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

Read the entire thing at AO3.

All the great hotels are gone.

The Gaylord Palms, the Royal Plaza, the Hyatt Grand Cypress — all of them are off-limits to the Base staff, stuffed to the gills with the rotten dead. It was enough for Colonel Dave Dixon to see war in Afghanistan; it was enough for him to see the scattered slain on Anubis’ battlefields. A job hazard. Something for which he was prepared since he entered the Academy back when peace looked like something that might actually happen.

But, ah, the hotels. Off-limits, cholera-ridden, tuberculosis-stuffed incubators of the Ori plague. The dead civilians, all of them, men and women and children in Bermuda shorts and fanny packs, who never knew that to be Tau’ri was to stand tall and proud.

“Hotels are deathtraps,” O’Neill had said, his voice curiously grave. “Nothing we can bring out of a place like that is worth the risk.”

But survivors still passed through, rummaging through the dreams of the long dead, and despite the signs posted — crude Ori sigils in black spraypaint and red Sharpie, the beginnings of a Christian underground railroad to nowhere – they still went into the dead hotels and never returned.

One of the smarter survivors’ groups, skirting the bandits' corridor that I-4 had become, reported to a Phoenix scout that there was a new Ori settlement a gaggle of old restaurants just outside the north gate to Phoenix Base, and that they were singing about the possibility of a Prior approaching, so O'Neill sends SG-13 out on recon the hard way: through the swamp and the old Disney drainage ditches, over I-4 and into tourist town. Balinsky gibbers about gators and Wells complains about the mosquitos. Dixon looks at the decapitated Mickey welcoming him to the happiest place on Earth, listens to the crickets carrying on like his entire world isn't dead and gone, and misses his kids so hard he forgets to rag on his team.

It's going to be a long day.

----

Mission objective one: Locate and bring back new sustainable food sources to Phoenix Base; General O’Neill does not intend to continue trading with the idiots who run the greenhouse at EPCOT if they’re going to have their heads up their collective asses regarding the Mutual Defense Treaty.

The lobby of the Peabody Hotel is drenched with duck shit and completely silent except for the quacking.

“You know what I'm thinking? Duck soup,” says Balinsky. “Duck roast. Duck egg omelette. Duck sauce. Duck --”

Wells whacks him. “Shut the duck up.”

“Should have left you both back at the base.” It's Dixon, slamming the door to the truck. “Smells okay. Looks sustainable. Standard recon. Bodies, plague vectors — if you even have the slightest doubt that it ain’t perfectly clean, we’ll burn this goat rodeo.”

In just over two hours, Dixon’s satisfied with the lack of plague vectors scattered around the hotel — they’re mostly on the ceiling of the tall glass building, piled together like rotting matchsticks, where Balinsky theorizes they were waiting for helicopter evac “or the mothership,” a joke which doesn’t make it as far as Wells wants it to, and they show energy weapons to be the cause of death, not plague. So the team fashions a makeshift lattice for the back of the truck and chase the ducks around the hotel lobby; enough male and female live ducks for the pond by the castle could net the expedition eggs and meat for as much longer as they’re going to be in town, and it's been so long since his last omelette that Dixon starts fantasizing about it all right there.

Mission objective two: Obtain parts to build a few new generators and to support Lee's revised Prior detector, which can't fail or we're all completely screwed.

They're outside some sort of dead electronics store – the kind that sold overpriced cameras and broken laptops to foreign tourists before the Ori invasion, when the world was blissfully unaware of the Stargate.

“Everybody know what you're looking for?” Dixon calls.

“Two hundred feet of #30 magnet wire,” Wells says.

“1 by 2 by 5 ceramic magnet,” says Balinsky.

“Your six,” says Bosworth, cocking his gun and taking his position behind the truck, watching the road outside.

Balinsky hasn't cut his curly red hair in months, and he cuts a ridiculous figure with a Tigger shirt and jeans and a Beretta fished out of his waistband. They're all in civvies; it makes Dixon uncomfortable to walk around looking like a target and without the reassuring weight of Kevlar, but they can't run the risk of blowing their cover to whatever followers of Origin are lurking in the area this close to launch.

Silence.

No. Not silence, Dixon thinks. Breathing, shallow and loud.

He cocks his gun. “You have three seconds to show yourself, or we start shooting,” he says, adopting his best villain's drawl.

“Shit,” a young male voice says, and a scrawny twentysomething kid crawls out from behind the cashwrap, his hands over his head. “I don't have nothin'. Hallowed are the Ori. Um. Don't shoot me. Please. The Ori are, uh, hallowed,” he adds, somewhat ineffectively, and trails off, his eyes lingering on Dixon’s gun-barrel.

Dixon runs his tongue against the back of his top teeth. “Hallowed are the Ori. Blessed are the chosen. You just stay right there until my friends are done shopping and we'll be square. How about that?”

