Disclaimer the first: Rysher: Panzer/Davis owns Rebecca; MGM Television Entertainment & Stargate Productions own Jack O'Neill. I make nothing off this. Beta by Devo, Dragon, Gyrfalcon, and tarshan; all mistakes by me.
Second disclaimer: This is an AU in which John Horne died so his wife wouldn't.
Rated: PG for general principles. Written for Taselby, and for Crossovers100 prompt #72 -- fixed.
The emptiness of the bed might have roused her in another hour, but she woke to a red light blinking on the night table and a barely audible chime announcing an intruder in the house. There was no buzz of immortal presence, and Luther was dead -- Like Garnet, like John, like-- She stopped that thought short. Fully awake now, Rebecca eased out of her bed and wrapped a robe around herself because the fabric was dark and her skin wasn't.
She descended the stairs without a light, bare feet soundless on the treads and saber concealed behind her back. In the deep greys and blacks of her living room, a faint, blue light was flicking across the shelves from item to item, coming to rest at last on a bronze plaque older than Rebecca was. A satisfied huff of breath accompanied the click of the penlight going off.
Rebecca reached out and turned the overhead light on.
Her intruder was a tall, lean figure all in black clothing which looked both new and modern enough to keep him warm in the winter rain coming down outside. Water beaded and sparkled on the knit black cap; greying hair barely longer than the cap stood out against tanned skin. His mouth looked used to smiling, although he had no reason to just then, and his hands looked strong, competent, and all too familiar with the gun holstered on his hip.
She studied his gun while he studied her. When he didn't draw it, Rebecca nodded and let him see the sword in her hand rather than leaving him wondering what she had behind her back. "This is my house. That plaque is also mine."
"Yeah, I know. I kinda need it." Not quite clipped and faintly sarcastic, which didn't surprise her; honest despite that, which did. American, from somewhere in the Midwest, perhaps, but the accents were faint and conflicting, and might only indicate he watched a great many movies and TV shows. Or liked to sound as if he did. She wasn't underestimating the wits that had shaped his face.
"You need that plaque? Why?" Rebecca stood on the last step of the stair and studied him, musing aloud to see what reactions he gave. "Here in my house, with clothes from nowhere, and a gun -- which isn't that easily obtained in England, although it can be done -- and an American's voice and stance. And you want Graham's plaque, whose alloys Juan never could make sense of." That drew a wince, barely twitching the controlled skepticism of his face, and Rebecca continued, slow and thoughtful, "The plaque I declined to sell last month. And you've walked into my house with a gun, no identification, and either no back-up or a very disciplined back-up, since I've not yet been hit with hands or tranquilizer."
And he still hadn't reached for plaque or gun or offered her any noticeable threat, so Rebecca nodded to him and offered, "Come upstairs with me, if you want a chance to borrow it."
"A chance?" He was smiling now, however, and not with bravado or assumptions. If anything, his smile was... appreciative.
Rebecca found herself returning it, easily, as she hadn't smiled since John's death, and couldn't decide if she was glad to be healing, or regretful that John was slipping still farther away. "I could refuse you now if you'd prefer?" Rebecca stood aside and waved him towards the stairs.
He gave her sword an admiring look, too, and asked, "What do you bring to a knife fight?"
Rebecca managed to retain her smile. "You'd be surprised."
"Maybe." He shrugged and walked up the stairs beside her in a surprisingly companionable silence, looking around in open interest as they went and nodding his approval of some of the art and, once, at a green man carved into a beam half-hidden by the shadows.
She padded up the stairs as quietly as she'd descended them, bare feet silent on old wood beams as her free hand traced along the older stone of the walls. "I'm Rebecca."
He glanced at her, eyes crinkling with the laughter he was too polite to let out entirely. "I know."
Rebecca did laugh. "I can give you a use name if you want to trust me for one? I'm not going to call a man with a pistol 'Hey, you,' however."
"Why not? You've got the sword." He grinned at her, moving lightly with his laughter and as if he were fifteen years younger than his hair and face claimed. "A name, huh? Sure, make it Neil."
Rebecca unlocked the door to her salle with her shoulder blocking Neil's view of the keypad. "Yes, let's even that up." She turned on the light and moved to unlock the extra blades, turning back to appraise him. "I think... yes. Here, try this." She pulled a longsword off the wall, ruthlessly shoving away memories of its maker, its wielder, the lover who'd brought it back to her after her student's death.
Neil reached for the longsword's hilt when she handed it to him, not quite frowning. "What's this for?"
"You," Rebecca said patiently. She hung her saber on the wall by the hilt, not having to look to find the nails she'd put in years ago for that very reason. She pulled another longsword off the wall. "I've been practicing with saber the last few months. You won't be completely at a disadvantage."
"You want me to fight you with this?" Neil gave her a look as skeptical as his words. "I could just shoot you."
"Yes," Rebecca agreed gravely, watching that speaking body and expressive mouth. "You could. Do you choose to?"
