"Ah, life in the fast lane," a very pleased Colonel Jack O'Neill remarked, leaning back against the warm, sunbaked temple wall. Contentedly sipping from a bottle of good ol' made-in-the-U.S.A. water, Jack watched as the members of his team efficiently went about their work. To the casual observer, it appeared that Jack was relaxing, taking advantage of the mild spring day on the peaceful world. His eyes, shielded from the sun by the brim of his cap, proved that image wrong. The colonel was continuously scanning the temple ruins, looking for signs of trouble.
Jack didn't expect to find any trouble, however. This planet, dubbed P4G947 by the stellar cartography team, was completely uninhabited. No wildlife, no plants, no people. Not even a pesky bug to distract him from what was turning out to be a gorgeous day.
SG-1's team leader had jumped at the chance for an easy assignment. A purely exploratory mission gave Daniel a chance to shine -- he was truly happy only when immersed to the eyeballs in a tough translation project. It also allowed the rest of the team to have a little down time to relax and recharge their mental and physical batteries. Yes sir, scoring an easy mission was one of the best decisions he had ever made.
Smiling contentedly, Jack let his eyes wander over the only signs that this planet had once been populated. The former inhabitants left behind an extensive system of ruins, including the huge sandstone temple that Daniel was so enamored with. The archaeologist decreed the building was an exact replica of -- or perhaps the original model for -- the temple at Philae dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis. Daniel had already taken up residence inside the great hall, busily translating the history recorded on the walls of the temple.
As Jack kept watch, Sam Carter sauntered around the ancient village site, collecting samples and doing a follow-up on SG-3's work as she made her way through the deserted streets.
Not far behind Carter, Teal'c prowled the ancient ruins, his stoic expression never changing as he scouted the temple for signs that his Goa'uld former masters had visited recently.
As he watched the members of his team go about their work, Jack was filled with a sense of pride. These people, his team, were the finest people he had ever had the privilege to serve with, though he would never admit to having those feelings, even under torture. Showing emotions was something he worked hard at not doing; the tough military life he chose made expressing them a luxury he could not afford. Instead, he let his easy, teasing manner substitute for open displays of affection. And so far, the team was running like a well oiled machine.
Jack allowed himself another contented smile; in his little corner of the galaxy, life was good.
A few hours later, Daniel knelt on the uneven temple stones, so absorbed in his study of the ancient hieroglyphs that he didn't notice the passage of time. A pair of uniform-clad legs stepped into his line of sight and blocked his view of a particularly interesting line of glyphs. With a slight frown of annoyance crossing his face at the interruption, Daniel's eyes followed the khaki pant legs up, way up, and discovered the smiling face of Captain Samantha Carter. Brows crinkling in a puzzlement, he questioned curiously, "Sam?"
"It's lunchtime, Daniel. I've been calling you for ten minutes," she grinned.
"Oh, sorry," the archaeologist sighed, pushing his glasses back on his nose. "I... uh... I guess I was caught up in my work." Glancing upwards, he was surprised to see the sun had indeed traveled halfway across the light mauve sky.
"Talk about a one track mind," O'Neill teased as he came to stand beside Carter. "Rampaging Goa'ulds wouldn't have been able to drag your attention away from what you were reading."
Daniel smiled sheepishly at the colonel's remark but didn't comment. Instead, he climbed to his feet, dusting off his knees with a couple swats of his hand. Grateful for the rest break, Daniel followed Jack and Sam back to the small camp. He accepted the rations from Teal'c with an appreciative smile, finding a comfy spot to stretch out. It felt good to rest for a moment. Sprawled on the plaza steps, enjoying the feel of the warm sun on his face, Daniel felt his cramped muscles slowly start to relax.
Joining his teammates, Jack studied Teal'c's latest lunch concoction: a just-add-hot-water casserole. He poked experimentally at the drab, brownish-grey food with his fork. "So, find anything interesting?" Jack questioned his team, taking a tentative bite of his lunch.
"The Goa'uld have not been here in some time," Teal'c stated matter-of-factly.
"I found some ore that looks like Naquadah. I don't think SG-3 discovered it during their surveillance of this planet," Carter piped up.
"Where was the ore?" Jack questioned, his interest piqued. Locating a raw supply of the gate element would make the higher-ups happy.
As Sam launched into an enthusiastic explanation of her findings, Daniel listened to his teammates' conversation with only half an ear. His mind was preoccupied with the daunting task of translating the hieroglyphs. As he ate, his gaze was drawn back to the temple wall, skimming along the seemingly random patterns of symbols. After a few moments, the lure of the ancient writings got to be too much to resist, and Daniel rose again, crossing the plaza to seat himself before the wall once more. Carter and O'Neill exchanged amused glances as the archaeologist continued reading the tale where he left off.
"He must be on to something," Carter said with a grin.
O'Neill rolled his eyes. "These scientific types. "
"Oh, come on, Colonel. What would you have to complain about if you didn't have us 'scientific types' around?" Sam retorted. As Jack opened his mouth to reply, Sam playfully interrupted, "Never mind. I'm sure you could come up with something."
As silently as a cat, O'Neill mounted the stone steps and walked into the temple. Eyes quickly adjusting to the dim light, Jack spotted his friend kneeling in a corner and moved toward him. As always, Daniel was oblivious to his approach, focused entirely on the work he was doing.
Stopping behind his friend, Jack noted the unfinished lunch carelessly set aside, forgotten in the archaeologist's quest for knowledge. He peered over Daniel's shoulder, his face wearing an amused grin as he listened to the quiet murmuring as the younger man read the glyphs out loud.
"Hey, Doc. How's it going?" O'Neill asked after a moment.
Daniel jumped, startled by the sudden query. He glared up at the team leader and pushed his glasses back on his nose. "I really hate it when you do that," he muttered.
"I know," Jack said with a cocky smile. He gestured to the wall in front of them. "Find anything interesting?"
