Prologue: Giza plateau, Egypt — 1928
Her father had given her the amulet for her birthday.
Catherine remembered picking it up from the table where the finds were laid before they were catalogued, but she hadn’t realized then that her father had seen her replace it afterwards. Not until she opened her birthday present and found the same amulet inside it.
Even as she slipped the chain over her head, Catherine remembered how that small discovery had been overshadowed by a larger one, as the workmen had labored to move the cover stones and revealed what at first sight had been a fossil. She wasn’t to know how her life would revolve around that cover stone, and the artifact it concealed—how could she ever have guessed?
The amulet was marked on one side with a symbol. It looked like an eye with long drawn-out lines projecting from it—Catherine had seen that symbol painted on the walls of tombs and carved into the stone of obelisks long before she’d known what it meant or who it represented.
When she wore it, most of the time it lay warming next to her skin, but sometimes it hung outside her clothing and Catherine would find her finger stroking the lines that made up the symbol. The Eye of Horus. She wondered what the craftsman who’d made her amulet had thought, how he’d lived and died. Had he been happy or sad? Who had he made the amulet for and had they been thankful for such a beautiful gift, or had they been a spoiled princess who didn’t care for it at all?
It didn’t escape Catherine’s notice that the workmen on the dig smiled and nodded at her more on those days when the amulet was in plain sight. Once she had asked one of them, stumbling a little over the words in her keenness to know their thoughts and he had told her that she would gain her heart’s desire one day.
All she wanted, all she could ever imagine wanting, was to follow in her father’s footsteps. When she was old enough, Catherine told herself, she would be his assistant. They would travel the world together, seeking out famous treasures and discovering the answers to the mysteries of life and death. Like Schliemann they would discover untold riches and unlock the doors of time.
Sometimes Daniel wasn’t sure how he’d come to be here, stuck in England when the world was falling apart around his ears. Other times it made absolute sense, it seemed like the place he had to be, but that was usually just after he’d made love with Nick and was slumped against him wondering who’d stolen the bones from his body.
Despite the privations of wartime, Daniel had discovered that he’d come to love England.
At first he wondered whether he’d made a mistake, coming here instead of heading home after leaving the dig, but there wasn’t really anything to go home to, was there?
There was the university, he supposed, but it wouldn’t have been the same now Dr. Breasted was no longer there. It had, after all, been Dr. Breasted who’d first recognized his interest in archaeology, back when he’d arrived at the University of Chicago, and had helped turn a boyhood interest into an adult ambition. He’d never wanted anything as much as he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Henry Breasted, and that was a desire his family found hard to understand.
They’d never wanted anything, not really. They hadn’t ever needed to so that kind of desire was foreign to them—a son of the Jackson family went to college not because he had to, but because it was what was expected of him. It had taken them months to understand that the University of Chicago was where he wanted to be, that studying with Breasted was more important to Daniel than going to Yale or Harvard, no matter what his other relatives had done.
Once they would have argued with him, but years of dealing with the family meant they also knew how stubborn Daniel was, and that he’d win in the end, one way or another.
At the Oriental Institute, Dr. Henry Breasted had become his mentor, as he’d hoped, nurturing the keen intelligence his tutors had spoken so highly of, training him up to be everything he was. Everything that wasn’t enough when news came to the dig of his death. And Daniel himself was left in limbo, uncertain of his future now this important element of his past and present was unexpectedly taken away from him.
The other side of a thin strip of water, soldiers were fighting and dying, but it seemed unreal. Some talked about the war, but mostly in terms of grumbling over the privations it forced upon them, nothing more unless they had children in the military. Oxford had always been something of an ivory tower, divorced from the real world in the same way divisions existed in the town between "town" and "gown" and the war seemed to make those divisions even deeper.
It wouldn’t be the don’s children who went to war, unless they went as officers. Those who remembered fighting in the previous war spoke of it a little, those that could, while others showed by their pale faces and silence the true pain of the memories they still carried.
Life in the colleges carried on as usual, hardly affected except as conscription and, to a lesser extent rationing, began to bite. There were the same erudite discussions over dinner in halls, the same routine of chapel and classes, and the same air of detachment. The colleges had enough influential friends to ensure that life wasn’t changed too much, though it would have been common to even speak of such a possibility.
And perhaps this sense of normality, Daniel told himself, was what he needed. Some structure he could live within, something to replace the need to think, to decide for himself, as he dealt with the aftermath of his mentor’s death.
Meeting Nick had been a godsend. It was horribly clichéd, Daniel knew that, but their eyes had met across a crowded room and that had been it. The moment he’d seen Nick, something had stirred inside him that he’d always tried desperately to deny. He saw something of a kindred spirit in the other man’s eyes, and was delighted on closer acquaintance to discover Dr. Nicholas Mason felt the same.
He was a linguist, fluent in a frightening number of languages, and so had been exempted from conscription. Once a month he disappeared for a few days, then wouldn’t talk about where he’d been, and Daniel grew to accept that routine, welcoming the time it gave him to himself. He’d thrown himself into a relationship with Nick, embracing the physical release and the emotional ties alike, and that time apart saved him from utterly subsuming himself in the other man.
"You’ve had another letter?" It wasn’t really a question—Daniel knew his emotions were written all over his face. Nick didn’t have to be particularly perceptive to tell when correspondence from home had arrived.
"They want me to come home."
No surprises there—another missive filled to the brim with overt pleas and covert attempts to use emotional blackmail against him. Daniel wondered if his family would be half so keen on his return if they knew all the sordid details of his life in England.
Nick rolled over to face him, dark eyes filled with the wariness Daniel had come to associate with these occasions.
"I’m not going," he said. "Unless the US joins the war and I get called up, or the British government throws me out of the country." As usual, Daniel wasn’t completely sure who it was he was trying to reassure, Nick or himself.
What was there for him to return to, anyway? What family Daniel had left only cared that he behave himself according to their particular moral code. A moral code he’d scorned since his teenage years and broken a dozen times over. And with the death of Dr. Breasted, any desire to return to Chicago had become muted, to say the least. Better to stay here, where he was wanted, where someone needed him.
Nick closed his eyes as Daniel spoke, as unconvinced by his words as ever, it seemed. No matter how hard Daniel tried, the result was always the same. Nick refused to believe what they had could possibly last, and that was a continued source of frustration.
Maybe he was right. Maybe all they had was today, this very moment. If that was the case, Daniel intended to enjoy it all the more. If Nick was right, if their kind of people never knew happiness for long, then what was the point of not indulging themselves now?
The all clear had been sounded hours before. The blast happened without warning, a shuddering boom as the gas main exploded and took away half the side of the house with the resultant blast. Daniel felt the bed shift; the corner dipped as the side of the building disappeared, taking the floor with it.
They’d been asleep, both of them, and Daniel was still only half-awake when the bed shuddered to a halt, one heavy wooden beam pinning him across his back as it pressed him to the bed. He couldn’t move his head, couldn’t even turn enough to see if Nick was there, the only sound that of running water from a ruptured pipe nearby. Perhaps he was fine, perhaps he’d just been thrown from the bed and would be there momentarily, covered in dust and dirt but otherwise unharmed.
The dust choked him as he tried to speak, the splinters from the beam cut into his back, deeper with every breath, every slight movement.
Where was Nick?
He’d given up any belief in a higher power long ago, but in the relative silence of the ruined house, Daniel found himself running through the familiar prayers of his childhood. Then those from an assortment of other religions as the long minutes stretched away, punctuated only by the occasional creak of stressed wood as the building settled a little more.
He didn’t want to give credence to the thought, but the longer it went on, the longer he lay in silence, the more likely it was Nick was dead. Daniel knew that, the memories of their time together and the pleasure they’d shared would be a poor legacy. He’d wanted more, despite Nick’s fears that this was merely a transitory relationship, had dreamed of building a life with the other man, and now an accident was enough to destroy those dreams forever.
"Hello?" Somehow Daniel managed to clear his throat and call out, even as the dust in his throat threatened to choke him. "Nick? Anyone?"
Silence was his only answer. Daniel bit back the words that threatened to tumble from his mouth, the pleas for this to be a dream, for something, anything to be different from how he knew it was.
It was almost morning before they found him. From where he lay trapped, Daniel had been able to see the sky start to change, the first orange hues of sunrise appearing on the horizon as the birds began to sing. Ridiculous how normal everything seemed, how life continued to go on, when his whole world had been ripped apart.
The next time he woke, the antiseptic smell told Daniel his location even before he opened his eyes.
"How do you feel?"
Daniel looked for the source of the voice, finally making his eyes focus on the gray-haired man who stood at the foot of his bed, a medical chart in one hand and a pen in the other.
"Is that your name?"
"No." His head felt as though it had been stuffed with cotton wool, which had to be the morphine they’d doubtless given him. "Daniel."
"Daniel?" The doctor—he had to be a doctor, didn’t he?—asked. "Daniel what?"
The doctor’s face changed. The way it seemed to close down was enough of an answer to Daniel’s question and he turned his head, squeezing his eyes tight shut in the hope that would prevent the tears he felt welling up from leaking out.
"I’m sorry," the doctor said. "There was nothing we could do."
So, Nick had been right after all. There had been no point in planning for the future. There was no future, not for them, no matter how much Daniel had wanted it.
Chicago, Illinois — 1944
Here, at least, he was useful. There was a multitude of things that someone fluent in Arabic and German, among other languages, could be called upon to do. Not that any of it filled the gaping void that Nick’s death had left in him—it was an unhealed wound, a space left vacant that he doubted would ever be filled.
His father had never asked what happened; the cold look Daniel had given him when he dared mention the Blitz on one occasion had been enough to freeze even the usually-erudite Melbourne Jackson mid-sentence. They knew he’d lost someone, that this someone had been close to him, but that was by inference alone. Nick’s name never crossed his lips; he never talked about the experience or the subsequent funeral. Daniel wasn’t sure whether he should be glad or annoyed that he was allowed this privacy, though most of the time he welcomed it.
In some ways, it was none of their business. Daniel knew his family would find it difficult to understand what his relationship with Nick had meant to him, like they’d struggled with the idea he wanted to be an archaeologist. For educated people, which they surely were, their horizons were narrow ones, bounded by the family business and the duties involved in being a Jackson.
None of which meant anything to Daniel, the proverbial black sheep.
At least he was back in Chicago now, even though the Oriental Institute seemed a pale shadow of its former self. There were still familiar faces there, those whose age or infirmity prevented them from being called up, and sometimes it felt as if he had never left. Daniel made sure he avoided the corridor where Dr. Breasted’s office had been, though, the loss too painful even now, in the face of more bereavement.
It ought to be utterly ridiculous, but Henry Breasted had been another father to him, one who’d encouraged his interests instead of struggling to understand them. He’d been the one who sanctioned Daniel’s inclusion on the Oriental Institute’s regular trips to the Amuq valley, even though undergraduates weren’t usually allowed to participate in those digs.
Those had been halcyon days for Daniel, living under canvas in Tell Ta’yinat and toiling under the bemused stares of the locals. But the growing threat of war had put an end to those expeditions, even as Daniel had heard of Dr. Breasted’s death, news that had sucked all the pleasure from the things he’d discovered on that trip.
So here he was, once again back in Chicago, in the bosom of his loving family. Somehow he didn’t think he’d get away from them so easily next time, though he was certain they’d been genuinely glad to have him return safe from England.
The letter he’d received from Dr. Langford had been a surprise. He’d known of the man, of course, the world of archaeology wasn’t that large after all, even if they’d never met. He was working in Washington DC, on some project he was anxious to have Daniel join him on, even if he was vague about the specifics. Knowing Dr. Langford’s reputation as an archaeologist, it had to be something important, even if Daniel didn’t have the faintest idea what an archaeologist could be doing in their nation’s capital.
It had taken a few days of consideration, but eventually he’d wired back his acceptance of the job offer, vague as it was, and packed his bags once more. His family hadn’t even bothered to remonstrate with him, since he wasn’t going abroad again, and the next thing he knew he was making arrangements to have the remainder of his books shipped to Washington DC.
The Army Air Force, it seemed, would be making arrangements for him.
Washington DC — January 1945
He’d known from the moment the piece of razor-sharp metal had sliced through his knee that his life would never be the same again.
Jack knew that it had been a routine mission, before the Zeros that came out of the sun towards them had changed all that. A brief dogfight later and Jack’s Lockheed Lightning had been left limping back to base on one engine, part of the other one having sliced its way through his leg. He hoped it hadn’t hit anything vital—though he could feel the hot blood as it trickled down his leg, Jack was pretty sure that if it had punctured an artery he’d be dead by now.
But his knee wasn’t a pretty sight, and he knew that his life was about to change forever.
Three months later he’d still been convalescing, his knee still heavily swathed with bandages, when his fate had been sealed. Orders received that would separate him from his squadron, sending him back to mainland duty and away from the 13th Army Air Force. Though the doctors thought he’d make a full recovery in time, there was little chance he would fly P-38s again.
Somehow, though, he still had a use. The Army still needed him for something, it seemed, even if it was to baby-sit a bunch of scientists involved in some top secret project. Better to be useful that way than face the alternative—he’d sworn the day he left home to join the Army that he would never go back to the farm.
And that was a promise to himself that Jack O’Neill intended to keep.
Daniel worked his neck, trying to remove the seemingly permanent crick that the last few miles had caused. He hadn’t expected to be picked up from the Oriental Institute by an Army Air Force jeep, one that had bounced and jolted its way across town to the nearest Air Force base where he’d been summarily loaded onto a cargo plane headed for Camp Springs Army Air Field. Where another jeep, with an uncannily similar looking driver, was waiting for him when he disembarked.
"Help you with that, sir?" the driver asked, reaching out for one of Daniel’s suitcases.
Daniel handed it over happily and turned his attention to the rest of his luggage. He hadn’t brought much, the majority of what had accompanied him being a couple of boxes of reference material. Dr. Langford had been vague enough to make him want to be sure he’d covered all bases. The fact that Langford had been interested enough to come all the way over to Chicago and see him was enough to tell Daniel that there was something important waiting for him when he reached his final destination.
The driver had finished supervising loading the rest of the boxes into the back of the jeep as Daniel had considered that. He hefted the last suitcase himself, fitting it neatly into the space the driver had clearly left for it, and then swung himself into the passenger seat.
He had no idea where he was going, but there was little he was leaving behind anyway, so why should it matter at all?
The journey from Camp Springs was long enough for Daniel to begin to feel some curiosity returning, a sensation that had been squashed by his uncomfortable journey.
"Where are we going?" he yelled to the driver, who seemed to be determined to set a new land speed record on the way to wherever it was.
"Sorry, sir," the driver replied, equally loudly. "That’s classified."
A hefty jolt shook the jeep as they hit a pothole, making Daniel clutch for a handhold. If he’d been paranoid he’d swear the driver had done that deliberately, to change the subject.
"Classified?" he yelled.
A few minutes later, it seemed they had arrived at their destination. The warehouse itself was unremarkable, except for the fact it was guarded by heavily-armed soldiers, one of whom stepped into their path as they slowed to a halt at a makeshift barrier.
"Dr. Jackson for Dr. Langford," the driver said.
The guard nodded, and then stepped aside to let them pass.
"This is the place?"
"Yes, sir." They were driving around the outside of the building, at a much more sedate pace than their previous breakneck speed to get here. Wherever here was.
"What is this place?" Daniel asked, more for something to say than because he actually expected any kind of an answer.
"I’m sorry, sir," the driver began. "That’s …"
"… classified," Daniel said, finishing the driver’s sentence for him. The look he received was full of chagrin, so he couldn’t find it in himself to be angry. Daniel understood how bureaucracies worked; he’d been living in academia long enough to know that sometimes people just didn’t know.
"Well, wherever this is," he continued, "it looks like home."
Civilians. What on earth was the top brass thinking sticking him with a bunch of woolly-minded civilians? Sure they were probably all brilliant, the best in their field, but most of them certainly fit the mad professor stereotype, all wild hair and shapeless tweed jackets.
And he was sure he’d seen one of them stalking up and down the path outside the main complex, talking to himself and puffing away on a pipe at the same time.
But if this was what the Army wanted from him, Jack reminded himself, as he felt a slight twinge from his knee, then the Project was where he’d be. And at least being in Washington meant that he didn’t have all that far to go when he wanted to find a little entertainment, or to lose himself in the solitude of large crowds.
Who was he kidding, though?
He didn’t want that, didn’t want anything any more, as far as he could tell. It was as though that kind of interest had been removed from him when they’d taken the fragment of metal from his knee. Jack had heard all the jokes about the Army Air Force putting bromide in its tea to try and keep the sexual drives of its rank and file under control, but he’d never believed it was true. Now he was starting to wonder.
He’d gone out the previous weekend, full of the intention of finding himself a little company, only to discover that there wasn’t anyone he could see that piqued his interest.
It could be guilt over Sara, of course, but he wasn’t convinced of that either. Jack had signed the divorce papers she’d sent without any great degree of reluctance—their marriage had been a mistake, something he’d come to regret within a few short weeks of the actual ceremony taking place. They’d been too different for things to ever work out. Sara had never believed he wanted to get away, so she had been horrified to discover their marriage didn’t mean an end to his plans to join up.
In some ways the war had been something of a godsend, giving both of them a good excuse not to live together any longer.
Jack hadn’t written to her, though he’d put her down as his next of kin should anything happen—that way at least she might get something out of the brief time they’d been together. What would he have written about, if they’d still been married? The war as he knew it was long periods of tedium interspersed with brief moments of terror. He couldn’t describe the pleasure he felt on surviving another day, on a successful mission where he returned to base with the same number of planes accompanying him as when he left. Those were small pleasures, ones that Jack knew he could never explain to anyone who hadn’t been there.
And Sara had never really wanted to know who he was, of that he was sure.
The jeep stopped outside an unprepossessing door, scuffed wood and rusting metal. Daniel was about to question his driver once more, though he was aware of the possible futility of that move, when the door opened. The man who emerged from it was tall and slightly stooped, with white hair and a white moustache. He had a distinct academic air to him, which made him unmistakable.
"Dr. Langford." Daniel got out of the jeep; they shook hands. "I’m very pleased to meet you at last."
"The feeling is mutual, my boy," Langford replied, his slight accent betraying his European origins. "I’m so glad you were able to come and join us."
"Our little gathering," Langford continued. "We have quite a collection of academics here, despite the surroundings. Shall we go in?"
