No Place Like Home

by Spiletta42

No Place Like Home by Spiletta42


SG-1 D/V


Rating: M™©


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Warnings: References to unpleasant Qetesh-related stuff, which means non-descriptive memories of atrocities, torture, and non-con of the goa'uld host variety which may prove triggering. Some additional violent content. Detailed, potentially spoilery, warnings here


Categories: Ship, Het, Drama, Humor, Action, Hurt/Comfort, Team


Pairings: Daniel/Vala and a side order of teamy goodness, with implied Sam/Jack, a brief moment of faux Sam/Teal'c, and mentions of Daniel/Sha're.


Characters: Vala Mal Doran (primary), Daniel Jackson (primary), Mitchell, Teal'c, Carter, Lam, Landry, OCs


Spoilers: Set in season ten, with specific spoilers for Memento Mori and a vague one for Company of Thieves. Plus mentions of The Pegasus Project and Counterstrike, vague allusions to Quest, and callbacks to earlier season episodes including Children of the Gods, Hathor, Secrets, Forever and a Day, and Upgrades.


A/N: A sequel to Memento Mori, for the prompt 'found' at 100 Women.


Credits: Assorted beta efforts by Lizzoid, Q, Alanesian, Alien in the Attic, Anne Rose, and Risti. Acknowledgment of beta reading does not imply that any individual providing such service was satisfied with the end result or otherwise recommends or approves of this story. Research credits include The Arthurian Legends by Richard Barber, The Discovery of King Arthur by Geoffrey Ashe, and Ancient Egyptian Myths and Legends by Lewis Spence. And possibly some unintentional Tennyson and a dash of Tolkien. Artwork in the title graphic by The Do That Girl.


Disclaimer: MGM owns lots of cool stuff, but I only borrow the very best.


No Place Like Home


No Place Like Home

Vala's scream sent Daniel sprinting down the corridor towards her quarters. His coffee spilled as he ran, and he only bothered to hang onto the mug at all for whatever value it might present as a blunt object. He wished he had his sidearm. Or better yet a P90. Anyone who could make Vala scream would prove hard to subdue empty handed, and his 'archeologists dig the past' coffee mug was hardly his weapon of choice.

He found the door unlocked, and flung it open to find Vala sitting up in bed with a fistful of tissues.

"Daniel?" Her voice cracked as she looked up with surprise, and before she turned away to wipe at her face, he noticed her bloodshot eyes.

Relief at her safety faded in lieu of an entirely different worry, and he sank down on the edge of the bed. "Vala? What's wrong?"

"It's nothing," she said. "Just a nightmare."

He laid a hand on her arm. "It sounded like more than nothing. Want to tell me about it?"

"No."

"It might help."

She shrugged. "There's only one thing that helps."

"What's that?"

She shook her head.

Daniel berated himself for believing, even for a minute, that Vala had fully recovered from her recent kidnapping. The bastards had gone pillaging through her repressed memories, callously digging for the bits that interested them, with complete disregard for what it might do to her mind. When their hatchet job scrambled her brain, she'd spent weeks alone, all of her memories -- good and bad -- lost to her. Just fragments remained to haunt her dreams, and from what little she'd told him, he gathered that most of those were far from pleasant.

He'd considered her return to her usual chipper self more than a little remarkable, and although he'd attributed much of that to her newly-won official position on SG-1, now he wondered how much of that was an act. "Vala, if there's something you need, you just have to ask."

"I'm fine," she said.

"You know, I don't mean to impugn your lying abilities, but I'm not buying that one."

"But at least I'm cleared for active duty," she said with a bit more enthusiasm. A bit too much, actually. "I'm sure that equation you found mucking up your translation is code for a gate address -- "

"Vala." He caught her chin with his fingertips, and made her look him in the eye. "This isn't about the Ori or the fate of the galaxy. This is about you."

"Don't worry Daniel, I'm being completely selfish. I think I'll sleep better off world."

"Why's that?"

She shook her head again, and turned away from him to stare at the wall.

"Of course." He nodded in understanding and squeezed her shoulder. "It's worse when you're alone."

She nodded and met his gaze. "I know that sounds silly, or at best like the tackiest of come-ons, but -- "

"No," he said. "It makes sense."

"I've always had bad dreams," she said. "But not like this. Not every night. I know I shouldn't let the past bother me like this -- "

"After what you've been through, it's only natural that your subconscious mind would be struggling to process it all."

"Daniel?" She fiddled with her tissues. "Would you mind if I came back down to your office and watched you work for a while?"

"Now I'm worried." He tried to smile. "You've never asked permission before."

She forced a small laugh and kept twisting the tissues in her hands.

"Do you think you could sleep if I sat with you for a while?"

"Would you?" She met his gaze, and he could see just how much she welcomed that offer. She scooted over, making room on the bed, and while he'd intended to pull up a chair, he abandoned that plan as not enough. Vala needed him, and he wanted to be there for her.

He set aside his coffee mug, briefly regretting that it had missed the chance to moonlight as a weapon. Justice would find the people who had caused this, and as much as he would have taken great satisfaction in personally bringing them to it, right now Vala needed his support and friendship more than she needed any righteous anger on her behalf. Daniel settled down beside her, and reached for her hand.


x

Three days earlier, weeks of searching had ended in a warehouse outside of Colorado Springs. Daniel had told the others they'd find her -- that he knew in his gut that she had survived the explosion and escaped -- but once he held her safely in his arms, he realized that in truth, he'd been scared to death.

The knot in his stomach started to relax just a little, only to move up to his throat and prevent him from speaking for several long minutes. "How much do you remember?"

She lifted her head from his shoulder to offer him a shaky smile, and brought her hand to his face. "You're my Daniel."

He smiled back, far too pleased to see a glimmer of the Vala he knew to even think of correcting her. Besides, the bond that they shared was far too complex to explain to her now. He trailed his fingers along the mark on her jaw, verifying that it was only a minor injury, and nodded towards the rest of the team. "Do you remember the others?"

"Just . . . faces. And images that don't make sense." She shrugged and barely glanced in their direction. "I don't even -- I know you're Daniel, and that I can trust you, but I can't remember why, or -- " She shook her head. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay." He pulled her close again. "You're safe, and you're coming home. Dr. Lam can take care of the rest."

"Dr. Lam?" Her breath tickled his neck.

"One of the best doctors in the world. Don't worry, you like her."

"I bet I like you better."

"Okay," Cam interrupted. "This is all very sweet, but it's time we got Dorothy here back to Oz."

"I believe your analogy is inaccurate, Colonel Mitchell. Dorothy strived to return to Kansas."

"I've lived in Kansas," Cam said. "The SGC has a lot more in common with Oz. This road's not paved with yellow bricks, but I think we'd better hit it."

"We're friends with these people?" Vala asked.

Daniel grinned. "Good friends. Very good friends."

Vala rested her head on Daniel's shoulder as they rode back to the SGC, and when she squeezed his hand, he threaded his fingers through hers. "Promise you won't leave me alone with any doctors," she said. "There's one in my nightmares, and -- " She shuddered and pressed closer to him. "Are you sure we can trust this doctor? These memories . . . "

"I won't lie to you." He hoped like hell that being honest with her was the right thing to do, but it felt right, and she was still Vala. She wouldn't want platitudes. "Not all of your memories are pleasant, but nobody at the SGC has ever hurt you, and I won't let anyone near you unless I trust them completely. Okay?"

She nodded. "I trust you, Daniel. I don't remember much, but I remember . . . trusting you."

He met her gaze, and could see her struggling with the one question he really hoped to avoid. He wasn't even sure he could answer it. Everything about their relationship was complicated, and although she meant the world to him, they weren't ever going to be anything more than friends. If that word even fit the situation.

When they reached the base, the entire team accompanied Vala down to the infirmary, and she kept a firm grip on Daniel the whole time. "I feel like I should be braver," she said. "Am I usually braver?"

"You are," Sam said before Daniel could answer. "But we really do understand."

"Well isn't this cozy," Dr. Lam said. "Colonel Carter has had experience with this technology, but the rest of you, out."

"Daniel's staying," Vala said firmly. "He's the only person here that I remember."

"Of course he is," Dr. Lam said brightly. "But he's still waiting outside. You need to change into this so we can get started, okay?"

Vala took the medical gown. "I'll do whatever you want, but only if Daniel stays." She smiled a little bit like her usual self. "I'm sure he's already seen everything there is to see anyway."

Daniel rolled his eyes at Cam's snicker. "That's hardly the point. I'll be on the other side of the curtain."

"Oh don't be such a prude."

Cam chuckled. "See that, Jackson? She's already back to her old self."


x

It didn't take long for Dr. Lam to declare Vala fit enough for the procedure, and she presented them with two options, neither of which Daniel liked very much. In fact, they scared the hell out of him, and probably did the same for Vala.

"Either you stay awake through the procedure, to help guide it, or I can put you under, but that increases the risk significantly, even if we wait for the Tok'ra -- "

"No." Vala went rigid at the word, her fingernails biting into Daniel's hand.

"Do you remember something?"

"I remember being terrified, but I don't know why."

"It's not one of your happier memories," Daniel said gently. "But the Tok'ra weren't the cause; one of them saved your life."

"We probably don't want to wait for them anyway," Sam said. "It could be days before we hear back from Anise."

Dr. Lam crossed her arms over her chest. "If Vala's awake for this, she's going to experience some pretty intense memories. I'm not sure I feel comfortable recommending that, especially under the circumstances."

"What choice do we have?" Daniel asked.

"There is another possibility. Given a few weeks time, it's very likely that her memories will come back on their own."

"I want this over with," Vala said. "I can't stand all of this not knowing. I may not remember who I am, but I'm fairly certain that I'm very independent and that I don't like relying on people to tell me whether or not I like sugar in my coffee."

"Bottom line," Daniel said to Dr. Lam. "What kind of risk factor are we talking about?"

"Do I?" Vala interrupted. "I never did figure that out."

"What?"

"Do I like sugar in my coffee?"

"I don't think you've decided that yet," Daniel said. "I've never seen you drink it the same way twice."

"Oh good," Vala said. "Everyone who came into the diner seemed so certain about the way they liked their coffee that I thought there must be something wrong with me when I couldn't figure out how I liked mine. But maybe it's that I just don't like coffee. What?"

"What diner?" Daniel asked.

"Sol's Diner. Where I've been working," she explained. "I'll have to introduce you to Sal. He's the owner -- "

"I'm sorry," Sam said. "We've had the entire Air Force searching for you for weeks, and this whole time you've been working in a diner?"

"Well, yes, I needed a job and -- "

"Okay, how about we save all of this for later," Dr. Lam said. "We need to make a decision about how to proceed."

"What's to decide?" Vala asked. "I thought I decided not to wait."

"Under the circumstances, I'd be remiss if I didn't question whether or not you're in a fit state of mind to make major medical decisions."

"Hey!"

"It's not personal," Daniel told her. "She's just following the rules."

"The fastest option isn't necessarily the best one," Dr. Lam said. "This is a powerful piece of alien technology, and the human mind is a very complex thing. Added to the fact that Vala has more than one set of memories in her head, and we're talking about some potentially serious consequences." She turned back to Vala. "I need to know that you understand the risks involved before we proceed."

"But it can work," Vala said. "Else we wouldn't even be talking about it. So I say it's worth the risk."

Daniel exchanged a look with Sam.

"I think it can work," Sam said. "All we have to do is use the device to help Vala to connect with a few memories, and her brain should do the rest of the work."

"You make it sound easy, but there are a fair number of things that Vala is better off not reliving, and it's not like you can just pick out a few harmless memories at will. As I recall, Martouf had a little trouble honing in on the right memories, and he knew what he was doing."

"We're not looking for any specific information," Sam said. "The process will largely be guided by Vala's thoughts, so if she concentrates on something pleasant -- "

"I'll just think about Daniel," Vala said. "We must have plenty of good memories."

Daniel held back a sarcastic reply, and found himself more than a little bothered at the thought that Vala's happiest memories probably did involve him. He often conveniently forgot just how much she'd suffered in her life, especially when she was loitering around his office annoying him for sport, or making inappropriate comments just to make him squirm.

"It's your call, Dr. Jackson."

He swallowed hard before nodding to Dr. Lam.

This procedure could prove incredibly difficult for Vala, and all he could offer was a little moral support. He held her hand as Dr. Lam set up the equipment, and tried to think of a positive experience he could try to help her remember. Most of the time they'd spent together revolved around fighting the Ori, and down time meant researching while she did her best to distract him.

He'd missed that over the last few weeks.

"We went to Atlantis together," he said. "After we finished our work, we stood out on the observation deck and looked out across the ocean -- "

"Atlantis." She smiled. "The lost city of Atlantis?"

"Do you remember it?"

"No," she said. "But Mulder mentioned it. What's it really like?"

"Mulder?"

"Sal has all of The X-Files on tape," she explained. "Tell me about Atlantis."

He did his best to convey every detail of the city, and of the brief time they'd spent there. If she could just remember enough to focus her thoughts, then maybe the device would spare her the details of less pleasant events.

"Okay," Dr. Lam said. "This will only hurt for a minute."

Vala barely flinched as the device pierced her temple, which impressed Daniel. He knew from experience just how much it hurt.

"We're ready," Sam said. "Vala, try to focus on Daniel. The images might be confusing at first, but don't try to figure out what they mean. Just look for Daniel."

Vala nodded and tried to smile, and then her face contorted with pain.

"Sam!"

"Talk to her, Daniel."

"Vala, it's me, Daniel. I need you to listen to me." He shot a desperate look at Sam, because whatever Vala was seeing, it wasn't that day in Atlantis. "Concentrate on my voice. Try to remember that night on the observation deck." He wanted to scream at Sam to turn it off, but he forced himself to talk about Atlantis in measured tones, and not let his reaction to Vala's pain creep into his voice.

It seemed to last forever.

"It's off," Sam said. "We're done."

Daniel barely heard her. He stroked the hair away from Vala's face, and called her name softly as her body gradually relaxed. "Vala? Can you hear me? Did it work?"

Her eyes fluttered open. "You called me a fruitcake," she said. Then she passed out.


x

Daniel sat with her all night, an elderly volume of Arthurian legends ignored in his lap. She'd remembered something, but would it be enough? Dr. Lam assured him that she'd passed out from exhaustion, nothing more, and that her brain could process the information more efficiently while asleep anyhow, but he still needed to see for himself before he could relax.

"How is she?" Sam asked from the doorway.

"The same. I just hope we did the right thing."

"I think we did," Sam said. "Why don't you go get some sleep? I can sit with Vala."

He shook his head. "I need to be here when she wakes up."

"Daniel, you've been awake for days. And you look like it."

He shrugged.

"She's going to be okay," Sam said. "Even in the worst case scenario, it just takes her a little longer to fully regain her memories. Physically, she's fine."

Daniel nodded, and brushed a few stray hairs from Vala's face.

"Could I at least get you some coffee?"

"What? Oh. Coffee. Sure." He thought he saw a change in Vala's breathing, and he leaned closer, watching for any sign that she might be waking up. He barely noticed when Sam left.

Eventually, Vala stirred. "Daniel?"

"Right here." He squeezed her fingers gently and brought his free hand up to stroke her face. "How are you feeling?"

"Daniel." She reached up to touch his face, and smiled the most glorious smile he'd ever seen in his life. "You stayed with me."

"I promised, didn't I? What do you remember?"

"Don't worry darling," she said. "I'm my delightful self once again."

He smiled. "I'm very glad to hear that."

She glanced around the infirmary. "When can I get out of here?"

"We'll have to ask Dr. Lam, but soon, I think."

Vala smiled again. "Then we can finish our date?"

"You do remember that it wasn't really a date, right?"

"Says you."

He shook his head and tried to keep from smiling.

"What?"

"Nothing, it's just I didn't know I could be relieved and annoyed at the same time."

Sam returned with the coffee, followed shortly by Dr. Lam.

"You know, Dr. Jackson, when you sit up all night waiting for a patient to regain consciousness, it's customary to let their doctor know when they do."

"Right," Daniel said. "Sorry." He watched anxiously as Dr. Lam took Vala's vital signs. "Is she free to go?"

"She is," Dr. Lam said. "You I'm not so sure about." She narrowed her eyes at him. "When's the last time you slept?"

"You do look rather worse for wear, darling." Vala grinned at him and tousled his hair. "Not that you don't look adorable."

He sighed, but failed to rouse any true annoyance.

Vala headed for the commissary with Sam, on the condition that she return to the infirmary later in the day, while Daniel went back to his quarters for a luxurious six hours of sleep. Sam was right about his appearance, and he needed to look a little less rumpled before he talked to General Landry.


x

It was the middle of the afternoon by the time Daniel woke up and made himself respectable. He met with General Landry, who denied his request to work with Agent Barrett in capturing Athena, just as he had expected. Still, he had to ask. More importantly, Landry agreed that Vala had earned her official spot on SG-1.

Vala deserved it, and Daniel felt ridiculously proud of her for it. It pleased him that she'd proven him right, of course, but it went beyond that somehow.

He found her in his office, reading his notes on Athena.

"Is it real?" she asked.

"Is what real?"

"The clava thessara infinitas," she said. "Do you think it's real, or just a lie that Qetesh used to manipulate Athena? Because if it's real, I could try to -- "

"It's not real," he said quickly, and then paused while he decided that his statement wasn't a lie in the strictest sense. His research did support his theory that Qetesh had fabricated the whole thing for some end he had yet to discover, and he took Vala's guess as proof. After all, she had the facts buried in her subconscious.

And they could stay there.

"None of the stories about the clava thessara infinitas corroborate any of the others," he added. "When that's the case, the object in question usually turns out to be an exaggeration, if not an outright work of fiction. How are you feeling?"

"Fine," she said. "Wonderful, actually." A smile spread across her face. "Except I am a little hungry. Maybe we could finish our date?"

"We can," he said. "On one condition."

"What's that?"

"Stop calling it a date."

Teal'c and Cam arrived before she could argue, and Vala's smile turned downright evil. She'd knocked Cam out, stripped him, and handcuffed him to a bed in a cheap motel. Some people might find responsibility for such an incident a little embarrassing, but not Vala. Daniel could see her considering what she could say regarding that scenario, and which comment would most effectively torment Cam.

Vala's grin disappeared with a nervous laugh, and she bit her lip. "Well this is certainly awkward." She glanced back towards Daniel and winked. "I hope you can forgive me, darling, but Cameron and I . . . well once I got his clothes off -- and you must remember that I wasn't quite myself at the time -- and I had that perfectly good pair of handcuffs . . . ."

She grinned and sauntered up to Cam. "He's quite the naughty boy. He's really not bad looking without his shirt, either, although he could use a little bit more time in the gym." She poked Cam playfully in the belly. "But it's just as well." She turned and dragged a finger slowly down Daniel's chest. "I'm a one-man kind of girl."

"Since when, exactly?" Cam asked.

"Hey." Daniel shot Cam a look. "Watch it."

Cam raised both hands in surrender. "She started it."

"Anyway," Daniel said, fishing rather desperately for a change of subject amid the chaos on his desk. "I wanted to talk to you about something. A few weeks ago I found a reference to -- "

"Hey guys," Sam said from the doorway. "Cam, good to see you wearing pants for a change."

Cam opened his mouth to protest the abuse but Sam had already moved on to reminding Vala about her appointment with Dr. Lam.

"On my way." Vala smiled at Daniel and gave his chest another pass with her wandering fingers. "I'll see you later, for our date."

"It's not -- "

But she was already gone.


x

The whole team went for ribs to celebrate Vala's new status as a full-fledged member of SG-1. Daniel smiled as Vala and Sam teased Cam about the flirty hostess while they waited for a table. He'd missed Vala's laugh.

He noticed a hand on his shoulder, and realized Teal'c had spoken. "I'm sorry, what?"

"I too am glad that Vala Mal Doran is herself once again," Teal'c said, with a smirk Daniel chose to ignore.

"She's been through a lot," he said. "It's good to see her smiling."

"Indeed."

The hostess returned to show them to a table. Or more accurately, to show Cam to a table. Daniel agreed with Vala's assessment of the situation -- that the hostess had failed to notice the other four members of Cam's party.

"How much do you want to bet she switches off with the waitress so she can serve us herself?" Daniel whispered to Vala as they slid into the booth.

She grinned and leaned into him. "I think Mitchell just might get lucky if he plays his cards right."

Sam slid into the circular booth on Daniel's other side, and leaned over the top of him to whisper to Vala. They both seemed disturbingly eager to encourage Cam's admirer. Not that Daniel cared to defend him -- after yesterday's fiasco he figured Cam deserved a little harmless grief.

"Make her think you're with Muscles," Vala told Sam. "Daniel's mine."

Sam nudged Teal'c and leaned over to whisper to him, probably filling him in on this plan, while Cam took the seat next to Vala and passed around the menus that the hostess had, for some reason, entrusted to him instead of handing out herself.

Daniel sighed as Vala draped her arm over his shoulder and read his menu instead of her own. He refused to notice that she smelled nice, and he ignored the heat of her thigh pressed against his, but he didn't make any attempt to put a stop to her behavior. It never helped, and besides, he really had missed her.

It would probably be a few more days before that stopped working to her advantage.

As Daniel had predicted, the hostess returned almost immediately with a tray of water. She smiled at Cam. "We're a little short staffed tonight, so I'll be taking care of you myself. Can I get you folks some drinks?"

Sam nudged him, and he followed her gaze over to the bar, where one waitress was doing a crossword puzzle while another chatted with the bartender.

"Excellent choice!" The hostess beamed at Cam as if his drink order proved they were soul mates, and made no move to solicit orders from the rest of the table.

Vala and Sam high-fived each other behind Daniel's menu -- a maneuver that practically landed Vala in his lap -- and Teal'c expressed mild curiosity as to how long the smitten girl could smile at Cam without acknowledging anyone else at the table. As the phenomenon continued, Daniel found himself a little curious as well.

Cam nodded his head subtly towards Daniel and Vala, but the hostess-turned-waitress failed to notice. Which was interesting, considering the intensity of her apparent fascination with Cam.

Vala leaned in to whisper in Daniel's ear. "She really doesn't know we're here, does she?"

He shrugged. "Well, she did bring us the water."

Teal'c made a decisive move to break the spell. "I will have a root beer."

The waitress turned to him, as if she was honestly surprised to see him there. "Of course, sir. And for your wife?"

Sam didn't miss a beat. "Diet Coke, please."

Daniel blinked at her, but she just shrugged.

When the waitress left -- hopefully to actually fetch the drinks they'd ordered, although Daniel had his doubts -- Vala leaned forward to lay her hand on Cam's arm. "Tell us the truth, Cameron. You've been hiding a secret stash of sot m'cah, haven't you?"

"What the heck is sot m'cah?"

Vala grinned. "That's right, play dumb. She'll probably like that."

Cam glared at her as she returned to reading Daniel's menu.

"The woman does seem quite attracted to you, Colonel Mitchell."

