“Sir,” Rosenberg began the second the door closed behind them. “I’m sure you have a lot of questions and I swear I’ll tell you everything.”
Kawalsky nodded, motioning for her to sit down on the spare bed. It was unmade; all that was on it was a pillow. “I’m glad to hear that, Lieutenant.” He pulled a chair from the corner and positioned it directly in front of Rosenberg. Sitting down, he said, “But I think that’s a conversation that can wait until the entire team is together.”
Rosenberg looked worried by his words and she had every reason to.
Kawalsky knew his expression was anything but pleasant. It was all business. As much as he cared about his team, there was always that line between them. They were friends, at least he’d liked to think so, but none of them ever forgot who they were whenever they were with each other. There were always times when he would have to pull rank, and friendship couldn’t get in the way. Ever. Like now.
As Rosenberg’s friend, his first instinct was to make sure she was okay. He wanted to give her a break, time, like Daniel wanted. He didn’t know the full story about whatever went on here, but he knew it was big. She needed time to get over whatever happened with her friends and Mrs Summers.
But as Rosenberg’s C.O, his first instincts were to remove her from this mission. If this had been an off-world mission, he would have sent her ass through the Stargate the second he was able.
It wasn’t that Kawalsky doubted her ability. He didn’t. Kawalsky believed in Rosenberg as much as he always had. Just because she cried didn’t mean that she would be unable to function as a military officer. Hell, Kawalsky had cried before – and been scared.
Emotion wasn’t always a hindrance, like some races seemed to think. Emotion kept them going; it gave them strength when there was nothing left. But the second emotion began to take over, that’s when there were problems. When an officer – anyone – lost their objectivity, their ability to make sound decisions, it was time to pull them out.
The emotion Rosenberg had displayed in Mrs Summers’ living room had him worried. What had happened at the hospital with Angel had him even more worried… Okay, so maybe he was a little worried about her ability and judgment – and her emotional stability.
Christ, she had been crying hysterically, begging forgiveness. ‘A breakdown’ was how Cordelia had described it quietly to Angel, when they thought he couldn’t hear them back at Caritas. It was why he had insisted SR-1 accompany them here.
Kawalsky needed to be here. Not just as support, but to assess the situation. He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “Do you need a minute?” he asked, unable to begin their discussion without giving her the option. “If you want to go to the bathroom, pull yourself together…”
Rosenberg shook her head. “Thank you, Sir, but I’m good.”
“You look like shit.”
She laughed. “I feel like it. Between fighting the demons and…” Rosenberg waved towards the living room. “It’s been a rough day.”
“One to ten?” For some reason, it hurt Kawalsky to ask this question. Maybe because he knew, deep down, everything was different now. The way he looked at Rosenberg had changed forever – just like the way he looked at the world had.
“I’d say five, but I don’t think you’d believe me,” she confessed.
That was a ten then, maybe more. “Did the magic you used to fight the demons adversely affect you in any way?”
Rosenberg sat up in surprise. “How did you –”
“Long story,” he cut her off before they got sidetracked.
Rosenberg looked like she was going to ask, but decided – wisely – against it. “It drained me. I’m pretty sure if I close my eyes longer than a minute I’ll fall asleep. I’ve… I’ve never used that much power before.”
Kawalsky didn’t miss the way she shuddered. “That bad?”
Kawalsky had overheard Tara telling Angel and Cordelia about the power Willow had been drawing – dark power from the demons and whatever she could from Giles and Tara. Rosenberg hated magic, a person would have to be blind to miss it, and he could only imagine how she was feeling.
“That’s all? You don’t feel different or anything?” How was he supposed to treat Rosenberg after drawing power from demons? Was she a threat? Was she like someone under an alien influence of some sort?
“Aside from making me feel like nothing on this Earth could defeat me… No,” Willow told him. “The power left me drained, that’s all.
Thank Christ for that.
“Actually…” Rosenberg began, hesitantly. The expression on her face serious. “My power is a little more than drained. I-I think it’s gone. I can’t feel it.”
