Mathématique: The Graveyard: Part 6

With a little flourish, Nick plucks a white shell from nothingness

Chapter warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Grief. Physical injuries. Mental health challenges.

Text iteration: Witching hour.

Additional notes: It’s such a relief to finally have this outside my head.

The Graveyard: Part 6

The blue-gray pane of the loch becomes the whole of the world.

Nick flicks Daniel’s crystal into split-second ascent as the momentum of his fall cracks the surface tension of the water. In that suspended moment of collision, the lift and fall of his matter-to-energy-to-matter conversion captures—

The water itself.

Nick’s grip breaks and Daniel is alone.

He struggles in descent. Underwater. Writhing to orient himself toward the gray light of a highland morning.

He can’t lift his own crystal.

He can’t separate himself from the lake.

It’s impossible. Nick’s made it impossible.

Nihil obstat inter te et locum ubi es. Fire and stone from the temple on Kheb fill his mind. The first lesson of Oma Desala. One of many he’d never fully grasped. Nihil obstat. No barriers. He has no barriers now. There’s nothing between him and the lake. It’s in him, singing along the ribbon of his own coiled crystal, Morgan’s magic beating from his heart to his fingertips.

Gasping, he breaks the surface of the loch.

He looks to the overcast sky and sees the ledge where they’d been seconds before. He treads water, drawing breath after breath.

The trapped song of his DNA fights the traces of Morgan’s magic. It clings and sings and spreads from him to the lake. From the lake to him. His skin heats with an internal war. The water siphons the burn away.

On the distant shore, Nick stands in Lantean white, like a leanbh Lír, dia na mara.

Daniel swims in his direction.

By the time his feet touch mud in the shallows, Morgan’s melody has harmonized with his own. Taught his song to accommodate it. He still can’t lift his crystal, but his skin has cooled.

Damn it Nick,” he shouts, slogging through reeds,“WARN A GUY.”

“It’s less effective with a warning.” Nick looks amused, the bastard.

“I thought we were gonna meditate.” Daniel tries to blow the lake water out of his sinuses.

“All the meditation in the world won’t steal so much as a scrap of the Glamour of Morgan Le Fay. Stop wallowing and sort yourself out.”

“Wallowing,” Daniel mutters. He stops sloshing through the shallows and focuses on himself, on the stockpile of his memory, on the reservoir of his power. It’s only when he gives up trying to grasp the ungraspable that he finds Morgan’s water secreting itself in the grooves of his DNA. “You trapped WATER in my CRYSTAL.”

“Do keep up.” Nick cocks his head like he’s tracing the silk thread of Daniel’s melody from the tapestry of the world. “Seems like it took.”

Daniel frowns at the patch of lake grass beneath his feet that his own energetic patterns are trying to braid into.

“You’re ‘one with the land’ now,” Nick says, mystically sardonic.

“I noticed.” Daniel rips himself from the reeds. “You’re the worst.”

“Strange way to thank someone who just saved your mind from Origen.”

“I don’t see how this,” Daniel says, struggling not to get blown out of himself by a gust of wind that meshes with strains of his own energy, “will help anything.”

“The fight to stay clear of the landscape will only be a problem locally,” Nick says. “The Ori lift crystal t’make it over. Morgan is the most sophisticated crystal weaver in existence. Her energetic melody is topologically self-adherent. Under harmonic threat, it’ll enclose all of you it can save.”

Daniel pauses, studying his own wet palm, listening to the self-spun patterns within him seek themselves like silver thread. “Isn’t Morgan gonna have some questions?”

“Yes well. Imagine what an intriguing puzzle you’ll represent to her local aspect when you return to your home brane. Who can say what consequences might precipitate out of such a mystery.” Nick spreads his hands like a magician trafficking in irony.

Everett materializes on the shore, his arms crossed. He glares at Nick, like he’s delivering an inaudible earful directly into the man’s brain.

But, “That was quick,” is all Nick says.

“Found a guy willing to drop off the car in exchange for all the cash the pub’s ATM would let me withdraw,” Everett says, earth and grudge and divided from the land.

“Isn’t human interaction against the rules?” Daniel blinks lake water out of his eyes and scrambles up the bank to join them.

“You’re wet, Dan. What happened?”

“Nick happened.”

Everett growls through clenched teeth. “You’re off script, genius. Why were you in the water.”

“Inspiration struck.” Nick examines his nailbeds. “One really ought t’seize such moments, y’know. I wasn’t inclined to discuss the idea in committee.”

Daniel tries to lift free of the water soaking his pants, his sweater, pooled in his shoes, running out of his hair. He can’t. There’s too much of it in him to separate himself from what’s on him. “I can’t get it off.” He scrapes wet tendrils of hair away from his forehead.

