Day 280-287: "Louder than words."
"Right actions in the future are the best apologies for bad actions in the past." – Tryon Edwards
Woolsey was late. That much seemed apparent when he entered the operations centre and saw the Tikwee official had already seated herself inside Xiaoyi's office. Ignoring the looks directed his way from the technicians, he hurried the last few metres and entered the room without knocking.
The two women's conversation halted and both turned to stare at him.
"Mr Woolsey." Without pausing, Envoy Ypresa rose to her feet gracefully, today's suit grey and clear-cut, her red hair braided back into a tight bun. As ever, nothing was out of place. Every action was as deliberate as the next.
"Envoy Ypresa, I'm sorry I am late." He shook her hand, her grip firm in return. Then, he sent an apologetic look at Xiaoyi, whose face was cut from stone as she removed a nondescript folder from her desktop into one of the drawers. The action had become familiar by now, but Woolsey had learned to play along.
"Not at all," Ypresa said, gesturing to Xiaoyi. "We were just discussing the latest news. Yesterday, the Wraith hit two of our trading partners simultaneously."
Woolsey froze. "The ZPM-powered Hive ship?"
"No." From behind the desk, Xiaoyi shook her head as she sat forward with her hands folded. "The human colonies are left intact, so we believe it must be one of the other factions. However, larger amounts of the population were culled and the reports say even children were taken."
An icy shiver ran down Woolsey's spine and his expression grew serious. "That is horrible." He sent Ypresa a sideward glance, presuming this must be the reason for her rather unexpected visit. "Does the Administration have any thoughts on this?"
Ypresa nodded, one corner of her mouth raised slightly higher than the other. "Yes. Aid has already been sent to those hit, but that is not why I came here." She paused. "We have another ally – the Aleira – that is in more immediate need. For the past few months, their colony has been ravaged by earthquakes that are increasing in frequency and force. Given your people's scientific advances and resources, we hoped you would be able to help."
"I dispatched a Jumper earlier," Xiaoyi said without preamble. "The readings show that the Aleira colony is situated right next to a stratovolcano in its active state. With that type of volcano, an eruption could happen quite suddenly with the potential to be ten times worse than Pompeii."
"Which means that action should be taken sooner rather than later," Woolsey surmised, eying Xiaoyi carefully. She'd been reserved in matters of humanitarian help previously, but from the way she acted now, he guessed the matter was already decided in the Aleira's favour. It pleased him.
"Exactly, Mr Woolsey." Ypresa smiled and sat down in one of the comfy chairs, hands on top of her crossed knees. "Can we count on your vote on the council?"
"Of course." If there were two things Woolsey had learned from his years at SGC, it was that in this large universe they were now part of, they couldn't get far without friends, and sometimes, actions spoke louder than words.
He sat down in the second chair and looked from Ypresa to Xiaoyi. "So, how should we do this?"
Xiaoyi leaned forward on the desktop. "The logical choice is evacuation. According to the Ancient database, only the equator of the planet is habitable, which will be affected by the eruption, so we will have to find a suitable planet off-world."
"The Administration is willing to let the Aleirians settle on Tikwa 5, one of our smaller, agrarian colonies," Ypresa said. "If that is their wish, of course. We do not want to force them."
"Given that time is of the essence, they may not have any choice." Xiaoyi's tone was matter-of-factly.
Woolsey hesitated. "Do we have any approximate timeline on the volcanic eruption?"
"Dr Takahashi said it could be today or it could be two weeks from now. A stratovolcano can be unpredictable." A shadow seemed to cross Xiaoyi's face before she glanced briefly at the Tikwee envoy, then back at Woolsey, who'd tensed slightly. "Since Daedalus is unavailable right now, we will have to evacuate them through the stargate. The Aleirians will probably wish to bring as much of their belongings and equipment as possible in order to facilitate resettlement."
"Our soldiers are already standing by." Assuming a business face, Ypresa picked up a folder from a briefcase she had nearby. "This is a proposed plan for how to proceed with the evacuation itself. Based on the current population level and the village's distance to the stargate, we believe it would take approximately two weeks to evacuate every Aleirian. Shorter if your people could provide additional aid."
Ignoring the uneasy feeling in his stomach, Woolsey looked over the plan first, which was stamped in even letters on thick paper. His eyebrows rose slightly. "You certainly came prepared."
"We've been aware of this issue for quite some time, Mr Woolsey," Ypresa said, giving him a polite smile. "The Aleirians are one of our friends. We've been worried."
