'Damn it Daniel!' Always rushing headfirst into everything. At least this shouldn't hurt you - much.
Both Nosey and Sneezy look unhappy with this turn of events, however, and I instinctively reach out mentally to reassure them. They run towards me and I gather them up for a brief session of mutual comfort. I'm going to miss them when we leave!
For the moment, though, Daniel is my first priority. Who am I kidding? He's always my first priority. He has been since he solved the riddle of the Stargate and led us through it to Abydos. Even when I considered him the ultimate in scientist-geeks, I couldn't help being amazed by the man. Or drawn to him despite myself.
I shake myself loose from the memories and carefully put the monkeys down. Daniel's still lost in the ship and I find myself curious as to whether we can both connect to it at once. The thread linking my mind to the ship is still there, tugging at the back of my thoughts.
Sending one last wave of reassurance at the monkeys, I settle back down into my own chair, seize mental hold of that link and tug.
Connection is so much easier this time. I slide painlessly, smoothly, back into synch with the ship. I feel it welcome me, its musical voice singing. I can feel the currents of power pulse from engine to hull, the circuits spreading out around me like a glittering maze. I 'see' myself as a sparkling entity entwined in the center of that maze, flickering tendrils of myself reaching out along gleaming corridors, tracing tendrils, and then I 'see' him.
Daniel. He's in there with me, close-by, a blazing ball of brilliant white light. He's so bright that I nearly feel blinded for a moment, until I remember that I'm not really using my eyes. Somehow, just by thinking it, I can tone down the vision of him just enough to 'look' in his direction, and even that is enough to send small tendrils of my own being in his direction.
I reach for him. I think his name. I sense him reacting, 'looking' towards me, and white tendrils of light spark out in my direction, reaching towards the softer yellow ones I'm sending out towards him.
They touch, twining around each other, then melding into one continuous stream of light between us and it's like nothing I've ever experienced before. I can feel him, all that he is, intellect and emotion and presence, so strong, so fierce. His joy and relief at connecting with me washes down the link and bathes me.
Then I can 'hear' him, though it's less words than... just thought. Just knowing what he's thinking.
Jack - I know you're here with me. We should leave this planet. Now, while we can.
Yes, he's right. We should go now. There's nothing holding us here and the ship gives us the ultimate freedom. I can feel it waiting, wanting to go, spiraling around us in gleaming fields of living circuitry. And yet...
The monkeys! We can't take them with us. As much as I'm going to miss them, it wouldn't be fair to take them and their babies away from their home and consign them to exile on an alien world. They've done so much for us that we owe them more than such a miserable future.
Daniel must have sensed what I was thinking because he communicates agreement. I accept his support and reach out towards the monkeys. They stare back at me, not budging one inch. They want to stay with us, I know that, and sympathize. I instinctively try to stretch out an arm towards them and to my surprise, I can feel my body respond.
That's different. It seems that this time, I retain control of my body along with the mental connections. This is even stranger than being lost in that mental world. I can see one 'world' overlaying the other like a double-exposed photograph. It's hard to focus on both at once. Truly bizarre.
Yet, it's hard to resist turning to look at Daniel - to see him both ways. Physically, he's a bit of a mess. His uniform is torn, his face breaking out with the beginnings of a beard, his hair matted. Mentally, he's still a blazing, whirling ball of white light, so intense and bright. I love both aspects of him and my body and mind respond as one. The lurch of my pulse, speeding up, reverberates with my emotions. My throat tightens and my mind swirls. I love him so much! Memories surge, so much closer to the surface now. Daniel's face as he cries out my name in ecstasy....
Daniel responds, first with a burst of curiosity and concern and then with a wave of emotion so intense that it pours into and through me, filling every crack in my being, body and soul, completing me in a way I could never, ever have imagined possible. For one instant, we're completely connected, one being, one heart, one soul, floating in a sea of love and warmth and acceptance.
Then I hear my name floating between us and Daniel's gone. Not completely. We're still connected by those filaments of light, but it's not the same and I feel the loss acutely. He's back in his body fully and when I focus back on the physical world I can see his body twitching as he regains control of it.
I let the mental connection to the ship lessen and join him more fully.
"Daniel?" I ask, slightly worried. He looks just plain awful! I don't remember it being quite so difficult a transition.
"I'm fine," he says, beginning to look more in control. He's, strangely, smiling widely, like a little boy on his birthday. He sits up with a soft sigh, then gestures, jerkily, towards the monkeys.
"We need to get Nosey and Sneezy out of here, so we can leave."
I can't help it, I return his smile. I love it when he looks so sweetly goofy. I probably look just as silly.
"You're grinning," I tell him.
"And that's a problem?" he replies. That smile somehow manages to get wider. His eyes twinkle at me from behind his glasses. Damned amazing that he's still got them.
I shake my head, amused, and let it go. He must have felt what I did. The afterglow is still with me, warming me physically as well as emotionally.
Meanwhile, Daniel is turning towards the monkeys.
"Let's go guys," he says, standing up and swinging his arms.
They sit there, stubbornly refusing to move. I can feel them resisting, wanting to stay with us.
"Jack?" Daniel calls out, urging me to take over.
"I'm trying," I tell him, already closing my eyes and reaching out to the monkeys. This is getting easier now - guess I'm getting used to it. I touch their little minds and 'see' them now, as smaller, but no less bright, versions of our own balls of light. I tell them, again, that they must leave us now. They flood me back with sadness, loss. They want to stay with us and it's hard to resist those emotions. I share my own sense of loss in return.
Then I focus on visions of them at home in our shelter, their babies running around them, their troop nearby. This is their place and they belong here, to this world, and it wouldn't be fair to take them away. Again and again, I remind them of home, of the shelter they can now use, of the food stores we've created, of their babies and their need to rejoin their troop to raise those little ones.
Finally, they accept my sendings and reluctantly agree. I feel their love and their loss, and I let them feel my own. They chirp loudly, then turn and leave the chamber. Now, suddenly, I feel Daniel with me. He must have been there all along, and I welcome him with a soft wave of acceptance before using the connection with the ship to follow the monkeys as they move down the corridor and outside the ship.
Once they are at a safe distance, I settle back into my chair and sense Daniel doing the same.
Ready? I ask him.
Let's go home, Jack, he replies.
The ship is waiting and I give it a simple instruction.
Let's not try to run before we can walk. Let's see if this thing can even get off the ground.
Power surges around us. The engines roar, circuits fire. The chimes ring. I feel us pushing upward, gaining speed as we go. I can see the screen before us now, and this time all those odd symbols make sense. Speed, direction, altitude, power levels, internal and external atmosphere - all flicker over a scene of what is before the ship. Tree trunks give way to leafy tops and then to open sky. Now, I can see for miles though all of it is forest.
Beside me, Daniel sends his first command, echoing my own thoughts.
The ship obeys, spinning around. That throws me off balance. I cling to my seat, my mind wavering. Whoa! Too fast! Daniel's nausea combines with my own and for a moment I'm afraid we're both going to lose our lunches.
Stop! I shout, not sure if I said it aloud or just in my mind. Doesn't matter. It works. The ship slows to a stop, hovering above the trees.
Daniel's relief combines with mine. We both take a deep breath, then I try again. I imagine the type of turn I want it to take, drawing on years of experience as a pilot. The ship follows my images the very instant I form them, sweeping around a full circle in relative slow motion, giving us a clear view of our surroundings. On one side, we can see the mountain peaks rising in the distance, on the others, it is all forest.
Good. I think of the ship turning to point away from the mountains and it does so. Wonderful. Now it is time to try a few other maneuvers. I can feel Daniel's acceptance, letting me take the lead on this. I've flown just about every aircraft the US airforce has. Surely this won't be too different.
It responds a million times faster than anything I've ever touched before. All I have to do is think something and it does it. We bolt upwards, then downwards, stop, shoot forward, shoot backwards, turn and angle right, sweep up and around and down to the left. Then we hover again.
I'm breathing hard, my pulse racing and I can feel Daniel gasping beside me. This is incredible! His excitement compounds my own. Just imagine what we could do with this!
But I'm already exhausted. My head is pounding. My body feels like I've just run a marathon. Daniel sends me a wave of concern and I answer back, both reassuring him and warning him. Our minds connect in a sudden, mutual awareness that this psychic piloting thing is extremely draining, both physically and mentally.
Take it in turns, we suggest. I lay back, letting my body and mind rest, while Daniel practices. He's a bit less coordinated than I was, but he gets there. Finally, we both feel confident we can control the ship. We rest together while the ship hovers.
Where to? we question. Earth? Neither of us has the faintest idea where we are in relationship to Earth or how long it would take to get there. We quickly decide that it would be better to shoot for the nearest planet with a Stargate. From there, we can world-trip until we can contact another SGC team.
Assuming we can find a planet with a Stargate before we both collapse of complete exhaustion. Together we ask and the ship responds.
A giant field of stars bursts into being in the air surrounding us. Our own position glitters at us, hovering at center between our two chairs. We ask if it knows which worlds have Stargates, forming the picture of the object in our mind. The ship replies with what we would swear was a huff of impatience, a mental 'of course', and more stars begin to gleam. We add in the requirements of worlds that contain the living conditions we need to survive, and some of the glowing points dim.
There are quite a few left, however, leaving us with multiple choices. The final requirement is closeness. We need to keep the trip as short as possible. The ship flashes the nearest one that meets our requirements and then sends a rapid flood of information across the viewing screen. We capture just enough to know that the target planet is similar to this one and it has a Stargate.
The ship calculates and displays the journey specifics. We understand only partial fragments and decide to trust the ship to know what it's doing. We accept the directions and pause for a brief moment - a kind of psychic drawing of a deep breath - then we tell it to go.
The engines roar, circuits flash, gravity pins us to our chairs, and this planet disappears out from under us. Atmosphere gives way to the cold blackness of space. We're on our way.
I can hardly believe that this is happening - the change in our circumstances has been so vast, from just surviving our brush with the lizards to being able to leave here in a matter of days. How things change!
In some ways, even the thought of leaving here fills me with a sadness that I don't want to think about - despite the hardships we've endured, I think we've both been happy here.
The link between us, in itself, is a strange experience too - with the ship as a conduit, we're not so much exchanging words as thoughts and emotions, so there's nowhere left to hide. The depth of our feelings for each other, the reality of them, is out in the daylight now.
I feel more loved and secure with Jack than I can ever recall being before, and all I can do is hope that will last through whatever adventures we have next.
I can feel the readiness of the ship, mingling with Jack's eagerness to leave, and I wait for him to make the first move. He's the pilot of the two of us, after all, so I hope and trust he knows what he's doing, and send thoughts to him filled with my confidence in his abilities.
As Jack's mind sends the first command, the ship leaps upwards, and I'm glad of the foresight of the alien race - we're slammed back into the seats that cushion us, our bodies experiencing the acceleration at the same time that our minds can feel the power rushing to create it.
And I thought travelling through the Stargate was an exhilarating experience! It has nothing of the immediacy of this journey - we can feel it as we travel, inside and outside, mind and body.
After a few seconds, we are above the trees, out in the openness of this planet's sky, taking our first look at the place that had been our unwilling home for all this time.
Symbols dance around us, bursting into my mind with understanding. Suddenly I see it all, I know the language that this alien race wrote, I comprehend their thoughts for the first time. If I had studied it for a thousand years, I might never have been able to scratch the surface of the knowledge that's laid out before me now....
But it's not fair that Jack do all the work here.
With my mind, I nudge Jack, pushing him aside slightly to shoulder my part of the journey, and it's then that it all goes a little bit haywire!
What seems like a safe instruction, fuelled by my desire to see more of the planet's surface before we head away from it forever, turns into a gyrating nightmare. I can feel my stomach lurch as the ship tries to turn my ill-conceived thoughts into action, my sweeping statement becoming a little too sweeping for safety's sake.
I'm not sure whether I am more embarassed or relieved when Jack steps back in.
I draw in a shaky breath, deciding that I wasn't cut out to be a pilot after all - there must be a safer role for me to play on this trip! We're still so deeply linked, Jack and I, that I can feel his emotions when he has to take control of the ship again, the depth of his concentration as he imagines a more controlled turn than I was able to.
Part of me expected some kind of censure from Jack, in response to my rashness, but it seems as though he has already forgotten, already forgiven - the thought that it takes more than a single ill-judged act to blow everything apart between us warms me more than I can describe.
We make a leisurely turn, sweeping impossibly quickly over the landscape of our recent home - the majority of the surface is forest, as we had suspected, with the mountains making a backdrop.
Briefly, as my eyes light on the peaks in the distance, I wonder about the fate of our lizard friends.... Were they able to get away with helping us? I'd hate to think that they were punished for their kindness. I wonder if, in a hundred years, their descendants will be telling stories of the two strange creatures that their ancestors helped escape becoming lunch?
My stomach lurches again, but less dramatically this time, as Jack tries out a series of manoeuvres - no sooner have we finished one than we seem half-way through the next!