Daniel followed Langford into the building with one of his suitcases, aware that his former driver followed them with the rest of his luggage.
After a few yards of gray and featureless corridors, they emerged into a larger room. It was clear a number of people worked there; each of the many tables that occupied the majority of the space was covered with books and scrawled notes, a familiar sight to anyone who’d ever done research. The room itself, however, was empty of people.
"You can leave your luggage here," Langford said, indicating a corner of the room with an indolent wave. "It’ll be quite safe."
Daniel did as he was bid, the driver depositing the rest of the cases alongside his and turning smartly on his heel to leave them.
"Come on," Langford continued, as if growing impatient. "I have a lot to show you."
"You said there were others here, Dr. Langford?" Daniel asked, as he followed Langford further into the bowels of the building. It seemed to be larger on the inside than it had appeared from the outside, if that was possible.
"Somewhere around," Langford said, absently, as he led them down a dimly-lit corridor. It ended in a plain door, the varnish chipped and scratched. "Through here is the reason I asked you to come, Dr. Jackson."
He opened the door, holding it and gesturing to Daniel to go through. The doorway opened into a room larger than the one where he’d left his luggage, with a high ceiling and rows of electric lights. In the center of the room was a wooden structure, a latticework supporting thirteen wedges of red sandstone, arrayed around a central disc.
"What is that?" Daniel asked, even as he was drawn towards it. He walked around it, marveling at the size of the blocks of stone. It had to be Egyptian, or else why would Dr. Langford have sent for him?
What he saw on the other side, the side not masked by the latticework, took his breath away. Markings. The central disc held a cartouche, either side of which were familiar carvings of the sky goddess Nut, the mother of the gods, stretching over the waters of the earth. Each of the blocks that led out from that central point were covered in markings—some he recognized, others were foreign to him.
"Where did you find this?" he asked.
"The Giza plateau, in 1928," Langford replied, coming to stand next to Daniel where he stood, still transfixed by what he saw.
Daniel nodded—he’d read about that dig and remembered seeing Langford’s name associated with it.
"I’ve never seen anything like this." There was nothing he wanted more, now, than to study these tablets, to pull from them every scrap of knowledge they contained, and it seemed like he was going to get his chance.
"Of course you haven’t, no one has." Langford’s voice was dry, full of humor. "As you can see, there are two lines of hieroglyphs. The inner track has the classic figures; the outer track is like the cartouche in the center. It’s got writing on like we’ve never found before."
Daniel stepped closer, squinting a little at the markings Langford was indicating.
"Those aren’t hieroglyphics," he said. "It might be some kind of hieratic or cuneiform."
He vaguely heard the door open, then footsteps crossing the concrete floor towards where he and Langford stood.
"Here, Ernest," Langford replied. "Come and meet Dr. Jackson, he’s just arrived."
The newcomer was a different man completely to Dr. Langford. Where Langford was lean and gaunt, Ernest was solid and reliable-looking.
"Dr. Ernest Littlefield," Langford continued, as the other man reached them. "Dr. Daniel Jackson."
Daniel glanced at him for a moment, nodding a greeting. There was something about these tablets, something that made him unwilling to tear himself away from them even long enough to exchange civilities with the man who was probably Dr. Langford’s assistant.
"Perhaps now we might make some progress on the inscription," Ernest said.
"See for yourself." Ernest indicated a blackboard, standing in the shadows alongside one of the walls. "I did as much as I could but …"
Reluctantly, Daniel crossed to the blackboard, pulling it around to face the light. He scanned the translation, first checking the accuracy of the hieroglyphics before comparing them to the English words written beneath them.
"You must have used Budge; I don’t know why they keep re-printing his books." He picked up the board rubber, and then swiped out several of the translated words.
"What are you doing?"
" ‘Gebeh’? Then an adverbial use of ‘sedjem-en-ef’ …" Daniel was talking to himself as much as to the other two men—the translation Ernest had done showed that hieroglyphics weren’t his strong suit. "Sealed and buried."
"Dr. Jackson?" That was Langford.
"It’s not ‘coffin,’ " Daniel said, as if that were explanation and answer enough, scratching out the word in question as he spoke. "It’s ‘for all time’." He took a step back, eyeing the translation as a whole and running it through his mind once again.
"This should be ‘A million years into the sky is Ra, sun god, sealed and buried for all time.’ " Daniel paused, and then made another correction. "It’s not ‘door to heaven’ … ‘his Star gate.’ "
"Well, so, why is the military so interested in 5,000 year old Egyptian tablets?"
"That," Dr. Langford said, "is something I can’t tell you."
"Classified?" Daniel asked. "Somehow I thought as much."
So, this was the famous Dr. Jackson. The man Dr. Langford insisted he couldn’t do without. He didn’t look indispensable, no matter what the chief mad scientist said. He looked …
Jack considered how he looked for a moment, as he watched Dr. Jackson from the other side of the large room that held the artifact. The subject of Jack’s scrutiny was completely unaware of his presence since all his attention was fixed on the disk and slabs of stone that stretched far above them both. Dr. Jackson was sketching something, some detail from its surface, the pencil he held making sure and steady marks on the paper. His fascinated gaze returning to the object over and over as if he somehow feared it would disappear if not closely watched, taking all its secrets with it.
What would it be like to be on the receiving end of that kind of attention?
Jack wondered about that for a moment. As if that cold fish of an archaeologist could look at anything that wasn’t a few thousand years old that way. He found that his eyes were lingering on Dr. Jackson’s hands. One clutched the pencil as it moved so surely across the paper, the long fingers of the other clutched the edge of the pad as the archaeologist continued to draw.
There was nothing wrong with looking. He couldn’t believe there was.
It was only coincidence that the memory of Dr. Jackson’s face, the almost devout expression, stayed with him long after he’d left the room and returned to the office he called his own.
"Colonel O’Neill?" That was Langford’s voice, accompanied by a staccato rap on the doorframe as he entered, the most courtesy he could expect from civilians, O’Neill supposed.
Jack fixed Langford with a gaze, pointing with his pen at the vacant chair the other side of the desk. He was just returning his attention to the paperwork he was completing when he realized Langford wasn’t alone.
"I don’t want to take up too much of your time," Langford continued, as he settled himself into the chair Jack had indicated. "But I was conscious of the fact you and Dr. Jackson had yet to meet." The subject of their conversation, that same Dr. Jackson, was still in the doorway, looking out of place and as if he wished he could be anywhere but there.
"Come on in, Dr. Jackson," Jack said, putting the cap back on his pen as he spoke. "No matter what Dr. Langford may have told you," he continued, "I don’t bite." Those few glib words seemed to do the trick, making Jackson straighten up a little and actually enter Jack’s small office, taking the other chair beside Langford. "How was the trip from Chicago?" He couldn’t help himself, it was force of habit by now to try and put these civilians off their stride. "You arrived when, Monday?"
"Sunday night," Jackson said. His voice was everything Jack had expected it would be, the measured tones of a man who rarely said anything without thinking it over half a dozen times. "Dr. Langford very kindly allowed me to stay at his house and then I came here on Monday."
Jack nodded, losing interest already even as he thought how soothing Jackson‘s voice was. He didn’t see that same spark now in the other man that he’d seen before—that must have been a figment of his imagination, some small chimera he’d created out of the hope for something more. Instead there was something very familiar about Jackson, some thread of commonality he’d seen in all the other civilians here, a literalness that bugged the hell out of him if he allowed it to. It was as if there was no detail too small to be mentioned and that was a luxury military life didn’t always allow for.
And that was that, really. He’d been about ready to dismiss the two of them, turn his attention back to the paperwork he really had little desire to complete, when Jackson raised his head a little. Their eyes met for the first time and Jack saw the man he’d seen only hours before, there in front of him once again.
He’d never really been a great believer in destiny, stories about meetings that were meant to happen, that seemed unlikely in a universe that seemed to be driven by random events. But there was something about Jackson, something familiar about the life that he saw in those eyes, that struck Jack to the core.
Perhaps it was that the person inside had experienced more than many of these civilians seemed to have known, locked in their ivory towers examining things that people had thrown away a thousand years before. What relevance could that have for anyone, particularly when people were dying overseas?
"We should let you get on," Langford said, after a long moment of silence had hung in the room between them. "Come on, Daniel."
"Thank you for your time, Colonel," Jackson said, pushing back the chair.
Jack nodded, unsure what he wanted to say for once in his life. That wasn’t something that happened very often, but somehow he sensed that this meeting was too important to cheapen with the kind of comment he’d usually make.
"You’re welcome," he replied, even as the office door was closing behind them.
It was very odd. He felt as though he’d met O’Neill before, though he knew that couldn’t possibly be the case—he’d have remembered him, Daniel was certain of that. But the colonel had looked at him as though they knew one another, when he’d bothered to look at all.
"That’s a better reception than I got from Colonel O’Neill," Dr. Langford said, slapping Daniel on the shoulder as they headed back towards his office. "It does the military good to see that we’re not all inveterate pipe-smoking eccentrics, I think."
Daniel nodded, wondering just what everyone had expected from him. He’d never been someone who fitted in but his abilities, his intellect, had allowed him to make a place in the academic world for himself. Even if his immediate surroundings were proscribed, he had the past and its myriad histories to journey in and that had always been enough.
At least, until Nick.
He’d never expected to feel that kind of interest for anyone again, and particularly not for an Army Air Force colonel who had to be ten years older than he was. He was no prize catch himself but what chance was there that O’Neill was even interested in him? Though Daniel had seen the way the man looked at him, curiosity and interest all mingled together, and wondered just what it meant.
It could be as simple as Langford’s explanation—Daniel didn’t fit the bill, wasn’t your stereotypical academic, and that was enough to elicit someone’s interest. It had to be that, there was no way it could be anything else. Still, the best thing he could do was concentrate on why he’d been brought here, rather than daydreaming about something that would never happen no matter how much he might want it to.
He hadn’t realized at the time, though he’d suspected it when he met Ernest Littlefield, but Langford had brought him in to serve as his assistant. Whether it was that Littlefield hadn’t measured up to what Dr. Langford wanted from him, or whether it was some subconscious response to the fact that Littlefield was a poor scholar from a no-account family who had a crush on Langford’s daughter, Daniel had no idea. Except that Langford now seemed determined to have him involved with Catherine instead, no matter how much Daniel might try and make excuses.
He found himself being invited over for Sunday lunch, an excruciating experience even for someone whose own family had turned those occasions into interrogation sessions of which Hitler’s Gestapo might be rightly proud. Langford had wasted no opportunity to sing his daughter’s praises, making both her and Daniel blush.
When he’d had the chance to speak with Catherine alone, he’d discovered she was an intelligent young woman, one whose own ambitions in the archaeological field had been waylaid by her father’s fame and her mother’s death. Dr. Langford had essentially installed her in her mother’s position, expecting her to give up her studies and look after him, with no thought of how this would affect her plans. All in all, Daniel felt that Catherine had taken that knock with more grace than he would have been able to manage.
In the end, Daniel had found himself becoming more and more entrenched in his work, finding reasons not to accept Dr. Langford’s invitations when he could or even keeping away from him when he thought those invitations might be forthcoming. If Langford had him penciled in as a future son-in-law, he was headed for a great disappointment, one way or another. In many ways, particularly in terms of orientation, Littlefield would be a much more appropriate catch—he also had the advantage of being head over heels for Catherine, even though she seemed oblivious of the fact.
"This isn’t right," Daniel said to himself, as he scrubbed a hand across his face. Try as he might, he couldn’t make the translation work. It made no sense at all, no matter how many times he went over it. He looked at the reference book again, contemplating throwing it across the room—what the hell did Budge know anyway?
Daniel stared at the symbols once more, trying to force them to make some kind of sense. To make them have something to do with the artifact that was the center of their project, but nothing else that had been found in Giza seemed to fit. It was as if the artifact and everything else had come from different time periods, but that was impossible. It had to be impossible. If it wasn’t, the very idea turned everything that they thought they knew about Ancient Egypt on its head. But that was impossible, wasn’t it?
Daniel stretched, hearing the vertebrae in his back pop in protest at the long hours spent hunched over this translation. And for what? He’d compared the markings with cuneiform and other pre-dynastic writings and found no matches whatsoever. All he had to show for his efforts were a few scribbled notes and a headache the size of the cover stone itself.
And that wasn’t the only headache he was currently suffering from.
Daniel thought back to earlier, to the expression he’d seen on Catherine’s face when he’d excused himself from their lunch date to get back to his fruitless research. If only he could figure out a way to let Catherine down gently, get out of this damn entanglement without hurting her too much.
If he’d been able to say no to her in the first place, it might never have got to this. Part of it had been a reaction to his need to hide what he was, camouflaging himself with his relationship with Catherine. If Daniel had felt for her the way she did for him it might have even worked out, but he couldn’t pretend that he did. At least not to himself.
And he tried not to lead her on, using the war as an excuse not to marry, even though he hated himself for his cowardice. He should never have let it get this far.
But it had, and Daniel knew now he was in too deep. He’d seen the way Ernest Littlefield looked at her, wondered why Catherine herself didn’t see the adoration that shone from his would-be rival’s eyes. But she was too fixed on her father’s protégé, too intent on hitching her wagon to a rising star of her father’s creation at her father’s behest, to even notice Ernest.
And that made Daniel feel even guiltier. As if he wasn’t just lying to Catherine, leading her on with unspoken promises of something Daniel could never truly give her, but Ernest too. He was robbing Ernest of the happiness he himself desired.
Catherine had even given him her amulet, as a kind of tacit engagement present, and he’d accepted it without raising a single objection. She hadn’t asked for anything in return, knowing that wartime raised its own issues where getting things were concerned, and for that Daniel was eternally grateful. He didn’t want to tie himself to her, or vice versa, any more than he already had.
He certainly could never tell her he had no intentions of marrying anyone. That he was more interested in Colonel O’Neill than he was in anyone else involved with the project and that getting together with him seemed as likely as changing how he felt about marrying Catherine Langford.
At some point, though, he knew he would have to find a way to tell her the truth—or at least as much of the truth as she could manage—it wasn’t right to make her think there was some possibility there when that patently was never going to happen. His own life had been torn apart by actions beyond his control, so Daniel certainly had no intention of wrecking other people’s lives by his own deliberate actions.
Avoidance had its uses but at the end of the day the facility really wasn’t that large.
Jack just turned the corner and ran into Dr. Jackson. Literally ran into him, sending the other man sprawling and watching helplessly as the papers he carried were scattered across the floor by the force of their impact.
Damn it all to hell. What was happening to him? He was never usually this clumsy, or out of touch with his surroundings. Jackson was dusting himself off now where he had sat up, looking at the mess that lay around him—he had an abstracted expression on his face, as if he still wasn’t completely sure where he was.
Jack felt his heart lurch. He didn’t want to feel this way, didn’t want to accept the reality of a universe where he wasn’t completely interested in women and partially interested in the man who was currently looking up at him with a slightly bemused expression on his face. It was as if Jackson couldn’t quite figure out how he’d got from walking down the corridor to measuring his length along it, despite the obvious clue of Jack’s presence.
Against his better judgment, Jack offered him a hand up, feeling the shift of warm skin beneath his palm as Jackson let himself be helped to his feet.
When he wasn’t stooping, wasn’t hunched over whatever he was working on, they were about the same height. Jackson was slighter, but then he hadn’t been through Army Air Force basic training, which would have dealt with that. Jack helped Dr. Jackson gather up the last of his papers, all the while wondering whether he was losing his mind.
This couldn’t be happening, Jack kept telling himself, even as he replayed the last few minutes through his mind. He hadn’t been staring at Dr. Jackson the way a starving man looked at a steak. That wasn’t possible. He hadn’t been a hairsbreadth away from pushing Dr. Jackson down onto his back and plundering that luscious mouth until the other man was whimpering with need beneath him. Surely he hadn’t been considering doing all that and more, and in a public corridor no less?
Because that was impossible. Wasn’t it?
After all, he wasn’t that way inclined. Sure, he’d never tomcatted around like some of his friends—after all, money had always been hard to come by when he was younger and free time had been a luxury in itself—but that didn’t mean he was one of those. Because he would have known, wouldn’t he? Jack had to believe he would have known, if he liked men like that …
So what was this? Frustration, lack of opportunity, his sex drive making him into a liar and proving he really was alive but picking an unlikely target for it?
Because he didn’t even particularly like man, even though he seemed competent enough. Just now was possibly the first time since they’d met that Dr. Jackson had even looked him in the eye. Jack had felt a little like a snake coming face to face with a mongoose; he’d been mesmerized, trapped, enraptured. And then Dr. Jackson had looked away, breaking the spell he’d cast.
"Thank you, Colonel."
What made him do it? What was it that made Jack decide to lower the barrier between them, the barrier of formality he’d always been happy to hide behind till now?
"Jack," he said quickly, before he could change his mind.
Dr. Jackson just looked at him for a moment, his bright blue gaze assessing and more than a little cautious.
"Daniel," he replied quietly. Daniel looked as though he was unsure what he wanted to say next, if anything, and suddenly Jack knew exactly how he felt. "Pleased to meet you, Jack," he continued, after a moments thought, and held out his hand as if they’d never met before.
Jack nodded as they shook hands, feeling a strange tendril of warmth insinuate itself inside him, a feeling of unexpected elation accompanying it. Daniel’s hand was warm, the grip firm and calloused. Jack suddenly felt more alive than he had in the longest time, and then suddenly afraid. Vulnerable. From Daniel’s reaction, Jack knew his face had closed down—Daniel looked uncertain again, as if he thought he’d done something wrong but wasn’t sure what it could be. That wasn’t fair—Jack was angry with himself, it wasn’t Daniel’s fault that Jack was attracted to him.
There. Jack had admitted it to himself, even if he didn’t understand it. No more prevarication. But that was where it began and ended. Nothing would happen between them. He couldn’t allow it.
Even if, at the moment, Jack wanted something from Daniel, something he could barely understand, something he was certain he wanted more than he wanted his next breath.
His sharp eyes spotted the photograph on the floor before Daniel did; Jack bent to pick it up, examining it as he half-watched Daniel reassemble the contents of his wallet.
One of the men in the picture was definitely Daniel, a younger and happier looking version of the same man. The other was a stranger, but the way they were leaning together, captured forever half-sitting on the parapet of a stone bridge showed they were anything but strangers to each other. The Daniel in the photograph was looking at the other man with an expression that told Jack volumes about who he was, what they were to one another.
