"So, how long will it take you to tear these stitches?"
"Have faith, Doctor." The Admiral grimaced as he adjusted his clothing. "As much as I love being in hospital, I don't want to see you again anytime soon. No offense intended."
"None taken." The physician fiddled with some papers on his clipboard. "Just remember to go talk to Caldwell. He's been patient up until now, but—"
"I know." Will eased himself off the bed. "Are they still outside?"At the doctor's nod, Will made his way towards the infirmary door, exiting to find Mitchell and Teal'c waiting for him in the hall.
"Feeling better, Admiral?" Cam fell into step beside him, while Teal'c took up the rear.
"A bit." Will glanced at the Colonel. "Where's Sam?"
"Decoding something for Caldwell." Cam led them through a set of doors, and then another, before turning a wide corner that angled into the control area. "She's not too happy."
As they entered the bridge, Will could feel the tension before he saw it. Tight bodies—stiff statures. Lines on Caldwell's face that hadn't been there before. The Admiral made his way towards where the younger man stood speaking with Sarah Connolly. Their manner—their hushed, stilted tones, told him more than their words would. He wasn't going to like what they had to tell him.
And in the distance beyond the bridge windows, he saw the distinct shape of a strange new ship filling the entire field of vision beyond Daedalus’s bow.
He grimaced, then stopped next to Caldwell. “What's going on Steven?”
“It's the Victory, Admiral. The mission was a disaster, I've contacted the SGC and General O'Neill wants us to return ASAP. And we've managed to royally peeve the IOA, too."
“That's the last thing we need now. What exactly has Suschenko sent us? Anything other than 'disaster'.” Just the sight of the Ancient ship floating just beyond his reach was enough to lower his mood to match the rest of the room's.
“No sir." He looked away; loathe to meet the Admiral's eye. "He also mentioned some missing personnel."
A subtle shift behind him had Will turning to find his niece standing to his left. She placed a gentle hand on his arm and gave a slight squeeze.
“Sir, I think we should withdraw for the moment. I know what you're thinking and you're right. If we turn that ship over to the IOA now, it won't see the light of day for years." She pressed her lips together briefly before continuing. "I took the liberty of telling Sarah and Steven that for now, the ship is inactive and we can't get it going again. Sarah has told me it's probably eighty percent complete, weapons and most systems are active, with only a few interior areas unfinished.”
Despite the situation, Will found himself grinning. “Sam, you're saying we lie to them?”
“Well, yeah sort of. Unless you're going to tell on us.”
He made a rough sound in the back of his throat. "No one likes a tattle-tale. Is there a plan to this—or are we just winging it?"
Sarah glanced at Caldwell, and then at Will. “I'll stay with the ship, sir, with a small contingent until we can work something out. The Victory should be with us soon in this vector and someone will need to make sure Suschenko knows as well. He'll listen to me sir.”
“Well, aren't you all a nest of conspirators?” Will clasped his hands, looking at each of the officers in turn. “Very well then."
He turned towards Calwell. "Steven, set a course for home. In the meantime I have a child to straighten out. Sam, you want to come?”
“Ooh—that sounds like fun." Her eyes brightened unnaturally, her face abnormally cheery. "But I need to go over some things with Captain Hailey."
Will shook his head in mock disappointment. "You sure? You know you love a good fight."
But Carter flashed him one of her signature smiles before leaning closer and softly adding, “I'll catch up with you both later, Uncle Will.”
knock was almost lost within the omnipresent drone of the ship's engines. Frowning, Cate looked up and over at the
door, glaring at the grey panel until she heard the noise again.
Small, rhythmic taps—no more than a single knuckle rapping against the institutionalized make of the cabin's door. And even though the gesture was seemingly meek—she knew who it was.
Stubbornly, she resituated herself on her bunk, drawing her knees closer to her chest. Heels digging into the thin mattress of her bed, she closed her eyes and concentrated, hoping against hope that her silence, coupled with the pride of the person on the other side of her door, would force her visitor to leave.
