You can go home again
All publicly recognisable characters and places are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corp and Double Secret Productions. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognised characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
SPOILERS: Double Jeopardy, but also all of Season 4.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Adult themes, plus the usual gratuitous nudity. (It is the shower series.)
SUMMARY: Jack and Daniel bond after the events of "Double Jeopardy".
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Scribe for inviting me to contribute to her wonderful series, for letting me play with her naked Daniel and for the terrific edit, and to Brenda, my long-lost twin for betaing this for me, sending me spoilers and episodes, and not carelessly allowing meteorites to fall on her head. Special thanks to Kris for checking the astrophysics for me.
In a day which had involved seeing his robot double's body packed up to be sent back to P3X-989, convincing a populace that their 'god' was just a dead guy with an equally dead snake in his head, and taking possession of the mother of all motherships, O'Neill knew he really ought to delegate the very minor matter of informing Daniel that Jacob was on his way.
All that was needed was for someone to get SG-11 on the blower and tell them to tell Daniel to get his butt back to the SGC at the first available opportunity. But a couple of things had conspired to make him feel he might like to deliver this message personally.
The first was Harlan crying over the remains of their dead robotic doubles. Seeing that annoying little fat guy stroking the hair of a robot Daniel's severed head had weirded O'Neill out so much he'd practically sprinted from the 'gateroom. He'd covered by saying he just wanted to check on Teal'c in the infirmary, but the fact was he hadn't even begun to deal with the reality of their android selves having been out there all that time. He'd schooled himself to forget about them in the years since they'd left them behind on P3X-989 with explicit instructions to bury the 'gate after them. He dealt with the thought of them the same way he dealt with thoughts of those alternate universes that apparently existed on the other side of that crated up quantum mirror - by not thinking about them. As far as he was concerned he was the only Jack O'Neill the universe needed and he wasn't thinking about any replicas of himself or any other members of his team, thank you.
Consequently, looking into the eyes of a robot double who had obviously been kidding himself along exactly the same lines, had been a disconcerting experience.
Having checked up on Teal'c and found that the Jaffa was already starting to make rumbling noises about wanting to leave the infirmary and return to P3X-729 so he could assist in the movement of the liberated Goa'uld ship, O'Neill decided he should leave that one to Fraiser to sort out and headed back for his office.
Which was where he'd found the request forms. The second thing which had made him want to go and retrieve Daniel himself. Three forms; all asking to borrow Daniel for archaeological missions; all giving the usual good reasons why they needed someone who was an expert on the Goa'uld language and why their usual anthropologist wasn't suitable. All just blithely assuming he was going to agree to lend out one of his team members yet again to any Tom, Dick, or Air Force Harry who wanted him.
When he stamped into General Hammond's office he wasn't sure who he was mad at, although he had a more than sneaking suspicion it might be himself, but he still felt this was one hissy fit he needed to have in public. Kicking his own desk drawers until his toes hurt just wasn't going to cut it this time.
"...I've agreed to Daniel going to dig up Goa'uld fossils on P3X-888, to dig up...stuff with SG-11, to investigate a Goa'uld brothel with SG-5, and now go back and dig up whatever the hell it is he's digging up with SG-11 again. Now, I admit, that on only two of those missions did he almost get eaten by a tribe of hungry Unas or end up flat-lining in the infirmary, but all the same, call me Mister Particular, but I'm starting to question why it's always SG-1 who has to give up a team member every time some smartass comes back through the 'gate going 'Oh lookee here what we just found, we could really do with an archaeologist to come and take a better look at this...'"
Realizing that he had probably been even more insubordinate than usual, and already feeling the guilt pangs as he saw that look of long-suffering resignation wash over General Hammond's face, O'Neill added a "General" for basic good manners, but had to admit his recent rant didn't really sound any politer with that addition.
All the same he'd come so far he thought he might as well keep going. "I don't know the last time Daniel had any leave, because every time I turn around twice some other SG team is 'borrowing' him and then half the time not giving him back in the same condition in which they found him. And in the meantime my team can't go off world because we're a man short."
"I didn't notice SG-1 having any difficulty going off world without Doctor Jackson on your recent missions to M4C-862 and P3X-729, Colonel."
"Well, with respect, that's where you're wrong, sir. If Daniel had been there on M4C-862 instead of those...scientists and Carter's version of Mini-Me, we might have been able to communicate with those pissed-off little critters and not had to abandon the facility."
"Doctor Jackson didn't agree. When he reviewed the mission report, he concurred with Major Carter's assessment of the situation."
"Well, of course he'd say that to make Carter feel better, but Daniel can get through to anyone when he puts his mind to it, even Tinkerbell's evil twin. And for all we know if we'd had an extra man on Juna we might not have had to lose all the...robots. So, that's two missions that could have gone a different way if I hadn't been shorthanded before I set out. And that's without even starting on the howling success that was Daniel and Rothman digging up Jurassic Goa'uld on Unas World, or the great time had by all on P4X-347..."
Hammond sighed. "Colonel O'Neill, correct me if I am wrong, but I was under the impression that you had to sign off on every request by another SG team to borrow Doctor Jackson?"
"Yes, sir, yes I do." O'Neill shuffled his feet uncomfortably. The feeling that it was really himself he was mad at was getting stronger and stronger but he was damned if he was going to give into it without a fight.
"And that it is your right not to do so, should you so choose?"
O'Neill made a face. "Except...Except what am I supposed to do when people put in requests with 'Archaeological Find of Possibly Vital Strategic Importance, Suggest Immediate Investigation' stamped all over them?"
"You assume, as I do, Jack, that Doctor Jackson has told the leaders of the other SG teams that if they want to get you to agree to him going and investigating interesting archaeological sites they would be well advised to make it sound urgent and significant."
"Oh." O'Neill blinked at the thought that Daniel might have been aiding and abetting in his own recent spate of abductions. He really didn't like that idea at all. "Daniel's not that sneaky. Is he?"
"Colonel, how many applications to borrow Doctor Jackson have you approved in the past?"
Seeing where this was going he decided to bluff like he had a pair of twos and not another useful card in sight. "Too many to remember, sir."
"Really?" Hammond pulled a folder towards himself and O'Neill wondered how he did that: always had the right folder to hand as if O'Neill was so predictable to him these days Hammond could prepare for meetings O'Neill hadn't even know they were going to be having until he found himself knocking on the door. "Well, apart from one off-world mission with SG-6 which took place while we were dealing with that black hole back here at the SGC, and his and Teal'c's mission to Orban, I can't think of too many others. I can however, find at least a dozen you've turned down."
O'Neill wrinkled his nose. "Well, teams are always coming back through the 'gate saying they found some ruined temple with some squiggles on it on some uninhabited planet, and can Daniel just spend the next six months translating. And you know how much trouble Daniel has with that 'no' word. If I agreed to go visit every ruin in the galaxy, SG-1 wouldn't even be a first contact team any more, it would be a Babysitting Daniel While The Rest Of Us Go Insane With Boredom team."
"Precisely why I have consented to Doctor Jackson being temporarily reassigned to SG-11 on recent missions. We need to deploy the resources of the SGC in the way that is most effective, and I agree that it is a waste of the skills of Teal'c, Major Carter, and yourself to spend three weeks on an alien planet working as archaeological assistants to Doctor Jackson. However, he is the only cultural expert we have, who is also an archaeologist with considerable field experience, who is also nearly fluent on the Goa'uld dialect, making him uniquely qualified to - "
"Still making him a member of my team, General," O'Neill interrupted with emphasis. "If SG-11 are so keen on digging up ruins, tell them to get their own grave robber. Daniel's ours. I'm fed up with my team being split up. I'm fed up with having to go into situations short-handed, and I'm fed up with Daniel turning up for missions looking like something the cat dragged in because he's only just got back from some other mission with some other team. From now on, I want it made clear that when Carter's on leave, she's on leave, she's not available to give lessons on the way naqadah functions when its got an...irradiated core or whatever to astrophysical wannabes bussed in from the Pentagon, and when Daniel isn't on a mission with SG-1, he's in his office working on a translation, home with his feet up, or fishing with me. I'm fed up with my team having its morale undermined by all and sundry."
