Magical Cage
Rated TEEN

Jack came tumbling out of the wormhole cursing about routine missions and their habit of going fubar. Not only were they not on the tropical planet the MALP had surveyed, but he found himself propelled toward the dialing device at a frightening speed. He caught his balance just in time to not go headfirst into the stone dialing device that controlled the Stargate.

Unfortunately, a body hit him from behind and sent him face first into the stone floor. God he was too old for this. He’d retired. He could be sitting on his dock fishing. Instead Jack turned around to find his unit’s archeologist laying on the back of Jack's knees scrambling to get his glasses back on.

Jack pushed up, and Daniel quickly rolled off to the side while Jack flexed his hand. He always held his P-90 ready when coming to a new world, and the fall had trapped his hand between the stone floor and the weapon. Now his fingers quietly throbbed in time with his knees which had hit the stone floor just a little too hard for comfort, not that there was a comfortable way to fall on a stone floor. He should know, he'd fallen on damn near every stone floor in the universe.

Quick check of personnel: Daniel finally picking himself up from the floor, Carter still lying in a blonde pile, Teal’c…well Teal’s still looked remarkably Teal’c-like and Jack found himself wishing that the warrior would look flustered or clumsy just once. It was bad on a man’s ego to fall flat on his face while Teal’c managed a graceful exit from an out of control wormhole.

Jack continued his scan of the room and trained his weapon on the far side of the chamber where a quiet argument seemed to be taking place by an unknown number of figures in the shadows who were picking themselves off the floor. Jack moved in position between the figures and Daniel even as Carter groaned herself into consciousness.

“Listen fangless, one more complaint and I’ll….I’ll…”

“Nice comeback witless. Want me ta come back in a few hours when you’ve come up with somethin’?” A British voice demanded. Okay. That was unexpected. Jack hadn’t met anyone in his travels to other worlds with an accent that so strongly linked them to an Earth culture, so he had to consider the possibility that this was an actual Brit.

“I’ll put orange hair dye in your shampoo,” the other male voice threatened grimly. Jack glanced over at Teal’c who seemed equally confused if the single raised eyebrow was any indication.

“There’s an explanation; there has to be. I used the right spell, so this shouldn’t have happened.” Jack watched a redhead separate herself from the shadows before spotting him and promptly squeaking. Squeaking? The words sounded like Carter, except for the spell part which Carter would have replaced with technogidgietty flipit-thingy, but he couldn’t imagine Carter ever squeaking. The girl held her hands out in front of her either in surrender or an unconscious attempt to defend herself.

“Oi, got soldier boys over there, Red.”

“Yeah, I noticed,” the girl said without moving, and Jack lowered his weapon and rested his arm on the butt of the P-90 in a gesture of good will. He could afford the gesture; Teal’c stood behind him with a staff weapon ready to fire.

“I’m Daniel Jackson and this is Colonel O’Neil and Major Carter and Teal’c,” Daniel stepped forward with his hand extended. The girl took it without ever moving her eyes from Jack. That made Jack’s threat assessment hairs tingle: she had identified the threat, and she kept her eyes on it.

“I’m Willow Rosenberg, and this is Xander Harris and Spike.” A boy with dark brown curly hair and wide eyes stepped out of the shadows. Jack supposed he shouldn’t call him a boy since Jack had joined the Air Force by eighteen and the boy looked to be about that age, but then again, he didn’t look old enough to be traveling such dangerous territory, and the sword strapped to his hip didn’t seem like particularly good defense against goa’uld technology.

“Um, hi,” the young man said with a nervous expression, but Jack trusted Daniel to put the group at ease and then he could get some answers. “Xander Harris,” the young man offered even though the girl had just introduced him, and Jack wondered what culture the name ‘Xander’ came from.

“Hi there,” Daniel answered, imitating the lad’s informal language. Despite Daniel’s complaints, Jack did know *how* to make people comfortable; he just didn’t usually bother.

“If you’re through with the tradin’ helloes, you mind gettin’ to work on fixing this mess. I’m missing Passions here,” the third voice…Spike….offered from the shadows. Jack shifted to one side in order to better watch the figure in the shadows. Anyone who didn’t respond to Daniel’s meet-n-greet routine made him a little twitchy on the trigger.

“I don’t know what to fix. The portal spell shouldn’t have pulled other people in…it doesn’t work like that.” Portal spell…even Jack could tell that was a primitive culture’s description of a Stargate so he did what he did anytime technology came up.

“Carter, you want to compare notes on portal spells?”

“Yes, sir,” she answered, and Jack had to smile that he still had one member of the unit that treated him like a colonel. God knows Daniel ignored him, like now as Daniel wandered into the shadows in pursuit of the third person. Damn it, how many times had Jack told him to avoid dark places with unknown personnel. You’d think that command was common sense, but as much sense as Daniel had in some areas, in the area of common sense, he was seriously lacking.

“I’m Doctor Daniel Jackson,” Jack heard from the shadows, and Jack moved in toward the voices in order to better cover his archeologist. The boy immediately spotted his movement and mirrored him, moving in on the place where Daniel was trying to befriend the mysterious Spike.

Oh yeah, these people might look like kids, but their movements and their awareness of their surroundings suggested that they were from a culture where the young learned battle early. He felt his customary pang of regret at children having to fight, but few humans had the luck to grow up on Earth where they could actually be children. Entirely too many were trained by the goa’uld to fight in alien wars or trained by their people in how to fight the goa’uld.

“Heard ya well enough from over there mate,” the Brit snapped back. Jack was surprised; Daniel could usually convince the toughest chief on the most embattled primitive world to invite them to dinner within five minutes.

“This is Spike. He’s an equal opportunity master of the rude, so don’t mind him,” the young man offered, and Jack almost laughed at the way the language had shifted. Sure, he understood the meaning, but an English teacher would have choked over the boy’s use of adjectives. “So, doctor of what?” The boy’s voice held some strange tightness now.

“Archeology. I study ancient artifacts and languages and provide translation when we visit other planets. We’re from Earth.” The red-head had been talking quietly with Carter, but now that background noise stopped as the boy—Xander—gasped.

“We..but…we’re on another *planet*?!” the girl Willow finally gasped. “Oh goddess.”

“Wills, I hate to put the pressure on or anything, but what the hell did you do?”

“Nothing!” Willow nearly squealed. “It was a simple trans-dimensional portal drawing from the local energies.”

“Trans-dimensional?” Carter asked, picking up on the word that had interested Jack as well. If they were from another dimension, their own experiences in dimensional travel proved that these people had only a few days to get back to their own dimension before they became unstable and started suffering from entropic failure. Not a pretty death.

“Oh god, we are so screwed," Xander suddenly exclaimed. "What if it didn’t work? What if Glorificus is still…all Glorificusy with her goddessy powers of worldly destruction? Or what if she's not? Oh … shit…I should have called in to work, but I just figured we would either win or there wouldn’t be a boss left to care.” Jack almost laughed at the strange mixture of apocalyptic and mundane concerns. He could relate. Of course, he hadn’t gotten that jaded until after several years in special ops.

“Not like there aren’t other pizza places lookin’ for morons, you’ll get another crap job,” Spike pointed out, and Jack was even more confused. Someone trusted with saving the world from destruction worked at a pizza place? And he knew that he occasionally didn’t pay attention to the cultural sights, but he couldn’t remember ever traveling to a world with pizza places which, with the whole trans-dimensional comment, suggested he was looking at Earth kids here, and what kind of Earth could have created these fighters? With their youth and their low-tech weapons, Jack couldn't imagine a poorer line of defense for a world that just might not even exist any more.

"So, you're from Earth?" Jack asked in an easy drawl. He edged closer to the side of the stone wall. Yep, one more planet, one more temple, one more screwed up mission.

"We're from Sunnydale, California," Xander said, and a low growl came from the Spike person who still stayed to the shadows. Jack sighed with relief when Daniel actually took the hint and backed away. Sometimes that man was completely oblivious when he was in danger, but even Daniel didn't miss the threat in that growl. The hairs on Jack's arm didn't just stand up, they stood up, saluted, and went to parade rest.

"Not exactly a California accent there," Jack pointed out as he moved deeper into the shadows to get position on British member of the group. Unfortunately, the boy seemed to understand his strategy because he moved into the line of fire. If the boy had an actual weapon he might be a threat, but with that sword, he just made himself a target. Of course, he might not recognize a gun depending on how different the dimensions were. Based on the strange language and the antique weapons, Jack guessed that their home dimension was quite a bit different.

"Bloody hell, don't give a rat's arse where you're from and don't give a shite about you knowin' anythin' about us. Red, put this right."

"Um, yeah, okay," the girl offered. "Only I don't really know what to put right what with the me not knowing how we got here. The spell is supposed to work between dimensions, not planets, not that you couldn't probably alter the spell to use it spacially because this one guy in one of Giles' books, the ones he thinks I never look at, he altered the spell temporally, so it makes sense that it could actually be used to..."

"Wills," the boy shouted with panic in his voice.

"Right, babbling. Okay, the spell is supposed to work between dimensions. Something must have changed the direction of the force."

"That might actually have been the Stargate."


"The Stargate is an alien device that uses wormhole technology to connect a vast network of planets. We use the DHD device to set coordinates... six symbols that tell the Gate which planet we want to travel to and then one symbol to make the planet of origin. The gate opens a wormhole that dematerializes matter at one end and literally flings the particles through to the gate on the other end."

"Oh cool. Very Star Trek. I wonder if our government is doing this." Now the boy abandoned his post as self appointed guardian of the mysterious Spike to wander back toward the main group. When Spike moved with the boy, keeping Xander between himself and Jack's gun, Jack knew he was facing trained fighters even if they were using swords instead of P-90's.

"Wait," Jack said suddenly. "You have Star Trek?"

"Original, Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space Nine. I own a whole set of comic books based on Kirk and Spock."

"Oi, not really pertinent here, ya ninny. Red, is any of this makin' sense to you 'cause idiot boy here is never goin' to follow Madame Curie's explanation."

"At least I can use a washing machine," Xander grunted under his breath.

"This is so exciting. I know that Riemann postulated the existence of wormholes, or dimensional cuts actually, but to really observe them. And we traveled one!" the girl suddenly squealed. "Oh goddess, we actually traveled a wormhole which might actually explain the things being not of the good with the spell." Her energy drained out like used up battery. Jack exchanged a quick look with Sam that suggested that she was just as confused by the girl.

"You think your... spell and our wormhole interacted?" Sam asked, and Jack had to congratulate the woman on her flexibility. Other than a slight pause before the word spell, she hadn't even batted an eye at the thought of magical powers.

"It makes sense because the spell was a transportation incantation that used local energies to open a dimensional rift and basically push us through."

"It's just that the pushing was a good deal harder that second time, Wills."

"You noticed," Willow said almost apologetically to Xander.

"Have to be soddin blind to not notice the sudden ripping pain there in the middle, pet."

"Our passage was equally difficult," Teal'c offered from his side of the room where the man still watched the newcomers warily. Jack felt another pang of annoyance that Teal'c still managed to come out without a scratch while his hand was starting to swell and both his knees ached with the force of his fall out of the gate.

"Exactly. If your wormhole and my portal spell somehow did a kerbang in the middle... I mean if we assume that both functioned as waves, the intersection might have created an interference pattern..."

"Which would explain why we missed our destination, a construction wave distortion could have produced increased amplitude and overpowered the safety protocols," Carter took over with an enthusiastic conclusion. Carter had actually angered a lot of people with that habit of jumping on people's ideas, but the redhead smiled and bobbed her head as though honestly pleased. Well at least he wasn't going to have to babysit another science nerd show-down.

"Could have been worse, we could have produced a destructive wave distortion." The Willow girl and Carter both laughed grimly, and sure, he got the general idea that it could have been worse, but he'd played dumb colonel way too long to change now. But then the young soldier got to his punch line before he could.

"Um, Wills, you mind translating that into English for us townies?"

"Oi, bloody hell no. Don't need another soddin' headache from listenin' to the witch explain things that I don't bloody well need to understand. Hate this mojo crap. I should've made Peaches come on this end of the tour. So, whatever you and blondie-chit figured out, just figure out how ta undo it and get us back."

Jack couldn't even begin to untangle the first half of Spike's statement, but he couldn't argue with that logic of the last part. The longer these three were here, the more his threat-assessment instincts set off warnings up and down his spine. This was fubar. Unknown address, possible goa'uld forces, three questionable civies, and science screw ups he couldn't even hope to understand.

"I suppose we could try to duplicate the wave interaction by duplicating the original conditions," Carter mused, and Jack cheered on his favorite little scientist--not a problem in the world she couldn't figure out. Hell, not a problem in the galaxy as she had shown over and over and over again. Willow picked up her suggestion, commenting in a distracted voice that Jack had come to recognize as Daniel's 'I'm busy now, don't bug me' tone.

"But we would be just as likely to create a destructive wave distortion. Heisenberg's work clearly implies that the more control we try to exert over the forces or predict their position..."

"The less likely we are to predict the momentum of the atoms meaning that aligning the wave amplitudes would be like trying to line up two halves of a broken sunbeam," Carter finished

"Let's leave the sunbeams out of this," Spike suggested flatly as he finally stepped out of the shadows. Slicked back, bleached hair, a long leather coat, and possibly even a bit of eyeliner combined to make him look more like an escapee of a seventies punk concert than a warrior. The sneer the man threw him didn't make him feel any less suspicious, and Jack moved over a step to keep him in range as Spike paced nervously.

The young boy similarly shifted his stance, and Jack would have complimented the boy if it had been one of his trainees and if he had been armed with something a little more effective than a sword. His movements clearly marked him as a soldier, but yet his current stance left him out of range and utterly irrelevant if a fire fight broke out. The young man's obvious competence paired with his total incompetence left Jack even testier since Jack couldn't easily place the lad in a category.

"Right, so not goin' anywhere now, I take it?" punk boy asked.

"Not unless you have a portal in your pocket, fangless," soldier boy answer.

"Sod off. And get behind that stone thingy."

"Uh, Spike? What's up?" Xander asked, but Jack noticed that the lad also reached over and grabbed the redhead by the arm, pulling her back behind the stone platform.

"Demons. Lots of demons," Spike answered. "Like him," the blond nodded his head toward Teal'c and Jack traded a look with the warrior.

"Jaffa?" Jack asked. No need to assume here.

"If that's what he is, sure. So, these friends of yours then, mate?"

"Unlikely," Teal'c said in a droll voice and Jack resisted smiling. And oh boy wasn't that an understatement. "And I too hear them approach."

"Incoming, take positions." Jack noticed with pride that Daniel pulled his weapon and retreated behind a substantial column. Jack would have preferred to put Daniel behind the platform, but given Daniel's track record for trouble, he wasn't going to chance losing his linguist to those two already back there. Wait. Jack looked again, and sure enough the punk still leaned against the dialing device.

Shit, what the hell did he think he was doing? "Take cover," Jack hissed toward the punk, but the blond just looked over and cocked an eyebrow up in an expression of obvious amusement.

"Don't take soddin' orders from soldier boys, so you can just shove...."

"Spike!" Willow hissed.

"Right, demons now, soldier boys later." Spike turned back toward the entrance right about the time a unit marched into the chamber with their characteristic clanking and shuffling. Jack squashed an urge to yell at them about making targets of themselves and proper positioning in order to catch enemy in cross fire. Of course, that same stupidity gave his unit the ability to kick Goa'uld ass every time they met, so he wasn't going to complain.

"Halt in the name of Sokar," the lead Jaffa ordered as he brought his weapon into firing position. Spike looked around as if confused.

"Wot? Me? If you're talkin' to me mate, I'm not bloody movin', so tellin' me to halt doesn't make a whole lot of sense. So, I'm Spike and you are..." The blond leaned back against the dialing device and from this own position behind a pillar at 3 o'clock relative to Spike's position Jack could see the sly smile. It made his blood run cold. Every instinct said that this man posed a substantial threat. The Jaffa commander just seemed confused.

"We are in the service of the god Sokar and you will yield," he announced grandly.

"Let's see, the only god I've met is Glorificus, and I kicked her godly arse. So, why should I care who you soddin' serve?" Jack watched as the Jaffa leader turned to his companions in confusion over a target that neither yielded nor fought. Jack could have told him that was a mistake.

With blinding speed, Spike threw himself at the entire unit. Several of the Jaffa went down immediately; their heavy armor and long staff weapons made this sort of hand-to-hand fighting almost impossible. A few Jaffa fell back and brought up their staff weapons. Jack raised his weapon to fire when the boy suddenly stepped right into his line of fire.

Jack cursed and gave up cover to try and save the young man, but before he could even get a clear line of fire, the boy was wrist deep in Jaffa with a sword stuck up though the Jaffa's symboite pouch, and Jack nearly laughed at the expression of shock and horror as Xander pulled his sword back out with a loud "ewww." Of course that didn't stop him from repeating the maneuver on the Jaffa who grabbed his shirt.

Raising his P-90, Jack took out two Jaffa just as he heard Teal'c's staff weapon fire from behind him. Xander turned to face the battle with bloody sword and he called out just as he went after a Jaffa pointing a weapon at Spike's back. "Willow, some help please."

"I'm trying; nothing's happening," Willow cried, and Jack glanced over to see her making motions with her hands that reminded him of trying to snap a chicken's neck only without the chicken. Jack didn't have time for her though. He turned back and picked off a Jaffa going for the doorway just as Spike grabbed the last Jaffa and held the larger warrior against his chest as he turned around.

The sight of Spike's face made Jack clutch his weapon and pull it up into battle position. The blue eyes had been replaced with yellow, the nose and brows and forehead had developed inhuman bumps and ridges, and the sarcastic grin now featured two long fangs and sharpened front teeth.

Before Jack could do anything, Xander stepped between them.

"Hey, I know he's ugly and all but he's on our side, remember. Besides, shooting him doesn't work, I tried it once."

"You said that was a soddin' accident," Spike snarled, his teeth changing his voice just slightly so that it was more sibilant, and Jack suppressed a shiver. He knew full well what that thing looked like, but they were children's stories, fairy tales, and Jack hadn't believed in fairy tales for a long time.

"Yeah, well you didn't die so don't whine." Xander snapped back at Spike without turning his head. Jack had a momentary flash on an image of Daniel doing pretty much the same thing, stepping between danger and some precious artifact or misunderstood alien without anything more than good will to deflect the bullets. Every soldier instinct he had screamed at Jack to shoot the boy and the monster that the boy defended. Every father instinct he had said to pull the boy away from the monster. Every SG-1 instinct he had said trust the geek, he usually turned out to be right even when him being right turned out to be really, really annoying.

Jack risked a glance at Teal'c who watched impassionately. No danger signals there. A glance toward Carter and Daniel revealed exactly what he expected: overt curiosity. Hell, Daniel was almost bouncing. Daniel stopped bouncing and blanched a disturbing shade of white at the sudden sucking sounds, and Jack looked back to see Spike's face buried in the Jaffa's neck.

"Okay, that's not exactly helping our case here, fangless," the boy complained. The sucking continued until Spike raised his head again.

"Not seein' a stack of bagged blood around, ya moron. I either feed or I starve and leave you twits to fend for yourselves."

"Okay, we'll deal with this later. Daniel, dial home," Jack ordered. He could sort this all out from base.

"Um, Jack, small problem."

"Daniel," Jack said in his best 'get moving' voice.

"Jack," Daniel mimicked his tone, and Jack turned and gave his archeologist his attention and an exasperated look. "I don't have the point of origin." At Daniel's words, Jack looked around and realized that all the walls were blank. Without an idea of where they were now, they couldn't dial Earth's address. Shit. Fubar and more fubar.

"Well we can't stay here. Let's move out and find some cover. Folks keep your eyes open for trouble and give a shout if you see anything with writing. We need to find the symbol for this planet before we can get back to Earth." Jack quickly briefed the newcomers before trotting toward the exit.

"Oi, don't care about going back to your Earth, and I'm not walkin' into some government lab."

"Well if we want to figure out how to get you back to your dimension, we need access to Carter's lab. Right now, though, we need to get clear before Sokar sends more troops. Jack reached the archway where warm red sunlight shone down.

"Right, don't think I'll be joinin' ya for a walk in the sun. Vampire here," Spike leaned against the pedestal and waved a dismissive hand toward the entrance.

"We'll catch up to you later then, maybe," Xander offered as he leaned against one of the walls, and Jack wondered if the boy even realized how he mimicked Spike's gesture.

"These Jaffa, they're not people you want to take on alone," Daniel tried, and Jack kept silent despite his rising desire to get his own people to safety with or without the newcomers. Willow was looking at him with wide panicked eyes as if expecting him to somehow fix things, but Jack didn't exactly have a solution for the vampire issue. "Maybe Spike could catch up to us later."

Xander didn't answer, but he crossed his arms in a gesture that looked like a cross between a pouting child and an angry warrior. Jack had seen that same gesture on Daniel when the man was feeling insecure or frightened.

"You go on then, I'll catch up to ya easy enough," Spike said with a nod toward the exit. "Just wait for sundown."

"Spike, you know in some dimensions the sunlight isn't deadly, so maybe since this is a different planet..." Willow let her words trail off.

"Oi, good head on your shoulders, Red," Spike pushed himself into movement so quickly that Jack found himself pressing himself to the stone of the temple in alarm as Spike pushed by him. Standing at the edge in the shadow, Spike reached toward the light tentatively.

When the sun bathed that pale hand with its long fingers, Jack half expected it to burst into flame. Instead the hand acted like a hand was supposed to in the sun. Jack decided that his life had obviously taken a detour when he was surprised by a lack of spontaneous combustion. There was a day when meeting a real vampire would have made him doubt his sanity, and now it made sense in a bizarre sort of way. Of course, that didn't mean that he would trust any of these people, he decided as Spike wandered into the sun with a delighted expression without even checking for enemies first.

"Right, so where can I find more of these Jaffa?" Spike suddenly asked.

"Shelter first, recon second, Jaffa only if we can't avoid it," Jack ordered tersely. Spike opened his mouth to argue, but suddenly the young soldier, Xander, was between them.

"I really don't want to get caught out in the open with an oversized knife against Storm Trooper laser weapons. So unless you're offering to throw yourself between me and the Jaffa..." Xander started toward the trees that started just beyond a half circle of stone. Jack opened his mouth to call the boy back: there was no way he was sending a kid on point, but Teal'c hurried out and started walking at Xander's side.

"Not bloody likely," Spike complained as he took up position not far behind those two, and now Daniel and Willow started following. Carter gave him a questioning look, but Jack nodded at her to follow. Jack took rear where he could watch the strange newcomers at the same time as he covered their trail. Normally he and Teal'c would have reversed their positions, but right now Jack was grateful that he didn't have either Xander or Spike at his back. The boy had too many moves straight out of military training, even if his weapon did make him seem borderline bumbling, and Spike was just... Spike. Jack had no basis of comparison for the mysterious man. He just knew he wouldn't trust Spike at his back.




Jack studied the landscape… a rock face rose a good forty feet into the air on one side, and thick forest blocked the view on the other. Funny how woods everywhere ended up looking remarkably like Canada.

"Kids--do we have a plan?" he asked the walkers in front of him. Teal'c cocked his head, a gesture that suggested an answer would follow, but Xander cut him off before he could start.

"Just as long as Spike's not making the plan. He's not big with the actually working-type plans."

"Hey, my bloody plans work... usually," the vampire snapped back. A bird made a warbling cry, and Jack trotted closer to the group.

"Parent-Teacher night," Xander sing-songed back.

"Knock it off!" Jack hissed, for a moment flashing back to a memory of his own son using that same tone as he beat a friend on that video game of his. Jack blinked away the memory, shoving aside the pain along with the thought of his dead son. "Not the time or place," he pointed out as he waved a P-90 toward the trees. The wind obligingly rustled the trees.

"Not like there's anyone out here to hear us, soldier boy," Spike commented as he pulled cigarettes out of a coat pocket. The vampire stared at Jack with such intensity that Jack had to force his feet to not retreat. His gut tightened, and he held his weapon even tighter even though his swollen hand gave a warning twinge. Of course, if he could believe Xander, the bullets wouldn't stop the predator watching him with sharp, blue eyes.

Willow abandoned Daniel and hurried back to the group. "Maybe that was a 'not the time and place' comment like Giles makes--you know, like 'not the time or place to annoy people who are trying to think.' You know, like the time when me and Buffy were going on about prom dresses and Giles was all, 'not the time or place, people.'" Willow angled closer to Spike, and Xander left Teal'c's side to hurry back.

"Oh hey, I remember that. Funny how girls can discuss prom dresses and world-endage at the same time. So, Blood-breath, no more demons of the edible kind around?" Xander said the millisecond Willow stopped for breath. Jack narrowed his eyes as the two humans obviously tried to distract him from Spike, which didn't make any sense since Spike was clearly the most dangerous fighter in the group. Of course, maybe they wanted to distract Spike, which implied that Spike needed distracting.

Jacked stood ground a foot from Spike who still stared back with unmitigated hatred. Willow hovered to Spike's left, and Xander stood off to the right a little ways, his hand twitching as though debating whether to physically grab the vampire.

Obviously, these three would never qualify for undercover work. In the subtle department, they ranked right up there with gao'uld, so no Jack just needed to figure out what they were hiding before Spike fed on anyone. Or at least anyone Jack cared about. The image of Sokar's Jaffa with his neck exposed and bleeding as Spike dropped his limp body... that qualified for nightmare material.

"So, you have enhanced senses?" Daniel spoke up in the silence while Sam and Teal'c simply held position, weapons down but ready. "The mythology regarding vampirism is so varied with some stories, like the original Germanic tribes, telling stories of animated corpses with subhuman intelligence all the way up through some African tries who believe the spirits of powerful gods sometimes inhabit the bodies of the dead."

Slowly, Spike turned his gaze away from Jack and toward Daniel. A cold shiver went through Jack's spine, and he squelched a sudden need to put himself between Spike and Daniel.

"Oh, I think Spike's ego is large enough without giving him delusions of godhood," Xander said with a tinny laugh, moving closer as he looked from Teal'c to Jack to Sam and back to Jack. The boy's nervous gaze, and the fact that he had stepped closer to Daniel, set off Jack's alarms. One quick glance to Teal'c and the Jaffa shifted closer to Daniel and Xander while Jack kept his weapon casually aimed in Spike's direction. Spike glanced toward Xander, crossed his arms, and returned to glowering at Jack.

"Um, not to interrupt, but weren't we looking for shelter? I was looking for shelter. Were you looking for shelter?" Willow looked to Sam on her last question, and Jack exchanged a glance with his second-in-command.

"Perhaps we should find a defensible position before it gets too much darker, sir," Carter offered.

"Yeah, wouldn't want ta be caught out here after dark seeing as how your human bodies break so easy," Spike added with a smirk.

"Okay, officially not helping," Xander complained as he stepped forward and put his hand on Spike's crossed arms.

"Let's make camp. We can use the cliff face as one wall of an emergency structure. Daniel, Teal'c, find some solid branches. Carter, we can collect some smaller one for camouflage. Boots on tonight folks," Jack said as he forced himself to look away from Spike. He wished that he could avoid having them in camp, but he couldn't in good conscience turn Xander and Willow away, and he would rather have Spike somewhere close enough to keep and eye on him.

"Yeah, either that or you can just use the cave there," Spike interrupted. Jack narrowed his eyes at the vampire as he nodded toward the solid cliff face. Jack glanced toward Teal'c for some sort of conformation.

"I do not see a cave," Teal'c said quietly.

"Some demon you are. You're as bad as the humans," Spike complained as he stroke forward, passing dangerously close to Daniel who at least had the good sense to fall back as the vampire passed. With a bound that took him a good five feet into the air to clear some bushes, Spike landed close to the rock face and then disappeared into it.

"Okay, that's either a cave or fangless has picked up a few new tricks," Xander said as he shrugged and headed forward.