“Sir, what is it?”
Damn, he really had to work on that poker face. How the hell was he supposed to do this? Suddenly Kawalsky wished he had taken Mr Giles or someone else in with them. He didn’t know if he could explain it to her – or if he even wanted to.
“Sir?” Rosenberg was more worried now. “What happened? Do you know why I can’t feel my magic?”
“A lot happened, Rosenberg, and I’ll fill you in but…”
“But not until I’m sure you can handle it.” It cost Kawalsky more than he would ever admit to say that to Rosenberg.
Rosenberg was stunned. “Not until you’re sure I can handle it? You don’t think I can handle it?”
He was having a hard time looking at her. He really hated this job sometimes. “Considering what’s gone on tonight, I’m not so sure.”
“Sir, what you saw in the living room…” She struggled to find words.
“It was personal, I know,” he said, deciding to give her a break. “And, right now, I’m not worried about the details.”
She let out a small sigh of relief.
“What I am worried about is you,” he admitted, reluctantly getting down to business. “Rosenberg, I’m going to be honest with you. We’re all in deep shit and we don’t have time for bullshit. So I’m going to tell you what I think you can handle.”
“What you think…” She looked close to tears.
“Rosenberg, I hate this. Believe me when I tell you that I do NOT want to do this. But I don’t think I have a choice. Your behavior tonight… It has me worried. More than worried. I don’t want to tell you something you can’t handle because, right now, I can’t afford for you to lose it.”
She flinched his words.
Had he mentioned yet how much he hated being a Major? “We don’t just have your magic and the demons to worry about right now. Our most immediate concern is General O’Neill.”
Rosenberg took a deep breath and schooled her features. “He’s suspicious?”
Oh yeah. “The attack on the hospital made the national news.”
Willow’s eyes suddenly closed, as though she remembered something. “He saw me, didn’t he?” She covered her face with her hands. “There was a camera on me when I saw the demons. I forgot about it until just then, shit!”
“Yeah, they saw you.”
She looked up. “They?”
“Colonel Carter and Teal’c were with the General when Dr Fraiser called him to tell him she had seen you on the news.”
Rosenberg was freaked, not that it was a surprise. “SG-1 and Doctor Fraiser know I was at the hospital? What was I doing?”
“Aside from looking shit scared? They saw you take off.”
She was horrified. “They didn’t see the demons, did they?”
“No. I’m pretty sure the entire base would be here if they did,” he told her. “But can you understand my predicament? The General knows something happened, and he knows you’re involved.”
Worse than that, SG-1 knew. Kawalsky had no idea how they were going to stop them from coming here.
“I need to know what to tell him, Rosenberg, because right now I don’t have a clue.” He honestly didn’t. Kawalsky didn’t even know if he should call in the SGC or not. Seeing Rosenberg in the state she was in left him with serious doubts.
Cordelia’s arguments against him calling in the SGC were mainly based around Willow’s judgment, as was Kawalsky’s tentative decision not to make the call. Now Kawalsky doubted Rosenberg’s judgment – he doubted whether she should be here at all.
“What do I tell him, Lieutenant?”
She looked at him. “I don’t know.”
That made two of them. “Give me something,” he asked her. “Look, I know you’ve been through hell. Cordelia and Angel filled me in a little on your past, so I know this isn’t something new to you, but I need to know that you’re all right. I need to know you and your friends can handle this.” Like Cordelia said they could.
“Sir, we can handle this. We’ve done it before.”
“Cordelia mentioned that.”
She was surprised by his words. “She’s right. We – I – can do this. I’m all right, Sir. I know what you saw in the living room looked bad.” She winced. “But it wasn’t bad. It was good. I had some issues with my friends and we were working them out.”
“Because you abandoned them?” he used Cordelia’s wording.
She flinched. “Yes, Sir. I joined the Air Force and shut them out of my life.”
