Characters/Pairing: Jack O'Neill, Daniel Jackson, Teal'c, Samantha Carter, General Hammond, Janet Fraiser; Jack/Daniel
Word Count: 21,300
Summary - Jack and Daniel are not in a good place. Will Jack see the truth before Daniel walks away?
Beta: DennyJ. Thank you, my friend. Any and all mistakes are mine.
Artwork: Eilidh17. Thank you for such an evocative piece.
Notes - There is a Welsh phrase included in the story. Thanks to Google for the translation.
Jack O’Neill took a slow slurp of his coffee, placing the cup down with deliberate care. He could have been disabling a naquadah bomb, his focus riveted to the porcelain mug as it met the table.
Better there than on the earnestly intent face of his Jaffa teammate. It wouldn’t do to guffaw when Teal’c was expecting a serious response.
“Did you not hear my question, O’Neill?”
Reluctantly, Jack lifted his gaze. As he’d suspected, Teal’c was looking at him like he held the answers to the universe’s most urgent question.
“I heard you,” Jack grumbled. What are your intensions regarding Daniel Jackson? “I’m just not sure how to answer that. Or even if I should answer. This is between Daniel and me. Besides, I came here to see you off on your mission with Bra’tac, not to talk about my dispute with our erstwhile archaeologist. So, you’ve got all of Kytano’s Jaffa resettled?”
“While I am honored by your attendance, O’Neill,” Teal’c replied, disregarding Jack’s attempt to change the subject, “I could not help but notice you did not afford Daniel Jackson the same courtesy when he departed on his mission with SG-5.”
“Why are you giving me the third degree?” Jack glanced around. The mess hall was nearly empty, the person nearest them safely out of earshot. Still, he deliberately lowered his voice, his anger at the situation threatening to once again overwhelm him. “Daniel is the one who can’t let it go. Damn it, I saved his life. Him and everyone else on base. That robot was about to unleash her replicator army on all of us. Daniel would just have been the first to go.”
And so Jack had argued to him privately. As had Teal’c and Carter. To no avail. Daniel had refused to be swayed in the matter. So, Jack had used the excuse of Daniel’s injured wrist to request that SG-1 get a week off.
Jack growled internally, the events immediately following inundating his thoughts:
“I’m fine, General,” Daniel countered the second Jack’s request hit his ears. “If you don’t mind, I would like to join SG-5’s mission on P7X-809.”
“SG-5?” Jack asked, incredulous. “Didn’t they take a geologist to search for a naquadah mine?”
“SG-5’s initial assessment of the soil near the Stargate indicted that there could be a substantial naquadah deposit somewhere nearby,” Hammond confirmed.
Jack’s responsive smirk had bullshit written all over it. “Since when do you care about mining?”
“Doctor Sams found the remains of a structure,” Daniel replied curtly. Purposefully turning his back on Jack, he pressed Hammond, “SG-5 has five more days on that planet. I’d like to take another archaeologist and spend that time examining those ruins.”
“Wait a minute. If SG-5 is watching the geologist, who’s going to watch you?”
“I don’t need watching, Jack.”
“I think recent events have proven otherwise.”
“Gentlemen.” Hammond raised a hand for peace. “There’s been no indication the planet is occupied, but I’ll assign a few military personnel to round out the team. Does that satisfy you, Colonel?”
Jack grunted assent, anything but satisfied to have gotten his way.
“Doctor Jackson, you’ll have to get Doctor Fraiser’s okay.”
“Thank you, sir. I appreciate the opportunity to check out these ruins. We’ve only come across a handful of castles over the years.”
“You’re going to a castle?” Jack scoffed. “Is that a good idea? Every time we encounter something castle-like, you get captivated by the pretty light show and about get yourself killed.” “Technically, the structure with the Goa’uld ‘light show’ was a palace, and this structure is nothing like the castle Earnest was stranded in. It still bears exploring. Besides, I really could use the break.”
From me, Jack had read in the tense glance Daniel had cast his way.
Fraiser had given her okay, sending Jack a disapproving glare at the slumped state of Daniel’s shoulders, encouraging him to sign off on the request.
He’d been content to let Daniel go play in the dirt, reset his psyche or whatever…that is until Teal’c had called that strategy into question.
“It is not wise to allow this rift between you and Daniel Jackson to go unrepaired, O’Neill.”
Jack startled, the booming quality of even Teal’c’s quiet voice jarring him from his woolgathering. “I did my part,” he bit out. “I apologized.”
“I do not believe that to be strictly true. Your apology for disabling Reese was only a portion of what needed to be said. You did not tell Daniel Jackson the reason for your action.”
“I told him. She was a danger to the base. She would have killed him if I hadn’t gotten to her first.”
“She would in all likelihood have taken him from you. You could not allow that.”
“Damn right! He’s too important to me…” Jack’s heart hammered as the statement echoed in his ears. “To us,” he quickly amended. “I meant us, the team.”
Teal’c smiled – still an unnatural look on him – and raised that damn all-knowing brow.
Jack countered with a brow drawn in irritation. “What?”
“Are you familiar with the term Freudian slip? It is a verbal or memory mistake –”
“I know what a Freudian slip is.”
“Do you understand its significance in this instance?” His gaze boring into Jack, Teal’c leaned over the table as though about to share a confidence. “What secret does your unconscious mind wish to reveal, O’Neill?”
“There’s no secret. I didn’t want to lose Daniel so I killed the robot. That doesn’t have to mean anything.”
“Perhaps not. However, if you examine your recent actions where Daniel Jackson is concerned, I believe that you will find that it does in fact mean something.”
With that cryptic bit of advice, Teal’c headed to the ‘gate room, leaving Jack to drown in the flood of memories ‘examining his recent actions’ had unleashed.
A messenger from Hammond mercifully interrupted the deluge before Jack had gone completely under.
As he was wont to do, Jack inhaled a large draft of air as he slipped through the event horizon.
He nearly gagged, slapping a hand over the lower half of his face.
“Shit!” The expletive burst from Jack’s lips, but he was convinced the oath originated from his nasal passages. “What died?”
“Plants, apparently,” Colonel Chris Brandon, SG-5’s commanding officer, replied. Stepping forward, he swung an arm to encompass their surroundings. “This whole area is swamp or bog, or something. Doctor Sams will try to convince you it’s ‘earthy’.”
“What do you expect from a geologist? Good new is you do get used to it.”
Jack pulled a dubious smirk. “Easy for you to say, on your way back to where the air is sweeter… and clearer. What’s with the mist?” He frowned at the wisps of fog hugging the ground. They frolicked around the men’s ankles, gamboling away each time they shifted their stance.
“Another byproduct of the wet environment. I’m sure one of the scientists will be glad to explain it, if you’re interested.” Brandon’s wink was pure cheek; Jack’s distaste for verbose scientists was legendary. “It builds shortly before sundown and usually burns off about mid-morning. Of course, we haven’t seen the sun yet today, so it may just stick with you the rest of the day.”
Scowling at the deeply overcast sky, Jack suppressed a shudder as a cool, damp breeze stirred the hairs on the back of his neck. “Makes surveillance tricky.”
“Thankfully, we haven’t encountered anything to warrant concern. There’s a colony of folks seven meters or so in that direction –”
Jack cut him off with a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sure your second in command can fill me in,” he said, nodding to the affable young black man who had accompanied Brandon to the gate.
“Major Collins,” Brandon introduced him.
“Collins. You want to do the honors?” Guiding Brandon to the side, Jack gestured with his free hand for the major to dial the ‘gate.
“I hate like hell to leave in the middle of a mission,” Brandon confessed.
“It’s not like you’re abandoning your post. You have an important date back home. Congratulations, by the way.”
The smile on Brandon’s face lit the gloomy air around him. “Thank you, sir. I can’t believe I missed the birth of my first grandchild. He wasn’t due for another month and a half.”
“Yeah, darn rude of him to wait until you were off world to make his appearance,” Jack quipped. “You’ll be there for the best part, though.”
“I will. Every day of my life.” Brandon’s gaze grew distant for a second, before he shook himself back to the present. “Um, not that I’m not thrilled that the SGC sent the best to replace me, but, isn’t SG-1 on stand down? Daniel choosing a working vacation doesn’t surprise me, but I thought you’d be fishing.”
“Yeah. They weren’t biting.” Jack shrugged. “I made the mistake of returning to base. Hammond caught me and told me about your grandson. It only seemed right that someone cover this mission for you so, here I am.”
“Well, I for one will rest easy knowing you’re watching out for my team.”
Collins chuckled. “Who are you kidding? Once you see that grandson of yours, you won’t give us a second thought.”
Brandon opened his mouth, seemingly about to object. The gushing vortex of the opening wormhole waylaid the thought. “You’re probably right,” he conceded. Waiting just long enough for Collins to input his team’s GDO code, he turned to Jack and nodded amiably. “Colonel, I leave things in your capable hands.” Tracing a sketchy salute to his teammate, Brandon practically leapt through the event horizon.
“This way?” Jack asked, walking toward a well worn trail the second the ‘gate shut down.
“Yes, sir,” Collins acknowledged, falling in beside him. “This path is solid enough but watch where you step. The surrounding ground can be a little treacherous. We’ve marked off the track.”
Jack nodded approvingly at the rows of stakes, adorned with fluorescent orange ribbons. The surrounding terrain alternated between narrow waterways, small hummocks of land, patches of what looked to be reeds or similar grasses, and trees. The damp air was ripe for mosquitoes though Jack detected none of the telltale whining of their presence. In fact, the air was eerily quiet.
“Right. Tell me about these natives. There wasn’t any mention of a civilization in the initial report.”
“A couple of them showed up our second day here. Christians, according to Doctor Jackson.”
“Christians? Did they accuse you of being demons?”
“They suggested something like that, yes, sir. Doctor Jackson said you’ve met their kind before.”
“Oh, yeah. Not the friendliest folks we’ve ever run into ironically, them being Christians and all. They haven’t caused any trouble?”
“No. Doctors Jackson and Sams actually took yesterday off to visit their village. The Colonel sent Sergeant Blumenthal with them. He reported that Doctor Jackson explained to the villagers that we are not demons, but human, like them. Blumenthal thinks they believed him, but they were clearly confused. Seems they had a demon visiting for generations then, a while ago, he just stopped coming.”
“Ah,” Jack commented. “Did they describe this demon they’d been expecting?”
“According to Doctor Jackson, it was probably the goa’ulded Unas you killed a few years back. He’s convinced this society was planted by Sokar, like that other you encountered.”
“Yeah, that does seem likely. The timing of their demon’s disappearance works out.”
“I guess Sokar had more pressing matters to attend to than training another dog to fetch.”
“Especially, since we killed his ass not long after.”
Jack’s foot varied from the path, his boot squishing into the muck. It was far more difficult to reclaim his foot than he liked. “Ugh. How much farther to camp?”
“Just beyond that copse of trees,” Collins replied, indicating the edge of forest approximately two kilometers across the flat expanse.
“Anything interesting in that castle?”
“Is that what it is? Looked like a ragged stone wall to me…well, except for the one tower, but even that’s broken nearly in half. Doctor Jackson was pretty excited about it. He can fill you in.”
Jack groaned, not at the prospect of Daniel’s too-animated report on his findings, but at the expectation that Daniel would rather talk to the nearest tree than utter word one to his team leader.
And who could blame him? Thanks to Teal’c, Jack now realized that for the better part of two years, he’d been pushing Daniel away, finding fault with his assessments, ignoring his input.
Daniel…shut up! Is that clear enough?
Just the echo of those words burned Jack’s soul. Imagine what it must have been like for Daniel in the moment. Words are his livelihood – his life. To be denied the opportunity to use them…
It would be akin to someone taking Jack’s weapon from him.
Exactly. There was no more apt comparison. And that, it seemed, was part of the problem. How many times had they ended up on opposite sides of a conflict? Even when one of their own was compromised by an invading entity – life form, whatever – Daniel’s was the lone voice advocating talking instead of killing. Teal’c had sided with Jack.
So basically what you're saying, is… Daniel had asked, if we'd just listened to you in the first place and blown it up…No seriously, I'm asking, is that what you're saying?
If we had destroyed the entity, Daniel Jackson, Major Carter would not have been adversely affected.
I know your first instinct is to protect, both of you, that's your job, that's what you do but…no matter what happens, no matter how this turns out, Sam wasn't wrong to try to communicate with it.
He’d slunk away worried, dejected, alone.
Though the strain between Jack and Daniel remained even after Carter was returned to them, they managed to keep their mutual pique from adversely affecting their work.
Jack’s response to the danger posed by Reese blew that all to hell.
A near tumble snapped him out of his preoccupation, the “Shit,” that escaped his lips having little to do with his physical stumble.
“Colonel, are you all right?”
Snapping his gaze to the Major, Jack rearranged his face to mirror his feigned annoyance at his physical lapse. “Yeah, fine,” he replied a little too vehemently, though Collins didn’t seem to notice. “How’s Daniel getting by with the bum wrist?”
“It only seems to bother him when he thinks no one’s looking. I noticed he winced yesterday when he picked up his pack.” Collins chuffed a laugh. “Of course, if I hefted a pack loaded with books as often as he does, my wrist would be sore, too. He said Doctor Fraiser diagnosed a bad sprain.”
