Desdemona, we are not so very different
Do you see?
At the moment braver still
Than what our minds let us believe
Even the walls that will surround you
Somehow steady by your very own hands
I don't know just how to change you
All I know is how to tell you that you can-
Desdemona - The Alternate Routes
That’s such a hot piece of ass.
Ellie tenses her shoulders, her fingers tightening around the paintbrush in her hand. It’s 5th period and her performance arts class is scattered across the theater, working on prep for Guys and Dolls. Miss Thatcher has put Ellie on set design because she has “an eye for detail.” What it really means is that it is a solitary activity for a girl who doesn’t care for conversation. Ellie has picked theater because it fulfills her fine arts credit, not because of her passion for the stage.
What I wouldn’t give to flip that little skirt up and see that ass up close.
Ellie lowers her paintbrush slowly. She is used to hearing vulgar comments - it is surprising how often people think about sex. And it isn’t just men - women too. She goes to an all-girls high school and she knows as well as anyone that girls can think about sex as much as their male counterparts. Mostly, she ignores it.
But this doesn’t sound like the thoughts of one of her fellow classmates and while the first comment she can ignore, the second... well, it’s game day and she is the only cheerleader in the class.
She turns and scans the room. It is hard to see past the end of the stage with the lights on, but she spots him finally, standing in one of the far doorways looking right at her. Gene Ross, high school guidance counselor. Age 47, unmarried, owner of three cats, a 1992 Honda Accord, and a massive pornography collection all featuring barely legal blond girls.
Ellie wishes she didn’t know so much about the people in her life. Mr. Ross ranks high atop that list.
Most appallingly, he is so unapologetic about it. She has caught him staring and instead of trying to act normal or not sleazy, all he does is raise his hand and beckon at her with one crooked finger.
“Miss Carter,” he calls. His voice carries across the sparsely populated theater and every head swivels first to the intruder and then to her. Kelsey Whitmore whispers something to Jenny Reynolds and they both snicker. Ellie can easily figure out what was said, but she doesn’t see the point. Instead, she looks at Miss Thatcher who is standing by the black piano, clipboard in hand.
“You can’t take her without a pass, Gene,” Miss Thatcher says. Ellie is momentarily grateful but then Mr. Ross raises his other hand and everyone can see the green half-sheet in his hand. A counseling office pass. Ellie looks back at her theater teacher who cants her head. “Go on, Ellie.”
Ellie is no longer grateful. It’s hard not to feel betrayed. Marilyn Thatcher finds Gene Ross to be just as repugnant as Ellie does, but she also has no dog in this fight.
Ellie drops her paintbrush back into the jar of green paint and picks up her messenger bag. Everyone watches her walk across the stage to the steps and then trudge heavily down the center aisle to where he waits.
I wonder if she’s a screamer. Yeah, she’d scream if I fucked her.
Ellie bites her lip and tries not to cry as he holds open the door for her.
The quiet ones are always screamers.
“It’s Carter-O’Neill,” she snaps as they make their way across the sun-drenched quad. It’s bright after the dark theater and she has to fight the urge to sneeze. She talks to him only because if he’s talking, it’s less time to think about all the ways he wants to rape her.
“Such a mouthful,” he says. His tone is artificially pleasant.
“Don’t you usually send aides out to get us?” she asks.
“And miss our little walks?” he says.
“I didn’t schedule an appointment,” she says, her fingers tight around the strap of her bag where it cuts across her chest. The polyester blend of her cheer top is stuffy and in the direct sun, she already feels warm and itchy. She can feel the embroidery from the letters against her nail beds.
“Miss Stone expressed to me concern over the fact that you didn’t sign up for the PSATs,” he says. “I thought maybe we should have a chat about your future.”
Ellie snorts. Her future has been decided for a long time. Her future has already been stamped Top Secret and sealed up tight. No amount of standardized testing is going to change who she is. The next evolutionary step and that step is going to lead her through the center of a Stargate no matter what.
“I don’t worry about my future,” she says. He holds open the door to the administrative building and she crosses her arms when he waits. “After you,” she says through her teeth.
“Maybe we should talk about your future and your attitude,” he says.
My dick in her mouth would shut her up.
“God!” Ellie says. It’s a reaction more than anything. He narrows his eyes in confusion. She scrambles. “God is my future. You know. He is my, uh, my co-pilot so I really am not concerned.”
“Right,” Mr. Ross says. His office door is open and they walk through. With the door open, she has a clear view of one of the secretaries who looks busy but is playing spider solitaire on her computer. “Have a seat.”
She sinks into the chair by his desk and he moves to close the door.
“Leave it open,” she says.
“It’s a busy office,” he counters and clicks the door firmly shut.
Her palms start to sweat.
“You mean Simon,” Sam says. “Simon’s school called.”
“Right? That’s what I... but no, Ellie,” Jack says into the phone. His wife is in Washington for the week in IOA budget meetings but this is important enough to warrant a phone call no matter what it’s interrupting.
“What happened?” Sam asks.
“Okay, before I get into this, you should know that they wanted to expel her and I talked it down to a three day suspension,” Jack says.
“EXPEL HER?” Sam cries. “What happened, Jack?”
“She punched her guidance counselor,” Jack says. “Apparently there was a lot of blood so I guess those combat moves I taught her weren’t for nothing.”
“She punched a teacher?”
“Guidance counselor,” Jack corrects. “Lower on the food chain.”
“I don’t... why?” Sam demands. Jack sighs.
“It’s not her fault, Sam. She says he was thinking some pretty explicit things about her and she got scared.”
There’s a long, heavy silence.
“I’m coming home,” Sam says.
“You can’t come home, you’ve been preparing for these meetings for months,” Jack says. “She’s okay.”
“Let me talk to her,” Sam says.
“I don’t think she wants to talk.”
He climbs the stairs. Her bedroom door is closed as it has been since they got home. He knocks lightly.
“Go away,” she says.
“Ellie, Mom is on the phone and she wants to talk to you.”
“No!” Ellie calls.
“She says no,” Jack says into the phone.
“She’s sixteen, she’s my kid, put her on the god damn phone right now or I’m gonna beam home.”
“Ellie, please talk to your mother,” Jack calls. “If you don’t, she’s going to misuse government property to come home early.”
Finally, Ellie opens the door just enough to stick her hand out. Jack puts the phone in her hand and the door closes again.
He slides down the wall to the floor and sits with his legs out. He’d tried hard to sound calm for Sam but in reality, all his effort is going into not finding out where the punk-ass counselor lives and putting a bullet in his head.
Ellie’s door cracks open again and her head sticks out, the phone still at her ear.
“That won’t help,” she says, sounding eerily of her mother.
“I know,” he says.
“Nothing,” Ellie says into the receiver. “Dad just wants to kill him.”
She retreats back into her room but doesn’t latch the door and Jack thinks that’s something. Honestly, he wishes Sam would come home. Simon getting sent home for failing history is one thing; this, however, is totally out of his league.
The dog comes up the stairs and sees Jack on the floor and pads over, collapsing onto the rug and laying his head in Jack’s lap, looking up with soulful eyes. Jack scratches behind one golden ear.
“I know,” Ellie says. “I’m fine, mom, I just... I shouldn’t have done it, I know that.”
Christ, the girl doesn’t need a lecture. Jack pushes the dog away and stands up, toes her door open enough for him to lean against the frame and watch her. She’s perched on the edge of the bed. He’d picked her up in her uniform, but the suspension means that she’s benched for tonight’s game. Maybe the next one, too. Now she’s in blue track pants and a white tank top. Her eyes are puffy from crying.
“I love you, too,” she says. “Do you want to talk to daddy again?”
Sam must decline because she hangs up.
“She’ll call you later,” Ellie says quietly.
“How is your hand?” he asks.
“Punch like that,” Jack shrugs. “Seems like there’d be swelling.”
“Nope,” she says.
“When your mom was in the field...”
“Oh, here we go,” she says.
“I’m just saying, there were plenty of times I had to patch her up after she kicked some ass,” he says.
“I’m not mom,” she says. “And this isn’t war, it’s high school.”
“Pffft,” he says. “Why do you think they make you go through high school before you can enlist?”
“Daddy,” she says. “No jokes, please.”
“Okay, serious time,” Jack says and takes a breath. “I don’t know what your mom said, but here’s what I think. You’re always going to be pretty and you’re always going to know too much.”
“Okay,” she says, sounding unsure.
“Occasionally, punching someone in the face will be the right answer, but mostly it will not,” Jack says. “Try to keep that in mind, okay, kiddo?”
“Okay,” she says. “I’m sorry.”
“Me too,” he says, putting his arm around her shoulder. “Me too.”
Sam flies to D.C. a couple times a month, now. She still spends a lot of time at the mountain, though the day-to-day functions of actually running the base have all long been delegated away. She’s been trying to reduce her hours for a while and has so far been unsuccessful.
Stars on her shoulders are heavy things.
“Hey,” Daniel says, poking his head out from the kitchen. “You want cheese on your burger?”
Sam stays with Daniel when she comes to D.C. and though they call it Daniel’s apartment, it’s practically theirs with how much stuff she keeps in the spare bedroom, how she chips in on rent, how she has a key.
His question about cheese is a sad excuse to talk to her. He knows perfectly well everything she will and will not eat and he just wants to know what happened.
“Ellie got suspended,” Sam says, setting her phone on the coffee table. She’s still in her dress blues - she’d just walked in the door when Jack had called. She needs to change, to eat dinner with Daniel, to get some sleep. Tomorrow is another early day.
“You mean Simon,” Daniel says, staring at her.
“Nope,” she says. “My sixteen-year-old daughter got suspended for punching her counselor in the face.”
“Did he deserve it?” Daniel asks.
“Oh, probably,” she says.
“Well,” he says. “Okay.” He disappears back into the kitchen to finish dinner. She sighs, rises to her feet, unbuttons her blouse as she goes down the dark hallway toward her room. Daniel washes her dirty laundry when she’s gone, so there are a set of clean pajamas in the drawer and she changes quietly.
When she comes back out, dinner is on the table and Daniel is easing a cork out of a bottle of red wine.
“My wine glasses all broke in the move,” Daniel says. “We’re not too good for regular glasses right?”
“I’d drink it out of a coffee mug at this point,” she says. “Hell, I’d drink it out of a measuring cup.”
“That I do have, if you’d prefer,” he says, but pulls two clear, glass tumblers out of the cupboard and pours them both some wine.
“You need to get married,” Sam says. “Then people give you things like wine glasses for free.”
“Unless you’re you and Jack and you already had everything and got married at a court house.”
“Well,” she says. “But seriously.”
“Nah,” he says.
“What happened to... to... Sheila?”
“Sherri,” he says. “It was... she was fine, but not...” He sighs, and sits down, staring at his burger and the little pile of limp lettuce next to it that they’re calling a salad. “Not right.”
“Daniel,” she says. “You could call her.”
“We were talking about you, I thought,” Daniel says. “And your children.”
“I saw her two weeks ago at the summit and she asked about you,” Sam presses.
“I don’t want to talk about Vala,” Daniel says so seriously that she backs right off.
