Catch a boat to England baby
maybe to Spain
wherever I have gone
wherever I've been and gone
wherever I have gone
the blues run the game
THE ARCTIC CIRCLE, APRIL, 2008:
She's always hated Antarctica. (For values of 'always' stretching back over a decade, to the first time she'd been there, the first time she'd almost died there.) The Arctic is just the same (ice and more ice, and it doesn't look any different, but Achilles was going from Alexandria to America so this has to be the Arctic). Jack dead. Cam going-to-die (already dead, she knew it, Sam knew it, neither of them would say) and something more wrong than the Stargate just being in the wrong place when they stepped through (she'd dialed home, she knew she had, they all did), because Teal'c had been gone, and so had Vala, and the Tok'ra city had been vanishing behind the three of them as they ran (these our actors are but spirits).
Nearly a year spent negotiating the complex set of protocols between the Tok'ra and the Free Jaffa for the execution of the last System Lord. Getting the Jaffa High Council to agree to hand Ba'al over to the Tok'ra. (Frimi'ac, Aron, Ishta, and even Rak'nor had demanded hostages in exchange; General Landry had hysterics, Cam said they should send Jay Felger, and Jack -- damn him -- cracked jokes about a three-front war). And then they'd all had to fight about what to do with Ba'al. Or, really, how to do it, because everybody agreed Ba'al had to die, but the Jaffa didn't give a good goddamn about Ba'al's host, the Tok'ra were morally committed to extracting Ba'al before executing him (it), and the SGC just wanted it done. Yeah, good luck with that.
The extraction ceremony on dearly desert P9X-414 (hot and arid and oh god she wishes she was there now) had been supposed to be her last hurrah. SG-1's farewell cruise. Sam had the assignment of a lifetime on the horizon; Nowhere Field was begging Cam to come and train their new 302 wing; Teal'c ... well, he'd come to Earth to defeat the Goa'uld, not to live. With the Jaffa Nation squabbling (like two-year-olds, oh, she tries so hard not to think it, especially where somebody might develop spontaneous telepathy and read her mind, but even doing her very best to understand what they've been -- what the Goa'uld made of them -- and all they've suffered since their ancestors, her genetic brothers, were kidnapped from Earth to Dakara and twisted and changed to serve the whims of their monstrous captors, she finds herself out-of-patience with them far too often) his place is there, not here. She knows enough history to know too many of the paths the Jaffa can follow now. They deserve true freedom, not to become their own enslavers.
As for her, well, when they got home from the ceremony she'd been going to tell them (making official what she knows they all knew) she was leaving SG-1. They'd end as they began, with the death of a god. Fitting.
And that wasn't what happened.
Cam made her take off her glasses inside Achilles, because the metal would burn her skin. She does her best (now) not to cry. The tears would only freeze on her skin. (She'd always hated Antarctica. The Arctic is no different.)
"...So you see, the last of the Goa'uld System Lords, the last of my dear brothers, is still out there, and he has very special plans for you. It was you who gave us the idea, actually. I suspect it has already been put into action..."
Vala gone. Teal'c gone. The Tok'ra vanishing, not in an Asgard flash of light, but like smoke-dark holograms. Ba'al stood there and laughed and didn't even try to escape. He vanished like all the rest. But not before--
She kneels on the stone floor in the pooling blood, and her breath comes tight and fast and her hands shake and she's thinking of stabilizing the weapon in the wound, of improvising a stretcher, of anything to keep from knowing (because she's an archaeologist, a linguist, she shouldn't know these things) that the site and angle of penetration and the amount of blood mean the subclavian artery has been ripped to shit, and Jack is going to bleed out before they can get him home…
He'd ordered them to the Gate (ordered them to leave him; ordered her to leave him), and Cam dragged her away, dragged Sam (all that's left of SG-1, all that's left), and they ran, grabbing at each other as the Tok'ra city (the first city the Tok'ra had built on the surface of a planet in two thousand years; the city they built to symbolize the final discharge of their long-held trust) sublimated and vanished behind them.
And home isn't home: for one mad instant as she staggers through the Gate, it's not 2008, it's 1998 -- she's been marooned in Antarctica by a Gate malfunction but that means Jack is alive and everything's going to be all right.
Not this time.
Jack is dead, and Cam...
It's a monstrous cruelty that he survived Antarctica, survived impossible odds, and here a simple misstep kills him. But it's a misstep into water that's only liquid because it's brine, and they found Arctic gear in Achilles's hold but they were all in formal clothes for the ceremony and his shoe is frozen solid and the fabric above it is frozen to his skin.
They're carrying radios, but they don't work. Or there's nobody in range.
Dress blues, formal (skirted) suit (formal Jaffa robes and bright silky sun-dress and where is Vala, where is Teal'c, what happened?); they were carrying radios and GDOs, but no weapons (Jack was the only one who was armed because Jack never goes -- never went, oh god -- anywhere unarmed). Sam doesn't even have morphine to give to Cam. He orders them to go for help (they all know he's beyond help; but these and other lies commanders tell). She wants to argue, wants to tell him they'll carry him, make a travois, something.
He outweighs Sam and he outweighs her, and the only thing they could make a travois out of is the clothing they need to stay alive. She knows there's no help out here (they all know), and if they find it (but they won't), it will come too late for Cam.
He's entitled to die without watching them die too. And she and Sam owe it to SG-1 to die while trying to survive.
It's night. The cold burns like acid.
Jack dead. Cam dead. Now she and Sam are going to die, and they'll never even understand why.
They walk across ice so cold it isn't slippery -- at this temperature, the ice crystals behave like sand, frozen beyond any dream of melting. Except for around the ship (where the ship was before it sank) the ice is flat. It really isn't night and never was; more the darkest part of twilight, and beneath the Northern Lights the ice glows brightly enough for them to find their way. After a while the sun comes up, a smeary blur of color on the horizon. It was April this morning. She's too cold, stunned, exhausted to work out whether that means it's April now, and if it is, if the sun is going to continue to rise, or just set again.
She staggers, lurching into Sam. She's so cold she feels as if she's been beaten.
"All right?" Sam asks after a moment, her voice blurred by exhaustion and grief. "Dani?"
"Walk to Cairo," she answers, her voice a vicious croak. It's south of here. (They're at the North Pole: everything's south of here.) She wants to take Sam's hand, but her fingers, even in the mitts, are too numb to flex. "Cairo," she repeats, and forces herself to take the next step. And the next.
ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, 21 DAYS LATER:
Okay, she'd never completely warmed up to General Landry and he's never really known what to make of her. But three weeks in to her Alternate Universe Vacation she's hoping in a last-ditch way for a friendly face, an insider, someone who'll know them.
Jack had appeared, walking across the ice, and she'd been sure she was dead, or crazy, or maybe some exciting new combination of the two. He hadn't recognized her, he hadn't recognized Sam (no, he said Sam was dead), he wasn't willing to go back and rescue Cam. Then he'd dragged them all on board an atomic submarine and Cam was there. Alive. Expansively cheerful in a way she's only rarely seen him. The reason was obvious.
A long time ago (five years, a lifetime) Cam saved their lives (saved Earth) and his reward was to spend a year learning to walk again, because he'd crashed in Antarctica. And there are no secrets when you're on the front lines facing death: even if you don't tell them, they pass from skin to skin. And so Dani knows his greatest terror has always been to be crippled and trapped.
It's as if they all managed to grab their lifetimes' worth of luck with both hands and compress it into a tiny span of years, spending it recklessly to save Earth. Delusional magical thinking, but Cam smiles at them happily and tells them Alexandria's medical officer said he'll probably lose his leg. He's saying it's better than being dead (she knows that's the drugs talking and wonders what's in his IV besides morphine) and then Jack walks back in to the wardroom.
"A'n't you a'least gonna say 'hi' to your fiancée?" Cam asks him, and Jack looks at her with a cold stranger's eyes and says he's married. (Already married. Still married.)
After that she doesn't try to befriend the stranger wearing Jack's face.
They're kept isolated on the trip south, but isolated together and she does her best to keep up and pay attention (she knows how Sam deals with grief and loss and shock, and lucky Sam: her coping mechanisms are available to her even in the makeshift brig of an atomic submarine) as Sam worries at the problem and says things like: "Well, obviously, Ba'al's gone back in time and stopped the ship that was carrying the Stargate..." and Cam (who's still so plowed he actually calls her 'Jackie' once or twice) demands to know what would happen if the Stargate never reached America.
Other than the non-existence of the entire Stargate Program?
She's too tired (stunned, bereaved, grieving) to figure out what "no Stargate Program" means. It can't be the only change. Jack's still married. Charlie died in 1996, a few months before the first Abydos Mission, before Jack ever saw the Stargate. He and Sara should have divorced years ago. If that's still true.
Alexandria docks in Anchorage, Alaska. There are trucks waiting -- one truck for each of them -- and men with guns in the trucks. She doesn't know why they're being split up now. She assumes she's going to see Sam again as soon as they arrive wherever they're going, and Cam as soon as he's out of surgery.
There's two weeks of interrogations, and for once in her life she's cooperating with her interrogators. They ask where the blood on her clothes came from. They actually have to show her the tattered remains of ancient Arctic gear; the grey dress skirt and jacket, blouse and tattered pantyhose before she can figure out what they're talking about.
When she does, she laughs much too hard for a funeral.
Or a wake.
She should have taken his tags. That's what you do for the dead. You take their tags. She hates herself for forgetting.
Nobody answers her questions (she has a lot of questions), but the constant badgering has one useful side-effect. She starts thinking again.
Assume Ba'al was telling the truth at the Extraction Ceremony. Assume Sam's right. Ba'al travelled back in time and sabotaged Achilles specifically to destroy the Stargate Program.
Don't ask 'why'. Not yet. The real answer is both simple and simplistic: Ba'al wants to rule the universe. Right now, ask 'what'.
What else would he do?
He's lived undercover on Earth, he's broken into the SGC computers. Presume he knows everything in their mission files. There were three Goa'uld left behind on Earth after Ra's rebellion: Setesh, Hathor, and Osiris. If Ba'al wants to play the God Game, he has to have neutralized (killed) them too. Otherwise Hathor would have had more than a decade to consolidate her power base here; Osiris would have been released from his jar nine years ago; and since Setesh would still be skulking in the shadows, he and Osiris would probably (eventually) have formed an alliance.
Ba'al has to have killed all three of them.
And something somewhere in things done and undone must be the explanation for why Colonel O'Neill (Jack is dead) is still married. Has a son (she's nearly sure) in his twenties. She doesn't know Charlie O'Neill's birthdate, but she knows he was born in 1987 (eight when he died, eight years old).
Her speculations, the maybe-key to an unsolvable puzzle, are nearly irrelevant. Her interrogators ask her questions (she expects that) and then they repeat them. And they do it again. She isn't sure whether they're sadists, idiots, or drastically deficient in short-term memory skills. (She does know -- from some of the questions -- that somebody somewhere's been talking to Sam at the very least.) She cooperates (mostly, more or less, why do they expect a different answer when they're asking the same question?) Cooperating is their only chance of being let to put everything back the way it needs to be.
Between the endless (stupid) questions she keeps trying to explain to these strangers and their invisible masters (her years with the Program have taught her the military hierarchies of command and control; the buck may stop, but not here) how vital it is for them to undo what (whatever) Ba'al's done. All she has (all Sam has) are guesses, but if the Stargate (hers, Sam's, Catherine's) never made it to America, then either Ra still rules or Ba'al has supplanted Ra (Great Lord Ra, Lord of Heaven, Lord of the Earth, King of Truth, Lord of Eternity, Prince of Everlastingness, Sovereign of all the Gods, and too stupid to outrun a suitcase nuke) and is now Supreme System Lord. (The thought terrifies her: Ba'al's the cleverest of the Wise Serpents.) Either way the Goa'uld still rule, and Anubis -- the Replicators -- the Goa'uld themselves -- will someday come to destroy Earth. But she doesn't have enough information to convince these hostile strangers (to frighten them); because she doesn't know what happened in the first place. (Ba'al knows, a voice in her mind whispers. Ask him.)
She's asked to see Jack and General Hammond. Jack won't see her and they never answer her about General Hammond. She's beginning to think her captivity, this questioning, will go on forever. She finally asks about General Landry. She's shocked when the tag-team tells her she's going to meet with him. When the day comes, she goes where she's taken; Sam and several MPs are waiting in a hanger (decked out with festal meats, as for a wedding or a wake). General Landry is the last to arrive. Cam is with him.
Scrubs and a bathrobe, and a corpsman pushing his wheelchair. She glances down automatically, assessing. Only one foot is visible, and she takes a deep breath. They amputated, just as he'd said on Alexandria, but it's still a shock. She's gotten used, over time, to the miracles of Secured Medical and last-minute saves. Only SG-1 isn't a special case here, the team that bends the rules (of physics, of reality, of causality: wha'cha got?), and there's been no last minute save for Colonel Cameron Everett Mitchell.
Not this time.
Even so, seeing General Landry, for a moment she dares to hope (she and Cam and Sam remember the other timeline; maybe he does too). But he's just the pissed-off errand boy. Colonel (that's a shock, but Jack always said it was up or out) Hank Landry, USAF, Retired, who's pissed as hell to be dragged away from his birds and his roses and his wife and his California retirement to come talk to three lunatics. Only he doesn't think they're crazy. He actually believes, if not their entire story, a good bit of it. That's what makes what comes next hurt so much, she thinks.
First General (Colonel) Landry tells them about them. Sam had a different life (and died of it), and it took the Air Force ten days to find her Alternate Self (living in Cairo; apparently she married and renounced her American citizenship, they won't tell her who she married, or if she still is). But Cam was never born at all (in the world Ba'al's somehow made). Elias Mitchell was the captain of Achilles, and he died with his ship, and Elias Mitchell was Cam's grandfather.
Only -- here -- he never was. The Grandfather Paradox, played out with a cast of thousands.
And then Colonel Landry tells them they don't get to fix things (don't get to change everybody's nice comfortable lives), don't even get to stay together. In exchange for signing NDAs, they get identities, residences, vehicles, living allowances. Like the Witness Protection Program, except it's everybody else who's being protected from them. Violate any of its particulars, and it's off to jail ('remanded in custody'). None of them gets to know where the others are going. There will be no contact.
Someday the Navy will get the Stargate Program up and running, Colonel Landry says (she'd never warmed up to him), but as for them, they'll never go through the Gate again. They don't have the right to undo what Ba'al has done, he tells them. He calls them arrogant; she wonders if he understands all her dead are alive here, and changing the timeline means she has to kill them all again? Charlie Kawalsky, Robert Rothman ... the catalogue of her Earthly dead is vast, but here -- in this world -- Abydos never burned, Skaara wasn't taken, Sha're still lives.
Colonel Landry doesn't listen to their plea to set the timeline right. He won't listen when she asks -- when she begs -- him to let her, or let Sam, stay with Cam just until he's well again (because she's afraid Cam's in shock between the injury and being marooned here, and she knows there's a window after which rehab isn't really effective). He'll walk again someday if their jailers care enough. But anybody from the Teams knows all the steps in that dance: it's time and money and specialist care, and the last two are functions of your medical insurance. Theirs expired when they hit Achilles' deck.
Denied, denied, denied. Requests and reasonable petitions, denied. Cam stops her from pushing the issue any farther, his hand warm over hers. She knows the 'highest levels' are afraid of the three of them trying to change (trying to fix, goddammit) the timeline, but what the hell do they think an archaeologist and a man in a wheelchair can do?
Losing Cam in this vague indefinite final way is the thing she thinks may break her. All those long years in the Program, through shock after stunning shock (loss and death and epiphany) she'd always been faithful in her heart, later in her mind, last in body, but that for keeps. Without regret (except for sins of commission) and without temptation, but if things had been otherwise, it could have been Cam, and they've both known it for a long time. Might have been. Could have been. Never will be, but Cam and Sam are all she has left of the real world. Her loves. Her friends.
And the odds are against them just as they always were. So the story ends the way stories so often do: with tears, and a journey.
Exile on their own world.
Solitary confinement among billions.
NEW YORK CITY, APRIL 2008-2009:
You can get used to anything if it goes on long enough.
Jack always said that. Gallows philosophy, suitable for dungeon, torture chamber, and prison; SG-1's too-familiar way-stations, on their way to toppling empires and saving the world. This world doesn't want saving. And (hour follows hour, month follows month, you can get used to anything if it goes on long enough) it may not need it, either.
Some days she wants to believe that, because then maybe this Earth will be safe.
For some reason (she'll never ever understand the military mind ever) they give her a choice of cities to live in (so they're probably giving Sam and Cam similar choices). New York ... Boston ... Chicago... She picks New York. Her parents died here. Nick abandoned her here. It's a suitable city to mourn in.
One good thing about living in New York is it's hard to see the stars.
Her new residence is on the thirty-fifth floor of a midcentury apartment building on the Upper West Side. She didn't choose it, and she couldn't afford it on the paycheck of any job she can now hold. It comes furnished in hideous faux-Ikea: leather and chrome, soulless as an airport waiting room. Fitting, since that's what she's doing. Waiting.
There are rules, of course. A lot more of them than Colonel Landry (USAF, ret.) bothered to mention.
She has a case officer, whom she has to see weekly. Her case officer is CIA (and holds the purse strings). Every week Dani goes downtown to an anonymous office building, walks into an anonymous cubicle farm, and presents her list of demands (they're short: let me see my friends), and every week Kerry Johnson says "no", hands Dani her stipend check, and says they should meet for coffee sometime. Dani has no interest in meeting for coffee, and she wouldn't keep these appointments at all except she needs her smoke and mirrors subsidy. She's been forbidden to work in the fields of history, anthropology, archaeology, or linguistics. She can't teach, write books, do translation work of any kind. Of course she can't claim her previous degrees, but she can't go back to school to re-earn them, nor can she go to school to earn a degree in a similar field. She can't even leave the city without getting Agent Johnson's approval. Agent Johnson has to approve any change of residence she makes, any job she does take, and (it goes without saying), the government will investigate her friends, if she makes any.
She doesn't bother.
She walks around the city (for hours, for miles), reads books she always promised herself she'd read, composes long letters she never commits to paper. There's no one to send them to.
April is the cruelest month. She started her new life in April. She rages at the bars of her cage all through the summer and into the autumn, examining each possibility, waiting for a summons that never comes. Mourning a man who's still alive.
It's been seventy years since Ba'al won decisively. He should have already come to Earth and collected his winnings -- if he actually cares about Earth. But why should he? Ba'al's domains were always far from the Tau'ri. Even after they left their own doorstep and started killing gods, he had no idea who they were when she and Jack showed up in his secret lab. L'affaire Kanan is one of the many reasons relations with the Tok'ra, always awkward, worsened all during Anubis's War and fell apart spectacularly after Dakara. (Of course, the whole galaxy fell apart when the Ori came). They drew Ba'al into their battles, using him as a counterweight to Anubis: he was the only Goa'uld who could form strong enough alliances to slow Anubis down; the only one smart enough, in the end, to play a double-game against him. Small wonder -- in the wreck of the galaxy they, Anubis, the Replicators, the Ori, left among them -- Ba'al turned his attentions to Earth. Revenge, self-interest, self-preservation.
No need for that in this brave new world. He's won. He's probably made himself Supreme System Lord. He may never bother with Earth at all. It's hardly the center of the universe. And without a Stargate, an SGC, an SG-1, Earth's no threat to the Goa'uld Empire, no matter who's Supreme System Lord.
In fact, Ba'al's almost certainly wiped out the Tok'ra, so nobody's a threat to him.
The trouble with constructing that carefully-reasoned argument is that it ends up proving her jailors' point: truly this is the best of all possible worlds. But well enough is never left alone. Someday the Navy will salvage the Stargate and start (restart) the Stargate Program, and she and Sam and Cam will be brought in as consultants. They'll have no real choice. And by then -- if not earlier -- she'd better have reasoned her way all the way through the most complicated chess game of all and decided which horse she's going to bet on (oh, god, Jack, I miss you). Ba'al has been triumphant since 1939. He might invade Earth tomorrow. Or never. But any theoretical quasi-truce that exists will end the day the Navy (the Navy?) sends its first recon team through the Stargate.
Use the Stargate, Ba'al invades Earth. There are only three people on Earth who understand that, and there's only one she can count on. Cam might be dead (she doesn't want to think so, she knows she doesn't have the luxury of self-delusion). Sam ... she trusts Sam utterly, but Sam's never been smart about people (pot, kettle, yeah, yeah) and worse, Sam's military. Show her President Hayes and a bunch of Pentagon Generals talking about 'good of the Nation and all Mankind' and Sam might actually listen in order to decide whether they know what they're talking about. Dani's ahead of her there: Dani decided eighty-five percent of all Mankind were complete and utter morons by the time she was sixteen and she doubts any of the really bright ones are in American politics.
She misses Jack like she misses her life. These are Mission Scenarios she's trying to flounder her way through: strategy and tactics and best case and worst case and available intelligence and planning in advance for a thousand variables. Jack could do it in his head while wandering up to the Commissary for his morning coffee and bitching about the non-availability of crullers; the reason that side of things was never a big part of their pre-mission briefings (it took her years to realize) was if Jack had run down every possibility and the whole potential range of responses...
They'd probably still be briefing for the Chulak Mission.
If there's no Stargate Program Mark II, she has no options and no decisions she has to make: Ba'al invades and they all die. Or Ba'al doesn't invade and she and Sam and Cam die anyway: the only thing you can say for sure about Life is that it'll kill you.
If there is a Stargate Program Mark II...
Go through the Gate -- the three of them? (Oh, they've been told they won't be let to, and better than the US Navy have tried to stop SG-1 from going somewhere when it's decided to go.) Go where and do what? How badly will Cam's injury slow him down? (Oh god, will they have to leave him behind?) They could do it this year, next year, five years from now. Ten? Fifteen? What if the Gate isn't up and running for twenty-five years? It's possible. Cam will be in his seventies; she and Sam are older. Will be older.
Destroy the Gate? It's possible. There has to be some address that will do it (without destroying Earth; she knows plenty of the other kind). And (betting the odds) they'll bring her -- if not Sam or Cam -- into the Program Mark II. No one's irreplaceable, but she comes close: if they have a Stargate -- even if they have a DHD -- they'll still need addresses. The Coverstone was in Achilles' hold, along with all the artifacts and most of the records from the Giza dig. She's nearly sure they're going to try for the Antarctic Gate instead of salvaging the Arctic Gate: underwater salvage and archaeology in temperate waters is no picnic -- she'd hate to try it under the Arctic icecap with something that weighs sixty-four thousand pounds.
Safe to bet the odds (again) the Coverstone is lost.
When they interrogated her, she covered the theory of how the DHD worked but didn't provide any Gate addresses. Sam doesn't have any memorized except the ones for home, Cimmeria, and the Alpha Site, and neither does Cam. But without the address for Abydos, they can't get to the Abydan Cartouche Room, which means they'll be stuck cold-dialing addresses until they get a lock. Even with a lock, they'll need to build both a MALP and the equipment to monitor it unless they just want to walk through the Gate and take their chances. Simpler (for them) if she just gives up every address she knows.
She could make things easy. Or sabotage the Gate. Or possibly help train someone well enough to survive out there. Or use what she knows as leverage -- as a way for the three of them to slip through the Gate and escape.
Which should it be?
She doesn't want to make that call.
By December it doesn't seem to matter any more. Nothing much does. Winter settles in on New York with its usual pissy insincerity: just enough snow to be annoying, the temperatures hovering right at the freezing point so there's plenty of ice. It's enough reason for her to give up her walks. Almost the only time she goes out is to meet with Kerry. She spends more and more of her days asleep. She was never a morning person, but now she doesn't get up at all until evening, wandering around her apartment for a few hours then going back to bed. Why not?
These days, when Kerry asks her if there's anything she wants, her answer is always the same. No. Nothing. She knows she's giving up, slipping into despair. The Catholic religion says 'despair' is a sin, and Jack rejected Catholicism but never stopped believing despair was the greatest crime anyone could commit. Jack was military, and the military is a gestalt organism; despair is a betrayal of the man on your left, the woman on your right, the person behind you, the commander ahead of you. The mission. The innocent. All Mankind.
Jack is dead and she isn't military (never was), but for his sake she'd try to hope if she could think of anything to hope for. She knows what happened, but she can't figure out how everything went so wrong.
One day Kerry asks her what she's doing for Christmas. Dani stares at her blankly. She has nothing to celebrate and no one to celebrate with. Can't even send a card. She asks, once Kerry reminds her, and receives the usual answer. This time Kerry adds, "I'm sorry, Ms. Jackson."
She hasn't been 'Ms. Jackson' for a very long time, but that woman (that girl, that child) knew it was better not to want things. She forgot that lesson later. It's coming back to her now.
She walks home through the dark and the slush and the false gaiety of colored lights and wonders what she's staying alive for, except it's what you do. You're supposed to hold on, hold out, as long as possible. Hoping for rescue. Hoping to escape. Hoping some element of the situation changes and you can complete your mission. But there's no mission. Nobody's going to rescue her (any of them), and there's nowhere to escape to. She's home already, and she's waited eight months, and she's just realized she can't face the thought of spending the rest of her life just waiting. What is there to hope for? The Stargate's recovery? The invasion of Earth?
The question might not arise in her lifetime. The Antarctic Stargate is at the bottom of a fissure. Ice shifts. Fissures close. In a world where Charlie O'Neill is in college and Hank Landry's retired, a fissure of ice can close.
Night after night, day after day, Danielle Jackson dreams herself on alien Earths, beneath skies all the colors of the rainbow, beneath night skies clustered with moons like strings of pearls. The air smells of cinnamon, or cherries, or dust, and the air sings over the stones of ancient cities, whispers through the crowns of ancient trees.
Jack tells her that how the future plays out is something nobody can predict. He says he's living proof of that. (But Jack is both dead and alive, like Schrödinger's Cat.) Cam asks her to hold on just a little longer. Says that rescue comes even after you've given up hope. (The way it came for him, once upon a victory, but nobody's coming this time because there's nobody left.) In the distance she hears a silvery clangor and knows winter ice is breaking up, going over the falls, is wind chimes signaling the rising wind, is--
She fumbles up out of the depths of sleep. It's dark outside her window; she has no idea of what time it is. Beside her, the cellphone shrills on. She's supposed to carry it with her everywhere; she thinks her minders might use it to track her, because now that she doesn't go anywhere it's started ringing at random times: that's why she's been taking it to bed with her.
"What?" There's never anyone there when she answers it.
"Dani? Dani, are you there? It's--"
"Sam!" She scrabbles upright in bed, pressing the phone to her ear like a lifeline, babbling like an idiot (oh please don't let Sam be calling her to say that Cam is dead). "This is so great -- I was just thinking about you guys -- I was sure they'd let us see each other by now but every time I--"
"Look, have you been watching the news?" Sam interrupts.
"No," she says slowly, puzzled. (Is it Cam? Did he do something? Where is he?) "I don't have a TV. Why?"
She's out of the bed without realizing it, ripping back the blinds. New York is spread out below her in early-evening early-spring calm. She can see chains of headlights and taillights strung along the bridges in the distance. There's no sign of bombardment, of panic. "I'm in New York," Dani says blankly. It should be one of the first places Ba'al hits.
"I know," Sam says. "I'm on my way to Washington. I'll meet you and Cam there. Good luck."
"You too," she says, in the instant before the line goes dead.
She's up and dressing without having to think (just the way she always geared for a mission). Hiking boots and a leather bomber jacket instead of jump boots, A4, and tac vest; the rest is pretty much the same. She doesn't know how much Kerry Johnson knows about her secret history and she can't take the time to find out. She has an 'Emergency' number to call that isn't Kerry's. They never told her what constituted an emergency, but she's pretty sure the Goa'uld invading Earth is it. There's a moment of supreme cognitive dissonance when she hears the voice that answers at the other end.
"Colonel Maybourne," it says in her ear, and she has the sudden mad desire to say: "Hey, Harry, how you doing, planned any good double-crosses lately?" The moment passes. She takes a deep breath. "This is Dr. Danielle Jackson. If you answered this number, you know who I am. I need to get to Washington immediately."
Harry sends her to Kerry (and Dani's mind insists on making horrible puns she's far too young to know). From her apartment window the city looked normal; from the street Dani can tell it's on the edge of panic. It's impossible to get a cab and she doesn't want to risk the subway: she walks. The streets are more crowded the farther south she goes. Kerry calls after half an hour (it's 19:30 now) and wants to know where she is; when Dani tells her, Kerry says she'll come and get her. Dani tells her not to: the address she's been given for Kerry is in Tribeca, close to one of the main exit points from Manhattan. She doesn't know what Harry told Kerry, but it's enough to make Kerry really want to get Dani out of the city. Well, Dani wants to get out too, but short of Asgard beaming technology or Shanks' mare, her options are limited. The streets are jammed; nobody's going anywhere and Kerry certainly can't reach her by car. Apparently alien invasion means everybody wants to go to New Jersey. Who knew?
Around midnight (phone call number six) Kerry tells her to head for the South Street Seaport instead of Tribeca. The upside to that is almost nobody's in the Financial District after hours, even during Ragnarok -- although it isn't exactly the Twilight of the Gods happening here today.
Her phone rings again around two am. "Yeah if you can figure out any quicker way to get me out of here I'll be glad to hear it, otherwise why don't you--"
"Sounds like you're having a bad day, Jackson."
"Uh. Hi. Where are you?" She knows she sounds like an idiot but she can't help it.
"Pennsylvania, according to the pilot. Should be wheels down in a few minutes. You?"
"Wall Street," she says bitterly, and hears him laugh.
"Heading for the South Street Seaport, right? You just keep a move on. They got a nice ride all lined up for you. See you in a couple hours."
"Yeah," she says. She wants to ask him how he is, what's going on (she's only seen scraps of news coverage on the televisions she's passed), what they're going to do (what they're going to be let to do), how they're going to fix this or if they even can. She doesn't. "See you."
At 03:45 she's at the South Street Seaport. There's some kind of military Command Post set up, and a Coast Guard ship out on the river. It takes her twenty minutes to convince the kids on the checkpoint not to shoot her. They're part of a Reserves unit that got a set of bizarre orders; once they're sure Dani is who she says she is, Lieutenant Martinez tells her most of the Guard -- and anybody else the Mayor could mobilize -- is out on the streets trying to keep a lid on the city. His squad is waiting here for her: there's a helicopter (she can see it on the end of the pier) waiting to fly her out. They'll be joining the rest of their unit once she's out of here.
She tells them everything's going to be fine. Smiles at Julio Martinez (nineteen, from Queens, joined the Guard for college money) and says: "We just weren't expecting these guys so soon," implying with every line and tone and gesture that everything's fine, they come in peace, she's off to talk to the nice space aliens and then they can all walk hand-in-hand together into a Star Trek future.
Lieutenant Martinez smiles back, relieved.
He'll probably be dead before dawn.
She walks down to the end of the pier and climbs into the helicopter. Thank god it's still dark: her ride is one of those tiny two-seater glass-bubble things. She buckles herself in. The pilot hands her too-large gloves, earphones, a cap. The little dragonfly takes off, skimming low along the water. The pilot introduces himself -- Captain Greg Chang, Coast Guard SAR -- and says they'll be in DC in around forty minutes.
In another life it was three hours and change to DC by train. She was a grad student at Columbia, taking busman's holidays to the museums and archives in Washington, and the future was a bright and glorious place. It's been years and light-years since she tussled with scholarship like an inventive lover, and this trip takes a fraction of the time those long ago pilgrimages did. As they approach DC, Greg warns her he'll be touching down on the White House lawn and the Marines are going to want to hustle her inside pretty quick. She's glad of the warning, because he's actually still hovering when her door is jerked open by a man in olive drab and camo makeup. He knocks her hands away from her safety belt and unclips her, yanking her out of the copter so hard the jack for the headset comes loose from the pilot's console. Someone grabs her other arm, and she's carried halfway across the lawn before she can get her feet under her and do her own running.
The White House still looks the same inside. She drops gloves, hat, headset randomly, straightening her glasses as she's hustled down a corridor and into an elevator, then another corridor and another elevator. (Her escorts have stopped dragging her, but are apparently attempting to hurry her with the power of their minds. Yeah, like that'll work.) When she gets to the last elevator, it goes down a long way.
When it opens, she feels a pang of homesickness -- sharp as a knife -- for the SGC, because wherever she is doesn't look the same, but it has the same all-concrete-all-the-time deep earth architecture. There are Marines in Dress Blues flanking the elevator, and a man in a suit (slick and sleek and oddly familiar) comes forward. "Ms. Jackson? I'm Alex Coulson, Special Technology Advisor to President Hayes. Your friends are already here. If you'll just--"
She'd beem moving forward. Now she stops dead (once upon a time, Alec Coulson was a security leak she and Sam had to plug). "It isn't Ms. Jackson. It's Doctor Jackson. And they're my teammates, not just my friends. Now where are they?"
Sam and Cam are waiting in an empty Briefing Room. There are Styrofoam cups and an empty pizza box on the table. There's a television mounted on the wall; the sound is off, but it's showing picture, and for the first time Dani sees what everyone else on the planet has already seen: al'kesh swooping through Earth's atmosphere.
Sam and Cam get to their feet when she and Coulson appear in the doorway. Cam moves carefully; he walks with a cane now, and there are lines around his mouth that weren't there the last time she saw him. "Hey, Jackson," he says. "Saved you a slice of pizza."
"The President will see you now," Coulson says.
They're led into yet another elevator to go down to the Command Bunker, as the three of them catch up: Cam's been here since around three, Sam since a little after that, it's 4:30 now, and anything else about the past year can wait until they know whether or not they're going to live. As they walk into the bunker (past two more sets of guards), they hear President Hayes (the man who gave the order for their exile, the man who decided to play grasshopper for the year they could have spent trying to avert Ba'al's naquaadah winter) saying he has absolutely no idea why all those al'kesh would want to come to Earth to play 'tag-you're-dead' with their fighter aircraft.
