AN: Been working on this for a while, the horrible thing is, however, that I was half asleep when the idea came to me and by the time I tried to get it down what I really wanted to say, or what I really wanted Vala to say, was lost forever.
As such just take it like this: "Dreams are weird and stupid and they scare me."
Anyone looking for other updates, they will be coming soon. I'm in the mood for writing again.
Daniel Jackson dreams.
From inside the house he can hear the sound of waves crashing on a beach. It fills the empty rooms as he wanders alone down the dark hall ways, stale air filling his lungs. The windows are thick with grime and when he tries to open one he finds they are sealed shut. For a moment he considers forcing one open but becomes distracted by the soft murmur of voices carried over the sound of the ocean. He follows them to a half open doorway, the iron of the door knob is cold against his skin and he stands, frozen, watching.
A small boy sits on the floor of a museum exhibition, fiddling impatiently as a woman straightens his shirt collar. "One, two, three," The boy counts, his round face contorting with concentration, "four is next, I think, then..."
"Five, I'm sure." Sarah tells him, brushing his thick fringe away from piercing blue eyes, "I wish you would let me cut it, I never can see you properly."
"No one ever can," He tells her with a sad smile before brightening up and turning to Daniel, "He's here."
Sarah rolls her eyes and smiles at Daniel as he steps into the room, it's the first familiar thing he's seen so far, "You're late." She tells him.
"I didn't know I was expected." He frowns at the long white dress and ornate necklace she's wearing, "Why are you dressed like that?"
"It's her idea of a joke." The boy tells him.
Sarah laughs, "Hardly, I would much rather be in my own skin." One eye flashes gold in a sardonic wink, "I thought you of all people would know that."
The room changes and the light from the high windows becomes pale and weak. Sarah picks a piece of lint from the boys arm and the boy stares up at Daniel, "She doesn't like me much anymore."
Daniel thinks he should be surprised by the sadness in the boys blue eyes but he isn't, "Can't blame her for that, can we?"
The boy shrugs, "Perhaps not." He turns back to Sarah, "I've lost my place again." He tells her with a slight whine to his voice.
"Five, you stopped at five this time." Sarah turns back to Daniel, "He's not very good with math, but he gets a gold star every time for effort."
"Six for gold!" The boy exclaims, dancing away from Sarah in his excitement, "One for sorrow, two for joy..."
"Three for a girl, and four for a boy," Daniel adds.
"Five for silver," The boy continues with a glance at Sarah that causes her to blush slightly, "yes, that's right, I'm sure of it, and six for..." He trails off as he looks around the museum with a scowl, "She's not here. She's never here when she's expected to be."
"She'll turn up when she wants to; you know how stubborn she can be." Sarah says as she wraps a comforting arm around the small boy.
"That's no excuse!" The boy cries, now more petulant than angry, "She never comes when I call."
Daniel tries to ask, "Who?" but the words are no more than a gentle puff of air against his own lips.
"Don't worry," Sarah tells the boy, "We'll continue on without her. We've done it before." She turns then to Daniel, "You're not the best with numbers but would you like to help?"
From his position at Sarah's side the boy scoffs, "He always wants to help."
But Daniel hesitates a moment too long and Sarah is leaving him and the boy, walking through the museum door and back into the dark halls of the house by the sea. He can't hear her footsteps as she goes.
"You shouldn't feel guilty," The boy tells him, his head tilted to one side as he considers Daniel.
Daniel looks down at him, a soft smile on his face, "Oh?"
"We taught her all kinds of things."
"Did we, like what?"
"Like leaving." The boy slips his hand into Daniels, "You where going to help me count."
Daniel kneels beside the boy, their hands still clasped together, "You can't fool me you know, I know who you are."
The boy just laughs, "I can fool you. I have before and I will again, and it's so easy." Still laughing the boy reaches into his pocket and brings out a pair of glasses, slipping them over his nose he give Daniel a wink, "It'll be fun too."
Daniel shrinks back from the boy in front of him, who is also himself, "What are you counting anyway?" he asks although part of him thinks he should already know the answer.
The boy Daniel gives his older self an exasperated look, "Chances of course," He begins counting them off on his fingers, "Sarah, Sha're, Shyla, Linea, Oma, Sarah again, Leda" He frowns down at his little fingers, "I'm forgetting some aren't I?"
