One may not reach the dawn save by path of night
"You okay?" Jack asked.
Daniel kept his eyes narrowed to slits. One hand pointed silently at his head while the other gripped desperately at the back of his neck.
"Still the nail in the head thing?" Jack asked. Daniel nodded, then groaned as the movement exacerbated his headache and the accompanying nausea. Jack grabbed his elbow and tossed a look at Fraiser as they made their way down the corridor to the infirmary, a corridor that was obviously too brightly lit and crowded for Daniel's comfort.
"He'll be fine, sir. If you recall, you and Major Carter suffered the same after-effect." Fraiser led the way to a gurney. "Now that his 'guests' are gone, Daniel should be able to recover from whatever technology Pharren used on all of you."
"Ah. God. Ice pick," Daniel muttered as Jack guided him up and onto the gurney.
"Ice pick?" Jack asked.
"Not nail," Daniel whispered, pointing at his head again. "Ice pick. Big...sharp...ice pick."
"Gotcha," Jack said. He released his grip on Daniel slowly, waiting to see if he would or could remain sitting upright without support. When Daniel didn't immediately topple over, Jack stepped back. "Listen, you take it easy. Carter, Teal'c and I will go fill Hammond in while Doc gets you fixed up."
"What happened?" Jack said in an accusatory tone.
"I don't know," Janet admitted. She stood at the foot of Daniel's bed; SG-1 was gathered around the sides. "We finished up his tests and then got him settled in bed to rest while I went over the results. When the nurse came back to check on him, he was like this."
Jack's eyes followed Janet's hand as she gestured toward Daniel. He was lying on his back in the infirmary bed, eyes open but completely unresponsive.
"What exactly is this?" Sam asked.
"I don't know."
"What do you know?" Jack asked angrily. Janet shot him a warning look, then paused to take a deep breath before answering.
"All I can tell you is that Daniel's test results were normal. Other than the headache, something you and Major Carter both suffered from, he didn't indicate any physical or mental problem."
"Then why is he unconscious?" Teal'c asked.
"I don't know," Janet repeated wearily. "It's not a coma. Not truly unconsciousness either. I've repeated a few of the tests and they indicate that Daniel is awake and probably aware to some degree. He's more catatonic than comatose. And no, I don't know why."
"He's aware?" Sam asked, looking at Daniel's open but seemingly unseeing eyes.
"The EEG and PET scan both indicate waking brain activity. He is conscious. He's just not responding to external stimuli in any perceptible manner."
"Could one of those people still be in his head?" Jack asked. He leaned over to peer directly into Daniel's eyes, wondering if he would see a stranger looking back.
"I haven't seen any indication of that."
"Could one of them have injured him in some way before being removed?" Teal'c asked.
"If they did, it's not showing up on any test we have."
"Doesn't mean it didn't happen," Jack said, glancing at Janet.
"No, but I suspect the cause isn't physical. Not entirely."
"Sir, Tryan said that the pressure of multiple personalities within a single mind would inevitably lead to insanity."
"Daniel is not crazy," Jack said vehemently.
"The colonel's right," Sam said. "Besides, you said that Daniel protected himself by withdrawing until the others left."
"I know, and I'm not saying that Daniel's crazy. What I was trying to point out is that this ordeal caused a significant amount of psychological stress," Janet said. "It may be that Daniel's mind needed to shut everything else out in an effort to cope it."
"And for now I think we should let him do it," Janet said. "I'm going to have him moved to an isolation room. We'll try to minimize the number of external stimuli he's exposed to and hope that helps."
Jack frowned. He raised his head and looked around, his reading interrupted by something. A noise. Seeing no one else in the isolation room, or the observation room above, Jack looked down at Daniel. Daniel's lips were moving, faint breathy words spilling from his lips.
Daniel moaned and rolled his head back against the pillow. Jack hit the call button as he stood and leaned over the bed. He put his ear just above Daniel's mouth, trying to hear what he was saying.
Jack turned his head until he could see one of the nurses standing at the foot of the bed.
"Dr. Fraiser is off duty," the nurse told him.
"Well, who is on duty?"
"Then get him," Jack said impatiently. As he waited, Daniel's restless movements slowed, then ceased. By the time Warner arrived, Daniel was lying inert, as unresponsive as he'd been before.
"Colonel?" Warner asked, walking directly to the monitors and checking all of Daniel's readings.
"He was...." Jack gestured vaguely.
"No, not awake exactly," Jack admitted. "But he was moving. And talking, like someone talking in his sleep."
"What was he saying?" Warner asked as he performed a quick exam to assess Daniel's neurological status. "Was he coherent?"
"I don't know. It was too soft; I couldn't understand him," Jack said.
"He seems to have settled down now," Warner said, gently repositioning Daniel's head more comfortably on his pillow.
"He's not waking up then?" Jack asked, trying to hide his disappointment.
"I don't see anything new in his readings. But that doesn't necessarily mean anything since his readings were never abnormal." Warner shrugged, at a loss to explain. "If he starts again, let me know. Otherwise, we'll just continue to wait."
Jack woke with an abrupt jerk. He didn't have time to wonder why before Daniel's hand bumped against his head again. Jack raised his head from where it had been lying on the side of the bed and saw Daniel shifting restlessly, muttering and groaning.
"Daniel? Come on--time to wake up," Jack said, standing up and leaning over the bed.
"No, please," Daniel muttered, his words soft but clear. "Don't...don't make me...."
"Daniel," Jack said quietly, gripping Daniel's shoulder.
"No!" Daniel shouted, sitting up, his eyes open again but still unseeing. "Don't make me choose...."
"Calm down, Daniel," Jack said, looking around for help. He saw one of the nurses peek in the door before hurrying away, hopefully to get Warner.
"Please," Daniel begged, growing more agitated.
"It's all right, Daniel," Jack said, turning his full attention back to Daniel. He did the only thing he could think of. He wrapped his arms around Daniel and hugged him close, trying to reassure him and still his erratic movements. "You're okay. You don't have to do anything."
"Colonel O'Neill?" Dr. Warner halted at the foot of the bed, glancing quickly at the various monitors.
"He just started yelling," Jack explained, rocking Daniel in his arms. He could feel Daniel shaking slightly, although his voice had dropped to a low mutter again. "I don't think he's really awake, though."
"All right, I'm going to order another...."
"Daniel?" Jack asked. He wasn't sure if Daniel was actually speaking to him or just calling out in response to whatever he was seeing in his mind. Jack glanced at Warner but the doctor's gaze was focused on Daniel's face. Jack loosened his hold slightly and pulled back so that he could see Daniel's face, too. "That you?"
"Yeah. Pretty sure," Daniel said, his eyes barely meeting Jack's.
"Dr. Jackson, you've been...." Warner began.
"I know," Daniel said quickly, sliding out of Jack's hold and lying back against the pillows.
"You know?" Jack asked.
"I heard everything," Daniel said.
"Everything?" Jack asked.
"All of you. Tonight," Daniel said tersely.
"And you remember it all?" Warner asked skeptically.
"Yes. Janet ran some tests and brought me back here to rest. Then I kind of ...zoned out. Jack yelled at her. Sam stayed with me for a while after Janet kicked Jack out. Then she left and Jack came back. He read the comics to me until he fell asleep," Daniel recited in a rapid monotone.
"I didn't yell at Fraiser," Jack said quickly.
"Yes, you did."
"Didn't," Jack insisted.
"Colonel," Warner interrupted. "Doctor, do you know what happened to you?"
"It was...." Daniel paused, scrunching up his face in concentration. "All that stuff was in my head: emotions, thoughts...."
"But we took them out," Jack said.
"You took the people out," Daniel corrected. "But some of their mental...stuff got left behind. I just needed time to assimilate it all."
"But...." Warner tried again.
"It just happened," Daniel continued rapidly. "I guess that's the only way my mind could deal with it."
"But the people--they're all gone, right?" Jack asked.
"Yes, they're all gone," Daniel said with an emphatic nod. "Can I go now?"
Jack and Dr. Warner gave Daniel identical flabbergasted looks.
"What?" Daniel asked.
"Dr. Jackson, you've been catatonic for a number of hours."
"I'm feeling much better now."
"I'm fine," Daniel insisted. "Even the headache's gone. I just...I'd like to go home and get some sleep. Please."
"You live on base anyway, Dr. Jackson," Warner reminded him. Daniel stared at him as if surprised by the news.
"He can come home with me," Jack offered. "I'll keep an eye on him."
"Please," Daniel asked Warner.
"I want to repeat a few tests. If those are normal I'll let you go home with Colonel O'Neill."
"But the tests were normal even when Daniel wasn't," Jack pointed out.
"I know, but I feel like I should do something," Warner admitted. "I don't expect to find anything. In truth, it's more of a proactive move to pacify Dr. Fraiser."
"I can relate," Jack said with a nod.
"You're not telling the whole truth," Jack accused. He waved Daniel toward the living room and stopped to put his keys and cell phone on the dining room table before following him.
"No, I'm not," Daniel said. He wandered across the living room to the fireplace and stopped, staring at the collection of Jack's mementoes on the mantel.
"Don't argue with me, Daniel. I know when you're...." Jack stopped in his tracks. "Wait--did you just agree with me?"
"Oh. Well, don't do that. It throws me off my game," Jack said. He tossed his jacket on the back of the couch and turned to face Daniel.
"So?" Daniel repeated.
"What is the truth?"
"Remembered? Remembered what?"
"Everything," Daniel said, his voice tight.
"Everything? Do you mean...? Are we talking about glow time?"
"As in remembered...?"
"Everything. It...it all just came flooding back: sights, sounds, thoughts," Daniel said, turning from the fireplace to face Jack.
"How do you know that you've remembered everything?" Jack asked.
"Well, if you've forgotten everything you knew then how can you be sure you've remembered everything you forgot?" Jack said. Daniel simply stared at him. "It makes sense."
"Okay. Technically, you're right. I can't be absolutely sure I remember everything," Daniel conceded. "But I remember a hell of a lot."
"How?" Jack asked.
"Well, the memories were never really gone--just blocked."
"We kind of figured that," Jack said. "Since you did remember stuff from before."
"From my human life," Daniel agreed. "Very, very little from my time with Oma. They blocked those memories. I don't know why they did it but my human memories--my knowledge and sense of self--those were supposed to come back...eventually. But my memories of the Ascended were supposed to be blocked forever."
"So why can you remember them now?"
"Well, the 'block' the Ascended put in my mind was never intended to withstand the arrival and subsequent departure of a dozen other minds."
"Too much pressure," Jack said.
"Why didn't you just say so?" Jack asked, finally sitting down. "Back there at the infirmary."
"Because I was...." Daniel grimaced, looking embarrassed. "I was worried."
"About what some people might do to find out what those memories are," Daniel said. With a weary sigh he sat down on the couch next to Jack.
"Which people?" Jack questioned.
"I don't know," Daniel said, throwing up his hands. "The military?"
"You could have some important information," Jack said. He could understand that Daniel might be wary of having his life...his afterlife put under a microscope, but this was essentially no different than debriefing after a mission. A very long and very unusual mission, but a mission all the same. "You are going to tell us what you remember, aren't you?"
"Everything that I can."
"Everything that you can? Is this another one of those 'humans are too primitive' things?" Jack asked, exasperated. The one tolerable aspect of Daniel's ascension was that he'd never pulled any of that superiority crap so prevalent among more 'advanced' beings.
"In a way. Some of it is...it's gone. There are some things I don't think the human mind is capable of grasping. Mine certainly isn't," Daniel explained. "What I remember is what I did, where I went."
"That could be useful," Jack said.
"I know. I understand that."
"But you're afraid that we'll want more than what you remember?" Jack asked, puzzled by Daniel's reluctance.
"Not you. The NID."
"I'm sure we'll have to hand the information over to them. That's S.O.P."
"Do you really think the NID will believe that's all there is?" Daniel said. "They weren't real fond of me when I first...."
"They were a little miffed that you'd spent a year as a higher being and had nothing to show for it," Jack agreed. "But you can't tell them what you don't know."
"And they'll just take my word that that's all I remember," Daniel said sarcastically.
"Screw the NID," Jack said, dismissing the issue with a careless wave of his hand. "I'll talk to Hammond."
"The NID has contacts higher than Hammond. The NID has people like Kinsey."
"So? Hammond has the President. And turns out the President has a thing for you."
"He...does?" Daniel asked, regarding Jack warily.
"Well, not a 'thing' as in.... But he likes you," Jack said. "And I'm as certain as I can be that he'll back us against the NID."
"Guess I'll just have to risk it," Daniel said, staring glumly at his hands.
"You okay?" Jack asked.
"I think so. It's a lot to take in all at once, and it's going to take me a while to sort it all out," Daniel said. "But I remember something that's been bothering me."
"I know why I came back." Daniel smiled at Jack's curious stare. "I don't know why I came back the way that I did...."
"Yeah, that way. Thing is--I remember the reason I came back."
"I chose to," Daniel said.
"Bare-assed?" Jack asked again.
"No, I don't know what was up with the whole naked thing. Except that I'm pretty sure I didn't choose that," Daniel said. "I wasn't thrown out. I chose to leave, to return to human form."
"Why?" Jack asked with genuine curiosity.
"One of the reasons I ascended was because I thought I could do more out there," Daniel said, gesturing vaguely skywards.
"All seeing, all knowing," Jack said with a nod.
"Not even close, but I couldn't even use what I did know. I couldn't make a difference."
"So you came back here where we end up having to kill the same Goa'uld over and over...and over again?" Jack asked dryly.
"We can't measure our deeds by success or failure. We can only be judged by our intentions."
"That's what Oma told me."
"Huh. I was always taught that good intentions were a highway straight to hell," Jack said.
"Yeah, well...." Daniel said with a small smile. "Her point was that we all have choices to make and what matters most is whether we choose for good or for evil."
"I gotta tell you--I'm not sure I buy that."
"I'm not sure I do either," Daniel admitted. "But it's a start."
"How's it going, Colonel?"
Jack glanced over at Hammond as the general entered the small observation room. Then he looked back through the one way mirror that separated them from the interrogation room.
To Jack's dismay, the NID had had enough clout to make sure that one of their people sat in on Daniel's debriefing. Major Havelock's entire demeanor was as spit and polish as his shoes, but Jack could almost smell the moral rot under the expensively subtle cologne. Fortunately, Major Davis, sent by the Pentagon, had been placed in charge of the debriefing and Havelock's role was to 'assist.'
"Daniel's getting tired, sir," Sam said from her seat right in front of the window.
"General, that's the third time in the last ten minutes Daniel has completely lost his train of thought," Jack said irritably, waving at the man in the other room.
"He told me he'd tell us everything he could remember. And I trust him," Jack said, answering the unasked question.
"So do I," Sam said firmly.
"As do I," Hammond said. "But I had to ask."
Daniel's voice, sounding muffled through the speakers, drew their attention back to the interrogation room.
"Look, I've already told you I don't know anything about Anubis beyond the fact that he is some weird intermediate life form," Daniel said wearily. "He was ascended, but he isn't anymore. Not totally."
"Dr. Jackson, you were one of the Ancients. You have their knowledge," Havelock said irritably.
"No, I don't." Daniel raised his hand, pressing the heel to his left eye. "I wasn't an Ancient and I don't have their knowledge."
"You weren't an Ancient?"
"No, I was one of the Ascended."
"What's the difference?" Havelock persisted.
"All Ancients are Ascended, but not all Ascended are Ancients," Daniel said. His steady gaze seemed challenged his opponent to argue the point further.
"Look, I think we're getting caught up in semantics here," Davis said in a conciliatory tone. "Daniel, even if you weren't technically an Ancient, you did live as one of them for a year."
"I don't know the things you want to hear about," Daniel repeated, letting his head drop into his hands.
"Either I never did or it was something I'm not capable of understanding now."
"But you remember some things," Davis coaxed.
"Some," Daniel agreed. "I remember the location of Baal's secret fortress...which is useless since Yu has already destroyed it. I know that Yu is suffering from some kind of dementia...which you also know by now. I remember what happened on Abydos...." Daniel grimaced. "Information which is also totally useless at this point."
"General," Jack complained, turning away from the window to look directly at Hammond. "Daniel's still recovering from his little bout of multiple personality syndrome. He's not up to a long interrogation."
"All right." Hammond said. He'd noticed Daniel grimacing again as he rubbed at his temple. "That's enough for now."
Jack was out the door before Hammond could have even a second to reconsider his decision. He found Teal'c standing at parade rest just outside the interrogation room. Not surprisingly, he had little faith in the NID and planned to ensure that they couldn't take off with Daniel in tow. With a small bow, Jack graciously waved for Teal'c to lead the way.
Jack walked quietly into his kitchen. Only the light over the stove was on, which meant that all Jack could really see was a dark shape outlined by a weak, yellow glow.
"Daniel?" Jack rubbed at his sleep-blurred eyes, peering at Daniel's back. "You okay?"
"Abydos is gone," Daniel said in a flat tone of voice. "Completely, totally, utterly gone."
"Yeah, it is," Jack agreed quietly.
"Quite the finale, don't you think?" Daniel said, finally turning to face Jack. The smile on his face was so forced that it hurt Jack to see it. "I don't think there are many people, Ascended or not, who can take credit for wiping out an entire civilization."
"You didn't do it, Daniel. Anubis did."
"Because I made it possible for him to do it," Daniel said.
"You thought that tablet thing was important. You just weren't strong enough to take Anubis out when it became necessary."
"I was strong enough," Daniel said vehemently. "Anubis is only semi-Ascended. I had to have been stronger than he was. I could've destroyed him."
"Then why didn't you?" Jack asked, suddenly angry. He'd grieved over the fate of the Abydonians, but had always laid the blame squarely on Anubis' head. He really didn't want to transfer any of that hate and anger to Daniel.
"She wouldn't let me," Daniel yelled. "I was there, Jack. I was ready to send Anubis to wherever the hell it is Ascended beings go when they cease to exist, but Oma stopped me."
"Why? Why did she stop you?"
"Because the Ascended don't believe in interfering," Daniel spat out angrily.
"Bullshit! There'd already been interference. You interfered. That's why there was a problem to begin with."
Daniel had come to Jack and asked him to go to Abydos. Daniel's actions had set in motion the events that led up to the confrontation between SG-1 and Anubis. Daniel had told Jack to give Anubis the Eye. Daniel's intentions had been good, but he'd made some bad choices.
Still, the words left a bitter taste in Jack's mouth. He knew they would hurt Daniel. But it was the truth, and Daniel would never thank him for hiding from the truth.
"In their book two interferences don't make a right," Daniel said.
"That is the biggest pile of crap I've heard in a while, and that's saying something. Why didn't she stop you before it got that far?"
"I don't know," Daniel said, his voice suddenly dropping to an almost inaudible level. He stared at Jack with a raw expression. "I don't know why she didn't but I wish she had. I really, really wish she had."
"It wasn't your fault," Jack said quietly, stepping forward to enfold Daniel in a hug.
"It was," Daniel said, his voice muffled against Jack's shoulder.
"Maybe a little bit," Jack said as gently as he could. "But there are others who have to take a much bigger share of the blame."
"But they didn't care about the Abydonians. They didn't love Kasuf and Skaara and Mehdi.... They didn't care." Daniel's voice broke on the last word. Jack just hugged him closer and allowed him to finally grieve for his lost home.
"Why did you wait so long to tell anyone about the Eye of Ra?" Havelock asked.
"So long?" Daniel asked, his eyebrows drawing together in puzzlement.
"You'd been ascended for nearly a year. Why did you wait?"
"I didn't wait. As soon as I found out about the Eye of Ra I went to Abydos. I talked to Skaara, to the Elders, and we started looking for it," Daniel explained. "And as soon as I knew that Anubis needed only one more Eye, the one on Abydos, I went to Jack."
"You didn't know anything about these Eyes before then?" Havelock asked skeptically.
"No, of course not." Daniel shook his head, frustrated by the need to explain what was not entirely explainable. "You have to understand that the act of ascension does not automatically endow you with superior knowledge."
"No, ascension is just a transition. It's another step on the path."
In the observation room, Jack looked away from the interrogation when he heard the door opening.
"Sir?" Sam slipped quietly into the room. Teal'c shifted position slightly so that Sam could squeeze between him and Jack in front of the one-way mirror.
"Nice timing, Carter. Daniel's just about to confuse Havelock with some Zen crap," Jack said, gesturing toward the one-way mirror.
"I spent most of my time as an ascended being learning," Daniel said, continuing his explanation.
"Learning about the Eye?" Major Davis asked.
"No, learning about...meaning of life stuff. The Ascended seek to learn about the nature of the universe."
"That's a pretty big undertaking, even for beings on a higher plane of existence," Davis said with a wry smile.
"Which is probably why they haven't succeeded yet," Daniel said with an answering smile.
"The nature of the universe?" Havelock prompted.
"I can't explain it. In truth, I don't understand it myself anymore," Daniel admitted. "All I can say is that ascension frees you from the limits of the physical body. Your mind can go farther, deeper. You can understand things that the human brain isn't capable of comprehending."
"What did it feel like?"
"Feel like? Being ascended?" Daniel asked, confused. "It didn't.... I didn't 'feel' anything. There are no physical sensations, not as we know them."
"But you must've felt something," Havelock insisted. "A sense of power maybe?"
"If you're talking about emotions.... I remember feeling small and insignificant and very much unprepared."
"Do you resent Oma Desala?"
"Resent? For helping me ascend?" Daniel closed his eyes, thinking. "No. No, I don't regret that. It was an amazing experience. It was a journey that not everyone is lucky enough to take. I don't resent the opportunity that Oma gave me. Why would I?"
"She took you away, changed you into something that, according to your own description, sounds pretty pointless," Havelock said.
"She didn't force me. I chose to go." Daniel gave a small, humorless laugh. "Well, it wasn't really much of a choice. I mean--death or ascension: what would you have done?"
Jack stared at through the glass at Daniel's face and wondered what would've happened if he'd made the same decision when that choice was offered to him. Would Daniel have been happier, or at least more content, if he'd had an ally? Or would Jack have gotten them both kicked out a whole lot sooner?
"Colonel, were you aware that Daniel chose to go?"
"Yeah," Jack said flatly, only marginally aware of Sam's surprise and confusion.
"Selmac would've healed him. He didn't have to ascend," Sam said. Her voice was quiet but her tone demanded an explanation. Jack turned his head. Sam and Teal'c were both looking at him, waiting.
"He thought he could do more," Jack said simply, returning his attention to the interrogation room.
"How do you know that?"
Jack looked at Sam again from the corner of his eye. He'd never told anyone about his final conversation with Daniel before his...death. Jack had wrestled with the idea for a while; it felt somehow selfish to keep Daniel's final moments to himself. For all he knew, Daniel had intended for Jack to share his good-bye with Sam and Teal'c. But the conversation had felt too private, too personal. Jack had wanted to keep it for himself.
"Colonel, how did you know that Daniel wanted Selmac to stop?"
"Because he told me," Jack finally admitted when it was obvious that Sam wasn't going to let him off the hook.
"When he was dying?"
"We talked," Jack said vaguely. He looked over as Sam tried to hide the mix of hurt and anger that showed on her face. "Look, Carter...."
"It's okay," Sam said quickly. Her expression was defiant, daring him to contradict her. "I'm glad I know now that it was Daniel's decision because, to be perfectly honest, I was a little angry with you for letting him go."
