~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Xander pushed the handcart down the corridor toward the two big-ass metal blast doors. Considering that the military never had to fight anything more interesting than a terrorist, it seemed totally unfair that they got all the good toys and Buffy had to fight world-ending demons with a stake.
“Hold. Credentials.” An armed guard stepped out from behind a metal detector that started flashing madly the second Xander started pushing his cart through.
“Airman Harris, sir,” he offered, holding up his clipboard with orders and ID attached. “I’m delivering the peaches you guys ordered.” The senior airman stepped forward to claim the paperwork.
“Peaches?” A senior airman continued to eye Xander the way the less friendly vampire population might while the second lieutenant started running a very fancy hand-held scanner over the crates. The lieutenant must have pissed someone off pretty bad to get stuck doing shit guard duty, but then again, Xander didn’t have a whole lot of room to talk.
“Yes, sir. Airman Harris out of Peterson Air Force Base. Someone ordered peaches. You guys get all the good supplies over here because they stick us with the canned pears over at Peterson.” Xander offered the lieutenant a goofy grin. Most of the time, that worked. Since joining the service in a fit of Spike-inspired insecurity, Xander had figured out that the real world worked pretty much the way Sunnydale did, only with fewer demons. The first truth—people underestimated you if you had a goofy grin. The second rule was that Xander had an uncanny knack for attracting trouble. He’d gotten stuck doing this food run because two seconds after he’d shown up for an illegal poker game, officers had just happened to wander through the supply tent. Hopefully, Xander’s fellow airmen would forgive him some time before his four-year hitch was over. Otherwise, he was going to have a very uncomfortable tour at Peterson. An uncomfortable tour and a whole lot of time schlepping peaches over mountain roads.
“Rogers?” the lieutenant asked.
“The paperwork looks good,” the airman said. “It looks like someone finally remembered to fill out the right paperwork, sir.”
“I don’t know about that,” Xander offered. “I have five cases of peaches, ten of assorted meats and twelve cases of Jell-O. Either someone around here really likes Jell-O or your officers are worse than mine when it comes to the really important things, like food.” Xander gave the lieutenant another goofy grin.
Xander watched the odd look that passed between the two men. They shared the same sort of silent language he’d once shared with Willow and Buffy. All the military novels Xander had ever read suggested that people serving in the military developed this close relationship, this brotherhood that went beyond any friendship. So far, every military base Xander had served on looked more like high school with a different set of cliques. Military recruits could be real shits, and so far, Xander hadn’t seen a strong secret bond in sight. Oh, he’d seen drug use, alcoholism and a nasty habit of pulling practical jokes on the smallest man in the unit, but none of the tight comradeship Xander had wanted when he joined.
However, these two… they had it. Xander hadn’t expected that at a non-combat deep-space monitoring station. Maybe that’s why this silent language set off Hellmouthy alarms in Xander's head.
“They really like Jell-O around here, Harris. We’ll call for an escort to take you down to the commissary with those,” the lieutenant finally offered. For the first time, Xander noticed that the man wasn’t wearing a name tag or a unit patch, just his rank insignia on his shirt. Huge with the weirdage.
“No need. I haven’t gotten lost since I tried to find my way out of the parking lot at Lackland Air Force Base.”
“We’ll get you an escort,” the lieutenant said firmly, and Xander just nodded. He had a policy of not arguing with anyone who carried a gun. While the lieutenant made a call, Xander smiled at the other airman.
“Guard duty.” Xander made a sympathetic noise. “Not my favorite duty. Especially out here. Boredom city, huh?” The airman stared at him, and Xander shifted uncomfortably. Up until this point, he would have said that the worst part about the service was PT, but right now, he was starting to seriously hate whoever had ordered him to bring stuff up to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex because his every Hellmouthy instinct told him to run like a little girl. Potentially to run screaming like a little girl. But his orders meant that if he did that, he would be scrubbing a prison floor for the next couple of years. For a few seconds, Xander actually debated the merits of military prison versus ignoring a Hellmouth vibe. So not a good position to be in.
However, the lieutenant nodded at him. “You’re cleared, Airman Harris. Airman First Class Isaacs will meet you at the elevator with the key. Straight that way.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you,” Xander offered with a nod before he gave his cart full of food a big shove to get it rolling.
Heading through the doors, Xander swallowed at the sheer size of the things. “Holy zombie apocalypse,” Xander muttered. If the world came close to ending any time in the next three years, Xander knew where he wanted to be. No way could vampires or zombies or any other thing that went bump in the night get through those doors. Well, maybe Ethan Rayne could. Magic was big on the unpredictability scale. That was one reason why Xander was not so comfortable around it.
“Isaacs?” Xander asked when he saw a man waiting near an elevator control panel.
“With the peaches, even.” This time when Xander smiled, he got a smile in return, which made him feel a little better. Maybe the two guys up there were just putting out weird vibes because they had a hot and steamy gay porn thing going in the guard booth and Xander had interrupted them. Xander frowned. Okay, even for him that was an oddly random thought.
“This way,” Isaacs said as he used a key to activate the elevator controls.
“You guys do like your security.”
“You have no idea,” Isaacs said, and then his dark skin got even darker with a blush. “It’s the computers. We have a lot of expensive computers in here.” He frowned, and Xander felt another of those Hellmouthy vibes sending little sparks of cold terror though his spine.
They both fell silent as the elevator took them down several floors before sliding to a stop. The sheer number of floors below them stunned Xander. This complex had to be huge. Either that or someone had dug a really deep elevator shaft for no reason other than to freak out the guests. And that would be an expensive joke. The doors slid open, and Xander blinked as something skittered across his skin.
“Is there something—”
“The commissary storeroom is that way,” Isaacs said, cutting Xander off before he almost dashed out of the elevator and ran the other way.
“Oh, nothing weird with that. Nope. No weirdness at all,” Xander muttered to himself as he pushed his cart out into the corridor. The place was silent. Demony-level silent, and Xander found himself eyeing the wooden pallet under his cardboard delivery, wondering if he had enough time to make himself a stake. More importantly, could he explain why he wanted one if he got caught?
Two airmen came running down the corridor, guns pulled, and Xander flattened himself against the wall just as a siren started wailing loudly. “Great. Why can’t I ever be irrationally paranoid? But no. Every time I get paranoid, it turns out there’s something to get paranoid about.” Xander abandoned peaches and headed back into the elevator, but when he pushed the buttons, nothing happened. The lock was turned to inactive, and he didn’t have a key.
“Seriously?” Xander demanded. Before he could make any other complaint, the elevator doors slid closed and he started heading down into the mountain. “If this is a dream, this would be a good time to wake up,” Xander muttered as he hit every button, including the emergency stop, to try and stop the elevator. He also came up with new and original insults for Spike—the stupid vampire who’d talked him into believing that the girls didn’t need him and that he should sign up for the military. He even found a few new ways to call himself stupid for falling for the bleached one’s stupidity. And then the elevator stopped on level 22.
The doors opened, and Xander braced himself for something big and slimy to attack. His heart pounded, and he mentally reviewed the placement of any and all demon genitalia as he prepared to fight for his life. Instead two airmen tumbled into the elevator. Well, one airman and one airwoman, and Xander was making some assumptions on rank because both of them had lost their shirts in some bizarre industrial accident that required them to manually check each other for skin lesions. Either that or they had ripped off each other’s clothes and were feeling each other up. One or the other.
“Hey, um, nice day for some completely against the regs kinds of fraternization, not that I have a problem with fraternization. I’m generally in favor of getting fraternized whenever possible, only possibly not in public. Usually. Except for this one time with this girl named Anya.” Xander backed away as he babbled, but the couple was way more interested in getting each other’s pants off to actually notice him.
“Okay. That’s a 5.7 on the weird-o-meter.” Xander looked around, not sure what he’d find but expecting it to be bad. Hugely Hellmouthishly bad.
“Who are you?”
Xander spun around at the angry words and found himself face to face with a huge Marine. Huge. Wooly mammoth sized with eyes so black they looked alien—which was how Xander figured out the guy was stoned off his ass.
“Hey. Ignore me. I’m just the lost guy delivering food. Peaches. Peaches and Jell-O. And hey, you are looking at me really weird.” Xander backed away, and the Marine followed him with his eyes. This was so not good. Worse, Xander’s little pants friend seemed to enjoy getting looked at like the last virgin in a vampire convention. Clearly Xander’s pants friend was an idiot. Then again, his cock always had been an idiot, so Xander shouldn’t be surprised at that.
“Anders?” Another marine came out of a room, and the big-ass man turned to face him. Before Xander could say boo, the two men had practically leaped at each other. The fear that they would fight vanished when Xander saw each struggling to open the other’s belt.
“Oh hey, okay. You guys are really enlightened around here, aren’t you? Good for you. Go gay rights.” Xander backed up, forcing his legs to move away when this little voice in his head told him to join the men. He felt this itchy hunger that definitely wasn’t all him. He’d been around magic long enough to know when someone was mojoing him.
“I’m just going to… completely freak out is an option, actually,” Xander complained softly as he looked around at the stark corridors. “Hiding is good. I can do hiding.” Xander tore his gaze away from the kissing Marines and headed in the opposite direction down the hall. Every military base had storage closets, and Xander knew from experience that they made great places to hide.
“Oh, hey. Hi.” Xander stopped when a man with a bewildered expression came wandering out of another door. His glasses were sliding down his nose and his hair was definitely a little too long to be called military. “I think something odd might be going on.” Xander gave the guy a smile.
“Fuck me.” The man looked at Xander with that same intensity as the Marine. The crazy was contagious.
“Uh. Is that you saying ‘Fuck me, this is weird in a cursing sort of way?’ Because if it is, I’m kinda right there with you.”
The man closed the distance between them, his hand coming up to touch Xander’s chest and Xander could feel the fever heat of this guy’s skin right through his uniform. “Take me hard. Oh god, I’ve avoided men for so long. Just fuck me.”
“Oh god. Okay, oddly this is not the first time I’ve gotten this speech, but from experience, it rarely ends well. It ends with regrets and recriminations and accusations of abandonment and threats of castration,” Xander tried explaining, but he could feel his cock harden painfully. The fact was that he wanted to have sex with this guy. Yep. That would be magic because Xander was not exactly a slam-bam thank you ma’am sort of man. He was more the sort to tumble into a relationship emotions first and then get tangled on his own feet. However, this guy with his light brown hair and blue eyes and very manly jaw was definitely making Xander consider changing his game plan.
“I promise to not castrate you,” the guy said with a crooked smile that made Xander’s cock harden almost painfully fast. When this guy smiled he was stunning. Absolutely stunning. Then he fisted Xander’s shirt and shoved Xander back into the wall. “Now fuck me.” Without waiting for an answer, he kissed Xander hard. The taste of coffee and male musk filled Xander’s senses, and he grabbed the guy’s shoulders and pulled him closer. Running hands over the stranger’s shoulders, Xander could feel the muscles—the strength. However, after years of fighting demons and basic training, Xander had more. And he proved that by grabbing his partner and spinning him around so he had the guy pinned against the wall. Then he kissed the guy back. Hard. And his partner didn’t seem to mind because he grabbed Xander’s shirt and pulled it out of Xander’s pants so his hot fingers could find the skin below.
Yeah. It was magic, but Xander wasn’t going to try and fight the inevitable, especially not when the inevitable smelled good enough to eat. “What’s your name?”
“Xander,” Xander offered. “Closet?”
“There.” Daniel pointed at a door and Xander nearly tripped as he turned, fisted Daniel’s shirt and pulled him toward the door as fast as he could. Daniel was right there with him, scrambling to get to the door. Xander clawed the door open and shoved Daniel up against a wall of the closet, knocking over a mop and sending several spray bottles tumbling off a shelf.
By the time Xander pulled the door closed and turned on the light, Daniel was already shimmying out of his pants. The man had one seriously fine ass—rounded and well-muscled and so beautifully pale. “Oh hell yes,” Xander breathed, and then he looked around desperately. He needed something slick. “Damn. Shit. Um, lotion, oil, something.”
Daniel spun around, a desperate look on his face. “You don’t have any?”
“Oddly, no. Usually I don’t… okay, I can’t say I don’t make out in closets because that’s not true, but I don’t have sex in closets.” Xander started pawing through the shelves looking for something.
When he came up with mineral oil, Daniel made a hungry little whine. “Yes. Now fuck me. Now.”
“Sir, yes sir,” Xander agreed. He closed in on Daniel, cupping either side of his face before leaning in for a kiss. Daniel gasped. Not willing to wait any longer, Xander put his hands on Daniel’s shoulders and flipped him around to face the wall. Daniel moaned and spread his legs, shaking one foot to get free of his pants and, when that failed, he just opened them as far as he could.
Xander kissed the back of Daniel’s neck as he opened his zipper and then fumbled with the oil, spilling a lot on the floor. Finally though, he got his finger slicked and slid it up inside Daniel’s hot hole.
“Fuck yes. Yes. More.” Daniel arched his back, and Xander struggled to slip a second finger up inside. Yeah, he’d read about this on the internet plenty, but doing it in real life took a little more skill than he’d realized. He had to squirm around and get his hand twisted around uncomfortably before he could get that second finger up into Daniel and start stretching him. Daniel grabbed a hook set into the wall, tossing a broom to the side when it got in his way. “Yes. More. Oh god. Yes. It’s been too long. Too long. Voydi v menya. Voydi v menya. Ti desidero disperatamente. En nagyon kivanlak teged.”
Daniel knew some really funky words, but Xander didn’t care because his fingers were sliding in and out easily and he couldn’t wait any more. Xander ran his slicked hand over his own cock and then moved close enough to line up with Daniel’s hole.
“Tu me rends fou.” Daniel was a real talker, but Xander didn’t understand any of it. However, from the tone, Daniel wasn’t asking him to stop. Xander pressed in carefully. His cock fit, but Daniel’s hole was almost painfully tight.
“More. Fuck me. I’m not going to break, Jack. Stop treating me like I’m going to break.”
“Xander,” Xander corrected him. He grunted as he finally got all the way in. “Oh god. Okay, this is good. This is very good. This might be over embarrassingly fast it’s so good.” Xander started rocking back and forth, and Daniel moved with him, the two of them moving in time. Daniel’s words finally failed him as he devolved into wordless groans. Xander speeded up, their bodies slapping together. As Xander’s orgasm approached, it occurred to him that he didn’t have the only cock, and both of Daniel’s hands were busy holding onto the wall to keep Xander’s thrusts from slamming him into the wall.
Reaching around, Xander grabbed Daniel’s cock with his oil-slicked hand, and Daniel went wild. Bucking violently, Daniel impaled himself on Xander’s cock and then threw himself forward. “Yes. Yes.” Xander held on while Daniel took over the thrusting, straining to not come before Daniel. Finally Daniel’s body spasmed, every muscle going tight before he came against the wall, and Xander let his own control slip as he drove in one more time and came himself.
“El donya gameela mesh kidah,” Daniel muttered between his heavy panting, and Xander was guessing from the tone that he was happy. He wasn’t happy in English, but happy in any language was good. Xander leaned against Daniel’s back and breathed in the warmth of his lover. Lover. Now that was unexpected. Now that the lust was sated, Xander’s big brain had come partially back online. Something was definitely off.
