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The Happiest Place (4/4)

At laetificat: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Read the entire thing at AO3.

They first hear the folk names for SG-1 in an underground resistance camp in northern Georgia. It's been a year since the invasion. Mitchell's hair is long, and his skin holds a deep tan from the road, even in the winter. Enough dirt, and Carter can pass for just another emaciated crazy.

The women on the team took the brunt of it, back during the disclosure. And while Mitchell kept his name and dead Jackson his disputed reputation, while Teal'c retreated to the Free Jaffa and Vala seemed to enjoy the whole scandalous rigamarole, the name they heard the most was Carter.

Carter, who couldn't possibly have done everything with which she was credited.

Everything about Samantha Carter was dissected on Rush Limbaugh, Nancy Grace, the Atlantic Weekly. Her looks, her smarts, the way she wore her hair. Her doctoral dissertation. Her career. If a Nobel could honestly be given to the woman who basically invented the Mark 9 naquadah bomb that had destroyed Tokyo. Whether she was right to earn the awards she earned during the time the Stargate was a secret. If she had been involved with her commanding officer.

And in the camps, after the invasion, these names ceased to matter. Only one remained: she was The Destroyer Of Worlds.


----

McKay loses Carter to static and screaming just before walking into the President's control room. He watches as she's called the Destroyer of Worlds, watches as the device is grabbed by a man with a gun, watches as Carter raises her jaw in defiance --

-- and the man shuts it off, leaving McKay out of breath, waving a dead communications device. “Carter. I saw Carter. She's not far from here. Ba'al has her. If we can get her, she can – what, where's the General?”

Wray's looking at him like he's wearing a jester hat and dancing the samba.

Woolsey opens his mouth to say something, but he's drowned out by the sudden clangor of proximity alarms and the shouts of soldiers on the radio announcing the approach of potential hostiles.

McKay decides he isn't going to tell anyone about the sick feeling in his gut this time.

----

The men call her Destroyer of Worlds. Bitch. Slut. They say it's her fault. They kick a fracture into Carter's rib and ignore the blood at the corner of her mouth and drag her out struggling. The girl follows behind, caressing the broken Goa'uld tech like a baby, her eyes streaming with tears.

It’s your fault you couldn't save Daniel, she hears. For once, it’s not Jack; it’s Carter-that-was.

Shut up, she whispers. I already know that this is all my fault. Daniel's just a part of it. Stop making me feel guilty.

You should have seen it coming. Carter-that-was, her hair regulation-trim, sitting in the old lab at the SGC, her legs crossed and her fingers thumbing the eraser on a pencil. She'd be waiting for Jack or Daniel to show up, for Janet to stop by, for Lee or a machine or the red oscillating light that would call her down to the gateroom. You knew it was a gamble. You’re too trusting. Ten years in the Stargate program doesn’t mean you can trust him when he turned. You should have known better. It’s biological, not psychological, this Prior stuff

It wasn’t my call to make
, she tells her perfect – sane – old self.

It was your call, Carter-that-was said. Cam and Vala didn’t know Daniel like you did. You didn’t listen to Teal’c when all he was doing was talking sense in your ear. You trusted Daniel, and the General trusted you, and it was trust that caused all of this. The chain of command fucks you over once again.

The residents of Universal are gathered in Hogsmeade once more, lining the street leading up to the castle. And this time Carter notices their dull, strange eyes, and the way they don't move nor clutch their children to them; these are the signs of an occupied world, one without hope nor chance of help. She’d sworn, during those early days on SG-1, never to allow her own homeworld to experience what the enslaved humans on other worlds were going through. And she'd failed them, failed each and every single former retail worker and electrical engineer and high school student and truck driver.

The goons push her through the humming, muttering corridors of Hogwarts. Again, Ba’al sits on the dias in Dumbledore’s office, the ride next door quiet and still. Candles burned. The men push Carter into a rickety wooden chair. Outside, there's chanting, piped in through speakers. It seems to soothe Ba'al's pretty face like a summer breeze or lemonade.

Destroyer of Worlds. Destroy her. Destroy her.

Ba'al lifts a plastic glass filled with brown liquid.

“Butterbeer?” the Goa’uld asks.

Carter, who hasn't eaten or drank anything for over twelve hours, eyes the glass of frothy cream soda with the avaricious gaze of the starving, but bites down on her bottom lip. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“You know,” Ba’al says, licking a spare drop of butterbeer from where it trickles down the side of her glass, “your people never really forgot the Goa’uld. We’re everywhere. In your dreams, in you past. In your future. Who the hell do you think Voldemort is? Face it, Colonel. We are your past, and we will be your future. Now, just agree to help me, and everything will be fine.”

“I don't help the enemy.”

“But you will. I don’t have to torture you for the information,” said Ba’al. “In fact, since the death of my beloved first host, I’ve found that it's quite advantageous to refuse to finish the... blending process, as those excreble Tok'ra would call it. It's the reason I'm still alive; why your NID never found me. It allows me to do things like this.”

The men hold her arms back, tight and painful, a gun at the nape of her neck. Ba'al comes closer, and panic sets in, grabbing at her gut. She twists, shoving herself back against the gun's cold barrel, daring them to shoot her, because, oh God, it would be better, better than this --

She feels the nameless girl's lips on hers, and then succumbs to the darkness of the suppressed for the second time in her life. As Ba’al wraps around her brainstem, she thinks of Cameron, that night outside Atlanta, the full moon on his bare shoulders, the warmth in his skin, and holds the memory there until the darkness takes her.

----

“We’re getting out of here.”