“Yeah, just a sprain. Thank God. It could have been so much worse. Jack aborted that line of thought immediately. He’d spent the last week imagining Daniel dead and mangled on the ‘gate room floor. If I’d gotten in there just a moment later…
I wouldn’t be wondering how I’m going make amends to Daniel for treating him like crap for the past year and a half.
The treacherous marshy ground gave way to a new danger as they neared the tree line: giant roots. Pausing, Jack threw his head back, taking just a moment to appreciate the spindly, near bare, branches, so unlike the huge, feathery firs so prevalent in the galaxy. Here and there, a larger tree dominated, though clearly they were not as well suited to the environment as their more delicate cousins. Most appeared dead or dying, the trunks of at least two of them bore holes that encompassed nearly half their trunks.
Behind the web of branches, the sun, obscured by hazy cloud cover, hung just right of center. Without adequate reference, Jack couldn’t tell if the sun was approaching zenith or had just passed. He just hoped the ground fog would soon burn off as Brandon had suggested.
As they came through the stand of trees, Jack’s eyes scanned back and forth, seemingly on their own, taking in his surroundings. The living space – a series of personal tents surrounding a fire pit – was populated with members of SG-5 back from their daily scour for naquadah. Sergeant Blumenthal was busy preparing the fire for dinner while a baby-faced airman – was the Air Force recruiting children or was he just getting old, Jack wondered – broke down his weapon, his disapproving scowl evidence of the grime he’d found in the mechanisms.
Stacked neatly in the area between the camp and the dig site beyond, were several waterproof storage containers of the kind which, Jack easily recognized, held scientific equipment. For both geologist and archaeologists, Jack assumed. Some of the gadgets had been unpacked, their metallic bulk familiar to Jack: a gas powered hammer drill, useful for digging as well as breaking up samples, a stack of screens used for sifting out small artifacts, surveying equipment and galvanized buckets for removing dirt.
In addition, there were two generators and a pump, likely necessary to keep the swamp from overwhelming the dig site.
Jack’s eyes came to a rest when, beside one of the generators at the far end of the dig, they found Daniel. Bent over a low table, recording information in a log book, he looked tan and healthier than Jack had seen him in a while. Clearly the ‘break’ has done him some good.
“Thank you, Major.” Jack dismissed his guide with a wave of his hand. “I can find my way from here.”
“Yes, sir.” Collins pivoted smartly and headed to one of the tents.
Making his way towards Daniel, Jack paused to take in the excavation. As Collins had reported, the “castle” more nearly resembled a rough square of stone blocks than an actual structure.
Broken here and there, so badly in places the inner court was completely open to access, the wall climbed to approximately ten meters at its highest, most stable point.
At the near corner, the square protruded a bit, the blocks stacked on top of each other reaching an additional five meters above the surrounding wall. The resulting tower was a mere shadow of its former imposing self. The outside corner was rounded, like a turret. Jack – who had picked up a little bit of this useless stuff in his years hanging with Daniel – gauged that the turret was one of a set adorning the corners of the tower, the other long lost to history. An opening in the center of the tower betokened the presence of a window or arrow slit.
Per protocol, there was a guard posted nearby to protect the non-military personnel from any unforeseen dangers. A female Lieutenant – Pho, if Jack remembered the mission report correctly – stood at ease, her weapon held casually, watching over the two men working there.
One of them, a tall, thin man, his fair hair slicked back against his scalp, hefted a spade full of muddy dirt from the corner of the wall. He unloaded it on the ground, scowling at the sloppy mess. That must be SG-5’s geologist, Jack guessed, Sams, was it?
He recognized the other man as one of the archaeologists under Daniel’s supervision. He should know the guy’s name; he’d seen him around on Level 18 a few times when he’d shown up there to drag Daniel to lunch or just hang out to harass his workaholic teammate into taking a break. Sadly, those days were few and far between lately. Not because Daniel had stopped skipping meals or working for hours on end without stop, but because Daniel and Jack seemed not to have that kind of relationship any more. The kind where Jack could razz his friend without Daniel taking offense.
Sams looked up as he approached, caught his eye. Jack nodded a greeting, quickening his pace in Daniel’s direction before the man could strike up a conversation.
Much to Jack’s chagrin, Daniel had a few years ago taken to wearing his hair near-military short. Jack had never thought the shoulder-length mop Daniel sported in the early years was acceptable on an SG team, still, it had better suited Daniel’s less-than-realistic world view. Sad to think the cutting of his tresses equated to the loss of his innocence. The breeze teased the longer strands on the crown of Daniel’s head, inspiring them to a wispy dance.
The guard assigned to Daniel sprung to attention the second Jack came near enough to be recognized. Daniel glanced up, his attention drawn by the movement, and his gaze fell on Jack. His brow scored by a deep frown, he turned hastily and nearly fell over the generator parked next to his table. He moved the other way but, having determined he wouldn’t get away before Jack reached him – and no doubt knowing Jack would just follow him anyway – he straightened slowly, fortified his resolve with a deep breath and looked Jack straight in the eye.
“Airman, you’re relieved,” Jack said.
Waiting just until the man was out of earshot, Daniel demanded, “Jack, what are you doing here?”
“Brandon got called back. Hammond needed someone to take over the mission.”
“Yes, I know all that. I meant, what are *you* doing here.”
“Oh. Like I said, Hammond needed another team leader to replace Brandon. I agreed to do it.”
“Because you’re such a huge fan of archeological digs?”
“As a matter of fact…” Jack began then, realizing he couldn’t pull it off, swiped a hand before him as though chasing the thought away. “Yeah, okay I’m not a fan, but I was there and Hammond needed a mission leader. Besides, you know how I hate it when someone borrows my archaeologist –”
“I didn’t mean ‘my’ in the personal sense. You’re a member of SG-1.”
“I don’t need your permission to go off world with another team.” Even as he said the words, Daniel winced in dismay, no doubt anticipating Jack’s response.
“Yeah, technically, you do. If I don’t sign off, you don’t go.”
Daniel sighed, defeated. “Yes, I know. You have the final say and as long as I’m under your command, there’s nothing I can do.”
What the hell does that mean, ‘as long as I’m under your command’? Unable to give the question voice – mostly because given Daniel’s current mood he feared the answer – Jack instead turned towards the excavation site and gestured at the work going on.
“So, what exactly have you found here?”
Daniel sighed again, recognizing the question for the overture that it was. It contained an inherent request for Daniel to show Jack around; an invitation Daniel was clearly not up to accepting. Standing firm behind his worktable, he gazed out at the dig.
“There are no ‘space guns’ or interspecies communications devices, if that’s what you mean. The similarity between this structure and Earnest’s castle ends at the turrets, I’m afraid.”
Jack’s grunt of disappointment had Daniel instantly defensive. “That doesn’t mean we won’t find something of value. We have three more days. If you’ve come here to shut down the dig –”
Instinctively, Jack raised his hands between them and made a calming gesture. “Take it easy. I told you, I’m here to replace Brandon. No one said anything about spoiling your fun.”
His brow lifting in surprise then gathering in suspicion again, Daniel gave Jack’s face a penetrating look.
Damn, I’ve screwed him over so much lately he’s not sure whether to trust what he’s hearing.
In the end, Daniel nodded, accepting the vow as true. “Well, if you don’t mind, while I’m still here, I’d like to try to get some more work done. I know waiting around is not high on your list of activities, so why don’t you go for a walk or something?”
“Nice try, but I’m not leaving you alone.”
Daniel looked away, muttered under his breath, “God, I wish you would.”
“What? Wish I would what?”
“Nothing. Never mind.”
Jack watched him for a moment. Daniel closed his eyes tiredly, the glow of health Jack had seen earlier draining from him as Jack watched.
“Okay, so it’s not another meeting place for the intergalactic peace club. Any idea what it is?”
Daniel perked up minutely, the opportunity to talk archaeology bound to buoy him in the worst of circumstances. “We’re not completely sure other than it is a castle. The size of the stones suggests fortification –”
“Plus, it’s got the tower,” Jack supplied helpfully.
“Yes, it does,” Daniel agreed, a tight smile the telltale indication of his annoyance at the interruption. “There’s a village a few meters from here. Definitely transplanted from Earth’s early medieval period.”
“Collins filled me in.”
“Right. This structure was destroyed long ago so I didn’t expect any of the current inhabitants to remember it. I was hoping there was some sort of record, but –”
“Let me guess, they weren’t big on keeping records.”
“Their society is on a par with the pre-Chaucer Christians we met a few years ago. No one except the religious leaders knows how to read and write. Their verbal history includes a story concerning an enemy that plagued their ancestors, a people who once occupied this castle. According to the legend, God defeated them.”
“You already know their legends?”
“Since the demon stopped coming around, the villagers have been venturing further away from home. They sent the kids down here to cut peat for burning. I asked if they knew anything about the structure. They told us the story, reveling in their God’s victory over a people they were convinced were evil.”
“No surprise there.”
“I know they were just reciting what they’d been taught, but I have to admit it was a bit disconcerting to hear condemnation for another species coming from kids.”
“Let me guess, you tried to convince them these people weren’t evil.” Of course, he did, came the answer in Jack’s mind.
“Not very successfully.”
“At least you were able to convince them we aren’t evil. That’s something.”
A small smile of gratitude briefly shifted the dismay from Daniel’s face, though it was so fleeting, anyone who did not know Daniel as well as Jack would have missed it.
Jack’s frown grew deeper than Daniel’s, aggravated at people he hadn’t even met. “Is that what happened to the castle?” he asked to take both their minds off the villagers. “A war?”
“Some of the damage is likely the result of an assault but ultimately weathering and time brought down the walls.”
“What about the folks who built it? Do you really think that God destroyed them?”
Daniel slid him a narrow-eyed look. “We may never know. My guess is Sokar’s Jaffa killed them all when they first moved the villagers here. Probably planted that ‘God destroys his enemies’ story in their heads.
Jack harrumphed agreement. “That would be their style.”
Daniel declined comment and the conversation died, the awkward silence soon overrun by Daniel’s slightly congested breathing and the snap of twigs in the distant campfire.
“Come on,” Jack invited, as much to fill the void as to offer Daniel an olive branch. “Give me the grand tour.”
Daniel hesitated a minute, still suspicious there might be an ulterior motive, before stepping from behind the table.
Jack took a few steps backward to give him room to pass – and cringed at the squelch of his boot in the muck. He glanced over his shoulder and located the ribbon-festooned stake three feet behind him.
“You may need to move that marker. This whole area looks to be flooded.”
“Yeah,” Daniel said with a shrug. “It rained yesterday. We used the pumps but the ground is so saturated, it just keeps seeping back into the low lying areas.”
“Ah.” Jack dumped his pack next to the table, shouldered his weapon and followed after Daniel. “That explains why you wasted a day of digging to visit that village.”
“It’ll drain off in a day or so,” Daniel said, ignoring the quip.
“Why would you want to work in the middle of a swamp anyway?”
“Peat bog, actually, and we’re working here because this is where the ruins are.”
“Why can’t you look for ruins on sunny planets…next to a lake teeming with fish?”
“Would that I had something like that to keep you out of my hair,” Daniel lamented before launching into a defense of their surrounding. “Bogs have yielded some of the most interesting discoveries in archaeology. Surely you’ve heard of the bog bodies of Europe.”
“Is that that death metal band Teal’c’s taken a liking to? I wish I knew who introduced him to that crap.”
“No, Jack, I’m talking about actual human bodies, buried in peat bogs. They’ve been found in various parts of Europe – Denmark, Germany, Britain. It’s really fascinating, the peat is highly acidic and anaerobic which makes it a very effective preservative. The presence of sphagnum mosses and tannin also aid in preservation. Bodies pulled from the bog are naturally mummified. I can’t believe you haven’t heard of this.”
“Well, you know, I don’t get around as much as I used to, so…”
As they neared the wall, Sams clamored out of the trench he’d created to meet them.
“Jack, this is Doctor Sams, our geology expert. He’s analyzing the soil for us when his team is taking a break from searching for naquadah. Caleb, Colonel O’Neill.
“The famous Colonel O’Neill,” Sams amended with a smile. “Or should I say infamous? Level 18 is constantly echoing with tales of your exploits.”
Level 18. Home of the ‘soft’ sciences. Jack had run afoul of more than one linguist and half the archaeologists over the years.
Jack affected an amused grin. Looks like I’ll be adding a geologist to the list. “So, you’re the guy who thinks this stench is earthy.”
Sams chuckled. “Colonel Brandon was not so easily convinced either. It’s fascinating…”
That word again! Jack howled in his head. Don’t these geeks realize it’s usually anything but?
…Earth bogs are generally odorless.” That’s as much as Jack got. Sams prattled on for several minutes, most of his painstaking descriptions lost to Jack’s distraction. He picked up bits and pieces: acidity (something he’d just heard from Daniel); rain-fed (which puzzled him at first because he thought they were talking about the surrounding swamp, not cattle); oxidation rate; pH…something.
Finally, Sams stopped talking. He nodded satisfaction at a job well done, swiped his hands on the back of his BDU pants, and threading through the equipment, made his way to camp.
Tempted to give his head a sharp shake to clear it of the nonsense he’d just absorbed, Jack instead turned a probing eye on Daniel. As he’d suspected, Daniel wore a cat that got the canary look, his amusement at Jack’s predicament clear in the mischievous gleam is his eye.
That’s fine, Jack told himself. Let him get a little fun at my expense. God knows I haven’t given him much to be happy about lately. He smiled himself, content to see Daniel relaxed in his presence. It had been far too long.