Daniel was standing in front of him, hand outstretched for the photograph.
"Who is he?" Jack asked.
Daniel’s face shut down a little, making him look even sadder than before.
"A friend," Daniel said. Jack had to almost strain to hear the words. "Just a friend."
He didn’t believe that for a moment. Friends didn’t look at friends that way, not in his experience; that look bespoke intimacy, closeness, the sharing of more than secrets.
"I won’t give you away," Jack said. The words had tumbled from his mouth, surprising both of them.
"And in exchange for that favor?"
Daniel’s voice was more than a little scornful and Jack found he couldn’t blame him in the slightest. He’d come across sounding like a blackmailer, which had been the last thing he wanted—he was more an opportunist, seeing the possibilities of something he’d hoped for but never really believed would happen. Something that seemed more real than anything else going on around them.
"I do something for you," Jack continued. "Then you do something for me."
There was silence between them for a long moment, Daniel’s eyes on him and he made himself hold that assessing gaze.
"In there," Daniel said, finally, inclining his head towards a nearby rest room. Jack nodded, unable to speak now as the reality of the situation crashed down around him. He followed Daniel into the rest room then bolted the door before he gave himself the time to think what a bad idea this was.
"I don’t usually do this sort of thing."
Jack smiled at him. He hoped the smile was reassuring, but he wasn’t sure it came across as anything other than predatory. It had been so long since he’d had an encounter with anything other than his own hand; his imagination was already three or four steps ahead, enjoying the actions of Daniel’s talented fingers on overheated flesh.
"Are you asking if I’ll still respect you in the morning?" Jack asked. He wondered if he sounded nervous, as nervous as Daniel looked. They both had too much to lose, but there didn’t seem to be much point in turning back—they’d already gone too far for that to be an option.
"That would involve assuming that you respect me now," Daniel said, taking a step closer. Jack made himself keep still, though he was convinced Daniel could hear the way his heart was currently attempting to hammer its way out of his chest. "And that’s not the case," Daniel continued. "Is it?"
Too close. Every instinct was telling Jack to push him away, that no good could come of this encounter, that he was making the biggest mistake of his life. Except that he could see the expression in Daniel’s eyes now, the arousal there, and it seemed to be contagious.
He decided not to answer, closing his eyes as Daniel’s fingers fumbled with the fly on his trousers, those agile hands making short work of the fastenings. The material puddled around his ankles, the cool air of the restroom hitting his legs in fine counterpoint to the heat inside his shorts.
Leaning backwards, Jack’s hands found the cool porcelain of the wash basins, his head hitting the mirror as he watched Daniel carefully. He had that expression on his face, that look of total concentration as he sank gracefully to his knees—it was a look Jack felt himself respond to, growing even harder at the thought of what would happen next.
Jack shot a look at the door; it was okay, it was bolted. He’d bolted it himself, back at the beginning of all this. He couldn’t hear anyone outside and the facility was pretty much deserted this time of night anyway.
"Just you and me," Daniel said quietly, as if picking up on Jack’s thoughts.
Jack’s hands tightened on the porcelain as he remained looking at the rest room door—idly, he wondered how much force it would take to crack one of the wash basins, feeling the coolness curve under his palms. A slight movement in front of him drew Jack’s attention back to Daniel.
"Oh god," he muttered, as Daniel mouthed him through the soft cotton of his shorts. Jack jerked his head back instinctively, feeling the sharp pain as it impacted with the mirror. "Please …"
Please what? Stop? More? He wasn’t sure he could have finished that sentence and he was certain his brain cells were leaking out of the cock that Daniel was currently lavishing his attention on.
"Shhh." Daniel’s voice was a hiss of warm air across his erection, punctuated by his fingers freeing him. "Soon."
Did the porcelain creak under his grip?
He heard Daniel laugh to himself, hating the sound and loving it all at the same time. Jack hated being so weak, being so much in the other man’s control—how much more out of control could he be than to have his cock in Daniel’s mouth? It was moments between the sensation of cool air and the further, more exciting, sensation of hot wet heat surrounding him.
He didn’t look.
Concentrate on something else, Jack told himself, concentrate on the fly specks on that window over there, not the way Daniel’s long fingers currently gripped his hips, holding him still while Daniel’s wicked mouth drove him to the brink. Count them … one, two … what is he doing to me? Three, four, five …
He couldn’t want this. This wasn’t right, he hadn’t agreed to any of this. What Jack had wanted was some relief, some respite from his own right hand, not for Daniel to take him somewhere he really didn’t want to go. And if he kept telling himself that, Jack knew, one day he might believe it.
One day when the sensations had faded, if any of them lived that long.
He closed his eyes, concentrating on the sensations flooding through him, the sensations created by that talented tongue, the coolness of the porcelain under his hands and against the backs of his legs, the odd ache in the small of his back as he tried not to respond to Daniel’s urging.
Daniel’s hands were steady on his hips, cool and knowing.
But he had to. Jack knew he had to see, had to imprint that moment on his mind’s eye, had to know what Daniel looked like doing that. How else would he populate his fantasies in the time to come? He couldn’t risk doing this again, even if the sensations were something unlike anything he’d experienced before, like Daniel was trying to suck his bones out one by one.
Daniel’s eyes were closed, his face held an expression that looked almost devout, the expression that had captivated him once before. When they’d been strangers to one another, not whatever they were now. Daniel looked like a worshipper at the temple of his god. Jack felt something crumble inside at that thought—too much, too much!
He let go of his death grip on the wash basin with one hand, watching as if his hand had a mind of its own—it came to rest on Daniel’s hair, pushing back one errant lock from his brow, the movement making Daniel’s eyes flick open suddenly.
Jack felt pinned by that look, held in place by Daniel’s eyes, pinned by his hands on Jack’s hips, his mouth on Jack’s cock, like a bug on a board.
That wasn’t a plea for Daniel to stop—he wasn’t sure he could, wasn’t sure he wanted him to. Daniel’s mouth curved a little, quirking around the mouthful of cock, and he closed his eyes once more. The world spun round Jack; he was still pinned, still held in place, and trapped on a whirligig of sensation as Daniel turned his attention to pushing him over the edge.
He recognized that expression, he’d seen it close up and personal so many times on Nick’s face, the utter relaxation of a good blow job before the realities of the universe set in.
Jack was still slumped against the wash basins, pants around his ankles, breathing like he’d just run a marathon, eyes closed and head back against the rest room mirror. Carefully, Daniel tucked Jack’s cock back into his shorts, but Jack didn’t respond, didn’t even show he was aware of Daniel’s actions.
Daniel stood, brushing the dust from the knees of his suit pants, wondering if the crease in them would ever be the same.
Not that he was renowned for his sartorial tastes anyway, he reminded himself. That way lay danger, and the possibility of discovery. Just like sucking off an Army Air Force colonel in a rest room? At least this had seemed like a good idea at the time, the sheer pleasure he’d seen in Jack’s face, the arousal in Jack’s eyes going straight to Daniel’s own erection, giving him a hard-on that wouldn’t quit.
"I guess I … err …"
How could he have done anything quite so stupid? Nothing good could come from offering sexual favors to someone as straight as Jack O’Neill—he should know better than that.
Except, in the midst of it all, he’d seen Jack’s face. Daniel had seen that long moment before realization struck, when time stood still before Jack understood what he’d done and what that implied. There was no way Jack could have faked that expression—he didn’t need to, Daniel had already agreed to do what he wanted, there was no need to dissemble.
He knew what Daniel wanted, knew it as well as he knew himself. Jack felt the bowstring tautness of his body begin to fade, releasing his grip on the wash basins as he straightened up. He wondered what he looked like, but didn’t dare turn to face the mirror and find out.
Daniel’s face, when Jack opened his eyes, told him all he needed to know.
There was a subtle smile there. The cat that got the cream. He couldn’t have described it as calculating, there was too much honest pleasure in Daniel’s expression for that.
"I should …" Daniel began again, one hand trailing down towards where his own erection tented his pants.
It was like a lightning strike. Jack knew what he wanted, knew it though he’d never realized before that the possibility was there. In his mind’s eye he could see himself in Daniel’s place, kneeling on that cold tile floor, taking Daniel into his mouth as the other man gasped and moaned at the attention.
Worse still, the image mutated, turning into something else, something he’d never contemplated before. Himself, head bowed over the wash basins, that death grip in place once again, as Daniel pressed himself against Jack’s back, whispered endearments as he invaded Jack’s body in an even more intimate way. What would that be like? He’d seen it once, walking into a room he shouldn’t have, discovering two of his fellow officers in flagrante during their long tour overseas.
He’d never thought of himself as passive, never wanted that feeling of being utterly out of control. Not till now, not till Daniel had done something to him, taken away something that was so much a part of who Jack was, turning him into a stranger to himself.
Daniel had freed himself, eyes bright with arousal as he handled his erection, Jack’s eyes going to his arousal without a second thought.
"No," Jack said. Daniel took a step towards him, concern already taking the place of arousal and Jack found himself shoving at the other man, pushing him away as he turned to the rest room door.
He couldn’t answer, couldn’t do anything but wrestle with the recalcitrant bolt, finally forcing it free and running from the rest room as if the hounds of hell were on his trail.
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.
They’d had no idea what would be found the other side of the Stargate, of course, but this had been unexpected anyway.
Jack stepped through, feeling the drag of the airline behind him, his breath echoing in the helmet he wore. Was it a moment or a lifetime he hung suspended between two planets? He couldn’t tell; it seemed as though his heart had been caught between two beats, the breath frozen in his lungs, every sense straining for something, anything to try and make sense of the experience.
Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. He was on the other side, his boots hitting rough stone as Jack stumbled forward a little with his own momentum and found himself moving down some rough-hewn steps.
It took a moment’s fiddling to remove the helmet, the loss of that weight a welcome relief as Jack sucked air into his lungs. What was this place? Grey stone stretched as far as he could see, small slits that surely served for windows allowing only a minimal amount of light. There were archways out of the room in which he stood, one of them the other side of a dark squat blob a few feet across, the other to one side and looking like it led to steps.
Jack took a step down, then another, before bending to lay his helmet on the step. His airline tugged a little, still trailing back into the iridescent surface of whatever-it-was that filled the circular void—Jack admitted to himself he hadn’t been paying a great deal of attention to that part of his briefing. Jack turned, taking another step down as he did so, one hand latching onto the airline to pull a little more of it through behind him.
He couldn’t go far, didn’t really want to. There was a feeling of emptiness here, a feeling that this place had been unoccupied for a very long time, and it made Jack feel uncomfortable. Like an intruder, someone entering uninvited into somewhere whose solitude had been undisturbed for decades if not centuries.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the first flicker, an unexpected flash of white rippling out from one side of the Stargate to the other, quicker than lightning. Another, then another, then everything changed—the pool, so steady in its shimmering, started to shatter, the steady blueness of its surface breaking apart before his eyes.
Before he could move, before Jack could take a step back towards the gate, his airline dropped suddenly, tiny flames licking at the severed end, only to be extinguished as they hit the rough stone floor. The room seemed suddenly darker; the connection with Earth was gone.
"Dr. Langford?" There was no answer, so Daniel pushed the office door open. All he could see were boxes, some full to the brim with papers, others half-empty standing beside the desk. "What’s going on?"
Dr. Langford looked up from where he was sitting, his hands full of papers he’d obviously been engrossed in.
"Daniel," he said, gesturing with a hand full of reports. "Come in."
"What is this?"
Daniel had an idea he already knew, an idea he wasn’t going to like what Langford was about to tell him. A cold sensation took residence in the pit of his stomach.
Langford frowned. "The project is closing down, Daniel." He dropped the papers he’d been holding into a nearby box. "Effective immediately."
"What?" That cold sensation solidified, spreading outwards. "But Colonel O’Neill, the Stargate …"
"The project’s over, Daniel," Langford said, not unkindly. "Sit down, please."
Daniel cleared more folders from a chair, dumping them unceremoniously on the surface of the desk. He watched them as they slithered to a halt, wondering how many hours of work were being packed up ready to be shipped off somewhere. Would it ever see the light of day again, or would someone’s labors be destined to molder in a warehouse?
"We have to make the Stargate work again," Daniel said, enunciating carefully as if explaining the concept to a child. He couldn’t bear to think what Jack might be going through right now, what dangers he might be facing alone. He couldn’t bring himself to believe that Jack might even be dead, that possibility couldn’t be allowed to enter his mind. They hadn’t parted on the best of terms, but he’d seen something special in O’Neill, a humanity he certainly didn’t see in the man who sat in front of him. "Colonel O’Neill is still out there."
"Out where?" Langford asked. "He could already be dead; we don’t know that device definitely connects with somewhere else."
"So that’s it?" Daniel said. "We pack up shop and forget all about this?"
"You signed an agreement to keep this project secret. We all did."
"I didn’t agree to someone’s life being put at risk," Daniel said, pushing himself up from the chair. "It should have been me, after all. Nobody would have cared if it was."
"I think my daughter would have cared very much, Dr. Jackson," Langford said, bristling now. "Or have you been leading her on?"
Daniel rested his hands on the back of the chair he’d just vacated. He wasn’t about to tell Langford the truth, no matter how angry his words had made him. He didn’t deserve to know anything more than Daniel wanted him to—Catherine was another matter. He had to set things straight with her, before this went too far.
"I never led Catherine on," Daniel said. "But I don’t care for her anything like as much as she cares for me. Nothing will ever happen between us, and I intend to make sure she knows that."
"So, not content with wrecking the project," Langford said, as he stood, "you intend to break my daughter’s heart?"
"Catherine is a lot stronger and a lot smarter than you give her credit for," Daniel replied. "I’m sorry you can’t see that. You missed out, you know? She should have been the one helping you run this project, not me, but you couldn’t see past her being your little girl."
Langford said nothing—Daniel knew he’d hit a nerve. Catherine would never complain to her father, she wouldn’t dream of doing so, but he had to know how she felt. How stifled she’d been because the field she dreamed of was all but closed to women, even a woman who was the daughter of someone who’d made such amazing discoveries.
"Get out of here, Jackson," Langford said. He sat once more, his eyes falling to the papers that lay strewn across the surface of his desk. "Some of us have work to do."
He’d stood and just stared at the Stargate for a while, though he hadn’t really expected it to power up again as he watched. Then again Jack had seen the way it worked and had found himself a seat to one side of the initial rush, somewhere he could keep an eye on it even as he considered his options.
In hindsight this wasn’t looking like one of his better decisions, though he’d known when he strong-armed Langford into letting him take Daniel’s place that this wouldn’t be a barrel of laughs. As he stared at the silent Stargate, Jack was suddenly glad that he’d taken that decision, that he’d been able to try and redeem himself for how he’d treated Daniel by taking his place here—the thought of Daniel Jackson here, alone, filled him with horror.
Still, there wasn’t much for him to do, if a rescue mission didn’t arrive soon. The priorities, of course, were food and shelter—in this apparently crumbling building he had the latter, but the former still remained to be found. Water would be a necessity, too, though if all else failed he could always set up some kind of reservoir to trap the rain that was currently streaming past the nearest opening to the outside. He balked at calling it a window—it was rougher hewn than that, more like a gash in the stone or a convenient hole where a couple of slabs had slipped together.
Hopefully the storm would ease sometime soon and he could reconnoiter the surrounding area, find something edible and maybe some fuel. At the moment the temperature was tolerable, but there was no guarantee it would stay that way. And Jack knew he had no guarantee he’d be rescued before that happened, if at all.
Daniel could barely think straight. He’d left Langford’s office and headed back to his own, so angry with the other man that he knew he’d slammed the office door behind him as he left; so angry he’d been beyond words.
All he was certain of was that Jack was out there, somewhere. Alone and expecting to be rescued, waiting for help that would never arrive. And that thought was utterly intolerable.
If he’d wanted anything to shake him from his previous complacency, that realization was like a slap to the face. He’d thought he couldn’t feel this strongly about anything, about anyone, but he’d been wrong. And it was so ironic that the person who’d stirred up all these emotions, had brought back the sense of being alive, one way or the other, was now somewhere Daniel couldn’t get to him.
At least not without some careful planning on his part and a healthy dose of luck.
Jack O’Neill was expecting to be rescued, so there needed to be a rescue. Perhaps it wouldn’t be an authorized one and it wouldn’t take the form he’d expected, but Daniel had no intentions of leaving his friend somewhere to rot. And if the Army Air Force wouldn’t help him, then he’d have to help himself.
He thought for a moment, then turned to the nearby closet and pulled out the disreputable looking bag he’d used on the last few digs he’d been to. The bag itself was strong, heavy-duty canvas, but wouldn’t arouse suspicions. Daniel knew the guards had all seen him coming and going from the facility with that self-same bag, relying on its sturdiness to transport the heaviest of books, and that familiarity would serve him now.
He wondered what they would do with his things, if he didn’t come back, but the thought of leaving behind all the books he’d accumulated didn’t bother him as much as Daniel had once thought it would. Perhaps that was because some of these were the second or third copies he’d owned of those particular volumes—some of them had been charred beyond recognition when the house in London had been destroyed. Even as he ran a speculative finger over the cover of one of them, Daniel wondered whether that kind of thing changed your perspective on what was important, if only for a little while.
There were other things that were important now. Things he needed to do, before it was too late—before he left, Daniel also knew he needed to set a few things straight.
"Daniel? This is a pleasant surprise."
Daniel closed the door behind him, hoping Catherine would still feel the same way when their conversation was over.
"You’ve heard the news?" he asked. "That the project is shutting down?"
"Father told me last night," Catherine replied. "I suppose that means we’ll be heading back to California once everything’s packed." She paused, her perceptive eyes raking over Daniel. "What are you planning to do?"
"I don’t know," Daniel said. "But I do know I need to be honest with you."
"That sounds ominous."
"Catherine," he said, "I care about you very much, but I think you’ve given too much weight to how things are between us."
So, she wasn’t going to make this easy for him. Daniel couldn’t blame her. Her father had encouraged the relationship, such as it was, throwing them together at every opportunity, taken as much with the idea of his daughter marrying into the Jackson name as he was with the idea of Catherine being happy.
"There are things you don’t know about me. Important things."
Daniel knew he had to tread carefully—what he was talking about could get him prison time if he wasn’t careful, though at least the only person who knew exactly what he’d been up to was safely on another planet right now. He hoped.
"What sort of things?" Catherine was looking puzzled, but intrigued all the same.
