"Hi! I'm Vala Mal Doran, and you're watching the CW- shit!"
Samantha Carter walked across the white square and gently claimed the bright green stick Vala was beating off of her forehead.
"Dis-ney," Sam reminded her quietly. "'You're watching the Disney channel.'"
Vala sighed and nodded as her assistant waved in the hovering make up artist to fix the slight dent the actress had made in the foundation on her forehead. The brunette's eyes followed the brush until they almost crossed and Sam could read the annoyance in her friend's expression. It said, they're going to photoshop it anyway.
She had a point, but they still had to get through the TV spot.
"One more time, Vala?" The mild-mannered voice of the director cut called from behind the camera.
Sam watched Vala shift into the mode that earned the paycheques that could support a small country: the shoulders came up, the hair was tossed across the left and the smile that graced Everybody Loves High School! 3 ($45 million on its first weekend alone) was amped up to max. The only crack in the facade was the nod directed to Sam, the one that said that Vala had this and they'd be leaving soon.
"Hi! I'm Vala Mal Doran-"
At the hotel, Sam shook her head to the MTV rep and their bodyguard, T. The latter nodded, one arm blocking the elevator until the doors closed and ignoring the squeaking from the rep, present to make sure that award presenter Vala Mal Doran got to the awards on time.
Vala watched as Sam hit the button for the basement. The suite with the private elevator was one perk Sam had felt was a little over the top, even for Vala, but now insisted upon even when the starlet didn't.
The brunette pushed off from the gold plated hand rail, nodding.
"How long?" Sam asked, pulling a slim iPhone out of her back pocket, where the small lifeline lived- unless it was in the process of being backed up to the laptop and online storage box, something Sam did every night before bed just as regularly as she brushed her teeth.
Vala paused. "Three days. No, wait- a week. I need to hear Wednesday and Thursday again."
"So do I," Sam grinned, eyes on the floor number on the display above the doors. When the cheerful little ping! announced their arrival in the basement, Sam hit the button for the second from top floor, then rattled through the next few days.
In the silence that followed, she narrowed her eyes. It might have been the rather yellow light in the elevator, but Vala looked tired. Standing with her back against the wall and her eyes closed, she looked deceptively still. Sam knew better- her best friend was really storing away all the information she had just gone through. It was an easy presumption that Vala would be lost without Sam, but Vala had the same diary in her head as her assistant: she just prepared for the events a different way.
"How many times can we go up and down before they think we've broken the elevator?" Vala asked, eyes closed and smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
"I think this is the last time," Sam answered, waiting for the basement and hitting the top floor with a sigh. "One hairdresser, one seamstress, one beautician, one interviewer from Entertainment Weekly online-"
"What am I talking about?" Vala's eyes narrowed.
"The new new thing," Sam shot back. "We have ten hours and a whole bunch of interviews before the car gets here. The people have been told that you'll be available for hair and make up after dinner, which we should probably have at three. Oh-" Sam reached into her handbag and took out the day's newspaper. "I don't know why you read it, but here."
Vala grinned and flicked to ten or twelve pages in. "It's nice to be reminded about how ridiculous it all is. Ooh-"
Spotted getting milk on a very secretive film set- today's special snowflake, Drama Llama regular, John Sheppard.
"Yes, we all know the hair speaks for itself, but this time it's not saying any more than the man himself. The latest from inside Camp Flyboy is explosive. Or should I say ... dazzling?"
Daniel made a face in Janet's general direction. "I'm trying to eat here."
Janet grinned and sat opposite. "Propelled to stardom as a teen hero in an enchanted vintage aircraft, Spitfire Nights, Sheppard appears to be taking on a new challenge - the lit-eral way." The Health columnist snorted, "Daniel, that's..."
"I know. Believe me, I know."
"It's fantastic, that's what it is!"
Janet met Daniel's eyes across the cafeteria condiments before Daniel turned in the orange plastic chair. "Harry. Do join us."
Harry Maybourne, editor of the entertainment section, was seated and leaning across into Janet's frothed mocha before the end of Daniel's short sentence.
"Fifty thousand hits on the online article and up a third on our usual circulation, Jackson!"
Daniel narrowed his eyes. "Let me do the math. Is that... one hundred thousand or two hundred thousand reasons to be glad my name isn't on the column?"
Janet turned a laugh into a cough under the Maybourne's glare before gathering her things. "Gentlemen. I have various male problems to summarise in nine hundred words. You'll excuse me."
Daniel tried not to grin as the smaller woman left and Maybourne shook himself out with a shudder.
"The General wants something more. By more, I'm thinking he means salacious. Up the readership even more," Maybourne jabbed at the table. "These... Young Hollywood gone wrong types."
"They're farmed by Disney, Harry," Daniel replied, frowning. "I think the debauched genes are removed at ten, if not before."
"What about that- what's his name? Pretty. Twenty one? My daughter has posters. Mostly of him in a vest."
Daniel took another spoonful from his fruit cup.
"Mitchell!" Maybourne clicked his fingers. "Yes, yes, that High School Musical garbage."
"It's Everybody Loves High School!," Daniel rolled his eyes, sitting the plastic spoon on the plastic table and going to his happy place. His happy place, this week, was Cairo, investigating an urban cholera epidemic. Or rather, it would have been- had that story not gone to Sarah the previous week. The endless franchise that was Everybody Loves High School! had that effect on him. "Mitchell is clean as a whistle. Boy doesn't even drink Coke, never mind sniff it."
"What about this one?" Maybourne produced a slim brown folder from his ever-present leather briefcase. "Girl wears leather like that, there's got to be some dirt there."
Daniel frowned at the upside down picture and snatched it from his editor. "Try to be less of a sleaze, Harry. She's seventeen."
Maybourne grinned and tossed a pass on the table. "Try to remember that this fine evening."
Vala squeezed Sam's hand tightly and nodded.
"I'll meet you backstage," Sam said with a tight grin, switching sides in the limo to let T slide into her place by the door.
They stopped twenty metres from the carpet and T slid out, making his way in a few strides to a strategic point just in front of the crowd.
Sam, speeding away towards the back door, missed Vala's entrance.
Daniel, a few thousand screaming fans and some flashing cameras, didn't.
Hiding amongst the masses of temp staff at the auditorium, he pulled on an official looking bomber jacket and an earpiece purchased off of Ebay for occasions such as this. Daniel made his way to a suitable vantage point, standing a body-width apart with his hands clenched and shoulders as if he could swagger at any moment.
A security guard gave him a look, presumably for being under seven feet and scrawny, and grunted before looking back to the red carpet.
One slim ankle in black heels emerged from the black limo and a pack of permitted press with their cameras moved a metre closer to the front circle. Wearing a dark blue fitted dress, hair pulled back just enough to appear formal, Vala Mal Doran had arrived.
Daniel bit back a grin as, with the most innocent of expressions, the Disney starlet turned to reveal the plunging backline of the dress. The girl had guts, he had to admit.
Vala made her way down the line amid flashing bulbs and crowd noise, signing the fan pictures she could reach and giving thirty seconds to a few pre-selected broadcasters. Making her way to the real circus ring, she paused and scanned around the milling guests before posing by the large, shiny MTV sign.