She heard a stilted mutter, and then feet shifting heavily on the other side of the door. A larger thud—his forehead against the partition on the other side? Cate glanced back over—as if she could see through the walls and see what he was doing.
It was almost a relief when her eyes met nothing but stark gray. It was easier to deal with her father when she couldn't see him.
"Cate." His voice sounded slightly off somehow—as if his throat were tight, his breath short. His pain bled through the words, the tone, his normally strident cadence somewhat stilted. "Cate, we need to talk."
She rolled her eyes. Usually, when he said that, it meant that he needed to talk, and she needed to listen. Conversing wasn't something that came easily to men like Mac—powerful men—strong men. For years, the Admiral's wife had tried to get him to temper his manner with his daughter—and for years, she had failed. It wasn't the speaking part of communicating that Mac struggled with. It was the listening part.
A fact that blared into evidence with his words. "Cate. Let me in." Notably not a request. It was an order.
She groaned and ran an exasperated hand through her hair. "Why should I?"
The pause was longer this time, and when his voice finally made its way through the partition, it sounded different—as if he were forcing himself into a box. "Cate. Please."
She counted to thirty. Then ten more. Finally, with a rough exhale, Cate stood and crossed to the door, opening it with a practiced swipe of her hand.
Her father stood a few feet from the entrance, obviously about to leave. As the door slid wide, he turned to face her, his face haggard and worn.
For a moment they just stared at each other—their stances, their expressions similar—indicative more than colouring or facial features that they did, indeed, share the same genes. And Cate felt stricken by how old her father suddenly appeared—and more human than she'd ever seen him before. More fragile. Breakable.
And it occurred to her for the first time in her life that the old man was just that—aging. Of course, being practically killed earlier couldn't have helped matters. Deep lines in his face showed worry, doubt, and something indefinable for a man such as Mac—something beyond fear—something worse.
Physical? Mental? She watched as he rubbed a hand over the stubble on his chin, his broad cheek.
"We need to talk about this, Cate."
They'd spoken at the same time. Ruefully, one side of Cate's mouth twitched upwards, and she breathed deeply before ceding the conversation over to her father with a seemingly nonchalant wave of a flattened palm."You don't know what it's like out here." He stood back a step or two from the door, balanced perfectly on his feet. Feet apart, arms folded across his chest, shoulders straight, he looked more ready for battle than for reconciliation. Even so, he seemed nervous. He rocked backwards on his heels briefly before continuing. "You don't know the dangers."
"As opposed to what? Dodging Guidance Bureau troops moving out of Pyongyang?" At the Admiral's frown, she continued. "I assure you—the universe has nothing on stoic North Koreans and their ability to seriously crimp my style."
Mac snorted, his attempt at not rolling his eyes a brilliant failure. "You didn't belong there, either."
"You've said all this before, Dad." Cate leaned against the door frame, bracing one hand on her hip. "Believe me when I tell you that I've done quite an extensive risk and benefit analysis. I'm rather well educated, you know."
"How can you have taken them into consideration when you don't know what they are?" He shifted, gesturing tightly with one hand. "You have no idea what's out there."
"I wouldn't be here if I hadn't done my homework."
"Homework? You can't study up on these situations. Especially not when you're more used to other pursuits. This war isn't like Calculus or Home Economics."
Cate's jaw tightened. With a tense shake of her head, she narrowed her eyes. "So, now you're doubting not only my efficacy in my job, but also my research skills?"
"I'm not doubting anything."
"Oh please, Dad." She straightened, snorting with a derision she was only mildly surprised that she actually felt. "That's what you do best."
"Protect you from yourself?" His arms dropped to his sides, and he glared at her. "That sounds about right. Someone needs to."
"No. Doubting." She shook her head more violently, this time. "That's what I meant. What you do best is doubt me."
Footsteps echoed in the close quarters of the hallway. Not in unison—a trio of soldiers emerged around a corner and then headed towards Mac, muttering their "excuse me, Sirs" as they passed him and wended their way through the gray corridor. Mac's eyes drifted shut, and his lips practically disappeared.
Cate waited until their passage was complete before answering her father.
