He got the feeling Jack O’Neill was avoiding him. Or at least ensuring they wouldn’t be in the same room together alone, as if he feared Daniel would somehow force him into something he didn’t want to do. Jack made sure there was always someone there, an unsuspecting chaperone, as if being alone with Daniel was too dangerous to contemplate.
Which it probably was.
The arousal he’d seen on Jack’s face hadn’t been faked, he couldn’t believe that was possible, and so there was really only one explanation for his behavior. He’d discovered something about himself he wasn’t expecting, there in that dingy rest room, and was now doing his utmost to avoid a repeat performance.
He had Daniel’s sympathy. At least he did now, once the immediate blow to his ego that was Jack turning tail that way had worked through his system. Once he’d turned his mind to the situation and figured out that Jack’s sudden retreat was not so much about Daniel as about himself. He’d gone into that room a heterosexual looking for anyone to assist him with his little problem and discovered he wasn’t quite as sure about who he was as he’d thought.
Daniel remembered that moment in his own life, a discovery of much younger times. He couldn’t begin to think what it must be like to figure that out about yourself as an adult, even worse as an employee of an organization that prized conformity like the Army Air Force did. Jack must feel like a fundamental part of who he was had been undermined, so it was no surprise he’d been angry and afraid.
Now, if only Daniel could get the opportunity to explain it all, to make Jack see that he was more than the sum of his sexual encounters. That it didn’t matter, that he still wanted some kind of relationship with him, even if that moment between them was all he was going to get. He wasn’t convinced Jack had so many friends that he could afford to distance himself from any of them.
"Colonel O’Neill." It was Dr. Langford, as he’d expected, except this time he’d barged into Jack’s office without even bothering to knock first. The expression on his face, full of pleased anticipation, was enough to tell Jack just why that was.
"Dr. Jackson," Langford continued. "He figured it out, figured out that the markings on the cover stones weren’t hieroglyphs, they were constellations. I can’t believe we didn’t think of that."
So, Daniel had been indispensable after all, like Langford had thought he was.
"Where is Dr. Jackson?" he asked, getting up from the uncomfortable office chair he’d been sitting in for way too long.
"In the cover stone room, of course."
He followed Dr. Langford down the corridor and into the room where the cover stones were housed. Daniel was there, as Langford had said, staring up at the markings he’d deciphered. He turned to them as they entered the room, a smile breaking across his face.
He could swear he saw Daniel’s face fall a little at the formality of his greeting. Jack had no intention of betraying himself in any way in front of Langford though — what had happened between them was their business, no one else’s. He had no great hankering for a blue book discharge and that was just what he’d get if word got out that he’d let Daniel suck him off.
"Thank you, Colonel," Daniel replied, his tone equally formal. "The markings on the cover stone and the cartouche are the same, all constellations. I can only imagine that those within the cartouche hold some special meaning, otherwise why would they be singled out?"
"Those six markings are constellations?"
"Seven." Daniel crossed to a nearby table and rummaged through the pile of drawings there for a moment. "Here." He pointed to the drawing he held, as he spread it out across the cluttered surface. "Those six markings are a repeat of those on the cover stone, so they’re constellations too."
"You said ‘seven,’ Dr. Jackson," Jack reminded him, even as he tried to concentrate on the drawing, not on the long-fingered hands that held it down.
"The seventh marking is here," Daniel said. He pointed to the one just outside the cartouche. "It’s here, designated by a little pyramid with two little guys and a line coming out of the top. It’s unique, not a repeat like the others." He looked up, meeting Jack’s eyes. "Tell me, Colonel, why is the military so interested in this artifact?"
"He doesn’t know?" Jack asked. He was glad of the excuse to turn to Langford, who shrugged. Daniel’s gaze was too perceptive, stirred up too much within him.
"I felt it wise not to tell him."
He could see the logic behind that decision, even as he could feel the frustration rolling off Daniel in waves—he didn’t understand what they were talking about, that much was certain.
"We’re done here, Dr. Jackson," Jack said. "Please follow me."
The door at the far end of the room was locked, as always. Daniel followed him, as did Langford, reaching Jack’s side as he stopped to pull out the key from his pocket.
"What I’m about to show you is classified," Jack continued. Daniel nodded, clearly impatient even though he had no idea what lay on the other side of this innocent-looking door. Jack hadn’t believed it himself when he’d first seen it, either.
