Mathématique: On Lethe Fixed

To leave, she will have to shoot him. He’s made that the price of the door.

Revised Author’s Notes: This is a piece of fan fiction. It’s a trope-twisting, epic-length, crossover AU that spans all three series of Stargate. There’s a lot of science. A lot of plot. A lot of emotions. Timelines have been slightly altered so that season 4 of Stargate Atlantis (without Carter in command) occurs contemporaneously to season 10 of SG-1, which occurs in the year prior to season 1 of SGU.

Disclaimer: I’m not making money from this; please don’t repost to other sites. 

Warnings: Stressors of all kinds.

On Lethe Fixed

In the small back room of an unassuming diner run by a man with a heart larger than his finances, Val curls herself around a thin pillow, settles between threadbare sheets, cracks her gum, and changes the channel on the tiny TV next to her cot.

She can smell the aerosolized grease that still clings to her hair even after showering. Perhaps she will spend her next paycheck on shampoo.

A familiar redhead flashes onscreen and Val stops her channel surfing. The X-files. Jackpot. Mulder and Scully. Oh please, she thinks, let it be a marathon.

It probably says sad things about whomever ‘Val’ is or was that what feels most familiar to her in the strange landscape of American Suburbia are two fictional people who chase fictional monsters. She probably spent her entire life in front of a television, watching these two, watching horror films, watching science fiction—if her dreams of stars and space battles are any indication.

Still, she wishes a sensitive FBI agent or two would show up at Sol’s Diner to discretely tell her who it is that she is.

She loves Mulder. He’s so tall and so handsome and so interesting-looking and so open to new things. He’s always asking the native human populace—

Native human populace? Val thinks. What an odd way to put it.

He’s always asking the people he meets to educate him about their beliefs, about their ways of life and their cultural explanations for phenomena that aren’t easily explained. He places no trust in authority figures and he extends that all the way up the chain, taking on gods and angels and demons and devils when his moral code demands that he does so. There’s something in that that denial of godhead that appeals to her. It reminds her of something. Or, maybe, it reminds her of someone. But every time she tries to turn that vague connection into a real memory—

She fails.

Her past is nothing but a gray mist, an amorphous block that will not lift and will not let her see. So she remains Val, watching the X-files.

Val loves Scully even more than she loves Mulder. Val would like to be Scully—beautiful and fiery and competent, running in stylish heels and a flowing black coat, holding a weapon right next to her perfectly made-up face—the crack shot, the cool thinker, the compassionate heart, the firm voice, the moral metric, the stoic sufferer, with the eyes that reveal all that she is feeling.

Val has looked at her own face in the mirror. She’s beautiful, but not in the way that Dana Scully is beautiful. Her hair is long and dark and her eyes give away none of her secrets, no matter how long she stares into them. Her arms and legs are thin, but she is strong, stronger by far than she looks, and she’s fast. She thinks about exits to rooms and she smells the air for the scent of chemicals; she doesn’t like to eat food that she does not see Sal prepare or that she doesn’t open herself from a sealed package. She doesn’t like faint lights that glow in the darkness and when she feels frightened she drops her center of gravity and brings her hands up.

At night, she wakes with her own fingers at her throat, trying to claw something away. Or, maybe, trying to claw something out.

And so she loves Fox Mulder and she loves Dana Scully, but she watches the show for Alex Krycek.

Krycek who does not seem to know who he is; Krycek who is trying to survive; Krycek who wishes to be Scully just as Val wishes it; Krycek who knows too much and too little about the game he’s been forced to play but who plays it anyway; who comes back time after time after time to try and help the people that he’s hurt so badly; Krycek who must be important because it is Krycek who stays, Krycek who, even after death, points the way to salvation.

Val thinks that his story must be something like her story. Why else would she be here, with no memory, with too much strength and speed and skill? There must be some place that she has fallen from; there must be someone for her to haunt. If only she could find them.

Val spits out her gum and falls asleep to the real sound of fictional screams. 

In the morning, she wakes to the sound of rain and the trill of the small travel alarm that had been her second gift from Sal. She pulls off the Sol’s Diner T-shirt that she wears as pajamas. She hooks her bra into place—her secret, expensive, underwear that says interesting and promising things about whomever she once was. Her bra is black and the straps are thin and the material is smooth and scalloped at the edges. It’s beautiful. It’s meant to be looked at, she thinks. She wonders, whom, if anyone, she wore it for.