He didn’t realize he’d been staring until Daniel started to fidget under the steady gaze, the grin slowly falling from his face. He pivoted away suddenly and leaned down, placing his left hand against the rocks to steady himself as he climbed into the hole. With a hiss, he snatched the hand away. Clutching it to his chest, he landed a bit awkwardly in the trench but righted himself immediately, his cheeks tinting a chagrined red.
“You didn’t hurt that wrist again, did you?” Jack asked, reaching for the arm plastered against Daniel’s midsection. “Let me look at it.”
Daniel jerked away from him. “It’s fine. It’s just...it’s still a little sore.” As an additional means of hiding his discomfort, he bent and examined the exposed portion of the wall.
“Sorry,” Jack said, berating himself internally. Way to kill his good mood, O’Neill. Took you all of two seconds to piss him off again.
“Have you found any writing?” he heard himself asking, hoping to get back in Daniel’s good graces.
“On the inside of the ruined turret,” Daniel gestured vaguely, his irritation of a moment ago not quite erased by the interest in to his work. “It’s a derivation of Insular Celtic, uh, that’s Celtic originating in Britain and Ireland. It’s similar in style to Old Welsh.”
“Any idea what it says?”
Daniel straightened, groaning. “No, it’s incomplete. As you can see the walls are crumbling. I can make out a few words but that’s all. The inscription is framed by an interwoven pattern carved into the stone, a Celtic knot. It was a very common decoration on church monuments and manuscripts.”
“Church monuments, huh? Did you see any when you went to the village?”
“How were you able to convince them you weren’t demons come to take their souls?”
“It wasn’t as difficult as I feared; they were wary at first, but I pointed out that, if we were interested in their souls, we would have gone directly to their village instead of spending our first few days here, examining these ruins.”
“Still, last time we came across a civilization like this, they just automatically assumed we had evil intentions.”
“Well, the first thing we did then was counter the Canon’s proscriptions. That didn’t happen this time.”
“You mean when we kept them from sacrificing an innocent girl to their ‘demon?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Amazingly, this Canon welcomed us. He wasn’t at all concerned that we were outsiders.”
“Well, he’s certainly a mellower form from the last religious nut we encountered.”
Daniel nodded thoughtfully. “He’s old and frail and, to be honest, I think probably a bit senile. Also, it helps that everything is going just fine in their world: in addition to the absence of demons – and therefore, the need to sacrifice villagers – there have been no plagues or natural disasters to blame on the newcomers.”
“That’s nice for a change. We always seem to get blamed for disasters that aren’t our fault.”
“He does have an apprentice who seemed less than happy about our presence. Of course, he lacks the authority to do anything.”
“He who wears the ring yields the power.”
“Not everyone who gains power sets out to use it for evil.”
“Alar, Calder.” Jack began ticking the names off on his fingers. “Every Goa’uld we’ve ever run into.”
“I get it, Jack.”
“All I’m sayin’ is we’ve done this before.”
“This time is different. The Canon wasn’t even wearing his ring.”
“No. I didn’t ask but it could be he felt, since it was no longer necessary to choose unclean individuals for sacrifice, he opted to get rid of the thing which caused his people to fear. They do seem more affectionate of him than afraid.”
“Or, he just lost the ring somewhere. You said he’s senile?”
“Possibly. He’s easily distracted and doesn’t really seem interested in much other than –”
The urgency of the hail had Jack pivoting sharply, his weapon in his hands, held at the ready. He gestured, and the team quickly closed ranks. Jack shifted, placing himself between Daniel and the large group of people stalking purposefully towards them.
They looked like the cast of a poor man’s Renaissance Festival. Most wore leather britches or tights under thigh-length tunics, cinched at the waist with a wide leather belt. Some at the front of the crowd sported leather cups across their groins, the size of which had Jack thinking, You wish. For some unknown reason – though Jack suspected Daniel could give him a few – most of the men were bald or nearly so. Too damn many of them carried farm implements, pitchforks and scythes, but not one of them carried his equipment like he was headed to the field.
There were a few women in the crowd, but they kept behind the men. Dressed in simple floor length homespun, even the fairer sex stalked towards them as though they had an ax to grind.
“This doesn’t look good. You know these guys?”
“They’re from the village.” Maddeningly, Daniel shirted Jack’s defensive position and greeted the visitors. “Corann, we weren’t expecting to see you here today.”
“Daniel,” a young, blonde man greeted. “We bring grave news.”
“What –” Daniel took a responsive step backward as Corann was shoved roughly to the side, his pleasant visage replaced by an officious red face.
“You are responsible for bringing these strangers among us?”
Jack recognized the uniform: the black biretta, a vague remnant from his nearly forgotten religious education, the head-hugging version sported here unique to this particular culture; the long black robe covering tunic, tights and boots, all of which were of better quality than those worn by the people surrounding him.
He also recognized the attitude. This was the guy in charge.
“Actually, that would be me.” Jack stepped around Daniel, raising a hand to forestall the objection he knew Daniel was about to lodge. “Colonel Jack O’Neill. And you are?”
The man puffed himself up, clearly taken by his own importance. “My name is Drem.”
“O-kay, Drem. Can we help you in some way?”
A low buzz as of the sound of a hundred insects taking flight began to flow through the crowd. They broke into smaller groups, heads together in discussion. Several of the men, armed with pikes instead of farm tools, stood solidly behind Drem, resembling nothing so much as a security detail.
Daniel flashed a concerned glance Jack’s way before turning his attention to one of the gathered villagers.
“Corann, what’s going on? We talked about why we’re here. I thought the inhabitants of your village were comfortable with our presence.”
“Not all of you have been here this whole time.” Drem aimed a hard look at Jack.
Jack shrugged. “Yeah, okay, I just got here this morning. I’m with them so, what’s the problem?”
“What?” Jack snapped, as Daniel asked urgently, “Your Canon is dead? How?”
Drem sneered. “How, indeed?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“If you thought to leave these people without a spiritual leader, you have failed.”
“Wait just a minute,” Jack growled. “Before you go accusing us of stuff, why don’t you at least tell us what happened to your Canon?”
Corann waited just long enough for Drem to nod approval before speaking. “The Canon left this morning for his daily walk through the woods, to commune with God. When he did not return, a party went out to search for him. They found him dead, beneath the branch of a large tree. Drem was the Canon’s apprentice and has now taken his place.”
Jack narrowed his eyes, cocked his head, and aimed his chin at Drem’s bare hands. “You’re the new Canon? Where’s your ring?”
“It seems my predecessor has misplaced it. However, I do no require a symbol; my people recognize my authority.”
Waving off Jack’s expected response, Daniel said, “I remember you. You’re Corann’s uncle, right? You objected to our being here and convinced the Canon to ban us from the village.”
“That has not changed. However, now that I am Canon I can demand more than that you leave. You must be punished for your crime.”
“What crime?” Jack demanded.
“We’re not responsible for the Canon’s death,” Daniel contended reasonably. “That branch was probably weak. With all the rain you’ve had lately, it could easily have become too heavy to remain on the tree. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“You will be sorrier still.”
As though the comment was a cue, the members of SG-5 lifted their rifles, ready to defend themselves.
“No!” Daniel whirled on Jack, pleading urgently in his face. “Why does it always have to be like this?”
Jack was as taken aback by Daniel’s advance into his personal space as he was by the anxiety his friend expressed. It was the same desperate look Jack had seen every time Daniel begged for the chance to forestall a potentially deadly end to a conflict, a look he had been seeing a lot lately: on K’Tau, when Jack would leave an entire village to die an untimely death; on base where he argued against flooding the mind of a young boy with the horrific memories of every Goa’uld just to find a weapon to use against them; and, most recently, when Daniel had sought to save a homicidal android from certain death, even at the risk of his own life.
Whether it was guilt or a need to wipe that look from Daniel’s face, Jack gestured for his men to stand down.
He determined the small smile of thanks was worth whatever happened next.
Daniel turned to Drem. “Can I have just a moment to speak with Colonel O’Neill?”
It sounded way too much like an attorney asking the judge for permission to explain to his client the details of the sentence about to be handed down for Jack’s comfort.
“We will not be swayed from our demand for judgment.”
“Yeah, I got that,” Daniel sighed, motioning Jack to the side.
“Daniel, if ever there was a time to use force, this is it,” Jack splutterd before Daniel even opened his mouth. He gestured over Daniel’s shoulder, to Drem’s folded hands. “He’s not wearing the ring. Don’t look!” he hissed as Daniel began to turn. “I say we take our chances.”
“And if they try to stop us? Which innocent villager were you thinking of killing first?”
“Actually, I was planning to take out the guy so hell bent on doing me in. Why are they so convinced I’m responsible for the Canon’s death, anyway?”
“Seems the Canon died at the same time you arrived on the planet.”
“So? Haven’t these people ever heard of a coincidence?”
“Actually, no. In their worldview, tragedy is brought on by witchcraft – demon worship – or punishment from God.”
“And, of course, they’re not going with the punishment from God theory.”
“The Canon was their spiritual leader; if God was angry with him, where would that leave them? That would be like you admitting General Hammond doesn’t have the moral right to give orders at the SGC.”
“I guess. So, what do you propose?”
“Even though he was the Canon’s apprentice and therefore has authority to lead his people, I get the idea Drem feels the need to prove he’s been chosen by God.”
“Okay. Seriously not backing down.”
“You think you can talk us out of this?”
“It’s worth a try, isn’t it? I mean, at least no one has died from conversation.”
“I know a few people who’ve felt like they were going to die,” Jack challenged.
Daniel was not amused. “Just…let me see what I can do.”
Swiping a hand, inviting Daniel to precede him, Jack schooled his features and trudged behind Daniel back to the collected villagers.
“Look, Drem,” Daniel began.
“Enough of this. There is no doubt the intent of this one is evil. He must stand trial.”
“Wait just a minute,” Jack protested. “I’ve been called a lot of things, but evil is over the line. Just listen, will you?”
“I will not! You are unclean! Your presence endangers the souls of all those in the village.”
“Okay then, how about this: we’ll just go and promise never to come back again.”
“You cannot go. You must answer for the Canon’s death.”
“Yeah, that didn’t work last time either. Okay it’s me you want. I’ll stay; let everyone else go. Collins, take Doctor Jackson with you.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“Daniel –” Jack reached for Daniel, who skipped back a pace, out of reach.
“No, Jack! Did you seriously think I’d just leave you here to be tortured and executed?
You didn’t kill the Canon.”
Drem tsked. “You would dare defend him?”
The wheels turning in Daniel’s head were damn near audible. “Don’t,” Jack warned.
“I would!” Daniel proclaimed over him. “So, I guess you’ll have to put me on trial me, too.”
“Damn it! What are you doing? He has nothing to do with this. I’ll stay and undergo your trial or whatever. Just let the rest of them go.”
“This one cannot go. Corann has told me that you blasphemed our God, arguing that He had no right to destroy those who dwelled here, the enemy of our people.”
Corann, who continued to stand at his uncle’s side, ducked his head in misery and Jack suspected Drem was putting a wicked spin on what the kid had told him.
“It wasn’t my intention to blaspheme,” Daniel countered, “but yes, I did try to convince the children that no society has the authority to destroy another.”
“And now, you have confessed collusion with this one, here in the presence of witnesses.” Drem smirked at Jack. “He must remain. If I were to let him go –”
“What? If you were to let him go, what? You’d lose face in the eyes of your followers?”
Corann laid a calming hand on Drem’s arm. “Uncle, you cannot believe that Daniel is –”
Drem whirled on him so quickly Corann nearly lost his footing backpedaling. “You should hold your tongue. Your soul is in danger. Do not think that I will be swayed to spare you because you are my nephew. I will purge any evil from among us!”
“Oh, fer cryin’ out loud!” Jack erupted. “The kid is not evil and neither is Daniel. He is not a danger to you or your people. You need to let him go, now!”
“You would do well not to threaten me,” Drem warned. He glanced over his shoulder to his armed companions, who shifted, anticipating the order to move in.
Daniel lunged between them. “Colonel O’Neill is not a threat to you.”
“Don’t go making promises I can’t keep,” Jack grumbled just loud enough for Daniel and Drem to hear.
“Jack!” Daniel whispered harshly, that supremely patronizing tone which Jack had heard countless times over their years together always conveying the same message. ‘Shut up and let me handle this.’
More often than not Jack ignored the tone.
“You’re wasting your time talkin’. This guy has already made up his mind I’m guilty. You’re not going to convince him otherwise. Collins!”
Taking Daniel’s arm in an iron grip, Jack shoved him towards the startled major. “Take Doctor Jackson and get back to the ‘gate.”
“I’m not leaving!”
“He cannot go. He has been judged. You both must face punishment.” Drem gestured to the armed men behind him.
As they advanced, Jack reflexively positioned Daniel behind him and raised his weapon. Collins and his men did likewise.
“Hold it right there,” he warned. “I don’t want to hurt anyone, but if I have to…”
The villagers stopped, but Jack began a steady retreat, motioning his team to follow with a jerk of his head.
“Jack!” Daniel protested again.
“Daniel, I’m not arguing with you! We are leaving. Now! Collins, get those scientists out of here.”
There was no need to watch that his order was followed; SG-5 quickly herded Doctor Sams and Daniel’s fellow archaeologist and ushered them behind Jack and Daniel, headed towards the ‘gate.
