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One Tin Soldier


by
D'Nalia



Part Twenty-Four

AJ Chedwidden had known John Marshall for over twenty-five years and been proud to call him 'friend' for twenty of those long years. They'd been through marriages, divorces, children, botched missions, rank and politics together. Their communication system, set up one night over numerous shots of Tequila, was a simple one. Odd Sundays John called, even Sundays were AJ's. No matter where they were, or what was going on in their lives, if they were physically able, they made the call. Missed Sundays were extremely rare and cause for great concern.

So receiving a call from John on a Tuesday morning was a pleasant surprise, albeit a worrying one. John wouldn't call out of the blue unless something, somewhere, had gone seriously wrong.

After exchanging the usual pleasantries, John quickly got to the point. "I need your help, AJ."

"Who do you want killed?" AJ quipped, trying to lighten the somber tone in his friend's voice.

John snorted, "if I just needed a corpse, I'd do it myself. You always make a mess."

John fell silent for a moment, "I'm afraid we've run into a bit of a legal situation here, AJ. We have a civilian being held for Tribunal, and we desperately need someone to take her case."

"I've got tons of lawyers, John. A few of them actually know what they're doing from time to time, but why are you coming to JAG? The Army has its own legal corps."

"This case is unique, to say the least, AJ."

Chedwidden rolled his eyes, "That's doubtful, John. It's all been done before."

"Maybe so, AJ, but the way it was done... now that's something else."

Leaning forward in his chair, Chedwidden grabbed a pen and a note pad. "Okay, John, what are the charges?"

"Well, it's bad, AJ. Really bad," John replied.

"No shit, John. They don't call Tribunals over parking tickets, so let's have it."

AJ could hear paper rustling in the background, "Sorry," John muttered, "I had to look up all the codes. I haven't memorized the UCMJ," he stated almost snidely.

"What can I say? I was bored. Just get on with it."

"All right, all right, hold your horses. Here we are. They've got her on Articles 895.95, 896.96, 897.97, 906.106, 908.108 and 919.119."

John pulled the phone away from his ear when AJ started blistering the phone lines. No one could let loose like a Navy man.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What the fuck is going on over there, John?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, AJ. You're going to have to see it for yourself."

Chedwidden fought the urge to bang his head against his desk. "Are you sure she's innocent, John? These are some really serious charges. It'll take a miracle to get her off."

John almost laughed, "Hell no, AJ. She's guilty as charged." AJ could plainly hear the sadness and horror in his friend's voice as he continued. "She was coerced, AJ. In the worst possible way you could imagine."

"Do you have proof of that, John? Solid, unquestionable proof?" AJ asked urgently.

"A shitload, AJ. In full color and surround sound."

AJ quickly glanced through his day planner, "Ah, screw it," he muttered. "I'll have to clear it with a few people, John, but I'll be out as soon as I can."

"I'll take care of the details, AJ. I've got full authorization from the CIC to expedite the process, just pack your bags. I'll be seeing you soon."

Admiral AJ Chedwidden hung up the phone, almost in shock. How the Hell did the President get involved in this?

Stalking across the room, Chedwidden had to make some quick decisions. He was going to need a researcher on this case, obviously. Ripping open his door, he yelled out, "Roberts! Front and center!"

Commander Roberts came out of his office at a rapid clip. It was hard to tell some days that he wore an artificial leg. "Yes, Admiral?"

"Pack your bags. We're going to California."

A boyish grin flashed across Robert's face, at odds with his prematurely silver hair. "Sir, yes Sir!"


~*~*~*~*~


Xander, Spike and Rom stood quietly against the rear wall of the isolation room while Giles and Coffey worked to remove the spell on Buffy. Giles, after some intense research, had decided that the spell Willow had cast was affecting Buffy's healing abilities. That was not the original purpose, however.

The spell had been designed to place the Slayer under the control of a person, rather than her calling as the Chosen One. Buffy's healing ability had been damaged because the Slayer, deep in her subconscious, was fighting the compulsion she'd been placed under. Giles had never looked prouder of his charge than he had when he'd discovered Buffy's efforts to break free of the spell. Even going to the point where she'd been willing to die, rather than be controlled.

But now the Watcher had the means to free his Slayer and return her to her former state. Hopefully, it wasn't too late to heal the damage that had been done to her body, as well as to her mind.


~*~*~*~*~


She was tired, bone tired. Death, when it finally came, would be a welcome release. Buffy's laughter echoed inside her mind, in the cage Willow had built to imprison her, the First Slayer's words echoed, 'Death is a gift.' Buffy had raged and battered against the walls holding her, to no avail. The spell was much too strong for her to break on her own. And there was no one she could ask for help.