"And just whose side are you on, Mr. Suddenly-Has-a-Wife?"

"I would be honored to call Colonel Carter my wife," Teal'c said.

"In that case, you might want to rethink calling her Colonel Carter."

Sam and Teal'c exchanged a look that dissolved into laughter, Sam wiping away tears of glee while Teal'c smiled broadly.

"You could ask her to join us," Vala said to Cam. "They don't look all that short handed to me."

"I don't think she'd mind too terribly much if they were," Daniel added. "One look at Cam, and the music swells, the focus softens, and everyone else just fades away."

"Okay, are you all through now?"

Sam snickered. "Oh, we're just getting started. Here she comes."

The waitress got Cam's order correct, and then asked him inane questions while the rest of the team shuffled their drinks around the table. She giggled and slapped Cam's shoulder with her order book. "Get out! My cousin's neighbor used to be in the Air Force."

"It's like they're made for each other," Vala whispered behind Daniel's menu. "We really should ask her to join us."

"Yeah," Daniel said. "As amusing as this is, let's not."

"But don't you hate having to get up so early?" The waitress made a face that rather impressively conveyed how she felt about mornings. "I'd just die."

Cam's face took on an increasingly pained look, and Daniel realized that it was Sam, not Vala, who was squeezing his knee, apparently in an attempt to keep from doubling over laughing.

The waitress pressed onward with her questions. "So what's your sign?"

Daniel snorted softly.

"A cultural reference I don't get?" Vala whispered.

"Be glad you don't." Daniel nodded towards Sam, who appeared to be in some distress as her battle to keep a straight face took a turn for the worse.

"Are we ready to order?" Cam had an edge of panic in his voice.

Daniel realized that of all of them, only Teal'c had actually looked at the menu, as opposed to using it as a screen to whisper behind. He almost felt bad about that fact. "A few more minutes?"

"Listen," Cam said to the waitress. "Is there something you could recommend? We're celebrating the big promotion our girl here just -- .

"His girl, actually." Vala wrapped her arm around Daniel. "Cameron just talks funny because he's from Kansas. Or was it Tennessee?"

"My college roommate's boyfriend was from Tennessee," the waitress said.

Vala nodded. "Then you understand."

Cam sighed, which successfully guilted the others into glancing at the menus.

Well, Sam and Daniel anyway. Vala decided to apprise the waitress of Cam's finer virtues. "Of course he's not nearly as wonderful as my Daniel," she concluded. "But since that would clearly be impossible, Cameron really is quite the catch."

"How about we order," Cam said as soon as he could get a word in edgewise. "Everyone must be ready by now."

Teal'c began, while Daniel hurriedly pointed out the most likely-sounding options to Vala, who used the opportunity to maneuver under his arm and curl into his side. He let her get away with it, and ordered his meal.

"And for your girlfriend?" asked the ever-helpful waitress.

"You pick, darling, I trust you." Vala flashed her trademark smile at him. "Besides, if I don't like it I can just eat yours."

The waitress rushed off to place their orders, and Cam watched her go. "Jackson, you've got to change seats with me."

Daniel snickered, made a show of pulling Vala closer -- even though that wasn't possible in the strictest sense -- and wrapped his free arm around Sam. "Not on your life."

"Ha Ha." Cam glanced back towards the kitchen. "Come on, man."

Daniel shook his head. "We all have our crosses to bear."

"Sam, help me out. Be my date."

"Sorry." Sam reached over and took Teal'c's hand. "I'm a married woman."

"Cute." Cam glared at them all. "Teal'c, buddy, you have a sense of honor. I can count on you, right?"

"All I have to offer is advice, Colonel Mitchell." Teal'c leaned forward and studied Cam for a long, solemn moment. "I would suggest that you make an extra effort to keep track of your pants, lest this young woman succeed in her quest and cost you yet another pair by morning."

"Now that's just low."

"Indeed."

Everyone managed to stop laughing when the waitress returned with their salads.

Sam traded salads with Daniel, and passed the one Vala had been given over to Teal'c. "So, Vala, you still need to tell us about this diner."

Vala described the last few weeks as they ate, and Daniel found himself tightening his arm around her, and feeling incredibly grateful that she'd found Sol's Diner. Anything could have happened to her out there, and he considered it a small miracle that she'd found someone kind.

"We'll have to stop by and visit Sal," Daniel said when she finished. "I want to thank him."

She beamed. "I'd like that."

He returned the smile. "We'll go this weekend, unless we're offworld."

"Call me selfish, but I'm hoping we are offworld," Cam said. "We've been stuck on this planet for weeks, and I'm starting to get restless."

"You didn't go on any missions while I was gone?" Vala asked.

Daniel looked at her, surprised by her question. "You were missing."

"And since someone would have had to stay behind to feed Daniel, we decided not to go anywhere," Cam said. "Two people does not an SG team make."

"Feed Daniel?"

"Oh yeah," Cam said. "He was just pathetic. Wouldn't come out of his office for anything. He didn't eat or sleep, he just sat in there mooning over you for weeks."

Vala grinned.

"Not mooning." Daniel glared at Cam. "That's not even the right -- I was researching, trying to find a lead on Athena."

"You were brooding," Sam said.

"Moping," Teal'c added.

Sam leaned across Daniel and stage-whispered to Vala. "We had to hold an intervention just to remind him to shower."

"Hey!"

Cam snickered. "It's like my grandma always said -- you reap what you sow."

"Yep," Daniel said. "Speaking of which . . . "

"She's coming this way, isn't she?" Cam asked, half under his breath.

"Oh yeah," Sam said.

Cam refused to turn around and look, but the rest of the team watched with delight as the waitress approached. Since they'd last seen her, she'd changed her hair and made some rash decisions regarding the buttons on her blouse.

Disappointment flitted briefly across her face when she spotted Cam's untouched water glass, but Vala generously drained the last of Daniel's and slid the empty glass across the table, landing it just shy of the waitress's easy reach. This was clearly in line with the young woman's plan, and she leaned forward to pour the refill.

Cam, in the meantime, tried to look anywhere but at the missing buttons hovering above his salad plate.

Daniel wondered if the waitress would find him quite as appealing if she saw him with Twinkie residue all over his face.

"Can I get you anything else?" the waitress asked Cam, after finally straightening up from the slowest water-pouring Daniel had ever witnessed in his life.

"Do you think 'anything else' includes our meals?" Sam whispered.

Daniel shrugged.

The waitress continued to loiter at the table. "I could get you some ketchup."

"Yeah," Daniel whispered. "I know I could go for a big bowl of ketchup right now."

Vala chuckled.

"I've always liked my fries with duck sauce," Cam said. "Do you have any of that?"

She scurried away to check.

"Duck sauce?" Daniel asked.

Cam shrugged. "It got her to leave, didn't it?"

"It did," Sam said. "Of course, you do realize that if she finds some duck sauce, she'll expect you to put it on your fries."

"A risk I'm willing to take," Cam said. "Especially since I didn't order any fries."

"Or," Sam continued. "She'll disappear entirely and we'll never get our meals."

Teal'c aimed a stare at Cam. "I think I should inform you that I am very hungry, Colonel Mitchell."

"You know, Teal'c," Daniel said. "For some reason I'm reminded that you never did tell us what you said to the captured Trust operative."

"Indeed." Teal'c continued to stare at Cam.

"Our food is probably ready by now," Vala said. "Maybe I should just go get it?"

"Let Cam get it," Sam said. "He's the one who sent our waitress on a wild goose chase."

"Or in this case," Daniel said. "A wild duck chase."

Everyone groaned but Vala, who laughed softly and patted his leg. "Very amusing, darling, but perhaps we should get you something to eat before you get any more lightheaded."

"Seriously, Jackson, that is just about the worst pun I've ever heard," Cam said. "No more beer for you."

"I'm drinking mineral water."

Sam grabbed his drink and made a show of tasting it. "Yep. Mineral water."

Teal'c nodded towards the staff loitering around the bar. "Perhaps we should summon one of the other waitresses."

"Sal would have fired the lot of them by now," Vala said.

"Then he is indeed a wise man."

"A shame he isn't here now," Daniel said. "Although maybe that will get someone's attention." He nodded towards the front door, where several parties were now mingling around looking for someone to seat them. One was repeatedly ringing the bell on the hostess's podium. Another was eyeing the door.

"Now see what you've done, Cameron." Vala wagged her finger at Cam. "Those people are going to leave, and you're going to cost this perfectly lovely restaurant its customers."

"I'm not seeing how this is my fault," Cam said. "You're the one egging her on."

"Oh, I don't think she needed any encouragement," Daniel said. "And what's their excuse?"

The team watched as the bartender finally noticed the crowd, and after a moment of confusion, went over to help them while the waitresses headed off into the kitchen.

"We're making progress." Cam glanced at his watch. "Now if we're very, very lucky . . . "

Daniel noticed Vala's fingers tracing slow circles on his thigh. He knew he should put a stop to that, but pretending to ignore her seemed a whole lot easier. Besides, he realized guiltily, he still had his arm around her, and in fact had eaten an entire salad with his left hand as a result.

He really had missed her.

Besides, the opportunity to extract his arm really hadn't come up, especially when he'd felt her tremble as she recounted the treatment she'd endured with the Trust. Or when she'd told them about Sal, and his mind had conjured up a dozen scenarios in which they lost her forever.

He really needed to thank Sal.

"If you're very very lucky," Vala said to Cam, her fingers continuing to dance softly across Daniel's leg. "Maybe she'll undo another button. She must be getting desperate by now."

"Indeed," Teal'c said.

Daniel carefully ignored the look that Teal'c and Sam exchanged. If he noticed it, then he'd have to notice Vala's wandering hand as well, and after three weeks of constant worry, he rather enjoyed her teasing. It felt comforting, reminding him that things were back to normal, and that he hadn't lost her after all.

He turned to her, and found her studying him. The soft smile on her face brought a smile to his as well. After all she'd gone through in her life, she still had not only the strength, but also the will, to let go of the old life she'd used as a shield, and let down her guard to make a home for herself on this team. And after all she'd gone through, she could still smile.

She had a beautiful smile, especially when it reached her eyes and she met his gaze --

"Jackson! Vala!" Cam glared at them -- or more accurately at the wall above their heads -- from behind the missing buttons that had returned to the airspace above his salad plate.

The waitress handed Daniel's meal to Vala, asking her twice if she had it before finally relinquishing her hold on it and straightening up. She then repeated the show a second time to pass over Vala's dinner. Only a lack of creativity kept her from passing food to Sam and Teal'c from that vantage point.

"I'm sorry about the duck sauce," she said to Cam. "I searched the whole kitchen, but we don't seem to have any."

"That's my bad anyway," Cam said. "I forgot that I didn't order any fries."

Vala leaned into Daniel. "Does he know he's a terrible liar? If he doesn't, then someone really ought to tell him before it gets us into trouble."

"I don't think she's going to be a particularly hard sell," Daniel whispered back.

"Do you want fries? Because I'd be happy to get you some. On the house, of course. I'll be right back."

Cam made a half-hearted attempt at stopping her, sighed, shrugged, and picked up his fork.

"Complimentary french fries," Sam said. "It must be true love."

"Pfft." Vala rolled her eyes. "More like she's wonko. Cameron's hardly worth this much of a fuss."

"Hey! I got shot trying to rescue you, as you may recall. The least you could do is show a little respect."

"Yeah," Daniel muttered. "Great rescue."

"I'm curious." Sam leaned forward to look at Vala. "Exactly why did you take Cam's pants?"

Vala shrugged. "I wanted his wallet."

"That reminds me," Cam said. "You owe me eighty bucks."

"More than that." Vala snagged an onion ring from Daniel's plate. "But it's gone. Twinkies are expensive."

Cam narrowed his eyes at her. "You spent that much on -- and speaking of things that need explaining, I remember driving to the motel, and then I woke up in bed."

"Oh, that's easy," Vala said. "I hit you over the head."

"And you thought that necessary because?"

"I couldn't very well trust you not to escape while I got a room, and someone might have suspected something if I'd dragged you into the motel office at gunpoint."

"And yet you didn't think they'd suspect something if you dragged my unconscious body into the room?"

Vala rolled her eyes. "Did you see that motel?"

Cam scowled. "Well in any case, you owe me some Twinkie money."

"As I recall," Daniel said. "Vala wasn't the one who ate all that crap, so I think you're even."

"Well what was I supposed to do? She handcuffed me to the bed."

"Don't blame Vala. It's not like she force fed you."

"Actually I did." Vala swiped another onion ring. "But at the time he was trying to convince me I was an alien, so I rather felt I had the right."

"I agree." Daniel stared at Cam. "You called her an alien? How the hell was that supposed to win her trust?"

"I was working at a disadvantage," Cam said. "Did I mention the handcuffs?"

"I wish I'd had a camera." Sam grinned. "I want to remember that moment."

"Oh, you will," Daniel said. "I know it's burned into my memory forever." He jabbed his steak hard enough that the tines of the fork scraped the plate.

"Daniel?" Vala laid a hand on his thigh. "Are you okay?"

He turned to meet her gaze. "What?"

"You're tense."

"Maybe." He caught her hand under the table. "I'm just glad you're safe."

Vala smiled, and Daniel found himself once again struck by how good it felt to see her smile. She was an amazing woman, unbelievable even, to return to form so quickly after what she'd just experienced. They'd gotten lucky, too. The Tok'ra device could have dredged up some pretty terrible stuff, but she really seemed okay.

The remaining tension started to drain away. He even thought he might consider forgiving Cam for the fiasco at the motel. Eventually, anyway.

Sam snickered. "Cam, I think your fries are heading this way."

They all watched the waitress approach with an overflowing platter of french fries. Quite literally overflowing. She left a trail behind her that led clear back into the kitchen, and hurried over to beam at Cam. "I brought you regular, shoestring, curly, and home fries. I didn't know which you liked."

Daniel leaned closer to Vala so he could whisper in her ear. "Maybe she should have deep fried some Twinkies."

Vala smothered a laugh against his shoulder, which lacked in stealth, but the waitress failed to notice, and dove into a whole new list of questions for Cam.

"Maybe she's a spy," Vala whispered. "That would explain a lot."

"Not really." Daniel raised an eyebrow as the waitress asked Cam if he'd ever owned a cat. "A spy would ask better questions."

Vala reached for yet another of Daniel's onion rings. "Oh, I don't know, maybe that's the key to everything. Have you ever owned a cat, Daniel?"

"No," he said slowly. "Have you?"

"Oh don't be silly." She reached towards his plate.

He caught her hand. "You haven't even tried your fried mushrooms."

She wrinkled her nose, and then dove at the plate again. A brief wrestling match ensued as Daniel tried to defend his meal. Of course Vala won in the end, and took a large, triumphant bite out of an onion ring. "These are delicious."

"That's why I ordered them," Daniel said. "But you'll like the fried mushrooms just as much. Try one."

Vala plucked one off of her plate, and then held it up against Daniel's lips. "You first."

Daniel let her feed him the mushroom, her fingertips brushing softly against his lips, and her eyes sparkling with mischief. The restaurant really needed to turn down the heat. Or turn up the air conditioning. Something. Daniel swallowed hard. How had they gotten here?

"So?" She studied him expectantly.

He tried to ignore the pounding of his heart and remember the conversation that had preceded her fingertips coming to rest on his lips, but his mind had gone blank. "So . . . "

"So did you enjoy that?"

He stared at her.

"The mushroom, darling. Was it good?"

"Oh of course, the mushroom." He made every effort to sound matter-of-fact, but had to admit, at least to himself, that he failed pretty miserably. "Yes, it was very good."

Her smile grew and she plucked another off the plate. Then she leaned closer and reached up to brush it across his lips, teasing until he reached up and caught her wrist, and despite his well-intentioned plan to take the morsel out of her hand, he found himself letting her feed him again.

This was going to get him into so much trouble.

With a touch of desperation, he snatched a mushroom from her plate. "Your turn."

She grinned, and he realized that he only had one option if he wanted Vala to try a mushroom. Which he did, because it seemed like the only way to keep her from this very dangerous sharing thing that made his brain not work. Except this plan wasn't any safer.

Regardless, he leaned closer and held it to her lips. And this was exactly why her flirting annoyed him so much. Because it got to him. She was beautiful, and brilliant, and brave, and in fact she possessed just about every other alluring quality there was to possess, and he could very easily let himself tumble over the edge, except that was the last thing either of them needed.

But he couldn't look away as her fingers closed around his wrist, and her lips closed around the mushroom. "Mmm. You're right, darling, these are delicious."

Daniel slowly realized that the others were grinning at them.

Sam leaned closer to Teal'c. "Were Jack and I that obvious?"

There was only one way to deal with this situation. Daniel opted to pretend that he hadn't heard Sam. In fact, she hadn't even said it. And what mushrooms? He ignored Teal'c, because nobody had asked him a question, so he couldn't possibly be answering one.

His 'indeed' must have somehow applied to an earlier conversation, and, 'but only to me,' could mean anything.

It was at that point that Daniel's earlier worry resurfaced for a moment, because Vala went along with his strategy, leaning forward to steal some of Cam's fries instead of deliberately making the situation worse just to watch him squirm.

"Well, Cameron, I'm sorry to tell you this, but it must not be true love after all." Vala eyed a french fry with open scorn, then picked up another mushroom. "If it was, she would have brought you some of these mushrooms. They're delicious."

"Of course," Cam said. "Everyone knows that love is best expressed with deep fried vegetables."

"It's a fungus," Daniel said. "Not a vegetable."

"Okay, fungus. Because that's romantic."

"Here," Vala said. "Try one."

Daniel's gaze snapped to Vala's hand.

"You might want to ease up on that fork," Sam whispered to him.

Vala's hand moved across the table, paused, and dropped the mushroom onto Cam's plate.

Daniel started to breathe again.

Sam laid her hand on his arm. "Daniel, the fork."

He looked down at the fork in his hand, and noticed that the tines had bent. Cheap restaurant silverware. He turned it the other way and carefully bent it back, ignoring Sam's laughter.

"Colonel Mitchell," Teal'c said. "Your admirer approaches."

Cam shot a furtive look towards the kitchen door, and turned back to Teal'c, puzzled.

"The other door." Teal'c nodded at a door hidden from view behind Cam's back.

The smirk on Teal'c's face made Daniel slide closer to Sam in order to see for himself. "Wow."

"What?" Cam asked.

Daniel grinned.

Sam nearly doubled over with laughter.

"What?" Cam repeated.

Vala climbed into Daniel's lap so she could see, and he let her. Everyone needed to enjoy the full impact of this spectacle.

The waitress had changed clothes, if what she now wore could actually be defined as clothing, and despite the rather startling effect this created, it was effectively eclipsed by the heaping bowl of ice cream she carried, adorned with a bouquet of miniature foil balloons.

Heart-shaped miniature foil balloons.

"Is this some bizarre Earth custom you've all forgotten to mention?" Vala asked. "Is Cameron about to get married?"

"What?" Cam demanded.

The waitress moved slowly, as she was now tottering on stilettos more akin to stilts than shoes, which meant an intense level of concentration to keep the ice cream off of the potato-strewn floor.

Daniel felt just the slightest twinge of sympathy as the ice cream moved into Cam's line of sight.

"We didn't order dessert." Cam concentrated on a spot well above the young woman's head. "We haven't even finished our meals."

"I couldn't wait any longer," the waitress explained. "My shift is over."

"Okay then," Cam said. "Have a nice evening."

"We usually only serve these for Valentine's Day," she continued. "But we had some left over."

"You just opened last week," Cam said. "And it's September."

She shrugged. "You deserve a special treat."

"Actually I don't." Cam winced as Sam kicked him under the table. "It's Vala who should get all this attention. She's the one who got promoted."

The waitress ignored this piece of information, turning her back on all of them before bending down to drop something beside Cam's plate. "My number," she said. "Call me sometime."

And just when Daniel thought Cam might leap from his seat to escape, a booming voice echoed through the restaurant, and the waitress backed away. "Coming, Daddy!"

"Oh boy," Sam muttered as Cam visibly paled.

"He's not that big." Vala shifted to whisper in Daniel's ear. "I'm sure even Mitchell can take him."

"That's not the issue," Daniel explained quietly, determined to ignore the heat of her body pressed against his chest. "His collar indicates he's a member of the clergy."

"But he doesn't have any authority. Does he?"

Daniel shook his head, unable to explain the comedic value of social mores because the man had already arrived at their table.

Cam swallowed hard.

But the man barely glanced at them as he took in his daughter's attire with a disapproving scowl, and then they headed out the door.

Cam let his head fall back against the booth and let out a long breath. "That," he said. "Was too close."

"You should have seen the look on your face," Sam said. "Priceless."

"Yeah, yeah," Cam said. "You've all had your fun. How about we pick on Daniel for a while?"

"Nobody picks on Daniel but me," Vala declared. Still on his lap, she leaned across the table to steal a spoonful of ice cream.

"Have it." Cam pushed the bowl over to her. "I'd rather finish my dinner."

"You don't need the calories anyway." Vala took another spoonful and turned to Daniel. "Here, darling, try some."

Daniel had all of his energy focused on ignoring Sam and Teal'c, so Vala's spoon slipped right under his radar, and he found himself being fed ice cream.

"You know this is a family restaurant," Cam said. "They probably have rules."

"Eat your dinner, Cameron." Vala took another bite of ice cream, then offered Daniel another spoonful.

"He's probably right." Daniel took the spoon from her. "Getting asked to leave the restaurant would put a damper on our evening."

"Says the man who once started a brawl in O'Malley's." Sam grinned at him. "I bet Vala would love to hear that story."

"Oh I would." She bounced in his lap. That was pretty hard to ignore.

"Okay," Daniel said. "Off." He gently encouraged Vala to move back to her own seat as he started to explain the long-ago mission with the armbands.


x

Vala wanted to go dancing, and while Daniel found himself slightly less opposed to the idea than common sense dictated, it had several drawbacks. Chief among them being that only Vala really wanted to go. When the others failed to show any enthusiasm for the plan, she rattled off a dozen more suggestions.

"Someone's been watching way too much television," Cam said. "I'm pretty sure Colorado Springs doesn't have a casino."

"How far is Las Vegas?"

"Too far," Daniel said.

"Even if we all took turns driving so everyone could sleep on the way?"

"Easy for you to say," Sam said. "You don't have a driver's license."

"Daniel will cover my share of the driving."

"I would," Daniel said. "But it's really too far to drive tonight. We'll go when we have more down time."

Sam looked at Daniel like he'd lost his mind. A fair assessment, probably, because he'd just agreed to take Vala to Las Vegas.

"Really?" Vala grinned. "Can we get a suite and order champagne? And see an Elvis impersonator?"

"Just so we're clear," Cam said. "Daniel speaks for no one but himself."

"And we're not going any time soon," Daniel added.

Vala just grinned and wrapped her arm around Daniel's. "Let's go golfing!"

