he was done ten minutes later, was silent for a good minute taking it all in.
"I got a call from the Pentagon about an hour ago," he finally said. "Someone from the Air Force was asking about the Initiative. We don't use that designation anymore."
Xander winced and said, "I may have slipped when I was trying to convince them not to interfere."
"It's all right. Actually makes it easier for us, since we know the source for sure." Riley didn't sound bothered in the least. "Since I'm the Council liaison, the Pentagon is going to reroute all inquiries to me. We won't be able to take care of the rogue NID - I didn't even know there were rogue cells. There was supposedly a purge a couple of years ago . . . Anyway, we'll handle the Air Force and anyone else we can get our hands on. The brass doesn't realize how important you guys are so they pretty much leave everything to me and Sam. They've got other countries to worry about."
"So you've heard about these NID?" asked Xander, surprised.
"In black ops, you pretty much hear fairy tales about every other black ops out there. The Air Force in Colorado is one of the best kept secrets in the world. Ours might be better only because we're so small and no one cares." Xander smiled at the touch of both pride and jealously in Riley's voice. "The aliens don't surprise me, though I'd bet they're not all happy and nice like the one you've met."
Xander nodded to himself, details flitting about in his head. The strange story of how Jack and Daniel met, the midnight summons the night he'd gotten Courtney, the absolute synchronicity of the four member team. You didn't get that close by simply working together. "I wouldn't bet against you on that."
"Yeah." There was another pause. "So," Riley said. "New dad, huh?"
"Yeah," Xander sighed himself now.
"How's that working out?" Riley sounded hesitant.
"Until the whole I-fight-vampires-slash-my best-friend's-an-alien mess, surprisingly good. I haven't managed to scare him away yet."
Riley chuckled again. "No offence Xander, but you come across as a fuzzy puppy most of the time. I doubt you'll scare him away."
"Hey! I resemble that remark!" Xander mock huffed. Riley laughed this time.
"Seriously, though," he said calming down, "you good with it?"
"Yeah," Xander breathed. "But you should probably call me again tomorrow."
"Just let him know that a team of commandos will come after him if he tries anything. And we don't scare so easily."
This time Xander laughed. "He'll be the armless turnip whose body you might not be able to find."
"Noted," he heard Riley laugh again, a light relaxing sound that Xander suddenly missed in person. He'd only been around for about a year, but had been a Scooby, one that Xander had probably understood better than anyone. And they had been friends - still were if the death threat on his behalf was any indication.
"Hey, Riley," he said.
"I'm glad you called."
They chatted on for a few minutes about the Council and how everyone was doing. Xander reassured Riley that they had the Kinsey problem in hand with D'Hoffryn. Riley promised to get back with them soon about the Air Force and to give Sam a hug and a kiss from everyone.
By the time Xander hung up and rejoined Jack and his friends in the den, Buffy, Willow, and D'Hoffryn emerged from the dining room, all three looking pleased with themselves. Xander wondered if he should tell Buffy about Riley's call, but decided to wait, since her ex would be calling back in a few days anyway.
"So we ready for a little wishfest?" he asked everyone rubbing his hands together in anticipation. His conversation with Riley had left him in a good mood and ready to kick some ass, albeit from a thousand miles away.
"Quite!" said D'Hoffryn. "Once Willow and I cast the paperwork, I'll send Norman right over."
"Norman?" Jack lifted his eyebrows in surprise at the name.
"Patron of oppressed constituencies," D'Hoffryn smiled as he explained. "We changed his name after he accepted the position."
"What was it before?" asked Jack. Xander knew he had to be as curious as he was about how bad his name must have been before if he had changed it to Norman.
"Charles Guiteau. He's really quite good."
Norman still wasn't a better name, Xander shook his head at the notion. It took a moment for him to realize that Jack was looking at D'Hoffryn funny. His teammates having already picked up on it simply looked nervously between the two, Daniel's brow furrowed in thought that a second later cleared up and he too stared at the demon.
"The guy who assassinated Garfield?" Daniel asked.
What? thought Xander. "Garfield? Garfield isn't dead," he said. In fact Garfield couldn't be dead because Sunday funnies would never be the same. A sudden rush of panic hit him as he suddenly wished he'd looked more closely at the paper last weekend.
"Isn't Garfield a cat?" asked Buffy who didn't read the comics and hadn't realized the full implication of what his assassination meant yet.
But now for some reason, Willow and the four adults minus Teal'c were staring at them like they were talking crazy. D'Hoffryn merely looked amused.
"Please don't tell me they cancelled him," said Xander softly.
"Um, Xander, I think he meant President Garfield," said Willow slowly.
"We had a fat cat as president?" said Buffy. "Where was I when all this happened?"
"Sleeping through history after saving the world?" suggested Willow. "President Garfield was a man who was elected in the late 19th century and then assassinated while in office."
"Oh," Buffy looked at Xander who felt his face flush with embarrassment. He gave an apologetic shrug and shook off the feeling that he wanted a hole to swallow him right now, because so not a good thing to think on a hellmouth.
"Ah, that was so beautiful," said D'Hoffryn nostalgically. "He has done wonders since. And he just keeps getting better. You remember the election of 2000? Marvelous!"
