Jack was going to fly away.
Daniel was sure of it.
Sam knew, too. He could read it in the anxious way she stood watching Daniel balance at the top of the ramp. He gave her his most confident smile and hobbled into the event horizon after Woolsey.
Jack stood on the other side, waiting at parade rest. With his thunderous expression and the silhouette of his wings behind him, he appeared to be some avenging angel in blue BDUs, or the angry visage of God in some student artist's commentary on the most recent conflict between the Tigris and the Euphrates.
"Mr. Woolsey," Jack said coolly.
"General," Woolsey replied, his confident stride down the ramp contrary to his otherwise obvious unease. Woolsey was never completely comfortable offworld. But Jack had spotted Daniel, thumping slowly behind on his cane. Daniel didn't think it was his imagination that made Jack's dark stare hard and sharp, like the focused gaze of a hunting bird.
"Dr. Jackson," Jack drawled, hardly more warmly than he had greeted Woolsey. "I didn't notice you on the bill of lading for this shipment. Sergeant?" Jack said pointedly to a nearby airman, who scurried up the ramp to offer assistance.
"It was a last minute decision," Daniel said with a smile.
"Meaning you bolted for the wormhole before Fraiser could stop you?" Jack suggested knowingly, as Daniel waved the sergeant off and made his own way down the ramp as the wormhole collapsed behind him. "You do realize that light years are not enough to protect me from her wrath?" Jack's smile of welcome was cordial enough. His tone was teasing. But his eyes were cold. Flat.
Then he turned away, back to the sergeant.
"Sergeant Black, give Dr. Jackson the tour. Mr. Woolsey?" Jack gestured broadly to his official guest and with that Daniel was apparently dismissed.
He stood, staring flabbergasted after his old friend. He realized he was gaping and snapped his mouth shut.
"It's an honor, sir," said Sergeant Black, with a genuinely friendly smile. "I think you'll find there have been a lot of changes since the last time you were here."
"I'm sure I will," Daniel agreed. "But…" he gestured to his leg. "I think I'd rather save the walking tour for later."
"Quarters or canteen?" Sgt. Black asked.
Daniel sat in the canteen nursing a cup of surprisingly good coffee. The canteen was a pre-fab building identical to the other Quonset huts that were huddled together in rings to make up this little mining colony. Daniel didn't need to take the tour to know. He had studied the place, and even visited it a few times as it was being constructed. Unfortunately, work and the usual misadventures of SG-1 kept him busy. He could almost never make the embarkation windows to leave nor did his schedule allow for him to wait for the return trip. Jack was his friend, but they lived in different worlds now, figuratively as well as literally. Jack ran his mine and Daniel ran his department - or sometimes just ran. He grimaced at his bum leg and sipped more of his coffee.
It wouldn't be that way anymore. Daniel knew that the dispatches in Jack's pouch from General Hammond would show Daniel's official transfer to this base – that another group of pre-fab huts would soon be added to one of the rings to accommodate Daniel's lab, storage needs, and lodging for staff that would rotate through.
There had been no reason for Daniel to arrive on the same day as General Hammond's orders.
But Jack was about to fly away.
Daniel sat with his leg stretched out, drinking the surprisingly good coffee.
He woke up when Jack slapped two hands down on the surface of the small table. Daniel had fallen asleep with his head tilted back against the wall and the mug still in his hand.
"So! Wolsey's all tucked into the VIP Quonset with some exciting spreadsheets and a couple of PowerPoint presentations! Now what can I do for you, Dr. Jackson?"
Jack flipped his wings. He rotated the chair opposite Daniel and sat down in it backwards. His feathers rustled as he settled, arms folding over the chair back.
"Well," Daniel replied, strangely unsettled by Jack's steady, attentive gaze. The dark eyes were penetrating. Mesmerizing.
I am not a rabbit, Daniel reminded himself.
"I thought I'd rest the bum leg here at your scenic strip mine," Daniel said with an answering smile. "Also, I'm hoping to sell you on an idea," he began.
"You couldn't possibly mean the orders from General Hammond instructing me to build you a little departmental home away from home?" Jack continued to smile. His tone remained light. His eyes were still flat.
"That would be it," Daniel agreed. "What do you think?"
"I think it's a bad idea. This is not a secure facility, Doctor. The never-ending supply of naquadah means you can have temperature and moisture control, but we've got shocking sewage problems and no cable TV. Cell coverage is abysmal as well."
Jack drummed the fingers of his right hand restlessly against his left bicep. He flicked his wings again.
He stood abruptly.
"My sergeant will be along shortly to take you to quarters," he said, and strode out the door.
Daniel blinked in startled surprise when Jack launched into the air, immediately gone from Daniel's line of vision, which was constrained by the small window across the room. Jack left behind a swirl of dust.
By the time Daniel groped for his cane and hobbled to the door, Jack was a distant blue dot spiraling upwards into a blue, blue sky.
Daniel's sudden, unexpected needs for space put the base into a bustle of activity. When General Hammond had sent him with no notice, Daniel had expected he would be met with at least some resentment, but instead he was welcomed with open arms by base personnel.
He tried not to let it bother him that he didn't even see Jack for three days. Not on the ground. Though he was certain he saw him high in the sky on several occasions.
Jack was going to fly away. Daniel wondered if there was anything that could stop that.
Captain Bradford laid the blueprint in front of him with great satisfaction.
"So what we have here, Doctor, is two of the VIP Quonsets. Col. O'Neill put them here because he judged this to be the most defensible position in the facility. The one on the left will be your staff's quarters. The one on the right will be the library."
She ran her fingers over the two huts on the drawing. The first had been divided inside, with a hallway straight through the middle to a rear door, creating two tiny, but self-sufficient apartments.
"Complete with en suite bathrooms and full kitchen facilities," she said with a grin. "It might be a trick cooking a forty-pound turkey in the ovens, but a few English muffins, some scrambled eggs, and coffee should be very doable."
"Considering the weather around here, I can see how it might be nice to be able to be independent of the canteen," Daniel agreed. "What about my lodging?"
"Since you're permanently assigned to the base, Col. O'Neill wants you to have a bigger living area," she replied, brushing the question aside.
"Then through here we have your actual department," she explained, continuing the virtual tour, running her finger along the said hallway. It was an extension of the hall between the two staff apartments and connected to the entrance of what looked like a super-sized Quonset. "This walkway's a little make-shift at the moment, but the next time we have a break in the weather, we'll get it shored up nice and solid for you," she said. "We'll replace both walkways with sturdier, more permanent, structures, and we intend to roof over the center section," she gestured to their right, "and finish it to create more interior space…"
"What, you're telling me this is already built?" Daniel exclaimed in disbelief. He had only been in the compound for less than a week.
She gave him a disapproving glance, that was all smug grin waiting to burst out, Daniel was sure.
"Tsk, tsk, Dr. Jackson. Col. O'Neill tells us to clear the decks and rearrange our schedules and 'make with an archaeology department,' and by God, that's what we do." The smug grin was just creeping out around the corners of her stern expression.
"My apologies, Captain. Please continue."
"My pleasure," she replied. "We use these bigger structures for hangar space and large equipment workshops. As you can see, we've got two here set up for you, with another linking corridor."
"Wait, am I reading these square footages correctly?" Daniel gasped.
"I hope so," she replied.
Considering how cramped things were at the SGC, just one of the larger buildings might be nearly the size of his entire department on Earth.
"So what I need to know from you is how you want to divide out the interior spaces of the two lab buildings. I figure you don't want two giant empty rooms?"
Daniel reached out and touched the space with his fingers.
"Actually, I think I would like to keep one as a large open space," he tapped the building connected to the staff housing. "We can divide this one into smaller labs and a couple of offices."
"Sounds good," Bradford replied. "I'm having a set of the plans delivered over to your quarters. You can sketch in what you have in mind, and also consider the placement of the heavy equipment. Once I see your plans, I can give you a construction schedule, and we can work with Maj. Hernandez to get everything scheduled for delivery from Earth."
"This will be wonderful!" He knew he was grinning, but the captain was beaming back at him so he didn't feel too ridiculous. There was something else sparkling in her expression.
"Excuse me, Captain," said a voice behind them.
Daniel turned in surprise to find Jack standing in the doorway of the construction office.
"Sir," she greeted him. "We're making progress."
"So I see," Jack replied. "What do you think, Dr. Jackson?"
"I think I'd forgotten what a hive Cheyenne Mountain is," Daniel said with a laugh.
"Can I tear you away?" Jack asked. "I wanted to show you something else."
Daniel turned to Captain Bradford.
"Not much more to discuss at this point, doctor," she assured him. "I've got plenty of jobs to work on while you plan out what you want."
"Let's go," Jack said cheerfully.
"Sure," Daniel agreed, and hobbled after him on his crutch. "I'm never going to be able to keep up," he complained. Jack slowed his pace leading Daniel down the corridors. They walked in silence to the exterior doors.
As he emerged, Daniel stopped and rolled his eyes, despite his relief.
"The four-wheelers? I had forgotten your four-wheelers," he chuckled. Jack made a grand gesture for Daniel to climb in, but put out a hand to stop him when he took the passenger side.
"You're driving," Jack said softly.
"Oh, right," Daniel muttered. Jack couldn't really ride in any vehicles designed for humans anymore. The wings got in the way. Jack tactfully ignored Daniel's embarrassment and started around the ring with a long stride. Daniel drove the little vehicle along beside him. Jack soon lead him between two buildings onto a rough track out of the main compound. Outside the shelter of the buildings, Daniel realized they were headed for the cliffs that looked out over the deep valley and the mountain range all around them.
They went right out to the edge of the cliffs. There was nothing particularly special about the spot, except the path leading to it. Daniel noted that there was a little hut nearby as well. Jack headed over to it. Daniel parked his four-wheeler and waited. No way with the condition of his leg he was leaving the cleared path to walk through the snow.
Jack came out of the shed with some kind of apparatus that looked like it was made mostly of yellow webbing straps and cam buckles.
Jack went over to the edge of the cliff and started looping the straps over his shoulders and around his back. Daniel started to have a suspicion.
"Are we going somewhere," he asked, skepticism clear in his voice.
"It's the only way to get there, Jack said, beckoning to Daniel to come closer. Daniel stepped out of the cart, curiosity already getting the better of his common sense. "This thing is rated to 3000 pounds, Daniel. Even if we go with the rule that the working load should only be one-third the rated amount, I am sure you don't weigh half a ton."
"That's not what worries me," Daniel replied. He was already letting Jack drape the straps around him. One was drawn up between his legs, others around the backs of his thighs, shoulders, buttocks. Buckles were being tightened. "Have you ever carried a person before?"
"Nope," said Jack. Jack took the cane out of Daniel's hand and stowed it alongside him. His wings flexed a few times, extending and partially refolding. Daniel let Jack guide his hands around Jack's waist. Daniel could feel the musculature there, working with the moving wings.
"What have you carried this way?" Daniel said, directly into Jack's ear now, their bodies tied together.
"Lots of stuff," Jack replied, then he pushed off with his legs, or maybe with his wings, Daniel wasn't sure, it all happened so fast, and they were no longer on the ground. Daniel couldn't see much, because his eyes were squeezed tightly shut.
"Just tell me when we get there," he said. He felt Jack's chuckle against his chest.
It was a very quick flight, Daniel recognized, even through his terror. The landing wasn't particularly smooth. Jack's feet hit the ground and he stumbled a little, his wings flapping to stabilize them until Daniel got with the program and got his feet under himself. Then they were standing on the ground, arms wrapped around each other.
"That wasn't too bad," Jack commented. "Could have been a lot worse."
"Great," Daniel said. "That is not reassuring, coming from your pilot."
Jack snorted and started popping the buckles loose. Soon, Daniel was standing alone again. Jack handed him his cane.
"Let me show you around," Jack said.
They were standing on a very broad ledge outside what looked to be the entrance to a cave. Jack ducked under the overhanging rocks and went in. Daniel followed him.
Inside, Daniel found himself facing doors of a clearly Ancient architecture. He turned to Jack in surprise.
"There haven't been any reports on this!" he said accusingly.
