Inside, he could hear her heels clicking toward him, and he released a nervous breath. She was going to tease him mercilessly--run her fingers through his hair and ask how he could possibly be nervous after all they'd been through. She'd be right, too, but things between them had been changing so rapidly lately that he never knew which tack to take with her. After last weekend, all bets were off. She wasn't the annoying little itch he couldn't scratch anymore, she was…
"You're early," she smiled as she opened the door.
"A little," he nodded, pulling the flowers out from behind his back again. "They're lavender roses. It's--uh--traditional for the guy to--um--"
"I know," Vala nodded, her smile widening as she took them. "They're lovely, Daniel, thank you."
"Oh. Right. Uh, I knew that," Daniel paused. "I mean, I knew you knew…about the flowers…not that they were lovely. I mean--"
Vala hid a laugh by lowering her nose into the soft petals, then stepped aside to let him in. He stood awkwardly, watching her set the flowers on the table and then start to rearrange them. After a moment or two, he let his eyes slowly drift over the room, and smiled at the sight of the picnic basket. It was on the TV where he'd set it for on Monday morning, but his eyebrows rose when he realized that the bear was no longer on top of it.
"Hey, where's--where's--" he broke off, fighting the sudden urge to loosen his collar. She probably thought he sounded like an infatuated adolescent.
Vala followed his gaze and grinned. Walking over to the bed, she folded down the top of the comforter to reveal the teddy bear, who'd apparently been spending his nights on her pillow. Daniel smiled a little and wandered over to pick it up while she moved back to the mirror.
"I wasn't quite ready," she explained as she slid into the seat at her vanity table. "I'll be quick."
"It's okay," Daniel shook his head, flicking his eyes back to the bear in his hand. He wondered how she could seem so at ease, but as he watched her fuss and make faces over her hair, he realized that she had to feel every bit as nervous as he did.
Finally, she slapped the brush back down on the table and grabbed a handful of hair in each hand. Pulling them to either side, she sighed, "Maybe I should just wear pigtails!"
Daniel set the bear back on the pillow and walked up behind her. "I love your pigtails," he said, slipping his hands onto her shoulders. He bent toward her neck and felt her shiver slightly, but she jerked her head to the side a moment before his lips touched the softness of her skin.
"No kissing," she declared.
"What?" he frowned, perplexed. "Vala, this is the second date."
"Yes," she taunted, smiling as her finger reached up to tap him on the nose. "And if you're a very good boy, you may have a kiss at the end of the second date."
"Okay," he sighed, hanging his head. He stepped back and walked over to sit on the arm of the couch, shucking off his suit jacket and toying idly with his keys. "That a new dress?"
"What? This old thing?" Vala teased. It was probably the reddest dress that Daniel have ever seen; long and elegant, sleeveless, but the v-neck revealed surprisingly less than he would have expected.
"You look really…" he started, then trailed off as he caught a knowing smile reflected in the mirror.
"I look?" she prompted.
"Well, I was going to say 'you look beautiful'," Daniel replied. "But that's kinda cliché, isn't it? I mean, you're expecting me to say that."
"It would still be nice to hear, darling," she shook her head gently.
"Okay what?" Vala asked, half turning to look at him.
"Okay. You're beautiful," he told her quietly. "You're--you're a vision."
"Nope," Vala shook her head, turning back to the mirror.
Daniel's eyes widened. "Whaddaya mean nope?"
"Well, now you've gone and ruined the sappy mood," Vala sighed.
"I love you," Daniel laughed, running a hand over his face.
"Of course you do," Vala smirked as she set down the brush and stood up.
"That's--that's not what you're supposed to say," Daniel stammered.
"Oh?" Vala reached back to grab the red sequined jacket on the way to the door, where she stood, waiting expectantly for him to hold it open. "What am I supposed to say?"
He hurried to do so, answering, "I dunno…'I love you too' or something might be good."
"I love you, too, Daniel," she said as she flounced out.