Val thinks maybe she wore it for herself. That feels right to her.

She drops her dress into place over her underwear. It, too, is its own kind of armor, as all uniforms are. This one is green and yellow and marks her as a thing she’s not. Or, as a thing she isn’t yet. 

A waitress. That feels wrong to her.

Her dreams are full of torches and the screams of supplicants. She can remember the terror of entrapment in a confined black space, the sound of insects crawling and clicking in darkness. She can remember the build of  a charging weapon, the curve of gold filigree, the warmth of a red glow in and around her fingers. She can remember taking gods as lovers. She can remember nothing that makes any sense.

Sometimes, she dreams of kinder things. Of supernatural restoration under a golden light. Of people she has cared for.  A boy with dark hair beside a lotus-covered pool. An olive-skinned woman with glowing eyes. A little girl, growing up too fast. A tall man with glasses.

They are harder to hold onto—they lack the edge of horror that burns them into her mind.

Val divides her hair in two and ties each half in place. She applies inexpensive cosmetics to her skin and eyelids. She draws a fake beauty mark on her left cheek with an eyebrow pencil in a good-natured tribute to a personality that has gone incognito even from itself.

Then she goes to work.

By the time she enters the diner, the rain is giving way to a bright mist that will turn to sunlight before long. It is October, and when the glass door opens and shuts with the passage of Sal’s clientele she can feel crisp air on her bare calves.

She worries she is a little too bright-eyed in this persistent absence of memory. Her smile is too wide, and her pitch too modulated, but no customer notices, or if they do, they say nothing. She pursues the ideal of ‘waitress’ that she holds in her mind; building it up from television, from her co-worker Mary Catherine, from the implied expectations of people she serves. 

Only Sal knows that she is not the face she presents to the world, but he doesn’t press her. Sal is a righter of all the wrongs he finds, and Val is always on the edge of tipping into darkness. Sal can see that, she thinks, and this is why he gives her things and without asking questions. This is why he takes stray kittens to the vet but when she had shouted “no hospitals” in his face in an instant of blind panic, he had let her be. He had given her a back room, a waitress uniform, a toothbrush, a t-shirt, an alarm clock, and plenty of space.

In return, Val learns diner slang and flirts with his customers. She talks up the daily special. She pours coffee and clears tables between flashbacks to the dark unity of synchronized steps in a stone hallway, the blur of stars, and the firing of weapons from a perspective that seems, somehow, askew to her.

“Val,” Sal says, in the midmorning when he sees her with her eyes closed, one hand braced against a wall in the back of the diner. “Val, you okay, honey?”

She nods first, smiles second, swishes her hair back third, pulls it forward again fourth, and then, finally looks at Sal. “Yes,” she says. “Yes I’m fine.”

At the beginning of the lunchtime rush, two men enter the diner. From the moment she sees their dark silhouettes against the bright light of the glass door she feels a sense of error—of disappointment in herself as they begin shouting and brandishing a gun. She watches them, confused by her own guilt, her own innate sense of failure, because where is the failure in this? Where could it be? She’s a waitress in the bad part of town; this is not her fault; she owes her Sal’s clientele nothing but two weeks worth of her meager livelihood—

But Val, whomever she is, was born fully grown, strapped to a gurney in the midst of a firefight, struggling against bonds in beautiful clothes and with beautiful hair that had smelled of perfume she can barely remember. In her first moments of life, Val had pulled a metal device off her head, freed herself from a burning building, and run blindly into a street not far from this street. She had lived.  She had lived through gunshots and streams of strange blue energy, through an explosion that had killed anyone and destroyed anything that might have helped her find her way.

And so, when one of the men points the gun at her, she looks at the weapon, she looks at him, and she breaks his wrist.

She breaks his wrist first.

She steps in closer and takes on both of them in a blaze of newly discovered instinct, twisting joints the wrong way, bringing a heel up into a crotch, ramming her elbow into someone’s unprotected face, grabbing a napkin dispenser to crash against the back of someone’s skull.

