DISCLAIMER: I only borrowed them for a while. MGM and whoever can
have them back whenever they want.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Rysler for her fantastic story "Peace" which got me interested in this partnership even before I saw the episode.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Ripple Effect, Ethon
The survivors of the Prometheus are hailing me as some kind of hero. There may be another medal in my near future. And one for Pendergast. Unfortunately, his will be posthumous.
My reputation as miracle worker remains intact. But seventy of our people are dead. I can't think of how many are dead in Caledonia or the Rand Protectorate. I can't think about Chaska.
Black Widow. That's another reputation that still has some currency. Not that anyone else knows about us. Given the circumstances we were discreet. The fragile peace we had bartered and murdered ourselves into was holding on by its fingertips. There was no sign of the Ori, which pragmatists amongst the Rand saw as further proof of their false nature and those who still believed saw as proof of their damnation and unworthiness. Negotiations over the use of the Stargate to send our people home and those Caledonians who did not want to live in the brave new world of the Ori went slowly. Daniel remained on the Rand side and we stayed in Caledonian territory.
When it looked like the threat from the Rand had died down Minister Chaska invited me to dine with her. Used to the ways of diplomacy I was expecting some grand function where I would get to meet more of the Caledonian great and good. Anxiety levels were still high – the Ori were conspicuous by their absence but it could only be a matter of time before they returned to the planet. And their punishment for backsliding tended to be apocalyptic.
To my surprise I was ushered into a small private dining room, the table set for two. The lighting was low, intimate. This was not a state function. This was something entirely different. And I panicked, just a little.
I can face my own death with equanimity, even mordant humour. I've lost count of how many times I've faced death over the years, how many times I've actually died. She would have known. She would have thought this was hilarious. But she isn't here anymore. Fate granted her only the one life. I can picture her wicked smile, the laughter dancing in her bright eyes. `Get yourself out of this one, Sam.' And then I know that whatever Chaska offers me tonight I'm going to take it.
I thought, I truly believed I was getting over her death, not forgetting her exactly but… it's been two years after all. Then one of my counterparts creates a rip across the quantum universes and there she is, except she isn't. And I feel it all over again, the loss, the pain, the anger, not at her, never at her but at THEM, the powers that be, the ones who wouldn't authorise the use of the healing device or contact with our allies to save her – the Tok'ra, the Asgard, even the Nox. They brought me back from the dead, why not her. Why not my Janet? And I'm so angry at myself for meekly obeying their damned orders, for not moving heaven and earth to save her.
And I was back in that crazy room again. Eighteen of the finest minds on the planet Landry had described us. All of one mind, all with the same intent yet variations on a theme. So alike and yet so different. I lost her. We did not. In the margins we talked, exchanged stories of a guy named Pete, of what the Colonel was like as a lover, a husband. Of Daniel and his unsuspected bondage kink. Of Teal'c and how wonderful he tasted. Of liaisons with Narim, Martouf, Aiden, Warrick, Jonas Quinn, Jay Felger (Jay Felger! At least none of us had had the bad judgement to date Rodney MacKay). I also heard of Anise, Ishta, Shaun'ac, Gairwyn, Garshaw, Kianna, Brenna…
And always of Janet. As a fantasy, a friend, a buddy fuck, a lover, a wife, a ghost.
We who had loved and lost her drew apart after a time, shared our memories of her. It was a kind of catharsis. There wasn't anyone else we could talk to about Janet in this way. I asked. I had to ask – had any of the others `sensed' her presence from time to time.
Some of them looked at me as if I was insane. Carters didn't believe in the supernatural. But one of the others paused, then nodded. She told us that Janet had come to her when she was badly injured and separated from the rest of SG1. That she had given her the strength to carry on.
"She's watching over me," she nodded. "I know. It's not like mom…" We all recognised that one. It was an event we all had in common: obviously a fundamentally lifechanging experience, not that they had ever doubted that. For the longest time we had cherished that thought: the belief born out of a childish desperation and grief transcending any adult logic that mom was watching over us from heaven.
"She didn't Ascend," one of my counterparts, one wearing sand coloured camos. "I never understood that… what's so special about Dan…" she turns away, unable to finish. Another Carter who had come through in a hazmat suit laid a careful hand on her shoulder.
"That really bites me," she said. "All the things we know, all the races we know, all the times we've transcended death and for her it was deemed final. I wasn't even allowed…"
"… to try Kendra's healing device," another voice finished. We were getting used to that as well. It was difficult to describe. Not quite telepathy, not quite déjà vu. It was spooking the hell out of Dr Lee. He was surrounded by eight or nine of my counterparts all gesticulating wildly at the whiteboard as the scribbled equations got tighter and more esoteric by the second. Quantum theory was evolving as we watched. I felt guilty for a moment that I wasn't over there as well helping to solve the problem. But in a way I was…
What does she see when she looks at me, I wonder, this alien politician. Am I some exotic to her, a dalliance. What is she to me? Should I tell her about the curse that follows me? "Minister Chaska," I steel myself. No more deaths. Whatever games this woman thinks she's playing… this beautiful, warm, intelligent woman whose fingers are so soft as she lays her hand on mine where it grips the back of the chair so tightly that my scarred knuckles are white… I can't let myself weaken. I can't betray her.