"Well, now you just ruined the mood," he smirked, closing the door behind him.
"It doesn't work when you do it," she retorted, pausing until he'd slid an arm around her shoulders.
"What?" he asked.
"The crack about ruining the mood," she explained. "It's not believable at all."
"Always gotta have the last word, don't you?" he sighed, kissing the top of her hair.
The skies had been clear when he went inside, but by the time they reached the surface, fat raindrops were rapidly splashing down into the already huge puddles on the ground. Daniel groaned, half expecting Vala to pull off her high heels and make him jump around in the water.
"Let me guess, you hate the rain," she stated, looking at him with a raised eyebrow as she started for the car.
He returned the expression. "Let me guess--you love it."
"It depends," she shrugged. "I don't like it when it's really cold and icy in the winter. Warm rain like this is all right. Especially now…didn't I see something about wildfires on the news again?"
"You watch the news?" he asked.
"Naturally, darling. I admit, much of it is incredibly boring, but how else would I gain any valuable information about the political goings on of this little planet?" she asked.
"You could try reading the papers. Or news magazines," Daniel suggested.
"Well, yes," agreed Vala. "But then someone would have to buy me a subscription."
"Oh, of course," Daniel bit his cheek to keep from laughing as he held the car door open for her. "How about I let you read mine when I'm through?"
"Would you?" she tilted her head up at him. "Well, aren't you sweet, Daniel. Could I have your archaeological journals too?"
"No," he replied flatly.
"Why not?" she asked, sliding into the car. "You don't think I'd actually try to use what minimal information I found in them to appropriate…what's this?"
Daniel grinned as she picked up the box of chocolates and slid off the large red bow. "Oh, I forgot to bring those down with me," he shrugged, pushing the door shut.
"Oh, Daniel, you bought out the store!" she purred when he opened his own door a few moments later. "Do you do this for every girl?"
"Well…tradition…y'know," he replied, keeping his tone purposely indifferent.
Her face fell as he started the car, and she forced a nod, fixing her gaze down on the candy. "Oh. Of course," she said, making a show of trying to decide which piece she wanted.
Daniel sighed and bit his lip. He turned, hesitating briefly before he reached to guide her face back toward him. "Vala, no, I don't. The truth is, I--I'm not really good at…girls…dating…whatever you wanna call it. I tend to make an ass of myself on a regular basis."
"Well, I think you're off to a fine start," she smiled, then bit her own lip. "Wait. Um. I really didn't mean that--I meant--"
"I know what you meant," Daniel promised, laughing. He leaned toward her mouth and halted halfway, sighing again as he returned his attention to the car.
Lightning started flashing just as they left the security checkpoint. Vala slid closer to him, and he felt her shivering, though he couldn't quite tell whether the reaction was one of fear or delight. He imagined the latter, and had the impression confirmed a second or two later.
"Once, when I was about twelve, my brother and I were caught in a downpour like this," she related softly. "We were about a mile from home and started running. The rain was coming down in sheets, harder and harder with each pass, and it seemed like the faster we ran, the harder it came after us. We were laughing hysterically, utterly soaked , and filthy by the time we burst into my stepmother's kitchen."
"Bet she let you have it," Daniel chuckled.
"Oooh, boy did she," nodded Vala. "Both of us, and Voss was her favorite. He rarely ever got a whipping, but he did that time."
"Where is he now?" asked Daniel curiously.
Vala tensed against him, and he could feel her struggling not to draw back. "I…don't know. I haven't seen him in a long time."
"I'm sorry, honey," he said softly, glancing over at her as another streak lit up the sky.
She shook her head. "It's all right. Certainly not your fault."
"I'm still sorry," Daniel murmured.
Vala smiled indulgently and fell silent, letting him focus on driving. The road was obviously slick, and though there was little traffic, his shoulders were tense with concentration and effort. The rhythmic beating of the windshield wipers was the only sound that could be heard for several minutes before the flash of lightning blinded them both.