“Noooo problem,” the kid says, nervously, and trembles like a rabbit. “Um. Are you guys at the Crossroads? Can you give me a ride back? I don’t want to miss the Rising.”

Dixon stares. “Let's add 'shut the hell up' to the list of things you need to do, right?”

“I don’t want to miss the Rising,” said the kid, somewhat strangely.

“Yeah,” Dixon says. “Don’t want to miss it. Now shut up.”

But the kid's dropping his hands slowly, oh so slowly, and tilting his head to one side, and the realization hits him like a ton of bricks -- “You have no idea what I’m talking about,” he says. “You’re not Chosen, are you? You're all heathens – what the fuck are you doing, if the Prior finds out you're stealing his property, he's gonna fuck everything up, he's gonna kill us all --”

“Airman,” Dixon says, “do the honors.”

Wells zats the kid once.

There are quite a few parts to bring back to Lee and the scientists, which Dixon hopes will shut them up for once; unfortunately, there are no batteries, but it's been quite some time since the invasion and Dixon's sure every battery in the country has already been snapped up by hungry, electricity-starved survivors. But they don’t have a choice — the base needs power. It’s a zero-sum game without a ZPM, and they're running out of trucks and gas and time.

The ship has to fly.

It just has to
, he thinks. I'm a soldier. I don't zat children.

“We’re going to have to raid the Ori settlement,” he growls to his team.

Bosworth moans.

“Put your big girl panties on, Bosworth,” Dixon grumbles. “Right, move out.”

Mission objective three: Assess the defensive strength of the Ori settlement and check for the presence of a Prior. Find out what the hell this “Rising” is
.

SG-13 parks the truck behind the strip mall, climbs up on the dumpster and clambers onto the roof. Dixon flattens himself against the rough tar-and-gravel surface, pulling himself up just enough to look over the lip of the building into the rumbling crowd below.

The settlement has grown since the last time they checked. Sprouting like colorful zits, one after another, tents and cars cover the parking lot. Hundreds of people mill around below, eating, laughing, talking, their clothes and buildings painted and scrawled with the Ori ankh. And it's tough, it's so tough to see the smiles, the upturned gazes, the hope in their eyes – it's all too much. Dixon's seen combat, he's seen intestines dragged out of the body of a man who was still alive, he's seen men zatted three times and shot through the brain by Jaffa energy blasts, but this – this, the joy of the converted, secure in their apocalypse, fat and happy on the milk of sin and Ori favor, is the thing that makes him the most sick.

“Sir,” Wells says, “There. By the McDonalds.”

Four sets of eyes find the enemy at once.

There’s someone teaching, his Book of Origin extended, standing on a wooden platform like an Old Testament prophet, his shoulders back and a baseball cap extended over his long brown hair. He pauses, as if he senses something wrong; for a moment the four men are holding their breath, not moving a muscle, listening to the roar of the crowd and the sound of the breeze blowing through their hair – until the man returns to his lecture as if nothing happened.

It’s not a Prior, but the words chill.

And we will Rise, we are the Rising, we will rescue our brother the Prior from the bowels of the Kingdom of the Blind, the Heathen Kingdom, the Castle of the Lost —

The four men breathe out at once.

“Think that’s the base?” Bosworth says.

Dixon fingers the trigger on his P90. “Only one way to know.”

They're on their way.

----

It rains during the afternoon. It rains every afternoon like clockwork in midsummer in Central Florida. They don’t talk as they trudge back to base, passing the dead hotels and smelling the sweetness of long-rotted death on the summer breeze.

O’Neill’s eyes are sad and dead as Dixon makes his report.

A few miles away, the cheering begins.

----

Jack wakes up sweating to dreams of burning cities. He eats a carrot, wishes he could put one of the scientists on beer detail, and is striding over to make his report to Woolsey in the castle when he's accosted by Felger in the shadow of the burnished bronze statue of Walt Disney.

“Uh, hi, General.” Felger has the presence of a gnat in the bright, dingy morning of Main Street, USA, waving his clipboard. The castle gleams obscene and unearthly blue nearby, the dead Christmas lights dangling like dirty, neglected tentacles. O’Neill imagines Woolsey sitting at the conference table in the former restaurant, tapping his fingers impatiently.

He fixes the vision with a quick punch to Woolsey’s face. “I’m on my way to see the President, Folgers. Make it quick.”

“Um — we finally got to the last of the technology in the vaults below the park,” he said, shoving the clipboard in O’Neill’s direction. “We brought it to Dr. McKay’s lab, and, well, I kind of volunteered to take this to you, sir, he was, er, slightly peeved —”

O’Neill grabbed it as the two of them took off for the tunnels and scanned it; the sun was still low, but the air was already cloyingly hot. The register was disappointing; nothing but holographic projectors, long-range communications devices — and how many of those had his scientists already tried to activate, to contact the Tok’ra or the Asgard or their offworld allies, or even a stray former System Lord who couldn’t help crowing about the defeat of the mighty Tau’ri, hopefully in the hearing of someone who cared.