"I’ve never lied to you, Catherine."
"Tell me, Daniel. I’ve no patience for games right now."
"I …" This was even more difficult than he’d anticipated. Daniel felt his face flame, the embarrassment of even talking about what he’d done, what he was, too much for him to cope with. "I can’t marry you. Not now, not ever."
Was that the most he was ever going to be able to say?
"There’s someone else?" Catherine had settled back into the chair, though she no longer looked as relaxed as before. "When had you planned on telling me? Had you planned on telling me?"
"I don’t plan on marrying anyone," Daniel said. "Ever." He watched carefully as that thought took root, watching for the moment of revelation, the moment Catherine would realize exactly what he meant. There. She didn’t look horrified, or disgusted, so he supposed that was a good sign.
"I’ve made a fool of myself," Catherine said, suddenly. "You let me make a fool of myself! Who else knew?"
Nobody except Jack, who wasn’t around to tell anyone, and possibly her father, though Daniel doubted he had realized just what was going on.
"I can’t believe this." She wasn’t angry, though her voice shook, but whether with frustration or amusement, Daniel wasn’t sure. "I can’t believe you let me do this."
"I’m sorry, Catherine." He was, more sorry than he could say. "I should have told you."
He didn’t have to explain why he hadn’t. She’d lived abroad, lived in California, lived in academia—Catherine had to know why he hadn’t told her what he was, didn’t she?
"Yes, you should have. I understand, Daniel." She frowned. "I’m still angry. Not because you led me on, but because you didn’t trust me enough to tell me the truth."
"I’m sorry," he said again. There didn’t seem to be anything else left to say.
In the end, he was almost glad to make his excuses and leave. The atmosphere was frosty between them, though he could tell that Catherine was as much annoyed with herself for not realizing the truth as she was angry with him. Not that this really made Daniel feel a great deal better, except that he was sure she’d come to realize in time she’d had a lucky escape.
He knew there was little chance she’d ever find out what happened to him, one way or another. If he managed to break into the facility, if he managed to get the Stargate activated and go where ever it was Jack had gone, the chances of Catherine discovering what had happened were slim to say the least. Still it wouldn’t have been right to have just gone, without a word, to have left her always wondering what had happened to him and believing there could have been more between them.
At least this way Ernest stood a chance with Catherine as well—nobody could compete with the perfection of a memory.
He’d left his bag outside Dr. Langford’s house, preferring not to make the trip back home again before he headed for the warehouse. Daniel hefted the bag experimentally and decided it was fine; it wasn’t too heavy and didn’t bulge awkwardly, so it shouldn’t arouse any suspicions. After all, if the project was closing down, surely the guards would be more worried about what people were trying to take out of the warehouse than what people were taking in with them?
Sure enough, he was waved through without anyone bothering to check his bag. Which was just as well, since Daniel hadn’t figured out just how he would explain the first aid kit he’d stuffed into it, let alone the pen knife or the currently-empty water bottle? There could be no explanation for the wax-coated boxes of K rations he’d managed to get hold of.
Leaving the bag in his office, Daniel headed for the rest room to fill the water bottle. It was ironic, in this same room he’d first had an intimate encounter with the man he was again about to break the law for. But there was really no alternative, was there?
Daniel retrieved his bag, hanging the water bottle by its strap over his shoulder as he headed towards where the Stargate was kept. So far, so good. There were no guards about, though he could hear the sound of furniture being moved in another part of the warehouse and guessed that they must have been drafted into helping close things down.
The Stargate itself was clearly in the process of being packed up as well. It stood, as it always had, in the middle of the room, with a large wooden case partly-built around it. The back had been secured; the front lay open like a ramp into the middle of the Stargate itself. Now if only he could get the generator to work, Daniel figured he might just be able to get the Stargate up and running before anyone realized what he was doing.
The water bottle banged heavily against Daniel’s hip as he trudged up the makeshift ramp and deposited his bag beside the Stargate. The wooden casing bent and creaked under his boots as he walked down to where the generator stood. This was the one which had given Ernest so much trouble and there were no guarantees he could even get it to work. And if he could, would there be enough time to get the right glyphs to lock before he was discovered?
There was only one way to find out.
The sound of the generator kicking in seemed to echo throughout the entire room and Daniel’s head snapped round to the doorway—he expected to see guards pouring into the room, alerted by the sound, but there was no sign of anyone.
He’d watched them dial the Stargate last time around, but took no active part in it. As a result Daniel discovered he hadn’t realized just how difficult a task that was.
Once the inner disc was spinning, there was no difficulty in that carrying on, but to get the right glyph to lock took some finesse. Fortunately, he’d been watching the sequence of glyphs carefully and managed, despite a couple of close calls, to catch them all the first time. He didn’t like to think what would have happened if he’d been forced to try again, or the increased risk of being caught. The noise the Stargate made as it erupted into life was almost deafening, since Daniel was standing so close to the artifact itself. This time there was movement at the doorway, the sound of shouted orders to stop, but the surface of the ring had stilled and Daniel was already moving by that time. He reached the top of the ramp, grabbed the bag by its strap and dived into the Stargate, pulling it after him, a burning pain ripping across his side as he did so.
He didn’t remember reaching the other side.
Even against the sound of the storm as it raged outside the walls, Jack heard the noise of the Stargate powering up. He’d experimented for a while with the alien device that stood the other end of the long chamber, pushing the buttons and watching them light, but had never been able to make it work. No matter what combination he tried, he hadn’t been able to make that pool of light form to try and get him back home. Now, it seemed, someone else was coming.
By the time he made it back to the chamber itself, the shimmering light he remembered so vividly was already there, casting odd shadows across the uneven stone floor. Tiny ripples shuddered across its surface as the storm hit the castle, sending minute vibrations through the ancient stonework and into the artifact itself.
He’d wondered how many more storms the structure could take. They’d been almost continuous since he’d been there, and Jack had been forced to seek shelter as deep into the rock as he could, finally finding chambers where the sound was muffled enough to let him snatch a few hours sleep. The lightning strikes hit the tower on a regular basis, the familiar smell of ozone filling the chamber where the Stargate stood. None of it boded well for this being his long-term place of residence, even if Jack had wanted that to be the case.
If he couldn’t make the Stargate work, and no one else came, he wouldn’t have much of a choice, though.
Jack had almost reached the bottom of the stone steps when the surface erupted with movement, the result of someone emerging from it at speed. There wasn’t time to step aside, the newcomer’s stumbling exit from the Stargate bringing him down the steps and making him collide with Jack before there was any chance for him to get himself out of the way. A bag bounced down the steps, apparently something the newcomer had been carrying, till it settled a few feet away from where the two of them lay.
The pool of light evaporated even before it stilled, and the chamber was in semi-darkness once more, the only light the intermittent lightning strikes that dazzled Jack’s eyes.
The sound that erupted from the newcomer when the two of them collided had proved that he was alive, alive and in pain.
It took a moment for Jack’s eyes to become accustomed to the twilight once more, the darkness hiding his surprise at the identity of his unexpected visitor. Surprise that he wasn’t able to keep from his voice.
This was his worst nightmare. It was bad enough when he’d thought he was alone, when there had been the possibility that he might die here, wherever here was, and never see another human being. But for the two of them to be stuck here, together, till one or other of them met their end.
He’d managed to disentangle the two of them by now, setting Daniel back on his feet and then watching as he dusted himself down, straightening his clothing as best he could.
"What the hell were you thinking?" he snapped. Daniel’s face paled, the expression distinctly lit by a timely lightning strike, as he took an involuntary step back, away from Jack’s anger.
"I was thinking," Daniel said, seeming to gather himself to reply, the adrenaline rush of traveling through the Stargate itself doubtless wearing off, "about rescuing you."
"You’re the cavalry?" He looked up at the Stargate, now a dark looming presence above them in the gloom. "And just how are we supposed to get back to Earth?"
Daniel said nothing. Jack watched him for a moment, wishing for more light, so he could tell what Daniel was thinking—he could almost hear the cogs going round in that genius head of his.
"We can get back," Jack said, feeling concern grip him for the first time since he’d arrived on the planet. He’d been determined, focused on the idea of getting back, though he wasn’t quite sure what it was that he wanted to get back to. "We can, can’t we?" Silence. "Daniel?"
"I … Probably," was all Daniel would say.
"Probably?" He saw Daniel take another step back, but he could have cared less. In some ways Jack had managed to deny the absolute reality of his situation, he knew that now, and Daniel’s arrival had made it real. Too real. "Cut the crap, Daniel. Can we get back home or not?"
He’d crossed the small distance between them, crowding Daniel back into the wall alongside the stone steps leading up to the Stargate, until there was nowhere left for Daniel to go. If there had been more light, Jack knew what pugnacious expression he’d probably see on Daniel’s face right about now. In some ways the darkness helped, letting him keep control on his baser emotions, even as the anger threatened to overtake him.
It wasn’t until Daniel hissed in pain, and then seemed to suddenly go limp where he was pressed between Jack and the wall, that Jack realized the warm wetness on his hand was blood. Blood from Daniel’s side, seeping through the material of his shirt and jacket at an alarming rate.
Daniel was out cold, there was no doubt about that.
Jack laid him down carefully on the stone floor, unwilling to move his unexpected visitor any further despite how uncomfortable it must be, until he’d had a chance to see how badly Daniel was injured.
The bag had partly opened, and Jack recognized some of its contents as they spilled across the floor. At least Daniel had enough sense to bring some supplies with him; what looked like a medical kit. But light was still the first priority.
Reluctantly, Jack left Daniel for a few minutes, heading into the room he’d been using as his quarters for the torch he’d made out of part of his rubberized diving suit. Though it gave a horribly smoky light, it was better than nothing, which was what he would have had otherwise.
When he returned, Daniel was just where he’d left him. He propped the makeshift light source into a crack in the nearby wall, turning Daniel a little so that what light there was would fall on him. Blood still flowed, sluggishly, and there was a small pool of darkness beneath Daniel when Jack moved him. When Jack looked more closely, however, he could see some of that darkness was water, escaping from the canteen that Daniel had slung over his shoulder—the impact with the floor must have shaken the stopper loose so its contents were seeping out, to mingle with the blood from Daniel’s side.
Jack pulled Daniel’s jacket aside, then tugged his shirt from the waistband of his pants to reveal the wound itself. The bullet wound was unmistakable, a slicing crease along one of Daniel’s ribs—if he hadn’t been lucky, Jack wouldn’t be wondering now just why Daniel had thought he could be a suitable rescue party. Daniel wouldn’t be wondering anything if that bullet had entered a couple of inches higher and to the right.
The shirt was pretty much ruined, though. Daniel had shed a worrying amount of blood despite how superficial the wound seemed to be and he showed little sign of waking up any time soon.
Jack reached into the bag again, removing the first aid kit and a knife he found there. He took hold of the shirt hem with one hand and used the knife on the now sodden material; it cut easily, letting Jack have easy access to Daniel’s side.
"Sorry, Daniel," he said, though he knew the other man couldn’t possibly hear him.
Daniel shifted slightly, as if in response to his voice, and Jack watched him for a moment till he stilled again. Steady pressure on the wound soon had the bleeding under control, even if it seemed to finally also evoke a response from Daniel, who shifted again under Jack’s hand as if waking up.
"Lie still," Jack continued, although he wasn’t sure whether Daniel was awake enough to understand.
"You were expecting someone else?"
"What happened?" Daniel asked, blinking a little as he gazed up at Jack. Jack had to look away, turning his attention back to the wound on Daniel’s side and making himself check it carefully even as Daniel tried to sit up.
"Slowly," Jack said. "Let me help you." It took a few moments, but finally Daniel was in a sitting position, propped against a small outcropping of stone. "You passed out."
"I was shot," Daniel said. "One of the guards shot me!"
His tone, and especially the outrage in it, made Jack stifle a smile.
"What are you doing here, Daniel?" Jack asked, once he was certain the wound wasn’t bleeding any more. He turned his back on Daniel, emptying the contents of the first aid kit onto his lap and selecting what he’d need to bandage him.
"I told you," Daniel said, his tone irascible now. "I came to rescue you."
"And who’s going to rescue you?" Daniel didn’t answer. "Hold this," Jack said, pressing Daniel’s hand over the pad he had used to stem the bleeding. He purposefully made himself think about the task ahead, about the need to be sure the wound was clean and not about how Daniel’s hands felt. There was nothing good to be accomplished thinking that way. "This might smart."
Daniel hissed as Jack applied the antiseptic powder liberally but otherwise said nothing.
There was silence between them as Jack concentrated on bandaging Daniel’s side, the only sound the hiss and pop of Jack’s makeshift torch and the occasional rumble of thunder from outside. The storm seemed to be abating a little, but Jack was certain it would only be a temporary respite—there hadn’t been any calm for longer than a couple of hours in the time he’d been there.
"Come on," he said, packing the unused items back into the first aid kit and replacing it in the bag. "We need to get out of here, down to where it’s quieter and we can both get some sleep."
Daniel nodded, then put his hands both side of himself and started to push himself off the floor. Jack grabbed him before he could pitch headfirst onto his face, holding onto his arm till he’d steadied himself.
"You lost blood, Daniel," Jack said. "Take it easy."
"I’m fine," Daniel replied, but Jack was heartened by the fact he didn’t shake off Jack’s hand.
He led the way down the crumbling stone steps to the sanctuary he’d made for himself of whatever he could find there. Back when he’d anticipated being there alone, for however long he’d live or whatever help came, whichever happened first. Jack smiled to himself at that, half-turning to watch Daniel negotiate a particularly uneven patch of stone—he was pleased to see this go without a hitch, though it was clear that Daniel had to concentrate hard not to stumble.
"Here," he said, finally, as they reached the lowest part of the building. "Sit down before you fall down," Jack continued.
He dropped the bag he carried beside the pallet he’d constructed of the rags and shredded material left lying around by whoever had lived there once. He hadn’t given the state of it much thought, just that he’d needed something to sleep on, no matter what it looked or smelled like. It was times like this he was glad the torch he’d made only shed a little, odd-colored, light.
Daniel sank gratefully onto the pallet, apparently also caring little about what it was made of. At least he seemed to have a sensible streak, some of the time at least.
By the time Jack had removed Daniel’s boots and taken off his glasses for him, the other man was pretty much dead to the world, so much so that he didn’t even twitch when Jack sat down next to him. The pallet was narrow, which meant the most comfortable position for both of them was for Jack to spoon up behind him. His treacherous cock gave a twitch at this, but the memory of the amount of blood Daniel had lost was enough to squash that instinct quickly enough that Daniel wouldn’t have noticed even if he’d been awake.
The distant roll of thunder still echoed around the building as Jack drifted off to sleep, perversely glad, despite the implications of Daniel’s arrival, that he was no longer alone.
Daniel woke to find himself lying on a makeshift pallet in a darkened room, alone.
It took a moment for memory to return, for the pain in his side to remind him just what had happened and where he was. And that he wasn’t really alone—he had made the decision to come looking for Jack and had found him. He vaguely remembered the previous night too, if it had been night, when Jack had shared this pallet with him.
As he tried to sit up, Daniel thought about how angry Jack had been to discover he was the rescue party, and the reaction when he’d admitted he wasn’t totally sure there was a way back to Earth. He’d burned his bridges coming here, wherever here was, and there wasn’t really all that much waiting for him if he did return anyway.
Of course that didn’t mean Jack was in the same boat. Though he’d obviously not considered himself indispensable, otherwise he would have never persuaded Langford that he should take Daniel’s place as the first man to travel through the newly-activated Stargate. So perhaps they both had nothing left to return for.
Daniel’s stomach rumbled, though the continual sound of the storm outside almost drowned it. He’d brought some food with him, enough for a couple of days at least, and his stomach was now reminding him of that. There was no sign of his pack, no sign of Jack either, so he had no choice but to go looking for both.
As he left the room where he’d been sleeping, Daniel discovered that the stairs were immediately in front of him, winding their way upwards into the darkness. As he climbed upwards, pausing every couple of minutes to catch his breath once more, Daniel noted how the noise of the storm grew. It seemed that Jack had found a haven from the storm, otherwise there was no way he could have managed to get any sleep himself.
He passed another chamber, taking a look into it at the artifact that dominated the center of the room. There would be enough time for that later, he hoped, but for now food was the first priority.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of climbing, Daniel reached the top level of the building, emerging into the room where the Stargate stood. The storm was louder up here, the smell of ozone more distinct and the frequent flashes of lightning sending waves of light across the chamber. There was a rumble of thunder too close and the building seemed to jump in response, a horrible creaking sound running through the nearby stones as dust began to fall from the ceiling. The floor bucked beneath Daniel’s feet, sending him stumbling across the now-uneven floor to slam against the base of the nearest wall. A wall which cracked and shifted even as he tried to right himself, slabs of stone above where he stood shifting as well, teetering as he watched horrified.
He was back in London, trapped in the rubble once more helpless, alone. And this time there would be no rescue. Daniel heard the scream that erupted from his mouth, even though he barely recognized the voice as his own. As the masonry began to fall around him, all he could think of was Nick, and the irony that he’d survived the bombing only to die the same way on this planet thousands of light years from home.
"Daniel!" That wasn’t Nick’s voice. For a moment Daniel didn’t recognize it, though the urgent tone was unmistakable. "Come on!" A hand pulled at his arm, breaking him out of his fugue state, the here and now slamming into Daniel with all the force of one of those stone blocks now falling around them.
Daniel felt his face flare with heat as he followed Jack to a more stable part of the building.
Eventually the storm died down, the incessant howling of the wind now replaced by the constant murmur of the sea far below. He glimpsed an alien ocean out there, gray and forbidding—somehow the sight of it chilled Daniel to the bone. Nothing lived there, he was sure of it.
"It’s not what you think," Daniel began, hesitantly.
He watched Jack tend their small fire, his back resolutely to Daniel. It could be his imagination, but he thought he’d seen disdain on Jack’s face, a reaction to his weakness, and the thought of that cut deep.
They’d huddled together for warmth the night before, sheer survival instincts overcoming any awkwardness they might otherwise have felt. They were hardly lovers by any stretch of the imagination, just because they’d shared some brief moments of pleasure together, Daniel didn’t think to fool himself that way.
Tonight already seemed different. Jack felt distant, almost as if he’d withdrawn physically though he was no further away.
"You don’t need to explain anything to me," Jack said, without looking round. His voice was flat—was that disappointment Daniel heard?