The key turned easily, the door swinging open into darkness.
"After you, Dr. Langford," Daniel said politely and Langford preceded them through the doorway. Daniel followed him, with Jack bringing up the rear—he groped for the light switch as he entered the room, amusing himself by predicting Daniel’s likely response when he hit the lights.
The gasp was everything he expected.
"What is that?"
"It’s your ‘Stargate,’ Dr. Jackson," Langford said.
The Stargate was an impressive sight, Jack had to admit that and he’d seen it a dozen times or more. He wondered what it had looked like in Giza, before it was buried, how impressive it had been then.
The only problem was that they’d had no idea what the symbols meant, those same symbols that adorned the cover stones and that Daniel had now determined were constellations. That changed everything. They’d managed by brute force to figure out that it moved, the inner track of the Stargate turning if given sufficient assistance, the outer chevrons locking over the markings if they met the right place at the right time, the red crystals lighting up when that happened. That fact alone had been enough to get the military interested in it—it was technology the like of which had never been seen before.
"This was under the cover stones?"
"Yes," Langford replied. "It’s made out of a mineral unlike any found on Earth."
"Could you assemble your team, please, Dr. Langford?" Jack asked. Langford nodded and headed back out of the room, leaving him alone with Daniel.
"Congratulations, Dr. Jackson." Daniel didn’t turn round, just stood where he was, eyes still fixed on the Stargate. "It seems Dr. Langford was right to bring you on board."
He hoped Daniel would see that as the conciliatory gesture it was. Daniel looked at him, momentarily, and then turned back to his contemplation of the artifact. Clearly he didn’t think it was enough.
"I wanted to apologize," Jack said.
It emerged as a statement, not a question—Daniel sounded skeptical and Jack found he couldn’t blame him in the slightest. He hadn’t exactly covered himself in glory, creating a situation where Daniel felt obliged to do something that he probably would otherwise have done quite happily if Jack had just asked him to. In hindsight, Jack had made a major tactical error and now he had to pay the price for that mistake.
"I never was one for blackmail, despite what it sounded like."
There. He hoped that wasn’t too ambiguous. Daniel looked at him again, a little longer this time, and Jack made himself meet that perceptive gaze.
"You seemed to enjoy yourself," Daniel said, finally.
"I did." The words, simple as they were, lifted a huge weight from Jack’s shoulders. It was one thing to admit to himself how his inclinations leaned, but it was quite another—despite the intimacy they’d shared—to admit it to someone else, even if that someone was Daniel Jackson.
"Tell me, Jack." Daniel’s voice was low and Jack had to strain to hear him. That was probably for the best. "Was there any way that particular scenario could have worked out that wouldn’t have left you looking at me like I was a piece of gum you scraped off your shoe?"
"I already said I was sorry," Jack said, bristling a little at the accusation, even though he knew his behavior merited it. "What more do you want?"
"The chance to start over. As friends."
"Like it never happened?"
He couldn’t see how he could ever forget it, though. Just the thought of Daniel, the memory of that encounter, had been enough to fuel his fantasy life for days on end. "I can do that." Jack knew he was lying to himself and he was also certain Daniel knew it too. But at least this way they might not end up hating one another.
"Just like that," Daniel said, before extending his hand. "Hello, I’m Dr. Jackson, but my friends call me Daniel."
"O’Neill," Jack replied, shaking Daniel’s hand. "Jack O’Neill. And I have some coffee in my office, if you’d like some …"
There was something utterly fascinating about Daniel Jackson in full flow, Jack decided as he half-listened to the stream of information emitting from the other man’s mouth. Somehow Daniel had been able to persuade him that he didn’t know half enough about the artifact they were studying and the civilization from which it came, so Jack had reluctantly agreed to listen to what Daniel had to say about both.
If it wasn’t for the fact there was a carafe of coffee in easy reach and his knee wasn’t aching too badly, it could almost have been a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
Jack tuned into what Daniel was saying once more, tearing his attention away from his consideration of Daniel’s very mobile mouth—a mouth with which he’d had a close encounter he wasn’t likely to forget in a hurry, his libido reminded him—and focused on the actual words. Daniel was, it seemed, describing the dig in Giza where Dr. Langford had found both the artifact and the cover stones that lay above it.