Hammond carefully adjusted one of the pages in the folder before looking up at O'Neill with a searching expression that could have given lessons to an X-ray. "Are there problems with your team's morale, Jack?"
O'Neill looked at Hammond and saw not just concern in his gaze but what seemed to be a need for reassurance. "Positive. Why?" He wondered if Hammond knew something he didn't. "Have they said something...?"
"You're satisfied that Doctor Jackson's suicide attempt was solely a consequence of the effect of the light matrix hologram on P4X-347?"
He knew he certainly hadn't seen it coming. In fact for a few minutes he hadn't even seen it when he'd seen it. He'd stood there for what felt like an eternity before he'd realized Daniel wasn't just being eccentric; he really was contemplating suicide. The fact the guy was standing on the outside of his balcony eight floors up should probably have been enough of a hint by itself, but when you thought you knew someone and thought you knew for sure they'd never quit on you like that, it could take a few seconds for the impossible to compute.
"Yes." Damn, he'd meant to sound a lot more convincing than that.
Hammond was rustling papers about presumably so as not to meet O'Neill's eye. "So you're satisfied Doctor Jackson's behavior had nothing to do with the 'dream' he experienced when Shifu - ?"
Well, nothing was ever simple with aliens, even the good ones. They couldn't sit down with you over a couple of beers and tell you why messing with Goa'uld genetic memory wasn't a good idea. They had to get your dead wife's kid to zap your grey matter instead. Next time, just send us a postcard, Oma. But yes, he was satisfied that however freaky those Goa'uld home movies had been, they weren't the reason Daniel had ended up crying on the wrong side of his balcony rail.
"Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. What was the question again? Daniel's fine. All of my team is fine. We just need to be together."
He didn't know where that last phrase had come from, he just knew he hadn't meant it to come out like that, and he certainly hadn't meant it to come out accompanied by a mental image of those robots lying there crumpled on the ground; run down, damaged, and dead.
Four years. They'd been going through the 'gate for four years. Still going on missions. Still together. Needing to be together so much they had been dead...androids walking from the time they'd lost a teammate. When they'd gazed at one another, he'd seen a depth of loneliness in his robot double's eyes that was still chilling him to the core.
"Our Daniel's dead."
They were just machines, right? Just copies? So why had that damned robot had to turn his head away so they wouldn't see the devastation on his face. How could you still be made to feel that bad when you didn't even have a heart?
He'd been ducking this truth for a while now. That how did you go on when you couldn't go on if you lost someone? Did you sign them out on kindergarten missions to safe already chartered planets where no harm could come to them, and then age ten years as harm came to them all the same? Did you let them go to their own world to fight for their own cause even though you knew what the System Lords would do to them if they ever caught them? Did you stay on a ship that was going to explode because at least that way you wouldn't have to go to another wake, knowing you couldn't get round this, or past this, or over this, because you'd been there too many times before, seeing them sink beneath the surface and the water closing over them, seeing their eyes glow gold as you lost them forever, seeing the flames engulfing, bubbles rising, them screaming your name, lodged in your memory forever and ever amen?
"Jack, my point is that nothing has changed." Hammond's voice was so gentle he could have been following every thought in glorious Technicolor. "There are always going to be more archaeological discoveries made by SG teams than we have time to fully investigate, every one of which could potentially be the find that unlocked a means to defeat the Goa'uld. There are always going to be requests to borrow Doctor Jackson by other teams. The only difference between the last six months and the previous three and a half years is that you started saying 'yes' when you used to say 'no'. If you don't want to lend out your team members to other team leaders then just say no."
This meeting had sucked some so much energy from him. When he closed his eyes he could see his robot double winding down like a fading dynamo saying 'Are we still so far from real to you...?' O'Neill found a weary smile. "That makes lending out Daniel sound like a drug addiction."
"Given your feelings on the subject, it sounds as if it might be time to kick the habit."
O'Neill backed up. "Well I'm not signing those request forms."
"So noted, Colonel."
As he reached the door, Hammond added quietly. "And, as you said, it hasn't exactly been a howling success as a method of keeping Doctor Jackson out of danger, has it?"
He couldn't refute it so he didn't try. He'd touched bottom over that business with the armbands, taken Daniel and Carter into a situation where he couldn't protect them and damned near got them both killed. He'd thought he was never going to feel as helpless as he did standing weaponless in front of an unconscious Daniel with a Jaffa approaching, and his only way of shielding him to just hope the bad guy didn't notice him; and then he'd found it got worse when he had to stand there and wait for the explosion to hit that was going to rip Carter to pieces right in front of him. The only saving grace being that if he stood close enough to that damned force wall there would only be a millisecond between it killing her and killing him.
He'd had to climb back from that slowly and his team hadn't exactly helped in his recovery. Daniel had gotten himself grabbed by an Unas, then gone running off to talk to artificial PR guys in ships O'Neill had already made a commitment to blow out of the sky. Then Teal'c had gotten himself tortured almost to death by some psycho Goa'uld with a Torquemada complex. O'Neill had grabbed a little much needed downtime to recover from the constant nerve-twanging those three kept putting him through, turned his back for five minutes to go fishing, and Carter and Daniel had gotten themselves blasted across temples and ribbon deviced half to death. And since then Daniel had lapsed into what he still thought of as a coma, whatever Fraiser might say, then damned near jumped off his balcony before flatlining in front of him. Then he'd had a one mission respite in which just for a change he'd been the one almost turned into a colander by enraged tooth fairies, before Carter had gotten herself possessed by an alien kamikaze pilot which had forced him to kill her.
All in all, his team were about as good for the mental well-being of their colonel as cattle-prods were for testicles. But they were still his team, damnit, and all the evidence seemed to suggest that scary as hell as they might be when they were with him, they were scarier still when they were out of his sight.
"Request permission to go and drag Daniel kicking and screaming away from his damned artifacts, General?"
Hammond looked at him for a long moment, gaze full of the kind of understanding that made O'Neill wonder if the general didn't have some kind of secret telepathic power he wasn't telling anyone about. "Request granted, Colonel."
As O'Neill headed down the corridor, he felt the panic relax its grip a fraction. The same panic he'd been in denial of ever since he saw the android Daniel's decapitated head. It was still there, but it wasn't bubbling on quite so high a heat, because in the time it took to dial seven chevrons and not get vaporized by a big blue water funnel, he was going to be on the same planet as the missing living breathing and hopefully totally undamaged member of his team. And about ten minutes after that he was going to have all three of them on the same planet, in the same facility, and all with their heads firmly attached to their bodies. For a little while anyway.
Walking towards his office to grab the report he might need to read, O'Neill remembered that this was Daniel he was dealing with and a Daniel he was going to have to remove from interesting archaeological whatnots, so that ten minute ETA might be a little optimistic.
In an hour, he decided then, he was going to have all his team in the same place. Or maybe two. Definitely no more than three...
As he walked from the Stargate past lush vegetation under a sky bluer than any sea on Earth, and a sun so gloriously blood-orange hot it could have been a comet, O'Neill realized it was only by borrowing his archaeologist that SG-11 had managed to swing this mission for themselves in the first place. A mission which going by the videotapes sent back so far seemed to consist of lolling around in a sub-tropical paradise watching Daniel scratch around, film things, and get excited. A lot less stressful that any of the missions O'Neill had been on in the recent past, unless you counted the three weeks by the beach in a Goa'uld pleasure palace, which he didn't because of all the getting addicted and damned near dying part they'd all had to go through first.
He knew from the report that it took about twenty minutes to walk from the Stargate to the ruins Daniel had been investigating. Time for O'Neill to run through his battle plan...make that fine tune the orders he was going to be giving Daniel and brooking no argument about, however much Daniel sulked, pouted, did that under the eyelashes begging look which could sometimes even get Fraiser to let him home early, or pulled out one of those devastating "Please, Jack..." moments he saved up for special occasions.