Daniel instinctively slammed on the brakes, and Vala screamed as the safety belt tightened across her chest. She heard the crack and groan of the tree before her vision had cleared enough to see it, then shrieked again, burying her face against his shoulder as it appeared in front of them. It barely missed the hood of the car as it crashed down onto the road. Vala clutched him hard for several heartbeats, then cautiously peeked up again.
"You okay?" Daniel asked, clinging just as tightly to her. He could feel his own body shaking and had to force himself not to pull her back against him when she started to sit up again.
"Okay," she gave a tremulous little nod. "Okay, I think. Are you?"
"I'm--uh--I think so," he replied, swallowing. Vala moved back against his shoulder and he lowered his lips to her hair, rubbing her back reassuringly. "That--that was scary."
"Really scary," she nodded.
"I'd really love to get out of this dress," Vala remarked as the door shut behind them. She left Daniel gaping after her and walked into his living room, pausing to examine a statue on the fireplace mantle.
Neither had particularly felt like going through the motions of a formal dinner after the emergency crews had showed up to clear the tree. Daniel had managed to avert suggestions that they go to a local ER to get checked out by promising that they would head back to Cheyenne Mountain and have the CMO examine them, then be driven back to his apartment.
"This looks Goa'uld," she speculated, glancing over her shoulder.
"Um," Daniel coughed, finally shutting his mouth. "Egyptian…actually. It--used to belong to Catherine Langford. Remember I told you about her?"
"What's wrong, darling?" Vala frowned.
"Nothing," he quickly shook his head, resisting the urge to spring forward and snatch the precious relic.
"So," she set it down again, "do you have anything I could change into?"
"Huh? Oh! You mean you wanna change out of your dress!" Daniel breathed a sigh of relief.
"Disappointed?" Vala winked.
"Yes," he shot back without thinking then felt his cheeks redden.
"Well, it's about time you admitted it," she replied.
Daniel shook his head and walked off into his bedroom, returning a few minutes later with an old t-shirt and a pair of shorts he rarely wore. He led her to the bathroom and handed her the bundle of clothing. Leaning inside to snap on the light, he winced, wishing he'd thought to pick up the wet towel off the floor on his way to pick her up tonight.
"No peeking," Vala teased as she slid past him. Her hand shot back to tickle his stomach, and he made a playful grab for it, but she pulled away and kicked the door shut when he tried to follow her inside.
"Right," he sighed, turning back toward the bedroom to change his own clothes.
He'd just stepped back out into the hall when the bathroom door creaked halfway open and Vala stuck her head out. A hand followed, and she waggled her index finger in a beckoning gesture.
"Daniel!" she whispered.
"What?" he laughed, slowly walking up to her.
"Have you got one of those safety pin things?" she asked hopefully.
"One of what?" he frowned.
"Sam gave me one last week when my bra strap--"
"I don't need to know," Daniel rolled his eyes. "What do you need a safety pin for?"
"Well, you know, your waist is just a tad bigger than mine," she replied.
"Oh. Yeah…sorry. Stay right there," he nodded, turning to gaze thoughtfully off into the living room.
It took some searching, during which he could hear Vala sighing impatiently and tapping her fingers on the door whenever he crossed the hall again, but eventually he did find a pile of safety pins in the bottom of the kitchen catch-all drawer. He dutifully brought it back to her, and she thanked him by slamming the door in his face when he moved in to steal a kiss.
"That's what you call being a good boy?" she called from behind the door.
"Actually, I'd call it being a very good boy," he muttered, walking back into the living room.
"What was that?" Vala asked.
"Oh, nothing," he replied, smirking as he picked up the remote control. He'd left it on The Weather Channel that morning and scowled at the forecast, then flipped it off in search of a movie. He rarely watched television anyway, and was certain that as soon as Vala was through, she'd grab the clicker for herself, but he entertained a faint hope that he could still find something they might both enjoy.