The words are blurry, and his vision doubly so; he swears he sees Carter kneeling at his side, picking at the rope around his wrists. He feels like hell. “Sam.”

Her voice. “Yeah, Cam. It’s me.”

Something is wrong. His gut lurches. He put it down as nausea, as need, as her form blurs on the sides. Fucking sarcophagus.

“What’s going on?”

“We,” she says, stressing the first syllable, “are getting out of here. I found the location of Phoenix Base, Cam. There are cars in the parking garage; some of them still have to have gas. We’re going to hotwire one before they know we’re gone.”

Idly, Cam thinks of leaving the sarcophagus, and his stomach ties itself in a nauseous knot. “N-no,” he whispers. “Can’t leave. I gotta go back for the sarcophagus.”

Sam drags him to his feet. “You can walk. Come on, Cam. Walk.”

“Sarcophagus,” he moans. “Just leave me, Sam.”

“General O’Neill did it,” Sam said, “and so can you. Get up. Cam.”

“No,” he breathes.

“You're going to stand,” she whispers.

And right there in the middle of the castle, with the darkness around them and the magic slipping up the walls, Cam feels her lean forward — and for a moment they are just Dorothy and Shaft again, and her hands are at his collar, his neck, slipping to his hairline and bringing him in close — and her lips are on his neckline, her words --

He sees stars.

“You can,” she says, grabbing his shoulder and pushing him away.

He stands. The world whirls around him. He can't see. Was there gunfire on the way to the car? Goddamn it, why couldn't he see --

-- and then there's Carter with her hand on his leg, and the purr of an engine, and they're in a car on the highway, dodging half-burned wrecks and dead bodies not a half-hour from Phoenix Base.

Goddamn it, I must have blacked out, he thinks. Did she carry me the whole way to the car?

“Thanks,” he croaked.

“Better chance of getting there if I have you along,” Carter says.

He chuckles. It comes out airless and hoarse. “Oh, is that what I'm good for?”

She’d escaped from the holding cell, Carter explains, then; for all of the security measures Universal had, they were still regular security measures, and after ten years hotwiring ha’taks, no lock could hold her for long.

She doesn't explain further, and Cam — fighting nausea and desire and the fact that he really, really wants to clock someone, or burn the Goa'uld's magical castle, or hit up Jurassic Park and get back into the sarcophagus — sits up in the passenger's seat to watch out the window while Carter's practiced hands clutch the driver's wheel tight and strong.

“How did you know I was --”

“Another prisoner told me he had a sarcophagus,” Carter answers, dodging a group of burned-out bodies in the middle of the road, their white bones broken and sticking up towards the sky. Nausea. “He seems to enjoy it. He seems --” and she pauses, as if she was thinking of the right word — “Well, I guess as an interrogation technique it's actually quite effective – if you're a Goa'uld. It not only breaks down the will of the prisoner, but the addictive effects of repeated exposure to the sarcophagus make the subject a little more amenable to what the interrogator has to say --”

Mitchell coughed as the sun hits him from behind a cloud. “You know a lot about that,” he croaks.

Carter's quiet for a moment, considering. “General O'Neill talked about it,” she says. “After he got back from Ba'al's fortress.”

The car hums underneath him as Carter fiddles with buttons.

“Talking about it. Doesn't seem much his style -- oh my God, air conditioning,” he ekes out.

“Ha,” Carter said, and giggles.

“Sam, I think I'm gonna vomit,” Mitchell replies.

“Not in the car,” she says, prim, keeping her eyes on the road and her hands on the wheel.

He is soon too sick to answer.

----

In a roomful of dead technology, Corporal Leanne LaRosa wakes from a long, bloody nightmare to see Shrek staring back at her with a bright, jaundiced smile. She takes a breath still full of cobweb-nightmares and sits up, scrambling to make sure the memories are gone --

“Quiet, my lady.” A woman's voice. Brunette, middle-aged, with a doctor's hands at her pulse, a flashlight in her eyes. She'd never met her, but she knows her name – Doctor Greene. She knows another name, too --

Ba'al, snake god.

Doctor Greene's eyes are full of fear, and Leanne wonders for a moment until it all hits her like a falling rollercoaster – the battle the snake the darkness the darkness the darkness the screaming hordes death death worlds spinning underneath the stink of the tau'ri the sweetness of pain sweet death --

“She's screaming,” someone else says.

“She had a pretty bad knock on her head,” the doctor replies. “I wouldn't be surprised if she had a concussion. No – no, don't tell anyone. Stay here. It wouldn't be good for the settlement.”

“Good for the settlement?” shrieks another voice, tinged with hysteria. “There are Ori troops coming straight for us, and you're wondering what's good for the settlement? Put her in a fucking wheelchair, show her to the crowd, and break out the guns, for Chrissakes!”

Lost in the darkness, Leanne searches for her name, for the face of her father – and finds only terror, and the memory of golden walls stained with blood, and the pain of a thousand years' death. Christ, she thinks. The false god of the Tau'ri. No, Christ, my savior, Christ, who died on the cross for our sins and the sins of the Goa'uld and --

“Savior?” whispers the doctor. “Savior. Tell us what's happening. The Ori are coming. Savior – please --”

Outside, she hears the trumpeting of a bloodthirsty army.

----

Mitchell drifts for a while in dreams of white light and death before Carter's warm hand touches his shoulder and shakes him awake.

“Come on. We need to walk the rest of the way,” she said, her voice flat. “We're almost there.”

He opens his eyes to see the hot Florida sun piercing the front of the car and drags himself back up into a seated position. His head has been cradled in Carter's lap as a pillow. He thinks he ought to feel embarrassed about that, but there's very little left in his brain except for the need to get back to the sarcophagus. He can't remember anything --

“Sam?”