A warm hand on the small of her back made her jump as the shouting photographs grew louder. Vala wondered if they ever realised how very similar they sounded to the screaming fans- except screaming fans rarely roused her contempt.
"A little closer?!"
Vala shared a grin with the taller man and closer the gap between their hips.
"Couldn't put an arm around the lady?!"
Cameron Mitchell complied with the smile, the one Vala knew to be insured for exactly nine million dollars.
Whatever dirt Daniel was looking for, he wasn't going to find it on the red carpet. With an attempt at a gruff nod to the guard, he walked towards the door that would lead to the maze of staff corridors and eventually, to backstage.
It was easy to disappear into a cupboard in all the chaos, switching his bomber jacket for a smart suit jacket and tugging the pass Maybourne had kindly supplied over his head.
They made their way into the VIP waiting area, standing in the general vicinity of the Everybody Loves High School! director, producer and soundtrack editor.
"Cameron," Vala began with a warm smile, "you look simply dashing this evening." Tugging on his tux collar, she nodded. "I approve of the Bond look."
Cam looked down with a crooked grin. "And this time we're sure the war will be over by Christmas?"
"One DVD release and one tour. Home for Christmas," Vala grinned as an usher politely interrupting to ask if they would kindly take their seats in the auditorium.
Daniel jerked his eyes up from the floor of the green lounge and met the very blue eyes of a blond.
"I haven't seen you on the circuit before. Samantha Carter."
The handshake was warm.
"D- Dan Smith." He smiled, waving his pass tentatively. "First time."
Soul intact, Daniel thought. Haven't outright lied yet.
"Ah," Samantha nodded with a smile, "How are you finding it?"
"Nerve-shredding," Daniel responded, trying to keep the irony out of his voice. "You?"
She made a face. "The refreshments were less lukewarm last year." Looking up from her paper plate, Samantha tilted her head. "Do you mind if I ask who you're with?"
"Ah- Johann Schwarz. He's-"
"Up for Best Art Direction in a Video," Samantha chimed in with a grin. "German, right?"
"That's right, yeah-" Damn, Daniel thought. This one might just have blown his grand plans of disappearing into the background. He had the distinct feeling she didn't forget much.
"I'd best-" Daniel mutely nodded his apology and slipped away to somewhere less sociable. Unlike most of the people present, he wasn't there to be seen.
"Yes? One moment, please."
Sam narrowed her eyes, watching the rather awkward new assistant nearly bump into a waiter before settling by the opposite wall. Something- she took the insisted upon moment to note his name and employer in her PDA before looking up with a smile.
"Miss Mal Doran and Mr Mitchell will be arriving in the purple lounge in five minutes."
Daniel debated the next stage in the plan, knowing that it was now dangerous.
If Samantha Carter saw him, she'd kick his ass. He had a feeling she could kick his ass.
Still, it would mean he could slip out the kitchens and away towards home. It was also the only part that Harry Maybourne had been insistent about, the vicious bastard. Get to the purple lounge by 9.45. He stopped by the cupboard for another costume change.
Cam turned in the corridor outside the purple lounge, shooting Vala a glance over the blond's shoulder. It was a look that they knew and used often: get me out of here.
Being a gentleman, however, no trace of it appeared in his voice. "Athena. How are you?"
"Winner of Best Dancing in a Video," the finely boned R&B star answered with a self-satisfied smirk. "The award's with my assistant."
Cam nodded, hands behind his back. "That's... lovely. Really."
"Bitch alert, ten o'clock," Sam said in a low voice with a pleasant smile, leaning next to Vala.
Vala's expression didn't change. "Is it snake hips?"
"Right in one," Sam replied, taking Vala's glass and signalling a waiter for a fresh glass of water.
"I understand why we aren't running, but I don't like it."
"It's worse," Sam put in with a surreptitious look over her shoulder, "she's after Cam."
"I don't envy him the conversation. She's hardly a lyrical genius."
Sam nodded, signalling Cam that they would be over soon if she didn't go away.
Daniel stood by the long rope ladder and thanked karma that he wasn't really a stagehand.
He paused when his gaze landed by the door to the purple lounge - the waiting area for those coming on and going off stage - and found Cameron Mitchell.
Vala felt Sam's grip on her arm tighten very suddenly and whipped her head around as the applause from the Best Female Video award rippled backstage.
By the door, a few of the photographers on hand to photograph the winners had turned their lenses towards the door between the stage and the purple lounge.
Athena had wrapped her arms and legs around Cam's waist and neck, and currently appeared to be sucking all the breath from his lungs.
"This," Vala hissed, "is usually the point when you tell me to stay calm."
Daniel didn't bother taking notes on the succubus attack in front of him. He figured the mental image of Athena, star of such classics as Rock Ur Bods and Always, Ooh, clawing Cameron Mitchell's rigid and unresponsive upper body would be forever imprinted on his mind.
One final costume change and he was halfway home, the article coming to mind with a swiftness that scared him. He really needed to get out of the gossip business. He'd email it to Harry Maybourne by one am (please find attached: yourdamndirt.doc) and take a long, hot shower.
Sam met Vala at the opposite entrance to the purple room after she and Cam had presented the award. She watched as Vala waved graciously and walked arm in arm with Cam, kissing the Best New Artist on the cheek for the cameras.
The smile disappeared with the pleasant young guitar player and his award.
An imperious hand stopped Cam and Vala nodded to Sam.
"She paid them - I heard it from Baal's assistant. He was disgusted by her lack of taste, but applauded her dedication to her art. I expect that kiss will be all over HotRod and Drama Llama by the time we get back-" Sam switched almost invisibly, but enough to signal Vala and Cam, "to the hotel. The food should be in the room, just as you asked."
Sam nodded and took a step back as Athena joined the group. Vala grinned brightly at Cameron, the dangerous grin they'd all learned to fear. "So I was talking to Rachel the other day, reliving the glory days-"
Oh, God, Sam thought. She's going there.
"That's what I love about her, darling," Vala said cheerfully, looping an arm through Cam's, "Even when she had her legs around Ryan on stage, she still looked classy. Such a rare achievement. Shall we?"
Cam grinned and nodded, the two drifting back out to the door to the main auditorium, while Sam maintained a politely blank expression. Athena grabbed a few more canapes and gave the impression of one recently slapped.
Subject: Bring it. [MTV Awards]
The next morning, Daniel winced at the glowing praise rendered in over-enthusiastic punctuation from the desk of Harry Maybourne.
"I can speak to the guys at Time Weekly. It can't be worse than this."
Daniel turned from his desk to smile crookedly at the softly-voiced travel columnist at the door of his cubicle. "Thanks, Marty. I think my tone must have been pretty desperate. I've got an email from Lee asking if I want to come to the geek side and dish the dirt on tech instead, but-"
"But if you ever want on the news desk," Marty nodded, understanding, "you have to stick with the people and the present."
Daniel clicked on the top bar of his browser subscription feeds and smirked. "Is it a sign of corruption that I'm glad my soul bought us a scoop, at least?"