Humming in response, Woolsey finished reading the plan, then looked up at Xiaoyi. The shadow was gone from her eyes now, but his uneasy feeling wasn't. "It looks feasible. I'm sure the rest of the council will agree." He paused as he handed the folder over to her. "I would like to know more about this volcano, however. Perhaps it is possible to put up some kind of warning system, just in case?"
As if caught off guard, Xiaoyi blinked. "I did not think of that."
"If memory serves me correctly, Dr Swan has some background in geothermal energy…" Woolsey eyed her carefully, gauging her reaction. Thinking back, this wasn't the first time he'd seen that shadow in her eyes, nor gotten the sensation that something—
"I believe you're right." Putting the folder down on the desk, Xiaoyi clasped her hands tightly. Now, her eyes betrayed nothing but confidence. "I will have Dr McKay bring her to the meeting."
On instinct, Woolsey nodded and smiled. "Good." The odd little feeling, however, stayed with him.
Checking his watch, Daniel put away his now empty cup of coffee on the corner of his desk and crossed the room to the Ancient-style couch overlooking the balcony.
"Sam." He leaned down and shook her shoulder. There was no immediate response. He shook her harder. "Sam. Wake-up call."
Sam began to stir, the blanket he'd thrown over her during the night slipping down onto the floor. Daniel picked it up, chuckling slightly as Sam groaned in protest.
"Morning," he said once her eyes cracked open a notch. He started folding up the blanket. "A bed would've probably been better."
Running a hand across her sleep-heavy eyes, Sam hummed in agreement. Daniel put the folded-up blanket on a nearby chair and moved into the small kitchenette in the corner to fetch a new cup of coffee. Powder coffee leftovers, but still. Better than the weird concoction the Tikwee had introduced in Atlantis.
By the time he returned, Sam had sat up and was tiredly undoing her braid, which had gotten all messed up during the night. She gratefully accepted the cup and leaned back on the couch, sighing.
Daniel eyed her critically. "When'd you get in?"
"Dunno. Late." Sam inhaled the scent of the coffee before sipping it. Her eyes closed in satisfaction.
Although Daniel wanted to point out that Reika was fine and didn't need constant supervision, he knew it was a lost cause and instead busied himself with finding his other shoe. He eventually found it underneath a pile of books and pulled it on.
When he looked up, he saw Sam staring at him intently, more alert now. "What's with the get-up? You heading out on a mission?"
Daniel finished tying his shoelaces and rose up to his feet, brushing imaginary dust off his BDU pants. "Yes, actually. They want me to assist on Aleira. Apparently, some of the natives refuse to leave. Woolsey and Xiaoyi thought I could help convince them."
"Huh." Sam gave him another once-over and then withdrew her eyes.
"What?" Daniel stopped, staring at her. A shadow seemed to pass across her face.
"Nothing. I was just surprised. You haven't been on a mission in a while," Sam said and took another sip of her coffee. As if realising he was still sceptical, she smiled at him. "It's good. Feels like old times." She winked. "You've always had a special way with the locals."
Daniel snorted. "Jack said the same thing. Just for the record, I don't have a girl in every town."
"I know." Sam grinned and leaned forward, putting her now empty cup on the coffee table. Then, she got to her feet and stretched. Several of her joints popped in response.
Daniel winced slightly. "You know, I'll bet your bed is much comfier than that old couch." Sam froze. Noticing, Daniel sighed. It was becoming a recurring thing lately. "Sorry. It's not that you're crowding the place. I just… You seem like you're avoiding your old quarters for some reason."
Sam didn't answer immediately. For a long while, she looked down at her hands, her gaze distant. Then, she met his eyes. "It doesn't feel right anymore."
"Just because," Sam said, clearly growing irritated – fast – and crossing her arms tightly.
Understanding that it was as much he was going to get out of her at this point, Daniel stepped back and picked up his BDU jacket. "I probably need to get going. Feel free to crash here tonight if you want to when you get back from Tirana. My door's always open."
A guilty look crossed Sam's face and she sighed deeply. "I'm sorry, Daniel. I just…got a lot on my mind lately. A lot of things to do."
He wanted to say that 'lately' stretched back almost nine months, but refrained. Instead, he gave her a smile. "It's okay, Sam. If you want to tell me, you'll tell me."
Sam gave him an apologetic look, but what for, he wasn't entirely sure. He decided to ignore it, though, after taking a glance at his watch. There were only twenty minutes left until the day shift left, and he still had to get his equipment and supplies.
"Anything you want me to pass on to John?" Daniel asked as he started walking towards the door, thinking of Reika. When there was no reply, he looked back and saw Sam quickly blink as if startled.
"Uh, no. Nothing new to report." She gave him a reassuring smile, wide and brilliant – and utterly fake. Twelve years or so had helped him learn the difference between Samantha Carter's many smiles.
