It started out, as so many of the more ‘interesting’ missions did, with Daniel excited over pictures from the latest MALP.
Sitting at the briefing room table, Jack eyed Carter and weighed whether or not she’d be receptive to a conspiratorial eye-roll of the ‘isn’t the archaeologist annoying and endearing’ variety. Sadly, the Major was showing disturbing signs of interest in Daniel’s song-and-power-point-dance.
Jack disguised a keen glance at the screen as a yawn. Wouldn’t do to have Daniel think he’d hooked Jack already. Jack liked to make him work for it a little, and if Daniel saw through him a little in return, it was all right.
Usually Jack only got interested in things Daniel loved because Daniel loved them. While they shared passions for the Stargate program, pepperoni pizza, ice cream, and a tacit approval of the female form in general, Jack and Daniel did not see eye to eye on dead languages, broken pottery, pop culture, or planes. However, since Daniel had jumped out of that plane with no more comment than an eye-roll, Jack had to give a little ground on the dead languages thing. And it looked like Daniel had actually come across something intriguing this time, if the pricking of Jack’s thumbs was any indication.
“Lingual drift is of course always a factor to take into consideration.” Daniel’s hands flew rapidly from symbol to symbol on the screen. “If we compare the text of the archway here on P4S-990 with the images I got of the Asgard column at Heliopolis and then compare those to some of the older Norse texts from here on Earth, then this word here,” Daniel pointed emphatically at another set of squiggles and Jack tried to send thought waves to remind the linguist to breathe, “can be translated with certainty as ‘birfrost.’”
Daniel grinned at them all with an enthusiasm that startled Jack. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t noticed until now, but they weren’t seeing a lot of that from Daniel these days. It was a pleasant change. He decided to play along.
“And that absolutely tells you more than it does us, Daniel. Care to catch us up?” Jack was carefully cheerful, and Hammond and the rest of the team made suitably encouraging noises which kept the energy on their archaeologist’s face. After the business with the Shifu kid and the pleasure palace and all, they deserved to bask in Daniel’s infrequent smiles.
“Birfrost is the name in Norse mythology for the flaming rainbow bridge between Midgard and Asgard,” Daniel elaborated.
Comprehension dawned in Carter’s face. “Another name for a Stargate?”
Daniel nodded energetically. “I think so. And when you put it in context here, basically it reads ‘Let those who walk Birfrost in search of wisdom stand forth to be known.’” Daniel turned from the screen and looked at Jack, and then at General Hammond. “I think we’re looking at another Asgard protected planet at the least, possibly even one with a storehouse of Asgard knowledge, a library or something similar.”
Jack whistled as on either side of him, General Hammond’s and Teal’c’s eyebrows went up in stereo.
“Is there any indication which Asgard might be personally responsible for the planet, as on Cimmeria?” Hammond asked.
“This archway in no way resembles the form of the Hammer on Cimmeria, General Hammond,” Teal’c chimed in.
Daniel frowned and brought up his next slide. “That’s true, but there are references in this smaller text at the base of the arch to ‘skald,’ which is bard or poet, and a word that looks like it could be ‘bragarfull,’ which has to do with a kind of ritual cup of poetry. Those are both associated with the Norse god Bragi, god of poetry and eloquence, who is not an Asgard we’ve had any dealings with so far. Unfortunately, the angle of the MALP picture is wrong and I’d need a closer look to get any more useful information.”
He shrugged, but the studied casualness of the action was at odds with the light in his eyes.
“Why wouldn’t our buddy Thor have told us about this place, if it is an Asgard library?” As team’s designated skeptic, Jack was pretty much required to ask the question. Based on the lightning-flash of amusement that crossed his face, Daniel clearly read between the lines.
“Possibly because he can’t,” Daniel replied. “As I’m sure you remember, the terms of the Protected Planets Treaty which the Asgard have with the Goa’uld state that the Asgard cannot help to advance any less-developed culture to a point where they would be a threat to the Goa’uld. As a protected planet now, Earth falls into that category. So Thor couldn’t point the way here even if he wanted to, and that is assuming my theory is correct. But finding our way there on our own, could be sort of a loophole, again,” Daniel scrunched up his nose and forehead for a minute, “I am working with a very small amount of information, here.”
“I think this is very promising, Doctor Jackson,” Hammond’s voice was warm in that ‘we could be making the DC squad happy’ way which always made Jack nervous.
“Well, if we were waiting for a written invitation, it looks like we’ve got it. Permission to take SG-1 to Daniel’s fancy alien library, General?” Jack gathered his notes at Hammond’s nod of approval, and grinned. “Suit up, kids.”
= = =
“Gotta say this for the little gray guys: they pick nice scenery,” Jack scanned the area around the gate and the stone archway. They had landed in a large clearing, surrounded by deciduous forest, which was a pleasant change from evergreens, and the growth was thin enough to give decent sight lines. “I’m not exactly seeing a welcome wagon, though. Carter, picking up anything?”
The major pulled out one of her energy-reading doohickeys and shrugged. “Not really, sir. There’s a faint suggestion of energy coming from the direction of the archway, but as you remember, Asgard cloaking technology is very advanced. Thor’s ship hasn’t ever been detected while in orbit around Earth.”
“Also, Jack,” Daniel called from his spot at the base of the stairs. “None of us is at the archway yet—“
Almost palpable frustration there, Danny-oh
, Jack grinned to himself. But at least the archaeologist hadn’t gone charging off ahead the way a certain younger version of himself had when approaching the mastadge on Abydos. He was just leaning forward with intent. Jack saved that idea for later, next time he needed to compare Daniel to a hunting dog gone to point.
“—so it’s possible our presence hasn’t been registered,” Daniel finished, squinting ahead at the writing on the lower stones which had frustrated him earlier.
Jack nodded and glanced over at Teal’c, whose serene nod confirmed Jack’s sense that there were no immediate threats in the area.
“All right, I know Daniel’s interested in doing all that ‘standing forth’ business, so let’s move out,” Jack took his spot at Daniel’s elbow, with Teal’c and Carter right behind them as Daniel headed for the inscriptions like he’d been shot from a gun.
The archaeologist hunkered down in front of the archway, running those careful fingertips over the stone, brushing at the incised runes—there were days Jack hated that he knew the proper terms for these things now, but mostly it just filled him with quiet amusement—with the quick, gentle strokes Daniel reserved for what was most precious. Jack took up a careful stance against the outer edge of the archway as he waited for Daniel to work his linguist-y magic.
