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Blessed are the Illusion Dwellers

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The first time he appears, it's spring and he's been dead over a year.

He's little more than a Daniel-shaped outline against the flickering flames, just a glimpse between fluttering eyelids as she falls asleep. Or perhaps she's sleeping already. Dreaming. She's never been one for visions.

Teal'c is out of sight, over an incline, hidden in the shadows beyond the reach of the small fire that is burning beside her. On the edges of this forest is a settlement and he's watching for signs of life, hostile or otherwise. Tomorrow, Janet would really like to ransack the place for medical supplies or flammable liquids. Both would be a real boon. She's used to being both a doctor and a soldier, but never quite this simultaneously.

On Teal'c's advice, they switch tactics regularly, never keeping the same pattern of attack. But the weapon options are limited so Molotov cocktails have become a staple. Raids like this provide the ingredients for more effective mixes; rubber cement or dish washing liquid makes the fuel thicker, more adhesive, like napalm. Even flour is useful; an exploding cloud of it creates a nice diversion. And afterwards, she can always see Sam's face in her mind's eye, grinning with approval. Janet lives for those bittersweet moments of remembrance and tries not to think of how they are all she has left.

Except now she's dreaming of Daniel. Daniel who has been gone longer than anyone else.

She snorts quietly to herself and rolls over. Exhaustion does funny things to the brain. The solid science is a comfort, helping to steady her pulse after the lurch her heart gave. In the stillness, she tries not to remind herself that this isn't a world for science any more.

She's almost constantly hungry; to begin with they could easily survive off the land, but the fields withered and died or burnt as the fires spread. Sometimes, when they are downwind from an old burning crop field, they catch the scent of popcorn, faint and incongruous on the breeze.

They've been on the move for weeks, constantly running, hiding for hours in tangled thickets until cramps start, and then longer still. It never seems to faze Teal'c; she's only getting better at driving through it by mimicking him. She usually sleeps fitfully, dreaming in vivid fire and flame, and it's never for long enough.

Maybe tomorrow they'll reach a town and be able to hole up for longer than a couple of nights. Sleeping in a real bed will be nice and she's looking forward to that hazy moment on waking where everything is fine and the Ori are just a bad memory.


The next time she's not so sure it's just fatigue.

She glances back, looking west to check how long they have until the sun goes down. And there he is, again, a silhouette. It shocks her enough that she drops her canteen. She looks down automatically with the faint clang and when she looks up again, he's gone.

It's easy to explain things away when sleep beckons. But wide awake, following a trail through rough terrain...she shakes her head. She's obviously more tired than she realised. She turns away and forces herself not to look back.

She hasn't seen anyone from the mountain since they left in a hurry five months ago and, if Daniel isn't there when she looks again, she's going to think about Sam and Cameron and General O'Neill and oh God, Cassie and the clenching in her chest might actually consume her. She's coping alright, she thinks, but she doesn't want Teal'c to have to bodily drag her onward a second time. And if Daniel is still standing there, she might well need dragging.

Instead, she keeps going, picking her way between the rocks. Teal'c is ahead, moving more silently than Janet could ever hope to, and beyond him is some woodland. She speeds up a little to join him before he hits the tree line. They've got forty minutes, she estimates. The days are getting shorter and they are also heading north, back toward the mountains, which hide the sun well before nightfall. She frowns. The fires the Ori lit around the world burnt for so long that the ash settled into the stratosphere. The sunsets are spectacular now, one of her few pleasures, and their heading into the mountains means she's going to miss them.

They've learnt to grab sleep whenever they can – not so hard after their former lives on a military base – but she's aware that it's only mid-September. Winter will be different.

The day has been relatively quiet, a blessed break, though she knows better than to relax.