“That’s a good sign, I’d think,” Nick says, immaculate on the lake shore. His clothes have shifted to something a UC Berkeley math professor might wear.

“Can’t get what off?” Everett asks.

“The water.” Daniel wipes soaking hands on soaking pants. “I can’t introduce any lift. It’s tangled with my crystal.”

“I suspended a small amount of loch water within his energy matrix.” Nick arches a brow at Everett.

“Uh,” Everett gives Daniel a skeptical once-over. “Was that a good idea?”

Nick huffs and rolls his eyes.

“Supposedly,” Daniel says, as the wind blows through his crystal, trying to carry it away.

“How’s your energy matrix?” Everett eyes Nick critically.

Nick, standing on the glorious green weave of Morgan’s lake shore, draws into the fabric of the world, rather than fighting to keep himself whole. “Perfectly fuckin’ pristine,” he says. “Shall we remove Daniel from the landscape currently trying to claim him?”

“You’re a lotta work,” Everett growls, and splits the world at the shore of the loch.

Hours later, warm and dry in front of a fire, Philosophical Investigations open on his lap, Fabrice joins him, a mug of coffee in each hand.

“That’s not Jack’s.” Daniel eyes the mugs, already appreciating the quality of the coffee singing in the air.

“I went into town,” Fabrice admits, with Sam Carter’s warm smile. “Figured you deserved a little compensation after your bath.”

“I think it was revenge for all the time I wasted.” Gratefully, Daniel accepts the mug, inhaling a medium roast with notes of caramel and vanilla. Water-to-water, Morgan’s melody, singing within his own patterns, opens the full song of the coffee. He can feel the warmth of the land where the beans were grown. The drip of water from a rainforest canopy, the wild rhythms of the Earth. He cocks his head, smiling faintly at the dark liquid in his cup. “Then again.” He takes a sip and grounds himself in the union of soil and sun and water. “Maybe not.”

Fabrice sits next to him, pulling their feet beneath them. Daniel turns and hooks his arm over the back of the couch. He extends a foot, resting it on the coffee table in a variant of the Abydonian recline he’d spent months perfecting around Kasuf’s Great Fire.

“It wasn’t revenge.” Fabrice takes a delicate sip of coffee. “Nick doesn’t like the water. He wouldn’t drag you off that cliff without a good reason.”

“Doesn’t like the water?” Daniel frowns into his coffee, still listening to its song. “With so much of Morgan’s melody in his bloodline, I don’t see how that’s possible. He has enough affinity for it to suspend it in my energetic signature.”

Fabrice gives him Sam Carter’s compressed-lip smile, more a warning than agreement. “You’re leaving with an incredible gift. One only Morgan herself can tear away. And I don’t think she will. You’re too close to her heart.”

“Not sure how that happened,” Daniel murmurs.

“Ganos Lal,” Fabrice pauses, looking into the fire, “was a friend before the splitting of the multiverse. She, like you, had a talent for opening doors, pushing boundaries. She, like you, gave love freely. Worked hard. It was eons before bitterness took hold in her mind. Even now, it hasn’t won. She adores what you represent. The strains of worlds you’ve loved enough to let into your own crystal. Every native food and drink you’ve eaten leaves a trace.”

Daniel looks into his coffee, letting the words pass without comment. As the moment closes, he looks up. “Tell me there’s hope. For any kind of happy ending.”

Fabrice smiles, a real Sam Carter flash this time, full of fight and feeling. “Of course there is. Somewhere.”

“I wish I’d remember this,” Daniel says. “I hate living under my own energetic momentum.”

“Days of conceptless longing,” Fabrice agrees. “Dreams of song and starlight. Every death a passed test you only recall when it’s over.”

Wordlessly, Daniel nods.

“I hope I see you again,” Fabrice says.

“I tend to turn up,” Daniel sips his coffee. “I’m like a bad penny.” In his peripheral vision, he sees a dark silhouette. He turns to find Everett leaning into the frame of the door.

“It’s about that time,” the colonel says.

Daniel nods.

“Finish your coffee first,” Fabrice whispers.

It’s Nick who takes him back.

It’s Nick because of the possible complexities that might arise when Daniel descends, full of Morgan’s stolen song.

It’s Nick because Daniel still needs to apologize for all he has and hasn’t done.

“I’m sorry I left you in the dark,” Daniel says, standing at the end of Jack’s dock, the world split before him like a stage, “to fight a war I was never going to win.”

“You couldn’t leave the people of Abydos and hold your self-concept together,” Nick replies, backed by the gravestone stillness of the Minnesota day.

“I’m sorry I didn’t know you when I saw you,” Daniel says, the wind of his own time in his hair.

“I didn’t allow it,” Nick replies, the war and accord in his energetic patterns playing out in the blurring lines of his clothes.