"Hold on. Don't leave a trail through there," Jack ordered as he headed back the way they had come to where the bushes thinned.

"You lot coming?" Spike stuck his head out, and now Jack could see the dark crack that he had thought was a discoloration in the rock was actually a deep crevasse. Even now, he couldn't see into the darkness behind Spike.

Jack clenched his teeth to avoid answering as he found a place where he could step behind the bushes without breaking through them and then follow the narrow space back to the crack.

"I shall keep watch, Colonel O'Neill," Teal'c offered as he moved toward the shadows of the trees.

"Somehow, it's not out there that has me worried," Jack whispered to himself as Xander followed his route around the bushes, Willow and then Carter after him. Oh yeah, fubar didn't even cover this one.

Once in the cave the crack widened and the uneven floor showed no signs of any recent animal use. Jack didn't like the idea of only one exit, but the stone should help shield them from detection, at least until they could figure out a plan to get off the planet and back to Earth. Then they'd just have the one problem.

Jack glanced toward Spike who now stood leaning against the stone smoking while staring right back at him. If Jack was really, really lucky, the NID might just take an interest. Jack immediately flinched away from that thought. No matter how much Spike raised his alarms, the man had obviously been trying to save the world, so the first option would be to send him back to whatever dimension he came from.

"Right, so this is now base camp," Jack said as the rest of the group trailed in after him. So, priority number one is the gate. Daniel, any clues?"

Daniel gave him one of his patented 'You've got to be kidding,' stares complete with looking over the top of his glasses, and Jack took that as an enthusiastic no.

"Well, Sokar only owns so many planets, so that should at least limit the possibilities."

"To about three thousand, only a dozen of which I know the symbol for," Daniel pointed out. Flopping to the ground, he pulled out his ever-present journal and flipped past a few pages.

"They must be monitoring the Gate, either that or the temple itself had some sort of monitoring equipment," Carter mused, more good news on top of old.

"I think we can assume that place will be crawling with Jaffa before nightfall," Jack agreed as he considered their situation. "Options?"

"Find a settlement or city and check for advanced weapons or a shuttle?" Daniel suggested. "If there are Jaffa here, there's a Goa'uld here, at least part time, so we should be able to find something."

"I got an idea," Spike interrupted. "Good eating, sunshine that doesn't turn me to ash, I'm all for setting up house and eattin' the wankers one at a time."

Xander backhanded Spike across the shoulder and the vampire turned and snarled. Rather than back off, Xander just crossed his arms and glared back. "Some of us have jobs to get back to," he pointed out.

"Not like it's a decent one."

"And classes," Willow added. Spike rolled his eyes.

"We could try to lure the guards away from the Gate and try to find the dialing sequence home," Carter suggested.

Jack considered both Daniel and Carter's suggestions. "Tomorrow, we try to get the Jaffa away from the Gate. If Daniel can make contact, he can send for reinforcements and the rest of us double back and head through. Teal'c and Daniel have the Gate. We need to find that address, so press fast, Daniel. Carter and I will provide a distraction."

"Bloody hell, just like soldier boys to lose their own way home. And I'm still not going through any portal that leads to soldier-boy central." Spike gave up glaring at Xander and returned to glaring at Jack. Jack didn't expect to get much sleep tonight with his guts tightening every time the vampire glared at him.

"No one's invited you," Jack pointed out. The vampire flashed into his true face, fangs flashing, and Jack fought an urge to scramble backwards away from the thing.

"Play nice," Willow interrupted them as she sat near the wall just down from Xander and Spike, dropping her chin onto her knees so that she looked about five. "And why do you need to find an address? I mean, don't you know where you want to go?"

"Where we're going… yes," Sam then jumped in. "The Stargate isn't like a mailing address. It uses the first six signs to locate a specific point in space by identifying the endpoints of three lines which intersect. So, theoretically, a planet can be reached through varying combinations of the first six symbols. However, to define a wormhole path, the last symbol must be the planet of origin."

"Which we are big with the not knowing," Willow commented with a pained expression.

"Which leaves me pressing the six coordinates that define Earth and then randomly hitting symbols until we get a connection," Daniel pointed out.

"No, it leaves you randomly hitting symbols fast," Jack corrected him.

"Sir, I'm afraid we have another problem," Sam interrupted. As much as Jack just wanted to close his ears and push through with the mission, he had too much respect for his second to ignore that apologetic expression that suggested she was about to say something he really didn't want to hear.


"I think I need to go with Daniel and Teal'c. The wave distortion effect that pushed us here could have damaged the DHD, and even if the equipment is functional, I don't think we should trust any wormhole without at least a few preliminary tests."

"Carter, what part of Goa'uld stronghold are you not getting?"

"Sir, I know," Sam offered with one hand upraised as though in surrender, which was faintly ironic since nine time out of ten that gesture came right before she got her way. "Think of space like an ocean. If someone has managed to penetrate dimensional space, we might see refraction waves or distortions. We could walk into the wormhole in our universe and come out in theirs."

"Wouldn't bloody mind that by half," Spike stuck into the middle of the conversation.

"Except then we'd be in military central in our universe," Xander said softly, and all three of the newcomers went silent. Jack studied the suddenly tense body language as Spike pursed his lips and Willow gazed at the ground and Xander crossed his arms with an angry expression. Spike started pacing, and Jack had the distinct impression that the vampire wanted to rip something apart. These three might have been trying to save their world or not, but one thing Jack knew for sure... they didn't want anything to do with the military, especially not the military from their own homeworld.

"Sir, I just need to make sure that the convergence of our two universes hasn't somehow created a ripple effect that could tear the wormhole apart. Carter interrupted his thoughts. Sighing, Jack realized that Carter was right, and Carter couldn't do tests and cover Daniel's back, so that left Teal'c watching out for both of them.

"Hey--solutions are us, or me, rather. If you want distraction, I have big old piles of experience at being bait." Xander stepped forward, and Jack could see the earnest expression in the boys face. Strangely enough, he wasn't sure if his reluctance came from sending a boy into battle or his nagging distrust of the trio.

"I'll second that," Spike added as he paused in his pacing. "Boy's a bloody demon magnet. I'll go along and catch me a bit to eat." Spike looked over and flashed his true face at Jack again. Jack tightened his bruised fingers around his weapon until his hand and arm ached.

"Okay, ew," Xander complained loudly.

"Right, like you aren't disgusting when you shove half a pizza into your gob?"

"Hey, at least I don't--"

Jack whistled through his teeth--a shrill blast that immediately stopped the banter. Daniel glanced up from his journal, a faintly amused expression on his face. Spike just returned to his pacing.

"I'm not sending a kid with a rusty sword up against Sokar's Jaffa," Jack insisted. His hand had become a warm ache and he forced himself to loosen his grip.

Xander snorted. "Oh yeah, 'cause they're ever so much scarier than the Creature from the Black Lagoon swim team or Mr. Souless here trying to eat me," Xander jerked a thumb toward Spike who growled without going into his vampire face.

"Xander, maybe you should listen," Willow offered even as she ducked her head with a blush. "These guys--they're well-armed and usually we just fight things with claws, and yeah, big claws, but we're sort of out of our league with the guns because, well, they're guns."

Jack glanced over at Xander whose face had gone unnaturally bland. The boy had managed to look either embarrassed or sarcastic or defensive for the last hour, but now he just looked... absent.

"Oi, not like I'm goin' to let him go and get shot. Least, not until I get paid for services rendered," Spike veered off his paced path and ended up in front of the girl looking down. Jack watched curiously as her eyes darted over to Xander before she focused back on Spike.

"You'll keep him safe?" she asked softly.

"Standing right here, Wills. You might want to wait until I'm gone before emasculating me," Xander commented with that same dull expression. Jack watched as Daniel subtly shifted his seat so he would have a better view of the conversation. Trading a glance with Daniel, Jack realized these guys confused Daniel as much as they confused him. He found that even more disturbing since usually Daniel could get a grasp on people as soon as he met them.

"I'm not. I mean, I don't mean to.... Oh, goddess, you know what I mean." Willow looked down at the ground as she stumbled to silence.

Curiouser and curiouser. Xander had waded into a fight, taken out a Jaffa with a primitive sword, and yet the girl blushed without apologizing after implying that he couldn't be trusted to take care of himself. And now Xander's face slowly took on a defensive expression.

"Look, I'm not big with the hero-gig, but I can so do distraction," Xander argued.

"Right, and I'll snack on anyone who comes for the git," Spike shrugged. "So, you go figure out your mojo, and we'll get the demons off soldier-boys backs."

"I'm going with you two," Jack announced. He expected the incredulous expressions from his team, but the naked fury from Spike surprised him.

"Colonel?" Sam questioned. Jack looked at his second in command with his sternest expression. She didn't look impressed.

"Kids, as much fun as this little camp out has been, we need to get home. Teal'c will cover Sam and Daniel as they play with the toys. I'll go along with our newcomers and help provide distraction." Jack watched as awareness washed over his group. Sam had a masked expression; she understood that he had to put himself in this position to flush out the truth. He wouldn't put his team's safety in the hands of Xander and Spike, so that mean he would do the mission alone if he had to. Daniel, however, had a mutinous look as he opened his mouth to protest.

"Yes sir," Sam said in a firm voice as she looked right at Daniel. For a second, Daniel's mouth stayed open and then he closed it with a frown. Jack wished he had a voice that would keep Daniel from arguing, but he hadn't found one yet. Now Daniel crossed his arms over his chest as he glared from Jack to Sam, but at least the man kept his thoughts to himself.

"The gimpy soldier-boy can come along with us, but I'm not stickin' my neck out to save his old arse," Spike pointed out.

Jack scowled at both the description and the suggestion he might need saving, and Daniel went back to studying his notebook, an amused smirk not quite hidden by his journal.

"For Pete's sake, I'm not ready for a cane," Jack grouched. "First light, Daniel, Carter and Teal'c will head for the DHD. If you can't quietly take out any soldiers that remain, abandon the mission and we'll start looking for a settlement. Spike, Xander, you'll be with me."

Jack glanced toward Willow who traced figures in the dust of the cave's floor.

"Red, think soldier boys want ya to pick a team," Spike commented.

"What?" She looked around with a slightly bewildered expression, but then again, Jack wasn't sure he could trust his eyes because for a second the dirt seemed to twinkle in the sunlight despite a significant lack of sunlight in the shadow of the cave. Jack glanced over toward Sam and Daniel, but they didn't seem to have noticed.

"Um, I'm going to sit this one out--be a cave body for the day, not that I'm going to have a cave for a body, more like a home-body with more dirt," Willow offered with a shake of her head. The dazed expression slowly cleared as she smiled at her friends.

"Spike, maybe you should stay here with Willow," Xander said softly.

Jack watched as Spike paused in his pacing again, and then Spike turned toward Jack with yellowed eyes until Jack felt cold fear wrapping around his guts. Even though the punk hair looked ridiculous, Jack could see death in those eyes. More than that, he could see a repressed fury in every twitch of muscle. While he'd seen men so frustrated, so on edge that they became walking time bombs ready to commit some atrocity, he'd never felt in danger of having the fury turn on him. After long minutes, Spike finally broke eye contact and stalked over to the cave entrance. He stood in the patchwork of sunlight that filtered down through the trees as the sun set in the west.

"Red'll be fine here. I figure I'll go with you and soldier boy," Spike said to Xander while facing out of the cave. Xander nodded without answering.



Jack blinked awake the minute his watch vibrated against his wrist. Sam had last sentry duty, so he had expected to find her missing from the side of the cave SG-1 had commandeered, but the whole cave was empty except for Daniel whose mouth hung open, his arm thrown over his eyes even in the dim light of the cave.

When Jack tried to push himself up, he winced at the pain that lanced his arm. Oh yeah, that hurt. He sat up and worked his sore hand before grabbing his P-90 and heading out into the morning light.

"Colonel," Sam said as soon as he came out the narrow crack; she leaned against a tree and scanned the faint path they had been following last night.

"Carter," he answered. "What happened to our guests?"

"Willow said she had to use the bathroom, and she wasn't comfortable doing it around here," Sam shrugged. Jack rolled his eyes. God save them from civvies. Of course, the other option was that the three were off radioing some Goa'uld base for reinforcements.

"Daniel, wakey-wakey," Jack called into the cave. If he knew Daniel, it would take a lot more than that to get the archeologist moving. "If you aren't up in two minutes, I'm using your journal for my morning TP," he threatened.

A groan from the darkness at the far side of the cave answered.

"He'd have an aneurism if you ever did," Sam pointed out.

"Daniel Jackson would be most disturbed," Teal'c agreed as he came out of the trees.

"So, where are our guests?" Jack asked, not even doubting that Teal'c would have had the same doubts and followed the group. Sliding along the rock face, he finally stepped over the low bushes where they thinned.

"They have indeed traveled quite a distance to urinate."

"So, do we have some privacy here?"

"I believe I will hear them approach from quite a distance," Teal'c agreed.

Jack snorted a quick laugh. Yeah, they were loud. "Does anyone else think things are a little odd here?" he asked as Daniel appeared at cave mouth, his glasses hanging from one hand while he scrubbed his face with the other.

"You mean other than the part with the vampire?" Daniel asked sarcastically.

"Yes, Daniel, I mean other than the part with the vampire. Something's off, so opinions?"

"The ramifications of a universe based on the existence of magic… if it's true, it's amazing, and Willow seems to believe what she says," Carter offered. She and Willow had sat up late into the night discussing the relative power of thing-a-mah-jiggies and the similarities between magic and physics in her universe. When they'd started theorizing reasons for alternate universes with alternate rules for physics, Jack had volunteered to take watch. Jack could practically hear Sam drooling at the thought of doing a few tests, but they had to get back to Earth first.

"How strange is it that a myth, largely propagated in Medieval Europe actually exists in an alternate universe? It can't be coincidence," Daniel added.

"That's assuming he *is* a vampire. I'm about ready to start looking for the fuzzy edges of the hologram." Jack curled his fingers, trying to regain some flexibility in his injured hand.

"I do not see how vampires differ from other alien life forms."

"There's the sucking blood," Jack pointed out. Teal'c answered with a raised eyebrow.

"No, Jack, Teal'c's right. Spike represents a different life form, one that's no less probable than a Jaffa who relies on an alien symbiote for his immune system," Daniel said as he climbed over the bushes. Jack had some small measure of satisfaction that he might be old, but he still was more graceful than Daniel.

"You're the one who said that the coincidence was a little too much to be believable," Jack pointed out.

"And you're the one who volunteered to go with Xander and Spike tomorrow. If there's a chance they're not what they seem—"

"Of course there's a chance. But you and Carter need to get that wormhole open, and that means we need a distraction," Jack snapped. He hated it when Daniel questioned his orders, especially when he was already well aware that breaking up the team was dangerous. "If something happens, we don't come back here. We leave them and meet three klicks due north of the Gate. We can't take the chance that they may not be what they seem."

"Or we could just stay together." Daniel whispered that under his breath, but he didn't whisper it softly enough to avoid being heard by anyone in the group.



"I'll blow something up, you just get the call in to home," Jack repeated his order.

"Sir, are you okay?" Carter suddenly interrupted the fight. Only then did Jack realize he'd been rubbing his sore arm.

"Just getting old, Carter."

"The black and blue hand isn't a natural part of any aging process I know," Daniel added dryly as he crossed his arms defiantly.

"Daniel, it's fine."

"Define fine," Daniel immediately shot back. .

"You're nagging, Daniel."

"Colonel O'Neill, perhaps it would be best if you rested your injury," Teal'c suggested, and Jack would be happy to take that advice if they were back on Earth, if they had SG-3 here to back them up, if he didn't have a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that things were about to go even more FUBAR.

"I'm not injured," Jack snapped instead. He flexed his bruised hand and then flinched when threads of pain burned up to his elbow. God he hated getting old. "We—"

"They approach," Teal'c interrupted, and instantly, the team quieted, their internal debates shelved as the three strangers came out of the woods, Spike and Xander obviously bickering already.

"So, kids," Jack said loud enough to interrupt the Spike and Xander floorshow. "You three head for the Gate, and the three of us will go south and look for something to blow up. That should get their attention." Jack didn't wait for any answers; he just headed back for the cave to grab his pack with the C-4.


"So, you were going up against a god?" Jack asked as they walked under the canopy of trees. Spike had darted away into the distance for the umpteeth time, which made Jack's threat assessment alarm sound like the sirens at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, but he couldn't do much about it now without jeopardizing the mission.

"Oh yeah. Glorificus. She of the fluffy hair and seriously bad attitude. Since she still pulled these godly powers of regeneration and immortality from the dimension that gave her the godly pink slip, we did the whole attacking from two fronts thing."

A bird exploded out of a bush with a raucous cry, and Xander's eyes sharply scanned the forest, completely at odds with the odd, don't-mind-me-I'm-the-village-idiot babbling.

"What about getting official help?" Jack asked as he eyed a stand of dead trees standing in a circle with stick fingers pointing up in the air. A bit of C4 for a bang, some flash powder and a dozen trees turning raging forest fire just might catch someone's attention. With the damp ground under his boots, the fire couldn't even hope to get started anywhere else.

"Officially… vampires and gods don't exist, only they kinda do in a covert secret-base sort of—"

"Oy!" Spike interrupted. "It's not like he's really interested; he's just pumping you for information, ya ninny."

"He's already figured out the whole 'vampires exist' secret, so I'm not seeing the harm in swapping stories. No pumping necessary."

"'Course, if he picks your brain, he'll probably just get hot air."


"Bloody hell, can we just soddin' blow something up and get the show on the road? I'm sick of this do-gooding shit and I'm ready to grab a bite to eat. So get with the explosions and luring my meal to me." Spike smiled and Jack watched with cold revulsion as the teeth stretched into sharp fangs.

"So, you don't normally—" Jack didn't even have a chance to finish.

"Wot? Save the great unwashed like these sorry sods do every night of their wasted lives? Act like the do-gooding but tortured soul from some bodice-ripper romance like that wanker Angel? Bloody hell no!"

That's when Jack made the connection, and he could only blame the pain of his hand for distracting him from the obvious. Spike had told Willow he wouldn't let Xander get killed until he got his money.

"A mercenary." Jack said quietly, all his internal alarms ringing. Mercenaries promised the sun and stars on a silver platter and then sank a knife as deep as they could into your back. At this point, Jack wasn't sure what he disliked more on general grounds, vampires or mercs.

"Yeah, but Spike's not so bad once you get past the accent and the attitude and the really crude comments," Xander broke in. Spike flipped two fingers in his general direction.

"He helped keep the world from getting sucked into a hell dimension by this demon called Acathla," Xander continued.

"I'd been drinking that night."

"And he fought against these Vahrall who almost opened a hell portal."

"Bored," Spike dismissed it.

"You didn't take Adam up on the offer to—"

"I wouldn't have believed a word out of his mouth," Spike cut Xander off sharply, and Jack wouldn't have thought anything about it except Xander immediately began to turn red.

"I didn't, I mean, you know I wouldn't…" Xander mumbled.

"Bloody hell. I'm evil to the core so just stop before I rip your tongue out," Spike hissed as he narrowed his eyes dangerously, but the expression that made Jack's guts twist just seemed to embarrass Xander as he focused on staring at the ground. Of course, Jack got the feeling the boy was safe, and Jack didn't assume the same was true of himself or his team. "I'm in this for the money and the blood, so blow something up," Spike ordered as he turned a yellow gaze toward Jack.

Jack tightened his hand on his weapon, his instincts screaming on more levels than Jack could even process, and it bothered him that just a little part of him felt like a rabbit spotted by the big bad wolf. "Let's get the charges set, then," Jack said as calmly as he could. He had to ignore the crawling feeling up his back as he headed toward the dead trees."

"Fuck, what is that sound?" Spike complained as he slapped his hands over his ears.

"You're having hallucinations, fangless," Xander complained, but he moved toward the trunk of a large tree, pulling Spike with him even as the vampire shook his head like a wet dog and stared up at the sky. Jack trotted over to a place where one tree had fallen against its neighbor, making a small niche. He scanned the sky, weapon ready, even as Xander did the same with his sword clutched in his hand.

In the distance, he could hear a faint whistle that swelled and faded. He shot Xander a confused look, but the boy just crouched low, and now Spike hovered over him, growling toward the sky. Jack reached up and clicked his radio three times without saying anything. He waited for some response, but nothing came back to him. Either the kids couldn't answer or something had already happened.

"I would have been happy to be wrong this time," Jack griped to the universe in general as a triangle shaped plane came screaming through the air. Two more followed on a slightly different path. Jack glanced toward the two fighters at the base of the other tree, and Xander was now on his knees between the tree and Spike who snarled fiercely.

Jack hesitated. His team needed him, but he just didn't get the feeling that Spike and Xander were part of this new development. "Shit," Jack cursed as he realized he couldn't leave them without even a gun to defend themselves.

Jack scoped out the territory and darted toward the cover of a tree with drooping branches not more than ten feet from where Spike now cursed with more enthusiasm than Jack had heard since he did two weeks with the 800 Naval Air Squadron. The scream of engines warned him of the ships' return, and he threw himself to the ground. Above, a long thin nose merged into a fatter body with short, stubby wings near the back, and the design wasn't anything like Goa'uld or even Asgard ships Jack had ever seen. He waited until the ship screeched past.

"Move out, get toward the denser trees," Jack bellowed. Spike reached down and grabbed Xander by the back of his shirt, hauling him to his feet. Jack spotted a better piece of cover—a butter knife shaped rock under wide branches of another tree. Jack dashed toward it, but half way there, a shimmering light enveloped him, and then he simply vanished.



Well, fuck. Jack recognized the sluggish feeling of recovering from some bout of unconsciousness even before he checked in with all his body parts. His injured hand throbbed in time with his heart, but all the other bits and pieces seemed to check out fairly unharmed.

Blinking, he saw Xander stomach down on the floor, his arms at his sides, and a pair of boots paced in front of Jack's eyes. Yep, that's what he got for not following through with the original plan. He should have run for cover and let these two fend for themselves, but he had obviously been spending way too much time with Daniel because the man had rubbed off on him. Shit, he used to be far more pragmatic about war and casualties.

Jack groaned and pushed himself up, his eyes scanning the dark blue walls and the entry, which was webbed over with some sort of purple mesh.

"'Bout bloody time," Spike complained. The vampire had paused, but now he returned to pacing.

"Is Xander…"

"He's fine. Well, as fine as any of us are right now. So, these friends of yours?" Spike asked as he waved a hand around the cell they shared.

"Not that I remember," Jack answered as he struggled to his feet. He glanced over and Spike had an eyebrow raised. "Alien devices, memory wiping, things happen," Jack shrugged as he walked to the webbing. A hard tug suggested it was not coming open easily.

"Tried that already," Spike said, "and I'm a good bit stronger than you."

Jack yanked on the webbing again just for good measure, and Spike snorted behind him.

"Do you have any weapons left?" Jack asked as he checked his gear. His P90 and sidearm were missing, but he pulled his knife out of his boot. He looked over, but Spike was completely ignoring him. Instead, the vampire glared at the empty hallway, his head cocked as though listening. Jack looked out the webbing, but he could only see an empty corridor with a whole lot of alien tech, and right about now he really wished he had Carter. Hell, he'd settled for Teal'c, he thought as he pulled on the webbing again. Shit, he was getting too old for this.

The sounds of footsteps thumped faintly down the hall, and Jack backed up, slipping his knife into the sleeve of his shirt just as Xander groaned and started to curl up into a ball.

"Did anyone get the name of the dimension that fell on me? Ow."

Spike didn't answer, but he did reach down and pull Xander up by his arm. Something made Spike flinch, and Xander gave a little gasp.

"Hey, no manhandling the sidekick," Xander complained softly as he grabbed Spike's arm and held on for dear life with one hand while holding his head with his other. Spike just snarled, but he kept his eyes focused on the door.

Two shadows appeared, and the webbing separated in the middle as the wall seemed to suck it in, leaving the archway open. Two goons appeared, their faces covered with some sort of bone-like mask and their skin a translucent blue, or maybe they just looked blue under the dim lighting of the ship. Okay, humanoid. Jack waited for the usual demands, threats, claims to godhood. Instead the two stood silent, considering the prisoners.

"So, I'm Jack O'Neill, and you would be…"

The two didn't even twitch in Jack's direction as they focused on Spike. Jack glanced over, and Spike had gone into his vampire face and started growling loudly. One alien stepped forward, and Xander almost tripped as he backed up behind Spike who snapped fangs at the newcomer.

"Touch him and I'll rip your guts out and tie 'em round your neck," Spike hissed. The soldier hesitated, his head cocked for a second before he turned his back and returned to the arch.

"Follow," the second soldier ordered, and he took his weapon in both hands, pointing it in their general direction. Jack estimated that the weapon was a little heavier than standard issue; its bulk would slow the soldiers down, so maybe the equivalent of a P-90. The glowing yellow windows on the sides suggested energy based weaponry, maybe some connection to Gao'uld or Ancient technologies. Oh yeah, Carter would love this shit. Since Spike was still growling, Jack shrugged his shoulders as he started moving toward the door.

"Not the best invite I've had in a while, but it's not like there's much going on around here," Jack commented as he headed for the door. Any movement gave him a chance to check the lay of the land, so Jack ignored the itching between his shoulder blades as he turned his back to the one guard as he followed the second out into the dark hall. If Jack could just trust Spike to take out the rear guard, Jack might be able to disable the lead guard with his knife, but until he had a better idea of where they were or how they got there, Jack decided to play helpless.

Behind him, the growling intensified, and Jack looked back to see Spike herding Xander past the guard and into the hall.

"I'm going, I'm going. God you're cranky today," Xander hissed under his breath as Spike kept a hand on Xander's shoulder even as he snarled in the general direction of the rear guard. Neither guard commented, and Jack found himself following the alien's back down an empty corridor.

It was actually a nice change from the constant clanging of troops on Goa'uld ships, but it did make Jack wonder just where the hell the rest of the aliens were. He could only hope they weren't swarming over the planet and sweeping everyone up. Well, actually, they were welcome to sweep up as many of Sokar's Jaffa as they could hit with the light, but he didn't want to run into his team in some holding cell.

Eventually the guard led them to an open room, and Jack shuddered at the buffet set out on a long table. The food looked fine, but the emaciated skeleton sitting at one end didn't inspire confidence in the chef.

Spike strode right over and grabbed a piece of what was probably fruit and sunk his teeth into it as he strode around the room. The two Jason look-alikes took position on either side of the entrance, but Spike ignored them. Okay, the lit panel inset into one wall suggested some sort of circuitry, but Jack couldn't do more than stick a knife in it and hope he didn't get electrocuted. Not a workable plan. The edges of the room faded into shadow, so possible enemies waiting there. No visible writing, not that Jack really expected an "Emergency Exit" sign, but it would have been nice.

As Jack studied the room, he spotted Xander. The boy stood staring at the corpse at the table, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed. Jack stepped forward, into the line of sight between Xander and the body, and Xander blinked before looking at Jack.

"Kinda ew," he said.

Jack looked over at the body. "Yeah," he agreed. At least the kid wasn't throwing up or turning green or having hysterics. That put Xander one up on a fair number of the recruits who Jack had helped test.

"Here, have something to eat," Spike said as he finished his circle and held out the fruit he'd taken a bite from.

"And somehow, I'm not feeling very hungry," Xander said with a shake of his head.

"Bloody eat it," Spike snapped as he thrust the fruit forward, and Xander took it with a confused look.

"They must eat," a strange voice said from the shadow, and Jack turned to see a tall alien drifting out of the shadows. She looked almost like a human, if the human had been dead a day or two and left to soak in blue Jello. She moved toward them, and Jack instinctively backed away. "Everything must eat," she added with a tilt of her head.

"True enough," Spike said, and Jack heard a cautious respect in that voice that really didn't mesh with the voice Spike normally used. Even the vampire's accent had thinned into something more polished.

The female turned toward him, her long, red hair brushing across her bare shoulders as she moved toward him.