There was no need to spare his attention for Daniel, either. Jack could stand face to face with his archaeologist, glare his displeasure directly into Daniel’s narrowed blue eyes, and Daniel would still resist his efforts to bring an end to the conflict by military means.
What Jack was watching, his heart pounding harder as each moment passed, was the crowd of villagers. There was movement at the back, the packed together citizens separating to allow the passage of a single individual. The man, hands cupped together against his chest as though he conveyed a priceless stone, made a bee line for Drem.
“No,” Jack whispered. “Come on, Daniel, move it!”
With no time to be gentle about it, Jack wound his fist in the back of Daniel’s jacket and shifted him bodily, tugging then shoving Daniel towards the ‘gate.
“The ring!” Jack answered before Daniel could form the question. “He’s got the damn ring!”
The sky darkened, black clouds roiling overhead. Running was futile, but just standing and allowing Drem to drop them where they stood was not an option. Finally on the same page as his team leader, Daniel scrambled toward the relative protection of the ruins, Jack right behind him. They got as far as the table Daniel had set up to record his findings when daylight flared around them.
The sensation of thousands of needles pricking his exposed skin was familiar, but the burning throb in his left leg was new. As was the sensation of flying. Hitting the ground was a common enough occurrence but seeing Daniel tossed head over heels, crashing to earth with a sickening thud – no matter how often it happened – was something Jack would never become accustomed to. Mercifully, his vision darkened as the ring’s force took effect.
It was the clinking he noticed first then something heavy and cold against his cheek.
Groaning under his breath, Daniel levered his right eye open. The sound caught in his throat as only darkness met him. Forcing the other eye open, he breathed again as he determined it was the wooden post against which he rested, face first, that had blocked the light. His vision was off, owing to the loss of his glasses, but he could see.
There was no way to know for sure how long he’d been unconscious but the murky outline of the sun was starting to disappear behind the trees.
He sat back slowly, the jangle of the chain attached to the manacles encircling his wrists sounding more like a clanging gong placed next to his ear.
A mildly quieter chain answered his, and Daniel glanced over his shoulder to find Jack sitting against the next post.
“Haven’t we been here before?” Daniel asked him, realizing they’d been chained to the posts in the village square, the place where, traditionally, sacrifices were detained.
“Yeah. Déjà vu is wildly overrated.”
Daniel chuffed a laugh, pulling a sharp breath as the throbbing in his head increased. He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the chains, the cold metal soothing the ache however minutely.
“I don’t know.”
“Huh. You’d think as many concussions as you’ve had you’d be able to tell how bad it is.”
“You don’t know I have a concussion.”
“I saw you hit the ground, Daniel.”
“Oh.” Sighing, Daniel pushed himself away from the post. He straightened as best as his seated position and his various pains would let him, and turned toward Jack.
Jack winced in sympathy. “How bad is it?”
Pulling against the chains and straining his reach, Daniel was just able to skim the lump coming up on the back of his head. His fingertips came back wet and he wondered briefly if it was blood or just a byproduct of the damp ground he’d been lying on.
“Not as bad as having my brain fried by a Goa’uld hand device.”
Daniel forced a grin. “What the hell happened?”
“Either Drem has no idea what he’s doing with that ring, or he’s a natural and he meant to kill us.”
“Jack, my head already hurts; please, no riddles.”
“The lightning bolt hit the generator. Blew the damn thing to hell.”
“Funny.” Daniel smirked objectionably in response to the pun. “Did SG-5 escape?”
“There’s no outrunning that lightning bolt. No, they’re over there, in a cell.” Jack aimed his chin over his shoulder. “At least no one else was hurt. You and I were the only ones near the generator.”
“You and I?” For the first time, Daniel noticed that Jack was uncharacteristically still. His back against the post to which he was chained, he sat with his right knee bent, his left leg held stiffly straight. “Are you wounded?”
“It’s just a flesh wound.”
Daniel gave him the look he always used when he knew Jack was trying to pull some shit. “Jack.”
Shifting forward, as if intending to sit up higher, Jack aborted the move with a hiss. He bit his lip against the ache in his leg – in vain if the contortions his face went through was any indication.
“There’s a…” Jack tilted his head and considered the wound. “Oh, six or seven inch gash just above my knee. On an up note, the scar it leaves will blend nicely with those from my knee surgeries.”
“Yes, there’s that.” The reply dripped sarcasm. “What hit you?”
“Shrapnel from the generator or maybe your table. Oh, by the way, the explosion pretty much made confetti of your notes. Sorry.”
“Never mind my notes. How deep is the wound? Shrapnel, you said? So there’s metal in your leg? Did they offer you medical attention?” Daniel turned, swallowed hard against the resultant vertigo and nausea and yelled toward the nearest house. “Did you offer him medical attention?”
Jack cringed, gesturing for Daniel to keep the volume down. “What would be the point; they’re planning to kill me. Besides, I’m not so sure I want their ‘medical attention’. For all I know they think boring a hole in the patient’s head is the cure for everything.”
Daniel moaned. “If a hole in the head would get rid of this headache, I just might go for it.”
“Whoa, it must be bad. You usually try to downplay your injuries.”
“I’m too tired to play games.”
Jack’s eyes widened, and Daniel instantly regretted the confession. Truth was he was tired of playing: of pretending his place on SG-1 was relevant; of pretending his hard work made any difference; of pretending their friendship meant as much to Jack as it did to him.
You stupid son of a bitch. Five words representing the culmination of his frustration and sense of total disregard by those he valued most. Bet you weren’t expecting that, were you, Jack? Momentary satisfaction gave way to discomfiture. Neither was I, to tell you the truth.
Jack continued to watch him. Thankfully, Daniel was spared the necessity of explaining his comment as Drem emerged from a nearby building, drawing Jack’s attention away. He glared at them a moment, before stalking to the opposite end of the village.
“Hey!” Jack called. “What? You’re just going to leave us here to die? That’s not a particularly Christian thing to do!”
Daniel flinched against the bellow. “What else can they do? It’s not like they have an Unas to take care of the problem for them.”
“Still, it irks that he won’t even acknowledge us. I mean, how do you accuse people of murder then just chain them up and ignore them?”
“Actually, it probably happened a lot. People in the Middle Ages served out their sentences wearing irons or chained to the wall of their cell...”
Jack turned an irritated squint on him, but Daniel suspected it had more to do with the situation – this time, at least – than anything Daniel was telling him.
“Think they’ll do that water test on me,” Jack wondered aloud, “because, you know, I can hold my breath when it’s necessary but…not that long.”
“That’s only one of a variant on the water torture they could use, but they probably have other means to persuade you to confess.”
“It would depend on what torture devices are available to them. The rack was pretty popular in the Middle Ages, as was the Wheel. You have no idea how many sadistic ways there are to torment someone.”
“Oh, I have some idea.”
“Of course they don’t actually need devices; they could just shove slivers of wood under your finger or toe nails –”
“Done that one,” Jack announced suddenly.
Daniel closed his eyes, exhaled a shaky breath. “I imagine you’ve endured all kinds of torture, but never when the torturer didn’t care whether you lived or died.”
“No. Up until now they were more interested in getting information than proving some oddball theory that I’m a demon. Speaking of which, that whole defending me thing, you knew this would happen, didn’t you?”
Squinting across the distance, Daniel resisted the urge to squirm under Jack’s penetrating gaze. “Well, there was no way to know for sure, but yes, I did know that in Christian history anyone who defended a heretic was also accused.”
“Why would you do that?”
“How could I not?”
Jack apparently had no answer for that because he just turned and stared across the village square.
“I wonder how the ring works,” Daniel spoke into the silence that followed. “I mean, they’re not Goa’uld and it’s not by naquadah in the blood. Sam and Teal’c would have detected that.”
“What difference does it make?”
“None, I guess. I was just trying to focus on something other than these chains.”
Jack balled his hands, lifted them to shoulder height and gave a good yank against the chain. His face contorted in discomfort as the chains held, the manacles chafing against his wrists.
“Damn, I was hoping since they hadn’t been used in a few years they might break.”
“Even without the demon, er, Unas coming to claim unclean souls these chains were probably used from time to time as a means for punishment. Given his febrile state, some of the Canon’s decisions may have been controversial and any question of his authority would be the height of offense.”
“Well, if the old Canon, even in his dotage, was concerned about his authority, what about this new guy?”
“If history predicts, his sole concern is keeping his flock in check, assuring that none of them strays from his control. I have no doubt that if he was in charge yesterday, he would have immediately ordered us out of the village, probably shown us the ring and threatened us with God’s vengeance if we returned.”
“Who needs a demon when you have a nifty power ring to keep people in line?”
Daniel’s responsive chuckle was anything but amused.
“All right, well, I know you like talking to people, but really, is it a great loss? We didn’t have such a great time with the last group of Christians we ran into.
“My concern is for the villagers. They’ll quickly become oppressed. Even without threat of sacrifice, they are basically hostage to the whim of a dictator. He rules their lives simply because he has the means.”
“Wasn’t it you who just argued not everyone who gains power uses it for evil?”
“Clearly, that’s not the case here.”
“Well, as I pointed out earlier, we’ve learned that you don’t have to be a Goa’uld to crave power. You’re not going to change things. That’s not your job.”
Daniel flashed a sad smile. “I’m not sure what my job is any –” He stopped mid-sentence as Drem came their way, once again rescuing Daniel from revealing too much of himself.
Even truncated, the comment was not lost on Jack as evidenced by the left brow which leapt in enquiry just before he schooled his features and faced his accuser. Daniel had no doubt they would be revisiting this topic.
“Come to gloat?” Jack snipped.
“I have come to tell you that the Canon, my predecessor, has been buried. He was honored as befits his station.”
“Traditionally,” Daniel offered unsolicited, “important members of the clergy were buried in full ceremonial robes. Often their graves will be marked with a slab laid flat over the grave or a cross.”
“How nice for him.”
“It is done. Tomorrow, you will stand trial, your soul tested and cleansed.”
“And it doesn’t matter to you that I’m not responsible for the Canon’s death?”
“The tests will prove your guilt.”
“I’ve seen your tests; I’m not convinced they’re as flawless as you seem to think.”
“Your physical body may suffer, yes, but your soul will survive, purified.”
“Maybe I like my soul dirty.”
“Jack,” Daniel warned for the third time that day.
“Well, it makes no sense. How could I have killed the Canon over such a great distance?”
“Evil has its ways.”
“We’re not evil,” Jack insisted. “In fact, you should be thanking us.”
“Jack, don’t –”
“No, Daniel. Let’s just set the record straight. If not for us, you would still be sacrificing your people to that big, ugly Unas, or as you know him, your demon.”
Drem gasped. “What are you saying?”
“It was us who got rid of that demon for you. You’re welcome.”
“Only God can destroy a demon, unless…one demon may also destroy another demon.”
“I tried to tell you,” Daniel lamented.
“So, you confess you are a demon.”
“I never said anything of the kind.”
“Actually, you kind of did,” Daniel seconded, his tone a mixture of annoyance and dread.
Daniel sighed. “Maybe you should leave the talking to me.”
“I was doing fine. These people are just –”
“I told you before, their way of seeing things is completely different from ours. You can’t reason with them if you don’t understand their expectations.”
Daniel suppressed a cry of alarm as Jack’s expression turned vaguely self-satisfied. He cut his eyes to gauge Drem’s reaction. Fortunately, Drem did not know Jack as well as Daniel did. Jack was up to something and all Daniel could do was hope he was able to smooth over whatever feathers Jack was about to ruffle.
Even knowing Jack, Daniel was not prepared for what happened next.
“Okay,” Jack said, his voice uncharacteristically conciliatory, “you got me. I am a demon.” He gestured at Daniel. “He thinks I don’t understand, but one thing I do understand: you want to look good in the eyes of your people, huh? Make a good impression out of the gate? Well I promise, I will fight like hell – literally – against your accusations or your tests or whatever. But if you agree to let everyone else go, I’ll stay and I’ll agree with whatever you say. No argument. That’ll impress them, I bet, that you subdued a demon.”
Drem flapped a hand in Daniel’s direction. “He cannot be released. His actions make him guilty as well.” It was as if Drem was stuck on replay.
“Plus,” Daniel added, “you just implicated me in your demon killing.”
“Fine!” Jack spat, at the limit of his patience with the process. “Just send the rest back. You can put us both on trial.”
Drem gave them a look that said he couldn’t tell if he was being mocked or not. As though the cohesion they’d been missing for the past year returned just for the occasion, Jack and Daniel lowered their eyes in tandem, seemingly in supplication.
“Very well,” Drem said after a moment. “I will send the others back where they came from. He gestured to his guards “Take them to the Circle of Darkness.”
Two men aimed their pikes at the door of the cell as a third unlocked it. Major Collins emerged first, a dark frown crossing his face. Lieutenant Pho came out next, her gaze catching that of her superior as she walked by him. It was nearly a minute before the civilians came out, the archaeologist looking about nervously, Doctor Sams staring down one of the guards as he emerged. He was followed almost immediately by the remaining military personnel, their expressions running the gamut from incensed to confused.
“You are free to leave,” Drem told them.
Collins made to go to his still captured team members. A pair of pikes crossing his chest halted his progress.
“Go. That’s an order.”
“We’ll be back for you, sir.”
“Negative. Drem and I have reached an agreement. Tell Hammond I advise against sending reinforcements.”
Collins held his gaze a moment, his quizzical expression morphing into an almost imperceptible grin of understanding. He nodded once before allowing himself to be herded back with the others.