Marty looked over his shoulder with a laugh. "HotRod does not appear to take being beaten well."
Daniel grinned. "He really doesn't."
Vala heard the curtains being drawn in the hotel room and sighed. Keeping the thin silk veneer of the sleep mask between her and reality, she let an arm thump onto the other pillow and called, "Go on. Give me the damage."
The newspaper thumped into the bed next to her and she sat up.
"It'll only make you mad," Sam warned, pointing to the fruit and cereal breakfast opposite her own at the table by the window.
"I know," Vala answered grimly, sighing dramatically, "but it has to be done." She gestured to the laptop side by side with Sam's orange juice. "I'll take the llama if you take the rod."
It seems the trophy for most exhilarating exercise in self-promotion at tonight's MTV awards goes to Queen Athena. The prize for most sought after trophy, on the other hand, has to go to one Cameron Mitchell. Seen in a most intimate embrace in full view, the two locked lips in sight of long-time girlfriend-apparent and co-star, Vala Mal Doran.
Early this morning, a close personal friend of the couple asserted, "Athena's been sick of the secrecy for months. It's the company. And she's really not that much older than him. The company don't want them to be public in case the DVDs don't sell. Vala's dead happy about it. It's fine for Ronnie, he's got Athena, but she's single and can't date while everyone thinks she's with him."
Between bites of cereal goodness, Sam watched the newspaper fly across the room, smacking into the richly-textured wallpaper as an inarticulate noise of fury came from under the pillows in the bed.
"I'm quite sure a close friend of Athena's did say that," Sam remarked mildly. "Whether that friendship was contingent on whatever car Athena bought them is a whole other question. And I really doubt Athena approved that line about only being a little older."
"I'll kill her! With a stiletto heel! To the temple, I'm telling you! And Ronnie?!"
Vala sat up in the bed, hair unbrushed and held back by a pink sleeping mask. "I want coffee. And then I want to see the blog."
Sam poured the coffee as Vala trudged from the bed to the table, muttering all the while.
When Vala's hand strayed close to the keyboard, Sam lightly slapped her wrist. "If you're going to react the same way, it's look and don't touch."
Vala's eyes narrowed, scanning the page and mechanically eating bites of toast. "Eh?"
Sam pushed a long strand of dark hair back from the brunette's face and pointed at a small entry near the top of the page.
"Contrary to popular belief, Teh HotRod is human."
Vala blinked. "Is that a link?"
"It goes to the Llama's article," Sam rolled her eyes. "He's such an ass."
"Yes. And I want to meet him for lunch. Today."
Vala grinned and jumped up in the seat, curling her legs underneath her. "I knew you knew him!"
"Vala," Sam answered reprovingly, "don't we have priorities? Damage control for your public relationship?"
The grin was smug. "Is he old? Does he like you?" A gasp. "Do you like him? Is that why you read it?"
"Can't a girl have any secrets?" Sam's tone verged on the desperate.
Vala deflated, sinking into the chair. "You're my best friend."
Sam felt a tiny twinge of guilt.
"In the whole world."
It proved to be temporary. She grinned, rolling her eyes. "He's a geek at MIT, same age as Cameron, only God knows."
Vala slowly slid back down into the seat, eyes distant and chewing her bottom lip. "So. Lunch with the Llama?"
Sam looked up, knowing she'd been tricked, and let it go with a rueful shake of the head. "I can try, but not even Rodney knows who he is. He has an email, though. And two is good. We have things at eleven and four."
Reaching out one delicate hand, Vala paused, fingers poised over the keyboard. "May I?"
Vala understood Sam's attitude to technology when properly awake. Sam considered and checked Vala's hands were free of crumbs and butter before nodding.
Hip to be square,
2pm. Nobu. Ask for Mr. Rodikins.
Sam: Hey, you sent it.
HR: You told me to. *grumbles*
Sam: Suck it up, Rodney.
Sam: But thanks.
HR: Np, Sam.
"Done?" Vala leaned over Sam's shoulder.
"Done," Sam answered, closing the conversation window quickly.
Daniel stared at the screen, then covertly looked across the aisle to Janet's desk. "Psst."
She turned in her swivel chair, one eyebrow raised.
"Things just got interesting."
Janet wandered across and loudly asked for a pen before taking a look at the email. "Hmm. Interesting."
Daniel looked up at her.
"I assume you own a trench coat."
There are witnesses to my possessing all limbs, ten fingers and ten toes prior to this meeting. My scalp is known to be well adorned.
In the hotel room, the iPhone beeped. Sam accessed her email and clicked 'FWD: Lunch' before clamping a hand across her mouth so she didn't laugh too loudly.
'If he uses 'Rodikins' in print, I'm suing your princess for her hair, her tower and everything in it.'
Vala looked over the script she was reading and took out an earphone. "We're on?"
"First the photo shoot, but we're on," Sam nodded, standing and pulling out a case to find the hair appliances.
Daniel walked into Nobu, still unsure of why the trench coat was necessary- other than to satisfy Janet and Marty's overdeveloped fondnesses for drama. He coughed, standing by the counter, and received a disparaging look from the host for his trouble.
"A Mr Rodikins, please."
The host nodded and led him to the table, which turned out to be a seat at a sushi bar.
Daniel looked around him, wondering how he was supposed to tell where his nemesis was, and wondering if this was a set up. He jumped when the blond next to him sat her sunglasses next to his elbow and met familiar cool blue eyes.
"Mr Smith," Samantha Carter began coldly.
"Jackson," Daniel answered, remembering the way teachers gave more lenient punishments to those who admitted guilt outright. "It's Daniel Jackson."
Samantha nodded, noting that in her PDA.
"I assume you aren't ... HotRod."
Daniel winced. It sounded ridiculous out loud.
"Teriyaki?" She waved expansively to the bar in front. Daniel watched the chef professionally gut and flame some fish, feeling somewhat empathetic. When the waiter brought their drinks, Samantha took a sip of her water. "You assume correctly. Today. I'm Vala Mal Doran's personal assistant and on-site agent."
Daniel winced again. "Am I... being sued?" Maybourne is going to feed me to the lawyers. Crap.
Samantha paused, eyes on the counter, before turning and smiling warmly. "Do you intend to write more articles concerning Ms Mal Doran and Mr Mitchell?"
"I don't know if I'm going to have a choice," Daniel sighed, toying with the napkin. "As long as they're in the public eye, it's a danger. And according to my editor, they improve sales."
Samantha tilted her head, eyes narrowing slightly. After a moment, she leaned forward. "Then we have a different proposition."
Daniel looked up, suspicious.
"You may be aware that Ms Mal Doran's public image has been somewhat maligned by accusations of alcoholism -among other things," Samantha continued quietly, taking another sip of her water. Daniel noted the way her hand clenched slightly as she spoke - clenched protectively.
"I'm aware, yes," he replied, intrigued.
"Ms Mal Doran proposes this: accompany her and her entourage on the Everybody Loves High School! farewell tour this autumn."
Daniel clenched a hand around the edge of the counter to stay balanced on the stool, looking incredulously at Samantha. "You're not serious."