"We shall feed in these new culling grounds, and even now, our ship sings with the power. You smell of that power."

"Any smell is probably me because I could do with a showe—" Xander's voice ended with an indignant squawk as Spike grabbed him by the neck and put him in a headlock. The female tilted her head as she considered them.

"The cage has broken, and soon the ships wake. The power will once again sing in our bones, and we shall feed," the woman assured them. Jack looked toward Spike, but despite the fact that the alien talked to Spike like she knew him, Spike just looked confused and just a little worried. Jack tightened his fist around his hidden knife.

The woman's head swiveled Jack's way, and Jack ordered his feet to stay put as she closed the distance.

"You are from here. What is this place called?" she asked.

"Good question. We seem to be a little lost, so maybe you could give us some directions," Jack answered with a smile.

"How has the cage been broken?"

Jack looked over to the others. Spike had let go of Xander, but neither one looked like they had any answers.

"Hey, if someone broke your cage, don't blame me," Jack quipped. The woman's arm shot out, grabbing Jack's chest which burned with a blinding pain that ranked right up there with the damned Goa'uld hand device. Jack hadn't even finished his gasp before Xander plowed into the woman from the side, sending all three of them crashing to the ground.

Jack rolled to his feet, his eyes going instantly to the guards, but they remained standing, seemingly uninterested. Turning back to the fight, Jack pulled his knife as he watched the female, who was up on one knee, grab Xander's chest as the boy's mouth opened in a wide, pained circle.

Before Jack could take a step, Spike dove past him, sinking his teeth into the alien's neck as she made an inhuman howling noise. Spike held on for just a second before she shook him off. The force of her throw sent him sliding across the floor, and Spike lay there stunned as she got up to follow.

Then, Jack went in. He aimed for under the ribs, pointing the knife up to do as much damage as possible since he wasn't entirely sure where to find vital organs. The knife had just touched her skin when a blue light skimmed over his shoulder, and Jack totally lost the use of his right side, with his left side faring only slightly better. He fell to the ground, and the knife clattered uselessly to the floor.

The woman knelt next to Spike; her eyes narrowed as she grabbed Spike's chest. Jack flinched for the man, until he suddenly realized that whatever had caused Jack and Xander agonizing pain didn't seem to affect the vampire. Spike pushed her arm away, still moving slowly as he struggled to sit up.

The alien backed up a step, obviously just as confused as Spike. While Spike shook his head like a dog trying to clear his ears of water, she watched him with her head tilted.

"You have no life force. You are not prey," she finally said in the silence. Spike staggered up to his feet and faced her.

"Bloody right, I'm not prey. I'm a demon. Humans are my food, so I'm not some soddin' prey for you to try and yank the life out of," Spike complained. Jack held his breath as Xander eased by the female to slip in behind Spike, a wide hand on Spike's back, helping to keep him upright.

"And he is your devoted worshiper?" she asked. Xander opened his mouth immediately, but then he closed it without comment.

"Yeah," Spike agreed, shooting the boy a dirty look.

"And the old one?"

"Not old, just well-aged," Jack objected. She turned toward him, her hair flowing around her, and Jack suddenly hoped that he counted as one of Spike's followers because the discussion of life force and prey had not slipped past him. He was ready to put these guys in the exterminate with prejudice column. This time, he didn't think even Daniel could object. Okay, the man would, but for once, Jack would win this debate. Whoever these guys were, they were not even remotely worth talking to.

Jack's left side turned to pins and needles as the feeling returned, but the right side remained numb, and he pushed himself up on one elbow.

"Hey, we're both big with the worshiping. Worshiping and devoting, devoting and worshiping… we have the whole package," Xander assured the female as he left Spike and slid by her again to return to Jack, helping to pull him up to a seated position even though the right side of Jack's body still had no feeling.

Jack now noticed one of the soldiers stood considerably closer, his weapon with the yellow glow held partially upright. Okay, that explained the blue light and loss of control.

"The cage is broken and we will feed. The prey will shudder at our feet, only worshipers and cattle left to tremble beneath us as our power returns," the female said, and this was sounding suspiciously familiar to Jack. Why was it that every alien in the universe got one look at humans and starting having fantasies about being worshiped?

"Feed on the whole bloody universe if it makes ya happy, but leave my worshipers to me, yeah?" Spike asked, and again the vampire sounded far too deferential for Jack's comfort. Anything that made Spike play at being respectful quite frankly left Jack wishing he had a whole lot of C-4 and a flame thrower.

"We shall feed on more than the universe," the female assured him. "The Wraith shall again sail between universes and devour it all," she called to the sky above, her head thrown back in a look of perfect bliss.

"Bloody perfect," Spike nearly whispered, and sitting on the floor, Jack had to agree. This was just turning out too bloody perfect.



Jack rubbed his right arm. The left side had regained all feeling, so Jack suspected that the weapon was something like a zat. Unfortunately, the returning feeling in his right side meant that the throbbing pain in his hand now turned into volcanic, burning pain, and he just didn't have time for this.

"You 'bout ready to walk because I'm ready to leave your sorry arse behind," Spike commented as he paced the length of the cell. The queen had disappeared and left the soldiers to escort them back to their prison as soon as she decided Spike wasn't prey.

"I don't see you going anywhere soon. I don't see any of us going anywhere soon," Jack amended himself as he waved his hand around the cell.

"Spike, are you sure you're good to go? You still look a little green, which is different from your normal pasty white," Xander added from his corner of the cell at the back.

"Sod off."

"Oh yeah, that's convincing."

"Just wasn't prepared for her blood, is all."

"So you're not going to yak all over the floor or something, are you?" Xander asked.

"Lovely," Jack commented to the universe at large. Yeah, regurgitated blood would make this just about perfect.

"I'm not going to be bloody sick!" Spike snapped as he paced a little faster. "The blood just made me a little antsy, gave me a bit of a head rush."

"And this is different from usual… how?" Jack muttered to himself as he went back to rubbing arm and ignoring the vampire.

"What do you mean a head rush?" Xander pushed.

"She gave me a tingle, like the creepin' bugs feeling I used to get when old batface was sulkin' about somewhere, and her blood is—" Spike's voice cut off as he shook his head.

"Batface?" Jack didn't like the sound of that. He could feel his shoulders ache with tension. "Is that another type of demon?" Jack only paused slightly before actually using the word demon. Oh yeah, he was going to end up on MacKenzie's couch for sure this time.

"Same type. That's just Spike's name for the Master of the Aurelius line because, well," Xander paused and then shrugged, "he really did look like a bat."

"So, we're talking vampires?" Jack asked with a flinch. Yep, he was going to be spending lots of quality time with Dr. MacKenzie and his pet Rochart inkblots.

"Not bloody likely. I think I would have remembered meeting a vampire that looked like that. But there's somethin' about her."

"You're just lusting after tall, blue and scary," Xander said smugly.

Spike snorted. "I don't go for the sort that try to eat me after."

"Oh please," Xander snorted. "You totally go for that type."

"Look who's talking, mate. At least I never slept with anyone who tried ta lay eggs in me."

Jack let his head fall back against the wall. He thought getting locked up with Daniel was bad, but right now he'd pay for a lecture on the relative importance of something absolutely irrelevant. Besides, at least he could close his eyes around Daniel without wondering if the man was trying to find a way to screw him… or eat him.

Jack didn't have that much trust in Spike, and the small amount of trust he put in Xander was tempered both by the fact that the man seemed loyal to Spike and by the fact that the man seemed to have schizophrenia. He'd check the tree line and move from one spot of cover to the next like a pro one second, and then blunder out into the open the next. Right now, he spluttered indignantly, so Jack guessed it was the class clown's turn.

"I didn't sleep with her, and I can't believe Willow told you that story."

"I read the watcher's diaries. Seems like two or three rolls in the hay with a vengeance demon is as close as you ever got to a normal relationship."

"Hey! Ex-vengeance demon! And I have too had normal relationships, unlike some vamps who spent a hundred years trailing after loony toons lady."

That caught Jack's attention—Spike was at least a hundred years old. Damn. Spike was older than Teal'c, and yet the man still acted like he was about six. Without warning, the door snapped open, and Jack physically started back away from the unguarded opening.

"It's about time," Xander sighed as he stood up and then came over and held his hand down for Jack. For a half second, Jack felt the righteous indignity of it. He wasn't some old man that needed help to get off the floor, but as quickly as that thought came, the throb in his arm reminded him that he probably did need help. Jack just really wished his team was here to help him because the only thing that made him crankier than getting captured was getting captured and having to rely on people he didn't trust. With a sigh, Jack reached up with his left hand, and Xander pulled him up easily.

"Okay, what did I miss?" Jack asked as he winced. He followed Xander out the door and Spike was retrieving several knives from a squashed tomato looking thing set into the wall. Shit. He was really losing it if he hadn't even seen Spike throw the knives.

"Bloody stupid place to leave the lock," Spike growled.

"And for once we agree. We need to find a way out and our weapons, not necessarily in that order," Jack said as he checked out the hallway. The corridor to the eating hall hadn't looked particularly interesting, so he took a couple of steps in the opposite direction.

"Oi, wrong way," Spike hissed.

"And there's a right way?" Jack asked in frustration as he gestured toward the two ends of the corridor, which looked exactly the same.

"Yeah," Spike smirked as he then turned and started down the hallway they'd been escorted down before.

"He's just cranky," Xander apologized, and Jack clenched his teeth to keep from saying any number of other descriptions for Spike. For a second, he hesitated. He didn't trust Spike, and following someone you didn't trust never ended well, but wandering around an alien ship alone wasn't high on his list of smart things to try, either.

"He probably spotted something, and he's just being a dick by not saying what. He does that," Xander said as he took a step toward Spike, still looking back toward Jack.

"That'd be one word for it," Jack agreed as he started after the vampire. Xander sighed, the relief visible as he trotted after Spike's black coat.

Spike stopped outside of another door, this one thick with tiny strands that almost completely covered the entrance. Spike touched something in the wall, and tall, thin letters scrolled across a smooth membrane.

"Okay, either that's not English, or someone hit me on the head really hard," Xander said as he peered over Spike's shoulder. Jack had to bite back an order for the boy to not leave his back so exposed.

"It's demon ya ninny," Spike answered absentmindedly as he touched a word and the alien letters shifted, a new set running across the screen.

"No duh."

"Can you read it?" Jack interrupted their argument as he watched the corridor. When they got back to the rest of SG-1, Jack was going to apologize to Daniel for ever suggesting that the man talked too much. Compared to Xander and Spike, Daniel was downright laconic.

"Course I can," Spike immediately said as he touched another letter. "Some," he then added. "Looks like it might be Suvolte, but some of these don't make much sense."

"How about looking for anything that says 'Exit'?" Xander suggested.

Spike just growled.

"We're running low on time," Jack warned.

"You're not helpin', so just bloody shut your gob," Spike snapped.

"Xander, keep an eye out for Wraith," Jack said as he nudged the man on the back.

"Oh, yeah," Xander said as his eyes immediately snapped up to the corridor on the far side. "Spike, can I borrow a knife?"

Spike pulled a knife out of an inner pocket of his coat without looking away from the screen. "If ya get demon guts on it, you clean it this time," he complained. Xander took the knife and moved to the far side of Spike, knife held at his side where a Wraith wouldn't spot it right away.

"Have another one of those for me?" Jack asked, his hatred of being unarmed outweighing his hatred of having to ask for a weapon.

"No." Spike tapped another word. Jack glanced over as Xander held his knife out handle first. Jack reached up to take it, his right hand throbbing at the movement, purple and green bruising decorating the swollen flesh. Jack quickly transferred it to his left hand.

"Hey Spike, can I borrow a knife?" Xander asked the vampire again.

"Bloody—" Spike cut himself off as he grabbed another knife out of his coat and thrust it toward Xander just a little too energetically for safety. Xander took it and flashed Jack a triumphant grin before going back to guarding his side of the corridor.

"'Bout soddin' time," Spike announced triumphantly as the door slid open. He strode in without even checking for enemy, but at least Xander held position and backed toward the door carefully.

Inside was some sort of storeroom with the same not quite smooth surfaces of the ship continued here. Jack had seen a lot of ships, but never before had he seen these uneven angles or curves in a ship. And this ship looked nothing like the sleek fighters in the air when Jack had lost consciousness.

"Told you," Spike announced triumphantly, and Jack turned to see the vampire holding up the P90.

"Come to momma," Jack said affectionately as he reached out to take the weapon. Spike pulled it back at the last second, and Jack felt his guts tighten.

"Right. Are you even going to be able to hold it?" Spike demanded. Jack glared, but he didn't answer. He wasn't sure that Spike would give him the weapon even if he could. Mercs weren't trustworthy, and everything Spike did just reinforced that he was a merc through and through.

"Can you fire one of these?" Spike asked Xander.

"P90. 900 rounds per minute, 50 rounds in a clip, 200 meter range. That's a beauty," Xander said in something that came close to awe, and Jack's guts tightened more at the return of the competent-Xander.

"I'll take that as a yes. So, the toy's yours pet, but if you shoot me with this one by accident, I'm ripping out your throat by accident," Spike warned.

"As if." Xander shrugged off the threat as he took the weapon.

"But Jack, if you really want it…" Xander turned to Jack uncertainly.

"Bloody hell, no. If we're going to be fightin' demons, we need the weapons, and he won't even be able to bloody fire it with that gimp arm," Spike interrupted as he stepped between them, but Xander still looked toward Jack.

"Keep it. Just point it down when you carry, and the safety is below the trigger," Jack advised. Spike pulled Jack's handgun out of a storage crate, and Jack slipped the knife away before holding out his left hand. "That I *will* take," he insisted. Spike looked at him for a long second before handing the gun over.

Jack moved back into position to watch the open door with his weapon in hand. He would have felt a lot more reassured by its weight if he hadn't known that Xander shot Spike without even hurting him. But until they got off this ship, Spike and his ability to read the alien language was their best bet, so he ignored the growing itch between his shoulder blades.

"Next stop, the sweepers," Spike said as he strode past Jack on this way to the door.

"The what?" Xander asked as he followed. One hand rested comfortably on the end of Jack's weapon, and the other curled around the grip. Put the boy in a uniform, and Jack wouldn't be able to tell him from any other soldier who'd spent years of his life wandering around with a gun on his hip. Obviously Daniel never got so comfortable with his weapon, but even Carter, who was a soldier through and through, didn't carry her weapon with such ease.

"The ships. They're meant to sweep up people for the Wraith to eat. Now me, I prefer the hunt. Chasin' the prey down or luring them with a smile is half the fun," Spike said as he glanced over his shoulder and smiled.

"Okay, enough with the disturbo comments." Xander didn't stop when Spike did and nearly collided with the vampire who had activated another screen in front of another tightly woven door. But he recovered from his inept moment by moving so that his back was to the opposite wall where he scanned the corridor like a pro, P90 held ready.

"Whoa," Jack said as a familiar symbol flashed on the screen. He reached over and touched the Y looking symbol at the front of the word Daniel had traced onto the front of one of his journals. Jack had spent weeks staring at that as Daniel sat and filled the journal by the light of various campfires on various worlds. "That means 'man,'" he said as he traced the lighted characters. The screen didn't change, but when Spike reached up and touched it with his long finger, the skin yellowed with nicotine and the nail painted with chipped, black paint, the screen flashed to a new set of characters.

"Seems like it means prey," Spike said after a second.

"Okay, I'm thinking that's not of the good. Any luck finding anything that means 'exit'?" Xander asked without taking his eyes from the corridor.

"Maybe," Spike agreed as he touched a new set of symbols. The door swirled open.

Jack took up a position near the door as Xander wandered into the large hanger with his mouth hanging open.

"Wow, this is so much cooler than the bad guys we normally get to fight what with the lack of caves, slime, or brain-numbing stink. Okay, there's some stink, but at least it's not of the brain-numbing variety, which is so much of the better than normal," Xander breathed as he stared at the row of darts. Jack gritted his teeth and thanked god that the Wraith weren't big on guards. "But as cool as this is, and this is pretty cool, I am not getting into one of these if you're driving."

"I'm the one who can bloody read the language."

"And you're the one who can't figure out the washing machine when the instructions are printed right inside the lid, so I repeat, I will not be getting into anything you're driving," Xander said as he crossed his arms defiantly, knocking the end of the P90 and making it stick out awkwardly. Xander uncrossed his arms and grabbed at the weapon.

"Unless one of you is a pilot, I think I'll take that job," Jack interrupted as Spike opened his mouth to argue.

"Wot? You read Suvolte?"

"No, but I recognized a couple of words," Jack pointed out as he nodded toward the wall where Spike's touch had brought up a series of words. Never before had he actually appreciated the months he'd been stuck in a time loop learning the ancients' language, but at least now some of the symbols looked familiar. "So, you point out what I need to know, and I can fly us out of here."

"I'm voting for his plan," Xander threw in.

"Like I give a shite whose plan you like," Spike snorted, "besides, these things seem to work for me, and not you lot." Spike tapped the screen and a new set of symbols appeared.

"If the plane's controls won't work for me, then we'll have to find a back up plan," Jack admitted, "but right now, give me a quick run down on what I need to know." For a second, Spike narrowed his eyes dangerously. The vampire looked over toward Xander, and then back before he sighed.

"Fine. I'm only saying this rot once," he snapped as he started jabbing the screen and explaining various symbols for thrust, altitude, and some sort of ray that seemed to scoop people up. After the world's fastest tutorial, Spike punched the screen off as he started for the line of darts.

Spike took the first dart, so Jack went for the second, climbing up into it before pulling up the controls. He whispered a quick 'thank you' to the universe when everything seemed to work. Xander still stood near the panel, looking from one ship to the other.

"So, guys, is there room in one of those for—" Xander broke off as the door opened. Jack grabbed for his gun, but Xander just froze, the P90 banging his hip as he finally started scrambling backwards.

Before Jack could even get his weapon aimed, a masked Wraith backhanded Xander and sent him crashing into the wall before he collapsed to the ground. When Spike leaped into the fight, Jack could only see the black coat leap forward before one Wraith went flying in the opposite direction from Xander, and the second went down in a tangled heap with Spike.

Xander struggled to his knees, pulling the P90 up and firing at the Wraith that Spike had thrown to the side. Spike leapt up, but the Wraith warrior on the floor grabbed his knee and pulled him right back down so that Xander stood there with the P90 pointed at the fighting pair without firing.

A new Wraith appeared in the open doorway, his long white hair swaying as he came to a sudden stop. Xander backed up fast, the P90 still pointed at the danger, but he didn't fire with Spike in the line of fire.

"Get the bloody hell out of here," Spike snarled as he launched himself at the new Wraith just as it brought up its weapon. That left the Wraith on the floor free to grab at his own weapon.

Okay, no more time to wait. Jack closed the Wraith ship as he started the launch sequence. He had no doubt that Xander would stand and fight next to Spike until the end, so Jack didn't give him a choice. Finding the controls for the transportation device the Wraith used to scoop up their prey, Jack targeted Xander. One push of a button, and Xander was either safely stored or Jack had just turned him into a cloud of floating atoms… one or the other. Jack went to target Spike, but the vampire darted between the Wraith as one turned a weapon toward him, and now a warning light blinked on the edge of Jack's display.

One Wraith turned toward the ship, and a weapon fired, light dancing on the blue wall above the screen. Right, the vampire was on his own to grab another plane. Making up his mind, Jack launched the ship, and he could only hope that he remembered Spike's instructions about landing because they didn't have much choice now.




The plane lay in the ruins of the tree Jack had managed to take down in his landing, but as the old cliché went, any landing you could walk away from was a good landing. Considering some of the weird shit he'd had to fly, Jack lived by that particular motto.

Now he just had to figure out how to make Xander walk away from it. Right now Xander was about as real as Bart Simpson, locked in some computer as a bunch of number that would make Carter squirm with joy. Jack really wished he could have Carter tell him which button to push. Jack flashed through several screens with red letters warning of failing systems as he searched for the screen that looked like the one Spike had shown him.

In command training, Jack had learned to give orders and make decisions, even when death was the natural consequence. The first time he'd gone to Abydos, he'd prepared himself to die on an alien planet to protect his wife and his son's grave and his country, although his duty to country wasn't the first thing on his mind. On Apophis' ship, he'd left Danny behind to blow up with the ship even though it had torn at his soul. But those were potential losses in the middle of battle. Now Xander's life or death lay in whether or not Jack pushed the right sequence of buttons, and Jack forced away the doubts as he scrolled to the right screen.

Taking a deep breath, Jack pressed the sequence, and a blue light swept the area, leaving Xander in its wake, and the man pulled the trigger on the P90, neatly killing a vine that hung from a nearby tree. A flock of birds screamed into the air, and Xander stopped firing.

"I think you killed the tree," Jack said as he climbed out of the cracked shell of the ship.


"The tree," Jack said as he gestured toward the tree where bullets had ripped off the dark bark, leaving white chunks behind.

"Not what 'that'," Xander said as he looked at the tree. "What what?" And Jack had been around the kid way too long because that bit of mangled English actually made sense.

"I scooped you up," Jack said as he hopped to the ground and slapped the plane with his left hand.

"Well, unscoop me!" Xander demanded. Jack raised an eyebrow. "I'm thinking Spike is still up there since I don't see you beaming him down, so beam me back up. I'm not leaving Spike behind."

"It isn't a transporter," Jack said.

"I don't care. Make with the beaming or the flying or something." Xander's voice trailed off at the end, as though he knew he was asking the impossible. Jack considered the wreckage wedged into the trees and then looked back toward Xander.

"Unless you have an F-16 and an air strip in your pocket, it's not going to happen."

"I can't believe you left him behind."

"He could have stolen another scooper... thing," Jack defended himself despite the nagging guilt he felt even without Xander's help. Even worse, he disliked Spike so much that he wondered if his decision had been entirely about practical tactics. When he'd left Danny behind, he'd had zero choice in the matter, but with Spike… well, it was done, and second guessing his own decisions wouldn't change the current situation.

"Yeah, the invisible scooper thingy that landed right behind us?" Xander demanded, and Jack narrowed his eyes at the sarcasm.

"I couldn't get a lock on him, so the best course of action was to retreat and--"

"Save your sorry ass?"

"Hey, enough," Jack snapped. "I tried to get a lock on him but he moved too fast. In case you weren't paying attention, the Wraith eat guys like us. Spike is better off without having to worry about us," Jack pointed out even though he didn't think Spike spent too much time worrying about him. However, the vampire had acted to save Xander, so he did have a point. The stiffness went out of Xander with a sigh. His shoulders drooped, and Jack understood the fear and guilt; he'd felt it often enough.

"He would not have been big with the leaving us. Not anymore, anyway. Once, he totally would have left us, but then at one point he totally would have handed us over to the Wraith, if he hadn't eaten us first. But then, that was a long time ago, and now I can't believe I left him." Xander leaned back against a tree, his hand resting naturally on the butt of the P90 as he scanned the wreckage.

"You didn't leave him," Jack interrupted the self-flaggelation.

"I'm thinking I'm down here and he's up there somewhere, so that qualifies as leaving, and I'm not really okay with the whole stabbing a friend in the back bit," Xander nearly whispered. "Not that he's a friend. He's not, but he's--" Xander stopped. Jack understood that too. At one point, he would have called Daniel and Sam and Teal'c his team, but they'd become something more a long time ago, even when the annoyed the life out of him.

"I promised him once that I wouldn't ever leave him behind—that'd I'd stick a stake in him if he annoyed me enough, but that I wouldn't leave him, and now I've gone and done the 'et tu Brute' bit and left him." Xander said without any emotion, his words flat and dead.

"Once we find the others, Sam might be able to figure some of this tech out. We'll try to get him back." Jack offered the only comfort he could. "He's tough."

Xander snorted. "You have no idea. He's... well, he's Spike." Xander paused. "Someone's going to come to see that, aren't they?" Xander asked as he nodded toward the broken bits of plane strewn through the broken trees.

"Goa'uld can be pretty stupid, but not even the dumbest could miss that crash," Jack agreed. "We need to meet up with the others."

"Willow." Xander breathed the word and stood up straight.

"She'll be fine," Jack promised, but he headed for the area south of the gate instead of the cave. Unless he missed his guess, Xander wouldn't know the difference. The only reason he knew where to go was because he had seen the ridge of rock and the gate right before he had put the plane nose first into the jungle. He was just glad Teal'c wasn't around to see the wreckage because the man definitely would have been able to land the thing without getting a scratch on it, and Jack's ego was not up to competing with Teal'c right now.

As Jack walked, Xander fell in beside him. Jack struggled to ignore the voice that pointed out that they were making a target out of themselves. Xander might occasionally act like a soldier, but when it came down to it, he was a kid who had left his best friend behind in enemy territory. He didn't need Jack barking orders or expecting Xander to react like a soldier.

"Do you think that maybe I should, I don't know... walk point?" Xander asked in the silence. For a half second, Jack replayed the last minute or so to see if he had accidentally said something out loud, but unless his head was as banged up as his hand, he hadn't.

"I'm not sure it's a good idea."

"Oh," Xander said softly. "Yeah, me with the walking point and the snake demons and the seriously needing a hair cut demons... yeah, might not be of the good."

"Xander," Jack said wearily.

"Hey, no problemo. If there were a donut shop around, I could show you just how useful I can be, but I get the me not being a big help with the fighting part."


"Spike is right about me being a demon magnet, but don't you dare tell him that I admitted that."

"Xander!" Jack snapped this time.


"Walk point."

Xander gave Jack a mock salute that still snapped formally forward before he trotted forward, his weapon held ready and his eyes scanning the ground. Jack sighed. Now if only the competent Xander stayed in charge, they just might get through to the rest of the team. Jack reached up and grabbed his radio, clicking it twice and waiting without much hope for some sort of response from his missing people.

They walked in silence as the sun climbed through the sky, until Xander stopped, his arm throwing up a closed fist in the silent warning of enemies on the path. Two fingers jigged left before Xander faded back into the shade of a tall bush. Okay, that was new. Jack stepped off the path and pulled his weapon as he watched the trail.

Jack could brush off the intermittent competence with a weapon as too many video games, and Xander's unusual history of fighting demons would account for the boy's steadiness under fire, but nothing explained his use of covert hand signals, or the way the boy pressed himself into the best possible cover. He wiggled onto his stomach, his head protected by a rock as he braced the P90 at an angle to cover the path. Oh yeah, Jack really hated surprises, and the kid seemed full of them.

Almost immediately, Jack heard the familiar clunking of Jaffa, and when would those guys ever learn? Of course, for his team's sake, and Xander's sake, he hoped this lot would stay just as dumb as all the rest. Five Jaffa came around a bend in the path, staff weapons held to their sides as they marched through the trees.

From his position, he could see Xander stiffen before his body sagged into the earth, and Jack sent up the same prayer he used for his own raw recruits. The Jaffa commander stopped, and the other four stopped behind him. One good land mine would take them all out, but unfortunately, Jack was one land mine short of a land mine.

The boy had a fairly good shot, but he continued to wait. Either the kid had seriously big balls and he was waiting for the Jaffa to put themselves in the crossfire between Xander and Jack, or the kid had frozen. Worse case, Jack would just keep his head down and let the Jaffa pass. He sure wouldn't be taking on five Jaffa with a hand weapon that he could only fire with his left hand.

Breathing slowly and silently, Jack knelt on the ground, dampness soaking into his knee as he waited.

"Kree," The Jaffa commander issued curtly as he started forward again. He had taken a half dozen steps and then the sharp bark of a P90 sent a flock of birds winging into the sky just as the Jaffa's head exploded. The other Jaffa fell back to the trees, and now Xander fired on full automatic, the bullets creating a rain of leaves as they tore through trees and even a couple of Jaffa.