Uh huh. Definitely something going on.
Holding back a sigh, Daniel reiterated 'she'll tell me eventually' – a familiar mantra of his lately – and left.
It was strange to see the ocean like this again, or at least an ocean. The waves crashed against the white sands of M5H-344, the weather quite warm and comfortable. Apart from the slight sulphuric scent in the air, it could be a paradise. It could be Earth.
Standing on top of the hill where the Aleira's stargate was located, dressed in a borrowed BDU, Shen felt a bit out of her comfort zone. Woolsey, on the other hand, looked at home in his own uniform pair. So did Envoy Ypresa, although wearing a much more elegant ensemble than suitable for this type of mission. Not that Shen would say that out loud.
Together, the three of them watched the long line of Aleirians trudging up towards the stargate with their carts, flocks and belongings, before being sent through the open wormhole to Tikwa 5.
For a people being saved from their certain doom, few looked grateful. Their steps were heavy and many looked back to where their village laid nestled amidst rolling hills. Behind it, the stratovulcano responsible for the rescue mission vented steams of gas that rose high into the air. Every now and then, the ground shook.
It wouldn't be long now. Soon, nothing would remain here. This place would be lost and uninhabitable for many years.
In some way, Shen could understand the Aleira. They were losing their home. But at least they had time to prepare.
"Colonel Sheppard," Woolsey called out in greeting as the man in question appeared amidst the next group of Aleirians.
Reaching the summit, Sheppard put down two small children he'd been carrying up the hill, exchanged a few words with their mother, and then turned towards Shen and the others. The rest of his team of Atlantean and Tikwee soldiers continued to urge the natives along.
"How are they progressing, Colonel?" Ypresa asked first, her tone a bit overly positive for such a situation. Shen was tempted to shoot her a look, but refrained.
"As well as could be expected." Having his hands free now, Sheppard shoved them into his pockets, not quite meeting any of their eyes. "Jackson's still talking to the group that won't leave."
A flash of annoyance mixed with something else – something she'd repressed for a very long time – flared up inside Shen. "Hopefully," she said in a low voice, "he'll talk some sense into them. They cannot stay here."
Sheppard's eyes narrowed slightly, but he didn't comment. Perhaps he'd finally learned not to question her. "I'll check in with him later. Right now, I need to get these people through the gate. If you'll excuse me."
Without further ado, Sheppard turned and retraced his steps to the children he'd carried earlier, who were waiting in line beneath the stargate dais. Shen watched him crouch down and talk to them in hushed tones, and while she couldn't hear what he said, she saw the grins spread on the children's faces. Others in the vicinity smiled too, the heavy oppressive air of sadness lifted for a moment.
Suddenly nauseous, Shen looked pointedly away at the ocean again. It was calm, as opposed to the stormy waters that were building up outside Atlantis at this moment. Images flashed through her mind of happier times; smiles and laughter, and splashes of water on the shores of the Beidaihe with her parents.
The parents she'd left behind.
"It is a shame this beautiful place will be lost." Ypresa's voice broke abruptly through her reminiscences, much closer than expected. Shen blinked, her eyesight a little foggy. Realising she was close to tears, she turned her head angrily.
Once she felt sufficiently in control, Shen met Ypresa's eyes. Woolsey, thankfully, was nowhere in sight.
"Yes. A shame." The hint at anger in her own voice surprised Shen – and Ypresa, it seemed – and she quickly amended, "This place could have survived for a long time yet."
"Life can be quite unfair." Ypresa's statement was unmoved, almost exposed, almost a reflection.
Politics, Shen reminded herself when she felt a different kind of anger flare, one filled with disgust.
Starting in the distance, the ground trembled again, the feel and sounds of it reminding her of the Ruinchang earthquake five years ago. The memories threatened to return once more, but different; less happy than those of the Beidaihe. Memories she would rather suppress.
Looking back at the Aleirians, Shen spotted Woolsey helping one of the elderly step up the stargate dais to the open wormhole. Her voice became like ice. "It doesn't have to be."
"No, that is true." The Envoy's expression curved into another of her amiable smiles. She turned to look back at the Aleirians, her back straight. She didn't need to elaborate. They both knew what this was really about.
"Tia, I beg you to reconsider. If you stay here when it erupts, the ash coming from the volcano will kill you within minutes." Running out of options, Daniel pointed to the large cave paintings on the rocks around them. "Did not the Great Spirit say 'waste not even the smallest thing created'? You have a chance to survive this, to let your children grow up to live full lives. Please."
