Actions

Work Header

The Road to Follow

Chapter Text

The Road to Follow

I

Beginnings

 

The steaks had been good, the beer Irish, the fries crisp and the coffee they were served a moment ago hot and strong.

It's almost like at O'Malley's, Daniel thought, wondering if there was an O'Malley's in Colorado Springs in this timeline.

But this wasn't the Springs. This was Washington DC and the diner was called something else. Something not Irish. Daniel shrugged it off, not caring one way or the other.

There were many things he didn't care about these days.

There was his new name for starters. The one they'd given him when he was released into his new life. Michael Christopher. Mr. Christopher, librarian, that's who he was now. He worked, he ate, he slept, he went to doctor’s appointments, orthopedics, PT... He took care of himself. But he didn't care.

There was a part of him on guard though. A part not feeling as numb as the rest of him. He waited. Waited for the right time, the opportunity. But more than a year had gone by and the opportunity, the right time, never came. So the “on guard” part had slowly fallen into the same lethargic slumber as the rest of him.

Until the phone call... the one call he'd never expected anymore.

And here he was now.

His leg was throbbing, or what was left of it anyway, and he looked forward to his hotel room where he could remove the prosthesis. It had been a long journey from NY to DC.

Daniel was tired.

The man he had dinner with picked at his napkin, tore tiny bits of it, then put it down and reached for his beer.

Familiar.

“Look, Doctor Jackson...”

Strange. But at least he was calling him by his real name.

“Daniel,” he offered tightly, not sure he really wanted this stranger to call him Daniel. But hearing “Doctor Jackson” from the mouth of this man was ... weird.

“... General Landry believed you. Heck, I believe you after reading those reports. But I can't do squat for you. It's outta my hands. Sorry.”

“We need you,” Daniel demanded. But he couldn't keep up the glare or the urgent edge to his voice he usually reserved for Jack when he had to convince him to cooperate. Only for his Jack, he reminded himself. And the painful stab at the memory of his Jack felt good in a weird way because it reminded him he was still alive after all.

“So you keep saying. What I don't get is; why? Why me? It's not like I can barge in on the Joint Chiefs and order them to let you do your hocus pocus with the timeline. Even if I wanted to. Which I don't. I'm having a very nice life, thank you very much.”

“You have the...”

“...Thingamajig Gene, yep, I got that much. You keep saying that, too, a lot.”

“Ancient Gene,” Daniel automatically corrected, the ghost of a smile passing his face. “And if you'd listened to me for the last hour, you’d know what it is and why we can't pull this off without your help.”

“I listened. Still sounds wacko to me.” He cocked his head, a muscle twitching in his jaw. “Have you listened to yourself?”

“I know how all this sounds.” Daniel leaned forward into the colonel's personal space, catching a whiff of aftershave, leather and soap. He resisted the urge to close his eyes and take a deep breath. So achingly familiar. “But you just said it yourself. You believe us now. You read the reports. And you still don't want to help us?”

“Nope.” Brown eyes stared right back at him. Bottomless but unyielding.

“Why not?”

O'Neill leaned back in his seat, waving his hand around the room full of guests. “Take a look. How many people you think are in here? Twenty? Fifty? How many people are out there, at home, on the streets... having families, jobs, lives. What gives you the right to take all of that away from them? What makes you think your timeline ... universe... whatever... was so much better than this?”

Oh, here we go... “General Landry called us arrogant,” Daniel admitted, biting his lower lip.

“Damn straight.”

They sat in silence, nursing their coffee.

“Ba'al will come. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But he will come.”

“And then, what?”

“Death,” Daniel spat. “Slavery. More... death. You know. We went over this at the interrogations countless times. You read the reports.” He let his own arm wave through the diner. “And then, all of this goes to hell.”

He felt like a broken record. He had said all of this nearly a year ago. To the guys who interrogated him, to Landry ...

Why did he even bother?

Why was he even here?

“What kind of a name is that anyway. Ba'al ... as in Boccie?” O'Neill picked apart his napkin some more.

“Yeah. Boccie,” Daniel murmured.

So much alike.

“I never had a thing for Science Fiction,” O'Neill drawled.

“I know.”

“Hey... stop that.”

“Sorry.”

O'Neill took another sip of his coffee. “They won't let you use the gate, period. Me being on your page won't make a difference. Landry stays out of it. He bailed you out and he considers his duty done.”

It took Daniel a few seconds to catch up on what O'Neill just said. But when it hit him, a faint echo of hope surged through him. “You found the gate?”

“The one in Antarctica you were talking about.” The colonel's voice dropped to a low mutter. “And we SO shouldn't have this conversation here.”

“There's no place we should have this conversation, so I guess any place is as good as...any.” Daniel glanced at the other tables, but nobody paid attention. The music was loud, the conversations around them a background chatter along with the clicking of pool balls. Keeping his voice as low as O'Neill's he continued, “I assume you're working on the program.”

“I'll be assigned to an outpost close to McMurdo at one point if that's what you mean. Once they finished building the base around that thing.”

Daniel almost smirked. The government didn't even bother to let them know they found the Antarctica gate. SG1 could help them in so many ways. But of course that wasn't going to happen. He shook his head and stared into his empty beer glass.

Then again...

“Is that why you called me? Because you need our help opening the gate?”

Another twitch in O'Neill's jaw, eyes narrowing. “We have the best geeks from all over the country.”

“Get your own Doctor Jackson there at least. He'll open the gate for you,” Daniel said, surprised and a little ashamed about how satisfying the feeling of arrogance was. “If you don't trust us - he's the one you need.”

The colonel didn't move now, no twitching, no blinking. Face blank he looked at Daniel, eyes giving nothing away.

And yet it was enough body language to let him know something was up.

Daniel knew this man better than any other person on the planet.

Well, not this man. But close.

“You already contacted him, didn't you? That's great. That's actually... yeah, it's great. Tell him about us. Make him listen. And then help us... Help us contact one of our allies and find that time machine Ba'al built... or at least help us to find a way to make Earth defendable.”

Totally ignoring his words, O'Neill said, “Bottom line is, whatever plans you had, it ain't gonna work. You're stuck here. This is your time and your place now.”

“You know about the ancient outpost in Antarctica. If we're not allowed to fix the timeline, at least try to find it. We gave you the coordinates. We need a ZPM first and we're gonna find that on Proclarush Taonas. That's where we need you. It's a power source and you're the only one who can retrieve it...”

“Because of the thingamajig...”

“...gene, yes,” Daniel hissed. Why the inappropriate O'Neill sarcasm still annoyed him, after all these years, was beyond him. He should know better. He shouldn't expect anything less. Or anything more. Yet, here he was, still irritated by those raised eyebrows and the thin smile curling small lips.

“It's no science fiction,” he added for good measure. “Get that into your thick skull. And if you've seen the gate you already know that.”

“Haven't seen anything yet. Still waiting for my transfer papers. All I know is what you guys told me, then I read a bunch of weird reports from your interrogation. And had some vague briefings.”

Resisting the urge to roll his eyes and not really knowing why he resisted that urge, Daniel said, “But you know it's real.”

He didn't get an answer on that one, just another raised eyebrow.

The waiter approached their table, asking if they wanted anything else. O'Neill shook his head and the man turned on his heel to bring the bill.

Daniel felt cold in the pit of his stomach. Five minutes from now they'd walk out of here... nothing solved, nothing settled. Both going their respective ways, not looking back, last chance lost.

“So, why?” He pinned the other man with his glare, mobilizing all his willpower to fight the tiredness and the mixed feeling of dread and resignation. “When I contacted you two months ago, you hung up on me. Then, three days ago you suddenly called. Why?”

There had to be a reason other than to stomp on the last bit of hope Daniel had, to ever go home, to ever fix this timeline disaster.

O'Neill rubbed a hand over his face, suddenly looking tired himself. “This was a very bad idea.” The waiter placed the bill on the table and O'Neill pulled it over before Daniel could reach for it. “My treat.”

Daniel watched the exchange of credit card and, when the waiter was gone, he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his seat. “Thanks. Even though it's still an expensive dinner for a guy who works at a library. What with the flight and rental car...”

“You want me to pay for that, too? Fine,” O'Neill snapped. “Send me the bill.”

“...and hotel room. Little decadent, don't you think? And this isn't even a date.”

The coffee mug was slammed on the table, the sugar jar almost tipped over from the impact. “Look...”

The waiter returned, handing O'Neill his credit card back as he wished them both a good evening and left.

The colonel pushed back his chair and stood. “Get a cab to the hotel. I'll pay for that, too.” His voice was almost neutral, just a bit on the edgy side.

Now it was at Daniel to raise an eyebrow. “Something I said?”

----------

The cold air bit into his warm face the moment he left the restaurant. Daniel stuffed his hands into the pockets of his gray jeans jacket as he stood on the sidewalk, waiting for his cab.

O'Neill had left long before Daniel was done putting his jacket on and making the first two wobbly steps on his artificial leg. It still was a bitch when he was exhausted or had been wearing the prosthesis for too many hours in a row. Always took him a few steps to get in sync with his real leg. After wearing that damn thing for god knew how long since he left his apartment early this morning, the still slightly sensitive skin of his stump throbbed.

Hotel room, lying down ... didn't sound too bad. He could sleep in, no work tomorrow as it was Sunday. And while Daniel often worked Sundays – categorizing new books and putting returned books back into their shelves – he didn't have to. He could take the day, visit the Smithsonian museum, things like that. He could catch an afternoon flight back.

Except Daniel was angry. He'd taken the long hours of traveling upon him because that SOB called him, had told him in Jack's typical curt and a little annoyed way they needed to talk.

Sleeping in and visiting museums wasn't why he'd come here. He could do that in NY if he wanted to, thank you very much.

He'd come because he'd thought Colonel Clueless had finally gotten the clue and was going to help them.

Daniel even had to smile when he had hung up the phone three days ago, seeking comfort from the fact that even in this messed up reality he seemed to be able to talk Jack into listening to him, however long it took him to get there.

Right.

And now O'Neill had changed his mind and dismissed him. Just like that.

Why?

The cab arrived and Daniel settled into the backseat to avoid any small talk with the driver. He said his destination, stretched his leg as far as he could and leaned his head back, closing his eyes.

----------

It was the usual exchange of words when the cab arrived at the hotel. Did he need help leaving the car? No, thank you. Would he be okay walking to the hotel alone? Yes, thank you....

“Have a good night, sir”

“Yes, you too, bye.”

He watched the cab leave and turned to the brightly illuminated entrance. A lower class hotel, but the guy at the counter was nice and the rooms weren't sleazy. He'd get breakfast in the morning and the paper to his room if he wanted it, which he didn't. There was a TV and a bathroom with a shower and clean towels and bathrobes.

He took the elevator to the second floor, absently rubbing his thigh, key card in the other hand. The lights were dim, suddenly reminding Daniel of the SGC's hallways at night. Of course there was carpet here and cream colored wallpapers and the doors were of painted wood. But just for a second, the low lights had given him an illusion of the SGC with its long hallways and many doors. Office doors, lab doors, all closed at nights when only security and those who had no lives were still working.

Daniel shook his head, shrugging off the images, as he shuffled down the hall to the door of room 208.

And what's behind door number 208, he thought bemused as he swiped the card through the slot and entered.

A bed and a hot shower. Bingo.

But what really was behind door number 208 was Jack O'Neill sitting in the recliner, one of the little bottles from the mini bar open on the table beside him. He was still wearing his leather jacket, but looked almost comfortable sitting there, reading in the hotel brochure. “They only have cable TV,” were the first words out of his mouth.

“So?” Daniel slammed the door shut behind him.

“Not enough sports channels.”

“I'm sorry for the inconvenience. At least you found a drink.” He went over to the bed, sat down and switched on the little lamp on the night stand.

He couldn't see all of O'Neill's face. There were too many shadows in the room. He watched the other man pick up the little bottle. He waved it at Daniel as if he was going to make a toast and then drank from it. “This is good stuff.”

“Are you paying for the mini bar bill, too?”

“Want something?” The bottle was held out to him.

“Yes. I want to know what you're doing here. After you made it perfectly clear you didn't want to talk any longer at the diner,” Daniel said, rubbing his temple.

