Title: The Dusty Places
Genre: Character study/quiet angst.
Beta: He is drifting sideways toward the dusty places. I think that means he's not actually here.
Continuity: Plays well with canon.
Prerequisites: Orientation in late S6/early S7. Missing scenes to Fallen, spoilers for Fallen, also something of a tag to And All Those Disappeared Children, itself a tag to Full Circle and something of a tag to To Hold Us To Earth, an earlier story which was a tag to Unnatural Selection, an episode which was a tag to the cat that killed the rat that ate the grain that lay in the house that Jack built.
Summary: The continuing adventures of the string of wooden beads. Arrom comes home, or home comes for Arrom.
Disclaimer: SG-1 and related things are the property of MGM and related entities. The opinions expressed herein are the properties of the characters and not of a monkey. By reading this fic you agree to abide by the terms of this disclaimer. No goats were inebriated during the writing of this fiction. Questions, comments and cookies can be left in replies or directed to magistrata(at)gmail(dot)com. Thank you for reading.
Wordcount: About 3300.
Arrom is home.
Or so they tell him.
And home is a frightening place made of grey, smooth-sandy stone, with lights that aren't fire and without plants or cattle and with walls and ceilings and floors and corners as smooth and as sharp as the written figures of the polymath-scribes, with noises no human or music can make and a voice that booms from above him, where water comes spat from metal snakes at the twist of a wrist, where the physician examines your blood instead of your urine, and where everything whispers to a part of himself that Arrom doesn't think is him, not really, and guides him along this strange world as though he belongs in it. The snakes amazed him – water as he knew it was drawn by hand from a well or the river, carried step by aching step in jugs hanging from a yoke across the shoulders – but he still knew that the snakes were called pipes and faucets, still knew how to turn the knobs, knew what would make the water cool and what would make it steam.
This home is more eager to take him in that he is to accept it.
Samantha Carter – the lovely one, who's only a friend in this company of men – comes by in the morning, after he's spent most of the underground and thus moonless night listening to Teal'c. She has a brown bag and an uneasy expression, and approaches him at his door like he's an injured animal. "Mind if I come in?"
"No; of course, please," he says, and ushers her into his room. He sits crosslegged on the floor, and after a moment's hesitation, she follows suit. He gestures to her bag. "What is that? May I ask?"
She looks relieved at the question. "I brought you a few things," she says, and sets the bag down between them. She reaches in and pulls out a clear package filled with what looks like flat rounds of dark bread, a sheaf of papers too colorful, stiff and glossy to be linen or papyrus, and a string of wooden beads.
She hands him the bread rounds first. "Chocolate-walnut cookies," she says. "There was this time, a while ago – something had happened, and you wanted to talk about it, so you asked me to drive you out to this bakery on Tejon Street, and you bought about two dozen of these. We spent the rest of the day driving around parks and talking. Well." She gestures over them. "You talked. Mostly, I just listened."
He has no memory of it, but it seems that he has knowledge. "My wife had just died," he says. "I had dreams."
He must have spoken the truth, because her expression brightens. "You remember!" she says. "Daniel, that's great!" Then, as an afterthought, "I'm sorry."
Old Shamda's voice is in his head, saying More use grasping for fish in a dark river than grasping after a single forgotten thought. At least the fish will nourish you. "Teal'c told me she was dead." There's a memory tickling the edge of his mind with long, dusty fingers: he can remember the light coming through his wife's hair. He remembers telling her, chiding her, that he had long experience in not breaking pottery; she had pushed aside the curtain to their home and found him tracing the patterns on a wide-necked jug. She'd gasped. Her fingers were poised against the doorway. Her shadow fell on the terracotta floor. Men always break the pots. He can hear the fluidity of the vowels, and the rest of the moment slips away.
He still can't remember how she died.
"Just about four years ago," Samantha Carter says.
He shakes his head. Years still elude him.
She spreads out the paper. "Photographs," she says. "Team nights. Colonel O'Neill liked to drag all of us out on weekends and get us away from our jobs. Theoretically we were giving Teal'c an introduction to Earth culture too, but I think if Teal'c was trying to understand Earth based on all this, it's no wonder he still finds the Tau'ri a little strange."