"I think I do." He took Jack’s silence as assent. "I was living in London …"
"With the man in the photograph?" Jack asked, without moving.
"Yes." This was easier than he’d expected, somehow. Perhaps it was the fact he was talking to Jack’s back that made it easier to speak of it. Perhaps time had dulled the pain Daniel felt when he thought of Nick, made losing him a little more bearable. "There was an explosion, a fractured gas main." He remembered it now, remembered it all. "I was trapped in the rubble …" He knew his voice had faded as he spoke, the recollection of those awful hours making Daniel wish he’d never started.
Jack had turned round by now and was looking at him thoughtfully, though his expression gave Daniel little clue about what was going through his mind.
Daniel studied his shoes for a moment, considering how to change the subject. He didn’t want to think about Nick, about all the things that had happened to him and had led to him being here, stuck on a planet somewhere else in the galaxy. He shifted slightly, and then winced as he felt the bullet wound on his ribs. There was something a little less personal to talk about, if he could get Jack to tell him what he thought he’d been doing.
"Why did you do it?" he asked, smiling to himself at the puzzled expression his words created.
"Go through the Stargate." Daniel waved his hand, indicating the room they sat in. "Come here."
"I talked to Langford," Jack replied. He didn’t seem inclined to talk about it, but Daniel found himself pushing for more information anyway—he’d always been told he was stubborn that way.
"He was going to send you," Jack said, the words snapping out. "And looking at where I ended up, I think I made the right decision."
"It’s definitely a one-way trip?"
"As far as I can see. There’s some kind of control device down there, it has the same symbols as the Stargate, but I can’t get it to work."
"What happened?" Daniel asked.
"Some of the symbols lit up when I touched them, and the Stargate itself moved, but then it stopped working."
"I should look at it …" Daniel said, half getting up. Jack’s hand on his arm stopped him, pushed him back to a sitting position—in truth, he hadn’t resisted it.
"Food first," he said. Jack held out a fruit bar from one of the K rations. Daniel paused, then took the bar, although a little reluctantly. "I also have coffee," Jack continued, smiling when that grabbed Daniel’s attention.
After they’d eaten and Daniel had drunk his coffee, albeit from a makeshift mug that had formerly been a can of some kind of meat, he was able to persuade Jack to let him look at the device.
The symbols were familiar, as Jack had said, which seemed to confirm a link—experimentally Daniel placed his hand on one of the glyphs at random, which shifted under his palm and lit. The Stargate began to move, the inner circle rotating till the marking he’d indicated was in line with one of the chevrons, which locked and glowed red.
"That was you, right?" Jack called, from his seat by the fire.
He tried a couple more glyphs, choosing ones that he remembered from the cartouche. Two of them worked, the third did not respond. All the chevrons on the Stargate winked out. On an impulse, Daniel tried the sequence of markings from the cartouche. This time only two of the chevrons locked before the device failed to respond.
He looked at it, wondering just how many possible variations there were on the sequence of symbols. Daniel had never been much of a mathematician but he knew that the number had to be astronomical. Too high to allow them the luxury of a swift return to Earth, even if that seemed like a particularly bad idea at the moment.
Daniel gave up, crossing back to the fire and sitting down once more.
"If we could go back …" Daniel’s voice ground to a halt. "No."
"You’d go back there, no matter what, wouldn’t you?"
"I’m still a member of the US military, Daniel," Jack said. "Of course I’d go back."
"I’m not sure I would," Daniel continued. "After all, I broke into a military facility and almost got myself killed getting here. Somehow I doubt I’d be too popular back on Earth right now."
He’d tried the address and it wasn’t working, so this conversation was kind of moot anyway. All Daniel could assume was that the Stargate at the other end had been incapacitated somehow, buried again like it had been in Giza, making it impossible for anyone to dial in.
Not that he’d told Jack this, not yet.
Daniel considered that for a moment, wondering just what it was he’d thought to achieve by keeping that particular piece of information to himself.
"Before I arrived," he said. "Did you try to make the gate work?"
"I couldn’t remember the sequence," Jack replied. "I thought I knew which symbols we used, but it didn’t work."
"I don’t think it was the symbols, Jack." Daniel watched as Jack’s hands stilled what they were doing. "I think they buried the gate again somehow."
"So what you’re saying," Jack said, turning to face Daniel as he spoke, his face dark with emotion, "is that we’re stuck here?" He gestured around him angrily, as he got to his feet. "If you hadn’t noticed, this place is falling to pieces!"
"I noticed," Daniel said, but Jack didn’t seem to hear him.
"And there’s nowhere to go?"
Daniel stayed silent. It seemed unlikely that the Stargate only worked between two places—why else would it have all those symbols if there weren’t a number of possible destinations to choose from?—but he wasn’t sure Jack was in the mood to hear that right now.
"This is it?"
"I’ll keep trying," Daniel said. "I’m sorry." It was a platitude, and one he wasn’t sure he really meant, but the quiet words seemed to take the wind from Jack’s sails, his anger dissipating as quickly as it had emerged.
"It’s not your fault," Jack said, as he sat down again. "If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work."
"I’ll keep trying," Daniel said once more.
He had to give that to Daniel, he was persistent. Focused on what he was doing, trying combination after combination of symbols and hardly seeming to be perturbed by the idea that they didn’t work, Jack wondered whether Daniel even noticed the passage of time. He was certain Daniel didn’t know he was being watched, absolutely sure he didn’t care anyway.
And why should he care if Jack was watching him?
It wasn’t as if there was much else to do around here anyway. Jack had hardly ventured far from the ruined building—a part of him didn’t want to leave in case Daniel made the Stargate work, even though he knew the odds in favor of that possibility weren’t good. Did he think there was a chance Daniel would leave him behind? He laughed at the idea—Daniel had risked his life to come find him, so that was the last thing likely to happen.
He couldn’t help thinking, as he watched Daniel’s long-fingered hands travel so surely over the surface of the alien device, of the pleasure those hands had brought him. That was one thing they hadn’t actually talked about, either in the aftermath or since Daniel’s unexpected arrival, and that was something Jack had no intention of remedying any time soon. They’d reached a truce of sorts, established the beginning of a friendship. Anyway, Jack didn’t know where to start, where to begin in dealing with the fact that he clearly wasn’t what he’d always thought he was.
He couldn’t blame that on Daniel, any more than he could blame his plane for the piece of metal that had ended his time as a pilot. Daniel’s attentions had merely been the instrument to help him discover that change, not the author of the change itself.
Had he always been this way? Did it matter if he had?
One thing he was sure of: he wanted a repeat performance. More than anything else, Jack wanted to see Daniel’s face aglow with the rapture he knew had been on his own, but had no idea how to initiate that. Or whether, once he was well enough to do so, Daniel would welcome his advances after the way he’d reacted to him last time round. He had to hope Daniel felt something for him, that his trip through the Stargate wasn’t motivated by solely platonic reasons, but what if it was?
Was it worth risking the friendship of the one person he was stuck with on this planet when his own right hand could give him the relief he craved just as easily?
He hadn’t called out when the first few chevrons lit. That had happened before and Daniel had noticed the shortness of Jack’s temper the third or fourth time he’d called his attention to what was happening. This time he didn’t yell Jack’s name until the sixth chevron lit, until his eyes were searching the surface of the device, trying to figure out just which symbol he needed to complete the connection.
"What?" Jack asked, as he skidded to a halt in the doorway to the main room. "You made it work?"
Daniel didn’t answer, as he contemplated the different symbols. There was one he didn’t recognize from the gate on Earth, which complicated matters a little. But wouldn’t it make sense if the final symbol were unique, one he didn’t otherwise use? Well, if he was wrong, he could always replicate the first six and keep trying.
Jack was at his shoulder by this point, probably wondering just what was going on. He wasn’t the only one. Daniel pressed the unique symbol, grinning to himself as his gamble paid off and the inner circle of the gate began to rotate, the seventh chevron locking.
No whoosh of water-like substance emerging, no pool of water, only seven lit symbols.
"Something else," Daniel said, more to himself than to Jack. He looked at the device again. "Something else."
The crystal. It lay in the center of the device—it could be just there for decoration, or could it be there for another reason? Daniel reached out, his palm resting on the cool curve of its surface; he felt it give way a little under his hand, felt the warmth as it activated, felt Jack’s hand come to rest and tighten on his shoulder as the gate erupted into life.
"You did it, Daniel."
He couldn’t move. If he moved the tableau would shatter, this would all be a dream, they wouldn’t really have a way out of here and a future that wasn’t solely comprised of falling rocks and terrible storms.
"I did it."
"Come on," Jack said, his hand moving from Daniel’s shoulder. It left him feeling oddly cold there, even as Jack slapped him lightly on the back and headed for where they kept their supplies. "We need to go." He was replacing the K rations, what was left of them, and the first aid kit into the bag Daniel had brought with him.
"We have no idea if it’s safe, Jack," Daniel said, as he crossed to where Jack was picking things up.
"Do we have anywhere else to go?" Jack asked. He didn’t look round as he spoke, but Daniel knew him well enough by now to know that he was listening for his answer.
"No," he admitted. "It might take days or even weeks to get another set of symbols to work, and even then we’d face the same problem. It’s a one-way trip."
"Exactly." Jack shouldered the bag. "We have to go, Daniel."
Daniel nodded, knowing Jack was right about this. They didn’t really have a choice; he just hoped that what they were doing would work out. Not that he was completely unfamiliar by now with trips into the unknown, and at least this time they’d be making that trip together.
"Let’s go," he said, as he followed Jack up the steps towards where the Stargate waited. He could have sworn the last thing he felt as he stepped through the gate to who knew where was Jack’s fingers insinuating themselves into his.
They’d separated by the other side; Jack was a couple of steps away from him as Daniel emerged from the other side into bright daylight, in a slightly less undignified manner than the last time he’d traveled halfway across the galaxy.
"Look familiar?" Jack asked, without looking round. He was tense, the set of his shoulders enough to tell Daniel that Jack was expecting trouble, all his instincts kicking in.
"No," Daniel replied, even as he finished wiping the slight frost from his spectacles and replaced them on his face.
He had hardly known what to expect, the two possible places the Stargate linked barely giving him a clue. If the first gate, the one he’d used initially had been found in Egypt, then the second was located in a crumbling alien edifice, Daniel hadn’t expected to emerge from the third address into an obviously man-made clearing amid trees that were strongly reminiscent of Earth.
There was a path leading away from the steps on which they stood, curving round away from them into the trees. The chittering of nearby birds was undisturbed as the pool of light vanished from behind them.
He wasn’t used to taking orders, but there was something about this place that made Daniel very glad he wasn’t alone there. That he had someone else who could take the lead, if he was inclined to allow him to do so.
"Well," Jack said, dropping his pack at his feet as he turned to look at where Daniel still stood. "We could wait around and see if anyone else drops by."
"Or we could follow that path and see where it leads," Daniel suggested, his curiosity piqued by the evidence they were not alone.
"I’d feel better about that idea if we were armed," Jack said.
Daniel shrugged. He understood Jack’s feelings on the matter, and to some extent shared his concern that they were essentially vulnerable to anyone they came across, but the opportunity hadn’t presented itself when he’d been scouting for supplies to bring with him. And in some ways they might get to stay alive longer if they weren’t obviously carrying a weapon when they encountered whoever lived there—it was a gamble, either way.
"So," he said. "Stay or go?"
Jack glanced at the path again, then back at the gate. Daniel waited—he’d learned the folly of trying to push Jack to make a decision before he was ready to do so; he wouldn’t make that mistake again.
"Go," Jack said, finally. "That path doesn’t look particularly well-worn, so it could be days before anyone else turns up here." He glanced around once more. "And I’d prefer not to be out in the open waiting for them."
After a few miles, the path began to turn downhill, leading them to the brow of a small valley in which sat what looked like a temple.
"I don’t recognize the style," Daniel said. "Though there are elements about it that look kind of familiar."
Jack nodded, concentrating on where he was going and keeping an eye out for company. They hadn’t seen anyone so far and parts of the path looked like it had been a while since anyone had traveled that way, but it didn’t pay to be careless. He couldn’t help still wishing for a weapon.
The temple itself was even more imposing close up. Jack kept a weather eye on Daniel, who was already in fascinated raptures about the architecture and seemed likely to forget they were in any danger whatsoever. It was nice to see Daniel so enthused, though, so Jack tried to make the best of it and enjoy the moment while it lasted.
The scuff of boots on stone was their first warning, before half a dozen robed and hooded newcomers emerged from behind pillars.
"You couldn’t have brought a gun," Jack muttered to Daniel, as they were surrounded. If these were the natives, then they were most definitely hostile.
Daniel didn’t even look at him, but Jack could see the tension in his body and knew that it was mirrored in his own. You didn’t need military training to know these were the kind of guys who played for keeps—Daniel was no soldier, but Jack would have bet his last cent that they were both aware of the perilous nature of their current situation.
One of their captors spoke, barking out a question in a language Jack had never heard before, the weapon he carried lifting a little as he spoke, as if in punctuation. He’d never seen anything like it, but somehow Jack had the feeling it wasn’t something whose effects he wanted to experience first-hand.
"I think he’s asking where we came from," Daniel said. "The language is familiar but I can’t quite place it …"
The man spoke again, the head of the weapon flowering open with an ominous ripple of electricity.
Jack watched as Daniel crouched, never taking his eyes from their inquisitor, his fore-finger drawing a familiar symbol in the sand at his feet. The symbol he remembered Daniel had told him was the one representing Earth, the pyramid with two people praying. Back in a conversation that seemed to have taken place in another lifetime.
Their captor took a step forward, as if he couldn’t believe what he saw, anger written clearly on his dark face. Daniel moved backwards, instinctively, coming to his feet just as he collided with Jack. One heavy boot stamped on his drawing, scuffing it from existence, the weapon raising once more in their direction. If he’d thought the weapon looked menacing before, closer up …
Jack closed his eyes, even as he felt Daniel’s hand unexpectedly grasp his own—there was nowhere to run, no way to defend themselves.
That was a new voice and it came from behind them. Jack opened his eyes again, the continued pressure of Daniel’s fingers on his own a reminder he wasn’t alone in this situation. Whatever it was that happened next, they were together.
The weapon lowered, its head closing as their captor turned to greet the newcomer. Daniel was listening, Jack could tell, his lips moving slightly as he tried to make sense of the language, and it seemed he was teetering on the very edge of understanding.
"You." That was the newcomer, a stockily-built man with receding hair, his dark eyes wise. "You are of the Tauri." The fact that he spoke English, even if in a very rudimentary fashion and with a strong accent, was utterly unexpected.
"The Tauri?" Daniel asked. "I don’t understand."
The newcomer sighed, and then lowered the staff-like weapon he held, using the end of it to trace a symbol in the sand. Bearing in mind the size of the tool he used, Jack immediately recognized it as the mirror of the one the younger man had erased.
"Yes," Daniel said. "That’s where we’re from. I’m Dr. Daniel …"
"Enough." The man’s voice was brusque, but not unkind. "I am Master Bra’tac. You will follow me." With that he turned, confident it seemed that his orders would be obeyed.
"Do we have a choice?" Jack asked.
"You do not," Bra’tac said, without looking round. "What is this place?" Daniel asked, as they followed Bra’tac along a dusty and clearly little-used corridor. He tried to forget the others were with them, concentrating on the reassuring presence of Jack beside him and the conundrum that they were following. "And how is it that you speak our language?"
Bra’tac didn’t answer, and they traveled on in silence.
After a few minutes had passed, he led them through a doorway, pushing the curtain that covered it aside with one hand and entering the small room. The furniture, such as there was, was wood and roughly made, two benches either side of a small table.
"Be seated," he said, gesturing towards one of the benches. "Teal’c will fetch us food."
The man who had apparently been so angry with them before, his face now as calm as that of Bra’tac, nodded once then turned and left the room silently. The curtain dropped back into place behind him. It was only as he sat that Daniel realized he and Jack were now alone with Bra’tac, the others having left them in the corridor.
"You ask many questions," Bra’tac said, his dark eyes pinning Daniel where he sat. "This is not good."
"He’s like that," Jack said, from where he sat next to Daniel, the heat and close proximity of his body a comfort even in the relative warmth of the room.
"He had best learn to curb his tongue," Bra’tac said, addressing Jack this time. "Or else he might lose it." The words were calm, but they carried a hint of menace.
Daniel felt Jack stiffen beside him, ready to leap to his defense, even though the old man was probably right. He needed to be more careful what he said—they had no idea how this society worked, what they’d walked into the middle of, and that lack of knowledge was dangerous for both of them.
The curtain moved once more, allowing Teal’c’s return; he was shadowed by a woman dressed similarly to the men they’d already encountered. Like them, she was dark of skin, darker of hair, her eyes showing that she carried the food for them only because she chose to do so.
"My thanks," Bra’tac said, to an answering nod from the woman. Daniel felt her dark intelligent eyes rake over both him and Jack before she left, the curtain falling closed once more.
"Now," Bra’tac continued. "We shall talk."
"We shall?" Daniel asked. "You said I had too many questions."
"It is I who shall ask the questions here," Bra’tac said, settling himself on the bench opposite. "And you, Tauri, shall answer them."
Jack’s hand gripped his leg under the table, warm palm resting just above Daniel’s knee, before giving a warning squeeze as Daniel opened his mouth to answer Bra’tac’s peremptory words.
"I will try," Daniel replied, in a meeker tone than he’d originally intended. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jack suppress a slight grin and vowed to have his revenge on him for this, even as curiosity burned within him.
"It has been a long time since any of the Tauri came to Chulak," Bra’tac said, as he reached for a piece of bread. He shoved the rough platter the woman had brought towards where Jack and Daniel sat, before breaking a piece of bread from the chunk he held and contemplating it carefully. "Why have you come?"
"Chulak?" Daniel asked, even as he tried not to choke on the piece of meat he’d put in his mouth. "Is that where we are?" Bra’tac nodded, his face severe once more. Daniel remembered his warning. "We’re here by accident," he continued.
"Accident?" Bra’tac looked doubtful. "Where did you intend to go?"
"What Daniel means," Jack said, interrupting, "is that we’re trying to get home. Not that your hospitality isn’t appreciated."
"You have no respect for the breaking of bread," Bra’tac said, dropping the piece of bread he’d been toying with onto the table. His face had darkened at Jack’s tone, his silent companion stiffening beside him even though it was clear he didn’t understand a word any of them were saying.