On the other side of the campfire, the white-haired woman named Tia smiled at him, unfazed. "Daniel Jackson, the Great Spirit also said 'man is not separate from the land'." She gestured around the large cave. "This is where our ancestors were born. This is where our children were born. If it is time for the land to join the Great Spirit, then we will follow. This world is but one of many."
The rest of the Aleirans seated around the campfire, ranging from infant to elderly, nodded in agreement. Despite hours of work, he had gotten nowhere. Not even an inch.
Daniel sighed and stared at the wooden cup in his hand, which was engraved with beautiful carvings. The Aleirian society was filled with cultural and artistic items like this, all tracing back to this very cave he was sitting in. The Cave of the Great Spirit, it was called: the place where spirits crossed the divide between this world and the spirit world.
About to open his mouth to continue the discussion, Daniel spotted silhouettes of soldiers moving up in the entrance. Seeing how the Aleirians around the campfire had already engaged in one of their quiet communal prayers, Daniel knew he wouldn't get anywhere else at the moment and left to greet the soldiers.
"Jackson." Sheppard's face was covered in shadows before he stepped into the circles of light emanating from the numerous campfires inside the cave. Whether in respect of the place or the quiet people inside it, he kept his voice hushed. "How's it going?"
"Not well." Disappointed in his own efforts, Daniel grimaced and shifted on his feet. "They are very determined to stay. Some believe they will be protected here and others wish to follow whatever fate is in store for this place." He exhaled heavily. "Scientific reasoning has very little influence on them, and I know too little about their way of life and culture to convince them in other ways."
Sheppard stared around at the groups of people gathered inside the cave. There were almost a hundred people here. Not a majority of the population, but still too many to simply write off. Daniel wondered what kind of thoughts went through the lieutenant colonel's head.
"It'll be another day before the rest are through the stargate," Sheppard said eventually. "After that, Xiaoyi will order everyone back to base."
"Even if there are still people here?" Daniel's eyes widened. "That's—"
"I don't like it either, Jackson." Sheppard's eyes glinted and his lips thinned in frustration. "But this is a joint mission with the Tikwee, and Ypresa will pull everyone out tomorrow. No exceptions. Xiaoyi will do the same." Shifting the weight of the weapon in his arms, Sheppard straightened. "You've got 'till then to convince them. We're not allowed to use force."
Although he agreed with the latter, Daniel blew a breath in annoyance. "Okay. I'll get back to it."
Standing in the entrance to the Cave of the Great Spirit, Daniel kicked the ground. Loose rocks burst outwards, rolling down the slope to the forest below. Out in the distance, he'd seen the stargate close some time ago and not reignite. There were no more people going up the hill. The Aleirian village was empty, the fields beyond left unattended. Almost all of them had left for a second chance.
He was out of time. Even now, Sheppard and his team were on their way to pick them up. Behind them, the volcano was hissing, shaking the ground much more frequently. Any minute, they might get a call from the Tikwee scientist in charge of Dr Swan's early warning system.
"I don't understand." Daniel was ashamed to admit it. He was an archaeologist but also something of an anthropologist. This felt like a colossal failure. "If they leave now, they can still live. Why can't they see that?"
"That is not the issue." The soft voice was comforting, soothing. "This is their way of life; what they believe in. It is not for us to judge them."
Daniel sighed. "I know. It just…it's such a waste." He looked up at the blue sky where white wispy clouds drifted by almost lazily, and suffered another flash of frustration. "There are so many people out there right now who would jump at a chance like this. It seems unfair to them."
"Yes, it does, but you must focus on these people, Daniel, and this moment." The other presence stepped up next to him and put her hand on his arm. Turning, Daniel met Teyla's eyes. She smiled at him, seeing straight through him. "A person's belief is sacred. It must be respected. However, we do what we can. It is the way it must be."
Daniel touched her hand. When Sheppard had shown up with her this morning, he'd been stunned and then immensely grateful. Teyla had a way with people and she understood people in Pegasus in a way Daniel had yet to learn. Milky Way natives he could handle because he often had a common frame of reference. In Pegasus, however, he felt almost like a floundering brute.
"You're right," he said, feeling her calmness transfer to him.
The tremors came again, growing in intensity until the ground itself was shaking back and forth. They stumbled close to the wall, pressing themselves up against it as the world outside changed a little more. Trees snapped and crashed to the ground. The waves were pushed back until they returned with vengeance. Rocks tumbled down the mountainside, flying past the cave entrance high into the air.
After several minutes, the tremors stopped. Daniel found himself shielding Teyla against the wall, and stepped back a little sheepishly, waving away dust from the dislodged rocks that'd tumbled by. Inside the cave, someone seemed to be shouting.
