“What are the chances that’s another quantum mirror?” Hammond’s voice was concerned, but not unduly, Jack judged.
“Fairly small, sir,” Carter jumped in, pointing at the image being transmitted from the MALP. “The frame is not at all similar, and despite the fact that the MALP’s reflection came back distorted, there are no energy readings that match the signature of the quantum mirror we encountered before.”
“Could just be a bad mirror,” Jack put in pleasantly. “Doesn’t look like they’ve got the highest tech level, maybe they just haven’t mastered mirror-making.”
“Or mastered and lost it again,” Daniel murmured, pointing at other elements in the image on the screen before them. “Those are definitely Ancient influences.”
“Which is why this planet is worth our attention,” Teal’c intoned, and Daniel nodded emphatically.
“Very well. If Doctor Jackson believes this ties in with your current search, and you’re satisfied with the intel as it stands, Colonel, I’m prepared to authorize this mission.”
Jack nodded. “Gear up, kids.”
Daniel rolled his eyes at him. Jack knew he hadn’t called the rest of SG-1 ‘kids’ in a long time, but it was nice to be back in that zone. Jack had been so –intense—directly after Daniel’s descension, and it had been a little unnerving to them both. It felt good to have regained a little levity.
Shortly thereafter they were strolling through the event horizon and into what Daniel would probably call a receiving room and what Jack had insisted was just another tapestried dentist’s office. He hoped he was wrong about the dentist thing, but given that the intel from the MALP showed a room empty of anything but the ‘gate, the mirror, and a handful of chairs, it was clearly a waiting room of some kind.
The wormhole snapped shut behind them and the team fanned out across the bottom of the ramp in the ensuing silence. Jack raised his eyebrows at Teal’c, who actually shrugged. It made Jack want to grin—sometimes it was the littlest things that reminded him how far they’d come from that first trip to Chulak. Daniel poked a tapestry which released a small puff of dust and he stifled a sneeze. This time Jack did grin. In some ways, of course, they hadn’t changed that much at all.
“Cozy,” Carter commented, stepping to Jack’s shoulder. He nodded.
“Of course, with just that one door over there, it’s also easily—“
“Defensible,” Teal’c intoned. Jack could feel his lips twitching and he glanced over at Daniel to see the other’s appreciative half-smile already in place.
Damn, it was good to have the gang back together again.
Daniel passed the rest of the tapestries in favor of the carvings by the single arched door, Teal’c swept the rest of the room, and Carter headed for the mirror. Jack let his smile escape for a moment and then promptly tucked it back under the metaphorical hat as the door creaked open. His team promptly stepped back into position and they were a united front by the time the welcoming committee had the door fully open.
“Is there a reason why so many of these planets feature tunics so heavily in their fashion choices?” Jack muttered to Daniel at his left.
“Pre-industrial tailoring is rough without sewing machines. Not to mention expensive,” Daniel whispered back, his ‘peaceful explorer’ expression already firmly in place.
“I didn’t actually need a real answer,” Jack replied in a teasing undertone, switching gears as the group of three stopped in front of them. Two were clearly some kind of guard—possibly an honor guard given how elaborate the tassels were on their pike staff things. But they still looked sharp and burly enough to cause damage, pikes and guards both. In the center was an older man in a flowing dark green cape with light blue embroidery and a fabulously intricate bird pin. Now that Jack was taking in details, he also noticed that both guards were in brown with badger pins at their shoulders.
“Greetings, travelers,” the man began—at least, Jack was pretty sure that was what he said. Whatever lingual drift there had been, it was at least still close enough to Ancient for Jack to catch every other word or four. It seemed to be a pretty standard ‘welcome-what-are-your-intentions’ speech, but Jack cocked his head at Daniel anyway.
“He says his name is Thaddeus and he is the gate warden and herald of …Eastenland. He welcomes us if we come in peace and asks that we stand in front of the mirror to demonstrate—or more like prove—our motives or character.”
Jack frowned. “How does a mirror show our character?”