“Blumenthal, Pho take point,” he ordered, determined to retain some control. “Civilians in the middle. Sparks, Miller, cover their sixes.”
Drem shot them a hostile look and stalked after the group, apparently needing to see for himself that the outsiders returned to their own world.
Craning his neck to follow their progress, Daniel shifted once they were out of his line of sight, gaining a beam on Jack.
“It was your idea,” Jack shrugged. “I just had to understand his expectations.”
“I’ve been saying that for years,” Daniel pointed out caustically. “Glad to hear some of it penetrated the military mind control.”
“We’re all listening to you, Daniel…most of the time. Your way just doesn’t always accomplish our mission.”
The surge of adrenaline released in the last moments – or maybe it was Jack’s confirmation of his obsolescence – pushed Daniel’s headache to nauseating levels. He gave in to the demand for relief, kneading his forehead with thumb and fingertips. “General Hammond will never go for that, you know, leaving us here.”
“No, he won’t. But Judge Dredd doesn’t know that.”
“He’s going to send an army against these people, isn’t he?” Daniel tried to keep the fatigue out of his voice, the mind numbing tiredness of all the killing and strife that seemed to be the modus operandi of late.
“He won’t rush into anything. He’ll try to negotiate first,” Jack assured. “SG-5 knows our deadline. Once they get back, they’ll debrief the General. He’ll probably get Kovacek and SG-9 involved. If they can free us without hostility, they will. But, I don’t think Hammond is willing to let either one of us be sacrificed on an alien world. He’ll do whatever is necessary to prevent that.”
Daniel closed his eyes, rested his forehead against the post. He wrenched them open as shuffling footsteps approached.
“The tests will begin at first light in the morning,” Drem pronounced. “You will remain here under guard until that time.”
“What about his wound?”
Drem canted his head, considered Jack’s injured leg. “It will prevent him from escaping.”
Daniel rattled his chains. “I thought that’s what these are for.”
“Must you question my every decision?”
“Yeah,” Jack replied tartly, “he really must.”
It took Daniel a moment to determine that the comment was not a remark against his constantly questioning Jack’s orders. “All I’m asking is that you don’t let him bleed to death. You do want someone to try in the morning.”
Unmoved, Drem rounded on Daniel. “Do not think because I am newly established as Canon of this village that I am not familiar with the ways of evil beings. This request is meant to garner sympathy, to draw me or one of my people closer so that the demon can hold sway over us as he has you. I will not be deceived. That wound will not kill him.”
Drem stepped back, aimed a final glare at them, gestured one of the guards into place beside the dais, and stormed off.
“Wow,” Jack muttered. “Someone sure is touchy.”
“Well, in spite of his insistence that he knows what he’s doing, clearly he’s a bit insecure about leading his flock. Otherwise, why would he have made a deal with the devil?”
“Maybe it was my irresistible charm.”
Daniel coughed a laugh, regretting it immediately. “Ow. My head hurts. I’m going to close my eyes for a while.”
“Go ahead. I’ll keep watch.”
Knowing he couldn’t dissuade Jack from his vigil, and too tired to try, Daniel curled up against the post, and fell into a troubled sleep the moment his eyes closed.
The cocking of the staff weapon sounded oddly like the snap of metal, a grinding clank accompanying the opening of the firing head.
Vaguely aware that the staff had been in his dreams, still Daniel wondered at the sound. It had been loud enough to stir him from an uncharacteristically deep slumber.
A harsh whisper startled him fully awake. “Daniel?”
Instinctively, Daniel pushed away from the post, gasping in surprise when the manacles scraped against his chafed skin as they fell from his wrists. He stared dumbly at the metal bracelets, glinting dully in the light of the moon.
“What’s going on?” he asked the night.
Jack was already on his feet, limping heavily in Daniel’s direction. “The locks opened on their own. Looks like the guard is out, too.”
“What? How could that happen?” His head moved clumsily on his shoulders, his thought processes muddled, like someone had wrapped his brain in cotton. The back of his head throbbed fiercely but Daniel resisted the urge to touch it, employing his hands instead in rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
Bypassing Daniel, Jack stooped awkwardly and took the guard’s weapon. “I don’t know, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.” He hopped back, wrapped a hand around Daniel’s forearm and tugged. “Let’s go. Which way to the ‘gate?”
“There.” Daniel gestured roughly in the direction they needed to go as he pushed himself upright. A bolt of white hot agony seared the back of his brain just as his world went dark. Managing to hold onto consciousness but not his balance, he reached out blindly for support.
The hand on his arm tightened. “You okay?” Jack’s voice was tense, his whispered query harsh.
“No, I don’t think so.” Daniel found fabric under his hand, gripped it tightly and pulled himself upright. “I can’t see.”
“What do you mean you can’t see?”
Aiming his face in the general vicinity of Jack’s voice, Daniel shot him a ‘duh’ look. “I mean I’m blind. I got this pain…” He gingerly rubbed the back of his head. “And everything went dark.”
“Don’t touch that. You can’t see anything?”
“Nothing. It’s all black.”
Jack stumbled against him, threatening to knock them both down. “Shit. All right, well, we don’t have time to worry about it now; those villagers could wake up at any time. Come here.” Jack’s arm wound around his waist, pulling him in tightly against his left side. “You help me walk and I’ll lead you. Which way did you say the gate was?”
A ripple of panic slithered up Daniel’s spine. Which way? He had no idea which direction he was facing now. How could he guide them to safety when he couldn’t see where they were going?
“Just.” He gestured for Jack to give him a minute. He inhaled, held it, calming his anxiety. Running the past few minutes through his head, he rewound them until he reached the point where he’d shown Jack the way they needed to go then fast forwarded to his current position.
“Over there.” He pointed confidently, his finger aiming just left of his breastbone.
Without waiting for an invitation, Jack started forward, Daniel knocking awkwardly against him. It took only a few paces before they found a rhythm.
“How’s your head?” Jack asked over the muted shuffle of their feet in the loose dirt and the occasional beat of the pike Jack was using to help support himself.
“Still there. The pain comes and goes but it’s manageable. How’s your leg?”
“It stings like a son of a bitch, but I’ll make it. What is it, seven kilometers?” In spite of his bravado, the question ended on a bit of a whine.
“Something like that.”
“Any idea how long we have until daylight?”
“The nights are only about six hours.”
“You must have loved that. You’re worse than a kid anxious for Christmas morning waiting for the sun to come up when you have rocks to explore.”
Daniel gave him a sour look. “Guess I’ll never know now…”
The dirt gave way to sodden soil, Daniel’s boots sinking deeper into the soft ground. The sensation was enhanced by the squelch of wet grass and leaves.
“We’ve left the village, haven’t we?”
“Yeah. We’re headed straight for the woods. What’s the path like? Any chance the ground is more solid here than at the dig site?”
“This whole area is bog. The track is fairly easy to follow, at least in the daylight.”
“I’m guessing the ground wasn’t covered in mist when you came through last time?”
It seemed pointless to respond to a question Jack clearly already knew the answer to, so Daniel held his peace.
“All right,” Jack continued. “We’ll take it easy for a bit. We can’t afford for either of us to go wrong-footed. At least the clouds have lifted and there’s a big moon to light the way.”
“Keep an eye out for areas devoid of grasses and trees,” Daniel advised. “That should be the pathway.”
“Ugh,” Jack grunted. “The damn mist is hiding the grass. Why couldn’t you guys lend them some of those fluorescent-taped stakes to mark the way?”
A breeze stirred Daniel’s hair, the cool brush across his neck giving him a chill. He jumped as a hazy figure moved in the periphery of his vision.
“What?” Jack shifted his weight and Daniel knew he’d lifted the pick into a defensive hold.
“I saw something.”
“You’re vision’s come back?”
“Not exactly.” Daniel turned his head and followed the pair of gauzy shapes as they moved to the trail before them. “You don’t see them?”
“No, I don’t see ‘them’. What is it you think you see?”
“Well, I’d call them shadowy, though I suppose they’re not technically shadows because they’re opaque white.”
Daniel shot him a jeering look. “There are no ghosts.”
“They sound like ghosts.”
The shapes began to dip and swirl just above the ground their passage displacing some of the fog.
“Look at that!” Jack exclaimed “The breeze cleared away the mist.”
“It wasn’t the breeze,” Daniel contended. “It was them.”
“Them,” Jack deadpanned. “The ghosts.”
“What?” Though soft, there was an unmistakable impatience to Jack’s query.
“They’re telling us to follow them. I think they want to lead us back to the gate.”
The ensuing stillness was so profound, if Jack hadn’t been holding on to him, Daniel might have thought he’d been abandoned.
“Um,” Jack finally said, turning to address the area where the fog had disbursed. “Not that I’m not grateful, but I think I’ll find my own way. Thanks.”
“Jack, they’re offering to help. Why would you take a chance on stumbling into the mud when we have a guide willing to show us the way?”
“Why are you so sure they want to help? You’ve got to realize what you’re asking here. I’m supposed to make a decision based on a being I can’t see, telling me things I can’t hear?”
“I see them. I hear them.”
“You have a head injury.”
The chill running down his back had nothing to do with the wind. Daniel pushed himself rigidly upright, hoped he was staring Jack in the face. “Still can’t trust me, huh?”
“This is not about trusting you –”
“That’s exactly what it’s about,” Daniel ground out, “whether or not you still have faith that I can convey meaning between us and alien or technological beings. You used to believe in me, even when I screwed up. Remember the aftermath of the sarcophagus addition? I’ve never been so glad to have someone so fiercely on my side. You fought to keep me on SG-1, but lately, I’m not even sure we’re on the same team.”
To stop himself from continuing in that vein, Daniel drew a big breath, blew it out. “Could you just – this time – trust me?”
Again, the silence between them stretched out until, unable to bear it, Daniel opened his mouth to fill it. Jack beat him to the punch.
“All right,” he said with conviction. “If you’re sure.”
“I am,” Daniel replied with just as much assurance.
“Let’s go then. But if they lead us out into the swamp and strand us there, I’m gonna say ‘I told you so’.”
Daniel cracked a smile. “Fair enough.”
He stumbled slightly as Jack ushered him forward. He found it necessary as they proceeded to push with more force from his left leg, Jack’s increasing weight bearing him slightly in that direction. Before long, beads of sweat dotted his neck, the chill breeze doing its best to erase them from his skin.
By his estimation, they had gone about a hundred kilometers before Jack stopped again.
“Damn it, the breeze has let up. I can’t see which way to go.”
Nodding thanks to the beings still sweeping their way over the path, Daniel sighed. “They’re doing their best; the fog is just too thick. You’ll have to use the pike. Feel your way along the track.”
“It means you’ll have to help hold me up.”
“Really?” Daniel puffed. “It’s actually possible you could put more weight on me?”
“It’s not like I’m doing it on purpose. My knee is not functional –”
Daniel shoved Jack upright. “It’s fine,” he grunted. “I got it.” He slipped his arm around Jack’s back, and wound his fingers into the belt loop over Jack’s right hip. “You ready?”
A wet slurp answered him, and Jack angled forward as he moved the pike out in front. A soft pat declared the way safe and Jack hobbled forward.
After about an hour, thanks to the guidance of Daniel’s ‘ghosts’, they had, by Jack’s estimation, made it half way to the ‘gate. Jack had been inclined to believe it was just a fortuitous wind clearing the way, but he’d begun to notice none of the mist outside the area they were walking was disturbed.
Whatever its cause, the external help was only going so far. A bank of clouds had begun rolling in, growing thicker by the minute and gradually obscuring the light by which they’d been travelling.
Now a misty rain was beginning to fall.
While Daniel gamely plodded along, bearing up under Jack’s not inconsiderable weight, the barest whisper of a groan had begun to tag on to his exhalations.
“How’s your headache?” Jack found himself asking again.
Daniel loosed a harried sigh. “It’s a concussion, Jack. My head is going to hurt for a while.”
“And what about the pain that accompanied your vision loss? Anything like that again?”
“The pain spikes a bit now and again, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Jack pulled up, grasping the back of Daniel’s jacket when he failed to read the signal and continued on a half step.
“How about a break?”
His face tipping skyward, Daniel scowled at the raindrops which answered the snub by increasing in size. The thin frame shuddered. “I’m cold and wet; I’d rather not just sit around getting colder and wetter.” He hip-checked Jack, jostling him into a more stable position. “Let’s just keep going.”
“God, you are stubborn,” Jack muttered.
The arm around Daniel’s waist telegraphed to Jack the instantaneous tension in Daniel’s back. Glancing sidelong, Jack cringed at the taut state of Daniel’s jaw, it too manifesting Daniel’s discontent.
Or maybe the jaw was clamped against comment because Daniel had no retort.
His own jaw suddenly aching, Jack poked the end of the pike down on the track, sending up a small wave of mud. It bounced instead of descending into the muck, so Jack took a few cautions steps forward. Daniel toddled along, head down and shoulders hunched against the rain.
They inched their way along like that for another hundred meters or so, before Jack again brought them to a grinding halt.
“I think I see shelter up ahead.”
“Not exactly. Come on.”
Daniel lurched forward, Jack’s weight the only thing keeping him from increasing the pace. Not that Jack could blame him; he was miserable, too. Still, it was his job to keep them safe.
“Easy.” Jack skittered the pike back and forth in front of them like a blind man with his cane, the irony that he was the sighted one of the pair not lost on him. He slapped the ground once, twice at the base of a hollowed out tree.