"We should check if someone were injured," Daniel said. Teyla nodded, and they walked carefully down the small incline to the main cave below. Once inside, they spread out and assessed the damage.
The only apparent injuries were some small cuts from rocks that'd dislodged from the ceiling. Tia and her daughter were attending those hurt, pressing pieces of cloth against the cuts, and muttering strange phrases of prayer.
"Tia, this cave will not stand forever." Daniel crouched next to the older woman as one injured replaced the other by her side. Opposite of him, Teyla approached her too. "If the ceiling caves in with you still inside…"
"We know, Daniel Jackson." But the lines on Tia's face were more creased than before as she wiped blood off the cheek of a little boy of about five or six years.
"The Great Spirit urges you to protect all life," Teyla said, her tone gentle and hushed. "Does that not include your children? Will you allow them to follow you now, when their spirits have barely matured?"
Tia hesitated, the cloth in her hand raised over the boy's cheek. She closed her eyes heavily and exhaled. "Our spirits have existed since the First Morning. We are just one life of many. Old or young, the Great Spirit does not discriminate."
Daniel held back a curse. "Tia, your children may be old in spirit, but they have yet to experience what this life has to offer. Do they not deserve that chance?"
Slowly, Tia sat back on her heels, looking much older. She looked at her daughter and the faces of the other Aleirians in the cave, who seemed to pay closer attention to them now. Many looked more worried than before.
Then, the old woman sighed once more. "It is not my place to say."
The storm was beating against the windows of Atlantis's gateroom when Sam exited the stargate ahead of the soldiers who had been on Tirana's evening shift. As the security team crossed to the side and started handing off their weapons to the SOs, Sam noticed Woolsey and Xiaoyi standing at the end of the platform, looking stony and anxious respectively.
Instantly on guard, Sam approached them. "Miss Xiaoyi, Mr Woolsey."
"Colonel," Woolsey greeted in return. Xiaoyi said nothing, but gave her a scrutinising look. Woolsey gestured to the overnight bag in Sam's hand. "You're here to visit the young girl again – Reika, was it?"
Sam nodded. Something about their posture told her they weren't waiting for her. That made her relax a little. She'd been worried word had gotten out about the tests she'd run earlier today on the stargate satellite.
Feeling obliged to engage in casual conversation now that she'd approached them, Sam asked: "How's it going with the Aleira's relocation?"
"Very well," Woolsey said, glancing briefly at Xiaoyi, who still kept quiet. "The majority of the population has been safely escorted to M1W-891, or Tikwa 5 as the Administration has designated it. Some, however, could not be convinced to leave."
Sam recalled what Daniel told her yesterday and held back a sigh. He'd be affected by that. She'd make him her first stop.
"There will be a celebration later once the Tikwee delegation arrives." Woolsey smiled, albeit a little humourlessly. "Been a while since we had one of those. It'll be good for morale, though."
Sadly, Sam had to agree. Before she could add anything, however, the stargate burst to life.
"If you'll excuse us, Colonel." Xiaoyi's first spoken words were polite, yet clearly a dismissal.
Not about to get into an argument – she realised there'd be no point right now – Sam just nodded and said her goodbyes. She stopped after a few metres, though, and looked back.
The Tikwee Envoy, Ypresa, stepped out of the event horizon along with a number of dress uniform-clad soldiers carrying cases of bottles and food. She was dressed rather fancily in a grey and black dress, her voluminous red hair cascading down her shoulders. In her hand, she held a briefcase emblazoned with the Tikwa Administration's logo.
"It has happened." Ypresa's tone was solemn. "The volcano erupted little more than an hour ago."
Woolsey sighed loudly. "God rest their souls."
Despite the raging lightening storm outside the city windows, despite the grim reality that seventy-three people had died today, the people inside Little Chow were having a good time. Well, most of them.
Daniel, for one, couldn't look at the happy faces around them anymore. It made him nauseous. Of course, that could also be due to the unfamiliar dark Tikwee brew currently in his hand. He wondered what would happen if he just smashed it. It wasn't him – he knew that – but at least it would've made an impact, been some physical evidence of how wretched the world had gotten.
I only managed to save fifteen. Fifteen! He could still see the faces of Tia and those of her people who chose to stay behind; he could still hear the mutual cries as grandmothers and grandfathers said goodbye to their children and grandchildren.
Hotness burst into his stomach again, making his knuckles whiten around the Tikwee brew. It's still too many. It's still—
"I see they have made no progress."