"Yeah, well...better that you were angry with me than with Daniel," Jack said. It took Sam a second to process the statement, then her eyes widened in surprise.
"O'Neill," Teal'c interrupted politely. "We are scheduled for a briefing in ten minutes."
"So we are," Jack said, checking his watch. "Time to go rescue Daniel from the lions."
Jack barged right into the interrogation room, Sam and Teal'c at either shoulder. Havelock looked up at them, clearly annoyed by the interruption.
"Ah!" Jack said, halting Havelock's protest before he could even begin it. "Daniel has an actual job around here and his presence is required in the briefing room so that he can perform that job."
"Yes, sir," Davis said, immediately turning off the video recorder and putting away his notes. Havelock glared at Jack as he herded Daniel toward the door.
"Just one more question, Dr. Jackson. Purely a personal one."
"Yes?" Daniel said warily, looking back at Havelock. Jack stayed right at Daniel's back, ready to terminate the conversation. With extreme prejudice, if necessary.
"Was ascension worth it?"
"Worth it?" Daniel repeated slowly. Jack looked back at Havelock. Havelock returned the look with a blank expression, giving nothing away.
"Was this great 'spiritual journey' worth seeing your teammates tortured and dying? Was it worth watching the planet you claimed was your home being annihilated and...."
"That's enough!" Jack growled. He turned and advanced on Havelock so fast the man actually took a worried step back before he caught himself. Angry at the lapse, Havelock straightened his spine and stared aggressively at Jack.
"Jack." Daniel's hand caught Jack's upper arm, holding him back. Daniel stepped in front of Jack and regarded Havelock with barely suppressed anger. "Do you really want an answer?"
"Daniel, you don't have to," Jack said immediately.
"No, it's okay," Daniel said, his gaze fixed on Havelock. "So do you want to know?"
"Yes, I want to know," Havelock said.
"The answer is that I don't know because I don't know what the alternative would've been," Daniel said. "Those things might have happened anyway. Jack could've been captured by Baal and I would've been here at the SGC, as helpless as Sam and Teal'c. Anubis would've gone to Abydos looking for the Eye of Ra whether I'd been there or not. Whether he would've destroyed the planet is impossible to say with any degree of certainty.
"Maybe my actions as an Ascended weren't enough. Maybe my ascension made things worse for everyone." Daniel paused, taking a deep breath to calm himself. "Or maybe not."
"Daniel Jackson did not cause O'Neill's capture or the destruction of Abydos," Teal'c added. "But because of his ascension and the knowledge he shared we were able to take steps to attempt to counteract these events."
"And don't forget we got that nice engraved rock, too," Jack said.
"The key to the 'Lost City'," Havelock said. He put his hands up in a questioning manner. "Is it going to amount to anything?"
"Yes," Daniel said firmly. Havelock studied them all for a moment longer, then shook his head and pushed past them through the door. Jack sneered at his back before turning to Daniel.
"Is it really going to amount to something?" Jack asked.
"God, I hope so."
Jack sat glumly on the hard wooden bench in front of his locker. In the background he could hear Daniel and Teal'c in the showers, cleaning up after Jack had put the team through their paces in the gym. He was painfully aware that in putting the others through their paces, Jack had put himself through the wringer. Old age was a bitch and today she was hounding Jack with all the relentless tenacity of a terrier worrying a bone.
"Huh?" Jack wasn't sure if it was the concern in Daniel's voice or the water he was dripping all over Jack that had interrupted his thoughts, but when Jack looked up, Daniel and Teal'c were watching him with identical frowns.
"I asked you if you were okay," Daniel repeated.
"Sure, fine," Jack mumbled as he bent over to untie his shoes.
"I believe O'Neill has lost his mojo," Teal'c observed as he began dressing.
"Did not." Jack hadn't lost it. He knew exactly where his mojo was: lying on the floor of the gym, wheezing and clutching at its chest. CPR seemed futile and even undignified at this point.
"Then why are you just sitting here?" Daniel asked.
"Maybe I like the view," Jack said, staring into his locker. From the corner of his eye he could see Daniel and Teal'c exchanging glances. "Don't mind me. I'm just having a thing."
"A thing?" Daniel asked.
"A funk," Jack said.
"Funk?" Teal'c asked, pausing in the process of tucking in his shirt.
"A funk," Jack repeated. He sighed at Teal'c's obvious lack of comprehension. "A funk is the feeling you get when you realize that you've lost it."
"Lost it?" Daniel said, his eyebrows shooting up.
"What is 'it'?" Teal'c asked.
"Damned if I know, but I don't have it anymore."
"Jack, this 'it'...."
"You have it," Jack said, glancing at Daniel, who was wearing nothing more than a towel wrapped around his waist and miles of wet skin. Jack looked over at Teal'c, dressed now, but with biceps bulging from the sleeves of his t-shirt. "Teal'c's got it, too." Jack went back to staring into his locker while Teal'c and Daniel exchanged more confused looks. "You know, I not only used to have 'it,' I used to be 'it'."
"Ah," Daniel said, finally opening his locker.
"I do not understand."
"Jack's feeling old and unwanted," Daniel explained.
"You are neither old nor unwanted," Teal'c told Jack.
"Running around after three young, strong, healthy, young kids like you would make anyone feel old," Jack said flatly.
"Teal'c is twice your age," Daniel pointed out.
"And that's supposed to make me feel better exactly how?"
"Your mojo is definitely in need of rejuvenation, O'Neill," Teal'c said.
"Jack's just being an idiot," Daniel said.
"Oh, fuck you, Boy Wonder," Jack muttered, ignoring the smile Daniel made to himself. "I'm telling you--I used to turn heads. People, especially those of the female persuasion, used to notice when I walked into a room."
"So you're feeling down because you're not attracting enough attention?" Daniel asked.
"I just want to know that I still can."
"For what reason?" Teal'c asked.
"Wha...? Because," Jack said defensively. Okay, so Daniel was right--again; he was being an idiot.
"Why wish for the ability to attract many when you only need to attract the attention of one?"
"Only one?" Jack asked, offended.
"Only one is necessary, if it is the right one."
Jack's head jerked up almost reflexively, his eyes meeting Daniel's as he, too, reacted to Teal'c's statement. Jack gave himself a little shake, and Daniel frowned thoughtfully as he turned to regard Teal'c.
"Do you not agree?" Teal'c asked.
"Yes, absolutely," Daniel said. He and Teal'c both turned to Jack.
"We're talking two completely different things here. You're talking about truly, madly, deeply stuff, and all I want is...." Jack's voice trailed off as Daniel and Teal'c continued to regard him with somber expressions. "Um...yeah, one would be good."
Teal'c nodded at Jack, a slight smile on his face, before shutting his locker and heading out the door.
"He makes me look so shallow," Jack complained to Daniel.
"Jack, next to Teal'c, the Grand Canyon looks shallow."
"I know what you're up to."
Jack raised his head slowly and laid his pen down on the stack of folders in front of him. He carefully looked around his office before turning his gaze to Havelock.
"You talking to me?" Jack asked, pointing at his own chest.
"I know what you're trying to do."
"Of course you do. The question is--why do you care?" Jack said. He pulled a form from the top folder and held it out for Havelock to see. "It's just a supply req."
"You can't fool me, Colonel."
"No, I can see that." Jack made a show of reading the requisition form. "I should've known you'd see the truth. After all, it's for...." Jack lowered his voice to a stage whisper, his eyes darting from side to side as if fearful of being overheard. "Toilet paper."
"Cut the crap, Colonel. I've read your file and you're a reasonably intelligent man. You were Special Ops. And you were good at it."
"Yeah," Jack agreed. "I'm a real pro at the cloak and dagger stuff...when it's necessary."
"I'm going to get to the bottom of this."
"The bottom of what, Major?" Jack said. The miniscule amount of patience he had for the NID had been exhausted the minute Havelock walked onto the base.
"Jackson: why he ascended, what he did while he was with them, and why he came back."
"He ascended because it was better than dying," Jack said, shaking his head in exasperation. "He spent a year trying to fit in with Oma's merry band of glowworms. And he came back because, apparently, it's easier to disobey my orders than hers."
"And whether he means to return."
"Return? You mean ascend again?" Jack asked. He shook his head in vehement denial. "Not going to happen."
"So you say," Havelock said, clearly unconvinced by Jack's assertion. "There's also the little issue of what vital information Dr. Jackson may have divulged to the other Ascended."
"Whether Daniel told them anything or not is immaterial," Jack said. "If they want to know about us, then all they have to do is float through the base."
"But you haven't seen them doing that, have you?"
"How could I? They're invisible," Jack said.
"Convenient," Havelock said.
"What?" Jack couldn't understand how any of this was convenient, but then he'd left that kind of overwhelming paranoia behind him.
"I just want to make sure that we understand each other, Colonel."
"I understand you're an idiot," Jack muttered to himself.
"I won't stop digging until I've got the real answers."
"Daniel's already giving you the real answers. But hey--feel free to dig," Jack said, throwing his arms wide as if inviting Havelock to search his office. "Just one condition--I lost my yo-yo a while back so I want you to promise you'll keep an eye out for it."
Jack smiled, delighted by the obvious effort Major Havelock was having to exert to avoid crossing the line into blatant insubordination. It was clear the NID agent had come to Jack's office intending to wield some subtle intimidation. Instead he'd merely provoked a slew of flippant comments that he couldn't respond to in kind.
"I have a job to do here, Colonel, and I fully intend to do it."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Just a small word of advice, Havelock," Jack said just as the major was about to exit the room. "It doesn't pay to mess with the President's friends."
"I don't think the President is all that crazy about you," Havelock said.
"Me? No, not me. I was talking about Daniel." Jack smiled when Havelock looked back at him suspiciously. "Our Commander in Chief really is rather fond of Dr. Jackson."
"Right. I'll remember that," Havelock said sarcastically.
"I'm just saying," Jack called after him.
"What are you doing here?" Jack asked when he finally found Daniel in his quarters. He was sprawled across the bed, head propped on one hand, reading through old mission reports and snacking on microwave popcorn.
"I live here," Daniel said, looking up at Jack with a puzzled expression.
"Right," Jack said. Well, ask a stupid question.... "Do you need me to talk to Hammond about getting you back out into the real world?"
"He's already working on it," Daniel said. "I guess there's a lot of paperwork involved in returning to the mortal plane."
"But it's been a couple of months. Surely something's been done."
"Apparently, as far as the bureaucracy is concerned, I'm still mostly dead," Daniel said with an easy shrug. "It's not so bad."
"You shouldn't be cooped up down here all the time."
"Yeah, but Junior made it impossible for him to be out on his own. In case something happened to him, you know. It would be a little difficult to explain the snake in his gut."
"But he doesn't have Junior anymore."
"Good point," Jack said. "I should probably bring that up with Hammond, too. Anyway, that's not why I'm here. Come on."
"Let's go. My place. Dinner. Cable TV."
"That's really not necessary, Jack." Daniel gestured around the room. "It's not much but it's more than I had on Vis Urban."
"Yes, and we still need to discuss that, O Naked One," Jack said. Daniel rolled his eyes and pretended to start reading the mission reports again. "Daniel."
"Come on," Jack said. "I've got a whole year of aggravation to make up for."
"You aggravating me or me aggravating you?" Daniel asked.
"Yes," Jack agreed with an emphatic nod.
"How can I resist an invitation like that?"
"You can't. Get your coat."
"What?" Daniel asked in a distracted tone as he peered at the signs at the end of each aisle.
"Did I say anything?" Jack asked. He'd suggested stopping at Wal-Mart on the way home to pick up some toiletries so that Daniel wouldn't have to pack a bag every time he stayed at Jack's house. Daniel seemed content to call the SGC home for the time being, but Jack didn't like it. Possible spiritual growth aside, he couldn't help but see Ascension as having been a sort of prison for Daniel. It had confined him, stripped him of his power to choose. And the mountain felt too much like just another prison.
"You keep staring at me," Daniel said, walking over to the aisle with the shaving products.
"I was just wondering." And Jack blamed that on Major Havelock. Jack was content to simply have Daniel back among the living. On the rare occasion that he found himself mulling over the deeper questions about Daniel's experience, he found it very easy to shove those questions under the nearest rock where they belonged. Well, maybe not easy, but he was pretty damn practiced at repression.
"About?" Daniel asked, grabbing a five pack of disposable razors and tossing them in the shopping basket.
"Well, I know you're trying to sort out all of these new memories," Jack said. He took the package of razors out of the basket, returned it to the display, and replaced it with a package of ten.
"Yes?" Daniel prompted, rolling his eyes at the razors.
"What about the stuff from before you ascended? Your previous mortal life. Has all of that come back now?"
"I think so," Daniel said, biting at his lower lip as he concentrated. "At least, I haven't tripped across anything lately that I hadn't remembered. Why?"
"I don't know," Jack lied, watching Daniel reach for shaving cream. Jack gave himself a little shake and plunged ahead. "I guess I just wondered if you remembered what happened right before your big exit."
Jack was so wrapped up in his own ambivalence over bringing up the subject that it was a moment before he realized that Daniel hadn't responded. That Daniel had frozen in place, right hand wrapped around a can of shaving cream and breathing hard.
"Nothing." Daniel shook his head but his breathing was still rapid: quick, shallow gulps of air.
"Go," Jack said. He took the basket from Daniel's lax hand and dug his truck keys out of his pocket.
"What?" Daniel asked, staring at the keys Jack handed him.
"Go wait in the truck. I'll take care of this and be right there," Jack said, guiding Daniel toward the exit. Jack got into the express line, watching Daniel go out the door and hoping that he wasn't so rattled that he would forget where Jack's truck was parked. One of your better ideas there, Jack, he thought. Nothing like having meaning of life discussions in the middle of a damn Wal-Mart.
Jack grabbed the plastic bag from the cashier and hurried out to the parking lot. His truck was parked a short distance out, away from the vehicles massed closer to the store entrance. He didn't see any reason to tempt fate by parking in the middle of a bunch of cars whose owners probably didn't care whether they got a ding or a scrape.
Even in the rapidly growing dusk, Jack could see his truck clearly, parked under a street light about a third of the way down the row. The passenger side door was open, and Daniel was sitting sideways in the seat, his hands hanging loosely over his knees.
"Daniel?" Jack said quietly.
"Sorry," Daniel said, looking up at him. There was a definite tightness to his features, but his breathing was normal again. "It, um...it's still a little too real yet."
"What is?" Jack asked.
"Dying," Daniel said.
"What? Shit," Jack hissed as he realized what Daniel meant. "God, Daniel, no. I didn't mean.... You remember that? Dying?"
"It's okay," Daniel said, putting up a hand as if granting Jack absolution. "I'd already remembered it. I just...it's not very pleasant. I prefer to not to think about it too much."
"How long have you remembered...that?"
"Since shortly after I came back here." Daniel flashed a small smile at Jack. "Not Wal-Mart, back to Earth."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"What's to say?"
"You should've said something," Jack insisted, wondering how many nights Daniel had spent sitting in his sterile quarters at the bottom of a mountain reliving his own death.
"Why? It's just a memory," Daniel said, trying to downplay the impact that particular recollection obviously had on him. "I've already survived the real thing. This is just a...bad memory. It can't hurt me."
"Fuck." Jack pressed his fist to his forehead. He'd simply wanted to know if Daniel remembered their conversation, their last conversation. He hadn't intended to induce a death scene flashback. "I wasn't asking about that. Well, I guess I was, but I didn't mean to."
"What were you asking about?"
"Not now," Jack said, claiming his keys and closing Daniel's door. "One emotional trauma is more than enough for one night.
"I'm not traumatized," Daniel insisted.
"I wasn't talking about you," Jack said as he got in the driver's side. Daniel stared. His eyes were wide in disbelief, but the tension started to seep from his body, replaced by exasperation. "Let's go get something to eat, a few beers, and kick back for the rest of the evening."
Jack stopped in the doorway to the guest room. He'd shot out of bed not two minutes earlier when Daniel's shout had broken through his dreams. Now the house was quiet again. With the hall light behind him he could just see Daniel in the darkened room, sitting in the middle of the bed, the sheet crumpled across his thighs.
"What?" Daniel looked up as if surprised to see Jack.
"No, not...I just, um...."
"Daniel, you were yelling, begging someone to not make you do something."
"Choose," Daniel said quietly.
"Choose between dying and ascending?"
"No, that was never much of a choice."
"Choose between staying and coming back?" Jack asked. He wasn't sure he understood why that would be such a traumatic experience. A difficult choice, maybe, but enough to cause nightmares?
"Choosing between them and...you."
"Baal," Daniel said tersely. "You were.... Baal was torturing you and I had to choose between saving you and...." Daniel looked away, distraught. "Between saving you and staying with them."
"Daniel, it's okay. You explained all that to me." Jack shrugged. "Admittedly, at the time I was not entirely appreciative of this whole non-interventionist policy of theirs, but I've gotten over it. I understand the position you were in. And hey--you did offer to help me glow."
"You would've hated it," Daniel said.
"Not all of it." Daniel's voice dropped. "Just the parts that wouldn't let me help."
"You did help, though," Jack said, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. "You stayed with me until Teal'c's plan worked. You kept me sane."
Daniel closed his eyes tightly.
"You're such an obstinate bastard," Daniel said, yanking the sheets up around his waist.
"That's a compliment, right?"
"No," Daniel said shortly. "I had to plant that idea in Teal'c's head because you turned down the only other help I could give."
"So you did have something to do with that." Jack had wondered but he'd been reluctant to ask Teal'c for confirmation. He hadn't been sure that Teal'c would've been aware of Daniel's presence even if his suspicions were true. And Jack had been too uncertain of the truth of his own recollections to risk being labeled as a nut job.
"Sort of. I put an image, a thought, in his mind. He took it from there."
"Well, that's cool. It all worked out."
"God, Jack." Daniel finally raised his head to look Jack in the eye. Even with nothing more than the dim light from the hallway, Jack could see the angry color in Daniel's cheeks. "You asked me to...to.... You would've rather died than go with me. Do you have any idea how that felt?"
"Yes, actually, I think I do. Probably felt a whole lot like when you asked me to stop Jacob and let you go with Oma." Normally, Jack enjoyed the rare occasions he could leave Daniel speechless. This time he watched Daniel's stunned expression with no real sense of accomplishment. "You had no idea, did you?"
"No, I...." Daniel's mouth moved silently as he tried to process the information. "I thought you were sick of me."
"I was sick of a lot of things, Daniel. You weren't one of them."
"I didn't know. How could I have known?" Daniel said.
"Would it have made any difference if you had known?" Jack asked. It was something he'd played guessing games over for...well, for the entire time Daniel had been gone.
"In my ultimate decision?" Daniel asked. Jack nodded. "Maybe. I don't know."
Jack gave an exasperated sigh and started to stand up. Daniel grabbed him by the wrist, holding him on the bed.
"It would've made a difference to me," Daniel told him. "I don't honestly know if it would've changed my final decision--I mean, given the not so good odds of recovery--but it is something I would've considered. I loved you, Jack. How could it not have mattered to me?"
"Would it have stopped you from going through that lab window in the first place?" Jack asked. He could see in Daniel's eyes that no, it wouldn't have stopped him. But Jack could also see that a part of Daniel wished that it could have.
"Jack," Daniel sighed.
"Not our fault," Jack said, placing his hand against the side of Daniel's neck, rubbing his thumb along his jaw.
"No?" Daniel asked, obviously perplexed.
"Guys," Jack said, gesturing between them with his free hand. "We don't do the talking thing."
"Not very well anyway," Daniel said a soft snort of amusement. Jack couldn't resist any longer. He leaned forward, brushing his lips lightly against Daniel's once, then again.
"Now what?" Daniel asked.
"You mean 'now' in general?" Jack asked, continuing the kisses along Daniel's jaw and down his neck. Daniel let his head drop back, and Jack bit lightly at the top of his shoulder. "Or 'now' as in this specific moment right here?"
"Um...now now," Daniel said. "As in right now."
"Honestly, I was thinking sex."
"Hey, we're in bed, both semi-naked, we're in love. Why wait?"
"Is this your idea of romance?" Daniel asked.
"Romance?" Jack asked.
"This is my idea of foreplay."
"Ah, the direct 'your cave or mine' approach," Daniel said, trying unsuccessfully to hide a smile. "And you expect that to work?"
"I could whack you over the head with a club if it would help," Jack offered.
"Thanks, but I really don't need any help," Daniel laughed. "I've been celibate for more than a year."
"So you're saying that you're finally desperate enough to do me?" Jack asked, looking down at himself with a frown. No two ways about it--gravity sucked. Certain areas could only be described as saggy.
Daniel grasped Jack's head and pulled him close for a kiss that, as far as Jack could tell, was not entirely desperate. Passionate and demanding, but definitely not solely desperate.
"I'm saying that I wouldn't be this desperate if you'd just gotten with the program faster," Daniel said. "And, by the way, you won't need the club."
"But I like using my club," Jack said, nudging Daniel down to his back.
"I'm warning you right now," Daniel said, pulling Jack down to lay along side of him. "I love you, I'm tired of being alone and I've nearly forgotten what sex feels like, but if you start throwing around double entendres I won't hesitate to kick your ass right out of this bed."
"My bed," Jack said. He stripped Daniel of his boxers, and then took his sweet time crawling back up his body. He ran his fingers up muscled thighs, quickly discovering at what point the pressure was too light to be anything but ticklish, and when it was strong enough to make Daniel sigh.
"So nobody's kicking my ass out of my bed."
"Fine. I'll leave."
"No, you won't."
"No? Why not?"
"'Cause I'm the best damn kisser you've ever met."
"Prove it," Daniel challenged.
So Jack did. He'd never been so bold as to consider himself one of the last of the red-hot lovers, but he was completely confident of his ability to kiss the hell out of his partner, given the proper motivation. And Daniel naked in his bed was pretty much all the motivation he needed.
Jack focused so fully on possessing Daniel's mouth that he wasn't entirely aware of how he ended up lying between two long and solidly muscled legs. Honestly, he didn't care. He just groaned long and deep when their cocks rubbed together. Daniel pulled Jack's mouth back down to his own, breathing hard, but he wrapped one of his legs around Jack and pushed.
"Oh, shit," Jack groaned again as his cock was squeezed between their bodies.
"I know, I know," Daniel murmured. He nudged Jack up a little until he could slide his hand between their bodies and wrap it around both cocks.
"God, Daniel," Jack groaned. The feel of Daniel's hand, the rhythmic pressure on his cock, sent a sharp surge of pleasure through his entire body. He knew he wasn't going to last. He'd waited so long for this and he was going to pop like a cork before they even really got started.
"Apparently I'm not the only one who hasn't been getting any," Daniel said.
"Not...arguing...here," Jack grunted, looking at Daniel's face: flushed, smiling...and triumphant, Jack thought. He groaned again when Daniel's grip tightened. His whispered chant of Jack's name matched the increasing pace of his hand until Jack stopped worrying about going off too soon and started thinking that he'd lose his mind if he didn't. Daniel's cock suddenly spurted along his, and Jack let out a hoarse cry as his own cock jumped, Daniel pumping him until he thought his balls were being turned inside out.
"Jack," Daniel mumbled sleepily after a few minutes.
"Wha?" Jack mumbled back.