His annoyance at his friend's prank quickly forgotten, the archaeologist warmed to his topic. "Yes. As a matter of fact, this is very interesting stuff."
"Whoa," Jack interrupted, waving his hands and fending off the avalanche of anthropological information he knew was about to start. "Just give me the Reader's Digest condensed version, all right?"
"Oh. Right," Daniel smiled sheepishly. He cleared his throat, gesturing at the wall before him. "In a nutshell, this record gives a detailed, chronological history of this planet's civilization, starting shortly after they were taken from Earth and brought through the Stargate to work in the mines."
"Did you find out what happened to them yet?"
Daniel shook his head. "No, not yet. I've covered two walls of the temple so far; I'm hoping that I'll find that part of their history on one of the other walls."
Jack nodded. "Well, keep at it. Carter figures we've got another four hours of daylight left. I'd like to leave tomorrow first thing if we get everything we need."
Once again crouched before the wall, shoulders and lower back cramped from the strain of his awkward position, Daniel traced a line of hieroglyphs with one finger. His light touch helped him to physically follow the story along as he read it. His eyes burned with weariness, but he couldn't quit, not while he only had a couple of hours left to translate the intricate symbols before him. Jack had given him a time limit to find the secrets of these people and their absence from this world. Daniel didn't intend to let something as insignificant as exhaustion make him let his team leader down.
On the ground before him was a spiral-bound notebook. His right hand poised to set pen to paper. As a the meaning of a line of text hit him, the archaeologist's eyes widened in surprise. His gaze tracked back to the beginning of the phrase, rereading the complicated glyphs to double-check his initial interpretation. With a gasp, Daniel abruptly sat on the worn stone floor, a look of absolute shock on his face.
"I don't believe it..." he murmured.
"What don't you believe?" Jack questioned suddenly.
Glancing over his shoulder at the colonel, Daniel asked, "Jack? How long have you been here?"
"Just long enough to hear you say that. What did you find? Reference to the Goa'ulds?"
The archaeologist nodded dumbly, unwilling, or perhaps unable, to share what he had learned. Jack was concerned by the haunted look on the younger man's face. He crouched down, peering into haunted blue eyes. "Daniel? What is it?"
The younger man swallowed hard, fighting to regain control of his emotions. "This world -- this is the sister planet to Abydos."
Jack looked puzzled, unsure of what the archaeologist was getting at. "I'm sorry, Daniel. I'm not following you here."
A brief flash of annoyance surged across Daniel's features. Jack was a bit taken aback by the uncharacteristic response.
Blowing his breath out in a gust, Daniel gathered his scattered thoughts about him as he sought the words to explain what he discovered. He climbed to his feet, whirling around to look intently at O'Neill. "When Ra took people from Earth those thousands of years ago, he placed half of them on Abydos and brought the other half here."
"So these are my people."
"Your people? I don't get it."
If the situation hadn't been so serious, the younger man would've laughed at Jack's befuddled appearance. Instead, a sigh of exasperation whispered from his lips as he considered the best way to express his thoughts. When Daniel's eyes finally met Jack's, they were dark, shadowed with grief. "This is really hard to explain. I -- I feel a connection with these people, Jack. After living so long on Abydos, getting to know the culture, the people -- after learning what happened here, I feel like a part of my family's been taken away. All because of a damn Naquadah mine."
Jack's expression softened as he listened to his friend's heartfelt observation. "So what happened to them?"
"Ra killed these people."
The explanation tumbled out in a hurried torrent as Daniel pointed to the corresponding parts of the story on the wall before them. "The only difference I can make out between the two worlds is that this one didn't have the restriction placed upon them about written history. Instead, they had, um, overlords, for lack of a better word, in place to keep them in line. The record says that one day, in a fit of rage because the mines were no longer producing as much Naquadah as the gods wanted, Ra came down from the skies and wiped out most of the population. With his powers he turned day into night, causing the forests and crops to die and the water to stagnate. The remaining people died of starvation."
Daniel paused for breath and pointed to the last line of glyphs, the final characters hastily carved but not painted. "The record ends abruptly here."
"Bummer," was all Jack could think of to say.
"Bummer?" Daniel frowned in irritation. Trust Jack O'Neill to make light of the death of an entire civilization.
"Look, Daniel, there's nothing we can do about the fact these people died," Jack pointed out, recognizing his flip comeback as the source of his friend's frown. "From the condition of the temple and surrounding village, I'd say it happened a long time before we got here. This place hasn't seen human habitation for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years."
"And that's supposed to make me feel better, right?" the archaeologist asked heatedly. "We're talking about the death of an entire civilization, Jack."
"I realize that. But it's ancient history."
Daniel abruptly pushed his glasses to the top of his head, absently rubbing tired, red-rimmed eyes with his fists. Jack couldn't help but stare at the startlingly childlike gesture. "Damn the Goa'ulds. There isn't one place in this galaxy they haven't corrupted or destroyed..." Daniel murmured in a weary voice.
"Come on, calm down. There's no point getting yourself all worked up about this. What good is that going to do?"
Glaring, Daniel retorted, "You're right. I'm overreacting."
"That's not what I meant, Daniel," Jack said. "Come on, it's time for supper. That's why I came over here in the first place. We know how hard it is to get your attention sometimes when you're absorbed in your work..."
Slipping his glasses back in place, Daniel nodded in agreement and silently fell in step with Jack. The colonel reached up and placed a soothing hand on the younger man's shoulder, squeezing firmly.
"You okay?" he asked as they approached the small camp.
Daniel nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay," he replied tiredly.
Jack turned a critical eye on his friend, one eyebrow lifting in question.
"I am," Daniel repeated. "I'm okay with this, Jack."
"Okay. Just checking."
Supper over and cleared away, the team gathered around the fire as the sky darkened above them, cycling through a pale mauve to a deep royal purple in a matter of minutes. Stars began to twinkle in the deep amethyst sky, and a small moon peeked above the horizon, beginning its nightly trek across the sky.