The responsiveness of the alien ship is incredible. The time delay between Jack's thoughts and the ship's actions seem so minute that I'm glad to leave the flying up to him. I'm left breathless by the sheer speed that we are travelling at, and I can feel that Jack is sharing that feeling too!
There's something else though....
Jack is gasping, his lungs dragging in the air, his pulse hammering like he's about to drop.
I have a bad feeling about this!
Jack responds to my concern, sharing his thoughts with me again - this is more tiring than we had thought, and we need to be sure we don't try and push too hard. Little things like keeping on breathing are just as important as getting to where we want to go, after all!
Take it in turns...
I'm a little overwhelmed that Jack is willing, even under this kind of strain, to let me try to fly this thing again, after my last attempt.
It's a little like learning to drive again, all my actions taking place under a watchful eye, but as I go on, I feel more confident. I have learned to make minute gestures now, not great sweeping ones, and that seems to be much safer.
Where to? Earth? Our thoughts are so linked that it's almost impossible for a conversation to take place - no sign of where my mind ends or Jack's begins.
We could be millions of lightyears away from Earth, and we have no idea which direction to head. Jack is regretting that he didn't study the stars more closely in our time on the planet, but I don't regret it at all - I much preferred the way we spent a lot of our nights!
So, we're left with little choice but to locate a planet with a 'Gate and start our journeying, until we can find some way of linking up with the SGC again.
Information flashes around us as we make our request, and in a very little time we're on our way, heading out into the vast blackness of space, together.
We'd chosen at random really, having specified just a 'Gate and a breathable atmosphere, so we have no idea what to expect.
As we hurtle through space, I can feel the tiredness begin to creep over me - it's insidious, inching its way around my body, slowly but surely draining me of energy. My mind struggles, reaching out towards Jack, and I can feel his exhaustion too.
What must the minds of the alien race that built this ship have been like, if they could go on long journeys?
It's all we can do to keep the ship directed for this hop across the shortest distance we could find, and as we start to see the sun for whose system we are heading, burning red in the darkness of space, we know that a longer flight would have been impossible.
That fiery globe is growing larger and larger, bathing the viewscreen in its glow, as we hasten towards it. A subtle change of course makes us head for one of its planets - they had been just specks of colour against the blackness of space, but now they start to gain definition.
The planet we are heading for is coming closer and closer, as I feel Jack's link with my mind start to weaken.
I reach out for him, mentally straining to keep this closeness, but I'm too late. He slips away from me, down into unconsciousness, his body limp in the chair where he is lying.
I'm an anthropologist, not a pilot.
I tried my best, I really did, straining with every last drop of strength, mental and physical, as we plummetted into the atmosphere of the planet.
Through my link with the ship, dwindling as it was with every moment, I could feel the heat as we flew towards the surface, as I strained to pull us back, slow our descent.
We're going too fast!
Just as oblivion took me, I could feel the ship respond, sluggish now, but all I could see in the viewscreen was the desert. Sand and more sand, all approaching way too fast, and that was all.
I reach out mentally, feeling for Jack's presence in my mind, and feel strangely bereft. I am alone inside my head again, and for some reason that feels wrong!
Jack's voice, full of concern, hammers the inside of my head, and I wince.
'I know you're worried,' I think, 'but shut up!'
I feel myself being shaken, a hand gripping my arm, and after a moment's thought, I am able to correlate everything.
I'm not dead!
The ship crashed but we're both still alive!
I can't seem to move anything.
My body needs to get used to not being wired into the ship, I suppose, but it feels very strange to be a single unit again! I can feel my brain sending frantic messages to my limbs, but there's no response.
I'm moving now, and I have nothing to do with it.
As I feel myself being dragged from the chair where my body had been slumped, I'm jolted and bounced to the ground. Something isn't right here, and I can't quite figure out what....
"No! Damn it Daniel! Not like this!"
'Jack?' I think, not liking the edge of desperation that's in his voice.
I try to speak, try to move, but I can't. Frustration is building up inside me, but there's no outlet for it - I want to scream out, but I can't even manage to get my mouth to open, even if I could make a sound.
After a moment of thought, a realisation hits me - I can feel all these things happening to me, can hear Jack's desperate voice, but I can't tell if I'm still breathing!
My head seems to be at a strange angle, tipped back, mouth open. I can feel the warmth of Jack's breath going into my lungs, feel his hands where they are pressing, crossed on my chest....
He's giving me CPR.
This is exhilarating, nearly unbelievable!. Like any air force pilot, I'd had my dreams of being an astronaut. But those dreams are nothing compared to the reality of being a spaceship as it thrusts itself upward out of a planet's gravity, through the envelope of its atmosphere, and out into space.
I don't understand either the mechanics or the theory of it, but somehow the ship can move faster than light. I suppose Carter might have a clue, but she's not here, and Daniel knows even less than I do about such things. And I know shit-all. But that doesn't matter. The ship knows for us. It's merely a flip of a switch and a change in the sound and feel of the engines, and suddenly we're being propelled down a tunnel of light, space falling away faster and faster.
Much more exhausting though. I feel as though the ship is draining me like one of its power cells. My mind is becoming sluggish, slow. I can barely hold the link to Daniel; he is slipping away from me.
I'm so tired. So tired...
I just want to sleep. Sleep.
I wake to a scream. It is both my own and Daniel's and the ship's all at once. I am instantly aware. The viewer screen flashes before my eyes and I see the planetary surface rushing up to meet us. Fast, too damned fast.
My command to slow, to brake, to halt, is too late. We hit with a horrible grinding explosion of sand, the impact reverberating through every bone in my body then sending me flying upward. I collapse to the floor with a jarring thump, renewing the agony of my older injuries and bruising the rest of my body.
I'm getting too old for this.
Lights blaze, music screeches, no longer sweet chimes but the blare of alarm. There is a flare of fire, a booming, wrenching sound, and then it all goes dark.
The link to the ship is torn from me, tearing at my mind, leaving a hole where it had been. I cry out with the pain of its loss, then desperately reach for Daniel. He's there - thank God - but only barely. The connection is faint, too faint.
Somehow, I force myself to my feet, ignoring the blaze of pain in my body, and propel myself to his couch. He's still on it, amazingly, laying boneless and unconscious. I touch his cheek, calling his name, aloud and inside, but there is no response.
"Daniel!" I try again. Then I notice that he is no longer breathing. I fumble for a pulse and can't find it. Oh no, no, no, no, NO!
I want to scream, to cry, to die myself, but I can't. Not while there's the faintest chance I can revive him. I know CPR, I can do this. I have to do this.
I clear his airway, then begin rhythmic pounding on his chest.
'Come on, Daniel, come back to me, damn you, come on!' runs through my mind, a fervant litany, a prayer to whomever or whatever might listen. I breath for him in a sick mockery of a kiss, wishing it was a kiss and that I could feel his breath fill my mouth as mine fills his.
I keep it up, pounding on his chest, breathing for him, for what seems an eternity, yet I know is only minutes, until he convulses. I grab for him, holding his shoulders, as his entire body twitches. His chest heaves as he tries to breath and I scream his name again.
His attempts to breath hurt and he coughs roughly. His arms and legs flail, then come to rest. He coughs again, then breaths, deep ragged gulps of air. I gather him up against me, trying to soothe him, pressing my mouth to his forehead and kissing the soft skin through his tangled bangs.
His eyes finally flicker open and he looks up at me. His eyes will never be more beautiful than they are at that moment. My relief, my love for him, cascades down out of me, pouring out of every pore of my skin. He smiles at me and whispers my name.
Tears flood out of my eyes.
Now it is his turn, trembling and ungainly, his mind still tentative in its control of his body, to reach out and hold me. I bury my face against his chest and sob helplessly. After all we'd been through to have lost him now would have killed me. His arms close around me and a wave of love floods me. It washes over me like a gentle tide, sun-warmed and soothing. I can't make out his thoughts anymore, just the emotion, sweet and poignant as it mixes with my own.
He strokes the back of my head then slides a hand under my chin to lift my head. He leans over and kisses away my tears. Quick, butterfly kisses, then long, lingering ones, until our mouths meet.
I don't ever want to part from that kiss, but I do. Not just to breathe, but also to return to a recognition of our surroundings. It is dark and cold and empty here, enclosed in the hull of the dead ship. We need to leave, now that we are both alive and as well as we can be.
Daniel brushes my lips once more, then silently acquieses. I help him up and we lean on each other for support as we find our way out of the ship. The inner door is open and we clamber down the hallway which is twisted at an angle. The outer door is more of a problem. Daniel hammers on it until I stop him.
"Stay here," I tell him, turning to scramble back down the hall. I'd done a thorough investigation of the ship during my first mental contact with it, and unless I missed my guess, there should be...
A storeroom full of tools down and to the right. That door is open just enough for me to squeeze through and retrieve what I need. The memory of what it was and how it worked is faint and flickering, but solid enough to meet the needs of the moment. I rejoin Daniel.
"Stand back," I warn him, brandishing the alien tool. He nods, sliding back to watch from a short, safe distance. Grimacing, I activate the device. A beam of focused red light fires outward from the business end of it, like a miniature laser. That's probably what it is, but all that matters is that it works. It slices slowly, inch-by-inch through the door material. I use my remaining knowledge of how the door is shaped to aim for the joints. It works. With a final flare of light and a shove, the door falls outward.
Daniel and I both shield our dark-adjusted eyes at the sudden blare of brilliant sunlight. Sand flies inward, a thick layer of grit instantly covering everything. I turn off the tool and drop it, gesturing to Daniel to follow me as I climb out of the ship, sliding down the hull to land on a shifting surface of sand.
Daniel lands beside me and we gaze around us. Sand, sand and more sand. Well, this is familiar. We could be back on Abydos. I look at Daniel and he shakes his head, obviously having the same thought.
"No. I haven't the faintest idea where we are, except that we're on the opposite side of the galaxy from Abydos. It's close to Earth, remember."
"Oh yeah," I say. I sigh, licking at dry lips. "I wonder how close to the Stargate we are?"
"I don't know," Daniel replies. He points to the left, towards the crest of a sand dune. "We might see more from there."
I nod. We begin the slow process of walking through the sand, our feet dragged down by the currents of dust as the wind swirls the unsteady material beneath us. Step-by-step, we move upward until we are standing on the top of the dune. We turn to look in opposite directions and Daniel shouts, an exclamation of triumph.
"There! Look!" I turn to follow his pointing arm and my eyes widen.
In the distance, perhaps a couple of miles away, is a familiar structure. A small pyramid temple.
"Well, I'll be..." I mutter. Daniel grasps my arm in excitement.
"Come on!" he shouts, urging me onward. I'm more than willing to follow and off we go. I sure hope this temple is less used by the Goa'uld than the one on Abydos!
I'm so tired.
At the end of it all, I guess the effort of guiding the ship was too much, sucking my life from me. It was like someone had turned on a tap inside me, the energy flooding from me, until I was left dry and empty.
All I want to do is sleep, sink into the blackness, the infinite void that surrounds me. It's harder to stay here than it would be to just drift away.
But I can't, can I?
As if I'm an observer, watching something from a great distance, I can see Jack's frantic efforts to revive me. Through the tenuous link between us, I can still feel the emotions warring within him - terror, despair, the last flickering of hope.
Somehow I know that, if I leave here, start that journey alone, we'll finish it together.
I can't allow that.
As little as I cling to this life at the moment, the sharpest memories within me are memories of Jack - that grin, the worried look he tries so hard to hide, the little frown that appears on his forehead.
And more intimate memories, memories of Jack crying out my name as he comes, his face twisted, moaning with arousal and completion.
How could I even think to leave him?
I rise towards life like I'm coming up from the depths of a dark lake - I can see the surface, the sunlight reflecting on the water, but it seems impossibly far. My lungs are straining like I had been diving too deep, and I struggle, arms thrashing for the surface, the air, life itself.
I can feel my body thrashing, and Jack's hands clutching my shoulders as my body heaves and bucks. It's so like when I first touched the ship, that for a moment I am even more disorientated, waiting for the mental touch of the alien vessel, but nothing comes to me. It is gone.
My lungs heave, dragging in the air like I had been gone forever, and I hurt. All over. Every millimetre of my skin tingles, every nerve seems to be firing. I think I'm going to explode....
Then everything stabilises.
My lungs start to work, I can breathe again. I can feel Jack's arms wrap round me, their warmth coming through to my skin, it seems to calm me. I feel Jack kiss me, tenderly, his lips impossibly warm, brushing their way through my hair to my forehead.
I manage to drag my eyes open, forcing them to focus in Jack's direction.
It's then I know that the connection between us is still there. Even as our eyes meet, I'm swept with a deluge of emotion, and I know it isn't mine - relief, love, fear, desire, hope, sadness, joy.
I smile, whisper Jack's name and he falls apart.
Jack's face crumples, a mirror suddenly of the emotions he had been sending. Then he starts to cry, the tears coming like they're never going to stop, great heaving sobs croaking out of him, his body shuddering with their passing.
