He could feel it, a fluttering sensation cascading along his skin, his bones, a sort of electric prickle, but not as sharp or hot. It was like being caressed by fingers of water or ice, a gentle, melting touch that was more in his mind, he knew, than in his body.
"Whoa," Jack said, somewhere beside him in the dark.
And there was sound. Or something like sound, although he couldn't hear it, really, but if he could, he might identify it as singing, like a hundred voices blending so perfectly they became one rich, nuanced unity, rising and falling around him like the pull of the tide. If it were sound, if these were voices, they would be deep and warm with the heaviness of earth and stone, and as high and keen as a lance of light between branches. He didn't raise his hands to his ears because it wasn't really sound, after all, any more than the touch was touch.
He didn't open his eyes. Not yet. He knew that his brain, still awash in these other-than-sensations, feeling and hearing through other-than-senses, would not be ready for other-than-sight, and, in fact, it scared him a little, thinking of what he would see if he ventured into vision. So he kept his eyes closed. He could feel Jack him, or maybe inside him--it was hard to keep space straight now--could feel Jack's eyes closed, could feel the trickle of this miracle coursing along his limbs, too, the singing flowing through his veins, red and warm and alive like blood.
When they'd come to see the Awakening, they didn't know that they'd been invited to feel the universe bloom.
There was snow on Sam's lashes when she turned on Jack's front porch and thrust the bottle of wine with its gold ribbon into Daniel's hands. "Open this!" she commanded breathily, stepping into his embrace. She was still a little stiff from the cold, slim and slowly yielding as he squeezed warmth into her. When she pulled away to look up at him the snow had melted and she was smiling.
Ky's eyes had indefinite, horizontal pupils like a goat's, and irises the colour of amber held up to the light. As she stared at him, a nictating membrane slid first across one large, too-round eye and then the other. Her teeth were small and white and pointed.
"Where is Gissa?" Daniel asked, looking away, down at the darkly glowing embers in the fire pit, at the end of the stick Jack was using to poke them into brightness again.
"Gissa has gone for passage," Ky answered.
Her voice. . . shimmered, a sound like heavy, textured cloth rustling, or, maybe, the scales of a snake whispering over stone. Daniel was always surprised by this quality of their voices, because he could never quite capture it in the recordings he brought back to the SGC. Listening to Ky speaking on the tapes--if you didn't see her, if you didn't know that she was glittering with blue, iridescent scales, that she retreated each night to dream her strange dreams in the depths of a luminous pool of water-- you'd mistake her for human. But here, that sibilance that made the hairs stand up on his arms did more than her physical difference to make him acutely aware that Ky was alien, no matter how easy it might be sometimes to make her seem familiar and knowable. The truth of that was a kind of static charge on his skin, making him wary, bracing him for the tiny shock of contact as his human-ness brushed up against Otherness.
He made himself look up. Jack continued to rake the coals, his shoulders hunched.
"Will she be coming back?" Sam asked from somewhere in the shadows behind him.
Shifting to look over Daniel's shoulder, Ky's eyes changed, the pupils widening until they were round and enormous, and only the thinnest rim of gold iris remained. Daniel could feel Sam shift her weight behind him as those eyes flushed her from her hiding place, caught her. Ky tilted her head to the side, a sharp, precise movement that meant something between "well, duh" and "it is irrelevant." Daniel had seen this gesture a lot during their negotiations with the Breen, and he knew it wasn't as dismissive as it appeared. It simply meant that the questions the humans asked had no answers from a Breen perspective.
After a moment, Ky showed her teeth, her voice sliding like silk over her words. "We think you might come to see her Awakening. But she will not speak with you again. She will not speak with any of the Sisters again." She touched the gleaming lapis scales on her breastbone with a taloned finger. "We will speak for the Sisters now."
Jack looked up from the pot he was scrubbing as Sam followed Daniel into the kitchen.
"'Bout time," he grumbled in mock irritation, waving a hand and scattering soap suds on the floor. "Teal'c was starting to get rowdy."
Sam and Daniel looked at Teal'c, who was sitting with his hands folded on the table, identical lengths of carrots and celery arranged in precise rows on the cutting board in front of him. He raised an eyebrow at them and they raised theirs back.
"Indeed" Sam and Teal'c said together.