Jack, Carter and Teal'c made small talk, watching as the small fire danced and spat colourful sparks into the air, enjoying the chance to spend one more relaxing night on the planet.
One member of the team was not participating in the light conversation. Sitting slightly off to one side of the group, feeling decidedly anti-social, Daniel rummaged in his pack and pulled out a small leather-bound book, the latest expedition journal he was working on.
Jack silently observed as Daniel stared blankly off into space for a few moments, his brows drawn together in serious contemplation, mouth quirked into a grim line as he considered the day's events. Sighing deeply, looking as though he had the entire weight of the world resting on his shoulders, the archaeologist began to write, his pen tracking quickly across the lined pages as he put his troubled thoughts on paper. Writing in his field journals was a catharsis for Daniel. As he watched the younger man studiously work, Jack recalled that he had once asked the archaeologist why he wrote longhand in a book instead of putting his thoughts on a floppy disk when they got back to the base. It just seemed so old-fashioned, Jack had pointed out. The younger man had given him one of his patented 'Daniel' looks, his mouth open in puzzlement as he considered the question, and finally answered with a bright smile, "Because it is old-fashioned."
Across from Jack, Carter stretched mightily, reaching toward the sky to unkink muscles unused to so much idle time. "Well, I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to turn in," Sam announced around a yawn. "All this relaxation is making me tired."
"Good night, Captain," Jack said with a smile.
"Sweet dreams," Daniel murmured, glancing up as she rose from her spot beside the fire. Daniel berated himself for envying Sam's ability to sleep soundly, a talent he did not possess. He couldn't mask the sense of dread he felt at the mere thought of sleeping.
Carter was unaware of Daniel's troubled gaze as she made her way to the tent she and Teal'c shared when they weren't on watch. Jack, however, saw the look cloud the younger man's face. "What?" he asked quietly as she ducked inside the tent.
"Oh, nothing," Daniel replied evasively.
"Daniel..." Jack scolded, one eyebrow raised expectantly as he stared down the younger man.
It took a stronger person than Daniel to resist Jack's probing. "I - I was just wondering what it was like to get a good night's sleep." Not waiting to see Jack's response to the statement, Daniel ducked his head down and began studiously writing again, effectively declaring the conversation closed.
Some time later, Teal'c had retired to the tent to meditate and get some sleep. Jack was keeping first watch -- one of the privileges of rank -- but tonight, what normally was supposed to be a solitary duty was far from being solitary. Seated on the opposite side of the fire, Daniel was still writing in his journal, stubbornly refusing to give in to his tiredness despite being obviously fatigued.
Seeing Daniel yawn tiredly for the fifth time in as many minutes, Jack reached over and tapped the younger man on the shoulder. "Daniel, go to bed."
"But I'm not tired," Daniel protested around a huge yawn.
"Right. What was that you just did, the Grand Canyon tour? You've got watch in a few hours. You should try and get some rest."
"Why do we have to keep watch, anyway?" Daniel questioned petulantly. "There's nobody here but us."
"That's probably true," Jack admitted. "Keeping watch is one of those 'because I said so' things that happen from time to time in the military. Besides, you just never know who may show up through the Stargate."
Daniel shrugged his response, turning his attention back to the book in his lap.
Watching as the younger man tried unsuccessfully to stifle another yawn, Jack grinned, "Get to bed already. It's late."
Caught in the act, Daniel bit back a reply, knowing this was yet another argument he wasn't going to win. Sighing softly, he tucked his pen into his expedition journal, carefully closing the book. "All right."
"Good. Teal'c will wake you when it's your turn to keep watch."
"Good night, Jack," Daniel murmured, crossing the small campsite to the tent. He switched on his flashlight and ducked inside, closing the zipper behind him.
Daniel obediently went through the motions of getting ready for bed, but his heart wasn't in it. He knew from experience that his sleep would be haunted by dreams. When his emotions were running this close to the surface, there was no escaping the nightmares that inevitably came calling. Awake, he could hold his demons at bay. At night, alone in the darkness, he was trapped as his subconscious fell prey to the visions that relentlessly stalked him. Daniel changed into his night clothes and crawled into his sleeping bag. Propping the flashlight up by his head, he opened his journal, picked up his pen, and began to write once more.
When it was time to trade off watch duty, Jack quietly woke Teal'c, then headed off to bed. The colonel was a bit concerned by the dim light illuminating the tent. If Daniel was still awake, he was going to get a stern lecture. Ducking into the low nylon shelter, he was relieved to see his tentmate was asleep. Jack realized Daniel must've nodded off in the midst of writing in his journal. His flashlight, still propped up by his head, flickered weakly, the beam a dim, sickly yellow as the batteries drained of their energy.
As Jack observed his sleeping friend, he couldn't help but smile. The archaeologist presented a humourous picture, his mouth agape, glasses skewed slightly on his nose and hair mussed and obscuring his face from Jack's gaze. The open expedition journal lay across his chest like a protective shield.
With an affectionate sigh, Jack pulled the book and pen from Daniel's unresisting fingers, setting them on the tent floor between the two sleeping bags. Carefully easing the glasses from the archaeologist's face, Jack folded the arms and laid them on top of the journal, then retrieved Daniel's fading flashlight, switched it off and added it to the pile beside the bed.
Feeling suddenly paternal, Jack pulled the sleeping bag up and tucked it under Daniel's chin, allowing himself a fond smile as he did so.
"G'night, Danny," Jack murmured softly. "Have sweet dreams for once, okay?"
He quickly changed out of his uniform and into a clean tee-shirt and boxers, climbing into his sleeping bag. His eyes closed, and he was asleep within moments, oblivious to Daniel's first restless stirrings.
"I created your civilization, and now I will destroy it."
Daniel watched, his breath caught in his throat, as Ra slowly prowled across the chamber, somehow managing to school his face into a neutral expression as the sun god approached. The analytical part of his mind wondered if the god could sense his fear. His emotional side, however, was frightened beyond caring.