"They're advance scout ships, Mr. President," Cam says, which at least has the benefit of interrupting the conversation. Hayes thanks them for coming, smiling a practiced political smile, and Dani wonders if he thinks he can charm them, and into doing what? He didn't even call them in to help -- if he had, it wouldn't have been Sam who called her, it wouldn't have taken them so long to get permission to do their jobs that they almost couldn't get here to do them at all. She feels a dull resentment grow (too late now, too late to do anything but die here) as Sam and Cam try to explain what he's facing, and Hayes never loses his expression of genial manipulation.
"So really?" he says. "What's coming next?"
"Death. Slavery," Dani says. "Oh, and then, um... more slavery, more death." She smiles at him brightly.
He really hasn't got any right to be angry after what he's done to make this happen, but he is. "Look, Miss, if you want to say 'I told you so,' go ahead and get it over with. But then you can do one of two things. Help -- or leave."
"Yeah," she says, turning away. "See ya!"
"Jackson!" Cam says.
"Oh, right," she says, turning back. "I completely forgot to say 'I told you so.'"
Cam reaches out and puts a hand on her arm, shaking his head slightly. She sighs, staring at the floor. She supposes she'd rather die with her friends than not, but Hayes is making it difficult to remember that. First he tells them the government has the Antarctic Stargate. Then he decides to remind them he was the one who gave the order to keep them away from it. And then he tells them his actual strategy for dealing with Ba'al involves using the Ancient Weapons Platform (and good luck to him in getting Jack to sit in it -- or in finding John Sheppard at all).
Of course, the Gate doesn't work yet, the Chair's still buried, and they don't have a ZPM to power it anyway. But they can actually work around that. Sam can get the Gate up and running in minutes. The trip to Proclarush Taonas won't be as fast as it would have been in Jack's modified tel'tak, but they don't have to make the whole trip by ship both ways: once they have the ZPM they can just Gate back to Earth from the nearest available Stargate. (They'll have to steal a ship to get to Proclarush Taonas, but it's not like they haven't stolen ships before.)
Don't you know that if you do this, you're sealing this timeline into place forever? We'll be stuck here forever? We'll never get to change it? She keeps her mouth shut. Sam and Cam are so happy to be back doing the things they were meant to do. Maybe -- if they save Earth -- Hayes will be grateful. Maybe he'll let Sam work on his Stargate Program and let Cam train his Gate Teams. Let them stay together. In a parody of their real lives, but ... she's no longer quite so certain she was right and Landry was wrong.
So many people's lives have been better here.
They're going to fly to McMurdo in four F15s. The other two are supposed to be full of Marines to babysit them to Proclarush Taonas (who will get their Marine asses killed somewhere between McMurdo and Proclarush Taonas, which is not her problem), and oddly enough, flying fighter aircraft is not among her many Stargate-related skills, so Sam will be flying one and Cam the other. (And she'll be riding second seat with Cam, because Sam might be able to complete the mission by herself, or Dani and Cam might be able to complete the mission together, and they have to make their plans on the basis of loss and catastrophe.) On the way to Andrews AFB Cam jokes about it being just like falling off a bicycle and Dani wonders if any of these people happen to know just why Cam walks with a cane.
"Relax," he tells her quietly. "Ain't like drivin' a car."
As if that matters.
Dani wants to tell him she's rather ride with Sam, but she's not sure he'd understand she was joking, and before she can figure out how to frame the sentence, Cam's leaning forward and asking the driver if they can hit up a McDonald's drive-through for breakfast.
No McDonald's, but bad coffee in the Ready Room while Cam and Sam get into flightsuits and they find Dani a helmet since nobody cares whether or not she passes out at 12 G's (she spent enough time around the edges of the 302 Program tagging along after Sam and Jack and Teal'c to know a little about these things), and then the three of them are walking out onto the tarmac and Cam's chatting to the flight mechanic. When they're at the plane Cam hands her his cane and climbs on up. She watches carefully (climbing with a foot and leg you can't feel isn't that different than climbing with a broken ankle) and when he's up and in, she follows, sliding into the seat behind him. He tells her where to put the cane so it won't kill them both in flight, then tells her sunnily to strap in and get some sleep, because it's going to be a long boring ride. She doesn't know what she answers; she's concentrating on trying to make her hands stop shaking as she closes the buckles on her safety harness. She's just as glad she hasn't had anything to eat since before she can remember.
She's especially glad when they get word just before they take off that the main fleet has arrived.
But then they're airborne.
Jack always used to say she borrowed trouble. Cam never did, because the war Cam fought beside her was the Ori War, and it was impossible to imagine more trouble than they were in. But as often as she imagined the worst (back in the day) she imagined the best, too. Success, and its aftermath. She imagines it now: home again triumphant, Ba'al blasted to ashes, the Goa'uld Empire toppled (one more time). They've spent a year with their lives on hold, not knowing if they're even entitled to have lives, but when they get back (having sealed their fates and this world's reality), surely then?
(She can't quite bring herself to take the step beyond the step of living in this world, but when she gets back from Antarctica, she is going to move out of that goddamned apartment.)
"You realize Ba'al's going to figure out where we're headed before we get within a thousand miles of McMurdo," Sam says once they're heading south. Her voice is sharp and immediate in Dani's ears; the display says she's transmitting on Tac 2, their private channel.
"He thinks we're dead, remember?" Cam answers.
"Oh, yeah, we have him now," Dani mutters, and Cam snorts (the sound is a moment of blurred static in her ears, but even though he's only a few feet away, she can't hear him otherwise; her ears are muffled by the helmet against the cockpit noise). "Don't make me pull this plane over," he tells her.
There's a complete set of tactical displays here in the back seat providing her a wealth of information she can't interpret. Apparently she could also shoot things from here if the controls were live. Thank god they aren't. (In fact, neither Cam's nor Sam's plane has any weapons at all, since apparently Hayes doesn't trust them not to shoot their escort out of the sky and make a run for it. As if there were anywhere to run to.)
All there is to see is clouds.
They've been airborne for coming up on half an hour when one of the other planes radios them. McMurdo has been destroyed. Return to base for further instructions.
"What further instructions can there be than 'kiss your ass goodbye?'" Sam snaps. (Dani has always been grateful she hasn't had to shoulder the entire burden of sarcasm on Cam's SG-1.)
"Let's go see," Cam says. And his unfailing good cheer in the face of disaster makes Dani close her eyes, because it's a year ago, two years, three, (five), and he drove her crazy, and she wanted to kill him, and somehow he got them all home alive, time after time.
When they drop below the clouds again they're over land, and the sky is falling. Like the fire rain on Edora, except they're seeing it from above. And she asks Cam what city's below them, and he tells her.
Their escort relays a last message from Hayes. A last desperate hope (though for what, now that McMurdo's gone and the Chair is gone she can't imagine; if Ba'al knew to nuke the one he knew to nuke the other, and even if the Chair's still there, even if they can get to Proclarush Taonas and back, how will they even find Jack in time?)
"The Russians have the other one. Do what you need to do."
And off they go again.
She died in Russia once, in connection with the last Russian Stargate program. She'll hope it isn't an omen.
They refuel twice in flight. Day becomes night again; they're flying east, outpacing the sun. She's trying to think, to imagine destinations, strategies, plans. Cimmeria, and try to contact the Asgard? Go to the Nox? If Lya and the others wouldn't help them, at least they wouldn't do them any harm. They could go after the time machine on Maybourne's World, but ... none of them has the Ancient gene that would let them operate it.
She doesn't think the Tollan or the Tok'ra are there any longer.
They're within sight of land (Cam says it's Russia; it could be China for all Dani knows) and Cam's saying they're low on fuel when they pick up a dozen Death Gliders.
"Sierra Golf Escort, we must complete our mission. Do you understand?" Cam says, his voice so steady in her headset it takes Dani a moment to realize he's ordering their escort to die. The radio robs Flight Leader's acknowledgement of any inflection it might contain.
She doesn't have time to think about it. Cam's spinning their (unarmed) F-15 through the air, dodging Glider fire, dropping them toward the water. "Sorry about the bumpy ride," he says. (She tries not to remember that hitting the water at this speed is the same as hitting concrete.) "How many on our six?"
Eight. "Too many," she says. Her voice overlaps with Sam reporting bogies at twelve. An instant later Sam changes her mind: they aren't Gliders. They're MiGs.
"You talk to them!" Cam demands. Fortunately Dani's had most of a day to figure out the radio. <"We're Americans!"> she says (please god let the Russians be listening on their frequency). <"Please shoot the people chasing us!">
The MiGs overfly them and engage the Goa'uld ships.
She wishes the Russians good hunting while there's still someone alive to hear.
Apparently you can't land an F-15 just anywhere. But there's a military base near where they need to be, and it's expecting them: she translates back and forth between the voice on the ground and Cam as they approach, only freezing up once when she realizes she's talking to General Chekov. (This timeline's version of Grigori Andreivich Chekov, anyway.) She's unbuckling and unhelmeting herself before their plane quite stops rolling. According to her watch they've been airborne for about ... oh never mind. It's still on Eastern Time anyway. She's surprised to see there's still ground crew here, but it's a good thing there is; it's a long way to the ground. A MiG isn't an F-15 though, and the ladder isn't a perfect fit. She makes it down without incident (stiff and aching, cane in tow), but Cam has a harder time. The ladder rocks and he slips and she drops the cane and jumps forward to catch him. He lands against her hard and she grabs him and he grabs her back and they stagger against each other, off-balance, holding on hard.
"Hi," he says, smiling, looking down at her. "Come here often?"
They've almost kissed too many times to count. The attraction's been there from the first. But she was promised, and Cam was honorable, and 'almost' was where they left it, even when 'almost' seemed harder than dealing with guilt and regret. (Assuming you could feel either one after you were dead.) And Cam is still honorable. But she isn't promised to anyone any more.
Best time. Worst time. Her timing's always sucked. Kissing him is worth it.
"Hey, guys?" Sam says, and they break apart.
Cam reaches for the ladder. Dani stoops to pick up his cane. And they go to see what General Chekov can give them to get them to the Stargate.
RUSSIA, APRIL 2009:
To the east the sky is bright, but not with dawn. Golden balls of light stream down from the heavens like slow comets. Ha'taks -- and possibly al'kesh -- are bombarding the earth from space. The horizon is red with fire. This isn't an attempt to cow them into surrender. Ba'al means to destroy them. Irrationally she wants to shake her fist and scream at the heavens: Why? We haven't done anything to you -- you've won! Leave us alone!
She knows better than to expect either mercy or kindness from the Goa'uld.
Russia's greatest military secret is twenty or thirty miles east of here (that's in the direction of the bombing) and they don't know what General Chekov knows about it. What he knows is he's been ordered to give them all possible cooperation. That's a thermos of tea, a flask of vodka, a couple of pistols, and the Russian version of a deuce and a half. Dani drives. If there are any road-signs, she can read them. She can talk to any soldiers they meet, too, if they meet any. And bluff their way through. Or Sam can shoot them.
The moon is full, so she drives without lights, only flipping them on at intervals to check the road ahead. Cam yelps: "Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-- where the Sam Hill did you get your license, Jackson?" and Sam laughs at him (and Dani remembers the three of them racing each other down NORAD Road in the summer twilight in the world they've lost): "She learned to drive when she was eight, Cam, what do you expect?"
It's ten miles to the first 'Forbidden' sign, and she doesn't see anyone on the road all that way. When she turns past the sign she gives up and switches on the lights, because the road is dirt, and it's rutted. The truck bucks and jounces its unsprung way along the road; she slows down just enough to keep from breaking an axle. Cam clings to the doorframe and Sam clings to the dashboard and to Cam, but they're all quiet now, because there might be soldiers here and there's no way to know what messages got where.
At last the dirt turns to blocks of crumbling cement, and against the glow of the horizon Dani can see the silhouette of buildings. All dark. As she drives closer, the glow of the truck's headlights show an open loading bay. She drives inside. Everything is dark, only faint safe-lights burning high overhead.
"This is not encouraging," she hears Cam say quietly as he gets out of the truck. She's already walking forward. The space is aircraft-hangar huge, and she can see a familiar shape in the shadows. A man is sitting beside it. He gets to his feet as he sees them. Grey uniform. Russian army. Not a man. A boy. Looks like he's still in his teens. Has a gun, though.
<"We were sent here by your government to take charge of this project,"> she says.
<"Go away, American. There is nothing for you here.">
"Where is everybody?" Cam asks, staring around as if he can't believe what he's seeing.
"At home with their families, where I should be," the boy says in English.
"I need to speak to the lead scientist on this project," Sam says urgently. Dani's already looking around for something she's certain she won't find. The DHD that goes with the Stargate. The Russians may even have it, but without the American Stargate Program, they'll have no idea the two artifacts go together.
"He is not here. None of them have been here for weeks," the Russian is saying.
"Really?" Cam asks. He sounds disbelieving, but it's actually fairly common for senior scientific staff here to desert a project that isn't going well, leaving their juniors to bear the brunt of failure.
The three of them have reached the Gate now. It's held upright in a crude wooden scaffold and surrounded by worktables. Dani sees Geiger counters, magnets, hammers, chisels, drills.
"We had no idea of purpose of artifact. We named it 'Anchor' because it was found on bottom of ocean," the boy is telling Sam.
Dani flips open one of the lab diaries and reads about attempts to chip off a piece of the Gate, to X-Ray it, to carbon-date it. Dark age voodoo science straight from an alchemist's lab, and the Gate might as well be a chunk of rock for all the use it is.
<"Look, are there any grown-ups here we could talk to?"> she asks.
<"Perhaps you would like to take your friends and go back where you came from!">
<"Perhaps next time you steal something you do not know how to work, you will ask someone who does before you manage to break it!">
"Look," Sam says firmly. "We can dial out manually if we have power. We've done it before. We need a power source."
The boy shrugs and switches back to English. "What you see now is emergency batteries. We lost main power to facility over three hours ago. I cannot give you what I do not have." He glares at her, and Sam is giving her a 'you broke it you fix it' look.
Dani runs her hands through her hair. <"Yes. Yes. We understand. I am sorry I called you a thief. But we have come a very long way to use this device, and it is very important we do. Is there any--">
There's a sudden high-pitched whine, and it doesn't matter how long it's been since she's heard it, she'll never forget it.
"Al'kesh," Sam says.
"And it's landing on the roof," Cam says, just as the whole building creaks under its weight.
"We must go!" the boy says.
"Take the truck!" Dani says.
"Leave your weapon!" Cam says, and the boy tosses him the Abakan as he runs.
Teal'c glaring at them with the iron arrogance of a living God's First Prime, but it isn't Apophis's mark he wears, it's Ba'al's. Ba'al took (has to have) Vala for his queen and Teal'c for his slave -- but it wasn't Vala he took, it was Qetesh, and now Ba'al is dead, murdered by his treacherous Queen.
The final task of a First Prime is to avenge his lord.
Jack once convinced Teal'c to betray Apophis with nothing more than the promise that somewhere things were different. They can't even offer him that: for seventy years Ba'al has bought Teal'c's loyalty in the coin of freedom (someday) for the Jaffa, and if that means slavery for humans, well ... the Jaffa, most of them, have never thought all that much of humans. The only reason Teal'c and his two lieutenants don't outwait them and kill them on the spot is because the Goa'uld fleet has targeted the building and his al'kesh's shields won't hold for long. He has a device the size of his hand that will not only power, but dial the Gate. The six of them make it through just as the al'kesh's shields fail completely.
The Jaffa go first. There's a split-second of disorientation as you step through the Gate. It costs the three of them. Teal'c yanks the AN-94 from Cam's hand and Cam staggers a step, catching himself on his cane. Teal'c's lip curls (the Jaffa despise weakness and impairment of any kind) and for a moment Dani hates her oldest friend.
But this Teal'c isn't her friend. He's a stranger.
They're in a place that looks like the Hall of Thor's Might on steroids. An X-shaped set of walkways cross an abyss. The Stargate is at the end of one arm. There's a console at the center. "Give me a reason I should not kill you where you stand," the First Prime of Ba'al says.
"Because you're a good man," Cam answers steadily, unafraid, and if Cam isn't afraid, Dani is, seeing the anger in Teal'c's eyes at a Tau'ri daring to place himself on equal terms with a Jaffa warrior.
"Because we can offer you the freedom of your people," Sam says. And it's an offer, but it sounds more as if she's giving an order to the universe: Free the Jaffa. "This is what Ba'al used to change the timeline. It has to be. I think this whole place is his time machine."
Teal'c is frowning at Sam, and he doesn't look happy. When Dani first met Teal'c in a dungeon on Chulak, he thought a Timex was magic. She doesn't know how much of the truth -- if any -- Ba'al has told him here.
"We're from a universe in which the Goa'uld are defeated -- dead -- and the Jaffa are free. Ba'al was the last, and he made this place, this machine, to travel back in time to undo his defeat," she says. Half guess, half certainty. "In my world, you and the host of Qetesh were two of his great enemies. He made you his First Prime and Qetesh his queen so he could enslave you both."
"This is the secret for which Ba'al was murdered," Teal'c says slowly.
"If you let us use this device, we can return history to the way it was meant to be," Sam says.
"The Goa'uld will be gone? The Jaffa will be free?" Teal'c asks.
"You have our word," Dani says, and Sam and Cam both nod.
"Let it be done." Teal'c raises his hand, and the other two Jaffa step back, lowering their staff weapons. The six of them start walking toward the crossroads.
"See?" Cam says to Teal'c. "We agree about everything."
After Qetesh murdered Ba'al and seized control of his fleet, it took Teal'c hours to evade his pursuers, locate the Russian Gate, and get there without drawing attention. Good in one way, as it gave the three of them time to -- just barely -- beat him to the scene. Bad in another, as it means they only have minutes before Qetesh arrives to take possession of the ultimate weapon (maybe the Ascended would stop her, but Dani isn't going to bet the farm on it): Ba'al's time machine.
Dani always used to think alien time machines were supposed to be complicated. This one isn't. It isn't really alien, either -- it's based on the stupid accident that got them all stuck in 1969 for a glorious two-week vacation about ten years ago. See solar flare. Send wormhole through solar flare. Step through Stargate into trouble. Only Ba'al's refined it: he has millions of tracking satellites orbiting millions of stars. And that means he can just about choose his year. Just like they need to.
But you can't hustle a solar flare. Too early, and they're dead of old age before Ba'al shows up to change things (or more likely die of suffocation; she isn't sure the establishing vortex would clear a path all the way to the surface of the Giza Plateau). Too late, and they're back in the Arctic, and this time Alexandria probably won't show up to save them. But she's thinking about the Next Thing already, because she isn't sure Sam and Cam realize that once they do this and kill Ba'al and fix the timeline, they're still stuck in their own past. (There's a version of her from a mission she doesn't remember -- and one of Sam, and of Jack -- who lived and died five thousand years ago in Egypt making things go right, and sometimes she wondered how they felt, living out their lives marooned in the past, and now she'll know. But Cam--)
Then the ring platform engages and there's no more time for thinking.
Cam is braced against the edge of the console; it takes two hands for the Abakan. Dani has her pistol and Sam's pistol, one in each hand, shooting like a Hollywood gangster. Qetesh's first wave of Jaffa go down quickly, but the second takes out both of Teal'c's Jaffa. He doesn't think to pass their staff-weapons back to them -- it's forbidden for humans in the Goa'uld Empire to touch 'Goa'uld Magic', and Teal'c isn't thinking far enough outside the box. They're taking too much enemy fire for Dani to go out and retrieve one herself, and she's almost out of ammo.
Qetesh's Jaffa move off the platform so another set can follow them down.
"I've found one, but you're not going to like it!" Sam shouts over the sound of staff-blasts.
"What's not to like?" Cam shouts back.
"It'll send us back to 1929!"
"That's ten years too soon!" Cam protests. But at least the Gate was above ground then -- the Giza Dig began in 1919 and the Gate was above ground in 1928.
"It'll have to--" she begins.
Cam sweeps his arm out, knocking Dani staggering -- and safely out of the way of a staff-blast. She thinks that's why he falls, but it isn't. She gets to her knees, grabbing for her guns, and smells burning flesh. He's lying on the ground, his head at her knees, and there's a staff-blast wound in his stomach, black and red and wet. He's struggling to sit up, and she braces him, and he glances down, and up at her, and smiles a little, apologetically. Missions. What'cha gonna do?
"Gimme a gun, Dani," he whispers, and she grabs one of her pistols and puts it in his hand. She kneels behind him, bracing him in a sitting position, and grabs his machine gun, and goes on shooting.
When he stops firing, Dani scrabbles for the other pistol, but she can't get Cam to close his fingers around it.
"Once I dial the Stargate, we'll have--" There's a heartbeat of hesitation as Sam looks down and sees Cam. "--we'll have less than twenty seconds to get through!"
"Come on then!" Dani shouts, her voice hoarse and breaking. Goodbye, Cam, goodbye. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye... "Come on!" She gets to her feet, telling herself there's no need to take care with someone who's beyond feeling her care, but she doesn't quite succeed. Once she's laid Cam's body down, she staggers over to Teal'c, sacrificing grace to speed. There are only three enemy Jaffa standing, and between them, they drop them all. Teal'c can come with them -- he can use his device to Gate through to somewhere else from Giza, somewhere he can replace the prim'ta, because she isn't leaving him behind and there isn't time to take a meeting, even though they have a blessed few seconds of silence and peace.
"Come on!" she shouts again, urgently, as the rings engage again.
She pulls the trigger on the Abakan, but it does nothing but click, and she steps back reflexively. Sam is starting to turn away from the console when one of the arriving Jaffa takes aim and shoots her. Sam jerks back and then sprawls across the console, hands clutching and twitching uselessly. Dani starts toward her, choking back a cry. Sam isn't dead. She can't be dead. She's just hurt, but Dani can help her, they'll get away, and--.
The Stargate engages.
"Once I dial the Stargate, we'll have less than twenty seconds to get through."
She turns away. "Teal'c! Come on!" ("For this you can stay at my place!")
But he turns back toward the enemy. (The final task of a First Prime is to avenge his lord.) He's bracketed in a hail of staff-blasts -- falling, dying -- but the Jaffa don't notice her yet.
"Once I dial the Stargate, we'll have less than twenty seconds to get through."
She turns away and runs toward the Event Horizon, tossing the useless weapon aside as she runs. Goodbye, Cam, goodbye, Sam, goodbye Teal'c. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye...
GIZA PLATEAU, SUMMER 1929:
She hit the Gate running, so she's still running when she comes out the other side. It's night. Soft air, chill air, the familiar scents of the desert like a blow to the chest. Enough to stop her, paralyze her, if she weren't frantic with adrenaline and terror. Soft earth -- sand -- workers' trenches -- her night-sight is shot to hell but she doesn't dare stop. Dogs barking, voices shouting -- she trips over a tent-rope and falls hard, but she rolls to her feet and keeps running. Dani inherited Catherine's photo album of the dig -- pictures Catherine's father took -- and she's seen the official documentary photos and maps and excavation grids, but none of that's enough to help her navigate this place blind.
It's sheer luck (eight, ten, fourteen years of frontline combat, of all the men and women who lent her their training and their skills) that lets her make it to the motor pool. She slides under one of the trucks, panting and gagging. Everybody's running the other way. Toward the Stargate. Wondering what the hell just happened.
And in the interstitial moment when she can finally stop running (because she's been running since the moment they fled the dissolving execution chamber on P9X-414, running every day of the last year), she can't run from the events of the last hour, the last day.
She's had a year to come to terms with the pain of losing Jack, but tipping over into love with Cam and looking forward to a future together and losing him all in less than a day leaves her breathless with raw new grief. And Sam -- oh, god, losing Sam is like losing her own history (Captain-Doctor Samantha Eileen Carter, impressed but unfazed by Dani's genius because she was just as brilliant: they didn't understand each other's disciplines but they understood all the important things).
Sam is dead.
Cam is dead.
(Jack has been dead for a long time, not long enough for her to heal.)
Teal'c. Twisted, enslaved, slain. Vala, never freed. Earth in flames. Death and slavery, she'd told Hayes mockingly. Slavery and death. It shouldn't matter more because it's Earth, but it does.
Cam and Sam and Sam and Cam and Cam died protecting her and he's dead, dead, dead and she kissed him, she loves him, she loved him because there's no one else left, because Ba'al killed Jack before this all began and Charlie was alive and Jack didn't know her and she kissed Cam and Cam is dead and she saw Sam die and Sam was her friend, the only friend she had left...
She can't make a sound. They'll find her. She digs to find the bandana in her pocket and wads it into her mouth, and closes her eyes as tight as she can, but it doesn't stop the tears. She wants to go with them. She doesn't care where they are. Dead, in an altered reality, she doesn't care. She wants to be with her team. With Cam. With Jack. Cam wouldn't let her stay with Jack, and it didn't make any difference in the end, and she had to lose Cam too, and it isn't fair...
Tears trickle down the sides of her face. She strains to be silent, strains to hear the sounds around her, strains to be still. I can't do this. The phrase repeats endlessly in her mind. Like a prayer. Like a petition. I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't do this. I can't do this...
She's alone. She's all alone. She's somewhere in the-- In the fucking goddamned past that's where, with no team, with no equipment, with no anything, with only one bare fact: in 1939 the Stargate is shipped from Egypt to America on the ship Achilles and Ba'al sabotages Achilles en route.
Please, please, please. You sent the wrong person.
She doesn't know who she could possibly be telling this to, because there are no gods. Oma? If the Ascended cared, they'd've fixed the timeline when they had a chance. Before everybody died. The Ascended don't care. Nobody cares. There's only her, and she's all alone (because Cam is dead, because Sam is dead, because Cam is dead, and Teal'c, and Jack, oh Jack, Jack, Jack...) If Sam was right (Sam was always right), Dani's somewhere in 1929 now. She has a decade to figure out how to stop Ba'al, starting with nothing. She tells herself that all she needs to do -- now and for years to come -- is escape, evade, survive. Achilles will sail out of Alexandria in November of 1939. She needs to be on board prepared to defend the Stargate and stop Ba'al.
And if by some miracle she succeeds, nothing changes (not for her). She'll still be here, because she'll have no way to leap seventy years into the future and go home.
She's all alone. Until the day she dies, she'll be alone.
She lies still and breathes slowly, listening for warning that her hiding place might be discovered. The camp has finally gone quiet again, but she wants to give it a bit more time before she moves. Physical and emotional exhaustion conspire, and eventually she can remove her improvised self-imposed gag and breathe more freely. (Grieving and probably shocky but hey: functional.) She'll need to move soon. The first thing she needs is local costume.
As her body relaxes, she begins to shiver. Oh god, she'd forgotten how cold it got out here at night. She's damned lucky she's got her jacket.
Cowhide with a sheepskin collar, but the raglan cuffs and hem are a polyester blend and it's lined in quilted rayon acetate. The fiberfill is a modern performance blend.
She wears a digital watch on a Velcro band. It tells the day, the date, the year, and it's powered by a battery smaller than her little fingernail.
Her glasses have modern high-impact plastic frames. Their lenses darken in response to sunlight.
Her hiking boots are marvels of modern engineering and chemistry. Part of the upper is leather, that's about it. Her socks are another unknown-to-1929 artificial fiber.
Before she even reaches the contents of her pockets -- cellphone, flashlight, Swiss Army Knife, wallet (with credit cards and driver's license that are useless to her and money that's worse than counterfeit), tin of Excedrin, bottle of prescription antihistamines, rollerball pen, notepad -- she realizes this isn't just a case of stealing some local costume and trying to fit in. She needs to figure out how to dispose of some of the most indestructible materials on Earth.
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT, 1932:
In the last three-something years she's acquired an identity (using her own name, and why not -- 'Jackson' is a common enough name and so is 'Danielle'), an entirely fictitious dead husband (since she quickly discovered a widow has more social mobility than a woman who has never married, and why didn't she ever study something useful in school, like, oh, say, Early 20th Century History and Sociology?), and a means of earning a living. Her papers say she's Canadian, because she thought that might be safer than being American, and give her maiden name as 'Carter' because apparently there's something wrong with being Irish so she couldn't use 'O'Neill'. This is not her culture, and the only thing that has excused her constant mistakes has been constantly shifting her ground -- blaming a childhood spent in France, or a girlhood spent in Canada, or a young womanhood spent in America -- depending on her audience -- for the things she simply does not know. And although it is apparently vital -- if she is to move in the European expat community -- to have a religion, it must not only be Protestant, but Protestant of a specific sort. (There are days when her head really goddamned hurts.) Her parents probably haven't been born yet. It's possible. She doesn't know her parents' birthdays or the years they were born. She could have found out. Claire Ballard Jackson and Melburne Norcross Jackson were figures public enough to have left a paper trail. She never had. Who could imagine the information would someday become mission-critical?
She doesn't know anything about her grandmother beyond a name and a possible year of death. She knows little more about her grandfather (Nick wasn't much for anecdotal history). Maybe Nick and Kaatje haven't met yet either.
If she can't do what she came here to do, it won't matter whether or not -- thirty three years from now -- a little girl (who's also her) is born right here and lives to grow up, because forty-four years after she's born, the Goa'uld will come to Earth and kill her.
There are times now when she weeps. It's not out of self-pity. That part of her mind is obsessed with all the ways she can fail here, but she hasn't failed yet. Won't truly have failed until she's dead, because even if Ba'al once again successfully torpedoes Achilles, she knows where to search for it. She can find Professor Langford, make sure he finds Achilles -- there are a thousand ways for her to set the future back on track. If she has to. You keep trying until you die, Jack's voice says in her mind, the remembered tone simple and matter-of-fact, as if he's saying water is wet.
No, when she cries in the night, it's out of fear. Loneliness. Her native planet is unbearably strange, and there's no one she can talk to. She thinks of all the things Jack never said to her, and she thinks she'd understand them now. The fear of forgetting who you really are. The fear of being surrounded by enemies, because even the most well-meaning bystander can destroy you when you're living a lie. The fear that -- in deep cover, a long cold way from supply and support -- even skill and luck won't save the mission. Absence and accident and misjudgment; a thousand critical places to lose the game of chess she's playing for all the marbles there ever will be.
That's a problem for another day. Right now, her problem is one she knows Jack would understand all too well: information-gathering and survival. She's found a job she can do without fear of introducing anachronisms to the timeline: she's what this era still quaintly calls a 'lady typewriter'. It's a polite fiction (a male fiction) to cover the fact she actually does translation work for the University here (and for the Foreign Office, every now and then). She ignores every man who tells her she's 'quite clever for a woman' -- Dani has no interest in fighting the academic trench-wars three generations before her own era; she has bigger fish to fry. She loves two men with all her heart, and neither of them will ever be born if she does not do what she was sent here to do.
What her friends died so she could come here to do.
She's turned down a number of offers of marriage, and a number of offers of less-regular arrangements. Going by her memory -- the only way a time-traveler can reckon time -- she's in her middle forties, but she can pass (in this here, this now) for a woman fifteen and even twenty years younger. Ascension, sarcophagus, the modern (future) advances in medical care written into her bones, she has no fucking clue how old her body thinks it is. The men she deals with think she's young and pretty (young and pretty equals 'stupid' in men's minds, that's nothing new). It's another weapon, and she has damned few of those. Her work pays well enough, and she always takes her fees in cash (not as unusual here as it will someday be). She doesn't trust banks. She read in Paris Match about a big Wall Street crash back in America and that the banks failed (She's cursed the fact almost daily that she knows more about 1932BCE than she does about 1932CE) and she's worried the same thing might happen here. For that matter, while she knows the date of the American entry into World War Two -- December 7th, 1941 -- she only knows a lot of other parts of the world were at war earlier -- not which parts, or how much earlier, or what it might mean here in Egypt.
She's lonely, but not as lonely as she was in New York. She has a lot of things to figure out how to do by November 1939.
How to stow away on Achilles and figure out how to stay hidden as long as she has to. To choose and acquire the weapons that have the best chance of killing Ba'al on his arrival (and she has to make sure the prim'ta in any Jaffa with him can't take a local host).
She subscribes to The Shipping News, so she knows how long it takes a freighter to sail from Alexandria to Boston (three weeks, plus up to two additional weeks during Storm Season, which is November to March, and she doesn't understand why they shipped the Stargate across the Atlantic in November, but maybe she'll figure it out later). She's bought a set of charts for the Atlantic to try to figure out where a ship drifting without power would have to start from to end up in the Arctic, and she still isn't sure. It's occurred to her more than once there's no reason to assume Ba'al simply came back to 1939 and began his empire-building then. He'd need to neutralize his past-self (they know simple time-travel doesn't destroy your other self; the four of them -- her and Jack and Sam and Teal'c -- existed conterminously with their other selves when they went back to 1969) and seize past-Ba'al's domains for himself. He probably did that before he Gated into the hold of Achilles. He's probably out there in the galaxy slaughtering people right now.
It doesn't matter. Kill him on Achilles and the entire Ourobourous-worm of tainted causality and Grandfather Paradox unspirals again. The future will unfold as it should, even though she won't live to see it happen. Old age, or vanishing in a puff of smoke, 2008 is seventy-eight years from now: she won't live long enough to check her work.
It doesn't matter. But only in a way. In another way she needs to be sure, very sure what she'll do has worked. And so she writes to Cam. Cameron. Cameron Everett Mitchell, born someday, Colonel someday, SG-1 someday. A long letter she won't precisely send. She owns a very large, very thick, blank book and writes in it every night. Everything she can think of that will help him. Persuade him. (If it isn't needed after all, it will be the only record of her that will ever exist: she's selfish enough to want something to survive.)
The Morgan Guarantee Trust is a big bank in New York. Her inheritance was administered through them, so she knows the bank survives into the future. It's in New York, so it won't get bombed out in the war. She'll leave the book in a safe-deposit box there, with orders for it to be delivered to Cam on the day they Gate home (would have Gated home, will Gate home; she has to believe that) from the Extraction Ceremony. The package will go to the SGC, and if the SGC isn't there, to his home address in Colorado Springs, and if he isn't there, then to him at his home in Black Mountain.