Arrom looks through the photographs, taking them carefully by the edges. He sees her in them, and Teal'c, and Jack. And another man he only recognizes as himself because above the faucet he'd found a mirror, so flawlessly reflective that he'd thought it a window at first. No one had commented on it, so he supposes these things must be commonplace here. Did any of them consider that he'd never seen his own face?
These people are alien to him.
"What's this?" he asks, touching the string of beads.
"I'm not sure," she admits. "Colonel O'Neill said it was yours. He said you gave it to him. Then he gave it to me. So I guess I'm just giving it back to you." She shrugs unhappily. "I'm afraid I don't really know when or where you got it, or when you gave it to Colonel O'Neill." She gives it the same gesture she gave the cookies. "Maybe you could tell me?"
She still seems unhappy.
He wants to reach out, perhaps comfort her, but isn't sure of the rules here. He wonders if it's some religious proscription that keeps everyone here from touching her, even when he knows that's not correct. It feels wrong, but in a different way than the buzz of the lights and the weight of the walls feels wrong, and a different way than the blank spot that accompanied his wife's face in the photograph felt wrong.
He's surprised at the lack of surprise he feels, discovering that there are so many flavors of wrong.
"I'm reading about us," he says.
"Really?" she says. "What files have they given you?"
"Mm," he says, and gets up to get the folders. All of them have names, but they're esoteric – letters and numbers in a language he shouldn't be grasping. "We met a man named Lotan in one. Then in another, we found a hanging... farm? A hanging garden? I know I found it important." He laughs to disguise his own uncertainty. "I mean, I was definitely very excited when I was writing about it."
She takes the folders when he returns with them, looking over the names as though they mean something. "These are good missions," she says. "We came out all right in these."
"I guess that sometimes we don't," Arrom says.
Samantha Carter looks away. He changes the topic after that.
The cookies are painfully sweet for a palette that's accustomed to grains and meats and the fruits of the olive tree. The photographs show him in places he can't imagine, doing things he can't understand. The beads are wooden, at one point stained and another point cleaned and polished, and seem to carry more history than he does. Or just as much, maybe, from the way people here look at him.
Samantha Carter leaves after a while, and he tries to hand the photographs back. She touches his arm and smiles. "Keep them. Maybe looking through them will help you remember."
He keeps them. She walks away, and he sits on the floor in the middle of his room until the sentinel posted outside his door offers to take him to the commissary for lunch.
He'd spent many nights by a fire in the village, listening to old Shamda's stories. One he enjoyed was about a prince who fell from the sky. When the prince came of age he had a great adventure; he caught the attention of the heavens, and when the adventure was complete his godly kin came to take him home. The way these people, these Tau'ri-SGC-Earth people look at him, Arrom wonders if he's a lost god. He has fallen.
But then, there had been no shortage of stories about things falling from the sky. There was the tortoise who fell from the sky and broke his shell into patterns. There was the crow who fell from the sky with a burning brand in his mouth, charring his feathers and singeing his beautiful voice as he brought fire to the people. There was the monkey who fell from the sky, while the eagle held onto his tail so hard, so trying-to-save-him, that his tail had ripped off at the root. The monkey had become man, and for the rest of time gazed in awe at the soaring eagle and wished he had the ability to fly. And the eagle, having dropped the monkey's tail when he cried out in dismay, hunted snakes to try and find it.
Arrom suspects he has more in common with the monkey than the prince of gods.
Jonas Quinn comes by while Arrom is reading the mission reports and says "Sorry to bother you."
He's different from all of these other people who've been pressing themselves around Arrom. Not that Jonas hasn't pressed, but he's been pressing everything. He's like a wild pup brought into the market, while all the men and women going about their business and the mastiffs watching them all watch him, and keep their feet away from wherever he's leaping, and seem amazed. It makes Arrom trust Jonas. It feels like neither of them belong here.
Arrom's been told he belongs in this place. He's begun to wonder if he belongs to this place instead.
"No," he says. "...No; you're not bothering me. I was just..."