“Besides,” he says. “You’re a fine wife. We’re very happy.”
“Yeah,” she says. “But you shouldn’t have to share.”
“Jack doesn’t mind,” he says teasingly.
“Jack wants you to move home,” she says. “I do too.” She takes a bite of her burger and swallows. “And Vala.”
“So what are you going to do about Ellie?” Daniel asks pointedly.
“God,” she says. “I don’t... we tried public school but she was miserable, we tried home school but she needs more interaction than that, and private school was working, I thought, but at this point she’s just so...”
“Stunning?” he asks.
“When she was little and we figured out about her ability, it never occurred to me how much sex she’d have to deal with. I can’t imagine having to hear that every day.” She wrinkles her nose.
“Yeah,” he says. “Good thing you could never read our minds.”
“Between Jack, Teal’c, and I, you might have killed us all long ago,” he grins. “Pretty young thing that you were.”
“A long, long time ago,” she says.
“You and Jack look the same. And Teal’c. Where’s my Asgard face lift, hmmm?” he asks. Daniel has gone pretty gray in the last couple years, the lines around his eyes deeper than before.
“Come home to Colorado,” she says. “And I’ll see what I can do.”
“Like a broken record,” he says, drinking his wine.
Simon is in the garage, tinkering with his mom’s old Indian. It broke down several months ago and she’d promised to help him get it back running again, but she’s never home enough, so instead he’s been trying to figure it out himself. He doesn’t have the right parts.
“Hey,” Ellie says from the door that leads into the house. “Aren’t you freezing?” The sun never really hits the garage enough to warm it up and it’s at least twenty degrees colder than in the house.
“Nah,” he says.
“I made dinner,” she says. “Come have some.”
“Where is dad?” he asks.
“I don’t know,” she says. “The mountain, I think.”
“I’m not that hungry,” he says, picking up a socket wrench.
“Si,” she says. She knows he’s lying. She always knows.
“Fine,” he says.
“She’s coming home tomorrow,” Ellie reminds him. “She’ll help you then.”
“You don’t have to defend her,” Simon snaps, following her into the kitchen. “We both know she’s gone more than she’s here.”
“You’d rather she’d be hanging around all the time, making you do your homework and talking to your friends?” Ellie asks.
It’s a fair point. He washes the grease off his hands in the sink. Ellie has put together some casserole and it sits on the stove top, steaming and smelling wonderful. She’s a good cook because she’s Ellie; she’s good at everything. Everything she touches turns right to gold. To platinum. To naquadah laced with trinium, dipped in a vat of tretonin and rolled in blood diamonds.
“Ouch,” she says. “Very dramatic.”
“How’s suspended life?” he asks, smirking.
“Oh, swell,” she says, cutting the casserole into squares. “I watched some day time television and read a book and tried not to go totally bonkers with boredom.”
“How’d that go?”
“I have one more day of it,” she sighs.
“You’re going to fall behind in your school work if you aren’t careful, Eleanor,” he says teasingly.
“Shut up,” she says. They’re both so dreadfully bored in school all the time that it’s almost not funny. She deals with it by being at the top of her class, he deals with it by never turning anything in. “Are you going to do your homework today?”
“Pfft,” he says, taking the plate she offers him.
“Well,” she says, disapprovingly. “At least let me do it for you.”
“I don’t care,” he says. “Do what you want.” He points to his backpack in the hall and takes his dinner back to the garage, the door slamming behind him. She frowns but drags his backpack to the kitchen table. She eats her dinner while she looks through his binders. The work is all there, in fact, his physics binder looks like something off mom’s shelf and she’d wager his teacher wouldn’t understand half of his calculations.
She writes his English essay for him - five pages on Hamlet and prints it out, slides it into his notebook, puts his backpack back by the door. It’s not all, but it’s something. And it ate up her evening.
Dad comes home as she’s spooning the leftovers into a large tupperware dish.
“Oh,” he says. “I’ll eat that.”
She hands it over and he stands by the sink, eating it with a fork.
“How was your day, princess?” he asks around the food in his mouth.
“Boring,” she says. “How was the mountain?”
“Boring,” he says. “Where’s Simon?”
“Garage,” she says. “You were at the mountain right?”
“Oh, yeah,” he says, not quite looking at her. He’s thinking about the mountain awfully hard. Too hard.
“Daddy,” she says. And then she gets what he’s trying to hide. A flash of her school and then, more clearly, a small house. “Daddy, what did you do?”
“Nothing,” he says, hiding his face in the fridge, looking for a beer.
“Who lives in that house?” she demands.
“No one,” he says. “I mean, what... I mean, don’t worry about it, okay?”
“Is that... god, is that Mr. Ross’s house?” she asks. “Did you actually go kill him?”
“No!” he says. “Uncle Cam and I just... scouted out the place.”
“Scouted it out for what, exactly?” she says.
“Because you hearing his thoughts isn’t going to get that man fired,” her dad says. “We need some proof.”
“Dad,” she sighs. “You can’t just... entrap him.”
“Well we’ll just see what Mom has to say about it,” he grumbles. She rolls her eyes. The truth of the matter is that she is smarter than her father and they both know it, so anytime they start to have a squabble, he waits for her mother to come play referee and judge.
“I’m pretty sure Mom is gonna be anti-murder,” she says, walking out of the kitchen. “And she’s not gonna like that you dragged Uncle Cam into it either.”
“We’ll just see about that!” her dad yells.
Ellie’s room is over the garage and she can hear Simon trying to get the Indian to start with no success. Ellie lies on the bed and listens to the engine struggle and fail, listens to the sound of Simon dropping his wrench and cursing, his bad language filtered up through the vents. She tries to stay out of Simon’s head and he’s gotten good at blocking her out over the years.
She’s frustrated with herself for creating this mess. Gene Ross is a disgusting human filled with vile and violent images but he’s also a coward who would never have the guts to touch her. She should have just gritted her teeth and left and instead she’d let her emotions - her fear - overtake her and now she’s here, waiting out a stupid punishment so she can go back to a school that does very little to educate her. She’s read all the books. She knows the material.
It’s so, so frustrating.
“Ellie?” her dad calls up the stairs. “Did you make a dessert?”
Her whole life is frustrating.
Jack picks Sam up from the base even though as a General, she’s entitled to force some airman to drive her home. It’s an errand he likes, almost a tradition, hefting her bag into the back and opening the door for her. Kissing her hello. When the kids were still young, they all picked mom up but lately, it’s just been Jack and Sam.
“Hi,” he says.
“Hi,” she responds with a soft smile. She gives him a peck and gets into the car. It’s not a long drive to the house but Jack won’t rush it. They don’t have a ton of time alone. “Daniel sends his love.”
“Did you tell him to move home?” Jack asks.
“I’m working on it,” Sam says. “I can’t blame him for wanting to stay. He makes a lot of money at that museum.”
“Yeah I’m sure being on retainer for the United States Government doesn’t hurt either,” Jack mutters.
“And yet he still lives like a bachelor in that depressing little apartment,” Sam says.
“Everything about Daniel is depressing,” Jack says. “I just wish he’d come home.”
“He seems to think there’s nothing for him here,” she says. “I told him we used to be enough but he’s getting immune to my guilt trips.”
“He should teach me that trick,” Jack mutters.
“I know when Vala lost the baby it was gonna be bad for a while but I just... it’s not like Daniel just to quit,” Sam shakes her head. “It’s been three years.”
“Well, Sam,” Jack says, swallowing. “That’s not a thing you just get over.”
Sam falls silent. Even after two children and all these years of marriage, Charlie is a subject she’s still not allowed to touch.
“I’m not... saying they need to get over it,” she says, finally, as Jack navigates into their neighborhood. “But I think if it keeps ruling their lives, they’re going to stay miserable.”
He doesn’t disagree.
The kids are already asleep when they get in. Simon is sacked out on the couch downstairs instead of
in his bed, the television on the history channel. Jack shuts it off. Sam kisses his head and Simon doesn’t stir. Jack carries her bag upstairs and she follows him but when he turns right for the master bedroom, she turns left to head down the hall toward Ellie. When she opens the door, the dog at the foot of the bed lifts his head and starts wagging his tail, the appendage thumping loudly against the mattress.
“Quinn, shut up,” Ellie mumbles, and then, “Mommy?”
“Hi,” she says. “Sorry to wake you.”
“It’s okay,” Ellie says, shoving the dog to the floor. He yawns and pads off to find more amiable company. “Not like I have to be up for school.”
Sam slips off her uniform jacket and steps out of her shoes and Ellie scoots over. Sam slips into the bed with her and presses against her daughter’s warm body.
“Maybe we need a new plan,” Sam says, kissing the top of her head.
“You always say that,” she murmurs. “Maybe I should go live with Uncle Daniel for a while.”
“Sure, over my cold, dead body,” Sam says, holding her tighter.
“You don’t think things would be better if I went away for awhile?” Ellie asks.
“Nothing will ever be better by you going away from me,” Sam says. “I need you, Ellie.”
“For evolutionary purposes,” Ellie snorts, tired enough that her bitterness is hard to shield. “To give to the United States Government when I’m all grown up.”
Sam sits up in the bed and stares down at her and Ellie can just make out her horrified expression in the darkness.
“That is not true!” Sam says. “Ellie! I would... no one is going to make you do anything you don’t want to do! God, what kind of people do you think we are?”
Ellie rolls her eyes, undeterred. She knows her mother is telling the truth, but she also has heard her mother think ‘when she’s old enough for gate travel’ often enough that she knows where her future lies.
“You need to spend some more time with Simon,” Ellie says, rolling over so her back is to her mother. “He’s the one who is crashing and burning, or haven’t you noticed?”
It’s easy enough to be cruel. There’s something satisfying about the wave of anguish that comes off her mother as she says this. She’s been good her whole life, quiet and patient and forgiving of those who probably didn’t deserve forgiveness and maybe she’s going to embrace her new life as a delinquent. Maybe Eleanor Carter-O’Neill is going to leave her good girl days behind her and take a page out of Simon’s book and say fuck the whole wide world.
Her mother shuts the door when she leaves.
Ellie is ready for school. It’s not a game day so she’s in her regular school uniform instead of her cheerleading one which is fine. The blood isn’t going to come out of that one anyway.
Her father is sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and working the crossword puzzle. Usually her parents do this together. Ellie drops her backpack and slides into her seat.
“Hungry?” her dad asks casually.
“No,” Ellie says. She probes but her dad has walls up and she knows that takes some energy, so he must be hiding something good. “Where’s mom?”
“At your school,” he says.
“What? Why?” Ellie asks. Her father takes his time, filling in a word and pausing rather dramatically.
“She’s withdrawing you,” he says finally.
“Um,” Ellie says, confused.
“We talked about it,” Jack says. “You can test out of high school, Ellie, we all know that. Why make you go?”
“Socialization, I thought,” she mumbled.
“Well,” he says, sipping his coffee slowly, loudly, and in what appears to be the most irritating way possible. “I don’t think you’re gonna get more socialized than this.”
“That feels like an insult,” she mumbles, reaching for the plate of toast in the middle of the table. It’s cold but she nibbles one corner anyway.