"Of course there have," Jack agreed said cheerefully, as the doors opened for him. Inside, the lights came on, revealing the usual beauty of Ancient architecture, with all the clean lines and subtle detail that Daniel loved. The lighting had the warmth and spectrum of sunshine, and it was pleasantly warm.
The furnishings in the large room were all Jack. Clearly he had carried lots of stuff using his system of straps and buckles.
"I think this was probably a guard room," Jack commented. "The front door has a perfect view of the Gate."
Daniel walked back over and found that yes, the angle out the front did indeed perfectly frame the building that now housed the Gate complex.
"So what do you think?" Jack asked.
It was a perfect aerie.
"I think the fact that there are no reports on this is very disturbing," Daniel said.
Jack sighed in irritation.
"Moving past that," Jack snapped. "What do you think?"
"Nice digs?" Daniel snapped back. He turned away from the exterior view to survey the room again. A couple of interesting, low-backed bench things that he realized were perfect for Jack to lounge in. A long worktable in the middle of the room that could double as a place to eat or to lay out a large project. At the moment, Jack was hand designing a model aircraft at one end. Plenty of bookshelves, mostly empty. A huge home theater system, complete with a large, and probably growing, inventory of titles.
All very normal until he saw the bed. It could only be described as a nest. It was roughly circular and rested on a low platform. It appeared to consist of more than one twin sized mattress.
"That must have been impossible to fly over here," Daniel muttered.
"Oh, there's another way in," Jack said offhandedly.
"What?! Bastard! You said flying was the only way!"
"Did I say that? What I meant was, the carrier was the only way that you could fly over with me."
"I am contemplating doing physical violence to you," Daniel growled.
"You know you love me," he joked. When Daniel continued to glower, Jack grumbled "Fine, I'll show you the rest of the part that I've already explored."
Daniel stared at him, aghast.
"There's more? Jack, what are you doing, here? You're sitting in the guard room of some sort of Ancient base, and you don't even know what's in there?"
"It's abandoned, Daniel," Jack said. "I've been in enough of the corridors and rooms to know that it has been abandoned for a long time. And there's no tech to speak of – aside from basic wiring and plumbing, the place was stripped when they left it."
Jack was walking towards the back of his living space, and down a little passage, there was a door deeper into the mountain. As they went forward, lights came on.
"Bathroom's down the hall that way," Jack said, pointing to the left just inside entrance. "Big ass closet on the right." Daniel peered through the door that opened on cue. Jack's closet was a large room full of a variety of things that Jack might want near to hand – a huge stash of guns, ammo and explosives, for one thing. It looked like a small armory. Jack didn't stop, so Daniel hobbled after him to keep up.
"We have to go in pretty deep to find a kitchen. That's why I have the microwave and little fridge in the closet back there."
"Gotta have a place for the beer and popcorn," Daniel said.
Jack nodded. "Truer words…" he commented solemnly. Daniel snorted.
"And here we have the back door," Jack said after they had walked a few minutes with little commentary.
There was a long, dark tunnel sloping down gently.
"I've walked this. It goes for about a mile and comes out in another guardroom on the Gate plateau. However, you can also travel in style."
There were doors randomly spaced along the corridor. Jack opened one.
"Transporter?" Daniel asked. "Nice."
"Made moving the furniture much easier," Jack agreed.
"The SGC has to know about this place," Daniel began.
Jack gave another irritated sigh.
"They know, Daniel. Of course they know! We are also considering it for extended base housing in the future, now that it has been thoroughly explored by the base tech retrieval staff."
"Oh," Daniel said meekly.
Jack gave him that cold flat stare again.
"Just because you haven't been fully briefed on ever single activity at this outpost…" Jack began.
"I'm sorry," Daniel interrupted. "I don't know why I assumed…"
"Because I'm an alien," Jack interrupted in turn. "You assumed because I'm the Bird Man of the Ice Planet that I had picked some cave for a hideout, discovered an huge Ancient complex, ignored all professionalism and tried to keep it from the entire command."
"I'm sorry," he said again.
"You would think that George would have gotten suspicious when I requisitioned the dorm room furnishings," Jack muttered.
He was now walking back the way they had come.
"Sorry," Daniel repeated. This time, Jack waved him off.
"Nah, I got you back in advance when I made you fly over here," Jack said. He was smiling slightly.
"Great," Daniel said glumly. They walked quietly back down the halls to Jack's residence.
"Now that we've gotten the formal tour out of the way, what do you think?" Jack asked as they returned, gesturing around his abode. "The ceiling is awesome, by the way." The ceiling was, indeed awesome. In addition to radiating natural sunlight, it had a holographic sky. Currently, it was bright blue, with white clouds scudding across it.
"I can change it to be the same as the sky outside," Jack said. The view suddenly changed to heavy grey clouds at dusk. "But I find the weather here a little monotonous." And it changed back to the blue sky with fluffy clouds. "It also gets audio. Same deal, either nature sounds of your choice, or the ambient noise from outside." Birds started chirping.
"Cool, but annoying," Daniel opined. Jack nodded in agreement and the sounds turned off.
"The whole setup, or just the birds?" Jack asked.
"No, the place is pretty nice, actually," Daniel said honestly. "A lot better than a drafty, noisy Quonset."
"Don't say that around the good Captain Bradford, or you will have a crew swarming over your place for a week to get it perfectly climate-controlled and sound-insulated. However," Jack paused dramatically, "I would rather suggest that you get a condo on this side of the valley. What do you think about being the second resident over here? I got you plenty of bookshelves."
"Huh," said Daniel. He tried not to seem nonplussed.
Jack waved Daniel after him again and led him across the room. There was an alcove on the outer wall of the cave with another bed. This one was not so nest-like. It was pushed up against a natural opening in the cliff face that had been covered by the Ancients with Ancient Plexiglas or something. It would be a horrible place for an acrophobe. But the view was incredible.
Jack had been planning this for a long time, if he put his own bed back in the other room and left this neatly made sleeping platform for Daniel.
"It's a king and a twin, pushed together," Jack informed him.
"Yes, I see. Really huge. Nice view," Daniel commented.
"I hope you won't mind if I peek out the window sometimes. I can see the whole base from this spot."
Jack was watching Daniel attentively.
"So what do you think? Wanna sign the lease?"
"As long as you aren't going to get all offended if I use the elevator instead of flying over every day," Daniel said.
"Great!" Jack smiled. He seemed genuinely pleased. "If you want to get settled, I'll fly back over and get your stuff and pick up some grub at the canteen."
"Um," Daniel began, but Jack was gone, striding back to the front door, and then Daniel saw him through the window, swooping down to their mining settlement.
Daniel couldn't tear his eyes away. He had never seen Jack fly from this angle. His wingspan was massive, and his feathers were so blue. And since Daniel had witnessed those early, surprised, awkward flights, Jack had become graceful and skilled, soaring and swooping for no obvious reason, maybe for the sheer joy of it. Then Daniel caught Jack looking toward his window as he circled around for another breathtaking pass. Daniel was no ornithologist, but he suddenly had the unsettling feeling that this was a courtship display. He was sitting in the nest Jack had made for him and his potential mate would soon be bringing him some tasty worms and bugs. Or perhaps a freshly killed vole.
He shook off the fancy as Jack swooped away down toward the mining base. Daniel had better not let the canteen staff hear him thinking like that.
His first resident staff, Dr. Savannah Connell and Dr. Maryanne Lasher, arrived with the delivery of equipment. Dr. Connell had been acting as the department's librarian for the better part of a year now, in addition to her usual tasks as a linguist. Daniel wanted her organizational skills on site as they brought in some of the larger active collections for storage and reference. Dr. Lasher was going to assist with the physical setup of the labs.
"I want you both to let me know your thoughts about the living conditions, too," Daniel reminded them as they stepped into the hut that housed their quarters. "Capt. Bradford will go out of her way to make sure everything is comfortable. If there are any problems or issues outside of housing, I can try to troubleshoot for you, or track down someone who can make changes."
Dr. Connell was all smiles as she peered into her tiny apartment.
"Don't worry so much, Daniel! You know we live for the work!"
"Fine, then let's get started. Gigantic piles of boxes this way!" he said, and waved his crew forward.
Hours later, they sat in the corner office that would be Daniel's. His personal space was actually somewhat smaller than his lab back at Cheyenne, but a bunch of things that didn't need to be there had been moved out of his office to more appropriate spaces, so the office actually felt larger. Still, he would miss the collections of artifacts awaiting his attention. Jack wouldn't be able to come in and peer at them. Of course, he hadn't done that for months anyway. New status quo.
They munched pizza Dr. Lasher had brought over from the canteen. Not bad, Daniel had to admit.
"I still can't believe how big this place is," Dr. Lasher said. She sounded tired but happy. Dr. Connell nodded in smiling agreement.
"Off-world offices: a great way to expand the real estate for cheap."
Daniel made a face.
"The price being, of course, the danger of living in a hostile alien environment. Even with UAVs flying out regularly, they can only cover a limited area pretty close to the base. Who knows what is really out there?" he opined.
"The joy of this job!" Dr. Connell yelled. Daniel grinned at her and chomped down on another slice of pepperoni pizza.
Of course, then there were the hazards of extraterrestrial weather. The base communication system crackled, activating every speaker in the building.
"Attention all personnel. Looks like we have a blizzard coming in fast down the canyon. Prepare to shelter in place. Lockdown procedures are now in effect. Personnel outside should report to the nearest airlock, or prepare to shelter in place."
Dr. Connell stared at them both wide-eyed.
"You're not in Atlanta anymore, sweetie," Dr. Lasher said with a smirk.
Daniel considered the cot, brought to him straight from his old office on Earth. It had a stack of unfamiliar wool blankets on it. Jack had brought over Daniel's own bedding last night with the "grub." Which had not been grubs, or worms, or voles, but rather a chicken and vegetable stir fry, seasoned with sesame oil and seeds – quite delicious, actually. He wondered if that was the privilege of eating with the general, or if the food was always that good.
In addition to Daniel's own bedding from his office, Jack had brought a selection of Daniel's clothes and his toiletries.
"I didn't bother with any of your other stuff. I figured by the time we finished eating, we could either poke around the complex a little more or we could hit the hay."
Daniel ate and slept in his new bed, after staring out at the stars through his amazing window. He fell asleep with his glasses on.
The cot was not looking appealing with just scratchy wool blankets and sheets with a thread-count of 15 or so. He sighed and wondered if Jack was trying to make sleeping over in his office unappealing. No. Absolutely not. Jack was not courting him. Jack's invitation to live with him was not in any way related to some kind of mating dance.
Well, there was nothing for it. Daniel was exhausted. As the wind increased from its usual steady rattle, to a screeching howling outside, Daniel stripped down to boxers and t-shirt and wrapped himself in his new sheets and blankets.
If the weather did this often, Daniel would have to see if he could get quarters attached for himself after all.
Daniel was elbow deep in a box of books when Jack landed on the front stoop in a flurry of blue. The blast of cold air from outside was captured in the atrium. Jack came into the room, fluttering and resettling his feathers.
"I brought dinner," he said cheerfully.
Daniel barely grunted in response, returning to his review of the contents of the box.
Then he smelled it, and he was at the table in seconds peering into the bags.
"China Moon?!" he exclaimed. "How did you get China Moon?"
"It's good to be General," Jack said, kicking off one boot and starting on the other one.
By the time it was off, Daniel had plates out of Jack's microwave kitchenette cabinet and the table laid with chopsticks and napkins. He scooped half of everything onto his plate dug in.
Jack stared at him in amazement.
"You act like we don't feed you here," he said, finally sitting down and eating with exaggerated care, savoring each bite.
"Um," Daniel muttered around a mouthful of lo mein. Then he muttered something else nearly unintelligible.
"Yesterday?" Jack growled. "Yesterday?! What does your staff even do for you, if they don't make sure you eat?! You realize I have a lot of responsibilities around this place. I can't be bringing lunch to you. And breakfast. Why do you never eat?"
"Can't talk now, eating," Daniel said. Jack rolled his eyes.
When they were done, Daniel sighed contentedly. "That was amazing," he said. He sat back and found himself staring into Jack's dark, impenetrable gaze.