I make my limbs obey me, I don't know how, wrapping myself in an ungainly fashion round the man I love. I cradle his head on my chest, feeling him tremble against me, trying to send the emotions I feel, to somehow comfort him.
Doesn't he realise that the only reason I came back was for him?
After all, it wasn't Sha're's face I saw, or anyone elses - the only thing that tied me to life itself was my love for this man. And if I haven't expressed that emotion, haven't demonstrated the depth of the feelings I have for him, then I'm the one who should be sobbing here.
Schooling my hand to obey me, which it does, shaking all the while, I run my fingers through the hair at the back of Jack's head, then slide that hand around to bring Jack's face up to mine. If I can't share his burden, can't carry this terrible sadness for him, then maybe I can lighten it a little....
I have to concentrate so hard in order to control my movements, to stop them being uncoordinated, but I cope, kissing away Jack's tears as gently as I can.
My lips brush across his face, gathering up the moisture, then move downwards. They are drawn inexorably to Jack's mouth, seeking out the life and heat that dwells there.
It's incredible really.
Only minutes ago, this same mouth helped bring me back to life, with a determination that I've always envied. But now, its only characteristics are passion and gentleness - a strange mixture, I know, but one I've found there before.
Reluctantly, I let Jack go, feeling the moment that he wants to leave this embrace, before he even knows it himself. I've come to know him so well. One last kiss, and then it's time for us to move.
We make our way out of the ship, thanks to Jack's residual memories.
I don't seem to be able to remember as much as before - I wasn't linked to the ship for as long, maybe that's the difference. There's a gaping hole, an odd emptiness inside, and I know that all the knowledge that so enthralled me before has gone.
Not a trace of it remains, and in some ways I'm glad. After all, if I remembered a little of it, that would tantalise me for the rest of my life, teasing and tormenting me with what I've lost. And that would be a mistake, as I've gained so much more from this journey than I ever managed to lose along the way.
The link between Jack and myself seems to be there still - we can't share our thoughts any more, but in some ways that's a relief. Emotions can be revealing enough. And we know each other well now, well enough to think the same without the need for a mental link between us, or so it seems....
When we leave the ship, and see the expanse of desert laid out before us, I can tell what Jack is thinking before he even looks at me. Like mine, his mind has travelled back to our first journey together, to Abydos.
"No," I reply to Jack's unspoken question. "I haven't the faintest idea where we are, except that we're on the opposite side of the galaxy from Abydos. It's close to Earth, remember."
"Oh yeah," Jack replies, looking out over the great sweep of dunes that lie before us.
Damn, it's hot here.
The planet we just left was temperate, humid at times, and I'd almost forgotten what desert heat was like. We won't survive long here - we need to find the Stargate and leave here. I have no idea where we should go, but we can't stay here.
"I wonder how close to the Stargate we are?" Jack asks, his mind again working along the same lines as mine. I can feel his concern, it brushes lightly at the edge of my mind.
"I don't know," I reply, as there is no way to tell from where we are.
If only I'd been conscious when we landed, then maybe we'd know which way to head. Oh well. We're going to have to fall back on old-fashioned methods.
"We might see more from there," I add, gesturing to a nearby sand dune.
Scaling the sand dune is exercise I could have done without.
My tired limbs protest, my muscles aching with the exertion as we slither and clamber our way to the top. By the end, I'm on my hands and knees to scale the last few metres, rising somewhat unsteadily to my feet once I reach the summit.
I squint into the distance, shading my eyes with a hand that's still shaking with the climb. I almost miss it at first, but my eyes seem to be working on auto-pilot, and they drag themselves back to focus on the one structure I can see.
"There! Look!" I shout, not daring to tear my eyes away from it, in case it turns out to be a mirage.
'It' is a small pyramid, looking completely at home here. It's smaller than the structure on Abydos, maybe two-thirds of the size, but still unmistakeable.
"Well, I'll be..." I hear Jack mutter, as he recognises it too, then I grab his arm and half-drag him after me, down the other side of the dune.
"Come on!" I shout, though Jack is already following me, and I let go of my grip on his sleeve. I need my balance too much, as I slide and slither my way down the sand, watching it shift beneath me as I move.
It takes us a long time to get to the pyramid.
We're both tired, maybe more tired than we would admit, and climbing sand dunes is a tiring thing to do. Even after living on a desert planet, I never quite got the knack of it, and I envied the way my Abydian compatriots sometimes seemed to practically scamper across the sand.
Like the one on Abydos, it's fronted by a long ramp, the beginning of which is guarded by two obelisks. Everything to scale, like a replica model, all in proportion but smaller. The ramp is covered in a fine layer of sand, blown here and there into small heaps, which seems to bode well for this not being a regular Goa'uld stop-off point.
Inside, the similarities to the chamber I came to know so well are startling, so much so that I stop at the entrance for a moment, as memories of Abydos come flooding back.
In the end, it's the gentle pressure of Jack's hand on my back that brings me back to the here and now - turning to him slightly, I smile and know that it's a sad smile when I see the echo of it on his face.
The 'Gate is here, and looks okay, and so does the DHD. The only problem is that I don't recognise some of the symbols on it, so I have no idea which is the point of origin for this planet.
And where are we going to go anyway?
We'd held onto the transmitter like grim death, though we had never talked about the reason why, till we met the lizards - like everything else they could, they took that and we never had a chance to look for it. Getting away seemed far more important than a piece of technology that we'd never get to use.
But that was then and this is now....
So, we can't go home. Not unless we want to end up like Jack's 'bugs on a windshield'. So we have to go somewhere else first, and it needs to be somewhere safe, somewhere we won't run into the folks with the glowing eyes.
If I can only figure out how to get us there, I have just the place!
After two or three hours of scouring the walls of the chamber I admit defeat.
Like Abydos, there's nothing here, in the chamber where the 'Gate is, to indicate the point of origin symbol, so there must be cartouches elsewhere.
And until I find them, we're stuck here - we may have exchanged a rough but comfortable life for a slow death by thirst and starvation if I don't think of something soon.
I run my hands through my hair again, sighing with frustration. It's then that Jack touches my arm and I jump as though I've been scalded.
"What the...?" I blurt out, before my mind catches up, and I blush with embarrassment at my revelation.
I'd forgotten Jack was even here with me, I'd been so intent on what I was doing.
"You're exhausted, Daniel," he says, ignoring the way my face has reddened. "You need to rest."
"What I need," I snap, "is to find the damn symbol!"
The moment the words leave my mouth, laced with all the venom tiredness and irritation can create, I regret them. Jack's right, of course, as much as I hate to admit it. My brain feels like it's been wrapped up and put away for the winter, so much so that I stumble over the words I need to say.
"Jack... I... you know..."
"Shhh," he whispers, as he takes my arm gently and leads me to one of the alcoves that line the chamber.
I can feel my pulse start to race as waves of desire start to creep across the mental distance between us. I should say something, protest that this isn't right, that we need to find the solution, that we don't have time for this - none of the words are available to me at the moment, my brain is unable to track them down.
I'd taken my jacket off earlier, and where Jack's hand is wrapped round my wrist, I can feel the warmth of his skin inching its way up my arm. He pulls me down gently into the alcove, till I'm kneeling on the floor, and he's kneeling too, behind me, his hands on my shoulders now.
When his thumbs start to move, digging into the tense muscles of my shoulders, I'm in ecstasy. I don't need too much encouragement to lose my t-shirt, filthy and tattered as it is, to allow Jack's hands access to my back, his touch making my skin scream when his hands move away.
I can feel the tiredness running out of me, the muscles relaxing, groans creeping out of my mouth as Jack's hands bring me back to life again.
When he starts to trail the lightest of kisses down my spine I almost miss the sensation at first. Almost. But I can feel the heat of his breath, not to mention the searing touch of his lips, and I start to squirm under this attention, all tiredness a distant memory.
Jack's hands are back on my shoulders as he kisses his way down my back, stopping me from turning to him, and I groan again, this time with frustration.
This is killing me.
I can feel the heat building, the warmth developing in my groin, and I just want to pounce on Jack and see what happens next. Something tells me that's exactly the reaction he was looking for! What better way to distract me from my so-far fruitless search?
Well, whatever his motivation at first, it's working!
When Jack's hands finally leave my shoulders, after what seems like an eternity, I can't recall the last time I moved that fast. One moment I was kneeling, with Jack behind me, the next we were horizontal, my hands stripping Jack of his t-shirt as I cover every inch of skin I can reach with kisses.
I can feel him against me, and I know he's as aroused as I am - even if his aim was to distract me, I'm not the only one who ended up being distracted.
It's only as I'm kissing Jack that I realise how many bruises he has, and that not every groan that escapes his lips is a result of passion. In the half-light coming through the archway into this chamber, I can see the marks of our journey together written across Jack's skin, and I draw back slightly, not wanting to hurt him.
Even as I draw back, one of Jack's hands wraps round the back of my head and pulls me back towards him. He smiles up at me, his eyes wide, pupils so dilated that I can see myself reflected in the blackness there.
"It's okay," he whispers, his other hand coming up to stroke my cheek, then dropping to caress its way down my side.
"I don't want to hurt you," I whisper back, even though there is an insistent voice in the back of my mind screaming for release.
"Never," Jack replies, pulling me towards him, diving into my mouth like he intends to set up home there.
All rational thought escapes me then, and after that things take their natural course.
The last thing I hear, echoing out across the chamber, is my voice, sobbing Jack's name as I reach completion. Then, after I had slumped bonelessly across Jack's body as we lay tangled together in the alcove, I must have fallen asleep.
This pyramid brings back bad memories. A few good ones too.
We kicked Ra's ass from one of these. I think that was the beginning for Daniel and me - looking into each other's eyes and coming to the same idea at the same time. We worked in total synchrony then, the two of us melded into one sole purpose. I'd never felt anything like that before. It disappeared quickly for Daniel and I are so different. We separated, him staying with Sha're and me going home. But the memory stayed with me.
Perhaps that's why I was so eager, though I tried to hide it, to find him again. I fought it - the emotions and the need that continually drew me closer to this young, brilliant, slightly flaky scholar. Now, all I can do is kick myself and wonder what the hell took me so long. What was I afraid of?
OK - I was afraid of a lot of things. Things we're going to have to deal with when we get home. Like military attitudes towards this kind of relationship. Then, again, I'm pretty sure that I don't give a damn. I retired once and can do so again. If it weren't for how incredibly important the SGC is...
Well, I figure they need us more than we need them. No one has more experience with this stuff than Daniel and me, combined or separately. And after all we've been through on their behalf -- well, quite frankly, this government owes us big time. I have a bad feeling they're going to end up owing us a hell of a lot more in the months and years to come.
At least it does look like we're going home. Perhaps through a circuitous route, but we've got a Stargate and a DHD. Now the only question is where to go first. Daniel's racing around, trying to find a clue that will tell him the home symbol for this planet. Meanwhile, I get to sit here on my ass having a bad deju-vu attack from Abydos. But he'll find it. Daniel did so there, and I have absolute and total confidence in his ability to do so again.
I plop myself down next to the DHD and watch him work. I don't think I'll admit this too him, even now, but he's incredibly sexy when he's focused so intensely on his work. I love to watch him, watch those blue eyes widen and focus, the stubborn jaw set, the way he nibbles at his lower lip as he concentrates. His hair inevitably seems to fall in his eyes and he always brushes it aside with quick, deft movements, probably not even knowing that he's doing it.
I could watch him forever...
I wake with a jerk, nearly crashing my skull on the stalk of the DHD. How long have I been dozing? Daniel's still running his fingers over the walls of this chamber. I doubt he'd be able to tell me if I asked. He loses all track of time when he's working.
Yawning, I stretch and push myself to my feet. That nap gave me a rush of energy. I still feel like I've been run over by a large vehicle, but at least it now feels like a small dump truck instead of a tank. Daniel, on the other hand, looks like hell. He'd been working while I'd been sleeping and if I know my Daniel, he'll work himself to death.
We need to find our way out of here but I'd prefer to do so alive. He needs rest, we both do. The answer is here, but sometimes you have to stop looking in order to find it. So we sleep first and try again later. We can last a couple of days without water, though it won't be fun.
So I walk up behind Daniel and gently touch him on the arm.
"What the...?" he yelps, shocked out of his concentration. He turns red-lined blue eyes at me as though surprised to see me.
"You're exhausted, Daniel," I tell him. "You need to rest."
"What I need," he snaps, always resistant to give up pursuit, "is to find the damn symbol!" Then he blushes red beneath his tan, grasping my arm as he stumbles over his apology. "Jack... I... you know..."
I know, Danny, I know. No offense taken.
"Shhh," I whisper soothingly, taking hold of his arm and leading him to a small alcove nearby. There's just enough space to settle ourselves out of the direct line of sunlight. His skin is soft in my hand and I press my back up against the wall, pulling him down in front of me.
We're both kneeling now and I have full access to the broad strength of his shoulders. He's tense, trembling slightly, and I sense the stirrings of desire, tendrils of need wrapping themselves around us both.