Daniel muttered under his breath, moving his head restlessly as the terrifying encounter with the ancient Egyptian god replayed in his dream with startling detail.
Caught and held by the alien's menacing gaze, Daniel could only watch helplessly as the child-god drew closer and closer, his eyes blazing with eerie light.
Slowly, Ra reached for the pendant nestled against the archaeologist's chest. Daniel glanced down, watching as the delicate fingers caressed the ancient trinket. Without warning Daniel's head was forced up as Ra's fingers bit into the sensitive flesh under his chin. The god's eyes bored into his, pinning Daniel in place like a specimen under a microscope.
"There can only be one Ra!" the god snarled, his eyes glowing eerily as he yanked Catherine's lucky pendant from Daniel's neck, snapping the delicate chain in his anger.
With a startled gasp, Daniel bolted from his restless sleep. He was shaking with fear, his heart pounding so loudly in his ears that he swore Jack could hear it. Breath coming fast and hard, soaked with sweat, Daniel glanced over at his tentmate, sighing in relief when he realized his nightmare hadn't disturbed the sleeping man.
The archaeologist quickly sat up and threw on his clothes, leaving the tent before his harsh breathing disturbed Jack. He definitely wasn't in the mood to put up with the colonel's semi-sarcastic comments about his sleep habits.
Stepping out into almost total darkness, Daniel shivered lightly as he left the tent, zipping his jacket against the chill of the night air. Across the clearing, Teal'c sat by the fire, silently keeping vigil against the non-existent dangers of this peaceful planet. Daniel could feel the Jaffa's gaze on him as the large man took his turn guarding the small camp.
"It is not yet time for your turn at watch," Teal'c observed as Daniel crossed over to the small fire.
"I know. I... uh... I couldn't sleep." Sitting across from the Jaffa, Daniel warmed his trembling hands near the fire. The flickering flames reflected off his glasses, hiding his eyes from Teal'c's probing gaze.
"Your dreams are troubling you again?"
Daniel bit his lip. Trust the Jaffa to cut right to the heart of the matter. "Yes."
"What you read today disturbed you." The flat inflection didn't hide Teal'c's concern for his friend.
"Yes, it did," Daniel admitted.
Teal'c studied the man before him, cocking his head to one side as he said, "My people believe dreams are portents of the future."
"Your people are very wise, Teal'c."
The Jaffa nodded, gazing at the man he had come to consider a friend. "What do your dreams show you?"
Daniel stared at the fire, mesmerized by the hypnotic dance of the flames. Teal'c remained silent, watching the emotions cross the archaeologist's face as he waited for the young man to speak again.
"My dreams... my dreams are visions of the past," the archaeologist finally whispered.
One perfect eyebrow arched in concern. "Events you have experienced?"
"Yes. Things that I have experienced," Daniel confirmed. When he spoke again his voice was full of pain. "Things that have changed me, made me into something I did not want to become." With a shake of his head, Daniel suddenly climbed to his feet. "I'm -- I'm going to go for a walk. I need to clear my head," he stammered in explanation.
The Jaffa watched as the younger man headed for the path to the viewpoint Jack had discovered earlier that afternoon. "Do not stray far, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c cautioned.
"I'll be careful," Daniel shot over his shoulder as he began his ascent up the rocky path.
Jack woke up to the sounds of conversation outside the tent. Even when speaking softly, Teal'c's low bass voice carried easily across the plaza. It was a jarring contrast to their unnaturally quiet surroundings. Straining to hear the words, Jack could make out the tone of concern in the Jaffa's words, and he sleepily wondered who the man was talking to.
The soft voices abruptly quieted. Jack rolled onto his side, peering through the darkness at the bed on the other side of the small tent. It took only a moment to register that the other sleeping bag was empty.
Jack glanced at his watch, squinting at the faintly glowing numbers. Oh two hundred hours? It wasn't time for the Jaffa's shift at watch to be over, so the archaeologist's absence from the tent meant Daniel was having trouble sleeping again.
"Damn." Jack sighed, sitting up. He switched on his flashlight, shining the beam on the other bed. His suspicions were confirmed when he saw Daniel's clothes and boots were missing.
"Great. This is just great," he muttered. Jack quickly got dressed, pulling on his jacket and hat, then opened the tent and stepped outside. His booted feet crunched across the gravel as he approached the Jaffa.
"Teal'c," the colonel replied. "Where's Daniel?"
"He said he could not sleep. He has gone for a walk."
"At this hour? Did you see where he went?"
Teal'c nodded. "He took the path that lead to your observation point."
"If we're not back in an hour, Teal'c, wake Carter and come after us," Jack instructed as he headed after the scientist.
Daniel sat by himself on the high ridge, far enough from the edge of the cliff to keep his fear of heights at bay, and looked down at the moonlit scenery below him. Truthfully, though, if someone had asked him what marvelous, alien landscape he saw before him he wouldn't have been able to answer. His eyes were wide and staring, but his sight had turned inward to his memories of his life on Abydos.
A dull, aching sense of longing had settled in his chest, the feeling making even the simple act of breathing a chore. His throat was constricted with tears that, for once, would not come. Daniel had thought he was finished with crying, having spent many a long, lonely night in melancholy contemplation of his life when his mind raced with thoughts of Sha're. It never ceased to amaze him the capacity the human soul had for sorrow. He wondered if he would ever find out if it had the same capacity for joy.
For Daniel, happiness was as elusive as relief from the heat of the Abydonian desert. The most he could hope for was the satisfaction of doing his work well, but even those small successes didn't do much to ease the emptiness. His memories of life on Abydos and the hope that one day he would be reunited with his wife, though fading slightly as time marched relentlessly onward, were the only things that kept him going day to day.