It didn’t take long. Daniel had clearly been brushing up on his old Norse whatsit.
“Right,” Daniel rubbed a dusty hand across his forehead and stood up, blinking. “So, there’s not a lot here, still—but the essence of the text is that once you step through the archway, you meet one of the skalds—the bards, maybe knowledge-keeper in this context—and if you prove your intentions are good, then you drink of the promise cup, which was an ancient friendship ritual.”
Jack raised his eyebrows. “Sounds okay so far. Whaddya think, Teal’c, are our intentions honorable?”
“They usually begin that way, O’Neill.”
Carter coughed into her instrument readings which meant she was trying very hard not to laugh.
“Archway it is, then,” Jack gestured grandly and they walked through, eyes wide as the world disappeared around them in a flash of white.
= = =
“I am never gonna get used to that,” Jack grinned, shaking himself all over like a dog.
“It’s certainly a rush, sir,” Carter agreed with a similar grin. Daniel just shook his head. Someone in this crowd was clearly not a pilot.
With practiced eyes, the four of them surveyed the bland, blue and brown room where they had landed. It didn’t even need to be said that Carter looked for tech toys, Jack and Teal’c for threats, Daniel for all that culture stuff he lived and breathed.
Of course, the figure standing in the middle of the room was a big honkin’ clue.
“Um, hello.” That was Daniel, great negotiator. “I’m Daniel Jackson,” and off went the introductions, ending in the pretty much standard, “we’re from Earth, uh, Midgard?” And then he repeated it in what Jack hoped was ancient Norse whatsit.
The figure inclined its overly elongated head, blinked, and replied, in English, thank God, “Greetings. I am Birn.”
“Pleased to meet you. Are you, uh, Asgard?”
This could have been a really dumb question on Daniel’s part, but under the circumstances, it wasn’t, really. Birn looked a lot like the Asgard, but a little taller, and with clothes, or at least the suggestion of same. That loincloth-slash-dishtowel wouldn’t be winning any fashion competitions, but if Daniel hadn’t asked the question, Jack would have.
Birn got that same look that Thor did when he found Jack amusing. “We are related. More I cannot tell you until you have completed the bragr.”
“Bragr,” Daniel repeated, his eyebrows doing that dance which meant the linguist was thinking fast.
“The Norse word for poetry, Jack, but I’m not clear what that entails in this situation.”
Jack smiled and tapped his fingers on the hilt of his P90, “Great. So, Birn, what’s the bragger?”
Birn got that funny look again. “One must complete the tasks set out by Bragi and Idunn, to reach the point of knowledge.”
Carter’s head whipped round from where she’d been surreptitiously studying some of the cabinets and other structures in the room. “Like the Hall of Thor’s Might? A series of tests?”
Well, that was succinct. And ridiculously unhelpful, particularly to Jack, who hadn’t been in the Hall of Thor’s whatever.
“What manner of tests do you require?” Teal’c beat Jack to the punch. Jack glared at him, but there wasn’t any real heat behind it. It was hard to feel bad about being out-declaimed by somebody with a voice like an ancient Roman orator.
And Jack had clearly been hanging around Daniel too long.
“Visitors through Birfrost all must attempt the tasks before further communication is possible.”
Jack raised his hand. “I think my buddy Teal’c here is inquiring whether these tasks are dangerous.”
Birn blinked again. “They are not.”
Jack looked at the rest of SG-1, gauging their expressions easily. Yup, thought so. All for one…God, he loved his team. They were raring to go.
“Okay, so where do we start?”
“Only one may enter the hall,” Birn replied.
“Oh, no no no. We are a team; we do this together,” Jack said.
“One may enter,” Birn repeated.
Jack opened his mouth again, but Daniel cut him off, softly.
Jack shut his mouth and looked at Daniel. He sighed. “I know.” They needed not to antagonize, they needed the intel, they needed a good report to send back to Washington. It was all in Daniel’s eyes.
He turned back to Birn. “What kind of tests are these? Can you give us any hints?”
“They were designed by Bragi and Idunn.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “You know, Thor is a lot more helpful than you are. Daniel? Braggart and I Don’t?”
Daniel’s lips twitched infinitesimally, but he heroically managed to keep his voice even. “Bragi, as I mentioned before, was the Norse god of poetry and eloquence. His, um, wife was Idunn, whose name means ‘ever young.’ She was the guardian of the apples which renewed the youth of the Aesir.”
Jack just looked at him. “And this helps us, how?”
Daniel matched him look for look. “It means I should be the one to go through the maze, hall, whatever it is.”
“Sir, it does actually make some sense.” Carter, the traitor, jumped to Daniel’s defense before the linguist could even renew his case. “Daniel and I were the ones that went through Thor’s tests, so we’ve got some experience already, and Daniel’s clearly got the right cultural knowledge, if it is somehow poetry or language related.”
“And if it’s not?” Jack bit back the edge of exasperation, but only barely. “I’m pretty sure it still says ‘Colonel’ on my ID badge. That would mean as guy-in-charge, I pick who goes, and where there’s risk involved to my team, that person should be me.”
“And what do you do when the task is written in runes, Jack?”
“Were they written in runes in Thor’s whatsit?”
“Well, no, the instructions were mostly holographic,” Daniel admitted, though he added quickly: “But there were runes involved.”
“All right, then,” Jack turned, but then of course the third Musketeer decided to open his regal mouth.
“I too believe Daniel Jackson should represent us in this challenge.”
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud,” Jack muttered.
He returned his attention to Birn. “Look, we’re a team because we all have different strengths. We work best together; we’ve proved it over and over again. Is there any way the four of us can do this?”
He tried out one of those smiles he’d been informed was charming. “You’d get the best representation of who we are and what our intentions are that way.”
Birn stared at the four of them for a long minute, and then nodded. “The rules are very clear. Only one may attempt the tasks from within the hall. However, there may be communication with the others if that one is willing.”
“I can do that,” Daniel said.
Someday, maybe, Daniel would remember to ask more about these things before agreeing to them. “Verbal communication?” Jack clarified. “Or do we get to see him, too?”
“It can work that way, yes,” Birn walked with a delicate step to one of the cabinets and touched a button, which opened the doors and extended a set of shelves. On the shelves gleamed several silvery circlets.