Before Xander could say anything, the door to the closet came open and the biggest black man he’d ever seen stood there pointing a weird-ass gun at him. Panic drove Xander into action, he dropped into a crouch and struck out with his boot at the man’s knee. Unfortunately, the man moved inhumanly fast, grabbing Xander’s foot and yanking him out of the closet.
“Teal’c! Stop. He was… um helping.” Daniel ran after them, hopping as he tried to get his pants up.
Xander was still flailing, his pants hanging open and one leg in the air because this Teal’c had a seriously strong grip.
“You have finished copulation?”
Xander watched Daniel blush a shade of red that most humans couldn’t achieve. “We… um… we should go see Janet. Something’s wrong,” Daniel stammered.
“I concur. Dr. Frasier has agreed to investigate once she has finished with Samantha Carter.”
“Sam?” Daniel nearly damaged something as he zipped up at record speed. “Oh god. Okay, we need to shut down ventilation.”
“I have already done so, but it has not altered the rate of copulation.”
“Seriously, Teal’c, stop saying that. Oh, Teal’c, this is Xander. Xander, Teal’c.”
“Hey,” Xander waved from the floor, and Teal’c dropped his foot so that Xander could finally scramble up off the ground.
“You do not belong here.” Suddenly Xander found himself staring down the end of that oddly shaped weapon again. He threw his hands up in the air.
“Hey, I was just delivering peaches from Peterson, so technically I belong several levels up there, but I couldn’t stop the elevator, and trust me I tried. So no shooting the random airman. I mean, I’ve been shot at, and I really don’t like it, so if we can avoid shooting me, that would be awesome.”
Daniel stepped to Teal’c’s side and put a hand on his arm. “He wasn’t the one pushing this, and he’s not immune to the effects, so I don’t think he’s the problem.”
“And if you do think I’m a problem, feel free to lock me in the closet rather than shoot me,” Xander offered.
Teal’c cocked his head to the side, but then he turned his attention to Daniel. “I was going to investigate the artifacts from P3X-462.”
“Good idea. We should do that,” Daniel agreed.
Narrowing his eyes, Xander looked from one of them to the other. This Teal’c guy pretty much set off all his demony warning bells, but P3X-462 was sounding a little too scientific to be a demon dimension. “Maybe it’s the crazy-making lust talking, but are you guys suggesting…” Xander stopped and looked from one to the other. Daniel’s blush grew even deeper.
“Let’s get to storage room three,” he said without answering Xander.
“Uh-huh,” Xander said. “That’s what I thought.”
Teal’c tilted his head. “Daniel Jackson confirmed nothing.”
“Sure he did. He said a lot by not saying anything,” Xander pointed out as he followed him. The rest of the day was almost anti-climactic. Something shot at them and hit Xander. With his hip charred by the blast of something that definitely looked either demony or alien, Xander found himself propped up in a doorway with a P-90 shoved into his hands. Every time the bad guys tried to come down the corridor, he shot off about a million rounds, giving Daniel and Teal’c a chance to do something with a back entrance.
A few flashes of light later, both bad guys collapsed, and Xander was, once again, fight adjacent to the winning side. The second the magic vanished, Xander could feel it. The heat—the fever heat that made him forget about everything but his cock eased up and his hip hurt a lot more. A whole lot. Whatever the bad guys were firing, it had some serious suckage on the penetration front, but it really left a nasty wound.
“Xander, are you okay?” Daniel came running down the hall, and Xander took his finger off the trigger. He was so tense, he had nearly shot Daniel, which wasn’t all that unreasonable considering the man had popped out from where Xander expected enemy. Whoever this guy was, he was not a frontline fighter. One near miss from a Buffy stake had taught Xander not to make that rookie move.
“Yeah. Just hurting. Hugely hurting actually, as long as it doesn’t hurt my manly image to admit it.” Xander put the weapon down and pressed his hand to his side above the wound. He had no idea if he was bleeding or if he needed to put pressure on the hip, but as bad as it hurt, he wasn’t touching it.
“No, your manly image is intact.” Daniel crouched down next to him.
“Good, because I thought delivering peaches would ruin my rep.”
“It’s safe with me.” Daniel gave him a brilliant grin.
Xander grinned up at him, but then grimaced when a slight shift made his hip burn with pain. Despite that, today was actually turning out to be one of Xander’s better first dates, which clearly didn’t say much about his romantic history.
“I’ll call Janet. Hang on.” Daniel got up and dashed over to an intercom system.
“Tell me you secured the bad guys or killed the bad guys or did something semi-permanent with the bad guys,” Xander yelled after him. He got a hand-wave from Daniel, which Xander could only hope meant agreement. Reaching out, he pulled the P-90 closer.
Teal’c stepped out from the door Xander had been covering, his eyes going to Daniel before he calmly strolled down the corridor to Xander. “Are your injuries sufficient to require immediate evacuation to the infirmary?”
“As opposed to what? Going out for beers first?” Xander thought the infirmary was probably better than a bar right now. Morphine over beer was his rule for huge charred holes in his body.
Teal’c tilted his head. “I can carry you there immediately. The infirmary is in disarray and corpsmen may not arrive for many minutes.”
“Ah.” Xander nodded. “Got it. I’ll survive many minutes as long as the bad guys aren’t going to pop back up and start shooting.”
“They are not,” Teal’c promised.
Xander eyed the guy. He was definitely on the demony side, but he reminded Xander more of Clem demony or maybe Drusilla demony. He had a little of that not-quite-connecting-to-the-same-reality vibe that Dru had. “If I asked what you were, would you take offense?” Xander asked.
Teal’c eyebrows went up. “I would not.”
“Would you answer?”
“I would not,” Teal’c repeated.
With a nod, Xander leaned back against the wall. “Fair enough. So, let me know when the guys with the good drugs get here, okay?”
Teal’c gave him another of those Dru-looks, the one that meant he wasn’t catching reality in its entirety. “I shall,” he agreed solemnly, and Xander had the feeling that the man would take it as a personal mission to fulfill his word, even if he wasn’t a man.
Xander stirred in his sleep, disturbed by the feeling of being watched. The machines were quietly chirping their reassurances that he wasn’t going to die, but Xander opened one eye to make sure that there wasn’t some ax-wielding serial killer out to prove the machines wrong. He had that kind of luck.
“Hey, you’re awake.” Daniel smiled at him and pushed his glasses up on his nose.
“Maybe. I’m still debating,” Xander said before he tried to push himself up a little. He groaned when his whole leg seemed to catch fire with hot little tingles.
“Take it easy.” Daniel rested his hand on Xander’s shoulder. “Janet says you’ll be fine, but that leg needs some time to heal.”
“I was shot. I was shot by something that looked suspiciously like an alien prop from a really cheap movie of the week.”
“Funny, Harris. What is it with you and comedians, Danny?” An older man stood at the end of Xander’s bed, and Xander had to squint to make him come into focus. The drugs in this place were really top notch.
“Jack, this is Airman Alexander Harris out of Peterson Air Force Base. Xander, this is Colonel Jack O’Neill.”
“Colonel.” Xander shifted uncomfortably. As far as he was concerned, any officer bigger than a lieutenant was trouble. Capital T trouble. Spike-level trouble, and he did not like Spike-level trouble. Actually, Spike-level trouble was to blame for him signing up in the first place.
“Airman Harris. I hear I have you to thank for helping to secure the base.”
“Um. Maybe. I pretty much just distracted the enemy by offering myself up as a target to shoot at, sir,” Xander offered. “Wait. Jack?” Xander looked over at Daniel, remembering how he’d cried out Jack’s name during sex.
“You have a problem with that, airman?” O’Neill’s gaze sharpened.
“No, sir. I just have a little too much morphine in me. It makes me less coherent than usual, and I’m not the most coherent to begin with, sir,” Xander hurried to explain. He really didn’t want to out Daniel. In fact, he was scared to even look at Daniel for fear of accidentally saying something even more stupid.
“That’s funny, Janet never seems to be able to find the good morphine when I’m in here,” the colonel joked. He really wasn’t as colonel-like as Xander expected.
“Jack, I figured since Xander has proven to have a level head, maybe we could find a place for him around here.”
“Around here?” The colonel sounded rather unimpressed with that suggestion.
“Hey, I’m good at pushing crates of peaches around, at least when no one hijacks the elevator and then tries to kill me.” Xander gave the colonel one of his patented Xander-looks, one that would even make Giles relent with a sigh. It didn’t work. Yeah, something was up.
As O’Neill studied him with that sharp gaze of his, Xander could see why Danny had a Jack fantasy or two rattling around in his brain. He was a striking man, way too fit to be one of those colonels who sat behind desks, which was weird since this place was supposed to be some giant telescope. “We could use some low-level support personnel in commissary, but Danny, Harris probably has other plans with his career.”
“Oh no. Do not say career. This is a four year thing, because me and the military are like a really bad marriage. I shoot off my mouth, they regret ever giving me a uniform. I trip over my feet, they assume it was an on-purpose. I figure after four years, we’re going to be to the really nasty, screaming, mutual blaming part of the relationship, and I’m going to run for the hills.” Xander glanced over at Daniel. “However, if you want someone to open cans and push crates for three years, I wouldn’t mind that.”
“So, you’re not career?” That seemed to make O’Neill unhappy, but tough shit, because Xander had no intention of making a career out of this. This was the price he had to pay for listening to Spike—this wasn’t his life’s dream.
“Nope,” Xander said firmly. Now that his eyes were focusing better, he could see that Daniel was working on a Sumerian scroll, and boy didn’t that bring back old memories. “And if you’re looking for someone to research water rights, you can count me out. Research was the thing I did in high school because I had to, not because I wanted to fall asleep over squiggly letters that ended up inked onto my cheek.”
Daniel’s head whipped around to look at Jack before coming back to focus on Xander. “You can read this?” He shoved the scroll at Xander.
Xander held up both hands, the IV line trailing over the white sheet. “Oh no. I can read bits with the water rights and the pissed tribesman and the god threatening other gods, but I am not the sort of person who can actually figure out the important stuff like….” Xander stopped. The important stuff was usually which demon was trying to use which spell to end the world on a particular day, but he didn’t feel like sounding like a nut case, even if he could technically blame it all on the morphine. “I had a friend who loved languages, and some of it rubbed off because she made it rub off. I either had to learn or she pouted. However, me and research remain unfriendlike.”
“Jack,” Daniel said, an odd tone in his voice.
“He’s not career.”
“So? Hey, I planned to ditch you after the one… thing… and I’m still here.”
“It’s not the same.”
“Sure it is. He knows Sumerian.”
“He’s not career.”
“He didn’t pee his pants when Teal’c threatened him.”
“Danny,” O’Neill’s voice was sharp now, but Daniel had a look on his face that Xander normally associated with Willow, and he knew how Willow always got her way.
“He held position after being wounded.”
Jack threw up both hands. “We’ll discuss this later.” Turning his back, he walked out of the room.
Daniel looked over and gave Xander a conspiratorial wink. Yep, whatever weirdness these folks had, Xander suspected he was now ground zero. Well, at least the next three years wouldn’t be boring. Danny reached over and squeezed Xander’s shoulder. “Oh. I guess I should have asked you first.” Daniel pulled his hand back. “I mean, you probably didn’t plan for the closet and the…” His blush was back.
“No, because I don’t normally plan for anything that good to happen to me. My plans are more on the boring side, and that… that wasn’t boring.” Xander smiled and from the relief on Daniel’s face, the man had been worried. Xander wondered if he should point out that Daniel wasn’t the first person to essentially jump him. Actually, every person Xander ever had sex with—a grand total of three people—had all jumped him exactly the same way. Weird.
“Okay. I’ll tell you what. I’m going to get some Sumerian primers together to see how good you are. I don’t suppose you speak any other languages?”
Xander shook his head. “Not really. I mean, a little Latin and a few random words of Akkadian, but that’s it.”
“Akkadian? Really? You mean from Mesopotamia?”
“Seriously, do not get excited. I am not fluent in any of them. I recognize a few squiggles, and I have a bad habit of calling the squiggles things like the ‘double vampire stake cross’ and the ‘crooked airplane.’ I mean, a few times of calling Enlil the ‘sideways look, half-impaled archway god’ and you’ll be begging me to not read any more Akkadian.”
“No one is fluent in these, and if you can recognize the cuneiform for Enlil, I don’t care if you call him ‘Bob.’ Okay, wait here. I’ll be right back.” Xander might have pointed out that he was hooked to too many machines to go anywhere, but Daniel gathered up his scroll and dashed out like Buffy on the trail of a shoe sale. Xander closed his eyes, and wondered exactly what he’d landed in this time. Oh well, if worst came to worser, he’d just call up Buffy and the others and beg them for a rescue.
For now… for now Xander actually found himself looking forward to spending a little time with these guys. Now he just had to figure out what the SGC stood for on their command patch. He definitely hadn’t heard of a command that used those initials, but there was time to figure out that sort of detail later. Right now, he just wanted to fall back asleep before Daniel could show up with more books. Research. Sometimes the universe really didn’t like him. Xander thought back to the way Daniel felt with his strong body writhing his arms and mentally adjusted that thought. Sometimes the universe might not like him, but other times… Other times the universe down right adored him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“So, this is…” Xander looked around at the sterile room with one hotel-quality painting on the wall. “Sad. This is sad. Is this seriously a VIP quarters or some enlisted man version of VIP, because if this is actual VIP, I really, really hope that universal diplomats don’t visit very often.” After nearly a week in the infirmary and one really itchy hip, Xander had hoped for something more VIPish when Danny had made his offer. This… this came off more like the sort of hotel Giles would book, which was a couple of steps up from a Faith-level hotel, but still. Even if he only stayed a couple of nights, this place was going to give him those special nightmares where pus-filled aliens broke in through under-reinforced doors to eat your guts while wiping their claws on a really ugly bedspread.
Daniel laughed. “Cronus said something similar.”
“The god Cronus?” Xander was still trying to get his head around all this alien stuff. And here he thought he had the mother of all secrets hidden away in his past. Actually, he wasn’t sure who would win this secret slap-down because aliens versus demons… that was too close to call.
Daniel sat on the end of the bed. “You’re taking this better than most people. I think Jack’s actually a little suspicious of your whole attitude. He mentioned looking for marijuana in your bags because no one was this calm without chemical assistance.”
Xander snorted. “The colonel is suspicious of everyone as far as I can see.” That is, everyone who wasn’t on his team. Xander could respect that. Actually, Xander kinda had been that—the asshole who poked any and all strangers who got too close to the group. Yep, Xander got it. As far as he was concerned, some people even needed poking. Every once in a while he suspected he might even need a poke or two. Besides, airmen did not get to tell colonels how to treat people.
“Yeah, he is, but he has precedent on his side.”
“I’m assuming ‘precedent’ means people-eating aliens.” Daniel looked at him oddly. “Or not. Vocabulary is not my big strength.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Says the man who has a passable knowledge of Akkadian.”