They went miniature golfing, and Daniel was actually sorry to reach the last hole. It had been a long time since he'd been able to relax and just have fun. Not that golfing of any kind was a particular thrill, but Vala had enough enthusiasm for them all.

When they got back to the SGC, Vala tried to lure them all to her quarters for a movie.

"Sorry," Sam said. "But I've got an early morning meeting with Dr. Lee, so I'd better call it a night."

Vala nodded, looking disappointed for a moment before launching herself at Sam and hugging her fiercely. "Thank you, Samantha."

"For what?" Sam patted her back awkwardly.

"I've never had friends before." She let go of Sam and turned to Teal'c. "But you're all in, right?"

"I'm afraid I must decline, as I am meeting with Rak'nor in only a few hours." He gave her a hug. "I am glad you are with us once again. I have felt your absence."

"Sorry, Vala, but I'm ready to hit the hay." Cam gave her a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. "It's good to have you back."

"Daniel?" Vala stepped over to him and slid a teasing finger across his chest. "I know you have that translation, but one little movie won't hurt, will it?"

"One movie, but that's it." He slipped an arm around her waist, and then wondered why he'd agreed to a movie when he'd planned to head back to his office.

She grinned.

Oh, right. That was why.

"So what are we watching?"

"Lord of the Rings," she said. "I borrowed it from Walter a few weeks ago."

Daniel sighed. He seemed to remember a long nap on Sam's couch while Teal'c watched that movie and Jack complained about strategic errors made by elves.

"You start the movie," Vala said. "I'll just go slip into something more comfortable."

"Not too comfortable," he warned. He noted that the extended version of this movie -- which was actually part of a trilogy -- didn't even fit on a single DVD, wondered if he'd known that before, and prepared to ignore whatever Vala deemed appropriate attire for watching mythical beings slaughter each other.

She emerged before the DVD had even finished displaying its assorted warnings and disclaimers, wearing a black tee shirt and BDU's. That she wasn't up to something, or at least didn't seem to be, should have pleased him, but instead he found himself studying her more closely, worried that maybe she wasn't quite herself after all. Or maybe she'd just learned a lesson about the value of subtlety from their waitress.


x

Vala wanted to curl up with Daniel and watch the movie. Of course the movie portion of that plan was expendable. She only had the DVD because Walter had let slip that it was four hours long. The curling up part -- the part that mattered -- would benefit from a four hour movie.

Maybe she'd get lucky, and he'd fall asleep here instead of heading back to his own quarters. She'd been alone for weeks, with nothing but strange nightmares and Sal's tapes of The X-Files. Now the nightmares had meaning. Vivid, detailed meaning that she found very hard to ignore, and she knew just how bad they could get. She needed to keep her mind on something else.

Like Daniel. Just looking at Daniel made her smile. He didn't even have to be doing anything particularly interesting. She could be happy just watching him read for hours, although there were many better ways to spend time with Daniel, if only he'd take her suggestions.

She checked her impulse to climb into his lap. If she pushed his boundaries too hard, he might lose patience with her, and that could lead to facing the rest of the night alone. Not a pleasant thought. Instead, she curled herself into the chair beside Daniel. He'd left her the more comfortable of the two, and by nudging it ever so slightly, she positioned it so she could watch him while pretending to watch the movie.

Pretend was about all she could manage, too, because for a movie that boasted magic jewelry, it proved remarkably dull. She wished the others had joined them. Then she could fidget, and pester Daniel so that his forehead creased in that adorable way. But with just the two of them, she had to pretend to watch the movie, or Daniel would suggest turning it off. And if he did that, he might leave.

As the movie wore on, she began to regret her choice. Violence, at least the kind that appeared on a television screen, was a lousy distraction from her memories. She might have enjoyed serving up some violence herself. Especially if she could get her hands on a Trust operative. But this movie just made her restless and tense.

"Vala?"

She smiled at Daniel, determined to prove she was enjoying herself. Then she was enjoying herself, because he took her hand and gave her fingers a squeeze.

"If you'd rather watch something lighter -- "

"Oh no," she said. "This one's great." She kept his hand and threaded their fingers together, delighted when he didn't pull away. Playing with Daniel's lovely fingers was a lot more fun than any movie.


x

The strength of her nightmare drove Vala out of bed early, and she hurried into the shower to wash away the cold sweat that came from that particular memory. Instead of lingering in her quarters, she got dressed and headed to the commissary, hoping to catch Sam or Teal'c before their meetings.

She knew Daniel was still sleeping. It had only been a few hours since he stumbled off to bed. The idea of sneaking into his quarters and sliding into bed with him had its appeal, but he deserved his sleep.

"See!" She plopped down across from Sam and grinned at her. "You could have watched the movie and still made it down here in plenty of time. I did." Teal'c would have seen right through her, so she was glad to have found Sam first.

Sam was too absorbed in the paperwork strewn across the table to notice much else. She just smiled absently and let Vala steal her danish.

"Working on anything interesting?" Vala snatched up a page at random, and made a half-hearted attempt to find it fascinating.

"Here." Sam handed her a different page. "Have you ever seen anything like this?"

Vala had. She yanked her eyes away from the photograph, and for a moment, she considered lying. It wouldn't matter that much; it wasn't like the device would help against the Ori. "Qetesh had one."

"What's it do?"

"Nothing useful." Vala forced some cheerful mischief into her voice and grabbed another random paper. "But this one looks interesting."

"That's a transporter signal amplifier." Sam looked dangerously close to suspicious.

"Well it looked pretty upsidedown," Vala said lightly. "I need to . . . " She gestured pointlessly, because she really didn't need to do anything in particular except flee, which she did.


x

Daniel's office served as Vala's refuge. Well enough, anyway, and at least she'd know as soon as he got up. Unless she went and woke him up. She could bring him coffee. He liked coffee. She glanced at the clock and sighed. Still too early for that plan, regrettably.

She wandered around the office, flipping distractedly through Daniel's notes and books, and she noticed that he'd put away all of the notes on Athena and the key to infinite treasure. That seemed suspiciously organized of him, since just yesterday they'd covered every square inch of surface area in the room.

His hiding place wasn't particularly clever. She found the whole mess in the filing cabinet, sorted into folders and labeled 'Athena' -- so not really a hiding place at all, really. Not that Vala wanted to read any of it; she'd seen enough already. That mystery solved, she moved over to his desk and flopped down in his chair.

The framed picture looked down at her.

Vala had studied the picture before. She'd put a fair bit of energy into wondering about the woman lucky enough to land herself in a frame in Daniel's office, but now she knew better. Sha're wasn't lucky. A month had passed since Vala had learned about Daniel's wife, and how he'd lost her, but thanks to getting kidnapped and having her brain scrambled, the information still seemed new.

Poor Daniel.

And here she was, alive and perfectly healthy, letting herself get upset over the past. She'd survived the goa'uld, and she had her freedom back. Very few goa'uld hosts got that lucky. She never thought she'd have friends like she'd made here at the SGC, and a chance to do some real good in this galaxy.

She had every reason to be happy. Dreams were nothing. They'd go away if she stopped dwelling on them. Which she couldn't do sitting in here all alone. She needed to find something to do. Sam would be talking to Dr. Lee by now, so Vala decided it was safe enough to go looking for Mitchell. She'd probably find him in the weight room, so she could get in a few jabs about his soft belly before Daniel got out of bed.

That thought cheered her somewhat, and she headed out the door.


x

The world got a little better once Daniel woke up and joined it. Vala smiled her first genuine smile of the day when she saw him, and barely held back from kissing his cheek. "Good morning, darling."

Usually he grumbled his good mornings, especially before his coffee, but today he even managed to smile a little bit. "Have you had breakfast?"

Vala decided that Sam's danish didn't count, and followed him down to the commissary. "What are we doing today?"

"More research on Castiana, Sahal and Vagonbrei. There has to be something about those three planets that will lead us to the grail, or why would Morgan put herself at risk to give us their gate addresses?"

"But we've already been to them," Vala said. "There's nothing there."

"Exactly," Daniel said. "But she also gave us their ancient names, which tells me that there must be some reference to them that I'm missing, something I didn't notice before because I didn't know their names in Ancient. I'm hoping the etymology will lead us to the version of the story that contains the key."

"So what we're looking for is . . . what?"

"Stories that resemble those of Castiana, Sahal, or Vagonbrei, but which refer to the places by a different name."

"A name like Taoth Vaclarush or Valos Cor," Vala said.

"Not necessarily. Just the difference itself could mean something, even if the variation of the name doesn't resemble the name in Ancient, because these stories have been translated numerous times. Guinevere's name, for example, varies in every language, and in fact the variations can be used to trace the source of a particular story. That she's called Winlogee on the Modena Archivolt proves that the Bretons were the source of the Arthur legends in twelfth century Italy."

Daniel continued on like that for several more minutes.

Vala grinned.

"What?"

"You're positively adorable when you talk that way."

He sighed. "You start with these. I'm going to go through some of the materials I brought back from England."

Daniel spent the entire day poring over his own notes, and a wide variety of books, searching for anything related to the names Morgan Le Fay had given them in Atlantis. Vala loved the way his forehead wrinkled in concentration as he read, and the way his whole face lit up with excitement at the slightest clue.

She didn't mind studying his notes, either. She liked Daniel's handwriting, and the precise way he organized his thoughts while he researched.

Mitchell eventually wandered though and offered to order pizza, but other than that nobody bothered them.

"It's getting late," Daniel said.

"Is it?"

"Vala." Daniel put his book down. "What we're doing is important, but as you're so fond of telling me, we're no good to anyone if we work ourselves into a coma. You don't need to hide the fact that you're getting tired."

"But I'm not," she lied. "Really. I could go another two, three hours, easily."

"I'm not buying it," he said. "Now let's go to bed."

"Oh," she said brightly. "Well I'm all for that, darling."

He gave her that look, which while adorable was not the one she wanted to see at the moment. "You go to your bed, I'll go to mine. Now goodnight."


x

Bed. Vala stared at her adversary for a long minute, then turned on the television and flopped down in a chair. She flipped through the channels listlessly; not even the poker channel could hold her attention for long.

Without Daniel to serve as a very attractive distraction, her mind went back to dwelling on the memories. She'd lived with them for years, but now they seemed fresh again, and the jumbled emotions -- disgust and fear and anger -- made her stomach churn.

She thought about just going to Daniel's quarters and telling him the truth -- that all of this garbage Qetesh had left in her head made sleeping just about the last thing she wanted to do. But it wasn't like he could do anything about it. And what if he suggested she talk to the base psychiatrist? That would jeopardize her position on SG-1, and nothing mattered more to her than being a member of the team.

The only thing she could do was try to sleep, and hope that the nightmares would end on their own. She had to try, because sitting up all night solved nothing.

Her first nightmare sent her straight into the bathroom. She splashed some cool water on her face and took a deep, shaky breath. The dream felt so real that she was almost surprised to look in the mirror and not see -- but that was silly, because it had all happened years ago, long before the Tau'ri killed Ra and sent Qetesh fleeing to the backwaters of the galaxy to lick her wounds.

The second nightmare made her turn on the television again, and click impatiently through the offerings. The first movie she found made her angry. Vala couldn't see what right the stupid movie woman had to complain if that was the biggest problem in her life. The next one was too sad, but eventually she landed on a documentary about the history of the steel industry. She liked the ridiculous level of enthusiasm in the narrator's voice. It reminded her ever-so-slightly of Daniel.

Vala knew when the documentary ended, because the next program featured explosions, which she almost welcomed, since they interrupted a far more unpleasant event in her dream. She got dressed and went to work out. Maybe she'd feel better after she did some quality violence to a punching bag.


x

After a hard workout and a hot shower, Vala returned to Daniel's office. It was the next best thing to actually being with Daniel, and hopefully he'd join her soon. In the meantime, she rifled through his things for no particular reason, and discovered a folder with her name on it.

Interesting.

Or not. When she opened it, she just found a few magazines that she'd left laying around his office on various occasions. She'd always assumed he'd just thrown them out, and thought it was rather sweet of him to keep them.

"You're up early," Daniel said from the doorway.

She beamed at him.

He eyed her suspiciously, but didn't comment on the folder in her hands. "Breakfast?"


Most of the day was pretty much the same as the one before, except that as dinnertime approached, Daniel discovered some oddly placed math problems in one of his old manuscripts.

"Code for a gate address?" Vala asked hopefully.

"It's possible. It might mean something specific to Sam."

Vala went to track her down, but found her shoulder-to-shoulder with Dr. Lee, elbow-deep in reports, so all she got was a promise that Sam would come look at the equations later in the day. Which worked out fine for Vala, because at least she escaped before Sam thought to ask any follow-up questions about Qetesh's little toy.

Of course, she felt terrible about keeping information from Sam, even if it was a tiny thing. It wasn't like the device posed a risk to the SGC, though, and Vala had very little interest in discussing anything related to Qetesh right now. Even the smallest details made her stomach roll. Like now, as she tried to count herself lucky for avoiding the discussion, and noticed that her hands shook as she opened the door to Daniel's office.

She tried to return to her reading, but Geoffrey of Monmouth's account of British history failed to keep her mind off of Qetesh, so she went to peer over Daniel's shoulder instead. "Find anything?"

"Not yet."

She leaned in closer to get a better look at the manuscript. Her improved proximity to Daniel was entirely a coincidence, of course. "I can't read that."

"Neither can I." Daniel took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "At least not very well. It's in Welsh."

"You should take a break." She laid her hands on his shoulders. "Close your eyes."

"Vala -- "

"Shh, just relax." She gently worked on his tense muscles, and felt some of her own anxiety drop away. For a man who spent most of his time reading, Daniel had the most wonderful shoulders. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the warmth of his flesh beneath his tee shirt, and the satisfying way his knots softened under her persistent fingers.

Her hands started to ache, her thumbs in particular, but she ignored the discomfort, because she just wanted to go on touching Daniel all night, and when his head dropped forward she brought her fingers up to lightly rub his neck. Her stomach did a very pleasant little flip as her fingertips glided over his skin.

He groaned just the teensiest bit, which made her grin in satisfaction, but then he rolled his shoulders and sat up straighter. "Thanks," he said. "That does feel better."

She wanted to let her hands slide down over his chest, and she wanted to whisper something seductive in his ear. Or nibble on his ear. Instead, she dragged one finger down along his shoulder blade. "That was just a preview, darling. If you want the full treatment, we'll need a more comfortable setting."

"Could you grab that dictionary behind you?" Daniel asked, obviously determined to ignore the invitation. "This might go faster with your help."

Vala pulled her chair up beside Daniel's, and he scooted over to make room. She tried to concentrate on what he was telling her about the history of the manuscript, instead of noticing that she could feel the heat of his thigh against her own, but she was tired, and it just felt so nice to be near him.

Still, she made an effort to be helpful, and thought she managed it reasonably well for the hour or two before she nodded off against his shoulder.

"Why don't you go get some sleep," he said. "We can pick up here in the morning."

"No." Her eyes snapped to his and she forced a grin. "I'm fine, really. It's not even that late."

He studied her face, and she knew that even her brightest smile wouldn't hide her exhaustion, because her eyes were burning, and probably looked bloodshot. "Go to bed, Vala, you've earned it. We'll finish this tomorrow."


x

This time, she fell asleep faster, but the memory that chose to rise in her consciousness made her scream out loud, as she had wanted to scream all those years ago. Then Daniel appeared, touching her gently and offering to listen, to help, even to sleep by her side.

Vala jumped at the offer, relief flooding through her at the thought of not facing another night alone, and she moved over to let him join her. Her throat tightened as Daniel settled down beside her. That he'd offer her this -- there was nobody in the galaxy like her Daniel. Nobody was this kind and generous. She wanted to crawl into his arms and unload every last one of the horrible memories Athena had so mercilessly restored to full Technicolor™. But she could never do that to him.

Especially not after learning about Sha're.

She suspected -- and honestly hoped for Daniel's sake -- that Amaunet had behaved less cruelly towards her host than had Qetesh, but Daniel probably lived with enough imagined horrors already. He didn't need Vala confirming that not only were his worst fears quite possibly true, but that he hadn't imagined quite enough brutality.

And on the less selfless side, there were of course all of those ways Qetesh had used her that she quite simply couldn't stand to have Daniel know about.

"Hey." Daniel took her hand and squeezed it softly. "I'm right here if you want to talk about it."

"I don't," she said. "But I appreciate the company."

They watched each other quietly in the dark, and Vala felt better already. It helped to have Daniel within whispering distance, just like when they traveled off world. That's when she'd really known that what she felt for Daniel was different, that first time she'd slept by his side, and she'd found herself listening to his breathing.

The sound warmed her heart now, too, and she stopped dwelling on the poisonous memories Qetesh had left behind, and instead focused on Daniel, and all of those endearing little traits that made her shiver.


x

Daniel opened one eye to find Vala smiling at him, and jerked to full consciousness, but then his memories assured him that he hadn't given in and made that mistake.

"Good morning, darling," she said brightly. "Coffee?"

"Thanks." He sat up to take the cup she offered. "I take it you slept well?"

"Like a baby." She smiled softly. "Thank you."

"I'm glad I could help," Daniel said.

A knock at the door kept him from saying more.

"Sorry to bother you." Sam entered with her nose in a folder. "But I was wondering if you'd seen Daniel, and clearly you have, so -- "

"It's not what it looks like," Vala said. "We didn't have sex. Don't get me wrong, I do plan to have sex with Daniel, but -- "

"It's really none of my business," Sam said.

"Anyhoo," Daniel said. "You were looking for me?"

"We have intel on a possible supergate. The Odyssey leaves in two hours, so if you wanted me to look at that equation you found, it kind of has to be now."

"Right."

Vala handed him his glasses, and he followed the two women to his office, still drinking his coffee.


x

Vala left Daniel in his office with Sam and headed for the SGC workout room. She wanted Sam's opinion on the equation almost as much as Daniel did, but it would be easier, or at least more fun, to let Daniel fill her in later. Right now, she wanted to celebrate her good mood and work off some of the restless energy that came from a good night's sleep.

It felt good to finally get a proper workout, at least until her mind wandered from Daniel-related subjects to less happy destinations. Knowing the things Qetesh had done to her was bad enough, but actually remembering the details through her own eyes, practically reliving them as if they'd just happened days ago instead of years ago -- she wished she could have fought back; wished she could have done anything more than just scream inside her own head.

Slaves put to death for failing to make quota working the mines, villages burned to the ground, prisoners tortured -- Vala tried to focus on the atrocities Qetesh committed in this body, because the righteous anger felt better than the other memories. The ones where Qetesh had indulged other appetites, and sometimes even entertained rival system lords for personal gain.

Daniel had once told her she used sex as a weapon, and as much as she hated that, she knew he was right. After the way Qetesh had used her body, she couldn't very well consider the act sacred like she had as a girl, or she'd go crazy, and using it to further her own goals made her feel powerful, and in control.

Having these memories back in vivid clarity made her feel anything but powerful and in control.


x

After seeing Sam off to join the crew of the Odyssey, Daniel went looking for Vala. Teal'c directed him towards the weight room, but when he found her he froze in the doorway.

Vala was beating the hell out of a punching bag, and not with the grace and finesse that typified her fighting style. Instead, she was attacking with blunt force and what Daniel recognized as pent up rage. He could relate. She noticed him when she finally stopped for breath, or perhaps just to swipe angrily at the tears on her face.

The anger Daniel felt grew even more, because Vala had already suffered far more than anyone should, and for the Trust to have done this to her just when she had her life on the right track -- he wanted to hurt someone for this, and even more, he wanted to pull her into his arms like he had in the warehouse, but there were better places for this conversation. "I was thinking about heading off base for lunch," he said cautiously. "Interested?"

"Teal'c and Mitchell said something about Szechwan, but I'm not really -- "

Daniel shook his head. "Just us, and we can get anything you like."

She smiled, albeit with a little less than her usual radiance, and quickly agreed. He barely had time to change into civvies before she reappeared, freshly showered and looking absolutely stunning. Neither mentioned her treatment of the punching bag as they walked to Daniel's car.

They ended up fetching take-out and heading back to his place, and while he got out plates, Vala amused herself by drawing in the dust on his kitchen table. "For goodness sake, Daniel, don't you ever clean this place?"

"Yeah," he said. "Well it's just that I haven't been here in weeks."

"Really? Why?"

"You were missing. I didn't see the point in wasting time driving back here just to sleep."

She smiled. "You were worried about me."

"I was."

That smile grew. "And you missed me."

"I did." He expected some teasing or thinly veiled innuendo in response to that admission, but instead he found himself with his arms full of Vala.

"I missed you too." She hugged him tightly. "Or, actually, I didn't, because I didn't remember you, but I missed something, and I assume that was you."

He had to smile at that as he found himself holding her close. He reminded himself that she needed his friendship after her recent ordeal, but he wasn't quite sure if he was telling himself that to justify the hug, or to keep things from going too far, because when she drew back, he found himself lost in her eyes, and quelling the sudden impulse to kiss her.

Vala possessed a unique ability to make him crazy, and she employed it now by unexpectedly kissing his cheek before hustling around his kitchen putting together their lunch. "Don't just stand there, darling, get the ice."


x

Vala rushed around Daniel's kitchen, using more plates than was strictly necessary for the takeout, because if she stopped moving for long enough to look at him, she was going to break down and tell him all sorts of things that she didn't want him knowing, and that he didn't want to know.

Or she was going to kiss him, because he'd worried about her, and missed her, and nobody had done anything of that nature since her mother died. Kissing Daniel ranked pretty high on the list of things Vala really wanted to do, but while she didn't mind the way he rebuffed her flirting, she did fear outright rejection, and she didn't exactly feel up to any bravery today.

She took the ice tray from Daniel, and tried to worry the cubes free by twisting it. When that failed, she slammed it into the counter, and as ice scattered across the floor she realized she was crying.

Damn.

Daniel came up behind her, turning her around to pull her into his arms, and she went willingly enough. He held her silently, rubbing her back, demanding nothing. He didn't try to soothe her with platitudes, he just held her without question, and she loved him for it.

A few days ago, she'd clung to his hand in the back seat of the car as they drove back to the SGC. She'd been so scared, and she had really hoped that this wonderful man who made her feel safe for the first time in weeks, who had made her think that she wanted to remember her life after all, was her lover.

With her memories restored, she realized that he was something even better -- her Daniel, who supported her and believed in her, and not because she'd seduced him or conned him, but just because he was Daniel.


x

Emotional release was probably exactly what Vala needed, but it still bothered Daniel to see her suffering. He wished he could afford to take time out from fighting the Ori, because he really wanted to inflict some pain on the Trust for what they'd done to Vala.

"Sorry." She raised her head from his shoulder.

"Don't be." He smoothed the tears from her cheek with his thumb. "You want to talk about it?"

"No." She said it quickly, her voice cracking on the word, and she turned from him to bend down and start picking up the ice from the floor.

He grabbed a towel and joined her. Not that either of them cared the slightest bit about ice cubes melting on his kitchen floor. "I won't push, but if you ever do want to talk, I'll listen."