“Nice headbands,” Jack said. “How do they work?”
Carter, naturally fascinated, was the first one to pick one up. She turned it over in her hands carefully. “I don’t see a microphone mechanism, or any recognizable VR technology, sir.”
“We didn’t see this building, either,” Jack reminded her.
“It is a neural interface,” Birn answered, as if neither Carter nor Jack had spoken.
Daniel picked up one of the circlets and slipped it on over his hair so it rested midway down his forehead. It should have looked ridiculous, an alien crown over the rims of terrestrial glasses, but for some reason Daniel carried it okay. Kinda like his bandana, actually, which also should look ridiculous, but mostly looked hot.
“So, Birn, that means I think at them and they can think back at me?”
Something very close to a smile crossed Birn’s face. “That is essentially correct, Daniel Jackson.”
Daniel bobbed his eyebrows at Jack, which was the universal signal for ‘cool stuff,’ and Jack vigorously repressed the desire to snicker at the way the motion made the silver crown-thing bobble.
“Right. Not dangerous, you said?” Never hurt to be too careful, after all. Fried linguist brains were not high on Jack’s shopping list.
“There is no danger to the human form,” Birn confirmed, so Jack and the others all slipped their circlets on.
[This better not be like the Gamekeeper,] Jack thought.
[I shouldn’t think so, Jack.]
“Whoa!” Jack blinked. “Daniel, was I just hearing you?”
Carter frowned. “I didn’t hear anything; did you, Teal’c?”
“I was thinking at Jack,” Daniel shrugged. [Not to borrow an overused line, but can you all hear me now?]
The major shook her head as if her ears were ringing. “Got that. No need to shout, you know.” She grinned conspiratorially at Daniel, who grinned back. Jack wondered what the hell they were thinking at each other.
[None of your business, Jack,] Daniel shot him an amused look. “Teal’c, can you hear me too?”
“Indeed I can, Daniel Jackson. I stand ready to assist you in whatever way possible.”
Jack felt a wave of eagerness wash over him that he was pretty damn sure wasn’t his. This could get interesting. He clamped down on his thoughts and simply said, “Shall we get to it, then?”
Birn nodded and pushed another button, which opened a door they hadn’t seen beside the cabinet. “You may enter, Daniel Jackson.”
[Wish me luck, guys.]
Assurances of safety notwithstanding, Jack was still not entirely happy about letting Daniel traipse off alone, but if Daniel noticed he didn’t say, as he crossed the threshold and the door slid shut behind him.
= = =
Darkness, sudden and unexpected. A rush of fear quickly stomped down. Breathing in and out, consciously slowly.
[Daniel, are you all right?]
The others must all have been asking the same thing, because in Jack’s head Daniel’s reply was tinged with both amusement and what felt like the edge of pain.
[Okay, um, guys, do you think maybe you could each say aloud what you’re thinking to me so the others in the room can hear you? When you all think at me so loud at once it’s a little overwhelming.]
“We can do that, Daniel.” Carter’s voice was warm—Jack hoped Daniel could feel that, and would know they were all right there with him.
“Is there not a way we could see Daniel Jackson’s location?” Teal’c asked Birn, probably concerned with the same impressions of darkness which had come so clearly to Jack.
“I can bring up an image of his surroundings on the central viewer,” the almost-Asgard agreed, pushing yet another button on the panel which Jack hadn’t noticed. It was a little off-putting just how much detail in this room had escaped the colonel’s attention—deliberately designed to do so, it seemed. Jack didn’t like situations where he couldn’t assess, and he couldn’t assess what he couldn’t see. If this were anybody other than the Asgard playing host-with-the-most, he’d be calling for a trip back to the Stargate pronto. He scanned the room again, looking for any other clues.
[I didn’t gather any useful details while I was in there, Jack, other than the fact that there do seem to be panels under each of those other two cabinet-looking things on that same wall—no writing or any of those Asgard crystal things you and Sam told me about. Oh!]
[I’m fine, Jack.]
Carter gave Jack a curious look, but her attention was soon diverted by the screen that rose out of the floor which showed Daniel, having apparently just remembered that he had a flashlight in his vest pocket, taking in his situation with a slow pan of the Maglite.
“We’ve got a visual on you now, Daniel,” Sam said aloud, and Daniel’s head came up on the screen as he looked around, eyes narrowed.
[I don’t see a camera. Guess that doesn’t surprise me.]
Jack felt his lips quirk at the dry acceptance which came through the headband. Whoever said archaeologist humor was confined to jokes about bones and liking it dirty had never spent time with Daniel Jackson.
“Daniel Jackson, can you tell in which direction it is appropriate to proceed?”
[There seem to be two options at this point,] Daniel thought at them all, and Jack could see his lips moving on the screen as he thought aloud. [That wall there has some detail; I’m going to get a closer look.]
The next several minutes were remarkable. Jack knew how Daniel’s brain worked, sort of, after several years’ worth of standing next to him and watching him take a problem apart, spin it around, put it on a new axis and turn a pyramid into a globe—but he’d never been inside the process before. He had no idea how Daniel kept all this stuff straight—languages, derivations, references to texts he probably hadn’t read since college. It wasn’t that Jack was dumb by any stretch, and probably there were things he could remember that confounded Daniel equally, but the speed at which possibilities rose and fit together, broke apart and reshaped in Daniel’s head was astonishing to perceive, like watching a pot boil. Jack only thought that fast in combat.
“Daniel, we’re not catching all of this,” Carter’s voice broke into Jack’s concentration. “Could you break it down for us?”
Jack tried very hard to not smirk at the fact that Carter was as bewildered by Daniel’s thoughts as he was. That effort lasted for about three milliseconds, and then he let that smirk rip right across his face. Nice to know astrophysicists and colonels were on the same page where archaeo-linguists were concerned.
[Sure. The text here reads ‘Truth is beyond the seen. What we hear from the heart is the herald of wisdom.’]
There was a long pause. “And?” Jack prompted.
[And I don’t know exactly what that means. I’m guessing someone other than Birn is watching this, but that’s just a guess—he didn’t say he was a skald. On the other hand, I’m not one either.]
“You’re the closest we’ve got, Daniel,” Jack grinned. There was a sudden sound, like the ringing of a bell, and Jack could hear Daniel’s heart jump.
[Heard from the heart, do you think, guys?] Daniel queried once he pulled himself together.