“Hey, they have very limited vocabularies. Enki this, Enlil that, Aruru the other. They’re a little one trackish, and hey. Wait. Are those guys, you know, aliens? Because if they are, I want a do-over on all the history tests I ever failed. Yeah, I might honestly suck at history, but my history teachers have just as much suckage going on as I do. Trust me, not one history teacher ever mentioned that all the ancient gods were really aliens pretending to be gods.” Xander wondered what the original demons who had used the names thought of johnny-come-lately impersonators because there was no way in hell that the original Aruru was an alien. After their sophomore year, Giles had summoned her to try and get information after Buffy had disappeared and Angel had taken his trip to hell. She had been less than helpful in her non-corporeal demony way. Demony, not alien. And after his time with Anya, Xander knew exactly how touchy demons could get when you insulted their demoniness.
Daniel shook his head. “Not that we’ve run into. Mostly we’ve met Egyptian gods.”
“Like Osiris?” Xander knew that lots of magic-users worked with Osiris, so he was definitely still around to get offended at having his name co-opted. Xander had a quick little fantasy of dropping this whole mess on Giles’ lap and watching him polish his glasses into oblivion. It’d be worth it just to see the look on his face, but then Buffy would try to tell Colonel O’Neill what to do and Spike would test out his teeth on Teal’c and things would go downhill from there.
“We haven’t met Osiris yet, although the texts do suggest that he was a goa’uld in Egypt. He seems to have lost a fight with Ra and vanished, so he might be dead. However, he was closely aligned with Isis, so he might have left the planet with her. If that’s the case, she has to be keeping a low profile. I suspect there was some sort of conflict over the queens because a number of ancient texts include references to male gods gaining ascendancy over female ones. Aruru yields to Anu, Ra is born from Nut, and yet he takes power away from both Nut and Hathor. The gender issues could…” Daniel stopped in the middle of his sentence. “I’m boring you, aren’t I?”
Xander blinked. “Um. No. Gender conflicts vanishing queens and MIA goa’uld. I only look bored.” As far as Xander was concerned, anything that helped him understand this new enemy was of the good. If you weren’t going to be as strong or as smart as an enemy, you really had to know what you were doing if you wanted to avoid imminent ass kickage.
From the suspicious look Daniel gave him, he wasn’t buying it.
“Hey, if you’re boring me, you'll know it. Trust me. I’ll be making inappropriate jokes and trying to convince you that I have a sudden and undeniable urge for donuts.”
“So, if you go for donuts, I should take offense?” Daniel sounded amused. “We might have a problem because I really like donuts.”
“Most people do. I guess I shouldn’t have told you that, huh? Buffy never did figure out why I kept running for the donut shop.”
Xander hesitated. How did he describe how important Buffy was to him? She was way more than a friend, but a lot of that bonding and love came from a mutual dedication to stopping the Armageddon of the week, and he really didn't want to go there. Until he left Sunnydale, Xander had no idea how difficult it would be to explain things to normal, sane people, and it wasn't even like Daniel was in the deep and committed end of sane. “You know how I described Willow?”
“She got you into linguistics,” Daniel agreed.
Shaking his head, Xander put it down on the table with a thunk. “Seriously, stop saying that. I am not into linguistics, and if you keep saying that, someone is going to believe you.”
“Xander, you can read some Sumerian and Akkadian, what would you call that other than being into linguistics?”
“Knowing a few random words,” Xander said. “I would call it knowing a few really odd random words.” Xander looked up at Daniel. “I don’t even know all that many words.”
Daniel laughed. “You do have a strange vocabulary. How can you know eleven different cuneiform variations of hell and not recognize ‘goat’?”
“Why would I need to recognize ‘goat’?”
“Why would you need eleven versions of ‘hell’?” Daniel countered.
Xander opened his mouth and then closed it so fast his teeth clicked. Oh, he had his reasons, but they weren’t ones that he planned on sharing with someone who had never seen demons in person. Otherwise Daniel was going to be calling in the psychiatrists. Xander could imagine how that conversation would go. They’d bury him in the deepest basement and lose the key.
With a laugh, Daniel scooted back on the bed. “Exactly. I’m starting to think that Willow was a goth girl. Hell and gods’ names and the ceremonial markers for incantations. It’s not exactly a well-balanced Akkadian vocabulary.”
“I know how to recognize the word for bunnies, too. Now that’s not goth. But that might be because I dated this girl who had a real rabbit phobia and when she saw the cuneiform for rabbits, she would shove the text at me.”
“She… what exactly were you doing with these texts?” Daniel asked.
“You know, looking for spells, checking out ancient demons, blah, blah, stupid teenage blah.”
Daniel started laughing, and Xander laughed with him. “Okay. You’re a little odd, but you’re still years ahead of anyone else.”
“Except for actual linguists.”
Daniel shrugged. “Maybe. You know the forms and you have a basic vocabulary, even if it’s a little skewed, so let’s see where we can get you with some tutoring. If nothing else, having you sort texts into primary god references would be helpful. I’m seriously short of Akkadian experts and only moderately desperate for more linguists who read Sumerian.”
Xander leaned back and propped his boots up on the bottom of the table. “So, I’m the part time dishwasher and part time Akkadian linguist?” Daniel was on the verge of laughing. He was really cute when he tried to not laugh. Painfully cute. And Xander was feeling insanely proud of the fact that he had gotten that expression out of the man.
“That is unique," Daniel admitted, "even for around here, and we don’t exactly do things by the book. So, Buffy.” Daniel settled forward, elbows on knees as if he was waiting for storytelling hour. The problem was that Xander hadn’t quite decided how to edit his stories. He hated lying to a lover, and Xander was seriously hoping they were lovers as opposed to people who had randomly had really hot sex in a closet before living in denial for the next three years. That would suck. Xander wouldn’t even mind being the secret closet buddy again because Daniel could clearly kiss just as well as Cordelia, which was high praise.
“Buffy is part three of the three musketeers. My own family… they’re not exactly supportive, and Buffy and Willow became my friend-family.”
“Then why haven’t you called them?” Daniel asked. Xander was starting to seriously hate the fact that rumors spread at light-speed around this place. It was like high school on steroids.
“I would have, only the security around here is a little on the hyper-paranoid side, which makes sense considering that technically this is like huge black-ops, covert world secret stuff. However, Buffy and Willow are not big with the trusting of the government and are even less big with the secret government stuff.”
“What do you mean?” Daniel leaned forward. Oh yeah, trying to keep the big 'D' secret from him was not going to be easy. The man was sharp, and Xander... not so much. Some days Xander really wished someone would hit him hard enough on the head to make him forget all the stuff he didn’t want to know so he could have a normal life. Then again, his first shot at normalcy had landed him in the middle of an alien conspiracy, so clearly that wasn’t going really well for him.
“Buffy has had a few… troubles. Not troubles, more issues. Or issue-like points of contention. There was a gym and a fire and some accusations that may or may not have been true.” Xander watched the growing shock on Daniel’s face and tried to change verbal directions. “And Buffy is the sweetest woman in the world, assuming you don’t get between her and any clearance shoe sales, which is not smart. Trust me. But she has the worst luck. I mean, the one day I show up here you have an invasion of two bad guys with a freaky piece of tech. If Buffy ever visited, you would have entire legions of Jaffa landing on your front porch. That’s just Buffy’s luck. Seriously. We had these PCP gangs break into our school, and Buffy just happened to be in the library and the principal tried saying that the PCP gangs were really just Buffy going through some adolescent psychosis. It was a mess.” The look on Daniel’s face was getting worse. Xander put his head back down on the table. “I just made her sound like a psycho, didn’t I?”
Daniel cleared this throat. “Maybe a little.”
“Yeah. That’s why she usually doesn’t let me describe her. She knows I have diarrhea of the mouth.”
Xander squinted at Daniel from under his arm because he was still hiding his face.
“Diarrhea of the mouth is logorrhea. The root is logos meaning word or discourse, but the rhea actually comes from Latin through the French rheum, meaning flowing or stream.”
"Either you like your words or you really know how to lie really, really well."
Daniel's small little smile broke out into a wide grin. "A little of both," he admitted. "So, why aren't you calling Buffy?"
“Well.” Sitting up, Xander tried to figure out how to explain this right. “To use the phone system here, the sergeant said that they have to run a security check on the person on the other end. If Buffy found out that I put her name in front of a government agency after all the trouble she’s had, she’d pretty much kill me. I try to avoid death whenever possible. It has a really crappy retirement plan.”
Daniel didn’t even try to hide that he was laughing at Xander. “Okay. So, you’re never calling them again?”
He gave Daniel a dirty look. “I was hoping to go up and check to make sure the sun is still working and then run into town to use the phone.”
“I have a better idea.” Daniel’s grin had a bit of the devil in it. “You could stay at my place.”
Xander glanced up toward the camera. The blinking red light was a little unsubtle, so this was not the sort of conversation to be having here… unless Daniel meant staying together as in roommates, in which case Xander was about to be the most disappointed man in history. “Your place?” Xander swallowed and shifted to hide his growing erection. Oh yeah, the lust had outlived the mojo. Given that Daniel was adorable and smart and strangest of all, Daniel actually liked him… that wasn’t exactly surprising.
“Yeah,” Daniel agreed. “I never stay there, and I could use someone to play guard dog on my books. The last time I was accidentally declared dead, Jack put all my Mayan rubbings in with the Hittite cuneiform.”
“But..." Xander frowned. "But they don’t look anything alike.”
Daniel threw his hands up in the air. “Exactly. That’s exactly what I told Jack. Who mistakes Mayan for cuneiform?” Daniel's Giles-like horror was actually amusing, but then again, that had been a pretty dumb mistake. Xander might make Giles turn pale with his ability to confuse Stygian and Kwaini, but he would never make a mistake that stupid.
“So, I figured if you’re new, you can stay at my place, work on the cuneiforms, and guard my texts from Jack. I only stay there one or two nights a week since I usually use my quarters here, but I’m sure we can figure out some sleeping arrangement.”
“An arrangement?” Xander cleared his throat. Okay, this was either where he found out he was reading all the signs wrong and got his heart broken or this was where things turned out really, really good. “I don’t want to annoy you by pushing in where I’m not wanted.”
“You helped save the base, and we’re going to be working together closely, maybe for years. I think we can make arrangements without annoying each other.” Daniel got a wide grin on his face that made it very clear that he wouldn't mind a longer term arrangement. Xander had a fantasy of jumping the man right then and there. One well-thrown towel and they could block the camera… unless it had that infrared heat-vision thing, which would definitely make things awkward.
“Okay, so…" Xander answered.
Daniel stood up. “So Janet said you needed a good night’s sleep since Teal’c wants you to start with the trainees tomorrow, evaluating your fighting, and after you’re finished, I’ll show you back to my place.”
Xander’s cock almost drooped in disappointment when he realized he wasn’t getting an invite tonight. Yeah, he should probably rest up for tomorrow’s evaluation, but he was the official dishwasher. He didn’t exactly have to do more than show up at a combat evaluation so that the trainer could certify that he wasn't likely to shoot himself in the foot. Daniel, however, was already heading for the door. “So, when you and Teal’c are finished tomorrow, I’ll see you then. Okay?”
“But…” Xander didn’t want to agree--he wanted to go home with Daniel right now--but Daniel almost dashed out of the room, his pants showing a suspicious bulge.
Xander cursed adulthood. He hated having to be responsible and boring and not have sex in front of the Air Force cameras. Stripping off his shirt, he aimed it at the damn camera before heading into the bathroom. Maybe he could find a way to turn the alien doohickey on again. That would give them a good excuse. Since the odds of that happening were about zero, Xander and his newly healed, pink skin headed in to take a tepid bath before heading to bed.
Morning came with a long, slow wank before Xander remembered the cameras, and then with a yelp, he darted for the showers. Hopefully whoever monitored these quarters understood that some men woke up cock first. And hopefully he hadn't done something stupid like groan out Danny's name. Xander figured that Cordelia was the last person he had it this bad for. He'd nearly failed junior math because every time she touched him, he spent the next hour slowly rubbing whatever bit of skin she'd brushed up against.
However, military schedules didn't give him much time to really wallow in the Daniel-lust. Dressing in his work uniform, he reported for the late breakfast shift in the mess hall and started in on a mountain of dishes, racking them and shoving them through a conveyor washer. That led to lunch and a clean up after a Jell-O accident and then a quick change into sweats so he could get his combat evaluation.
He hadn't had time for one thought of Danny much less any serious daydreaming. Apparently anyone high enough to get secret black-ops clearance didn't do dishes and most of the guys who did dishes couldn't get the clearance to work in the mountain. It left a lot of unwashed dishes and a small but devotedly annoyed group of enlisted support staff. The fact that Xander had been ordered to report for training had not gone over well with Staff Sergeant Powell.
However, orders were orders, and dressed in standard issue sweat pants and shirt, Xander searched out the base gym. The search took longer than he'd expected, so even though he'd set out early, he ended up walking into a room already full of people. Marines and Rangers and Bad-Asses oh my. They all might be wearing sweats, but some of these guys leaked rank. Xander could taste it. The only thing worse than stupid fighting exercises that looked nothing like fighting was having to do it with officers who took offense if you slid on the ground between their feet and kicked in a general direction of their genitals. As far as Xander was concerned, any sex organs were fair in love and war, but these guys... no, these guys seemed to think that all fighting had to follow rules. Xander gave any one of them fifteen seconds tops with Buffy before she took out a can of whup-ass. Hell, knowing Buffy, it would be a case of whup-ass.
The room itself was enormous. Buffy would kill for a training room one-quarter the size. About half of it was a large open area with a jumbo sized training mat. Xander had priced those things, and he knew full well a person could get a kidney for cheaper. The other half of the room was shared by a boxing ring, a few punching bags, and a full workout gym. A few guys in Air Force shirts lifted weights big enough to make Xander's eyes water in sympathy.
Well, he just needed to have an evaluator tell him he sucked and then he could go back to washing dishes. Xander seriously had to question the sanity of making a dishwasher go through combat evaluation. Then again, considering what happened when he tried to deliver peaches, maybe they should expand their requirements to any poor schlep stuck delivering the supplies. Xander slid in place next to a man with no neck and behind a woman with corded arm muscles that suggested that she either had a gym obsession or a testosterone imbalance. It was kinda hot. Practicing his 'don't look at me' expression, Xander focused on his own shoes while the last few victims of mandatory evaluation trickled in. However, when the room went silent, Xander looked up.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Teal'c scanned the room impassively, and Xander could see a couple of the other trainees straighten up as Teal’c’s gaze slid past them.
Xander remembered how strong his grip was. His odds of avoiding embarrassingly bad ass-kickage would fall to about zero if Teal'c chose him as a partner. On the good side, Xander figured anyone picked to go up against Teal'c would get their asses kicked. Short of Buffy herself, Xander couldn't think of one person he would put up against Teal'c. Either that symbiote thing had superpowers or Teal'c had some mad skills. Maybe both.
Teal’c stopped near the edge of the mat. "You will demonstrate hand-to-hand combat skills before placement on any field teams. Steve Ellis. Willis Patakis. Begin."