“I can see why. Crap, crap, and toys,” he grumbles. “Nothing useful. Couldn’t they have found a gun or two? Or something Ancient?” Ancient he could do. Ancient was at least interesting. He and Carter could at least puzzle something out. He’d wave his hand and she’d work her magic and the next thing he knew the Ori would be history and she’d be trying to wriggle out of a fishing trip to Minnesota with a laundry list of flimsy excuses.

No, he told himself for the millionth time. Carter’s gone, and where she’s gone, nobody comes back.

Except for Daniel. Not that it fucking matters, now that he believes in the munificence of delusional alien squids.

The thought sours Jack’s morning more than he could have possibly imagined; suddenly annoyed by Felger, who’s blinking at his side like a puppy expecting a treat, he wheels one the heel of one battered boot towards Cinderella’s Castle and walks towards the area with something resembling the purpose he used to feel, shoving the clipboard back into the hands of the dirty scientist with perhaps a little too much force than he’d originally intended.

Felger coughs and follows. His mouth is a grim line. “Well — ah — I was thinking, well, Lee and I were thinking, but I really was doing most of the thinking —”

“Out with it, Felger,” he said. “Don’t have all day.” I have a dead friend to interrogate and I’m pretty sure telling Congress that we have a little Prior problem is going to be fun, too.

The scientist’s mouth is a grim line, even as he scrambles to keep up with both his feet and his thoughts. “We found some plans in the Imagineer computer networks, and see — they’d been trying to update some of the rides — imagine the Haunted Mansion with real honest to God, er, excuse me, didn’t mean the pun — er, Goa’uld holographic technology, I mean, that would that have been so cool, and imagine if you could replace animatronic pirates with real ones, or hey, as real as they come —”

Felger.”

The scientist stops in his tracks, blinks, and rights himself. “Well. We, uh, need a live Prior to run the ship. We can get it running on his blood, but when it comes to flying thing, we need his brain. And his fingers, er, preferably intact.”

Carter, Carter, my whole kingdom for a Carter, he thinks, stops, and whirls on Felger. “Impossible, Felger.” he says, as if he were explaining why the sky is blue to Charlie or Cassie or one of the other dead children, left unburied and rotting from plague back in Colorado. “It’s not gonna work. We lost a lot of good people in Atlanta when we tried that gambit. I’m not going to risk it again.”

Felger bites his bottom lip and looks like he’s reaching into the pits of his stomach for courage. “Yes,” he says, “but what if the Prior was… willing?”

“I’m not going to waste my time with your crap if you’re not going to read the mission reports, Felger. Or pay attention to what’s staring you straight in the face,” Jack says.

O’Neill had been at Homeworld Command for the clusterfuck that had been the Prior plague; Mitchell’s tete-a-tete with Damaris and the Sodan had been too close a call for his aging stomach, even if it was what he would have done in his replacement’s position. He turns again and walks towards the doors that would take him back to the hangar where he hopes Lam, Lee and a few overtired technical sergeants would have the Ori ship suitably eviscerated and purring.

Felger follows him like an overenthusiastic puppy, sweat dripping down his forehead. “Yes, but we were trying to convince that Prior that Origin was wrong. We know we can only do that with the Ark of Truth. We know enough about the Priors to know that — well, it’s like this. Dr. Jackson was only able to speak with Oma Desala at the time of his deaths and on Kheb, where she was physically present in her ascended form. We know the Ori do not accompany the Priors — they speak to them only at Celestis, right? And since we know that for the next few days at least, Jackson can’t read our minds or throw us across the room or use any of his powers — he won’t know that you’re lying —”

Some shouting catches O’Neill’s ear; he turned back towards the main square. “Get to the point,” he snaps.

“They use religion as a weapon, so we give them a taste of their own medicine. We use Origin as a weapon,” Felger says, breathlessly. “We can’t possibly convince him that Origin is wrong. So we don’t. You know Dr. Jackson. He’s always believed the best of everyone. Maybe that remains, you know, Gerak was just as much a you-know-what as a Prior. You convert to Origin. You convince him to take you up. I mean, if Jackson believes you’re telling the truth, there’s at least a chance that the other Prior won’t pick up on Dr. Jackson’s distress, because he won’t be in distress. And when you break orbit, you can — uh — take care of the rest of the problem.” Felger clears his throat, his hands twisting in front of him; his gaze falters on O’Neill’s stunned silence, and he bites his bottom lip. “Or maybe we could just go to Bermuda?”

O’Neill grabs Felger’s shirt collar and pushes him up against the wall. “Jackson is not — a — problem to be solved,” he says.