She nodded, and took the towel out of his hand to wipe at an invisible -- possibly even imaginary -- spot on the floor.

"Hey." He laid a hand on her shoulder. "Leave it. Let's eat before our lunch gets cold."

They carried the food into the living room, and Vala skipped right past her usual attempt to sit in his lap, or dangerously close to it, and sat instead at the far end of the couch. It wasn't that Daniel missed the inappropriate flirting, exactly, but she hadn't crossed the line even once all day.

She also failed to lay claim to the remote control, which was usually the first thing she did upon entering his living room. Of course she probably only did that because it annoyed Cam, and he wasn't here, but still.

"I said I wasn't going to push you to talk," he said. "But I'm starting to think that maybe I should."

She put down her plate and studied him intently. "How did you know I wouldn't shoot you?"

"What?"

"In the warehouse, how did you know I wouldn't shoot you?"

"I suppose I didn't," he admitted. "Not for sure."

"Damn it, Daniel, I could have shot you. I was scared to death, and I didn't remember you. You shouldn't have taken the chance."

"If I had moved out of your way, you would have disappeared, and I couldn't let that happen."

"You had a zat," she said. "You could have just -- "

"No." He shook his head. "I needed you to trust me. We didn't know exactly what that thing had done to your memory, or how long it might take to undo the damage."

"You had not one but two different machines back at the SGC that could be used to restore my memory. Obviously I wasn't in my right mind, you could have just zatted me, and made me go through with the treatment. You didn't need my trust. Not enough to risk your life."

"Vala -- "

"I've shot you before, Daniel, on the Prometheus. What if I had remembered that before I remembered that I -- " She shook her head and turned away from him to stare at the wall. "I could have killed you."

"No," he said. "I know you better than that, and you wouldn't have killed me."

"You don't know that. And when I think about what could have happened -- "

"Is that what you've been dreaming about?"

"Yes." She sounded surprised.

He put down his plate and moved closer to her. "Vala, look at me."

She turned to him, and the look on her face confirmed his suspicion. She'd just lied to him, and he considered letting her get away with it, but she needed to talk in order to move past all that she'd been through in her life, and under the circumstances, sooner was probably better than later.

"You've been dreaming about Qetesh."

After a long moment, she nodded.

He caught her chin, and gently lifted her face until he could look her in the eye. "I'm right here to listen when you're ready to talk."

"I can't," she said, her voice strained.

"That's okay." He pulled her into his arms. He wanted to erase her pain, but all he could do was hold her, and listen when she decided to talk. "I understand how painful this must be for you," he said. "I want you to know I'm here for you. Whatever you need, I'll be here for you."


x

All Vala wanted was for Daniel to keep holding her close. She could hear the steady beat of his heart, and his warm, masculine scent surrounded her, protecting her from the full impact of the memories trying to play out in her head. Dr. Lam had said that when it came to memories, smell was the most powerful sense, and Vala believed her, because Qetesh felt a little less real right now.

Maybe she could steal one of Daniel's shirts to take to bed with her.

She let out a breath with a long, shaky sigh, and closed her eyes as Daniel slid a hand up and down her back. Maybe she needed to be kidnapped more often, the hugs were almost worth it. Of course she'd prefer captors with an agenda that caused her a little less -- "Athena's working for Ba'al."

"So it seems," Daniel said. "Or working with him, in any case. Why?"

"If this infinite treasure thing does include a stash of powerful weapons, shouldn't we make some sort of an effort to beat Ba'al to it?"

"I don't think it exists."

She straightened up to meet his gaze. "But what if it does?"

"Vala -- "

"If it exists, then Athena's right -- the location is buried somewhere in my subconscious. We should -- "

"No."

"What do you mean, 'no'?"

"I mean no, you're not subjecting yourself to that machine again, and no, I'm not letting anyone rummage around inside your head." He laid a finger over her lips before she could protest. "Besides, the clava thessara infinitas is a myth."

She nodded, and Daniel lifted the finger from her lips. For a moment, she missed the contact, but then he touched her cheek and tucked back a wayward strand of her hair.

"Let's eat," he said. "And then I have something I want to show you."


After lunch, Vala followed Daniel into his bedroom and sat on the bed while he rummaged around in the closet. Everything was very neatly organized, but even dustier than the kitchen, and she wondered if he ever bothered to sleep here.

He emerged with a sealed cardboard box, the side of which included three different sets of handwriting. The first Vala recognized as Daniel's, and he'd written his wife's name on it. Beneath that, someone -- she guessed Jack -- had written, 'Daniel - private,' and Sam had added, 'Dr. Jackson, classified,' followed by a series of numbers.

"What's in it?"

"I'm really not sure," Daniel said. "It's been sealed for years."

"Daniel, you don't have to -- "

"I do." He sank down beside her on the bed, and cut the tape from the box. He swallowed hard as he removed a piece of women's clothing and laid it on the bed, followed by an assortment of trinkets. Then he pulled out a leather journal, and tucked in the back of that were a few folded pieces of paper. "Here it is," he said. "It's a report. One I never turned in. Or finished."

She took the pages, baffled as to why he'd show her this. "Hathor."

"In all those years of fighting the goa'uld, with all the evil I saw, and all they took from me, this is the one I've never talked about."

Vala's hand tightened on the papers in her hand, and she waited for him to explain, rather than reading the report for herself.

"For a long time, I was ashamed of what happened," he said. "As you probably know, Hathor used a chemical to control men."

She nodded.

"Well, she selected me as her chosen one, to . . . contribute some DNA. She seduced me, and I was in no condition to resist. I even -- well, I enjoyed it, at the time, and if not for Sam I would have been father to a whole new family of goa'uld." He shuddered at the memory. "Anyway, Hathor used me in a very personal way, and even though I know that logically there was nothing I could have done to prevent it, I still felt like I'd somehow betrayed my wife."

"Daniel." She reached for his hand, because she didn't know what to say.

"It was a long time ago, and I've come to terms with it. I just wanted you to know that, in some small way, I understand what it's like to be violated like that. My experience was nothing compared to what Qetesh put you through, but you don't have to deal with those memories alone."

"Qetesh trapped Hathor on Earth to gain favor with Ra," Vala said. Pointlessly, she realized. She looked down at their joined hands. "What happened to Hathor?"

"She's dead," Daniel said.

Vala nodded, and kept watching their hands.

"Talking about it will help," Daniel said. "I'm willing to listen, when you're ready."

She shook her head. As much as she appreciated, and wanted, what he was offering, she knew it would only cause him pain. "I'm sorry, Daniel, but I don't think I can."

"If you'd feel more comfortable talking to Sam, or Dr. Lam -- "

"No." Vala's throat tightened as she fought back fresh tears. "Daniel, there's no one I trust more than you, it's just -- " She shook her head.

"I used to think talking about it would make it more real," he said. "That if I kept it to myself, then what happened wouldn't matter, and the memories would fade. Now I realize they probably would have faded a lot sooner if I'd shared the burden."

They were both silent for a few minutes.

"The worst part," Daniel said eventually, "was the loss of control. The loss of myself. Hathor was all that mattered to me, and I would have done anything for her. When her influence wore off, I had some memory loss, and as the details came back to me, it was like reliving the events, without any control, but with full awareness."

"Like my dreams," Vala said. "It's always there, just waiting to get dredged up again, and every time I think I've finally moved past -- " She shook her head. "At least in my nightmares I can scream. I used to scream inside my own head when Qetesh -- "

Daniel squeezed her hand when she stopped talking, and in avoiding his eyes, she found herself staring at Sha're's things on the bed. And damn it, she was crying again as her traitorous mind flashed back to the day she had been taken as host. She remembered screaming impotent, silent screams as her own hands committed murder against her will, and she could practically hear Qetesh laughing at her struggles.

She pulled away from Daniel before she lost all control and painted him a very vivid picture of exactly what his wife had probably experienced at the hands of the goa'uld. She fled into the bathroom to lean up against the sink and stare at herself in the mirror. She needed to get her emotions under control. Qetesh was long-dead. Nothing Qetesh had done mattered now. What mattered now was fighting the Ori.

And Vala needed to be in that fight, because Adria had said she had plans for Daniel, and that scared the hell out of her. Adria could read her mind, and that meant Adria knew she loved Daniel. If that got him killed --

"Vala?"

"I'm fine," she said automatically. And completely unconvincingly, she realized. She choked on the words, and the tears came faster because everything was just too much. The Trust, Qetesh, Adria -- it all felt new, and it was all too much.

Then Daniel was there, turning her around and wrapping his arms around her, holding her close again, and she clung to him, probably hard enough to leave bruises.


x

Daniel needed to tell Vala that he'd studied Qetesh, exhaustively, and that she had nothing to hide from him. But for now, he just held her and rubbed her back. He doubted she'd ever let herself cry over the things Qetesh had done. She'd been too busy surviving.

The goa'uld hurt everyone he loved. Even now. They'd declared the war won, discounting Ba'al and scattered lesser goa'uld like Athena as irrelevant, but they'd been wrong. What the Trust had done to Vala -- he swallowed, and concentrated on keeping his touch gentle as he stroked her back.

Her grip on his neck loosened, and she whispered an apology through the tears.

"Hey." He caught her chin with the tip of his finger. "You don't need to apologize."

She turned away from him and grabbed some tissues. "We should be getting back to the SGC. That old manuscript won't translate itself."

"We're not going anywhere," he said. "Except maybe back to the kitchen for a drink. Water?"

She nodded, and followed him. "We forgot about the ice."

Daniel barely glanced at the little puddles all over the counter, and pulled two bottles of water out of the fridge. "I have something I need to tell you." He handed over a water as they settled down on the couch. "After we met, I did some research on Qetesh."

"How much research?" Her voice sounded strained, and she turned from him to stare at the floor.

"Quite a lot, I'm afraid." He hated telling her any of this, but if she knew it wouldn't shock him, then maybe she could open up. "I know the kinds of things she was up to in Syria and Egypt. I suspected she was behind Hathor's entombment in Mexico, and I know what else she did to gain favor with Ra. And how she kept it."

"Daniel."

He slid up behind her and laid his hands on her shoulders. "Nothing Qetesh did is a reflection on you. Not thousands of years ago in Egypt, and not after she took you as a host. I know you're embarrassed, and regret the things she did. I understand what that feels like, but none of it was your fault. You have nothing to be ashamed of, Vala, nothing at all."

"Before Qetesh, I'd never even -- " She shook her head, and buried her face in her hands.

Her admission knocked the wind out of him. With all he knew of Qetesh, he thought he was prepared for the worst. But that was too cruel. He rubbed Vala's shoulders, and gently encouraged her to turn so he could pull her into his arms again.

"It was Ra," she said softly, and he felt her shudder. "The first thing Qetesh did after taking me was murder a slave, just to laugh at my horror as she used my hands to do it. And the second thing she did was go to Ra."

Daniel held her tighter, and fought to keep from reacting to each new revelation.

"That's what I was dreaming about last night," Vala said. "Before you saved me."

"I wish I could have saved you a long time ago." He touched her face again, to encourage her to look at him, and she smiled a little as their eyes met.

"You did save me, Daniel. You killed Ra, and Qetesh fled to her own territories. Without Ra, she was weak enough to be overthrown in a slave revolt. Well, eventually."

"How long?" He almost choked on his own question, because he dreaded the answer.

She shrugged. "After Ra, maybe seven years? Qetesh tried playing Camulus and Ba'al against each other, but that proved less profitable than anticipated, and then the Tok'ra got lucky."

"Ba'al?" He asked softly, his heart twisting.

She nodded.

He studied her face for a long minute. Ba'al's recreational cruelty was something he knew a little too well, and given what he knew of Qetesh -- he swallowed hard.

"It was bad," she admitted. "But after Qetesh defeated him at the Battle of Selenis, he kept his distance."

Daniel squeezed her shoulder as she fell silent, at a loss for what to say.

"Qetesh killed tens of thousands while I was her host," Vala said. "But the faces I see in my nightmares -- before Selenis, Qetesh told Camulus the location of Ba'al's fleet. Then, when Ba'al got the news of the ambush, she laid the blame on one of Ba'al's servants, and together they tortured the poor girl, for days. Her face was the first thing I remembered, that first night after I escaped from the Trust."

Daniel closed his eyes and swallowed futilely at the lump that rose in his throat as Vala described the dream.

"I thought I must be some horrible monster," she said. "Because in the dream, I could hear my own voice, and I was laughing."


x

She'd never meant to tell him any of this, but the words just came tumbling out, and as his gentle hands wiped her tears and held her close, she started to feel better, like she'd finally escaped the grip that Qetesh had on her, even in death. Then, during a pause in her narrative, she saw Daniel's face.

The clench of his jaw, the pain in his eyes -- she'd done that to him, selfishly dumping her old baggage on him, even knowing how he'd lost his wife. For every word she'd said, he must have pictured Sha're suffering the same abuse.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have -- " She shook her head, and fled to the kitchen to clean up the melted ice.

"Vala." He followed her, of course.

She kept her back to him, and tried to focus on rapidly opening all of his cupboards, only to slam them shut again in frustration. "Don't you have any paper towels?"

"What?"

"Paper towels, Daniel. The people of your world use them to wipe up spills. I know Teal'c says that using them will destroy the planet, but -- "

"Vala."

She let him cut her off, because in truth she probably wouldn't have made it to the end of that pointless little rant without her voice breaking. She was so sick of her emotions yanking her around, and escaping her control. Since when did she, Vala Mal Doran, greatest con artist in the galaxy, not only resort to cleaning up spills as subterfuge, but actually fail at it?

Daniel's hand landed on her shoulder.

Oh, right.

Since Daniel.

She wanted to apologize, she felt she owed it to him, but somehow the words just refused to form. She swallowed back tears, gave a helpless little shrug, and forced herself to turn around and meet his gaze. Almost of its own will, her hand rose to rest against his chest. "I should never have unloaded all of that on you. I'm sorry."

"Don't be," he said. "You needed to talk."

"You've been through enough already, Daniel, you don't need my baggage too."

"Hey." He made her look at him. "I've never been host to a goa'uld, or gone through anything that compares to what you've experienced. Yes, it's painful to think about someone I care for suffering like that -- "

"Your wife -- "

"I meant you, Vala." His hand rose to her cheek again, and his thumb smoothed away a tear. "You're important to me, and that's why I want -- need -- to be here for you. As for Sha're -- I already know exactly what she suffered, every last agonizing detail of it, so nothing you say will change how I feel about it. You don't need to spare my feelings, okay?"

She nodded.

"Let's go sit back down."

They returned to the couch, and Vala studied Daniel's face. "Would you tell me about Sha're?" she asked. "I understand if you'd rather not . . . "

"No, it's okay." He fiddled with the cap on his bottle of water. "I met her the first time we went through the gate, and even though we didn't speak the same language, she managed to show me her sense of humor." He smiled as he told the story. "There was no one else like Sha're. She was always so full of life, and she had this bold courage that was rare for a woman on Abydos."

He got quiet then, and focused on his water, screwing the cap back in place after each sip, and Vala started to regret asking about Sha're.

"Ra's territory," she said, seizing on Abydos as a possible topic. "Qetesh never liked that planet. Which is fortunate for me, or I probably would have been on Ra's ship when you blew it up, but by then Qetesh and Ra were spending a little more time apart."

The serious look on Daniel's face made her regret being so flip. "Vala, how long were you a host?"

"I'm not entirely sure," she said. "I tried to figure it out once. It's not very clear -- especially since a fair number of memories in my head aren't actually mine -- but I think it had to be at least ten years. Probably more."

Daniel put down his water, and reached out to squeeze her hand.

She laid her other hand over his. "You were telling me about Sha're."

He told her about the year he'd spent on Abydos before Apophis showed up to claim the planet, about losing Sha're and vowing to find her, and about Amaunet's pregnancy.

"Oh, Daniel." She squeezed his hand.

"But I got to spend some time with her," Daniel said. "Amaunet had to remain dormant to protect the baby, so Sha're was herself again, for a little while at least."

"And that's how you know all the details," Vala said softly.

"That, and the few minutes we were able to communicate when she died."

And when he finished that explanation, Vala just wanted to wrap her arms around him and return all the comfort he'd given her, but she wasn't entirely sure he'd let her, so she settled for moving closer, and rubbing her thumb over the back of his hand.


x

They sat in silence for a while. Daniel was glad he'd told Vala about Sha're. Jack, Sam, and Teal'c had been there, of course, and Cam had read about specific events in mission reports, but he'd never really sat down with anyone and talked about her.

Vala shifted on the couch, moving closer, and he reached out to wrap an arm around her shoulder. Then he tried not to enjoy it too much when she settled in against him, but after weeks of gut wrenching worry -- not to mention all they'd shared this afternoon -- he couldn't help but take comfort in the warm weight of her body tucked close to his side.

He needed this as much as she did.

If he thought it could work, if he thought they could build a life together without hurting each other . . . and maybe they could, but he knew they weren't on the same page when it came to relationships, they were just too different. More importantly, Vala needed a true friendship, one where sex stayed out of the equation, because she needed something stable and solid in her life, and not just another conquest.

He loved her enough to give her that friendship.

Even if his heart did pound a little faster every time she smiled at him.

She still held his free hand in both of hers, playing idly with his fingers. "I lied to Samantha. Well, not lied exactly, but I didn't really answer her question."

"What was her question?"

"The other morning she had a picture of a goa'uld device, and she asked if I'd seen one before. Qetesh had one, but -- well I really didn't want to explain it."

"That's understandable," he said. "Don't worry about it."

She lifted her head and her hands stilled. "I want you to trust me, Daniel."

"Vala -- "

"Yes, I know you've trusted me when you had every reason not to, that's not what I'm saying." She bit her lip. "I want to be worthy of your trust."

"You are, and I trust you with my life."

"Pfft."

He raised his eyebrows. "Did you just pfft my life?"

"Well you have died a few times, Daniel, that does rather take the punch out of that particular cliché."

"Point taken," he said. "But I also trust you with my friends' lives, and I know you'd never hide anything dangerous from Sam. You can tell her about the device when she gets back from the Odyssey."

She nodded, and settled back down against his side. "What did Sam have to say about the equation?"

"Not much," Daniel admitted. "She suggested we have the ink analyzed."

"Then we should probably -- "

"I sent it to the lab this morning," Daniel said. "We'll have an answer tomorrow."

She started playing with his fingers again. "So we can stay here for a little while?"

"For as long as you'd like," he said.

"Thank you." She squeezed his hand, and they lapsed into silence.

Later, he'd call Agent Barrett. Yes, the Ori were the bigger threat, but Daniel could get back into the fight against the goa'uld for long enough to make Athena regret the pain she'd caused Vala. As for General Landry's objections, well, he'd just have to play his civilian card. Or call Jack.

Besides, with Athena on the loose, Vala remained a potential target. He refused to just accept that the Trust fell under the NID's jurisdiction, and live with the possibility that the last few weeks could happen again. They had enough danger in their lives


x

Vala must have dozed off, because she woke up feeling warm and relaxed. Daniel had covered her with a blanket and tucked a pillow under her head, and she could hear his voice coming from the kitchen.

She slipped off the couch and went to investigate.

"And I refuse to accept that," Daniel was saying. "Yes, of course I'm taking this personally, after what she did to Vala I'm taking this very personally." He paced the kitchen, and Vala ducked back out of sight. "Let me worry about General Landry. You know I'm right about this. Okay. When?"

Vala frowned. The idea that Daniel might risk getting himself into trouble over what had happened to her --

He hung up the phone. "Vala, I know you're there."

She joined him in the kitchen. "I didn't want to interrupt. Or eavesdrop, but Daniel, if you're thinking about going after Athena -- don't."

"She's a threat," he said. "I want to make sure she's caught sooner rather than later."

"She's hardly a priority," Vala said. "Now that we know what she wants, she won't be able to catch us by surprise -- "

Daniel's cell phone started to ring. "Jackson." He frowned. "You're sure?" More frowning. "Well, no, because Vala's standing right here . . . okay, we'll be in touch."

"Daniel?"

"That was Agent Barrett. The NID just intercepted a telephone call between a Trust operative and someone here in Colorado Springs."

"And?"

"And apparently you're being followed, only not very well, because they think you're northbound on I-25."

Vala frowned. "So who are they following?"

"Yeah, I must say that part has me a bit concerned, but Agent Barrett is calling the SGC now." He headed into the other room and turned on a computer. "He's also emailing us some files."

She sank down next to Daniel and watched him fidget. "You're really worried."

"I knew it was foolish to assume that Athena would back off," he said. "Still, I thought it would at least take her some time to regroup."

Vala watched as he logged into his email and opened the file. Her reminder that Athena couldn't catch them off guard again died on her lips as the second image filled the screen. "No." She felt sick. "No. It can't be."

"Well that explains a few things," Daniel said.

"No." She shook her head. "It doesn't explain anything. It has to be a mistake."

"You're the one who suggested -- "

"I was kidding, Daniel." Vala slumped back on the couch, and made a desperate effort to push back the sinking feeling and reclaim what she already felt slipping away. "Dammit, I was only joking, and I refuse to be proven right. It's a coincidence, or there's some other explanation. She -- of all people -- is not working for the Trust."


x

Daniel frowned at the picture of the airheaded hostess-slash-waitress from the rib joint. Apparently they should have paid more attention to her antics. He went through the rest of the file, his stomach twisting as he realized how close they'd probably come to a second kidnapping.

The Trust owned the restaurant.

"This is exactly why the NID needs to share information," he said angrily. "We walked right into a trap the other night, and I'm starting to wonder how we walked out of it."

"I don't know, Daniel, somehow I think the five of us could have taken her."

"Her? Probably. But the whole staff? They could have drugged our food, or -- "

"But they didn't," Vala said. "So what do we do now?"

A knock on the door answered Vala's question, and Daniel frowned.

"Expecting someone?" Vala asked.

"No." Daniel slid the clip into his handgun. "Go hide in the bedroom."

"Are you kidding me?"

"If it's the Trust, it's you they're after."

"And they think I'm -- "

"Vala!"

"Alright." She raised her hands in mock surrender, rolled her eyes, and left the room.

"Who is it?"

"Airman Nichols, sir. General Landry sent us to escort you back to the base."

"Yeah," Daniel said, trying to remember an Airman Nichols. "I'm going to need some proof of that."

"Of course, sir. If you'll just open the door . . . "

Daniel squinted at the base ID through the two inch gap the deadbolt allowed. "His, too."

The other airman passed over his ID as well.

"And General Hammond sent you why?"

"Sir? General Landry sent us. He believes that Ms. Mal Doran may be in danger."


x

The first thing Vala noticed was the distinctive ache in her shoulders that usually meant her hands were bound behind her back. Then she noticed the pounding in her head, but she opened her eyes in spite of that, and saw flickering light. And she saw Daniel, unconscious, missing his glasses, and slumped awkwardly against a car window.