That was the shortest introduction in history, and Xander could see the others all looking at each other for some sort of confirmation that Teal'c meant what he said. Eventually Ellis and Patakis stepped out and faced each other on the mat, beginning the formal dance that these people liked to call fighting. Xander found that real fighting used less orchestrated blows and blocks and a lot more flailing. But let him make one little observation to that fact and he got stuck peeling potatoes for a month. He wasn't making that mistake again. Xander frowned. Wait. His official job now was washing dishes and peeling potatoes. So, did that mean that he could say whatever he wanted and have the only punishment be to get sent back to his job? Because he was an oddly efficient potato peeler. And potatoes were not judgmental. Xander liked that. Non-judgmental food made a good friend.
Patakis put Ellis on his back and took a step back, ending the match.
"Is your opponent disabled?" Teal'c queried. It really was a query. Xander had never before met someone who made queries rather than asking questions.
"No, sir." Patakis came to attention but he didn't salute. He looked like he might, but as far as Xander could tell, no one exactly understood Teal'c's rank. Even Daniel had gone off on a long explanation of feudal systems and Jaffa culture without actually answering the question.
"Then why did you stop?"
Patakis glanced toward Ellis who had just gotten off the floor. "Sir, I didn't want to attack a man when he was down."
Xander snorted. It was a purely instinctive response, but everyone in the room looked at him. Xander might have blushed, only he had a lot of experience with making a fool out of himself, so he just kept his eyes forward.
"Harris," Teal'c said. Xander cringed, but he stepped forward onto the mat. "Would you have stopped with an opponent on the ground?"
Xander looked around, and then braced with the knowledge that he was already the potato peeler, he shrugged. "Do you want the real answer or the one training sergeants kept trying to get me to say?" The whole audience shifted on their feet uncomfortably.
Teal'c tilted his head. "The real one."
Taking a breath, Xander braced himself to make a really dumb move: tell the truth. "Okay. Unless the opponent is bleeding out his orifices, broken in multiple places, or decapitated, I won't stop without someone telling me the fight is over. Half the people who go on their backs do it half a second before trying to eviscerate you with a knife in the toe of their stupid, oversized dorky boots."
Teal'c quirked an eyebrow, but he didn't correct Xander. Oh, everyone else in the room had something to say, Xander could see that in the expressions on their faces, but with Teal'c here, no one was saying anything. "Harris. Patakis. Begin." Teal'c stepped back off the mat, and Xander eyed Patakis. He was out of breath from fighting Ellis, but he was confident in his ability to beat Xander. Funny enough, Xander was confident about his ability to get beat. The guy was huge. When Patakis advanced, Xander backed up, circling the edge of the mat.
"Scared?" Patakis taunted. Yep, this was familiar territory.
"Hell yes. I think that's called common sense kicking in, which is odd because usually I don't--" Right in the middle of his words, Xander turned and ran, leaping over a weight lifting bench and getting a tall machine between him and Patkis. "Don't have that much common sense," Xander finished from the far side of the room.
Patakis let his hands drop to his sides and the other recruits degenerated into random clumps all whispering their horror. Yep, this was exactly like high school.
"Sir?" Petakis asked, turning to Teal'c.
"Is your opponent disabled?" That sounded oddly like Teal'c was on Xander's side.
"Sir, he's off the mat."
"Battle often leads where one does not expect." Teal'c raised his chin. Yep, that was a double dog dare if Xander had ever seen one. Patakis looked from Teal'c to Xander and then back again.
"Okay. Kid, I was going to take it easy on you, but you're just asking for it."
"Funny enough, you aren't the first person to say that, and others who said it were way scarier than you," Xander pointed out. It was almost comical how many people had threatened to make him pay. Comical in a pathetic sort of way, but that was the sort Xander did best.
"We'll see." Petakis had a dangerous look in his eye now, and he circled the machine carefully. Xander allowed himself to be herded around the machine to the far side before he dashed for a punching bag. Timing his movements to Petakis, he shoved at the heavy bag and feigned a fall, rolling onto his back long enough to see Petakis take the heavy bag in the stomach. While he was distracted with that, Xander struck out with a foot, aiming high enough to avoid breaking the knee. Still. It was going to hurt. Petakis went down with a grunt, and Xander scrambled to get to his feet.
"Halt!" Teal'c shouted. Xander froze, one hand on the heavy bag as he prepared to kick a man while he was down.
"Shit," Petakis complained, and Teal'c crouched next to him, his hands going over Petakis' leg. The man stiffened but didn't move while Teal'c made his examination.
"It is not broken. Harris. Cantone. Begin."
Xander blinked. Okay, this is not the way it was supposed to go. Usually after he pulled a stunt like that, the sergeant made him stand in the middle of the mat while enduring a screaming reprimand. The others looked as shocked as Xander, but Cantone broke away from the ground with an almost gleeful anticipation that Xander did not like. Nope. Not one little bit.
"No holds barred, sir?" Cantone asked.
"Do you bar holds in actual combat?" Teal'c asked.
Cantone's smile grew wider.
"Hey, just remember if you break me, you will so not be getting any mashed potatoes for dinner. I mean, breaking the enlisted man who works in the kitchen? First, not so impressive. Second, not so smart if there's no one left to cook," Xander pointed out. If all else failed, Sergeant Powell would put Ex-lax in this schmuck's dessert if the guy broke him. Being the only dishwasher in a base full of dirty dishes had its perks. Xander saw confusion dart across Cantone's face. "I mean, beating Teal'c--that would be impressive. I'd be asking for a test for performance enhancing drugs, but I'd be impressed." Cantone followed as Xander slowly retreated around the room. Clusters of other trainees scattered as Xander came through. "You know, usually people have attacked by now, and I'm running out of banter, so feel free to get this started," Xander suggested.
"Afraid to start something yourself?" Cantone taunted.
"Potato peeler versus big-bad warrior-type soldier. Um, duh. No secret superpowers here, so I'm pretty much terrified to start something."
Again, Cantone had a flash of confusion. Xander took advantage of the moment and the fact that a particularly slow classmate didn't move out of his way. Grabbing a guy that looked like a small walking mountain, Xander shoved him toward Cantone. Mountain stumbled forward and Cantone reached out to catch him before he fell. Xander darted under Mountain's arm and planted a punch low on Cantone's back before dancing away.
"Sir!" Mountain said, turning to Teal'c.
Teal'c tilted his head. "Were you committed to Airman Harris' side in this battle?"
Mountain looked around, not sure what he should answer, but Xander figured that no one in this room was on his side, no one with the possible exception of Teal'c, which was hugely odd.
Teal'c continued, "Are you an innocent bystander?"
Xander snorted. "Innocent bystanders run for the hills. Innocent bystanders want to avoid getting creamed. Anyone left to watch a fight is taking one side or the other, even if they're big old liars about it." Again, all the others kind of tittered over that.
"Indeed. Few truly innocent people remain at the site of a battle; however, do not discount that some watch only to know which side wins, Xander Harris. On a world where slaves must bend to those in power, most will seek to learn who is the power."
Wow, Xander hadn't thought of that. Clearly the rules changed some when going from demons to aliens. "Um... Okay. Sorry about that, then. I'll try not to fling a village person into the middle of the fight." Xander wasn't even surprised when Cantone took that moment to try and counterattack. Xander darted behind two women and then over a bench to the relative safety of the weight lifting area where he could hide behind the tall machinery.
Cantone glanced over toward Teal'c. "Sir, this sort of fighting does not win battles."
"Indeed. It does not." Yep, Xander's one and only supporter was now jumping sides. Traitor. "Xander Harris, what is your objective?"
"Me? Now? Avoiding hospitalization, sir," Xander answered. That earned him a few laughs. Laughs were good. People who liked your jokes were less likely to break your bones.
Teal'c tilted his head to one side. "Were you to use this form of fighting in the field of battle, what would you hope to gain from it?"
"Oh." Xander kept an eye on Cantone as he answered. "Time. I may not be the ass-kicker of the group, but I can avoid being the ass-kickee until the rest of my team gets back from wherever they are, and maybe I can keep a couple of enemies distracted while my friends do something really clever on the other side of the gym. Or the battlefield," Xander quickly corrected himself. "You know... wherever you're fighting. I guess it will be villages. Lots of villages and a couple of pyramids." If Xander kept this up, he was going to talk himself into a section eight discharge--not that it would be bad necessarily. Buffy and Willow would worry less.
"The strategy is effective for those who are not warriors." Teal'c sounded like he approved.
Cantone dropped out of his fighting stance and backed away carefully, keeping an eye on Xander. "Sir, aren't we all soldiers here?"
"Indeed, but not all soldiers are warriors. Airman Harris' primary mission through the stargate, should he go, would be translation of Latin, Sumerian, or Mesopotamian script. Were he assigned to your team, you would wish for him to diligently avoid direct contact if possible."
"And if not possible? What are we supposed to do if we have linguists who don't fight?" one of the others demanded.
Teal'c studied the man. "Airman Harris competently wielded a P-90 and held position after sustaining serious injury during our last foothold situation. Where were you Captain Nelson?"
Xander watched as Captain Nelson's face slowly reddened until he looked like and overripe turnip. Yep. The captain had been getting some nookie, probably some gay nookie considering how few women there were in this place.
Teal'c acted like nothing was wrong and most of the trainees weren't studying the floor with great interest. "Nelson. Rosetti. Begin." Walking to the side of the room, Teal'c watched as Nelson, a tall man with a still-red face squared up against Rosetti, a woman who couldn't have weighed more the a hundred pounds. She looked like Buffy, which was why Xander wasn't surprised she kicked Nelson's ass. Now that Xander had used the entire gym to make his point, the other bouts ranged out into the gym proper, and more than one person looking for a quick workout scampered out of the room.
Xander fought three more individual rounds, two with men and one with a woman. He tricked one of the men into reaching through a machine to grab him before falling to the ground and cracking the guy's elbow against the weight plate. That one spent the rest of the lesson sitting on the side with an ice pack. The second guy couldn't get his hands on Xander and the woman clearly didn't have her heart in picking on Xander, not until he punched her in the nose. Then she not only caught him but took him down so hard that he saw stars.
By the time Teal'c had called for the training to end, Xander was panting from exhaustion and his newly healed leg was sending tingles up and down his bones. Healed might be strong a word. Half-healed. Psuedo-healed. Sorta-healed. They all fit better than actually healed healed.
"Tomorrow we evaluate on staff and rod weapons," Teal'c said, and Xander groaned with the rest of the trainees. He hadn't hurt this much since the last time he'd worked out with Buffy after she and Riley had their big fight.
"My bruises are bruised," one woman complained to her friends as they all drifted toward the door.
"That's not like your momma's sergeant taught you," Nelson joked, and he got a few laughs from the other psuedo-mountains. Xander faded back toward the bathrooms as the others wandered out into the hall. He wanted to check himself in the big mirrors and make sure he didn't have some big old piece of wood sticking out of his ass or something. He'd long ago learned that he didn't always notice an injury. Heading into the handicapped stall with its own low sink and large mirror, Xander locked the stall door and started stripping to check for damage.
His back was bruised, and one hip had a nice blood flower started, red streaks where the woman had thrown him on the raised strip that separated the practice mat from the carpet. Not too bad. After using the bathroom, Xander washed up and headed out into the gym. With everyone gone, it was oddly silent and Teal'c stood in the middle of the room staring at nothing. The man had a real Oz vibe. Oz back when the guy was doing like a pound of weed a day, even. Nothing flapped him back then. Of course, even when he stopped doing the drugs, Oz was still oddly unflapped by life.
"Hey, Teal'c," Xander offered as he headed for the door. "Thanks for not suggesting that I'm a total idiot for the running and hiding thing. Good night."
"Your strategy is sound."
Xander stopped. He did not hear that every day. "You know, I really appreciate you saying that. Sometimes I feel like me and the military are definitely unmixy. It's nice to know that someone thinks I might not be totally stupid."
"I do not believe you stupid at all. Daniel Jackson is quite impressed with you."
Xander could feel all the blood rise to his face. He so hoped that was an impressed with language skills because if Daniel were discussing other things with Teal'c, he was so dying for it. Dying slowly. Xander had already had one embarrassingly blunt sexual partner.
"Those whose impressions of battle are formed within controlled circumstances often fail to account for the realities of war," Teal'c continued.
"They expect less flailing and scrambling," Xander translated.
Walking over to a weight bench, Xander sat down. "I want to ask something, but I don't want to sound really odd when I ask it."
"I find you far less odd than the average Tau'ri," Teal'c assured him.
"Okay, seriously, that is really sad. You need to get out more."
Teal'c only inclined his head.
"Jaffa are different, right?"
"Right." Xander played with the hem of his t-shirt. He really didn't want to sound like he was being insensitive, but he'd learned that you had to know your enemy. Stake a vampire in the heart. Decapitate a snake demon. Run like hell from a vengeance demon, unless you had the chance to pull her necklace off, and then pull the necklace off and then run like hell. Thaliaia had their genitals in their elbows. These were important things to know. "Okay, I don't want to sound like I'm a psycho, but how would I kill you? I mean, Jaffa in general. Do I hit for the stomach? Can I damage the symbiote? Is there a weakness or are we talking about running and just keep running until someone bigger and badder comes to the rescue?"
Surprise seemed to make Teal'c think about that for a minute. "Few Tau'ri wish to get close enough to a symbiote to harm it."
Xander frowned. "Why?"
That too seemed to require some thought on Teal'c's part. "They consider it slimy."
Xander almost laughed. He ran away from home and joined the military to get away from demons and slime, and he ended up with slimy aliens. "Slimy is not the end of the world. Dead is."
"So, is it vulnerable? Can I use it?"
Teal'c stepped closer and raised the bottom of his shirt. Xander studied the x-shaped pattern on Teal'c stomach, noting the slightly slick line along the edges. "Is that sealed off tight?"
"It is not. A symbiote will, at times, emerge for air."
"Well that's going to shock the shit out of a lover."
Teal'c smiled. "I prefer sexual partners who are well versed in Jaffa physiology."
"I can see why. I generally try to avoid sending people screaming out of bed. Not that you would. I mean, you're a handsome guy, it's just that things coming out of stomaches... Shit. Feel free to tell me to shut up."
"I shall not. You are honest in your judgments. Even Colonel O'Neill prefers to avoid the sight of my symbiote."
Xander nodded. It definitely hit the squick factor, that's for sure. The idea of some worm growing in there was enough to make a person avoid Jaffa sex. It definitely didn't seem like a good recruitment tool for the average goa'uld.
"If you reach in and grab it behind the head, you will find that it comes out quite easily," Teal'c offered.
"And if I catch it by the tail instead?"
"It will bite you."
"Good to know. So, I assume that they're aware of their surroundings enough to know who to attack?"
"Most are," Teal'c agreed. "They have their own minds."
"Image that, cranky worm aliens." Xander sighed. He was starting to wonder where the line was between demon and alien. "Okay, so is that a vulnerability?"
"It is. If you have a Jaffa on the ground and can reach into the pouch, he will immediately focus on protection of his symbiote. Without it, he will die. More importantly, each symbiote is the child of one of the gods. To allow the child of a god to die is heresy."
"Yeah, gods can be cranky that way," Xander agreed. "So, I just shove my hand in?"
Teal'c took a long time to stare at Xander. So long that Xander actually reached up to check his face for hanging boogers. "You do. Point your fingers and place them at the center of the X." Teal'c gestured toward his stomach.
"With you?" Xander looked up, alarmed.