If the package doesn't reach him at any of those addresses, she's failed.
If it does reach him, he can use it to check her work. And either everything's fine -- and SG-1 has another WTF story to add to its legend -- or it isn't fine.
Then it's up to Cam to try to fix things.
She sees Achilles for the first time (second time?) on a bright summer day in 1934. She's walking down by the harbor looking at the incoming ships, because the day she needs to stow away on Achilles is not the day to start learning about them.
Summer is one of the things Dani loves about the city where she was born. In the past few years she's been upriver to Cairo and Luxor, seen the Sphinx and the Pyramids as they'll never look in her true lifetime (she's seen their analogues halfway across the galaxy, as sharp-cut and new as if they were built yesterday, but age has its charms). A simple change of clothes and she sheds her Western skin; blue eyes and fair skin aren't as uncommon here as Europeans think; there are half-a-dozen tribes and peoples she could belong to (Berber, Afghani). But she knows a lot of her so-employable cachet resides in the fact she's European, and 'going native' is apparently an unforgivable sin, so she's careful. Today she's very Western: modest and sensible 'walking' skirt and sturdy shoes and a no-nonsense 'shirtwaist' blouse and a broad-brimmed hat (she employs a laundress and an ironer -- thank god labor is cheap in Alexandria, or she'd never be able to leave her rooms except naked).
It's been five years of playing a role: she's gotten better at it. Filling in the gaps, making the culturally-appropriate responses reflex and second nature (my turn to curtsey, your turn to bow). She smiles, she defers to men, she's learned to flutter and flatter. (Which card is the lady? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.) Misdirection is a weapon of war; it's one of Life's great ironies that she understands Jack better now than she ever did when he was alive. (Of course, Jack hasn't actually been born yet. It's her responsibility to make sure he is, to make sure the life he has is the one she remembers.)
There are times she wonders if Dr. Danielle Jackson is still in here, or if the masquerade is all there is (new masks for old). It doesn't really matter. When all this is over she isn't going home. She might as well go native.
But not until she's done what she came to do. She walks along the dock, assessing the ships. Points of approach, methods of entry. How many crew? How many on watch? Can she possibly get aboard as crew?
Then she looks up, and simply stops. It's Cam on the deck of one of the ships, stripped to the waist, a battered seaman's cap on his head, and she's thinking of time-travel, of a careful diary she hasn't sent yet finding its way to him, of him tumbling back through the years to this time, this place, because things went wrong but he's here, and now she'll get -- they'll get -- another chance to set things right--
Then he turns, and it isn't Cam. Bearded, broader in the shoulders, the shorter proportions of a generation raised before mega-vitamins. He cups a hand over his mouth to shout something to someone on the deck, and she lowers her gaze to the side of the ship. Achilles.
Her ride is here.
But it's five years too early. She and Captain Mitchell will have to wait a little while to make each others' acquaintance.
Jack told her once -- looking surprised and a little embarrassed that he needed to acquaint Dani with her own family history -- that Nicholas Ballard and his wife had been members of the Raad van Verzet during World War Two. It's from Jack that Dani knows her grandmother's name was Kaatje, that Kaatje was arrested by the SS, that Kaatje vanished forever, leaving Nicholas and their young daughter (Mommy!) to survive as best they could. Nick told her nothing -- not her grandmother's name, not incidents of her mother's childhood. All Nick taught her was a passion for hopeless quests and windmill-tilting. But some lessons, it seems, are bred in the bone.
It's 1936, and Mrs. Danielle Carter Jackson of Alexandria ... vanishes.
Places to go, people to see. There's a war in Spain, and Dani remembers that old movie Sam liked (but she can't remember the name of it), so she knows this war leads in to the bigger one. Spain is fighting Italy, and she forgets which side Italy is on in World War Two, but right now it's on Germany's side, and Germany's already under Hitler. She doesn't look German enough to pass as a native, but Germany's still courting public opinion and it's easy to get permits to travel there. She could derail the entire 20th Century and avert millions of deaths with one bullet. But she won't. She'll let that future unfold, and in killing Ba'al, summon a future that encompasses the deaths of not millions, but billions, all across the galaxy.
She tries to see some way to a future that doesn't contain the Ori. And she can't.
Her first new career is forger -- Europe is drowning in documentation: identity papers, permits to travel, passports -- but she won't be able to stop Ba'al by waving a carte d'identité at him three years from now. To do what she hopes (intends) to, she needs money, equipment, engineers, artificers. She needs to re-create Stargate Command in miniature: all the people who made it possible for SG-1 to step through the Gate, all the people Jack never took for granted, all the people he taught her not to take for granted. It will take money for her to leave the diary for Cam. Shipping it to America will cost hundreds of dollars, but at least she can send it by air: the Hindenburg started making regular transatlantic flights this year. There have been a few regular flights (by which she means regular planes), but there's no non-zeppelin transatlantic service yet, and she has no idea if there will be by the time she needs it. (If she'd known she was going to spend the rest of her life in the early 20th century, she'd have picked a different academic specialty.)
But whether she sends the diary by ship, plane, or hot-air balloon, sending it will cost a staggering amount, and setting up and funding the trust to pay for its care into the next century will cost thousands more, and all those expenses are on top of anything she'll need to spend in order to take out Ba'al. Forgery pays well, but running guns pays better, so soon she's running guns to the Republicanos. (This means she's fighting on the same side as Russia, which strikes her as hysterically funny, a joke she can't share, let alone explain). It's dangerous work -- there's a war on -- and she has to be careful, because here in the past (a foreign country, a predicament), medical technology is barely past the cupping and leeches stage. Antibiotics haven't been discovered yet (actually they have -- according to her research -- but they won't be available commercially for another decade). There's Salvarsin, but that's only useful if you've got syphilis. Sulfa drugs are the precursor to true antibiotics; they're just starting to become available. The current treatment for injury and sickness is hopeful asepsis, aspirin, and prayer. (She'd pray if she believed anyone was listening, because she had her appendix out once, and it came back, and the mortality rate in appendectomies at this end of the century is too high for her taste.)
But when Achilles (and the Stargate) docks safely in Boston Harbor she can finally relax. She can even be hit by a car if she wants (yeah, how about not). She's even decided what she'll do in order to avoid affecting the timeline. Since she'll probably be caught once she kills Ba'al, she won't travel with any identification. She'll send her documents and some money ahead to a bank in Boston, escape from Achilles after it arrives in port (it isn't as if she can't break out of wherever Captain Mitchell decides to lock her up), pick up her documents, buy passage back to Egypt (back home, a part of her mind insists) and this time, she will 'go native'.
It will be a relief to shed her Western skin once and for all. It's never really fit that well.
Meanwhile, she's busy amassing the wealth that will make all that possible. She runs a gang, of course (couldn't get this stuff done without one), and she doesn't trust them (none of them in this business are idealists, not even her, and there are nights when she misses her team -- her friends -- so sharply that she can't breathe), but she's reasonably sure she's bought their loyalty. She's planning to wrap things up here in Spain and head back to Alexandria by the summer of 1939 -- plenty of time to handle her last-minute details -- and it's getting harder and harder for the Republicanos to come up with the money to pay her, even with their many international friends.
There's been a price on her head for a while. She hadn't realized how high it had gotten. High enough for Mike (her chief lieutenant and oh god she misses Teal'c) to decide to sell her. It's the winter of '38 and they're doing a handoff in Andorra (she brings gold, the French bring guns, everybody leaves happy) when a deal goes south with a vengeance. Mike waits until the crates are in the truck and the French have driven off. Then he shoots Juan and Carlos and tells her the two of them are going to take a little drive. She can't outbid the Bando Nacional -- she tries -- and there's no point in arguing they're as likely to shoot him as pay him. Turncoats never listen. (Shol'va, she thinks, in a secret part of her mind.)
He disarms her and gags her and ties her hand and foot and throws her in the back of the truck. It's the first break she's gotten. It takes her an hour to get her hands free (she carries a cut-throat razor in her boot, something she's careful not to let anybody know). Once her hands are free, the ropes on her feet are off in seconds, and she's in the back of a truck full of rifles, machine guns, and ammunition. She loads a rifle and waits for her chance. When the truck comes to a stop -- not a checkpoint; she listens and doesn't hear any voices -- she shoots into the cab. Point-blank range. The bullet should go through both canvas and glass.
And it does, but Mike isn't dead, or not immediately. The truck lurches forward. They're in the fucking mountains and they're speeding up, and a dead man is driving her truck. The back is open, but it's the middle of the night; they're running dark -- no brake-lights -- and she doesn't have enough information to know if she can jump and not kill herself.
Stay here and you'll die, Dani. Jump.
The voice seems to come from outside her. Jack. Cam. She takes a deep breath, trying to remember everything she knows about taking a fall, and throws herself out into the night.
Weightlessness. Impact. She rolls.
Jack badgers her to her feet, telling her he walked out of Iraq on a broken leg and she can get her ass down a goddamned mountain in France. She tells him it's Spain. He tells her it doesn't matter what country you die in if you die. Cam says he's always had a preference for dying somewhere warm, preferably in bed, preferably at an advanced age, and this place is not warm, so she really ought to take General O'Neill's advice there, baby.
She doesn't think it's fair for Cam to be on Jack's side, considering everything. She decides not to mention that she thinks her wrist is broken (too) or that she might have hit her head a little too hard. Maybe the ankle's just sprained. She crawls back up onto the road. When she gets to her feet, the pain is so bad she nearly passes out. She stops to lace her boot punishingly tight, then takes one step. And another.
She'd freeze to death out here -- or stop -- if Jack and Cam weren't with her. Keeping her warm. Keeping her awake. Keeping her moving. Cam's the one who finds the truck. It finally slewed off the edge of the road into a snowbank (Merry -- belated -- Christmas). One headlight's smashed and the hood is sprung, and the windshield's crazed where Mike's head hit it, but it was in neutral, so it starts again when she tries the ignition. Jack's the one who reminds her to strip Mike of all his ID before she dumps Mike's body in the road. Her right wrist is the broken one; she has to reach across herself to shift. At least there's coffee -- boiled and harsh and spiked with the local moonshine -- it tastes like kerosene, and the only reason she knows it isn't kerosene is because they're carrying thirty liters of it in the back, so why would they have a thermos of it in the front?
(Might have survived the crash just fine if she'd stayed with the truck. Might have been smashed to shit by the crates in the back and be dead. No way to tell.)
Cam sits beside her and Jack takes shotgun (RHIP). She was going directly from picking up the shipment to handing it off -- dangerous, but it's getting harder and harder to get her hands on guns and even harder than that to find safe places to store them -- so Jack and Cam argue about whether she should keep the rendezvous (Cam is for, Jack's against) but Cam wins. She's five hours late to the particular shelled, burnt, bombed-out piece of Spanish countryside that's been declared their Switzerland du jour, and the truck has sounded for the last two hours as if it wants nothing more than to lie down and die (Dani shares its feelings), but her contact is still waiting for her.
Pulling the truck to a stop is the last thing she remembers.
She's unconscious for three days, concussed, feverish. She wakes up full of morphine in somebody's bedroom with her wrist and ankle in plaster. She's staying with the sister of her contact -- at first Dani thought Maria was Leda, and this was Tegalus -- and Maria doesn't want to know what her brother's doing, or who Dani is. She's desolated to tell Dani her friends are dead, and tells Dani she will pray for their souls.
<"The men who were with you. You called out for them. Jack. Cam.">
The names sound odd in Maria's soft Spanish.
<"Yes,"> she answers. <"Both of them are dead. It will comfort me to know you pray for them.">
If Jack knew about it, you'd be able to hear him on the Moon. (After Charlie's death he cursed God and hoped to die; she knows that without the words ever having been spoken.) She knows Cam was a believer, but she never understood how he could still believe the universe was governed by a just and loving God after Antarctica, after the Ori. She mocked him, argued with him. She wishes now she could have that simple and easy belief in a teleological Creation.
But she can't.
She waives the second half of her payment as a thank-you gift for her life. Moving is agony, but laudanum and harder drugs are easy to get, and she owes it to her hosts to leave as soon as possible. She makes it to Madrid in a haze of opiates (she has a safe-house there), reactivates her Danielle Jackson identity (the Republicanos -- and therefore the Bando Nacional -- know her as the American 'Samantha Murray'; she hopes Sam and Teal'c would approve), spends a couple of days catching her breath, then takes the train to Valencia. Valencia is held by the Republicanos. Valencia is a port city. She takes ship for Alexandria.
Algeria, Tunisia, Malta, Libya (currently an Italian colony, but Tunisia and Algeria are French and Malta and Egypt are British: North Africa and the Mediterranean are still a box of colonial chocolates), the tramp steamer makes its pokey way up the southern Mediterranean coast. Getting up and down the ship's ladders is hell for the first couple of weeks, until she talks the Medical Officer (close enough; she thinks he's really a horse doctor with delusions of grandeur) into sawing the cast off her wrist. She splints the wrist carefully and wraps it in long strips of linen. It's mostly healed.
Nearly time to keep her appointment. And she has most of her preparations in place. Some forgery, bribery, smuggling, breaking and entering, and she'll be all set.
"Dear Cam: My name is Danielle Jackson. I'm a member of an elite commando unit known as SG-1. SG-1 is part of Stargate Command, which is administered by the US Air Force. The SGC operates out of Stargate Command, which is located at Cheyenne Mountain..."
She's long-since discarded the idea of stowing away aboard Achilles and living there secretly for the days or weeks she'll need to. She'll need food, gear, a secure place to sleep -- and she'll need all of them near the Stargate. The thing to do is build herself a secure hiding place (have it built) and send it (send herself) in the same shipment as the Giza artifacts. To make sure it goes as part of the same cargo, she needs to forge papers indicating her crates (one for her, one for her supplies) are actually a part of the Giza shipment. Easy enough; she's been forging travel and shipment documents for the past two years.
The crate she'll use as her refuge needs to look like an ordinary shipping crate on the outside, but it will have to have thicker walls. A lid she can lock from the inside. Padding. (A large stencil that says 'This End Up'.)
"For the last three years, you've led SG-1. I hope I'm telling you things you already know. If I'm not, then Earth faces terrible danger, and you are the only one who can set things right. If you're anything like the man I once knew, I know you can do it."
She's had a long time to think of what she needs to bring with her. Not about food and water, but about what she really needs. A grenade would give her the most certain kill, but the idea is for Achilles to arrive safely, not to sink it herself. She'll settle for a good old-fashioned Chicago violin. You can reduce a man to hamburger with one in seconds. She'll bring two, and a pair of .45s.
"In case the timeline has gone only a little wrong, I'm going to give you as much detail as I can. I don't have the dialing coordinates for Praxyon. I don't know if you can locate it by name. I'm sorry."
And on behalf of 'Just In Case' -- Jack was always a great believer in 'Just In Case' -- she'll bring drugs. Morphine, cocaine (a seven percent solution), hypodermics. Balance the doses of morphine and cocaine properly and you can clog-dance with a broken leg. (Forgery, gunrunning, now drug-smuggling. Join the US Air Force.) In a worst-case scenario, if she's injured and the entire crew is dead but Achilles is still afloat, with these drugs she may be able to steer the ship into American waters and call for help.
"I hope I've told you everything you need to know. Achilles sails in three days. I need to send this now and get ready to have myself smuggled aboard the ship to wait for Ba'al. When we reach Boston, I'll write a postscript and have it placed with this diary to let you know I've accomplished my mission safely."
A bank draft, a thousand dollars in cash, her passport and other ID papers (birth certificate, marriage license, even a good old-fashioned American driver's license) will be waiting for her in Boston. She doesn't want to travel without money, so she's bought some gold coins to carry with her. The United States went off the gold standard a few years ago, but American gold coins are still easy to get, and it's only illegal to try to spend them in the United States. To secure the rest of her assets, she buys a cheap fake ushabti in the marketplace, carefully carves a hole in it, fills the hollow space with diamonds and wax, then stores it in a deposit box at the Bank of Alexandria. When she comes back, she'll reclaim it, sell some of the diamonds, buy proper clothes, supplies, and maybe a good camel, and leave.
"The timeline should be back on track then. I'll come back to Egypt. I should have plenty of time to get here safely before the war starts, and you know what Sam says -- I hope you do -- about needing to be careful to keep from messing up the timeline. There isn't much trouble I can get into in Egypt."
It's November, 1939.
THE NORTH ATLANTIC, NOVEMBER, 1939:
Yeah okay the one thing nobody goddamned warned her about is that the hold of a small ship sailing in storm season...
Up and down and fucking sideways until she's ready to sell the timeline and the future and the fate of unborn billions cheap if Achilles will just stop moving.
She's traveled by ship before. It's never been a problem. Of course, she wasn't in a crate in the basement before. It's bad enough while Achilles is in the Mediterranean. Once she gets through the Straits of Gibraltar it's infinitely worse. Dani survives on thoroughly-watered brandy and sugar-lumps. The water is packed in sealed tin cans; plastic bottles of water are a thing of the distant future and oddly enough, tinned water is military issue -- from the last war, of course -- so it's something she could get. Just as well, as it means there's nothing much in her stomach. She's miserably, gaggingly ill -- and despite that, she needs to move around the ship to empty her slops bucket somewhere the smell won't attract attention, thought personally, she doesn't think the cargo hold of Achilles is actually going to win a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from anybody, and she's pretty sure there are rats down here.
Then -- after what she estimates as two weeks of unrelieved hell -- Dani wakes up to discover she's not only been deeply asleep, but she's hungry.
After that, things are better. Fresh air is nice, even if it's freezing (story of her life). She moves around the ship at night when most of the crew is asleep. There's nobody on watch -- not on the deck itself -- but the wheelhouse is always manned (she stays away from that end of the ship) and so is the radio room. She nearly comes to disaster finding that out; the radio operator sleeps in a bunk in a cubbyhole in the radio room, so he can hear any distress calls. But she escapes without detection, and there's a calendar in the radio room. From the days marked off, she learns Achilles has been at sea eighteen days. With a benchmark, it's easier to keep track of the passing time.
(Three to five weeks to Boston Harbor. Thirty-five days and she's free.)
Day 28. She's awakened from sleep by a sound she's heard in dreams and nightmares for over a decade: the sound of the Stargate's chevrons locking into place.
Up and out of her crate, grab her weapons, set the tommyguns ready to hand, shove a pistol into her waistband, lid of her crate back down, hide behind the crate. She hears the last chevron lock -- she's been counting them off -- and the establishing vortex punches a hole through the side of the crate and the side of the ship. Above the waterline, thank god (but she knew that: Achilles floated to safe harbor in the Arctic once upon a nightmare).
A gangplank drops through from the other side of the Event Horizon (she's trying to remember how long the wormhole stays open without matter in transit; less than a minute she thinks), and a Jaffa in armor strides down it. She opens fire, aiming for the armored midsection. Ba'al (still on the other side if he's coming, please let him be coming in person) won't know what's going on; nothing but radio waves transfers back the other way and all the Jaffa's carrying is his staff weapon. He staggers, knocked off-balance, and she moves out of cover. (Did they notice anything on deck? Will someone come to investigate? How soon?) Jaffa armor is designed to protect its wearer from energy weapons, not projectiles (one of the reasons SG-1 lived to get older): she hoses him from neck to knees (not the first time she's killed a man with a tommygun) and the armor panel over the prim'ta-pouch explodes and he screams.
There's a second Jaffa coming through the Gate. He gets the same treatment, and her mind is screaming: Too slow! Too slow! when the beam of the ribbon-weapon hits her in the face.
The shock sends her staggering backward. She hears the machinegun drop, but all Dani feels is pain, like sunlight radiating through her body. She claws at her face in blind animal reaction, but only manages to knock her glasses off. It's all right, she thinks -- a moment of surreal insanity at the edge of an open grave -- I brought a spare pair...
Ba'al's attack is reflexive -- hand raised in a parody of benediction, eyes flashing gold. I t takes him a moment to recognize her (impossible presence). For a flickering instant he's shocked.
And then he smiles.
His smile is what gives her the strength to stand and face him, to walk into the beam that's killing her, toward those eyes and that smile. There's a crushing pressure in her skull. Her nose is gushing blood. Her vision swims with tears of pain. She holds his eyes with hers as she steps toward him.
Her hate is greater than the pain.
Her muscles jerk and spasm, on the verge of convulsion, but she gets her hands on the pistol in her waistband. Ba'al's smile widens, mocking her. He's sure she'll be dead before she can shoot him.
Her first shot goes into the deck. She can't do anything but slew the pistol up and around as her finger spasms on the trigger. The Colt 1911 holds seven rounds plus one in the chamber. Two-- Three-- Four-- All go wild, but the fifth hits him, and so do the sixth, and the seventh, and the eighth. Then the slide locks back, but it doesn't matter, nor does the fact none of the bullets has inflicted a fatal wound.
A bullet is a vehicle for the application of kinetic potential.
Ba'al staggers backward through the still-active Event Horizon.
Matter can only travel one way through a Stargate.
The first time she wakes up, all she's aware of is pain and nausea and vertigo and something cold and heavy pressing painfully into her face. She reaches up and feels the weight of an icepack. There's rough cloth underneath. Bandages. She's halfway to panicking when a man -- only a voice to her -- tells her to lie still and lie quiet; her face is burned. That's why it's bandaged. He says the Captain wants to talk to her if she feels up to answering questions. She isn't sure what she answers, but a few moments later there's a second voice. He says he's Captain Mitchell of the Achilles. He asks her what her name is.
She starts to answer, and that's when she realizes she doesn't know.
When she doesn't answer, he asks her more questions. Why she stowed away on his ship. What she wanted with its cargo. What caused the explosion in the hold. She'd tell him if she had the faintest idea. She doesn't even know who she is. She finally manages to say so, but she doesn't think he believes her, because Captain Mitchell and the other man whisper together for a few moments, then the second voice -- Mr. Walton, he says his name is -- asks her to drink something that will help with the pain. The scent is familiar (why does she know everything but who she is?) -- laudanum -- and she drinks gratefully.
When she wakes again, the ice-pack is back. So -- a few minutes later -- is Captain Mitchell, asking if she's ready to talk to him, asking the same questions. He even says something in a language she doesn't know. He tells her it's Arabic.
She knows they speak Arabic in Arabia. She just doesn't know her own name.
When he leaves again, Mr. Walton tells her she wasn't badly burned in the explosion, and she wants to ask him why her face is bandaged if that's so, but she doesn't have the courage. He asks her if she's ready for more medicine, and she tells him if he'll stop putting ice on her face he can stop giving her laudanum, too. She's trying to make a joke, because he's been so kind, but that's when he tells her the ice packs are to make the swelling go away before her sight is damaged.
She takes a deep breath, and holds it, and when she lets it out, she asks him to give her the laudanum now. Her voice is steady, and she's proud of that.
She doesn't know how long she sleeps, but when she wakes, the room is quiet and the icepack has slipped from her forehead. She gets carefully to her feet and finds the little bathroom. Mr. Walton showed her where it was and what was in it so she could do for herself by touch. He was embarrassed and apologetic, but he was thorough: he has a sister who was blinded by the measles.
There's a mirror in the bathroom. She places her hand against the cold glass she cannot see, and imagines living in this darkness not just for a while, but forever, unable even to see a face that should be familiar and isn't. She gropes her way back to the bed (Mr. Walton calls it a 'bunk') and lies down and feels around until she finds the icepack. It's melted away to water, and she cries because she's so afraid (of nothing inside, of nothing outside, of not knowing who she is and being blind into the bargain) and out of the darkness a hand takes her hand and Captain Mitchell tells her not to be afraid.
He tells her she has 'the best room in the house' -- this is his cabin, and he apologizes for the accommodations, but Achilles is a freighter (and not a passenger freighter, either, and she knows that she knows about passenger freighters but she doesn't know how or where) full of rough men. He doesn't ask her questions this time, but tells her all he knows about her. Some of it she already knows from Mr. Walton. It doesn't add up to much. She was living in a crate in the hold of his ship (he calls it 'a tidy little bunk' that was 'right and tight', hoping to cheer her, she knows). The crate was part of a shipment they took aboard in Alexandria (she knows Alexandria is a port in Egypt, but she doesn't know her own name). They were twenty-eight days out of Alexandria when there was a disturbance in the hold. He sent Mr. McGee down to see what it was (Mr. McGee is the first mate on the Achilles). Mr. McGee said she was shooting at something down there and there'd been an explosion. (She asks Captain Mitchell if she hit what she was shooting at. He tells her she doesn't have anything to worry about.) He tells her he's searched the entire cargo hold and all her possessions (he apologizes for that, too). There's nothing that would tell him (tell her) who she is.
There's nothing in her head, either.
After that, Captain Mitchell is a frequent visitor to her bedside. He talks about his wife, Susannah: he's been a widower for two years, and his three sons -- George is ten, Clayton is six, and the youngest, Royfield, is just three -- live with his family. He asks about her husband (hoping to jog her memory, she knows), telling her there's the mark of a wedding-ring on her left hand.
She doesn't remember. She keeps hoping (day after day and night after night) she'll remember something, but she doesn't.
On the fourth day Mr. Walton unbandages her face. The cabin is kept dark, and the bandages are replaced with a series of cool compresses. Her face still feels raw and burned, but it doesn't hurt nearly as much. She tries to open her eyes and see, but her face is still so swollen that it's a long time before she can get them open more than the merest slit, and she doesn't risk turning on a light. But three days later they dock in Greenland -- apparently something happened to Achilles the night she was found that makes Captain Mitchell want to get his ship repaired as quick as he can before going on to Boston -- and Mr. Walton says 'kill or cure' and hands her a pair of glasses. The moment her fingers touch them, she realizes they're hers, that she wears glasses, and thinks hopefully that perhaps she's starting to remember. She takes off the last compress and slips the glasses into place. Then she opens her eyes, and has to hold back fresh tears, because she can see, she can see…
She tells Mr. Walton that if she'd known how handsome he was she would have recuperated much more quickly, and he smiles at her bashfully. (Captain Mitchell has said there've been an unprecedented rash of 'shaving incidents' since she was discovered.) Then he says her clothing is here, if she feels well enough to dress. She tells him she does, and he leaves to give her privacy.
The first thing she wants is a mirror.
She looks horrible.
There's a dark red circle of burn on her forehead, and most of her face is pink as if with sunburn. The swelling makes her look as if she's squinting, and her face feels stiff when she tries to open her eyes wide. They're bloodshot.
Long hair, light brown, done in a braid. The face isn't familiar, isn't a stranger's. It's just a face. She tries out names at random -- Betty? Mary? Joan? -- but none of them seems to fit. She undoes the braid and combs her fingers through her hair, wondering if that will make the face in the mirror look more familiar. It doesn't.
Her gums bleed when she brushes her teeth.
She's been wearing a borrowed nightshirt, but she seems to own a leather jacket and a pair of boots and trousers and a heavy wool sweater and a good flannel shirt, and apparently she packed a change of underwear when she decided to stow away, so at least she can get dressed -- even if she will look a bit like Amelia Earhart. She gives herself a good washing-up first, wondering absently if the soap and washcloth are things she brought with her. She'd like to wash her hair, but that will require a bit more than a tiny sink and a little cold water, so she settles for brushing it vigorously (the brush obviously isn't hers; it has no handle) and braiding it up again.
She's never seen the inside of the Achilles -- or she has, but she doesn't remember -- but she knows the cargo hold is in the bottom of the ship, so she finds a staircase (a ladder) and goes down. Maybe her memory will come back if she sees the place where she lost it, because surely she knew who she was when she smuggled herself on board? She finds a door (a hatch) and opens it, and there are steps (another ladder) leading down into the hold, and she stops at the top and stares in baffled disbelief, because there's an enormous round hole in the side of the ship, a hole large enough to drive a truck through. The rim of the hole is as wide as her thumb, and she can't imagine anything that could make a hole like that (certainly not an explosion), since its edge (red with rust, bright in patches where the rust has been rubbed away) is as sharp and clean as if it had been made with an enormous cookie-cutter. (She can see land through it, thank heavens.)
Two men are standing in the hole looking out.
She hurries down the ladder. At the bottom her foot strikes something that skitters away, and she thinks pebble, but when she picks it up, it's a flattened blob of metal. Lead. Bullet. She stares at it, wondering how she knows that, and it's as if naming it has given her a kind of Second Sight, because now (even though the hold is large and shadowy) she can see bright scraped streaks along the wall behind the tall narrow crate, and round holes and splintered furrows in the crates near it. Gunfight, she thinks, trying to connect it to her and ... someone.
But she can't.
She takes another few steps and stops in front of the tall crate. Probably a painting, she thinks, because many of them are quite large. At least it wasn't damaged; she doesn't see any bullet holes in the wood of the packing crate. She looks down (looking for more bullets), and realizes she's standing in the faint remains of dried blood. It was mopped up, but not well; she can see the patterns the mop made swirling through it, spreading it over the deck until its edges blur and vanish.
Not mine, she thinks, but in that case, whose? Is she a murderess? (She remembers asking Captain Mitchell if she'd hit what she aimed at.) She must be. He hasn't mentioned any other stowaways and Mr. Walton hasn't either. Did Captain Mitchell and his crew throw the bodies overboard some dark and moonless night? She shudders uneasily, but it's hard to make anything she did (might have done) real. She doesn't remember it. She doesn't remember being here before. Nothing is familiar to her. She'd hoped...
She must make some sound, because the men turn around to look at her. One is portly and silver-haired; the other is taller and younger. She wonders which of them is Captain Mitchell. Then the younger man smiles.
"And here's our guest. Mr. Walton said you might be up and about today. You're looking well."
After all the hours of listening in darkness, she'd know that voice anywhere. She forces a look of cheer as she walks over to him; it's the only repayment of his kindness she can offer. "I look a fright, Captain Mitchell," she says.
"And this is Mr. McGee, my first mate," Captain Mitchell says.
There's an awkward pause -- since she knows he should go on to introduce her to Mr. McGee as well. There's no help for it. She makes a decision, knowing that (in some way), she's already made it, that it's a larger decision than she really understands. "I suppose you must call me Miss Smith, Mr. McGee," she says, holding out her hand. "It's a common enough name. It might even be mine. Who knows?"
The Achilles has made port in Greenland. Captain Mitchell offers to loan her a grubstake, but she knows she has no way to pay it back, so she refuses. But on their third day in port (by then she's met most of the crew and roamed over every inch of the ship) her bootheel catches on the rung of one of the ladders and is wrenched loose. When she fiddles with it to see if she could repair it, she realizes it's hollow, and the hollow is filled with wax, and there are five twenty-dollar gold pieces tucked into the wax. When she shows them to Captain Mitchell and tells him where she's gotten them, he twists the heel loose on her other boot and finds it's just the same. (He tells her whoever she is, she's obviously smart and careful and plans ahead. She tells him it would be rather difficult to plan behind, and he laughs.)
The ship's temporary repairs take a week. So do hers. She buys herself a proper nightdress and a comb and a brush and some hairpins. She's also bought some dusting powder and cologne and two dresses and a hat (because the Achilles is bound for Boston Harbor, and she will not be seen in Civilization dressed like a lady barnstormer). And she's bought a carpetbag to put them all in, since while the Achilles is in port she stays with friends of Captain Mitchell. Fjalar and Lilija are kind to her, and treat her as an honored guest, but being away from the Achilles only reminds her of how alone she is.
Or perhaps she isn't. Perhaps there is a family somewhere in America waiting for her to come back. If there is, how will she ever find them? Perhaps she left them long ago. She wonders what she was doing, to end up as a stowaway on the Achilles. Perhaps it's better not to know.
She doesn't believe that. She can't. And so she tells Captain Mitchell that -- with his permission -- she'll be sailing with the Achilles when she leaves.
On the day they leave Greenland, Captain Mitchell tells her he sent a telegram to someone in Boston, asking them to see if anybody is waiting for her to arrive. They talked to the police, too, but not to charge her with murder. To see if she was wanted. To see if anyone was looking for her. (The man, perhaps, who gave her the ring she wore before she boarded Achilles.)
But she isn't wanted. And no one is waiting for her. Captain Mitchell's never told her what happened to the men she shot, and now she knows she'll never be called to account for their deaths.
"You have some gosh-darned strange friends, sir!" she says. She's stunned he'd do something like this for her, and she almost wishes he hadn't told her about the inquiries he made; she's more than a little lost at the thought of one more trail gone cold, because she'd been holding onto the hope that when she walked down the gangplank in Boston, there'd be someone waiting there who knew her...
"More of a cousin, Miss Smith. We Mitchells are a large family," he answers.
It's another ten days to Boston. In the evenings she plays checkers with Captain Mitchell and Mr. McGee and Mr. Walton. (Mr. Walton is the ship's cook as well as the ship's doctor; he apologizes for the fact that the food isn't fancy, but she says she likes his cooking.) She feels bad about taking Captain Mitchell's cabin, but he says she saved his ship from Nazi saboteurs, so it's only fair. She wonders if he's telling the truth. Or if he's right. He doesn't want to worry her, but she hears the crew talking among themselves, so she knows there are German U-Boats here in the Atlantic, and they're already torpedoing Canadian ships. She asks Captain Mitchell if there's going to be another war, and he says they're already fighting in Europe, and it's only a matter of time before America's in it. He says if Mr. Roosevelt just gives them half a chance, they'll send Mr. Hitler packing. She hopes he's right.
Of all the things in her strange new life, the one she likes best is standing watch with Captain Mitchell up in the wheelhouse at night. He says she has to be quiet, and she is. She likes the sense of speed and motion you get in the wheelhouse. It's like flying.
She's 'Miss Smith' to everyone now, but not having a first name to go with it only reminds her that her last name is something of a lie, so she chooses one. Not from the ship's Bible -- she feels somehow that would be presumptuous -- but from the navigational charts. There's a 'St. Hildegard's Point' on the coat of Newfoundland, and she's pretty sure she's no saint, but she likes the sound of it. So 'Hildy Smith' it is.