"Just a few." Daniel tells him softly as he clasps his hand around the boys outstretched one.
The boys blue eyes sparkle as he looks back up at Daniel, "Well, however you count it eight chances are better than one."
"Seven. You only counted seven."
The boy taps a finger gently off Daniels nose, "A ship in the sky, and a wall of fire. You mocked her and she saved you all" He giggles and the noise is unsettling, before leaning in close to Daniel and whispering in his ear, "I won"
"No," Daniel's own blue eyes crinkle with confusion, "I don't understand, I don't know what that means."
"Yes you do, you just don't want too."
Daniel stagers back from the boy as the urge to escape overwhelms him, he tries to turn but he cannot look away from the smile on the boys, on his own, face. He doesn't want to.
He stumbles, falling into an exhibit and chokes as he nearly swallows a mouthful of sand. The wind whips his hair and stings his eyes. He coughs and spits and, dragging a hand across his mouth, pulls himself upright. From the bluff on which he stands he can see the ocean, grey and rough in the distance. White sand stretches far into the horizon in either direction. A lone figure stands on the beach staring out at the water.
"Jack!" He slides down the incline, almost tripping over his own feet. He runs across the open expanse of beach towards his oldest friend, kicking up sand with every step, "Jack!"
Jack turns, hands in his pockets and eyebrow cocked, his mouth turning up slightly at the corners, "Took you long enough, space monkey."
"There's a reason for the existence of a subgenre of horror dealing exclusively with evil children," Daniel says, still panting slightly from his run.
"They're creepy as hell?" Jack laughs before turning serious, all traces of his earlier mirth gone, "Idiot."
Daniel stares out at incoming tide, only now noticing that his bare feet are beginning to get wet. Jack stares at him with a long suffering look, "Don't tell me I need to explain this to you?" he sighs and motions out to the ocean.
"Maybe you do."
"Maybe you should open your eyes for once." Jack tells him harshly and the silence that follows is one that can only occur between such good friends.
Daniel feels the salt water become heavy on the bottom of his trousers and looks anywhere but at the man beside him. After a long pause he looks up to see the pale outline of the waxing moon, a small smile forming on his face.
"I see the moon, and the moon sees me," he says, and then his smile fades. "The moon sees the somebody I'd like to see."
"I don't like riddles" Jack snaps again.
"I know." He drags a hand over his face and tries not to think about the fact that his feet have gone numb. "The sun. At night, you want the light of the sun but all you can see is its reflection."
"In the moon."
"Well," the Jack drawls, "that's just stupid."
Daniel stares down at the water foaming white around his knees. "You'd be surprised. Things change." He glances up at Jack, "There's an undertow on beaches like these, you know."
The man arches an eyebrow, "You afraid of a little damp?"
"No, but I'm not exactly wild about drowning, either." A wave retreats and Daniel takes a few stumbling steps backwards, "You coming?"
"What do you think?" Jack replies, his voice thick with disdain.
Daniel gives him a sad smile, "It never hurts to ask." He turns to go, but then pauses. "Do you know the way back to the house?"
Jack looks over his shoulder, studying him carefully for a long moment. Then he looks back out to the sea, "Don't go looking for her," Jack tells him. "She'll find you." The water rises, "She always does..."
The words are cryptic but without a backward glance Daniel leave Jack to the sea. He sloughs up the beach, clumsily splashing through the cold water. His legs are numb and heavy, and he's exhausted and panting when he finally collapses at the foot of the dunes. Again he is face first in the sand, but this time he presses his cheek to the ground and lies still, shivering in the wind.
It happens slowly. He doesn't notice the building heat beating down on him until the sun has dried his clothes so thoroughly that he can feel the rasp of salt against his skin. He squints into blazing daylight and sees a pair of bare, pale feet, ten toes digging into the sand just beyond the tip of his nose. The toenails are painted a vivid, blood, red and the varnish is slightly chipped.
"Well this is one way to work on your tan." Vala comments, and he cannot help but reach out and caress the curve of her ankle. "That tickles." She says, but she doesn't laugh.
"I didn't think you would be here," he tells her and it seems woefully inadequate considering their parting.