"My friend meant no disrespect," Daniel said, trying hard to remember what the man had said his name was. "We are just travelers, Master Bra’tac. And we thank you for your kindness to us, unexpected as it was."
He hoped his tone was grateful enough to take the sting from Jack’s previous glibness. This time he was the one who reacted, kicking Jack under the table, glad when Jack winced as his boot made contact with Jack’s shin.
"Very well," Bra’tac said, reaching for a piece of meat. Daniel kept his eyes focused on the platter, watching carefully as Bra’tac picked over what was there, but he could see the other man relax. "Now you will tell me of the Tauri."
"It is a long tale," Daniel said, as he returned his attention to the meat he’d been eating. "Our Stargate was buried many thousands of years ago."
"So we had heard. And the rumor among the Jaffa is that Ra was driven out, the Jaffa who served him killed in the uprising against him."
"Jaffa?" Jack interrupted, querying the unfamiliar word.
Bra’tac ignored him, his attention now fixed upon Daniel, who found himself squirming a little under the dark regard of those intelligent eyes. This was a man who’d experienced much, the ruggedness of his face hiding a sharp mind.
"Ra?" Daniel asked, ignoring Jack also in favor of a subject he might at least be able to talk about. "Ra is a myth."
Bra’tac laughed, a sharp bark of amusement.
"Ra is no myth," he said. "And neither is the god we serve." He pushed back the hood he wore, gesturing to Teal’c to do likewise. As the two of them did so, the torchlight hit two odd insignia on their foreheads—gold and black respectively. "See, we carry his mark."
Daniel peered at their foreheads, leaning forward as he did so. "That’s the mark of Apophis," he said. "The serpent god," Daniel explained to Jack as he leaned back once more. "Ra, the sun god, ruled the day, Apophis ruled the night."
"You claim Ra is a myth," Bra’tac said. "And yet you carry the mark of one of the System Lords." He pointed to Daniel’s chest. Daniel looked down, to where the amulet Catherine had given him hung in plain view. "What trickery is this?"
"No trickery," Daniel said, tucking the amulet back out of sight.
It was Teal’c who spoke then, his tone earnest even though Daniel struggled to make sense of the words.
"Teal’c would have me turn you over to my lord Apophis," Bra’tac said, when the other man had fallen silent, his dark eyes now baleful towards the travelers.
"That doesn’t sound good," Jack said. His hand tightened on Daniel’s leg once more, the warmth of the grip reassuring even as it appeared Bra’tac was about to sentence them to death, if they were lucky.
"It is clear you do not speak our tongue," Bra’tac said. "And that alone makes me believe you speak the truth. Agents of another system lord would know the language of the Jaffa, no matter what they pretended to be."
"It is familiar to me," Daniel admitted. "But I can’t make out more than a few words."
Bra’tac nodded. "After you have rested, you will tell me how the people of your planet overthrew a god."
They followed Bra’tac and Teal’c to a nearby room, leaving the remnants of their meal on the table as they did so. Daniel was still chewing on a last piece of bread as they left the room, his eyes bright with unspoken questions, things that Jack could tell he was close to desperation to discover. All he could hope was that he’d be sensible enough to watch his words—these people were not friends, not yet, and to consider them as anything but potential enemies made no sense.
Bra’tac had casually threatened Daniel within minutes of their first meeting, and though Jack had to admit he had a grudging respect for the older man, he wouldn’t make the mistake of thinking he meant anything less than he said.
"You will sleep here," Bra’tac said, holding another curtain aside so Jack and Daniel could precede him into the room beyond. "Teal’c will stand guard, to ensure you are not disturbed, and in the morning we will speak again."
Bra’tac stepped back and the curtain dropped closed between them, leaving Jack alone with Daniel for the first time since they’d been ambushed. Even in the flickering light of the torches which jutted from two of the walls, Jack could see Daniel’s face was pale, his expression worried.
Jack looked around the room, which was much like the one they’d just left. Anything to give him a chance to tamp down the feelings that threatened to overwhelm him, the reassuring words that he wanted to say to Daniel but was no longer sure he had the right. There was a limit to how much friendship allowed, after all.
There was only one pallet, in the corner of the room, large enough for both of them and piled with rough blankets.
"Looks like we have to share," Jack said, hoping he sounded more relaxed than he felt. The concept of sharing a bed with Daniel sent pleasant shockwaves through his system, and he hoped the low level of light hid how much his body liked the idea. Despite the circumstances they found themselves in, he was still able to enjoy the anticipation of closeness with Daniel.
He crossed to the bed, keeping his back to Daniel as he willed his erection to subside, even a little.
"I’m sorry," Daniel said, the words quiet and their tone flat.
"What for?" Jack asked, as he pulled the blankets back.
The room was fairly warm, but it was quite possible they’d be cold in the night. Jack concentrated on straightening the blankets, making his hands work so his brain didn’t have to think about the situation they were in and the likelihood they could both be executed tomorrow. That thought still managed to sneak into his mind, making his arousal disappear quicker than any thoughts of cold showers.
"For bringing us here," Daniel said.
"I don’t remember you forcing me through the Stargate at gunpoint, Daniel." Jack finished what he was doing and turned to see Daniel standing there, head down and fingers fiddling with the amulet, a picture of dejection. "It’s as much my fault as yours."
"We couldn’t stay there." Jack had crossed the small distance between them as he spoke, one hand coming out to snag Daniel’s sleeve and pull him round towards the pallet. "I made you leave—you didn’t want to."
"We didn’t have a choice," Daniel said. Jack smiled to himself as he saw his eyes widen at the sight of the pallet.
"Exactly." He couldn’t believe he’d managed to win an argument with the boy genius. Only the bizarre circumstances in which they’d found themselves could possibly excuse it. "Nobody’s fault. Blame the dumb O’Neill luck, if you have to."
"There’s only one bed," Daniel said, the words a sudden non sequitur.
"You’re very observant, Dr. Jackson."
Jack sat down, suddenly feeling the hours they’d spent walking from the Stargate into the city and the time they’d spent with Bra’tac overwhelm him. He began to unlace his boots, placing them carefully by the side of the pallet so he could step into them when they awoke—this didn’t look like the kind of place that had snake or spider trouble.
Jack patted the pallet beside him, his smile growing when Daniel’s eyes widened at the gesture.
"I promise I won’t hog the covers," he said.
Jack regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. Daniel’s eyes widened even more, though he knew the other man was no innocent—their brief rest room encounter had proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was more for the images the words conjured for himself. Jack cursed his imagination as a parade of images traveled past his mind’s eye—all involving himself and Daniel in various intimate acts.
Who was he kidding? He should be lucky Daniel wanted to even be friends with him after the way he’d behaved last time round, let alone anything more.
Daniel wasn’t sure whether this was his fondest dream or his worst nightmare. There was no way he’d have willingly been in such close proximity with Jack if there was anything he could do about it, but he was certain the silent presence of Teal’c outside the curtain that served for a door would not take kindly to him trying to change their sleeping arrangements.
"I’m sorry," Jack said. "I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable."
"That’s fine." He found himself looking around, but there didn’t really seem to be any alternative to them sharing the pallet. "We could take turns."
Daniel knew what Jack’s response would be to that suggestion. But he’d said it anyway. Perhaps he felt that he needed permission to do what he wanted to do all along? Anything was possible.
"Don’t be ridiculous. We both need to be rested for whatever tomorrow is going to bring."
Daniel nodded, dipping his head to hide the smile he was sure would be there. The last thing he wanted was for Jack to misunderstand his intentions. He sat down on the pallet as Jack shuffled across it towards the wall, leaving him lots of space. His boots, when his fumbling fingers managed to untie the knots his laces seemed to have developed, went beside Jack’s, even as he tried not to listen to the sound of Jack sliding under the pile of blankets.
His spectacles, folded carefully and wrapped in a handkerchief, went into his left boot.
Finally, when he couldn’t delay things any longer, Daniel lay down on the pallet, closing his eyes to try and ignore the presence of another person there. He wasn’t used to this closeness, even after they’d been forced to huddle together on the previous planet. And huddling together for warmth was quite another thing from being in a bed together, no matter that both he and Jack were all but fully clothed.
Daniel tried to relax, listening to himself breathing, hearing the counterpoint of Jack’s exhalations as his companion settled down. Jack’s breaths slowed, evening out, and Daniel wondered if he was falling asleep—was it that easy for him? Was he that unaffected by the proximity which had such startling effects on Daniel’s own metabolism? Somehow, he found that possibility hard to deal with.
"Daniel …" He turned his head towards Jack, an instinctive reaction to his name being whispered. "Stop thinking and get some sleep," Jack continued.
He’d try. That was the most he could promise.
He was surprised how normal it felt, how natural, to be lying here beside Daniel, sharing his body heat and the rough blankets, as if they’d never thought of doing anything else. As if they’d done this a thousand times before. In reality this was the first time they’d shared a proper bed together, so there should be some awkwardness, some tentativeness to the whole experience, shouldn’t there?
Jack tried not to think about how long it had been since he’d laid like this, listening to another person breathing and knowing he’d chosen to be there, chosen for them to be there, too. He’d lost touch with those sensations—the war seemed to have gone on forever, he knew it had changed him and in some ways he welcomed that change. He didn’t recognize the person he’d been any more, didn’t know if the people he’d grown up with would recognize the person he was now as having anything to do with the Jack O’Neill they’d known.
They certainly wouldn’t understand how he felt about Daniel. He didn’t understand it himself, so how could he expect anyone else to?
He’d tried to dismiss it, tried to push the feelings way back and tell himself that he was just desperate for some company, desperate for a little basic human kindness in the solitary world he’d created for himself. And for a time that had worked. Jack had even allowed Daniel back in, allowed the friendship both he and Daniel clearly wanted even though he knew it wasn’t a wise move to make. If he’d had any sense he’d have got the hell out of Dodge, he knew that, got as far away from one Dr. Daniel Jackson as the Army Air Force would allow.
Except he never did have much sense, did he? Jack smiled to himself, knowing his folks had always been right about him, in that much at least. He’d always been the one who needed to know, the one who needed to try things out for himself, and that habit had got him in a heap of trouble while he was growing up. It didn’t seem to be something he was likely to grow out of any time soon, either.
Daniel had been persistent in wanting some kind of friendship with him despite the way they’d got off to a bad start, and Jack had to admire that kind of determination. It had made an impression on him, that was for sure. He wasn’t certain he could have done the same thing, had the tables been turned.
Jack rolled onto his side away from Daniel to try and hide the reaction that thought had caused, the knee-jerk arousal he seemed to be quite capable of nowadays whenever thoughts of Daniel and his talented mouth came to mind. He wasn’t sure he could have done what Daniel did, but there was something about the thought of it, the concept of giving himself over to Daniel in that way, of controlling and being controlled in such an intimate manner that struck straight to the core of Jack O’Neill.
Daniel was sleeping on his back, one arm curled protectively over the bandage Jack had wrapped around the flesh wound on his side. He couldn’t help remembering how much that wound had bled despite how apparently slight it was and how scared he’d been that even though he’d never wished for Daniel to be there with him, his death would mean that Jack would be left alone once more. He was cursed, it seemed, to never quite know what it was he actually wanted.
Daniel shifted slightly in his sleep, turning towards where Jack lay. There was an innocence to his expression, a peace that belied the activity that usually went on in Daniel’s over-active brain when he was awake. That innocence remained, though diminished, reduced by the things Daniel had experienced, the things that helped to make him who he was. It wouldn’t have been necessary, though, for Daniel to tell him about Nick, though Jack valued the level of trust that indicated.
He’d taken advantage of the first inkling of that knowledge, yet Daniel had still chosen to tell him more.
"Jack?" Daniel was half-awake now, blinking fitfully as he tried to locate his companion.
"Go back to sleep," he said, quietly.
Obedient for once, Daniel did as he was bid, his eyes closing and the innocent expression returning to his face almost immediately. If only he could find that kind of peace—Jack knew there was little chance of that till he figured out just what he wanted and how that fit in with whatever their future would bring.
Jack was quieter than usual when Daniel woke and as he put on his boots, Daniel wondered how much sleep Jack had managed to get. All he was certain of was that Jack had been there, that they’d shared a bed—he just wished it had been under better circumstances.
Teal’c was a silent presence outside in the hallway, Daniel discovered as he pushed the curtain aside and hurriedly let it drop once more. The Jaffa half-turned, fixing him with a stolid gaze that spoke volumes about the other man’s desire to do whatever he’d been told to do. In this case, that meant keeping them both there until Bra’tac called for them, however long that was.
It seemed ridiculous that the gods, the Egyptian pantheon, were apparently represented within this alien race. That one of their names was being taken by whoever it was both Bra’tac and Teal’c served, that this Apophis apparently had the power of life and death over all of them.
Daniel thought back to the story of Ra, the various versions he’d heard and read of it, but none of them made any sense if Ra was a real individual. His main concern was that what little knowledge he had wouldn’t be enough, and that Bra’tac would turn them over to this Apophis he served if Daniel wasn’t able to provide the information he wanted.
"Do you know what he’s talking about?" Jack’s voice was quiet, the tone of the words thoughtful, and for a moment Daniel hated to disappoint him.
"I’m not sure," he said. "But I don’t think I can tell him what he wants to hear." Jack nodded, as if he expected as much. "I’m sorry," Daniel said again. "For getting you into this."
"Unless you’ve lost your memory," Jack said, "you might want to remember I was the one who volunteered to go through that Stargate of yours. That makes me at least partly responsible for both of us being here."
Their conversation was interrupted by a movement at the doorway, the curtain that covered it being pushed aside to allow the woman who they’d seen the previous night to enter. Once again she was bearing a tray, her demeanor anything but subservient.
"Hello," Daniel said. "I’m Daniel. Daniel Jackson." Her dark eyes flicked almost contemptuously over Daniel as he spoke. "Do you understand anything I’m saying?" She placed the tray carefully on the pallet, her bearing regal. "Anything at all?" Daniel continued, as she headed back towards the doorway.
The Jaffa known as Teal’c was there too, holding the curtain back to allow the woman to leave, his face holding an expression of what seemed like almost-concealed amusement at Daniel’s failure to communicate.
"Give it up, Daniel," Jack said. "If she understands you, she’s not going to admit it."
Daniel shrugged, though he couldn’t help feeling disappointed. He hadn’t quite been able to place the language the Jaffa spoke, though it seemed horribly familiar, and he’d been a little heartened to discover that Bra’tac at least spoke English. He wasn’t sure how that could be, considering that they were apparently on a planet a substantial distance from Earth, but he’d managed to speak it, albeit in a formal manner, all the same.
"Bra’tac understands us," Daniel pointed out.
Jack had turned his attention to what was apparently their breakfast and so it took a moment for him to reply, as he swallowed a mouthful of food.
"Bra’tac understands us a little too well," Jack said. He straightened up, a clay cup full of water in his hand, and then stopped, staring at the doorway. Daniel looked over his shoulder, back to where Teal’c was still standing, openly watching the two of them. "I guess we shouldn’t have said his name, it only makes this guy suspicious of us."
Daniel nodded and turned back to the tray full of food, trying to ignore the prickling sensation between his shoulder blades where Teal’c was watching him. It wasn’t easy.
"He’s gone," Jack said, after a long and tense moment had passed. Daniel turned back; the curtain over the doorway was still moving a little.
"We’re in big trouble here, aren’t we?" he asked.
Jack’s face was enough to give him an answer to his question.
He didn’t like this at all.
Jack wasn’t sure what worried him the most—the way Bra’tac had assumed they knew something about this "Ra" and what had happened to him, or the way the guy’s sidekick was openly admiring Daniel’s ass. Not that there wasn’t anything to admire, it was just that it had been a long time since he’d seen someone making that obvious an inspection of someone else’s equipment when both those someone else’s were men.
Fortunately, Daniel seemed oblivious to at least part of the current problem, even though he was obviously aware that Bra’tac probably wanted something from them that neither of them could provide. At this very moment, though, it wasn’t what Bra’tac wanted from Daniel that he was worried about.
"Oh yeah," Jack replied. More than you know, he said to himself, and that’s the way I want to keep it. "How’s your side?" he asked, changing the subject deliberately. The expression on Daniel’s face told him he hadn’t been at all subtle about doing so.
"Better." Daniel moved, twisting a little, experimentally. He winced. "A little, anyway."
Jack’s mouth was dry and he took another swig of water. For some reason, he wasn’t all that hungry now—even the thought of food made his stomach flip over, the way it had always done before leaving on a mission. At least that was a familiar fear, a sensation he was accustomed to, even though the circumstances couldn’t be any more different.
"The way I see it," he said, "we have two choices."
"Tell the truth, admit we don’t know anything, we get handed over to this Apophis they keep talking about."
"I’m not sure I like that idea," Daniel said. He didn’t seem to have managed to keep his appetite either, though he was currently mangling a piece of bread between his fingers.
"I’m not sure you’ll like the second one any better," Jack continued. "Which is you tell them whatever you know, hope it’s what they’re looking for and then they hand us over to Apophis."
Daniel frowned at him, which was a response at least.
"That’s not funny," he said.
Jack didn’t reply, just took another mouthful of water, draining the cup, before placing it carefully back onto the tray. He straightened up, aware that Daniel was watching him and equally aware that he didn’t have any better ideas. He’d wanted to lie, really he had, but Jack had also known Daniel would see through anything of the sort with ease, and that was the last thing he wanted to put between them.
"It wasn’t meant to be," Jack replied. Daniel’s face was set in stoic lines, an expression half stubborn and half resigned that Jack fancied he’d seen before. "I’m sorry."
Daniel nodded, dropping the piece of bread he’d destroyed even as Teal’c’s unspoken summons to follow him broke the moment between them.
At least Jack didn’t lie to him, didn’t try and pretend they weren’t in great danger whatever they did. For some reason, perverse as it might seem, Daniel found himself comforted by that honesty, by the equality that it denoted. He wasn’t a soldier, had never experienced the things that Jack probably had, and it would have been easy for Jack to try and cover up the unease he was clearly also feeling.
They traveled in silence, so closely side by side that their arms brushed against each other occasionally, back down the corridor to the room where they’d been with Bra’tac only hours before. Teal’c was a silent presence behind them, menacing despite that silence.
They could have tried to escape, but where was there to go? There was little chance they’d manage to make it back to the Stargate and even if they did, they had no idea of where was safe to travel. These System Lords seemed to be in control of vast armies, so it would be more than a little difficult to outrun their reach.