By the time they reach Boston, her face is almost healed. Only the burn on her forehead is still red. They sail into Boston Harbor in daylight. The harbor is filled with ships, the skyline on the horizon is vast and grand. A last cherished hope -- that this, that seeing America, would remind her of who she is and was -- quietly dies. She's Hildegard Smith, born one night in the darkness of the Atlantic Ocean. That's all she's ever going to be.
They get a tugboat escort into dock. Captain Mitchell says that once they unload their cargo, Achilles will be going into drydock while they undo the temporary repair to the hull and do a permanent one to make her really seaworthy again. Her home port is Charleston, and that's where she'll be going into drydock. He says the repairs may take as much as three months, but that will give him a chance to go home and visit his boys. 'Home' is a little town in North Carolina, the place where he grew up.
"If you haven't got any other plans, you might consider stopping with us for a while," Captain Mitchell suggests hesitantly, as they stand at the rail looking out over the harbor. "Momma would admire to meet you."
She looks away, blushing and incapable of doing anything about it -- or about the fact that the wind off the water is whipping her hair out of its careful bun and sending it all over the place.
"Does your mother know I'm a-- A gun-toting hooligan, Captain Mitchell?" she asks.
He laughs. "Miss Smith, a gun-toting hooligan will fit in just fine at Black Mountain. You just come along and see."
She turns back and looks up at him, blinking into the sun. "All right, Captain Mitchell. I believe I will."
His answering smile is brilliant.
P9X-414, APRIL 2008:
"Never in the history of boredom has anyone been more bored than I am right now," Jack says under his breath.
Dani kicks him surreptitiously. She'd hit him, except Vala has her hand in a death grip -- and since Dani wants to be able to hold a pen sometime in the next two years, she's given her left hand to Vala, and Jack's on her left. She has her right arm around Vala's waist. Vala's shaking. Sam's holding Vala's other hand.
Cam is on Sam's other side, rocking up onto his toes and back, and unfortunately Teal'c is standing next to Jack, not next to Cam, so she can't even smack Cam by proxy. All Dani can think of is that she's come to the execution of the last System Lord with a pair of hyperactive two year olds.
Extraction ceremonies generally aren't. Ceremonial, that is. Grab a Goa'uld, stun it into unconsciousness, tie it down and grab the nearest Tok'ra surgeon. But this is the first time the Tok'ra have had a chance to do in a System Lord (and there's been almost an entire year of wrangling with the Jaffa Nation over who got dibs; a lot of this ceremony is to placate the Jaffa observers) and it's going to be the last.
Because Ba'al is the last.
"Come on, sir, it's only been ... whoa," Sam says, sneaking a look at her watch. (Sam has a hand free. Lucky Sam.)
"It's almost over," Dani whispers (don't make me pull this Extraction Ceremony over!) Vala nods, her face strained, and Dani feels a pang of sympathy. She doesn't know whether it's Vala's history with Ba'al, or Qetesh's history with the Tok'ra, but Vala is terrified. Unwilling to stay away, even so. "The crimes they're listing are starting to sound familiar," she adds, in hopes Jack will please shut up. She knows damned well he isn't bored. Neither is she. She remembers knives and acid and glowing eyes and dying again and again. The worst of it was, she couldn't tell Ba'al anything, because she didn't even know her own name; trying to kill him was what got her kicked out of her afterlife, once upon a time. (She did manage to scream for the cavalry before she was slam-dunked back into mortality.)
"Crimes? That's what they've been crooning about for the last three hours?" Jack mutters.
"Quite the ditty, ain't it?" Cam whispers, and Dani decides to just shoot them both.
Just as soon as this is over.
Ba'al's been held in stasis since his capture. The Tok'ra revive him now. One of the negotiated points in the Tok'ra/Jaffa Joint Goa'uld Execution Protocols Agreement requires Ba'al be given an opportunity to address last words to his victims. He has no interest in doing that, but he does want to have a chat with SG-1.
(She's just grateful he isn't let to approach them, or she thinks Vala might break her hand.)
Ba'al announces (surprise, surprise) that he's not the last of the System Lords. He's only the last of the clones. The Real Ba'al is still out there (so he says). Ba'al has "special plans" for them -- he has a special failsafe device prepared, and his plans have already been put into action.
"He lies," Teal'c says, after a moment's pause.
"He does that," Jack answers. But she can tell he's tense, ready for some attack.
But nothing happens. The Tok'ra surgeon triggers the injector strapped to Ba'al's restraints, and as he slumps unconscious, they drag him onto the table and lay him face-down. Metal clamps lock into place; the surgeon cuts away his tunic and begins cutting deeper.
Vala makes a gasping sound and turns into Dani's arms. Dani thinks of Skaara, of Simon, and turns her face away.
"They can't really think... I mean... Ba'al's had this host for..." Cam says.
"Two thousand years," Vala says harshly, her voice clogged with tears. She raises her head, looking toward the body on the table. "He's been a prisoner for two thousand years."
"They have to try," Sam says.
Dani thinks of Apophis. Of Apophis's host, lost and terrified. Maybe Ba'al suppressed his host so deeply that he'll know nothing of what Ba'al has done in all the centuries he wore that body. They can hope.
Part of the extraction procedure is surgical. More of it involves poisoning the symbiote, stunning it into a near-coma so that it can't either murder the host or fight to retain the body. But what's poison to the symbiote is poison to the host, so the surgeon cuts with quick ruthlessness. Blood spills over Ba'al's golden skin, collecting in the channels along the sides of the table. Moments later, the surgeon's holding up a weakly-squirming pink-grey serpent, and a second Tok'ra has moved in with a healing device. Closing the wound, healing the damage.
The head of the Jaffa High Council steps forward to inspect the symbiote. Then with a swift gesture he snatches it from the Tok'ra's hand, rips it in two and crushes the pieces underfoot. The Jaffa cheer. The Tok'ra observers look faintly pained.
"So much for the last of the System Lords," Cam says.
"And now ... cake," Jack says.
"What do you think he was talking about when he said 'you've all made a terrible mistake'?" Dani asks as the four of them walk down the ramp into the Gate Room. Vala and Teal'c aren't with them: Vala wanted to stay behind to do what she could for Ba'al's host, and Teal'c decided to stay behind too. Partly to stay with Vala, partly to hang with the Jaffa Council. Dani knows it's the shape of things to come -- SG-1, Version 2.0, is breaking up -- but it still makes her a little sad.
"Never going to know," Jack says firmly.
"I know I ain't gonna worry about it," Cam adds.
"I was just thinking. What if he really--"
"He was the last one," Jack and Cam say, almost in chorus.
"You can't obsess about this stuff, Jackson," Cam adds.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. You're probably right," she answers.
"I know he is," Jack says. "Come on. Get a move on. Cake."
It's going to be kind of a wrench to leave the SGC (once and for all, and she devoutly hopes there'll never be a crisis big enough to drag her back as a member of a Gate Team) after so long. Thirteen years since she stepped through the Gate for the first time. Before there was even an SGC. (And hey: maybe this time she'll really get packed and really get out of here -- okay, having a fight with your boyfriend is a really bad reason for moving to another galaxy, and -- as it happened -- she never actually did, but she still thinks it would have been nice to, oh, say, spend six months in Pegasus studying Atlantis. And skip the Ori War completely. Only a part of her mind -- the part made up half of a neurotic sense of responsibility and half of an arrogance so vast it puts the Goa'uld to shame -- insists the Ancient communication device would have been found someday, would have been triggered someday, and better when she was here to fight the war and win it.) She's promised Jack she'll be packed and in Washington in a month.
Yeah, only if she zats the contents of her office out of existence.
She has both hands full of artifacts (what to keep, what to donate, maybe she should just have thrown herself on Nyan's mercy and let him do it) when Cam comes barreling through her office door shouting her name. "Jackson! Jackson! C'mon -- c'mon -- c'mon! You gotta see this!"
He doesn't even give her a chance to set anything down, just grabs her by the elbow and drags her down the corridor, babbling about impossible, and happened, and just now finished it, and she's got to see it for herself because he's damned if he's going to try to explain it to her, and he didn't put it all together until just now, and...
...and he's got to call his mother?
They get to his office, and he shoves her into his chair (at least she can finally set down two priceless alien artifacts before she brains him with them) and grabs a picture and thrusts it into her hands. "Look at that! Look at it!"
Okay. She's gone insane several times in the last decade. And Cam kind of did once. But they've had it pretty easy lately, and they haven't even gone out since they came back from Tok'raville two days ago. But apparently her departure has triggered a lurking case of bonkers, and what Cam does under the influence of derangement is show her old pictures of his relatives. (Which is what this has to be; other guys have cheesecake pinups or pictures of their girlfriends around; Cam has old family photos.)
It's a black and white photo of a nautical-looking man standing next to a woman in a dress and a leather jacket. They're standing in front of a ship. It's difficult to date, but the woman's dress looks old-fashioned (she has Vala's relentless instruction to thank for everything she knows about clothes). "Okay," she says carefully. "What am I looking at?"
"That's my Gran'pa Elias and my Gran'ma Hildy," Cam says. He looks at her. She looks at him. From his expression, he expects this to mean something to her. "They had two boys: my daddy, and my Uncle Bayliss. Gran'pa'd been married before, so Daddy and Uncle Bay had three half-brothers: George, Clayton, and Royfield. Daddy's the youngest. Gran'ma Hildy had a little baby girl after Daddy, but ... she didn't live."
"I'm sorry...?" Dani says blankly. No one can spend any amount of time around Cam without hearing about his relatives, but how can this be time-critical vital information? She starts to get up. Cam takes a step forward. He's not being at all threatening -- she'd never be afraid of Cam, no matter what -- but he's trying to communicate something to her urgently and she's just not getting it.
"Gran'pa was a sea captain," he goes on determinedly. "Him and Gran'ma Hildy weren't married when this picture was taken -- December of '39, in Boston. His ship was the Achilles."
Wait. She knows that name. "Your grandfather was the captain of Achilles? It's the ship that brought the Stargate from Africa to America before the outbreak of World War II."
"Sailed out of Alexandria Egypt in November of '39," Cam says. "Headed for Boston." Suddenly he seems to lose all his manic fervor. He sits down on the edge of his desk. "Look. I, uh, I don't know how to say this. Just take another look at that picture. Don't that woman look a little familiar to you?"
She looks at the picture again to please him. "She's your grandmother, Cam, not mine. I don't know that much about my family, but I'm pretty sure we aren't related."
"Yeah," he says, sighing. "That's the thing. We are." He opens his desk drawer and pulls out a battered bundle. Inside it there's a leather-bound book. It's large and heavy and -- when she opens it -- old.
"Came for me the morning we went off to see the extraction ceremony," Cam says. "Came here. Didn't get around to opening it until yesterday. Then I made some calls."
"This is my handwriting," she says blankly, staring at the first page. "Dear Cam: My name is Danielle Jackson. I'm a member of an elite commando unit known as SG-1. SG-1 is part of Stargate Command, which is administered by the US Air Force. The SGC operates out of Stargate Command, which is located at Cheyenne Mountain..."
"Yeah," Cam says. "It is. It's been in a lock-box in a bank in New York since '39, with them having strict orders to deliver it to me -- here -- now."
"But the Air Force didn't even exist in 1939," she says, bewildered, and Cam laughs jaggedly. "Read it," he says. "Just... read it."
It takes her most of the day. The book is a glimpse into a world that never was -- a world where Ba'al's boast was simple truth, where he'd built a time machine to erase history, where he murdered Jack, where Teal'c's and Vala's lives were unmade and she and Sam and Cam fled to an altered Earth that didn't want them to set things right. Where the Goa'uld came a year later to destroy Earth, where Teal'c, First Prime of Ba'al, led the three of them to a place called Praxyon and Ba'al's greatest secret.
Where Teal'c, where Cam, where Sam were slain by Ba'al's Queen, leaving Dani to flee into the past in a last desperate attempt to restore the timeline. But Sam hadn't been able to send her to Achilles, or even near in time to Ba'al's attack on it. She'd sent Dani to 1929.
"But... where's the letter?" she says at last, closing the book and setting it on her lap. "This says... There's supposed to be a letter. When I got there."
Cam's been sitting opposite her in silence, watching her read. Now he reaches out and rests his hand over hers. He's read the book already, of course. A mission report written over the course of most of a decade by a woman terrified of forgetting to convey the one vital fact that would let him save the world if the world needed additional saving. And so (inevitably) she'd conveyed a number of less-than-vital facts as well. That she'd loved him. That she'd mourned him. That she'd flown with him to Russia not thinking of setting the timeline right (a thing her other self was convinced she couldn't do, but she never said why), but of winning a world in which the three of them would be let to stay together.
A world where the two of them could stay together.
But she's not that woman. Jack is the one she loves. Loves most. Loved first, loves best, is going to Washington for.
"No letter," Cam says, and she turns her hand automatically to clasp his, because she's afraid what's coming will be bad. "Thing about Gran'ma, well, Family always said she might be a mermaid. Gran'pa, he came home to Black Mountain with her Christmas of '39. An' she just stayed. Didn't have any kinfolk." He laughs, just a little. "Ran the whole damned county with a shotgun in one hand and a Bible in the other, and if you wanted to bring the Wrath of St. Hildegard down on your head, all you had to do was ever say anything bad about family. She'd draw herself up to her full height and say I won't hear that kind of talk while I can draw breath -- you get down on your knees and thank the Almighty God that you know where you come from and who your people are!"
"She didn't know," Dani says, reaching for the photo again. "She didn't know who she was. She couldn't have." I couldn't have. The Danielle Jackson who wrote Cam this letter meant to go back to Egypt to avoid affecting the timeline. Not ... marry. Not have children. She stares at the photo, trying to see herself in that woman. Maybe. She's not sure. "Is she--? Did she--? Where--?"
"She died in '79," Cam says quietly. "Outlived Gran'pa Elias by a good bit, but she always had family around her to love her. Her babies, and her gran'babies -- great gran'babies too."
"I just-- I can't-- I need--" she says, lurching blindly to her feet, barely remembering to grab the book before it slides to the floor. Cam folds her into a hug, plucking the book from her hands and setting it aside.
"Shh-h-h--" he says. "It's kind of a shock. I get that."
It's more than a shock. Cameron Mitchell is her grandson. Seventy years ago a sailor brought a bride home from the sea, and if they compare Dani Jackson's DNA to Hildy Mitchell's, it will match. And Hildy had a son, and that son had a son, and that son saved Earth in too many ways to count. "Our lives are just too weird," she says, drawing a deep shuddering breath.
"Yeah," Cam says. "They are."
She steps back, and suddenly -- a long-delayed email from short-term memory -- she remembers what he was babbling as he dragged her down here. "Cam! You-- You can't tell your mother any of this!"
"No, no. 'Course not. I was just thinking ... you'd maybe like to know a little more about her. Gran'ma."
She takes another deep breath, pushing her glasses up and scrubbing at her face with her hands. (This debrief is going to be a bitch, but they need to do it because they need to go looking for Ba'al's goddamned time machine now.) Nods. Glances at her watch. (Oh thank god General Landry isn't going to need to hear about this until tomorrow.) "Thanks for telling me first," she says. "I, uh, I think I better go call Jack." (Oh god she is never getting out of Stargate Command. Never.) "I need to warn him."
"Yeah," Cam says, still looking thoughtful. "I figure telling General Landry about this is going to be one of the fun briefings. And maybe it might be a good idea for you and me to get our stories straight in advance." Suddenly he smiles. "So don't take too long on the phone ... Gran'ma."
She will never live this one down. Never. "Cameron Mitchell, they will never find your body," she answers, and he chuckles.
"Go on now. Shoo."
Four-something in Colorado Springs is six-something in Washington. Jack's still in his office. Eight years of SG-1, four years of Homeworld, means her explanation -- I've just found out that in a parallel-alternate history-kind-of a time-loop I seem to have eradicated I spent ten years making sure that Ba'al didn't conquer Earth and oh by the way I time-traveled back to 1929, developed amnesia, and became Cameron Mitchell's grandmother -- doesn't actually faze him particularly. His bones and hers are dust in the Egypt of five millennia ago as well. Apparently. (Or not. She's still not sure how that whole "Let's go to Egypt and grab Ra's ZPM" mission went, or why they buried their video camera with it, or why the ZPM is there if they never went in the first -- or second -- place.) He keeps her on point. Why does she think that happened? What's her proof? Is there any reason for them to care about it one way or the other now?
The answers to these questions (twelve-or-so years of getting your ass shot off means learning to think very fast) are: she wrote Cam the world's longest letter. If that isn't proof enough, there's always DNA testing. If Ba'al built that time machine (ever), it may still be there, and it's not that she's saying Sam is stupid, but since it took her (so the diary says) about ninety seconds to figure out how it worked, probably just about anybody can figure it out with a little more time.
Jack agrees that it's a problem, but not an urgent "drop everything" problem. She can brief Hank in the morning (he says). And he still expects her in Washington on schedule. (She rolls her eyes ceilingward, but the man has a point. She's been trying to get the hell out of the SGC for the last thirty-six months, with little success to date.)
When she hangs up the phone (no billing and cooing; not only is habit strong, but she knows her line is keyword sampled by security robots and his office is probably bugged), she sees Cam standing in her doorway, the diary from a woman who may-or-may-not be real (be her) tucked under his arm. "We don't have to save the world tonight," she says.
"Well, good," Cam says. "'Cause I'm starved."
They sneak out early (their right, really, after months and years of twenty-four hour -- and longer -- days). On the ride up to the surface, she suggests her place, since it's closer. ('Her place' is Jack's place: when he went to Washington he put his foot down about the lousy security at her loft. Moving into his house cut her commute in half. It's also damned convenient for everybody when they get a heavy snowfall, since Sam's on the other side of the city and Cam's condo is way out by Peterson.) Cam grumbles half-heartedly about takeout and she points out that beer and pizza hasn't killed anybody yet.
"Gonna miss this place when you move," Cam says, as they walk into the house.
"Sell it to you," she answers absently, tapping the absurdly-long password into the keypad of the security system. "Dollar and other valuable considerations."
She hadn't known what she was going to say until she spoke. But it feels right. Cam spent his first eighteen months on SG-1 in crackerbox Transient Housing, bitching the whole time about the kitchen, before he bought the condo (apparently not much of an improvement). She and Sam and Teal'c are leaving the SGC, but Cam will be staying. Or coming back. (Jack has plans for him; she thinks they're good ones.)
"Now see here, Jackson--" Cam says, frowning at her.
"I know you hate the kitchen. Remodel," she says, walking off in the direction of (oh please god) beer. "It's mine. I bought it." (She paid what Jack paid for it fifteen years ago, about a third of its current assessed worth, but still, she did buy it, all right and tight and legal.) "I can do what I want with it."
"It's a house," Cam says, following her into the kitchen.
"Yes," she says, handing him a can of that hideous American alcoholic soda pop he favors. "And it has a good location, and it has a guest room, and I hate hotels, and Sam says the housing market sucks, and if you make me fight dirty I'm ordering anchovies on both pizzas."
"You cannot give me a house," Cam repeats.
"Anchovies," she says darkly, and he throws up his hands in surrender.
There's pizza, and more beer, and he gets his go-bag out of his Mustang, and she makes sure the guest room is ready, and they take another look at the diary-cum-briefing book. There's no way to make its contents look, well, less than awkward. It wouldn't bother her, she thinks, to have let General Hammond read it. And of course Jack already knows the worst there is to know about her. But General Landry never became family (she's never really warmed up to him). And she's hardly complimentary about his doppelganger.
Her story -- the diary's story -- stops where Cam's family's story begins, and Cam only has a child's jumbled memories of his grandmother. For more information about Hildegard Smith Mitchell -- assuming she wants it -- Dani will need to go to Cam's parents, to his uncles, to all the vast web of Mitchell kin who knew Hildegard Mitchell and survived her. Cam's Uncle George was ten when Hildegard became his stepmother. He's still alive. George's younger brother Clayton died in Vietnam, but Royfield is still alive. And so are both of Hildegard and Elias's sons, Bayliss and Everett.
Dani's not sure she wants to make this woman and her life real, because she feels as if it's something that she should either remember … or which shouldn't exist at all. And if she does exhume Hildy Mitchell's life from the tomb of the recent past, what -- exactly -- would she be looking for? A resemblance to herself? How could that be possible, given that she is she because of the extraordinary life she's led. A resemblance to her own mother? She wouldn't know it if she found it: her mother is a name on a score of monographs. A faded photo in academic yearbooks. Unknown. Unknowable.
"I don't know what to do," she groans.
"Go to bed," Cam says. "Ever'thing'll look worse in the mornin'."
"Still selling you this house."
"Dolla' an' other valu'ble considerations. I got that."
"You are not digging up my Grandma. Sir," Cam says.
The last of the System Lords was executed on Monday, and on Wednesday Cam turned Dani's world inside out, and now it's Thursday morning, and they're trying to explain the situation to General Landry. She's handed the diary over to Nyan to photograph (because the original is seventy years old, and Other Her did her best, but she was limited by the materials available and the original is faded and fragile) as the first step to preparing a transcript. At least she can elide the irrelevant parts in the transcript, because she knows the transcript will end up in the hands of the immediate world, and she's lived without privacy for over a decade, but she's never become resigned to it.
"Colonel Mitchell," General Landry says.
"It actually wouldn't prove anything, sir," Sam says helpfully, and goes off into a (second) long explanation about DNA testing. (The first explanation engendered General Landry's suggestion that they dig up Hildy Mitchell to compare her DNA to Dani's. Apparently they can't do that -- or rather, while they can dig her up -- over Cam's dead body apparently -- it won't do them any good.) She lets her mind drift a bit (she recognizes the hallmarks of Sam intending to stun her foe into unconsciousness with statistics and Science Red in Tooth and Claw). This is just the preliminary briefing, after all. They need to finish re-inventing the wheel before they can move on to the important thing (getting the go-ahead to search for Praxyon). Teal'c doesn't know the name. Vala would be a better bet, but she isn't back yet. If she isn't here by Friday, Dani supposes somebody's going to have to go and fetch her. Someone else. Because Dani knows the host isn't the Goa'uld (she does), but the host is what you see, and if he (whoever he is) has actually managed to survive Ba'al with his sanity intact, she refuses to make his new life more of a burden by flinching at the sight of him as if he were his own torturer. (Her torturer; Jack's torturer.) And she's not sure she can manage that feat of diplomacy this week.
She wonders if it wouldn't have been kinder -- even to the host -- to let him die. Where in the entire galaxy can he go, wearing Ba'al's face (the face Ba'al stole and wore) and not be known? (She makes a note on her memo pad. Atlantis? The Goa'uld never reached Pegasus. She's sure Jack can talk Richard Woolsey into it.) It's only a momentary side-trip from Topic A, though. Dani isn't sure why the discovery of this life she never led is such a sharp and unsettling blow. Maybe because her life's in flux anyway. She's looking forward to her future, but she finds it hard to imagine: a life of days that begin and end by clock and calendar, where nobody's shooting at her, where she doesn't carry a gun and wear a uniform. Normalcy. Mundaneity. She casts her thoughts back to the earliest edge of memory, and can find nothing in her own history to match that concept so carefully learned.
Cam is radiantly normal. Not conventional, not mundane, not average -- but normal, and human, and good. Something she gave up arguing with early on, and simply resigned herself to trying to live up to, trying not to let him know how damned much of a struggle it always was. She's always suspected his family (all the way back into the mists of time) of being equally normal, and that wasn't a problem -- until the day before yesterday, when she joined it in progress. She doesn't quite know how to come to terms with that. She isn't quite sure what 'that' is. There isn't anyone she can talk to about it, either (not and hope to achieve any internal clarity, anyway). Jack isn't an introspective thinker (just as well) and Sam isn't that empathic. Teal'c is alien and always will be (different values, different culture). Cam is both too close to the problem, and too far from it -- he hasn't had half a lifetime of SG-1 dragging him away from his own humanity; he never started by doubting it. Cam would only tell her Hildegard Mitchell was a good woman, and Sam would tell her about collapsed probability waves, and that she wasn't Hildegard Mitchell and didn't remember her life, and Teal'c would tell her she'd fought and won, and Jack would tell her she was here now and Ba'al wasn't so it didn't matter.
And all these things are true. And none of them is what she needs.
Sam has abandoned DNA in favor of N-Space Theory now (alternate universes, parallel universes, pocket universes, parallel timelines, alternate dimensions), and General Landry is waving his hand as if swatting flies.
"I don't want a lecture in theoretical physics, Colonel," he says. "I just want to know what I'm supposed to put into my report to Washington."
He's glaring at her now. For 'Washington' read 'Homeworld', and it's not as if General Landry's ever forbidden her to phone up the head of Homeworld (usually to tell him what she's wearing in bed: his sweatshirts, his boxers, and -- in winter -- his socks), but General Landry is also Old School, and dislikes the fact that there are ways around the chain of command. (Jack said he put Hank Landry in the Big Chair because he wouldn't scare the IOA -- which was pushing for a civilian Head of Program -- and because President Hayes liked him. Dani knows General Landry is essentially a chairwarmer -- something she rarely allows herself to think while at work -- until Cam is seasoned enough to take over. Overseeing Cam's career is one of the reasons Jack's staying in Washington. She knows he once hoped Sam would succeed General Landry and changed his mind; the first time she realized that, she was shocked at his disloyalty, but she's been in the field with Sam for twelve years and Cam for four, and she thinks Cam really will be the better choice. Cam likes people, and he can get anyone to follow him into Hell -- she's living proof of that -- and Sam would be wasted in Admin.)
"Um... based on information you received from a parallel--"
"--alternate--" Sam corrects.
"--timeline--" Dani continues.
"Which has since been eradicated," Teal'c says, speaking up for the first time. He's regarding the room broodingly, as if suspicious the timeline might try to warp again at any moment; it makes him look more like the Teal'c of a decade ago: First Prime of Apophis.
"--you want to go looking for Ba'al's time machine, sir," Cam finishes helpfully.
General Landry doesn't look like a man who wants to go looking for a time machine at all, either in person or by proxy. "Dr. Jackson, when will the transcript of this ... diary ... of yours be ready?"
"I can have a memo with a preliminary estimate on your desk this afternoon, General," she says.
She's never getting out of here.
Vala comes back the day after the debrief, and Dani suspects Teal'c's hand in that. She's glad, because she doesn't want to be alone just now, and Jack can't be here, so Dani stays in Vala's quarters at night. She got used to sleeping with Vala when they were both wearing the kor mak (part jailer, part fellow-victim) and they both like the company. It would be nice if General Landry would let Vala live Outside, but they all (including Vala, when she's being truthful) consider it a great leap forward that he'll let Teal'c outside the Mountain alone -- and Vala out on day-trips with just one of them for escort.
Within forty-eight hours of that initial briefing (i.e. they all get to come back to the SGC on Saturday), Carolyn's first results come back: mtDNA comparisons between Colonel Cameron Mitchell and Dr. Danielle Jackson prove that Dr. Jackson is one of Colonel Mitchell's ancestors. Within 96 hours (it's Tuesday, and her packing seems to be going backwards), the NID has provided the legal muscle to crack the records of the Morgan Guarantee Trust and Agent Barrett has faxed the results to Sam. It's all there, just as it was laid out in the (in her) diary: the creation of the trust account, the sealed letter to the bank officials, the careful instructions for the delivery of the sealed parcel to this man at this location on this date. The bank's files even contain the letters and telegrams sent from Alexandria seventy years before.
It's almost proof enough. But to send them -- or send someone -- hunting Ba'al's time machine, 'almost' isn't good enough, because this -- and not the story in the diary -- might be Ba'al's endgame. Mitochondrial DNA is a good indication, but it doesn't prove absolutely that Dani is Cam's grandmother, only that the mitochondrial DNA that she carries is in his ancestry (it might be proof if her too-solid quasi-mortal flesh hadn't been so conclusively edited so many times, but it has).
A heavily-redacted transcript of the diary (not hers and not Hildegard Mitchell's, the diary of a woman in a transitory state) is now in the SGC Mainframe, and General Landry has a copy (along with an even-more-abbreviated précis). Jack has received both these items, and (encrypted, by special courier) a flash-drive containing the full text. Technically the original is Cam's property; in reality, not so much.
She and Jack talk every night. He's read the précis and the transcript, but the unexpurgated version isn't critical information, so it has to be fitted in around his working day. They discuss it elliptically, circling around the idea of a world unreal to both of them, a world in which Charlie O'Neill lived to grow up, a world in which she and he never met (met briefly on an ice floe, before he went back to his inextraordinary life). Jack wants to tell her that she made the right choices when she fixed the timeline -- though it wasn't, in some sense, her -- but Dani feels guilt waiting on the horizon, preparing to settle over her. She had foreknowledge. She could have averted the deaths of billions.
And then it's a month after the last of the System Lords died, and she's gone from the SGC at last. The contents of her office have been packed, sorted, catalogued, and disbursed with the help of her friends and teammates (Dani gave a number of pieces of jewelry -- illicitly -- to Vala: they're of no significant value culturally -- AA&T has other specimens -- and Vala likes pretty things). Her household goods have been packed and carted off to what (Jack assures her) is a lovely apartment in Georgetown. Most of her books have already been shipped to an abnormally-inconspicuous building somewhere in Washington, where she'll provide 'invaluable input' (according to the IOA) and 'write her damned books' (according to Jack). Twice a year she'll go back to the Mountain to terrorize the new generation of Gate Teams with a series of lectures. She's sold Cam the house (for more than a dollar -- he insisted -- but once his condo sells it'll pretty much be a wash).
Praxyon? The mission's still being debated. When it happens (if it happens), it won't be SG-1 that goes. The five of them are going their separate ways: Dani to Washington, Sam to Area 51 (and thence to the Moon Base), Teal'c to Dakara, Cam to Nellis, at least for a while. Vala won't say what her plans are, but Dani knows: for Vala, one world alone will never be wide enough.
SG-1 (2.0) has been disbanded, its unit designation retired. There will be a new flagship team, a new band of peaceful explorers. That's as it should be. Perhaps they'll be the ones to find Praxyon. Perhaps no one ever will. It isn't (can't be) her problem any longer. SG-1 is history now. On their way to legend.
But it's not goodbye. Not yet.
Cam always said 'Come visit,' and Dani never had. A thousand reasons. Chasing the Sangraal. Using SG-1's precious 72 hours of leave-time to run to Washington. Lying bleeding in the Infirmary. Being dead (being a Prior, actually, same difference). Being in England. (Being in another plane of reality.) Lots of reasons.
And so their visit (hers, Cam's, Vala's, Sam's, Teal'c's) to Cam's family has a number of purposes.
A long farewell: SG-1 has a month's leave. (She has three.)
Another proof of her story: they're going to take swabs from Cam's father and uncle. Everett and Bayliss are Hildegard Mitchell's children. Caroline has explained that by using the samples from Cam, Everett, Bayliss, and her, a 'kinship index' can be produced showing the probability that she is the parent of Everett and Bayliss Mitchell, the grandparent of Cameron Mitchell.
The most important reason (in Dani's mind) is to seek out a message from the dead. It's highly probable that the woman who took the name Hildegard Smith, who married Elias Cameron Mitchell, never remembered having been Dr. Danielle Jackson, but forty years is a very long time. If she'd gotten back her memories later (Dani remembers standing in the Gate Room dressed in a Tok'ra uniform, clinging to Jack's arm because he was the only familiar thing, not so much terrified as so empty inside that the echoes from the silence deafened her) she might have written something down. Left some message that no one but Dani would be able to recognize as a message.
And perhaps they're going just because Cam wants to show Dani the family she can never claim, but which will always (in his eyes) be hers.
On the road east, they're a small parade. Cam's Mustang leads the way, Dani follows, driving Jack's truck. The truckbed is filled with luggage and coolers. She swaps off driving with Teal'c. Sometimes Vala rides with her, curled up against the door, feet in PF Flyers shoved against the dashboard, hair in pigtails, singing along to the radio (words of her own invention). Cam jealously defends driving rights to the 'stang.
It's already summer in Black Mountain. Mrs. Mitchell is happy to see her older son's friends (happy to see her son, alive and whole). It's simple enough to get the DNA standards Carolyn needs from Cam's father and uncles (Carolyn asked for one of Elias's-but-not-Hildegard's children for a comparison; fortunately Cam's Uncle Royfield is available). The house is thoroughly-tenanted in summer: Cam says the family drops off its kids as soon as school's out in the hopes that Momma will lose them before September comes. True (perhaps) in some cases. In others, one or both parents are serving off-post: it's apparently traditional in the Family (it's hard not to hear that word, 'family', with a capital letter appended), to come home when a spouse is sent into harm's way.
The 'Clanstead' can, Dani estimates, house perhaps forty people in normal American standards of privacy. Cam says on the High Holy Days -- Labor Day and Memorial Day and Fourth of July and Thanksgiving and Christmas -- they run about sixty under the roof, though during the summer they kick the kids out into the back yard under canvas.
Dani's interested in the sociology of Cam's family. The Clanstead is its beating heart, and Cam's mother is its matriarch, but she married the youngest son of the second wife. Cam can't explain it -- he's obviously never even thought about it -- but Dani's questions lead her to Momma ("Just as well you call me 'Momma', honey, ever'body does round these parts.") and a long wander back through the Mitchell history of four generations. It's from Momma she first hears (officially) about Hildegard, who was Matriarch before her. A woman 'without people,' whom nobody in the Family expected to 'stand' (these are code words, but Dani is an expert linguist, even in English), who 'married up' with the middle Mitchell boy.
Elias's older brother didn't come home from World War One. His younger brother and his sister's husband didn't come home from World War Two. Great-Aunt Lavinia never remarried; Great-Aunt Lorena and Great-Aunt Sophia did, but it isn't the presence or absence of a husband that confers the metaphysical crown of Mitchell Matriarch upon its holder. Momma even consults Great-Aunt Sophia, and the only answer Dani receives (she suspects it's the only answer there is), is: "We all knowed Ellie married strong, sugar."