"There was an election in 2000?" mumbled Buffy. "Why does no one tell me these things?"
"You're mom got sick," said Willow quietly.
"Oh. Right." A shudder of old grief brushed over Buffy in the blink of an eye before she shook it off and got down to business. "So Norman will be here Friday," she said. "And all of us in the house except them have to do the bond thing." She gestured toward Jack and his friends, excluding them from the circle.
Willow must have called out for the others mentally because a minute later the four younger Scoobies arrived. The actual bound contract spell didn't take that long to do. Both Willow and D'Hoffryn cast simultaneously and checked each other's spells. The final product was a conjured piece of paper that had to be signed by everyone along with a donation of hair. That was it. D'Hoffryn left then with a cheery goodbye in much better spirits than in which he had arrived. As if on cue, Jack's phone rang.
"O'Neill," he answered. He listened for a moment then said, "Thank you, Sergeant," and hung up. "The pickup crew from the base will be here in twenty minutes," he told the rest of them, which sparked another flurry of activity. Willow and Kennedy ran off to get the ingredients for the memory spell for the remaining four monkeys in the sitting room. Giles returned with Courtney's aunt and uncle at about that time and suddenly Buffy was dragging him off in one direction to talk about D'Hoffryn while Xander and Dawn tried to explain away the bodies and the magic making without coming off as completely out of control trouble magnets. Lucky for them, Giles had done a good job talking the Laysans around.
By the time the couple was safely in the dining room with coffee, the Air Force guys had arrived for the prisoners, all now happily unaware of anything strange in the house like invisible one-way walls. After they left it seemed like a tornado had come and gone. Xander stood in the doorway watching the van drive away and hoping that none of the neighbors had noticed too much. When silence once more held sway, he finally noticed that he wasn't alone on the stoop.
"Hey," said Jack. He took another step out the door, closing it behind him.
"Hey." Xander glanced over his shoulder to look at him. "You know, there's this thing called heat inside." He turned to go in, but Jack raised a hand to stop him.
"In a minute." His words halted Xander in his tracks and the young man gave him a wary look.
"What's up?" he asked.
"I just got a call from Hammond," said Jack. "We gotta get back." If anything, Xander became even stiller.
"When?" he asked, the wariness replaced by something else.
"We'll leave tonight."
"Something came up."
"Classified, huh?" Xander smiled, looking away, looking anywhere in fact except at Jack. The older man didn't know if he was hurt by that or not, but some things were not meant to be shared. From the looks of things here, Xander had enough to keep himself busy without the added worry of alien attack. If only Jack could say the same now that he knew the truth.
Instead of replying to that, he mentioned the other thing the General had passed along. "Hammond got an interesting phone call today," he began. "Not too long ago from the Army liaison with the International Watcher's Council." Xander blinked, a smile blossoming across his face at the news. "Didn't know you kept in touch with the Army," Jack went on. His son's reaction confirmed another secret that had been held between them. But Xander shrugged and crossed his arms across his chest.
"Just Riley," he said. "That was the guy that called, right?"
Surprised, Jack nodded. "Agent Riley Finn. No rank was given."
"He's Buffy's ex-boyfriend. He called earlier." Jack looked up sharply, again surprised. Xander grinned suddenly. "You can add him to the list of people to avoid if you ever hurt me."
"A friend then?" For some reason that was a relief, probably because it meant that Finn could be trusted if he had managed to win Xander's trust. Jack was beginning to learn how hard that was if the last two days were anything to go by. But he must have done something right because here they were each with their biggest secrets at least partially exposed and nowhere to hide. And hey, still talking to each other.
"So leaving tonight then," said Xander. "You don't have any other big surprises for me, do you?" he asked half-jokingly.
"Do you?" Jack asked back as he shook his head 'no.' Xander responded in kind. Another heavy silence fell between them, as seemed to happen too often, neither one of them knew what to add. "I didn't totally screw this up with you, did I?" Jack finally asked, pleased when Xander smiled albeit a little self-consciously.
"We're friends, right?" he said though the statement held more hesitation than it should have. And though it felt like a rejection in some ways, Jack smiled anyway and didn't let it show.
"Friends," he repeated firmly. But he had nothing to add to that because he wondered if they really were friends, each of them leading a double life that only dire circumstances had forced them to admit to. All assumptions were gone now, all points of reference because how had anything either of them had said not been tainted by half-truth or outright deceit?
"So," said Xander.
"So," said Jack staring at an old eye in a young and wounded face. He remembered his surprise when he had first seen Xander in person, wondering if he'd be given a chance to get to know his son. Now he wondered if he knew too much.
He stuck out his hand. "Mr. Harris," he said formally. "I'm Colonel Jack O'Neill, United States Air Force. I work on a top secret project in Colorado and I'm your biological father. My favorite color is blue and I don't like chicken."
Xander stared at him as if he'd gone mad, and Jack thought for a second that he wouldn't accept his hand. But he did.
"Xander Harris," a strong, warm hand clasped Jack's. "I'm a carpenter by trade but I work at Home Depot by day and as Chief Watcher of North America for the International Watcher's Council by night. My favorite color is sunshine yellow and I don't like pot roast or broccoli."
Jack smiled. "It's nice to meet you."
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