"So?" Jack was sprawled half across Daniel, relaxed and drowsy and far too comfortable to even consider moving.
"No." No, that was definitely asking too much.
There was a long pause.
"Rise and shine," Jack called cheerfully as he walked into the bedroom after his shower. Daniel raised a finger to silence him.
"Very eloquent," Jack said, noting exactly which finger Daniel was raising. But he was in much too good a mood to let Daniel's typical morning surliness bother him.
"Fuck off, Jack," Daniel mumbled, reaching blindly for the sheet that was tangled down by his knees. Daniel started to kick at the sheet, making his morning erection bounce lazily against his hip. Jack watched for a moment, appreciating the chance to see what he'd only gotten glimpses of in the darkness of the night.
"Get up," Jack said with affectionate exasperation. When Daniel just muttered at him he tossed his wet towel on Daniel's face.
"Bastard," Daniel said, his voice muffled by the towel.
Jack went to the kitchen, humming to himself as he got the coffee pot started. He shook his head, grinning, when Daniel shuffled into the kitchen fifteen minutes later with his hair still dripping from his own shower.
"Coffee's ready. Take a seat and I'll scare something up for breakfast."
Daniel poured a cup of coffee before sitting down at the table, a troubled look on his face.
"Shouldn't this be harder?"
Jack stopped in the act of taking the milk from the refrigerator. He studied Daniel's concerned face for a moment before turning to finish gathering their breakfast.
"It's just cereal, Daniel. Even a dumb jet jockey like me can handle cereal."
"Not breakfast," Daniel said, giving Jack an exasperated look. "I mean us. Shouldn't this be harder?"
"Well," Jack said. He concentrated on pouring milk over his cereal in the hope of getting some time to consider the question. Daniel made a 'give me' motion. Jack passed him the milk even though he knew that wasn't what Daniel was asking for.
"One could argue that it has been hard," Jack said.
"We've pissed and moaned and bitched at each other for years."
"Which only supports my point," Daniel said, nodding. "As difficult as our friendship has been, how can this be so easy? Last night. Now. It all feels...normal. Right."
"We've been through too much," Jack said, trying to sink his Crunch Berries by smacking them with his spoon. "If we'd gotten together three or four years ago I think it would've been harder. By now we've seen too much, lost too much. I've finally learned to focus on the important stuff and let the details sort themselves out."
"I learned a long time ago that you have to grab what you can."
"Maybe more so now than before," Jack said.
"You're different now." Jack grinned at Daniel. "Grabbier."
"Well, everything we experience changes us in some way. I suppose that my experiences as an Ascended had an effect on me, even when I didn't consciously remember them." Daniel shrugged. "I don't think it was a profound change. Was it?"
"No, just...you would never have told me how you felt before."
"By the time I'd gotten through the nightmare of losing Sha're, and finally realized what you meant to me, it was too late." Daniel smiled but the next words still stung. "You didn't seem comfortable with being my friend. I thought that suggesting anything more would be a bad idea."
"So it's my fault we haven't been getting naked and sweaty for years," Jack said. He didn't feel like he had any right to argue the point.
"I'd prefer not to think of it in terms of 'fault'," Daniel said. "The time just wasn't right."
"Fate?" Jack asked.
"Maybe." Daniel shrugged. "I don't really care. We're here now. Like you said--I'm not going to worry about the details."
"I don't trust Major Havelock," Sam said just before spearing a piece of grilled chicken with her fork.
"Really?" Jack said sarcastically. His eyes made a quick sweep of the restaurant, reassuring himself that no one was paying them any undue attention, before loading some more butter on his dinner roll and using it to sop up the last of the gravy on his plate.
"His line of questioning does not seem to follow established guidelines," Teal'c said.
"He is getting kind of...personal," Daniel said, frowning.
"Precisely," Teal'c said. "Major Davis has confined his questions to such topics as enemy troop strength and locations. These are logical issues to pursue."
"Anything of strategic value," Jack agreed. He eyed his empty plate with regret and wondered if maybe he shouldn't have ordered a steak instead of the fried chicken. Or maybe just extra mashed potatoes on the side. On the bright side, he had plenty of room left for dessert.
"Major Havelock seems to believe there is something more," Teal'c said.
"Like what?" Sam asked. She, Jack and Teal'c all looked at Daniel.
"There isn't anything more," Daniel said defensively. "I can give you gate addresses, some Ancient history and philosophy...." Daniel paused thoughtfully. "And we need to plan an excavation in Antarctica."
"Been there, done that," Jack said dismissively. He had no intention of returning to the big chill.
"There's more there," Daniel said. "Lots more."
"Are you sure?" Sam asked.
"It wasn't just an outpost. It was the center of Ancient civilization on Earth." Daniel looked around the table at them. "Trust me--there's more."
"So, aside from the Antarctic, is there anything else?" Jack asked.
"That's it," Daniel said firmly. "There's nothing else."
"So why does Havelock think there is?" Jack asked.
"Because he's a paranoid asshole?" Daniel suggested.
"That's definitely a factor," Jack agreed.
"What if he thinks Daniel is still in contact with Oma?" Sam said.
"He isn't," Jack said flatly. He frowned and turned to Daniel. "You aren't, are you?"
"Would I have been wandering around Vis Urban naked and confused if I were?" Daniel shot back.
"Maybe...on one of your flakier days," Jack teased. Sam started to laugh but choked it off when she saw Daniel's exasperated look. She shrugged apologetically.
"Even on my flakiest day I wouldn't be that confused," Daniel said. "The truth is that when I left it was kind of a 'don't call us, we'll call you' situation."
"I do not believe Major Havelock accepts that," Teal'c said.
"Yeah, well...tough," Daniel said muttered. He took a sip of his after-dinner coffee. "Though, to be honest, even if I were in contact with Oma I wouldn't tell the NID. Can you imagine the frenzy they'd go into if they thought they had a chance at that kind of power?"
"What if that's it?" Sam asked soberly. "What if they're looking to somehow tap into the power of the Ascended?"
"How?" Daniel asked.
"By using you as a liaison," Sam suggested.
"As a mere mortal I have no power to influence them in any way," Daniel said flatly.
"Then perhaps the NID intends for you to ascend again."
"What?" Jack blurted out, nearly choking on his iced tea. Daniel just stared at Teal'c, his eyes wide. "That's insane."
"Even if I could ascend, I wouldn't be able to force their hand," Daniel said. "I wouldn't want to...at least, not the way the NID would want me to."
"What do you mean--if you could ascend?" Jack asked.
"I can't," Daniel said.
"You can't?" Jack asked, puzzled.
"He can't do it alone," Sam said suddenly. Jack turned his puzzled look on her. "After he descended, Orlin told me that he couldn't go back. Even after he was shot.... He wouldn't have been able to do it if the others hadn't come back for him."
"Is the process so difficult?" Teal'c asked.
"It's not easy. And if you get it wrong, it's...." Suddenly Daniel sat straight up in his chair. "Uh oh."
"Daniel?" Sam asked while Jack mouthed "uh oh?" back at him.
"You understand what that means?" Daniel said, looking at Sam.
"No," Jack said, answering for all of them and, furthermore, absolutely convinced he wasn't going to like where this was going.
"That means that someone had to have helped Anubis ascend."
For a moment all four teammates stared at each other, stunned.
"Well fuck," Jack said.
"You want to find Oma Desala?" Hammond said, looking around at SG-1 from his seat at the head of the briefing room table. "Why?"
"The Ancients helped Anubis ascend. We want to know why," Jack told him.
"I thought the Ancients were the ones who tried to make him...un-ascend," Hammond said.
"Didn't try very hard," Jack muttered.
"The fact is that you can't ascend by yourself," Daniel explained. "You have to have the help of other Ascended."
"Do you remember how to ascend?" Hammond asked Daniel.
"Sort of," Daniel admitted reluctantly.
"Sort of?" Hammond repeated. "But you can't do it?"
"I'm not sure that I understand," Hammond said.
"I'm not sure I can explain," Daniel said ruefully.
"Just because a person knows how to do something doesn't necessarily mean that they can," Sam said. "When reduced to physics, Ascension is essentially a matter into energy conversion. I can theorize how that conversion might be accomplished, but I wouldn't be able to actually do it."
"So Anubis had to have had help," Jack summarized.
"Probably," Daniel said quietly from beside Jack.
"What?" Jack asked, turning to look at Daniel.
"Well, Teal'c and I were discussing this earlier."
"Anubis is a Goa'uld," Teal'c said. "It is possible that the knowledge and power possessed by a symbiote may make ascension easier."
"Then why haven't other Goa'uld ascended?" Sam asked.
"That's what we wondered," Daniel said, waving his hand at Sam. "And why didn't Anubis re-ascend rather than staying in this weird half and half state? It makes me think that the Goa'uld symbiote doesn't substantially affect the ascension process, but I can't be sure."
"All right, obviously we have some very important questions that need answers," Hammond said. "But how are you going to find Oma?"
"There's a place she goes back to frequently," Daniel said. "She seems to have some kind of connection to it, although I don't know what, exactly, that connection is."
"But is it the kind of place that humans can go to?" Hammond asked.
"What? Oh, yes, of course," Daniel said. "It's a planet. It even has a stargate."
"The plan is to go there, hang out, and see if she shows up," Jack said.
"That's a rather vague plan, Colonel," Hammond said. "Couldn't we simply send a MALP?"
"A MALP can't detect the presence of an Ascended being unless he or she chooses to make him or herself...detectable," Sam said.
"Then another SG team," Hammond suggested.
"Oma won't reveal herself to anyone but me," Daniel said with certainty. "I have to go."
"I don't like having SG-1 sitting essentially idle on an alien planet," Hammond said.
"General, Anubis is our biggest concern at the moment," Jack said although he knew Hammond didn't need reminding of that fact. "We need some kind of intelligence on the old wind bag. If this is the only way to get it, then I think we have to try."
"Very well," Hammond agreed with obvious reluctance. "You'll have forty-eight hours...."
"Two days?" Daniel protested.
"That's all I can afford to spare you."
"It's not enough."
"It'll have to be enough," Hammond said firmly.
Jack rapped briskly on the open door to Hammond's office.
"Sorry to disturb you, sir," Jack said as he entered, closing the door behind him.
"What's up?" Hammond asked, setting aside his work.
"I have some concerns about the NID," Jack said in what had to be his biggest understatement. At least for that week.
"What kind of concerns?"
"I'm worried they might have plans for Daniel."
"What do you know about him, General?"
"Only the obvious," Hammond said, regarding Jack soberly. "I take it you believe there's more to the major than meets the eye."
"Havelock makes me nervous," Jack said. "And not just me. He's a little too interested in Daniel. He keeps asking questions that are not only outside the bounds of the debriefing, but that Daniel has already answered."
"I see," Hammond said thoughtfully. "What do you think the major's intentions are?"
"I think the NID wants the secret to ascension," Jack said.
"That much power would be intoxicating to the sort of people within the NID," Hammond said with a nod of understanding. "But Dr. Jackson has already stated that he is unable to ascend any longer."
"And if they believe him, then he's probably safe," Jack said. "But if they don't...."
"What do you suggest we do?"
"Overtly? Nothing," Jack said. "If they know we're onto them, they'll spook. I'd rather have them where I can see them...so to speak. But I'd also like to have Daniel where I can see him."
"Surveillance on Dr. Jackson?"
"It'd do a lot for my peace of mind," Jack admitted.
"I take it you don't want Dr. Jackson to know about it?"
"You've seen him, sir. His mind's going ninety miles an hour right now trying to figure out this Anubis stuff. He doesn't need anymore stress," Jack explained. "I'm pretty sure I can convince him to bunk at my place for the duration, so I'll be able to keep an eye on him off duty. When he's at the mountain we can have our security people monitor his whereabouts.
"Fortunately for us Daniel doesn't have a car yet. Generally when he leaves the mountain he has to wait for me or Carter or Fraiser to give him a lift into town. I'll fill both of them in on the situation."
"Wouldn't it be easier to simply tell Dr. Jackson about your concerns?" Hammond asked.
"Probably, but I'm the one who convinced him that it would be safe to tell us about his memories. The truth is that he was concerned about the NID specifically, and I downplayed those concerns." Jack gave Hammond a rueful smile. "Call me a coward, but I'm hoping that nothing will come of this and he'll never have to know just how badly I mis-assessed the situation."
"Surely he'd understand, Jack. After all, I don't think Dr. Jackson has ever believed you to be infallible."
"No, sir, not by a long shot," Jack said, shaking his head at Hammond's complacent smile. Jack groaned when Hammond continued smiling at him. "Okay, fine--I'll tell him."
"A wise choice, Jack," Hammond said in a paternal tone.
"But my death will be on your head," Jack said, rising from his chair.
"Naturally." Hammond's expression grew serious again. "Seriously, Jack, we'll do everything we can to keep Dr. Jackson safe."
"At the moment, I think off world is the safest place for Daniel."
"I'll authorize the mission to find Oma first thing tomorrow."
"Daniel," Jack drawled halfway through their second day at Oma's little hideaway. He looked around at the damn trees, which were dropping their rain soaked leaves everywhere. They kept sticking to him, leaving traces of leaf slime on his clothes and hands when he brushed them off.
"Jack," Daniel drawled in return.
"Feel free to rustle up ol' Glowy Britches anytime here."
"I can't bring Oma here. And if she is here then she already knows that I want to talk to her," Daniel said, sitting patiently on a fallen tree. "She'll either talk or she won't."
"Well, as long as you're on top of the situation then."
"Jack...." Daniel suddenly went completely still, frozen in the act of chastising Jack for his impatience. Jack had a déjà vu moment right back to Daniel's small bout of catatonia which had kicked off this whole adventure.
"Colonel? What just happened?" Sam asked.
"Daniel? Daniel!" Jack gave Daniel's shoulder a shake. Daniel's body swayed slightly with the motion, but he remained otherwise unresponsive. "Damn it."
"What has happened, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked.
"He's talking to Oma."
"Now?" Sam asked, looking as if she thought Jack was pulling her leg.
"This is how she talks to you," Jack explained. "She does some kind of Spock-y mind meld thing." Jack turned back to Daniel. "Daniel, damn it, let me in."
A momentary sensation of vague dislocation left Jack shaking his head. He needed a moment to register the fact that he, or at least some part of him, was now with Daniel and Oma.
"Daniel...." Jack stared at Sam and Teal'c. He could still see them. In fact, he could see all four of them, but it was like looking through a mist.
"Shut up, Jack, or I'm sending you back to wait with Sam and Teal'c."
"Why have you come here, Daniel?" Oma asked, ignoring Jack's arrival.
"I need some answers."
"Questions are plentiful, answers are few."
"So I've heard," Daniel said. "But I'm pretty sure you have these answers."
"Nothing is more manifest than the hidden; nothing is more obvious than the unseen," Oma said.
"Well, then, these answers must be staring me right in the face because they're not obvious to me." Daniel spoke first, saving Jack from having to confess his own ignorance.
"You chose to return to the mortal plane, Daniel. Our knowledge is no longer yours to share."
"Who helped Anubis ascend?" Jack interrupted.
"Anubis is not Ascended."
"But he was. Still is...sort of."
"We know someone helped Anubis," Daniel said.
"If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are."
"Yeah, there's a lot of that going around," Jack said impatiently. "Look--someone had to have helped him and I want to know who. And more importantly--why."
"Dualism vanishes by itself," Oma said gently, pointedly excluding Jack from the conversation. "When that unity is not clear, there is loss in both directions."
"The only loss I'm worried about right now is my world," Daniel said stubbornly. "Anubis has already destroyed Abydos; he will destroy the Earth. He'll enslave or murder every last human being in the galaxy if someone doesn't stop him. You know that."
"And we lack the supreme indifference of all you supposedly higher beings," Jack said snidely. "We have to do something."
"You cannot defeat Anubis through force."
"Then give us another way," Daniel pleaded.
"You cannot defeat Anubis," Oma repeated.
"Yes, I can. I will," Daniel said, his voice resigned but determined. "I'll find a way. And this time you won't be able to stop me."
"You know what--we don't want to overstay our welcome," Jack said quickly when Oma's expression grew puzzled. "We'll be going now. Thanks for the chat. Have a nice eternity."
"Jack?" Daniel turned toward Jack, a perplexed expression on his face.
"Let's go, Daniel," Jack said in a low voice.
"Now. Let's go." Jack stared hard at Daniel, willing him to understand. Still frowning, Daniel reached for him. Jack found himself feeling a little woozy again as the images of Sam and Teal'c sharpened before his eyes.
Sam was staring at him with concern. Jack ignored her and grabbed Daniel by the arm. Daniel shuddered before he, too, was fully back with them, still frowning at Jack.
"Let's go, kids," Jack said urgently, grabbing for his pack.
"Is something wrong, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked.
"Go now," Jack said tersely, dragging Daniel along with him by the sleeve. "Discuss later."
"Immediate debrief, sir," Jack called up to the control room as he marched down the ramp. Hammond motioned that he'd meet them in the debriefing room. Sam, Daniel, and Teal'c nearly had to run to keep up with Jack as he took the stairs two at a time. Daniel stopped dead the minute he'd followed Jack through the briefing room door and turned a demanding stare on him.
"Now, Jack, what the hell is wrong?"
Jack looked at Daniel, swallowed hard, then turned to Hammond.
"General, I have reason to believe Daniel may be in danger," Jack informed Hammond.
"What?" Sam and Daniel both exclaimed. Teal'c regarded Jack with an intense frown as he crossed to the table.
"We've discussed that, Colonel," Hammond said, obviously confused as he took his customary seat at the head of the table.
"This is a different threat, sir."
"Different... What?" Daniel said, looking from Jack to Hammond and back again. "What threat?"
"From who, Colonel? Or what?" Hammond asked.
"W-why?" Daniel asked. Distracted, he dropped into a chair without taking his eyes from Jack. "Why would they want to hurt me?"
"Oma may have figured out that you remember everything now," Jack said, sitting down next to Daniel. Jack looked him directly in the eye so that he could see just how serious Jack was.
"Daniel, you told her you wouldn't let her stop you like she did last time."
"So how would you know that she stopped you last time unless you remembered it?"
"Oops?" Daniel said after a moment. Then he smacked himself in the forehead and groaned.
"Colonel?" Hammond prompted.
"We may have gotten out of there before we said too much," Jack said. "But hell, the very fact that we knew where to look for her was a dead give-away. If she thinks about it at all she'll realize what it means."
"And if she does there's nothing I can do about it," Daniel said in a resigned tone.
"What do you mean, son?"
"If she wants to do something about it, there's no way to stop her," Daniel said.
"We have to try," Jack insisted.
"You can't protect me, Jack."
"He's right, sir," Sam said before Jack could open his mouth to argue. "We wouldn't even know she was here until it was too late."
"I agree with O'Neill; we must find a way," Teal'c said.
"I thought the Ascended had a policy of non-interference," Hammond said.
"They can be pretty ruthless when it comes to protecting their own interests," Jack said bitterly.
"Look, we don't even know for certain that Oma realizes that I've regained all my memories," Daniel said. "There's no point in worrying about something that might not happen, and couldn't be prevented if it does. And what other threat?"
Jack froze, calculating the odds of successfully lying to Daniel.
"Colonel, I thought you were going to inform Dr. Jackson of your concerns," Hammond said sternly. His statement lowered Jack's odds of success considerably.
"It sort of slipped my mind," Jack said, keeping his gaze firmly on Hammond.
"Slipped your mind?" Daniel said, his voice unnecessarily loud given that he was sitting right next to Jack.
"Havelock," Sam said from across the table. And with that statement Jack's odds of escaping unscathed flat-lined.
"NID?" Daniel asked her. He turned to Jack. "The NID?"
"It's just precautionary...." Jack began.
"I told you this would happen," Daniel said.
"Yes, Daniel, you told me so. You were right. Happy now?" Jack asked sharply.
"Hardly," Daniel shot back.
"It's under control. We know about them and we've got you under surveillance...." Jack paused to give himself another mental kick in the ass.
"You're watching me?" Daniel asked indignantly.
"A prudent precaution," Teal'c said with an approving nod.
"Why aren't you watching him?" Daniel protested.
"We are," Jack said. "Just...not as closely. I don't want to spook him."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to spook you either," Jack said, placing his foot once more firmly in his mouth. Daniel bristled at his side, and Jack braced himself for the inevitable reaction.
"Dr. Jackson, were you able to learn anything from Oma Desala?" Hammond asked in a transparent attempt to deflect Daniel's attention from Jack.
"No, she was typically cryptic," Daniel admitted, throwing Jack a last angry glare before turning to face the general.
"She was beyond cryptic. She was pumping us for information," Jack said, disgusted with his failure to recognize Oma's strategy.
"What?" Daniel said, genuinely bewildered by Jack's assessment.
"She deflected all our questions with Zen crap and at the same time managed to find out what we know about Anubis. Which admittedly isn't much, but now she knows that."
"That may work to our advantage," Teal'c suggested. "Oma Desala may not see Daniel Jackson's memories as a threat if she believes they do not contain significant information."
"Doesn't matter," Daniel said stubbornly. "I don't care what she knows or doesn't know about me. I'm going to find a way to Anubis. I'll go back through every single reference to Anubis in Egyptian mythology if I need to."
"I would be pleased to assist you," Teal'c offered.
"No, I need you to go through Goa'uld mythology. There has to be something, even if it's nothing more than the reason they banished him," Daniel said, scribbling some quick notes to himself. "I want anything you can remember."
"I shall try," Teal'c said with a nod.
"Do it," Hammond said. "SG-1 isn't scheduled for another mission until the end of the week. Let's see what kind of information we can develop in the meantime. Dismissed."
Daniel nodded, up and out of his chair almost before Hammond had finished speaking. Teal'c and Sam followed close behind. Jack sighed and closed his eyes.
"This isn't going to end well," Jack predicted.
"Fucking NID," Daniel said, bursting through Jack's front door just a step ahead of Jack. "Pardon my fucking French."
"Don't ever keep something like that from me."
"I didn't want you to waste time and energy worrying about something that might not happen," Jack said, closing the front door behind them. "Besides, this is the kind of thing I'm trained for. You deal with the fairytales and weird aliens; I handle the morally corrupt humans."
"Fine, you worry about the NID and stop worrying about Oma."
"Easier said than done."
"There's nothing you can do," Daniel said.
"Don't ever tell me there's nothing I can do," Jack said angrily.
"Even if it's true?"
"Especially if it's true," Jack snapped.
"Very mature," Daniel said, turning to toss his jacket on the couch. Jack grabbed him and turned him around until they were nearly nose to nose.
"Don't tell me there's nothing I can do," Jack said in a quieter, more insistent tone.
"Okay," Daniel agreed softly. "Okay, I won't."
"There's always something I can try. I'm pretty good at thinking on my feet," Jack said. He needed to believe that he could do something, no matter how futile the effort might turn out to be.
"Don't hide things from me, Jack," Daniel admonished. "I don't need it and I don't want it."
"You've said it yourself--it's my job to protect."
"Yes, and there are times when I want you to do that. But don't ever try to 'protect' me from information. When I don't have all the information it makes it harder for me to protect myself," Daniel said.
"I know that. I just...I didn't want to admit that I'd made a mistake," Jack said, his gaze fixed on Daniel's shirt collar. Daniel's hands cupped his jaw and raised his head until he was looking directly into Daniel's eyes.