"Have you ever known me to miss a party?" She kneels in the sand by his side and he takes a moment to drink in the sight of her. Her hair is longer, falling in black waves that tangle in the wind. She wears a long white dress that curves gracefully over the curve of her swollen belly and, despite the heat, a white shawl is wrapped around her arms. There is a smile on her face but it's belied by black trails of mascara stains, a macabre tattoo of tears long since shed. She caresses his face and the pad of her thumb is soft against the stubble of his cheek, "I like this."
Her smile warms slightly, "I'm glad that you're glad." She laughs and strokes the house of her unborn child.
"We could do this all day." He tells her as he revels in the sound of her laughter but then he reaches out to mirror her gesture and feels the slickness of her tears against his fingers, "Vala? What are these?"
"Not what you think." She tells him in the gentle tone of a mother to a child. Once again she caresses his face and this time it's her hand that comes away wet, ink flowing down her elegant fingers to pool in the palm of her hand. When he looks back up at her face it's clean and pale but lit with her soft smile.
"What does it say?" He asks and for the first time feels the slickness of the ink against his own face. Where there is ink there are words, he knows, his grief written on his face like a story, but she just shakes her head at him.
"There just salt, my Daniel, they don't mean anything." The ink drips from her hand around the curve of her wrist before dropping onto the sand. "If all the world was paper, and all the seas where ink." She tells him in a sing-song voice, stepping back from him until all he can see it her footsteps in the sand, "If all the trees where bread and cheese," Another step back, "What would we have to drink?"
Daniel doesn't get the chance to answer her riddle because she's backed up into the embrace of Ba'al and he answers first, "Why, the blood of the innocent of course." His voice is smooth and Vala doesn't flinch as his arm wraps itself possessively around her. Black eyes flash golden from over Vala's shoulder, "Too easy, give me another one."
Vala ignores the man behind her and keeps her gaze on Daniel, her pale blue eyes showing nothing but trust in him, "Don't you know the answer?" She asks him, "You always do."
Daniel ignores Vala's question and stares at Ba'al, "Get away from her." Fury seeps into his voice, "Now!"
"Or what?" Ba'al asks with a tint of boredom in his voice, "You'll kill me?"
"You're already dead."
Ba'al laughs, "Like that has ever stopped me."
Vala rolls her eyes and steps out of Ba'als tight embrace as if it where nothing but water, "Daniel are you listening to me?"
"No" he tells her, his eyes still fixed on the enemy behind her.
"Well you should be," Her tone suddenly becoming desperate, "I remember the things you've forgotten." Her fingers scrape against his chest as she comes closer to him but what ever she was going to say next is cut off by an impossibly loud crack.
Ba'als hand releases itself from Valas neck and her body falls limp on the sand, her dress now saturated with the blood that flows from her swollen stomach, and her head twisted at an unnatural angle. "Stupid whore." Ba'al remarks coldly.
Daniel cannot move. If this where real, and suddenly he isn't sure it is, he would be fighting, shouting, doing something, anything. But he can't. He stands frozen in place looking down at her empty eyes and all he can think of is that she now has sand in her hair and how she hated that.
The sand beneath their feet, beneath the corpse, shifts and he staggers as the pale earth begins to claim its prize. It's only when blood begins to taint the sand that he knows this isn't real, that this isn't her, and he is spurred into action, pulling at her arm, her hand, her fingers, desperately trying to reclaim her. Thin arms grab him around the waist and he is pulled to a safe distance despite his protests.
"Shhh," Sam murmurs to him, her arms still locked around his waist, "it'll be alright, I promise."
"That didn't happen," His voice is shaky even though he knows he's right, "Tell me that didn't happen."
"I don't have to," She tells him softly and points to where Ba'al was standing only moments before.
Now he lies crumpled on the sand, his hands over his face. Vala stands over him, her arms folded across her chest. She looks bored, "Honestly," she says to the twitching figure at her feet, "it's the same song and dance every time. When is it going to sink into your thick skull?" She crouches beside him and tenderly rests her hand on his head. He flinches. "Remember this," she says with a terrible gentleness. "In the end, I always win." Vala looks over at them. "All right, Samantha?"
Sam nods. "He's fine." She glances at him, smiling slightly. "You are fine, aren't you?"