Jack had told him once that it would get easier, dealing with the pain of having his wife so brutally taken away, but Jack was wrong. If nothing else, it was getting harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning knowing Sha're would not be with him. Daniel sighed, the mournful exhalation an echo of the raw agony he felt at the very core of his being. At least during the day there were mundane tasks to perform, distractions to keep his mind away from the pain of losing his life's companion, but at night? At night there were no such diversions. Even the solace of sleep proved to be nonexistent as his dreams were haunted by Sha're's face, her voice calling out to him in the sweet accent of Abydos, her hands leaving teasing trails of warmth as she cuddled against him as they slept. He longed for the comfort of her body next to his with a need so great it was frightening.
A soft voice came out of the darkness, startling Daniel from his reflections. "Penny for your thoughts? Or is it a goat's leg for your thoughts? I always forget what the going rate is these days on Abydos," Jack said lightly, pausing at the edge of the small clearing.
Daniel turned his head, his eyes sweeping up to meet his friend's before returning to the view below. "Hi, Jack," the archaeologist replied quietly, defeatedly. "What are you doing up?"
"I could ask you the same question." The colonel closed the distance between them. Settling quietly onto the ridge beside the younger man, looking across the plain below, Jack could see why Daniel had chosen this place as a refuge. The view was almost surreal in its beauty. Twin crescent moons hung low in the sky. Their soft light faintly illuminated the barren landscape below, casting diffused shadows on the rocky plain. For a brief moment, Jack admired the view, losing himself in contemplation of the sterile, yet hauntingly beautiful, landscape.
Dragging his attention back to the reason he'd hauled himself out of his nice, warm sleeping bag, Jack turned his gaze to his companion. Daniel's body language -- the slumped shoulders and arms hugged tightly around his torso -- screamed desperate loneliness. "Danny? You all right?"
"Hmm? Yes, I'm fine," Daniel replied, too quickly for Jack's liking. With a firm shake of his head, the archaeologist snapped himself back to the present and began to climb to his feet. "Um, I think I'm going to turn in now."
A hand on his arm stopped him from rising. "Stay and talk to me for a minute."
Daniel paused, a 'deer in the headlights' look briefly crossing his face. He considered the offer, then abruptly shook his head. "No, thanks. It's getting late and, um... I really am tired," he stammered.
"You're tired? Then why didn't you stay in bed?" Jack questioned bluntly.
Daniel shrugged, unsure if he could explain the dreams haunting his sleep. "Um... I... I wasn't tired before," he dodged, choking on the words even as he said them. He didn't like being dishonest with the man who was perhaps the closest thing he had to a friend.
O'Neill easily saw through the untruth, understanding the reason for the white lie. It was hard to admit weakness to a man as strong as O'Neill. 'God, Danny, if you only knew the truth...'
Looking intently into the pale, drawn face of his friend, Jack asked, "You had another nightmare, didn't you?" Daniel's only response was a brief, resigned nod. "Thought so. That's the fourth time this week."
"So now you're keeping track of my sleeping habits?" Daniel questioned in annoyance.
O'Neill let the accusation wash over him, not rising to the challenging tone in the younger man's voice. "I'm worried about you."
That quiet admission stopped Daniel in his tracks. He seemed to wilt before Jack's eyes, slowly lowering himself to the cool rock once more. After a long moment he spoke, his words soft. "You don't need to worry about me, Jack. I can do my job."
O'Neill thoughtfully nodded his head, turning his gaze back to the landscape below. "I'm not worried about your ability to do your job, Danny. You could do it in your sleep, with one arm tied behind your back for good measure," he teased.
The comment brought a faint smile to Daniel's lips. "Thanks. I think."
O'Neill nodded again. "So, what's on your mind? Anything you want to talk about?"
"No, there's nothing to talk about. I... I just needed some time alone, to think. That's all."
As O'Neill gazed out across the moonlit vista before him, he said, "I told General Hammond we needed some down time. These continuous trips down the rabbit hole are taking their toll on all of us. I think it's been hardest on you, though." Jack felt Daniel stiffen beside him. His voice trailed off and he scrubbed his face with one hand. "Look, Daniel, I'm not very good at this. I want to help you, but I don't know how."
"I can deal with my problems on my own, Jack. Contrary to popular belief, I don't need you or anyone else to babysit me."
O'Neill sighed. He remained silent for a long moment, finally pointing out, "Daniel, you can't go through this -- whatever this is -- alone."
"I don't need anyone, Jack," the archaeologist stubbornly maintained. The soft catch in his voice betrayed his true feelings to the man beside him.
"That's what worries me, Danny boy. I'm worried you're going to do something foolish," Jack admitted.
Daniel looked at SG-1's leader in surprise. "I am not suicidal, Jack, if that's what you're thinking," he snorted.
Jack shook his head, searching for the right words. God, what he wouldn't give right now to have Daniel's gift of language. "No, that wasn't what I meant. I don't think you want to kill yourself. It's just... well, it's just that I know what it's like to be feeling the way you're feeling, Danny. I know how distracting it is. I've been there."
Surprise at the quiet admission quickly turned to compassion as Daniel absorbed Jack's words. " I don't need you to haul out your past and compare it to mine. This isn't some kind of sick contest to see who's hurting the most," he pointed out. Softly, he added, "You've been through enough without having to play therapist for me."
Jack shrugged. "This is just another part of being in command. Don't you think I do the mother hen thing well?" he asked lightly.
Daniel stared hard, his lips pressed into a bitter line. "So what you're saying is that your being here right now is only 'part of being in command'? It's just part and parcel of your job?" he questioned, his voice edged with bitterness.
"Well, yeah, it's sorta like that," Jack confessed uncomfortably, wincing at the hurt he read on the younger man's face.
Nodding in sudden understanding, Daniel tore his gaze away from Jack's. He blinked a couple of times, unexpectedly stung by the colonel's casual remark.
Sensing that he had lost control of the conversation, Jack tried again, his tone gently probing as he asked, "Did what you find today bother you so much that you can't sleep?"
Daniel turned once more to look at his companion, his eyes hidden in the shadow of his hat brim. "That's part of it," he finally admitted.
"And the rest?" Jack queried.
"You really want to know what's bothering me?"