She nodded. "From final rehearsals next month to final tour date. Then, feel free to write whatever article or book you want."
He felt the seconds ticking by as the actress's assistant waited on a response. "I'll- I'll need to talk to my editor." Daniel stood awkwardly, leaving a five for his coffee and shaking Samantha's hand.
He wouldn't be telling Harry Maybourne that his first thought was six months free of that damn column.
Samantha waited until Daniel Jackson had stumbled to the bathroom before turning to the bar and letting out a long breath.
"So what does he look like? How old?"
Vala, seated next to her, looked up from where she'd been hunched anonymously over her sushi.
"Twenty-five, six? Looks like he should be in a library," Sam looked at her. "Are you sure this is a good idea? How can we protect-"
"Short leash," Vala grinned, clicking her chopsticks together. "He sees what we want him to see. And no one's going to argue with six months of testimony. Trust me, Sam, it's perfect."
Sam nodded and excused herself, claiming she needed the bathroom. She waited outside the men's room until Daniel Jackson emerged.
The man jumped back on recognising her, backing up against the wall as if she'd pressed him there.
She raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms. "You are a lying liar and I will be watching you."
Vala rolled her eyes and cast an eye around the room. Sam quietly hustled the sub-assistant and the intern out with lunch coupons for Appleby's, leaving Vala, T., Sam and the telephone presence of one pissed off Jack O'Neill.
"-Jack, so help me God, I'm putting you on speaker phone and letting Sam get a word in."
Vala flounced to the phone, hit the speaker button and sat on the couch next to it. T. and Vala looked expectantly to Sam and even Jack paused on the line.
"Well, Carter? What do you think of this?"
Harry Maybourne slunk around the cubicle entrance. "Daniel."
Daniel slowly turned in the swivel seat before looking up with an innocent blink. "Hmm?"
"What is this?"
The seated journalist jerked his head back from the printed email shoved dangerously close to his eyes.
"Harry, paper cuts can be deadly. Remember that."
"Twerp, you're wearing glasses. What is this?!"
Daniel carefully took the email and reread it. It was an unnecessary waste of time when he'd written it less than an hour before, but he did it anyway. "I think that if you look at the subject line, you'll see that it's a ... written request for a leave of absence."
Harry Maybourne's glare was positively deadly.
"I've heard worse plans, Jack."
A snort came through the phone. "Diplomatic. Be blunt. She can take it."
"Hey!" Vala sat up, glaring at the phone. "But yes. Sam. Do."
"I think it'll be difficult to keep knowledge of certain... activities from him if he's on the tour, but the grace period it gives us in the press might just be worth it. And anyone can be persuaded to keep quiet with persuasion," Sam poured a glass of water from the nearby jar and took a seat. "By the time the tour is over, Vala will be eighteen, Cam's already twenty one and we're nearly in a different ball game anyway."
"What's he like, this Jackson guy? I've read the column and it's bull."
"He and the column are separable entities. If he has promise, we'll work on that," Vala waved a hand at the phone. "Jack, it's foolproof."
"I agree," Sam nodded, scrunching her nose, "he dresses like he'd rather be in a desert than in central New York."
Jack sighed. "I have one condition, ladies."
"Come on, Harry," Daniel followed the muttering hack through the short corridor from his desk to the sub-editor's office. "You get someone else to write it for a couple of months. I can run a style edit from wherever I am with a laptop, make it sound like nothing's changed. It's not like anyone outside this building knows it's me."
Maybourne shut the door and stood behind his pedantically neat desk. "Except," his fist hit the desk, "that pernicious assistant and Mal Doran's entourage."
Daniel waved that off. "And what currency does that actually have? It's not like I'm Jack O'Neill or Sheppard's assistant, Weir, bitching in the press on the side."
"It's not what currency, Jackson, it's what leverage it gives them over you," Maybourne braced both hands on the desk and looked up.
"None," Daniel held out his hands, palms up. "Everybody knows hacks write bull for the rent. John Pilger was a copy boy for the Sydney Sun before he got his break in London-"
"Jesus, Jackson, I get your point."
Daniel stood very still, watching as Maybourne sighed and seemed to simmer in his seat, hand inching towards the phone.
"Harry, it's foolproof."
Maybourne's gaze jerked up from the phone.
"Either way, we get an exclusive."
"Since when were you a team player, Jackson?" As Daniel opened his mouth to reply, Maybourne waved a hand dismissively and lifted the phone. "Fine. I'll take it up with the General. But you're finding me a damn temp!"
Want to take over the world?
Vala leaned forward and took the hot chocolate from the tray. "Car?"
Sam stirred her tea. "Fifteen minutes. We should be at the studio in ten after that, then make up and record at four."
Sam stirred her tea.
"Is this stupid?"
Sam paused as T. nodded over Vala's shoulder and quietly left to guard from outside the door.
"I think-" Sam sighed. "I think it's worth calling Cameron in on it. He's going to have to know."
Her charge, employer and friend winced. "I checked the schedules before I said it, you know. If it's any time-"
"I know," Sam leaned forward and put a hand on her friend's wrist. "But it's whether some secrets are still worth protecting, Vala."
"I'll text him and see if he wants to do dinner after the commercial shoot," Vala nodded.
Subject: Re: Conspiracy.
I have other things to do with my nights and your empire of dirt is beneath my magnificence.
"Damn it," Daniel hissed, glaring at the email. There went that easy solution. HotRod, for all he was an ass, had an arsenal of contacts and experience. Even Maybourne would have been happy with him as a replacement.
Daniel grabbed a pad of post-its. Daniel Jackson. Llama. Llama mail. Contacts. Column.
Staring at the series of words, he blinked and hit his clenched fist against his forehead. Anyone could write the column.
"You what now, baby girl?"
Voice tight but hands at her waist gentle, Cameron turned the last spin in the short routine and Vala threw out her left hand with a bright smile, crossing one ankle over the other in midair.
Tugging the skirt back into place, Vala stood stock still where Cam had deposited her.
"I'll tell you at dinner. Don't hate me."
When Cam grinned, nodded and returned to the first position, Vala met Sam's eyes from across the studio. The look her friend gave her called her a chicken in several languages.
Janet looked at the steaming frothed mocha sitting by her hand and looked over her shoulder to where Daniel had slid his own swivel chair across to her cubicle.
"Well, this is bribery. What's the price? Quickly, Daniel, before my caffeine goes cold."
Daniel grinned. "How would you like to be the Drama Llama for a few months?"
Janet spun slowly on the chair to face him, cradling the mocha and tapping her fingers off the side of the cup. "Steep price, Daniel."
"I'll give you half my pay, I'll edit it on the road, all you need to do is access the email and type up the juicy tips-"
Janet held up a hand. "On the road where?"
"I might be going on tour with Vala Mal Doran," Daniel admitted in a rush. "But don't tell anyone. It's a secret."
He heard a low laugh from the other side of Janet's partition.
"That's a wrap!"
Vala and Cameron high-fived, turning to catch the bottles of water Sam threw to them as she walked across the studio. Wrapping an arm around her waist, Cam kissed her temple and whispered, "Four months til freedom. Freedom."