"If the appearance of the symbiote disturbs you--"
"No way. I work in commissaries. I've seen way worse." Xander didn't even bother mentioning the number of times Buffy had wiped slay-slime on his shirt. "I don't want to hurt your symbiote."
"They are quite durable. It is more likely that he will bite you."
"Can I get rabies from it?"
Xander shrugged. "Then I've survived worse." Xander put his fingers together and pressed on the center of the pouch. His fingers slid in easily, and inside was a warm, moving mass. It was a little like shoving your hand into a bowl of warm slimy snakes, which seemed way less with the metaphor than just a statement of fact. "Okay, that's the little guy?"
"How do I tell head from tail?"
"The head is larger."
Xander felt his fingers up the length of the snake in Teal'c belly. "Does he every get cramped in here? I mean, he's really shoved in."
"Some days he bites me. I must assume it is due to his frustration."
"No joke. I'd be frustrated too. Okay, I feel a ridge."
"That is where the head begins. Hold it firmly just below that ridge and pull your hand out."
Xander carefully pulled out his hand, surprised how strong the snake was once he started pulling it out into the air. Oh yeah. He definitely was not a fan of air. "Okay, have him. I'm assuming I shouldn't drop him." Xander watched as the snake's tail whipped around before wrapping around Xander's wrist.
"You should not."
"So this is good?"
"Were you trying to kill me, yes. Without the symbiote, I am slightly weakened in the short term. In the long term, my strength and even my life are forfeit. Were you an enemy, I would be handicapped by my need to protect that symbiote."
"I'm guessing no firing staff weapons at me?"
"I would not risk firing any weapon at you."
"That's slightly of the good."
"And how do I put him back?" Xander was actually a little weirded out holding Teal'c's snake. It was one thing to have Teal'c talk him through disabling a Jaffa, but it was another to have the man offer up his own body.
"Place the head of the symbiote near the entrance to my pouch, and he will re-enter."
"Not a fan of the big, wide world then." Xander lowered his hand to Teal'c stomach and eased up on the snake's head. It darted for the stomach. "What happens if you already have a symbiote in there and another tries moving in?"
"They fight to the death."
"Lovely. These guys are just the life of the party, aren't they?"
"They do not party."
"And colloquialisms are not your thing." Xander sighed. He really liked Teal'c but he probably confused the crap out of him most of the time.
"They are not," Teal'c agreed. "If you wish to explore weaknesses, many Jaffa are taught particular fighting styles, each unique to his god. Many will refuse to alter their fighting strategies for fear of offending the god or the first prime who taught them."
"That's weirdly inflexible, but actually... actually it's kinda handy." Fledges were the same way--sticking to the growl and leap strategy even when it clearly didn't work. Xander could handle fledges or anything fledge-like. It was only master vampires with their stupid mind games and stupider hair that he couldn't handle.
"It is. Many times we have faced the Jaffa of Apophis, and his guards use a style called the ta'ka'rema. I shall show you." Teal'c went over to the wall and took two wooden staffs down. Inside Xander groaned at the idea of more fighting, but when the demons were coming, you had to get ready, even if it was finals and you really didn't have time to blow up a school. You made time.
"We shall begin with stances." Xander took the offered staff and imitated Teal'c's footwork. It was like being back in high school, only this time Giles wasn't ignoring him as he showed Buffy all the fancy fighting stuff, and Buffy wasn't complaining. Okay, so it wasn't so much like high school.
Letting his body follow Teal'c, Xander focused on studying each move for the dirty trick that would let him poke Teal'c in the genitals or symbiote before darting away. Yep, it might not be fair fighting and the others might make fun of him, but Xander Harris was not dying from an alien attack. No way. If anything was taking him down, it would be a good old-fashioned demon, and he was not dying out in space before that could happen. He would worry about being an alien-fighter next lifetime. This lifetime, his dance card of hate was already full. After all, he had to live long enough to go back to Sunnydale and stake Spike for getting him into all this in the first place.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jack looked up as Sam and Teal'c walked into the room minus Danny. Great. Danny was probably nose-deep in a book and exhausting himself. It never failed to amaze Jack just how single-minded the man could be. Some days, he interrupted Daniel's intense studies only to have the man just about knock him over as he dashed for a bathroom. Daniel would honestly forget about peeing until he looked up from his books. Jack had never been that focused about anything in his life, not even flying. As far as he was concerned, when a man had to pee, a man had to pee. However, that wasn’t how Daniel saw life.
"Hey kids," he greeted his team. Carter dropped into a seat on the far side of the table while Teal'c offered a nod of his head before going to get food. Leaning closer, Jack studied her. "Carter, is your nose growing or is the rest of you shrinking?"
She offered him a withering stare. "I got hit, sir."
Jack leaned back. "You? Come on, Carter. You're getting slow if you're letting the trainees get in a hit."
She gave him another look. For a career military officer, she did know how to give an insubordinate glare. Luckily, Jack didn't really hold with some of the regs. "So, does that mean we have some potential in the group?" He rubbed his hands with glee. He could use some good hand-to-hand fighters.
The commissary was almost empty and Teal'c came walking across the room with a tray overloaded with food. "Indeed. Many of these recruits will make fine warriors."
“Richas is good," Carter noted. "She didn't get distracted when Butler grabbed her crotch."
"He what?" Jack nearly choked on his cake, which would be a terrible waste of carrot cake. "What sort of training session did you two run? Am I going to be doing paperwork on sexual harassment, because you know how I feel about paperwork."
Carter made a face and then reached up to touch her nose. "It was an interesting day."
"I concur. This group is more flexible in their thinking," Teal'c observed. Jack narrowed his eyes. Teal'c's definition of flexible thinking could be a little scary.
"That would be Harris' fault." Carter stole an apple off Teal'c's tray, but then Teal'c had gotten three apples, so he probably expected it.
"Wait, Airman Harris? The guy Danny...." Jack handwaved the rest of the sentence away. He knew what Danny and Harris had done, but that didn't mean he had to say it out loud. He was grateful as hell that he and the general had been at a staffing meeting topside because he would not want to deal with all the fallout. At least twenty soldiers had asked to change units, three women were pregnant and one had asked to leave the command altogether. He couldn't blame her. Even the base personnel were in danger, and a single parent really needed a safer assignment. So if Harris and Danny got it on in a closet, he really didn’t want to think too much about that. Jack figured if he kept this up, his mental repression closet was going to be so full he was going to have to add on a new addition to the brain.
“With whom Daniel copulated,” Teal’c said. Jack was almost sure that the choking sound from Carter was actually a laugh.
“Thank you,” Jack offered dryly. “But what does Harris have to do with the training session getting out of control?”
“Everything,” Carter offered, shaking her head. “He makes Daniel look positively competent.”
Jack cringed. Daniel was damn good at his job, but he was a menace militarily. The man ran though friendly field of fire, misjudged enemy positions, and generally had his head up his ass until the gunfire threatened one of his precious rocks. He admired the hell out of Daniel, but he still wanted to murder him on a semi-regular basis.
“I disagree. Harris competently disabled a man of superior strength.”
Jack frowned and looked from Carter to Teal’c. Carter didn’t look convinced, and he trusted her evaluation of people’s leadership abilities. That was why he had her sit in on the training sessions and evaluate the candidates and their military acumen while Teal’c put them through their paces. However, he trusted Teal’c’s evaluation of fighting skills and Teal’c had that angle to his head that meant that he wasn’t budging in his opinion. “What exactly happened?” Jack mentally scheduled in time to go and pull the security tapes.
“He ran,” Carter started, but Teal’c quickly corrected her with, “He moved to a more advantageous position.”
“He ran to what more advantageous position?” Jack wondered if they shouldn’t go and pull those security tapes now because whatever happened, Carter and Teal’c had very different opinions about it, and that wasn’t very common. Most of the time, Jack trusted his team to come to the right answer and agree—all except Daniel who had both the worst and best ideas of any of them. The problem was sorting out one from the other.
Teal’c inclined his head toward Carter, ceding the floor to her. Putting her apple down, Carter started, “He ran from the fight. We’re talking rabbit levels of jumping and running and hiding behind the gym equipment. I haven’t seen Daniel run that fast, although if I had to teach him a fighting style, that wouldn’t be a bad one for him.”
“He disabled an opponent,” Teal’c observed.
Jack frowned. “Between the jumping and the running he managed to clock a Marine? The quality of the candidates is dropping around here.”
“It was an accident,” Carter insisted.
Yep, Carter and Teal’c were still not making any sense. “Would one of you like to explain what happened?”
Carter started before Teal’c could. “Harris was hiding behind a chest press machine, and Bothell reached through the machine to grab him. Harris dropped to his knees and Bothell’s elbow got slammed on the metal plate.”
Jack cringed. That was going to sting.
“I do not believe the maneuver was an accident,” Teal’c said firmly, still holding to his side in his own obdurate Jaffa way. For someone who was so polite, Teal’c could really get his stubborn on.
“You think he did it on purpose?” Jack asked. For a second, Teal’c just looked at him. Jack could almost hear Homer Simpson’s “d’oh” in Teal’c’s thoughts. If Teal’c didn’t believe something with his whole heart, he pretty much didn’t say it. “Why do you think it was intentional?” Jack amended himself.
“Airman Harris never failed to put himself in an advantageous position and he is the only combatant to land a hit on Major Carter.”
“Carter! Harris hit you?” Jack stared at his second-in-command in horror. He didn’t know who had taught her hand-to-hand combat, but either the trainer had been very concerned about teaching Carter to defend herself or he’d been trying to drive a woman out of the service. Either way, whoever had trained her had turned her into a beautifully vicious and dirty little fighter.
Her answering glare would have stripped the paint off the side of a house. “And I put him on the ground, sir,” she snapped right back.
“Indeed, you are the only one who did,” Teal’c pointed out. “His ability to avoid offensively superior fighters speaks highly of his skills.”
Carter was touching her nose again, feeling for sore spots, probably. It really did look puffy and red, but Jack figured one Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer joke and Carter would put him on the floor the next time they sparred. Jack wasn’t a young man anymore, and Carter really was a dirty fighter. “And I was trying to be nice to him,” Carter complained.
Jack didn’t buy that. When it came to sparring, Carter wasn’t nice to anyone. The woman was the heart of charity off the gym floor, but no way would she have cut Harris slack on the sparring floor, especially not if he was pulling some crazy stunt like running away from his opponent.
“I mean,” Carter kept going, “after Cantone pulled his caveman routine, I felt bad for the kid.”
“Warrant Officer Jason Cantone?” Jack asked.
Teal’c nodded once. “He showed undue interest in causing harm to Airman Harris.”
Jack ran a hand over his face. The last thing they needed was some testosterone-driven jarhead who couldn’t rein in his own frustration. At least, that’s what Jack assumed Teal’c meant. Sometimes Teal’c’s habit of understatement made him hard to understand. Jack definitely needed to pull the video from this afternoon.
“He wanted to kill the guy,” Carter agreed. “I haven’t ever seen anyone take such a sudden hatred of a simple airman. Although it was worth it to see Cantone’s face after Harris pointed out that beating up on a cook made you pathetic. Harris does know how to run his mouth.”
“Great.” Jack sighed. “Just what we need, another mouthy geek.”
“At least this one isn’t going into the field, not if he keeps running away from anyone who raises a fist to him,” Carter reassured him. However, the look on Teal’c’s face told a whole different story. It was funny how—after years of practice—Jack could read the tiny shifts in Teal’c’s expression. Either that or Teal’c was loosening up. Either way, Teal’c had some doubts about Carter’s opinion.
“Considering he’s our dishwasher with a part-time pass to translate squiggles for Daniel, I don’t think it’s an issue,” Jack said as he stabbed his cake with his fork. This was getting a little too messy. “Speaking of Danny, one of us should probably blast him out of his office before he falls asleep on his books, or worse, he doesn’t go to sleep at all. One of these days the man is going to forget to breathe and won’t that be a mess?”
“He has left the base,” Teal’c observed.
“Whoa? Really? What, did they have some big documentary on the most boring subject ever and his VCR is broken?” Jack loved Danny, but his taste in television was atrocious.
“I am unaware of his plans, but he met Airman Harris at the gym. They left for Daniel’s house together,” Teal’c informed them, and Jack had a moment of mental gray-out. He just couldn’t even come up with an appropriate response for that. Danny left with Harris. Danny voluntarily left his work to go home with Harris. Danny voluntarily left translating his beloved dusty crap to go home with a man he had pinned in a closet and demanded sex from while under the influence of an alien device. Nope. Not computing.
“Really?” Carter asked. “After, you know…”
“Certainly you are no less cordial with Dr. Fraiser after you—”
“Yeah, yeah, but,” Carter quickly cut him off, “Janet and I were friends before and we understand the nature of alien… you know.” Carter was now as red as her nose, and Jack focused on stabbing his cake into little crumbs. He was not thinking about what Frasier and Carter would look like together, and he was not a little jealous of Teal’c for seeing it. Nope. He was not. Jack started building that mental addition onto his repression closet.
“I believe Daniel Jackson and Airman Harris are now friends,” Teal’c said in a perfectly calm voice. Jack really wished he knew exactly what definition of ‘friends’ Teal’c was using because this whole situation was odd, and coming from him, that was saying a lot. Jack had seen more odd in his life than he cared to remember.
“I’m surprised Daniel left that early. We finished up in the gym at what… eighteen hundred? I’ve never seen Daniel leave the base before twenty-two hundred, and usually that’s only when the general orders him.” Carter shook her head in a sort of fond disbelief. Jack could relate because before Daniel, he’d pretty much assumed that military people had cornered the market on obsessive dedication to the job.
“Daniel came to the gym at twenty-one, twelve.”
Jack frowned. “Harris was still there three hours later?” Jack mentally snickered at the thought of the man taking a three hour hot shower. Carter might have really taken him down a peg or two. It surprised Jack how much satisfaction he took from that thought.
“Indeed. He requested information on how to disable Jaffa. We practiced a number of techniques.”
Narrowing his eyes, Jack studied Teal’c. He was hiding something in his perfectly calm, Jaffa way, and Jack wondered if the thing he was hiding had anything to do with why his opinion on Harris differed so much from Carter’s. “What exactly did you do for three hours?”
“I began the teaching of ta'ka'rema.”
“You mean the stupid Jaffa martial arts that don’t actually work?”
Teal’c raised an eyebrow. Okay, either Harris liked getting his ass kicked or he was a little too savvy about understanding your enemy to be a real dishwasher. Jack scratched the side of his neck as he wondered if someone could have slipped a plant into the base. Of course, if that were the case, acting like an idiot during training didn’t make much sense. A double agent would try to either keep his head down or he would try to impress the targeted organization. From the description of Harris’ actions, that wasn’t the case. None of it made sense. A dishwasher simply did not worry about enemy tactics and battle psychology.
“Any insight on that, Teal’c?” Jack just came right out and asked. He was too tired and it was too late for him to be working his brain this hard, and that meant that Jack was really starting to get a bad ‘pit of his stomach’ feel about this Harris.
Teal’c seemed to take some time to gather his thoughts, and that was never a good sign. “He requested information on how a Jaffa’s symbiote could be used as a tactical advantage in hand-to-hand combat.”