“Sir?” Sam offered quietly. “Maybe it’s a scanner like on Cimmeria? It’s pretty clearly Ancient, so it could be a similar technology to scan for symbiotes like Thor’s Hammer.”
“We haven’t run into one of those for a while,” Jack sighed. “Any chance we’re going to get zapped by that thing? Daniel? Carter?”
“Well, sir, Teal’c doesn’t have a symbiote anymore and we do in fact intend no harm, so—“ Carter shrugged.
Daniel had that look that said he was reviewing the conversation for any nuances he might have missed. “The word he used was more ‘reveal’ than ‘test,’ Jack. I don’t think he means any harm.”
“Good enough for me,” Jack decided. “Where do I stand?”
Daniel turned to speak to the group and Jack heard him run through the introductions in a more than passable imitation of Thaddeus’s accent. It never failed to impress Jack just how good Daniel was, at his job as well as a person and a friend.
The gate warden was answering with a smile and a gesture, so Jack stepped forward to the spot he indicated. The silver surface of the mirror went cloudy, and when it went clear again, there was a deep gray horse at Jack’s shoulder with a long pearly horn rising from its forehead. Jack whipped his head to the side and saw nothing but the wide eyes of his team, and the slack jaws of Badger-boys framing a beaming Thaddeus. Jack turned back to the mirror and the unicorn—because, weird Ancient shit or not, that’s what it was—tossed its head at him and pawed the ground. Jack blinked and stepped back. The mirror clouded and cleared once more to show an empty room.
The linguist let out a speedy string of gibberish which was answered by a similarly long string of enthusiasm from gate-warden-dude, followed by another short exchange with a firm but polite-sounding sentence.
“The mirror is apparently a major part of their society, Jack. It’s used not only to screen travelers, but to assign roles in the community but to assign roles in the community based on what it indicates about the inner character of the person standing in front of it.”
“And the Colonel is a unicorn?” Carter sounded like her glee was warring with her skepticism. Either way, Jack didn’t appreciate it.
“Hey!” He crossed his arms. “Just for that, you’re next.” Jack didn’t dare meet Teal’c’s or Daniel’s eyes. A unicorn. Sheesh. At least, whatever it meant to Thaddeus, it wasn’t bad. The guy was grinning hard enough his face was likely to crack.
Carter had the grace to look a little abashed as she stepped up to be scanned. When the mirror cleared, there was an eagle-lion-thing by her left side.
“Oooh, a gryphon,” Daniel sounded impressed and Jack tried not to be dismayed by how much fiercer Carter’s spirit-animal-thing looked, with its tawny fur and feathers and sharp beak.
Carter stepped back, shooting Daniel a glance where he was conversing again with Thaddeus, who was still making happy faces. Okay, so gryphons were also some kind of good.
When Thaddeus pointed to Teal’c next, the Jaffa stepped forward without a visible hitch, though Jack could tell by the set of his shoulders that he was prepared for unpleasantness. As a man with more than a few skeletons of his own, Jack could sympathize. Still, maybe Teal’c would get a damn unicorn too, in that case.
And, no. The big guy got a dragon. A gleaming, coiling, regal looking black and gold dragon.
“There is just no justice in this world,” Jack muttered under his breath. Not quite quietly enough, given the muffled snort he heard from Daniel’s direction, but oh well. Thaddeus was looking awed and the guards a little frightened, but no one was pointing pikes their way yet, so Jack guessed they were three for three in the character test so far.
Daniel was frowning as he approached the mirror. Jack considered teasing him about the likelihood of his ending up with a cat or a monkey—something too curious and trouble-prone for his own good—but since Kelowna he’d lost his taste for jokes about Daniel touching what he shouldn’t.
Neither Daniel nor Jack should have worried, however. The mirror clouded and cleared so fast for Daniel it was as if it had been waiting for him.
There was dead silence in the room as they took in the reflection of Daniel in the mirror, his phantom arm raised to support and cradle a bird with brilliant flame colored feathers.
Sweet Jesus, Daniel was a phoenix. Jack glanced over at the sound of a sniffle and saw Carter blinking hard.