O'Neill had even read the report properly this time so he was well aware that Daniel believed this to be the ruins of a transplanted Indus civilization and that there were, on Earth, no remains of any Indus palace making this the archaeological find to beat all...well at least one as exciting as the last incredible archaeological find some other SG team had come up with, and probably almost as exciting as the next archaeological find some other SG team was about to come up with.
He now knew, because he had just read about it, that the largest Indus sites on Earth had covered some sixty hectares, while this one covered almost twice that area. He also knew, because he'd got some bespectacled character who wasn't an airman and didn't seem to be a technician or a scientist so was probably an anthropological assistant, to tell him how long it had taken to excavate the site at Harappa which Daniel kept referring to in his preliminary report, and had discovered that they hadn't yet and they'd been working on it on and off for eighty years. So he knew that unless Daniel was planning to give up going off world and spend the rest of his natural life here, he couldn't do more than scratch the surface of this excavation anyway. And as the Goa'uld who these people had served was probably Nirrti, a spent force in Goa'uld town, and the population all appeared to be dead so weren't saying much, there really wasn't a lot of tactical advantage to be found here.
Of course offsetting it was that 'little' report from Daniel which had been added to SG-11's photographs of the site. Daniel had clearly feared Hammond might start leaping to the insane conclusion it wasn't worth his while to rubber stamp a mission whose only function was to investigate a site with no obvious advantage to an Air Force facility engaged in an inter-Galactic conflict with a bunch of murderous aliens with vastly superior technology...Sometimes Daniel could be a lot more perceptive about the military mindset than he let on and he had clearly felt this one needed an extra push to get okayed.
"Although the terrain on P6X-519 is far lusher, the ruins discovered by SG-11 are remarkably similar to those uncovered in the Indus Valley, which was home to what is often referred to as the Harappan Civilization (after its first discovered city Harappa). The Harappan Civilization flourished in approximately 2,500 BC but was not discovered until the 1920s. Most of its ruins are still unexcavated. Its script has not yet been deciphered. Very basic questions remain unanswered about the people who created this highly complex culture..."
All the usual Daniel stuff that could be loosely translated as: "Only an absolute Philistine would fail to grasp the incredible significance of this amazing find. And if you refuse to let me go and take a look at it, the world of archaeology will forever be impoverished because of your callous and insensitive disregard for the wider cultural issues at stake here. Probably because you're too wrapped up in getting Big Weapons from Alien Allies with Dubious Morals to even spare a though for the...yadda yadda yadda..." Daniel never actually put any of that into his report, but O'Neill always read it as written in as subtext. He just bet Hammond did as well.
Sometimes O'Neill sympathies were so perfectly divided between them he was afraid he was going to split down the middle. He hated anything that added to the stress Hammond was already under. Had wanted to smack Daniel around the back of the head when he'd shown the man so little respect when under the influence of that damned light. On the other hand he hated Daniel being disappointed. When Daniel wanted something he wanted it so much it hurt. And he never wanted something selfish for himself, he just wanted to save that civilization, avert that catastrophe, fix that mistake, right that wrong, or to know, to understand, to piece together all those lost fragments of knowledge and try to fill in some more of that impossibly complex jigsaw puzzle that was everything that could ever be known about every civilization which had ever existed on Earth and all other planets since the dawn of creation...Things remaining unknown irked Daniel like splinters under his fingernails.
O'Neill looked through the photographs of the Indus Valley excavations on Earth Daniel had added to the report for extra clarity. 'View From Stupa towards Great Bath', "The well at Mohenjo-Daro', 'Covered Drain in street at Mohenjo-Daro'. "Covered Drain"? Sheesh, was there anything, however dull, archaeologists didn't get excited about?
Looking back at the pictures supplied by SG-11 he couldn't see much of a comparison anyway. The place in India was all walls and squares and dusty walkways. This looked like something from "The Jungle Book". Creepers and bushes covered everything with just the occasional glimpse of a bit of what looked like dry stone walling visible here and there. The only interesting thing he could see in any of the pictures was a red and blue parrot eating a piece of fruit in one of the trees.
Sighing as he turned over the next page, he saw Daniel had done a 'Summary of current theories on interpreting the Ancient Indus script.' Even the summary took twenty close-typed pages but the gist of it seemed to be that a Finnish guy thought one thing, a Pakistani guy thought something else, an Indian guy disagreed with both of them although he could see where they were coming from, another guy thought they were all off their chump, while some American guy had a theory everyone else thought was so far out there as to be on a different planet. And that was without even going into all the various hoaxes perpetuated on scholars regarding the script over the years. And these people seemed to have been studying it...forever. And this wasn't even Daniel's area of expertise.
The animal seals were kind of neat though. Although he didn't know why they kept calling them 'unicorns' when they looked like some kind of antelope to him. Or maybe a rhino. Definitely not a unicorn anyway.
He liked the three-D Topography of Site Map too, and didn't see why they couldn't send a UAV over the site and do some more thermal imaging or however it was done to check out the extent of the site the same way they'd presumably done for that Harappa one. Then Carter could analyze the chemical data and see if there were any secret caches of naqadah technology stashed under any of the broken wells and drain covers Daniel got so orgasmic about. He would definitely make a recommendation to Hammond that they should do that and would even say he thought there would be strategic military importance in doing so, but he couldn't see any strategic military importance in Daniel being with SG-11 when he was a member of SG-1 and he darned well wasn't going to say he did when he didn't.
He deliberately hadn't asked Carter to come along for this one because he didn't trust Carter and Daniel when they got together. Usually Carter thought like a soldier and could be relied upon to back him up, but every now and then she'd go all...scientisty on him, and then there was no getting any sense out of either of them.
He still remembered Carter explaining to Daniel about black holes after he'd come back from his little off world mission with SG-6 while the rest of them had almost been sucked into P3W-451 along with the entire planet.
Having nearly been blown to hell, O'Neill had been confined to an infirmary bed, which meant he couldn't get away from them, much in the manner of a condemned man unable to escape the firing squad and not even being offered a blindfold. Carter and Daniel had supposedly been keeping him company while he recuperated but as he recalled it their idea of entertaining him was to chatter like monkeys to each other while eating all the grapes they'd brought him. After a few days of their company he'd been begging Fraiser to declare him either fit for active duty or too sick to have visitors because being captive audience to Carter and Daniel in telepathic twins mode was too scary to contemplate.
They'd only stopped finishing each other's sentences when they'd started talking about P3W-451 and Carter had explained the physics of it. Daniel had been totally unable to wrap his mind around the concept of a 'singularity'. Black holes and big bangs were apparently anathema to an archaeologist and Daniel had recoiled in horror from Carter's explanation.
"But there can't be no trace at all. Not anything."
Carter had finished chewing on the last grape she'd tossed into her mouth and looked at Daniel in mild perplexity. She wasn't used to Daniel not getting things. None of them were. Daniel usually had to wait for the rest of them to catch up. Apparently unable to cope with there being something Daniel didn't understand, she'd gone back to the beginning and explained it all over again.
"Stars are formed when a large amount of gas - which is usually hydrogen - starts to collapse in on itself due to its internal gravitational attraction. As it contracts, the atoms of the gas collide with each other faster and faster and the gas heats up. Eventually the gas gets so hot the hydrogen atoms stop bouncing off each other and instead merge together. It's a little like a hydrogen bomb explosion in a controlled environment. The heat from this reaction is what makes the star shine and also what increases the pressure of the gas until it balances the gravitational attraction enough to stop the gas contracting. Got it?"
Somewhat to his surprise, O'Neill had. He'd already known the basics, because after Teal'c had asked him about black holes and he'd realized he didn't know as much about them as he thought he did, he'd gone and looked them up. So, although he couldn't have given Daniel an explanation of how stars functioned or what kept them hanging in the sky if he'd asked him, he could for once follow the explanation when Carter gave it. Daniel, he had been pleased to notice, had looked a little glazed, but had still nodded his head.