Sam hovered between Jack, who'd gone back to scrubbing, and Daniel, who was bent over with the wine bottle between his knees, pulling the cork. After carefully balancing the clean pot in the overfull rack--without rinsing it, Daniel noticed--Jack put a wet hand on Sam's shoulder and inclined his head in the superior officer's version of an affectionate holiday hug. "Better late than never," he grinned. "Where's Doc?"
"Cassie's rehearsal ran late, and there was some problem with her costume. They'll be here. Eventually. They said not to wait." She accepted the glass of wine from Daniel and took a grateful sip. Only Daniel saw her hands shaking.
"Crud," Jack grumbled again, pulling the plug and rinsing the sink. "She was bringing the sweet potatoes with the marshmallows on top."
Daniel smiled down at the table as he gathered the carrots and celery onto the platter with the dip. "Relax, Jack, you can have the sweet potatoes with dessert."
"You're not going to believe this," Sam announced as she stepped over the log and sat down on it, holding her cold fingers out toward the fire. Shivering a little, she rubbed her hands together, then cupped them and blew into the hollow between her palms. "Oh, man, that fire feels good. The wind's picking up out there." She went back to blowing on her hands while outside the narrow entrance to the cave the wind moaned and snow slanted across the darkness like the passing of a wing.
Grunting, Jack dropped another log into the pit and shuffled coals around until the papery bark caught and flames leapt up, orange light licking the low ceiling for a moment and revealing again the intricate carving there. Reflexively, Daniel reached up and ran his fingers along an incised tendril, following it until it curled into itself and became a leaf. His fingers played across the delicate scales of a fish hiding there.
"What will we not believe, Major Carter?" Teal'c prompted from his place near the entrance beyond the circle of light.
Sam looked over her shoulder at him and then at Jack. "Gissa is over four thousand years old."
"I don't believe it," Daniel said, sitting back down opposite her.
"Huh. She doesn't look a day over. . . ." Jack began, and then gave up. "Y'know, it's so hard to tell with fish people."
"Well," Daniel mused. "That explains why the goa'uld were so interested in them as hosts. With a natural lifespan that long--"
"They'd be much less dependent on the sarcophagus to sustain them," Sam finished for him.
They were silent for awhile, listening to the fire pop and hiss. "Hmm," Daniel wondered at last, "maybe they'd be less. . . nasty. . . without the sarcophagus, I mean."
Jack grunted again and climbed up off his knees to settle beside him on the log. "Nothing makes a goa'uld less nasty," he objected with a sneer of distaste. "And I'm sure the Breen aren't feeling much like taking one for the team, anyway." He picked up his mug and stirred his soup with a spork. "Who invented the spork?" he asked no one in particular when soup dribbled down the front of his jacket. "I find that guy, I'm gonna shoot him."
"How can we be certain that this information is true?" Teal'c asked.
Kneeling to tip some soup into her own mug, Sam shrugged. "I guess we can't. But I don't see any reason the Sisters would have to lie to us."
"Their motivation remains unclear." Teal'c paused as the wind howled, driving another slanting swath of snow across the opening near his face. "They are difficult to understand. We should be cautious."
"The goa'uld all but destroyed their civilization. They're motivated by the same things we are." Sam wrapped her cold fingers around her mug and blew on the soup. "I'm not saying we should trust them. But they hate the goa'uld. That's worth something."
"It had better be," Jack warned, dropping his spork on the ground in disgust and upending the mug over his open mouth. "I want a nice, fancy goa'uld-busting toy if I'm gonna sacrifice my ass to frostbite." With that, the colonel pulled off his boots, climbed inside his sleeping bag and zipped it up, burrowing into it until only the top of his cap was showing. "Teal'c, first watch. Wake me in two," was his muffled order. Five seconds later he was snoring.
Sam paused, her glass of wine halfway to her lips. She was staring into it, or through it, Daniel guessed, at the flame of the candle, at the play of ruddy-gold light on her fingers around the bowl, her eyes gleaming. When she looked up at him, her expression remained the same. Rapt.