Shifting his weight onto his sound leg, the pike assisting in keeping him upright, he let Daniel go, sliding his hand across his back to take hold of his upper arm. “Get in,” he ordered.
Daniel put a hand out, snatching it back with a gasp when his palm skimmed the rough bark. He tried again, walking his fingers over the pitted surface until he found an opening.
“What is this? Where are we?”
“It’s one of those big hollowed out trees. I’ve seen them all along the trail. My guess is it was a branch from one of these babies that did in the Canon.”
“This is your shelter?”
It was probably better that Daniel could not see Jack’s current expression. “What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s a hole in a tree.”
“I know that!” Jack glanced around fairly confident but not one hundred percent sure there was no one around to hear them. “It will keep you dry. Now, stop arguing with me and get in there.”
Daniel unwittingly matched his churlish expression to Jack’s but did as he was bid anyway. Sweeping a hand along the edge of the opening, he turned, rested his butt against it and slowly slid into the shelter, easing himself down until he was sitting. He pulled his knees to his chest in an attempt to keep warm.
“What about you?” he called out to Jack, predictably.
“I’ll be fine.”
“You’ve got to be freezing.” Bending at the waist, Daniel extended arm and leg, exploring the opening. “There’s enough room in here for you, too. Get out of the rain.”
Growling in exasperation, Jack took the pike in his left hand, cupped his palm over the lip of the tear, and swung himself into the gap. He landed on his right foot, pivoted awkwardly and, knowing it would require a major undertaking to get him back on his feet, plopped his ass against the inside of the tree instead of sitting. The impact jarred his knee, throbbing pain flaring around the joint. There wasn’t enough room to accommodate two grown men, so the injured leg remained outside. Jack wished fervently that the rain could extinguish the fire. He propped the pike against the trunk within easy reach.
“You happy now?” he groused. “I swear the only other person who ever made me this crazy was my wife.”
Jack’s knee buckled but not from the near unbearable pain. At least not in his leg. His heart pounded wildly, heat swirled low in his belly and he clamped down on the urge to vomit.
He must have moaned or caught his breath because Daniel asked, “Everything okay?”
“Fine.” Jack gulped down the telltale break in his voice and tried again. “Why don’t we just rest for a bit, huh?”
He frowned, but surprisingly, Daniel took Jack’s advice without comment, fidgeting into a more comfortable position before closing his eyes.
Jack slouched heavily to the side, somehow managing to keep his footing. He’d almost laughed out loud when Teal’c had asked him what his intentions were regarding Daniel, like Jack was a suitor and Teal’c a very protective dad. The question was so ridiculous, except…
“He’s too important to me.”
…it had lead inexorably – like a battery of tests to a definitive diagnosis – to the revelation currently rocking Jack’s world. So, maybe Teal’c had known exactly what he was asking.
“What secret does your subconscious mind wish to reveal?”
This is a hell of a time for an epiphany! Why didn’t Teal’c just tell me outright? he silently berated his teammate. He let him off the hook a second later. Because he knew I would never have accepted his premise. This was something I had to realize on my own. If only I’d figured it out sooner.
Yeah, that was going to happen. It’s not like I’m in the habit of analyzing my every decision with a view towards discovering some hidden motive. Hell, I didn’t even realize I cared so much about Carter until the failure to acknowledge it lead to the theory we’d become programmed assassins. I’d probably still be in the dark if the admission of that little secret wasn’t necessary to save our lives.
A secret Daniel isn’t privy to. Like he doesn’t belong any more.
Jack slapped a hand over his forehead, kneading into his eyes with middle finger and thumb.
Face it, O’Neill, this division between you and Daniel didn’t start with killing that robot; and most of it’s your fault.
You’ve totally disregarded damn near every contribution Daniel has tried to make of late. Even to the point of forcing him to go behind your back – risking his own life in the process – to resolve the Enkaran standoff. He was right, and had you taken just five minutes to hear his side…but you couldn’t do that. Couldn’t even offer him kudos when everything turned out okay.
And what the hell are you doing with Carter? Dropping in to visit her in the lab – even knowing she’ll want to tell you all about what she’s working on, inviting her to go fishing… drawing her in to your disagreements with Daniel off world. Equating a shared opinion with a shared life.
It’s because she’s safe, Jack realized suddenly. Sure, she’s enjoying the flirtation, but she’d run for the hills if you ever suggested taking it further. She’s career oriented in the extreme. Too much so to risk it all on a broken down warhorse like you. Jack sneered in self-disgust. She’d kick your ass if she knew you’d kissed her during the time loops – rank be damned.
He’d practically held her hand the whole way through that incident with Osmond or Alfred or whoever that ascended being was.
Had he even wished Daniel good luck on his mission to assassinate the System Lords? Again at the risk of his own life. An assignment that required the gentle soul to take the lives of innocent hosts, hosts that reminded him of his wife’s ultimate fate. The turmoil must have been unimaginable and had Jack even offered an ‘attaboy’?
No. No, more often than not he said things like, I don’t like most of what you say. I try to avoid putting you through a wall. And Daniel sat there, taking whatever Jack was dishing out, that look of pained resignation plastered firmly on his face.
He’d been pushing Daniel away. All because he was in love with Daniel, and he needed to get some distance.
“Why don’t you kiss her?” he’d wisecracked, reveling in the gob-smacked expression on Daniel’s face.
Maddeningly, all he could think now was, “Why don’t you kiss him and put yourself out of your misery? Give him the chance to reject you so things can get back to normal – or whatever passes for normal in this job.”
There were two likely outcomes to that undertaking, both of which scared Jack to death: 1) Daniel walked away for good or; 2) he kissed Jack back.
What do I do then?
Daniel stirred, moaning softly. The jolt which had unsettled Jack’s stomach previously moved a bit south. Jack echoed the groan. Reluctant to shift from his reasonably stable position, Jack had no choice when the crease of his pants threatened to cut off the blood supply to his burgeoning cock.
Damn it, how the hell did this happen?
The answer came in his next breath: Daniel.
Jack had had relationships before Sarah. He’d even been attracted to other men but he’d shut that part of himself off when he’d taken the Air Force oath. He’d only ever been in love once, though…until now.
He should have expected it; he’d let Daniel get too close. Right from the start I shared things with him I don’t think I even told my wife. I let him in the same way I’d let Sara in.
Jack snorted a rueful laugh. As if I could have stopped him. Daniel’s a damn force of nature.
And when had he started thinking of Daniel in those terms? He’d known from the moment they’d met that there was something special about that ‘geek’. At first it was just a grudging admiration for the guy who showed up an entire gaggle of scientists, doing in two weeks what they hadn’t accomplished in as many years.
Then Daniel had saved Jack’s life – at the expense of his own – and had trusted Jack utterly to find his missing wife, never even blaming Jack when he failed to keep that promise. It was hard not to love a guy like that.
Harder still for a man sworn to put country above self to allow such a man to tempt him to forego that pledge, even unknowingly.
So he’d pushed Daniel away.
“Maybe for good this time,” Jack lamented under his breath.
Daniel roused again, drew a deep breath, and opened his eyes.
"Hey, you’re awake,” Jack stated a little too enthusiastically. The reaction was unwarranted but he’d been taken aback by the realization that Daniel’s unseeing eyes were aimed unblinkingly at his groin.
“Yeah. How long did I sleep?”
“Not long at all.” Just long enough for me to relive about five years of regrets.
“I don’t hear the rain anymore,” Daniel said, tilting his ear toward the opening.
Jack peered outside. “Huh, looks like it’s stopped. Wish I had your super hearing ability.”
“Not if it came at the cost of your vision.”
Cringing at the imaginary sting of self-flagellation, Jack muttered, “Sorry.”
“No,” Daniel returned, his self-conscious grimace mirroring Jack’s own. “I’m sorry. This isn’t your fault.
“It’s probably a result of the fall. I’ve seen injuries like this in combat; it’s the head trauma. We just need to get back to Fraiser so she can work on getting us both fixed up.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
It took them several minutes to disentangle themselves in the small space and get back on the trail. As before, they embraced tightly, Daniel keeping Jack upright and Jack leading Daniel in safety.
Except it wasn’t like before; Jack was much more aware of the curve of Daniel’s hip just below his own, the warmth of Daniel’s breath against his cheek. He was reminded every one of the approximately 1300 steps it took them to cover the remaining three or four kilometers that his feelings for Daniel were definitely not like before.
Fortunately, Daniel was too preoccupied trying to move them forward to notice the tension hampering Jack’s already compromised gait.
“Your friends still with us?” Jack finally asked just to keep his mind off Daniel’s close proximity. It was the first word from either of them since they’d resumed the journey.
“Yeah. They drifted off for a while when we stopped, but they’re back at it now, leading the way.”
The comment made Daniel smile, so Jack felt no remorse for the fib. Truth be told, he wasn’t thrilled about their supernatural tour guides…assuming they existed.
A break in the clouds revealed the tower and, around it, their campsite.
“We’ve made it to camp,” Jack announced, slowing to a stop.
“Not much further to the gate then. Let’s keep going. The sooner we’re back home, the sooner we can get back to normal.” Daniel took a step forward, nearly toppled them both when he ricocheted back into Jack, who had kept his foot firmly planted.
“What if I don’t want to get back to normal?” Jack found himself asking over Daniel’s spluttered oath.
Righting himself with all the grace of a toddler after his first failed steps, Daniel turned his disconcertingly sightless stare on Jack. The lack of vision did nothing to diminish the hope they expressed.
“What do you mean?”
The gesture inviting Daniel to sit was wasted, but Jack utilized the business end of the pike to pull over one of the camp chairs. “Sit,” he insisted, sliding the chair into Daniel’s thigh.
“Jack, we’re wasting time. Let’s just –”
Daniel bent slightly, swung his open hand in the air until he caught the arm of the chair. Making sure it was in position, he sat gingerly. “Do we really have time for this? They could discover any time that we’ve escaped.”
Positioning himself so he faced the village, Jack propped his butt on one of the crates. “In the first place, it’s dark. If they were looking for us, we’d see – I’d see – their torches. They would use torches, right?”
“Probably,” Daniel confirmed begrudgingly.
“Secondly, your ‘friends’ will watch out for us, won’t they? This isn’t going to take that long.”
“Whatever it is, couldn’t we talk about it once we get back?”
“No.” The desperation in his voice surprised Jack. “No, if I don’t say this now, I might never say it.”
Daniel, God bless his compassionate hide, was instantly attentive. “Okay. What is it you want to say?”
Now that he had the floor, Jack had no idea how to begin. “Uh,” he fumbled, clearing his throat and fidgeting to the point Daniel prompted less than patiently.
“Okay.” Jack shook himself, drew a deep breath and began, “Look, Daniel, I know we’ve not been seeing eye to eye on a lot of things lately and I think a lot of that is my fault.”
“It’s been difficult, yes. My function on the team is communication. You used to turn to me in first contact situations, but lately you’ve thwarted every attempt at diplomacy for your shoot first and ask questions later approach. Not always in a literal sense, but more often than not, the military mindset dominates.”
“Right now the Pentagon is more interested in acquiring weapons than in getting a detailed bio from every alien culture.”
“So, what am I doing here? Clearly you don’t need a cultural expert; I’m not accomplishing anything.” Daniel snapped his mouth shut, a bit disturbed that he’d admitted so much.
“I still need you with me, Daniel. Who else is going to point out when I screw up?”
“Yeah,” Daniel replied dubiously. “It’s mostly been a waste of breath lately. You rarely take my advice any more.”
Jack balled his hand, squeezed tightly until his nails bit into his palm, a means of fortifying his nerves in tense situations that he had utilized since his days at the academy. “Like I said, that’s mostly my fault.”
“You have your orders.”
“It’s more than that. You’ve probably noticed we aren’t spending as much time together.”
Daniel shrugged and the ‘it doesn’t matter’ nature of it broke Jack’s heart a little. “You favor Sam’s company, or Teal’c’s. I think that’s natural. You have a lot more in common with them.”
“No, it was a conscious decision, or unconscious, or…oh, hell, I don’t know which. What I do know is I’ve been avoiding you. Worse, I’ve been finding reasons to keep you at arms length.”
“Oh. I hadn’t, uh, actually, I wondered…”
God, he’s so cute when he’s confused. “It’s because I’m attracted to you.”
“…whether you – what?”
“I’m attracted to you. Could be love, in fact.”
Was it possible for the human face to transition through every emotion in a matter of seconds, Jack wondered, even as Daniel’s seemed to do just that.
It finally settled on angry, the knot between Daniel’s brows so pronounced Jack felt an urge to knead his own forehead in sympathy. Daniel surged to his feet and took a step forward, invading Jack’s personal space. Resisting the urge to back away, Jack instinctively repositioned himself so Daniel was facing him squarely.
“What are you saying?” Daniel demanded. “This is what’s been happening? All this time, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out where our friendship had gone wrong, thinking it had to be MY fault, and you were pushing me away because… you’re in love with me?”
“If it’s any consolation, I didn’t know myself until just about an hour ago.”
“Seriously? That’s supposed to make me feel better?”
Daniel flapped his arms, slapped his hands against his thighs, and Jack was reminded of that afternoon they’d spent with a bunch of white, naked guys. “I started doubting my place on SG-1, at the SGC. I questioned whether anything I did or said made a difference to anyone – whether any of it mattered – and you really think –”
Jack had no good excuse for what happened next. He knew Daniel could press charges, the resulting assault investigation opening a huge can of worms that would cover him in such a stink his post-mission socks would be rose petals by comparison.