I begin to massage the sore knotted muscles of his shoulders, sighing as his pleasure feeds back along on our emotional link to me. Strangely, it's almost as though someone is doing this to me. The easing of the stress in his shoulders is mirrored in my own. I stroke him harder, caressing and kneading, letting his body and mine tell me what is needed. His shirt becomes an encumbrance, my fingers seeking, aching, to touch his skin directly.
I strip it away without a protest from him. He leans back against me, pressing into my touch. His skin is hot satin under my fingertips, the pulse of life in his body flowing up through my fingers to join with my own. Almost without realizing that I'm doing it, I'm soon kissing as well as touching. My lips find his spine, the bony ridges close beneath the skin, and I kiss down the length, vertebrae by vertebrae.
He squirms, shifting, trying to turn towards me. I reach up and grasp his shoulders, tenderly, but firmly, silently telling him not to move. I kiss up and down his back, stopping here and there to lick and nibble at the skin. He tastes better than the finest wine, the salt of his sweat like nectar on my tongue.
Heat, desire, need, all grow between us, fed back and forth on electric currents between our bodies. Daniel can only wait so long and I know he's moving the moment he forms the thought. Now I let him take control, falling into his arms, dropping bonelessly down to the floor while his hands yank my T-shirt up and away.
He kisses me, starting with my mouth, but moving onward. Ever the explorer, Daniel, and he maps me as surely as he would one of his artifacts. I love it, every touch of that passionate mouth, even when he strikes one of the bruises littering my skin. I groan, mostly in ecstasy, but touched with the lance of discomfort and he immediately reacts, pulling away, his eyes shocked.
No, oh no, Daniel. I can live with the bruises. If anything, your touch is healing.
I wrap a hand around the back of his head and restrain him from leaving me. I need him, now as much as ever, and my body is making insistent demands for release. He is staring anxiously at me and I smile in return, whispering to him that it's ok.
I stroke his cheek gently, confirming my words with my touch.
"I don't want to hurt you," he whispers, even as he settled in closer to me, his body knowing what it needs even if his mind hasn't caught up.
"Never," I tell him, knowing the truth of it even as I say it. I draw his head the last couple of inches closer and dive into his mouth, taking possession of it. He opens to me, giving himself up to me. Desire pounds through me washing away any last remnant of rational thought and all that is left is our two bodies, clinging together, almost fighting, struggling, then coming together in the final climax.
I clutch at him, wrapping my arms and legs around him, needing him as close as I can get him, wishing I could bury myself inside his very skin. He sighs my name, holding me, as he falls into sleep. I kiss the top of his head and follow him into slumber.
I moan, resisting the hand shaking my shoulder. I want to sleep...
"Jack!" Daniel calls out, insistent, his hand tightening on my shoulder. I mutter an imprecation under my breath, but give in to his determination. Blearily, I open my eyes and look up at him. He's bubbling with excitement, nearly trembling. Despite myself, I am stirred into full awareness.
"What is it?" I demand grumpily, letting him pull me up.
"I found it!" he exclaims. Then he pauses and qualifies his statement. "Well, I know where to find it!" I glare at him, an eyebrow arching upward. He merely grins toothily at me. "It's like Abydos. It's gotta be. Which means that the cartouche room has to be in the same approximate location from the Gateroom."
Now I'm catching on. I knew he'd figure it out! Slapping him on the arm, affectionately, I motion towards the door.
"So what're we waiting for?" I question. "Lead on McDuff!"
He glares lightly at me, but leads the way. At least it's approaching dusk and the sunlight is less intense on us as we slip and slide across the sand. Unlike Abydos, the cluster of buildings we find are abandoned, empty. There's no civilization here, no people, just a few crumbling walls.
Daniel knows his way, however, and we find our quarry with a minimum of trouble. One wall has fallen away, allowing sunlight to stream inward, gleaming brightly on the golden rows of alien symbols. I follow Daniel as he studies his way across the remaining three walls, stopping half-way through the second one.
"There!" he shouts, reaching out to tug on my arm. He points to a raised row of seven golden symbols. "That's the one we need to use."
I stare at it, then shrug. To be honest they all look pretty much the same to me, though I do recognize a couple of the glyphs as familiar.
"Where'll it take us?" I ask.
"Land of Light," he replies, happily.
"Land of..." I echo, my mind slow to catch up, but when it does I grin and grab him into a fierce hug. "Daniel, have I ever told you that you're absolutely brilliant?"
He hugs me back, laughing breathlessly. "Not really, but you can tell me again."
I pull back from the hug just enough to frame his face with my hands. I look straight into his eyes and tell him, slowly and clearly, "Daniel Jackson, you are absolutely brilliant!"
His smile is breathtaking, stunning, in the brief instant before he kisses me.
The rest is easy. We hurry back to the Stargate, put our discarded jackets back on, and Daniel dials the DHD. The Stargate whooshes into life, the silver, watery surface gleaming before us. We stand before it for a moment in silent appreciation, then we join hands and run forward.
Together, we dive into the wormhole.
When I wake, it's from a fitful sleep - the sunlight is still streaming into the chamber where the 'Gate is located, so it's difficult to tell how long we've slept. Not long enough, that's all I can say.
Jack and I had fallen asleep tangled together, limbs entwined, but now we had separated slightly. My arms are wrapped around Jack as he lies with his head on my chest, snuggled into the hollow by my shoulder. He's snoring slightly, and that sound reassures me that everything is okay.
The last day or so had been so eventful that I hadn't had the chance to just reflect on what had happened - we'd spun from one event to the next without a spare second to even catch our breath.
In a matter of hours, we had left the planet we had expected to be calling home for the rest of our lives, had hurtled through space linked to an alien ship, then slammed into this planet.
And now, if only I could figure out how, we could take the next step in our journey home.
The further we travel, the more we experience, the more that seemingly simple word scares me. And having shared Jack's emotions, his very thoughts, I know that it scares him too.
Somehow, that very fact is an immense reassurance to me.
I expect to be scared, it's something I've learned to live with since I first signed up to be involved with the Stargate project, but to know that Jack is scared too is a real revelation. I'd never thought he was superhuman, that he didn't share the same emotions as the rest of us, it's just that I never knew that fear was in his repertoire!
Knowing Jack fears what might happen to us if we ever get home makes that emotion more manageable for me, in a perverse kind of way.
But we have to get home first, before we have to worry about the kind of reception we'll get, how we'll deal with the problems we're bound to face.
And that's my department.
Somehow, Jack's faith in me, both spoken and silent, places a great weight on my shoulders - he has such trust in my ability to solve this puzzle.
I've always craved Jack's approval, right from when we first met, but has it ever been as important to me as it is now? Or the discovery I need to make so vital?
Sighing, I settle back against the wall of the alcove, feeling Jack's warmth against me, and I let my gaze rise to the ceiling.
This place is so like the 'Gate room on Abydos, even the ceiling looks the same, and I ponder what to do next. I can't find any trace of a cartouche in this chamber, and I hadn't really expected to - after all, this world, if it's inhabited at all, might well be another one where writing has been banned. Where the records of the 'Gate system are hidden....
Of course! How could I have been so stupid?
I hate to do it, Jack looks so peaceful as he sleeps, but I have to tell him. Even if it means waking him from what looks like a very peaceful sleep, a sleep he seems determined to continue, despite all my efforts to wake him.
I give him another shake, harder this time, and Jack starts to wake, muttering to himself.
"What is it?" Jack growls at me, as I slide out from under him and help him to his feet.
"I found it!" I say, then realise that isn't quite an accurate statement. "Well, I know where to find it!"
Jack glares at me, an eyebrow lifted in enquiry - he's clearly waiting for further explanation, and I realise that I have that stupid grin plastered across my face again.
"It's like Abydos," I say, watching Jack's face intently. I want to see the moment when the penny drops. "It's gotta be. Which means that the cartouche room has to be in the same approximate location from the Gateroom."
The moment of realisation is astounding, it's like a light switches on behind Jack's eyes - the look he gives me is full of pride and affection, as he reaches out and slaps me lightly on the arm.
"So what're we waiting for?" he asks. "Lead on McDuff!"
I refrain from replying that I had been waiting for him to wake up, settling for a glare before I lead the way out of the chamber.
Outside, the sun is finally beginning to set, and the temperature is starting to fall. The setting sun casts a reddish glow across the dunes whose surface we are slithering across, and it doesn't take long before we reach the building we are looking for.
It's partly fallen down, one of the walls has crumbled away, and that lets daylight flood in across the symbols that are laid out across the other surfaces. That in itself is a relief, as I recall the darkness of the cartouche room on Abydos - we had no way of kindling a torch to study the symbols, so the sunshine is a godsend.
I inch my way across the walls that are still standing, my eyes intent on the symbols laid out there. I can feel Jack's presence still, just behind me, shadowing me as I work my way along the row of cartouches, mentally ticking them off as I go.
It's then that I see it, and grab Jack's arm to make him pay attention.
"There!" I exclaim. "That's the one we need to use."
"Where'll it take us?" Jack asks, his eyes still fixed on the rows and rows of symbols.
"Land of Light," I reply, waiting for the response to my statement.
It doesn't take long, much less time than the last.
"Land of..." Jack echoes, clearly still engrossed by the myriad symbols on the walls. His voice grinds to a halt after the second word, and a massive grin appears.
For someone who's been through what we've been through over the past few days, Jack moves very fast - before I can even grin back at him, he's wrapped his arms round me, in a crushing bearhug.
"Daniel, have I ever told you that you're absolutely brilliant?" he whispers in my ear, his breath tickling.
"Not really," I whisper back, "but you can tell me again."
Jack pulls back from my embrace, bringing his hands up to cup my face, his eyes shining with love and pride again.
"Daniel Jackson, you are absolutely brilliant!" Jack says, enunciating each word so clearly that I feel like his words will stay with me forever.
For once, I have no idea what to say, and all I can do is kiss him.
We rush back to the 'Gate chamber, collect our jackets, left behind in the rush, and I dial up the address.
The chevrons spin and lock, then the wormhole forms, shooting out into the chamber as we watch. Once the silvery surface has formed, I reach my hand out tentatively towards Jack, meeting his firm grasp. Joined that way, we step into the wormhole together.
When we stumble out the other side, hands still joined, it's dark.
After the brightness of the desert planet, even as the light diffused into the chamber where the 'Gate was standing, the darkness is a surprise. We scramble down the bank from the 'Gate itself, our steps lit by the silvery glow of the event horizon, before it flickers out and we are left in the twilight.
After a few minutes, when our eyes have adjusted to the darkness, I can make out a path, twisting through the trees away from the clearing where the 'Gate is standing. If I recall correctly, that path leads out of the forest, then curves across some low hills before we come to the city.
If only we had some thermal imaging goggles like last time.
I hated wearing them - they were heavy and awkward, and without my glasses I couldn't see very far, but after the third or fourth time of tripping over tree roots, I wish we had some.
I'm following Jack, as we creep along the path in the darkness. Even as slowly as we have been moving, both of us have measured our length more than once, as the uneven ground or half-hidden obstacles trip us up. I can hear Jack curse under his breath a couple of times, and I sympathise with his plight. Tripping along like this is frustrating enough for me, and I've seen the bruises Jack already has....
When we reach the edge of the forest, I discover I'd forgotten the way that the darkness just... stops! It's as though there is a tangible line between the darkness and the light, and somehow, here, it seems right.
I squint into the light, wishing for a pair of shades right now, and follow Jack as he strides up the nearest slope, still following the path, which is clearer now.
It isn't long before we're standing at the brow of a small hill, looking down across a valley to the city. It's just as I remember it, spread out across the side of the hill before us, the hill itself surmounted by a building that shows its Greek origins so clearly.
Just a little further, and then we're sure of a warm welcome.
As we travel through the streets, heading for the building at the centre of the city, I'm conscious for the first time of what we must look like.
Our uniforms are torn and dirty, we're unshaven and unwashed, hair tangled. It's no surprise that we attract attention, and it doesn't take long before we're stopped by two burly guards, who cross their spears in front of us.
I can see Jack bristle, feel the irritation rising in him, and I reach my hand out to grasp his arm. I know that there's no way I could really stop him, that he could pull out of my grip without any difficulty at all, but it's a psychological thing.
If it doesn't stop Jack from reacting aggressively, at least it makes me feel involved in what's going down.
Even as Jack squares up to the guards, his chin lifting there is movement in the crowd that has gathered around us. After a moment, they part, allowing a man to reach where we are, a man I recognise.
"High Councillor Tuplo," I begin - the man's eyes widen and he spins round to inspect me as I speak his name.
"How do you know my name?" he asks, his eyes raking up and down my body. I can almost see his nostrils flare as he inspects me, and I look him in the eye.
"We know it," Jack interrupts, and Tuplo turns away from me, "because we've been here before. Don't you know who we are?"
Tuplo's eyes linger on Jack for a moment, then he turns back to me. I see him recognise me, his eyes widen, and his jaw drops slightly in surprise.