She squirmed closer to him, determined to prove to herself that he was in fact breathing, even though he of course had to be breathing. She tried to nudge him awake. "Daniel?"

Nothing. Did she remember gunshots? She nudged him harder. "Daniel!"

Waking up in the back of a moving car was definitely bad, in a very specific and familiar way. They needed to escape. That would be a whole lot easier if Daniel was conscious. Vala tried to get a better look at him in the intermittent light provided by passing traffic, despite the fact that the flickering made her head throb, and fought harder against her bonds. "Daniel, please."

Still no response.

Daniel needed help, and for that Vala needed her hands. One hand would do. She twisted her left hand violently, ignoring the searing pain. The rope gave just a little bit, and she jerked her right hand free to search for Daniel's pulse. Once she felt the steady throb under her fingertips, and was satisfied that he appeared free of gunshot wounds, she relaxed enough to survey the damage to her left hand.

Small price, really. She released Daniel's bonds and settled him into a more comfortable position. "I don't mean to complain, darling, but we'd really stand a much better chance if you were conscious."

He stubbornly ignored her request, so she turned her attention to the car door. It locked from the front, and a rather sturdy piece of dark glass kept her from assaulting the driver. She might have found that more frustrating, but since it also kept the driver from noticing her increased freedom, she decided to count their blessings.

She rummaged through the wet bar, pocketed a few small bottles on a whim, and found a corkscrew. Not the ideal tool, perhaps, but she'd just have to improvise. She was the best thief in the galaxy, after all.

The fabric of the door tore away easily enough, and Vala hunted for the locking mechanism. They were moving fast enough that opening the door now would prove less than helpful, especially so long as Daniel remained unconscious, but she wanted the option when they did stop.

If only Daniel would wake up, maybe they could make their escape at a traffic light, but she doubted her ability to carry him any significant distance. At least, she probably couldn't manage it with bad guys in pursuit, and potential bullets to dodge.

No, she needed a better plan.


x

Oh, that hurt. Not good. Did he remember -- "Vala?"

"Daniel!" Her warm fingers slid along his cheek. "It's about time you woke up."

"So sorry to keep you waiting." He tried opening his eyes, and regretted it. "Where are we?"

"On the highway," she said. "I think we're heading west."

He nodded, and regretted that as well. "Escape plan?"

"I broke the lock on the door, but we haven't so much as slowed down for hours."

Her tone of voice worried him, so he gave opening his eyes another try, and found that it went better if he opened just one. Vala was practically in his lap, but she looked healthy enough. Behind her, he could see the mutilated door. She'd broken more than just the lock. "Are you sure that's safe?"

She shrugged. "I'm pretty sure it's not. I'll just stay over here with you until we stop."

"Right. And ow!" He jerked away from her as she poked at the lump on his head. "Could you not do that?"

"The swelling seems to have gone down," she said. "Which is good, since we're out of ice."

"Is that why my shirt's wet?" He reached up to feel the lump himself, and winced. "Traditionally, one wraps the ice in a towel."

"Traditionally, one is a little less critical of the person trying to help them. I had to do something, Daniel, and my options were somewhat limited."

"Speaking of options . . . "

They both froze as the car slowed and turned off the highway.

"Think you can jump?" Vala asked.

"I'm not even convinced I can sit up," he admitted. He stretched experimentally, and a wave of nausea washed over him.

Vala's hand landed on his shoulder, the gentleness of her touch in sharp contrast with the edge in her voice. "Or, new plan. You keep your head down, and I'll beat the driver into a bloody pulp."

"I like it," he said. "Give me another minute, and I can probably manage some violence of my own."

"Daniel -- "

"It's not my first concussion," he said, and winced as he moved again. "I'll manage."


x

The car slowed even more, and they could feel gravel crunching beneath the tires.

"I'm guessing we're here," Daniel said. "Unless of course we're just stopping by at the old quarry so they can dispose of my body."

Vala ignored Daniel's dark joke, and scooted closer to the door. "I'll take care of the driver. You just worry about finding cover."

They stopped.

Vala flung the door open and launched herself at the limo driver. First she disarmed him with a twist of the arm. Then a fist to the windpipe, followed immediately by a blow to the head, left him helpless on the ground in a twisted lump. Too easy. She considered kicking him in the gut for extra measure, but instead she treated herself to a mental pat on the back for her restraint, and spun around to help Daniel.

A spin-kick knocked the gun from a second kidnapper's hand, but then she found herself pinned up against the car with the man's hands locked around her throat. A head butt and knee to the groin turned the tide in her favor, but as she bent to retrieve the gun, a male voice stopped her in her tracks.

"Drop it, or Dr. Jackson dies."

She turned slowly to face the clergyman from the restaurant, who held a gun to Daniel's head.

"Vala, just run! He won't shoot me."

"He's right," the clergyman said. "I won't. I have a much more interesting plan." Then his eyes flashed gold.


x

"You were never a match for Qetesh and you're certainly no match for me." Vala's hands were tied -- literally -- but she would not be beaten by a petty goa'uld tyrant like Athena, who only retained what little power she held now due to her own irrelevance.

Athena laughed. "You're the one strapped to a chair."

"True," Vala agreed. "Then again, if I thought you had something I wanted, I wouldn't need to resort to bondage to get it."

"Our methods differ." Athena circled her slowly. "But mine will get results." She snapped her fingers in a display of theatrics so clearly unnecessary that it made Vala roll her eyes.

The goa'uld posing as a clergyman dragged Daniel into the room. The fact that he required dragging was a relief -- it meant they had yet to implant a goa'uld symbiote.

"I have a little something I was lacking when last we met," Athena said. "I have your lover at my mercy."

Vala snorted. "He's hardly my lover."

"You looked pretty cozy in his bedroom this afternoon." Athena continued with her theatrics. "And last time -- nice clothes and a fancy restaurant. I almost hesitated to interrupt your date."

"It wasn't a date," Vala said. She kept her eyes on Athena, because her ability to lie tended to suffer when she looked directly at Daniel, although the ironic truth in her words was not lost on her.

"Qetesh was a much better liar than you." Athena turned to Daniel, and at her signal, the other goa'uld shoved him to his knees. "Let's see how much pain this great hero of the Tau'ri can take."

Vala shoved down her own emotions and forced out Qetesh's most derisive laugh. "Not much. He's a scholar, not a soldier."

"Now is that any way to speak of the man you love?" Athena ran a manicured finger along Daniel's cheek. "You'll hurt his feelings. Of course I plan to do much worse."

"Whatever you want from him, I can get it." Vala kept her voice low. "Of course, you'll have to make it worth my while."

Athena turned to her and smiled. "I suppose you expect me to offer your freedom?"

"What I want is a ship off this wretched backwater planet, two cases of weapons-grade naquada, and my fair share of whatever you're after." Vala kept her eyes locked on Athena, who pretended to consider her offer. The only thing she really wanted, at the moment, was five minutes alone with Daniel, and she desperately hoped the truth didn't show in her eyes.

"No," Athena said. "I think I'd have much more fun torturing him."

Vala shrugged. "Have it your way, but he'll faint before you try anything really interesting. Let me know when you get bored."

"Oh I'll be far from bored. I love torturing humans in love. Some might even call it a fetish." Her eyes glittered and she leaned close to Vala. "I plan to enjoy the look on your face when he screams in pain."

"As if I could love anyone so hopelessly gullible. He's just a mark."

"So he's nothing but a paycheck? You'd like me to believe that, I'm sure, but here's where I'm having a problem with that story. You've been with him for months, risking life and limb with SG-1, and getting dirt under your fingernails on half the backwater planets in this galaxy. I'm not seeing where the profit outweighs the effort."

"Don't bother to play dumb with me," Vala tried. "You obviously recognize his value."

"I recognize that he's the key to getting your cooperation this time around," Athena said. "That cache of Ancient weaponry is worth far more than anything the Tau'ri might have to offer."

"You really are stupid," Vala said. "Qetesh lied to you. The clava thessara infinitas is nothing but a myth."

Athena turned her attention back to Daniel. "Shall we begin with sharp, or hot?"

Daniel remained silent.

"I agree, those traditional choices are far too limiting." She crossed the room to pull a sheet from a tray of instruments, and made her choice. "This will prove much more entertaining."

Vala had to fight not to react. "I'll cut you in on my plan," she said, her voice steady despite her complete lack of anything even resembling a plan. "But if you must have your fun, use something else. We'll need him unblemished for it to work."

Athena held up the instrument of torture. "One of your favorites, as I recall."

"It got results." She fought to stay calm and keep her voice low. "Still, I prefer a more subtle approach, and that's worked like a charm on him."

Whether Athena believed Vala or not, her focus rested on the device. She ran her hands over it and smiled.

Vala had to try again. "I can get him to tell me anything," she promised desperately. "He believes in me."

"Not any more," Daniel snapped. "Or did you forget that I'm not completely deaf? God, Vala, I trusted you, I gave you my friendship, and this is how you repay me? You're going to sell me out to Athena?"

"Well it's hardly my first choice, Daniel, but I have to play the cards I'm given. Anyway, at least I can stop trying to live up to your precious standards. Your company has been absolutely stifling."

"I can't believe I ever cared about you." He spat the words at her, and when she met his eyes for the first time, his anger looked so real it made her stomach lurch. "Go ahead and plot with Athena. Enjoy your thirty pieces of silver, at least for as long as it takes her to stab you in the back."

"It'll be worth it to rid myself of your insufferable preaching." She caught the waver in her own voice, and covered it with all the venom she could manage. "Nobody's ever good enough for you, are they? How can you even stand it up there, all alone on your high horse?"

Athena's laugher cut them off. "So much for the question of whether or not they're lovers. Throw them both in the cell. I'll get what I want out of whichever of them survives."


x

One of Athena's henchmen tossed Vala in after Daniel and locked the door. Vala barely spared a glance for the room. Standard amateur prison cell trappings, no cameras, no obvious escape routes. She turned her attention to Daniel, suppressed a shudder at how narrowly he'd avoided Athena's torture, and reached for his arm. "Daniel, I -- "

He slapped her hand away. "Spare me the lies."

She froze, taken aback by his tone of voice. "You know I was -- "

"Vala, for once just shut up!" He brushed past her and rattled the door.

His anger felt a little too real to her, enough that she had to turn away from him as he paced around the room fiddling with things. They needed an escape plan. This feeling could wait, there were bigger issues at stake, and of course they could outsmart Athena, but she couldn't quite control the fanged beastie gnawing at her gut. Then she felt Daniel's gentle touch, and let him turn her around to face him.

"No bugs," he whispered. "At least not that I can find."

"What?" She forced herself to look him in the eye, furious with herself for being so off her game.

"You didn't mean a word of it," Daniel continued, his voice pitched low. "I know. Of course I know that, Vala. I didn't mean it either, but the act wouldn't be worth much if they heard us apologize."

She nodded, and when he squeezed her shoulder she flung her arms around his neck and held on for dear life, so grateful for the arms that closed around her in turn that a lump rose in her throat. Not that they really had time for this at the moment, and she felt rather ridiculous for needing his affirmation, or comfort, or whatever the hell it was she wanted from him right now.

This was Daniel, and he really did believe in her. Even if the circumstances gave him legitimate reason to doubt her. He'd even supported her when she'd doubted herself.

"I trust you," he whispered against her ear. "Even when I don't agree with you, even when you're driving me crazy, I trust you. Please don't ever doubt that."

"I don't," she said. "Not really." She pulled back to meet his gaze. "We need to get out of here before Athena makes you a host. Maybe that was just an empty threat, but she has to be after more than just closure on a centuries-old lie."

"You're probably right." He let go of her to look around the room. "Any ideas?"

"We should yell at each other." She hopped up on a battered cot to examine the room's single narrow window. "If we're too quiet it'll blow our cover."

He smiled grimly. "Don't you ever shut up!"

"Oh, fantastic!" she shouted. "Another lecture. Please explain the error of my ways, oh great hero of the Tau'ri!"

He raised an eyebrow and mouthed her words back to her.

She shrugged, and went back to studying the window frame.

"We won't fit through there," Daniel said quietly.

"Of course not, silly. This could be useful, though, if I can work it loose." She carefully wiggled the bit of rusty metal that held the glass in place. "I think I can pick the lock with it."

He climbed up beside her, and they took turns trying to pry the window frame loose, pausing occasionally to shout at each other.

Daniel paused after one particularly ludicrous exchange of insults, and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, want to tell me what's bothering you?"

She treated him to her very best incredulous stare. "We're being held prisoner, Daniel, and any minute now that power-crazed goa'uld is going to start using her favorite high-tech toys to torture us for information we don't even have. Or possibly just for kicks."

"No," he said. "There's something else."

"That's not enough for you?"

"This kind of thing is par for the course," he said. "We both know we'll get through it. Something else is getting to you. Earlier -- "

"Okay," she admitted. "You're right. But it's silly, and it can wait."

"If it's bothering you, it's not silly." He took over with the window frame, giving her the chance to wipe her hands on her jeans. "I meant what I said back at the apartment. I'm here for you, whenever you need me."

"Right now what we need is to escape." That he cared -- that meant the world to her, but she'd lost something today that she couldn't quite define, and she felt damned selfish for even letting it bother her, so she certainly wouldn't take time out to discuss it. They had a daring escape to plan. The rest could wait.


x

Daniel watched Vala slide the broken piece of rusty metal into the lock, and reined in his urge to hurry her. She usually faced danger with a flippant recklessness that bordered on maddening, but he could see the difference now. Athena rattled her.

Not that it had shown in front of Athena. Only Vala's quick thinking -- and excellent acting -- had saved him from quite a bit of pain. Now, she was saving his ass again with her lock picking skills, but without any inappropriate comments, sarcasm, or even the slightest hint of showing off. Quite simply, she wasn't herself.

"Got it," she whispered, her trademark grin noticeably absent as they exchanged a look. Then she eased the door open, and they crept out into the hallway.

One of Athena's lackeys came around the corner, his eyes focused on the too-full cup of coffee he cradled in both hands. Vala moved swiftly, and her foot connected with the side of his head before he even noticed the threat. She flashed Daniel a wild grin, then stepped over the fallen man to slam a second guard backwards into the wall.

Daniel dropped down beside Vala's first victim and searched him for weapons. Any moment, they'd find themselves in the middle of a full-blown battle, and seeing as his head still felt about as good as this guy's soon would, Daniel wanted to avoid hand-to-hand combat against a small army.

Although at the moment, Vala had it covered.

She made it look effortless. Maybe that was why her opponents tended to underestimate her strength. The fight looked more like a dance than a battle, but Daniel knew from experience just how much blunt force she could put behind one of those graceful kicks. He wondered what it said about him, that he remembered being on the receiving end of that with such fondness.

Her second adversary reduced to a crumpled heap, Vala now engaged a third opponent, and while this one was a large man with obvious upper body strength, he was also clearly no match for Vala's finesse. She landed several good punches before she darted out of his reach, braced herself against a door frame, and kicked him in the throat. While he struggled to breathe, she knocked him to the ground and stole his gun.

"Too easy."

"This is disappointing." Athena stepped into the hallway and aimed a gun at Vala. "It's so hard to get good help on this planet."

Daniel flattened himself against the wall. Athena had to have seen him. Even crouched down, he'd been too close to the intersection between the two hallways to miss, but for now her attention remained focused on Vala. He needed to use that before further reinforcements arrived.

"You never could attract quality minions," Vala said. "For thirty seconds of mediocre flattery, you'd give anyone an honored position in your temple. At least Qetesh had standards."

"Qetesh and standards, that's rich. I've never taken my Jaffa to bed."

"Clearly." Vala flashed one of her more disturbing smiles. "It's rather a shame, too, or you'd know just how insulting that's not."

That left Athena without a comeback, at least for a moment, and Daniel bolted forward to take his shot. He aimed to wing her, but given the condition of his head, he quickly regretted his mercy. He missed getting shot himself by a margin he chose to ignore, sent Athena's weapon flying via the clever use of his face as a blunt instrument, and slammed his knee into a wall.

Vala used the distraction to her full advantage, and by the time Daniel turned around, she had Athena in a headlock. "And for the record," Vala said, her voice like ice. "I'm not Qetesh."

Athena's eyes flashed, and with a twist and a kick, she attempted to knock Vala off her feet. Vala used the move against her, rolling to flip Athena onto her back and press her knee against her windpipe.

"A little slow on the uptake, aren't we?" Vala asked. "As I just said, I'm not Qetesh, and I'm much better in a fight."

Daniel limped over to hold a gun on Athena. "I saw some handcuffs in the -- "

Someone tackled him from behind.

The gun flew from his hand to skitter across the floor, but Daniel managed to keep his balance, more or less. At least long enough to knock his attacker against a wall before tripping over one of the unconscious operatives. Then he found himself rolling across the floor, struggling with the goa'ulded preacher for possession of a zat.

His head spun, but held on to consciousness and managed to pin the man's hand against the floor. He almost got his fingers around the zat before a blow to his stomach knocked it from his grasp. He scrambled after it, and got a punch in the kidney for his effort. He rolled over to return the blow, and reached again for the weapon. This time, his hands closed around it, and as his opponent attacked again, he fired.

The goa'uld collapsed, and Daniel lay panting on the floor. "Vala?"

"Daddy!"

Daniel raised his head to see a blur -- roughly shaped like the waitress from the rib joint -- rushing toward him. He still had the zat, so he shot her.

"Daniel!" Vala dropped down beside him, and he reached for a hand up. She pointed at the waitress. "What did you do that for?"

"What?" He blinked at her.

"Why did you go and zat that poor girl?"

"Yeah." He climbed painfully to his feet, with Vala's apparently reluctant help. "It seemed a better option than letting her shoot me."

"How can you be sure she even had a gun?"

"I wasn't sure she didn't," Daniel said. "That was enough, considering the circumstances. Where's Athena?"

But Vala had already bent down to check the girl's pulse, and ignored his question.

"Vala!"

"Just a minute!" She arranged the unconscious girl into a more comfortable position, and then stood. "Yes, Daniel?"

"Where's Athena?"

"Relax, darling, she's not -- "

A loud clank echoed down the hallway. Vala snatched the zat from Daniel's hand and took off at a run, leaving him to retrieve a new weapon from the growing collection on the floor.

He heard the distinctive sound of a zat firing.

"It's fine!" Vala called. "Completely under control."

"Right." Daniel limped around the corner to stare down at Athena, unconscious, and not quite handcuffed to a freshly broken heating fixture. "We need to search the rest of the building before any more 'completely under control' surprises pop up."

"Like frightened waitresses who need to be shot?"

He frowned at her, because her protectiveness of the girl made very little sense to him. "It was a zat blast, Vala. She'll be fine."

They started a systematic search of the old building. Vala remained cranky, but she was right there to steady him when he got dizzy. "Daniel, are you okay?"

"Just a little woozy," he said. "I'm better now."

She looked unconvinced, and kept a gentle hold on his elbow until they reached the next room. They shared a look, because they could definitely hear noise on the other side of the closed door. It sounded almost like voices.

"Ready?"

He nodded, and held up the gun as they took positions on either side of the door.

Vala pushed it open, and Daniel peered around the corner. He froze.

The room's appalling shade of pink was partially obscured by an abundance of even more appalling posters. Most of them advertised various musical groups comprised entirely of young men with too much hair, and judging from the sound filling the room, these bands did not choose members based on singing ability.

A large brass bed with pink pillows and a pink comforter occupied the center of the room. Cameron Mitchell, clad only in boxer shorts and handcuffs, occupied the center of the large brass bed.

"Mitchell?" Daniel lowered his gun. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I'm here to rescue you."

Daniel nodded. "Good job."


x

Vala gently carried the poor waitress into the room where they'd found Mitchell. Daniel had suggested that the room belonged to her, and while Vala worried about the implications of that, the room still had the only real bed in the building. Those ratty cots would never do, and besides, the room also had a real chair, and less overall dankness. They were stuck here for a while, so it made sense to wait in comfort.

They'd confined all of Athena's hired muscle to the fine accommodations she and Daniel had shared earlier, while the two goa'uld were now securely strapped down in Athena's torture chamber. Technically, they'd won, not that Vala felt like breaking out the champagne quite yet.

"Teal'c says hi." Mitchell closed his cell phone with a snap. "The cleanup team's ETA is 0500 hours."

Daniel groaned. "Where are we, anyway?"

"Utah."

Daniel groaned again, and came over to snatch one of the pillows off the bed before retreating to the battered oversized chair in the corner.

"Hey." Mitchell frowned and nodded at the waitress. "Why exactly are we coddling her?"

"Letting her wake up in relative comfort seems the least we can do, after Daniel went and shot her."

"And I repeat the question. Vala, in case you somehow failed to notice, she had me chained to the headboard in my underwear."

Daniel snorted. "Who hasn't?"

"That wasn't her fault." Vala felt a compulsion to somehow blame Mitchell, considering his last supposed rescue, but she went with the more obvious villain instead. "Athena used her."

"You're basing that assessment on what, exactly?" Mitchell gave her a very dirty look, then plunged on without bothering to hear her answer. "She put a tracking device in my food."

Vala shook her head. "I'm sure she -- "

"No," Daniel said. "Think about it. That doesn't make sense, Athena wanted Vala, not you."

"Yeah, well, think all you want, but Dr. Lam found a nifty alien device making itself very much at home in my upper intestines."

This piece of information made Vala swallow hard against that sinking feeling she'd fought all day, because it was growing again.

"Of course," Daniel said. "The mushrooms."

"What?"

"Vala gave you one of her mushrooms. That's why the Trust thought she was on I-25 earlier today. They were tracking you."

"Then it couldn't have been her," Vala said. "Anyone could hide a tracker in a bit of gravy, but only the cook could get one into a mushroom."

"Because only a qualified cook could put vegetables in a deep fryer?"

"It's a fungus," Vala snapped.

"Yeah, that's an important distinction." Mitchell rolled his eyes at her. Very mature. No wonder he was the leader. "Anyway, I don't see the cook around here anywhere, and this delightful oasis, right here in the middle of Trust Central, is obviously her own personal bedroom, so I'm thinking she's the mole at the restaurant."

"For you information, Cameron, the Trust owns the restaurant."

"You think that's a point in her favor? Vala -- "

"Mitchell! Back off." Daniel left his chair to stand behind Vala. "Whatever happened, it's not Vala's fault. Arguing about it won't help."

"She -- "

"Don't." Daniel's voice had that quiet, dangerous tone that made Vala shiver. It also made Mitchell stuff a sock in it, so that was a nice bonus.

He muttered something about checking on the prisoners and left the room.

"Hey." Daniel turned to face her and ran his fingers down her arm to catch her hand. "I think you need to tell me what's going on with you." He squeezed her fingers. "Even if you think it's silly."

"It is silly." She avoided his eyes, and studied the floor. Of course Daniel didn't let her get away with that -- he lifted her chin so that she had to look at him, and she saw the concern in his eyes.