He raised an eyebrow, then shrugged in amused resignation and unbuckled his pistol. He hung it and his jacket from the other set of nails -- Rebecca wasn't sure whether he'd spotted them on the other side of the door or guessed there must be some there. He hung his knit cap over the gun belt, revealing rumpled, mostly silver hair, and dripping water onto his shoulders. He brushed the beads away absently. "Last few months, huh?"
Rebecca nodded and realized she was trying not to laugh at herself for sparring in her favorite bathrobe. "Yes. Will you tell me why you want Graham's plaque?" It was an odd thing to want, really, much less to be here solely and specifically for. Ramirez had always claimed it was a masterwork of metallurgy, but he'd also said the story on it was in perfect Egyptian that didn't actually make any sense.
Neil hung the sword sheath next to his pistol, twisting the blade absently through the air as he got used to its weight and length, the way it moved and where the edges rested in relationship to his grip. "This isn't blunt."
"It isn't what I'd call sharp, either," Rebecca answered quietly, idly stretching her feet and calves as she waited for him. "It's been a while since it was properly honed."
"So who's this Graham?" Neil brought the sword up to a passable guard as he came to face her.
"An old friend of mine who owned the plaque before me," she answered, bringing her own sword up as well. He watched her hand and arm, adjusting his own positioning minutely and improving the angle of wrist and his line of defense. She'd teach him to tilt the blade and dodge his own sword edges in a moment.
Rebecca circled Neil lazily, bare feet gripping the smooth-planed oak floor as she moved. At the south end of the room, oak leaves waiting for the spring's new buds rasped against the window, reporting the rise of the winds. Her blade struck with the leaves' recession, tapping lightly against Neil's blade on first one side then the other.
He pulled his body back from her attack, but not his blade, holding it steady even as his torso withdrew. He stilled there, watching her and reevaluating, then moved back to his original position. "I can't tell you why we need it." His voice carried the apology his words hadn't, and his shrug reinforced it.
Rebecca circled back, widdershins now, and he turned with her, keeping his blade between them. He struck out, lightly -- a test, rather than a feint. Rebecca blocked it easily, gave him a moment to feel the impact and how his arm and wrist were correctly positioned, then threw his sword off and back. Her off hand was on the pommel, bracing her blade against his greater mass and strength. He was stronger, but she knew to the last fiber of muscle which angles would do her the most good.
She struck again, deliberately mirroring his previous attack and this time, Neil blocked and threw her back, mirroring her defense instinctively. She attacked again and again, slowly enough to let him block, precisely enough to force him into those beginner's blocks. In the moment she took to glance at his face rather than his body and his weapon, she saw awareness that she was both teaching him and testing him. From the way his left hand kept coming up to his hip as if to reinforce the strike and the ease with which he was picking this up, Rebecca was sure he'd fought with staff before.
Neil was the one who sped up the next time, still circling her lightly despite his grey hair, breathing steady and arm not yet tiring. Despite the increased speed, he wasn't striking any harder, but he was definitely pressing to see what she'd do. Rebecca let herself look at his face again and saw he was grinning from the joy of pushing himself body and mind, and from a certain pleasure in the unexpectedness of this fight. She was laughing herself with the pleasure of his company on a dark, too quiet night and the joy of teaching a skill she loved.
He laughed, too, and sped up again. He wasn't fighting to kill, but neither was he was in any mood to make this easy on either of them. He didn't yet know how to plot out strike sequences with a sword, but his instincts and reflexes for this were very good: when she threw his blade off, rather than simply hold it off his own unprotected torso, Neil let momentum and practice spin the blade back around into a new attack.
The ring of steel on steel kept picking up tempo, faster and faster still, and Rebecca had all she could do to keep either of them from shedding blood across half the room. Strong and quick, she'd expected -- courteous with it, and concerned for her skin as well as his, she hadn't, nor his lack of chauvinism. He'd spent years fighting with women, she was sure; he didn't underestimate her own speed or cunning, even when she gave him opportunities to fall into such traps.
Her robe had a gash in the arm now, but she hadn't flinched so he hadn't slowed. His own clothes were untouched, cut too close to his skin for Rebecca to go after them with a longsword; with a dagger, she'd have tried it. She sped up again, and this time he backed away.
Rebecca paused when he brought the blade up to guard, wondering where he'd learned the old signal for a breather.
Neil shook his head and said, "One of us is going to get hurt at that rate and I don't think that's your point here."
Rebecca studied him, her smile still edged with the delight of the spar. "Really? Why do you think that?"
He grinned at her. "You could have carved me like a Christmas turkey if you wanted, we both know that. But that was a hell of a lot of fun. Thanks."
Rebecca nodded, gathering her hair off her nape with her free hand to let the cool air dry the sweat off her neck. "You could have shot me at any time, broken my feet with your boots as we circled, or used your weight to bear me across the room. Why didn't you?"