But he just couldn’t stand it. He had to stop Daniel telling him how he – Daniel – didn’t matter, how none of his selfless, compassionate deeds, none of his eloquent, heartfelt arguments were worth the breath he expended.
So he kissed him – quick and hard – just enough to stop him from talking.
At least that had been the plan. Pulling back though, sliding his gaze from Daniel’s startled blue eyes to the full lips parted in surprise, Jack found himself formulating a defense for his court martial that involved the complete high-jacking of his brain by his dick even as he leaned in and gently pressed his lips to Daniel’s rain-chilled mouth.
Encouraged when Daniel did not immediately pull away, Jack hugged him closer and deepened the kiss. Daniel tensed, and Jack prepared to let him go, fearing he’d gone a bit too far, when Daniel’s arms wrapped around him and embraced him with a desperation borne of the increasing bouts of loneliness he’d been forced to endure for too long.
Gingerly swiping his tongue over Daniel’s rapidly warming lips, Jack prodded the hot, moist cavern that opened up behind them, touching teeth, palate and that nubile tongue which rose tentatively to meet his.
Daniel started to fidget and Jack loosened his hold. He yipped as Daniel’s teeth scraped his tongue on their way, it seemed, to biting it outright. Falling back against the crate, a none too gentle shove propelling him there, he easily ducked the fist that barreled over his head.
The momentum of his punch unbalanced Daniel and he stumbled. He fell towards Jack, who nearly toppled himself trying to break the fall. Immediately, Daniel struggled out of his hold and stood, whirling on Jack.
“Did you hear anything I said? How your actions made me feel?”
“Yes, I heard. Why do you think I tried to stop you talking? I couldn’t bear to hear all that.”
“It doesn’t make it any less true. And you have to realize just saying ‘I love you’ doesn’t fix it.”
“I know. I don’t expect you –”
Jack cut himself off; Daniel wasn’t listening any more. He’d turned slightly to his left, his head cocked like a dog’s. His unseeing eyes scoured the dig site.
“What?” Jack whispered harshly.
“No, our escort.”
“Oh, your ghosts.”
“They’re not – ”
“Whatever. Why can you see them and I can’t?”
“I was wondering the same thing. My guess is they’re allowing me to see them. When I first woke up, after the explosion, my vision was fine. I mean, a little blurry because I’d lost my glasses, but I could see. It was right after they released us. I had that sharp pain in the back of my head then I lost my sight.”
“Wait. You think it was them? They blinded you?”
“For a purpose, Jack.”
“I’m…not sure, but I am sure they’ll restore my sight after I learn whatever it is they want me to learn. I mean, if they can cause me to lose my sight…”
“Damn it, Daniel. You better hope they can fix it.”
Do not fear. You are correct, Daniel; your sight will return.
Daniel turned and faced the beings, awed as their amorphous shapes coalesced into tall, regal human-like individuals, one male, one female, their forms appearing to be dressed in the garb of medieval royalty.
“Oh, good,” Daniel murmured. “That’s a relief.”
“What’s a relief? Who are you talking to?”
“The beings. They’ve just assured me that my blindness is temporary.”
We have learned that your kind see clearest when your eyes are closed.
Daniel snorted inelegantly, and, in his mind’s eye Jack’s bifurcated brow surged in intrigue.
“Care to share?”
Daniel repeated what the beings had said, Jack’s sarcastic, “Uh huh,” prompting Daniel’s responsive, “They’re talking figuratively, Jack.”
“Well, I think if you venture out a bit,” Jack suggested to the open area in front of them, “you’ll learn that not all of ‘our kind’ are like the people you’ve encountered here.”
This we have seen already. It was because of your defense of our right to peaceably exist that we deemed it appropriate to reveal ourselves.
“This is not the first time I’ve found myself in that position.” Daniel glanced in Jack’s direction, most of those ‘times’ having come under Jack’s watch. “I believe everyone has a right to live their lives in peace. Unfortunately, there are still those on my planet who will persecute others whom they deem stray from their accepted norm.”
Perhaps your ‘planet’ is not a place where we would wish to go.
“There are times when I would like to leave myself,” Daniel confessed. Though there was no physical contact between them, Daniel swore he felt Jack bristle. “Who are you?” he asked before Jack could comment.
I am Gwydion, the male figure replied. She is my spouse, Arianrhod.”
“Wait. I know those names. There’s a myth –”
“Isn’t there always?” Jack groaned, barely audibly.
“Jack, if you remember nothing else that I’ve said over the years, you should have learned that myths are stories passed down from ancient humans who encountered alien creatures like the Goa’uld and the Asgard.”
“Yeah, yeah, all right. Don’t blow a gasket. What myth are we talking about this time?”
“One of the tales contained in the Mabinogion, I think. The Celtic legends of Wales. At least that’s where their names – Gwydion and Arianrhod – are recorded.” Daniel turned toward the beings again. “Where are you from? Are there more of you?”
We have been here for some time, even before the predecessors of these others came. When they first passed through the Great Circle, they travelled in a direction which prevented them from encountering our abode so we thought it best not to make ourselves known to them.
Over time, we noted the repeated arrival of a great ugly beast. He would come, go directly to the place where the others had settled and return to the Circle, several of them in tow. It was evident they did not go with him willingly. We ventured to their village with the intent of offering assistance in ridding them of this beast.
“It didn’t go as you hoped,” Daniel ventured, having once offered help in a similar situation, only to have the village turn on them.
We wished only to help, but they became hostile, accusing us of all manner of evil. Their leader required that we accept his authority over us.
“That was probably the Canon in charge at the time.”
We refused their demand and sought only to return to our home and live in isolation. But that was not to be. They followed and harassed us unrelentingly, demanding that we conform to their ideals. Their leader threatened us with ‘damnation of our souls’ if we did not follow him and attempted to injure our beings with his ring of power.
“We’ve run afoul of that ring a time or two ourselves.”
It had no effect on us.
“What?” Jack demanded. Daniel raised a finger, a sign for patience.
However, we could not live with the continuous conflict. In the end, we transmuted our bodies into the forms you see now.
“You can do that?”
“What? What are they doing now?”
“Jack, if you keep interrupting, we’re going to be here a very long time.”
Daniel could imagine the irked look twisting Jack’s face. “All right,” Jack grumbled. “But you’d better not leave anything out of your report.”
“Sorry,” Daniel said by way of encouraging the beings to continue.
In this state, we are imperceptible to those who reside in this rigid phase.
“What are you saying? You live on a different plane of existence?”
We exist on a level that is incorporeal to this actuality.
“What other world?” Jack asked.
“The story of Caer Arianrhod, uh Castle Arianrhod, describes it as ‘ever spinning in the Celtic Otherworld’. Where they live, that other plane, is the Otherworld.”
“Well, that’s fascinating,” Jack declared completely without enthusiasm.
Daniel ignored him. “You said you were like us once; you had a tangible body.”
We have been so for a very long time. Reverting to our physical forms now would expend much energy. Perhaps enough to end us. It is far less draining to touch another, one who bears a physical form, and permit him to ‘see’ our being.
“That’s why you blinded me?”
“You know why they blinded you?”
You championed our right to exist to those descended from the villagers who tormented us. When you were captured by them, we were honored to assist in your escape.
Daniel smiled. “You opened the manacles.”
“That was them?” Jack asked, his voice harsh with the strain of having to hold his questions.
“That was them,” Daniel confirmed. “They freed us and have been helping us through the bog. Just like I said they would.”
It was odd, but even unable to see him, Daniel detected the faintest expression of admiration from Jack.
As content as the feeling made him, it was another thought that had Daniel thrumming with satisfaction.
“We have found in our exploration of the galaxy,” he explained to their new friends, “that the stories passed down through the ages, each culture’s legends and lore, have a factual basis.”
There is a legend relevant to our existence in your culture?
Daniel nodded. “I think so. I remember reading a variation of the Arianrhod myth wherein the hostility of Christian evangelicals forced her to retire from the lands of men. In it, the castle was taken up into the sky.” Being without outer sight made it easier to read the things he found written on his inner vision. “Arianrhod, mistress of Gwydion,” he recited, “who caused the castle to be lifted above the world into the stars.” He turned to Jack. “The Castle of Arianrhod is actually a constellation in the northern hemisphere on Earth, the Northern Crown.”
“The Corona Borealis,” Jack surprised him by translating.
“That’s right. I sometimes forget that you’re knowledgeable about astronomy.”
“If your theory of the myth proves out, we just might find that this planet is located within the Corona Borealis. How about when we get back we have Carter check it out?”
“I would like that, Jack. Thanks.”
“Yeah. Are you ready to go? Ask them to wave their fingers or whatever it is that gives you back your sight.”
There is more you must see. The figures drifted away, heading for the dig site. Daniel turned, and took a responsive step backward as what appeared to be a wall rose out of the mist.
“Whoa, look at that!”
“Look at what! You do know I can’t see…whatever it is you’re seeing.”
“What I’m seeing – and boy, do I wish you could see it, too – is the splendor this castle used to be.”
Daniel looked up and up, gaping in awe at the massive red stone blocks – strangely imposing in spite of their phantom state – restored to their former glory. Soaring to dizzying heights, the ridged top of the wall was just visible from this angle. On the near corner, looming ten or so meters above the wall, was what Daniel recognized as the tower. Whole and hale now, it dominated the structure.
Moving towards the castle, Jack’s “Hey!” of protest, registering dimly, Daniel skirted the wall to get a better look at the tower. Composed of smaller stones, the dual rounded turrets, one twice as tall as the other, resembled spires donning cone-shaped caps. The section of wall between the turrets was also crenellated, its center open in a double-framed pane-less window. Daniel was reminded of a bell tower at an old church one of his foster families had attended. Gazing further down the wall, he noted less ornate towers adorning the far corner and guessed that those on the opposite corners would be likewise nondescript.
He took a step closer and put a hand to the wall. A bit disconcerted to see his fingers pass through it, still he held his breath and pushed on until he stood on the inside. Knowing his time was limited, he forced himself to ignore the gauzy tapestries decorating the walls and the see-through wooden furniture surrounding the fireplace, and turned to find the inscription carved into the stone on the inside of the tower.
Though the stone was insubstantial, still he could read the words carved there:
Dwy galon, un dyhead; dwy raff yn cydio’n ddolen; dau enaid ond un taith
Jack’s face coalesced behind the inscription, and Daniel was surprised by the quickening of his heart.
“Are you done exploring?” There was none of the impatience that usually colored Jack’s voice when he asked that question. “Find anything interesting?”
“Something,” Daniel replied cagily. “Remember the partial inscription I found? I can see the whole thing now.”
“Oh yeah? What’s it say?”
“‘Two hearts, one desire; two ropes joined, connected; two souls but one journey’. Remember the Celtic Knot design surrounding the inscription? It’s also known as a Sailor’s Knot or a Lover’s Knot because Celtic sailors wove them for their loved ones on long voyages. It’s two intertwined ropes, symbolizing the union of two into one.”
The quiet clearing of Jack’s throat was followed by a whispered, “Well, that’s timely.” Regrettably, his tone resumed a businesslike manner. “But, it’s starting to get light, so we should probably go.”
Jack’s hand cradled his elbow as Daniel emerged from the castle. It tightened almost immediately, and Jack maneuvered him behind the solid wall of the ruined tower.
“Shit,” Jack spat. “The villagers are headed this way. Pitchforks and torches – they look like a mob out of some damn Frankenstein movie.”
“Can we make it to the ‘gate?”
“No, they’ll cut us off long before we get close.” It went quiet, the only sound Jack’s hissed oath and the scraping of his jacket against the stone as he shifted to take stock of their situation. “Tell them to give you your sight back. Now. I’ll create a distraction and maybe you –”
“Damn it, Daniel, listen to me.”
“I’m not leavi –” A red hot poker jabbed at the back of his head, taking his breath. Daniel covered his head with his hands, falling to his knees.
“Daniel!” Unable to bend his injured knee, Jack hovered over him, a comforting hand kneading his shoulder.
Eyes squeezed tight against the pain, Daniel wrenched them open at Jack’s uncharacteristic gasp of astonishment.
His own cry of surprise froze in his throat at the sight of the insubstantial form of the village’s deceased Canon moving in his direction. The throbbing in his head let up as the figure passed them.
“Come no further!” The ‘Canon’ boomed towards the advancing crowd.
The hand ceased its ministrations. “Who is that?” Jack asked above the din.
“You can see him?”
“Yeah. And so can the villagers. They look like they’ve seen a ghost.”
“That’s because they have, or think they have. That’s the Canon.”
“The one who just got squashed by a tree?”
“I don’t think it’s really him. Gwydion or Arianrhod must have found him in my memory and taken on his likeness.”
“That’s why you collapsed?”
“Not now, Jack.”
“Not now. But soon. We are going to talk about your penchant for allowing alien beings to hijack your brain.”
“Fine, we’ll talk. For now, tell me what’s happening.”
“About half of the villagers have turned back. Some that are still here are kneeling, praying, I think. Dredd…”
“Whatever. He’s not backing down so quickly. Looks like he’s ordered his guards to stand their ground, but a few of them don’t look so sure. The Canon’s floating towards them. More of the villagers are bowing in prayer.”
