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A Second Chance

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I stand there, one arm resting idly on the MP5 as I listen to Jonas do his thing. The hand on the gun is out of habit, though I can’t see these people being any kind of threat. They’re practically screaming ‘peaceful explorers’.

Nor am I seeing any sign of this fabled lost city they’ve all been raving about, but I’ll save that minor detail for later.

I hate these scientific missions. Not that it isn’t nice sometimes to go to a planet and be at least reasonably sure that no-one’s going to be shooting at you, but at least a firefight gets the adrenaline flowing. Don’t get me wrong, I can see why the powers that be are frothing at the mouth to get their hands on whatever’s hidden in this place, and hey, if it’ll finally give as a true advantage against the snakes then I’ll head up the cheerleading section – I just wish we could be sure we had the right planet this time, before we end up searching half the gate addresses in the galaxy to try to find it.

I wish Daniel was here. Not that that’s exactly a new wish, either. At least then I’d have someone to talk to. I’ve got nothing against Jonas, at least, not any more. Whatever my initial misgivings he’s proven himself time and again during the last year, but we never really clicked the way Daniel and I did.

I sigh, then, shifting slightly as my brain catches up with my thoughts. Even if Daniel had been here, I doubt we’d have been talking much. Those last few months – hell, who am I kidding here? – years, before he died, we didn’t seem to have much to say to each other. Not unless it involved sarcasm and raised voices, anyway.

Even as I think those words, I can hear Carter’s voice in my head and the automatic correction she always used to make, on the rare occasions that I mentioned Daniel’s death.

‘He didn’t die, sir. He ascended.’

I almost glance over at her out of habit, half expecting the words to have been said for real, but I’m not quite that far gone yet that I can’t tell the difference between reality and my own thoughts.

Not that I need to see her face to know what it would have looked like. Her eyes were haunted and red for months after Daniel died, and I know enough about psychology to know that her automatic corrections had as much to do with convincing herself that Daniel was still around somewhere, than any desire for scientific accuracy.

Nine times out of ten I just shrugged, allowing her whatever pretence she needed to deal with our loss, but I did argue with her, once. It had only been a few weeks, and I was still too angry with just about everybody, including myself, to see her pretence for what it was and just let it go.

If I’m honest, Carter just picked the wrong morning to start with the ascension crap. My usual attempts to pretend that I was alright, that Daniel was just another soldier, that his loss was unfortunate, and sad, but that life went on just weren’t working.

Not that it ever did, but what was I supposed to do? Break down in the middle of the gateroom? Tell everyone who’d listen how devastated I was that I’d lost my closest friend, and that he’d died before I could work up the courage to say that I was sorry?

No.

However I might feel, however heartbroken I was at losing Daniel, I still have a job to do. I’m a Colonel at a facility where, unfortunately, we lose people almost every day, and as soldiers we’re taught to switch off our grief, to complete the mission, make the Air Force proud, and deal with our feelings on our own time. It’s cold, it’s heartless, but it’s necessary, and if I can’t do it, then I have no right to expect it from anyone else.

Necessary, yes. But they never said it was easy.

So I’d argued with her, asking her to explain to me just how Daniel wasn’t as good as dead when we’d seen him, been forced to watch as his body shut down a piece at a time? Okay, so you can’t completely ignore the ascension thing, but we couldn’t see him, couldn’t talk to him, and would probably never see him again. How was that any different than death?

I hated myself for saying the words even as I’d voiced them, even more so when Carter had visibly paled, eyes filling with what I’m certain were tears before saying something highly insubordinate to a commanding officer and walking away.

She’d apologised later, of course, she’s too much of a professional not too, even though I knew damn well she’d meant every word, and I couldn’t blame her.

Just because I don’t show it, doesn’t mean I don’t miss him, and it’s worse on missions like this, when I can just imagine how excited he’d have been, practically bouncing from one rock to another, looking for any traces of the Ancients and getting more information out of Shamda and his tribe than the rest of us combined ever could.

That was in the early days, though, before the loss of Sha’re, and one disappointment, one betrayal after another had driven the light from his eyes, and I’d seen him lose faith in everything he’d once believed in. Towards the end there was no excitement, no enthusiasm for a job he’d once loved, and I’m too honest, not to mentioned ashamed, to admit that many of those betrayals can be laid firmly at my door.

I might know enough now to know that Daniel really did ascend, that he did come back, albeit briefly, but Anubis must have beaten him in the end. There’s no way Daniel would have let him destroy Abydos.

He’s not coming back this time.

I just wish I’d had a chance to say I’m sorry. That I’d been able to find the words from somewhere before it was too late.

With another sigh I realise that I’ve not been paying the slightest attention to anybody else, hell, Jonas might have found the lost city for all I know, and with a mental shake I turn my attention back to the rest of SG-1 and the mission.