The grin slipped from Vala's face as she watched Cam walk away with Sam. Four months, but how difficult had she just made them?
Janet and Daniel stuck their heads around the wall. Janet tapped her fingers on the wall somewhat menacingly. "You have something to add here, Marty?"
Marty Lantash ducked his head and raised it with a perfectly straight face. "Not a thing. I'd simply forgotten how incredibly mad this place is. Still, take pleasure from the fact that Joli reads your column every day."
Janet and Daniel shared a glance before Janet tugged Daniel back into her cubicle. "I'm not taking half of your pay, Daniel. Make it a quarter. And throw in a signed photograph and tshirt- signed by both Vala Mal Doran and Cameron Mitchell - for Cassie and you have a deal."
A delicate cough came from the door and Marty's lightly accented voice broke in. "I'll help if you can get the same for Joli."
Daniel and Janet both turned to stare at the embarrassed travel columnist, who specialised in going where most travel columnists wouldn't.
"Jolinar likes Everybody Loves High School!," Daniel stated flatly, blinking and trying to picture the passionate foreign affairs correspondent watching the Disney cheese-fest and failing.
Marty cast an eye around outside the cubicle with a light smile. "If you tell anyone, she'll have you on the obit desk faster than the speed of light. She has her ways."
Daniel and Janet held up their hands and nodded.
"Besides," Janet grinned, sitting and sipping her mocha, "Between the four of us, this should be easy."
"Four?!" Daniel asked, wondering exactly what he had unloosed on the world.
"Marty, Joli, Cassie and I," Janet nodded innocently, eyes lighting up. "We can have dinners."
As Marty and Janet began to talk cuisine, Daniel made a hasty exit.
Subject: The Temp
[Attached: personaldetails - temps.doc]
Found your temp. I wish you Godspeed in the frying pan.
Tucking into room service Italian, Vala waited on the explosion. She expected one, despite the two having known each other since the ages of six and nine respectively.
"This," Cam said slowly, "is mad."
Sam made a noise of agreement from beside Cam.
Vala nodded. "I know. We'll have a film crew with us for the DVD extras anyway, but-"
Cam nodded, setting his fork on the table and sitting back in the chair. Arms crossed, he put two fingers below Vala's chin and lifted her eyes to meet his. "Are you sure about this?"
Vala could lie to the press easily enough, but this was Cam. "No. Not entirely. But they're closing in and we're getting old enough that Jack can't do anything about it. We can play this how we like- give him an exclusive he's not expecting either way."
Cam let his hand fall with a sigh, reaching into his pocket. "I'm going to have to make a phone call."
Sam pressed a hand on Vala's shoulder at a soft chime at the door. "That's room service. I'd best get them the clothes that need pressing for tomorrow."
Subject: The Temp
Just went by your desk and you're gone. HOW CAN YOU LEAVE ME WITH THEM?! HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME?!?! I HAVE CHILDREN.
I want the final copy by one am every single damn day or you'll be getting familiar with concrete wardrobes, you hear me?!
Daniel stood at the edge of his bed, looking at the email in his personal inbox with a grin. It was a fortunate coincidence of timing that he'd sent his email at exactly two minutes to five, walking out of the door two minutes later. It was an even more fortunate circumstance that the leave Harry and the General had signed off on began on Monday and that he'd applied on the Friday.
One advantage the daily column had on real work was that it generally had a five day week.
He frowned, looking at the empty suitcase and confronted the disconcerting idea that he had absolutely no idea what to pack.
He knew someone who would, though.
Vala was jerked back from her wandering thoughts by the ringing phone on the table.
She looked around. T. was on his break, his partner Ishta taking guard duty while he ate on the outside of the doorway. Sam was still in the other room.
Usually, someone else answered the phone, adding to the myth that anyone who wanted to contact Vala had to go through Sam. However, no one else was around, and the display clearly said 'Hacks: Daniel Jackson.' She'd have to meet him eventually-
"Samantha Carter. Mr. Jackson. No, not immediately."
Vala pulled her hand back as Sam breezed into and out of the room, taking the phone with her.
In a dense, evergreen forest in eastern Oregon, John Sheppard sheltered under a plastic awning and took a cup of warm cocoa from an amused Elizabeth Weir. The hoodie wasn't necessary under the awning, but it helped preserve the remaining shreds of his dignity.
"Why am I doing this?"
Elizabeth shook her head - her dry head, John noted with narrowed eyes - and grinned. "Posters, John. You will be on many posters and have enough money to do whatever you like, including projects more... to your taste."
Sending a smirk her way to point out that his agent, manager and friend had successfully danced around calling their current project 'distasteful' or even 'tasteless', John swore and sat down the cup.
She watched him, smiling openly as he tugged out the ridiculous aerial on the phone. "It's the Disney whore," John nodded, grinning. If they were spending four months in volcanic mountains, back of beyond forests and other such wonderfully remote places, they were getting satellite phones, John had insisted when they took the gig. Elizabeth could have found a smaller, more discreet phone, but, as she'd told him when he'd screwed up his nose at the brick, it wouldn't have that retro charm.
"No, I'm here-"
John sent Elizabeth a smile of thanks as she tugged up her hood and moved off to the catering tent. He pulled up a plastic chair and settled in by the tent-pole.
"-It's just hard to get comfortable when I'm practically talking on a walkie-talkie."
"That's why we don't piss off the rulers, John," came Cam's soft voice, with a Kansas burr still attached that even Disney couldn't shift. "God, you remember the walkie-talkies?"
"That's what we're calling the managers now?" John propped his chin up on his elbow and smiled crookedly. "And yeah, I do. You sucked at hide and seek."
A laugh crossed the rotten connection. "You know it. We both know you'd be up shit creek without Liz. And if you're gonna keep taking these gigs, you'd best keep her sweet. I hear there's a lot of creeks in Oregon for careless boys like you."
"Hey," John tried to sound mildly insulted, but it was hard when it was accurate. "I'd be fine. Or I'd steal Sam. You wouldn't mind, right?"
"Keep telling yourself that, Shep." A cough and John heard something tense in Cameron's usually relaxed voice. "Much as I'd love to shoot the breeze, I didn't actually call for a weather report."
"I'm hurt," John answered flippantly, quickly checking who happened to be around in the local vicinity. "What's up?"
"-has a plan."
Two minutes later, John was left with only the bad words in his vocabulary. And his surprise that Cam's slow temper hadn't been sparked: this was his sensitive point even more than it was John's. The other man had always been more of a Boy Scout. Vala must have talked faster than the speed of light on this one.
"Shep, you gotta breathe. I know how you feel, but oxygen. It's important."
John took the phone away from his ear and glared at it. Cam would never know and he felt better. "Okay. Calm. She what?!"
"She made a couple of good points," Cam explained slowly in the tone John knew as his very best I'm-being-reasonable voice. "We get to assess the guy, the situation. Then, we can either use this as the best smokescreen we're ever gonna get - hide our relationship right under a reporter's nose - or-"
"-something else," John breathed out. Hell, if Vala had talked that fast, he'd give her a foot rub next time they shared a hotel.
"Either way, we'll be careful, Shep."