He had to admit he was only mildly surprised about Jack being in his hotel room. It was what he did. What HIS Jack had done. When they had fought, after slamming doors and walking out on each other. No matter which one of them had done the screw-up and had to do the groveling in the end, it had mostly been Jack who showed up at Daniel's place or in Daniel's office at one point. Jack had often lost his temper with him, but equally as often he had made the peace offering. In his own unique kind of way which had mostly involved bad jokes, ground out apologies, or angry yelling and pacing – before the actual talking. It had also mostly involved beer and pizza and sulking and bitching on both their parts.

Sex later. Sweet and loving or rough, still hovering at the verge of anger, make-up sex.

However, this wasn't HIS Jack. So all the cards were mixed up and Daniel wasn't sure what to expect.

Surely he didn't expect make-up sex.

Still it was like Jack to push him away and then show up at his hotel room later, to...

Do what?

There was no mystery in how he had found Daniel. They had done small talk when they'd first met at the diner; O'Neill asking how he was, Daniel telling him where he stayed... the rest was simple. The colonel coming here, talking the concierge into giving him Daniel's room number, coming up, using a credit card to open the door while Daniel had still waited for his cab... special ops stuff and all that.

The only mystery was why.

“Look, colonel, I'm pretty tired. If there's no...”

“Couldn't talk to you at the bar. Too many people.” O'Neill rose and stiffly walked over to the window. Fiddling with the drapes, he looked out into the night. Daniel could see his tense face mirrored in the glass. “Tomorrow, Doctor Daniel Jackson was supposed to meet me here in DC. I get to choose my own staff. I wanted to talk to him about a job in Antarctica.” O'Neill's voice was quiet, emotionless. “He never made it on the plane.”

“Wha...,” Daniel felt his heart give a heavy thud, the cold feeling at the pit of his stomach returning. Licking his lips, he started again. “What do you...“ But of course that was a stupid question, right? 'He never made it' didn't leave much room for interpretation. Finally he just asked, “How?”

“Hit by a car on his way to the airport in NY. “

“I thought was in Egypt?”

“He has an apartment in East Village for when he's not in Egypt. Sometimes he's over here to promote his books, talk to his agents... stuff like that.”

I called him, Daniel thought, talked to him. “You did your homework,” he said out loud.

Two months ago... even before he finally figured out O'Neill's phone number and picked up the courage to call him, he had talked to Doctor Jackson briefly. He remembered the resentful voice on the other end of the phone, telling him to shut up and never to call again. Jackson thought Daniel had been messing with his head. He had sounded annoyed, irritated, and a bit resigned. But he must have stood up to what he had believed or he wouldn't have written books. Being able to open the Gate... it would have changed his life forever. Daniel knew. He'd been there. Now this Doctor Jackson would never find out his theories weren't far from the truth after all.

The sadness he felt was odd, like he was grieving for his own death. But the moment passed and what was left was a shadow of regret and melancholy.

All alternate Daniels seemed to end up dead sooner or later.

It was a tragedy and ironic, and for a wild hysterical moment Daniel felt like laughing. It wouldn't have been a humorous laugh. He could feel it in his chest, like a painful cough. He swallowed it down and stared at the forlorn figure standing by his hotel room window.

“Why are you telling me this? And who do you think did it? Who would be interested in killing him? No, don't answer that. There're always people who know too much and there're always people who don't want the program to continue. Same in my reality. Probably the same people here want to stop the Stargate from being opened.” Names scrolled down before Daniel's inner eye. Kinsey, Simmons... and others who worked for the NID in his timeline...

“There's always someone in the crowd,” the colonel said.

“Yeah.”

“I can't do anything for you about fixing your timeline. They won't let you go through that Gate, no matter how loud or how much you'll yell. But there's something you should know,” O'Neill said after a moment, his voice still quiet, still bare of any emotions.

“What's that?”

“Doctor Jackson ... ours... the one who...”

“Died.”

“While working on a dig in Luxor, a year ago, the ceiling of a tomb came down. It squashed his left leg. He lost it.”

“He... he did. He did? But... nobody mentioned that before. It wasn't in his bio on his book either. I, uh, bought one of his books to see what he... and it was a good book, too. He...“ Shaking his head, Daniel rubbed his thigh again. “That's ...” When O'Neill still gazed out the window, Daniel trailed off, trying to gather his thoughts. “What are you implying here?”

“Jackson's body is still at the mortuary of the hospital they brought him to. I identified him, but the paperwork's not done. The word of his death isn't out yet.“

He blinked at O'Neill, not being able to really get what he was saying. Not sure he wanted to understand. Not sure he didn't want to understand. There was hope again underneath the anxiousness.

“I'm offering you the chance to work for the program. If you want to help Earth to fight this Boccie, this is your only chance.” Now O'Neill turned, their eyes locked over the distance of the room.

“Why are you doing this? And what are the chances that someone figures it out?”

“There's always risk.” O'Neill shrugged.

“You... you're going to take command of the SGC... the... the base close to McMurdo. That's why you can do this.” It was a stab in the dark but a nod confirmed Daniel's suspicion “They made you general.”

“Not yet. Not until I take over.”

“Wow, that's, congratulations, I guess.”

“I can back you up on this, give you his background, arrange things. But make no mistake. You try to contact the others and the deal is off. You get caught because you're going against any of the regs they gave you and you're on your own. You're him. And he doesn't know anything about Samantha Carter or Cameron Mitchell. Or another timeline. Got that?”

“Why?” Daniel asked again. He seemed to ask that a lot tonight. “Why are you doing this?”

O'Neill walked away from the window, picked up the small bottle and emptied it. Aiming at the trashcan and throwing the bottle with a flick of his wrist, he replied, “You were right. We need you. I'd have taken him, but that's out of the question now, so you're my next best choice. And I can't get you in officially for the obvious reasons.”

“They'll find out. Someone will.”

“Not if you keep quiet. And if they're gonna bury you tomorrow.”

He felt his throat go dry.

If he was declared dead he'd lose any hope of seeing Sam or Mitchell again. If he agreed to this, he wouldn't be able to find them, ever. He had tried over the last year, followed every hint he'd found. But the Air Force had erased their identities with great care, and every trace Daniel found led into dead ends. So maybe finding Sam and Mitchell was out of the question anyway.... If he agreed to this, he'd be able to open the gate again. And once the gate was open, he would bide his time. Daniel was aware the odds for walking into the control room, overcoming security and going through the gate were close to non-existent. But at least he'd be there...

He could make a difference again. Maybe.

“What makes you think you can trust me?”

“Oh, I don't. But you're not stupid. You said it yourself. If that Ba'al character attacks, we’re gonna need the gate to go to that planet, to find a power source.”

“Actually, the gate on Taonas isn't working. We'd need a ship,” Daniel chimed in, wondering if that had been a mistake, when O'Neill's eyes narrowed. “But you'd need to go through the Gate to contact our allies, in order to get a ship,” he added hastily.

“Bottom line is – this is your only way to help. It's not what you wanted, but it's better than nothing.”

“I can't do anything without Sam,” he tried.

O'Neill shook his head. “Sorry. No can do. She's had too much of a rep already. Was a well known scientist. Too risky. And she's being watched way more closely than you are.”

“What about...”

“Nope. Not gonna rope Mitchell in either. It's you or nobody.”

“Jack...”

“You have an appointment with me tomorrow, eleven hundred sharp, The Diner, Corner North Adams Mill Road, Belmont Road. Wear something flaky. Plaid. No tie. This is a one-time offer. If you don't show, I'll assume you're not interested.”

Daniel watched the door close quietly behind O'Neill.

He sat on his bed for minutes that stretched like hours, gazing at the opposite wall. Finally he began undressing and unstrapping his prosthesis, going through the movements mechanically, his thoughts tumbling in his head. Part of him believed he had hallucinated. That the Jack O'Neill who had stood in his room making this crazy offer was only a product of his overactive imagination. Because even though he was being used to weird beyond weirdness... this was... well, weird. And wrong on so many levels.

But in an abstract way it was like starting over. Doing it all again from scratch. With the major difference that Daniel was, at least theoretically, mentally prepared for it this time.

For what was out there.







He checked out of his hotel and went to buy a plaid shirt the next morning, feeling oddly torn between finding the whole situation hilarious – in a hysterical way – and being disgusted that he was really going to do this. He hadn't worn plaid shirts in a very long time. Jack... Jack always used to tell him he shouldn't hide his goods behind the baggy pants and plaid shirts. And Jack had Sam and Janet on his back, all three of them gently prodding Daniel until he had finally yielded and went shopping with them. And he'd discovered a liking for plain shirts and jeans that weren't too tight but not too baggy either. Jack used to say it was a huge improvement and Daniel was inclined to agree.

O'Neill looked at him when he entered The Diner and nodded approval. Nothing more. The conversation during the signing of various papers was short and all the questions Daniel needed to ask, all the things he wanted to say, bounced off the colonel like off a concrete wall.

“We'll talk once we're both on base,” O'Neill said. He gave Daniel the address of and the keys to Doctor Jackson's apartment, a wallet with credit cards, ID, sixty dollars and a library card for the NY State Library. “That's what we found with him. “

“And I assume you want my stuff in exchange now,” Daniel said.

“Right.”

“See, I'm still not entirely sure I want to do this.”

“Yet, you're here.” O'Neill raised his left eyebrow and Daniel noticed, not for the first time, that there was no scar. It was like a fix point for him. He had to stare at it, the most obvious evidence that this Jack wasn't his.

No scar.

Finally Daniel leaned back in his chair, shaking his head. “You need me. If you're not a little more forthcoming, I'll just walk out of here.”

“No, you're not.”

“Watch me?” Daniel pushed back his chair but O'Neill didn't move, didn't even flinch.

“You can't let this opportunity go by.”

“And why wouldn't I? I've tried to warn you. We all have. What makes you think I even care? This isn't my life, you know? I had a life, but it's gone. I'm merely sitting through my time, waiting for what's to come.”

“You care for your friends. You won't just sit here, letting things happen if you have the slightest chance to make a difference.“ Brown eyes nailed him down and Daniel felt like melting under their intensity. “And you already signed most of the papers anyway.”

Why did that man know him so well? It was unsettling.

“I need Sam,” he insisted, glaring right back. “You need Sam.”

“No.”

“You do.”

“No, we don't.”

“Do.” Daniel felt like laughing again at the familiarity of this game, even in this fucked up situation.

“We can't,” O'Neill finally said, weary. “She's out of the question. You know that.”

They sat there, coffee gone cold, looking at each other, neither one of them yielding.

Finally Daniel reached into his jacket and put his wallet on the table between them.

Michael Christopher, librarian, was dead.

He took a flight back to NY.

But instead of going to his apartment, he walked into the building where the other Daniel Jackson used to live.

Taking the first step of being him. Being that guy who wrote books about his theories, who was chasing ancient aliens in Egypt.

He was sure the janitor, who was changing a light bulb in the hall, wouldn't buy his act. His counterpart for starters had worn different glasses, his hair had been longer...

Daniel was wearing a plaid shirt, at least.

The janitor didn't even bat an eyelid, wished him a good day and went back to working on the light bulb problem.

Daniel took the elevator, left it at the third floor, walked along the hallway to apartment...

8–3.

Now, this was spooky.

He fumbled around with the keys O'Neill had given him, unlocked the door and walked into this other man's home like an intruder, like a burglar...

...and was hit by the feeling of home, the faint smell of ... himself... the swords hanging at the far wall of the hallway, the many artifacts on the shelves, collecting dust. Like a sleepwalker he moved through the living room, touched the piano, the pictures of his parents... himself on a camel in Egypt... He picked up the National Geographic magazines on the coffee table, a mug, the remaining coffee dried on the bottom.

There was a double bed in the other corner of the room, blue covers thrown over blue pillows. The apartment wasn't overly tidy, but not messy either. Just stuffed. And smaller than his own apartment 8-3 had been. One room, one kitchen, one bathroom, no balcony.

But the things he found were his. An echo of the life he had to leave behind. Of the life that had ceased to exist when Ba'al had succeeded in his plan.

He wandered into the kitchen, a small room with a fridge and a stove. No oven. No pans hanging from a rack. Everything was put neatly away and when he opened the fridge, it was empty except of a bottle of Chardonnay, half a loaf of bread and some butter.

He found cereals in the cabinets, crackers, chocolate cookies, cans of soup, and some other ready to cook meals. And coffee. Good stuff. Of course.

He found unopened mail, addressed to Doctor Daniel Jackson... bills mostly, a letter from his agency, junk mail... but it was his name on the envelopes. Not the name of that new identity the AF had forced on him.

