Chapter 8: If at First...

Giles' apartment was a war zone. Furniture was upended, weapons were strewn all over, and half a dozen monsters lay bleeding into the Watcher's carpet. The academics had put up one hell of a fight, Carter noted as she waved for O'Neill to come in, pistols up and ready.

But they'd lost.

Riley Finn lay twitching on the ground near the smoking corpse of a particularly gruesome creature; he let out a small moan as Carter approached. "Buffy ... I'm sorry ... there were just too many of them..."

"Finn, what happened?" O'Neill snapped as he came in, Buffy hot on his heels.

"They blew down the door ... we let 'em have it ... too many of them, we couldn't hold them back..." He blinked, looking from Carter to a rapidly approaching Buffy. "Buffy? How come there's two of you?"

Carter looked at Finn, then at the other woman. "Take it easy, Finn. You might have a concussion on top of the zat effect."

"We tried ... God, I'm sorry..."

"Finn, it's not your fault," O'Neill said. "You get hit by one of those things, believe me, you're not worth much. I've been there."

Riley struggled to his feet, then slumped back down to his knees. Carter and Buffy helped him back upright as O'Neill grabbed a cup and filled it at Giles' sink. "Drink up. Zats take a lot out of you."

After taking a sip of water, Riley shook his head. "It's like they knew exactly what they were doing here. They came, sprayed us with the electrical guns, and just grabbed them and left."

"Coincidence?" Carter mused.

Riley shook his head. "I think I know what they were looking for. Look, if I told you I was looking for a guy with glasses who looked like an academic, who do you think of right away?"

"Giles," Buffy responded without thinking, at the exact same moment Carter and O'Neill answered "Daniel."

"They came after Willow," Riley said, clambering unsteadily to his feet. "They came after Willow for her magic, and when she got away, I think they wanted Giles. Only..."

"Only they couldn't tell one geek from another," O'Neill finished.

"Buffy, they know us ... they know you guys," Riley said. "They knew Willow was a witch. And they knew Giles was the man with the knowledge. How could they know that? I mean, who knows about that outside your Scoobies?"

"Spike," Buffy spat.

"The guy we met in the bar?" Carter asked dubiously.

"The guy in the bar," Buffy confirmed. "Who ... escaped Kheper the same time Willow did. So much for that idea."

"There's somebody else," O'Neill growled. "Someone who's feeding the bad guys information on the good guys. You got any usual suspects for that?"

"Spike," Buffy said sourly. "Beyond that, I have no idea." She shook her head. "I need a new list of usual suspects. You think you can find something like that on the Internet?"

Riley shook his head. "I'm thinking we may need to find a new Plan B on the Internet."

"Okay, blowing up the stronghold is definitely out," Buffy said to the group gathered around the Summers' dining table.

"Not necessarily," O'Neill countered.

"Excuse me," Xander snapped. "Did you just kinda forget that Kheper's got Giles? Plus your own resident egghead?"

"No," O'Neill said acidly. "Obviously, we get them out first. Then we blow up the compound."

"Right," Xander snapped. "Because we did so well on our home ground the last few times. I'm sure we'll be able to walk right into his home turf and rescue our guys. Only problem is, we're all gonna get killed in the process!"

"Not if we play this smart!" O'Neill shot back. "Okay, let's all take a deep breath and look at what we can and can't do."

"Okay," Willow said tentatively. "So what do we know about Kheper? I mean, really know?"

"He was exiled by the Sys - the gods," Teal'c intoned. "By Ra. He undoubtedly harbors great resentment for the Sun God."

"What about Apophis?" Willow asked. "I mean, I read the mythology, and Ra and Apophis weren't quite friendly. Was the truth anything like that?"

Teal'c steepled his fingers. "Apophis was Ra's chief rival for power. He despised being ... subordinate to another."

Willow smiled. "So I guess we can use that, huh?"

"I don't get it, Will," Buffy mused. Willow didn't answer, simply looking intently at Teal'c.

At Teal'c's forehead.

Teal'c slowly removed the wool cap from his head, exposing the gilded brand on his forehead. "It appears we have a weapon," he said, with the barest hint of a smile.

Xander broke into a sly smile. "I've got a weird feeling in my gut."

Anya looked over. "I told you not to eat that sandwich so fast."

"No, this isn't the sub ... although now you mention it, thanks, Anya ... no, this feels like a plan."

Buffy cocked her head. "Do we know what to do with one of those?"

Xander shook his head. "I'm not saying it's a good plan. But ... if we can get King Tut to tell us where they've got Giles and your guy, then maybe we can sneak in, get them out, and leave a little toy surprise behind. I mean, the big guy here is pretty much a messenger from Elvis, right?"

"Why stop there?" Anya asked. "Why not have someone impersonate the snake guy? I mean, Kheper hasn't seen him in five thousand years, how likely is it that someone would remain the same for that long?"

"Anya, that's ... that might actually work," Buffy said, with an impressed tone in her voice.

"No, it wouldn't," Carter immediately countered.

"Oh, sure," Anya said bitterly. "You can talk about your crazy ideas all you want, but when I actually contribute something, you just shoot it down, dismiss it out of hand-"

"Why wouldn't it work?" Tara asked.

"The Goa'uld ... they can sense the presence of one of their own. Or detect the absence. I ... I got taken by one, once. And they leave ... a trace," she said, shuddering.

Willow blinked. "So that's why you seemed to be able to do that Force-type thingy when you first saw us?"

"Yeah, there's ... something. I couldn't begin to describe it."

Willow looked over at Tara, then back at Carter. "You don't need to put it into words. Just try and remember what it feels like, okay?"

Carter frowned. "Sorry?"

"Just ... think about the trace you felt. What it feels like to be around one of those things ... you've been around them, I take it?"

Carter nodded, then closed her eyes, shivering slightly.

Willow closed her eyes in turn, her hand blindly reaching out for Tara's, muttered for a moment, and then nodded. "Okay. Tara, you want to give it a try?"

O'Neill shook his head. "I think we need another shopping list," he said, grabbing a piece of paper and beginning to scribble as Willow and Tara wandered up the stairs.

Buffy massaged her temples. "So we're actually doing this. We're going in."

Carter nodded. "Two teams, sir?"

"Yeah. One in the front door, draw the snake out, and the other going in one of the back ways, grab the hostages, plant the bomb, and get out," O'Neill said. "We'll need armor," he mused, scribbling some more on the list.

"We will also require something to attract the attention of the Goa'uld," Teal'c said.

"Like what?" Buffy asked. "Flowers, pizza, freshly cut minions? What do brain-sucking Egyptian demon snakes go for?"

"Shol'va," Teal'c responded.


"To be presented with the person of a traitor ... as a gift ... is an honor to a Goa'uld. Your pale companion would serve that purpose well."

Buffy blinked. "Spike? You want us to use Spike as bait?" She put her hand over her mouth, stifled a chuckle, then apparently thought better of it and broke into laughter.

"What?" O'Neill asked sharply.

"Spike. As bait. It's perfect. It's beautiful."

They were distracted by steps on the staircase. "We've got it," Tara announced triumphantly, an arm around Willow's waist.

Willow smiled, a reminder of happy times. "So what do you think?" she asked - but it wasn't her voice; it was too deep, too resonant.

Then her eyes flared white.