"What?" Daniel asked.
"You didn't come home last night," Jack said.
Daniel huffed in exasperation. He got up and took his own plastic plates toward the door that led deeper into the complex. The nearest sinks were far down the hall.
"It was shelter-in-place because of the storm. You probably gave the order on that. What did you expect?"
Jack followed him down the hall. It really would be more practical for them to just use the kitchen for the whole business of eating, but they both liked their aerie better.
"So you stayed with Savannah and Maryanne? Have a fun time?" Daniel shot Jack a sidelong glare.
"Ha, ha, hilarious. You know how much that pisses me off when other people do it. You doing it doesn't make it funny." It was sexual harassment, actually, of his staff and probably technically of himself. And while overall the military was surprisingly good at incorporating orders for social change into their professional behavior, individual airmen and sailors, hell, even officers, were certainly known for having trouble adjusting their macho cultures to accommodate women.
Jack met his rebuke with stony silence.
Daniel's life settled into a happy rhythm of collegial research with his residents and visiting SGC scientists during the day, reading and translating in Jack's aerie by night. He had briefings galore, of course, and the business of managing his department.
Unfortunately, his leg didn't seem to be improving. His other business was physical therapy, and his physical therapist wasn't happy. No SG-1 for Daniel in the near future. Pure research was fantastic, but sometimes Daniel missed the camaraderie. Of course, he had been missing Jack for months already before his injury. To everything there is a season he reminded himself.
Living with Jack was not as difficult as Daniel had imagined it might be. While Daniel went about his quiet tasks and hobbies, Jack would lounge on one of his strange, low-backed benches or chairs, watching TIVO'd Simpsons episodes, or sometimes Discovery Channel nature programs (Daniel was sure it was not his imagination that they were too frequently about small mammals. They were viewed with an intensity that Daniel found frankly unsettling), or hockey. Jack didn't care that Daniel was a slob with paper and Daniel didn't care that Jack was a restless pacer.
In his aerie, Jack discarded the shirt-contraptions and his belt. Jack never mentioned it, but Daniel presumed that they must constrain or chafe or otherwise be uncomfortable. Daniel knew people noticed the pale silver-blue feathers that peeked occasionally from Jack's hair, but he suspected that no one aside from himself and the base physician were aware of the fine, soft, translucent layer that insulated Jack's torso and biceps, and disappeared into the waistband of his low-riding jeans.
One night, Daniel looked up from his reading thoughtfully, his eyes falling on Jack, who was sitting right in his line of sight.
At first, he thought Jack was scratching a really persistent itch, but then he realized – Jack was preening. As Jack stared at the glowing television screen, he was methodically passing his fingers through his feathers. Daniel jerked his eyes back to his book. He wondered if Jack was even aware he was doing it.
The only real problem living with Jack was their incompatible sleeping schedules.
"Lights out, Daniel," Jack would grumble from the depths of his pile of pillows and quilts.
"Yeah, yeah," Daniel would mutter back, and he'd scoop up a journal or a book and go around the corner into his sleeping nook and read by the light of a tiny LED lamp, as the "sky" in their room darkened to the correct phase of the moon and the pinpoint lights of the current constellations. Sometimes, instead of reading, Daniel kicked back in his recliner to watch the stars wheel overhead. More than once, he woke up when dawn broke across the ceiling.
Or sometimes, he just went to bed. Which he had to admit made it much easier to function on the same schedule as normal people, and he drank a lot less coffee. Huh. Sleep. He could have tried that years ago.
And so the weeks passed.
"So that's it, then?" Daniel asked. For a moment the grim, grey walls of the SGC infirmary seemed to crush down on him.
"I'm sorry, Daniel," Janet said sympathetically. "You are never going to get sufficient mobility or strength back in your leg. It isn't safe for you to be on a combat unit. You know that better than I do."
No more SG-1, then. Not that he was surprised. He had suspected for weeks that he was not going to get the full recovery that Janet had cautiously said might be possible before his surgery. He was still limping and walking with pain even after weeks of physical therapy.
"I should probably go shopping for a more dramatic cane, then," he commented, as he reached for his practical aluminum alloy support.
Janet gave him a lopsided smile.
"You could spend a few days around town. Enjoy civilization. Live it up in a four-star hotel with room service."
"Hey, Jack O'Neill is my roommate. What do you think my life is like?!" Daniel demanded, giving her what he hoped was a cheerful grin. Janet gave mock shudder.
"Join me for lunch," Daniel asked. "I'm meeting Sam and Teal'c."
Janet shook her head.
"Sadly, I am overworked and understaffed, as usual. Enjoy the new menu in the mess!"
"Healthy eating has come to the American military. Social change is sure to follow," Daniel replied. "Thanks, Janet," he said seriously.
"I wish people wouldn't thank me when I give them bad news. Go on, get out of my infirmary and back to the Bird Man."
She chased him out waving a chart at him.
"How is Hoth?" Teal'c asked.
"Cold," Daniel said with a smile. "Snowy. No tauntauns, though, sadly."
Teal'c inclined his head in acknowledgement.
"Enough small talk," Sam said. "When are you coming back to the team? Janet has been very tight lipped and all 'patient confidentiality blah blah' with us."
Daniel shook his head.
"She just gave me the news. I'm planet-side for good."
Sam looked crushed. Teal'c's mouth pulled down into his deepest frown.
"This is indeed a sad day," Teal'c said.
"You better not bail on me, too," Sam glared at Teal'c across the table, earning a truly surprised double-raised eyebrow.
"If Teal'c leaves it will be because of Jack, not me," Daniel said.
"If that were the case, would I not have left many months ago?" Teal'c said, sounding a twinge defensive. "However, it is trying, to take on new advisors from the anthropological sciences."
"They just all need more combat training," Sam said. "Honestly, I wonder if trying to actually replace Daniel is even a good idea. He had experience and training that none of the rest of the department can match."
"Everything I know, I learned from you guys," Daniel pointed out.
"You had inspiration," Sam rebutted.
"You had O'Neill," Teal'c said quietly.
"Maybe the Air Force should put out a wider search among active duty military, then. There have to be anthropologists out there. We know there are linguists," Sam mused thoughtfully.
"None of these people will be DanielJackson," Teal'c intoned.
"Yeah," Sam agreed.
Daniel smiled at his lunch.
Later, when he stood in the group waiting to leave for the Gamma Site, he also felt a guilty feeling of relief. He would miss the first contact opportunities, but he would not miss the near death experiences – or the actual death experiences, come to think of it. And since Jack had left them, Daniel had considered more than once returning to research. Loyalty to Sam and Teal'c was most of what had kept him on a combat team anyway.
It was still good to know they missed him, though.
"You're staring at me," Daniel finally said, glaring at Jack across the rows of stone blocks lined up on their worktable.
"Sorry," Jack replied, but he didn't even blink, much less quit staring at Daniel.
"Don't you have a show TIVO'd about ground squirrels or something?" Daniel asked him testily.
"I like watching you," Jack said. He stood and prowled across the room picking up the remote and restlessly flicking through the TIVO menu, rustling his wings, flexing them, resettling them, then shrugging his shoulders and starting over.
The unusually warm breeze through the open exterior door was fresh and carried a vaguely floral scent.
"Since when?" Daniel muttered. "Don't you have places to be on a Wednesday at 1000 hours?" Daniel asked. Jack had been pacing all morning, and the staring and general weirdness was distracting. Daniel was working here today rather than in the lab specifically to avoid distractions.
"I don't feel like it," Jack said.
That got Daniel's attention. Jack was staring through the window beside Daniel's bed, down onto the plateau, where the mines looked like a busy hive. They always did, when the weather was good.
"What do you mean, you don't feel like it?" Daniel asked cautiously.
"I. Don't. Feel like it," Jack said. "I don't want to go there and deal with… paper. And other people's priorities and problems. And orders from Earth."
"Okay," Daniel said, drawing out the word. "What do you want to do?"
Jack rounded on him, in a few steps he had crossed the space between them. His wings moved and shifted. He caught Daniel against him and captured his mouth, kissing him hungrily. Daniel reacted in surprise, shoving at him, and Jack let him go just as suddenly, stalking away again, pacing, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth and shaking his wrist as if to flick moisture away.
"Smell the change in the air, Daniel. I want to find out where the wind is coming from. I want to see the forest there. I want to get around behind you and…" Jack stopped abruptly. He put his finger in his ear and scowled.
"Do you hear that?" he asked. When Daniel's only response was a blank look, Jack made a disgusted face.
"Maybe it's mating season," Jack suggested. He ran absent-minded fingers over his feathers, preening distractedly.
"Jack," Daniel said catching his breath, "I think you need to see Dr. Fraiser. This seems like a change…"
"Of course it's a change," Jack growled. "What is she going to do about it?" He extended his wings to nearly their full length, then pulled them back again when wingtips met walls.
"I'll be back," Jack said abruptly, then turned on his heel and walked out onto the stone ledge launching himself into the sky still bare-chested. Watching that first leap made Daniel's heart skip a beat every time. In a few swoops of his wings, Jack was far out over the valley, then he caught an up-draft and soared out of Daniel's view.
Jack had taken long excursions before, but had always stayed within radio contact of the Gamma Site. This time was different. He flew far and fast and was gone within a few hours where no one could reach him.
Daniel went down to his lab after all. He decided almost immediately to cover for Jack. He wasn't ready yet to bring the scientists and doctors back down on his friend, much less probably end his career. Announcing that Jack had gone on some kind of mating flight after kissing Daniel would most certainly do both.
So Daniel needed it to be a normal Wednesday. He left his project on the work table and took his normal commute to work – a trip through the transporter, and a jaunt across the plateau on his four-wheeler. He parked under the little overhang that Captain Bradford had built near the library door for him when she decided that she didn't want him trying to navigate much snow with his cane.
"Morning!" Dr. Connell called. She was lounging on the shabby couch in the library, reading something that looked really old.
"I thought you were taking the day off?" Daniel said. She would be rotating back to Earth tomorrow. Her replacement would be Dr. Ben Nagle, who would be working with Daniel on urgent translation projects.
"I'm packed up," she said. "I just wanted to spend some time with my books and scrolls and parchments." She sighed gustily, looking around the largish hut. "Most beautiful library ever," she said with a weak smile. "It's just not the same in digital form.
"I know what you mean."
He gave her a small wave, then continued on into the labs.
Dr. Lasher was looking over some remains from P5R-984. Daniel sauntered over to stand across from her. He found forensic anthropology fascinating, though it was certainly not his field. The SGC turned to Dr. Lasher when they found recent remains and no one to explain them.
"Anything interesting?" Daniel asked.
"You mean beyond the obvious fact that these people were barely human?" she replied.
"We knew that already," Daniel protested mildly. The elongated metacarpals and metatarsals were quite pronounced, and radius, ulna, tibia and fibia were proportionally lengthened as well.
"Well, I can't find any obvious cause of death in the bones I have, but without a complete skeleton, I wouldn't be able to identify the burning from a staff blast to the chest, for instance."
Daniel made an agreeing noise. Of course, the evidence around the bones on the ground didn't imply an attack. It appeared the village had been ravaged by a plague and the survivors had moved on. But it had happened recently to a village near a gate, which had the SGC on high alert for evidence of goa'uld biological warfare. Jack was especially interested in it, since P5R-984 was the Gamma Site's neighbor. Although that didn't make any logical sense to Daniel, since they were separated by millions of miles of outer space. He was pretty sure Jack was pulling his leg on that one.
Daniel left Dr. Lasher to her work and strolled to his own office. Plenty to do until someone came looking for Jack.
He sat waiting for his computer to boot up, staring off into space.
Mating season, huh? He thought about all the preening and fluffing and strutting Jack tended to do in their home. Half-naked preening, fluffing and strutting, most of the time. Things Jack did not do in public, where he wore clothes and was as human a general as his wings would allow. Things which Daniel had been categorizing as Jack being comfortable in his own space. But… Also things which Daniel had more than once thought resembled courtship displays.
No, he shook it off, turning to the stack of files on the side of his desk, shuffling through them for the most distracting project he could find. Jack had not been signaling his sexual interest in Daniel for weeks.