“Advantage?” Jack really did not like where this was going, and from the concerned look on Carter’s face, neither did she.
Teal’c gave a slow nod of his head. “I showed him how to remove a symbiote and we discussed Jaffa reactions to one who had possession of their symbiote.”
“He…. Your….” Jack stopped. Yeah, he was definitely too tired for this conversation.
“Teal’c, did he take your symbiote out?” Carter asked the question that Jack couldn’t quite seem to get out. She looked from Teal’c to Jack and back to Teal’c with this look of utter shock that Jack wasn’t used to seeing on her face.
Jack had a whole body shiver go through him. Anyone who voluntarily touched a slimy snake had something wrong with him. His elevator didn’t go to the top floor. His box of crayons was missing burnt sienna. The man had more than one marble rattling around loose. Now Jack was really worried.
“Carter, get a background check on this kid.”
“He passed vetting for access to classified materials, sir.”
“I don’t care.” Jack put his fork down carefully before he could slam it down. Something was wrong. “Go deeper. I want to know which hand he….” Jack stopped and cleared this throat. Sexual references in front of his team… not kosher. “I want to know everything,” he amended himself. “Teal’c, get a copy of the training session tape for me and put it in my office.” Jack stood up.
“Sir, where are you going?” Carter called after him as he started out of the room.
“Harris is with Danny, and I think we all know what kind of person Danny has a habit of attracting,” Jack pointed out. No way was he leaving his linguist with someone who set off every warning bell in his head. Damn. Daniel had even talked him into going to the general to get Harris on the Stargate mission. Heading for the elevators, Jack wasn’t sure who he was angriest with—Harris, Daniel or himself. But the next time Daniel wanted someone brought into the program, Jack was going to…. Kneecapping them was probably out of the question, but he certainly wasn’t going to go out of his way to help Daniel get his way.
Jack pushed the elevator button about a dozen times before it finally opened and he headed for the surface. Glancing at his watch, he started making calculations. It was twenty-three, thirty. That meant that Harris had two hours head start. Two hours with Daniel. God only knows how much trouble Daniel could get into in two hours. Jack could feel panic wrap around his heart as he fought an urge to call Daniel’s house. If there was trouble, Jack didn’t want Harris getting any sort of warning. Nope, Jack was going with a stealth attack.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"So, this is your home." Xander looked around at the piles of papers and leaning tower of books and dusty, old things sitting around on various shelves. The place looked like Giles' after a really long, hard night of research, only with less post-slaying slime. The lack of slime was a nice touch.
"It's a mess, I know.” Daniel grabbed a bronze horse statue off the floor where it partially blocked the door and quickly moved it over to a far corner of the small living room. Curtains were pulled back, and Xander could see a small balcony overlooking the town. It was nicer than anything Xander could afford, even here where the prices were half of what they were in California. You’d think that the Hellmouth and death rates would bring down housing prices, only not so much.
"Hey, add a couple of pizza boxes, and it'd feel like home."
Daniel grinned at him. "Next time Jack starts complaining about my housekeeping skills, I'm bringing you over for backup.”
Jack again. Xander nodded, but he was starting to notice a real pattern of their conversation circling back to Jack, which was actually less disturbing than Anya's habit of circling back to evisceration and penis shriveling, but with just as much potential for disaster. Xander wasn’t sure if he was being brave or just stupid by ignoring the little voice in the back of his head that said he was about to get his heart stomped all over. Maybe he was just lonely. And maybe he really, really liked Daniel. All were pretty possible.
"Would you like something to drink?" Daniel asked brightly. And they had officially reached the awkward stage of this evening’s date.
Xander looked around. "Do you shop more than you dust?" he asked suspiciously. "I mean, if you don't, that's okay because I've had more than one gallon of milk turn into a science experiment, but I'd just like some warning if water is the safest thing in the apartment."
That made Daniel laugh as he shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it at the couch. "Actually, I've learned to go for non-perishables. Cans of V-8 juices, frozen lemonade, that sort of stuff."
"Lemonade sounds good." Xander smiled and didn't mention what else sounded good, but now that Daniel had lost the jacket, Xander could see the definition of his shoulders so much better. It was hard to think of Daniel as a geek because he had the body of a jock. Actually, that was pretty much a perfect man—geeky head with nice wide shoulders just underneath.
"I'll make some." Daniel offered, interrupting Xander’s little obsessive stare. Daniel ducked his head in a gesture that made Xander's cock ache. Oh yeah, Daniel was cute. Seriously cute. Adorably cute. Xander could hold his own and he definitely hadn't gotten hit with the ugly stick, but he wasn't in Daniel's league. Then again, he wasn't in Faith's league or Anya's league either. For someone who was slightly on the very normal side, Xander did get some pretty hot lovers. “I’ll just go get that.” Only after Daniel had sort of scampered out of the room did it occur to Xander that he’d been pretty much doing the creeper-stare. Great.
Once Daniel disappeared into the kitchen, Xander took the time to wander the room. When he had to step over a towering mass of magazines, he groaned in pain. Oh yeah. Teal'c had totally kicked his ass. Xander stopped and examined a picture of Daniel and his military team. Jack's arm was thrown over Daniel's shoulder, and Teal'c had a near amused expression on his face and the blonde woman who had creamed Xander stood between, her bright smile beaming at the camera. They were family. Xander could see that from the easy way they all posed in front of the camera. Actually, he had pictures of Willow and him and Buffy that looked pretty much exactly the same.
"Do you like it on the strong side?" Daniel called.
Xander frowned. He knew what his father meant by strong lemonade, but he was almost sure that Daniel wasn’t the sort to offer an underage man vodka. "I don't know, is strong a metaphor for alcohol?" he just asked.
Daniel stuck his head out of the kitchen. "No, I normally add about half as much water as I'm supposed to, but last time I tried to give Sam a glass of lemonade, her lips puckered into this really unpleasant expression."
"Strong is fine. Alcohol, not so much."
"Deal," Daniel agreed as he disappeared into the kitchen. After a half second, he popped back out again. "Wait. Are you telling me you're an alcoholic or that you're too young to drink?" Daniel had a slightly horrified expression, but Xander wasn't sure which option horrified him.
"No alcoholism. Not yet, anyway. There's a long Harris family tradition of drinking too much and doing completely stupid stuff, particularly on any major holiday, that I'm trying to avoid."
Daniel's tilted his head and gave Xander an odd look. "So are you a fan of preventative measures or underage?"
Xander shrugged. "Both. I signed up about eight months out of high school and I'm a few weeks short of twenty right now."
Daniel's eyes got amusingly large. "Really? You're nineteen?" He made a face and took a step closer so he sort of wilt over an arm of one of the chairs. It was the sort of overdramatic gesture Buffy used when Giles suggested studying, but Xander had the uncomfortable feeling that Daniel really did feel strongly enough to wilt. "I just robbed the cradle,” Daniel said in a sort of stage whisper. “Jack is never letting me forget this."
"Why, how old are you?" Xander figured that Daniel couldn't be too much older. He had the sort of cute going that only younger men had, versus say Jack who had that whole distinguished and dashingly handsome older guy thing covered.
"Old enough that I'm going to refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it tends to incriminate me." Daniel sighed. "I don't know why I'm bothered. I mean, my wife was sixteen when we married, so it's not like age is a barrier, but being that we're both American with American mores for age-appropriate behavior, this is a little... disconcerting. Clearly not disconcerting enough though, because I have no intention of stopping."
Xander crossed his arms over his chest and shifted as he tried to find a way to stand that didn’t make his ass muscles ache. They’d ache worse if he sat though. "Um, the only part of that I understood out of that is that you are married and I really hope that's in the past tense because I have more than one reason to be really uncomfortable with cheating. Hugely uncomfortable. World-endingly uncomfortable." Between the Cordelia-Willow mess and all of Anya's stories, Xander had a phobia about cheating.
"She died." Daniel's voice lost all emotion, and Xander could almost taste the toejam from both of his feet being shoved in his mouth at once. Daniel's face was this brittle mask that didn't do much to hide the pain below.
"I'm so sorry," Xander offered. He was almost positive the words were pretty worthless, but he didn't know what else to do.
Daniel took a deep breath and seemed to try and center himself. "I lost her a long time ago, even if she only died last year." The words might have been casual, but Xander could feel the pain.
"Leave it to me to stick my mouth in my feet on our first date. Wait...." Xander cringed. He clearly sucked at both sympathy and the English language.
Daniel stood up and came over to stand at Xander's side. Slowly, he rested his hand on Xander’s shoulder. "You didn't stick your foot in anything. Some days I wish I could talk to someone about Sha're, but the others were involved in trying to rescue her, so trying to talk to them..." Daniel let his voice trail off.
"You don't want them to think you're blaming them," Xander guessed.
Daniel's smile was small and sad. "Yeah. I know they did their best."
"I bet they did. They're a little intense." Xander looked over at that photograph of the team.
Daniel gave a weak laugh. "They are." Again, the mood turned somber. “It didn’t save her.”
Xander thought about Faith and about how much he'd wanted to believe that he could save her--that by having sex with him she was reaching out to him for help. He knew that he could be such a joke, running to Buffy’s side with nothing more than a rock to use against a nest of vampires. He had this really strange habit of surviving, but it wasn’t because he was the hero type, but with Faith… he’d wanted to be her hero just like he’d wanted to be Buffy’s hero when she was sick in the hospital. Instead, Buffy had gotten out of her hospital bed to battle some demon who had been hunting kids—she didn’t need him at all. All of Xander’s hopes about coming to someone’s rescue had added up to a big nothing in his life.
Even after he’d signed up for the Air Force he’d stuck around to watch Adam go down, but he was only the heart in the big world-saving spell. Yep, he pushed blood to other people, but he wasn’t exactly a fighter. When Spike had been making fun of him… well, it only hurt because it was slightly and entirely true.
"Good people want to save everyone. It doesn't mean they can,” Xander said gently. He had come to terms with being a big pile of nothing, but for some people, that wasn’t so easy to accept. Then again, he doubted Daniel was quite as talented at accomplishing nothing. People in Cheyenne Mountain talked about Daniel like he walked on water. The guys in the kitchen were ready to put up an altar for him, but that have something to do with the fact that Daniel would publicly rip into Colonel O’Neill when the colonel did something like steal every plate in the kitchen to use in an impromptu shuffleboard tournament. Xander was still having trouble getting his head around a colonel that annoyed people as much as Colonel O’Neill seemed to.
For several minutes, Daniel studied him. "You're right. Sometimes we can't save people." Daniel sighed. "Are you sure you're only nineteen?"
"Pretty sure, although I wouldn't put it past my parents to lie if it meant a tax-break or something. I don’t think they’d be smart enough to do that, but I wouldn’t put it past them.”
Daniel let his head fall forward, but his hand still rested against Xander’s arm. The pain had settled down in the room, and Xander knew that people couldn’t just shrug off that kind of pain. The only time he’d ever seen Giles be really and truly stupid was after Jenny Calendar’s death.
“What was she like?” Xander asked.
Daniel’s head came up and he looked at Xander, the blue of his startled eyes focusing on Xander’s face for a second before he slowly straightened up. “She was beautiful and strong. Her father arranged the marriage, but I don’t think he ever understood how much of the time she just told me what to do.” Daniel smiled fondly. “She pretended to let me be the head of the household only the reality was more about her running everything while I wasn’t looking.”
Xander laughed. “I’ve known a few women like that. Of course, most of the women I know don’t wait for you to look the other way before arranging your life for you, sometimes in violent and physically inappropriate ways. Some of the guys I did basic training with—they acted like women were too weak to keep up. That’s pretty stupid. Actually, that’s pretty suicidal because the second you turn your back on some girl because you think she’s this cute little thing, she’s going to drive a knife through it.”
Daniel shook his head. “Jack always tells me that I should watch out for the women more than the men. He said that the kind of women who tended to come sniffing around me were looking for some place warm to shove their knives, and my back made for a good target.” Daniel sounded almost amused by that, but Xander could feel his guts tighten. Of course, Daniel was probably joking. No way could he have a track record as bad as Xander’s. Mummy girl, Cordelia, Faith, Anya, that one night when Drusilla wanted to turn him into her little kitten… it was a damn scary list.
“You too?” Xander asked. “I thought I was the only one who seemed to attract slightly psychotically dangerous women.”
Daniel’s laugh was still a little brittle, but Xander could almost feel the pain start sliding out of the room. “Oh no. Jack insists that I put off some sort of pheromone. All the crazy women seem to make a beeline for me.”
“Okay, two pieces of advice,” Xander suggested. “One, never stand too close to me in public because if both of us put out those pheromones, our combined power of attracting psychotic women could end the world. Seriously end. I mean, I’ve had girlfriends who considered genital mutilation a pleasant hobby and polite dinner conversation, so I have my own issues, and I do not need you adding your pheromones to my issues.”
When Daniel broke out in honest laughter, Xander grinned like an idiot.
“Okay, and what the second piece?” Daniel asked.
“When a girl smiles, run. Run fast. Do not stop. Do not pass go. Do not look over your shoulder, because you know the second you do that you’re going to trip over the root that magically appears in front of your foot.”
“Magic would explain the number of times I’ve gone down,” Daniel agreed. “Okay, that’s fair. Run from women. At least Sam isn’t going to have to give you the female power speech. I hear that the first time she met Jack she oh-so-politely called him a sexist for assuming she couldn’t handle her own.”
“Is that Sam?” Xander looked at the picture.
“Yep. Major Samantha Carter, do not slip up and call her doctor, even if she is one.”
“Like a real doctor or the fake doctoring stuff like you do?” Xander asked as he looked at the smiling woman in the picture. That had not been the expression she’d had on her face when she introduced Xander’s face to the floor. However, Daniel wasn’t answering. Xander looked over. “What?”
“Fake doctoring?” Daniel crossed his arms.
“It’s not like you actually fix broken bones,” Xander pointed out.
Daniel gave an explosive sort of snort-sigh noise that really didn’t sound healthy. “You think I’m a fake doctor?”
Xander mentally ran that thought the verbal double check machine. “Not fake like you aren’t doing something real because you’re really good at this whole thing. People are ready to join the cult of Daniel, but you aren't a real doctor with the actual doctoring.”
Daniel blinked fast and gave Xander a very unhappy look. “I have doctorates in anthropology, archeology, and linguistics.”
“Okay.” Xander drew the word out because as much as he thought they were fighting, he wasn’t sure over what. Daniel did another of those fast-blink things, this time followed by a narrowing of the eyes.
“Doctor means you’ve studied a subject until you are one of the top experts and that you have helped to add more knowledge to the field. Not only did I study linguistics for years, but I published a well-done study of conservative Sa’idi Arabic and the genitive exponents as they related to the translation of religious texts.”
Xander definitely didn’t catch more than four words in that whole thing, and three of those were ‘the’. However, that definitely sounded like something that would impress the British out of Giles. “Wow. That’s really something.”
“Which is why they awarded me the doctorate,” Daniel pointed out. “Doctor means that you earned a degree that means you are one of the best.”
“Wait. I thought doctor meant that you could fix people who fell out of trees while trying to catch a butterfly for their best friend.”