“Yes?” she replies, her voice carefully distant.

“Not everyone survives the sarcophagus withdrawl.”

She chuckles dryly. “You will.”

“But if I don't, I have to tell you something.”

A hand tights on his shoulder; she hauls him up, her muscles taut and strong after so much time on the road. The hands of a friend who'd always been there for him; for whom he'd been a support himself. The hands of a friend with whom he'd gone too far, and didn't care -- “You really don't need to tell me anything, Mitchell,” she says, quietly.

“I love you,” he says, careening down a path he swore he'd never go. But death – death changed things, he thought, as the sun his her angular, hungry face, bright and orange and hot.

“It’s the sarcophagus,” she hisses. “It's making you like this.”

Gunfire. “I'm sorry,” he said, dragging her down into the weeds and out of sight. Carter has a 9-mil; he searches for his gun but doesn't find it. With the way my hands are shaking, I'd probably shoot myself in the head before I'd bag a zombie, he thinks. Shit.

“Cam, focus up,” she said, dismissively; the normal faraway look of Carter preoccupied with finding a situation to a problem was replaced with a bright, strange vulture's gaze. “Let's go. We're taking the back door. There are Ori less than a mile away, but they're approaching from the other side of the park.”

“How do you know? I can't see a damned thing.”

“Of course you can't,” she says, patting his head. “That's why you have me.”

In front of the Contemporary Hotel, the scrub palms and tall grasses reclaim the parking lot, nodding and bowing in the humidity. From behind cover, he narrows his eyes and can barely make out the attack from across the parking lot. The soldiers weren't trained Ori troops; they were simply local zombies with local weapons, hollering and firing off pistols and semi-automatic weapons.

“Where's the Prior?” he said.

“There's no Prior?” she said, reloading the gun.

Mitchell narrowed his eyes. My whole kingdom for some binoculars. Or decent vision. “No, but that doesn’t mean there ain’t one at the party somewhere,” he said. “We gotta move, Sam.”

Skirting the park and staying in the brambles, Mitchell listens to the sound of the battle, to the rattle-crash of automatic weaponry and the dying screams of — civilians, he thinks, his stomach twisting. No, he reminds himself. The Ori-addled aren’t civilians; they’re partisan in the way only al-Qaeda used to be, fanatically committed to the salvation of a broken and sinful world. In front of him, Carter moves like she owns the place, her feet light, the gun an extension of her arm. He hasn’t seen her this together in months, not since the nightmares began and the fever she’d contracted in Alabama did a number on her sanity; something pulls at his heart and he recognizes the old Carter there,

— And something else, he thinks. What happened to her, with Ba’al?

Or maybe, a little voice whispers, something happened to you.

The thought chills him to the bone in the blinding Florida heat.

----

Mitchell’s gamble pays off; there’s a chained and padlocked gate in front of a brown wooden fence — a sign, weather-beaten and dangling by a rusty wire, proclaims the entrance is for “Cast Only.” Mitchell takes her gun and takes watch while Carter fishes a hairpin from her pocket and ducks over to pick the lock.

“Goddamned primitive --”

“Need help?”

“Just watch for hostiles,” she growls.

His eyes, pricked by motion, catch a group of middle-aged men in tourist shirts running towards them, whooping about plunder, their eyes wild, their faces painted with blue Ori sigils. Mitchell thinks of his uncle and his friends on Bronco game days down at the bar, and steadies his hold on the gun.

God, he thinks. I hate killing civilians, even if they're assholes...

“Sam,” he says, “any time now…”

“If you’d just be quiet,” she snaps.

He doesn't turn, but he can imagine in the silence that follows Carter’s mouth pressing together in that way she got when she was frustrated or Landry was saying something with which she did not agree at a briefing.

“I did not get this far to be screwed over,” she says, her voice low.

“That's why you have me,” he says.

And then, from nowhere, the rattle of a P-90. Familiar red stains erupt on their chests, staining Mickey’s smile, splattering Goofy’s black ears; it’s a slaughter of the civilians behind them, the Ori-zombies, the true believers. And the door swings open behind them, and he’s caught on Carter’s indrawn breath; he turns, gun out, and finds himself face-to-face with the men and women from Stargate Command.

“Sam has an idea,” he says.

----

Rodney McKay, five seconds away from doing something very un-Canadian by deserting his post, walking across the room and socking a politician square in the jaw, climbs down from the Ori spacecraft’s open hatch and hits the concrete floor with a force he feels to his bones. He reaches up, toggling the talk button on the radio, and it squawks in return — “Like I told you, it’s impossible,” he says, making his way over to where Carolyn Lam is bent over her improvised centifuge. The defeated look on the doctor’s face says it all. “The spaceship doesn’t run on blood alone. It needs a Prior. A real one. Brainwaves and all. We’ll have to use Daniel.”

“That’s too risky,” Woolsey says, his voice tinny and faraway.

“I don’t care if it’s too risky,” McKay says, feeling his blood pressure rise. “We don’t have a choice. Listen, I can modify the anti-Prior cage to get past the four hours' recharging time — we could get to an allied world, Tagrea or Hebridan, our agent could disappear —”

Woolsey sighs. “Leaving a fully functional Prior. You know that’s absolutely impossible. We don't even know if they've gone Ori. You told me yourself, Dr. McKay. The cage won’t function without the kind of centralized, land-based power source Disney provides. It’ll run through the ship’s power in a month — and then, where will we be?”