He thought about Jack's lips and arms and hunger that morning. He sighed.
Maybe Jack had been displaying?
It wasn't fair. Daniel had accepted the rules. He had learned to consider Jack as off-limits; a good friend; a frustrating adversary; too hot to touch. He had taught himself to interpret Jack's gestures of affection as friendship and camaraderie. Now, Jack wanted to throw Daniel down and mate with him?! It was preposterous. And even though there was a selfish part of Daniel that thought that sounded like the best idea since the invention of written communication, he could only feel guilty about that, because it was all only an indication of how Jack's human self was slipping away from him.
It's not Jack, Daniel told himself firmly.
The briefing was small: Daniel, Major Martin Leif, and Jack's 2IC, Col. Barbara Widener of the Army Corps of Engineers.
"The General failed to report a flight plan, and he hasn't checked in. He's been out of radio contact for several hours," Leif reported.
Daniel did his best surprised and concerned face.
"Everything seemed normal when he left this morning," Daniel said. "I assumed he was just coming back here."
Major Leif was not reassured.
"He was taking long, unplanned flights a couple of months ago," Leif worried.
"Did he ever fail to check in?" Daniel asked.
Col. Widener shook her head. "That's actually the reason I'm concerned. The General has always been scrupulous about procedures. Since you can't shed any light on this, I'm ordering a UAV search. Thank you for your time, Dr. Jackson."
Jack was gone almost three days. UAV sweeps came up empty, not that anyone was surprised. There was a lot of territory to cover, and they all knew it would be almost blind luck if they found anything.
Daniel heard the radio crackle a little before midnight on the third day. The full moon glowed above him, and he was sipping a late-night cup of coffee and staring at the bricks on the table, contemplating them in the moonlight, his mind wandering.
"O'Neill to Gamma Site, do you read?" The call was faint and full of static.
A brief pause, during which Daniel restrained himself from grabbing his headset.
"This is Gamma Site, we read you general. Your signal is weak. Are you in need of assistance?"
"Negative, Gamma Site," Jack replied. "Relay to Col. Widener that I went out to stretch my wings and got blown off course by a really nasty jet stream. By the time I realized what was happening, it took me all this time to find my way home. I'm headed for quarters now. I'll be in for my report to the SGC at 0900. If General Hammond needs me before that, I'm on standby."
"Copy that, General," came the reply.
Daniel waited in the dark room. It was nearly an hour before Jack came though the front door, padding in on bare feet. He went straight for their fridge and pulled out a beer. He downed it in one long draught.
"That was amazing," Jack murmured. He tossed the bottle into the recycling box and suddenly rounded on Daniel. His eyes were wide, dark pools in the moonlight filling the room. "That was flying!" He paced over to the windows by the exterior doors. "If you fly straight down the valley and just keep going, the elevation drops suddenly about fourteen hours from here. Another two hours and you're on the beach. The south side of this mountain range is tropical rainforest. Amazing. Not much fun to walk though, of course, but gorgeous to fly over. And the beaches are pure white sand, going infinitely east and west."
"If you needed a break, you should have said something," Daniel replied. "Something is wrong with you. Jack O'Neill doesn't just… fly away."
"Of course something is wrong with me," Jack agreed. "But I'm starting to care less and less about it. Plus, it was an emergency." He fluffed his wings and dragged one of the other stools over to sit right next to Daniel. His eyes tracked over Daniel's face. "But it feels less like an emergency now. Really, not an emergency at all."
He leaned closer.
Daniel stood abruptly. It's not Jack, he reminded his libido, which was very excited about Jack's return home.
"I covered for you, Jack," Daniel declared. He was legitimately angry, as well as enamored. He clung to anger.
"I knew you would," Jack replied softly.
"Well, actually, more like I didn't tell them everything I knew," Daniel corrected himself.
"I knew you wouldn't," Jack agreed.
"But I'm not doing that again! I will tell Dr. Fraiser. You're changing; you need help."
"Not changing that much," Jack argued. "Every pilot wants to get closer to his machine, pull every bit of performance out of it. I used to be good at doing that, getting everything from a jet. Except now, I don't need to. I am the machine." He followed Daniel, crowding his space again, getting too close.
Daniel stood his ground.
"So just leaving everything without warning is 'not changing that much?'" Daniel asked.
"I needed some space," Jack said.
"So tell everyone you're going to be gone a couple of days. Don't make people send out squads of UAVs trying to figure out if you are alive or dead."
"You're right," Jack agreed. "I can't let my personal life have repercussions like that." He paused. "I did use the time to think about it though."
Daniel swallowed nervously.
"Think about what?" he muttered. Standing his ground was starting to feel like a mistake. He knew it had been a mistake when Jack put his arms around him.
Jack's lips were warm and dry. His arms were strong. The kiss was soft.
"Jack, I think you need to talk to Janet," he protested into the kiss. "Even if it is 'mating season,' I'm not the right gender for that."
Jack's deep chuckle resonated through Daniel's own chest.
"I think you're also the wrong species. I already told you. This is not such a big change for me, either. I've always wanted to 'mate' with you." He might as well have made air quotes around the word mate. He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, though his expression was soft and hopeful, behind the playfulness.
"Have you considered maybe I don't want to 'mate' with you?" Daniel asked. He pushed, and Jack let go.
"Yes," Jack said, suddenly serious. "But I think it's not too likely. Still, it's a possibility. Here, let me test the theory."
He went across the room and sat down, removing his boots. Then he undid the buttons on his pants. He walked naked across the room to his nest.
It was fascinating. Daniel had not seen Jack completely naked since Jack left SG-1 more than a year ago. He was covered with feathers all over. Small, delicate, translucent feathers over not just his torso, but his buttocks and his long legs, even his feet.
Jack reclined into his bed, turning his eyes back on Daniel. He extended a hand into the empty space beside him, laying it palm down on the blankets. It was a clear invitation.
Daniel's mouth was dry. His heart was beating fast.
He finally made a decision.
Thinking this person was not Jack was insulting to his friend.
Daniel went to him and lay down next to him in his nest.
He woke up in a warm, dark space, briefly confused about what had woken him. Then Jack's wing rustled again, and everything came back in a rush. Jack was curled around Daniel's back, one wing thrown over him. It covered Jack's own face, too, protecting his eyes from the light of the holographic dawn breaking across their ceiling.
As Daniel was starting to get his bearings, Jack suddenly jerked awake, sitting abruptly and reaching for the gun Daniel knew was stashed between the bed and the wall. Daniel stared up at Jack as the gun tracked over the room, dark, predatory eyes looking for an enemy.
When they didn't find one, they fell to Daniel.
"What?" Jack demanded. Daniel shrugged.
"I didn't do anything," Daniel objected.
Jack gave him a scowl, stashing the gun back in its hiding place and settling back down into the nest. His wing fell over them again, as he spooned back into his place behind Daniel.
"Then why did you wake up like that?" Jack murmured. The puff of the words against Daniel's ear sent pleasant shivers over his skin.
"I think because I don't usually wake up covered in someone's wing," Daniel chuckled. "I'll try to be more considerate about how I wake up in the future."
"You do that," Jack replied. He nuzzled down into the juncture of Daniel's neck and shoulder.
"It's time for you to get ready," Daniel objected half-heartedly.
"Plenty of time," Jack disagreed. His hand slid under the elastic waist of Daniel's underwear, smoothing warmly over Daniel's buttock, squeezing possessively. Daniel shivered again. He wasn't exactly a virgin, but it had been a very long time since he had been on the receiving end of another man's dick. Not that his own dick seemed to mind the idea.
"Look, I realize you seem to be a diurnal species, but the fact that you wanted to cuddle last night doesn't change the fact that I'm not interested in a quick before-work boink." As he spoke, he wriggled around so that he was facing Jack, who managed not to relinquish his grip on Daniel's ass. The change of position might have been an error, as now they were dick to dick, and Jack was crushing their bodies together, kneading Daniel's rear end suggestively.
"Time to get up!" Daniel insisted.
"We are up," Jack observed.
Daniel humphed in exasperation.
"If you don't report for your 0900 debrief, you aren't going to be general anymore. Do you think that could create problems for your future plans?"
Jack gave a put-upon sigh.
"Fine," he grumbled. Hand and wing withdrew, as Jack sat up again, climbing over Daniel to get out of the bed and stretch his arms and wings wide.
"I'm gonna hit the shower," he said, grabbing a towel and heading down the hall toward the big bathing room he used. What the Ancients got up to in that place, Daniel couldn't guess. It was huge.
Daniel had to go down to the department to meet Dr. Nagle. He thought it would be poor form to miss the guy's first day at the Gamma Site, not to mention he should see Dr. Connell off, which meant he needed to be there for the 0900 window as well. He crawled out of the warm bed, sense memory of down still soft on his skin.
Daniel had not forgotten how invasive it felt to have sex this way. Fingers and lubricant, and the vague sense of humiliation at presenting his ass.
What Daniel had never felt was what it was like to have a lover like Jack. His previous encounters with men had been experimental and mostly under the influence. Not the best way to experience sex, but even so, it had still turned out to be pretty good. But Jack wanted Daniel. Not just to fuck him up the ass. He wanted to touch him everywhere. His hands moving over Daniel's skin soon carried Daniel far beyond the specific awareness that he was positioned conveniently over a large bolster. Jack wanted to kiss him everywhere. His lips followed his hands, even when his fingers finally began exploring Daniel's asshole.
Nothing in Daniel's history had prepared him for the onslaught that was Jack O'Neill in bed.
He wanted to touch back, to kiss back, but Jack was insistent, pressing him still again, back into the comfortable mess of the blankets and sheets.
"Next time," Daniel said.
"Definitely," Jack's lips moved against Daniel's shoulder.
Being opened and penetrated and then pounded into jelly and then feeling the slippery slick of seeping fluids afterwards didn't feel the slightest bit unnatural or shameful. It just felt like a bone shattering orgasm that Daniel would happily repeat as soon as they both woke up.
When Daniel finally got his turn to touch back, it was a whole new adventure in erotic logistics. Jack sprawled on his belly, letting Daniel run his hands through the down on his back. His wings were strong, but also delicate. Daniel explored them, watched them move, manipulated them. Jack grumbled something about fetishes, but he was as relaxed as a hawk sunning on a rock, so Daniel didn't pay any attention. And maybe it was true. As his hands stroked through down of the palest blue, maybe he was acquiring a new affinity for feathers. Daniel didn't think there was anything wrong with that.
But Daniel also wanted to touch him from the front. Jack gave him an almost feral grin when Daniel ordered Jack to crouch over him, so Daniel could stroke over pectoral muscles changed as part of Jack's new anatomy, while Jack opened himself. As he slid in stages onto Daniel's prick, Daniel's hands tightened on Jack's waist.
Jack watched him with an eagle's intensity as he rode him, wings flexing, hand moving in a harsh demanding rhythm even as he moved on Daniel in long, slow up and down strokes. It didn't stave off Daniel's sympathetic orgasm, though, when Jack's cum streaked hot over his bare chest.
He slept contentedly under Jack's solid weight, protected from the outside world.
In the morning, there were tiny soft tufts of feathers stuck in the dried jism.
Summer came to the Gamma Site, and Daniel and Jack often kept the door to their stone porch open to let in the pleasant, fresh breezes. Daniel didn't even look up at the ruffle of feathers and wings that heralded Jack's arrival. He was deep in concentration, reviewing his translation of a complex set of texts brought in by SG-11 two days ago.
The second and third rush of wings, though, snapped Daniel to instant attention.
The man standing closest to him was tall, gaunt, pale and had wings the exact blue of Jack's. The man and woman alighting on the ledge behind him, and the two men behind them, were alike enough to be kin.
Daniel pushed back his chair with a scrape as he quickly rose to his feet, yet another pair arriving, moccasin-clad feet soundless on the stone. A final brawny man stepped into the aerie. Suddenly surrounded by aliens of unknown intentions, Daniel swallowed hard and went with his usual strategy.
"Hello," he said cautiously.
The tall man tipped his head to the side.