He stares at her, speechless.
"I think you broke him," Sam laughs to Vala, who stands grinning at them.
"Give him a second, he'll get over it." She steps over the prone body of Ba'al and brushes sand from her once again white dress, "Every bloody time," She mutters to herself as she strokes her belly, "sand in places you wouldn't believe."
"Tell me about it," Sam agrees, "Last time he did that to me I found a hermit crab in my back pocket." The two women begin to laugh and between giggles Sam manages to get out, "It made a horrible noise when I sat down."
Daniel runs a hand through his hair, trying to clear the frustration from his unusually cluttered, uncooperative mind, "I don't understand any of this," he says through gritted teeth, "What's happening?"
"At the moment?" Sam says, finally getting herself under control. "Nothing."
"But just you wait," Vala adds, waving a finger in his face.
Sam sighs, "Oh, the waiting is the worst."
"The very worst," Vala agrees. "Still, it's only ever a matter of time..."
"Or a matter of space."
"Yes," Sam says, nodding, her expression one of mock solemnity. "Sometimes it's a matter of Replicators."
"Or Ancients." They pause and exchange a significant look. "Quite often," Sam says slowly, "quite often it's a matter of Ancients." Sam gives Vala's shoulder a quick, comforting squeeze, "Three hundred and ten grains of sand," she says. "Almost a year of waiting and silence and standing still, and now…" the sentence trails off, unfinished.
Once again Vala's hand goes protectively to her swollen stomach and the child growing there, "Yes I think you're right." Her smile grows and with a twirl she is off down the beach, vanishing into thin air.
Daniel spins around wildly looking for her but the beach is empty apart from him and Sam, "I don't understand, where did she go?"
Sam stares out to the rising tide and the lone figure of Jack who is being swallowed by the water, "Don't worry, she's gotten very good at leaving." Her lips curl up in a small sad smile, "It's a trick I never learned."
Daniel turns to ask Sam what she means but now he's back in the house and the clock is chiming three o'clock. The house smells of dead air and not far away a low light spills from an open doorway.
From inside the room his grandfather's voice calls out to him, "Don't just stand there, come in."
The old man looks up from behind his desk. His expression falls as he recognises the rooms new occupant, "oh, it's you."
"Nice to see you too Nick," Daniel remarks, "Can you help me, I'm looking for someone?"
"Ah yes, the pirate woman, I've seen her." Nicks expression shifts and he chuckles, "She says some of the most shocking things, not that I understood half of it."
Daniel joins in with a light laugh of his own, "Yeah she does that."
"What could you want with her?" Nick asks, his brows now furrowing in confusion, "She's lost."
"So are you," Daniel points out, his patience beginning to wane, "But you're still here. I need to find her Nick, it's important."
Nick rises from behind his desk and crosses to a large gramophone, "She'll find you when she's ready, she always does." Pulling a large record from its case he places it on the gramophone, "in the interim you might find this helpful."
"You're being very helpful all of a sudden," Daniel comments as Nick places the needle to the record.
"You'd be surprised," Nick tells him as he goes back to his work behind the large desk.
As the record plays, there is the fizzling of static and the low, indistinct murmur of his own voice. A familiar, feminine laugh, and then the words become clear, like an image lurching into focus.
"…never just the one story, you know. A thousand stories, a thousand once upon a times, happily ever afters and that's why you stay out of the woods all interweaving and intertwining and…well…" His recorded voice trails off.
The laugh again. "Well?" a warm, voice prompts. Sha're.
"Well, I was going to say 'intercoursing', but that's not exactly a word, is it? Copulating! Yes, copulating. Because you take the stories you know, you rub them together hard enough, shoot off a few sparks, and eventually a whole host of new stories are born, and they're the same princesses and lost little girls and hungry wolves, but they're entirely different. Evolution." There is a brief pause. "Why is it that whenever I talk to you, suddenly everything is about sex?"
Sha'res laugh echoes in the dim study, and his breath catches. "I can't imagine. You were going to tell me a story."
"No, you already know the story. I was going to ask you to tell it to me."
There is a crackling, white silence. "You said there were thousands of versions, thousands of endings."
"There are," his recorded self replies soberly. "What ending do you know?"