That much he figured out. Hearing Cordelia say that to Rosenberg had shocked the hell out of Kawalsky. Rosenberg was one of the most loyal people he knew; he couldn’t imagine her ever doing that – even after a tragedy.
God, he hated this! He didn’t know what to think anymore! He understood why Willow would leave her friends behind. She had only been a kid and, unless he lived through what she had, he had no right to judge her, but… Christ, what would happen if there was a tragedy with the SGC? What if they went through something off-world like this? Could she handle it?
Could she handle what he had to tell her about Annabelle? About how she almost killed Tara and Giles with her magic? He wasn’t so sure she could.
“There were reasons, Sir,” she told him. “But they don’t excuse what I’ve done. They forgave me, that’s why I was crying. Being here with Mrs Summers for the first time since Graduation… It was too much.”
It was the ‘too much’ he was worried about. There were too many too muches for Kawalsky’s liking. She had lost it, apparently, when they were first attacked by the demons according to Cordelia. She had lost it again at the hospital, forcing Angel to leave her behind while he checked for survivors… It wasn’t acceptable.
Kawalsky would be failing Rosenberg if he deemed it acceptable.
“Sir, I know what you’re thinking…”
Rosenberg nodded. “You think I’m too close to the situation, that I’m no longer able to do my job.”
Close enough. “Am I wrong?”
“…and no. I agree I’m close to the situation. Given my history and my behavior…” She swallowed nervously. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you asked me to return to the SGC. If this were a mission, you’d be sending me back to base and straight to MacKenzie. You probably want to anyway.”
Since Rosenberg was being so honest, Kawalsky thought she deserved the same from him. “The thought has crossed my mind.”
“But you’d be making a mistake. I know it looks like I’m a basket case, but I can still do my job. At the hospital I panicked because I thought Daniel and my friends were dead, but I still lured the demons away.”
Kawalsky closed his eyes. The comment from Willow made him feel better and worse. Better because it showed that Rosenberg had pulled herself together when needed, worse because Daniel’s well being was a key factor in her ‘losing it’. It was what Kawalsky feared would happened since he had found out how serious Rosenberg and Daniel were. She loved him too much to operate normally if he was in danger.
“You forced Angel to go into a potentially dangerous situation on his own,” Kawalsky pointed out. “What if there had been injured people up there? What if Daniel or Faith had been badly injured? They could have died in the time you wasted.”
His words had the impact he thought they would. She didn’t flinch or even make a face. It was the way her eyes changed. She knew what she had done. “I screwed up, Sir. I know that.”
Good. “So then tell me why I shouldn’t send you back to the SGC right now? Why I shouldn’t ask Jack to send twenty teams here? I just want one reason good reason, a real one. One that you would give me if this was a military situation.”
She opened her mouth.
“And not that ‘the world will end if we do’ crap. Cordelia’s already given me that argument.”
Rosenberg looked down at her hands, which were tightly clamped together. “I can’t think of any reason.”
It was Kawalsky’s turn to close his eyes. “I don’t have a reason either.” He sighed. “If you were in my situation, what would you do?”
“Send me back.” She lifted her head up high. “But then, if I was you and I did send me back and called in reinforcements… I’d be responsible for the end of the world.”
Kawalsky could understand why Cordelia would say that. She thought they were just military with no experience in these types of situations. But Rosenberg knew what they were trained for. Kawalsky wanted to know why she didn’t want them here either. “How can you be so sure?”
“Because the General will take over this situation and he won’t know how to stop it. The people in that living room, they know how to stop it.” She took a deep breath. “Sir, I know I’ve lost credibility, I know you’ve lost faith in me. Regardless of what you saw in the living room, my actions since I’ve been here have been completely unacceptable. I’m compromised, too close to the situation… And I know there is nothing I can say that can convince you otherwise or justify my actions.”
To be fair, Rosenberg’s actions weren’t all that bad, it was only some of her actions that were concerning him.
She met his eyes. “But I swear to you that sending me back to the SGC is a mistake. I can do this. I’m asking you to trust me. I’ve screwed up, but it won’t happen again.”