Carter continued at a deliberately slower pace than her usual impossible-to-follow gabble. "So...the star is in constant battle with itself, the heat from the nuclear reactions balancing the internal pull of its own gravity. But eventually the star runs out of the nuclear fuels it needs to be constantly burning to offset its gravitational attraction. And the bigger the star is, the greater its mass, the greater its gravitational attraction, and therefore the hotter it has to burn, so the faster it uses up its fuel. Our sun probably has enough nuclear fuel to last for another five thousand million years or so but bigger stars can use up their fuel comparatively quickly."
O'Neill had put up his hand at that point. He could understand Carter's explanations when he put his mind to it. It was just that the will to put his mind to it wasn't usually there. But seeing Daniel wincing from the general astrophysicality of it all had been incentive enough to keep him concentrating.
"Please, miss, what's 'comparatively quickly' for a honkin' big star?"
Carter had been more tolerant back then and had only looked amused rather than irritated as she probably would now. She and Daniel sometimes had no sense of humor where his little quips were concerned these days.
"About a hundred million years, Colonel."
"Right. So, we're not talking about a weekend here then?"
Daniel moistened his lips, clearly still needing a lot more effort to concentrate on this. "So, what happens when the fuel runs out?"
"Well, you see, this is where size really is important..."
Carter had looked way too pleased with herself at that point and he and Daniel had been forced to exchange one of those 'Women!' looks that usually made her sigh and get back on topic.
"Okay." Sure enough there had been the resigned shoulder slump of someone who had to spend too many hours a day in the company of people of a different gender. "In 1928, on a sea voyage to England, an Indian graduate student, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar came up with his theory for why a smaller star can still support itself against its own gravity even after it's used up all its fuel. Do you want to know how?"
He and Daniel exchanged another look.
"Not really, Sam," Daniel confessed in a small voice.
"Not remotely," O'Neill admitted with a lot more firmness.
"The Pauli exclusion principle is actually pretty simple to follow, sir."
"Save it for another day, okay?"
Another long-suffering sigh from Carter. Sometimes he really thought they needed to get her another astrophysicist to play with. "Well Chandrasekhar realized that his theory would only hold good for stars that had less than a certain mass. A cold star with a mass above what we now call the Chandrasekhar Limit would not be able to support itself against its own gravity. Less than that limit and the star can find some kind of stability as a 'white dwarf'."
"And above that limit?" O'Neill prompted. He was pleased to see that Daniel had that 'hanging on by his fingernails' look as well, but that didn't mean he couldn't move her along a little.
"You don't want to know about neutron stars?"
He was pretty sure Carter was faking that 'why wouldn't you?' expression but even if she wasn't he didn't care. "No, Captain, I so don't."
"Okay, well stars above the Chandrasekhar Limit who have used up all their nuclear fuel suffer catastrophic gravitational collapse, causing the star to either become so incredibly unstable that it goes supernova, or turns into a black hole. Do you want to know exactly how that happens?"
He and Daniel both said it in unison.
Daniel moistened his lips. "So, if a big sun in a solar system with lots of planets with lots of civilizations on them got turned into a black hole...?"
"Everything would get sucked in. We're talking about a wormhole of infinite density - and believe me, mathematicians don't throw the word 'infinite' about lightly - a gravitational field that would be literally irresistible, even if the space it occupied in the cosmos might appear to be no more than about ten miles in radius. And this is where the time distortion would come in, because you have to remember that in the theory of relativity there is no absolute time. And..."
"And then?" Daniel prompted. "The star turns into a black hole. Everything gets sucked in, even light. And then...?"
"And then...nothing." Carter could be downright ruthless sometimes. "Everything in that solar system would be turned into cosmic spaghetti by the gravitational forces exerted upon it as it was sucked into the event horizon of the black hole. Of course no one would be able to see it happening because no light would be able to escape from the singularity to show us what was happening. Which is known as the weak cosmic censorship hypothesis which protects observers from..."
"But there has to be something afterwards." Daniel sounded positively plaintive. "You can't just have everything sucked into a black hole and then that's it. There would have to be traces. Residue. There would have to be something to show that those planets and those civilizations had existed."
Carter looked at him in affectionate exasperation. "Daniel, according to some variants of the Big Bang Theory, this entire universe could be constructed on the now non-existent remnants of previous universes. If and when we reach the Big Crunch, this universe will quite possibly contract and then expand again, leaving absolutely no trace of what happened in the billions upon billions of light years that took place before that event. The same with black holes. They're the cosmic equivalent of the mouth of hell. Anything can fall into the event horizon but nothing can ever come out. And they don't leave any witnesses. The only residue you might get is a little radiation, but that's it. As far as the cosmos is concerned it would be as if those planets and those civilizations had never existed, and there would certainly be no way whatsoever of ever discerning their existence from the black hole itself."
"So, you're saying a singularity, be it a black hole, or a...big bang, is something which renders the past not just unknowable and unreachable but irrelevant?"
Daniel looked so shocked it was almost comical, blue eyes wide, mouth agape with dismay, eyebrows disappearing under his hair. O'Neill automatically reached out and patted him gently on the shoulder.
Carter gave him an apologetic shrug. "'Fraid so, Daniel. We do have a past to study, but the archaeology of astrophysics tends to be more to do with..." Seeing his expression she winced. "It's just not really a place where you find much in the way of broken pottery."
Daniel had been so stunned by the realization the universe might one day carelessly destroy all the carefully accumulated evidence of a million different civilizations he'd had to lie down on the bed next to O'Neill's to recover.
"Hey, you'll be like...incredibly dead by the time it happens," O'Neill put in. "As in so dead you won't even be dust any more. And the whole of this solar system will probably have collapsed or been sucked into the sun or whatever by then anyway."
"You're not helping."
"Nothing's forever, Danny. Not even archaeology."
Daniel rolled over on the bed and looked at him with fierce determination. "Well some things should be."
Looking at Daniel's face, at the expression of injustice too great to be born, O'Neill had wondered why he didn't find it more amusing that a guy as clever as Daniel couldn't accept what was after all a pretty basic truth. Then it occurred to him that he couldn't accept it either. The difference being that he only wanted things to endure for as long as he was alive to be hurt by their ceasing to exist, but for Daniel they needed to exist forever. He wondered if that was a professional neurosis or a personal one. Sometimes he didn't know if Daniel had become an archaeologist because his parents had spent their days digging up big stones...or because they'd perished under one.
"You see, Daniel, astrophysics comes before everything and after everything." Carter offered him a grape in compensation and he took it moodily. "That's just one of the things that's so great about it. You go all the way back to the beginning and you have the universe expanding from a single moment before which there could have been nothing or anything but we'll never know because there are no clues. Don't you think that's kind of mysterious and magical?"
Daniel accepted the last stalk of O'Neill's grapes she handed to him. "No."
She sighed and looked at O'Neill who shrugged. "Good work, Carter. Now why don't you go and find a few religious leaders and explain to them how the jury is still out on that whole 'god' thing, but the evidence so far is definitely in favor of them being glowing eyed parasites or little grey aliens, and what do you know Von Daniken was probably right all the time?"
Carter backed up looking guilty. "I think I'll go and talk to Teal'c."
"Yeah, good idea," O'Neill called after her. "We already screwed up his belief system so he's a pretty safe bet."
As soon as Carter had tiptoed apologetically out of the infirmary, O'Neill turned back to Daniel who had his arm over his eyes and was looking tragic. "Daniel, half the time scientists don't have a clue what they're talking about."
As Daniel still looked prostrate with shock, O'Neill sighed. "And what Carter has completely forgotten to mention is that long before that point we'll have got time travel licked so we'll be able to set the universe on a permanent loop."
Daniel took the arm from his eyes. "That's true."
"So it never gets to that big crunch point, and the bits of broken pottery never get sucked into the black hole."
Daniel sat up. "I could live with that."
"Now stop moping about things that aren't going to happen for billions of light years anyway and go and buy me some more grapes."
