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1995

Sweat kept pouring into his eyes and he knew he’d have to stop soon. The air was stiflingly hot, even here in the shadow of the big oak tree. He’d been here for almost two hours, sitting on the warm stone bench, a charcoal pencil in hand.

            Evan Lorne hadn’t managed to get a real day off in months, but he’d been grateful when his request for a short leave had been granted. And for once, instead of training or taking his F-16 up into the air to fly for hours on end, he was sitting here, in the picturesque ruins of the Imperial Baths.

            He looked down again, scratching the tip of his pencil over the rough paper in his lap. He was out of practice, he knew that, but he was determined to send a picture to his mother one of these days. And constant practice would make him get better again. He’d been great at arts while at school, but he was still glad he’d pursued another career than his mother. Not that he didn’t love painting, he just didn’t love it as much as she did. She was always worried. Of course she was. Having her son in the Air Force, especially since he was regularly flying over a war zone, was bound to be nerve-wrecking for her. He’d never been able to fully express to her what flying meant to him, what working in the Air Force meant to him. Not that she’d ever argued with him over his decision, but her worrying went with him whenever he left her. At least this way he’d be able to let her know that he was really, truly okay.

            He stretched out his legs and blinked up into the azure sky stretching out above him. The thin white lines disturbing the clean blue colour told him that his comrades on the nearby airfield in Spangdahlem had just flown over him. Good luck, boys and girls, he thought, imagining the feeling the G-Forces pushing against his body as he started to steer the F-16 towards Bosnia. It was a fairly long distance from here to there, but Evan had to admit that he rather enjoyed the long flight, and looking down on the landscapes stretching out below him rather made up for the fact that he had to remain cooped up in a slim metal tube for most of the day. But still he was glad to have a couple of days off.

            He looked down on his sketchbook, at the columns and arches he’d drawn. Tonight, when he got back home, he’d try to colour them in. Why hadn’t he thought of bringing his coloured pencils, or his watercolour paper and the paints? He wasn’t quite sure he’d managed to capture the majesty these buildings held, even in ruins, and the slight touch of red bricks amongst grey stone made his fingers itch to capture that colour. The sheer size of the arches and the high walls managed to take his breath away whenever he imagined how old they were. And he wasn’t the only one. He could see a group of tourists trotting along the side of the building which had, at one point, been the main part of the Imperial Roman Baths in the city of Trier.

            He looked up again as he heard the tourist guide talk to the group in German. He wouldn’t have paid attention to her, hadn’t he heard the tell-tale English accent as she spoke. It took him a moment to understand what she was saying. After two years of being stationed in Germany, his German was passable, but he wasn’t entirely fluent. And how could he be, given that he spent most of his working day talking in his native language. But he tried at least. He had to admit, the slight roughness to German consonants was kind of melodic.

            She was talking fairly fast and as she spoke, her face flushed from the heat, he could see her enthusiasm for the topic. Right now, she was talking about the sporting events that had been held here, her gestures underlining each and every sentence. About various artefacts which had been discovered here not so long ago, which pointed to a discovery of something he couldn’t understand. Evan couldn’t help but smile. He closed his sketchbook and approached the group. The way her eyes gleamed as she talked about the archaeological digs that had taken place here the previous year, made him want to hear more.  “We’ve now reached the last part of our tour,” she said. “If you like, you can go back to exploring the ruins here, or visit the Roman Imperial Throne Room, also known as the Basilica of Constantine, the entry fee is already included in your ticket to the Baths.” She smiled at the group of tourists, several of which looked more like they wanted to head straight to the nearest café and not to the next historical sight. One man even yawned loudly. “Thank you very much for your attention and have a nice day.” She was still smiling, seemingly oblivious to the five people who turned their backs on her as soon as she’d finished, and instead, accepted the soft applause from several other tourists.

            Evan stood there awkwardly, as she talked to an elderly couple, explaining to them how they’d best get back to the train station. He wasn’t even sure what he was doing here or what he was waiting for. He almost had a feeling of turning around and following the other tourists.

            “I’m sorry you missed the tour,” she said finally, approaching him after the couple had left. “But another one is gonna start in twenty minutes or so.” He noticed now, that she had a tiny red stain on the collar of her white polo shirt. Probably from lunch. She had her blonde hair up in a ponytail and it made him focus his eyes on a beauty mark on her slim neck.

            He nodded, forcing himself to speak German. If she could do it, then he could do it. “Yes, I know. I took one this morning.” It was already late afternoon. Had he really been here all day?

            She raised her eyebrows. “Canadian?” she asked in English this time and he had to laugh. She was British, that much was certain now.

            “Born and raised in San Francisco,” he said, and she grinned, her white teeth flashing in the bright sunlight.

            “Sorry,” she said. “I always try saying something a bit less obvious, hoping I get it right eventually.”

            Again, he chuckled. “Eventually. Has it ever worked?”

            “Nope.” She sighed and, still smiling, put her hands on her hips. “Anyway, how can I help you?”

            “Uhm,” he said and cleared his throat. Well done, Lorne, he thought. “You can’t. I just… you seemed so excited about this whole thing.” He gestured vaguely towards the ruins surrounding them with his sketchbook. “Really got my attention.”

            “Thanks! Always nice to hear the people I guide through here can still get that after ten minutes. That’s when most people doze off.”

            He’d done that. Dozed off. Because the guide he’d had had appeared almost bored.

            “You came here to draw?” she asked, pointing at the sketchbook.

            “Kind of,” he muttered, suddenly embarrassed. “’I’m on leave, you see? This helps me wind down a bit.”

            She nodded. “Spangdahlem?” Everyone around here knew about the Air Force Base in Spangdahlem. Everyone knew where those F-16s must be going.

            “Yup… Lieutenant Evan Lorne,” he said, stretching out his hand to her, instantly regretting it. His hand must be too hot and sweaty, and his fingertips were covered in charcoal dust.

            But she took it without hesitation. Hers was small in his and incredibly warm, but also dry.

“Pleasure to meet you, Lieutenant Evan Lorne.”

“Alexandra Woolston. May I see?” Her eyes were still fixed on the sketchbook as she dropped her hand again.

            That had not been his intention at all. He neither wanted to brag, nor did he want her to look through those sketches… “I don’t want to keep you from your work.”

            She looked slightly embarrassed at this. “Oh,” she cleared her throat. “Okay… well then…” She smiled again, but this time it wasn’t as bright as it had been before.

            “Uhm,” he said again, cursing himself for his inability to talk in plain words. “But maybe after your shift? When do you get off?”

Was he really doing this? Asking out a stranger? Was he even asking her out? Did she think he was?

But somehow, he felt like this could be a good idea. And he didn’t have anywhere else to be for the next few days anyway… Stop thinking, idiot.

            She hesitated, but only briefly. Her ponytail bobbed slightly. “This was my last tour,” she grinned and she almost looked relieved. “If you want, we could get some ice cream? I mean… I don’t want to drag you away from here…”

            “As a matter of fact, I was just thinking about calling it a day. It’s getting a bit warm.”

            She laughed. “You could say that,” she grinned and rubbed her hands over the sides of her pants. “Okay, so… uhm…” She cleared her throat. “Right. So, I’ll…. We can go. Now.”

            He nodded, still feeling a bit awkward. He still didn’t want to show her those drawings, not really, but he also didn’t want to lose sight of her. “Okay.”

Was he making a mistake here? No, he wasn’t. This wasn’t anything.

He’d only asked someone out. This wasn’t even a date or anything.

He’d only asked someone out. For the first time since joining the Air Force.

 

“So, how long have you been stationed here?” She asked as they went through the gates. She took off her badge and put it in the backpack she’d collected just before leaving the premises.

            “In Spangdahlem or in Germany?” It was nice talking in English to someone who wasn’t military, he realized. Not that talking with his friends on the base was hard or unpleasant, but this was different somehow. Learning German to communicate with locals had been one of his main priorities when he came here, but it wasn’t really the same.

            “Either?”

            “Well…” What the hell was he supposed to do with his arms? He’d put his sketchbook into the shoulder bag he carried, but that left his hands free. He quickly put them in his pockets before he started swinging them about like a madman. “I came to Germany two years ago and been stationed here since February.” He shrugged. “It’s kind of a nice place, isn’t it?”

            “Do you get to go off base a lot?” she asked as they walked along the main path leading away from the Baths, along a narrow road and headed towards the marketplace. He’d been here once before, with Sam and Javier, when they’d first been stationed here.

            “I don’t live on the base,” he said. “Got a small apartment near the base though. But no, I don’t get many days off. Not really.” He smiled ruefully. “I like hanging around there when I’m off duty.”

            “What made you get away from there today?” She seemed genuinely interested. Was there something wrong with her? No, probably not.

            He pointed up towards the half-timbered houses stretching up to the sky on either side of the narrow alleyway. “Well,” he said. “We don’t get a whole lot of this in San Francisco. Not sure about where you’re from, but I guess you Brits are more used to this sight than we are.”

            “We even have a castle in Woodstock.”

            “Woodstock?”

            She laughed again. “In Oxfordshire. Not the concert Woodstock.”

            “Ah. Gotcha.” He put his hand back into his pocket. There was a short stretch of silence. Should he say something? He felt like if he stared down at her only a moment longer, he might say something stupid, but the longer the silence lasted, the more likely it was that that was going to happen. Her eyes were the same blue as the sky above, he realized. With specks of green and grey. Was she so close to him already? That he could see the specks of green and grey in her eyes? Lorne, something is really wrong. He hadn’t looked at a girl like this in years. He’d never had the time!

            “So!” She said almost too loudly and started walking again. He could feel her breath on his cheek.

Yes, she had been that close…

“Your German is pretty good! Most soldiers who come here don’t really bother with it.”

            “Thanks. Nothing compared to yours, though.”

            “I work here.”

            “So do I.” He grinned. It was true, but that didn’t mean he needed it. If he wanted, he could stay on base and never speak any German.

            They’d reached the marketplace and again he couldn’t help but admire these ancient structures. They must’ve been painted by artists a thousand times, but still he felt like he wanted to give this a try too. The greyish cobblestones in contrast to the slim whitewashed building right in front of them, with its arched windows traced in light red. The white and red water fountain in front of it. The water spilling out from the fountain glittered wonderfully in the early evening sunlight.

            “There’s a café right there,” she said pointing at something and ripping him out of his dream-like state.

            “Right,” he muttered and followed her. The chair was a bit wobbly on the cobblestones as he sat down, but he still liked the view… well, the views. She sat down opposite him and folded her hands on the tabletop.

            “So,” she said it again with the very same determination in her voice. “What about that drawing of yours?”

            “Why are you so curious about it?”

            “I love ancient buildings,” she grinned, leaning back. Their eyes met again and the thought that drawing her would be a good idea as well struck him out of nowhere.

            “Why did you come here? Always wanted to be a tour guide?”

            “Isn’t it every girl’s dream? I mean-“she stopped as the waiter stopped by them, interrupting their conversation.

            “What can I get you?” he asked. Evan hadn’t even had a chance to look at the menu of the ice cream parlour. The colourful card in front of him suggested colourful, sugary delights, however. Just the thing for today, he thought.

            “I’ll have a spaghetti ice cream,” she said in her almost flawless German.

            “You’ll have a what now?” Somehow pasta and ice cream didn’t mix.

            “Try it.” She winked at him.

            “Uhm… okay?” He looked up at the waiter and nodded. “I’ll have the same,” he muttered, slightly embarrassed of his flawed language skills.

            The waiter nodded, scribbled the order on a note pad and headed off to collect plates on the next table.

            “What did I just order?” Evan asked, but Alexandra merely shrugged.

            “Wait and see.”

            “You were about to tell me why you came here,” he said, leaning back as well.

            “Work,” she said simply. “I just got my PHD and right now I’m just trying to get some work. Real work, I mean.”

            “PHD? In what?” He had to admit, he was impressed. She couldn’t be older than him. But asking for her age seemed impertinent.

            “Archaeology. I studied in Manchester and worked on my dissertation here in Trier. Just applied for a post-doc in the states as a matter of fact.”

            “Really? I thought archaeologists only dug up stuff in the desert somewhere.”

            “We dig stuff up everything we can. Humans are really messy. We tend to leave a lot of stuff behind.”

Chapter Text

 

1995

Really, it should’ve come as no surprise that they’d end up here. From the moment she’d seen him standing there before her, gesticulating wildly with his sketchbook, his gaze so intense she could practically feel him pierce her with it.

            And it had been awkward. Even though she’d invited him to stay the night, even though she’d thought about it from the moment he’d started talking about drawing. About why he liked it so much. It had been so awkward. But in a good way.

            He was lying next to her, his arm wrapped around her, his chin almost touching her shoulder. She could feel his breath on her neck. She could smell him.

            It was still too warm. Even though the sun had set hours ago the air in her little apartment on the outskirts of the city was almost too hard to breathe. It was just a one-room apartment, but it was enough. She only wished she’d tidied up a bit this morning. But who’d have thought she’d bring a gorgeous man back home?

            “It’s crazy, huh?” he muttered against her skin, his lips tickling her.

            She nodded. “Yep…” She raised her hand and brushed it through his dark hair. His dark blue eyes looked almost eerie in the moonlight creeping in through the window. “I’ve never done this before,” she said, “Taken someone home with me. Someone I’ve only known a few hours.”

            He bit his lip and nodded. “Well, we did talk forever before, didn’t we?”

            Alex grinned. They had. They’d talked until the waiter told them they’d have to close the ice cream parlour. They’d talked while walking through the streets. They’d talked while strolling along the ruins of the ancient Roman city. About drawing, about art, about history, about archaeology. And somehow, they’d managed to tiptoe around the subject which had been on her mind from the get-go. About how lovely his smile was. His voice. She’d wanted to tell him, but she couldn’t. So instead, they’d ended up here. And here they still were.

            But for now she was happy to pull him closer towards her, to feel his lips moving softly against hers. His contented sigh made her shiver.

            “You okay?” Evan asked, concern in his voice as he pulled back.

            “I’m okay.” She let her finger trace the contours of his face. How strange to feel this… whatever it was. “I just like your voice a lot. It’s comforting.”

            And just like his voice, his smile was easily capable of taking her breath away. It had made this whole awkward process of taking off her clothes that much easier. She’d been embarrassed to say the least, but she’d sensed that he’d felt about the same. They’d stood there, in front of her bed for a whole minute, just staring at each other. The kisses they’d shared before completely forgotten in the all-too bright light of her apartment. He’d smiled then, rubbing his neck. “I’m a bit out of practice… now… uhm… don’t take this the wrong way,” he’d said and turned off the light. “Not that I don’t want to see you, I just think this lighting isn’t too flattering for me.”

            He made her laugh. That was one of the things she’d admired about him from the start. How easy it was to talk to him. To laugh with him. Even about these awkward moments. Even when she’d been too timid to proceed. Things were easy with him. Easy and a bit awkward.

            “You have a nice voice, too,” Evan said. Evan…what a nice name. Nice to say, nice to breathe in the semi-darkness. He reached up to take a strand of her hair between his fingers. “I still feel like I should know you better… or shouldn’t I?”

            “Nah, you should.” Alex turned her head slightly to kiss the palm of his hand. She wanted to see him again after this. Not just because of what they’d just done, but because she’d felt this instant connection. And she’d meant what she’d said. His presence, his voice, his being here was comforting. The awkwardness had vanished the moment she’d realized that being awkward meant nothing. “What do you want to know?”

            There was that smile again. “Everything. But that’s probably a bit much for one night.”

            “Probably.”

            Clearing his throat, he sat up a bit. A clear message. He wanted to talk. That was fine by her. She’d get a chance to find out a bit more about him. That he loved flying, that he loved it immensely, that he loved drawing, his sister and his mother… that much was obvious, but it still wasn’t enough. Four hours of talk wasn’t enough. She needed more.

“First things first, though. Are you hungry?”

He nodded without hesitating. “I was gonna suggest taking you out to dinner before, but… this here kind of got in the way.” And it had. That kiss on the bridge, that kiss after leaning against the balustrade and looking down on the river below, had somehow taken her mind off food.

“I’ll make some sandwiches, if that’s okay?”

“Sounds perfect. Let me help, though.”

They both got up at the same time. For a moment Alex hesitated, then she threw on her wide nightshirt and walked around the bed towards the kitchen counter just as Evan got up and pulled his boxers on. She turned on the light now so she could find the bread, a big loaf of whole wheat she’d bought the day before. As though it was the most natural thing in the world, he went to her small fridge and pulled out butter and cheese. She watched him, how the muscles on his back moved slightly, how he appeared so confident now. It was as though them sleeping together had somehow broken a spell.

Unable to resist, she stretched out a hand and put her arm around his neck, pulling him closer.

“I thought you wanted to make a sandwich,” he muttered against her lips and shutting her up with another kiss before she had a chance to reply. The soft scratching of his stubble against her cheek was exhilarating. She remembered how it had felt on other parts of her body. Her hand slid up his muscular torso as she felt her shirt slip up her hips. Evan’s fingertips started caressing her back. His proximity, his body against hers were enough to make her feel light-headed.

She drew back a bit but kept her hands on him. “Let’s eat first,” she said and he nodded, but didn’t take his hands off her either.

“Okay.” He kissed her again, but only once. “You should’ve put on something different if you wanted me to keep my hands to myself.”

“Tell you what, we make the sandwiches, get into bed and eat there.”

“Or…”

“Exactly.” She giggled. She couldn’t help it.

Luckily preparing the food only took a few minutes and they were under the blanket again before they knew it. Thighs touching, they sat in the narrow bed, each a small plate on their laps.

“We were going to talk before,” he said.

“Ah... yes. I tend to forget about that.”

Evan took a bite of his sandwich and leaned back again. “What's your favourite food?”

Grinning, Alex folded her legs and sat up a bit straighter. “Salt and vinegar crisps. Yours?”

“Ice cream.”

“Favourite colour?” she asked.

“Blue.”

“Green.” Alex took another bite, chewed and swallowed.

Evan considered her for a moment. “What was your favourite subject in school? History, I suppose?”

“History, yes. But I also really liked music.”

“Do you play an instrument?”

She shook her head. “I’m not as artistic as you. I just liked the atmosphere. Does that make sense?” He hadn’t shown her his drawings and she wondered if he’d ever willingly show her. Only if there was an ever in this… whatever it was. She hoped there would be. She kind of liked him. Not just for his looks, or his voice.

“I don’t know. I guess? Okay… uhm, did you just study archaeology? Do you have a speciality?”

“Archaeology. Ancient religions... I mean, it makes sense. Most litter we find from back then are tools, and cult and household objects.”

“Litter?” He laughed his incredible laugh again. The sound made her skin tingle again. “Cult objects are litter?”

She shrugged. “In a way… not really. But those are the ones best preserved usually, because people took care of them.”

“Ah… Are you religious?”

Tricky question. To be fair, she wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that. She made a vague hand gesture. “Modern day Anglican religious. Guess I’m what the Germans call a submarine Christian. I only show up in church on Christmas, Easter, weddings and funerals.”

He laughed again and nodded. “Same, though I guess I’m technically Catholic. I just don’t see the point, really.”

“Okay… now you. You said you love flying… but why join the Air Force? Why not become a commercial pilot?”

“The exact same question my mother asked me.” Evan pushed the last bit of his sandwich into his mouth. After a while he looked up again. “I guess, I wanted to fly and help make the world a better place.”

Alex had heard that sentence before. Not the exact same one, but one which was very similar. She swallowed hard and put her plate on the bedside table. “Kind of what my dad used to say, or so my mom always says.” She smiled softly and shrugged. And there was that awkwardness again. She shouldn’t have brought this up.

“Your dad was a pilot?”

“Royal Air Force. He was shot down in the Falkland War.”

His hand reached out to touch hers and her stomach tightened as he weaved his fingers in between hers. “Sorry to hear that.” He was quiet for a moment. Contemplating. He knew what it must be like. He was sure to have lost a colleague, or even a friend, in battle. The US Air Force was part of the NATO troops active in the war in Serbia. “Guess that’s why you didn’t flinch away when I told you about my job?”

“Maybe. I don’t know.” She leaned against him, her head on his shoulder. “I was twelve and I barely ever saw him. He wasn’t around much, but still.” There wasn’t a day when she didn’t think about him. About what her life would’ve been like, had he lived… no matter how often she told herself that questions like these were futile. But it didn’t hurt anymore. The pain was mostly gone.

“I mean, most people understand what we’re doing and why, but this here,” he pointed at her, then at himself, “never happened when I told someone before.”

Laughing, she raised his hand and kissed his fingertips.

“I can only hope this isn’t you displaying some kind of daddy issues?” The grin on his face told her that he wasn’t serious, but the nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach remained. Was this what she was doing here? No, probably not, but only a psychologist would be able to tell her that.

“My mom dated one of my dad’s colleagues for a while. Believe me, I’m not the one who with issues.”

“Kind of glad to hear that.” He put his plate on the kitchen counter right next to her bed and pulled her closer again. “What else should I know about you?” His gaze trailed over her face and hovered on her lips for a moment. “Brothers or sisters?”

“Brother.” She grinned. “Also a pilot. But with British Airways.”

“Fancy. An airborne taxi driver. What’s he like?”

“An arrogant prick, but I love him most days.”

He bit his lip and his thumb traced her jawline. “I bet he loves you too.”

It was no big surprise that she felt her cheeks flush. “I think so…” she muttered. “Okay… my turn. When’s your birthday?”

With a frown, he raised his arm to look at his watch. “There’s five minutes of it left.”

She blinked. “And you didn’t mention that before?”

“Would’ve been a terrible introduction, don’t you think?”

“Probably.” She pulled him closer, pressing a tender kiss on his lips. “Still… happy birthday, Evan. Sorry, I didn’t get you a gift.”

“Didn’t you pay for the ice cream?” He didn’t pull back, but his hands were again starting to creep up her shirt. “That was a great gift in my book.”

It was weird how smoothly things were going now. How easy it was to be with him, in this strange bubble they’d created. How his kisses felt natural, how touching him was the only thing she could think about. Everything was a bit of a blur and at the same time she felt like she’d rarely been this aware of another person.

She grabbed him by the hair and climbed on top of him, as his lips traced her collarbone and his right hand cupped her breast.

 

“Not sure this was a good idea in this heat,” he muttered, completely winded as he lay on top of her, his cock still comfortably inside of her.

            Not sure this was a good idea without real protection, she thought. But she was on the pill, and she’d told him so. Things would be okay. Hopefully. But that couldn’t be helped now. His weight on top of her was heavenly and she wished he wouldn’t move. Her heart was still racing and the waves of heaviness swapping over her were subsiding slowly. She was sure she could sleep right now and sleep for the next few days. But of course he moved, pulling her with him as he turned on his back, so her head was nestled against his chest.  She wrapped her leg around his and closed her eyes.

            “And you said you were out of practice…”

            His scoff brushed through her hair. “I am. Or was… it’s easy with you…” He trailed off, letting his fingertips brush over her shoulder.

            “Right back at you.” She looked up at him. “So… you’re gonna see me again after this?” She almost dreaded the answer, but before she could start worrying despite herself, he nodded.

            “Sure. If you’ll let me.”

            “Wouldn’t have asked otherwise.” Not that she needed to know any more at this moment. Her eyes were slowly but surely falling shut. “Gosh, what a day.”

            As he chuckled, she could feel his chest rise and fall beneath her cheek. “Let’s get some sleep, huh?”

Chapter Text

 

1995

Evan left her apartment with her the next day. She looked so tired and he was almost angry at himself for keeping her up so late the previous night. Almost. But not quite.

            Evan dropped the shopping back on his bed. He couldn’t quite look away from it. What had happened in hers was incredible to say the least. Who’d have thought he’d be so smitten with a woman after they’d only just met. He felt like he’d known her for years and yet, at the same time, being around her was exhilarating. Touching her, kissing her, was beyond anything he’d ever imagined. He’d been clumsy, he knew that.  Being out of practice had only been an excuse. He hadn’t been with a lot of girls, and the last time had been ages ago. His last girlfriend could barely be called that.

            He still felt like he’d been hit over the head, but he was almost sure that he’d be okay.

            Throwing his shoulder bag on the bed next to the shopping bag from the drugstore, he pulled his shirt over his head. He’d showered at her place, but the sweat from yesterday was of course still clinging to his clothes. Just as he’d put on the new shirt, he heard the soft ringing of the phone.

            “Please don’t let this be work…” he muttered, hoping against hope he wouldn’t be called in today. Alex had said she’d come over right after work and no amount of flying could make up for that right now. “Hello.” The phone was hot against his ear. He really shouldn’t keep it in the sun like this.

            “Evan? Where have you been?” He relaxed instantly. Not work.

            “Hey, mom.” He sat down on the bed and let himself fall back.

            He could hear the smile in her voice. “I’ve been trying to call you all day. Are you okay?”

            “Yeah, I’m fine. How about you?”

            “Good, I’m good. Just wanted to wish you a happy birthday!”

            “Thanks. Your package arrived the day before yesterday. Thank you! I took the sketchbook with me straight away. Tried drawing some of the buildings here.”

            She chuckled. He could just about imagine the dimples in her cheeks. “You should’ve been an architect.”

            “Nah, too much time sitting at a desk.”

            “Maybe… you have a few days off right now?!

            “Yeah, until the day after tomorrow.” He felt his lips shift into a wide smile. “And guess what, I’m not even intending on spending them on base.”

            “Taking a short trip?”

            “No. I don’t think so. I met someone, mom. Really nice girl. She has the day off tomorrow as well, so I guess I’ll be spending it with her.”

            “Evan, are you sure you’re okay?” The mock worry in her voice made him grin even wider. Where was she? Standing by the window and staring into the small garden behind the house? Probably. And most likely her loyal dog Pepper was sitting right next to her, begging for her attention. “You’ve never told me about any of the girls you’re dating.”

            “Well...” They weren’t dating per se. There hadn’t been a single date. But he couldn’t tell his mother about that crazy night he’d just spent with her. “Her name’s Alex and she’s pretty special. I think. She’s from England, doing a summer job here at one of the historic sights.”

            “How did you meet? When?”

            He closed his eyes. “Long story.” Nope, pretty short story, actually. “We only just met and I’m not sure about anything yet, but I really like her. That’s why I wasn’t home.” He paused for a moment. “Hang on, isn’t it close to midnight over there?”

            “It’s still your birthday here, honey. This was going to be my last try.”

            Evan grinned. “Alright. And how is Ellen?” He hadn’t seen his sister in forever. The last time he was home, she’d been at college, slaving away at her master’s thesis. “And dad?”

            “Dad’s fine. Reading as usual. And Ellen called yesterday. She got a job in San Francisco.  For a small newspaper.”

            He nodded. “That’s good. I’ll have to call her.”

            “Yes, you do… and I’ve been wondering, do you think you’ll be home for Thanksgiving? Nana wants to throw a big party. Don’t know why she’s planning it already. It’s only July.”

            “I don’t know yet, mom,” he said. This wasn’t easy at all. It was highly unlikely that he’d be back home by then. “I’ll let you know as soon as I can.” Maybe he'd get some leave.

            “I thought you’d say that.” She sighed. And it wasn’t easy for her either. “Listen, Evan. Take care of yourself, ok? And if you get the chance to come home, do. If you want, you could bring your girlfriend… that is, if it isn’t too soon?” At the sound of the word girlfriend he felt something inside him do a weird kind of somersault. No, he wouldn’t tell his mom that she wasn’t his girlfriend, because trying to explain would take forever and Alex was certainly more than a one-night stand, but she was far from being his girlfriend… or was she? No. Not really.

            “I’ll think about it,” he said honestly. But he wanted some alone time with her first beore he started showing her around. She was his little open secret for now. Maybe that was a good way of putting it. “Mom, these calls are super expensive. Let me call you again in a few days, okay?”

            “Okay. Take care. Love you.”

            “Love you too, mom.”

            He hung up and stared up at the ceiling again, feeling his eyelids beginning to fall shut. Just a little nap. And then, later, maybe in a few days, he’d figure out what this thing with Alex was.

 

She arrived a bit earlier than he would’ve thought. The trip from Trier to Wittlich wasn’t a long one, though, and she apparently had a good sense of direction.

            “So, you found it okay?” he asked as he let her in. How could he have forgotten how incredibly blue her eyes were?

            Without a moment’s hesitation, she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him, her lips warm and soft against his… She smelled incredible, but she wasn’t wearing any perfume. He was falling for her badly. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to let go of her.

            “A colleague lives nearby,” she said as she stepped into the apartment. “Nice place you have here.”

            He shrugged, putting his hands into his pockets. “I’m not here too often,” he said, following her with his eyes as she moved through the sparsely furnished apartment. He preferred living off base, or rather sleeping off base. Having his own space, even if he spent so little time here, made things a bit more comfortable. For a few moments he’d thought about taking down the few pictures he’d made over these past two months, the ones he thought were only good enough to add some colour the room, but he’d decided against it. Why shouldn’t he let her actually see that side of him.

            And of course they were the first thing she looked at. Not the few books he had stacked on the couch and not the table he’d set for the both of them. She was standing in front of a painting he’d made a few weeks ago. Nothing special… he’d just sketched the view from the mess hall one evening. The trees and the hills beyond a narrow strip of green. The colours had come in later and he wasn’t at all satisfied with it, but once again he hadn’t had his paints with him, so he’d had to do the colours from memory. The painting looked terribly flat somehow, but he still liked the way he’d managed to capture the contours.

            “This one looks a bit depressing,” she said. Not a great compliment. But the way she stared at it made up for it. But he also had to agree. He’d made the sketch on a stormy evening. The clouds had been almost black, the trees bent far to the side. It wasn’t a cheery picture.

            He stepped closer to her and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Why’s that?” he asked, wondering if she could see what he could.

            Alex didn’t turn around in his arms, didn’t put her hands on his. Instead, she raised her right hand and traced the thin lines of pencil which set the contours for the dark green trees. “Well, not depressing, exactly. Threatening maybe… but also… I don’t know... It’s also… the colours are a bit off, aren’t they? That makes it weird. And I still feel like I can almost smell the rain that’s about to come.”

            He laughed, feeling the heat rise in his cheeks. “You don’t have to humour me.”

            “I’m not.” Her hand was on his now, tracing his arm softly. “You’re really good.”

            At this he could only smile and pull her closer. Evan couldn’t think of anything to say at this. He couldn’t help enjoying her admiration. Kissing her neck, he pulled her even closer. “Are you hungry?”

            “Yes. Can I take a closer look at the others?”

            “Sure…” He was silent for a moment. “Uhm… you know, I was wondering yesterday… I have to get back to work after tomorrow and I know it’s not like I’ll be leaving forever or anything, but I guess I’d like to draw you? Is that totally weird?”

            Alex grinned and she squeezed his hand. “You’re gonna have to show me a lot more of your stuff, then.”

            He laughed. “Deal. Dinner?”

            “Dinner.” She patted his hand again and he let go of her to fetch the plates from the fridge. “What are we having?”

            “Okay, so I don’t know what you like, obviously, but since it’s still so hot outside, I made some veggie carpaccio.”

            “You made what?”

            He turned around with the plates in his hands and saw her gawking at him. “Sit down. It’ll be okay.” He laughed nervously as he put one of the plates down in front of her. “It’s beet, carrots, zucchini and turnip,” he pointed at the different, thinly sliced and colourful spots on her plate. “There’s some parm on top aand, I have some bread and olive oil.”

            She blinked up at him as he poured the oil delicately over her vegetables and then seasoned the whole thing with freshly ground salt and pepper. “Wow,” she muttered, staring down on her plate. “Evan, I’m so impressed right now.”

            Sitting down opposite her at the small table, he pushed the basket of bread towards her and sprinkled his own plate with oil. “Why? Never had a man cook for you?” She blushed deep red now.

            “Not like this… this is so… this must have taken forever!”

            He shrugged. “Not really. And I had some time to kill. Dig in.”

            He watched as she picked up her fork and popped the first few slices into her mouth. “This is perfect,” she said.

            “My nana taught me. She’s also really good at making pasta.”

            “She makes her own?”

            He shrugged. “Not anymore. She says I’ll inherit her pasta maker though. I’m gonna make you some one day.”  Wow, that had just popped out. He could only hope he hadn’t scared her away with this promise.

            But instead of shrinking away, she started tracing her foot up his leg. “Sounds nice. You’ll have to teach me though. I’m a terrible chef. Barbecue is about all I can do.”

            “Don’t say that, your sandwich last night was amazing.”

            “Oh yeah, bread, butter and a bit of cheese. That was quite something.”

            Watching her eat was really satisfying. The way she didn’t wolf it down but savoured it. It was almost enough to make him forget to eat. “You bought nice bread. That’s a good sign. Don’t think I’d call you a lost cause.”

            “Gee, thanks,” she muttered with a smile.

            “So? How was work? Meet any other cute guys today?”

            “Yes. I’m meeting him tomorrow.” She winked at him and shook her head. “I read a weird article at lunch, actually…” She hesitated for a moment. “Sorry… Shop talk. You probably don’t want to hear about it.”

            “No, I do!” Evan broke off a piece of bread and dunked it in the oil on his plate. “Talk some shop to me. Dirty talk can come later.”

            Alex didn’t blush. Instead, she leaned back a bit, thought for a moment. “Okay, there’s this archaeologist. His hieroglyph translations are exceptional, and he’s as clever as you can get. Dr Daniel Jackson. I read some of his research on connections between ancient cultures for my thesis…” She was quiet for a moment. Evan frowned slightly. That didn’t sound too weird. “Well, and he was set to have an article published in one of the most renowned archaeological papers there are. I was really looking forward to reading it today, but it got pulled. And that almost never happens. It was supposed to be on the history of Egypt before the 4th Dynasty and… well.” She raised her eyebrows, eyes focused on her plate. “Turns out, there’s this Dr Jordan, I applied for a job with him, a friend of mine started working for him a few years ago, and he made sure that article wasn’t published. He even put a note into the magazine that Dr Jackson had decided not to publish his research after all.”

            “Okay… maybe it turns out he was wrong about what he thought he’d found out?”

            “Doesn’t work that way.” She sat up again and leaned forward. “Even getting something wrong is a big thing. What this Dr Jordan wrote sounded more like Dr Jackson had lost his mind.” The way she said it made it sound like she almost considered this assumption a personal insult. “I don’t know… maybe he has. Sorry to bore you like this.”

            “You’re not boring. It’s kind of nice to hear that you history buffs gossip as much as anybody else.”

            She scoffed, almost choking on the piece of carrot she’d just swallowed. “I think we do gossip…”

            “So, this Dr Jackson. Is he a nice fellow?”

            Alex shook her head. “How should I know. Maybe he is brilliant but gaga. Who could say?”

            “What do the tattletales at your work say? You can’t be the only one who reads that magazine over there.”

            “I’m not… but I guess,” she laughed softly. “Someone said he’s heard this Dr Jackson was touring universities around the US, trying to get a job with a talk about how the Egyptian pyramids weren’t actually built by the Egyptians.”

            “Ah…” Evan said. “Who built them then? Blood sucking aliens?”

            “Probably,” she muttered with a wide grin just as the doorbell rang. “Expecting someone?”

            “Not really…” Evan sighed, he was almost sure who it would be. Opening the door he discovered that he’d not been wrong. “Hey…” he said, wishing the two men standing in his doorway would just disappear.

            “Hey! Want to go out and grab a beer?” Sam looked tired, but happy enough. He and Javier did that sometimes, ask him to go out with them and he usually went along… but not tonight. The two men were friends, close friends, but he’d see them again soon enough.

            “I… I’m kind of busy,” he said quietly as he heard her move behind him.

            “Oh…” Sam looked over his shoulder, his eyes a bit too wide. He’d spotted Alex. “I see… uhm…”

            Evan sighed and waved them inside. He knew Javier and Sam needed him on these occasions. They needed someone to cover for them, in case one of their superior officers ever got suspicious. Usually Evan didn’t mind. Usually… but today he did.

            “Javier, Sam, meet Alex. Alex, these are some idiots.”

            “Hey.” She’d stood up and shook their hands. What she must be thinking of him… she put her hands into her pockets.

            “Hey…” Javier said, raising an eyebrow at Evan. “Our Lieutenant never mentioned he had a girlfriend.”

            Evan coughed and averted his gaze, wishing he hadn’t asked them to come in.

            “I admire your talent of always putting your foot in,” Sam said. He crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head. “Tricky subject? Not there yet?”

            Out of the corner of his eye Evan saw Alex shrug. “Not sure what’s going on yet, rather,” she said bluntly. “Do you live nearby?”

            “Kind of… we just wanted to know if you wanted to grab a beer or something.”

Evan sighed again and strode over to the fridge. “I have a couple here. Let’s have one each and then you can bugger off.” He only wished they’d leave sooner rather than later.

Chapter Text

 

1995

Releasing the last bomb sent a slight shiver through his body. He didn’t need to turn his head to know that it would hit the target spot-on. The confirmation on the radio from the troops on the ground was good enough. They’d gotten the prisoners out. One piece of good news in the ongoing nightmare down there. The distraction had worked. All he had to focus on right now was to get out of this and get home. In front of him, first Javier and then Sam released their bombs and, as one, they swerved left.

            “Break off,” Major Kavanaugh voice said on the radio. Kavanaugh was somewhere below, following their mission from a safe distance, instruments in front of him. Not that they needed telling. The enemy was right on their tail and it was high time they got out of here.

            “I preferred making sure nobody was flying over this forsaken piece of land. Or delivering supplies.” Javier complained.

            “Can’t be helped, Pérez,” Evan said, pulling the stick closer to him so the nose of his F-6 pointed upward. Usually one of the better methods of getting one of the Serbian planes off his tail. It didn’t quite work.

            “I’m hit.” Sam’s voice sounded eerily calm. “Going in.”

            Evan’s heart stopped a beat. “Smith, get out of that thing.” The hills beneath were rocky, the terrain would make it next to impossible to crash land the plane safely.

            “The canopy is jammed. Can’t get it open.”

            Evan turned his fighter around. Hitting one of the Serbian’s was easy enough. The other one turned tail. Just two… there’d just been two of them. Two against six… “Sam? Sam! Try it again!”

The ball of fire flashing beneath him was bad enough. Javier’s silence was even worse.

 

Javier didn’t linger by his fighter once they’d landed. He just threw his helmet on the ground with such force, that the plastic shield snapped off and bounced away awkwardly. Evan didn’t even try follow him.

            “Are you okay?” the engineer asked. She looked concerned. She must know that Javier, Evan and Sam were friends. And Sam hadn’t returned with them.

            “No…” Evan said, almost certain that Javier wouldn’t turn up to report to Colonel Summerton. Evan couldn’t blame him. Heck, he didn’t want to go, but he hadn’t just lost his boyfriend in a dogfight.

            He scrambled out of the cockpit and climbed down the ladder. The sun had set hours ago. Evan had watched it sink lower and lower without ever really dropping away. That’s what you got for flying West against a sunset. Usually the sight would’ve made him smile. Not today. The sky had been too bloody.

            As he’d expected, Javier didn’t appear at Summerton’s office. But Summerton didn’t even ask for him or comment. He must’ve guessed about Sam and Javier after all and kept quiet about it. Not that that helped today.

            He got through the short interview quickly enough and was told to get home. His next flight was scheduled for the next evening. “Get some rest, Captain…” Summerton said before Evan left. The promotion he’d gotten only two weeks before didn’t feel like he’d earned it today.

            The road home seemed to stretch endlessly. He felt so numb he barely knew how he got back to his apartment building. Though he’d tried, he hadn’t managed to find Javier. Wherever his friend was, he was sure that he wanted to be alone. Evan felt almost guilty knowing that he wouldn’t be alone tonight.

            Rubbing his eyes, he took a deep breath. Alex wouldn’t be home yet. She’d still be out with some colleagues from the university. He had some time to compose himself. Before the immensity of what had just happened crashed down on him. Only now, as he reached for the door handle, did he realize that his hand was shaking. Time to get inside…

            He shivered in the cool September air, but he didn’t even grab his jacket. When he got into the apartment and saw that Alex really hadn’t come home yet, he felt his heart sink. The light in the narrow kitchen was almost glaring as he turned it on. Their bedroom on the left was still empty. His limbs were so heavy he felt like just falling into it. But he was almost certain that he wouldn’t find any sleep there. He went into the bathroom and splashed some cold water into his face. As he looked up, he saw how ashen grey his skin was.

            How strange… he’d seen planes crash before. He’d lost comrades. That assignment in Iraq had been particularly bad, but this… It was strange to still feel so rattled. And how strange it was to simply go home after this.  After bombing an enemy stronghold. After killing people. After watching a friend get killed in return.

            And here he was… in his own home, waiting for his girlfriend to come home. Like he’d just been to the office. It was all surreal.

            For a moment he hovered in front of the fridge. Getting a beer would’ve wrong and he wasn’t in the least bit hungry. Instead he let himself fall onto the sofa. It would take weeks for it to fully hit him. That Sam wasn’t there anymore. And he had to make sure that Javier was okay.

            He stared out of the window, forcing himself not to feel guilty. About being home. About being safe. For the moment at least. He couldn’t even begin to think about what had happened down on the ground. The havoc those bombs must have caused. He never thought about that too much. It would just drive him crazy. And he knew it had to be done, because what was happening in that hellish place was beyond anything he could ever fully comprehend. There was no right side to be on. The was no wrong side to be on. Three parties at war and God only knew how many civilians were caught in the crossfire or had already been slaughtered. And here he was… safely at home…

His hand touched the book Alex had left there the night before. He picked it up to look at the cover. Egypt Before the Pharaohs. She was preparing to teach at the local university. It wasn’t a job that paid too well, but it was a step up from leading tourists through the ruins.

He leaned over, pressing his forehead against the book as though in prayer, hoping Alex would get home already. They’d barely been together for more than a few weeks, but he couldn’t imagine this apartment without her in it anymore.

            She’d known Sam, too. Had grown to like him. How the hell was he supposed to tell her?

            And then he heard her steps out on the staircase. Heard her key in the lock. He looked up as she stepped in. Her hair was shorter now, but her eyes were just as lively as they had been the first day. The smile of relief as she saw him froze on her face. “What happened?” she breathed, dropping her handbag on the floor.

            “Sam…” Evan croaked. His voice was thick with emotion and it was all he could say. Just that name.

            Alex was by his side within seconds. She’d taken off her coat and wrapped her arms around him, pulling him close to her chest, before he even had time to wipe his eyes again. They’d been burning for a couple of minutes. “What happened?”

            “He was hit. I didn’t see the other fighters until it was too late. None of us did.” He swallowed hard, his cheek against her chest, his arms wrapped around her. He felt like a child. A baby searching for comfort in his mother’s arms.

            There was nothing she could say to make things better. No It wasn’t your fault, no It’ll be okay. She kept quiet, stroking his hair, kissing the top of his head. She knew what this job entailed. She knew it could’ve been him today.

            “Have you eaten?” she asked instead after a while, knowing full well that he hadn’t.

            “No.” The tears on his cheeks had dried. “Don’t want to.”

            “Yeah,” she sighed, rubbing his arm gently.

 

The first thing he heard when he woke up the next day was her voice. It took him a moment to realize what she was saying. She was speaking German again. “Yes. I’ll be working from home today, if that’s okay? The students will only be arriving in two weeks, so we still have some time to prepare. I’ll give you the book list tomorrow. Yes. Okay. Thank you.”

            He blinked against the sunlight streaming in through the window. The sky was steel grey, but for a moment there, the sun had managed sneak through the cloud cover and hit him right in the face. Just like a punch to the gut. Sorry, Colonel, can’t make it to work today. Was hit by some sunlight and now I’m blind.

            A look at the alarm clock on the nightstand told him that he still had over eight hours to go before he had to return to the base to check over the assignment for today and before it was time to take off.

            Her steps drew nearer. She was wearing that ridiculously strange T-Shirt again. The one she’d worn on their first night together. A print of a medieval tapestry stretched over her breasts. “I wasn’t sure you were awake,” she said, leaning in the doorway. “Do you want coffee?”

            “Yes… thanks.” Evan hadn’t even sat up yet.

            After a few minutes she came back into the room, carrying a tray with two mugs of coffee and some toast. She sat down next to him and brushed a hand through his hair. “Did you sleep okay?”

            He nodded and forced himself into a sitting position. He felt hungover and still tired… “Thanks,” he said quietly and took his mug off the tray. The one with more milk in it than coffee. Hers was the black one. She knew exactly how he liked his coffee by now. Milk, two sugars. Taking her hand, he leaned back against the headboard. “I need to call Javier today. Ask him if I should come over.”

            “He called about half an hour ago.” She squeezed his hand. “Said he didn’t want to see anyone today. He sounded weird somehow. Tired mostly. He said he was going to call in sick and resign his commission first chance he gets.”

            That didn’t come as a big surprise. Javier and Sam had been talking about resigning for a while now. They wanted to leave together, settle somewhere back home. He sighed. “I’m just glad he’s not gonna fly today. I was kind of afraid he’d … he’d come back like nothing happened and start flying like there isn’t anything that mattered anymore.” He brushed his hand over his face again.

            The bed gave way a bit when she sat down next to him, her own mug in her hand. “Do you really think he’s going to resign?”

            “I know I would…” He sighed. “They’ve been together since the Academy.  Managed to keep it secret ever since.” He rubbed his eyes. They’d started burning again.

            “You just kept their secret, huh?”

            “I mean, don’t ask, don’t tell is a step forward, but it’s still rubbish. We need all the people we can get, especially when they’re good at what they do. Who cares if they’re gay.” Things had been difficult enough for Sam and Javier. They didn’t deserve what the Air Force had done to them.

            Her hand brushed through his hair as he sat there, sipping his coffee and ignoring the toast. He liked her touch, liked how she cared for him. He leaned into her until his head rested on her shoulder.

            “Shouldn’t you call in sick as well?” she muttered into his hair.

            Evan shook his head. “No… things are so damn serious at the moment… This is so weird… I was thinking about it before you came home yesterday…” Home… she was home with him. The thought struck him out of nowhere. She’d kept her apartment, but she was never there anymore. Heck, last time they’d been there, she’d cleared out her fridge and packed up her computer to take it here. “How weird it is to just come home after something like this. You go somewhere, kill someone, watch someone get killed and then you just go home and pretend like none of it happened. It’s sick.”

            Instead of replying, she let her fingertips glide over his shoulder. It took her a moment to find it in her to speak again. “You’re not pretending nothing happened, Evan… and I’m glad you’re not.” He felt her lips on his forehead. “And I guess policemen face this sort of thing every day, don’t they?”

            “Yeah…” And he knew, he wasn’t going to quit the Air Force. Not ever. This was his calling. What he was put on this earth for. It suited him. “It’s still weird.” He put his hand on her knee, rubbing it gently with his thumb. “Maybe… I guess I might get some time off over Thanksgiving… and I know you have to work, but maybe you could still come? Just for the holidays? My mom is begging to meet you.”

            She nodded without smiling. “Sure… November, right?” It would be a terrible ordeal for her, flying in on a Wednesday, leaving again on Sunday… but she’d still go. For him. “Christmas at my mom’s place?”

 

He was called in early, only to be told of the ceasefire. The warring parties had agreed to meet for peace talks. Evan couldn’t say how he felt about it. The war, the fighting, was over. They’d helped achieve this. He’d been part of this. He’d helped make this happen.

            But at what cost?

            The flight for that evening was cancelled. Instead, he wrote his report. Mechanically, his fingers flew over the keyboard. He felt numb to the point of feeling nothing but that hot ball of frustration in the pit of his stomach.

            Alex was still waiting up for him when he got home. She must’ve heard the news. She knew he wouldn’t be flying today.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

1995

He really, really, really didn’t want to get up.

            It was too comfortable. It was too nice, too exhilarating to be here with her. And they still had a few minutes. So, as soon as she started to scoot towards the edge of the bed again, he grabbed her wrists and climbed on top of her. After almost half a year, he still couldn’t get enough of her. Of her smell, her laugh, her dreams, or her body… there was too much of her he couldn’t even begin to put in one coherent thought.

            Alex didn’t struggle, didn’t remind him that the New Year’s celebrations on the base would begin without them. She wrapped her legs around his hips, drew him closer and kissed him. That kiss alone was almost enough to make him ready for her again. Her hands were cool against his hot skin as they traced his spine.

            “Not yet,” he whispered against her lips. “Just one more time…”

            “Just the one, though…”

           

 

When they were done, she kissed him one more time and pushed him off her. “We need to get going,” she said and got up. But she was smiling. Her hair was still wet from the shower she’d taken just before he’d thrown her on the bed.

            With a groan, Evan fell back on the mattress. “What if I don’t want to go?”

            “I’m gonna force you to write a letter of apology to Colonel Summerton, Captain. And believe me, that letter will be super embarrassing.”

            “Embarrassing for me or for you?”

            “For me. Which, I’m sure, will be even harder to write for you.”

            “You know me too well.” But he didn’t get up yet. Instead, he watched her as she moved to the door where she’d hung the black dress she’d be wearing tonight. Almost six months… he’d met her family, she’d met his. To be honest, his mother was downright obsessed with her, and who could blame her.

            “Evan, come on, we’re already late!” She almost sounded annoyed. And she wasn’t entirely wrong.

            She considered the dress for another moment, clearly wondering if she had to take another shower.

            Smiling, he got up from the bed and handed her the towel she’d dropped as she’d seen him put on his dress uniform. “Honey, if I don’t get to shower, then you don’t either.”

            “If you don’t mind everyone realizing I smell of you, then I don’t mind.” She grinned at him over her shoulder and put on her bra. She’d only allowed him to leave on his tie. His shirt was lying crumpled on the floor and he’d call himself lucky if nobody noticed.

            “Nobody there knows what I smell like,” he muttered, closing her bra before picking up his own shirt. “Lucky, huh?”

            “Lucky me.” She was still grinning when she turned around to face him in her underwear to close the buttons of his shirt. Was there something off in the way she smiled at him? He couldn’t be entirely sure. They’d been as good together as ever just now…

            Evan raised her hands to his lips and kissed them. “I promise I won’t keep you there longer than absolutely necessary.”

            “Meaning you’re not going to dance with me?”

            “No, if you want, I’ll dance your feet off. Quite literally, because I suck at that, too.”

            “You don’t suck at a lot of things, so I guess I can forgive that little flaw.”

            He put his hands on both sides of her face to kiss her. She still tasted like him…

            Pulling away, she shook her head before he could get any more ideas. “Next year, Evan.”

            “Yes, ma’am…” Reluctantly he let go of her to pull on his trousers and his uniform jacket. Tentatively, he reached into his pocket to see if the small black box was still in there. For a moment there, when she’d dropped the towel and started heading towards him, he’d almost feared she’d discover it. Luckily, she’d been too preoccupied.

            Alex was done before he was. She’d put on some make-up but not too much and she was standing in the doorway with their coats over her arm before he’d even tied his shoes.

            “Shall we go?” she asked.

            On their way out, he spotted an unopened letter lying on the small table next to the door. It was addressed to her, he saw, though in the dim light he couldn’t see who the sender was. But it looked official.

            “Why didn’t you open that?”

            Her face fell and she shrugged. “I’m not in the mood for another rejection letter to be honest.” He could guess why she was frustrated like this. Her job at the university would only keep her employed until April, and she was getting desperate.

            “Well, you could always write something like this Dr Jackson? Completely ruin your career and be done with it?” Evan remembered her reading that book with a big frown on her face. The expression had been enough to make him pick it up as well.  And it was weirdly fascinating, yet at the same time completely ridiculous. Those theories sounded like something straight from a terrible script-writer’s desk.

            “Yes, I could finally start teaching, Latin, Ancient Egyptian and Greek like I’ve always wanted,” she sighed, not meeting his eye.

            “It’ll be alright,” he said, kissing her temple. “Something is going to turn up. Something better than teaching a dead old language.”

 

How she wished they’d gotten something to eat on the way here… the horsd’oevre were good, but far too small and she was already starving by the time they got to the base.

            Evan picked up two from a tray and gave her one of them. It looked like a cracker with something indefinable on top of it. Artistically done, no doubt about that, but looking at it made her feel even more hungry.

“Sorry,” he muttered under his breath, “I thought there was going to be real food.”

She threw a quick look over his shoulder at the clock hanging on the wall of the mess hall. “Only two hours to go before we can get away from here and get something to eat.” There was no way she was going to stuff herself with these little things in front of Evan’s colleagues. She was no barbarian after all.

“You don’t even like McDonald’s.”

“No, I hate McDonald’s, but they have chips.” She grabbed a glass of water from the table, knowing full well her using the British word would make him grin. “So, who do I have to get to know around here?”

Evan wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her a bit closer. “Well, there are some people you’ve already met, Jenkins, Paul, Philips, they all brought their wives, so you will definitely get the chance to exchange your stories about how terrible it is being with a pilot. You’ve already met Colonel Summerton when we came in. Then there’s his wife, over there. The one talking to that semi-bald man. That’s General Hammond. He’s in charge around here.”

“He looks… intense.”

“He is… at first, but he’s okay, actually.” Evan smiled down at her. She’d never been to the base before, but he was glad he’d decided to come here with her. The band had already started playing. And there were already a few couples out on the dance floor, right at the place where the eating area was located usually. “Care to dance?”

“Going to make right on your promise?”

“I usually do,” he grinned, taking her hand and pulling her towards the place where others were already dancing. And right now he didn’t care one bit that most of them were more sophisticated at this than he was. There was this beautiful woman, swaying awkwardly in his arms, and he couldn’t for the life of him imagine a place he’d rather be. Even if he did stamp on her foot a lot, he managed to keep that sort of thing to a bare minimum, and she had the grace not to complain about it.

She looked up at him, still smiling and it almost looked like she was going to say something, when the music stopped and one of the band members announced a short break. He squeezed her waist, pulling her closer for a moment before he had to release her. “I love you, you know that, right?” It wasn’t the first time he’d said it. In fact, he remembered blurting it out about four weeks into the relationship.

A smile was all he got, before he saw the General approach them. He immediately started to stand up straight, when Hammond waved it off. “At ease, Captain,” he said, before shaking first Alex’ hand, then Evan’s. “This is supposed to be a bit less formal.”

Evan nodded curtly. “Yes, Sir.” He exchanged a quick glance with Alex. Where would they be in a year? By the rate things were going, probably very pregnant… that was, if she said yes. God, why hadn’t he asked her on Christmas? Just because he’d thought it was cheesy… not that New Year’s Eve was any less cheesy. “Sir, may I introduce my girlfriend. Dr Alexandra Woolston.”

“Medical Doctor?” Hammond asked, intrigued. That was usually the first thing people asked when her title was mentioned.

“Not exactly,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “Archaeology, so PhD. I work at the university here.”

Hammond eyes widened for a moment, then he nodded appreciatively and eyed her. “Any interest in hieroglyphs?”

Now, where was that coming from? Usually, when her field of studies was mentioned, people asked whether she liked digging up stuff, he knew he’d asked her that.

“Some, yes, but I’m no expert exactly. I can read them well enough, but that’s about it. I’m a bit out of practice, you see? I focus more on Religion and Cults.”

“Yes.” He threw a glance at Evan, who immediately resumed a look of mild interest.

“Dr Woolston, who, would you say, is an expert?”

“Why do you ask? Did you get a weird souvenir from a friend?” she laughed, the question apparently baffling her.

He shook his head. “In a way… you see, I have this colleague… he and his team are trying to figure out this piece of writing…”

Evan could sense how weird she thought this line of questioning was. She crossed her arms with a frown. “General… I have no idea what the Air Force would want with hieroglyphs, but- “

“Ever heard of a Dr Gary Meyers, Dr Woolston?”

“Yes, of course. But he’s not perfect…” She sighed. “Look, I don’t know what you want translated, but I can tell you, that Meyers is good at inferring stuff, at least that’s what I gather from the few things he’s published, but if you want an accurate translation of anything, you should turn to Daniel Jackson. He’s a bit wacko from what I heard, but he’ll do the job just fine.”

“Daniel Jackson?”

“PhD. Linguist and archaeologist. He’s the man you want, I think.”

Hammond nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll keep that in mind and tell my friend… thank you, Doctor Woolston.” He smiled softly. What the heck was going on here? But Evan knew better than to ask questions. “Captain,” he said now, turning back to Evan, “May I speak with you for a moment?”

Evan didn’t move. He had an idea what this might be about. It took him a moment, before he could nod and leave Alex where she was. A casual event this might be, but when a General asked you to follow him, you didn’t just tell him no.

“Captain,” Hammond addressed him, as soon as they’d gone through the door, “I hear you were the one who reported that Lieutenant Pérez was missing.”

Evan nodded hesitantly. Javier hadn’t resigned his commission straight away. Instead, he’d turned up on base regularly, until about three weeks ago, when Evan hadn’t even been able to reach him at home. “Yes, Sir.” He had an inkling of what had happened, and he’d managed to suppress his worries most of the time. But now that Hammond was standing in front of him, he couldn’t help but wonder.

            “You’re close to him, I gather.”

            “Him and Lieutenant Smith, yes. Sir, did you find him?”

            Hammond eyed him for a moment. “There will be some further investigation, but thanks to you we were able to apprehend him at the airport. He was quite distressed.”

            Swallowing hard, Evan nodded. “I’m glad… Smith’s death hit him really hard.”

            “I know, son. Things like this happen more often than you might think. He’ll be okay. But he’ll receive a dishonourable discharge by the looks of it, since he didn’t report for duty, avoided detection for so long and then there’s this other thing…”

            Evan’s insides clenched. It was a total disaster. But at least Javier was alright. Physically anyway. “Sir?”

            “Were you… aware of his relationship with Lieutenant Smith.”

            “Don’t ask, don’t tell, Sir.”

            “Yes… of course… Captain, I just thought I’d let you know before you’re approached by Colonel Summerton. You did the right thing, son.”

            Then why was he feeling so lousy?

            “I’ll let you get back to your girlfriend… oh, by the way, I also meant to tell you that your request for remaining here for a while longer has been granted. At least another year, maybe longer.”

            Evan nodded stiffly. “Yes, Sir…” The knot in his stomach loosened a bit.

 

The music had started up again and Alex had used the time he was away to sneak a couple more horsd’oevre into her mouth. It helped a bit. But this really wasn’t good enough after an evening of sex and getting to know your boyfriend’s colleagues. That short talk with the General had been curious too. Since when was the Air Force into hieroglyphs?

            “I told him to get some real food as well,” a woman’s voice said right next to her. Alex whirled around, one piece of cracker still in hand. It was the Colonel’s wife, the one Evan had pointed out to her earlier.

            “Well, this is okay…” Alex swallowed the last bit of cracker. “I mean it would’ve been nice to know about it beforehand, but this… it’s alright.” she reached for another glass of water. Something to fill her up a bit more.

            The woman in front of her was in her late thirties, Alex gathered. A bit chubby, with short brown hair and a kind of sparkle in her eye that made Alex think that this person really liked making fun of people. “I’ll tell my husband to do just that the next time…” she winked at her, then stretched out her hand, “Veronica Summerton.”

            “Alex Woolston.” She never introduced herself with her PhD. Evan did that. Always. According to him, she was hiding the fact that she was a bookworm a bit too much.

            “You’re here with Captain Lorne?”

            “Yes. Do you know him?”

            Veronica Summerton made a vague gesture. “Briefly talked to him during an event this summer. You weren’t there then?”

            “No. We just met this summer. Probably some time after that.”

            “Ah… he’s a good man, you know? My husband talks about him sometimes. Only the highest praise. If you can hold on to him, do.”

            The way Mrs Summerton said that made Alex’ frown. “Why wouldn’t I hold on to him?” It wasn’t certain his request for being stationed here for longer was to be granted, but even if he was sent away, that didn’t mean they’d split up over it, did it? She swallowed hard. Yes, this thing with Evan had hit her out of nowhere and she constantly worried about him when she knew he was on a mission, but that had never, not for a second, made her doubt her decisions.

            Mrs Summerton shrugged. “Listen, I don’t mean to frighten you. It’s just that this sort of thing isn’t always easy. And you two seem serious about what you’re doing. Most officers don’t bring their girlfriends here after only a couple of months. I’m just saying… things can get rough.”

            It was as though she’d swallowed a massive, hot rock. And now it was just lying there in the pit of her stomach with no hope of cooling down anytime soon. “I know,” she said. “My dad was in the Royal Air Force.” Why the heck did this woman want to patronize her? As if she had no idea what she was getting herself into?

            “Ah…” Mrs Summerton had the decency to blush somewhat. Looking over Alex’ shoulder, she heaved a sigh, almost a relieved one, “And here he is.”

            Evan’s hand was on her hip before she knew it. The band had started playing again. “Mrs Summerton. Nice to meet you.” He was smiling, but something was off. The smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.

            “You too, Captain. Would you excuse me, my husband promised to dance with me two years ago and tonight I’m making him.”

            “Sure.”  His arm around her was almost tight. And his whole body was tense.

            “What is it?” she asked quietly, looking up at him.

            He shook his head. “Later… I…” he closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “Well, at least the General told me my request was granted. I’ll be staying here for a year at least.” A year… that wasn’t a whole lot… Alex took his hand in his and started pulling him back towards the dance floor, hating herself for the dark thoughts Mrs Summerton had planted in her head.

 

She seemed distracted as he put his arms around her to resume dancing. But maybe she was just hungry… that was probably it. She was holding on to his hand as though for dear life. Seeing her talk to Colonel Summerton’s wife had been kind of comforting. She got on with the people here and that was a relief. She’d met some other colleagues of his, but never in this sort of setting.

            Pulling her closer until his lips were almost touching her ear, he whispered, “Are you okay?”

            She nodded and squeezed his hand again. “Yes… just… I was just thinking. About how good things are right now.”

            “For us anyway…”

            “For us anyway.” She agreed. They’d taken to swaying from left to right now. Slowly and less deliberately than before, somewhere on the edge of the dance floor, close to the window. No one was paying them any attention at all. “What else did he say?” she whispered.

            He pulled away then, without letting go of her hand. “They found Javier.” The way her eyes widened, made him feel even worse. The little box in his pocket was heavier than before. In fact, this was the first time he’d felt it sitting there all evening, and he knew, he just knew that tonight wouldn’t be a good time to ask her. Not when he had to constantly think of Javier and Sam… how he’d told on Javier. “He’s okay, and that’s a bit of a relief, but…”

            “Will he be court martialled?”

            “No, I don’t think so… Not with what was going on. But I believe they found out some stuff about him and he’s being discharged.”

            She closed her eyes, letting out a long breath. Biting her lip, she looked up at him again. “Is there anything we can do to help him?”

            “No… and I can’t openly speak up for him.” There wasn’t a whole lot he could do. He wasn’t even sure Javier would want to speak to him right now.

            Her thumb rubbed over the back of his hand. How he wished he could just pull her in, kiss her until he’d forgotten what was going on. Because forgetting was easy around her. And she could see it in his eyes. Of course she could. Communicating without speaking had become a bit of a speciality for them.

            He’d ask her tomorrow. Tomorrow was just as good as today.

            “Let’s mingle?”

            Evan nodded. “Let’s mingle.”

 

1996

I was thinking. Why don’t we get married? It’s not gonna change anything, is it? I mean we’re good the way we are, but why not make it official?

            No. That sounded bad. Terrible even.

            Evan looked at the ring again. Gold, with a round diamond set in its centre. Simple, yet elegant. A bit like her. She never wore jewellery.

            Alexandra, love of my life, will you marry me?

            No. That sounded even more terrible.

            But he needed to ask her. He wanted to ask her. Now. Right now. If he had only one year left around here, then he wanted to make sure she knew that he wanted to be with her no matter what. Because, if fate hadn’t brought them together that day, then what had? And he didn’t really need any more signs.

            Clearing his throat again, he looked up to stare at his face in the mirror. He hadn’t even shaved yet. She was still asleep, or at least she had been when he went into the bathroom half an hour ago.

            I don’t need any signs. We’re meant to be. I just know it. Please, please, marry me?

            Well, that was even worse.

            “Evan? Are you okay?” Her voice sounded sleepy. So much for waking her up with a nice breakfast and putting the ring in the jam for her to find… no, that would be kind of disgusting.

            “Yeah, I’ll be out in a minute.” He took a deep breath.  He’d just have to wing it. No amount of preparation would make this perfect. And he wasn’t a great actor. He didn’t need to be.

            Closing his fist around the ring, he opened the door, to see her standing right there in front of him, staring down at a piece of paper.

            It took him a moment to remember the letter from the previous evening and when she raised her eyes to look into his, he felt his heart plummet.

            “I got a job,” she said breathlessly.

            “Where?” He should be happy. He was… but the university had made it clear that she’d only have a job for a semester.

            She swallowed visibly and dropped the letter on the table. She didn’t speak, only stepped towards him and wrapped her arms around him. “New York,” she breathed against his neck. The two words made him want to collapse there and then. New York… that was so far away… “I can’t take it.”

            Shaking his head, he kissed her neck. There was no way in hell he’d let her pass by this opportunity. It was all he could do not to start crying there and then. “You have to.” His voice was barely more than a whisper and when he felt the edges of the diamond cutting into his skin, he couldn’t hold back the tears. “You have to go, Alex.”

Chapter Text

 

May 6th, 1996

Dear Evan,

You left one of your socks in my bed. I’d send it back, but I’d much rather keep it, if that’s okay? I’ve enclosed one of mine, so if you feel lonely, you can put on the one you took with you and the one I’m sending you and maybe that’ll remind you of me.

Thanks again for accompanying me here. I have to admit, this city is downright scary after living in the middle of nowhere for two years. And my flat’s not even in Manhattan! How can I be so intimidated by it!

Anyway… I started work today and it’s all going okay. I have some really nice colleagues, and I can’t wait to start working on that research project. We’ll be at dig sites, quite often, so I can finally live up to that stereotype or archaeologists everyone seems so fond of. I can only hope I don’t actually have to live up to the other stereotypes of whips and fedoras. Or maybe I do? You tell me, when I see you again in June.

There’s so much I want to say to you. So much I want to tell you about. To show you. Writing is hard, though. It’s not the same somehow.

Your mother sent me a letter the other day. There was a picture of us in there as well. And by picture, I mean photo. Can’t believe it’s only been a few months since I met her.  Hell, I can’t believe it’s been a week since I last saw you.

I’d write something dirty now, but it’d just make me cry. God, I miss you.

 

Love,

Alex.

 

 

May 20th, 1996

Dear Alex,

The sock’s arrived safe and sound. I wear them both to bed every night. Thank you for your concern. This was a great idea.

We got some new people here on base a few days ago and Hammond’s left. The new guy seems okay though. We’re flying again, but most of it is just so we don’t get lazy, I think. Still, I fly over the Roman Baths almost every single day and I have to think of you every time. Haven’t been back there, though.

I have to admit, this place has lost a lot of its charm since you left. Summer is coming, but it’s rainy and cold and it sucks. Must be the weather. I tell myself it’s the weather, but I know it’s not.

Listen, I was thinking about coming in a day early. I’ll tell you about it on the phone tomorrow, but I want to put it in this letter as well. Writing to you isn’t like talking to you, but it’s still a bit therapeutic. The apartment is pretty empty without you, and I’ve almost decided to move back to base. Almost, because when you get here this summer, I want to have a place to put you.

Talking of moms…yours sent me some jam. What’s the deal with that? It’s really nice jam, but there wasn’t a letter. Took me a while to figure out it was from her. And your brother’s announced he’ll be coming here. Guess he wants to know what my intentions are with you. What should I say? Should I tell him we already eloped to Las Vegas and that I’m pregnant with your child? That could be fun…

Or not. Sorry, I just feel a bit lost without you here. Not that I want you to come back… no. No, that’s all wrong. I want you to come back, but I also want you to have a job that makes you happy. Well, this is getting messy.

Okay. One more try. This letter will reach you before I see you, so I’ll try to end this as well as I possibly can.

Dear Alex. I love you. Forgive me for being a stupid ass.

 

Love,

Evan.

 

 

July 22nd, 1996

Dear Evan,

Thanks for leaving me your email address. I just got a computer with internet access in my flat. Ha! So now, I can tell you happy birthday, and you’re gonna get my message as soon as I send it! Isn’t that crazy?

Dear Evan: Happy Birthday! I hope you don’t have one like last year, because last year was crazy, but magnificent. I’m going to call you in a few minutes, just so you know. I want to try something.

Love,

Alex.

P.S.: My brother was impressed by your medals, he tells me. What the heck did you do?

P.P.S.: By the way: I just went to see a lecture by Dr Jackson. I felt kind of bad for him when the whole audience just got up and left. I was there with my boss, so I had to go along with her, but still. But I have to admit, I’m impressed by the way he keeps sticking up for himself.

 

July 22nd, 1996

Dear Alex,

Sorry, I just got home. Can’t believe I missed your call… I was at work right until now. I’ll call you tomorrow.

Your brother really is a prick. Sorry I have to be so blunt, but he is… he was asking me about what I do in the Air Force, what medals I got. So it was his idea… he seemed to have read a book before he got here. It was like a quiz.

Love,

Evan.

P.S.: Would you mind sending me another sock? Yours was eaten by the drier.

 

September 1st, 1996

Dear Alex,

I know you’re busy right now, but maybe you can take a few days off in October? I’m being transferred back to the States, but I only have to be in Washington on November 1st.

Evan.

 

September 1st, 1996

Hi Evan,

Damn it! Sorry! No! I’m not even gonna be in New York! Didn’t I tell you in my last email? I’ll be in Cairo then. Shit. No! Why!?

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. Phew… no. Let’s start again. Dear Evan, I’m sorry I can’t meet you in October. I’ll be on a dig near Gizeh. Gosh, this sucks! I hate being so far away from you all the time. It just hurts so badly. But you’ll be closer now. Washington isn’t that far away! So there’s some hope!

Alex

 

December 31st, 2001

Dear Evan,

I know we said we had to end this. And I’m sure I’m going to delete this message when I’m done writing. Do you know we’ve written over 1000 emails? Sometimes there’ve been several emails per day. I just had to take a look.