“Rosenberg, Willow, it’s an apocalypse. It’s not exactly the time to take risks.”
“Actually, for me, Sir, it is. My fear and all of my pain comes from losing my friends,” Willow told him. “The thought of losing my friends, Daniel, my team, scares me so much. I wouldn’t risk ANYONE unless I knew it was the best thing to do. Sir, I’ve never let you down before, not until I came here. You know what I’m capable of, how important saving people is to me.”
That wasn’t the problem. “Rosenberg, I know you’re a good person. That’s not in question, what I’m worried about is your ability to do what needs to be done. Off-world I probably wouldn’t doubt it, but here… I’m sorry, Rosenberg, but I’m not sure if I can give you the benefit of the doubt.”
“Then give me two or three days to prove it to you,” she pleaded. “Let me show you that I can do this. If you think there’s a chance I can’t, then send me back to the SGC and call the General. The apocalypse isn’t scheduled to happen for at least another week – ”
“Wait, all we have is a week?”
She smiled awkwardly. “Most of the time we don’t get that sort of warning.”
He could have lived without knowing that.
“Just give me three days, please.”
It was tempting. He wanted to believe in Rosenberg. “Rosenberg, watching you in action for three days isn’t going to change anything, especially if we don’t engage the demons for three days.”
“Then what can I do to prove to you that I can handle this?”
“I don’t know,” he confessed. “I honestly don’t know.”
“I would never do anything to jeopardize this world,” she said quietly.
“Not intentionally,” Kawalsky agreed. “Rosenberg, what if something had happened to Daniel at the hospital? What if he had been killed? Would we be sitting here having this conversation?”
“I don’t think we would be. Rosenberg, I asked Gunn, you never called Caritas after Mrs Summers brought you here. Why not?”
Again no answer.
This wasn’t looking good. “If I understand everything, this isn’t a situation that’s going to get any easier. More than likely, people are going to die. We can’t risk having someone on the team who is going to lose it every time a demon makes an appearance or someone is threatened or killed,” Kawalsky said.
“Permission to speak freely, Sir?”
Rosenberg took a shaky breath. “This fear, my reactions to certain situations – it’s not new, Sir. I’ve always been this scared of demons and never once has it prevented me from doing my job off-world. Yes, I know it’s caused me to make some mistakes here, but these are extenuating circumstances. Sir, what happened at the hospital wasn’t just about losing my friends… It was about Graduation.”
“The police, the peoples terror, the blood… It was just like after Graduation. That’s why I froze up. I thought… I thought it was Graduation all over again.”
Jesus. Okay, THAT changed things a little. Kawalsky knew exactly what that feeling was like, he’d had a few of those ‘flashbacks’ himself.
“But, Sir, I pulled myself together. What brought me out of my daze, for lack of a better term, were the demons. I couldn’t let them hurt anymore people, so I forced them to chase me. The fear you’re worried about has always been inside of me but I can still work with it, I have been for seven years, the only difference now is that you know about it.”
“And it’s with me both here and when I’m on an S&R mission. I could name five rescues where I’ve been so scared I found it hard to breathe. Even in my basic training, when we went on night maneuvers, I was scared. I never used to sleep.” She smiled sadly. “I used to steal Holy Water from the Academy Chapel the night before we left and fill my canteen with it. I kept crosses hidden in my socks, in my hair...”
Holy shit. “No one ever caught on?”
“SR-1 never did.”
WHAT? “You keep crosses hidden in your socks when you’re on missions with us?”
“Two crosses, usually in my pack. Holy Water in my spare canteen,” she replied. “And you never caught on to my fear, either.”
“Why haven’t you ever frozen on a mission?” he wanted to know. “Some of the things we’ve face have to be similar to this.”
She nodded. “They are, but…”
“When there’s a missing person at stake… I shut down my fear. I just think about the mission.”
Interesting. “Do you think you can do that here?”
No hesitation, no doubt.