"Dirt dweller," he mused, then he disregarded Daniel almost entirely as he paced deliberately deeper into the room.
Eight other people made the space feel very full, even as two of them took up positions on the ledge outside, looking for all the world like sentries.
"Perhaps he serves?" suggested one of the others.
The woman stood by Jack's nest, which was in tumbled disarray as always.
"No!" she exclaimed, and gave a whistling shriek that reminded Daniel of falcons in the desert. All eyes in the room were suddenly focused on Daniel with sparkling hard sharpness.
"They cannot mate," snarled another. "It is…" He swore and advanced on Daniel agitatedly.
Daniel stepped back.
"I think we've gotten off to a bad start," Daniel said in his most reasonable voice. "My name is Daniel Jackson. I assume you are here because of Jack. He will be very interested to meet you."
His continued retreat was brought up short as he collided with the first arrival. Arms like bands of steel wrapped around his chest, pinning his own arms to his sides.
From the side and behind him one of them was unfolding a mass of leather that soon revealed itself to be a net of sorts, made from woven strips.
"Hey!" Daniel objected. "We've come here peacefully and don't have any… No! Stop!" Two of them were advancing on him with the net.
Daniel's heart was racing. He decided that the time for talking was over. In a move that had served him well more than once, he stepped backwards, twisting and kneeling, flipping the alien holding him over his left shoulder. The startled man kept his grip as he tumbled into the two with the net, but Daniel struggled free. His sidearm was on the chest across the room, and there was of course Jack's gun hidden behind their bed. The aliens closed in around him too quickly.
"He cannot fly like this, Buteo," said the man, addressing the alien who had grabbed Daniel from behind, his face the picture of disgust. "He has no feathers, nor even clothing to protect him."
Well, that was the whole point of working at home. He got to sit around in boxer briefs and a tee shirt while he did his translating, indulging in the hedonistic warmth the Ancient HVAC system allowed him.
"This is what they wear," said the one by the door, removing Daniel's parka from its hook and holding it up.
"His legs and feet are bare," the woman observed.
"Clothe yourself," ordered Buteo, tidying his own clothes, having disentangled himself from the other two. Daniel considered the eight-to-one odds and decided cooperation was probably the better part of valor. He dressed for cold – BDU over thermals, thick socks and snow boots. He watched for an opening to get to a weapon, but the woman stood between him and the bed, arms crossed forbiddingly, and Buteo and one of the net carriers were staying very close to him the entire time.
Finally, Daniel took the parka the woman had let fall to the floor, pulled his balaclava over his face (to the surprise of his visitors), strapped protective goggles over his glasses, and pulled on his warm, thick down gloves. Barring the sudden arrival of reinforcements, he could see that he was in for a flight, probably a long one, and he didn't want to have frostbite when he got there.
The only good news was, with his parka and balaclava, he was now wired for sound. He snapped on the field radio he carried in the pocket of the parka as a backup in case of a sudden weather emergencies. The Bluetooth ear piece crackled reassuringly in his ear. He set the distress beacon with a second click as he finished buttoning every last button on the parka.
"I'm all yours," Daniel said cheerfully. "Where are we going?"
"Lepto. Milvus." Buteo gestured to the two aliens Daniel was already starting to think of as his enforcers. They approached him again with the net, and this time Daniel didn't resist, standing with his arms at his sides as they wrapped him thoroughly, then belted him in. He felt like a sausage in a casing – even more so when they picked him up and carried him out to the ledge. As they took off in pairs, Daniel shut his eyes and held his breath.
Lepto and Milvus carried him between them. When Daniel dared to crack his eyes to look, he saw that they were flying in tandem, wingtips nearly touching. It might have been quite impressive to watch from a different angle. As it was, Daniel just found it terrifying.
He looked around, trying to get oriented, and saw that rather than flying away from the mining camp, as he had expected, his abductors were instead swooping down low over it. They began calling, in high whistling screeches, one after the other, in pairs, all together. As they circled, Daniel could see the ground. People were coming out of buildings, staring up at them, and pointing. Then the aliens were flying away, carrying Daniel with them, straight down the canyon, past the aerie, and onward, the mining camp dwindling behind them.
Before it was out of sight, Daniel saw what he had expected. Jack launched into the air. Daniel saw the great, beating movement of his wings, powering his ascent, and then he was coming after them as fast as he could drive against the currents and eddies of the mountain air.
His captors were soaring and gliding, only occasionally pumping their wings. Though they were clearly aware of Jack flying behind them, they were not trying to outrun him, and in fact seemed to be allowing him to catch them up. Jack made up some distance. Daniel had judged him to be about five minutes behind them when he had first begun the chase, and Daniel thought he had closed about three-fifths of the distance before the aliens began to put any serious effort into their flight, holding the gap between pursued and pursuer steady. Jack was tiring, too, Daniel thought. He imagined he could see the moment where Jack acknowledged that he would not catch them, but they would not leave him behind, and began to rest his wings, gliding and soaring more, relying on the wind rather than his own energy to carry him forward.
They flew on for what Daniel thought was probably about two hours, twisting and turning through valleys and around high peaks. Then they took an abrupt turn into a much narrower cleft between two mountains, or perhaps a division in one. The aliens closed up their flight pattern, and Daniel suddenly had a new fear that he could crash into one of the cliff faces or ledges, which now seemed frighteningly close. He lost track of Jack in the twisting turnings of the passage. He hoped that flying through the narrow space was not as dangerous for Jack as it appeared from Daniel's perspective.
Daniel's bearers fell to the rear of the flight. The other aliens began to alight on various ledges. Suddenly, Lepto and Milvus were flying right at the cliff face. Buteo and the woman stood on a broad flat space and as Daniel and his carriers flew over them, the two flying aliens maneuvered to slow their air speed to almost nothing and Daniel landed neatly and gently in the arms of the two waiting on the ground, Lepto and Milvus landing lightly along side.
They stood him on his feet.
"Halia, help them," Buteo ordered, walking toward the edge of the flat space, staring behind them, down the narrow valley.
Melvus and Lepto gripped him tightly by the upper arms, stabilizing his balance even as they made it clear that they might be letting him free from the net, but that didn't mean he was going to be any less a prisoner. Halia already had the belts off, then they were all pulling and tugging at Daniel's net. It was good to be able to move his arms again. They held him strongly and started steering him toward the cliff wall, where Daniel saw there was a broad entrance, very similar to the entrance to Jack's aerie. From a distance, it would appear to be just a fissure in the cliff face, maybe a shallow cave. The low overhang covered the decorative doors, windows and panels that were so distinctly Ancient. Definitely the same designers as the complex closer to the Gamma Site.
Whistles and shouts brought their attention back to the sky. Jack had caught up to them. In a rushing down-push of air, he descended on Daniel and the aliens holding him. Halia ducked out of the way quickly, but the other two were not fast enough. Daniel suspected that they were not ready for an opponent quite this angry and vindictive. A flurry of feathers and two aerial side kicks later and there were two piles of blue feathers lying still on the ground and Jack was by his side.
Halia brought out two long knives from her high boots, one in each hand, but she didn't advance on them when Jack leveled his P90 at her chest.
"Don't shoot anybody, Jack," Daniel requested. "I think this is just one of those first contacts that's gone a little haywire."
"Really? " Jack drawled. "Why is it aliens are always so arrogant? And rude? Don't bother to answer that. You alright?"
"Fine," Daniel said tersely. No other aliens drew weapons and they didn't try to surround them, which Daniel took as a good sign. Six dark pairs of eyes were fixed on them with a focused intensity that put Daniel's hair on end, though.
"Greetings, cousin," Buteo said to Jack. "As your mate says, there was really no need for such a use of force." He let concerned eyes fall to the collapsed aliens on the ground.
Jack lifted his P90 slightly.
"If knife girl, there, doesn't put the pig-stickers away, there's gonna be another forceful display," Jack warned.
Buteo gave Halia a significant look.
"Look at them!" she objected angrily, tipping her chin toward Lepto and Melvus, completely unmoving. When Buteo's gaze didn't waver, Halia returned the knives to their sheaths.
"Gotta expect that kind of reaction when you go into a guy's house and mess with his 'mate.' They're lucky to still be breathing," Jack replied calmly.
Buteo gave a slight bow.
"Unfortunately, it was clear that we needed to draw you here, as you were not going to come to us on your own. We regret any insult to your mate, who was quite courteous when we arrived at your home."
"You never considered just stopping by and saying hello?" Jack asked.
The woman spat, and feathers ruffled around them.
"We do not approach those who dig in the dirt," Halia declared.
Buteo looked pained.
"We are more cautious than we once were about greeting visitors who arrive through the Window." He gestured toward the Ancient doors. "It is uncivilized to stand in the wind and not fly. Come inside. We wish to welcome you properly and to learn about the skies of your home and your life here in our mountains."
Daniel looked back and forth between their faces. Jack was still angry, but he had been on first-contact teams long enough to know that these kinds of mistakes could happen. On the other hand, this still felt a lot like walking into the spider's parlor.
"Sounds great," Jack said, in a voice so artificially cheerful it had to be intended as an insult.
"Excellent," Buteo replied. He turned to the rest of the group. "Pandion and Aegolius, please assist Lepto and Melvus to the Hall of the Wise Ones. My dear," he said to Halia, who came and took his arm.
They led the way through the doors into the cliff.
The entrance to the home of the aliens was not a small guardroom, but a huge cavern, with ceilings high enough that Jack could probably leap into the air and do a turn around the beautifully finished roof. The serene, clean lines of the Ancients pervaded, but had been accentuated by a wing and feathers motif.
They didn't walk the length of the vault, but rather made a quick route across the near corner to a door that led into a maze of much more modest tunnel-like hallways.
"This is amazing!" Daniel said softly to Jack.
"Yeah, and it makes me think maybe we need to find the front door of our place," Jack replied.
"The mountain you inhabit is a much smaller residence, intended for those who used the Window and watched the comings and goings there," Halia said. "This has always been our chief home."
"So you used the complex near the Gate – um – Window, as well?" Daniel asked.
"Yes," Buteo answered. "But we left it years ago. We no longer wished to be so close to the Window."
As they walked, they began to encounter more aliens, none of whom seemed particularly happy to see them. The almost universal response to them appeared to be disgust.
"Let me guess. You had some unfriendly visitors through the Window?" Jack asked. "Guys with glowing yellow eyes and really bad fashion sense?"
"The goa'uld," Halia said, with an underlying hiss. "Yes, they came here, and they demanded our bodies. As if we would give our bodies to any creature, much less a thing that crawls on its belly in the dirt."
"Well, technically, they are a primarily aquatic species," Daniel began.
"Enough!" Halia turned on him, then rounded on her mate. "Buteo, he cannot be allowed into the Great Hall! You cannot force the people…"
"The people will honor the mate of our cousin as one of us. They are one flesh, as are we. That is enough. Cease this unseemly behavior before our guests." Buteo's rebuke was a roar that echoed down the corridor. The structure seemed almost designed to carry acoustics over long distances. Halia's face flushed with anger.
"I will not eat at the same table with a dirt-dwelling walker, be you Buteo or no," she declared. She stalked away down the hall and disappeared down a side corridor.
"So," Jack said into the silence left by her departure. "I'm thinking maybe Daniel and I will skip the festivities and head on back home. Y'all feel free to come around any old time to visit," he invited.
"Jack," Daniel cautioned. Buteo was staring in seething anger after his wife.
"Please do not leave under this cloud," Buteo asked. "Allow Surnia to show you to the rooms that have been prepared for you."
"Great! They've prepared rooms for us," Jack said to Daniel. His grip flexed on his weapon. Surnia, a delicate young woman, seemed to materialize from behind them. She bowed slightly to Buteo.
"Please, come with me," she asked.
Jack and Daniel followed her down the hall as Buteo followed Halia.
"What was that all about?" Jack asked Surnia.
"The Buteo and the Halia have long been at odds regarding the… walking… people," Surnia said softly. She glanced sideways at Jack, who had caught up with her as Daniel trailed behind. "I believe the Buteo would have lost the argument long ago, but his changes have brought food and comfort to the people, and so he remains our leader."
"The Buteo and the Halia," Daniel asked. "Are those titles?"