Things were getting too hard, I know. I’m just worried about you. I know you’re probably in Afghanistan, saving all our asses. I just hope someone keeps saving yours. Please, let me know you’re okay. I’d ask your mom, but she’s not speaking to me since the breakup.

I just took a job in Colorado Springs and I’ll be offline for a couple of days.

I hope to hear from you. And you know what? Deal with it, I’m not deleting this message. I’m sending it.

Alex.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

2002

The Sergeant next to her didn’t even look at her. Weren’t they allowed to talk? She had to admit, she’d never been inside a military facility like this before, but this stiffness seemed weird.

            “Level eighteen, ma’am.”

            “Thanks.” She pulled the bag back over her shoulder and stepped out of the elevator. This level looked pretty much like the first level had, she thought, as she turned to look around. Dr Jackson was supposed to meet her up by the entrance, but he’d called in just as she arrived, letting her know that he’d forgotten about her. And so, here she was, standing in a concrete corridor, her book bag over her shoulder and nowhere to go from here.

            “Dr Woolston!”

            She turned to find Dr Jackson heading towards her at a quick pace. He was a bit out of breath and the glasses he was wearing were askew. “Dr Jackson.”

            “There you are, sorry I’m late. I had a meeting with the General and then I sort of lost track of time and before I knew it… well…” he shrugged. He was clutching a notebook and waved her to follow him. “Come on, let me show you around.”

            Alex nodded. “Has that artefact I sent you been of any value?” She’d found it on a dig near Babylon and the carbon dating had her thrown. It was older than it should have been and seemed to confirm Dr Jackson’s theories and she’d contacted him as soon she could. And here she was, a few months later. Being offered a job for the Air Force had been the last thing she’d ever imagined to get out of this. Not that it had come at an inappropriate time. Her research grant at the university in New York had just ended and she’d been grateful for another opportunity. Grateful to be offered the chance to live in a place with a little more green outside. Not that she’d see much of that in here, she thought.

            “Yes! Yes, and that’s exactly why I asked you to come here.” He turned sharp right and practically disappeared in a room. Was he always this hectic? Probably… she remembered some of it from that talk she’d been to with her boss.

            She followed him into a workspace that must be his office. There were several shelves stacked with books, books on the counter, books on the desk, on the computer keyboard, on artefacts. Everything was a bit chaotic and she took in a deep breath. This was the stuff she’d been hoping to find the moment she decided to study ancient cultures. And now she’d get the chance to discover even more. At least, if the information she’d gotten out of Jackson after signing that non-disclosure agreement weren’t a complete hoax.

            He waved her over to the counter and there it was: ´the small cylindrical object she’d found buried in an unsealed jar. It had practically fallen out of there the moment she touched it and the writing alone had startled her, let alone the lab results. She’d never even seen writing  like this anywhere. Her colleague had merely shrugged them off as a sort of decoration, but the way certain patterns appeared, in no symmetrical order whatsoever had made her question that. “Have you figured out what it is?

            “Yes! That is… well, let me show you.” Without much ado, he twisted the top of the cylinder in a way she never would’ve dared. It came off with a pop. “It’s a data storage device of sorts. See?” He shook it slightly and out fell two narrow, transparent slides. “No, of course you don’t see.” Shaking his head, he raised the piece of crystal up to the light.

            “The Ancients, that’s the race of beings who built the Stargates, they started using crystals as storage devices thousands of years ago, way before the Goa’uld ever entered the picture. Colonel Carter has been able to interface these with our computers aaaand, there.” He took another, regular disk, from somewhere among the dozens of books, walked over to his computer and popped it in.

            This was all going a bit too fast, even for her liking, but she couldn’t help but stare at the writing turning up in front of her. More of the same. “This is incredible,” she breathed.

            “I know, right?”

            “Is that Ancient? I mean, the language you told me about?”

            “The very same… And a whole lot of languages evolved around it.”

            “What does it say?”

            Daniel shrugged. “There’s a whole lot of poetry in there, but also… this.” He pulled up another file. God only knew how they’d managed to get those files in the right format, but there it was. “What is it?” It looked an awful lot like schematics of some sort.

            “Blueprints. To some sort of… I don’t know for a weapon of sorts. Short range weapons. We believe the Goa’uld may have developed their staff weapons from schematics just like these.”

            Alex nodded. This was all still new to her, but she realized what this discovery might be worth to the military. “Okay… Dr Jackson, what exactly will I be doing here? You mentioned research? Do you mean… research like…”

            “Off world, here on Earth. You still up for it? We need all the qualified personnel we can get.”

            “You know I’m not qualified.”

            “Well, no. You’re not. Not yet, anyway. But neither was I.” He turned around to face her, looked her up and down as though assessing her. “You got allergies?”

            She couldn’t help but laugh. “No.”

            “Good, then you’re when step ahead of where I was five years ago. I don’t go anywhere without a bag full of antihistamines.“ He winked at her, put his glasses on straight. “Let me show you around. First you’ll get tried out on several teams and the commander of that team will decide whether you’re a good match. When you’re back home, you’ll be working with me and the other archaeologists or on your own projects. Right now we’re compiling an Ancient dictionary. I’ve been told my notes on the Ancient language are a bit gibberish.” He slipped right back out of the door, clearly intending her to follow him. “Okay, let me show you the gateroom first. It’s the most impressive thing around here. Oh, and you’ll meet General Hammond of course later on. Colonel Reynolds has requested an addition to his team. Well, not exactly requested, as asked to take on someone with a more anthropological viewpoint. Helps sometimes. While you’re being assessed, you will also receive some basic military training.”

            Right… she should’ve expected that. They were walking down the corridor, heading back to the elevator. “What if I fail that training.”

            “I doubt you will.” He smiled at her now. “Seriously, you have to stay fit and all that, get some basic training with weapons, but you’ll love it.” He hit the button with the number 28 on it. “Believe me, it can get really terrifying, but it’s worth every second.”

            She smiled briefly. “I believe you…” She took a deep breath. “Where are we going, Dr Jackson.”

            “Daniel. Please. We’re heading towards the gateroom. And, to answer your question, should you fail at training, we always need people back here. Alright, here we are.”

            Without waiting a single second as soon as the doors opened, he started heading down yet another corridor, which ended in a small staircase and seemed to be leading into a sort of control room. So this was it. The place she couldn’t stop thinking about for days now. Who’d have thought that Daniel Jackson had actually been correct? And that she’d joked about him.

            And there it was. She couldn’t even focus on the people sitting at desks, working at the computers. All she could focus on was the massive ring of grey metal right behind the window. Her heartbeat picked up, as she saw the inner ring begin to turn.

            Out of nowhere the alarm began to sound. The grey-haired man in front of her said something she couldn’t quite understand.

            “Does this happen a lot?” she asked Daniel. If it did, then this reaction seemed a bit out of place. Through the glass she spotted soldiers running into the gate room, taking up position and aiming their weapons at the gate.

            And then a massive metal kind of door seemed to close over the ring.

            “Sometimes,” Daniel sounded calmer than she would’ve thought. “Sometimes teams run into trouble off world.”

            “Do we have any idea who this is?” Someone was coming down the set of stairs behind them, but Alex couldn’t bring herself to watch the gate as, all of a sudden, a whooshing sound echoed through the entire room and the concrete wall behind the gate was alight in a white-blue light. Like light reflected on rippled water.

            “It’s Colonel Edward’s IDC, Sir. Opening the iris.”

            And then the metal thing parted the same way it had closed. The luminescent surface of the event horizon almost made her gasp. This was truly incredible. Like a pool a purest blue and light.

            Next second, a group of five stepped through. As soon as they’d walked down the metal ramp a few steps, the pool of light vanished again. The man who’d come down the stairs pushed past Alex to get into the gate room to meet them.

            “That’s SG-11. Mostly engineers,” Daniel said. “They look alright, though.”

            Alex nodded, absentmindedly, her eyes focused on the men. Her heart was beating so fast, she could barely breathe. One of the men, the oldest one approached the General… of course, General Hammond. She’d read that he was in command here. But she couldn’t focus on him, or the man he was talking to. The way the man right behind this Edwards was standing, struck her. But it couldn’t be. Not here. She turned to face Daniel instead.

            “Okay, so where next?” There was no way Evan was here. Only because she was in an Air Force facility, didn’t mean she’d run right into him. That was ridiculous.

 

“You weren’t supposed to get back here for another five hours. Did anything happen?”

            “No, Sir,” Edwards said. “Just nothing to see there. Just grassland as far as the eye could see. No trace of civilization anywhere.”

            Evan wiped his brow. “Could be a good spot for another Beta- or Gamma site, though, Sir.”

            “Alright. We’ll talk about this later, meeting in one hour.”

            Edwards nodded as General Hammond started to turn away. But something was wrong. Evan could’ve sworn someone was watching him. He looked up into the control room and just saw Dr Jackson heading out of the room.

 

The meeting was over quickly enough, luckily. Ritter, Menard and Woeste were already on their way out, but Evan wanted to stay at the SGC for a while longer and finish his last mission report. He was already late.

            He just went to the mess, got a coffee and then started heading towards his private quarters, as Colonel Edwards stepped up to him. “Major, General Hammond was just talking to me. Apparently we got someone new here today. Another archaeologist.” He almost rolled his eyes. “We just have to see which team she’ll fit into best.”

            “Doesn’t sound like the worst plan, Sir,” he said. “And we might even get lucky. She might get picked up by another team.”

            “Maybe… She has to receive some basic training, though. As quickly as possible.”

            “I’m on it, Sir. I’ll schedule an appointment with her straight away. Where do I find her?” It was a job he shared with a couple of other officers. Training the scientists enough so they could survive in the field. It wasn’t the worst job in the world. Usually. Of course, the hopeless cases weren’t a lot of fun, but at least seventy percent of these guys made it through alright.

            “Dr Jackson’s office.”

            “Right. What’s her name?”

            “I forgot, Major. Just get this over with. We’re going to have to take her along for at least two trips if no one else picks her up.”

            “Yes, Sir.” Evan raised his mug in greeting and started heading towards the elevator. So, just one more appointment to make. That wasn’t too bad. And the mission couldn’t even be called that. He’d be done with his report in about an hour, then he’d just get to his dog-walker, pick up the mutt and head home. He just should remember to call his mother, now that he was home on her birthday.

            Dr Jackson’s office was the one closest to the elevator. Evan could hear him talking excitedly about one verb or something, and then he turned into the office. Jackson was standing by the counter in the centre of the room, bent over a notebook. The woman he was talking to, or rather at, had her back turned to him. Blonde, slim, but not too thin. Should be good enough for basic training, Evan thought and knocked on the doorframe to get their attention.

            When she turned around to face him, he almost dropped his coffee. It was as though he’d slammed right into a wall and she looked pretty much the same. Her eyes were just as he remembered them, and it was as though these last four years had never happened. She was there, alright. And made absolutely no sense at all.

            “Major. Hi, this is-“

            “You made Major?” she breathed. He couldn’t tell if she was surprised, pleased or appalled. There was no way of saying what she felt. The last time they’d seen each other was still vivid in his memory. The sadness. The tears… the unwillingness to let go. But there it was.

            Evan shrugged. “You’re here?” He couldn’t help it. He smiled at her and was really tempted to turn around and run away. He’d read her last e-mail mere minutes before he started getting ready for the mission.

            “Hang on, you know each other?” Jackson seemed stunned. But Evan didn’t even look at him. All he could focus on was her. The way she set down her glass of water and stood up straight.

            “Yeah… a bit.” Evan had kept the ring, but had never brought up the courage to pop the question. Their chances had run out years ago. Maybe they’d never had a real chance at all.

            “Uhm…” Jackson frowned. “I’m gonna go get some more coffee…”

            And just like that he was gone. Slipped out through the door. But it was no use. The wall they’d built up over these past years was still intact. Probably even more so.

            Tentatively, Evan set his mug down, before he smashed it to bits. “So… uhm… hey.”

            “Hey.” She was smiling now, but the tension was still there. In her face. In each and every muscle of her body. “I… I thought you were-“

            “I know. I read your e-mail this morning.”

            And then she was moving. Not as smoothly, as she once had, but she moved towards him. Hugged him. Pulled him close to her. But that hug didn’t help him relax.

            But he hugged her back. Awkwardly. Wishing, he could pull her closer to himself, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Who could say if she wasn’t already seeing someone else… already. It had been years! She must be.

            He let go of her before it could get even worse.

            “I’m glad you’re okay.”

            Evan nodded. “You too.” He cleared his throat. What she meant was something completely different. She was glad he wasn’t lying dead in the middle of the desert. He was glad she looked healthy and beautiful and as stunning as ever. “So… you’re the new scientific addition.”

            “Looks like it.” She put her hands into her pockets and shrugged. “Did you just get through the gate?”

            “Yep… and I’m to start introducing you to some things you’re going to need off world.” Dear Lord, how am I supposed to do that? “Is that okay?” Please say no.

            Alex hesitated for a moment. “Sure. When?”

            He took a deep breath. Time to get going. “Eight. Do you know where the gym is?”

            “Yes, Daniel just showed me around.”

            “Okay.” Hell, why did we break up? “Well then… see you tomorrow.” Do you want to meet for dinner later? But of course she wouldn’t want that. He wasn’t even sure he wanted that. And so, instead of saying anything else, he practically took flight.

Chapter Text

2002

The gun wasn’t loaded, but he was still holding it carefully as he approached her. God, how she wished he’d refused teaching her. But here they were, in the shooting range.

            He was standing in front of her, in his dark blue pants and black t-shirt, not meeting her eye. Nothing but a brief greeting had been spoken since they met in front of the gym. He looked older, but not different somehow. His face was fuller, the muscles of his chest and arms more pronounced.

            “Okay,” he said business like, handing her the gun with the grip first, the barrel pointing down, “always point it away from people, always treat it like it’s loaded or could go off.”

            She was surprised by the weight of it in her hand. “Right… what now?”

            He was looking at her now, his blue eyes unreadable. “You’ll have it in a holster, but we’re going to get to that later. For now, I want you to face the target. No shooting involved yet. Always hold it in two hands. Makes it easier to aim.”

            Alex nodded and turned towards the target. Black figures on white paper. She’d seen this sort of thing in movies, but never once in real life.

            “Hold it up, aim. Then you- hang on.” He swallowed hard and took a step towards her. His hands were on hers before she knew it. Warm and dry. Just like she remembered them. She stiffened and so did he. Straight away, she felt his chest against hers. “Let’s get through this, alright?” He sounded aggravated.

            “Let’s.” She took a deep breath and tried her best just to stand still and hold the gun. His fingers moved hers around the gun until she was holding it right. His breath was hot on her skin.

            “Like this.” The words left a soft trace on her cheek. “Now, move your right index to the trigger. Look where you’ll be shooting.” His own index was tracing hers, almost caressing it.

            She let out a deep breath, then pulled the trigger. A soft click echoed through the room and that was that. He let go of her straight away and took a step back.

            “Right… now let’s try loading it.” All business then… fine she could deal with that. She’d dealt with it the moment he’d left her in her apartment. Right after she’d said that she needed this to end. That it was too hard. That she couldn’t bear it anymore and regretting it the very moment the words left her lips, because he’d agreed. And then Evan had just walked out the door.

            And now here he was, and they were in an indescribable place. Acting as though that crazy summer and the years after that had never been. As though that instant connection had never been.

            Evan pulled out two magazines and another unloaded gun. He stood next to her and she followed his movements, tried copying them. Failed. Did it again. The movements were something she could concentrate on. Something she could focus on.

            “Are you seeing anybody?” he asked without looking at her. He’d just fired his first shot and hit the paper person squarely in the chest.

            This question was bound to come up. “No,” she said, mimicking his posture, focusing on holding the gun the right way. “You?”

            “No.”

            Alex wasn’t sure if she should be relieved or not. It was none of her business. Not anymore. She heard him put the gun down and felt him get closer. But she didn’t look at him. She couldn’t. He just checked that she was holding the gun right and his hand gently brushed her side. Not a good idea. She closed her eyes for a moment, then she pulled the trigger. The pushback was worse than she’d have thought, and it slammed her backwards a bit. Evan was right there behind her as she bumped into his chest. His arms were on her shoulders immediately steadying her. But he didn’t let go of her. Not straight away.

            “This isn’t a good idea either,” he muttered as his hands dropped away.

            She still couldn’t bring herself to look at him. She secured the gun again and put it on the narrow table in front of her. “No, probably not.” She took another deep breath. She kept doing that. Damn it, this was hard. His hand brushed up her back again. “And that isn’t making it any easier.”

            “No.” He laughed.

How she’d missed that sound. His lips brushed her neck, just for a brief moment, making her stiffen. There were steps outside. This wasn’t a good time or a good place. She swallowed hard and he let go of her straight away.

            No, this wasn’t a good idea either.

She turned around to face him. Things were different now. They were working together. Not exactly as a team, but still… they couldn’t allow this situation to get messy. “Colleagues…?” She wasn’t sure if she was making a statement or asking a question.

            His eyes told her that he was thinking the very same thing. That this was going to be the biggest challenge he’d ever had to face. But he nodded. “Friends,” he countered.

            And how the hell was that supposed to work, she wondered, but she stretched out her hand to him nonetheless. His eyes were darker than usual, his jaw set, as he shook her hand briefly.

 

They separated right after that little training session. He really needed to find someone else to take over her training. He should’ve insisted on it the moment he’d seen her again. Standing this close to her, touching her, making adjustments to her stance… all of it was wrong. And yet…

            He had to admit, the moment he’d first heard about what was going on here, he’d wished he could tell her about it. About Jackson, about this place, about what they were exploring… she was right for this place. She was meant to be here. And now that she was, he wished he’d never been assigned to the SGC. But then again, no he wasn’t. He loved doing what he did.  And so would she… so why the hell shouldn’t they be able to make this work?

            Right. That’ll be fun. Work side by side with the girl you wanted to marry seven years ago. But he wasn’t going to work side by side with her. There were at least five teams in need of an addition and it was highly unlikely that she’d join SG-11. He couldn’t possibly be that unlucky.

Friends. He could work with that. They’d always been god at talking, they’d been friends, hadn’t they? So why not go back there?

            He cursed himself as he entered the men’s locker room to take a quick shower before he got back to work.

“Hey, Major.”

            Evan whirled around. Jackson. “Hey. Dr Jackson.” Working with civilians like that really was something, he thought. A lot less formal. Well…  a bit less formal. “You’re headed off world?” He must be. Jackson was already geared up.

            “Yep… Yes, I am. Standard recon, though. Nothing fancy.”

            “Ah. Should be fun. Get some fresh air.”

            “That’s the whole point of the exercise, or so I’m told.” He zipped up his jacket and picked up his enormous backpack. “How did things go with Dr Woolston today?”

            “She’ll do fine, I think,” Evan said, reaching for a towel so he didn’t have to look at Jackson.

            “Yes,” Jackson said. “Probably. Anyway… don’t mean to pry. See you around.”

            Evan let out a breath when Jackson had left. He didn’t mean to pry. Sure. That hadn’t been prying at all.

 

Working at the SGC was so different from any place she’d ever worked at before. The sheer amount of artefacts which teams brought from off world, would’ve been enough to keep her busy for several years. Most days were more or less the same. She’d get here early in the morning, meet Evan for an awkward workout and training session at the gym or the shooting range, and then she’d go to the big office she was sharing with two other archaeologists and start working on learning various dead, or newly discovered languages, on cataloguing artefacts or trying to cross reference what the teams had found with items discovered on Earth.

            And then, three weeks into this routine, she was assigned to an SG-Team and integrated into SG-15 after another two weeks. Things were moving incredibly fast. Going through the Gate for the first time was scary to say the least, but Evan had taken her through it all. About what she should expect, when stepping through the event horizon… but nothing had prepared her for the hot and damp she stepped into. Not after leaving the perfectly air conditioned Gate Room.

            Breathe out before you step through. Getting back out on the other end, will make you want to breathe in. He’d said that and she was grateful he had. And she had been. Every single time.

            Major Pierce was a few metres in front of her, looking about him, then signalling to the rest of the team to start moving. They followed the paved path towards the massive building which the MALP had already shown them. The sky above them was pitch black. Had they been on Earth, she would’ve said that it would rain soon, but who could tell here?

            There it was. A gigantic gate, the outer two towers smaller than the ones looming up behind them. It seemed to be the only entrance through the massive ring wall  from where they were standing. She couldn’t keep herself from touching the cool stone as they passed through it. The pictures the MALP had sent had made her suspect it, but only now did she realize that her suspicions must be correct. Her heart was beating so fast, she was sure the others could hear it. What would she give to show this to her former boss. To tell her that what she was standing in front of now as basically the Ishtar Gate.

            “You’re alright there, Woolston?” Pierce called to her.

            Alex nodded, only now realizing that she’d lagged behind. “Yes… yes, I am. This is just… it’s incredible.” She traced the slick brick with her fingertips. The Isthtar Gate had been built by the Babylonian King Nebukadnezzar, or rather, he’d ordered his slaves to build it for him. A massive entrance gate to the city of Babylon, it had been covered in bricks, which had been artistically decorated in dark blue lapis lazuli and golden lions. About a century ago it had been discovered and reconstructed by a German architect on Earth, but this here was intact. Perfectly so. She reached into her chest pocket to take out the camcorder. There’d be more to see here, she was sure of that.

            “I get it, but we can’t remain here at the gate forever. There’s a whole temple beyond this babe.” He was smiling, Alex saw.

            “Wait till Dr Jackson sees this.”

            Murdoch was right by her side then. He was a bit younger than she was, his face incredibly round, almost boyish. “He’ll go crazy?”

            Alex shrugged and dropped the camcorder again. Following the others into a long corridor lined by dark red columns, white statues of gender neutral humans and not the remotest trace of a face, her mind started racing. Why was this place even abandoned? This all appeared to be in perfect condition, but to their knowledge this world wasn’t listed as a Goa’uld planet, but the structures suggested impressive craftsmanship to say the least. Had they just inadvertently stumbled upon another culture? Wouldn’t that be exciting!

            Pierce appeared to be thinking along another lines, though. “Let’s get out of the open like this.”

            Lieutenant Miller was right by his side as they entered a narrow corridor to their right.

            “This place is strange… no markings of any kind,” Alex found herself saying. This did appear to be some kind of temple, at least that was what her gut was telling her. But which temple had no markings?

            “Yeah… and it’s… almost perfect,” Murdoch agreed. “The walls aren’t crooked, there’s not even a whole lot of dust around here.”

            “Should we get back to the Gate?” It was the first time Miller had spoken since they’d started off. Alex felt her insides clench. She knew it was probably the most sensible thing to do, but who could say what they’d find in here.

            Two more side passages led away from the corridor they were in now, leading into two identical chambers.

            “This place looks uninhabited. If this was a Goa’uld planet and still in use, there would’ve been guards at the Gate, or we would’ve run into trouble by now.” Pierce said, heading into the chamber on their left this time.

            Upon entering, Alex saw the first traces of any kind of writing and symbols and it made her tense up. She wasn’t fluent in Goa’uld yet, far from it, but she recognized the symbols etched in horizontal lines into the bright white stone.

            “Is this what I think it is?” Pierce asked her.

            She nodded and kneeled next to the writing. The sense of it struck her.

            “What does it say, then?”

            Alex cleared her throat. “Something like… it’s like the inscription of a gravestone… here lies… so and so. I don’t recognize the name.” She held up the camcorder again and started filming. “If we’re to get out of here as quickly as possible, we should also take as much footage as we can.” Alex turned to look around. The markings appeared to be the same all the way around the room, thin lines etched into the stone separating each wall into twelve sections.

            Miller was standing next to one of the sections, brushing his hand over the hieroglyphs and next moment, there was a soft noise, like air rushing out through a valve, almost like a whisper, and a compartment slid open, just like a drawer. “Wow, that thing doesn’t look fresh…”

            Within seconds Alex was standing next to him, staring down into the compartment. She’d seen these before, but only in museums. Never in her life would she have thought to see one in its original place of burial.

            “Hang on, there are mummies in here?” Pierce turned around, brushed his hand over the writing above the one Miller had just opened and it happened again. The heavily bandaged body appeared, a bright silver insignia on its chest. “What the hell is this place?”

            “Burial ground…” Murdoch whispered needlessly.

            “Alright, we need to get back to the SGC. Mummies, Goa’uld writing… this place is like Jackson’s idea of Neverland.”

            Alex swallowed hard and nodded. They were right of course… But why were these mummies buried here? The writing indicated that they must be Goa’uld and their hosts, but these bodies were rarely ever found, mainly because the Goa’uld preferred using a sarcophagus to revive an revitalize themselves. “We should get a team back here,” she said. “Get some of these bodes home for analysis before we decide anything else.”

            Miller brushed his hand over the writing again and the compartments closed with a soft hiss. “Still weird that these aren’t guarded, don’t you think?”

            “Very,” Pierce agreed. “Come on, let’s head back.”

            They almost hurried back to the Gate, and maybe it was the pace at which they were walking, or the fact that the camcorder didn’t fit as snugly into her chest pocket as it had the moment she’d put it in there for the first time on that day, but she couldn’t shake that sense of foreboding. And just as they were about to walk out through the blue gate, the Stargate erupted in white and blue. Someone had just dialled in.

            The gun in the holster on her leg felt heavy.

Chapter Text

 

2002

Monsieur was bound to be the ugliest dog alive. Or at least some people surely thought so. With the small snout, the big bulging eyes and massive tail, the dog looked disproportionate to say the least. Like a twelve year old, massive puppy.

            Evan leaned back, watching his mother run around with Monsieur. He was almost sure she was getting too old for this, but he’d be damned if he told her. She’d come here for the weekend like she did almost once a month nowadays.

            “It’s a good thing, you got a dog,” she said when Monsieur lay down and rolled onto his back, baring his chest and belly for her to rub.

            “Even this one?”

            “Especially this one.” Most people were a bit surprised when they first found out about Evan adopting a dog, and then seeing this specimen. But there it was. This dog had just looked at him when Evan went to have a look around at the dog shelter, and he’d taken him home. It had only been a few months, but Evan felt like this dog had always been with him. His sister had called the mutt a substitute, but what the heck did she know?

            His mother patted the dog one more time, then she got to her feet, stretched and made it over to the porch where he was sitting. She was limping a bit, leaning slightly to the side. She was good at hiding it, but it was clear that her hip was bothering her again. “If you feel like this afterward, you shouldn’t run about like this,” he said.

“You’re not my mother,” she said defiantly.

“No, you’re mine.”

She’d be leaving in an hour or so and Evan was sure she’d give him the talk again in about five seconds. He’d overestimated her patience. “You’ve been a bit distracted lately. Is everything okay?”

            He couldn’t look at her. He was thirty-two, had moved out over a decade ago, but Molly Lorne could still read him like a book. “Yeah,” he said quietly, rubbing the palm of his hand. “I’m okay.”

            “You’re lying.”

            Evan didn’t reply. He didn’t need to. Instead, he looked up to stare at his dog rubbing his back against the freshly grown grass. Like an upside-down snake.

            “Evan.”

            “Alex has come to work here.”

            She was silent for a moment. He knew full well how she felt about Alex, even though she’d never openly said a word against her. The way she fell silent and pressed her lips together whenever her name was mentioned, told him all he needed to know.

            “Because of you?”

            “No.”

            “Good.” The first negative thing she’d said.

            He took a deep breath. “She got a job at the base.” He wouldn’t go into further detail, but he didn’t need to. His mother never asked questions about his work. “She didn’t even know I was there. We just… bumped into each other.”

            She didn’t scoff, didn’t make a snide remark and he was grateful for it, but still her disapproval hung heavily between them. He really couldn’t use that right now. “Do you get to see a lot of her?”

            “Almost every day.” He swallowed hard. “It’s rough. We’re doing okay, but…”

            She let out a long breath and he was almost sure she’d just tell him to move on, to get involved with someone else and be done with it. But she didn’t. Instead, she placed a kiss on his temple. “You’re both adults, Evan. If it’s still rough, it’s because there’s a reason for it.”

            The shrill ringing of his phone echoed through the silence following her words. He was almost grateful for it.

 

She stood there, back pressed against the inner wall of the first tower. Across the path, she saw Miller and Pierce, their P-90’s at the ready.

            Murdoch pushed her further back into the shadows as the marching steps started ringing in her ears. They’d had no chance to see who’d come to the Gate, but Alex could guess well enough.             “Well,” Murdoch muttered, “aren’t we lucky..”

            “Shush,” Alex took the gun out of the holster, preparing to open fire when necessary and forcing back the memory of Evan guiding her fingers to where they were supposed to be.

            They weren’t prepared to fight. Not like this. She leaned closer into the wall, realizing that she was holding her breath.

            Breathe… Stay calm… There was no reason to worry so long as they weren’t spotted.

            The footsteps drew closer. And then they were there. Jaffa. Six of them in front, two of them carrying a massive jar, two men in long white robes on either side of the jaw, their hands folded in front of them. Then there was the human body, lying motionless on a stretcher. Funeral, she thought. A Goa’uld funeral… was that even a thing? She needed to see more, to know more, but there was no way… the stretcher was past before she knew it.

            She wanted to nudge Murdoch. Ask him what he thought, but she didn’t dare move. If they were found, in this position, they were dead.

            Another group of Jaffa passed through the gate and after a few heartbeats, she saw Pierce take out a thin instrument and hold out into the corridor… a periscope?

            He withdrew it, looked at Murdoch and Alex and shook his head. The gate was guarded. No way to get out that way. He gave Murdoch a quick succession of signs, only two of which Alex thought she understood. Wait. Stay.

            Murdoch nodded and wordlessly pushed her further into the tower. A narrow staircase led up onto the next level. The inside of the gate was far less impressive than the outside, she thought. Just bare brick around them and dirt on the ground. But at least there were narrow slits in the outer wall, looking into the other tower. Pierce was signalling to them to lie low.

            “I wonder how long till they leave,” Murdoch whispered.

            That could take hours for all she knew. “What did he signal to you?”

            “Six guards at the Stargate… luckily we parked the MALP behind that huge obelisk and no one’s spotted it yet, or we’d be in real trouble.”

            “There was no specific sign for any Goa’uld anywhere, no writings, no markings” she whispered, sitting down on the floor. “This must be neutral ground.”

            “I didn’t know the Goa’uld had that.”

            She shrugged. She wasn’t going to start guessing what this place was right here or right now. She had no evidence, no hard proof. Just traces of those things and that wasn’t good enough.

 

“How long have they been overdue?” Evan asked, heart pounding, as he joined the rest of his team in the armoury. SG-3 was there as well, Reynolds talking intently to Edwards. He was late, he knew that, but he’d had to drive in especially.

            Woeste raised an eyebrow at him.

Did he look as panicked as he felt?

            “About an hour, but they couldn’t make radio contact and the MALP showed pictures of at least six Jaffa at the Gate.” Woeste said. “You sure you can do this?”

            Evan swallowed hard. “Yes.” But he wasn’t. Even if he reminded himself that he certainly wasn’t the most suitable person, but he’d be damned if he let anybody else run offworld to save Alex. If she needed saving… if she wasn’t already dead.

            Alex… he just had to push the memory of her lying in his arms out of his mind. Her eyes closed, a satisfied smile on her lips, her fingertips brushing through his hair. Her wide grin as they stood on top of that hilltop they’d just climbed. The way her hand had felt in his…. “Yes, I can do this.”

            Woeste nodded but didn’t make another comment. The Lieutenant didn’t know anything about him and Alex.

            “Alright, let’s head to the Gate Room,” Reynolds said.

 

The second time the Stargate was activated, she heard her radio crackle. Then there was the sound of energy weapons being fired. Her eyes met Murdoch’s, who was by the slits looking out over the side of the gate within seconds.

            No radio contact. That hadn’t been possible yet. Murdoch and Pierce had tried talking to each other over the radio, but that had proven futile. There must be some kind of shielding.

            “He says we’re to stay put…”  Murdoch said. “For another few minutes at least.” He sat down again opposite her.

            “Why?”

            “The Goa’uld know we’re here now. He says they found the MALP, so they’re sure to start looking for us. As soon as there are fewer Jaffa at the Gate, we’re going to move out. Normally we’d just wait for them to leave…”

            “But since they discovered the MALP…”

            “Since they discovered the MALP we’re in big trouble.” He leaned his head back against the wall, but he kept his eyes on her. “You’re doing okay, though. Kudos. We took along this other archaeologist once. He nearly fainted when an energy weapon went off in the distance.”

            She smiled briefly. She wasn’t in the mood for smiling, though. “Thanks… Major Lorne tried to make sure I’m doing okay.”

            “Hm…”  He cocked his head, his eyes narrowed. “Ah… you know him, right?”

            Right now she was just glad for the semi-darkness so he couldn’t see her face. “He’s been training me.”

            “No, it’s not just that… I’ve been wondering, but I think he keeps a picture of you in his locker… well not a picture… a drawing, I think.”

            At this Alex’ stomach lurched and she brushed her hands over her trousers. “Maybe.” She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear about this. Or talk about it. Not that Murdoch was a bad guy, but she felt that if she started talking about Evan of all things now, she’d start crying.

            There was that sound of footfalls again. Rapid footfalls leading away from the Gate.

            Murdoch sat up again, seemed to receive a signal from Pierce and nodded at her. “Stay close to me.”

 

“We’ll send through an UAV,” Reynolds said, as they were heading down towards the Gate Room, “and when we can confirm how many Jaffa there are, we’ll get in contact with SG-15. Make sure they’re in a secure location, and send through some stun grenades. That should give the team on the other end enough time for a distraction. If possible, we will go through as soon as we can be sure that the grenades must have taken out the Jaffa.”

            Evan didn’t look at anyone, but kept his eyes focused on ahead. Alex was strong. She could keep a clear head. And she had a good team with her. But still… even good teams were lost. Should he have told her that he still cared about her? Should he have tried to make things right?

            The answer was easy and simple.

Yes.

He should have. Honesty was always the better choice. And what he was doing here wasn’t sensible either. His hands were shaking, his mind was racing. He just needed her to be okay. And if she wasn’t…

God, let her be okay.

            They marched into the Gate Room, ready to embark. The UAV was already positioned on the ramp.

            “Sir? Colonel?” He spoke up now. Before it was too late. He shouldn’t be going on this mission. The danger of hurting anyone on this team, because he couldn’t think straight was too big, but before Edwards could turn towards him, Sergeant Harriman’s voice made them all freeze.

            “Incoming traveller. Unscheduled offworld activation.”

            And then the dialling sequence was initiated, but the iris didn’t close. Evan looked up at the control room, at Hammond standing there behind Harriman. The rhythm of taking your right place, of holding the weapon at the right angle, of standing at the ready came easily to him. And then Hammond’s voice rang in his ears. “It’s SG-15. Coming in hot.”

            His throat was tight. He couldn’t remember ever being so terrified. Not even when he’d seen Sam’s fighter crash against that mountain. Not even the first time he’d been in an actual firefight. This was different.

            The Gate activated, the blasts of energy weapons rushed through the Gate Room, hitting the blast shield. And then two figures came rushing through, heads bent low. Evan watched them, eyes wide open. Not Alex. Pierce and Miller.

            Breathing was impossible. It was all he could do to stay where he was, to stare at the event horizon. But nothing happened. Nothing but energy bursts came bursting through.

            “Hold it open!” Pierce shouted as more soldiers started shuffling towards the Gate, blocking Evan’s view. “They’re right behind-“

The clattering of feet on metal and then the Gate shut down. And there were two more people. One on top of the other.

            “We need a medical team!” Pierce shouted again.

            Evan’s stomach clenched. He dropped his P-90 and started pushing through the crowd, but the medical team was let through before him.

            “Murdoch’s been hit,” Evan heard Woeste say, but that didn’t help. Not as long as he didn’t know that Alex was alright.

            A stretcher. Evan watched as one of the Doctors ordered the men to move out of the way and there she was, sitting on the ramp, holding her left hand in her right, talking to another medic. He let out a sigh of relief. She was alive.

Hurt, but sitting.

Talking.

He couldn’t ask for more.

Chapter Text

“Are you done yet?”

“You know I’m not. Shush.”

“Seriously, let me see.”

“Nope.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. She was just about to stand up. He could see that. Just to tease him.

“Don’t move.” He laughed, tracing the line of her neck on the piece of paper. She was lying there in the grass, shadows of the leaves ahead slowly gliding over her body. Her clothes were somewhere to the side, mixed in with his. How could it be that they’d only known each other for a few days?

“This stuff takes time.”

“A lot of time.”

She closed her eyes again and wrapped the towel tighter around herself and stretching out her leg. Her foot was touching his knee now.

“You should be glad I’m just drawing your face. The rest would take forever.”

“Because I’m so fat?”

He grinned again. “Because this…” he tapped his pencil on the side of the paper and met her eyes “stuff takes time, and I want to do it right.”

“Okay…” Alex returned his smile. “But I want you again once we’re done.”

“Sure… Javier and Sam want to meet up for dinner later, hope that’s okay?”

“As long as I don’t have to cook.”

“Nope, wouldn’t want to poison them.”

“Good point.”

 

2002

The fluorescent light made her look paler than she probably was. She was still sitting upright on one of the beds, the only patient in the whole infirmary. Murdoch was in surgery, but things didn’t look too good from what he’d heard.

            A young doctor was holding her hand, wrapping it up. “You’ll have to come in tomorrow and have it checked out again, Doctor,” she said before starting to put the bandages away again. “It’s not too bad. No using that hand, though. Not even for driving. And I want you to see Doctor MacKenzie before I can clear you for duty. He’ll be in tomorrow afternoon.”

            “Thanks, Doctor Keller,” Alex said wearily. Her eyes were drooping slightly. Probably the pain medication. When she raised them, Evan saw that they were dilated. No, she really shouldn’t be driving. But he couldn’t help but smile. Here she was. Alive and healthy. Well, for the most part anyway.

            “Can I take her home?” Evan found himself asking. The young Doctor looked over her shoulder at him. God, she was young! Was she even fully qualified yet?

            “Sure. No need to keep her under observation. Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow then.” Keller patted Alex’ shoulder and bustled off, clipboard in hand.

            “Are you okay?” Evan asked doubtfully, stepping closer to the bed where Alex was sitting.

            She blinked, but nodded. “Yes,” she said mechanically, getting up from the bed. “You don’t have to take me home, I can drive.”

            “No, you really can’t.” Not by the way she was swaying anyway. How much had that Doctor given her? “Come on, I’ll drive you and you can sleep this off.”

            Alex brushed a hand over her eyes and he remembered the time she’d been sick during one of his visits. Drunk on cold medicine, she’d looked a lot like the Alex he was seeing now. “Probably not a bad idea.” She laughed softly. Almost a giggle. Alex never giggled. Only when she was drunk, and that rarely happened. He didn’t really like that sound.

            “Alright then, Doctor Woolston, you change, I drive.”

            She nodded again. “Where’s the locker room again?”

            Evan sighed. “Come on, let me take you there.”

 

Her head was leaned back, her eyes drooping. He was almost sure she’d fall asleep right there and then. She did that sometimes, but usually only on longer routes. The drive into town wouldn’t take more than half an hour, if that.

            “Alex?”

            Her eyes fluttered. She looked so vulnerable, he wished he could just wrap her in his arms and hold her until she fell asleep, her body pressed tight against his, as the warmth of her body slowly started blending in with his.

            “I need to know where I’m taking you.”

            She blinked again and turned her head slightly. They’d just passed the gate. “Hm?”

            “Your address, Alex. I need it.”

            “Oh…” she rubbed her eyes again. “You know I haven’t been there much. Just for sleeping? I could tell you where to go. It’s quite a nice place, actually. Two rooms and everything. One of them’s a bathroom. With a bathtub in it. Crazy, huh?”

            Evan rolled his eyes. He wouldn’t drive around town, hoping she’d get it right eventually. The sun had set already. He sighed. “Will it be okay for me to take you home with me?”

            “Oooh no no no, we’re just friends, remember?”

            He felt his lips twitch into a smile despite himself. “I know we are. I have a spare bedroom for guests.” Heck, he’d even rented a house. Talk of wasting money, when he spent most of his time on the base or offworld. But at least he’d fillet it. With a dog… “You can stay in there for the night.”

            “Okay, Major.” Her voice sounded even heavier now. And then she fell silent altogether.

            He steered the car through the darkness, heading into town. Nothing but trees, the night, the headlights, the road stretching on ahead and the silence between the two of them inside the car. But to his surprise he wasn’t desperate for it to end. Not once had he allowed for complete silence with her. Not since… how long had it been? A few weeks? Two months? Longer? He wasn’t even sure anymore.

            “You know,” she mumbled, but didn’t continue.

            “What?” His voice was calmer than he thought it could be. He felt calmer. She was wounded, had almost been lost to him, but she was here with him now. Not exactly unhurt, but safe. He wouldn’t push his luck and ask for more.

            “You know,” she repeated in the exact same tone of voice, “we were pretty good together, weren’t we?”

            “Yes, we were.” There was no denying it. He’d tried to go out with someone else. It was likely that in the aftermath of their breakup, he’d committed the most hideous crime and gone out with his sister’s best friend and ruined his relationship with his sister forever. And so he’d just quit. There was simply no use looking for the kind of connection he’d had with her anywhere else. Being alone was less excruciating than trying to get a conversation going with someone he didn’t care about. At least not in the way he could talk with Alex.

            They had been good together. For a while anyway.

            “Not just in the sack, I mean. I mean, we were amazing there, but we were so good at the other things. Talking and stuff.”

            “No doubt about it,” he laughed. Instinctively he reached out and squeezed her uninjured hand. The lights of town were straight ahead. It was high time he got her into bed so she could sleep this off. “But talking to you is usually easier when you’re not high.”

            “Agreed. Talking is easier, too. I mean, getting the words right.”

            “You’re still doing fine.”

            “I’m working hard here…”

            “I know.” He couldn’t stop smiling. The topic wasn’t one he liked, but it was talking. Joking. And her hand in his was so wonderfully warm…

            “Murdoch said you kept that picture of me.” Her voice had changed now. It sounded higher, less controlled. Not that she’d had a lot of control since getting into the car. And then he felt the hot droplets hitting the back of his hand, making his heart contract painfully.

She was crying and Evan cursed Murdoch, regretting it instantly. Murdoch was most likely dying, and Evan had no business wishing him anything bad. But Murdoch had blabbered about that picture… he could only have seen it maybe once, but still. That wasn’t anything you talked about. And now she was crying. She rarely ever did that. Not even during sad movies.

“You kept in your locker? You kept it?” He hated how desperate she sounded. This wasn’t the woman he usually knew… but a version of her… a version he wasn’t sure he could cope with right now. He should’ve taken that drawing down as soon as Alex joined the SGC, but he’d gotten so used to it. To that smile on her face and the memories that flooded him every time he looked at it for more than five seconds. “Of course I kept it.” His thumb gently stroke over the back of her hand. It had been seven years, but this still felt right. And that was the appeal. The perfect ease with which they found each other. And it was dangerous to the both of them. And a liability if they continued it the way they were.

Evan turned right into his street. Not long now.

            “I still-“ she gasped. “Evan- I-“

            “Yes,” he interrupted her before she could get it out. “Yes, I know.” But she was injured. She was drugged and traumatized. He stopped the car in his driveway. “Alex, I know.” Taking a deep breath, he turned to look at her again. She was staring at him, her eyes still wide. “And believe me, I feel the same way. And if I thought it was a good idea, I’d kiss you senseless right now. But it’s not.”

            He could feel her hand starting to slip out of his, but he held on tight.

            “Listen,” he urged her. “You’re right. We were great together. But things are so different now. We have to work together, not just be together. Heck, I was about to go through the Gate with the rescue team today, and who knows what could’ve happened. You need a clear head and so do I.” He talked fast, unwilling to let her interrupt him and break his resolve. Evan wasn’t sure it was strong enough as it was. “I’m not gonna ask for a transfer, though, and you’re not gonna quit your job. Before we can do anything about this, about us, I have to know that we can do this. Work together, be apart, be together. And we sucked so bad at this being apart thing. And I can’t go through it again. No matter how much I love you.”

            Alex let go of his hand to touch his cheek, but she didn’t say another word. He could see that she understood. That she wouldn’t argue anymore.

            Evan took a deep breath, took her hand and kissed it briefly. “Okay, now I have to tell you something else before we go in.” He let go again. Touching her too much wasn’t a good idea. Not after that speech.

            She wiped her eyes again. “What? Is your mom in there to rip me to shreds? Ellen said she wanted to do that.”

            “You’ve been talking to my sister?” Well, that was a surprise.

            “Every week… just never about you.”

            Evan swallowed hard and nodded. He’d have to talk to her too. “Alright… okay it’s not my mom. She left this afternoon.” He grinned again despite himself. “Alex, I have a confession to make.”

            He saw the sudden fear in her eyes now and he felt ashamed as soon as he registered the pleasure at seeing her jealousy. He smiled and couldn’t stop himself from brushing the hair out of her face and leaning in to kiss her cheek. Carful, Lorne… “I got a really ugly dog a few months ago.”

Chapter Text

2002

A stark white ceiling. No small imperfections in the paint. Where had they gone? And the colour seemed off. Like the sun wasn’t really making it in through the window. And then there was this incredible heat right at her side.

            The pain struck her out of nowhere, making her gasp. Just don’t move that hand, she though. Right… no moving the hand, no getting up. And then the memories started flooding back in, making her want to shut her eyes again, making her wish she’d fall right back into unconsciousness. The flashes of energy bursting in front of her eyes, the sound of her own panting in her ears as she tried to block out the groans coming from the man in her arms. She blinked, but the tears wouldn’t come. Just that prickling hotness in her nose. Something moved next to her. A body pressed against her side. Too small to be Evan. What a relief.

            Alex turned her head. Two bulging, dark brown eyes set in brown and white fur. A dog?

            She swallowed hard and sat up, wincing as she moved her hand. The dog huffed and turned on its back. The paws were far too big for the long spindly legs and the fur looked shaggy. “Poor boy,” she muttered, petting the dog’s chest. “Did I wake you?”

            Looking around she took in her surroundings. Through the window she could see nothing but green leaves, which made it impossible to see what else was out there. The room itself was sparsely furnished. Just a narrow closet, a dresser, a chair with a desk right next to the bed… that was it. The style of the drawings on the wall was instantly recognizable. Hell, she even recognized at least two of them from the time she’d been with him.

            The dog yawned again, baring his teeth. He gave Alex one last look, then he jumped off the bed, skidded on the wooden floor and rushed out of the room.

            “Well, aren’t we awake a bit early today?” she heard Evan say. There was the clear trail of a smile in his voice and it made her stomach lurch.

            She took another look at her hand. Maybe it was just the medication wearing off, but she still felt drowsy and a bit sick. She almost wished she could rip off the bandage and put it under ice cold running water. Even if that did make the pain even worse… she reached for the pills on the desk right next to her. When had she put them there?

            At least she was glad to be still wearing the clothes she’d worn the night before.

            And Evan was here… well, of course he was. This was his home… his house…

            Swallowing the pills probably wasn’t a good idea on an empty stomach, but with every waking moment, the pulsating pain got worse, so she did it anyway. If she had to throw up, then so be it. She couldn’t possibly embarrass herself more than she already had.

            Tentatively, she got up and went to the door. She was standing on a sort of balustrade, staring right at the front door. On her left was one door, another one to the right, just in front of a set of stairs. Probably his bedroom and a bathroom.

            “Come on, let’s go outside.” Evan’s voice again, and then the scratching and tapping noises as the dog walked towards a door which Alex couldn’t see from where she was standing.

            “Morning…” she said quietly as she saw him walk through the hall below. He stood still for a moment, just looking up at her. He was wearing a blue jumper and jeans. Not the standard issue clothing she’d gotten used to seeing him in.

            “Morning,” he said, his voice tense. “Come on downstairs. I have coffee.”

            She nodded, unable to say anything else. Taking the stairs, she took a look around the entrance. Just two other rooms down here by the looks of it: a kitchen with a table and a fairly big living room overlooking a stretch of garden.

            “How’s the hand?”

            “Hurting,” she said truthfully as he came out of the kitchen again, carrying two mugs of coffee.

            Evan looked her in the eye and nodded. “The painkillers were in your pocket. Did you find them okay?”

            “Yes, thank you. For… for getting me out of the SGC as well.”

            “Not a problem.” He walked past her. All business again, was it? Her stomach did another lurch, but she followed him towards the glass door leading outside. He’d taken a seat on one of the steps leading down into the garden. It was barely spring, but by the looks of it, he’d already prepared the flowerbeds. The sight made he want to just turn around and leave and she didn’t even know why.

            “You have a nice place here,” she said as she sat down next to him. There wasn’t a whole lot of room, but if she squeezed against the railing, she could be sure that their bodies wouldn’t be touching.

            He nodded again. “Yes, thanks…” He cleared his throat. “Alex…” And that was as far as he could go… he tensed up, sighed and took a sip of his coffee.

            “I guess I feel I got a gist of what you talked about,” she said, cradling her mug against her chest while she watched the dog start digging a hole in the damp grass. “Back when… when Sam died.” She swallowed, but the bitter taste in her mouth wouldn’t go away. She put the mug down at her feet. At least the pain medication was starting to kick in. “About how weird it is… one moment you’re in there, smack in the middle, firing your gun, actually aiming at a person, next second you’re… well…” She almost laughed. “Next second you’re watching a terrific dog dig up you ex boyfriend’s lawn, like it’s the most normal thing in the world.”

            “Well, I wouldn’t call any of this normal.”

            “No, you’re right.”

            They were silent again for a moment. “Do you want to tell me what happened back on that planet?”

            She shook her head. No, she didn’t want to tell him. But she knew she’d do it anyway. “We were always good at talking, huh?”

            He bit his lip. “You remember that drive home then.” He wouldn’t look at her now.

            “Yes…”

            “I thought you were asleep for a great deal of it.”

            “No… not with you right there.” She rubbed her forehead. “Don’t take this the wrong way. I agree with what you said. You’re right. Whatever this is, or was, we can’t just pick up where we left off.”

            “Yeah, we left it off at a really bad place.”

            “Yes, we did.” Alex still saw the expression on his face. The hurt. The anger. And the agreement. It had been the wrong decision. Had they kept going just for a little while longer, things could be totally different now… but that wasn’t the most important thing right now.

            Evan was quiet for a while. Out of the corner of her eyes she saw his hand twitch, as if to take hers, but instead he rubbed the back of his head.

            “We were… stuck in this tower.”

            “I saw it… they showed us the pictures the MALP took before you left. Not an ideal position.”

            She nodded. “Yes, well, we were on our way back to the Gate when it activated and the two towers were the only place to hide. There must have been at least twenty Jaffa. Maybe more. Six were guarding the Gate, the others went inside the temple. I think there were some priests there as well. It was… a kind of a funeral ceremony…” She closed her eyes. “I believe… I think what we found there was some sort of neutral ground. A place where Goa’uld bury dead hosts and symbiotes if they can’t be healed by the sarcophagus anymore…”

            “How d’you-“

            “There were no markings, no symbols, none of the grandeur they like to show the galaxy… I don’t have a lot of proof, nothing except the stuff that’s on my camera, but I think, I’m almost sure that’s what it was. There were mummies there… human form mummies… and they brought in a procession, carrying a human on a stretcher or something and a massive urn…” She pressed her lips together. “Sorry, I’m babbling.”

            His hand hit the side of her leg. An encouragement. He used to do that. How could she have forgotten? “That’s the idea. Keep going.”

            “It’s… I don’t know.” Sighing, she watched as the dog came bounding back towards them to throw himself at Evan’s feet, completely exhausted from this short bit of exercise. “We were cut off from the Gate… and then the SGC dialled in for a moment and the Jaffa discovered the MALP… two of them ran into the temple to look for us, to get reinforcements… I don’t know.” She took another deep breath. “Major Pierce ordered us to get to the Gate. He, Miller and Murdoch got the Jaffa guarding the Gate and I started dialling. That’s when the other Jaffa came back. I… I can’t remember too much… Murdoch was guarding my back. Pierce and Miller were returning fire as we were crouched behind the DHD. They went through and then… Murdoch told me to get a move on. He was shot. Just lying there behind me before I knew it… I grabbed him and started pulling him back towards the Gate. He was hit again. He didn’t even speak anymore when we got through…” She broke off. How had she managed talking like this? Telling him?

            She flinched, when she felt his arm around her shoulders.

            “Sorry,” he mumbled, withdrawing his arm straight away.

            “No… no it’s not that.” She shut her eyes closed, fighting against the urge to start crying again. “I… that was fine, I-“

            His arm was around her shoulders again and he pulled her in. “You did the right thing… Murdoch would’ve died then and there if you hadn’t. And he was alive when they carried him away on that stretcher.”

            Nodding was all she could do. There was no question she could ask which he could answer. Nothing he could say to make her feel any better.

            “We don’t leave our people behind,” he added quietly.

            “So you said.” And she agreed. Wholeheartedly. “And I know it’s right… just… don’t you ever…” She sighed. “I understand that what we- what you are doing is important. That it’s vital to all our survival. But…”

            “But how do I- how do we keep our heads on straight? After shooting somebody?” His hand rubbed up and down her arm. For a moment there she thought he’d lean in to kiss her cheek again. “We just keep going. That’s all I can tell you. Keep going, go to all the doctor’s appointments and hope for the best.” There was no smile on his face when she turned to look at him this time. His blue eyes were dead serious. It didn’t help at all. She still felt like breaking down there and then. She closed her eyes, leaned against him, hoping she’d forget that image sooner rather than later. Of the flashes of pure energy hitting the ground left and right. The feeling of panic rushing through her as the hot body of Murdoch was heavy in her arms. The feeling of the sudden pressure of the gun against her hand as she fired it and the sight of the Jaffa collapsing to the ground after that bullet hit him right between the eyes. And the heat. The heat as the staff weapon blast brushed past her skin, making her drop the gun, before she managed to get Murdoch through that gate.

            She shivered slightly against his chest.

            “It’s still chilly out here. Come on, let’s get you some breakfast.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 12

2002

            “You should’ve told me you were still talking to her.”

            “Well, no. I don’t need to tell you everything about my friends.”

            “No, but you knew more about my ex-girlfriend than I did, and don’t you think that’s just wrong?”

            “Evan…”

            “Ellen?” He didn’t quite manage to keep the fury out of his voice. The phone was stuck between his ear and his shoulder, as he was washing the dishes. Probably not a good idea. He’d already managed to break one of the good mugs.

            “Evan, it’s not my fault you guys broke up, and it’s not my problem. Why did she tell you anyway? Are you back together?”

            Evan was silent for a moment. He dropped the spoon back into the soapy water and dried his hands. “No?”

            “Oh… I thought you would be by now.” The fake surprise in her voice would’ve fooled no one. “I mean, she moved to Colorado Springs a few months ago, didn’t she?”

            “Yes… and why am I not surprised that you knew it before me? You should’ve warned me.”

            “Then we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we?”

            “Ellen-“

            “No, Evan, I’m not going to apologize. I told you breaking up was a terrible idea and now you’ve landed yourselves in this mess. Deal with it.”

            This was just so typical of her. It was like letting him slam into a wall on purpose. Her favourite past time. He took a deep breath. Monsieur was sitting in front of the kitchen table, staring at him, begging him to give him something to chew on. Good thing that dog never barked, or Evan would’ve willingly entered into a shouting match with him. Shouting at his sister never led to anything. “I am dealing with it, Ellen, and I told you why we broke up. It just was no use.”

            “No, you were cowards and too comfortable to try harder.”

            “That’s unfair.” But was it? Her words had the ring of truth in them and it made him want to throw something.

            “Maybe,” she conceded. “But also true. Don’t you think?”

            “There was just no way that things could work out.”

            “You could’ve asked her to marry you when you had the chance?”

            “How-“

            “I saw the ring. Remember? Last year when you were sick and I was over on a visit? I did your laundry while you were asleep?”

            “I told you not to.”

            “Well, I did… and I found that ring. Hell, you even had it engraved with a date… good luck giving that to any other girl ever.”

            “I’m not intending to.”

            “Yes, I know… you should’ve given it to her.” The concern in her voice was even worse than her superiority or her anger. It made him wish she were here.. and having his twin sister over usually led to havoc.

            “I couldn’t… she had to take that job and I couldn’t leave mine. You- why am I even defending myself? I don’t have to do that.”

            “Then why are you doing it?”

            “You’re making me.” With a sigh, he sat down in the chair next to Monsieur and started scratching the dog’s head. “Listen, things are hard enough at the moment without you there to patronize me. I just wished you’d told me you were still talking to her. That’s all.”

            “And what would that have changed? We never talked about you. If you ask me, she’s every bit as in love with you as you are with her.”

            “Well, I’m not asking you.” He knew it already and that didn’t make things easier. “Ellen, don’t get involved, please.”

            There was silence on the other end of the line. He heard the clanking of china in the background. “Fine…” she mumbled. “But if she wants to talk to me about you, I will.”

            “I doubt she’ll do that. We… we’ve decided to keep things professional and that’s that.”

            “Sure. That’ll work out just fine.”

            “Ellen…”

            “No, I get it. You want to be the Romeo to her Juliet. Good plan. You know how that worked out, don’t you?”

            He couldn’t help the laugh. “No. Remind me again?” Monsieur by his side shifted and placed his paw on Evan’s knee. “No… Ellen, this is between her and me and… we had a talk last night-“ he ignored the short ha- “and we’re friends. That’s it. For now. I have a pretty good idea of what could happen, but I can’t let it happen. Things were far too messy back then and I can’t get involved like I did back then.”

            “Sure… Did I mention you’re a coward yet?”

            “You might have…” But for all Ellen knew they were just colleagues on a military base where the most dangerous thing around was the threat of a papercut. “I know what I’m doing. I just need more time. That’s all.”

            “Evan, I hope you don’t take too long. She’s great, but believe me, she might not wait for you to come around forever.”

            Her words struck him harder than he would’ve thought possible. “She and I are on the same page. And I need you to stop pressuring me. I really do, so back off, or I’m going to hang up on you.”

            She sighed. “Alright…. So…” She cleared her throat. “So we’ll just be there on Friday and talk about nothing but my life?”

            “Your life, your kid, your husband.”

            “Fine then. And I will also meet up with the other person who will not be named from now on. She’s never even met little Paul.”

            Evan swallowed hard. “Sure…” How he wished he could just throttle her.

 

She was sitting at the table in the mess hall, bent low over a file. There was a spoon in her left hand, soup constantly trickling back into the bowl. She wasn’t even noticing it.

            “May I?” Evan could just as well have sat with anyone else, but the sight of her, sitting here like this, made it impossible for him to just ignore her. Not after what they’d talked about that morning.

            She raised her head to look up and he could see that she was okay. Or rather okayish. Her mouth was set in a firm line, but her eyes weren’t red or looked tired. They just looked… older. How was that possible?

            “Sure.” She pointed at the seat opposite her and put the spoon back into the half empty bowl.

            “Are you okay?”

            “Yes… they transferred Murdoch. He still hasn’t woken up yet, but they say his chances aren’t too bad.”

            “I heard.” He turned the mug in his hand without stopping to look at her. His talk with Ellen had rattled him to say the least. The way she’d talked to him about Alex still made him want to punch something, most of all because he knew she had a point. Not just one point. Probably more like a dozen. “Am I interrupting?”

            “No,” she said, closing the file. “Just my mission report. I wanted to proofread it before handing it in.”

            He nodded. He barely ever did that. But then again, she was the scientist. “Find anything good?”

            “No, my English teacher would be ever so proud of me. I finally learned how to spell.” Her hand was still heavily bandaged. Typing this thing with only her left hand must have taken forever.

            “I’m sure she would have.”

            “He. And he hated me. I could never act out Shakespeare the way he wanted me to.”

            “How did that go?”

            She wiggled her eyebrows. “I’m not much of an actress. And I always wanted to play Romeo or Hamlet or-“

            “The guys?”

            “Well, the female roles are just boring. Have you read those plays?”

            He laughed. “Some.” The laugh died on his lips. You want to be the Romeo to her Juliet. “So… you’ve been talking to Ellen?”

            She pressed her lips together. “Yes… I’m sorry, I hope that was okay. We never talked about you, though.”

            Stirring sugar and milk into his coffee, Evan leaned back. “So I heard. It’s just weird. You could’ve told me. Or she could’ve told me.”

            “You could’ve told me that you and my mom still exchange Christmas cards.”

            “Touché.” He smiled. He’d never really thought about it. “I guess you’re right. But those aren’t really personal. I always thought she just liked writing cards and that’s why she kept it up.”

            “Well, she does, but when I told her you’re here as well, she mentioned those cards.”

            “Ah…  Ellen gave me a real talking-to. Prepare for one as well. She’s pretty furious.”

            “Hm… I should think so. She nearly freaked out when I told you I was moving here. Didn’t know why though back then.”

            “Yes, she always liked surprises.”

            “Unlike you?”

            “Only on my birthday.” He felt his cheeks grow hot. When had they started talking like this again? Like they couldn’t find a reason to be awkward or reserved with each other. And here it was. Their eyes met and her smile told him she got the joke. “We’re okay, right?”

            Alex considered him for a moment, her eyebrows knitted together. “We are,” she sighed. “And I’m sorry about last night. I was just…. Well, high.”

            “Yeah… but it was good we talked about this. Still, you should tell this Doctor Keller she gave you too much.”

            “I asked her to… wasn’t sure I could sleep unless she gave me a huge dosis.”

            “Right.” He sipped his coffee. “How long till you go back out there?” Her not  going back out there was out of the question to him. She’d managed the situation incredibly well, and he could see the eagerness in her eyes. But of course she needed to heal first.

            “A week maybe? I’m not sure. It all depends. And Major Pierce also has to find a temporary replacement for Murdoch.” She rubbed her forehead with her uninjured hand.

            Evan nodded. “I’m scheduled to leave in an hour,” he said. “Just wanted to make sure you’re okay first.”

            “I am.” She smiled vaguely without meeting his gaze. “Where will you be going?”

            “Some random rock, I guess? Just recon, but the geologists say there might be naquadah there, so we’re to get some soil samples and see if that place is going to be safe for us.” It was already late afternoon, but the day on P3X-107 hadn’t yet begun. It had taken him a while to adjust to these rapid switches between night and day, but he was almost used to them by now.

            “Good luck then, I hear we need naquadah.”

            “Yup… Alex, I was thinking-“

            “Alex! There you are!”

            Jackson was standing a few feet away from then, already in full gear. All that was missing was a trip to the armoury before he set out on another mission. “Doctor Jackson.” He nodded at the man and hid his face behind his mug. No use showing him how much he loathed being interrupted. He’d even almost forgotten where they were. That there were at least twenty people around and not just him and Alex. It hadn’t happened in a very long time.

            “Major… hi.” He seemed a bit distracted. “Okay, Alex.” He sat down next to Alex, arms crossed on the table top. “I saw some of that tape, really interesting. I think we should try and cross reference the tombs with pictures of tombs that have already been found here on Earth? Maybe we can find some clues as to-“

            “Why?” Evan found himself asking, immediately regretting he’d spoken up. Both Alex and Jackson were looking at him as though he’d just found and then smashed the Holy Grail. He swallowed his coffee and gently set the mug on the table.

            “I’m sorry, what?” Jackson asked.

            “Why do we need that information? I mean… if it’s a graveyard or something, there’s nothing to find there, is there?”

            Alex’ eyes were wide and he wished again he hadn’t spoken up. “It’s…” She exchanged a quick glance with Jackson, who shrugged, took a deep breath and then turned to face Evan again.

“Major,” Jackson began, “Have you never wandered across a graveyard and wondered who the people lying there were?”

            “Uhm… Maybe… I don’t know?” Certainly, there were names and dates on the tombstones, but what else was there? Memories? But people brought these memories to graveyards. Living people. Not the dead ones.

            “We want to find out as much as we can about the Goa’uld, right? Strategic advantage and what not?” Jackson pushed his glasses up his nose, still frowning.

            Alex grinned and leaned back in her chair. “The thing is,” she said, “What was on that planet might be of value, or it might not. But we can’t find out if it is of value until we dig a little deeper. Digitally. There’s definitely no going back there.”

            “Right. Okay, carry on, don’t let me disturb you.” He folded his arms across his chest, holding Alex’ gaze for a moment longer as Jackson lurched into another speech about research and listing names of scientists Evan had never even heard of. She took a moment to return his gaze, to stare into his eyes, making him feel that warm fuzziness in his chest again, before she faced Jackson one more.

            “How long will you be gone? I’ll start the research straight away?”

            Jackson nodded. “You do that. Get Doctor Fairbanks to help you. He’s got a knack for details sometimes.” He slammed his hands on the table, looking excited. “Right. I gotta go. We’re just about to leave. There’s this planet… the people just discovered their own Stargate a few years ago and they’re really eager to talk to us.”

            Of course. SG-1 usually got the more interesting assignments. But Evan didn’t really mind. In a way he was glad he didn’t have to carry all the responsibility they did.

            “Sounds like fun,” Alex said. “You say hi to them from me. What are they called? Just so I can put it down in my diary?”

            Jackson grinned. “The Kelownans.”

           

Chapter Text

Chapter 13

2002

“How can there not be a memorial service?” Evan sounded incredulous and his tone of voice echoed her own feelings.

            “I don’t know… he’s gone, that’s all I can say.” She was breathing heavier than she would’ve thought. And the road wasn’t even that steep.

            “Yeah. Are you doing okay?” He kept asking her that. First about her hand, then about Murdoch and now this. And she wasn’t even sure she could tell him the truth. She didn’t even know what she was feeling. All she knew was that Daniel was dead and that it had come so suddenly that she hadn’t had the time to process it yet.

            “Not really,” she said quietly. “I guess I’m just walking a bit too fast.” Easier to redirect the topic of conversation. This was no place to think about Daniel. It had all just happened too fast.

            “You know what I mean.”

            “Yes, I do, but I’m in a public place and I don’t want to think about a dead friend right now.”

            “Right… I’m sorry.”

            There were families left and right. Staring at the animals in their enclosures, some children were running about, some other people, mostly grandparents by the looks of it, were reading the plaques.

            “Evan, can we talk about this later? I’m just-“

            “Oh crap… Ellen!”

            She stood still. She’d not only heard his voice on the sweaty phone pressed against her ear, but also to her left. “Evan?” She whirled around. And there he was, standing not ten feet away from her under a tree, phone at his ear.

            “Yeah… sorry, I didn’t mean you, I-“ Sighing he snapped his phone shut.

            “Hey, there you are!” Alex hadn’t even seen Ellen, though she can’t have stood more than a few metres to Evan’s right.

            “I… guess?” she mumbled, as Ellen flung her arms around her. “You look well!” Ellen hadn’t changed a whole lot since Alex had last seen her, though she kept her hair short nowadays and she was a bit heavier than she used to be. Well, that’s what pregnancy usually did to a woman, wasn’t it? And Ellen was pregnant with her second child.

            “You look tired. Is everything okay?”

Why did everyone keep asking her that?! No, a colleague of mine just died of radiation poisoning and I only went out to meet you because I haven’t seen you in two years. She met Evan’s gaze over Ellen’s shoulder. He had the exact same look of concern on his face. His right eyebrow moved up a bit, forming a questioning arch, which made her shake her head.

“No, it’s not… I’m sorry, I-“ she broke off and took a deep breath. “Let’s talk about that later.”

Ellen bit her lip and nodded. Clearly she was thinking that she’d made a massive mistake after all. Inviting her while she was out with Evan clearly had seemed like a good idea to her at the time. “I haven’t introduced you to Paul yet, have I?”

Evan was smiling now. Ever so slightly, but there it was.

“Who is Paul again?” Alex grinned as Ellen grabbed her by the elbow and pushed her past Evan towards a black stroller which Alex hadn’t noticed before either. Her hand brushed against Evan’s, who crossed his arms straight away.

“Never met my nephew?”

“Nope,” Alex said as she moved around the stroller to look down at the sleeping boy strapped into the stroller, a dummy half stuck between his pouty lips. Brown hair, soft looking skin and that was about all she noticed.

“Okay, he’s asleep now, but you guys can talk later.” Ellen’s cheeks were flushed as she looked from Alex to Evan and back again. “Maybe we should get some coffee?”

“Are you kidding?” Alex pushed her hair back into a ponytail. Why was it so warm? Or was it just that she wasn’t used to climbing up mountains anymore? No, that couldn’t be it either. She was in better shape than she ever had been. “I didn’t just walk up half this mountain just to go down to the café. You asked me to come to the zoo, I want to see some animals.”

“What happened to your hand?” Ellen’s eyes were fixe on the bandage.

“I burned it,” Alex said casually. She was just glad she could almost use her hand for such small tasks as driving and doing her hair again. Now, really holding something, even a pencil, that was still tough.

“Oh… but that’s a massive bandage.”

Alex shrugged, pushing away the memories of that staff weapon blast as far away as she possibly could. Wasn’t it bad enough that she was dreaming about it every night and that that might continue for months to come? “Bad burn. Remind me never to iron another blouse.”

Ellen snorted. “Will do.”

“So… animals?” Evan cleared his throat. He’d put his hands into his pockets now and it was clear he was uncomfortable. The way he was standing, keeping his arms close to himself while never meeting her gaze. Not that she blamed him. She hadn’t expected to see him here..

“Right…” Not that she’d be able to really focus on animals, but she could at least give it a try. She hadn’t seen Ellen in forever, and the last time she’d seen Evan’s sister, little Paul hadn’t even been born. But this setup with Evan was just weird, because that’s just exactly what it felt like: a setup.

She put her hands into her pockets, realizing as she did it that she was mirroring Evan. “Where did you go already?”

“We only just got here basically,” Ellen said, pulling the zoo’s map from the little backpack she was carrying. “So we’re at the giraffes now…” her index traced the various routes they could take from here, but Alex didn’t pay attention to them. She couldn’t help but stare at Evan who was standing a bit to the side again, staring through the fence separating them from the giraffes on the other side. It was incredible how much it hurt to see him there and not be able to ask him to just take her in his arms. So much had happened this last week that she was almost ready to ask for it anyway. But what had been possible in the security of his home or his car was unthinkable now that Ellen was with them.

