He woke to the sound of quiet footsteps echoing. Where was he? Why was he lying down, and why was the bed or whatever it was so hard against his cheek?
And then he remembered. The tomb, and the key. His great discovery. What should have been his great discovery. And...something else. Something that had caused him to be lying flat on his ass right now. Metaphorically, anyway. But the something else wouldn't come into focus, so he decided to drop that and concentrate on what would.
He heard a voice.
More foosteps, and then he could feel the presence of someone leaning over him, perhaps even the gentle touch of a hand against his neck. Another voice, female this time, while the first one had been male and possibly familiar, her words incomprehensible to his numbed and still-confused mind.
"I'm not sensing anything. He's not Goa'uld."
He opened his eyes, groaning with the effort. There was more than one person surrounding him, he could distantly sense. Obviously, if he could hear two voices, but he didn't know how many people. Someone was doing something to his back, or his legs or--something. He didn't seem to have enough feeling left in his body to be more specific. And that first voice again, speaking urgently. He knew that voice, didn't he?
"He's bleeding internally." A female voice again--the same one as before or another newcomer?--speaking behind him. He wanted to turn around, wanted to see what was going on beyond this crappy little angle of vision that he had, but he couldn't seem to communicate his desires to any part of his body. The thought should have been frightening, but he was still too disoriented to let it worry him.
"Steven, it's me." That damned voice again, and this time he was sure he recognized it, especially when he squinted and could make out the man in the sunlight slanting through from the entrance of the tomb. Rolled up sleeves and khaki pants. Yeah, definitely him, even with that hair. He couldn't remember ever seeing him with hair that...short...before. Like he was trying to pretend he wasn't a geek anymore or something.
"What happened?" Daniel answered. He sounded brisk, worried. He looked so odd, but Steven couldn't figure out why or how. He had an air of authority about him, maybe that was it. He wasn't just the clueless linguist with a brain the size of a planet anymore. He wasn't clueless. When the hell did that happen? Another way in which the man had changed since five years ago. And yet he still remained the same in some insufferable ways. Still damnably ahead of Steven.
It didn't matter. Daniel was the one in the right, he was in the wrong. Figured. The golden boy was always right. And he might as well admit it to him this time.
"I took the amulet," Steven forced the words out. "It's...over 10,000 years old. Your theory was right all along; I'm sorry." That woman behind him did something, and suddenly his entire body lit up in the pain that had been missing since waking up in this fogged state. He couldn't bite back the groan, and he couldn't resist trying to get away from whoever it was, even though it just meant more shooting pain.
"Just...just take it easy,okay?" The woman's voice; she sounded authoritative too. Was she a doctor? "I need you to hold still."
"It's okay; she's a friend," Daniel said hurriedly, and Steven wanted to snort. Just because she's a friend of yours doesn't mean she's a friend of mine, he wanted to point out, but all that sarcasm said aloud would take far too much energy. "What about the jar?"
"Huh?" Steven stared up at him blankly. What the hell was Daniel talking about a jar for? Wasn't there something more important going on? Hadn't someone done something to him? Someone had hurt him, and he felt like he should know who it was. Why couldn't he remember...
"The Osiris jar," Daniel's insistent voice brought his wandering thoughts back to the present. "Did you open it?"
"No." Why the hell would I? And why the hell do you care so much?
"Why did you come here?" Daniel went on with his annoyingly persistent questions. All Steven wanted to do was sleep. Get rid of the pain. Not think. But he tried to answer anyway.
"I figured out the amulet was a key. There's a hidden chamber." His words gained a little strength at the memory of what had seemed so important a mere few minutes ago. What he hoped was just a few minutes; if he'd been unconscious longer than that, he...he didn't want to think about it. "I wanted to make the discovery." I needed to make the discovery. I needed to one up you somehow, okay? Piss off already.
"Daniel, we have to get him out of here." That woman again; who had Daniel brought with him and why? How had Daniel found him anyway? That was the problem with Daniel Jackson. He was always either right in front of or coming up right behind and passing Steven. Steven could never get rid of him. Never...
"Steven, who did this to you?" Daniel was ignoring his companion, insisting with his interrogation. He sounded even more urgent. Steven didn't understand why; he couldn't understand anything at the moment. His vision became blurry, then blacked out--it took him a moment to realise he'd closed his eyes. He couldn't concentrate on anything; it hurt too much. Hadn't there been a question? Hadn't someone been asking him a question?
The world was fading away. Right before it disappeared completely, Steven was sure he heard a male voice he knew he should recognize, distant and shocked and somehow broken, as if its owner had lost some kind of innocence.