Gissa took to Sam right away. After the first day of negotiations she would address only Sam directly, focusing her attention on her so completely that Sam had to repeat the colonel's and Daniel's questions like a translator. It was so weird, hearing every comment and inquiry repeated twice, that Jack had fallen into a grumpy silence, briefing Sam before the meetings and saving his griping for after. At first, Sam had fidgeted under the Speaker's scrutiny, those predatory golden eyes, but slowly she'd relaxed and Daniel had caught her watching Gissa carefully, a smile he couldn't decipher brightening her face.
Now, as he leaned beside Jack against the wall near the doorway of the cave that passed for their quarters, his back aching against the cold stones, he watched Sam and Gissa wind their way down from the main abbey. They were framed by the grey heaviness of the mountain with its honeycomb of cells and cloisters, dark, regular openings into the Breen's sacred space, the inner sanctum where Jack and Daniel and Teal'c weren't welcome. In his mind's eye, the abbey was a dark place filled with the lambency of living jewels, their facets and golden eyes sparking to life in the light of a passing lantern. When Daniel asked her to describe what she saw inside, Sam bowed her head and then smiled up at him in apology, saying nothing. He didn't push it; the Breen demanded respect. Sam deserved it.
Gissa looked like all the other Sisters. In fact, after three weeks of talks, Daniel still couldn't tell one from another, even though Sam tried to explain the differences that she could see, in the faint whorl of scales across a cheek, a variation in the iridescence of the blue over the eyes. He tried to look closer, to pay more attention, but the Breen all moved alike, spoke alike, regarded him with the same unfathomable gazes, deflecting his own curiosity. They turned their heads exactly the same way when he entered the meeting room and then turned away with the same indifference, like brightly coloured fish in a school, swerving in unison in response to some stimulus only they could sense. He half expected them to speak in unison too, and although they never did, he couldn't shake the feeling that they were thinking in unison.
Balanced on the shoulder of the mountain, the smaller, more distant sun was squat and orange as though flattened by the weight of the low bank of clouds that had capped the valley since their arrival, and the silvery blue of shadow was burnished suddenly by the slanting rays, the landscape warming to copper. Gissa paused at the top of a small rise and turned, her hand on Sam's arm turning her, too. In the fading golden light, Gissa's dorsal fins, usually hanging folded and flat like a cloak to her heels, ruffled and opened a little, spreading upward like translucent fans, the silver caps on the tip of each three-foot-long spine gleaming like molten glass. Leaning forward, Gissa laid her cheek against Sam's, just for a brief moment, then stepped away and walked up the path without looking back. Beside him, Daniel felt Jack stiffen and then relax again when the Breen didn't bite Sam's head off. Sam looked at them, her face hidden in shadow, her hair glowing around her head, and then turned away down a branching path and disappeared between the dark, heavy branches of the trees.
The meal finished, Janet and Cassie still MIA, the four of them reluctantly cleared the table, Daniel and Jack moving around each other in the kitchen in a chaos dance of perfectly timed not-collisions.
"It's like planets in orbit," Sam told Daniel softly as he passed by her on the way back from the dining room, the turkey platter heavy in one hand, a wine glass in the other.
"What is?" He had to lean close to hear her.
"You and the colonel. Orbit. That's when two bodies fall toward each other and keep missing." Her eyes were so blue and dark and knowing just then that Daniel felt completely naked.
Across the valley, they could see the procession snaking its way up past the abbey. Tonight, the night of Gissa's Awakening, all of the abbey's windows were alight, winking and golden like sentinel eyes. All of the Breen were there on the rocky path up to the highest of the sanctuaries, their torches small haloes of life and warmth against the black hulk of the mountain. Watching them, Daniel felt suddenly very insignificant, as though that knowledge that he had, the intellectual understanding that the universe was too vast for his mind to ever compass, was made manifest in the weight of the stone, the black, clear sky with its pinprick stars, the soughing wind cascading over the peak, bringing the smell of the glacier and snow that had never melted in a thousand years.
But beside him, Jack was bouncing a little on the balls of his feet, his breath curling out between his thin lips, a whisper of warmth in the blackness. Daniel found himself leaning just a little toward him, the sleeves of their jackets touching, and he felt grounded again, as though Jack were the "you are here" that made the vastness of the universe measurable, bearable.
He laughed at his boots and Jack eyed him, but Daniel only shook his head. Jack smiled and let it go, nudging him with his elbow down the path where Teal'c was already following Ky and Sam toward the abbey and the path of light up into the sky.
