"Didn't that tape say there were no fish in your pond?" Sam asked, watching the ripple as something suspiciously scaled and finned-looking plunged back below the surface of the pond.
"Close enough," Jack replied, apparently unconcerned. He'd always subscribed more than Daniel did to Teal'c's outlook on life: that their reality, their timeline, was the only one that mattered.
Daniel had never been able to brush things off so easily-- and now, after the series of nightmares he'd had the night before, he was starting to realize why. Five thousand years of memories weren't going to pop up to the surface as easily as they'd been shoved down nine years ago, but he'd remembered enough already to be both horrified and relieved that events had transpired so closely to the way they had unfolded before. More than once since he'd joined the SGC he'd lamented that if he only had the chance to make a particular decision a second time, surely things would have been different; well, now he had proof to the contrary. The dual losses of Sha'uri and Janet were an especial weight on his heart, despite the fact that he'd bet his own life and pretty much all of existence on the chance that everything would happen exactly the way it had before.
He unfolded his chair next to Teal'c's, then walked slowly out onto the pier as the big guy sat down. Daniel wasn't exactly sure how the rest of his team was going to react to what he had to tell them, but he'd known this was coming for five thousand years now-- give or take most of a decade-- and he knew it wouldn't get any easier if he put it off.
"Hey, guys?" he began, a little hesitantly. "I have something to tell you."
Jack glanced back over his shoulder at Daniel, a quizzical expression on his face, before turning back to his line. "Is this about that whole appearing naked in my office thing?" he asked, off-handedly. "You said you'd give us more detail about that later, but what with Jacob, and Catherine, and Atlantis, and that whole deal with the ZPM..."
Daniel wrinkled his nose a little at the comment. "Uh, sort of," he said, pausing as he abruptly wondered what the Others had made of him this time around. Had any of them realized this was his second go at things before they sent him back? Had Oma? Technically, he was on his fifth body now, not third, and if they'd tried to "modify" him again the way they had the last time... Hmm. Something to think about later.
"Before I get into that," he continued, shaking his head a little to clear the cobwebs, "I just wanted to say-- I wanted to say I'm sorry."
"For what, Daniel?" Sam asked lightly, giving him a concerned look.
"For lying to all of you for so long," he said awkwardly, crossing his arms over his chest. Five thousand years of self-sufficiency and he'd never quite been able to shake that habit, maybe because he'd never quite been able to rid himself of his self-doubt. No matter how much he'd learned, no matter what skills he'd picked up, the specter of the future had always been hanging over him, taunting him with all the various ways he could screw things up without even realizing it.
He saw Jack's shoulders flinch a little at his admission; the General began slowly reeling in his line, then put the pole down on the pier and turned to look at him. Teal'c got out of his chair behind Daniel and came up behind him, laying a heavy, comforting hand on his shoulder; Daniel glanced up into his friend's face and was unaccountably relieved to see nothing there but concern and trust.
"What untruths have you told, Danieljackson?" Teal'c asked, voicing the question on behalf of all of them.
Daniel took a deep breath and attempted to elaborate. "Well, it's not like I knew I was lying-- not at the time, anyway-- but I knew I would be beforehand. I wasn't sure how you'd react; I remembered how badly I'd dealt with Jack's undercover mission when the NID was stealing tech from our off-world allies and I hated to put anyone else through that, but I didn't think I had much of a choice."
"Daniel," Jack drawled, raising his eyebrows.
"Right, right." No more talking around the point, no matter how much the chatter soothed his nerves. "It's like this," he said. "The Daniel Jackson of this timeline, of your timeline-- I'm not him."
The others gaped at him for a moment, uncomprehending; then something began to dawn in Jack's gaze, an angry light flaring in the back of his eyes. "What did you do with him?" he asked, roughly, shifting into a more aggressive stance, his hand hovering near the butt of a concealed weapon. "And why tell us? What, does Replicator programming not play well with the Daniel Jackson view of the universe? Somehow, I'm not surprised."
"He's not a Replicator, sir," Sam said softly. Daniel turned to meet her gaze, and was glad to find alarmed curiosity there, but not anger. "I mean, I can understand why you might think that... they had him last, and they could have snuck in a copy in pieces with all the standard Replicators that got into the Mountain during the attack. But even with my duplicate, there was a sense that she was a machine-- something alien about her, something I'm not seeing now. I don't think that's what Daniel's saying at all, I think he's saying--" She swallowed. "Daniel, are you from another alternate reality? Our Daniel didn't really Ascend this time, did he?"
Daniel winced. "Not... exactly. It... um. You know how I said on that tape that we'd traveled back in time five thousand years?"
"How you said?" Sam asked, eyes widening with shock and realization.