“Could you tell the direction the sound came from?” Sam asked.
“I believe the sound originated down the left tunnel, Daniel Jackson.”
[Thanks, Teal’c. Among everything else I envy about you, I wish I had those ears.]
The others in the room chuckled and watched Daniel shake his head and then head down the hallway, a certain bounce in his step. Jack couldn’t help but smile—Daniel in puzzle solving mode was simply a joy to behold.
Three more times, there was a break in the hallway and Daniel paused and listened for the tone, and Teal’c cheerfully (for him) informed Daniel which direction to go, though Jack had a sense by the last one that Daniel actually had a pretty good idea where they were going, and was more hoping for confirmation than anything else.
“You have traveled roughly in a circle, Daniel Jackson.”
[I was kinda wondering about that.] Daniel’s words were amused, but Jack was pretty sure there was some concern under there. [Fortunately, it can’t have been an exact circle, because the text is different.]
“Or the text has changed.”
On the screen, Daniel winced at Teal’c’s addition, and Jack winced with him. “So what does the text say?”
[It says, ‘You’re a good sport for letting us lead you around in a circle and for not making a fuss.’]
Daniel turned his head to the ceiling and stuck out his tongue. [No, Jack.]
“No need to get juvenile, Daniel,” Jack said, chuckling with the others.
[Pot calling Kettle, over.] Daniel’s laughter bounced around in Jack’s head for a few precious seconds before the archaeologist refocused. [Give me a minute.]
They waited patiently through his whirlwind of derivations and associations once more, and then Daniel crossed his arms. [You have got to be kidding me.]
[It cannot be this simple.] Incredible frustration and self-flagellation followed that statement. Jack frowned.
[It’s okay, Daniel, you’ll figure it out. We’ve got faith in you. I do.]
Daniel squared his shoulders and nodded sharply. The others held their breath as they watched Daniel reach out and trace certain runes, thinking them through as he did.
[Bragr,] he thought triumphantly. And the wall opened.
“All right, Daniel!” Jack pumped his fist in the air as light poured across Daniel’s face. The archaeologist stood there blinking for a moment, then gave a small smile towards the ceiling and walked through into the next challenge.
“So what did it say, Daniel?” Carter was practically bouncing.
[‘One must speak truth to hear it.’ Apparently ‘heard from the heart’ has multiple meanings. If poetry is considered to be the most vital organ of language, words and emotions stripped bare, then to speak poetry is to understand the bragr.]
Jack was pretty sure he got that, but he wasn’t about to ask for clarification. Even Daniel’s thought sounded distracted. Jack might still be thinking about that definition of poetry as something that blows the top of your head off, but their ‘skald’ was already on to the next problem and currently uninterested in Emily Dickinson’s rare appreciation of explosives.
On screen, the fancy viewing-device spun as Daniel did. Slowly, back and forth. And around again.
[Oh man. I just don’t know.]
“Take one wall at a time,” Jack suggested.
[One wall at a time. Right.] Daniel stopped spinning and looked at the wall immediately to his left. There was a set of what looked like tiles in an ascending pattern.
[Three. Three. Six. Nine. Fifteen. Twenty-four. And then two, two, four, six, ten, sixteen.]
Daniel turned to the next wall. [It looks like a nautilus shell in jointed metal sections. And over here there looks like just an empty grid. There’s a box at the base of the wall, and that is it. No writing anywhere, no other clues, not even on the floor.]
“Daniel, go back to the nautilus shell for a minute,” Carter called, her voice at least half an octave higher than when she wasn’t on the brink of an idea. “Look at the sizes of the sections.”
Obediently, Daniel headed over to the shell on the wall. [They look like sections of a shell, Sam. They’re the right proportions.]
“Exactly!” Carter leaned so close to the screen Jack was afraid she’d fall into it. He had a momentary flash of what would happen—Alice through the looking glass, perhaps, and she’d end up landing on Daniel, but everything hopelessly backward? Of course Carter landing on Daniel would be backwards—good as they’d look together, Jack just couldn’t see it ever really happening.
[Jack—you want me to go with Sam’s idea?]
It had something to do with filling in the pattern. Jack couldn’t help but run possible outcomes: they got it right, great, onwards they went. If they got it wrong, they either got spun around in a circle again and got a second chance, or got bounced with a ‘see ya, nice try.’ Did Jack have faith in Carter’s and Daniel’s combined brain power? Absolutely.
“Go for it.”
[One. One. Two.] Daniel slowly started filling in the grid with tiles he had found in the box by the wall. [Three. Five. Eight.]
Jack got it—the Fibonacci sequence. The previous sets of tiles were multiples of the original sequence. Clever. That sequence was maybe the very coolest thing about math, the way it turned up in nature—nautilus shells, pinecones, sunflowers, and stuff. Far more fun than your standard calculus, which was a snooze on wheels.
There was another chime and the nautilus shell on the wall spiraled open, expanding until it was wide and tall enough for Daniel to step through.
“We need doors like that at the SGC, don’t you think, Teal’c?” Jack raised his eyebrows.
“Indeed, O’Neill, I believe they would be a more attractive option.”
Jack didn’t even need to read the big guy’s mind to tell he was laughing. Mission achieved.
Suddenly, he was metaphorically knocked on his ass by an unexpected image from Daniel.
With the cycling open of the shell-door, there had been a blast of air, as if the pressure in the next room was different. Jack’s subconscious mind had logged Daniel’s initial reaction—cooler, scented—without really taking it in.
The scent had made some kind of impression on Daniel though, and some part of Jack’s brain was aware of some part of Daniel’s working on why he had an association with that apple-ginger-citrus sort of scent.
Daniel had figured it out.
Jack's head flooded with memories he would never have guessed lurked under the distractable brainiac exterior. He was in no way prepared for images of a younger Daniel in the office of some older man—a variant of Daniel's own professor-type: clean shaven, smiling, bookishly handsome and wearing ginger-citrus aftershave. In the memory, Daniel was close enough to smell it, and deliberately so. This younger Daniel wanted.
Jack knew his Daniel had loved Sha're passionately, and that the fire which burned in loyalty for Daniel’s friends and raged hotly against the Goa'uld was a part of the scholar which was too often dismissed. Even so, Jack wasn’t sure he knew this Daniel.
Student Daniel was lingering over a messy red-inked essay, just to be able to breathe the man in and imagine for a long moment that he was seeing admiration for himself, and not for his research, in those eyes.