"You're not trying to protect me." She leaned back against the frame, her shoulder landing painfully against a sharp edge. "You're trying to prove how unable I am. You're trying to prove yourself better. As usual."
"Listen. If this is all you came here for, then forget it." Cate pushed away from the wall and reached her hand towards the door controls. "I've already told you that I'm not leaving."
"Would support me, and you know it."
To Cate's surprise, her father didn't offer a rebuttal or reply. He simply froze, the only movement he made being a small twitch in the muscle at his temple.
"I hope you know that she would do what I'm doing." All of a sudden, her throat had closed up, and Cate found it hard to push the words past the tightness there. "If her husband were lost somewhere in the universe. And that Mom wouldn't rest until she'd found him. "
Mac's face fell, and he dropped his gaze towards the floor, to where his boots gleamed ebony against the bland, serviceable flooring of the ship. His fingers tensed on his waist as he drew a deep breath into the epic cavern of his chest. "She wouldn't if I'd asked her not to."
"And if you had no choice? If she were certain that you were being held against your will?"
The Admiral frowned, his brows hunching together over thin eyes. "I understand that you're trying to find Ben, we are as well—"
"Brother, Dad. He's my brother, your son."
"And I know that. And I know that you're worried about him."
"But you don't belong here." He raised his head enough to look her in the eye. "And you know it."
Heat burned at the back of her eyelids, and Cate swallowed a moan. "Why not? Because I'm not quite so military anymore? Or because I'm your daughter and not your son?"
She shook her head. "The thing is that you think you know me. But you don't. And you've never bothered to figure me out. Even when I was a kid, you didn't understand me." Her fingers teased at the "close" button on the control panel. "So I'll help you out. I'm you, Dad. Stubborn and officious and determined. And I'm not going anywhere near home until I can take my brother—my family—back there with me."
"Damn it, Cate."
"Damn it, Dad."
When he didn't say anything else, Cate looked away, down towards his feet, planted there in the hall like so many immovable trees. Symbolic? Sure. Of something that Cate didn't really want to explore. She closed her eyes for a breath, then felt her body sag a little. So tired—exhausted. So done.
"Whatever, Dad. Just go." She pressed the button, and moved backwards as the door began its slide home.
"Cate!" A sudden rush of movement blurred on the other side of the door, and the Admiral's hand appeared in the narrowing opening, his fingers curling around the moving panel. Like a lift door, the panel jerked backwards to reveal Mac standing close—brooding. "Please don't."
"Why shouldn't I? You're not listening to what I'm saying."
"The same could be said the other way, too."
"That's where you're wrong, Dad." Cate stepped backwards, lifting a hand to brush the hair back off her forehead. "I listen to what you say. I just don't happen to agree with it at the moment."
He stood in the doorway, awkward, slightly stooped to accommodate the frame. His normally implacable face hosted a myriad of emotions as he gazed at his daughter, until finally he lowered chin slightly and breathed deeply. Voice tight—more a growl than a tone, he gritted out his words. "You're right."
Cate had seen lightning once—jolting bright and brilliant out of a cloudless sky. She'd been at school at the time—year ten, as she remembered it, and her Phys Ed class had been playing field hockey. The lightning had hit a decent distance away, licking in perfect flame at a barren hill behind the school grounds. All activity on the field had stalled, with those having witnessed the bolt turning complete circles while looking heavenwards in an attempt to place the origination point. But there had been nothing obvious—merely blue, perfect skies and endless sunshine and absolutely no hint as to where the jolt had come from. It had been an aberration—an anomaly—a cosmic mistake.
Lightning from the blue.
And now, in a massive cruiser light years from home, Cate felt the same stunned wonder as she had all those years ago. She felt her mouth gape open and forced herself to clamp her lips shut.
There it was. The acknowledgement she'd been seeking.
But still, she couldn't keep herself from asking. "I'm what?"
"Right. What you said about your mother." His shoulders lifted slightly. "You're spot on. She'd leave no stone unturned."
Cate nodded, her jaw tensing as she waited.