Daniel broke the silence with an awkward scrub at his hair. “Well that’s a little—“
“—on the nose,” Daniel stepped back but the phoenix image lingered for a few moments like the sun’s afterimage burned into your corneas.
“I was hoping to be done with the dead-again-Daniel jokes,” the archaeologist continued with an attempt at a rueful smile and shrug. For once Jack was completely without a snappy retort.
Fortunately, he was saved from his own conversational inadequacy by the spectacle of Thad and his boys bowing briefly to himself, Carter, and Teal’c, and deeply to Daniel. The linguist was blinking hard and looking not exactly distressed, he had too many years of gate travel under his belt for that, but definitely a little twitchy. Daniel said something that Jack assumed was a combined plea for them to stop and a request for explanation, given the archaeologist’s tone and gestures.
When Thaddeus replied, his tone had changed from polite enthusiasm to one of cautious reverence. Jack was not certain that was an improvement, but he was catching a few more words now, and it sounded like they were going to be introduced to the head-something who would explain something after Thaddeus had given them the proper somethings. (In short, Jack was very, very glad to have his linguist back.)
The ‘somethings’ turned out to be one, a trip to see the fief’s head priest-character, to, two, get explanations of what their animal images meant and how that would affect their welcome (beyond the fact that Thaddeus was looking like he’d seen the coming of a prophet or four), and finally, three was a badge or brooch thing for each of them indicating their animal, which Thaddeus insisted on them wearing immediately. He had had to dig way to the back of the large locked cabinet to find appropriate pins for each of them—by the amount of dust gathered on the box housing the unicorn and phoenix pins, Jack wagered they weren’t exactly in high demand. He pinned his unicorn to his jacket flap with what he hoped was a well-hidden grimace and a silent thank you to the universe that this was not a mission where they were likely to need to call in any other teams. Jack had been working with Daniel long enough to just roll with it when it came to clothing modifications off-world, but some of the new guys still had issues with the idea of ‘dishonoring the uniform.’
Plus, you know, it was a damn unicorn.
As they strolled up the main street with Thaddeus and two additional guard-types, each with more canine-looking badges and slightly differently brown cloaks, Jack took in the wide eyes and whispers that traveled around and ahead of them towards the market square and leaned in to Daniel to mutter, “I had better find out that unicorns here are dangerous and feared.”
Daniel smiled. “See those girls laughing over there?” He gestured with a jerk of his chin, and Jack followed his gaze.
“They think our clothes are funny, but it has nothing to do with the pins. See those two at the corner of the building?” Jack found the second pair of women under a thatch overhang who were watching the four of them with warm, wise gazes.
“They see the pins and know what they mean and are still looking at you like you’re more appealing than the Sunday roast. So don’t worry about it.” Daniel knocked his shoulder against Jack’s and the colonel couldn’t help but grin. Daniel had just essentially called him a fine looking piece of man meat. Jack’s day was looking up.
The group came to a stop in front of the only other stone building Jack had seen so far other than the one they’d exited that housed the ‘gate. Everything else was wood or wattle-and-daub, with thatched roofs like they still had in the quietest corners of Ireland. Everywhere doors and windows stood wide open, and the streets and square were moderately busy with happy-looking if somewhat scrawny people. It suggested a fairly peaceful existence, which was promising, and there were absolutely no indicators of past or present occupation by unpleasantness of a Goa’uld nature.
Of course, the crowd they were drawing was not entirely ideal. Jack’s eyes flicked around the square, assessing routes of escape should the crowd get ugly for any reason, just in case. He and Teal’c exchanged a few significant glances and hand signals and then came to parade rest on either side of Daniel and Carter, with their ‘honor’ guard standing between them and the rest of the gathering masses. Thad took it upon himself to step forward and rap sharply on the heavy wooden door in front of them, though how anyone inside could have missed the rising buzz of noise from outside was beyond Jack’s comprehension.