"I told you that the NID wouldn't be a problem." Jack was first puzzled, then annoyed by the amused expression on Daniel's face. "What?"
"And you really thought I believed that?" Daniel asked.
"Come on, Jack. We both know the NID is always a problem. It's just a matter of degree with them."
"Fine. I get it. You don't need my help," Jack said. He tried to turn away from Daniel, but Daniel held him firmly in place.
"What I need is for you to do your job, just like I need to be able to do mine."
"Well, at least that means job security for me," Jack said, trying to find the bright side.
"It's my job to protect. And given that your job seems to consist of taking risks, I'll never be out of work."
"What've you got?" Jack asked as he walked up to Daniel's work table. He gave Teal'c, sitting one side of the table, a brief pat on the shoulder before raising his eyes hopefully to Daniel.
"Not much," Daniel said with a sigh.
"Let me have it," Jack urged. "Start at the beginning."
"That's what we're doing," Daniel agreed. "Starting at the beginning."
"Waiting here," Jack said, motioning impatiently.
"Okay.... The basics: in Egyptian mythology, Anubis was the Lord of the Underworld. At least he was until Osiris took over his position."
"So some bad blood between them?" Jack asked.
"Not that we know of," Daniel said. "They were probably related. Siblings, maybe, although it's hard to decipher relationships in the Egyptian pantheon. Even harder to know if they hold true among the System Lords."
"These guys were heavily into incest, weren't they?"
"Yes, actually, they were. At least within royal lines," Daniel said. "It was the only way to insure that the throne remained within a given bloodline."
"Yadda," Jack said, shifting absently through some of the pictures scattered across the table top.
"Anubis was responsible for preparing the deceased, for weighing his heart against the feather of Maat, and for opening the way," Teal'c said.
"Opening the way? What's that?" Jack asked.
"Part of the ritual involved in passing through to the Underworld," Daniel said. He closed his eyes, grimacing. "Anubis was a psychopomp."
"He's psycho all right," Jack agreed. Daniel opened his eyes only to roll them at Jack.
"I'm going through every teeny, tiny mention of Anubis ever made in Egyptian mythology," Daniel said.
"And so far I've got bupkis."
"What about Goa'uld mythology?"
"There is very little reference to Anubis," Teal'c said. "Although revered at one time, very long ago, he was only a minor System Lord. His cult, which was never large, has long since been abandoned."
"Okay, so Anubis was big in the Underworld at one point in time. Do we have any gate addresses associated with the Underworld?" Jack asked.
"Netu is the only Goa'uld world I know of that was associated with a specific vision of the afterlife, and it was ruled by Sokar," Daniel said.
"So maybe it belonged to Anubis first. Sokar might have taken over Netu after Anubis disappeared," Jack suggested.
"Not to my knowledge," Teal'c said.
"Well, I hope there wasn't a connection because then we'd really be S.O.L," Daniel said, rubbing at his temples. "Given that Netu was blown to bits."
"There is that." Jack joined the other two in silent contemplation. "Anubis and Osiris were tight?"
"Pretty tight. He was the one who prepared Osiris' body after he'd been murdered by Seth. He preserved it so that Osiris could return."
"So he spent some time on Earth?"
"Yes," Daniel said slowly, obviously lost in thought.
"So maybe...." Jack's voice trailed off when Daniel raised a single finger in a request for silence.
"That's it," Daniel said, his eyes widening.
"Anubis was the opener of the way," Daniel said.
"And?" Jack said.
"Don't you see?"
"Obviously not," Jack said. He glanced at Teal'c for confirmation, but Teal'c didn't seem any less confused than Jack.
"Anubis was the guide, or at least a guide, to ascension," Daniel said.
"How is that possible?" Teal'c asked.
"We know the Ancients have been around for a very long time. But we don't know for certain when they interacted with humans other than a few specific instances, like the Romans. My guess is that the Ancients didn't have anything to do with us, with modern humans, until well after the people of ancient Egypt rebelled, buried their gate, and the Goa'uld left Earth."
"But if the Goa'uld were gone...." Jack began.
"It's possible that Anubis met up with the Ancients out there somewhere," Daniel admitted. "But it's also possible that they connected here on Earth because we know that not all the Goa'uld left the planet."
"Osiris and Isis," Teal'c said.
"Because they'd been sealed in those jars by Seth," Jack added. "Vacuum packed for freshness."
"Right, although I'm thinking now that it may have been Anubis who placed them in the jars in an effort to save them," Daniel said, throwing Jack an annoyed look. "The fact is that Osiris was here. It's possible that Anubis may have still been here, too. Or that he came back. Possibly to look for Osiris and Isis."
"Familial devotion?" Jack asked sarcastically. Given that he knew now that some Goa'uld actually ate their young he didn't buy that for one second.
"Maybe," Daniel said. "Or maybe he just needed them for...something."
"But if the gate was buried how did he get here? Ship?" Jack asked.
"Or the Antarctic gate."
"You believe Anubis interacted with the Ancients at that time?" Teal'c asked.
"I'm not sure," Daniel said with a sigh of frustration. "It's almost impossible to nail down a provable timeline, but it's possible."
"Why would the Ancients have anything to do with a Goa'uld?" Jack asked.
"I don't know. Maybe they didn't fully understand the Goa'uld at that point." Daniel shook his head. "I not entirely sure they fully understand them now. Maybe they just didn't know that Anubis was a Goa'uld."
"How could they not know?" Jack said incredulously.
"I know I've told you this before but I'll say it again," Daniel said in a tone of overtaxed patience that Jack knew all too well. "Ascension is not synonymous with omniscience."
"I know that...."
"I don't think you really do," Daniel said. "I didn't know Anubis was ascended until he decided to let me in on that little fact. I have no reason to believe that the Ancients would recognize Anubis as a Goa'uld unless he did something...Goa'uldish."
"For what purpose would the Ancients share the knowledge of Ascension?" Teal'c asked.
"Enlightenment," Daniel said.
"Whose?" Jack asked.
"Humankind," Daniel said. "I've traced Ancient influence into early Oriental religion...."
"The Zen crap," Jack said.
"Jack," Daniel said through clenched teeth. Jack waved for him to continue. "I believe the Ancients, probably just a few of them like Oma, decided to help humans rise to a higher level of understanding. But even an Ancient can't be everywhere, and it makes sense that they may have taught certain humans how to guide others toward that step."
"Like the monk who resided on Kheb," Teal'c said.
"Exactly," Daniel said. He turned and started running his finger along the spines of the books on the shelves as he searched for a specific text.
"Do you really think they made Anubis one of these 'guides'?" Jack asked skeptically.
"He was the opener of the way. He guided souls from the land of the living to the land of the dead," Daniel said, pausing to pull a book from the shelf. He skimmed through a section quickly before closing it and shoving it back on the shelf.
"Okay, let's say you're right. Let's say that ol' Nuby managed to trick the Ancients into telling him their secrets...."
"Or maybe Anubis--the symbiote, that is--took this host after the host had been taught by the Ancients," Daniel interjected, frowning as he continued to search the shelves. "It all depends on the exact time frame...."
"Whatever," Jack said curtly. "The point is--how does this help us find him?"
"I'm not sure that it does. But I have another idea," Daniel said.
"You knew about this planet?" Jack said, his aggravation plain as he stood in the control room glaring at Daniel. "So why were we messing around with Oma?"
"I knew the planet had been deserted a while ago. It may not have anything left that can help us," Daniel explained. "Besides, Anubis' interaction with the Ancients is the key. It seemed logical to go to Oma first."
"Carter?" Jack had given up on ever getting Daniel to prioritize based on the same variables that he used. Sam, on the other hand....
"Daniel gave us a few gate addresses after he regained his Ascended memories," Sam said, glancing up from the computer monitor. "Some of those were already in our data bank thanks to the time you had all that Ancient knowledge downloaded into your brain. But a few of them are new. They're not on the Abydos cartouche either."
"Anubis was an Ancient and a Goa'uld," Daniel said from his seat next to Sam. "He could've built his own gate and placed it on a planet that neither the Ancients nor the Goa'uld knew about."
"So how did you find it?" Jack asked.
"If I remember correctly, I had a tendency to wander off on my own," Daniel said.
"Imagine that," Jack said dryly.
"Because I hadn't put away my Earthly concerns like a good little Ascended," Daniel continued after giving Jack a dirty look. "I kept looking for information that might help the SGC. I spent as much time as I could digging into the history of the Goa'uld. And Oma kept trying to deflect me."
"Is this all that you found?" Teal'c asked.
"More or less. This was the only time I found specific information about Anubis. About this planet. But I didn't think it was important at the time."
"What about where Anubis hangs out now?" Jack asked.
"Sorry. This is all I've got."
"We sent a MALP to P8Y-331 earlier this morning," Sam told Jack.
"And?" Jack prompted. Sam pulled up a video feed and leaned back in her chair so that Jack and Teal'c could see more clearly.
"It's Anubis' home world," Daniel said. "Or it was."
"This does not look familiar," Teal'c said as Jack continued to study the picture closely.
"That's because it's not typical Goa'uld architecture," Daniel said. "But if you look closely at the column reliefs...."
"Colonel, we had the MALP take recordings at set intervals over several hours. There's no evidence of life," Sam said, distracting Jack from Daniel's lecture on Goa'uld art, a move Jack silently thanked Sam for. "On your order I can send a UAV for more extensive reconnaissance."
"Do it," Jack said. Sam immediately went to prepare the UAV for launch. "Daniel, if this place has been abandoned...."
"It may still be able to tell us something about Anubis. Who or what, exactly, he is. And, bottom line, it's all we've got at the moment."
"Dr. Jackson?" Havelock's curt voice caught all of them off guard. Jack and Teal'c moved slightly closer together, blocking Havelock's view of the monitor.
"Yes?" Daniel said as he twisted around in his chair to look at Havelock.
"We have a debriefing scheduled."
"Er...right," Daniel said, glancing at Jack.
"Go on," Jack said. He wanted Daniel, and therefore Havelock, out of the control room before the NID man took an interest in what they were looking at. "We'll start working up the mission proposal for General Hammond while you're busy."
Jack walked boldly into the interrogation room, smiling maliciously at Havelock.
"Colonel, what are you doing here?"
"I got tired of watching through the one-way mirror," Jack said. He pulled out a chair and sat down across the table from Daniel and Major Davis. Daniel rolled his eyes in response, but Jack was fairly certain that it denoted affection rather than, say, annoyance.
"You weren't invited," Havelock said, walking around the table to stand over Jack.
"I know what you're doing," Jack said casually.
"What?" Havelock asked, looking confused.
"Trying to put the subject at a physical disadvantage," Jack said, gesturing to indicate the difference in their relative heights.
"Daniel knows what you're doing, too, which is one reason the technique isn't effective on him," Jack said. He didn't bother adding that the main reason was that Daniel simply couldn't be intimidated. At least, not by a punk like Havelock.
"I'm going to ask you--again--to leave," Havelock said with almost brittle politeness.
"Davis, is there anything that says I can't be here?" Jack asked.
"Not by name...."
"Great," Jack said, sitting back and crossing his arms. He smiled at Havelock again. "Don't worry. You won't even know I'm here."
"G'head," Jack said, waving at Havelock.
"The Asgard, Dr. Jackson?" Havelock said, still glaring at Jack.
"The Asgard," Daniel repeated. He thought for a moment. "No, I didn't learn anything specifically about the Asgard. I do know that they and the Furlings were the ones who initiated the alliance of the four races."
"Really?" Davis said, leaning forward in interest.
"Yes, at the time they were both more interactive with 'lesser' races than the others. The Nox have always been somewhat isolated, but they recognized the need to cooperate with other advanced races. They wanted to try to bring all races into harmony with one another."
"Go back to the Furlings," Havelock said. "What did you find out about them?"
"They, um...." Daniel's frown deepened. "I don't know where they are. Or even if they still are. I can tell you what they looked like, but that's about it."
"Look like?" Jack asked.
"Not pretty," Daniel said.
"Think Unas crossed with Gadmeer. On acid."
"Colonel," Havelock said sharply. Jack threw up his hands and settled back in his chair.
"Anyway, the four races agreed to an alliance in an attempt to preserve and disseminate their knowledge."
"So what happened?" Havelock asked.
"We sure haven't seen any of that knowledge."
"Not voluntarily," Jack muttered even though he found it distasteful to agree with Havelock on anything.
"The Goa'uld happened, for one thing. And humans were still considered too primitive at the time," Daniel said. "In the meantime, the Nox withdrew to their own world feeling that galactic harmony was a lost cause, the Ancients moved on, and the Furlings...."
"Yes?" Havelock prompted.
"The Furlings went in search of other universes."
"Don't you mean galaxies?" Davis asked, glancing up from his notes.
"No, I mean universes," Daniel said, looking bemused. "The Ancients may have learned to transcend the mortal plane, but the Furlings learned to transcend space and time."
"Cool," Jack said.
"Very," Daniel agreed.
"So just the Asgard were left?" Davis asked.
"Basically," Daniel agreed. "The Asgard became our protectors, sort of by default."
"More like zoo keepers," Jack said with a snort. "I mean, no offence to Thor and his little gray home boys, but they've been probing us for years."
"No. Well, yes...maybe more like curious babysitters," Daniel agreed. "I don't like some of the things the Asgard have done to humans, but I do know that they also felt a responsibility to help us when they could, as much as they could, without interfering in our natural evolution."
"Evolution," Havelock muttered disdainfully. He turned a challenging look on Daniel. "What about technology? Do you know where we can find any Ancient technology or weapons?"
"Well, I'm hoping we'll find something in Antarctica."
"But what exactly?" Davis prompted.
"I don't know," Daniel said. "I know what was there...and it was more than just a stargate and a woman frozen in the ice."
"Would you be able to use any Ancient technology we might find?" Davis asked.
"Not sure," Daniel said. "Guess I'd have to try."
"What was the nature of your powers?" Havelock asked, pacing slowly up and down the room.
"Super powers," Jack said. "You know--faster than a speeding death glider, leaping tall planets with a single bound--that kind of thing."
"Ah, powers. Well, obviously I wasn't constrained by the limits of a human body." Daniel chewed the inside of his cheek as he thought. "The Ascended can interact with the physical world on a molecular basis."
"What does that mean?" Major Davis asked, looking at Daniel with a puzzled frown.
"You can...create matter by gathering the necessary elements. You can draw in energy, shape it, and then disburse it," Daniel said, gesturing in a futile effort to communicate enormity of the Ancients' abilities. "Like...like...."
"Like Oma zapping those Jaffa with lightening?" Jack asked.
"Yes, exactly," Daniel said, waving his hand at Jack.
"Can you still do that?" Havelock asked.
"Er...no," Daniel said, staring at Havelock in disbelief.
"How much autonomy did you have to use these powers?" Havelock asked.
"Probably less than I thought I had at the time," Daniel said ruefully.
"So they keep track of where the others are and what they're doing at all times?"
"No, not at all," Daniel said, shaking his head. "They're independent beings. And they are not omniscient."
"But you say that they knew what you were doing."
"I was kind of special case," Daniel admitted.
Jack tightened his jaw to prevent blurting out his automatic response to that description. He was certain that nothing showed on his face, but Daniel gave him a dirty look despite what Jack considered a remarkable display of restraint.
"How do you mean?" Major Davis asked.
"I was new. I needed to be taught. You could even say...trained," Daniel said, chagrined. "Oma is already walking a fine line and she needed to make sure I didn't do anything to upset the status quo."
"But the rest are free to do as they wish?" Havelock persisted.
"Well, within reason. There are certain fundamental rules that they're all supposed to abide by, but beyond that they're free to do and go as they please."
Jack stopped to roll his shoulders, working out the kink at the base of his neck, before returning to chore of trimming the bushes around the deck. Aside from the minor aches and pains it caused, he liked doing yard work. It was mindless manual labor. It demanded nothing more of him than perseverance and rewarded him with time spent in sunlight and fresh air. And, apparently, Daniel found Jack's labor intriguing because he'd been standing on the deck for the last ten minutes simply staring at Jack.
"What?" Jack called as he batted the bush with the shears to knock the fresh clippings to the ground. Daniel remained silent until Jack finally stood up straight and stared back.
"You've changed," Daniel said. He leaned forward, resting his forearms on the deck railing.
"Me? No, I haven't," Jack said, dismissing the idea immediately. He wasn't comfortable with the idea of change, his own or anyone else's. Not to mention the fact that Daniel had done enough 'changing' in the last year to last them both a lifetime.
"You have," Daniel insisted. "I knew that the minute I came back."
"You didn't know anything the minute you came back," Jack said, beginning on the next bush. "You didn't even remember us."
"I remembered you, and you've changed."
"You must have me confused with that Jim guy," Jack said. He watched Daniel suddenly duck his head between his arms. "See! I knew it."
"Knew what?" Daniel asked, looking up with an innocent expression.
"You did know my name."
"I'd just come back from the dead--I didn't remember anything."
"You were just trying to yank my chain," Jack insisted.
"Would I do that?" Daniel asked.
"As often as possible." Jack threw Daniel a scowl before returning to his task. "And thank you for proving my point."
"I couldn't have changed too much if you remembered me that easily."
"Not too much," Daniel agreed. "I just said that you'd changed. I didn't say how much."
"Get down here and help me," Jack said. Daniel grunted in response, but he grabbed the rake leaning against the deck stairs and started to gather up the clippings. They worked in comfortable silence until Jack got the last bush trimmed to his satisfaction. He set down the shears and turned to Daniel.
"How have I supposedly changed?" Jack asked.
"You said yourself that you've learned to focus on what's important and let the details sort themselves out."
"Yeah," Jack said slowly. "But that could just be laziness."
"You're not lazy."
"Come on, Daniel. I'm always trying to get out of work."
"Even when you're trying to get away from your job, you're not trying to get out of work. You'd just rather be doing something else," Daniel said with conviction. "You're not the type to sit around doing nothing."
"I'm quite happy to do nothing. It's just that I never get the chance," Jack argued. His idea of a perfect day was eight hours of sleep, eight hours sitting on a dock with an un-baited hook, and the other eight hours evenly divided between Daniel and food. Although he was pretty sure that if he got creative he could find a way to combine Daniel with food. "If it's not saving the planet, it's doing the laundry. I never catch a break."
"Daniel, don't make more of this than what it is. I may have streamlined my life somewhat, but it's purely out of apathy." Apathy, antipathy, lethargy: it was all of those reasons and more, none of them positive. "Unlike you, I haven't gained any great self knowledge in the past year...something for which I am profoundly grateful."
"And you're playing the dumb card too often, too," Daniel said, his irritation with that ploy obvious.
"Hate to break it to you, especially now that we're getting naked together, but I am dumb."
"No, you're not. Ignorant--yes, on occasion. Dumb--no. And I don't understand why you do that."
"Maybe that's just laziness, too," Jack suggested with a careless shrug.
"You're not lazy, you're not dumb and you have changed," Daniel said, stubbornly refusing to be deflected.
"And you have never learned that what you see sometimes really is all there is to be seen."
"Fine, if that's the way you want to play it...."
"I'm not 'playing' anything," Jack said.
"Whatever," Daniel said, walking away from him with an expression that had gone very cold.
"Hey!" Jack jogged a couple of steps and grabbed Daniel by the upper arm, turning him back. "Don't give me 'whatever'."
"If you don't want to talk...."
"There's nothing to talk about."
"Whatever," Daniel repeated defiantly.
"Hey!" Jack paused, uneasy with the nasty tone that was creeping into their voices. "Are we having our first fight?"
Daniel stared coldly at him for another moment, then a snort of dark amusement escaped him.
"Jack, we had our first fight nearly a decade ago."
"We did, didn't we?" Jack mused. "You'd think we'd be better at it by now."
"Oh, we're very good at fighting," Daniel said. "But it would be nice if we fought about something different once in a while."
"Why mess with a winning formula?" Jack said, smiling hopefully. Daniel shook his head in resignation. "Daniel, I'm not trying to be difficult...."
"No, it comes naturally to you."
"Touché," Jack said, wondering how he'd ever forgotten that Daniel was at least as quick as he was with the verbal thrust and parry. Daniel made an apologetic shrug. "I honestly don't think I've changed. I'm still a dumb, argumentative asshole. I always have been. I always will be."
They were frozen at that point. Then Daniel reached up and rubbed Jack's hand where it still gripped his arm. Jack knew that Daniel was willing to accept that, whatever the change was, Jack truly didn't see it.
Or maybe...he really just didn't want to admit it.
"You're back," Jack blurted, provoking a puzzled look from Daniel. "You were gone and now you're back and...and I'm glad you are."
"See, that wasn't so painful," Daniel said. He brushed his fingers over Jack's cheek, then smiled. "With a little practice you may even be able to talk about your feelings without resorting to the Idiot Jack persona first."
"I'm glad that you're glad that I'm back," Daniel said, walking toward the house.
"I didn't mean anything by that," Jack called after him in protest. "I just meant that you're annoying and confusing and a constant pain in the ass and I actually had a moment's peace while you were gone which, of course, threw me completely off my stride."
"As long as you're happy," Daniel said flippantly as he entered the house.
"I hate when he does that," Jack told the neat pile of evergreen clippings at his feet.
"You still don't know which Ancient helped Anubis, do you?" Jack asked quietly. He was lying on his left side, Daniel curled up behind him in the middle of the bed.
"No idea," Daniel admitted, his fingers tracing random patterns along Jack's spine. "But even if we knew, what could we do about it? We have no power to affect the Ancients. We're not going to be able to make them stop him."
"One of them tried to stop him at least once in the past," Jack pointed out.
"I sometimes wonder if that wasn't Oma," Daniel mused. "We've seen her kill Jaffa before without hesitation."
"So why won't she help us...help you do something about him?"
"Even when I was ascended I had a hard time understanding why they made some of the decisions they did. Now...." Jack could feel Daniel shaking his head in resigned frustration. "I couldn't begin to guess at their motivations."
"I gotta tell you--I think your theory about Anubis taking the host after the host had been trained makes more sense than the Ascended being fooled by a Goa'uld."
"Yeah, I can't see one of those arrogant snakes having the patience to go through some mystical apprenticeship," Jack said.
"You do know that no one actually has to go through training to ascend, don't you?" Daniel asked.
"Jack." He could feel Daniel's exasperated breath against his skin. "Anyone can be ascended. I was. You could've been. The ability to decipher Zen koans is not a prerequisite. The religious training is just...."
"I wouldn't go quite that far. The training insures that the candidates for Ascension will have the same philosophical leanings as the Ancients."
"Brainwashing," Jack said, nodding his head.
"No more than any religious or philosophical ideology."
"Religion, brainwashing: call it what you want it's all the same thing," Jack said firmly. Behind him Daniel went still for a moment, and then the restless brush of fingers against his skin started anew.
"You have issues, don't you?" Daniel asked. His breath tickled at the back of Jack's neck as Daniel's hand slid around his ribs to his chest.
"Former Catholic, current atheist: what do you think?"
"I think your cynicism is infinite," Daniel sighed. "The truth is that either scenario is better than the possibility that an Ancient helped Anubis knowing that he was a Goa'uld."
"Enough shop talk," Jack decided. They were in bed; they had more interesting things to talk about. Besides, his skull needed reinforcing before his brain could be expected to cope with the weight of Daniel's knowledge without exploding.