And when he realized that he had gotten his name back at least, if not his old life, he stood there in the kitchen of this oddly familiar home and started laughing, fearing he might finally get hysterical over all this.

He forced himself to stop, went to the fridge, pulled out the bottle of wine and searched for a glass. Then he sat at Doctor Jackson's kitchen table, his cane leaning against the kitchen counter, and downed the wine.

“To a happy new life,” he said to the empty room and chuckled again. “Thanks to Doctor Daniel Jackson, may he rest in peace.”

----------

The largest Antarctic station, McMurdo was built on the bare volcanic rock of Hut Point Peninsula on Ross Island, the most southerly solid ground accessible by ship. It was located just 20 miles south of Mt. Erebus, an active volcano that steamed continually and erupted frequently, though not violently.

McMurdo had airports and a seaport, research laboratories and support facilities. A Coast Guard icebreaker in Winter Quarters Bay was tied to the pier, which was built of ice.

When Daniel had exited the chopper that brought him here, his first thought had been that McMurdo seemed to be just as he remembered it from previous visits.

He stood there, his breath forming a frozen cloud in front of his mouth as he'd taken it all in. Barracks, huts, and huge waste containers. A light-colored building complex housed the Albert P. Crary Science & Engineering Center. The base consisted of approximately eighty five buildings, ranging from small radio shacks to large, three-story structures in size.

The most magnificent view, however, was the incredible blue sky and the sun, the blinding whiteness in the distance, snow covered mountains, ice covered ocean...

And there was the cold; a dry cold, not the damp chilliness Daniel knew from Colorado or New York. This was less annoying, actually. But it still wasn't a climate he'd choose to live in. He preferred warmth. He hated the thick snowsuit making him feel clumsy, like a teddy bear. His non-existent leg acted up due to the change of climate, and dressing the prosthesis into the thick garments was a pain. They had made him special boots so he could walk more steadily even when the ground was frozen, but it took time to get used to it. Fortunately the base complex was snow free during the summer months, so there wasn't much danger for him to slip and break his good leg as well at the moment.

The new Stargate Center had still been under construction when Daniel arrived in Antarctica, but it was close to finished now and lay approximately twenty miles north from McMurdo.

At first Daniel had shared a barrack with the scientists from the Crary Center. They'd showed him around and he'd found himself interested in their work of marine and terrestrial science. Before the Stargate facility had officially been opened there hadn't been much for him to do, and so he'd spent a lot of time in the libraries of the Science center, reading essays and reports about ice mechanics, meteorology and marine life studies.

For the first time in over a year Daniel hadn't felt like he was running on auto-pilot anymore. For the first time he'd felt more alive again, was interested in studying, learning... Finally he had his mind on other things than Ba'al, Sam, Cam, or his grief for Jack.

But he never forgot.

When the weather allowed it, when there was no ice fog or snow storm, Daniel often stood outside, watching the cloudless blue sky, looking for ...

Ships.

...signs of what he knew was bound to happen one day.

It never happened.

Not a week, not a month, not three months after he'd arrived at McMurdo.

Not after four months of living on base, when the new SGC had finally been ready for occupancy and operational. Underground like Cheyenne Mountain, only it was tons of ice surrounding them instead of rocks. And the base was much smaller than the Mountain used to be.

Since the day Daniel had signed the papers to be assigned to the best hidden secret of the government, his oath to be killed rather than to talk about what he was doing for god and country, the cover story of what he really was doing on McMurdo (not deep space telemetry this time but weather control and research) and various other papers, he hadn't seen Jack O'Neill again.

He had, however, met Doctor Lee, Doctor McKay and Doctor Rothman. Daniel had no problem acting as if he'd never met McKay. They only had seen each other on a couple of occasions over the last years in his own reality. The overly arrogant attitude of the country's most noted physicist (in this timeline) hadn't changed, so there was no problem acting formal with McKay. Robert Rothman and Bill Lee were another story. He had been friends with both of them and meeting them again was beyond strange.

Even to Daniel.

There were others. Lou Feretti, Kowalsky, Dixon, Warren... the list of names and familiar faces was long as the assigned SG teams and other personnel arrived at the new outpost.

It was a relief to move underground where it was warm, dry, and where he didn't have to put on layers and layers of clothing to go to the commissary or to a store. He moved into one of the base quarters on the same level as Lee and Rothman. There was a commissary, attached to a small supermarket and Daniel found that he didn't have to leave this SGC if he didn't want to.

Everything smelled like fresh paint and synthetics, everything looked new and shiny. Some levels were still under construction so the base hummed with noises of drilling, sawing, and hammering.

Siler was running through corridors, wrench and tool box part of him like he had never done anything else. In this reality he was head of the construction crew and would probably stay as a technician. Daniel couldn't help it. He had to smile every time he saw the man; always busy, always working on something.

Brigadier General Jack O'Neill's office was wedged between the control room and the briefing room, with doors to both areas. Control room, briefing room, and the base CO's office were all on one level, the gate room one level down. Like at Cheyenne Mountain, the control room had a bullet proof window to the gate room.

A couple of days after he'd moved into his base quarters, Daniel found himself hovering in front of the general's office door. O'Neill had given his welcome speech yesterday, but according to Robert Rothman, he had been on base for quite some time.

Daniel wondered if the general had been hiding from him.

He took a deep breath and knocked while entering.

Jack... O'Neill... sat at his desk, a pile of paperwork to his left, signing something and stacking it on the other pile of folders to his right. He looked up briefly, his lips quirking into a smirk. “I thought you'd find me earlier.”

“I was busy,” Daniel replied, frowning. “I figured you were, too.”

“Didn't think that'd stop you from coming here and pestering me.” Another smirk as he continued signing forms.

“It's not. Not anymore.” He shuffled around the two visitor chairs and sat into the left one, carefully maneuvering his artificial leg so it didn't knock against the polished desk.

He couldn't help but noticing the differences between his SGC and this one, filing them away on an almost subconscious level. It happened automatically wherever he went. The general's office was similar to the one Daniel knew from home. Though the furniture was new, light colored wood, a different chair. But the flags were there and O'Neill had already put up his medals, and there was a model jet fighter on his desk and a picture of Charlie...

Charlie, who was alive here. Daniel smiled briefly, thinking that was one huge upside in this whole mess.

“So. How do we do this?” He placed his elbows on the arms of the chair, pressing his fingertips together, in an effort to come across as calm and professional.

Which he was.

Just...

Daniel had the benefit of experience with other realities. He had also lived in this one for a fairly long time. Yet, he found himself struggling with the turn this reality had taken for him. It was like traveling back in time, without the time travel. Because he was still very much living in the year 2008. But the people he knew from home, the ones he had worked with daily.... They didn't have his experience or knowledge. The Stargate, standing proud and tall in a room very similar to the one at Cheyenne Mountain, was new to them. They didn't know what to expect, didn't know how to deal with this 'ring of stone'... Scientists were bustling all over the place, trying to solve the riddle of the glyphs...

And Daniel couldn't tell them what it was made of, couldn't just barge in there and read the glyphs, tell them about the Cartouche they'd find on Abydos. Couldn't provide gate addresses...

He still wasn't entirely sure he actually should provide them with anything. So many issues looming at the horizon.

Waiting for Ba'al's attack and doing nothing was no option either.

It was a fine line to walk, too easy to cross.

“How long did it take you to solve the secret of the gate in your timeline?” O'Neill asked, putting away his paperwork at least.

“Two weeks. But I only did the first step. A lot of other people made it work...”

“Do it in one. Go, do your magic. Beat around the bush a bit, put up an act – and then stun them into amazement.”

Daniel blinked. “You really want me to ... act?”

“Well, you can't just go out there and do it now, can ya? So yes, I want you to act. I also want you to read this.” A folder was pushed at him and Daniel took it, his fingers curling around it.

“What's that?”

“It's a detailed report on what exactly those geeks were clued in already. You weren't there for the first briefings because it took the president that long to make up his mind about Doctor Jackson's involvement in this program. This should cover it all. Read it so you won't tell them things they already know....”

“Or so I won't tell them things they're not supposed to know, yet.”

“Nobody knows about the alternate timeline or this Boccie guy. They do know we found the gate here, that it's a doorway of some sort leading to other planets. Everything else they know and don't know is in there.”

Daniel flipped through the folder, reading bits and pieces. “Rothman already suspects the glyphs on the gate and the DHD are related to ancient Egypt,” he mumbled. “That's good. There's a problem though. We found coverstones along with our gate. On one of the coverstones was the cartouche giving us the first gate address.”

“Abydos.”

“Yes. How do you expect me to come up with the address for Abydos without any reference to get it from? Do I just snap my fingers and become psychic?”

O'Neill pursed his lips. “McKay is working on that dialing device we found with the gate...”

“The DHD. It works like a phone, you punch in the symbols... But you need to know the number in order to dial a gate. You can't just dial some symbols and hope it'll open the gate.”

“You could get lucky?”

“Are you serious?” Daniel stared at the man.

“Think of something. You're the genius around here. We can't just give them gate addresses. Not even the few you were willing to give us during interrogations. Only a handful of people know what really happened. No one knows you're him. If we suddenly come up with gate addresses on our own, someone will get suspicious. Sorry for the farce, but it has to go this way.”

“Right.”

Of course. This was Jack O'Neill after all.

“McKay is trying to kick the power source alive,” O'Neill said after a pause.

“It's a crystal. But he should be able to make it work without. Except... we once used a DHD connected to our power system.” When Teal'c had been stuck into the gate's vortex. They had begged Russia to borrow their DHD to get him back.

“What happened?”

“It blew up.”

“Ah.”

”Uh,...”

“You have any idea why?”

”Nope. Sam could explain it to you.” Daniel couldn't resist that little nudge.

“We'll figure somethin' out.” There was a knowing upward twitch of O'Neill's mouth.

Pushing himself off the chair, he made his way to the door. “Good luck.” He waved at O'Neill with the folder and left, a very childish part of him hoping McKay would choke on the DHD.

-------

“That should cover it.” Daniel took a look around his new office. All boxes were unpacked, all computers, printers, phone and the fax machine plugged in. His Internet was running and the technician just left with last instructions on how to deal with minor difficulties, and whom to call should the system crash.

The office was smaller than the one he'd been used to at the SGC, but bigger than the office he had worked in at the library. Not all of the shelves were filled yet; he needed more books, more dictionaries, more folders.... A pile of request forms, filled out an signed, ready to go out, were on his desk. But he'd also taken what he needed from his... this timeline's Doctor Jackson’s... huge book collection and brought it with him.

He limped over to his new desk, the remainder of his leg painfully rubbing against the socket of the prosthesis. It was his cue to call it a night, go to his quarters and put that thing off.

“I might get some fish,” he muttered. There was just the right spot in the left corner, an unused table. It would fit for a small aquarium. Otherwise it'd just end up being cluttered eventually.

“I heard there's some great spots for ice fishing around here.”

“What? Oh, no. I meant for my...” He turned to find Jack O'Neill standing in the open doorway, wearing blue BDUs, carrying a large cardboard box. “Never mind... Ice fishing?”

“Yep. Comes with the ice.”

“Sounds cold.”

“You'd be sitting in an ice shack with a heater to keep you warm.”

“If that's an offer to join you, the answer's no.” Daniel had no intention of sitting in a small shack around a hole in the ground to fish. Especially not with this Jack O'Neill. He briefly wondered if his Jack would've enjoyed ice fishing... Probably yes. Jack was... had been... addicted to fishing. Not to the fish, mind you. But give him a lone spot at a lake, a cabin, a fishing rod and beer – and he'd been a happy camper. He could sit there, gazing over the water, fishing rod in steady hands, beer next to him, for hours.

Daniel had spent time with Jack at his lake, drawn in by the quiet: his always restless mind finally settling, enjoying the momentary peace of those stolen weekends.

“It wasn't.”

Blinking, he surfaced from the memories. “What?”

“No invitation. You're not a fishing kinda guy anyway.” It was said with a shrug, no big deal.

Of course not. What was he thinking? Scowling, Daniel refused to register the faint sting of rejection.

O'Neill strolled in and placed the box on Daniel's desk, right on top of his freshly printed documents. Rothman's take on the DHD symbols. “Thought you might want this.”

“What is it?”