"Where is the Stargate?"
Steven knew he should have recognized that voice. There was something familiar about it, female and with a tinge of an accent, but it was--off somehow. Was he going deaf? And how long had he been out? It didn't feel like it had been that long.
"I don't know what you're talking about," was the grunted reply to what Steven now realized had been a very strange question. And then he heard what sounded like someone being thrown down and crying out softly in pain. Daniel. He was still in the tomb, and Daniel was still here, and...who was that other person? It didn't sound like the woman--had there been two women?--who'd been with Daniel before. So who was throwing Daniel around?
"Insolence," the first voice hissed coldly, her foosteps clicking past Steven's prone body deliberately. He winced, the sound of her heels somehow conjuring up the image of her digging into him with those shoes. "This temple was once filled with worshippers."
Daniel breathed out deeply. "Yeah, well, times have changed." There was a tone to his voice that Steven didn't recognize. Daniel would never have sounded that...arrogant? Sarcastic? Yeah, Daniel had always had a bit of a mouth on him, but he really did sound insolent, something Steven would never have expected. Even after all their arguments all those years ago.
"So I have observed." Steven was really starting to hate that voice that he should have recognized. "Where is my brother Setesh?"
Setesh ? One of the Egpytain gods? Is this woman insane? Does she think she's--who? Isis or something?
"Ahh...you mean Seth?" Daniel replied. "He's dead. We, uh, we killed him."
Steven was utterly confused. Who? What? Killed Seth, who should have been a mythological deity and never real in the first place and therefore not able to be killed? What the hell was going on? Was he delusional? Or was Daniel and this other person?
"You lie." The words were spat out.
"No!" Daniel sounded like he was in pain--what had the other person been doing to him? "No, we also killed Ra, uh...and Hathor and...who else?" He hissed in a breath. "Sokar."
When the hell had Daniel Jackson started going around killing off Egyptian gods? Steven wanted to lapse back into unconsciousness. That at least would make more sense than this madness. If he ever got out of this damned tomb alive, he would have to have a nice, long conversation with his old...rival...and get some answers.
"Then you have done me a great favor," the words were almost purred. "I will rule without opposition."
"No," there was a change in Daniel's tone which alerted Steven, made him pay more attention to the conversation even if he still couldn't force his eyes open, "no, you won't rule at all. You see, we don't worship false gods anymore." He was using his very gentle voice, one Steven recognized from numerous arguments years ago and knew signaled that the other person was gonna lose, but now there was an added quality that Steven didn't quite recognize. Somehow...the other man sounded dangerous.
And...false gods...was Daniel saying that at some point, the Egyptian deities had really existed--that they were aliens that had pretended to be the gods?
Oh Jesus, Steven thought. No fucking way. No, I won't have to believe this as well! He can't be right about everything!
"You have come far, it is true. But you are still weak. Even now, you are torn between your desire to kill me and your concern for my host." She was using an almost loving tone as she said the words, filling Steven with revulsion. And it was finally coming back to him who had attacked him in the tomb, before Daniel and those others had shown up. Sarah. It had been Sarah. Host? Had she been taken over by--something? He couldn't believe it. But he couldn't believe this was Sarah either. "She who freed me from my long sleep." There was a slight pause, and then the woman--he couldn't believe it was Sarah still in control of herself--went on, "What do you know of my queen?"
There was another, longer pause. "Ummm...she was trapped like you." Daniel's tone had been soft, almost regretful, in that sentence, but it changed to something else when he spoke again. "We have the jar." It sounded as if he were bribing her--but what would she want with a jar? Is this where her...queen?...had been trapped? And why would she have a queen? There were few references to homosexuality in records from that time.
"Where is it?" The words coming from Sarah's mouth were cold.
Daniel's tone was still gentle, but it was firm, and it sent a shiver down Steven's spine to hear someone he once thought he knew speaking in that voice. Insolence. He just knew Daniel was gonna get his ass kicked now by the bitch who'd somehow taken over Sarah. "I'm not going to tell you."
Steven managed to crack his eyes open at last, and he tried to see what was going on. He could just barely see, out of the corner of his so frustratingly limited field of vision, a woman in white linen standing over a man who knelt on the ground. Sarah. Daniel. Oh God, this wasn't an hallucination, it was all real, and Steven still didn't know what the hell was going on.
"You are mistaken."
She raised her hand, and Daniel looked up at her--and something, an orange or red light, shot out of Sarah's palm and hit Daniel right between the eyes. His face was a mask of pain, but there wasn't anything Steven could do; he couldn't move, he could barely see what was going on. Why was Sarah doing this? What was she doing? What was going on?!