Jack grimaced at the wasted ammunition as he targeted a Jaffa who'd taken cover behind a huge moss-covered trunk. He pulled the trigger only to have the bullet go into the tree. Shit. The Jaffa swung around, weapon ready, and Jack dropped to the ground for cover as he squeezed off two more shots. Either Jack's shots or Xander's continued spraying of the forest got the Jaffa, and his hands flew up as his mouth opened in a silent scream. His body fell, and Jack scanned the forest.

Three Jaffa lay on the path, including the commander of the unit. One more now lay slumped under the cover of the trees. That left one still in the forest. Xander had stopped firing, but Jack didn't know whether the boy had actually stopped or just run out of ammunition. It wouldn't be the first time a recruit couldn't stop firing until the bullets just ran out.

"In the name of our lord Sokar, surrender and beg for mercy," shouted a voice from the trees. Yep, count on the Jaffa to act like complete idiots. Jack sometimes wondered how Teal'c could have turned out so damn deadly when Jaffa training seemed to include lessons on giving away your position and making yourself as ineffective as possible.

Jack slid into the shadows, hoping Xander really was out of ammunition or else the kid would likely shoot him as he moved toward that voice. First stop, the fallen Jaffa and his zat. Jack flicked the weapon open with a familiar hum, flinching as the noise gave away his position to anyone listening closely enough, but Xander had started shouting, so maybe the surviving Jaffa had missed it.

"I'm really not good with begging. Can I just ask nicely? Maybe do the whole 'cherry on top' thing?" Xander called.

Jack seriously hoped that the kid was trying to cover Jack's movements because otherwise, he would have to call the boy as stupid as the Jaffa.

"Sokar will feast upon your entrails. Surrender now."

"And as good as that offer sounds, the whole feasing on entrails doesn't really make me want to surrender. That's more like an anti-surrender speech what with the entrails and the feasting. And I hope you mean that figuratively because I've seen things that feast on entrails, and they're never pretty."

Jack slid around a tall, moss covered stone and saw the last Jaffa crouched behind a tree, staff weapon clutched tightly.

"Surrender, and maybe our great god will have--"

Jack fired the zat, and the Jaffa stiffened before he fell forward, unconscious.

"Have what? Heartburn? Kittens? Really big ugly warts--the kind that have hair growing out of them?" Xander yelled his suggestions from his spot on the other side of the faint trail.

"He's not going to be answering you," Jack called. "He's out for the count."


Jack expected something more grateful, but Xander's voice sounded toneless as Jack stripped the weapons from the Jaffa. Jack used a plastic restraint to tie the Jaffa's hands before he looked up toward Xander.

Xander stood staring down at the Jaffa leader, his head exploded into a mass of hamburger with the jaw still attached to the bottom.

"Xander?" Jack checked the cuffs around the Jaffa's hands before stepping closer to the boy.

"Kinda different, fighting demons who look so much like humans. Usually, I kill things that have tentacles or gills or something."

"Vampires look pretty human," Jack pointed out. The kid had also helped to kill the Jaffa at the Stargate, but he hadn't really stopped and looked at those bodies. Now he stood staring down at that ruined face.

"Yeah, but vampires go 'poof', which makes it easier," Xander pointed out. "And what with the gun, it just sort of feels more real."

"I'd rather have them dead than us," Jack pointed out. "They're bad guys, and they made their choices, so killing them is just cleaning up the universe, so snap out of it soldier." Jack gave an abbreviated version of the speech he usually made at some point when he took recruits into a combat zone for the first time. Xander's back stiffened and he nodded before pulling his gaze away from the mutilated Jaffa commander.

"Did you capture a prisoner, sir?" Xander asked, and the correct grammar sounded distinctly un-Xanderish, even without the sir.

Jack raised his eyebrows. "Have one tied up as tight as a Thanksgiving turkey," Jack agreed as he gestured for Xander to head into the bush ahead of him. Right now, Jack didn't want Xander at his back any more than he wanted Spike there. Xander nodded and headed into the forest, his hand resting comfortably on the butt of the now empty P90.




Jack stalked Xander's six, glad that the boy was still in military mode and walking point silently. Right now Jack couldn't handle the boy's babbling. Fuck, fuck, fuck, and oh yes, more fuck. Normally, when the team got captured, they could count on certain things. There would be bragging and gloating and torture, and even worse—long boring hours spend in a cell staring at each other. Now… fuck. Now all the rules had changed.

A small part of Jack wished he had just shot that Jaffa instead of leaving the blabbermouth tied up on the path. The way he was feeling right now, he truly did want to kill someone. As many times as Jack had killed in the line of duty or to protect his people, he rarely felt the *desire* to kill. Today was the exception.

Xander stopped in the path, and Jack moved to the cover of a tree even though Xander hadn't thrown up any warning signs. He still wasn't sure when to expect this thoroughly competent Xander to vanish, and the class clown to reappear, and that wasn't making him any happier. Okay, let's be honest, nothing about this FUBAR mission was making him any happier.

"We're here, but I'm not sure where here is," Xander said in a voice a little above a whisper. Jack double-timed it up to the boy, and yep, this was the cliff and path. After getting the information about the team's capture and a location out of the Jaffa, Jack detoured toward the cave. They'd have to pass it anyway to get to the Goa'uld ship, and with his bum hand, Jack was going to need Xander's cooperation. That meant, the boy needed to check on Willow.

"You take left, I'll take right," Jack ordered, and then he paused. "Will you recognize the area with the cave?"

"Yes, sir," Xander agreed, the military precision of the words grating on Jack's last nerve.

"Then move out, soldier. The first one to find the cave double-times it back to find the other, and watch your six," Jack warned the boy before he turned and started heading to the right. Xander didn't give him another "sir," but he did turn left and start walking the path.

Jack pushed away all his feelings into a little box marked "Repress now, forget later," and he focused on the landscape. Find Willow, ensure Xander's help, get his team back. Then he could worry about the rest of this FUBAR mission when he had Carter to explain it away and make the universe bend to her will. He *would* find them alive, and he should see this as an opportunity… an opportunity to kill the snakeheads who definitely needed killing AGAIN. He just wondered how many times he had to kill the same fucking snakeheads.

Jack shook his head and focused on repressing and watching the terrain.

"Jack!" a voice shouted some time later, and Jack flinched. Oh yes, babbling Xander with his ability to give away their position had returned. Jack turned to see Xander hurrying toward him, the P90 bouncing on his hip, and Willow following behind.

"Slowing down now? Slowing down would be good," Willow said as she breathed fast, the red rising in her cheeks as the kids finally caught up with Jack.

"Good to see you safe," Jack nodded toward the girl.

"Oh goddess. That looks like it hurts," Willow said, and Jack glanced down. He had pushed away the pain along with the frustration and homicidal tendencies, but looking at the purple and black flesh of his hand, he could feel the aching throb sink into his bones.

"You think?" he groused, and she pulled back with wide eyes. Sarcasm wasn't her thing, but then Jack wasn't exactly feeling like coddling a civvy.

"Maybe I can… you know, help," she nearly whispered. Jack raised an eyebrow, but she set her shoulders and stepped forward.

"I call on Asclepius, healer of the gods, and on Nehtor, high spirit of the dream. Hear my prayer. Accept my offering. Sospitas. Efflagito," Willow chanted softly, her hands dancing over his injury, and Jack looked skeptically toward Xander.

"Um, thanks for trying," Jack interrupted her as her forehead wrinkled in concentration.

"It didn't work," she said in dismay as she opened her eyes and looked down at the injury.

"It probably just takes time. Give it a week or two, and I'm sure the magic will kick right in and make it heal," Jack commented dryly as he turned toward the direction of the Goa'uld base the Jaffa had described.

"My magic was working earlier," she said, distressed.

"Maybe you just need to concentrate more, not that I'm the one to coach you on concentration with my definite lack of."

Jack flinched. Okay, no having Xander take point if the class clown was back. "Guys, let's not announce our presence," he suggested as he headed down the trail, his weapon held in his left hand and his back itching at having the two civvies behind him.

"Sorry. Big with the quiet, got it," Xander breathed.

"There's something definitely wrong with my magic," Willow continued their conversation, but at least now she was being quieter. "It's like the magic is wavy, so sometimes it's there and sometimes it's like it's all drained away."

"And magic isn't normally wavy?" Jack couldn't resist asking. It was like poking a bruise or picking a scab, and Jack did that too.

"Magic is kablewwy and futzy and a lot of time it's kinda backfirey, but it's not generally wavy. Big with the not normally wavy." Willow agreed.

"Will, maybe I should…" Xander trailed off, and Jack glanced back to see Xander gesturing toward him. Jack stopped, and waited with his jaw tight as he watched Xander. What should Xander do?

"What?" Willow asked, saving Jack the effort.

"I'm the one with the big gun, so I should walk point, but talking and walking point… not so much with the good," Xander said with a shrug, and his expression looked apologetic.

"You go be your bad soldier-self," Willow assured him with a pat on the arm, and Xander flashed her a smile before trotting off down the path, passing Jack with a nod.

Okay, so the boy obviously did have some soldier background. Funny how, when Jack had pumped the boy for information, that little bit hadn't come up. Then again, Spike had shut the boy up pretty quick when the subject of the military had come up.

"So, we're going to save the others? And then we'll go save Spike?" Willow asked as she switched to talking to Jack as Xander walked point, the weapon once again a natural part of his body's movement instead of something bouncing against him.

"That's the plan."

"And what about the super-vamps?"

"We won't save them," Jack answered sarcastically. Willow made a strangled sound, but at least it made her fall silent.

The uneven sounds of metal clanging against metal warned Jack that they were approaching the settlement, and Xander faded into the trees at the side of the increasingly worn path.

"Okay, that's sounding ungood," Willow said, and Jack grabbed her arm, tugging her into the woods.

"Shh," he admonished her, and she closed her mouth and made a locking gesture over it. Jack groaned at just one more piece of proof that these were kids who really shouldn't be in the middle of a battle zone. Unfortunately, there really wasn't a way to leave them out of it, not with his injured hand. Hopefully Willow would be willing to stay behind when he and Xander tried to make it into the camp.

Xander slid toward them, moving nearly silently through the trees, and Jack gestured in a direction. Without a pause, Xander followed the covert signal and detoured to take point through the trees.

Slowly and carefully, they moved their way to the edge of the clearing. In a field, a familiar village lay in the shadow of a pyramid… a pyramid but no Ha'tak. Fuck and fuck. Okay, there was still a chance that SG-1 was being held in the village.

The clanging came from a division of Jaffa practicing hand to hand combat, and Jack was still amazed that fighters who looked so good in training could be so ineffective in the field. Even more surprising, no villagers darted around, no children watched the Jaffa practice with admiring eyes, no women brought out drinks in rough-carved cups. Except for the grim warriors, the village stood empty. No smoke rose from chimneys and tools lay in the hot sun. Villagers were usually quick to abandon good tools. Jack's threat-assessment nerve was pretty darn threatened right about now.

"What now?" Xander asked, his voice little more than a whisper as he lay in the shadow of a fallen tree, the P90 trained on the village.

"We wait 'til dark," Jack answered. Waiting and watching, and maybe even a little praying. Not really much else to do right now. Jack turned so that his back was to the fallen tree so that he could watch for anyone coming up on their six.

"I'll try to get my magic working," Willow whispered.

"You do that," Jack said, not even trying to hide his skepticism as he slumped down to get comfortable. God, he wanted his team, his weapon, his hand to work, and most of all, he really, really wanted to be back in his own reality. The Jaffa's insistence that Ra still owned Earth and that Apophis and Sokar had been warring ever since Ra had forced Apophis out of his corner of the universe… not really news that made Jack any happier. Unfortunately, right now he could only wait for nightfall and hope that Carter could fix this one.




Jack explored the village, trusting Xander to provide cover as he investigated each house. In one he found an old woman who clutched two children to her as she babbled something Jack couldn't understand, holding a meat skewer between them as she tried to protect the kids. Jack held up his own hands palm forward as he backed off. Part of him wanted to offer assistance, but the woman wouldn't accept it from him, and the Jaffa training on the edge of town couldn't be bothered with helping these people. God, he hated Goa'uld and the worlds they had created.

At the third building, a low stone structure with windows too narrow for even a hand, Jack got lucky. Pushing the door open slowly, he saw the bars of cells inside.

"Watch my six," Jack whispered.

"Yes, sir," Xander agreed, and he fell into a defensive position with his back to the stone wall and the P90 held ready.

Jack could feel the headache pressing against the inside of his skull. Trust didn't come easy to Jack, and trusting someone who seemed to have at least two distinct personalities definitely rubbed him the wrong way. It reminded him of Tokra. It wasn't natural. But right now, he didn't have a lot of choice.

Moving slowly, he slid into the shadow and tried to decide whether this building, like so many of the others, was abandoned.

"Sir," Carter whispered as soon as Jack crept around the corner, the stone floor cold under his hand as he crouched, listening.

"Carter, all clear?" he whispered back.

"Yes, sir. But sir, this isn't our dimension," Carter answered as Jack stood up and quickly checked out the room. Two cells. Daniel and Carter in one, Teal'c in the other. Teal'c looked a little rough around the edges, but all three stood at the bars, ready to go, just as soon as Jack found a way to get them out. Cupboards stood against the opposite wall, heavy things between the few narrow slit-windows that let in a weak stream of light.

"You don't say," Jack answered as he pulled open the first cupboard, searching for keys or a pry bar. He had C-4, but he preferred to save that for when things got really sticky, and from the way this mission was going, they were going to need all the C-4 they could get their hands on. "I have even better news," Jack told them as he opened cupboard doors and searched shelves filled with medieval torture devices that he didn't even want to think about. "Ra and Apophis are still kicking around. I'm starting to wonder how many times we're going to have to kill those snake heads."

"Couldn't you show up with some good news that was actually good?" Daniel asked as Jack finally found the cupboard with SG-1's equipment. Oh yeah, Jaffa as a rule were stupid. Jack was just exceptionally grateful that Teal'c was the exception to that rule.

"I lost Spike along the way," Jack offered as good news even though he could feel guilt pull at his stomach. No choice. Choiceless. He couldn't grab the vampire, and he and Xander would not have helped anything by staying. It just would have meant the entire team was locked up in one place or another.

"What?" Daniel demanded.

"Shhh!" Jack admonished.

"What happened, sir? We tried to contact you after you clicked through to us, but there wasn't any answer on the radio." At least Carter managed to ask without sounding quite so… disapproving.

Sometimes Danny just did not understand the sacrifices required in battle, which was ironic considering that Jack had left him, and Daniel had never once held that against him. Oh, Jack had plenty of nightmares about Danny blowing up, alone, hurting, dying on Apophis' ship, but not even in their worst fight had Daniel ever suggested that Jack should have done something else.

"We found some new friends. They're called the Wraith. And even better, they eat people," Jack announced as he finally found the key in the last cupboard. Of course, in his mind, the idiots shouldn't have left one here at all, but at least now he didn't have to waste the C-4.

"Do you mean they ate Spike? Is that possible? To eat a vampire?" Daniel asked, his voice somewhere between curiosity and disgust.

"Oh, Spike's not prey to them. In fact, he thinks the Wraith may be some sort of cousin to the vampire, but when we made a break for it, Spike waded into a group of warriors to give Xander time to get away."

"Oh." Daniel dropped his eyes to the floor and Teal'c got that respectful look on his face that spoke volumes about how much Spike had just moved up in the Jaffa's estimation.

"So, he's still alive, sir?" Carter asked.

"As far as I know, he's still up there cursing at the queen."

"So are we…"

"Our priority is to get home, Daniel," Jack said firmly. Daniel crossed his arms and got that stubborn look that suggested Jack hadn't heard the end of this, but at least he didn't argue right then and there. No, Daniel would wait until later to rip him a new one.

"Do these Wraith possess ships of advanced design, Colonel O'Neill?" Teal'c asked.

"Oh, indeed they do. Sleek looking dart-shaped things with teleporter beams," Jack agreed. "Very cool as long as you aren't getting snatched up and dragged off to the mother ship."

"Those flew by not long after we were brought in, and some time after they shoved us in here, we could hear the whistle of them fly overhead," Daniel sounded curious now, and if anything could distract Daniel from a good bout of pissiness, it was curiosity.

"The mother ship is more organic, and there was writing. It looked a little like Ancient, but the control boards would only react to Spike's touch," Jack teased the man with information.

"Ancient?" Daniel demanded, all anger at Jack leaving Spike temporarily suspended in favor of a new mystery. When it came to translating, Daniel had more patience than a saint, but Jack was very grateful that the man had a limited attention span when it came to being pissed. Of course, if Spike didn't turn up on his own, Daniel would probably still throw a fit about going back, Daniel and Xander both.

"Spike called it a demon language, and he could read big chunks of it, but there were definitely words in Ancient, or something that looked a little like Ancient," Jack agreed. "I could read individual words, nothing more."

"What words?" Daniel slung his pack over his back without even looking at it, all his attention focused on Jack. Jack had to smile at the childlike enthusiasm.

"Sir, are we just walking out there?" Sam interrupted as Jack reached out for the doorknob.

"Relax, Carter. The place is fairly well abandoned. A few Jaffa are out practicing their moves for some reason, makes them perfect targets if you ask me, but the rest of the village is pretty much gone."

Jack opened the door, and Xander still stood on watch, his body language no different from a hundred other well-trained soldiers Jack had served with over the years. From the way Daniel's eyebrows rose, he noticed the difference too.

"Still all clear," Xander offered in little more than a whisper.

"Okay, Willow is at the treeline south, south west," Jack said. "Jaffa in the field between, so we're heading east to the edge of the village, taking to the trees and circling around," Jack issued the orders. "Xander, take point."

Jack felt the eyes of his team on him, but Xander was the logical choice. He'd covered the terrain once, and unlike Jack, he had two working hands.

"Yes, sir," Xander answered without even glancing back, and then he checked the line of sight before dashing for the cover of a primitive house. He stopped in the shade, providing cover as he waited for the others to join them.

"Teal'c, cover our six," Jack ordered before he followed Xander. He had his handgun in his left hand, but racing across the open and trusting Xander to cover him, he just really hoped that the bumbling version of Xander didn't show up unexpectedly.

Despite his team's concern, they did their jobs. Xander took point through the woods, moving as easily and silently as Jack would have, which still meant a whole lot more noise than Teal'c but then Jack had learned not to compare himself with Teal'c—usually. He and Daniel followed. Jack hated being in the protected second position, but with his injury, he wasn't going to be much good in a fight. Carter followed, with Teal'c just behind her, watching for any followers.

"Thank the goddess you're back," Willow said, far too loudly considering they were in enemy territory.

"No problem. This is nothing compared to getting across the lunchroom with my lunch money without having Larry steal it," Xander joked, his own voice too loud as he shoved the P90 awkwardly back. Jack rolled his eyes at the shift.

"They're gone. They all went running, and got into this Star Trek looking ship, only it didn't look nearly as nice, it was more like my Dad's car after mom ran over the mailbox with it."

"Whoa," Jack ordered. "So all the Jaffa left?"

Willow nodded. In the distance, Jack could hear a rumble, like thunder, in the clear blue sky.

"Double time back toward the Gate. If alien ships turn up, *any* alien ships, take cover. Teal'c take point and try to avoid any Goa'uld patrols. If they're fighting over the planet, the Goa'uld will focus on the Gate even if the Wraith don't know what it is," Jack ordered curtly. Teal'c moved forward with a nod, heading into the trees. Willow just looked lost.

"Willow, we need to move," Xander said as he held out a hand to help her up from the ground."

"Moving? Okay. I can do moving."

"Carter, keep an eye on Willow," Jack ordered. He didn't need to ask her to keep an eye on Daniel as the archeologist moved into the second position behind Teal'c, heading through the trees with a little more noise than strictly necessary.

"Yes, sir. Come on, Willow. We haven't had a chance to talk about the potential blah blahblahblah." Okay, Carter actually said words, but Jack tuned them out the minute they turned scientific. If the two came up with anything useful, she'd translate it for him.

"But," Xander protested as Carter urged Willow from his side.

"Soldier, we need to cover the six. Weapons check," he barked in his best imitation of the trainer who had scared the shit out of him as a recruit. Xander's hands went to the weapon, checking the safety, the clip, the trigger.

"Clear, sir," he answered.

"Then move out," said as he headed into the woods after Carter's back. Willow glanced back, but seeing Xander must have reassured her because she and Carter fell into whispering as they hurried through the woods. Xander walked close at Jack's back. Oh yeah, Jack just wanted this mission over.

On their first rest break, Jack tried prodding Xander about his military background, just coming right out and asking for where he'd trained. Xander looked at him blankly, but Jack exchanged a look with Carter that told him his second in command agreed with his assessment. The kid had too many covert ops moves to have picked them up from watching too much television.

On the second rest, Willow and Carter had a long discussion of mesons and k and pi, which Jack assumed was the 3.14 version and not the good old fashioned apple pie variety. Listening to Carter and Willow postulate on the possibility that magic was nothing more than an ability to excite normal particles into unstable complex particles did not improve his mood.

Finally, on the third stop, late in the day, Jack brought up the only topic that really mattered right now.

"So, we need a plan people." Jack looked around. Teal'c leaned against a tree, stoic in his lack of suggestions. Daniel had flopped down on a bit of fallen tree near Willow, rubbing one foot, his boot sitting on the ground next to him, and Jack bit back an order for Daniel to put it back on. If they came under fire…. Carter looked thoughtful as she crouched on the ground, her canteen half-way to her mouth.

"I'd help if I had my magic going, but I'm strangely magicless, and I had magic earlier." Willow said apologetically as she sat on the fallen tree near Daniel.

"Is it something from the Glory spell?" Xander asked, immediately concerned. He left his own post leaning against a tree to take a step closer. Willow shook her head as she stood up again, making gestures in the air.

"I wasn't feeling unmagicy after the spell. I opened the portal fine," she said.

"Could it have something to do with the dimensional travel or the environment?" Carter asked. "Assuming that magic is based on some sort of manipulation of energy fields—"

"Let's leave that debate for later," Jack interrupted. "And if you get your magic back, feel free to…" Jack paused and waved his own hand absentmindedly… "spell away. Meanwhile, what are our other options?"

"We need access to some sort of technology, maybe a quantum mirror," Carter mused.

"Which would necessitate visiting P3R-233," Teal'c agreed.

"But from what I got from my friendly neighborhood Jaffa, the Goa'uld control most of the universe, so randomly popping up in the middle of potentially hostile territory might not be the best plan," Jack finished. God he was too old for this shit. Too old and too sore. He let himself sink down onto a fairly flat rock that only managed to poke him in the ass in one spot.

"Indeed." Teal'c nodded.

"Okay, we obviously need allies." Daniel added. "Ones with enough technology to help us retrieve the quantum mirror and find our reality."

"Ancients?" Jack asked the group. "If someone has an Asgard generator and dialing program in their pocket, speak now or forever hold your peace," Jack quipped, but the team didn't seem amused. Jack couldn't blame them. And Willow muttering as she waved her hands like a demented conductor wasn't really helping matters. Even Xander was looking at her concerned.

Xander glanced up and saw Jack watching. He smiled crookedly. "I'm more interested in whether anyone has a candy bar in their pocket. Maybe a twinky? Heck, at this point, I'd settle for carrots. I wouldn't settle happily, but I'd settle."

The team just stopped for a half-second. Discussion of tactics simply did not get interrupted for hunger. Teal'c had one eyebrow up in surprise, and only Daniel recovered quickly enough to answer.

"I still have some of the freeze dried stuff left if you don't mind tuna and noodles that tastes like beef," he offered.

"Thanks. I'm not really big with the survival-training bug-eating bit, especially not after a round of eating bugs because Dracula did the whole thrall thing on me, and can I just say that was totally gross, but I was ready to start looking for worms I'm so hungry."

"We'll save the worms for dessert," Daniel said with a smile. "Did you say Dracula? As in the actual Dracula?"

"You have Dracula in your world? 'Cause I don't mind telling you, he's a real asshole, so avoid him if at all possible."

"We have a fictional character named Dracula based on a historical leader named Vlad."

"Yeah, we have that one too, but then there's the real Dracula, and you've never met a guy who needed a hair stylist quite so much."

"If we're done critiquing hair, maybe we can discuss how not to get back to our own universes," Jack suggested.

"The Nox," Daniel said out of nowhere.

"Ah Danny, we'll turn you into a military strategist yet," Jack smiled.

"Do you think they'd help?" Carter asked, and Jack glared at his second in command. They had a potential plan, so why couldn't she just him bask in a potential way out of this FUBAR shit for two seconds.

"They have the technology to resist the Goa'uld." Daniel said, but he didn't sound overly enthusiastic.

"And last I checked, they weren't very good at sharing it. Funny how the people with the toys just don't share well," Jack agreed. Shit, he really didn't want to agree on this one, but the Nox weren't likely to go out of their way to help.

"But if we're truly out of our universe, they may see helping us as putting the world back in order," Daniel added after a minute of oppressive silence.

"I'll take that as a 'maybe.' So, tomorrow, we move in on the Stargate and hope that the Wraith and Sokar's guys are too busy trying to kill each other to notice us." Okay, they had a plan. Not a good plan, but Jack had actually gone on ops with worse ones, and he was still alive and kicking.

"OH!" Willow gasped, and they all turned. In the air in front of her hovered a pair of interlocking triangles glowing orange with what looked like fire. Willow traced around the figure, and her finger opened a new line of fire around the symbols, completing a bright circle that lingered in the air.

Jack blinked, and then glanced over toward Daniel just to make sure that he wasn't the only one seeing this. Daniel was scrambling to pull out his notebook, so yep, the man not only saw it but intended to write it down in his notebook. For Daniel's sake, Jack really hoped that Dr. MacKenzie never got his psychoanalyzing little hands on that journal or he would have Danny finding pretty pictures in inkblots for the next year.

"Oh, oh, oh," Willow said as she brought her hands together, her face a wide smile of joy even as sweat gathered at her hairline, individual drops slowly creeping down her forehead and cheeks as she threw her head back and chanted something very Daniel-like before the symbol flickered and the collapsed into itself, becoming a bright point of light hovering in the air before blinking out of existence.

Well fuck. Jack felt the headache start in the back of his head and creep forward with cold fingers into his brain. He was too old to deal with this shit. Too. Damn. Old.

"Tell me that wasn't some 'bring the evil here,' spell, Will," Xander said, and Jack felt his guts tightened. Oh no. She wouldn't.

"Just a general protection spell," Willow muttered. She started to wobble, and before Jack could take more than one step, Xander darted forward, grabbing the redhead by the waist as he supported her weight.

"Hey, no collapsing on me. That's in the rulebook," he said softly, and she clung to his arm as he helped her to a tree and slowly lowered her to the ground.

"That's amazing," Carter breathed. "How do you control the energy? The entropic forces on that concentration of an energy field must be amazing."

"What? That little old spell?" Willow joked weakly, but her face was white under the sweat.

"Okay, Will, this is Xander putting down his foot. See the foot putting down? No more magic until you don't go all clammy and sweaty when you do it. This is so not normal." Xander knelt in the pine needles next to her, brushing her hair back from her face as she clutched his arm.

"I'm not feeling so well. It's like something else was tugging at the power, trying to pull my magic out of me," Willow said as she closed her eyes and let her head rest on the tree.

"Okay kids, this is as far as we're going today," Jack said as their rest turned into camp. None of them were strong enough to carry Willow, and she wouldn't make more than a few steps before she collapsed again.

"Teal'c, you wanna help me set up some shelters?" Jack asked as he looked around the woods. Low branches and fallen wood could make a nice shelter or two, and would still be nearly invisible from the air.

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed as he started off into the trees. Jack followed, his brain still trying to deal with fire floating in the air. Magic. Oh yeah, he was definitely too old for this shit. Repress and forget, he told himself. Repress and forget. Unfortunately, he just didn't dare do either until he got his people home. Then, he had plans with a big bottle of scotch. Scotch and Simpsons. There wasn't a problem in the world that couldn't be solved by scotch and Simpsons.