She leans closer to me, concern lacing her voice as she asks if I am well and I catch a whiff of her scent. It's not the same but some ingredient in it sets my heart beating faster. So many people have asked me that these last few days. I still have no idea how to answer them.
I was prepared, you see. Get everyone off Prometheus, nurse its power systems for as long as I could. Go down with the ship. But Pendergast beat me to that one. He was its captain after all, it was his right. I only built her.
Something else that I loved that died before its time.
I'm trying not to see a pattern here, really I'm not. Shock and grief. It wasn't my fault. The plan didn't work. The Ori played us. If I'm guilty of anything its hubris, believing in my own fucking reputation. Perhaps they'll start asking elsewhere when they want a miracle in the future. I beat the Goa'uld. I beat the Replicators. The Ori may be one enemy too many. I should have stayed at Area 51, not let Cam persuade me to return to the SGC.
I shouldn't be here, but I've no where else to go.
I realise that I haven't answered her question. "Sorry, yes, I'm fine. It's just… I wasn't expecting this…" I gestured at the table, the subtle lighting. "Not that… not that it's not welcome, but it's been a while since…"
"For me, also," she said quietly. "Forgive me, Colonel. It was not my intention to make you feel uncomfortable."
"Samantha," I tell her. "My name is Samantha."
"Samantha…" she tests out the name, smiles. "And I am Alcestis. Please, Samantha, share a meal with me. I have no expectations beyond that." And I know whatever my true feelings are here, however much I do or don't want this that I have to make nice. We are the `guests' of the Caledonians and so far they've treat us well because it suits them – we forced the Rand's hand over the satellite after all. But events move quickly here and what is politically expedient today might not be tomorrow.
There are signs of strain around her eyes and at the corners of her mouth that probably mirror my own. "Thank you for inviting me to dine with you," I said. "Your people have been very generous towards us, Minister Chaska… Alcestis."
"You are our allies against the Ori," Alcestis said. "Without your intervention thousands of our people would have died when the satellite activated again. Your people gave their lives to save us. How can we not honour that. You give us hope for our future. You give me hope for my future, Samantha."
I could not answer that, not yet. She took pity on my confusion and gestured that we should sit, eat. The meal is simple, the flavours a little different to what I'm used to, but not unpleasant. Having learnt the hard way that even the most palatable alien food can have unforeseen side effects on the human digestive system (or at least this human) I eat sparingly but enough to satisfy the Minister that her efforts have not been rejected.
The meal is over, we linger over the Caledonian version of coffee, making small talk. She tells me about her father who was an academic, an expert in economic history. Her mother was a singer, specialising in traditional forms of Caledonian music. She has a recording which she plays to me. Her mother's voice is sweet and high, the song melancholy, of lost loves. I swallow hard, determined not to cry.
She sees how affected I am by the music. "If our civilisation had been destroyed, the loss of my mother's voice would for me have been the greatest tragedy. She committed so much of our history to music. Others have called her a national treasure in her own right."
"But to you she was first and foremost your mother," I said. She lost her mother young as well, to a disease that should not have been more than a minor irritation if they had had penicillin. We clasp hands for a moment in shared grief and recognition. The moment lingers and I can't tear my gaze away from hers. We draw closer and closer to one another and then her lips are on mine, the kiss is bruising, heady. My back is against the wall, my arms around her, the rough skin on my fingers snagging on the silk of her shirt. She is almost the same height as me and it seems wrong at first not to be half-stooping. Even in her heels Janet was a good five inches shorter than I was. Alcestis is the first woman I have kissed since…
Her hands rove over my body, pulling my shirt free, tracing along the edge of my waistband. I do not stop her, stop this. It does not occur to me. Not then. This was something that we both needed. We had both seen too much death not to give in to this. Her tongue darts between my lips and I accept it, kissing until the room begins to spin and my chest aches. Then she steps away and begins to unfasten the ornate buttons on her shirt. I mirror her actions.
Her underwear is fancier than mine. She looks slightly disappointed, as if she had expected me to be more… exotic. Or perhaps it's the scars. She's thin, her breasts are small but well shaped and she has no body hair. My own intrigues her and she touches me there, giggling at how wet I am, just from kissing. I don't feel like confessing to her how long it's been.
She reaches up behind me and touches a design on the wall panel. There is a `click' and a door slides open. The room beyond is even more dimly lit but I can make out the shape of a bed. I step through the doorway and draw her through with me.
This is like the cot in the corner of my lab. Somewhere to sleep when you're too tired and heartsick to do anything else. It's narrow and its hard and the blankets smell slightly musty. She hadn't planned this far ahead, it's obvious. She starts to make some kind of apology and I stop her with a kiss.