"Where is my queen?"
Her words were relentless, uncaring, sadistic. Steven wanted to shut his eyes, close out the unbelievable image, but he couldn't look away. And then Daniel suddenly shoved his arm forward--why? What did he do? Did he hit her? Because now Sarah stumbled back slightly, enough so that that weird light shut off and the link between them was broken. Daniel immediately fell forward, kneeling at her feet and pounding a fist against the floor, squirming in pain.
"What is this?" she whispered, and then stumbled out of Steven's sight. Daniel remained where he was, making no sound but still with his head almost against the ground. Whatever she'd done to him must've hurt like hell.
Steven was becoming increasingly disoriented once again, his momentarily brilliant lucidity fast fading into confusion and darkness. He could hear strange noises, and then he felt the earth vibrating beneath him, the movement sending sheets of pain up throughout his body. His eyes closed again of their own accord. He couldn't take anymore. What had happened to that sleep he'd wanted?
He could still hear her awful, distorted voice. "Make no mistake; Osiris will return. And the rivers of the Earth will run red with blood."
Osiris? The thought was like a shot of electricity. Sarah had somehow become Osiris? What the fuck?
He heard stumbling foosteps, and suddenly the air was screaming with gunfire, overlaid with another strange sort of irritating buzzing noise, and then suddenly everything stopped and was quiet.
"You all right?"
At first he thought the question was directed at him, but then he heard Daniel reply breathlessly, "Oh yeah, yeah. I think I'm getting used to that thing."
"Where's Osiris?" Another female voice--so there were two women with Daniel!--asked. She also sounded breathy. He felt a light, gentle touch against his neck, could feel his thready, too-quick pulse beneath her slim fingers.
"Gone," the other woman answered.
"Steven?" Daniel sounded concerned, which Steven would have found really amusing in other circumstances. He'd have to remember to laugh about it later. If there was a later. Why the hell would Daniel give a damn about him?
"If we get him out of here right now, I think he'll make it," the woman with her fingers on his neck replied. She really was a doctor, then. That detail probably would have been more interesting if he wasn't drifting out of consciousness again. But it was nice of her to be so optimistic about his condition. He heard Daniel's voice one last time, still laced with pain and what sounded like anger and disappointment. But then, Steven wasn't so sure he could read the other man very well anymore.
"In the meantime, I guess we'd better make up a story to tell him."
Steven blacked out at last.
His eyes fluttered open, and an image resolved in front of him. He was...somewhere else. He wasn't in the tomb anymore. Possibly not even Egpyt; the place didn't have the right feel. Looked almost like a hospital, but there was something off. He felt blessedly numb again.
He shifted his head slightly and saw that someone was sitting by his bedside. Someone in a black t-shirt and green fatigues. Short hair. Glasses.
"...Hi." Daniel tried to smile a little, nervously and politely, but the smile quickly faded. He fumbled, pushed his glasses up his nose. Steven snorted out a laugh. Some things never changed. Daniel seemed like his old timid self again; that air of authority, or stubborn defiance, or whatever it had been in the tomb, had disappeared.
"Where the hell am I?" He was taking in more of his surroundings, could see men in uniform standing to attention at exits and a female doctor--well, she was in a white lab coat--sitting at a desk in a shadowy, far off corner, working on some paperwork. The place reeked of military. Hell, even Daniel did, in that outfit. "How'd I get here?"
"We brought you back here," Daniel sighed. The words sounded painful; Steven remembered that always happened when the other man didn't actually want to explain something. Like his crazy theories. "We're back in the States; as soon as you're well enough, we'll get you transport back to...Chicago." He shifted restlessly in his seat and rubbed at his temple as if he had a headache, and Steven caught a flash of a memory, light pounding into a kneeling Daniel's forehead. He couldn't be sure if it was real or not. His own head was aching. "Steven, what do you remember?" Daniel went on, looking up to meet his old colleague's eye.
"I...I don't..." Steven shook his head. "I went to the tomb, and I found the hidden chamber...and...and then..."
"And then what happened?" Daniel prodded very quietly.
"I swore there was something about you and killing Egyptian gods and...Sarah was Osiris..." Steven shook his head again, closing his eyes briefly. His own head was pounding even more insistently, and he felt utterly exhausted, too exhausted to think properly. "But none of that's possible, is it?"
"No," Daniel replied softly, "no, it isn't...Steven. You must've had an hallucination while you were unconscious. You were pretty badly hurt when we got there."