By the time Sal makes it out of the kitchen, meat tenderizer in hand, by the time the local detective has had time to take in what’s happening and raise his own gun, Val is standing over two incapacitated men, a plate spinning, unbroken, on the floor.

“What did you do?” Sal asks her.

“I don’t know,” she admits.

The detective takes her to the police station to make a statement.

Val doesn’t want to go. She tries to get out of it while Sal tries to help her, but the detective is impressed and insistent and so she goes with him before she’s charged with a crime herself. Before they leave, she changes out of her waitress uniform into a T-shirt and jeans—acting on some instinct for anonymity she doesn’t understand but does respect. Too many people would remember a girl in a green and yellow dress with a nametag that reads: VAL.

The longer she stays at the precinct, the more questions they ask. It’s not long before she comes to feel like a caged animal beneath a fraying exterior. She doesn’t know what might burst out of her with the right provocation, but there are things in her mind and motor programs in her nerves that she doesn’t understand.

“Your name is Val?” the detective asks.

“You’re a regular,” Val says, edgy, flirting, smiling, twisting loose hair around two fingers. “You know my name.”

“Val is short for Valerie?” the detective asks.

“Yes,” Val says. “That’s it. Valerie.”

But it’s not Valerie. She shuts her eyes and for a moment, she can almost hear someone say it. It’s a man, exasperated, pulling out the first syllable into something more like ‘Vahl’ than ‘val’. Vhal?

“Last name?” the detective says, pointedly, like he’s said it before.

“Oh,” Val says, turning, back in the present, her eyes scanning the room. Too obvious. She’s being too obvious. “Todad,” she says, sliding into a chair, smiling brightly, dying a little bit inside at how pathetically transparent she’s been in a single off-balance moment.

The detective turns around, looks pointedly at a picture from his child hanging on the wall, on which the words, “To: Dad” prominently appear.

Val smiles wider. The detective doesn’t smile back. He holds her there until someone responds to the APB he puts out on her, asking for identification. It’s the Air Force that answers.

Three people that she fails to recognize show up in uniform. They arrive in less than an hour, and that alacrity frightens her. It frightens the detective as well. Their faces are grim, their badges are quickly flashed and put away, and though she begs him not to—begs him, tears in her eyes but not falling, calling out his title and her plea into the growing space between them as she is dragged away—the detective releases her into their custody.

They cuff her and they drag her outside and she knows that she will never see Sal again, that she will never see her blue shirt, which is one of the only things she knows for certain that she owned.

Perhaps they will let her watch The X-files in whatever Air Force prison they are taking her to.  Somehow, she doesn’t think so. They force her into a car. “But what did I do?” she asks them. “You must at least tell me what I did.”

They do not answer her.

Val spends minutes in taut silence while her mind plans variations on the central theme of escape. This feels familiar to her—as though escape is a thing she has mastered. Options, ideas, scenarios, tactics, take rise in her thoughts like a flock of birds, wheeling and diving and changing direction all at once. They are afraid of her. Perhaps this is why they are afraid.

She makes her move on an untrafficked road that cuts through a wooded area. She leads with a question, follows with an elbow to the face, and then hooks the short chain of her cuffed wrists over the larynx of the car’s driver. He brakes and yanks the wheel, sending the car into a ditch. She’s braced against the driver’s seat—unsurprised and ready. As soon as the vehicle comes to a stop, she plunges a hand into the driver’s pocket, finds the keys to the handcuffs, and unlocks a cuff with one hand while opening the car door with another. She dives out, rolls, and comes up on her knees, her muscles shaking.

There is a man standing in the road.

He dressed in a brown leather jacket, a running motorcycle behind him, sighting down the barrel of a gun straight at the car.

She raises her hands, palms open. Her throat tightens with despair.

Almost, she thinks, breathing hard. Almost.

They’d had a rear-guard. Someone following on a bike. She hadn’t known because she hadn’t been able to turn under scrutiny.

“You okay?” the man says, steel-eyed, glancing at her and then away, back at the car, as though he presumes she’s not a threat. Or, alternatively, as though he knows her.

Val doesn’t answer. She gets to her feet.

The man looks back at her, confused by her silence.

There is a gunshot from the car—not at her, but at the man in the road. He fires back, then falls to the asphalt, clutching his arm.

Val looks back and forth between the dead woman in the passenger seat and the man lying in the road.