The way Daniel had skipped out of the infirmary quite cheerfully had only served to remind him of the incredible recuperative powers of the young. For himself, after an astrophysics lesson from Carter and the extra whammy of Daniel's cosmic view undergoing a shake up right in front of him, he'd been exhausted to the point where he'd finally done what Doc Fraiser had been nagging him to do and slept for eight hours straight.
He'd been passing faint suggestions of foundations and suspiciously regular shaped stones for a while, but they were decently softened by greenery. It felt as if they could have evolved naturally from the surrounding jungle, just grown there one day along with the hairy lianas and feathery ferns. Even if his brain told him this was something which the jungle was in the process of reclaiming, it felt more like a gentleman's agreement; a process with which both sides were contented.
But the excavation, when he reached it, was all about loss. The creepers had been cleared away from a square area the size of a high school running track which extended up from a broad blue river; the undergrowth temporarily beaten back to reveal what were clearly manmade structures: square walls that were undoubtedly the remains of dwellings, towers, paving, walkways. Places in which people were very emphatically no longer living. He grimaced with the starkness of it. Unsoftened by the jungle, the ruins were ugly and dead. They seemed to say only that people had tried to live here but had failed.
"Colonel O'Neill? Is there something wrong?"
The surprised tone jolted him out of his reverie and he looked up to find Major Fernandez appearing less than thrilled to see him. The way the rest of SG-11 scrambled up from their positions where they were stretched out sunning themselves by the riverbank was very reminiscent of schoolboys playing hooky being found out by a teacher.
"No, Major. Just come to collect my missing team member."
"'Collect him'?" Fernandez looked disappointed. "Daniel was hoping for a few more weeks here."
"Well there's been a change of plan." O'Neill looked over the site without any increase in his enthusiasm. He was still seeing lots and lots of jungle, a big river, and a small expanse of cleared ruins, looking remarkably like a lot of old walls, and old roads, and probably a few old drain covers. Peeping through the fronds of greenery was the pale gray hint of more ruined walls, streets, and drain covers stretching out to infinity. What he was not seeing was an archaeologist. Nor was he hearing any chipping sounds. "Where is Daniel?"
"He's up river a little way." Fernandez ran a hand through his hair, sweat glistening on his brow from the now oppressive midday sun.
O'Neill stopped scanning the ruins and fixed the other man with the kind of look he was well aware could strip paint at ten paces. "And you're not with him, because...?"
"He wanted his privacy." Clearly the gaze was effective because Fernandez looked decidedly uncomfortable. "Colonel, this is an uninhabited planet, there really isn't any danger."
"Tell me, what exactly is the point of SG-11 being along for this particular ride if all you do is sunbathe while Daniel first does all the digging and then gets to wander off by himself into uncharted territory?"
"We've been helping him with the excavation." Piper sounded as if his feelings had been hurt. "We cleared all the creepers for him so he could get into the sewage tunnels."
"Sewage tunnels?" O'Neill waved an inquisitive fly away impatiently.
"Apparently systems of sanitation are very significant in suggesting the level of development of a vanished culture, Colonel."
Haim carried a bag across and put it at O'Neill's feet. "We found ten different clay seals this morning. Three of them have unicorns on them." He lifted one out gingerly to display it, adding proudly, "I helped Doctor Jackson excavate this one."
Looking around at their rapt faces O'Neill realized Daniel had been doing his hypnotizing act again. The one that turned hostile enemies into doting friends, and which apparently also turned bored airmen into keen amateur archaeologists.
"Did you bring him the video camera, Colonel?" Piper sounded as eager as a child hoping for a birthday present. "The other one broke yesterday and he really wants to film the east wall. He thinks there might be a - "
O'Neill held up the video camera which he had automatically picked up along with the spare tapes for it even though he had only come here to fetch Daniel home. Because even though he had only come here to fetch Daniel home he couldn't quite bring himself to ignore that little plea from Daniel on the end of his last transmission asking for them.
He offset the capitulation the video camera might seem to suggest by saying briskly: "Any sign of Goa'uld stuff we could use?"
By the way Fernandez blinked in surprise, O'Neill realized the brainwashing or hypnotism or whatever the hell it was Daniel did must have been even more effective this time. These trained military men had entirely forgotten that they were here primarily to see if there was any leftover Goa'uld technology they could use. They'd been thinking about the Indus instead. Daniel had probably been telling him some of those...Bra-hooey folktales over the campfires every night. O'Neill groaned inwardly. He was now in the role of the spoilsport parent pulling his kid out of summer camp early. Great. He supposed he should just resign himself to the fact that he was going to look like the bad guy here. Again. "Okay, where exactly is he?"
"Just follow the river, Colonel. He's up by the waterfall. It's about two miles away."
"Two miles away?" He stared at them in disbelief. "How is that protecting the SGC's assets?"
"Sir, there's nothing in this jungle except monkeys and parrots. We have checked out every inch of this place for fifteen miles in every direction. Daniel's safe." Fernandez met his gaze levelly. "He wouldn't be by himself if I wasn't sure of that."
As he began to follow the river upstream, O'Neill knew that it was thinking like that which just proved why Daniel should never be lent out to any more different teams. Because if the other team leaders didn't know that the words 'Daniel' and 'safe' had never yet fitted accurately into the same sentence, they didn't know anything about civilian archaeologists...
The heavens opened when he was ten minutes from the excavation. There was no warning. One moment the sky was a beautiful kingfisher blue. The next it was raining as though a faucet had been opened.
Taking shelter under a tree with leaves the size of elephants' ears, O'Neill was gratified to discover it kept him as dry as an umbrella even though the noise of the rain on the leaves above him was deafening. The downpour pounded the earth mercilessly, throwing up little spits of red soil and creating silver blue puddles in every tiny indentation. But five minutes later, someone switched off the faucet to reveal an indigo sky and a sun that was hotter and higher than ever. As though it welcomed the refreshment, the jungle steamed contentedly all around him.
Shrugging, O'Neill ducked his head to avoid knocking against any leaves that might be harboring a couple of pints of rainwater, and headed back up alongside the river. It grew hot again so quickly he was starting to perspire within minutes. Birds and monkeys which had temporarily either fallen silent or been drowned out by the thunder of the downpour started calling to one another loudly over his head.
The pathway climbed up with sudden steepness and O'Neill rounded a bend to find the river narrowing to a deep green blue pool while a granite cliff of around twenty feet rose up behind it. Fernandez had told him the mini-fall was beautiful, and he had to agree. The water fell in a sheet of blue and white, sending up a spray to mist the air, the effect of the cascade enough to lift the heart without being so spectacular he felt diminished by it.
It was only as he drew closer to the falls that he realized at least some of the beauties of nature on display weren't all...topographical. Five more paces up the spray-drenched rocks and O'Neill had confirmation he had definitely found his missing team member, and despite all his fears to the contrary it was obvious Daniel was in very good health. As in not a cut, bruise, or blemish. Not anywhere. Because standing on a flat shelf of rock about a foot wide taking a leisurely shower under the falls was a totally nude archaeologist.
O'Neill knew he should do the decent thing and avert his eyes before calling out to let Daniel know he was there. It wasn't that he hadn't seen Daniel naked before, of course. Communal showers were a fact of military life. Teal'c and Daniel's nakedness was something that was often appearing on the periphery of his vision. Something he was aware of but didn't think about. He certainly didn't generally stand there and look. But then generally his teammate wasn't standing there with his head thrown back, eyes closed, mouth open, so obviously reveling in the feel of the water cascading across his naked skin. Nor were there usually shafts of dazzling sunlight slanting down into the water to make it glisten gold all around aforementioned naked teammate, as if he was starring in a commercial for some herbal shampoo. Nor was O'Neill usually quite so glad to see his teammate alive and whole. Or quite so prepared to play dirty to stop him running off with other SG teams.
It was no good. He was only human and besides he never knew when he might need the leverage. Before he could stop himself, his fingers had strayed to his pack, closed on that video camera with its brand new tape, and pressed 'record'...
