Pairing: Sam & Vala friendship
Prompt: Gift shopping, on or off Earth, with or without gunfire, bonding, and cultural misunderstandings.
General Likes: Some indication of what the characters are thinking or feeling, and not just what they're doing; action, romance, friendship, humor, mystery, angst, outsider perspectives...I'm pretty easy on genre
General Dislikes: Character bashing, non-con/dub-con, mpreg, humiliation, betrayal, severe whump, professional incompetence, characters acting like 14-year-olds
Word count: 2437
Author's Notes: For Sg1Jubilee; It's shopping of a sort, but Vala style, with Sam providing the anchor to sanity, and yeah, I had to throw the guys in there, too. Thanks to sg1fignewton for the very fast beta on a rather late story.
"Are you sure? Seems a little…worse for wear, isn't that the phrase?"
Eyebrows lifting, Vala glanced over at Samantha. The place was a dump, hardly fit for trade, let alone living--the backwash of a backwater world so poor they'd sell anything. And everything. Cold, dank rooms had had the gold stripped from the walls, and most everything else been taken or sold off. They did have miles of mud between here and the 'gate, but there wasn't even enough civilization to interest the Ori. At least, not yet. Still, there'd been guards at the entrance to the one structure of any note--meaning valuables inside. They'd been searched for weapons, too, and that had been almost thorough enough to be embarrassing. At least, Vala thought she might have been embarrassed if she actually still could be embarrassed.
Samantha didn't seem all that put out--impatient, yes, but then she often got a bit too efficient about this sort of thing. Bargains should be savored when found, and Vala could scent one in the making.
A few other things also perfumed the stale air of what looked as if had been a temple once, or perhaps a minor Goa'uld fortress now turned into something more like a fortified market. Incense was the best of the smells, almost overlaying the more earthy aromas of humanity confined in too small a space, and Vala concentrated on the spice in the smoky air as she stared at Samantha, willing her to get with the spirit of things.
What she got back was a frown and folded arms, and Samantha had that look in her eyes now that meant it was a good thing they'd had to check their guns at the door. She pulled a face at Samantha for a reply since her back was to Urshambi and they were supposed to be on a shopping spree.
"Besides, I thought you wanted a matching set?" Vala said, giving Samantha what she hoped was a very firm stare and putting enough stress in there to remind the woman that this whole thing had been her idea. Well--sort of.
Samantha stared back, and really she was adorable with the wide eyes and scrunched forehead and her mouth open with sudden startled surprise--but it wasn't doing their cover much good. Vala had almost decided a sharp kick might be needed--their robes would cover it--when Samantha managed to blink and stutter out, "Uh, set? Oh, yes…a set. Matching."
With a nod, Vala put her expectation onto Urshambi again. The man had been reluctant to bring out any goods--it'd taken her the better part of an hour to get him to activate hidden rings to show off a little of what he'd collected. And Vala could feel her own patience starting to thin into a twitching trigger finger. So she reached down to her boots, and pulled out the sliver of naquadah she'd been keeping stashed in a small hole she'd made between the lining and the outer leather. Just in case. A girl could never be too careful, after all. Seemed it was still a useful habit to hoard bits of things here, and other bits there.
She flipped the dull gray metal into the air--it was no bigger than her thumb, about half as thick. Urshambi snatched it with one hand. He glanced at it, then dragged the merchandise aside, and Vala could swear that was almost a growl from Samantha, so she bumped her elbow into lean ribs and kept smiling. One of Urshambi's thin hands vanished up the sleeve of his robes, and the rings activated a second time.
Vala swapped a long look with Samantha, and the message came back very clear with narrowed eyes and a nod. Samantha was still up for this, wasn't like to ruin anything--not until they were both ready to ruin everything. She linked her arm with Samantha's and gave the new goods the once-over with a connoisseur's discrimination. "Well, what do you think, darling?"
The linked arms meant she could stop any rash move--Samantha might be a sensible woman, but there were times when Vala thought that shopping often brought out her most competitive side. No different than picking out fancy underthings from that secret place, she thought, willing that image into Samantha's head. Shopping, shopping, shopping--just seasonal shopping for pleasure, darling.