“Well, it feels like it,” she says, sullenly.
“Cheer up, sour puss! Do you know how many sixteen year old girls would give their blond ponytail in order to get out of going to high school?” her dad asks.
“What am I supposed to do instead, exactly?” she asks. Her father’s seemingly unending boyish exuberance is always trying.
“Your mom has a plan,” he says. “She always has a plan.”
So Ellie waits.
Eventually, bored of her father’s attempt at lighthearted chit-chat, she abandons breakfast and her school bag and slumps for yet another day in front of the television.
She’s watching music videos of songs she doesn’t even like when her mom comes home with Vala.
“Hello,” Ellie says, looking both women over.
“Guess what?” Vala asks, clapping.
“Ugh,” Ellie sighs and gets up to get her shoes.
“You know what? Your daughter is the least fun person to play ‘guess what’ with ever,” Vala complains.
“She does manage to take all the fun out of it,” Sam says, watching her daughter trudge upstairs. They’re going shopping and it’s usually something Ellie endures if not loves to do, but while she doesn’t know everything yet, Ellie knows that this shopping trip is a prelude to something. Something big.
Her mother slips her hand into her father’s jeans pocket and fishes out his truck keys. Ellie and Vala stand by the door and watch this, watch her mother’s slim wrist disappear and then reappear, watch her father’s smirk and lean in for a kiss that is just a little longer than Ellie is strictly comfortable with.
Vala sighs, wistfully, and thinks of Daniel. Ellie feels like she should say something comforting, but having never had a relationship, she has no idea what that might be.
“Have fun,” Jack says. His walls go up again and Ellie probes a little harder and Jack looks at her knowingly and with mild-disapproval and she backs off, a little ashamed. But he knows what’s happening and Ellie doesn’t like secrets.
The back seat of the truck is filled with soccer balls because her dad still coaches pee wee soccer even though she and Simon are too old for that, now. Sam drives and Ellie squishes into the middle because she is the smallest and Vala rolls the window down and sticks her head out like a dog as Sam backs out of the driveway and heads onto the street, towards town.
“Where are we going?” Ellie asks.
“REI,” says her mother. “To start.”
“You promised Victoria’s Secret,” Vala says.
“I did,” her mother relents.
“We have traditions to uphold,” Vala says. “Reputations to maintain.”
“I said we’d go,” her mother says.
“Beautiful blond daughters to buy sexy underwear for,” Vala continues.
“Nope,” Sam says as Ellie scrunches her face up uncomfortably. “My beautiful blond sixteen-year-old daughter may have practical underwear. She may even have pretty underwear but I am not ready for her to be sexy, thanks.”
“You lost your virginity at sixteen,” Ellie points out.
“I regret that I did not wait,” Sam says.
“Liar,” she mutters, slumping into her seat. Vala says nothing and when Ellie glances at her, her face looks strained. She’s trying not to think about it, but Ellie can see it quite clearly nonetheless. The dark room, the big man, the rough hands. Ellie is beginning to understand a few things about her aunt Vala - that for a lot of her life, making choices hadn’t been a privilege.
“I’ve never had sex,” Ellie says to Vala now. “Because every time a man wants to have sex with me, he thinks about jamming his dick in my mouth, or holding me down, or choking me and I just... men scare me.”
Sam pulls the truck over. The closest driveway had been a gas station and she eases the truck into an empty space out by the air and water pump. Her hands are tight on the steering wheel and the sound of the traffic is loud through Vala’s open window. Sam takes a deep, uneven breath.
“Darling,” Vala says now. “Men are violent by nature and that is a valuable lesson to learn early in life. But not all men want to hurt you.”
Ellie nods. Maybe that’s true, but the ones who do think about it loudly and clearly.
“Samantha,” Vala says now, because Sam is still clutching the wheel and clenching her teeth hard. “Are you all right?”
Ellie can hear what her mother is thinking easily because it’s the same thing over and over again.
Get her off the planet. Just get her off the planet.
“Are you taking me through the Stargate?” Ellie asks. It makes a certain sense. Taking her out of school, and shopping for excursion clothing, all the secrets her dad has been keeping.
Sam ignores her and unbuckles her seat belt so she can reach over and put her arms around her daughter.
“I love you,” Sam says. “I’m sorry I can’t do more.”
“You do plenty, mom,” Ellie says. “Really.”
Sam drops a kiss on her head and puts her seat belt back on.
And anyway, Ellie thinks it should be Simon that everyone is worried about. Just because he can’t read minds doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what everyone is thinking.
Ellie has only ever seen the Stargate once. Something had gone wrong with the system and her mother and father had both been called to the mountain. Ellie understood a little about what was happening from her mother’s fleeting, fragmented thoughts. There were people trapped on other planets and no one was coming home until the system was fixed.
Simon had been eleven years old, had looked at his mother’s notes and had said quite certainly, “Mom, I know how to fix this.”
“Honey,” Sam had said helplessly. But her father had understood Simon better, had put the family in the van and had steered them toward the mountain.
“Talk it out, buddy,” Jack had said. Ellie rode in the front next to him, and Simon and her mother in the back, their heads bent over her mother’s tattered notebook.
In the mountain, Jack held Ellie up in the briefing room. She was nine, too big to be in his arms but she’d sat a little on the window ledge and leaned against him. To her, the Stargate was unremarkable - a big stone circle of nothing in an otherwise empty room.
Simon had fixed the system in two hours. He’d written a patch to override the malfunction. Everyone had clapped for him when the big circle began to spin, each chevron locking with a loud bang. Ellie had hidden her face when the event horizon formed. Her father had squeezed her tight as the unstable horizon shot out and then calmed, rippling like water in a pond on a breezy day.
“Daddy,” she’d said. “But why do you miss it?”
“Because it’s how I found your mom,” he’d said. “And it was special.”
Jack had driven Ellie home when it got late, but Simon stayed in the mountain with mom deep into the night, watched the stranded teams spill down the ramp as they were all, finally, called home.
Looking back, Ellie thinks this is the beginning of where things went bad for Simon. Where he’d learned that he was never going to fit in well enough. Too smart for school, too young for anything that really interested him. Special enough to be considered peculiar and off-putting, but not quite as special as his sister. And on top of that, he had the shadow of a dead brother to live in.
So Simon had stopped trying. Had stopped offering his unique perspective, had stopped turning in assignments, had stopped running just a little faster than the other boys, had stopped confiding in his little sister, had stopped playing catch with his dad. And one day, when he was fourteen, he’d come home stoned, his brain deliciously slow and quiet and Ellie had felt like she’d lost too much of him to ever really have him back.
Now, Ellie has boots and a sturdy jacket for gate travel and Simon has an old Indian that doesn’t run right.
It’s Sam that had volunteered her daughter for a mission through the gate, Sam that had arranged it with the president and the Air Force and the IOA. Sam that had explained that the people on the other side of the rippling circle of light had no language but obviously communicated with one another and so far, the Air Force had not been able to figure out a way how to initiate complex contact. But it was Jack’s idea.
“What about Ellie?” he’d said.
“What about me?” she’d asked. They’d been eating dinner, Simon mysteriously absent. Out with friends.
“You can read minds,” Jack said.
“It’s a little more subtle than that, daddy,” she’d complained. Sam had said nothing at the time.
Ellie sits on a bench in the women’s locker room and laces up her boots. She’s worn them only once before, in the store, and her mother is fretting about this now. Ellie pulls the laces one last time, a sharp motion, and the leather creaks. She makes a bow, double knots it, and lets her foot fall to the floor. Everything feels odd. The sturdy and stiff shoes, the olive green pants, the black t-shirt. She is close to her mother’s height, but not nearly so solid, so when her mother hands her a jacket from the locker that had once been hers, it’s a little too big on her.
“It’ll do,” her mom says as she struggles to zip it up with too long sleeves.
“It’s just for the day, right?” Ellie asks.
“Maybe two,” her mom answers, but Ellie sees right past that. Sees memories of destroyed DHDs, of crude prison cells, of long and inky nights spent in tents.
“Is something going to go wrong?” Ellie asks.
“Something always goes wrong,” her mother says. “It’s just a matter of what.” And this, at least, is honest.
They pack her back pack together. Sam explains each item that goes in and why they take it - things like the first aid kit and canteen are obvious. But other things are not so clear. Her mom places what looks like a rock in the pack and says, “Communication device based on an Asgard design. If they think it’s just a rock, they’re less likely to take it.”
When she’s all packed up, her blond braid tucked up into her green cap, she follows her mom to the gate room.
She’s surprised to see her dad there, even more surprised to see her uncle Daniel, and nearly floored to see her brother, hanging back by the door.
“General,” Daniel says with a smile. He looks at Ellie. “Mini-me.”
“Yeah, Christ on a cracker, Ellie, could you look more like your mother?” her dad says.
“The matching outfits don’t help,” Ellie says. She looks at her Uncle Daniel, who is all geared up, too. “You coming with?”
“Special favor for your mom,” he says. “I flew out early this morning.”
“What about you, daddy?” Ellie asks.
“Nah,” he says. “Someone has to hold down the fort while the General is off gallivanting around the universe.”
She lets the adults catch up and walks over to her brother. His arms are crossed over his chest and his brown hair falls into his eyes.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hey nerd,” he replies.
“I wish you were coming,” she says.
“Yeah well, I’m not what they want,” he says. “Not the mind-reader they’re looking for.”
“You could do it,” she says. “It’s in you, too, you know.” No one can communicate with her like Simon can. And while he doesn’t have the mind dexterity that she seems to possess, she has no doubt with some training, he could hear the things she does. But he is reluctant, at best, to try. Always so afraid of being different.
“Not like you,” he says. “Besides, I don’t want this life.”
“Like I do?” she asks but he squints at her and then rolls his eyes.
“Yeah, you do,” he says.
“Mom seems to think I need convincing,” Ellie says, shifting her pack. It’s already heavy and her heels are already uncomfortable in the stiff boots, just from standing. It’s gonna be a long day if they have to hike much.
“Mom has never been good at listening to either one of us,” Simon says. “Not when it counts.”
Her mother’s voice draws their attention back toward the Stargate.
“We leave in five minutes,” she says. Ellie nods and turns back to her brother.
“Something could go wrong,” Ellie says now. “If I die out there, will you miss me?”
“Shut up,” Simon says. “You aren’t going to die.”
She grins at him.
“But I will miss you,” he relents. “Who will do my homework?”
“Simon,” she says. “You know that if you just get through high school, you could do whatever you wanted.”
“Easy for you to say,” he says. “You didn’t even have to do that. Mom just let you skip right by.”
“I had to take a test,” she says.
“Why can’t I do that?” he shoots back.
“Because, like every test you have, you probably wouldn’t even show up,” she says.
“Oh,” he says, smirking. “Fair enough.”
She shoves him and he shoves her back and then it sort of falls apart into a shoving match that their dad has to break up.
“Quit it, you hooligans,” Jack says, pulling her by her pack toward the ramp. “Simon, come say goodbye to your mom.”