Sha're sighs, the sound like a whisper. "She dies."
"Devoured." He hears the hardness in his own voice.
"By the wolf, yes. It is the price she pays, for talking to a stranger. The woods are a dangerous place." There is a pause. "Are there stories in which she is saved?"
"By a passing woodcutter, by a huntsman." Then he adds with something like hope, "Sometimes she saves herself."
"But we will never know for sure," she says, voice rich with her impossible understanding of the things he keeps hidden. "You try not to think about that story."
The record spins silently for several moments. The light from the windows has faded; the room is dark. His reply, when it comes, is low and uneven. "It's not a story, Sha're. I just like to pretend it is."
The gramophone falls silent. Daniel walks over and lifts the needle. Nick is gone, and he stands alone in the room. In the corridor, the grandfather clock chimes. He counts silently. After the seventh chime, there is silence.
"One for sorrow, two for joy," Daniel whispers to the empty room, "Three for a girl, and four for a boy. Five for the moon, six for the sun–"
"You're mucking it up," a voice like the boy's says from behind him, but when he turns there is no one there.
And in the distance, he hears an eerie, melodic sound, like the creak of the house in the sea wind turned to song. He strides out of the room and down the corridor, following the unearthly noise. As he grows nearer, the voice, for it is a voice, grows clear. Suddenly he stops.
The voice belongs to Teal'c and he's belting out a surprisingly good rendition of 'I am what I am.' He stops short though when Daniel enters the warmly lit room, "Daniel!" he cries, his grin warm and welcoming, "You've been missing the party." Sure enough littering the floor under the large dining room table there are a number of unlabeled empty bottles. From the bottle in his hand Teal'c fills a glass with a clear, but suspiciously sluggish, liquid and slides it down the table towards Daniel, "We were wondering when you'd turn up."
"Oh thank god." A voice slurs from under the table. Daniel looks down to see a pair of combat clad legs sticking out from under the table, even if he hadn't heard the voice it would be easy to tell it was Sam from the 6inch black high heels, "You have to save me, he wont stop singing."
Daniel crouched down and poked the shoes, "You alright down there Sam?"
"She's completely wasted." Teal'c explains while taking a drink from his own glass.
"I am not drunk." Sam's head pops up round the side of the table and she stares at Daniel, listing slightly to one side.
"Yes," Teal'c says in an unusually sarcastic voice, "heaven forbid you have some fun for once." The slight slur in his voice tells Daniel that Sam isn't the only one who is drunk.
"I have fun," Sam protests, "I save the planet, how is that not fun?" Her face scrunches up, "Oh god I am drunk." She slumps back down onto the floor.
Daniel claims an empty seat at the table and stares down into his glass, "Teal'c, what exactly is in here?"
"Alcohol, Daniel Jackson, the effective kind."
Daniel grabs the bottle from the table and gives it a sniff, "It smells like roast beef," he says, and Teal'c grins.
"Maybe it was tired of smelling of clocks." Sam tells him sleepily from the floor.
He shouldn't stay here, he knows. There's a whole house to search, room upon room of creaky furniture and moth-eaten upholstery, but it's warm here and the lamps are bright. Sam is smiling and Teal'c is humming show tunes under his breath, and he can afford to stay for just one drink.
Daniel takes a pull from his glass, the liquid is heavy on his tongue but tastes of nothing. The room around him blurs and he blinks rapidly for a few moments to clear his vision. In the distance waves crash against the beach, the ocean swells.
"Teal'c," He asks carefully, "where did you get this bottle?"
"What bottle?" Teal'c asks.
And sure enough the bottle is gone from his hands, replaced by an irate brown hen.
Daniel opens his mouth to comment on this unexpected development, but before he can speak the hen leaps from the table and flees out the door.
He turns to Teal'c, who is fiddling with the braces of his clown outfit, a look of intense concentration marring his chiselled features, "Things like that aren't supposed to happen," he says, fairly certain that this is true, "Bottles are bottles and hens are hens."
"You'd be surprised," Teal'c says, winking. "When," he continues portentously, pulling his braces away from his chest with his thumbs, "is a bottle not a bottle?"
Sam snorts. "Oh, that's too easy. Give us a bit of a challenge, would you?"
