Helen Magnus’s Cairo Head of House was the second person she heard the news from (the first was a shady backdoor informant she’d rather not discuss, someone who had a penchant for making things seem more groundbreaking than they actually were).
The fact was they’d found something, out in the Egyptian desert. A small cavern, ancient and mysterious, had snuck onto their radar. A quiet, obscure and intelligent abnormal race that had plunged into extinction millennia ago had left behind an alphabet in hieroglyphs on thin wooden scrolls, and the markings on these (part of her father’s infinite collection) matched those newly uncovered. It wasn't grand or pressing or even necessarily promising but it certainly demanded a closer, more sophisticated look.
It wouldn’t take more than two people and a week’s time to cover the dig. Magnus had barely hung up the phone with the Cairo Sanctuary when she began dialing the second number.
(If she’d been completely honest with herself, she’d have realized that she’d been itching for an excuse like this for a long, long time.)
Will had teased her a little. “I’m sensing you two have some history.”
“Will, I have history with hundreds of people.”
“Yeah, but this one. This Doctor Daniel Jackson guy. You smile differently when his name is mentioned—look! That smile,” he had pointed straight at her, “that one right there, Magnus.”
She’d pursed her lips, but the corners of her mouth still curved upwards. Her gaze turned toward the window and even though she wouldn’t leave the country for another three days, she was already miles away from this place. “Perhaps I do.”
The sound of a car engine idling in the drive wafted up through the open doors as Magnus shrugged on her jacket in the foyer.
“So he was me, before me. I mean, he was your, you know. Protégé.”
“No. Not exactly. Well, kind of. Actually, yes, I suppose he was.” She bent to pick up her suitcase.
Her current protégé’s brows rose and then furrowed. “You know, the more interesting the back story, the more enigmatic and cryptic you get when you talk about your relationships. Did you know that?”
It started when Daniel dove into a discourse on the Greeks, made some comparison about Helen and Persephone (except he’d quickly barked a dubious laugh and declared that not even Hades could abduct Helen Magnus). He’d then amended to Mnemosyne, who’d given memory and reason to the world, and was thus a governess of the passage of time. He’d gone on about how one could view Mnemosyne’s spring of memory as a metaphor for the choice Helen herself presented to abnormals, the choice for sanctuary at the crossroads of the Earth and Underworld (another metaphor, this time for that place between realities that Helen Magnus had lived in her whole life, the place her heart resided, the place she ruled over and safeguarded like she was a queen of all empire). He’d looked quite pleased with himself and he’d joked about publishing this whole thing in a journal as he held up his crystal glass of red wine, locked eyes with her beneath the tent canvass, beneath the fiery Egyptian sunset. She’d barked out a laugh like she was astounded by his audacity when in fact she was nothing less than thrilled by it.
The old routine, the old pattern. As if they’d never left one another’s side.
“Of course, your namesake tells a different story.”
“Mm,” she’d drawled, setting her empty glass down against the sand. Emboldened more by desire than drink, more tempted by his lips than his words, she slid languidly closer. “Do go on, Daniel.”
“My Spartan queen,” he murmured against her cheek, and even though his voice was teasing and his mouth tangled up helplessly in a grin, his heart hammered drum beats against his chest as he watched her.
She slid her fingers into his hair. “And as my subject, I’ll do what I like with you. First a proper Greek name. I’ll call you Apollo, shall I? Or perhaps Hermes would be a better fit.”
“Messenger of the gods. I could work with that.”
“Mm, god of traveling and language, in fact. If I remember correctly, he used his cunning knowledge of linguistics to throw Zeus from the throne?”
“Well, yeah. But he was also just a teensy bit dishonest.”
“And you’ve absolutely no mischievous tendencies then, do you, Daniel Jackson?”
He chuckled, conceding the point like a gentleman, and shifted a little to rest his head in her lap. Stared up at her with blue, blue eyes. She trailed an index finger slowly down his face, the stubble there rough against her fingertip, as the moment slid into something heavy and longing.
“I’ve missed you,” she breathed. It was a whisper, barely above the volume of the breeze.
“You don’t know the half of it,” he said, matching her tone. “Every time the sun shines it reminds me of you.”
She smiled a curved bow, her eyes sparkled wide like blue-silver chalices. This thing between them was as real and lasting and adaptive as the sunrise; the nostalgia didn't really even brush the surface.
Were he younger, were this ten or fifteen or even five years ago, he wouldn’t have stopped there. He would have said I’m sorry I left, Helen. He would have told her he’s loved her in every moment that’s passed since he traded the stone Sanctuary walls for the wide-open galaxy. She knows this. But there are always separate paths to wander. He’s not lost and he never was, he’s known all along where he needed to be: exploring, with a team like a family at his side (he just…misses her).
He’s a man. He's not young anymore. In relative terms, they’re exactly the same age now.
And it shows. It shows in the way things between them now are more comfortable when left unspoken.