“I’ve never let you down before this, Sir. Let me prove to you that I am still the person you know.”
“You can handle whatever happens from here on in?”
She nodded. “Absolutely. I will NOT let this world end and I won’t fail you or my friends again, you have my word.”
Kawalsky wasn’t sure what made him believe her. “If you can handle what I tell you now, I’ll give you a chance.”
She visibly relaxed. “Thank you, Sir.”
“Don’t thank me, yet, Rosenberg. What I’m about to tell you… none of it is good.”
She held her head high. “I’m ready.”
“We’ll deal with the magic first.”
** ** **
“Wow,” Sam exclaimed out loud. She now wished she had taken Teal’c up on his offer to help. The number of sites posted on the Internet about Sunnydale and the Sunnydale Massacre were astronomical. She had expected to find a few, but not this many. There weren’t just sites about Sunnydale either, some were, strangely enough, about the occult.
Taking a deep breath, she scroll down the page. She was going to start with any newspaper articles she could find, then she was going to look into the police reports. She had only just started looking for news sites when her eyes caught on another website.
“Survivors of Sunnydale.” The name of the site sent chills down her spine.
Intrigued, she clicked on link.
** ** **
She was paler than Kawalsky had ever seen her, but she hadn’t lost it. Her face was a mask of control, which he found just as unnerving as seeing her crying hysterically on the floor.
“Annabelle is dead,” Rosenberg said finally, speaking for the first time since he had finished explaining everything to her. “I almost killed Giles and Tara.” Though her face didn’t betray what she was thinking, her eyes did.
She was horrified.
Kawalsky would have felt the exact same way. “Neither one of them was your fault,” he reiterated what he had told her moments ago.
He wasn’t surprised that Rosenberg didn’t believe him. “Not my fault?”
“No. Not unless you deliberately sucked power out of Tara and Giles?”
“No!” she quickly denied. “I had no idea I was doing that! I didn’t even know I could do that.”
“Did you know the demons were connected to Tara and Annabelle before you sent them to the hospital? Or that the demons were going to go there instead of after you?”
She shook her head. “I didn’t know but… Annabelle’s dead.” The emotion finally reached her face. Devastation was the only word Kawalsky could use to describe it. “She didn’t die because I…”
“Mr Giles said she died instantly, the demon snapped her neck. She didn’t die because you choked.”
Not surprisingly, that didn’t appear to make her feel better. Kawalsky knew there was no real way to make her feel better. “Rosenberg, what happened here is what happens in war. You make a decision, right or wrong, and there are casualties.”
“Casualties?” his Lieutenant repeated, her voice a slightly raised. “Annabelle is dead! I almost killed Giles and Tara! I’m just supposed to be all right with that? Pretend like it didn’t happen? Sir, if this is what you want from me, to… to pretend that I’m okay with what happened, with what I did, then I’m sorry, I can’t do that. I can’t. I ordered Annabelle and the others to the hospital. I’m responsible. I can’t pretend like it didn’t happen.”
“Rosenberg,” Kawalsky voice rose as well. “Firstly, what happened with Giles and Tara was not your fault. You’ve said yourself you’re inexperienced with magic. I’ve also heard you say to Angel you using magic is as bad as an experienced person using a gun. That’s why that happened and we know that it won’t happen again. You’re powers are stripped.”
Which was Rosenberg’s saving grace where magic was concerned.
“Secondly, I’m not asking you to pretend it didn’t happen and I’m not asking you to be okay with it. You should NEVER be okay with casualties of war, what happened to Annabelle is something you should never forget.”
He had Rosenberg’s full attention.
“What I’m asking you is to not let it destroy you. If you let Annabelle’s death get to you so much that you can’t go on, then she died for nothing. Annabelle sacrificed herself so that Giles, Tara, Daniel and Faith could survive and stop the demons,” Kawalsky said. “It’s our job – our duty – to ensure that her death wasn’t a waste.”
She studied her hands in her lap. “She’s dead because of me.”