Teyla's sudden sigh drew him out of his murky thoughts. Blinking, Daniel followed her stare and saw Sam and Sheppard skirting eyes at each other across the room from separate tables. She was sitting with Matthews and Ramirez from Tirana, he with Ronon, McKay and a couple of Tikwee soldiers.
For a moment, Daniel didn't know what Teyla was saying exactly. Then, as it dawned on him, he sputtered into his drink. "Ex-um-what?" Maybe it was the alcohol turning tricks on him, but… He lowered his voice to an almost hiss. "You know?"
"That they have been a couple? Yes." Glancing back at Sam and Sheppard, Teyla smiled gently. "I could tell by the way they looked at each other." Her smile fell. "But that has changed now."
"Uh…yeah." Daniel shook his head, still surprised. An odd sensation washed over him. "I'm sorry, I just… You know? You really know?"
Turning back fully, Teyla smirked. "Yes, Daniel. I have known about them for a very long time. John, I admit, gave it away. He was always a solitary man. But after Sam came to Atlantis…he changed. Subtly, perhaps, but enough."
"She did too." For some reason, Daniel felt lighter with just that sole confession. Like he was connected in some way and no longer alone. He smiled, and then glanced at Sam, who was looking darkly into her half-full glass. His momentary thrill disappeared, and he released a sigh. "Did you ever tell him you knew?"
"No, I figured he would tell me when he was ready." Teyla sighed too, meeting his eyes earnestly. "It is painful to see him this way."
"Tell me about it," Daniel muttered. "I don't know what to do anymore. They're both so damn stubborn."
"I am tempted to give John a more…physical lesson." Teyla's eyes twinkled a little, making Daniel chuckle unexpectedly. He'd heard of the famous Bantos rods fights between Teyla and Sheppard.
"Sam would kick my ass," he said, groaning dramatically. "I'm terrible in hand-to-hand."
Teyla laughed. The sound was wondrous.
Smiling, Daniel pushed away his Tikwee brew and left it standing on the edge of the table. A more dominant thought settled in his mind. "If you've known about them for so long…" He hesitated. "What were they like? Before…everything happened?"
Leaning closer as if divulging a secret, Teyla smiled. "Happy."
Little Chow was almost filled to the brim and full of life this morning. Daniel was a bit surprised, given how extremely drunk some people had gotten last night; it'd been a long time since "proper" alcohol had been in circulation on Atlantis. All around, however, people laughed and chatted in high voices, their entire beings full of energy and optimism. Others looked like Sam, though: extremely hung over.
Half amused, Daniel watched her wince as one of the nearby groups cackled with laughter. However, his mood changed when Sam perused the room surreptitiously shortly after. He knew who she was looking for.
"I wish they could move on," Teyla had said late last night as they walked back towards the gateroom so she could return to New Athos. "It goes, I think, for many of your people. You have survived long enough. It is time to start living, to build, nurture and grow roots. This," she'd gestured to Atlantis, "is your home now."
Sam suddenly turned her head, blushing. So she'd met Sheppard's eyes. Again. And all she could do was look away. Daniel almost rolled his eyes.
Noticing, Sam gave him a glare. "Stop it. I'm fine." She winced and touched her temple. "Regretting that final drink last night, though. The Tikwee brew certainly packs a punch."
Daniel only raised an eyebrow.
"It's not that easy," he responded to Teyla's statement, annoyed. "Our whole existence began on Earth. Our history, our beliefs, our way of life – even our differences and similarities; it is all a part of who we are. Our identity. We can't just leave it behind. We have to—to—" The words wouldn't come to him.
"To stay true," Teyla suggested.
"Like Tia and her people." Her tone was careful, her eyes searching his, anticipating his reaction.
Stunned, Daniel halted. An icy shiver ran down his back. The murkiness at the back of his head, although half forgotten during their pleasant conversations earlier, wrestled with the new sensation.
The thought hadn't occurred to him. He'd just seen their pointless deaths, the unfulfilled potential. He'd been…narrow-minded.
He hated that.
Slowly, Daniel continued to walk, Teyla keeping pace with him. He exhaled heavily. "Yeah…like them. I guess we're not that different after all."
"Except," Teyla added with a smile, "like the majority of the Aleira, you do not simply accept your fate. You choose life. You choose to fight."
Smiling against his will, Daniel met her eyes. "Yes."
For a long while, Daniel watched Sam's internal struggle as she shifted her stare between the lightening storm outside Little Chow's windows and the man at the other side of the room. Finally, he sighed.
"You've got to stop this."
"Huh?" Sam frowned, startled out of her thoughts.