"So you did come," Steven answered. Some of it had been real, at least. But that begged the question: how much had been real? "How? How'd you know where to find me? Who--"
"We don't know who attacked you," Daniel cut him off. "Maybe someone who thought they'd find treasure in the tomb. We came after you because of the amulet..."
"The amulet," Steven repeated, his head falling back against the pillow. "You were right after all, Daniel." His tone was bitter. "You must be so pleased."
"No no," Daniel replied, again with that slight, nervous smile. Steven stared up at him suspiciously. "The technician had made a mistake; he was a bit too excited about e-mailing you and--Dr Jordan. They ran some more tests on the amulet, and it's from the time period it should be." Daniel shook his head. "So you don't have to congratulate me quite yet, Steven," he added quietly.
"You don't sound too disappointed," Steven said. Daniel had always been a terrible liar. There was something going on here, but he wasn't up to asking what yet.
"It doesn't matter." There was an edge to Daniel's voice that reminded Steven of another moment, back in the tomb...but the memory was gone. Anyway, none of that was real. Right? It couldn't be real. It was just too weird for that.
"Look, Janet's giving me the evil eye," Daniel's voice roused Steven, and he glanced in the direction that Daniel was looking with a worried furrowing of his brow. The woman in the white lab coat at the desk was watching them with a frown on her face that certainly didn't look like it boded well for anyone. "I'd better let you catch up on your rest. I'll, uh...talk to you later, Steven."
"Wait." Steven caught at Daniel's arm as the other man stood up. Daniel stared down at him expressionlessly, and Steven let go, feeling flustered and embarassed, and angry for that. "You haven't told me anything, Daniel. What the hell is going on around here? And since when did you start working for the military?"
Daniel licked his lips. He remained standing. "It's...complicated." His face was a shadow in the light; Steven found it hard to read his expression. "I really can't go into it with you, Steven. You should just...get well. Focus on that, and on going back to Chicago and your research. Okay?" He took a couple steps away, then turned back. "And I'm sorry about Dr Jordan. Maybe I should have come back sooner; maybe I shouldn't have come back at all. But...I miss him too."
Daniel paused, then shook his head wearily and walked away. Steven watched him brush past one of the soldiers, disappearing out of the infirmary. His head fell back against the pillow, and he stared up at the ceiling angrily. Dammit. He still didn't have any answers. And now he was actually feeling a little sorry for Daniel Jackson.
"Janet!" Steven woke to the bark of a voice he didn't recognize. "Where's Daniel?"
Steven opened his eyes and looked around. Dr Fraiser--the woman in the lab coat with the frown's full name, he'd discovered after Daniel had left him; it must've only been a few hours ago, as it didn't feel like he'd slept that long--was standing near his bed with a tall, older man in a black leather jacket. Soon after that meeting with Daniel, Steven had been visited by a general, a big guy with a bald head, who'd debriefed him and repeated a lot of Daniel's story about what had happened in the tomb. He'd refused to say anything about Sarah when Steven had pressed. Steven knew there was more going on, but he could tell none of them were going to tell him anything. He wasn't sure he really wanted to know, anyway.
"I released him a few hours ago, Colonel," the woman replied in a professionally soothing tone. "I told him to go home and get some sleep."
"He's alright?" The colonel sounded as if he were trying to hide his concern. Steven snorted. That was Daniel Jackson alright, always getting on everyone's maternal side. The man must have heard his snort; he was staring at Steven now.
"He's as well as can be expected," Dr Fraiser replied, also glancing over at Steven. "Didn't you get a report from Sam? Or a briefing from the general?"
"Well, yeah, but..."
"I know," Janet smiled. "Give him a call later, Colonel. Medical orders."
"Right." The colonel was still looking over at Steven. Steven couldn't make him out--he didn't seem very military, the least military thing in the room with those clothes in fact, but the way he spoke with the doctor and the way she reacted gave him an air of authority. And he knew Daniel, pretty well from the sound of it. Interesting. Weird, but interesting.
"So you're Steven?" The colonel had finally come to his bedside.
"Colonel, I'd really rather he got some more rest right now--" The colonel looked back at Fraiser, and she sighed. "Not too long," she admonished and headed back for her desk. Steven had the feeling she'd be keeping an eye on them.
"Yeah, I am," Steven responded to the question. "Who are you and how do you know Daniel?"
"I'm Colonel Jack O'Neill," the other man said. His hands were shoved casually into his jeans pockets, but Steven still didn't trust him. "I'm a...friend...of Daniel's."
"Not his boss?"
O'Neill frowned. "What makes you say that?"