“We’ve never, uh, un-Priored a Prior,” Felger gulps. “Far as I know, there's, uh, only one, uh, way.”

O'Neill's hand twists Felger's shirt collar, and he's silent for a moment. He thinks of Jackson bathed in blue light the very first time the Stargate was activated, stumbly and uncomfortable in ill-fitting borrowed gear.

“How long will the new anti-Prior device last?” he said.

----

They shouldn't have been able to evacuate.

But they had. They'd made it. They'd done it. Fifty-six lucky bastards plus a few evacuated from the Hammond (but not Carter; no, Carter would have gone down with the ship, would have been vaporized in milliseconds, everything she was gone like morning mist on the pond behind his house). They'd sealed off the mountain below them. The Ori had held the Stargate open and poured gamma radiation through the event horizon; that night, Jack would attend the horrific deaths of the tech team that had tried their best to stop the catastrophe, and be one of the men to wield a shovel at their mass grave.

It was a goddamned miracle that there was still a truck. It was a goddamned miracle that Woolsey wanted to go after the tales of a downed Ori ship at Disney World.

It was a goddamned miracle that Carter had made those changes to the anti-Prior device not even a week before on her shore leave from the General Hammond.

Too much fucking luck.

That night, Jack started waiting for his luck to run out.


----

Jack sometimes rues the terrifically karmic fact that there had been a gaggle of suits hanging out at Cheyenne Mountain when the Ori arrived.

He rues the fact that he’d been there. He was supposed to be in Washington. He was supposed to have a nice, quick, merciful death at one of the twenty-five bombed-out Ground Zeros.

Being atomized by an Ori nuke is highly preferable to making this decision, he thinks.

Phoenix Congress consists of Woolsey, of course, strutting in his Presidential role like a particularly short and ineffective peacock; Kinsey’s replacement, a formerly jowly senator named Armstrong, who was never more than an arm’s length from the skinny, pale thing he called a daughter; a group of silent civilians, and Camille Wray, a human resources executive whom O’Neill guessed knows more about things than she's letting on.

Not exactly a voting majority.

“With all due respect, sir,” O’Neill bitches, feeling his blood pressure rise, “we have people at Epcot. We have to get them out before this — this Rising starts. We have to get them out, and we have to make that ship fly.”

Woolsey’s eyes darken; the man's exhausted, bone-tired like the rest of them, and his cheeks are sunken, as if he hasn't been getting enough calories. O’Neill’s stomach growls in unintentional and unwanted sympathy. Nevertheless, the presidents’s hands splay still and wide across the table like he owns it, and his gaze is flinty where it meets O'Neill's.

“Not if they’ve already gone Ori; we have to assume our agents at Epcot have been identified and taken and that even if they return without memory of their capture, they may be plague vectors — or worse. People are dying at Epcot, General.”

“Colonel Young is trained for subterfuge, sir,” O'Neill counters. “He'll be fine.”

Woolsey’s voice is tired. “Read the report, Jack.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, sir, I’m busy trying to get a spaceship running on glue and pixie dust —”

Wray clears her throat, and the two of them fall silent. She has that effect; her personal interest in Colonel Young's detachment is well-known.

“Nobody is questioning your devotion to the project, General. I know we’re all under a great deal of stress,” she says. “I think we are, however, questioning your motives, knowing that you will have to make the decision to kill the Prior.” Wray fingers a necklace at her throat — the one concession O’Neill has ever seen her make to the nerves they all felt. “Hundreds of towns went Ori before a single Prior walked among them just from the sheer terror of it all. It is not out of the question to think that Epcot may have gone the same way. We must watch out for our own --”

O’Neill feels a flare of anger as the eyes in the room focus on him. They know we don't leave our own behind to die. They know this.  “Miss Wray. President Woolsey. I cannot condone a plan of action that does not include getting Colonel Young’s detachment out of Epcot. We do not leave our people behind. Likewise, cannot condone a path of action that will result in Daniel's death --”

Woolsey's eyes are hard as stone, but his hand trembles. “You need not condone a thing, General. You need only follow orders.”

Silence rings like a nuclear bomb.

O'Neill's headache flares; he brings his hand to his head, closes his eyes, and wills the pain to go away. He wants to walk out, grab a gun, go to EPCOT; he's done worse, he's gone AWOL, he's saved the planet with less – but he, a General, had stood behind Woolsey in the dark deathness of the first five days of the run. He'd said nothing when Woolsey laid a hand on the tattered Bible in the ruins of a Baptist church in the mountains. Anything less would have ruined the nascent government, the mission, the last hope for humanity --

This is your duty, sir, Carter reminds him, whispering in the dark.

He narrows his eyes at Wray and Armstrong, at Armstrong's sickly daughter and his Commander in Chief.

“Yes, sir. Orders received,” he says. “I'll save you a seat in hell, sir.”