"Maybe," he said. "But that's okay. Talk to me."

"The other night -- that dinner -- " She swallowed and bit her lip. "That was one of the best nights of my life. I don't want the goa'uld to take that away from me."

"Vala -- "

"I know," she said quickly. "They've done so much worse, to so many people. Mass murder, slavery, torture . . . I'm selfish to care about a silly dinner."

Daniel was silent, and she pulled away from him to check on the girl on the bed. This honesty thing clearly needed to be kept in check.

"Vala."

She noticed that some of the fake brass on the headboard had chipped, probably a result of the handcuffs. Damn it, the girl had chained up Mitchell, and that really made it hard to cast her in the victim role. All the fun and laughter at the restaurant -- it was just another trap.

"Vala." Daniel's hands landed on her shoulders. "We all had a great time the other night. Nothing can take that away."

He didn't understand, but at least he was kind enough to ignore her selfishness. She turned around, and tried to smile. "I told you it was silly."

"It's -- "

"I think this is all of them." Mitchell came through the door with a box of guns, which he used to push aside the ceramic creatures on the dresser.

"Careful!" Vala dashed forward just in time to save a purple horse from crashing to the floor. At least she thought it was a horse, despite a number of deformities. She turned it over in her hand and scowled at Mitchell. "You almost broke this."

"That would have been a shame." He waved towards the waitress. "Listen, I know she's your best friend now and all, but can we please tie her up before she regains consciousness and kicks us all in the head?"

Vala knew he had a point. Of course she knew. Still, she remained resolutely surly as she secured the girl, and did more damage to the fake brass headboard in the process. "Happy now?"

"Elated."

She stalked across the room and deposited herself into the giant chair with Daniel.

He harrumphed softly, and she braced herself for an objection, but he slipped an arm around her and pulled her a little closer. "Just watch the bruises."

Well that seemed -- he had been awfully quick to sit back down. "Daniel? Are you -- "

"Nothing serious." He gave her a tired smile. "I'm just sore."

She studied his face for a long minute before deciding to believe him, and then rested her head against his shoulder.

Mitchell opened his mouth to say something, changed his mind, and left the room. He returned a minute later with a folding chair. "So . . . "

"Yes?" Daniel asked.

Mitchell sat down in his folding chair and crossed his arms over his chest. Clearly, he expected one of them to start the conversation, but Vala felt rather disinclined to bother, and Daniel had dozed off. "Cozy," Cam said after a while. "So when did the two of you -- "

Daniel's eyes snapped open. "Maybe you should tell us how you came to be handcuffed to a giant pink bed in the middle of nowhere."

Vala tried to decide between her natural curiosity and that dark dread in the pit of her stomach, but then the warm sensation of Daniel's hand tracing circles on her back took precedence over both.

"I caught a Trust operative tailing me, and in the process of apprehending him, I might have brushed up against his knife."

"So he stabbed you."

"Just a little bit."

"Better than being shot."

"Anyway, that's why I went down to the infirmary. One thing led to another, Dr. Lam found the tracking device, and just as we were puzzling out that little mystery, the call came in about the disturbance at your apartment."

"Right. So you rushed to Utah and took off your pants."

"You're enjoying this."

Daniel shrugged, and Vala hid a smile against his shoulder.

Mitchell glared at them both. "The source of the tracking device was pretty clear, and I had our new friend's number from the other night, so -- "

"You kept that?"

"Are you going to let me tell my story?"

"So you called her and . . . "

"She agreed to meet me for coffee, and after about forty-five minutes of quizzing me about my stance on unicorns and the Jonas Brothers, she started talking about this place."

Daniel exchanged wicked grins with Vala. "As in, some evil aliens I know have this secret hideout, and it's pretty dingy but they let me paint one of the rooms pink?"

"As in, her preacher daddy was given some land near some state park, and they were raising money to turn it into a bible camp."

"Of course." Daniel gave Vala's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Get to the important part."

"I figured this land might be where they'd taken you, since their corporate sponsorship pretty much screamed goa'uld, so I got her to invite me. That's when her innocent flake act started to crumble. She has a plane. And a pilot's license."

"You have a pilot's license," Daniel said. "Doesn't seem to keep you from losing your pants."

"Weak, Jackson."

Daniel shrugged, and smiled at Vala.

Okay, Mitchell had something of a point, because as arguments went, that lacked a certain amount of sense, and even as a joke it fell short in the logic department, but it still made her laugh.

Mitchell scowled quietly, and that only made Vala laugh more, at least until the piercing scream filled the room.


x

Vala knelt beside their hysterical prisoner, and tried to convince her to stop screaming. The poor girl's fear looked far too real to be a ploy, and Vala had to grab her hands before she hurt herself in her struggles. The marks on her own wrist were nothing compared to what could happen if one fought against the ropes without a strategy.

"We could gag her," Mitchell said.

"Don't you dare," Vala snapped. "She's frightened enough already."

The girl's louder shrieking subsided in favor of incoherent sobbing. "Please don't . . . please don't . . . " she kept repeating, but Vala couldn't make sense of the rest of her plea. Not that it took much guessing. You never forget the first time you regain consciousness to find yourself tied up by well-armed strangers.

"I'm not going to hurt you," Vala said. "I promise." She shot a desperate look at Daniel. "We need to know a few things. Can you help us?"

"Please . . . please . . . "

"This isn't helping." Mitchell took a step closer, which made the girl start screaming again.

"Can't you see she's scared?" Vala demanded. "Stay back."

When he moved back to the doorway, the girl fell silent.

"Now can you tell me what happened?" Vala asked.

"I can tell you what happened," Mitchell said. "She lured me in here and then pulled handcuffs out from under her pillow."

Vala really wanted to believe another version of events, but she had to admit that did look a tad suspicious. Of course, handcuffs weren't always a bad thing, and Cameron was attractive enough. "Is that true?"

After a moment, the girl nodded. She also blushed. Or at least, she looked like she blushed, it was a little difficult to tell considering how much crying she'd just done.

Vala leaned closer, so she could whisper her next question. "Did you tie him up for business, or pleasure?"

"My boss . . . " The girl swallowed, and the ache returned to the pit of Vala's stomach. "My boss said men really like that sort of thing."

"Oh." Vala sat up straighter and grinned at Daniel. "So, pleasure then. I knew there was a reasonable explanation."

"Will you untie me?"

Vala reached for the first knot.

"No," Mitchell said. "She will not. You left me in here -- "

"He tasered me!" The girl tried to point at Mitchell.

"Actually, that was -- "

"How about you check on Athena again." Daniel gave Mitchell a nudge out the door, and Vala missed whatever else they said.

"You'll untie me, right?"

A moment ago, Vala had believed the girl, but those wide eyes and that trembling lower lip were spreading it on a little thick. Still, she'd gone and cast herself in the role of the proverbial good cop, and she had little choice but to stick with it. "Our Cameron may be a little slow sometimes, but he's still in charge. I'll have to go talk to him."

It made Vala smile to discover the two men in the hallway, bickering quietly. The way Daniel glowered at Mitchell made him look positively delicious. She slipped up beside him and wrapped herself around his arm.

"So," Daniel said. "Do we believe her story?"

"I honestly don't know," she admitted. "On one hand, if she's lying, she's very good. On the other hand, if she's not, she's an idiot."

"I can't believe this is still a question. Haven't you been listening -- she handcuffed me, stole my clothes, and left me locked in there listening to some boy band on endless repeat!"

"That's still better than your last rescue attempt," Daniel said. "Here's an idea -- next time, send Teal'c."

"Why did she take your clothes?" Vala asked.

"I don't know," Mitchell said. "Maybe she wanted my wallet."

Vala stuck her tongue out at him.

"It looks bad," Daniel said. "But you're still jumping to conclusions about her motives."

"Why does that matter?" Mitchell demanded.

Vala had no idea why that mattered, she just knew it did, and she looked at Daniel, to find him looking back at her as his hand slid across her lower back. She could read the question in his eyes.

"It just does," Daniel said softly.


x

Vala shifted yet another heavy cardboard box in her arms, and looked for a better place to dump it in the already-full room.

Daniel fidgeted in the folding chair he'd claimed. "You don't need to do that, Vala."

"There's a couch under here, I'm sure of it." Vala fetched another box. Poor Daniel had a concussion, and she'd caught him hiding a limp. That wretched chair was the last thing he needed. It made sense to leave the waitress alone for a while, and give the whole good-cop ploy time to work, but Vala regretted tying her up in the only comfortable room.

"You just want an excuse to stick Cam with guard duty."

She turned around to argue, but caught him smiling at her. "It is a nice bonus," she said. "I don't mean to shirk my duty, but I liked Athena better when she was unconscious."

"Yeah." Daniel gave her a knowing smile. "But admit it, you loved taping her mouth shut."

Vala grinned back. "I do admit to taking a certain amount of personal satisfaction in that, but who could blame me, considering -- " She picked up another box, and the bottom fell out of it, spilling books all over the floor. At least this time they weren't priceless books on loan from some museum.

Daniel joined her on the floor as she bent to pick them up. "Christian Camping Today, Bible Study for Teens, Wilderness First Aid, Idiot's Guide to Fundraising . . . someone planned to use this place as a camp."

"So she told Mitchell the truth." Despite her better instincts, Vala let her hopes start to rise. "Maybe -- "

The sound of a crash echoed down the hallway.

Vala barely had time to exchange looks with Daniel before the sound of yelling followed, and while she couldn't make out exactly what Mitchell had shouted, the negative connotation came across quite clearly. She dropped the books, grabbed the nearest weapon, and set off at a run.

The yelling stopped right before she reached its source. She hoped that this sudden quiet meant that the situation had improved, but when she turned the corner, she found Mitchell on his knees, with blood on his face. Definitely not better. Worse yet, Athena stood over him with a hand device. Vala only saw one viable course of action, and she dove at Athena.

She aimed low, because Mitchell only stood a chance if she knocked Athena off her feet and broke the connection. The hand device could kill in seconds if the gou'ald had any time at all to react to an attack. Unfortunately, aiming low gave Athena the advantage, and she turned the device on Vala.

Pain exploded behind her eyes.

Years spent as host to Qetesh helped now, and Vala managed to fight the effects just enough to swing a foot around and kick Athena in the head. Her back screamed at the awkward angle, and she lacked momentum, but the blow caught Athena off guard, and Vala scrambled to pin her arm before she could use the weapon again.

The goa'uld was strong, Vala had to give her that. Or, no. On second thought, she really didn't. The stolen body was strong. The true Athena was just a parasite. One facing eviction, if Vala had any say in the matter.

"You should give up now," Athena spat. "When I rule the galaxy beside Ba'al, you and your pathetic Tau'ri friends will be nothing but slaves."

"Really?" Vala almost smiled. "Ba'al can do better. Especially considering the fact that you'll be dead soon. Take it from me, the Tok'ra have gotten quite good at symbiote extraction."

Vala shifted as they struggled, trying to transfer enough weight to her opposite knee to pin her opponent. Then, she hoped, she could free both hands without losing her hard-won advantage. She had to try, because if she lost her grip on the hand device, she'd really be in trouble.

Athena's knee connected with her ribs, and she felt something sharp against her upper arm. Not good. Vala ignored the pain, and focused on liberating the hand device. "A little help here?"

"On it." Daniel, bless him, appeared with a zat.

Vala rolled clear, and took a deep breath as the sound of the zat filled the room.

Daniel offered her a hand up, and turned to Mitchell. "What the hell happened?"

"That thing must have been hidden in the arm of the chair." Mitchell looked more than a little pale, and he made no move to get up off the floor. "One minute she was just sitting there, and the next . . . " He waved vaguely at the chair, which lay on its side with the arm broken off.

"Right." Daniel turned back to Vala. "You're bleeding."

She glanced at the wound. "It's nothing."

Daniel took a minute to verify that for himself, which Vala found rather sweet, if unnecessary, and she ignored the part where it could be interpreted as just the slightest bit patronizing. Then he smiled at her, and turned back to Cameron. "Now see, Mitchell. You could learn something from Vala, because that's how you rescue a teammate."


x

This time, Vala tied the unconscious Athena to a folding chair. She used entirely too much rope, and cuffed her to the radiator for added measure. She felt a little bad for the host -- folding chairs definitely qualified as cruel and unusual punishment -- but then again, she remembered taking some satisfaction in Qetesh's misfortunes during her own time as a host. Sometimes the victory was worth a little discomfort.

Daniel zatted the other goa'uld and helped Mitchell up off the floor. "Vala found a couch, if -- "

"Nah." Mitchell gave his bloody face a few experimental pokes. "It's just a splitting headache and an urge to vomit up my own liver. I'll be fine."

Vala knew exactly what he meant, but they had work to do, and she prided herself on her ability to find the positive in any situation. Or, failing that, the humor. The latter seemed the better option at the moment, so she put her hands on her hips and looked Cameron up and down with a critical eye. "Well, you're certainly in no condition to look threatening. Daniel will have to play my naughty cop."

"Bad cop," Daniel said, with that tone of false patience that Vala found adorable.

Jackpot.

She gave him the wicked smile that tone deserved. "Of course, darling. We'll save naughty cop for later."

Daniel sighed deeply, rolled his eyes at her, and turned to Mitchell. He waved his zat at the unconscious goa'uld. "Think you can keep them from attacking you this time?"

"Yeah, whatever." Mitchell barely managed a proper glare, but then again, the prisoners were unconscious. He could probably handle them, for a while anyway.

They headed down the hallway, and Vala swallowed hard when she reached for the doorknob. The answer she'd find on the other side of this door was one she rather suspected she didn't want, even if they did need to know.

"Wait," Daniel said.

She turned to him, unsure if she should feel grateful for the reprieve.

"You're still bleeding," he said. "I think I saw some first aid supplies in the office."

"Daniel, it's nothing."

"Yeah, I doubt it'll kill you, but you won't make a very convincing good cop if you bleed on your suspect."


x

Vala sat on the freshly unburied couch and tried not to fidget as Daniel searched for the bandages he claimed to have seen. "You know, darling -- "

"Aha!" Daniel raised a red plastic box in triumph. "Found it!" He looked just as adorable as he'd looked when he'd crawled out of that abandoned well on that dusty little planet with the birds, and held up that carved bit of stone that Teal'c said looked exactly like Howard the Duck.

The urge to kiss him was just as strong now as it had been then, only now they were alone, rather than listening to Teal'c and Mitchell debate the relative merits of bad movies.

Daniel sat beside her on the couch, close enough that their knees bumped, and ran his fingertips up her arm, gently pushing the torn fabric of her sleeve out of his way. The room suddenly grew much warmer, and Vala wondered what would happen if she just leaned in and kissed him.

A nice little fantasy, at least until the sharp sting of antiseptic snapped her back to reality.

"Sorry," Daniel said.

"That's cold," she said, more to cover the way his touch made her skin shiver than to explain the way she'd flinched at such a tiny bit of pain.

He laid a piece of gauze over the cut, and his warm hand lingered on her elbow even after he'd finished with the bandage. "Teal'c will be here in a couple of hours. We could leave the questioning to someone else."

"No," Vala said. "I mean, she shouldn't have to wait."

He frowned, and let go of her elbow to take her hand. "That girl's innocence in all of this is somehow important to you, and before we try to get any more answers out of her, maybe I need to understand why."

"You mean, before we find out for sure that she's nothing but a con artist?" Vala glanced away from Daniel. "It's not important, we should just -- "

"It is important," he said. "Your feelings matter, Vala."

She shook her head. "I'm just being silly."

"No, you're not. And you're not being selfish, either." He settled back on the couch and pulled her a little closer. "Something about this girl -- or maybe just the situation -- makes you identify with her."

"It's not that." Vala shrugged. "I mean, I do feel sorry for her. Whatever's happened, she's had her life torn apart by the goa'uld, which is something I happen to know a bit about, but that's not why I hoped she was innocent."

He squeezed her shoulder, and they sat in silence for almost long enough to make her hope that he'd just let it go. "This is about dinner."

She fidgeted under his scrutiny. Now she had to explain, if she could. Even if it really did sound silly, and even if she was half over it already. "I don't have many good memories, Daniel. I don't want that one spoiled."

His hand was tracing circles on her back again, and she could feel his warm breath tickling her forehead when he spoke. "That's where you're losing me. What could spoil it?"

"I played right into her hand," Vala said. "I encouraged her, because I wanted to watch Mitchell squirm, and she was just -- it's not funny any more."

"No," Daniel said. "It's still funny. And so is all of this. I can't wait to tell Sam that Mitchell lost his pants again and she missed it."

She smiled a little. "Okay, you're right. That does make a good story."

"Let me tell you another story," Daniel said. "It's about two teammates who bickered for hours, but then without a second thought, one of them risked her life to save the other. The other night, you told Sam that you'd never had friends before. Well, that's what friends do. Sometimes they argue, and sometimes they screw up, but then they make the best of things and save each other's asses."

Vala let her head rest against Daniel's shoulder. "I know that's the part that really matters, and believe me, I'm grateful." She swallowed hard, because she could hardly express how much these friendships meant to her. "But still, just this once, I want my perfect memory."

"Some of the best memories are far from perfect. Look at the first time we met -- "

Her heart jumped straight up into her suddenly-dry throat and started pounding, because he'd stopped talking, and he was looking at her with an adorable combination of affection and panic, like he'd just admitted a little too much, and maybe he hadn't quite decided whether he was sorry.

She wanted him to kiss her more than she'd wanted anything in her life. She thought that just maybe, he might.

"Oh," said Mitchell. "You're in here."

The first three things Vala thought to say to her teammate, the very one she had so recently saved from a painful death, weren't very friendly. "Look, darling, Cameron . . . still has his pants."


x

"So," Vala asked the waitress, who was now tied to a folding chair. "If you were living out here, fixing up the camp, why take a job waiting tables in Colorado Springs?"

"Daddy promised to let me take flying lessons if I took the job. He'd always said no before."

"Oh boy," Mitchell muttered.

Vala agreed, but glared at him anyway. "Has your father changed his mind about anything else recently?"

"Yeah," the waitress said. "It's like he's finally cool. He stopped giving me such a hard time about dating, and he even let me keep the clothes I bought when my boss took me shopping. Before, he'd only let me have clothes that made me look like a librarian or something."

"And didn't you find that strange?" Mitchell asked.

"Well duh." She rolled her eyes. "Who's deranged enough to think librarians are cool?" The girl rambled on a bit, mostly about clothes and how her boss at the restaurant gave her dating tips. "She's so cool, you'd never guess she was way old, like thirty or something."

"Right," Daniel said. "So why Mitchell? Did your boss tell you to flirt with him?"

"A cutie-pie like him? Nobody had to! Of course, that was before I knew he was mean. He wouldn't even make out with me, even after I . . . " This time her blush was unmistakable, as was Cameron's.

"So you chose Cameron on your own?" Vala let her incredulity slip into her voice. Daniel and Teal'c had been standing right there, after all.

"Your boss didn't make a suggestion?" Daniel added.

"Well, we were supposed to be extra-nice to people from the base, but she never told me who I should date."

"Ask her about the handcuffs."

"Yeah," Daniel said quietly. "As riveting a story as that makes, I'm a little more interested in why her father was made a host."

"Your father," Vala said. "Didn't you find it strange that he'd changed so suddenly?"

The waitress shrugged. "He must have had a stroke or something. What does it matter?"

"He's your father," Mitchell said. "You should have cared."

"Well it's not like he died, he just stopped turning the radio to the old fogey station and stuff."

"Yeah," Daniel said. "Here's the thing. Your father has been taken over by an alien."

The girl rolled her eyes. "Do you think I'm stupid or something?"

Mitchell developed a sudden cough.

"It's true." As much as the girl's ignorance pleased Vala, the time had come to end it. "The goa'uld are a race of parasitic aliens with some very unpleasant habits, and one of them has taken your father as a host."

"So he's an alien now?" The girl giggled and shrugged. "Still cooler than my dad. Can you untie me now?"


x

"I'm sorry," Daniel said, once they were alone again.

"For what?" Vala asked.

"I know you wanted her to turn out, well, better."

"No." She shook her head, and grinned at him. "I'm perfectly happy."

Daniel blinked with adorable confusion.

"Oh, she's appallingly selfish, but I don't care about that. She really liked Mitchell. Athena had nothing to do with it, and I've got my perfect memory after all."

"Okay, you've lost me."

"It's funny again," Vala explained. "Mitchell got his fair share of harmless grief, and I can forgive him now, without feeling guilty."

"Okay, I know why I've been ticked off at Mitchell, but . . . "

"It's something he said before, when he rescued me." She used air quotes for emphasis. Or maybe just to emphasize the sarcasm in her tone, because she wanted to gloss over just how much Mitchell's comment had bothered her. "I'm over it now."

"Yeah." Daniel frowned, and sank into the oversized chair. "Somehow I doubt that. What did he say to you?"

She chewed her lip, and started to insist it was nothing. Then Daniel held out his hand, actually inviting her into the chair, and she curled up against his side. "It was when he was trying to convince me I was an alien. He said his team explored other planets, and that I was just along for the ride."

Daniel straightened up a bit and stared at her. "He actually said that to you?"

"It's okay though," she said. "Now I know it wasn't personal. He just gets really grumpy when he's handcuffed to a bed."

"Yeah, well, most people do." He settled back and pulled her close again. "It's smart to consider the context, though, because you are a part of the team. A vital part, and Mitchell knows it." His hand started tracing those divine circles on her back again, and his voice got softer. "My office felt empty without you."

The warmth in his voice made her stomach do a very pleasant little flip, and she rested her head against his shoulder. Athena had ruined their date, but Vala still had this. She had Daniel, and he actually believed in her, and cared about her. She wanted to tell him what that meant to her, but her throat felt tight, so she just squeezed his free hand, and laced their fingers together.

A few minutes later, Mitchell and his dreadful timing appeared in the doorway, this time with Teal'c in tow. "Either they're in love now, or Jackson has a head injury. I can't tell."

Vala glared at Mitchell in a way that she hoped successfully communicated at least a few of the many painful ways she might kill him if he ruined this, but the more fragile portions of Mitchell's anatomy got lucky, because Daniel had slept through the comment.

"Wake Sunshine up," Mitchell said. "It's time to go home."

Home. Vala smiled softly and gave Daniel a gentle nudge. "You know what they say, darling. There's no place like home."


x

Daniel shivered in the early morning air, and eyed the waiting military vehicles with disdain. "Oh, tell me we don't have to ride all the way back to Colorado Springs in a jeep."

"Well, we could have commandeered Athena's limo, but someone took a machete to the door." Mitchell glared at Vala.

"She used a corkscrew," Daniel said, with something almost like pride.

"I think that was quite resourceful of me." Vala grinned and wrapped her arm around Daniel's. "We very nearly escaped. Of course, then it might have taken us a little longer to rescue you, Cameron."

Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "You required rescue, Colonel Mitchell?"

"He lost his pants again," Vala said.

"Indeed."