The man in the road drops his gun.

Val edges forward, watching him, watching the car.

She should run.

But she wants that gun.

She needs that gun.

No one stops her or shoots at her as she creeps forward, and so, after a few seconds of hesitation she commits to her chosen course, runs forward and picks up the gun lying on the asphalt. She’s points it first at the man in the road, then at the still car, then back at the man in the road.

“Vala,” says the man at her feet. “What are you doing?”

Vala. She likes that. Much better than Valerie. “You know me?” she asks.

“What?” the man in the road says.

“Get up,” Val says.

What?” he says again, as though he’s insulted.

“Get up,” Val repeats.

The man doesn’t get up.

Another car skids to a stop and its driver gets out, his engine a dull throb in the stillness of the afternoon. “Is everyone okay?” he asks.

Val swings her body and points the gun at him. “Run away,” she says.

The driver takes her advice.

“Get up,” she says, turning back to the man in the road. By the time she drags him to his feet he’s shed the surprise and the vaguely wounded look.

“Drive,” she says, as she forces him into the running car.

“You realize I’m bleeding,” he says, his eyes a grim and icy blue.

“Drive,” she snaps, pointing the gun at him.

They have to stop after thirty miles because her hostage is on the verge of losing consciousness. She spends minutes in agonized indecision in the parking lot of a cheap motel, and then, again, after she’s cuffed him to the bed, as she debates leaving him.

What if she knows him? What if he dies? What if he’s a friend?

She thinks he wasn’t trying to hurt her. But she can’t be certain of that.

“Hey, handsome,” she says quietly, but the nickname sounds wrong. “Hey. What’s your name?”

His eyelids flicker, but he doesn’t answer.

Is he the person that she sometimes dreams of? The man whom she can almost hear saying her name? Val tries to picture him with glasses, but it’s no good—he’s too real and the person in her dreams has never had a face that she can see.

She decides she’ll look at his arm before she goes, just in case. She uncuffs him, removes his jacket and his shirt, and then his pants for good measure. She lets him keep his boxers. She pulls up the covers so he doesn’t get cold. 

The bullet graze is deep, cutting through his deltoid. It’s still bleeding, and between the blood on the road, the blood in the car, the blood on his clothes, and the blood on this bed, she doesn’t know how much bleeding is too much bleeding.

She decides that she’ll dress the wound. She cleans it as best she can, drawing on an innate store of knowledge, common sense, and a vague memory of her hands clamped to her own bleeding calf, long ago, when she was younger and alone beneath trees with silver-blue leaves that she no longer has the words to name.

The man regains consciousness while she is in the bathroom, ripping cheap linens into strips with the aid of the small knife she found in his pants pocket.

“You really don’t remember who you are,” he says, half revelation, half skepticism.

She doesn’t care for his tone, but she doesn’t show it, smiling as she lets him spin a story like something straight out of The X-files as she ties strips of bedding around his injured arm to stop the flow of blood. He tells her that they’re teammates; that they travel to other worlds through some kind of magical gate; that she isn’t from this planet.

She has fragmented memories of gold light, crawling darkness, the wind shifting shelled curtains—but she does not think such memories necessarily substantiate this man’s outlandish story. She doesn’t dismiss him, but she doesn’t trust him. 

Without her memories she will never fully trust anyone.

“Vala,” she says, when he is finished. “That doesn’t sound like an alien name.”

The man sighs.

As much as she would love to stay, to learn more, to sort through what she believes and what she doesn’t of his narrative, she can’t. She’s already lingered too long. She buys him a collection of snacks with his own money and leaves him cuffed to the bed, ignoring the rising pitch of his words, the insistence in his tone, the rapidity with which he starts to speak as he realizes she’s about to walk out the hotel room door.

The freedom of the quiet parking-lot comes as a relief.

She considers getting back in the car, but the little hairs on her neck prickle in a warning she only half understands—like even by contemplating using the vehicle she can already be tracked. She sets off down wide, pale sidewalks, her head down, her hair loose and hiding her face. The blue and white of police cars crisscrosses the streets, and she turns to avoid them, her eyes scanning for a car she might borrow, for a building she might enter, for anywhere she might go. Everywhere she turns there seem to be parties converging on her, hemming her in, cutting her off.