“I assume you’re going to Dr. Meyer’s comparative mythology lecture,” the professor said.
“Of course,” replied younger Daniel.
The professor winked. “Save me a seat.”
Younger Daniel’s heart raced. Jack’s heart stopped.
= = =
Jack was pretty sure it was blinding terror that made him do it. Terror that his snarky-sweet, innocent-wicked, brilliant-obtuse, annoying-enthralling best friend was not, perhaps, as straight as Jack had always pegged him. That perhaps Daniel might have seen something in Jack’s eyes which Jack himself refused to consider or name. That just maybe that inquisitive, hopeful look Daniel occasionally turned on him might mean something other than the obvious.
Far better to keep the attention of that incisive mind elsewhere.
Daniel had taken one cautious step through the nautilus archway when Jack erupted.
[Crush on a professor, Danny-boy? Sure you want to share that with the class?]
There was an overwhelming flood of embarrassment from Daniel’s conscious mind, and Jack realized in horror that Daniel hadn’t actively been considering the professor at all—if Jack had been paying attention, he would have realized that Daniel and Carter were already eyebrow-deep in analyzing the new room.
Teal’c’s head came up sharply at the rush of emotion, as did Carter’s.
“Daniel?” She inquired quickly. “Are you all right?”
There was a second rush of panic from Daniel as he sent out a hurried, [Fine, yeah, fine. Just you know, stray thought. Jack caught me off guard.] Daniel tamped down on his emotions again and started running through the puzzle data they had gathered so far.
Carter stared at Jack, then at the screen, and back again, and suddenly gestured for the other two to take their headbands off. Jack and Teal’c mimicked her movements and stared inquisitively at her in return.
“Birn,” Carter said, a kind of queer twist to her voice, “how sensitive are these devices? I mean, can you only read the thoughts people choose to send? Or is there more to it?”
The pseudo-Asgard, who had barely moved this entire time, tilted his head once more, and answered in that strange combination of flatness and musicality which typified his brethren, “The better one knows the other wearing the neural interface, the more connection can be reached. All may receive the deliberate thoughts of the questing agent, but a more thorough knowledge of both the quester and the technology may allow a deeper access to the other’s mind.”
“Holy Hannah,” Carter breathed, mostly to herself. She was turning the headband over and over in her hands, and Teal’c too looked intrigued.
Jack winced. Chances were good that neither of the others had even picked up on Daniel’s little trip down memory lane, and now Lucy was going to have some ‘splaining to evade.
“Sir, I don’t know what it was that you heard from Daniel, but as you’ve known him longest, it was surely on a level that I didn’t pick up.” Carter looked perturbed, as well she might. When she and Daniel got going it was like gasoline on a fire, and no one could catch them, so she might easily have expected to hear more than she did.
Jack looked at Teal’c, who merely shrugged.
“I perceived nothing of significance.”
Big fat help that was. Who knew what Mr. More-Perceptive-Than-Communicative had actually gotten from the whole exchange, or what he thought he now knew about Jack himself or Daniel.
Jack looked quickly at the screen and noticed Daniel had abandoned the next translation and was now turning in a pretty fast circle, eyes widened and turned upwards, and arms wrapped around his middle in classic Jackson freak-out mode.
Jack winced again.
“Uh, I think I created a problem that’s only gotten worse with us taking off the doohickeys,” he said. “Daniel’s all alone down there. I’m going to check in with him. Carter, why don’t you see if our host will tell you any more about the mind-linky things, and you two just keep yours off until I give you the signal, okay?”
They nodded, and Jack grimaced and slipped the headband back on, fixing his eyes on the screen and willing his consciousness of the others to disappear.
[Guys? Sam? Teal’c? Jack? Where are you? Can anyone hear me? Jack?]
Yikes. Jack had landed right in the middle of the loudest silent panic ever.
[I’m here, Daniel.]
[Jack!] There was a maelstrom of emotion packed up in that recognition—residual panic, anger, relief, and then a ramping up of new anxiety once Daniel realized that it was only the two of them ‘on the line.’
[Jack? What happened? Is everyone all right?] Daniel wasn’t sure whether to be anxious that something had happened to the others, or to be anxious that there were only the two of them because Jack was about to ream him out. How flattering.
[They’re fine. Carter had us take off the headbands because she had a brilliant idea and it made her head expand too much for the doohickey to compensate.]
[Jack.] Exasperation this time, but still anxiety.
[She had this idea that she wanted Birkenstock to confirm, that different people were differently sensitive to the device—could read or hear more than others. He said it depended on how well you knew the person.]
[No one heard what you were thinking but me.]
More agitation from Daniel, and Jack could see him licking his lips on screen as a precursor to speech, though his lips never moved.
[I wasn’t thinking about Professor Cannel, Jack. Not consciously. You must have been tapped into my subconscious somehow.]
[Good buddy of yours?] Jack hoped the jealousy didn’t come through. He suspected it did.
[In a manner of speaking. You nailed it when you accused me of having a crush. I was very young in college, Jack.] This time it was mortification, and a growing amount of fear that Jack was going to take this badly. Daniel was also painfully, awkwardly aware that they were mid-mission, and this was a conversation that shouldn’t be taking place. Here or anywhere else.
[Got that right.] Jack had built a solid career by not thinking too closely about certain topics, and off-world with a member of his team separated from the rest was a crappy time to open that particular lockbox. Didn’t mean some piece of him didn’t really want to know just how important this crush had been to Daniel. Didn’t mean Jack really didn’t want this guy to have been a major influence on Daniel’s trajectory into comparative linguistics and mythology.
[That’s what you’re worried about? Not that he was a guy? Not that you can hear things I’m thinking that I don’t even know I’m thinking?] Disbelief flooded through from Daniel’s side of the connection. [He was charismatic, Jack, and a good lecturer. But I was already interested in the field. It’s not like I changed my life for him.]
There was a surge of something else unspoken under there, but it was gone before Jack could identify it as anything other than something akin to pain, rapidly covered over by Daniel’s continued tension due to his accidental outing. Jack did not like feeling Daniel in pain, no way no how, and he’d caused it enough recently. Stomping down on the last flares of jealousy, not to mention the habits of a lifetime of mental caution, Jack decided that compared to what he had just put Daniel through, combined with the panic of being left, outing himself in return would barely start to balance the scales.