Jack watched Xander crawl in the lean to with Willow, their whispers so low that Jack couldn't even catch a word of it. However, he had a pretty good idea of what they were talking about. The problem was that Jack had no idea how to get Spike. Maybe if Jaffa hadn't taken the shuttle…

Jack snorted at his own foolishness. They couldn't go up against Wraith without serious firepower, which meant they weren't going up against the Wraith at all. Now if Jack only knew how Xander would react to that news, he'd be a lot happier.

"Hey," Daniel said as he dropped down next to Jack, holding out his canteen.


"So, what bug crawled up your butt?" Daniel asked, waiting until Jack had the canteen tilted before asking. There might have been a day when that would have caused Jack to choke, but that day was long since past. He finished drinking and handed the canteen back.

"Take your pick… the dimension, the Goa'uld, the Wraith, the fact that I'm missing the Simpsons and I didn't set the VCR."

"You'll catch it in reruns."

"I don't even know if this reality has Simpsons."

"Tragedy," Daniel agreed with a nod. Once upon a time, Jack could get Daniel worked up over his ability to focus on the trivial, but now he just stared into the dark.

"Daniel, how much of this are you buying?" Jack asked after a few minutes. Daniel often played the idealist of the group, but he had an insight on strangers that Jack trusted, and people didn't come any stranger than Xander and Willow.

"I don't know," Daniel shrugged.

"You're not helping here, Danny boy."

Jack looked over, and Daniel was watching the lean-to where Xander and Willow slept, or more likely, conspired ways to try and get up to the Wraith mother ship.

"Were we ever that young and that screwed up?" Daniel asked.

"I was," Jack said. "But back then the only thing I had to worry about was getting caught with my socks not folded and losing off-base privileges."

"I was trying to ignore my college roommate who would get drunk and pretend to aim his vomit at my books," Daniel offered.

"Sounds like a man after my own heart." Jack smiled when Daniel aimed a punch at his arm.

"How's your hand?" Daniel asked.

"Hurts like hell."

"You're falling apart at the seams, Jack."

"We don't have a way up to that ship," Jack said, not even trying to connect the dots on their disjointed conversation. Daniel would know what he was talking about.

"I know. You wouldn't have left him if there were another way out."

"Fuck," Jack swore. Silence followed and Jack scrubbed his face with his hand. Night insects chittered in the woods, reassuring Jack that no one was out there.

"I wish I could believe that. I really didn't want Spike around," Jack finally admitted.

"I know you Jack O'Neill. You wouldn't have left him if you had any choice at all. You had to get yourself and Xander out of there."

"Yeah, I did," Jack agreed. "But I was so focused on Xander—" Jack stopped. Daniel could fill the rest in. "But he's not as helpless as I thought up there," Jack admitted.

"Willow told Carter that Xander inherited some memories."

Jack looked at Daniel suspiciously.

"You really don't want to hear the details, it includes cursed clothing and evil magicians and a Halloween spell where Xander became Special Forces." Daniel shook his head. "I didn't even dare write that one down because MacKenzie would lock me in another little padded room if he ever found the journal," Daniel laughed, but it was a bitter sound.

"Yeah, that's why I have Carter rewrite my reports. Less chance of getting sent to the loony bin where some people claim I should have landed years ago," Jack nodded.

"Sam rewrites your reports?" Daniel sounded surprised, but Jack just shrugged.

"Demons will become life forms from another dimension or planet or something. She'll probably turn vampire into humanoid life form of indeterminate origin who feeds on hemoglobin. Hey, she's managed to make me sound sane for a couple of years now. But you're right; I don't want to hear about magicians because some things defy even Carter's ability to explain them away."

"I'll keep that in mind," Daniel huffed, his own version of a chuckle. "But Jack, as much as Xander has these soldier memories, he's not a soldier."

"He does a good impression," Jack pointed out.

"Yeah, he does."

"So, how much of this are you really buying… the magic, the way Xander flips between class clown and soldier, the vampire stuff?"

"My gut says they're telling the truth, but whether or not they believe their own story still doesn't help you, does it?" Daniel said as he looked at Jack.

"No, it doesn't," Jack had to concede. "Magic, dimensions, gods. This is sounding weird, even to me, and I've done weird."

"Done it, had it done to you, have the t-shirt in the bottom of your dirty clothes hamper?" Daniel suggested with a smile.

"In several colors," Jack admitted. "And you've been right there for the ride. But the fire starting bit was a little impressive."

"You weren't impressed when I did it." Daniel teased. Jack gave a small laugh. He really hadn't been overly impressed with Daniel's attempts to discover the meaning of the universe. Daniel had sat in the sand pit with a monk, focusing on learning to control the elements while Jack tried to figure out how to keep them from being killed by Jaffa. That pretty much described their relationship. Danny dragged them out so far on limbs that Jack woke up surprised to find he wasn't dead some days, and then Daniel had this absolute faith that Jack would just always fix things in the end. Some days it terrified Jack.

"You didn't do it, Oma Whoever did. Besides, you started a fire in the middle of a sand pit. For all I knew, you had a canister of propane hidden under there." Jack leaned back on the log and stared at the stars.

"So, Oma Desala or me starting fires is not impressive, but Willow is?" Daniel asked. He shifted closer on the tree trunk.

"If she's human, it's impressive," Jack agreed, and suddenly he wasn't sure that she was human.

"I don't think she fits the profile of an Ancient," Daniel said softly, as though reading Jack's mind. "I don't think of ascended beings as quite so…"

"Sophomoric?" Jack supplied the missing word as he looked over at Daniel with a grin.

"I would have gone for enthusiastic."

"Whatever is going on, there are too many sharks in the water for us to keep out of their way. The Wraith don't just want to just conquer us, they see us as food."

"Which would explain the village disappearing in a flurry of lights," Daniel said, his eyes glazing over for a moment, and Jack knew his archeologist was feeling the lost lives. He might use a gun and effectively, if not cheerfully, shoot Jaffa, but the deaths of villagers who lived and died truly believing that the Goa'uld were gods would always make him go quiet.

"And while I'm not surprised Sokar and Apophis are still around since I've gotten used to dead Goa'uld refusing to stay dead, Ra being back in business really hacks me off."

"So, we try to get through to the Nox homeworld?"

"It's the best chance we have right now."

"And why does that not make me feel any better?" Daniel asked with a grim huff of laughter.

"Get some sleep, Danny," Jack ordered as he reached over and gave Daniel a light slap on the knee. "Tomorrow we'll start sorting all this out."

"Get me up for second watch," Daniel said as he abandoned the log where Jack sat and went to the lean-to where Carter had already crawled in. Teal'c sat on a bit of earth on the far side of the camp, sitting on the ground with his staff weapon in front of him as he kel'no'reemed.

Jack watched Daniel disappear. One way or another, he'd get his team home.

Morning came with a growling in his stomach, an ache in his hand, and a headache that had given birth to neck and back pain overnight. Jack forced his body into motion, crawling out of the lean-to only to find Daniel's back blocking his exit.

"Move it," Jack said as he prodded his archeologist's back.

"Nice. I get up, fix you breakfast, and that's the thanks I get," Daniel complained as he shifted. Jack wasn't even all the way out when Daniel thrust a protein bar at him.

"Thanks, Jack offered as he took the bar and struggled to his feet.

"So, what's on the agenda today?" Xander asked. Without the P90, he looked like a kid who hadn't gotten enough sleep and who badly needed a haircut.

"We try to get to the Gate," Jack said.

"Okay, we get to the Gate, and then what? We beam up to the ship?" Xander asked. Jack traded looks with Daniel as he tried to think of an answer for that.

"We are going up to the ship, right? I mean, what about Spike?" Xander demanded.

Jack wanted to ask, 'what about him,' but he knew exactly what Xander was thinking. "The Nox have resources—we'll ask them for help," Jack explained calmly.

"We're leaving Spike?" Willow asked, her voice soft.

"No way," Xander insisted. The childlike quality Jack had noticed just minutes earlier disappeared under so much anger that Jack was just a little glad that Xander didn't have the P90. Anger and guns didn't mix.

"We'll come back when we have more—"

"First it was, 'We'll go back for him,' and now we seem to be saying we're going to run for another planet, and another planet is not going back. How can another planet be going back?" Xander demanded.

"And how do you suggest we get up there?" Jack shouted back. He didn't like this any more than Xander, but there were limits to how many miracles that he could pull off. They got off the ship once, and that was pushing the limits of their luck.

"I'm voting for running around in the open flapping our arms like chicken. I'm thinking they would beam us up again." Xander crossed his arms angrily.

"And what would we do from there?"

"Hey, you just asked for a plan to get up there, and my plan does that," Xander insisted mulishly.

"Daniel, deal with this," Jack said. He hadn't even peed yet. He did not have the patience to try and calm Xander down. Shoving the protein bar in a pocket, he turned his back to the rough camp as he picked a tree that looked ready for watering. Forgetting his injured hand, Jack flinched when he tried to pull himself out right-handed. Cursing softly, he switched to his left.

"Don't walk away from me," Xander followed, and Jack closed his eyes against the frustration.

"Daniel," Jack called, his voice warning Daniel to get the boy away from him.

"Xander, we have no way to actually help Spike. If the Nox are willing to help, they have advanced technology—"

"And if they don't help? Because you guys were not so quick with the assuming they'd help last night. So, if they won't help, we'll just settle down on some other planet and leave Spike up there?"

"I understand your frustration," Jack said as he tucked himself back in. A man should not have to defend himself while peeing.

"No, you don't. You military types are all the same, the needs of the many over the needs of the few or the one," Xander snapped, and Jack opened his mouth, not quite sure how to react to having movie quotes thrown at him in the middle of the fight.

"We don't—"

"There is no 'we' here," Xander interrupted. "If you won't help get Spike back, we are going to do it on our own." Xander turned to Willow, who blinked owlishly.

"Aren't we Will."

Willow's mouth opened and closed desperately as she looked from one person to another. "We're a we, totally a we. And we'll get Spike back." She paused before continuing in a soft, apologetic tone. "We just might want to stay with the people with the guns."

Jack could see the fury drain from Xander, replaced with something darker and far more fatalistic.

"You do that," Xander said angrily as he started off through the woods. Daniel looked toward Jack with a desperate look, and Jack shrugged his shoulders. He wasn't the kid's keeper.

"I should go after him, he's going to get lost in the woods, and this isn't part of the plan. He's just upset." Willow made apologies as she edged toward Xander. With a last look toward them, Willow turned and dashed toward Xander.

"Sir, you aren't really going to leave them out here?" Carter asked, and Jack could hear the edge of steel that warned him that his second in command just might not go along with that plan.

"Oh, for crying out loud. They're adults," Jack defended himself. "Unreasonable adults." Unfortunately, he wasn't convincing his team of that any more than he was convincing himself. Teal'c raised an eyebrow.

"Fine, I'll go after them," Jack groused as he headed through the trees after the two of them. He hadn't gone more than fifty feet when he found Xander sitting on the ground at the base of a thick tree, his head resting on his knees so that his hair hid him from sight. Willow crouched next to him, her hand tracing circles on his back as she muttered something to him softly.

"Hey," Jack said, completely at a loss for words. Willow looked up, her eyes swollen with tears, and he felt even more useless. He should have sent Daniel; Daniel would know what to say.

"We get the whole thing with not being able to go up against a whole mother ship," Willow said softly, but Xander exploded up off the ground.

"No, no we don't," he nearly yelled as he backed away from both Jack and Willow. "We went up against the whole government. We went up against a god. We went up against a giant snake that nearly ate graduation, but because these are aliens instead of demons, you're suddenly all okay with leaving Spike… again." Xander snapped the words out, and Willow flinched back, tears now dripping down.

Jack knew the kid well enough to know that he'd be sorry for those words later, but right now, his fury still ruled him so that he turned and started crashing through the underbrush in an attempt to get away. Willow gave a little sob.

"I'll bring him back. Head back to camp," Jack said before he took after Xander. The way the kid was going, he might as well run up and down waving his arms.

"Xander!" Jack called. "Soldier! Stand down," he tried, but Xander ignored him. Jack leapt a log and ran a few steps so that he could grab Xander's shirt and use that leverage to spin him around.

Xander spun harder than Jack intended, hitting a tree and then holding on to its branches as though he couldn't support his own weight. Twigs and a leave tangled in his hair, and he was breathing hard, harder than he should after a short jog through the woods.

"I'm a fucking hypocrite," Xander snapped, closing his eyes and letting his head thump back against the trunk of the tree. "I was always a big believer in blaming people who do a big nothing, but when Spike got captured, I did a big nothing. I ran my mouth… said that hey, vampires are bad, Spike's a vampire, therefore Spike's bad, and we shouldn't go worrying about the bad guys."

"Not bad logic," Jack offered as he struggled to keep up with the conversation. Obviously, Xander wasn't talking about Spike's latest capture.

"Yeah, fucking great logic, only I knew he wasn't like the others. Hell, I knew vampires still felt things, still felt their human bits, but I was just so damn tired of being low on the totem pole, and when Spike came around, he spent so much time pointing out that I was really worthless that when the government captured him again, I wasn't thinking bad guys and good guys, I was thinking that I just wanted the bastard out of my life."

Xander sank to the ground again, his shirt riding up as he slid down the rough bark. Jack looked around for a second, judging the cover and checking for enemy before he crouched next to him. Now the pieces were starting to make some sense. From the sounds of it, the NID, or their equivalent of it, had gotten their hands on Spike. Even with his own issues with Spike, Jack wouldn't wish that fate on the vampire.

"They hurt him," Jack said quietly and with a great deal of confidence. People like that always did hurt those who frightened them.

"They fucking tortured him," Xander said, a tremor going through his body. "We went in for someone else, a friend, and we found him. He begged me to stake him. Called me names just so that I would turn him to dust and not leave him there so they could keep—" Xander stopped, a sob breaking his words into random sounds that Jack couldn't even hope to decipher.

"It was my fucking fault. I did nothing. I can't do that again." Xander whispered the words, and Jack could hear the truth in them. The boy was near an edge psychologically. For the first time in his life, Jack wished he had MacKenzie around. Or maybe Sydney from MASH… that was more Jack's style of therapist. Some poker, some booze, and a little head shrinking on the side. Right now, he just had no idea what to do.

"You aren't leaving him. We're making a strategic retreat in order to gather resources," Jack said, appealing to the soldier in Xander.

"Feels a lot like leaving."

"And there's really not a choice here," Jack pointed out. Xander sighed and pushed himself up. Jack stood and watched the boy glue his emotions back together, struggling and sniffing as he tried to finger comb his hair.

"Yeah, not like I could do much. If Willow had her magic going, maybe we'd have a chance, but I'm just backup guy. Useless backup guy in this case," Xander said harshly. Before Jack had a chance to answer, he turned and lumbered back towards camp, not even trying to cover his tracks or keep quiet as he plodded through the woods.

Jack sighed. Fuck. Maybe Daniel could fix this because Jack sure had no idea what to say. He just had to get his people somewhere safe with food and shelter and time for some of the physical and psychological wounds to heal before they were all easy targets.




Xander walked with Daniel, taking third behind Sam and Willow; Teal'c took point. Once again, the P90 bounced awkwardly against his hip. The kid was going to have a monster bruise tomorrow, but Jack really didn't know how to solve that problem, so he shoved it to one side.

Obstacles. The Wraith would be a big one, and the Jaffa. Jack put the Goa'uld on the back burner since without the Earth resistance, the snakes probably wouldn't even bother to get involved in local security. At least he hoped so. Jack really didn't want to add a Ha'tak or two to the list of people and things currently trying to kill him.

Okay, resources: his team, possibly Willow's… well, whatever Willow had. Intel on the Wraith. Between Carter's technical skills and Daniel's linguistic ones, Jack had no trouble believing they could figure the technology out pretty quick once given a sample. Jack considered detouring back to the crashed plane, but finding a secure base had to be priority number one.

Xander. He didn't really fit into either category. When playing soldier, he was an asset to the team, but right now, with his eyes on the path ignoring any danger and the weapon bouncing against his hip, he was more liability. And Spike. Jack sighed. This mission was just not going according to the morning briefing. Go in, talk to the natives, trade for a few pretty trinkets, ask if anyone had seen any big ass technology rotting away in the forest. It'd been such a nice, simple plan.

Hopefully the Nox would be helpful in this reality. God knows the Asgard were a lot more accommodating in that one alternate reality than in their own. If nothing else, maybe the Nox could speed dial the Asgard home world since they didn't have an Ancient generator to hook up to the Gate.

Sam stopped, holding her arm out to stop Willow, and Daniel immediately pulled Xander aside into the bushes. Sam did the same with Willow, and Jack pulled out his handgun. Great. Something had Teal'c spooked, and Jack was left with eight bullets, three extra clips, and a hunk of aluminum. Jack cursed his luck as he took cover behind a tree and waited.

No Jaffa came stomping by in their ridiculous formations, but a whine warned Jack in time for him to dart forward under a smaller tree with wider branches. Fuck. A formation of eight Wraith planes screamed over their heads, did a neat turn and then headed back toward the Gate.

Jack waited in the silent forest, every living thing terrified to stillness. A few leaves drifted down, loosened by the vibration. As Sam and Willow appeared on the path at some all-clear from Teal'c, Jack came out from cover.

"You okay?" he asked Daniel and Xander. Daniel nodded, but Xander just continued to look a little pale. Yeah, the kid was not going down in the resources list, not until Jack got a better understanding of the different parts of him that seemed to roll around in his head.

Jack trotted up the path. As he expected, Teal'c stood waiting for him.

"Those are incredible," Carter said from behind. "The speeds must generate incredible g-forces, either that or they must have dampeners like the gliders, but they would have to be far more compact and advanced to fit into the smaller frame."

"Definitely wow. Kinda scary wow, but wow," Willow agreed.

"We can worry about admiring them later. Right now I'm more interested in avoiding them. What do you think, Teal'c?" Jack asked as he eyed the woods on either side of the path.

"The trees provide more adequate cover."

"And hopefully they won't slow us down too much," Jack agreed. "So we head through the trees. Spread out some and try not to sound like a bull elephant crashing through the underbrush," Jack said with an amused look at Daniel. The archeologist glared back, and Jack could feel his mood improve with the banter.

Jack glanced over toward Xander, expecting some smart ass response since the kid was in class-clown mode, but he just stared into the trees.

"Right, it's over the river and through the woods time, kids," Jack said, trying for cheerful. Teal'c tilted his head before he started through the trees, gliding just as silently over fallen branches and loose rock as he had over the path, and Jack really did wish that just once he could see the big guy trip. It wouldn't even have to be a fall, just a little stumble.

Sam took her position after him, Willow sticking close to her side.

"After you," Daniel offered gallantly. When Xander stomped into the underbrush sounding pretty much like that bull elephant, Daniel looked back. Jack could almost read the archeologist's face, something about what the hell had Jack said to upset the kid so much. Jack could only shrug helplessly. Damned if he knew. And if Daniel couldn't get Xander out of his funk, Jack had no chance at all.

With Teal'c leading, they quickly reached the hill overlooking the building with the gate. Gates generally weren't inside, and Jack had to curse the Goa'uld who'd built the tiny temple… even more than he usually cursed Goa'uld.

"Is anyone else thinking that this is feeling vaguely traplike? I'm getting that feeling, like when a girl hits on me, because we all know that any girl who hits on me is evil, and I'm getting that feeling of evil right now," Xander said as he wiggled forward under a bush and looked out at the clearing.

"Funny, I have that same problem," Daniel added.

"And are you getting that feeling like a pretty girl just smiled at you and you're waiting for the tentacles or fangs or sometimes even the weird foldy legs like on a preying mantis to appear the minute you turn your back or drink drugged tea?" Xander mimicked the open and close of a preying mantis' legs as he looked back at Daniel.

"With me it's usually snakes," Daniel agreed seriously, "or just good old fashioned psychotics. Seriously? A preying mantis?"

Xander mock shuddered.

"If you two are done comparing dating histories… Teal'c, you see anything?" Jack interrupted. Teal'c knelt near the apex of the hill, in the shadow of a tree as he looked down on the meadow.

"I see a temple, O'Neill."

Jack looked over trying to decide if that was a joke or just Teal'c in a particularly literal mood. More and more, Jack was starting to suspect that Teal'c might actually have a sense of humor. Okay, he might have a really bad sense of humor.

"I was a little more worried about anything moving like Wraith or Jaffa. Shouldn't our friendly neighborhood Jaffa be swarming over this place by now?"

"Unless Sokar is more worried about the Wraith than with intruders on the planet," Sam offered. "After all, he doesn't know us in this universe, so he isn't going to think of a few humans as being particularly dangerous."

"Or maybe the Wraith just ate them all," Willow breathed, her voice horrified as she glanced up as though looking for more Wraith ships.

"Now wouldn't that be just too bad." Jack scanned the woods for any signs.

Willow gasped.

"Demons Will. People eaten is horrifying. When demons eat demons it isn't really horrifying, it's just…" Xander struggled for a word, "really, really gross."

God, how could people so damn young be fighting the ultimate forces of evil in their universe? Jack shoved that thought into the increasing crowded repress and forget box as he focused on the field

Jack would have felt a lot better if a squadron of Jaffa had stood in the field. A bit of C4, some good cover fire, and a little luck, and they could all be through in no time. If a person counted an hour or so as no time because Danny still had to try every single frickin' symbol to find the planet of origin, and if Jack ever got to meet an Ancients, he sure as hell was going to talk to them about the stupidity of their whole dialing system. What the hell was wrong with a nice one-button speed dial system?

"So, we wait for night?" Jack asked.

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed.

"Teal'c, you keep an eye out for any visitors. Sam, Daniel, I saw a stream about a half mile south. Maybe you could take the canteens and scout for water.

"Yes, sir." Sam crawled back from the edge so that she could stand up and start grabbing canteens.

"Don't have too much fun while we're gone," Daniel said as he followed Sam through the trees to the south.

"Danny, when you aren't around, missions turn absolutely boring, don't they, Teal'c?"

"I believe we nearly died on Thor's ship without Daniel Jackson's assistance."

"Thanks for the backup there, Teal'c," Jack complained without any rancor.

"You are most welcome, O'Neill."

Jack turned on his back and pulled his cap down low. It would be a late night tonight, and hopefully a long couple of days as the Nox helped them sort out this whole dimension. Jack dozed until a crackling of twigs made him open his eyes. Willow and Xander sat under a large tree, and Teal'c still watched the temple.

"Anything new?" Jack asked as he moved into position to watch for Daniel and Sam coming out of the trees.


Teal'c moved back from the edge and sat up, his staff weapon pointed toward the trees as Sam's blonde hair appeared, bouncing like a spot of light in the shadows. Jack pulled his own gun. Sam kept her cap on because her hair tended to be a little too visible.

"Heads up," Jack ordered as he moved into the shadow of a rock. Okay, maybe he was just being paranoid, but the problem was that Jack's paranoia turned out to be accurate too often for MacKenzie to convince him to give it up. Xander pulled the P90 up as he shoved Willow behind the tree. That didn't leave much room for him, so he lay on the ground with little more than a monster root in front of him. Jack wished he had time to curse the boy out, but hopefully Carter had just lost her cap in the stream and then Jack could bitch at both of them.

Carter stepped out of deep shadow, and Jack winced. That eye was going to be black tomorrow. Even worse, she had a collar and behind her walked a Wraith, weapon in one hand, Carter's leash in the other.

"Oi, you lot are about as obvious as a punk rocker at Lawrence bloody Welk; your weapons light up the screens these blokes use, so time for everyone to come out." From behind the Wraith, Spike walked out, a chain in his own hand, and Danny followed him. At least Danny hadn't taken the hits Carter had.

"Spike?" Xander called, his voice all surprise, but he didn't get up from cover or lower his weapon.

Teal'c's staff weapon barked, and the Wraith soldier stumbled back, yanking Carter with him so that she physically fell into him. Good little soldier that she was, she turned that accident into an attack, driving her elbow into him before turning and landing a punch on his neck, below the armored face plate. Unfortunately, it didn't make him do more than make him stumble. Jack unloaded his clip at the vampire, not sure he trusted Xander's claim that it wouldn't do any damage. He got in four or five hits before Spike retreated behind Daniel and Jack didn't dare fire any more.

Only then did he realize that Xander was firing. More Wraith appeared in the trees, and Xander targeted them, and actually hit more Wraith than tree. Jack reloaded while Teal'c got off shot after shot. By the time Jack had cleared a new clip, the staff weapon was silent. Jack glanced over to see Teal'c slumped on the ground. He targeted a Wraith knee and fired again, looking for any weaknesses in the armor.

"Xander, fall back," Jack shouted.

"Oi, Xander don't. Have an agreement, me and you. You run, and I'm calling that null and void," Spike's voice shouted over the din. Xander hesitated on the trigger.

"Seems like you violated your end of our little bargain, so I'm givin' you a choice here." Spike manhandled Daniel out into the open and hid behind him. Jack could feel impotent rage rise as Daniel fisted the collar, his eyes searching for his teammates. By now, no one was firing. Fuck. If Xander turned sides, Jack had zero chance of getting out of this.

Daniel's eyes found him in the shadow, and Jack could see the panic. He didn't know if the panic was the idea of the last of them getting captured or the idea of Jack leaving him, but from a strictly logical standpoint, Jack could only make one decision. The worst one.

"I didn't leave you, and what choice?" Xander shouted. "I'm not seeing a choice except where you've gone and thrown in with whatever side you think will win. Fucking undead dead guy." Xander wasn't taking the betrayal well, was Jack's guess. Considering that just hours ago the man had been ready to sacrifice himself to try and save the mercenary, Jack understood the frustration. Jack eased away into the shadow slowly as Wraith eyes focused on Xander.

"They're as good as family, aren't they? Hell, they are family—blood doesn't lie about that. I offered them the same loyalty I'd give my own sire, the mighty Angelus."

Jack could see Xander prop himself up on one elbow as he took a better look. Wraith came from the trees, and Jack slid backwards, deeper into the shadows. Just distract them a little longer, kid.

"So you think I should just give up? Um, newsflash, these guys eat people like me. I'm not looking to get eaten. Besides, most of the people who threaten to eat me at least offer me sex first, and the Wraith queen is way too scary, even for me. I'm guessing she's your type though, isn't she?"

Jack reached a tree and slowly stood on the far side of it, in the shadow. Silently as he could, he dashed for the next tree, keeping bent low to the ground. Fuck. He hadn't even been able to grab his pack with the C4. Fuck and fuck. Okay, time to worry about that later.

"The lady's got a few things to teach, that's for sure," Spike agreed. "Learned a few right interesting things from her. But you're my bloody worshipper, no matter what bollocks has gotten into your head, so you put that down and come out now before I call our little agreement null and void."

Jack crouched behind a bush.

"Willow's safe too?"

"You ready to play good little worshipper?"

"I was just scared, Spike, and I thought you were coming with us," Xander didn't sound pissed now; he sounded apologetic. Yeah, let the kid save his own neck; Jack just made a silent promise to himself to strangle the man later.

"Gun down, mate. Now."


"Bloody hell, Red's a good deal nicer than you are. If I'm offerin' to not eat you, I sure as hell won't eat her."

Jack dashed for the next tree. Maybe he'd shoot Xander in the foot. He deserved it. Okay, he didn't since he was just a kid and looking to save his own life and Willow's life along with it. And just when Jack was thinking he was too paranoid. Obviously not. Obviously he could use a little more paranoia in his life because he had the kid pegged as the loyal type. Then again, maybe he just guessed wrong about who the kid was loyal to. Defending the universe might come second in his book to worshipping Spike.

Jack went to one knee on the damp earth behind a flowering berry-bush. He debated between further retreat and digging in. Deciding on retreat, he turned and found himself staring down a Wraith weapon.

Well fuck.

Jack walked into the cell and stepped to the side while two Wraith dragged Teal'c in behind him.