Daniel shook his head. “No. That’s just a medical doctor—they have degrees that mean they’re the best at medicine. Trust me, my degree in archeology or Sam’s degree in physics are just as important as any medical doctorate.”
It finally clicked with Xander why Daniel was all pissed. “I really didn’t mean to say it wasn’t important—all the work you do, I mean. I’m pretty much just famous for saying whatever comes into my mind, which is a problem because my mind is not always appropriate.”
“It’s fine.” Daniel offered him a smile that actually looked genuine. “At least you listen to why I’m upset. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when one of your best friends in the world keeps telling you over and over that your most deeply held beliefs are nothing but stupid fairytales.” From Daniel’s tone, he was not speaking in hypotheticals.
“Colonel O’Neill?” Xander guessed.
“Oh yeah.” Daniel looked at the picture on the mantle. “And Sam’s not much better. I mean, she tries to be, but when it comes down to it, she always thinks that the answer is in a piece of technology. She’s very much focused on physics.”
“And ass kicking,” Xander added as he rubbed his hip. Between the thumping Major Carter handed out and Teal’c’s extra tutoring, Xander was feeling more than a little sore.
“Ass kicking?” Daniel took a step forward and stared intently at Xander’s hip, which was a little awkward given that Xander’s half-hard cock was starting to poke its head up.
Xander rubbed the hip and tried to angle his body to avoid embarrassing himself. “The major was my sparring partner, not that I knew she was a major. Trust me, I would not have punched her in the nose if I’d known that. You know, most commands pretty much frown on the punching of officers.”
“You punched Sam?” The tone was enough to set off alarms in Xander’s head.
“Are you sounding shocked that I got a hit in or is that a sort of warning that the punching of Major Carter is likely to lead to unpleasant and potentially permanent side effects?”
“Um… Maybe a little of both. No offense, but Sam is a little vicious on the sparring mats.”
“Oh yeah. More than a little. What is it with little short blondes and their ability to kick major ass?” Xander asked as he gently rubbed his hip.
“Bad?” Daniel asked.
“It hurts. It didn’t help that Teal’c brought the staff down on this leg when we were working out after the official working out.”
“He…” Daniel frowned. “Teal’c gave you one-on-one training?”
“I asked him to. If I’m going up against something terrifying, I’d prefer to know the general shape and size of the terror before I have to make any spur of the moment decisions.” Xander figured that he’d never have to fight off a Jaffa army alone, but given the number of times his assumptions had gone up in smoke, he was preparing for it anyway. After all, he never expected to need his soldier memories so he could wire up his school with C-4, and look how handy that skill turned out to be.
“You must have really impressed Teal’c. He does not waste his time training just anyone.”
Xander snorted. “Clearly he does because he spent two hours training the base’s junior dishwasher.”
“Junior dishwasher who doubles as the linguist when the other linguists are really desperate for help,” Xander compromised. It was actually creeping him out a little the way Daniel kept acting like Xander was geeky. Nerdy, yes. Xander was all about the nerdish love. But geeky implied smart, and Xander was not smart. Nope. Not even in the same ballpark with smart. He couldn’t even find the right street to get to the ballpark.
“You need therapy. Now let me see the leg. Sometimes I think Teal’c forgets that the rest of us don’t have a symbiote to help us heal.”
“And can I just vote for never getting one?” Xander said as he pushed Daniel’s hands away and started unbuckling his own belt. Mutual undressing was good, but this wasn’t sexy time and he had a big phobia about zippers, penises, and other people not being careful enough. “I don’t care how fast I would heal, having one of those things in my stomach would mean that no amount of therapy would ever make me okay again. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men would not put Xander’s psyche back together again.”
“I agree with you.” Pain flashed across Daniel’s face again, and Xander cringed at his own ability to stick feet in mouth.
Xander unfastening his pants and lowered the edge enough to show his left hip. A colorful map of bruising had started to form, and Xander could swear he saw the impression of the edging stripe running sideways across his hip. Major Carter had really slammed him down on that thing.
Daniel whistled and tugged on the pants to see the rest of the leg, which was equally colorful, but not nearly as nasty looking. Teal’c had gotten in a couple of good hits right above the knee before announcing that a real Jaffa would have taken out the knee and disabled Xander. That was oddly fair because Xander planned to kill and disable any and all evil Jaffa he met.
“You should have Janet look at that,” Daniel suggested.
“Is she one of the psychotic women we’re avoiding?” Xander teased back. He might not know a Janet, but he knew bruising when he saw it. The colors would fade… eventually… and after they’d turned a really alarming shade of green that would make it look like his leg was rotting off.
Daniel almost choked on a laugh. “I dare you to say that in front of her.”
“So, I’m thinking that means yes.”
“Jack would say yes.” Daniel moved and poked a nasty bit of black bruise near the back of Xander’s knee. “Personally, I think she’s a wonderfully warm and caring woman as long as you don’t randomly poke her by refusing to take her medical advice.”
“Okay, but we’ve already established that you have really shitty luck with women. Should I even be listening to you and your judgment of women?”
Daniel laughed again. This time the sides of his eyes crinkled up, and Xander felt inordinately proud of that. “Probably not,” he admitted, “but if you tell her I said that, I am denying it and leaving you to suffer on your own.”
“Warning taken. However, why would I flash her? If you’re trying to get me murdered, you might want to do the job yourself rather than dragging other people into the plot. In case you never watch those true crime things on television, dragging other people into the murder plot never ends well. It’s always best to kill and dispose of your own bodies. Although having help with the bodies is helpful.” And Xander really wished he was joking, but when the demons didn’t turn into nice, neat piles of dust or die in conveniently remote corners of town, Xander was on the frontlines of the body disposal end of slaying. Having help was nice, but trusting someone enough to let them help you with a body… not easy.
Daniel finally gave up on his search for more bruises and shook his head fondly. “You make me laugh.”
“As long as you’re laughing with me and not at me, that’s good. Wait.” Xander made a show of looking around. “I’m not laughing.” The joke would have worked better if Xander kept a straight face, but he couldn’t. Daniel’s grin was like a bad cold—spreading onto everything it touched.
“Before you, I thought Jack was a meshuganah. I think he just lost his crown. However, to answer your question, Dr. Janet Fraiser is the base doctor.”
“A real doctor this time?” That earned him an eyeroll.
“Yes, a real doctor. You should have her look at that.”
Xander looked down and poked the edges of the bruise. Oddly, Daniel was the one to cringe. “It’s just a bruise. I’ve had worse.”
“Bruises are supposed to be black.”
“No. No, they aren’t. I’ve seen blue bruises and purple bruises and green bruises, but black bruises usually include serious damage.”
Xander rolled his eyes. “Bruises are just bruises. I worry more when I don’t see the bruise. The kind of bruise that leaves the skin looking okay, but then it makes your whole leg swells up like a watermelon and any sort of pressure leaves you throwing punches at your best friend just to try and stop the pain… yeah, that’s the bruise I worry about.” The very memory was enough to make Xander ill. That had been one of the post-Angelus injuries, and really, he had good reason to hate vampires. The girls always acted like he was being a vampire racist or something, but he had reliable evidence that vampires equaled bad.
Daniel turned serious. “Xander, that’s the sort of internal damage that can kill you.”
“It was a bruise. And hey, that bruise was way worse than this bruise, and it healed fine.”
Daniel blinked at him owlishly for a moment, and Xander had the impression that Daniel was having to search for words. Considering how many words the man knew, that was a little surprising. “I will be warning Janet that you don’t spend a lot of time taking care of yourself. I may also warn her that from the sounds of it, you’re either clumsier than me, which is saying a lot, or you regularly throw yourself off cliffs.”
Daniel’s frown deepened. “Xander, you’re describing serious bruising... life-threatening bruising. When you have that sort of injury, the swelling can actually block blood flow and cause gangrene. Someone should have taken you to the hospital if you had that kind of injury, and you’re acting like it happened all the time.”
Xander looked down at his own leg. “It’s bruising. Bruising, by definition, is not serious.” He said it, but Xander suddenly wasn’t so sure.
“I hope you still love me after I rat you out to Janet.” Whoa. That was an odd way for the “love” word to fall into the conversation The second the words were out of his mouth, Daniel froze. Xander waited for the denial and the verbal flailing, but Daniel left the words flapping out in the wind.
“I hope you still love me after I put Nair in your shampoo for ratting me out,” Xander finally warned in return.
Daniel’s smile returned, even if it was a little shaky. “Don’t worry. I deal with Jack. I can take care of myself when it comes to sophomoric, puerile jokes.”
Xander made a mental note to buy a dictionary.
“So, just how bruised are you?”
Xander stepped back and considered Daniel suspiciously. “Are you trying to invent reasons to get me out of my clothes?”
“Maybe. Maybe I just want to make sure you aren’t about to drop dead.”
“Oh, I’m not,” Xander promised. “If I prove that, do you think we might find something else to do for the night?”
Daniel blushed all the way to the tips of his ears. Clearing his throat he offered a quick, “I think so.” Then he flashed Xander a smile that had Xander scrambling to get out of his shirt.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Xander lay on his stomach on Daniel's couch in nothing but his underwear, but Daniel seemed more interested in poking bruises than in actually doing anything more sexy. "You'd better be hard back there or this is going to do really bad things to my manly ego," Xander warned. His own cock was more than a little unhappy about being stuffed under him and then ignored, especially when Daniel’s warm hands brushed across Xander’s over-warmed skin.
"Oh trust me, you're manly ego is perfectly intact," Daniel assured him dryly. "I should be more concerned about your health, though. Did you think to tell Teal'c to ease off on the staff hits?"
"Um. No. In my experience bad guys don't usually pull punches, and if they do, it's because something bigger and badder is about to stomp all over you."
"Don't I know it?" Daniel sounded weary. "However, the way you keep coming up with this Teal'c-level battle wisdom, I'm starting to believe in reincarnation."
"Huh?" Xander looked over his shoulder, and he caught a glimpse of Daniel's very bulgy crotch before the man shifted to hide his erection. Xander sighed. Sex was so much more fun than awkward conversations. However, Daniel was a talker. Actually, that was a nice change from Faith who didn’t talk at all and Anya who talked at him more than she talked to him.
Daniel gave him an odd look. "How do you know so much about preparing for battle?" he came right out and asked.
For a second, Xander's brain went blank. Clearly his mouth had been running ahead of his good sense at some point, and sadly, Xander hadn’t even realized it. "I don't," he finally lied. Shit, shit, and more shit. "I mean, yeah, I battled with bullies in high school. I mean, there was this one guy, Larry, and he lived to torture me, and then this stuff happened and I thought he might be doing, you know, stuff, so I went to talk to him, and I tried being all sympathetic about his stuff, but he thought that I was talking about gay stuff, so he came out and got all huggy and told me how great it was that I was open about being gay, which was huge with the awkward because at the time I so was not gay. I was obsessed with Cordelia Chase's very ample boobs at that point. Very ample. I mean, Willow let me touch her boobs once but that's because we were playing doctor, and when she played doctor, she actually played doctor like with this small stethoscope and tiny little microscope, and so I told her that I couldn't find her heartbeat, and she kept encouraging me to look for it, so I sort of felt her breast, but in my defense, I was about twelve at the time, and her breasts were nothing compared to Cordelia's." Xander stopped when he realized that Daniel had an alarmed expression on his face. "Too much?" Xander guessed.
"Maybe a little," Daniel agreed. "It's just that you threw a lot of facts out there. It's a little... hard to sort all at once."
Xander nodded. That was him--hard to sort.
"So, you had a lot of trouble with bullying, too, huh?" Daniel's hands stopped poking Xander's bruises and rested against his back, two warm islands that sent shivers thought Xander's frame.
"Oh yeah. It didn't help that I hung with the girls."
"Yeah, me too. I was really young in high school, and it wasn't pretty. The girls would stick up for me, and then it would get even worse. There's a cultural expectation that the male will be the aggressor, and when you don't live up to expectations, high school can be rough."
Xander folded his arms under his head and sighed. "I'm not entirely sure, but I think I gave Buffy that same speech, only it came out more like, 'Seriously, stop helping me before you get me killed by the jocks'."
"That's a fair translation." Daniel gave him a sad grin, and Xander was scoring points on ruining the mood tonight, that's for sure. Between the dead wife, the bruises and the discussion of bullying, Daniel was going to need anti-depressants by morning.
"I guess I'm surprised," Daniel mused. "You look like you would have been a jock."
"Me?" Xander snorted. "Yeah, not so much. Two weeks on the swim team, and the coach was ready to kill me.” And Xander was really not pointing out that his best friend had to kill the coach before the man could follow through with that threat. “It took most of basic training to get me to put one foot in front of the other without falling down." Xander shook his head at his own inability to run an obstacle course. In his defense, he rarely found lines of tires in the middle of a battlefield. It just didn’t happen. Now, if they’d made an obstacle course with lines of tombstones, he would have aced that sucker.
Daniel's hand stroked up to Xander's shoulders and rested there against the muscle. Xander might have been flexing just a little bit. It was weird to think that he was with someone who thought he looked tough. Cordelia liked him because he didn't judge her... well, that and he was rescue adjacent lots of times. Dating him was the safest place to be because it got her really close to Buffy. Maybe that was unfair, but looking back, Xander did wonder if that wasn't at least part of the reason she'd picked him. And Anya... she never saw him as anything but a little boy a thousand years younger than her. She made it more than clear that she liked him for his very large cock and the fact that he could actually hold his hard-on for long enough for her to come first. Apparently, that made him better than 97.2 percent of the male population. However, she wasn't exactly a bastion of fairness when it came to men, so he wasn’t sure he believed her oddly specific statistics.
Xander was distracted by Daniel's hands following the line of Xander's muscle over his shoulders and down onto his arms before Daniel pulled back to trace the muscle as it ran under the skin of Xander's back.
"Everyone knew I was gay in high school,” Daniel mused, his voice husky. “I mean, I like girls, and I really grew to adore Sha're, but if you saw the kind of dominant and aggressive women who are drawn to me because I'm not dominant... Jack's right. I can't be trusted around women. But I always had good luck with male lovers, at least until I joined the military. Then I decided the cultural norms and mores of the military are even stricter than those of high school. I didn't want to repeat the worst two years of my life, so I decided to play it straight, as they say."
"Wait. Two years?" Xander looked at Daniel. "You made it through in two years? Seriously? I barely made it through at all."
"Schooling is not the only form of intelligence."
Xander snorted. "Yeah, but it's the one people care about. So, if you were so far in the closet, why come out now?" Xander had to really concentrate on his words because Daniel's hands roamed over his body, stopping only at the waist of his boxers.
"I think most of the base is at least bisexual at this point. After all, there aren't that many women on base, and apparently, several of them paired up with each other. I think the base can handle a little more gay."
"That's true. Although sometimes when people are really insecure, they get worse,” Xander pointed out.
Daniel sighed. "You have an uncanny ability to stick a needle in the soft spot of things. However, if someone decides to pick on me, they have to get through Jack, so I figure I'm safe, and if someone says anything to you..." A shadow of doubt flickered across Daniel's face.