[So he was hot and smart and a guy, Daniel. You were what, seventeen? You’re not exactly the only one to be curious at that age.] It didn’t take much for Jack to call up the memory of watching Brian Devens, who was in college, life guarding at the lake when Jack was in high school. Hard not to notice how he looked in swim trunks, even if that was the last summer Jack let himself notice anything of the kind.
Yeah, so what if it was frightening as hell; it was only fair. Jack had enough respect for Daniel’s privacy that the only way to make up for having violated it was to give up a little in response. There wasn’t any room for their usual one-upsmanship here, not now.
[Oh god oh god does he mean what does he mean?] Daniel was having a little trouble taking this in.
[We shouldn’t have all dropped out of communication like that, Daniel. I’m sorry.]
On screen, Daniel blinked and his mouth dropped open. [You’re sorry?]
Jack snarled a little. [It happens.]
Daniel’s mind did the boiling pot thing again, emotions shifting fast, up and down. They started out predominantly still panicky—not unlike Jack’s now that it was his turn to be on the line, actually, and that was definitely interfering a little with being able to follow Daniel’s thought process—but gradually Daniel’s presence settled into a kind of warmth, the archaeologist recognizing that the whole conversation was an apology up until Jack’s sudden snarl.
Daniel’s mouth closed abruptly, and then twitched. [Okay, so it happens. With about the same frequency as a solar eclipse.] He jested, and suddenly all Jack wanted to do was be in that room with him, poke him in the side, watch him smile for real. Remote-view Daniel’s eyes widened.
[Jack? Am I reading you right? I mean, have I been, all this past hour or however long it’s been?] Daniel had that feeling of being on the brink of an idea—Jack himself practically vibrated in sympathy with that incredible need to know, like it was so important to Daniel he couldn’t put words to it, even in his head.
Jack frowned and thought back over the last however long—he didn’t think he’d been thinking anything to give Daniel that little crease between his eyebrows, the one that sharpened his gaze until you got lost in the blue of it all.
[Reading me right? Daniel, what are you talking about?] Jack was getting weird vibes from Daniel now—a confusion of wariness, maybe a little hope, definitely a big lump of 'what the hell.'
And then Daniel hit him with it, so overwhelmingly that Jack's eyes closed and his breath caught.
Reassurance like touch of hand to shoulder in the dark. Jack’s voice echoed back to him, though Jack didn’t remember thinking the words—[I’m with you, Danny. You can do this.]
Pride, warm like hot chocolate on a cold afternoon, when the wall first opened to the next puzzle.
An image of leaning over a Daniel attractively sprawled, close enough to kiss, and wanting to do so.
And under it all, like the embers of a banked, but long-burning hearth, something which could only have one name, something warm, lightsome, and with the promise of future heat. All this time, Daniel had been getting from Jack a continuous sense of love.
[Huh.] Jack cast around for something to say. Anything at all. There wasn’t much to say. Couldn’t play it off as nothing—Daniel deserved better. Couldn’t deny it—it was there plain as day. Couldn’t say he’d been hiding it—not intentionally, anyway.
[It’s okay, Jack. Guys aren’t the ones with the reputations for being self aware.] Daniel’s grin came through clear as day, and relief and effervescent joy swept through Jack. More than anything, he wanted to draw Daniel in to him, cup his hand around the nape of that neck, and kiss the heck out of that frustrating mouth.
At least, that’s how he felt.
Having been in the habit of squashing anything remotely resembling such impulses, it was a little difficult to let himself get carried away now. Plus there was the whole mission thing with Carter and Teal’c waiting in the wings, and the eventual aftermath. Should they decide to take this discussion up again later—or act on it, what then?
The downside to thinking strategically was that you were forced to anticipate the worst. Not to mention the fact that tactics did not translate well to romantic interludes in alien labyrinths between a military officer and his very male teammate.
Finally, there was the niggling detail that Jack hadn’t exactly heard Daniel offering up any admissions on his own behalf. Add all that up and it was starting to kill the mood. Still, even knowing they couldn’t really finish this discussion now, Jack needed the last word.
[And what about you, Daniel?]
Through the viewer, Daniel’s eyes closed and his hand came up to pinch between his eyebrows in classic pending-migraine futility.
[I’ve been telling you,] Daniel replied, emotions once more firmly under control and out of Jack’s hearing, though it was possible that last disappearing flicker was disappointment. [When you figure it out, get back to me. We’ve still got a mission to finish.]
Belatedly, Jack realized that if he could hear and feel Daniel’s turbulent thoughts as well as the pleasant ones, Daniel had been buffeted by his too. Shit. He was used to Daniel seeing through him a little, but no one needed that much access to the less pleasant corners of Jack’s mind.
Daniel crossed his arms. Jack could practically feel the way the linguist’s fingers dug into the muscles. [Been there, done that, sent a postcard. Now is not the time.]
[Postcard?] Jack queried dryly. [I’ll get you for that later.] And there it was again—the almost-lost mood, that uncomplicated glow that made everything else if not exactly disappear, then at least seem insignificant. Jack basked for a moment.
[Later?] Jack added, remembering Daniel’s ‘get back to me.’
Daniel nodded, and the warmth had seeped back into his thought-voice. [Home is good by me. Let’s get back there with something to show for all my stumbling around in the dark, too, okay?]
[Fair enough.] Jack opened his eyes and signaled for Carter and Teal’c to put their headbands back on, which they did with alacrity. He could see Carter trying to erase the curiosity from her face, and decided to ignore it. He had his own curiosity to wrestle, and needed his energy for figuring out Daniel. He also needed time, and possibly a beer and a nice safe space to spread out and do some serious thinking, talking, and whatever came next. Let him not screw up, so there’d be a next.
“So fill us in on what’s behind door number three, Daniel.”
Daniel did a spin to show them the room, as he had in the chamber before. This one was elliptical, the walls made of a shimmery blue metallic surface. The two foci of the ellipse were a fountain, whose chilled water appeared to be the source of the cooler air and the gingery citrus perfume which had started this whole side-trip to the land of self-discovery, and a ring of runes on the floor.
Daniel took a wide swing around the fountain, and Jack felt a stab of regret, because Daniel was deliberately avoiding giving them another whiff. Despite the initial upset the smell had caused, it was also the agent for revealing this new thing between him and Daniel, and he wouldn’t mind another sniff.
