Lights in the Darkness
AN: Another quick jump forward for this chapter, as we go straight to Sam and Spike's meeting with alt-Mitchell, which includes another significant alternate to someone we've seen before...
As she and Spike looked at the sullen figure of the man that this world's Cameron Mitchell had become, in a dimly-lit apartment with furniture that would have been barely acceptable to a student and certainly not what one would expect a former air force major to possess, in a neighbourhood that had seen better days even before the government had started clamping down on personal freedoms- why in the world was nobody allowed to park
in this area?-, Sam felt the crushing weight of her sheer inadequacy to make any genuine difference in the face of what this world had become.
She wanted to believe that the people she had met here still had the potential to be the people she knew back in her world- the General Hammond who never compromised when faced with moral dilemmas, the Rodney McKay who would risk his life for others even if he'd complain about having to take those risks, the Hank Landry who recognised that his staff needed freedom and the ability to defy orders if they were going to get their jobs done rather than just doing whatever he told them to do-, but the more she experienced of this world, the more she recognised the near-impossibility of that assumption.
The government's decision to acquire their world's version of Merlin's device made sense, and she wouldn't deny them access to her equations and notes about how the device worked- even if she didn't feel entirely comfortable in this world, she was hardly going to leave innocent people defenceless-, but when they took her
version of the device away so that they could be sure she'd remain in their world because of the 'political value' offered by her role as Earth's saviour to convince the general population to accept the subversion of democracy and maintain Landry's current near-dictator status, to say nothing of their implied threat to blackmail McKay by making him the target of an anti-Trust investigation just so that they could be sure he wouldn't help her get home...
Sam was just grateful that so far nobody seemed to know about Spike's true nature yet; she didn't know why Buffy wouldn't have told anyone about it given her obviously negative opinion of this world's Spike- her best guess was that she had enough political collateral at the moment to make Buffy unwilling to threaten her personal bodyguard without direct evidence that Spike had done something wrong-, but she wasn't exactly going to try to find out the answers to that question and draw more attention to her friend than she already had. They might have some trouble coping with the politics of this new world, but at least with Spike's reputation as her 'private bodyguard' already established, nobody was going to try and separate them so long as they at least appeared to be 'towing the line'...
"How d'ya take it?" Mitchell asked- it was easier to think of this version of Mitchell as an alternative from the man they knew; Landry and Hammond still looked like they could be the ones she knew, but this man was clearly not his counterpart, sitting in a wheelchair with unkempt hair and a defeated slouch, along with distinctly grungy clothes-, looking grimly at the two visitors as though it was an effort just to appear interested.
"Uh, just black," Sam said, trying to relax in the dilapidated apartment even as she kept her coat on, maintaining a subtle 'barrier' between her and their current environment that she couldn't quite shake; the thought of Mitchell being reduced to this...
"Don't drink coffee myself," Spike said, nodding awkwardly at the other man; Sam had experience with meeting other versions of herself and her teammates, but this was still a new experience for Spike, watching alt-Mitchell pouring the drinks and wheeling the cups over to her, the contrast between him and his other self so blatant…
"Thanks," Sam said, taking the offered drink, the warmth giving her something else to focus on in a chaotic world.
"Welcome," Mitchell said briefly, his voice more gravelly than the Mitchell they knew as he wheeled around his apartment; for a moment, his hand hovered over a whiskey bottle on a nearby shelf above the small television, but he seemed to decide against it as he turned back to look at them without picking it up, his own cup of coffee on a tray at the front of his wheelchair. "I was an F-302 pilot. Got shot down over Antarctica."
"Yeah, I know," Sam said, uncomfortably biting her lip. "I'm sorry."
"Well, a little late in the day for that, isn't it?" Mitchell said, sipping at his coffee as he looked at her. "I mean, I already gave my legs for the freedoms we now enjoy. It's a helluva deal, ain't it?"
Neither Sam or Spike had any idea what the appropriate reaction to a statement like that should be, and didn't bother trying to reply to it.
"Of course, I recognise you," Mitchell continued, looking at Sam with an overly grim tone. "Your picture's been in the paper a lot lately. Is that why you're here?"
"Why we're here is... complicated," Sam said at last, looking over at Spike for a moment before she looked back at Mitchell. "We just... well, I know what you did in the Antarctica battle, and... if I didn't say it before... I'm sorry."
"Well, them's the breaks, isn't it?" Mitchell said, shrugging slightly. "You want to see something funny?"
Reaching behind him, Mitchell picked up a framed picture from a nearby shelf- the picture in question had been lying on top of a small pile of books, so that from the side it could have just been another book-, and rolled over to the two visitors. Taking it from him, Sam held it so that Spike could see it, and the two of them saw Mitchell, wearing dress blues and supported by crutches, standing alongside President Landry behind the Presidential podium.
