Brave New World
"Have you ever thought that you might do a much better job running the planet?" Daniel asks one evening after the sun has long since abandoned the sky.
Sam's lying in the grass a few meters away and has to crane her neck to judge the seriousness of the question. A few drinks have been consumed in the course of the evening, but when she looks up at Daniel, who appears upside down above her sitting in a chair on the deck, she notices his hands are as steady as his gaze.
"Sure, all the time," she says, letting her neck press back into the cool grass. "Though I usually think bigger. The whole Universe."
Daniel snickers and she feels yet another jolt of adrenaline at the familiar sound. He's been back less than a week and she constantly has to remind herself that of all the things lost recently, he is not one of them.
If she's completely truthful, the whole 'not really dead but ascended' riff had never been of particular comfort to her. Maybe it's a spiritual shortcoming on her part, but she prefers solid and here to glowy and vaguely elsewhere. And somehow, this time, she likes to think that he's come back even more solid than before, because this time he doesn't look through her.
She curls her fingers into the lawn and breathes, concentrating on the soft buzz of not enough sleep and a bit too much beer.
"I'd make all museums and libraries free to the public," Daniel says.
"What?" Sam asks, distracted by the effort of keeping her mind safely blank.
"If I ruled the Universe."
"Ah," she says. "I'd install Asgard beaming technology and naquadah generators to stop global warming." She tries not to sound like she's actually given this too much thought, but she knows without looking that Daniel is smiling at her rapid answer. "And maybe make flags the compulsory dress code at the SGC," she adds with a smirk.
Daniel pelts her with pretzels in retaliation. "Import the nothan plant from PC4-823," he shoots back.
"God, kids would actually eat their vegetables." Sam drools a little remembering the green bean-like plant that tastes like chocolate pudding. "A holiday where only motorcycles are allowed on the roads."
Sam laughs. "Why do all of yours have to do with food?"
"Yours are all technology!" The warmth in his tone erases any imagined indignation and they fall into silence for a while, Sam munching thoughtfully on confiscated pretzels.
"I'd require bad guys to wear black hats. Just for clarity's sake," Sam eventually says.
"It wouldn't be all that difficult of a thing to do," Daniel replies. It takes her a moment to realize that he doesn't mean her wardrobe requirements for villains, and she feels her pulse accelerate in reaction.
"It really wouldn't," she agrees, craning her neck to look at Daniel again, but this time he is staring intently at her, all levity gone. "I have plans," she confesses.
Of course he does. It's in her nature to plan, to generate all the possible outcomes and prepare for them. Even the improbable ones. She knows exactly how to gain control of the SGC, how to gain the upper hand against the top levels of command. Every extreme situation has been considered. They're plans she never speaks of, because even inside her own head they proved to be too dangerous.
All humans desire power. It's just that most of them are never in a position to attain it.
"What sort of gods do you think we'd make?" she asks.
He doesn't say anything, but she doesn't really need him to. They're both in the unique position of having already had that particular fantasy played out in real time, and she belatedly realizes that this was the point of the little game from the onset.
It's so like Daniel to come at something sideways.
"I remember what happened now, when I was an Ancient," Daniel says, the creak of wood telling her he's pushing back in the chair, everything just a little off balance. "I tried to kill Anubis. On Abydos. But Oma stopped me. I think that was the moment she realized I was never meant to be an Ancient. My motives were pure…I was right to try. But I was using my powers to manipulate the universe to suit myself.
"I never understood how the Ancients could be so hard-lined about non-interference, but now I wonder if they are so implacable because once you smudge the border even a little, it's hard to ever stop. It's impossible to know what I might have become after that."
But Sam knows what she might become in that situation thanks to Fifth and his obsession with having a Sam Carter of his very own. They've all seen that 'what if' played out first hand, Daniel more than anyone. Potential become cold, hard, metal flesh.
"She killed you," she says, more a statement than anything else. It's a horrible suspicion that's been crawling around in her mind since he first reappeared, looking a bit haggard but somehow much more human than ever before.
"Yes," he says, no qualifiers or hedging, just the short, brutal truth.
Sam closes her eyes against the stars. Somehow it feels as if she had been the one to do it, to strike Daniel down, and she wonders how he can even look at her.
No matter how much people say the replicator wasn't Sam, no matter how many times they absolved her of the crimes, she knows it's not completely true. The replicator was right, that capability is inside her. Sam Carter with the Universe at her fingertips. She suppresses a shudder and wraps her arms across her chest.
"You had plans, and maybe she even used some of them, but I bet you've never even written them down," Daniel says.
"Does it matter?"
The legs of his chair set down on the deck with a solid thump. "You of all people should understand the difference between capability and commitment."
She thinks of all the impulses she has never acted on, the words and actions suppressed to training and control. "The replicator thought it made me weak."
Daniel stands up then, kicking off his shoes and stepping out on the lawn next to Sam. His face is serious and she can tell he's working up towards something else, rolling the words around in his mind so they come out just right.
"I almost gave in to her," he says after a while. "Not because of the torture, but because for the merest moment I let myself believe she was you. And the temptation of sharing all of that with you was almost more than I could bear."
Sam wraps her hand around Daniel's ankle, feeling his pulse beat slow and even.
"Does that make me weak?" he asks.
If it is a weakness, it's not something unique to either of them. She knows that the replicator's kidnapping of Daniel was bred from her own deep-seated desire to share each new discovery with him.
She wonders what ever happened to the idea of detachment, the one thing SG-1 seems to fail at more than anything.
"I doubt there has ever been a team more compromised than SG-1," she observes.
Daniel shrugs. "Maybe that's why we keep managing to do the impossible."
She likes the idea that maybe their weakness for each other is the charm that keeps this delicate blue sphere spinning calmly under the cold stars. It sounds right, like one of Daniel's ancient stories that passes from tongue to tongue to stone and parchment stained with generations of fingers, the one constant to every culture on every planet: flawed people climbing over insurmountable odds.
"So…we shall remain powerless, flawed mortals then," Sam says as if forming a pact.
He lies down in the grass next to her, his shoulder warm against hers. "It's probably for the best, nothan plants and global warming not withstanding."
He holds out the bag of pretzels and she takes one, studying it the dim light.
"Not that we couldn't, say, figure out a way to improve the MREs," she says, plans already building in her mind. "In a purely non-'ruling the world' sort of way, of course."
Daniel laughs, reaching for her hand in the soft spring of grass and squeezing it tightly. "Anything's possible."
It really is, she thinks and suddenly that doesn't seem so scary anymore.
Together, they observe the stars, letting the heavens slip by without them.