"Just once, I'd like to get through a dinner date with you without something insane happening!" Vala declared with gusto. She came out of the bathroom with a bounce in her step that Daniel could tell she didn't feel and threw herself down on the couch beside him.
Automatically, one arm slid behind her back and he tugged her close-- then sighed when she plucked the remote from his other hand. Her head nestled onto his shoulder, though, and he melted--as she probably knew he would, which in itself was irritating until she paused on the History Channel, where they were airing a rather bad documentary on Feudal Japan.
"You don't want to watch this," he smiled knowingly.
"But you won't admit to wanting to watch Beauty and the Beast," she replied. "They're replaying it tonight, I think."
"Beauty and the… the Disney movie?" Daniel's eyebrows rose.
"Sam and I watched it the other night," Vala nodded. "She says it's one of the only Disney musicals she actually enjoys."
"She likes it because Belle's smart. She reads--she's empowered. Disney made a point of making her more appealing to women than most of their previous heroines had been."
"Aha!" Vala pointed a finger. "So you admit you've seen it!"
"I never said I hadn't," he shook his head fondly. "Sam, Teal'c, and I have all seen it; it was Cassie's favorite as a kid."
"Cassie…the little girl from Hanka?" Vala asked, frowning.
"Janet's daughter, yep," nodded Daniel. "Although she's not exactly a little girl anymore."
"No, she wouldn't be, I suppose," Vala mused. "Sam showed me some photos she had in her wallet, but I didn't realize that you were all as close with Cassie as she is."
"Yeah, I guess we all are in one way or another," Daniel said thoughtfully. "Janet was…well, she was…special to me…"
"Oh," Vala looked up, startled. "Sam hadn't mentioned that either. Were you two--did you--"
Daniel shook his head sadly. "No. We might've been. I guess I was always too scared. Scared I'd mess things up the way I did with Sarah. Scared I'd…fail her the way I thought I had failed Sha're."
"Oh, Daniel," Vala murmured gently, slipping her head back onto his shoulder.
Her hand reached for his and he let her take it, then drew in a long breath. "Like I said, I'm…not really good with these kinds of relationships."
"Prince Charming is a nice idea," Vala replied, flipping on the Disney Channel. "But I'd really prefer not to date a figment of my imagination."
They tuned in just in time to hear Gaston declare proudly, "I use antlers in all of my decorating!" and she wrinkled her nose.
"Or him?" Daniel asked.
"Definitely not him," she agreed.
They fell silent, both engrossed in the movie until the next shot of the withering magical rose, when Vala let out a worried whimper. Daniel arched an eyebrow, turning to look at her. She glanced up questioningly, and he looked back at the screen.
"I thought you'd seen this already," he said.
"I have," she nodded.
"Then what are you worried about?" he smiled.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Vala, you were just making worried noises when they showed the rose dying," he pointed out.
"I was?" her eyes widened.
"Yes," he laughed.
"Oh," she cleared her throat. "Well, I guess I just--got a bit caught up in the story. It is rather compelling, don't you think?"
"Yeah, I guess, if you don't think about how different it is from the real story," Daniel shrugged. "That's the thing with Disney, I think. You have to just accept that the plot's going to deviate…what?"
"You mean this actually happened?" Vala stared at him in wide-eyed amazement. "What caused the beast? Some sort of mutation?"
"Huh? No…no, no. It's--it's a fairy tale. A children's story. Actually, originally, fairy tales weren't children's stories at all. They were more like cautionary tales…but no. It--it didn't happen. It's just that Disney has a habit of distorting…"
"Make believe?" Vala interrupted. "And you'd like it better if their version of make believe was closer to the traditionally accepted one?"
"Well, when you put it that way, it sounds ridiculous," Daniel frowned.
"If the shoe fits, darling," Vala raised an eyebrow.
"No, that's Cinderella," Daniel retorted dryly.