Teal'c's grip tightened measurably on Daniel's shoulder, and he winced. "Yeah," he continued. "When the Others sent me back the second time-- I don't know the specifics of what they did, but I'm guessing that it was the cosmic equivalent of making sure the door hit my ass on the way out. When we went back in time for the ZPM..." He swallowed, mind flooded with memories of a hundred thousand ways he should have died, a myriad of lives he'd had to leave suddenly, and a host of others that had decayed around him as the few friends he allowed himself succumbed to illnesses and wounds that his body sloughed off as efficiently as breathing. "I never seemed to age, and I never died, no matter what happened."
"But Daniel," Sam blurted, her brow wrinkled, "You have died. Several times, the-- what happened in Kelowna just for starters. If the Others had truly altered your makeup, then--"
"I found a way around it," Daniel said quickly. He really didn't want to rehash everything again-- he'd already relived the events of the last nine years more thoroughly than anyone should ever have to. "I was afraid, Sam. We've seen too many alternate realities where the Goa'uld won, and one of the things they all had in common was that I wasn't here. Wasn't with the SGC, fighting as hard as I could alongside the rest of you. I knew, if I let things unfold as they had before, that we'd make it past Ra, Apophis, Anubis, the Replicators, and any number of other threats; we'd lose a lot of people along the way, people I'd rather-- people I wish I could have saved, but in the balance of things--" He trailed off.
"The survival of humanity was more important," Teal'c said, a note of finality in his voice.
"Yes," Daniel whispered, through a tight throat. He'd known, he'd known beforehand-- but it was different now, with all the memories of everyone they'd lost refreshed in his mind overnight, doubly strong. He blinked back tears, then realized he'd turned his gaze down to the decking at some point; he looked up again warily, meeting Jack's gaze, wanting to see how his once-and-again best friend was taking it.
"You made yourself forget," Jack said quietly, his expression calm and unreadable.
"Yes," Daniel repeated, looking away again, out over the calmly undulating surface of the pond. "I couldn't-- there was no way I could go through all of that again, knowing everything that was going to happen, without trying to change any of it. So I had a, an old college friend, one who knew-- well, another way of making things happen-- I had him suppress all the memories and my unnatural healing abilities as much as possible. I just-- packed up the same two bags I'd had at that lecture the first time around, put the rest of my stuff in storage, and then-- had it done. I showed up for my speech about the age of the pyramids believing it was the first time I'd given it, and... you know what happened from there."
He remembered the look on Wesley's face when he'd requested the spell. His friend had been just barely proficient enough at the time to manage the complex ritual, and he'd been wary of doing anything so drastic without a very good explanation. Daniel had done his best to give him one without divulging too many details of the future, and though Wesley had been very skeptical about it, he'd fortunately trusted Daniel enough to go ahead and do as he asked.
Do as he asked... Daniel flinched, then glanced down at his watch, instinctively seeking the date: March 25, 2005. The first time around, Wesley had been dead for nearly a year by now; more than three years would have passed since the drunken call from Wesley about his associate Angel and Angel's son. This time, Daniel didn't remember fielding either call; if the man had paid attention to what Daniel had asked of him, Wesley should have survived, and if he recalled the date...
"So what did happen to the Daniel that was born in this timeline?" Sam asked, interrupting his chaotic thoughts.
"This timeline?" Daniel blinked at her.
"Yeah, you know, the Daniel you just told us you're not," Jack said gruffly. Daniel still couldn't make out what emotion was behind the words-- anger? acceptance? disbelief?-- but at least he was talking.
He sighed. He still didn't recall everything in detail, but the horror he'd felt the week of his own birth had made quite an impression. "He died," he said flatly, "a few days after he was born, after a series of increasingly severe seizures."
Sam gasped, clapping a hand over her mouth. "Entropic cascade failure," she said, miserably.
Daniel nodded. "I don't know what I'd been expecting-- I didn't socialize with my parents, obviously, but I'd kept tabs on them, and when she turned up pregnant at the right time-- I guess I thought it meant it wouldn't affect me. I mean, if she could carry the baby to term-- well, I'd have to stay out of the world a little longer than I wanted to, but I was kind of relieved at the thought that I wouldn't have to go through everything all over again. I could finally move on, and leave the SGC to my younger self. But as soon as the baby was born--" he trailed off.
"He was not a truly separate being until that moment," Teal'c concluded.
"That's what I decided must have happened," Daniel replied, then gave a watery chuckle. "The saddest part, though, is that after the funeral, my parents' life didn't change at all. I mean, from what I remember of it. They didn't have another child, they didn't alter their career path, they still chose to accompany the same exhibit back to New York. They died exactly the same way they had before-- it's like I never existed for them at all, not even in the original timeline."