They translate more after dinner and late into the night (with more than written word, more than the hieroglyphs on the wall; they translate looks, the way hands brush and linger as tools exchange hands, body language).
The chamber they’re working in echoes, echoes and up above they can see a wide slip of dark velvet sky strewn bright with white stars like an endless ellipsis scattered.
After a few hours Daniel extinguishes the fire lamps (he prefers to work in natural light, always, perhaps out of habit from visiting thousands of planets across the galaxy where fire was the only real constant, dependable, familiar part of the deal) and they meet at a mid-point along the wall to share some water.
Sand has sifted onto their sweat-slick skin like gold dust and they have earth beneath their fingernails. Both brilliant minds are rowing in tune to the other, to the silent melody and thrill of academic exploration, and they’re both pretty sure that this, all of this, is the only way to feel alive.
They’ve always been this in-synch, and it feels like slipping into something well worn that hasn’t been used in a while.
Helen brings the cup down from her lips and in the moonlight watches Daniel watching her. They exchange dirt-smudged smiles.
They’re both thinking I miss this, this, right here. But neither of them says it, maybe because they don’t need to.
Helen closes the space between them first (there’s a crash that echoes in the expanse as the cup drops and rolls away, lost and forgotten the moment it leaves her fingers).
He’s so familiar, so achingly familiar and just a little different, just different and familiar enough to delight her, to send heat born of promise rising along her skin, into her belly like warm water expanding when he pushes her slowly back against the cavern wall and slips his tongue past her lips.
He tastes the way he used to, he smells the way he used to, but it’s like visiting London or Mumbai after years and years and years; little things have changed though the landscape remains the same, and the more you see, the more you experience, the more the sensory memory begins bit by bit to return.
Still, this Daniel is different. He’s stronger, more solid, a little more jaded but no less passionate. He’s steadier. He knows himself, and she finds that this, more than anything, is what undoes her.
She trails her fingers down his arms and relishes the way his hands feel against her hips, the way his thumbs rub gentle circles into her skin and then hook the waist of her khakis. He tugs them down, down, down until she’s got enough room to step free and when she does, he lifts her easily against the wall and she wraps her long bare legs around him like a ribbon.
“I’ve missed you so much,” she tells him again, and the words slide against his ear, hot and bare. Helen Magnus has long since stopped having firsts of anything, but she’ll always consider him to be one of them (she’s just not sure which).
Daniel sighs, moans into her neck, grasps her tightly as if she might fall away. He wants (has wanted) her so badly it hurts.
“Take this off,” he tugs against her thin cotton shirt. “I want to feel you.”
And she does, she brings two hands to the hem and lifts it over her head, ruffling a cascade of dark hair around her face before immediately reaching out to begin stripping him bare. The planes of his chest remind her of things that tug at her insides, memories that rush and lap at her like waves.
They belong to each other in an unspoken way – he’ll always be her Daniel (hers, hers) and she’ll be his Helen for time and all eternity even if she was someone else’s Helen first (second, third, and fourth).
Right now, this mutual possession is the truest thing in the world. She feels it when he drops to his knees and slides his mouth across the soft skin below her belly button, when he grips the backs of her thighs to hold her in place, here, with him, where he wants her (where he’s always wanted her, where he always will).
He makes her feel like she’s living a different life, like she’s always lived a different life, one in which time passes just a little faster, where there is little distinction between what is considered ancient and what is considered future, where all the possibilities of what can be are wider and more fathomless than a bright African sky.
He makes her feel that acute thirst for knowledge and truth that’s defined her since before she can remember, and that deep ache for the horizon, that slow burn of curiosity that means she’s still, despite the centuries and source blood, human. He makes the years of heartbreak melt away.
She grips his hair, clenching and unclenching, not guiding but letting him know she’s present, that when he opens her up with his mouth like he’s carried the spare key with him all this time, she trusts him enough to loose herself for a little while.
The touch is fire and water at the same time, and she bends her long leg around his shoulder to brace herself while his fingers press phantom bruises into her thighs, while her pressure builds twice as fast as his tongue moves, and all she can think about is him--
--and that endless sky. His mouth is spilling across her like a river rush and when she comes she feels her skin flash white-hot in the humid heat, and it takes her so long to find her breath in the shuddering aftermath she begins to worry that he’s taken that, too.
Her hands are surprisingly steady as she pulls him back up to her, palms a little sweaty cupping either side of his jaw, and she kisses him right then and there, deeply enough to pull the half-hearted articulations from his tongue. He braces a hand behind her against the wall to steady himself, although the action is rendered ineffectual when she reaches down to feel him, resting hard against her thigh.
This woman has always been his undoing: there was a time when he was so much younger, her balcony in the old city Sanctuary on a warm summer night and (what she called, with her still-perfect grasp of Victorian England) a fainting couch with the plushest red velvet he’d ever stood witness to. Her fingers through his hair and his lips against her neck, and he’d had the courage to ask her what he meant to her. She gave him words, that time, because he needed the solidity and tangible familiarity of syntax and definition. He needed the reassurance that came with something spoken, something that didn’t allow for misunderstandings. Something he could write down with ink in a worn leather journal, to remember and take comfort in later alongside alien translations and field notes when he found himself on a planet light years away from home.