"How did you figure out that the cover stones are marked with constellations?" Jack asked, smiling to himself as Daniel responded eagerly to his question. It was easy to make it look like he was paying more attention than he actually was—that was a trick he’d picked up a long time ago. Daniel might be a fury for information but he had nothing on Miss Ackers of 5th grade.
"The cover stone has both traditional hieroglyphs around the outside and the constellations." He was gesturing now with a pencil towards the drawings he’d retrieved from the cover stone room and pinned up on a nearby wall. "The Egyptians weren’t all that keen astronomers, beyond the most basic calculations, so it wasn’t that obvious."
"So what now?" Jack asked, despite himself. There was something enthralling about Daniel, something alive and vital that only really came out when he was fully engaged in something.
"Now," Daniel said, "we make it work."
Langford and the rest of the team had returned shortly afterwards, all of them buzzing with excitement at the fact Daniel had managed to figure out the great mystery that eluded them. Even Ernest seemed genuinely pleased, though in some ways Daniel knew his achievement only cemented his role as Dr. Langford’s assistant.
They’d also brought a couple of soldiers with them, which had been unexpected.
Daniel wondered just how interested Jack had really been, but the fact was that he’d asked pertinent questions and allowed him to rattle on about the dig at Giza and other associated topics. He still had no idea what the Stargate did, though it was clear it did something or the military wouldn’t have bothered to ship it and the cover stones here. Whatever it was, it was clearly not Egyptian technology that made the Stargate what it was.
Two of the soldiers carried a generator, positioning it by the side of the Stargate and hooking the thing up with what looked like practiced ease.
Jack smiled to himself as he watched Daniel take over from Dr. Langford, directing the energies of the soldiers they’d drafted to turn the Stargate from his position near the generator. Dr. Littlefield held court over that particular piece of equipment, watching to make sure it didn’t burn out mid-test, and generally keeping out of harm’s way.
Littlefield nodded, then grabbed the pull-cord and woke the generator into life. It took a moment or two before he nodded, checking a gauge to see that the electricity output was at optimum levels.
"Now!" Daniel called. "Remember the sequence."
As if they’d have a chance to forget, Jack thought, as he watched them set the inner ring of the Stargate spinning. The first glyph locked, the relevant chevron glowing red in a moment, then the second, third, fourth … Daniel was almost beside himself with anticipation, the excitement almost palpable even from the other side of the warehouse.
"Come on," Jack found himself saying, quietly. This had to work. For Daniel’s sake, it had to.
The fifth chevron didn’t lock, the relevant glyph sliding past and failing to engage just as the generator died with a quiet whine.
"I’m sorry, Daniel," Ernest said, bending over the recalcitrant generator. Daniel joined him there and they both stood, looking down at it. "I don’t know what the problem is, it ought to work."
Jack shook his head, turning to leave before Daniel spotted him there. It was one thing to be watching Daniel covertly, quite another to have a potentially embarrassing encounter in front of everyone else. Seeing Daniel so engrossed in what he was doing had definite effects on the libido of one particular Army Air Force colonel, and that was a piece of information he didn’t wish to share with all and sundry.
There was a good chance, though, that they would get this device working some time soon, and Jack had every intention of being prepared for that moment. As he’d requested, Dr. Langford was waiting in his office when he returned there.
"Thank you for coming," Jack said, crossing to sit behind his desk. Langford looked worried and Jack let him stew for a moment before he spoke again. "What do you think the chances are, Dr. Langford, that this ‘Stargate’ can be made to work?"
The expression on Langford’s face made it obvious that wasn’t the question he’d been expecting. He’d probably thought Jack had called him into his office to tell him the funding had been cut, that the project was closing down. It took a moment before he spoke.
"I think the chances are quite good," Langford replied. "Dr. Jackson’s work has been instrumental in identifying the combinations of glyphs, now we just need to make the Stargate operational long enough to test out our theory."
Jack found he was leaning forward a little as Langford spoke, interested despite himself. He’d only been given the most basic of information when he’d taken over supervision of the project—the brass had been more interested in telling him who’d be working there than telling him exactly what they’d be doing.
"That the Stargate is a device that allows travel between planets, of course," Langford said. His face showed he expected a reaction and Jack made sure he got one.