"And she'd come to find me—or you—no matter what. And I would expect no less of her." The Admiral scowled. "Or of you."
And her anger dissipated just a bit—just enough for her to be able to look at the man sandwiched in the door frame and see him as something more than the overbearing tyrant she'd come to tolerate. But to see him as a man—a man who was worried about his child, about his wife, about his planet. A man who had more resting on his sizable shoulders than most men ever dreamed of.
And despite herself, a man she still loved with an intensity that unnerved her.
"Come on in, Dad." Cate stepped aside, offering no more than that in the way of invitations. "Before the door decides to close again."
He entered and stood full in the center of the room, sparing a single look behind him as the door slid shut. His full focus then rested on his daughter's rumpled bunk, and the shoes she'd kicked off on the serviceable woolen blanket.
For a full minute, they stood in silence, until Cate rounded the Admiral and sat herself down on the bed, perching on the edge, feet flat on the floor. Looking up at her father, she tilted her head to one side. "You were saying?"
The corner of his mouth twitched upwards. "You're going to make me repeat it? You are your mother's daughter."
"I'm more my father's daughter."
And what was that light that crossed his expression? Pride? Resignation? Whatever—Mac quelled it before answering. "That you are."
"Then why can't you accept my choices?"
His eyes turned brilliant—before he closed the lids and shuttered himself again. "Cate—I wanted more for you."
"More than what?"
"More than this. Danger and death and destruction."
Cate's lips curved. "So, if I eliminate the letter 'd' from my alphabet, we should be good to go?"
She held up a hand. "I'm sorry. I know what you mean. You wanted a normal life for me. Little house in the country and a dog named Jingles. Three rugrats and a stationwagon—that kind of thing?"
His nod seemed benign. "Something like that."
"And instead you have a spy who seems hell-bent on finding trouble, after a not so glorious short Air Force career."
"It's not going to change." She looked at him deliberately, almost daring him to meet her eye. "I'm not going to change."
And then he did meet her gaze—full on—intense. His eyes bored beyond her tough exterior and settled somewhere near her heart. "I know that. It just makes a father think that he's lost something—to know that his daughter doesn't need him anymore."
And that, Cate knew, was as close to an admission as she was likely to get. The wall she'd spent the last few years of her life erecting wrenched aside, beginning to crumble. She looked down at her hands—folded in her lap, and further down at where her stockinged feet seemed too white against the floor. Looked down to try and disguise the smile that stole across her features.
"And you can stop trying to hide your face, missy." His big feet shuffled closer to her. "I may have been worked over recently, but it didn't render me stupid."
Looking up, Cate regarded her father steadily. "So—you're okay with me being here?"
"No." He shrugged, then winced. "But that doesn't seem to matter all that much, now, does it?"
"Not really." Cate stood. "But it would be nice to be able to be on the same ship without having to check around every corner before I turn it."
Mac smiled, this time. "Not that you'd be afraid of me."
"Nope—really more like annoyed."
Suddenly, Cate found herself enveloped by her father's strong arms, pulled tightly against his chest, her face pressed into his collarbone. And it was as if she were a child again—that embrace felt natural, and right—like cool water after a walk in the desert. She wound her arms around his neck, stretching up on tip-toe to fit her cheek against his.
Behind them, another knock sounded on the door. Insistent, purposeful, the harsh rapping was accompanied by a voice. "Catherine! Are you still in there?"
Vala. Cate's grip slid a bit, and she let a tiny groan escape. "She and I were planning on eating together."
But the Admiral merely strengthened the embrace. "I don't want to lose you, Catie."
"I know, Dad." Her voice low, she pulled away just far enough to meet his eyes. "I don't want to lose you, either. But I have to do this. I have to find him."
And finally, he nodded. The Admiral raised a hand to cup her chin. "You'll be careful."
She grinned then—self effacing, sly. "Don't worry." Patting his arm, she stepped around him and towards the door, pressing the control and sending the panel sliding wide. And as Vala's smiling, bright face greeted her, she turned her head towards her dad. "I'm like you, remember?"To which he replied, cocking one brow high. "That's what I'm worried about."