"What do you want to talk about?" Daniel asked, his fingers mindlessly threading through Jack's chest hair.
"Actually, I was thinking since you're already back there you might want to work up a little...enthusiasm."
"My enthusiasm is just fine," Daniel chuckled against his shoulder.
"I beg to differ--it's just lying around back there," Jack said. "And I have to wonder if this means that you've finally noticed the wrinkles and saggy bits?"
"I kind of like the 'saggy' bits," Daniel said. He laughed again. "In fact, your 'saggy' bits are one of your best features."
"Asshole," Jack grumbled. Then his breath caught as Daniel's hand slipped down and began stroking him. Behind him, Daniel's enthusiasm was building nicely. Jack closed his eyes, rocking slowly into Daniel's fist, then rubbing back against his cock.
"Do whatever you want," Jack invited, content to drift in a pleasant low-level arousal. Daniel pushed Jack's legs forward until he was curled into a semi-fetal position. Daniel slid his hand along under Jack's thigh, making him jerk when he brushed against his balls. Seconds later, Daniel pushed, and Jack blew out a long, deliberate breath as he was stretched wide.
"Oh, God," Jack groaned. "That's so, God, I don't know what it is but it's good."
"Very good," Daniel agreed as he began to rock his hips. "Too good. Jerk yourself."
"Jerk yourself. I want to see you. I want to feel it when you come."
"Jesus," Jack groaned, jerking his ass back onto Daniel.
"That's it," Daniel murmured, increasing the power of his thrusts. "Now touch yourself."
"No," Jack said. He was very definite about that. He was in the mood for long, lazy lovemaking. His hand, however, had other ideas. He gripped himself firmly, squeezing just as Daniel pushed right into his very center.
"Oh, God," Jack said, stroking vigorously in rhythm with Daniel's movements. It should be a violation of the laws of nature that he wasn't allowed to feel this good all the time. Or even half the time. Or even, it would seem, five minutes at a time. Jack groaned in frustration. "Oh, fuck you, I'm going to come too soon."
"No, s'perfect timing," Daniel said His movements were powerful and relentless, his breathing increasingly erratic. Jack cursed silently as he felt his body convulse around the intrusion of Daniel's body into his own. He whipped his hand along his shaft, milking the orgasm right out of Daniel's cock and through his own.
"Crap," Jack muttered when he could catch his breath again.
"Cramp?" Daniel asked, his breath hot against Jack's sweat cooled skin.
"No," Jack said, although he did ease his legs down a bit. "Just...it's never enough. I can't get enough. I want to feel that way all the time, be with you feeling like that every damn minute."
"God, I really have lost it, haven't I?" Jack said, wondering what on Earth, or off of it, had possessed him to say that. Daniel just hugged him tightly.
"I'd like to think that you've finally found it."
"Welcome home, SG-1."
"Thank you, sir," Jack said brightly as he walked slowly down the ramp. It had been one of those missions that made him so happy to be back that he felt like getting down on his knees, cartilage deficit and all, and kissing the ramp. SG-1 had just spent three days on a planet where the heat and the humidity both stayed stubbornly in the upper eighties. And then it had started to rain.
"How did the mission go?" Hammond asked as all four drew up at the bottom of the ramp.
"Carter had fun," Jack said. A nod of his head directed Hammond's attention to Sam's muddy but beaming face. "She found some really special dirt."
"It's a quartz-like substance that appears to be similar to naquada," Sam clarified. Jack mouthed 'dirt' at Hammond from just out of her sight line. "Of course I could only do preliminary tests on the planet...."
"Sounds promising, Major," Hammond said. "And the rest of you?"
"Wet, sir." Jack shook himself like a dog, sending a small shower of water onto the ground. "Very wet."
"Hit the showers and then report to the infirmary for your post mission physical," Hammond ordered. "If there's nothing urgent we'll debrief tomorrow morning at 0830."
"Bless you, sir," Jack said. He looked forward to a long hot shower with an intensity he usually reserved for seeing Daniel naked. And hockey. But these days it was mostly for seeing Daniel naked.
"Jack." Hammond caught lightly at Jack's sleeve, holding him behind as the rest of the team left the gate room. "I need a word with you."
"Now?" Jack asked. He'd just spent a little over forty-eight hours in a constant state of heat and humidity. He didn't know how Hammond could stand to be within five feet of him. If Jack had had any choice he wouldn't be within five feet of himself.
"You're not going to like this."
"What?" Jack asked, his mind instantly on alert.
"Dr. Jackson has to report to Area 51 tomorrow."
"Major Havelock claims that he can't conduct a proper debriefing here with all the 'interruptions' and other demands on Dr. Jackson's time. He requested a change of venue so that they can focus on the objective."
"You didn't agree to that," Jack said, unable to believe that Hammond would ever turn Daniel over to the NID.
"I had no choice, Jack. The President himself requested my cooperation."
"Requested?" Jack said hopefully.
"It's the kind of request I can't ignore," Hammond said.
"General," Jack protested.
"Major Davis will also be there," Hammond said. "And I've already apprised him of our concerns."
"Crap," Jack muttered, knowing that he'd been neatly outmaneuvered by Havelock. He'd been responsible for most of the interruptions and demands on Daniel's time. His intent had been to show the NID officer that the SGC wouldn't be intimidated. Instead Havelock had simply gone to someone who had more weight to throw around than Jack did. And had done it while Jack was off-world and couldn't formulate a proportional response.
"Daniel is not going to like this."
"I know," Hammond said sympathetically. "But it's only for a couple of days, and then we'll be rid of Major Havelock for good."
"Jack?" Daniel looked up from his desk, obviously puzzled by Jack's glum tone of voice.
"You, um...you have to go to Nevada tomorrow."
"To finish the debriefing."
"No," Daniel said flatly.
"Daniel, I know...."
"No, you don't know. You said the NID wouldn't be a problem," Daniel reminded him.
"I know. I'm sorry. I couldn't have been more wrong," Jack said wearily. "But it's only for a couple of days and Major Davis will be there, too. You trust him, right?"
"Yeah," Daniel said after only a brief pause.
"Hammond doesn't have any choice, but if Havelock so much as looks at you funny...."
"He's already looking at me funny," Daniel said.
"Okay." Jack had to concede that point. "But...if it gets worse, call Hammond. He'll step in immediately."
"I don't like it," Daniel said, but the resigned tone of his voice told Jack that he would cooperate.
"Neither do I. But I don't think you're in danger of anything more serious than a case of extreme aggravation," Jack told him honestly. "And hey--it's not like you'll be missing anything. I've got performance evaluations taking up the rest of my week."
"How soon can I leave?" Daniel said immediately.
"I'm serious, Jack. The last time you did Sam's evaluation the two of you walked around like...like...."
"Did not," Jack said indignantly. The last performance evaluation had taken place not very long after Daniel's death/ascension. Neither he nor Carter had had the heart to care much about something that seemed so insignificant at the time.
"I meant the last evaluation I was here for," Daniel said. "You growled at everyone for a month."
"No, I.... Oh." The evaluation a year before Daniel's ascension. That evaluation. "That was different. There were...extenuating circumstances," Jack said.
"If you say so," Daniel said. He waved his hand as if to dismiss Jack's assertion and turned back to his desk. "I'd still rather face a dozen Havelocks than Rambo Sam and Bitch Jack."
"I'm overwhelmed by your love and support," Jack said sarcastically. Daniel looked at him out of the corner of his eye, smiling. Jack glared back at him, trying to project a wounded air. Daniel walked over to Jack and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Jack, I would gladly die for you," Daniel said, his voice solemn despite the humor in his eyes. "But putting up with a full blown case of O'Neill PMS is more than any man should have to bear."
"It's my duty to once again discuss with you your yearly performance evaluation," Jack said somberly.
"I understand, sir," Sam said, biting at her lower lip.
"I'll be honest with you, Major. I suggested to the Pentagon that if they wished to know how well you perform your duties then they might want to try reading a damn mission report once in a while."
"And their response, sir?"
"Off the record?" Jack asked. He sat back in his chair. "Let's just say that General Vidrine no longer adores me."
"I'm sorry to hear that, sir. You were a cute couple."
Sam's amusement finally escaped her with a snort. Jack felt his own grin spread across his face in response. He was reminded, not for the first time, how grateful he was that he and Carter had gotten past the...past.
"One of these days, Carter, you'll go too far," Jack said, shaking his finger at her.
"I intend to blame it all on you, sir."
"Following my example will not win you any brownie points at the Pentagon."
"You read the evaluation?" Jack asked. Sam nodded. "Anything you'd like to discuss or argue?"
"Great," Jack said, flipping the folder shut. "Then let's blow this popsicle stand and find someplace with hot burgers and cold beer."
Twenty-four hours later Jack was getting antsy. He hadn't heard a word from Daniel since he'd left for Area 51. This was not necessarily a bad sign. After all, given their situation, Daniel could hardly be phoning Jack every hour like some lovesick teenager. Still, Jack was anxious for some kind of communication.
Jack was starting to think that maybe he would do the lovesick teen thing and call Daniel, when Teal'c showed up at his office door. And didn't it just figure that at that very minute his email chimed in. Jack waved Teal'c in while he quickly checked his inbox. The message was from Daniel, but Teal'c's evaluation was Jack's more immediate responsibility so Jack quickly saved the message to his hard drive.
"It's that time again," Jack said, pulling Teal'c's file from his desk drawer. "Did Bra'tac have to do these kinds of things?"
"You ask me that question every year," Teal'c said.
"Really? Huh." Jack thought back but he honestly couldn't remember the answer. "So did he?"
"Master Bra'tac made regular verbal reports to Apophis. Written evaluations were not a normal mode of communication."
"And you did the same for the Jaffa under your command?"
"Pain in the ass, isn't it?" Jack asked.
"It was a necessity," Teal'c said. "I was not fond of it. A poor report from a First Prime could lead to the death of the Jaffa in question."
"Sheesh, talk about pressure," Jack said. The extremes of Goa'uld discipline and control still shocked him at times. Jack normally didn't enjoy giving a subordinate an unsatisfactory report, but at least he'd never had to worry that it would cause the poor man's, or woman's, death.
"Are we finished?" Teal'c asked.
"Have you read the evaluation?" Jack asked. Teal'c nodded. "Any comments or suggestions?"
"You misspelled tretonin."
"What? Where?" Jack asked, skimming the report. Teal'c leaned over and pointed at the offending word. "Yeah, well...nobody's put that in the spell checker yet."
"You could do so," Teal'c suggested.
"Yes, but I'd have to know how to spell it first," Jack pointed out. He signed the evaluation and shut the folder with a sense of satisfaction. Teal'c remained in his chair, regarding Jack gravely.
"Something else you wanted?" Jack asked.
"You consoled Major Carter with food and alcoholic beverages."
"Rewarded?" Teal'c suggested.
"You don't drink," Jack pointed out.
"I do, however, eat."
"Fine," Jack said with a mock scowl. "Get your hat. I'll meet you topside in ten minutes."
After lunch, Jack read Daniel's email. Then he read it again, trying to put his finger on what was wrong. The general gist of the message was very Daniel-like. Only Daniel would bitch about having to go to Area 51 in the first place, then ask to extend his visit so that he could follow up on the meaning of life stuff. But....Daniel wrote like he spoke. At least when communicating with Jack he did. Normally Jack could picture Daniel's facial expressions and hand gestures when he read his messages. He wasn't getting that from this note.
Jack picked up his phone. It was time to put his mind at ease. One call, in response to Daniel's email, surely wouldn't appear too overprotective. And if it did--tough cookies. Jack hadn't gotten to where he was by being a shrinking violet. He patiently guided his call by repeatedly pressing the # sign until he got a real live voice at the other end of the line.
"Dr. Jackson, please," Jack told the young sergeant on duty.
"Dr. Jackson has asked not to be disturbed, sir."
Jack's immediate reaction was to tell her that Daniel wouldn't mind being disturbed by him, except that he knew that wasn't strictly true. Daniel might love him, but he still got annoyed when Jack 'interfered' with his work.
"Fine, let me talk to Major Davis then." Jack didn't worry about disturbing Davis. In fact, he thought Davis looked like he could use some disturbing on a more regular basis. And then immediately wished his brain wouldn't go those kinds of places.
"Major Davis isn't here."
"What do you mean?" Jack asked, instantly wary. "Not there as in not at your particular location or...?"
"Major Davis returned to Washington."
"When?" Jack demanded.
"He signed out yesterday morning, sir."
Jack slammed the phone down, then immediately picked up the receiver again and started dialing. If Davis really had left Daniel behind he was going to tear the prissy little....
"Major Davis." Davis sounded distracted, which only fed Jack's ire.
"What the hell were you thinking?" Jack said.
"Colonel O'Neill?" Davis said after a brief, puzzled silence.
"Yes, O'Neill--two 'L's--as in Colonel as in leader of SG-1 as in Daniel Jackson's commanding officer. You do remember Daniel Jackson, don't you?"
"Where is he?"
"Daniel's not at the SGC?"
"If he was, I wouldn't be calling you."
"Oh, boy," Davis muttered.
"I thought he'd already left," Davis hastened to explain. "Major Havelock said he'd shipped Daniel out on the first available plane once we were done."
"And you believed him?" Jack said incredulously.
"We were done, sir. We'd covered everything we possibly could in the debriefing," Davis said. "And I did check--all of Daniel's gear was packed up and gone."
"Did you really think he'd leave without telling you?"
"He might," Davis argued. "He couldn't wait to get away from Havelock, Colonel. He might very well have gotten the hell out of Dodge when he had the chance."
"Yeah, well...." Jack couldn't honestly dispute that. When Daniel decided on a course of action he didn't necessarily worry about the social niceties. "This time he didn't."
"Have you tried contacting him at Area 51?"
"Gee, no, Major, I discovered that Daniel is 'unavailable' and that you'd left him thanks to my awesome powers of telepathy."
"I'll see what I can find out from this end," Davis said, obviously recognizing that it wasn't a good time to argue with Jack.
"Do that. Meanwhile, I'll actually be doing something."
Jack strode purposefully toward the elevator, Carter and Teal'c at his heels. He'd been very busy between calling in some favors and rattling a few cages. As a result he hadn't had time to bring Sam and Teal'c fully up to speed, but they'd been willing to accept the Reader's Digest version in the interest of saving time. He planned to finish filling them in on the plane to Nevada.
"General," Jack said as Hammond met them at the elevator.
"Orders," Hammond said, handing Jack an envelope.
"Does not Major Havelock have orders from the President?" Teal'c asked as Jack tucked the orders into an inside pocket.
"I received a verbal request from the President based on a particular set of circumstances. Those circumstances have changed," Hammond said tersely. He looked at Jack. "If you work fast these orders should give you enough authority to get in and get Dr. Jackson out."
"Yes, sir," Jack said with a salute.
"God speed," Hammond said, stepping out of the way as the elevator doors opened. Jack, Sam and Teal'c entered silently, each taking one of the walls to lean against.
"Sir?" Sam said hesitantly as the elevator rose. Jack raised an eyebrow at her. "They said Daniel checked out at the front gate. How can you be sure he's still at Area 51?"
"He is. Not the part of Area 51 he's supposed to be in, but he's there."
"I have my ways, Carter," Jack said obliquely. "Teal'c, are you still into the Jaffa revenge thing?"
"Why do you ask, O'Neill?"
"Hammond may have...implied to certain persons that we would not intervene if you felt the need to engage in a Jaffa revenge ritual. Purely in the interest of cross-cultural understanding, of course."
Teal'c's lips curved into a slow and thoroughly humorless smile.
"Stand clear!" Jack yelled as he burst through the door.
A man in a doctor's white coat startled violently, dropping an Ambu-bag to the floor. He was standing next to a gurney, and on the gurney was Daniel, his wrists and ankles held by leather restraints. His head and bare chest were dotted with leads connected to a bank of monitors at the head of the bed. And even Jack could tell that the readings were not all that they should be.
"Carter," Jack ordered. Sam immediately moved to one side of the gurney. Jack circled to the other side more slowly, keeping his gun steady on the doctor. Teal'c remained in the doorway, guarding against any attempts to intervene in their rescue operation.
"He's not breathing, sir," Sam said urgently. She bent down to retrieve the Ambu-bag and Jack stole a second to check on Daniel. Jack's eyes widened when he realized that Daniel was looking back at him, and the look in his eyes was of sheer panic.
"He's awake," Jack said, aghast.
"I know, sir," Sam said. Her fingers fumbled in her haste, but she managed to get the Ambu-bag attached to the endotracheal tube protruding from Daniel's mouth. Sam gave a couple of quick squeezes, hastening some air into starving lungs, before settling into a steady rhythm. "But I don't think he can breathe on his own."
"But he's awake," Jack repeated, staring at the doctor.
"He's chemically paralyzed," the doctor said. Jack crossed the small room in about two steps, fisting his hand in the doctor's shirt and shoving him up against the wall.
"He's awake," Jack shouted at him, horrified by the thought that Daniel had been rendered unable to breath, suffocating and fully aware of it
"Of course he's awake. He had to be conscious in order to make the ascension work," the doctor said. Jack pulled him slightly forward then slammed him back against the wall.
"We only did it because he wasn't cooperating," the doctor bleated in self defense.
"He can't ascend, you stupid son of a bitch." Jack jerked the man forward again, intending to beat that one little fact into the idiot's head, when Teal'c's voice interrupted.
"What?" Jack snapped, impatient to continue.
"Does this one require a demonstration of Jaffa culture?" Teal'c asked in a deceptively mild tone.
"What?" Jack said. Teal'c inclined his head toward Jack. "Oh. Right. Yes, Teal'c, I believe this one could definitely benefit from a little cultural education."
"What?" the doctor asked, his eyes darting nervously between Jack and Teal'c. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, you see, Teal'c is a Jaffa. Jaffa have a real taste for revenge." Jack gestured toward Daniel. "And you just messed with Teal'c's friend."
Jack stumbled slightly in the aisle as their plane hit a pocket of turbulence. He threw himself into his seat as the plane bounced like a stone skipped across a lake. When the flight started to smooth out, Jack settled himself more comfortably in his seat.
"Drink," Jack said, handing Daniel a small bottle of Gatorade. Daniel reached for it with one hand. The other hand kept trying to pick out the adhesive gel left in his hair by the electrodes.
"Thanks," Daniel said softly, his voice still hoarse as a result of dehydration and irritation from the endotracheal tube. Jack watched him drink and then settle back against the seat with a sigh. Just ahead of them, Sam turned and looked over her seat back, also watching. Teal'c was in the row opposite Sam. He appeared to be resting, but Jack could see the tension in his jaw and knew that he was listening closely.
"How many times did they do it?" Jack asked.
"Do what?" Daniel asked, staring resolutely out the plane window. Jack waited. They all knew exactly what 'what' Jack was asking about. Daniel finished off the bottle and tucked the empty in the seat pocket before replying. "A few times," he finally admitted.
"Three? Six? Twelve?" Jack asked.
"Let's just say one would've been too many," Daniel said. "But in all fairness they did offer me the chance to give them a 'voluntary' demonstration."
"They didn't believe that you couldn't ascend any more."
"Big surprise, huh?" Daniel grimaced. "They didn't want to believe it. They were so enamored of the idea of gaining that kind of power. They thought they'd be able to teach a few of their people how to ascend and have secret ascended agents or some stupid thing."
"Double-glow seven," Jack said.
"And isn't that the dumbest idea you've ever heard?" Daniel said with a derisive snort.
"Actually no, but that's a whole other story," Jack said.
"They had to work fast. They figured they didn't have more than seventy-two hours before you'd be looking for me." Daniel managed to form a brief smile for Jack. "Thanks for not using the entire allotted time."
"No problem," Jack said, sorry that he'd used any of the allotted time. "So what was with the, um...?"
"Yeah, that," Jack said.
"In every case that they were aware of--Orlin, me, the Abydonians--the individual was at the point of death when he or she ascended."
"So they figured they'd push you to the point of death. You'd have no real choice but to ascend," Jack said. "And they'd be watching and taking notes on the process."
"Something like that," Daniel said.
"What made them think that you wouldn't just put the whammy on them if you did ascend?"
"They were counting on one of two things. Either Oma would step in to stop me, or that I'd refuse to stay Ascended one minute longer than I had to." Daniel turned his head toward the window again, effectively putting an end to the conversation.
Jack glanced at Sam. She returned the gaze with an expression of grim commiseration before turning and settling back down in her own seat. Teal'c opened his eyes, acknowledged Jack with a small nod, then closed his eyes again and let out a long, tension releasing breath.
Jack watched as Daniel started slipping into sleep; his head rolled into uncomfortable positions until he startled awake again. Jack reached over and gently urged Daniel to rest his head against Jack's shoulder.
"Jack?" Daniel started to resist but Jack put a finger against his mouth, telling Daniel to stay quiet, then firmly guided him back to his assigned spot. The trip back to Colorado wasn't long, but Daniel would spend it resting if Jack had to tie him down. And Jack would spend it dreaming up new and interesting ways of teaching NID agents to not mess with his people.
"What?" Jack halted in his journey to the kitchen and looked back. Daniel's jacket was swaying slightly, hanging from the back of a chair in the dining room, but Daniel was nowhere to be seen. Puzzled, Jack tossed the six pack of sports drink in the fridge before wandering down the hall to his bedroom. Daniel was busily stripping down, tossing his clothes into a heap on the floor.
"Tired?" Jack asked. He knew that Fraiser had recommended rest for Daniel, but he was pretty sure that Daniel hadn't developed a sudden desire to follow doctor's orders.
"Okay," Jack said slowly.
"Are you going to join me or do I have to do this alone," Daniel asked with a pointed look.
"You sure this is a good idea?" Jack asked. Daniel, now completely naked, just yanked the bedspread down and sat on the bed. "I mean you're probably not a hundred per cent yet."
"I'm aware of that, Jack. Now, are you going to fuck me or what?"
"I've been paralyzed, strapped to a bed, repeatedly asphyxiated, then thoroughly probed and analyzed by Janet. I want to have sex now," Daniel said sharply. "So shut up, strip down, and grease up your dick. I'll take it from there. If you get bored you can do a crossword puzzle."
"Daniel," Jack said with exasperation.
"Jack, come here."
Daniel's voice had a note of desperation, of some basic and essential need. Jack sighed and stripped. Hell, he wanted it almost as badly as Daniel; he just thought that maybe it wasn't a good idea. Even though Jack had a hard time understanding how having sex with Daniel could ever be a bad idea.
"Are you sure?" Jack asked as he lay down on the bed.
"Am I ever not sure?" Daniel retorted. Jack just groaned as Daniel knelt between his legs and took his still flaccid cock in his mouth.
"Not about sex, I'll give you that," Jack said, spreading his legs to give Daniel all the room he wanted. Not that it took long for his dick to respond, but Daniel was always very thorough and Jack was more than willing to provide Daniel the space he needed to work.
Jack moaned when Daniel moved to his balls. He loved it. Loved being manhandled, and Daniel was definitely the man for the job. Jack grabbed his dick and pumped hard when Daniel took one of his balls in his mouth and sucked.
"Mine," Daniel mumbled around a mouthful as he pulled Jack's hand off his dick.
"Fuck you," Jack groaned, trying to push his balls deeper into Daniel's mouth.