Teal'c releases the braces and they snap back to his chest. "Easy for you, maybe. Easy for me." He turns to Daniel, his expression polite and distant, "Still, you're supposed to have the answer. She'll be terribly disappointed if you don't."
There is a rustle of clothing from beneath the table. "No, I won't," Sam says quickly.
Teal'c smiles at the tabletop. "Not you, honey."
There's a short silence. "Right. I knew that. I always knew that." She laughs faintly. "I don't suppose there's any more to drink?"
Daniel clears his throat at the strange scene before him, "The last bottle seems to have flown the coup."
Sam sighs, "Pity I had my heart set on an omelette." Then she calls out, "Teal'c, when is an egg not an egg?"
Teal'c rolls his eyes. "She thinks she's clever," he says to Daniel, but the words are faint.
The waves, distant though they are, have grown louder.
"Do you hear..." Daniel begins to ask, but Sam interrupts with an annoyed squeak.
"I am clever!" Her face appears on the other side of the table again, her eyes fierce and bright. "Think about it. When is a bottle not a bottle, and an egg not an egg?"
Daniel looks to Teal'c, but the other man offers him no assistance. "When they've turned into chickens?" he guesses feebly.
His friends stare at him blankly for a long moment, their wide eyes unblinking. Eventually, Teal'c breaks the silence, "You were right, Samantha," he says slowly. "He thinks we haven't noticed."
Daniel frowns. "Haven't noticed what?"
Sam disappears again beneath the table, shaking her head. "Honestly," he hears her say, "How stupid does he think we are?"
Daniel shakes his head, "I wish I knew what was going on..."
"If wishes were horses, then we'd all be eating stake." Teal'c intones seriously.
"If turnips were watches I'd ware one by my side," Sam giggles.
Water begins cascading around Daniel's knees. Kelp twines around his legs and the dining room disappears beneath the waves. The sea has followed him here.
"Sam!" He calles out, "Teal'c, where are you?" The water has risen to his waist, and he struggles against the current, fighting to reach them.
A wave rolls past, and on the crest ride Sam and Teal'c. He watches in amazement as they bob calmly by, seated in wooden chairs. Teal'c sips from a dainty china tea cup and winces. Without speaking, Sam leans across the space between them and passes him a sugar bowl. He adds a spoonful to his cup and takes another drink, seemingly oblivious to the seawater lapping at his knees. Sam turns to Daniel and smiles. "We haven't believed in stories like you for such a long time. It was lovely of you to stop by, though."
The sea overtakes him, and he is swallowed by darkness.
A rush of current and he is nightmare blind, falling, drowning in air and the dark. His fingers scrabble for purchase on tattered wallpaper as he hurtles downward through hollow corridors, past doors and rooms forgotten. Then his knees hit wooden floorboards, his palms slap against the wall, and everything stops.
For a moment, it is so silent.
He does not breathe.
"I can't see," he murmurs, though there is no one to hear. "Why can't I..."
The first scream he doesn't even recognise as a human voice. It's just a noise, shattering, desperate. The second moves him to his feet and he stumbles down the corridor in the dark, in his blindness, reaching for light, for doorframes, for the next person he needs to save. The third and he knows he is too late. He's well enough acquainted with life to recognise the sound of its passing.
But he is wrong. The scream turns to sobs, the sobs to words, and he stops, his ear pressed to the wall. He listens.
"I'll kill you," she says, wracked with pain, and he hears the blood thick in her throat. "I'll kill you and after you die and come back I'll kill you again." She chuckles darkly, weakly.
Vala screams again, high and raw, and he hears it in his bones and his skin and he fumbles futilely for the doorknob, cursing the darkness because it is happening again and again he cannot see...
"Please," she says, weeping, "please don't. I'll give you, I'll tell you anything, anything you want, just let me go. Please let me go." Her voice is small, distant, and he follows it down the corridor to another door, another room. Another Vala. He throws himself against the wood, but the door will not yield. "I can help you," this new Vala continues, begging, and he has never heard her like this. "The SGC, they trusts me. Care about me. I can hurt then. That's what you want, isn't it? Them, not me." She sobs, undone. "Please."