Surnia looked at Daniel even more shyly than she had looked at Jack. She nodded. They walked on quietly for a short while until Surnia stopped outside a door that opened on its own.
"Ancient gene," Daniel sing-songed under his breath.
"No kidding," Jack agreed.
"These will be your rooms while you stay with us," Surnia said, with a tentative smile. "General Jack O'Neill, we were all so amazed when one of our cousins appeared through the Window. But you came only with walking people. Where are your brothers and sisters?"
"Those are my brothers and sisters," Jack said harshly. The timid woman dropped her eyes and made a small bow.
"My apologies, General Jack O'Neill," she whispered. "Please wait for the Buteo here. There is food and drink on the table."
She scurried away, rebuked. Jack didn't call after her.
"Daniel, this place is giving me the willies. It's making me think of breeders and genetic purity."
"Good times," Daniel muttered. "But I don't think it's as bad as that," Daniel disagreed. "At least, this is more like interspecies conflict."
"The guys who fly versus the guys who walk – that's a pretty minor physiological difference there. Plus, you being the only guy who walks in this place does not make me happy."
"They might have servants," Daniel said offhandedly. He was more distracted by the room, its furnishings, the food on the table. He took a bite out of a hard apple-like fruit. It was sweet and crisp. "When they saw me in the aerie one of them suggested I 'served.'"
"So what made them start referring to you as my 'mate?'" Jack asked.
"I don't know. Halia just knew. Birds of prey tend to have very strong olfactory senses…"
"She smelled that we have sex? Ew," Jack wrinkled his nose.
"Maybe we should change the sheets more often," Daniel suggested. He gave Jack a sidelong glance. "Do you have a better sense of smell these days?"
Jack just glared at him.
They were only alone in the room a few minutes before Surnia returned, this time leading a troop of young female aliens, all pushing little carts, loaded with food, drink, and table ware. The table was set for two.
"Surnia?" Daniel asked. She turned to face him with big eyes. He held up a segment of what was clearly a citrus fruit from a bowl. "You've got everything here! Where do you get fresh fruits and vegetables?"
"The Buteo trades with the walking people," she said.
"Really?" Daniel replied, as Jack turned his full attention from the cheese he was sampling back to Daniel's conversation. "Walking people?"
"Of course," she said. "The traders fly far toward the setting sun with herbs that grow only in our valleys, and with gems from the streams, and they return with fruits, leather, meat, unusual wood. Many things that were once rare here are now commonplace. Like oranges," she said, filching a segment from the bowl and eating it.
"How far toward the setting sun?" Jack asked. Trust Jack to hear the threat, not the promise.
"Almost a full day's flight," said Buteo, as he slipped into the room, carefully dodging the busy young women. With the wings, the aliens seemed to Daniel to take up a lot of extra space, but they managed quite gracefully.
"Our cliff is very near the edges of these mountains, as I believe you learned not so long ago," he gave Jack a wide smile. "About a day from the sea, about a day from the rolling, treeless hills in the land of the setting sun. Many opportunities to trade with those who walk the earth and sail the oceans. Not everyone agrees with me regarding trade, but enough do."
They were alone in the room again, the aliens who had delivered their meal all filed out as their tasks were complete. Buteo poured a deep red wine into glasses for all of them.
"So, cousin," Buteo said, as they sat down. "How do you come to be the leader of walking people? And how is it there are no flying people with you, aside from yourself?"
"That's a long story," Jack replied. "Do you mind if we ask you a few questions first?"
"Of course, feel free," Buteo replied.
"How do you know so much about me?" Jack demanded.
"We have been watching you since you arrived. We are the closest cliff to the Window, and it is our task to know who comes through it and what they do when they arrive. We saw you the first time you came, with just your mate, the woman with the golden hair, and the man with the dark skin and the gold mark."
"That was before…" Daniel began.
"Yes, it was," Buteo said, staring hard at Jack. "How do you come to your wings so late in your life, cousin? The world you come from is very different from ours."
"When do you think I should have 'come to' my wings?" Jack asked. His tone had taken on a dangerous edge, and Daniel, too, was coming to certain conclusions. Jack's wings had appeared only a few weeks after their initial visit to this planet.
"The ceremony is performed when our children are very young, less than a year. I have heard tales from long ago of parents that chose to wait, or children that were separated from their families until they were much older, but often the wings did not come to those individuals, and they lived their lives earthbound and crippled."
He glanced at Daniel.
"Will your mate join you in flight soon?"
"Doubtful," Jack said.
"So your children are not born … flying people?" Daniel asked carefully.
Buteo gave him a quizzical look.
"Wings are acquired through the ritual taught to us by our Ancient ancestors. Every cliff has a chamber."
"Every cliff?" Jack asked. "How many cliffs are there exactly?"
"A hundred or so," Buteo said.
"A hundred?" Jack replied.
"Now, I have answered your questions, allow me to ask you what is at the forefront of my mind. What do you know of the demons, the goa'uld?"
"They are our enemies," Daniel said. "As Halia said, they are a snake-like parasitic species that can enter and control the bodies of at least two different humanoid species of host."
"I have seen your weapons, and your flying machines. You seem well matched to them. Can you fight them?"
"We have had some limited success in the field," Jack said guardedly.
"Could you capture one?" Buteo asked.
Jack pursed his lips.
"They're tricky bastards to catch," he said. "And I assume you don't want to capture just any one? If you want the specific one that came here, that would be a lot harder."
Buteo gave a low whistle and stabbed his knife with particular viciousness into the roast. He left it lodged there.
"Maybe if you told us why you want to capture this goa'uld, we could be more helpful," Daniel suggested.
Buteo stood abruptly.
"As neither of you appears to be very hungry at the moment, I will show you," Buteo said.
He strode from the room, and headed through the maze of hallways outside with focused purpose. Daniel found himself trotting to keep up. They continued to draw the gazes of the aliens they met, but all stepped aside as Buteo passed.
He finally stopped in front of a door labeled in Ancient.
"Stasis," Daniel muttered.
"Yes," Buteo answered, then opened the door.
The room was lined with rows of pods.
"Why would there be so many?" Daniel asked.
"Maybe the Ancients built this place before they figured out how to go glowy," Jack suggested.
"Interesting theory," Daniel said. Then he saw who was inside the pods.
"Kids," Jack breathed.
"Babies," Daniel said, appalled. The infant in the pod couldn't be more than nine months old, and did not have wings. There were toddlers with tiny wings. Young children that would be school-age in the Springs. As they followed Buteo down the corridor, then across to another row and another, they saw aliens of all ages in the pods, but for every adult in suspended animation there were a dozen children.
They found Halia standing at the end of the second row.
"My children," she said harshly, glaring first at Daniel, then at Jack. She turned back to Daniel. "If you can bring me the head of this goa'uld, I would honor you even if you did not choose to fly. If you could cure what the demon did to them, I would call you Buteo."
"My children," she said again, turning back to the pods.
"All of our children," Buteo said grimly. "When they began to die one after the other, we couldn't do anything to stop it, so we brought them here. There are children in the pods who never became ill, and ones that were near death when we brought them here."
"You're telling me you can make everybody grow wings and put a couple hundred kids in stasis, but your 'Ancient ancestors' didn't leave you medical technology that could handle goa'uld biological warfare?"
"The ancestors left only a few things." Buteo answered angrily. "When our children are very young, they sometimes become ill, but after they acquire flight, then they are never ill again until perhaps when they are very old. Our wise ones can treat broken bones and wounds and the accompanying fevers. But we do not become sick. It is part of the gift of flight."
"What happened, exactly?" Daniel asked, cutting off Buteo's response to Jack's rhetorical question.
"This goa'uld, Apophis, came through the Window. I was Buteo of the Window Cliff at that time. We greeted him, as we used to greet visitors though the Window. His first words to us were that he was our God, and we should offer him tribute."
"We laughed at him," Halia continued. "As if we would worship anything that could not fly. His guards threatened us, but could not kill us with their awkward weapons."
"We attempted to drive them away," Buteo said. "Halia and I each killed many of this Apophis's guards. But Apophis himself had a weapon in his hand. The blast from it killed Halia's brother."
"As we killed his men, he only laughed," Halia said. "He watched us fly, and was amazed. When the fight was over, he stood alone, but was not afraid of us. Instead, he demanded that we bring him our youngest and most beautiful to become his slaves. I tried to kill him then, and I drew his blood, but he returned through the Window."
Jack was following with rapt attention.
"When he came again the next day, he brought more soldiers, with better weapons, more prepared to fight," Buteo said. "They brought flying machines as well, and tried to follow us in the skies. The cliff could not be breached, and none of us could be caught. His flying machines followed us, and discovered many of the other cliffs, but in the end he could only kill a few of us, and could capture none. After a month or so of fruitless chase, he withdrew."
"And now, the rest of the story," Jack muttered.
"Several days after he left," Halia said softly, "the Window opened. A flock of birds flew out. They flew in all directions. One fell on the porch of the Window Cliff. It was mechanical, made of some light metal and covered in gold. They flew so swiftly that we could not catch them. They flew far, toward the sea, toward the setting sun, toward the rising sun, toward the high lands of ice. The window opened many times, sending out many flocks of metal birds."
"Then our children began to get sick. The babies got fevers. The young children suddenly couldn't breathe. They died so fast, and it spread to all of them. There was nothing we could do to save them. So we brought them here."
Daniel watched Jack survey the rows of children.
"Apophis is dead," Jack informed them. "We killed him. First we humiliated him, then we killed him." Jack sounded like he'd like to reassemble his atoms and do it all over again.
Halia made a choking sound. Buteo went to her and wrapped his arms around her.
"No one can help them now," Daniel heard her whisper to him.
"He did not make them," Buteo said firmly. "He only commanded that they be made. We will find the one who made them…"
"Maybe," Daniel said. "But I think we might have a quicker solution."
Halia rounded on him with bright eyes.
"What solution?" she croaked.
"If you are willing to let us bring a medical team here, they could interview you about patient histories, perhaps examine a few of the children, and they may be able to come up with a treatment or vaccine. Dr. Frasier has done it before."
"You have a wise man who could treat this illness?" Buteo said. There was awe in his voice.
"A wise woman, actually. And she has a whole staff," Daniel said.
"And there's no guarantee that she can pull it off," Jack warned.
"Bring her here," Halia ordered. She pointed to Daniel. "This one does not leave our cliff until you bring your wise woman to us."
"Halia, be reasonable," Buteo said soothingly. "They have already offered…"
"Then he will be happy to stay as our 'guest' until she appears," Halia said. "That is only reasonable."
She turned to Jack.
"Go. Now. Bring her here. Your mate will be waiting."
From the look on Jack's face, Daniel knew the next thing out of his mouth was going to be bad.
"Jack," he said preemptively. "Why don't you go far enough so that you can radio back for a medical team? Then we can both wait here until they are ready for an escort."
"A word, Daniel," Jack snarled. He took him by the arm with an iron grip and walked him away from Buteo and Halia.
"I am not agreeing to a hostage scenario. What happens if Frasier can't cure their kids? Even if she comes up with a vaccine, but that's the best she can do?"
"Are you willing to shoot your way out of here?" Daniel replied hotly. "At this point, I think we should call for a medical team, and see what we can do. Buteo won't allow Halia to retaliate for failure."
"If they do, I will be bringing in the firepower," Jack warned.
"Fine, but save the slaughter of the natives until there's a real threat," Daniel argued.
"After they have a whole medical team to kill, in addition to you?" Jack said. "We at least need to move this to neutral territory."
"First, do you really think Halia is going to let one of these kids out of here? And secondly, they have some sort of killer disease. I think we want to be sure it stays on this planet."
Jack frowned at him sourly, then brushed past him to where Buteo was having a hushed and urgent conversation with his own mate.
"Buteo," Jack called.
Buteo and Halia continued their argument without regard for Jack.
To Daniel's surprise, Jack suddenly gave a screeching cry that reverberated throughout the entire canyon. Halia and Buteo turned quickly to face him.