"Been here, done this," Jack said wryly as the Wraith dropped Teal'c and then retreated. Unfortunately, this time they'd done a more thorough search for weapons, so practically anything that wasn't sewn to Jack's clothing was gone.

"This is kinda new for me. I don't usually get taken prisoner, except for the evil mayor… and the whole Internet demon."

"I always knew the Internets had demons, didn't I say that, Daniel?"

"I think what you said was that computers were spawn of hell," Daniel corrected him as he and Sam checked Teal'c. Jack kept watch on the corridor as the Wraith closed the webbing over the door and headed down the hall. There was something really offensive about not even being worthy of a guard.

"Same thing."

"Computers are invaluable," Willow breathed, her voice nearly as shocked as when she'd considered the Wraith might have eaten all the Goa'uld. "I mean, I use them to track deaths and decide which cemeteries to patrol and there are city plans for all sorts of things like sewers, and when we were hiding from Glory, I used the Internet to find the portal spell."

"Wait," Sam interrupted this time, so Jack was saved the trouble of making a sarcastic response. "You found actual magical spells on the Internet."

"Well, yeah, there are lots. Most are just people playing around, you know, chanting under the full moon, but if you know what you're looking for, there are some great resources out there. And actually, I should tell you what Spike said about s-p-e-l-l-s," she spelled out.

Teal'c made a low moan that kept Jack from saying exactly how much he cared about anything Spike had to say. The vampire had whispered something to Willow and had then dragged Xander off by the scruff of his neck, leaving the Wraith to round everyone else up. At least this time Jack wasn't unconscious for the transporter beam.

"Hey, big guy. You doing okay?" Daniel asked softly.

"I shall survive," Teal'c said slowly.

"Is Junior okay?" Jack asked. He hated the thing, but he didn't need it to up and die on them when Teal'c need the slimy little alien larva.

"Indeed, he is," Teal'c reassured them as he touched his stomach over the symbiote pouch.

Jack wasn't paying attention to Willow but suddenly the whole room lit with blinding light and he flinched away as the light faded. Daniel and Sam and Teal'c all looked at her shocked.

"That must be handy when you have to get up at night to go to the bathroom," Jack commented dryly as he crossed his arms and waited for an answer.

"I was making sure no one was watching us," Willow said. "It's really a small spell, but Spike said I should do as many spells as I could, that I should just start spelling everything, and Spike pretty well hates it when I do magic, especially after I accidentally made him fall in love with Buffy which led to much baking of cookies and apologizing."

Jack held up a hand to stop her. He had no idea how long she could babble, but he really didn't want to find out.

"Right now, I'm not really interested in what Spike wants or how much he dislikes your magic or where his traitorous, mercenary ass has gone—"

"Jack—" Daniel interrupted.

"—because he left us to get locked up in here, and who knows what he plans to do with your friend who he seems to think has broken some deal they once had," Jack finished as he ignored Daniel's attempt. Willow started at him with wide eyes that made her look about twelve.

"Maybe it's not all as bad as that," Sam suggested quietly.

"There's an up side I've missed?" Jack asked as he turned to his second in command.

"Who pissed on your cornflakes this morning?" Daniel muttered, and Jack counted to ten. Anger had no place on a mission. But when this was over, he was going to sic Teal'c on Spike.

"I know this all looks bad," Willow started apologetically, and Jack just glared at her. "Okay, really, really, really bad. Huge badness, I know. But Spike said he'd be as faithful to the Wraith as his family." Willow said the words as if they were something good.

"And, but, therefore??" Jack asked.

"Oh yeah, well, Spike turned on his family in order to save the world. So I'm thinking that was code for just follow along because I have a plan."

"A plan?" Daniel asked slowly. "Isn't this the vampire who Xander said shouldn't be allowed to plan because his plans never worked?" Daniel looked at Willow and pushed his glasses up his nose. Willow's face collapsed into something that looked pretty close to guilt.

"Kinda," she admitted. Jack traded looks with Daniel before he turned his back.

"So, we're locked in a cell following the plan of someone who's plans never work, the same someone who considers us a food source," Daniel summarized. Yep, leave it to Danny-boy to find the bright spot in this whole FUBAR mess.

"Carter, see if any of this technology looks familiar. The lock for the door is on the far side of the hall. Last time, Spike threw six or seven knives in it and it popped open."

"What made him attempt such a maneuver?" Teal'c asked as he sat up and considered the panel on the far side before struggling to his feet.

"Spike's answer to pretty much anything it to either break it or stick a knife in it; that's just kinda Spike," Willow explained, and yes, that made Jack feel ever so much better. So, the bloodsucking mercenary didn't have any finesse either.

"Is Xander safe?" Jack asked as Teal'c got on his feet and slowly recovered a more normal skin color.

"Oh. Um, I'm hoping. Spike and Xander have a 'hate-sorta okay with each other' thing going on."

"After the Initiative," Jack finished for her, and Willow's eyes went large.

"Yeah," she finally agreed. "Xander's big with the dusting of vamps, but he's not really okay with the random torturing and I didn't see much when they went in to save Oz since staying-behind girl, but I know Xander has nightmares. We all voted not to go after Spike when the government got him the second time, and seeing what they did. Yeah, guilt. Loads of guilt. Lots and lots of guilt. Huge—"

"Guilt, got it," Jack agreed. She kept on nodding.

"So they aren't exactly best friends, but they're the only guys in the group and that sort makes them friends, and then Spike saved Dawn and got himself broken all up into bits by Glorificus, and you probably don't want to know all this part, huh?"

"I think the colonel is just worried that Spike might hurt Xander if he thinks Xander left him again."

That made Willow stop. She ducked her head uncomfortably. "I don't think so," she said without sounded very convinced. "Spike might threaten Xander but he wouldn't hurt him, but if Xander totally pissed off the aliens, I'm not sure if he'd stick up Xander or not. And when Xander's afraid and totally freaked out, he can get a little…."

"Bitchy enough to get in a man's face when he's trying to pee?" Jack finished for her.

"Um, yeah, except for the part with the peeing since I make sure to always lock the bathroom door."

"Sir, I can't find any control panels," Carter said as she ran her hands over the smooth, curving walls.

"No writing, either," Daniel agreed. So much for plans A and B.

"Teal'c, any chance of hitting that panel? Six of seven knives and it popped right open last time," Jack repeated.

"I am six or seven knives short of that, O'Neill," Teal'c said seriously, and Jack wondered why the universe hated him in particular.

"Oh, Spike, the spells," Willow burst out suddenly.

"Spike, spells, doesn't like, got it," Jack nodded.

"No, I get it. I get why he wants me to use magic," Willow said as she ran her hands over the smooth surface. "It's channeling the magic. This is the other thing that has been draining the magic." Willow eyes the wall with wonder and ran her hands over it like a lover. She turned as smiled at Carter widely.

"The instability in the magical energy field," Carter said without even batting an eye. "The Wraith ship is contributing to it, destabilizing it somehow?"

"No," Willow said softly. "It's holding the magic, channeling it toward something."

"So the instability when you tried to use magic could have come from some sort of interference, both you and the Wraith trying to access the same energy source at the same time. If magic truly is a matter of exciting simple particles into complex ones and affecting the fabric of reality somehow, how would it affect the universe if two people attempted to excite the same particle at the same time?" Carter looked worried. Jack had no clue what she had said, but Carter looking worried was enough to make him worry.

"Not of the good," Willow agreed as she stepped back away from the wall as though expecting it to bite her. "Usually there's so much magic all over that I wouldn't even worry about that—"

"But with such a limited amount of magical energy, you're both trying to access the limited number of particles."

"Oh, so totally not of the good."

"Then, if Spike *is* trying to help us, why would he tell you to use magic?" Carter asked. She looked around at the group as though they would have an answer, but Jack didn't even understand the question.

"You're using magic for the handy night-light effect," Jack said since no one else seemed to be talking. "What are they using it for?"

The horrified expression Carter and Willow exchanged told him they hadn't even considered that part. Geeks. Leave it to them to understand the incomprehensible and miss the obvious.

"Assuming that the Ancient language you saw has some connection to the demonic language Spike identified it with…" Daniel just stopped.

"Yes?" Jack prompted.

Daniel shrugged. "I don't know. I was hoping someone else would have a brilliant thought."

"Fresh out of them," Jack said as he leaned back against the wall. "I just don't want to find out what they're trying to use the magic for, so for now, we're going with the plan. Use up as much magic as you can siphon out of that," Jack said as he waved toward the wall.

"It doesn't actually work like—" Willow said.

"Ah!" Jack interrupted with the half-grunt he so often used to shut up his own geeks. "Less explaining, more doing," Jack said.

Willow nodded.

Jack eventually sank to the ground and watched Willow chant steadily. So far she had managed to change Carter's hair color, turn the door into flowers, which were still just as tough as the original webbing, and make the whole room smell of old potatoes. Willow's spells reminded Jack uncomfortably of a high school girl's doodles in the margins of her paper: big white daisies with drooping petals and Disney-pink hair for Carter. Unfortunately, every decent spell Jack suggested seem to require supplies: candles or warts or bane or something.

"So, are you staying with the new color?" Daniel teased Carter.

"How bad is it?"

"I'm really sorry," Willow said… again. "Most of the easier spells are illusion spells. And I would try to heal Jack's hand, but I'm feeling really tired and me and tired don't always lead to me and the best magic."

"No! My hand is fine," Jack insisted as he held the injury to his chest protectively. "If you want to fix something, fix Carter's hair because that color is not by the regs."

"No, that's fine. I needed a change anyway," Sam insisted as she held up a hand toward Willow and glared at Jack. He smirked back.

"Perhaps you can create the illusion that the cell door is open," Teal'c suggested. He then quickly backed away from the door in question, which now dripped with daisies.

Willow looked at it. "There's more magic now than before, so maybe," she said as she closed her eyes and started chanting. Teal'c backed off several more steps. The sound of footsteps coming down the hall interrupted her chanting just a half-second after the wall of flowers shimmered and vanished.

Sagging to the floor, Willow didn't even look up as the others crowed to the wall beside the door. Sam got her arm under Willow's drooping shoulders and pulled her to her feet. The footsteps stopped at the door. Jack smiled at the sound of someone hitting the webbing and a heavy thud and grunt. Someone hadn't expected an invisible door. Now if they just opened the door, he and Teal'c would have the element of surprise.

The door opened invisibly, the sound the only clue that anything had changed. Jack waited breathlessly for the confused soldiers to wander in. Instead, the one who came through the door had his weapon already pointed at Teal'c stomach.

"Well, it was worth a try," Jack shrugged as he wandered toward the middle of the room.

"I don't suppose you'd buy the 'take me to your leader' line, would you?" he asked. The Wraith cocked his head to the side, giving Jack fantasies of scissors and a barber's chair. He hadn't seen this much male hair since the eighties.

"Out," the Wraith ordered as he back out of the room and used his weapon to point down the hall.

"Or maybe you would," Jack said as he started through the door. The others started to follow, and the sound of the invisible door closing warned Teal'c in time to stop. He held out a hand and Jack could see it curl around the invisible barrier.

"I'll be home for dinner, have something waiting for me," Jack joked humorlessly as the gun prodded him in the back. He hated leaving his team, but he didn't exactly have much choice. He followed one Wraith's back while the other one prodded him down the hallway toward… whatever.

When the guard prodded Jack toward the same dining hall as before, Jack really started wondering if the Wraith had any other rooms in the damn ship. It's not like he'd seen the outside of the ship, so maybe this was a seriously small mothership with a huge hanger full of planes. Maybe the Wraith weren't that big of a deal. Yeah, and maybe he was grasping at straws. Walking into the big room, he spotted Spike right away.

"Long time no see, mate," Spike said as he sprawled in a chair, one leg draped over the arm.

"Not long enough," Jack commented as he strolled in considered the food on the table. He picked up one apple and slipped another into a pocket. The Wraith had taken their supplies, so food and water had become a priority.

Footsteps came from the far side of the room, and Xander appeared with a large jug in hand. He froze when he saw Jack, and then blushed and dropped his eyes to the ground.

"Move it, pet. Get with the worshipping," Spike ordered, and Xander came forward again.

"Yes, your Annoyingness."

Spike picked up a glass, and Xander filled it with something that was either blood or the best looking fake blood Jack had ever seen. Considering the relish with which Spike drank it, Jack guessed blood. He drained one cup and held it out for a refill, drinking the second more slowly while Jack pilfered more food from the table.

"Lucky I don't have you lot hog tied and tossed out the airlock. Ya deserved to get bound up like Thanksgiving turkey," Spike offered. "Thinking you can come in and take my worshipper." Spike reached out and put his hand on Xander's arm, pulling him closer to the chair. Xander's back went stiff, but he didn't complain as he shuffled nearer.

"You're bound and determined to embarrass me here, aren't you?" Xander finally hissed as Spike pulled down on him. Xander stayed on his feet but Spike's increasingly firm grip pulled him off balance so that he had to grab the arm of the chair to keep from going down.

"Git, not embarrassin' to serve your master, you bein' a bound slave and all." Spike put down his cup and snagged the jug from Xander before the boy finally lost the fight and sat heavily at Spike feet, glaring murder up at the vampire. With a worshipper like that, Jack wouldn't recommend sleeping near anything sharp and wooden. Xander looked ready to commit vampiricide. But right now, Jack had more important concerns, like getting his people out of this disaster.

"Try the green lacy stuff, and the oranges. Willow likes 'em," Spike suggested as he waved at the table. Jack eyed the unfamiliar greens and tucked them into a pocket. "Bound to get you in good with her to bring back a prezzie," Spike smirked. "But right now, I'm wondering what to do with you."

"I'd suggest a nice farewell party and an escort to the gate," Jack shrugged.

"Oi, and then what? This isn't your universe any more than it's ours. Bound to get yourself in trouble if you go wandering around out there, especially since the Wraith have got some big plans. They're goin' to own not just this galaxy, but this whole dimension. And when they've feasted on this dimension and built up their numbers, they're goin' to rip through the curtain between dimensions and take over all the dimensions—yours, mine, even the one without the bloody shrimp," Spike finished. The shrimp part went right over Jack's head, but the threat to his own dimension didn't.

"They aren't going to find all the dimensions quite so quick to fold. We've faced worse," Jack said, and he meant it. He had no idea how they'd deal with an enemy that used magic, but Carter would find a way; she always did.

"Not bloody likely, mate. You're bound to get run over just like the rest of these sods."

Jack narrowed eyes and looked at Spike suspiciously. Wait a second.

"About soddin' time you caught on," Spike said before pausing and shifting over to his vampire face. "You won't beat the Wraith because they're going to roll across the universe now that they're out of their cage," Spike said in a tone of voice straight out of a 1930's horror movie, all drama and no substance. He shook his head, and the human features returned. "Can't believe it takes some people so long to catch on," Spike repeated as he popped Xander on the top of his head.

"Hey! I'm not the one with the plan, so if you're bound to hit someone, hit yourself," he complained as he rubbed the spot and retaliated with an elbow to Spike's leg.

That comment didn't even make sense, but it did tell Jack he wasn't hallucinating the pair's attempt to slip him secret message, not that they were particularly secret or that the message made any sense at all. 'Bound.' What the hell did that mean?

"Play nice unless you want the trollop to get the wrong idea about us, pet," Spike said with another pop on Xander's head.

"Yes, master," Xander growled in the least subservient voice Jack had heard since he'd tried giving Daniel a direct order.

"So, you brought me here to gloat?" Jack asked.

"Traditional, innit?" Spike asked as he sat up in the chair. "The big bad brings in the helpless hero and tells him exactly how he's going to die a slow and painful death. You've gotta go with the classics."

"Right," Jack said slowly. From the cryptic remarks, obviously someone was listening, but not even Jack could miss that reference. Now he just needed his team to pull out the classical last minute save. Well, they'd done it before. "So, now that you've told me how helpless the situation is, where do we go from here?" Jack asked.

"You go back to the cell. Told the trollop I wanted you to live until the Wraith broke into your universe, or at least something close enough for you to recognize it as home. I don't think it would bother you that much to see Ra's earth fall, but you'll see your cities turned to dust. And when we reach my dimension, vampires will finally take their place beside the demons who spawned them in the first place."

"Vampires?" Jack prompted. At this point, information was the only currency he had, but Spike just smirked.

"Time for the good little Happy Meal to go back to its cell," Spike said as he stood up. Xander scrambled up from the floor, but Spike ignored him as he strode forward aggressively. Jack couldn't keep himself from backing away a step before ordering his feet to hold their ground as Spike stopped an inch from him and reached up to grab the back of Jack's neck in a supernatural grip.

"You humans never know when you've bloody lost," Spike said as he pressed his free hand into Jack's stomach. Jack grimaced as Spike's hand help him helpless, so it took him a second to realize that something hard pressed into his gut. Reaching down, he closed his fingers over a candle. He slipped it under his shirt as Spike smirked, backing off a step.

"You just never know to bloody stop," Spike repeated.

Jack didn't answer as the Wraith guard stepped up. He turned and headed back down the corridor, praying that this plan had a chance because Jack sure didn't have any back-up plans, not unless he could come up with something brilliant between here and the cell.

"Hey, honey, I'm home," Jack called as the guards escorted him back to the cell. The door had reappeared since the last time he'd been there, so the noise of the door opening was accompanied by an actual visible door opening. Jack walked into the cell, still not entirely sure what the plan was, but hopefully the others could figure it out.

"Sir," Carter said, her hair still just as pink as ever.

"I brought presents," he announced as he started pulling various items from his pockets. Stealing food hardly seemed worthy of celebrating, but the way this mission was going, Jack would take any victory he could.

"Spike said you'd like this," Jack said to Willow as he pulled out a thick white root with lacy, green tops.

"Fennel?" Willow asked as she caught the thing Jack tossed her way. "Um… thank you?"

"And don't forget this," Jack said as he tossed her an orange. "I assume you can do something with those."

"Uh, I make a really good orange-fennel tuna, only that usually requires tuna."

Jack looked at Willow with the cold, choiceless feeling in the pit of his stomach. Willow gave him a weak, placating smile that did nothing to placate him.

"Are Spike and Xander okay?" Willow asked softly, staring down at the things in her hands, and Jack's frustration evaporated at that expression. They might have fought evil in their universe, but these were still children emotionally in more ways than Jack cared to think about.

"Spike's having the time of his life, and Xander is playing worshipper," Jack offered.

"Goddess. Spike must be enjoying that, and I really hope he's not enjoying it too much or else Xander is going to accidentally shoot him again." Willow gave a strained laugh that didn't sound amused as much as near-hysterical.

"Are you implying that Xander actually meant to shoot Spike the first time?" Daniel asked, and Jack could see the horror on the archeologist's face, which Jack found a little ironic given the number of times Daniel had threatened to accidentally shoot him. Of course, Jack trusted that Daniel wouldn't actually do it. Now, when Daniel threatened to slip laxative powder into the rations, then Jack worried.

"He didn't *mean* to do it, it's just that Xander is a little clumsy with the weapons, and sometimes he just sort of forgets what he's doing, especially when he's frustrated, and Spike really knows how to push his buttons, but he didn't mean to shoot Spike, he was just frustrated with Spike. And he apologized after that and even helped Spike put in a bathtub downstairs in his crypt as an apology, and Xander doesn't usually apologize unless he really means it. When he acts like a big doofus and thinks he has a right to be a big doofus, you couldn't drag an apology out of him with a team of wild horses. Like when Buffy started dating—"

"Got it," Jack stopped her.

"Xander Harris has the instincts of a warrior, but he hides them around you," Teal'c interjected into the conversation from his post near the door.

"Xander isn't exactly the warrior type, now Buffy, she's—"

"You are incorrect," Teal'c interrupted her, something Jack had never actually heard Teal'c do before. He turned and faced Willow with that blank Jaffa stare that revealed no emotion. "He handles his weapons competently until you take note of them. Your view of Xander Harris is clouded by faulty assumptions, and his incompetence results from his attempts to act within your expectations."

Willow's mouth stayed open, but she didn't say anything as Teal'c watched her impassively. Funny how the guy could look awfully intimidating without even lifting an eyebrow. Jack traded looks with Daniel; from Teal'c that was downright wordy--wordy and cranky.

"I wouldn't—" Willow started, but Jack decided to put an end to the debate.

"Does this help?" he asked as he pulled out a candle.

"Oh goddess. Yes. With a focus, I can do lots more spells. I could fix your hair," Willow said to Carter hopefully. Willow stepped back, away from Teal'c who simply turned to once again watch the corridor. He'd had his say.

"Ah, no. We need to focus on the Wraith," Jack interrupted before Carter could answer. "Spike also sent a message: 'bound'."

"That's not much of a message," Daniel mused.

"It's the only message he sent, so I'm hoping you can make something out of that." Jack watched as Willow's face scrunched up.

"Bound? Um, like… bound? I'm going to assume he doesn't mean us, since we're pretty trapped right now. So, bind the Wraith?" Willow smiled widely, her face looking like a ten-year-old who had just gotten a pony for Christmas. "Bind their magic. I could bind their magic. Medieval people used fennel to keep ghosts and evil spirits out, but it doesn't actually keep magic away as much as warn magic-users off because magic users associate the smell of fennel with binding spells, and most magic-types, dead or alive, are not okay with binding spells. Really not okay."

"Whoa. I'm still denial over magic, please do not bring ghosts into this," Jack insisted. "And the first priority is the door. Can any of this make the door open?"

"But I thought Spike said to do a binding spell?" Willow asked, confused.

"I don't really care what message Spike sent. Priority one is the door and weapons. Once we have a defensible position, then we can set you on the binding spell."

"Shouldn't we try to get back to the planet?" Sam asked, clearly confused by the priorities.

"According to Spike, the Wraith are using the magic for the typical world-domination and enslavement of the human race," Jack shrugged. "Not very original, but we have a little twist. Apparently, they can rip through dimensions. They'll go after other dimensions, including ours."

"But if they can do that, why haven't they done it before?" Carter asked.

"If I get another invitation to dinner, I'll make sure to ask," Jack said with more than a little sarcasm. He sighed. Sam didn't deserve that, but then none of them deserved this whole FUBAR mission. "I don't know what's changed, but if we're assuming that Spike is on our side, we have to believe that the Wraith are a danger to our dimension. Of course, Spike could be lying, but I don't really see his advantage in sending… weapons if he's lying." Jack looked at the limp vegetable in Willow's hand, and realizing that it was their biggest weapon did not make him feel any better about this mission.

"Which means we have to stop them here, no matter what the cost," Daniel said quietly. Jack looked over and hated the quiet resignation on Daniel's face. However, he couldn't deny the truth of the words. Assuming that Spike was telling they truth, they had to put binding the Wraith's magic ahead of their plans for getting home. Protecting Earth was the first priority, always.

"So, if any of that makes it possible, get the door open," Jack said as he waved toward the pile of random crap in her arms. Willow looked at him with wide eyes and nodded as she bit her lip.

"Door, I can do the door now," she promised as she sat. A quick incantation, and the candle lit. Willow held it in both hands, chanting as she let her eyes close. Jack felt a breeze slide past him as the doors opened.

"Open sesame," Daniel quipped as Teal'c took point out into the corridor.

"Last time, the weapons were to the left," Jack said. Teal'c hesitated in the hall, possibly listening, before he turned left and moved silently away. Carter held out her hand, and Willow blew out the candle and gathered up the other ingredients before taking the hand and getting up. Even now, Jack could see the lines at the edges of her eyes and the pale complexion.

"Can you do this?" he asked.

"We have to, don't we?" she said with a shrug. "I wasn't totally sure we'd come back from stopping Glorificus, but we still had to go. Xander and I don't love our world less than you love yours," she said without making eye contact with him. Then she headed out the hall after Daniel. Jack shook his head, hating that someone so young had learned that type of loyalty so young. A person should be at least thirty before getting that fatalistic.

"Carter, take the six," he said as he passed the girls in the hall and caught up with Teal'c. Again, the halls were eerily silent, as if the ship were abandoned except for the few guards they had seen. But from the number of planes in the ship's hanger, there had to be thousands of aliens somewhere. Jack didn't like mysteries.

"Here," Jack said as they reached the right door. "Willow, can you get this one to open?" Jack asked as he gestured toward the door.

"Is this the panel that had the Ancient writing?" Daniel asked as he stepped forward, running a finger over the panel.

"Daniel, how many times do I have to tell you to not touch alien technology," Jack said as he knocked the man's hand away.

"You already said that Spike activated it. I don't think I'm going to set the self-destruct just by touching it," Daniel argued.

"You might," Jack countered as Willow lit the candle with a word and started chanting.

"How close was the language to Ancient? How much could you read?" Daniel asked, reaching up to touch the panel again despite Jack's warning. Jack rolled his eyes.

"Let's worry about that after we stop this thing from using whatever magic it's storing up." Jack sighed with relief as the door slip open. Willow sat on the ground in front of the door, her back slumped as she blew out the candle and just continued to sit there, obviously fatigued.

"Okay, gather weapons and we'll move to the hanger where we have a quick escape if things go bad." Jack paused a second, "go worse," he amended himself. Things had already gone pretty damn bad.

"Willow, would it take a lot of magic to convince the ship that Daniel was a vampire?" he asked. Willow looked up, bracing herself on one hand as she shook her head.

"That's an easy spell, just a glamour," she said. She didn't even re-light the candle before chanting as tiny white lights gathered around her. They circled her like tiny moons before they broke orbit and sped toward Daniel, sinking into his skin and making him glow for a second before the light faded.

"Daniel, are you okay?" Jack asked.

"I don't know. Is my hair pink?" he asked after blinking for a second.

"Nope. Too bad, pink would be a good color on you," Jack offered. Daniel glared at him, but the temptation of a whole new language was too much. He turned to the panel and touched the screen. Words scrolled across the screen, and Daniel got that tiny smile he got whenever he found a new puzzle.

"We have found weapons," Teal'c offered as he came back out of the room with their packs. He handed Jack his P90 and sidearm. Jack slipped his handgun into its place at his waist, but he could only sling the P90 over one arm. He had no illusions about being able to fire it with his hand swollen to nearly twice normal size. "Daniel Jackson," Teal'c called, holding out a bag. Daniel paused for a second, grabbing the pack and digging through the outer pocket for a journal that he quickly flipped open and started studying. After a second, he went back to the screen, his eyes darting between the open journal and the flashing symbols on the wall.

"Okay, sweeper planes are that way," Jack said. We'll need to establish some sort of perimeter. How sturdy are the boxes in the storeroom?" Jack asked. Teal'c glanced back into the room, and Jack could see Carter efficiently sorting alien toys, pulling a few smaller examples with a practiced eye while leaving others strewn about the floor. If they did get home, Area 51 was going to have a whole new division.

"I am not familiar with Wraith weaponry."

"It seemed like a zat, meant to stun. I haven't seen them with any other weapons."

Teal'c pulled out his own zat, aiming at one of the boxes at the far side of the room before triggering the weapon. The energy field crackled along the surface and quickly dissipated, leaving the wall behind the crate untouched.

"They appear sufficient," Teal'c said.

"Daniel, Sam, grab a couple of crates," Jack said as he grabbed one that Sam had already emptied. It wasn't heavy, but it still dragged across the floor awkwardly as Jack used his good hand. Teal'c went to grab the other end, but Jack waved him off.

"Teal'c, you have point. Sam, grab a crate and take the six," Jack ordered. "Daniel, get your ass in gear and grab a crate."

"Just a second," Daniel answered in the tone of voice that said that he hadn't even heard what Jack said. He'd just registered an attempt to interrupt him from his new toy.

"Daniel," Jack called.


"Daniel!" Jack called sharply. Daniel finally looked up from the panel.

"It's a derivative of Ancient. They appear to be an enemy of the Ancients, but the similarity in language suggests—"

"Not now, Daniel. Grab a crate. We're going to make a defensible position in the hanger bay, and then you can play with the shiny toy all you want."