Jack faces her, his hands on her arms and leans in under the brim of her hat to kiss her cheek.
“Kiddo,” he says. “You are the most important girl in my life, so I need you to be really careful, okay?”
“I got briefed, dad, I know all the rules and stuff,” she says.
“I know you do,” he says. “But still. Be careful. Listen to Mom and Daniel and stay safe, but the best thing, the best thing you can do if you hit trouble is run.”
“Run?” she asks.
“Run and hide until you can get back to the gate,” he says. “You have your GDO?” She nods. “Forget about the team. They are grown ups who can take care of themselves, you just need to come home to me no matter what.”
He is kind of freaking her out.
“I’m just gonna go see if I can talk to some people,” she says. “Right?”
“You never know what’s on the other side,” he says. “Not really. So stay sharp. And listen to Mom.”
“She’s the general,” Ellie replies. “See you soon, daddy.”
“You betcha,” he says.
Simon gives her one last shove as she passes and she sends him a thought.
I might not like it, you know.
He rolls his eyes.
Wanna bet? he sends back. She sticks her tongue out just as the gate starts to spin.
As the sixth chevron locks, Uncle Cam comes jogging in.
“Colonel Mitchell,” her mother says with a soft smile. “Glad you decided to join us after all.”
“You aren’t late until the last chevron locks,” he says with a grin. “General.”
“Luckily,” she says.
“Hey squirt,” Cam says, falling next to Ellie. She looks up at him.
“Hey,” she says.
“You scared?” he asks.
“Yep,” she says. He just smiles.
“Yo, General, I thought SG-9 was coming with us,” he says.
“They’re already there, holding the gate,” she says and then turns to Ellie. The gate locks and the wormhole races to life.
“Holy crap,” Ellie says, jaw dropping.
“I always wanted to see your face the first time you saw that,” her mother says. “Beautiful.”
“Amazing,” Ellie says.
“Remember,” her mom instructs. “It’ll be disorienting, but it will pass.”
“I know,” Ellie says. “Let’s just go before I get too scared.”
“Wait,” says Cam. “Where’s Vala?”
Ellie gets a wave from Daniel. Anger, longing, regret. His face does nothing to hide it, and she can tell from her mother’s expression that Ellie isn’t the only one picking up on it, either.
“Not this round,” Sam says, stepping onto the ramp. “Come on, Ellie.”
Ellie steps up beside her mother. Sam pauses just at the event horizon. It doesn’t seem real to Ellie. How can this be real?
“Come on,” her mother says. She takes Ellie’s hand and together they step through.
“So,” Jack says.
Simon sits in the passenger’s seat, his long legs extended deep under the dash. His window is cracked just enough that the air blowing in makes it hard to hear. Jack tries again.
“Simon,” he says.
Simon doesn’t look up.
“Girls are gone,” he says. “Maybe you and I could do something?”
“Maybe,” Simon says, noncommittally.
“Go to the auto parts store?” Jack offers. They both know that Simon could take that old Indian apart and put it together backwards and the thing would still run. The only reason it doesn’t run now is the missing part - because Simon likes to hide in the garage.
“Sure,” he says. “Whatever.”
Jack sighs, presses on the gas a little harder. He thinks about when Simon was young, before school had turned him in on himself. How he and Ellie used to play together for hours, quietly, the silence interrupted only by their spontaneous, identical giggles. They both laughed like Sam. Simon hadn’t always been this distant, this secretive. The only one who ever has any hope of cracking him is Ellie, and by now she’s light years away.
“Hey,” Jack says. “Can you still hear her?”
“Huh?” Simon asks.
“Your sister,” Jack says. “Is she still there?”
“No,” Simon says. “She’s long gone.”
“They’ll be back before we know it,” Jack says, partly for Simon’s sake and partly for his own. It’s never easy, Sam going off world without him and when she’d been promoted, it’d been a happy day for him. Now she’s gone and she’s taken his daughter with him. His knuckles are white on the wheel.
“Dad, you’re speeding,” Simon says, sitting up slightly. And he’s right. When Jack glances down, he’s going 65 in a 40 zone. He eases off again.
“You want to get steaks?” Jack asks.
“Yeah,” Simon says. “Sure. I could eat a steak.”
O’Malley’s is only a block away, after all. Jack drives them there. It’s almost eight o’clock and the parking lot is packed. Ellie had seemed a little off-put at leaving so late, at her mother putting her down for a nap at sixteen, but eight o’clock in Colorado is never eight o’clock on another planet. Somehow, never.
Jack parks, jamming the truck into a compact space and then they both struggle to get out.
Jack holds the door for his son, who shuffles in, his hands deep in his coat pocket. The host, a young girl with pale skin and dark hair, looks up at Simon in wide eyes.
“Hi,” she says, energetically. “Two?”
“Name please?” she asks. “I’m Caroline, by the way.”
Smooth, Jack thinks. Simon seems, at best, uninterested.
“Carter,” he says. “For two.”
Simon is handsome, even Jack can see that without bias. He’s tall and lean and though his hair is long and in his face and occasionally unwashed, his skin is clear and his eyes a clear brown - lighter than Jack’s and the better for it. Simon is strong, too, smart when he wants to be. He’d be a good solider, a fine pilot or scientist or historian or anything he wanted to be. It’s just the apathy that holds him back. A complete and total disinterest that no one can seem to crack. Even when he’s reading a book, watching the television, rebuilding a computer, or working on the old bike, even then he seems bored.
When they’re seated, sipping on their glasses of ice water, waiting for their server to come back around, Jack decides that all he can do, at this point, is ask.
“What is it that you want, exactly?” Jack asks. Simon looks up, a little confused. “What is your best case scenario for you life?”
Simon shakes his head, his long hair shadowing his eyes. He touches the scuffed black handle of his steak knife and gives it a spin, the blade glinting in the light from the hanging bulb over their heads.
“I just want to be left alone,” Simon says.
That, Jack thinks, is a pretty bold lie.
Something is wrong.
Sam watches Ellie struggle. The first time through the gate is always disorienting. It’s better now, than when she and Jack first blindly jumped. The computer compensates enough that they don’t come out frozen to the bone at breakneck speeds, but it still is a strange sensation.
But Ellie wobbles and winces and the moment she should find her legs and straighten up, she doesn’t.
She hits her knees, her hands on her head.
“Ellie?” Sam says, rushing over. Cam has his gun up but the only people who greet them are SG-9 who are glancing around looking confused.
“No,” Ellie moans, her hands over her ears. “Too much, too much.”
“Ellie,” Sam yells, grabbing her wrist. Sam tries to haul her to her feet but as soon as Ellie gets up, she curls in again.
“Make it stop,” she pleads, just before leaning farther over to throw up.
“Daniel,” Sam says helplessly. “What? What’s going on.”
“I don’t... I don’t know, I don’t know,” Daniel says, shaking his head. “Ellie? Honey? Do you hear me?”
Ellie looks up at him just long enough for Daniel to see her eyes roll back into her head. He tosses his gun to Cam, who catches it one handed, and manages to ease Ellie to the ground.
“Does anyone else feel anything?” Daniel shouts.
“No sir!” someone responds.
“Cam, dial us home,” Sam says and then sighs. “Belay that, dial the alpha site.”
It’s her own tight gate schedule. The president wants as many teams out in the field as possible so the deployment schedule is always heavy. The odds of them getting a lock at this time are slim.
“Yes, ma’am,” Cam says. “But what if it’s the gate that did this to her?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “But we can’t stay here. It isn’t secure.”
Sam doesn’t think it’s the Stargate. If anything, her daughter is genetically designed for gate travel. If anything, Ellie should feel her cells hum as the gate takes them apart and knits them together again.
Daniel lifts Ellie into his arm and Sam slings her pack over her shoulder and Cam slaps his palm against seven symbols and then the red, glowing center.
“Stay here,” she tells Colonel Norriega. It isn’t much of an order but to his credit, the Colonel nods and doesn’t question what that means.
The gate locks and Sam punches in the code.
“Come on,” Daniel says to no one. Sam and Cam are hot on his heels.
Sam has a fleeting, panicked thought about how hard it had been to go off-world with Jack after she’d fallen in love with him and how that doesn’t even compare to how she feels now, her child in danger. Her own flesh and bone hanging limply in Daniel’s arms, pale and unresponsive.
Ellie wakes up and it’s so quiet and she takes a few shaky breaths and when she decides it’s okay again, she opens her eyes.
They’re at the foot of the gate, but it’s not the same gate and her mom and Daniel and Cam are all lying on the ground, too. She’s sprawled over Daniel and, embarrassed, Ellie scurries off him and wipes her hands on her pants.
“Mom?” she says.
She thinks about her dad, how he’d said to run and she considers, briefly, dialing Earth because she knows how to do at least that, but then what? She can’t drag three people through. She doesn’t even know where they are. She wallows for a few moments, panic rising like a loud noise in her heart, but then Cam groans and rolls his head and she drops to her knees next to him.
“Colonel Mitchell,” she says.
“Sam?” he says and then opens his eyes and blinks a bit. “Sorry, Ellie.”
“Where are we?” she asks.
But he trails off, looking around.
“I don’t know,” he says and scrambles to Sam. “Hey, General.” He presses his fingers to her neck and so Ellie mimics him, her fingers cool against Daniel’s warm, steady pulse. They both come around easily enough and then the panic seems ridiculous and she feels ashamed. She’s with SG-1 and things are going to be fine.
“What happened?” Daniel asks, his glasses askew.
“Ellie,” Sam says and then, seeing that her daughter is alive and alert, looks around. “Mitchell, I said Alpha site.”
“I did,” he says. “Hand to God, Sam.”
“I don’t,” she says. “I don’t know where we are.”
Daniel squints at Ellie. Ellie looks away.
“What happened?” he asks.
“I could...” Ellie shakes her head, the memory of the pain too fresh to distance herself from. “I could hear them.”
“Hear who?” he asks.
“Everyone,” Ellie whispers. “The entire population of that planet. All at once.”
Sam reacts first, as she usually does.
“I should have thought of that,” she says. “Ellie, honey, I should have... considered that, I am so sorry.”
“Maybe you should stop apologizing,” Ellie says. It comes out harshly, she doesn’t mean it to be, and Sam recoils like Ellie has slapped her and Cameron looks at his boots and Daniel makes this little face and watches Sam like she might need him, somehow. “I just... I already know how you feel so why don’t we just figure out where we are, okay?”
“Okay,” Daniel says. He’s spent twenty years playing referee between her parents so this mother-daughter thing should be small potatoes for him, or so he thinks. “If you truly dialed the Alpha site and we ended up here, then we must have jumped gates, right?”
“Maybe,” Sam says uneasily. “If Cam really dialed the Alpha site...”
“I really did, for the record, but let’s all just keep saying it like that for fun,” Cam says.
“Okay, so you dialed the Alpha site and we ended up here instead. We either jumped because of an energy surge...”
“Lightning or a solar flare or something,” Daniel offers.
“Or we got re-routed,” Sam finishes. “Something was wrong on the other end and it sent us to a different location.”
“Either way, though, the gate would have sent us to the next closest gate,” Daniel says.