"Cinderella," he explained. "Another fairy tale. It's about a girl who wears glass slippers to the prince's ball and loses one. He hunts through the whole kingdom searching for the one girl with feet tiny enough to fit the slipper. It's probably the origin of that expression."
"Oh, I thought Mitchell made it up," she nodded.
"Did he say that?" Daniel asked, flopping his head back against the couch in exasperation with their CO.
"No," Vala assured him, chuckling. "When he said it, it just seemed like something he'd have made up himself. So, tell me how the real story is different from the movie."
"Besides the fact that no one in the story bursts out singing at every opportunity?" Daniel asked.
Vala lifted her head and narrowed her eyes darkly at him. He lowered his own head in response, but her hand came up quickly, flattening against his face, and she gave him a firm push away. He let loose an exaggerated sigh and fell back against the cushions again.
"Okay. Well, the rose for one," he began.
"No rose?" exclaimed Vala. "I like the rose! How can there be no magic rose?"
"Well, there are roses," Daniel said. "A whole garden of them, if I remember. Just no magical ones like in the Disney version. It isn't really specified how long the prince had lived as a Beast, and there was no requirement that he be changed back before the last petal fell. It was just that he would stay a Beast until he found someone who loved him despite his appearance…"
"But what about the rose?" she persisted.
"What rose?" he asked, feigning confusion.
"Oh, right. That rose. Well, Beauty's father was actually a merchant with three daughters--"
"You mean Belle," Vala corrected.
"No, I mean Beauty. That was her name in the story. Disney changed her name. The--um--origins of Beauty and the Beast can be traced to France, so they set the story there and named her Belle," he explained.
"Why?" she asked as her brows rose.
"It's…the French word for Beauty," he shrugged. "Anyway, the guy had three daughters, and he was supposed to go away on a long trip. The other two were greedy and asked for all sorts of presents--"
"Oooh, you speak French, don't you?" she interrupted.
"You must speak French. You speak Goa'uld and Ancient and who knows how many other languages, Daniel," she looked up at him. "You do, don't you?"
"So what?" he asked.
"Say something to me in French," she told him eagerly.
"No!" he cried.
"Why not?" she insisted.
"Vala, do you want to hear this story or not?" he sighed.
"Well, of course I do, but I don't see why you can't say one little word--"
"Good," Daniel cut her off. "So, the only thing that Beauty asked for was a rose. Well, the father was gone for a long time, and somehow lost all his money and belongings on the way home, and ended up at the Beast's Castle where he was wandering around in the garden and decided to pick a rose to give to her--"
"How did he lose everything?" Vala inquired.
"I don't know, I don't remember," admitted Daniel. "It's been a long time since I've read the story."
"Well, what kind of storyteller are you?" she huffed.
Daniel covered his eyes with his hand and shook his head in disbelief. "Why don't we just watch the movie?"
"Good idea," she nodded, subsiding for a moment or two. Just as Daniel had settled back into the story, she poked him in the ribs. "Got any popcorn?"
"I don't…think so," he said absently.
"Oreos?" she asked hopefully.
"No. Wait--I might," he nodded, getting up.
She sprung off the couch as well and followed him into the kitchen, where she watched him root around in various cabinets and drawers until he produced not Oreos but an out-dated package of Keebler Rainbow Deluxe cookies. Vala peered curiously over his shoulder and made a face when she caught sight of the expiration date.
"Daniel, not only are those not Oreos, they're over a year old," she complained.
"Yeah," he nodded, shoving them absently onto the counter. He looked up again and said, "Well, I do have these. Just bought them, too."
"What?" Vala asked.
"Look," he grinned, turning to face her with the package held against his chest. "Hershey Kisses."
"Oh, you're so very subtle," Vala smirked.
He returned the look, then started for the living room again, but caught sight of the unopened jar of peanut butter on top of the refrigerator. He gave it a long, thoughtful look and turned around again, setting the candies on the kitchen table. Vala eyed him suspiciously, but he walked over and quickly took her by the shoulders.