“This?” O'Neill patted the box. “Brought it for my office. But it doesn't go with the wallpapers.” Giving the box a final pat, the general left, leaving it to Daniel to figure it out.

Frowning, he opened the box staring at its content. The frown was replaced by a smile, followed by a deeper frown, followed by a murmured, “What the f...”

----------

“Okay, let's try it this way. The symbols on the dialing device don't resemble any known words...” Daniel looked at Robert expectantly.

They were staring at a graphic of the DHD, the circles of symbols magnified on the computer screen in Daniel's office

“It's what I said, isn't it? It doesn't make any sense whatsoever... this... this is all scrambled.”

“No words. But what else could it be? It has to mean something.” Figure it out, Daniel thought, frustrated. Come on. You'd be the hero of the day.

Robert used his nasal spray and sniffed. “I really hate the air conditioning. Anyway... do you think it might be some sort of code?”

“Maybe. I mean this is a device connected to the Stargate. You use it to make the gate work, right? Like you'd use a phone...” Daniel trailed off, waiting for his colleague to pick it up.

“So... they are numbers. But they're not. Not Egyptian numbers as we know them.”

“It dials other planets,” Daniel prompted. “At least that's what we were told it's supposed to do.”

“How about Star constellations. Does anyone want coffee?” Daniel and Robert looked up at Bill Lee who just activated Daniel's new fancy espresso machine.

Daniel held his breath, waiting for Robert to... finally... come on, that can't be so hard.

“Star constellations?” Robert blinked, slowly turning back to the screen while the espresso machine started to hum, heating up.

“Well it goes out to other planets... the gate... so I... I thought that maybe... you know, it could be star constellations on the device? Each symbol...”

“Resembling a constellation,” Daniel finished.

“Yes,” Robert mumbled, pushing up his glasses. “Yes.” He tapped the screen. “YES!” He gestured at the pictures, knocking over a pile of books without noticing. “Look! Look here... of course... Daniel, this is Orion. I need... need a book...” He looked around the office. “Do you have...?”

Daniel went to one of the shelves and pulled out a book about ancient Egyptian Astronomy. Rothman snatched it from his hands and Daniel settled back in his chair, watching things unfold. Bill handed him a mug of coffee as he joined them at the computer screen.

“Thirty Eight symbols,” Robert nodded, flipping through the pages of the book. He found the page he was looking for and, pointing between the screen and the book, he couldn't suppress his excitement. “Here... Cancer... Gemini... Hydra... This is... These constellations must be placed in a unique order forming a map or an address of sorts.”

“To find a destination within any three dimensional space, you need six points to determine the exact location,” Bill Lee said. He grabbed a notepad and a marker. He drew a cube and placed one dot in the center of each of the six sides of the cube. Then he drew lines between all the dots, intersecting at a spot inside the cube. “Okay, now to chart a course, you need...”

“A point of origin,” Daniel said quietly. “As a seventh symbol. Seven symbols in an unique order make one gate address. ”

Bill nodded. “The glyphs on the dialing device are the same as the glyphs on the gate. So it really is like using a phone.”

“The point of origin is Earth,” Robert mumbled. His fingers were dancing over the screen, trailing along the symbols until he found it. “There. That's the symbol for Earth. The pyramid with the sun on top. It presents Egypt and Ra in the sky. That must be it.”

Smiling, Daniel took a sip from his coffee and left the other two to their exciting discovery. If he had to be part of this scam he could at least do it to Robert's and Bill's benefit. They'd be the ones who worked the miracle this time. Having a DHD as opposed to a dialing computer made things much simpler on the whole. Daniel remembered Sam telling him it had taken the military astrophysicists over fifteen years to MacGyver the dialing computer together.... before Daniel had come to the SGC and made it actually work by figuring out the symbols.

Here, the DHD was already there, and once Rodney was able to turn it on and MacGyver it to connect with the gate, they could dial out.

Provided someone came up with the first gate address.

To Abydos.

Or Chulak.

But Abydos would be the wiser decision as it would give these people the cartouche with gate addresses. He had to make sure O'Neill didn't send any bombs through, first. He wondered if O'Neill might let him go through the gate... to Abydos... To repeat history.

To meet Sha're again.

He didn't know how to feel about that.

Then what? Once the gate had been opened the SGC would be running missions ... would they go to Chulak? Meet Teal'c? Would history take the same turns as it had in his timeline, only a decade later?

And even more pressing was the voice of his own conscience.

Could he live with being responsible once again for leading them to Abydos... to risk Sha're and Skaara being taken again... or any other Abydonian for that matter... even if it meant freeing Abydos from enslavement once again?

Where was Ba'al?

Opening the gate didn't just mean getting allies. It also meant faceing the Goa'uld again. Daniel had no idea how the power was balanced out there now. But then the damage was already done, wasn't it? Ba'al had a master plan. Sooner or later he would show up on their doorstep with no good intentions.

Gazing at the espresso machine sitting on the table in the corner, Daniel knew he had to talk to O'Neill. About all this. And the espresso machine. He couldn't see why it wouldn't go with the wallpapers in O'Neill's office. Not that there were any wallpapers in the first place.

He knew he was putting this discussion off, and among other things, avoiding the general in general.

-------

They watched in silence as the iris was installed. Daniel felt bitter, thinking it was thanks to Sam, Cam, and himself that things went a lot faster and more smoothly this time around. All the precautions, the iris, the GDOs... all that was based on the information they had shared during the long days of interrogation.

And to Daniel providing intel as they went along.

He wished his teammates could be with him, wished he could let them know what was going on.

McKay had figured out a way to activate the DHD and connect it to the gate and their computer in the control room. He even figured out a way to make it work without having the DHD blow up in their faces. The doctor was arrogant and annoying, but apparently he knew how to do his job.

As soon as the iris was installed, the first SG team had a go - to an uninhabited world Daniel had remembered the address to. Well, it had been uninhabited in his timeline so he wasn't all too sure what exactly they'd run into. All they knew was that the gate started dialing once they punched in the symbols.

A wormhole had established, the MALP went through and came back with positive data. Breathable atmosphere, mild temps, a forest area. No life signs in the MALP’s range.

“How'd Rothman figure the address out?” O'Neill's voice was low so only Daniel could hear it through the bustle and hustle in the control room.

“Oh, he said he found a note on his desk with the symbols scribbled on it and he thought why not giving it a try? Can you believe his face when he realized he lucked out?” Daniel grinned as he remembered Robert's reaction when the seventh chevron locked and the gate sprang to life. “He's sure he wrote it down himself at some point while trying to decipher the symbols.”

“Good for him.” O'Neill's voice dripped with sarcasm and Daniel knew it was suppressed anger. Directed at him.

“Yep,” he replied, still grinning.

They remained standing next to each other in the control room until Siler gave a thumbs up, letting them know the iris was firmly in place. “Good job,” O'Neill said over the speaker, then ordered the first SG team to stand by until the gate room was cleared by the technical crew.

“My office. Now,” he snapped at Daniel and left without waiting for an answer.

Daniel wasn't intimidated or worried. He knew this confrontation was bound to happen the moment he had placed the note on Robert's desk.

Following O'Neill at a much more leisurely pace he entered the office, closed the door behind himself and leaned against the wall.

He was ready for the storm. As ready as he could ever be.

“Care to explain why Rothman found this address on his desk and not the one for Abydos?”

“Because I'm not comfortable sending anyone to Abydos just yet.”

“May I ask, why?”

“Well, for starters, I have no more reason to trust you than you have to trust me.”

O'Neill grimaced. “There's that.”

“You assigned me to the program...”

“You... not you-you but the other you... had been assigned for this program before you-you were assigned to it. The President personally gave his approval of my choice.”

“Yeah, see, that's one of the issues I have. Why did you want me... the other me... on the program? You didn't seem to be overly impressed by me... me.”

“I read the reports after Landry talked to me. And I figured that since I can't have you, I'd go looking for the... other... you.”

“That's interesting.”

“Is it?”

“Yeah. I had some time to think and I'm wondering – You said you went to identify the other Daniel after his death, so they must've called you. Isn't it a bit odd that the hospital called you? A guy he didn't even know?”

“They found my mobile number in his pocket, so they called me. We were going to meet, remember? And what does that have to do with anything?”

“And you chose not to report his death and came up with that brilliant plan to get me? Who else is in on this?”

“You ever heard of classified?”

“Yes. But since I'm the classified subject here, I'd like to have a little more intel.”

“Is this going somewhere? Or are you just trying to change the subject?”

“It's just one of many pieces of the puzzle that don't fit.”

“You like puzzles? Fine. Figure out how to solve the puzzle of giving Rothman another gate address without having him or someone else suspect something!”

“I won't give him any more gate addresses.”

“Strike that. Rothman wouldn't suspect anything if a starship landed on his desk,” O'Neill groused, glare still firmly in place. “What do you want, Doctor Jackson?”

“What are your motives? Honestly. What are they? Is this...” Daniel stepped forward until he stood on the other side of the desk. He waved around the room, meaning to put the whole SGC into the gesture, “...just about being able to defend Earth and going the same way we did? What does the military want to do with the Stargate? If I provide you with the address of Abydos – will you send a bomb through? Or will you listen to my suggestions? Because I have a few conditions to make.”

“We won't send a bomb to Abydos. All three of you have confirmed they're peaceful people. Why would we want to send a bomb?”

“Because there might be a Goa'uld waiting on the other side? Maybe even Ba'al?”

“Didn't you say Abydos belonged to that other guy – and that you killed him off?”

“Ra, yes. But since Ba'al changed the timeline we didn't kill Ra off. Things aren't necessarily the way they were in my time. You must have thought about that. So, Ra – or any other system lord - probably rules on Abydos.”

O'Neill threw the pen he had played with on the desk. “I did. But believe it or not, we don't just send bombs to other places just because there might be a threat. We're going to send a team through, doing what you suggested. Finding those people, talk to them, find the Cartouche.”

“Freeing them if they're enslaved? And if you free them, make sure to get enough back up there so they won't be defenseless if another system lord shows up to claim the territory?”

“Standing orders are recon only.”

“And if you run into an enslaved world you'll just take what you want and turn your back on them?”

“What's next? You telling me you want to go through the gate to play the hero?”

“Well, YES – while we're at it!”

“Yeah, right. Have you looked at yourself lately?”

“I could do it. I'm mobile.”

The glare became darker the longer they locked eyes. Daniel knew what they must look like, standing there at either side of the desk. He could see O'Neill's grimly set jaw and the narrowed eyes and knew the general's features were mirroring his own.

“I don't want innocent people to die. I've had enough of that,” Daniel finally said, taking a mental step back.

O'Neill's face hardened even more if that was possible.

“I mean it. I'm aware there are always casualties, that there will be death. It comes with opening the gate. But there are people on Abydos I called family in my time. I can't and won't let something happen to Abydos.” Not again. Not if I can prevent it, he thought grimly.

“You're dismissed. Get the hell out of my office.”

“We either leave Abydos alone or we go there and do it right. Leave teams there, help them to defend themselves. I'm aware I'm asking a lot here, but those are my conditions for giving you the Abydos address or any other gate address for that matter.”

“What? Is that a 'take it or leave it' speech?”

“Yep. Pretty much.” Daniel pushed himself off the desk. “Oh and by the way? How did you know about my coffee habits? That espresso machine must've been expensive.”

He left a glowering O'Neill behind, feeling a little smug about having the last word. He could tell that this Jack wasn't used to backtalk. Well, get used to it, Daniel thought, you wanted me here, now you've got me.

Daniel dried off his stump carefully, making sure there were no damp spots. He had learned how important it was to take care of it in order to prevent skin irritation or unnecessary pain. After the surgery and the first painful experiences with PT and learning to walk again, with and without the fake leg, he had tried to ignore his missing limb. But the new leg wouldn't fit properly, causing the stump to became sore and infected. So Daniel had learned the hard way to live with his handicap if he wanted to be prepared for Ba'al's showdown -whenever that might happen.

Without Jack's annoying, but loving support of nagging, bitching and – if necessary – ordering him to rest, exercise, take meds and do whatever was good for him, Daniel had to face this journey alone. It wasn't new to him. He had been used to face most things in his life alone before SG1. But now that he had gotten used to Jack's mother henning and the support of his other friends, he missed it.

God, he missed them.