Ten minutes of very satisfactory zoom focus filming later O'Neill stumbled as his foot caught on something. Switching off the camera and hanging it around his neck, he bent down to retrieve the most sodden pair of fatigue pants it had ever been his misfortune to encounter. On one big boulder further up lay a drenched black t-shirt. The soaked-right-through jacket was keeping company with an equally sopping pair of boxer shorts. Two socks were swimming in boots filled to the brim with fresh rainwater.
So much for Daniel being able to manage just fine without him. Feeling a little better, O'Neill rang out the sodden clothes, emptied the waterlogged boots, and then arranged them all on top of one of the big boulders lining the pool to dry in the now brilliant sunshine. Then he pulled the emergency blanket from his vest and shook it out with a sigh before calling loud enough to beat the background music of the falls:
"Jack?" Daniel jerked his head around in disbelief, almost over balancing off the flat shelf he was standing on.
For a moment the man teetered on the edge of the brink and O'Neill had visions of having to strip off and dive in there to rescue a concussed archaeologist, then Daniel regained his balance and looked at him in confusion.
O'Neill sighed in exasperation. "Well under the circumstances what do you think?" The second the words were out of his mouth he realized he could have phrased that better. He'd meant to convey the impression that Daniel cavorting about in his birthday suit two miles from SG-11 and a crucial ten yards from his sidearm and his radio was not good for his CO's nerves, but he realized it might have come across somewhat differently.
Daniel frowned. "What?"
"Never mind. Just move your...self over here before you catch pneumonia."
Daniel peered up through the cascade to the cloudless sky. "It's ninety degrees in the shade, Jack."
"Just do it, will ya?" O'Neill realized his nerves sounded a little shot and added a more reasonable "Please...?"
That worked a lot better than the yelling. Daniel immediately headed back along the ledge behind the falls to emerge in another shaft of sunlight, still very noticeably naked and glistening. It looked as if some celestial cameraman was trying to give Daniel the best possible lighting and it was a reflex to just hit 'record' on that video camera again as Daniel jumped from stepping stone to stepping stone, hauling himself up onto one of the big rocks, before landing, quite gracefully, at O'Neill's side.
O'Neill surreptitiously hit the 'off' switch again. He wasn't averse to Carter getting something extra in her Christmas stocking, but he definitely didn't want to record this conversation. There was a real possibility he might have to go in for some serious emotional blackmail and he certainly didn't want any witnesses to how low he was prepared to go to get his own way on this.
"Is everything okay? Where are Sam and Teal'c?"
O'Neill wrapped the blanket around his naked teammate. "Everything's fine. They're fine. Well, Teal'c's in the infirmary, but apart from that he's fine."
"Why is he in the infirmary if he's 'fine'?" Daniel looked down at the blanket in confusion. "I have clothes."
O'Neill pointed to them.
"Oh." Daniel looked up at the sky. "It must have rained."
It took a few minutes to convince Daniel Teal'c was going to be okay despite being in the infirmary, that they might as well wait for Daniel's clothes to dry before heading back to the excavation, and that as they were staying here for a little while, they should sit down and have a little chat. O'Neill added a Snickers bar as an extra bribe. "Here. I figured you'd probably been missing a few meals."
Still wrapped awkwardly in a silver blanket, Daniel nevertheless obediently took the chocolate, sat down next to him, and dabbled his toes in the pool. "Chat...?" He darted O'Neill one of those sideways looks from under his eyelashes. "Are you mad about something?"
"You seem angry."
"You're two miles from the people who are here to protect you, frolicking about under a waterfall buck naked, Daniel!"
O'Neill grimaced as the words were out before he could call them back. He hadn't realized how frayed his nerves must be.
Daniel blinked at him, moistened his lips then said carefully, "Jack, this is a safe planet."
"It has no transplanted humans, visiting Goa'uld, or indigenous life forms bigger than a monkey."
"P3X-888 was supposed to be safe too."
"This is different."
"P3X-888 wasn't safe. This planet is." Daniel took a bite on the Snickers bar, closing his eyes ecstatically as he did so.
O'Neill shook his head. The way Daniel ate chocolate was downright pornographic. "You don't do that in front of SG-11, do you?"
Daniel swallowed the chocolate he was chewing then opened his eyes to look at him in confusion. "What?"
"Never mind." Not sure quite how to begin, O'Neill scratched his jaw. "We have a mothership." He darted Daniel a look to see if he was impressed.
Daniel's mouth was hanging open in a gratifyingly stunned way. "What? How?"
Explaining about the mothership made it easier to explain about Cronos, and Juna. And the robots.
It felt good to share it. He hadn't realized until he started saying it aloud how much he needed Daniel to know this stuff. How much maybe all of them needed Daniel to know their doubles had been going on missions for four years. That the robot Daniel had been killed. That they'd all been killed. That Carter, Teal'c, and O'Neill had all watched themselves die.
"Going on missions all this time?" Daniel put a hand up to his head. "They must have been so lonely. All those memories of people and things they were cut off from forever..."
O'Neill flinched. That wasn't the response he wanted.
"Just the four of them. No Hammond and no Janet to give them any back-up or any...praise. Just going on mission after mission with battery packs that only lasted forty-eight hours. That's like - android Russian roulette. They must have been so..."
"The point is, Daniel." He cut in quickly before Daniel said too many things he didn't want to hear. "They were still a team. They could have gone their separate ways but they didn't. They stuck together."
"How could they go their separate ways, Jack? They had to keep going back to P3X-989 to recharge themselves."
"Because they were machines."
"I don't suppose they felt like machines."
"No." He thought of the bleakness in his robot double's eyes. "But they knew that's what they were. That's why they..." He looked Daniel in the eye, facing up to the truth he hadn't wanted to accept. "Why they sacrificed themselves for us."
Daniel just nodded as if that didn't surprise him at all. "They would probably think they were more...expendable than people made of flesh and blood."
An O'Neill who'd been lying to himself for four long years that he was as good as any human. Better in fact. That he was the only damned O'Neill that counted. That he didn't need the SGC, or a heart that pumped blood. He had his team still and they could take on the Goa'uld. Make a difference. Have a purpose. They weren't just copies with no function. They were the truly original SG-1. God, the guy must have been hating him all this time. The O'Neill who didn't need a powerpack. Who was entitled to mourn the loss of the child he'd actually held, the woman he'd actually known. Although he'd probably never hated him quite as much as when they'd looked each other in the eye on that planet. The robot O'Neill who'd had to stand there and watch as they shot the robot Daniel's head off because, after all, they weren't flesh and blood, were they? And the O'Neill who still had all his team, alive and intact, and human.
Darien said the robot Daniel had even granted him a kind of absolution before he surrendered to the inevitable, then just closed his eyes and let it happen. His Daniel had better not ever do that, damnit. His Daniel, his Carter, and his Teal'c had all better rage, rage, against the dying of the light.
"God, they must have been so...all these years..." Daniel wrapped the blanket more closely around himself despite the blazing heat of the sun overhead.
O'Neill found his voice with difficulty. "They were machines."
"They were us."
O'Neill darted a look at Daniel, who was gazing into the pool water as if he was expecting to have some great truth revealed to him. He picked his words carefully. "Yes. Yes they were. And they were still a team. They wanted to be together. That was why they..."
Our Daniel's dead...
He never wanted to be that O'Neill. Because he had been that O'Neill, damnit; been the full-size flesh and blood version, shivering on the ramp telling Hammond a truth he couldn't comprehend himself.
"Why they didn't care about living once one of them was dead."
There was a long pause before Daniel said. "You said my android's...head was still intact. That would probably contain all its memory data. Harlan might still have the program to recreate us in his computer. Perhaps he can rebuild them."
O'Neill shrugged. "Perhaps. But I told him their guarantee had expired. No point coming back to the manufacturers." He didn't care how damned lonely the guy was, he wasn't letting that happen to any more O'Neills. He turned to look at Daniel. "Your warranty ran out a while ago as well. Might not be a bad idea if you remembered that occasionally. Harlan might be able to reboot the robot you even after it gets its head shot off, but I can't do the same for you."
"Jack, you survived your son dying. You would survive if one of us died."
Sometimes they knew each other scarily well. He looked straight ahead. "That's not the point, Daniel."