"Don’t joke with me, Langford." Langford’s face fell at his tone. "I want the truth."
"That is the truth, Colonel. I swear on my daughter’s life."
Jack stared at Langford for a moment and the other man held his gaze. It seemed he thought he was telling the truth, that much was clear.
"And what did you intend to do if you managed to get this thing up and running?" Jack asked. He was certain they hadn’t considered that—in his experience, civilians rarely had a great deal of practice in planning for all eventualities.
"One of us would use the device, of course," Langford replied. "Dr. Jackson, I expect. Exploration is a young man’s game."
Jack was left speechless for a moment at the casual way Langford was dispatching Daniel to an unknown fate.
"You planned to use something that you have no idea about and risk Dr. Jackson in the process?"
"Unless you have a better idea, Colonel." Langford had relaxed now. "I’m open to suggestions."
"You’ve done this before?" Daniel asked, when Langford returned from speaking with Colonel O’Neill. Ernest was tinkering with the generator, conscious that its failure had been the cause of the previous test coming to nothing.
"More than once," Langford admitted. "We learned that six of the symbols seemed to have significance, and that they were the ones in the cartouche, but we couldn’t figure out why it worked."
"The sequence of the markings is important," Daniel said. The soldiers were manhandling the Stargate, making the inner ring of it spin. "Hold it there!" he said, crossing to peer at the markings that movement revealed.
There it was. Subtly different from the marking on the cover stone but also unmistakably the same.
"That’s it," Daniel said, beckoning to Langford. "The seventh symbol. The one outside the cartouche."
"Go and get Colonel O’Neill," Langford said to Ernest, sending him scurrying off towards the doorway. Jack and Ernest returned only moments later. "I believe we have the answer, Colonel," Langford said.
"Let’s see, shall we?" Jack said, coming to stand alongside Daniel and watch as the soldiers began to maneuver the Stargate.
One by one, as the Stargate spun, the symbols were turned into place. Each chevron had a red crystal, which glowed as the relevant glyph locked into position. The Stargate itself shook, vibrations running through the floor and making the door rattle in its frame. The soldiers who were standing by the Stargate exchanged a look, and then glanced towards Jack for confirmation to continue.
"This is as far as we have ever been able to get," Jack said, as he nodded his permission for the final marking to be turned towards the top-most chevron. It clicked into place, the crystal lighting only momentarily before a whooshing sound filled the room. The soldiers jumped back as the Stargate erupted into life, movement ripping from the outside in and then bursting forward as if sweeping out to take them all away.
The generator jerked, the connection between it and the artifact severed by the sudden movement even as it groaned and died.
The Stargate looked very different now, the chevrons no longer lit but its center full of a wavering blue surface that looked like windswept water.
It had worked three times in succession, even though the generator had groaned and emitted puffs of smoke that didn’t bode well for its lifespan as they’d made the Stargate burst into life once more. Jack had disappeared back to his office after the second successful run, with Langford hot on his heels. Daniel had stayed behind, only satisfied when two more dry runs had worked and all of them were tired and tense.
"What do we do now?" he asked, as Langford returned and dismissed everyone for the night. The soldiers trouped away, taking the generator with them as they promised to return with one more reliable in the morning.
"We get some sleep, Dr. Jackson," Langford said. "And in the morning, we see what happens when someone steps through your Stargate." Langford clapped him on the shoulder as he left, leaving Daniel alone with the Stargate in the now-silent room.
Just the thought of it gave him pause. What lay on the other side, if there was another side to that shimmering surface? What would they find there, if they traveled using that device? It was clearly not from Earth originally—its composition and technology both made that clear—so where was it from? Who had built it and for what purpose had it been buried so long?
"Everyone else gone?" Jack’s voice startled Daniel from his contemplations.
"What do you think would happen if someone stepped into the circle?" he asked, not turning round. He could feel Jack’s presence beside him and was oddly reassured by it.
"What did Langford say?"
"That we’d find out in the morning," Daniel replied.
"Go and get some sleep, Daniel," Jack said. "You’ll be no use to anyone otherwise." He heard Jack’s footsteps as he walked back to the door, knowing his hand was now on the light switch in anticipation. Even so, it was a wrench to turn away from the Stargate, as if he believed it would disappear if he took his eye off it.