Nope, Jonas is still talking, though he’s stepped away from the rest of us a little. Teal’c, on the other hand, is watching me. I wonder, briefly, if he has any idea what’s been going through my head.

I wouldn’t put it past him. Teal’c might not say much, but he picks up on practically everything. He holds my gaze calmly as I glance over at him, and after a moment and what might have been a reassuring smile, we both turn our attention back to Jonas.

Footsteps from behind us cause us all to turn around, and my hand strays cautiously back to my gun, just in case, until I recognise SG-3.

“Colonel! We found something you might want to see.”

I wait for him to continue, to start going on about Goa’uld markings, or maybe they’ve found a neon sign somewhere saying ‘this way to the lost city’. Then he steps to one side, and I follow his gaze, noting in surprise the slightly bemused, anticipatory smile on his face. Funny, I didn’t think any of SG-3 were into all this stuff.

A man steps out from behind him, dressed in the same robes as the rest of the villagers, and for a split second I’m confused, waiting for some kind of explanation.

Then my brain registers what my eyes are seeing. A gasp from my side tells me that Carter’s seen him as well, which at least reassures me that I’m not hallucinating.

As one we all step towards him, then falter to a stop as the smile of greeting we’re all expecting doesn’t come.

“Daniel?”

The catch in my voice is obvious to everyone, it must be, and I fight to try and process what’s happening. What’s going on? Is he still ascended? Why hasn’t he said something?

“Arum.”

I spin round, stupidly repeating Shamda’s word when I have no idea what it means. I thought they were speaking English.

“It means naked one.”

Huh?

Someone obviously sees the confusion on my face, because another of the oh-so-helpful natives explains.

“That’s how we found him in the forest, two moons ago.”

Then Major Pierce adds his two cents. “Seems he doesn’t remember who he is.”

I watch, horrified, as Carter goes over to Daniel to put her hand on his shoulder. When he stops her it’s like a knife in my gut. He was always so tactile with us, or at least with me, and even if he didn’t reach out a lot himself, he always welcomed the touch of people he was close to. To see him rejecting Carter now makes me see the truth in Pierce’s words.

“Do you not recognise us, Daniel Jackson?”

Confusion and more than a hint of suspicion flares in eyes I could always read as he shakes his head, muttering an apology before he pushes past us all.

“Not even me?”

Daniel ignores me, continuing to walk away from us as if we’re not even here. I congratulate myself on the sarcastic comment that slips out without my really registering. It sounds like something I’d say, though quite how I manage to sound so normal, so completely fucking *normal*, when the world has just fallen off its axis, is beyond me.

I fight to hold it together, to stay calm and composed, the perfect soldier, though they must all know. Carter, Teal’c, hell, the whole of SG-3 must have been able to read every flicker of emotion on my face the instant Daniel stepped into view.

I hold my ground as the man I *know* is Daniel walks away, the disinterested look on his face making it crystal clear that he doesn’t recognise us. We’re strangers to him, he thinks he’s closer to the rest of these nomads than he is to us, while we’re staring after him like a starving man presented with a three course meal.

I don’t even twitch, my best impression of a parade stance holding me together for as long as it takes for Daniel to be out of earshot. Then, and only then do I move, stumbling blindly away as Carter turns to face me, looking to her superior officer for some kind of guidance as to what we’re supposed to do now.

I can’t answer her, not now.

I can’t even seem to think straight. I push past SG-3, ignoring Carter calling my name as I go. I walk quickly, only just managing to resist the urge to break into a run. Only when I can no longer hear the bemused chatter of the villages, when I come across a small thicket of trees on the edges of the path back to the Stargate do I stop, turning my back to a tree before dropping down amongst the long grass, resting my head on my knees.

I can’t get my head around any of this.

The entire scene is just too surreal, with Daniel stepping out from behind SG-3 as calm as you please.

There are echoes of the past, eerily reminiscent of Daniel standing in that gateroom seven years ago, and at that I have to fight back the urge to groan. Has it really been seven years?

I can still remember every second of it. I was so relieved, so deliriously happy to see Daniel alive and in one piece, that I’d pulled him into a hug in front of everyone, ruffled his hair and called him spacemonkey.

Totally inappropriate behaviour for a commanding officer, I’d known that even then, but done it anyway.

All that had mattered as Daniel stepped out from behind the bank of soldiers, a shy smile not even beginning to hide the relief that I could see in his eyes, was the fact that Daniel had made it home.

SG-1 was still together.

That sense of overwhelming relief had lasted all through the celebrations that followed, and it was only later that night, when everyone had gone and I was alone again, that I finally allowed myself the luxury of acknowledging that I’d almost lost Daniel for a second time, a third if you counted leaving him on Abydos in the first place, when I was the only one on Earth who knew he wasn’t dead.