He hesitates over the words: spoken, and over the words: written. The words: written haven't ceased to amaze him. They're not Shamda's stories. They're not told in the same cadences, but they're stories nonetheless. People are made of stories; people are stories told by the heavens, and when the heavens stop telling them, those people disappear. Here he is, reading himself.
"I was just reading about us, actually." He puts the story aside.
Jonas wanders in. He seems lost in thought, which is one of the many ways Arrom is has been lost in recent days. "You said that Anubis was part-Ascended," Jonas says. "That the Ancients tried to send him back to our level of existence, but failed. And now he's trapped somewhere in between."
Qualify that failure. The Ancients had sent him, Arrom, Daniel back, sent Daniel back as Arrom, to become Arrom, in another sort of being trapped between. Maybe they intended it. Or maybe not; who is he to know? "Yeah," he says. "So I've heard."
"–Anubis wouldn't know everything there is to know about the Ancients, then, right?" Jonas asks – no hesitation, no probing or reassurance, just straight on as though he knows the answer already or is just trying to share the question. "Otherwise, he would have already found the Lost City, or–"
"Uh," Arrom says. "Look, I know I was able to read that tablet, but..."
"No!" Jonas says, raising a hand to put him at ease. It's a nice gesture, even if it doesn't work. "I'm just thinking out loud, here. –If Anubis were to accidentally find that tablet, chances are, he's not going to make the same mistake I did."
He's looking for something. Arrom has no idea what. "I don't know," is the best he can say.
It doesn't seem to matter what he says, anyway. "But if we were to make a replica of the tablet – to change what it says?"
Another hang. Another space in which to speak. Daniel, man of words, should have known what to say – to read the files on him, he always did.
Fire-tale wise man. Or, if not a wise man, a fire-tale trickster. Fire-tale fool. "Why?"
Jonas watches him a moment longer, and Arrom isn't party to his private revelation. Then, with as little input from Arrom as he's had so far, he points. "You're a genius, Dr. Jackson."
He turns to leave the room.
He makes it to the threshold and turns around with as little hesitation, crouching down in front of the bed on which Arrom sits, bringing his own head lower than the level of Arrom's. Arrom shifts uneasily, feeling propitiated.
"You are a genius, Dr. Jackson," Jonas says. "I can't imagine how difficult it must be to have an experience like this, to lose everything you know about yourself, your orientation in the world."
"Please, don't," Arrom says.
Jonas blinks. "Huh?"
"It's just–" Arrom looks down at him, then pushes the folders aside and slides off the edge of the bed, settling onto the floor in front of Jonas. It puts him with his head lower than Jonas', but that's more comfortable anyway. "We don't kneel to people unless – well, you know. They're not – not me."
He laughs nervously. Jonas frowns, and rocks back on his heels. "Dr. Jackson, when we first met," he begins.
"I know," Arrom says. He's sure he knows. He seems to know.
"You gave your life for my people," Jonas says. "I don't know what kind of honors that would bestow on Vis Uban, but–"
"All I've done is come home," Arrom protests.
"Right," Jonas says, but his tone says he does't believe that. He shifts his weight, then seems to come to a decision. He reaches out, pats Arrom's arm, and says "It'll come back to you, doctor. I just wanted to say something." He stands. "Hey, I'll be around. So if you need anything..."
He backs out of the room, with an open gesture and a more open expression as he goes. Then he turns and heads forward down the hall, leaving Arrom sitting behind him.
No one makes any special effort to tell Arrom anything. Anything that isn't about Daniel, that is. Anything about Anubis, unless he asks. Anything about why he's here, except that they all seem to think it's right and fitting.
Jonas finds a book for him when Arrom stops by his office – "This used to be yours, you know," – and Arrom takes it to his room and begins to read.
The wrong Anubis is inside it. He who is upon his mountain. He who counts the hearts. The Anubis described there is just, above all else; protector of the dead, father of the goddess of the cooling waters. And Arrom, for some reason, is to fight him.
Teal'c had said, The Goa'uld impersonate gods.