Wray lets out a quiet breath and leans back in her chair as he whirls around and stalks towards Disney's network of subterranean passages underneath the Magic Kingdom.

Lights flicker there, hiding in rusty ceiling sconces, casting shadows around corners and bends; O’Neill is uncomfortably reminded of the movies he’d used to rent, back at the old house with Sara and Charlie. The Blockbuster store down the street, fat VHS tapes with crummy tracking, movie-butter microwave popcorn whose scent always lingered through breakfast.

He stops, staring at a T-intersection. Somewhere, condensation drips onto a metal surface, echoing quietly in the long chamber. Next to him, a door to a dressing room yawns black and blank.

In the movies, he remembers the lights flickering before the villain appeared, a dark shadow in a doorway, a bodiless hand clutching a gun. Charlie would squeal, Sara would cuddle closer, and it’d be a twisted little moment to cherish on his next deployment, that warmth, when there was a real shadow in a doorway, and the gun was pointed at him

He nods to the guards in front of the cage room and pushes open the door.

Dr. Lee’s in the room, sipping steaming hot water out of a Mickey Mouse mug and scrawling things on a pad of paper that O’Neill, even after ten years of hanging around Samantha Carter, still only recognizes tangentially as theoretical physics equations; the man notices him almost immediately, and opens his mouth to say something, but O’Neill’s waving him away already.

Behind the bars of the humming cage, the Prior stands, serene and beatific, his arms folded in front of him, still as death.

“Lee, take a walk,” he says.

Lee licks his lips and looks uncomfortable. “General, someone needs to be here to properly operate and monitor the cage interface.”

“I’m not five years old,” O’Neill responds. “I need three minutes with my team member.”

Lee glances from the cage interface to the Daniel-thing and back to O’Neill. “With respect, General, he’s not your —”

Lee,” O’Neill says.

“I think being out in the hall for a moment is a splendid idea,” the scientist responds, and places his P90 down on the desk with a meaningful crash. The scientist exits the room, closing the door behind him with an audible click, and O’Neill takes the few long, terrible steps to close the distance between himself and the Prior, the white-noise hum of electricity the only witness. The Daniel-thing turns its head, slow, and O’Neill is reminded uncomfortably of Chucky the murder doll, a movie he most certainly hadn’t let Charlie watch. He clears his throat.

“So. This… Origin thing,” O’Neill says.

The Daniel-thing smiles, the old smile lines near his lips nearly imperceptible in the semi-darkness. “Have you come to contemplate your divine right?”

“Yes.”

The Prior says nothing.

O’Neill shoves his hands in his pockets. “You happy with this, Daniel?”

“There is nothing but happiness in the service of the Ori,” replies the Prior, serene as a gator sunning itself on a riverbank while the world goes to hell around it.

“Not that,” says O’Neill. “Happy. You remember happy. Like… fishing happy. Beer happy. We-just-killed-Apophis happy. You know. Someone gives you a set of Furling ruins for your birthday.”

“You are different today,” said Daniel, and for a moment there's a ghost of a smirk on his face, an old, familiar smirk --

No. Nothing familiar about it. You're talking to another casualty, like Carter and Teal’c. Jack O’Neill, this is your life. You couldn’t protect any of them in the end. “I’m tired, Daniel,” he said. “I'm on the wrong path.” I'm contemplating having to put a bullet in my friend's brain. I'll call that the wrong fucking path.

“Following the path of the Ori, you will not tire. In the footsteps of the Ori, you will not grow weak. In the light of the Ori, you will be strong once again. You need not fear when you are with the Ori —”

O’Neill smiles. “I missed these conversations, you know…”

“In the path of the Ori…” droned the Prior.

“Yeah,” O’Neill said. “I’ll do it.”

“In the light of the Ori…”

Jackson.”

The Prior’s eyes clear from their religious reverie, and he tilts his head to one side.

O’Neill takes a breath, turns around, and locks eyes with the Prior. “I want to accept the invitation to your Sunday school party. I accept the Ori, for myself and on behalf of the inhabitants of Phoenix Base. I want to go to Celestis, to look upon the Ori with my own eyes, and see the truth that everyone else has… obviously… I guess… seen. I have your ship. You can take me there.”

The Prior’s face does not change. “I would fain believe you, old friend. And yet, you may be as Marlis, whose false faith turned food to ash in his body and choked the very life from his bones. And yet, you may be as the snake in the garden of the faithful, bringing poison where there should be peace.”

“And yet,” O’Neill returned, “I may actually be ready to admit that you guys were right all along.”

The Prior blinks beatifically. “You lie,” he said.

Well, this is Daniel, O’Neill thought. Who knows what kind of information he kept in that Ori brain of his. He might still be in there. And the terrible, irrational thought: We could still save him.

“Jackson. Come on. Would I lie to you?”