"Oh." Daniel looked around. Carter had pulled a crate out into the hallway, and Willow had grabbed one end while Carter kept her free hand on her P90. Teal'c stood with his staff weapon ready, and Jack had dragged his crate to the door. "Crate, right," he agreed as he shifted his pack, getting both arms into the straps.

As soon as Daniel got moving, Jack yanked the large, bulky form through the door and followed Teal'c. Despite Jack's fears that the passageway would fill with Wraith the moment they burdened themselves with the crates, the corridor remains clear as they dragged their booty into the hanger.

"Teal'c, check for other entrances. Daniel, the screen is right there," he pointed to the wall where Spike had given him the tutorial on flying the Wraith planes. "Carter, cover the door. Willow, get yourself set up to do the binding spell."

"Okay, I can do this," Willow muttered to herself as she opened the crate and pulled out the supplies she'd stashed in there. "Nothing to be nervous about. Just a little binding spell. Size really doesn't matter, and I've bound magic before, and sure, it was a wizard-type and not a whole ship full of aliens, along with the alien ship, but I can do this."

Jack pointed to a spot near one of the planes, and she settled down with her fennel and orange and candle as Jack dragged the bulky crates into position.

"There is only one entrance," Teal'c announced as he returned from his recon.

"Great, so we just need to worry about someone opening the doors to space," Jack joked.

"We do? Oh goddess, what would we do if they did that… they wouldn't do that, would they?" Willow asked desperately.

"The colonel was joking," Carter promised as she stood near the door.

"Just joking," Jack agreed.

"It's not actually funny," she complained weakly as she lit the candle with a word and dripped wax on the ground before sticking the bottom of the candle into the soft wax in order to keep it stable.

"Jack never is funny, we just laugh at his jokes to keep him happy," Daniel offered from his spot. "Guys, the Wraith seem to think they chased the Ancients out of his part of the universe. The most recent records talk about an awakening—"

"Oh and isn't that just dandy? I don't think they're talking about spiritual awakenings, so is there any way to stop that?"

"Um, it has to do with how much prey they have available, but Jack, they aren't from this galaxy."

"Okay, and this helps us, how?"

"You mean they have Ancient drive technology? That would put them centuries ahead of the Goa'uld," Carter interrupted from the door.

"That's the weird thing; they don't. There are references here that I can't even hope to read because the words have no equivalent in Ancient, but they were definitely surprised at being able to get here. They're calling this galaxy a 'new hunting ground' but then they're making reference to knowing about this galaxy and having been denied access to it by the craven enemy, and I'm assuming those would be the Ancients."

"So, is there anything in there that isn't useless?" Jack asked. History lessons might interest Daniel, but Jack would rather have the codes to lock out all the doors.

Daniel glared, but Jack just crossed his arms and glared right back.

"Sir," Carter interrupted. "I hear something."

"Okay, fall back behind the crates. Willow, now would be a good time to get started," Jack said as he moved into position, kneeling behind the center crate. He awkwardly rested the P90 on the crate and moved his left hand to the trigger. He wouldn't be as accurate, but right now, the only goal was to hold the line until Willow did the spell and then run like hell.

"Daniel, cover the rear," Jack ordered just in case the Wraith could someone teleport someone in. They really didn't need that surprise right now.

Willow started chanting, and this time the lights that gathered around her glowed yellow as she slowly pulled off small chunks of fennel and dropped it into the flame, making a sick licorice smell curl into the air. Curls of orange peel surrounded the candle.

"I really need to have MacKenzie do a little shinking on my head for trusting this plan," he softly muttered to himself. If they got through this in one piece, Jack was so retiring to the smallest, quietest planet he could find. Of course, with his luck he'd get some plague… again… or the Asgard would kidnap him… again… or the natives would try to kill him… again. And in keeping with his luck, the door slowly slid open as two Wraith guards appeared in the doorway.

Two Wraith soldiers came through the door weapons up, and Jack opened fire as soon as they were both inside the hanger.

One slammed back into the wall, and the second dived forward, firing his weapon toward the makeshift fort. Jack could feel the crates shimmy and vibrate under the assault, but they held.

Teal'c staff weapon barked out shot after shot, keeping the one Wraith pinned to the wall until finally the faceplate cracked and Wraith brains scattered across the wall in a starburst pattern. Jack focused on firing on the one who fired from the floor. Bullets seemed to bounce off, but the Wraith's hands paused on the weapon, and his back arched in pain.

Sam stood to get a better angle and fired a series of rounds into its back just as more Wraith appeared in the doorway.

"Down!" Jack yelled, and Sam dropped to her knees just as Wraith weapons fired over her head. Jack fired on the first alien through the door, watching as he stumbled and then started moving forward with a jerking rocking gait. A new Wraith appeared at the door, and this one had some kind of shield which he held out in front as he moved to cover the alien Jack was targeting.

Teal'c staff blasts suddenly focused on the shielded pair, so Jack assumed he'd killed his guy. Jack focused on targeting the vulnerable legs, but his aim sent as many bullets skimming across the floor as not.

"Willow, now would be a good time to finish," Jack called as the pair got closer. He glanced over, but she just continued to chant as she pulled the plant apart bit by bit. The veins of her neck stood out heavy against her pale skin, creeping up toward her face like spider-webs, and that did not look good. However, the fact that she totally ignored him suggested that she wasn't nearly done.

Jack pulled a grenade and tossed it just past the pair while calling out a warning to the team. Everyone ducked as the blast made the crates shift and tremble. Jack brought the gun up, and the two Wraith were twitching on the floor. Unfortunately, three more were at the door, all with shields.

Pulling out a grenade, Jack waited for the Wraith to move far enough into the room for him to get it behind them. The blasts that made the Wraith stumble forward surprised him. Two of the Wraith went to their knees, and Jack tossed the grenade, shouting another warning.

The air filled with the heavy smell of burning flesh that made Jack's eyes water as he looked over the barricade again. Two of the Wraith had joined the carnage on the ground, but the third was on his knees, fighting his way up with a roar. Jack aimed, but before he could fire, something black slammed into the side of the Wraith, taking him back down to the floor.

Spike sank fangs into the Wraith's neck, and the alien went stiff as Spike drank, lifting his head only to twist the head with a sharp crack. Then he staggered back, drunk, and Xander was there, weapon in one hand and his arm reaching around Spike's waist.

Xander half dragged Spike back toward the barricade, his weapon still pointed at the door.

"Hey, you guys started without us," he panted as he dropped Spike to the floor behind Teal'c.

"Bloody fucking morons. Opened that door and set off every alarm in the bloody ship," Spike slurred as he lay on the ground, holding his upper body off the ground with an elbow.

"Is he okay?" Jack asked as he glanced toward Spike.

"Bloody fucking soldier. If it were for… I'd bloody well like to eat ya," Spike snarled.

"Here," Xander tried shoving the alien weapon at Jack, but he shook his head and moved back from his spot at the defenses.

"Take center, Xander," he ordered.


"You're the best for the spot, so follow orders, soldier," Jack ordered, and Xander nodded before taking Jack's spot. Weapons fire burst again as new soldiers came through the door, more this time, and Jack eyed the chanting girl and the plane. He could grab a plane scoop them up now, but he had no idea how close Willow was.

"Willow. Soon. Soon would be good," Xander yelled as the weapons paused. Jack crouched down next to Daniel.

"This seems familiar… hopeless, outnumbered, getting our asses kicked," Daniel quipped. He ducked lower as the weapons fire started again. Sam's P90 fell silent, and Jack slid closer to his second-in-command, slapping a spare clip into her hand so she could quickly reload.

"Oh fuck," Xander breathed. At first, Jack thought the Wraith had breeched the line, but then he saw Willow standing, her eyes open and black, veins crawling up her neck and into her face as black lights spun around her.

"Is that normal?" Jack asked as he inched closer to the plane.

"Um, no. Big with the not normal," Xander said. Willow opened her mouth, screaming some malediction, and the hairs on Jack's arms stood straight up, his flesh pimpling as cold power slithered over him.

Two Wraiths turned into giant candles, their flesh combusting as she held an open hand toward them, and now the stench was nearly overpowering.

"Redimio veneficus , redimio vox , aufero vis ex meus os," she screamed over a wailing wind that whipped through the room. The black lights darted out into all directions, swirling before vanishing into the walls of the hanger. Willow collapsed to the ground, and Xander darted to her side.

Okay, that was impressive.

"Is she…?" Jack didn't finish, but Xander cupped her face with one hand and crooned softly without any of the despair Jack would expect if she were dead.

"Sam, you're writing my report this mission because no way can I explain that," Daniel said softly.

"Okay, kids, we're out of here," Jack said as he stood and put a foot on the plane.

"NO!" Willow cried. "It didn't work. I can still feel the magic gathering, even faster now."

"You did your best, and now we have a tactical retreat," Jack answered as he reached for the plane.

A blast hit the side of the plane, and Jack fell back, his left side partially paralyzed from the near hit. The group opened fire. This time, more Wraith rushed through the door at once, and Xander left Willow lying on the ground as he slid back into position on the line.

One Wraith leaped for the crates, his hand reaching for Xander who fell back, but Spike lunged forward, yanking the Wraith forward with one hand, and punching his fist through the armor and into the chest with the other. Jack flinched at the raw fury and power in that move, but the shifting crate left the line broken, and the Wraith fired even more aggressively.

Sam ran out of ammo and ducked behind the barricade. Jack didn't have another clip to offer, so he shrugged out of his P90 and pushed it toward her. She moved into position, but a shot took her down almost immediately. She sagged to the ground, and Jack cursed his two numb arms.

"Spike, get to the plane," Jack yelled his order, but the vampire practically flew over the barricade, sailing into the middle of the Wraith and ripping at them with his bare hands. Pushing the crate back into position, Xander continued firing.

"Willow. Do something. Do a summoning spell, call for help. Do something." He yelled.

"I can't," she sobbed softly. The black eyes and veins had vanished, leaving her looking even more pale.

"Do something or you'll watch him die," Jack ruthlessly prodded her. If she could just summon a little of that power from before, he could make another run at the plane, but one hit with the Wraith weapon and he was done. Fuck, he wasn't sure he could climb into the cockpit even without the enemy firing at him. He flexed his numb left hand, but the fingers barely moved.

Willow looked at him with tragic eyes and then glanced to Xander who grimly fired, shifting closer to Sam to get a better line of fire. The boy's profile was hard, a trained soldier focusing on the battle and not on the thought that he was just about to die.

"Succurro nos. Audite nos. Animadverto nos. Succurro nos," she chanted quietly as she pushed herself up. Her hands trembled, but she kept chanting. "Succurro nos. Audite nos. Animadverto nos. Succurro nos." Her voice grew louder, and the tiny lights started to gather, zipping around her as she closed her eyes and let her head fall back. "Succurro nos. Audite nos. Animadverto nos. Succurro nos. "Succurro nos. Audite nos. Animadverto nos. Succurro nos."

Jack reached out and pulled back his P90 from Carter's limp fingers. Daniel had pulled his zat, and lay on the ground next to Teal'c firing from around the side of the crates.

"Teal'c. You're going to have to fly us out. First screen that comes up, you're looking for a symbol that looks like three trees with a squiggle line between the second and third. Hit it, and the plane will scoop us all up. When you land, hit the same symbol and it will re-materialize us," Jack yelled the directions over Willow's booming voice.

Slowly, she stood, the lights now merged into a glow that surrounded her, a wind made her hair twist up into the air and whip around her face. Several Wraith fired at her, but the glow only turned brighter. Taking Teal'c place on the line, Jack forced his swollen finger into the trigger guard and started firing.

"Hurry," he called. Teal'c dropped the staff and darted for the plane. Climbing with surprising speed for such a large man, he got in, and Jack focused on the Wraith nearest the door, leaving Spike feeding on one by the wall, and two more charging toward them.

"Succurro nos. Audite nos. Animadverto nos. Succurro nos," Willow's voice echoed through the room, and the Wraith fell back a step. Jack glanced back, and red hair had been replaced with white, pure white eyes stared out as she continued her chanting.

"Willow," Xander yelled, and then Jack noticed her feet vanishing into wisps of white that curled and tangled and turned into legs somewhere around the knees.


Blinding white filled the room, the light so bright that he almost had a sound, a screech that made Jack flinch. Immediately he focused back on the fight, but Wraith stood frozen, arms half raised, one Wraith body arched in the air, caught mid-flight. And the whole scene looked overexposed, like a home movie that had been washed out by too much sunlight.

"Bloody hell," Spike said softly as he staggered up. "These gits are better than a quart of good whiskey." He leaned against the wall.

"Okay, this is different. Willow, what did you just do?" Xander asked. Jack turned around to find a red-haired Willow leaning against Xander's shoulder. Her feet were back.

"The light burns when it leaves the eye," a soft voice said. Oh fuck.

Jack looked over to see a ghostly form sliding toward them.

"Oma?" Jack asked.

"Oma Dasala," Daniel breathed reverently as he stepped forward. She smiled at him.

"The light burns when it leaves the eye," she repeated as she focused on Willow and Xander. Xander had stepped protectively forward, and even Spike half-staggered closer, clearly willing to fight even if the Wraith blood had left him more than a little drunk.

Sam groaned from the floor, and Oma floated closer, reaching out a hand toward her as she sat up and shook her head.

"Did we win, sir?" she asked groggily as she scanned the room. Oma floated away, moving in toward Jack. Okay, this was the woman who could turn Jaffa into extra-crispy fritters, and yeah, Jack backed up a step. She smiled and moved closer, reaching out toward him, and the dull throbbing pain in his hand vanished. Jacked glanced down to see his arm healed.

"Neat parlor trick," he conceded as she floated back.

"Did you do this?" Daniel asked as he looked around the room.

Oma simply floated closer to Xander and Willow. "Water spilled feeds ant and horse alike," she said softly.

"Um, okay. If we spilled your water, we'd be happy to clean it up, just point us toward the spill, and I have plenty of experience with a mop," Xander joked, his face paling a little. Oma cocked her head at him.

"We bloody well broke the cage ya built for these gits, didn't we?" Spike asked as he sat heavily on a crate, his upper body still swaying a little. "They're big mojo users, but there wasn't any mojo here 'til we showed up, right?" Spike asked.

"The dimensional rift allowed magical energies to leak into this universe," Carter said. "Which implies that there's some particles just not present in a non-magical universe, but we dragged those particles through with us and then allowed them to leak in from the tear."

"Okay, so did the magic leak in from their universe or ours?" Jack asked. Oma simply tilted her head.

"Doesn't bloody matter. We broke the cage, and if they get out, we'll have these buggers all over the soddin' universe," Spike added. Jack rather thought it did matter since it was the difference between his reality having magic or not.

"So we need to seal the dimensional rift." Carter nodded as if she understood something important, and Jack hoped she did because they hadn't covered rift closing in basic training… not even in officer's school.

"A grain of sand follows the wind, it does not command it," Oma announced quietly.

"Daniel, translation?" Jack asked.

"Um, sand gets pushed around a lot?" Daniel guessed. Jack glared at him.

"Well, that would make us the grains of sand," Jack said dryly.

"How do we seal the cage? How can we put things back the way they were?" Willow asked as she stepped out from behind the protection of Xander. She still didn't look very stable, and Xander kept a hand on her arm.

"Um, Willow, how about staying away from the floaty lady," he suggested. Willow stepped closer, and Oma reached out a hand, touching a strand of Willow's hair which turned white. Seemed fair since she had turned Carter's hair pink.

"The flower grows where the sun shines," Oma said. Light flared, and Jack staggered back, the force feeling like a blow to his chest. The room turned into a streak, like a video on fast forward as every point became a line. They crossed the black of space within a blink and as the lines slowly condensed back into dull points, the temple with the gate materialized.

Jack fell to his knees heavily, and to his right, Daniel noisily vomited up what little he'd eaten in the last day or two. Spike now stood by Willow and Xander, both of whom were on the ground, Willow with her arms spread as though she couldn't keep her balance even lying on the ground.

Sam looked no better off as she sat near a column, clutching it for dear life. Of course, Teal'c continued to stand stoic, although Jack did get a little satisfaction from his ashen color.

"Not my favorite form of travel," Xander finally said, his voice shaky as he pushed himself up to his knees. Oma raised her hand and the event horizon appeared within the Stargate.

"Okay, is that their ticket home or ours?" Jack asked.

"The bird flies south without the sun to cast its shadow on the earth."

"Okay, see, that's just annoying," Jack complained as he struggled to his feet. "It would take you a lot less time to just say 'yours' or 'theirs.'"

"Jack," Daniel warned as he knelt back, the front of his uniform speckled with vomit.

"Daniel, you can't tell me that's not annoying."

"I'm just suggesting you not annoy the lady."

Oma Desala simply smiled.

"Um, I'm not fond of the idea of stepping through into their world," Xander said hesitantly. "And really, I'm not fond of staying here either, but given the choice between here and some government lab, I'm voting for here," Xander said, and Jack didn't miss the way he glanced toward Spike.

"Many fruit grow in the garden," she offered as she stepped back, leaving a clear path for them.

"Bloody fucking hell, no," Spike snapped, and Jack looked over toward the vampire. "You aren't bloody suggesting…"

"What?" Xander asked when Spike didn't finish that thought.

"I'm not walkin' into soldier-boy central. So you two trot along with the others, I'm waiting right here," Spike said as he leaned against a column. "Lots of good beasties ta eat and plenty of non-lethal sunshine."

"Only kinda not since the Wraith took them all," Willow pointed out.

"Bloody fuck."

"Okay, for those of us who slept through the important part of class, what are you talking about?" Xander asked.

"Lots of fruit grow in one bloody garden, don't it?" Spike demanded as he jabbed a finger toward Oma Desala. "But if that's true, then how the hell did Wraith start the vampire line on our earth if we're outside the bloody cage? No mistaking the blood, Wraith are vampires, or vampires are part Wraith maybe," Spike corrected himself. Oma smiled.

"A bird may shed a thousand feathers."

"Yeah, but when you kill the bugger, he's still dead," Spike countered. "So how the bloody hell did Wraith start vampires on earth?"

Oma smiled and floated backwards.

"Okay, I’m voting with soldier-boy. You're more bloody annoying than the trollop up there," Spike said as he waved a hand in the direction of the roof.

"Ixnay on the issingpay off the… whatever," Xander hissed. "And while you're at it, explain what the hell you two are talking about."

"We're from the same bloody dimension, us and the soldier-boys."

"Okay, I know I always sucked at the whole poetry, metaphor, simile thing in school, but how the hell did you get that?" Xander demanded.

"Good question," Jack backed him. Spike rolled his eyes.

"You lot really are thick. We're the fruit, and we all grew in the same bloody garden. You need me to draw that for ya?"

"Wait," Jack said, holding up his hand. "You mean that you've been saving *my* world since you were fifteen?" Jack demanded as he looked at the two children in horror.

"Hey! It's our world, too." Willow crossed her arms and glared.

"And if that's our world, I’m not bloody walking into soldier central."

"Oh, shit." Xander whispered. "Jack, I can't just let you…." Xander stopped. "I'm not going back, either," Xander announced.

"Oh soddin' hell, no way you can stay here and starve and leave the demon-bint with the apartment. She'd set fire to all your Star Trek toys."

"Xander," Jack interrupted as the boy put on his stubborn face. "You know I can't promise anything, but we've protected Teal'c."

"Yeah, but if you're from our Earth, that means you're part of the government that ran the Initiative, and that means someone up on the ladder knows about vampires and approves of…" Xander choked to a stop. "I can't do that to him."

"SG-1, this is SG-Command, do you read?" a tinny voice called over the radio. Jack jumped, startled by the connection home.

"General Hammond, good to hear your voice," Jack said.

"Is everyone alright? We can't get a lock on which planet you're dialing in from."

"Everyone's fine, General. We'll be coming through in a second. We might have a couple of hitchhikers along for the ride if we can convince them we aren't in league with the NID," Jack answered, using the codeword to tell Hammond that he wanted this visitors to come through. It would give them a slightly friendlier homecoming.

"The NID?" Hammond asked.

"Let's just say they've had a run-in or two with what sounds like a branch or two of our local scum-sucking bastards," Jack agreed. He clicked off the radio.

"You have to make your own decision, but I will fight like hell to get you clear of any mess." Jack made his promise and then punched the code into the GDO. "Come on kids, let's head home."

Jack walked into the event horizon, but on the other side, he stood close enough to keep the connection open, dangling his newly-healed fingers in the edge of the wormhole as Daniel, Sam, and finally Teal'c walked through. They were tattered and tired and hungry, and Daniel seriously needed to wash his uniform, but once again, they'd walked through the disaster without more than minor scraps and bruises.

"Colonel?" General Hammond asked from the bottom of the ramp. Marines stood ready with their weapons trained at the 'Gate, but at least Hammond was there to welcome the guys… if they came.

"We're just waiting on the three who helped us get home," Jack said.


"Mostly," Daniel mysteriously answered, and Hammond looked at him with wide eyes. Just then Xander came flying through the wormhole, back first. He'd clearly been shoved, and the ramp angled down sharply enough that he couldn't get his balance as he stumbled backwards, windmilling his arms and cursing.

"—stubborn, fucking son of a bitch," Xander finished as he thumped into Teal'c chest. Teal'c simply put out a hand to steady him. "And I'm not in Kansas anymore. Or actually, I'm closer to Kansas now, but I think you know what I mean, and Spike and I need to finish having a little discussion," Xander said as he inched back up the ramp. Teal'c didn't move his hand, and Xander stopped when he ran out of arm.

"Uh, Teal'c, you're touching."

"The wormhole does not allow one to travel back through, and I would find it unacceptable for you to die attempting."

"Oh." Xander looked toward the wormhole, and Jack could almost read his mind.

"He's telling the truth. Once you're here, there's no going back," Jack added.

"I never said I didn't believe him," Xander objected as he backed up toward Teal'c. Teal'c used a hand to guide him down the ramp and toward Hammond.

"I'm General Hammond." The General offered a hand, and Xander froze seeing the soldiers before stepping forward and shaking the offered hand.

"Um, if I give you the weird-ass alien gun, any chance those guys would stop with the pointing of big-ass guns at me?" he asked. General Hammond just blinked, and Jack bit back a smile as Hammond encountered Xander-speak.

"I will take the weapon if you like," Teal'c offered, and Xander surrendered it nervously.

"It's just a precaution, son," Hammond said. "No one will fire at you."

"Oh goddess. Okay, that's cold. That's really cold. Xander are you okay? Spike is really acting like a big poopy head, but you should not have called him a girly-man, and there are people pointing guns at me. Why are people pointing guns at me?"

And that would be Willow-babble. "It's just standard procedure with new people in the 'Gate room," Carter rushed to reassure her. Willow wandered slowly down the ramp toward Xander, stopping only when she could grab his arm. Funny, she was clinging to him when Willow and a fennel could do a whole lot more damage than Xander and a gun.

"I'm General Hammond, welcome to Earth," the general offered in his best diplomatic voice.

"Okay, that sounds a little strange. Getting welcomed to your own planet, and are we sure Spike was right about this being our planet because Buffy and Tara and Anya have to be worried by now. Well, either that or they're dead, but I'm assuming they're not dead because we aren't dead, and if the whole Glorificus plan hadn't worked, she would have been big with the killing of us."

"Willow," Xander said softly, "breathe."

"Glorificus? Colonel, is there some sort of problem?" General Hammond asked.

"Oh, you have no idea," Jack agreed. "But you're going to find out. Hopefully we have one more joining the party."

"General, Spike has had some problems with our government. Greeting him with drawn guns might not be the best approach," Daniel suggested.

General Hammond remained silent for a moment, and then nodded his head. The major in charge of the unit ordered the guns down, and the unit pointed them at the floor.

"I hope he doesn't prove a danger," General Hammond warned.

"Oh, he's about as dangerous as fennel," Jack said. "But I'm losing feeling in my fingers here so I hope he's coming pretty quick."

"If you take your hand out, can we go back for him?" Xander asked. Jack traded looks with Daniel without answering.

"Xander, after what the NID did, he just may rather try it on his own. He knows the basic function of the DHD, and how I planned to try and find the planet of origin symbol, so if he stays there, he won't be trapped on that planet," Daniel offered. It was the only comfort any of them had to offer.

"I guess he has to make up his own mind, huh?" Xander asked. Jack watched as Willow rested the side of her head on Xander's shoulder. Shit, they looked about fifteen standing like that. Of course, they'd actually started saving the world when they were fifteen, which put them more than a decade ahead of Jack in the hero game.

"—hell." Spike snarled as he burst through the even horizon. The beginning of Spike's comment disappeared into the wormhole, but Jack could pretty well guess what he'd been saying.

"Took you long enough," Jack complained as he finally pulled his fingers out of the event horizon, wiggling them to drive the cold out. The surface shimmered out of existence.

"Yeah, well you're the one who left me hanging on an alien ship, so I'm not so worried about your fingers, am I?" Spike demanded. He looked around at the soldiers, and Jack could see the strain in the stiff, jerky motions of his body.

"General Hammond, I want to introduce you to the pain in the ass who makes me look like a boy scout and who waded into battle with Goa'uld and these really cranky newcomers called the Wraith," Jack put his hand on Spike's back, urging him down the ramp. "Spike, this is General Hammond. He's kept the NID away from Teal'c, and he can do the same for you."

"Spike, I appreciate what you did for my people," General Hammond said.

"Yeah, give us a lift into town and forget you ever saw us, and we'll call it even," Spike answered suspiciously.

"We'll see about trying to do that. First, everyone has to clear a physical when they come here."

"Oh General, you'll want to be there for this one," Jack suggested. "You'll really want to be there for this one. In fact, I can't wait until Janet meets Spike."

"Jack, you're going to warn her, right?" Daniel asked as they started for the door. Xander and Willow stayed close together, and Spike followed, the edge of his duster brushing against Xander's back he walked so close.

"I have no intention of warning her. After everything that woman has done, she deserves this," Jack answered.

"Colonel? Is there something I should know?"

"Oh General, so many things that I can't count them right now, but nothing that can't wait until after I see the expression on Dr. Napoleon's face when she sees Spike's vital signs," Jack laughed. It was good to be home.





Knocking on the door, Jack waited as the sounds of a fight quieted. Xander opened the door, remote in hand, so Jack was guessing that had started the bickering. He'd discovered that without aliens trying to kill them all, Spike and Xander's fighting had turned into something a little more aggressive. Willow sat in a chair, cross-legged, watching the TV with a bowl of popcorn in her lap.

"Hey, Teal'c says your training's going well," Jack said to Xander. Spike snorted.

"Don't start with me, bleach-head," Xander growled.

"Oi, didn't say a word. If you're all insecure, don't go blaming me," Spike defended himself. Willow just ignored them both.

"I like training with Teal'c, but I’m starting to get as paranoid as Fangless about the whole underground base secrecy thing. We don't have anything more to offer, so I'm wondering why we're still here."

"Speak for yourself. I know lots more, but I imagine they've gotten everything they can outta that empty brain of yours. They're probably down to echoes by now."

"Keep it up, and they're going to be sweeping you out of here," Xander warned darkly, but Spike just sat on the arm of the couch, one boot resting on the cushion as he considered Xander with as much fear as a tiger looks at the deer he's about to eat.

"Actually, that's what I came to talk to you about," Jack said. Willow looked over, Xander backed up a step towards the couch, and Spike's baleful glare transferred to Jack. "The NID is denying any knowledge of the Initiative, but we did find Captain Finn. He confirms many parts of your story, and the Sunnydale authorities have registered missing persons reports for you two. In other words," Jack summarized, "we can confirm that this is your world. Come sundown, the general has a car to take you to the airstrip. We should have you in L.A. by morning, and to Sunnydale the following night."

"We're going home?" Willow asked uncertainly. Jack still had trouble reconciling this timid woman with the white-haired power who had summoned an Ancient or set the Wraith on fire with her words, although the fire had been from her black and veiny period. "Can I call Tara?" she asked.