Cam was the only person to use 'Shep' - the only person who'd met him, anyway. When he'd Googled it, any hit had been forums and blogs. Cam had pouted a bit, but then reminded John he'd had 'Shep' claimed for near on a decade, including the entire Disney Club era, and the fangirls could deal with it.
"When are we not?" John shot back, then winced and hoped the phone line made it sound less like whining. Because he wasn't, really.
"At least we can control this- to an extent. Look, Vala didn't ask me, but I am asking you." John let out a sigh, most of the small amount of irritation he felt with his boyfriend vanishing. The rest should have been, by rights, directed elsewhere and towards the forces that made them even consider things like this. But Cam was saying he didn't like it either, and he'd stop it somehow if John asked, and that meant something. More than that, it meant Cam was thinking about futures beyond the company chokehold.
"The girl better know what she's doing," John replied after a beat. "I know Sam will call Liz anyway, but should I -"
"-give her a heads up, yeah." A pause and a low laugh. "It's Vala," Cam answered dryly. That meant one of three things in the book of Things About Cam, John being well aware of the faith Cam had in his precocious, maddening best friend. It meant: it's Vala, so give her the benefit of the doubt; it's Vala, so it might work just like all her other inadvisable plans; or it's Vala, and today she's driving me crazy.
John heard a familiar cough and looked across to the catering tent. Elizabeth looked small, standing in front of his bodyguard, Ronon Dex. She held up a hand, five fingers spread wide. John nodded and held up a hand matching it. Distance-high-five, five minutes left on break, message received.
"I'm being summoned," John said while sitting up, watching Elizabeth nod while speaking to the make up artist brandishing a spray gun. "Say hi to the crazies, will you?"
"Back at you." John sat up, easing out his shoulders and smiling when Cam let out a breath on the other end of the phone. "What time's good to call? You know, the weather report."
"I'll call back later tonight," he answered, grinning. "I'd better go. I have to re-shoot a scene and apparently my body glitter isn't dazzling enough."
Cam snickered audibly. "You go get pretty, Shep."
"Ass," John muttered into the phone as the make up artist approached.
"Love you too."
"So, you got all that?"
"Uh... written down? In my possession?"
Sam sighed, rolling her eyes. "Both, Mr. Jackson."
"Yeah, yeah- I think so- maybe not the -"
"Email me a list of what you don't have and we'll arrange it." Sam balanced the phone between her chin and shoulder, tapping out an email on the laptop. "And let me take this opportunity to remind you of the seriousness of what you're being given here. All access, constant access, all expenses. We expect you, of course, to respect Miss Mal Doran's privacy and need to sleep, but if she is considered working, then so are you."
There was a pause on the end of the line. "Uh, sure. That's, uh, unexpected."
Sam knew better than to underestimate the journalist, even if he sounded like a gormless idiot. "I spoke to your general editor and the executive who bankrolls Vala's company budget. You're included."
So much for the end of the studio stables, Sam thought, hearing herself.
"You are aware that I will be remaining objective and that caviar on the road won't make me write a different article."
Ah, there's the eloquence. "Yes, Mr. Jackson, we're aware of that."
"Then I will see you on Monday at the rehearsals and be in touch over the weekend."
"Fantastic," Sam answered, closing the phone.
Fantastic. The assistant hates me-
Daniel's phone was only halfway to being tossed on the bed, his thought only half formed when it rang again.
A cough brought him up short on the other end. "Daniel, how are you?"
He let out a breath. "Sarah. Sorry, I didn't look-"
"I heard you were going on tour."
Daniel sat on the edge of the bed with a dry smile. "Does the entire office know?"
The crisp English voice on the other end softened. "Most of it, yes. Stephen thinks it's hilarious."
"Stephen would," Daniel muttered before saying, "So what can I help you with?"
Sarah Gardner, a British ex-pat and politics journalist, happened to be Daniel's ex-girlfriend.
"Nothing," came the lightly amused reply. "I was calling to say 'good luck.'"
"Oh." I really need to try harder on this 'friends' thing, Daniel thought. "Thanks. I know it's not the kind of story we always thought we should be writing, but-"
"The writer makes the story, Daniel, not the other way around," Sarah replied when he hesitated. "Just think of it as a very well-manicured warzone. Chemical weapons and chemical peels must share some toxins, at any rate."
Daniel laughed, ducking his head.
"Anyway, I just ... wanted to call," Sarah finished. "I must be going to tea, but-"
Ten years and she still calls it 'tea', Daniel thought with a smile. "Thanks, Sarah. I mean it."
"I know you do."
Damn. He had more than one reason to get away. The one that made him start packing, however, was the way his stomach still flipped at the thought of Sarah going to tea with a diplomatically unnamed gentleman that office gossip had it on good authority was Stephen Rayner.
Vala had curled up on the couch with a book while the others made their phone calls. Typically, just as it was getting really interesting, both Sam and Cam walked back into the room.
"How is everyone?"
She sat the book down and crossed her legs, waiting for the recaps.
Two days later, on the outskirts of LA, Daniel raised an eyebrow at the hotel room he'd been given before turning his head at a knock on the door.
Samantha. Of course it was. "Mr. Jackson. Is the room adequate?"
Daniel raised his eyebrow again, looking around the luxurious, spacious and slightly intimidating double room with a crooked smile. "More than adequate, Miss Carter, but I suspect you know that."
"This hotel doesn't have a penthouse suite large enough to accommodate the main cast," Samantha explained, sitting a small folder the size of a paperback and as thick as a Tolstoy on his desk and a USB pen on top of that. "So the company hired a floor. Vala and I are in the suite next door, Cameron on your left. And if you intend to keep to Miss Mal Doran's schedule-"
"I do," Daniel put in.
"Very good," Samantha murmured. She had a gift, Daniel realised, for making him feel about ten years old. She looked up with a smile. "Well, you'll appreciate a decent room. Besides, this is home for the next two months, Mr. Jackson. I suggest you settle in."
Daniel moved to the folder and opened it curiously, lifting the USB in his other hand. "What're these?"
Samantha paused by the door. "A copy of my copy of Miss Mal Doran's schedule and a digital back up. It's rather comprehensive."
Left holding the small, chunky diary, Daniel wondered exactly what he'd gotten himself into.
Vala pointed her toes experimentally, kicking her legs and grinning at the ceiling.
"Baby girl, what are you doing?"
"Hullo, Cam," Vala looked up and waved. "You're upside down."
Cam laughed and sat next to her on the cough, using one arm to lift her legs down across his lap and the other to pull Vala up to sitting position.
As she pivoted to sitting, Vala crossed her arms in a fairly good impersonation of an annoyed person before cracking up into giggles.
"See? The blood went to your head and now you're crazy," Cam shook his head in a resigned tone.
Vala laughed and kissed him on the cheek. "I know you miss John, but-"
"Yeah, yeah," Cam nodded, "two whole months in one place." He looked at Vala sidelong, "Even if it means getting up at six every morning."
With a grin, Vala swung her legs back up against the back of the couch and her head back to upside down. "Every damsel has some misfortunes."