McKay imagines himself, spreadeagled underneath the statue of Walt Disney, ready to burn, the crowd shouting the glory of the Ori, and shudders. “Good point. I still think, though, that maybe if we --”

McKay pauses as someone calls his name in the background. He hears shrieks; an oath or two. Over the radio at McKay's shoulder, it sounds slightly cartoonish, like the moose-and-squirrel cartoons he watched as a child.

It's one of the soldiers at the side gate. “McKay. Put the General on the line; he’s not answering his radio.”

“Sir,” McKay casts his gaze around the hangar. In the flat industrial light he can see Carolyn’s furrowed brow and Felger messing up something again and Nyan and Kusanagi rubbing exhaustion out of his eyes — but not the General. “He’s not here. Felger says he’s gone to check up on the Prior or something.”

A moment passes. “Find him. We've got less than fifteen before we have a Prior up our asses.”

McKay, very aware of the eyes of a dozen scientists on him, was also very aware of another thing: Saving the world with seconds to spare? Was what he did best.

He started barking orders.

----

Dave Dixon has experienced many a surprise in his life as a member of Stargate Command — the herds of blue polka-dotted space deer on the planet with the singing grasses, for example. His wife getting pregnant with a fifth child. Actually surviving that bit with the Goa’uld named the Lorax and the carnivorous trees on PXR-348 and actually getting to keep his leg after that debacle with the zombies near Atlanta.

But this takes the cake.

“Holy shit,” he says.

“Howdy, Colonel,” croaks Cameron Mitchell.

Back from the dead, the two of them stand framed by the door to Tomorrowland -- Mitchell, long-haired and looking surprisingly pale for having been out in the Florida sunlight for so long, wearing a black shirt with a hole torn right over his heart, dirt-dipped toes peeking through mismatched hiking boots that looked like they didn’t fit anyway. And the presumed-dead Samantha Carter, looking haunted and wrong, steel-bright even now in torn clothes that had once been regulation. There is a moment’s silence —

“The general is going to shit himself,” says Balinsky, dropping the gun to his side and relaxing his stance.

“Close the goddamn door before I have to start shooting more zombies,” Dixon rumbles.

Dixon and Mitchell meet in the middle with clasped hands and then a quick one-handed slap to each other’s back; the others walk up, and there were hands supporting Carter, taking Mitchell's equipment, the faint murmur of something good happening for once, until rocks lobbed over the wall bring the professionals back to the task at hand. Dixon shouts at his crew of bedraggled SFs to mount the walls, to take out only the the combatants but to defend the entrance at all costs, and then turns to Mitchell and Carter. “There’s no time. Report to General O’Neill in Space Mountain. Colonel Carter, McKay’s about to defy orders and probably fuck everything up. Mitchell, we could use your help. Sands, get this man a gun.”

Mitchell finishes divesting himself of his pack. “There's a Prior approaching?”

“Yes. Prior’s probably behind this — there’s a whole settlement of zombies nearby — but if he were hangin’ around in the vicinity, we’d all be dead already,” Dixon harrumphs. “Most likely he's using this as a test of the faithful. How far can they get before death, all that bullshit, before he interferes himself. Heard of it before, in Atlanta and downtown here.”

“So we defend,” Mitchell says.

“We defend,” Dixon agrees.

Looking at Carter, Mitchell swears he’s never seen that particular look in her eyes. Carter’s always been methodical and scientific when it comes to science as well as a perfect soldier, any emotion behind those professional blue eyes tamped down by a ferocious commitment to duty. But this — Mitchell's never seen a thirst for blood in her eyes. But it’s there, plain as day, as she stares at him before turning to walk towards the entrance to the hangar, silent as the moment after the apocalypse.

He opens his mouth to say something when Dixon's radio squawks. A woman’s voice, steel-bright. “Colonel Dixon, this is Wray. We’ve declared General O’Neill officially missing. We think he’s gone to visit the Prior.”

Dixon shouts to his men — to the wall! Now! — And turns, squeezing the talk button to the radio. Damn thing gets so much use that he’s surprised it still works. With a twist of his mouth — 'we would appreciate it,' damn civilians need a lesson in giving orders — he barks at Mitchell. “Come on, Mitchell. Let’s go. I think O’Neill needs to know you’re here.”

Mitchell casts a look at Carter’s retreating back and feels something empty echoing around in his chest. He screws his courage to the sticking place, wheels on his broken boots and follows Dixon.

----

Work grinds to a halt as soon as the ghost walks in.

Chloe’s jaw works like a broken hinge flapping in a tailwind; Lam’s face is wide-eyed and blank-faced, the petri dish held tenuously in her hands like she’s forgotten the precious liquid inside. A slightly overweight young man with dark hair looks up from where he’s running math equations on a wall, and his eyes go wide, as well. Felger’s chair topples as he stands and runs over, making an attempt to grab Carter —

— and ends up on the floor, staring up at the ceiling and rubbing his jaw.

Carter’s blinking, as if pushing away a bad dream. She blinks. “I’m sorry, uh — whoever you are -- It’s been a long few years,” she says, brusque. She reaches out her hand to help him up, but McKay brushes by, mastering his happiness to see her with a gulp and set shoulders as he walks into the hangar.

“Sam. You know I’m right; tell the rest of these bozos. Better yet, tell Woolsey. The only way to fly that —” McKay pulls a thumb over his left shoulder, in the general direction of the spaceship, “— is to stick the Prior in there.”

Carter’s eyebrows raise. “… You still have Daniel?”

McKay’s brow furrows. “Of course we do. I told you that.”