“Next closest available gate,” Sam corrects.
“But we had the lock,” Cam says. “Why would we re-direct with a lock?”
“It’s a complicated system,” Sam says. “Anything could have gone wrong.”
“And you all think it’s smart to use this crappy system like a subway?” Ellie asks.
“Hey,” Cam says. “Little respect, please.”
She huffs but does not apologize.
“Let’s try dialing home,” Sam says. Daniel moves fastest, walking up to the DHD and studying the symbols.
“Most of these look familiar,” he says and starts pressing. When he palms the red center, the gate doesn’t lock. “Uh.”
“Try the Alpha site,” she says and this time she stands at his shoulder and watches each symbol carefully even though Cam rolls his eyes and kicks at the dirt with his boot.
“No lock,” Daniel says.
“Okay, well,” Sam says. “Start down the list of friendlies until you get a lock.”
“Yeah,” he says.
“Cam, let’s look around. Ellie, you need to stay with your uncle Daniel,” Sam orders. Her natural inclination is to fight back against her mother, or any orders, but they talked about this before she agreed to go through the gate. Her mom isn’t just being her mom, she’s being the commanding officer.
“I don’t think there’s anyone here,” Ellie offers. “If it helps.”
“We still need to secure the location,” Cam says. They hike up their guns and move away from the gate. It’s not hard to see that the place is desolate though. Aside from a few scraggly trees, mostly it’s open space. A few rolling hills all covered with the same brown grass, no sign of civilization in sight. It’s as if the place they were sent is the opposite of the place they came from. That place was loud and painful and overwhelming and terrifying. This place is a silence she has never known.
Daniel still hasn’t gotten the gate to open.
“Friendlies?” Ellie asks, more for conversation than much else.
“Allies,” he says. “Planets we’ve been to before and are deemed safe.”
“But no one is answering?” Ellie asks. Daniel smirks.
“Not so far,” he says. “It could just be a busy day and we’re not calling at a good time but all these addresses in a row... it seems unlikely.”
“You think our gate is busted,” she says.
“Maybe it’s us, maybe we got re-directed because of a larger system-wide failure,” he says.
“Does that happen?”
“It has,” he sighs. One more address fails to lock. He doesn’t voice his frustration, but she still hears it loud and clear.
“Daniel,” she tsks. He doesn’t bother to look chastised. “Let’s take a look at the DHD.”
“Sam will be back soon...”
“Daniel,” she says and Daniel sends her, unintentionally, a memory of her mother saying his name in just the same way. Daniel is better than most people at sending her complete memories instead of just fragments or wisps. “Daniel,” she says again, distracted by his thought. “I could take this apart and put it together again.”
“You’ve never seen one before,” he says. “It’s always different in theory.”
“I won’t take anything apart,” she promises. “I just want to make sure nothing is fried in there.”
“Essentially, the DHD is what powers the Stargate and if something is interrupting the flow of power enough that it can’t activate the gate but can still power the DHD itself, then that is a relatively easy fix,” Ellie says, crouching down to ease the control panel away.
“Is that so,” Daniel says dryly.
“Near as I can tell,” Ellie says, pulling the panel away and peering into the pedestal, “Each crystal can still function if fractured but not if it’s cracked clear through, though if the main control crystal gets fractured, then the stress of the sheer amount of power running through it will destroy it fairly quickly, which means...”
“That if the control crystal is cracked, we should probably stop dialing randomly because it could fry our main crystal and really strand us here and that would...”
“Ellie, honey,” Daniel says. She looks up at him.
“Why do you know all of this?” he asks, his voice gentle enough that it feels condescending.
“Well,” she says. “Because mom knows it, I guess. I’ve looked at her journals, I’ve looked at her thoughts... and I guess some of it I was just born with.”
He studies her for a moment and she looks back.
“Okay,” he says.
She turns her attention back to the DHD and eases out the main crystal. It looks fine - not a chip or a flaw anywhere. It will be easier to inspect the rest of the crystals with that one out of the way but she puts it back and decides to wait for her mom, if only for Daniel’s sake.
“I’m not her,” she says, rising up and wiping her hands on her pants. “I may look like her and sound like her, but we’re really different.”
“No one says you’re her,” Daniel says. “No one says you’re supposed to be.”
“No,” Ellie says. “I’m supposed to be better, some how.”
“Like just because you’re born with a gift, it obligates you to use it,” Daniel says.
“Exactly,” Ellie says.
“Your mom said the same thing to me once,” Daniel says.
“Dramatic sigh,” Ellie says. Daniel makes a face but then gets serious. She feels a lecture coming on.
“You know, when Simon was born, Sam was all freaked out that everyone would expect him to be this boy wonder and she told him all time that he didn’t have to save anyone if he didn’t want to and he could do whatever he wanted with his life,” Daniel says. “And when you came around, in the way that you did, I think the pressure of having this perfect precious girl terrified her a bit.”
“No one is perfect,” Ellie says.
“No,” he agrees. “Not even you.”
“What are you saying, anyway?” she asks.
“I’m saying that maybe with you she swung too far in the other direction. Instead of telling you that you didn’t have to be anything, she told you that you could be everything,” he offers.
“And now Simon is a slacker on the way to being a drop-out and I’m a teenage superhero,” she says.
“Superhero?” he chortles. “Come on, your first time through the gate you threw up and passed out. That’s hardly shattering any records.”
She rolls her eyes. “Fair enough.”
The radios in their vests click and then Cam’s voice comes through. “This here is a ghost town. We’re coming on back.”
“Copy,” Daniel says and then refocuses on her. “It’s gonna be fine, sweetie.”
“Even if we are,” he says. “We’ll sort it out.”
“You should tell her,” Ellie offers. “Mom, I mean.”
“Tell her what?” he asks.
“That you love her,” Ellie says. Daniel shifts only slightly, just the smallest of tells.
“She knows,” Daniel says. “I mean, I love your dad, too. And Teal’c. Maybe it comes off as different because your mom is a woman but they all know.”
“Good,” Ellie says.
“And you should stay out of my head,” he says.
“It’s hard,” Ellie says, honestly. “You like to send me things.”
“I don’t mean to,” he says.
“I know,” she promises. “You’re just open. Anyway. I guess this means you don’t want to talk about Vala?”
Something inside Daniel slams down like an iron wall and suddenly, she might as well be alone.
“I’ll take that as a no, I guess,” she says.
Jack wakes Simon up early in the morning. Mostly, his family stays out of his room. He keeps it clean, obsessively neat and his family doesn’t stay out because they respect his space, they stay out because if something gets nudged or knocked over or moved, it upsets his whole week.
Ellie is usually pretty careful, though. They used to sleep cuddled together when they were little, after all. That he never minded much.
“Son,” Jack says, sitting carefully on the edge of the mattress. Simon’s bedspread is a mossy green quilt purchased for him at a department store. He’d liked the repeating pattern of the squares. A diagonal line of swirling paisley disappears beneath his father’s faded blue jeans.
“What are you doing in here?” Simon asks. The clock says it’s not yet seven am. His alarm hasn’t gone off yet, school is still enough in the future that getting woken up this early is quite the betrayal.
“The girls never checked in,” Jack says.
Simon blinks. His father is just starting to look older. He doesn’t think about it much, his parents and their stagnant aging, but it makes the new wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and mouth all the more stark. The only thing that makes Jack worry, really worry in that gut-roiling, finger-clenching, teeth-gnashing way is his wife. The thought of her never coming home again.
“Oh,” Simon says.
“There’s something wrong with the Stargate system,” Jack continues, his calm voice far more unsettling than panic. “No calls in, no calls out.”
“So you think they’re okay?” Simon asks, sitting up. “They just can’t make contact?”
“Before the system went completely down, we received a databurst from one of the teams that said SG-1 had attempted to go to the alpha site, but when they missed their check in, we sent a ship out there and they weren’t there,” Jack says.
“Shit,” Simon says.
“Son, I know this isn’t... what you want, necessarily, but you understand the Stargate. Do you think you could come down to the mountain with me and lend a hand?”
It’s a little heartbreaking. Simon feels it, lodged deeply, but feels it all the same. How his own father could think he wouldn’t do anything - do everything - to get his own mother and sister home... it hurts. Everyone has given up on Simon and turned their hopes towards Ellie instead and Simon thought it was what he wanted but now that he has it, it leaves him feeling quite hollow.
“Of course,” is all Simon says. “I’ll get dressed.”
Jack hands him a travel mug of coffee when he comes downstairs. Base coffee is a subject of complaint that comes up frequently in the Carter-O’Neill home. The stuff the government provides is never strong enough and so often teams will bring something back from some world claiming it is just as good as coffee or similar to coffee or, rather sacrilegiously, better than coffee and that never ends well.
Simon takes it and puts on his coat.
“What about school?” he asks.
“I’ll write you a note,” Jack says dismissively.
“I don’t want to go back,” Simon says. “Can’t I just...”
“Ack,” Jack says. “One crises at a time, okay buddy?”
Simon falls silent. Jack must notice his son’s bruised mood because he hands him the keys and lets him drive.
Simon expects the mountain to be a hotbed of activity, but instead things are eerie and quiet. It’s the kind of atmosphere that drives Ellie absolutely batty, sets her on an extreme edge. People pretending to be fine while inside, their hearts tremble like an injured bird.
The only tell are the nerds, the scientists in the control room staring at the computers, trying to make heads or tails of the information they have. One of the scientists, the one who replaced Dr. Lee a few years ago, has a look on his face like he’s watching his bus leave without him. Like he no longer has any alternate means.
“Yeah,” Jack says. “Just... you know... go on and do what you do...” He waves his hand. Jack cannot translate for him; Jack does not speak the language.
“General,” says the scientist.
“Dr. Fong,” Jack says. “Have you made any progress?”
Dr. Fong can’t even manage one word. Technically, the base is being run by the second-in-command but retired or not, civilian consultant status or not, everyone simply defers to Jack when he is here.
“Simon is gonna give you a hand,” Jack says. “Give him whatever access he needs.”
“Yes, sir,” Dr. Fong says. He wasn’t here for Simon’s wunderkind success some years prior, but surely he must know of it?
“Hey,” Simon says. He offers a head nod, a universal greeting in the language of men.
“Uh, hello,” says Dr. Fong.
“I’m gonna go use your mom’s office,” Jack says. “If you need me.”
“Hey, Dad?” Simon says. “Should... should we be worried?”
“Worried is a ways off, yet,” Jack says. “This sort of thing happens all the time.”
“Okay,” he says. He turns to Dr. Fong and shrugs his shoulders. “Where are we at?”
“Well,” Dr. Fong says, uneasily. “The Stargate forms an unstable event horizon that allows...”
“Dude,” Simon says. “Really?”
“I just...” Dr. Fong says. “How old are you?”
Simon extends his hand. “I’m Simon Carter-O’Neill,” he says. Dr. Fong shakes his hand. “I’m the son of Samantha Carter and Jack O’Neill. I think we can safely assume that I know how the fucking event horizon gets formed.”
Dr. Fong, unused to confrontation, blinks rapidly.