The doorknob rattles in his hands as he tries to force his way into the room. He feels himself shaking, feels his stomach clench, acid and revulsion and horror, once upon a time, there was a girl, surging in the back of his throat like vomit and still the door will not open.
He hears her cry out, a thin wail from a distant room. He runs blindly, sliding over smooth wooden floors, until he reaches her voice, another door, another lock. She gives a wordless cry and he listens, ear to the door, as she strains for breath, air leaving her lungs in rhythmic grunts as if she is being struck again and again.
"Oh god," the Vala behind this door moans, her voice breaking. "Oh god, oh god, oh yes..."
Daniel reels back, staggering into the wall behind him. "No," he says, his voice a whisper. Then, fiercely: "Enough."
There is silence.
Light spills across the floor and he finds himself at the foot of a long staircase. It leads to an open door, to sunlight.
He climbs the stairs to the open sky, shielding his eyes with his arm. Tripping on the top step he falls into the bridge of the Prometheus. Vala's sitting in the captains chair, her legs curled beneath her, staring out at the turbulent ocean and the velvet night sky. She looks almost exactly like she did the first moment he saw her, almost. Only her eyes tell the story of that moment to this one.
He stands behind her, hands in his pockets, not touching her, "Vala."
She laughs softly without turning to him, "I love you a lot Daniel, but at times you are seven different kinds of stupid." She tucks an errant lock of hair behind her ear.
Daniel can do nothing but scuff his foot against the deck and smile ruefully, "You might be right."
"A rare moment of humility, I'm almost disturbed." She turns from the view in front of her and her hand lands on his shoulder. Her eyes lock with his, impossibly old and incomprehensively wise, "I have a riddle for you."
He looks to her mouth, her lips, as she speaks and there is steel in her smile. "It's not the one about the cats and the sacks is it?" He asks trying to forestall another puzzle.
But it's not the Vala in front of him that answers, instead it's a different version of her. Dressed in the full get up of Qetesh, eyes glowing golden and voice contorted, Vala lounges over the console, "No, my Daniel, it's not the one about the cats and sacks."
"When is a bottle not a bottle?" The original Vala asks him.
"Or an egg not an egg?" A third version of Vala asks as he whips round to follow the voices. This time it was the one from the beach, white dress floating round her ankles as she perched against the windows, hands cradling the swell of her stomach.
"I don't understand," He pleads, turning again to face a new version of Vala, his heart missing a beat when he sees her. Chained to the Ara in the Ancient village, the burnt body of Vala stares up at him with pain filled eyes.
"When is a girl not a girl?" She asks him quietly before bowing her head, dead once more.
The others look on as Daniel makes his way towards her, reverently taking her charred hand in his.
"You wanted to save us." The Vala by the window tells him.
"Yes." He answers, his voice unable to rise above a cracked whisper.
"Because you thought we could save you." She smiles at him and he feels it like a knife blade, "Nobody wants to be alone Daniel."
He looks up at the suddenly open sky, breathes deeply and tastes salt, "Except hermits."
"Yes," She tells him, coming to stand beside him, "except hermits."
He stands and she places her head against his shoulder, her cheek resting over his heart. For a moment it almost looks like their dancing.
"Tell me a story." She says and he closes his eyes, feeling sand between his toes.
"Once upon a time there was an ordinary little girl, then one day, something wonderful happened. Actually, a lot of wonderful things happened, and lot of terrible things, and a few things that are probably best described as being somewhere in between and soon the girl was lost deep in the dark of the forest, far from the path. Far from home."
Vala sighs. "And she loved it."
He rests his chin on the top of her head. "Yes," he says, his voice thick. "Yes, she did." He grins, for a moment fiercely happy. "She ran to the stars, a lost little girl, and she did wondrous, horrible things, saved worlds and ended wars." He pauses for a moment, his happiness fading in the light of reality, "And she was almost lost for a good a hundred, a thousand, different times in the dark places of the world." His grip on her waist tightens as his thoughts travel to all the dark places she must have seen in her life.
"But the important thing," Vala picks up the story, "the most important thing, is that she survives. That's the part of the story you must remember Daniel, because she does. She survives." Her hand moves to cup his face and he opens his eyes to look into hers, "I survive."
"Do you?" Daniel wonders aloud, "Sometimes I wonder."