Daniel’s eyes flicked up towards the ceiling briefly, though to the casual eye he looked for all the world as if he were merely carefully examining the walls for any further clues. Then he turned away from the walls– via a pause for a deep breath by the fountain— and headed to the circle of runes.
[This last one, I don’t know, I don’t actually think it’s a puzzle, I think it’s a platform,] Daniel informed them. [You remember, Sam, once we’d solved a few of the puzzles in Thor’s hall, we were given a way to communicate? I think if Thor had decided to, he could basically have sent us back to the beginning at any time, but he wanted to get a sense of us face to face and so left the communication stone. I still think that misdirection at the beginning was to see how we think, and then the Fibonacci was to check for a certain level of sophistication in problem solving. My guess is, once I step in that ring, I’m going to have to introduce myself to Bragi and or Idunn.]
“What are you going to say?” Carter was the one that spoke the words, but they were all wondering.
[I guess I’ll know when I get there,] Daniel gave them that half-smile that said ‘I’m making this up as I go along.’ Fortunately, Daniel’s guesses were usually as solid as other people’s facts, and he was also about as good at charming the good aliens as he was at annoying the bad ones.
[We’re here if you need us,] Jack thought, and on screen Daniel’s smile grew wider, into that one where the edges of his eyes crinkled.
[You are,] he agreed. [And Jack? We can discuss possible contexts for ‘need’ later.]
Jack bit his lip and hoped he wasn’t as red-faced as he felt, while that wickedly demure Daniel stepped unperturbed into the ring. The air in front of him shimmered, and a pair of the almost-Asgard appeared to be seated before him.
“Looks like the hologram of Thor.” Carter spoke into the hush that had descended on their room while they watched Daniel bow respectfully.
“Only to a point,” Jack murmured, taking in the fact that one of the pair had somehow a suggestion of femininity to it/her/whatever, while the other looked more like Birn. He couldn’t place why they looked different—the female had a different slope to the shoulders, maybe, the shape of the eyes, a suggestion of lips.
Though that maybe wasn’t fair—Daniel had unfairly good lips for a guy, which Jack now had the mental freedom to appreciate. Daniel had a guy’s ass, too, which had shown to good advantage in that bow. Not that Jack could guarantee he wouldn’t choke in awe and terror if he ever got his hands on it—
There was a spike of amusement from Daniel’s direction and Jack’s internal compass went ‘oops’ and went back to threat-assessing instead of contemplating Daniel’s rear view.
He also took a quick glance over at Carter and Teal’c, neither of whom seemed to notice anything out of the ordinary. Jack gave thanks for small mercies and decided he was never, ever putting on one of these mindlink whosiwhatsits again in mixed company.
Shaking his head, Jack tried again, and focused on the more feminine alien who was speaking.
“Greetings, Daniel Jackson,” she spoke softly, and Jack realized with a start that the sound was being piped in with the image.
“I am Idunn, and this is my partner Bragi. You have done well to come so far through the bragr.”
Daniel bowed again, and Jack was relieved to hear his voice come through the screen as well. “Thank you, Idunn,” he said, “but I would not have made it so far without the assistance of my friends. I believe you are aware of them?”
Her eyes widened and Jack got the impression of smiling before she spoke again. “Yes, we are aware of them. The trust and confidence you place in each other is most impressive. We have rarely seen someone led in circles through the test respond so calmly when observed by others.”
Daniel was blushing. “I trust them not to lead me astray,” he said. “They trust me to speak for them.”
“A good arrangement,” the one called Bragi spoke. “What have you to say?”
“We are peaceful explorers from the planet called Earth,” Daniel began, and Jack had to smile, because no matter how many times this spiel started or how many times things went south directly afterward, Daniel always managed to inject it with the same enthusiasm and sincerity. “We travel through the Stargate seeking to understand more about other cultures, and to find allies.”
“For what reason do you seek allies?”
Daniel, being all too aware of the importance of this exchange, spoke slowly, clearly, and with honesty written across every inch of his face. “We seek to exchange knowledge and technology for the improvement of society and our mutual defense.”
“Against?” Idunn queried.
“Earth and many of the planets we have contacted have all suffered from the predations of the Goa’uld,” Daniel said calmly. “Some of us have suffered personal losses, but we do not seek revenge. We seek the freedom of self-determination and self-government for each civilization which suffers oppression and slavery.”
Bragi’s head tilted. “We have knowledge of the world you term Earth. Do you believe all would share your opinion?”
[Careful, Daniel.] Jack couldn’t help the thought, though he knew it was unnecessary. Daniel had it under control.
“Earth remains a varied planet, with many cultures and beliefs. In any place where there are differences, there are also fears. But those of us who travel through the Stargate are hopeful that we can make a positive impact rather than a negative one.”
Idunn gave that almost-smile again. “Honestly spoken. You wish to learn of us?”
Well, no one was going to doubt the honesty of that answer, Jack thought wryly. Toss Daniel at a talkative alien and he’d be in heaven.
Idunn nodded. “You inquired about our relation to the Asgard from our son Birn.”
Daniel’s eyebrows shot up. So did the rest of SG-1’s. “Your son?”
Idunn nodded again. “You are familiar with the tales left behind on your world, of the apples of Idunn?”
Daniel’s eyes lit up. “Yes. In the Prose Edda from the thirteenth century, Idunn is described as the keeper of an eski, a sort of box, in which the apples were stored that the gods ate in order to return to youth, and that these apples would be needed until Ragnarok, because the gods did age, and their immortality was in the secret of the apples.”
“A simple explanation, but effective. I was among the developers of the Asgard cloning technology which allows the transference of consciousness from one identical body to another. However, I grew disturbed by the extent to which my methods were expanded, and the creation of new life suspended. Bragi and I split from the Asgard and have established our own society here, where life is both created and preserved.”
“Wow,” Sam breathed softly, and for once Jack had to agree. Fascinating stuff, Daniel must be sky-high.
[Been higher today, actually.] Daniel’s thought trickled across Jack’s mind and Jack grinned.
“We have become allies with the Asgard as they are now,” Daniel said cautiously. “I hope that would not prevent your being willing to consider exchanging knowledge and friendship with us.”
Bragi tapped his long fingers on the arm of his chair. “Do you have family, Daniel Jackson?”
Daniel closed his eyes for a moment and Jack saw his own concern for Daniel’s fractured past written over the faces of the rest of the team as well. Still, none of them need have worried. Daniel coped beautifully, voice even and eyes clear when they reopened.