"It's okay, it's not important," I whisper. I take the lobe of her ear in my mouth and bite down gently at the same time as my finger and thumb find a plump nipple. She gasps. "This is important." I climb onto the bed, pull her to straddle me. Her slight weight settles over my hips. At some point she has let down her hair and dark waves cloud around her shoulders. In the dimness her skin looks almost luminous.
Her smile is tentative. I reach up, mould her taut breasts with my hands. Her nipples are erect, small, almost sharp against my palms. So different to the lush… The comparison is automatic, unnecessary. It cheapens both women. What I had with Janet was once in a lifetime. What I have with Alcestis is a one-night stand. I tell her she is beautiful and now she begins to touch me with growing confidence. Her hands are soft, betraying a lifetime of administration, diplomacy rather than the more… direct approach to interplanetary relations that I have followed this past decade. She fingers my dogtags for a moment, puzzling over them and the ring that is threaded between them - Janet's promise ring but death claimed her first. "Her name was Janet. She died nearly two years ago," I say by way of explanation, my tone hopefully enough to indicate that the subject is closed. I start to run my fingers up and down her spine. Her breath hisses: she likes that – and she arches into my touch. Her juices begins to coat my abdomen; she smells sharp, sweet. I slide my fingers into her hollow and then bring them to my lips, tasting her. There's a distinct tang, a slight earthiness. Not unpleasant, just unfamiliar.
She pushes her hair back behind her left ear, turns her head slightly to reveal the chaised silver ring piercing the cartilage at the top. "Morven. She died in the plague the summer before last." There was a beat of silence. "Since… there has been no one."
Our credentials are established. If in the moment one of us should happen to cry out the name of another then there is no harm done. We are alive to mourn them after all.
She is lying on top of me now, her feet entwined in mine. I can bear her slight weight with ease. We kiss, slowly now, exploring, contrasting in our heads. Moving onwards… trying not to think, just to be… The Ori are coming and we have no defence against them. The political situation with the Rand is balanced on a hair-trigger. And potentially the two most important women on the planet are writhing and bucking against each other on a narrow bed in a secret room.
Afterwards we lie together and talk for a while. About the few things we have in common, about our hopes, our fears. I find myself telling her about that other Janet who is still out there somewhere and that just maybe there's a place where her Morven is alive as well. I don't know whether she believed me. Quantum mechanics wasn't part of the Caledonian curriculum, at least not for wellbred young women like Alcestis Chaska.
I fell asleep, my head on her breast. She woke me with a kiss as the dim light filtered through the shuttered windows. A new day.
As it turned out, our last day as guests of the Caledonians. In exchange for leaving the Ori satellite intact, Rand offered to allow any Caledonian who did not want to follow Origin passage through the Stargate so they could seek refuge on another planet. A ceasefire would be in operation during the evacuation.
I couldn't make any promises to her that we could help them fight the Ori: our own resources being both stretched – and suspect, given the ease with which the Prometheus had been destroyed. I couldn't even promise her that the Ori would leave them alone if they went through the Stargate, abandoning their planet to those who welcomed Origin. She had minutes to decide the fate of her entire people. The best she could probably hope for was that she had bought them some time. She did find a moment to press a data crystal into my hand. "My mother's recordings," she said. "To remember…"
I nodded, understanding. If all else failed this at least would survive.
What with the debriefings, the inquests, the memorial service for all those we had lost with the Prometheus, I didn't get chance to speak to her again, not really. Not in private. We kept up diplomatic contact for a while before the situation got worse and we pulled out. Then it went quiet.
Cam and Daniel came to find me. I was going over the schematics for the shielding on the Odyssey, Prometheus's replacement. It wasn't due to be in service for another eight months but events meant we were hurrying the process along a little and now it would be ready for trials in around three months. As soon as I saw their faces I knew it was bad news. It seemed to be all that we'd had lately.
We had lost all contact with Tegalus. Neither Caledonia nor the Rand Protectorate were answering, we could not get a Stargate lock. All of us could picture the devastation that must have ensued if they resumed their all-out civil war, one that no one would have won, not even the Ori. Then the Daedalus confirmed it. All the major cities in Caledonia and the Rand Protectorate were destroyed. They saw no evidence of survivors.
The likelihood was that she was dead. Like Narim in the ruins of New Tollana, I would probably never know for certain. I grieved in silence for her, what we had had between us was private, personal. Another ghost to add to my ranks. I close my eyes and the taste of her floods my mouth. I shudder, turn away.
"We should…" Daniel begins.
"Go… you'll want some time," Mitchell continues.
Part of me wishes Teal'c was here. He would have held me, not saying anything, no platitudes, no regrets, just his strong silence and the haven of his arms. I turn back to my computer, look over the research we did during the quantum reality incursion.
There's a place out there where I don't have any dead looking over my shoulder. The only problem is that `I' am already there. This is my life my place and I have to make the best of it. If all I can be is a memorial to the dead, then that is what I must do. I activate the data crystal, and a sweet voice singing the songs of a dead world fills the room. This, at least, survives.
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