Perhaps—if they can’t track her directly, they can track the man she left in the motel.

In a moment of desperation, she slides into an abandoned warehouse, knowing she’s been spotted, but hoping that she can pass through the building, and lose her pursuit. The room she enters is large and dim and cluttered. She ducks into shadow and begins creeping from storage container to storage container, beneath steel beams and through narrow aisles.

It was in a place like this that Val came roaring into panicked awareness from a past she can’t remember; a past she fears and longs for.

Behind her, she hears the door creak. Val looks back, through a slit between two containers and sees three people enter the room, dark silhouettes backlit against the day. They move together, nearly soundless through the dim light. They don’t speak, but they pull weapons from their coats, and, as they do, Val hears a strange metallic sound that she’s heard before, in dreams.

It’s the sound of a charging weapon.

She doesn’t know how she knows, but she knows.

She crouches in the shadow of a dark plastic crate, her breathing shallow and silent, the balls of her feet and her fingertips pressed against the grit of cool cement. She doesn’t move.

From another door, another group enters. Four people. They are not quiet.

“Vala,” someone calls, unwisely advertising his location. “Vala, it’s me, Daniel.”

She bites down on her lip, her expression cracking beneath the pressure of unvocalized indecision.  She cannot answer. She will not answer.

Don’t speak, she advises him. You’re not the only ones here.

She holds her position and listens as both teams fan out, one seeking, the other stalking. Soon, very soon, they will encounter one another. That will be her chance, likely her only chance, to make it out of this building.

“Colonel Carter,” a man shouts in unmistakable warning.

The air over her head erupts with gunfire and energy discharges and she flinches, even though she was ready for the deafening reports of projectiles ricocheting off metal and cement, for the high pitched whine of charging capacitors. She begins backtracking shot trajectories to map out the locations of the two teams in the warehouse, trying to plot the course she will take to the back wall, where she hopes to find an exit.

A gun slides across the cement and comes to rest near her left hand. She picks it up. One can never have too many guns.

She begins to weave across the cluttered room, staying low, staying silent, staying out of sight, working her way free. She is nearly at her destination when she’s stopped by a man who’s approaching the same door she’s approaching from a different direction and who speeds up, but speeds up only to get in front of her, to put himself between her and the exit.

Val snaps her gun up, sighting down the barrel straight at the man’s left eye. He’s holding a weapon that curves in his hand like a snake. His expression is held to neutral in a way that suggests a deep and terrible strain. His glasses are dark-rimmed and square, his eyes behind them are shot through with red.

“Drop it,” Val says, quietly, evenly. Everything gone but the steel core of who she is.

They look at one another. He doesn’t say anything. He just looks at her.

He looks at her, and he sees her there.

Even though they’re on the opposite ends of guns, sighting down different barrels at one another, he’s not watching her hand, he’s not watching her finger on the trigger, he’s not attending to movement, to the soft focus of his peripheral vision, he’s looking right at her and he’s seeing more than she’s ever seen in the mornings in the mirror.

This is the face of someone who knows her.

She can feel her expression fracturing along small, terrible lines in her own uncertainty. She readjusts her grip on her gun and puts her resolution back into her shoulders with a small, vicious postural adjustment.

He nods, just a little bit, at whatever he sees in her face, in her change of stance. Slowly he angles his weapon away from her and then puts it down.

“Step aside,” she demands.

He does not step aside.

“Step aside,” Val says again, “or I will shoot you.”

“You won’t,” he says.

Already, she is terrified that he’s right about that.

She shakes her head, adjusts her stance, shifts her grip, blinks her eyes, clenches her jaw, and says, “You don’t know that,” with all the steel that Val has in her hands and throat and heart.

“Yes,” he says, like he’s pouring assurance into the air. “I do.”

And he’s just standing there, just standing there, facing down her gun, ignoring her gun, with a calm assurance she’s sure she’s never felt. Not one time in her remembered and unremembered life. No one should be so brazenly confident about the heart or head of another person.

Maybe it’s not confidence.

Maybe he’s ready to die.

Ready like no one she’s ever seen.

Maybe that’s his secret.

To leave, she will have to shoot him. He’s made that the price of the door.

Val grits her teeth and shakes her head.