But the muscles under her hand tensed and jumped. Vala hung on, and that was a good thing, too, since it made it impossible for Vala to go for her hidden weapon the way that she wanted to now. There were days when she really missed the old ways of shoot, grab and run. Of course, there were days when it was still shoot and run, but it might be best if this was not one of them.
Tipping her head, she glanced at the now lined-up goods for sale. Urshambi was prodding and pushing them into place, and you'd think the man would have more care with his merchandise. Or maybe he was just getting tired of having to keep knocking them into shape. And the ancient echo of Quetesh's amusement, foul as a rotting corpse, drifted through her. Vala encouraged it, used it, since that Goa'uld, while long gone from her head, still owed her far too much--and it could be used.
"Not quite entirely the same, are they? I mean, if you squint, I suppose they could make reasonable bookends. But maybe they'll clean up better? And if this is what you want…"
She let the words trail off, put herself in front of Samantha so that the other woman had to focus on her, not on anything else. And she could only hope that Samantha's smile when it came, wide and bright, did not really look all that brittle. Or quite that dangerous.
When she turned around again, Vala had her own wide smile back in place, knew it to be a match for Urshambi's obsequious smirk.
"But don't you have something--a little less…" she waved a hand, searched for better words, and then just went for the truth, "…beat up."
Behind her, Samantha's voice lifted, and her robes rustled as she moved closer. "Vala, they're still in working condition, and this is what we've been looking for."
Samantha stressed her words, added another frown, and Vala clenched her back teeth, because she knew that pushing need driving Samantha--it had her pulse fast and unsteady, too. But, heavens above, did these Tau'ri know nothing about bargaining? About not giving away how much they would pay to get this deal done and get out of here?
Pushing in front of Samantha again, because Urshambi's grin had moved to smug, she said, gritting the words out between her teeth, "Darling, are you sure? I know it's your present…."
With a tone dripping disapproval, she left the implicating hanging that she didn't think it was much of one. Turning to Urshambi, she offered a shrug to say what she really thought. Then added, "Our first solstice together, you know how those mid-winter festivals always are…too much of everything--relatives, memories, fortunes spent. But I promised something special, not…." She broke off, glanced at the merchandise, waved at it, allowed the gesture to say everything dismissive.
She could feel Samantha's stare flame hot between her shoulder blades, but Urshambi pressed his palms together, tried to make his thin face into broken-hearted failure at such a lack of pleasure given by his goods. If the man had a heart, however, Vala was willing to bet he kept it in a back room in a stasis pod.
"Ah, the twelve days of Zagmuk!" he said. "Of course. I should have guessed. Festival and pleasure--you're smart to shop early."
"Well, actually," with a glance over her shoulder, Vala stepped closer, almost wished she hadn't as the pungent garlic off the skinny, balding man half-choked her. She dropped her voice to confiding. "It's the festival of Sanclaws back home. Very powerful god. Very old."
Frowning, Urshambi glanced to Samantha, seeming to look for confirmation, so Vala glanced as well, risked a small, encouraging gesture with waggling fingers, and Samantha, tone dry, lips thinning, at least nodded, then said, "Oh, very powerful. Very old." Fine eyebrows arching high, she gave Vala yet another stare. But Vala was just getting started.
She turned back to Urshambi, centered her focus on the incense and the lies--and the joy of doing this little man out of some very ill-gotten gains. "In fact, on the night when Sanclaws travels, searching for those who have done right by his lists, if you do not gift him well, he sends you to his mines. To dig with your bare hands for…coal."
Urshambi blinked, glanced from Vala to Samantha, rubbed one palm down the front of his robes. "Coal?"
Vala waved the question aside. "It's like naquadah, only dirtier, but never mind that. The point is we're not just here for festival gifts for each other. We're in need of something rather special. Honestly, to risk the wrath of Sanclaws is to risk…." Breaking off, she looked to Samantha for inspiration.
"Death by reindeer--horned ones."