“She’s dead because demons killed her. The decision you made to send her there was a sound military decision, it would have been the exact same decision I would have made,” he told her. “The only way you would be responsible was if you sent the demons to kill her. Rosenberg, I don’t mean to be harsh but… This is reality. This is what you and I have to face everyday. What happened here could just as well happen on a mission. In fact, it HAS happened on a mission.”
Her head snapped up. “Not on one of ours.”
“No, but you’ve read some of the SGC’s earlier mission reports?”
“Did you read the report when the Pentagon shut down the SGC, after our first year operating, and Jack and the rest of his team went through the ‘gate against a direct order to stop Teal’c’s old boss from attacking us?”
“I know the mission you’re talking about.”
“Do you remember what happened to Daniel on that mission? He had taken a hit, he was dying.”
Oh yeah, she knew.
“What would have happened if Jack or Carter had let that destroy them? What if they had forgone the entire mission just to save Daniel because they couldn’t stand the thought of losing him?”
Rosenberg let his words sink in before answering. “You and I wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation.”
“No we wouldn’t be,” he said gently. “And that’s why we can’t allow ourselves to lose it, at least not when we’re in the middle of a situation like this. I’m not saying that you can’t mourn Annabelle’s death, Willow. When this is all over, we’ll mourn her and remember what she did for us. We can go over every inch of the mission and assign blame if you want… But not now.”
“Now we fight.”
“Exactly. We do what we trained we’re trained to do, and we NEVER give up, no matter how bad it gets.”
“Not until we stop breathing.”
YES! There she was, his girl. “Damn right, we won’t.”
He watched her carefully as she took everything in. There was still pain and guilt in her eyes, but she had it under control. It was enough to convince Kawalsky to give him a chance. Not a full reprieve, but a chance.
He wasn’t completely sure if Rosenberg could handle this, but she had earned the right to prove to him that she could. She was right; she hadn’t ever let him down. This was the first time he had ever seen her do anything unprofessional.
“Rosenberg, I’m going to give you those three days you asked for,” he announced, deciding that three days was the most he could give her. “You have three days to prove to me that I shouldn’t involve the SGC.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“But there is a catch,” Kawalsky said before she got too excited. “I know this is not a military situation, but the only condition that you stay here is if you follow chain of command.”
“Basically, we’re going to treat this like any other mission,” he began. “You are to only follow orders from myself, Captain Hayes, or Lieutenant Grogan.” Grogan and Rosenberg were the same rank, First Lieutenant, but on missions Grogan had seniority over Rosenberg. “We’re to be informed and kept appraised of every situation relating to the apocalypse. I want to know everything there is to know about your life and the supernatural, Rosenberg. Everything.”
Rosenberg didn’t look happy, but didn’t argue either.
“Any outings your friends want you to go on have to be cleared with me. Any plans of attack have to be cleared with me as well. I want full access to everything, Rosenberg. No secret meetings with your friends, no keeping me in the dark.”
Now for the hard part. “If I thought for a second Daniel would return to Colorado, I’d be sending him there, but I doubt that he’d go.”
A ghost of a smile played on her lips. “No, he wouldn’t.”
“When Tara is back to full strength, I’m going to ask her to heal Daniel.” Kawalsky didn’t like it, but what choice did he have? If he told Jack now that Daniel was injured, SG-1 would come running. If he went back to the SGC with Daniel injured – Jack would rip him a new one for not telling him immediately. It was catch twenty-two. “When that’s done, I don’t want the two of you working together at all, is that clear? Your feelings for him are a liability, it’s too dangerous.”
The true meaning behind his words hit Rosenberg and she reeled back in shock. She knew what he was saying – she and Daniel could never be in the position where they would be forced to work together. Both here and at the SGC.
“Do you think you can do that, Lieutenant?”
She jumped to her feet and saluted him.
Yeah, she could.
“Now, why we get out of here?” He got to his feet as well. “You look like you’re going to drop dead where we stand. You can give us a full briefing after you’ve had a good night’s sleep.”