"That's me," Mitchell said. "That's when I was you. Hero of the moment, poster child for the administration..."
"You were walking?" Spike asked, looking at Mitchell's photograph in surprise before Sam could stop him.
"Yeah, well... had a little 'setback' in my therapy," Mitchell said, his voice darker than usual at that grim admission, reinforcing Sam and Spike's conclusions that the setback was a deliberate problem. "After Antarctica, they flew me to Washington. Pinned a medal on my chest. Next thing I knew, I was being trotted out to state dinners, political rallies. I think…yeah, I think I even opened a few malls. Mr. President said 'it would be good for morale, son. Help soften the blow for keeping the Stargate secret for so long'..."
"Bollocks," Spike practically spat at Mitchell's words.
He might like the version of Landry he knew in his world well enough, but so far this version of the general had done little to impress Spike that he could be trusted with anything other than maintaining his own position and screwing over or blackmailing people who might threaten that position.
"That was my reaction in the end," Mitchell said, looking reflectively at the vampire before he slumped forward even further in his chair, his expression a dark glare that Sam couldn't ever recall seeing on 'her' Mitchell's face. "I called them on it, and they dropped me... like a rock. No more fancy dinners, no more 'expensive doctors'..."
He seemed to collect himself as he spoke, looking around his apartment with a morbid smile that showed he was simply trying to cope with a crap situation. "Still, these days, walking's overrated. I've found a couple of inexpensive therapists to get through the worse parts of this, what I've got gets the job done, I've still got a friend or two, and I don't have to deal with curfews or military checkpoints or being 'detained'... without charge."
Sam seemed to be about to say something- although she didn't know what would be remotely appropriate to say in this situation- when the door to the apartment opened and young woman walked in, dressed in a loose-sleeved dark top and a long skirt.
"Hi, Cameron," she said as she closed the door behind her, her back to the room as she spoke at first. "I had a gap in my schedule, and given the progress we were making-"
The woman's voice halted as she turned around and took in the two guests in the apartment, her eyes widening as she stared at Spike.
?" she said incredulously.
!" Spike said, grinning as he turned to look at the new arrival, only for the grin to falter when the blonde woman pulled out a crucifix and brandished it in front of her. "Oh yeah, I was still a berk when I died here..."
"What?" Mitchell said, looking at the recent developments in confusion. "Uh... Tara?"
"Tara?" Sam said, her eyes widening in understanding as she looked at the woman, memories of what Spike had told her about his old friends flashing through her mind. "You're Tara Maclay?"
"Y-yes..." Tara said, looking back at Sam in confusion. "You... you're Major Samantha Carter?"
"Well... sort of," Sam said, smiling slightly at Spike after exchanging a glance with the vampire; they might have decided to keep the truth secret from everyone else outside of the SGC staff who'd witnessed her and Spike's arrival, but considering the circumstances under which this Tara had probably last seen Spike's counterpart, it wouldn't really accomplish anything for them to try and lie about how Spike was still alive. "Actually... I'm Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter... but I'm not
the Samantha Carter of this world."
"Huh?" Mitchell said, looking at her in surprise, a suddenly greater interest in his expression than the general listlessness he'd shown so far. "You mean... is it like that 'quantum mirror' thing I've heard about?"
"That thing that let people go to other realities?" Spike said, looking at Mitchell with a slight smile (Good thing he'd spent some time going over the reports now that he'd gotten his body back; even if he had to be careful to stick to what had happened before realities had diverged if what he learned was going to be useful later, there was something undeniably satisfying about being able to turn the pages himself now). "It's sort of like that, but a bit more accidental; long story short, Sam here was experimenting with some stuff back in our world, the Major Carter here was doing something in this world, and the two experiments together crossed a few wires and... well, me and Sam ended up here instead of being left back home."
A quick glance at Sam confirmed that his decision to avoid discussing the other Sam's fate was correct; this situation was going to be difficult enough without them worrying about convincing people that they hadn't done anything to her on purpose, especially given that this Tara's only experience with him was whatever his other self might have done before Buffy staked him here...
"A world where y-you
were in the Stargate program?" Tara said, looking incredulously at the vampire (Sam supposed she should almost be grateful that the Stargate program was public in this world; at least it looked like Tara was willing to accept the idea that this Spike wasn't the Spike Buffy had killed).
"OK, firstly, in my defence, I'd like to assure you that I went and got a soul since our worlds broke off from each other, so I'm not the guy you knew where it really counts- and don't ask me to get into that story right now, it's ridiculously
long," Spike said, looking urgently at Glinda; the last thing he wanted was to reveal what he was in front of a Mitchell who clearly already had enough shit to deal with. "Secondly, in their
defence, I actually just ended up there after someone else sent me to them in the mail- my essence was trapped in this whacky amulet thing that someone sent to them rather than it being anything I'd done or asked them to do myself-, and thirdly... well, long story short, my time there's been very complicated in ways I'd rather not go into right now."