On Vis Uban, the dogs still kept the gravesites. Arrom felt that it was one thing constant between there and here. The dogs would be guarding the dead, or judging the dead, or eating the dead, or the dead were a sacrifice to the dogs. It's hard to tell if he's being guarded or judged or sacrificed here.
Jack comes by.
Arrom can feel him lurking in the doorway like there's an electricity in the air, and he can remember the metaphor electricity without remembering why it should apply. He knows this electricity is what's humming through the lights above him, and what opens the door to the room which travels between floors; that gives him lights, doors, and slowly, steadily falling.
"So," Jack says.
Before he knows what he's asking, Arrom asks "Are you angry with me?"
Jack looks surprised. "For what?"
"I don't know," Arrom says. "For something. It seems like you should be angry at me, but I can't remember."
Jack shifts from foot to foot. "Listen," he says, "if this is about what I said in the briefing–"
There's silence for a moment. "Oh."
Arrom looks at his hands, his fingers tracing the edge of a folder like they'd trace the history of a clay pot. He has to fight the urge to grab Jack by the arm and look on his shoulders. He can't explain why, but he'd be looking for an eagle. "Why am I afraid to remember?"
"Guilty conscience?" Jack suggests.
Arrom deflates. He'd expected something more. "You know, on Vis Uban, if there was a debt or an argument which couldn't be resolved, whoever felt they'd been wronged would call for the judge and a goat..."
"Daniel," Jack interrupts. "Look, it's nothing that – a goat?"
"We make it drink a cup of kava gin with red pepper," Arrom says. "And then the judge lashes it twenty times and lets it go in a pen where the accused man is standing. If it gores the man, he's guilty."
Jack watches him with a strange, familiar expression. "We don't have a goat," he says.
"So you were going to accuse me."
"What? Daniel, I – you know what?" He dusts his hands off. "Come on. Follow me."
Arrom obeys without thinking.
Jack leads him out of the room, and the sentinel at the door lets them go. Arrom follows him down the corridor, still not sure what's in store for him.
Or why the man is leading him back to his bedroom.
Jack opens the door and leaves it open, goes to his desk, takes a key out of his pocket and opens one of the lower drawers. Then he sits down and flips through file folder after file folder until he comes up with the right one. He pulls it out and turns, waving it a little by way of display.
"I think you should read these," he says.
Arrom looks at the folder. It's the same sort of file people have been handing him all day, feeding him his past piecemeal. "What is it?"
"More reliable than a goat," Jack tells him. Arrom doesn't understand.
"Why do you keep those files in here?"
"Keep your friends close," Jack says, and hands him the mission reports from Abydos.
There's another story about the monkey.
After his tail came off and after he fell to earth, the monkey's mind was addled and his words were confounded. He lost the ability to speak with the rest of the world: with the eagle who dropped him, the birds who used to argue with him, the tortoise who'd incited him into gambling. He forgot all that the animals still knew, like how to find the secret paths and walk back to the garden which was once his home. To this day he has not found that home again.
Abydos is gone, and all its people vanished. All except one, who's forgotten it.
Arrom comes to the end of a paragraph and discovers that his mind has wandered, and he can't remember what he's just read. He sets the report aside.
Shamda would say he's afraid of knowing. The children who fall asleep at the fire are afraid of hearing the stories because they might hear their destinies in them. But let them, Shamda would say. When they learn to stay awake, that's when we'll know they're ready for their destinies to find them.
Arrom rubs his wrist over his eyes. A name is turning over and over in his mind: Daniel, Daniel, Daniel, like a well-worn wooden bowl, polished by the hands of generations. Like the rasping of prayer beads, the scratch of pencil on paper, the turn of a book's page. Soon – tonight, maybe – Arrom will go to sleep and he won't wake up again, but Daniel will wake, and he'll no longer fear the life that's closed around him.
Daniel will remember.
The file from Abydos is waiting. Arrom reaches over it and picks up a picture from the side of the bed.
It's at the edge of his mind. The tip of his tongue.
He runs his fingers along the frame of the photo and thinks he remembers the smell of the sun on his skin, the heat of the sand, and his name on the voice of a woman he loved.