"My lords!" he exclaims. "What has happened to you?"
It's clear he recognises us now, but this time there is no attempt to kneel before us - the way we look, I'd have been surprised if he had.
"It's a long story," Jack begins, slapping a hand on Tuplo's shoulder in a familiar fashion, turning him towards the hall we had been heading for. "And we'd love to tell it to you over dinner..."
Tossed out of the Stargate, our hearts pounding, our lungs reaching for air, we stumble down the steps. The rush of transit is nearly instantaneous and yet leaves us feeling as though we've been twisted inside out. My stomach heaves, acid boiling within. I haven't eaten in far too long, so there's nothing to come up. But it tries anyway.
A few deep breaths and a moment to let the icy chill of the wormhole wear off, and we both feel a bit better. Daniel's already staring at the path ahead of us, anxious to go. I tap him on the shoulder, signaling that I'm ready. It's dark here, so we have to take it slowly, and my injuries don't help. My arm and leg are nearly healed thanks to the lizard's nasty-tasting blue paste, but the crash left me with a whole new round of bruises. I doubt whether Daniel's in much better shape.
But we're close now to the relative comforts of civilization and that makes us hurry, perhaps a bit faster than is comfortable for either of us. Unfortunately, we're back in another forest and I'm beginning to get heartily sick of trees. And tree roots! I stumble more than once, slowing us down, but by some providence, I fail to twist or break an ankle.
Finally, at long last, we break through the bizarre curtain separating the dark and light sides of this planet. It must be weird living in permanent daylight. But these people seem to have done well despite their strange planet and the disease that took so many of their people before we were able to find a cure.
Once we crest the first hill, we can see the city in a distance. It is definitely a treat for sore eyes. It reminds me of pictures I've seen of Ancient Athens, lots of white marble pillars decorating the buildings. Daniel mutters something about Greek origins while I simply smile. Greek is good. If I remember correctly, they liked to eat, to bathe, and for that matter, they had a positive attitude towards relationships like the one I have formed with Daniel. Yup, Greek is definitely good.
Unfortunately, I'd forgotten just how utterly disreputable we look. Our uniforms are unrecognizable tatters at this point and we're both sporting matted hair, stubble-turning-into-beards, lots of sand, and vivid, multi-colored bruises. As we stagger towards the central temple, we're gathering more than our share of odd looks. These people aren't really scared, just perturbed. They make no pretense of hiding either the stares or the whispers.
So I suppose I shouldn't be surprised when we get confronted by a pair of large, grumpy guards. However, at this point, I'm so damned tired, achy, hungry, thirsty and just plain miserable that my temper gets the better of me. All I want is water, food, a bath and a bed - in that order - all as soon as is humanly possible, and preferably faster. Diplomacy, on the other hand, is not high on my list of favorite occupations on a good day, and this is not a good day.
I step forward, about to give these two brainless musclemen a piece of my mind, but am stopped by Daniel's sudden, strong grip on my arm. I close my mouth, swallowing the words, knowing he's right. Of course, that doesn't stop me from doing my utmost to stare them down.
A crowd is gathering around us, but I ignore them, still glaring at the guards, until Daniel calls out a familiar name.
"High Councillor Tuplo," he says, warmly. I look around and, sure enough, there's a familiar long face. For some reason, the guy always reminds me of a basset hound. I always get this weird sensation of wanting to reach out and scratch behind his ears. He looks perpetually worried. Like usual, however, I manage to restrain myself, which is probably a good thing considering that he's gazing at us with absolute disgust.
"How do you know my name?" he asks regally, his eyes running up and down over Daniel's ragged form.
I don't like that - the intense rush of possessiveness startles me. We'd been alone together, at least separated from other humans, for the entire length of our relationship, so it is a new experience to find myself disturbed by another human simply looking at Daniel. An internal voice shouts 'he's mine! I barely manage to keep it silent, though I do take a step forward and claim Tuplo's attention.
"We know it," I tell the Councillor "because we've been here before. Don't you know who we are?" I meet his eyes straight on, waiting for the spark of recognition. It doesn't come until he turns to look at Daniel again and then it hits. His eyes widen and his mouth drops open in shock. I guess it's those glasses still perched on Daniel's nose and his long hair. It doesn't matter how filthy he is, Daniel is still Daniel.
"My lords! What has happened to you?" he exclaims, spreading his hands wide. His identification of us eases the worries of the guards and they move away.
"It's a long story," I tell him, clapping him on the shoulder. I urge him around to walk towards the familiar long chamber of the town hall. "And we'd love to tell it to you over dinner..."
"Of course, my Lords," he responds. He glances back at us, then makes another offer. "Perhaps you would like to bathe and change clothes first."
"A man after my own heart. That sounds like pure heaven." Daniel's soft sigh agrees with me. Tuplo essays his first smile since he saw us and hurries on ahead. You have to give the man credit, despite that hangdog appearance, he is one hell of an organizer.
We are gathered up by about half-a-dozen giggling women and hustled into a bathing house. Steam rises from the water and I'm not sure if I want to drink it or bathe in it first. Daniel expresses the need for something to drink far more politely than I'm capable of at this point and we get handed goblets of a tangy fruit juice even as the remnants of our clothing are stripped away.
Swallowing that juice as though it was the nectar of the Gods itself, I can't seem to raise the energy to protest. Hell, as Daniel often reminds me on our missions, 'when in Rome..."
Daniel does manage a faint protest, but the ladies ignore him. They toss our rags aside with gestures of disgust, then make clicking noises over our bruised skin. The eldest, a matron of maybe twenty-five years, shouts orders, pushing us towards the steaming water. Like I need to be told...
Oh heaven. I'd nearly forgotten just how incredibly good a hot bath feels. This is almost too hot, but I can live with that. The heat soothes my aching muscles as I sink downward, dunking myself then slowly, reluctantly surfacing. Daniel's spread himself out, his eyes closed, his glasses consigned to one of the girls. His hair floats out around his head almost like tangled seaweed.
I follow suit, floating in the lightly scented water. I'm so tired and this feels so wonderful... I could almost sleep here. Wake me in the morning...
Small but surprisingly strong hands grasp me by the upper arms and pull me up against the edge of the tiled sunken tub. I jerk free and turn, only to find two of the young women gazing at me, kneeling on the edge, a pile of sponges and a set of pottery vials beside them. A faint gasp makes me turn and I see Daniel being given a shampoo by three of the girls, one hanging onto him while another dumps the entire contents of an earthen bottle on his head.
I laugh aloud, earning a glare from him, then give in myself. If they want to wash us, let them. I'm too tired to spend much effort doing it myself and we are awfully grimy. Already, the water around me is turning dark. So I close my eyes, turn my back to the ladies and let them take over.
The women certainly know what they are doing. I've never felt cleaner in my life and the ointments they put on my scrapes and bruises, while over-perfumed, is incredibly soothing. Amazingly, they even manage to get all of the tangles out of Daniel's hair without having to cut much of it off, even despite Daniel's yelps and complaints. I'm not complaining though - I think I could get to like this kind of treatment.
Clean clothes, clean skin, clean hair. We're definitely making major progress here. There's no mirror handy, but considering that Daniel looks like a young Greek God in his white toga and pale yellow linen pants, I figure I probably look passable enough for polite society. Daniel certainly seems to like the way I look, given the appreciative lilt to his eyes as he studies me. The young matron is satisfied also.
"Come," she says. "High Councillor Tuplo is waiting for you."
I gesture for Daniel to precede me and he does, giving me a sly grin. I restrain the desire to slap him on the ass as he passes by since we'd better save that for when we get a chance to be alone. If I weren't so hungry...
I'm starving and the smell of food nearly makes me faint as we approach the town hall. My mouth salivates and it is all I can do to observe the niceties as Tuplo greets us and invites us to join him in a feast in our honor. Daniel does better, he chats away happily, returning Tuplo's greeting and asking after the health of his daughter.
"She is well, Lord Daniel, and will soon be married," Tuplo replies, grinning ear-to-ear as we sit down on the plush cushions.
"Congratulations!" I offer, waiting for a signal to begin eating.
"Thank you, Lord Jack," he answers, still smiling widely. Then, finally he gestures for us to begin. I start with plain bread, knowing full well that if I'm not careful, I'll give myself one hell of a tummy ache. I've got bigger plans for tonight than lying in bed with an upset stomach. Much bigger...
I'm delighted to see that Daniel follows my lead, eating slowly, sticking to the blander choices. As good as those spicy sauces smell, they're not worth the risk. Still, I manage to make decent inroads in the food before me and Tuplo seems willing to let us eat before we continue conversation.
The questions he wants to ask are buzzing at him, though, and his impatience slowly leaks through his politeness. So I take a deep drink of the wine, sit up straight, and meet his eyes.
"Thank you for a wonderful feast, High Councillor," I tell him, indicating that I'm ready to answer. He smiles, wiping at his mouth.
"What had happened to you, Lords? I had been told by your healer that you both had been killed."
As much as I'd been expecting that, hearing it shook me. I glanced at Daniel and saw the same upset mirrored in his eyes. I slid my hand over to squeeze his thigh in reassurance, then did my best to answer.
"There was a terribly storm on a planet we were visiting and we - Daniel and I - were unable to return through the Stargate before it was destroyed. We were tossed into the sea and only barely survived. And without a 'Gate, there was no way to return or contact our people. We thought we were stuck on that planet forever."
Tuplo's eyes widened and he leaned forward, disturbed by our story, yet obviously enjoying the tale. Daniel took over for me, his hands slicing the air as he spoke.
"We foraged for a while and even started building a home there, when we discovered that an alien spaceship had crashed there a long time ago. The crew had died, but the ship had repaired itself. We were able to make it work and we flew to another planet which had a working Stargate."
That was quite an encapsulation of our experiences and left quite a bit out, but all in all, it was pretty solid. Definitely good preparation for when we get back to the SGC and Hammond de-briefs us.
"What is a 'spaceship'?" Tuplo asks, his face screwed up in an attempt to understand.
"Uhh..." Daniel glances at me, but I shrug, preferring to let him tackle that one. He glares at me, but does his best. Tuplo is amazed by the concept, but seems willing to take Daniel's word for it.
"Anyway," I say, picking up the end of the tale. "We found the Stargate and decided that coming here to see our good friends in the Land of Light would be the best thing to do."
"I am honored that you chose to come to us in your time of need. We owe you a great debt," Tuplo replies formally, but sincerely.
"We appreciate your assistance very much," Daniel replies warmly. "And we were wondering if you had heard from our people recently."
Tuplo shakes his head, sadly, then abruptly his face lights up.
"They are not to visit us until the next cycle, however, they did leave us a signaling device to use if we need to contact them. We have not tried to use it yet, but we would be glad to do so. I am certain that your friends will be deeply happy to see you alive. They grieved heavily for your loss."
"Thank you, that'd be awesome!" I tell him.
"Yes, thank you," Daniel echoes, his voice strangling out into a huge yawn. He covers his mouth and blushes. "Sorry."
I chuckle, but Tuplo looks aghast.
"I am so sorry," he rushes to apologize. "You must be tired after your long journey. Please accept our hospitality for the night. We will signal your people a fter you have rested." He gets to his feet and we do the same, though a bit more slowly. My assorted aches and pains are catching up with me, and the addition of a full belly simply makes me more tired.
We thank him warmly, yet again, then let him lead us into a small antechamber. It contains a large bed, a wooden chair, a small table with a pitcher of water and two mugs, some linen cloths, and a chamber pot.
"This is not much, but you can sleep here without being disturbed." Tuplo says, worried we may be upset at the simpleness of the room. But after weeks spent sleeping in trees, on the ground, in caves and just about anywhere we could find, this big, comfy bed with pillows and clean sheets looks like sheer heaven.
"It's just fine," Daniel tells him. I nod my agreement. Tuplo smiles, wishes us good rest, and leaves us alone. We don't even need to discuss it - silently, simultaneously, we drop our clothes over the back of the chair and scurry into the bed. The mattress is soft, molding to our weight. The sheets smell faintly of a flowery perfume, the cloth smooth on our skin.
I wrap my arms around Daniel, close my eyes, and fall instantly to sleep.
Jack drops into such a familiar attitude with Tuplo, like he's known him for years, and despite the unlikeliness of it, this seems to work. Strange really, considering what we've turned up looking like, the fact that we'd only met Tuplo and the people of the Land of Light a few months ago, and then not always at our best....
I try to push to the back of my mind the events surrounding our last visit here and concentrate on what Tuplo's saying - he is offering us the hospitality of this place, without a second thought, it seems.
"Perhaps you would like to bathe and change clothes first," he suggests, sounding as though he is barely managing to keep from insisting we do so.
Not that I can blame him. It's been a while since either of us have been really clean, despite our frequent contacts with water.
Just thinking of hot water makes me sigh with anticipation, and Jack grins at me as he accepts Tuplo's offer. We watch as Tuplo scurries off, heading up to the citadel to make preparations, I guess. Before I can ponder any more about what might happen, Jack and I are ambushed by a group of young women, and swept off into the nearby bath house.