Vala blinked now, and Samantha gave her the fraction of a shrug. But Vala had a man on the hook, so she turned to Urshambi again. "Horrible horns. You don't want to know the details. But you see why I need not just something for us, but…well, something extraordinary. Something of more value than our own lives. Something that the terrible Sanclaws would…"
"Lady…" Urshambi held up a hand. A naquadah ring glinted on his thumb in the flickering light from a dozen torches. "Say no more. I have just such a prize--though it will not come without cost."
"And what doesn't in this life?" Vala said, offering bare palms lifted to go with the words.
He moved fast, pushed the other merchandise from the rings, then activating them again. Vala moved to stand next to Samantha, and she saw the pulse beating in the other woman's jaw, the eager glint now in those bright, bright eyes.
"Not yet," Vala muttered from the corner of her mouth. "Think about the no return policy…."
"Oh, we're enforcing that one," Samantha said, her tone harsh enough that Vala looked at her again, and made a mental note that the next time they were looking for goods in more hospitable surroundings, she would not get between Samantha and what she wanted.
And then they had Teal'c in front of them, bound and wrapped, and in chains, and even more bruised and battered than the other two had been.
With a nasty grin, Urshambi held out his hands. "Behold, once First Prime to Apophis, the betrayer of gods, the shol'va who is hunted yet by the System Lords who remain!"
Samantha brought up her zat first, and Vala was not going to ask where she'd smuggled it, but she knew where she'd stashed her own. A fake pregnancy was an old ploy, but still effective. She dumped the padding, and took out the guards at the door. She heard the charge and discharge of a zat behind her, and Urshambi's strangled cry. And within a few minutes, not even bodies were left. They'd agreed to that after the initial recon--no choice here, really. They needed a clean escape. And from the condition of their teammates--not even six hours missing--no one would be missing Urshambi and his establishment.
Samantha moved to release Teal'c, but Vala stepped up, put her hand over Samantha's.
"Darling, leave the gift wrap on--if we come out of here without their tags all right and tight, you know it's going to set off alarms." She was right, and she saw the reluctant knowledge mirrored in Samantha's eyes.
The boys had had their vests and jackets stripped off them, and their boots, and socks. The chains on wrists and ankles looked rusted and old--a strong knock with a stone should shatter the locks, but that would have to wait. Each of them had been wrapped in something like a jacket with the arms tied behind them--meaning, Vala decided, they weren't the only ones who'd acquired bruises in that ambush. They were gagged, as well--which, in Daniel's case, was probably a blessing. Vala knew from that sharp look in his eyes that they were going to hear more than his opinion of this place. And then he'd be off about their idea of a rescue, and the history of everything would come into it, and once he had his words back, he'd be offering his thoughts on her abduction and abuse of the Tau'ri winter solstice myths. She was rather looking forward to that, but she'd never admit it. She just wanted them all home.
"You take Muscles. I'll handle these two." Picking up a Goa'uld pain stick that had been in Urshambi hands, and which did not look rusted or unused, she twirled it, had it fit as if it belonged. It once had. A muffled strangled noise came from Cameron, and Vala looked at him, and then toward Daniel, whose eyes had gone big and wary above the straps that bound his mouth.
And then Samantha asked, in that tone that generally stopped any purchase of what seemed like a bargain at the time, but would be regretted an hour later, "Uh, Vala?"
"Just for show. Really." She glanced at Daniel, smiled at Cameron, winked at Teal'c, then poked Samantha in the arm with one finger. "Now shall we go before the festival rush makes this place unbearable?"
They fell into step, the guys ahead of them, suitably sullen as any walking purchase should be, and Samantha leaned over, flashed an edged smile that only had a little of the strain of the last six hours in it. "Best shopping trip ever?"
Vala smiled back, dropped her voice, so it wouldn't be heard over their boots and the slap of bare feet on stone and the clank of those soon to be gotten rid of chains. "And a very happy Festival of Zagmuk to us all. Well, almost all. At least to the deserving. But I do have just one question."
"Only one?" Samantha asked.
"Well, technically, we didn't buy them. But we did steal them." She gestured to the three men in front of them. "Does that make them ours?"
Samantha's lips twitched, and while she didn't smile back, everything showing in her eyes was answer enough.