"I've got an idea," he announced as he walked her back to the living room. "You just stay in here and watch the movie."
"What?" she asked.
"It's a surprise," he told her, hurrying out again. She started to follow, but he turned in the doorway, planting a hand on either side of it. Jerking his chin toward the couch he insisted, "C'mon, just…watch the movie, okay?"
"All right," she sighed, stifling a laugh as he turned away again.
She was as good as her word and kept to the living room as long as the movie was on, but as soon as he heard the closing credits start to roll, the TV snapped off. He pretended not to notice, methodically rolling and placing balls of cookie dough on the sheet in front of him and then lightly pressing each with a fork.
"The apron's just the perfect touch, darling," she teased.
He grinned over his shoulder, rather surprised that he didn't feel like an idiot. "Yeah, I had a feeling you'd say that."
She ducked her head, not quite managing to hide a snort of laughter as she walked over to examine his efforts. Sliding her hand over the flour-covered edge of the table, she said, "I may just have to consider revising my opinion on dating prince charming."
"Oh yeah?" Daniel turned toward her. "So's that mean your prince charming gets a kiss?"
She leaned closer, slipping a finger under his chin, and almost let their lips touch before she whispered, "No. But I will help you get the peanut butter off your nose."
Daniel's jaw dropped and he pulled back, now feeling himself flush all the way to the roots of his hair. He spun and hurried to the sink, where he fumbled for a paper towel and ran it under the tap while Vala grinned wickedly at him.
"You should have let me lick it off," she laughed as he scrubbed furiously at the offending goop.
"Is it gone?" he demanded.
"Yes, Daniel," she promised, still laughing. "What are you doing anyway?"
"Black eyed susans," he explained, walking back to the table. He dusted some more flour on his hands and picked up some more dough, demonstrating the process. "They're peanut butter cookies with a chocolate kiss. You can do this with spoons, I guess, but Janet always said it was easier with your hands. When the sheet's full, you bake them, and while they're still warm, you press one of the candies on top… what?" he asked as her grin faltered.
"Nothing," she shook her head. "I'm just glad that you seem to have a domestic side, Daniel, because after being married to Tomin, I think I'm through playing the good little wife."
Daniel dropped the half-shaped cookie and turned to face her. She had finally opened up to him about her experiences in the Ori Galaxy on the way to the beach last week, but there were still things he didn't know--and one thing in particular had been nagging at him quite a lot. He honestly hadn't felt ready to ask the question until now, but supposed that the longer he put it off, the harder it would become. He started to reach for her, then caught sight of his hands again and dropped them with an apologetic shrug.
"Did you love him?" he asked softly.
She shook her head. "I cared for him," she admitted, biting her lip. "I think I…even forgave him for leaving me out there so long. He did come and unchain me in the end. And I suppose I felt a bit guilty for--letting him believe that Adria was his child. But I--don't think I could love a man who could do the things he's proven himself to be capable of."
He nodded slowly and stared at the ground, not speaking for a long time. When he did look up again, he found himself reaching to put his arms around her again, and sighed. She flashed a reassuring smile and took his hand in hers.
"Vala, I want to tell you that you're safe now," he said, shaking his head. "I want to be able to promise that no one's ever going to hurt you again, but I can't. I can't even really promise you that I won't hurt you. But I never want to."
"I know that, Daniel," she smiled tremulously, slipping her free hand up onto his neck.
"So--so, do I still get to be your prince charming?" he stammered.
Vala shook her head, bringing her lips almost within reach again. "You get to be my reality."
He swallowed hard, feeling his breath come in short bursts and his heart start to hammer as she guided his head that final inch. Heedless of the mess now, he pulled her against him, conscious for an electric moment of every inch of her, every curve. Then their lips finally met, and he lost all conscious thought beyond her lips pressed firmly, finally, to his.