But he'd gritted his teeth and gone through the adaptation. Was in a wheelchair until his stump had healed again after being infected, got an new prosthesis, walked on two canes first, then one, now mostly without. He had plowed his way through exercising, PT, learned to bandage his stump and give it massages – because who else would do it for him – learned to move around without his prosthesis, to live with the pins and needles of the phantom pain...

Tonight the pain wasn't that bad and Daniel hoped he'd be able to sleep without giving in to taking a pill. There were days and weeks in between now where the pain was gone, even the phantom pain. But when he worked too long, had his prosthesis on too long, it still hurt.

He washed the elastic sock he was now wearing instead of the bandages in warm soapy water, then rinsed it and laid it out to dry on a towel on the bathtub counter. It was important to keep the sock clean so no sweat could dry in it and cause infections. He also had to wash out the socket of his fake leg daily.

It was routine by now.

Dressed in an old t-shirt and boxers, he left the bathroom, using his cane to maneuver himself through the main room, and settled on his bed. He checked his stump for cuts, sore spots or rashes and didn't find any, which was good.

Daniel took off his glasses and put them on the nightstand. He leaned against the headboard of the bed, closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

The first trip through the gate had been a success. The team came back alive and uninjured, the planet was still uninhabited, and they brought back plant and mineral samples. Every scientist on base was going to have a field day with those.

There was a party scheduled for tomorrow. To celebrate Robert's breakthrough.

Daniel was glad for him and for Bill Lee, who would get a piece of the cake as well for figuring out the star constellations.

Daniel didn't feel like partying.

He wouldn't admit it to O'Neill but...

He's right. I won't go through that gate... not without somebody there to assist me.

He'd be spit out on the other end of the wormhole falling flat on his face without two good legs to support him. No matter how hard he exercised, the prosthesis would always be a handicap to some degree. In battle as well as in fast retreat.

“Shit,” he said to the empty room. He hadn't thought it would hit him that hard. The realization that even though he was part of the Stargate program again, he wouldn't be able to join a team. Oh, part of him had always known this, he wasn't that stupid. But as long as it all was just theoretically, he'd been able to push those thoughts away.

Sure there were amputees who did sports and he even had heard of soldiers going back into the field after having recovered and being trained to use their artificial legs like it was their own. But it had barely been a year for Daniel and he wasn't there yet.

Great. Being in denial was a nice thing until you were forced to come out of it.

There was a short rap at the door and before he could open his mouth to say he didn't want company, O'Neill walked in.

Oh, the last person he wanted to see right now. “What do you want?”

“If there's need to make it a rescue mission, I'll do what I can,” the general said, voice gruff. “You have to understand the president has a very close eye on what we're doing here. There's a part of the government assigned to watch us. Officially they're watching our backs. But as these things go, they're just there to make sure we don't cross lines.”

NID.

Great.

O'Neill raked his eyes over Daniel, not lingering on the exposed stump, not even flinching at it. Usually people avoided looking at his leg, even when dressed. Daniel had gotten used to the glances of pity he received. However, if O'Neill's military career had been anything like Jack's he had seen worse.

“All I can give you is my word I won't risk anybody's life if I can avoid it. That goes for my people and anyone who's out there – as long as they don't have glowy eyes.”

“Thanks.” Daniel knew this was the best he could hope for. “Uh, I should probably tell you about the Tok'ra?”

“Carter mentioned them. What about them?”

“They have glowy eyes. But they're no Goa'uld. Well, they are, but, they're really not. It's... kinda complicated. They're from a different gene pool. Their queen...”

O'Neill shushed him by raising a finger. “Aht! We'll ... talk. I decided I need to know a hell of a lot more about... everything.”

Daniel's eyebrows wandered upwards. “You do?”

“I hate it. But yeah, I do.” He sounded whiny. Daniel smiled, which earned him a scowl.

“Okay. Where do you want me to start? And when?”

“We have to do this off the record. The security cams don't record audio but someone might start asking questions if we have private briefings on a regular basis. I'd like to talk to you about every planet we'll send a team to beforehand. You can give me basic information as we go.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Damn, he'd feel better knowing it was O'Neill going out there instead of being bound to his desk. Preferably O'Neill and him. And Sam, Teal'c, and Cam.

He wondered where Teal'c was, hoping the Jaffa was well and would make the right choices if confronted with them.

He wondered what Ba'al was doing this very moment.

He tried hard not to think about Vala...

“So...” O'Neill looked around, probably for something to keep his hands busy with. He found a book and flipped through the pages without giving it a look. His eyes were on Daniel, intense, while his voice was casual, at the verge of boredom. “You going to the party tomorrow night? It's hair down time.”

“Um, no. I have work to do. Especially now. I'll give you a detailed report on what to expect on Abydos. So I have to make notes. At least based on how it was in my timeline.”

“First you have to find a way to give Robert the idea for the address.”

“I'll think of something.”

“Sweet. Party starts at seven. Don't be late.”

-------

He wrote his notes by hand, requested so by O'Neill who didn't want them anywhere on a computer. Scribbling down what he knew about Abydos; time change, climate, area, locations, and people, Daniel fought the surfacing memories of his wife, his extended family and the place he had once called home.

Such a long time ago.

It still hurt. Old wounds, the taking and death of Sha're, had healed. But they were layered with fresher ones from the day when Anubis had destroyed the whole planet, while Daniel had been whisked away by Oma. She had insisted Anubis would have destroyed him had she not interfered. Once he'd remembered bits and pieces of his ascended time, he had tried hard to move on from the guilt, but thinking about Abydos now brought it back.

Here, Abydos still existed, in whatever form.

It was a comforting and scary thought all at once.

A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts and he had a sinking feeling he knew who'd barge in on him.

It was around eight.

Or twenty hundred.

“You're supposed to eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. Didn't I tell you not to be late?”

“I don't...”

“Get dressed. There's punch. And wine. You like wine, right? Red wine. Oh, and did I mention the food?”

“I am dressed. And yes, I do like wine. How do you...” Daniel trailed off when he turned to look at the general.

O'Neill was in civvies, black button down shirt, sleeves rolled up loosely to his elbows, cream colored cargo pants. His hair, which seemed to be more silver than usual, was tousled at the top of his head. No matter what Jack did with his hair, no matter how short he wore it, it always looked ruffled at one point.

Oh god. Daniel used to love Jack's hair. Short and soft, the color of a silver wolf's coat. Great contrast to those brown eyes.

“You're not going to our first base party, dressed in sweats,” O'Neill said.

“It's Robert's party.”

“And he's your friend and you'll be there, socializing. C'me on.”

“McKay will be there,” Daniel muttered as he rose from his desk chair and reached for his cane. “I need to put my leg on.”

He went into the bathroom to put on the sock and the leg, all the time wondering why he complied. Jack... O'Neill's looks must have temporarily interfered with Daniel's brain cells.

But holy buckets, the man looked...

Hot.

Don't even go there, Daniel warned himself. Don't even frigging go there. The man is married and has a kid. That man isn't Jack. He's just... He's...

“McKay has enough company to occupy him. Can you believe the women actually fall for the guy?” O'Neill's voice sounded muffled through the half closed bathroom door.

“I thought some of the men have a thing for him...” Daniel made sure his leg was attached properly, then looked into the bathroom mirror and decided he needed a shave.

“Why, because he's a geek?”

Applying shaving cream to his chin and cheeks, Daniel snorted, “Yeah. That, too.”

“You're a geek, too.” O'Neill said from the other room.

“So?”

“Just sayin'. Might watch for guys checking you out too then.”

Well, hello? Daniel raised his eyebrows at his reflection in the mirror. “Maybe, who knows?“

Oh, he had to be careful not to enjoy their bantering too much...

The grin faded as he rinsed his razor.

What was happening here? When had they become comfortable with each other? Ever since they had met there hadn't been much personal conversation between them. Until yesterday.

A memory surfaced, crisp and outstanding in Daniel's deep ocean of memories...

...They sat around a campfire underneath an alien sky, sipping hot coffee, watching the sparks of their fire pit flare.

“How much time do you need to videotape your chicken scratchings tomorrow, Daniel? And don't say three hours if you mean four. If you're going to say three hours, three it is,” Jack grumbled.

”Four, then,” Daniel said, pushing up his glasses. “Maybe f...”

“Ah ah ah... Four or five?”

“Ja-ack...”

“Hammond wants to know when we're ready to come home. Tomorrow. Not in a week.”

“Four thirty?”

“Deal.”

“Fine.”

“I'll call you on it.” Jack said sternly. But there was a twitch in the corner of his mouth and Daniel bowed his head, staring into his coffee to hide his smile.

This was getting more and more like flirting. Or like foreplay. This bickering, bantering... this thing they did. The little fights they had about... oh, almost everything lately. It was like a contest. Who was the most stubborn SOB on the team? Who scored in the sarcastic department? Who could stare the other one down the most? Well, Jack scored in most of it, but Daniel was a quick study. It wasn't always in jest. Sometimes it almost got out of hand if work-related issues were involved. But mostly it was just a smoke screen for...

From the other side of the fire, Sam grinned and nudged Teal'c's boot with hers. “In for a bet?”

“Twenty,” Teal'c replied. “DanielJackson will stretch the time to five hours.”

“Six.” Sam said.

“How much money will you contribute, MajorCarter?”

“Thirty.”

“Very well.”

Next to Daniel, Jack huffed, “Excuse me, Major Carter? Are you implying I won't order Daniel back to the gate on schedule only because he demands more time?”

“Oh, you'll order him, sir.” She said, keeping a straight face. “Quite loudly.”

“Indeed.”

Daniel wasn't exactly sure if he should be embarrassed or amused while Jack was fuming beside him, pointing a stiff finger at Carter. “I can't believe you two have bets running on whether or not I'm spoiling my archaeologist.”

“Jack...” Daniel groaned.

“We'll leave at 11:30 hours sharp tomorrow. And I'm gonna haul your sorry ass back through the gate if you're not ready to leave at exactly 11:30,” Jack bitched at him, then snapped at Sam, “Wipe that grin from your face, Major.”

Swallowing and hiding her grin behind her coffee mug, Sam said, “Sorry sir, just kidding.”

“I am not,” Teal'c said, unimpressed.

Jack stood, stretched his back and glowered at them. “I'll take first watch. Go to bed, kids. And I'll put in fifty against both your bets. Daniel's going home on schedule.” Giving another indignant huff, Jack turned and marched off.

“Saaam,” Daniel sighed, trying to be mad at her. “I'll never live this down, ever. He'll be extra snarky with me for the next week.”

“Just bat your eyelashes and pout and you'll have him eating out of your hand, Daniel,” Sam assured him, mild amusement lacing her voice.

“I wish I never told you...”

“Your attraction to Colonel O'Neill is quite obvious. As is his attraction to you, DanielJackson,” Teal'c chimed in.

“It is. It... is?”

“Indeed.”

“It's why you're always in each others’ hair. You compensate your feelings by yelling at each other. Or bickering. Or doing this scary, almost telepathic talking where you're just glaring and then uttering one syllable words like 'what?' or 'Jack' 'Daniel'... You can't admit you like each other so you have to fight.” Sam nodded, then looked from Daniel to Teal'c. “Right?”

“Uh...” Daniel said intelligently.

“Indeed.”....



...Daniel recalled that night and the next morning when Jack had made a big show of stalking Daniel, glaring at his watch every five minutes, announcing the remaining time, until Daniel had threatened him to read the “chicken scratchings” aloud.

Jack had kept annoying him until Daniel had given him the cold shoulder, working silently for the rest of the morning, making Jack feel uncomfortable and in the end giving him another thirty minutes of reading to make up for being a pain in the ass.

Of course Jack had lost his fifty bucks.

“Did you fall asleep in there?” Jack... O'Neill's... voice drifted to him from the other room.

“Nope. Coming.” Daniel dumped the razor on the sink and cleaned his face.

Then he stood in the middle of his quarters, suddenly too aware of the other man's presence. “Do you mind?” he asked more irritated than he meant to. “I'd like to get dressed.”

“I don't mind. Go ahead.” O'Neill was sitting on Daniel's bed, looking very comfortable.

This man could do the dense act as perfectly as his Jack, Daniel decided. He just wasn't sure why in this case. Surly he didn't want to watch Daniel strip because of... well, because...? “Do you mind waiting outside?”

He watched the general shrug and get off the bed slowly. “Don't dawdle.”

“It's not like I'm the honored guest or anything.”

“Nope. But the cake is good. Don't wanna miss it.”

“You're free to go...”