Vala laughs and spins away from him, her bare feet kick up the sand of the beach. She begins laughing and the sound mingles with the sound of the waves, "Oh Daniel," She laughs, bright and fierce, "You'd be surprised."
Skipping further away from him they find themselves on top of a cliff overlooking the beach and the house.
"Tell me a story Daniel," She cries amidst her laughter, "tell me how you save the lost girl this time. Do you want to be her noble huntsman? Her humble woodcutter, who just happens to be strolling past with a nice sharp axe?" Her head tilts to one side, her smile wry, "Her knight in shining armour?"
Daniel reaches for her but still she danced out of reach, "That's enough Vala." He lets his empty hand drop to his sides.
"Oh no Daniel, not nearly enough." She laughs as she spins once again out of his reach, "You've forgotten the story."
"It's not a story!" he bites out, her hair blowing into his face as she passes him again.
She giggles, "Yes it is, to you that's all it'll ever be. Because you've forgotten." She leans into him, as if to whisper a precious secret in his ear, "Bottles and eggs, the moon and the sea, all nonsense, pretty as it is. There just words, and you'll forget them but listen, listen: One for sorrow, Two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy" She presses a kiss to his cheek, her mouth chaste and sweet and burning with the cold. "Hidden in rhymes and riddles, it waits." She steps back smiling, "You wont see it coming."
He gabs her on her next pass, hands gripping her shoulders like a vice, looking into her unfathomable eyes, "What's coming Vala? What wont I see?"
She looks back at him, serene. "Once upon a time, there was a girl, and she was lost. A man found her but his hands were cold. He laughed, and she wept."
He closes his eyes, but her pale face follows him, burning against the darkness of his eyelids. "Vala," he says, and it feels like prayer.
"But you've forgotten what comes next. You always do." She brushes her fingers over his brow, a benediction. "When," she says softly, "is a lost girl not a lost girl?"
She waits, and he opens his eyes. "Tell me."
"Well, when she's a wolf, of course." Then she grins, and he sees the sun.
She laughs, white dress and black hair and clear, moonlight eyes, and the sky beyond her is in flame. The beach and the world burns and Vala spins out of his reach, jumping up to the ledge of the cliff. She balances there for a heart stopping moment, her hair aglow in the firelight and floating around her face like a dark halo. "Good night, Daniel," she says. "Sleep tight." And then she falls.
Daniel stands, unmoving. Barely breathing. "Oh," he says faintly. "I'm dreaming."
A hand claps him hard on the back. "By Jove, I think he's got it!" Jacks grinning face pops into view, and the Daniel stumbles backward. "Finally. Do you have any idea how unbearably dull it is in here? Well, you probably do, it being your brain and all, but really. I was about to do something desperate, like crash the weekly NID Scrabble tournament, but I'd much rather gal pal around with you." Jack sits on the roof ledge and peers down the sheer face of the cliff. "Oh," he says, grimacing with delight. "There's woman all over the place down there. And no one's even bothering to clean it up. Just disgusting the way some people live, isn't it?"
Daniel swallows, hard. "Jack."
"But did you see that exit? The girl's got flare, I'll give her that. Though," Jack pauses, frowning, "it does seem as if that nasty god complex of yours is catching. The phony omniscience and all that glowing just before she went splat, I can only imagine she caught that little eccentricity from you." He places a hand over his heart, his expression pained. "You know, I'm more than a bit concerned for my own mental well-being."
"You're already wonko," Daniel points out. "How much worse could it get?"
Jack sighs. "Oh, sure. Kick a man when he's dead."
"Kick a man when he's down."
"Right." Jack grins. "That too."
Daniels fingers curl into fists. "Why are you here?"
"Well," Jack says, tapping out a jaunty rhythm against his kneecaps, "I came for the brutal psychological torture, but I stayed for the late nights spent talking about everything and nothing, the Sundays in the park, that naughty thing you do with the pencil when you're working on a crossword–"
"If I ever bothered with a crossword, I'd do it in ink."
Jack winks. "Of course you would, pookie." Then he stands and gives Daniel a brilliant, shit-eating grin and shoves him from the side of the cliff.
In his room at the SGC Daniel wakes with sand between his toes and the scent of the ocean lingering in the air...