"That's the whole point," Daniel said. He scraped his teeth lightly over Jack's balls until Jack didn't know whether to curl up into a whimpering, begging ball or threaten to beat the living daylights out of Daniel if he didn't stop with the torture. He only knew that, at that moment in time, if Daniel asked him about his deepest, darkest secret, he'd spill. Not even a pretense at resistance--he'd tell Daniel everything he wanted to know. And probably a few things he didn't want to know.
When Daniel finally took pity on him and climbed back up along his body, Jack grabbed his head and pulled him down for a kiss. Jack could taste just the hint of himself as his tongue plunged into Daniel's mouth, and his cocked jerked painfully in response.
"God, I love you," Jack murmured.
"Me or my mouth?" Daniel asked while he fumbled with the lube.
"Love the mouth, prefer the whole package," Jack said. Daniel smiled as he lowered himself onto Jack's cock. Jack ran his hands along Daniel's thighs and up across his chest. Daniel's expression sobered and he leaned forward, kissing Jack deeply, hungrily. Jack slid his hands around and down to knead Daniel's ass.
"I hate it when people touch me." Daniel whispered his confession against Jack's neck. When Jack's hands froze in place Daniel wiggled his ass, making it clear that he didn't include Jack in "people."
"I'm sorry." It was all Jack could think to say. He knew Daniel had very definite personal boundaries, and very strong feelings about having those boundaries crossed without his permission. And Jack had failed to stop those 'people' from getting their hands on Daniel, from using him for their own purposes.
"They used me against myself," Daniel said. "My fear, my anger, my need to be home...here."
"Don't think about them."
"No." Daniel arched back, taking Jack as deep as he could. "Not thinking about them anymore."
"Are you sure there's no way to do it?" Jack asked, drumming his fingers on Sam's lab table.
"Absolutely certain? No," Sam said. "But I don't know how to reduce the radius of the blast."
"But Collins nearly got zatted to death," Jack complained.
"I know, sir."
Jack knew that she knew. Hell, the whole base knew that Colonel Collins had gotten caught in zat crossfire. Friendly fire. The problem was that zat blasts tended to diffuse. In this case that meant that although two men had been firing at separate targets the bleed over from their zats had had come very close to dispatching their commanding officer.
"Hey, Sam, have you heard back from the Tok'ra?"
Jack twisted to see Daniel walk into the lab, an intense expression on his face. "Daniel?"
"Hey, Jack," Daniel said absently, his attention fully focused on Sam. "Sam?"
"Haven't heard anything yet," Sam said.
"Daniel," Jack said more forcefully.
"Sam wants to talk to them about this mineral she found," Daniel said.
"I know that. The question is what do you want with them?"
"I need to compare notes with them on Anubis," Daniel explained.
"Do you think the Tok'ra will know anything?" Sam asked.
"Maybe," Daniel said with a shrug. "They split from the Goa'uld long before Anubis was banished, but they should know some of his early history."
"I thought Teal'c was going to help you with that," Jack said.
"Teal'c really doesn't know anything," Daniel said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Which has got to be very frustrating for him."
"What do you mean?" Sam asked.
"Think about it," Daniel said. "Teal'c is a very intelligent man but he's never been allowed to learn anything beyond what was necessary to become a Jaffa warrior. Nothing that the Goa'uld didn't want him to know."
"Wow, I never thought of it like that," Sam said. "I mean I always think of him as knowing so much."
"He does know a lot," Jack said emphatically, not liking the feeling that they were slighting Teal'c.
"Yes, he does," Daniel agreed. "But the extent of his knowledge was artificially restricted by the Goa'uld. For someone of his native intelligence that had to be frustrating."
"He didn't know anything different," Jack said, although he didn't think that was a huge consolation.
"But he did," Daniel refuted. "Otherwise he and Bra'tac would never have become allies, Teal'c would never have defied Apophis."
"Yeah, well.... He's not restricted now," Jack said, bouncing his fist firmly against Sam's lab table for emphasis. "On this planet he can learn whatever he wants."
"Cable TV is not an education," Daniel said.
"Ha! You should try watching Dr. Ruth sometime."
"O'Neill, may I interrupt you?"
"Please," Jack said, desperate to escape his paperwork. He knew General Hammond was grooming him as the next leader of the SGC, and he appreciated the vote of confidence. But it was confidence he was feeling more and more had been seriously misplaced.
Jack shoved the pile of requisitions and reports aside, and gave Teal'c his full, and grateful, attention. "What can I do you for?"
"I am disturbed," Teal'c said, taking a seat in the chair across the desk from Jack.
"About what?" Jack asked.
"In my studies of Zen philosophy...."
"Er...what?" Jack interrupted. "You're studying that Zen crap?"
"I believed it might be useful in helping me to understand the experiences Daniel Jackson has undergone."
Jack stared at Teal'c for a moment, his mouth agape.
"Thanks, Teal'c. I really didn't need to feel even more inadequate today," Jack muttered angrily. He made a sharp motion with his hand, cutting off Teal'c's inevitable question. Jack wasn't angry at Teal'c, only at himself, because as Daniel's friend and lover it seemed that maybe he should've considered trying to understand Daniel's experiences. "Sorry, go on."
"In my studies I have found much that is difficult to understand."
"Don't feel bad. The only people who really understand that stuff are the ones who made it up," Jack said, leaning back in his chair.
"Perhaps that is true. However, today I read a short passage which I believe is quite straightforward, and it worries me."
"What is it?" Jack asked. Teal'c leaned across the desk and handed Jack a post-it note onto which he'd copied the passage. Teal'c's handwriting was as strong and graceful as the man himself; Jack had no trouble reading it. He also had no trouble understanding it, and it disturbed him, too.
"I'm sure this doesn't mean what we think it means," Jack said uncertainly.
"You are confident?" Teal'c questioned.
"Yeah. I mean it can't. Daniel's here, right?"
"But will he remain?"
Daniel was frowning so intently at the pasta boiling on the stove that Jack was compelled to peek into the pot to see what it had done to annoy Daniel. Seeing nothing other than ordinary, everyday boiling pasta, Jack moved away again. His hand kept slipping into his pocket, fidgeting with the slip of paper there.
"Did you want something?" Daniel asked, glancing over at Jack.
"No," Jack said, leaning back against the counter. "Well, yes."
"Are you going to tell me what it is?" Daniel prompted.
"I was reading up on this Zen stuff...."
"You?" Daniel said, turning to Jack with a surprised expression.
"Why not me?" Jack snapped. "I'm not stupid."
"No, of course not," Daniel said, instantly contrite. "I didn't mean to.... But you don't normally pay attention to philosophy or religion. Former Catholic, current atheist, remember?"
"Did you know Teal'c is studying this stuff?"
"We've discussed it," Daniel said.
"Why didn't you discuss it with me?"
"Because you're a former Catholic, current atheist," Daniel repeated slowly. He gave Jack a concerned look. "What's going on, Jack?"
"This," Jack said. He pulled the note from his pocket and thrust it at Daniel. Daniel took it from his hand and read. Jack didn't need to see it again; the words were now engraved on his brain.
How does an enlightened one return to the ordinary world?
A broken mirror never reflects again; fallen flowers never return to the old branches.
"Tell me that doesn't mean what I think it means," Jack said.
"Well, I'm guessing it doesn't because it doesn't seem to be something to get all worked up about."
"Come on, Daniel," Jack said, slapping his hand down on the countertop. Fear put a sharp edge on his voice and made his stomach twist. "It says that once you've been enlightened you can't come back and be one of us anymore."
"I'm not sure just how 'enlightened' I've ever been, but I don't think that's what it means."
"That's what it says," Jack insisted.
"Then it's wrong."
"So I don't have to worry about you making like the wind or anything?" Jack challenged.
"I can't ascend," Daniel said.
"But if you could?"
Daniel walked slowly to Jack and reached up to take his face gently between his hands. Daniel held him there, silent, until Jack looked back at him.
"If I could, I wouldn't," Daniel promised.
"Even if Oma came back and offered...."
"That's not going to happen. I made a choice to walk a different path. Oma knows that; she won't be coming back"
"Jack, trust me," Daniel said. "This is just something written by someone who, I'm willing to bet, had never ascended. At most it means that I can't be exactly the same person I was before I ascended. And I'm not. I've learned things, experienced things, and that has changed me."
"You're still...you. Mostly."
"Yeah, I think so," Daniel said, smiling. He leaned forward and kissed Jack softly, lingering to stare in his eyes. "I'm not leaving, Jack. I came back because this is where I want to be. Nothing can make me leave."
Jack felt somewhat ashamed of the whiny edge to his voice, but he'd just about had it with the Howdy Doody Tok'ra he'd been given as a guide. Babysitter was more like it. Apparently the Tok'ra thought Jack had a tendency to cause 'situations.' The notion was patently ridiculous, especially given that Sam and Daniel were here, too. He knew for a fact that nobody was more 'situation' prone than those two.
Jack eyed the Tok'ra waiting just across the hall. He tried to smile in response to the kid's ever present grin, but he knew his expression was probably more evocative of indigestion than good humor.
"Carter!" Jack said more forcefully as he turned back to the lab.
"Well, Colonel, it's kind of a good news, bad news situation," Sam said, breaking away from her Tok'ra counterparts to join Jack in the doorway.
"Bad news first."
"Although the mineral is similar to naquada, it doesn't have the same molecular cohesion," Sam said. "We'd never be able to build anything like a stargate with it. It's not strong enough."
"Naquada-lite?" Jack asked.
"You could think of it that way."
"You mean I'm right?" Jack asked, stunned.
"No, I just said that you could think of it that way," Sam said with an innocent expression. Jack scowled and motioned for her to continue. "The good news is that we think it could still be useful."
"Well, it has some of the same properties as true naquada, but at a much lower density. So maybe something like portable defense shields or body armor."
"Yeah?" Jack said, his interest definitely piqued. "Will it stand up to a staff weapon?"
"We don't know yet. We'll have to do more tests. A lot more. And it's possible we'll need to find a way to make an alloy in order to overcome the inherent deficiencies in the mineral."
"So how long are we going to be stuck here?" Jack asked. Even if he didn't understand half of what Sam said, he'd gotten good at reading between her lines.
"We don't have to stay," Sam said with a resigned sigh. "The Tok'ra will continue working on it here, and I'll take the ideas we've discussed back to our metallurgists."
"Great," Jack said, clapping Sam on the shoulder with blatant relief. "So where's Daniel?"
"He went with Anise to discuss Goa'uld legends about Anubis."
"No," Sam said, perplexed by Jack's reaction. "That's what he's here for, sir."
"But Anise? For crying out loud, Carter, she's got the hots for him."
"The snake part," Jack said. He shuddered. "Gives me the willies just thinking about it."
"What do you think she's going to do to him?" Sam asked, amused now.
"I don't know. That's what worries me."
"Daniel can take care of himself, sir. Besides, he and Anise kind of got into it the last time they spoke. I doubt she's harboring any particularly fond feelings for him now."
Jack edged up the opening to Anise's quarters and took out his handy-dandy little spyglass, grateful that the Tok'ra didn't believe in doors. Daniel and Anise were sitting across from each other at a small round table. Surprisingly, Daniel was in the process of packing up his notes--without any prompting from Jack.
"And that's why the System Lords banished Anubis?" Daniel asked Anise.
"But...the Goa'uld fight each other constantly," Daniel said.
"Anubis intended to murder his entire race," Anise said. "Surely you can understand how distasteful the idea was."
"Yes," Daniel said slowly as he closed up his pack.
No, Jack thought. When it came to the Goa'uld, genocide sounded like a damn fine idea.
"If this was the plague that threatened the Goa'uld millennia ago, why didn't any of the others know about it?" Daniel continued.
"They did," Anise said. "But humans seem to be resistant. Once all the remaining Goa'uld had taken human hosts, the disease was no longer a threat."
"Then what did Anubis expect to achieve?" Daniel asked, his brow furrowed in confusion.
"Anubis claimed to have altered the disease in some way. I do not know if this is true, but the System Lords were unwilling to take the chance."
"I can understand that," Daniel said, lost in thought for a moment.
"What? Oh, sorry," Daniel said. He stood up, waving his hand at his head with an apologetic smile. "I'm just trying to put all the pieces together."
"I could have our meals brought here and we could continue the discussion, if you like," Anise offered.
"Well, I need to check in with Sam and Jack. I imagine Jack's itching to get home by now." Daniel paused, obviously puzzled by Anise's disappointed expression. "I'm sorry. Did I say something wrong?"
"Perhaps it is I who have not spoken clearly," Anise said. "Like Freya, I prefer to simply state my wishes, but I understand that this is not the practice on Earth."
"To mate," Anise said bluntly. Daniel's mouth moved silently, his eyes wide in what appeared to be horror. Jack was certainly horrified. And just a tiny bit amused.
"Me...wha...eh...." Daniel abruptly coughed. "You were trying to ask me for a date?"
"I believe that is what Jacob called it," Anise agreed.
"You're getting dating advice from Jacob Carter?" Daniel said. Jack was fairly certain that his own face mirrored Daniel's stunned expression.
"He is the only modern Earth human available for questioning on the subject," Anise said pragmatically.
"Oh, well...yes, of course." Daniel closed his eyes, thinking hard. "Just out of curiosity--how exactly does that work?"
"No, I know about.... I was talking about the...other. I mean you're a...and I'm not."
"You wish to know how we would mate?" Anise said. Daniel nodded nervously. "Obviously, it would be Freya's physical body with which you would...."
"Obviously," Daniel said quickly, before Anise could get into the specifics. Jack was a little disappointed. And a lot disturbed by the fact that he was interested in knowing anything about it at all.
"I share all the sensations of her body," Anise said, apparently believing that Daniel would be reassured by that fact.
"And so does she, right?"
"Yes, of course. We would both take pleasure in the act."
"Er...you know, I think that's a little more than I can handle," Daniel said, looking slightly sickened.
"Freya would not intrude," Anise assured him.
"But she'd be there. And isn't that a little...aren't you using her?"
"To your way of thinking I am always 'using' Freya," Anise said, clearly offended by Daniel's words. "But never without her permission."
"So she's okay with this?"
"I would never have mentioned the subject if she were not willing. Admittedly, she would prefer to have sex with Colonel O'Neill, but she realizes that this is unlikely to occur anytime soon."
"Try when hell freezes over," Daniel muttered under his breath, which almost made Jack laugh out loud and reveal his presence.
"I'm sorry," Daniel said. "I'm...flattered that you find me worthy of such...attention. But I just can't...."
"You are disgusted by the idea of having sex with us."
"No, that's not it," Daniel said, although Jack could tell he was disgusted. Personally, Jack had gone way past disgusted and set up camp in totally grossed out. And yet, for some odd reason, he was still curious.
"The fact is that I'm not really open to a new relationship at the moment," Daniel explained.
"You are already involved with someone?"
"Um...." Daniel stood frozen for a moment. Jack could tell that he was warring internally over whether he should tell Anise the truth, and risk exposure, or lie. "Yes, actually, I am."
"I see," Anise said, digesting the information. "I was not aware that this was the case."
"No reason you would be."
"You are a very private person," Anise observed.
"Yes, I guess I am."
"Then we will speak of it no further," Anise said graciously.
"Thank you for understanding," Daniel said.
"Perhaps, at some later time, if you are no longer involved...?"
"Who knows what the future could bring," Daniel said in apparent agreement. Anise seemed to buy it, because she smiled at Daniel before exiting by the far door. Jack was grateful for the reprieve because he was beginning to worry that he might rupture something if he had to hold his laughter in for much longer.
"What?" Jack said, his laughter instantly silenced. He shook his head in disgust. "How'd you know I was there?" he asked, walking into the chamber.
"The sniggering was a dead giveaway."
"I don't snigger. I chuckle. Guffaw. Possibly even snort on the odd occasion, but I never snigger."
"Uh huh," Daniel said noncommittally.
"The snake's still got the hots for you," Jack taunted.
"And Freya still wants you."
"So? At least she's human."
"It's kind of a two for one deal, Jack."
"I still don't quite understand how that works," Jack admitted.
"I'm sure Freya would be happy to explain," Daniel said. "In fact, she'd probably be happy to demonstrate."
"Forget it," Jack said with a shudder. "Let's just go home."
"Sir? You wanted to see me?"
"Come in, Jack," Hammond said, waving Jack into his office. Hammond handed him a sheet of paper. Jack gave him a questioning look before skimming the page. Then he went back and read it thoroughly.
"Don't say it, Jack," Hammond said, cutting him off. "I don't like it any more than you do, but orders are orders."
"Daniel is going to flip out."
Startled, Jack's head whipped around to see Daniel standing in the doorway.
"Come in, Dr. Jackson."
Daniel complied, eyeing both Jack and the general warily. Jack looked at Hammond, then back at Daniel before simply handing him the paper.
"No," Daniel said as his eyes raced along the page. "General, no...."
"There's nothing I can do, son," Hammond said.
"There must be," Daniel said in a pleading tone. "The Antarctic expedition should be ours, not the NID's."
"The truth is that the SGC doesn't have the personnel to mount this kind of operation even if I could do something about it," Hammond explained. "We're stretched to the limit as it is."
"I'm not," Daniel said.
"Especially you," Hammond said firmly. "You're already the head of the anthropology department, a full time member of a field unit, our primary source of Ancient knowledge, and the spearhead in our drive to defeat Anubis. You can't take on the burden of the Antarctic expedition, too."
"Let me try. I can do it."
"No, Daniel, you can't," Jack said. Daniel looked away, angry. "You're mortal again. You have to do those tedious things like eating and sleeping."
"They don't know what they're looking for. They won't know what they're finding even when they find it," Daniel insisted, appealing to Hammond. "They'll need me."
"If and when that becomes an issue, we'll reevaluate your priorities," Hammond assured him.
"Right," Daniel said, his jaw clenching. He tossed the orders on Hammond's desk. "Excuse me."
"Sir, I don't suppose we could let him have the excavation and shift some of his other duties?" Jack asked after Daniel had left. Hammond remained silent, regarding Jack with a knowing expression. "No, didn't think so, but I had to ask."
Jack paused in the doorway to Daniel's office. Daniel had a long strip of paper taped along the bookshelves and he was wandering along it, stopping occasionally to make a slash mark through the long line drawn along the center of the paper.
"Whatcha doing?" Jack looked at the paper more closely, then noticed the large roll of paper on the floor. "Is that the paper from the men's room?"
"What? Oh, yes," Daniel said, going back to his scribbling.
"I needed a continuous roll to make this timeline," Daniel said, waving his hand at the strip.
"And you couldn't get something from supply?"
"Supply is, like, five floors away," Daniel said, frowning at Jack. "The bathroom's just down the hall."
"But someone might need it. I needed it about ten minutes ago," Jack complained.
"You did wash your hands, didn't you?"
"What? Of course I did. But I had to dry my hands on my pants," Jack said. Daniel simply looked at him as if wondering what the problem was. Jack gave up. Some things simply weren't worth the battle. "What's this timeline about?"
"Well, I'm trying to make sense of it all."
"Good luck," Jack muttered. He pulled up a stool knowing from past experience that Daniel's explanation was liable to take a while.
"Here, thousands of years ago, the Goa'uld were on Earth, in Egypt," Daniel said, pointing to a bold slash mark on the timeline. "And sometime around here the Egyptians rebelled and buried the gate. But that didn't stop the Goa'uld. We know they were here as recently as the Middle Ages."
"Antarctic gate," Jack said.
"I'm inclined to think they used ships," Daniel said, peering at his notes.
"Well, think about it. There weren't any people living in Antarctica. The Goa'uld would've needed some kind of transportation from there to the rest of the planet, but there's no evidence of any significant Goa'uld presence in Antarctica."
"The dead Jaffa don't count?" Jack asked.
"There were only two of them, and I suspect they were the victims of the same kind of accident that sent you and Sam through that gate. In fact," Daniel said, turning around to look at Jack. "All the evidence points to the Antarctic gate as having been an Ancient outpost only."
"So where were the Ancients?"
"Ah!" Daniel said, shaking his pen at Jack. "That's the really tricky part. Sam said that Ayiana was very old."
"Ayiana. The Ancient woman you found frozen? The one who infected you and you had to get up close and personal with a Tok'ra symbiote and...?"
"Ah, the Popsicle chick," Jack said, nodding.
"Yeah...whatever. The fact is that the Ancients left Earth a very long time ago. Long before the Goa'uld showed up."
"But?" Jack prompted, knowing there was always a 'but.'
"But we then have evidence that the Ancients, or the Ascended, were interacting with humans as recently as say...2500 years ago," Daniel said, walking the length of the paper to a couple of other slash marks on the timeline. "With the Romans about here, and the early Buddhists around here."
"Meaning that either some of the Ancients never left, or some of them came back."
"Which is it?"
"My guess is that some of them stayed. The Ancients set up colonies on other worlds and most of them left Earth. But some stayed behind, presumably in Antarctica."
"Not much of a settlement," Jack observed.
"Maybe not by the end, but there's a lot more hidden under the ice and snow down there."
"So what happened? They got bored, or just damn cold, and went looking for humans to play with?"
"I think they started dying," Daniel said.
"But Carter said that infection was way back there," Jack said, pointing at the other end of the timeline.
"I think she's off by a decimal point. Or two," Daniel said. Jack's eyebrows shot up. "Don't tell her I said that."
"What'll you give me to keep quiet?" Jack asked with a sly grin.
"Shut up, Jack," Daniel said. He paced in front of the timeline for a moment, gathering his thoughts. "It's possible that Aiyana was very old--I have no idea what the typical lifespan was for an Ancient--but the disease that killed her was relatively recent. And not confined to Earth. In fact, it started on Vis Urban...which is definitely not millions of years old."
"So when, in all of this, did the Ancients ascend?" Jack asked.
"When they started dying," Daniel said.
"How come Popsicle chick didn't ascend?"
"I don't know."
"Where does Anubis fit in?"
"I have no clue." Daniel turned and slammed his pen onto the desk. "None of it makes any sense."
"Okay, I think it's time to take a break from all of this," Jack said, getting up from his stool.
"You can," Jack said firmly. "And you will."
"Jack, Anubis is coming. It's a question of when, not if."
"I know that, Daniel."
"Do you really want to face him without...something? Some weapon, some knowledge of how to defeat him?"
"Of course not. But you can't solve this all by yourself."
"I have to. I have the knowledge," Daniel insisted.
"No, you don't. You don't know everything. You never did."
"Well, I know more than anyone else."
"And you're working on it. We're all working on it, but it won't be solved in a day. Certainly not this day," Jack said. "So let's get out of here for a while."
"There's a new Baskin-Robbins at the strip mall just down the road from my place."
"You're trying to bribe me with ice cream?" Daniel asked indignantly. "Do I look two years old?"
"Ice cream is for kids of all ages. And I happen to know that you have a significant need for oral gratification."
"This was good idea," Daniel admitted, taking a long, leisurely lick of his ice cream cone.
"Oral gratification," Jack murmured, his eyes roving the park. He'd roamed every inch of it over the years, walking mindlessly when he grew too restless to relax in his own home. On this particular early afternoon the park was nearly empty. Only a pack of pre-schoolers and their mothers who were gathered over in the playground area, and they wouldn't seem to be much of a threat. Not that Jack was expecting a threat, but then, threats had a way of sneaking up on a person.