'Married strong.' It seems to be the most important thing a Mitchell can do. It ought to seem anachronistic, an atavistic survival from ancient times that has no place in the 21st century. But the desert and its harsh uncompromising law of survival beats in Dani's blood, and this is something she understands without thought. Marry strong -- or die.
If Mrs. Mitchell thinks it odd that Cam's friends should descend upon her in the merry month of May to hear about his grandparents, she doesn't say so. The past is alive and well in the American South. And those idle (not-so-idle) conversations are Dani's gateway to one of the things she's come for: the history of her other self.
Cam tries to help (in steering the conversation, in providing a pretext for it), but he has a child's-eye view of his grandmother, and the memories of her that have been retold in gathering after Mitchell gathering down the years have been ... not precisely sanitized, Dani thinks, but ... sorted into Women's Tales and Men's Tales. Now Cam, through his expression of interest, is being inducted, in a sense, into the Women's Mysteries.
"I remember Gran'ma as bein', well, you know, Momma," Cam says. The three of them are folding laundry out in the clear bright daylight; Sam and Teal'c and Vala are off at a local Crafts Fair (and god only knows what they'll come back with). "Ever' Sunday for hours." His accent has gotten stronger since he's come home; the elided words -- like the elided vowels -- are obvious to Dani from what remains. Gran'ma Hildy was very religious. She spent hours every Sunday at church. The absent referent is (she thinks) out of respect to her demi-atheistic sensibilities. During the Ori War she and Cam had long discussions -- sometimes bitter arguments -- about the perversions of faith.
Mrs. Mitchell snorts, tossing a folded top sheet (all sheets in the Mitchell household are top sheets, actually -- no fitted sheets here -- as Mrs. Mitchell says its more convenient; Dani isn't sure why) into the laundry basket. "An' you would be talking about The Church of the Grand Epiphany, Cameron, not First Methodist," she says. It isn't a question. Before Cam has a chance to either agree or protest, she goes on: "It might entertain you to know that Grand Epiphany was the Grange. Your grandmother went down there ever' Sunday morning since before I was a bride in this house, and sat around with the Good Lord knows who, and knitted, and drank."
"I, uh, I..." Cam always looks completely adorable when he's confused. (She's willing to admit that now. She's willing to admit -- now -- the secret delight she had -- back in the day -- in setting up situations that would produce exactly this expression on his face.) "The world has gone completely insane," he mutters, rubbing a hand over his face.
"Bring the basket," Momma says crisply. They each bring one, walking back into the shadowed darkness of the house. It's cooler out of the sun, and quiet. In the middle of the day, the Mitchell clan scatters, reuniting at the dinner table. They deposit the baskets in the laundry room (their contents will have to be sorted before they're put away) and then Momma takes them into her 'gonna kill you' room. One wall is fitted with gorgeous hand-made wooden bookshelves (Dani lusts after them the way Vala lusts after things that glitter and gleam) but they aren't filled with books. This is where the Family photo albums are kept. It takes Cam's mother a while to find the one she's after.
"This here's Alexandria," she says, setting the album on her desk and opening it. A black and white photo. A baby -- newborn -- in swaddling clothes. The photo is creased and torn, stuck back together with yellowing tape. "She lived two weeks." Momma closes the book. Her chin comes up and her eyes flash. "And the pastor down to First Methodist -- not Pastor Bob, God rest him, who married your Daddy and me, this would be John Michael Goodread, long before my time -- paid his sympathy call and told Momma Hildy it was God's will to take her baby girl back to Heaven. She never set foot in First Methodist again but for Christmas service until she was buried out of there." Momma smiles. "She'd of rather been buried out of Grand Epiphany, I'll swear, but Aunt Sophie outlived her."
Dani wants to open the album again, to look at the face of the daughter who isn't hers, a never-was blending seamlessly into a never-will-be. Alexandria. Not hard to come up with an explanation of where the name came from. Elias Mitchell would have known there was only one place his stowaway could have boarded from. She wonders if they ever tried to trace Hildegard Smith there. After the war, she imagines it would have to have been. They wouldn't have been surprised not to find any trace. "Are there other pictures?" Dani asks.
They put away the laundry first, and help out with Snack Time. There are four Mitchells under roof who require afternoon naps and snacks afterward, eight more Mitchells -- and their friends (bringing that head-count to twelve) who don't require naps but do require snacks -- and one toddler and four infants to be seen to. Dani suggests to Cam (privately) that his mother could easily run the SGC if she wanted. Cam answers: "One hand tied behind her back."
After that, Momma starts dinner and they settle at the kitchen table with a stack of photo albums. Studio portraits, ancient box-Brownie photos. Black Mountain and the Clanstead in the 1920s. Cam's great-grandparents. His grandparents as children: Kimbrel and Elias and Jefferson and Lavinia. Fourths of July and Christmases and family gatherings whose oldest members fought in the Civil War.
Kimbrel's wedding photo. Kimbrel in his doughboy uniform, going off to war. The years are telescoped into the turn of a page. Momma wasn't here for these events, but she knows the stories in these photos, because she has them from Sophia, from Lavinia, from Hildy, from every Mitchell woman who came before her. All the names and dates and histories.
Here are Elias and Susannah, standing on the steps of a church ('in the church dooryard', Momma says). Susannah again, holding George in a long lace gown -- his baptismal photo. Dani stares at the photos of Elias, willing the recovery of memories that were never hers. Elias looks like an odd distorted echo of the man she knows, and she wonders how much of Hildy's love for Elias was a survival of her own love for Cam.
Elias and Susannah and their boys on the deck of Achilles -- the youngest, Royfield, is an infant in arms. In the front yard of a house that isn't this one.
And then, oh, there. She. Hildy. And Dani bites her lip, because how can they not see? She's older in the photo than she is now (she has to be, having lived out that decade in the past waiting for her Prince of Hell to arrive) but it doesn't really show in the photo -- nutrition trumps calendar. Hildy is standing on the porch of this very house. She's wearing a coat and a hat. Gloves, too. Dani wonders where she's going. She's smiling. She looks happy.
"Seems to me," Momma says (and her tone is soft and her words are mild and Dani isn't fooled) "you take an awful lot of interest in something that's no particular interest to anybody outside the family -- and not to them, more'n half the time." She gives Cam a hard look before looking back at Dani.
"I could say my fate -- qisma -- has always been to meet Cam and come to think of him as a brother," Dani says carefully. "But qisma doesn't give me the right to presume on your hospitality. But he told me about his-- About you-- And it just didn't seem as if all the things he told me could actually be real." Her words are artfully-constructed -- she can't remember a time when she didn't shape her words to produce a desired effect (usually keeping SG-1 alive) -- but the depth of feeling that wells up between them shocks her. She hadn't believed Cam's family could be real, and now -- sitting here -- she can admit (if only to herself) how much she'd always wished and hoped they were. "I just... I'm an anthropologist by training. He told me a lot of stories," she says softly, reaching out to trace the shape of Elias Mitchell on the photo before her.
"Well, if he didn't tell you about the time he got into Alvin's eggnog and Momma Hildy took a switch to his bare behind for it, he hasn't told you all the good ones yet," Momma says, and Cam yelps: "Momma!"
"What was wrong with the eggnog?" Dani asks, confused.
"'Spect you come back Christmas and have some, you might get a notion why a six-year-old itchybritches shouldn't of been getting into what he was told plain he shouldn't. Although," Momma adds meditatively, "I do believe she wouldn't have had quite as heavy a hand if it hadn't all come back up in the middle of her best Turkey carpet."
Dani's still in the dark, and oh god, Cam is red to the ears. He clears his throat. "There's, ah, just a mite more nog than egg in Uncle Alvin's egg nog," he says. He shifts a bit on the chair, as if the correction were more recent than it was.
Dani does her best not to laugh. She really does. She manages to keep it down to an undignified sputter, which is probably worse. "Oh poor Cam," she says, and receives a wounded glare in return. "I'm being, um--" She tries to remember her (shopworn) cover story, and how it fits this circumstance. "I'm being transferred to another department, and I'll be working in Washington now," she says, while trying to decide whether she's actually been invited to visit at Christmas, what Jack's plans for Christmas are (she doubts visiting a human zoo is high on the list), and wondering if Cam will be able to make it home for Christmas this year.
"Hard city to get to know," Momma says, nodding. "You got a place to stay, there, honey?"
Now it's Cam who seems to be trying not to laugh. Dani is (once again) baffled. "They've taken care of everything," she says carefully. "And I've got an, um, friend who lives there. He says my new apartment's nice."
"Hmph," Momma says. "Well, before you leave, you remember me to look you out some names and addresses -- Cameron Everett Mitchell, do not turn that frog-swallowing face on your momma -- because I think Sally Ann's still posted there, and I know Chester's going to be stuck in E-Ring until they blow the Last Trump. Do you good to have people you can call on. Less you got folks seein' to it?"
Dani's been expecting this question to come -- in some form -- ever since she stepped through the door, since she briefed both Teal'c and Vala on how to handle it (handle it in a fashion that wouldn't cause an international incident, anyway). She shakes her head. "My parents died when I was a child. Nobody was ever able to trace any other family for me." Assuming you leave out one many-times-great-uncle, host of the Goa'uld Seth, and her grandfather, who's off with the giant invisible aliens (if they weren't all obliterated by the Ori). Yeah, aside from that.
"Plenty of family here to spare," Momma says, turning the page of the album. "We'll expect you come Christmas, Danielle."
Sam and Vala and Teal'c return an hour before dinner. Sam and Vala are laughing, laden down with various outrageous purchases (silk scarves and hand-thrown bowls and wooden toys and bizarre food), and even Teal'c looks pleased. Dani and Cam return the photo albums to the 'gonna kill you' room; Dani goes to her room (hers and Sam's and Vala's) to make a few notes on kinship lines on her laptop. She still wants to know if Hildy left a message for her, but she also wants to preserve all she's been told this afternoon, to make a framework into which to slot more information. It is foolish sentimentality to think she has either right or reason to think of herself as a custodian of the Mitchell clan history, and cruel to imagine a world in which she's needed to reconstruct it. This is merely a pastime for her, nothing more.
She's barely finished when Vala comes bouncing in, demanding her presence. They bought her a present at the Crafts Fair, Vala says. "Not clothes," Dani says warningly. She fought that battle once with Sam and having had to re-fight it with Vala, she thinks either Vala's far more tenacious than Sam ever was, or she's more tired.
"No!" Vala says (all unconvincing innocence). "Samantha said you'd like it -- and Muscles says it's traditional! Come see!"
Dani knows most of the Jaffa traditions of course, but she has no idea (at any given moment) which one Teal'c is going to map onto his (still) imperfectly-grasped understanding of Tau'ri culture. She closes her laptop and follows Vala out into the living room, prepared to receive anything from a knife to a live animal. The house is ramping up to speed now as the family accretes for dinner: Everett, Bayliss, and Royfield are coming in from the garage and the congregation of aunts move in from the Basking Porch.
"Show her! Show her! Show her!" Vala demands, cavorting around Sam and Teal'c like a teenager. Qetesh took Vala prisoner on Vala's wedding day, holding her hostage for fifty years. Because her father, Jasec, had become a Tok'ra. Because Vala was beautiful. Because Qetesh was cruel. And sometimes Dani thinks Vala has resumed her interrupted life as the maiden bride she was never let to be. And sometimes the woman who gazes at her with Vala's eyes is infinitely ancient and infinitely sad.
"It's nothing," Sam says, reaching into the bag she's still holding.
"It is entirely suitable for your new estate, Danielle Jackson," Teal'c says.
Dani wonders what 'new estate' that is. Civilian? Time-traveler? Lunatic? She reaches into the bag and draws forth a mystery -- a large zip-lock bag of ivory-colored fluff. She tucks it under her arm and investigates further. There's a second plastic bag there, containing a block of beeswax (it looks like), a steel-toothed brush, and a fabric drawstring bag. When she opens the fabric bag and holds the hardwood spindle in her hands, the rest of the incomprehensible collection all begins to make sense.
"I haven't spun in years," she says quietly. Not since Abydos. Sha're (beloved sister) taught her, because weaving was a master craft, but any and all yarn was useful, even Dani's.
Sha're could spin yarn as fine as thread...
"It is a skill you will quickly regain," Teal'c says and she wonders: why now? But she hugs each of them anyway.
"And I bought you a nice shirt, too," Vala whispers in her ear. "It's not enough to get a man, darling -- you have to keep him."
"Oh hey, Momma says we don't get this table set we're all gonna starve," Cam says, poking his head in from the kitchen.
Washington's in the same time zone as North Carolina. Disclosure -- in the Stargate-related sense -- hovers on the horizon, a simoom that's never quite broken, but Jack says within the next five years for sure. (Dani contemplates a long vacation offworld when that day comes; she has no desire to be either glorified or vilified for her part in America's Secret War.) After dinner she texts Jack (setting up best time to call) then goes into the kitchen. Cindy Lou (Cam's sister-in-law) is doing the dishes with Sam. It's another thing that Dani doesn't understand about the local customs, because while Sam has been a guest in this house before -- and so is allowed to do dishes, she assumes -- and she and Vala and Teal'c haven't been, she's been permitted to do dishes and Vala and Teal'c haven't. She thinks she could probably devote her entire life to studying the Mitchells and still not understand them. Cindy Lou shoos her outside, telling her to "keep those boys from killing each other".
There's a touch-Frisbee game in progress on the lawn; Dani can't quite figure out which team is which (or even if there are teams) but Cam and Teal'c seem to be holding their own against a random assortment of Mitchell cousins. Of course Vala's out there too, so they'd all better watch out. Dani goes and gets the spindle and the roving and settles down on the Basking Porch.
At this time of day, the older men occupy one end of it before moving inside -- after dessert -- to the den, the only room of the house in which smoking is allowed, and the older women the other. Dani's the youngest person here. She sits on the floor and leans back against the railing, propping her glasses up on top of her head so she can listen better. The porch swing creaks, and there's a faint click of knitting needles. Every woman here is occupied with something -- knitting or mending or crochet -- as they talk quietly about children or local gossip or weather. Dani lets her mind drift away from what her fingers are doing. Perhaps Teal'c is right. Perhaps the skill will come back to her.
In the background, she hears the yelps of defeat and whoops of victory from the game on the lawn. Her ear, from long necessity, is tuned to the sound of Cam's voice, of Vala's voice. She picks them out easily, automatically reassuring herself that all is well.
Still. At last. Again. For the first time. It depends on how you look at it.
Her fingers move automatically, turning wool to thread. She thinks of Vala, last-met dearest sister. She and Vala are bound together by ties of blood: the irredeemable daughter whom Vala unwillingly bore and Dani willfully murdered. Sometimes Dani thinks the thing that binds all of SG-1 together is death. Charlie O'Neill's death brought Jack into the program. Her death on Abydos (the first of many) bound her and Jack together. The end of Sha're's life binds her and Teal'c together. His the guilt (once, long ago) for permitting it; hers (forever) for being the executioner. She remembers standing beside Sam the first time Sam killed a man, watching Sam lock her jaw and pretend it meant nothing, because Jack was watching (because Jack watched all of them, and -- back then -- Dani didn't know what he was looking for) and Sam didn't dare show weakness, whether to enemies or to the soldiers of the same side. She remembers catching Sam each time she fell back from an attempt at reaching for normal. She remembers when Sam stopped trying. Another sort of death.
And Cam came to them shrouded in death. "Project Heliotrope" in the official (secret) record. The Snakeskinners on their unit patches. The 302 Squadron. Twelve ships. Twenty-four men and women. Twenty-three dead on the Antarctic ice saving her life, Sam's life, Teal'c's life, Jack's.
Bound in blood.
And they've spent almost a year -- ever since they killed the Orici and the Ori -- mopping up snakes and ladder-climbers and trying to get used to the whole idea of 'over' and 'won' and spent more time refereeing the negotiation of The Tok'ra/Jaffa Joint Goa'uld Execution Protocols Agreement than -- Jack says -- the Vietnamese Peace Talks took (which is not true, as the Paris Peace Accords Talks ran from March 1968 to January 1973: she looked it up), and now the galaxy really is at peace and it really is time for the next thing. And whatever that is, Dani knows she's been too close to the front lines for too long to be someone who can -- who should -- shape it. She doesn't know what peace looks like.
She thinks -- maybe -- that's why Teal'c wanted this to be the gift they gave her. A reminder of the life she once had. A promise that she can reclaim it.
The thread she's spinning breaks, but that's okay. She can start again as often as she needs to. It doesn't have to be perfect. Now ... or ever. ("Aw, c'mon, Sam -- it's not like this is rocket science," she hears the voice of Cam-in-memory say. "Oh wait. What was I thinking?")
Above her head, the conversation shifts tidally, into the past. To: "I haven't thought about that in years," and: "Do you remember when," and time marked out by the age or absence of people Dani doesn't know until -- inevitably -- it turns (or returns) to Hildy Mitchell. Who came out of nowhere. Who didn't fear man nor beast (nor God, Devil, or corrupt judge, apparently, from the references that flit by, and Dani hopes she can get those stories before she leaves). Who was (equally-elliptically) midwife, moonshiner, and arsonist in equal measure. These half-told tales don't match up with the 'Gran'ma' Dani heard about from Cam during the Ori War: a woman of rock-ribbed conviction and equally rock-ribbed piety. Not the woman who taught her sons to shoot while their father was off at sea and showed up to poll-watch every year with a sawed-off shotgun in her bag.
"Ran the damned county with a Bible in one hand and a shotgun in the other," someone says (Dani thinks it's Great-Aunt Lavinia; in which case the woman must be pushing a hundred). "Did more to make some folks believe in hell-fire than a month of Sunday sermons."
"Hush, you, Lavvy, you're just jealous," someone else (Great-Aunt Sophia?) says.
"Outlived her, didn't I?" Lavinia says, dissolving into wheezing laughter.
"Dead. I am officially dead," Cam groans, staggering halfway up the steps and collapsing on them beside Dani.
"You look rather lively," Dani points out heartlessly. She sets aside the spindle and reaches out to stroke his hair. It's okay now. It's Hildegard Mitchell's gift to the two of them, this uncarnal affection, the ability to love him as deeply as her heart desires, at last without fear. That message from the past, an alchemical telegram, has changed 'maybe, shouldn't be' into 'never will be', and the end of that balancing act is a sweet relief to both of them.
He rolls over onto his back, grinning up at her. "'m too old for this," he says, trying to elicit sympathy.
"Oh, aren't we all?" she says, unmoved. "You're just lucky Sam wasn't out there. Then you'd've gotten your ass kicked by two girls."
He chuckles, sitting up. Her watch beeps. "Phone call," she says.
"Dessert," Cam answers. "Peach pie."
"Yeah, you don't save me a piece you'll find out what a real ass-kicking's like," Dani says, levering herself to her feet.
She walks out behind the garage. Everyone calls it 'the barn' half the time, and she hadn't known why until today, but there was a barn just about there until 1921. The Mitchell place was a working farm up through the Great Depression -- which they talk about as if it were yesterday -- of course, they also talk about the Civil War as if it were yesterday -- and during that, they lost most of the land. But they kept the house and forty acres, and they held on until things got better. Great-Grandfather Mitchell married strong.
Dani's used to looking at the land and seeing it in terms of lineages, generations stretching back decades and centuries, binding Time the way the roots of plants bind the soil. She'd never expected to find anything like it in America. She leans against the back wall of the garage and looks down toward the Back Forty. She can hear the creek, but it's too dark to see it. She digs out her phone and her headset and presses speed-dial (past and future aligning like the chevrons on the Gate).
"And how are things with the Dukes of Hazzard?" Jack asks without preamble.
"I spent the day looking at old family albums. Did you know Cam's great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War?"
"On which side?" She can hear the faint sound of Jack being amused.
"I didn't ask. Is it important?"
"Not for the last hundred years or so. Got everything yet?"
He wants to know when she'll be in Washington -- he certainly has a right to be impatient, and she hopes he is -- but this is the last time the team (the new team, the restart team) will ever be together. Or together for sure, and Dani's learned not to bet her future on anything short of certainties. "Not yet," she says, hedging.
"You sound tired," Jack says.
"It wasn't my life," she answers. Parallel conversations, like so many of theirs over the years. Not at cross-purposes (though they'd sounded that way to outsiders); just two streams of information that didn't meet. Until one or the other of them jumped the tracks.
"We've all done a lot of things we didn't do," Jack answers.
"It's okay," she says (meaning everything and nothing; she's okay, they're okay). "What about you?"
"Chased Irene out about forty minutes ago. There's a thing, but I figure if I show up fashionably late, I can get away with one circuit around the room and a glass of cheap champagne."
"A thing, or a thing-thing?" she asks suspiciously, and he laughs.
"Welcome to Washington. At least they don't shoot you, marry you, or sell you into slavery at these shindigs. Most of the time."
"You forgot 'imprison' and 'sacrifice,'" she points out.
"Yeah, no double-word score in Scrabble for you, Dr. Jackson."
They talk about inconsequentials for a few minutes more. She tells him Cam's mother has invited her for Christmas; that she'll apparently be arriving in Washington with a call-list of Mitchell relatives. Jack tells her his entire staff is hoping for the civilizing influence her arrival will have upon him. Dani knows that's Jack's way of teasing her; for all his protests, he's far more expert at navigating the shark-infested waters of Washington politics than she'll ever be. Politics, Jack said once, is war without guns. She's still not sure whether or not he was quoting someone else.
He tells her to sleep well and be a good girl. She tells him she can do one or the other, but not both. He tells her that she's got Vala for a chaperone. Old jokes, and familiar ones. When there's nothing left but dead air, she puts her phone away and walks back to the house.
That night Dani lies in bed staring out the window at the moonlight. When Cam told his mother they were coming, Dani suspects a little reshuffling was done. The three of them are in the Peach Bedroom: it's on the ground floor in the back of the "new wing" of the house and is obviously a privileged venue, while Cam (and by extension Teal'c) are upstairs in the Lilac Bedroom (though not, at least, opprobriously exiled to Cam and his younger brother's old bedroom). The 'new wing' was put on fifty years ago; there are newer additions, but they all have specific names: the addition, the new part, the add-on.
It's a double bed; Vala's asleep beside her. (Sam has the cot; Sam says both of them kick too much for her to want to sleep with either of them.) Vala's gift to Dani (bestowed at bedtime, thank god for small favors) was a pale blue silk charmeuse camisole. Shoelace-thin straps, low-cut and clinging, but Vala insists it's outerwear. It's hand painted with a branch of flowering dogwood along one side. Vala tells her (proudly) that the dogwood is the state flower of North Carolina. Vala has bought the same item in pink, with a design of (pinker) roses curling down one side. Vala (Dani knows) will have no compunction about wearing it in public.
Dani reaches under the strap of the tank-top she wears to bed and traces her fingers over the white knot of the bullet scar inside the hollow of her right shoulder. Too many miles. Too many scars. She peers into her future as if it were a tunnel and feels a clutch of apprehension. With each day that passes, it becomes more real, more probable, and there's no Stargate there, no pack on her back, no combat boots, no sidearm. Just a civilian life, and she doesn't think she remembers how to live one.
She learned. She knows she did. A year in exile in an alternate New York, a decade of the most covert possible op in the past. She survived both of those, and why the hell didn't she write down the vital secrets of how she did it? Didn't she think it would be the most important thing her other self would need to know?
If her plan succeeded.
She gives up on sleep and slides out from under the covers. She and Vala squabble eternally about the number and kind of blankets; Vala's comfortable here under nothing but a sheet, Dani wants an afghan for warmth and weight. She pads over to the chair to retrieve her sweatpants and sweatshirt. She carries them out into the hall before putting them on.
Now decently covered, she pads barefoot down the dark hallway. Past Cam's parents' bedroom, past the den, past the 'gonna kill you' room, down the long dark hall. She hasn't been here long enough to know which floorboards creak and how to avoid them, but she doesn't try; she'll wake more people by trying to be sneaky than by simply being quiet. The front door isn't locked. She opens it, opens the screen door, closes both carefully. It's cool out here on the porch, but the temperature doesn't drop that much at night (not in comparison to Colorado Springs). She avoids the swing and the railing (both creak) and sits down on the steps.
Can't go forward and can't go back. It's the story of her life, and she knows that she will go forward, because there's no other direction to go, but right now she doesn't see how, and she'd wanted to be ... happier. Not this annoying combination of resigned and terrified, because for god's sake, Jack is waiting for her at the end of this rainbow, and she loves him. She kicked immortality in the teeth for him, and she never regretted that (and still doesn't). She's mourned him and fought for him and died for him and reinvented herself for him, and no matter what sacrifices (and how many) she's made, they've hardly been one-sided. Place them into Ma'at's scales, hers and his, and the weight of a feather would tip the balance.
So ... what?
She doesn't know.
The long creak of the front door opening doesn't come as a surprise. To go off alone is to be followed; that's been true for so long it's an immutable fact of her life. (Or has been. And soon won't be.) Vala pads barefoot down the steps, a pin-up in lace-trimmed satin. Without speaking, she holds out her hand, and Dani takes it. Vala lifts her to her feet with casual strength. The naquaadah in her blood, the flesh and bone that Qetesh edited, are marks of Vala's enslavement that can never be erased -- not even by a sarcophagus (they think) if the changes are at the genetic level. All they know of the Goa'uld (imperfect knowledge, never to be perfected) makes the SGC's scientists think the Goa'uld's greatest scientific strength lay in genetic manipulation: if Vala is (like the Jaffa) a chimera (and if their equally-imperfect theories about the sarcophagus are true) the sarcophagus would read the Goa'uld's revisions back into the body it repaired.
It may be the true reason Vala was chosen to become the mother of the Orici. Dani has never said so.
The two of them walk across the grass. It's cool but not wet; it isn't late enough for that. They stop at the oak tree in the middle of the yard. It's a massive thing, there in every photo of the house Dani's seen, back to the copy of the ancient tintype, circa 1870, of the original farmhouse.
"You should turn that frown upside down," Vala says, leaning back against the tree and propping one foot against the trunk.
"I curse the day Teal'c introduced you to Tau'ri popular culture," Dani answers, deadpan.
Vala smirks, pleased, but doesn't answer, prompting further speech by her silence. It occurs to Dani (and not, really, for the first time) that Vala faced a far worse iteration of this problem when she was freed of Qetesh, and for that reason, it seems spineless to tell Vala her own fears. Vala faced torture and death as she tried to reclaim her own life. All Dani faces is a little cognitive dissonance. "It's just a little..."
Insomnia, she means to say, but Vala finishes: "Difficult to know how to be ordinary again."
Dani looks away, and Vala reaches out, cupping Dani's chin in her hand and making Dani face her. "Only you never were. I was, you know. Now, don't laugh. Don't you dare. I was an ordinary girl with an ordinary life, and then I couldn't be, but you know, I don't really mind. It's rather easy to go from being ordinary to being extraordinary, you know. People do it all the time. You think you have to go from being extraordinary to being ordinary, but you really don't. You just have to be extraordinary in a different way."
"I don't know how!" Even her shout is a whisper, but the panic is real.
Vala steps away from the tree, putting her arms around Dani, folding her in. Dani always forgets how small Vala is until they're standing like this; Vala's actually shorter than Dani is. "You don't have to, you know," Vala says. "Not all at once. Your man loves you. Don't you think he'll help? And don't pretend you have no idea of who I'm talking about. That's just rude."
Dani sighs (admission and defeat), resting her head on Vala's shoulder. From not knowing she was to not admitting she was to admitting it (privately) while engaged in a long masquerade for public consumption, the idea that she can tell the truth and not have the heavens fall is still new. Even if it's been an open secret -- in some circles -- for quite some time, in others -- while the Ori War still raged -- plausible deniability had to be maintained, lest various factions -- IOA, NID, some Washington sub-committee, pick one -- use it as a pretext to yank her off SG-1 and lose them a war they couldn't afford to lose.
"Yeah," she says. "He will." But I'll miss the stars, she thinks.
"All right then," Vala says briskly. "We should have cocoa now."
"We should not wake up Cam's entire family at--" Dani steps back and checks her watch "--1:30 in the morning."
"Certainly not," Vala agrees, actually managing to sound affronted. "Did you know there are two kitchens here? Oh, the second one is quite small, but I checked. Nobody's living there. So I took the liberty of stocking it with a few things. Just in case."
Oh, god, please tell me you weren't stealing food from the kitchen, Dani thinks. She doesn't say so. Vala has hoarded food for as long as Dani's known her, and Dani understands why. It took her years to break herself of the same habit, so all she's ever done about it is made sure none of the food in Vala's SGC quarters was anything that will spoil.
Vala leads her back into the house, and across the living room, and through the back parlor, and up the back stairs, and up to the third floor and back down again (only this second-floor piece of the house isn't connected to the other second-floor piece of the house, and thank god Vala's night-sight is better than anyone's who's only human). Vala opens a door and steps through (leading Dani by the hand) and when Dani closes it behind her, Vala flips on the lights.
Dani blinks in the sudden glare, but when her eyes adjust she sees a studio apartment. Okay not quite. There's a living-room with a galley kitchen tucked into one corner, and a half-open door through which she can see a bedroom. Vala's opening the refrigerator and taking out a carton of milk. "I got Hershey's syrup," Vala says. "That's the best," she adds helpfully. She bustles around the pocket kitchen (it's about the size of the one in Dani's first apartment, the tiny one in Chicago), getting down a saucepan and a wooden spoon; two mugs; a bag of marshmallows and a box of Graham crackers. Vala went from a feudal village to (as a host) the barbaric space-opera splendor of a Goa'uld court; freed by the Tok'ra, she scavenged, as so many did, through the ruins of the Goa'uld Empire. Cam was the one who taught her to cook on Earth -- or at least, taught her the most about Tau'ri kitchen equipment.
"Is that milk still good?" Dani asks, and Vala answers chidingly: "Oh, don't be silly, Danielle. I got it yesterday. You remember: we went to the grocery store."
"Oh," she says, as Vala pours milk into the saucepan and sets it on the burner. Dani remembers going to the grocery store. Her and Cam and Vala and Teal'c and the truck and a shopping list that probably should have had an index and a bibliography and Cam said it was just the 'mid week' shopping. Vala could have stocked six kitchens without anybody noticing.
When the cocoa's ready (with marshmallows in it and Graham crackers besides; they only managed one summer cookout in all the time they -- SG-1 2.0 -- were together, but Vala seems to feel s'mores have some deep freight of symbolic meaning she refuses to discuss, and makes them -- or conjures them by association -- every chance she gets) they sit on the couch side by side. Vala dips Graham cracker fingers into her cocoa-and-melted-marshmallow, popping them into her mouth quickly before they crumble. Dani sips cocoa -- hot and chocolaty and good -- and scoops melted marshmallow out of her mug onto (dry) Graham cracker to crunch.
"You wonder if she was happy, don't you?" Vala says abruptly.
"If she didn't remember being me, of course she was," Dani answers without thought. "Ow," she says, playing back her own words. "That's not what I meant."
"Did so," Vala says promptly. She puts a hand on Dani's knee. "If you're happy, someone can take it away from you. We both know that."
"Which would you rather be, happy or safe?" Dani asks.
It's a rhetorical question, but Vala answers it anyway. "It's impossible to be safe. You might as well try to be happy. So I think."
"Good plan," Dani says.
"All my plans are good ones," Vala says archly, playing the clown. She tosses back the last of her cocoa (it's tepid now) and gets to her feet. "Come on, darling. Drink up. It's late and my feet are getting cold."
"You ought to have frostbite in that," Dani mutters, getting up. Vala simply laughs.
It only takes a minute to wash up the mugs and the saucepan before they leave. Dani makes a note to ask Cam about this place in the morning, and make sure they aren't trespassing by using it. Vala leads her back through the darkened house (Ariadne through the labyrinth in reverse) and back to their bedroom. Sam mutters a sleepy query as they come in; Dani tells her to go back to sleep ("S'okay, Sam, not time yet.") and shucks sweatshirt and sweatpants to climb into bed. Vala coils up against her, a determined limpet, wrapping her arms around Dani's torso and insinuating her feet between Dani's calves.
As prophesied, they're ice-cold.
Breakfast in the Mitchell household is joyfully chaotic. Dani wanders around the kitchen, Cindy Lou's youngest on her hip (she's 70% certain of the provenance of the infant) juggling her morning coffee and the baby bottle. Cam regards her with an expression of faintly-indignant puzzlement, as if she's engaged in some complex form of trickery to drive him mad. She supposes he has a point. But if Vala's a chimera, Dani has always been a chameleon (the trick is in knowing when protective coloration isn't), fitting in if she can (if she can bear to). And she's not sure Cam realizes how much she likes his family, how much she's always hungered for kin and clan and lineage (had it once; stolen by Apophis, by Anubis, by mad cruel aliens dressed up in borrowed flesh). This isn't her family (it can never be her life), but she can pretend for a while.
Sam's project for today is getting one of the not-quite-junkers in the side-yard running again; Vala, having plotted out the optimal time to annex the only available full bathroom in the Clanstead, has planned a Day of Beauty using the all-natural organic products she purchased at the Crafts Fair, beginning with a morning sun-bathe (there's a flat section of the roof). Teal'c, after extensive non-verbal negotiation, has been invited to visit the workshop in the garage.
Dani watches (providing inexpert assistance) as Momma Mitchell feeds twenty adults and twelve children a full breakfast, assigns errands and chores, collects information about where every family member will be throughout the day, and makes preliminary decisions about the dinner (lunch) and supper (dinner) menus, all before 0900. (You can try sleeping through the morning chaos in the Mitchell household -- Cam says some guests have actually succeeded -- but Dani's been here for four days now and has found that her best option for serving her eternal sleep-debt is an afternoon nap. The house is fairly quiet in the afternoon.)