"Hey, I've been dealing with bullies my whole life. I'm not exactly helpless," Xander protested. He didn't need Colonel Jack O'Neill or anyone else to hold his hand. As far as he was concerned, goa'uld were still way less scary than Drusilla in a mood to turn him into her kitten. Yeah. So very less scary. And homophobic soldiers didn't even hit his scary radar. "Besides, I would have to care about their opinions or be scared for my life before I'd actually give a shit about what they thought."
Shaking his head, Daniel shifted backwards so he could sit on the coffee table, and now Xander could definitely tell that Daniel was interested. Very interested. Oh so very large and interested. Xander realized that Daniel had said something that he totally missed.
The look Daniel gave him was almost indulgent. "I said that when you say things like that, you don't sound nineteen."
Xander rolled onto one side, ignoring all the sore muscles that complained loudly. "Really? How old do I sound?"
"About ninety. Most people aren't that sure of themselves until late in life."
"You are," Xander pointed out.
Daniel took a deep breath. "No, no I'm not, Xander. I spend more time than I should looking for Jack to tell me that my theories matter, and when he doesn't, I..." Daniel sighed. "Don't assume I'm not neurotic."
"That goes both ways. I signed up for the military because someone convinced me I was worthless, and I'm normally really good at ignoring overbleached assholes, but when I thought my friends didn't want me around, trust me, I was pretty much an idiot."
Daniel leaned forward and ran a finger over the worst bruise, the black mark where Major Carter's takedown crossed over one of the worst of Teal'c's hits. "I can think of another reason for calling you an idiot."
Xander laughed. "Funny enough, most of my friends think I am an idiot. But I'm thinking none of them ever looked at me the way you are." Daniel's pupils had widened until the blue of his eyes were rings around the black center. He looked hungry, and hungry was good. Hungry was very good.
"I would think a lot of people would look at you like this," Daniel said with a slow smile.
"Not that many actually. Well, to be honest, two. But there was a lot less talking involved those times, so I'm just hoping that this is going where I think it's going."
"It is," Daniel agreed. "As long as you don't plan to lecture me if I have to shove a pile of books or clothes off the bed first."
"I don't care if we have sex on top of them."
"If you got a corner of a book in a bruise, you sure would. So, are you always top?"
"Um..." Xander frowned. He was a little freaked by the thought of anything as big as a cock going up his butt, but honestly, the day after Renfair and all the meat skewers, he usually did poop stuff that size, so it would probably fit.
"Hey, it's okay if you are. Everyone's entitled to their own preference, and trust me, I do not mind bottoming every time,” Daniel hurried to reassure him.
"I'm more clueless than preferencing," Xander admitted.
"Oh." Daniel's eyes got large.
"But trust me, I'm way interested. In fact, my butt muscles kind of hurt, so I'm thinking if I tried to top, I wouldn't be very good."
"I don't mind doing something less athletic." Daniel was starting to blush now. Xander wasn't used to blushing sexual partners. It actually made him a little uncomfortable. He wanted his partners to be happy, and blushing meant uncomfortable, which wasn't his main goal.
"I really want to be athletic, I just can't do the...." Now Xander felt himself blushing. "I usually do less talking and more jumping in with both feet without knowing what I'm doing," Xander admitted.
"And I talk too much," Daniel mused. “It sounds like we both have some flaws to work on, but I don't really want to work on them right now." Daniel started unbuttoning his shirt. "Are you coming?"
"Oh yeah." Xander pushed himself up and moaned as his muscles complained.
"If you keep making that noise before we've started, I'm either going to be complimented or I'm going to call Janet," Daniel warned.
"Be complimented," Xander lied as he stretched to one side to prevent a cramp that threatened his right hip. "Be very complimented," he repeated as he got a look at Daniel's back as the man dropped his shirt onto a chair. Oh god. The man was gorgeous with nicely curved muscle and a grace that Xander couldn't quite define. Ignoring the threat of a muscle cramp, Xander hurried after him.
The bedroom wasn't as messy as Daniel had warned. The piles all had a certain symmetry that Xander recognized from his days researching at Giles' place. Daniel was searching for something. The piles had open books with smaller books keeping the place and yellow pads inserted between books. The laundry spilled over the edge of the laundry basket, but it looked better than Xander's place had most of the time. Best of all, Daniel stood in the middle of the room, his shirt off and his pants unbuttoned so that the curled hairs barely showed. Unfortunately, he had stopped.
"Problem?" Xander asked. If Daniel called this off now, Xander's cock was going to explode.
"You are incredibly attractive, even with the bruises."
Xander laughed. "Okay, that's new. And hey, feel free to keep feeding my ego, but maybe we could do the ego stroking after."
"Are you telling me to shut up?"
Xander took a step closer and slowly reached for Daniel's pants, closing his fingers around the waistband on either side of the zipper. "Maybe. Would you be annoyed if I said yes?"
Daniel started to breathe faster. "Surprisingly, no. Feel free to tell me to shut up at any time." Daniel raised his hands and rested them against Xander's shoulders as Xander started working Daniel's zipper. Each tooth clicked loudly as Daniel's white briefs slowly appeared.
Xander's hard cock was already tenting his boxers, and as Xander freed Daniel's cock, he could see that it was just as hard. Considering how much time Xander had spent trying to not be gay, it was ironic to discover that he found the sight of Daniel's hard cock incredibly sexy. Daniel wanted him. Knowing that, seeing the proof of that pressing against the white underwear, was about the hottest thing Xander could imagine. Xander let his hands slide inside Daniel's pants and slowly moved down to cup his fingers around Daniel's ass. Firm muscles under his hand and the heavy scent of musk and coffee was definitely rewiring Xander's sexuality way more than any alien viagra.
Daniel's pants slipped over his hips and fell to the ground, and Daniel's fingers pressed into Xander's shoulders. "Bed," Daniel whispered. Xander could definitely go along with that. Daniel shuffled backwards, pulling Xander with him. Xander followed, and when Daniel urged them to turn, he did. Once Xander's back was to the bed, he sat, and Daniel stepped closer until he stood between Xander's legs. "You are a beautiful man."
"Right." Daniel leaned in closer, and then his lips were against Xander's. Xander reached for Daniel's neck, pulling him closer. When Daniel's hands rested against Xander's shoulders, it took a second for Xander to realize that Daniel was pushing him back onto the bed. Xander let himself fall backwards, and gave an "umph" as Daniel landed on him.
"Don't care," Xander pointed out. Right now, short of demon apocalypse, nothing was bothering him.
Daniel rolled to the side, and Xander took the opportunity to scoot farther up the bed and shimmy out of his boxers. His cock was already darkening with need, and Xander watched Daniel’s back as he pushed his own underwear off. Only then did Daniel roll back to face Xander. His hand came up to rest against Xander’s cheek for a second before he leaned in for the slowest, most gentle kiss of Xander’s life. Xander let his own hand rest against Daniel’s hip as he returned the soft kiss. Daniel’s body radiated heat, and Xander stroked up and down Daniel’s side. His body was wiry and strong. Xander could feel every muscle under the thinnest layer of softness.
Daniel pulled back, his breath coming in heavy gasps and his lips parted. “You’re sure you want to try bottoming?”
“Yeah. Trust me, if I don’t want something, I’m pretty good at saying so,” Xander promised.
Daniel nodded, but his eyes had a glazed expression as he studied Xander. Squirming a little, Xander gave in to an urge to suck in his stomach. He knew he had a good body and a really nice cock, but he wasn’t used to having a lover study him like a book. “Daniel?”
Shaking his head, Daniel seemed to blink his way back to awareness. “I’ll get the condoms.” He rolled to the side and fumbled to get something out of his bedside table. However, he didn’t turn back. Xander leaned forward and rested his hand against Daniel’s back.
“Is there something wrong?”
Daniel gave a rough laugh. “I’m about to have sex with a horribly bruised and battered lover who happens to be a virgin to penetrative sex, and who happens to be fifteen years younger than I am. I’m feeling rather degenerate.”
“Just to let you know, I’m pretty much ignoring everything except for the part where you said you’re about to have sex,” Xander pointed out.
That made Daniel roll over and look at him. “You’re unpleasantly honest at times.”
“Funny enough, lots of people have told me that, now can we get started again?”
Daniel laughed and shook his head. Even better, he dropped a small bottle of oil onto the mattress and ripped a condom package open.
“Whoo hoo. We have lift off,” Xander encouraged him.
“You’re not helping,” Daniel complained softly, but he caught Xander by the back of the neck, holding him still while he kissed him. This time, the kiss claimed Xander’s full attention. It was hungry. Challenging. Demanding. Xander’s cock almost throbbed with need as Daniel leaned his weight against Xander’s side. By the time Daniel leaned back, Xander was too breathless and kissed-stupid to say anything.
Daniel’s hands guided Xander to roll onto his stomach, and Xander shoved a pillow out of his way. His skin felt sensitive like he’d scrubbed it too hard. He felt Daniel’s finger trail down his spine and over his ass. Xander’s heart pounded so hard that he could only faintly hear Daniel start with his weird foreign muttering again.
Daniel kissed Xander’s shoulder softly before he scattered kisses down Xander’s side, his hands deftly weaving their way around Xander’s bruises. The tickle-light touch made Xander shiver. “This is going to be over really, really quick if you keep doing that,” Xander warned, but Daniel ignored the warning as he feathered his hands across Xander’s body. Slowly, Daniel moved to straddle Xander, the weight pinning Xander to the mattress as Daniel’s hands moved up to his shoulders.
Clutching the edge of the mattress for dear life, Xander arched his back and struggled to lift his weight and Daniel’s just enough to get his knees under him.
“Impatient,” Daniel said with a chuckle, but he shifted his weight so that Xander could get his ass in the air, his knees tucked under him. Daniel might have lots of words to use in the middle of sex, but Xander couldn’t come up with even one, so that was as much of an invitation as Daniel was getting. Xander wanted sex and he wanted it now.
Daniel returned to his muttering as a cool drops fell on Xander’s hole, tickling the hot skin before Daniel rubbed the oil in. One finger slid in easily before Xander really even expected it, and Xander pushed himself up to his elbows, but then Daniel’s voice turned soothing, and Daniel’s free hand stroked up his back and pressed against his shoulders.
Xander settled back down onto the bed as Daniel imitated thrusting with his finger, more oil dripping down Xander’s crack before a second finger pushed in, and now Xander’s muscles felt the stretch. A drop of oil ran the wrong way, heading down Xander’s spine toward his shoulders, and Xander shivered. At that same time, Daniel pressed up into Xander, and hello, Xander discovered the prostate.
“Oh yeah. Hell yeah. Shit.” Xander fisted the mattress and rocked back and forth, pressing himself back onto Daniel’s fingers.
The fingers vanished, and now something larger pressed against Xander’s hole. A little corner of Xander’s brain was calculating circumferences and mass, but he’d always sucked at math, so he ignored that part and focused on how his whole body felt overstretched and ready to pop.
Xander pressed back, panting as Daniel pressed in, forcing Xander’s body to open. Xander moaned, rocking slightly as he struggled against a need to flail—to impale himself on Daniel’s cock or thrust wildly into the bed—or do something uncoordinated and stupid. As Daniel settled forward, Xander’s ass stung the way his mouth might sting from a really good hot sauce or his skin might sting if he had a really good scratching session. He wanted more, even as his body warned him that he was riding the thin edge of a cliff that could lead to badness. Daniel’s hands settled at his hips, holding him firmly as Daniel started to pull back.
“Shhhhh. Let me,” Daniel soothed him.
Xander opened his mouth, searching for some words of complaint, but then Daniel slid back in, his cock filling Xander, stretching him dangerously. The need for more nearly maddened Xander, and he arched his back. Shit. He was so very gay. He was the gay king of gaysville. He was going to explode and leave a giant gay mess in Daniel’s gay bed if he didn’t get more.
Daniel pulled back, and Xander pressed himself backwards in search of more. Daniel’s hips pushed him back up the bed, but when Daniel pressed in again, he went faster and harder. Now he was moving in steady thrusts, and Xander’s brain was turning to goo as Daniel’s thrusts finally reached some critical mass where shivers of pleasure started dancing up Xander’s spine and his balls drew up.
Daniel reached around to stroke Xander’s cock, and Xander lost all self-control. He didn’t care if he did something stupid or flailed. He threw himself back and then forward, pulling himself off Daniel’s cock and thrusting into Daniel’s hand at the same time before reversing direction. The sex degenerated into uncoordinated stabs forward and shoves backwards and random cursing until Xander came with a shout. Only then did Daniel take control again, thrusting himself in several more times until he came.
Too soon, Daniel was pulling out, his hands busy behind Xander, but Xander was way too busy lying face down with his softening cock right in the middle of the wet spot. He couldn’t seem to get enough oxygen into his brain, and he wasn’t sure if that was the very, very good sex or the pillow.
“Are you okay?” Daniel settled next to him.
“Okay is not the right word,” Xander said as he turned his head to blearily consider Daniel. Why was he not surprised that Daniel was a talker, even post-sex?
Daniel smiled at him and reached out to trace figures on Xander’s shoulder. “I can’t believe I just deflowered a nineteen year old. I’m having cognitive dissonance here.”
“Seriously?” Xander blinked at Daniel. “Who uses the word ‘deflowering’? Well, unless you’re busy plucking flowers off a hill, but trust me, if there were a flower up there, I’d notice. Probably.” The worst part was that he understood the deflowering half of that sentence more than the other half. Sometimes Daniel reminded Xander of a really young and hot Giles with all his big words. Of course, Daniel didn’t get cranky when Xander misused a few unimportant words. And Xander never, ever thought of Giles having sex that hot. He tried not to think of Giles and sex in the same sentence, ever.
Daniel rolled his eyes and poked Xander in the nearest unbruised inch of skin. But the smile faded and he went back to slowly stroking Xander’s arm. “I just want you to know if you’re going to have some delayed panic over your sexuality, I will understand. I mean, the first guy who I let top me, the next day, I couldn’t even make eye contact with him. I knew I was bisexual, but I hadn’t yet come to terms with it. It’s okay to have some moments of…” Daniel sighed and seemed to struggle to come up with the right word. “Complete embarrassment. I couldn’t even face Steven for days after.”
Xander snorted. He had a lot of faults, but refusing to deal with his own shortcomings wasn’t one. “After what we did, trust me, I’m bisexual. I’m a biathlon of bisexual, and I don’t actually know what that means, but you get my point. Although actually, I may be way less with the bisexual and way more with the completely gay.”
With a laugh, Daniel used his foot to trace a line up Xander’s bare leg. “For someone with an infinite talent for mangling predicate adjectives, you manage to communicate very well.”
“Can I get that in writing? I’ve got this old English teacher that I definitely want to send that to.” Xander stretched his knee out and groaned as the sore muscles complained. “Or an old teacher who was English because he wasn’t actually my English teacher. Actually, he isn’t really old, not compared to other people, but when you’re in high school, people in their forties seem pretty ancient.” Xander stopped. His post-sex brain didn’t actually work all that well.
“Thanks,” Daniel said dryly. “I feel ancient and degenerate now.”
Xander might have apologized, only Daniel was already struggling to avoid grinning. Xander pulled his arm out from under his head and reached over to grab Daniel by the waist and pull him close.
“Get over here, you old perv, you.” With that, Xander settled down with his head against Daniel’s shoulder and closed his eyes. Oh yeah. Life was good.
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