"You can't sit on the sidelines anymore and just make yourself more miserable." Daniel's voice grew hard. No more coddling. No more patience. He had to summon his internal Jack and give her some tough love. "It's time to get back into the game, Sam. You need to talk to him, or kiss him, I dunno. Just…do something."
"Daniel," Sam hissed, glancing frantically around them in case someone were eavesdropping. Her cheeks, however, were tinged pink. Embarrassment, he guessed. Well, they'd talked in code for too long. Some things needed to get out into the light if they were ever going to get past this.
"What'd you think the guys would've said if they saw you now?" He raised an eyebrow. Sam looked stunned, her mouth opening and closing several times. "Cam, Vala, Teal'c, Jack…Cassie? Think they'd approve of you being such a coward?"
"Daniel." Her hiss was more like a whisper now, losing strength. "Stop, please. It's… it's not like that."
"Then what?" Daniel sighed and leaned closer for her benefit, aware of the rules that were still in place that necessitated talking in codes. "Help me understand, Sam. Talk to me."
Tears gathered in her eyes as she bit her lip. He reached out and covered her hand in his, squeezing it in encouragement.
"We've…already talked. A little."
"I'm guessing that didn't solve anything," Daniel said, thinking of her sleeping arrangement on his couch lately and the comment that her quarters weren't "right" anymore.
"No. I dunno. Maybe." Sam wiped away the tears from the corners of her eyes and seemed to pull herself a little more together. "He said he wouldn't mind a friend."
"And…you don't want that." It was more of a statement than a question.
"I don't know." Sam sighed. "It's—"
"— complicated," Daniel finished, holding back a groan. The phrase was starting to lose its meaning. Parroted too many times.
He stared out at the stormy morning.
"Despite the threat of the Wraith and the losses my people have suffered, I am proud to say I have lived. I have fought, loved, grieved and given birth to a new generation. But most of all, I have stayed true to myself." In the dimness, Teyla gave him another of her beautiful smiles. Honest and bright. "That is the world I wish to provide for Torren."
Taking a deep breath, Daniel looked back at the hand he held in his own. "Sam, you made a choice last year that didn't make sense to me for a very long time." He met her eyes, which were bright yet cautious. "But I remember how happy you were the time I visited before Christmas. More relaxed and at ease with everyone. More you."
He paused, choosing his next words carefully. "Then I see you like this – I see him like this – and it makes me feel helpless." Across the table, Sam's eyes shone more brightly. "You need to be honest, to yourself and to him." Daniel squeezed her hand, smiling to cover the sudden thickness in his throat. "Jack and the others would've wanted it. They would've wanted you to be happy."
Never losing eye contact, Sam squeezed his hand in return.
The short e-mail had been cryptic: just a time and a place. Given the location, though, there was no doubt who was behind it.
John crossed the half-dimmed corridor, the light darker due to the lightening storm outside, and stopped in front of the door at the end. The last time he'd been here, there'd been two guards stationed outside it. Once Xiaoyi took over, that level of security was deemed unnecessary since the room's contents were more of a nostalgic value than vital to the city's survival.
If only she knew.
Running his hand across the control, John waited for the door to slide open before he stepped inside. The lights were brighter within, making him blink for a moment.
He shifted the small box in his hands, suddenly a little nervous. He'd brought it on a whim. It'd been sitting on his desk ever since the Genii mission, untouched, just waiting for the right time. Now could be it.
"In here." Her voice sounded from deeper into the room. A work light was propped up on some of the stacked SGC-marked containers, pointing down behind them. He rounded the row and found Sam arms-deep in a medium-sized container. She looked up at him and smiled briefly. "I'm on a quest."
"Reika ran out of crayons. I remembered seeing something like it here…aha!" Triumphantly, Sam withdrew her hand, holding a colourful package. "The day is saved."
John smirked, some of his nervousness melting away. The sight of Sam doing something mundane like this – finding a toy a child would love –made the good memories return. That was the kind of caring he loved about her.
Sam, however, was oblivious. She started putting back the things she'd taken out – office supplies – and then closed the lid on the container.
John cleared his throat. "So…you wanted to meet?" He leaned down and helped her put the container back in its shelf. "Something happen to the Ascalon?"
"No, it's fine. The tests are going well. For the most part," she added, grimacing slightly. "Got some trouble with the manoeuvring, but Hailey's working on it. Should be able to meet our deadline with the Travelers in a few weeks."
"Right. Good." John shifted on his feet, fiddling with the small box in the hand he kept behind his back. He didn't quite meet Sam's eyes. When he did, he noticed she barely met his either.
An awkward moment passed, then Sam spoke up. "Look, John, I… I need to know something." He looked at her warily. "It's about what we agreed upon when we got back from the Travelers…"
Sam hesitated, rotating the box of crayons between her fingers. The similarity between them in that moment almost made John laugh.