She wonders if this is something her other self ever did, and how well, and how long it took her to learn, and how unforgiving Elias's mother and sisters, their daughters and daughters-in-law, were in the teaching. Elias was a sea captain. He would have been away for weeks at a time. Did Hildegard Mitchell ever wish she were living somewhere else? Did she ever live somewhere else?
Was she happy here? Did the Mitchell women make her welcome?
At last the final teenager slinks from the house to pounce on his or her bicycle (or to slouch to the end of the drive to await a friend with a car), and the final younger child walks sedately out the back door to run screaming into the sunlight the moment the door closes. The men have vanished like morning dew, the spinsters and dowagers (women one and two and even three generations up from Momma) have made their turtle-slow ways to the Basking Porch to sit and rock and knit and gossip, and it's Momma and Cindy Lou and Miranda and Annabeth and Cam. Annabeth is a Griffith who's married to a Hutchen (a very distant cousin) named Stephen. Stephen is overseas at the moment (Dani would probably know where if she followed the news of Earth wars). Miranda is a Mitchell (though not in the direct line) and the baby Dani's been tending isn't Cindy's after all, but Miranda's son, Jason Ganapati. Miranda's husband is First Sergeant Gokarna Patel, currently deployed. Miranda, too, would be deployed, except for the fact that she fell off the roof during her last week of leave and busted her ankle to pieces (as she says), and it will be a while yet before she's ready to run and shoot.
Miranda settles into one of the kitchen chairs with a hiss and a grumble and props her crutch up against the wall. She reaches out for the baby, and Dani places him carefully in her arms. Jason gurgles happily as his mother jiggles him, and then belches enormously. "Jus' like your Daddy," Miranda says, and settles him on her shoulder. The soft baby hands reach and clutch, finding the chain of her dog-tags.
"You can bring that pot over, Cameron," Momma says, settling into her own chair with a sigh. "Swear to God, I'm moving to Montana," she says.
"That's my line, Momma," Cam says, bringing the pot over to the table and beginning to pour. "You c'n come with me, you want." His mother reaches out and swats him on the rump. Cam utters a pro forma yelp. The coffee doesn't spill.
Dani leans against the sink, watching them. Home and family and quiet unconditional familiar love. On his way back to the coffeemaker with the pot, Cam stops to top her mug up too.
"You gonna roost there like a buzzard or you gonna sit, Danielle?" Momma asks her. (In vain has Dani suggested to Cam's mother, with all possible tact, that she really hates her given name and prefers 'Dani'. Momma is unmoved. Or oblivious. Or god knows what. Momma is equally capable of serenely ignoring the fact that her eldest offspring addresses Dani solely by her last name. Dani can't remember now how that got started, or why it stuck, but by now it's a family joke -- the family is SG-1 -- and will never be changed.)
She comes over to the table and sits down.
"So what you got in mind to do for today?" Momma asks her.
"Well you were saying your garden needed weeding, and I know you were talking about extending it..." she says tentatively. Cam, she knows, would be happy to tend his mother's garden (they call it a 'truck patch' here) but Dani already knows from Sam that while Cam adores all things green and growing, he's incapable of telling a weed from a plant. Dani can. And gardening's what megadoses of antihistamines were made for, after all.
"Too late to plant much of anything else this year," Cindy Lou says, consideringly. "Couple things, maybe."
"They were all up in the family albums yesterday," Momma says to Cindy Lou, "wantin' all the old stories about Momma Hildy."
"You lose a bet, Cameron?" Cindy Lou asks with interest.
"I did not lose a bet, Cynthia Louise, on account of I never bet with that woman," Cam says, wounded, and Cindy Lou cackles heartlessly. She's young -- a decade younger than Dani -- but Dani can see the Clan Matriarch-in-waiting in her eyes and voice and hands. Someday -- if he's lucky and fate is kind -- it will be Cam sitting on the porch in the evening twilight while his brother's wife labors to make sure all is well with clan and kin and line. They won't think of it in those terms, Dani supposes. But it's true nonetheless.
"Don't see why you want to know about all that old stuff, Danielle," Cindy Lou says. It's the same interrogation she got from Momma. And it isn't. Dani doesn't know whether getting it again means she passed or failed the first round.
"I could tell you all kinds of things that amount to the world's biggest snow job, Cindy, or I could go with the truth. Which would you like?" Dani answers.
"Oh, well, hell, we don't get much snow down here, you go right ahead," Cindy Lou says.
"I'm planning to use Cam for breeding purposes and I want to do some research to see what I'll get," Dani answers, perfectly blandly.
She's timed it just right. Cindy Lou snorts coffee and whoops, Annabeth and Miranda join in the laughter, Cam yelps: "Jackson!" and Momma reaches out to swat her.
After Cam brings over a fistful of paper towels to clean up the mess -- and Momma says he'd better put up a fresh pot on account of the snow's getting pretty deep in here -- Cindy Lou says Dani should pull the other one, it's got bells on.
"Okay. Actually I'm pretty sure I'm related to Cam, so I'm here looking for proof. Once I have it, I'll take somebody to court and sue for damages."
"For bein' related to us? Damn sure you'd get 'em," Miranda says.
"Think she oughta get 'em just for knowin' us," Annabeth says.
"Huh. She do look a little like Gran'ma Hildy, don't she, Momma?" Cindy Lou says, narrowing her eyes and squinting at Dani. "Not a lot, but some. Where you from, Danielle?"
"My mother emigrated from Holland as a child. My father was from Boston. My mother's maiden name was Ballard. Not very Dutch, I guess. I suppose her father changed it when they emigrated."
"What--" Cindy Lou begins, but Momma smacks her. "She don't know no more about her family 'n that, Cindy Lou, don't pester the child. She just wants to know because she want to know, ain't that right, honey?"
"I suppose that isn't a good enough reason," Dani says.
"Oughta get Aunt Soph and Aunt Lavvy liquored up if she really wants to hear all the old Family gossip," Annabeth says meaningfully.
"You button your biscuit trap, girl," Cam says, from over by the sink. "I still remember your Sweet Sixteen party."
"Could might you bring over the rest of that pan of coffee cake when you bring over the fresh pot, Cameron," Momma says. "And dredge up a chair 'fore I get a crick in my neck starin' up at you."
Momma sections out the coffee cake -- made entirely from scratch (by Cam, which shouldn't surprise Dani after all this time -- she knows he can cook, and cook well -- but somehow it does) -- onto the rest of the paper napkins, and by the time they've all had another cup of coffee, and Jason has woken, become fussy, and been passed around the table until he falls asleep again on Cam's shoulder, and Dani has spoken (rather a lot) about extended families and historical continuity and the rarity of both of these things in the twenty-first century and especially in America, and Miranda's asked her what she does for a living, and Cam's said, "It's classified," and Miranda's said, "So you aren't going to be publishing anything," and Dani's said (with rather more bitterness than she expected), "Not a single word on any subject whatever," Momma announces the garden can be left to its own devices for the day if Cam wants to show Dani where to root around in the back attic.
"Mind, I am not gonna holler up the stairs for you come dinnertime. Starve for all I care," Momma says.
"I'll take my phone," Cam says. "You jus' call me, you're a mind to whistle me down."
Momma mutters inaudibly (some things are best -- or worst -- left to the imagination) and Cam laughs and swoops in to steal a kiss. As he dances back out of swatting range, Momma flaps her apron at him, telling him to take himself off out of her kitchen at once.
"We can forward your calls to mine," Dani says, once they're out of the kitchen. "God help you if you miss the call."
"God'll have to," Cam agrees, nodding sagely, "'cause Momma won't."
"Be good, or I'll tell Jack he hired the wrong Mitchell."
"Yeah, I always thought Cindy Lou was cut out for a life a' crime."
She heads back to the Peach Bedroom to pick up her laptop and her phone. The phone was a going-away present from Jack (though he was the one who went) because he said he wasn't going to deal with all the dropped signal, out of service area, smashed (microwaved, sodden, otherwise impaired) phone woes that historically plague her (and her cell phones) Earthside. So for the last three years Dani has owned an Iridium satellite phone (the current one is a Model 9555). It will connect with anywhere on the planet from anywhere on the planet and it costs over two thousand dollars (she looked it up).
And right now she can't find it.
She can find her car keys, but the little widget on them that's supposed to get her phone to whistle back at her isn't doing it (she is so doomed). She can be doomed later, though, because this may be her one shot at filling in the rest of her do-list here at Chez Mitchell, and she's not going to blow it.
"Phone?" Cam asks, when she shrugs and makes shooing come-on-let's-go motions.
"Can't find it."
"You are so doomed."
Apparently the Mitchell house is a lot like the Royal Palace of Crete (or a Goa'uld mothership) -- it doesn't matter where you are and where you want to go, you can't get there from here. They take a similar circuitous route to the one she and Vala followed the night before -- over, under, sideways, down -- to get to the access to the 'back attic' (which is not, apparently, anywhere near the front attic, assuming there is one) and all along the way, Cam plays tour guide. Nearly everything in the house was made by some Mitchell or other, sometime in the last century (or earlier), and there are photos on the walls, and framed samplers, and artwork. Cam merely footnotes the familiar as he passes; Dani stops to stare, and has to keep hurrying to catch up.
"Sampler by, uh, Gran'ma--" Cam says, and Dani thinks he's going to just pass by one more time, so when he stops and turns back with the abruptness that means: danger. She freezes, whipping her head around to find the threat. But there's nothing here -- just a faded sampler. A...
"Oh god," Dani whispers.
Beware the stranger who comes with honeyed words upon his tongue, for he walks with lightnings.
The embroidery is beautiful. The colors are autumnal. There's a border of pomegranates and vines overlaying an almost-familiar geometric pattern.
"I always thought it was a little gloomy," Cam says quietly.
"'And the words of Argund were as a warning to the people: beware the stranger who comes among you with honeyed words upon his tongue, for his right hand will offer friendship, but his left hand will hold the sword of winnowings, and lightning shall walk beside him...'" Dani says. She doesn't need to tell Cam she's quoting from The Book of Origin. They both know it by heart.
"I'm thinkin' this ain't a coincidence," he says softly.
Dani takes a deep breath and steps forward to peer at the date stitched -- along with the initials "HSM" -- into the bottom right corner. 1943. "What year was your father born, Cam?"
He has to think a bit. "Uh... '43. Yeah. 1943."
"So Hildy and Elias were married by then?"
She looks up to find Cam regarding her as if she's grown an additional head. "I should hope to shout they were, what with Uncle Bay coming along first," he says, all offended virtue on behalf of the sensibilities of two generations past. "I reckon somewhere around nineteen and forty. Momma could tell you just when."
"It could be a coincidence," she says. "This isn't an exact quote." Or the hormones of pregnancy, first or second, could have swept away Hildy Mitchell's amnesia, leaving Dani Jackson in her place to discover (with what horror this Dani Jackson can barely imagine) that she'd not only married Cameron Mitchell's grandfather, but given him a son.
"Yeah," Cam says. "C'mon."
There are no more trans-temporal land-mines between them and the attic, which is vast, already hot, and filled with gigantic steamer trunks and smaller footlockers and big wooden crates and stacks of cardboard boxes and ancient furniture. Since it can apparently only be reached by a small pull-down ladder, Dani has no clue how the Mitchells got all these things up here. Cam walks the length of the space (twice) to open the windows. They open easily, and with the cross-ventilation, it cools surprisingly quickly.
"Mind you remember me to shut those when we go down," he says warningly. "I let it rain in up here, not gonna have to wait for the Lucians or anybody else to part my hair for me."
"I'll remember," Dani promises. "My god. Where do we start?"
"Well, let's have a look-see. Stuff up here gets stored by geologic epochs. 'Cept'n the Christmas ornaments, now. They come down ever' year."
"Of course they do," Dani agrees.
She grabbed her whole computer bag instead of just her laptop, which is a stroke of luck, because it's full of things she needs. Latex gloves -- mostly because she's learned the habit of not rubbing her eyes when she's wearing them, and she doesn't want to get dust in her eyes. A bandana to tie over her nose and mouth, because there isn't a lot of dust but there's still some, and she doesn't want to start coughing. A penlight for shining into dark corners.
They get to work.
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens -- baby garments and hand-made doll clothes and knitted afghans (carefully stored for future use) and wedding gowns: it doesn't matter who any of those items belonged to, they won't provide Dani with the information she's looking for. She could spend years here, learning the stories just from this stuff, and over and over she has to force herself to turn away from something that fascinates her, because it isn't something belonging to Hildy Mitchell. Boxes filled with turn of the century (the last century) popular novels, boxes of dishes, no help there. Dresser sets, table clothes, tea-towels (shoes and ships and sealing wax; cabbages and kings) a set of iron kitchen trivets; book-ends, door-stops, andirons....
At noon Cam's phone rings, and Dani listens to a one-sided conversation. "No, Momma, we ain't done yet. --No, I don't know when we're gonna be done. --Well, sure we did, but we put it all back. --Yes, Momma, we'll put ever'thing back just the way it was." He walks off to the other end of the space, and Dani loses the rest of the conversation.
"Gonna go downstairs and grab us some lunch. Don't break anything while I'm gone," Cam says.
"Don't get lost," Dani suggests.
When he comes back up (sandwiches, fruit, cookies, and four bottles of water) she's become engrossed in an ancient album of flyspotted daguerreotypes.
"Oh, that's the old house," Cam says, looking over her shoulder at a picture of what seems to be a log cabin. "Here before we built this place. Better take this downstairs. Momma's been lookin' for this for years."
"The 'old' house," Dani says.
"Been Mitchells on this patch since before the Revolution," Cam says happily. "The Old House, though, pretty sure it don't go back much further'n 1800 or so."
"You do know that someday I will kill you and Teal'c will help me hide your body, right?" Dani says.
"Naw. Teal'c likes me," Cam answers serenely.
It's another two hours before she hits paydirt. It's pretty much like any offworld mission, actually: Cam stands around, doing what he can to help, while she performs a careful excavation. Dani's searched each box and trunk as she's come to it. Sometimes it's a matter of feeling her way through layers of fabric, and she's able to leave them undisturbed. Sometimes she has to empty the box completely and refill it again. Paydirt comes in the form of what looks -- at first -- like another trunk full of books.
But they aren't books.
They're Hildy's journals.
At first the box looks like a strange jumble of chance-conjoined items. There are tattered ancient dime store diaries -- the kind you lock with a tiny tin key. Old fashioned composition books, the kind with the black and white cardboard covers. Thicker larger log books with black covers and red corners. A dozen exquisite hand-made leather-bound journals. Automatically she reaches for one of the leather journals, picking the one at the edge of the box. Royal blue leather -- Italian calfskin, she's sure -- with hubbed bindings and gilded pages. She opens it to the back. Marbled endpapers. Hand made, hand dyed. There's a ribbon marker, too. She opens the book to the first entry.
She recognizes the handwriting at once, even though it's crabbed with arthritis and shaky with age.
July 6, 1976: Another Fourth. Bicentennial, and the whole County turned out. Sarah's shaping well. She'll stand. Just as well, I won't let those damned doctors poke and dose me and promise me another ten years if I'm a good girl. They're all damn liars anyway. Cameron's a good boy. Too soon to tell about Ashton, but good stock, both of them. I wish Elias
The entry stops there, but there are others. The dates are far apart -- days and weeks -- and the last one is dated December 15th, 1977. The rest of the book is blank.
"Your mother's name is Sarah, isn't it?" Dani asks.
"Yeah," Cam says quietly. "M'Aunt Sadie, she was a bookbinder. Taught Cousin Tristan the trade, you want a book like that."
It seems like a non-sequitur. She knows it isn't. She hands him the journal and goes digging through the box for all the rest, to put them all in order. It's a big box. Forty years, give or take a few, of a life. The very first is one of the little keepsake diaries. It has the words "My Diary: 1939" on the cover in time-faded script. She has to break the lock with her Swiss Army Knife to get it open.
December 25, 1939: Not much of 1939 left, but I guess I'll just write in this from the beginning and go on from there. Merry Christmas, Dear Diary! My name is Hildegard Smith, only that isn't my real name, because I don't remember who I really am. But I guess you'll want to know all about me, Dear Diary, and how I got to Black Mountain, North Carolina, in the good old US of A. Well to tell you that, I need to tell you all about Elias Cameron Mitchell, who rescued me -- although I really can't tell you from what -- but because he did, this is the most wonderful Christmas I can remember -- OK, Dear Diary, it's the only Christmas I can remember (ha-ha) but still, it's wonderful!!!
"Uh..." Cam says. "That don't sound like you."
"That doesn't sound like anybody," Dani says feelingly. She skips several pages, hoping the diarist will regain the use of her brain.
February 5, 1940: My darling Elias must go back to sea, and says I must be good and try to be happy here while he is gone, and he says he will have a question for me when he returns, and he hopes I will have the answer for him he wishes to hear. I would tell him 'yes' right damned now -- since I hope (with all my heart!) that what he is going to ask is if I will spend the rest of my life with him. I want to be his wife more than anything else in the world, and if we were married, then perhaps I could go with him on Achilles -- but his Mama would not approve of such 'unseemly haste' (he has only known me three months -- I am SO TIRED of hearing that!) So I will be patient and pray for his swift and safe return--
"Sounds like she didn't get on with your great-grandmother," Dani says. Cam shrugs.
The next diary is also another drugstore special, although there's no year on the cover, and the pages inside aren't pre-dated.
June 16, 1940: I write 'in haste' (as they say in books) but I could not let today be over without writing at least something down. Mrs. Elias Mitchell, Mrs. Elias Mitchell, Mrs. Elias Mitchell -- that's ME! I have a Real Name at Last! Today is the happiest day of my life because I am now MRS. ELIAS MITCHELL, and Mama has said she can ask for no better daughter. I really think she means it, and I know Daddy and Sister do -- I hope so, because I want to belong somewhere so much--
"Okay, we know she -- I -- was still amnesiac as of June 1940," Dani says gruffly. She flips through the rest of the diary -- she'll read it carefully later, but right now she's looking for things that stand out. (Something in Goa'uld, say.)
The next diaries by date are school composition notebooks; a dozen of them. They cover the years of the war. Lean times for the Mitchells on the home front. And a paper shortage, too. The handwriting is cramped and tiny, difficult to make out, filled with incomprehensible details of daily life during the war years: rationing books and points and coupons and allusions that make no sense at all to Dani. Here's Bayliss's birth in 1941. Everett's birth in 1942. V-E Day (May 8th, 1945). V-J Day on August 15th of the same year. Apparently Elias had been doing something war-related, and Hildy had been terrified for his safety, though what she was afraid of isn't clear from her entries. But Elias came home to Black Mountain safe and sound, and Hildy's record of her life switches to the black logbooks. Alexandria's birth in 1947. And her death.
How could it be God's Will to take my baby girl back to Heaven? If that is true then God is not, nor has He ever been, the benevolent Creator in Whom we've all been taught to believe. He is a cruel and vile False God for teasing and taunting a Mother and Father with the chance to love a new life and then snatching it away at a whim because HE wanted their child before they had a chance to know her, before she had a chance to know what the sun and wind tasted like on her skin, before she could feel the love of her parents as she was held in their arms. I say God is a ruthless bastard, a vile thief who has far too much time on His hands, and I will never again kneel before Him in His False God temples--
"Oh, baby, no, you give that here," Cam says softly. He takes the diary from her hands and holds her as she weeps against his shoulder, but Dani isn't really sure who she's crying for: Hildegard Mitchell, or her lost daughter, or herself.
She isn't used to crying. Even when she can't keep from doing it, it feels like an act, something she's doing deliberately to manipulate an audience. Even the unending monologue that runs through her mind like some perpetual news-ticker seems like a bid for sympathy: I'm afraid. I can't do this. I'm no good at living a real life. Everyone who's ever depended on me, I've let them down, and I'm going to do it again. How can I seem as if I'm being sorry for this woman who didn't exist, not really, without looking as if I expect you to have sympathy for me -- and I'm not the one who's been hurt. I wouldn't even be sorry for her if she wasn't me. I shouldn't have come here. I shouldn't be going to Washington. I need to go back to Colorado, go back through the Gate--
And beneath that endless facile excoriating chatter there are other thoughts, moving through the depths like sharks, but Dani's gotten good at not confronting those thoughts over the years, and (like sharks) they don't surface until they're ready to attack. She sits back, pulling off her bandana, turning it inside-out and using it to scrub her face dry. She forces herself to take deep slow breaths, pushing past the feedback loop that makes her breath hitch on every inhale.
Cam reaches out and brushes his knuckles against her cheek. "Ain't no disgrace to grieve, Jackson."
"It's no great honor, either," she shoots back. If she hadn't been able to walk through slaughterhouses and joke about it afterward, SG-1 wouldn't have survived long enough for Cam to lead it. For that matter, Earth wouldn't be here now. "I'm sorry," she says. She's not entirely sure what she means by it.
"It's rough," Cam agrees.
She settles her glasses back on her nose and takes back the diary, but doesn't open it. Truce. Again. They've never quite understood each other. Too different. But she can no longer look at him without seeing Nature and nurture in a long DNA-dance through the generations: Cameron Mitchell is her grandson, and he isn't, because all Danielle Jackson has in common with Hildegard Mitchell is a genetic identity and (possibly, probably, too soon to tell) some emotional tendencies and (conceivably) a quirk of two of personality. As well as the ability to spontaneously produce variations on The Book of Origin as decorative samplers.
"I kind of need to read all of these cover to cover very carefully," Dani says. "And I can't do that in a couple of hours. So what do we tell your mother?"
"Oh ... the truth?" Cam suggests innocently.
"This should be good," Dani says editorially.
"We were mucking around in the attic all day -- which is close to true, since it's almost suppertime now -- an' we found all of Gran'ma Hildy's diaries going right on back to before World War Two -- which we did -- an' with you wantin' to know all about the Family, ain't no better way."
"Cam, I really have to get a good look at these," she repeats, wanting him to understand without her having to say. She can't believe Momma will agree to letting a stranger, an outsider, read the personal diaries of her mother-in-law. The events in them are too close in time, the people Hildy will have written about are (many of them) still alive.
"Okay, look. I'll see what Momma says. She says yes, we bring 'em all down. She says no, we leave 'em up here, and you come root around in the attic again tomorrow."
She agrees (doubtfully) and Cam pats her on the knee and gets to his feet, grunting just a bit. She was never supposed to know that when the weather shifts Cam can feel the pin that was put into his thighbone after Antarctica, or that his kneecaps are now a space-age plastic. Any more than she was supposed to know that Jack bitched about his back and his knees so theatrically to cover up the fact that they actually did hurt (a lot more than the back and knees of someone on a front-line team should). Jack hasn't been on a front-line team for years. And they aren't at war any more.
Cam phones downstairs, and Dani listens to another half-conversation as she empties the trunk. The journals won't stack neatly in any logical order, so she settles for stacking them by size. The handmade ones really are beautiful. At the bottom of the trunk she finds something unexpected. A Bible. It's about the size of a large dictionary, battered and obviously well-used, and she remembers what Cam said back at the SGC about his grandmother (what his great-aunt said yesterday): Hildegard Mitchell 'ran the whole County with a Bible in one hand and a shotgun in the other.'
It makes less sense now that she's read that fervent renunciation of God, a God in whom Dani has never, in her own person, believed. Possibly Hildy was devout before 1947. She must have been. It would have been inevitable. Dani's read her own report of the necessity of public religious observance in the country of the past, and 'Hildy Smith' -- with no identity and no memory -- would have been easily caught up in the religious life of the Mitchell household and ... taken it on faith. But ... surely not after Alexandria?
Dani picks up the Bible. It's much lighter than she expects it to be ... and it rattles. She sets it on her knees quickly, and opens it.
It was even a real book originally -- the opening chapters (books) are still pages, and the back cover opens -- but someone (probably Hildy herself) painstakingly cut and glued thousands of pages to make a hollow book. The opening inside is large enough for a .38 snub-nosed revolver, and that's what's there. Dani picks it up cautiously and checks, but all six chambers are unloaded. She leaves it broken anyway, setting it beside her on the floor. There's one other item inside the Bible. A small oval picture frame, silver, its frame black with tarnish.
Even knowing who the man in the photo must be, it's hard to look at it and not see Cam. Hair a bit longer, and a beard (but she's seen Cam when he hasn't been able to shave for three weeks), but the same eyes, the same smile. It's a three-quarter portrait, a candid shot; Elias is squinting off into the sun. She wonders where it was taken; there's not enough background to tell.
"Momma says -- whoa, gun," Cam says, walking back. "Is that Gran'ma's Bible?"
"It's unloaded. I checked." She flips the Bible closed and checks the flyleaf. "It says 'Hildegard S. Mitchell', so I'd say: yes."
"Somebody cut a hole in it," Cam says. He kneels down and picks up the pistol, spinning the cylinder himself -- just to check -- before closing it.
"Three guesses," Dani answers. She nods toward the pistol. "That was in it. And this." She holds up the little photo.
"Gran'pa," Cam says unnecessarily. "Never did know him. Oh. Momma says you take all the time you want reading up on Gran'ma's diaries you're a mind to, but don't you hold it against us none."
"I added that last part," Cam admits.
She wants to ask how Elias Mitchell died, but why bother? It will be in the diaries. Somewhere.
Cam points out that the best way to get all the diaries downstairs is (actually) in the trunk they were stored in, so back into it they go. She leaves the Bible upstairs (no personal need for it in her researches, and there's no need to divulge all of Hildy's secrets to the younger generation); Cam takes the gun. They put the rediscovered photo album into the trunk for transportation. At the last moment, Dani tucks the photo of Elias into her pocket. She won't be let to keep it, of course, but she can at least polish the frame and look at it for a while. Cam goes down the ladder first and they manage to get the trunk full of books down the stairs without either killing him or damaging it.
"Oh, god, I need a shower," Dani groans. She's spent the entire day in a hot dusty attic, and she's grubby.
"Might get it if you're quick," Cam says dubiously, glancing at his watch. "Might not."
There's a full bath up and a half bath down (aside from the sacrosanct facilities in the master bedroom) and Dani sometimes wonders why the entire household hasn't either exploded or started digging latrines by now. At this time of day, the clan is ingathering, and there are lines outside both bathrooms.
"What about... there's some kind of apartment here. I'm not sure where it is, but..."
"Oh, you mean the Honeymoon Suite," Cam says. He shakes his head. "Momma'd kill us we make a mess in there. After the Plague of Frogs got up to didoes there a few years back, Momma declared it strictly off-limits, said she wasn't entertainin' a repeat performance. Might be fine. Now's not the time to ask."
Dani remembers she hasn't quite told Cam Vala's already taken it over as her own and stocked it with what Vala considers the necessities of life. "'Plague of frogs'?" she asks.
"Spence and Skip. Nephews. If you see somebody who looks completely innocent an' exactly like his brother, run."
"They're twins," Dani guesses.
"Skipper's the smart one and Spence is the pretty one," Cam says, deadpan, "'Less it's the other way around."
She makes a rude noise. As far as she's been able to tell, all of the Mitchells-and-collaterals are both pretty and smart. She hasn't quite been able to decide whether it's comforting or unsettling to think of her own genes scattered with such abandon across Buncombe County: Cam isn't Hildy's only grandchild; there's his brother Ashton, and Bayliss and Arlene's three -- they actually have five children, but the other two aren't genetically-related to Hildy; they're Vietnamese. Hildy Mitchell had two children (two that lived, and Dani doesn't know why Alexandria's death should disturb her so badly; let it go), and those two children married and presented her with five (biological) grand-children, and Cindy Lou has two boys and Adina has a girl and two boys and Grace has a boy and Keturah has four girls (and is talking about swapping one of them for Grace's boy so Matt will stop bugging her about a son) but still. That's nine great-grandchildren so far. Dani's spent her entire life in the tacit understanding that she's it: that she didn't have any cousins or uncles or aunts (probably didn't: who knows what Seth got up to in his stolen meat-suit before Sam took him out?) standing between her and biological-determinist eternity and she was never going to have children of her own.
And she still isn't, but in another sense, she already has. It might be the hardest thing for her to try to accept about all of this; as if it's something that's been done to her, instead of something she's done.
By the time she and Cam reach the Peach Bedroom to drop off the trunk and her bag, the house is already resonating to the sound of ingathering Mitchells. Dani grabs a change of clothes anyway; she can do a quick sponge-bath in the sink of whichever bathroom she can manage to commandeer. As she does, she sees her phone sitting in the middle of the dresser. She glowers at it, but it refuses to tell her where it spent the day -- probably in Sam's purse or Vala's tote bag or some other damned locus of electronic retreat. A glance out the window shows her that Sam is still (again? finally?) ensconced beneath the hood of today's project, and she's collected a gaggle of young admirers (of both sexes) about half her age. Dani grabs her wayward cellphone, stuffs it into a pocket, snatches up her clothes and toiletries, and heads off to the downstairs bath. She's in luck (it's free) and she's in and out in ten minutes. On the way out she runs into Vala, who's wearing tiny little shorts and high-heeled sandals and the pink silk camisole she bought at the Crafts Fair. Vala gleams in a way that leaves Dani not so much envious as resigned. (And she knows the price Vala paid to learn all these tricks of personal enhancement, and that price was too damned high.)
"You're all sweaty," Vala announces, which Dani thinks is unfair, since she's just washed. "Did you find anything useful in that hot dusty attic?"
"I don't know yet," Dani answers. (I found a sampler that might have a verse from The Book of Origin on it.) "I found the diaries Hildegard Mitchell kept. I put them in our room. Leave them alone: I need to read through them. They're old and fragile, and if Mrs. Mitchell sees them ... around … she might make me put them back."
"Can't have that," Vala says lightly, ignoring the implied slur on her character (it's somewhere between a habit and a nervous twitch on Dani's part by this point). "And after you came all this way. Come along. We need to go make Samantha stop playing with that crude motor vehicle."
Supper is a repeat of breakfast, only with armor and air support instead of just infantry, and there's food to get on the table hot and babies to feed; children to police (as unruly nations are policed) and younger children to teach table manners to; teenagers to listen to (or interrogate as subtly as possible), chaos to bring order out of. As on every previous occasion, Momma makes it look easy. She's even successful in getting Teal'c to talk about what he did today, a nerve-wracking proposition for the three out of the four of them who both know that Teal'c is an alien and care that he might make this fact perfectly clear.
Dani's been busy since they got to Black Mountain (having a nervous breakdown, ingratiating herself with yet another alien society, making end-runs around Vala's cheerfully adamantine refusal to accommodate herself to local customs and mores: it's not that Vala can't, it's that, post-Qetesh, she's disinclined to truckle unless the consequence of not is immediate execution and sometimes not even then). It hasn't left her much time for getting up to speed on local current events. She did know Cam's father and uncles do something-or-other with wood, but she'd never been entirely clear on the details, though one year at Christmas Cam gave her a box he said came out of the Mitchell workshop: bird's eye maple, just big enough to hold the golden pendant Catherine left her. Now, courtesy of Momma's polite-yet-thorough interrogation of Teal'c (he permits it; Dani suspects he's flirting) she discovers the full details of the "something-or-other with wood". Fine cabinetry. Exotic woods. Antique repair work. A waitlist for their work that stretches a solid eighteen months: ornamental boxes, jewelry boxes, dresser organizers, and that isn't even getting into the repairs and larger pieces. If you want something for your daughter's wedding day, apparently you'd better commission it the day you bring your baby girl home from the hospital.
Mr. Mitchell (Cam's father, not his Uncle Roy or his Uncle Bayliss) insists it's "just a bitty hobby," and Teal'c refuses to accept that, insisting a hobby is "a trivial or frivolous pursuit with which an individual beguiles his or her hours of leisure."
"Set you straight, Ev," Royfield Mitchell says, chuckling.
But of course, after Teal'c, it's her turn. Dani's expecting this. The other anthropologists (and more than a few of the archaeologists) she's worked with over the years often considered it a rude invasion of privacy when the local populations wanted to know so much about them (not only about their history and where they came from, but about everything they did each day). But in tribal and subsistence cultures, it's a survival strategy: sharing information, pooling information, maximizes the possibility the individual will be in possession of the vital fact that will make the difference between life and death. And of course Cam's family aren't living in the Yucatan jungle, or the Rub' al Khali, or in any of a thousand primitive enclaves on a thousand alien worlds, but the instinct to gather information, selected for across a thousand generations and honed to Black Ops perfection in the meta-tribal enclaves of the American South, remains strong.
So she answers with good grace the questions about what she did today and what she found, inevitably sparking another round of questions about why she wants to know. It's hard to explain, since she can neither tell the truth or fall back on that old reliable stonewall, 'it's classified'. She isn't exactly sure what she's looking for herself, but she's determined to find it.
"Blackmail the lot 'a you so she don't have to work no more," Cam says, swatting the most unrelenting questioner (male, teenaged, of unknown relationship) on the wrist and whisking the basket of biscuits out of his reach before passing them ostentatiously down the table toward her.
"You're gonna marry Uncle Cam an' you just want to know how crazy this family is first," one of the other teenagers at the table says.
"She most certainly is not!" Vala answers, sounding scandalized on her behalf. "Danielle is going to marry a General."
"In whose military?" she hears Cam mutter.
"Are we still at war with Russia?" she whispers to him. She's always liked Colonel Chekov.
Cam grins at her, and Momma asks if the two of them have anything they'd like to share with the rest of the table.
"No, Momma," Cam answers meekly.
Of course, that turns the dinner table conversation to the subject of her impending wedding. A little awkward, since her designated groom has no clue at all he's expected to propose to her, in this or any other lifetime. She winces inwardly. Yeah. That'd play really well during Disclosure. She can see the straight-to-cable movies now.
Maybe going back through the Stargate isn't such a bad idea after all.
They manage to lurch through the rest of dinner without bloodshed (Sam gets to talk about taking apart a couple of cars), and then it's time for clearing away and washing up while the children (Dani's including Cam in that group) go off to run around the front lawn until it's time for dessert. Dani does her share of the clean-up, but her mind is on that footlocker full of history. As soon as politeness permits, she heads back to the bedroom and opens it. Both Sam and Vala will kill her if she sits up all night reading (which would mean leaving the light on in their bedroom), but maybe she can find someplace else that will do. She can't bear the thought of having them and not reading them. With the earliest of the diaries in hand, she pulls out her phone to text Jack for the best time to call. She'll have actual news for a change.