“Geez... will you chill?” Shaking his head, O'Neill left, closing the door behind him.

Taking a deep breath, Daniel undressed, put on new boxers and slipped into one of his new plaid shirts, a blue pullover and baggy pants. The pants were great for his artificial leg as they were easy to put on. They also originally belonged to the other Daniel, as did the pullover. It had cost him quite an effort to overcome his reluctance to wearing clothes that had been in the other Daniel's closet. But he had lived in his apartment a couple of weeks before his transfer to McMurdo. And even though Daniel had “outgrown” the style of clothing his counterpart wore, he realized that using his things was kind of comfortable. Kind of ... like they were his own. He had felt more at home in the other ones life than in his own new life as Michael Christopher.

On one of his early explorations of the other Daniel's things, he'd found his personal journals, up to the year 2005. Then that Daniel had either stopped writing a journal or they were stored elsewhere. In Cairo maybe. He'd found out the other Daniel had an apartment in Cairo...

...After skirting around those journals, he finally decided his counterpart wouldn't come back to retrieve them and that invading his privacy had already started when he took on this job O'Neill had offered him. So he had skimmed through the journals, picking up some similarities between them. They had the same doctorates, had visited the same college, had both studied and worked under Professor Jordan in Chicago. They shared the same coffee habits, worked through the nights, had preferences for Chinese food, wine... But there were some differences, too. This Daniel had never been married and there were no notes of girls he had dated.

This Daniel had dated guys.

And apparently he hadn't had any problems with his coming out. Daniel found a calendar with dates and names, some club addresses, some phone numbers. He had looked some of the clubs up on the net... Gay clubs. There had been no military regulations holding this Daniel back from living his life the way he'd wanted to.

Lucky guy, Daniel thought, enviously. You probably had no idea how lucky you were.

There was no hint of a relationship in this timeline's Daniel's journals, no sexual innuendos, no notes about any hot encounters. The journals were merely notes about his books in progress and some daily life stuff.

That Daniel had spent a lot of time in libraries, book stores, the campus of Hunter College in NY or Egypt.

In the short time he had lived in the other one's apartment, Daniel had gone to some of those places, always in fear of meeting friends of his counterpart. But at the same time pulled in to those places like a magnet. He was recognized and greeted by others a lot but nobody tried to involve him in any personal conversation...

...So, despite his apparently active sex life, his counterpart had been lonely.

Like Daniel always had been before he had met SG1.

Jack.

Frustrated, he banged the closet door shut.

Why did every train of thought he started lead to Jack? He had himself in check all that time, trying not to dwell, trying to get on with life.

It's all O'Neill's fault, Daniel decided as he yanked the door to his quarters open. If he'd have never showed up again, I wouldn't feel this vulnerable.

O'Neill raised an eyebrow.

Daniel slammed his door shut. “What?”

“I'm hungry.”

-----

Daniel Jackson, once known as being a “cheaper date than my wife was”, had adapted quite nicely over the many years of team nights, hanging out at bars with one Jack O'Neill to drown post bad mission frustrations in beer or w(h)ine and having some encounters with Sam's stock of wine during movie nights at her place.

He never drank much, period. But it didn't take just one beer to make him tipsy anymore. According to Jack... the right one, not the one currently sitting at a table amongst three female officers... according to Jack, Daniel still had been a cheap date. But not THAT cheap.

So Daniel had his third beer and yes, now he was slightly tipsy. But not beyond being reasonable and sober enough to make all the right noises as Robert once again told the tale on how he and Bill found out about the star constellations and how he had accidentally scribbled down the right combination of symbols! “Something like that never happened to me before, Daniel. I was always the one with the short end of the stick. This is like... I'm not sure what it's like, but it's a good feeling.”

“It's great, Robert. I'm sure you'll figure out more of these addresses. Maybe it's like a lottery?” Daniel smiled and raised his beer bottle at him.

“I never played lotteries. Maybe I should,” Robert beamed, his eyes slightly red rimmed from lack of sleep combined with the alcohol he had already consumed.

“Maybe you should. Will you go through your list of possible combinations to see if you have another hit?” He had placed the Abydos address in there. It had taken some tweaking to get into Robert's files at the computer and put the address in, then to erase the evidence that the file had been changed and saved.

Once more Daniel was sorely reminded how much he missed Sam. She would've tinkered with Robert's file and made sure no trace was left, in no time.

“Yes, I decided to give it a couple more tries. General O'Neill agreed. It's all we have, after all.”

“Good idea.” Daniel patted the other man's arm, his eyes wandering over to the general's table.

O'Neill and Feretti were there accompanied by three female officers. Daniel had no idea who they were, he only knew they worked on base. They were engaged in some silly conversation and O'Neill was ...

“Bill says there has to be a pattern. Some math. We're trying to figure it out,” Robert informed him.

...drawing something? What the heck was he doing? Daniel edged closer to where the general was doodling on a paper, while everyone else at the table was laughing.

“Homer,” Feretti said.

“No, that's Bart,” one of the women exclaimed.

“Burns?” another one asked.

“Nope, nope and... nope,” O'Neill said, doodling some more.

“It's not Marge.” Feretti again. “Hey, wait a minute, I know... you simpsonized Siler. Is that his wrench?”

There was some cheering.

“Lou here is getting another beer,” O'Neill grinned, waving his sheet of paper around.

One of the female officers went to get the beer.

Daniel zoned out Robert's continuous ramblings and before he knew it, he found himself standing behind the general, gazing over his shoulder at the rather good Simpson cartoon he had drawn of Siler with his wrench.

Jack had been known to doodle during briefings.

Daniel sighed, but couldn't stop watching when a new sheet of paper was pushed at O'Neill with the request of another one. “If Lou figures it out again, I'll accuse him of cheating. He already had four beers,” one of the women, a tall red head, said.

“Jack and I go waaay back. I know how his mind works,” Lou bragged. “Even if his cartoons are unrecognizable.”

“You're full of crap, Feretti.” O'Neill snorted as he began to draw again.

Daniel was standing so close, he could see the tufts of silver hair sticking out at the back of Jack’s head. He could raise a hand and smooth them down.

Of course he couldn't.

He held on to his beer bottle for dear life.

“Harriman!” Lou yelled. “That's Walter!”

“Get the man another beer,” O'Neill said. “He did it again.”

Then a hand was on Daniel's shoulder and he was steered towards the food table by Bill Lee, who apparently had chatted up two airmen. “Both singles, good looking, nice,” he informed Daniel. “General O'Neill has clearly ordered for everyone to socialize and getting to know each other better. These are Tracy and Ginger.”

”Hello, ... hi.” Daniel shook hands. “I'm Doctor Jackson. Daniel.”

“Are you a scientist too? Like Bill?” Tracy smiled.

“Yes. Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. Archaeological department and linguistics.”

“What do you expect from the program? Will you be assigned to one of the teams that go through the gate?” Ginger asked.

They were both blondes, very attractive. Daniel wondered if he'd ever met them in uniform and just couldn't place them because they were in civvies now, wearing short skirts and tops.

Hair down time.

“Um, no, I have a bit of a disability, so going through the gate won't be an option.” He gave them a false huge grin and pointed at his leg.

As usual the conversation was stuck then for a bit until Bill steered it to other topics.

At one point Daniel snuck away from the group to get something to eat. The commissary where the party took place was packed with people. There was a huge food table in one corner of the room. Someone had set up a hi-fi system, playing old R&R songs. Some people were even dancing in the middle of the room, using the little space that was left between the tables.

He told himself he wasn't looking for O'Neill, that his eyes didn't search the room for the tall silver haired man. It was coincidence they wound up at the food table together, each of them holding a plate. O'Neill's was loaded with pie, Daniel's with a blueberry muffin.

“Hey,” O'Neill said, giving him the first full-scale smile ever since they met.

He's drunk, Daniel thought, amused. But then he reminded himself that O'Neill probably wasn't nearly as drunk as he wanted people to believe. When on base, he was the general. And while he seemed to enjoy himself, he'd never really let his guard down. It was a Jack thing. “Hey. Having fun?”

“It's a great way to make people more comfortable at a new base. And Rothman is gloating quite nicely.”

“He's not used to being successful like that.”

“You know him from before.” It wasn't a question.

“We were friends.”

“Friends as in...”

Daniel's eyes narrowed. “Friends. As in friends. As in colleagues. As in study friends.”

“Ah,” O'Neill nodded and dug into his pie.

“So...” Daniel desperately tried for small talk. “Is your family anywhere near the base? Or did you leave them in Colorado?” He didn't think McMurdo was a great place to live for a soldier's wife, not to mention a ... Charlie wasn't a kid anymore, he reminded himself. Charlie was a grown man, in his early twenties.

“My kid lives in California,” O'Neill said lightly. “Sara... I'm not sure. The last time I heard from her she was in Arizona.”

“Wow,” Daniel mumbled. “That's... “ He's divorced? Even here? But why? What happened? And it's none of my business. Daniel bit his lip and stomped down the irrational feeling of ... relief? Don't go there, don't... go... there.

“A long way from here,” O'Neill finished Daniel's sentence, sobering up. “But that's life.”

“California is nice,” Daniel said. “Always sunny, ocean, beach...”

“He always looks like he's on vacation. Nice tan. He was at college there, met a gal... that kind of stuff.”

“That's great.”

O'Neill put the half eaten pie down on an empty table. “Yeah.”

It didn't sound like he meant it.

Daniel knew better than to prod.





------

Ra was ruling on Abydos no more.

Abydos was, if not free, at least a world that had been ignored by its god for many years.

SG-2, the first contact team, had brought video footage of the village, the pyramid and the cartouche.

Daniel was relieved and worried all the same.

Relieved because finally there was something positive in having the timeline changed.

Worried, because it had been Ba'al who'd taken over Ra's territory.

A young man named Skaara, leader of the village since the death of his father Kasuf, had shown SG-2 around and allowed them free access to the pyramid and the cartouche room. According to Skaara, Ba'al had come to Abydos once to announce the defeat of their god Ra. He had inspected their naquadah mines, the village, and their resources. He had called for all Abydonians to kneel before him. Skaara had still been a very small child then, barely old enough to help his family with chores. His older sister Sha're had taken his hand and led him to the children who were ordered to be in the front rows so they could take a look at their new god.

“We bowed,” Skaara said on the videotape Daniel was watching. “Lord Ba'al's first prime... he was a very tall man, his skin like ebony... I was afraid of him because he was like a giant. Lord Ba'al smiled down at us from a pedestal. And I remember thinking his first prime looked more like a god than he did. There was something about that Jaffa, something proud....”

Daniel stopped the tape.

Could it be...?

He scrolled back, listened to it again. Skaara was talking in Abydonian and the linguist who specialized in medieval Egyptian Arabic was heard in the background, giving a poor translation to the leader of SG-2.

Of course Daniel didn't need the translation.

“...There was something about that Jaffa, something proud....”

“Teal'c,” Daniel mumbled. But of course there was no way of knowing that. It could just be some other very tall, dark skinned Jaffa.

Skaara was a proud young man as well, wearing his long hair open over his shoulders instead of braided like he did in Daniel's timeline. Daniel recognized the Abydonian robe and attire.

“Lord Ba'al announced that no harm would come upon us if we followed his lead. He used a very strange saying... something about big fish he has to fry. I have never heard such a saying. The meaning of it must be that he has many worlds to rule so he cannot come back often.”

The video image of Skaara raised a hand to the cloudless sky. “Ships came and carried away what we brought from the mines. But they stopped coming. They did not return since before I became a man.”

“Ba'al had bigger fish to fry,” Daniel said, almost amused. “But what is it he's been planning and plotting for so many years? If he just wanted to take over Earth he could've done so a long time ago. Why wait?”

Because he thinks big. If he can take down every system lord and then conquer Earth, he would be the head honcho of all and everyone, he thought. Head honcho? I really spent too much time with Jack.

But despite the pain it brought, the memories of his lover and friend were like a warm hand caressing him. It made him feel better.

Rubbing his eyes he turned the video tape off and rose from his desk chair.

Indulging himself with another mug of freshly brewed coffee from O'Neill's gift, Daniel tried not to think about Sha're and Skaara as his family. They were not. Not here. Just like Jack O'Neill wasn't Daniel's lover and Sam, Teal'c, and Cam weren't his team mates. Just like he had a missing leg.