“How about we go to the elephants?” Evan suggested, finally pulling himself away from the sight ahead to peer at the map in Ellen’s hand.

Whether she did it on purpose or not, Alex couldn’t clearly say, but it seemed like Ellen was determined to stay on Evan’s left and close to the fence as they started walking again. She was pushing the stroller and using it easily to steer them both where she wanted them. And so she was walking right next to Evan as they started walking uphill again. Their elbows were almost touching. Almost, but not quite. But Alex couldn’t pay this any real attention. She was too occupied keeping the conversation going. About Ellen’s husband, about Paul, about  anything but her job.

 

She could sense him watching her from across the room, but she didn’t turn to look at him. Roger, Ellen’s husband, was busy talking to her, or rather at her.

            “Their aunt,” Roger was saying, “makes terrible cookies, so you’d better stay away from that tray. They’re the chocolate ones. And Uncle Phil always takes a minute or so before answering a question. So I suggest you only ask him something if you really have the time.”

            “You’ve known them for quite a while, huh?”

            “Sure. Grew up down the street.”

            Alex looked up now to find Evan quickly averting his gaze to chat to his sister. But he was grinning as he spoke.

            “Ellen wouldn’t even date me at first because of it.”

            “Because you knew each other too well?”

            “Well she said, there wouldn’t be any surprises anymore.” He pulled a face and shrugged. “Guess that’s why she proposed to me and not the other way around.”

            They kept talking for a while until, out of the corner of her eye, Alex saw Ellen nudge Evan in her direction. Not that he needed a lot of nudging. He came over to them ad wrapped his arm around her waist. “You’ve been talking about me?”

            “You, your sister, and every single cookie Alex has to steer clear of if she wants to survive Thanksgiving.”

            Evan nodded seriously. “Always good advice.” Gently his hand started moving up and down her side, slightly pulling up her pullover as he did so. They’d only arrived here half an hour ago and Alex was dead on her feet. Still, she wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

            “My mom said you seem really nice,” he whispered in her ear as Roger leaped off his chair to help Ellen with something. His breath was warm on her skin.

            “I hope she’s right,” she returned. “But I also hope she doesn’t expect me to be a good cook. I told her I’d help with dinner.”

            He laughed softly and shook her head. “Why don’t you let me help with dinner, while you get the wine from the suitcase?”

            Smiling up at him, she put her hand on his. “Help me with that?”

            He considered her for a few heartbeats and nodded. “Sure. Might take a while?”

            “A long while?”

            “A short while.”

            “Deal.”

           

 

Her phone rang the moment she stepped through her door. For a moment she considered just throwing the phone on her couch and leaving it at that. But her breeding got the better of her. She picked up without even checking who the caller was.

            “Alex, I’m sorry.” Evan. His voice alone was enough to make her collapse on the chair next to the couch.

            “What for? It wasn’t too bad, was it?”

            He sighed. “No? You were so tense I thought you were gonna burst.”

            “Likewise…” She cleared her throat. “It’s just been one hell of a week.”

            “Yes, I suppose… but Ellen-“

            “She didn’t mean any harm,” she interrupted him, rubbing her temple. “And I’m- I don’t know what I am.”

            “Pissed?”

            “Maybe. Are you?”

            Another sigh. “I don’t know. Can I come over? I’d like to- I’d like to see-to talk to you.”

            Alex swallowed hard. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

            “Well, no. But today was bad enough and I don’t want to leave things like we did.”

            What was that supposed to mean? She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to know. “What about Ellen?”

            “She’s old enough to take care of herself for an hour or two… so, can I come over?”

            “Sure.” There’d been a time when he needn’t have asked. But if anything, today had shown that they were worlds away from that time. “You have the address?”

            “I’ll be there in a few.” He hung up and Alex just sat there, staring at the black TV screen in front of her. She still hadn’t come around to unpacking, but she didn’t care. She didn’t even know what to think. Today had been exhausting to say the least. How was she supposed to deal with his weird situation with Evan on top of everything else? If only sleeping were on option, she’d go to bed now, but tossing and turning was no option either.

            She had no idea how long she’d been sitting there, when the doorbell rang. Her foot had fallen asleep as she sat there, just staring, holding off every single coherent thought, and she limped to the door. The Evan standing in front of her now looked completely different from the version she’d said goodbye to not even an hour ago. He was still wearing that black sweater, his hair was still slightly dishevelled, but his eyes were so… she couldn’t even begin to describe it.

            “May I?”

            Stepping to the side, she found that she could barely move. She would never have invited him over, not the way things were with them, and the fact that he’d invited himself, after a day like this, made her want to beg him to leave again. But he didn’t seem to mind the mess. Not the unpacked boxes or the empty take-away containers next to the kitchen sink. He didn’t even look around.

            Evan was standing so close to her, she could’ve touched him, had she dared, but she didn’t.

            “Please don’t ask me if I’m okay again,” she said hoarsely, forcing herself to close the door behind him and sit down on the couch.

            “Okay…” he cleared his throat again, as she pulled her legs towards her torso and wrapped her arms around her knees.

            “Was it something I did?”

            She shook her head. “No.”

Evan stood there for a moment, hesitating. She couldn’t look into his face, but his hands were swinging awkwardly at his sides. They were all she could stare at.

“I’m just so tired.”

He made an acknowledging grunt. And then he was walking towards her. In one motion, he sat dawn and pulled her closer towards him. “I’m sorry about today. I know it’s not the only reason you’re upset.”

She nodded. “Why were we so awkward? I thought we were past that?” And it wasn’t the biggest of her worries, but at least this was something they could talk about.

“Because my sister is determined to see us together and she threw us into a situation with witnesses.”

Every single breath he took was a movement she could sense. Her head was lying against his chest, his arms were wrapped tightly around her frame. Closing her eyes, she allowed the sound of his breathing to lull her in. But she wasn’t going to ask him again why they weren’t together. She knew. But was it really a good enough reason? “Was that the problem?” she asked quietly, because they had talked in the mess hall the other day and things had been infinitely more relaxed back then.

“God, I hope it was… or maybe it was just us making things weird. Maybe… maybe I was just acting weird because my sister started pressuring me and I wanted to prove her wrong… stupid sibling thing.”

She suppressed a laugh and wrapped her arms around him. It was easier now. “You’re too pig-headed?”

“Looks like it… but apart from that, the afternoon was okay, wasn’t it?”

“I guess so… your nephew is cute.”

“He is. Must be my genes.”

She swallowed the reply that would’ve come more easily seven years ago. You’re gonna have great babies.

Thinking like that wouldn’t get them anywhere. She closed her eyes.

“You’re trembling.”

“Yes, I know…” She couldn’t help it. “I just wish I knew things were going to be okay.” His arms around her drew her closer to his chest, but he didn’t speak.

“And I still can’t believe Daniel is gone… it’s… it’s just wrong.”

She felt his thumb on her cheek, his lips on the top of her head. “I know,” he whispered into her hair. It was almost like that time when Sam’s plane had crashed, when all he’d had to hold onto was her, and now it was the other way around, only that the walls they’d set up around themselves made it all a thousand times worse.

“Do you know what happened? I mean…” he cleared his throat “I wasn’t there, so I only heard that there was some kind of accident.”

Alex wiped her face. There were no tears. She took a deep breath. “The people on that planet were experimenting with some instable element, a derivative of naquadah I think. And there was this accident… they tried blaming Daniel for it, but it turns out he saved millions of lives…” She pressed her lips together.

“Did you go see him?”

She nodded against his chest. “Just briefly though. He was heavily sedated, and his team was there with him most of the time. It just happened so fast…” She could still smell it. The blood and the disinfectant…

His hand brushed through her hair then, making her shiver again.

“Thank you for coming.”

“Sure.” He pulled her even closer and shifted slightly, so he was almost lying on the couch next to her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14

2002

Teal’c was lying on the blue mats in the gym, another man standing over him, gloved fists raised and breathing heavily.

            Alex couldn’t read his features, but he must look as surprised as Alex felt, just before Teal’c hooked both of his legs behind the guy’s legs, bringing him to the ground.

            “Ouch!”

            “You are improving, Jonas Quinn.”

            “Super!” The man on the ground gave Teal’c a thumbs-up, then scrambled up before pulling off the dark blue head guard. “We’re done here?”

            Teal’c got up more easily and nodded in one smooth movement. “I believe we are.” He turned his head, looking at Alex once. “Doctor Woolston,” he greeted her, then headed out of the gym.

            “Hi, Teal’c,” she grinned, moving into the room, but Teal’c was already gone. “You’ve taken on quite a bit, haven’t you?” And he had: first he’d decidedly read next to every single book in the base’s library, then he’d started on going through Daniel’s notes and about two weeks ago he’d joined SG-1. God only knew what had driven O’Neill to take on the Kelownan, when he’d rejected every other candidate and had obviously not forgiven Jonas for what had happened to Daniel. The way he still ignored Jonas in the mess hall was already the topic of gossip.

            Jonas laughed quietly and grabbed a towel. The shirt was sticking to his torso, but he looked happy. “Well, you went through all of this too, didn’t you? When you first joined?”

            “No.” Alex shook her head decidedly, put down her own towel and climbed on the ergometer. “No, I was never keen enough to engage in a boxing match with Teal’c. I’m not nearly brave enough for that.”

            Shrugging, Jonas reached for his water bottle. “You know what I mean… how long did it take Colonel Pierce to adjust to you? I mean, you’re not military, are you?”

            Of course. He was getting nervous about going on his first mission. “You’ve had basic training, haven’t you?” she asked, avoiding his question. Pierce was a completely different case than Colonel O’Neill. O’Neill and Daniel had been friends, close friends even. And she had not been assigned to Pierce’s team as a replacement.

            “Yes, with Major Lorne.”

            Alex nodded. Evan had told her. “See? You’re all set then.” She set the ergometer and started moving. “He’s good at what he does. When are you leaving?”

            “Recon tomorrow.” He smiled. He looked like a puppy, she thought. A bit terrified of what lay ahead, but mostly excited.

            “You’ll do just fine,” she assured him as Evan entered the gym in his workout clothes. They’d never ceased meeting here.

            “Hey, Jonas,” Evan said curtly after a fleeting glance at him and Alex. “Trying to knock out Alex, here?” He too was smiling, but his eyes remained cool. She’d realized he didn’t really like Jonas, though she had no idea why.

            “No, I just like being knocked about by Teal’c.” Jonas took off the boxing gloves. “Alex. I’ll see you for our cataloguing session, then?”

            “I’ll be there. See you around.”

            “See you. Goodbye, Major Lorne.” Raising a hand in farewell, he too left the gym.

            “How is that guy so cheery?” Evan muttered, getting on the treadmill which was standing right next to Alex.

            Her hands were starting to get sweaty as she changed her ergometer to a more challenging setting. “He’s just being friendly,” she said. “He has nobody here.”

            “Ah… that’s never occurred to me,” he laughed. “Just being friendly. Okay. Making friends. Guess there’s nothing else for him to do but cataloguing with you?”

            The tone of his voice in which he said it made her stop dead. “Evan Lorne, are you jealous?”

            “No?” He coughed and started moving as well. But his jaw was set. “I just don’t like him that much. It’s like he’s trying to sell something. Never liked salespeople.”

            “Roger sells stuff.”

            “Well, yes, but he sells medicines to sick people, not cars to stupid people.”

            “Are you calling me stupid?”

            “No. You’re not buying a car from him, are you?”

            She scowled at him. “Evan,” she began, trying very hard to ignore the heat rising in her cheeks, “I’m not buying a car from you either, I think we’re pretty clear on that, aren’t we?” They’d managed this friendship thing well enough these last three months, but nothing, nothing else had happened that would suggest they were moving past this stage. Not since that evening spent on her couch. Her hand had healed, Murdoch had made a full recovery and was back on the team and she met almost every day with Evan for a bit of exercise, either here at the gym or in the park on weekends. They got along. They talked for hours on end, but that about summed it up. They hugged occasionally, yes, but that was all the physical relationship they had. So he had no business getting jealous.

            He sighed and stopped moving too. “Alex…” he sighed. “I’m sorry. You’re right.”

            With a scoff, she resumed her movements, determined not to look at him. “Glad you see it that way.” It wasn’t like he was the one to blame, she knew that. She also knew that they’d reached an impasse. They’d missed the point where they could be in a relationship, that much was clear. And now they were just stuck somewhere in no man’s land.

            “Maybe we should talk again some time,” he said and she nodded. Yes, they probably should. But not today.

 

Her backpack was heavier than usual, but she was still not carrying all their equipment. Miller had put most of the instruments into his own backpack, while Alex had merely stuffed the few artefacts they’d found over the past few days into hers. They were mostly stone tablets which they’d come across in massive circle of stones about half a day’s walk from the Gate. Taking pictures of the structures and getting the tablets had taken three days all in all and she couldn’t wait to get a hot shower.

            Hammond was waiting for them at the bottom of the ramp. Pierce approached him as usual. “We found some extra homework for Doctor Woolston here, but that’s about it. No sign of civilisation.”

            “Apart from the derelict houses,” she added. A few weeks ago she wouldn’t have dreamed about speaking up, but things had changed. “But no one seems to be living there, no.”

            Pierce half turned to grin at her. “You heard her.”

            Hammond nodded. “Briefing in two hours then. I have another assignment waiting for you.”

            One hour to get cleaned up, another hour to start sorting through the artefacts and the pictures they’d taken. That should be alright. She excused herself from the rest of her team to dump the backpack at her office before heading to the women’s locker room. If anything, she wished for a bed and a good night’s sleep before that briefing, but that couldn’t be helped apparently. When she got back into her office, she’d only just sat down at her desk, when she heard a soft knock at the door. She shouldn’t have been surprised to see Jonas standing in the doorway. Several weeks into being an active member of SG-1 he’d become more confident.

            “Hey,” she said, putting on her reading glasses. “What’s up?”

            “I heard you just got back, so…”

            “Yep, literally just walked through the door.” She dug the camera out of her backpack.

            “Alright, I was wondering if I may borrow that Sumerian dictionary of yours.”

            “Sure… doesn’t Daniel have one in his office?”

            Jonas moved around her desk to get to the bookcase. He did that quite frequently, come here to talk to her, to discuss a certain topic with her. It wasn’t at all like it had been with Daniel. If she didn’t know any better, she’d have said that he actively sought her out… well, maybe Evan was right about him after all. At least in that respect. “Yes, he does, but the word I need to look up in it is unreadable. Too many scribbles.”

            Alex grinned. “Right.” She’d forgotten the state which most of Daniel’s dictionaries were in, but then again, he did make remarkable annotations to them. “What are you working on?”

            “I just need to check a name. It was on that video material you brought with you from that Goa’uld graveyard.”

            She looked up at him. “The tombs?”

            He nodded absentmindedly as he took the dictionary from the bookshelf. They’d translated all the writing they’d found, but not more than a warning in the database had come from that trip. “I had a chat with one of the Tok’ra who came to Earth about three days ago. He said they’d known about that planet for a while.”

            “And never mentioned it to us. Great.” That sounded about right.

            “He said they couldn’t possibly warn us from every single danger out there and that we didn’t have to stick our noses just everywhere.” He rolled his eyes.

            “What a nice fellow,” she mumbled. She hadn’t found working with the Tok’ra as interesting as she’d hoped. They were rather closed off, especially to her. They must think her a special kind of meddler, digging up old stuff and putting everyone in danger by exposing Earth to knowledge they couldn’t handle yet… really nice people. “Did he say anything else?”

            “No, I’m just trying … ah… see? That word. It means survivor.”

            Alex got up from her chair to look at the book. His index was right underneath the word, pointing it out to her. “Yes. So? The writing was still in Goa’uld.”

            “Yes, but when you pronounce it in the oldest Goa’uld dialect it has a lot of similarities with the Sumerian word for survivor.

            “Alright. What are you saying here? It’s not a name but a… title?”

            He nodded. “Something like that. See, when –“

            “What happened to your face?” She cocked her head to the side, cursing the bad lighting in here. There was a slightly dark shadow on Jonas’ jaw. She hadn’t seen it yet.

            “Huh? Oh… yeah, just a bit of an accident.” He shrugged, rubbing the bruise with his free hand.

            “What happened?” He hadn’t been on a mission this past week, so it can’t have happened there.

            Jonas shrugged again. “Just an accident during training. It’s alright.” He didn’t meet her gaze though. He snapped the book shut. Jonas was still in training with Evan. In the last stages of it, but there it was. And Jonas usually wore a head guard when boxing.

            She swallowed hard. She really should’ve had that talk with Evan a few weeks ago.

            “About that tomb, then.” He cleared his throat again. “I believe that the room you stumbled into was the chamber in which they put the bodies of hosts.”

            “Right… but if that word means survivor, and it was written on the box they were keeping him in-“

            “Don’t ask me. But we know the Goa’uld haven’t always used the sarcophagus, right? They must have started at some point. Before that they just buried their dead and that was that. Probably stored the bodies of the hosts in a different tomb than that of the symbiotes? Since you saw them bringing in that jar, that would make sense, yes?”

            “Right… so you think they were the survivors of sarcophagus experiments.”

            “Maybe. We can only guess. There’s no proof, since we can’t go back there, but maybe. They didn’t have any insignia, though, right? So they were just human bodies. No ornaments, no burial gifts? They were just bodies. The symbiotes must be buried in a different, more protected area.”

            “Alright. But that place is still in use.”

            Jonas nodded again. “The sarcophagus can’t heal either body indefinitely, or there would be more Goa’uld out there. Maybe the hosts survived at first, but the symbiotes didn’t. Who knows.”

            “Well, lucky us.” Alex looked at her watch. She only had five minutes to get to the briefing. Where had the time gone? “Shoot.” She quickly turned off her computer and patted his arm. “Feel free to browse, I’m running a bit late, I’m afraid.”

            “Sure. See you later.”

            As she took the elevator, she refused to clench her fists. What had Evan been thinking? Whatever Jonas said, she would never believe an accident like this would happen to Evan. He was coolheaded usually and more than capable of suppressing his feelings, the last few months had shown that, but he also had too much control over his body not to hit someone by accident. She simply couldn’t believe that.

            The elevator doors opened quickly enough. Taking a deep breath, so she wouldn’t look too flustered at the briefing, she stepped into the corridor and headed towards the briefing room. Pierce, Miller and Murdoch were sitting at one side of the long table, facing her. The seat farthest from Hammond’s chair was the only one left vacant. On the other side, she spotted SG-11 with Evan sitting right opposite her empty seat. Well, that should be fun…

            “Sorry, I’m late,” she muttered, hurrying to take her seat, but before she could pull it back, the door to Hammond’s office opened and he waved her to come closer. “Doctor Woolston, Major Lorne, a word, please.”

            Feeling her heart sink, she exchanged just one look with Evan. His blue eyes told her nothing. She could only hope he was as embarrassed about his behaviour as she was.

            Without another word, she and Evan followed Hammond and took the seats on the other side of the massive desk. She’d only been in here two times. First with Daniel on her first day, then about three days later to sign the final papers.

            Hammond considered them for a moment and closed the door so the others couldn’t hear them.

            “I know you two have a history,” Hammond began, and Alex nodded curtly. She’d been wondering when he’d bring it up. After all, it had been she who’d recommended Daniel for the translations.

            “Sir-“ Evan began, but broke off at a single gesture from Hammond.

            “And if that wasn’t fine, I wouldn’t have let Doctor Woolston join a team.” He folded his hands and looked first at Evan, then at Alex. “I want to send SGs 11 and 15 on a joint mission. We believe that this planet still has an operating trinium trade. I need the engineers from SG-11 and the expertise of dealing with locals of Pierce. But… I need to be sure that whatever was between you is not a problem.” They couldn’t be a liability. She should’ve seen this coming.

            One glance between them was enough to tell her that Evan was as unsure about this as she was. “Not a problem, General,” she heard Evan say with a smile that was more like a smirk. He turned to look at Hammond again. “She’s good at what she does and professionalism will not be a problem.”

            I just wish I were as confident as you sound… But Alex nodded anyway.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15

2002

The air was far too hot for her liking as she stepped through the Gate. The sun was high in the sky, burning down on them with a ferocity she hadn’t expected here, even though the MALP’s readings should have prepared her for it.

            As she walked down the steps, she studied her surroundings. High pillars formed a circular structure around the Gate, which was located on the edge of a valley, surrounded by massive mountains. That’s probably where the trinium could be found. From where they were standing, she spotted an assortment of buildings to their right and in the centre of the valley, surrounded by a very high wooden fence a few miles away. Probably a two hour walk through pastures and fields.

            “At least we won’t have to walk all that far today,” Edwards said, adjusting the straps of his backpack. “Ritter, Miller, you stay here to guard the Gate. Stay in radio contact.”

            Pierce was right beside Edwards as they started making their way towards the town, Murdoch, Menard and Woeste took up the rear. Alex looked over her shoulder at the other men. They’d started up a conversation, Woeste gesticulating wildly. Were they talking about baseball or Star Wars? She couldn’t be entirely sure.

            “I’ve never seen this kind of ditch on the way to the Gate,” Evan said.

            “Hm?” Alex looked down. On either side of the paved path, the Earth had been dug up to form a deep channel. “Heavy rains?” she suggested, looking over her shoulder again. The tallest mountain in the vicinity loomed up right behind the Gate, almost reminding her of Earth’s point of origin symbol. She turned around, walking backwards, took out her camera and held it up to her face. Just as she did so, Murdoch waved at her and Woeste pulled a face. “Well if that doesn’t go in my scrapbook, I don’t know what will,” she laughed.

            Evan’s hand was on her elbow, stopping her. “Watch out. Steps.”

            Turning around she saw that she’d nearly fallen backwards. “Oh… sorry.”

            “Just watch where you’re going,” he sighed.

            With a jerk, she freed her arm and went down the steps easily. “And thank you.” He was annoyed, she could see that, but he’d prevented her fall and made sure she didn’t embarrass herself.

            He grunted.

            “Are you sure this was a good idea? Telling Hammond that this wouldn’t be a problem?”

            “No,” he admitted. “But we had to try this at some point, didn’t we? No better way to do this than on a recon mission.” The blue in his eyes seemed brighter than usual as he smiled at her now. He shrugged. By the way he was walking, she could tell that he was nervous. He’d walked like this on their way into town, with a bit too much spring in his step.

            “If you say so.” But she didn’t feel it. Not the fake confidence and not the excitement. But now was not the time to confront him about Jonas. If they were overheard after all, he’d just get into trouble.

 

Cleaning up wasn’t something she enjoyed, but she had to admit watching the two women wiping the floor on her left almost felt like meditating. From left to right, from right to left, all the way down the other side of the room. Why the airport wasn’t using those fancy machines, she couldn’t tell, but she was grateful to have something other to watch than that baggage carousel. But that’s what you got for being at the airport early. You just had to wait and wait and wait on the other side, because your bag was the first inside the plane.

            Almost everyone but one couple had already left the baggage claim and Alex avoided looking at them. Staring really wasn’t polite and the look on their faces as they stood there, arms wrapped tightly around each other, made her insides churn.

            And there it was. Finally. The black suitcase with the yellow ribbon around the handle. She quickly took it off the carousel and started heading towards the exit. Completely ignoring the men at customs, she started heading straight for the doors leading outside.

            “Entschuldigung? Sie haben etwas vergessen.“

            She stopped dead in her tracks, heart racing. She knew that voice. That soft rasping on the lower tones. That deep sound and the way they managed to make this hideous language sound smooth. She turned around slowly.

“Was denn?” she asked, ignoring the loud pounding in her chest as she spotted him, not two metres away from her. He hadn’t changed one bit these last few months. The blue in his eyes was as piercing as ever, the soft smile just as mind-blowing.

            “Me?” He laughed, wrapping her in his arms before she even had a chance to say hi. But there was no need for that anyway. She just threw her arms around him, her cheek against his. “I missed you so much,” he whispered into her hair, his arms clutching her so tight she could barely breathe, but she’d be damned if she let him go now.

            “Your German is so much better,” she laughed.

            “I had plenty of time while you were gone.”

            “Oh shush.” She was still laughing. She couldn’t help it. If anything, she’d thought she’d see him that night, not right now! He wasn’t supposed to be off work yet. And here he was. Waiting for her. Hugging her. After half a year of nothing but e-mails.

            “Take me home?”

            He nodded, his eyes flashing. “Straight away? Or can I kiss you first.”

            “Kiss me first.”

 

The locals seemed happy enough to greet them. The town itself wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. It seemed to be the equivalent of thirteenth century Europe, or so the structures of the buildings and the clothes of the people around them would suggest. Faded blue was the prominent colour in the clothes of the men clearing away the goods, the colour peasants had used to dye their wool. Those clothes looked worn, but not too shabby. They were clearly separated from the townspeople, who wore mostly darker colours, some of them looked wealthier, some poorer. God, how she wished she could take some pictures right now.

            Colonel Edwards and Major Pierce had followed the village elders into what appeared to be the main administrational building, the only house around where the first floor’s walls had been built from stone. The half timbered houses around them loomed no higher than two floors up, but the administrational building had three floors.

            “What are you thinking about?” Evan said as he sat down next to her on the edge of a walled-in pool of water, holding two small cups. One of them was pressed into her hand before she knew it. “It’s just water.”

            She nodded and took a sip. It tasted earthy, but good enough. “Architecture…” Catching a glimpse of his smile, she looked down at the brown cup in her hand. Murdoch and Woeste were talking quietly to their left.

            “Ah.” The exclamation could’ve meant anything at all. Their knees were touching now, but she didn’t pull back. “Thinking about how nice it would be to live here?”

            “Not really. I’m a huge fan of indoor plumbing,” she grinned. “Also, she sat up a bit straighter to take in the people around them more thoroughly. “See the women standing a bit apart from the men? I’m also a bit of a fan of gender equality.”

            “Makes sense”, he was whispering now, almost conspiratorially. “Getting paid and not having to walk through the muck all the time sounds like a nice idea as well.”

            “Absolutely.”

            Several feet away from them, the people were still gathered, whispering amongst themselves, talking earnestly with their heads put together. The market stands had been cleared away about an hour ago, and despite this being a market town, these people seemed unfamiliar with visitors from other worlds. Already the sun was beginning to set beyond the hills and there was no question of their getting back to the Gate that day.

            “What? Why are you scowling?”

            Alex shrugged. “I’m not… just thinking.”

            “Care to elaborate?”

            “These people don’t look like they see a lot of people from offworld regularly.”

            “Well, you have to admit we look a little peculiar.” Evan pulled at his military jacket.

            “Sounds about right.” She took another sip of water. “I guess we’ll see what’ll come of this.”

            At this exact moment the door to the administrative building opened and Edwards came striding towards them, Pierce right behind him. Evan stood up straight away, almost in unison with Murdoch, Miller and Woeste. Alex took a moment longer to get to her feet.

            “Right, we’ll enter preliminary negotiations in the morning,” Edwards said, as usual frowning like a particularly nasty smell was right under his nose. “These people are friendly enough to let us stay here for the night.”    

            Not the best of news, in her opinion, but at least they’d get some time to chat to the locals some more. And one look from Pierce was enough to let her know that that was exactly what was on his mind.

            “Woeste,” Edwards said, “Murdoch and me are staying with the Mayor. Pierce and Miller are staying with his son and wife and Lorne, Woolston, you’re with this nice gentleman.” Edwards was pointing at an elderly man some feet behind him. “See you in the morning.”

            Another kind of recon then. He gave Alex a meaningful nod and headed back into the administrational building, Murdoch and Woeste right behind him. Neither looked too comfortable or happy about this arrangement.

            Alex and Evan exchanged a look. Why was it that everyone seemed so determined to throw them together like this?

            “Hello, I’m Caedmon,” the older man approached them now, stretching out a hand to shake Evan’s hand. He completely ignored Alex, which already boded particularly well for the coming negotiations.

            They shook hands but before he could let go, Evan steered the man’s hand in Alex’ direction. “Major Evan Lorne. And this is my colleague Doctor Alex Woolston. She’s the real brains of this expedition.”

            “Is that so?” Caedmon frowned, shaking her hand only reluctantly. Letting go as quickly as he could, he pointed down a side lane. “My home is right down that road,” he said. “Follow me.”

            People parted when Caedmon approached them. Trying to smile at them reassuringly was all she could do as she followed him. Evan had taken the rear, his hands casually on his weapon, as though only resting them there, but she knew he was being cautious. It was strange how reassuring it was to see him like this, completely at ease in this situation. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to see him in action after all. It could only help them to find themselves in their new role as colleagues. That just had to be the best. Everything else was just too complicated.

            The house they were approaching now was a bit wider than all the others, with a massive door in the middle of the outer wall. A wooden coat of arms was located right in the centre over the gate. Four griffins around a cross. How she wished she had more than just a few books with her to determine what those might represent. The books she’d brought wouldn’t do her any good here. But when you stepped through the Gate there was rarely any clue as to which kind of civilization you might stumble across. It was almost like stumbling from one adventure park into the next, never knowing which theme you’d see next. Well, if you took the constant peril out of the equation.

            Evan was moving closer to her, so his chest bumped into her back. “I think there are still people watching us,” he whispered into her ear.

            Caedmon opened the door and waved them inside, but Alex hesitated, chancing a look up the buildings around them. The road itself was empty, but she trusted Evan. If he sensed they were being watched, they probably were. But the road was empty and in the few upper windows of the neighbouring houses she couldn’t spot anyone.

            Evan caught her gaze and tapped his P-90 with his index and middle fingers of his right hand. Two people somewhere to their right. She nodded and followed Caedmon inside. Well, they were new here, complete strangers on top of it. But he must be used to this, so if he was worried, then she’d be too.

            Stepping through the gate, they entered a vast courtyard, on their right and left she spotted two one storey buildings and opposite them a bigger house, the lower storey made of brick. “Are you a merchant?” Alex asked, spotting the cart standing in front of the left building. It was laden with barrels and boxes, symbols etched on their outsides. She’d have to get closer to be sure, but she was almost sure they were gate symbols.

            “Yes,” Caedmon answered curtly. “Yes, I am. Major, what is your profession?”

            Alex swallowed an angry remark, making her mind to give this guy a real talking-to as soon as the negotiations here were over.

            “I’m a soldier. Like I said, Doctor Woolston is brainier than me.” He wasn’t smiling anymore, even though his tone was polite. Should she be flattered at his anger?

            “So you said,” Caedmon said, looking Alex up and down again, before pushing open the door to the building at the other end of the court. This one looked more like a residential house than the others.

            “Regina!” Caedmon shouted, waving at a young servant girl to take his blue coat. The girl wouldn’t look at either Alex or Evan. Come to think of it, she didn’t even look at her employer, simply took the coat and retreated to a neighbouring room. “Regina, we have guests!” He turned to look at Evan and Alex again. “Regina is my wife. She will take you to the guest rooms so you can clean up before dinner.”

Chapter Text

 

 

2002

She didn’t come down to dinner and Evan couldn’t get any of the roast down. He just kept glancing at the door until Caedmon’s wife Regina appeared in the doorway, hands clasped in front of her. They looked incredibly pale against the dark blue of her long skirt.

            “I’m afraid she isn’t feeling too well,” she declared quietly as she sat down next to her husband.

            Evan threw his napkin on the table and got up, unable to shake that tingling on the back of his neck. “I’m gonna check up on her. Thanks for the meal.” The way the people here behaved was just incredulous. He doubted medieval women would’ve refused looking anyone in the eye. Whatever this culture here was, he didn’t like it much. And neither could Alex.

            If Alex was sick, he’d have to radio Edwards and make sure they all got out of this place. He hadn’t liked the look of the two men hiding in that narrow alley, and he sure as hell didn’t like the way this Caedmon fellow had treated Alex on their way here. Like she was air - no. Like her very presence was offensive. He pushed past the servant girl and rushed up the stairs to the two small rooms he and Alex had been assigned for the night. His own door was still open, but hers was closed. He knocked briefly and entered without waiting for a reply.

            “What?” she asked. But she didn’t look sick at all. She was just sitting at the small table by the window, munching on a sandwich, the plastic wrapper of at least two more sandwiches sprawled on the ground under her chair. She’d placed her feet on the table, looking as pissed and grumpy as he’d ever seen her.

            Evan scowled and closed the door behind him. “They said you’re not feeling too well.”

            “Okay, if that’s what she wants to call it, so be it,” she said, stuffing the last bit of sandwich into her mouth and chewing furiously.

            Only just did he manage to hold back a laugh. “What’s the matter then?”

            She pointed at the bed, at the dark blue woollen blanket draped over it and the white… was it a cap? And was that even a blanket? “She said my clothes weren’t decent, so I should wear that dress or not come down at all. So I told her to shove it.”

            “How very diplomatic of you.” He was grinning now. Approaching her, he sat on the small table. “Should I tell Edwards how unwilling you, the famed archaeologist and newly appointed anthropologist of Pierce’s team is to comply with local customs?”

            She pulled a face. “Not an anthropologist,” she mumbled, reaching into her backpack to dig out a bar of chocolate.

            “Care to share?”

            With a shrug, she broke the bar in half, tore open the packaging and handed one half to him. “Sorry, I was just furious.”

            “I get that… so you think setting up trade relations with these people isn’t a good idea?”

            She shrugged again. “To be honest, if this is how their society works, we shouldn’t judge. But maybe that’s just the scientist talking. Definitely it’s not the feminist talking here.” She took a deep breath. “At the moment I just think that it’s my problem, not theirs. If those women are happy, let them cook and sow and stare at the ground all day.”

            “Ah, there’s that diplomat I’ve been looking for.” He bit off some of his chocolate, still looking down at her. He wasn’t sure he had looked properly at her that day. The way her petite nose crinkled as she pulled yet another face made him want to laugh again. But there was very little for her to laugh about. She very rarely encountered this sort of treatment, if at all, and he hated seeing her confined to this room, because she couldn’t bring herself to comply with norms neither of them believed in.

            “So, what’s for dinner?”

            “Salty roast. You’d love it. Should I ask them to send you some up?”

            “Nah, I’m good.” She held the chocolate in her slim hands. “I’m just sorry I’m gonna have to mess up the negotiations.”

            “Hey, I’ll keep you company outside the administrational building. Always fun to stay outside. I hate those kinds of talks to be honest.”

            “No, you don’t.”

            “No, I don’t.” He smiled down at her ruefully. “You know, when I joined the Air Force and went to the Academy, I never thought I’d end up in a place like this.”

            That had her laughing. The sound sent chills down his spine. How he loved that sound. Even now. “No, me either. Personally, I always thought I would only be digging things up. Then it turned out to be a major desk job and now look at me.”

            “I am.” He shook his head, the smile gone from his face. His pulse was racing and her slight blush made his heart pound even harder. “Alex-“

            “Did you punch Jonas?” Her eyes had gone hard, but the slight frown on her face told him how serious she was. The hand he’d started stretching out to her hung awkwardly between them. He quickly dropped it in his lap.

            “What?”

            The chair she’d been sitting on scratched over the hard, wooden floor as she got up and folded her arms over her chest. “Did you punch Jonas? He had a massive bruise on his jaw.”

            Jonas… the name itself was enough to drain all colour from his face. “No, I didn’t,” he said, his voice cold. What was she even thinking? And where did that thought of Jonas come from all of a sudden. “Why would you say that?”

            “He said it happened during training with you.”

            “Did he?” What kind of person did she think he was?! Hands balled into fists he stood up so he stood right in front of her. He was fuming. That name alone, the accusatory tone in which she’d said it was just about enough to make him want to shake her. Jonas… that damn, clever -

            He could see that she was about to flinch away, but that just wasn’t the kind of person she was. Instead she squared her shoulders and her chin jutted forward in defiance. A wonderful sight under normal circumstances. But not now.

            “Yes, he did. And he’s been training with you, hasn’t he?”

            “Alex, what the hell do you think of me?” he hissed, about ready to grab her by the shoulders and shake her for real.

            Her lips parted and he was just about ready to take the next verbal attack, but she just remained silent.

“Are you involved with him then?”

            “Are you jealous?”

            “Fuck, yes. Of course, I am!” The words came out louder than he would’ve liked. That horrid couple downstairs had probably heard him, but still Alex didn’t pull back. His gaze fluttered to her lips, then back up to her terrified eyes. Was there something else in hers?

            “Good.” She took a deep breath.

            “Good?!

            She swallowed hard. He could see the movement as the skin moved on her throat. “Well, did you-“

            “No!” he exclaimed. “The idiot fell on one of the weights!”

            “He’s not an idiot!”

            He took a deep breath. This wasn’t going anywhere, and it sure as hell was just the thing Hamond had been worried about. So much for professionalism. “Whatever,” he breathed.

            “Whatever?! What the hell is wrong with you?”

            “What’s wrong with me?! You hang around with this guy I couldn’t possibly compete with, just days after we agreed to take things slow-“

            “We never, never said that!”

            “Yes, we did.”

            “No, we didn’t!” she stamped her foot and she looked so young then. So vulnerable that he just wanted to hug her and throttle her at the same time. Her eyes were flashing, her lips trembling. Again his eyes lingered on them for a moment, but before he could say anything else, he heard Edward’s voice coming from his and Alex’ radios simultaneously.

            “Lorne? Woolston?”

            Evan closed his eyes and breathed in. Perfect timing. His hand reached for the PTT-button automatically, but when he opened his eyes again, her back was turned to his. She was standing at the window. “Yes, Sir. We’re both here.”

            “Good. How are things going? Found out anything good?”

            “No, Sir. These people don’t appear to be too fond of feminism or our archaeologist.”

            “Yeah…” Edwards was quiet for a moment. “Probably wouldn’t be the best of ideas to have her at the negotiations tomorrow.” Alex snorted from the window. “But there’s a mine a few miles East from town. I want you and Woolston to check it out tomorrow, take a ground sample, see what the working conditions are out there.”

            “Yes, Sir.”

            “Right. Get some rest, Major. Stay in contact.”

            “Yes, Sir.” The radio was silent then. All the while he’d never taken his eyes off Alex. She’d thought they hadn’t reached an agreement. Well, that explained a lot.

            “Alex…”

            “What?” She stood stock still, still facing the window. But he knew, he just knew what her face must look like. He could just see it before his eyes. The blue eyes, the full mouth the small nose… the expression of hurt on her features. And he’d caused it. Or had he? He wasn’t sure.

            “Alex, I-“

            “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice heavy. “I’m sorry if I’ve caused you any trouble.”

            “I’m sorry, too.” He took off his vest. “We should probably stay together right now. I still have a weird feeling about these guys we saw on the road down there.”

            “Okay.” She turned to look at him. Finally, she was looking at him. She was far too pale and her nose more than the rest of her face. She shrugged and bent over to pick up the plastic wrappers from the floor.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 17

2002

 

Her back was aching. That was the first thing she noticed when she woke up next morning. The next thing was that she was lying on the floor. Well, that explained the thing with the back.

            Evan was lying right next to her, facing her, his lips slightly parted, a soft snore issuing from between them. She looked at him for a whole minute, allowed herself to compare the man in front of her with the man she’d known seven years ago. His face wasn’t as roundish as it used to be. It was slightly more angular now. It probably didn’t show as much, but she saw it. If anything, it made it more attractive. Just like the barely visible lines in the corners of his eyes. Back then he hadn’t been a snorer either.

            His lips were dry from breathing through them all night. She shuffled closer ever so slightly, terrified of waking him and wishing he would at the same time. His breath on her skin was intoxicating. If she closed her eyes now, she could almost sense his lips on hers.

            But she didn’t. She just stared at him.

The sunlight streaming in through the small window brought out the brown in his ruffled hair. Just small touches of lighter auburn and chestnut in the almost black.

They hadn’t even argued about who should take the bed. Sleeping on the ground was the only way to go, because both of them sleeping on the bed was out of the question, just like they both knew they wouldn’t let the other sleep on the floor while they slept on the bed. And so the only thing left lying on top of the thin covers was the blue dress.

She could see the eyes moving behind the lids and he took a deep, hiccupping breath. He’d wake soon enough and that would take them back into reality soon enough.

Just stop thinking, she told herself. Nobody needed to know… Ever. Before he could open his eyes, she moved even closer and brushed her lips over his.

They were warm against hers, almost hot.

He jerked back, eyes wide open. “What-“ It took him a moment to zone in on her. He blinked, eyes moving across her face until they rested on her lips, just like they’d done the night before.

“So-“ she began to apologize, but his finger was on her lips before she could finish. It tasted slightly salty.

“No talking,” he whispered, replacing his finger with his mouth straight away.

She would’ve thought it would take them forever to find the rhythm again, but there it was again. That tingling sensation which made her entire body ache for more, which made her toes curl, as his lips traced hers, as his tongue slid into her mouth, while his hot breath stroked her skin. For the briefest of moments, his fingers fumbled with the shirt tucked into her trousers, then his hand was on her breast. Warm and heavy and just right.

And just like the first time, it was the most natural thing in the world to just react, to let his presence, his kisses wash over her, to let herself go. She wasn’t starved for him, she wasn’t desperate to catch up. It was nothing she would’ve expected after such a long time.

But time didn’t matter right now. All that mattered was that he was there, that she could let her hands slide down his torso and under his shirt. That his stomach felt as warm against her skin as his lips against hers.

His mouth moved to her neck, to the beauty mark there. He’d always liked doing just that, and it was the most natural thing in the world to pull him on top of her, to feel his hips heavy against hers, his body between her legs and his skin beneath her hands. Her hips jerked up as she felt the bulge beneath his trousers and his laugh hit her skin just as the radio crackled again.

“Major Lorne, come in.”

She let her head fall against the rock-hard floorboards in frustration. He opened his eyes then and they looked at each other. His pupils were so big, his eyes looked almost black with desire. He was breathing heavily, but he pulled himself up into a sitting position and grabbed the radio from where he’d thrown it last night. On the bed, right next to that hideous dress.

“Lorne here.”

“The mayor says he’s arranged for a guided tour for you. They’ll be with you in about ten minutes.”

Evan’s eyes fell shut for just a moment, before focusing on Alex again. He was smiling now. “Yes, Sir, we’ll be ready.” When he put the radio away, she sat up and wrapped her arms around him.

“No time for other things, then,” she muttered.

“No time, no.” He laughed, taking her face into his hands and kissing her again. She could feel the smile still on his lips when she returned the kiss. It was messy, teeth bumping against each other, but it was him kissing her, and they had no time to spare and it didn’t matter.

It took some effort to pull away this time.

“Nice way to wake up,” Evan said, slightly out of breath. His hand was still on her cheek, his arm wrapped around her torso. He pulled her closer, his lips brushing against hers again and this time it was even harder to put her hand on his chest and push him away.

She was still clutching at his shirt, but she shook her head. “Later.”

 

She’d put her hair up again. Not the braid she’d worn yesterday, just a ponytail. He couldn’t stop watching her. The fight the previous night was still on his mind, and she couldn’t possibly have forgotten about it, but that kiss had been incredible. All he wanted to do was to pull her close and forget these last few years had ever happened. They did work well together, didn’t they? At least, until they started arguing and that was more likely to happen if they were together. On the other hand, not being together wasn’t the perfect recipe against fighting either. And only now did he realize, that he’d rather be together than apart, if fighting was part of the deal anyway.

            Alex zipped up her jacket and secured the holster on her leg. “Ready to go?” she looked down at her watch. They must be late already.

            Evan nodded and held up the white thing lying on top of the dress. “Didn’t you want to put this on? Just to please Regina?”

            “You put it on. It’ll bring out your eyes.”

            “Ha! Good one! Sure, they’re not gonna put me away in some kind of monastery if I walk down the stairs wearing this?” He dropped it back on the bed, hoping desperately they’d be able to go home tonight. He had no interest in staying here another day. Trinium be damned, if this was what they treated Alex around here, then he didn’t think they should be dealing with these people. Not that the Pentagon’s decision was up to him…

            “Talking of which, have you seen any kind of religious symbols around here?” She picked up her bag and slung it over her back.

            “No? I don’t think so.” That was weird, come to think of it. Usually, in these kinds of places there was always some kind of sign of spirituality.

            She grunted and moved to the door. Pausing, she looked back at him, a soft smile starting to spread over her face. She was just about to speak, to say something, but he shook his head and squeezed her hand. “Let’s save that for when we’re back home, okay?”

 

Caedmon and his wife were in the middle of breakfast when Alex and Evan came down the stairs. They each had a bowl in front of them and the table hadn’t even been set for their two guests. What a good impression they must have made, but Evan couldn’t care less.

            “Thank you for your hospitality,” he said, adjusting the straps of his own backpack. “We’re meeting a guide outside. So… thanks again.”

            Her elbow nudged him in the back from behind and he got the message. Stop being so friendly. Alex certainly didn’t care what these people were thinking of her, that much was certain. Not after they’d treated her last night. Without further ado, he grabbed her hand and started pulling her towards the door. The servant girl, the one who wouldn’t talk or look at him, jumped out of the way to let them pass. It was just like they were in a bad movie, but for now he didn’t care. Alex didn’t pull back. She just squeezed his hand and allowed him to lead her through the door. In the courtyard his eyes drifted to the crates again and at the address etched into the wood. It seemed vaguely familiar, but it didn’t ring a bell. Should he ask Alex to take a picture? No, probably not. She’d just be glad to leave this place, and frankly, so was he. He led her across the court and out through the main gate.

            “Well, those two weren’t too impressed by us,” he muttered, rubbing the back of his neck.

            “Can you blame them? We had a shouting match, I refused to wear that dress and then we slept in the same room. I’d be surprised if they didn’t run to Edwards to complain about us.”

“So? He’s not too impressed with how they’re treating us, I’m sure. Did you know his wife is in politics? I’ll be damned if the thinks this is okay.”

As they stepped out into the street, he reluctantly let go of her hand to look around. Two men were already waiting for them, their shoes covered in road dust, but apart from that they looked well dressed. Dark trousers, dark red shirts and black vests. The fabric was thick, probably too warm in this scorching heat. The hair on his neck stood on end, as he looked into the face of the taller, slightly fatter man. He’d seen that face before, in the alleyway on the previous evening.

            “Are you the guides?” he asked sceptically, making sure he could reach his gun and radio easily.

            “Major? Doctor?” The smaller man nodded in greeting, first at Evan, then at Alex. Well, that was a bit of an improvement. “Yes, we’re to take you to the mines. I’m Wolfstan, this is Odo. Welcome to Hetsby.” Real introductions, a few welcoming sentences. Evan exchanged a glance with Alex, who merely shrugged. But she hadn’t seen the two men the night before.

            “Alright…” he began, deciding to make it clear what was on his mind, “weren’t the two of you watching us last night?”

            “Yes,” Wolfstan said, looking a little flustered. “Yes, we were. I-“

            “Why were you watching us?” Alex interrupted him, taking a step towards the two men. Evan flinched, wanting to pull her back, but he only just managed to keep his hands where they were. She knew exactly what she was doing. Or so he hoped.

            Wolfstan frowned at her. “Excuse me?”

            “You heard me. And I know your people don’t like women too much, but I’d still like an answer.”

            Wolfstan’s eyes grew wide. He cleared his throat and nodded. “Well… it’s not that-“ he seemed a bit flabbergasted, as though she’d said something highly offensive. “Mayor Oswald asked a few of us, that is, we’re aspiring to become members of the merchant council, to get to know as much about you as possible? If you’re aspiring to become trading partners, then we need to know a bit more about you.”

            Evan still wasn’t sure if he was supposed to buy that. These people, this mayor had their hosts to find out about them. But there wasn’t a whole lot to be done about it. And he was still armed, so was Alex. If these people wanted them dead or hold them captive, they could’ve done it long ago. “Fine then,” he said quietly. “Let’s talk on the way?”

            “Follow me, please,” Odo said starting to head down the street, Alex right behind him.

            Before following them with Wolfstan, he needed to make sure Edwards knew what was going on. Just in case. “Colonel Edwards, come in.”

            “What is it, Major?”

            “We’re on our way with two members of the merchant council apparently,” he gestured to Wolfstan to start moving, but the man was just staring at him, at the thing from which Edwards’ voice had come. So instead of waiting Evan started heading out. He had little to no patience for cultural exchanges today. “They seem to be really interested in us, Sir.”

            There was a short silence. Had Edwards understood the gist? If not, this whole exchange was futile. “Yes, Major Pierce made a similar comment. I don’t think the preliminary negotiations will take too long. Check in with us once you reach the mines and the settlement. If all goes according to plan, SG-1 will take over the next phase of negotiations.”

            “Yes, Sir. From what I heard the mining settlement is just as far from the Gate as the town.”

            “Right. Head back to the Gate when you’re done then, Major. Good luck.”

            Good luck. Yes, they might just need that. Evan looked over his shoulder at Wolfstan, who hurried to catch up with them, then back at Alex and Odo up ahead. Why did she look so small this morning?

 

“How many worlds have you been to?” he heard Oswald ask. Clearly this man had less trouble talking to women than Caedmon had.

            “I couldn’t say,” Alex said evasively as Evan hurried to walk next to her. The tingling sensation at the back of his neck had almost disappeared the moment they left town, but a trace of it remained.

            They’d entered the forest stretching out towards the mining settlement a few minutes ago. Behind them, he could still make out the town and further to the west he spotted the pillars marking the location of the Gate. He couldn’t be sure, but about two hour walk seemed realistic.

            “Major Lorne has been on more missions than me.” Her smile made his heart skip a beat. Not that he hadn’t paid any attention to her this past year, on the contrary, but things seemed different now. No, they didn’t just seem different. They were. That kiss had changed the way he looked at her yet again. None of the resentment he’d felt these past few months remained. He just couldn’t wait to get back home, to be alone with her. To hear her laugh, just for him, to feel her skin on his, to listen to her talk and lose himself in her eyes. God, she was a major distraction to say the least. It was almost like he was with that twenty-five year old woman again, but in a different setting, under different circumstances. And those circumstances could be the very thing that drove them apart again. And he couldn’t allow that.

            “Of course,” Wolfstan said. “We only trade with a small network of worlds. Only five or so.”

            Alex cleared his throat. “Forgive me for asking, but I realized that your people don’t … uhm…” she looked up at Evan, as though she was looking for guidance. She bit her lip.

            “I think she’d like to know why Caedmon didn’t want to talk to her.”

            “Oh…” Odo averted his gaze and nodded. “Most people believe that the less women draw attention to themselves, the safer they are.”

            The sigh Alex let out was so close to a groan, that Evan was surprised she didn’t just turn around and walk back to the Gate without another comment. “Why is that?” She had much more to say, he could see it from the way she was balling her hands into fists.

            “Well…” Odo looked at Wolfstan, apparently looking for help, “Not all of us think it’s still entirely prudent, but until about two hundred years ago, our planet was under the rule of our God Ba’al.”

            Alex frowned and stood still. “Ba’al? He ruled this planet?”

            “Yes,” Odo twisted his hands and pulled a face, “When the mine ceased fulfilling his needs for naquadah, he left, but the imprint he left on our society remained.”

            Evan’s gut twisted painfully. “What imprint?”

            “Well…” Odo said again. “He used to take the women of our world. Regularly. The most beautiful women were taken and none ever returned. That’s why most men hide theirs.”

            Alex bit her lip and nodded. She understood their reasoning, but he could still see that she wouldn’t let this happen to her. When she returned to Earth, she wouldn’t come back here. “But he’s gone. Your women are safe now.”

            “Well…” Evan cleared his throat. “They started trading with their trinium…” And here it was. The main problem they’d have to face. “If Ba’al finds out about this, he could easily come back.” And then it hit him… that address. He remembered why it looked familiar. “Damn,” without a moment’s hesitation, he hit the talk-button on his radio. “Colonel Edwards, this is Lorne, come in.”

            The seconds it took Edwards to answer were excruciating. Evan looked at Alex, his heart racing. How could he have been so stupid and allow himself to be distracted like this. And now they had a massive problem.

            “Major?” Wolfstan asked.

            “How long have you been trading with a planet called Sead?”

            Odo shrugged. “Uh… we sent our first shipment to them yesterday? We’re expecting a new order today.” Damn it, they probably didn’t even know.

            Alex’ eyes grew wide at the mention of that name.

And then Edwards’ voice sounded on the radio. “What is it Lorne? We were just-“

            “Sir, we have to leave. Now.”

            “What is that?”

            “Sir,” Evan took another deep breath, and held Alex’ gaze, “These people are trading with a world of Ba’al’s domain. They’re expecting a new order today.”

            Another brief pause. Seconds passed and he could almost count every single beat of his heart. “Get back to the Gate now. No looking around.”

            “Yes, Sir.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 18

2002

“You’re leaving?” Odo looked from Alex to Evan and back again, his brows drawn together in incomprehension.

            “Yes, we are,” Evan said curtly, making his way back down the road again. “And if you want some advice, you stop trading with worlds that are still occupied by Ba’al.”

            “How do you know? I mean-“

            “One of our teams ran into considerable trouble on Saed,” Alex said. “Three men died there when they were captured by Ba’al’s Jaffa. That’s why we can’t stay.” Why was she even explaining protocol to these two? She didn’t have to. But the fear she could see in Odo’s eyes was enough to make her want to reassure them, even when there was little she could say to make things better. “But you should expect Ba’al to have found out about your trinium. He’ll be back. And soon.”

            “Alex!” Evan’s voice rang in her ears, but she didn’t follow him. Not just yet.

            “Try to get off-world if you can.” Ba’al might have left these people alone once before, but he’d be sure to come back in force and things would be bad enough once he did. She’d read enough reports to know that these people were in mortal peril.

            Wolfstan crossed his arms over his chest, but didn’t reply. He didn’t trust her. Well, that was his problem.

            “Alex!” He sounded more urgent now. And he was right. It was already close to midday and it was time they got a move on.

            She nodded. “Goodbye. And thank you for offering to lead us to the settlement.” These two men had been so much friendlier than Caedmon she couldn’t help but feel grateful for their decency. She turned away and hurried to catch up with Evan without another word. The heavy something resting in the pit of her stomach, which had appeared the moment Evan had mentioned the name of Saed, hadn’t gone away, and it probably wouldn’t until they were safely through the Gate.

            His hand closed around hers as soon as she was next to him. “I’m not too sorry to be gone, truth be told,” he said quietly. It was strange to be so close to him now. This was more than a casual touch, more than a friendly hug. This was more. So much more.

            “Me either.” Alex let her thumb draw circles on the back of is hand. “But it’s bad for these people. And –“

            “No, we’re doing the right thing. We can’t stay. No use running a risk like this. Not even for trinium. We have an operating mine, after all.”

            “More couldn’t hurt.” The F-302 project was already making a good head-start, but so far they only had one ship, and more would be needed to defend Earth in the future. For that they needed naquadah and trinium.

            Evan shrugged and raised her hand to her lips. “We’ll be fine. Just not right now.” He sounded confident enough, and he was right. The galaxy was a big place. There were plenty of other planets to explore. Their trinium was out there, they just needed to keep looking.

 

They trudged through the underbrush, trying to cover as much ground as possible as quickly as they could. The terrain wasn’t exactly easy to handle, not with her heavy backpack, and she cursed herself for packing so many she didn’t even need around here. If only they had these tablets the SGC had ordered already. But those would probably take more than a year to be deployed to junior staff like her, if at all.

            “So, what are we gonna tell General Hammond when we get back?” he asked casually as they passed the last few trees. She’d seen the two metre high stalks of grain from afar, but a few feet from their left she spotted a small hut and a path which had had been cleared through the field. They couldn’t be a long way away from the Gate by now. Probably no more than a kilometre. The woman tending the garden outside, looked at them with a frown, but ignored them otherwise, as Evan and Alex walked past her and into the field. Apparently they weren’t the only ones using this shortcut every once in a while.

            “About what? The trinium? I don’t think there’s a whole lot of explaining to do,” she answered as soon as they were out of earshot. The path turned upwards a bit and she couldn’t see the woman anymore. The look of disappointment on his face made her grin. “Or about what happened this morning? I’m not sure he needs details.”

            He grunted. “Did we work together okay? Was I troublesome?”

            “Nope. Was I?”

            “Well…”

            She punched him in the side, but he didn’t even flinch. Those vests sure were sturdy.

            “No, it was –“ he sighed and stopped walking, but the way he looked at her then, made her tense up. His eyes roamed over her face as he took her hands into his again. The warmth she’d felt that morning started spreading through her entire body. It was so familiar that it was easy to lose herself in it again, even under these circumstances. “Distracting,” he said. “But I tend to get easily distracted whenever you’re around. Something I should work on, I suppose.”

            No words ending it. No words that told her that it was over before it had started again. “Can’t stay away, huh?”

            He laughed softly, pulling her closer. “Not really, no. But-“ Sighing, he let go of her hands and placed his hands on her cheeks, making her shiver. But not with cold. She was so close to him now, she could smell him, that fine scent unique to him and she couldn’t even name it. All she knew was that her bed had always smelled like him in the morning.

            “I know. It’s hard and we need to practice this sort of thing?”

            He shook his head. “No. I have to get used to you being around you on these occasions. I know you can take care of yourself, but I have to stop staring at you all the time.”

            “I don’t mind… just means I have to watch out for you a bit more.” His P-90 was right between them as she took another step towards him, closing the last gap.

            “You’ll be good at that, I suppose… but let’s not spread the word at the SGC just yet, okay?”

            “Oh? You’re embarrassed of me?”

            Evan wasn’t smiling anymore as he shook his head and the smile vanished from her lips as well. The sincerity in his eyes was enough to remind her that breathing wasn’t the worst of ideas. “No,” he said, his voice deeper now. “Tonight I want to take you out to dinner. I want to kiss you, I want to take you to bed and wake up with you lying there next to me again tomorrow morning.” The corners of his mouth twitched up again. “And then I’d like to talk to you some more.”

            She was almost sure her voice had given out completely. His fingers were burning on her skin, his eyes the only thing she could focus on.

            “Would that be okay?”

            Clearing her throat did no good. Nothing came out. Had she wished for him to say those things? Had she expected him to? Not really. Not since that awkward talk in his backyard or in his car. Instead, she pushed a little closer, kissing him. It was all she could think of, all she could do to tell him that it would be more than okay.

            And then she heard it. His body tensed up, his arms enveloping her, as the sound overhead droned in her ears and the first shockwaves made the ground beneath their feet tremble. “What’s that?”

            “Al’kesh,” he breathed, letting go of her straight away to try and contact the rest of their team. Nothing but static.

She swallowed hard and tried her own radio. She shook her head. “They’re jamming us?”

            He nodded and pushed her in front of him. “Let’s get a move on.”

            There was no time to think, no time to talk. All she saw was the narrow path up ahead. All she felt was the fear rushing through her body as her feet hit the ground, which kept trembling almost rhythmically. Her ears couldn’t even discern where the blasts of the mid-range bombers were coming from, what they were hitting as she ran, full out, towards the end of the path and the Gate which had to be so close to the other end.

            She was pulled back, before she could get clear of the field. “Wait,” he shouted, out of breath. The path leading towards the Stargate was clear and so close.  But that wasn’t where he was looking. She followed his gaze, down into the valley, where the town used to be. Only a few buildings remained, their smouldering ashes darkening the sky.

            “What-“ she breathed, “Why would they destroy the town?”

            “They don’t need the town,” was all he said. And he was right. If the Goa’uld were only interested in the trinium, then they’d only take the trinium and the workers they could get. This was just the primary assault.

            “There are the others.” She spotted the rest of the team, five people running up the road leading towards the Gate. Two other figures, also clad in green jumped out from behind the DHD and started dialling.

            “Time to go,” Evan said, clasping her shoulder briefly.

            They were running again, heading straight for the rest of their team so they could get to the Gate together. One mission, one group. That was the rule. Hadn’t she and Evan turned up on time, the rest would’ve waited for them.

            “Move!” Edwards shouted at them, just as the first blasts started hitting the grass on either side of the path. They’d been spotted. A small wonder this hadn’t happened yet. Seven people running across a dialling Gate weren’t easy to miss from above.

            And then she and Evan were on the path, right behind Murdoch and Pierce, running full out towards the Gate, as dirt, earth and grass flew up on either side. The heat from the plasma guns was making eyes water, but they weren’t too far from the Gate. Just a few more metres. Ritter was through, so was Miller. Pierce followed with Woeste and then Murdoch. Edwards was just ahead, waiting for them. Only twenty metres to go. The whooshing sound of the next blast was still ringing in her ears, when the pillars lining the path and on either side of the Gate collapsed. She felt a heavy weight push her to the ground.

Hot breath on her neck.

A cough.

            “Evan?”

            He coughed once. “Go!”

            “What?” Her eyes flew to the Gate, but it wasn’t there anymore. It must’ve fallen over. And then Evan sputtered again:

            “Go now!”

            She pushed herself up on her elbows. Her eyes widened when she saw his left leg trapped under a piece of dusty marble. “Forget it. Can you move?”

            His hands were on her chest, pushing her away. “I said: go, damn it.”

            “Shut up!” she hissed, unable to breathe properly. The blasts were continuing, but the cloud of dust around them was giving them at least a bit of cover. Kneeling behind him, she grabbed him by the shoulders. Pulling at him, ignoring the agonized scream as she managed, somehow, incredibly, to get his leg free.

            “Alex, please!”

            “No way I’m leaving you behind!”  Not only was this not their way, she couldn’t, not for the life of her, even think that way. 

            “I can’t walk!”

            “I’ll carry you then!” The air was so thick with dust now, that she barely got the words out. “Just a few more metres.” How she did it, she never knew, but somehow she managed to stand up and pull him with her. But when they were finally on their feet, the Gate shut off.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19

2002

For a moment there was silence. The Gate had shut off, the DHD was buried in the rubble and it was all she could do to stand there and stare at the empty ring and the bottom half of a pillar lying around it. The top must have fallen through the event horizon.

            “We have to leave,” Evan said coughing. He was leaning on her, unable to move on his own. “We have to find shelter, hide.”

            Alex nodded, still dumbfounded that this had actually happened. The DHD was gone, there was no way for them to access the Gate. They were stranded on a hostile planet, surrounded by the enemy.

            “Alex! Now!” Evan’s shout made her flinch, but it also made her move. Holding him close to her, they just barely managed to make it to the edge of the paved space. Every single step she took, she felt his weight on her shoulders and she knew he must be hurting very badly, or he wouldn’t rely on her this much. The dust was beginning to settle and the Al’kesh were withdrawing, obviously thinking they’d escaped through the Gate.

            Evan’s eyes were wide, the fear all to plain in them and that in itself was enough to make her freak out. If Evan was scared, then how the hell was she supposed to stay calm? But he’d been with the team to recover SG-16’s bodies after they’d been dumped by Ba’al on an abandoned world. That wasn’t anything anyone would soon forget.

            “Come on, just a bit further,” she muttered, ignoring his laboured breaths. She’d only taken him to the treeline in the North. There was no way she’d get him any further than that without taking care of his leg first.

            Evan didn’t speak and that alone told her all she needed to know.

            We’re going to have to stay here, she told herself. But just until the SGC redials and contacts us. They’re coming back to get us. The thought that there was no way anyone could possibly climb through that fallen Gate had to be pushed back. Just as the thought that they wouldn’t dial straight away out of fear they ‘d block their way off this planet.

            As soon as they passed the first trees and she saw a suitable rock, she knelt down, helping Evan to settle his back against the rock, facing the dark forest up ahead. The underbrush was thicker here than it had been on the other side of the field where they’d started a million years ago.

            “We can’t stay here,” he hissed through gritted teeth, his eyes closed.

            “I know, I know, just let me take a look at that leg first.”

            “Damn it, Alex, why didn’t you just go.”

            “Shut up.” She wouldn’t even look at him. Facing him angry was not something she could do right now. Seeing him in pain was bad enough. “Okay, this might hurt.” She opened the laces of his left boot. That movement alone was enough to make him stiffen.

            “No kidding.”

            “Please, please just don’t talk.” She blinked through the tears streaming into her eyes, as she gently removed first the boot, then the sock. He didn’t make another sound, not even when she pushed up the leg of his trousers to examine the leg itself. She only had rudimentary first aid training, but she was glad she’d paid attention. She moved his toes, gently, asked him to move them himself. It all worked just fine.

            Taking a deep breath, she let her hands brush over the skin and she was relieved not to find any deformations beneath. “I think it might be just a clean break.” She’d need a doctor, a real doctor, to take a look at him, to put him under an X-Ray, but there was nothing to be done about that. She’d have to set the bone, she realized. If there was anything to set. It might just be a hairline fracture. But whatever it was, she’d have to do it on her own.

The soft hum of the engines made her raise her head. She looked past his shoulder, glad they hadn’t left any tracks on the hard, dry ground, as the Al’kesh landed. “Jaffa,” she whispered. “They’re checking on the Gate.” Her heart was beating so fast, she was almost sure he could hear it.

“How bad is it?” he blinked, looking up at her.

“I don’t think they know we’re still here.” The Jaffa were too far away for her to be sure, though, and she was downright terrified of moving him again. But she couldn’t leave him like this either. “Evan?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m going to set the leg and make you a splinter.”

He nodded. “I’m gonna have to keep moving, huh?”

“As soon as we can be sure they’re not watching us, yes.”

“You’re the boss. Just make it quick.”

“I have no idea if I’m doing this right, you know?”

“Yes, I do… Get the medical kid. There are some painkillers in there. I’ll need those.” What he needed was rest, proper medication and a good doctor. But there was nothing for it. She dug into her backpack and pulled out the medical kit, grabbed two sturdy looking branches and started setting the leg as best she could. Nothing but a low groan could be heard from him as she worked. The splint didn’t look too good, in fact it looked far too tight, but he’d be able to move a bit now and the leg might heal better like this. If it ever got the chance, of course.

He reached for her hand. “Thank you.”

She nodded, unwilling to think about what would’ve happened had she not been there to pull him back up again.

“What are our friends doing?”

Alex closed her eyes for a brief second, then she dared to look again. “Guarding the Gate, three of them are still searching the rubble.”

“Let’s hope there was enough dust to cover our tracks.” He was still breathing heavily, and his face had gone chalk-white. Her stomach gave a painful tug as she looked him in the eyes again. Had things been different had she been faster? Was this her fault?

“You have to rest a bit, then we have to go.” This place wasn’t safe. If the SGC dialled in again in a few minutes, all bets were up.

“No, we go now.”

“Evan, you can’t-“

“Either we go, or you go on your own. I’m not having you stay here with me.”

She bit back a comment. Now was no time to argue. Instead, she just fed him the painkillers and hoped for the best.

It took them a full five minutes to get up again and Evan seemed even heavier now. His arm around her shoulders was already weighing her down, but she clung to him, doing her best to support him. If he could stand, albeit on one leg, then she could get him out of here.

She looked over her shoulder again, but she couldn’t quite make out what the Jaffa were examining now. Two of them, at least, were standing a bit further apart, their backs turned to the forest. It was only a matter of time before they looked their way and it was highly doubtful they wouldn’t spot their movement.

If walking was rough, then hobbling through this uneven terrain in an unknown direction was a nightmare.  Evan did his best not to be too much of a burden, but with every metre they brought between them and the Jaffa, more blood seemed to drain from his face. Sweat was pouring down his forehead and they’d only gone about a mile, when he shook his head, signalling to her that there was no way he could go any further. They were in the middle of the forest, no path in sight, not another soul nearby. At least not as far as she could tell.

Her shoulders ached, as she helped him to sit down again. “Evan, I’m so sorry,” she whispered, taking the canteen out of her bag and stuffing it in his hand.

“What for?” he frowned, taking a swig and handing the canteen back to her. He hadn’t drunk enough.

“For slowing you down.” She couldn’t face him and busied herself browsing through the contents of her packs again. Not a lot of time to repack, but enough to go through what they had on them.

“You didn’t.” Evan sounded surprised. “Do you really think you’re that slow?”

She shrugged. “I know for a fact that I’m not as fast as you are.”

“Well, it’s not a competition.” He murmured. “And you were fast enough. This is not your fault.”

She wouldn’t argue with him, and she knew that he wouldn’t lie to her. He never had during their training, always telling her what her shortcomings were and what she had to do to get better. Why would he start lying now?

She looked up at the sky. It wasn’t even beginning to grow dark.

“This is Stargate Command, can you hear me?”

Alex flinched when she heard the voice, but it sent a thrill through her just the same. The SGC had called for them. Their time was up, and the Jaffa would start looking for them now, but all the same, it brought her some sense of relief to know that they weren’t entirely alone. “This is Master Sergeant Harriman calling any survivors. I repeat, this is Stargate Command-“

She reached for the radio strapped to her chest. “Sergeant Harriman, this is-“ Evan shook his head. And he was right. It was risky enough to answer. The Goa’uld could easily triangulate their position, but they couldn’t let them know how many they were or in what state they were in. “We’re okay for now.”

“Copy that- we” He broke off and another voice came through the radio. Hammond. “This is General Hammond. We lost a MALP trying to reach you. It will take some time before we can attempt a Search and Rescue. Stay put. Don’t attempt to make contact, the Gate is heavily guarded. Hammond out.” The radio fell silent again, making her feel sick to the pit of her stomach.

So that was that. They were cut off.

“So that’s that,” Evan said quietly, repeating her thoughts and sounding resigned. “At least I can follow those orders, no problem. I’m staying put alright.”

“We both are. Alright, let me check what kind of food we have here.” She took out two meal packs and sighed. If only she’d swallowed her pride, put on that hideous dress and gone down to dinner the previous night and to breakfast that morning, they’d have their sandwiches at least. As it was, all they had left were three MREs and their water canteens, so water would be the first thing they needed to fill up on.

“I cook, you sleep,” she said sternly, when she saw him reach for one of the brown plastic bags.

“Wow, am I glad you’re not actually cooking.” The smile didn’t fool her. He was still in pain and she doubted the painkillers had done him any good. “Lucky me.”

“Shut up.”

“You’re saying that a lot today.”

“Well, you’re the one talking when you should be resting.”

But her hands were still trembling, when she unpacked the first MRE and started pouring the water into the heater-bag. How was this going to work out? How were they to survive on six MREs?