"And I can't begin to tell you how disturbed I am to find out that you'd go to Baskin-Robbins and order vanilla," Daniel said, pretending to ignore Jack's remark.
"I like vanilla," Jack said easily. They continued eating in silence for a few moments. "So...."
"How are you feeling?"
"Fine," Daniel said, giving Jack a puzzled look.
"Okay. I just...you know--if you need to talk about anything...."
"Why would I need to talk about anything?"
"Well, you haven't said anything more about Abydos."
"I didn't think there was anything more to be said about Abydos," Daniel said coolly. "So, what's Sam up to?"
"Nope, sorry, going to have to deduct one full point on style," Jack said, his expression regretful. "I happen to know that you're capable of changing subjects much more subtly."
"What do you want me to say?" Daniel said irritably. "I made a mistake."
"You trusted a Goa'uld."
"No, I didn't. My mistake was in thinking that I'd be able to stop him."
"You were wrong."
"I know that," Daniel snapped. "I don't need you reminding me. Trust me--that's something I'll never forget."
"I'm just trying to be supportive here."
"Well, stop it. You're no good at it."
Jack stiffened, too stunned to respond. Daniel reached out, then abruptly pulled his hand back before he touched Jack, seeming to remember that they were in a public place.
"That didn't come out right," Daniel said in a low voice. "I didn't mean...."
"No, you're right," Jack said. He tried to ignore his wounded feelings and be objective about his own failings. And objectively, Jack had never been very good at supportive. Clumsy would be a kind description.
"You're not any good at saying it," Daniel said.
"Thank you," Jack muttered.
"But you're there when I need you. And I'd rather have you there--doing what needs to be done--than have a dozen other people who can say the right words." Daniel smiled, his expression a little hesitant. "I know words, Jack. If necessary I can think of all the words that could possibly apply to any given situation, and in a couple dozen different languages. I don't need words from you. From you I need...."
"A swift kick in the ass?" Jack asked.
"Maybe, sometimes," Daniel said, rolling his eyes at Jack.
"And sometimes you need me to make you use some of those words you know," Jack said.
"Sometimes," Daniel said in a tone that suggested that he didn't think that this was one of those times. Jack considered pointing out that Daniel was being a wee bit hypocritical by refusing to talk, but decided that a) Daniel was almost certainly aware that he was not doing as he preached, and b) calling Daniel on it was not going to earn Jack any brownie points.
"Does it help at all to know that the Abydonians ascended?" Jack asked. It did help Jack. Sometimes. A little bit.
"Not really," Daniel said. "Abydos is still just a memory. The market, the Elder's chamber, our home, Sha're's grave: they're all gone. And Kasuf and the others are somewhere I can't reach anymore." Daniel gave a rueful laugh. "I just hope they're better at Ascension than I was."
"I bet they're all saying that they want to be just like ol' Doc Jackson."
"Please," Daniel muttered. "I'm the poster boy for how not to succeed at Ascension."
"Whoa!" Jack shouted. He stopped dead in the door to Sam's lab and threw out his arm to prevent Daniel from getting any closer.
"Sir?" Sam said, turning toward him.
"Put that down," Jack ordered. Shrugging, Sam lowered the zat so that it was pointing at the ground. In the meantime, Teal'c stood behind her, apparently unconcerned by the fact that she had just been about to fire the weapon.
"What are you doing?" Jack asked.
"I may have figured out a way to focus the zat blast," Sam said, obviously eager to show off her new idea. "I used our new naquada variant to form a sort of casing that will fit over the end and concentrate the discharge."
"Yeah?" Jack said slowly. Sam held the zat up for him to see. There was a lighter colored molded cap or sheath fitted snugly over the end of the zat.
"It, um...it looks like...." Daniel's voice trailed off as he gestured at the zat.
"What?" Sam demanded.
"Nothing," Daniel said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
Jack snorted in amusement. If he'd walked into Daniel's office to find him fondling a phallic shaped fertility symbol--or a phallic shaped anything--Daniel would've known what Jack was going to say even before Jack did. And then he would've just gone with the flow with more or less patience, depending on just how busy he'd been when Jack interrupted him.
Sam, however, no matter how long they'd known each other, just never saw Jack coming. At least, not soon enough to avoid him.
"I should've known you'd do this," Sam said in an annoyed tone.
"What? What did we do?" Jack demanded.
"You know," Sam said stubbornly. Jack and Daniel remained silent, hands in pockets and expressions carefully neutral. Sam scowled and turned her attention back to the weapon. "Shut up, Daniel."
"Leave it," Jack suggested as Daniel opened his mouth to protest. "Carter, questionable appearances aside, why are you test firing a weapon in here as opposed to, say, the firing range?"
"It's just a zat, sir," Sam said reasonably. "And there's only a small chance that the naquada variant will enhance the explosive potential."
"Explosive?" Daniel asked.
"Small chance?" Jack said.
"Less than a one tenth of one per cent chance. It's negligible, really," Sam said.
"You don't have a problem with this?" Jack asked Teal'c. Teal'c tilted his head, thinking carefully.
"Major Carter assures me that the risk of injury is small."
"Colonel, you're the one who wanted me to find a way to focus the zat blast," Sam pointed out.
"Yeah, but I can't use something like that," Jack protested, pointing at the offending weapon.
"Because all the other colonels will laugh at me."
"They warned me," Sam muttered to herself as Daniel smothered a snort. "They said that if I insisted on joining up that I'd have to deal with a juvenile fixation on bodily functions and sex."
"Who said?" Jack asked.
"Everyone," Sam said flatly. "Look, sir, this is just the prototype. Once I'm sure that it works we can worry about appearances."
Without giving Jack a chance to intervene, Sam turned and pointed the zat at a table. Jack and Daniel instinctively cringed away. Teal'c merely stared as the zat misfired.
"Oh," Sam said, staring at the zat as if perplexed by its behavior.
"It seems to...fizzle...I mean it kind of...too early...." Daniel shook his head hard, his mouth contorting into odd expressions. "I have to get out of here."
"Daniel Jackson appears distressed," Teal'c observed as Daniel walked quickly out of the room.
"Daniel Jackson is trying not to laugh his ass off," Jack said. He was trying, too, just not as hard as Daniel.
"Men," Sam muttered.
"Hey," Jack said moments later when he walked into Daniel's office. Daniel glanced at him, and his lips began to curl up.
"Don't get me started," Jack warned, which did nothing to suppress the smile on Daniel's face. He came to rest half sitting, half leaning against the corner of Daniel's desk. "And did Carter really not realize what that looked like?"
"Sam gets a little...focused," Daniel said.
"That's not focused, Daniel. That's just plain oblivious."
"Maybe she's just not as interested in zats as we are." Daniel hesitated when Jack gave him a 'say what?' look. "Okay, maybe that's not quite what I meant to say. Sam's a normal, healthy woman so she probably does have some interest in...zats."
"Which is one topic of which I prefer to remain ignorant," Jack said firmly. "Anyway, there was a reason I was trying to get all four of you in one place."
"Aside from learning to practice safe zatting?"
"I told you not to start with me," Jack said, shaking a warning finger at Daniel. "I just wanted to tell you that Hammond slotted us in for Anubis' planet."
"He did?" Daniel asked, his eyes widening in anticipation. "But I thought he assigned SG-13?"
"He did." Jack shrugged. "I think he felt bad that you had your Antarctic expedition taken away, so as a consolation prize we get fun in the ruins starting at 0900 hours tomorrow."
"Oh, yeah, it's just swell," Jack said. His tone was sarcastic but his expression was one of amusement as he watched Daniel digging through his books and notes, having already forgotten Jack's presence in his excitement.
"I was wrong," Daniel said, appearing in the doorway. Jack looked up. He'd been reading in bed, his head propped by the pillow in a position that was guaranteed to put a crick in his neck. He knew better, but he did it anyway. His mother had labeled him contrary as a child, and his disposition hadn't improved with age.
"Wrong?" Jack asked.
"You think you're wrong?"
"Maybe. Probably. Remember how I said that Anubis hiding his Goa'uld identity from the Ancient's wasn't the scariest scenario?"
Daniel just stared at him, still standing in the doorway. Jack sat up, tossing his book down as that conversation came back to him. "Oh, no. No, no, no!"
"Oh, yes," Daniel said soberly, taking a seat on the edge of the bed.
"You can't be sure of that," Jack argued.
"Not absolutely, no," Daniel agreed. "But I'm reasonably certain. Anubis is too well established in Egyptian mythology. He was revered as the god who led people to the afterlife. I think he used that reputation to convince one of the Ancients that he deserved the chance to ascend."
"So the Ancients knew he was a Goa'uld when they glowed him?"
"But they're supposed to be the good guys," Jack said, grasping at straws. They'd already had to face the fact that the Nox and the Asgard weren't the super-dooper beings they'd seemed to be at first glance. He didn't want to believe that the Ancients had feet of clay, too. Okay, so he already knew that thanks to Daniel's experiences, but this went beyond that pesky non-interference policy and right into actively destructive.
"Well...they are. At least according to their definition of 'good guys'."
"But they're, they're all Zen and enlightenment and how the hell could they possibly justify helping a Goa'uld?" Jack asked, furious at the thought.
"They didn't. You have to remember that the Ascended were and still are separate entities," Daniel said. "And just as in any group there's always the possibility that one individual may not adhere to the group philosophy."
"One of the glowworms went a little...dim?" Jack said sarcastically.
"Defiance of the collective ideology isn't necessarily a bad thing. Oma completely disregards one of their fundamental principles: do not help those below to ascend."
"Yeah, well, I'm not feeling particularly well disposed toward old Oma these days either."
"If it hadn't been for her, I'd probably be dead now," Daniel said.
"Crap." Saving Daniel, even if the ensuing year had been a bitch for both of them, was a gift Jack could not in any way negate without feeling like a total ingrate.
"Is that in reference to your feelings about my being here?" Daniel asked mildly.
"I don't like owing her anything," Jack said with a reproachful look.
"You're here. Not just here, but here with me. If she hadn't...."
"That was her choice," Daniel said, shaking his head sharply at Jack. "There was absolutely nothing compelling her other than her belief that it was the right thing to do. So you don't owe her. For that matter, neither do I."
"You really believe that?" Jack said skeptically.
"I'm...grateful. That I had such an amazing experience and that I'm here now, healthy and whole," Daniel said thoughtfully. "I regret that she may have been placed in a difficult situation because of my beliefs and actions. But no, I don't feel like I owe her. No more than I 'owe' any other person."
"You told me that you couldn't imagine being anything else," Jack said. He had a hard time believing that Daniel didn't feel just a little bit obligated to Oma. Because Jack did, sort of, and his sense of obligation was far more flexible than Daniel's.
"I remember," Daniel said with a nod. "And at the time it was true. But I finally realized that there was a much bigger truth; I belong here."
"So no regrets?"
"About ascending? No. It was something I had to do. Not because I was dying, but because I think it was a journey I needed to take. I had to go there before I could be here."
"Whatever the hell that means," Jack said, staring at Daniel. Daniel simply shrugged, which meant he wouldn't or couldn't explain it any better. "I was talking about coming back anyway. Do you have any regrets about that?"
"None," Daniel said firmly. "Well, except that I wish I'd learned more about Anubis before I came back."
"Yeah, getting back to that," Jack said. "What makes you think that the Ascended helped Anubis?"
"Oma gave me the clue," Daniel said. "When she was talking about duality, I thought she was just talking about me. Us. The human race. But I think she was talking about the Ascended, too."
"What do you mean?"
"I fell into the same mistake that the rest of you make--thinking that because the Ascended are different, more powerful, that they're somehow better."
"I don't think they're better," Jack refuted immediately.
"Don't you? I know you disagree with them, but isn't there some part of you that's afraid that maybe the reason you don't agree with them is because you're not smart enough to understand them?"
"Um...." The truth was that Jack always felt uneasy around the Ascended. Of course, the only Ascended he'd ever met was Oma, and her convoluted conversational style left him foundering. He didn't understand them, and that bothered him.
"Don't worry. I've done it, too," Daniel said. "I think it's a natural reaction. But they're not inherently better. Just different. And I think Oma was saying that an Ascended can lose his way on the path just like any of us mere mortals."
"So one of the Ancients took an unscheduled side trip from the Tao highway?" Jack asked.
"Yes. I don't know what his motivation was, but that's not really important in the big scheme of things."
"So why didn't the rest of them fix it? If they knew that Anubis was bad news, why didn't they stop him?"
"At least one of them tried."
"Not very hard," Jack said disdainfully.
"No, we were wrong about that, too," Daniel said. "They fully intended to send Anubis back, but they couldn't."
"Couldn't?" Jack asked. "Bullshit. They sent you back."
"No," Daniel said, putting up a finger to stop Jack's diatribe. "They didn't send me. I chose to come back. So did Orlin. Anubis didn't. He fought them and they couldn't completely defeat him."
"You sure about that?"
"So they couldn't help us even if they wanted to?" Jack asked, wanting to make sure he was completely clear on the subject.
"No. At best they will try to prevent us from confronting Anubis, in an effort to protect us from him."
"Some days I wish that damn gate had never been found," Jack said bitterly. "And this is one of those days."
"Of course, this is all little more than conjecture," Daniel concluded. He retook his seat at the briefing room table and waited.
"You're certain that the Ancients are responsible for Anubis' ascension?" Hammond asked.
"What I'd like to know is what the hell the Ancients were doing hanging around here to begin with," Jack said irritably. "The Asgard told me that the Ancients had moved out of the neighborhood a long time ago."
"I don't think they were lying to you," Daniel said. "I think they were speaking in a metaphorical sense."
"Metaphorical?" Jack said, giving Daniel the evil eye.
"The Ancients had moved on, not in physical distance but in terms of the form of their existence. Most of them weren't concerned with this galaxy in any real or immediate sense."
"But what's Anubis been doing all this time since he ascended?" Sam asked.
"At first he probably spent time learning."
"Because Ascension does not automatically endow one with superior knowledge," Teal'c said. Daniel nodded in a way that said he was glad that someone had been paying attention.
"How long?" Jack asked.
"Years. Centuries." Daniel shrugged. "Time doesn't exist for them like it does for us."
"And he wanted to supplant Ra as the top System Lord?" Hammond asked.
"Worse, he wanted to eliminate all the Goa'uld. From what little Anise was able to tell me, Anubis had gone along being one of the oldest, but still secondary, System Lords. He bided his time, gaining knowledge and power, hiding his ascended status, and waiting until Ra had grown complacent. Then he attacked."
"By spreading a plague to the other Goa'uld?" Hammond asked.
"Yes," Daniel said. "He may even have gotten the idea from learning what had happened to the Ancients or from the Goa'uld's own history. On the first mission to Abydos Sha're showed me the writings that told of Ra coming to Earth. He said that he was part of a dying race."
"Daniel," Sam interrupted. "That was thousands of years before Anubis. Wasn't it?"
"Yes, although I think anything Ra said should be taken with an entire fistful of salt," Daniel agreed. "The key point is that Anubis genetically engineered some kind of disease that the Goa'uld were vulnerable to. Something they couldn't heal."
"I have never heard of such a plague," Teal'c said.
"But that doesn't mean it didn't exist."
"The System Lords would not willingly have allowed such damaging information to reach the ears of the Jaffa," Teal'c agreed.
"Wouldn't he have been killed, too?" Hammond asked.
"No, he was an Ascended. The disease wouldn't affect him."
"So old Hefty bag gets the whole galaxy to himself, including all its human 'slaves'," Jack said.
"No, sir, Daniel said this disease was intended for human hosts. All humans would be vulnerable. Possibly the Jaffa, too," Sam said.
"There are many worlds on which humans became isolated from the Goa'uld, including Earth," Teal'c said.
"Exactly," Daniel agreed. "All Anubis had to do was wait for the disease to run its course among the Goa'uld, and he'd have the pick of humans to harvest."
"Okay, so like I was saying, Anubis had big plans...," Jack said.
"And that's when the other Ascended tried to step in," Daniel interrupted. "They recognized the danger of having Anubis become all powerful."
"So it was okay for Anubis to be a Goa'uld, but not the only Goa'uld?" Jack asked. "What's the difference?"
"He was an ascended Goa'uld," Daniel replied. "And he'd make more. Create a new army of Jaffa to serve him."
"How?" Sam asked. "If he's the only one left...."
"He had Isis and Osiris safely hidden away on Earth," Daniel reminded them.
"One of them would have to be a queen," Sam said. "I don't think Isis was a queen."
"Then Osiris is."
"He can't be. He's a guy," Jack said.
"The host was male. Osiris could be a queen," Daniel said.
"But he's a guy," Jack repeated. He had no problem with nontraditional sexual practices. Obviously. But the fact that Jack enjoyed having sex with a man didn't mean he had any desire to be a woman.
"You can't apply human ideas about gender identity to an alien race," Daniel said.
"Can if I want to," Jack muttered.
"Gentlemen," Hammond said firmly. Jack shrugged an apology at him. "Dr. Jackson, while knowing Anubis' probable history is important, how is it going to help us deal with him now?"
"That's what I'm hoping P8Y will tell us," Daniel said. "That was his secret base while he was plotting against the rest of the System Lords. That's where he spent most of his time as an Ascended being. Short of asking him face to face, that's probably the only place we may be able to get a handle on him."
Stretched out comfortably in his easy chair, Jack heard the attempt at a stealthy search of his kitchen cupboards and knew exactly what it meant. What he didn't expect was the indignant squawk and Sam racing into his living room, a smug grin on her face.
"Kids?" Jack said in a slightly admonishing tone.
"Give those back," Daniel demanded, stalking toward Sam.
"Uh uh," Sam said, taunting Daniel with the package she held in one hand. "Mine."
"You're both sick," Jack said, waving his half empty bottle between them. "Oreos and beer do not go together."
"Daniel Jackson assures me it is a most pleasing combination," Teal'c said, looking for all the world like some alien Buddha enthroned on Jack's sofa.
"Daniel eats bugs," Jack retorted, thinking that was all that needed to be said about Daniel's gustatory authority.
"Do not," Daniel said.
"Do," Jack insisted.
"Just once, and I was only being polite," Daniel said, lunging across the coffee table at Sam. "And that has nothing to do with Oreos."
"Forget it," Sam said, dancing gracefully out of Daniel's reach.
"I had to go an entire year without Oreos." Daniel stood still, giving Sam his most pathetic, wounded look. Jack snorted to himself. Daniel had obviously forgotten that Sam was harder nut to crack than that. At least when it came to cookies.
"The least you could do is share," Daniel said.
"Yeah, well, the least you could've done is visit me during that year," Sam shot back.
"I couldn't. It wasn't allowed," Daniel said, obviously puzzled by Sam's sudden anger.
"You visited the colonel and Teal'c."
"That was different. They...they needed help. I had to do something," Daniel explained.
"So you were allowed to intervene if someone was dying?" Sam asked.
"No, not technically." Daniel shrugged. "I thought it was worth the risk."
"So I'm not worth the risk," Sam said flatly, sitting down hard on the couch next to Teal'c.
"That's not what I said," Daniel said quickly.
"Sounds to me that's exactly what you said," Jack interjected.
"Shut up, Jack."
"Fine. But for that I'm confiscating the Oreos."
"Sam, if you'd needed me I would've been there," Daniel said earnestly.
"I did need you," Sam said. Daniel looked stunned by Sam's admission. Jack and Teal'c watched silently. Sam was refreshingly even-tempered at most times, but when she had 'issues' Jack had learned to keep his head down and his mouth shut.
"No," Daniel said with a small smile. "You didn't, Sam."
"Maybe not to save my life," Sam said. "But that doesn't mean I wouldn't have liked to see you."
"But that's exactly why I couldn't," Daniel said. He sat down on the coffee table directly in front of Sam. "You needed to move on. All of you needed to move on."
"We did," Jack said.
"Did you?" Daniel asked, looking over his shoulder at Jack. "You knew I wasn't truly dead, but that's the way you needed to think of it. If I'd played by the rules it was highly unlikely that we would ever have seen each other again. Under the circumstances, I thought it would be easier for all of you if I made a clean break."
"You were mistaken," Teal'c said.
"Like that's never happened before," Daniel said wryly. He turned back to Sam and offered an apologetic smile. "I really thought I was doing what was best for you."
"Just don't ever do it again," Sam said. She frowned. "Actually, just don't die again and we won't have a problem."
"So did you ever, you know, blow through without letting us know?" Jack asked.
"Um...maybe," Daniel said, leaning back and grabbing the package of Oreos. Jack held on to it for a second, just a token resistance, before allowing Daniel to claim the cookies.
"Maybe?" Sam asked, looking concerned.
"Don't worry--I never intruded on your personal lives," Daniel said with mouth full of cookie. Jack frowned; he'd never considered the possibility that Daniel could've been hanging around at any given time. When Jack was in the shower, on the john, even--crap--jerking off.
"Never?" Jack asked, wanting reassurance on the subject.
"Nope," Daniel said, standing up and brushing Oreo crumbs from his shirt. He leaned over and dropped the package of cookies back in Jack's lap. "Well, maybe just that once, accidentally, and I swore I'd never tell anyone but...that was a truly inspired use of a yo-yo, Jack."
Sam, Jack and Teal'c all sat dumbstruck as Daniel walked out of the room, whistling.
"For the record," Jack said slowly as Sam and Teal'c stared at him curiously. "I have never done anything with a yo-yo that was not approved by the...yo-yo approval people. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an archaeologist to kill."
Daniel was at the kitchen sink rinsing out the empty beer bottles so that they'd be ready for recycling. Jack turned off the living room light and moved stealthily into the kitchen. Taking advantage of Daniel's otherwise occupied hands, he slid his arms around Daniel's waist, leaning forward to nuzzle behind his ear.
"You little shit."
"What?" Daniel said, trying to turn around. Jack tightened his arms and kept Daniel firmly in place.
"Carter half believed that yo-yo story."
"So you came in here to thank me?" Daniel said mischievously, relaxing back into Jack's arms.
"Daniel," Jack threatened.
"Sam's probably got a whole new respect for you," Daniel said, grinning to himself. "Now that she has reason to believe that Colonel O'Neill may not be such an old fuddy-duddy after all."
"Fuddy-duddy?" Jack said indignantly. "If I'm a fuddy-duddy what does that make Carter?"
"Someone who might benefit from spending a little time pondering the possibilities of a man and his yo-yo."
"Swear to God I should muzzle you," Jack said, slipping his hands under Daniel's t-shirt. "You know she'll be giggling at me."
"No, she won't. Sam doesn't giggle," Daniel said. He set the last bottle aside, dried his hands on the thighs of his jeans, and turned to face Jack. Jack leaned forward, licking at his lips, teasing, until Daniel allowed him in for a long, lazy kiss. When Jack raised his head, Daniel was smiling at him. "Teal'c might, though."
"Oy," Jack said, dropping his head onto Daniel's shoulder. "You're...."
"What?" Daniel asked. He tried to pull back but Jack decided he was perfectly comfortable right where he was. His hands were back under Daniel's shirt, this time kneading into the muscles along his spine. "I'm what?"
"You're not as shy as you used to be."
"Really," Jack said emphatically.
"Well, when you've been thrown onto a planet, naked, in front of a bunch of strangers, I suppose it does tend to strip away some of your inhibitions."