“Just let me see the data from the last seventy-two hours,” Simon sighs. “I’ll catch myself up.”
Simon’s dad brings him lunch. Simon looks up, surprised both that it had occurred to Jack to do so and that enough time has passed to warrant a meal.
“We could eat it in the commissary but your mom never wanted to step away,” Jack says, shooing one of the techs out of the way and taking her seat.
“Mom is usually the one who fixes these things,” Simon says, tapping the computer screen with a chewed up pen. “She’s all over here.”
“What do you mean?” Jack asks.
“Her style. Her coding, her sense of logic... her thought processes. It all just reads like she wrote it,” Simon says. “I hope they’re okay.”
“She’s got Cam and Daniel with her,” Jack says. “She’ll be fine.”
Simon wonders if he means Mom or Ellie. He doesn’t ask.
“Any updates?” Jack asks.
“It’s definitely a gate-wide malfunction. It seems like it spread exponentially - a few gates went down and then it spread out casting a wider net until the whole system went down. I’m not sure where the point of origin is, but I think we’re pretty far from it which is why we got that databurst from the Alpha site before we lost communication completely,” says Simon. He cocks his head. “If something was wrong, why didn’t they just dial here? Why try the Alpha site at all?” Simon asks.
Jack sighs, rubs his palms on his jeans.
“We’re a busy gate,” Jack says. “I think she didn’t want to back-up our departure schedule.”
“That’s retarded,” Simon says.
“Well,” Jack says. “It’s complicated.”
Simon eats his lunch sullenly.
“Hey bud?” Jack asks. “If they didn’t go to the Alpha site, where are they?”
“I need more time,” Simon says. Jack nods.
“‘Kay,” he says, and leaves him to work.
They have enough food for four days and that’s if they ration. They have water, but not a lot, and so Cam and Daniel go for a longer scouting trip to try to find a source of drinking water. Sam and Ellie set up the tent.
“Gonna be crowded,” Ellie says.
“Well,” Sam says. “We’re lucky we brought one at all.” It’s become standard. So many things can go wrong.
Ellie snorts. “Clearly.”
“Okay,” Sam says. “I know you can’t help it but...”
“Sorry,” Ellie says.
“How is your head?” Sam asks.
“Achy,” she says and then, because her mother’s worry lights up her face like a parade, she shakes her head. “I’m fine.”
“Do you want to talk about what happened?” Sam asks.
“I just... got overwhelmed.” Ellie shrugs. “On Earth, it’s all sort of background noise. You learn to tune it out. People thinking about shopping lists, humming melodies, practicing what they’re going to say - that happens a lot - but it’s all internal and I can usually just push it away.”
“But this was different?” Sam asks.
“It was so loud and so aggressive and so... intentional. I mean I guess... if you say these people communicate telepathically then it makes a certain amount of sense but it felt like an entire planet was screaming at me and...” She shakes her head.
“I didn’t like them,” she says. “It seems dishonest. Insidious. I don’t think they were good.”
“We’ll have to get cozy, you’re right,” Sam says, tossing the bedrolls into the tent. Ellie doesn’t take it as a dismissal. Her mother is considering her words carefully.
“Daniel won’t mind,” Ellie says, watching her.
“Daniel sleeps like a log,” Sam says. “It’s Cam who gets up to pee every twenty minutes.”
“Either we fix it or we wait,” Sam says. “We may have to wait longer than we’d like, but eventually... they’ll send someone.”
“How did you know what I was going to ask?” Ellie says.
“Hey,” Sam says. “You didn’t know I could read minds?” She grins and Ellie can’t help but smile back. “Okay, what do you say we really look at that DHD?”
“Yeah,” she says. “Let’s.”
By the time Cam and Daniel return, bedraggled but with full canteens, the DHD is in dozens of pieces. Ellie has spent great care in laying the crystals out in an organized fashion, creating a diagram that will make things easier to return.
“Don’t step on anything,” Ellie commands.
“No, Ma’am,” Cam says. “We wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Any news?” Daniel asks. Sam has her laptop hooked up and she’s frowning at the screen. She doesn’t hear him.
“Mom thinks the Stargate is sick,” Ellie says.
“Sick,” Daniel repeats.
“The whole system,” Ellie confirms. “Not just us which is good news, I guess.”
“Good news is relative,” Cam says.
“So it’s a waiting game,” Daniel says. “Either we wait for someone to come give us a ride or we wait for the gate to come back online but either way we wait.”
“My money is on the ride,” Cam says. “I mean, Sam is usually the one who fixes these things and Sam is here so good luck, rest of the universe.”
Sam types something in and huffs a little noise of displeasure.
“Can she hear us?” Cam asks.
“Technically, her ears are receiving the sound, yes,” Ellie says. “But she’s pretty good at that selective mom hearing thing.”
“I can hear you, I’m just choosing to ignore you,” Sam says looking up. “Did you find water?”
“We did,” Daniel says. “It’s a hike, though. We might want to consider moving the camp closer to the source.”
“But farther from the gate,” Sam says.
“Meh,” Daniel says. “Pick your poison.”
“You’re all being very cavalier about this,” Ellie says.
“You know what your dad used to call this, when we got stuck somewhere?” Daniel asks.
“A vacation,” Sam and Ellie answer together.
“He’s got a particular sense of humor,” Daniel says. “But it’s too soon to worry.”
“I have high hopes that Dr. Fong will be able to extrapolate our location,” Sam says, but Ellie knows that while Sam does have hopes, they are far from high. Daniel and Cam both look at Ellie and she just shakes her head.
“The only way we’re getting off this planet is if dad is smart enough to ask Simon for help,” Ellie says. “And Simon says yes.”
“Simon would say yes,” Sam says. She glances at Ellie. “Wouldn’t he?”
“God, I hope so,” Ellie says, and plops to the ground.
Jack finds Simon asleep in one of the guest quarters. He isn’t sure who directed his son there, but he is grateful to them nonetheless. Jack has been denied the use of a space-worthy ship to go on a blind search for his wife and daughter.
“Maybe,” the president had said, “If you have a place to look that isn’t everywhere, but until then...”
Jack had hung up on him. What was the president going to do, fire him?
Simon sleeps with something in his hand, a piece of paper - slightly wrinkled. Simon’s hand has loosened in sleep, so when Jack pinches the edge of the sheet between his fingers, it comes away easily and Simon sleeps on.
Jack smooths it out against the desk. It’s a sketch, a quick one, and Simon had gotten his mother’s art skills, but even still, Jack knows what he’s looking at. It’s a star chart and three of the little ballpoint dots have circles around them. Jack doesn’t know how Simon did it, doesn’t care to know, but this is at least a place to start looking. But it’s too late to call the president back now with his tail tucked between his legs. He’ll have to call in a different favor.
It’s okay, though. He’s Jack O’Neill and he’s always owed a favor.
He thinks about waking Simon up and taking him home, but instead, he lets the boy sleep.
Ellie can’t sleep. She’s wedged between Daniel and Sam and they’re both dreaming of her father. Her mother is having a stress dream, trying to find Jack but the distorted image of her father keeps slipping around corners and just out of her mother’s reach.
Daniel dreaming is of a place Ellie has never seen, all bright light and hushed voices. Her father is there, looking desperate and helpless and he keeps calling for Daniel over and over again, his voice hoarse and broken. Daniel reaches out and puts his hand against her father’s face, but her father doesn’t seem to notice.
Her mother shifts.
Cam is out on watch and Ellie carefully climbs over her mother and out of the tent.
“Hey pumpkin,” Cam says. “Can’t sleep?”
“No,” she sighs. “They keep... well, never mind.”
“They keep what?” he asks.
“There are things that kids aren’t supposed to know about their parents,” Ellie says. “And sometimes I know them and it sucks.”
“Ah,” Cam says. He doesn’t know what she means, but he understands the emotion.
“It doesn’t always go like this, right?” she asks. “Gate travel?”
“Nah,” Cam says, “Sometimes it goes really bad.”
He grins at her.
“You people are all totally nuts,” she says.
“Adrenaline junkies,” he agrees. “Not Jackson, so much. I don’t know what his deal is.”
Daniel feels lost, mostly, caught between worlds. Ellie can relate.
Ellie hangs out with Cam for a while later and then, when she can hardly keep her eyes open any longer, crawls back in the tent. Daniel and her mother have shifted places and are curled together. Ellie blinks, not used to seeing her mother in another man’s arms. But their unsettling dreams have stopped and Ellie wouldn’t dream of asking them to move apart because at least this way, she can get some sleep.
“I’d like to help.”
Jack looks up from Sam’s desk, where he has been stationed for the last few days, to see Vala standing in the doorway.
“Help with what?” he asks.
“Don’t play dumb with me,” she says. “I know your family is stranded and I know Daniel is with them.”
“Did we send out a memo or something?” he asks, shuffling through the papers on the desk for show.
“Jack-” she says.
“You can help,” he says. “We have a ride arranged. Teal’c’s ship'll be here in an hour. Of course you can come.”
“Thank you,” she says. “Did you even think to call me, though?”
“Vala,” Jack sighs. “Can we not?”
“I know you all have chosen Daniel over me but...”
“Vala!” Jack says. “That isn’t true, he just... look, my kid is missing, my wife is missing, and I’m not your therapist, so you can come with us, but shut up about Daniel.”
She presses her lips together, hands on her hips, and looks like she’s about to tear into him but she doesn’t. He watches her do this, her dark hair lined with gray, her tight outfits traded up for well tailored clothes and expensive shoes. She works now, mostly, for the State Department but of course, that’s a total sham. No one works for the State Department, that’s always a cover story. She probably is on some intelligence payroll doing God knows what. He doesn’t even want to know, except for that he cares about Daniel, so he cares about Vala, too.
“All right,” she says.
He listens to her heels click down the hall, his body tense in case she comes back.
When Teal’c arrives, Jack slaps his back.
“Thanks, T,” he says. Teal’c nods his head, his staff weapon in one hand, the flowing extra fabric of his robes in the other, and for a moment, Jack goes back in time. But it’s such a brief slip. This Teal’c is older, has hair, radiates a steady stream of calm instead of anger.
“When do we depart?” he asks.
“Half an hour,” Jack says. “Simon and Vala and you and me, like the good old days. Well, kind of.”
Simon is in the locker room, putting on some spare BDUs. He already feels like a fraud and the uniform doesn’t help. Only a few days ago he’d been telling Ellie that this was the exact life he didn’t want and now his heart is beating wildly with excitement. He can’t help it. He doesn’t get to go through the gate, but the idea of going to another planet is fascinating.
When he gets back to the control room, he hands his notebook to Dr. Fong. “This may help.”
Fong takes it and looks unconvinced.
“I still think that the solution has to come from the gate that caused the malfunction, but maybe you’ll figure something out?” Simon offers. It’s a kindness on his behalf. Dr. Fong is a competent scientist but he lacks imagination. He can’t make intuitive leaps and every creative solution takes a moment of blind faith.
“Simey,” Vala calls up the stairs. “Time to go!”
Simon scowls, embarrassed but claps Fong on the shoulder. “Wish me luck.”