She stuffed the main meal into the little brown box together with the heater and placed them on a stone, before proceeding to prepare the next main meal. Spaghetti with beef and tomato sauce and beef stew. God, how she hated those meals, but she was grateful to have them right now.

Looking up she found that Evan had indeed closed his eyes and though he was still breathing heavily, he looked a little more at ease. He was shivering slightly, his hair sticking to his forehead.

The meals would take a while to be properly hot. She could at least sit next to him for a while.

Chapter Text

2002

She’d never thought a forest could be this loud at night, but maybe it was just her mind playing tricks on her. This planet wasn’t too different from the other worlds she’d been to, but who could tell what kind of animals roamed the woods at night.

            Her eyelids were drooping, but she couldn’t fall asleep. Evan needed to rest and he shouldn’t be compelled to take over the watch. Not when they had to move again in the morning. They’d been here far too long already. The Jaffa had to be combing the woods by now, knowing there were at least two people stranded here.

            And if they were found? What then?

            Evan was lying next to her. On his back. Eyes closed. His P-90 was in her lap. There was no way he could aim it properly anyway.

Not even a day ago, she’d lain next to him, breathing the same air as him. She’d been in his arms, feeling so sure of herself and of them. Things didn’t look so good for them now. She didn’t even dare touch him. Waking him wouldn’t do anyone any good.

            How long did it take for a break like this to heal? Six weeks? Eight? How were they to hold out that long? One thing was certain, they wouldn’t in their current situation. They needed to find permanent shelter and she needed to find a way to feed them both. Holding out was all they could do at the moment.

            A movement to their right made her sit up straight. The P-90 tight against her shoulder, she stared out into the night. And then there was that sound again. And lights.

No search lights, though. Lanterns.

No marching footsteps. Just steps and cracking branches.

            She sat up a bit straighter, felt Evan shift right next to her, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Sh, someone’s coming.”

            “Who’s there?” A male voice echoed in the darkness, but Alex didn’t move. In the flickering lights some twenty metres away, she could see at least ten people, but the faces were indiscernible.

            “Are you Jaffa?” Another voice called, making her tense up.

            She gently put a hand on Evan’s shoulder. Time to have some faith. She got up carefully, gun still raised. She’d left her own nine millimetre with him in addition to his, so he had something easier to handle. If something happened to her, then he’d at least have a chance. The least she could do was lead their enemy away from him.

            “Alex,” he hissed, but she shook her head and approached the lights.

The silhouettes suggested that they were all men, four of them carrying two stretchers.

“I’m asking again, who is this?”

She came into the light. That voice seemed familiar, but she could be wrong. “Odo?”

“Yes?”

As she drew closer, she saw that it was really him, in front of the group. She heaved a sigh of relief. No Jaffa.

“Doctor Woolston? I thought you’d left.” The astonishment was clearly visible on his face, but there was no hostility.

“We were going to, but we ran into some trouble on the way. Can you help us?” It was hard to ask these people for anything, but there it was: they were helpless and stranded, in a terrain they both didn’t know, surrounded by enemies. “Major Lorne is injured.”

Odo’s eyes widened. He signalled for the men to set down the stretchers. “We were just taking the dead to the burial ground,” he explained, “Before the Jaffa make an example of them.”

“They resisted?”

Odo nodded, a troubled expression on his face. “Where is Major Lorne?”

“Down here.” She lowered her gun and led him to the place where Evan was still lying in the dirt, his hand closed tightly around his gun. He wasn’t as pale anymore, she realized in this dark light. That was something.

“Where are your friends?” Odo asked, kneeling down next to Evan.

“They made it through,” Evan muttered, pushing himself on his elbows so he could sit up a bit. Alex was by his side straight away, helping him. “But it doesn’t look like they can send help anytime soon.”

Odo considered him for a moment, then he looked at Alex. “You could be in luck,” he said quietly. “The two dead are a man and a woman.”

 

When Alex had first set foot into town, she would never have believed these people to be as helpful as they were. She just told herself not to think and ignore the unfamiliar smell and the dampness of the dress as she put it on behind a bush. She made sure she kept the holster strapped to her leg and the gun close to her. She wedged the radio between the strap and her thigh and turned it off, so it wouldn’t start off when she couldn’t afford it to.

            She didn’t look at the woman’s face. All she knew was that she was older than her, probably around fifty, and that she was missing a toe. Her skin felt icy cold under Alex’ fingers and she was heavier than Alex would’ve thought possible, as she dressed her in her own military gear. The immobility of the body made it heavy, but rigor mortis hadn’t set in completely yet.

If Alex looked into her face, she’d just start sobbing. She knew she would and now was not the time to feel sorry for that woman or for herself.

            Returning to the group she saw that Evan was just pulling off his shirt, while Odo took off his boot. Evan pulled a face but didn’t make another sound. A small mount of dirt pointed to where they’d buried their gear. With a bit of luck, they’d find it again.

            Evan exchanged a glance with her and motioned for her to come closer. The beads of sweat was back on his forehead as he did his best to ignore the pain. They’d only kept the medical kit, the 9 millimetres and the radio. Everything else would be too conspicuous if they needed to hide here for a longer period of time. “Take my dog tags, put them on this guy,” he whispered, closing his eyes when Odo slapped the dead man’s boot on his foot. They wouldn’t change the trousers now, not until they were in some kind of safety.

            “Are you sure?”

            “Yes, they know what to look for.” He took off the chain around his neck and pressed it into her hand. “And if they find it on me, we’re in big trouble.”

            “Bigger than now you mean?”

            He gave her a smug smile, but that was all.

            “Right.” She kissed his forehead, the only sign of intimacy she’d allowed herself since the disaster at the Gate, then she moved over to the second stretcher. The man was about the woman’s age, she guessed. Dark hair, a thin beard, crinkles around his eyes… why had she looked at them?

            In the soft light of the lanterns she took another last look at the dog tags. If and when these people were found, Ba’al would make sure the SGC got their bodies. And their belongings, including the dog tags. Just to demonstrate that the Tau’ri stood no chance against him and shouldn’t expect him to show mercy.

            LORNE

            EVAN J

            524-22-0789 AF

            0 NEG

            CATHOLIC

She let her finger brush over the letters edged into the metal, praying, beyond hope, despite the fact that she couldn’t remember having prayed since leaving primary school, that the people at the SGC would get the message. That this tag would be found, and the man was given a decent burial back on Earth. She could only hope that they wouldn’t join him sooner rather than later.

            She lifted the man’s head and pulled the tags over his face. Someone had already put Evan’s shirt, jacket and boots on him.

            “What are you going to do with them?” she asked, standing back up again.

            “We’re leaving them here. No use carrying them around now. Getting caught with them would be a terrible idea,” the younger man next to Odo said. His son? The shape of his nose would suggest something like that.

            Alex swallowed hard and took a step back as they put the man down on the ground, face still turned down. Then two other men went behind the bush to pick up the dead woman. Already the sky was beginning to turn grey. They didn’t have much time left.

            They put her next to the man, sprawled out like a dead bird. Their necks had been snapped, only now did Alex see the bruises on the pale skin.

 

The path wasn’t too far from where Alex and Evan had set up their rudimentary camp. Had the Jaffa really walked down this path, they would’ve been easy prey.

            The stretchers had been stacked, one on top of the other and Evan was on top of them, doing his best to stay alert. His eyes darted to Alex more often than not. The back of the man carrying him was broad and muscular, but he couldn’t bare staring at them or at the night sky. They were putting these people in unspeakable danger, just by being with them, but there had been only two alternatives: try to hide out in the woods, or surrender to the Goa’uld, and neither option was acceptable. A choice between death, capture and putting other people at risk wasn’t a real choice. But at least this way they at least had a slim chance at survival.

            Alex was by his side then, holding his hand in hers, keeping him awake. He’d taken another two pain killers just before setting off and they were making him drowsy.

            “What does the J stand for?” she asked after a while without looking at him.

            “Huh?” He turned to look at her again, at the face and the pointed nose which stood out even more, now that she was wearing that hideous cap.

            “Evan J Lorne?”

Had they really never talked about this? No, why would they? They’d never made it to that point. “Joseph.”

            “After your grandfather?” They’d talked about him at least. About family. About what it meant to them. About, how his grandfather had died only a few days before he and Ellen were born.

            He nodded and felt her fingers tighten around his.

            “We’re close to the settlement,” Odo hissed. “Be quiet. We’ll put you up in the house where my cousin and her husband used to live.”

            He felt her tremble at those words. She took a shaky breath and looked down at him, before letting go of his hand again.

            “Thank you, Odo,” Evan whispered, “I don’t know what we would’ve done without your help.”

            “Yes,” Odo returned. “You do. And you still need us.”

            That wasn’t entirely wrong, he knew, but how the hell was he supposed to repay them? If they lived through the night and somehow remained undiscovered, he’d have to find a way. But the SGC wouldn’t send troops to free these people. Ba’al’s interest in the trinium was too great, there were too many Jaffa here. If anything, they’d send an extraction team, and only if they were lucky.

            As they passed the first few houses, Evan heard the tell-tale sound of marching feet. Everyone stood still, no one even seemed to breathe and he casually reached beneath him, to the place where he was hiding his gun.

            “You there! What are you doing out there!”

            So much for sneaking around. His hand closed around the handle of the gun, but Alex’ hand on his chest made him stop. She shook her head ever so slightly.

            Only two Jaffa… he could take them out easily, but then what? He’d damned this entire village and there was no way he could fight in the state he was in. The palm of his hand was wet with sweat, as he let go of the gun and put it back on the blanket which they’ placed over his legs.

            “We buried two of our people, Mylord,” the man who looked remarkable like Odo said. “It is our custom to bury them at night.”

            The Jaffa, a tall man with thick brows and a sneer on his face, looked them up and down, his gaze fixed on Evan, who only returned his gaze. Should he look down, admit defeat?

            Alex’ hand on his chest was shaking.

            “What happened to you?”

            Evan opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, Odo stood before him. “He tripped, Mylord.”

            “He won’t be able to work like this,” the harsh voice said again and the sound of the staff weapon as it powered up, made him tense up.

            “He will work twice as hard once the leg is healed,” Odo said raising both of his hands, as though trying to protect him. How he’d misjudged the man.

            The weapon turned off again with a buzzing sound.

            Evan watched as the man walked around their group, pulled back the blanket and looked at the leg.

“We shall see,” the Jaffa said quietly, “how soon you will be able to fulfil your duty to your God.”

Only just did Evan manage to keep a straight face. The fear in the pit of his stomach made it hard for him to breathe, but Alex’ hand steadied him somewhat.

“Won’t you?” The intent stare of the man, the fact that he was still holding his staff weapon at the ready and that Alex and all these other men were at risk, made Evan force himself to speak.

“Yes…” The pressure of Alex’ hand increased and the next word came out more easily than he would’ve thought. For Alex. “Mylord.”

The smug smile on the man’s face almost made him want to puke. The Jaffa let the blanket fall to the ground. “Give me light,” he ordered and the younger Odo stepped closer with his lantern. “Higher,” the Jaffa said, “I want to take a look at the girl.”

Evan’s throat tightened as the Jaffa took Alex’ chin between his fingers and forced up her face. She stared him down, her blue eyes flashing dangerously, but she didn’t say a word. God, she was bad at this. Her hands were balled into fists, as the Jaffa turned her face from left to right and then let go of her. “Your wife’s too old, slave.” he said with a sneer. “Move along then. And I want none of you to be late for work tomorrow morning.”     

Chapter Text

Chapter 21

2002

The first thing she saw when she stepped through the door, was the little bouquet of wild flowers sitting in the centre of the table. She didn’t know any of them, and the very sight of them made her feel like an intruder. And she was. She was wearing that woman’s clothes, was standing in her front door and watched as they put Evan in her bed on the left wall of the house.

            She stood there, arms folded over her stomach, looking around the place. If anything, it looked like a slightly less clean version of the outdoor museums she’d visited with Evan back when they were first together. She remembered his enthusiasm at the handicrafts presented to them, the simplicity of life and the ingenuity, but this… this was different. The straw covering the floor was most likely as clean as it would get, but she couldn’t even imagine walking over it with her bare feet.

            There were pots and pans right next to the open fireplace, the only place without straw on the ground and shielded from the rest of the house with a narrow wall of bricks. The house only consisted of one room and another door. She’d seen it from the outside and recognized it immediately as a small barn.

            She met Evan’s gaze and knew she should be grateful, and she was, but she couldn’t help but feel as helpless as she had back in the forest. Her chin still hurt from where the Jaffa had grabbed her, and she was sure it would leave a bruise. She couldn’t remember ever being this terrified in all her life and she doubted whether she’d ever stop shaking.

            “We’ll leave you one of the lamps,” Odo said when the other men had left. “You will be expected to be in the square in a few hours.” He was looking at Alex primarily. “My son’s wife will pick you up.”

            Alex nodded once. “Thank you,” she said, her voice thick with emotion. “I don’t know what to say.”

            Odo shrugged, looking tired, defeated. “Don’t thank me yet. There’ll be a lot for you to do.” He briefly touched her arm. She’d never have expected him to come this close to her, but there it was. All that previous morning she’d thought Wolfstan and Odo were different from the men in town and here was yet another proof. This village, the town down in the valley, these people, had gone through hell and yet they were still more than willing to help them. “I’ll see you in a few hours. Get some rest.”

            She couldn’t even nod. She just stared at him, as he patted her on the shoulder and left through the door, closing it shut behind her. Immediately her eyes flew back to Evan, to his barely illuminated face. “How bad is it?” she dared to ask, slowly edging closer to where he was lying.

            “Not too bad. The painkillers help… are you okay?”

            Shaking her head, she sat on the edge of the straw mattress, her eyes roaming over the inside of the house. Hours ago, this place had belonged to a married couple. They’d lived here, worked here, probably even raised a small family here. Had they had children? If so, were they even still alive? They’d left their house that morning, never to come back.

            His hand closed around her wrist. “Alex…”

            She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Odo was right. She needed to sleep, at least for a few hours. Things weren’t over. They weren’t safe. Not yet. Would they ever be? She looked up again, at the flowers on the table. Had the man brought them to his wife only that morning? Had it been a special day for the two of them? Those people whose clothes they were wearing now? She shivered as she remembered the icy skin under her fingers.

            But it was no use. No use thinking and wondering and grieving. She took off the cap and let it fall to the ground before she settled down next to Evan under the thin blanket. The straw mattress rustled softly as she moved closer to him, careful not to force him to move his leg. “What are we gonna do…” she mumbled, resting her head on his shoulder.

            He wrapped his arm around her and kissed her forehead. “Wait it out, I suppose. For as long as we can?”

            She scoffed, but didn’t reply. There was no need. It was all they could do, really.

            “I’m sorry I snapped at you earlier,” he murmured, his lips close to her ear. “I’d never have left you behind either.”

            She put her hand on his chest, glad to feel the constant heartbeat underneath the palm of her hand. A steady rhythm. That else could she possibly ask for after this day. “You’d never leave anyone behind,” she said. “Not even Jonas.”

            The low groan made her grin despite herself.

“I don’t hate the man.” His fingers tapped against her shoulder. “I just don’t like the way he looks at you.”

“Makes you uncomfortable?”

“Drives me crazy…” The light of the lamp was reflected in his eyes. He was shaken, no doubt about that, but he was doing his best to keep her calm. “Sleep,” he murmured, leaning in to kiss her gently. “I’ll watch over you. We’re as safe as we can be.”

 

Getting the fire started was hard enough and she only wished she’d taken the lighter with her. Luckily the embers were still slightly glowing, when she woke up a few hours later and the bit of straw she picked up from the ground caught fire straight away.

            What really bothered her was the cow in the small barn next door. The eggs from the four chickens weren’t too hard to get, once she brought herself to reach under the soft, warm belly and just take them. But that cow… standing in front of it, staring down at the massive udder as it just hung there. Alex took a step back, almost smashing her back into the chicken roost. “I can’t do this,” she muttered, carefully reaching out to pat the cow’s shoulder and retrieving her hand straight away. “I’m sorry, I don’t want to hurt you.”

            She gently edged back to the door, grabbed the eggs from the shelf where she’d put them and rushed back into the house, he skirt catching in the pitchfork leaning against the wall. The smell was so bad, she just knew she’d have to get started on that hay and the manure lying on the ground, but that was something she couldn’t face right now.

            Evan had passed out and was still lying on the bed, head turned to the side, snoring slightly. Her heart contracted painfully. True, they were safe for now, but who could tell what would happen next? The soft knock at the door made her jump and Evan’s eyes flew open straight away. It took him a moment to realize where he was, but when his gaze found hers, he nodded once and reached behind him for the gun.

            Alex put the eggs down on the table and went over to the door. The young woman standing in front of her, with her long lashes and dark brown eyes wasn’t smiling. She entered the room without being invited inside and looked around, her eyes resting on Evan.

            “And you are…” Evan began.

            “Clara,” she said, dropping her gaze immediately. “I’m Oswald’s wife… Odo’s daughter-in—law?”

            So this was the woman Odo had talked about. “I’m Alex,” she introduced herself, “this is Evan.”

            “Your husband?”

            The word made her flinch, made her recall that moment when he’d walked out the door a few years ago, his eyes calm and every step he took breaking her heard. “No.”

            “Well…” Clara cleared her throat. “Oswald told me about your… circumstances. Where they found you and how…” She looked around again. “I think it’s best if you at least pretend for as long as you’re with us.”

            Evan nodded. “Fine by me,” he said, his tone as businesslike as it had been that day when she told him she couldn’t go on anymore. But his eyes told a different story. They were warmer as they rested on Alex, almost apologizing.

            “You must come with me. Both of you. They’ve called for an assembly in the town square.”

            “Evan can’t walk,” Alex protested, her eyes flickering to his leg. “He can’t even move.”

            Clara shook her head and went to the door again. When she came back, she was holding a long wooden stick with a shorter stick applied to one end of it. “He will have to try.”

 

Evan was already exhausted by the time he went through the door. The crutch was too short for him, and his foot hit the ground more often than he would’ve liked, and he had next to no practice, but there was nothing for it. Alex was by his side, making sure he didn’t fall, as they slowly made their way to the village square.

            “What happened to the town?” Alex asked quietly as they walked.

            “There’s not much left. Last night an enormous pyramid appeared out of the sky and is now sitting where the town used to be.” A confirmation of what they’d already guessed. “Most people managed to get out, but they’ve been sent directly to the mine. It’s about half an hour’s walk away from here.”

            There were at least five Jaffa stationed on their way to the square and when they approached the first few, Clara fell silent, lowering her gaze and nudging at Alex to do the same. That Jaffa might have said that Alex was too old, but there were bound to be other opinions and the thought of what might happen to her if those other opinions mattered more, made his insides clench. There wouldn’t be anything he could do to protect her.

            At least fifty people were already gathered in the square. He, Clara and Alex were the last group to arrive. There was nothing special about the square. A well to the right, several buildings surrounding them, each empty space between the houses guarded by at least one Jaffa. But the thing that made him really uneasy was the pole right in the centre of the square, the chains dangling from it and the way the Jaffa just ignored it. It looked brand new, not a scratch could be seen on the shiny metal and that, somehow was more unsettling than anything else.

            Alex was standing so close to him that their shoulders were touching, but he didn’t even attempt to pull her closer. He wouldn’t show them that he was afraid of them, but he also wouldn’t put her on the spot by being the only one to hold someone else. Not even his wife. He looked at her, at that pointed nose and those full lips pressed into a thin line. His wife… if only that were true… why hadn’t he asked her? For the millionth time he asked himself that question. Would getting married really have driven her to stay with him and not pursue her career? Probably not. If anything, it would’ve made being apart easier. Or they would’ve failed at being married as miserably as they’d failed at being apart for this long. But at least that way he would’ve known what it was like to be married to her. Properly. Back home.

            He felt naked without his gun, helpless, and twitchy. His leg was hurting as badly as it had the night before and there was no way he’d take more painkillers. Who could say when they’d need them again. And if anything, he needed to be alert now.

            Two Jaffa approached the centre of the square, holding a massive golden box between them and Evan barely kept from rolling his eyes. “Here we go,” he muttered so quietly that only Alex could hear him. Once, on his third or fourth mission, he’d seen something like this, but back then he’d been with his team, knowing that the Tok’ra were having their backs as they were gathering intel on Kali, one of the System Lords. The Tok’ra’s cargoship had been waiting nearby, cloaked and ready to take off as soon as it was needed.

            In a fluid motion, the Jaffa opened the box and a massive orb ascended from within. The people around him gasped, but all he felt was rage. At their circumstances, at their helplessness, at this terribly bad timing. Had they tried contacting this planet only a day later, they wouldn’t be in this mess.

            “Bow to your God!” One of the Jaffa shouted and he recognized the sour face from the previous night.

            Throat tight with frustration, he copied the other villagers, though he couldn’t bow as low as the others. He was almost expecting one of the Jaffa to kick him in the knees to make him crawl. But all he felt was a light hand on his back, steadying him. Alex. If she weren’t here, he surely would’ve done something reckless by now.

            “My people,” Ba’al’s face appeared high above them, that ludicrous beard of hit standing out more prominently in the bright sunlight somehow. Or maybe it was just the fluctuation of the hologram. “I welcome you back to my domain. The work you will do here will make that domain even stronger. Be proud and be grateful to be part of my empire.”

            Evan felt the bile rise up in his throat.

            “I will be with you shortly to defeat the last enemies, who stand between us and never-ending wealth. These two were found in the woods by my faithful Jaffa.”

            And there they were. The stretchers and the bodies they’d put in the forest last night.  The woman was blonde, he noticed now. Just like Alex. He felt her shiver beside him. Nobody had noticed that the man was wearing the wrong pair of trousers.

            “They will be returned to their Tau’ri friends as a warning never to come back here again and to the other enemies who would defy me.”

 

Clara showed him how to milk the cow. Since walking around wasn’t an option, the only thing he could do right now, was this. So he sat on a narrow stool, his injured leg stretched out, his left hand on the cow’s flank. Alex was standing nearby, hands on her hips and watching intently as he wrapped index and thumb around the teat, pressing down gently.

            “Now close the other fingers around it,” Clara instructed, watching his fingers only. “One after the other.”

            He did it. The flesh was so warm and soft under his skin, he felt almost indecent, and nothing happened. The bucket beneath remained empty.

            “Again. You can press a little harder. You’re not going to hurt her.”

            “Right…” He tried again and this time a thin trickle of milk came out He swallowed hard, wishing he didn’t have to do this.

            “I can’t believe you’ve never even seen it done before,” Clara said, looking up at Alex, who shook her head.

            “Not in person, no,” Alex muttered, looking anxious.

            Evan did it again and the next stream of milk hit the bucket, a bit more forcefully this time. Well, this was going to take forever. “How much is she gonna give?” He asked, comparing the bulky udder to the bucket beneath. And how long was he going to have to do this?

            “About half of the bucket, I suppose. She’s not the youngest. That’s why Odo said you could keep her and the chickens for now.”

            For now. What was that supposed to mean?

            “Oswald and I will need you to help out on our farm. My… my aunt and uncle used to help, but since they’re gone…” she drifted off and he saw Alex nod, as he kept trying to get as much milk out of that cow as possible, but his fingers were aching already. This was not going to be his favourite part of the day.

            “We will. I promise.” Alex sounded a bit choked up, but her voice was still firm.

            “I brought you some vegetables. My aunt still had full stores, that should keep you going for a while there, but I thought you might like something fresh.”

            “Thank you,” Alex said. “For letting us stay here. For helping us.” She’d said the same thing to Odo, but after that presentation in the village square, she was quite shaken up. Not that he blamed her. He wouldn’t forget the smell of scorched flesh anytime soon.

            “I will come and get you tomorrow morning. Goodbye, Evan.”

            “Bye,” Evan said, eyes still fixed on the teats he was holding.

            Clara left through the barn door and as soon as she was gone, he felt Alex’ hand on his cheek. They’d only come back about half an hour ago and the stench still hung in his clothes. He doubted he’d get to change that day. Alex’ search of the house had indeed yielded a good storage of food, but only one more set of clothes for him and two dresses for her, another blue one and one dark red. “They’re not going to radio in today, are they?”

            Evan shrugged. “No.” He let go of the teats and shook out his hands, ignoring the pain the movement sent through his entire body. “They’ll look at the bodies first, make sure it’s really us.”

            “Tomorrow then.”

            “Yes, but we can’t answer.”

            She stepped away. The place where her hand had lain was cold.

            He watched as she put the other stool opposite him and sat down, her dress sprawled out around her. “Show me how to do this.”

 

They had scrambled eggs and some kind of soggy vegetable for lunch. He’d not even realized how hungry he was until she set the plate in front of him. The dish reflected Alex’ cooking skills. If it weren’t for the dingy surroundings and the smell of cow still on his hands, he would’ve thought they were back in Trier.

            She didn’t seem to enjoy her food too much either. Pushing the eggs and the vegetables in her bowl around with her spoon was about all she did. She hadn’t smiled the entire day. Not that he himself felt like joking around.

            He reached out to her and took her hand. “We’ll be okay,” he said softly, but not quite confident he believed it himself. At least for now they were.  But those few words were enough to make her drop her spoon altogether. She buried her face in her free hand and her shoulders started shaking with quiet sobs.

            Evan closed his eyes, wishing he could get up and take her in his arms. As it was, all he could do was put the other hand on hers as well. “Alex,” he whispered hoarsely. He hated seeing her like this. And she’d been brilliant these last few days. After everything that had happened, she’d kept holding on, but now… “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.” He kissed the palm of her hand, feeling the barely visible scar tissue there where the staff weapon blast had grazed her all those months ago. Seeing her break down like this was almost as bad as seeing her wounded on the Gateroom floor.

            “No, it’s okay,” she said through the tears. “I- I’m just glad you’re here with me.” Her fingers clutched at his hand, desperate for something to hold on to.

            He nodded. He was glad he wasn’t alone either. Not that he wanted Alex to be in danger, but he was still grateful that fate had decided to put them together in this. “Let’s get to bed. You’re tired. And I can’t hold you here.” That damn leg really was the worst part of this situation. For the next few weeks she’d have to do most of the work around here and help their neighbours to pay them back for the food and their help.

            She got up wordlessly and wiped her face. The tears were already gone, but her face was still blotchy, her eyes dark red. He needed her help to get to the bed and sit down, back leaned against the wall and his leg stretched out in front of him. “You know,” he said, reaching up to wipe her cheeks, even though not a single tear remained, “I don’t think I would want to be stranded here with anyone but you.”

            She snorted but didn’t look at him. There was no question they’d both rather be anywhere else, but as things were, this wasn’t the worst of arrangements. True, he was terrified, for her as much as for himself, but she was infinitely better company than Murdoch, or, heaven forbid, Edwards would have been. “Edwards would never have passed as my wife.”

            She laughed now. That was something. He pulled off her cap to reveal the blond hair beneath. The strands were messy and a bit too short for her to pass as one of the local women here, but just a bit. She leaned against him, arms around his torso. This was better. So much better.

            “You could’ve told everyone he was your dad.”

            “My dad is a whole lot nicer,” Evan murmured into her hair, closing his eyes to fully appreciate her scent. “Ask my mom.”

            “Did he start calling you a bit more often?”

            Evan shrugged, ignoring the painful pang the memory gave him. His parents would be terrified. And so would be her mom, her friends… Missing in Action… what a term. But that’s what they were, and that’s what Edwards and Pierce would be telling their families right about now. That they were MIA. Her mother must be freaking out. First she’d lost her husband, now her daughter was missing.

“When my mom makes him, yeah,” he said. “He’s still a loner, but he does as he’s told. About a week ago he sent me an e-mail.” Until about the time when he joined the Air Force, he’d pitied his father, who seemed to take joy in so few things. The only thing he ever did when he wasn’t working, was to sit in his chair and read. But before Evan moved to Colorado Springs for the first time, he’d seen one of his dad’s poems. It had just lain there on the table, and he’d realized that his dad cared much more about his wife than he’d ever said out loud.

            “What did it say?”

            “Nothing much… the usual blabla.”

            Her arms around him tightened a bit. “A small miracle you turned out so chatty.”

            “You have met my mom, haven’t you? And my sister?”

            She looked up at him then. Her mouth so close to his, he could feel her breath on his lips. He’d probably even be able to count her eyelashes if it weren’t so dark in here.

“I just wish your mom didn’t hate me.”

            “She doesn’t.” He shook his head and sighed. “I think… she’s protective, you know?”

            Alex started smiling then. Nervously, but still. How strange that talking of his mother made her fidgety now. “That’s where you get that from… but-“

            “No.” He stopped her before she could repeat herself. “No, if we were to waltz through her door right now and tell her we’re back together, she wouldn’t throw you out of the house. She might question my sanity, but that can’t be helped.”

            “Did I make you so miserable?”

            He nodded and took her hand to look at the thin scars. “Yes… but I made myself pretty miserable too. I should’ve tried harder… and then you were back in my life and things were just so damn complicated.”

            “They still are… and I didn’t cope too well either.”

He nodded. He’d looked her up the moment he set eyes on her again. After their breakup she’d started publishing like crazy. One essay after another. Even a book or two. For Thanksgiving, he’d even found one of them in his dad’s library. His dad loved her, that much was for sure. Even after that terrible breakup and the week he’d spent at home, lying in his old bedroom, staring at the ceiling.

            “I’m not a different person from the one I was back then, you know?”

            He knew exactly what she meant. She was afraid that it could happen again. But he wasn’t. “Neither am I,” he said quietly, kissing the palm of her hand again. “And I have to tell you, being married to you right now isn’t the worst thing.” He grinned slightly but dropped his gaze. Should he tell her? But why not… if things went south tomorrow, he’d be glad he’d said something. “I’m not even sure it matters anymore… we’re a good team, I think.”

            “We didn’t even get the chance to do any married-people stuff.” Alex had stopped smiling, but there was no fear in her eyes now. Time to take a leap of faith then. There was nowhere for her to run off to now.

            “You know…” he cleared his throat and looked down at her hand again, at the place where a golden ring should’ve been sitting by now. “You remember that New Year’s Eve?”

            “Yeah…” How could she have forgotten? It was the beginning of the end.

            “All that evening I had a ring in my pocket… but then Hammond told me about Javier and next morning you opened that letter… I still have it. The ring, I mean.” He fell silent and kept staring at her hand.

            She didn’t speak either, though, just freed her hand and put it on the back of his head to draw him in. He could only move his torso, his hands and just bending closer to her put a strain on his leg, but he didn’t care. They had so much to catch up on, and who could tell how much time they had left.

            Her lips were as soft as he remembered them, just as they’d been that morning when she’d woken him up. Could it only have been a day? One day since he’d been sure that everything would turn out to be okay?

            She let her hand roam over his body, not as clumsy as it had been that morning, but with a confidence which drove every other thought clear out of his mind.

            He buried his hand in her hair, pulling her so close he had to be hurting her, but she just went along with it, straddling him and starting to pull off his shirt altogether.

            “So, you would’ve said yes?” he said, out of breath already. Somehow, indescribably, she’d found the perfect spot to sit. He could almost feel her, but his leg wasn’t hurting.

            “Do you even have to ask?”

Her lips were on his neck, tracing his collarbone as her hands kept massaging his chest, his stomach. He didn’t close his eyes, not once, not even when she opened his fly and pushed down his trousers. She was taking her time with him, making sure he didn’t move too much. Bringing him to the edge with her nimble as easily as though she hadn’t done anything else her entire life. His eyes were burning as he watched her get up again and pull off that terrible dress and throw it unceremoniously to the floor. She was only wearing her panties and the holster now.

He reached out for her, pulling her closer by the waist to caress her thighs, moving up ever more slowly until she was squirming beneath his hands. Her breasts were so close to his lips, he took her up on the invitation readily enough. Her skin was slightly salty from the sweat of these past few days, but incredibly warm. They were alive. What else was there he could ask for under these circumstances. Kissing her chest, gently rubbing his thumb against her, he could just feel that he wouldn’t last much longer.

“Come closer,” he whispered, his voice so hoarse he barely recognized it himself.

He let go of her, released the holster and let it fall next to him. Her cheeks were flushed, her irises so wide he could barely see the blue in them anymore, as she guided him into her, gently rocking her hips as she sat there, his face in her hands, breathing in his moans, kissing him and then he was overwhelmed and he pulled her closer to him and kissed her neck. She finally stopped moving. He could feel her pulse beneath his lips. Rapid and strong. Her hands were buried in his hair.

“You know,” she whispered, her laboured breath stroking through his hair, “It’s my birthday today.”

Chapter Text

2003

“They took Abbie last night,” Clara said as she beat the wet cloth against the side of the basin. Her hands were raw from the constant rubbing against metal and the bits of soap.

            “I heard,” Alex answered, taking the fabric from her friend and wringing it out. “She screamed so loud, I thought Evan was going to run outside and-“ She broke off. Evan had only been back on his feet for a week or so. It was a small miracle he’d recovered as fast as he had, but he was in no state to fight. If anything, she was glad he’d been able to help Odo’s son out  that day. About half of the men from the village worked in the mine, but not all of them. Luckily Odo’s uncle Jeb had been a farmer like Odo himself had been before he discovered his skills as a merchant. But now Odo too was back working on the farm. The town had been completely wiped out and so were the trade relations of this world.

            “You have to watch out for him, I hear some men are talking about fighting back.”

            Alex nodded. That sounded about right. The people of Larsa had grown used to their freedom these past few hundred years and the talk of rebellion among the men made her fear for all of their lives. These people had little to no fighting experience whatsoever. And that put Evan on the spot. The villagers knew he was a soldier, though they kept his secret. They wanted Evan to help them organize the rebellion and be one of the leaders. But what chance did they stand against Ba’al’s Jaffa and that enormous mothership still hovering over the ruins in the centre of the valley?

Since the batteries of the radios had given out a few days ago, Evan was even more on edge and she hated seeing him like this. He put all of his energy into work in the fields and fell into bed next to her right after dinner, holding her close to his chest as though afraid she might run away the next second. But she felt it too. The fact that the SGC hadn’t sent a rescue mission yet didn’t bode well. They’d been here for two months now. Two months in which they’d healed, and hid, and done everything they could to fit into this society which wasn’t their own.

She spread the shirt on the thin rope in front of her. It was the one Evan had gotten that night in the forest. There was a little stain of blood on the collar which she had only discovered the day he’d taken it off for the first time, and it was still there even now. Getting bloodstains out of clothes was hard enough back on Earth. Here, without a washing machine it was next to impossible.

“I don’t know what to say to him, to be honest,” she said. “He knows the risk.” And that was probably the worst part. That he knew what their chances were and that fighting back would only make everything worse. But the tension in his muscles the night before, as he held her so close she could hear his heart beating, terrified her even know. Abbie was only fifteen or so. What the Jaffa, or rather Ba’al wanted with the girls, she didn’t want to think about. But she remembered all too well the first few mission reports of the SGC she’d ever read. How Apophis had captured a female soldier back on Earth and then proceeded to kidnap women on Abydos. How Daniel’s wife had been taken, because she was young and beautiful, and how she had died after years of being possessed by a Goa’uld.

New workers had been brought to the mine only last week, after about twenty locals had already died from exertion. Lucky for them, the farmers were better off in many respects. The Jaffa didn’t mind them as long as they met their quota. And meet their quota they did, even if it meant going hungry a few nights a week. It wasn’t a big problem at the moment, but what would happen during the winter, when all the farmers could deliver were eggs and milk if they didn’t want to give their winter stocks away, Alex didn’t know. No one did.

Clara wrung out the last shirt and put it next to the one Alex had just hung up. “I hope so. We can’t afford to lose anyone else in the village. And if they-“ she lowered her voice when the all-too recognizable footsteps of Jaffa sounded- “if they make trouble, then we’re all in danger.”

Alex nodded, looking over her shoulder to watch the Jaffa disappear again. Just another one on patrol. “I’ll talk to him tonight,” she whispered, taking a step back from the washing line and picking up the basin with the water in it to pour its contents into the small vegetable patch. “Do you need me for anything else?”

“No, it’s alright. Don’t forget to tell Evan to up the pickled cabbage tomorrow.”

Alex nodded, ignoring the angry growl in her stomach as she recalled the smell and consistency of the food. Because it was food, and if she’d learned one thing, it was not to turn down things you could eat. Growing up in a society in which supermarkets supplied everyone with everything made her feel more than inadequate and incapable of survival. She could call herself lucky to have been stranded among these people, who were more than willing to teach her and Evan the things they needed to know in exchange for hard work.

She looked up at the sky, locating the sun, her only indicator of the passage of time. The men would soon return from clearing the forest for additional pastures. It was almost scary how used she’d gotten to this life and the near peacefulness this rhythm provided. Work, sleep and getting up early in the morning to do it all over again, all the while keeping their heads down and trying not to draw any attention to themselves. And still that rhythm was okay.

Evan, she and the villagers worked in the fields and the forest, trying to produce as much food as possible, so they could keep a surplus for themselves to could get over the winter. Because the fields didn’t belong to the villagers anymore. They had quota to fulfil and that meant more livestock and more fields. Up until that point the farmers had only produced as much as they needed and sold the surplus through the merchants. Now that surplus was the only source of food they had.

 “Oswald said that we’ll start bringing in the harvest the day after tomorrow if the weather plays along. We’ll need you both here a bit earlier then.”

Alex nodded “We’ll be there.” She’d helped with the summer harvest about three days after they’d arrived here. Just recollecting it now made her back ache again. She was sure hauling in the autumn harvest wouldn’t be any easier. “Thank you for helping me with the laundry again.” The shirts and her dress wouldn’t be dry before the next evening, but doing the washing for Clara’s household and her own had taken forever. Her washing machine and dryer weren’t the only modern conveniences she missed.

“Of course. You can take it back home with you tomorrow.”

She’d only just reached the small yard in front of Clara’s and Oswald’s house when she saw the men returning from the pastures. Oswald and Odo were the first to bring in their dozen or so cows. Alex stood to the side, reminding herself to keep her eyes fixed on the ground so the Jaffa standing at his post at the end of the road didn’t start suspecting her for acting out of the ordinary. Only when she felt that familiar touch at her waist did she look up. Evan looked tired, exhausted even, his eyes standing out more than ever and not just because of the thin beard.

These eight weeks had taken their toll, both mentally and physically. The first few weeks the only tasks he could perform were the ones he could do sitting down, and he’d lost far too much weight already. The strenuous work in the forest, cutting down trees, moving the trunks and getting rid of the deep roots, was too much for him. She could see that he was hurting and no small wonder, his leg had healed well enough, but he’d need at least another few weeks of physical therapy and proper training before he was back in shape. As it was, he just had to get to work and perform the tasks he was set as best he could. He could just call himself lucky he hadn’t been sent to the mines.

“How’s our girl?” she asked, looking over his shoulder at the cow he was leading behind him on a long leash.

“Okay I think.” He hugged her closer to him and started walking again, pulling her with him and ignoring the Jaffa’s stare. Something was wrong. Not just that he was leaning on her, trying to hide the slight limp.

They were in front of their house in no time.

“I’ll take her inside.” She looked up at him, telling him with one single glance that she wanted him to talk to her.

Evan nodded absentmindedly with his eyes trained on the house opposite theirs. The place from which the screams had come the previous night. Like a watchdog, she thought, his body so tense she was sure he was ready to burst and do something stupid. She briefly touched his arm and started guiding the cow towards the barn.

Even now, after two months and despite the fact that Clara had told her that owners usually replaced the old names of their animals the moment they took possession of them, the cow was still nameless. So far neither Alex nor Evan had been able to bring themselves to call her by any name. It would just mean that they’d resigned and agreed with their fate. But they weren’t there yet.

The cow’s big brown eyes followed Alex’s every move as she filled the manger with water. “You had all the grass you could possibly ask for today,” Alex said quietly, patting the cow’s shoulders. “We need the rest of the hay for the winter, you know.” They’d become friends of sorts. The cow greeted her every morning with a trusting glance, though she was more appreciative of Evan’s hands. His hands were surer, his way of milking her steadier.

With a sigh, Alex reached for the doorknob, ignoring the chickens on their perch. She could only hope these animals needed a new owner by winter. Surely Clara would be only too glad to take them. Or somebody else. How Alex was supposed to leave any of them behind when the SGC finally decided to mount a rescue mission was beyond her.

Evan was sitting on one of the two stools, stirring grain into a pot of boiling milk. The honeypot was already on the table.

            “How is your leg?”

            He shrugged, staring into the flames. How strange it was that she’d almost grown used to seeing him here in this sparsely illuminated hut, wearing his wide blue shirt and trousers and that wonderfully thick, soft beard. He looked so different from the young man she’d met eight years ago, and yet he was the same. Just as passionate, as inventive, just as honest. No, being married to him, even this fake-married, wasn’t the worst thing about this life.

            “It’s okay,” he said, his voice strained. “I just-“ he broke off.

            She pulled up the other stool and put her needlework away. The attempt at another shirt for him could wait. It probably wouldn’t be wearable without extensive help from Clara anyway. “Evan,” she began quietly, “Clara said there’s talk among the men. And if she knows about it, you can bet that most people around here do.” Not that she and Evan had ever openly talked about it, but she saw it in the way he looked at the Jaffa, in the way he balled his hands into fists whenever he saw yet another poor wretch at that pole.

            He still wasn’t looking at her. “We found two bodies today,” he said calmly, but a slight tremor in his voice betrayed him.

            “Bodies?”

            He nodded again. “Ours.” Reaching into his pocket, he drew out the long silver bullet chain with the two metal plates attached to it. His dog tags. He held them up for her to see, then slammed them on the table, making the honeypot shake slightly on the uneven surface. The dog tags just lay there in front of her, the letters smudged with dirt. They stood out even more now that the contours were darkened by traces of earth. It had to be just dirt. She couldn’t bring herself to think of it as anything else. Carefully she picked them up and started rubbing them clean with her thumb.

            EVAN J LORNE

            “Why?” Why had Ba’al put on that show? The presentation of the bodies, burning them until they were barely recognizable anymore? Why, if he had no intention of sending them back to the SGC?

            “He knows we’re still around,” Evan said, raising his eyes to look at her now. “I don’t know why he hasn’t done anything to find us out yet, but-“ He swallowed hard, “I almost believe he just likes knowing we’re here, unable to fight back, until he can make use of us.”

            She got up, the dog tags still clutched in her hands. What use could they be to him? Leverage for when he needed some? “Evan, we don’t know that.”

            He stirred the pot and took it off the fire. “Let’s just eat.”

            “Maybe he just wanted to make an example. Maybe he-“

            “He made sure we got SG-16’s bodies,” he snapped. He rubbed his temple, his eyes closed and took a deep breath. His shoulders were shaking. “He wanted to let us know what would happen if he found any of us on one of his worlds. And they were-“

            “What?” She didn’t reach out to him. She knew he wouldn’t want her to. For a moment there she was almost sure he’d just knock the pot off the table.

            “We barely got them into the body bags, Alex,” he said. “I mean, in one piece. They were broken and charred…” He cleared his throat and sat back down again. “Doctor Fraser examined them, and it was them, but I’d hoped if Ba’al made our people pick up these bodies, they’d know…”

But they didn’t. Those bodies had never found, their ruse never detected. No wonder the SGC had stopped contacting them after about four weeks. By now their families would be told that they were almost certainly gone for good.

            He stared at his hands, his thoughts racing, all emotion dampened by that one thought: they were lost to the people of Earth. His dog would be by his mother by now, his house already cleared of all his possessions. That ring… Ellen would’ve taken it, probably determined to give it to the daughter she wanted to have so badly. How miserable Monsieur must be… at least his parents and his sister, knowing he was a soldier and that this could happen, would understand what was going on, but Monsieur… he’d have waited for him, he was probably still waiting, never knowing that Evan just wouldn’t come back.

            And Alex? She’d told him that she’d finally started unpacking. Had her brother packed everything back yet? How had Pierce explained it to them? That she’d gone missing on a mission lead by an Air Force Major? And how was her mother dealing with it, after losing her husband all those years ago?

            “Honey…” she hadn’t called him that in such a long time. But she did now, touching his hands briefly. “We’ll be okay. I just have to believe that we will be.”

            “No.” That simple word made her flinch. “I’m sorry, I can’t take this anymore.” He looked up then, his eyes searching hers, begging for the confirmation that she was thinking along the same lines as he was, but all he saw was fear.

            “What are you saying?”

            “I’m saying that I’m seriously thinking about helping these people, helping us get rid of the Jaffa, or to get these people away from here. Uprisings can work! It worked on Earth two thousand years ago, it worked on other planets-“     

            “Yes, but the humans had years to plan. Often they vastly outnumbered the Jaffa. You know that. You of all people should know what it takes to defeat an enemy like that. And you’re still not fully healed” She was talking so quietly now he could barely hear her. The terror in her eyes would’ve swayed him a few weeks ago. But she hadn’t seen those bodies, she hadn’t seen that makeshift graveyard in the middle of the forest, planted there for them to find... The bodies of the young women, a dozen or so of them, two of them he recognized from the village and they couldn’t have been much older than fifteen. He couldn’t even bring himself to tell her about them. And he was terrified of what might happen to her someday. He took her hand and kissed it.

            And what if that uprising failed? Their chances weren’t too good, he just knew it, but doing nothing wasn’t an option anymore. “I can’t stand it anymore,” he said. “This- I’m done just watching these things happen.”

            She swallowed hard and nodded, but the panic in her eyes made his heart contract painfully. “Evan, I need you. And I can’t help you in this,” she whispered and shifted closer to wrap her arm around him.

            “I don’t need your help,” he lied. The truth was, he didn’t want her to get involved in this. If the men, Oswald in the lead, started planning the uprising, then he didn’t want Alex to be in the middle of this. If he died clearing a path for her back to get back to the Gate, then so be it, but at least she’d get out of here. He had to give her that chance and if she stood by his side, fought alongside him, then she wouldn’t make it out of here. Getting her to run would be the problem. She could just go to a planet from which they could contact the Tok’ra. Or she could go to the Alpha Site, that was if the Alpha Site hadn’t been moved yet. And she could take the women from the village with her. They’d be safe at least. They could draw the Jaffa back from the Gate and the women could just go.

            “I need you, though,” she said, but something was off in the way she said it. Her eyes were bigger than usual, and he could see the insecurity in them.

            “We’re only going to have one chance,” he said. “I know that.”

            “You’re going to fail.” The conviction in her voice reflected his own. He dropped her hand. “Evan, I’m sorry, but I can’t have you risk your life for something that is certain to fail.” She swallowed hard. “You’re so cool-headed usually, and I get that you can’t take what’s going on here, neither can I. But I need you, please. Don’t rush into this.” The plea made him flinch.

            “You don’t understand-”

            “Evan, I didn’t mean to tell you, but… but you know I haven’t had my period since we got here, don’t you?”

Chapter Text

Chapter 23

2003

She couldn’t be sure. Not after just a few weeks. Could she? But why would she lie? She was not the kind of person to sound the alarm if there was nothing. She wouldn’t do that. Not even if she was afraid like she must be.

            He drew her closer, inhaling her scent. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was, but all he could say was that only the way she smelled could calm him down these days. The warmth emanating from her body lulled him in like nothing else could. Not that he wasn’t tired to the bone, but her presence was all he could ask for to put him to sleep. How had he been able to drift off these past eight years without her constant presence in his bed?

            Alex’s hand rested on his chest. “What are you going to do?” she asked.

            He shook his head. “I don’t know.” And he didn’t. His resolve hadn’t changed. On the contrary: he wanted her to be free now more than ever, but this more than probable situation had put a massive damper on his plans. “I’ll talk to the others. Tell them to slow down.” He swallowed hard. “We never worried about this happening back then.”

            “Not the first time, no. But I was on the pill.”

            Evan couldn’t help laughing bitterly. How could he have been this naïve. Not that he’d never thought that this could happen, especially not since they were tearing each other’s clothes off almost every night, but being confronted with the news was like being hit over head with a mallet. He could just about hear his sister’s accusatory tone as she asked him how on Earth he could’ve been this reckless?

He rested his hand on her stomach, wondering when he’d be able to feel something move under that soft skin of hers. Or if this was just false alarm... was there a real person growing inside her?  A little person with his hair and her eyes? Her nose? Would that person have that crooked little toe on the left foot like every other member of his family?

Reckless… that was a good word for it, he thought. But Alex was the only thing keeping him sane in this place. The only real constant in his life.  Hadn’t it been for her, he would’ve already started acting up in earnest. But this… this was a bit too much. “How are you feeling?”

            She shrugged and let her hand trail down his side until it rested on his hip. “I first thought I’d eaten something bad. I didn’t even want to talk to you about this for another two weeks or so.”

            He nodded. That’s what he’d thought. But the thought that she might be pregnant hadn’t hit him, not even after she’d vomited for the third time this week. But weren’t pregnant women supposed to be puking all the time and every morning? He pulled back to look at her face. The cheeks were still flushed. This was when she looked the most beautiful, a few minutes after sex. Calm and a bit flushed. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “If it’s true… I’m sorry, I didn’t want to get you into this situation on top of everything else.”

            “It’s not your fault,” she muttered, “It’s just what happens when you do the deed.”

            He bit his lip and kissed her softly. “Can you say that again?”

            “What?”

            “That. What you just said. Your accent makes it sound almost cute.”

She poked him in the side. “You haven’t made fun of it in ages.”

“Well, I thought after the magnificent vanilla sex we just had, I’d do it again. Cheer you up?” If they were back on Earth, he’d be happy. There would be no need for cheering her up. They’d just celebrate and plan how best to tell their families. Or would they? Would they even be together right now? Would they have started planning a family? Probably not.

Burying her head against his shoulder, she wrapped his arms around his torso again. “Thanks for trying to make it easier.”

“It’s my job, isn’t it?”

“I wouldn’t know. Never been married before.”

“Could’ve fooled me. You’re good at it.”

She sighed. “Oh Evan, what are we gonna do?”

The smile vanished from his lips. There was nothing for it. If she really was pregnant, and it was very likely that she was, he’d have to plan more carefully. If the plan failed, she’d be stranded here all on her own with no support. No… not only would she be stranded here, so would their child… A child… he never imagined himself as a father. Not really. He was pretty good at being an uncle, he supposed, but that wasn’t even a part time job. And yes, when he first thought of asking her to marry him, he’d been sure that children were in their future, but these circumstances they were in now were completely different from what he could possibly have imagined. “Keep you safe, is all I can think of. Keep you eating, keep you out of harm’s way. Find a midwife… that woman… Agnes… she’s-“

“I’ve been meaning to ask her if she knows a few certain signs… I’ve never really thought about that. I always thought if I wanted to get pregnant, I’d look them up.”

He laughed then. “We’re so incompetent at these things…these people here must think we’re a whole lot more stupid than any child they’ve ever met.”

“You’re doing great with the cow though. She adores you.”

“Well, I am adorable.”

 

She was standing in the corner, watching the men inspecting a make-shift map of a Ha’tak vessel sketched on her failure at making a shirt for Evan. Oswald stood to the side, a cup of ale in his hand as he listened to Evan.

            “The rings will activate the moment they change shifts. Oswald and his group discovered that the fresh Jaffa get in about fifteen minutes before they relieve the Jaffa on active duty. You just have to stand in the centre of the rings. They’re not expecting us to try this, so you should be fine. Why you want to get back out again, you have to punch in this sequence on the control panel.”

            He looked around and locked eyes with Alex for a moment. He’d stay here. All the men with families were. Their strike team was just attempting to get as many weapons as they could off the ship without being detected. It was just a first try. She knew they were being as careful as they possibly could. And with a bit of luck they’d succeed eventually, getting all of these people off-planet. Not that they’d been particularly lucky these past few months.

            “The armoury should be three corridors down from the ring platform. It’s where the Jaffa stock up before they head out for their patrols.” He rubbed his nose. “Just don’t take all the staff weapons you can carry. Only two each and three Zat-guns. More and it’ll slow you down and tip them off.”

            “The cave should be properly concealed by next week,” Marquard said, a short, thick-set man with an elderly mother and four children at home. “We’ve been carrying supplies there for a while now.” The plan was that the women should go into hiding just before the diversion started so they’d be safe from any retribution or the Jaffa made them hostages.  

A loud stamping of feet above made everyone fall silent. Oswald headed up the ladder leading from his cellar up the living area of his house and Alex snuffed out the candle in front of her. Caldred and Marquard on the other side did the same with the lights on the table. It had taken them a while to accept her down here, but Evan had requested her presence. The other five men, their strike team, huddled closer to the icy cold wall.

Without making a sound, Evan moved over to her and put his arms around her protectively, his right hand resting on her growing belly. The procedure had almost become routine these past few months. Could he feel the baby shifting? Probably not.

They kept silent, listening to Oswald and Clara moving about as though nothing at all was going on, and Odo telling the children to go outside and feed the chickens. They ran outside, making dust and thin strips of straw fall through the floorboards and Alex drew even closer to Evan, reaching for his hand. The Jaffa patrol had passed the house, but there was no knowing whether they were out of the woods yet. They waited another whole five minutes until the trapdoor right above Caldred opened again.

“We should meet again tomorrow,” Evan whispered. All of them knew the risks they were taking and they couldn’t afford spending too much time in here all the time.

Caldred took the lead and the other men followed him as he climbed up the ladder, but Marquard remained behind for a moment to hand a small pouch to Alex. “Agnes says you should start taking this.”

“What is it?” she asked, opening the pouch and examining the herbs inside.

He shrugged. “Ask her, but she hands is out to women about this time.” He pointed awkwardly at her belly. For months the dress had been enough to hide her state, but that time was now about over. “Good luck,” he grinned. “I hear it’s disgusting.”

With a scoff, she pushed him the direction of the rope ladder. “Go on, then. Tell her thank you from me.”

Nodding, Marquard started climbing up. Evan looked after him, waited two heartbeats and kissed her temple before starting to clear away the map. He was calmer now than he had been when the plan had first been suggested. He seemed more confident now. More optimistic. But she still knew that something was still off. He wanted her involved in the planning of the rebellion, though she could provide little to no intel. All she could do was teach the men a bit of Goa’uld so they could understand some of what the Jaffa were saying. But he was no teacher and she sure as hell was not the expert on Goa’uld that Daniel had been.

She watched as Evan folded the map carefully and put it under a box containing the winter supply of onions. “Will it work?” she asked doubtfully. How she hated being this timid, but not a day passed that she wasn’t terrified. Not only hers and Evan’s lives were on the line here, but so was the rest of the village and that unborn child. Even if this planet wasn’t occupied by Jaffa, she’d still be trembling at the mere thought of being pregnant, let alone in these circumstances. She was almost used to waking up in the middle of the night, trembling and wishing for a real Doctor. It’d probably have been easier could she know that the baby was alright, but then again, if she did, wouldn’t she be even more afraid?

Evan looked up at her and for a split second there she thought he was going to say something reassuring just for the sake of it, but he bit his lip and shrugged. “It has to work. They just need to stick to the plan and not get detected.”

“But if Ba’al knows we’re still here, he’ll be expecting something like this, won’t he?”

“Probably,” he nodded. “But I can’t sit around here and do nothing. I have to make sure you and the baby are safe.” It wasn’t the first time he said this and nor would it be the last. He stood up straight and walked towards her. He didn’t reach up to hold her face, but placed his hands on her belly. Agnes estimated that the baby would be there within three months or so. That meant they’d been here for almost six. Half a year of this had brought them closer together and at the same time this baby was pulling them apart.

“I’m not leaving you behind,” she said. She hadn’t done it then and she wouldn’t do it now.

“With any luck you won’t have to.”

Luck. That word again. But there was no point arguing right now. There’d be plenty of time for that. And she knew he wouldn’t be persuaded.

 

The rain made the forest smell completely different. It smelled like dirt more than usual and the smell of moss was more intense. But there was also something else in the air on these occasions. What he hated about this incessant rain wasn’t even the icy water running down his back, or the fact that the staff weapons weren’t only heavy, but also slippery in his hands, but it was that they were leaving behind tracks in the wet ground. More than he cared to know about.

            Evan looked over his shoulder at the other men who were right behind them, eight of them carrying at least three staff weapons each, and four men more with two boxes between them. They’d taken too much. They’d gotten too confident, but there was nothing for it. So far they hadn’t been discovered and if all went well, the rain would pick up on their way back, hiding their footprints and the tell-tale tracks of where some of the men had slipped. The ground here was so soft it got washed away easily.

            Oswald was right by his side when they reached the cave and helped him get rid of the make-shift cover. The cave itself was hidden well enough, but Evan and the other men had made sure that it was almost unable to see if you didn’t know it was there. He only hoped the Jaffa really hadn’t suspected them yet.

            “Come on, we have to hurry,” he shouted against the howling wind, waving the other men to him. Oswald was through first, followed right by Wolfstan and Odo. Caldred and Marquard pushed through the cover next, talking quietly amongst themselves and congratulating each other on their success. Looking around the cave as he leaned the staff weapons against the cave wall, he couldn’t exactly share their optimism. At this rate they’d need a year before they had enough weapons gathered here, but they’d be found out long before that. The Jaffa had to realize that their stocks were depleting, that weapons were vanishing into thin air. A simple search of the energy output would alert them to the fact that the rings were activated regularly but out of the usual shift-changing pattern.

            “We should give it a rest for now,” Evan said. “Wait a little before we try this again.”

            Caldred shook his head. “We can’t stop. We’re so close to arming every man in the village!”

            Evan bit his lip. Caldred wasn’t wrong. But their plan was bound to fail if they acted rashly. “What about the men at the mines?” he asked. There had to be at least a thousand workers there by now. But getting them weapons too was out of the question. They’d never get that many weapons off the mothership. Not after this raid… They really should have created more than one hiding space.

            Oswald shook his head. “There’s no way we can talk to them. The Jaffa keep a close eye on them. Closer than on us.”

            Rubbing his forehead, Evan shrugged. “Alright. Why don’t we wait another week or so, make real plans.” They were cutting it really close. Alex only had about two months left, according to Agnes. The thought made his heart contract painfully. This was all just so very wrong and far too risky.

            There were still so many flaws in their plan for him to relax. They might be discovered before they even got the chance to start off their plan. The risk of not drawing the Jaffa away from the Gate was always on his mind. If the women made it through the Gate, they might get stuck in a hostile environment and in enemy hands. Seven months had passed since Alex and Evan were trapped here and there was no way of knowing if the Alpha Site was still in operation. And then what? He’d have sacrificed his life for nothing.

            No. Not nothing. A chance for her and the baby. And maybe, maybe with a bit of extra and highly improbable luck, he would make it off this world as well.

            They spread out on their way back, trying not do deepen the tracks they’d already left in the muddy ground beneath. Oswald was right next to him, his face grim. “You think things are going too fast?” Oswald asked quietly.

            Evan nodded. The rain provided them with considerable cover during the night, but it also provided cover for any Jaffa that could be nearby. “I do. Especially after this haul. They took a massive risk.”

            But Oswald didn’t appear to be too concerned. He clapped Evan on the shoulder. They were very close to the village now. In about three minutes they’d have reached Oswald’s home. “It’ll be fine.”

            How he hated that saying. The confidence of the hopeless. What else could it be? He himself had told himself that things would be fine more often than not.

            “Go to your wife, get some sleep and tomorrow we’ll just pretend like nothing happened tonight.”

            “Can’t wait,” Evan mumbled, pulling the thin cloak closer around himself. At least the snow had stopped falling about a week ago. He’d never get used to being this cold all the time. “Tell Cuthbert I’ll have the ship ready for him the day after tomorrow. I just need to put some finishing touches on it.”

            “He’ll be glad to hear it. Don’t be surprised if he stops by your place before breakfast though.”

            Evan laughed softly. “Your son needs to learn some manners.”

            “What can I say, he takes after me. Maybe you can teach him whittling along with those manners.”

            “Maybe. It’s not that hard though.”

            “Where did you learn, anyway? Those figurines you made for Mariah were so intricate.”

            He shrugged. “My mother taught me a lot of artistic stuff.” Maybe he’d get to show Oswald’s children how to do these things. Maybe… hopefully. One day.

            During these long winter nights when there hadn’t been too much to do, he’d just picked up some pieces of wood and started making things. Toys for the children mostly. They weren’t as nice as he’d hoped they would be, especially since he’s always liked drawing and painting more than sculpting, but the things he came up with were passable and the children of their neighbours liked them well enough. Their parents even gave him and Alex some things in return. The thick blanket being among the more precious ones.

            They said goodbye at the corner and Evan started making his way for his own house, hurrying from one shadow to the next. Another routine he wasn’t too fond of these days was sneaking around like this in a place that was supposed to be his home.

            When he pushed open the door to their house, Alex practically shot up in bed. It was a small miracle she could still move like this. But then again, she’d always been pretty flexible, he thought with a grin.

“How’d it go?” she asked drowsily.

            “We got back home okay, if that’s what you’re asking.” He took off his cloak and hung it on a peg close to the fire. There was no chance it was going to be dry by morning, but at least drier than it was now. You learned to take things as they were in this place. “Make some room?”

            “Right. How wet are you?”

            “Soaking.”

            “Clothes off then, Mister.”

            “Yes, Ma’am,” he smiled, taking off his shirt, pants and boots and putting them on the stool, before slipping under the covers with her. The bed was usually the warmest place in the house, that was, if you didn’t count that one spot directly in front of the fire or the one right next to the cow.

Her back fit snugly against his chest, just like it always had really. What had changed was that now there wasn’t a whole lot room for her to move anymore in the bed. The belly immobilized her more than he would’ve thought possible. Not just the fact that it was there and couldn’t be tucked in, but also the fact that lying on her back was highly uncomfortable these days.

Running to the Gate really wasn’t an option for her anymore. Maybe they should just wait until the baby was born and she was back on her feet? But then some other woman would be in Alex’s situation. Waiting for Alex’s sake would be unfair.

            He pulled her closer, his hand resting on her stomach. “How were things here?”

            She nodded. “The calf won’t be here for another few days, Agnes says.”

            “So, she’s a midwife for humans and cows?”

            “Right now I feel like a cow myself.”

            He playfully started reaching for ever growing breasts, but she beat his hands away with a laugh. “Stop it, Major.”

            “Right, Doctor. Sorry, that was inappropriate.”

            “Yes, it was.” He could hear the smile in her voice though. She wasn’t mad at him. Those cow jokes usually originated from her. “And what does she say about our little one?”

            “That we should stop thinking about names. It’s unlucky, she says.”

            “Right.” He sighed. He’d be more comfortable knowing what they were going to call their child though. Just in case… just in case he needed to say a prayer for her and their child. “But we’re not superstitious, so we don’t care about that?”

            “I suppose…” Her fingers moved up and down his forearm. “And my parents knew what they were going to name me before they even knew I was there.”

            He grinned. “Can’t go wrong with a name like Alex, huh?”

            “Yup… should we aim for something like that?”

            “I’m still a big fan of Rosemary,” he smiled, lips against the back of her neck. Her body heat was warming him up easily enough. “Rosemary Woolston sounds really aristocratic.”

            “Well, I’m not, so forget about it. And your feet are freezing.”

            “Sorry,” he quickly withdrew them, but she shook her head and parted her legs slightly.

            “Give them here. Can’t have you catch a cold.” Her shiver as he obeyed and put his legs between her legs betrayed her confidence. But he didn’t pull away either.

            “They brought too many staff weapons back with them today… they got cocky.”

            She stiffened in his arms. “But you weren’t seen?”

            “No. And with any luck our tracks will be washed away by morning.”

            She nodded, but the tension in her back told him that his words didn’t manage to make her stop worrying. They rarely did these days.

            He closed his eyes, burying his nose in her hair and enjoying the sensation of her fingertips stroking his arm. The belly under his hand was firm than it had ever been. The stretchmarks would never go away, he knew, and he made a habit of tracing them in the daylight, admiring what her body was capable of despite everything.

            “What do you think of Nora?” he asked softly. “Nick for a boy?” But he was almost sure that it was a girl. The galaxy simply had to have another Alex in it.

            The soft thump against his fingertips made him grin. “Does she agree or does she hate the name?” he asked, revelling in the aftershock of having felt his child’s movement again. It always sent chills through his body.

            “I’m almost sure he doesn’t hate it.”

            “She’ll be a great girl. Top of her class, super artistic, really, we should’ve made a kid ages ago.”

            She didn’t reply and he just knew what she wanted to say, but didn’t. They should’ve done a lot of things ages ago. “I’m afraid, Evan.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 24

2003

The first thing she said that morning made him frown. “I wish I could have some chocolate right now.”

            “You hate chocolate.”

            “Not white chocolate.”

            He smiled down at her, brushing the hair out of her face and moving the dog tags she’d started wearing back to the front. There were some fine lines edged into the skin of her forehead and if the light hit her hair just right, he could see traces of silver woven in between. “Soon,” he promised without knowing if that promise could ever become true. He leaned over her, kissing her and ignoring the clucking of the chickens next door.

            He enjoyed these moments, just after waking up, feeling her soft body in his arms and knowing that, at least for the next few minutes, nothing terrible would happen. When they could just talk about home. About chocolate.

             A warm, tingling sensation spread through his body as he drew her closer, taking his time to hold her, to enjoy her kisses and the feeling of the child moving within her. If only things could be this simple all the time.

 

Her cooking was still hopeless, but at least she was trying, and it was edible. Evan had never been a fussy eater, except for when it came to his own cooking. And she had so many other things on her mind and he couldn’t even blame her or mind too much about it. One thing which had vastly improved was her baking. Her sourdough bread was perfect, he thought, as he watched her kneeling in the doorway, a nail between her teeth as she fixed the loose floorboard back into position

            “You know, I could’ve done that,” he said, chewing the rest of his bread.

            “I know,” she answered simply, getting to her feet with considerable difficulty. “The radios and the guns still look fine.”

            Evan nodded. “I’ll get the new batteries this afternoon.” He’d gone to check on the things they’d buried in the forest regularly, making sure that the small mount was still there, undisturbed and undetected. There were a couple of spare batteries in their packs and with a bit of luck they might still be good enough. She’d also need the GDO to send through her IDC. Best to get these things now.

            Just as she’d covered the floorboard with straw again, there was a loud knock on the door, which burst open the next second. The flaxen-haired boy from next door rushed inside without waiting for an answer. “Morning Evan, Morning Alex.”

            “Well, Cuthbert, your father warned me you’d be coming.”

            “He said you’re almost done with my ship!”

            Evan laughed as he put the rest of the bread back into the clay pot. “Right. Almost. And what else did he say?”

            Cuthbert bit his lip. “That it’d be ready tomorrow. But why can’t I see it now?”

            “Because,” Alex said, coming back to the table and taking a small wooden spoon from out of her apron and dipping it in honey, “Evan is an artist,” she handed the spoon to Cuthbert who stuffed it greedily into his mouth, “and artists don’t like to reveal their work until they’re absolutely sure it’s perfect.”

            “But that’s –“

            Alex raised her index to shut him up. “I’m not discussing it.”

            “But I carried all that wood for you!”

            Evan caught her gaze and he knew she was remembering the boy carrying wood for their stove into their house for a whole hour before Evan agreed to make that boat for him. “I know,” he said. “Still. Give me some more time, please.”

            Cuthbert sighed, taking the spoon out of his mouth and dropping it on the table. “Fine… but tomorrow?”

            “I promise.”

            “Okay… oh and father also said to tell you that there are only about three Jaffa in the square.” He shrugged.

            Three? That couldn’t be right. His heart plummeted. Since their arrival here, there had always, always been at least six Jaffa stationed around the square. Evan got to his feet and brushed a hand over Cuthbert’s hair. “Go home,” he said urgently, gesturing to Alex to stay put.

            Of course she didn’t. Her hand protectively over her bump, she followed him outside. And there was Cuthbert, right by their side.

            Evan cursed quietly and headed for Oswald’s house. It wasn’t far, but the eerie silence was getting to him. Nobody had let their chickens out, nobody was out in front of their houses, even though it had finally stopped raining and they were supposed to start ploughing the fields today. But the streets were empty, and the shutters of the houses remained closed.

            Evan took her trembling hand into his and started pulling her to Oswald’s house, Cuthbert in front of them like a little honour guard.

            “What’s going on?” he asked, stepping through the door.

            Odo and Oswald were sitting at the table. Clara was by the stove, little Mariah balanced on her hip. Was she pregnant again? She certainly looked bigger, he thought. With determination he pulled Alex into the house with him and closed the door behind them.

            “They took Marquard and Caldred.” Odo said quietly. “Last night.” He drew up two more stools for Evan and Alex and motioned for them to sit down.

            Those weren’t good news. But he was calmer than he would’ve thought possible. His hands weren’t even shaking. Probably because he’d always thought that this could happen, especially after last night. The question was when the two men would start talking and giving the Jaffa other names.

            “Caldred’s wife sent her children to the neighbours, they sent their children and so forth. They’re the only ones the Jaffa surely won’t bother.”

            Evan nodded, thoughtfully. His mouth was so dry he doubted he’d ever be able to swallow again. It had always been like this, even back when he’d flown over Bosnia, he’d felt like this. A bit squeezy, and at the same time completely alert.

“Time for Plan B?” Oswald asked, pushing a cup with thin beer into Evan’s hand.

Was it? Were they really this desperate? He looked over at Alex, terrified by the calm expression on her face. “I didn’t know there was a Plan B,” she said.

“It’s actually more like Plan F… F for… you know.”  He took a sip of beer before reminding himself that he needed to stay focused. “It means we’re just going to set a distraction, get the C4 from my pack, hope it still works and get as many people through the Gate as possible.”

It would be damn risky and he wasn’t sure he was prepared for that. But it was only a question of time before Marquard and Caldred told the Jaffa about that cave. He looked at Alex again. Her blue eyes didn’t show even the slightest trace of insecurity.

“We should let the cattle out. Block the streets, confuse the Jaffa a bit more. While you get the men and go to the cave.”

“Good idea.” And it was. He nodded approvingly. “We should get started right away. Send out the kids again to tell the other women.” His heart was beginning to beat faster as his mind started tracing the steps he would have to take next. Get his weapons, get his pack, meet the other men and head to the edge of the forest near the Gate. He got to his feet. This could work if they only acted fast enough. There was no use imagining all the things that could go wrong. He’d been over them in his mind over and over and now just wasn’t the time to start doubting himself or the other men.