When the doors opened, the person who exited was not at all what Jack expected. He’d guessed another venerable sort, like Thaddeus squared, old and decked out in robes and stereotypically librarian-ly. Instead, their head priestly figure was a slim red-headed doppelganger for young Daniel, wearing a Pegasus brooch over a gray and green intricately embroidered cloak and tunic. In short, far too good looking for a priest, Jack concluded, his mind traitorously replaying newly-descended Daniel’s squint and vaguely pitying ‘Has your hair always been like that?’
Speaking of Daniel, while Jack was contemplating how 80% of his gray hairs were either his or Carter’s fault, the archaeologist had proceeded past the deep bows and courtesies and on to manly hand clasps and smiles that denoted kindred spirits the galaxy over. Jack frowned and shouldered his way into the conversation to get the introductions out of the way, and found himself and the rest of the team swept up and into the temple-hall-thing and plied with tea and some kind of sweet bread and a stream of other welcoming behavior that made Jack feel like a heel for wishing that Carolus was at least eighty years old.
It was just--he’d just gotten Daniel back. He wasn’t used to the idea of having to share him again so soon. That was all.
The colonel blinked. Whoops, Daniel was talking to him and shoving native clothes in his arms, and Jack was spacing out. Not good.
“Carolus says that the lord of this area was called away on family business, something about a birth in the extended family, but that we are welcome to stay until the lord returns, tomorrow or the next day, and that meanwhile he is pleased to host us. There’s also the annual celebration going on this week in town—some kind of independence anniversary, apparently, and we’re invited to take part in the fair that’s opening this evening. Carolus can’t escort us because he’s filling in the official duties for the lord while he’s away, but he assures us that it’s a peaceful event and they haven’t had any incidents in the last ten years.”
Jack checked his watch as they were led through a curtain-covered archway into an area with what appeared to be sleeping alcoves, smallish rooms with privacy curtains that looked to fit one or two people each. “We’ve got a little bit of time until our radio check, let’s do a quick debrief and then we can make some decisions.”
They piled in to one of the alcoves that Carolus indicated was for their use, and Daniel offered up a short explanation that sent the priest away with a pleasant smile and bow for them all. Jack frowned at his retreating back.
“Okay, guys, first impressions and relevant details? Carter, go.”
“Nothing we’ve seen so far indicates a technology level equivalent to that of the mirror in the gate room,” Carter began, her summarized observations dovetailing neatly with Jack’s own, as did Teal’c’s assessment of the threat level.
“Daniel? You’ve been rather chatty with the locals so far, give us the rundown.”
“As I’m sure you noticed, our hosts seem to have a class structure based on the totems revealed in the mirror, with different roles in society assigned by what each totem reveals about their suitability and character. Teal’c’s dragon totem is generally an indicator of military and occasionally political leaders, representing strength and cunning. Sam’s gryphon tends to belong to explorers and—Thaddeus said alchemists, but it’s probably safe to say scientists, knowledge seekers. Jack, Thaddeus said your unicorn symbolizes,” and here Daniel’s tone was careful, “the kind of goodness that exists in a person who has been through great personal darkness but retains his core self. They’re really rare, and generally only appear for people who become the community’s most beloved leaders.”
“And your phoenix, Daniel Jackson?” Teal’c prompted, when the following silence had stretched a little too long.
“A similar sign of renewal to Earth’s myths about the phoenix,” Daniel said, eyes on the ground in front of him. “Inspiration, generosity, healing, that sort of thing. Carolus said they have only two recorded phoenix clan members in Eastenland’s recorded history. One was a healer and the other a famous bard, apparently.” Daniel adjusted his glasses as his teammates shot each other significant looks.
“Anyway,” Daniel continued briskly, “the mirror helps them figure out what their strengths are, to pick a career track, etcetera. Then their stations and jobs are further indicated by some of the color combinations that they wear.” He gestured to the pile of clothes in Jack’s arms. “A little like the sumptuary laws of medieval European societies.”
“What about the fact that this settlement has a lord? Aren’t we looking at a feudal society?” Sam interjected. “How does that fit with this character assessment thing?”
“I do intend to ask Carolus about that. My guess is that the title is not hereditary, but passed to whoever is the best candidate when the time comes to switch leaders,” Daniel shrugged. “I’m hoping to get a look at their records, too, find out if there are any other possible Ancient remnants besides the mirror.”