They stand in front of the gate like they’re waiting for it to activate, but instead of an event horizon, they are beamed up by a blinding white light. Simon thinks it should be more disorienting but the only weird part is how he was in the mountain one moment and the next he was not.
“Hey,” Jack says to the small alien before them. “I owe you one.”
“Nonsense,” replies the alien. “It is the Asgard who will always owe you a favor, O’Neill.”
“Simon,” Jack says. “You remember Thor?”
“Uh,” says Simon. “Kind of.”
“Simon Carter-O’Neill,” says Thor. “Welcome aboard the Simon Carter-O’Neill.”
Jack grins. “Neat, right?”
Ellie takes a walk. She doesn’t go far because it’s stupid to waste energy hiking around when they’re rationing food, but she’s so bored and so sick of her mother and her uncles and wearing the same clothes and not taking a shower and she just needs a half an hour to herself.
She takes the canteens so that at least she’ll have the excuse of doing something productive. She also takes a gun, just in case, though it’s been almost five days and the only other creature they’ve encountered is this animal that looks sort of like a deformed chipmunk. They’re edible, though.
She walks slowly, carefully. She really hopes someone comes to rescue them soon. She doesn’t want to deal with having a period on this stupid planet.
The walk back with four full canteens is not quite as pleasant, and by the time she’s nearing the camp, steeling herself for mother’s fake enthusiasm, her shoulders ache and she’s sweating from the sun.
That’s why it takes her a moment to realize that something is wrong. Her mother is stretched out in front of the DHD and both Daniel and Cam are kneeling over her. Ellie drops the canteens and breaks into a run.
“What happened?” she asks.
“The DHD,” Cam says, because Daniel has been struck dumb with worry.
“How long has she been out?” Ellie demands and Cam glances at his watch and shakes his head.
“Just a few minutes. We haven’t moved her.”
There’s an electrical burn on her hand and it travels up into her sleeve.
“She flew back, hit her head maybe?” Daniel says, finally. “I didn’t see it happen.” He seems to realize that she knows that he’s so worried and says, “She’s going to be okay, Ellie.” Ellie’s own worry keeps her from snapping at him.
“Mom,” Ellie says, touching Sam’s face. She is breathing, that is good, but Daniel is fretting internally about her hand, about all the dry, loose dirt that floats through the hot air here, about their limited medical supplies, about infection. Her mother’s skin is clammy and Ellie probes her fingers into her limp, dirty hair but they don’t come back with any blood. “We should make her comfortable.”
“Move her?” Cam asks, but then, what are their other options?
No one says anything about Sam’s soiled pants. They just help carry her into the tent and leave Ellie to tend to her. Ellie eases the pants away and when she opens the flap of the tent, she sees that Daniel has left a canteen for her. She wets a towel and gently, carefully, wipes her mother clean. When she is put in her other pair of underpants and covered with a sleeping bag, she lets Cam come in and help her clean the wound. She doesn’t know anything about first-aid.
Sam doesn’t wake up by sundown and after dinner, when Ellie goes to check on her, she realizes that her mother is too warm. The guys are cleaning up their meager meal and Ellie is on her knees, looking into her mother’s tense face.
“Hey,” she says. “If you don’t come home with me, you’re going to ruin a lot of lives.”
Maybe guilt isn’t the best plan.
Ellie puts her palm on her mom’s hot head and tries to hear anything at all. Instead she feels a wave of dizziness, like she’s sharing the fever. Her mouth feels dry, her head aches and the palm of her hand stings.
But Sam, for a moment, shifts.
Ellie pulls her hand back and looks at it, confused. But she knows that desperate times call for desperate measures, so she puts both hands on her mother, one on her forehead and one her stomach, and concentrates hard.
“Give it to me,” Ellie whispers. “I’ll take it.”
She grits her teeth and prays that her unique chemistry finally is going to give her something useful.
The first planet is a bust. Jack knows it would have been a lot harder ten years ago, and is grateful they can just scan for a microchip that all SGC personnel have implanted beneath their skin, but it’s still frustrating. The first planet has a fairly dense population and scans that precise take time.
Vala is bored, pestering Teal’c who takes the abuse well. Simon has disappeared. Jack moves to a free console, still marveling that he’s familiar enough with the technology to locate his son within the ship. How times do change.
He’s in the engine room. Like mother, like son.
Jack ambles down in no real hurry, since there have several hours before they approach the second planet. When he finally winds himself to the right place, he sees Simon next to an Asgard Jack doesn’t think he knows.
“This is Embla,” Simon says when he notices Jack. “She’s giving me a tour of the engine room.”
“Your son is a quick study,” Embla says, with a nod of her head.
“When he chooses to be,” Jack says. Simon scowls, lets his hair fall into his face. Embla looks as uncomfortable as an Asgard ever looks and Jack kind of regrets the passive aggressive jab because to the Asgard, Simon is kind of a God.
A God of the Gods.
“I want you to eat something,” Jack says, instead. “And then you can poke at any part of the ship that you want.”
“Weapons?” Simon asks.
“Of course,” Jack says. “Hell, let’s find you the self-destruct.”
Embla manages to look more upset.
“Come on,” says a voice. “You need to drink something.”
The water trickles over her mouth and runs down her neck. She tries to turn her head, but hands hold her in place until she parts her lips and some water gets in. It does feel better, though when it’s too much, she coughs.
“Shh,” says the voice. A hand touches her cheek and her forehead and then slides down her arm. She’s just so tired. She drifts away again.
It’s dark when she wakes up the next time, her bladder full enough that she has to scramble out of the tent and to the designated latrine with some haste. She feels woozy but better and she leans her head back against a tree as she pees. She fumbles for her pants when she hears footsteps.
“It’s just me,” Sam says. “Mom.”
Still, she pulls her pants up and takes a few shaky steps.
“Sorry,” Ellie says. “For waking you.”
“Better than waking up in your pee,” Sam says, trying to joke. Ellie doesn’t respond and it’s telling how she lets her mom take one of her arms and helps her back toward the tent. “You didn’t wake me,” Sam says. “My watch.”
“You shouldn’t have a watch,” Ellie says. “You’re hurt.”
Sam stops and they both stumble a little. “Honey.”
“What?” Ellie asks.
“You don’t know what you did?” Sam asks. “What you did for me?”
Maybe Ellie had thought she was dreaming, but now she does remember. It had been easy, in the end, natural. Her mother had been hurting and so Ellie had taken the pain, scooped it up into her hands like sand from a beach.
The tricky part, she'd learned, had been knowing when to stop. And from how she felt and from the look of her mother, Ellie guesses she went a little too far. Even in the darkness, her mother looks better, worlds better. Her skin is pink and she doesn't have that haggard, hungry look that has come over them all in the last couple days as their food has slowly disappeared. Her hand shows no signs of the electrical burn while Ellie’s own hand feels stiff and alien.
“I helped,” is all Ellie says.
“I didn’t know you could do that,” Sam says.
“Daniel was worried about infection,” Ellie says, tiredly. She needs to lie back down again.
“I will not have you trading my life for yours,” her mom says.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Ellie says. “I’ll heal much faster than you.” She doesn’t know how she knows that either, but it’s true.
Simon is hungry and irritable as they head for the third and final planet on their little list. If they don't find SG-1 there, Simon doesn't know what he'll do but burning up with shame will be high on the list. He frets endlessly as they travel, pacing the long, gleaming hallways and biting at his already ragged nail beds, licking up the little bit of blood as it beads out from his cuticle. If his mom were here, she'd tell him to stop.
Jack doesn't notice or doesn't care or cares enough to remain quiet. His calm exterior is starting to crack as well. He wants his wife back and his daughter and for the first time in such a long time, Simon cares about letting someone down. An Asgard walks by him in the hallway and nods their head in that reverent way that Simon is starting to resent.
"How much longer?" Vala asks, coming up behind him. She rubs between his shoulder blades in a motherly way but Simon shrugs her off, believing that he doesn't deserve a comforting touch right now.
"Two hours," Simon says. "Thor says this planet appears to be uninhabited."
"That’s a good thing,” Vala says.
“How?” Simon asks. “They’ll have even less resources.”
“Trust me,” Vala says. “Not having to deal with locals is a kind of rare and precious gift.”
Vala is odd and Simon hasn’t spent much time with her in the last few years. There was that brief window when she was always with Daniel, but then it was over so abruptly. Simon knows that Vala had been pregnant and then she was not but he lacks the experience to know why that is enough to put a relationship to a screeching halt. It seems like, to Simon, they’d just try for another child, one with the strength to come full term.
“Ellie says Daniel doesn’t hate you,” Simon offers. He feels like maybe Vala needs some comfort as well and this is the most current piece of information Simon has on Vala.
Vala tenses beside him and then smiles. Simon has trouble with looks like that - a face that looks positive but clearly is not. People can be so hard to interpret and Vala is an expert at convincing someone that she is not what she seems.
“Good to know,” is all she says about that. They lapse into silence and Simon bites once more at his finger. “Do you want to know what I think?” Vala asks.
“Sure,” he says. She continues walking and he follows her to a window - the vast nothingness of space before them.
“I think I feel sorry for your sister.”
Simon feels that clench in his gut that he gets every time someone points out to him that he is not his sister.
“Why?” he asks. “No one else does.”
“Because,” Vala says. “There’s something quite off about her, don’t you think?” She must see it in his face because she holds up her hand and says, “She’s lovely, of course, but she can’t really hide how different she is.”
“I guess not?” Simon says.
“You, on the other hand, are smart and handsome but you can fit in on your planet. You’ll be able to have any life you want. You’ll be able to turn that totally arbitrary age that your planet calls adulthood and leave and never come back if you prefer, but Eleanor... poor Eleanor will always be stuck with this.” She gestures around them. “This fringe, alien life.” Vala smiles, a sadness on her face. “I know a little something about that.”
Simon swallows, thinks about Ellie’s first day of high school and how she’d come home white as a sheet. How she’d cried so carefully into her pillow so their parents wouldn’t hear.
“She must be quite jealous of you,” Vala says.
Simon swallows again, a lump in his throat. He’d never blamed his sister, of course, but he’s ached to be as special as she is for a long time now. He’d never even considered that she’d been doing the same thing.
Simon finds his father in their sleeping quarters, sitting on the tiny cot and looking at something in his hand.
“What’s that?” he asks. Jack opens his palm.
“Your Mom’s wedding rings,” he says. “She doesn’t wear them off world.”
“Against regs,” Jack says. “And she doesn’t want to lose ‘em.”
“She’ll be thrilled you took them into space, then,” Simon says and Jack smiles.
“I hope she’s pissed,” Jack says. “I’d take pissed off Mom over no Mom any day.”
“Dad,” he says. “If they’re not there...”
“Too soon for that,” Jack cuts him off.
“I really don’t think it is,” Simon says, glancing at his watch. “Because in like ninety minutes, we’re gonna know.”
“In this job, you really need to conserve your panic for bad disasters, otherwise you’d just constantly panic twenty four, seven,” Jack says. “So give me 85 minutes of playing dumb.”
“Fine,” Simon says.
“And your math was sound,” Jack says.