Odo waved his grandson to come closer again. “Did you listen?” he asked the boy.

“Yes, grandfather.”

“Start spreading the word, then. As soon as the women have let out the livestock they have to head into the woods and towards the Stargate. We will meet them there”

“I’ll get my guns and the C4. Meet you at the cave.”

 

He’d said my guns. What he meant was all too clear, he wouldn’t allow her to carry a weapon, not in this situation.

            “Evan, I can handle a gun,” she hissed as they rushed through their front door again. She held his wrist and pulled him close to her, forcing him to look her in the eye. “I’m serious.”

            “I know you are, and I know you can handle yourself, but if they see you just holding one, they’re gonna kill you.”

            Outside the first few hoofs hit the muddy ground as the cows started running wild. She was almost sure she could hear that insane bull roaring. It sounded almost human. Whatever the women had done to scare these animals, it would spread soon enough. It was time they got a move on, but she wouldn’t let him go. Not just yet.

            “And what about you?” She hated how weak she sounded, but didn’t care that he saw it. All this time it had been obvious that he didn’t care as much about his own life as he did about hers, but seeing the determination in his eyes now, the way his jaw was set and the way his brows almost formed one line, made her weak in the knees. She couldn’t lose him. Not now.

            “I’m going to make sure my wife and my child get out of here alive.” He paused for a moment, his eyes softening, “And try to join them.”

            “Don’t just try,” she breathed, pulling him closer to kiss him full on the mouth, trying to memorize every single detail of his lips and the way they moved against hers. Greedily. Hungrily. All she could do was try to ignore the finality this kiss entailed.

The sounds outside were growing louder and the cow next door was beginning to stamp her hoofs. “Drive her out,” Evan muttered. “Just get her outside, she’ll start running on her own.”

            She nodded and forced herself to pull away. “See you at the Gate?”

            “At the Gate. Dial the Alpha Site if-.”

            “No ifs.” She stepped through the door to the barn without looking back. Believing that she’d see him there was all she could do. If she, even for a second, admitted to herself that she’d seen doubt in his eyes and not only heard it in his voice, she’d drop where she was.

            The cow was staring at her, her clever hazel eyes wide as the trampling outside grew louder every minute. That cow… Alex had grown so used to it, to the routine of feeding her and, up until a few weeks ago, milking her. “Good luck with your calf, dear,” she muttered, petting he cows flank and opening the knot of the leash tying her down. But just as she was about to push the animal outside, she heard the uncanny whooshing-sound of Jaffa weapons fire, followed by dull thuds as the bolts of energy found a target. She heard the unmistakeable roars of pain of large animals and her heart missed a beat.

            The barn door flew open and she threw herself to the ground before the next energy blast could catch her right in the chest. Her heart was hammering, her mind numb with fear.

            “Just the wife!” a harsh voice sounded. “Where’s the husband!?”

            She whimpered when the cow shifted nervously, stepping on her skirt and only just missing the bump. She should have hit her… it was almost as though the cow was doing her best to protect her, to shield her if she could.

What were the chances of Evan making it out through the front door? She folded her arms over her stomach, praying to a God she didn’t fully believe in, that he’d get Evan out of here.

            “Over here, leave her!”

            Her heart sank when she heard his voice. The soft leather boots which had always been slightly too big on him came into view. He wasn’t alone. Looking up she saw the two Jaffa right behind, aiming their staff weapons at his back. The look he gave her made her want to scream. This was the worst-case scenario and it had played out just the way he’d feared. And he was blaming himself.

            “Tau’ri technology,” another man said. “Weapons and communication devices.”

            “Get her up,” the Jaffa leader said. Two strong, unrelenting hands grabbed her elbows and puller her into a standing position, the skirt ripping as they got her to her feet.

            It was the same man who’d stopped them upon arriving here. She recognized the small piggy eyes and the thick-set jaw. He looked at her again, even more intently this time, but again there was nothing but disgust on his face. “Let’s have another look at you.” With one swift motion he ripped the cap off her head, the white bands catching in the bullet chain necklace.

            “Leave her.” Evan tried freeing his arms, but he had no chance against the two men holding him.

            “What’s this?” The Jaffa’s eyebrows rose. She’d seen him torturing men, had seen him take away young girls. Girls who’d never returned. She should be trembling in front of him, but all she felt was hate. Burning, passionate fury. Because the only other choice would’ve been to start crying and beg for Evan’s life.

            The Jaffa’s fingers slid along the chain peeking out from beneath her collar. “Not exactly what the people of this world wear, is it?” He tugged at the necklace, the metal digging into her skin before it broke. “Ah… yes.”

            “Alex, sag jetzt nichts!” Evan huffed when the end of a staff weapon was rammed into his stomach, forcing him to double over.

            “Take them to the Ha’tak.” The Jaffa said, the smug grin on his face making her sick.

            “Not the square, Mylord?” One of the men holding Evan asked.

            “No. These two are the only valuable humans in this village.”

            Evan didn’t look at her, when the Jaffa dragged him out of the barn. What was there to say? She resisted only briefly, just long enough for the Jaffa holding her right arm to point his Zat at her stomach. “Do you really want me to shoot you?”

            She swallowed hard and shook her head.

            The only valuable humans in this village… she didn’t have to think long or hard to figure out what this meant. Strangely enough, the last thing she looked at in the house was the cow. The cow she’d never had the decency to name.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25

2003

In the distance the villagers were brought together. Evan heard the muffled shouts. All of them were driven there. Oswald, Odo, Clara, Marquard, Cuthbert, Mariah, Wolfstan, Agnes… all of these people who had given them shelter, who had helped them and who would’ve fought alongside them to get out of this.

            Staff weapon fire erupted, almost making him stop dead in his tracks. The shouts. The pleas among the harsh energy blasts. It was all over within minutes and he was forced to walk in the opposite direction. Alex was so pale he was afraid she would faint there and then, but even if she did, the Jaffa wouldn’t let her fall.

            “Alex, look at me,” he said, earning a jab in the ribs for talking. But she didn’t. She just stared ahead, her eyes blank as the noises from the square subsided.

            These people here meant nothing to the Jaffa. They’d just be replaced by a fresh batch of workers to tend to the fields and livestock. But the town would be burned to the ground. He’d seen it happen once before. The people of a world rebelled and this was the reward for failure. He should have prevented this. He should have told the men to make their move last night, then at least there would be some survivors. This, all of this, was his fault.

            The ring platform was dead ahead and they were pushed on it. One last look at the village told him that the first buildings had already gone up in flames. Was it their house? The little one-room living space with its uneven floor and the narrow bed? Or Oswald’s and Clara’s place? The origin of he smoke would at least suggest as much.

 

She stumbled over the torn skirt when they pushed her into the cell, but Evan’s hands steadied her readily enough. A slight burning sensation in her forearm still reminded her of that needle they’d jabbed into her to take some of her blood. At least she hoped that’s what they’d done.

            With a hiss the door closed behind them.

            The air was too clean, too sterile. Breathing it after all this time in an environment that was everything but sterile almost made her dizzy and she clung to his shirt, as he helped her sit down on one of the benches. “Are you okay?”, he asked, making her look up again.     

            She shook her head. Her ears were still ringing with the screams of her neighbours and friends, her eyes burning with tears that wouldn’t come. “No.” It was a statement. Not a question or a guess. She was not okay. And neither was he. The dark beard made his skin look waxy. “Hold me.” For as long as he could. For as long as they were allowed to be together.

            His arms were around her instantly and she could feel him trembling. He didn’t say that things were going to be okay this time around and she was grateful for it. No ifs, no promises, no hope. “I’m sorry,” was all he said and an apology was something she could live with. “I should have seen this coming.”

            “No arguing there.” Hell, they’d even talked about the possibility of the rebellion failing. But they weren’t dead. Not yet. Everyone else was.

            She pressed her hand against her lips to stifle the quailing sob building up inside her chest, threatening to tear her apart. They’d not only killed the men, but also the women… and the children. And what of her child? What of him and her?

            Evan’s lips against her forehead did nothing to make her stop shaking. There was nothing he could do anymore to soothe her. To calm her. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered again, feeling the cold sweat on her forehead. Seven months. That was something at least. They’d had seven months together, they’d grown together, even started building a family… a year ago that would’ve seemed impossible to him. But still, this was not enough and it never would have been.

            “Stop apologizing,” she breathed against his chest. “Just… let’s just be quiet…”

            She wasn’t wrong. There wasn’t a thing to be said anymore. All that was left was for them to wait. Wait and hold each other for as long as they could.

 

He didn’t dare leave the little black box in the car. He hesitated, opening the lid again and staring at the golden ring and the diamond in the centre. Walking by that jewellery shop on his way to the next clothes store to buy another pair of socks for his brother-in-law for Christmas, it had only seemed natural to step through the door in and buy that ring. It didn’t even take him too long to think about it or to pick this one. It had been a matter of minutes, just as it had been a matter of minutes to fall for this woman and to be completely sure that she was the one.

            Should he ask her straight away? Tonight?

            Should he wait?

            Until Christmas? No, asking her in front of her family would only be embarrassing… New Year’s Eve?

            Or tonight? It would fit with their history. No waiting, no hesitating, just diving right in.

            He grinned to himself, his heart beating faster. There was no doubt she’d say yes. And then, tomorrow, when they left to spend the holidays with her family, they’d be ready to share the news.

            Taking a deep breath, he shoved the ring deep into the inside pocket of his jacket and opened the car door, the cold winter air making him shiver.

            The lights in the university building were still brightly lit for the last people exiting the last lectures of the year and the weekly movie night. Alex had been telling him excitedly about the Panopticum for weeks now, about how the weekly movie nights were a tradition that needed to be upheld at any cost and that he simply had to come to the final showing before Christmas. And why wouldn’t he come? If the Panopticum was a tradition, then the showing of that movie was the highlight of the year. Or so he’d been told.

            Stepping through the door he could already smell the scent of freshly baked waffles and hear the happy giggling of two younger students sitting on a set of stairs by the main entrance. He just followed the arrows, leading him to the lecture hall in which the movie would be shown. Alex was by one of the tables set on either side of the corridor, a white plastic cup in hand. When she spotted him, she waved him over. Her lips tasted of mulled wine and by the way she was leaning on him, he could tell that she’d already had a few. Getting her out of bed in the morning would be quite a challenge then. But he didn’t mind. He didn’t even mind that he couldn’t ask her tonight. She ought to be sober for this and there would be plenty of time.

            “Ah, this is Anna, she’s from Möhrendorf,” Alex giggled as Evan shook her friend’s hand. The tall, dark-haired woman, who must be at least ten years older than Alex, shook her head.

            “She likes pointing that out,” Anna said with a grin.

            “Möhrendorf, as in carrot?” Evan asked, remembering the German word for carrot. Carrot village? A strange name indeed, and small wonder it amused Alex as much as it did.

Anna nodded, rolling her eyes. “We should get in, though. Or we won’t get good seats. Did you bring the flashlights?”

            “Yes…” He held up the paper bag. “Why do we need those again?”

            “You’ll see. Here, have some wine.” Anna reached into her massive purse, got out a thermos and poured piping hot liquid into another plastic cup.

            “Okay, you have to tell me what we’re doing here,” Evan muttered as Alex pulled him into the lecture hall.

            “We’re following tradition… I’ve only done this once before, but it’s a lot of fun. I even brought cookies.”

            “Did you make them?”

            “No. I bought them. I’m not suicidal.”

            “Good to hear. Okay… this movie…?”

            “Ancient thing. It’s about this man, a playwright, who was educated at his parents’ house as a boy, so he never got to do all the fun stuff” she started explaining as she led him to the door, her cheeks flushed from the wine and excitement. “So now he’s around thirty or fourty, all those actors are SO old, and his friends are completely confused that he never got to play tricks on his teachers with his fellow classmates, so he makes a bet with them. And so he goes to school and does all the things he never could.”

            “Okay… so a comedy. And why do we need flashlights and alarm clocks and –“ He blinked as they walked past a group of excited looking men, who had to be at least thirty-five. He’d never get used to how old German students could be without being the exception. “Are those sparklers?”

            “Yep.”

            “Are they going to light them? In here? Is that even allowed?”

            “Today it is.”

All the seats were filled by the time the movie started and he just allowed himself to be swept away by the silly jokes, the drinking, the partying. It was almost like the German version of a Rocky-Horror showing.

He just joined in. Drinking when the movie suggested it, drinking to every single time the protagonist’s name (“Pfeiffer” with three Fs, one in front of the EI, the other two after the EI, he learned) was called, drinking when the students pretended to be drunk, helping the protagonist cheating at Geography by pointing the flashlight at the map  on the screen so he could help his friend find the right location and helping Anna light a sparkler during Chemistry class. This whole thing was ridiculous, but he loved every moment of it, especially when Alex drew him in for a long kiss, which tasted like wine spiked with a bit of extra liquor and lasted a whole scene.

“We should get married,” she giggled drunkenly. “Become respectable. Grow up.”

He laughed and shook his head. “Let’s talk about this.”

But they didn’t talk about it. Not that day and not the rest of the week. And he only vaguely remembered they’d talked at all that night.

 

He woke with a massive headache. Blinking down at the floor, his arms pulled back, as he hung there, unable to move. He didn’t know where he was. Not until he recognized the familiar buzzing of some electronic device. He probably wouldn’t even have known it was there, had he not spent the majority of the past year without any kind of modern technology.

            The village… the houses going up in flames, the screams of the people. And Alex… he jerked fully awake. She was gone… She’d fallen asleep right next to him, her bump safe and secure between them. But now…

            “About time.” A tall, dark-haired, a smug grin on his face was standing right in front of him. How long had he been standing there? He wasn’t wearing Jaffa attire, there was no tattoo on his forehead. His voice… how strange it was, almost distorted. “Good morning.”

            Evan swallowed hard and forced himself to stand up a bit. It didn’t quite work. The bar holding his arms was too low. “You’re Ba’al then?”

            The man’s eyebrows rose up. “I am… I take it you’re Evan J Lorne?”

            “It’s Major Evan J Lorne, actually.” He forced back the bile rising in his throat. He couldn’t show any more weakness than he already had. For Alex’s sake. Wherever she was. His chest felt so tight he could barely breathe, and it wasn’t just the restraints that were making it hard to breathe.

            “Ah. Yes.” That smile never left the man’s face and it was disconcerting to say the least. “Tau’ri military rank, I suppose… well-“

            “What do you want with us? We’re of no use to you.”

            “No, you are.” The last Evan had heard, the Goa’uld hadn’t even been on this planet. He must have come here just for them. A shiver ran down his spine, as Ba’al picked up a long metal rod with three forks sticking out at the end. “I knew you were still here, I just didn’t think it necessary to flush you out. Your workforce was better than no workforce.”

            Evan didn’t reply. He’d already gathered as much. But why keep them alive now? He was itching to inquire about Alex, but he knew that, whatever information he got out of Ba’al would be a lie. So the only choice he had was to return the favour.

            “You and that woman have a strange genetical anomaly, did you know that?”

            Even scoffed, a sound which was immediately rewarded by a sharp jab with the prongs. The pain was instantaneous, rushing through his entire body like an electrical charge, as every muscle in his body began to spasm, leaving him shaking, his throat raw with a scream he’d never thought had made it past his lips.

            “It’s something I’ve only seen once before. It’s why I’m here. To investigate.”

            “Just stop talking,” Evan breathed just before he was jabbed again. Being prepared for it didn’t make it any easier. His fingers curled into fists, his very skin was on fire, every hair of his body standing on end. It passed as suddenly as it had come.

            “You know Colonel O’Neill?”

            Evan spat at the Goa’uld’s feet. Whatever it was he wanted from him, he wouldn’t get it. Not as long as he didn’t know Alex was okay… then…maybe then he’d be willing to talk.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 26

2003

“Unshackle him.”

            Evan slowly raised his head, but he could only make out shapes in the darkness. Every muscle in his body was aching, his shoulders most of all. Ba’al hadn’t asked him a single question about security at the SGC. Not one about the location of the Alpha Site. He barely remembered anything, though his arms and legs did.

            His knees just folded when the Jaffa released him and as he lay there on the ground, his shoulders snapping painfully back into position, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to get up of his own accord.

            “Major…” A female voice. One he didn’t know.

            He groaned in response, incapable of moving even his finger.

            “Major, I am Mi’lad of the Tok’ra. You have to stay awake.”

            “Tok’ra?” he breathed. What was this? Another ruse?

            There was a hand at his throat, firm but not ungentle. “His pulse his steady, but he’s weak.”

            “I know… Major, I’m sorry, but we have to move before this Ha’tak enters hyperspace.”

            A sharp, stabbing pain, sending hot waves through his entire body woke him up. His eyes flew open. It was still dark, but he could see the people leaning over him now. A man and a woman. The woman had short, dark hair and there was a thin scar on her chin, almost disfiguring her. The man… Evan recognized him from the village… from the barn. He’d been there, holding Alex…

            “This is Tal’ot. Free Jaffa. We’ve come to take you away from here, Major, before he takes you to his lab. But you have get up now.” This couldn’t be right. It just couldn’t be.

            “What-“

            “I was on a secret mission by the Tok’ra high council when Tal’ot here contacted me. There is no time to explain it all.”

            Should he believe them? Could he believe them? But what choice did he have? He sat up slowly. “We have to get my wife,” he breathed, his heart hammering in his chest. “Alex Woolston. She’s here as well.”

            Mil’ad nodded. “We know. She’s in the cell next door, but she’s in a terrible state. Can you stand?”

            Even if she hadn’t given him that drug, those words would’ve been enough to get him to his feet. His muscles protested as he stood up, but it was manageable. “What did he do to her?”

            Exchanging one look with the Jaffa, Mi’lad got to her feet as well. “Come.”

            The corridor outside was deserted. Not a single guard was stationed at either door. Why? Did Ba’al think there was no way they’d even attempt an escape? Or was this Ha’tak not carrying a full contingent of Jaffa? Was that the reason it had taken so long for them to get discovered? Well, even if that was the case, if these two hadn’t shown up out of the blue, he’d still be hanging there.

Alex… what had he done to her? The Tok’ra had said she was in a terrible state. Evan didn’t even want to start thinking about the baby.

            Tal’ot moved past him and opened the next cell after entering a simple six-digit code on a golden panel right next to it. The door slid open with a soft hiss and the first thing he saw were her naked feet.

            “Damn it, Alex,” he muttered, unable to utter another sound. He pushed the Jaffa to the side, not seeing anything but her, lying there on the table, unmoving, pale. Her hand was icy as he touched it, her face clammy. “Alex….” His  voice wasn’t more than a whimper as he brushed the hair out of her face. She was breathing, he could see her chest rising and falling underneath the crisp white gown. “Don’t leave me now… Alex…” Not now…not after all they’d gone through together.

            “She’s alive,” Mil’ad said next to him “but we have to move. We can take care of her back on the base. It is not far.”

            Alive… but for how long? What the hell had Ba’al done to her?!

            Her eyelids fluttered open and he let out a sob. “Evan-“

            “Sh, I’m here, babe. I’m gonna carry you now, okay. Just stay quiet.”

            She shook her head impossibly slowly. “Evan, he-“

            “No,” he cut her off, unwilling to look at their rescuers. Why hadn’t they moved sooner? Why had allowed what had happened on the planet to happen? “No, no talking, sweetie. Just stay with me.” He’d never have thought he’d have the strength to pull her off that table and to hold her. Her bump was almost soft against his chest, but apart from that she seemed okay. He staggered momentarily before he caught his balance, ignoring the strain in his arms. “Alright, let’s move.”

            Alex’s arms were around his neck, her head heavy on her shoulder. Did he even want to think abut what Ba’al had done to her? Probably not, or he’d stop right there and then to hunt him down and choke him do death.

            Her breathing was laboured, every step he took accompanied by a wince. Her skin was still clammy against his. Was she running a fever? She’d dripped into unconsciousness again by the time they got to the end of the corridor. Her body was limp against his chest, making it even harder to carry her.

            They paused for a moment. The Jaffa stepped into the corridor first, looked around, then motioned for them to follow him.

            “Where are we going?” Evan breathed.

            “My cloaked cargo ship is waiting in orbit. I originally used it to smuggle trinium off this ship, but I guess those times are over now.” Mil’ad looked down at Alex and brushed a hand over her forehead. The Tok’ra’s tone was almost accusing. Like it was his fault they were captured and he had to abandon that little Tok’ra adventure. She’d been taken the trinium? And taken it where? For the Tok’ra to use? The exploits of slave labour? What the hell was wrong with these people?

            “Can’t you give her the same drug you gave me? Wake her up?”

            Mil’ad shook her head. “She needs rest. She’s far too fragile.”

            Evan bit back a sarcastic comment. Alex was anything but fragile. How else had she survived these last few months? How else could she have managed to join an SG-team? But the Tok’ra had a point: who could tell what that drug might do to her baby. If the baby was still alive. Evan didn’t want to think about that either. Not now.

            They didn’t run into anyone on their way to the ring platform. Mil’ad and Tal’ot knew this ship like the back of their hands and as they were transported onto the cargo ship, Evan wondered how more successful their rebellion would have been, had he known about these two. They left him and Alex without a word and headed to the front of the ship to fly the ship.

            Alex grimaced as he put her down and her eyes flew open. She took a long breath and winced at the same time. Her hand clutched his arm. “Evan-“

            “Yes, it’s okay. I’m here.”

            She shook her head and the tears in her eyes made her look so small, so desperate. “I’m sorry,” she breathed, her chest heaving and falling.

            “It’ll be alright.” He was holding her tight against his chest, ignoring the humming of the engines and their surroundings. All that mattered was that they were together. That she was alive. That they were getting out of here. The ship around them rumbled softly and he knew they’d jumped to hyperspace.

            She shook her head, the tears falling heavily onto her chest. “Evan, he took her,” she breathed. “He took our girl.”

Chapter Text

2003

Fuzzy.

            That was the word. Fuzzy. That’s what everything around her was. The bedclothes, the beeping sounds in the distance. That hand around hers. His voice.

            Fuzzy.

            Until it wasn’t anymore. Until the pain came rushing back and the voices around her became clearer, his hand around her fingers firmer, like his skin and flesh was slowly but surely materializing around her.

            The first thing she saw was the dark grey ceiling. Concrete. Some powerlines and pipes running over it. And she knew exactly where she was. Why she was hurting like this. Not just the rudimentary healed wound in her abdomen, but also that throbbing pain in her chest.

            She remembered it all.

The anaesthesia, that feeling of drowsiness she couldn’t fight as Ba’al stood to the side, watching that other Goa’uld start on her. She didn’t feel pain then. Just mild surprise at how numb she was. Her fingers were the first thing to start moving again when she saw the bloody, much too small creature being taken away to be placed in a box. A glass coffin. She would’ve screamed, had her muscles let her. She would’ve jumped up, had her body not defied her. “Congratulations. You have a daughter… well, personally I’d hoped for a male, but that can still come, can’t it?” Ba’al… that man she’d only met that day. That monster who would do this to her.

            Tears were streaming down her face when, instead of the faceless man who had ripped the child out of her, she saw Ba’al’s face hovering over hers. And then there was a deep red light, a searing pain rushing through her skull. “I’ll take good care of her.”

            Alex blinked against the tears now, forcing them back, because crying would only make it hurt even more. She looked around without moving her head. Was she really back at the SGC? Had it all been a dream? A very vivid, horrible dream? There was nobody around, apart from the man sleeping with his head buried in his arms on her mattress. The computers were on, the beds to her left and right empty. His dark hair was shorter than it had been only a few days ago, and when he stirred and looked up, she noticed that the glorious beard was gone as well.

            “Doctor Fraser!”

            Hurried footsteps were approaching, but all she could focus on was Evan. His lips, the cut on his brow, those piercingly blue eyes and the search for forgiveness in them. “Hey,” Evan whispered, raising her knuckles to his lips briefly. “You’re awake.”

            She nodded, just as the familiar face of Janet Fraser entered her field of vision. “Doctor Woolston.” Doctor Fraser smiled briefly, but that smile never reached her eyes. “You’re safe. You’re home.”

            Alex nodded again. Both statements were true, they must be, but she didn’t feel them.

            “I need to examine you. Make sure you’re really okay?”

            “I’m not,” Alex said and a trace of concern rushed over Fraser’s face.

            “No, I know… I mean physically. May I?”

            Evan let go of her hand and stood up to make room for Fraser. This was all just wrong. The soft mattress, the smell of cleanliness and the smooth fabric of the blanket covering her. The blinding white light.

            She just let it happen, let Fraser make sure that she was fully alert, that her reflexes were functioning.

            “We’ve also examined the wound of the C-section. It should heal well enough, Doctor.” Fraser’s eyes were firm, not a trace of pity in them and Alex was grateful for it. She couldn’t deal with that. “There shouldn’t be any complications there.” She took a deep breath and a flicker of doubt rushed over her face. She looked at Evan for a moment, then back at Alex. “Not even if you want children.”

            Alex swallowed hard and dropped her gaze at the careful wording. She didn’t say “If you want any more children.” Just children, without acknowledging the past. Alex wasn’t sure she could face that right now. “How long was I out?”

            “About a day. The anaesthesia was very strong and the Tok’ra didn’t dare wake you. And the trauma…”

            Only a day… she tried sitting up, but just moving like this send a wave of pain through her body that almost made her scream out loud.

            “You will be fine, I promise you.”

            No complications… children… what about the one she’d lost? What about the one Ba’al had taken? She closed her eyes, pressing her eyelids together so she didn’t have to see. But not seeing didn’t help against that emptiness inside her chest.

            Evan was right beside her, his hand around hers, his tears on her skin as he held her gently without shifting her body.

            “I’m so sorry,” she heard Doctor Fraser say, and then the footsteps moved away again.

 

“What is this, Major?” Hammond was standing behind that desk of his, the file in his hand.

            Evan shrugged. “My mission report, Sir.” He was boiling underneath. One more second in this office and he was going to smash something. If there had ever been a time for him to fully appreciate what Javier had gone through it was now.

            “It’s seven sentences. Written like a pre-schooler.” The anger in Hammond’s voice barely touched him.

            “No, it’s poetic, Sir. Seven months, seven sentences. Almost eight. Should I have added sub-clauses to make up for those few extra days?”

            “Major, I’m warning you-“

            “What?” He was so tense, the muscles in his arms so ready to strike, it took him all he had to remain standing without moving. His eyes flickered to the briefing room, to the people sitting behind the desk. Colonel O’Neill, Major Carter and Teal’c.

            “I understand you’re upset, Major, but this-“

            “Yes, I’m upset, Sir!” Evan interrupted him, his voice raised. He didn’t even care that the people next door could hear him. “And I’m sorry if you don’t like my writing style, but I don’t have time for this BS right now.”

            “Major, stand down!” Hammond shouted, but Evan didn’t even bat an eye.

            “He has my child! Do you even understand what that means? She’s so small, I don’t even know if she’s still alive. My wife is in the infirmary-“

            “Major, I am well aware of the circumstances, but-“

            “General, give the man a break.” O’Neill was standing in the doorway, eyes focused on Evan, who was shaking from head to foot by now. Evan dropped his gaze, staring at the tips of his boots.

            “Colonel? I don’t remember asking your opinion.”

            “We did leave them behind, Sir. He has every reason to be angry.”

            Hammond stared at O’Neill, as icy silence filled the small room. “Major, take a seat.”

            Evan hesitated for a moment, looking at O’Neill. The man nodded and entered the office, closing the door behind him.

            “Major, I am sorry.” Hammond said quietly, gesturing for O’Neill to take a seat as well. This was new. “You don’t hand in reports like this. You know that. If you’re not ready to write it, don’t. This will be-“

            “It’s a bureaucratic act, Sir.” O’Neill leaned back in his chair, just as Hammond sat down behind his desk. “Give him a break, he’s only been back a day.”

            Just a day. And he was aching to be out there again. To hunt down Ba’al. To be back in that little house and do it all over again. To keep her safe and not even attempt to get them out of there.

            “Major, I am truly sorry for what happened.” Hammond’s words meant nothing, but Evan forced himself to look up again. “When you stopped replying to our attempts to contact you, we thought you were dead.”

            “Ba’al didn’t boast about our demise though, did he?”

            “No.” O’Neill said, rubbing his chin. “No, he didn’t.”

            Evan cleared his throat, just for something to do without having to talk. He folded his hands and stared down at his boots.

            “What would he want with that child?”

            He closed his eyes for a moment. “She still had a few weeks to go. Alex…she got pregnant pretty soon after we were stranded there.” Evan said quietly, not daring to clear his throat. “It wasn’t even time yet.”

            “We understand that.” O’Neill twitched in his chair, looking uncomfortable. “We need to know what Ba’al could possibly want, so we can figure out a way to stop him.”

            “I don’t know.” Evan rubbed his forehead. He should be back with Alex. She’d be transferred to a real hospital today and he needed to be with her. Her mother would be arriving soon. “He- he said something about a genetical anomaly we shared… something you have as well, Colonel.” And what did it even matter?

            A knock at the door made him almost jump out of his skin. His head whipped around and his mouth fell open when he recognized the man standing there. “Doctor Jackson?!”

            He nodded, pushing the glasses up his nose. “Glad to see you too, Major,” Jackson said with a mild smile. When had that happened? Wasn’t Jackson supposed to be dead?! “Long story.” Jackson shrugged and entered the room without further ado, closing the door behind him. The strangest things happened in this place. If only Evan could start caring about that again… but that point wasn’t even close.

            Hammond frowned, but didn’t comment on Jackson’s rudeness.

            “So, something we have in common? Must be our charming personalities,” O’Neill picked up again in an attempt at a joke. But Evan didn’t comment. He was in no mind to indulge anyone around here at the moment.

            “Well, I don’t know about that, but I figured something else out,” Jackson dived in.

            “What is it Doctor Jackson?” Hammond sounded a tad annoyed.

            “Okay, so. The Tok’ra send us some intel about Ba’al a few weeks ago. Apparently he’s taken over some, if not most of, of Nirrti’s domain.”

            “Nirrti?” Evan sat up a bit straighter. “Wasn’t she-“

            “A bitch, yes,” O’Neill said with a frown. “Super fond of technology, liked to experiment on people… she was killed a few months back.”

            Evan’s stomach gave a lurch. Experiments…

            “Well, yes,” Jackson confirmed, his eyes jumping between O’Neill and Hammond. “I think we can safely say that Ba’al has taken Major Lorne’s daughter to one of those outposts. In his domain several women have vanished these past few months, most of them never returned, and the few that did-“

            “Turned up dead,” Evan said, his entire body numb. “I know. I saw them. The Jaffa just dumped the bodies in the forest for us to find.”

            Hammond was looking at him, his gaze intense, Evan felt it resting on him, but he didn’t meet it. There was no way he could do that. “Where are those labs?” Hammond asked.

            “Well, that’s gonna be a bit of a problem, Sir. We don’t know yet.”

            “Sir?” Evan pressed his lips together. “If you find out, I want to be part of the team that goes there.”

            “No, son.”

            Evan shivered at being addressed like this. The pity in the General’s voice was even harder to handle than the news that Ba’al was most likely doing experiments on his child. How the hell was he supposed to tell Alex? “Sir-“

            “Absolutely not. You’ve been through hell. So has Doctor Woolston. You will go back to active duty when you’ve been cleared, and you will only go to join Colonel Edwards and the rest of their team-“

            “No!” Evan found himself saying. A year ago he’d never have dared speaking up like this. “No, this is my child we’re talking about here. And it’s my fault my- my daughter is in this mess-“

            “General, if I may.” Jackson took a step forward until he was standing right next to Evan’s chair. “It might take some time for us to find out where that lab is. And if we do, you should let him come with us. You let me join SG-1 so I could find Sha’re.”

            Hammond frowned at Jackson, then exchanged a glance with O’Neill, who shrugged again. “When he’s right, he’s right, Sir.”

            “Well, we’re not there yet.” Hammond got up from his chair. “I will let you know about my decision when that time is here. Dismissed.”

            Evan got up without another word. He couldn’t meet Jackson’s eyes. The man was back… not only was he not dead, he was just standing here as though nothing had happened. He briefly touched his arm. “Major-“

            “Not now, please,” Evan murmured, pulling his arm free and rushing out through the door. He had to get back to Alex.

 

She was sitting up. It still hurt, but the pain medication helped. The nurse, a really young blond woman, was helping her change into a set of standard-issue clothes. A plain T-Shirt, a pair of jogging-pants. She’d stopped talking the moment Alex asked her to.

            The flowers on the night-stand looked terribly out of place in these surroundings. Bright pink cloves against a backdrop of dark gey. A gift from Daniel. Daniel… the fact that he was back hadn’t yet registered with her. Daniel was back, Jonas was gone. She and Evan were back, but her baby was gone. Just like that… only two days ago she’d still felt it move inside her… no… not it… her… Nora.

            “Thank you,” Alex said quietly, shrugging into the dark blue jacket. Her team badge was already on her right forearm. When had that happened? How could this still be real? SG-15. Where was Pierce? Off-world like Edwards? She’d been glad to hear that the rest of SG-11 and 15 had made it back through the Gate and that no one ese had been harmed, but just seeing that badge again made her shiver.

            Her heart lifted slightly when she saw Evan come in through the door. He too was wearing his team badge. SG-11. She swallowed hard.

“Hey. Ready to go?” He’d take her to the nearby Air Force Academy Hospital, where they didn’t have a gynaecological unit, but Doctor Fraser had said that this was the only place in the whole of the United States, where the doctors had a high enough security clearance to deal with her psychological needs… Psychological needs. What did that even mean? What she needed was her child. Not even the heartfelt apology from General Hammond that morning had done any good.

            Alex nodded and reached for his arm so he could help her stand up.

“The transport is waiting for us.” And where would he go when it was time for him to leave her alone for the night? From what she gathered, both her apartment and his house weren’t theirs anymore. So were his car and hers. All their clothes and books, every single possession wasn’t their anymore. They weren’t even married anymore.

His arm steadied her, was firm around her waist as he led her to the wheelchair standing ready for her. She didn’t take the cloves with her. She didn’t have the energy to pick them up.

“I can walk, you know?”

He shrugged. “Indulge me.”

“I was at General Hammond’s office just now,” Evan said quietly. “He didn’t like my mission report.”

“You wrote a mission report?”

“Yeah…” He pushed her through the door and towards the elevator. “I was angry… still am.”

“What did he say?”

“Well, he wasn’t impressed, that’s for sure.”

The elevator doors parted in front of them and she dropped her gaze so the people inside wouldn’t be able to question her with their eyes.

“Heey, Major. Hi, Alex. I’ve just come to talk to you.” Daniel.

She swallowed hard and looked up at him. He’d only been at her bed for a few minutes before he’d run off to a debriefing with his team.

“Do you have a minute?”

“We’re supposed to meet the transport to the hospital,” Evan said in her place.

“Okay… I’ll make this quick then.”

“It’s alright, Evan.” If anything, Daniel had been her friend in this place. Her first friend at the SGC. She’d grieved for him and missed him for months, until her own problems had caught up with her. And the way he looked at her, his eyes full of understanding and pain. He knew what she must be going through. At least to some extent. Of course he did. He lost his wife to the Goa’uld.

Evan hesitated for a moment, then he let out a long breath. “Okay… I’ll wait for you upstairs.”

She nodded, squeezing his hand as he walked past her.

“No- no, I meant both of you, actually.” Daniel pushed his glasses up his nose. “Look, I just want to say… if you need someone to talk to, I’m there. And I know Jack will do all he can to get your kid back to you. So will Teal’c and Sam. We all know what it’s like… especially Jack and Teal’c.” He sighed. “And the other teams are right there with you. I know they are.”

Alex nodded. “Thank you.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll swing by the hospital, I promise.”

She nodded again, still holding Evan’s hand. “Okay.” As Evan pushed her into the elevator, she was almost sorry she hadn’t picked up the flowers.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 28

2003

Mission Report File 34389-2

Major E.J. Lorne, SG-11

July 2nd 2003

We were on P3X-25A in the middle of trade negotiations. Ba’al and his Jaffa showed up. Doctor Woolston and I were separated from the rest of the team and left behind. We hid among the people. She got pregnant and we were stuck there for seven months. We were discovered. The Tok’ra got us out of there after Ba’al took our child.

 

“Hammond didn’t appreciate the poetry,” Evan said sourly as he sat next to her, his eyes fixed on her face as she stared at the laptop.

            “I can’t believe you wrote this.” What had he done? She looked at him, at the lips pressed into a thin line and the unease in his eyes, betraying him. He did care about what he’d written, but he was too angry, too furious to retract it.

            “It’s accurate, isn’t it?”

            She laughed bitterly, wincing at the short stab of pain it caused her and closed the computer. “Too accurate maybe… I should just copy and paste to match yours.”

            The flicker of a grin spread over his face. “Switch the names first.” They were squeezed on the hospital bed, his arm around her shoulders. Their legs, hips and torsos were touching. His warmth felt good, just like it always had. She’d grown used to it. It meant that something steady and unchangeable was still there in her life.

“It’s all so surreal,” he stated, looking out of the window. A window of all things, overlooking a well-tended garden and a road with actual cars barely visible through the leaves and branches. From afar he could see the leaves shifting in the wind, but he almost missed the hot summer breeze drifting in through the window, just as he absurdly missed the sound of the cow and the chickens next door. And at the same time, he knew he was in the right place. This was his home and it just felt right. But there was also this persistent numbness. Numbness and anger and helplessness.

            “I know.” She put her hand on his leg, leaned her head against his shoulder. There had been no further complications, but they still kept her here for observation. Just to make sure she really was okay and she had her first appointment with a psychiatrist scheduled for the next day, at the same time he had his. What would he even say?

            “How- how do you think she is?” There were tears in her voice, but not in her eyes.

            “I hope she’s okay,” he breathed, closing his eyes against the stinging of his own. He hadn’t cried for his child. For Alex, yes. For himself and for their neighbours. Not for their daughter. He wouldn’t. Not until he was sure. “She has to be.” Pulling her closer, he rested his chin on the top of her head.

            “She was so small… so tiny… and I never even got to see her face… it’s like- like a dream. A nightmare. I don’t even know-“ She broke off, wiping her eyes. Never in all the time he’d known her, had he thought of her as fragile. Not even when she was as big as a boat and could barely fit in bed with him. Not really. Not even when she’d been lying on the ground in the barn, that cow shielding her almost as if on purpose.

            “I wish I could tell you we’ll find her.” He was done making promises he couldn’t keep. He’d tried it, back in their other life, but not anymore. Because there was nothing he could do but hope that the address with the lab would be found. That Hammond would let him go there, instead of sending him back to his team. Edwards and the rest of SG-11 had been assigned to a planet with an abandoned naquadah mine about a week ago and as soon as Evan was cleared again for active duty, he’d have to join them. There was no way around it. Well, there was… he could resign his commission. After what had happened to him and Alex, there wouldn’t be any opposition to that, but he’d also give up any hope of ever retrieving their daughter.

            “If you don’t-“

            “Let’s not talk about that,” he breathed. “Not yet.”

            A soft knock at the door made him flinch and look up. There, standing in the doorway, was an older version of Alex. Short, blond hair, bright green and blue eyes. A woman of about sixty with a pointed nose and tears in her eyes. Rachel Woolston was staring at her daughter. “Alex?”

            “Mom?” She sounded like a child. Small. Terrified.

            But her mother didn’t come in straight away. She just stood there, seemingly frozen in place. She must have left the moment she got the news of Alex’s return. She had her daughter back… the irony of it all made Evan choke up.

            Evan squeezed Alex’s hand and got up from the bed. “Mrs Woolston… hi.” He forced himself to keep looking at her. The woman who was a grandmother and didn’t even know.

            “Hi, Evan.” Rachel cleared her throat and wiped her face. She was at Alex’s side within seconds, embracing her so tight, he saw Alex wince. But Alex didn’t complain, just hugged her mother tight, trembling and shaking.

            “Mom, I’m okay,” Alex lied.

            “I don’t believe you,” Rachel whispered holding Alex’s face in her hands and kissing her cheeks. “What happened?”

            Alex laughed unhappily and shook her head. “Ask the Air Force if they’re willing to give you security clearance.”

            Rachel scoffed and pulled Alex closer again. “Don’t give me that…” She sighed and opened her eyes to look at Evan. “They told me you went missing along with her… thank you for bringing her home.”

            It was becoming harder to breathe facing those eyes which were so much like Alex’s. “I didn’t,” Evan said quietly so his voice didn’t sound as choked up, failing at it completely. “We were rescued. Mrs Woolston.”

            “Will you tell me what happened to you?”

            “No. No, I can’t.” There had been a cover story, he was sure there was. He’d been given a suspiciously big file a few hours ago, but it was still lying, unopened, in the room he’d been assigned at the SGC.

            “Why are you here? What’s wrong with you?” Rachel let go of Alex, brushing the tears from her face. “Were you hurt?”

            “Mom…” Alex stifled a sob. The pain in her abdomen was nothing in comparison to the emptiness in her chest, that gaping hole of misery and the sense of hopelessness. She took a hiccupping breath and stretched out her hand for Evan, who sat down next to her and wrapped his arm around her. Securing her. Trying to steady her, without much success. Just staring at her mother, made her feel like a five-year old again. A child was looking for comfort after bruising her knee. “Mom, I- I-“

            “We were undercover,” Evan lied quickly. “I can’t tell you exactly what happened, or where, but we… we.” He bit his lip, still doing all he could to face Rachel’s pleading eyes. “Alex was pregnant… we-we were captured and –“

            “I lost it.” Three words that told him all he needed to know about what she truly thought of their child. There was no hope, not even a trace of it. But he didn’t contradict her, because what else could he have said?

            “Pregnant?” Rachel blinked und put a hand to her mouth, staring at Alex with wide eyes. “You- I’m so sorry.” It wasn’t enough. If anything, it made things even worse. She took Alex’s other hand and squeezed it. After a moment, she looked at Evan. “Was it-“

            He nodded. “We didn’t plan it, but… it just happened.”

            Rachel smiled sadly. “With you two? No small wonder.” She laughed through her tears. There was that same strength in her, he realized. The same determination not to let anything get her down, even though she was shaken.

 

Rachel stayed with them the rest of the afternoon. Her presence seemed to calm Alex in a way that Evan’s couldn’t. Alex fell asleep just before dinner and neither Evan nor Rachel could bring themselves to wake her up.

When she finally left to go to her hotel, Evan accompanied her to the elevator. “Thank you for coming.” He pushed the button with he button pointing down. Buttons, electricity… this would take a while to get used to again.

“Thank you for staying with her through all of this.” Rachel’s hand was on his arm then and before he knew it, she had pulled him into a hug, her head resting against his chest. This woman was tiny… he’d almost forgotten.

“Don’t thank me,” he said, pulling away from her. “This is all my fault… she being in this state.”

Rachel looked up at him questioningly. “No, it’s not… whatever you say, I won’t believe a word of it.”

And again he couldn’t argue, because Rachel could never know what had happened to them, or why. But before he could speak, she raised a hand to make him stay quiet.

“Just- don’t. Not right now. Give it time.”

Time… if only that were something he had.

 

“Should I go looking for an apartment for us?” He was holding her in the dark on that narrow bed. The insecurity in his voice made her shudder, but his arm around her, the other under her head like a pillow, told her that he wasn’t going to leave her. Reassuring touches in the dead of night.

            “A house?” She pressed her lips against his bicep.

            “So, you are going to stay? At the SGC?”

            She nodded and felt his arm tighten around her. The remainder of her bump as good as gone. “Why would I leave…” It wasn’t that she wanted to get back to work. She still needed time. Time to process, time to settle, but her child was still out there. Or was it gone? Was she even still alive? Who could know? If Ba’al wanted her to experiment on… then who could say what had happened. Not knowing was the worst part… could she at least know that their baby was truly gone, then all of this would be- no. It wouldn’t be easier. And here they were again: all those ifs. All those questions. Haunting her and following her every waking moment. But Evan was here too. Going through the same thing. Being just as miserable as she was. And she’d stay here for as long as she found out what had happened. “It’s my life… you’re my life.”

            His lips traced her spine as she looked through the half-closed blinds. How soon would she grow sick of those trees outside her window?

They’d let him stay with her, something she wouldn’t have believed possible, but apparently that psychiatrist had insisted.

“Ellen brought a little something when she was here earlier.”

            “Apart from the cookies?”

“Apart from those, yes.” She could hear the smile in his voice. The mattress gave way as he moved, half turning away to reach for something behind him. His arm was gone for a moment, and then back around her again. “I want Nora back, no question. I…” he paused.

 Nora… he’d started calling her by that name a few hours ago. She wasn’t there yet. Not out loud. She remembered what Agnes had told her. About how naming the child before it was born was like a jinx.  

“Listen, this is not what I had planned back in the day, but I want you to have it. I refuse to wait another moment. Life’s too short.”

She could barely see what he was holding, only that it was bright pink and lumpy. “What is it.?”

“Our sock collection.”

“Evan…” Her breath caught in her chest. She bit her lip and blinked, doing her best to get rid of the tears which had started flowing more frequently than before, since- She turned around in his arms, wrapping hers around him.

He sighed, his chest heaving against her cheek. “I’m sorry… bad timing.”

“No…” How could there possibly be bad timing between them anymore? “No, it’s- just- I,” she stammered, incapable of forming even one coherent sentence. No word could ever be enough. His hands gently travelled up and down her spine. “Nora-“

“I know… I want her to be with us, too.” It was such a feeble attempt at communication, but at least he was trying. At least he was still with her, when everyone they’d talked to the last seven months was gone. Closing her eyes, she could still see their faces, Clara most prominent among them. Clara was dead. So was everyone else. And here she was, pining for that one child she’d lost. One child compared to the two hundred people of their village. Her throat was raw from the stifled sobs, as he held her close to him. She couldn’t scream now. She couldn’t risk waking the whole hospital.

Without saying anything else, he took the socks out of her hand, pulled her pink one off his black one and held them out to her to see. She nodded, yes, she still had hers, or her mother had them. She couldn’t be sure.

“Okay…” He kissed the top of her head and reached into the black sock. He took her left hand into his. “Look at me.”

Hesitantly she looked up at him, at his eyes close to his. Their noses were almost touching, her hand on his chest. She watched on, as he slid a thin golden band on her ring finger, the small diamond in its centre sparkling slightly in the moonlight.

“Stay with me,” he whispered. “I can’t go through this alone. I need you.”

            The words echoed something else he had said over a year ago. Something she’d never forgotten, and which seemed to have taken place in another life. I have to know that we can do this. Work together, be apart, be together. And we sucked so bad at this being apart thing. And I can’t go through it again. No matter how much I love you.

            Well, there cards had been dealt. She clutched at his hand, leaned over to kiss him.

            They had done so much together. They had survived. They had worked together to survive. They had been apart and been a team. Had they become a better couple? She didn’t know. All she knew was that she needed him just as badly as he needed her. To go through this. Even if there was no coming out of it at the other end.

 

Chapter Text

 

2003

 For the first time since he’d known him, her brother was lost for words. Adam Woolston, the man who, on the three or four occasions he’d known him, had boasted about his great life as a pilot, or instead cornered Evan about his intentions for Alex, just sat there opposite him, hands folded and staring at the floor. The bag he’d brought with him was lying on the empty hospital bed. Alex had only just left for her next appointment.

            Adam wiped his nose but still wouldn’t speak. He’d barely greeted Alex, had just held her tight for five minutes straight and refused to look at Evan. The news must have hit him harder than Evan would ever have thought possible. The few times they’d met, Adam had been cheerful to the point of annoyingly being so and had barely shown any sort of interest in his sister’s life, apart from that time when he’d visited Evan to give him a talking-to.

            “So…” Adam cleared his throat and looked up. His eyes were so much like Alex’s. The same shape, the same colour. “You and her again?”

            “Yes, well-“ Evan stopped and leaned back in his chair, folded newspaper he was still holding in his hand. He’d been looking at houses for rent for a few days now, and he’d made an appointment to look at one that was for rent straight away for today. He only wished he didn’t have to bring Adam along. He was done being judged. “Things happened.”

            Adam scoffed. “Yes, I know. That’s why she’s here, isn’t it?”

            “Not entirely my fault, but yes.” Evan didn’t drop his gaze, but those words made him squirm. Adam wasn’t wrong. Not at all.

            “You knocked her up while you were prisoners in some place you can’t talk about?” His voice cracked. Ellen had said something along the same lines, but with much less accusation in her voice. To be frank, Evan could’ve dealt with accusations from his sister better than with those of Alex’s brother. “What were you thinking?”

            Well, he hadn’t been thinking. But neither had she, and once things had started to move in that direction and she was already pregnant, there had been no use stopping. “It’s more complicated than that.”

            Shaking his head, Adam got up. “You know it almost killed my mom when that Major showed up at her doorstep to tell us she’d been captured. After what happened to dad?” He wiped his hands on his pants. “And you along with her. You of all people.”

            Evan frowned. Well, that speech was supposed to come at some point. “Me of all people? You’d rather she’d been alone?” With a pang he realized that that way Alex might still be trapped on that world. Not that any good had come of their presence there, but he couldn’t help but feel grateful that at least now she was back on Earth. At least, so long as he didn’t think about the men and women he’d lived with and whose lives would be on his conscience for the rest of his life. He swallowed hard and got up as well. “There’s no use discussing how things could’ve gone differently-“

            “She wouldn’t come home for a whole year after you broke up. You know that? Couldn’t talk to mom. What you did to her-“

            “It was mutual-“ Evan interrupted him, unwilling to imagine the picture Adam was painting. One thing he knew was, that Adam Woolston liked to exaggerate, especially when it came to dramatics.

            “Whatever.” Adam closed his eyes, took a deep breath and then looked back at the bag. “Mom went shopping for her yesterday. Make sure she tries these things on.”

            Evan nodded with a frown.

            “I suppose you’ll be in it for the long run, now at least? Saw that ring.”

            Another nod. If he spoke now, he’d end up getting angry. At himself. At unspoken accusations that he couldn’t deal with right now on top of the ones which had been spoken.

            Adam sighed. “Fine then… just- just make sure she’s safe. Whatever you’re doing, she and her, whatever this damn country is making you do-“

            “Nobody is making us do anything.” He felt the pang at his own words like a blow to the stomach. Of course that wasn’t true. He was a soldier and he had to follow orders, it was as simple as that. But it had been his own choice and if he hadn’t made that choice, he would never have met Alex. “And you have no idea what you’re talking about. Your sister loves what she does, and the Air Force gave her the best job opportunity of her life.”

            With narrowed eyes, Adam drew closer, hands balled into fists and Evan was almost sure the man would just grab him by the collar and start shaking him like a rag doll. “You’re saying she loved what she’s been through?”

            “No. But her life’s not all bad, or she’d never have stayed with me.” She’d have left the SGC after two weeks tops, he was sure of it. But being there, doing something every archaeologist would give their right hand for, meant the world to her. Maybe not right now, maybe not ever again, but it had. And he would make sure she felt safe again. But Adam had every right to be worried. And he had no idea what Alex was doing for a living. Had it been his own sister in Alex’s place he might have behaved pretty much the same. Maybe even worse. He was just glad he finally got to see this side of Alex’s brother. The first real side he’d ever seen of him.

            With narrowed eyes, he motioned for Adam to be quiet, then moved to the door to close it. “Here’s the thing,” Evan said. “I’m not about to tell you what we were doing, that’s none of your business-“ Like hell it wasn’t. What the SG-teams and the rest of the SGC was doing, was everyone’s business, but they didn’t need to know about it. “What I’m going to tell you is that the people who captured us,” he pushed away the images, the memories of pain coursing through his body like it had replaced every last blood cell, “they’re pretty bad.” He swallowed hard and forced himself to keep looking at Adam. “And we were hiding from them for a really, really long time. No chance of contacting the rest of our team and they thought we were dead. I was injured, she saved me. And then, after months of hiding, we were discovered.” He blinked, his heart starting to race. “And they took our baby. It’s not dead. I’m sure she’s not dead, but she’s gone.”

            Adam’s face grew pale and Evan saw a trace of his own terror reflected in those eyes. “What are you telling me here? The Taliban-“

            “No. No, not them.” Evan shook his head. “Listen, don’t ask any more questions. All I can say is that we’re working on getting her back. I’ll get her back. I think- I think Alex believes there’s no hope, but I’m going to prove her wrong. I swear I’ll bring our daughter back to her if it’s the last thing I do.”

            There was silence for a whole minute and for a brief moment there, Evan was almost sure he saw tears in Adam’s eyes, before he shook his head. “Just… just make sure she gets the clothes,” Adam said, before pushing past Evan to get to the door.

 

She barely talked during that first interview with the psychiatrist. They spent most of their time in silence. It was clear that she had to talk. That she needed to work on this if she ever wanted to get better, but she couldn’t. She didn’t want to be here, and she didn’t want to tell him what was going on. Especially not since she’d barely begun to come to terms with it.

            They took my daughter. An alien took my daughter, because he saw potential in her before she was even born. She’s probably dead. So don’t ask me how I’m doing.

            Not that the man asked her too many questions. He only wanted her to start talking. But it didn’t work. She just resigned herself to going through another endless set of these sessions the second time rather than sit in uncomfortable silence with her brother and Evan.

            The second session didn’t pass any differently. She just sat there, staring out of the window, or at the yellow mustard spot on the white carpet, refusing to talk and trying to ignore the short, stabbing pains that hit her every time she remembered why she was here. She’d almost hoped her breasts would start aching, reminding her that the pregnancy hadn’t been a dream. That it wasn’t just that eerily clean and dark scar on her abdomen to remind her. She’d rather have the reminder of the child than of the robbery.

            Those dark eyes, occasionally glowing bright gold, followed her into her dreams. The emptiness in her chest, the throbbing of her heart, were the only thing to wake her from those nightmares. Alone and afraid. Evan had been asked to leave her side these last two nights, but he left as late as he could in the evening and was there before she even woke up. Would his presence have made a difference? She doubted it somehow.

            “How are the living arrangements going to be?” Doctor Miller asked cordially towards the end of their perverse silent-game.

            “You need to know before you can let them discharge me?” She hated the testiness in her voice, which was raw from not talking.

            Doctor Miller sighed audibly. “Listen, if you can’t work with me, I don’t think there’s any point in our continuing these sessions. Maybe I should try to find you another Doctor?”

            “I doubt there’s any other Doctor out there I could talk to.” She bit her lip, aching to be gone, wishing she could just leave and be alone.

            “So, we’ll continue? Maybe in a few weeks you’ll be more comfortable talking to me?”

            She shrugged, feeling like an angsty teenager, revelling in her own misery. “Maybe.”

            “I notice you started wearing a ring?”

            She shrugged again, refraining from hiding her left hand. “It’s just a formality.” It was much more than that. An outward sign of a marriage they’d already lived through and which still needed to be legalized. “We’ve been there for some time.” She swallowed hard, realizing that now she was starting to share, when she was determined to keep her mouth shut.

            “Do you think it would be a good idea to have Major Lorne with us?”

            “Maybe,” she said, clearing her throat.

            “Do you want him here? I know he requested you to be there for one of his sessions.”

            Of course she’d rather go through this with him and vice versa. If she had her way, he’d never be far away from her ever again. He was the only source of steadiness left in her life. How pathetic…

            “Alright… well. Doctor Woolston, I’d say we’re done for today.”

            Alex got up straight away, murmured a quick goodbye and hurried out of the door before he even had the time to reply.

Evan was waiting for her in the corridor. He didn’t ask if she was okay and why would he? He merely took her hand and picked up the small bag with clothes which her brother had brought along. “You’re done here?”

            She sighed. “For now. Is Adam gone?”

“Yep. I bet he’ll want to talk to you.”

“Like he did today? Great.”

“My mom and my dada sked us all to meet her at the hotel tonight.” He squeezed her hand. “Told me to tell your mom and your brother to come as well.”

She sighed. Having both their families in town wasn’t as comforting as she’d hoped it would be. It was as though everyone was just expecting her to talk. Talking… why was everyone so fussed about that? “Let’s go look at that house?”

            He’d been hell-bent on finding them a place to live, browsing newspapers and constantly frowning. “Right. You’re sure we don’t want to stay at the base for now and then buy something when-“

            She shook her head. “No buying.” She shivered slightly. Buying a place with several bedrooms would’ve been like admitting that she believed that Nora would be back with them. But she wasn’t there yet either.

            “Right.” Wrapping his arm around her, he led her down the corridor. She didn’t look left or right. How she hated herself for relying on him as much as she did nowadays. Had she just gotten used to it during their time on that world? No, she’d been pretty active then. They’d relied as much on each other as was possible. Now she was just exploiting his strength. She even needed him to steer through this hospital. “You know, I think your brother really wants to kill me now.”

            She snorted. “He always has, really.”

            “Yes, but this is different. This is real.”

            “He’ll come around.” She grabbed a piece of his shirt, wishing he’d just wrap her in her arms and hold her until it was time for this day to end.

            “I doubt it.” They’d reached the exit and he led her to a black rental car, which was parked relatively close to the door. “But I’ll learn to live with that.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 30

2003

He sputtered, dripping ale all down his front, as Odo clapped him on the back. “We did it.”

            “Yeah,” Evan coughed. The fraction of a second later and he might have drowned on the beverage. “Sure did.” His limbs were heavy and he just knew that he’d feel the exertion for the next few days in every muscle of his body.

            “You’re talented, you know that?” Odo slurred, putting his arm around Evan and drawing him closer. “Should’ve been a farmer, not a soldier, boy.”

            Evan couldn’t help but laugh. Boy. He hadn’t been called that in a long time. He was thirty-three. “You didn’t say so, when I nearly fell down that hayloft.”

            “Ah, but you didn’t.” Odo’s breath nearly knocked him from his bench. “Good balance, boy.”

            “You know, I’m older than your son.” He was still grinning and looked over Odo’s shoulder at Oswald dancing with his wife.

            “So? I’m older than you.”

            “True enough.” The way Oswald twirled his wife and caught her just as she was about to trip over a stool made him laugh. They’d finished harvest just that day, and the villagers hadn’t let the presence of the Jaffa, or the loss of a major part of their society stop them from their annual celebration. Not that the Jaffa seemed to mind. These people really were admirable in their determination to keep going. He almost felt bad for helping them drag themselves into a revolt.

            “What are you grinning at?” Odo grumbled, following his gaze. “They’ve been married for eight years now.”

            Evan nodded absentmindedly. Eight years. That could be him and Alex right now. But he really shouldn’t be worrying about that now. He had her now. He took another sip of ale, which was stronger than any beer he’d ever tasted before. But he didn’t mind. Not today

            “So, you and Alex are really acting like a married couple,” Odo whispered a bit too loudly. Luckily there weren’t any Jaffa around. Still, Evan put a warning hand on Odo’s arm.

            “It’s a really long story,” he said quietly.

“Tell me about it. I have time.”

Evan sighed and turned his head to look at the door leading to kitchen. What a luxury to have a separate room for cooking in. Some women, Alex among them, were busy in there preparing a meal. The small head in his lap shifted slightly and Evan took off his jacket to drape it over little Cuthbert’s sleeping body. It really was getting late. But no one was even thinking of sending the children to bed. “We were a couple a few years ago. Then things got messy. Being here… it kind of restarted everything.”

Frowning at him, Odo turned around on the bench and placed his elbows on the table. “Sometimes a fresh start isn’t the worst thing.”

Cuthbert shifted again and shuffled closer to him, wrapping his arms around Evan. Shaking his head, Evan picked him up and held him tight in his arms. The little body was piping hot from sleep.

“Is that why you’re celebrating? A fresh start?”

Odo shrugged. “It’s not really a fresh start, is it? But it will be.” He cocked his head slightly to look Evan up and down. “You’re going to be good at this, you know?”

Before he could answer, the door to the kitchen opened and Alex rushed in, her belly still invisible under the thick skirts, but almost visible when she was lying next to him in bed. He grinned when she rushed towards him, flour smudged on her face and powdering her dark blue skirt. He liked how she moved these days. Like she was already big. Like she was practicing.

“Come on, give him to me,” Odo said quietly and, without waiting for an answer, pulled Cuthbert in his own lap. The boy’s eyelids fluttered, but he just buried his head in his grandfather’s shirt and fell asleep again.

Evan got up to greet her, but before he could envelop her in his arms, she held out a wooden plate to him. He frowned down at the piece of strange cake that looked eerily familiar.

“Huh? Did you make that? Is it safe?

“Oh shut up. I made pizza!” She was almost giddy with happiness.

“You made pizza?” he teased her, grinning and taking the plate from her. The crust was in parts burned, in parts the cheese was dark brown, in others still while. “This looks good. Sourdough instead of yeast?”

“Beer!” She grinned and nudged him in the side. “Taste it!”

“Beer? Okay, sounds fair.” Seeing her this happy made his heart flutter. They rarely had a chance to just be among people and just celebrate life.

“What is that, Alex?” Odo asked.

Alex snatched a piece of the pie from the plate and, just waiting for Evan’s approving nod after he took a bite, handed it out to Odo. The pizza was a bit too salty, but that didn’t matter. In fact, it must be the first truly magnificent thing she’d ever made. She’d replaced the tomato sauce with some other vegetable paste and the cheese was incredibly strong, but the whole thing was crunchy and greasy and just perfect.

“That’s good!” Odo praised and Evan nodded again.

He put the rest of his piece on the table right next to his cup, took her face into his hands and kissed her square on the mouth. That people might stare didn’t matter. That this wasn’t appropriate in their eyes was something he couldn’t care less about. “Let’s dance.”

 

“Are you coming back?” Pierce asked, sitting down opposite her in the mess hall. He’d left her alone for weeks now, but she knew he’d be hard pressed to make a decision on her, because either her replacement would remain on the team, or she’d come back.

            She bit her lip and stared down at the plate with the leftover pizza-crust. Evan had just gone off to get information on his assignment. If no information about their daughter turned up within the next week, he’d be sent to resume his place in SG-11. Off-world. For months on end. And what would she do in that barely furnished house then? Those few budget book shelves and that table with the two chairs didn’t make a home, especially if you had to live among that furniture on your own.

            She looked up at Pierce, to meet his grey eyes. She nodded. “Yes,” she said hoarsely. “Yes, sure.” He’d been more than understanding, never putting pressure on her or trying to make excuses. She felt like nobody was walking on eggshells around her, though, and she was grateful for it.

            He nodded. “Good. I’m glad you’re back, Doctor Woolston.”

            “Lorne,” she corrected him hesitantly.

            “Pardon?”

            “Doctor Lorne.” Alex felt the heat rising in her cheeks. “We got married about a week ago.”

            “Oh… oh… right?” He frowned and leaned back in his chair, surveying her with scepticism. “Congrat-“

“It was no big deal. Just him and me and two witnesses.” She still wasn’t used to that name. But it had been the right thing to do. To make it real. To not make a big deal out of this. His sister and Daniel had agreed to come and agreed keep quiet about the arrangement. Neither he nor she wanted it to be a big deal. No party. No celebration. What was there to celebrate?

Pierce nodded again. “Alright… Doctor Lorne. Set an exam to evaluate whether you can be cleared. We’re looking forward to having you back. Buonarotti and Murdoch never really clicked.”

“Okay,” she held back a sigh and forced herself to say: “I’m sorry if I’m being rude, Major.”

“It’s quite alright. I just need to know how you feel about coming back out there with us. Take all the time you need.”

“I’ll be there.” Alex dropped her fork and looked down at her plate. Chicken, peas and mashed potato. Getting a meal like this assembled would’ve taken her hours of work. Killing the chicken, peeling the peas… and there’d been no potatoes at all. It didn’t even taste right. But nothing really did. But at least she’d started talking to Doctor Miller a few days ago. Just a few sentences, but still. Having her own place really helped. And she had to admit she was grateful they had that small extra bedroom. Just in case. “I need to get my mind off things.”

“I understand.” Pierce didn’t look too uncomfortable and she remembered that he had three children. All of them girls. “Just- make sure you’re okay.” It came from the heart, she knew that, but she couldn’t respond. He put his hand on her shoulder as he left and she could still feel the weight of it as he walked through the door.

 

“How are your appointments with Doctor Miller going?”, Fraiser asked, clipboard still in hand.

            Alex sighed, rubbing her forehead. “Fine, I guess. At least he says we’re making progress.”

            With a thoughtful nod, Fraiser sat down behind her desk. “That’s what he said when I asked him,” she agreed. “How do you feel about it though? Do you feel safe to go out there again?”

            In other words: Was she certain that she wouldn’t be a liability to the rest of her team? That she could fire a gun if need be? That she could keep a cool head? She shrugged. “I have to,” she said. “I feel physically fine, Doctor Fraiser, and if I keep just sitting here, working on cataloguing artefacts, I will go crazy.”

            Fraiser smiled ruefully. “That kind of talk is exactly why I shouldn’t clear you.” She looked down at her clipboard again. “Your wounds were as good as healed when you were brought here. He must have used a healing device on you after that C-section, so physically you’re good to go. I’m just not sure sending you back out there would be the best thing for you. Not until Doctor Miller has given his okay.”

            “I can’t be a liability,” Alex said. Speaking it out loud made it even more clear to her.

            “That’s it,” Fraiser said. “Your team needs you to be fully alert, and you don’t seem that way to me right now. Give it a few more weeks, wait until you’re off medication. Then we can talk again.”

            “Right,” Alex sighed. “Well…thanks anyway.” The prospect of remaining cooped up in here for the foreseeable future was less than uplifting, but Fraiser had made the right call. Still, remaining back here, doing nothing, while Evan was out there wouldn’t be easy.

            When she was finally back in her tiny office, typing up some notes that Daniel had given her, she forced herself to concentrate. To get things right. That Ancient Dictionary had come a long way since they’d first started working on it, but there was still a whole lot to be done, even with all the linguists and archaeologists working on it whenever they could. After all, this language hadn’t been spoken on Earth for ten thousand years and nothing like this had been attempted without any sort of reference points ever before. To decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs for the first time, the archaeologists had at least had the Rosetta Stone. But this- this was a whole different thing.

            She was just typing up a messy section on grammar from Daniel’s notes, trying to make sense of it and almost certain that at least two additional linguists would have to break it down for ordinary people to understand, when a knock at her door interrupted her train of thought. As usual, the door was open, and she was almost expecting Evan to stand there to pick her up to go home. But it wasn’t him.

            “Hey there. Heard you were back.”

            “Jonas?” Seeing him standing there should have been a familiar sight, but it was as though she was looking at him through an invisible barrier. Was it just the changed hairstyle? It was longer than it used to be, sure, but that wasn’t it. Neither was it the change in clothing. Well, of course he was no longer wearing those standard issue on-base uniform anymore. He’d left the SGC and returned to his homeworld. Her thoughts were racing each other in her head, until she forced herself to close her eyes and take a deep breath. To stop overanalysing things.

            “Yeah. Hi.” He approached her without waiting for another invitation. As he came into the light, she had a chance to look at him properly. At the longer hair, the light grey clothes. So much about him had changed, but not that wide smile. He gave her a quick, awkward hug and put the bag he was carrying on her counter. “Sam told me you were back in our last message.”

            “Jesus, Jonas, what have you done with your hair?” she blurted out, putting her hand over her mouth to stop herself from saying anything else offensive.

            “You don’t like it?” Self-consciously he brushed his hand through the teenage heart-throb hairstyle, and she laughed despite herself.

            “No, no, it’s fine. Sorry.” It really wasn’t her place to hand out comments like this. “So, you got to go back home?”

            “Yep, sure did. I have to admit, I never thought that would happen.”

            Alex swallowed hard and looked down at the notepad. Only now did she realize that one of Jonas’s translations was lying right in front of her. Had she typed those up yet?

            “But I really don’t need to tell you about what that’s like, huh?” He drew up a stool and sat down in front of her.

            “Well, no. Though things were a little bit different for Evan and me.”

            “Yes, I suppose they were.” He was silent for a moment. “Anyway, I meant to tell you, that I took some time off work on Langara-“

            “Langara?”

            “We renamed our whole planet. That should get things started in the right direction, right?” The sarcasm was only thinly veiled, and it made her smile. “Turns out a good Goa’uld invasion and a thorough renaming of things can change an awful lot.”

            “We should try that with the next planet with a cold war on it?”

            “Maybe-“ He was still grinning when she finally found the heart to look up at him again. “What I meant to tell you was, that I took some time off work to help with the search.”

            A giant lump formed in her throat and she reached for her coffee to swallow it down and hide the tears prickling in her eyes.

            “I mean, if that’s alright with you? I’m pretty good at research and stuff?” His attempt at a joke nearly made her laugh. Nearly. Not quite.

            She saw Evan stride in through the door over Jonas’s shoulder and her stomach gave a lurch.

            “Jonas? I heard you were back.” Evan hesitated for a moment, then, visibly giving himself a push, stretched out his hand to Jonas.

            “Just for a few days, Major.” Jonas nodded.

            “Jonas says he’s come to help.”

            Evan eyed Jonas for a moment, then moved around the table to stand next to Alex. “I heard. Thanks. We could really use some extra help. Tok’ra intel isn’t too good at the moment.”

            “They’re still not trusting you?”

            “Not really…” Evan leaned against the table and took one of the cookies out of the jar she always had there. White chocolate and bran. Ellen had sent another batch just a few days ago, but Alex just fed them to Evan. She hadn’t been in the mood for proper food for weeks. “Don’t think they’re willing to trust anyone anymore.”

            Jonas nodded thoughtfully. “Well, that can’t be helped. Sam said Ba’al had your daughter?”

Another pang. “Yes. He- he told Evan-“ she broke off. She couldn’t say it.

A concerned look from Jonas was followed by Evan clearing his throat. “Something about genetics. Doctor Fraiser ran some tests. Apparently, Alex, Colonel O’Neill and a guy called Cormac here on base have the same gene, which doesn’t really appear in any recorded data base. Well, and you apparently have it, or so your records say.”