Today, they aren't going to bed too hungry or damp or wounded. She didn't have to inform a father that she couldn't do anything for his son with her limited medkit, and Teal'c didn't have to lie to her about what they were eating. She appreciates the consideration, but she can tell the difference between rural rats and bigger, urban rats. And she knows why the latter are so fat, can smell it on the air whenever they go near a city. It's one of the reasons they are sticking to the country.

Today, they didn't need to kill anyone. That alone makes it a good day.


There's the faintest scent of coffee. One moment she's half-awake, letting the sounds of the dusk cradle her, and the next it's like she's floating. And there's coffee. She smiles. A pleasant dream would be a welcome change.

She's sleeping on the floor of a ruined outbuilding. Sections of wall have collapsed and the roof is open, but the night is clear and Teal'c found some blankets in a wooden chest in the corner. The material is scratchy on her skin. Still, she wasn't going to turn down a chance to wash their sleeping bags.

Sensation ghosts across her forehead. She stirs, lifting her arm to swipe at it, eyes shooting open as her hand contacts with something warm and almost solid and very, very close. She instinctively recoils, bedding twisting around her legs. Blue eyes meet hers, gaze steady. Daniel.

"Huh," she exhales, the adrenaline rush receding.

His face is achingly familiar and the emotions swell in her chest. He's not real, she reminds herself, though it's difficult to think that way when he looks so whole, feels so there.

It strikes her how vivid everything is. From the glow of the moonlight across his cheekbone to the muffled stillness of the settling night around them. A hundred little details she wants to capture to return to later and run her eyes over like a treasured photograph.

She's studying his upper lip – he has the most beautiful mouth, she remembers now – when it curves upward at the edges.

"Nice to see you, too," he quips, too easily.

She scowls at him, but his smile is knowing and she wonders if she's had this dream before. She would ask, but it sounds silly as she frames the question in her head. She wants to know how Sam is, and all the others, but she can't find the courage. If the answer is as she fears, then there'll be nothing to temper the anger that runs through her, deep and fine. Besides, he's not real. Not real.

Instead, she does something she never let herself think of doing before, in a time when words like "downtime" and "hot bath" were in her vocabulary. She presses her lips to his, keeping her eyes open, the kiss chaste.

His hand flexes. She feels his fingers spread wide and the not-quite-pressure makes the hairs on her arms stand up. His mouth moves beneath hers, capturing her lower lip, and her eyes flutter closed. The gentle tug doesn't feel like it ought to, but sends a bolt of desire down the length of her anyway, prompting her to push closer, instinctively.

When they break apart, she can see her muted grief reflected in his eyes. He doesn't look a second older than when she last saw him at the SGC, except for his eyes. She cups his face, fingers tingling, and leans in again. Offering and taking comfort.

Her neck arches back when his lips trail over her jaw and he finds the spot that would make her knees weak if she were standing. The stars gaze back at her through the hole in the ceiling. She can't quite grasp at his hair as his fingers unbutton her shirt and his mouth follows. She shivers, his kisses cooling on her newly exposed skin. His touch is still odd, a non-sensation that really shouldn't feel as good as it does, fingers not-pressing into the skin of her hip. He pulls away to remove his t-shirt and she helps, automatically scanning for scars that aren't there any more. His eyes meet hers, full of something she doesn't dare give a name to.

He returns to her, runs one hand down her side, over ribs that she knows are more prominent than they used to be, and hooks the other gently under her knee, lifting until her foot rests flat on the ground. When he kneels, placing a kiss just below her navel, it's so reverent she can only think of worship and she has to close her eyes.

It's a long time before she opens them again. The first thing she sees is his face, his expression concerned. She almost expected him to have disappeared. Part of her is a little worried that he hasn't, about what that means, but she can feel sleep pressing in from the moon shadows. Her thoughts start to fragment. The blanket is laid over her and then a not-weight shifts beside her and settles along her back, tingly warm.

She gropes for his hand, feeling it curl around her own. It shouldn't surprise her how natural it feels; they are both damaged, but their jagged edges fit together. And, for a little while, maybe they aren't so broken.