“If I let you go,” he says, his hands still up, his voice still low, “I know you’re going to make yourself disappear.”

She shakes her head again, her hair flying out of her face and falling back, her shoulders losing their tension and then regaining it.

She could shoot him, she can shoot him, she will shoot him. Just in the shoulder. Not in the eye, not in the heart. He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine and she’ll be free. She shifts her aim from his eye to his shoulder to his thigh and back to his shoulder. Back to his eye.

“You’ve been running so long, it’s almost second nature to you,” he continues.

She thinks, wildly and bizarrely of Krycek—of a fictional man in a fictional world who’s felt like her only friend for weeks. The firefight rages behind her and all she has to do to be free is just squeeze the trigger beneath her right index finger. Just one time.  A short, sharp pull.

“You don’t remember it,” the man in glasses says, “but you made a decision to stop running.”

No one makes a decision to stop running. The long run is all there is, that’s life, running and running and running to stay clear, to stay ahead of the wolves at heel, to die reaching for places where no one had ruined anything, where the water and the air are unpoisoned and her name is unknown.

“It’s over,” he says.

It isn’t over. It isn’t over. She wants to scream at him; she wants to kill him; she wants to shove her way past him and run toward the daylight beyond the doorframe.

“Now it’s time to come home,” he says, the final words fraying with emotion.

He can’t quite hold it. He isn’t as sure as he seems. He’s ready to die.

He cares that much.

Her gun dips.

Daniel runs the final few steps to the elevator, as Vala reaches out a hand to stop the door from closing. She smiles at him and he smiles back, dropping his eyes and looking down in a manner that strikes her as strangely shy, coming as it does, from a man who is never at a loss for words, from a man who had shouted down false gods—

Her gun comes back up.

—from a man who pulled her free of iron chains and lifted her off a stone bench beneath a gray sky.

The sound of the firefight behind her fades down into silence.

“Daniel?” she whispers, in a blend of relief and horror, her weapon drifting laterally as it comes down.

He steps forward, dropping his hands, taking her gun, pulling her into an embrace that she’s too overcome to return.

She’s trembling. At the edges of her thoughts she can remember herself screaming his name in terror. She can remember him across a wall of flames, trying to reach her.

“It’s all right,” he whispers into her hair.

Behind her, she hears the sound of quiet steps, feels the pressure of eyes on the back of her neck. Daniel nods at someone she cannot see and doesn’t know.

When he lets her go, she turns to find three people facing her, with roving eyes and weapons in their hands. There’s a woman with blonde hair; a handsome, muscular man in a hat; and her steel-eyed former hostage, his right hand clamped to his left arm.

“Vala?” the woman says.

“Hello, beautiful,” Val whispers, wiping her eyes. “Do I know you?”

“Yeah,” the woman says, smiling an adorable, tiny smile. “You do. Or, you will, once you get your memories back. I’m Sam. Sam Carter.”

“Are you an alien too?” Vala asks her with as much dry confidence as she can muster.

“That would be Teal’c,” Daniel says, looking from her to the man standing beside Sam.

Teal’c removes his hat, and on his forehead a gold symbol gleams in the light that streams in from the door behind her.

“Oh,” Val says weakly. “Hello.”

Teal’c inclines his head.

“Did I or did I not tell you that we were teammates,” her former hostage says, giving her an amused look. “Mitchell? Does that ring a bell? Cam? Colonel? You’re my wing-woman, for cryin’ out loud. But does any of that even register? No. Of course it’s Jackson you remember.”

“I see you found your pants,” Val replies, lifting her eyebrows. “Who’s Jackson?”

“That would be me,” Daniel says. “Daniel Jackson.”   

“Ah,” she says.

They leave the building in a group. The four of them cluster around her without speaking, arranging themselves like points on a compass as they escort her toward a collection of waiting cars with quiet, flashing lights.

She tenses instinctively, but Daniel puts a hand on her shoulder and says, “it’s okay,” so quietly that she doesn’t think anyone else has heard him, even grouped as closely as they are.

When they arrive at the waiting police line a group of uniformed personnel surge forward, but they stop when Sam says “back it up, people,” her hands up and out. “Back it up. This completes a classified Air Force operation, you’re all going to need to come this way and fill out some forms.”

It is Teal’c, his hat back in place, who leads them to a car—black, with government plates.