Jonas’s eyebrow twitched upwards. “Genes…”

“That’s why- that’s why he took her. At least that’s the only logical explanation that comes to mind.”

“How long has it been?” Jonas asked. He’d grown pale and the shock on his face made Alex feel slightly sick.

“Six weeks,” she said, speaking up with a barely audible voice. No, she really wasn’t ready to go back in the field.

Jonas swallowed visibly. “Right… And Ba’al took over Nirrti’s domain?”

“Most of it, from what we heard,” Evan said.

“Okay,” Jonas said, “I think I have an idea where to start. I expect Doctor Jackson has been going over the files we managed to collect at Nirrti’s Fortress on P3X-367, but hasn’t come up with much of anything yet?”

            “Not really.” Alex took the file from one of her many piles. She must have read it twenty times by now, so had Evan, but none of the information provided in the few files Nirrti had stored there, had meant anything to them. SG-1 had encountered Nirrti on that planet, where she’d manipulated the DNA of the locals to turn them into Hok’tar, advanced human beings that she could then later use as hosts. The mere thought of what Ba’al might do to her daughter with a machine like that, made the bile rise in her throat. Nora hadn’t even been carried full-term. That little human being couldn’t be older than a newly-born infant by now.

            Jonas took the file and skimmed through it, all the while Evan was eyeing him, head resting on his left hand. The golden wedding band reflected the light of her lamp. They’d been married for a week now. Officially married anyway. Shouldn’t she be happier? Shouldn’t she be exhilarated? Would she feel any different if their child was with them?

            She put her hand on his back. No. Happy and exhilarated wasn’t in the cards right now. But he was here and that was all that really mattered.

            “Well… I think I’ll have a talk with Doctor Jackson.”

            “About…” Alex asked.

            “Right.” Jonas looked up again, his eyes excited about a possible lead. She hadn’t seen someone be this excited about doing something in a while. Maybe because everyone was still treating her like a raw egg in these respects. “Okay, I always suspected that we didn’t get all we could out of that place, but other things were more important at the time. I still believe we can find more information on that planet. Nirrti was bound to store her records somewhere, and I bet we can find them there.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 31

2003

The fortress below them still seemed perfectly intact. Two moons loomed high above the far-away mountains, looking almost washed-out in the bright sunlight.

            “I really hoped I wouldn’t have to go back here,” O’Neill grumbled, signalling for Reynolds to remain at the Gate with his team.

            “Doesn’t look like Ba’al took over this place,” Carter said, and Evan followed her gaze.

            “How can you tell, Major?”

            “Well, the flagposts don’t show his sign.” Jonas stepped beside Evan and looked down into the valley. “When we were here the last time, Nirrti’s symbol was on them. Now they’re empty.”

            “Good to know, huh?” O’Neill shook out his hat and put it on. “Let’s move out and make this quick. Just in case he decides to turn up after all.”

            Evan stared blankly into the valley, at the onion dome dominating the massive structure beneath. A building in the centre of a valley, the road from the Stargate leading straight towards it. It was a common enough set-up, but the outline still gave him a chill. It reminded him too much of that other planet.

            He followed O’Neill and the rest of his team with Jonas by his side. The silence between them stretching almost as long as the road into the valley. Evan still couldn’t quite shake the feeling of dislike towards the man. Jonas hadn’t done anything wrong, far from it, but Evan resented him nonetheless. Old habits die hard.

            But Jonas had come back from his homeworld. He’d offered his help in finding Nora. Well, he might have ulterior motives, but that didn’t mean Evan shouldn’t accept his help. Alex was with him, and that was the end of it. Jonas had to see that. Well, and if he did and still decided that he had to help, then that should make him look admirable in Evan’s eyes.

Should.

It didn’t.

            When they passed the last of the trees, O’Neill signalled for them to stop. They were about two hundred metres from the fortress, which was more of a palace really, with its massive tower in the centre and the chalk white walls surrounding it. The door ahead was of a dark brown wood, intricate carvings decorating it from top to bottom. Evan was sure that Alex could’ve spent hours just looking at those. That was, if Alex had been allowed to come. But she hadn’t been cleared for duty yet. In her stead, Daniel now took out a camera and started taking pictures of the building’s structure.

            “This place looks abandoned,” Jonas frowned. “I thought they wanted to rebuild and use this place as a temporary place to live in.”

            Carter readjusted her backpack. “Well, last time we contacted them, they were about to resettle to another world. Their homes were too badly damaged to mage rebuilding easy.”

            “Let’s just go inside and see if they destroyed anything valuable,” Daniel said. He hadn’t been on this planet, Evan realized. How strange it must be for him to visit a planet where his team had been to with someone else.

            “Always the optimist.” O’Neill muttered, starting towards the massive complex before them. “We’ll split into teams, Teal’c you’re with me, Carter, Daniel, you take the top levels and the room where the machine was, Jonas, Lorne, you take the lower levels. Radio contact every twenty minutes.”

            “Yes, Sir.” As soon as they entered the building, they split up, completely ignoring the magnificent entrance hall with its high, arching pillars and the dark marble floor. Once upon a time he himself might have been fascinated by its architectural merit, but not anymore. He doubted his fascination for these things would return anytime soon. If ever.

            Their feet left clearly visible imprints in the dust and dirt covering the marble floor as he and Jonas made their way to the left. “Looks like Ba’al hasn’t taken over this place after all,” Jonas said as he opened the door leading to a stone staircase. He’d been here before, Evan reminded himself. He was familiar with a rough layout of the place.

            “Looks like nobody’s been here in months,” Evan remarked, feeling his heart sink. Somehow, he’d hoped the search would go easier. Somehow, he’d hoped he would find her here, even though he knew that was highly unlikely. But still... he wanted to know what she looked like. Wanted to hold her, to make sure she was okay. Wanted to bring her to Alex, so everything could be alright again.

            “There were only a handful of villagers left when Nirrti was killed. No women among them.” Jonas smirked unhappily. “Seems like she preferred experimenting on men.”

            “The way Ba’al seems to prefer women? Neat…” Evan turned on the flashlight on his P-90 when they started down the staircase and entered the mouldy smelling darkness. This place had only been abandoned for a few months, but it already looked like years had passed. The traces of ornaments could still be seen on the walls, their silhouettes bright against the darker paint on the walls. “At least the villagers took what they could from her.”

            “Let’s just hope they didn’t take what we’re looking for,” Jonas said behind him.

            They reached the lower level. It was even darker down here, since there were no windows of any kind. “Don’t think we’re gonna find anything of value down here without proper lighting.”

            “There were torches down here.” Jonas’s flashlight traced the walls, illuminating five brass torch holders. All of them empty. “Well… focus on past tense, I guess.”

            Evan nodded. If they didn’t find a trace of a clue as to where Nirrti’s other labs might be, then there wasn’t a whole lot of hope left. And how was he supposed to face Alex then? “Let’s just keep looking.”

            Jonas didn’t respond, just took to the left side of the cavernous room, while Evan stuck to the right. There didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary there as far as he could tell. Just wall and greasy mould. Something, almost the size of small rock rushed away from them to hide in a lump of fabric discarded in the corner. A rat? Probably. But if anything, Evan had stopped being afraid of these a long time ago. When they reached the end of the room, they proceeded to the next one, the door to which had been broken from its hinges and was precariously leaning into their way.

            “Some kind of storage?” Jonas wondered out loud, looking about.

            “Seems like it.” At least that would have been his first guess as well. Dozens of shelves were lining the walls, all of them empty, except for that thick layer of dust and a few dark droppings. Yes, definitely rats.

He sighed and moved over to the door on their right. All he could do was hope that the others found something valuable on the upper levels.

            “I didn’t know you and Alex were a couple,” Jonas said, following Evan through the door and into a wide passageway.

            “Well, we weren’t.” Swallowing the testy undertone was harder than Evan would’ve thought possible.

            Jonas took the hint however and was quiet for a moment. “I would’ve backed off had I known.”

            “Backed off?” Evan spun around on his heel. Jonas was right behind him and in the white light of his flashlight, his skin looked almost grey. “You never even asked her out, did you?” His throat was tight and he almost wished he had punched him.

            Jonas scowled at him. “Well, I wouldn’t have sought her company the way I did back then if I’d known you were interested in her as well.”

            “Let’s just drop that, okay?” From what Alex had told him, Jonas hadn’t made advances towards her, not in the slightest. Or maybe he had and Alex just hadn’t noticed. If that was the case, then he’d feel petty pointing it out. What use was there in being angry at a guy for finding his wife attractive.

            “I’m just saying.”

            “Yes. Yes, I get that. And I appreciate your help. Just- let’s keep going.”

            “Right,” Jonas sighed, rubbing the back of his neck and pushing past Evan.

            The second check-in with the others didn’t reveal any news, neither did the second or third check-ins. Evan and Jonas were done searching the basement by then and moved up to the more interesting levels to help with the rest of the compound. Every single valuable item had been taken from this place, even a good portion of the doors had been ripped out and transported away. Within months this place had been scavenged and almost cleared out. The remains of the machine with which Nirrti must have experimented on the people of this world lay broken and some smaller components scattered in one of the central chambers.

Evan sensed that O’Neill was about to call off the search, when they met in the room where Nirrti had died. The spot was marked by an almost invisible bloodstain on the dark tiles. There just was no use spending even more time here, when dozens of scavengers had already taken all that they could. If any information on Nora’s whereabouts could be found at all, it surely wasn’t here.

            “Where did these people resettle to?” Daniel asked, shuffling through his notebook. How much he’d jotted down in the short while they’d been here, Evan couldn’t tell.

            “They did not tell.” Teal’c moved along the walls, his hand tracing one of the narrow gaps, the one which encircled the entire room and separated the darker stone from the lighter stone on top, as though he was looking for something, but coming up empty. “But I doubt they know anything about the whereabouts of Nirrti’s laboratories.” He frowned and the look on his face made Evan’s hard drop.

Carter was bent low over the remains of the machine, one of those tiny detectors in her hand. God, he felt useless.

            O’Neill sighed audibly and pulled the hat off his head. “Right… let’s try finding out where they went anyway. Maybe Reynold’s found some clues at the Gate, and Daniel, you’ll do some research back home.” Research… on what exactly?

            But Jackson didn’t appear to be listening. He pushed his glasses up his nose and looked at his notes intently. “Yes, well-“ He wrinkled his nose and looked up, focusing his gaze on Jonas. “Listen, there has to be a people somewhere on the worlds we’ve visited whose culture is related to the one of the people on this planet. Does that ring a bell?”

            Jonas shook his head, ignoring O’Neill’s attempt to get them all moving again, as he stepped next to Daniel to look over the notes with him. “The people didn’t want to talk to us really, and their village was destroyed. There was next to no reference to their original culture, and this fortress was built in Nirrti’s favoured style. We got next to nothing from them before they left.”

            “Carter, you nearly done there?”

            “Nearly, Sir. I just need another ten minutes or so.”

            “Right…” O’Neill raised an eyebrow at Evan and motioned for him to follow him outside.

            “Sir?” Evan asked when they were outside in the corridor again.

            “Those nerds work better when we’re not around pestering them,” O’Neill said quietly when Teal’c had joined them. “Bet you noticed that with Doctor Woolston?”

            Evan didn’t correct him on her new last name. It still felt alien to him, and he still hadn’t really understood why she’d decided to take his name. They hadn’t spoken as much as they used to since she’d been discharged from the hospital. “Actually, no, Sir. We never really got to go on a real recon mission.”

            “Right… yes.” O’Neill cleared his throat and scratched his head, looking at Teal’c as if to give him an inspiration on what to say next, but Teal’c merely cocked his head. That man really only spoke when he thought it necessary. “Lorne-“

            “Sir-“ Evan interrupted him. “I really appreciate you sticking up for me with General Hammond. And for taking me along.”

            O’Neill closed his mouth again, his eyes darting from Evan to Teal’c in quick succession.

            “I just think- Sir, if we can’t find any trace here, or anywhere else, I should probably talk to my wife.”

            “Your wife?”

            “Major Lorne,” Teal’c interjected. “I believe what Colonel O’Neill wanted to say when he asked you out here, was to reassure you that we will do everything in our power to find her.”

            Evan bit his lip and wiped across his chin. This sort of talk wasn’t getting them anywhere. Neither were empty promises. “I get that,” he said hoarsely. “I just think that having false hope isn’t the best option for us.” He couldn’t stand the silence these words would leave behind. Facing these two in a moment like this was even worse than having them speak words of comfort.

He didn’t wait to be dismissed and started back towards the room, when Major Carter’s voice called out for O’Neill.

            “Sir, I think I found something.”

Chapter Text

2003

The light in the window was like a friendly invitation. She was waiting up for him. At home. She’d gone home shortly after he’d left with SG-1. Someone had to pick up Monsieur.

            Evan stood there, next to his car for five whole minutes, just staring straight at that house and the bare light bulb still hanging from the ceiling in the living room. They didn’t have any curtains yet, nor had they come around to buying any more furniture than just the bare necessities, but this was their home. Even if it wasn’t done yet.

            Hesitating wouldn’t make this any easier.

            Walking up the driveway, he tried formulating the sentence he must deliver, but it was no use. He hadn’t found the right words on the drive, so what could five metres possibly achieve? Unlocking the door didn’t bring any inspiration either.

            The first thing to greet him was that long, furry brown snout he’d missed so much. “Hey, boy,” he greeted Monsieur, who still refused to bark, but instead wagged his tail consistently and with all the enthusiasm he could muster against the big metal vase which Adam had given them upon moving in. The rhythmic thumping was almost as loud as a bark though. Evan knelt next to him, patting his sides and allowing the dog to lick the side of his face and only pulled away when that big, warm tongue suddenly dug straight into his ear. “Okay, that’s enough.” He pulled away with a shiver and when he looked up saw Alex standing in the narrow doorway leading into the living room. How thin she was! Seeing her like this still shocked him. Not even on Larsa, not even during that rough winter, had her cheekbones stood out like this.

            “Hi,” he greeted her, patting Monsieur’s back one last time, and getting to his feet.

            “Hi. You look exhausted.”

            Evan nodded and closed the door behind him, so as not to invite in any more mosquitos from the neighbours’ pond. “I’m okay, though.” He wrapped her in his arms, feeling her shiver and let out a long breath. “Could you sleep?” He’d only been gone a couple of hours, but she looked at him like she hadn’t seen him in days.

            “It’s only ten o’clock.” Alex managed a smile. “Did you eat?”

            “No, I thought I’d just make a sandwich.”

            “Dinner is in the fridge, if you want some.”

            His heart leapt. She’d gotten around to make something other than a couple of more entries into that Ancient Dictionary then. Could this be called progress? “Sure.” He kissed the tip of her nose and felt Monsieur’s tail hit his leg as the dog walked by. “How was it with Monsieur?”

            Her eyes looked tired, like she’d exhausted herself by worrying about him. But she smiled briefly. “Good. We went for a long walk and he was kind enough to pee at every tree to let every dog in Colorado Springs know that he’s back.” She smiled faintly and dragged him into the kitchen. She’d made some sort of pasta casserole and had only eaten maybe half a plate herself, at least judging by the small portion missing from the dish.

            He kissed her temple and took out two plates, filled them with food and popped them into the microwave, stacked precariously one on top of the other with the help of the cover plate. She didn’t complain. She knew she had to eat. “How was your appointment with Doctor Miller?”

            “Okay, I guess.” Alex rarely described them as anything else, but since Evan had come with her to one of her appointments and she’d accompanied him to his, she wasn’t as tense anymore. That was something.

            The soft beeping of the microwave set her into motion again. To the microwave, to the table, back to the kitchen where she fetched the forks.

            He sat down opposite her at the table. Only last week they’d bought two additional chairs to accommodate his sister and her husband who had come for a short visit. Four chairs instead of two and a coffee table for the couch. They were making some small headway in their little house. Not that he didn’t spend at least half an hour every day standing in the doorway to her little office, which, at the moment, only held boxes upon boxes with books and the fold-out couch where Ellen and her husband had slept. That little room could have easily held a bassinet and a changing table. He knew they’d both thought about it, but they both had, at the same time when they’d looked at the house, called it her office.

            She ate mechanically, almost like it was her duty to keep eating. The food wasn’t bad though. She’d learned a lot this past year. Even if it meant that opening a package and using it to make food didn’t equal admitting defeat. So had he. Fixing that creaky step on the staircase would have taken him years to get started on before. Now he just did it.

            Halfway through their silent meal, she took his hand and squeezed his fingers without looking up at him. The fact that he hadn’t immediately spoken up about the mission must already have her on high alert. She knew he couldn’t be bringing her any good news.

“How was it with you?” she asked finally, just as he’d swallowed the last bit of pasta.

            So, here they were. He nodded again. “We- that is, Carter, found something,” he said,

            Alex’s eyes grew wide. “What?”

            He shook his head. “Nothing big, but it could be a lead. A storage crystal. Carter is analysing it as we speak, but she said it could take a day or so to crack the code.”

            Her face fell. “Oh.” One crystal wasn’t a whole lot of good news, he knew that.

            “But there wasn’t anything else on that planet and in that fortress of hers. Nothing but dust and rats and floors and walls.” He shrugged. “I’m sorry I don’t have anything else.”

            She raised her hand and caressed his cheek. “Don’t apologize, dear.”

            She hadn’t called him by any sort of pet name in forever. He turned his head to kiss the palm of her hand. The hand with the long, ugly scar. “I just wish I had better news.”

            “I was worried about you,” she admitted, biting her lip. “I really have to start to get used to that again, huh?”

            “You never really stopped, did you? Even back on Larsa you were constantly worried.”

            “So were you.”

            Evan nodded and pushed Monsieur’s head off his lap. That dog was even more attached to him these days. No small wonder. But Monsieur had accepted Alex’s company without complaining once. Evan was almost sure that Monsieur knew that Alex wasn’t happy. That she was hurting. That Evan was hurting.

            Alex withdrew her hand and started clearing the table. She was just wearing a thin shirt and a pair of baggy sweatpants which made her look even skinnier. But at least she was walking and talking and working. It was probably good that she was back at work, and the fact that she’d had her period a week ago had been another milestone. Originally Evan had thought that it would shake her even more, that she’d just crumple like a dry leaf and stop talking to him entirely, but she’d looked relieved. Relieved that some kind of visible routine had returned to their lives.

            He got up now and followed her to the kitchen counter, where she had just started loading the dishwasher. “Jonas says hi,” he said quietly, wrapping his arms around her. The warmth seeping through her shirt was so comforting, he had no idea if he’d be able to let her go until morning.

            Her mouth twitched. “You two started talking, then?”

            With a sigh, Evan leaned his forehead against the back of her neck. “A bit… a decent fellow. He claims he was flirting with you before.”

            Alex’s hands were resting on his arms now, her fingernails gently scratching over his skin. “Are we really going to talk about this again?” Her left hand slipped to his left hand and her fingers traced the gold band on his ring finger. A clear message.

            And he agreed. “No, we’re not. He’s a decent guy, I guess.” He took a deep breath. “I feel a bit overwhelmed to be honest. All of those people trying to help us where they can. The resources Hammond is pulling together…”

            She turned around in his arms, the open dishwasher forgotten as well as the dog, licking happily at the dirty dishes inside. Her eyes looked darker in this light, full of grief and a resignation which he hated seeing there. But there was still hope. She needed to see that, and he needed to remind himself of it every single day. They both had to keep up hope. “I love you,” she whispered against his lips, her hands on his chest.

            Evan took a deep breath. Was it okay for him to kiss her now when she was upset? Would it be alright, if he took her in his arms, made love to her? He’d never had to wonder about this before. Before everything between them had been crystal clear, but right now it seemed as though they were swimming through murky water towards a goal which they both didn’t know, sensing the support of the other, without ever really seeing each other. “I know.”

            She slapped him tenderly. “Don’t quote Star Wars at me!”

            He huffed a short laugh. “Sorry.” He swallowed hard and lifted a hand to brush a strand of hair from her face. She was as beautiful as always, but so much sadder than he’d ever seen her. And still she was determined. Still she was sure of what she had to do. That she had to keep going, that, if she’d given up on their child, she hadn’t given up on them.

            Without saying another word, she took his hand and pulled him towards the door, leading him up the narrow flight of stairs and into their bedroom. She didn’t bother turning on the light, just slammed the door behind them, and if her trembling hand hadn’t told him what she wanted to do, this certainly did. They always let the door open, so Monsieur could crawl into bed with them. Always.

            The light from the streetlamp outside fell directly onto the bed, which had taken them both hours to assemble. She squeezed his hand one more time, then took a step back, her eyes focused on him. Her skin didn’t look as pale in the almost grey light, as she took off her shirt and let it fall to the ground. The other pieces of clothing joined them soon enough.

He was eerily reminded of their first night together. Of how they’d undressed in front of each other, hastily, hungrily doing all they could to not draw out this process. And he hadn’t seen her naked like this in weeks. Her breasts looked smaller, her collarbone stood out too prominently and her belly… it wasn’t as firm as it used to be, the stretchmarks were so evident they almost hid the thin scar stretching across her abdomen.

            “What?” she asked, the first word she’d said since walking in here. She sounded unsure. Almost embarrassed to feel his eyes on her.

            Shaking his head, he took off his own shirt and let it fall to the ground next to hers. Her skin was warm and soft under his hands as he gently rubbed her arms, took her face into his hands and kissed her. She wasn’t as hesitant as he’d feared she’d be. Her arms were around his torso before it, her breasts rubbing softly against his chest, her fingertips trailing his spine.

            He shivered under her touch, let his hands trail down her sides, cupping her breasts, making her gasp against his lips. This whole situation, this scenario was familiar enough, but he’d never before sensed any weakness in her. She returned his kiss and let her lips wander along his jaw. Almost greedily, her fingers started working on the belt buckle and she cursed slightly when it wouldn’t open straight away. Her husky voice would’ve been enough to make him go weak in the knees, but her clumsiness made his heart flutter.

            “I can do this, you know,” he grinned against her neck, brushing her hair out of the way so he could nibble at the sensitive spot under her ear.

            “Fine,” she breathed, raising her hands in submission. The exasperated look on her face made him laugh in earnest now. He drew her closer again, kissing her full on the mouth, cherishing the movements of her lips against his, the way her tongue felt just right and that incredible, almost intoxicating taste of her. She was so small in his arms and yet so alive. Incredibly alive.

            Her breath became quicker the moment his hand slid between her legs, teasing her, making her press her body closer to his, while she kept their lips locked. She held on tight to him, gently rocking her hips against his until the loose jeans felt far too tight.

            As he gently pushed her onto the bed, got rid of the rest of his clothes and bent low over her, he felt his gaze more intense than he’d felt it all these past few days. Like she was taking a piece of his soul.

            They took their time, drawing it out as long as they could. Her legs and arms were locked to tightly around him, as he moved inside her, as she returned his thrusts, that he was almost sure he’d lose his mind. Until she finally shivered, gasping loudly in his ear, ending his struggle to keep holding on. Minutes seemed to past before they could untangle their limbs to lie more comfortably, her head resting on his shoulder, her arms wrapped tightly around him. He wasn’t surprised to feel her tears on his skin, her body trembling against his as she held onto him.

            Evan didn’t speak, just held her while every nerve in his body ached to hold her even tighter, to do something, anything to make her stop suffering. To stop his own heart aching whenever he looked at her and saw what they were about to lose or had already lost.  He turned on his side, looking into her eyes as he brushed his fingertips through her hair.

            “I don’t think there’s a way she’ll be back with us,” she whispered. “I’m sorry I don’t, but I just don’t see it happening.”

            Evan nodded. “I know,” he answered, kissing her swollen eyelids. “I know…” These two words had him choked up. If he admitted that he was almost there himself, that he couldn’t even begin to imagine holding that small body or seeing their faceless girl lying curled up on the couch next to Monsieur, he’d just collapse. He couldn’t face that right now. “I’ll keep looking, though. I just can’t give up.” That crystal had to hold some clue. It just had to.

            She shook her head. “No, me either. I don’t know. It’s- I don’t have any hope, but I also don’t want to stop hoping. Does that make sense?”

            “No…” he kissed her cheek, tasting the warm saltiness of her tears. He drew a deep breath. “But there’s so little that makes sense right now.”

Chapter Text

2003

Eight weeks.

That’s how old their daughter was by now. If she lived. Eight weeks since she’d been taken from them, when only right about now they should’ve been preparing for her birth, or already be holding her in their arms.

Instead she was standing in full gear behind Sergeant Harriman, Evan and Pierce on either side of her, watching as SG-3 was stepped through the Gate. SG-1 was already waiting in the Gateroom. Jonas had gone off-world with SG-5 a few hours ago.

Evan would be joining the frontline team again. He squeezed her hand when the Gate shut down. The thin, reassuring smile on his face did little to calm her, but she let him go. By now five teams had gone off-world in search of Nirrti’s labs on this day alone. SG-1 was next.

Evan joined them and as Harriman dialled up the Gate and exchanged a few words with Teal’c and Daniel. The Gate activated and Evan didn’t look back as he stepped through the event horizon with O’Neill.

Alex and her team would be next. Pierce looked at her with a forced smile as they joined Miller and Murdoch in front of the Gate. “Nervous?” Murdoch asked, making her shrug. The last time she’d travelled to another world, she hadn’t made it home for seven months. But this was her team and something like that wouldn’t happen again. She was sure of that. They relied on each other and she’d been cleared by Doctor Miller and Doctor Fraiser only a day before.

“I’ll be okay,” she replied, ignoring Harriman’s announcements on which chevron was encoded.

Carter had found about a billion things on that crystal, none of which appeared to be of any particular use. The data on that crystal had been mostly destroyed when the inhabitants of P3X-367 had disassembled and set fire to Nirrti’s machine. But Carter managed to find twenty-one addresses in the broken files, all of which had been assigned to SG-teams.  This was the fourth and last day of recons. After she left with her team, there’d be one more team leaving to scout another world.

So far, the teams had found five abandoned and stripped-down laboratories, nine fortresses which were by now inhabited by some of Nirrti’s former slaves and two worlds with no trace of any human life. Alex was sure that if today didn’t yield any new information, the search would be called off for as long as it took them to stumble upon another clue on another random planet, or their allies disclosed new information.

 

“Carter, Teal’c you’re with me,” O’Neill finally decided after what felt like hours. They’d walked from the Stargate along a well-tended road until they came to a crossroads, without even the trace of an indication where either way would lead them. “Daniel, Lorne, you take the right path.” He scratched his head. “Let’s just stay in radio contact.”

            “Jack?”

            “Yes, Daniel?” The slightly annoyed tone of voice didn’t seem to bother Jackson even one bit.

            “I know you’re trying to make this as efficient as possible, but either path could take us hours to reach a settlement or a cave, or-      “

            “A gingerbread house?”

            Daniel’s voice fell. “I’m just saying, if we split up, it might take the others forever to get to where they’re needed.”

            “Coin toss?” Evan suggested. He really wanted to get moving already. Today was their last chance on finding something and he had to admit, even he was starting to lose hope by now.

            “Good one, Major,” O’Neill frowned. “I say we split up, cover more ground that way and if we do find something, we’ll just enjoy the extra exercise.”

            “Fine,” Jackson grumbled and started heading down the path leading to the right and uphill.

            “Radio contact every twenty minutes.”

            “Yes, Sir.” Evan held back a sigh and followed Jackson.

 

Icy rain hit her as soon as she came out on the other side. Murdoch and Miller were right behind her, so she hurried to make room for them. The sky above was dark grey, almost black and the cold droplets were already running down her spine.

            “Last thing that MALP showed us was bright sunshine, wasn’t it, Sir?” Murdoch pulled up his collar against the rain, which was dripping from his nose already.

            “Are you seriously complaining about the weather?” Miller groaned, shoving his comrade with his shoulder and hurrying up to catch up to Pierce.

            “Just saying,” Murdoch muttered, throwing a grin in Alex’s direction. “Let’s get moving, shall we?”

            “There should be a settlement straight ahead,” Pierce shouted against the roaring wind. “Three kilometres.”

            A settlement. That was something. As long as there weren’t any Jaffa in that place. She wasn’t entirely sure she could deal with that right now. Her heart was beginning to race as she followed Murdoch, while Miller was walking behind her. Yes, she’d been cleared, but did that mean that she could hold her own in a fight at the moment? She’d been to the shooting range again, her aim was true enough, but that didn’t mean she’d be any good if they ran into trouble.

 

“How is that dog of yours?” Jackson asked after about twenty minutes of trudging through the forest, obviously trying to break the silence.

            “What?”

            “That dog? The one with the French name.”

            “The one that made you sneeze? Yeah, he’s fine.” He bit his lip, cursing himself for sounding that testy. “Sorry, I’m a bit on edge.” The path was still climbing up and he had to admit, he wasn’t used to walking uphill anymore.

            “I know. I was just wondering… never pictured Alex as a dog person, so it was just interesting to see her interact with that dog.”

            Evan clicked his tongue. “Not a dog person. What does that even mean? People who hate dogs aren’t trustworthy. Ask any dog.”

            Jackson laughed. “And people who don’t like dogs because they’re allergic?”

            “Are the exception, I suppose… but you didn’t hate Monsieur, did you?”

            “Nah…” Jackson shrugged. “I just can’t be near them. I like animated dogs a lot, though.” 

            “What a relief,” Evan scoffed. “There had to be more to you than just being a good friend to Alex for her to ask you to be at our wedding.”

            “What a compliment, thank you.”

            Evan smirked at him and shrugged. “No, seriously.” He cleared his throat. “Her brother is a bit of a jerk, so I was glad you were there instead of him.” He wasn’t entirely sure he was making things better, but he had to admit, he was glad that O’Neill had paired him up with Jackson. For a moment he considered telling Jackson that Alex had told him about Jackson’s research back when they’d first met, but that was really something to talk about over a beer or something. How strange to imagine Jackson with a beer in hand.

            “Does Alex know how you talk about her brother?” Jackson asked as they rounded a corner and Evan halted as he spotted the tips of buildings looming over the treetops.

            “Actually,” he said, “when she told me about him for the first time, she called him a prick. But he’s alright mostly. I just think he’d like to kill me for what I did to her.”

            Jackson scoffed with narrowed eyes. “Is he married? If not, then that’d explain a lot.”

            “Nope,” Evan said, hesitating for a moment, before he hit the button on his radio. “Colonel O’Neill? Looks like you’re gonna have to come up the hill after all. There’s some kind of structure up here.”

 

The wind picked up even as they approached the settlement. In this weather, she wouldn’t have expected to find anyone abroad, but when they passed the first few houses, she noticed that not a single window was lit, no smoke was rising out of the chimneys. The houses themselves must have been white at one point, but that time was long gone. There was nothing but grey, and mud, and broken shingles, and desolation all around them.

            Alex stood for a moment, examining one house front. The door was closed securely against the heavy rain, but there was no other indication of this place ever having been a home. No writings, no symbols, not even a single bit of trash anywhere. Like this village had been wiped clean of any sign of habitation.

            “You coming, Wool-Lorne?” Murdoch was waiting for her at the next corner, gun raised. Whatever this place was, it was not normal, and he had to feel it too.

            “Yes!” She hurried to catch up to him and wiped the rain out of her eyes, before reaching for her sidearm. “Sorry.”

            “I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to that name.”

            “Call me Alex, then.” It had been a long time coming, really.

            “Okay, that should work. But only if you start calling me Oliver.”

            “There’s no one here, Sir,” Miller shouted when she and Murdoch reached the rest of the team. Pierce was just heading to one of the biggest houses. He tried the door, and when it opened, they could see nothing but an empty interior.

            “Looks like it!” Pierce turned back to them and shrugged. “Let’s split into teams. Search all the houses, see what we can find. Doctor Lorne, you’re with Murdoch.”

 

“We haven’t heard a word of our God Nirrti in months,” the little thin woman at the end of the table said.

            They were all sitting cross legged on thin cushions, all of them had plates with various fruit in front of them. This greeting wasn’t entirely unusual, Evan must have sat through twenty or so of these meetings in his time with the SGC, but never before had he been so impatient to get going again.

            Next to him, he could just tell that Jackson was itching to say that Nirrti had been killed by one of her very own experiments, but nobody here could say how devoted these people were to Nirrti, or what backup they might call once they discovered that the Tau’ri were in fact wanted more dead than alive by all the System Lords.

            “See, we’re not really looking for Nirrti herself,” O’Neill said testily, ignoring the food and apparently taking no heed of the armed guards who had escorted them from the town’s main gate to this place. They hadn’t met any hostility, but the fact that the guards were still present, made Evan uneasy. “Just a place where she used to hang out, you know?”

            “How do you mean? We follow the instructions she left behind to the letter, but-“

Carter cleared her throat. “A place where she might have taken sick people? A place where-“

“You misunderstand me, Major Carter,” the woman interrupted her, her face stern and almost angry. “Nirrti has not been here in decades.”

This wasn’t going anywhere. Evan dug his hands into the fabric of his pants, reminding himself that he couldn’t just get up and rush out of here, even though they were clearly wasting their time.

“Malera,” Jackson spoke up, “Have you heard of Ba’al?”

“If you’ve come to urge us to worship him instead, you have come too late. There are many among us who have already accepted Ba’al into their hearts, who even insist on bringing him offerings instead of to Nirrti.”

Evan closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe evenly. Just breathe and wait for this to be over.

 

All the houses were empty, the doors unlocked, mould slowly but surely creeping up the brick walls. Only the biggest house, the one with elaborately carved wooden doors, still held a couple of torches.

Oliver and she entered it and Alex reached for her camera to take pictures of the wood carvings. She didn’t even know that she’d started to work through their normal routine, until she saw the screen in front of her and she remembered what it had been like before. The excitement of visiting another world, the sparks of inspiration and ideas hitting her as she examined a dusty old artefact and took pictures of structures and man-made objects which hadn’t been looked at for hundreds of years.

“You know, if we were in an ancient horror movie, I’d just pull at one of those-“ Oliver said, reaching for the torch holder and pulling at it- “to reveal a secret lab.”

Nothing happened. Alex found herself smiling as she spun the camera from the carvings to him. “Try the other one?”

Oliver reached for the second torch holder, but before he could reach it, he stepped on a small tile and with a soft clicking noise, a small slit opened up in the wall next to the torches. “Huh…” Oliver mumbled as Alex’s heart began to race. She turned off the camera and rushed towards the door.

 

Evan was starting to loose his patience, as they followed the village leader through a number of  rooms within the temple and he sensed that none of the others was too thrilled about being here either. There was nothing for them to find on this planet and that was that. All they could do now was to go back home and hope that another team had found something.

            They were rushed through a reception hall, to a sort of throne room, to a place where worshippers would bring offerings to their God. All of these made his stomach turn. If these people would only show the slightest trace of revulsion against what the Goa’uld were doing to them, but apparently at least the village leader was perfectly okay with being exploited.

            As Jackson and Carter approached the far wall to examine a set of serpent-guard armours on display, Evan stood in the centre of the room, dropping his gaze to the floor. Maybe if he counted the tiles, time would go by faster. Or he’d just fall asleep. Either way, it was better than just standing here and waiting.

            The tiles formed a very intricate pattern, almost like a mosaic.  Right now he was standing in the centre of the room, while the village leader rushed off to explain something to Jackson. There was a circle right underneath him and a straight line leading away from it. Evan followed it. Three steps. Then the line split into two, one of them leading upwards, heading straight towards the door leading into the throne room, another bright white line leading to the left.

            He swallowed hard. Was this it? He turned left, following the line to the left, which ended in a big, dark red square with a familiar symbol carved in it. “Colonel?” he said, raising his head to look for O’Neill.

            “What is it?”

            Evan bit his lip and shook his head. “Sir, I’m not sure, but look at this.” He pointed at the circle in the middle of the room. “The Gate,” he said quietly, then started walking along the thin white line again. “The crossroads.” Looking up, he watched as O’Neill followed the white line leading up to the throne room, which had to represent the village, and then spun around on his heel to look at the other line and the square it was leading to. A place of great importance to Nirrti or her worshippers.

            “You’re saying?”

            “I’m saying that maybe you were on the right track. Jackson and I were on the wrong one, Sir.”

 

She was waiting for him in the corridor leading to the infirmary. Pacing the floor and wringing her hands. He had to be back by now. SG-1 was supposed to be back.

            Looking up when the elevator doors opened, she saw O’Neill first on his way to the routine check-up, followed by Teal’c and Carter. Daniel and Evan were next.

            O’Neill greeted her with a thin smile as he walked past her. No happy greeting, just a smile. Teal’c nodded at her, while Carter greeted her with a brief “Hi.”

            Her heart sank when she saw Daniel’s shrug and shake his head.

            Evan took smiled sadly as he approached her and she could just see that he was anxious about what he had to tell her now. “Nothing,” he whispered, putting his hands on her shoulders. “I’m sorry. Just an empty lab.”

            Alex nodded. “Same with us,” she sighed, closing her eyes for a moment. “But SG-5 captured one of Ba’al’s overseer’s.”

            Evan’s eyes widened and his grip on her shoulders grew tighter. “What?”

            “He knows where she is.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 34

2003

“No, Doctor,” Hammond said even before she’d spoken a single word.

            But she’d been at the briefing, she’d sat there next to Evan and listened to what Reynolds had to say. About Ba’al and women that didn’t concern her. About which lab Ba’al favoured. And she’d listened to the deafening silence when Reynolds decided to stay quiet when Hammond asked him how he’d obtained that information.

            “Sir,” she began, hating how pleading her voice sounded. “I’ve been cleared for active duty. I know the risks.”

            “I’m sure you do, Doctor, but I am not sending you on another mission with Major Lorne. Especially not after this.” Hammond went to his desk and pointed at two files lying in front of him on his desk.

            Alex bit her lip. The mission files. “General Hammond,” she shook her head. “These files really don’t say it all. We’re a good team, we can work together.”

            “I don’t doubt it,” Hammond said, gesturing for her to take a seat opposite his desk. She turned to look over her shoulder. The room was empty. Not even Evan had remained behind to wait for her. But he couldn’t. He had to change into his gear so he could leave with the teams assigned to this rescue mission. And she wanted to be part of this. She wanted to be on this strike team, if not to find her daughter, then at least to get a chance to look Ba’al in the eye and pull the trigger.

            She hesitated for a moment, then chose to follow the General’s invitation, though she only sat on the edge of the chair, hands on her knees, ready to jump up again. Evan was going. Evan would get the chance Hammond was denying her. Five teams would be going, Evan’s own team would be gating in from their research station within a few minutes, just to be part of their strike team. “General, I can’t not go.”

            “Doctor, the fact that you’ve been cleared is all good and well, and I am willing to let you return to your team to go on missions, but you have to understand, this is the very sort of mission I can not allow you to go on. I can, for once, ignore Major Lorne’s insubordination, and I understand what you two have been through.”

            “I don’t think you do, Sir,” she fought, once again, against the tears beginning to rise in her eyes, against the terrible prickling in her nose.

            Hammond frowned at her, but didn’t contradict her either. “Major Lorne did refile his mission report a few days ago, did you know that?”

            “No.” She swallowed hard. She hadn’t copied Evan’s report, but had written a similar version just after she’d been released from hospital. “No, he didn’t tell me.”

            “It’s why I allowed him to join SG-1 for the search, it’s why he’s going off-world now. And this,” he raised the thin file, the one with her name printed on the outside. Dr. A. Lorne, SG-15. “This is why I can’t let you go now. I can’t risk you being a liability on this mission.”

            It took her all she had not to get up and storm out through the door. She pressed her lips together so she wouldn’t ask him if, maybe, he was forbidding her to go, because she was the mother of the child they were looking for. If maybe he considered her a liability, because, as a mother, she couldn’t be thinking straight. She didn’t give a damn about being unfair, but  she knew he was right. She knew this wouldn’t be a good idea and she needed to trust her team and everyone else on that mission. She might be alright out there looking for clues, looking for answers, but not in a situation where they would almost certainly enter an enemy complex, knowing there would be fighting involved. On any other mission, she’d be okay with that, but she was too involved now, and her file was there to prove it.

            “Doctor, I am sorry, I really am, but this is not something to be taken lightly.”

            “I know, General.” She cleared her throat. She wouldn’t be acting like a pubescent brat and just follow the teams on her own. Force her way on the team, or hide amongst them. “I- I’d better get back to work. Keep my mind off things.”

            Hammond looked at his watch. There wasn’t a whole lot of time left. “Those teams will do everything they can to get you your daughter back, and if they can’t, they will get you those answers you need.” No false promises. That was something. Especially considering where the teams would be going. Especially since Evan was going.

            She nodded and hesitated for a split second. There was no use begging Hammond to let her come along, she knew that, and she wouldn’t sink that low. She’d better hurry if she wanted to see Evan before he stepped through that Gate. “General…” Getting up was harder than she would’ve thought. Just leaving without even trying to have the last word, was even harder. But there wasn’t anything else to say, or anything else to do. Hammond had made up his mind and she could never bring forth the arguments that would make him change it. She was a civilian, she didn’t have nearly as much experience in the field as Daniel or Jonas, the other civilians that would be going, and she’d proven that her personal involvement in this, made her act rashly. Her eyes grazed the file with her report one last time, before she left Hammond’s office.

Her heart was hammering as she hurried towards the men’s locker room and she wasn’t at all surprised to see Evan waiting for her already. One look told her all she needed to know. He knew she wouldn’t be cleared to go on this mission. He brushed his hand through his hair, looking almost nervous, grabbed her hand and pulled her into the small storage room next to the armoury.

“What did he say?” he asked anyway, his eyes scanning her face.

“You filed another report, then?” She wasn’t even mad at him. From the start it had been clear that he was coping better than she was. He was more willing to work through this, more determined to find her. But he had hope. Hope, where she had none.

Evan nodded. “Yes. Are you mad?”

“No…” she murmured, “just wished you’d told me. I felt like a complete idiot in Hammond’s office.”

He bit his lip and shook his head. “Sorry.” He was, she could see that, but it didn’t really matter right now. He took a deep breath, his eyes searching hers. She blinked, staring into his face.

She was only glad she’d experienced what it was like to let him go like this. To know he was going away, never really knowing whether he’d be back. It would’ve made allowing him to leave right now nearly impossible. She’d watched him go. She’d seen him come back. First back home, then back to her. Only now the stakes were much higher. They had a child. A child in the hands of the enemy. She wanted to tell him to find her. To find answers, but she couldn’t ask that of him, even though she knew he wanted those things as badly as she did. Her chest ached as she pulled him closer and briefly touched her lips to his. She really missed that beard, she thought briefly, and pushed back the memories rising up in her mind.

“Come back to me,” she whispered, pressing her cheek into the palm of his hand as he brushed his thumb over her temple.

Evan smiled. “One way or the other.” He took another deep breath and kissed her again. “I gotta go.” No additional word about their daughter. No reassurance. Just this one statement. He reached into his pocket and pushed the golden band into her hand. “Keep an eye on this for me, will you?”

Alex shrugged and let go of his vest. “Take care.”

 

 

Edwards, Ritter, Menard and Woeste were already waiting in the Gateroom. So far, they’d only communicated briefly and Edwards had gated back to Earth to apologize and make sure both Evan and Alex were okay, but apart from that, Evan hadn’t been in contact with his team. Seeing them here now, in these familiar surroundings, made the thought of what was going to happen next more bearable.

            O’Neill was standing at the foot of the ramp, adjusting his cap. The MALP was  already standing by, but there wouldn’t be a second dial-out to the planet, in case there really were Jaffa on the other end, who could just dial out again and block their path. The MALP would go through, confirm breathable air and check for possible enemies. All of these people here were ready to risk their lives for a little girl none of them knew. None of them had been assigned this mission. They were volunteers, and the very thought made Evan’s stomach tighten. They were here, because they were determined to save his daughter.

            The Gate activated with the familiar swooshing sound and the MALP was on its way. Evan turned around to look up. Through the bullet-proof glass, he could see Alex, staring at him, arms crossed over her chest, one hand balled into a fist. The one holding his wedding ring? Their eyes met and he knew that he’d be back. That everything would be okay after this. It just had to be. And if he met Ba’al, he’d wouldn’t hesitate to kill him. No order from any superior officer would stop him. For what he’d done to Alex. For what had happened to Nora.

“No enemies detected on the other side. SGs-1, 3, 4, 5, 11 and 15, you have a go. Godspeed.” came Hammond’s voice from behind them only a few minutes later and Evan forced himself to look away from Alex and stand next to O’Neill. It wasn’t protocol, but these people here were coming along for him and for his wife and he’d be damned if he wasn’t among the first to go through the Gate.

“Let me go through first, though, Major.” O’Neill didn’t look at him, as he approached the event horizon and Evan didn’t look back at Alex. He felt her eyes on him as he followed O’Neill and was just glad that he had the other teams right there with him. They might have left him behind, but they wanted to make it up now, and he was grateful for it. Grateful that he didn’t have to go through this alone. Grateful, that if something did happen to him, there would be people on the base and in her life who would make sure that she was okay.

When he came out on the other side and he saw the massive blue and monument rising up in front of them, he felt a chill run down his spine. This was the place where Alex and her team had been trapped once before. That place she’d called a Goa’uld burial site.

Evan held his P-90 at the ready, moving to the side to secure the perimeter as the other members of their strike team rushed through the Stargate behind them.

 

 

The dim light of her office lamp made her eyes burn as she skimmed the text in front of her for the tenth time.

            With a sigh, she pulled off her glasses and rubbed her aching temples. A transcript of an interrogation wasn’t her usual reading material, but every word of this one made her heart pound faster and her limbs feel number at the same time. This was about their daughter. About Ba’al. About what he wanted from her.

            She looked up when she heard the steps approaching from the corridor. It couldn’t be Evan. He wasn’t back yet. He couldn’t be.

            Just to think, that barely two hours ago she had returned from that rainy mud pit of a planet, her heart heavy and her head empty, and that now, right now, Evan was on yet another world with six teams, following a very hot lead, which might very well be a trap, made her want to start pacing her little office.

            And of course it wasn’t Evan. The woman walking past her open office door wasn’t even looking for her. She just walked by Alex’s office without looking inside.

Nobody to talk to, nothing to do, but re-read the file if she didn’t want to go nuts. But just looking at the black print on the stark white paper made her eyes water. She couldn’t bear it. Couldn’t bear sitting still or waiting.

            With a sigh, she closed her laptop, dropped the file in her drawer and started moving towards the gym, stomach churning and heart racing. What if they didn’t find the lab? What if they encountered massive resistance? What if Evan was already dead, just lying lifeless in one of those narrow corridors, blue eyes staring up into the steel-grey sky?

            No… no he couldn’t be. He wasn’t. She was just worried. Worried out of her wits, yes, and that was probably exactly why Hammond didn’t want her to go along. Her fingertips were tingling as she rushed down the corridor. God, how she wished there was something for her to do. Something to shoot, something to figure out. This waiting, this pacing and staring at blank walls was unbearable. And still, as soon as she was in front of the gym, she spun around on her heel and rushed back towards the elevators. She might just as well wait in the control room.

 

 

SG-3 remained at the DHD, while the rest of the team moved up the paved road towards the temple. Everything just fell into place. He knew where he was, what to do, what to look out for. This routine had never really left him. Woeste and Ritter rushed past him to check that the tower to their right was clear, while Miller and Murdoch checked the left tower. Jonas and Daniel were a few metres behind him, making up the centre of the group, while O’Neill and Edwards took the lead as they entered the temple.

            “Now, where is that lab supposed to be?” Evan heard Edwards ask.

            “You know, that Goa’uld didn’t exactly draw a map,” O’Neill replied, gesturing for the next four to move forwards, while the rest watched their backs. These narrow corridors looked empty enough, but apparently it had been the same when Pierce and his team first came through the Gate about a year ago. Since then the Goa’uld were bound to have at least some security installed, and, fair enough, they’d barely advanced two hundred metres down the colonnade, leading towards the centre of the inner courtyard, when hot white bolts of white light shot through the air, barely missing his leg. Evan jumped to the side as Pierce opened fire, just as Jonas went down.

            “The spires!” Teal’c shouted, aiming his staff weapon.

            Evan rolled to the side as the roaring sound of gun fire erupted in his ears. Jonas was right next to him, lying on the ground, holding his side, his face screwed up in pain. Without hesitating, he grabbed his vest and pulled him behind one of the massive pillars. Jonas was gasping for air, the hand clutching his side slick with blood, but his eyes were clear. Immediately Woeste was by them, guarding them, aiming his fire at the tops of the spires.

“I got you,” Evan breathed, ripping a dressing from his own vest tearing the plastic with his teeth and pushing it hard against the wound. The hot, slippery blood against his skin almost made him choke. He really wasn’t used to this anymore.

            “I’m okay, Major,” he hissed.

            “Like hell, you are.” The blood was already starting to seep through the dressing, and he was reaching for the next one, when Woeste knelt next to him. The gun fire had stopped.

            “Major Lorne, Edwards wants you.” Woeste took the compress from his slippery hand.

            Evan swallowed hard and forced himself to look at Jonas. “Hang in there,” he said, hating himself for his previous jealousy.

            “Go,” Jonas jerked his head in the direction of the two Colonels.

            Without waiting another second, Evan jumped to his feet and hurried to catch up with Edwards.

            “- perimeter seems secure,” Carter was saying. A team of about five men was gathered around Jonas and Woeste.

            “Not a good start,” Edwards muttered quietly.

            “Pierce,” O’Neill said, eyes on Jonas and Woeste “you stay here with Jonas and SG-5. Radio in if something- anything happens. The rest: move out. If someone is here, they’re bound to have heard this.”

            They moved out again, and just as they turned into a corridor on their left, Evan looked back at Jonas, whose face was screwed up in a grimace as Woeste attended the wound. At least no one was dead.

            Yet.

            That was not a healthy mindset.

            Carter was in the lead now, while Jackson peered into every nook and cranny. Evan could almost sense his urge to take out his camera to record as much as possible. They passed several empty, nondescript rooms, some of them tiled with long, wide plates others decorated by massive square ones. The graves Alex had suspected here? No… graves. They’d discovered bodies here. Human bodies. And most likely dead symbiotes.

            “There’s something here,” Carter whispered, her face carrying in the narrow, suffocating corridor. Only now did he see that she was holding some kind of device, which was giving off a soft beeping sound.

            “Define something, Carter.” O’Neill was impatient, and no small wonder. These corridors left little to no room to manoeuvre, let alone shoot without accidentally killing someone you didn’t want to kill.

            “An energy signature.” She pointed left, and O’Neill went first down another very narrow corridor and down a set of stairs which gradually became wider.

            “Nirrti,” Jackson muttered, pointing at a sign etched into the stone pillars on either side of the stairs.

            “Looks like we’re here,” Edwards threw a look over his shoulder at Evan.

Chapter Text

2003

The Goa’uld we interrogated, Reynolds had said, said that Ba’al is looking for certain genetic properties for a new host. Nothing new, but those words had made her certain that their child was dead. The women, he apparently wanted to… Reynolds had hesitated, to- he needed the egg cells. As many as possible, apparently. Genetic properties, egg cells… the thought made her sick to the pit of her stomach even now.

“Doctor Lorne!”

            She recognized him from that brief time she’d spent at the hospital. The elevator had just stopped, catching her off guard. She’d almost run straight into him as he was standing in front of her. She really didn’t have the patience to talk right now, let alone to a doctor. “Hey,” she muttered, unwilling to engage in any sort of social interaction right now.

            “I was on my way to talk to you, actually.”

            Alex frowned. The Scottish accent still reminded her of one of her favourite professors, but that didn’t help much today. What was he doing here anyway? She knew that the SGC worked together with the Airforce Academy Hospital, but she rarely saw doctors from there on base. “I’m sorry, Doctor Beckett,” she said, “I really can’t talk right now.”

            “I know,” he was standing between the doors of the elevator, keeping her from stepping outside. “I’m sorry. Maybe we can set up an appointment for another day?”

            “Sure,” she muttered, pushing past him, unable to focus on anything but getting to the control room. And what would she be doing there? Pace some more, until Harriman threw her out? Probably.

            She took a few steps in the direction of the set of stairs straight ahead, when it hit her. She spun around again, to stare at Beckett. “You took some of my blood,” she muttered, just as the doors were about to close. Beckett’s eyebrow rose slightly, and she hit her hand against the door so it wouldn’t close. “Some of my husband’s as well.”

            He nodded. “It’s what us medical doctor’s do, you know?”

            “Medical genetics… that’s what you said.”

            “That’s right.” Beckett shoved his hands into the pockets of his white coat. “But it really can wait.”

            She bit her lip, throwing a look over her shoulder. “I’m of no use to anybody at the moment. But-“

            “Take your time, I’ll be here for a while.” He smiled softly at her. Reassuringly. “It’s not important at the moment.”

 

 

O’Neill was back on the radio. Reynold’s words were still ringing in his ears. An Al’kesh had been sighted approaching the complex.

            “They’re not going to bomb this place,” Jackson muttered. “This is neutral ground! They can’t-“

            “Daniel, they installed automatic weapons fire,” O’Neill hissed. Next second Pierce’ voice made him fall silent.

            “A group of Jaffa has just ringed down into the centre of the temple.”

            “Hold your ground, we’ll be there in a minute.” O’Neill signalled for SG-4 to fall back and the men hurried down the corridor straight away.

            “Sir-“ Evan found himself saying. This wasn’t right.

            “No way we’re leaving without finding out what’s in there, Major,” Edwards interrupted him, taking point and entering the room at the foot of the stairs.

            The blasts of staff weapon fire, the explosions of bullets sent flying grew louder, three men stayed behind, Ritter among them, to guard the stairs, while Evan, Teal’c, Carter, Jackson and O’Neill followed Edwards. The ground beneath was covered in a thin layer of sand, which made the small disturbances of footprints discernible. Five pairs by the looks of it.

            Evan’s heart was pounding in his chest, as he and the team took position right in the spot where the footsteps had vanished. Jackson was at the control panel, hitting some buttons and then rushed back to the group. They were allowing themselves to be pushed into ever smaller corners. This couldn’t be a good idea.

            The rings activated. There was the familiar sound, the well-known dropping sensation in the pit of his stomach, and next thing he knew, they were standing in the centre of an enclosed space, the walls lined with charcoal grey and golden tiles and just one circular apparatus. Just the one. And a two metre long brightly illuminated table in front of it, a small crate to the side.

            Evan aimed the P-90 at the man standing by the apparatus, just as the four Jaffa guards were hit by O’Neill’s and Edwards’ weapons fire. They collapsed like broken twigs. The snarl on Ba’al’s face was worse than Evan remembered it and if he could’ve just pulled the trigger, he would have.

            “Looks like we got our ticket out of here,” O’Neill said. “Where’s the child?”

            “You can’t seriously think I will let you do this.” The voice, the metallic sound of it, made Evan shiver, as he moved forwards, his gun aimed right between those cruel eyes. This man had killed hundreds of people, men, women and children that day, probably thousands more in his entire lifespan. Clara. Odo. Oswald… little Cuthbert. This man had tortured him, and watched on as Alex was cut open. He’d ordered it. He’d wanted it. And now Evan couldn’t even pull the trigger.

            “Don’t see how you’ll be getting out of this any other way,” Edwards said.

            Ba’al’s eyes flashed bright gold, making Evan’s stomach lurch. Just seeing him made every nerve in his body feel like it was ready to twitch. And then Ba’al’s eyes fell on him and a sliver of recognition appeared on his face. “You?”

            It took all the strength he had to not move his finger even a millimetre. It would be so easy. One small squeeze and this would be all over. And they’d be stuck here until the Jaffa stormed this room, killed them all and put Ba’al into a sarcophagus.

            “Where’s the child?” O’Neill asked again, seemingly calm.

            “Which one?” Ba’al’s lips formed that sardonic smile again, making it even harder for Evan to stay still. He took a deep breath, forcing himself to stop imagining what it would look like to see that man’s brains splattered on the floor.

“If I were you,” Daniel said, “I would start thinking about the fact that the kid’s father is aiming a gun at your head.”

Father… such a simple word, and it was almost enough to just do it. To get it over with.

Ba’al jerked his head to the right, to a metal box the size of packing case. A coffin?

“Lorne, check the box,” O’Neill motioned for him to get moving and for Ba’al to come closer.

Trembling slightly, Evan lowered his gun and approached the box. If she was dead… if it wasn’t her, what would he do then? There was no lid on the box, just some kind of shielding and he could just about make out the small creature lying at the bottom of it, wrapped in a silvery fabric. Its skin was soft pink, the lips a bit pouty.

Unmoving.

“It’s a stasis pod,” he heard Carter say next to him.

Were babies always this small? Wasn’t he supposed to feel warmth spreading through his chest right now? Instead of this hollowness?

Carter fumbled with a narrow control panel and he light within the box went out. Evan held his breath, just staring down at the tiny human being lying there. Was it theirs? Was it even alive?

He bit his lip and reached into the crate, brushing his fingertips against the soft cheek. It was warm. But was it her? The baby’s lips parted slightly, the eyelids fluttered, but wouldn’t open.

“Lorne! We have to get going!” Edwards…

Without looking up, Evan locked his weapon in the safety mode, unhooked it from his vest and handed it to Carter. There was no way he was carrying that P-90 and his child… his child. He could barely breathe, when he reached into the crate and, remembering the instructions his sister had given him when he first met his nephew, lifted the baby out. It was so light, so small against his chest, he felt his heart constrict painfully. Was this her? The question kept popping into his head, as he pulled back the silver fabric at the feet, just to make sure. And there it was. That crooked little toe. The one he had, the one his sister and father had… He swallowed hard, forcing down the tears rushing into his eyes as he felt the little creature try to lift its hands. Jackson was by his side then, taking of his own vest, shrugging out of his jacket to wrap it around the tiny body and making Evan feel even more foolish.

“Hold her tight, this’ll work out,” Jackson mumbled reassuringly as he pulled his vest back on.

“Let’s go!” O’Neill was standing in the middle of the ring platform again, Edwards next to him. Ba’al hesitated for a moment, his eyes thin as slits, as Teal’c pushed him to stand next to O’Neill.

“You will pay for this,” Ba’al hissed.

“Stop the melodrama,” O’Neill shot back. “Just be grateful you’re not paying.”

 

 

A Hok’tar. Or something like it. That’s what Ba’al wanted, and Nirrti’s research was playing right into his hands. He wanted that specific gene, the one she and Evan evidently possessed, no matter what it was for. That’s what the Goa’uld captured by SG-5 had told Reynolds, who had accompanied the team.

The Goa’uld had been killed as he was attempting to escape. She knew what that meant, and she was certain the IOA would know it too. But would they investigate? She doubted it.

            She was spinning Evan’s wedding band around her thumb. Turning it, feeling the warm metal against her skin, as she sat in the control room, staring at the Gate, imagining all the things that could go wrong, or had already gone wrong.

            Harriman and the other technicians weren’t ignoring her, they just left her alone. Syler had put a mug of coffee in front of her, as she sat at the back, glued to that chair, turning the wedding band and staring at the Gate. The coffee was still warm. The team couldn’t be gone for more than an hour, but it felt like they’d been gone years already.

            And then the alarm sounded, making her heart miss a beat. She jumped to her feet, almost knocking the coffee over, but she didn’t care. Wrapping her arms around herself, as Harriman went through the usual announcements and Hammond rushed down the metal stairs behind her.

            “Is it them?”

            “Doctor Jackson’s IDC, Sir. Opening the iris.”

            The airmen stormed past the control room, taking up their positions. An unscheduled activation like this, from a hostile world, meant that the teams coming back through most likely needed back-up.

            Her fingers dug into the back of her chair as the Gate activated and she moved forwards when the first people stepped through. One of them had to be held upright by two others. Jonas. Murdoch and Ritter on either side of him. And then Pierce limped through the event horizon. Her stomach lurched.

“We need a medical team,” Ritter shouted, as O’Neill and Edwards passed through. None of them wounded.

            And then Evan. Evan holding a bundle in his arms. He raised his eyes, and one look was all she needed. One look to tell her that everything was okay. He stepped down the ramp, making room for the rest of the strike team. The Gate shut down and the medical team loaded Jonas onto a stretcher, but she didn’t really see any of that. She just pushed past Hammond, down the narrow staircase and ran into the Gate room, her pulse racing as the strike team made room for her.

            “Hey,” Evan said quietly. There was a spot of dark brown on his chin. Blood. But not his. He seemed okay. Rattled. Exhausted. But okay. He was holding the bundle so tightly, so securely, that she was sure he’d never let go. She moved closer, as he pushed the green fabric to the side to reveal a face, so tiny, the nose so small, she was surprised that it could even breathe. But breathe it did.

            “Is that her?” she whispered, completely ignoring the team surrounding them. She had no eyes for them, though she knew she should. She should thank them on her knees for what they had done, for what they had risked, but facing them, looking into their eyes was impossible.

            “Yes,” he said, with just a trace of doubt in his voice. And how could he be sure? How could he, when neither of them had seen their daughter before.

            She pressed her hand to her lips to stifle a sob. The child in his arms stretched, its eyes fluttered and then an almost piercing wail echoed through the Gateroom.

 

 

“Ba'al managed to slip away,” Evan growled. It was his turn to pace. He looked tired and tense and just about as anxious as she felt. When he walked past her for the third, time, she grabbed his hand  and pulled him towards her. “I was so close,” he whispered. “This close to-“ he broke off.

            “How?” she asked, rubbing her thumb over the ring he was wearing again. “What happened?” Jonas was wounded, Pierce had been hit by a staff weapon blast and would be out of commission for a while by the looks of it. Apart from that everyone was accounted for and okay. She’d have to go see Jonas tomorrow, when he was out of surgery.

            He scoffed. “Made a deal… said he wouldn’t bring the Ha’tak down on us if we let him go at the Gate.”

            “Was there a Ha’tak in orbit?”

            Shrugging, he leaned against the wall next to her. “How were we supposed to know…”

            She squeezed his hand and focused on the door again, behind which, right now, Beckett was examining the baby the team had brought back. “Are you sure it’s her?” How could they be sure? Ba’al had the chance to abduct hundreds of children, had taken so many women…what were the chances of this actually being their child?

            The Hok’tar. The genes… whatever that meant. Beckett would talk to them about it tomorrow, probably. Not today. Today was just about getting home. About taking their child away from this base and trying to figure out what was going to happen next.

            “She has that crooked toe,” Evan murmured, raising her hand to his lips. “That’s all I could make out.”

            Alex snorted. He’d talked about this toe so much in that little bed, his hands resting on her bump, his breath stroking her neck. About how proud his dad would be to see it. And now, maybe he would. It seemed like all of that had happened in another life. To someone else. Like it had all been just a story.

            The door opposite them opened and Beckett waved them inside. “Come on, in.” He was smiling brightly, one simple facial expression, which lifted about a ton off her shoulders. But still… this was weird to say the least.

            Hesitating for just a moment, she hovered in the corridor, until she felt that gentle tug of Evan pulling her forward. The small examination room was bright enough, considering the dark grey walls. Doctor Keller, the one who’d tended to her after she’d been injured was in there as well, wrapping the baby into a thick blanket. Two doctors for one baby… well, of course they wanted to make sure. Alex had read the files on Nirrti’s experiments, all of which had given her nightmares. And then there’d been that time when Anubis had planted a bomb in another child… they couldn’t be careful enough.

            “Well, everything looks peachy,” Beckett said as Evan rushed forward and picked her up again. “We’ll have the results tomorrow, Doctor Keller is already working on it, but as far as I can tell, she’s as healthy as can be.”

            Alex let out a long breath, watching Evan hold her securely in his arms. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be, but here she was. All of a sudden, back with them. “She’s not as small as she was when-“ Alex choked and forced herself to move closer, to stretch out her arms. She hadn’t held a baby in years, but here she was, feeling the light weight and the softness of the blanket as Evan lowered her into Alex’s arms. She was awake, her bright blue eyes staring up.

            “Well, we don’t think Ba’al kept her in that stasis pod all the time,” Keller said, “Just long enough to make sure she didn’t die.”

            “But she’s okay, right?” Evan put his arm around her, eyes fixed on both Keller and Beckett.

            “As far as we can tell, yes. Yes, she’s perfectly healthy. But neither of us is a paediatrician and we have to wait for the lab results, but, yes.” Beckett reached for a bag and put it on the examination table in front of them. “I know, you probably don’t have any of this at home. I asked one of the nurses to assemble this for you from the stocks we keep for refugees. Just to get you started until you can go shopping tomorrow.” He opened the bag. “Two baby bottles, milk powder, nappies… will you be okay with those?”

            No. No, she wasn’t ready for this. Not at all. She looked down at the baby in her arms, who had closed her eyes again and it hit her. This was hers. Her responsibility from now on. Evan would be going on missions again, she’d stay home for the next few weeks at least. He’d be gone, she’d be here. All alone with a baby she’d never been prepared for… at least in their village she’d have had the support of the women around her but here… she had no doctor, nobody to talk her through the routine. She’d never even considered thinking about having a baby before this and on Larsa things had just happened naturally. She’d been worried, yes, but never this terrified of what having a baby actually meant.

            “I-“ she broke off and she saw worry flicker across Beckett’s face.

            “I know a bit,” Evan said quietly. “I took care of my nephew a few times when he was little.”

            “How little, Major?”

            “Two, three weeks? I’m not sure anymore.”

            Beckett sighed and exchanged a look with Keller. “Alright, put her down. The instructions for the milk are on the box, but let’s go through the nappy-changing routine just in case. What’s her name anyway? We never knew?”

            Alex took a deep breath, holding her daughter close to her chest. She wasn’t ready. Not in the least. But there was no way around it. This was it. “Nora,” she whispered.

Chapter Text

 

2003

Monsieur had been dropped off by the dog sitter a couple of hours ago and as soon as he heard the key in the door, he was waiting for them, sitting in the doorway, bulging eyes focused on them as they walked in.

Evan patted his side and started hustling him to the back door, where he broke free and made a run for Alex, who was still holding the baby. He stood on his hind legs, one paw on Alex’s leg as he sniffed at the bundle in her arms.

            “Hey you,” she said, a thin smile on her lips. “We brought someone new, you gonna be okay with that?”

            Evan wasn’t entirely sure Monsieur would be, but the dog just wagged his tail, sniffed at the bundle again and then hurried to the back door. “Well, he’s enthusiastic,” Evan muttered and sighed. He was so tired he could just about collapse on the sofa and sleep for a day straight. But the baby was shifting in its blanket again, making soft clucking noises, which would surely result in loud wailings again. No, not just the baby. Nora…

            Alex shook her head and started towards the living room and Evan followed her to at least try and make a makeshift bed. They really weren’t prepared for this. He dropped the bag Beckett had given them on the floor and started arranging pillows on the armchair.

“Put her here,” he said quietly. Not that Nora could turn around yet, but he wouldn’t take any chances. Alex lowered her down, her eyes wide and that uncertainty still in them. But being in that armchair didn’t appear to be the thing Nora wanted. She pouted, stretched her arms and yawned… if it could be called that. And Evan could see that Alex was still hesitant to touch her.

“I’ll get a bottle ready,” Alex mumbled and Evan took her place, kneeling in front of the chair as she got up to walk over to the kitchen with the box of milk powder and the bottle in her hands.

Evan leaned against the sofa, eyes drifting from Alex, to Nora and back again. Mere hours ago, he’d been facing Ba’al. That very morning he’d lost all hope of ever finding their daughter. The tables had turned so quickly, that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to wrap his head around it. That baby lying next to him, stretching her tiny fists into the air, was his. Every time he thought about it, he felt like he was slamming into a wall. His and her baby and they were home. They were safe.

He looked to the back door through which Monsieur had just come back in. The dog looked up at Alex then at Evan. “Come on,” Evan said, picking Nora up and settling back against the sofa. The kid can’t have had a lot of contact with other humans. He doubted anyone had picked her up and walked her up and down a room to get her to sleep. Evan had seen Ellen do that dozens of times. But Nora… Nora had only known that crate and the examination table. At least that’s what he hoped. The thought that Ba’al might have cradled her, might have looked into that tiny face and made plans for it, was enough to make Evan wish he’d just pulled the trigger when he had the chance.

The clicking of Monsieur’s talons on the floor made him look up again. Those deep brown eyes came ever closer and Evan pulled the blanket to the side so Monsieur could get a closer look. The dog’s nose twitched excitedly as he drew closer, the snout almost touching the bald head and Evan tensed up. If this went wrong… But Monsieur was wagging his tail and when the thick, pink tongue touched Nora’s forehead, she opened her eyes fully to stare up. Up at Evan. Could she recognize faces yet? Probably not. Could she sense that he meant her no harm? That he was supposed to love her? Because, if he was being honest, he had no idea what he felt looking down at her.

She let out a quiet cough, but no scream. No wailing. Just that intense stare. For a second he almost expected her blue eyes to flash bright gold, but they just remained that soft blue colour. It would probably change, he thought. To look more like Alex’s eyes. At least he hoped they would. He wanted her to look like her mother.

“Okay, I think that’s it,” Alex said, coming back to them, a bottle under her arm and two small white bowls in her hands.

“What’s that?”

She sat down on the sofa and placed the bowls on the small coffee table. “Ice cream for you and me, milk for-“ she hesitated, “Nora.”

Raising his eyebrows, he looked up at her. It was still new to hear her say the name. “Okay,” he muttered. “Let’s give this a try.”

Handing him the bottle, she lay down, her arms wrapped around his neck and her cheek resting against his. “Is this really happening?”

He took a deep breath. “Looks that way,” he muttered as Monsieur sat down next to him. “You wanna do this, Monsieur?” Monsieur grumbled softly, making Alex laugh.

Lowering the bottle to Nora’s lips, he couldn’t help but think that he had to call his parents. That he had to call Alex’s mother. That tomorrow morning, the first thing he needed to do, was to go shopping, and not just small things like diapers and milk powder, but a car seat, a crib, a changing table and all the other things they would need and he’d never heard of.

 

Neither one of them slept a wink that night. What if they missed something? What if something happened? What if they woke up, only to find out that it had all been a dream? That they’d never managed to find back together? That Nora wasn’t alive?