Teal'c pried two ice-cubes out of the tray and let them tumble into his glass, then added ginger ale, pouring slowly so the fizz wouldn't overflow. Daniel heard Sam's intake of breath and a kind of strangled cry. Then she wasn't leaning against the refrigerator anymore and her wine glass, mostly full, was abandoned on the table.
This was Gissa's Awakening. After four thousand years, it was time to move on, Ky said, stepping aside to let SG-1 pass into the sanctuary. The amphitheatre, twice the size of the Gateroom, maybe, was open to the sky, the Breen standing silently in ranked rows around the terraced walls. Their torches were doused, the glow of their jeweled bodies damped. They were only a dark presence now, a texture of shadow. Daniel could feel them waiting.
"This is all of the Breen. We alone remain," Ky said, her sibilant voice liquid with sadness. "One hundred and forty-seven Sisters. Once, we were millions." Stepping out into the centre of the room, Ky tilted her head back and addressed the stars. "Soon we will all awake and the Breen will be no more. We rejoice for our Sister Gissa. She is the first."
"We rejoice," the Sisters repeated, and their one voice was the hushing of wind through the trees, the slipping of raw silk across Daniel's skin. He shivered.
Ky nodded toward the darker rectangle on the other side of the sanctuary, and after squinting a moment into the doorway, Daniel could see something moving within. Soon, two Breen emerged, carrying what looked like a stretcher between them. Walking with solemn slowness, they made one circuit of the room, and as the bier passed the visitors, Daniel could see that Gissa was laid out on it, her body wrapped tightly in a dark linen shroud. Out of the corner of his eye he caught the faint, pale blur of Sam's hand reaching out toward Gissa's body, but she withdrew it quickly and Daniel didn't turn to look at her.
"A funeral," Jack murmured. "Jesus."
Ky moved aside to allow the bearers to lay the bier down on a pedestal at the centre of the room and there was silence.
Then there was sound. Or something like sound, although Daniel was certain he wasn't hearing it so much as feeling it. A low thrumming that reminded him of water surging deep underground, a kind of tidal pull in his blood. His heart stuttered.
"What the--?" Jack's hand came up to his ear and then fell, a fist against his chest.
"They are singing," Teal'c observed, his calm tone troubled by something like awe.
And so they were. The Breen were singing in Daniel's chest, their voices resonating in his bones. He was tingling with sound that seemed almost to become melody before swerving in unexpected directions, hovering at the limits of his comprehension and then flicking away again. Involuntarily, he stretched out a hand, as though he could touch it, as though the pattern were there, just beyond his fingertips. It was like the dissonance within his own flesh were resolving into music. It was a sound like blood, warm, essential, necessary. "My God," he whispered, his voice lost in the song. Jack grasped his wrist and pulled his arm down. He didn't let go.
Then Gissa awoke.
At first it seemed that she was melting. A kind of liquid light welled up out of her and began to drip downward in long, gleaming strands that evaporated before they touched the stones. Then she bloomed, a cold blue light swirling and pouring upward, high over their heads, and Daniel thought of a fountain, half-expected to feel the cool spray of water against his face. But there was only the bite of the wind and the warm circle of Jack's fingers around his wrist.
He was looking upward so he didn't see it right away. Jack's whispered "Holy--" drew his attention downward again to the bier, where Gissa was rising. The shroud fell away as she sat up and as it unfolded and pooled on the stone of the floor, the sanctuary was flooded with gold. Gissa was lit up from the inside, a vessel that seemed too frail to contain the pulsing energy inside her. Daniel could feel it sweeping across him in waves, hot and tingling, as the singing voices rose and intensified and he could feel his own body straining to contain the ecstatic pressure of their jubilation. Gissa's dorsal fins were fully extended, only now they were as insubstantial as gossamer and as lively as flames. All around the room, the Sisters were alight, their own fins extended, illuminated, their bodies reflecting Gissa's glow, their scales sparkling and dancing with rainbows and flashes and a deep, heavy, golden heat, lesser seraphim to Gissa's archangel.
Gissa threw back her head and the energy inside her flared and Daniel closed his eyes against it and the world was suddenly gone, lost in the swirling pull of voices that weren't voices, the rushing effervescence of light that was more than light, and he was at a threshold, the edge of a cliff, and below him there was the water, the surging of the Breen, the collective knowing and being of them.