"So you started laying a paper trail," Jack interjected, his eyes narrowing in speculation, "and the minute 'Daniel Jackson' was old enough for you to believably step into his shoes..."
Daniel nodded. "I went back to college-- New York, Chicago, Oxford, a few digs out in the field. I tried to do everything that I could remember doing the first time around, even to visiting my grandfather; Nick had been put in the institution by then, and when I told him he misremembered what he'd heard about his grandson's death he believed every word of it."
"How terrible," Sam said, wringing her hands a little as though she really wanted to give him a hug, but wasn't sure he'd accept it.
He gave her a crooked smile. "I managed," he said. "After so many years, it was a relief to know I'd almost made it back to where I'd started, and this time I was able to save a lot of my parents' things in storage. Oh, and you won't believe the scrapbook collection I have," he added, his mood brightening as some of his better recent memories surfaced. "I couldn't exactly meet you and Jack before I was supposed to, but I had a lot of time on my hands in libraries all over the world that I'd spent learning the first time around. I saved a lot of newspaper articles, including a certain someone's repeated appearances on the school honor roll..."
Sam blushed at that, but it was Jack that Daniel looked to; when the older man rolled his eyes and gave him a sour, amused expression, Daniel felt as though a weight had dropped off his shoulders.
"I spent a lot of years building up this reputation," Jack said. "I'll thank you not to poke holes in it."
Daniel chuckled a little, then stiffened as his cell phone rang. He checked his watch again, then took a deep breath and pulled the phone out of his pocket. "I promise, I'll go into as much detail as you want to hear--"
"Daniel--" Jack began, the amusement vanishing from his expression.
"Jack," Daniel said firmly, then picked up where he'd left off: "--including exactly why I had to take this call, but I have to take it now. Just, before you think about it too much-- I hope you know how very, very much I missed all of you while I was-- gone."
He swallowed hard, reigning in the skeins of tangled emotion that threatened to choke him as the vast swell of new/old memory pressed at the back of his mind. Then he turned to stroll away from the pier. Teal'c stared into his eyes for a moment, one expressive eyebrow raised in something that Daniel chose to interpret as reassurance, then stepped out of his way. Daniel nodded gratefully, then made for the cabin as quickly as he could.
The phone was on its fifth or sixth ring when Daniel finally opened it and pressed it to his ear. "Wes?" he asked, holding his breath as he waited for a response.
Wesley checked the clock for the third time in the last quarter of an hour, pacing the floor with the extension in hand. He'd been looking forward to this day for three years now, ever since he'd realized that his friend had actually been telling the truth and that Daniel's claims to have traveled in time were more than just the product of a deranged mind.
"Listen to me, Wes," Daniel had said, his face unusually intense, gripping Wesley's arm to force him to pause before beginning the spell. "Sometime, years from now, you're going to have a prophecy on your hands. A terrible one, one that says something you really won't want to hear, something that will make you believe you have to betray one of your friends."
"Daniel..." Wesley had interjected uncertainly, dismayed and unnerved by the passion and certainty behind his friend's words. Daniel had been unusually driven during the preceding months, and the spell he'd asked for was only the latest in a long string of odd questions and requests. Even as Wesley had agreed to cast for him, he hadn't been sure he'd believed Daniel's attempt at an explanation, and that last minute warning about the prophecy had been vague enough, and disturbing enough, that Wesley hadn't wanted to believe it either. But what if, he'd wondered, it should turn out to be true--
"Please, Wes," Daniel had continued, gripping his arm harder. "Just remember, when that happens-- you're right. You're absolutely right about the translation, though in my time unexpected interference put the consequences off for another year and a half. And secondly-- don't trust Justine. Ever. Promise me, Wes."
Wesley had given his promise, dubious though he'd been. He'd wanted to ask the details of the prophecy and ask who Justine might be, but he'd seen in Daniel's eyes that no further explanation would be forthcoming. So he'd done as Daniel asked, then put it out of his mind and pretended nothing of importance had occurred. In fact, in the rush of events over the next six years, he had almost forgotten it entirely. Until the day finally came, three years ago now, that he'd stared at a piece of paper marked with the words "The Father Will Kill The Son."
He checked the clock again, unaccountably nervous now that the time had finally arrived, and dialed the cellular number he'd been given.
It rang once, then again, then again; with every computerized trill, a little part of his breathless anticipation dropped away, replaced by disappointment. Surely, he was there. If the number was ringing at all, a number Daniel had given him back in an era when cell phones were not nearly so widespread and popular as they were now... but what if someone else had got the number?
The phone rang a fourth time, then a fifth, then finally picked up. "Wes?" a voice on the other end asked, in a tense, hoarse voice.
