The planet’s twin suns were in full effect. Daniel had forgotten what this kind of heat felt like. It had been so long since he’d been off-world, let alone off-world and engaging in honest to god physical archaeology.
Straightening slowly, he stifled the groan that longed to accompany the movement. He rubbed the base of his spine with both hands, enjoying the bliss of momentary relief as much as he wasn't enjoying the slow, inexorable trickle of sweat down his back. Reaching for his water bottle, he took a deep, cooling drink, swiping the bandana from his head as he put the bottle down on a flat rock. He wiped his face with the cotton and licked his lips, relishing the very last drop of water.
Despite the aches and pains, it felt good. A man could only sit behind a desk for so long and he’d been behind one now for two years. His desk was at the Pentagon, two floors up from Jack’s. There were worse places to be, but there were better ones, too, and when a report from newly-recruited archaeologist Denny Weston had mysteriously landed on his Washington desk – it had to be Jack, although he had no proof – Daniel pulled rank and got himself attached to the mission.
The ruins on P4Y-771 had been discovered during a routine investigation. “They hoped to find weapons grade naquada,” Weston’s report read. “Instead, they found a temple. I was thrilled. They ... weren’t.”
Turns out that what they’d found was a temple similar to that found at Lumanai in Belize. Daniel recognized the description immediately from Nick Ballard’s expedition notes. There was hope of treasure. Maybe not crystal skulls but technology that could be of benefit.
“You should go,” Jack said, smiling up at him from a pile of Pentagon paperwork.
“You’re actually agreeing to let me go somewhere?”
“Sure. You’ll be aching in places you don’t remember you have. You’ll be begging to be back here before Weston can switch on his Dictaphone planetside.”
It was familiar banter, set against a backdrop of years of friendship, resonating with a shared history; their story was the program’s story.
Daniel smiled as he recalled the conversation. Yes, he ached all right, but he would still rather be here than in his office. He ran the bandana over his throat and wiped the back of his neck. He took a moment to survey the site. Below and to the south of where he stood, the temple was being excavated. It was half covered by centuries of encroaching jungle. It was hugely impressive. Later, he planned to climb what was left of the structure he was currently checking out and take in the view across the nearby lagoon. If he did it at suns-set, it would be spectacular.
“Dr. Jackson!” Weston. Scrambling up to Daniel’s position, half-way up what was probably the high temple. It would take months of painstaking excavation to prove Daniel’s theory and that was never going to happen. In the early days, Daniel would have railed against the injustice of that. Today, pragmatism won out. It was how he’d stayed sane.
“Dr. Jackson ...” Weston pulled up in front of Daniel, panting for breath and sweating profusely. Beneath his boonie, his longish, dark hair was plastered to his skull. Mud was smudged on high cheekbones and his dark brown eyes were glowing with excitement.
“Take it easy, Denny. I’m not going anywhere fast – not in this heat. And neither are the ruins, and neither should you.”
Weston pulled in some labored breaths. “Sorry, sorry, Sir, it’s just ... the Jaguar Temple ... you were right. The masks ... two of them ... on the western facade ... one of them has a rather ... humanized face ... just like you predicted. They’re amazing. And there’s evidence ... of ... mis-cast pieces and ... copper-like bells ...” He finally ran out of breath and grimaced an apology, waving his hands in a “give me a minute plea”.
Daniel shook his head. “Here.” He shoved his water bottle under Weston’s nose.
Something that could have been a thank you was lost as Weston took some grateful gulps. He finally drank his fill, then let out a loud belch. He bit his lip. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
Daniel tried hard not to laugh. The young man’s raw enthusiasm was a delight to behold after the cynical machinations he’d become accustomed to in politics-obsessed Washington.
“Sounds like it’s something I should take a look at,” Daniel said, putting the water bottle in his pack.
“Oh, you should, Sir. Major Kelly said I shouldn’t get excited until we discovered some useful alien tech inside the temple. I don’t think he understands.”
“No, Denny. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t.”
Weston ran the back of his hand across his forehead. “I try to rein it in, mostly. I get that the military types don’t love this stuff like I do.” He glanced across fondly to the temple site, where the rest of his team were hard at work. “But it’s hard. I have this ... urge to share.”
Daniel adjusted the straps on his pack and gestured for Weston to lead the way. “They have their job to do and we have ours. Personally, I’ve never been excited by bottleneck cartridges or a bullet’s terminal performance, but if that’s what floats their boat.”
Weston was hanging on his every word. It was kind of cute and kind of scary. Daniel knew that SG-1 had achieved legendary status; it was just a little disconcerting to see evidence of it.
“I did once get in trouble for laughing at the words butt plate when Jack was giving an instructional running commentary while stripping and cleaning his P-90.” Daniel quirked a smile at the memory.
Weston huffed a laugh, then fell silent as they made their way down the overgrown trail towards the temple.
“I try my best to fit in," Weston said eventually. "I mean ... I know my enthusiasm can be annoying. I’m not sure the rest of the team like me all that much sometimes. I’m taking self-defense classes in my spare time. I’m going to shock Major Kelly the next time he says I fight like, um, a raccoon in a gunny sack, I think it was.”
“I thought those classes were mandatory at the SGC?”
Weston screwed up his face. “They are. I might have skipped some of them in favor of sessions on chemical compositional and micro structural analysis in the lab with Captain Brekker.”
Daniel stifled a laugh. “Keeping yourself safe is vital, for you as well as your team. It’s all too easy to get them into trouble by getting yourself into trouble.”
“You should know all about that,” Weston shot back, then stumbled to a halt so fast that Daniel ran straight into the back of him. “I mean ... not that ... I’m sorry, Sir. I just ... read the reports.”
Daniel sighed. “They must have been early reports. I learned fast.” He pushed past Weston and took the lead. They walked along in silence for a while.
“Is it true that General O’Neill used to call you a geek?”
“Wow. That’s kinda ... disrespectful.”
Daniel held back a particularly invasive frond to allow Weston to pass. “Accurate though. He soon learned to call me other things. Like Plantboy, and on one occasion the highly embarrassing Spacemonkey. Oh, then it was pain in the ass. Which was an improvement at least.”
The ground finally flattened out and they walked side by side toward the temple entrance.
“Eventually, it just became Daniel.”
“Only in the very early days. Jack discovered that he could say Daniel in a dozen different ways. It was a good indication of how pissed off he was, you know, the way he said it.”
“So ... it does get better?”
Daniel looked at the man out of the corner of his eye. It was like turning back the clock. Weston was all youthful exuberance, single-minded and keen to share his knowledge. He had a fascinating career ahead of him. Daniel envied him that.
“As long as you’re willing to be a part of the team and to learn, yeah. It does.”
Weston grinned. “That’s good to know, Sir.”
As they approached the temple, Weston’s stride quickened until he was practically running. “Wait,” he shouted to the two men removing heavy stones from the temple structure. “Don’t move them! I need to catalogue them in situ. Don’t they teach you anything?”
Hands on hips, Daniel stood and watched as Weston berated the young airmen. Deja vu all over again.
Harsh and loud words were being exchanged by the three men ahead of him and the situation threatened to escalate. Reluctantly, Daniel put his plans for the climb on hold, lowered his pack to the ground and went to help broker peace.
You’ve come a long way, baby, he thought to himself, mentally mapping his route to the top of the temple and that stunning evening view as he held out placating hands to the warring parties.
Maybe he’d take Weston along with him.
Or maybe he’d just take his memories.