“How did you possibly get the technology to last so long —”

McKay tilts his head. “You did that,” he said. And then, after a pause, he takes a breath. “Never mind. There’s no time. Flying the ship.”

Carter looks from the spaceship back to McKay. “I can do it,” she says. “But I need to modify the Prior cage directly.”

McKay stands there, absently fidgeting with the wedding ring on his left hand. “Um, there's already a team on the way —”

“Great. We’ll meet them and be back in a few minutes.” Carter’s already halfway out the door when she stops, looks over her shoulder.

----

Mitchell takes a few seconds to marvel about the fact that the squints have somehow rigged the tunnel generators to function on emergency lighting, something he didn’t even see in the halls of Goa’uld-controlled Universal; the bare yellow light flashes against the muzzle of his gun as the team wends its way towards the Prior chamber, and he feels the familiar weight of the P-90 as alien once again (your weapon is mother; your weapon is father, says an old Academy nerd buddy, face obscured by twenty years and one apocalypse). Occasionally, he notes the half-spent torches tacked against the wall, the old door signs noting that this door led to information technology and that to wardrobe and the other to a green room, with a half-cocked door leading to waterlogged black leather couches and a spent ammo storehouse.

Carter joins them at the crossroads, emerging from the shadows with gun in hand, McKay behind her, his omnipresent tablet computer shoved on the crook of his arm. Mitchell idly wonders where the hell he's been getting the power to run the damned thing.

“Sam?” says Mitchell.

“We need the Prior,” she says. “We cannot fly the ship without him. We’re going to have to find another way of controlling him.”

“Damn,” Mitchell says.

Someone moans.

They’re around the corner in a flash, where they find Lee. He’s breathless, and near-screaming — “The Prior,” he wheezes, “he’s got General O’Neill.”

And the old to-and-fro, the muscle-memory of the battle; Dixon takes point, his team falling behind him in the old dance of experience, Mitchell with his gun cradled and ready. The door opens — inside, the Prior is in the midst of ripping the bars from the ground, O’Neill shoved insensate and unbreathing in the corner of the room. Above them, the ceiling shakes; Mitchell guesses a wall has fallen somewhere, and puts the thought out of his mind that more friends have fallen with it. In an instant, Lee is skinny and desperate at the controls, his fingers shaky and feverish, and Mitchell has just five seconds to register the fact that the Prior is Daniel —

Daniel! It's true —

— before his once-friend cries out in agony, throwing himself against the back wall, nails gouging chunks from the drywall and blood with it, too —

“Daniel, by all that is holy, I will shoot you,” Mitchell hollers.

The Prior straightens as a tense, crooked silence descends over the room. Next to him, Carter is straight and steady, her P-90 raised, her stance slightly skewed, her eyes moving from O’Neill to Daniel, curiously empty of the emotion Mitchell expected of her at a time like this (because hadn’t they talked it over, night after night, their hands on their guns and their eyes watching the long, long road? All the things they should have done?) It’s Lee that punches in the last few buttons to make the sick green light slither up from the circuits lining the floor and the Prior shiver in disgust one more time. Behind him, McKay and one of the squints takes a pulse from the General; one man moans in half-conscious agony.

The once-Daniel shrinks against the wall, his lip turned in derision. “And you call me the betrayer,” he whispers. “Adam, accepting the apple from Eva, the poison sweet on his tongue.”

“Now, I wasn’t here for most of this — I was busy trying not to get blown up over Kansas,” said Mitchell. “But I’m pretty sure it’s not me doing the betraying here.” He tightens, and feels the year’s ache in his shoulder.

“Cam,” Carter says. “Let me.”

“I don’t think he’s listening, Sam,” Mitchell replies.

“He’s alive,” mutters one of the squints. “That's enough.”

“Daniel,” says Sam, “we need you to help us.”

Daniel’s lips press together in derision. “Said the spider to the fly,” he returned.

Dixon tightens. “Mitchell —”

Carter drops her stance.

“Sam —”

“Trust me,” she says, her voice cold, walking forward.

“Always,” says Mitchell.

And in that moment Carter takes a step forward from the line of defense, her hand turning out and her weapon going useless in her palm; the Prior steps towards the shining, electric-crackling bars in derisive response.

“Step away, Colonel,” says Dixon.

“Five seconds,” replies Sam.

“No fucking way,” Dixon hollers. “Too dangerous. Stand aside. Colonel.”

“Dixon,” says Mitchell. “Give her five seconds.”

The room crackles with the power of the unsaid.

“Dr. Lee,” breathes Carter, her angular face illuminated by light that the rest of the world had long since forgotten. “Is the Prior shield at one hundred percent?”

The small man, ragged and damned and haunted, looks down at the display, and then back at Carter. “Ninety-eight percent, Colonel. I don’t know how long it will hold.”

“Only one thing left to do, then,” she breathes.

The gun makes a ferocious clatter as it hits the floor; Carter approaches the Prior in the cell, her fingers separated, their tips pointing at the ceiling, her arms far from her body. The Prior hovers just behind the bars as if she were a mirage or an angel, and they slipped close, too close —

“You will not succeed,” the Prior says. “The Rising has already begun.”

“I always succeed,” says Carter, and leans in for a kiss.

Her eyes flash, glowing alien white as all hell breaks loose behind her.

----

It’s too late. By the time Mitchell and Dixon grab Carter by her shoulders and drag her back from the unholy embrace, the damage is  done. The symbiote slips past Daniel’s stolen lips with a final flick of a bloody tail and the Prior screams, stumbling back, his Ori-lightened eyes going blank for a few seconds. Carter’s suddenly a bony, unconscious obtrusion between them, and during the precious seconds they have to waste slipping her to the floor, the Goa’uld has opened Daniel’s mouth, lifted his hands to his head, and started keening laughter high and long —

“What the fuck —” Dixon, stepping forward, his eyes murder. “Mitchell! What the fuck!”