Steven shrugged. "So is this place why he seemed to disappear off the face of the planet? What's he doing for you guys?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"What does the--Air Force--need with an archaeologist?"
"You'd be surprised," O'Neill replied lightly. "I was sorry to hear about your professor...Jordan, right? Daniel was pretty upset."
"That's not my problem," Steven flopped back into the pillow, staring up at the ceiling. A pain was building in his chest; he couldn't breathe properly. "He's the one who chose not to come back all that time."
"Yeah, well, don't you think he had good reason?" the colonel shot back coolly. "It wasn't like he was gonna get the greatest reception, was it?"
Steven glared up at the older man. He was not going to feel guilty because of what this new friend of Daniel's said. What the hell was Daniel doing hanging out with an Air Force colonel anyway? Steven just wanted to go home and carry on with his research. Write another book. Get away from this madness.
"It was his choice," he repeated, switching his gaze to the ceiling.
O'Neill leant in over him. Steven pulled back as much as he could, which wasn't much, digging into the pillow beneath him. "Look, Daniel just saved your life," the colonel barked. "You should be thanking him, not brushing him off."
"Saved my life?" Steven repeated.
"Yeah," O'Neill replied. "As did Dr Fraiser and Major Carter. If they didn't come after you, you would've died in that tomb. Think about that." He stalked away.
Steven scowled after the man. Great. What was it with these people? He wished he could just disappear out of this place, but that Fraiser woman was watching him like a hawk. And he was still too weak and tired to move. He'd simply have to wait.
For lack of anything else to do, he drifted back to sleep.
A week later, and Dr Fraiser at last agreed to release him. He was just putting on his suit jacket--slowly, because he still didn't feel up to his usual energetic standards--when he heard a voice say behind him, "Steven?"
He sighed and turned around. "Daniel," he greeted the other man coolly, waiting. The other archaeologist had avoided talking to him for the past week--or perhaps, Steven had to admit to himself grudgingly, the other man had really been busy for the past week. The infirmary certainly seemed to have an emergency every other hour from what he could tell. He himself had spent a lot of the past week sleeping and thinking. Making decisions.
Daniel looked like he wanted to be awkward but couldn't be bothered. "Your flight back to Chicago is booked, and everything else has been taken care of...so. Uh...'bye." He frowned, then shrugged a little to himself, and met Steven's eye calmly.
"I am going to find out what all this is about sometime, Daniel. You do know that, don't you?"
Daniel shrugged again. "If you do, you'll be asked not to tell anyone else, or you'll be recruited," he said. "Anyway, you wouldn't want to tell anyone what you found out, if you actually managed to dig up any information."
"Why is that?" Threats from Daniel Jackson was an entirely novel experience in Steven's opinion.
"You'll end up like I did," was the steady reply. Steven stared at his former colleague. There was no regret there. He was an alien, not at all the man Steven remembered. "Rejected by the entire archaeological community, not to mention most of the rest of polite society. I know you couldn't stand that, Steven. Maybe you should just let things stand."
"And you're just gonna disappear again?"
Daniel winced, some inexplicable pain flashing in his eyes behind his glasses. Steven tried to figure out what he'd said. "I didn't think you would want me coming back out of the woodwork," the other man said lightly, and Steven was hard pressed to see any sign of that pain he'd just witnessed an instant ago.
"Whatever," Steven said shortly, tired of the game. He picked up the bag he'd been given to put his things in and started to sweep past Daniel. But he paused and turned back.
"If I found anything out and ended up like you," he said, searching Daniel's face, "then that would mean you were right. Wouldn't it?"
Daniel didn't answer, gave no sign of agreement or disagreement. Steven took a step closer to him.
"It wasn't an hallucination," he said quietly. "I didn't dream up you and your friends coming to rescue me, and Sarah being taken over by something that called itself Osiris. It all really happened."
"And what if it did?" Daniel asked delicately. "Who would believe you, Steven?"
"You really aren't going to tell me anything, are you?"
"Nope," Daniel shrugged, and suddenly he seemed a lot more cheerful. "The only way you'll find out anything more is if you agreed to work with the program. And that would mean you had agreed not to tell anyone outside your co-workers what you learned." He smiled at Steven. "Your choice."
"Be stuck working with you and the Air Force?" Steven snorted. "I don't think so. Good-bye, Daniel. I wouldn't say it was a pleasure seeing you again."
Daniel shrugged again. "I think I'd agree with your assessment," he said pleasantly.
Steven stared at him an instant longer, then shook his head and walked out of the infirmary.
Enough of this madness. Time to get back to his research. Write another book.
No way in hell Daniel could be right after all. No way in hell.