Jack nodded encouragingly. "Yes, I do."
"In a few months the gate on Abydos will be buried forever. Even if I don't find Sha're and Skaara, I'll never be able to go home again..." His voice caught in his throat, and he was unable to go on.
Now it was O'Neill's turn to stare. "Is that what you want? To go back to Abydos?" Daniel nodded once, not trusting his voice enough to reply. "But what about your work with SG-1?"
"The work I'm doing for SGC has nothing to do with my reason for being a part of this team, Jack," Daniel reminded the team leader. "My primary goal is to find my wife. I thought you understood that."
Pulling off his cap and running a hand through short-cropped hair, Jack said, "I do understand , but I thought you at least liked what we're doing while we search for Sha're."
Shrugging indifferently, Daniel replied, "I guess it's as good a distraction as any."
"Distraction?" Jack questioned dumbly. "This is an archaeologist's dream job, isn't it? You know, exploring alien cultures, deciphering ancient languages..."
Daniel laughed derisively. "Oh, yeah, it's a dream job, all right. There's only one catch: I can't share any of this wonderful information I've been gathering because it's all classified. I'm a laughingstock in academic circles because of my theories about the origins of the pyramids, and the proof I need to restore my reputation is classified. I'm sure even you can appreciate the irony of that..." Daniel's voice trailed off again and he sighed wistfully. He pulled off his glasses with one hand, absently rubbing tired, gritty eyes, before settling the metal frames on his nose again.
"So what if the proof is classified? Your theories were right. That's got to mean something to you, Daniel. I mean, look at what you've accomplished."
The younger man rounded on Jack, his voice rising with agitation. "And what have I accomplished, really? Whoopee, I figured out the significance of the chevrons. Big deal. I'm sure Dr. Meyers would've figured it out in another couple of years."
'Wow, what was bringing this on?' Jack wondered. "It is a big deal, Daniel. If you hadn't figured that out, or discovered the map of the other Stargates, we wouldn't be here now admiring the view on lovely P4G947."
Daniel shook his head in weary resignation. "Jack, I'm the odd man out no matter where I am. The only thing that's changed in my life is the location."
Jack's mouth dropped open at the off-the-wall admission. "What are you talking about?"
Looking as if he desperately wanted to take the words back, the archaeologist stammered, "Look, just forget I mentioned it. You -- you wouldn't understand."
His tone gently persuasive, Jack said, "Try me. You wouldn't say something like that if you didn't mean it, Daniel."
The other man was quiet for so long that Jack was sure he wasn't going to answer. When he finally spoke, Daniel's voice slipped into the flat, bored tones of someone reciting simple facts. "I'm tired, Jack. I'm tired of being the only nonmilitary person on this team, of having you and everyone else at SGC not taking me seriously most of the time because I'm not one of you."
Jack blinked in sudden comprehension; sometimes he forgot how different Daniel was to Carter, or, for that matter, to Teal'c. The team functioned so well that it was easy to ignore how an academic like Daniel would chafe at the tight, military discipline of the Air Force. Both Carter and Teal'c were used to following orders unquestioningly, but the scientist couldn't blindly follow along unless he knew the whys and wherefores of each decision. Yes, he could see why Daniel would feel left out.
Daniel's voice interrupted Jack's musings. "On Abydos it didn't matter I was a failure, the wunderkind archaeologist gone mad. The Abydonians accepted me the way I was, nothing more, nothing less. For the first time in my life I felt what it was like to truly belong somewhere. Now, I don't even have that anymore."
Ignoring Jack's hushed protest, the archaeologist continued on in full rant mode, "I should have left the Stargate buried. I should have just left well enough alone..."
Reaching up to rub absently at the ache that had started in his temples, Daniel silently berated himself, 'Hell, I should've left well enough alone is right.' It would've been so much easier to keep his theories to himself, to go along with the accepted doctrines of his profession. The grants would've kept rolling in -- his talents as a linguist and ancient Egyptian historian were formidable, there was no doubt of that. But no, never one to believe in the status quo, he had to go and stir up the pot, shocking the so-called experts of the field with his wild theories until they had labeled him a rogue, an 'unpredictable scholar'. In the highly-ordered, highly-stagnant society that was academia, unpredictability was tantamount to exile.
Lost in the events of the past, tuning out the man sitting patiently beside him as he wrestled with old ghosts, Daniel's mind wandered back to that fateful day in Los Angeles when he had been given the chance to pull his academic reputation out of the dumpster. He had so hoped to redeem himself, starting off the lecture innocently enough. When push came to shove and he was openly scorned by his peers, he had launched into a rapid-fire defense of some of his wilder theories. He felt his face flush with the bitter heat of embarrassment, remembering the humiliation as he watched the last of his colleagues walk out of the lecture hall in disgust. Instead of redemption and academic acceptance, he had kissed his promising career goodbye forever. That experience still hurt; two years time hadn't done much to ease the sharp pain of rejection of that day.
One person had remained behind to watch as he mustered what precious little was left of his dignity: Dr. Catherine Langford. Funny, he hadn't remembered until now that she had stayed when everyone else had left. She hadn't approached him, though, merely watching silently from the back of the hall as he gathered his notes, watching as the young man's shoulders slumped dejectedly as he trudged out of the lecture hall.
In the time it took for him to shrug into his ancient raincoat and gather the two suitcases which were all that was left of his worldly possessions, Catherine had left the hall and gone to her car. Reflecting back, Daniel figured she must've instructed her driver to watch for him to leave the building. As he stood out in the pouring rain, contemplating where he would go now that his career was officially over, the limousine had pulled up, and their fateful meeting had taken place.
With a soft sigh of despair, Daniel dragged himself out of the past and glanced in Jack's direction. The colonel was watching him intently, his expression asking the question he could never speak out loud.
"I... I was just thinking about meeting Catherine that first time," he supplied with a self-deprecating smile.
Jack nodded. "I'm a captive audience if you want to tell me about it," he offered, smiling slightly.