“I didn’t —” Mitchell protests.

“How the fuck did you not know that wasn’t Colonel Carter?”

“I was dead!” Mitchell hollers. “In a sarcophagus coma! That's probably why he put me there, so I couldn't fucking tell who he was!

From behind them, another voice. O’Neill stands at the door, newly awake, the wall supporting his weight; his eyes are sunken, and blood is trickling out of his nose. Behind him, one of McKay’s scientists — the tiny Japanese woman, someone Mitchell had only ever seen on sight —  “My sidearm,” he says quietly, and the scientist presses the gun into his hand.

“After all this time, General, and you’re simply going to shoot me?” said the Goa’uld in Daniel’s voice — the exhaustion palpable, and Mitchell can see that when the Goa’uld lifts his stolen hand that it trembles.

O’Neill’s eyebrows shoot up, and he stands a little taller. “Yeah. I am. And we’ve met?”

Daniel’s shoulders sag; the Goa’uld seemed to stumble a little as he dragged himself back up to a standing position. His eyes flashed as he looked from Mitchell to O’Neill, a twisted little smile on his face. “Let’s skip the pleasantries. I am a god, with powers beyond even Ra’s wildest dreams; this is not a negotiation.”

The general’s eyes are unreadable; Mitchell’s mouth is dry as an Abydos summer.

“Ba’al,” O’Neill says. "Can't you just stay dead?"

“This need not be unpleasant,” Ba’al says.

“Too late,” the General says.

On the floor, Carter stirs; a moan escapes her mouth, but she does not open her eyes; the only sign of distraction in O’Neill’s battered frame is the twitch in his trigger-finger and the anger at the corner of his left eye.

“The only way you are going to be able to fly that ship is with my host plugged directly into the ship interface. You know I'm right; I picked it out of your darling Carter's brain. Let us be succinct. The only reason why the Prior did not kill you earlier is the efficacy of this… power-limiting device. But every device breaks. And every device can be overcome. There is an army out there, General; three Priors and hundreds of poor, brainwashed excuses for Tau’ri. Now, granted, they want their minions to do most of the killing, good for morale and such, but you will not survive the Priors. Your ammunition and your anti-Prior defenses will only last so long, and they’re so, so hungry. I must admit that it would be entertaining to watch you die; poetic, really, with your vaunted Tau’ri stubbornness the final nail in your coffin —”

O’Neill moves forward, between Dixon and Mitchell; the colonels keep their weapons trained on the Goa’uld. “If you think for one second I will let a Goa’uld with the power of the Ori at his fingertips loose in the galaxy, with nothing but his word between us and —”

Above them, an ominous rumbling.

“Ah, here they come,” says Ba’al, blithe and condescending. “They won’t recognize me as being anything other than a brother in the will of the Ori; but I am afraid, General, that they will recognize you. And then I will be free in the universe anyway, without the Tau'ri to stop me. Let's talk.”

The general’s hand trembles, and Mitchell sees the set of his jaw as he makes his decision.

“Mitchell, you take a team,” he says, quietly. “You and Carter. She's had Ba'al in her head and she'll have his memories.”

“Sir —” Mitchell says.

“Ba'al,” the general reiterates, his eyes on the demon in the cage. “You take them where they need to go. You help them find the Ark of Truth. Then you can do whatever the hell you want, Ba'al, get however much of a head start you care about, enslave a few worlds, fuck everything up. Just get them off this hellhole of a planet and stay the hell clear.”

A slow smile spreads over Daniel’s stolen mouth. “That is a very kind offer,” he said. “I accept.”

* * *

Carter stumbles back to consciousness with blurry vision and what feels like a herd of drunken, rabid zebras running over her head and a dead man sitting cross-legged next to her. Shadows moved in the background; she hears shouting, hollering, and tasted the remnants of blood on her tongue. She coughs; turning her head, she caught the sleek silver outline of the ship they’d managed to capture in the first bloody days of the invasion and a warm, thrilling feeling spills out of her heart.

The ship hums as if it's alive, and inside her chest a joy that wasn’t completely her own shudders into being, a lust that transcends anything she’d felt before – it was almost like that time when she held the Tau’ri woman's very heart in her hands, watched it beat out its life, watched —

The man crouching next to her reached out for her hand and she realized that she’d been screaming. He had a quiet, terrible smile on his face, and it took her a moment to realize that she was staring at a ghost. A warm, living ghost.

“Oh, God,” she whispered.

“Glad to see you, too,” O'Neill said.

“You have to know — it’s Ba’al, sir — I couldn’t stop him —”

His smile twisted into something terrible and incredibly sad. “I know, Carter. It's not your fault. We've seen that rerun before.”

Memories – Mitchell in a car. Words she didn't want to hear. No, that she wanted to hear. Mitchell's alive. Her breath catches --

“Cam. Where is he? Is he all right? Sir —I thought you were dead,” she said. And paused again, taking a breath as if her lungs couldn’t handle it. “And I couldn’t —”

He put her hand down by the side of her hip and rocked back on his heels, rising to his feet. “No time for regret right now, Carter. You have to get up. Lam’s gonna give you a neuro-something-or-other to help you with the memories, and then you’re to get geared up for —”

“Sir, this is important —”

“Ah, ah, Carter, not right now when there are —”

She reaches out and grabs his wrist. “I meant what I said that night at the cabin. Every word.”