Now, though, the linguistics aren’t so important. It’s the semiotics and kinesiology that speak to him. It’s the way she slides her hands first up his back and then down his hips before she pulls him in against her. It’s the way her pelvis tilts to let him inside, farther, tighter. The way she feels around him (the way she presses down, clenches, won’t let him move any faster than she feels is necessary because she knows what it does to him; every quickening breath and groan against her neck a triumph). It’s the way the body remembers things the mind has nearly forgotten (like those words).
When she trails the tip of her tongue along his ear, takes a sensitive lobe between her teeth, she thinks she can taste the stardust, that infinite horizon she'll never reach spanning like coordinates across his skin. She wants to map the constellations of him, travel him like an idle fingertip tracing a spinning globe (even if she never leaves the atmosphere, she thinks that as long as she’s claimed this land beneath her fingertips, that’s close enough – her work has always been of narrow Earthly focus, anyway, and she's lived long enough to know that some things aren't attainable even given multiple lifetimes).
She likes to think that with her is where he learned some of the life lessons he prizes, some of the skills and mental tools he prides himself on, like in a way they both shaped each other into the people they are right here and now in this moment, and so to be together with him like this feels like finishing a circle, becoming whole, starting again.
She arches an arm back behind her for balance as they move together while the other holds steady around his neck, and she can feel the grooves and smooth etchings against the pads of her fingers, and that too feels like a genesis and a culmination both at the same time. She’s starting to think he’s filled her up completely, every cell and nerve ending fired up and spreading and swollen and yet she knows she could find it within herself to want more of him every single time.
“Come with me,” she says, and with the sound of her voice a spur he lets go and everything rushes forth so fast and loud and hot that she can hear it, feel it, it's a little blinding and he’s pressing into her like she’s got a pull greater than gravity. Time stretches out all around them while they draw that string so taught between them their muscles start to burn and they tremble and the pleasure is so sharp it stings, dulls into a throb as they loosen themselves finally and gasp in breaths. He tucks his face into her neck and they hold onto each other, just like they always have, while everything they stirred starts to settle.
He rouses beneath her in the early morning, and when her bare leg slides and brushes his he opens his eyes.
They’ve made it back to the tent and there’s a sunrise so bright it's making the canvass glow. He watches her smile spread slow and sweet like honey and her big eyes blink sleepily while she murmurs a softly accented “morning, Daniel” and he feels kind of dizzy and awestruck because he knows he’ll never see anything this beautiful again in his entire life.
“Sabah el kheir,” he responds a little muffled because he’s already leaned in to kiss her and she whipers something like “show off” in-between breaths because his pronunciation is near spot-on, better than hers will ever be (even with close to a century of practice and decades of immersion) and so she licks at his tongue like maybe that’s where his talent lies.
Later, they have tea with a breakfast of pita bread and fuul and in the middle of a conversation about itinerary for the day’s work he reaches over idly and swipes a loose bit of hair from her eyes. She stops mid-sentence and decides she has to have him again, right then and there.
When she presses into him this time he thinks she smells like myrrh, feels like smooth gold beneath his touch and tastes like hibiscus under his tongue and he thinks she really deserves to be worshipped as much as any deity ever did.
Before he leaves back to Colorado or Washington DC or Nevada or New Mexico or wherever it is that's lucky enough to have him these days, he kisses her cheek and when his hand slides against hers she feels the tiny slip of paper against her palm.
"See you around, Helen," he whispers and then he's gone, tucked into the backseat of one of the Cairo Sanctuary's black SUV's and she's staring into the dust with one arm up like a visor to shield her eyes.
They do this every time they see one another, even though it's so rare that she can count on one hand the number of times it's happened. They take turns exchanging codes, small puzzles in obscure ideograms or alphabets that they carry around for weeks (months, years) afterward. Sometimes the messages are silly or funny or clever but they're always personal and wonderful and sometimes all it does is make her want to run right back after him (or him after her) and dwell a little longer in that space and time, the one that's past and present and future all at once.
Either way, they get to keep a little piece of each other, a little something that no one else understands. Something to mark the passage of time, something to remind them of who they are and where they've been in each other's eyes. Something that says nothing really, and everything.
Helen grins and slowly tucks the parting gift into her pocket.
Later when she's back at the Sanctuary and Will is apologizing for a few minor disasters and Henry is avoiding eye contact and Kate is asking Helen how the dig went (but only because she is so obviously greasing her up to ask for something outrageous), she turns her gaze out the window again and decides that if she squints a little the sky looks exactly like it did out in the Egyptian desert, and she knows that when the sun spreads out across the horizon in the morning she'll think about him for a few precious seconds before she starts into her work and it'll be a good day.