She's standing staring down at the phone in her hand, waiting for a return text, but to her surprise, it rings instead. "Hello?" she says cautiously.
"Don't sound so suspicious," Jack tells her.
"I, um... short day?"
"We're taking a new approach to paperwork here. Shred before reading. Saves time."
She laughs, just as she's meant to. "And the meetings?" She actually has almost no idea what Jack does with his days.
"We're going to call a meeting to discuss it."
She can think of a number of brilliantly-witty remarks ("Just knowing you're our first line of defense helps me sleep more soundly at night.") but -- alas -- this isn't a secure line, so she lets him win on points. Time enough. "You'll be thrilled to know I'm making progress," she says instead. She's working under a handicap here. She knows he'll take the snark as read.
"As in?" he asks, and she can practically see the air quotes and raised eyebrows.
"Cam and I spent the day in the attic. Found a whole trunk of his grandmother's journals, dating all the way back to, um, just about the moment she walked through the front door here."
"What do they say?" Jack asks. It's a reasonable question, but she rolls her eyes anyway. "Since they run from 1939 to 1977, I haven't quite had time to read all of them yet," she grumbles, and hears the not-quite throat-clearing sound that means he's amused.
"At least I know you'll have something to keep you out of trouble for the next day or so."
"That sounds portentous." (Attack, parry, riposte, remise; a conversational way of life.)
"I'm going to be out of touch. Day or two."
"Is it about the thing?" Dani asks, because Disclosure's been 'the thing' whenever they've had to talk over an open line for as long as Jack's been in Washington. Where apparently they talk about 'the thing' all the time. (Where apparently she will talk about the thing all the time, because one of the reasons she's going to Washington -- officially anyway -- is to pave the way for Disclosure, which means days and hours and weeks of meetings with all of Official Washington and all of the IOA. Her own official reason for going to Washington -- to put her research in order and turn years of notes into useful books -- will be taking a back seat to that: if not for her unofficial reason for going to Washington, she'd be petitioning to join Sam on the Moon.)
A more decisive sound of amusement (how wonderful she can at least entertain him). "I do actually do other things than deal with the thing," Jack says. "All kinds of ... things."
"Like this thing," she says suspiciously.
"I just don't want you calling and not getting me and thinking I've, oh ... been kidnapped by space aliens."
"Ha, ha, very funny," she says. "Irene would tell me where you were."
"Sworn to secrecy," Jack says.
"Fine," she says crossly. "Go and save the world without me and see if I care. You hate dealing with the, uh, them even more than you hate dealing with the, um, the other them. Just call me when you get back."
"That made perfect sense," Jack says.
"It did in my head," Dani mutters sulkily. She can't very well say en clair that he hates dealing with the Chinese even more than he hates dealing with the Russians (although he does). It's the Chinese who are the squeaky wheel in the IOA most of the time these days: they've been threatening early Disclosure ever since they found out about the Stargate.
"Well, next time I talk to you, you can explain it to me," Jack says. She makes a noncommittal (yet faintly miffed) noise in reply. She knows that by the next time she talks to him he'll probably be bitching about wherever he's just been and she'll have forgotten most of her side of this conversation.
They spend a few minutes in winding-down, but if Jack's going to be disrupting his regular routine, he'll have a lot of firebreaks to put into place before he goes. At least that means she can skip explaining to him that (thanks to Vala) the entire Mitchell family is now primed to believe he's about to jilt her. Or is that dump her? Maybe spurn?
"I know this thing's still working," he says.
"Oh. Sorry. What?"
"Never mind. You go off to your trunk of dusty books, and I'll go off to the thing that isn't the other thing."
"Have fun," she says, doing her very best to keep any note of sulkiness out of her voice now. It's her own damned fault she isn't in Washington right now. If she were, she could go off to Beijing too.
"You too," he says. She'll probably have more than he will.
She spends the next day in the Peach Bedroom reading through the detailed minutiae of a life she never led, coming out (reluctantly) for meals. She'd do the same thing today (so much to read through, and this is only her first pass) but after breakfast, Momma chases her out onto the Basking Porch to work, saying summer doesn't last forever, and she can read there as well as anywhere (true enough, all things considered). She has her journal and her laptop and she's working her way through the Eisenhower years of the diaries as the elder Mitchell women rustle and coo behind her like setting doves. Elias dies here (Dani thinks of time as if it's a place) in 1959.
December 10, 1958: I have had to write to George and Clay today to tell them it is over -- when the bastards fork out hard cash, it is the end. We had a damned good run, Elias and I. Nigh twenty years in harness, and I could have wished for a thousand, but he died as he would have wished to: on the sea.
He was born September 14th, 1898. He's only sixty. Dani's generation thinks of that age as young and vital; Hildy's thought of it as old. The last five years of her diaries have recorded a constant internal argument (and sometimes an external one) about him giving up the sea. There's no exact date of death for Elias. His ship -- Achilles II -- simply doesn't arrive at its destination. After ninety days, the ship and all hands is declared 'lost at sea'. After 180 days, the insurance is paid.
If it were now, if Cam, Sam, Jack, Vala, Teal'c, were on a boat (ship), train, plane, crosstown bus (starship, moonbase, offworld outpost) and it vanished without a trace, she wouldn't believe they were dead. (SG-1: unless you do the autopsy yourself you can't be sure they're dead, and probably not even then.) But even today ships disappear at sea (like Achilles did, in a universe that never existed), and half a century ago there were no weather satellites to warn of storms, no GPS satellites to help a captain find his way.
It could still be enemy action. It's almost certainly misadventure. She'll never know. And either way, Elias Mitchell vanishes decisively from the historical tapestry, never to return. He dies leaving Hildy with two sons, sixteen and seventeen, and three stepsons -- 21, 25, and 29. George and Clayton are already in the Army, Royfield, Bayliss, and Everett are still in school. George is in Korea 'now' (went for the war, stayed for the peace) and Hildy will send all three of her step-sons off to a place they're still calling Viet-Nam in only a few years. Only George and Royfield will come home.
Roy is talking nonsense about quitting college and coming home to take care of his aged mother. I've told him that if he wants to see how much life is left in his aged mother, he should do just that -- and get used to taking supper off the mantelpiece, too, as he's not too old to whip.
I have known for months Elias was dead. If he had survived whatever happened to Achilles, he would have come home to us if he'd had to swim. But there wasn't so much as a distress signal picked up by anyone.
Goodnight, my love. Sleep well. I'll be with you as soon as I'm done here.
It's to be more than another twenty years before she's done. Hildegard Smith Mitchell lives to see all her sons married (and buries one of them), sees grandchildren born. And dies as she would have wished to, from what Cam's said, but the specifics are a tale Dani will have to get from another source than her diaries: there are few people who manage to record the details of their own deaths.
(And so far, no hint she ever regained the memory of being someone else, somewhen else, but Dani admits to herself that isn't really why she's reading anymore.)
She looks up at the sound of tires crunching on gravel. A car is turning slowly into the driveway.
It's familiar, with the generic identity common to all items of its class. There's a ripple behind her as the aunts stop working and gossiping, a querulous murmur (Dani thinks again of doves in a dovecote) as they ask one another: who is it, what is it? (Old eyes dim with age.)
"Government car," Dani says, getting to her feet. "I'll go see what they want."
She hurries down the steps. The car is as distinctive as a 'clandestine' surveillance van (something they all made jokes about for years) hoping this isn't an official visit, the kind that comes with a Chaplain and a Notification Officer and the letter that goes: 'We regret to inform you'. Only the Marines (and the SGC) do the initial family notifications in person, and nobody here but them is in the SGC and she can't remember if anybody living here right now has a family member in the Marines...
Then the car stops and the driver's side door opens and the driver gets out and it's Jack.
Shock and relief make her giddy, because this isn't an official visit, he's in civilian clothes, looking rumpled and relaxed. She's stunned to see him; incapable of understanding why he's here...
"What?" he says. "No hello?"
"Jack," she says, and walks the rest of the way to him.
She wants to fling herself into his arms. She wants to cling. "Your man," Vala said, and Dani can't even begin to parse the implicit cultural referents there. She's so relieved to see him it's nearly painful, because whatever antick failure of self-image she's experiencing, Jack can fix it, and she needs him so much.
"We'll assume you're happy to see me," he says.
"Yeah," she says. And no. Because need isn't love, and she isn't sure she can untangle the two, and her need (flaw and failure and inadequacy looking to Jack to fix it) isn't a good enough reason to ... anything. She'd like to love from a position of strength. (She'd like to be twenty-five again, with the species of innocence never having met Simon Gardner would allow her; the really entertaining thing is that if she could switch places with that other self, she'd cling to Simon just as he'd always wanted and that-Dani wouldn't be paralyzed with the fear of answering love with panicked need.) "What are you doing here?" she asks. She hears the accusation in her voice. Well, it's been a rough decade. Both the one that happened and the one that didn't.
"Ever been in DC in the summer?" Jack asks.
She's still trying to remember the answer to that (so many flying visits through the years) when he turns her around and drapes an arm across her shoulders (so familiar) and starts walking her back to the house. "I'm not--" she says, and doesn't know how the sentence should end.
"So we'll go give our best -- all right, my best, I'm assuming you've already given your best, since you've been here a week -- to the Mitchells, and then you can come with me back to that tourist-trap I drove through on my way here and help me... Is that my truck?" he asks, interrupting himself.
"You weren't using it," she says defensively, and he hugs her against him for a step. "Do you know how much luggage Vala packs to go ... anywhere?" she adds.
"I have not had the privilege of taking a road-trip with Miss Mal Doran," Jack says, side-stepping into grave formality. "Thank god," he adds under his breath.
Dani loves Vala, but Vala is possibly the only person in the universe who would take a hair-dryer on a three-week archaeological survey -- and expect to find some place to plug it in. Dani strongly suspects the whole idea of 'electrical-current-running-through-the-walls' just defeats Vala on some bedrock conceptual level: Goa'uld technology has self-contained power, and her natal culture had no powered devices at all.
Momma's at the front door when they get to the steps. Not looking worried, because this is obviously not a notification call, but she still wants to know what's going on.
"Mrs. Mitchell," Dani says, "this is General Jack O'Neill. Jack, this is Mrs. Mitchell, Cam's mother."
"Mrs. Mitchell," Jack says, offering his most charming smile. "I'm sure you're as proud as we are of young Mitchell."
"Got two sons. Proud of both of 'em," Momma says crisply, not yet charmed as far as Dani can tell. "Took you long enough. Danielle, don't leave a guest standin' on the porch." Momma walks inside, taking off her apron as she goes. Dani looks from Jack to her abandoned pile of notes and Hildy Mitchell's diary.
"What'd she say?" Aunt Lavinia asks. "Who's here? Speak up, child!"
Dani takes the opportunity offered -- can't not do what Momma says, can't be rude to one of the aunts -- to swoop down upon her materials, snatching up journal and diary and closing the laptop. "It's General O'Neill from the Pentagon," she says, loudly. "He's a friend of mine, come to see me!" She scurries back to where Jack is standing, awaiting her with every appearance of enjoying the show.
"You didn't used to intimidate this easily," he says, so low only she (probably) can hear.
"Shut up," she answers, opening the screen door.
Momma comes out of the kitchen again as they enter, her expression contemplating rain. Now would be an excellent time for Cam to show up, but Dani has a vague memory of him making plans with Sam and Teal'c and Vala this morning, and she doesn't think he's here.
"I apologize for dropping in on you so unexpectedly, ma'am," Jack says, nothing fazed. "I don't want to be any trouble. I thought I'd take the chance to get away from my desk and see where Dani got to. And with such a good reason to visit the neighborhood, I thought I'd pay my respects to the Colonel."
At first Dani thinks she'd kick him if Momma weren't watching, but then she's just puzzled. Because both Sam and Cam are Colonels, but they've always been 'Carter' and 'Mitchell' to Jack.
"Thought you'd forgot where we lived," Momma says, puzzling Dani even further. "Danielle, you run out to the barn and tell Everett Captain O'Neill's come to pay us a visit."
Captain O'Neill? she mouths at him. He winks at her. She thrusts the books in her hands into his (with a silent prayer that he doesn't do something with them) and goes.
The barn is the garage (although it isn't); she opens the door and slips in, closing it quickly. She knows nothing at all about workrooms of this sort, except that a sudden unexpected gust of wind can probably ruin things here just as it could in her lab or Sam's -- if there were wind a mile underground. It's filled with the bright sharp scent of cut wood, and she stands perfectly still, breathing shallowly, waiting for her eyes to adjust from the brightness of the day to the dimness here. Dust hangs in the air, turning it as golden as Florentine sunlight and making her want to cough; she wonders what they do about the dust when they have to varnish something. There's the intermittent whine of some sort of power tool from the room beyond, through the half-open door she can see the light there is white and harsh. Roy and Everett are here (so Bayliss is in the back room, unless Mitchells she has not catalogued yet also work here) and whatever it is Everett is working on, he's using a jeweler's loupe to do it. All she can see is the hunch of his shoulders and the determined set of his mouth; whatever he's working on is out of sight. Whatever Roy is working on (their names, naked and lone, seem unfinished to her inward ear, having heard them for so long with Cam's appendages of kinship) requires less exacting attention; he looks up and sees her after a minute or two.
"Why Danielle, what you doin' out here, child? Hidin' from Sassy?" His face becomes a map of laugh-lines at his own joke: 'Momma' is 'Sassy' (and 'Sister' to a couple of the aunts -- although they are of a previous generation -- for reasons that Dani has not made sense of yet) and a host of other call-names. 'Aunt Momma' to some of the children that flow tidally, like the sea, in and out of the house, 'Mother Mitchell' to others. (And she has not been able to convince any of them to call her anything but 'Danielle' -- God proposes, but Momma disposes, and Cam's said it's just a good thing Momma doesn't know her middle name.)
"Momma sent me to fetch Mr. Mitchell," she says, able to keep herself from calling him 'Daddy' -- as Cam does -- but not able to turf the errant 'fetch' from her sentence. She's a magpie of languages and dialects, as helplessly echolalic in the face of prepotent language as the nymph Echo was to do anything but repeat the words of others. "She said to say Captain O'Neill's here. As was. He's a General now."
"Jack came to pay us a visit?" Everett looks up from his work. "Nothing bad?" he asks a moment later.
"Um... no. I mean, Jack, he, I, we--" She abandons that sentence and starts another. "Jack and I work together. He came to see me."
"That's your Washington fella?" Everett says, and the combination of pleasure and disbelief in his voice make her blush. The appalled response, knee-jerk reflex of oh my god somebody knows! will take some time to fade; she only hopes she has it under control before the first time she and Jack are out in public together as 'General O'Neill and guest.' (If not, she thinks she may not survive the experience.) She's tried not to think of him in Washington surrounded by venomous houris half her age, and she's unwilling to do the math that would tell her what fraction of Jack's age that makes them. Probably a research project better left undone.
"You tell her I'll be along directly," Everett says. Dani wonders -- has wondered since Teal'c paid his visit here and she knew more of what 'the barn/the garage/the workshop' was like -- why they don't put in a phone out here. Or an intercom. Or why they don't just carry cell phones with them, if it's a wiring thing. She'd ask Cam, but half the questions she asks him get answered with, "Oh, well, you know," and the other half get her the startled look that tell her Cam has never considered the matter once in his entire life. It can't be so they can all hide out in some Boys Only Clubhouse. She's living proof their security system needs serious work, if that's really it. So she nods and waves and slides out again, wondering if Everett's answer will satisfy Momma, or if she'll be sent back out here again, and if the Pentagon would really notice if they never got Jack back because she'd murdered him for laughing at her.
Back across the yard, back up the porch steps, this time she takes a moment to grab her computer off the porch because it will be hours before she's let to settle again, she's sure, and by that time it will be too bright out here to work. She comes back into the house, stops in the entry hall, and follows the voices to the kitchen.
"--don't you 'ma'am' me, you rapscallion! Day I turn away a guest is the day they bury me," Momma is saying. "Plenty of room." Her back is to the doorway. She's standing over Jack, who's seated at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and a plate of cake in front of him (a relief to Dani, since Cam, making it a joke, rattled off the long list of ritual observances Momma uses to make her opinion of a guest known, from coffee-only, served in the dining room -- the very worst -- to coffee-and-cake served in the kitchen). And Dani has learned (in many strange places) to walk quiet and soft, something so ingrained in her now that she cannot set it aside, but Momma says, without turning around: "Himself'll be stopping with us, Danielle, so best you take Samantha and Miss Mal Doran's things upstairs to the White Bedroom, you know which one it is?"
"Yes, ma'am," she says. "Mr. Mitchell says he'll be right here," she adds, which earns her an editorial snort.
"Man never said such a thing in his life," Momma says, and Dani flees. She'd like to plot revenge. She just doesn't know who to plot it against.
Momma is never less than unambiguous in her orders, directives, dictums, and random observations. She said Vala and Sam's things (why Sam is 'Samantha' and Vala is 'Miss Mal Doran' is yet another unsolved mystery that will undoubtedly survive to baffle future generations) were to be moved. She did not say the Peach Bedroom was to be cleared. (Dani senses mortification looming on the horizon; nothing to do about it now.) The White Bedroom only has two twin beds, anyway (though she supposes she could haul the cot up too). Nor is it white, aside from the chenille bedspreads on the beds. The rag rug on the floor is the usual collection of colors, and the wallpaper is grey, with a highly-unlikely design of meant-to-be pagodas on it. (For that matter, the Peach Bedroom isn't peach-colored -- it has white wallpaper with yellow stripes and peaches on it between the stripes, and Sam says that's kitchen wallpaper and Dani had no idea there was a special wallpaper for kitchens, and if so, how Sam can recognize it when Sam can barely recognize her own kitchen.) Still, she knows she's in the right bedroom, because it's right next to the Lilac Bedroom (lilac wallpaper) and down the hall from the Green Bedroom (green wallpaper depicting plant life of unknown origin; Cam says 'triffids'), and not the bedroom with the two bunk beds in it (dark blue wallpaper with yellow spaceships). The Lilac Bedroom and the Green Bedroom are both full anyway, Cam and Teal'c in the one, and Miranda and Baby Jason in the other. She makes several trips between the not-Peach Bedroom and the not-White Bedroom, not only carefully clearing Sam and Vala's stuff out of the not-Peach Bedroom, but putting it away up here. Sam's things, anyway. She knows Vala hates having her possessions touched at all, and while she won't apologize (because that would mean they both had to acknowledge not only the fact that Vala dislikes it but that Dani knows), she makes up her mind to do something nice for Vala as soon as she can. (Sam, well, she's packed and unpacked Sam's life too many times to count and impersonated her too, on better computers everywhere.) She concentrates on her work to defuse the burgeoning horror of imagining the conversation Jack and Momma are having. At least -- she hopes -- it can't be about her.
On her last pass through the Peach Bedroom (why isn't it called the Peaches Bedroom?), her brain finally kicks back into gear and she pulls out her phone and punches in Cam's number. "Where are you?" she asks, when he answers. Wherever it is, it's noisy.
"We're at the fair!" Vala answers, having (apparently) seized possession of the phone. Vala adores talking on the phone. Her first month in residence at the SGC, Dani found a five-thousand-dollar charge on her AmEx for calls to a phone sex line. The mystery wasn't so much that Vala would call such a number -- Vala said she was offering them advice -- but how she got the call out through the switchboard, a matter still undisclosed.
"We are not at the fair!" Cam says (possession being nine points of the phone). "We're at this little county carnival!"
"I don't care!" Dani says. "Jack's here!"
"General O'Neill?" Cam says (and finally, somebody is properly horrified).
"Dani?" Now it's Sam; if Teal'c answers next she'll have collected the complete set. "General O'Neill?"
"Is. Here. In Momma's kitchen! Cam's Momma's kitchen! At the house!" She can't be much clearer than that, but let her try. "He came to Cam's house! He is in Cam's house!"
Sam makes a noise -- or drops the phone, Dani isn't sure. "Is something wrong?" Cam demands.
"No!" Dani says. "Not like that!" Not like aliens invading, or the Earth about to be blown up, and it abruptly occurs to her there are many worse reasons Jack could be here than simply to drive her insane. "Tell Sam and Vala I moved their things to the White Bedroom!" she adds, and hangs up, quickly, before anyone else can try to talk to her.
For a moment she stands staring at the phone, irritated, frustrated (hot), and wondering why all the donkey-work has fallen to her. Surely -- if Momma means Jack to stay -- if Momma means Jack to stay here in the Peach (the hell with it) Bedroom with her -- moving Sam's and Vala's things could have waited until Sam and Vala could do it.
Then she realizes what's actually happened. Momma -- Cam's Momma -- is treating her as a daughter of the house, whose labor is hers, the matriarch's, to command.
She sits down on the end of the bed, rubbing at her eyes because they prickle. She knows she shouldn't think of it that way. Momma doesn't think of it that way. She can't. This is not Abydos. No place will ever again be Abydos, be like Abydos, be home. But the resonances in custom are close enough to invoke memory, to remind her once again (a weakness against which she must always stand gatekeeper) how much she longs for home and place. She has them, will have them, is moving toward a life defined by them, but her own desire still makes her wary. Because desire is need, and need is vulnerability, and vulnerability is danger.
She wonders who she would have been if she didn't think that, believe that, hadn't had it proved to her a thousand times -- more -- in the past decade and a half. She doesn't have to wonder, though. She knows. She would have been Hildegard Mitchell, wife and mother and matriarch. Three things she -- Dani Jackson -- will never be. She's never married; Jack's divorced. Timing is everything. Even if Jack wanted to ask her, he wouldn't. The Washington fishbowl permits a liaison, an Affaire de Coeur, but a marriage (even now) would raise too many questions (eyebrows) about what had gone before as they dance their delicate quadrille toward Disclosure. Better not to know; she's surfeited on could-have-beens.
She spares a moment to wish past life and future life weren't banging into each other here in North Carolina. She would have liked a breathing space between select interstellar battlefields and Georgetown (a battlefield, she suspects, of a different kind), but there's nothing to do but endure it, so she gets to her feet and goes back out into the house.
She gets to the living room just in time to hear Momma saying in a meditative way: "Miss Mal Doran said you're gonna be marryin' Danielle."
Dani eels lightning fast across the room to settle on the couch beside Jack, and for an instant this is a mission, and he taught her (by question, by example) the art of the instant subfusc briefing. "Oh you know how Vala is," she says, mercilessly throwing her friend and (now former) teammate to the (metaphorical) wolves. "I don't know which of us she thinks should be married, but she isn't above enlisting aid-by-fiat."
"Ah," Jack says, brow clearing. "She really ought to talk to Irene in that case," he says, and the conversation moves on.
Much seems to have been decided by osmosis (if not by fiat), and apparently Jack has given up on attempting to persuade Momma to allow him to check into a bed and breakfast in town (if he even could; summer is Tourist Season here, but Jack is eternally optimistic in some ways). Dani's picked up by now that Everett Mitchell is one of Jack's former COs, a fact which gives her an unsettling sense of interrelatedness, as if it's always been her destiny to arrive here, in this living room. Momma asks her, with specious casualness, if she got everything sorted. Since she can't ask Momma how long her boyfriend is staying, all she can do is say 'yes', and when she does, Momma tells her she can (Momma says 'could might' but it means the same thing) move 'the Captain's' car ('Captain' from Momma isn't a title of rank, because she's as exact about those as any buck airman, but an eke-name, a love-name, and Dani wonders, with yet another flare of panic, how much of Jack's past she's still unaware of, not in the sense of knowing Here Be Dragons, but in the sense of being unaware it exists at all) into the shade of the side-yard and bring his bag in (on in) to the Peach Bedroom.
She remembers a thousand planets where Jack screamed bloody murder at the least hint that she or Sam were behaving (being treated like) servants, but Momma is a force of Nature, because he just makes a face (to let her know this isn't his idea) and says, "Keys're in the car," and Dani nods, because Jack moves through life in the hopeful, eternally-disappointed expectation that all his earthly possessions might momentarily be stolen: house left unlocked and keys left in the ignition of anything he drives. She wonders, without being rude enough to wonder very hard, what psychological quirk that's symptomatic of. If he didn't have any before he came to the Program, god knows he had time enough to develop them in the next eight years. They all have, and she doesn't want to know her own any more than she wants to understand his. Someday epiphany will come (Janet told her that, once upon a time), but in Dani's opinion epiphany can be as dilatory as it likes: some truths are best left buried.
Once upon a time she didn't believe that. But that was a long time ago.
She gets to her feet, and Jack gets to his feet, and Everett Mitchell hauls himself to his feet, his knuckles going white on the grips of his canes. Dual prosthetics, mid-thigh amputation, and for just a moment Never Was is sharp and vivid, and she's thinking of Cam having lost a leg. But it isn't true -- or isn't true here -- and she doesn't remember that world, she just remembers what she wrote about it. (She remembers a mission that turned into a spectacular goatfuck; she remembers Cam, barely not crying, talking about visiting his father in the hospital, and she knew the words he could bring himself to say stood in for all the ones he couldn't, the fear of being maimed, of being rendered permanent hostage to his own body, of discovering whether or not he could be as gracious in the face of losing freedom, of losing the sky, as his father had been.)
And then the two of them, Jack and Mr. Mitchell, are heading toward the door (Mr. Mitchell's going to show Jack the workshop, and Momma, when she has occasion to use the collective noun, says 'menfolks' with a certain healthy dose of postmodern irony), and Dani can't look at Cam's father without seeing -- parallax alternate-reality coign of vantage -- Hildy's son, and she wonders (quantum philosophy for a universe in which cause follows effect) who Everett Mitchell's mother was before she herself was born.
"Is there something I need to know, Danielle?" Momma asks, and Dani's answer, still clouded by reverie, is perhaps more honest than politic.
"Oh, god, if I told you I'd have to shoot you."
Momma knows there are times to let sleeping dogs lie (Cam has a hundred variations on that phrase, all entertaining) so she just snorts and flaps her apron at Dani, and Dani goes. She passes Jack and Mr. Mitchell on the porch, giving the aunts a sitrep, and bounces down the stairs to the government car, slides behind the wheel (nobody would steal this thing) and drives it, with slow and careful majesty suitable for not leaving great ruts in the grass, across the lawn and back behind the barn (garage). It is Momma's rule that the only cars that can be parked here are ones capable of moving under their own power; even so, there are seven or eight already here. She checks the glove-box for a gun (no) and under the driver's seat (no) then gets out and opens the trunk. Jack's go-bag is there (any gun there is his problem, not hers), and she carries it inside.
Like Sam's, she has packed and unpacked Jack's life too many times to count. Edora. The Asgard Black Op. The Furling Gateway (Harry Maybourne, the original stormcrow). Antarctica. A few others, but those are the major stations of her cross: the times when she thought she'd lost him forever. (He has as many of his own, starting -- she's pretty sure -- with Oannes and ending with Kelowna.) It means she can open the bag, then open a drawer, and have everything sorted and unpacked in a matter of minutes. He hasn't brought much with him, but hey. There's a washer here, and malls in the vicinity. She sets his dopp-kit on top of the dresser, checking through it to make sure there isn't anything there that shouldn't be (like a gun). The only thing at all unusual is another satellite phone, like hers only more so. It's probably the model with the security and encryption software. Useful if you have to declare war from Interstate 95.
It's only then she realizes she has no idea where the books she handed Jack have gotten to; it takes her half a hour to track them down. They're in the kitchen, and Momma invites her to sit down for a cup of coffee. Momma wants to know how long she's known Jack; Dani's not sure whether Momma's checking Jack's story or getting the story, but she shrugs mentally and trots out her cover story yet again: cryptographic analysis of deep space telemetry commencing circa 1996. It seems so long ago now.
"So you knew him while he was still married to Sara," Momma says, setting out cake to go with the coffee. Her words make Dani stare at her, because Sara (and Charlie) belong in a sealed box in her mind, as if they're a secret. And she remembers (too late to do her any good) that Jack retired after Charlie died, and was reactivated to lead the Abydos Mission, and then retired again (and was reactivated again when Apophis came through the Gate, and she will eternally blame herself for not understanding the warning Jack didn't know he was giving, and using it to keep Sha're, keep Skaara, safe that day).
"Uh," she says, floundering. "I don't think I ever met his wife." (Except once, in the hospital Charlie died in, because an alien had come through the Gate to rake open old wounds with cruel innocence. Not the first wound the Gate gave all of them, but one of the most memorable.)
Momma waves her hand, languidly swatting imaginary flies. "Danielle, if one word of anything you've told me yet is true I will eat this cake plate. Makes no nevermind. You a'en't the first person in this house up to something you can't talk about, and you won't be the last."
"Guess not," Dani says, capitulating. Jack was Black Ops (of some kind) before the Program, and she knows without the words being said that the secrets drove Jack and Sara apart as much as Charlie's death did. Jack will always have secrets from her, but if he ever again goes into the dark places where a gun is the most benign of the tools deployed, she expects to go with him. And if she can't, she'll at least know how to wait. "Cam's a hero," she blurts out, because it seems unfair that his mother shouldn't know, even if Dani can't tell her anything more.
Momma nods, as if it's no surprise. "Boy's been promisin' for years someday he'll get around to tellin' us how he came on for getting banged up like that on a training flight. Frostbite in Nevada! Air Force needs a little work on the lies it tells, you ask me."
Dani laughs, because it's impossible not to. "That's actually one of their better ones," she says. They explained Anubis's attack on Earth as an unexpected meteor shower, when even she knows meteors are tracked for years and miles before they get anywhere near Earth. She's tempted to say more, to promise Momma her wait is nearly over, because Disclosure (not that she'll mention that) is coming soon. She's saved from indiscretion by the slamming of car doors and the sound of voices. Sam, Cam, Teal'c, Vala. Problem children, avenging angels, self-inflicted family: whatever she wants to call them, they're here. Dani is entertained to note that the man who wouldn't go through the Gate without sunblock any more than he'd leave his MP-5 behind is working on an amazing sunburn.
"Where is ever'body?" Cam demands, arriving at the kitchen.
"Ooooh, cake!" Vala says, pouncing on Dani and plucking her fork from her hand. Vala has rainbows painted on both cheeks and she's wearing a bright pink cowboy hat apparently made out of foam rubber. She's also wearing cut-offs short enough to be 'Daisy Dukes' -- a description Dani only knows because of Vala's sartorial choices -- a red gingham shirt tied off short beneath her breasts, and her PF Flyers. Vala doesn't believe in allowing fashion to interfere with being able to make a quick getaway.
"And what am I, the cat's mother?" Momma demands. Cam grins at her. It doesn't keep her from transferring a basilisk gaze of interrogation to Dani.
"I just kind of called to let them know Jack's here," she says in a rush.
"I believe O'Neill will be inspecting the workshop," Teal'c says. (Dani tries not to sigh, because Teal'c has an infallible radar about these things, and really, how does he know?)
Sam has the puzzled oh my god what the fuck has Jack done now look on her face that Dani knows so well (even though Sam rarely swears and just as rarely calls Jack 'Jack'), and his being here didn't make any sense in the first place, but she looks up at Vala (pink frosting on her upper lip and a bulletproof expression of innocent ignorance) and it finally occurs to her that she could make a damned good guess about where her phone went -- and why -- that day she and Cam went up to the attic.
"Why don't I show you where I put your stuff?" she says chirpily, bouncing to her feet. She swoops up her notebook and Hildy's journal just as Vala's saying: "But I want--" and grabs Vala by the wrist and hauls her out of the kitchen. As she goes, she hears Momma offering Teal'c a piece of cake. Momma would be happy to let Cam starve, apparently, but she dotes on T.
"You called him," she accuses, the moment they're out in the hall.
Sam (who's followed, either to referee or to get her gossip fresh) looks from her to Vala, and Dani can see the precise moment Sam figures it out, because Sam looks horrified. "You called the Pentagon?" Sam hisses.
"It isn't as if it has an uncatalogued number," Vala says, tossing her head.
"Unlisted," Dani says.
"I said that," Vala sulks.
"Come on." Whatever reason Vala had for demanding Jack drop everything he was doing and come to Black Mountain, Dani won't get it out of her while Sam's around. Vala likes to maintain deniability.
"Hm," Vala says, bouncing experimentally on the bed in the room upstairs. "I suppose it will do." She regards her suitcases. (Suitcases, two, large; Vala does not travel light if she can help it, and Dani is eternally grateful that she's never been tactless and forgetful enough to suggest Vala really needs to travel with an entourage or at least with a Sherpa porter, because Qetesh did.) "If anything's missing, I'm blaming you."
"If anything's missing I'll replace it," Dani says, and before Sam can manage to get her mouth in gear, "and I've been living in the same bedroom with you for a week so I know what you packed."
"Hm. No diamond tiaras then."
"On my salary?" Dani demands. (She knows she's well-paid -- Jack has said so -- and she's also fairly sure diamond tiaras are still above her pay grade.)
"If you people had only taken my advice we could all be quite wealthy now," Vala says sighing. (And have bounties on their heads, too. Oh, wait.)
"But why did he come?" Sam demands. (She knows perfectly well the only way to get a word in edgewise is to simply hijack the conversation, something Cam never learned. Cam always wanted to bring a conversation to a full stop before boarding, which makes no sense to Dani now that she's met his family.)
"He served with Cam's dad." I have no idea why, Sam, no matter what Vala told him.
"Really?" Sam says, sounding fascinated.
"When he was a Captain. And if you ask him too many questions, you'll probably end up reassed to the Pentagon."
"No thanks," Sam says heartlessly. She pokes around the bedroom making sure all her things are where she expects them to be. "You know, you should've come with us. It was fun."