It knocks the wind out of O’Neill’s sails; he stares at her for a second, and opens his mouth to say something back when a dirty, hurried scientific tornado arrives at her bedside, tablet clutched underneath his right arm.

“Oh, good, you’re awake,” says McKay. “Knew you’d figure it all out. Excellent to see you, by the way, sorry about the Goa'uld. General, we’ve lost Main Street, and evac teams are loading into the Mountain now; there’s still a chance that if we get on the last few trucks we can get out with minimal casualties. But she has to leave. Right now. There are Priors on the way.”

Sam feels the world around her getting quiet as the noise in her head carries on, loud and violent. They’re talking about her, but she can’t seem to hear them over Ba’al laughing behind her eyes, far more powerful than Jolinar’s ghost, and suddenly there’s blood on her hands —

Mitchell’s voice. Alive. She drags herself off the cot and an attempt to get up is foiled by O'Neill, who grabs her shoulder and shoves her back down. “With all due respect, sir, you have no idea what we went through out there. She's in no condition to go. She —”

“— is going to follow her orders, Colonel, just like you are,” said O’Neill, quiet and dangerous.

“It's okay, Cam,” she says. “I can do it.”

Mitchell's hand is on his weapon; his eyes flicker over to her, and they are filled with regret. “I know. Yes, sir,” he says.

And suddenly Lam’s distracted her from the voices inside and outside of her head by kneeling in front of her with a bottle of Disney-labeled water and and a syringe, and the voices stop just long enough for her to enter the quiet routine of the medical checkup. Lam checks her eyes, her ears, her pulse. “This is the last of it, Colonel. You’re probably going to have trouble in a few hours, when it wears off — but you should be good to go for liftoff and getting through the Ori defense line,” she says quietly, and Carter twists off the cap and downs a good amount of the water in one gulp, closing her eyes as she feels the tiny pinprick of the needle and the hot gush of the medicine into her body.

“I'll be fine,” she whispers.

“Of course,” says Dr. Lam, as she rises again.

And then, Jack’s voice, drowning out Ba’al in her brain like loud music running through a single earbud, and he drops back to a crouch in front of her, Mitchell silent behind him. Carter blinks to banish the fact that she sees four of them, not two.

“Carter. I need your attention. Mitchell's going with you. Think of it is the road. Just a little longer this time. Find the Ark of Truth, and come back before we're all dead. Those are your orders,” says O'Neill.

Carter shakes her head. “I’m staying, sir. I can't let you —”

“Carter, you're the only one who's had Ba'al in your head. You're the best one to get around him.”

Blood. Death. Ba'al's ghost, laughing in her brain. “Sir, you know what you're asking me to do,” she whispers.

Hello, roomie, says Ba'al, the newest voice in her head. Now, won't this be fun?

He twists around and crouches next to the cot again; in the space behind him, she sees —

“Daniel,” she breathes.

“Carter, no —”

It’s the most fascinating disconnect she’s ever experienced — seeing her friend’s body wearing the the blackness whose legacy still pulls at her brainstem, the naquadah tripping tiny electric shocks all the way down to her nerve endings. She rises, clutching at Jack’s shoulder to maintain her balance, and hobbles towards the imposter, feeling control return to her own body like a slow rising tide.

Ba’al stares at her implacably from behind another set of eyes. “I promise I won’t throw you out the airlock. It might even be fun.”

She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “If you betray us,” she says, taking a breath, “when – when you betray us, there'll be a bullet with your name on it. Right to the back of the brain.” She breathes. “Daniel would want it.”

“I already know that,” says Ba'al, smirking.

Oh, God, she thinks.

It's not like it was, with Jolinar, she thinks. Jolinar let her see, Jolinar at least shared her eyes, her breath, the nerves under her skin. But Ba'al brought darkness, and silence, and that's what it must be like to die, as he went rooting around in her memories --

And suddenly she's accosted by memories that aren't hers; Ba’al less than a few hours ago, checking the inside of the ship and the hundreds of equations written on the back of old memos about the things long-dead children used to love. Ba'al walking the halls of Hogwarts. Ba'al in his ha'tak, murder on his hands. And everything in her head echoes — the battle, the roar of the truck engines firing up just outside, the shouting of men, the presence of Cam and Jack just behind her, her own breath in her own lungs.

“You can't have them,” she finally says. “And I don't want yours.”

Ba’al makes a self-satisfied, ridiculous noise. “I don't want your memories,” he said, and of course he'd know what she'd meant, of course he would, they were tied together now in a way more horrific and intimate than any other -- “All of that whiny bitchiness over your mother's death, all of that misguided pining after --”

Mitchell barely grabs her shoulders as she launches herself at the Goa'uld; O'Neill grabs away her gun as she raises it, her finger barely grazing the trigger.

“Sam, we gotta go, there'll be time enough for this later,” Mitchell says.

“Lemme kill the fucker,” she responds. “'Cause if we don't right now, Mitchell, we'll be dead by Saturn, I've seen it --”

“If you don't go, we'll be dead by Toontown,” replies O'Neill. “And you can't kill Daniel.”

“That's not Daniel,” Carter says.

The scene is shattered by a screaming Richard Woolsey, who has just entered the hangar from the front tunnel; Congress is behind him, equally incensed, all of them causing Carter’s nausea to slip into overdrive; dizziness hits the dark spaces where the symbiote had been and causes her to shrug back into Mitchell's grasp. Her hand at her head again, she fights off a memory of a torture chamber, dark, smelling terrifically of Tau’ri fear, the beauty of their frantic worship — the scene disappears as McKay shows up, thrusting gear into the cockpit of the vessel, yammering about the things she’ll need to find the Ark of Truth.