I manage to resist the urge to just dive in, realising how thirsty I am. I wonder how long it is since we had something to drink? A few words, and that particular need is being met, even as we are being efficiently stripped by our attendants.
When I gather their intentions, I try to protest, but it does no good - there is no arguing with them. Before I know it, I am naked, trying to cover myself and drink at the same time. There is a growing heat on my face, and it's not just from the water!
Both of us get a thorough inspection from these cool-headed women, who seem horrified by how battered we are - Jack seems to be taking this a bit more in his stride than I am, which is a testament to his years of communal showers in the military, I suppose. Not that mixed showers are the norm, but he looks far less embarassed than me, even winking at me when he sees me looking his way.
I resign myself to heading into the water, knowing my protests will be fruitless - the warmth of the water is like a caress, stripping away the aches and pains of our journey even as it makes us more fit for company.
Through the steam, I can see Jack duck himself under the water, and try not to think back to seeing him do that on 'our' planet - there is a pang of loss settling in my heart, whenever I think back on our time there.
I try to relax, not to worry about what will happen next, just go with the attentions I am receiving from the women who hover over us - strong fingers are working shampoo into my hair, massaging my scalp with a sure touch, and I only just manage to stifle a groan of pleasure. I don't want to give them the wrong idea.
It's all over much faster than either of us wanted, but I suppose we can't really keep Tuplo waiting too long.
The women's ministrations have been thorough - kind but firm. I wasn't too happy when they had to cut some of the worst tangles out of my hair, but they did a good job of it, so I didn't end up looking like I'd been shorn.
And wearing clean clothes, for the first time in what seems like forever - well, I'd never thought that I'd appreciate that feeling so much.
From the look Jack gives me when he thinks I don't notice, he must be thinking the same. He looks a little uncomfortable, fidgetting with the way the fabric hangs, but the earth tones he is wearing set off his eyes, making them shine darker.
If only I weren't so hungry! Even so, it's hard, when I look at Jack, and see him like this, to keep my mind on food....
Entering the town hall, and going down the steps into the chamber, I can't help but recall the last time we had been here. Then, the locals had thought we were 'gods', come to visit them as their legends told.
I always felt uncomfortable when we got that kind of reception, and I know Jack hated it, so I was glad that the relationship we had developed with the people from the Land of Light had changed from that.
Not that they didn't have reason to treat us with gratitude - we had cured their 'curse', the disease which had afflicted them, turning them into savages. But not before we had all been infected ourselves. I had been one of the last to succumb, during my time here on this planet, and the thought of how I had been was still embarrassing to me.
And then there was that whole episode with Jack, which had ended up in him attacking me. At the time I had thought he was responding to the way that Sam had pursued him, when she herself became infected, trying to mark his territory where she was concerned.
My experiences since have proved that I was way off the mark with that theory! I now have a completely different way of interpreting that particular episode between us....
To distract myself from these thoughts, which are threatening to send me into a tail-spin, I inquire after Melosha, Tuplo's daughter. She had been one of the people we had cured, and Tuplo loved her very much.
"She is well, Lord Daniel, and will soon be married," Tuplo replies, with the biggest smile I have ever seen this restrained individual produce.
After we have exchanged congratulations, it's time to eat, and after all this time of living on just fruit and meat, I hardly know where to start.
Just the selection of food, the choice, the very smell of it all, makes my stomach churn slightly, as I try to decide whether this abundance delights or revolts me. I decide to eat as plainly as I can, knowing from painful experience how my stomach may react otherwise.
Even though Tuplo tries to contain himself, to be the perfect host, it's clear that he is full of questions, and we are bound to be the subject of the day. When we have finished eating, still overwhelmed by the amount of food in front of us, he begins.
"What had happened to you, Lords? I had been told by your healer that you both had been killed."
So, everyone we knew back on Earth thought we were dead. I'd always thought they would just think us missing, not presume the worst, but in my heart I always knew.
They needed to grieve for us, I realise that, and having no body to bury, they still needed to lay our memories to rest. I hadn't given it much thought before, too busy trying to survive, I guess, but now the idea that we had been mourned cuts right through me.
Jack glances over at me, and I can see he is upset by the idea too. His hand on my leg reassures me that we are in this together, as he attempts to answer Tuplo's question.
"There was a terrible storm on a planet we were visiting," Jack says, "and we - Daniel and I - were unable to return through the Stargate before it was destroyed. We were tossed into the sea and only barely survived. And without a 'Gate, there was no way to return or contact our people. We thought we were stuck on that planet forever."
Well, those are the edited highlights, I suppose, and it's then that I realise that is all we'll ever be able to tell anyone. What happened on the planet between us will always be something we'll share, but no one else.
I can tell Jack is thinking what to say next, so I step in, knowing that we need to decide what the official version of our time on the planet is going to be - we need to get our story straight, so to speak.
"We foraged for a while," I begin, glancing at Jack in apology for interrupting him, "and even started building a home there, when we discovered that an alien spaceship had crashed there a long time ago. The crew had died, but the ship had repaired itself. We were able to make it work and we flew to another planet which had a working Stargate."
"What is a 'spaceship'?" Tuplo asks, latching on to a word he doesn't understand.
"Uhh..." I begin, glancing at Jack in a mute appeal for help. He just shrugs at me, leaving me floundering with explaining the concept of space travel to a man who probably doesn't even know that his planet is round.
It's not easy, but after a few false starts, Tuplo seems to understand, and is shaking his head in amazement at what I am telling him.
After that, we talk about going home.
"...we were wondering if you had heard from our people recently," I say, but Tuplo simply shakes his head.
I see the way Jack's face falls slightly on hearing this news, and I know the thoughts behind it. When Jack thought we were stuck on the planet together, he had resigned himself to it, turning his attention to making a life there.
As soon as returning to Earth was an option, all thoughts of settling for anything else became second best. Although Jack would wait, it wouldn't be patiently, that would be too much to ask for!
"They are not to visit us until the next cycle," Tuplo explains, then seems to think of something else. "...however, they did leave us a signaling device to use if we need to contact them. We have not tried to use it yet, but we would be glad to do so. I am certain that your friends will be deeply happy to see you alive. They grieved heavily for your loss."
Jack's face practically lights up, a massive grin plastering itself there.
"Thank you, that'd be awesome!" he says.
"Yes, thank you," I echo, the words lost in a yawn. I hadn't realised how tired I was - the combination of the hot bath and food had finally taken its toll....
"I am so sorry," Tuplo says hastily. "You must be tired after your long journey. Please accept our hospitality for the night. We will signal your people after you have rested."
He leads us to a small chamber - the bed that almost fills it has a magnetic attraction for both Jack and myself, and it's all we can do to get undressed before we plunge into it. I am asleep almost before I close my eyes, feeling Jack's arms wrap round me, his warmth against my back as he spoons up against me.
I don't know how long I was asleep for, and the perpetual daylight of this place means I have no idea what time it is when I wake.
Jack's arms are still wrapped round me, but they have gone from being comforting to seeming to trap me. I need to escape them, I realise suddenly, but I don't want to wake Jack - so, it takes a while, and it's a delicate operation, before I can worm my way out of them, replacing my presence with a pillow.
The small chamber we are in seems airless, and I gather my clothes together, dressing as quickly and quietly as I can.
I need to get out of here, get some air, gather my thoughts. In a matter of hours we will be going back to Earth, back to the SGC, and the thought of that is making my heart hammer like it wants to get out of my chest.
As I walk through the hall, and out into the night, I barely notice the massive bull's heads that adorn the walls. Any other time I would be fascinated by them, as I had been when we had first visited this place, but now I barely notice their existence.
The dampness of the air outside seems to clear my head a little, and I sink to the ground, my back against a pillar.
From where I am seated, I can look out across the city, which lies there spread before me - it's quiet, so the people of the city must be resting. I can see people moving about here and there, but nothing like the bustle of earlier, when the streets had thronged with movement.
I need to think, to reflect on all that's happened since that fateful day when Jack and I were marooned on Ernest's planet. The time we spent there is so precious to me, that I don't want to forget any of it - even the bad parts are entwined with the time Jack and I spent together, making them special.
And now it's over.
We're going back. And I'm not sure how easy it's going to be to slot back into the roles we used to play - gruff soldier and flaky scientist.
There has been such an ease to the physical relationship between us, and that's the first thing that will have to change, in public anyway. It's too dangerous for Jack's career for what is between us to be anywhere but behind closed doors. Even the casual touches between us will have to be something we're careful with, I realise with a sinking heart....
What we have is so new, I'm trying hard to believe that it is deep-rooted enough to survive this. When I shared a link with Jack, I felt his emotions, so I know the reality of his feelings for me, but I know how things can change.
Sadly it can take very little for love to turn to indifference, and the thought that Jack could ever not return my love for him frightens me more than anything that happened on the planet.
The city seems to be waking up now, there are more people moving about, and I should get back to where Jack is. If he wakes and finds me gone, he'll only worry, and I have a feeling that today is going to be a long and stressful day without my contributing to it.
When I get back to the chamber, I'm reassured to see that Jack is still asleep. For a moment, when I am undressing again, I think I catch him looking at me, from the corner of my eye, but when I turn back to the bed, I find I am mistaken.
I take the pillow's place, settling back into Jack's embrace, despite the slight feeling of claustrophobia that accompanies it. Closing my eyes, I try to sleep again, despite the way my mind refuses to rest.
Sleep eluded me, but there was nothing I could do about it.
After what seemed like an eternity, one of Tuplo's servants came to wake us, and I felt Jack stir where he was still lying spooned against me. His breath is warm on my neck as he kisses me, whispering into my ear.
"Is it?" I reply. "It's hard to tell here, there's always daylight."
"Pedant," Jack mutters, snuggling up against me. I can feel his cheek against my shoulder-blade, the warmth of his breath tickling my skin.
"Don't go back to sleep, Jack," I say, laying my hand on his arm and shaking it. He grunts softly into my shoulder, muttering under his breath again. "Tuplo wants to feed us again, then it'll be time to go."
There is silence for a moment, then Jack reluctantly unwraps his arms from around me, before scooting up the bed until his back is pressed against the wall. As he sits there, rubbing his eyes with one hand, his hair sticking up all over the place, I feel a surge of protectiveness towards him, ridiculous as that might sound.
"There's something we need to do first, Daniel," Jack says quietly, his eyes intent on me.
"There is?" I stutter. I can feel the blood rush from my brain, seeming to go straight to my groin, apart from the little that lingers in my face, as I blush under the intensity of Jack's gaze.
"Uh huh," Jack says, not moving towards me. "We need to talk about where you went last night..."
The first time I wake up, I immediately realize that Daniel's gone. He's tucked a pillow into my arms and left the room. His clothes are gone. My first impulse is to worry - to go chasing after him. Even though we're in a supposedly safe place, I still feel nervous having him out of my sight. But before I can do anything, he returns, moving quietly, obviously trying not to wake me up.
I watch him remove his clothes and return to bed from under half-closed eyelids. For some reason he doesn't want me to know he's been gone. That's OK - we all need a moment of privacy on occasion, especially when we can't sleep for whatever reason. He's here, and he's safe, and he's back in my arms where he belongs, and now I can return to sleep.
The second time I wake up, I quickly realize that something's still wrong. Daniel stiffens, his entire body tense, when I snuggle close.
"Don't go back to sleep, Jack," he says, shaking my shoulder. Up until now, Daniel had always been extremely amenable to morning snuggles. It was his favorite time to kiss and cuddle, our bodies warm and our minds hazy from sleep. His fondness for it had communicated itself to me, such that I found myself anticipating the mornings, occasionally waking him up before dawn just so that I could taste him.
But today, he's different. Insistent on waking up and leaving our soft cocoon. The first chance we get to snuggle and make love in a real bed, and he's not interested? I may be slow, but I'm not that dumb.
"Tuplo wants to feed us again, then it'll be time to go," he says, still urging me to wake up. All right, I get the hint. Time to deal with this, whatever it is. Reluctantly, I let go of him and sit up, shifting to rest my back against the wall.
"There's something we need to do first, Daniel," I tell him, watching him intently. He blushes lightly, a dull rose color staining his cheeks. His eyes can't quite meet mine.
"There is?" he stutters.
"Uh huh," I tell him, refusing to let his beauty detract me from the needs of the moment. "We need to talk about where you went last night."
"You were awake!" he replies, finally lifting up blue eyes to meet mine. I nod, gesturing for him to continue. "I - uh - just went for a walk. Guess my sleep cycles are all screwed up the way we've been bouncing from planet to planet."
Good excuse, Daniel, but I ain't buying it. I simply stare at him. He ducks his head, then looks back up at me out of the corner of his eyes, apparently unwilling to continue.
"Daniel..." I prompt. "What's going on?"