He knew then why he could never capture that strange quality of their voices; it was because it was an effect of the mind, not of the air, the sibilance of one hundred and forty-seven Sisters, the last of the Breen, thinking together, turning and swerving together, their scales flashing in the watery shafts of light from a sun that no longer warmed them, lancing through a sea from which they were exiled by violence and predation by monsters. Their sadness, the heavy, slow-moving current of loneliness, and the burning elation of Gissa's transcendence swirled around Daniel, could so easily carry him away, except that Jack's fingers tightened around his wrist and Jack's presence beside him or inside him--it was hard to keep space straight now--was an anchor, a solid rock in the riptide of joy and despair.
"The Sisters rejoice," Ky said, and something that was Gissa responded, speaking in his cells, a cascading caress in his mind. Daniel opened his eyes, and Ky was looking at him, her pupils barely pinpricks, her yellow eyes glowing like amber lanterns. She was less a person than a scintillation and he had to look away.
She was in the middle of the sanctuary, almost lost in Gissa's embrace, the flaming wings curling around her, her feet no longer touching the floor, her head thrown back, arms wide. As Jack took a step toward them Gissa's energy flared again and she was gone, shooting upward into the sky until she was another star, and then only a space where a star had been.
"Carter?" Jack said as the darkness took the sanctuary again and the Sisters fell silent.
Sam turned slowly to look at him, and her momentum carried her into Teal'c's arms before her knees gave out and she slumped against him.
"Oh God," she breathed as her eyes closed. "Oh God."
Daniel found her on Jack's back deck, sitting on the top step with her arms circling her knees. She didn't turn to look at him when he came through the patio door, instead keeping her eyes fixed on the red and green lights that outlined the eaves of the house beyond the fence.
Hesitating a moment, Daniel dusted the snow off the next step down and settled onto it, ignoring the dampness and the cold.
"Sam, are you--?"
She reached out and touched his lips with her fingertips and then, pulling back a little, rubbed her fingers and thumb together, like she was testing the texture of his breath. Over her shoulder, Daniel could see Jack inside, loading the dishwasher, not-watching them through the kitchen window.
There were snowflakes on her eyelashes. Her eyes were shining with unshed tears, pupils too wide and black.
"Gissa. . . did something. . . to me," she said at last, her hand falling to her lap, her fingers still grasping the memory of his breath.
Smiling a bit at the alarm in his voice, she shook her head, and a tear broke free and ran down her cheek. "It's not like that. At least I don't think it is. I don't know." She wiped the tear away with the side of her fist and hunched her shoulders. Jack wasn't not-watching anymore but was leaning on the counter, a motionless silhouette, attentive.
"What did she do?" Daniel asked again. Sam pressed the backs of her curled fingers to her lips and said nothing, so he took her hand in both of his and held it tight. She didn't squeeze his back. "What did she do, Sam? Did she hurt you?" His stomach twisted a little when he said the words, when she closed her eyes, another tear leaking out and glistening on her cheek.
"No, she didn't hurt me. She. . . touched me." An impatient shake of her head. "She reached right inside me and she. . . she rearranged me." Clutching at the front of her sweater, she pulled it away from her body and then let it go, the gesture inadequate. "Everything's different now."
She didn't go on, wouldn't look at him. He could see, though, that the words were in her mouth, behind her lips pressed tightly together, and she wouldn't let them out.
"What happened in the kitchen?"
Shaking her head, she let out a little half-laugh and looked at their hands twined together in his lap. "It's stupid."
"I was watching Teal'c put ice in his ginger ale."
Slumping, she shrugged. "And the light was shining through the glass, reflecting on the table and the ceiling." She raised her head and stared sightlessly at the grass poking, dark and wet, through the new snow in Jack's backyard, her voice distant. "And it was, I don't know, gleaming, golden. And Teal'c's fingers on the glass were so dark and. . . capable. . . and. . . deft. So Teal'c. Like all of him was concentrated there in his hands somehow and I could feel in my chest--" She plucked at the front of her sweater again. "--so full, like I was going to break open and--" Stopping suddenly, she looked at him, her eyes pinning him for a second and then slipping away, back to the grass and the snow. "I told you it was stupid."