Mitchell avoided the topic by snagging a map from a passing lieutenant. "Where are we, exactly?"

"Just south of I-70, sir, about half way to Vegas," the lieutenant said.

Vala bounced on her toes and squeezed his arm. "Vegas?"

"No," Daniel said, but with a surprising trace of regret. "Some other time, preferably when I'm somewhat less concussed." He eyed the jeeps again. "Hey, didn't someone mention a plane?"

"It's out of fuel," Mitchell said.

"Of course it is."

A black SUV caught Daniel's attention. "NID?"

Teal'c nodded. "So it seems."

"Figures they'd miss the real party," Mitchell said.

Daniel grinned at Vala. "Should we?"

"They owe us," she said.

"They do." He grabbed her hand, and they strolled towards the vehicle.

"Hey." Mitchell jogged up beside them. "What are you -- "

"Hush, we're being stealthy." Vala opened the door and retrieved the keys from above the visor. "Look! Just like in the movies."

"You can't just -- "

"Just get in." Daniel slid into the back seat.

"Muscles, you drive." Vala tossed the keys to Teal'c, and joined him.

Mitchell climbed into the passenger's side, and turned around to glare at them. "You know this is a terrible idea, right?"

"Indeed." Teal'c started the engine.

Daniel and Vala grinned at each other as the SUV wove between Air Force jeeps, and he glanced out the window just in time to see Agent Barrett waving a clipboard at them and shouting. He waved back. When he settled into the seat again, Vala smiled at him and shuffled closer. The urge to kiss her stirred again, and he wondered what he should do about it. He knew better, but --

Mitchell's cell phone started to ring. "Oh crap."

"Let me guess," Daniel said. "The NID's calling, and they want their truck back?"

"Pfft," Vala said. "We found it. It's ours now."

The phone kept ringing.

"I'd better -- "

Vala jumped up and snatched the phone from Mitchell's hand. "Sorry, wrong number." She closed the phone with a snap, and grinned at Daniel. "Problem solved."

The phone started ringing again.

"Give that here," Mitchell said.

"Come and get it."

Daniel caught the phone an instant before Vala dropped it where he very much did not want Mitchell to follow, and tossed it back to him. Somehow in the process, he ended up with Vala in his lap. For a moment, the need to smooth back a bit of her hair overrode all phone-related concerns.

"It is an emergency," Mitchell was saying into the phone, when Daniel remembered to pay attention again. "Dr. Jackson needs medical attention."

"My poor Daniel," Vala whispered dramatically. She reached up to run her fingers through his hair, and her mischievous smile made his heart beat just a little faster.

He responded with a fake cough, and a grin of his own.

"Jackson," Mitchell hissed. "Vala. Would you two cut it out? And what's with the coughing, anyway? You have a head injury."

Daniel coughed again, and Vala made a show of fussing over him. He enjoyed that somewhat more than good judgment dictated, and he wondered just how much he might regret it if he did kiss her.

"How is your head?" Her fingers slid gently over the sore spot, and then across his cheek.

"My head?"

She frowned at him. "Do you not remember -- "

"Oh, right, my head." This felt familiar somehow. "Those mushrooms were good. We should get more of those sometime."

"Daniel?" She sounded worried. "If you're confused -- "

"No, I'm okay. That non-sequitur was the result of lack-of-sleep confusion, not concussion-confusion." And certainly not romantic confusion, because then we'd really be in trouble. "Trust me, I know the difference."

"Good." She shifted in his lap, and made herself comfortable against his chest.

When it became clear that she intended to stay, he considered objecting to her familiarity, more for the sake of appearances than anything else, but he was tired, and her body felt warm in his arms, and her hair felt nice against his cheek, and it was too late anyway, so he just pretended that this was a perfectly fine idea, and let himself drift off to sleep.


x

Daniel watched Vala lean back in her chair and balance a pencil on her nose. It used to drive him crazy when Jack did that -- usually because Jack tended to do that during his presentations -- but Vala made it an art form. Instead of leaning the chair straight back, thus setting herself up for the inevitable crash, she draped her legs over one arm, and then bent her body backwards over the other.

Jack definitely lacked the flexibility required for that technique, and he also lacked certain other features that made it appealing, such as Vala's long, dark hair that almost reached the floor in that position. Also, Vala could actually balance the pencil. Jack had always dropped it. After one particularly memorable incident, Sam had suggested that perhaps Jack should just bring his yoyo to briefings.

Maybe Vala would like a yoyo. Then again, she could use a yoyo without bending backwards over the arm of a chair, and -- and he'd just missed whatever General Landry had said. "Sorry?"

"Dr. Jackson, perhaps you'd like to elaborate on this particular goa'uld, and any theories you have about why it might be here?"

"Right. Based on the information Teal'c was able to obtain from his . . . let's just say, interview, I believe the goa'uld we're dealing with is Dievas, who played the role of a Lithuanian creator-god. According to myth, when he washed his face, the dirt he displaced fell to Earth, thus accidentally giving rise to the human race. As for what he's doing with Athena, your guess is as good as mine, but it seems like a moot point, seeing as we have them both in custody and the Tok'ra will be removing the problem. Soon, I hope?" He looked to Teal'c for confirmation.

"There has been disagreement on that point," Teal'c said.

"We're getting some friction from the NID," Mitchell said. "They claim they need more time with the prisoners in order to sort out the details of Athena's little project in Utah."

"Yeah." Daniel watched Vala shift in the chair, and despite his efforts to the contrary, his eyes followed the slow progress of her tank top as it slid up to reveal a few inches of skin. "What was Athena doing in Utah?"

"Oil," Teal'c said.

"Oil?" That seemed just odd enough to drag his attention away from Vala again.

"Illegal drilling, sneaky alien style," Mitchell explained. "She stood to make billions. The good news is that if the gizmo works -- provided someone can figure out how it works -- we could tap into the reserves under Utah without worrying about the environmental impact."

"Sounds like a job for Area 51," Daniel said. "What do they need with the goa'uld?"

"The technology's not the NID's problem. The money trail, on the other hand . . . "

"So the plan is to keep two innocent people in slavery indefinitely, just so they can untangle Athena's shady accounting?"

"That's the size of it."

"Right." Daniel sighed. "We're not going with that plan, are we?"

"No," General Landry said. "The NID will have enough time to meet their needs before the Tok'ra arrive. If they squander it, that's their problem."

Daniel tried to listen to the details, but then Vala sat up and smiled at him. Of her many distracting assets, he really did like her smile the most. All of her pencil-balancing gymnastics had played havoc with her hair, and she reached up to run her fingers through it. He swallowed, and tried to care what Teal'c was saying about Anise.

Vala stretched, and lifted one knee so she could rest her foot against the arm of the chair. Her jeans hugged her muscular thigh in a way that made Daniel feel guilty for noticing.

Not that he could keep from noticing. After all, he had eyes. Still, this meeting deserved his attention, and the fact that Vala was beautiful hardly qualified as new information. With effort, he forced his attention back to Teal'c.

"Dr. Lam will assist in the procedure," Teal'c said. "Both she and the Tok'ra feel this experience could prove useful in the future."

Yeah, that was pretty much stating the obvious. Daniel felt a little less guilty when his attention drifted back to Vala, who had twisted herself into yet another fascinating position. Leave it to Vala to find such innovative ways to use a chair. That creativity was just one of the many qualities that made her special. Her courage, her sense of humor, her resilience -- he admired her for so many reasons, and he'd come to rely on her presence in his life.

Maybe they could build something together. That is, if she even wanted to try. He let himself toy with the idea, even though he knew better, and blamed it on the way she could rest her chin on her own knees. Then he told himself he found that trick endearing, rather than sexy, and wondered how exactly that qualified as a better option.

"The material on the clava thessara infinitas will be sent to Area 51 -- "

That caught Daniel's attention. "No."

"Pardon me?" General Landry stared at him.

"With all due respect, sir, I think I'm the person most qualified to review that information." He left off his more immediate concern -- that someone else could get their hands on Athena's research, and reach the same dangerous conclusions regarding Qetesh's memories and Vala.

"Dr. Jackson, considering the current situation with the Ori, don't you think that your primary focus should be finding the grail?"

Probably. He shook his head. "I've already devoted significant time to researching the clava thessara infinitas. I know what to look for, while anyone else would need to start at square one. If Ba'al has the same information as Athena, we need to beat him to it."

Mitchell leaned forward. "I thought you said -- "

Daniel shot him a silent threat which probably conveyed more potential violence than he'd originally intended, because the thought of Vala at Ba'al's mercy made for a very unpleasant mental image. Still, it worked, and Mitchell failed to call him on his earlier insistence that the clava thessara infinitas was nothing but a myth, so Daniel had no regrets.

"Very well," Landry said. "I'll have the materials sent to your office."

"Thank you, sir." The panic ebbed a bit, and he returned to watching Vala fidget. As she leaned forward to spin a pencil on the table, he had to smile.

The smile she returned made him remember almost kissing her the day before, with a mixture of fond regret, and guilt. Of course, crossing that line was a bad idea. He knew that, even in those moments when he deluded himself enough to almost take her flirting seriously, or played with the idea that they could build a relationship. Anything of a romantic nature would be foolish on his part, not to mention selfish. By her own admission, this was the first time in her life that Vala had experienced true friendship, and she deserved the love and respect that came with it.

Anything else just led to complications.


x

Daniel stopped at the traffic light, and glanced over at Vala. In the last few minutes, she'd grown strangely quiet. "Vala?"

"I'm a little nervous," she said. "The last any of these people knew, I was a wanted fugitive. It's funny. I never used to care what people thought of me after I moved on, but this time . . . "

"That's because you've stopped moving on," he said. "You have a home now."

"Yes, I do," she said softly. "Thank you, for that, Daniel."

"Don't thank me, you've worked hard -- "

"No -- well I mean, yes, I have worked very hard, and everyone should of course be enormously proud of me." She grinned at him, but then she touched his arm, and the smile disappeared as she bit her lower lip. Her voice grew soft. "But Daniel, I only tried because you believed in me."

He reached over to touch her cheek, drawn by the way she looked at him, and his resolve slipped. He leaned closer and --

And the blast of a horn let him know the light had changed.

He returned both hands to the steering wheel, and berated himself for the close call. Vala had just told him how much their friendship meant to her, and he'd almost sexualized it. Trivialized it. Sex was cheap to Vala, thanks to Qetesh. She deserved more from him. Even if they could build a relationship, making out in traffic was hardly the appropriate foundation.

"I think that was our turn, darling."

By the time he'd driven around the block and parked, he'd reviewed all of the possible consequences of a failed romance with Vala, and all without dwelling on how good it would feel until it all fell apart. "Shall we?"

She wrapped her arm around his, and grinned. "You'll love this place, Daniel. Sal even makes those mushrooms you like."

"I thought you'd never had those before."

"I hadn't. Deep fried mushrooms? They sounded terrible. Of course, if I had known they were so much fun -- Sal!" Vala dropped Daniel's arm and bounded over to fling her arms around a large man in a grease-splattered apron.

Daniel smiled at her enthusiasm as she made the introductions. "Thank you for being kind." Daniel shook Sal's hand. "What you did for Vala -- that means a great deal to me."

"I'm glad she's not in any trouble. What was the story there?"

"Sorry," Daniel said. "Our work is classified, but suffice it to say that Vala is very important to this country."

"I'm not surprised," Sal said. "I've seen her in action."

They settled down at a little table in the corner, and Vala ducked under Daniel's arm to point out all of Sal's specialties on his menu. He ignored how nice her hair smelled, and tried to muster up his customary indifference to her routine invasion of his personal space.

"It feels different," she said.

"What does?" Daniel let his hand slide across her shoulder and reminded himself that above all else, Vala needed him to listen. His own issues could wait.

"I almost fit in while I was here. There were little things, like not knowing how I wanted my coffee, or missing cultural references, but I thought that was the amnesia. I knew something was missing, but I never doubted that I belonged on this planet."

"You belong as much as I do," he said softly. "I think it's the things we've seen that set us apart, more than anything else. While you were here, you didn't remember them."

She nodded. "I should have guessed my life was a little more complicated than most when The X-Files felt more familiar and real than any of the details of my life here. And my dreams . . . " She shuddered, then brightened. "But anyway, now I know what it's like to be part of this world."

He noticed that her smile failed to reach her eyes. "How did you sleep last night? Any dreams?"

She looked at him oddly, and bit her lip. "I think you mean this morning, and no, those dreams had nothing to do with Qetesh."

His heart sped up as he realized her fingers had come to rest against his thigh, and he almost swore he caught her studying his lips. He tried to tell himself this was just more of Vala's trademark teasing, a method she used to distance herself from topics like Qetesh, but he still leaned closer.

"One meat loaf special," Sal said. "And one chicken platter."

Daniel jumped back, and thanked the universe for yet another save.

Vala kept stroking his thigh, even as she made small talk with Sal, and while a few nights ago, he'd taken comfort from that very same teasing, now he had to fight his reaction to it. She laughed at something Sal had said, and her grin made it impossible for him to get angry at her, so he ignored her hand.

The food tasted great, and he tried to concentrate on that instead. A good greasy spoon could always beat the mess at the SGC. Unfortunately for Daniel's sanity, however, no food on the planet could compete with Vala, and he keenly felt the heat of her body as she leaned into him and snagged a bite of his meal.

He remembered the sot m'cah Vala had mentioned a few nights ago, and wondered if it was more than a joke. He'd always found her attractive, but his ability to ignore her had definitely slipped. Of course, he really had missed her during the first kidnapping -- that explained it. Leftover relief at the close call, nothing more.

"You haven't touched your mushrooms, darling." She held one up to his lips, and grinned.

Yeah, this meant trouble. He told himself he let her get away with it because unlike earlier, her smile looked genuine instead of forced, and above all else he wanted her to enjoy herself, rather than because the touch of her fingertips against his lips made him just the slightest bit dizzy. After all, he was still recovering from a concussion, so a little lightheadedness could only be expected.

He tried blaming the concussion for a few other things as well, failed, and instead leaned close to tease Vala's lips with a second fried mushroom. At this rate, the mushrooms wouldn't last long, and he knew that when they ran out, he'd end up kissing her, and he still knew better.

Her lips closed over the tips of his fingers, and everything blurred except the strength of his desire for her. Inappropriate, dangerous desire.

With effort, he opened his eyes, and let his fingers drop away from her lips.

"Wonderful, aren't they?" Vala returned a hand to his thigh, and picked up her fork. "We should ration them. It would be a shame to eat them all at once."

Either she was deliberately driving him to the brink, or she too had noticed just how dangerous their flirting had grown, and she'd backed off in a sudden burst of common sense. Infuriating, or admirable? He failed to decide, and returned his attention to the meat loaf.

Suddenly, Jack's constant refrain of, "Mmm, cake," made a lot more sense.

"I must admit, I am just the slightest bit glad all of this happened," Vala said. "Yes, being kidnapped does have its drawbacks, but how else would I have gotten the chance to experience something so normal?"

That had to change. "Next time, we should skip the aliens and the kidnapping, and just have dinner. We could even make it a point to do something normal on a regular basis, if you'd like."

She beamed. "That would be lovely."

He expected her to mention Las Vegas again, and he decided he'd take her, provided he could figure out how to squeeze such a trip into their schedule. Maybe they could exploit their privileges just a bit, and get the Odyssey to beam them there.

"I enjoyed golfing," she said. "And I'd love to go dancing."

"Then we'll go dancing." He tried to remember the last time he'd made any attempt at dancing. He dimly recalled stepping all over Sarah's feet in a smoky nightclub somewhere, and hoped that a decade of fighting aliens had improved his coordination. "I should warn you, though, I'm not very good."

"I'm sure you dance wonderfully, darling. It's like sparring, only without the bruises."

"So one would hope." Bruised toes would be the least of their problems anyway, because his resolve would never survive an evening spent with Vala in his arms. Especially if she kept smiling at him. Still, he'd take the risk, because she deserved some time away from the SGC that didn't end in a kidnapping.

Or maybe he was being entirely selfish, because at the moment, having Vala in his arms had a definite appeal. He really just needed to get this out of his system before the concussion wore off and left him without an excuse for it.

"Daniel?" Vala squeezed his knee. "If your head's bothering you -- "

"What? No, just thinking." He laid his hand over hers on his leg, either to keep it there, or to keep it from creeping higher, depending on which part of his brain was deluding the other. "I'm not sure I know where one goes dancing in Colorado Springs."

"We'll just let our fingers do the walking." She turned in her chair and walked her fingers up his chest.

"Okay, I'm stumped."

"The phone book, darling. There's one behind the counter."

"What's with the . . . " And heaven help him, he walked his fingers up her arm.

She gave him a radiant smile. "I saw it on television."

He trailed the backs of his fingers across her cheek, brushing back a few wisps of her hair, and fought the temptation to kiss her. The part of his brain that knew better won the battle, so instead he tried to find the words to tell her that she meant the world to him. "You must have watched a lot of television while you were here."

Yeah, those were the perfect words. Exactly the ones he wanted. Good thing he had that PhD in linguistics.

"I like Mulder," she said. "He's like you -- smart, kind, passionate about his work . . . looks delicious in a tee shirt."

Daniel reached over and grabbed a mushroom, because Vala's fingers were walking up his chest again, and either he desperately needed her to stop that immediately, or he really wanted an excuse to touch her lips. Again, it depended on which part of his brain had the upper hand.

After the third mushroom -- when her tongue brushed against his finger and he forgot at least fourteen of the languages he spoke -- he decided that this was probably not his brightest idea, and after the fifth -- which she brushed across his lower lip so slowly that he groaned -- he found the strength to lean back and put an end to the game.

"Those," Vala said. "Are the greatest invention on this planet. I'd heard of magic mushrooms, but I never imagined . . . what?"

"They're not magic mushrooms. Those are just the regular kind."

"Oh, well that's interesting." She added a sound effect that pretty well summed up how he currently felt about mushrooms, and grinned at him. "They should serve them in the mess."

Yeah, that would end well. He nodded toward the kitchen door. "It looks like Sal wants to talk to you before we leave."

She tweaked his cheek as she left the table, and he smiled as he watched her go, glad that they'd found the time to come here. At least something positive had come of the last few weeks, and just as he thought several pure and meaningful thoughts about how much their friendship had grown over the past two years, his misfiring brain cells derailed the whole thing, because he caught himself checking out her ass.

He alternately blamed her jeans and his concussion, then gave up and went to pay the bill. He felt his cell phone vibrate. If he'd had any other job in the world, he would have ignored it. "Jackson."

"Listen," Cam said. "How fast can you make it back to the SGC?"

"Trouble?"

"Let's just say Dr. Lee is awfully anxious to speak with Vala."

"What? Why?"

"It's not exactly the bat signal -- " Muffled noises interrupted for a moment. "Just, get here, okay?"

"We're on our way." Daniel went to get Vala. He paused at the kitchen door, not really wanting to interrupt her time with the only friend she had made outside of the SGC, and then froze.

"Is this beau of yours everything you hoped?"

"He's more," Vala said. "There's not another man in this galaxy like my Daniel."

"The whole galaxy?" Sal laughed. "You do have it bad. He's good to you? And you love him?"

"He is, and I do."

She did?

"We're not together, not officially. Not quite yet, anyway, but we have a wonderful friendship that I cherish, and yes, I love him."

She loved him?

Daniel heard the truth in her voice, even as his ability to think all but shut down entirely. She loved him. All of his careful reasoning -- or, more precisely, denial -- crumbled on the strength of those words. She meant it, and it followed that she meant the flirting he worked so hard to ignore. Vala loved him. The knowledge lightened him, and he felt deliriously happy about having had everything so very wrong.

He loved her, too, of course. It scared him to death, but he did, and he needed to tell her.

The need to kiss her arose again, so powerful this time that it required an almost physical effort to quell the impulse, but he couldn't just rush into the kitchen and drag her into his arms. Acting on blind passion was not the key to a healthy and lasting relationship with Vala, not given the complexity of their relationship, and even as he thought that, he heard Vala say something remarkably similar to Sal.

"It's complicated," she added. "But that's okay, because getting this right is worth the wait."

He remembered the reason he was standing at the kitchen door in the first place, and pushed it open. "Vala, I just got a call from Mitchell. We're needed back at the base."


x

Daniel's voice sounded odd, and the way he was looking at her -- Vala swallowed and her heart started to pound. If he'd overheard something, and -- she tried not to let her imagination get the best of her, but all the confidence she'd felt while flirting over dinner evaporated at the threat of rejection. Daniel couldn't resist her charms forever, but serious feelings were a different matter entirely, and men, generally speaking, tended not to like them.

The last thing she wanted was to spook him.

He took her hand as they left, and gave her an inscrutable smile. Daniel looked positively scrumptious when he smiled. While she enjoyed the visual treat, that smile really didn't mesh with an emergency back at the SGC, and she had absolutely no idea what to make of it.

"Daniel?"

"Don't worry, our evening's just postponed." He opened the car door for her. "Not canceled."

"That's not what I was asking, darling."

"No, of course not." He remained distracted, and downright unhelpful in the information department, but he kept smiling as he circled the car and climbed into the driver's seat.

Vala found that just the slightest bit unsettling, all things considered. "What's the emergency? Does Mitchell need help finding his pants again?"

"Something with Dr. Lee," he said. "I'm sure it's -- "

"Oh no."

"It's okay, Cam said -- "

"That truth I may have neglected to tell Samantha?" She cringed. "I think you'd better hurry, Daniel."

"Relax." He reached over and squeezed her hand. Again. "Mitchell said it's not an emergency."

"You're right, it's probably nothing. I mean, Dr. Lee is a scientist. He would never just blindly fiddle around with an alien device without knowing what it's supposed to do."

"Yeah," Daniel said. "I think we'd better hurry."


x

Vala stopped in the infirmary's doorway and stared at Dr. Lee in horror, but her sympathy faded a bit when he so vocally blamed her for his predicament. She rolled her eyes. "Well I really didn't think anyone would be stupid enough to play with it!"

Dr. Lee started to argue.

"You know," Daniel said. "She has a point. What made you think this was a good idea?"

"I didn't know it could do this." Dr. Lee grumbled, and quite unwisely swatted at the device.

"At least you did it wrong, you can be thankful for that." Vala bent down to get a better look at it. "Now sit still and let me fix it."

The device had anchored itself to the flesh in a way that Vala would have found quite disturbing, if not for Qetesh's knowledge of what could really be accomplished with this particular piece of technology, provided one knew how to use it. By comparison, this little dilemma was quite preferable. She shuddered, and pushed aside a mental image of what Athena had all too recently intended to do to Daniel.

She'd beaten Athena. She could handle this stupid device. Dr. Lee had escaped any serious harm, and with a little care, Vala could remove it without further injury to anyone. "Okay, here's what I'm going to need."

Dr. Lee sat quietly enough for the beginning of her list, but he grumbled about the cutting torch, objected loudly to the zat'n'ktel, and questioned her very sanity when she wondered aloud about the usefulness of a Sodan cloak.