“You, Drem,” the Canon aimed a ghostly hand at the instigator. “Why do you torment these men? I deemed them innocent. Do you so soon usurp my authority to condemn them? Return to your flock and let these go their way.”
“It is because of ‘these’ that you are no longer with us, Canon. They caused a tree to fall upon you.”
“Does not God cause the trees to prosper and grow or to wither where they stand and fall? He is more responsible for my death than these men. Let them go.”
“Blaming God,” Jack approved. “Did he get that from you, too?”
“No. My guess is it’s something he remembers from all those years ago when they were mercilessly evangelized.”
“Looks like it’s working. More of the villagers are leaving and others are prodding old Drem to follow them.”
“Go!” the Canon insisted.
“That’s done it.” Jack patted Daniel’s shoulder excitedly. “He’s pretty much on his own now.”
Daniel struggled to his feet, Jack’s hand on his arm pulling him upright.
“They’re having a stare down,” Jack narrated. “Wait. Drem’s given up; he’s leaving. I don’t think even Teal’c has ever frowned that hard, but he’s going.”
“He may not like it, but clearly his flock revered his predecessor. Going against the Canon’s wishes when he gave such a compelling argument – there would be too many questions.”
The Canon’s doppelganger drifted back to them. As he neared, his form shifted and morphed from an overweight, middle-aged cleric, to that of a tall, elegant royal figure. He retained the substance which allowed the villagers to see him.
“Jack, this is Gwydion. This castle belongs to him.” A richly dressed beauty materialized beside him. “And to his wife, Arianrhod.”
“I regret, Daniel, that we cannot maintain this level of visibility for long. The strain is great. However, we did want to reveal ourselves to your companion.”
“I’m glad you did,” Jack replied. “Now, before you fall apart at the seams or whatever it is you do when your batteries run down, could you return his sight?”
“There is but one more thing.” Arianrhod stepped forward. She placed a hand on Daniel’s shoulder and, illusory though it was, Daniel found himself turned so he faced Jack. Her other hand passed before his eyes.
Daniel blinked back the tears that threatened to overwhelm the sight that first greeted him. He’d looked Jack directly in the eye countless times, usually during one of their heated discussions. He seen Jack’s eyes black with anger and alight with mischief, but never had he seen the love and concern that currently swirled in those fathomless dark depths. Love for him.
He dragged his gaze away to find the castle gone, Gwydion and Arianrhod fading.
“Thank you,” Daniel called, sorry he didn’t have the chance to express how truly grateful he was not only that they had saved their lives, but had given Daniel hope for a new life. Perhaps they knew for, before she disappeared from view, Daniel discerned an affectionate smile on the lovely woman’s face.
He turned back to Jack who wore an incongruously serene grin. “So, those were your ghosts.”
“Yeah. Good thing I’m not one to say ‘I told you so’.”
“Well, not unless you have an audience.” Jack leaned heavily on his pike. “You ready to go?”
“Yeah, just…there something I want to do.”
“If you’re thinking of going back to digging, forget it. I’m not going to wait –”
The lips which just a second ago were taut with irritation, melted under the pressure of Daniel’s mouth. Cupping his hands along Jack’s jaw line, Daniel skimmed them over his neck to the back of his head, pulling him closer, deepening the kiss. He sighed regretfully as Jack broke contact.
As fearful as he’d been to lose track of time plumbing the depths of Jack’s mouth, Daniel now found himself even more afraid of losing himself in two hugely dilated pupils glinting with pleasure. He had to look away before his brain reengaged.
“Sorry. I figured that was a lot quicker than trying to argue with you.”
“No, no. That’s fine. I’m thinking though – as much as I enjoy that particular method of conflict resolution – we’d better limit its use to more appropriate circumstances.”
“Maybe not off world.”
“I’d say definitely not off world.”
“Probably not.” It was good to see Jack’s eyes dancing with amusement instead of whirling in fury. “We can work out the logistics later. How about for now, we get back to the SGC.”
“Right. Your GDO or mine?”
“Which is closer?”
“Good point.” Making sure Jack was stable, Daniel skirted the pike he was leaning on and quickly snatched up Jack’s pack. “Luckily Drem had no interest in our supplies.”
“You want to run back and get your stuff? I know how much you hate to leave books behind.”
It took only a second to decide. “I’m good, thanks. I just want to get home.”
“Well then.” Jack extended his arm in invitation. “After you.”
Daniel sidled into him, wrapped an arm around his back. “Let’s do it together.”
His face breaking with one of the broadest smiles Daniel had ever seen, Jack nodded, pivoted on his good foot, and started towards the gate. They paused just long enough for Daniel to dial home.
GDO code sent, they hobbled together through the wormhole…and came out the other side into what looked like a botched surprise party. The gate room was crowded with three teams of SGC personnel, including their diplomatic expert, Stan Kovacek, and Doctor Janet Fraiser, all of whom stared at them as though they’d just materialized on the platform instead of limping through the ‘gate.
“General!” Jack called to the man gazing in amazement at them from behind the large gate room window. “Thanks for the rescue party, but Daniel and I handled it.”
Janet and one of her techs moved towards them the second the ‘gate shut down. Daniel had seen her in fatigues before, of course, but she always looked a bit out of place in anything but her white coat and heels. Her slight frame just didn’t seem made for combat boots.
Not that her demeanor wasn’t well suited to giving orders. “Get me a wheelchair!” she yelled over her shoulder, confident the demand would be satisfied post haste. She stooped to get a better look at Jack’s injury. “Did anyone clean this wound?”
“We were kinda busy.” Jack shrugged, unconcerned. “Daniel has a concussion,” he added quickly when the witticism narrowed Janet’s eyes. “Lost his sight for a while.”
“I’m fine, Janet,” Daniel insisted, when she turned her squint on him. It was good to see those caring eyes, even when they displayed her fierce displeasure with him.
The wheelchair arrived in time to save them both a lecture. Daniel gave Jack’s waist a surreptitious squeeze before relinquishing his care to the airman driving the conveyance. Janet crooked a finger and Daniel followed like an obedient child.
Suddenly Daniel was even more grateful the rescue teams had been unnecessary. Drem might have found more trouble than he’d bargained for if he’d tried to keep Janet from examining his prisoners.
“Better late than never,” Jack quipped to Major Collins as he passed.
A celebratory, “SG teams, stand down,” heralded them into the hallway.
Daniel plodded along behind the wheelchair and its attendants, exhaustion quickly making his boots seem lead-lined.
They paused at the elevator, Jack glancing over his shoulder to catch Daniel’s eye. A brief smile lightened Daniel’s step as the doors opened.
When he’d left for P7X-809 Daniel had despaired he would even have a team when he returned. It had seemed, in addition to shutting her down, Jack’s shot at Reese had delivered a fatal blow to the trust between Jack and him. Daniel rolled his eyes. All it had taken to make things right was a religious fanatic, an explosion and a pair of ghostly lovers.
“Déjà vu,” as they say.
Well, except for Jack’s profession of love. That was new.
Jack was right, Daniel realized. Déjà vu is overrated.
Voices dragged Jack back from the peaceful oblivion of the recently operated on, his ascension into consciousness directly proportional to the volume of those voices.
“I’m serious, Daniel,” Fraiser scolded. “In addition to your concussion, an alien being has been tampering with your brain.”
“I just want to see that he’s okay.”
Movement to his left told Jack that Teal’c, who had positioned himself at Jack’s bedside soon after he’d come back from surgery, had likewise been roused from kelnoreem.
“I understand that, but you can only stay for a short while.”
The low squeak of a fully loaded wheelchair reached Jack just before the occupant came into view.
“You both need your rest,” Janet concluded, parking the wheelchair next to Jack’s bed. “Sir, how are you doing?”
Jack gave her the ‘okay’ sign. “Piece of cake.”
“For the record, Colonel, knee surgery is not something that should become blasé.” She turned to go. “Call me if you need anything.”
“Thanks, Janet,” Daniel replied for them both.
Teal’c pushed himself off the wall. “I, too, will leave you. I believe there is much you should discuss.”
“We’re not likely to get much privacy in the middle of the infirmary,” Jack pointed out. “Even if I am the only patient in this wing at the moment.”
“I will ensure that no one disturbs you, though I do believe Major Carter intends to visit within the half hour.”
“We’ll take it. Thank you, Teal’c.”
Teal’c bowed as he passed behind Daniel’s wheelchair, headed for his sentry post.
Watching him exit, Daniel turned back to Jack. Their eyes met, locked. Distant voices faded, the moment of silence that stretched between them almost reverent.
A ticking clock imposed itself on Jack’s mind, and he dragged his gaze away lest he waste it all lost in the blue splendor of Daniel’s eyes.
“I guess I should start, huh?” he offered. “Unless…did you want to go first?”
“Well, I am wondering...” The question trailed off as Daniel shifted uneasily, regrouped. “I don’t understand how this happened. You’re not gay.”
“Not since high school.”
“Oh.” Daniel’s face grew suddenly thoughtful, his eyes slightly vacant, and it occurred to Jack that Daniel could be visualizing him with another man.
“What about you?”
“Uh.” The question jarred Daniel out of his daydream. He blinked, shook himself slightly. “No. No, I haven’t even had that many experiences with women but…I’m open, I mean I did enjoy kissing you.”
“What about your career?”
“If you had asked that last week, I would have given you a different answer, but after these last few day, I realize my career is not as important as it once seemed.”
“Earth needs you, Jack.”
“And it can have me, as long as it doesn’t insist I give up needing you.”
“And what about the fact that we don’t seem to agree on the way we do our jobs?”
“Is that why you’re not ‘sure any more’ what your job is?”
Daniel gave a sickly smile before his gaze dropped to the hands folded in his lap. “You remember that, huh?”
Rolling slightly in Daniel’s direction, Jack blocked out the protest of his knee. Even if it meant reversing whatever repair Fraiser had just spent half the day fixing, Jack would rather face her wrath than let Daniel linger in the misconception that he was obsolete.
“Yeah, that, and the fact that you were questioning whether your contribution matters.” Jack shot out a hand, wrapped it around Daniel’s knotted fingers. Daniel looked up, and Jack returned his gaze with deliberate attention. “It matters, Daniel,” Jack promised him. “You matter.” He gave the hands a squeeze before sitting back into the pillows. “I’m not going to promise I’ll always see things your way. I can’t even promise I won’t say stupid things to you – I can be a jerk sometimes, I know that. But I will promise I’ll listen more carefully and I’ll try to be more aware of what I’m saying. I’ve admitted I know why I was so defensive towards you, that’s half the battle, right?”
“Are you saying you can learn from your mistakes? Because that would be a huge breakthrough.”
“Har har.” Jack sobered as quickly as he’d turned snarky. “Teal’c’s right. We have a lot to talk about. But not here.”
“At least we agree on that. How about dinner? You can cook. It doesn’t have to be a seven course meal, but you should make some effort.”
“Including dessert,” Daniel added. “Something fancy, not store bought pie.”
“And I want to listen to jazz, not opera.”
“You like opera.”
“Not during dinner.”
“Fine, we’ll listen to jazz.”
“And…I want candlelight. Flowers. Maybe a little slow dancing.”
“You going to let me lead?”
Daniel’s lip quirked upward the tiniest bit, and Jack realized he had interpreted the question to include their professional as well as personal lives. Daniel wasn’t going to change: he would still challenge any strategy that did not take his viewpoint into account.
Jack found he could live with that.
“Okay. But with this knee, I can’t promise it’ll be smooth.”
“Who are you kidding? You couldn’t dance before your knee injury. Sam and Janet both hobbled away from the dance floor at last year’s Christmas party.”
“Did I hear my name?”
The smile faded from Daniel’s face, replaced by a look of near panic as Carter wandered in their direction. Teal’c was fast on her heels, his composed expression telling Jack that Carter had not overheard the more personal aspects of their conversation.
“Don’t worry, Carter, it wasn’t taken in vain. What have you been up to?”
“I was just going over some of our upcoming missions with the supply sergeant.”
“Are we finally going to Kelowna?”
Jack suppressed a smile. After all these years, Daniel still beamed like that floppy-haired geek at the prospect of meeting new cultures.
“Maybe not,” Sam said apologetically. “We were scheduled for a follow-up video conference prior to our visit but we weren’t able to make contact.”
Carter shrugged, at a loss. “The ‘gate wouldn’t connect. Sergeant Davis is running a diagnostic but I’m pretty sure the problem is on their side not ours.”
“What could cause that?”
“There’s no way to know until they contact us again.”
It wasn’t enough to chase the disappointment from Daniel’s eyes.
“Cheer up,” Jack prodded. “I’m down for a few weeks anyway. We’ll get there.” It seemed irreverence was called for. “You know, unless they’ve wiped themselves out or something.”
That did the trick. Daniel slid him a narrow look, reproach quickly overshadowing the sadness.
Patting Daniel’s shoulder in commiseration, Carter interjected, “I have to say, sir, I’m glad to see that you and Daniel can spend time in the same room without going for each other’s throats. I was afraid after what happened with Reese…”
“Water under the bridge. Right Daniel?”
“We’ve come to an understanding, yes.”
“That is a relief. For a while it looked like SG-1 was going to lose someone.”
“Not to worry, Carter. The team is together and stronger than ever.” Jack cut his eyes to Daniel’s, couldn’t resist a wink. “Secure as a Celtic Sailor’s Knot, you might say.”