"Nothing Jack," he replies, but he still won't meet my gaze. So I reach out and place my fingers under his chin, pushing upward, gently but firmly. He sighs softly, his eyes pleading with mine to let this go, but I shake my head, refusing to let him off the hook.
"I'm just a little nervous about returning to Earth. They thought we were dead. It's going to be a big shock."
His voice trails off and suddenly I know what is bothering him. It's the same thing that had been haunting the back of my mind since we found the alien ship. What will happen to us when we return home? What does this mean for our new-found love?
I slide my hand upward to cup his cheek, rubbing my thumb across the corner of his mouth. I lean forward so that I can feel his breath on my mouth as I speak. I look deep into his eyes and speak slowly and carefully. It is important that he understand the decision that I've already made.
"I love you, Daniel Jackson. That won't change. Not here, not on Earth, not anywhere. Will we have to make some adjustments when we return home? Yes. But we can deal with that. I've never been one to make public displays of affection anyway." I smile, trying to win a return grin from him, but it falls flat. He shakes his head.
"But what if they find out? It could ruin your career!"
I snort, trying desperately not to laugh. He doesn't react well to that, as I've already learned the hard way.
"Daniel... Daniel..." I sputter, trying to find the right way to say this, finally settling for utter bluntness. "To hell with my career." His eyes widen with shock, and I shake my head at him. "I have already retired once," I explain. "They pulled me out of it because of Apophis's attacks through the Stargate. If it wasn't for how important all this is, I'd have told them to take a flying leap. I've already given the US military the better part of my life. I've been wounded more times than I can count and I've got a wall full of medals at home to prove it. I don't owe them anything more - I'm doing this - the SGC - because I care about Earth and because it's the most amazing thing that's ever happened to me. I'm doing it for you. So if they have a problem with me and how I choose to live my life, they can go to hell and I have no problem with the idea of telling them so. Besides, they need me - and you. Between us, we know more about the Stargate and everything out here than anyone else. So I figure that the least they can do in return is stay the fuck outta our private lives."
Whew. That was a long speech for me. I hope he appreciates it, because it's not likely to happen again. I detest this kind of shit, but Daniel's worth it. I pray he can see that too.
He obviously does because suddenly I'm covered with a sobbing Daniel. He hugs me for all he's worth, then starts kissing me from the top of my head down to my lips and back up again. In-between, he's muttering something about loving me. Sounds good to me. I wrap my arms around him, snag a handful of his hair, and guide that roving mouth back to my own. I'd much rather do this than talk anytime.
Giggles from the doorway bring me back to myself and I look up from the sweaty tangle of our bodies to find Tuplo and a pair of women staring at us from the open doorway.
When Tuplo realizes that he has my attention, he bows and apologies profusely. "I am so sorry to disturb you my Lords, but is nearly time for the after-sleep meal. Pella and Creore are here to guide you to the bathing house so that you may prepare. But if you wish to sleep longer..."
"No, no," I hasten to reassure him, shaking Daniel's shoulder as I slide towards the edge of the bed. "Thank you for waking us."
He smiles, obviously relieved. "You're most welcome. I will see you at the meal." He turns and walks away, leaving us to the care of the two very-amused young ladies.
We bathe and eat quickly. Now that the time of our return to Earth is so close, we're both getting a bit anxious. While we've settled the question of continuing our relationship, albeit more discretely, there's still a lot of emotion involved here.
I am excited to see our friends again, to return to familiar surroundings, but I'm also slightly nervous. We have no idea what has happened during the time we've been gone, which by my estimate, is about a full month. Is everyone there all right? Has Teal'c stayed with the SGC in our absence? I'm feeling itchy, unsettled, and that emotion seems to communicate itself to our host.
Tuplo gathers us up and leads a procession to the Stargate. Daniel and I walk side-by-side, our shoulders nearly brushing. It is all I can do to keep from reaching out and taking his hand, but we have to get used to restraining those impulses in public.
In private however -- I settle for planning the bookshelves I'm going to build in my living room to accommodate all his books and artifacts. It's a good thing that I don't tend to accumulate stuff, because he obviously can't throw anything away. We might have to have a little talk about the usefulness of Goodwill and used bookstores for getting rid of things.
When we reach the Stargate, Tuplo hands Daniel the GDO, then kisses him on both cheeks. When he turns to do the same to me, I reach out and give him a hearty handshake.
"Thank you, Tuplo, for all of your assistance. We are very grateful."
"It is nothing compared to what you have done for us. We will always be happy to provide whatever assistance you require," he says, his hangdog face breaking out into a warm smile.
"Thank you," Daniel replies, smiling back. He dials the DHD and we all watch the Gate burst into life. It never ceases to amaze and delight me watching that shimmering curtain come into being. Daniel directs the GDO at it, presses the buttons, then hands it back to Tuplo.
Tuplo bows, then moves back, the rest of his court falling back behind him. Daniel looks at me and I nod, gesturing for him to go. He walks up to the Gate, then pauses until I reach his side. We smile at each other, take in and release a deep breath, then step forward into wormhole.
"You were awake!" I exclaim, while my mind races to try and think of a reason good enough to convince Jack to drop this subject now.
I look at him and see him nod tersely, indicating that I should go on - I manage to look him steadily in the eye, despite the way my heart is starting to pound.
"I - uh - just went for a walk," I begin, hoping to keep my voice this steady all the way through. "Guess my sleep cycles are all screwed up the way we've been bouncing from planet to planet."
I can tell by the way that Jack is looking at me that he isn't convinced, though I gave it my best shot. He continues to look at me, his eyes dark and unreadable, and after a little while I can't stand it any more. I can't do this. I suddenly find a contemplation of the bed clothes much more interesting.
"Daniel..." Jack begins, his voice quiet and coaxing, "...what's going on?"
I can't tell him. I can't.
"Nothing, Jack," I answer, unable to look up at him, as I know my eyes would give this statement away for the lie it is.
I feel the strength in Jack's fingers as he gently makes me look at him, raising my chin till I have no option but to look him in the eye. I sigh, frustrated that I won't be allowed to squirm out of this, and Jack shakes his head in dismissal of my hesitation.
Time for another try, so maybe if I make this one a little closer to the truth?
"I'm just a little nervous about returning to Earth," I admit. "They thought we were dead. It's going to be a big shock."
Even though I try to sound convincing, I can hear the half-truth in my own voice, which trails away uncertainly.
I try to keep looking at Jack, searching for understanding in his eyes, but I can't do it, even though the way his hand is still on my face is a great comfort to me. I can feel the gentle way that his hand crosses my cheek, his thumb rubbing gently at the side of my lips.
Then he speaks, and everything changes forever.
"I love you, Daniel Jackson," he says, to my astonishment. "That won't change. Not here, not on Earth, not anywhere. Will we have to make some adjustments when we return home? Yes. But we can deal with that. I've never been one to make public displays of affection anyway."
Jack grins at me while he's saying this, but I can't do it. I can't smile back. He just doesn't get it, does he? For once, Jack just doesn't see the big picture here, and I have to explain it to him, I have to. Even though I risk him realising I'm right, that this could jeopardise our future together. The alternative is unthinkable - I couldn't live with Jack resenting me for what he's lost because of us being together, and that makes me plough on, somehow finding the words.
"But what if they find out?" I ask, trying to keep my voice steady, keep down the element of hysteria that's threatening to hijack this attempt at being selfless for a change. "It could ruin your career!"
"Daniel... Daniel..." Jack begins in a quiet voice, stifling what sounds suspiciously like a snort of laughter. "To hell with my career."
No. He can't mean that. I can't ask him to do that, not for me.
"I have already retired once," he continues, "they pulled me out of it because of Apophis's attacks through the Stargate. If it wasn't for how important all this is, I'd have told them to take a flying leap. I've already given the US military the better part of my life. I've been wounded more times than I can count and I've got a wall full of medals at home to prove it. I don't owe them anything more - I'm doing this - the SGC - because I care about Earth and because it's the most amazing thing that's ever happened to me. I'm doing it for you. So if they have a problem with me and how I choose to live my life, they can go to hell and I have no problem with the idea of telling them so. Besides, they need me - and you. Between us, we know more about the Stargate and everything out here t han anyone else. So I figure that the least they can do in return is stay the fuck outta our private lives."
This is a real red-letter day for Jack making long speeches about how he feels, and I can hardly believe he's saying all these things. I hadn't doubted that Jack loved me - the time we spent linked together when we were on the ship had blown away any uncertainty surrounding that topic forever - but this still comes out of left-field. I listen to what Jack is saying, and my mind races, as usual.
I can't begin to categorise the emotions that are churning around inside me - it feels like a kaleidoscope, every feeling you can name is there.
The overwhelming one is that of exultation, a rejoicing over the commitment Jack seems prepared to make for me, but I can't help feeling a little guilty too. I know how much serving his country means to Jack, even though he makes light of it at times - those medals mean much more than metal and cloth, they represent lives lost at great cost, sacrifices made.
I'm never going to be deserving of Jack's love, this absolute devotion that he seems to be fastening onto me, and to be honest it terrifies me a little. The idea that he has been doing what he has been doing with the SGC for my benefit, let alone the concept of him willingly giving it up for me, that's more than I could ever ask.
And in the end it's that commitment that cuts through, heading straight for my heart like a lance. I could have lived with the consequences if Jack had chosen the Air Force over me, I would have had to, somehow - now I feel ashamed of forcing him to even make that choice.
As soon as Jack has finished speaking, I see him look at me, enquiry in his eyes. I can't stop myself, I have to show him something of how I'm feeling, even though it might make him squirm with embarassment.
So, without a second thought, I throw myself at Jack, wrapping myself around him as though I never want to let go, as if I want to take up residence inside his skin.
I can feel myself sobbing, my body shuddering slightly with each breath I draw in, but I concentrate on kissing him, peppering his face with kisses, not wanting this moment to end. I'm incoherent, I know that, wanting to tell Jack how much he means to me, how wrong I was to make him choose, and I have no idea how much is getting through.
Once Jack has got over the initial surprise of my assault, I feel his arms wrap around me, the fingers of one hand moving across the back of my head, gently directing my mouth till it meets his, and we kiss, a deep searching embrace.
It isn't long after that when Tuplo arrives, though the only warning of this was the giggling of the women that accompanied him, seeing us tangled together in the untidy remnants of the bed.
If they had any doubts about the relationship between Jack and myself, then I think we dispelled them forever. I can feel myself blush as the women's eyes rake over us, and I reach out to snag the sheet, drawing it up over us, in a belated attempt at modesty.
This seems to make Tuplo more comfortable too - when he had entered the chamber, he had seemed not to know what to do with his eyes, too embarassed to look at us, they had inspected every inch of the walls and ceiling instead.
"I am so sorry to disturb you my Lords," he begins, still a little red in the face, "but is nearly time for the after-sleep meal. Pella and Creore are here to guide you to the bathing house so that you may prepare. But if you wish to sleep longer..."
It's tempting. Really tempting. But as much as I'd love the opportunity to show Jack again how much he means to me, we can't stay here much longer - we have to get back home.
"No, no," Jack replies to Tuplo's offer, though I can see the same reluctance in his eyes. "Thank you for waking us."
I manage to stifle the snort of laughter that threatens to escape at Jack's statement - he's decided to act as if Tuplo and the women have no idea what we were doing, rather than consider that they got an eyeful. I can understand the motivation behind that, I suppose, but I just can't manage to do it. My face is a little less red now, but the embarassment is still there.
"You're most welcome," Tuplo replies, with a smile. "I will see you at the meal."
This trip to the bath house was nothing like as lengthy as the last, and neither was the meal. There's a sense of urgency in both of us, we have to get back now. In some ways this haste is ridiculous - we've been gone maybe a month now, so what would another few hours matter?
But it's not about time. It's about not losing our nerve.
Now we can go back to the SGC, we should go as soon as we can. Just the thought of how our friends have grieved for us is enough to make me want to go now. I don't want them to have to carry that for another hour, so it's hard to take things at Tuplo's pace, move slowly enough to be appreciative guests, to treat his hospitality with respect.
I have no illusions about how it is going to be.
But, I guess, the most important thing is that we'll be going through it together. Jack is the strongest person I know, and I can be pretty stubborn too, so between the two of us, we stand a good chance of making this work.
We follow Tuplo to the 'Gate, walking side by side. I can't help sneaking the occasional glance at Jack, when he isn't looking, just to assure myself that he's real, that all this is happening, that I'm not going to wake up and find we are back on Ernest's planet after all.
I can see Jack frown slightly, and I wonder what he's thinking about. I know he's been as worried about our friends as I have, and he's been there before - everyone he loves thinking he was dead, grieving for him - that must make this moment even more poignant.
All I want to do is reach out to him, snag his hand, let him know he's not alone, but I can't, can I?
Finally, after what seems like forever, we reach the 'Gate. Surrounded by guards carrying torches, a flickering light in the darkness of the forest, Tuplo turns to me and embraces me, kissing me on both cheeks. He also hands me the GDO, and my fingers tighten round it, feeling its familiar weight.