“Which still freaks me out,” Jack muttered. “But I don’t see any signs of hostility, and I’m sure Carter would like time to take a closer look at it anyway, am I right?”
The major nodded and Jack waved off her imminent spiel about the possible uses of such a technology back home. Jack could also imagine the abuses possible with such ‘screening,’ but that was a conversation for later.
“So, carnival?” Jack looked around to see three variations on the theme of suppressed hope gazing back at him. “Leave most of the gear, kids. Low-level alert only.”
“Before we go?” Daniel interjected. “We might want to go ahead and change into the clothes we were offered. So we don’t give offense. And, quite frankly, we’re likely to attract plenty of attention as it is, so no reason to stand out more than we have to.” He fingered his phoenix badge inattentively and Jack nodded.
“Local camo it is, and we travel in at least pairs with regular check-ins.” They all deserved a little fun, but that was no reason to get careless.
Everyone voiced their agreement and split up to change. Jack and Daniel skinned down to t-shirts and shorts in companionable silence, having learned the hard way that leant clothes, however attractive, were rarely as clean or comfortable as their own. Risking an unflattering t-shirt collar under a tunic was a small price to pay for freedom from rashes in uncomfortable places. Jack watched Daniel wriggle into his black leggings and deep red tunic with a surge of fondness that spiked when Daniel caught him looking and merely raised an eyebrow. It was nice having their friendship on such an even keel these days—it helped that Jack was finally beginning to believe that Daniel wasn’t going to evaporate on him again at any imminent moment. Jack crossed the room to fix Daniel’s collar so the golden embroidery showed, glinting in the late afternoon light shining through the casement.
“Suits you,” he said. Daniel’s lips twitched.
“You said that last time when I ended up in a kilt, too.”
Jack shrugged. “True then, true now.”
Daniel rolled his eyes but limited his retaliation to tugging and smoothing the shoulders of Jack’s own pale gray tunic with its crimson stitching. “Matches your hair.”
Jack snorted. “Brat. C’mon, let’s get the others and join the party before Carter decides to ride the Ferris wheel without us.”
Daniel looked like he wanted to argue against the likelihood of a Ferris wheel but was manfully restraining himself. Jack just grinned and shoved him out of the room.
= = = =
The carnival atmosphere reminded Jack of some kind of mash-up between the celebrations on Abydos after the defeat of Ra, and a busy weekend at a Renaissance Fair—lots of tankards of ale, lots of dubious hygiene, not nearly as much cleavage, but an overall air of frivolity that was highly contagious. He and Daniel lost Carter and Teal’c to the games of skill almost instantly. They had nearly identical gleams in their eyes when looking at the knife-throwing contest and the quarterstaff demonstration, so Jack bid them have fun with only a light reminder not to beat the locals with too much enthusiasm.
“So, where to?” Jack wished he had pockets in his borrowed clothes, and that the radio he carried clipped to his waistband below the tunic didn’t jab quite so hard into the bone of his hip as he rocked up onto his toes in a show of enthusiasm.
Daniel smiled that small curve that nevertheless lit his whole face. “There appears to be a whole row of food and sweets vendors down this way that I suspect you’d enjoy.”
Jack let the wave of fondness roll over him and returned Daniel’s smile with one of his own. “Pure genius, Doctor Jackson.” He clapped his arm around the archaeologist’s shoulders and steered them towards the booth displaying a number of interesting looking pastries. Daniel’s shoulders loosened a little under the contact and Jack’s grin grew a little wider.
They sampled any number of candied fruits and nuts using the stash of small coins that Carolus had provided Daniel, and Jack rhapsodized quite eloquently, he thought, over the meat pie they split. Daniel had argued for vegetable pie instead, given the chancy nature of off-world game, but had given in gracefully when it turned out to be indistinguishable from beef. All around them, the townspeople appeared to be in high spirits, and while their badges and Daniel’s glasses occasioned a few wide eyes, the mood in the slowly darkening square was nothing but convivial, and Jack found himself relaxing enough to bump shoulders and brush hands with Daniel even when the crowds did not require it.