The Quantum Pylons sing. The cement gray of the SGC’s isolation room shears the lake away.

Nick reseats his glasses, Morgan’s melody blending with the borrowed song Daniel carries. “I’m sorry I used the image of Sha’re to communicate with you.”

“She—” Daniel can’t continue. He speaks of Sha’re to keep the idea of her close; but no one, for years, has spoken her name to him. He looks at the sky and hears Morgan’s melody in the saltwater film over his eyes.

Nick waits.

“You took her from my mind,” Daniel says, when he can speak, “because my memory of her is so clear?”

“Your mind contained enough of her to fill volumes,” Nick says gently.

“I know,” Daniel breathes. “She and I, for seconds, shared neural patterns. Through a device designed for mental torture. As Amaunet killed me. As Teal’c hesitated. She wove and pulled time like strips of papyrus. We spent months in a reality that only sometimes made sense.” He wipes his eyes. “Only it wasn’t months. It was seconds.” He takes a bracing breath. Then another. “No one understood. What she was able to do. Only ever made sense to me. And. Maybe you.”

Nick meets his eyes, and Daniel sees the starship he’d whispered awake, branes and branes away.

“And I didn’t mind,” Daniel continues, as tears escape his eyes, “I didn’t mind that you took her form. I liked that you picked her. I liked the idea that you’d carry her memory. Because so much of what I had in my head of her was direct. From her. In those last seconds. It was more than some washed-out memory of mine—some ḫstjw who loved her. It was hers. And I knew that. And it made me better. Kinder. More forgiving. Kinder to you. Because you’d chosen so well.” His voice fails.

“I didn’t understand that at the time,” Nick says, “but, ah. I came to understand it later. It informed certain choices of mine. It informs them still.” He looks into the concrete room that splits the world. “What I mean to say, Daniel, is that.” He pauses. “You taught me what it is to love. Before I had the words or math for the concept. And. Even if it was borrowed. An echo of what Sha’re felt for you—”

Daniel shakes his head, but doesn’t lift away from the human ache in his face that won’t let him speak.

“I learned it well enough to use it when it mattered,” Nick finishes with difficulty.

Daniel wipes his eyes. “I’m glad.”

“I know we told you we’d drop you back into the instant that you left,” Nick says. “But there’s something I’d like to show you, if you’re amenable.”

“Sure,” Daniel rasps.

In the cross-section of the SGC that makes up half the world, the cords and wires and tubes that’d been connected to Daniel’s body in the moment of his leaving drop to the bed or clatter to the floor. He hears the overwhelming, uncertain presence of Morgan Le Fay suffusing the room, tendrils of her seeking tendrils of him, but not passing the tear in the line of reality that only he and Nick can see.

“Any second now,” Nick says, smiling faintly.

The door bursts open, crashing against the opposite wall.

Vala Mal Doran stands in the doorway, crackling with fierce harlequin glory. She’s wearing a hospital gown, tied tight at the waist. Her leg is a patchwork of blood-stained tape. She has a Goa’uld healing device braceleted around her wrist. She has a USAF sidearm and an ID card (not hers) in one hand. She supports herself with Teal’c staff weapon in the other. There’s murder in her tear-filled eyes.

Daniel smiles, small and painful.

“Right and so,” Nick grins, “for the record? I’m in favor.”

“NO,” Vala shouts to the empty air, gesticulating with the hand holding the sidearm and the ‘borrowed’ ID. “DON’T YOU DARE. You come back here THIS INSTANT, DANIEL. Do you hear me?”

With a little flourish, Nick plucks a white shell from nothingness. It’s small and coiled with feathered edges, no larger than a pair of dice. “It’s impolite to keep a lady waiting.” He offers Daniel the shell.

“Vala.” He hears Mitchell’s voice over the in-room speakers. “Put down the gun and get out of there. That is an isolation room.”

“NOW, DANIEL,” Vala thunders, all her borrowed godhead on full display. “RIGHT NOW.”

Daniel looks at Nick.

Nick gives him the smile of a long-gone starship.

Daniel pockets the shell.

For the second time that day, Nick flicks lift and momentum into Daniel’s crystal. Borrowed power, full of math and myth and magic, wraps around him, escorts him like armor across the shear-line of the Quantum Pylons.

He crashes back into physicality, his memory blurring, distorting, leaving with the energetic patterns he can’t sustain. All of it fragments. Jack’s cabin? Nick Rush, kneeling in a midnight garden of candlelight and wishes. Fabrice, coffee and wine in her hands, Jack’s flannel hanging off her shoulders. Everett, standing on a Scottish motorway, calling him—

Calling him—

You must go to Atlantis, Morgan whispers into the shell of his ear. He looks at her, catching a glimpse of the waves of her hair, the white of her gown, her expression searching, fond, curious. And he thinks of silver-laced tennis shoes, a house full of lenses and crystal and mirrors and moonlight.