"There, now that I have everyone's attention," Jack said blandly. "I am going to fly out to a point that I can communicate with the Gamma Site. I am going to explain your medical emergency and request a medical team, including Dr. Janet Frasier. It will take them a few hours to assemble a team and equipment. While we wait, I will come back here. When they are ready, I will need help from you to bring them back here. We have helicopters that could be brought through the gate, but I don't think any of them could land anywhere near enough to your front door to get the equipment and personnel inside. Are we a go on this plan?" Jack asked.
"Please do the things you say. As you can see, for the children there is no hurry. But for us, we wish this task could be accomplished in the beat of a hummingbird's wing."
Jack turned to Daniel.
"I should be back in about two hours. I know where radio contact with Gamma Site dropped out."
"Two hours? Daniel asked. "Should you sleep first or eat?"
Jack smiled grimly.
"I can eat and sleep when I get back. I can fly for hours still. This won't be a problem."
Daniel waited. The food had not been cleared from the table Surnia and her friends had set for them. He ate some fruit and meat and sampled a variety of unusual vegetables. All the foods had a cinnamon-sweet flavor. Daniel wondered if that was something to do with the native flora, or if it was the preparation of the food.
He spent a lot of time thinking about the Ancients who had inhabited these mountains, then abandoned them. Daniel had to think that they had designed whatever devices put wings on people for their own use. Daniel could certainly imagine that. If someone on Earth created a machine that could give people wings like Jack's, Daniel was sure that there would be thousands lining up to pay fortunes for the opportunity to be bird people. He contemplated the new cultures that would develop around people who could fly; the conflicts that would arise; the new service industries that would spring up. Of course, these Ancients seemed to have chosen to come to a whole new planet to set up their colony of flying humans in a vertical world ideally suited to those who fly instead of walk.
The people still living in these cliffs – were they Ancients who never ascended? Perhaps in their isolation they had avoided the plague? Or were they local people, who had acquired their Ancient genes though intermingling with the Ancients before they left? Daniel thought probably the latter, since they did not seem to be the creators of the technology they used, but only exploiters of it. There were people on this planet without wings. Daniel was definitely thinking these were the descendents of the natives, not the Ancients.
He was lying on his back on one of the long couches, thinking about these things, when the door opened and Jack came in.
"Frasier is on her way. She's pulling together a crack pediatric and diagnostic team now. They'll be arriving in 12 hours. It might take every birdman in this place to bring them back here, though, with the amount of equipment she's going to have crated up with her."
As he spoke, Jack sat down on the end of the couch, lifting Daniel's feet and putting them in his lap. Then, when he couldn't lean back to his satisfaction, he tipped over to the side, resting his head on Daniel's thigh.
"I think I'm going to sleep first, eat later," Jack sighed.
"Well, there's a perfectly good bed in the other room," Daniel said, jostling him as he got to his feet and extended a hand to Jack to pull him after.
The bed was by a window, almost exactly as Daniel's bed in their own aerie. It was large and nestlike, as well. Sleeping with wings was a challenge for a biped, Daniel already knew. Jack sat on the edge of the bed and started undoing his boots. Daniel knee-walked around behind him and began loosening the fastenings on his clothing. Sometimes he teased Jack that the real reason Jack got him into bed was so that Daniel could dress and undress him. Jack had been managing the fastenings himself, but it wasn't easy.
Once the clothes were out of the way, Daniel began rubbing Jack's muscles around his shoulders and the base of his wings. Jack groaned in appreciation.
"That is so good," he sighed. "It has been a very long day," he said emphatically.
"Lie down," Daniel suggested.
"Woof," Jack joked tiredly, standing again first to shuck his pants and underwear, but readily following Daniel's order, practically faceplanting naked on the bed. "I better not wake up with bird lice." His grousing was muffled by the bedding. He sprawled with his wings wide open, like a sunbathing blue jay. The bed was not quite expansive enough to allow a full extension, but he seemed relieved nonetheless to rest his tired wings.
Daniel began again, stroking Jack's feathers gently, running his fingers carefully over and through the feathers of each of Jack's wings. He had watched Jack preen them himself so many times. Now he gently manipulated them each individually. It was a mesmerizing task, seemingly endless, and it elicited sighs and groans from Jack that were more than enough to show how much he appreciated the intense attention.
Daniel preened Jack's wings, working his way toward Jack's shoulders. By the time he got to Jack's shoulder muscles, he stirred as if he had drifted off to sleep.
"Climb in, Danny," he said, voice sleep slurred. He rustled his left wing and reached out with his hand to urge Daniel to lie down beside him.
Daniel lay down. Jack's wing and arm fell limply over Daniel. The lights in the room dimmed, apparently of their own accord.
Daniel woke to the sound of Jack's indignant squawk.
"Have you ever heard of knocking?!" he was spluttering.
"I'm very sorry," Surnia was stammering back in return. Daniel sat up blearily, feeling he had gotten about a third as much sleep as his eyes wanted. Surnia was scurrying toward the door. "I will wait outside."
"Damned aliens," Jack was muttering, finding his pants where he had left them on the floor, then stalking out into the room where they had sat at the table with Buteo.
Daniel let the bed draw him back to sleep.
Daniel woke again when Jack jostled the bed.
"Breakfast," Jack announced. He sat cross-legged munching some kind of sandwich.
"What's that?" Daniel asked.
"I think it's one of those spike-y lizard-y things you like so much. Buteo trades for 'em," Jack deadpanned.
"Not good enough to wake up for," Daniel opined, and rolled over to go back to sleep.
Jack nudged him in the hip with his foot.
"I have to go. Frasier's team is due in about four hours. I want to go back, check in, brief Widener."
"Will Buteo and company go with you?" Daniel asked, rolling over again to talk to him.
"They can wait in the new workshop building. It's warm and clean and none of the equipment's arrived yet. However…"
Jack had a wicked gleam in his eye.
"However what?" Daniel prompted.
"I'm hoping George came through for me on some better transportation," Jack grinned around his sandwich.
"Lovely," Daniel said. "I, for one, don't look forward to another two-hour flight on Air Birdman. The service is horrible."
"We'll see what George could round up for us," Jack said. He leaned over and kissed Daniel on his ear. "You just get some more sleep." Daniel cracked an eye to see if that was stated sarcastically.
"I'll do that," Daniel agreed.
Daniel slept and ate and was generally bored. Considering the attitude of nearly every single one of the aliens he had encountered thus far toward "dirt dewllers," he was not inclined to try exploring the hallways on his own. Surnia brought him an Ancient tablet, but the database here had been nearly purged, limited to basic explanations of the limited technology the Ancients had left behind. It was a half-day's reading. But it did contain one item of great interest.
After he read it, Daniel had a brief, heart-stopping moment of panic. He knew what had happened to Jack.
The people of the cliffs got their wings from exposure to an Ancient device, just as Buteo had mentioned the previous day. Without having seen the device, Daniel had envisioned something like an MRI machine, or a stasis pod, something small and contained and individualized.
In fact, according to the tablet Surnia had brought him, the device was a large, spherical object in a chamber at the very summit of every mountain containing a settlement of Ancients. The spherical object generated and transmitted the transmuting radiation. Any person to be "given flight" was brought to the chamber on the appointed day.
When SG-1 had explored this planet, back when it was just P5R-997, they had stayed a full three days. It had been summer, the nights had only been dropping to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and based on the results she had gotten from her initial field tests, Sam wanted to do a more comprehensive sample set and map than usual for an initial survey.
"The snow's off the ground now," she argued. "Who knows how long it will take to schedule a thorough geological survey.
"We've got the days in the schedule," Jack had grudging agreed. "OK, campers, fluff up your mummy bags, we're gonna max it out for the good major."
Daniel felt sure that the giving of flight must have occurred during those three days.
Of course that begged the question. Why Jack, and not all four of them? For that matter, Buteo was trading with inhabitants of the planet who did not have wings. The range of the devices must be limited, and couldn't extend to the people of the plains and the sea, with whom the flying aliens traded.
Daniel's shoulder-blades itched. How soon until the next giving of flight? He was on the verge of rushing out into the halls after all to demand that someone tell him. He had to warn the Gamma Site. If it could happen to Jack, even at that distance, it could happen to others. Not to mention that Jack was bringing a whole medical team.
He was opening the door when he realized: of course there was no threat. Not until there was someone new that the aliens wanted to receive the gift of flight. And that wouldn't be until the children were released from their cryogenic prisons.
After hours of reading and prowling the small apartment and staring out of the window over the bed, Daniel finally gave up on Jack's return that day and went to sleep when the sun went down.
George must have come through with the transportation. The screeches of the first arrivals barely preceeded the thump of the helicopter blades. Daniel pressed his nose to the glass, but couldn't get an angle to see the approach of either the aliens or the aircraft.
Surnia rushed into the room, followed by some very large, very angry birdmen. Unless he was mistaken, his old friends Lepto and Melvus.
"Come with us," one of them barked, possibly Melvus. Surnia was tugging urgently on his arm.
"Come!" she begged.
"There's nothing to be afraid of," Daniel said, trying to be calm and reasonable as Surnia dragged him out the door and their escort rushed them down the hall. "It's just a helicopter – a flying craft from my planet. They're very versatile, because they can take off and land vertically…"
As they approached the entrance hall, Daniel could hear the screaming cries of the aliens. Then suddenly, everything went quiet except the continued pounding of the helicopter's rotors.
Jack was covering the crowd of aliens from the edge of the porch. Daniel couldn't help grinning when he saw that Teal'c had already been winched down, and was unfastening his harness. Daniel could see the rustling of wings as the assembled aliens stared at Teal'c. Teal'c started back at them. He gave the line a tug and the harness was pulled up.
Next down was Sam, followed finally by Dr. Frasier. She batted Sam's hands away, managing the harness on her own, sending it up again. The crowd parted, and Daniel could see that Buteo stood beside her. He spoke a few words directly into the doctor's ear, then strode briskly down the path opened by his people. The doctor looked at the surrounding crowd somewhat apprehensively, but followed behind him, trotting to keep up with his long, impatient stride, Sam following as an alert escort.
Jack, tracking their departure with his gaze, caught sight of Daniel. He signed that Daniel should follow the doctor. He nodded and fell in step beside her as she passed.
"Nice to see you, Daniel," she said with a small smile.
"Nice to see you, too," he said. "How are you?"
"It's been a hectic day," she said. "And I'm sure it's just getting started. Do you want to help with the parent interviews?"
"I'm always happy to let out my inner anthropologist," Daniel said agreeably.
They arrived at the stasis room. Daniel watched the doctor's face as she absorbed the view of the rows of stasis pods. She blew out a long breath, then walked to the nearest child. She leaned close and peered into the girl's tiny, immobile face, then quickly moved on to the next pod, then the next. She shook her head.
"There's certainly nothing I can tell just by looking at them," she said to Sam, who was examining children on the opposite side of the walkway. She turned to Buteo. "I would like to begin interviewing the parents right away."
Dr. Frasier, Dr. Greene and Dr. Brightman conferred alone at a small table on the far side of the room. They hovered over Dr. Frasier's laptop, reviewing the data points plotted there. Sometimes one or the other of them would rustle through the stack of slim patient files they had developed over the course of three long days of interviews.
SG-1 sat together around another table, desultorily sampling the plate of cheese and bread Surnia had delivered to them.
"What do you think, Major?" Jack asked Sam.
"I think they're on to something," Sam said. "Janet just wants to be sure that she knows what she's doing before she asks to thaw out one of their kids and try a course of treatment."
Halia and Buteo came into the room. Buteo pulled a chair over and sat between Daniel and Jack. Halia stood aloof behind them. Dr. Brightman nudged Dr. Frasier, who also came over to join them. Daniel found he missed her white lab coat and high heels. It just wasn't the same, seeing her in BDUs and combat boots.
Dr. Frasier took a seat between Sam and Teal'c, opposite Buteo.
"Based on the interviews with the parents," she began, "I believe you children have a disease we know on our world as Haemophilus influenzae type b. We call it Hib. When Hib is introduced in an unvaccinated population, it can cause a several serious infections, mainly in young children and infants. Your children were exhibiting the symptoms of meningitis and epiglottitis, which are caused by Hib. But I can't be sure of my diagnosis until I can get a blood sample and run some tests. To do that, I will need you to remove one of the patients from stasis…"
"No," Halia said.