More than that, though, I had to face the fact that in those long hours after we’d left Daniel on Apophis’ ship, after we’d left him behind, I’d already begun to grieve.

I might pretend to the outside world that I’m not all that bright, that Colonel O’Neill is a cold-hearted son of a bitch who wouldn’t know what an emotion was unless you were talking about anger, or rage, but that doesn’t make it true.

The ‘Colonel’, all my years of army training, might get me through the difficult missions when everything goes to hell, but that’s just the uniform.

Jack, the man, me, is all too well aware of my own emotions, my own feelings.

On Apophis’ ship the Colonel had taken control, sacrificed one man for the good of the rest because I’d known that Daniel was dying, had seen it the instant I’d caught sight of Daniel crumpled on the floor of the ship, the second I’d looked into his eyes.

Daniel had known it too. The unnatural calm, the certainty of impending death is something I’ve learned to recognise over the years. So as a Colonel, as a soldier with a desperate mission to complete I’d accepted Daniel’s sacrifice and walked away, abandoning him out of necessity because there was no way we’d be able to complete the mission with someone as badly injured as Daniel.

As a Colonel I’d completed the mission on autopilot, training overriding everything to get the job done, but it was as Daniel’s friend that I’d crouched down in front of the dying man, and touched his cheek in a wordless goodbye before leaving him.

I started grieving from that moment on, haunted by the look in Daniel’s eyes even as we were focused on the mission. Only when we finally made it to the escape pods, were left floating thousands of miles above the Earth, when the mission was over and there was nothing more for the Colonel to do but wait, only then, it was Jack who shed silent tears for the loss of a friend.

Of course, that’s all ancient history now, a time in the dim and distant past when my friendship with Daniel was comparatively easy. Actually, scratch that. Considering our seriously shaky start during that first mission on Abydos, we’ve never exactly had an easy friendship, but I can’t deny that the last six years have left some serious cracks that needed filling.

Then Daniel died, and this time there was no miraculous recovery, no last minute rescues, no sarcophagus to bring him back and to hell with the consequences.

This time it was Daniel who left the rest of us behind, searching for somewhere to fit in, a way to make a difference that he’d never felt able to do as part of the SGC.

More than anything, that hurt. Seven years and he still didn’t feel at home with us, still didn’t feel as if he’d become part of a family, even a dysfunctional one that at times would make the Simpson’s look normal.

I never told anyone what Daniel said to me before he left. Partly because I wasn’t even sure if anyone would believe me, and partly because I’m selfish. I didn’t want anyone to know why Daniel chose to leave.

The Kelownan’s might have been responsible for the radiation poisoning, but his ultimate decision to leave us – that was my fault.

I knew he wasn’t happy.

Even before he got sick, I knew, and I didn’t do a damn thing about it, because in some sick, twisted way, that was exactly what I wanted. Keeping him at arms length, as far away from me as possible without actually having him transferred from SG-1. And if that made him unhappy, then so be it. He was better off in the long run.

Even thinking about it now makes me cringe. How could I have convinced myself that I was doing the right thing?

I could see how unhappy he was, the hurt flashing across his face every time I pushed him away until he became resigned to it, until he stopped being surprised at the harsh words and started distancing himself.

At the time I was actually angry with him, can you believe that? Angry that he wasn’t getting the message at first, that it was taking too long for him to start backing away from me, to accept that our easy friendship was over. I was so determined that it had to end, that I couldn’t trust myself to keep up the pretence any longer.

I loved him too much for that.

I’ve known since Eudora.

Three months alone, cut off from everything and everyone I was close to – something like that gives you time to think, to get your priorities right. It’s not like there was anything else to do.

I tried, at first, to believe that they’d me looking for a way back, that Carter, Teal’c and Daniel wouldn’t rest until they got me home, but strong as my faith in them was, and still is, three months is a long time. As much as I tried not to, I began to doubt.

It’s not even as if I was truly alone. Laira and the others did everything they could to include me, to make my stay bearable, but it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t home.

That was the kicker.

Beautiful scenery, nice people, a beautiful woman who was obviously interested in me, nothing more stressful to do than chop wood every day…okay, so there was the small matter of the meteor shower that stranded me here in the first place, but that didn’t exactly happen every day, right?

Sounds like some people’s idea of paradise to me. Hell, there have been days at the SGC where it’s sounded like my idea of paradise as well, but I guess I should have been careful what I wished for.

The reality was a little different.

Three months in paradise, and I was so damn lonely. I missed the SGC, I missed my friends, hell, I think there was a particularly pathetic point when I even missed exchanging insults with Maybourne. But more than that, I missed Daniel. I missed him more than Susan, the woman I was sort of seeing at the time.