And then he’s hitting cement. Hands and knees and clothes he’s never had before? Clothes he doesn’t own? These aren’t his. What’s he doing here? The last thing he remembers is Carolyn Lam telling him she couldn’t save him and hearing the extraction team was going for Nick. That feels strongly salient; his whole mind aches with it.

On his hands and knees, he stares at the cement of the floor.

At Vala’s feet. They’re bare. She’s painted her toenails the color of wine. One foot is held off the floor, covered with dried blood. She leans into Teal’c’s staff weapon. “Daniel,” she breathes, full of relief and pride, as though she’s summoned him.

For all he knows, she has.

“Vala?” He looks up at her, trying to think with a mind that’s rearranging itself.

Her face is pale. Sweat glistens on her brow. But she gives him a bright smile. “This,” she gestures with her sidearm and the healing device slips down her arm, “is a great outfit. Well done, darling. Your deep dive into Cosmopolitan Magazine is doing you a world of good.”

He frowns down at himself. If what just happened is what he thinks just happened— “I don’t usually…get clothes?”

“And suddenly,” Vala breathes, with a shaky smile, “I feel like I’m missing out.”

He shifts his weight, testing his body. He remembers the virus, remembers the certainty he’d felt that he was being called to a higher plane, but he doesn’t feel like he’s been ill, he feels—fine. Better than fine. Strong. Hydrated. Not like he’s been pulled back from death by centimeters for the twentieth time. And—there’s something new. Something he can’t put a finger on. He can feel Morgan’s breath lingering on the shell of his ear. Her hand on his shoulder. But it’s not that, it feels closer. Stranger. Different. He can’t describe it. Can’t name it. But he feels the press of the mountain above. Feels how far he is from daylight.

His memory reshuffles itself, finding his place in time and—

Vala!” He stands to catch her as she sways. Already he’s bending to sweep her off her feet, understanding she’s hurt, but not where. Why is she in a hospital gown, why—

“Stop,” she breathes, tangling them both with the staff weapon, blocking him from helping her.

“Jackson,” Everett Young says over the isolation room speaker. “She’s hurt. Took a round to the leg.”

“What are you doing here?” Daniel breathes, taking the sidearm from her, taking Young’s ID, setting them both on the edge of his empty hospital bed. 

“Yelling. At you.” Tears trail down Vala’s cheeks. Her hair is tangled and there are traces of eyeshadow around and beneath her eyes.

She leans into his arm. The healing device she wears like a bracelet digs into both of them.

“Can you sit?” Daniel asks, sliding a hand around her waist, guiding her toward the bed.

“I hope so,” she breathes.

“Do NOT,” Lam says, her voice cool over the intercom, “put her in that bed. You nearly died of A VIRUS.”

He’s not gonna argue with the logic and protocol on the other end of the intercom, even though every instinct he has tells him Vala’s in no danger from whatever happened to him. He’s not gonna argue about whatever Vala did to get in here; how much sense it makes or what kind of headache it’ll cause for Landry and Mitchell and Lam. He takes as much of Vala’s weight as she’ll give him.

“Those beautiful little people out there don’t know a thing,” Vala whispers, “about how life really works.”

“You’re right.” He brushes her hair back over her shoulder, because she doesn’t have a free hand. He trails his fingers down her arm to trace the healing device braceleted around her slender wrist. “Was this supposed to be for me?”

She shrugs, missing the nonchalance she’s aiming at by the width of the Giza Plateau.

“I don’t need it.” He tugs the device onto her wrist, nestling the housing for the stolen crystal in the palm of her hand. “Before they put us both through decon, why don’t you do what you can with this?”

“It’ll only help so much with a titanium rod in there,” Vala whispers. “Structural damage is particularly difficult to repair.”

Daniel takes Teal’c’s staff weapon and angles it against the bed. Vala shifts her free hand to his shoulder, leaning into him.

“Sounds serious,” he murmurs.

She shakes her head, looking up at him. “It’s nothing.” She lets him take more of her weight. As she does so, she slides a hand into his pocket. “There’s something ruining the line of your pants,” she says, suggestive, devious, curious.

She’s right. Whatever’s in his pocket feels, in a frustrating, indefinable way, like it belongs to her. She frees the object, small and hard. Between her fingers, something pale holds the light.

She looks down, leaning into him, hiding her face as she opens her hand.

A shell sits in her palm. Small and matte white, full of coils and living ridges. Strong at its center, delicate at its edges, where it’s notched from its time in the sea.

He can’t remember where it came from. But he’s certain he brought it back for her.

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