Without a beat, the Prior answered. “Yes.”

“Oh, for crying out loud —”

“And you may know the true enemy of Origin by the pain they bring to those they love,” said Daniel. “They bring death to their family and discord to their village; the fruits of their labors leave not fields flush with fruit, but spilled blood and sickness run riot. They speak peace, but they bring war. Have you not done so?”

He thinks of Teal’c and Vala, dead these three years; Mitchell, whose luck didn’t run to escaping the firey conflagration of the Odyssey over the Rockies; and Carter. Carter, whom he thought could survive anything. He’d ordered her to the skies, to defend the Ori. He’d ordered them all to their deaths, and they’d known it. Daniel himself, a casualty of the monster that was the Ori war, yawning and gaping over the thousands of light-years. Fraiser. Kawalsky. Henry Boyd. Paul Davis. All of them gone, and all of it his fault.

“Just once, Jackson, just once when it counts, can you just believe me?”

The Daniel-thing almost looks sad. “I cannot believe a man who lies to himself as deeply and fully as you do.”

O’Neill’s stomach jumps into his throat with an angry, hungry twist. “Oh, look who’s talking.”

Jackson tips his chin towards the ceiling, and his pale eyes roll towards the sky. “Is it so hard for you to see that I have only embraced my true destiny?”

O’Neill throws his arms to the side. “All right. Then eat this, Prior — if there’s the smallest speck of Daniel Jackson left in there, you will know that I will do whatever is necessary to make sure my people survive. You know it’s over for us. I am willing to do whatever it takes. That's not a lie. Take me to Celestis.

“I will take you. But you must take the first step towards enlightenment.”

O’Neill lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Right. And that is?”

“Stop loving her.”

Silence reigns in the room; O’Neill feels all of the oxygen sucked out behind him, and he steps back, shaking his head. “I thought you took converts on their word. You spared whole worlds who accepted the Ori --”

“Then stop loving her. That is the only word I will take from someone with so much darkness in his soul.” His eyes are hard and grey.

O’Neill jabbed his index finger in the Prior’s direction. “That was a long time ago. Christ. If I loved her, I wouldn’t have sent her up with the first wave, now, would I?” And as soon as the words were out, he regretted them. “I sent her to Pegasus, after the Wraith. I’ve sent her on the front lines hundreds of times — do you know the F-309 commander survival rate? Jesus. I never would have done that to Sara —”

“On the contrary,” said the Prior serenely. “You sent Samantha Carter because you love her.”

“Bullshit,” O’Neill spat.

And then the Prior almost looked sad. “It is the truest kind of love, General; and it is for a being and a truth that is evil, which is why the Ori know you to not have a heart true enough for salvation. You’re not like the others, Jack. That’s why you’re still alive when so many others are dead. That’s why, when the glorious armies of the Ori appeared in the blessed skies of Earth, you sent her first. You learned a long time ago that you cannot hold her, that you cannot smother her as you must with such evil; you cannot even be with her. You can only love her by giving her wings. Letting the evil that threatens what is good and true loose on the universe again and again. And so you do, over and over again — Stop loving her, and you may become one with the Ori. That is the only way you can prove to my masters that you speak the truth.”

“Carter is as far from evil as — as you are from sane,” he spat. “She’s dead, Daniel. Dead.”

The Prior folded his hands in front of his stomach again. “And as Ori arrived to shepherd Sirsa to become one with them in everlasting peace, the great king Yulian knew that the truth of love was this: the love he had for Sirsa was now due the ones who comforted her in death, and in turn he was comforted.”

“Very Daniel of you, asshole.”

“Only the Ori are right. Only the Ori have the path, and the unbelievers must be smote, and all of their works and deeds must be stricken —”

O’Neill dragged the gun out of his holster. “You know what? Forget it. Woolsey was right, as much as it pains me to admit it. Daniel died on that planet, didn’t he? DOCTOR LEE!”

The door handle jiggled, but didn't open. He could hear the frantic shouts of the scientist; could feel the growing static charge all around him. The Prior closes his eyes; he raises his hands in prayer.

“Audemus jura nostra defendere,” said the Prior. “Auxilio ab alto.”

A strange feeling unlocked in O’Neill’s chest; it took him a few seconds to identify it as panic, a feeling that he’d well and truly locked away years and years ago. “Dr. Lee,” he said, moving back to opening the door. Lee was in like a rabbit, checking the readings while O’Neill cocked the gun back, pointing it in the Prior’s direction; his mouth unhinged, Lee looked back up, and his voice was full of fear.

“The EM field. It’s losing cohesion,” Lee called. “Let me --”

“Damn it,” O’Neill said, reaching for the radio, “Control, this is Phoenix-niner, we have a foothold situation — the Prior’s room —” and he found that he couldn’t pull the trigger after all, couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe — wasn’t sure that he’d even been able to say that —

“Consilio et armis, Ori gratia, esto perpetua,” said Jackson. “I bring the Rising!”