Neil settled his sword to rest with the flat on his shoulder. "You could have come down those stairs with a pistol, or just called the police. Why didn't you?"
"I prefer to handle intruders myself," Rebecca told him seriously. "It's my house and my responsibility, as that plaque is." She sighed and added, "And I don't know why you need it, but yes, you may borrow it."
"Because I stopped?" Neil asked her, free hand rubbing at one eyebrow as if the sweat itched. His voice said he didn't think it was that simple; his face said he was genuinely curious about the reason.
So Rebecca told him. "Because of who you are, and who you've shown yourself to be. Bring the plaque back when you can, when you and yours -- whoever 'we' may be -- are done with it, back to me or to my heirs and assigns."
"That simple." He wasn't arguing, however, and he looked reassured, as if her answer made sense to him too. Neil looked around her practice room and asked, "So what do we clean these with?"
That, Rebecca hadn't expected. "What?"
"They're weapons," Neil said reasonably. "We've been using them. So, clean 'em, sharpen 'em -- been a while, you said -- and put them back." He said quietly, "We'll get the plaque back to you when we're done. I can't promise that'll be soon."
Rebecca nodded. "I didn't think it would be." She went and collected the bag of oils and honing stones and rags, carrying it in one hand and her blades in the other. She waved him out of the door ahead of her -- longsword and gun in his hands, coat and cap back on -- and tugged the door shut behind them with her foot. It clicked into place, locking automatically, and she walked down the stairs behind him.
Rebecca set the bag down on her coffee table, atop the previous day's copy of the Times. "I can get these, Neil. Your backup will be worrying by now, especially if they had a view of my attic windows."
Neil shrugged. "I signaled we'd be a while. It's all right for now."
Rebecca studied him, then smiled. "If I were a mad killer, that would be the wrong information to have given me."
"If you were, I'd be bleeding already," he pointed out, clearly amused by the reversal of roles. "Got any coffee?"
Rebecca laughed softly. "Take the plaque and be off with you. If you come back to your team smelling of fresh coffee while they've waited in the cold and wind for you, you'll deserve to be bleeding." She smiled suddenly. "And I don't have spare cups to send with a thermos, sorry."
This time Neil nodded and set his blade down on the papers. Some of the lightness left him as he resumed his duties, but only some; in combination with the laugh lines around his eyes and mouth, it made her suspect that working with him resulted in a great deal of laughter, probably at highly inappropriate moments. "Thanks," he said. "For the plaque, and for the spar."
"You're welcome," Rebecca told him, trying for gravity but still smiling despite herself, as amused as he had been. Her blood was moving again, and her life. His smile had something of John in it, her husband's joie de vivre perhaps. He also had intelligence to match John's and his own style of kindness, very different from her late husband's, but warming in the cold nonetheless. She hadn't realized she'd been so cold.
She waved him to the plaque and the way out, but she wasn't entirely surprised when he turned back at the door. It wasn't a thank you, however. He only said, "Sorry about your husband."
She stared at him, startled by the echo of her own thoughts, then said softly, "It wasn't just John, but also... a very old friend. Losing both of them at once... left me floundering. Thank you for the waking."
The pleasure of the spar had lit something inside him; the dark and the night close behind him in the doorway only made it brighter as Neil, or whatever his name truly was, simply said, "Combo like that is something anyone would want to wake from." His smile was sympathetic as he said, "Call it a trade for the loan."
Rebecca repaid his kindness by not asking how he recognized the feeling so easily. She only said quietly, "I'm awake now, and I meant what I said. Thank you. Now go, your team will be worried."
"They haven't broken in yet," he pointed out, irony covering his true feelings again. He nodded to her and vanished into the darkness, taking the plaque with him and leaving an eddy of fresh rain-scented wind behind as the rain blew through.
When the sun came up, she watched it with tea to hand and every blade in the house clean, resheathed, and honed sharp.
~ ~ ~ finis ~ ~ ~
Comments, Commentary, and Miscellanea:
Taselby has been wanting Jack O'Neill in a swordfight for years now; I finally managed to write this one.
Widdershins -- counterclockwise.
The old friend Rebecca referred to was Amanda. When I set this up as an AU where Rebecca survived Luther, my subconscious stubbornly insisted that not just John but also Amanda were dead. That part of this, I haven't enjoyed at all. And I'd say ignore that at will, but if I write a sequel, she'll still be gone, I'm afraid.
The fight, however, was fun, and the mutual sounding-out. I don't know why Stargate Command needs the plaque, but I do know the plaque is a naquadah alloy (naquadah being a non-Terran metal), and it's a miracle Ramirez didn't blow up part of Alexandria trying to figure out what it was made of. Rebecca Horne is, at the time of this story, almost 3300 years old; Graham Ashe was about a hundred years younger than she was. I don't know how long she's had the plaque, but 2,000 years wouldn't surprise me, nor would 400.
A new bathrobe showed up by messenger a week later, to replace the one Jack cut. There was no note.