Bra’tac was waiting for them, as Daniel expected he would be, his dark eyes gauging them once more as they entered the room.
"Are you rested?" he asked, even as Teal’c shoved Jack towards the bench, making him stumble a little and scowl at their guard. Daniel reached out a hand to assist him, only for it to be evaded as Jack grabbed at the table and supported himself.
"We’re fine," Jack snapped, obviously favoring his knee a little as he sat. They made a fine pair—him with a blazing line down his side that he hoped he’d managed to disguise, Jack with his knee that would probably make him limp for days now. If they had days left, that is.
"Be seated, human," Bra’tac said, eyeing Daniel as he sat too. "Now we will speak."
"I don’t think so," Jack said, his tone still sharp. Daniel glanced across at where he sat, taking in the lines of pain that had appeared around Jack’s eyes. That stumble had done more damage than he’d thought. "What’s in it for us if we do?"
"Your lives," Bra’tac replied.
Jack snorted, the derision in that sound making Daniel wince.
"What my friend means, Master Bra’tac," Daniel said, interrupting the two of them and getting a glare from Jack for his trouble, "is that we’re not sure we can help you, though we would very much wish to do so."
"Indeed." Bra’tac looked at Jack, even as Daniel was speaking, and he could see the two men eyeing one another. They reminded him of a couple of tomcats, each one looking for a weakness as they bristled at one another on top of the fence.
"What would we gain by lying to you?" Daniel asked, trying to regain Bra’tac’s attention. It took a moment, a long moment where he expected Jack to make some glib comment and break the mood between the three of them around the table, but Jack didn’t speak.
"So you are useless to us." Bra’tac was looking at him now, his gaze still an evaluation but not as hostile as it had been when directed at Jack.
"Not useless," Daniel continued. "But if I may ask you a question, Master Bra’tac?" He paused, waiting for permission, even though he could see Jack wasn’t happy with his deferential manner. Bra’tac nodded. "How is it that you alone speak our language?"
"I have been in the service of my lord Apophis for almost a hundred years," Bra’tac said. "And in that service I have visited many worlds inhabited by the descendants of the Tauri, many once in service to a dozen System Lords now defeated."
"A hundred years?" Daniel asked. "That’s impossible!"
"For you, perhaps, human," Bra’tac continued. "But we are Jaffa."
"Jaffa?" That was Jack, curiosity getting the better of him as he repeated the question that had gone unanswered hours before. This time Bra’tac seemed in more of a mood to humor his captives.
"We carry the young of our gods, human." He stood, pushing aside part of the cloth that covered his abdomen to reveal a cross-shaped incision in his stomach. "It is both our blessing and our curse." As if to punctuate Bra’tac’s words, there was movement deep within the incision, something shifting deep in the Jaffa’s stomach. "We carry them and they give us life."
Daniel glanced across at Jack, who was staring horrified at what Bra’tac showed them. He could understand what Jack was feeling, but it made sense—these System Lords had found a way to ensure the loyalty of their followers by binding them to their cause as virtual slaves.
"So you’re their incubators," Daniel said. "And you have no choice?"
Bra’tac sat. For the briefest of moments the expression on his face wasn’t the calm one they’d come to know, even in the short space of time they’d sat across from him, it was a vulnerable expression Daniel had never expected to see.
"You don’t, do you?" Daniel continued. It was so obvious now. "That’s why you wanted to know about Ra, isn’t it?" He took Bra’tac’s silence as assent, pressing on even as Jack shifted uncomfortably on the bench at the tone of his voice. "Because you want our help to overthrow this ‘Apophis’ you serve …"
The expression on Bra’tac’s face was enough to tell Jack that Daniel had it right. Bra’tac had been looking for information, for himself and whatever he was planning rather than for the alien he apparently was in service to.
"You are of no use to us if you do not know anything," Bra’tac said, sitting back and crossing his arms. "Why should I not just do as Teal’c would have me do, and hand you over to my lord Apophis?"
"Because we’d tell him you’re plotting against him," Jack interjected. "That’s why."
"Pah. He would not believe you."
"I can be mighty convincing when I need to be," Jack continued, sure he could see the tiniest light of concern in Bra’tac’s eyes. He was definitely looking tenser—Teal’c had picked up on it and taken a step forward, though he didn’t understand the language, because he could see his superior wasn’t happy.
"We’ll tell you all we can," Daniel said, butting in. "We don’t have a choice, Jack," he continued. "Bra’tac has offered us hospitality, we are in his debt."
The words, simple as they were, appeared to be enough to satisfy the two Jaffa. Bra’tac visibly relaxed; his subordinate also took a step back.
"You’re slaves to this ‘Apophis,’ " Daniel said. "We should help you." He turned to Jack. "You know it’s the right thing to do."
Reluctantly, Jack was forced to agree with Daniel’s assessment of the situation. Though Bra’tac had threatened them, that was all he had done—neither he nor Daniel had been harmed in any way. They’d been fed and given somewhere to sleep, which seemed to imply the Jaffa were honorable people, the kind of people they would need on their side if they ever wanted to get off of this planet.
"Like Daniel said. We’ll help all we can."
"You sure this is wise?" Jack asked, as soon as they were alone once more.
They’d spent hours talking with Bra’tac, which had given him the chance to learn a little more about the culture of the people they’d recently joined, and Daniel had been in his element. By the time they parted company again, he was even starting to pick up some of the language, having listened eagerly to Teal’c when the Jaffa and Bra’tac had talked among themselves for a little while. He felt he had made real progress in understanding the people they found themselves among, but he was equally sure that Jack hated to spoil it for him in any way.
"I don’t see that we have a choice, Jack." Daniel’s knew his tone was a little stubborn, but he’d expected Jack to try and argue him around.
"They’re not our friends, Daniel."
He did, really he did. No matter what Jack might think of him, he wasn’t that trusting of everyone he met. It was just that Daniel considered himself to be a pretty good judge of people—he’d been right about Jack, after all, even if it had taken a while for everything to work itself out.
Jack was taking his boots off once more, concentrating on untying a particularly tough knot in the laces. Daniel just stood and looked at him, until he looked up. He couldn’t bring himself to think that leaving Earth had been a mistake, or making friends with Jack after their abortive encounter in the rest room. He was certain Jack felt the same way, even if he kept his hands to himself and didn’t always say what was on his mind.
Daniel shrugged, sitting down on the pallet beside Jack, who looked at him for a moment before going back to wrestling with the bootlace. He’d sat down a little too close, really, much closer than a friend would sit, even if they weren’t quite touching.
"Here," Jack said, leaning over and helping Daniel take off his boots. "You need to be careful of your side." He paused. "I ought to look at it again, check the bandages. Lie down."
He did as he was told, lying on his back and studying what he could see of the rough-hewn stone ceiling in the flickering light that the oil lamps provided. It was odd, this mix of new and old—they served aliens and carried sophisticated weaponry, but they lived in relatively primitive conditions.
Daniel felt Jack undo his jacket, and then felt the other man’s hands on his side, checking the bandage.
"Looks like you haven’t re-opened it," Jack said, doing the jacket up again after he was satisfied that it still held. The touch of his fingers on Daniel’s skin had been fleeting, but they seemed to leave a trail of fire in their wake, just like the bullet wound.
Daniel couldn’t speak the words, didn’t know how to say what Jack would need to hear for things to take a step back towards how they had been, that madness they’d shared in the rest room. All the words Daniel wanted to say were trapped inside him, held captive by their shared situation and the friendship they’d forged in the time that had passed.
He caught at Jack’s hand as the other man moved away, using it to pull Jack towards him, down to their shared bed.
He’d thought he would go crazy. Being this close to Daniel, yet being unable to do anything about the pent-up desire within himself, was driving Jack out of his mind, he was sure of that. He’d tried so hard to be just friends, to restrain himself and keep what contact there was as innocent as he could make it, but the thought of things staying this way was enough to make him wonder how long he could continue this charade.
Because he didn’t want to be friends. To be honest, friendship was the last thing on his mind half the time when he looked at Daniel Jackson.
This time, Daniel’s touch was permission enough—Jack sank gratefully onto the bed, making sure he didn’t put any weight on Daniel’s side even as he captured Daniel’s mouth with his own. Daniel’s free hand grabbed at Jack’s sleeve, pulling him even closer, if that were possible. The moan that erupted from Daniel, stifled by Jack’s mouth as it was, when Jack’s thigh met with his groin, was enough to tell him he hadn’t been mistaken.
Daniel had let go of his hand by now, the one that had been trapped between their bodies snaking down to Jack’s groin, fingers working to free his erection. Jack moved a little, pushing himself up to allow Daniel access, feeling the first brush of air across his heated flesh as he did so.
He’d never expected to enjoy kissing another man so much, that was certain. Except he couldn’t quite envisage kissing anyone other than Daniel, sharing this intimacy with anyone else. And the fact that Daniel was as talented with his mouth as he was, as Jack remembered he was, probably didn’t hurt any either. Just the brief memory of his previous encounter with Daniel’s mouth, regardless of the embarrassing aftermath of that exchange, was enough to make Jack’s cock leap to life.
Daniel had pulled his mouth away, was nuzzling at Jack’s ear and whispering something that Jack had to strain a little to make out, even as his fingers wrapped around Jack’s erection and made him hiss with pleasure.
"You know," Daniel whispered. "Teal’c is right outside the door." Jack’s erection hardened even more, his libido betraying him. "Listening to everything we do."
"Oh god," Jack moaned, hearing Daniel’s answering chuckle even as he realized that the other man was right. They had an audience, that was certain. The thought was enough to push him over the edge, even as he heard Daniel laugh quietly once more.
As he struggled to catch his breath afterwards, Jack wondered just what it was about Daniel that seemed to have him terminally out of control. First the encounter in the rest room had shaken much of what he’d believed he knew about himself and now this—the moment Daniel had reached out to him, he’d been more than ready to throw himself into intimacy without a second thought.
Beside him, quiet sounds told him that Daniel was bringing himself off. Jack turned his head a little, watching for a moment as those same long-fingered hands that had brought him such pleasure completed that task in a workman-like manner. Daniel’s face was relaxed, his eyes half-closed even as he climaxed.
"I could have …" The words came out of Jack’s mouth before he thought about it, which was probably the only way he would have spoken them.
Daniel looked at him, even as he wiped his hand on a fold of one of the tattered blankets on the bed.
He wasn’t the only one thinking back to the rest room, it seemed.
"I could have." He still didn’t have to think about it, mostly because this time Jack knew it was the absolute truth.
Daniel had known Jack was watching him as he masturbated and the thought of it pleased him immensely. The fact that he was able to do so, that the sight of another man pleasuring himself didn’t make Jack turn tail and run, showed how far both of them had come since that first ill-starred encounter between them.
"What you said," he said, after a moment. "About Teal’c …" Daniel laughed at that, his response coaxing an answering smile from Jack. "How did you … no, don’t answer that."
"How did I know?" Daniel asked. Jack nodded, his face a little more uncertain now they were traveling into what were, for him, uncharted territories. "I didn’t. But it was a good guess, wasn’t it?"
He’d seen the way Jack looked at the Jaffa, had wondered whether the thought of being observed or overheard would do something for Jack—obviously he’d guessed correctly. Jack reddened a little, then looked away.
Daniel took the opportunity to clean them both off, tearing a piece of blanket that had seen better days from the bed.
"It’s not uncommon, Jack," he continued after a moment, feeling the need to have mercy on the other man. The last thing he needed was for Jack to panic again, now they seemed to have made some progress in whatever this was between them. And after all, it wasn’t as if there was really any place for Jack to go. "Just because the idea of being watched makes you hot, doesn’t mean you’d actually want it to happen …"
"If you say so, Jack."
"I do." Daniel had to work hard to hide his smile at Jack’s terseness. "Really. I mean it."
It was a little annoying how easily Daniel seemed to be able to get him going, one way or another. Those few words about being watched that Daniel had whispered in his ear had sent Jack hurtling over the edge, even though he had to say that the idea of Teal’c seeing what the two of them were doing didn’t do anything for him—his treacherous cock hardened a little at the thought, as if to give him the lie.
This present closeness was an enjoyable experience, though. After Daniel had cleaned away as much of the results of their intimacy as he could, and dropped the piece of blanket on the floor beside the bed, Jack had pulled him into a half-embrace which he’d almost expected Daniel to resist. He’d been pleasantly surprised when the other man had gone along with it, so that they now lay entwined, one of Daniel’s legs over one of his own, his arm around Daniel’s back. He only had to turn his head a little to look at Daniel, whose eyes were drooping closed once more.
"What?" Daniel managed to get his eyes open, though it clearly took an effort.
He didn’t know what it was he wanted to say. There was an apology in there, something linked to how he’d behaved after his unseemly exit from the rest room, mingled with gratitude that Daniel had considered it worth his while to try and rescue him, even though that hadn’t exactly gone to plan.
"Get some sleep, Jack," Daniel muttered, closing his eyes.
That was easier said than done, though listening to Daniel’s quiet breathing even out and slow as he fell asleep helped Jack immensely.
He couldn’t help feeling protective, even though he knew that was a ridiculous notion—it was also something Daniel would probably ridicule if he ever figured it out. It wasn’t that he thought Daniel was weak and needed protecting, but that he’d already been through a lot. The things Daniel didn’t talk about added up to a convincing picture of someone who needed some stability in his life—though he’d spoken about losing Nick, he’d never mentioned his family or friends, which seemed ironic considering how easily Daniel seemed to have fitted in at the project.
It was as though Daniel had subsumed everything to his academic life, using that as an escape route when the rest of his life was too painful. Langford had respected him immensely, or else he would never have been sent for to join the little knot of academics he’d created, but even though he’d seemed to target Daniel as a prospective son-in-law, there didn’t seem to be a great deal of liking on either side.
In some ways, Jack decided he could see why that was. Daniel was an immensely difficult person to get to know, hiding behind that wall of phenomenal intellect as he did. It was only by mischance that he’d gotten to see another aspect of Daniel Jackson, even if that other aspect had almost destroyed any chance of friendship between them almost before it had begun.
If it wasn’t for that, for those occasions when he’d seen something different in Daniel, would he have ever taken the time to get to know the real man? He thought it was unlikely. It would have been much easier to pigeonhole him as just another oddball academic, regardless of anything else about him, and leave it at that.
And if they hadn’t made their peace, if there hadn’t been Daniel prepared to follow him regardless of where Jack had gone when they made the Stargate work, he’d be alone. Either back on the planet he’d landed on, facing a short and uncomfortable life there or here with the Jaffa if he’d had the same persistence Daniel had displayed in making the alien device work. That thought didn’t sit well with him.
When he did sleep, in the end, Jack was reassured on waking to find that Daniel had barely moved. If anything, they were entwined closer together than before, Daniel’s death grip on his jacket giving indication of his unsettled dreams even as he blinked awake.
"I’d kill for some coffee," Daniel mumbled, as much to himself as to Jack. He flexed his hand when he let go of the grip he’d had on Jack’s clothing during the night—he couldn’t remember much of his dreams but was just left with a faint sense of unease.
"You and me both."
"So what now?" He hoped Jack had some idea, he really did. Daniel looked down at Jack, who seemed as tired and rumpled as he felt himself. "I mean with Apophis and the Jaffa."
"Bra’tac knows we have nothing that can help him."
"I wish we did," Daniel said, as he started to untangle himself from where he lay with Jack. "Nobody should have to live the way they do."
Jack was silent for a moment and Daniel took the opportunity to just look at him. They’d come a long way, both literally and metaphorically, in the past few days—last night’s encounter was an encouraging sign, intimating that Jack was becoming more at ease with who he really was. It had been a shock to Daniel too, when he’d discovered he wasn’t quite what his family had always wanted, so he could imagine how that realization had hit Jack.
"I guess all we can do is help them plan their revolution," Jack said finally. "And see what happens." He sat up. "Teal’c? You out there?" The curtain over the door swung open and the Jaffa entered. Daniel smiled at Jack, who reddened slightly. "I am so glad he doesn’t understand English," Jack continued.
"I plan to change all that," Daniel reminded him.
"Then next time, we make sure he really isn’t outside the door."
Next time, Daniel thought, as he followed Jack out of the room. He liked the sound of that.
"You have slept well, human?"
Jack smiled at Bra’tac—he couldn’t help liking the guy, who seemed an honorable type.
"We need to talk, Master Bra’tac," he said. "Whatever you’re planning, I don’t think we know anything that can help you."
Bra’tac looked at him, the plate of food he was midway through offering to them frozen in his hands.
"It gives me no pleasure to hear that."
Daniel had sat down beside him by now and Jack could feel him fidget in his seat. He shot him a sidelong gaze, as if to say I’m handling this and was pleased to see Daniel turn his attention to the food, taking the plate from Bra’tac’s hands.
"I do, however, have an idea."
Bra’tac’s face changed a little at that, a pleased expression emerging on his rugged features. He hadn’t told Daniel any of this, mostly because he was pretty sure Daniel wouldn’t think a great deal of his plan, and in fact would probably steadfastly oppose it once he realized the level of risk involved.
It was a risk Jack was prepared to take, though.
They couldn’t go home. Daniel had tried to use the alien device to get them back to Earth and it hadn’t worked, for whatever reason. Maybe the Stargate was packed up by now, or buried again, but the whys and wherefores didn’t really matter—what did was the cold hard fact they were stuck out here. And the longer this Apophis was around, and his kind, they were both in danger. The System Lords would assume, as Bra’tac had, that he and Daniel had some knowledge of what had happened to this Ra and wouldn’t stop to hear their denials. They wouldn’t be that lucky twice, he knew that.
And like Daniel said, it wasn’t right that Bra’tac and Teal’c and all the rest of them lived this way.
"You have an idea?" Daniel asked. "What idea?"
He ignored Daniel, even though he knew that was likely to be counterproductive in the longer term. He couldn’t deal with that now, knowing what Daniel’s reaction was going to be even before he outlined the rest of it.
"I think it’s time you take me to see Apophis," Jack continued. "Alone."
"No." That was Daniel, as he’d expected. "Absolutely not."
"What have you in mind, human?" Bra’tac asked. Like Jack, he’d pretty much ignored the fact that Daniel had even spoken. This was between the two of them, regardless of whether Daniel liked it or not. "He will wish to torture you for whatever information you may have."
"I’m relying on that."