            They stayed awake, watching the sleeping baby, taking turns to hold her, to get to know her. Her, the baby who never really cried. Her silence made Alex uncomfortable to say the least.

            She lay there, watching Evan with Nora lying sprawled on his chest. Reaching up, she brushed her thumb over his eyebrows, her index down his nose, his lips. The first traces of stubble had started appearing on his face again.

            “What?” he asked with a thin smile. The first rays of the September sun were starting to creep in through the bare looking windows. They should really start thinking about getting curtains, she thought briefly, before focusing on his face again. She’d never been estranged from it. Not really.

            “I’m just thinking,” she said quietly.

            “Usually a good sign,.” His hand moved up to trace Nora’s spine.

            “About how lucky I’ve been…”

            “I thought we’d skipped that thing with the self-written vows.” He was smiling and reached out with his free hand to hold hers.

            “We did… just… remember that. That we’ve been exceptionally lucky.”

            Evan let out a long breath and turned his head to stare up at the ceiling. They’d moved up to the bedroom at some point. Not to sleep, but just because lying down was more comfortable. Both of them were still fully dressed. Both had twitched every single time Nora had moved even a finger, anxious that something was wrong. But their child just slept and only twice announced with a soft munching noise that she needed her bottle.

            “I guess we were. We are.” He sighed. “I still can’t believe that this is real. You. Me. Her…” She watched his Adam’s apple move as he swallowed. No matter how often they said it, it would never be enough.

            Alex sat up, brushing a hand over her face. “Guess I’m gonna have to call my mom… and your parents…” The prospect was daunting to say the least, but they needed to know. They’d want to know. “That’ll make it real quickly enough.” She looked down at him again. “When will you be leaving?”

            A shadow flickered over his face as he frowned up at her. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “But I guess they’ll give me a couple of days? I’ll find out when we get to base later today.” Not just later that day. In a couple of hours. And they needed to get so much done before then… Nora didn’t even have any clothes they could put on her, and that drive home had been more than adventurous. Alex had trembled all the way, terrified of what would happen if she dropped the baby.

            “I suppose.” She leaned over him, kissing his brow and hesitating for just a moment to touch her lips to Nora’s head.

 

Beckett was already waiting in his office when they knocked. Alex was carrying the detachable car seat with Nora in it and she looked pale. Pale and tired.

            It was only noon, but they’d already gone shopping to buy the bare necessities, had paid a visit to Pierce and Jonas and called their parents. All of it without a bit of sleep, all of it after only one mug of coffee.

            Beckett greeted them and the dark circles under his eyes confirmed Evan’s suspicion, that the doctor hadn’t slept a whole lot either. “How did it go?”, he asked, as first Alex and then Evan fell into chairs.

            “Okay,” Alex said quietly, rubbing her eyes. “It’s- it’s just weird.”

            “I can imagine.”

            “Can you?”

            Evan reached out to her to touch her arm. “Not a whole lot of sleep,” he added. His own eyes were so close to drooping shut. But he couldn’t sleep. Not yet.

            “I suppose…” Beckett cleared his throat and pulled a file out of the topmost drawer of his desk. “Well, what I can tell you is this girl really is yours. The DNA checks out.”

            The tension left Alex’s shoulders straight away and he felt himself sink into his own chair. “But?” Alex added. Immediately Evan’s eyes flew to the car seat, to their little girl just sleeping… was this normal? Should she be asleep this much? Well, what else was she supposed to be doing? Write a paper?

            Beckett rubbed his eyes and nodded. “Yes. Well…” he cleared his throat and looked first at Alex, then at Evan. “Like I said, she appears to be fine, but I’d still like to do some regular check-ups additionally to her regular paediatrician appointments. Especially since we know that Ba’al did some tests on her, even if we don’t know what exactly he did.” He leaned back again and pulled a small grey metallic box from it. Just a square box with a bright blue crystal in its centre.

            “What is that?” Evan asked with a frown.

            “A device.” Beckett waved his hand over it and a bright blue light shot straight from it and a millisecond later the entire room was filled with bright twinkling lights. “Or a map… It was found in Antarctica, close to where the second Stargate was discovered a few years ago.”

            Alex sat up a bit straighter and Beckett waved his hand over the device again. The twinkling lights vanished at once. “I’ve never seen this.” Her voice sounded almost offended.

            “Well, it was discovered quite recently, but up until now nobody’s been able to activate it. General O’Neill touched it when he was in Doctor Jackson’s office the other day and it just lit up. Nothing happened when Doctor Jackson did the same the next day…”

            “You think it has something to do with that gene? You have it too?” Evan asked. That was it? Some kind of genetic mutation that allowed you to access technology?

            Beckett nodded with a frown. “It is very likely that the Ancients used this specific gene as a sort of key to some of their technology.” He held the device out to Alex, who took it reluctantly. After exchanging a brief glance with Evan, she waved her hand over it and the crystal started glowing and the map of stars appeared again. Her eyes grew wide. If this was what this gene was for, if Ba’al had found out about it… Evan looked down at Nora again.

            “So you think that Ba’al found some Ancient technology and tried to figure out how to use Nora to activate it?” Evan growled, whishing again he hadn’t let Ba’al live. When would he stop regretting that?

            “I don’t know anything, Major, I’m a medical doctor, remember?” Beckett shrugged. “All I can say is that not a whole lot of people possess that gene, but that it might be helpful to study it some more.”

            Evan’s head jerked around, his hands digging into the arms of his chair. “What are you saying, Doc?”

            “What? No- no, not on her!” Beckett raised his hand defensively. “I meant that I want to study that gene, maybe find a way to replicate it. And I’m going to need a few more samples, not just my own. And with samples I mean a few drops of blood every now and again.”

            Alex nodded. “Fine… just… just not right now.”

            “No, not right now,” Beckett agreed. “I guess the three of you have some catching up to do at the moment.”

            “Understatement,” Evan muttered, grateful that they had a whole day before his mother arrived. Grateful that Hammond wouldn’t be sending him off-world for another whole week. Mining naquadah really wasn’t his top priority at the moment.

Chapter Text

September 21st 2003

Hey you,

Just got settled in at the camp. Ritter asked after you and Nora and says hi. I showed him that photo of Nora with Monsieur. He seemed a bit concerned about a dog being so close to a baby. Her nose is still on, isn’t it? Monsieur hasn’t licked it off yet?

This transmission is going out tomorrow afternoon, but I’m not sure I’ll have a lot of time for writing tomorrow morning. How is my mom treating you? I hope she’s not too overbearing. If she isn’t, give her my love; if not, don’t.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I’m okay and that I miss you two already. With a bit of luck we won’t be here too long. The team’s been on this rock for two and a half months and so far they haven’t discovered a deposit that looks promising. We’re moving to another place the day after tomorrow apparently. Menard said something about the remnants of an old mine shaft. I wonder why we didn’t go there straight away. So, let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Love you,

Evan.

 

September 22nd 2003

Hey love,

Nora’s nose fell off yesterday, but I glued it back on. Tell Ritter everything’s okay.

            Your mom’s being terrific. Seriously. When she said that she and your dad would be staying for a whole two weeks while you were away, I was a bit freaked out. But she’s been a real treasure. And it’s a lot easier to accept tips from her than from my mom. Just don’t tell her. I’m just grateful she’s here helping out. It’s becoming easier with Nora. I can’t imagine what this house was like before she got here. Beckett and the paediatrician both say that she’s developing really well, though I have to admit I’m a bit worried. She’s not gaining weight as much as she did in the beginning. But I guess I’m worried about nothing.

            Last night I put one of your shirts on your pillow to cuddle with. That’s how stupid I’m being. Nora hasn’t fallen asleep as easily these past few days. I guess she misses her daddy. When I went to check up on her this morning, she wasn’t in her bedroom and, well, you can imagine what I thought. Turns out, your dad picked her up and went downstairs with her. He was lying on the sofa, Nora on his chest. I took a picture, but I guess it won’t come out all that well. It was pretty dark and I didn’t want to use the flash.

            It’s still weird, you know? Actually being a mom? But I’m getting there. Doctor Miller told me to tell you that, just in case you think I’m having doubts. Clever man. You were better at thinking about her as our girl than me. But things are picking up. Just makes it harder to start looking for a nanny. I can’t imagine giving her up again, but I’d better do it before your mom suggests moving here. And I know what I just said, but I also like that we’re doing this on our own. And you’ll be back before you know it. Just wait. You find a good deposit and you’ll be back before you know it.

            Also: Nora’s been cuddling with our sock collection. Do you think that’s a sign?

 

Halt die Ohren steif! Love you!

Alex

 

September 29th 2003

Alex.

You are an evil person! Throwing German idioms at me when I don’t have a dictionary with me! I’m not as young or as fluent as I used to be. Have mercy with your husband!

            And yes, that’s what I am. We’ve been married for almost two months now. Weird, huh? To be honest, I was a bit surprised that my mom didn’t complain about us getting married without a big party. I still don’t regret it. I guess we’re doing pretty well. You especially. I’m so glad you’re back on your feet. And we’ll figure things out. You’re not letting Nora down if you decide on a nanny, but you’re going to prove to her that it’s okay to be a successful working mom. Not only are you a working mom, but a brilliant working mom, doing what she can to defend her home. With a brush, books and a computer. Like Hermione Granger, just a lot cooler. Hey, has the new book arrived yet? Don’t start reading before I get back home!

            Sorry I haven’t written in a few days. There wasn’t a whole lot of time with relocating and setting up the new camp. Edwards said something funny today. Something about the concentration of naquadah in the soil being high enough that my great-grandchildren might just be spared the task of mining it for us to make a battlecruiser. It wasn’t a big joke, but it made me grin like an idiot. Because I’m a daddy and it’s not at all unlikely that I’ll be a great-granddad at one point. Weird, huh? That is, if you stop letting me eat ice cream and I’ll actually live to be that old.

            Give Nora a big kiss from me, and keep the extra one for yourself.

Evan.

Chapter Text

Chapter 37

2003

Carter called just as she was about to leave the house to take a walk with Nora and Evan’s parents. Edwards had called for reinforcements. Apparently one of his team had been hurt.  Not Evan, Carter assured her, Evan had called in to request the reinforcements to secure the perimeter.

            The news froze her in place for a moment and she was unable to respond. Until Molly, Evan’s mother, entered her field of vision. “Is everything alright?” Molly asked and Alex swallowed hard.

            “Alright, thanks, Major,” she said into her mobile. “I’ll be there in half an hour.” She wouldn’t wait for news here. She couldn’t. She hung up and closed her eyes for a moment. She really needed to get better at this. Eight years ago she had been. But eight years ago it had just been the two of them.

            “Molly, would it be okay for the two of you to watch Nora for a while?” She wasn’t supposed to bring Nora to SGC and it really was no place for a child. The regular appointments with Beckett took place at the Air Force Academy Hospital.

            “Alex? What happened?” Evan’s father, had just put Nora in her pram.

            “Nothing, David,” Alex lied. “I just need to get into work.” She couldn’t tell Evan’s parents that something bad might very well have happened, but how should she explain it to them?

            “You’re on maternity leave!” David protested.

            Alex shrugged. “I know. It’s just important.” Neither of them understood what it exactly it was that she was doing for the Air Force, but there was nothing for it. “Will you be okay with her?”

            “Of course… Just-“ Molly’s eyes, so much like Evan’s, were so full of worry that it nearly broke Alex’s heart. “You’d tell us if something had happened to him, wouldn’t you?”

            “Yes,” Alex breathed, reaching for her handbag. “I would. I promise.” She took a deep breath, then bent low over the pram to kiss Nora’s forehead. Her daughter looked up at her with those trusting blue eyes. No. Reinforcements didn’t necessarily mean anything bad had happened. They were securing the perimeter. It might just as well be that wild animals had been sighted near the camp. They were just taking precautions. Someone had been hurt. There was no mention of any deaths. “I’ll be back in a few hours,” she promised, brushing the one dark brown hair from Nora’s forehead.

 

 

Ritter was dead. Menard was badly wounded. So was O’Neill. A dislocated shoulder by the looks of it.

            He’d just showered and gotten the usual exam over with. The team might move out again in a few hours, and he needed to rest now if they did. They’d left their equipment on that planet after their retreat, but there’d been nothing for it. The way things were going, they were about to wage war on the Unas. He’d call Alex, tell her that everything was okay and wait for the things to come. Edwards would talk to Hammond and General Vidrine, who’d be flying in that night. As of now, there was no way of knowing when, or if they’d be leaving for P3X-403 again, but until he knew he’d have to stay on base.

            When he pushed open the door to the small quarters he’d been assigned he found that Alex was already waiting for him, sitting on the bed in her base uniform. She got up as soon as he entered the room and was in his arms before he’d even said a word. She kissed him, holding his face firmly in his. “You’re okay,” she whispered.

            “When did you get here?” He pulled back. “Why?”

            “Carter called me, said there was some trouble back on that planet. What happened?”

            He looked around. Nora wasn’t there. He felt a short stab of disappointment, but there was just no place for their little girl here. This place wasn’t a safe place for a child. He sat down on the edge of the bed and wiped his hand over his eyes. “Unas,” he said. “They attacked. Dragged Ritter away from camp and- and strung him up.” He swallowed hard, forcing back the image. He was embarrassed to say the least. He could still taste the bile on his tongue. Seeing Ritter like this, bloody and broken, his arms bound to a staff weapon, had been enough to make him throw up.

            Alex stared at him. “He’s dead?” she breathed.

            “Yes…” He sighed, bending over, elbows on his knees. “They killed him. Just because he was there.  Because we were there.” He took a deep breath, forced himself to calm down. Alex’s arms around his shoulders helped a little, and he let her pull him towards her chest, closed his eyes as her hands brushed through his hair.

            “There was something in Daniel’s notes on the Unas,” she said after a moment. “Territorial creatures… the Goa’uld used them as slaves, right?” She kissed his forehead, as he clutched at her, pulling her close and burying his face in her jacket. “Damn it…” She held him, her hand at the back of his neck, stroking his back, as she pulled him with her into a lying position. “I’m so sorry… I- I never really got to thank him.”

            Evan nodded. “I did… the night I got to camp.” He sighed. “But still… he was a good guy.” Not just a good guy. A loyal guy. A friend even. And he didn’t deserve what had happened to him. Evan would never forget the bloodied face, the way he’d just hung there for all to see. He balled his hands into fists, as he held Alex closer, his lips against her collarbone.

            “And then Edwards called for reinforcements?”

            “Yes…” Evan’s hand slipped up her shirt, just to feel her skin. Her warmth. “He wanted to drive the Unas away. To secure the area… but there were too many of them and Menard got hurt… he’ll be okay, though.”

            Alex’s chest rose and fell against his cheek. “Okay… when are you going back?” Why had he even for a second thought they wouldn’t go back? Those naquadah reserves seemed plentiful and Earth needed those 303s. There was no way of knowing when the next attack on Earth would take place. And they only had the Prometheus, just one ship without hyperspace capabilities. Who could tell how many ships Anubis or another System Lord would send.

            “I don’t know. I’m supposed to be on standby.”

            “Right…” she cleared her throat and kissed the top of his head. “But we have time to…”

            He nodded, breathing in her scent. “I think we have the night.”

            “Where is Nora?”

            “With your parents.”

            “Any news?”

            She shook her head. “She’s okay… sleeps a lot, never cries…”

            Never cries. Evan remembered what she’d told him in that e-mail. About Nora not gaining weight… they should really have that paediatrician look into that again. But as long as both Beckett and that other doctor said she was okay, why wouldn’t she be?

Not even ten minutes later, he was lying next to her, panting, sweaty and tears in his eyes. These past few months were really starting to take their toll. So much loss. So many lives wasted, but more would follow if he didn’t play his part. They were both needed in what they were doing, he knew that, and despite everything, he was glad that he’d been chosen. This was something he couldn’t walk away from. Knowing about what was going on out there and not doing anything about it would be impossible. And that’s what it always came down to. He remembered lying in Alex’s arms just like this, almost exactly eight years ago. Like they’d come full circle. After Sam’s death he’d felt pretty much the same.

Sam didn’t deserve what had happened to him either. Evan kept flying that fighter, always knowing that Alex would be there for him when he got back. If he got back. And things were the same again now. Only that they had another person to think of as well. Only that now they were married. But had there ever been any doubt about this being the way things were supposed to be? Well, yes. There’d been a time when he couldn’t bear thinking about her. For the better part of his life Alex hadn’t been there. This, this right here was right. There was nothing to hide, no words that needed to be unsaid. Nothing between the lines.

 

 

In the end, Jackson saved the day by negotiating with the Unas. By convincing them that they needed the naquadah for fighting the Goa’uld. Evan still couldn’t feel too sympathetic towards these creatures. After what they’d done to Ritter, how could he? But he was glad to get off that rock and back home. Glad that SG-11 was assigned to normal recon missions again.

            They found a nanny, one they were both comfortable with. Both Beckett and the paediatrician agreed that Nora would start gaining weight soon enough. She was growing, just not drinking enough. Nora was laughing. She was paying more attention to her surroundings. She was more attached to Monsieur than to her uncle Adam who came to visit about two weeks after Ritter’s memorial service.

            Alex went back to work. The first mission she went on, took her to a dig site on Chulak and things worked out. She was gone for about a week and while she was on her assignment, SG-11’s schedule was reduced to duties on Earth. He was introduced to the new line of F-302’s and the first time he sat in a cockpit again, he felt the same exhilaration he had felt all those years ago. These ships moved incredibly fast and were more agile than he’d ever have thought possible. And in the evenings, he could just go back home, pick Nora up from the nanny’s place and count the hours until Alex’s return.

            Things were more than okay. Things were going smoothly. And when Alex finally came back, her cheeks glowing with excitement, her eyes sparkling when she looked at their daughter, he just knew that they were on the right track. That evening they went out, all three of them, to buy junk food and curtains. Seeing Nora finally lying in Alex’s arms, snoring softly, making Alex laugh, made his heart miss a few beats.

            Alex was trying to eat pizza and not drop any cheese on Nora’s head, a task which was proving to be harder than anticipated. Grinning, he got up from the sofa and went over to the recently assembled book case. “You want to read?” she asked through a mouthful of cheese, while he rummaged through a pile of books.

            “Nope.” And there it was. The old sketch book, white paper peeking through the black cover on the edges. He hadn’t held this in forever, but now felt like a good time. The pencil case was in a box on the lowest shelf. “I want to do something.”

            “You want to draw me dropping cheese on our daughter?”

            “I want to draw the two of you, yes. With cheese or without.” He held the book close to his chest and strode over to the sofa again, his heart pounding. Why he was this nervous, he couldn’t say, but he was.

            Tentatively he sat on the sofa next to her, cross legged.

            “I look terrible.”

            “You look beautiful. And I’m drawing you, not taking a photo, so you’ll be even more beautiful.”

            She scoffed and pushed her left foot against his knee. “Shut up.” But she was grinning. “Hurry up, though. She’s heavy.”

            “Shush.” He was grinning. He’d said the same thing to her years and years ago. Back, when he’d drawn that picture of her. The one which had been on the inside of his locker for years, until it had been taken down when they went missing. The drawing was wedged in between the pages of the sketch book now.

            There were only a few blank pages left. He cocked his head, stretched and looked up, sharpening the charcoal pencil while looking at them. Alex’s smile, the small dimples in her cheeks, the thin creases on her forehead nobody would see when they didn’t know about them. The pointed nose… and Nora. That soft, incredibly fragile face against Alex’s chest.

He took a deep breath and let the tip of his pencil glide over the slightly grainy paper, feeling the barely tangible resistance and allowing himself to lose himself in the situation. In watching Alex and Nora. Drinking it all in. The fact that they were together. That the pizza was getting cold and that it would taste all the better cold, when they’d brought Nora to bed and he’d taken Alex to bed. That they had all day tomorrow before they had to go off-world again. That they’d go back to Nora after that short summit with the Tok’ra.

            The sound of the pencil scratching over the paper was loud enough to fill the entire room and he watched on, as Alex’s eyes slowly started drooping shut, but he didn’t stop. Not even to remind her to sit up straight again. He knew what she looked like. He could’ve drawn her face in his sleep and it wasn’t a whole lot different with Nora’s face. That small birthmark on her cheek, that one lock of dark hair, the full wet lips. He really needed to savour these moments and he was a bit disappointed when he was done.

 

 

Alex’s body was soft and warm against his, her breath against his skin making him shiver even now. A few weeks ago, he’d been afraid they wouldn’t find back into their familiar rhythm, but being physical just came natural to them. Her mother hadn’t been entirely wrong. That she’d gotten pregnant really was no big surprise. Though now they were using protection. Talking about another child was out of the question. He would never put her through this again. Or himself for that matter. Another pregnancy would only drag up images and memories they’d both rather forget. For her, it was that moment with Ba’al… for him... he’d never forget seeing her that pale, that motionless, or the fear he’d felt seeing her like that. He couldn’t bear thinking of her like this again.

            He kissed her chest and drew her closer. They’d hung up the curtains without ironing them but through a narrow slit between those curtains, the light of the streetlamp still fell on her face. Brushing a strand of blond hair from her face, he wondered why on Earth he’d been granted this much luck.

            The mattress gave way when Monsieur jumped on the bed, sitting behind Alex, staring down at the both of them. “You know, I thought we’d closed the door.”

            Alex chuckled. “Would you want him to sleep in the corridor?!”

            “No, with Nora.”

            She grinned, pulled him closer and kissed him on the lips. Once. Twice. The third kiss was longer, more intense, her lips still warm from his and he could almost taste his own sweat on her tongue. Until Monsieur whined softly and put his paw his hip.

            “You seriously want to cuddle with us?”

            Monsieur huffed, drew closer and started licking his ear. Urgently.

“Oh man, you’re crazy!” Evan tried pushing Monsieur away, but the dog wouldn’t stop, just kept licking. Evan’s face, his arm. Hurriedly. Urgently “What is it?”

Monsier whined again and let out the quietest of barks. A bark…from Monsieur. Alex jerked back and jumped up, wrapping her bathrobe around her body. “What the-“ Evan’s heart plummeted, as he watched Monsieur jump from the bed and hurry out of the bedroom.

He put on his boxers and was out from underneath the covers in seconds and he followed Monsieur and Alex. His knees were weak as he came into the corridor and saw Alex standing in the doorway to Nora’s room. Approaching her, he wasn’t even sure if he was breathing anymore. Monsieur was sitting next to the crib, eyes focused on him and Alex. He huffed again, almost commanding them to come closer. Something was wrong.

Evan pushed past Alex, who stood rooted to the spot. Only another soft bark from Monsieur made her move. Following him to the crib, where he sank to his knees, his hand on the tiny chest. The tiny chest, which wasn’t rising and falling anymore. The tiny chest, in which he couldn’t sense the slightest flutter.

Chapter Text

Chapter 39

2004

The next three months just passed her by.

They buried their daughter. She went back to work.

They slept together. She went to see her therapist.

They left the room like it was. He went along to her appointments and never asked her to come along to his.

They talked to their parents. She started writing emails to old friends.

They cooked together. He went on another mission and didn’t return for a whole four weeks.

They kept in touch. She left to help Jonas on a dig on Langara.

They wrote every day. And when she got back, they had a week together before he had to leave again.

And that was the hardest thing. To sit down. To answer his emails. To know that he felt the pain as badly as she did and that there was nothing to be done to ease it. But she wrote. And he wrote back. Even if it was just about day-to-day happenings, but they stayed in contact.

Neither Beckett nor that useless paediatrician could say exactly what had happened, but at least Beckett had a theory. Not that any kind of theory could bring Nora back. Not that knowing would’ve made it easier.

Alex was bent low over her book, tracing the hieroglyphs printed there to find the right passage, the one she wanted to compare with the pictures of the steles which SG-5 had brought back a few days ago. The planet seemed safe enough and this stele was interesting enough. But it just looked like the stele was just a feudal contract, which might be interesting enough for an archaeologist, but not for the Air Force. Not even when this contract was between the inhabitants of P3X-879 and Ba’al.

Ba’al had experimented on their daughter, manipulating her DNA and adding a kill switch, because he wouldn’t need her forever. That was Becket’s theory. A kill switch, or an expiration date. Because he couldn’t be bothered with her. Because Nora had given him all she could, but he wouldn’t need her life.

She closed the file in front of her and shut the notebook, ignoring the tears streaming down her face. This happened so often. Far too often. She was sick of it. Sick of being reduced to a teary mess whenever she saw that name. Sick of being angry. Of feeling cheated. If she started questioning everything, she’d just loose the will to keep going.

Taking a deep breath, she dropped the book on the pile. She couldn’t be seen like this. She couldn’t wallow, not when the SGC had just lost one of the most magnificent people. Janet Fraiser had been killed in action the previous week, trying to save an Airman’s life.

It was about time to head to the department’s weekly conference. They were only five archaeologists and when she first joined the SGC, she had rather enjoyed these meetings. Nowadays she was just thankful for the distraction and she could easily ignore the donuts and coffee which Dr. Balinsky insisted on bringing along every single time. And there he was already, by her door, a box of donuts in hand. Talk of the devil.

“You coming?”

She nodded. “Yep,” she said hoarsely and wiped her glasses on her shirt. Her sight was becoming worse by the day. Another year or so and she’d have to wear those permanently. That’s what you got for getting older. She grabbed her notebook and her calendar and walked with Balinsky towards the elevator.

Evan was scheduled to return in a few hours and she almost dreaded going home with him. Talking with him, making a conversation work that didn’t hurt, took more effort than work, but she knew that’s what they had to do. Things would get easier. That’s what everyone told her anyway. That’s what the books she’d bought said. Even if she felt like everything was just passing her by.

Daniel wasn’t there in the small conference room on level 17 yet, but Doctor Singh had already poured coffee for everyone. She was about fifty and had joined the SGC about three months ago and was the oldest member of the archaeological department. Alex suspected that she had something going on with Edwards, but those were just her suspicions.

Alex and Balinsky had just sat down, when Daniel came bustling in. “Hi,” he said, taking a flash drive from his breast pocket and plugging it into the laptop standing at the ready, while Balinsky put the donuts in the centre of their small conference table. Doctor Singh took one as soon as the box was open.

“Doctor Vogel is off-world with SG-11, right?” Daniel asked, turning on the beamer to display the agenda for the day. Luckily it was short. “Okay, so first off, thanks for the donuts, Doctor Balinsky. Next week it’s my turn. Stop spending all that money on us.”

Balinsky scratched his head and shrugged. “Finally, I started a tradition.”

Daniel scoffed, sat down in another free chair at the table and grabbed the blue donut with white sprinkles. “Looks that way. Next point on the agenda and the first referring to our work: where are we at with that Ancient study book?”

Opening her notebook, Alex skimmed her to-do list. “Doctor Vogel is done with the exercises for practising the alphabet, that’s what he wanted me to tell you. The first lessons on grammar are done and we can start handing them out to the physicists.”

“Yeah, let’s just hope they take the time to learn,” Doctor Singh muttered. “Not that I mind doing the translating, but they could at least try to learn the basics, so we don’t have to translate every single determiner.”

Alex hid her grin behind her hand. She liked Singh and her dark humour. And even Daniel smiled at that. “Preaching to the choir. Alright, so I think we should aim to have this thing done in three months. Just to set us a goal. The dictionary is in order and most words have been added. So we’re making good headway with that… now… individual projects. Doctor Singh, what are you working on again?”

            The rest of the meeting passed by quickly enough and Alex even managed to eat half a donut.

            “About that expedition next week,” Balinsky said towards the end, eyes on the agenda. “Do we know which teams will be accompanying us? It’s not just gonna be us, right?”

            “No. We’re apparently considering to set up a military base on that planet, so it’s not just gonna be us excavating those ruins to our heart’s content, but the Air Force also wants to make sure the area is safe for human habitation.” Daniel skimmed his notes. “Yep, SG’s 11, 15 and 22 will be joining us.” He raised his head to look at Alex over the rim of his glasses. “That okay?”

            She nodded. Evan’s team, her team and Balinsky’s team. They needed to learn to do this together again. And this might be just the chance. There wouldn’t be any alien contact or even the threat of combat on that mission. “Sure.”

 

Not a trace of trinium on that planet, not naquadah either. Just salt and dirt.

            “If we ever need another final storage facility for our nuclear waste, remind me to suggest this place,” Edwards muttered grimly as they walked towards the event horizon.

            “Yes, Sir,” Evan muttered, looking over his shoulder at the landscape with its hills and the massive lake behind them. This place was almost picturesque and he had to admit, he dreaded going back home and being back in that house. At the same time, he was sick of his team avoiding laughs and jokes around him. As though acting normal was offensive and yet, at the same time, vital. The only person he could even remotely stand to be around at the moment was Edwards. Edwards had never been the kind of person to walk on eggshells and Evan was grateful for it.

            He found Alex in her office, already changed into her civilian clothes, just like him. As usual she was bent low over a book, her glasses on the tip of her nose. She stretched when she heard his knock on the door frame and looked up. A few months ago, when they still had Nora with her, she would’ve jumped up, wrapped her arms around him and kissed him. Now all he got out of her was a disappointing smile. He had to remind himself that getting angry at her didn’t mean anything. That she must feel just as frustrated with him.

            Just go to her. “Hey,” he said quietly, approaching her and rubbing her back. Like he’d been gone two hours, not two weeks. His eyes fell on the picture she’d propped up on her desk. A photo her mother had taken of the three of them. In it, he was holding Nora and Alex had her arms wrapped around his neck. They were both smiling, grinning almost. And this was the only picture in which Nora had her eyes open. Those eyes, which would remain shut forever.

            Alex wouldn’t lean against him, wouldn’t wrap her arms around his torso. She just sat there, staring at the picture, her lips nothing more than a thin line. He could just see that she was trying not to cry, and her struggle made it hard for him to look at her.

            He dropped his hand. “Do you want to go home?”

            She nodded, apparently relieved. Without another moment’s hesitation, she got off her stool and kissed his cheek. “Let’s go.” Just a short peck, but it was good enough for now. An almost routine greeting after two weeks of not seeing each other.

            Three steps down the corridor, she wrapped her arm around him, and it took him a moment to pull her closer.

 

For them sex had always been a medium of communication. Always. From the beginning. But never a substitute. And he hated that’s what it had become. He hated how empty he felt afterwards. How it had become the only way for them to be close, because words had utterly failed them.

            She lay in his arms, her back against his chest, her head on his arm, still hot from the exertion, her eyes focused on the picture of her and Nora. The one Evan had drawn the night she died. But there were no tears. The pain was too deep for that, too harsh.

            The lump in his throat grew thicker and he pulled her closer, his lips against the back of her neck. “What’ve you been up to?” he asked. He knew what she’d been doing. She’d written to him, but he wanted to hear her voice. Just to make sure that it was still there.

            “Work,” she mumbled. “And Anna wrote back yesterday.”

            Anna… who was that again? He had a vague idea he’d heard the name before, but he couldn’t quite place it. “Help me out.”

            She sighed. Was she angry with him for not remembering a name? He couldn’t tell straight away. She wove her fingers through his. “A friend from Trier. We used to work in the same department. We went to see that movie together.”

            “Ah…”

            “She said she’d been surprised I hadn’t published anything in two years.”

            Evan scoffed. “Well, you can’t.”

            “No.” She turned around in his arms, facing him. The frown on her face made his insides churn.

            “Are you going to leave?” Me? Are you going to leave me? He had to admit, it wouldn’t have surprised him. And he would’ve dealt with it. Somehow. First, he’d lost his daughter, now her. But she shook he head. One motion which allowed him to keep breathing.

            “No, I’m just saying she was surprised.” Her thumb traced the lines in the corners of his eyes. “Why would I leave?” She swallowed hard. She knew the answer.

            “Because of what happened to us.”

            Shaking her head, she moved closer and kissed him. “I wouldn’t know what to do without you.” No mention of love. Just of her needing him.

            Evan closed his eyes and hugged her closer to him. He just had to remind himself that she was just as numb, just as terrified of their life as he was. He had to remember that and ignore the pain in his chest.

            “Anna is getting married tomorrow,” she said as though saying something, anything would make things better.

            All he could do was make a grunt. What did it matter to him? He’d only met her once and barely remembered her. But not saying anything would’ve been worse.

            Her lips trailed along his temple. “Daniel said SG-11 will be going with us on that mission next week.”

            Looking up at her he saw the worry on her face. The insecurity. “We can do this,” he said, believing it. 

Chapter Text

2004

Her socks were wet, but she still wouldn’t move, even though the icy wind was blowing into her face and she’d forgotten her jacket at home. She was cold, but she’d be shivering anyway.  And she didn’t have time to stay for long anyway.

            Evan was waiting for her at home. After dropping Monsieur off at the dog sitter’s place and come back straight away, but she’d made the detour to come here. To take one last look at the dark grey headstone with the bright little silver star in one corner. The top of the stone was covered in a thick layer of snow and she moved towards it, brushing it off. She traced the outline of the star, the lines which formed the name.

            Nora Lorne

            Nine letters. That was it. All that remained of that life which had grown inside her. The life she’d fought for and feared for. Her daughter, who would have lived, had they not attempted to flee from that planet. Nora and the villagers would still be alive, had they just kept quiet. Maybe in a year or two they would’ve managed to sneak away. Maybe.

            And maybe they would all have died on Larsa.

            There was no use in pondering maybes anymore. What was done was done, and she wouldn’t start blaming Evan for what had happened, because it wasn’t his fault.

            With a brief sniff, she wiped the tears from her face and stroked the letters below the name.

            Beloved Daughter.

            No dates. The harsh reality was bad enough. She’d been a mother for a few weeks. She’d counted the days right after Nora had died. The number was so incredibly low and not at all what it ought to have been.

            How she’d lived through the funeral, she couldn’t say. She barely remembered any of it, even though she hadn’t taken the pills Beckett had given her. It had been her duty. To be there when she was buried. Because she’d failed to be there for her when she died.

 

“Where’ve you been?” Evan sounded concerned. He had just turned the dishwasher on and was wiping the kitchen counter when she came in. He looked up to see her shrug into her coat. But she didn’t respond. She couldn’t say the words. Admitting that she’d been to the graveyard was too much. She couldn’t bring herself to say that she had stared at that little star, wondering why they hadn’t chosen another symbol. Why not a cross, why not a dove or an angel?

            Or maybe Ba’al’s sign, she thought bitterly. He’d love that. A testimony to his crimes. To the fact that it had been him who had destroyed this life. No, there was just no room for religion in her life anymore. If there was a God, he’d better start showing himself and proving he was worth the effort of going to church twice a year.

They’d be gone for a week at least and she already missed the privacy of their home. She usually did when she went off-world, but especially now, when she needed Evan by her side if she didn’t want to be reduced to a sobbing mess. He was the one person holding her together and having him home again, knowing that he was around, made falling asleep easier. Even if the waking hours were harder to bear. This whole situation was just messed up.

            “Have you been crying?”

            Alex swallowed hard and turned away from him, hating herself for it the moment she did. He didn’t deserve that. He deserved seeing her tears. The red, puffy eyes and the red nose. “I think it might just be a cold,” she said, her voice all choked up.

            The rag landed in the sink with a splashing thud. “Fine,” he hissed through clenched teeth.

            She stood rooted to the spot as he turned off the lights and walked over to her in the hallway, a box of tissues in his hands. He shoved them against her chest, shrugged into his jacket and was out the door without saying another word.

            Alex hesitated for a moment, then looked up at the mirror. At the blotchy face, the tears in her eyes and the dark circles underneath. She’d never lied to him. Never. Not until now. And for what? Just so he wouldn’t pressure her to talk? To talk about her feelings, when all she wanted to do was curl up by his side and cry?

            Outside the car door slammed shut and Alex quickly wiped her face, went to the sink to wash her face and followed him outside. He was already sitting in the car, hands on the steering wheel and he didn’t look at her when she sat in the passenger seat.

            “How long do we have?” he asked, starting the car and pulling out of the driveway.

            “An hour before we leave.” She knew they were cutting it close, and she knew it was her fault. She wouldn’t get into as much trouble as he would. She wasn’t military.

            She pressed her lips together and wiped her eyes again. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly, staring up at the roof of the car to make the tears just stop. But they burned on her skin, they made her throat feel tight.

            He patted her knee, brushing his thumb over her leg. And that was the end of it.

 

Zipping the vest shut, he checked the pockets one last time, making sure that he had all he needed in them. The backpack was already packed and now he just needed to get to the armoury. Murdoch was waiting for him by the door. He’d managed to make up some time, but he couldn’t get the image of Alex just standing there in the doorway out of his mind. Standing there, tears in her eyes and claiming she just had a cold.

            He’d come so close to shouting at her. To telling her to cut the crap and start talking to him. But he didn’t. Once again, he’d swallowed what he had to say, when he felt like grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her until she came to her senses or broke down alongside him. He needed to see, to feel that she was suffering too. Knowing alone wasn’t enough.

            Murdoch didn’t speak to him all the way to the armoury and Evan really wasn’t in the mood for talking right now. But Murdoch usually accepted these boundaries. Well, apart from when he told Alex about that drawing in his locker.

            Opening the door, he stopped short. Alex was already there, strapping a Zat to her leg. Their eyes met and he saw that, though her eyes were still bloodshot, they weren’t as puffy anymore.

            Murdoch sighed audibly, pushed past Alex and started grabbing ammunition and weapons. “Five minutes to go,” he muttered on his way out.

            Evan hesitated for a moment, before following suit. “Are we really going to be okay on this one?” He hadn’t asked it before they went to Larsa. But things had been different then. Right now he didn’t have to worry about the unspoken tension between them, but about something else. About something being fundamentally wrong. About them being unable to communicate, which was infinitely worse.

            “Yes, we are.” She sniffed and shouldered her backpack again. She looked at him then, visibly forcing herself to stare into his eyes. “We can do anything.”

            If that didn’t warrant a smile, what did? Nodding, he stepped out into the corridor and closed the door behind her when she followed him. The pack was heavy on his back, his gun securely strapped to his chest. And his wife was by his side. He was still angry, but he’d deal with it. He had to. They weren’t just husband and wife. The colleague dimension hadn’t vanished. It was still there and if Hammond could overlook their new circumstances, then so should he.

            “What is this expedition about anyway?” he asked as they approached the Gate Room.

            “Huh?” She looked up from fumbling with her vest. “Oh… yes, well, it’s a really old, abandoned settlement, and the Air Force lets us dig a bit before slapping a concrete bunker on top of it.”

            Evan smirked softly. “Jackson put his foot down?”

            “You betcha.” She returned his smile. They were at the Gate Room now and the others were already waiting for them. Without another word she moved to stand with the four other archaeologists. Right… time to separate for work.

            Colonels Raimi and Edwards were standing closer to the ramp and Evan moved to stand next to Pierce when the Gate activated. Pierce, who’d received his promotion two weeks ago, greeted him with a curt nod, then looked over at Alex. But he didn’t comment. Not on the red eyes, not on the fact that they’d both been late.

            No, he really could call himself lucky to be among colleagues like these.

 

Jackson said straight away one week to determine whether this sight held valuable information or not might not be enough, and Evan sensed that neither Edwards nor Raimi were too thrilled about the news. But they gave in. Edwards was particularly polite towards Jackson. After the run-in with the Unas, the linguist had clearly earned Edwards’ respect.

            It had taken them the better part of two hours to get up the hill and to the ruins, which were located on the plateau of a steep hill, the transport vehicle slowing them down considerably. But he was just glad they didn’t have to carry those heavy boxes all the way up that hill. The ground on the top was as flat and even as a board and when Evan scratched at the dirt beneath, he was almost sure he could make out some sort of tile. Colonel Pierce paired him up with Murdoch to start setting up camp near the narrow path, which must have once been a road and lead down to the Gate, while the other Lieutenants started scouring the area for possible dangers. Luckily Murdoch didn’t appear to be too fond of talking right now. Evan wasn’t in the mood for it either. He and Murdoch sorted through their supplies and started organizing where the sleeping tents would be, where the workstations should be set up and ignored the archaeologists taking preliminary notes on the layout of the place and what needed to be done.

            When finally the Lieutenants returned, Edwards called them all to the end of the path. Alex stood next to Doctor Singh and Jackson, arms crossed over her chest, a smudge of ink on her cheek.

            “Miller, what’s the news?” Edwards asked.

            “Nothing. The perimeter looks secure. The only sign of civilization is this place.”

            “Well, it’s what we thought after that UAV scan.” Edwards scratched his head. “You really think this is gonna take a week, Doctor Jackson?”

            “At least, Colonel, yes. More if we actually find something interesting.”

            Edwards was frowning. It was clear that he didn’t really think that anything of interest could come of this place, and Evan couldn’t blame him. Judging from the location on top the a very steep hill overlooking the valley beneath and the gate, and the fact that absolutely nothing would grow behind the edge of the wood, would suggest that this place might have been a fortress once, but there was next to nothing left in terms of structures, just a few high arching pillars and foundations of thick walls.

            “Right. We’ll be setting up camp, then. Tomorrow we will start looking for a place for a possible off-world base.”

 

The first night off-world, Evan barely slept. Alex was on the cot next to him, turning from side to side. He knew she must be awake, too, but neither of them were assigned a watch and neither would volunteer, because, what would it look like if they both volunteered to stay up and watch?

            It was so dark that he couldn’t see her face, and he ached to stretch out his hand and touch her cheek. She was too far away, though, and all he could do was watch on as she turned again on her cot so she lay on the side. He was used to sleeping alone on missions like these, used to the sounds of the nigh, but not to her being this close and being unable to touch. To feel her breath on his skin.

            Forcing himself to close his eyes, when she reached for something beneath her cot, he just listened. Listened as the dim light of a torch broke through the darkness and she turned again. He opened his eyelids slightly to see her lying on her stomach, a thick book propped up against the pillow. She wasn’t as thin anymore, he noticed. Still slim, still fit, but not as skinny as she had been during the weeks in which they’d looked for their daughter. She had her chin on her fist and was squinting slightly. And it took a moment before she started fishing for her glasses. When she turned her head to his side, she saw him watching her. The blue of her eyes came out even more in this strange lighting. Almost like it had in that little house of theirs. Not the one on Earth. The one in which you could hear what was going on in the street outside. The one in which they’d slept on a straw mattress in clothes which belonged to other people. In a house which had been a refuge and a death trap at the same time.

            For a moment they just stared at each other, and the unspoken fight from a few hours ago felt like it had only just happened. Like she’d only just walked in through the door, her shoes and her jeans wet from walking through the snow. Like her tears had only just been wiped from her face by trembling hands. Like her voice didn’t sound like her throat was raw. Like she was still refusing to let him join in her grief. Her thoughts.

            He took a deep breath, tried to speak, but nothing would come. Instead he just turned on his back to stare up at the ceiling to listen to her flip the pages as he tried falling asleep. He tried, but he didn’t succeed. Instead, he just lay awake, thinking about what it would to take to just end this. To finally be done with hurting like this.

            But the night passed and as the first rays of the morning sun started illuminating the dark canvas overhead, he zipped open his sleeping bag. She was still lying there on her side, eyes focused on him, her eyes dry but still blood-shot. She hadn’t closed them or cried again without acknowledging him. Well, he was done with that. He was done with her for today. For as long as it took her to be honest with him again. And he hated being this angry. He hated not being able to laugh with her, to hold her without wanting her more than when he wasn’t holding her.

            He went through his morning routine and just as he sat down for breakfast next to Jackson, who was already busy scribbling down notes, he watched Alex move towards the narrow table they’d set up the previous night. She was carrying two metal mugs and placed one of them in front of Evan without speaking a word. She sat down next to him, so close their legs were almost touching. Almost, but not quite.

            Evan swallowed the rest of his sandwich and eyed the mug. Coffee with a bit of creamer in it. He was sure that if he tried it, he’d find that she’d added sugar. Hers was black like usual.

            He leaned back and eyed her hands as they clutched her mug. She wasn’t wearing her ring, just like he wasn’t wearing his. Jewellery was out of the question when going off-world, but still it looked weird not seeing the golden band on her finger. Just like it had been when he’d seen her again after years and years apart.

            For a moment he hesitated. He didn’t want to look petty and not drink from the mug she’d brought him would’ve felt like admitting defeat. With a sigh, he took a gulp from his mug and got up.

            A week. How was this supposed to work?

            “Thanks for the coffee.”

            From the corner of his eye he watched her fumble with her camera, staring at the display, hitting the on-button over and over again, but without getting any results. She hissed angrily and he watched as her attempts became more and more jittery, how the knuckles of her right hand became almost white from holding the camera.

            “Do you want me to give it a try?”

            With a sigh, she slammed the camera on the table and got up from the bench. Jackson’s head jerked around to watch her storm off down the path and slinging her backpack over her shoulder, making feel Evan even worse.

            “For the love of-“ he grumbled, grabbing the camera and following her. “Alex!” he shouted after her, but she didn’t turn around, just kept walking and he stood there for a moment, watching her back retreating from camp. With another curse, he ran to follow her. “Alex, wait!”

            She kept walking, walking, until she reached the treeline and he’d caught up with her.

            “Damn it, what’s the matter with you!” He grabbed her elbow and whipped her around, taken aback when he saw the tears streaming down her face. His heart plummeted as he watched her wipe them away and realizing that he had no inclination of doing that himself.

            “Oh, I don’t know,” she spat sarcastically, but there was a desperation in her eyes which made him want to reach out to her.

            “You know, I feel like-“ Evan broke off, hands on his hips.

            “Like what?!” She was almost shouting now. She’d never been this angry at him… never shouted at him.

            “Oh, forget it!” And what the hell was wrong with him? Didn’t he want to talk to her? To hold her and tell her she was being stupid and cruel? But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not when her cheeks were burning and his own hands were shaking. They hadn’t even managed to get through a day. He turned away. He needed to collect his thoughts.

            “Evan!”

            “What do you even want from me?!” Whirling away to face her again, he raised his finger, so close to pushing her against a tree. So close to kissing her and hating himself for it, he only just managed to hold back. “You sleep with me, you ignore me, you bring me coffee, you lie to me-“

            “When have I-“

            “You know damn well when! I don’t even know you anymore! You’ve been crying and pretend like it’s nothing! You just let me run into a wall every time I just want to talk to you!”

            “And you’ve been such a good guy?” She spat at him, pushing his raised finger down, almost slapping it away. “You won’t talk to me either! You just stare at me like it’s all my fault!”

            He swallowed hard and took a step back. When had he moved so close to her? He was still clutching the camera. “I’m not! I am so not!” And where were those damn tears coming from now, making his nose and eyes burn.

            “Well, you are!” She gulped and started turning away, and he grabbed her shoulder just as she was about to move out of reach.

            He whirled her around. “You’re not leaving.”

            “Ordering me around now? That’s a great start to a conversation.”

            “We’re arguing.”

            “Fine!” she snarled. “And for your information I-“

            “You what!” he growled and she pulled away from him with him, wiping the tears from her eyes again.

            “I went to see her.” Her voice was high. Choked up. And the sound made the tension leave his shoulders. “I went to the graveyard… to-to say goodbye.”

            It was such a relief. Such a relief to hear her say this, and at the same time he wanted to shake her. To ask her if this had really been that hard. If it had really taken him this to get them here. He took a deep breath and pulled her against his chest. She almost crumbled against him, leaning into him, her arms wrapped about him.

            “I miss her so much,” she whispered against his chest. For the first time she said she missed her. For the first time she admitted that she wasn’t okay. “And I can’t say it. I can’t talk to- to-“

            He buried his face in the fabric of her jacket, feeling her trembling shoulder against his eyes. “I know.” He still needed her to talk. To keep talking. To keep crying. But he couldn’t ask this of her. Not right now. But she clutched at him, for the first time in weeks, not like she needed his body, not like she wanted him to make love to her, but just to be there for her. “Alex, this isn’t fair… you can’t not talk to me.”

            “I know…it’s so hard. I can’t see you hurting.”

            He pressed his lips together to suppress a sob. He knew. And she knew. And still he needed to say it. “You’re not the only one who lost a daughter.”

            “I feel so empty… useless.”

            “You’re not… damn it, you’re not.” He pulled away and tilted her chin up so he could look into her beautiful, tear-stained face. “We need to talk about this, or we’re going to fail. And I’m not a quitter. And I hate failing.”

            She sniffed and he felt her grip on his jacket tighten. “Maybe right now’s not the best time.”

            Shaking his head, he wrapped her in his arms again. “There’s never gonna be a good time for this.” But she was right. They weren’t alone, probably weren’t going to be for a long while.

            She nodded and took a shaky breath. “I don’t want to lose you too.”

            “You’re not gonna…” Not if he could help it. Not again. “We’ve been there before.”

            “Never like this though.”

            “No.” He kissed her. Just one quick, salty kiss on her lips, but it was enough for now.

            She took his hand into his and started pulling him towards a tree with a particularly thick trunk. She wouldn’t let him go, until it she had to take of the pack.

            Alex had gone to the cemetery. Without him. The thought gave him a pang, but he had to admit he was relieved to hear her say what was going on. And so he just watched her drop the pack on the ground and sit down on the ground, her back against the tree trunk. He waited for a moment, just hovering there, before he took her up on her silent invitation.

            He dropped down in the grass next to her. It would’ve been too easy to take her hand and drag her into the forest, to push her up against a tree and make up with her, but that would’ve just been wrong. He took a deep breath and watched her drag notebooks and at least five volumes of academic looking books from her bag.

            “What are you doing?”

            She took a deep breath. “Work. I- I can’t look at you when I talk about her.”

            Swallowing hard, he dropped the camera in the grass between them. “You really want to talk about her?”

            “No.” She pressed her lips together and propped a big book in a white binding on her lap. “But- I.” She sighed and wiped her eyes again. They were dry though. 

            “Why would I think it’s your fault?”

            She was quiet for a moment and threw a look at the camera, picked it up and pushed it into her backpack. “Useless thing.” She started digging through her backpack again, found her glasses and put them to the side. She hated wearing them and he had a feeling they weren’t the right strength anymore. Not by the way she kept putting them off and squinting at the pages.

            “What did you want to take a picture of?”

            Alex blinked angrily and looked up to stare up the hill. He followed her gaze. From here he could see the pillars and what must have once been the entryway into the fortress. She wanted to record this place. Without a word, he reached into her backpack and drew out one of the five notebooks. Five… what was she expecting here? He took the pen from his breast pocket. “What we’re seeing right now?”

            She nodded. “You don’t have to.”

            “Can just as well make myself a bit useful.” He knew it would never be as good as an actual photograph, but it was as good an excuse as any to stay here with her. He sighed and heard her leaf through the book on her lap again. She couldn’t look at him when talking about Alex. It hurt to hear that, to think about it, but better that than nothing. “Well?”

            She was quiet for a moment and he sensed that it was taking her all she had to find the words. “It’s stupid.”

            “I bet it’s not.”

            “Yes, it is. Doctor Miller says it is.”

            “He’s not omniscient, is he?”

            She scoffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “God, I hope not…” She flipped another page, but here eyes weren’t moving over the text in front of her. “I- I just feel so responsible… I wasn’t there when she…” She choked up again, but there were no tears and Evan had no idea whether it was a good sign or not.

            He bit his lower lip and let the pen glide over the paper. It wasn’t rough enough for his liking and the lines were confusing to say the least. “I know… I thought about it a lot, too. But I don’t think we could’ve changed any of it.”

            “There’s no way of knowing for sure, though, is there?”

            “No.” They’d had sex instead of being with their daughter. They’d been blissfully ignorant of Nora taking her last trembling breaths in her little bed next door. And yet… “There was no way for us to know.” Beckett had assured her that Nora was doing fine, and according to him and Keller, and even Fraiser, there had been no sign whatsoever that Nora would die. She’d been small, yes. A bit strange, because she wouldn’t cry, but then again, she had been taken from them far too early and been experimented on. She’d been altered. Changed. And that had killed her. Being too young, too fragile and going through hell. “It’s not your fault,” he added, making sure he said it. “Neither is it my fault.” Saying that felt wrong, but he knew it was right.

            He’d outlined the flat plateau and the first pillars, those which might very well have been the gate of the fortress, when he felt her slender fingers on the back of his hand. Taking a deep breath, he looked up and took her hand. She wasn’t looking at him. She wasn’t smiling.

            “I wish you’d killed him,” she breathed, closing her eyes. “For what he did to her…”

            He squeezed her hand and only that made her face him. Look at me. I’m here. I need you. “Me too. I should have.”

            “But I’m also glad you brought her home… I’m glad I got to know her. For a while.”

Chapter Text


2004

They didn’t speak much, but for the first time in weeks there was next to no trace of the tension which accompanied all their silences. And they hadn’t been holding hands like this in months. It was almost enough.

            “What are you looking up?” he asked after a while, looking over at the title of the book she was reading. History, Texts and Art in Early Babylonia.

            Alex sighed and rubbed her temple. “I don’t know.” She looked up to gaze at the plateau again. “This place looks a bit like the dig where I found that cylinder. The layout of this building, I mean.”

            “What cylinder?”

            “The one I found in Iraq.” She leaned her head against the trunk of the tree. “I mean, it wasn’t elevated on a plateau like this, but these pillars up there,” she pointed to the camp on the left side of the plateau. From where they were sitting, they had an overview of the entire hill, of the pillars and half-crumbled arches.

            “I still have no idea what you’re talking about.”

            Squinting, she put on her glasses and let go of his hand “Give me the notebook, please.” Alex smiled at his sketch of the ruins and turned to the next blank page. Hurriedly, she drew a square, the length of which was slightly curved. “Before I joined the SGC, I was leading this dig-site near old Babylon.” Her pen traced two vertical lines across the cylinder and then she started scribbling wildly horizontally across it. “And we, that is I, stumbled across this. And it was a lot smaller than the average cylinders are. They were used to record things, so they needed to be fairly big, since writing couldn’t exactly be carried out on a miniscule scale. But this one was.”

            “What’s the writing?”

            “Cuneiform in principle, but different. The letters were complete gibberish and then the carbon dating kind of backed up Daniel’s theory. I found it inside this really old broken jar. I contacted him via e-mail and I was at the SGC before I knew it.” She looked up at him with a rueful smile. Why had they never talked about this? Evan had always assumed Jackson had found one of her works particularly interesting and offered her a job because of it.

“And? What did the writing say?”

            She shrugged. “Nothing too important. But there was a compartment hidden underneath.

            “What was inside?”

            She shrugged. “Crystals with blueprints of sorts. In Ancient. This here,” she traced the lines where the letters of that cylinder would have been, “is a butchered form of Ancient. Kind of hard to read, but it has traces of Babylonian and Ancient in there, so it may have been some kind of dialect or fictional language.”

            “And this place looks like that dig?”

            Alex nodded and shut her notebook. “The layout, yes.” She was frowning, thinking hard. For her work just erased every conscious memory of hurt or their argument. At least for a while. Until Evan came around to distract her with his grief.

            With a sigh he got to his feet. “Do you have your radio?”

            She nodded, but got up herself. “Let’s go back to camp before they think we abandoned them again.”

            “Right.” He pulled her against his chest and felt relief wash over him, when she didn’t pull away or stiffen in his arms. Instead she pressed her cheek against his shoulder and moved closer towards him.

            “I love you,” she whispered into his shirt and he hugged her tight, his heart a million times lighter.

 

Nobody paid them any attention when they went back to camp, hand in hand. Things weren’t good, but they were better than they had been in weeks. Or at least the air had cleared somewhat. Nothing had fundamentally changed, but Alex felt like she could breathe again a bit more easily.

            She squeezed his hand apologetically and moved over to stand next to Balinsky, who was scanning a layout of the place which he’d drawn up the previous day, while Evan walked over to talk to Oliver. Well, they had to get back to real work at some point.

            “This place is massive,” she murmured, tracing the lines Balinsky had drawn. “Are you sure this place is actually that close to the edge of the plateau all the way around, Cameron?”

            Balinsky dropped the paper and raised looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Are you serious?”

            Alex bit her lip. “Sorry, didn’t mean to offend you.”

            “I sure hope so,” Balinsky scoffed, “but, yeah, I get what you mean. There’s barely any room for the foundations to have a real hold.”

            “Have you shown this to Daniel yet?”

            Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Evan talking to Oliver and laughing at a joke. A real laugh. Alex hadn’t seen him do that in a while. But there hadn’t been a whole lot to laugh about with her.

            “Well, yes, but he’s busy brushing dirt off the tiles on the south side of the plateau. Singh and Vogel joined him about ten minutes ago.”

            “Ah. And you’re examining your drawing a bit more thoroughly, so you don’t have to help?”

            “My knees are a pain in the ass, Alex. You get to my age, we talk again.”

            “Don’t be a baby, you’re two years older than me.”

            “You’ll be surprised what two years will do to you,” he grinned at her. “Well, I’d better be off ruin my shins and breathe in some dust.”

            “You know, we did bring pads, right?”

            Balinsky shrugged and headed off to join the other archaeologists.

            “Colonel!” Menard rushed up the hill, heading straight towards Pierce, who was bent low over a large aerial photo of the plateau. Colonel… in a few weeks he’d be leaving Earth to take command of the Alpha Site. Alex could only guess what his family would think of that. But she’d barely spoken to the other members of her team since Nora’s death. She really needed to get more involved with these people. They’d risked everything for her and Evan and it was high time she repaid them.

            Alex was still holding the map which Balinksy had made and moved over to Pierce and Menard to compare the drawn map with the photograph.

            “Sir, Miller and I found a cave on the Northern side of the hill. It must’ve been covered up by a big tree, but that must’ve fallen over quite recently. There are signs of a massive storm on that side of the hill.”

            Alex frowned, put the map next to the photograph and started comparing them. The edges were pretty damn small.

            “Where’s Miller?” Pierce asked, hands on his hips.

            “Down by the cave. It’s a bit hard to spot.”

            “Is it right under there?” Alex asked, pointing to a broken pillar on the Northern edge. That was where the distance between the plateau and the outlines of the former walls was smallest.

            Menard nodded. “Yes,” It’s just a really small cave, though. There don’t seem to be any writings or anything there.”

            “I’d like to check that out, Colonel,” Alex said, and Pierce considered her for a moment before he nodded.

“Take Major Lorne with you. Menard, you lead Doctor Lorne to that cave and I want you to continue your rounds right afterwards. We need as much information about this area if we want to turn this place into a permanent base.”

 

“Major Lorne.”

            Murdoch was still grinning when Edwards approached them. This guy was seriously starting to grow on him. Evan turned to face the Colonel. “Sir?”

            “I’d like a word with you.”

            Well, that couldn’t be good news. Behind Edwards, Alex was moving towards Pierce and Menard, listening to them, comparing a sheet of A4 with a massive picture of the area. Was this about her? About them leaving camp unannounced? “Yes, Sir,” he said and following Edwards to the side.

            Edwards gestured for him to sit down on the bench where he’d had breakfast. Some good soul, probably one of the archaeologists, had cleared away his and Alex’s dishes. “Lorne, how are things at home?”

            That was unexpected. Evan rubbed his chin. Edwards had never, never asked him about his personal life. Never directly. Never like this. “Sir?” He really didn’t want to pour his heart out to his superior officer, and it wasn’t any of Edwards’ business really.

            “I’m asking you a personal question, Major.”

            Evan snorted. “I know, Sir. Do I have to answer it?” Will you order me to answer? He wasn’t even sure himself what was going on. Only that nothing was easy and that he was glad they’d had that fight. Glad, he’d let off some steam.

            “No,” Edwards said quietly, leaning back to place his elbows on the table. “I’m just asking, because I’m being transferred after this mission and I’ll request for you to come along if you want. After what happened on P3X-25A, I feel that I owe you. You and Doctor Woolston, as she was known back then, were thrown into that situation.”

            “We’d known each other before that mission, Sir.” Evan cleared his throat, forcing the anger at these words down.

            “I’m just saying, if the two of you felt obligated to continue on after it happened, that’s one thing-“

            “Colonel,” Evan interrupted him, his voice slightly raised, he wasn’t going to engage in a second shouting match that day, but he really needed Edwards to stop talking. “That wasn’t the case, and to be perfectly frank, Sir, it’s none of your business.”

            The smirk on Edwards’ face made him even more uncomfortable, as did his nod. “You’re right. It’s not. I just wanted to let you know which cards are on the table for you.”

            Swallowing hard, Evan resisted the urge to get up. “I’m not leaving her, Sir. Not if I don’t have to.”

            “It’d just be a deployment, really. To Area 51.”

            “Right.” Was he dismissed? He knew Edwards meant well and Evan could see how, for an outsider, their situation might look like they’d been forced into it, but he didn’t even want to think about being separated from her again. Those times were over and he didn’t want them back, even if, on more than one occasion, he’d felt like just walking out on her these past few months. For the first time since Nora’s passing, they’d talked openly, and he’d be damned if he let himself be dragged away from her now. Not if he could help it.

            “Major, I’m going to ask you something else.”

            Evan didn’t reply. He really didn’t have the stomach for this kind of talk.

            “When I’m reassigned, SG-11 needs a new team leader. And if you don’t want to leave the SGC, you’ll be the obvious choice. If you feel up to it.”

            Raising an eyebrow, Evan rubbed his chin again. “I’m not a Colonel, Sir,” he said, feeling even more uncomfortable. “And I really don’t see that promotion in the near future.” He’d only been made Major three years ago and he hadn’t done anything particularly outstanding to get him another promotion. On the contrary, he’d been more of a burden to the Air Force.

            “Pierce wasn’t a Colonel when he received his command, Major, so you really shouldn’t be worried about that. I’m just saying, I’ll recommend you if you feel up to it. Personally, I’d rather leave the team in the hands of someone who knows his way around, before they bring someone else in.”

            Evan nodded. There was no way to refuse. No way to say no, and he really couldn’t see a reason to do so. “Yes, Sir. Thanks.”

            Edwards clapped him on the back and got up from the bench. “That’s settled then. And your wife seems to want to have another word with you. I apologize if I spoke out of line just now.”

            Evan nodded. “Yes, Sir.”

 

Everyone was always intent on teaming her up with Evan. She still felt raw. Still exposed, and not in a good way. What they’d said, no, what they’d shouted at each other, the way his eyes had narrowed in anger and pain, the way his voice had made her flinch, weren’t things she’d easily forget. And yet, having him by her side wasn’t too uncomfortable. They’d been through so much together. She knew how he moved, was familiar with his voice, the sound of his breathing. There really wasn’t anyone in the universe she trusted more. Not that a lot of trust was needed right now, but she knew that she wouldn’t have been able to look anyone in the eye after a shouting match like the one she and Evan had just had, let alone make up again.

            She cleared her throat when Menard and Miller moved away, leaving her and Evan by that opening in the side of the hill. “Are we really doing okay?” she asked, chancing a look at him. Things changed so quickly between them these days. Sleeping together, wallowing in painful silence, making small talk. Now that fight…

            Frowning he stepped closer to her. “No,” he answered. “Or do you think we are?”

            She bit her lip and turned away from him. “No.” Dropping her pack to the ground, she dug the map from out of her pocket. She moved closer to the cave where Miller had been waiting. It was really more of a hollowed-out room. Tracing the outside of the cave, she did her best to forget that Evan was right by her side, but of course that was impossible. With a sigh, she turned around again. “What are we then?”

            He squinted up at the clear blue sky. “We’re working things out? I don’t know.” He hesitated for a moment and, as though giving himself a shove, looked at her again and leaned against the rocky wall. “Edwards is being reassigned,” he said, “after this mission.” Pierce was leaving. Edwards was leaving. Things were changing around here. “And he asked me if I wanted to tag along.”

            Alex stared at him. This again? “What did you say?”

            “Told him no.” He cleared his throat and looked down at his boots. “He says he’s going to recommend me as team leader.”

            Alex let out a long breath and thumped him in the side. “Don’t do this to me.”

            A brief smile rushed over his face. “Do what?”

            She stepped into the small cavern. It wasn’t wider than two metres and no deeper than three and the walls weren’t as rough as the stone outside, but there were still some rocks standing out more prominently than others. “Make me think you’re gonna leave.”

            Evan didn’t say anything, just stood there in the entrance of the room and watched at her, as she knelt down to run her finger along the edge where the wall met the ground. His silence was irritating, but she wouldn’t let him push her like this again. She wouldn’t get angry again. Him being team leader was a good thing. And he’d do it well.

            “What did you say?”

            “Told him thanks, what else was I supposed to say?”

            She looked up at him. His body cast a shadow over her, but he showed no inclination to move. “I don’t know. You don’t seem too thrilled.”

            “The last time I tried to lead people they all ended up getting killed.”

            “Wasn’t your fault.” Alex got up and brushed the dirt off on her pants.  

            “Yes, it was. I was too impatient,” he followed her into the cave-like room. “I don’t want any more blood on my hands.”

            “You were desperate. What else were you supposed to do?” She looked down at his arms, which were folded over his chest. “We couldn’t wait for the SGC. They weren’t going to come, we know that now. All three of us would’ve died there and then. What if the Jaffa found out about us another way? Nothing would’ve changed. We’d still be here now. Without her.” She swallowed hard. Yesterday she wouldn’t have been able to say this. To give him this absolution, though it had always been true, and she never knew he needed it.

            Evan closed his eyes and nodded, his shoulders sagging.

            “You earned a chance to do this. And you’ll do great.” Moving closer to him, she placed her hands on his hips and kissed him briefly, allowing herself to revel in the softness of his lips and the taste of his breath when he wouldn’t let her go, but gently pushed her against the wall, crowding in on her. She knew where this was going the moment his hands stroked her shoulders and the pressure of his lips, the urgency of his tongue increased. She knew how he kissed her when he wanted her, knew the subtle touches of his fingers on her neck and recognized the heat coursing through her body at his touch.

            “Doctor Lorne, come in.” Her radio sounded. With a sigh, she turned her head. Daniel. Perfect timing. She raised a finger and put it to Evan’s lips. Be he wouldn’t be distracted. He bent over her, kissing her neck, while she answered the radio, trying to ignore the tingling of her skin.

            “Yes, Daniel, what is it?” she said, forcing her voice to remain steady as Evan grabbed her hips and hoisted her up against the cavern wall. This could end very badly and she really didn’t want to be spotted in a situation like this by anyone, but the walk from camp to here took thirty minutes at least. But who could say how far Menard and Miller had come?

            “Have you found anything interesting down there?”

            Evan’s hips ground against hers, his hands moved up her sides, pushing up her shirt, while his lower body held her in place.

            “Not yet. We’ll let you know if we do.”

            “Right. Good luck.”

            Alex bit her lip and wrapped her arms around his neck. “What’s brought this on?” she asked, taking a hand full of Evan’s hair and bending his head back.

            The smile made her shiver. “You,” he grinned, his right hand cupping her breast, his thumb pushing the fabric of her bra to the side. “The way you look at these stones like they know something. The way you talk to me, look at me.” He kissed her again, more urgently this time and she could feel him harden through his pants, pushing harder against her despite the fabric.

            Alex gasped. “Evan…”

            “Sh,” he whispered, holding her so tight she could barely breathe. “You haven’t looked at me like that in months,” he continued in a voice so low she could barely hear him and his eyes were so dark they would’ve scared her if she didn’t know their expression so well.

            She nodded. She knew what he meant. Things hadn’t calmed down, but she had a feeling they could continue. They just had to keep at it. Keep talking and sharing. And when it got hard, she couldn’t back down again. “Stay with me.” Three words they’d said so often and which meant so much more than any confession of love.

            “I don’t have anywhere else to go.” He pressed his lips against hers and the rock dug deep into her back, but she didn’t care. All that mattered was that he was kissing her like he hadn’t in forever. That he wanted her. But she couldn’t move, couldn’t open his fly, or hers, terrified of losing her balance and collapsing to the ground.

            He let her down when she started tugging at his shirt, digging her nails into his back. They had to do this quickly. They both knew it, and it didn’t take them long. He held her tight, making sure she didn’t grind against the wall when he finally entered her, his chest tight against her back and cradling her head in the crook of his arm, so she could feel his hot breath against the sensitive skin on her neck.

            When they were done, he pulled up both their pants and moved her up against the wall again, her back against it. He kissed her with less urgency as her knees grew weaker by the minute. She was still breathing heavily, could still feel him inside of her and the aftershock of what had happened coursing through her veins. She pulled him closer, wishing she could feel his skin on hers, his warmth against hers, but this was good enough for now. She’d just have to wait for them to be back home to do this properly. To take her time with him.

            “Are you okay?” he asked, brushing the hair out of her eyes.

            She nodded. “Yep.”

            His smile made her wrap her arms around him more tightly. “Good…” He kissed her again, then pulled back almost abruptly.

            “What?”

            With narrowed eyes, he reached behind her and rubbed his thumb over the stone. “Huh… Take a look at this.” Evan showed her his thumb and the crumbling grey on it. “This came off.”

            Alex turned around, and she could see it now, the grey of the stone and where it had started to come off. “Is that paint?”

            With a shrug, Evan sniffed his thumb. “I don’t know. I have no idea what alien paint smells like, but this is just dirt, I think.”

            Alex took a step back, bumping into his chest. Was there a soft golden sheen under that coat of paint? If so, she had to radio Daniel straight away. She closed her fly and approached the wall again to rub her hand over it. And yes, there it was, a metallic glimmer.

            “But there’s nothing here, why would anyone make a room like this?”

            “It’s not just the fortress up there,” she said and took a deep breath. “The outer walls are so close to the edges of the plateau, that they can’t really have a good foundation. I think this whole place is one massive complex.”

            Evan started moving the dirt beneath their feet with his boots, revealing the edges of a metallic object. “And this is the back door?”

            Alex nodded thoughtfully. “Rings?”

            He shrugged. “I’ll radio this in,” he said, kissed her cheek and reached for his radio.

Chapter Text

Chapter 42

2004

Her hands were dark grey from wiping the paint off the wall by the time Daniel and Balinsky turned up. Evan was on the ground, her toolkit open next to him, and he was busy clearing the ring platform.