When even Jack was tired of the food area, he and Daniel drifted towards the sound of music. There was a trio of musicians on the stage, a man playing a drum, a woman on a stringed instrument, and another playing a flute-like thing, and the drummer was singing something bright and loud. Being an Irishman, Jack suspected it was a war or adventure song. The Irish had a tendency to sing happy songs about war and sad songs about love, and though he couldn’t understand the alien words, the tune felt familiar enough. Then again, there was a small gathering of folks dancing off to one side of the stage, as well, so Jack could have been off on that point.
“It’s about a sailor, I think,” Daniel leaned in and murmured right near Jack’s ear. “There’s something about sea monsters and the girl he left behind.”
“And does he promise to return?” Jack replied in the same tone, not wanting to interrupt the performance or break the moment.
“Always.” There was a smile in Daniel’s voice, but when the colonel turned to him, his eyes were serious.
Jack risked a raised eyebrow and a slight flirty smirk. “Glad to hear it.” The torches on the corners of the stage were casting a warm cascade of light and shadow over Daniel’s face, and Jack found himself staring. A flicker of light glanced off Daniel’s phoenix badge and Jack could almost feel the glow of it settle right under his ribcage, warming him where he’d been frozen since a very bad day on Kelowna. Almost without willing it, Jack watched his hand rise to brush against the pin on Daniel’s chest and then curve around Daniel’s shoulder, solid under his grip.
Daniel’s eyes left the performers and flicked back to Jack, but there was no surprise there, and no warning, just more of that warmth that Jack had missed for so long.
“Ah,” Daniel said, smiling just a little as he took a small step forward. “There again, are we? I was wondering.”
“Never left,” Jack replied. “Just waiting to see if you’d find your way back.”
“Like the sailor?”
“Like the phoenix.”
In another time Jack’s response would have possibly made Daniel blush, or at the very least cause a bashful duck of the head, but this Daniel, fiercely shining with so much of that early uncertainty burned away, simply smiled and reached up to weave his fingers through Jack’s where they still rested on his shoulder. Jack tightened his grip and then shifted to let their joined hands hang companionably between them. Daniel’s skin under his fingertips made him feel courageous.
“I missed this,” the colonel said as they began to walk again. A booth of more musical instruments further down the row seemed to be what had caught Daniel’s eye this time, but neither of them seemed to feel any urge to get there at a pace faster than a desultory stroll.
Daniel quirked an eyebrow at him and down at their hands. “We never quite had this before. At least, not this easy.”
“Fine,” Jack grumbled a little. “But there was the possibility. And we don’t always have to do things the hard way just because it’s us.”
Daniel’s lips twitched in aborted laughter and his fingers tightened on Jack’s. “Are you sure about that?”
Jack considered the last few years, when his relationship with Daniel had sometimes felt like flying a jet through clear blue sky and sometimes more closely resembled one of them dragging the other backwards through a briar patch. Even when they treated each other the worst, Jack had always been certain that Daniel was vital to him. That part had always been, if not easy, then at least simple.
“Yes,” he said simply as Daniel hauled him to a stop in front of the stringed instruments and took one down from its stand on the booth under the proprietor’s benevolent stare. Jack felt a few more of the knots he’d been carrying in his muscles for a year or more loosen as Daniel’s fingers swept up and down and then across the strings, figuring out intervals as he picked out a vaguely Egyptian sounding melody. He felt a pang for Abydos, for Skaara and all the others, but let the urge to mention it pass away as the music changed into something less melancholy. He was not in the mood to mourn tonight, and if Daniel was thinking about Sha’re and the family he’d lost, it wasn’t showing. In fact, Daniel’s lips were still curved upwards like he was carrying a good secret that wanted to burst out through his eyes and his rapidly shifting fingertips on the frets and strings.
“Not quite a guitar,” Jack observed, enjoying watching Daniel’s hands. “But nice.”
Daniel looked up and grinned. “It is.” He put it gently back on the stand and shook his head. “I’m pretty sure we don’t have the necessary local cash, though, even if you would let me haul it back through the ‘Gate as a souvenir.”