"R-right..." Tara said, the familiar slight stutter in her voice as she looked uncertainly at Spike.
Of course, Spike couldn't exactly blame her for being anxious; they'd never really bonded before everything changed, given her relationship with Red being her main focus-
"Hold on a minute..." Spike said, his eyes widening as a memory of something he'd heard and only briefly registered came to him; it was mostly a guess, but considering how low the odds were against this meeting happening in the first place it couldn't hurt to ask. "Does Red work for Rodney McKay's company?"
"Willow?" Tara said, nodding in confirmation at Spike. "Well, yeah... w-why do you ask?"
"Just something he mentioned recently; we're lookin' into ways to get back home and- hold on a mo..." Spike said, snapping his fingers as he looked at Tara with an ever-broadening grin. "Red did a world-switching thing once; couldn't she-?"
"Th-that was a long time ago, Spike," Tara said, looking apologetically at the vampire before he could finish his sentence (He wondered if she'd done that 'aura-checking' thing she was meant to be able to do to 'see the truth' about him or something like that). "A-add in the fact that the spell she used to d-do that switch was dark magic from the beginning, then there's the f-fact that you didn't come here by magic and s-sending you back with it might be more difficult... and that's just what I can think of right now…"
"She's right," Sam said, nodding in understanding at Tara before she looked back at Spike. "I admit that I don't know much about magic, but considering that cross-universal travel is complicated even when we know what caused us to come here in the first place, it's not something we should try and tackle with magic; for all we know there could be all kind of laws of physics about cross-dimensional travel that we'd be breaking that way..."
"Like that stuff about the Fenyman curves in Deep Space Nine
?" Mitchell asked.
"Huh?" Spike said, looking at the crippled major in confusion.
"Not much else to do now but catch up on my reading," Mitchell explained nonchalantly, his grim expression the only thing showing how hard he took the topic he was talking about. "One thing I read recently was this Deep Space Nine
anniversary trilogy- published to celebrate the ten years since the show started, you know- where the crew time-travelled twenty-five years into the future due to this whole thing involving travelling around a wormhole in a slingshot manoeuvre, and the book made this whole big deal about the fact that the crew had to duplicate the thing that brought them to that time in order to go back where they came from, and any attempts to go back by other methods would just shoot them off out of the known universe or something like that..."
"That's... actually, that sounds like it could make sense," Sam said, smiling slightly at Mitchell's contribution before her smile faltered. "I'm... I'm sorry we can't-"
"Just tell me this," Mitchell said, looking firmly at her. "Where you're from... what am I like?"
"A lot better off than you are here," Spike said simply, before he looked thoughtfully at the former major for a moment before continuing his sentence. "And... a good mate."
"Good to know," Mitchell said, shrugging slightly as he looked over at the vampire with a smile, a faint glow of satisfaction in his eyes at Spike's additional comment. "When the multiverse means you can do anything, it's good to know that some yous get a better deal than you did."
Sam had to admit, that was actually an interesting philosophical perspective on the issue of alternate universes that she'd never considered before now.
Then again, maybe it was because the only alternatives she'd encountered before now always seemed to be worse off than she was; the Doctor Samantha Carter that Daniel had met in his first encounter with the quantum mirror had been killed, the second one had lost her husband and nearly lost her world, and even those other selves she'd encountered during that black hole mess had mostly been in the same position as her with just a few minor variations in their lives (There was that one who'd been off on maternity leave, but that wasn't enough information to confirm whether her counterpart in that world was better or worse off than she was, given the lack of information about her husband or the child's father, whichever applied)...
"Well... it was worth asking about, anyway," she said, smiling at Tara as she held out a hand to the younger woman. "Thanks for thinking about it, anyway."
"Y-you're we-welcome," Tara said, smiling uncertainly back at the other woman. "I'll... I'll mention you to Willow; maybe she'll t-think of something I haven't..."
"Every little helps," Spike said, smiling gratefully back at the witch, before he reached into his pocket and pulled out a card that he casually tossed to her. "Just call the number if you think of something; I picked up the phone just in case, but Sam's the only one with the number so far."
"Sure," Tara said, smiling uncertainly at Spike. "I'll... keep that in mind."
Sam wouldn't say that she had a great deal of faith in the idea of Tara and... Willow, if she recalled Spike's stories correctly; he didn't share much about his past because he found it uncomfortable talking about what he'd been like before he got his soul... being able to get them back through magic, given her limited understanding of it, but everything they could do to try and get back home was at least worth an attempt, as far as she was concerned.
The only question was starting to be if they'd survive this world long enough to even get