"Daniel," Wesley sighed, sinking abruptly into the nearest chair with the force of his relief. "You remember, then?"
"I remember," Daniel said, solemnly. "It worked perfectly; everything happened just the way I remembered it happening before, until last night."
Another layer of tension that Wesley hadn't even known he was carrying evaporated at Daniel's words, and Wesley leaned back, closing his eyes. "Everything?" he asked. "I had no appreciation at the time how dangerous it could have been for you to offer me the advice you did; I've been worried for some time now that by following it, I had somehow caused an irreparable change in the timeline."
"You forget," Daniel replied, "you wouldn't have been part of Angel's team any longer in any event; I remembered what you'd told me about what happened after you took Connor the first time around, and nearly every terrible event that happened in Los Angeles from that moment until your death were connected to that failure."
Death? Wesley thought, dismayed. And abject failure? No wonder Daniel had been so stingy with details about the future beforehand.
But this wasn't the time to drift off into thought; Daniel was still talking. "I didn't really believe most of the supernatural stuff you talked about the first time around," he said, "but the details I did remember suggested that taking you out of the equation wouldn't have a significant impact on a world wide scale."
"Wait a moment," Wesley interrupted, caught off guard by Daniel's admission. "You didn't believe...? Then how...? I thought surely you must be involved with a supernatural organization very like the Watcher's Council, given the sort of questions you were always asking, not to mention the whole question of time travel in the first place. Temporal relocation is difficult to control with magic and has therefore always been a fairly rare occurrence, but I've even never heard of any scientific method that even vaguely approximated such a feat."
Daniel chuckled over the line. "'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic', Wes," he quoted. "And I'm not joking when I tell you that any more detail than that is classified."
Wesley processed that for a moment, his mind nearly driven blank by the implications. Advanced technology, light years beyond anything currently even rumored of in the public sector. Light years in a literal sense of the term, perhaps? He remembered again the criticism he'd heard of the lecture Daniel had given immediately after the last time they'd seen one another in person, and pondered more seriously this time the reference to alien landing sites. It boggled the mind.
"Hey, are you still there?" Daniel said, hesitantly. "Can you tell me-- can I ask how Connor is?"
"Daniel," Wesley blurted, realizing abruptly that Daniel had probably never heard the boy's new name. He'd gone so entirely undercover after disappearing from Los Angeles that he hadn't dared to call any of his friends, even those who had no connection to his life there at all. He'd been able to emerge somewhat from the shadows two years prior when he'd learned through the demonic grapevine that the feared Angelus had somehow been turned into a ghost; with Daniel's year and a half timeline lifted, and Angel unable to physically harm them, he'd dared begin inserting himself back into the legal system. Still, he'd kept up an alias, afraid to face his old friends, and he'd given Angel's son-- Wesley's son, now-- a new name to match it.
"All right," his friend said, sounding a little disappointed. "I won't push."
"No, Daniel," Wesley said again, realizing that Daniel hadn't caught his meaning. "I gave him a new name. He isn't Connor anymore; his name is Daniel Charles Grant."
"Oh," Daniel said, sounding stunned. "Wes--"
"Thank you, Daniel," Wesley interrupted, uncomfortable with the emotional turn of the conversation but also determined to finally say what he'd wanted to tell the other man every day of the last three years. "I've been wanting to say that for a very long time. If you hadn't said anything... if you hadn't warned me..." He glanced toward the closed door of the bedroom where the center of his life was currently down for a nap, and could not imagine how his life could ever have been worth living without him.
"You're welcome," Daniel said gravely, then chuckled. "Now do you see why I wanted to forget? I could care less about my own life, but the family I'd built for myself at the Mountain..." He trailed off. "I just hope they forgive me."
"They will," Wesley reassured him. "They couldn't do anything else, not if they're truly your friends. If the stakes were as high as you've implied, then there was nothing else you could have done."
"You'd be surprised," Daniel said, wryly, then took a deep breath. "Look, I'd love to talk for another hour or two, maybe arrange for you to come visit us in Colorado-- you'd fit right in-- but I left three confused people by the pond who really deserve some more answers. Do you think you could call me back in another four hours? I'd take down your number instead, but I don't have anything to write it with."
"It will be closer to five hours, I'm afraid," Wesley said, estimating the likelihood of getting little Danny into his pyjamas any earlier than that.
"That'll be fine," Daniel replied quickly. "I'll just leave my phone on; it's got more than enough of a charge. And Wes-- it's really good to hear from you again."
"Likewise," Wesley assured him, smiling faintly as he heard the click that signaled the imminent return of the dial tone.
A murmur of noise issued from the bedroom, heralding the end of Danny's nap. Wesley returned the extension to its hook in the kitchen, then slipped into the bedroom to watch his son wake with a full heart.