Daniel stared at him, a startling mix of emotions crossing his expressive face in the space of a few heartbeats. "Oh, why not? Though I'm sure you've already read all about it in my file, cross-referenced under 'loser', subheading 'geek'," he retorted, his tone mired in self-loathing.
At Jack's shocked expression at his harsh self-analysis, he relented, smiling slightly in apology. "When Catherine offered me the job of translating her cartouche, I wasn't going to take it. Every instinct I had told me to run the other way, especially when I found out about the military involvement, but my damn curiosity got the better of me. The rest, as they say, is history." He paused, nibbling on his lower lip for a minute before whispering hoarsely, "I wish I hadn't accepted that job."
His long fingers clenched into fists as he struggled to control his raging emotions. If he hadn't taken the job, he wouldn't be sitting here now, painfully aware of what was gone from his life. Before Abydos he had had no clue of what it was like to be family. He'd buried himself in his work with a passion that consumed every waking moment, leaving no time for considerations outside of the quest for knowledge. After Abydos, after Sha're was taken from him, his awareness centered around what was so obviously absent from his life. He died a little more each day spent without his life's companion, his soul withering away until he was sure that one day only an empty, lifeless husk would remain within a wasted shell of a man.
Jack interrupted the gloomy reverie. "Aside from the fact that you really had no option but to take the job, and we both know that was the case..." the colonel ruthlessly pointed out before he paused, nailing the man in place with his eyes, making sure he had the archaeologist's full attention before continuing. Daniel winced at the astute observation but couldn't force himself to look away from Jack's penetrating gaze. "Aside from that little consideration, there were some other benefits to the job, don't you think?"
Daniel's voice whispered like the sharp blade of a knife being withdrawn from its sheath. "Such as?"
O'Neill smiled his patented oh-so-sincere grin. "If you hadn't taken the job, you never would have met me," he said lightly, trying to defuse his friend's dark mood with humour.
Refusing to acknowledge the attempt at levity, Daniel stared out across the plain below. "Might've been better for your sake."
No, because that would mean I wouldn't have met you, either. I'd probably be pushing up daisies if you hadn't talked some sense into me that night on Abydos."
Daniel snorted. "You're a lot stronger than I am, Jack. I'm sure you would've come to the same conclusion yourself, without my intervention."
"Was that before or after I sent you and the team back to Earth and blew up the 'gate?"
Daniel tore his gaze away from the view and met Jack's eyes, his expression startled. After a long moment he nodded, acknowledging O'Neill's reference to his suicide mission on that first trip to Abydos.
"Damn it, Daniel, we both know we can't go through life looking over our shoulders, examining all the 'what ifs'. It doesn't help. We can't change what has happened in the past, no matter how hard we want to."
"Tell me something I don't know." The tone was faintly sarcastic.
"Daniel, listen to me," Jack began earnestly, placing his hand on the other man's shoulder. "I know how hard it is to get up in the morning and face each new day thinking that you're all alone in this great big galaxy."
Feeling Jack's fingers tighten almost painfully, the younger man could do nothing but give the colonel his undivided attention.
"When Charlie died --" His voice breaking on his son's name, Jack paused for a brief, painful moment before bravely plowing on, "When Charlie died, as far as I was concerned, my life was over, too. What made it worse was that it was my fault. I killed my son, Danny. If I had kept that damn gun locked up where he couldn't get it..." Again, the words ground to a halt and Jack swallowed hard, trying to rid himself of the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. When he continued, his voice was husky with suppressed grief. "I made a mistake that I will pay for for the rest of my life."
Hearing Jack's quiet admission, Daniel's face mirrored Jack's pain, his eyes reflecting the same feelings of helplessness and guilt Jack felt over things neither of them could change. Shaking his head, he gently admonished, "Stop it, Jack."
Jack held up his hand, forestalling any further reply. "Would you let me finish, Daniel? Please?"
Daniel nodded wordlessly, holding his tongue as he sensed O'Neill's desperate need to speak.
Shakily gathering his control about him, Jack took a deep, quivering breath, blowing it out in a gust before continuing honestly, "Actually, when you think of it, I've made two mistakes. The first was being responsible for the death of my son. The second was pushing away everyone that I cared about because I was scared I would lose them too. And that's what I see you doing now."
Daniel stared at Jack as the words echoed in his head, his eyes glittering in the light of the twin moons. His expression was completely unreadable. "That's where you're wrong, Jack. I -- I can't push anyone away because I have no one. My entire family was taken from me that day on Abydos." The words were said quietly, but with such utter conviction that Jack felt his throat constrict again.
"Oh, Daniel, if only you knew how wrong you are," he murmured.
Cocking his head, Daniel pondered the odd comment. "What do you mean?"
Jack smiled at the younger man, his expression one of undisguised affection. "Haven't you figured it out yet?"
"Figured what out? Jack, what are you trying to tell me?"
Again, that maddening, affectionate smile. "You know, for the brain trust of this operation, you sure are dense sometimes..."
"Jack, I'm really not in the mood to play word games with you. What are you trying to say?"
O'Neill rolled his eyes in frustration. Was Daniel purposefully being obtuse? Fine, then. If he had to say the words out loud, then damn it, that's what he would do. The thought of revealing his innermost thoughts and feelings scared him more than facing down an entire Goa'uld army. Jack was surprised by the sudden rush of adrenaline coursing through his veins. Taking a deep breath before his nerve fled, he faced the younger man, meeting his companion's guarded look with an expression of complete, open honesty. "Damn it, Daniel, can't you see how much we care about you, about each other? You, me, Teal'c and Sam have something good going here. We're more than a team, we're -- we're family," Jack stated firmly.
"Family?" Daniel wondered aloud, wrapping the concept around his heart, feeling a faint, comforting warmth as Jack's words began to thaw the icy coldness enveloping his soul.
"Yes, family," Jack repeated sincerely. "Circumstances have taken our other families away from us, but those same circumstances have brought us together. It's a damn fine family, Daniel."