“I do. My grandfather and I were out of touch for a long time, but that did not mean I stopped caring for him, or he for me. When last we spoke, it was the best conversation we had had in years. He is living on another planet now, studying other cultures, which is a love we both share. I wish we could be in better touch, but I know he is happy doing what he is doing. And my team is my family, also. I could not ask for a better one.”
Two sets of breath caught next to Jack, and he glanced over to see that both of his remaining team members were touched by Daniel’s declaration. Given the strains which had pushed and pulled at all of them recently, it was remarkable to hear Daniel’s simple affirmation. Jack hoped even half of what showed on their faces was making it through to Daniel—the linguist deserved to know his commitment was not one-sided.
On the screen, Bragi was nodding. “So it is with us. We are not in contact with our brethren, but there is no animosity between us. You would be welcome to stay and learn from us, Skald Daniel. You speak most compellingly for your people.”
Daniel smiled. “Thank you. I would be honored to learn from you, as would other scholars from my world.”
Bragi and Idunn stood from their chairs, their images wavering, and a goblet appeared on the edge of the fountain, which they directed Daniel to pick up and fill. Then their holograms each stepped to the side, arms gesturing as their images flickered out. The wall in front of Daniel opened in half one final time, and Jack and the others found themselves staring at a double image of Daniel, once through the screen and once in the flesh, as the wall behind the screen opened at the same time, revealing that in all the twists of the maze he had come back to them at the end.
Daniel pulled off the circlet and smiled when he saw them, but Jack felt instantly bereft, having become used to the subtle shifts of Daniel’s emotions mingled with his own. As he pulled off his own headband, the urge to hold Daniel close came back, but with a difference.
He didn’t want to just cup Daniel’s neck and pull him in—well, he did, but what Jack wanted was to run his hands through Daniel’s hair, over his shoulders, and down that broad back and then pull him in and kiss him sometime into next Christmas.
Given their present company, Jack settled for brushing his fingers over Daniel’s knuckles as the archaeologist passed over his trophy cup, and watched the sparks flicker in Daniel’s expression.
They were so familiar—just like the image he’d received when Daniel made the ‘self aware’ crack—and Jack’s mind ticked over in recognition. So that first urge—that was what Daniel wanted. That warm bed of embers underlying all their exchanges hadn’t just been Jack’s feelings, it had been Daniel’s, too. When thinking about each other, their emotions were so similar that they mixed all together. They were, as Carter might put it, on the same wavelength. What was the term? Harmonic resonance—that was it. Two intersecting waves that when they crash together, rather than splitting apart with lots of loss of energy and turbulence, combine instead and become a bigger, stronger wave. That joy and relief were so strong back in the maze because they were not his, but theirs.
Daniel loved him.
“Daniel!” That was Carter, jumping up and talking a mile a minute about exciting opportunity, fascinating technology, etc, and she was still talking when the transportation beam dropped them in front of Bragi and Idunn themselves.
= = =
“And so after Daniel’s very impressive diplomatic display of honesty and enthusiasm, they offered us some tasty punch and agreed to let us send some people back there to play with their library after all, so long as Daniel leads the first research team. For the toys they’ve got, sir, I’d say it’s worth loaning out our linguist here—on a very temporary basis,” Jack concluded with a smile. “They’re naturally leery about the whole weapons technology thing, but Idunn in particular seemed willing to dispense a whole lot of her knowledge about dealing with genetic diseases and other medical issues. If we prove trustworthy with her pet issues, we probably have our foot in the door for the stuff that will make the Pentagon happy.”
nodded. “Job well done, SG-1. I know you’ve put in a long day on this one—take tomorrow off, but I expect reports by the end of the week. Doctor Jackson, I’m very pleased with the initial results you’ve produced here, especially since they were all based on an apparently empty archway.” Shaking his head in amusement, the general shooed the chuckling team all out the door.
On a new personal mission now that the official one was concluded, Jack tailed Daniel down the hall towards the locker room and civilian clothes.
“Dinner?” he asked nonchalantly as Daniel slipped into his jacket.
“Sure,” Daniel’s eyes glinted over his glasses and Jack reached out and cupped his neck with a warm palm, then slid Daniel’s glasses back up his nose with his other hand.
Daniel’s eyebrows went up and so did the corners of his mouth in an expression that had Jack’s heart marching double time.
“Figured it out,” Jack said as smugly as he could through the rushing in his ears.
Daniel swallowed hard, which made Jack even more smug. “Home,” was all he said.
Jack swept his hand towards the door. “Chinese, my place, twenty minutes,” he said. “You’re on beverage duty.”
= = =
It only took them fifteen. Jack had called the Chinese place as soon as he hit his car, and Daniel had apparently developed a lead foot somewhere in between Bragi’s planet and the parking lot. Jack might rib him about that later, if he had any brain cells left by then.
Seeing Daniel closing the door decisively behind him, bottle of wine in hand, Jack thought the likelihood of brain cell depletion was pretty high.
“Daniel.” Jack hadn’t intended his voice to sound that rusty, but the reality of Daniel walking into his house expecting—well, Jack’s vocal chords were somewhat impeded by his heart and stomach which had also apparently taken up residence in his throat.
Daniel put the wine bottle down on the table and left his jacket beside it, turning towards Jack with that same tilted smile from the locker room. “Figured it out, Jack?”
Jack fit the nape of Daniel’s neck to his hand once more, and pulled, slipping Daniel’s glasses off while he was at it. When their faces were a hair’s breadth away, Jack let his hands trail down to rest one on Daniel’s waist, the other delightfully, dangerously lower. He tugged oh so carefully, and then they were standing nose to nose, bodies flush all the way to their toes. Flush and flushed, Jack noted with a smirk, seeing the color in Daniel’s cheeks. Ooh, he loved payback.
“Lose the smirk, O’Neill,” Daniel growled. “Or I’ll get rid of it for you. I know how you think, remember?”
Jack smirked wider in challenge and Daniel leaned in and put that frustrating mouth to better purpose.Oh yeah, Jack thought as Daniel’s fingers traced his face and shoulders with those quick gentle strokes Jack had admired this morning, millions of light years ago. This’ll be worth the work.
“Yeah,” Daniel whispered back against his lips, and Jack grinned into the resumed kiss. Who needed an alien crown to do the telepathy thing? They were going to manage just fine.