“How do you know?”
“Shut up, smart ass,” Jack says. “I know because you’re Carter’s kid.”
“We’re more than...” But Simon bites it off because he’s too worried and scared to pick at the scabs of this old fight.
“It’s okay,” Jack says. “Go ahead, son.”
“We’re more than just smart,” he says. “Ellie and I can be more than just smart.”
Jack curls his fingers around the rings and then carefully puts them onto the chain of his dogtags. Simon is uncomfortable, waiting for his dad like he’s witnessing something private.
“I know,” Jack says. “Why do you think we’ve been letting you get away with this bullshit attitude of yours lately?”
Jack’s "absent-minded dad, puttering around in jeans and flannel shirts" act is just a facade, a routine. Jack is a General and Simon knows he’s talking to the General now.
“Because you have Ellie,” Simon says. “Because she’s your golden ticket.”
“Wrong,” Jack says.
“No I’m not,” Simon says. “And she cares about this shit so you should be grateful.”
“I’m grateful for both of my kids,” Jack says. “And it has nothing to do with your ability to do complex math or write a paper about a book you didn’t read or talking your way out of trouble.” He pauses. “That last one is from me, not your mom.”
Simon rolls his eyes.
“Look, we tried pressuring you into your school work and we tried leaving you alone and you’re still pissed off and miserable, so what is it that you do want?” Jack demands.
“Nothing!” Simon says.
“Bull,” Jack says darkly. “I’m sorry you can’t do all the things Ellie can do...”
“I don’t want that,” Simon says and knows it’s true, now. “I just...”
“What?” Jack begs.
“It just seems like there should be more, some how.”
“More?” Jack asks.
“More than high school. More than being so bored all the time,” he says. “And being smart, or whatever, doesn’t mean anything because I don’t want to sell my soul to the government and I can’t stop creepy fuckers from trying to touch my sister anyway.” He pushes his hair back and feels a little better for having said it.
“Okay,” Jack says. “You’re standing on a space ship but you want more.”
“Well,” Simon says. “This is temporary. I don’t get to stay on the spaceship.”
Jack works his jaw, rubbing his teeth together and says nothing.
Ellie sleeps with her head in Daniel’s lap. They’d taken her to the stream and dipped her in an effort to break her fever and now she feels a little cleaner, a little more like her self. She’s dozing more than anything else, her ear pressed against Daniel’s thigh. He’s toying with a lock of her damp hair. Sam had offered to braid it but Ellie had said, “I’m not a little girl anymore,” and now her mother is off sulking, staring down the DHD. The shock that had hit her had also cracked several crystals.
Ellie can hear her mother thinking to herself about how both her kids are slipping away. She can hear Daniel thinking about food, Cam thinking about his parents, how his mom had called a couple of days before this mission to tell him his father’s cancer had come back. And-
Ellie sits up, straining a little.
“What?” Daniel asks. They have her covered with a sleeping bag while she dries off and she has to hold it against her chest so the material doesn’t slide down.
“I thought,” she says, but it is probably just wishful thinking. “Never mind.”
She sinks back down again but her Mom is already walking over.
“What?” she asks. “What did you hear?”
“I thought I heard Simon but I-”
She doesn’t finish her thought because her mother, Cam, and Daniel all disappear in a flash of bright light. She is left alone. She looks up, but whatever is up there is too far to see with the naked eye. She holds the sleeping bag tighter.
It’s only a few minutes, though it feels like longer. The first person she sees is Teal’c which is completely and utterly comforting.
“Eleanor Carter-O’Neill,” he says. “Are you well?”
“Yes,” she says. She turns around to see everyone else - Cam and Daniel and Vala and her parents making out - typical - and there, near the back, her big brother.
“Hey,” he says.
“My hero,” she says.
“Nice outfit,” he says. “Survivor chic.”
“Shut up,” she says. He just grins. Everyone feels so relieved that it’s intoxicating. “Does someone want to give me a coat or something, here?”
She feels Teal’c drape his outer robe around her. It’s kind of like trading one blanket for another, but it’s lighter and way less slippery.
“You don’t have a locator chip,” Simon says. “Sorry about the delay.”
“It’s okay,” she says. “I’m okay.”
Finally, her parents break apart long enough for her dad to come over, touch her hair, pat her back.
“I thought I told you to run,” he says. “Not get stranded.”
“Next time,” she promises. He shakes his head.
“Just like mom.”
Ellie glances at her mother. She is talking to Simon, their voices low. Even though she’s tempted, she does not listen in.
“So,” Simon says. They’re sitting together on the sofa in the living room. The adults are still getting debriefed but Simon and Ellie were rushed through so they could just go home.
There’s a movie on, but neither are very invested.
“So?” Ellie asks.
“What’s the deal with Danile and Vala?” he asks.
“Why do you care?”
“I dunno,” he says. “They used to be happy, right?”
“She had a miscarriage.” Ellie shrugs and fiddles with the silver tab on her Diet Coke. She had really missed Diet Coke.
“I mean, they’re kind of different.”
“So are our parents and they’re still together,” Simon says.
“I think Daniel just got kind of afraid,” Ellie says. “Like it was some kind of bad omen and Vala was really sad and they both just... stopped.”
“That’s stupid,” Simon scoffs.
“Well you are the expert,” Ellie says sarcastically.
“Maybe matchmaking is my calling,” he says. He’s been giving a lot of thought to his future lately. Vala’s words ring in his ears. He can go anywhere. He can do anything.
“You can if you get your grades up,” Ellie says, sounding exactly like Sam. “Anyway, Daniel is going back to D.C. tomorrow so I doubt you can repair their relationship before then.”
“Not everyone are mom and dad,” she says. “In fact, no one is. They’re like really... unique.”
“Our family is kind of fucked up,” Simon says.
“Kind of,” Ellie agrees.
Sam makes love to her husband and after, when he is snoring in the center of their bed, puts on her robe and makes her way quietly down the stairs. Her daughter is on the couch with a half gallon of butter pecan watching cartoons. It's an odd juxtaposition after spending almost a week marveling at what a mature, self-sufficient person she has grown to become.
"You finally tire dad out?" she asks neutrally.
"He's old, doesn't take much these days." They've had to learn to be candid with Ellie about sex. It was always impossible to hide it from her - they could no sooner control the thoughts of the people around her than control the entire universe. And sex between Sam and Jack wasn't going to stop simply because their daughter was aware that it was happening - they'd wasted too much time already.
So honesty it is.
"Gross," Ellie still says. They all have their roles to play.
"How are you doing?" Sam asks now.
"I feel fine,” Ellie says quickly.
“I didn’t mean...” Sam sighs. “We’ll talk about that later, but I meant... you went through the Stargate! You saw a little more. Some good, some bad. What do you think?”
Ellie digs her spoon into the ice cream and scoops up a heap. She shoves it into her mouth and buys herself a few more seconds to think.
“How am I ever supposed to have a relationship?” she asks, finally, when she has swallowed.
“How is it going to be fair if I know all their stuff and their shames and their secrets and they don’t know mine?” Ellie asks.
“Well,” Sam says. “You could tell them.”
“No I can’t,” she says. “Classified.”
“It’s your life, baby,” Sam says. “If you think you need to tell someone, then you should tell them.”
“And if they run screaming?” Ellie asks.
“Then they weren’t the right one after all,” Sam says. “And Daddy will send someone to have them killed.” Sam smirks.
“Even thought it all went terribly wrong, I can see the appeal of your lifestyle,” Ellie says diplomatically.
“But I’m no soldier,” Ellie says. “And clearly I need to know more about my abilities before I go stepping willy-nilly onto strange planets.”
“Agreed,” Sam says.
“When we were coming home,” Ellie says slowly. “Thor offered to help us.”
“Us?” Sam says uneasily.
“Simon and me,” Ellie says. “To teach us more about what we can do.”
“He didn’t say anything to me!”
“Well you were pretty occupied sucking face with dad,” Ellie points out.
“Not the whole time!”
“Simon needs something, mom, he needs this and if we knew more about me, I could maybe be useful to your program in the future,” Ellie says.
Sam stares at her, big blue eyes glistening.
“Honey,” she says helplessly.
“Think of it like going to summer camp,” Ellie offers. “Really far away summer camp.”
“You’re asking me to just let my children go of to do god knows what on a space ship for the whole summer?” Sam says. “That’s a lot to take in.”
“Not really,” Ellie says. “Not compared to you.”
Sam takes her hand and squeezes it. “Can I at least ask Uncle Daniel to go with you?” Sam asks. Ellie thinks of Daniel, of his warm lap and how his fingers moved through her hair and caused the ends of it to sweep across her bare shoulders.
“I guess. If you have to,” Ellie says.
“I have to,” says Sam.
The house is so quiet. The children are gone, Daniel along with them. Vala’s off on some job, Cam back to his regular assignment. He’s at the Alpha site more than he’s on Earth these days. The gates are all back to functioning normally, finally. Sam has to leave for work soon, but she’s lingering over her cup of coffee, standing at the sink. She hears the upstairs toilet flush and then Jack’s feet on the stairs. He’s favoring his knee again. She makes a mental note to make him an appointment for that.
“You’re still here,” he says.
“I’m leaving in just a minute,” she says.
“I’m glad I didn’t miss you,” he says. She wears her dress blues to work and he looks over over, smooths a hand over one navy hip. She smiles at him, lets him have this small indulgence.
“You could come in today,” she says. “I wouldn’t mind if you hung around.”
“Nah,” he says. “You’ll be busy.”
She leans in impulsively and kisses him. She has coffee breath and he clearly hasn’t brushed his teeth yet, but neither minds. He kisses her back, cradles her neck, presses his hips into hers. When the kiss is over, they hug for a bit in the early morning light of the yellow kitchen. He smells her neck, she clutches at his t-shirt.
“Am I a bad mother-”
“Am I a bad mother if I could survive a summer without the kids but not a summer without you?” she asks.
“You are not a bad mom,” he says. “And it doesn’t matter, because you don’t have to survive anything without me.”
“Promise?” she asks.
He kisses her again.
“Go to work, General,” he says. “I’ll come on base for lunch.”
“Okay,” she says.
When she gets to work, her personal assistant comes in with a stack of folders and she sighs. So, not a fun day.
“Also, you got a postcard,” her assistant says with a small smile.
“What?” Sam asks.
“It came in a databurst this morning.” She hands Sam a slip of paper.
Camp is great. Fishing is fine. XOXO, S & E
“Postcard,” Sam murmurs. “Funny.”
Ellie wakes up, blinking at the stars streaking by. She presses her hand to the cool metal wall by her bed and her skin tingles and then hums and the feeling moves up her arm. She moves her hand away and the feeling recedes and then fades away completely. It’s like touching Simon or Vala or Mom.
She gets up and dresses, braids her own hair. She thinks of breakfast, of the lessons in store for this day, of her test results, of her brother in the room next door.
She doesn’t think of going home.
She doesn’t miss her planet, her house, or her room. No one on this ship wants to hurt her. No one thinks she’s a freak.
This place makes her whole body sing harmoniously.
And what is home, if not that?