"I don't think it's stupid." He leaned into her line of vision. "And you felt like you were going to break open and. . . what?"
"And there would be only light. I'd be only light." Her eyes closed wearily, like it was too hard to fight for the words that would make sense to him. "It's like that all the time now. Ever since Gissa. . . . It's like the fabric between me and the world, it's so thin." Pulling her hand from his, she spread her hands a little, as though she were stretching silk between them, feeling its coolness and texture. "Transparent. I feel everything. Everything, you, all of you. It's like you're all lit up from the inside, glowing. I feel like. . . ." Meeting his eyes, her own were wide, the words tumbling out of her on a rush of breath. "God, Daniel, you're all so beautiful."
Voices erupted from the kitchen, Janet and Cassie. There was a whooping and a squeal and Daniel watched Jack swing Cassie around once in a bear hug
Laughing ruefully, Sam shook her head again, embarrassed. "It doesn't matter, anyway," she said after a long pause. "It's going away."
"Is that why you're upset? Because it's going?"
"You want to get rid of it."
"I want to understand it."
He let his mouth turn up in a wry grin. "You want to control it. That's not the same thing."
Her own faint smile acknowledged the truth of that, but reluctantly. "I'm such an idiot. I want it to go away, and now that it is, I feel sad. That's just perverse."
Daniel shrugged, watching Janet moving around in the kitchen, loading up plates for herself and Cassie. "People are perverse. In fact more people are perverse than aren't, I think. It's more perverse not to be perverse than to be perverse."
"If you say 'perverse' again, I'm going to smack you."
He zipped his lips, but his eyes said it anyway so she smacked him. Then she wound her fingers into the sleeve of his sweater, asking for something.
"I think Gissa gave you a gift," he offered. "If it's not forever, then you should probably enjoy it while it lasts."
Instead of answering, she let his arm go and reached up to touch his face, her fingers feather light on his cheek, his lashes--he didn't blink--her face partly in shadow but her eyes bright as she studied him, and he knew she was seeing something in the world that he couldn't see and for a moment he was envious. But then, Cassie laughed again from the kitchen, and Jack's chuckle followed and he thought maybe he could see what she saw, at least the afterglow, the reflected light. When her touch trailed down his cheek to his lips, he caught her hand and gently kissed her fingertips.
Then Jack was there, holding Daniel's coat in one hand, Sam's in the other. Daniel shrugged into his jacket while Jack draped Sam's around her, his hands squeezing her shoulders briefly, saying everything. Then Janet's hands were on either side of Daniel's face and she was planting an exuberant kiss in the middle of his forehead. She smelled of nutmeg and rum and this lingered like warmth on Daniel's skin when she moved away to kiss Sam on the top of her head, whispering, "Merry Christmas" into her hair.
She went en pointe to reach Teal'c's cheek, but even so, he had to bend down so she could kiss him, too. Then she made way with a little shuffling dance so that he could give Sam and Daniel their plates, each one filled with a broad wedge of pumpkin pie and, instead of ice cream, a generous helping of sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping. He accepted their thanks with a gracious nod of his head and straightened to look out over the fence at the city, the red checked scarf knotted around his neck looking jaunty and oddly not at all incongruous.
"Oh, c'mon guys! You're crazy! It's freezing out here," Cassie complained, hovering in the doorway. Her face was bright and scrubbed, but the ghost of her stage make-up made her look older than she was. Still, hunched up, bouncing a little in the cold, wrapped in her parka with the hood up, her feet slightly pigeon toed in her tall, high-heeled boots, she was still a kid. Maybe forever, Daniel thought, in his mind, anyway.
By way of an answer, Jack skimmed the froth of snow from a bench and slumped down on it, extending his arm and wiggling his fingers at Cassie until she came and sat next to him. His plate balanced precariously on his knee, he ate awkwardly with one hand, the other arm wrapped tightly around her.
Fixing Daniel with a skeptical look, Sam loaded her fork with pumpkin filling and sweet potatoes and took a tentative bite. Her eyebrows rose in surprised approval. "Y'know, this is not half bad."
When she looked up at him again, her eyes were still too dark, but in the light from the kitchen window, the snowflakes on her lashes were golden, and she was smiling.
Notes: This story is for Martha 'cause she knows how to write light, and that's very cool.
Feedback welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.