His dreams were filled with images of the Stargate, of that artifact erupting into life, and the weird possibilities that lay beyond that portal. It took longer than usual for Daniel to drag himself out of bed, and even a couple of cups of coffee didn’t speed up the process of waking up.
Langford was waiting for him, in the room the team used as their shared office, with Ernest Littlefield hovering anxiously nearby.
"Good morning, Dr. Jackson," Langford said.
"Am I late?" Daniel asked, as he took off his coat.
"Not at all." Langford looked round. "Ernest, would you go and see if Colonel O’Neill is ready?"
Ernest nodded, disappearing in the direction of Jack’s office.
"Ready for what?"
"To discover what lies beyond, of course," Langford replied. "He’s getting equipped as we speak."
He passed Ernest in the hallway, clearly on his return from Jack’s office—the other man obviously saw the thunder cloud that hovered over his head because he didn’t speak to Daniel, just got out of his way. Daniel found Jack checking the fastenings of the diving suit he was wearing as he stormed into the office—the door slammed shut behind him with some of the fury that raged inside of him.
"Why didn’t you tell me last night what you were going to do?"
Daniel knew the anger he felt reverberated in his voice, echoing the tension in his body, but he didn’t care. All he could think about was the risk Jack was planning to take and the fact he’d stepped on Daniel’s dream, on the culmination of all his hard work over the past months.
"Why?" Jack asked. "So you could tell me what a mistake I’m making?" Jack eyed Daniel casually as he spoke, his gaze raking Daniel from head to toe lazily. Daniel felt himself flush, felt the anger joined by embarrassment. "Take it as read, Dr. Jackson."
The sudden return to formality was shocking, like a slap to the face.
"I see." He was playing for time, nothing more—Daniel knew he didn’t understand, didn’t comprehend the sudden distance that seemed to have developed between them. He’d tried as hard as he could to be a good friend to Jack O’Neill, in the hope their friendship would last longer than the ill-fated encounter of another kind, but it seemed his efforts had been in vain. "I’m sorry you think so little of my opinion."
Jack didn’t answer. He didn’t even look up this time. Though Daniel knew he was feigning interest in the documents that currently covered the surface of his desk, Jack’s behavior was another slap in the face. Better to leave now, he decided, while he still had some self-esteem intact.
"Look after yourself, Jack," he said, as he headed to the door. "But that’s what you’re best at, isn’t it?"
He didn’t hear Dr. Langford approach him, so the sound of the other man’s voice startled Daniel as he watched Jack walk up the ramp that led to the Stargate before he stepped through and disappeared. He knew he was holding his breath, knew it to be utterly ridiculous even as he did it, but he couldn’t help himself. The turmoil inside him didn’t let up, no matter what he did—he was angry with Jack, angry that he would take such an unconscionable risk.
"I wonder what’s out there …" Langford said. His tone was full of wonder, and for a moment Daniel envied him. "If Colonel O’Neill hadn’t insisted on going, you might have been the one."
"What?" The words didn’t make any sense. Daniel tore his gaze away from the Stargate, away from the rope that disappeared tautly into its center, and focused on Langford instead. "He insisted?"
Langford nodded, his gaze still fixed on the artifact. "Said it was too dangerous for you, that since this is an Army project, it was only right that it be military personnel taking all the risks."
Daniel’s remembered words, the venom with which he’d accused Jack of selfishness only hours before, came back to his mind with the force of the Stargate coming to life. He’d thought Jack was pulling rank, that much was true, but he hadn’t figured on him doing so in order to protect someone else. That he obviously thought of himself as replaceable, as someone who wouldn’t be missed, also galled him immensely with its arrogance.
The first flicker drew both their attentions, making Daniel turn back to the Stargate and watch, horrified, as the blue surface that filled the ring began to fluctuate.
Ernest was closest to the generator, which was now emitting puffs of black smoke, and he reached out a hand to try and turn it off. Better that than have the thing explode on them, and there was a chance the Stargate might be able to maintain itself anyway. The blue surface flickered again, seeming to break and reform.
Then, just as quickly as it had initially formed, it shimmered into nothing. The scorched end of the rope, their lifeline to Jack, dropped smoking to the floor.
|Continued in Part 4...|