"I said ‘no,’ Jack." Daniel’s voice was more insistent, but he managed to continue to ignore him anyway.
"He won’t expect me to be armed. He won’t expect you to let me near him armed."
Bra’tac smiled. It was a cold and calculating smile, one that reminded Jack that the man who currently sat opposite him had served his master for almost a century, probably doing some things that he didn’t much like to think about.
"It may work," Bra’tac said. "Apophis will not expect such a reaction, you are correct."
"Sure." Jack was feeling a little more confident now that Bra’tac seemed to be warming to the idea. "He’s used to everyone being afraid of him, right? And to you guys protecting him from anyone who isn’t …"
"Jack, you can’t do this."
"It will not be easy, human. You must not be fooled by his appearance—the Goa’uld that calls himself Apophis is cunning, many centuries old."
"Just get me close enough to do the guy some damage," Jack said. "I’ll do the rest."
Daniel was almost at boiling point by now. Jack turned to him, finally, trying to paste a reassuring smile on his face, though he knew it wavered at the concern he saw in Daniel’s expression.
"It’s too dangerous."
"Daniel, we don’t have a choice. If Apophis lives, we’ll always be in danger from him." He looked around at Bra’tac and Teal’c. "And so will they. We’ve been lucky so far, we met some honest Jaffa, but I’ll bet they’re not all like that."
Daniel’s expression was stubborn but he didn’t respond. Jack hated the fact he was right about this, hated the idea he had to risk everything in order to have even the possibility of safety for the future. He could see Daniel hated the idea too.
"Like I said, Jack. You’re not going alone."
Jack had wasted his breath trying to argue Daniel out of it, but he had no intention of being swayed. He didn’t intend to wait around like some damsel in distress, for Jack to go off and put himself in harms way without getting the opportunity to help him if he needed it. He also didn’t want his last conversation with Jack to be an angry one, if things went bad. So he’d stubborned it out, refused to discuss any other possibility and in the end Jack had given in, as Daniel had hoped he would.
So, they had found themselves being marched, side by side, down a long corridor leading into Apophis’ throne room. The room was empty at the moment, the only sound the echo of four sets of feet—Bra’tac and Teal’c had both come along, the two of them now as menacing as when they’d first met one another, regardless of the tentative friendships that had grown since then. He was reminded that the two men were warriors, born and bred, and that was something his familiarity with them had allowed him to forget for a little while. Now Daniel saw the more predatory side of the two Jaffa once more and was glad they were on his side.
"My lord Apophis!" Bra’tac called out, as they neared the ornate throne which took pride of place in the room. "I bring you prisoners of great importance."
There was a slight movement to one side of the room, the billowing curtains that framed the throne room shifting slightly as the four of them stopped.
Daniel wasn’t sure what he’d expected, what a self-proclaimed god would look like, but little could have prepared him for this. Apophis was tall and well-built, with an arrogant air about him, but other than that he appeared utterly human. It was only as he took his seat on the throne, looking at the four of them as they stood waiting, that anything seemed different about him. There was a change of expression, a flash of gold as his eyes lit and then he spoke for the first time.
"Kneel before your god." The voice was odd, echoing as if the speaker were in an empty room, and Daniel could understand how it helped to cement the impression of godlike power.
The blow behind the knees was unexpected, giving Daniel no chance to prepare for it. It was also somewhat harder than it needed to be, driving him forward onto his hands and knees and making him scramble to regain his balance. Daniel glared at Teal’c, whose face remained stoic, but he was certain he could see a glint of humor in the Jaffa’s eyes. Alongside him, Jack hissed as he struggled to his knees, having obviously received similarly enthusiastic treatment from Bra’tac.
"I bring you prisoners, my lord," Bra’tac said, again. "They claim to be of the Tauri."
"Do they?" Apophis leaned forward at those words, which clearly sparked an interest in him.
"This one," Bra’tac continued, indicating Daniel, "carried the mark of one of your rivals."
The Jaffa held out the pendant Catherine had given Daniel, in what seemed another lifetime. He hadn’t wanted to part with it, feeling somehow it would bring bad luck to do so, but the plan had required its use. Daniel watched Apophis, noting the growing interest in his expression—here was an almost serpentine quality to the man, as if he fixed the pendant with an unblinking snake-like gaze. Finally, after what felt like hours, he rose from the throne, shaking out his robes and stalking to where Bra’tac stood unmoving.
Apophis reached out, almost snatching the pendant where it hung from Bra’tac’s hand.
That was when Jack struck, driving upward from his kneeling position, the borrowed knife coming out of his sleeve and slicing up into Apophis’ stomach even as his knee twisted and gave way under him. Daniel heard Jack’s pained cry, mingled with the outraged roar of Apophis’ echoing voice, even as Bra’tac shoved Apophis to the floor and stamped on his hand. The hand in question, a red crystal at its palm, flared with light even as Bra’tac’s boot pressed on Apophis’ wrist so hard that Daniel could hear the bones crack under the pressure.
Jack was half-lying on the floor, the bloodied knife still gripped in his hand.
"Help me up," he said, the majority of his attention still on Apophis. Daniel moved quickly, coming to one side of Jack even as Teal’c, despite the language barrier, moved to help support Jack on the other. "We need to finish this."
"You have already done so, human," Bra’tac said.
Apophis’ body lay in a pool of blood, the hand with the crystal still outstretched across the floor—the other hand held Daniel’s pendant, chain entwined in the false god’s fingers. Daniel bent to pick it up, pulling slightly to release it from Apophis’ grasp.
"That was your plan?" Daniel asked, as he slipped the pendant into his pocket.
"It worked, didn’t it?"
Though they knew their rebellion against the System Lords was only just beginning, the Jaffa had celebrated long into the night at the death of Apophis.
Jack and Daniel had been honored guests, food and drink pressed into their hands by eager new-found friends, even as both of them had wished for the opportunity to escape. Jack could see the expression on Daniel’s face was getting more pensive by the moment—he wondered what his own face looked like when the next Jaffa who meant to give him a cup of some drink or other stopped in their tracks and backed away.
What Jack wanted, more than anything else, was to be alone with Daniel. To reassure himself that they’d both survived the day’s experiences, to reassure Daniel that he’d had no intention of throwing his life away if he could possibly avoid doing so.
And his knee was hurting too, the pain from where he’d twisted it before still knifing through it—Bra’tac hadn’t helped matters, when that staff weapon of his had crashed into the back of it, but the move he’d used to take down Apophis had pretty much ensured he’d be limping for at least the next couple of days. Jack tried to move his leg surreptitiously, straighten it without Daniel noticing he was favoring it.
"Your knee still giving you trouble?" Daniel asked. Jack smiled to himself at the tone, which was as worried as he’d wanted to hear at a time when neither of them were actually in any kind of danger. "You were limping pretty badly back there."
"Thank Bra’tac for that," he said. "I know Apophis wanted us to kneel, but …"
"Teal’c got a little too much into the part as well," he said. "And he looked like he was enjoying it."
"Let’s get out of here," Jack said. Suddenly he needed to be away from all this, away from the Jaffa who were watching him and Daniel like some kind of circus act. "I doubt Bra’tac and his pals will miss us."
Daniel nodded, stood, then turned to help him up. Jack was glad of the assistance, as a jolt of pain shot through his knee the moment he put any weight on it.
"It’ll be fine in a couple of days," he said, answering Daniel’s unspoken question.
"Sure," Daniel replied. "And in the meantime, let me help you."
His arm was slung over Daniel’s shoulder even as the other man spoke, letting Daniel take most of the weight on that side. He might be slightly shorter than Jack, and the nearness of him might be somewhat distracting, but Daniel more than made up in stubborn for what he lacked in size.
"So," Jack said, as they headed out in search of the room they were currently calling home. "How long do you think we’ve got before the rest of the System Lords come calling?"
"Not long. They’re not going to think much of losing their power base—if their Jaffa start getting ideas too …"
"Then we could be the start of a fully fledged revolutionary movement?"
"Something like that." They continued down the hallway, slowly in deference to Jack’s knee. "Let’s not worry about that till tomorrow, okay?"
Jack eyed Daniel’s profile as they walked, smiling to himself at the nonchalant expression the other man had managed to maintain, despite their closeness. He was half hard already, just in anticipation of what might happen between them when they got back to their room, whether his knee was playing up or not.
"Why?" Jack asked. "It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to be worried about."
He had to bite back the laughter that threatened to bubble out, particularly when he saw Daniel’s placid expression shift and darken a little.
"Well," he replied, "I’m sure that I can take your mind off the subject."
Jack grinned to himself, then let the grin emerge openly when he realized Daniel was watching him.
"Whatever you say, Daniel," he said.
Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado — 1994
In some ways, this ornately-carved hunk of stone had been her life’s work, or at least her life had revolved around it. And still she didn’t understand it, couldn’t figure out where it came from or how to make it work.
Catherine had seen the films when the Pentagon finally released them, grainy black and white footage of her father’s attempt to harness and control whatever power it was this artifact possessed, but still she wasn’t sure she was any nearer to making it work. They’d tried repeating the symbols on the film, matching them carefully after long hours of deciphering the sequence, only to discover that their system wouldn’t allow it. Nothing worked.
She’d even tried recruiting another scientist, one labeled as a temperamental genius in his own field, thinking there was something flawed in the translations that had been done back in the 1940’s. Even though Dr. Robert Rothman had jumped at the chance of joining the project, without giving his decision a second thought as he’d stood in the rain outside an empty lecture hall with nowhere else to go, he’d yet to figure out what was wrong. He was adamant the translations were correct, after all, so there was little room for maneuver.
Something clearly was wrong, though, otherwise they’d have made this "door to heaven," this "Stargate" as Robert called it, work by now, but there was no indication of what that something was.
Like so many times before, Catherine found herself staring down at the artifact, almost mesmerized by the lights as they prismed from the red crystals that adorned it. A snuffling breath by her side told her she wasn’t alone in her contemplations.
"Any inspirational thoughts, Dr. Langford?" Rothman asked, with a smile, as he wiped his nose.
Despite her best efforts to stay professional about it all, despite the annoying adenoid problems that he kept putting off surgery for, Catherine had found herself liking the man. He reminded her of someone, someone she’d known long ago, someone she hadn’t forgotten despite the passing of years.
A noise interrupted her thoughts, a noise that came from the room she’d been observing. Catherine turned to the man seated at the computer controls.
"Did we authorize a test?" she asked, as the familiar sound of the chevrons engaging traveled to where they stood. Catherine glanced back at the artifact—two of the crystals had lit now and the internal ring of the device itself was spinning towards a third lock.
"Who says it’s us?" he replied, shrugging.
Catherine turned back to watch, Rothman silent at her side, as the chevrons engaged then an almighty wave of something blue swept into the room below. She’d only seen the black and white footage, had never realized the sheer majesty of the artifact in action.
"Is it stable?" she asked, without taking her eyes from the scene playing out below her.
"Looks like it."
The eruption of blue had settled now, leaving a shimmering pool of light that hung suspended inside the inner ring of the artifact itself. Ripples of light wavered across its surface, and then broke as something began to emerge.
"Hold your fire!" That was General West’s voice from the floor of the room below, years of command keeping his airmen alert but calm. Catherine’s hands gripped the concrete edge of the observation window and she found herself leaning forward, watching the surface break and reform, trying to focus on what, or more precisely "who," had emerged. "Identify yourselves!"
Two men stood at the top of the ramp leading to the artifact, two men in long pale robes backlit by the wavering light of the artifact’s creation.
"My name is Dr. Daniel Jackson," the slighter of the two men said, hands reaching up as he pushed back a hood that had formerly hidden his face from sight. "And this," he said, nodding towards his taller, more solidly-built companion, "is Teal’c."
He smiled at his companion then, a smile that sent shockwaves of memory through Catherine, taking her back almost fifty years in a heartbeat.
"Should I mention that we come in peace?"
Catherine was halfway down the stairs from the control room almost before she realized she’d moved. It was only as she entered the artifact room that she tried to catch her breath, conscious of Rothman’s steadying presence at her heels. If only Ernest had lived to see this moment—he’d always been so fond of Daniel, always spoken kindly of him.
Daniel turned slightly at her voice, taking an inadvertent step forward before the stuttered movement of the airmen raising their weapons slightly made him halt. He smiled sheepishly and shrugged, the light glinting from the amulet he wore as a slight movement of his body made it swing free from his robes.
"Please, General," she said, crossing to where West stood and resting a hand on his arm. "I assure you Dr. Jackson means us no harm. Please ask your men to lower their weapons so I can greet an old friend properly."
West looked at her for a moment, as if gauging the genuineness of her words, then looked at the newcomers once more. Finally, after a moment, he nodded.
"Daniel," Catherine said, rushing to meet him at the foot of the ramp and smiling as Daniel swept her into an embrace. "It’s so good to see you!"
"You too." Daniel held her at arms length for a moment, his bright blue gaze as sharp as ever as he examined her. "You’ve aged well," he said finally. "Better than I have, anyway."
Catherine laughed, Daniel’s words taking years off her.
"You don’t look so bad," she said. "But please, introduce me to your friend."
"Teal’c," Daniel said, beckoning the stranger forward. "Catherine, this is Teal’c, an old friend of mine. Teal’c, this is Catherine Langford."
"It was she who gave you the Eye of Horus." Teal’c’s voice was sonorous, but tinged with humor and interest.
"It was," Catherine said. "And I’m glad to see you wear it in good health, Daniel. But you got something wrong—it’s Catherine Littlefield, not Langford. It hasn’t been Langford for a very long time."
Daniel smiled again.
"I’m glad you found the happiness you deserved," he said, capturing Catherine’s hand and sweeping it to his lips to kiss it playfully. "Is Ernest here?"
"No, Daniel," Catherine said. "Ernest died three years ago."
"I’m so sorry." Daniel squeezed her hand, the light of shared pain bright in his gaze. "I know what it’s like to lose someone you care about."
Catherine felt her face fall a little—Daniel had seemed so happy, so like his old self or happier even than she’d ever seen him, that it was hard to believe he’d ever experienced loss.
"Tell me you haven’t been alone all this time, Daniel."
It was the worst thing she could think of—her own life with Ernest had been so happy she hated to think that Daniel hadn’t experienced the same kind of happiness in his own life. She’d always wondered where he was, why he’d left so suddenly, and it was only when the film of the "door to heaven" in action had been released by the Pentagon that she’d begun to figure out just what had happened on her father’s project that fateful day. And what it had led to.
She’d seen Colonel O’Neill, who she vaguely remembered from occasional meetings, step through the Stargate only for the wormhole to disengage behind him, severing the rope that tied him to this side. It had taken a while to figure out how closely the colonel’s departure and Daniel’s own disappearance had coincided, and what that might mean.
"No, Catherine," Daniel said.
He hadn’t let go of her hand, as if he needed it to anchor himself to this new reality. In some ways it felt as though they’d never been apart, as if the almost fifty years that separated them from their most recent encounter had been the blink of an eye.
"Daniel Jackson is very much a part of everything on Chulak," Teal’c said, almost as Catherine was beginning to forget he could speak. Out of the corner of her eye she could swear she saw him smile fractionally, even if it was just a glint of humor in his dark expressive eyes.
"Chulak?" That was Rothman, whose presence Catherine had almost forgotten about.
"My home," Teal’c said gravely, turning his attention to Rothman. "Once a part of the realm of Lord Apophis, and now home to the free Jaffa."
There was movement behind them then, the surface of the strange water effect rippling once more as another person emerged onto the ramp, dressed in a robe similar to the one Daniel wore.
"Am I late?"
"Jack," Daniel chided. "You know you are."
Daniel had dropped her hand, turning to meet the newcomer and taking a couple of steps toward him, the tone of his voice as casual as if they were meeting by chance rather than at the foot of a metal ramp in a heavily-guarded USAF establishment.
"Jack?" Catherine echoed, when the name sunk in. The newcomer came down the ramp to where they stood, pushing back the hood of his robe as he did so. "Colonel O’Neill?"
"Jack, you remember Catherine?"
Jack smiled as he held out his hand to her and Catherine was struck by the differences in him—there was little to remind her of the uptight Army Air Force colonel she’d last seen almost fifty years earlier. His hair was almost totally white now, his face and eyes alive with a humor that had only been hinted at when they had worked together. He’d aged well too.
Jack reached where Daniel stood, tried not to look like they were more than friends, but there was something about the way he looked at Daniel that gave the game away completely. Ernest had looked at her like that, when he thought he wasn’t being observed, like the sun rose and set with her—it had annoyed and pleased her in equal parts, but whatever her feelings about it, that expression was unmistakable to anyone who’d ever seen it.
Even if she hadn't put two and two together so long ago, Catherine thought she would have guessed there was something going on between these two long-lost friends. Teal’c had obviously been primed for the occasion, instructed that Jack and Daniel’s relationship might not be accepted here, and was acting accordingly.
In the spirit of "don’t ask, don’t tell" she knew the USAF worked within, Catherine was determined that their secret was safe with her.
The three of them followed her up to the briefing room, trailing up the circular metal staircase behind her, Jack and Daniel still bickering a little over Jack’s sense of time-keeping.
They took their seats at the long table, General West at its head, the three visitors arrayed along one side, Catherine and Rothman on the other.
"We’ve been trying to dial home all this time," Jack said. "But we couldn’t ever get through, at least until this time round."
"I guess it was because the Stargate was in storage," Daniel said, interrupting.
Jack nodded, Daniel’s interrupting him clearly something he was accustomed to.
"But now we’re here, General," he continued, his eyes still on General West. "And we’ve got a lot to talk about. The universe is a far bigger place than we’d ever imagined and that doo-hickey there," he said, cocking a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the embarkation room, "will take you most anywhere you want to go."
"Anywhere?" That was Rothman, eyes bright with the possibility of a thousand different planets. Jack smiled.
"Anywhere," he said. "Not all good, some downright bad, but we made a lot of friends along the way and we look forward to introducing them to the people of the Tauri."
"The Tauri?" Rothman echoed, and then sneezed suddenly, before fumbling for a handkerchief.
"Gesundheit," Jack said. "Daniel? Would you like to explain what we discovered?"
Daniel smiled, nodded, and then folded his hands together on the briefing room table as if settling in to give a long lecture. Catherine settled back into her seat, recognizing that gesture for what it was from the memories of a long time ago—warning that the Jackson bandwagon was about to roll.
"My pleasure," Daniel began, smiling at Catherine as he did so. "But I warn you, this could take some time …"