Jack shrugged, making a mental note to figure out a way to justify bringing back alien guitars to the SGC. At least it wasn’t alive or, you know, several hundred pounds or something. “Carnival runs a few more days, maybe it’ll still be here tomorrow after we get a chance to talk to the lord and you get to play in their library.”
Daniel nodded through a yawn and Jack chuckled. “Speaking of, you want to head back to our host’s? We can radio Carter and Teal’c, make sure they haven’t accidentally disemboweled anyone or broken too much crockery.”
“Not likely. I didn’t see a ring for Jello wrestling,” Daniel quipped, and Jack cut off a highly unprofessional snort just in time for Carter to answer the radio. It sounded like the other two were having a grand old time, given the cheers in the background, and Jack signed off with a grin, tucking the radio back into his waistband and tangling his fingers once more with Daniel’s, feeling irresponsible despite just having exercised his team-leader-y duties.
The comfortable silence between them lasted until they were back in their curtained alcove, changing out of their borrowed garb. Mid-tunic-removal Jack turned at a familiar cut off sound from Daniel, and caught the archaeologist watching him with a slightly sheepish but admiring stare. “Home,” Jack said quietly, passing Daniel his tunic and taking the offered BDU shirt Daniel held out as he nodded.
That did not, however, stop Jack from rolling into Daniel’s sturdy warmth when they climbed into the one-size-fits-all medieval sack of reeds posing as a mattress. Jack wasn’t stupid, and Daniel made for really good—and good looking—cushioning these days. Daniel’s huff of amusement stirred Jack’s hair, but his arms came up and around the colonel anyway, and Jack fell asleep to the steady hoof-beat rhythm of Daniel’s heart beneath his ear.
= = = = =
Some kind of higher power seemed to have decided to let Jack win the coin-toss for once, the colonel decided the next day. Missions almost never went this smoothly. The lord of Eastenland turned out to be a lady wearing another gryphon pin—Carter was thrilled and Daniel was embarrassed about translation gaffes until he figured out that ‘Lord’ was a gender-neutral title in this society and then it was off to the linguist-y races, aided and accompanied by the Lord-lady herself, Geminna, who was charming, enthusiastic about showing Daniel and Carter around the archives, and utterly gracious in defeat when all of SG-1 declined her offer that any or all of them stay and join her ruling household, apparently on the strength of their badges alone.
“But of course, the reports from Thaddeus and Carolus were also most favorable, and I cannot…having eyes,” she confessed to Jack over a cup of mulled something that they were assured was not alcoholic. Which was good, because missions never went this smoothly and Jack was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, on either his professional life or his personal one. On the upside, Jack’s Ancient-speaking skills seemed to be de-rusting, because he’d bet he got the gist of that last sentence perfectly. The way she was looking at Daniel and Teal’c across the hall helped, of course. God bless context.
“I do regret not being able to convince your Doctor Jackson to stay, his … for our history is most appealing.” Jack was pretty sure the word he’d missed was ‘enthusiasm’ or its synonym, and he smiled reflexively, eyes wandering to where the rest of his team was inspecting a series of scrolls that had significance to Carter and Daniel that they’d surely expand on at the first opportunity he gave them.
“But then, I can see you would never stay, and so neither would he,” she smiled wider when Jack’s head jerked around to meet her gaze once he’d parsed that sentence. She reached out and tapped the pin on his pocket flap. “It takes a strong…to come out of the fire more beautiful than before. I envy you.”
Jack frowned, wondering what he’d missed and if it was worth the potential embarrassment to call Daniel over here to translate, but Geminna shook her head and smiled, pointing to the rest of his team and making a shooing motion. Jack gathered he was dismissed and headed off to find out whether they’d uncovered blue prints or another Ancient riddle. Just then, Daniel caught Jack’s eye and smiled over Carter’s bent head, and Jack decided he didn’t much care. Even if all they’d found was the Ancients’ version of Doonesbury, he was going to call this week a resounding success.
(But he still wasn’t putting the damn unicorn in the report.)