He wished he could go to Abydos, walk on the sand, enter the cool dark halls of the great pyramid. He remembered the feasts, the long hot days and cold nights, the stories told by the elders, the chores, the hunting... He remembered Sha're's kisses.

He remembered home.

She had been his first real love.

No, Daniel thought with the usual stab of guilt. I've been head over heels for Jack even before I met her. But I'd never even attempted to give it a go. I'd dismissed it as something that wasn't going to happen, ever.

Maybe it hadn't been love back then. Maybe it had been more like a challenge.

But it was true. Jack O'Neill had irked and irritated him from the very first day they had met. And at the same time, the young scholar had found himself mesmerized by the lean built man who had been so bitter and closed in himself that it had been a challenge for Daniel to crack the shell.

What he'd finally unburied had still been an enigma, but once the wall had been torn away, the Jack O'Neill he discovered had turned out to be as hurt and vulnerable as Daniel. He'd just been better at hiding it behind his hard-assed facade.

But there had been no time to deepen that bond between them. They parted as something close to friends when the colonel had left Abydos. The real friendship, the attraction... all that had happened later. After Sha're and Skaara had been taken and Daniel found himself back on Earth with no place to go other than to Jack's place.

Sha're... She’d been soft and pliant, her big brown eyes reaching places in Daniel he hadn't known were there. She had shown him the Abydonian ways. And in the love that had begun blossoming between them, Daniel had said good-bye to Jack O'Neill.

For a while.

It had never felt like second best. Not even now. Like Jack would never have disregarded his marriage to Sara, Daniel would never stop loving Sha're. Never stop grieving for her on some level.

At least the Abydonians here still had a life on the lower plane of existence. At least they were semi free.

At least Jack was alive here.

Greater goods.

Until Ba'al returned.

-------

He had to admit, he was a little nervous.

Right. Close to really anxious probably covered it better.

Daniel stuffed his access card back into the chest pocket of his green BDU shirt and pushed the button for level seven. It was funny how he still expected the numbers on the buttons to be nineteen, twenty, twenty one... yes, twenty one. That's where the infirmary had been.

Now it was on seven.

He had been through all the required physical checks before his transfer to McMurdo. Joining the AF meant having medical examinations, getting all kinds of shots and answering all sorts of questions. Even as a civilian. The doctor at the academy hospital had asked a lot about his leg. When did he lose it? How did it happen? What post surgery treatment did he get? Daniel had received a nice package of documents and medical records once he had settled in the other Daniel's apartment. So he was backed up on everything. But he still had been nervous. He'd never been a good liar – unless it came to life threatening situations.

Well, in some ways this was a life threatening situation. If he got caught...

The doctor at the academy hospital had been satisfied with everything Daniel gave him, made his dots at all the right places and Daniel had felt like he'd passed an exam when he'd left to pack his things for Antarctica.

Now the permanent CMO had arrived at the SGC and demanded all personnel check in for a physical

There was no way around it so he had to go through it.

Level seven held the infirmary and science bio labs. Everything was less big here than it had been at the mountain, but the equipment was new and up to date and only the most outstanding scientists and doctors were selected to work here.

Daniel peered into the main examination room, seeing lots of familiar beds and examination tables.

Just like home. Only that he hopefully wouldn't spend as much time here as he did at the mountain's infirmary.

A nurse who was reading a chart looked up and gave him a bright smile. “Doctor Jackson?”

“Yes. I'm next in line.”

“You sure are. Doctor Fraiser is waiting for you in her office. She wants to talk to everyone before their... are you all right, Doctor?”

“What? Yes, yes, I'm... um... fine. I'll just...” He pointed backwards and stumbled out of the room.

“Second door on the right. Are you sure you're okay? You just turned very pale there for a...”

“Fine,” Daniel said, giving the nurse a final wave. He fled down the corridor, stopped at the right door and leaned against the opposite wall. Just for a moment. Just to gather his wits.

Then he knocked.

And when he entered, he wasn't prepared at all.

“Doctor Jackson?” She smiled and stood, extending her hand over her desk.

“Yes. Err... Hi. Hello. Doctor Fraiser,” he spluttered, taking her much smaller hand in his, holding it just a moment too long.

Warm, alive.

He hadn't been prepared for this. He hadn't paid attention to who the new CMO was. He made a mental note to listen more carefully to base gossip in the future.

Gently, she tugged her hand out of his, but the smile stayed. Professional but warm, her brown eyes twinkling. “I read your book.”

“You ... you did? Did you like it?” He sat, his leg – the good one – feeling like Jell-o.

And he wanted to laugh and to hug her and tell her how they all missed her and how the SGC hadn't been the same without her. How the infirmary had been a colder place. How Sam had been so devastated over losing her best friend. Wanted to tell her that Cassie was doing okay now with their support... had been doing okay...

“As a matter of fact, I did. And now look at it. Turned out you weren't so wrong after all,” she said and for a moment he didn't know what she was talking about.

Oh, his book. Right. The book he hadn't written. “Yes, ironic, isn't it?”

“Life has its quirks. It's nice meeting you in person, Doctor.”

“Daniel,” he insisted, hoping it wasn't too soon. Too personal.

But she nodded, not in the least offended or irritated. “Daniel... How did you settle in?”

They talked about his leg then, his medical history, how he coped... Daniel answered all her questions, remembering the right things to say and not to call her Janet.

That was the hardest part.

When they were done and Daniel had once more passed the physical check, he almost reached for her hand again. “It's great having you here, Doctor Fraiser.”

“Yes. I'm sure this is going to be the most thrilling assignment I ever had,” she replied.

You have no idea how thrilling, Daniel thought as he walked out.

For the rest of the day he felt like smiling.

-------

Daniel stared at the hut, nothing more than a metallic ... well, box... in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by ice, ice and... well, ice.

I can't believe I agreed to this. “I can't believe I let you talk me into this.”

“It's fun,” O'Neill said, a shit eating grin on his face, half hidden by his thick scarf.

“Yours and my understanding of fun definitely don't match.“ Never did, now that I think of it.

“Suck it up, Geekboy. It's the only way to talk right now. We can't keep visiting each other in our quarters or offices all the time. People are gonna talk.”

“But we can go fishing together? Alone. Out here. That's okay, apparently?”

“I'm officially alone out here. You have a day of leave, so you left. You did tell your friends you went to McMurdo, right?”

“Yeah,” he sighed. And wished he really had. Gone to McMurdo that is.

They had taken two snowmobiles and met out here. Daniel had followed O'Neill's directions easily and found the older man waiting for him. O'Neill had brought all the gear and was now opening the ice hut with a key. “There're several of these huts around McMurdo,” he explained as they entered. “Sometimes they get moved so they won't sink into the ice and freeze in there.”

“I know. I spent some time with the marine scientists when they caught fish to examine and study,” Daniel admitted.

“So you've done it before? Why didn't you say so?”

Pulling the door close behind himself Daniel grimaced. “I didn't really enjoy it. And besides, they didn't fish for sports. They fished for science.”

“I fish for relaxation,” O'Neill shrugged. “Come on. There should already be a hole. It comes with renting these huts. They prepare it for you so you won't have to drag the heavy equipment out here with you.”

The ice hut wasn't overly comfortable, but the general switched on the heater and there was a cushion covered bench in it and a stove. Daniel watched O'Neill unpacking a thermos, two cups, a six pack of beer - which he placed on a table close to the heater so it wouldn't freeze to ice – and the fishing gear.

He also noticed a four foot square hole in the ground and beneath it was another hole in the ice but the opening had already frozen over again. The general handed Daniel a stick and together they chipped away the layer of ice.

At least he became warm due to the work. Soon they pushed down their hoods and loosened their scarves a bit.

Gazing into the chipped hole, Daniel estimated the thickness of the ice as about ten feet. The hole was as big as the opening in the ground and he wondered what kind of drill had been used to make that kind of hole.

O'Neill handed him a small, light fishing rod. The lures were brightly colored to bait the fish. “You ever been fishing? Aside from here?”

“Yes. In Minnesota,” Daniel said absently as he prepared his lure to the line.

When there was no reply, he looked up, to find brown eyes gazing at him thoughtfully.

“I had a friend who was into fishing. I learned how to do it, but I'm not really into it,” he said, nervous all of a sudden, almost sticking his finger with the hook.

“Minnesota, eh?” O'Neill already had his line into the hole, sitting back comfortably on the bench. He had opened his thick jacket a little and put down the scarf. The small room was heating up nicely now.

“Yeah.” Daniel wasn't sure why they tap danced around this, so he shrugged. “Told you that Jack O'Neill in my timeline was a close friend of mine.”

“I didn't believe you,” O'Neill said quietly, staring down at the hole in the ice.

“I got that. What I don't get is; why didn't you believe me. It's not like I grew two heads or something... ”

O'Neill snorted. “You kept spouting all that weird crap about me. First you were right about where I came from, then you said my kid was dead. Besides, I never went to other planets, neither with nor without you.”

“Okay, I can see how that was a little disconcerting.”

“Ya think?”

“I'm glad Charlie's not dead, here,” Daniel said gently, after a moment of silence. ”You don't see each other often though, do you?”

“He has his life to live, I have mine. I've worked all over the country, sometimes not even in the country, for years. It's not healthy for family life.”

“I'm sorry.”

O'Neill didn't answer, his eyes were fixed on the ground. Finally he asked, “You want coffee? I brought a thermos. It's too early for beer.”

Daniel handed him his rod to hold and stood to retrieve the thermos. As the room was so small he didn't have to struggle too much with his leg. He just turned, made the two steps over to the table, filled two mugs and returned to their bench.

“You're coping pretty well with that,” O'Neill said out of the blue, nodding at Daniel's legs.

“I'm kind of a survivalist.”

“All that planet hopping...”

“Let's just say I'm used to being kicked around by life in general.” It wasn't bitter statement, merely a fact. “So I cope with what I have to.”

“That bad, huh?”

“No. Not always that bad. It's hard to explain. I've... I've seen and done the most amazing things in my time. I've also seen and done and been exposed to some things I never want to go through again. But going through the gate, visiting other worlds, learning about new cultures... or seeing some Earth cultures develop on different worlds... that's something I wouldn't want to miss for anything.” He wanted to tell him about Oma, about ascension, about the wonders and the threats. The good and evil. But he didn't think this O'Neill was there yet. This O'Neill had never been through that gate. He'd been stuck at his desk right from the beginning of this job. And Daniel had to be careful about how much he could reveal without overwhelming the man.

Like everyone on SG1, his Jack had been shaped by the experiences they'd made out there, was affected by it no matter how strongly he might have denied it. Going through the gate had widened their horizons in a way nothing else ever could have. But his Jack had time to get used to it, had time to adjust to the cultural shocks, the glowy things and the thingamajigs... all in Jack's own words.

Daniel would have to take this one step at the time. He was sure that no Jack O'Neill would react well to outside pressure and that it was an O'Neill thing to get cranky when pushed somewhere he didn't want to go. Oh yeah, and he tended to zone people out and get this blank expression on his face when he was being rambled at...

But to Daniel's surprise, O'Neill said, “Tell me about it. Tell me where we should go next... tell me what's out there. Aside from Goa'uld, aside from threats. What good is out there?”

“If you're asking for big honkin' space guns...”

“That'd be cool. And I need to know about that, too. But what I'm asking here is; what did you find? What would the other Daniel have found there if he'd been able to go? What great things he'd like to remember...” O'Neill's voice trailed off.

It was then that Daniel had an epiphany.

“The Nox,” he replied gently. “He would've loved the Nox. I did. We all did. They are gentle, peaceful people. Meeting them was such a ... gift. Such a change from what we've encountered before. There was peace there, nature, yet highly intelligent, spirited people. We could learn a lot from them.... “ Daniel talked about the Nox, not looking at his companion, but out of the small window on the opposite wall. The sun had wandered, the blue sky and the white snow glittering as if someone had thrown handfuls of diamonds out there which were sparkling in the sun.

And O'Neill listened, for once not interrupting or faking boredom.

When he was done, the general said, “Tell me more. What's that alliance between the Asgard, the Nox, the Furlings and those Ancients?”

So Daniel talked about Ernest's planet, Heliopolis, the meeting place...

“Later you met the Asgard,” he closed. “You were the first one... our Jack... was the first one to meet them.”

“Whoa. I... he did?”

“Yes. And I think you should be the first one to meet them here, too. I believe it's important to let some things evolve exactly the way they did in our timeline.”