And then O’Neill speaks, but not of his own volition, and it is with some anger that Jack O’Neill speaks in a language he'd thought he'd forgotten, blood on his tongue.

“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”

----

When she closes her eyes, she can see them.

She’d prefer to remember the good times — wouldn’t they all, really, after the flood and the fire and the touch of death upon everything that once was beautiful — but the memories that come first were always born in pain.

The coolly professional set of Mitchell’s shoulders as he ran out of the Asgard core to battle the Replicators. Daniel’s resigned, horrified eyes behind the bandages, before his first Ascension. Teal’c, present even in his forever-silence; Vala, dulcet as always in her slash-and-burn diplomacy, with a gun trained on Daniel in Athena’s warehouse. Jack, standing at the doorway to the za’tarc room, his eyes as unreadable as they ever would be.

Doesn’t do to dwell, Carter, he whispers. Keep your eyes on the prize. Mitchell needs you to stay alive and succeed.

She opens her mouth to respond to him, but bites down on the words. She hates the fact that she has dirt under her fingernails; she was always immaculately clean before doing lab work, before, knowing that one scrap of dirt or sand could possibly sneak into the alien wetworks and ruin everything. She spends a moment using one fingernail to remove the dirt from another before tackling the communications device with gusto.

So Ba’al left you alone in a cell with a working communications device and an annoying teenager,
Jack drawled. What does that tell you?

That I’m about to walk straight into a big fat trap, sir, she responded. Quite possibly having to do with locating Phoenix Base.

Well, you do need to go there, or Mitchell died for nothing, he replied.

“Hey, anybody tell you that you look a lot like that chick from the news?”

Carter looks up quickly; the girl’s cross-legged on her cot, chewing on an eraser, something vaguely Goa’uld and definitely broken cradled in her lap.

“I get that a lot,” she replies, figuring that it’s enough of a non-answer for now.

“I bet you get a lot of grief for it,” the girl added, her eyes curious. She drew the eraser away from her mouth and played with it, rolling it over and over her fingers.

Carter banished thoughts of the weeks before the Ori attack, right after the disclosure of the Stargate program — the SFs outside her home, her car, Cassie’s dorm, Daniel’s house; the protesters that prompted a move back to quarters on the base for all five of them; the way that the rotten tomato that hit her head outside of her niece's birthday party hurt her in a way a bullet couldn’t. “… yeah,” Carter answers.

She hasn’t known Christina for more than an hour, but Carter has already cottoned on to the fact that the girl’s a chatterbox that hasn't had another person to talk to in quite some time, so she turns her attention back to the Goa’uld transmission device and ignores the situation in much the same way she might ignore Felger or Chloe or McKay.

But not me, glees Jack-in-her-head.

Yes, sir, ignoring you is impossible.

“Where were you when you learned about the Stargate?”

“Hm?” Carter looked up again.

“The fucking Stargate,” Christina said, as if the sentence was self-explainable.

Carter slid the back off the device and narrowed her eyes at its innards. Nothing too wrong with it that a bit of elbow grease and an arc welder couldn’t fix, she thinks. But I doubt Ba’al would let me have an arc welder. Her fingers itch with the desire for familiar tools, familiar faces, familiarity. Cam. “At work, I suppose. I don’t really remember,” she says.

But, oh, she did. How could she forget? She had been in Kerrigan’s office at the Pentagon, her newly-polished Captain’s insignia still shiny on her shoulders. It was winter. The office had smelled of stale coffee; outside, someone had been rambling about expenditures at NORAD in Colorado and inside, Kerrigan’s daughter had drawn him a red Christmas tree.

She remembered the Christmas tree, for some odd reason.

“I can’t believe you don’t remember. Everybody remembers,” Christina responds. “God, I’m hungry.” She slid off the cot, stood, and walked back over to the table.

“Pass the screwdriver?” Carter asks.

“Yeah, knock yourself out,” Christina said, passing her a small, red-handled Phillips. “Although I already tried poking around in there with it. It doesn’t do anything.”

“Well,” Carter says, twirling the screwdriver between her fingers, “you just have to know the sweet spot.”

“Oh, and like you do?”

Carter shrugs. “People say I’m good with machines.”

This was always her favorite place, she thinks — her hands on an alien device, the tingling feeling of mathematics once thought theoretical taking solid form. The device shudders in her hand, and loses its opacity in record time. Christina ducks across the room in a few seconds, as Carter’s breath catches in her throat. “Cool,” the girl croons. “What does it do?”

“Goa’uld TV,” Carter says, reflexively.

“What?”

Carter shakes her head. “Never mind.” She pauses. “Hey, that looks like --”

“That's a plan for a circuitboard,” says Christina. “Wires. Hey --”

“Yeah, I hear it, too,” Carter repies.