"Then what is the point?"
"The point is that they were team. And as long as they were together, they were okay. It was only when they were separated and when they started thinking they were expendable that they died. Well my team isn't expendable. And my team needs to be together." He darted a quick look at Daniel but the guy had his unreadable face on. No way of telling what he was thinking. O'Neill cleared his throat. "I read your report on this place. Very interesting stuff. The Indus. Harappa. Those rhino-things don't look like unicorns to me, though."
Daniel blinked at him in surprise. "Me neither."
"Looks like a big site."
"Bigger than Harappa."
"About twice the size I'd say."
"A place that was discovered in 1920, has been excavated since 1986, and is nothing like uncovered yet."
Daniel blinked again. "You really did read my report."
"I'm just saying..."
"Jack," Daniel put a hand on his arm and then pointed at the sky. "Look up."
O'Neill did so. He could see the fronds of giant tree ferns, the fine spray from the waterfall, the deep blue of the sky, and the glowing brightness of the sun overhead. "What am I looking at?"
"You're looking at a totally alien world, that only half a dozen people from Earth have visited in thousands and thousands of years."
O'Neill's turn to blink in surprise as he realized that was exactly what he was looking at. And he'd been so busy thinking about other things, he had barely noticed. All the same, he didn't want to take anything for granted here. He darted Daniel another look. "And so...?"
Daniel waved his arm to encompass the planet. "And so...isn't it incredible? That we're here? That we get to step through the 'gate and visit new worlds for a living?"
O'Neill wasn't sure that was what they did any more. He thought what they did now was fight a war against an enemy with better equipment than they could even dream of while being thwarted at every turn by so-called 'allies' who wouldn't get off their asses and lend a hand. But as he looked up through the canopy and felt the spray of the waterfall against his cheek, he realized Daniel was right as well. They were engaged in a battle but they were also explorers of brave old worlds. The two weren't mutually exclusive.
"But you do know that our standing orders are to seek new allies and procure technologies to aid in the defense against the Goa'uld?"
"Yes." Daniel nodded, gaze still fixed on the sky overhead, following the path of some bird O'Neill didn't recognize.
"And this site doesn't seem to offer anything of strategic military importance?"
Daniel nodded again. "We've found nothing here to suggest Nirrti has visited this world in centuries. Wherever she was carrying out her phase-shifting experiments, I don't think it was here."
"So you know the SGC will fund a three week survey and that's it. Those ruins will sit there and the jungle will swallow them up again."
"Yes." Daniel turned to look at him now, gaze open and candid. "I know."
"Don't you mind?"
Daniel rested his chin on his knees. "That city has been here for nearly four thousand years, Jack. It's not going anywhere."
"And this site could hold the key to unlocking the Indus script. It could answer all kinds of questions about the Harappan civilization. And you can't tell any of the people working in India about it. You can't study it, except maybe to look through the old video footage every now and then. You just get to label a couple of artifacts and write up your report, then send it all off to Area 51. And you're okay with that?"
Daniel looked at him. "I can live with it."
"Because some things are more important even than archaeology. And, no, I didn't think I'd ever say that either."
O'Neill took off his forage cap and ran a hand through his hair. "Well, I don't have any objection to backing you up on this kind of mission every now and then. If you genuinely think the site you want to excavate could be of strategic importance to the SGC in the fight against the Goa'uld. You don't have to automatically assume I'd say 'no'."
A tiny smile flickered at Daniel's mouth. "Jack, you never say 'No'. You say 'We'll see' or 'Maybe', or 'Not now, I'm busy' or 'What the hell are you doing here at this time at night anyway?'"
"I...sometimes say 'yes'."
"Yes. Sometimes you do."
Daniel didn't add that 'sometimes' was more like 'almost never' but O'Neill was aware it was true. He didn't want SG-1 acting as an archaeological support team. He thought they had better things to do with their time. They were a first contact team, and he needed to know that a first contact team was still something Daniel wanted to be on now the hope of finding his wife on the other side of the wormhole was no longer there. Darting another glance at him, for the first time O'Neill noticed that Daniel was looking pretty peaceful. He realized there was probably never going to be a better time for them to have this conversation than now.
"Sha're's not out there any more. Shifu doesn't have any way of helping us against the Goa'uld."
"No." Daniel said it matter-of-factly. "The knowledge he carries is corruption incarnate. It can never be a force for good. Whatever our intentions might be in the beginning, in the end it would make us like the Goa'uld."
O'Neill didn't know how Daniel could sound so sure about that but he did know he believed him, absolutely, and unquestioningly on this one. He took a deep breath. "Okay, so, you're not going through the 'gate to look for your wife, or her child, or because you might find some incredible archaeological site that could solve some riddle on Earth."
"No." Daniel was smiling as little as he looked straight ahead into the forest, and again O'Neill was struck by how calm he seemed, how peaceful. It was only a few weeks ago he'd found Daniel standing on that balcony preparing to jump. Daniel had insisted it wasn't anything he would do when he wasn't going through brain-affecting withdrawal from an alien light, and O'Neill had backed him up the in the psych evaluations following the mission, to Fraiser, to Hammond, to Mackenzie. But he wasn't sure he'd really believed it until now.
"So why are you going through the 'gate, Daniel?"
Daniel turned his head and looked at him without any hint of resentment that the question had been asked. O'Neill couldn't see any sign of irritation, of something being concealed. "Haven't you ever found the right place to be? The right people to be with? The thing you just really want to do more than anything else you've ever done before?"
O'Neill returned Daniel's gaze for a moment. Daniel had a little shadowing under his eyes. He looked as if he might have skipped a few meals, worked a little later and a little longer than he should have done. But there was a contentment about him O'Neill couldn't pretend he hadn't seen. "Yes," he said. "Yes, I have."
Daniel gave him another little smile then turned back to look around at their surroundings. "I sometimes think about what would have happened if I'd never met Catherine. Never agreed to come here. It's like comparing a small safe room with this...corridor with hundreds of doors in it all leading to different possibilities. That's the only thing I can honestly say I learned from General Bauer. It isn't enough for me to sit in the SGC, to look at videotape of buildings, and photographs of glyphs. I like going through the Stargate. I like being on a first contact team. I like being part of SG-1." He looked around at O'Neill then, the affection in his gaze unmistakable. "Does that answer your question?"
Grimacing, O'Neill reached into the video camera, plucked out the tape and offered it to Daniel. "You'd better have this."
Daniel turned it over in confusion. "What is it?"
O'Neill gestured at the waterfall. "You - you know..."
Daniel looked at him levelly. "You - filmed me taking a shower?"
O'Neill shrugged. "Blackmail." As Daniel seemed in need of further explanation, he sighed. "You know - either you stop running off with other teams or every marine in the SGC gets a copy. That kind of thing."
Daniel blinked. "Oh, always wondered what they meant by 'Go tell it to the marines'. You need psychiatric help, Jack. Seriously."
"I thought you wanted to go back to archaeology."
"When I want to go back to archaeology I will say 'Jack, I want to back to archaeology'."
"You kept going off with other teams."
"Well, you kept signing me off with them."
O'Neill darted him an assessing glance. "Well, I figured they wouldn't ask to borrow you without talking it over with you first."
"Why?" Daniel gave him a very level look. "You signed me off with them without talking it over with me first."
O'Neill grimaced then muttered, "I thought it was what you wanted."
"Well I thought it was what you wanted."
There was a pause before O'Neill muttered even more quietly, "Well it isn't."
Daniel had his head ducked down, a sulky set to his shoulders, but now he darted a look at Jack. "Well it isn't what I want either."
Daniel nodded. "As long as we understand each other."
O'Neill held out a hand for the camcorder tape. "Can I have that back?"
He shrugged. "It'll save me buying Carter a birthday present."
Daniel looked outraged. "You are so cheap. And Sam wouldn't look anyway."
"Yes, she would."
"No, she wouldn't."
"Daniel, she would. So would Fraiser. So would Teal'c. So would anyone. It's just...human nature."
