Daniel shifted another armload of reference books from the box at his feet to the waiting shelves. He checked each spine, making sure the appropriate journal – or journals – were stuck in next to the books that described each applicable Earth civilization. Minoan Life in Bronze Age Crete and Packard's Minoan Linear A took up a good bit of room, but Daniel's journals from The Land of Light were thin enough to fit beside them.
He paused, one hand flat against his notebooks as the memories flashed past. Jack attacking him in the Gate room, Teal'c's stoic commands, Melosha, the aches and pains he'd woken up with inside Tuplo's hall. It had been one of the team's first journeys through the Stargate when everything was still new and awe-inspiring and terrifying. When Daniel had been naïve enough to expect to find Sha're on the other side of every wormhole, suddenly whole and snake-less. The empty ache in the center of his chest was a familiar one. It had been softened by time and distance before he'd ascended. Now it was new again. New and fresh, like so many other memories.
His childhood. The feel of Egyptian sand between his toes. The sound of the chains breaking, the cover stone falling. Nick's pale indifference to a lost little boy. His foster parents. His studies. Robert and Sarah and Steven. Daniel had relived his young life as the memories surged, wandering in and out and around the scenes as he must have done while he was Ascended. Invisible. Removed. An observer. It wasn't as if he didn't feel the emotions of his eight-year-old self, devastated and grieving, or the slap of rejection in his professional life. But the feelings were softer and Daniel was more aware than ever that he was witnessing everything from a distance.
He snorted, digging the rest of the journals from the nearly empty box. Of course he was removed. He wasn't eight any more. Not eight, not eighteen, not twenty-eight. His life no longer tilted and turned on the fulcrum of his losses. At his age – even taking into consideration the year he'd spent as an ethereal being – he should be wiser. More balanced. Able to file away his memories with less angst and more sympathy for those around him living lives of their own.
Daniel hoped he'd learned something during his time with the Ancients. Patience. Acceptance. Calm. He brushed the dust off of the old journals and sneezed, hard, and pressed his sleeve against his nose. He may have lost some of his less-useful personality quirks, his quick, knee-jerk reactions, but, unfortunately, all of his physical defects had come back with him.
Smiling, Daniel held the short stack of journals as if they were a talisman – a relic. These memories, of his work here, of his teammates and co-workers, held more interest for him.
Sam and Daniel had clicked from the very first moment, scientists at heart, geeking out, as Jack would put it, over the DHD, the Abydos cartouche room, and all the new worlds opening to them. Teal'c had been more alien than friend, closed-off and unyielding. A man from another culture who woke both quivering curiosity from the anthropologist inside Daniel and black, feral anger in the husband. Jack had insisted on Teal'c for the team. Daniel had understood it, tactically. It hadn't been until Cartago and the Cor'ai that Daniel had plumbed his emotions and realized that Teal'c had been just as much a victim as Sha're.
And Jack –
Daniel felt a half-smile tilt his lips upward. As his memories had drifted home, he'd been struck – again – by the way Jack O'Neill had changed since that first mission to Abydos so long ago. Living through the moments of all those years - almost ten years, how the hell had that happened? – had smoothed over the bumps and twists in Jack's road. Retracing the steps of his own lifetime through mission reports, his friends' reminiscences, and his own trickling memories had given Daniel a chance few others had. A chance to relive the good and the bad, to see the truth with 20/20 hindsight, blind as he had been to it in real time, and to track his friend's path without the emotions and urgency of life in the SGC. It had been a gift that Daniel was sure Oma and the Others had never intended to give.
The Jack O'Neill of that first mission was dead eyes and cruel control. His hatred of his own life had been mirrored in how he'd treated Daniel, relaxing only in the face of Skaara and the young Abydonian boys who'd flocked to him. Even then Jack had not been able to reject those kids, let alone Kasuf and Sha're and the others – his self-loathing had given way to the man's innate courage and honor. Bright energy had sparked in those dark eyes and a friendship had been forged that couldn't be snapped by time, distance, or a buried Stargate.
Jack had welcomed Daniel back to Earth, to life after Sha're, with a strong shoulder to lean on and an empathetic understanding of Daniel's grief and longing. In a tent on Vis Uban, his memories beyond his reach, Daniel had felt that warmth. That same annoying, encouraging connection; a friendship that had survived life and loss and grief, anger and death and resurrection. It had tempted him into wanting more than blue robes, candles, and tents. More than Arrom. Daniel had never been more grateful for that solid foundation. If the emotions still felt a little beige, a bit distant, well, he was doing the best he could.
