He didn’t think he’d ever quite get used to the feeling. He was watching from some place outside, set apart from the unravelling scene and yet, at the same time completely involved in it. He could feel the emotions of everyone involved without even trying, all at the same time.
In fact in his first few days, (or perhaps months, since the Ascended had no use for the limitations of time) that was all he’d done; walked the paths of the stars and opened himself up to the sheer emotion of the universe.
There was so much joy to experience, the overwhelming happiness and excitement of life and love delighting him, and yet he’d found such pain, unimaginable grief for people he would never meet clawing at him until tears ran down his face and he’d thought the sheer magnitude of it would tear him apart.
He’d learned quickly that the universe had to balance, that you couldn’t have one without the other and even the Ascended couldn’t filter out the heartache, couldn’t simply ignore it and revel in the happiness. They could go anywhere they wanted, watch anything and anyone, but they had to witness the bad as well as the good.
Even now, as focused as he was on the scene playing out beneath him, he was still aware of the billions of other lives, could see them all, somewhere in the back of his mind.
But right now, for Daniel, the only life that mattered was Jack’s. He stood with the Jaffa as they guarded the sarcophagus, waiting for the machine to do its job so they could drag the unconscious man back to his cell.
Daniel knew what Jack was going through, and not because he could see inside the man’s mind as if it was his own.
This particular heartache was caused by his own memories of events he’d have given anything to be able to forget. He knew what it was like to die, to fight for every breath until you were praying for someone to finish it, just to let it be over.
But being ascended had taught him even more about the sarcophagus than his own terrible experiences. For instance, he now knew that when the sarcophagus cycle was complete, Jack wouldn’t bounce out wide awake and ready to take on the Goa’uld. The guards had dragged a dead body into the machine, and would be carrying a body back to Jack’s cell, albeit an unconscious one.
This wasn’t like Daniel’s first time in the sarcophagus, when he’d dragged himself inch by agonising inch through the golden corridors of Apophis’ mother ship, never believing for a second that he’d make it, but refusing to simply lie down and wait for the end.
He’d been alive when the golden lids had closed over him – in unbelievable agony, his vision narrowed to greying shadows and utterly convinced that the ship would blow up around him before the sarcophagus had finished its work – but his heart had still been beating.
It was Jack’s corpse that the guards had loaded into the machine, and while the sarcophagus could bring the dead back to life, it would be hours before Jack’s body had finished healing and he woke up.
Daniel had watched, tears falling unheeded from his eyes as Jack’s heart had stopped, as every sign of what made Jack *him* was stripped away. What made things worse, was the fact that he’d done nothing.
He could feel Jack’s pain, had known just how close Jack was to giving Ba’al exactly what he wanted even before he’d heard the words. He knew what would happen if Ba’al managed to break Jack – the risks to the SGC, to his friends, to everything they’d fought for so long to achieve, and in spite of the fact that Daniel could stop it all with a wave of his hand, still he’d done nothing.
Oh, he could justify his lack of action. It was against the rules, he was only following Oma's orders, but following orders was an excuse that had been handed down from tyrants through the ages back on Earth, to justify standing aside while unspeakable horrors were committed, simply because you didn’t want to get involved.
In desperation he’d offered Jack ascension, all the while knowing, deep down, that Jack would refuse it, that he could never stand idly by and watch while the Goa’uld decimated world after world.
Somewhere, deep down inside him, Daniel knew that Jack would have been right. Doing nothing, refusing to take a stand against something you knew was wrong was no different than giving implicit consent to the horrors, no matter how the rest of the Ascended wanted to dress it up in fancy explanations of things he was still ‘too young’ to understand. The incredible power of the Ascended had made them complacent, untouchable and therefore somehow unconcerned with the suffering of others.
They’d become corrupted.
Shifu’s dream-warning echoed through Daniel’s mind as the opulent golden lids of the sarcophagus began to draw back. In his dream his power had corrupted him then as well, all the knowledge of the Goa’uld turning him into someone cold and unfeeling, caring only about his own wants and needs even though in the beginning of the dream his intentions had been completely altruistic, the desire to help protect his friends enough for him to ignore the warnings until it was much, much too late.
Reasons, in fact, which were no different to his reasons for joining the Ascended.
The Jaffa stepped forward then, leaning into the sarcophagus and hauling out the intact, unconscious body of his closest friend, and as he stood there and watched the horrors begin again, Daniel began to wonder, for all their good intentions, just how the Ascended were any different from the Goa’uld.