"Sam, Janet, and Teal'c have all seen me naked plenty of times."
O'Neill shrugged again. "They'd still look. I've seen you naked plenty of times and I looked."
Daniel pulled the blanket around himself indignantly and gave O'Neill a reproachful glance. "Well you shouldn't have done."
"I still did though." He took his hand away. "Actually, Daniel, you should keep it, as a reminder of the difference between the way you think the world is and the way it really is."
"Oh, what, because I didn't anticipate the fact that you might turn up and start filming me out of incipient paranoia, I need to adjust my world view?"
"No." O'Neill returned his gaze unblinkingly. "You need to adjust your world view because you didn't anticipate the fact that a battalion of serpent guards could have come through that 'gate, wiped out SG-11 then followed your trail up here to the place where you were totally cut off from your radio, your sidearm, and your clothes."
Daniel just shook his head as he got to his feet. "You definitely need psychiatric help." He picked up his boxer shorts and started to pull them on. "If I were you, I'd be more worried about Teal'c."
"I told you, Junior just got a little squeezed. Fraiser says he going to be okay long before Jacob gets here."
Daniel pulled on his fatigue pants. "No, I mean...psychologically. For practically his whole life he'd been looking towards the day he gets to avenge his father. Now he has. That's going to be tough."
"Isn't having killed Cronos a good thing?"
"In the long run, probably. In the short term, he's lost his quest. That can be like a bereavement in itself. Teal'c might not be ready to let go yet, and sometimes it's easier to keep seeking revenge than to realize you've found it and it hasn't made you feel any better."
O'Neill opened his mouth to ask Daniel how he knew, then closed it again. That didn't matter. Whether it was to do with that weird dream Shifu had given him or because of what had happened with Sha're, Daniel probably knew what he was talking about. Daniel usually did. "So, you think there might be a problem?"
"He's going to be seeing Tanith again."
"Jacob says the Tok'ra have a plan and Tanith is going to be getting his."
Daniel pulled on his t-shirt. "But it won't bring Shau'nac back."
"Teal'c knows that."
"Maybe." Daniel strapped on his sidearm. "But Teal'c has been waiting to avenge his father for longer than you and I have been alive. And now he's lost that. I'm just saying he might be a little...stressed right now."
"Okay." O'Neill always thought of himself as the one who knew Teal'c best, but sometimes he had to admit Daniel would go off and kel'no'reem with the big guy for a while then come back and tell him things about Teal'c he didn't know or hadn't really thought about before. People tended to confide in Daniel whereas, if he was honest, people didn't tend to confide in him. Except for Daniel. Daniel did confide in him sometimes. Or had done in the past.
Their relationship had been given a head start no one else's had. Nearly dying together kind of did that for you. Muffling the echo of that gunshot was always the memory of their first mission. Ra. Daniel crying 'No!' as he took a staff blast meant for O'Neill. O'Neill trying to wrap himself protectively around an unconscious archaeologist as the sandstorm swept over them. "Wait for me..."
Then getting Daniel back from Abydos. Taking care of him. Accepting him onto a first contact team when no other officer in the SGC would have even considered him. Coming to rely on the fact Daniel relied on him. That his was the name Daniel always said when he was in danger. A friendship so intense it felt instinctive. Something he didn't need to work at any more because it was just there. Would always be there. The two of them reading each other mind's, finishing each other's sentences. Except they hadn't done that in a while now.
He'd taken a few emotional shocks too many and stopped working at his friendship with Daniel exactly the same way he'd stopped working at his marriage to Sarah. They'd freewheeled for a while on the impetus of past confidences, believing the relationship was there, was solid and intact, the way it had always been. But, was it? O'Neill felt it was. Daniel was just as important to him as he had always been. But had Daniel outgrown him like a pair of old sneakers? Now he had a place in the SGC, had the respect of other teams, the respect of Hammond, the confidence to work within the military without O'Neill needing to shield him, did Daniel still need O'Neill's friendship as much as he had in the past?
"...and we need to look out for Sam, of course. Going to Voresh again is going to be tough on her."
"What?" O'Neill looked at Daniel blankly as he got to his feet. Damn, his rear was damp now. "Have Carter and Jacob had some fall out I don't know about?"
Daniel gave him one of those clinging-to-the-last-of-his-patience looks. "Jack..."
"What?" he repeated forcefully.
"Martouf? Lantesh? Voresh? Last time she was there he was alive and well, and since then she's had to...?"
"Got you." O'Neill held up his hands in supplication. "But she seemed to be coping okay. She never talks about..." He grimaced as he realized what he'd said. "Right. She has to zat the guy a part of her might be in love with and she never says word one to any of us about it. So that means she must be dealing with it just fine..."
Daniel patted him on the arm. "You've had a lot on your mind."
"So have you." O'Neill looked across at him. "But see this proves why I need you on my team and why Fernandez should have to go whistle for his own archaeologist."
"I wasn't planning to put in for a transfer."
O'Neill hesitated, then reached across and plucked the videocassette from Daniel's fingers. He slipped it into his own pocket then patted it. "Insurance."
"Can you insure something that's out of warranty?"
He nodded. "Yes, Daniel, you can. It just costs a little more."
There was a pause before Daniel processed what he'd just said then darted him a surprised look. "Are you being all...cosmic and metaphorical?"
O'Neill considered the point for a moment and then nodded again. "Pretty much."
Daniel pulled on his jacket. "Well stop it, you're making me nervous."
O'Neill took a last glance around the place. It was peaceful, he had to admit that. The sea-green pool, the white cascade, the sound of the falls, birds calling overhead, monkeys chattering quietly in the surrounding jungle. The sun sending slanting shafts of golden light into the white foam. The kind of place even he'd probably quite like to retreat to for an hour or two after a hard day's excavating old sewage systems.
He looked back at his teammate. Daniel's hair was spiky and tousled, still damp from the waterfall. O'Neill had been given plenty of visual confirmation he didn't have a mark on him, and he had better color than O'Neill had seen in a while. The image of that decapitated head was still there flashing him warning lights about what could happen if he relaxed his vigilance even for a moment. But overlaying it was the living breathing proof that his Daniel really was still alive and well, and happy to be a member of SG-1.
It occurred to him that what he'd told Daniel was true. The robot Daniel had obviously been happy to be a member of SG-1 as well. As he hadn't had the quest for Sha're to sustain him, he could have gone off by himself to explore other cultures, but he hadn't. He'd remained a part of something that was a military unit; continued to fight the Goa'uld. He'd chosen his friends, and that path, over a return to archaeology, over the chance to explore other worlds on his own terms rather than those of a robot Jack O'Neill. Suggesting their friendship must have one hell of a taproot. Or the robot O'Neill wasn't quite the jerk he'd seemed to this O'Neill. Or both.
The point was he'd been the lucky O'Neill this time. He was the one who'd got to have the heart. Who got to keep his team. Who got to return to the SGC after each mission. Daniel was right. They'd been given the chance to do something incredible, and in the confusion of all those crises, and heart-stopping scares, he'd forgotten to be grateful for it. He'd come here to remind Daniel how great it was being a member of SG-1, and Daniel had ended up reminding him instead. They were part of a first-contact team that got to go through the 'gate to worlds people from their planet hadn't visited in thousands of years. And they got paid for it. And, perhaps most importantly of all, they got to go home again afterwards.
Something that was looking very good to him right now.
"You okay, Jack?"
The concerned tone brought him back to the present and he looked round to find Daniel with his vest only half pulled on, watching him anxiously.
"Actually, I'm...good." Maybe better than in longer than I want to think about. He took a last look around the clearing. For the first time in a long time, he knew without the shadow of a doubt that this was definitely what he wanted to be doing. His team were alive and well, Cronos was dead, they had a mothership with which to fight the Goa'uld, and the friendship he'd been scared to look at too hard in case it wasn't there any more, appeared to be stronger than ever. He was definitely okay. "Daniel..."
Still looking concerned, Daniel said, "What?"
Smiling, O'Neill reached out clapped him lightly on the shoulder. "Let's go home."
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