Hands on his hips, Daniel surveyed the continuing evolution of his office with the same long-distance vision. Intellectually, he understood why General Hammond and the SGC had plopped Jonas into Daniel's empty space. They'd banged away at the Kelownan, hoping the books and artifacts and expectations would fit square-peg Jonas Quinn into the hole Daniel's Ascension had left. Logically, he understood. Emotionally, it was a little harder to take, bumping up against Daniel's new control like a piece of rough sandpaper. Daniel was certain that Jonas would tell him the same.
Jonas had definitely made the space his own. Brighter lights, pristine surfaces, Daniel's cozy, frumpy, dusty office had been swept away as if with one of his archaeological brushes until hard edges, right angles, and precise organization had emerged. It had worked for Jonas, and, until now, Daniel had been content to leave it. To honor the Kelownan's abrupt bum's rush with a 'here's your hat, what's your hurry' attitude on the part of SG-1 and the rest of the base. But, now, he was restless.
Since the mission to Erebus, since those feelings and memories of his own impotence had been dragged to life, Daniel looked at his empty hands and needed to fill them. With books. A pen. A brush. Mission reports. A weapon. Looking down at his flexing fingers, Daniel knew he had to find out what fit. What felt right. What parts of his old life he should curate, collect, and bring to the present. To his new life. The life he'd left and been given back again.
He'd dropped Teal'c off in the infirmary this morning in Janet's capable hands. His friend was still healing, the torture he'd endured on Erebus coming much too soon after the staff blast had nearly cut him in half in the 'gate room. Thankfully, the Jaffa's constitution was still leaps and bounds ahead of a human's, regardless of the fact that he'd lost his symbiote. Teal'c was recovering, mentally as much as physically. Daniel hoped he was helping with that. The daily meditation with his teammate was certainly helping him. The meditative state had led Daniel to access the memories that had been teasing the corners of his mind, leaving him following like a bloodhound on a fraying scent. Meditation had opened the way, allowing him to access the memory he needed to find Ryac and Bra'tac. The Ascended beings who had sent Daniel back to Earth – who had thrown him out of heaven – had left him a thin strand of thread to follow back if he had tenacity to do it.
Daniel reached for another set of books, still in the Ms. He nodded. He'd stick to alphabetical order. It might not be historic chronology, but it would make it easier for others to find references they might need. Medes. Mesopotamia. Myceneans. He shook his head as he shelved Mylonas' ground-breaking work, Schliemann and Gladstone's 'popularization' from the late 1800s, and Papahatzis' discussion of Mycenae, Epidaurus, Tiryns, and Nauplion that had been required reading in Daniel's Greek History classes. None of these books had done much to keep Jack from falling under the influence of the Goa'uld Pelops' nanites. He remembered assisting with the birth, Kynthia's dance, Jack's smirk. "Only for you," he murmured, smiling. Jack's cake eating days – off-world at least – had ended right there and then.
Daniel paused, paging through his journal entries, written with a dark cloud of loss hovering close around his shoulders. They'd been sure they were losing Jack, then. Daniel's best friend had been aging to death on the other side of the Stargate, alone and abandoned. Daniel slid his fingers along the words he'd dug deep into the paper in anger, desperate to do something, anything, to help his friend. Furious with the military and medical decision to leave Jack to his fate.
"I see you're settling in, Doctor Jackson."
Daniel looked up, blinking, tearing himself away from the memories and back to the present. "General Hammond. Yes, or, trying to." He slid the journal into place, dusted off his hands, and stepped away from the shelves. "Something I can do for you or are you on your way to somewhere else?"
Hammond glanced around at the half-filled shelves, the empty cartons stacked beside the door, and the short stack of boxes still overflowing with books and notebooks. Hands behind his back, he huffed, as if in satisfaction. "I must say that I'm glad to see this." His eyes met Daniel's. "Glad to see you turning this space back into one I recognize. It makes your return feel more permanent."
Daniel tucked his chin and shoved his hands into his pockets. "It seems like the right time."
"It certainly does," Hammond sighed.