Dr. Frasier looked up at her.
"I know you are concerned about taking this step, but in order to help you children, I need more data…"
"No," Halia said simply.
"Halia, how can they help without…" Buteo argued.
"I will not allow them to have even one of the fledglings until they know they can save them," Halia hissed. "Let them go to the dirt people and look at their children, if they want to look at them."
"Dirt people?" Dr. Frasier asked. Daniel winced.
"Those kids caught it, too?" Jack asked. "You could have mentioned this earlier!"
"Or I could have thought of it," Daniel muttered.
"Yes, the metal birds flew even there," Buteo said.
"Who are these people, sir?" Dr. Frasier demanded. "How far are they from here?"
"They are a day's flight toward the setting sun," Buteo commented distractedly. He turned abruptly to Jack.
"You and I will fly there and prepare the way for your flying machine. It will undoubtedly frighten the walking people even more than it did the people of the cliffs. Pandion and Halia can guide your people once we have had time to meet with the head man, Seth."
"It should be only a couple of hours in the Black Hawk," Sam commented. Jack nodded.
"Doctor?" Jack addressed Dr. Frasier.
"These children are temporarily out of danger," she replied. "If there are children a few hours away that I can still help, I have no objection to this approach."
"Alright, then," Jack said, getting to his feet and flexing his wings. "I feel like I've been sitting around too long anyway. Can we leave now?" he asked.
"Within the hour," Buteo said, also standing. "I wish to discuss a few thoughts with Pandion. Halia will prepare our packs and provisions."
Their hosts went quickly in opposite directions.
"Carter, keep an eye on things. I'm authorizing you to take any command decision you think appropriate after I leave, up to and including a full evacuation of our personnel and equipment using the whirly bird, if needed. The natives don't seem completely friendly."
"Understood, sir," Carter agreed.
As a courtesy, they landed about a mile from the village and their sheep and horse pens. Jack had advised them that Seth didn't want them to spook his herds. Halia and Pandion had exchanged muttered comments unintelligible to the rest of the helicopter's passengers, but had not objected. Daniel figured they wouldn't mind the quick flight to the village from the landing site.
Down here at lower altitudes, the air was warm and heavy with the smell of sweet grass and tilled earth. Even the flying people took deep, appreciative breaths as they stepped out onto the ground, seemingly heedless of the whirling rotors or the noise. Despite their usual disdain for "dirt people," Halia and Pandion greeted Seth with stiff, formal bows, which he returned.
Jack made the introductions of the SGC personnel. Seth reached out and shook Dr. Frasier vigorously by the hand.
"I pray that you can help us. We have lost so many children and they continue to fall ill, one after the other."
Then began walking toward the village together, Dr. Brightman and Dr. Greene following closely.
"Aidan's littlest daughter is the only child who is sick right now. She was just born at the equinox…"
Jack nudged Buteo.
"Three months ago," he provided.
"…and two nights ago she came down with a very hot fever. She has not been able to eat and she is not breathing well. This morning she even stopped crying. Your arrival is a gift from the Ancestors."
His description of the child's condition made Dr. Frasier, turn to Dr. Brightman.
"I've got everything," Dr. Brightman declared.
"Cefotaxime?" Dr. Frasier demanded.
"Ready to go. And I've got oxygen. Dr. Greene is carrying the laryngoscopy equipment."
"Which you told me to pack," Dr. Green pointedly reminded her. They were practically jogging now, Seth following the exchange between the doctors even as he quickened his pace to lead them to the right house.
The whole town seemed to have assembled. They were standing in the tidy gardens laid out between the village's main street and each widely-spaced house. Older children ran ahead of them, calling and shouting, so that Aiden was standing at his gate to greet them.
"These are the wise women Buteo said would come," Seth informed him breathlessly.
"Thank you for coming," Aidan began. Dr. Fraiser didn't even break her stride, just caught him by the elbow and steered him back toward his own house.
"Tell me when the symptoms started," they heard her quizzing him as they disappeared through the open door, Dr. Greene and Dr. Brightman right behind them.
"HIB. We got it in one," Dr. Frasier reported, dropping onto the bench beside Daniel. Seth had provided them with a comfortable enough house to wait for the doctors.
Jack looked over.
"So what's next, doc?" he asked her.
"Well, in my ideal world, a massive vaccination campaign. Considering how much naquadah you're pulling out of that strip mine in the mountains, it seems like a fair trade. That stasis chamber is going to be a real challenge, though. I can't imagine we're going to be lucky enough to save all those children up there. Little Cleana is responding well to the cefotaxime, so that's a good sign. At least Apophis didn't breed an antibiotic-resistant superbug. But with the staff I have, even after I send back for more equipment, we will have to deal with a few patients at a time."
"Some of the cases might not be as acute," Sam suggested.
Dr. Frasier nodded.
"We can review the records in advance, and try to bring out a mixed caseload. We can send some of the children to their homes with antibiotics that can be administered by their parents, but probably all the infants will need physician care. Even if we can clear out eight to ten patients a day, we'll be here a couple of weeks."
"Buteo said there are about a hundred other colonies of flying people," Daniel said. "If they all have stasis chambers full of sick children…"
"We don't have the resources for an effort this large," Dr. Frasier replied.
"Can you impart knowledge to Buteo's people?" Teal'c asked. "Perhaps teach them the necessary skills."
Dr. Frasier looked tired.
"It doesn't make me very happy, but as a practical matter, I think that is what we will have to do."
Jack stood up.
"I'll talk to Buteo about getting you the trainees."
Dr. Frasier nodded.
"I'll want them with us from the beginning. They can observe, and we'll provide as much hands-on training as possible."
"Well, before we start thawing anybody out, you need a good night's sleep," Sam declared.
Halia cried when she finally lifted her sleeping baby into her arms.
"I thought I would never hold him again," she whispered. "Thank you."
Dr. Frasier smiled brightly and stroked the baby's cheek.
"I notice he doesn't have wings," Dr. Frasier commented. "Daniel tells me the gift of flight is given in a ceremony?"
Halia smiled back though her tears, sniffling.
"We will have the gifting again, now that the fledglings are well. Very soon."
"About that," Daniel said. "When was your last 'gifting?'"
Buteo, who had been watching his wife and child with a bemused and adoring expression, spoke up.
"A few months before the arrival of Apophis. In fact, it was the day after you first arrived on the plateau, when we were still living in the Window Cliff. We do not leave the cliff during the days of the gifting. We feast and sing with the fledglings. It is not a time we share with strangers." He smiled happily. "Yes, we will have the gifting again, very soon. And you are not strangers now. We invite you to join us, if you would like, perhaps to even receive the gift yourselves."
"I think I already did," Jack said sourly from the doorway.
Sam was clearly thinking along the same path.
"But if you were effected by the device, sir, why weren't we? We were all there."
"O'Neill has the blood of the Ancients in his veins," Teal'c observed.
"Jack also insisted on walking the hugest perimeter ever on that trip," Daniel pointed out.
"Naquadah site surveys suck," Jack riposted eleoquently.
"So my question is, what's the danger range for those things?" Sam commented pointedly. "Do we need to evacuate the Gamma Site during the ceremony?"
"Yes," Jack said immediately.
"This cliff is substantially farther away," Daniel observed.
"I am not risking the health and safety of my people."
Buteo was frowning.
"I do not think your Gamma Site should be at risk," he said. "You are walking people, not flying people."
"Yeah, well, he sure looks like walking people right now," Jack said, pointing to the baby. "And there are no flying people on our planet."
It was a sign of Halia's feeling of gratitude that she didn't bat an eye at Jack's insult to her baby.
"Perhaps your Daniel can remain at the Gamma Site and see if the ceremony reaches him there," she suggested, showing that she was following their conversation, despite her appearance of being completely absorbed in her child.
"I don't think so," Jack replied angrily.
"If he does not receive the gift, then you will know the Gamma Site is safe for those who chose to remain walking people, and we can always include Daniel in the next ceremony here, in our home."
She finally looked around as the room fell completely silent.
"Surely your mate will not refuse the gift?" she said. "He will join you in the sky?"
Jack was staring at Daniel. Daniel swallowed and stared back.
"Buteo," Sam interrupted. "Would there be any chance for me to see the device that gives 'the gift?'" she asked. "Ancient technology is fascinating."
"Perhaps it can be arranged. We would have to consult with the wise man," Buteo said.
Sam hopped up.
"Do you think we could talk to him now? I'm going back to Earth soon. "
"Of course," Buteo agreed.
"O'Neill, I believe I will accompany Major Carter," Teal'c said, following her out of the room without waiting for acknowledgement.
Halia watched them all with amused confusion.
"Did I say something offensive?" she asked.
"Not at all," Daniel reassured her. "Just… not many people know that Jack and I are… mates." It sounded odd to his own ears to say it.
"I cannot believe it is not obvious to everyone." Her expression became serious. "Daniel, what is your intention? Will you not accept the gift? Your leg pains you when you walk. Your mate is one of us. We would welcome you with open arms and grateful hearts, and though that fact is true for any of your people, it seems that you are the most likely to be the first to take wing."
"Second," Daniel muttered. His eyes drifted back to Jack, who was watching him closely.
"I appreciate your offer," Daniel said. "But I will have to think about it."
"You will decide wisely, even if I may not understand your decision," she said with confidence. She stood up, cooing to her son. "Let's go find your sisters, little one, they miss you!"
Then Jack and Daniel were alone in the small room.
"You can't do it, Daniel," Jack said firmly.
It was good to finally be back in their own aerie, after weeks away. And it was very good to be delivered there via Black Hawk, and not hawk man, as it were. Buteo and Halia came to visit with their daughters, and Jack and Daniel got the guided tour. The kitchens were down a maze of back passages that Jack had not yet explored, and were full of functioning equipment. There were many levels of apartments, all with windows to the outside, but on the side facing away from the gate. Only one large suite on each level had a "gateside view" as Jack referred to it, and he was actually familiar with those windows, though he had only perched on their ledges long enough to satisfy himself that they were empty, then had ignored them.
"We could put a lot of people in this place," Jack said.
"You should move your living quarters here, at least," Halia encouraged them. "This has been a very mild winter, with almost no windstorms. Next year you might not be so lucky."
Later, as they lay facing each other in the big nest, each with a hand resting on the other's hip, warm and content and fully at ease again, Jack said, "We would have to move up to that place at the top."
"Which place?" Daniel asked drowsily.
"The penthouse. It's way up at the top of the mountain, and it has doors and a front deck, like this place."
"I don't understand why we'd move," Daniel complained.
"What do you mean? This place is, like, the front door. Everybody'd be walking by all the time. Plus, that's the logical place for the whirly bird to bring up the big loads. Nah. And upstairs, there's a second penthouse, right across the hall from the one I'm thinking of. Just the two places, nobody to come up and bug us."
"I like the way you think, General," he agreed.
Daniel stood on the ledge, admiring the rising sun. The sky was perfectly clear and blue. As he flexed his wings, he could feel the currents in the air, rushing in predictable swirls and eddys around the nearby peaks.
Jack padded over, still in his socks. Over the last few months, Daniel had learned how much Jack hated wearing boots. He always waited until the last possible moment to put them on. Jack took Daniel's coffee cup out of his hand and examined Daniel's pack, which was full of vaccine ampoules and various useful medical equipment, making a minute, completely unnecessary adjustment to the straps.
Daniel stepped forward, wrapping his arms around Jack's waist and pulling them together. He kissed Jack's thoughtful expression.
"I don't understand why you can't just stay here and be the boy archeologist," Jack grumbled.
"I'll be back," Daniel said.
They looked up at the cry of Elana, Halina's youngest daughter. His escort has arrived. Her sister Ictinia's shriek urged him to hurry. Halina also circled over, her shrill call a thanks to Jack for sending Daniel on this journey.
Jack kissed him again.
"Have fun," he said. "I need you back in a few days, though. Those weird scrolls from PX9-723 aren't going to translate themselves.
Daniel laughed, then he turned and took a running start, leaping out into the sunrise.