"The phones have been turned on," Jack agreed. "Just don't run up the phone bill," he added with a look toward Spike. The vampire's innocent expression sent warning flares up his threat-assessment nerve.

"Anya's going to kill me, and I hope that's figuratively since she doesn't do the literal evisceration of men any more."

"That you know 'bout," Spike added.

"Don't start in on Anya," Xander warned.

"Oi, I like the bird. She's an honest sort, unlike some others who make big promises about bein' a worshipper and then go and get emancipated."

"And don't start on the slave crap," Xander added. Unfortunately, the distraction gave Willow time to get to the phone. Jack could only shake his head at them. This was the crack team who had been foiling magical plots to end the world for three or four years now. God, some things he really wished he could just unknow. This would be one.

"The General does have one other suggestion," Jack said casually, but Spike narrowed his eyes and glared. "He suggests we make a mutual protection treaty of sorts. If we run into trouble, like the Goa'uld flying in here with a fleet of mother ships, you'll give us a hand, and if you get into trouble, like an ancient goddess trying to suck your brains and open a portal to hell, you can call us."

The three sat in silence, looking at him, and Willow had even stopped dialing.

"Um, that's a good offer, but I'm thinking we're getting the better end of that deal, and the last time I got the better end of a deal was when I bought Uncle Rory's car, and the engine fell out of it after about two hundred miles," Xander said slowly.

"You're amazing fighters, all of you," Jack said honestly. "And from what little you've said, your friends must be incredible. If the planet is in genuine danger, I'd like to think I could count on you to help," Jack explained. He didn't point out that the thought of them handling apocalypses and demons alone made him want to keep them all in here while he took a nuclear bomb to California.

"I'd show up for world-endage. I'd get my ass kicked, more likely than not, but I'd show up," Xander nodded. "We'll talk to the others."

"That's all we can ask for," Jack agreed. He hadn't expected more than that. "The guard will still be outside the door since I trust Spike as far as I can throw him, but come sundown, you'll be on your way." Leaving the three of them to call home and pack, Jack headed out into the hall.

"Have they agreed to ally themselves with us?" Teal'c asked.

"They agreed to think about it," Jack said as he headed for Daniel's office. Teal'c fell in step beside him.

"They are warriors, they will agree," Teal'c announced with certainty.

"I hope so," Jack said. "I'm getting too old for this shit, and I'd like to think there were people that good ready to save the planet when my knees are too arthritic to bend any more."

"That day is many years away, Colonel O'Neill."

"What day?" Daniel asked as he came out of a storeroom, his arms straining with books as he headed for his main office. Jack held the door open.

"The day when Colonel O'Neill is physically crippled." Teal'c answered.

"Oh, I don't know, he's getting awfully grey and forgetting to turn in reports. Senility and crutches can't be far behind," Daniel said seriously. He dropped the stack on his desk and pushed his glasses back up on his nose as he smirked.

"Don't start with me, Danny-boy," Jack warned. "I'll give you a wedgy that you'll be picking at for the next week."

"A wedgy?" Teal'c asked curiously.

"Oh, let me demonstrate," Jack offered gleefully as he advanced toward Daniel. Danny backed away, holding up a hand to ward Jack off.

"Don't you dare," he warned. Jack laughed and lunged forward. Daniel dodged, and the chase was on. Yep, life was back to normal at the SGC.

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Home Base

"Jack, we don't have to stay," Daniel repeated. Jack took a second away from doodling in the margins of his notepad to glare. The man looked positively at home sitting in the middle of a stack of books on demons; it was just wrong.

"Daniel, I said you could come and do your book thing, and you can. It's fine," Jack assured his archaeologist. From the other side of the room, Spike snorted.

"Jack, you're bored. Go do something," Daniel begged him. The glasses were sliding down Daniel's nose, and for a second, Jack flashed on his 10 grade history teacher who used to glare at him over the top of her glasses. Daniel had her expression down pretty good.

"Daniel, the two places to do anything in this town include a bar full of alien hybrids and a dance club for teenagers."

"Demons," Giles corrected Jack.

"Descendants from human-alien interbreeding... alien hybrids," Jack insisted.

"Really. I can understand your reluctance, and given your experiences with the Wraith and the possibility that vampires are related to that species certainly does suggest the analogy might have some validity; however," Giles held up a hand to prevent Jack from interrupting, "demons, hell dimensions and magic are all very real phenomenon. Denying them or trying to rationalize them is dangerous."

"Aliens, alternative realities and I'm not even getting into the magic. Do you realize there are dimensions out there without magic? Whole worlds where I'm not having to deal with this?" Jack complained. Daniel already had his nose into another of Giles' books, his own notepads spread out in front of him.

"Worlds inside the magic cage the ancients constructed," Daniel agreed. He looked up and gave Jack one of his patented "how can you be so stupid" expressions. "Which would mean being locked inside with the Wraith. I'll take magic."

"You just like the boring books," Jack sighed. Daniel didn't even try to deny it.

"Bloody hell, I'm not sitting around all night listenin' to you snipe at each other. Come on, soldier-boy. We can take my worshipper here for a walk and kill any nasties that show up to eat him."

"I am not your worshipper," Xander snapped as he stood up, hammer still in hand from where he had been fixing a shelf in the magic shop where Giles had suggested they set up the research session Daniel had requested. "And just stop with the whole demon-magnet talk. No demon magnetness here."

"Then why do the nasties always try to munch on your toes?"

"One demon. One demon tried to eat my foot and he was some sort of freaky foot demon, so that goes in the not-counting column."

"The vampire who tried ta pick you up in the grocery store?"

"Oh yeah, like no vamp has ever tried that one before." Xander snorted as he slammed tools back into his box.

"Preying mantis lady trying to lay her eggs in you?" Spike asked. Jack frowned at the thought of that, and even Daniel looked up from his book.

"Preying mantis lady?" Daniel asked, sounding more than a little nauseous.

"Yeah, turns out she liked virgin flesh for her procreating, and the boy here fit the bill."

"Spike, I am so going to stake you. Giles is going to come in and find you floating to the floor in little ashy drifts." Xander crossed his arms and frowned at all of them, but Spike just kept smirking despite the danger.

"That's be a bit cliché, pet. The god getting done in by his own worshipper and all."

Xander growled before turning around and storming into the back room.

"Should you...." Jack waved toward the back room. When they'd been trapped on an alien planet, he'd been the one to follow the boy, but he felt more out of place in Sunnydale than he ever had on an alien planet.

Spike shrugged. "He'll still needs an escort home, so he'll be out as soon as he gets over his little hissy. Fact is, the boy attracts more demons than most. Could be the smell of slayer that clings to him."

"Xander smells of Buffy?" Giles asked as he looked up sharply.

"Yeah, a bit. Considering how often those three watch bad Indian movies all curled up like puppies, not really surprising."

"Interesting," Giles commented before he went back to his books.

"I'm not really sure I should leave Daniel here," Jack answered, although right now even a walk sounded less boring than another hour of watching Daniel stare at books. He should have brought Teal'c. Annoying the Jaffa was always good for an hour or two of amusement.

"Jack, I'll be fine. I'm just reading books," Daniel said with a long-suffering sigh.

"Daniel, you can get in trouble going to the bathroom by yourself."

Daniel glared over his glasses.

"I can assure you, I have rather a lot of security on this place," Giles offered. Jack walked over to the nearest shelf and picked up a bottle of little squiggly things.

"Chameleon testicles. Chameleon testicles?" Jack asked as he quickly put it back. "Okay, who buys chameleon testicles?!"

"Soddin' hell. I thought I had my boy on a short leash. You walk him by his curlies?" Spike asked with a nod toward Daniel.

"Spike, despite your strange claim, Xander is not yours, and if you persist in saying that, I won't stop him next time he offers to stake you."

"He wouldn't," Spike said confidently. "'Sides, what with him being my worshipper, seems impolite not to take responsibility for the boy."

"Giles, make bloodbreath stop with the freakiness," Xander asked as he walked back in the room. Jack watched and wondered where Xander hid the soldier memories that Jack had seen in the field.

"Would that I had that power," Giles answered sadly.

"Even Rupert knows you're mine. My sire gave ya to me and all."

"Okay, that was called a trick. T-R-I-C-K. Do you want it backwards? C-K-I-R-T. I wasn't Deadboy's to give away in the first place, big jerk."

Jack watched as Spike's eyebrow raise in amusement at Xander's attempt to spell backwards, and even Daniel glanced up.

"Please, just take this fight elsewhere. Colonel O'Neill, that is a two thousand year old volume you have just doodled in, and really, at this point, I would suggest that while Daniel is perfectly safe here, you might not be." Jack glanced down and his pen had mysteriously migrated from his pad to the book he had stolen from Daniel just to annoy him.

"Sorry about that," Jack said, trying his best to actually sound sorry. Daniel snorted.

"Shouldn't mess with a Watcher's books, mate. They get cranky about that. Never know what one of those magic users will do when they get cranky, either."

"I have never—" Giles started indignantly.

"Right, we're off then. Come on soldier-boy," Spike said as he headed out the door, his coat swirling around with just a little too much drama.

"Jack, please. He's been all annoying with the worship ever since we got back. Just, I don't know, come along and distract him."

"Let him take cheap shots at me instead of you?" Jack asked.

"Hey, that would perfectness. He's gone into ultra-annoying mode and I'm going to stake him. Big with the desire to stake, here," Xander said desperately.

"Jack, I'm really fine. I won't go anywhere until you come back, honest," Daniel promised.

"No trip out for coffee?"

"Giles has a coffee maker."

"No running out to rescue some damsel is distress? I've heard Xander's stories, and with your luck with women, I really don't want you talking to any of them in this town."

"Jack, we're in California."

"Daniel, we're in Sunnydale. I don't want you stepping out that door. If a beautiful woman is standing in the doorway with all her tentacles shoved into a tiny black dress, I don't want you falling for it."

"Look at these books," Daniel gestured toward the table covered in piles of books, and not a picture book in the whole mess. "I'm not going to *notice* a woman in a tiny black dress," Daniel promised.

"True." Jack sighed as he looked from Daniel's hopeful expression to Xander's one. "Fine. I'll be back in an hour," Jack relented as he poked a finger Daniel's direction. "One hour and you do not leave this room."

"Please, feel free to take longer. Much longer," Giles said softly before taking a drink of tea. Oh yeah, next time Teal'c was getting Danny-sitting duty.

"I'm all yours," Jack said grandly to Xander.

"Thank god. One more night of walking home with bleach-for-brains, and I'm going to take up whittling." Xander headed out the door, slipping on a denim jacket that seemed to have really bulky pockets.

Jack reached in and fingered the wooden stake Xander had presented him with, and Jack just shook his head. He could rationalize the whole alien hybrid thing, but he really did want some nice scientific babble out of Sam that would explain vampires turning to dust. He wouldn't understand a word of it, but just knowing that Sam understood it would make him feel better. Instead, the video footage and scientific notes the general had liberated from the NID just made Sam shake her head and use words like impossible. Jack would have bet money that Sam didn't know that word.

Outside, Spike was leaning against the corner of the building, a cigarette hanging from his hand as he ran his tongue along the inside of his lower lip.

"Okay, if you're trying to weird me out, just stop. Not falling for it," Xander insisted, but he also turned and studied the shadowed alley Spike stared at.

"Problem?" Jack asked, his hand twitching for his gun even thought Xander had explained many times with far more words than strictly necessary that in Sunnydale you grabbed for the stake first and the gun second.

"Doesn't take much ta send you running for your mum," Spike said, but the insult was only half-hearted as Spike started across the street. A car slammed on it's brakes and squealed to a stop, but Spike didn't even blink.

"In Denver, you'd at least get cursed out for that stunt," Jack commented under his breath.

"Curses, wishes... we just try to avoid anything that sounds even a little magicky," Xander shrugged. They waited for the next car to pass before they followed Spike across the street.

"So, what are the chances that he's leading us into some ambush?" Jack asked. Maybe it was just the town, but ever little old lady with a shopping bag was setting off Jack's threat assessment nerves, and it was starting to get a little annoying. Jack debated the idea of grabbing Xander and heading back for the Magic Shop, but good old fashioned pride kept him from doing it. This was California. No goa'uld, no wraith, no aliens with delusions of godhood. Nope, just a few demons.

"Ambush? No," Xander assured him. "Annoying, stupid vampire pranks are a real possibility. Spike!" Xander yelled ahead as they reached the mouth of the alley. "If you poke another dead cat on a stick at me, I'm pulling your fangs out. You're going to be--" Xander stopped with a squawk when Spike stuck his head out from behind the building in game face.

Jack fell back a step, his hand going to his gun at the unfamiliar ridges. Spike started laughing.

"You lot are too easy." Spike strode past, giving Xander's shoulder a shove as he went by so the boy collided with a wall.

"You know what I find funny? Stakes. Stakes and fire. Maybe a big barbecue with those vegetables that come on the wooden spears, not that I would eat the vegetables, but I could think of something to do with wooden spears," Xander threatened.

"You want to spear me?" Spike stopped and swirled around, a suddenly lascivious expression on his face. Xander had been one step behind chasing Spike and now he was nose to nose with the vampire and quickly turning red.

"Xander, let's just head home," Jack suggested. He could feel his own aggravation rise, and considering that he was the poster-child for ADD, he never really expected to find someone who could annoy him so quickly.

"Oi, not your town or your business. Xander's my worshipper now, and don't you forget it," Spike announced, throwing an arm over Xander's shoulders and started back down the street, this time with Xander under one arm, which shouldn't work with Xander being taller, but it somehow did.

"I'm cursed, aren't I?" Xander asked sadly. "This is some weird alternate dimension. Is this the world without shrimp? I'm going to miss shrimp cocktails with the shrimp and the cocktail goodness and why is red sauce called cocktail because that name is giving me a really weird mental image that is not of the good."

"Cocktail. Kinda like it, myself," Spike said amiably.

"Jack, he is a giant jerk, but this is exceeding even his normal levels of jerkitude. I'm really sorry."

"Watch it, pet, or I'll leave you out here for the next preying mantis demon."

"Hey, so not a virgin here!" Xander blushed. "Which is so not anyone's business. I should have called Buffy for an escort. At least then I'd just get the lecture about plaids and stripes."

"So, Xander, where are you working now?" Jack asked, desperate to change the course of this conversation. Both men acted like the words were familiar, the fighting a comfortable pattern between them, but Jack really didn't want to see where that pattern led. He really just didn't want his brain to go there.... not considering that he liked Xander and he trusted Spike as far as he could throw the vampire. Those two flirting made Jack want to shoot someone. Unfortunately, he had it on good authority that the someone in question wouldn't die even if he did shoot him.

"I got a job at a construction company. Now that we aren't trying to defeat a goddess at night and sleep between shifts, it's a lot easier to hold a job. And you guys... any new world endage lately on your side of the universe?"

Jack's brain temporarily shuddered to a halt as Xander just casually brought up top secret information strolling down the street. A couple of goth teens or vampires twenty feet ahead didn't even bother to glance over.

"That's..." Jack struggled for a word, "... slightly inappropriate conversation for the area," he finished.

"You!" Spike shouted to the couple in front of them. "You lot. How many apocolypses you been through?"

The pair turned and stared at them with large eyes. The male flashed into game face.

"Doesn't count. They wouldn't have even bothered us, and you are not getting a beer off that," Xander hissed, the comment making about as much sense to Jack as magic did as a whole.

"We survived Glorificus and Acathla," the male hissed, obviously taking Spike's comment as some sort of challenge.

Spike snorted. "Still a bloody baby then. Still probably smell of your grave." Jack didn't even have time to blink before the vampire threw himself at Spike, his hands curled into claws. Spike stepped to the side, twirled into a kick and sent the male flying toward Jack. Jack had his gun out and fired three shots into the attacker who landed on the ground two feet in front of him. The vamp stood up, growled at Jack and then returned to attack Spike.

Shoving his weapon back into the holster, Jack pulled out a stake and watched as Spike clearly played with the now-bleeding male. Their fight took on the quality of a dance with twirls and kicks and inhuman leaps into the air. Meanwhile Xander was grappling hand to hand with the female.

Ignoring Spike, Jack went to help Xander. He hadn't taken more than three steps before Spike was there, a hand holding Jack back.

"Let him handle it, mate," Spike said. The bits of ash turning the shoulders of his jacket gray slowly slid down the leather.

"Bloody hell, hurry up there, pet. You owe me a beer and I don't feel like standing here all soddin' night." Spike stepped in front of Jack and then leaned against a wall where he promptly started picking a fingernail.

"Help would be nice," Xander gasped as the vampire sat on his stomach.

"I'm going to bloody leave if you don't hurry up," Spike answered without looking up from his nails. Jack stepped forward, but Spike shifted in front of him again while still fascinated with his thumb.

Opening his mouth to protest, Jack suddenly saw the shift. Xander's arms stopped flailing and shifted to his sides. He brought his legs up hard in a classic attack, forcing the vampire to fall forward, and then he rolled, putting himself on top. The stake came down and Xander was suddenly stomach down on the empty sidewalk, ashes blowing away in the gentle breeze.

"Took your sweet time there, didn't you?" Spike complained.

"You... you dead guy. You so aggravated them into attacking."

"Who? Me?" Spike blinked with a practiced innocence.

"You're not getting a beer off that."

"You're the effin' white knight, and you're welshing on a deal? Any night we get attacked, you bloody owe me a beer."

"You caused it."

"If I hadn't been here, they would have attacked anyway."

"But they wouldn't have if we just walked home."

"Where's the fun in that?" Spike asked with a wicked smile before he started down the street again.

"Annoying over-bleached vampire," Xander sighed.

Jack followed the two of them, shaking his head. Well, that was one way to teach the boy to access his soldier instincts. Not really a training technique Jack would recommend, but it obviously worked.

"You're trying to get me killed, don't think I don't know that," Xander complained loudly.

"Oi, am not. I have to keep you around for when this chip comes out. I've got all sorts of plans then," Spike countered with an eyebrow wiggle that made Xander cross his arms and glare.

Jack made a mental note to make sure that Sam never, ever told Spike how to turn the chip off. There were so many ways Spike's line could be taken, and Jack didn't really want to think about any of them. Nope. Not thinking at all. God, he needed to get back to some planet with some goa'uld because California was entirely too freaky for him. Yep, next time Giles sent Daniel and invitation, Jack was scheduling a week of being captured and tortured by Sokar.

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Honest Proposal


"I don't understand why I can't just ask," Anya complained loudly as she pushed open the door to the Magic Box.

"Ahn!" Xander's voice had that sharp edge of desperation Jack had learned to recognize.

"He would be welcome to say no. He'd be foolish because I give good orgasms and giving up good orgasms is just foolish, but he could say no."

The now-blonde Anya Jenkens, ex-alien, crossed her arms and glared at Xander, and Jack blessed his lucky stars. This visit so far had consisted of watching Daniel stare at books and agreeing to watch the front of the store while Giles did inventory. It was almost enough to make him offer to patrol with Spike and Xander, but considering that last time he had spent the night on Xander's couch after trying to drink Spike under the table, he wasn't going there again. He still wasn't sure how Spike got him to start drinking in the first place. However, things were looking up now; Anya could always make a day waiting for Daniel a little more amusing.

"Xander!" Daniel called happily, and not just anyone could distract Danny from the pile of books Giles had suggested when Daniel had shown him the material they'd collected off-world. Yeah, Danny was all kinds of happy with all his books.

Daniel got up and shook Xander's hand before heading back to the table, not even bothered when Anya turned her back on him. They'd all learned to not expect little things like greetings or handshakes from Anya. "I found a reference in a text off-world to beings possessed of animal spirits, and the local headman was quite informative. I was hoping to cross-reference some of their folk tales against Giles' references and your own experiences. The parallels are incredible."

"Hey, no," Xander physically retreated with his hands held up, "No, no animal spirits need apply. I have officially filled my quota for possessions for my lifetime, and I am still getting over a slight phobia of undercooked pork, so you can count the Xan man out for any conversations involving spiritual animals, mystical diseases, or reanimated bodies. If you have an apocalypse, I’m your man, as long as by man what you really need is the guy with a rock to watch your back, but I am not talking to any head anythings about primals. Badness lies that way."

"Oi, with you lot, badness lies any way. Ya get into trouble trying to cross the street," Spike pointed out from his place next to the counter. Jack wasn't positive, but he was a good ninety percent sure that the minute Giles had gone into the back room, the vampire started using the casual lean to shoplift a number of small grey and fuzzy somethings from off the counter.

"Well… no," Daniel said hesitantly. "I didn't mean you would go off-world. I don't think we could even get clearance to take you through the gate, much less for an anthropological objective, but I thought you might be willing to describe your experiences to me."

"Boy's put that whole business in his denial box," Spike snorted.

"Hey, you did not even know me then, so you don't know what I'm denying!" Xander glared at the vampire, but he also wandered closer and stopped just a couple of feet from Spike where they exchanged mutual glares.

"Are you here to discuss primals? Primals are boring," Anya announced before heading behind the counter. Jack smiled and leaned back in his chair to wait for the entertainment that was sure to come with Anya in attendance.

"I came with a number of rubbings and documented folk stories to compare against Giles' books. This is a whole new world of archeological and anthropological study."

"You should study something that is respected by society," Anya announced to Daniel as she hit the button to open the cash register before pulling a ledger out from a shelf under the counter.

"I don't think—" Daniel started.

"Business," Anya cut him off. "Managers and business owners are respected. No one invites archeologists to dinner because they would talk about old boring things. No one wants to talk about that but they are afraid of being impolite and so they don't tell you."

Jack did his best to strangle the snort that escaped, but Daniel still glared at him. Meanwhile, Teal'c's eyebrow raised a good inch, inch and a half.

"Not respected?" Daniel finally choked out when he gave up on glaring at Jack and went back to glaring at Anya. "Not respected? Archeology is the primary way we study where our whole culture has been. Archeology provides insights on technologies that have been lost and belief systems and the whole fundamental understanding of the human race!" Daniel looked up at the woman with horror, the open book in front of him forgotten.

"I was there for much of it. It was unimportant," Anya shrugged. Daniel turned a little red as he clenched his teeth. Oh yeah, Jack didn't get to see Daniel this mad very often.

"It's the way we understand where are species is going. Studying the past is a window to the future, a way to avoid the mistakes of our ancestors," Daniel tried again.

"Humans make the same mistakes over and over. It doesn't matter if they know to not make the mistake, they still make it. One woman called me to curse one man a year for ten years running, and after a while, even I thought that maybe she should look at herself. But humans don't change. Her wishes were boring too. She always wanted their penises to fall off."

Anya started calmly counting money, not aware that the men in the room were suddenly uncomfortable, but Jack could sure see it. Xander had scooted back a few inches toward Spike, and Spike had a look that just might have been disgust. Then again, having heard Spike boast about his own demonic rages, it might have been admiration. Daniel… well, that was clearly disgust. Even Teal'c managed to raise both eyebrows at her little declaration.

"Anya, remember what we talked about, about not saying whatever you're thinking and never, ever mentioning man-parts in public?" Xander asked slowly.

Anya rolled her eyes. "They're called penises. And I don't understand these rules. Since you stopped giving me orgasms, I don't think I should have to follow them anymore. Not unless you're going to start giving me orgasms again because you're really quite skilled and larger than most men, which I find enjoyable." Anya finished counting the money and recorded her sums without even blinking an eye.

"Okay, that was more than I needed to know," Jack said, finally reaching his own limits as he watched Xander blushed dark red. Even worse, Spike was giving the boy a leer that no one in the room could mistake, not even Xander. Xander swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing nervously as he slowly slid away from Spike. The vampire just used the extra distance to look Xander's body up and down as salaciously as possible.

"You people react strangely to truth," Anya sniffed. "And since we're talking about penises..." Xander coughed and Daniel turned a bright shade of red. "I want to know if it's true that black men have large penises. I read many pieces of literature on the Internet that suggest I would enjoy having a black lover, and I wonder if you would help me test that, Teal'c." Anya turned to Teal'c with a look of such honest, open curiosity, that Jack took a few seconds to even process her words. Teal'c however had clearly followed her because he blushed. He actually blushed. Jack would have put money on that being physically impossible.

"Oh, that is… that is so racist I don't even have the words to describe it," Daniel said slowly, the first to recover.

"The Internet said…"

"Anya, do you remember having the conversation about words to not use?" Xander interrupted. She turned toward him with a small frown for a second before she nodded.

"Some words are unfair because they accuse someone of having flaws because they belong to a group, and I would never do that. Some people are very prejudiced against ex-demons, and I find that very wrong. People shouldn't be accused of being soulless or evil just because they used to be demons, and people shouldn't be judged by their group." Anya nodded firmly, and that was one social rule that had obviously sunk in.

"Okay, you can't judge people's… that… by their race either," Xander said.

Now Anya looked at him like he had grown a new head. "Most men are complimented at the thought that women assume they have a large penis. Teal'c, does it bother you that I assume you have a larger penis than Daniel or Jack?"

Only twenty years in the service, most of them with battle-hardened soldiers with vicious senses of humor, prevented Jack from blushing. Jack had learned to not blush out of pure self-defense back when he lived in the barracks. Daniel, on the other hand, was clearly in danger of bursting a blood vessel.

"No," Teal'c admitted.

"Would you like to have sex? We can use my apartment," Anya offered with a smile. Teal'c blinked at her for a second.

"I regret that among my kind, the taking of a mate has associations which prevent me from doing so," Teal'c offered calmly. At least he managed calm. When Anya had propositioned Daniel last visit, the man had nearly swallowed his tongue. Anya looked at him and sighed. "You aren't gay, are you? The magazines say that many good men are gay."

"Indeed, I am not," Teal'c offered.

"I need to find someone who will offer companionship and frequent orgasms," Anya sighed. With a shrug she slammed the money drawer closed. "Tell Giles that he is three dollars short on the register. He needs to keep better track of the change he gives people," she said before she picked up her purse and headed out the door.

"Okay, that was…"

"Strange?" Jack finished Daniel's sentence.

"I was going to say typical for Anya," Daniel corrected him with a wry smile.

"Oh yeah. One of these days, I'm getting Hammond out here," Jack agreed.

Xander sighed. "Hey, I'm sorry about that whole weirdness thing. She sometimes says things she doesn't mean—okay, she totally means them, but she says them without actually thinking about how other people are going to hear them."

"I am not offended. Being in a new world, I understand her difficulties fitting in."

"Yeah, I suppose you do," Xander said. "You should tell her that, you know, let her know that you understand what she's going through because as much as we try, or as much as Giles and I try because the girls are not that big with trying, we don't really know what to say."

Teal'c stood silent for a second. "I fear any attempt to discuss the issue would lead to complications."

"Bloody hell, just say it. She'd jump your bones, mate. Look, is the slayer getting here soon because I feel a need to pound the hell out of something and this chip is keeping me from doing it to any of you."

"She called. She's running late," Xander answered.

"Perhaps I could offer a challenge in sparring," Teal'c suggested. Spike's sour expression cleared as he looked at Teal'c considering him closely before tilting his head and considering him again.

"That's right, not human, are ya?" he asked with a slow smile that reminded Jack of some of the less-friendly snakeheads he'd met.

Teal'c raised his eyebrow. "No. And I was trained by a man who is the master of the staff weapon.

"That sounds like a challenge," Spike's smile widened as he pushed himself away from the counter and headed for the training room in back. "I'm going to wipe the floor with you."

"We shall see," Teal'c offered his ambiguous answer as he followed Spike toward the back room. Jack looked over toward Daniel hopefully. The archeologist rolled his eyes.

"Go watch the fight, I'll call if any customers come in," he sighed. "Just don't let them kill each other."

"Yeah, you bet. Too much paperwork when someone gets killed," Jack promised as he hurried to follow the others into the training room. Daniel could have his books; Jack had discovered that there were a few things in Sunnydale that amused him far more than dusty books and demon pottery.

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