"Not my idea of fun," Dani says. Sam's comment serves to remind her that she is, for the moment, free and unencumbered. "I want to get back to this, anyway," she says, waving the journals. "See you guys later."
July 8, 1965: I wish Elias could have been here to see his youngest stand up in church. Sarah looked whiter than Momma's wedding dress -- I had to pour a good tot of 'squeezings' down her (bless the Chiffelle boys for that) (boys, hell, they're my age) (if I knew for sure what that is) -- before I could be sure she wouldn't just faint dead away in the aisle. Not on my watch, Dear Diary. For going on three years I've watched her stalk Everett like a cat after a butterfly -- thinking I didn't know -- while I struck myself 'deef as an adder' to everyone in town trying to 'warn' me about the Scarlet Woman after my youngest. If I had a dollar for every person warned me when I went down to the super that Everett was tangled up with Bad Blood and ridge-runners, I could buy the damned Wilkerson place and shoot the lot of them. People just don't think, never have, never will -- do they think the United States Air Force coddles a parcel of shrinking violets? I suppose Everett can take care of himself, even though he don't know his own mind until his nose is rubbed in it, and bless Sarah for being able to go the distance to get him roped and tied. Sarah's still skitty around me, but she'll stand. More churchly than I care for, but I dare say she'll go to First Methodist and I'll keep on going to Grand Epiphany and we'll get on all right.
PS: God hates a liar, but there wasn't any help for it but to invite George and his brats to the marrying and the Grange afterward and say I was pleased to see them. Shiftless no-accounts. You watch: the day George Wilkerson goes to his Eternal Reward -- and I hope he's wearing his asbestos shorts for the journey -- that brood of serpent's teeth he dragged up are going to sell that place to the first Yahoo with ready money. County's full of damned fools, all cream-faced about 'Poor George' and his 'accident'. Well, wasn't it Mariah who died, and George sitting on his fundament drinking up the insurance? Sarah's worth a thousand of him. Her mother is too, come to it, and I'll dare swear Keturah Griffith doesn't wear shoes from Christmas to Easter. Her like a startled woods-nymph -- oh, you can still see what made Sam Griffith keep coming back after Moses and Elijah parted his hair for him with a load of buckshot that first time. I dare swear I'll survive having Samuel Griffith for an in-law, since if raising up five boys didn't kill me I don't think much will.
PPS: I hope to glory the girl learns to cook some time soon. You could use her biscuits for fishing weights.
Cam's parents married the day she -- Dani -- was born. And while she was drawing her first breaths, halfway across the world she'd already lived a long and remarkable life, and (possibly old and grey, certainly full of years) was marrying off her youngest child, the boy (Everett Raymond Mitchell was twenty-two in 1965) who would soon become father to the man. Dani wonders if Momma has ever read Hildy's diaries. She wonders if Hildy ever breathed a word of her opinion of Momma's (Sarah's) cooking.
She wonders how much crazier her life can possibly get.
She's working in the Peach Bedroom again, but she doesn't see any reason to waste the antihistamines she took this morning, so she's got the window open. She can see Jack from here, sprawled out in a lawn chair under the tree, a glass of tea balanced in the grass beside him, sunglasses in place, to all appearances sound asleep. Jack is a distraction, even silent, immobile, and several yards away. She likes watching him at rest (and who knows, he may actually be asleep). He's verging on 'distinguished' these days. She doesn't remember how he looked the first time she saw him, because that memory has been overwritten by so many others (or simply scoured from her brain), but there was a photo of him in the Colorado Springs house; him and Sara and Charlie, taken by Sara's father a few weeks before Charlie died. So that's Jack from just a few months before she first met him. Catherine said he was 'grim'. Sam said he was 'scary' (Sam was drunk at the time). Grief deepened the lines of pain and anger etched lightly on the face in the photo, and later she saw the laugh lines come back again, but the worry-line between his eyebrows never quite vanished. They all had more than enough to worry about. But now sleep and distance smooth his face.
Looking at Jack, it's easier to imagine the future. It becomes a thought-experiment: Jack, civilian again, at last, beyond any reactivation, vanishing into yearned-for and well-deserved anonymity. There's never been anyone less designed for fame. She'll probably have to ghost-write his autobiography. Or threaten to, anyway.
But she's stared too long. He pushes the sunglasses up with one finger, smiling at her. Looks around himself ostentatiously. And she closes her computer, and packs away her materials, and goes.
Dinner is entertaining enough to distract Dani from any personal mortification: Jack plays the fool, but the Griffith twins (early twenties, military, and something involving combat because the combination of vibrant good health and an odd sort of stillness are things she knows to look for and note just as she looks for and notes all the entrances to a room) are home on leave, at Momma's table, and obviously know better. (That's interesting.) They all (she and Sam and Vala and Cam; the game is beneath Teal'c, Dani thinks) play fast and loose with their threadbare and unconvincing cover story, creating another never-was on the fly: the tedious bureaucracy of Subspace Telemetry. (What Teal'c would have been doing there is anyone's guess: when Spencer -- unless it's Skipper -- asks him directly, Teal'c allows a measured beat of silence to fall before announcing his function was 'to go for coffee', sending Cam into a coughing fit.) Jack is cheerfully willing to invent an equally-implausible future for her once she arrives in Washington. From the way Vala keeps bouncing and squirming in her chair, Dani suspects Sam of kicking her. Frequently.
Fortunately, with Jack being posted to the Pentagon, much of the conversation revolves around 'Do you know' and 'How is' and Jack's answers to both lines of inquiry are obviously satisfactory. Sam chimes in too: Dani always forgets Sam spent years at the Pentagon before taking her marksman's badge and her pilot's reflexes through the Stargate.
After dinner -- just as on every night she's been here, and Dani finds the unchanging ritual and custom infinitely soothing -- the young and the restless head off to the front lawn to play games, the older men claim one end of the porch and settle in to gossip and smoke, and the older women settle on the other to gossip and knit. Vala has told Jack that Dani is taking up spinning again, and once he's been disambiguated (that falls to Sam; apparently spinning is also some kind of trendy exercise) he announces he wants to see that. She's saved from demonstrating her current utter lack of competence, though, as Momma announces it's her night to do the dishes. When The Plague of Frogs announce they'll dry, Cam shoots them a look she has no trouble interpreting. As a result, she's prepared for the half hour of innocent (leading) remarks over the suds and silverware (they want to know what Batshit Jack O'Neill of Black Ops fame was really doing in Colorado; too bad). They probably learn more from the silent non-conversation the three of them have (there's always one of them in her blind spot, and both of them constantly on the move; on purpose, she's sure of that).
"Yes, you're right," she finally says (dishes done, sink empty), "and yes, it is really strange." (Yes, I trip all your alarms, because whatever you do for the Air Force, you can tell I've done it too, or something close enough. And that doesn't match up with what we've all told you at all.) "And if you've got any questions you think I'll answer, ask them now."
She supposes she's just transgressed against the Code of the Ninja Commando, because one looks startled and the other looks bland. Then the bland one (she's almost sure that's Skipper) smiles. "I guess that wasn't real friendly of us, Dr. Jackson. Me and Spence just wonder if Uncle Cam's in any trouble."
She leans back against the sink (and oh thank fuck neither one of them can get behind her now), drying her hands on a towel. The question they've asked still isn't the real question: they want to know if trouble's coming here, bless their twisty little hearts. "Cam isn't in trouble. Cam isn't going to be in any trouble." (He might still die, but no, no trouble.) "Ever."
"You sound pretty sure," the other one (Spencer) says. "You known Uncle Cam long?"
"Long enough." She tosses the towel in her hands at him. She moves fast. His reflexes are faster. When he catches it and smiles, she can see an echo of Cam's delight with everything in life.
If Jack hovered, she'd worry. About what Vala said to him, about what he'd made of it, about what he thought she needed (About what he thought was wrong with her. This time). But after dessert (berry cobbler; Cam made the crust and half the berries came from the 'Back Forty') Jack drifts off to the den with the 'menfolk'. The usual evening progress is dinner table to porch to dinner table again, then the men (the older men, those who stay) go off to the den for an hour or so while the women and the younger men (those who stay) either retreat to the kitchen again (some of the women) or begin the task of herding offspring off to bed (everyone else). The extended Mitchell household is stratified along so many different axes -- age and gender and occupation -- that its almost a work of art.
The evening retreat of the male side of the household is generally conducted to a background of sports. There are three televisions in the Mitchell house, and she knows that isn't a lot for a place the size of the Clanstead (though since she doesn't own a television and never has, she's hardly the one to be passing judgment). Momma has a tiny one in the pantry, and there's one in the playroom, and the other (largest and newest) is in the den. That's because the male cortex is primarily configured for visual stimuli; Janet told her that once, but she actually had first-hand experience of it; she hadn't been with the Program for three months before she and half the SGC were devolved into primitive versions of themselves by an alien cold virus. (Janet's first week with the Program; Jack said -- later -- if she didn't run screaming into the night then, she never would. And she never did.)
It should hurt more than it does to remember Janet, Dani thinks, but if she stopped thinking about people because they were dead, she wouldn't be able to think at all. Her dead are stepping-stones across the years, connecting Now with Then; she can't remember a time when she wasn't coping, well or badly, with that potent cocktail of loss and failure. It's one of the reasons she liked archaeology so much: everyone involved was already dead, there was no suspense.
Tonight, in Jack's honor, the primary entertainment in the den isn't sports, but poker. Cam usually puts his extended family to bed before wandering back to the kitchen, but tonight he's off to the den. So's Teal'c (god help the Mitchells; T is death at a card table). The Griffith twins are invited as well, but Momma shoos them firmly off homeward before they can accept.
In the absence of Cam (and possibly in the presence of a new level of interconnectedness with the Clan Mitchell; she isn't sure yet) Dani helps wrestle babies into cribs while Sam helps police the older children. Not everybody has the same bedtime, but everyone under a certain age gets into pajamas at the same time; Momma says it discourages jailbreaks.
The Peach Bedroom seems very empty when Dani finally gets there. Since the moment she discovered them, she's been doing her best to be tactful and polite and still get time with Hildy's journals, and now that nobody would know or care what she was doing, the lure of scholarship has abruptly palled. Grumbling at her own perversity, she strips and changes to her nightclothes. A sweatshirt over the tank-top tonight; she and Jack have utterly-incompatible opinions on the proper temperature for bedrooms. He'll be sweltering; she thinks it's actually a little chilly.
She's firmly not thinking about the weight and symbolism of her new sleeping arrangements. She doesn't need to know. Nobody's life depends on her excavating the buried subtext this time, and maybe ignorance really is bliss. This is her future, after all: tacitly-acceptable couplehood. With Jack. (And if the late unlamented Senator Kinsey were still alive, his head would be exploding with the righteous wrath of God's Own Enforcer, and nothing became him in life like the leaving of it.)
She isn't tired enough to sleep, so she digs through her suitcase to unearth one of her professional journals (she's only about eighteen months behind in her reading; go her). She's settled into bed with journal and pencil (because she hasn't read a book without something in her hand to annotate it with since she was sixteen) when it occurs to her that (in this situation) Sam would have a popular novel or a stack of glossy magazines in hand (Vala would go straight for the magazines; novels don't have enough shopping opportunities to hold her interest). Her? The Fall 2006 Journal of the International Society of Neurolinguistics. There's undoubtedly some deep hidden meaning to that.
It's almost midnight when Jack taps softly on the door and ambles in, wearing his 'pleased otter' expression. He closes the door quietly behind him (checking to see if it locks; alas, it doesn't), and moves to the dresser. Watch, beeper, phone (second phone), keys (to what, she can't imagine), wallet, loose change, yo-yo, all take up residence in the wooden tray there.
"You'd think Mitchell'd have learned better by now," he says.
She has no trouble disambiguating Jack after all these years. "He probably decided to take one for the team," she says, setting her journal aside and stretching. "I don't think his guests are supposed to drive his family into bankruptcy."
That wins her a quirked editorial smile. "Those guys are sharks," he says as he toes out of his shoes. Deck shoes, crepe soled, and he doesn't wear socks off duty. The random accretion of threadbare tatterdemalion layers (so Sam has said, Jack's off-duty wardrobe looks perfectly fine to Dani) might have been designed as the antithesis of his working clothes, at least the working clothes she knows best: jump boots and tac vest, BDUs and A4, knife and gun and MP3. These days at work he wears dress blues, a tie, shiny shoes and a jacket covered in bright ribbons that tell the tale of his life (a constant irritation to him -- he'd always prefer to be thought of as a genial idiot -- and she wonders if someday there will be one that tells about the SGC). It seems more like a costume than a uniform, though it never did when General Hammond wore it.
When he takes off his shirt and folds it neatly, she can see the gun in its pancake holster nestled into the small of his back (so that's where it was; she wondered). The sight of it is oddly reassuring, even though she doesn't expect trouble here. (A .22 automatic. Easy to conceal. An assassin's weapon. Deadly in the hands of an expert. A working tool. All these things are interconnected, all false, all true.) He sets it on the dresser as he strips his belt from its belt-loops, coils it neatly, steps out of his khakis and folds them as well. All routine. All familiar. He picks up the gun again as he turns toward the bed, leaving it in its holster. The suede backing that keeps the holster snug against his back will also keep it from traveling. Important when you're in a strange bed in a strange place and you might need it in a hurry. There's always a gun close to hand. (At home there's a Beretta in the bedside drawer -- hers -- and its mate in Jack's Washington bedroom.) It's just the way things are, the way she automatically took Vala's side of the bed tonight so Jack would have the side by the window, and she doesn't think about the 'why' of it any more. These assessments and arrangements have been a part of her life for so long she can't remember a time when they were strange, nor the moment they stopped being strange.
He grimaces at the afghan folded neatly at the foot of the bed, but she's going to want it later. The temperature will drop toward morning and then she'll be freezing. He sits down and slides the gun under his pillow (watching her to make sure she knows it's there), then rolls into bed and pulls up the sheet. He'd probably be more comfortable if he weren't wearing t-shirt and boxers, but Jack doesn't sleep naked. (It's less Minnesota Modesty than the theory he might not have time to dress before he needs to go somewhere; Jack made much more sense to her once she understood his life was organized in the hourly expectation of armed assault: while he likes the sight of her naked -- which is reassuring -- he's more relaxed when she wears clothes to bed, and so she does. An entry on her side of the 'accommodations' ledger -- damn right she keeps score, and for that matter so does he -- because she slept in her clothes for too many years to really like it.)
She turns off the light and scrunches down in the bed. He's utterly still, and it's quiet enough for her to be able to hear him breathing; she knows he's making a map of all the sounds so he knows when they change, and she doesn't interrupt him. The creek at the back of the house is filled with frogs -- tiny ones, Cam calls them 'peepers' -- and they're in full voice tonight. It's too early for cicadas, and you can't really count on crickets, because they're an important part of a balanced breakfast for too much of the local fauna. These are things she knows from Cam's stories of home, not from her own experience, or that of a woman with whom she shares nothing but a time-tossed genetic identity.
When he's listened for long enough -- tick and creak of the settling house, wind stirring the leaves in the big oak in the front yard, distant purl of water, delighted chirp of frogs, three notes in a minor triad from a nearby nightbird -- Jack shifts and settles further, turning on his side and reaching out to rest a hand on her hip. She moves across the bed and snuggles up. He rolls back again (Jack will sleep with his back to an open window when Hell freezes rock-solid).
She isn't expecting lovemaking. (Not in a strange house with a door that can't be locked and a ground-floor open window.) There's no hurry. There will be time enough for that, and if she's wrong, she'll have more to mourn than one missed opportunity. The desire she feels for him is too vast to be contained by mere carnality anyway, or sated by an orgasm or two. It's the passion her younger self reserved solely for truth and justice and scholarship, fiercer and more all-devouring than love or lust. She can't define it, let alone explain it, nor does she have any sense of whether it's normal (average, common, sane, words don't just codify experience, they shape it -- Sapir and Whorf would be so proud -- and she's afraid that if she tries to define this, the shape she gives it will leave some part of it out).
She can feel his wakefulness through her skin. All Jack's substantive conversations come with built-in deniability, and she's used to that, but if they're going to talk, she can't imagine what they're going to talk about.
"You know you don't have to do anything you don't want to," Jack says, his breath warm against her hair, his arms around her and his heartbeat steady in her ear. Safe and quiet in their borrowed bed, offering all the comfort and (mendacious, loving) promise in his power. And for so long, this has been the thing she's wanted, only this: as if the moment were a destination, a place in which she could make herself a home.
"I don't know what I want," she answers. A partial and conditional truth, because she wants impossible things. For it to be a decade ago, to have the best of them, all of them, their lives together, the part that seems like youth, but only the good parts. The adventure and discovery and joy. The falling in love and never the loss.
She can't say 'I love you' to Jack. She never has. Too unlucky, too evidentiary (too much like his life with Sara). And he wouldn't take it as a statement of fact, anyway (she knows Jack far better than she knows herself) but as a statement of need. Jack O'Neill's character can be summarized as that of a man who will ignore an order from his lawful superior to heed a cry for help from his worst enemy (and then again not, because sometimes Jack's lawful superiors have been his worst enemies). But that aside: if she told Jack she loved him, he'd feel the need to do something about it.
She doesn't want that. For him or with him or to him. She's done enough things to him in their shared lives. She knows he loves her (how could she need him to say it when everything he's ever done has proved it?) And she loves him, and knows he knows that too, because their greatest truths have been offered up in silence. Loving Jack and knowing she's loved isn't the problem here. It's the wailing wall of non-Stargate-related-life she's careening toward that she isn't sure how to handle. She hasn't had that many role models for dailyness, and secretly (so secretly she never told Sam, never even told Janet) Dani's always reveled inwardly in the knowledge that she was too special to ever succeed at a normal life.
But she did. Once. Third time lucky, because according to the diary she sent Cam, she spent a year in exile in Alternate New York and ten years in the past frantically preparing for the most important mission of her life (of anyone's life), and then...
And then Hildegard Smith Mitchell lived a quiet normal life for nearly forty years. Marrying. Having children. Raising a family. Raising grandchildren. Holding this whole grand and glorious clan together through turbulent years of social change and upheaval, and Dani isn't sure whether the life she sees reflected in those diaries is glorious or heartbreaking. (Is it terrifying to think she has the capacity somewhere within her to be Hildy? Or is it the Spirit of Hope in the Pandora's Box of her life?) Hildy Mitchell is Dani's 'could be': lacking her memories, but the rest is there: personality and ability and capability. Or is Hildy Dani's 'could-have-been', because Dani knows as well as anybody one of the SGC's dirty little secrets is that the suicide rate (over a seventy-two month period) of those who leave the Program (no matter what the reason) is one in five. Having once slipped the surly bonds of Earth, something in them can't bear to be caged again.
But she did it. She survived. As herself. As Hildy. That's worth something.
"I want to wake up every morning and see you," she says. I want to want that.
She wakes in the morning to a dawn-bright silence, feeling heavy with interrupted sleep. Jack is already moving, and a moment later she hears the sounds of creaking from the second floor, the rattle and hush of water moving through venerable plumbing.
"You should sleep in," he says, and she huffs in silent amusement.
"I thought you knew these people," she answers, and then smiles because she's made him smile.
Once -- a long time ago -- Cam (who barely escaped being eternally nicknamed 'New Guy') was cautious around Jack (shocked when Sam wasn't; Sam can make 'Sir' into a love-word or an excoriation with the efficiency of career military), having barely met Colonel O'Neill before he had to deal with General O'Neill, agonizingly aware he'd taken charge of the three most precious things in General O'Neill's world, constantly measuring himself against the myth and legend of SG-1 instead of its reality. Time and success (familiarity, shared ops) have overwritten that early care (Dani cherishes a memory of Cam swearing at Jack and calling him 'sir' in the same breath). Cam's always been good at assessing which battles are unwinnable (it doesn't mean he doesn't fight them anyway when he thinks he has to).
Of course, it's hard to be formal when you're standing in Momma's kitchen in your pajamas with a baby in your arms anyway.
"You get any sleep?" he asks her as she comes lurching in. From someone else the question might be mockery or innuendo; from Cam it's honest care.
"You should talk," she answers, taking Dawn Rose from him.
"Colic," Cam says, shuffling in the direction of the coffee.
Dawn Rose is a fussy baby, and Dani would worry more about her if she didn't have a voice you could probably hear back in Colorado. (Heaven help the Clanstead when she starts teething.) Dani can usually get her to settle, but today is not one of those days. She can tell the baby's gearing up to deafen everybody within a fifty mile radius when Teal'c (looking perfectly awake and impeccably groomed, but she can count the times she's seen him looking any other way on her fingers and have fingers left over) says: "If you will permit me?" and takes the baby (who is about the size of T's hands). Silence reigns. Cam hands her a cup of coffee and offers the other one he's holding to Jack, who tells Cam he looks as if he needs it more than Jack does. Momma orders everyone out of her kitchen ('everyone' for Momma's purposes being Teal'c and Jack; the rest of them have work to do).
At breakfast, as usual, everyone's day is sorted out. There are some pieces from the Mitchell workshop to be delivered, other pieces (large, Dani gathers from context) to be picked up for repair and restoration. Jack is volunteered to accompany Royfield Mitchell. He suggests Teal'c can join them, but ends up with Cousin Jessie (whose cousin she is, Dani isn't sure, and don't any of these people have homes of their own to go to?), who came over this morning apparently for the sole purpose of eating breakfast. Cam has learned a great deal about the art of the wordless meeting; she knows Jack's behind his spontaneous announcement that he'll 'head on down' to Uncle Henry's place; she knows Uncle Henry is Henry Griffith, the father of (among others) the Plague of Frogs. She wonders if they're being recruited for the SGC; from what Cam's said about them, from her own knowledge of them, if they were sent to Pegasus they could probably get rid of Atlantis's little Wraith problem in a year, tops. Whatever the purpose of the visit, Cam obviously thinks he needs backup; he announces to Sam that she might like to take a look at Skipper's bike before he gets himself killed because of the incomprehensible mechanical gibberish. She's probably the only one (okay, and Momma) who can tell that Sam looks a little surprised to hear that Cam's nephew has apparently been courting death.
Well, Vala is rarely bored. She likes both Cam and Jack (knowing perfectly well who she really has to thank for being let to stay with the SGC, and it isn't General Landry), and while Vala can be charming to anyone who's useful or threatening, she doesn't actually like anyone she doesn't respect. That said, the outward manifestation of her interior landscape is rarely either consistent or predictable; Dani's in the kitchen (helping out with the breakfast dishes) when she sees Jack's government car go fishtailing down the driveway. At the road, Vala sticks an arm out the window to wave farewell before gunning the engine and taking her leave in a spray of gravel. It only then occurs to Dani that Vala doesn't have a driver's license. She wonders if they'll get the car back, or if Vala is going to ditch it somewhere in the spirit of helpfulness. Vala's fond of Jack.
"That child is born to be hanged," Momma says from the pantry. There are no windows in the pantry, and no line-of-sight to any of the kitchen windows, either. (Obviously Cam is descended from a long line of hok'taur with the ability to see through walls. A useful career skill.)
"Have to catch her first," Dani says, and Momma snorts.
Dani's friends and family have scattered like chickens before the storm (she's got to stop listening to Cam, really) except for Teal'c, but Butler Wilkes Mitchell (Dawn Rose's mother) hasn't been sleeping well (at all), between Dawn Rose and the fact that Raymond (Dawn Rose's father and Butler's husband) is sort-of missing (in the 'nobody in his unit will say whether he's captured, dead, or AWOL' way, but nobody's heard from Lieutenant Mitchell for the last six weeks). Butler was staying with her parents in Atlanta, but showed up on Momma's doorstep two days ago after her mother bought her a bus ticket to crazy and drove her to the station (Dani really has to find some way to repay Cam for southern-frying her interior monologue); if Teal'c can get Dawn Rose to shut the fuck up so her mother can get some sleep, Dani isn't going to joggle his elbow.
So she's on her own, and she's got work, research, a project, and she ought to be diving right into it, but for some reason this morning she's reluctant. It isn't because she's afraid of what she'll find out, because she's already done a skim-through of Hildegard's journals (looking for spiders, snakes, and evil lightbulbs). Jack's arrival has changed things, though she's not sure how. Momentum (bloody-minded stubbornness) carried her through yesterday, but now her subconscious has caught up and is digging in its heels. (You'd think with all the times she's died, been translated, been brain-fried, she could at least have beaten her unconscious mind into submission. Guess again.)
She manages to waste the entire morning (hard to call it a waste when there are a hundred chores around the house that need doing, today and always) before she can argue her hindbrain into submission. She can't spend the rest of her life here. She probably won't get a second chance at Hildy's journals. After lunch (no Jack, no Sam, no Cam, and no Vala, and there's nothing at all to worry about) she takes herself back to the Peach Bedroom once more. (She hopes she's bought Momma's forbearance through honest labor, and apparently she has, because today there are no pointed hints about the beauty of the day and the ephemeral quality of the season.)
Instinct has saved her life too many times to count, but if it's instinct that's pushing her away from the journals, why? Does she know something she doesn't realize she knows, something she found in her first skim that will leap out with closer study? She isn't Hildegard Mitchell. She never was (yes and no). And to top it all off, Hildy's dead, dead and buried these many years. Anything she did (sins of commission, sins of omission) can't be undone now. Unless she wants to coax Jack to take a spin in their pet time machine. Yeah, how about not?
Instinct has saved her life too many times to count. And the fact she's died more than half a dozen times is proof she's good at ignoring her instincts. She sets up her laptop, gathers her materials, and sets to work.
July 20, 1969: Sassy and I went to the doctor today, so he could tell her what I've known this past month. She should drop somewhere in March, Billy thinks. I say April -- all first babies are late, and I chased him out of my truck patch often enough when he was in short pants to trust my opinion over his. Plenty of time to piece out a baby quilt, and if Bayliss's Verona would stop taking the Biblical injunction to 'be fruitful and multiply' quite so literally I could get the nursery furniture back out of her. I suspect I shall have to apply to Roy or George to dredge up something. Sassy says we don't need anything and the house is full of perfectly good baby furniture (most of it in the back attic, and I am NOT going up there to root around in the dead of summer just to prove her wrong), but I dare swear I have raised more Mitchells than she has, and if you don't lock them up tight they get up to didoes.
With such news, I had forgot the other thing and could not understand why Sassy was in such a hurry to get home until she reminded me the Landing was today. Well! I broke a few speed limits, but we were home in time -- and now I have seen a television broadcast sent from another planet, and seen men walk on the Moon. I don't have words to tell about that, but there will be plenty of folks with plenty of words to say, but I like Sassy's best. She said: my baby will be born into a world where men have already been to the Moon. (And back, I hope. Sassy will have to pray hard enough for both of us, because I think God would drop dead of shock if I tugged His coat-tail now.)
It is odd how little difference such an enormous thing seems to have made, but I went outside and looked up at the sky tonight, and nothing looked a bit different. But perhaps, my love, your grandson will sail the space-oceans instead of the watery ones. You'd smile to hear of that, I think.
She looks up, blinking with eyestrain (the ink of the diaries is fading, in a decade or two it will be too faint to read without technical intervention). It's late afternoon out on the lawn (Vala's back; Dani wonders where the government car is), but in her mind, it's almost forty years ago. 1969, and for a few scant weeks that August, she wasn't in two places. She was in three. (SG-1's first and most memorable experience of time-travel.)
She doesn't remember the first Lunar landing. Not clearly, anyway. She was four (barely four; her birthday's July 8th) and she still had parents. They were -- she frowns, trying to make hazy memories come clear -- in England? Yes. England. London. Mommy took her to the zoo for her birthday and they rode the elephant (a buried memory that came back to her, bright and sharp, the first time she rode a mastadge). She doesn't know why they would have been in England during dig season, and there's no one left alive she can ask. In London the landing took place at 2:30 in the morning; she remembers being shaken awake, confused and cross, to look at the television. There was a party (she hazards, reconstructing a lost world from isolated facts), because the room was full of people and everyone was excited. She remembers the pitch and cadence of the voices, but none of the words.
Cam has never lived in a world where men haven't walked on the Moon. She's never lived in one where there haven't been men in space. (Jack was ten when Friendship 7 orbited the Earth.) She's been to three other galaxies, walked the surface of hundreds of alien worlds. Such a little thing, a lifetime, to contain so much.
She looks from the window to the doorway as Jack comes in. He looks cheerful, rumpled, normal, and she craves normalcy the way she craves oxygen. If she had as little idea of how to breathe as she does of how to be normal, she'd have been dead of asphyxiation decades ago.
"Hey," she says, getting to her feet. Her back and shoulders ache, updating her on just how many hours went down the rabbit hole of scholarship this time. She winces as she stretches.
Jack walks over, glancing at her litter of cryptic notes and carefully-stacked reference. "We about done here?" he asks.
The question fills her with panic (so much more work to be done!) and causes her (as so many of his questions have over the years) to flail inarticulately, mute gestures encompassing the whole of Hildegard Mitchell's diaries and oh, she should probably do an even more detailed search of the attic, too...
"I just-- I have to-- I'm not sure--" she says.
"Dani," Jack says gently, taking her by the shoulders and turning her to face him. "It doesn't matter whether ... you ... ever got your memory back or not. It doesn't."
When he says it, she knows he's right. Hildy Mitchell lived and died and didn't make any imprint on history aside from what she should have. Everything they know (can know) tells them that. And so anything she might have (secretly) known doesn't matter. What would Dani do with the information if she had it?
She feels like a key in a lock. No, like a lock in which a key is being turned (she abhors Freudian symbolism, she really does), or a puzzle someone else has to assemble before she can figure it out. And that isn't her favorite thing, at least partly because a reactive game doesn't let her plan ahead (life isn't like a box of chocolates; life is chess). Without a map of the future to steer by, her world shrinks to the compass of the four walls of the moment and a series of unmediated shocks.
She wants to cry, to run away, to argue. She takes a deep breath, nodding, because Jack is so often right, and one thing the years have taught her is to admit it. "I want to see where she's buried," she says.
Jack nods, and she realizes he's known better than she has what she's really been searching for all this time. Closure. An ending. Some way to let the restless ghost of an unlived life lie quiet in the grave of her memory, marking the boundary between 'what was' and 'what will be'. New life, new her, and a detour through Never Was seems a fitting road to take to get there. But the lovers have met, and now it's time for the journey to end. There's only one more stop to make.
The next day, Cam takes the two of them down to the cemetery. To the 'burying ground' he calls it, his vocabulary having slipped further toward those things that mean 'home' and 'love' and 'care' with each hour they've been here. Hearing that, understanding what it means, she hopes for a future for him where he can have those things and give those things, where his life will slide, by slow imperceptible degrees, back toward true north (true south?) so that he doesn't miss the things he no longer has.
The church, First Methodist, is white-clapboard-quaint, its former 'dooryard' truncated by the widening of the road, and there's a sense of cognitive dissonance at looking up from the church and seeing the pink-orange-mocha of a Dunkin' Donuts sign in the background. But the cemetery, by what violent acts of historic preservation and city planning Dani hesitates even to contemplate, spreads out over a couple of acres, much as she suspects it has done for a very long time. She walks among the markers, in no hurry to reach this last destination. The names repeat like motifs in an opera -- this one for sorrow, that one for joy. Last names become first names, double, vanish, appear again. Some of the graves have flowers on them: plastic, silk, real. Some have American flags. Many -- she can't decide in any useful way whether it's too many or not enough -- have name and rank and sometimes a decoration, or a place-name she suspects marks some battle in a war she doesn't know.
"Here," Cam says at last, and she stops. Not one stone, or even two, but three (if you can count the gaudy cenotaph as a headstone, when the whole purpose of a cenotaph is to signalize the vanished and unburiable dead), and it's a slow shock to her to see them until she remembers Elias was married before, to a woman named Susannah, who gave him three boys. Susannah Mitchell's stone, with its details of birth and death, is old and worn, and Dani wonders if she resents the second wife laid down here beside her in the place she meant Elias to lay, and the husband forever absent.
Hildegard's stone has no birthdate, only a date of death. Below the name and the date there's a line of Greek letters. Dani doesn't translate them, she reads them. Go tell the Spartans.
Greek isn't one of Cam's languages, so the inscription is, well, Greek to him, and in all the talk about Gran'ma Hildy, no one mentioned the antique exhortation upon the tombstone of the matriarch. Dani wonders whose idea it was, and what it meant to them. Hildy Mitchell is unlikely to have ever held the Gates of Fire against an army of darkness, as Dani so often has.
There are no answers in burial grounds, archaeology to the contrary.
Elias's cenotaph has a birthdate, but only a year of death. "May he rest in peace below the waves until the sea gives up her dead." She wonders if Hildy chose the inscription, or if one of the boys did -- boys now older than she is -- or whether it was carved and placed long after Hildegard Mitchell was dead.
Cam elbows her and hands her the flowers. Not a florist's tribute or a supermarket bunch, but half an afterthought, flowers cut from his mother's garden on their way out the door and wrapped in newspaper against the drive. She takes them and kneels down (on Susannah's grave, can't be helped) and lays them by Hildy's headstone. After a moment's thought, she adjusts them so they lie between the two headstones, for it is only right to honor the first wife as well. She gets to her feet, stiff enough that she knows (next year, some year) she'll think carefully about the true necessity before kneeling anywhere at all. But that is then, and this is now.
Now is the only time there is.
She smiles at Jack. He looks at her questioningly, and she nods. She's done all she needs to do here. Learned what she could. Re-learned, most of all, something she lost a long time ago: faith. Not in gods or creeds (that's still lost to her) but faith in the future. Her future, the thing Hildegard Smith Mitchell managed to have (managed to live through) with fewer tools than Dani will bring to the ongoing process. And Hildy survived.
If she can, I can, she tells herself. "Ice cream?" she says, aloud.
"I know a place. We can stop on the way home, pick up enough for ever'one," Cam says. "Wouldn't be right, you leaving without tryin' the good stuff," he says earnestly. Jack makes a small sound of amusement, tucking her arm through his.
All is well.