"So is there a reason we're in LA?" Daniel asked bodyguard one, standing outside his door and looking around the next morning. He stuck a hand out. "I'm Daniel Jackson. I can grab my pass-"
"I am aware of your identity, Daniel Jackson."
"Please, call me-"
The walkie at the bodyguard's upper arm crackled slightly. With only the barest incline of his head, bodyguard one walked away.
"So you're Daniel Jackson," came a sleepy voice, and Daniel turned to see a well-muscled young man lounging against his door frame in slacks and a white vest while roughly toweling his damp hair. He stuck a hand out, casting an appraising eye towards Daniel's loose trousers and rolled up shirt sleeves. "Cameron Mitchell."
"I know," Daniel answered before mentally smacking his forehead. "I mean, thanks."
"Sam got one thing right," Cameron said after a beat, throwing his towel back into his room and pocketing a key card. "You dress kinda like a librarian. Want to come with me and find the coffee?"
Daniel followed, trying to boot up his brain and access what he knew about Cameron Mitchell. He'd looked over his files the night before, but the only file his head was opening at five thirty am was the one that demanded an upgrade from an empty stomach. "Is it- I mean- should I change?"
Cameron, apparently more used to being civil at stupid o'clock, shook his head and pressed the call button on the elevator. "Nah. It's rehearsals. Nobody dresses up proper for rehearsals." They got in, Daniel nodding. "That back there was T.. Don't take it personally - he's not much of a people person."
Daniel nodded again, stumbling for something to say to the unexpectedly nice star across from him. "So, uh, is there a reason we're in LA?"
"Rehearsals," Cameron answered with a loose grin and shrug. "Someone at the company got a good rate on the hotel and the space, so here we are. Gotta admit I like being in the sun."
"Not a morning person, are you, Jackson?"
Daniel looked at the celebrity, still standing and grinning across the elevator.
As they exited on the second floor, Cameron patted his upper arm. "Don't worry. Answer after coffee."
As Daniel Jackson took his time choosing between the apple and the banana at the breakfast bar, Cam located Sam and sat down opposite her. "Morning. Where's Vala?"
"Finished already. She had the bacon," Sam answered, smiling. "You know what she's like on the first day."
"Yeah," Cam replied.
Sam looked over his shoulder, eyes narrowing on the journalist by the trays. "You walked down together?"
Cam bit back a laugh, covering his mouth with his glass of orange juice. "Yeah, we did. And I think I've got his Achilles Heel nailed already."
"Hold his coffee ransom and you'll get moonbeams in the article, if you want 'em."
Sam shook her head with a laugh. "I will try not to be too paranoid. Honest."
"Nah, don't," Cam grinned, "someone's gotta be."
If Samantha Carter was any different in the mornings than at any other time, Daniel wouldn't have known it. Deposited at a make shift desk and told it was now his by the brisk young woman, he looked around the slightly shabby but huge auditorium and sat in the old style red chair at his desk at the extreme left of the fifth row.
At five to seven, a slow trickle of slim figures made their way onto the wide, dark stage in the auditorium. Daniel was relieved to see that a good number of them seemed hunched and were clutching water bottles sleepily.
As a loud, familiar laugh he recognised as Cameron Mitchell's floated through the auditorium, the lights dimmed. The outline of Mitchell's shoulders shrugged and he inclined his head to a slim shadow beside him.
"Ladies, whelps, gentleman and esteemed guests!"
Like a rapid, syncopated wave, shoulders dropped slightly among the group. Daniel stole a look towards Samantha, standing with her phone at her ear and with a rare wide smile. Or rare to him, Daniel thought, mainly because he was still in the Pain in the Ass sub-category in at least one of her phone books.
The lights dimmed to a mild glare that would have still gotten the average driver arrested if they were headlights and a short, bald man in an inadvisable tracksuit walked out of the right hand side.
Daniel fumbled for the page he'd read in the car. This had to be the stage director and choreographer. No one else had been given quite the same set of adjectives in Samantha's detailed files.
"Darlings, it is wonderful to be home." Arlos Kormack spun lightly and held out his hands expansively. "Now. The story. It is the same as always-"
Daniel nearly snorted out his coffee.
"-but different. A boy-"
Arlos gestured flamboyantly to the space in the centre and Cameron obliged by walking towards it with a lazy smile.
"-this boy will meet a girl. Again. And all over again."
Daniel's respect for Cameron's acting ability increased dramatically when Arlos attempted to put both hands on both of the younger man's shoulders and found the height difference a few inches too far, clapping his hands and moving in front of Cameron instead. How the actor kept a straight face, Daniel didn't know.
Arlos turned on the chorus, pointing around them like a preacher of a particularly unorthodox religion.
"- what can you plebs contribute to this? Everything, darlings, everything." The choreographer moved among them. "He must be your hero. He is the alpha male of the tribe, and you must be a tribe!" Arlos spun on a well-booted heel, holding out both hands coquettishly. "And I give you - your goddess."
Daniel looked up, listening for the cherubs and the lightning, but none of that happened. What happened was that a slim, toned young woman with a long, dark ponytail stepped forward from the crowd, smile wide and step light. If the evidence of his eyes hadn't told him, Daniel would have barely recognised the girl as the same person who'd stepped out of the limo three days before. The outfits - dark blue Robert Cavalli dress then, leggings and vest top now - couldn't have been more different.
With a kiss to each of Arlos's cheeks, Vala Mal Doran commanded the attention of every eye in the very large room without even trying.
As the script books were passed out and Vala sat next to Cameron on the stage, bumping shoulders against his and the back of her head against his shoulder as she turned, Daniel forced himself to start taking notes.
Cam waited in the line for the packed lunches, feeling his throat begin to tingle. He could sing fine and well, but unlike Vala, he didn't do it every day. At least, not while he had a choice in the matter. Dancing and exercise were different, and acting was his profession (at least as far as he saw it), but the singing was one part of the Disney life he'd be glad to leave behind.
"Hey, Walter. How's it goin'?"
"Very well, Mr. Mitchell," the cheerful man replied, pointing to the boxes, "salad, bacon, chicken or turkey?"
"They've got you on sandwich duty?" Cam reached into the turkey box for himself and took a white bag before grabbing a chicken salad bag and sachet of mayo for Vala. She didn't like red meat more than once in a day- she ate it for the energy, but wasn't so fond of the taste.
Walter coughed with a slight smile. "Mr. O'Neill asked me to oversee the rehearsals personally. I thought I would make myself useful."
Knowing that Walter's diary was only slightly slimmer than Sam's, Cam raised an eyebrow but grinned. "Talk to you later, Walter."
"Very well, Mr. Mitchell," Walter replied, saying hello to the chorus dancer behind Cam in the queue.
Walking back to the stage area, Cam waved the bag in front of Vala's eyes from behind her. Swatting a little like a cat, she grinned and took it as he sat down next to her on the edge of the stage.
"What'd you get?" Vala asked, emptying the contents of the paper bag out between them and fishing out the sandwich.
"Turkey," Cam answered, emptying his own bag out and swiping Vala's little tub of blue jello.
"How ... sweet," Vala snorted and Cam rolled his eyes, waving the stolen tub before sitting it just out of her reach with a grin.