"Thank you, Tuplo, for all of your assistance," Jack says, having avoided being kissed. "We are very grateful."
"It is nothing compared to what you have done for us," Tuplo responds, smiling. "We will always be happy to provide whatever assistance you require."
"Thank you," I echo, at a loss for what to say, so I turn to the DHD, dragging up the combination for home from somewhere in my memory.
This time the wormhole forms, I can't help but feel that it's finally happening. We're finally going home. I send the signal to open the iris, then hand the GDO back to Tuplo, who retreats to where the rest of his entourage were standing.
I take one last look at Jack, who nods encouragingly at me, his eyes warm and dark with emotion. I wait for him at the event horizon, until I can feel the warmth from his body, then step into the void.
Coming out of the wormhole, stepping from the darkness and quiet of the forest into the light and noise of the SGC....
Even as my boots hit the ramp, the familiar echoing sound makes me know we're really back, even before I manage to pry my eyelids open to check.
As I gather myself, still recovering from the trip, I realise that there's no longer anything like the noise there had been a few moments before - everyone is staring at us, in silence, as we stand together just this side of the event horizon.
The sound the wormhole makes when it disengages echoes through the 'Gate room, and I half-turn to Jack for reassurance. It's an automatic response I suppose, and this wasn't quite the welcome I had envisaged.
"They're suprised to see us," I whisper to Jack as we head down the ramp.
"Ya think?" he replies, smiling back at me.
Even as we were speaking, the door to the 'Gate room had opened, allowing Sam to come barrelling in. She stops at the bottom of the ramp, eyes wide, another one lost for words.
Without a second thought, I reach her in a couple of strides, and envelop her in a hug. She is still silent, and I know the emotions she must be going through, so it's not till I hear a voice behind me that I relax my embrace.
"Put her down, Daniel," Jack says, and for a moment I think I detect a possessive tone in his voice, which makes me smile.
I let go of Sam, reluctantly, and step back - she is all smiles, her eyes flicking between me and Jack, as if she wants to memorise how we look, to keep checking that we're really here.
"Colonel O'Neill," she snaps out, saluting. "Glad to see you're okay, sir."
Well, at least she restrained herself from hugging Jack - I'm not sure if either of us would have been happy with that. He seems glad that she's remembered that she's in the Air Force, even if she is a friend too.
"Thank you, Carter," Jack replies, with an answering salute, the effect of which is somewhat spoilt by the grin that's taking over his face.
"We thought..." Sam starts to speak, her voice quiet and full of emotion.
"We know," I interrupt, knowing that she is close to the edge here.
I need to distract her - if she falls apart on us, she'll be embarassed about it forever, and I don't want her to go through that. I glance at Jack before I carry on speaking, and the warmth is still there in his eyes, which reassures me immensely.
"I'm glad you're okay, Sam," I continue. "Did everyone else make it back as well?"
"We're all fine, Daniel," she answers, "but we missed you both. This place hasn't been the same without you!"
Hmmm. Now there's a comment you could take a number of ways!
"It's good to be home, Sam," I agree, my eyes again turning to Jack.
This is going to be okay, isn't it?
There is a twinkle there in Jack's eyes, a smile that seems directed solely at me, ignoring the existence of anyone else, and this sends a warmth through me that I can't begin to describe.
We're really home, and I think we're going to be fine.
I'm suddenly conscious of Sam's eyes on me, full of unspoken enquiry, and I hesitate slightly. How much do we tell her, and Teal'c? After all, they are friends as well as colleagues - this is something Jack and I will have to talk about.
I'll just add that to the list of 'things we need to talk about', which seems to be growing exponentially....
Time to go - I can see General Hammond in the control room, his face beaming, and I know there are going to be a lot of questions coming our way. We follow Sam out of the 'Gate room, as she leads us up to where the general is.
I guess we'd better get started....
Home. At last! We're finally home.
I can't believe how happy I am to see this old, gray concrete bunker again. Ugly as it is, it is still a sight for sore eyes. As I stand beside Daniel on the ramp it is all I can do to keep from jumping up and down. But everyone is staring at us in wide-eyed shock and I think I'd better save the sudden movements for later, such as after they really believe that we are truly us.
Daniel turns to me when the wormhole whooshes out of existence.
"They're surprised to see us," he whispers, obviously just as uncertain how to react as they are. I try to reassure him with a smile, even as I comment wryly.
No sooner have I finished commenting to Daniel than the doors slide open and Sam Carter comes running in. She pushes her way past the stunned guards to stand at the foot of the ramp, staring up at us as though we are ghosts. I guess, in a way, that's exactly what we are to her. In fact, however, we're very real and Daniel proves that in his characteristically passionate manner.
Daniel races down the ramp, grabs her and lifts her up in a hug. She's still too shocked to respond even though Daniel shows no sign of letting her go. So I stride down the ramp in a much more dignified manner, barely managing to hold back the grin that is threatening to break loose, and tell him to put her down. I'm not really jealous but he has definitely hugged her long enough and besides, I want to say hello too.
She's my friend as well as my subordinate officer, after all.
She looks from Daniel to me, her bright blue eyes glistening with unshed tears. I'm feeling a bit watery myself, not that I'm going to let it show.
"Colonel O'Neill," she snaps out, saluting me with perfect style. "Glad to see you're okay, sir."
That's exactly the greeting I have hoped for. I don't think Daniel understands the level of respect and comradeship that this gesture carries to a career military officer. There is nothing else she could have done which would have pleased me more.
I offer her a salute in return, thanking her, though it is a bit spoiled by that smile which won't stay hidden anymore. Oh why not? This is a time for celebration after all!
"We thought..." Carter begins, her voice trailing off to leave the rest of it unsaid. She doesn't need to say it anyway, we understand.
"We know," Daniel says, confirming my thoughts. He glances at me, as though seeking my permission to continue and I smile at him, giving him my silent approval. He turns back to Sam and continues speaking softly.
"I'm glad you're okay, Sam," he says. "Did everyone else make it back as well?"
"We're all fine, Daniel," she answers, "but we missed you both. This place hasn't been the same without you!"
"It's good to be home," Daniel replies, his eyes again seeking mine.
I grin back at him, sharing his joy at being here. For all of our concerns about the effect of this on our new relationship, I am so happy to be here that my chest feels like it might explode.
This is where we belong, Daniel and I. In so many ways, this project, this place, is ours, far more than that alien planet could ever be. This is our home and being here together will be so much sweeter than being together anywhere else.
He smiles back at me and the blood pulses in my veins. I don't know how long we stand there, staring into each other's eyes, but it is definitely long enough to pique Sam's interest. She's gazing at us with the familiar light of curiosity in her eyes and I suddenly realize that hiding our relationship may be harder than I'd thought.
OK - Daniel and I will have to talk later about how much we should tell certain people, with Carter and Teal'c at the top of the list. Just as I'm making that note to myself, Sam urges us to go up to the control room to see the one person who absolutely shouldn't be told. I know I've made the best decision in that regard, even though I do trust the General. I've come to both like and respect him, more so than many of my previous superior officers, but there's no reason to put him into a difficult situation. The rule, nowadays, is 'don't ask, don't tell' and that should do just fine. Daniel and I are going to have enough explaining to do just telling the bare bone facts of our adventures.
Hammond greets us warmly, but with a hint of uncertainty. I can instantly tell that this debriefing is going to be a long one, followed by an intensive medical examination. That sucks, but I recognize the need and am willing to comply. Sam hurries off to find Teal'c before meeting us in the briefing room. This is a long story to tell, but I'm almost looking forward to it.
I motion for Daniel to proceed me as we leave the Gate room for the hallway. As we step through the doorway, I press my hand into his shoulder, guiding him forward. He glances back at me, his eyes sparkling, full of love, and my heart leaps.
We're home, we're together, and all is right in my world.
I've never been so relieved to be proved wrong in my life - isn't that a strange thing for a scientist to admit?
In the weeks that passed since we returned from Ernest's planet, I feel as though I've been in limbo. We leapt through the wormhole just as disaster struck the castle, forcing us to leave Daniel and Colonel O'Neill behind. We rescued Dr. Littlefield, brought back the knowledge he had, what was stored in his head anyway, about the alien artifacts that were in the castle, but we had paid a heavy price.
We didn't even have the emotional release of a funeral.
We don't know for certain that they're dead - just lost. 'Missing in action' is the military term, and as any POW or missing soldier's family would understand, not knowing can be worse than knowing the worst is true. We tried to move on as we knew they'd want us to do, to continue the fight against the Goa'uld and the defense of Earth, but somehow it wasn't the same.
With Daniel and Colonel O'Neill gone, I watched things steadily change within the SGC, and not for the better.
Teal'c, never the most communicative person, seemed to talk less and less - he was grieving for the opportunities he might never have as well as the friends he'd lost. He'd so desperately wanted the chance to reunite Daniel with Sha're, as he felt so responsible for her being chosen to be host to Apophis' queen. Even more painful was the knowledge he had pinned his hopes for freeing his people on his trust in the colonel and now that O'Neill was lost, his faith was waning.
I tried to encourage him not to give up hope, that the SGC would carry on, despite the loss we had suffered, but my own heart wasn't in it. I felt as though I had been cheated, that I'd lost something important myself. I missed them both - Daniel, whose easy friendship I had found such a source of support in my early uncertain days here, and the colonel, whose trust and respect I had been working hard to earn.
That sense of loss permeated the entire SGC, affecting everyone in their own way, but coloring us all. More than once I found myself wishing we could have a memorial service, and then I'd hate myself for wishing that.
Surely it was better to think of them as being still alive, just out of reach, than treating them as dead?
But it would have done us good to be able to say goodbye and to recognize what they had been to us. Daniel had been our conscience, our heart, in so many ways his passion had driven and defined us. Jack had been our strength, our courage, his indomitable will and fierce loyalty keeping us going against all the odds.
Even General Hammond seems more sombre, and I know he feels responsible for what happened, as any commanding officer would. He had been the one to persuade the colonel to come out of retirement, and had let himself be persuaded that Daniel should accompany us on our missions.
Maybe he was right?
Maybe Daniel should have stayed in the SGC, worked as a consultant, at least that way he would still have been with us....
I had the unenviable task of clearing out Daniel's apartment - the general had asked me and Teal'c to do it, though we would have volunteered if he hadn't.
I couldn't bring myself to throw any of Daniel's stuff away, though the boxes were cluttering up my house, gathering dust. I couldn't bring myself to open them either - just seeing the photos, the books, the artifacts, things I associated so much with my friend, it's too painful at the moment.
SOP had been changed as a result of the disastrous mission to Ernest's planet - the general had stated that he felt we were taking too many risks and not achieving enough to justify them. Daniel would have hated it, as there was no longer time to study, just an emphasis on reconn, with longer missions later once we knew the planets were safe.
So, when the klaxon went, to signal incoming travellers, I headed for the 'Gate room as usual. I'd been working on some analysis of probe data, but nothing that wouldn't wait.
Arriving in the control room about the same time as the general, I was there when it was announced that there was a signal coming from the Land of Light, but had no idea how momentous this moment would be!
When the event horizon formed, all eyes turned to it as usual, the soldiers that line the ramp aiming their weapons as they have a hundred times before. I expected to see High Councillor Tuplo appear, stepping out through the shimmering blue surface, but that wasn't what happened.....
When they appeared, for a moment there was complete silence. The only sounds that could be heard were those made by the computers, the rattle as someone dropped a pencil, the whoosh of the 'Gate disengaging. I couldn't hear any of those sounds, as I was already racing out of the control room, the steps down to the 'Gate room level echoing with the sound of my boots.
In the moment it had taken me to recover from the shock of seeing Daniel and the colonel alive, I knew that I had to be there to welcome them, to make sure this was really happening.
They were already halfway down the ramp when I charged into the room, Daniel exchanging a quiet comment with him that made the colonel smile before they turned to where I was standing, slightly breathless, at the bottom of the ramp.
What do you say to someone who you thought you'd never see again?
In the end, I didn't get the chance to say anything profound, as Daniel's face lit up when he saw me and within a couple of strides he was there hugging me, before I could speak.
"Put her down, Daniel," the colonel's voice came from behind him, and we obediently disengaged, Daniel still all smiles.
"Colonel O'Neill," I snapped, throwing him as precise a salute as I could manage, considering the goofy smile that was plastered across my face. "Glad to see you're okay, sir."
"Thank you, Carter," the colonel replied, with an answering salute, before starting to grin himself.
"We thought..." I begin, hesitantly.
"We know," Daniel replies, glancing at Jack for confirmation before he carries on speaking. "I'm glad you're okay, Sam. Did everyone else make it back as well?"
"We're all fine, Daniel," I reply, "but we missed you both. This place hasn't been the same without you!"
"It's good to be home, Sam," Daniel says, glancing at the colonel again. A look passes between them something I can't identify - it's fleeting, and I file it away for later consideration.
I want to know all about what's happened to them since we left them behind on Ernest's planet, but I know I'll have to wait. But it should be a story well worth hearing....