“We'll see.”

Daniel then caught a fish and for a moment they were distracted by pulling it out. It was a Greenland cod, and according to O'Neill way too small to be called a real fish. So they freed it from the lure and released it. After that, Daniel had another coffee and O'Neill opened one of the beers.

It took him almost an hour to ask the question. “How well did you know the other Daniel?”

“Didn't know him.”

“I think you did.”

“Nope.”

They were back to gazing into the ice hole, the water seemed to be black and just looking at it made Daniel feel cold. He took a quick glance at the general who fiddled with his line, but sat completely still otherwise.

“Look, Jack... It was just a hunch, but the things you know.... the coffee he liked,... you told me to wear a plaid shirt when we met for the job interview. You had his keys, his wallet...”

“In exchange for yours. I've been following orders...”

“How classified is the fact that I'm working at Stargate command really? Not that “he” is working here. But that “I” am working here in his place. Who else knows?” He knew he'd be rejected again. He hadn't gotten an answer to the same question before. But he couldn't stop asking anyway.

Pushing it was probably the wrong thing to do. But he had to know.

“I think we better get back to base. You go first, I'll wait another hour or so, then head out, too.”

Yep, pushing was definitely wrong.

He sighed. “Jack...”

“They forecast ice fog this afternoon.”

“... I need to know. Otherwise I might end up assuming you... as in someone from the Air Force... killed him in order to get me on the program.”

“What the hell are you saying?” Now there was anger, still suppressed but definitely there, showing in the way his voice became deadly quiet and his eyes darkened.

“It'd make sense wouldn't it? Your people killed him, then made sure you go to the hospital to identify him and take his personal things so you could contact me and get me right where you wanted me... “

“You're nuts.”

“I've seen a lot of crazy things happen in order to keep the Stargate a secret or to maintain national security,” Daniel said coldly. “Weird is just the tip of the iceberg of what I'm used to.”

“I don't give a rat's ass about what you're used to. I didn't kill Daniel. And no one else I work for did,” O'Neill snapped. “Now get the fuck outta here.”

“Someone did kill him.”

“Yes. And ain't it brave of you to come out here with me, all alone, confronting me about a murder you think I might have my hands in. Kind of reckless, isn't it?”

“Now that you mention it. Yeah, it's kinda... stupid. Are you going to drown me in the ice hole? Or shoot me?”

“There're a dozen ways of killing you and hiding your body where nobody will find it.”

“I know. Special Ops and all that,” Daniel said lightly.

They glared at each other for a moment longer before O'Neill shook his head. “You're nuts. Wacko. Three fries short of a happy meal. I should've known.”

A mobile phone beeped.

Daniel watched O'Neill answering it, saying he'd be right back on base, and knew he wouldn't get his answers.

Not today.

------

The Land of the Light was too dangerous.

Simarka, the planet of the Shavadai was too primitive and didn't hold anything valuable.

P3X-562's only inhabitants were blue crystal thingies.

“Next on the list is Chulak,” O'Neill said. “We'll go there.”

“Fine.” Daniel continued lifting his dumbbells, trying to steer his anger into his arms and hands. He knew he was lifting the weights too fast, too hard. He'd have muscle spasms tomorrow. He didn't care.

He wished he could run on the treadmill. Really RUN. On two healthy legs. Run until all the rage was gone, poured out of him with the sweat and ragged breaths.

Next to him the general worked out at a weight bench. He was on his back, pumping iron, his gray shirt showing damp patches of sweat. “Stop sulking.”

“I beg your pardon?” Daniel gripped his weight harder, resisting the urge to throw it across the room.

“You heard me.” O'Neill didn't even pant yet, his voice still steady and calm. Daniel didn't know how much weight he had on there, but when he glanced at the general he could see the play of his arm muscles and the perspiration on his forehead.

“I've given you a rundown of every gate address from the Cartouche you attempted to go and every single one was deleted from the list,” he snapped.

“Not the first one we went to. We started building our alpha site there, remember?”

Well, Daniel had to admit that building an alpha site on that uninhabited planet had been a good idea on O'Neill's part. And yeah, Daniel had served as an adviser on that project. Teams were building the alpha site at this very moment. Labs, military base, houses, an underground facility... Heavy equipment went through the gate and thirteen teams of scientists and military personnel had been assigned to the new alpha site.

But they had other things to worry about as well...

“Every planet you told us about held potential dangers and issues. I'm not going to send my teams out there to get infected with a virus that might lead to base lockdown, talk to crystals or get in the middle of Mongolian family fights.”

“There are people out there who need our help. We'd make a difference. It's part of going through that gate. Collecting experiences, meeting people. Even allies who haven't the know-how or technology to help us against the Goa'uld are valuable. They can give us shelter or trade materials in case we ever have to evacuate...”

“Do you really think we have the time to get used to what's out there? You're the one who keeps reminding us Boccie guy is probably plotting the end of our existence.”

“If we don't go out there we won't even find out what's going on. If we don't explore and interact, we won't gather intel on where Ba'al might be and what his role amongst the system lords is.” Daniel put down his dumbbell and wiped a towel over his face.

“And if we gallop all over the galaxy, Boccie will know eventually we're there. What then?”

“There's no other choice!”

“Yes,... there... is.” O'Neill groaned as he pushed up his weight again. “Give me all the important ones. Chulak. So we know what your Jaffa friend is doing. Then the Asgard home world.”

“Can't give you the Asgard home world address.”

“Why not?” With a loud bang, O'Neill's weight came down on the frame and the older man sat up, scrubbing a hand through his ruffled hair. “Can't or won't?”

Daniel heaved himself from his chair and walked over to the weight machine next to Jacks. Once he had arranged his legs, and adjusted the weight, he slowly started pushing. “Your gate isn't capable of going that far. You need an additional power source to make it work. The Asgard home world is in another galaxy and therefore needs eight symbols. Besides it's not on the Abydos cartouche so I can't just pull it out of my head.”

“Where'd you get it?”

“That's a long story.”

Daniel concentrated on his exercising, breathing deeply, push, breathe, push, breathe, push... He felt his arms tense up and relax, felt the irritation slowly leave him. Running would still be so much better. But then, it was a human characteristic to always crave what was impossible. He felt sweat trickle down his neck, but he kept going and going, push, breathe, push...

“Daniel?” The voice was gentle, almost apologizing.

Daniel? Wow. That's a first. He stopped pushing... only breathing now, hard and heavy... oh he might have gotten carried away a bit...

“I know how hard it is for you.”

He looked up finally, chest heaving. “Wha...?”

“Not being able to go. Hell, I'm sitting behind that desk and I'd happily go down to the rank of colonel again if it meant I could go through that gate. That other me was a lucky bastard.”

“He wasn't always that lucky,” Daniel muttered. “He got shot a lot. And bruised. And he took a lot of risks because he listened to me.”

“Had him wrapped right around your little finger, did ya?” He could hear the humor in O'Neill's voice and for some reason it made him mad again.

“You have no idea how it was between us. And you have no right to belittle it...

“He just knew when he needed to trust me. But that's not the point. Jack was as thick headed and stubborn as you are. He could be a son of a bitch on any good day. But when it counted he was there and he was always there one hundred percent.” Rising from the bench, Daniel was about to leave the gym when the foot of his prosthesis got caught behind the leg attachment of the bench.

Staggering forward he was barely aware of O'Neill's arm shooting out from the right. A hand wrapped around Daniel's biceps, steadying him. They bumped into each other and then O'Neill's other arm was around his shoulders, holding him upright.

Carefully maneuvering his leg out from the tight spot, Daniel leaned against the solid warm body supporting his weight for a moment. “Shit... that was close.”

Falling over gym machines really wasn't an experience he needed. He fell before. Trying to get up from the floor with only one leg wasn't a piece of cake.

“Easy big guy. You okay?”

“Fine.” He was released with a pat on his back. “Uh, thanks.”

“Better put off the leg attachment from the bench next time.”

“Yeah.” Grimacing at his clumsiness Daniel made sure his prosthesis was still properly attached. When he looked up, O'Neill was watching him with pursed lips.

“You ever tried using a J-leg?”

“I've heard of it, but it wasn't recommended by my doctors.” Daniel accepted the bottle of water O'Neill was handing him and took a sip.

“There's that guy. Lost his leg in a freak accident. He designed his own leg and apparently never had trouble with it. He's selling it to sportsmen and it seems to be a big success.” After a pause he added. “It doesn't look as great as yours but it's cool for walking in difficult terrain. It's not very expensive either.”

“Yeah?” Daniel looked down at his leg, metal covered with silicon skin. “I don't really have trouble with this one, though.” He gave the bottle back to the general who gazed at it, then shrugged and drank from it. “Is it good for walking in deep sand?”

Like in the deserts of Egypt...

“Yeah. Think so. Has a spring which makes it a little bouncy.”

“I'll look into it.”

Later in the afternoon Daniel was in his office, working, when Robert burst in. “I'm going to leave for a mission.”

“Good for you.” Daniel smiled despite the tinge of jealousy.

Rothman was now head of the archaeological department while Daniel had taken over linguistics. They exchanged information about everything, developing a smooth and efficient work relationship. Robert even went through the gate on occasions. But he'd probably never become a regular member of any team. He was most content with staying on base and studying whatever they brought home for him.

The civilian consultants accompanying the SG teams into the field were mostly archaeologists and anthropologists with lots of field experience from dig sites and some of the other scientists were military trained, like Sam had been.

“The general authorized a mission to ...” Robert pushed up his glasses and looked at a post-it note in his hand. “Simarka. We sent a MALP and it looks like a planet with rolling hills, grassy plains, and forests. Not good for my allergies, I suspect. But I'll join SG4 for this... I need you to go over and help Bill Lee with a project... I need to pack...” Robert turned to leave again, almost knocking a shelf over in the process. “Oh, uh, sorry. See you when I'm back.”

Daniel smiled.

------

“They ... what?” Daniel realized his mouth was hanging open, but he was too stunned to shut it. Guppy expression, Jack had called it.

“You look like a fish outta water,” O'Neill grouched.

Daniel closed his mouth with a snap.

“You heard me. What do you make of it?” The general gazed at him over the rim of his coffee mug.

It was late. Or early, depending on how you looked at it. The commissary was empty except of the two of them sitting at a table in the back of the room.

“He's a lying bastard,” Daniel hissed. He hadn't heard about the Chulak mission until now. When SG-2 came back they went to their debrief with O'Neill and Daniel had waited all afternoon and evening for him to show up and brief him in private as he used to do lately.

“Those people from Chulak don't seem to share your opinion.”

“Yeah, but... he is! That's just...”

“Apparently Ba'al offered them all freedom. Your buddy Teal'c leads the...” O'Neill made air quotes with his fingers, “...United Army of System Lords. He's a hero on his planet. His people say he'll be the leader of the first generation of free Jaffa. And Lord Ba'al makes this possible.”

“Stupid,” Daniel ground out.

“They said once Ba'al is all powerful and has defeated all the other system lords, he will support the Jaffa to rise and gain power. They say he's the one true god.”

“This is a nightmare,” Daniel groaned. At least now they knew what Ba'al had been up to. Building an empire even more powerful than Anubis's. Why go for one victory when you could have the whole universe?

“It's a mess.”

“We need to go to Taonas.”

O'Neill didn't say anything. He flicked an imaginary hair from his cold coffee.

Jack had always done that...

Daniel licked his lips and tried not to fidget. “If the people on Chulak serve Ba'al it's only a matter of time until he knows we unburied our gate. He won't sit back and watch us gathering allies and power again. Not if he is still following his plan.”

“Making sure we're defenseless and bringing in a whole army to kick our asses,” O'Neill bottom lined it, face grim.

“And if Ba'al happens to be the most powerful system lord... if he has all the other Goa'uld and their Jaffa in his back, his army will be more powerful than anything we encountered so far. Even in my timeline.”

O'Neill wagged his eyebrows. “Any cool ideas?”

“The Asgard.”

“Little gray fellas you told me about?”

“Yes.”

O'Neill grimaced. “Where do we find those Asgard if we can't dial their planet?”

Daniel sighed. Pushing up his glasses, he pinched the bridge of his nose. “I guess things start rolling now... Remember your thingamajig gene?”

“Oy.”

“Ye-ah. Pretty much. Put P3R-272 on the mission schedule next.”

TBC with "Forks in the Road"