Vala, somewhat pettily, lunged and took the red tub from the pile the instant before Cam reached for it. "Share and share a-like, darling."
Daniel ignored the looks from the kids in the lunch queue, considering that his 'blending in' technique might need some work. Or some different clothes.
"Mr. Jackson," an unfamiliar man nodded by the sandwich boxes. "Salad, chicken, turkey or bacon?"
Daniel blinked. "Ah. Chicken would be great. How'd you-"
"Walter Harriman, Mr. Jackson." Daniel swapped the white paper bag to his other hand and shook the man's hand with a smile. Jack O'Neill's project manager. "If you need anything, don't hesitate to call me. My number should be in the file Miss Carter gave you."
Still blindsided by the seemingly effortless organisation this team put into everything, but getting at least used to the blindsided part, Daniel thanked the man and moved off.
Cam watched Daniel Jackson walk back to his seat over mouthfuls of sandwich.
"Is that him?" Vala stage-whispered, leaning into his shoulder.
"Do you see anyone else dressed like a geography teacher?"
Vala laughed quietly and tilted her head. "He'd look good in a suit. Or ... something else." She tilted it back. "Anything else, actually."
"You want me to call him over? You'll meet him properly at dinner tonight, but-"
"Do be serious, Cameron." Vala looked faintly amused and scandalised, a hand rising to her hair. "At least wait until I have some make up on and I'm not in glorified underwear."
Cam grinned, finding Vala's reactions to men she hadn't known from childhood deeply amusing. "But you don't mind Arlos and thirty dancers and me seeing you in no make up and glorified underwear."
"No. That's different," Vala replied primly. "Besides, you don't count."
"Aren't they sweet?"
"NY journal has them engaged by the end of the year."
Vala and Cameron looked at each other and stifled giggles, hearing the only-slightly lowered tones of two of the dancers.
The brunette let out a hiss as she shut the hotel door behind her.
"Bath?" Sam asked, sitting on the couch and booting up the laptop.
Vala shook her head. "No time - and it's my own fault for slacking in New York." She looked over her shoulder to where her personal trainer was nodding and stuck out her tongue. "Doesn't mean I like this." The deceptively older man, an old military friend of T.'s and known only as 'Brian', laughed and left.
Sam handed her a hot towel and nodded towards the shower. "It'll make your shoulders feel better."
"Oh, God," Vala muttered by the bathroom door frame, "you know what's going to happen next week."
"I do," Sam answered grimly. "The staff have been informed, and the walls around the bathroom are pretty solid."
Vala nodded and shut the bathroom door with a slightly wan wave.
Cam blinked. "What'd I do?"
"You're... you're chipper. And not limping at all."
Cam passed Vala the vinegar and fought down a laugh. Every single time. "But you were so bright and happy this morning."
"That," Vala answered imperiously, "was this morning."
Daniel walked into the hotel restaurant, sitting at the offered chair at Cameron's right.
"Vala-" Cam swallowed a grin at Sam's glare. "Vala pases on her apologies, but she was exhausted and decided to get an early night."
Daniel shook his head and made polite conversation for the rest of the dinner, wondering if all the efficiency was just a very efficient way to keep him separated from his supposed-subject. Still, it was only the first day, and he had carte blanche to be around for months.
Subject: Day One
Hope the first day was fine. Cassie sends her love. Marty and Joli were round last night conjuring this- hope it meets with your approval. We made ratatouille.
Text Message Received 0520
To: Cameron Mitchell, cell phone.
Why are we awake? Don't say you're not. Stupid rain.
The next morning, Vala heard a soft knock at the door just as she was beginning to come to some vague approximation of conscious. Someone padded past the room to the main door.
"...her own good."
"It's your own good you're risking."
Oh, God. Not this year.
Vala rolled over into the pillows, wrapping her arms around the top one. Pre-emptive action. That was what this situation called for.
A cough came from beside the bed. "I know you're all sorts of awake, Princess."
"No. I'm really not. Not even one kind."
"Okay. If you want next week to hit you like a ton of bricks-"
Vala groaned into the pillows, feeling light clothes hit the covers. "I'm getting up."
The next morning, he heard a knock at his door at five thirty. Stumbling up and to the door, he opened it enough to see a cross-section of Cameron Mitchell's insufferable grin.
"Time already?" Daniel opened the door slightly further and shoved on his glasses.
"-do you own any gym slacks?"
"I didn't agree to this-"
Cam turned to face the two very sleepy people walking behind him. "Daniel Jackson, meet Vala Mal Doran."
Vala's performing instincts, as Cam knew they would, took over at that point. As did the inate politeness so incongruous in the reporter, who stuck out a hand and ran the other tiredly through his hair. Vala shook it. When Jackson let her hand fall back to her side, Cam picked it up and deposited a bottle of water in it. "There's coffee on top of the treadmill, Jackson."
As Jackson made a bee-line for the paper cup of his personal elixir, Vala firmly grabbed Cam's hand and dragged him to the side. "What, oh dear one, is the meaning of this?"
Her tone was low and dangerous.
"-you're a teeny bit out of shape."
"Calling me fat is not going to help, Cameron."
Cam laughed and looked at her, raising one eyebrow. "You're not fat, Vala, and you know that. But you could be fitter. A twenty minute warm up will make you feel better, trust me."
Vala blinked. "Why's he here?"
"To make you feel fitter than someone else in the room," Cam grinned and said in his best reasonable tone, taking her by the shoulders and pointing her in Jackson's direction. "Also, look at him. Look at the way he's treating that poor machine."
Jackson had apparently decided that the treadmill looked like hard work and had taken to the stepper instead. Vala swallowed and walked over to him as Cam stretched out his leg muscles.
He looked down and made to step off the machine.
"-please, don't. You might find it easier if you go with the motion, rather than pushing against it."
Cam swallowed a laugh, catching the sight of Jackson blushing all the way to the ears.
"You don't look unfit," Vala stated bluntly over breakfast twenty minutes later. "So why are you useless with gym equipment?"
Daniel ducked his head and took a swig of his (second) cup of coffee. "I walk a lot. I spent a couple of years hitching and backpacking around Europe."
"Of course you did."
Vala blinked, realising she'd said that out loud as Cam snorted into his orange juice.
Daniel narrowed his eyes at her and sat his coffee mug down with an audible clink. "So you don't sound American."
"Perhaps because I'm Australian, as I suspect you know," Vala shot back across the table. "The accent is put on for the publicity."
Vala grinned up at Sam and patted the seat beside her.
Twenty minutes and twenty questions later, Vala got up to go to the car that would take her to the auditorium. Pushing her chair back in, she looked at Daniel, manner switching from sharp and witty to effortlessly, condescendingly polite in an instant. "Mr. Jackson-"
"-do join us for lunch."
And with that she was gone.
Daniel ran a hand through his hair again, looking at the blank page on the small notepad balanced on his knee and wondering where to start.
He heard a low laugh and met Cameron Mitchell's eyes as the young man stood, one hand clutching a carton of orange juice and the other clicking a button on a phone before pocketing it.
"Yeah. She's like that."