            Balinsky stared down at him and nodded appreciatively and Alex knew why: the other officers would do the mapping of the area if it came to it, or use a shovel, but they rarely took the time to clean an artefact this nicely. “We’re right underneath that pillar?” Balinsky asked, looking up the hill. “Huh.”

            “Who took the time to cover this up?” Daniel moved into the little room. “Excuse me, Major.”

            Evan sat back and brushed the sweat off his forehead and nodded. “Go ahead.” He got up and took a step to the side, watching Alex use the little brush to clear the edges of a particularly large rock protruding from the wall.

            “There’s no writing anywhere,” Jackson muttered and Balinsky moved over to the other side of the room. This place was getting crowded fast, but at least the archaeologists took care not to tread on the pile of dirt he’d removed from the ring platform so far. He was almost sure Miller or Murdoch wouldn’t have paid that much attention.

            “Looks like the only wall with gold tile is on this side,” Alex said, pointing to the edges of the area which had been covered up. She had some paint on her cheek now. “But it’s really hard to get off. We’re going to need water, I guess. Just rubbing isn’t going to do it.” She’d used up all the water they had brought along already, and she’d only cleared maybe a quarter of the panel in front of her.

            “Why would anyone even bother just making one panel and leaving the rest? This is crazy.” Evan came to his feet and started pushing the pile of dirt out of the room. Alex, Jackson and Balinsky were staring up at the panel, all three of them wearing glasses, all three of them with that raptured look on their faces. It was almost like watching people looking at a puppy for the first time in their lives. They ignored what he’d just said and he wasn’t too surprised. This discovery must be what it was like to see a baby dog tumbling around in a meadow for them.

            “This is just metal and rock,” Balinsky exclaimed, sounding almost exasperated, as though the absence of symbols and writing was offensive.

            “Well,” Alex said, “I started at the top, so there’s a chance there’s still some writing below.”

            “Do we have an idea who could’ve taken the trouble to cover this up?”

            “A number of baddies comes to mind,” Evan said, “Don’t we call them the System Lords?”

            Balinsky scoffed but didn’t reply. Jackson moved his hand over the area of the panel, which was halfway up the panel itself.

            Alex took a step back, so she was standing next to Balinsky. She scratched her nose, leaving even more smudge on her face. “Can I borrow your camera?”

            “Sure,” Balinsky reached for the breast pocket of his vest and had just taken it out, when the ring platform activated, and Jackson quickly jumped to the side. A brief flash of light and Alex and Balinsky were gone.

            “Jackson!” Evan groaned. “Where’s the control panel?!” He had to admit, he knew that this transport worked two ways and that Alex and Balinsky would be back with just another push of the right button, but seeing her just vanish like that had made his heart miss a beat.

            “Got it,” Jackson said.

            Evan nodded and reached for his radio. “Colonel Edwards, this is Lorne, come in.”

            “Go ahead,” Edwards said, sounding a bit annoyed. “Found anything good?”

            “Yes, Sir. A ring platform.” He hesitated for a moment, unsure of what to call Alex, and settling for the less awkward name, “Doctors Lorne and Balinsky were transported away. Doctor Jackson and I would like to follow?”

            Jackson raised his eyebrow at him, but didn’t protest.

            “Go ahead. Be sure to check back in in ten minutes.”

            “Yes, Sir.” He let go of the radio and stood where Alex and Balinsky had just vanished. “Okay, let’s go.”

            Jackson nodded, reached for a sticky-note and attached it to the place where the button lay hidden underneath a layer of paint. “Let’s hope we will all get back out again.”

            Evan shrugged. “Whoever went in there in the olden days must have had the means to get out again, right.”

            “You’d be surprised,” Jackson scoffed and pushed the button.

            Next minute they were in a circular room, the layout of which turned Evan’s stomach. It looked terribly familiar. The black and gold tiles, the circular apparatus and the glowing table. Alex was standing in front of it, while Balinsky was moving around the apparatus. The only thing that was missing was that big crate in which Ba’al had kept their daughter. They both looked up when the rings were activated, and Evan saw from the look on her face that Alex recognized this place from his mission report.

            “Another lab…” Evan muttered, a trembling in his voice. He quickly moved over to Alex and took her hands. They were icy in his, but her breathing was steady.

            “You’re okay?”

            She shrugged. “I think so.”

            “Yeah, but this one is a bit different,” Jackson said, pointing at something on the opposite side of the room.

            Evan turned and froze. In a narrow niche, wedged between two golden pillars and barely illuminated by the softly glowing lamps, locked behind a thick wall of what looked like blue-tinged glass was a crumpled body face pressed against the glass. “What is that?” Evan breathed.

            “Stasis gone wrong? Some kind of incubation tank? I don’t know.” Alex guessed. She took a deep breath and moved towards it. “The panel right next to it must have short circuited,” she said pointing at the panel. She pushed the button, but nothing happened. “Cameron and I tried it already.”

            “Who is that?” Evan couldn’t help but wonder. A man kept in stasis and obviously rotting away in a lab like this. But then again, did he really want to know? If this had been Ba’al’s lab, and Ba’al had been collecting genetic material and egg cells, then it was easy to guess who this might be.

            “We should bring in a couple of scientists.” Jackson was standing in front of the tinted glass, squinting slightly as he stared up into the dried up, emaciated face and as Evan moved closer, he recognized the facial features, the nose, the jaw. The beard was missing though. This man’s skin was almost transparent and without a trace of hair. He looked over at Alex and knew that she must be thinking along the same lines he was.

            “So, I guess Ba’al set up more than one lab,” she said after taking a deep breath, her eyes fixed on the face behind the glass. It wasn’t the real one. It couldn’t be.

            “Looks that way,” Daniel muttered. “Especially since he just left this specimen here and did his best to hide the lab. But he could’ve easily just destroyed the body. I don’t think he’s really given up on this place.”

            “Well, this at least determines that we won’t be using this planet for an off-world base.” Balinsky said. “Let’s get back outside and let the others know what we found. Radios don’t work in here.”

            No big surprise there. Evan didn’t follow the others, or even look at them. Alex was still standing in front of the stasis pod, arms folded over her chest, her face impassive as she stared up at the shrunken and shrivelled body. He moved to stand next to her.

            “You go on ahead,” she said over her shoulder at Jackson and Balinsky. “We’ll be with you in a minute.” She swallowed hard and when the sound of the rings activating rang through the small room, she pulled herself together. Looking into that face, knowing why it looked the way it did, made her insides churn. This wasn’t a human being. Just an experiment. Like their daughter had been.

            “This is what he needed her for,” she breathed. “This!” She could see that the anger in her voice startled him. She bit her lip, forcing back the tears, because she couldn’t face her team as a sobbing mess. Anger was the healthier option.

            “We knew that’s what he wanted her for,” Evan said quietly, tentatively wrapping an arm around her shoulders.

            “This is just… just seeing it.” She took a deep breath. “I wish-“ she broke off.

            He pulled her closer towards him and rested his cheek against hers. “I know.”

 

The discovery of the lab brought not only the rest of SG-1 to the scene, but also Doctor Beckett. Both Alex and Evan were there, when SG-22  forced open the stasis chamber and moved the clone into a body bag. Beckett did a preliminary exam of the body, while Alex stood to the side, arms crossed over her chest while Beckett looked the body over.

            “What’s your verdict?” O’Neill asked. “Can we get this thing out of here?”

            This thing. Alex took a deep breath. If she was correct, then this thing had some of Nora’s DNA in it. If she was correct, then Ba’al had ripped her daughter from her womb, used cells from Nora’s tiny helpless body and incorporated it into something that would never live. It would’ve been enough to turn her stomach, had she been able to feel anything at all. She looked over at Evan, who looked sick staring down at the body. It was all dried up, its skin shrivelled and far too light for something that should be rotting.

            “I’ll have to do a proper analysis back at the SGC, but if you ask me, this body looks an awful lot like a more advanced and matured version of a Kull. I suspect this one would’ve been able to live on its own, had the stasis pod not malfunctioned, but I’ll only be able to confirm this once I get to do a proper autopsy.” He looked up at Evan and Alex, while Raimi closed the body bag. “I’ll let you know what I find straight away.”

            Alex nodded numbly and watched on as the two other members of Cameron’s team moved the body to the ring platform, Beckett right by their side. Carter was kneeling next to the circular device, her laptop in front of her and Alex wasn’t sure she wanted to know what she had to say next. This place was creeping her out. In a lab like this Ba’al had doomed her daughter to die. She nudged Evan’s side and moved over to the ring platform.

            “I’m going up to the plateau again, Daniel,” she said, but Daniel didn’t really acknowledge her. He was too focused on a set of tablets he’d found stashed away at the bottom of the stasis pod. Normally she’d have been just as intrigued by it, but not this time. Not when she might have to read what exactly Ba’al had done and how. She’d find out soon enough.

            Evan was next to her when the platform activated, and they barely spoke a word on their way up the hill again. “Well, this was unexpected,” he mumbled when they were halfway up the hill again.

            She nodded. “I wish we hadn’t found that place.” Wrapping her arms about her, she stopped walking. “I mean-“

            “Yes… but if Beckett finds something-“

            “What? It’s not going to bring her back, is it.” She bit her lip and stomped her foot, tears rising in her eyes again.

            “No… but-“

            “Whatever he finds out, it’s not going to change anything.” She was staring at the ground now.

            “Alex, that’s not what this is about.”

            “I know…” It was about finding out what Ba’al was up to. Why he needed, or rather wanted Nora had been clear from the start. All Beckett and the Air Force cared about right now was to find out how Nora had been used. “What- what if Ba’al has a version of her stashed away somewhere like this?” She was almost certain that that was a possibility. A broken body like this clone’s could be hidden in another stasis chamber. She swallowed hard.

            Evan stared at her and shook his head. “I don’t- I don’t think he’d do that. He didn’t want her, did he? Just-” He broke off, unsure of how to continue. “I can’t think of a reason for him to keep her around to be honest.”

            Thinking that way would’ve been a relief, but she couldn’t quite push away the other image. The image of a broken body with translucent skin, unable to breathe or move, trapped in a stasis chamber. She shook her head and wrapped her arms around him. “I just want to stop hurting like this,” she muttered, knowing full well that it might never stop, that this aching would always be there with her. That getting over the death of a child was impossible.

            He pulled her closer, kissed her temple. “Me too… but maybe finding out will help… I don’t know,” her grumbled. What he really wanted to do was rip Ba’al limb from limb, and if he got the chance, then that’s what he’d do. His heart fluttered when he felt her starting to tremble in his arms, hating how helpless he was. “I’ll find him,” he muttered into her ear. “I’ll find him and he’ll pay for what he’s done.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 43

2004

“Ba’al was known under various names in history. Looking at Earth’s history alone, we can determine seven different names,” Alex pressed the button on her remote and the next slide appeared. It just showed a picture of a bronze figurine, holding up a fist as it appeared to be walking, and wearing a pointy hat with a sort of bobble on top. Was that even real? “In general we can say that b’l is Hebrew and refers to the word lord or owner and it was a title originally. The same happened with the Babylonian title referring to the same words, which later evolved into Marduk or Bel. Originally Ba’al was known across the Southern Levant and in writings from a certain period, these mentions of a lord evolved into mentions of a God under various names, but with similar properties and characteristics.”

            Evan leaned back. He wasn’t the only one staring at Alex, but the only one who could really appreciate how incredible she was. She managed to push her terror and her anger aside to give a presentation on Ba’al and her primary field of studies at the same time. He looked to the side to watch Murdoch, and Menard stare blankly at the screen currently covering the glass window to Hammond’s office.

            “It usually referred to a divine figure connected to weather, agriculture and fertility. The term wasn’t originally used for the one and the same figure, it just evolved and only in the late Bronze Age did Ba’al become a really powerful piece on the chessboard and it became synonymous with the most powerful local deity.” She switched to the next slide. An aerial photograph of the hill where they’d found the lab, next to another photograph of another building with a very similar layout.

            Jackson leaned forward, his pen scribbling over his notepad. The other listeners didn’t look as interested as Jackson did, however. Evan’s team, SG-1, SG-15 just stared at Alex and Evan could guess why. The photos were labelled. The one with the plateau was captioned with the designation of the planet they’d been to, the other one with coordinates, placing the abandoned ruins clearly in Iraq.

            “These places,” Alex said, “have the exact same layout, except that one was elevated on a plateau, the other one is a dig-site ninety kilometres south of Bagdad.”

            “What are you saying, Doctor?” O’Neill had his hands folded in front of him and was eying Alex with a frown.

            “I’m saying, that we found a lab on P2A-834 and the excavation site near Babylon here looks eerily similar to that fortress. There might be another lab there. An older one, but a lab nonetheless.”

            “You’re saying,” O’Neill said, “that we should start an excavation in Iraq? Close to a US military camp, which is getting swamped by archaeologists as we speak. After the US invaded that country last year?”

            Alex took a deep breath. “Colonel-“

            O’Neill leaned back with a frown and looked around at the others sitting around the table. Hammond had been called to Washington and right now O’Neill was in charge of SGC operations. “Does that sound wacko to anybody else?”

            “Jack,” Jackson, spoke up, but was immediately interrupted by O’Neill.

            “Daniel?”

            Jackson sighed. “It might be worth it. There wasn’t anything useful on the tablet we discovered in that stasis pod.”

            “There weren’t any crystals storing data anywhere. If we have information on other possible laboratories here on Earth, we should check it out.” Carter added.

            “I read, you know,” O’Neill said, “Wasn’t there some complaint about how US troops desecrate the area with their presence? How they treat the area with disrespect? And you’re going to suggest we add an excavation site under the authorization of the United States Air Force in the very same area? The President is going to love that.”

            Jackson frowned, “Well-“

            “No. Not right now. We’re going to have to wait for things to calm down first, and our resources just don’t stretch that far at the moment.”

            Not a good piece of news. Evan looked over at Alex, whose shoulders sagged, and Evan knew he couldn’t argue against O’Neill’s decision. He was biased to say the least. The excavation on that planet had been cut short and so far, they hadn’t found any other traces of laboratories or of Ba’al’s experiments. But it had only been two weeks and the galaxy was massive. Really, it came as no big surprise that they hadn’t found anything yet.

            “I suggest you leave that report for General Hammond to read, Doctor. He’ll be back in a day or two.”

            Jackson tapped his pen on the table, looking impatient, but didn’t protest. Evan wasn’t even sure he could blame him. The SGC had bigger fish to fry at the moment.

 

Three days later Hammond was relieved of command and the SGC was shut down by the President himself for a review-process. Evan got the news, just as he was returning from a recon mission with his team. Most other teams would be returning back to Earth within the day, including the men and women stationed off-world.

            So that was that. A review-process… what did that even mean? Were they going to keep this base shut down indefinitely? For as long as it would take Anubis to get here and kill them all? And this Doctor Weir, who was that even?!

            “What’s going on here?” Menard whispered as they walked from the Gate room back to the armoury and the lockers. They hadn’t been called back from a mission in a very long time, and this sudden change in command was more than just a little bit disconcerting.

            “How would I know, Menard?” Evan said. Three months. Three months without any gate travel would mean three months of no new intel on Ba’al as well. “I was on that planet with you.”   

            He found Alex in her office, as usual, bent low over the map and the aerial photos she’d shown during her presentation. Balinsky was standing next to her, skimming her notes. She’d put her glasses to the side and looked up with a raised eyebrow when Evan walked in. “Heard the news?”

            “We were called back early! What the hell?”

            “I thought the new President was alright,” Balinsky said, rubbing his eyes. “No idea what’s going to happen next.”

            “He’s afraid of what might happen when this thing goes public,” Alex grumbled, leaning back in her chair and accepting Evan’s kiss. He’d only been gone for three hours or so before Harriman had radioed in.

            “Well, I’m done for the day,” Balinsky said. “Or maybe forever. Who knows what this Weir woman is going to decide. Hammond left half an hour ago.”

            Evan scoffed. “See you on Monday, then.”  Gate travel was suspended, but they still had to report for duty. Heaven knew what was going to happen next. “Have you heard of this Doctor Weir? What’s she like?” A civilian in charge of the SGC. That was bound to end badly. What was the President thinking?!

            “Never heard of her before her name was announced to be honest. I was just looking her up when Balinsky came in.” She turned on her computer screen. “That’s her,” Alex said, pointing at the picture of a dark-haired woman of about their own age with a massive bibliography listed next to her photograph. “Teaches at Georgetown whenever she’s not brokering deals for the UN. She was a political activist and now apparently doesn’t mind working for the government.” She tapped her pen against her lips. “Guess she’s a tough nut to crack.”

            “Is that good news or bad news?”

            “We’ll see, I guess…” She sighed and closed the book in front of her.

            “Still doing research on Ba’al’s activities here on Earth?”

            Alex nodded. She’d been at it since their return from that other lab and Evan had a feeling it was doing her good. “I just don’t see another excavation happening with her in charge.”

            “What exactly do you think we’re going to find there?”

            With a shrug she opened her drawer and dropped her notebook inside. “Anything… any new information on him that could help us… talking of which, Beckett sent me an email earlier, says that as soon as you get back, we should pay him a visit.”

            Help us. Evan had more than just a vague idea of what she meant by that, and though he appreciated her liveliness as opposed to her silence, he didn’t see much hope. He’d be damned if he crushed hers, though. If she had any. He doubted it somehow. “Let’s go, then,” he said. “How long do we have before my mom gets here?”

            “A couple of hours, I guess. And your dad’s coming too, you know. They’ll both be thrilled to see you after all.”

            “Yeah, yeah, I know.” He rubbed his forehead. “He said he wants to go for extra long walks this weekend. Monsieur is gonna love that.”

            With a slight smile, Alex leaned over and kissed his temple. “Should we go talk to Beckett? And then head home?”

 

Beckett was sorting through his files when Evan knocked on his door. “Ah, you’re back, come on in.”

            “Yes, the mission was cut short rather.”

            “I believe you’ll have plenty of time to catch up on your paperwork these next three months, both of you.” Beckett wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t military, but this sudden change in leadership couldn’t sit too well with him either. “Have a seat.”

            Alex closed the door behind them and as she sat down, she felt just like she had when they’d first brought Nora in. Tense and not sure she really wanted to know what Beckett had to say to her. “Is this about the Ba’al clone?”

            With a nod, Beckett took the topmost file off a pile. “Excuse the mess. I thought if we get a new leader I might as well clean up a bit.” He opened the file, flipped through it. “I’m going to make this quick, but I wanted to tell you before I gave my report to the General.”

            “Go ahead, then.” Evan was losing patience. His folded hands were resting in his lap and the way he was looking at Beckett really didn’t make her envy the Doctor

            “Well, here’s what we found out. The clone was grown rather quickly, not as quickly as the Kull soldiers, but unlike samples we’ve collected of Ba’al before this, this one appears to have the ATA-gene.”

            “The what?”  Alex frowned. She’d never heard the term before, though she had an inkling she knew what he meant.

            “The ATA-gene,” Beckett repeaterd. “Ancient Technology Activation. It’s a term we’ve come up with recently and we believe that he managed to extract that gene from, well, from Nora and use it for building his own clone.”

            Alex couldn’t say this came as a surprise. She’d done her best do accept the fact that this had happened. To deal with it. But it was still hard to hear it from a stranger’s lips.

            “We know that’s what he wanted her for,” Evan said. They seemed to be repeating this over and over again. Like a race car which consistently drove along the same course time and time again without ever losing momentum. “We’ve been over this a zillion times.”

            “Yes, but now we have confirmation and,” Beckett cleared his throat, “It wasn’t the only similarity we found. The Ba’al clone wasn’t fully functional, it was grown considerably more slowly than the Kull soldiers, but the acceleration was still a bit off. He’d never been able to survive outside that pod. That’s probably why the experiment was abandoned, but Ba’al still kept him inside that chamber… another function of that technology,” He drew up another file, “Was discovered by the scientists of Area 51 after the pod was taken out of the wall and brought through the Gate. It’s some kind of incubation chamber as well as a stasis pod, probably something Ba’al had constructed especially to speed up the age acceleration for a considerable time, but the cells themselves didn’t all grow at the same speed, which made the clone itself defective. Both technologies don’t really work well together as one. Well, it does make sense.”

            Did it? Alex swallowed hard. She wasn’t sure she wanted to understand what Beckett was saying here.

Evan next to her leaned closer. “Get to the point, Doc.”

Beckett sighed. “I’m saying, that we looked at tissue samples from Nora as well. We didn’t pick it up at first, since she was so incredibly young to begin with, but we think it’s likely that Ba’al used the same technology on her to make up for the two months.” He paused for another moment, looking at each of them in turn and seemingly struggling with what he had to say next. “Her body was completely functional, everything was there, it just wasn’t working the way it should have. We determined the cause of death shortly after it happened, but not-“

“You already told us that.” Alex burst out. She hated how little control she had over her voice when this topic came up, how desperate she sounded, how her hands started shaking. The fact was, she couldn’t bear thinking about the exact how and when anymore. “Your suspicions, what you think might have happened.”

“Excuse me?”

She closed her eyes, breathing hard. “I- I’m sorry. It’s- are you telling me the child I held in my arms was a clone? The daughter I- the daughter we buried wasn’t really our daughter?”

The silence which followed that question rang in the room like a scream might have done. She looked at Evan, whose eyes were fixed on the ground.

“I don’t know,” Beckett said. “I couldn’t tell. But- but the Ba’al clone we just found suggests that it wasn’t.”

Alex wasn’t sure this piece of news was comforting at all.

 

“Are you buying this house, then?” David asked after dinner. Evan’s father stood up to clear the dishes and move them over to the kitchen.

            Alex had been silent all through the meal and Evan didn’t feel too talkative either. “We haven’t decided yet, dad,” he answered, picking up the salad bowl to follow his father.

            “It’s a bit small, isn’t it?” his mother kept eying Alex almost suspiciously. “I mean-“

            “We don’t want another one,” Alex said decidedly, and the words struck him, though his own thoughts went along the same line. “I can’t go through this again.”

            Molly twitched, as though to reach out and touch her hand, but she kept still. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

            Alex nodded. She appeared to be on the verge of getting up and storming up to their bedroom. But she remained where she was.

            “It’s too soon,” David added, opening the dishwasher and pushing Monsieur to the side so the dog didn’t lick the plates clean. “Maybe in a few years.”

            “No,” Evan said, leaning against the kitchen counter, his eyes fixed on his wife. That was out of the question. Especially not after today. It would feel like betraying Nora’s memory. Like getting a substitute, when they’d never know for sure if the daughter they’d buried hadn’t already been a substitute.

            “Evan…”

            “Too much has happened,” he declared, picking up a cloth and starting to wipe the counter-top. His dad’s hand stopped him before he’d even gotten to the sink. He looked up and David nodded in Alex’s direction, who was staring at her glass, two tears streaming down her face. His heart sank, but at the same time he was relieved to see that she allowed them to fall. He dropped the cloth and moved over to her and pull her closer to him.

            And then he saw the tears in his mother’s eyes and felt them prickling in his own. She still had her children. She’d known what it was like to raise two of them and he couldn’t help feel jealous of her and his father. This was all just so ridiculous.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 44

2004

 

“Should we make an offer?”

            Alex was standing in the centre of the living room, her hands in her pockets. She’d only been to this house a few times, but it felt more like home than the house they lived in now. She looked to the back door, to the spot where he’d sat that morning after she was wounded. Monsieur had liked this garden.

            “Alex?” He was leaning in the door frame. Behind him she could see the vestibule with the wooden set of stairs. The realtor had left them alone to talk for a minute.

            “Yes,” she said. It was his house. The one he’d lived in before Larsa. Before they were back together. This place held no memories of Nora, no memories of walking her up the stairs, there was no bedroom here in which they’d put her to sleep. No ghosts. “Yes, let’s.”

            The shadow of a grin flickered over Evan’s face. This place was bigger and far more welcoming than their current home. After she’d been released from hospital, they’d just looked for something, anything, to live in. And now this place was on the market. It was just right for them. This felt right. “I’m gonna call her in, then?”

            She nodded. They’d just driven past this place on their way from work and seen the sign saying that this place was for sale. The fate of this planet was hanging in the balance, but why not give this a shot? They couldn’t do anything about it at the moment anyway, could they?          

The previous day they’d received the information that Anubis had assembled a fleet and was headed to Earth. And still they didn’t hesitate to make an appointment with the realtor. Evan had to be on his way to Peterson in about half an hour, since all available F-302 pilots had to be standing by, and here they were, making an offer on a house. Not really the best of timings. If SG-1 didn’t succeed on their mission and find the weapon they were looking for, then there wouldn’t be a house for them to buy left.

            “So?” The realtor had walked back into the room, her high heels clicking on the hard-wood floor. “What do you think?”

            Evan raised an eyebrow at Alex. How insane was this? Were they really going to do this? Buy a house, when this very planet was in danger? But then again, there wasn’t a whole lot to lose here. This action wouldn’t influence the outcome of the coming fight. She nodded. “We’d like to make an offer.”

 

The road ahead was clear, and it was almost eerie to see how brightly the sun was shining and how much the people on the sidewalk were enjoying it. Two days from now, this whole city could be nothing more than rubble and nobody cared. Evan couldn’t quite believe it himself.

            Alex stopped the car in front of the main entrance after they passed the final checkpoint. She’d be going back to the SGC, just in case she was needed. Balinsky, Vogel and Singh were already there from what he’d heard.

            Her hands were clutched tight around the steering wheel and she took a deep breath before she turned to look at him. There was no use telling her that he’d be back. That things were going to be okay. They could only hope, even if there was next to no hope. The chances that SG-1 would fail were higher than ever. He took her hand and squeezed it.

            “Take care of yourself,” she said. “I don’t want to do the moving all on my own.”

            He laughed despite himself and pulled her closer. Cupping her cheeks in his hands, he looked into her eyes. “I’ll do my best.” That was all he could promise. All he could say. He pressed his lips against hers. If this went okay, if they came out on the other side, they’d keep going, one step at a time. They’d move into that house, buy another five puppies and be happy. They just both needed to survive. And even if this planet went to hell, they’d still find a way. After all they’d been through together, he was almost sure of that.

            “Okay,” she muttered when he pulled back. It was time to go. Time to sit around and wait for something to happen that would hopefully never come.   

            “Listen,” he said. “I was thinking… when this is over, if everything turns out alright, we should go on a trip. Like a honeymoon. Go back to Germany, travel around a bit.”

            Alex scoffed. “Worst possible moment,” she grinned and kissed him again. “Let’s do it anyway.”

 

Murdoch was already waiting by the F-302 when Evan arrived. Colonel Mitchell, this command’s leader hadn’t even shown up yet, though time was pressing. According to the last information that had reached them, Anubis’ mothership had arrived at their doorstep a few hours ago and destroyed a carrier. This weren’t looking too good and so Prometheus had been launched. It was time to go.

            “All set?” Evan asked, climbing into the front seat and locking the breathing mask in place. He’d flown this ship dozens of times, but so far only in practice manoeuvres, never before in combat. This was going to be different, but there was no fighter he’d be more at ease with. These things were almost magic. You barely felt the G-forces in these, compared to what it felt like in one of the old F-16s.

            “Yes, Sir.”

            “Alright, you have the coordinates SG-1 sent us. We’re going right up into the atmosphere, meet up with Prometheus and approach those coordinates together.” Mitchell’s voice boomed in his ear. Evan went through the pre-flight routine, checking that all the systems were go, and confirmed with Murdoch. They’d both trained in this fighter a couple of times now and Evan was sure they could make this work.

            Within minutes they were airborne, rushing straight up into the sky with the rest of the squadrons. Prometheus would be launching their squadron once they reached Antarctica. Right now, they needed to get all the ships they had out there to the coordinates which SG-1 would be approaching. What were they looking for again? The Lost City of the Ancients? Whatever that place was, it had better be worth it in terms of weapons, because if it wasn’t this planet was screwed.

            Evan took one last look down at the city and the mountain range, which was growing ever smaller. Alex was down there right now, probably listening to the radio chatter, worried sick. But she’d be alright. Whatever happened, the Stargate was the last hope for their survival, if this mission failed, and Alex would be going through that Gate if the rest of the world perished. She’d be safe and that was important. He only wished he’d gone to the cemetery one last time.

            And then they were in the upper atmosphere, the other F-302s staying in a tight formation as they joined Prometheus and then rushed towards Earth’s southern pole. The planet beneath stretched in a wide arch and they were flying so low, that it almost still filled his entire field of vision. Icy blue separated from the impenetrable darkness by a layer of white. If he ever got the chance, he had to find a way to capture this.

            On the other side of the planet, Anubis’ Ha’tak must already have sent out a deployment of Al’kesh and Gliders.

            “Al’kesh and gliders are approaching the scout ship.” Hammond. He was commanding Prometheus? Well, that was a good sign. Or as good as they could get today

            “Time to descend,” Mitchell, “let’s speed this up.”

            The surface underneath was almost blindingly white as they rushed back down, accelerating all the time to meet up with the scout ship before it could be shot down. Whatever SG-1 was doing, they’d apparently found something.

            And there they were, the Al’kesh and Gliders crowding in on the scout ship, which was hovering about a hundred metres over the deep ice, an energy beam protruding from its lower body. “Remember no matter what, we’re here to protect SG-1 at all costs. Target the Al’kesh first. Gliders second. Go low, boys and girls. Prometheus has our backs.”

            “Ready, Murdoch?” Evan asked, as he sped up, his eyes focused on the nav system in front of him and the Al’kesh they would to target first. “The one on the far left first.”

            “Yes, Sir. Three clicks away.”

            He pushed the trigger and the fighter didn’t even reverberate when the railguns opened fire. The Al’kesh was close, but though the enemy ship swerved slightly, it didn’t take any direct damage. Pulling up, he turned the fighter to the right, avoiding the fire ball which had been a Glider mere seconds before. “Murdoch, why the hell didn’t you tell me that was there!”

            “Didn’t see it. Three more straight ahead. Two o’clock.”

            Evan gritted his teeth. And he knew this was just the first obstacle. As soon as the Al’kesh and Gliders were decimated, the Ha’tak would step in and they had next to no chance against a mothership of that size. “Tally, Sparkles I have visual.” It had to be her. Captain Scott was close at hand, flying low to their right.

            “Confirm, Thief. Let’s get these two and head back to the Al’kesh.”

            Evan grinned at hearing his callsign again. It calmed him down, it made him feel more secure. These people had their backs and he had theirs. That was all the comfort he could hope for today. He swerved to the left, just as Scott’s fighter turned right, doubling back to take out the two Gliders.

            Prometheus had arrived on the scene, Evan saw, hovering over the scout ship and the energy blasts from the battle cruiser had already picked off three Al’kesh. The bombers were nothing but smouldering wrecks on the ice below.

            One F-302 went up in flames dead ahead and his heart plummeted. There was no way to know who it had been right now. He couldn’t let this distract him.

            The scout ship was still underneath Prometheus, still engaged in whatever it was they were doing, while he and the other pilots did their best to keep the enemy off their backs. He managed to take out three more Gliders before the next enemy fighter was close on their heel. “Murdoch, how much distance between us?”

            “About a hundred metres.”

Damn, that was close. He’d pull up, try to double back. Next second their fighter shuddered, and he was thrown so hard into the seat belt, he felt it cut into his chest. “It’s gone,” Murdoch said.

“Got rid of it for you, Thief.”

Evan let out a breath. “Thanks, Shaft.”

“Bingo fuel, Sir.”

“What?!” Evan pulled up, his eyes darting to the controls in front of him. Murdoch was right. They were so low on fuel it was a miracle they were still airborne. “How?”

“Our fuel compartment was hit by the blast, Sir. We’re about to lose altitude.”

He swallowed hard. The scout ship was leaving its position. He could only hope the team had found something. Another Al’kesh was dead ahead, but already they were starting to drop, the engines were giving out. Bingo my ass, Evan thought. They had no fuel left. They couldn’t have more than a couple of hundred metres before impact now. “Punch out, Murdoch, we’re going down.”

            Every single detail from that point onward was just a blur. The sudden cold as the canopy blew, the massive blow to the head, as the edge of the canopy hit his helmet, the chair ejecting and the blasts of energy weapons up ahead. The radio was still working, but he could barely make out the words. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong, and he felt his eyes drooping as the parachute kept him hoisted up in the air and everything went black.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 45

2004

Nora took her first steps on a Tuesday afternoon. Her legs were barely more than two chubby, movable stick, but they held her, if only for a few seconds, before she collapsed into his arms. She was laughing so loudly, so shrilly, that it made his ears ring.

            Her hands slapped his cheek when he lifted her up to stand again. He was still holding her, but she appeared to enjoy this new point of view. She squealed in delight when Monsieur rolled on his back, his paws stretched out into the air and Evan couldn’t help but think how perfectly Alex would fit in here. But she wasn’t there anymore. She’d gone missing a few days after Anubis’ attack. And yes, they were still looking for her, they hadn’t given up, but he had to take care of his daughter too.

            Evan pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. “Time for dinner, huh?”

            The snow outside was still falling. In this weather he didn’t even like letting Monsieur out. He picked Nora up and carried her over to the kitchen, where her bowl was already standing at the ready, filled to the brim with chocolate ice cream.

            “Oh, that’s no good for you,” he muttered, putting the dish in the sink and pulling out another bowl, this one filled with vanilla ice cream. “Better.”

            “You’re not seriously going to feed her that, are you?”

            Evan turned his head and watched as Ba’al came in, a kitchen towel hanging over his shoulder. Without another comment, he took Nora and turned to leave. And Evan didn’t even move. He just stood there, his eyes fixed on Nora’s retreating face and on the dark red towel.

            Everything was dark and there was nothing but silence around him. He heard footsteps a few metres away and felt the rapid beating of his heart. This was so wrong. All of it. The feeling of cool fabric underneath his fingertips, the warmth surrounding him.

            His eyes were closed. Was that it? And if he opened them, would he see Ba’al walking out of his kitchen, Nora in his arms. He tried swallowing, but his mouth was so dry that he couldn’t.

            No… Nora was dead. This had been a dream. He’d been dreaming. The last thing he remembered was the blindingly white ice rushing right at him and that hard blow to the head.

            He blinked. It was still dark, but not pitch-black. A bit of light was creeping in, turning the ceiling right above his head pale grey. There was a hand on his. He didn’t have to look to know that it was Alex, but he turned his head anyway to get confirmation. The movement alone hurt like hell, but it was worth it. She was sitting in a low chair, her head resting on her arms, her hand clutching his. The soft tickle of her breath against his skin made him wonder why he hadn’t sensed her sooner.

            She wasn’t gone, hadn’t vanished. But Nora was dead. His fighter had crashed, but apparently, they were both still alive. He just had no memory of how he’d gotten here. Wherever here was.

            He was so weak, it took all he head to move his finger and touch her cheek, to feel the soft, warm skin. She jerked awake, her eyes wide and it took her a moment to realize that he was there. That he was awake. Relief washed over her face and she jumped to her feet. “Evan!” she breathed, bending low over him to kiss him, but he could barely return it and his mind was still sluggish.

            She held his face in hers, kissed him again. “You’re awake.” Stating the obvious… but the terror was still in her eyes.

            “Hey…” he muttered hoarsely. “What…”

            “Hang on a moment, I’ll have to get the doctor.” But he fell asleep again before she even left his bedside.

 

“You’ve been out for a week,” the doctor said. Carmichael. Was that his name? Alex couldn’t quite remember it. Thus far about five doctors had introduced themselves to her. Five, since Evan had been transferred here after they’d dragged him out of the snow.

            “Huh…” Evan said. He looked disorientated to say the least.

            “As soon as you feel a bit better, we’ll do another MRI and see where we’re at, but so far it looks like you’re going to make a full recovery. You haven’t been out as long as you could have been.”

            This was already too much for him. He’d been on the brink of waking up for a few days now, but he didn’t seem to remember it. “Depending on how well you’re doing, we can discharge you in a few days.”

            A few days… that wasn’t too bad. But he wasn’t listening anymore. His heavy-lidded eyes were focused on her.

            “I’ll check up on you again in an hour or two.” Carmichael smiled at her briefly and left the room again.

            “Try to sleep some more,” Alex said, pulling the chair closer to the bed again. “You’re home. Everything’s going to be fine.”

            “Is it?” he raised his eyebrows slightly. The scratch on his cheek was even more prominent in the bright hospital lighting, but the bruise on his temple was starting to slowly fade. At least that’s what she told herself.

            She nodded and took his hand again. “Long story. But everything’s okay now.”

            He scoffed and winced. He was bound to be a sore still. Two broken ribs and a massive blow to the head, which hadn’t resulted in too much damage by the looks of it. He’d be okay and that was the main thing. When she’d received the message that his fighter had crashed, she’d felt like that twelve-year-old again. The girl who’d lost her dad. The relief she felt just looking at him now almost made her start crying again. “I dreamed,” he muttered, closing his eyes the same moment his fingers closed around hers again. “About her… our girl was so happy…”

            She swallowed hard, fighting the massive lump in her throat. “Try to dream of her some more.”

            “How’s Murdoch?” his voice was deeper now and so low it was almost inaudible. “He alive?”

            “Yes… yes, Oliver dragged you out of the snow and made sure they found you alright.” Other pilots hadn’t been as lucky as Evan. The squadron’s commander, Colonel Mitchell, was still out and by the looks of it, would need a much longer recovery than Evan, if he recovered at all. But right now really wasn’t the time to tell Evan about that. He didn’t need to know right away.

 

Evan was discharged ten days later, but not yet cleared for duty. Not that there was a whole lot to be cleared for. Gate travel was still suspended, so there weren’t any missions to go on anyway.

            Alex returned to her job as usual and for the first time ever, Evan was stuck at home alone with nothing to do but wait. Watching TV was still a bit too much for him, though Doctor Carmichael assured him that all would be fine eventually. And so, for two weeks, he just sat on the couch or on the bed, took Monsieur for exceptionally long walks, went to the doctors appointments, talked to his family on the phone and refused to pick up when Adam called.

            He started packing after they signed the contract. He baked. He ignored the crib in Nora’s bedroom.

            He read up on reports on what had happened in Antarctica, how SG-1 had found a weapon and managed to defeat Anubis’ fleet. For now.

            He cooked for Alex. He sorted through the books they had never unpacked. He tried to deal with the fact that taking all these things into a new home wouldn’t really change anything.

            And then, one afternoon after he’d put the lasagna for dinner in the oven, he sat down on the couch, opened his laptop and started typing.

 

Hi Javier,

I’m sorry I never got in touch with you. I felt guilty after what happened, but that’s not really an excuse. I’m just trying to make one up for myself.

How are you? What have you been up to?

You probably don’t even want to talk to me, and I get it. But if you do, let me know.

Evan

 

He pressed send without second-guessing anything. Life was too short. And he should’ve done this nine years ago. Sending this e-mail now, years after he got the address from an old friend, probably wasn’t a good idea. And still he almost hoped Javier would reply. He kept refreshing his email program, but nothing happened. Of course it didn’t. Evan wouldn’t have replied either.

            With a sigh, he closed his laptop and moved on to scratching Monsieur’s head. He was already exhausted. How terrifying how a few weeks off your feet could make you feel so weak. Snuffling, Monsieur laid his head in Evan’s lap and rolled on his back. “Stupid dog,” he said, scratching the brown fur. “You know,” he said quietly, “I’m not sure I deserve an answer.” He bit his lip and frowned. No, he wouldn’t have replied. Didn’t he know exactly what it felt like to lose something more than precious? What would he have done, had all the teams of the SGC not started searching for Nora? He would’ve gone insane, driven mad never knowing what had happened to her and why.

            Well, things had been a bit different with Sam. They’d all seen the crash and they’d all known that nobody could’ve survived a crash like that. Years later Sam’s death had been confirmed, but that didn’t provide a whole lot of relief. He should’ve stood by his friend instead of reporting him missing. He should’ve at least looked the other way and pretended not to have seen him sneak off like he had. And now there just was no way to make up for that. He’d screwed up. Badly. And there would never be a way to make it right.

            Monsieur heard the car before Evan did. He probably heard it before it even pulled into the driveway. The lump of fur jumped up and ran to the door, tail wagging and scratching wildly at the door frame and wailed happily when Alex came in.

            “Idiot dog,” he heard her say and got to his feet to watch her come in. This house didn’t feel empty without her in it per se, but it was good to see her come back. To see her start smiling on a more regular basis. And her smile grew even wider when she saw him, drew him in and kissed him, her lips cool from the cold spring air, her hair damp from the rain.

            “It smells wonderful! What are you-“ she was cut short by another kiss, but didn’t push him away. He felt her lips forming a smile against his, felt her hands move up his arms and cup his face. The kitchen timer sounded, breaking them apart.

            “How hungry are you?”

            “Very,” she laughed, “but it doesn’t really matter.”

            “I disagree.” He kissed her hand. “Go upstairs and I’ll turn off the oven?”

            “Right, but I need to talk to you.” Alex took a deep breath. It sounded ominous and he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to know what it was straight away. Her face didn’t give anything away.

            The beeping sound coming from the kitchen was so annoying, but he didn’t move. “What?”

            Alex shook her head, kissed his cheek and strode into the kitchen to turn off the oven. “They managed to get O’Neill out of the stasis pod,” she said, “He’ll be replacing Doctor Weir at the SGC.”

            Evan leaned against the counter, watching her open the oven door and jumping back to avoid the steam. She’d finally gained some weight again and last weekend she’d accompanied him to the gym for a work-out. She was doing so much better now, though he dreaded the day of Nora’s would-be-birthday. It wasn’t far away, and he wasn’t even sure how he’d get through it. The way things were looking right now, they’d be in their new house by then. “He got a promotion?”

            Alex nodded, reaching for the oven gloves. “And Doctor Weir will be leading an international science expedition in Antarctica. The Ancient outpost appears to be bigger than anyone would’ve thought.”

            “But it’s not the Lost City, right?”

            Alex shrugged. “But it might hold the location of the Lost City.” With a sigh, she put down the heavy dish on the counter next to Evan.

            He frowned as he watched her. “Okay?” It wasn’t really a question. Just a prompt, but Alex kept frowning at at the bubbling cheese and sauce for another minute as though it was offensive.

            “Well, Anna sent me an email about two weeks ago.”

            “Anna?”

            “Anna,” she sighed, frowning at him now, expecting him not to remember.

            “The one from Trier? The one who got married.” He grinned despite himself. “Give me some credit. But you’re not really making sense.”

            “Well, her marriage didn’t work out. Divorce after five weeks. Happens. So she’s coming to interview for my job.”

            “Your what?”

            Alex looked down at the dish again. Was she serious?

            “You’re leaving the SGC?”

            “No. Anna applied for the job Doctor Weir offered me.”

            Evan almost collapsed against the counter. “Don’t scare me like that!” He took a deep breath. “Weir offered you a job?!”

            “Don’t be surprised, I’m actually good at what I do when I don’t have to milk cows or shoot Jaffa, or drag soldiers through the Gate.”

            Laughing, he pulled her close and kissed her again. “I know you’re good. With a dust brush especially. I really admire your-“ he was cut short when she poked him in the side, making the barely healed ribs protest- “Ow!”

            “She wants an international team.”

            “Well, you’d be perfect for that! You’re British!”

            “Oh, please, I’m English!”

            “That’s just a detail!”

            She was laughing for real now and he just wanted to grab her, to kiss her and show her how much he loved that sound, but that would mean shutting her up and he couldn’t do that. Not right now. He wanted to hear her voice, her laugh.

            “So, you’re not going away?”

            “I’m so not going away.” She grinned and wrapped her arms around him. “I hear that when and if they find that city, there’ll be an expedition, but I wouldn’t be going there either. Not for the world.”

            She raised her hand and touched her thumb to his chin. It was like they’d come full circle, only that this time she wouldn’t be going without him. She’d stay with him. Whether that was what they’d been supposed to learn from all this, Evan couldn’t say, but what he did know was that this woman was more important to him than ever, and he was glad she’d decided against this massive job opportunity. They weren’t done here.

            Not done recovering; not done getting comfortable around each other again; not done with this stage of their relationship.

Chapter Text

Chapter 46

2005

 

They’d arrived at the excavation site about a week ago. Alex had to admit she’d been surprised to hear that Daniel wasn’t coming along, but then again, Daniel had only just returned from a mission and this here was dirty work to say the least.

            The early morning sun was already making her sweat, but she still wouldn’t push Evan away. Hot was hot, and his arm around her shoulders, his breath on her skin, couldn’t make it any worse. She stared at the canvas of the military tent they were sharing. She couldn’t bring herself to wake him just yet.

            Balinsky did that for her by hitting the outside of their tent and she heard him talking loudly to Miller. “Is the coffee ready yet?”

“I always thought playing Indiana Jones would be more fun!” Miller complained loudly, making Alex grin. She’d heard pretty much the same conversation for the better part of a week. Not that any of these men had to do the extra hard work. That had been done by the local archaeologists, before the American President had stepped in and convinced the Egyptian government, probably aided by a couple of extra Dollars in cash, to leave this particular excavation site on the Giza plateau to the US Air Force units.

Evan stirred and groaned. “Why’s it so hot…”

“Because it’s July and we’re in the desert.”

“Yep… that must be it.” He pulled her closer and kissed her neck. “I really want to take a proper shower.”

She grinned and she knew he loved it here. In a way. “Soon,” she promised, sitting up. “Come on, Major. We’re already late.” She clapped his side, zipped open her sleeping bag and redid her ponytail

“Let Miller do the extra digging today,” he grumbled.

“I heard that, Major!”

Evan scoffed. The ear bud with the accompanying cable was still hanging from his ear. “Did you turn it off?” he asked lazily, sitting up as well. “Or did we just waste the battery again?”

Alex looked down at the CD player lying between them. “No, it’s dead. Looks like we both drifted off.”

“Damn, I really wanted to know whether Harry gets out of detention with Umbridge.”

“We’ll find the right track, honey.”

“Let’s hope so, or I’ll be extra grumpy tonight.”

She leaned over him, kissed him and climbed out of their tent. If it hadn’t been for the massive plastic screens, they’d set up the moment they arrived, she’d be able to see the Great Pyramids right now. As it was, all that she could see was the massive hole in front of her, the tent in which Evan’s and her team were having breakfast and the smaller tents in their cluster of the small encampment.

Balinsky reached for a metal mug and placed it on the table when she came out of the little tent which held the latrines and rudimentary washing facilities. “Didn’t pause the audiobook? Do you want me to tell you who dies?”

“Oh, shut up,” Alex said with a grin. It was scary how little privacy they had here. The walls of the tents could’ve almost made her believe they had some. “Morning, Major,” she said when SG-15s new team leader, Major Bernard, approached her. Of her original team, only Miller remained. Oliver had been assigned to the Atlantis expedition about a year ago and after a recent message from the Pegasus Galaxy, she at least knew that he was still okay. For the moment anyway.

And that’s why they were here. After Daniel had discovered that, apparently, a Zero Point Module, a power source used by the Ancients, had been an artefact to be worshipped under Ra’s rule, the Daedalus had performed a scan from orbit of the Giza plateau. And they’d discovered the energy signature, which apparently indicated the presence of a ZPM. Not even a day later, SGs-11, 22 and 15 had been deployed to Giza, taken over this dig site and were busy excavating. And after a week they were bound to be close. At least that’s what the readings indicated. And the Atlantis expedition was in dire need of that Zero Point Module. Their message had included news of a new enemy, an alien race hell-bent on feeding on the human population of Earth and apparently they were headed straight for Atlantis and the only Stargate in the Pegasus Galaxy capable of dialling Earth.

Evan crawled out of their tent and zipped it shut. Not that it would help much against the sand, but at least it would prevent scorpions from crawling into their sleeping bags.

            Bernard finished his oatmeal and put his sunglasses on. “Well, how much longer do you think?”

            “As long as it takes, Major,” Alex said. She’d never really warmed up to him but working with him was alright. “If we start working with too much force, we’ll just hurt the structure we’ve uncovered.”

            With a sigh, Bernard got up. “Fine.” He was more impatient than Pierce had been and a bit younger than she was herself. But he got the job done and she respected him. That wasn’t the question. She just missed having Pierce in charge.

            Bernard greeted Evan briefly and moved over to the tent in which they stored their equipment and the few artefacts they’d found. So far, they’d excavated nothing of interest to the military, and she’d hate to hand them over to the Egyptian team without getting a proper look at the artefacts first. But that’s just what you got for being a civilian archaeologist working for the US military. Her job description had never appeared more ridiculous to her than now, when she was on her original turf and the Air Force had just barged in here and taken over the excavation. It didn’t feel so weird off-world.

            Balinsky got up as well to join Bernard. She’d join them in a minute or two, she just needed her coffee first. Instant coffee or no, she needed it before anything else could happen today.

            When Evan sat down next to her, she saw how tired he really was. The heat was getting to them all, especially since they didn’t really get any shade here. He’d washed, but his forehead was slick with sweat again. Not that she looked any different. Not by a long shot. He reached for the big coffee pot and poured himself a mug, rubbed her back and drank with a look of pure disgust on his face. They’d run out of creamer the day before.

Kissing his cheek, she got up. “Happy shovelling later on,” she murmured, making him grunt. She’d seen Balinsky bent low over one of the artefacts, a magnifying glass in hand and it looked like he’d discovered something interesting.

            “Huh,” he said, making Bernard turn his head.

            “What is it, Doctor?”

            “This inscription…” Balinsky frowned and pointed at the top of the jar.

            “It’s not the ZPM in there, Doctor Balinsky. We’ve determined that. No energy signature.”

            Menard, behind Balinsky was sorting through their equipment. They really needed to get to work, and Alex was fully aware of that. But still, technically everything on this dig site could be of importance to them. The Gate itself had been found here after all.

            “No, it’s not that, just…” Balinsky cleared his throat and stood up again. “Have a look at this, Alexandra.” Balinsky always said her full name, and though it had surprised her at first, she’d gotten used to it.

            Balinsky was holding a canopic jar of about the size of a melon, its lid formed like a head. It looked like one of the jars which had been used for storing organs after the mummification processes, but also, Alex remembered with a slight shudder, the jar which had contained a live Goa’uld. She’d read the report and, to be perfectly frank, didn’t much fancy the idea of having dug up one of those. Since this place, was definitely no tomb, but by the looks of it more of a storage room, that seemed more likely than she cared to admit.

            Taking the magnifying glass, she bent low over the jar to take a look. The script scratched into the clay would’ve been discernible even without the magnifying glass, and they were strange enough, but taking a closer look showed that these letters had been scratched in later, after the jar had been finished off. The cuts weren’t deep and a bit uneven and made her heart plummet.

            “What is it?” Bernard asked, sounding impatient.

            Alex cleared her throat, stood up again and shrugged at Balinsky. “Your discovery, Cameron.”

            Balinsky cleared his throat. “It’s letters, Sir.”

            “Letters.”

            “Yes… letters, not hieroglyphs. Latin script and an Hindu-Arabic number.”

            Raising his eyebrows, Bernard reached for the jar, making both Alex and Balinsky flinch. “Am I reading this correctly?” Bernard asked with a frown. “Does this read SG-1?”

            “Well… yes?” Alex bit her lip, grateful that it’d been their team to have discovered this. Any other team of archaeologists would’ve freaked out at the sight of Latin script scratched on a canopic jar and buried before the Roman Empire had even been thought of. “I mean- what the HELL ARE YOU DOING?”

            She stared wide-eyed as Bernard started twisting the lid, forcing it open with considerable force and breaking the stylized hair of the carefully manufactured head.

            “Major!” Balinsky breathed, his horror just as pronounced as Alex’s had been.

            Her jaw fell as she watched Bernard stare into the jar with a frown, completely unfazed by the archaeologists screams of protest, and turned the jar upside down, making Alex flinch. What toppled out wasn’t a dried-up symbiote however, but a metallic, rectangular object, which looked so familiar, it made her take a step back and take off her glasses. Well, this was happening…

            “A camera,” Bernard stated, an appreciative grin on his face. “Look at that…”

            Balinsky knelt down, dug in his backpack and held up his own camera, which was the same model lying on front of them now. The one from the jar looked a bit battered, but apart from that, not broken. Alex watched as Balinsky reached for the camera lying on the table, his hands shaking. “Battery is dead…”

            “No surprise,” Alex said, “It’s been a couple of thousand years…” Her mind was racing. What was going on here?!

            “How did that even get here?” Menard said. Alex hadn’t even seen him leave.

            “Is this a joke?” Evan… all three teams had come closer now to get a look. “I mean, is this real?”

            “Looks like it,” Balinksy muttered, opening the compartment in which the little cassette was stored. “Must’ve been vacuum sealed, and now…”

            “SG-1,” Menard asked. “How does this happen?”

            “We’ve read about stranger things, haven’t we?” Miller interjected, making Alex frown.

            “Not really, no.” She bit her lip and watched as Balinsky slipped the little cassette into his own camera and pushed the rewind button. The cassette fit, it seemed to work. And then Balinsky hit play. There was a bit of static and Alex gasped when she saw the familiar face of Daniel Jackson on the little screen.

“I think that’s right.” Daniel… Daniel! Well, nobody would’ve believed her this could happen three years ago! And here she was, staring at the face of a friend, which had been recorded on camera several thousand years ago. Daniel took a few steps back and started speaking again: “Okay, my name is Doctor Daniel Jackson. I’m part of a team called SG-1 and we have just travelled back in time five thousand years.”

“No kidding,” Bernard said. He’d moved around the table and was standing right behind Balinsky now.

            “See,” Daniel continued, “the thing is, we’re not sure we’re gonna make it back. Uhm, the chamber where you discovered this tape should be discovered shortly before we’re set to leave- if the timeline hasn’t changed at all. Let’s see, what are the recent major events?” He paused for a second, “Uh, communism recently failed in eastern Europe. They should be well on their way towards democracy by now. Henry Hayes is President. What else?”

            They watched the whole tape, watched all of SG-1 appear on the tiny screen until there was nothing but static left. “We have to get this to the SGC,” Bernard said quietly.

            “They discovered a kind of time machine, didn’t they?” Balinsky asked, still gawking at the jar.

            “Those guys always find the fun stuff,” Menard muttered. “So, I take it they found the ZPM and buried it as well? Someone fixed the timeline? What?”

            Alex sighed and reached for her archaeological kit. “Only one way to find out.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 47

2005

It took them another three days to find it. It was hidden in yet another jar shoved against the far wall of a small room they found about two metres to the right of where they’d found the jar with the camera in it.

            SG-22 would remain behind to clear up the dig site and keep looking for other artefacts that might still turn up, while SGs-11 and 15 were transported via the Daedalus back to SGC with the ZPM and the camera almost straight away. With the sister ship of the Prometheus completed and the ZPM found there was nothing to keep Earth from sending reinforcements to Atlantis and Alex had to admit she wasn’t too surprised, when Evan stood in front of her, hands deep in his trouser pockets, unable to meet her eye.

            “You’re going,” she said quietly, her heart sinking. He nodded, looking guilty.

            “When?”

            “Shipping out first thing tomorrow morning. Daedalus is being checked-over and loaded as we speak. They’ll use the ZPM to send a contingent of Marines through the Gate and then the Daedalus is leaving for Atlantis.” He’d been in this office so often. She’d always loved him appearing in her doorway. It’d almost become a ritual for them to meet up here the relative privacy of her small office. He even did most of his paperwork here, just to be near her.

            She was standing by her bookcase and dropped the volume she was holding on a big pile. She’d refused to go, and now it was his turn to leave. “What are the orders exactly?” she asked.

            “I’ll be aboard the Daedalus as a pilot and when the battle is over, I’ll be stationed permanently in Atlantis. My whole team’s coming.”

            She swallowed hard. So he’d be gone. And what a day to choose. Alex bit her lip. This wasn’t happening. Not after all they’d been through! Shaking her head, she wrapped her arms around him. There wasn’t anything he could do to stop this from happening, and really, he shouldn’t. Only the best were chosen for this kind of mission and he was one of the best. This last year he’d led his team exceptionally well, she knew that, but knowing that he was going to leave her was more than she could bear.

            “I’m so sorry,” he muttered into her hair. He pulled her so close she could hear his heart beating. “Babe, I’m so sorry.”

            Shaking her head, she pulled back. “No,” she said decidedly. “This is not how this is going to end.” But what was she supposed to do? If anything, this was Doctor Weir’s expedition and Alex had declined a position on that very same expedition. But she hadn’t spent seven months on that planet with him, hadn’t pulled through the search and loss of their daughter to have him taken away from her on their anniversary.

            “No.” He took her face into his hands and looked at her. “No, it’s not. We’re better at this now.”

            Were they?

 

Alex stood in front of General O’Neill’s office, her heart racing. She had no right to make demands, she knew that. But letting Evan leave, just like that, never knowing if he’d ever be stationed back on Earth again, was out of the question. Out of the corner of her eyes she saw Colonel Reynolds and the rest of SG-3 leave the conference room.

            Now or never.

            She raised her hand and knocked on O’Neill’s door.

            The heavy sigh from the other side of the door was disheartening to say the least. But she didn’t back away. Not now. She’d told Evan to meet her at the car and she didn’t have a lot of time. If this didn’t work out, she didn’t want to spend the rest of the time she had with him worrying about when he’d be back.

            “Yes!” O’Neill shouted through the door and Alex stepped inside.

            “General, may I have a word?” her voice was a lot quieter than she would’ve liked, and the spark of surprise she saw in O’Neill’s eyes didn’t manage to calm her down.

            “Doctor, sure! Come on in.” He hadn’t even sat down yet. In fact, he didn’t exactly strike her as the type to spend too much time behind his desk. “How’ve you been?”

            She frowned at him. They’d only had a mission briefing the previous day. “Okay? I guess?”

            “You guess, that’s always good.” He sat on the edge of his desk. “What can I do for you?”       

            Taking another deep breath, she stood straight, refusing to lower her gaze. “General, I-“ she cursed herself internally for breaking off like this. “Major Lorne is being reassigned.”

            “Yes. His entire team. Leaving tomorrow. Pegasus. That’s where the action is nowadays. With most of the System Lords and the Replicators gone, things are going to get boring around here.” Most of the System Lords… yes… her heart missed a beat. Ba’al was still out there. But she had to admit, the fear of losing Evan was bigger than her hate for Ba’al. Losing Evan would be more permanent than getting her revenge on Ba’al.

            “General, I’d like- I want to go along.”

            “Oh?” He looked genuinely surprised, his eyebrows raised, his mouth set into a thin line. “Doctor, if I recall correctly you refused to accept Doctor Weir’s job offer? And, as you know, if this mission succeeds, Doctor Weir is going to choose new expedition members to add to her team. I’m responsible for the military contingent, she’s responsible for the civilians.”

            She’d known this would blow up in her face. “Things were different a year ago.”

            He looked into her eyes and she hated how unreadable his face was. “I can’t overrule Doctor Weir’s decision. Moreover, you are a civilian. You have no business on a military operation like this.”

            Her mouth was so dry she felt her throat click dryly as she swallowed. “I have more military training than Doctor Jackson had when he went on his first mission with SG-1.”

            “Huh…” O’Neill scratched his nose and nodded. “I guess you’re right.”

            “I know I am. I won’t be left behind on this one. I didn’t accept Doctor Weir’s job offer, because my husband was still recovering from his crash. We’d just lost our daughter. There was no way, I’d leave him, and now you reassigned him and he’s going to be the one leaving. And I’m going! If not right now, then I’ll find another way to get to Atlantis.” They owed her! She’d lost her daughter to this program and she’d be damned if she lost her husband as well!

            “Going to hijack a 304? The Odyssey won’t be ready for a couple of months.” He was smiling now and that smile was enough to make anger start to bubble up inside her chest again. “I’ll tell you what… you know why he and his team are being transferred? Because they’re good at what they do, and, before you interrupt me, so are you. Of course you are. And Major Lorne has the ATA gene, which makes him especially desirable for the Atlantis expedition. So are you.” He tapped his chin and looked at her thoughtfully. “Tell you what… I’ll reassign you to SG-11, and since you’re part of his team, you’re just going to leave with the team. We’ll figure out the details with Doctor Weir later on.”

            Alex stood there, flabbergasted. She’d expected him to argue, to throw her out of his office, and there he was, grinning at her. He reached behind him and took out a round patch. He stepped forward, ripped her SG-15 patch from her jacket and slapped another one on there. He already had it lying there. He’d been expecting her to show up. “General-“

            “I thought you’d give yourself at least another hour to barge in here and shout at me. Must have misjudged you.”

            She stared at him in disbelief. He’d planned this! From the beginning! “Sir, you have a very twisted sense of humor.”

            “So, I’ve been told,” he nodded appreciatively. “But you could’ve said no, you know.”

            She cleared her throat. This was all happening so fast. She wasn’t prepared for it in the slightest, but of course she’d go. There was no question about it, though the thought of Monsieur and leaving him behind, gave her a pang. She’d grown so used to that dog. And now he’d have to stay with Evan’s mother. “I have some packing to do.”

            “Yes, you do.”

 

He’d never travelled through hyperspace and he had to admit, he would never have been able to tell the difference between riding in an airplane and this. He’d felt the initial shudder run through the ship as it jumped through the hyperspace window.

            There hadn’t been a whole lot to do on this trip, except stare out of the tiny window in the small room he shared with Alex, check up on the F-302s, run some simulations and exercise. He still couldn’t believe what O’Neill had done and why-no, he had a vague idea as to the why.

            She was sitting on the edge of the bed, tying her shoes. Daedalus would drop out of hyperspace in about half an hour and they both had to be at their positions then. He, in his F-302, she with those people ready to be beamed down to help in the city. Menard would be with her and Evan was glad he’d be down on the ground by her side when it came to it.

            Evan sat down next to her, rubbing her back. “I have to go.”

            Nodding she leaned into him. Her lips were almost enough to make him forget where they were and what they were facing. Almost. Not quite. Leaving her had never been easy and by now he knew that that would never change.

            Her hands fumbled with his breast pocket. “Take care,” she said, pushing something inside.

            “What’s that?” he asked, pulling the thin slip of paper out again. He grinned down at it. At the laughing faces of Alex and Nora. A smaller version of the picture he’d drawn. They’d be with him. He felt the familiar tightness in his chest, the sense of a bottomless pit looming right beneath his feet, but he could manage it. Somehow. Alex was with him. That ought to count for something. “I kind of wish I’d put Monsieur in there as well.”

            “I’m almost sure he wouldn’t even want to come back with us, after living off your dad’s sandwiches.”

            Laughing, he hugged her close to his chest. He was still holding that picture in his hand, when he kissed her cheek. “Let’s hope so.” He sighed and got up. “I’ll see you on the ground.”

            She nodded and he could see how difficult it was for her not to reach out to him and pull him back on the bed. It would’ve been impossible to resist.

“All crew members to battle positions,” Caldwell’s voice rang through the intercom.

            So this was it.

            “See you on the ground, Major.”

 

The signal from the Marine up ahead made her stop dead in her tracks. They’d been separated from the rest of their team.

            Alex raised her P-90 when the Marine, whose name she hadn’t caught, slipped to the left, opening fire on something in the next corridor. A bright white energy blast rushed past him, forcing him to press his back against the wall. She didn’t think, she just acted, whipping around the corner, she fired at the first thing she saw moving.

The Marine on her left collapsed when another energy beam hit him straight in the chest. The being, huge, bulky, its skin stark white, advanced on her now, jumping to the side to avoid her fire. What was wrong with these things? It must have taken at least ten shots from the Marine, but didn’t even appear to be fazed by it.

Cleaning up. That’s what Colonel Caldwell had called it. Mere minutes ago, or that’s how it felt, the Daedalus had appeared over Atlantis and immediately, opened fire on the two enemy ships. From where she’d been waiting with the rest of Evan’s team, she couldn’t see them, but her heart was racing even now. The Wraith had driven the Ancients, the Ancients out of this galaxy, and if anything, they were the biggest threat Earth was facing at the moment. She didn’t have to think long and hard to realize that she’d rather have a dozen more System Lords on their backs than life-sucking aliens, one of which was still advancing towards her. She didn’t have time to think what it would feel like, what the last thing would be she’d see, she just ripped the one grenade she had from her vest, pulled out the safety pin and threw it into the room. She had four seconds. That wasn’t a whole lot.

She grabbed the marine’s vest and pulled him to the side, just clearing his legs of the open doorway, when the explosion rang in her ears, raining debris and other matter into the corridor and throwing her flat on the ground. He ears were still full of that noise, when she bent low over the marine to feel his pulse. He seemed okay, just unconscious.

“Damn, was that you?”

Alex whirled around, P-90 aimed at the person who’d appeared behind her.

“Alex!”

“Oliver!” A relieved smile rushed over her face. “Those things, they-“

“I know, they can take a hit or two.” Oliver Murdoch. She couldn’t believe it. “You okay?” He was holding a small rectangular object in his hand. “This area is clear.”

Alex nodded, wishing the ringing in her ears would stop already. “What do you have there?”

“Little device the Ancients left us. Life signs detector. What about this guy?”

Alex looked down at the young man and shrugged. “He’s okay, I guess.”

“Right… let’s get him to the infirmary. This must’ve been one of the last ones.”

“How many were there?”

Oliver shook his head. “No idea. Help me get him up. But this thing is pretty accurate usually.”

The Marine was heavy, but Alex wouldn’t have expected anything else.

“How’d you get here?”

“Are we really going to do small talk?” Alex huffed, as she and Oliver started shoving and pulling the man in the direction of the nearest transport. She still hadn’t gotten used to how dark the corridors here were. She’d only seen what must be the bright part of the city for few minutes, before she, Menard and the other members of SG-11 had been sent to this area of the city with a Marine, a bulky red-haired man with freckles all over his face. “There were three of them,” she said. “Menard took out one, but then the other two split us up.”

“Yeah, they’re not stupid… don’t worry, we got them.”

Don’t worry. What was that even supposed to mean? The city might not be under siege anymore, but this mess down here could last days. Or not… “Are you saying that’s a life-signs detector?”

“Kind of,” Oliver huffed, turning sharp right. “You’re gonna have to pay for the damage, you know that, right?”

“I have insurance. The Hives?”

“Gone. But there are more coming. The Daedalus went to meet them.”

Alex’s stomach plummeted, but she did her best to ignore it. Evan was fine. He had to be.

 

“Try it now!”

            Evan flipped the switch again. Nothing, just a brief shudder going through the 302. “No!” he shouted back at the technician. Those Wraith weapons hadn’t managed to afflict any real damage to the Daedalus, but the fighter he’d flown in the battle had been parked right under a powerline, which had burst under the strain the ship had been under, rendering the electronic systems absolutely useless.

            The second attack on the Wraith fleet hadn’t needed him to go into action, but he was still on the Daedalus while the city was under siege. He was just glad he had something to do right now. Just sitting in the city, waiting for the shield to fail, wasn’t anything he’d want to be doing.

            “Major Lorne,” Caldwell said in his ear. He’d have to get used to the radio stuck in his ear. “We’re transferring all non-essential personnel to the Daedalus. Take those marines we still have on board and get them into the city. We might be looking at another one of those fights.”

            “Yes, Sir. On my way.” He lifted himself out of the cockpit and clapped the technician on the shoulder. “Let’s leave this for another day.”

            Was Alex okay? Yes, probably. There’d been a lot of fighting going on in the city, but if he’d learned something about Alex these past few years, it was that she was tough as hell. Only takes one stray bullet.

            But that was no way to think. Reaching for his breast pocket, he felt for the picture. It was still there. Right there above his heart. No, things had to be alright.

 

Fake a self-destruct. That had to be the craziest thing she’d ever heard. But somehow it had worked. The massive burst of light, the trembling of the floor beneath their feet and the deafening silence after the blast of the nuke right over their heads. Nobody dared to speak as they all stared up through the windows, at the dusty sky overhead and they knew that nothing, nothing would protect them from Wraith weapons fire, if the enemy didn’t buy into the ruse.

            She’d been aboard the Daedalus, fully aware that Evan was in the city, probably staring out at the ship right now, hoping that this insane idea would work. And then it was over. The Wraith left, believing the city was gone, when it was only hiding beneath a cloak.

When she stepped out of the transport in the main tower again, she spotted Murdoch standing guard in the corridor. She hadn’t really had the chance to talk to him yet, or anybody else for that matter. If anything, the people in this place needed rest. None of them could’ve slept more than a few hours this past week.

And she’d find Anna. Talk to her, catch up and ask her how she’d been. All before she talked to Weir. That really wasn’t something she was looking forward to.

None of that mattered now. Murdoch grinned at her and pointed her down the corridor, to a glass door overlooking- what?

With a grateful nod, she followed his instruction. The stained glass made it impossible to make out who was standing there, but she knew it must be Evan. He’d radioed her to meet her here. These new methods of communication weren’t all bad. You pressed a small button, spoke a name and that person was hailed.

The door slid open and there he was, his back towards the corridor, leaning over a balustrade against a backdrop of brightest blue and silver and high towers and glass windows. “Hey,” he said quietly, relieved to see him and not at all fussed about the buildings surrounding her. She was almost used to seeing alien environments by now, but she would need some time to adjust to this place. Everything was automatic, there was not a speck of dust or dirt anywhere… and Evan was here. That was the main thing. She might have lost the opportunity to find Ba’al, but at least she still had him.

He was standing, he was smiling at her. The door slid shut behind her. Gosh, this place was different. How long would it take to get used to this? Would she ever? She wasn’t sure.

Evan wrapped his arm around her. “Still can’t believe O’Neill let you go.”

With a scoff, she leaned against him. “I’m glad you’re okay, too.”

He took a deep breath as if to say something, but fell quiet. He just looked at her, his blue eyes full of sadness and longing. Not for her. She knew that. He didn’t need to long for her anymore. He reached into his pocket again and produced the small picture. The baby in it was almost smiling.

He pulled her and she hugged him tight, her cheek resting on his shoulder while they both stared down at the picture of the daughter they could never have brought here.

There was so much more to say, so much more to explain and find out. But not now. She’d find out what had happened to him during the fight, what he thought of this place.

At this very moment, it just didn’t matter.

 

Chapter Text

I just realized that I should probably let you know that I'm in the process of writing and publishing the sequel. It's called "Interrupted". Hope you like it :)