“You can drive?” Val asks him, squinting into the sun. “I thought you were—you know,” she leans in to whisper, “an extra-terrestrial?”

Daniel laughs.

“It was Daniel Jackson who taught me to drive,” Teal’c replies.

“It was also Daniel Jackson who taught you to drive,” Daniel says. “Daniel Jackson has a low index of self preservation and so teaches all the aliens to drive. You want to take us back to the base?”

“Oh,” Val says, surprised, reassured, relieved that he trusts her enough to make the suggestion, given that she’d locked one of her teammates to a hotel room bed in his underwear only hours before.

“You are an excellent driver,” Teal’c says, offering her the keys.

“Well if you say so,” Val replies, taking them. She unlocks the car and slides into the front seat. Teal’c opens the back door and Daniel rounds the hood to take shotgun.

Val starts the car, and follows their directions until she hits the throughway, accelerating smoothly, the afternoon sun flitting through trees, the road winding in front of her towards the distant mountains. 

“So,” Val says, into the strange and promising silence. “How’ve you two been?”

Daniel laughs, once, in a pained, short exhalation that’s almost a sob. When she glances away from the road, he’s looking at her, his eyes red, a bit too bright, and she knows then that she must have loved him.

Because she loves him now, so much more, she thinks, than she’s ever loved anything.

But she can’t be sure.

And she doesn’t know if he knows.

So she says nothing, she just smiles at him and opens the sun roof in the top of this car that isn’t hers.

Daniel tips his head back as the wind lifts pieces of his hair. “Oh, you know,” he says. “Same old, same old. Holding up the cracking edifice until the day we die.”

“I cannot disagree,” Teal’c adds.

“Sounds right,” Val says.

“Does it?” Daniel replies.

“Yes,” Val says.

“How much do you remember?” Daniel asks.

“Small things,” Val replies, speaking slowly. “I remember a dark haired boy under trees with narrow leaves. The sound of my mother’s voice. A pool full of white flowers. I remember being buried alive. I remember being burned alive. A lover with glowing eyes. A little girl who grew too fast. You, in an elevator.”

Teal’c laughs at that, brief and unexpected and short.

“What’s so funny, muscles?” Val asks.

“Wait. Me? Me in an elevator?” Daniel says, before Teal’c can reply, looking at her incredulously.

“You were smiling at me,” Val says. “I think we were having a moment.”

“Indeed,” Teal’c says, like a man confronted with a long expected revelation.

Daniel shifts and looks out the window.

Val grins at the road in front of her. “Does any of this make sense to you?” she asks.

“All of it makes sense,” Daniel says.

“Good,” Val replies. “I can’t wait for it to make sense to me as well.”

“Vala,” Daniel says, giving her name the slow momentum of a warning, “we can help you get your memories back, but I—I think it will be—difficult.”

“Difficult how?” Val asks.

“Mentally difficult,” Daniel says. “Emotionally difficult.”

“That’s all right,” Val decides, the sun on her face and the wind in her hair and a wheel under her hands. She thinks she remembers driving through space, where there is no friction, where stars streak into lines.

“No, it’s not,” Daniel says.

“What I mean is that I don’t mind,” Val clarifies, glancing at him.

Daniel looks pained. “We’re going to have to do it—as soon as possible. As soon as you’re medically cleared. Today, even.”

“All right,” Val says.

“Because there’s another person missing. Another person who went missing the same night you did.  We’re trying to find him as well.”

“All right,” Val says.

“It would be better if you had some time to recover. Some time to adjust.”

“What’s to adjust?” Val asks. “Everything will be new, until it isn’t anymore.”

Daniel says nothing, but he still looks unhappy.

Teal’c is silent.

“Can I ask you something?” Val says, looking again at Daniel.

“Of course,” he replies.

“How did you know what to say?” Val asks. “So that I wouldn’t go?”

“Knowing what to say is pretty much my only talent,” Daniel replies, smiling, not answering her question. “Don’t tell anyone.”

Val asks the same question again, but this time in a different way. “I belong here? With you?”

“Yeah,” Daniel says. “You do.”

Teal’c taps her gently on the shoulder with a pair of sunglasses. Val slips them on with a single hand and drives through cool air, beneath changing leaves. 

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