She'd tried, many, many times. Occasionally, Giles would look at her as if he knew something was wrong, then the familiar daze would cloud her Watcher's normally piercing gaze. And Riley? She knew that he was spying on her for someone, she just didn't know who. She wanted to beg him to stop her, to kill her if need be, but the spell wouldn't allow that.

And then hope finally arrived in the form of Xander, of all people. But Buffy knew she shouldn't really have been surprised. Xander always showed up when least expected, but most needed. It was one of the few constants in Buffy's life. Then her Warden had rescued them.

Buffy thought she'd hated before, she hadn't. Not until the Warden had come into her life. Willow might have built the prison, but the Warden was keeping her here. The bastard took a great deal of pleasure in explaining to her just why her friend had done such a thing.

Buffy had screamed and howled inside her mind when he'd made her watch the tapes. Then she'd cried. Cried for Willow and Tara. Cried for Giles. And only then had she cried for herself.

When the wound in her leg became infected, Buffy didn't tell anyone. The spell allowed her that much freedom. Normally, her gifts as a Slayer would have taken care of the problem, but she'd used so much of her energy trying to break free, that there was nothing left.

Death was coming, she could feel it in the fever ravaging her body, and she welcomed it. Then, like a miracle, a faint glimmer of light.

Spike and another person, a potential Slayer, had come for her and brought her here. Wherever here was. But she could hear Giles' voice like a beacon in her mind. Then the walls of her prison came down and she was free.


~*~*~*~*~


Giles smiled when Buffy's eyes opened, "you're going to be fine, Buffy. I'm here."

Buffy nodded, "Xander?" she whispered through a throat that felt like she'd been gargling lava.

"I'm here, Buffy. Rest now. You've been really sick," Xander said as he came towards the bed.

Buffy shook her head, "Willow..." she managed to get out before her voice quit completely, so she just looked up at him with her heart in her eyes.

Xander smiled. It was a sad smile, but a smile nonetheless. "We know, Buffy, and we're taking care of it."

Buffy wanted to cry, he didn't understand. She latched onto his arm with the last of her strength, "wasn't her fault. hurt her and Tara."

Xander's smile turned feral, Buffy was oddly relieved. "We know, Buff, we found the data disks. We know what happened. We'll take good care of Willow and Tara. Everything will be all right now."

Buffy drifted off to sleep, feeling safe for the first time in a long time. Xander would take care of it. He always did.


~*~*~*~*~


Giles watched as Coffey and Rom gave Buffy a quick exam. The two medics conferred for a minute, then looked up with a smile. "Her vitals are already improving, it'll take a while, but she should be fine."

Giles almost collapsed in relief. "What about her Slayer abilities? Are you going to transfer them now?"

Coffey shook her head, "I think we should wait until she gets a little stronger. And I'd feel a lot better if my grandparents were here before we did anything. She's too weak for me to screw this up."

"I seriously doubt that you would 'screw this up', Granddaughter, but caution is always a good idea in situations like this," came a cultured voice from the doorway.

Everyone whirled around in surprise, not even Spike had heard the man coming into the room.

Coffey yelled and ran across the room, throwing herself into their visitor's arms. "Grandfather! You're here!"

Chi Yung Xi hugged his granddaughter tightly for a moment before saying, "You, my dear, have a talent for stating the obvious."

Coffey blushed, then started laughing, "I've missed you, Grandfather. Where's Grandmother?"

"And I you." Xi sighed heavily, "You know your Grandmother, she currently has her nose stuck to a tablet, it may be days before she even realizes where she is. Now, why don't you introduce me to your friends?"

Coffey made the introductions with a minimum of fuss. Xi didn't comment on the blush staining his granddaughter's cheeks when she introduced Romulus Montoya. She also didn't mention the fact that the young man she was so obviously interested in was a vampire. But he would discuss that with her later, now there were other things that needed to be attended to.

Looking the current Slayer over, Xi reluctantly found himself impressed. It was amazing, knowing what he knew, that this woman had held on as long as she had. With the utmost respect, he bowed to the unconscious woman, surprising everyone. Including his granddaughter.

"Grandfather?"

Xi sighed, "We, the human race as a whole, owe her a debt that can never be repaid." Looking up at them, he continued, "For seventeen years, an unheard of length of time to survive as a Slayer, this woman has fought against the darkness. And while she was fighting, long after she should have regained her life, how many others have been allowed to live due to her sacrifice? The average life expectancy of a Slayer is only six months. That is over thirty-four other young girls who have not had to face demons and die fighting. She has earned her freedom, and I'm going to see that she gets it."

Chi Yung Xi was not a large man, or physically imposing, but no one in that room doubted his words. Not for an instant.




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