And all the while, Ba’al stands there like a marble statue, transfixed by the sheer hilarity of it all — and Carter can nearly hear him, can hear how he’s amused at the sheer stubbornness of the Tau’ri rushing to save their pathetic little lives —

-- and then, as if she'd been lost in thought and hadn't noticed, there’s suddenly a security detail at her elbow, helping her gear up. She tears away from them, crossing to Ba’al and letting her fist fly. She’s still terribly shaky from her experience as a temporary host, but the feeling of her knuckles colliding with the snake’s jaw almost overcomes her sadness at having to punch out a good friend; Ba’al stumbles back and returns the blow, shoving Carter straight back.

She loses her balance; the room moves like a whitened tilt-a-whirl. “He's never going to die,” spits Carter-snake-- regaining some of her composure. “You let him on that ship and he’ll build an empire, Cam. I’ve seen it. Let me go, he's not the last clone —”

The ground rumbles; the last of the team rushes in from outside and all around them is the noises of shouting, of boxes and bags being loaded and clattering across the floor, of faraway gunfire coming closer and closer with every passing moment. Mitchell takes over for the gearing crew, shoving Kevlar over her shoulders and locking it around her ribs. “We’ll take care of it. We're SG-1. We always take care of it.”

McKay appears again, popping in fron the side. “Time to go. Now. We’ve got to evacuate the hangar before we can retract the ceiling and let you out; we’re pretty sure being exposed to the fumes from the bloodfuel could be pretty nasty, if not… um. Lethal. So. Samantha, I —”

The Canadian locks eyes with her, and for one short moment, she sees fear.

“Keep them safe,” she says, unable to say anything else.

“Of course I will. Just don’t take too long, okay?” he says, his voice faltering towards the end.

And then it’s Woolsey in front of her, as she shakes the cobwebs from that same time-dilation effect she experienced after Jolinar's death. The man’s chin works, as if he wants to say something but just can’t spit out the words; finally, he settles on something and stretches to his full, uneven height, the loosened necktie and dented glasses in memory of the fact that he's been hunted like a dog, the broken president of a deadened zombie country.

“Mister Woolsey,” she says.

He clears his throat. “For the record, I also think this is a terrible idea,” he said, his ratlike eyes darting once to Ba’al and back to her. “But I think that if there’s someone who can salvage the situation, it’s you. I haven’t had hope in a very long time, but today —”

“Mister President, we have to go,” says the young man on his detail, and he’s summarily whisked away – leaving herself face to face with O’Neill.

“Sir,” she says.

“Go,” he whispers.

Above her, the whine of the base alarm.

“It's not fair,” she says.

He's fighting something; his throat tightens. “No,” he says. “It's what is.”

“I meant what I said,” Carter replies. “You should know that.”

O'Neill swallows. They linger over a pause as broken as their dreams. “I know,” he said. “Mitchell. He's a good man.”

“Sir --”

“Go, Carter.”

And Mitchell's at her shoulders, hauling her into the ship, which is shivering to brightness under the caress of Ba'al's stolen fingers. “Cam,” she says as Ba'al begins the pre-flight check, blue Ori light bathing Daniel's face, “I just meant to say –“

“You don't need to say anything, Sam,” he says, and shakes his head, stopping to grab her hand for the barest of seconds.

Above them, the launch ceiling opens to reveal the kind of blue sky that had been above Antarctica that day; peaceful, warm, as ominous as a Fourth of July morning. Mitchell straps her in the back seat and Ba'al takes the controls of the Ori ship, Daniel's soul alight in his throat and his smile a devil's grace. And during the four minutes before they break atmo, they see nothing but fire.

- - 

Carter.

In the firelight, asleep, her hand writ orange and black with equations he'll never understand.

That was enough for Mitchell.

Love is a terrible thing that shouldn't exist after the Ori. But it does, and in the firelight Mitchell wonders if that's all the proof he needs that God still exists.


- -


“Think they'll come back, sir?” McKay says, sliding the clip into place.

O'Neill raises his weapon, staring down the sights at the Ori advance. There was a Prior at the front, and his staff gleamed with blue fire.

“It's Carter,” he says, as if that explained everything.

And then the enemy is upon them, and the eternal fire, and the glory of forever.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
normaltrouble
Jul. 19th, 2011 07:33 am (UTC)
I recced this in stargatefancficrec.

Very very good indeed.

Thank you!
laetificat
Jul. 19th, 2011 04:32 pm (UTC)
Oh my! Thanks for the rec. I really appreciate it. I'm so glad you enjoyed the story. I'm proud I finished it at all, but it's nice to know that people have actually read and liked it. :)
crayonbreakygal
Jul. 19th, 2011 11:06 pm (UTC)
This was so good. Loved the storyline. You pulled in a lot of characters from each show and made it work. Loved the part where Ba'al shows up. Jack is right: he can't stay dead.
laetificat
Jul. 20th, 2011 07:45 pm (UTC)
Nope, he can't. :) Thank you.
lorettakay
Jul. 20th, 2011 07:29 pm (UTC)
You mixed stargate with orlando! Holy Cow! It's awesome!

Of course, now the next time I'm at Universal I'm gonna be looking for Ba'al. And seriously I doubt I'll ever look at Magic Kingdom the same way again. Not to mention the Crossroads. *shiver*

Great fic!!!
laetificat
Jul. 20th, 2011 07:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I am glad you like it. And yeah, the Crossroads. That reference is for locals. :):)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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