Raising his head, Daniel peered intently at the man before him. George Hammond hadn't changed much during Daniel's time away. He was still straight-backed and confident. A strong commander who led the men and women of the program with his heart as well as his head. It was an impossible position, standing between inconceivable threats from beyond the 'gate and political infighting here on Earth. The man before him had earned every line on his face, every tube of Rolaids in his desk drawer, each rise in his blood pressure. Daniel's gratitude towards George Hammond was fathomless – for taking a chance on a loud-mouthed civilian, for each and every time he gave Daniel a pass on what would have been insubordination in any of his airmen, for listening and defending Daniel to his superiors. For being a friend.
The two held an easy gaze across the clutter of Daniel's office, sharing the sentiments each man had trouble speaking out loud. Daniel nodded, swallowing, thankful that this man had been the one to welcome him home. It was Daniel who turned away first, overwhelmed.
"Ah, Jonas had his own method of organization, one more scientific, perhaps, than mine." He adjusted his glasses. "I'm sure it appealed to a man from another planet who had never heard of Earth's ancient cultures. One who hadn't been studying them for his entire life."
Hammond chuckled. "The man was obsessed with The Weather Channel," he stated, as if that explained everything. The general pointed. "What did you do with the television?"
Daniel swiveled to stare at what had been a huge empty space before he'd filled it back up with books and artifacts. "Oh, I donated it to the rec room." He shrugged. "If the engineers could figure out a way to get reception 28 floors down inside the mountain, at least the SG teams stuck on base could watch sports."
"Uh huh." Hammond's expression was doubting. "And this had nothing to do with a certain colonel complaining about missing the Stanley Cup finals during lockdown?"
Pasting on an innocent face, Daniel smiled. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Of course not." Hammond tightened his lips and then deliberately reached behind him to close Daniel's office door.
Yeah, that didn't seem ominous at all.
Or the fact that the general was using Daniel's first name.
"I wanted to come down to talk to you. Off the record."
"Sir?" Daniel glanced up at the camera over his office door. No little red light. Interesting. He waved one hand to his empty desk chair, choosing to perch on the edge of his work table.
Hammond shook his head. "This won't take long. I – I'll admit," Hammond brushed one hand across his head, "I should have expected something like this to come up. And I did, but I had no idea it would come up so soon, before you were really settled, before we had a plan in place to protect you."
Daniel's eyebrows were trying to rise off his head. "Protect me? From what?"
"From Kinsey. From Area 51. From those in our government who would like to know how much you remember from your time among the Ascended Ancients."
Lips pressed tight, Daniel nodded, a cold feather of dread brushing slowly up his spine. Yes. He should have expected it. Especially now. After Erebus. When he could no longer claim that he didn't remember anything.
"So, it's starting," he murmured.
Hammond's eyes sparkled, fierce and angry. "They're sending a team – medical, psych, neurology. They're due to arrive next week to 'debrief you.'"
Daniel shrugged and then shook his head. "They're welcome to try, General. They won't find anything." His smile felt hollow. "You've seen an example of how powerful these beings are. You watched Shifu send me into a dream state, dial the 'gate, collapse the iris, and leave. You've read our mission reports of Kheb. About Anubis. It doesn't surprise me that someone has decided to challenge them – I've seen the hubris of those in power, how some of our military and government refuse to believe that there is anything in the galaxy that is more powerful than they are."
"Son," Hammond stepped forward.
"General. Please." Daniel raised both hands. "I know you'd protect me from this if you could. But, as you said, we should have expected it." His mind raced with visions of bright, swooping lights, a monk on Kheb, smoked and charred bodies. He blinked an inner eye and found himself invisible, unnoticed, standing at the Erebus Stargate, watching Bra'tac and Ryac being taken away in chains. He stood in a cell as Jack was brought back from Ba'al's sarcophagus, his body alive again while his spirit slowly died. In a swirl of light and heat, he hovered above Teal'c and Bra'tac, giving strength while the two Jaffa suffered. "I wonder, General, if we're thinking about this the wrong way around."
Hammond linked his fingers and let his hands drop in front of him. "Please explain."