"I still don't know why I was naked, Jack. But promise--next time I see Oma, I'll ask her about it."
"Just tell her if she ever does it again it should be in front of me," Jack said.
"Right, 'cause you don't see me naked enough," Daniel said dryly.
"Not nearly enough." Jack paused. "So did you ever...?"
"See you performing pornographic acts with a yo-yo? No. But I did stop by the SGC occasionally. Just once in a while, to see how you were."
"You needed to move on," Jack reminded him quietly.
"You came when I needed you. You were there when Teal'c needed you."
"So?" Daniel said, suddenly avoiding Jack's eyes.
"I don't buy that it was just a coincidence. You were watching out for us."
"Yeah, well...someone had to. You guys are always getting into trouble."
"You were supposed to move on," Jack repeated.
"I know. I couldn't."
"Does anyone know where Daniel...?" Jack left the question unfinished when he heard Daniel's voice out in the hall. Sam and Teal'c both had speculative looks on their faces as Daniel barreled into the gear-up room. He was late, which was not unusual. He was also accompanied by General Hammond, which was unusual.
Daniel kept up a steady stream of requests, suggestions, and updates while Hammond just followed along. Jack thought the poor man looked like he'd been sucked into the slipstream of Daniel's enthusiasm.
"General, how nice of you to come see us gear up," Jack said.
"Yes, isn't it," Hammond said, the twinkle in his eye acknowledging his own inability to shut Daniel down in mid-babble. George's impeccable manners were no match for Daniel's fervor.
"Daniel," Jack said, taking pity on Hammond. "Time."
"Tempo, epoch, occasion."
"Sorry, I thought you were working on another crossword," Daniel said guilelessly. Jack gaped as Daniel began packing his gear.
"I hate when you do that," Jack said.
"Do what?" Daniel asked, apparently unaware of Jack's reaction. Sam and Teal'c both grinned, taking shameless delight in Daniel's effortless ability to leave Jack flat-footed.
"Colonel, the MALP confirmed no change on P8Y," Hammond said, offering Jack a foothold, even if he was as amused as Sam and Teal'c.
"Good. Great," Jack said, watching Daniel efficiently loading his pack.
"Sir, we'll just wait in the gate room," Sam said, tugging Teal'c along with her.
"Ready when you are, Colonel," Hammond said, turning to go.
"Oh, wait," Daniel said. He tugged a piece of paper from his rear pocket and handed it to Hammond. "Could you make sure that this gets to them?"
"Them?" Jack asked.
"The Antarctic expedition."
"What is it?" Hammond asked, unfolding the paper. Jack looked over Hammond's shoulder, studying the drawing. Strangely, it looked like....
"A La-Z-Boy?" Jack asked.
"No. It's some kind of...control interface," Daniel said, shooting Jack a look. "And they should be looking for it."
"I'll see that it gets to the right person," Hammond assured Daniel.
"Seriously," Jack said, tapping his index finger on the drawing. "I had a chair just like this. My wife made me get rid of it, said it was the ugliest thing she'd ever seen."
"What?" Jack asked, looking up only to realize that Daniel was no longer standing at his locker but was now hovering in the doorway.
"Time," Daniel said, turning on his heel and walking out.
"I really do hate when he does that," Jack told Hammond.
"I know you do," Hammond said, giving Jack a fatherly pat on the shoulder.
"Well, this is never going to make the list of the top ten galactic vacation sites," Jack muttered.
Anubis' abandoned complex was in the middle of a rocky plain. The dirt and rock stretched for miles, absolutely flat, until reaching the encircling mountains, also composed entirely of rock and dirt. Vegetation was stunted and sparse. The area existed in a constant state of twilight, the planet's sun always just under the horizon. And it was cold.
"Talk about a wasteland."
"We're in the middle of a large crater, sir."
Jack glanced up at the sound of Sam's voice in his earpiece. He could just make out movement on the flat rooftop of one of the lower buildings where Sam was busy setting up some atmospheric monitoring equipment while the rest of them explored the complex.
The complex was small and utilitarian, lacking, for the most part, the kind of gaudy ornamentation that Jack had come to expect from the Goa'uld. The streets were nothing more than packed dirt, plain but serviceable. The buildings were made of a smooth white stone that obviously hadn't come from anywhere nearby. The stone seemed to absorb what little sunlight existed here; it almost glowed even in the low light.
"No kidding. It looks like the surface of the freaking moon," Jack complained, turning his gaze back to the stark horizon.
"Perhaps that is why Anubis chose this location," Teal'c suggested.
"He wouldn't have to worry about guests overstaying their welcome," Jack agreed. Unless they were like Daniel, of course. Jack had left him in another part of the ruins practically peeing his pants and babbling about Goa'uld arrogance. As far as Jack could tell, Daniel's glee had something to do with the fact that the Goa'uld couldn't resist bragging. In six inch letters. All over the walls.
"O'Neill." Teal'c's voice came through the radio again. When Jack turned he could see Teal'c at the end of the main thoroughfare, just inside the stone wall that surrounded the complex.
"I believe you will wish to see this for yourself."
Curious, Jack walked briskly to Teal'c's location. Teal'c nodded at a shallow pit before him. Erosion had eaten away the surface layer, exposing a jumble of bodies. Mummies, to be more accurate: wizened, blackened, and fragile. Some of the bodies at the top of the pile had been skeletonized, nothing more than a few paper thin flakes left clinging to their bones.
"What are they?" Jack asked. "I mean species-wise?"
"They are Goa'uld."
"They don't look...right."
"Nonetheless, I found the remains of symbiotes in the head and neck region of several of the skeletons."
"But the big bodies, they're not human...I don't think," Jack said. "Unas?"
"These are not the remains of Unas. Of that I am certain."
"Daniel," Jack said, keying his radio.
"Got something you should see."
"Bodies. Mummies, actually."
"Mummies?" Daniel's puzzled tone came through quite clearly even on the radio. "What kind of mummies?"
"Well, we're not exactly sure. Teal'c says they're Goa'uld, but the hosts don't look human."
"Where are they?"
"In a shallow grave just within the east side of the city wall," Teal'c told Daniel.
"A mass grave?" Daniel asked.
"Looks like," Jack agreed.
"Why would there be a mass grave of Goa'uld mummies?" Daniel said, obviously talking more to himself than to Jack or Teal'c.
"Don't have a clue. That's kind of why I want you to take a look at it, this being right up your academic alley and all," Jack said.
"Right. Okay. I want to finish recording this inscription and then I'll head over your way," Daniel said.
"We'll be waiting." Jack signed off. He passed a few moments standing alongside Teal'c, staring at the remains. "Weird, huh?"
"Extremely," Teal'c agreed. "I have never before encountered such a thing."
"Any idea of how they died?"
"I see no indication of violence," Teal'c said, kneeling down to study the bodies closely. "It is as if a number of Goa'uld all simply died at the same time."
"Odd. Very odd," Jack said.
"Colonel?" Sam's voice interrupted Jack's musing. "Colonel, do you hear something?"
Before Jack could respond to Sam's question, Daniel's voice burst over the radio.
"To the west, O'Neill," Teal'c's said before Jack could ask. He turned his head to the left to look toward that side of the ruins. Dark, roiling clouds were building where only moments before the sky had been clear.
"Sir, that looks like...."
"Twister," Jack shouted. "Take cover."
Jack took shelter under a stone foot bridge that spanned nothing more than a river of dust, watching as Teal'c ran to join him under the span.
"Carter? Daniel?" Jack said into his radio.
"I'm secure, sir."
"I do not believe this sky is natural," Teal'c said, eyeing the clouds suspiciously from under their shelter.
"Not natural...? Fuck!" Jack skidded sideways as he hurried to get out from under the bridge. He climbed up onto the footpath, Teal'c following close behind. They stood still for a moment, watching as a dark funnel of wind and dust began to descend on the ruins...right where Jack had last seen Daniel.
"Daniel," Jack said, beginning to run. "Daniel!"
Somewhere off to his right, Jack could hear Sam shout as she ran to join them, but he didn't slow down. The wind snatched his cap and abraded his skin with fine particles of dust. But even as he ran across the complex he could feel the force of the wind dwindling. By the time any of them could reach the writhing column of air, both the tornado and Daniel had disappeared. Jack stared, open mouthed, up at the sky as the last clouds dissipated, the calm giving no hint of the fury of moments before.
"Daniel!" Sam called out, turning in circles as she looked around frantically. Teal'c stood still, his head cocked as he listened intently.
"Daniel," Jack said quietly, staring helplessly into the sky.
"We're not leaving," Jack said flatly. They hadn't searched very hard or very long for the missing archaeologist. You didn't need to be a genius to figure out that the 'tornado' hadn't really been a tornado. Not when everything, including Daniel's notebook, was lying nearly undisturbed despite the apparent fury of the wind.
"Sir, he could be anywhere. Or...." Sam grimaced. "They could've taken him anywhere."
"I should've realized," Jack said, shaking his fist in anger. "I should've known that was no tornado, not in these conditions."
"It wouldn't have made any difference, sir."
"If I'd gotten to him just a minute sooner...."
"You could not have defeated an Ascended being," Teal'c said bluntly. "None of us could."
"Teal'c's right; there's nothing we could've done," Sam said. "There's nothing we can do here."
"Why don't you guys go on back," Jack said.
"Colonel, I'm not suggesting that we give up."
"I know that," Jack said. He understood that Sam simply needed to be doing something, even though there really wasn't anything that could be done. "I don't know what else to do but wait. And the only place I know of to wait is here." Jack shrugged, recognizing that his own reaction was as irrational as Sam's. "This is all I've got."
"Then we will remain also," Teal'c said. His tone was flat, unrevealing, but somehow it still triggered something in Jack's mind.
"You don't think he'll come back," Jack accused, looking up at Teal'c.
"What I believe is irrelevant," Teal'c said after a brief hesitation.
"That's right, it is," Jack said firmly. "What you think, what I think... the only thought that's relevant is Daniel's. And he's coming back. He promised he wouldn't leave me again. Us. Leave us again."
"Yes, sir," Sam said, nodding. "But we're due to check in with the SGC in three hours. What do we tell General Hammond?"
"I'm thinking of giving the truth a shot," Jack said dryly.
"It's always good to try something new," Sam agreed gravely. Jack shot her a look, and Sam grimaced, waiting for the reprimand.
"You've definitely been spending too much time with me, Carter," Jack said with a small smile. His expression immediately sobered. "If I don't come up with anything in the next couple of hours, we'll go home. But I'm not leaving...not just yet."
"Do you know why Daniel ascended again?" Major Davis asked.
"He didn't ascend. He was ascended," Jack said, looking at Davis with a sour expression.
"Are you certain of that?"
"The fake tornado was a bit of a clue."
"Daniel had no intention of going back to them," Sam said while Jack favored the video recorder with a disgusted grimace. God knew he understood the necessity for debriefing, thoroughly endorsed it most of the time, but sometimes he felt like the constant questions were just picking away at him. At all of them, trying to nibble away at them until there was nothing left but their bare and unquestionable bones.
"Did he tell you that?" Davis asked.
"Not exactly," Sam admitted. "But there is no way Daniel would've left half way through his research of those ruins."
"You can take that to the bank," Jack said vehemently.
"I'm inclined to agree," Hammond said when Davis looked at him for confirmation. "Generally speaking, the problem was getting Dr. Jackson to stop working, not getting him to stay."
"I can believe that," Davis said. "But why now? What do they want?"
"This would not be the first time Oma Desala has intervened to prevent Daniel Jackson from taking action against Anubis," Teal'c said.
"But he wasn't taking action. He was just doing research," Davis argued.
"Then we were probably getting too close to learning something important about Anubis," Jack said.
"I agree," Sam said, nodding her head sharply. "Oma's known for a while that Daniel was actively looking for information about Anubis, but she hadn't done anything to stop him. Not until we went to P8Y."
"Well, we should go through the data Dr. Jackson was able to collect," Davis said. "Teal'c, I'm assuming you can translate the writing?"
"I could, if there were anything to be translated," Teal'c said.
"Small problem with the data," Jack said.
"What kind of problem?"
"It doesn't exist." They'd returned from P8Y only to find that everything--video recordings, measurements, even handwritten notes--had been eradicated as surely as Daniel's physical existence.
"It's all gone?" Davis asked.
"Every bit of it," Hammond confirmed. "I had our best people examine everything. They tell me that the data isn't hidden or altered; it's as if it was never there."
"Feel free to take it back to Washington and have the Pentagon experts examine it," Hammond offered. "I can guarantee they won't find anything."
"No, I don't expect they will." Davis scratched his head. "Does anyone remember anything?"
"Teal'c found a mass grave," Jack offered. "But Daniel never got the chance to examine it."
"I believe it is significant," Teal'c said.
"How so?" Davis asked.
"I cannot say for certain," Teal'c said with obvious regret. "All I can say is that, given what we know of Anubis' history, there would seem to be no reason to find a group of Goa'uld on that planet, let alone a group that apparently all died at approximately the same time."
"Maybe Anubis made them," Sam suggested.
"For what purpose?" Teal'c asked. "If Anubis required warriors he would have created Jaffa, not Goa'uld."
"Maybe he needed allies," Jack said.
"New Goa'uld created by Anubis would have only the most lowly rank among the established Goa'uld," Teal'c said. "Besides, no Goa'uld can trust another. Not even one which has been given life by that Goa'uld."
"What about the writings, Teal'c?" Davis asked. "Dr. Jackson found inscriptions on a number of the buildings. Do you remember any of it?"
"Nothing of any value. I was not attempting to memorize the inscriptions."
"One of the pitfalls of technology," Sam said ruefully. "We expect all the machinery to work, to bring the data back so that we can analyze it here. Daniel probably had some idea, but...."
"We got nothing," Jack said in summary.
"All right," Davis said with a resigned nod of his head. "I'll need copies of your final reports before I report back to the Joint Chiefs."
"I'll have the copies within the hour," Hammond said. "Dismissed."
Jack waited, sitting quietly in his chair as Hammond, Sam and Teal'c left the room. Davis sorted out his notes and packed them away in his briefcase before looking over at Jack.
"Is there something else, Colonel?"
"Just wondering how your buddy Major Havelock was doing," Jack said.
"He's no friend of mine," Davis said, closing his briefcase with a sharp snap. "And I have no idea how he is."
"It's funny--funny strange, not funny ha ha--but I haven't been able to locate Havelock," Jack said. "And I've tried."
"Suddenly my source with the NID has gone deaf and mute," Jack explained.
"And you're surprised at that?"
"No, not really. But I'd still like to find Havelock."
"I don't know where he is either, sir. And I don't expect that I ever will."
"They're going to pretend it never happened, aren't they?" Jack asked, his voice thick with disgust.
"Come on, Colonel," Davis said as he got to his feet. "You know as well as I do that there's no way that Havelock was acting on his own. Someone higher up--much higher up--was giving the orders."
"Son of a bitch," Jack muttered. He knew how it worked, he just didn't like it.
"Officially they'll reassign Havelock. Unofficially they'll just shift him to another operation," Davis said.
"And no one will ever answer for they did to Daniel."
"As far as they're concerned there's nothing to answer for," Davis said. "Havelock had orders. The doctor had orders...."
"That's the tricky part," Davis said with a nod. "You can only go so far up the chain before the orders become invisible to anyone without the 'need to know'."
"I need to know," Jack said, leaning his elbows on the table and massaging his temples.
"I suspect that your definition of need isn't the same as their definition," Davis said. He slid his briefcase off of the table then paused. "Sir, if there was anything I could do...."
"I know you would, Major."
"Doc!" Jack shouted as he strode into the infirmary.
"Keep your voice down, Colonel," Janet said sternly, appearing from behind a curtain.
"Siler said Carter's in here," Jack said, ignoring Fraiser's reprimand.
"She's fine," Janet said. With a rattle, she pulled back the curtain to reveal Sam sitting on the side of a gurney, one foot bare except for an Ace bandage wrapped around her ankle.
"I'm fine, sir," Sam assured Jack. "More embarrassed than hurt."
"What happened?" Jack asked, moving closer to the gurney and surveying her for other injuries.
"I tripped," Sam said with obvious self disgust. "I tripped on the stupid stairs and sprained my ankle."
"I thought we decided that Daniel was going to be the klutzy one on the team," Jack teased, his sense of relief totally out of proportion to Sam's injury. But even he realized that his feelings were affected by Daniel's loss. Any threat to the welfare of his remaining team members took on increased importance.
"Just trying to take up the slack while he's gone, sir," Sam said.
"Nothing new on Daniel's whereabouts?" Janet asked Jack.
"Nope. We tried going to Oma's little hideaway but we couldn't get a lock with the gate. Seems Oma's not receiving visitors at this time," Jack said.
"We'll find him," Sam said with the air of someone who wasn't entirely convinced herself. "It may take a while but we will find him."
"Of course we will," Jack agreed. "It's just a matter of...."
A brilliant, blinding light interrupted Jack. He took a step back, instinctively moving away from whatever was causing it, before realizing that he was more likely to trip over something or someone while he was unable to see. A hand clutched at his sleeve, startling him. He was about to knock it away when Carter's uncertain voice identified the person doing the clutching.
"Sir?" The hand tugged on his sleeve. "Sir, what's going on?"
"I don't...." The light suddenly faded, leaving all of them blinking to clear the aftereffects from their dazzled retinas. The alarm began to sound, prompting Jack back into command mode. He looked around, assessing for damage.
"What was that?" Janet asked, rubbing at her eyes.
"I have no idea," Sam said. "Colonel...."
"Oh, Christ, they did it to him again," Jack said, taking off around Sam's gurney at a rapid pace.
"Sir, what.... Oh, my God," Janet said, her eyes going wide. She shook her head and blinked as if making certain that she really was seeing what she thought she saw. Then she ran to join Jack beside another gurney.
"Daniel?" Jack said quietly as he reached out. Daniel flinched away. His eyes were on Jack, wide with fear, while his body shook uncontrollably. And he was naked as the day he'd been born. Jack pulled the blanket from the end of the gurney. He and Fraiser spread it out over Daniel, both to preserve his dignity as well as to hopefully ease the trembling.
"It's okay. You're safe," Jack told him as they tucked the blanket around him.
"Daniel?" Sam said cautiously, limping up beside Jack. Daniel looked at her, his mouth gaping. He turned his head, looking at his surroundings.
"Daniel, you're in the infirmary," Sam said, throwing a worried look at Jack. "At the SGC."
"What happened?" Daniel asked, his confusion evident as his eyes darted around the room.
Before Jack could answer, Daniel's eyes flared wider, panicking as a group of S.F.s ran into the room. Teal'c rushed in with them, a zat held firmly in his hand.
"Stand down!" Sam shouted at the guards. "We're secure."
Teal'c walked toward them, his expression revealing more shock than Jack had ever seen on the Jaffa's face.
"Hey, Teal'c, look who dropped in for a visit."
"How is he?" Hammond asked.
"Physically he's fine. Fraiser says he can return to full duty effective immediately," Jack said. "Mentally...well, they messed with his head again. He's not happy about it."
"It could've been worse," Hammond said.
"Could've been a hell of a lot worse," Jack said with heartfelt agreement.
"If Daniel's right, and we both know he usually is, this is their way of protecting us," Jack said.
"Protecting," Hammond said with a snort of disbelief.
"Oma believes that we can't beat Anubis in a direct confrontation. So she's trying to steer us away from him, keep us from going after him or provoking him."
"But that won't stop Anubis from coming after us," Hammond said. "We have to find a way to fight him."
"I know, sir. I agree completely. Unfortunately, the Ascended don't see things the way that we do."
"I don't intend to just sit back and hope that Anubis forgets about us," Hammond stated.
"We still have all the information that Daniel was able to remember before they wiped his mind again," Jack said. "That's something."
"But we lost all the information from P8Y, and that was the only place directly linked to Anubis," Hammond reminded him. Jack grimaced an acknowledgment. Whatever Daniel might have been close to finding had been efficiently erased. And both Jack and Hammond agreed, somewhat reluctantly, that it was too risky to send anyone back to that planet for the time being. The punishment for another intrusion might be far more severe than temporary ascension.
"The Antarctic expedition?" Jack asked.
"Is proceeding," Hammond confirmed. "But so far...."
"We're not giving up, General," Jack assured him. "We'll just have to find another way."
"On a more positive note, perhaps you'd like to pass these on to Dr. Jackson," Hammond said, handing Jack a sheaf of papers.
"General?" Jack said as he started to shuffle through the pages.
"Dr. Jackson is finally completely among the living again," Hammond said.
"Really?" Jack said, looking up at Hammond with a grin. "He'll be thrilled. He was getting a little tired of being mostly dead all the time."
"You have no idea what it takes to get someone declared alive," Hammond said. "But everything should be there, from his driver's license to his subscription to the Smithsonian. And back pay."
"Back pay?" Jack asked, astonished. Getting regular pay from the government could be a chore, back pay was almost unheard of.
"I felt that, since Dr. Jackson's time as an Ascended being and the knowledge he acquired during that time were used for our benefit, he should be compensated in some manner."
"You are the best, sir. Absolutely the best."
"I'm glad they didn't erase all your memories this time," Jack said as he slowly unbuttoned Daniel's shirt. "Otherwise I'd have a tough time explaining why I'm doing this."
"It would certainly be a little awkward under those circumstances," Daniel agreed.
"On the other hand, it would be fun to seduce you all over again."
"Seduce me?" Daniel laughed. "You never seduced me. You offered to club me over the head and drag me to your cave."
"Worked, didn't it?" Jack asked smugly as he stepped back to remove his own clothing.
"I'd just like to know why the aliens are always messing with my mind," Daniel said, shucking off his jeans carelessly. Jack watched with obvious admiration and a decided air of possessiveness. "I almost wish I could go back to the 'good' old days when all they wanted to screw with was my body."
"It's not just the aliens who want to screw with your body," Jack pointed out.
"Subtle, Jack. Very subtle," Daniel said.
"Subtle is for wimps," Jack said, stripping off his briefs with a 'ta-da' flourish that made Daniel smile.
"And no one's ever accused you of being a wimp," Daniel agreed. "Let alone of being subtle."
"Not and lived to tell about it." Jack reached out and pulled Daniel with him onto the bed.
"You know," Daniel said thoughtfully as he lowered himself over Jack, sliding one leg in between his. "We seem to have developed a habit of responding to crises with sex."
"I don't see a problem with that."
"No," Daniel laughed softly. "No, I don't either."
"It's a normal reaction," Jack said. "Danger, then sex. Supposed to be life affirming or some such crap."
"Hmmm," Daniel grunted noncommittally.
"It's just that we also respond to non-crises with sex."
"I don't have a problem with that either." Jack brushed his thumb along Daniel's jaw and smiled. "Remember? I've learned to focus on the important things and let the details sort themselves out."
"And sex is which?"
"Both." Jack wrapped his arms around Daniel. "We are what's important."
"Not so important," Daniel said. "Not in the bigger picture."
"It's what's important to me."
"You know when that 'tornado' was coming at me, all I can remember thinking is that I wouldn't leave. I couldn't. Not for good. That I'd find my way back somehow."
"Because it's so great here on the mortal plane," Jack said sarcastically.
"As imperfect as this existence is, it's mine," Daniel said in evident agreement. "It's where I belong."
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