"Or," Daniel said. "If you're not interested in Vala's help, we could just find you a nice stasis pod until Sam gets back from the Odyssey."

"Would you trust her?" Dr. Lee demanded.

"With my life," Daniel said.

"Well, darling, I might just need you to do that," she said. "If we take the low-tech approach, I'm going to need an extra set of hands."

"I'd like to vote for Dr. Lam providing that set of hands," Dr. Lee said.

"No," Vala said. "We're going to need her to keep you conscious."

"What?"

"Well, just if something goes wrong."

"What?"

"This charming little toy likes to discourage its victim from passing out. Since you've managed to attach it upsidedown, I haven't the foggiest idea how it'll react if you faint, but I'm fairly certain you'd rather not find out."

"What?"

"You know, it would have been much simpler to remove the control crystal if you had this thing facing the other way around." She managed to keep the sarcasm in her voice, but she'd had quite enough of the goa'uld lately. Getting up close and personal with this thing would no doubt factor into tonight's batch of nightmares.

Daniel laid his hand on her arm. "What's your plan?"

"I need to figure out how to retract those little metal spikes," she said. "The angle's wrong, though, even if I could get to the control crystal."

"Exactly what is this thing designed to do?"

"Nothing good," she said.

"Yeah," he said. "That much I gathered. How does it work?"

She stood up and moved away from Dr. Lee -- a gesture he clearly failed to appreciate, since he spluttered and complained all the more -- and provided a cursory explanation to Daniel and Dr. Lam in a low voice. "The second part is designed to connect itself to the nervous system, but through the chest, closer to the spine."

"Here?" Dr. Lam pointed to a spot below her own collarbone, and Vala nodded. "That makes sense. It could tap into the first thoracic nerve."

"At least it's on his arm instead," Daniel said. "I'm assuming that helps us?"

"It seems likely," Dr. Lam said. "I could try a nerve block on the brachial plexus, unless -- you said the device keeps the subject conscious. Do you know how?"

"Not a clue," Vala admitted. "That part of the technology was a little beyond Qetesh. Primarily, she enjoyed what it did to the skin."

"What?" Dr. Lee demanded from across the room. He sounded a bit hysterical.

"What does it do to the skin?" Daniel asked in a low voice. "You glossed over that part."

"Really? I thought I'd managed to avoid mentioning it at all."

The distinct lack of an exasperated sigh from Daniel threw her for a moment, but Dr. Lam took up the slack. "Vala -- "

"The hand device is very good at inducing blinding pain, but it doesn't leave any scars," she explained. "Qetesh considered that a deficiency -- one which she rectified by acquiring this device."

"What does it do?"

"It sort of . . . well, the control crystal guides the needles under the skin. Qetesh used it to sign her work." Vala hated the repugnance that crept into her voice, and tried for upbeat confidence instead. "But I'm sure that, with a little coordination, we can avoid that part entirely. We just need to extract all of the wires simultaneously."

"Right," Daniel said. "There's just one little problem with that plan."

"Just one?"

Daniel sighed. There was that adorable eyeroll she'd missed a moment ago. "I counted five wires."

She cringed a bit. "Well, yes. And we need to figure out which one's the anchor."

"Anchor?"

"The one attached to the nerve. We'll leave that one for last."

"Wouldn't it be easier -- "

"If you disconnect the anchor, or any one of the needles individually, the control crystal goes wonky and the remaining needles start to wander."

"Right." Daniel looked like he had more to say, but Mitchell and Teal'c returned with the items she'd requested.

"What do you plan to do with the zat?" Mitchell asked.

"That's for you." She kept her voice down, and nodded towards Dr. Lee. "If he goes crazy and tries to yank on the wires, you'll need to shoot him."

"Hold on," Dr. Lam said. "I think you're glossing over more than a few details here."

"Well, yes."

"Explain them."

Vala bit her lip and tried not to glance at Dr. Lee. "Qetesh pushed a few of her victims a little too far with that thing, and when the pain made them -- well, the only one who survived is the one Ba'al zatted before . . . the one Ba'al zatted."

"Maybe we should just zat him then," Mitchell suggested.

She shook her head. "What that poor girl went through when she woke up -- I wouldn't wish that on an enemy. And I know some pretty unpleasant people."

Dr. Lam pressed even harder for details, and Vala did her best to supply them without letting her thoughts linger on the poor servant girl's post-zat hangover or the faces of those victims who had bled to death from clawing at the device. Daniel's hand on her elbow helped more than he probably realized, because remembering the aftermath of Qetesh's recreational activities turned her stomach. Eventually, they managed to form a plan -- complete with contingencies and everything -- that met Dr. Lam's standards.

Or at least came close enough to earn her reluctant approval.

Vala exchanged a look with Daniel as they pulled two stools up beside Dr. Lee, and when he touched her arm, she forced a grin. "Just leave the hard parts to me, darling, and everything will go splendidly."

"I know," he said quietly.

Somehow his unflinching confidence in her abilities failed to soothe her nerves. She held at least partial blame for this little mess, and she felt the weight of responsibility quite keenly. "Here, Daniel." She shoved a tool into his hand. "We need to hold this wire steady. You take the bottom, and I'll take the top." She grinned, and tried to break the tension. "Just like sex. Now keep still."

He again failed to roll his eyes at her, or treat her to the exasperated sigh she sought, but before she had time to feel any disappointment, he leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Somehow I doubt that sex with you will involve much in the way of keeping still."

Her hand froze in the act of reaching for the tray of parts. He'd caught her a bit off guard that time, she had to give him that. Wait -- will. Her heart started to pound again, and she had to remind herself quite firmly to focus on the task at hand, rather than on the delicious possibility that Daniel might actually relax his prudish ways.

Certainly he hadn't meant to imply anything, he was just dishing back what she'd started. She'd only imagined the warmth in his eyes, and the softness in his voice. She knew he cared, of course, but -- no, now was not the time to think about this sort of thing.

Through significant mental discipline on her part, she managed to keep working, instead of stopping to study his face, or catch his eye. She decided to start with the wire with the most slack, that way she could avoid painfully tugging at Dr. Lee's skin in vain if the insulator size proved less than ideal.

Daniel held the two wires just as she'd asked, and Vala made a concentrated effort to not admire his hands, or fixate on any other little details, at least until they finished the job. She picked up one of the ceramic insulators. "Could you move your left hand about two inches counterclockwise -- perfect."

She attached the ceramic insulator to the first wire and held her breath. Nothing happened. Good. She flashed Daniel a tight smile. "Four more."

He twisted his hand out of her way so she could reach the second wire, and managed to do it without moving either of the wires he held.

She fitted an insulator to the second wire. "It's a good thing you have marvelous hands, darling."

"You have quite nimble fingers yourself." He smiled at her, and this time she knew the warmth she heard in his voice was more than her own wishful thinking.

"Are you two flirting?" Dr. Lee demanded, with an almost theatrical level of incredulity in his voice.

"They're always like this," Mitchell said. "You get used to it."

Vala shot him a positively lethal glare. "Now," she said to Daniel. "We need to get to that middle wire without letting any of the others touch."

The wire in question had the least slack, which made Vala suspect it was the anchor wire, but with the device upsidedown, she feared that could prove misleading. She hesitated, and tried to decide whether it might be easier to attach the other two insulators first, but then they would block this wire entirely.

She threaded her arm beneath Daniel's and maneuvered the third insulator into position.

Dr. Lee's arm jerked.

Vala yelped as a bare wire came into contact with her fingers with a burning zap, and Dr. Lee shouted in agony as at least one of the needles burrowed deeper into his skin.

"Are you okay?" Daniel asked.

"Yes," Vala said.

"No!" Dr. Lee said.

"Good," Daniel said.

"Excuse me?" Dr. Lee demanded, once again with a note of hysteria in his voice. "How is any of this good?"

"It won't be if you don't hold still." Vala fought to keep the annoyance out of her voice, but her fingers throbbed from the sting and the insulator barely fit where she needed to put it. She took a deep breath, and tried again.


x

Daniel winced at the pain that Vala failed to keep out of her voice. He'd watched her ignore some pretty tough stuff in the past, so from her reaction he guessed that the device delivered a nasty jolt. Still, she offered him a tight smile and leaned in to try again.

This time, Dr. Lee refrained from yanking his arm away, at least long enough for the insulator to close around the wire. Then he banged his elbow into the tray and scattered tools all over the floor.

"Perhaps he could be restrained?" Daniel raised an eyebrow at Dr. Lam.

Vala started to point out the logistical issues with strapping down an arm already trapped in a piece of malfunctioning alien technology, but Teal'c stepped in and took a firm hold on the arm in question.

This forced Daniel closer to Vala, and he reminded himself quite firmly that, vanishing personal space aside, it was neither wise nor appropriate to let himself get distracted. He focused his attention where it belonged -- on the task at hand.

"Hello, darling." Vala looked up from her work to give him a warm smile that really made him question how he'd managed to ignore her sincerity for so long. She nudged him playfully. "This is certainly cozy."

"Get a room," Dr. Lee muttered.

"We'd be glad to," Daniel said. "Unfortunately for us, someone thought it was a good idea to mess around with an alien device without even knowing what it's supposed to do."

Vala's smile grew, even as her eyebrows crept higher.

Daniel knew better -- for entirely different reasons now, of course -- but he snuck his free hand over a few inches and gave her knee a squeeze of promise.

Vala gasped softly, then tried to cover. "Daniel . . . move that next wire just a little to your left."

Heaven help him, he kept his hand on her knee as he did it.

She nodded toward the wire he held in the other hand. "A little higher."

He smirked at her and let his thumb caress the side of her knee just the slightest bit. "Later."

"Could I get that in writing, darling?"

"Are you kidding me?" Dr. Lee demanded.

"Right," Daniel said. "You're still here."

Vala hid a grin and bent back over her work, so Daniel decided it wise to do the same. His hand, however, stayed put.


x

The rest of the insulators snapped into place easily enough, which was a good thing, because Vala had just the slightest bit of trouble concentrating. Of all the times for Daniel to finally stop acting like such a prude -- she didn't know whether to curse him or to curse Dr. Lee's ridiculously bad timing.

On second thought she did, because obviously Daniel had planned something wonderful and this careless accident had interrupted it. Dr. Lee was just lucky that she wasn't the vindictive type.

"Now, if we each take two wires and pull in unison -- very, very slowly of course -- we should be able to extract the needles without activating the barbs."

"Should?" Dr. Lee said.

"Caught that, did you." Vala muttered. Then, more cheerfully. "Of course there's no reason the barbs should activate -- the insulators will keep the wires from touching."

Daniel's warm hand left her knee, and they exchanged a look. This next part required teamwork. Dr. Lee was lucky, though, because they made a really good team.

"Ready?"

He nodded, and together they pulled gently on the four wires. The two Vala held were positioned so that she needed to cross one over the other, which made it a little tricky to maintain a steady pull, but the tiny needles slid back smoothly for a few precious millimeters.

Then they stuck.

Vala's mouth went dry. Without direct access to the control crystal, anything she did to any individual wire would just lead to complications with the remaining three. Complications that Dr. Lee would find quite painful.

Her eyes met Daniel's as they both paused in their efforts, and held the wires carefully taut.

"Relax your arm," Daniel said.

It took Vala a moment to realize he was talking to Dr. Lee, who had tensed up so much that his trembling muscle -- and not any action of the device itself -- was impeding their progress.

Dr. Lee insisted that he was trying to relax, but clearly to no avail, and after several minutes Dr. Lam decided to try injecting a muscle relaxant.

The syringe was still half full when they realized their mistake. The crystal lit up so brightly that the glow illuminated Dr. Lee's entire arm, the needles tugged at the wires, and the anchor hook appeared to move deeper into the muscle.

Their patient howled in agony, and only the firm grip Teal'c kept on him prevented further disaster.

Mitchell stepped forward, ready to fire the zat he held if necessary.

"Pull!" Vala whispered urgently to Daniel. "Just pull."

The barbs activated just before the needles slid from Dr. Lee's skin, leaving four nasty marks on his arm, but the damage could have been much worse. In fact, worse was still very definitely a possibility, as evidenced by the glowing crystal, and the way the four wires struggled like angry snakes at having been pulled so unceremoniously from their victim.

Daniel had control of his two wires, more or less, but thanks to its original awkward position, one of Vala's now had enough slack to make a nuisance of itself. It thrashed about wildly, and all Vala could do was hold it as far away from everyone as possible, and hope the technology lacked the ability to hone in on the unguarded flesh of her own arm.

She yelped as it stung her hand in its flailings, but she managed to keep her grip on it.

"Mitchell!" Daniel shouted next to her ear. "Help Vala!"

"The putty," Vala added through gritted teeth. That hurt.

Mitchell circled behind her and grabbed one of the lumps of white plasticine from the tray. He tried to catch the wire, and got zapped for his efforts. He caught himself against the wall, shook his wounded hand, and grabbed a second lump. With plasticine in both hands, he clapped them together around the needle at the tip of the thrashing wire.

"Maybe it's not the most elegant solution," he said. "But it does the trick."

Vala buried her second wire in plasticine, then passed the rest to Daniel so he could do the same before she snatched a pair of pliers from the tool tray and went after the anchor hook. It was too late to pull it out without damage, but she needed to stop it from any further movement while she tried to get at the control crystal.

"Hold this steady." She pressed the pliers into Daniel's hand, and turned on the cutting torch.

Dr. Lee managed to make even more noise, and Vala made an effort to squelch her sympathy for his predicament. She needed to concentrate.

The torch proved less effective than she'd hoped on the metal, which unfortunately got hot rather quickly, but that gave her a second idea. "Do we have any dry ice?"

"Are you crazy?" Dr. Lee asked. His argument against the idea was rather more coherent than one might have expected of someone in so much pain, but fortunately nobody was listening to him, and Dr. Lam remembered a shipment of vaccines that had arrived packed in dry ice just that afternoon.

When Dr. Lam applied the dry ice to a strategic point on the device, the metal cracked. Vala pulled it away from Dr. Lee's skin and pried out the control crystal. Then she snipped the now harmless anchor wire and tossed the device into its box. "Done."

"Done?"

"Done." Vala grinned at Daniel. "Shall we finish our date now?"


x

Vala fidgeted as someone from the medical staff examined the two tiny burns on her hand. "You know, I've been burned at the stake. Twice, actually. This is nothing."

"Electrical burns can appear deceptively minor . . . "

She ignored the lecture. She just wanted to escape and find out what Daniel had planned for the rest of their date. And this time it was a date, she could read it in his eyes, and in the gorgeous smile he gave her when the medic announced her clean bill of health.

"So where are we going?" Vala asked as they finally escaped into the corridor.

Daniel seemed puzzled by the question. "Your quarters."

Vala opened her mouth to tease him about just how romantic that wasn't, even though the suggestion suited her just fine, but she changed her mind. Two minutes ago, she'd had Daniel smiling at her like a lovesick adolescent, and hovering protectively nearby as she had her minor injury treated. Now he was frowning at the floor with his hands in his pockets as he walked.

Maybe he was trying to drive her crazy.

Neither broke the silence until they reached her room. Daniel closed the door behind them, sighed just a little too heavily for her tastes, and shoved his hands back into his pockets. "We need to talk."

How exactly had they gone from, 'we'd be glad to get a room,' all the way to, 'we need to talk,' in just a few minutes?

She bit her lip and looked everywhere but at Daniel's face. The slow breath he let out just sounded so serious, and she found herself bracing for the worst. Obviously he'd found a way to blame her for their flirting.

"When two people work together -- "

"Daniel, could -- " She reined in her urge to snap at him, and went for distraction instead. "Would you care for a drink?"

"What?" He looked puzzled, but the lecture stopped, at least.

"Drinks." She grinned at him and held up a couple of the tiny bottles she had liberated from Athena's limo.

"Where the heck did you get those?"

"They're not much compensation for being kidnapped -- again -- but we might as well enjoy them."

"You stole them?"

She stared at him. "You can't possibly care that I stole from Athena."

"Let's not get distracted by -- "

"Oh no, we wouldn't want to get distracted." She slammed the tiny bottles down on the dresser. "Not when it's time for a lecture on why Vala's not quite good enough for Daniel."

"Vala -- "

"Of course, you're the one who had his hand on my leg in the infirmary. While I was trying to work, I might add. But I'm sure in your mind that's all my fault, too."

"I think -- "

"Well you know what I think, Daniel? I happen to think we'd be good together, but if you'd rather live like a monk, it's your loss."

"Dammit, Vala!" He looked furious. "I'm trying to tell you that I love you!"

"What?"

"I'm in love with you." Poor Daniel looked adorably frustrated. And maybe just a little bit frightened.

Vala burst out laughing, which the more logical portions of her brain recognized as not the best response, but then again, logic clearly wasn't meant to play a role in these proceedings.

She stepped closer, wrapped her arms around Daniel's neck, and tried to quell the laughter enough to kiss him. Not successfully, of course, but at least they were laughing together now as his arms closed around her waist and his forehead tipped against hers.

He grinned at her, shaking his head. "That went well."

"As well as could be expected, I suppose." She let her fingers trail across his cheek. "Is it my turn now? I could show you how it's done. Clearly you could benefit from a demonstration."

"Clearly." One arm tightened around her waist, and the other hand slid up and down her back in a way that made thinking just the slightest bit more challenging than she usually found it.

"First," she said. "There's the touching." She teased his ear with her fingertips, and pressed her body more firmly against his. "I know you're good at that, darling, you just need to take your hands out of your pockets. Then step two . . . " She let the words trail off as she cupped his cheek in her hand, and kissed him.

A soft kiss, with enough gentle passion to make an impression. Or at least, that was Vala's intention. In practice, the kiss had an element of wildness to it, and while the beginning covered the gentle passion angle well enough, it ended with Daniel backed up against the dresser, one hand well south of the equator, and Vala a little dizzy with need.

"We're good at step two," she managed.

"Mmm." Daniel gave her ass another gentle squeeze, and kissed her just below the ear.

Her instinct said to go with it, drag him into bed, and claim him quite thoroughly as her own. But she really wanted to do this properly. Or at least, properly enough to say the words first, because Daniel had said them, and despite the ridiculous way he'd said them, they meant everything to her.

"After step two," she said. "It's time for the words." She started tugging his shirt loose from the back of his pants. "Simple." She let one hand slide up under the fabric to press against warm skin. "Direct."

He kissed her again, and when that stopped, she was the one pressed up against the dresser. Or, more accurately, sitting on the dresser, because her feet weren't touching the floor in the strictest sense.

She took his face in both hands, to make him look at her when she said it, but his lips were right there to distract her, so instead she opted for a third kiss.

And a fourth.

"Step three," she tried again. She pushed Daniel back a bit so she could slide off the dresser and start steering him backwards toward the bed. "Well, naturally it'll overlap a bit with step two. But the important thing is to get to the point."

His warm hands felt delicious against the bare skin of her shoulders, and she found herself briefly distracted first by the sensation, and then by the amusing realization that her shirt had quietly and without fanfare ceased to be on her shoulders. Her Daniel was good.

His warm mouth found the hollow above her collarbone. Her Daniel was very good.

"Simple words." Her voice sounded odd in her own ears. She'd never tried to talk this much during foreplay. "Like this."

Daniel paused to smile at her, and to stroke her hair back from her face.

She grinned in return. "I love you, Daniel."

Kiss number five went in slow motion, at least until it evolved into kiss number six, and Daniel found the clasp to her jeans.

"You're right." Daniel let her push him down onto the bed. "I think I like your way better."

"Of course you do, darling." She straddled him, and leaned in for kiss number seven. "It's a lot more effective."

"More fun, too."

"Mmm." She let her hands wander down his chest. "So then tell me, why did you choose 'we need to talk' as your opening line? And that rubbish about working together -- what was that?"

"Yeah." He grimaced theatrically, and drew some of those divine circles on her back. They were twice as divine, she noted, on bare skin. "I was afraid that if I just kissed you, instead of making sure to be clear, it could lead to some sort of misunderstanding."

"Well thank goodness that didn't happen."

"Right." He stretched up to kiss her, and she stopped bothering to count, because Daniel had a number of talents that did an excellent job of slowing down all higher brain functions, and she needed all of her remaining intellect to get the rest of their clothes out of the way.

And those divine circles, they put the rest to shame. Her Daniel was amazing.


x

"We should have done that ages ago." Vala stretched, enjoying the marvelous feelings that still had her tingling all over, even after she finally caught her breath.

"Probably." Daniel gave her hand a squeeze. "Although I'd say it was worth the wait."

"Mmm. Very true." She settled back down against his shoulder, and smiled at the way he wrapped his arm around her.

"I've been so afraid of falling in love again that it took me a while to realize it was too late," he said. "I hope you can forgive me for being a bit of an ass."

"As long as you're my ass." Her hand crept down to emphasize her words. "I am rather partial to a sexy ass, after all."

He yelped, and that kept them busy for a while. It turned out that her Daniel had a few interesting ticklish spots that required cataloging, and as they laughed breathlessly together, Vala marveled at just how happy she felt.

"Earlier, in the car, you said I have a home now, and it's true. You are my home, Daniel. You, and Sam, and Teal'c, and even Cameron. But especially you."

He tugged her close, and pressed a kiss to her forehead that brought tears to her eyes. "I feel the same way." He chuckled. "In which case, I look forward to spending a whole lot more time enjoying the comforts of home."

"Why Daniel, I'm shocked to hear such blatant innuendo."

He rolled his eyes, and she found the gesture twice as adorable now, especially when he combined it with a sexy little smile. "Clearly you're a bad influence."

"I do try." She grinned, and moved her leg a few strategic inches as she kissed him. "Mmm. Plenty of time spent at home -- we should make that a rule."

"Since when do you follow any rules?" His marvelous hands started to wander.

"It's been known to happen." She tried to sound offended, failed, and bit her lip. "I've never once gotten a traffic ticket."

He snorted. "You don't drive. Try again."

"You're making it a little hard to think right now, darling."

"Am I?" His smirk made her heart pound even more than his roaming hand did, and then he quite deliberately made it worse. "Better?"

"Much." She tried to smile at him, even as her eyes rolled back in her head, but that proved something of a challenge with her lip between her teeth. "You know what they say," she said, her voice rather strained with the effort. "There's no place like home."

When she opened her eyes, he was smiling that gorgeous smile, and when she leaned in to brush his lips with hers, he ran his fingers through her hair and kissed her with a soft intensity that left her just the slightest bit dizzy.

Her Daniel was very, very good. "I am definitely a lucky woman."

"I'm the lucky one." The acid in his tone dueled with the affection in his eyes. "You could have actually been good at stealing spaceships."

"I'm glad we found each other too, Daniel." She settled her head against his chest. "There's definitely no place like home."




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This transformative work constitutes a fair use of any copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. Stargate™©, Stargate SG-1™©, and related properties are Registered Trademarks of MGM Studios. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, November 2008.