Truth shook through Daniel – the hints and traces of his ascended life mingling with the memories he'd recovered. "Sir, the Ascended Ancients are powerful. And they do not appreciate 'lowers,' people like you and me, interfering in their plans." He moved away from his work table. "I'm convinced it's one of the reasons I was …" Discarded. Ejected. Dismissed. Daniel struggled for a word that encompassed the loss and pain and certainty of his descension. "One of the reasons I left. I interfered. In my pride, I believed I knew a better way. Maybe I was right and maybe I was wrong, but I think we should be more concerned about protecting our people, this base – even Earth –" he raised his hands to encompass the world around him, "- from the Ancients. From what might happen if the politicians get their way and try to force my memories."
The general's eyebrows twitched. "I hadn't considered that. What do you suggest?"
"I'd like to talk to my team, sir," Daniel admitted. Jack would rant and rave, kick things, and then get quiet and clever and come up with a battle plan. Sam was smarter than the rest of them put together – and she'd been outwitting the military higher-ups for decades. And Teal'c – well, Teal'c was the most stalwart friend and defender Daniel could ever ask for. Daniel needed them, needed them to look at the problem from all sides, not just his. "But I think it might be best to get me off-world."
"I had thought of that. I'd even come up with a long-term mission designed to keep you and SG-1 off-world for a few months. Unfortunately, barring an emergency, I've been ordered to stand down SG-1 until this … team … arrives."
"'Barring an emergency,'" Daniel echoed, his thoughts rippling.
Hammond was a step ahead. "I've taken the liberty of contacting a few of our allies. Sending a few messages with other teams. They're ready to assist if necessary."
"Thank you." Daniel frowned, intent. "Really. Thank you, General. For all you've done, for all you continue to do. I know –" Scenes spun to life in his memory, colorful and bright. Hammond standing at the foot of Daniel's sick-bed. Sitting beside him. Saluting. Sitting at Jack's side, letting Daniel's teammate get shit-faced drunk after Daniel died. Hammond signing off on a week's leave for Janet and Sam. His silent meals with Teal'c. Daniel took a deep breath. "I know how much you sacrificed when I died – ascended. How you held the team together. How you did not leave the base for two weeks afterward, didn't get to see your granddaughters, because you knew Jack and Sam and Teal'c needed you."
Hammond's blue eyes were soft, sparkling with something other than anger. "You know that?"
"Yes, sir." Daniel ducked his head. A moment later he felt the older man's broad hand on his shoulder.
"We all needed it, Daniel. We all grieved. Mourned. And staying together was our only hope to get past it. Not to get over your loss, that was not going to happen, but to be able to function day by day in a world without you." The hand squeezed. "Jack once said he knew you were here, watching over us. I guess I'm going to have to tell him that he was right, just this once."
Daniel smiled widely. "Just this once, sir. We wouldn't want it to go to his head."
"Definitely not." Hammond stayed at Daniel's side. "I hope –" he frowned, his mouth closing over the words he'd intended to say.
"Sir?" Daniel prompted the other man.
"I know we threw you back into it too soon. Practically as soon as you came through the Stargate. I only hope that you understand why." Hammond's voice was quiet but intense. "Because, for my part, your return was somewhat of a miracle. And I was not going to waste one moment of that gift looking it in the mouth, if you understand my meaning."
"I think I do, sir." He did. This Daniel, the one with distance and hindsight, the one who had the chance to look back on the trials and tensions of life at the SGC and relearn lessons of friendship and duty, he understood. The Daniel of The Land of Light, or Euronda, or Heliopolis might have wondered or misunderstood, he might have been hurt or felt rejected, but not this Daniel. This AD Daniel, Ante-Descension Daniel grasped those things the general, Jack, and the others might never be able to say.
"Very good." Hammond cleared his throat. "I'm scheduling some down time for SG-1. Now that Teal'c has been released by Doctor Frasier, you all should get off-base, relax. You, especially, need some time here on good ole Earth to reacclimate. Find an apartment. I've got Captain Conners down in Finance ready to assist you with whatever you need." Walking towards Daniel's door, Hammond looked back over his shoulder. "I'm certainly not going against orders to send you off-world, so Colonel O'Neill's house is going to have to be good enough."
Daniel chuckled. The general knew them all so well. "Does Jack know you've volunteered him, sir?"
"Oh, I'm sure he would have volunteered it himself. Eventually," Hammond answered. He met Daniel's gaze. "We're going to do everything we can, Doctor Jackson."
Smiling, Daniel nodded. "Thankfully, I do remember exactly what 'everything' can mean when you're talking about yourself and SG-1."
One hand on the door, Hammond chuckled. "Indeed."