Jack's declaration sent a bolt of panic through Daniel. The last time he had dared to give his trust, he had had it all ripped away in the space of a few heartbeats when Apophis came to his planet. Unwilling to accept Jack's words at face value, unwilling to put his faith into a concept as tenuous as family, unwilling to blindly, foolishly hope it could really be true, Daniel searched frantically for an out. "Do you really expect me to believe that? You're the one who just finished telling me this little pep talk is only part of your job."
"I wouldn't be sitting here in the middle of the night, freezing my butt off on this damn rock if what I said about us being family wasn't true," Jack declared with a crooked smile. The colonel clasped his hands in front of him, staring down at the callused fingers resting on his knees. Sighing, he said, "Look, if you want to know the truth, I'm not here as your commanding officer. This is something I would do for you, or for Sam, or for Teal'c, even if it wasn't part of my job. I hope you believe that."
Out of the corner of his eye, Jack could see the other man nod absently as he considered the heartfelt admission. An impish smile crossed Jack's face; he reached out and pulled Daniel's hat from his head, ruffling the archaeologist's hair. "You, of all people, should know that I have a nasty habit of dancing around uncomfortable issues. You can't tell me you honestly believe everything I say to you when I do that," Jack bantered playfully.
His hand snapping out to retrieve the hat from his friend's grasp, Daniel looked down, unable to face the sincerity he saw in Jack's eyes. Swallowing, he confessed, "As a matter of fact, yes, I do believe what you say."
Jack's eyes widened at the quiet admission. "Oh," he gulped. Mentally, he kicked himself as comprehension dawned. It all made sense now, the way Daniel seemed to hang on his every word, how the young archaeologist was eager to share his vast knowledge with the other members of his team, like he was trying desperately to fit in to the tight, military clique. Until now, Jack had been blissfully unaware of the younger man's need to be a part of something bigger than himself, bigger than being just one member of a team. Jack recognized he'd been dangling the carrot of acceptance just out of Daniel's reach, giving him the merest taste of what it was like to belong but still keeping him at arm's length so that he himself felt safe.
The realization hit like a ton of bricks. Jack didn't want to be needed, didn't want to have Daniel depend on him because Jack wasn't sure he'd be able to live up to those high expectations.
"Look, Daniel, we've know each other a long time," he began.
"Actually, we've been acquainted for a long time," Daniel interrupted quietly. "I wouldn't say we know each other."
The softly-uttered comment surprised Jack; he bent to look at his friend's face, concerned by the haunted look he saw there. "Is that what you think?"
"Daniel, you probably know me better than anyone else, even Sara," Jack admitted truthfully. "And that says a lot about what you mean to me, because, as a general rule, I do not open up to people."
"All you military types are like that. I think that just goes with the territory," Daniel mused.
Nodding his agreement, Jack continued softly, "It goes against the grain to let people see the real Jack O'Neill."
Daniel smiled faintly at the comment. "And just who is the real Jack O'Neill?"
"He's the guy sitting with you right now, the one who's going to feel awfully stupid in the morning when he wakes up and remembers what he said and didn't even have the excuse of being drunk to bring all this out," Jack admitted huskily.
Studying the man beside him for a long moment, his eyes suspiciously bright but not, Jack suspected, from reflected moonlight, Daniel contemplated the gift of friendship Jack was giving him.
Reaching out his hand, Daniel lightly rested it on Jack's shoulder, his fingers tightening in quiet understanding. "Your secret is safe with me," he promised with a faint grin.
Awkwardly clearing his throat, Jack smiled self-consciously and lightly shrugged off Daniel's hand. There was only so much of this touchy-feely stuff he could handle in one day. "Thanks. It'd ruin my reputation as a tough guy if people knew how easy it is to turn me into a sentimental fool," Jack admitted uncomfortably.
Daniel smiled at the remark; this time the smile managed to make it up to his eyes.
Sensing the change in Daniel's mood, Jack grinned at the younger man. "Think you might want to try and get some sleep now?"
Daniel shrugged. "I guess I can try."
"What's stopping you?"
"I meant what I said, Jack. I still want to go home."
"You will, Danny, you will," Jack maintained. "I made you a promise, remember? I promised you we'd find Sha're and Skaara, and you've got to hold on to that, because I don't go back on my word once I've given it."
"I know. It just... it seems like she's been gone forever, Jack."
"I know it does. But we'll find her one day, Daniel. We will rescue her from Golden Boy's clutches, find a way to get rid of the Goa'uld. Just think of the reunion you two will have..." Jack said drolly, his tone light and affectionately teasing. "When the dust settles, you and your wife will go home to your nice little patch of floor in the Abydos 'gate chamber. In a few years, I'll stop in for a visit and you can show off your brood of little Daniels and little Sha'res."
Daniel stared at Jack for a moment before he smiled, pleased by the picture Jack was painting for him.
"And I expect you to name your first son after me."
This time Daniel laughed outright at the comment. Jack grinned at the welcome sound, adding his laughter to Daniel's as he threw a companionable arm around the younger man's shoulders.
"Now, back to bed. It's late. If you're lucky, you can catch an hour's sleep before you have to get up and relieve Teal'c."
Daniel groaned. "Ugh, don't remind me."
"The joys of being in the military," Jack teased. Standing, he extended his hand in a silent overture of help. Daniel considered the offer of assistance, glancing warily at the edge of the cliff, before placing his fingers into Jack's. The colonel smiled, tugging the younger man to his feet.
As Jack led Daniel down the path to their campsite, he bantered, "And there's something else I should tell you: when you bring my morning coffee to the tent, don't forget I like it black."
Daniel's protest rang out across the barren, lonely landscape, "You expect me to bring you coffee in bed? You're kidding, right?"
"Do I look like I'm kidding?" Jack retorted, unable to hide the laughter bubbling up inside him at Daniel's indignant response.
"Come on, Jack, you are kidding, aren't you? Jack? Jack!"
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