She guesses that the device is buried underneath a pile of wires and papers in a manner that suggests its owner thought it broken, useless or simply a pretty round metal ball; the room is well-lit enough for light to filter through. She hears faraway shouting, tinny even for the advanced Goa’uld speaker system; doors slamming, orders being shouted — orders she recognizes, orders that she’s even given

“Oh my God,” she said.

“What is it?” Christina, behind her, vibrates with excitement.

“I can't believe this. If you'd turned this on last week --” Carter says. She doesn't finish the sentence with you'd have your boyfriend back. I'd be dead in a grave right alongside Cam. The Goa'uld antipathy towards doing their own dirty work strikes again.

A door slams. Voices — swearing. She thrills to hear it.

“We need you here — there are soldiers for this type of thing—”

“Someone has to go protect the ship, and seeing as most of the actual soldiers are at the gate, you know, doing actual soldiering, just like you could be doing actual science and not wasting precious time trying to convince me that —”

“Fine. Then give me the gun. I’ve been in the field before, I can handle it.”

“Felger! I’m the one who spent seven years on a gate team. You spent seven years drinking coffee and, oh, I don’t know, playing Angry Birds —”

I’d know that voice from a mile away.

McKay,” shouts Carter. “Shut up! McKay!”

Silence. Carter feels Christina behind her playing nervously with the left shoulder strap of her bikini top.

“Did you hear that?” Felger.

“Oh, good, you heard it too, and I thought I’d finally cracked up —”

Five seconds later, there were hands at the papers, crashing sounds as metal objects, tools, technology clattered to the ground. A man’s hand encircled the sphere on the other side of the connection and yanked it up, the light catching a wedding ring that was undoubtedly shiny and new. For a moment, less than a nanosecond, Rodney McKay stared back at her with his mouth akimbo, absolutely speechless.

You’ll never get this chance again, drawled Jack.

“McKay, I’m being held by Ba’al, and —”

“You’re alive,” McKay said, tripping over the words. “Wait, how are you — when did you — are you — who’s with you — Sam! Felger, where the hell was communications device last week? Was this part of the last shipment from the archives?”

“McKay. I'm being held by Ba'al. Mitchell's --” God, Carter. This is not the first time you’ve lost someone. Get it together. “Mitchell's dead. Where are you?”

“Okay, so nothing you haven’t done before,” McKay snapped. “Sam, you need to get here as soon as you can. We have about two hours before this whole place is overrun by a Prior, a bunch of Ori soldiers and hungry zombies with rocks and grudges.”

“Might not be secure,” muttered Felger.

“Two fucking hours, Felger, I don't care,” replied McKay.

And with little ceremony, the communications ball was shoved into McKay's jacket pocket, leaving the surface dark. Christina whistles. “Sam, we’re falling back to the ship and I’m quite sure it’s not going to work without a Prior’s blood. And the one we had is currently involved with making sure every single brick of this place falls down around our ears. I’m actually not sure why he hasn’t already killed us all — I’m thinking there’s something we’re not seeing, which is, of course, frustrating —”

Her stomach twisted, and she thinks of Memphis, of the theories she had, back before Jack kept on showing up in her head with his unsolicited advice. “Have you tried varying the —”

“Yes, yes, everything,” she heard. Near McKay, the sound of soldiers shouting, boots on concrete, all so familiar. He pushed open a door and suddenly Carter could see light; through the worn blue fabric of his coat pocket, Carter could barely make out the fact that both he and Felger had guns; she saw fire, someone with an extinguisher, hauntingly familiar faces. “We tried it all, and Angry Birds here decided —”

“McKay. My team.” she said.

McKay's quiet for a moment. She sees him check the magazine in his weapon.

“Teal'c and Vala are dead. They were on the ship when it blew – where we thought you were. O'Neill's alive. He's around here somewhere. We'll take you to him. And Daniel's still a Prior.” he said.

“Oh holy mother fuck,” Christina says. She scrambles back, as if the veil has been lifted from her eyes. "You're -- you're --"

“We'll just use him as a catalyst, then,” Carter says. “I've been thinking about this since Memphis. I just need to get out, I just need --”

She can’t see him, but she imagines McKay’s doing that thing where information contrary to his worldview has just landed on his head like a broken 747 and his jaw is working soundlessly. “We've already tried -- ”

She expels an annoyed breath. “McKay. Just get me to Jack. I'll take care of the rest. Christina?”

But the girl's already at the door, screaming to be let out. As the guards take her away and advance on Carter, she hears Christina shouting about being in the same room as the Destroyer of Worlds. About knowing where Phoenix Base is. About a boy and a love and the remission of death. And when the guards come for her, they have fear in their eyes and guns in their hands.

Carter stands, bringing a hand to the back of her aching neck.
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