That was my first clue. I thought about him every day, worrying that he’d be exhausting himself trying to find a way back to me, or that Hammond would put the rest of SG-1 back on duty, and they’d be facing the Goa’uld without me. He was the first thing I thought about in the morning, and the last thing on my mind at night.

Hell, I even dreamed about him.

The stupid thing was, it wasn’t even that much of a shock. Air Force or no, it’s not the first time I’ve been attracted to a man, and I’ve been involved with men before, long before I met Sarah. I doubt many soldiers, if they’re truly honest with themselves, can say that they haven’t at least thought about it. That’s why the regulations exist in the first place.

Fine time to realise it, when the object of said affections was hundreds of millions of light years away.

Daniel was one of the reasons I resisted Laira for so long. It sounds stupid even now, but I couldn’t be with anyone else, not when I’d only just realised the truth.

Three months later, Daniel and the others showed up out of the blue, and I was finally going home.

Only then did the reality of the situation really hit me.

I was in love with Daniel. But now, Daniel wasn’t a dream, a memory of a past life that I was still clinging to. Now he was *Daniel*, a living, breathing man that I could touch, love, kiss…

…only I couldn’t, could I? Because Daniel was still mourning Sha’re, and hell, I didn’t have any idea if he was even remotely interested in men, let alone in me.

I could hardly profess my undying love to a straight, grieving widower.

Not to mention the regulations. Daniel might not be part of the military, but he was still technically under my command, and that put him off limits. So I did the only thing I could. I kept my distance, pushed him away because it was the only way I could be sure that I wouldn’t be tempted to tell him, to give in to the tiny sliver of hope screaming at me to take a risk, to just *tell* him, and to hell with the consequences.

Every day it got that little bit harder, and I had to push him further away, let my sarcasm and derision become a little more obvious. Hell, Daniel even tried to become a soldier, to turn his back on everything he believed in, just to try and please me, to put things between us back the way they were.

I hated him for it, did everything I could to push him away and pretend that I didn’t give a damn, that I didn’t have these feelings for him.

Only when it was too late, when Daniel was dying in front of me and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it, did I finally face the truth. I loved him, and all the pretence, all the lies in the world weren’t going to change that.

When he asked me to let him go, told me that he didn’t fit in with us anymore and I could see the pain and loss in his eyes – well, except for Charlie, I don’t think I’ve ever hated myself as much as I did in that moment.

I drove him to that, I made things to unbearable that he felt he had nothing left to fight for, and every time I saw the grief and pain in Carter’s eyes, I knew I only had myself to blame.

The truth is a bitch when there’s nothing you can do to change it, and I’ve lived with the guilt and knowledge of what I’ve done ever since, wishing that I could just turn the clock back and do things differently.

I was wrong to do what I did, but God I had no idea it would end like that. Where’s the ghost of Christmas future when you need him?

But everything’s different now. Daniel’s here again, and while he has every right to hate me for what I’ve put him through, instead he doesn’t even know me, doesn’t recognise any of us. I’m not sure what’s worse, a Daniel who wants nothing to do with me, or one who doesn’t even know who we are.

He might not want to go anywhere with a group of strangers, but if he does, if he gets his memory back and remembers the way things were, what then? He could walk away from us again, would have every right to, and this second chance would be all for nothing.

I pinch my eyes shut and try to rub away the growing headache. I’m the Colonel, I’m supposed to be the one with all the training, all the answers, and yet I just don’t know what to do. If someone up there is giving SG-1 a second chance, giving me the opportunity to put things right, one false move could screw it up again.

“O’Neill!” A booming voice startles me and I jump, glancing up to find Teal’c just a few feet away, arms folded as he looks down at his commanding officer sitting in the damp grass like an idiot. How long has he been standing there? How much has he figured out? Knowing him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s always known what’s really going on between Daniel and me. Not that there ever has been a Daniel and me, which is kind of the point, actually.

“We should return to the village,” he continues calmly. “Daniel Jackson will require our assistance if he is to regain his memories.” He speaks with such calm, such certainty that all my fears are suddenly silenced. I can second guess myself forever, but unless Daniel agrees to come with us in the first place, none of it will mean anything anyway. If we can just get Daniel back to the SGC, then we have a chance. I’ll do whatever it takes, but I won’t make the same mistakes again.

Teal’c steps forward and I hold out my hand, clasping his firmly as he uses his strength to pull me up in spite of the protests my knees are making.

“Let’s do it,” I nod, brushing myself down and Teal’c watches me, the slightest hint of approval on his face.

“I believe all will be well, O'Neill,” he says quietly, before walking away from me and heading back to the village, expecting me to follow.

I can’t quite hold back a smile at that.

He knows.

Hell, he probably knew before I did.

I hurry after him, suddenly anxious to see Daniel again, to start putting things right. I know what I have to do.

Somehow, we’ve been given a second chance to put things right, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let Daniel run from us, from me, again.

This time he won’t need to.