"Here." He held out the small box he'd brought. Whether he did it to stop her from continuing or not, he wasn't sure. He just needed to get it out of his hands before he choked.
"Uh…what's this?" Sam's expression was puzzled. Taking the box, she held it up in front of her uncertainly. John only looked at it, though, so she flipped it open. Her frown deepened when she saw the Rubik's cube.
"It's the one you broke." Scratching the back of his head, John skirted his eyes back to the entrance of the supply room. It'd been a few months, but the night was still crystal clear in his mind. He'd never been so angry with anyone in his life, not even with Kolya.
Recognition flashed in Sam's eyes and her mouth rounded in surprise. Then she blushed, an action that sent John's stomach into a flutter.
"The second row can get a bit stuck, but if you just twist it like this" – he made a motion with his finger – "it should turn eventually."
"You fixed it?" There was a clear shine in Sam's eyes. Almost uncertainly, she gave him a wide smile.
The words failing him, John only nodded and looked back at the entrance. He'd always been better at this: action, gestures, looks. They'd both been. Words had been superfluous most of the time – until things went south and they'd lost that ability.
Now he wondered if maybe they actually had to say the words to make the awkward stares go away.
A sudden motion in the corner of his eye made him tense, but before he could react, he was enveloped in Sam's arms.
The hug was tight, warm and soft. John's muscles strained for a moment, instinct telling him to get the hell out of Dodge...and then something relaxed. He caught the scent of her shampoo – different now that they'd run out of Earth soap, his mind told him – but under that was something familiar. Something unique.
"Thank you, John." The words were mumbled against his neck, sounding choked. Vibrations ran down his back from where her lips stilled against his spine.
His eyes closed. His pulse slowed. Then, John hugged her back. Memories rushed back at him of happier times: of pranks, lazy mornings and late nights in her office.
Recalling what she'd said before his interruption, John brushed his lips against the back of her head, his voice low. "I meant what I said, Sam. One step at a time. Just like last time." He sighed, holding her close. "It might take some time, though."
"I know." The tension in Sam's shoulders eased, her body melting more into his despite the underlying apprehension in their verbal exchange. "I'm…just glad I finally did this." She exhaled softly against the nape of his neck. "I've missed your hugs."
John's lips curved a little. "… Me too."
Shen glanced around the large room. Wires ran all over it, connecting computers and equipment everywhere. At this late hour, they worked with only a skeleton shift so as to not arouse suspicion. During the day, this room was packed.
She turned back to Dr Takahashi, who'd accepted the briefcase she gave him earlier and was currently sifting through it. "Did they see you?"
"No," the man answered. "I made sure they'd entered the transporter before I moved." He paused and glanced briefly at her. "It wasn't there. I only found boxes of office supplies."
Shen's fists clenched slightly. "She must've hidden it elsewhere in the city then."
"Internal scans turned up empty." Dr Takahashi picked up a small, semi-transparent object and held it up towards the light. "I do not think it is here. Perhaps she brought it to Tirana?"
"No, it has to be here." Shen crossed her arms, annoyance flashing up inside her. Her sources in the mining camp hadn't been able to turn up anything, even after almost six months.
"Then I do not know, Madam Xiaoyi." He caught her look and quickly straightened his back. "But I will redouble my efforts. It could be shielded, so I will modify the scans and try again."
"Make sure you do." Shen narrowed her eyes. If not, this would all have been a waste. Everything she'd done, everything she was considering…utterly pointless. Her eyes went to the open briefcase emblazoned with the Tikwa Administration's logo. "I want those control crystals installed as soon as possible."
"Of course, Madam." Dr Takahashi nodded curtly, turning to wave over another scientist who was standing close by. "I will have my people on it immediately." He handed off the entire briefcase to the other scientist, who then left for a nearby workbench. "As for the Ancient database entry you asked me to look into..."
Shen stilled, a weight sinking down into her stomach. "Yes?"
Dr Takahashi's eyes were dark and knowing. "It's done."
"Good." Despite the smile she gave him, she felt nothing but a dark, bottomless cold. She left before he could see the tears gathering in her eyes.
"We received Dagda's emergency beacon, but when the Tria arrived to assist, the city was gone. To this date, we do not know whether it succumbed to the Wraith attack or was swallowed by the volcanic eruption that devastated the continent. In any case, our people are lost, just like this galaxy. It feels wrong to leave, but we have no other choice. We can only hope that Atlantis will someday give the humans here a chance. Maybe even a fighting chance."
- Ancient database entry -