“ Our guests have left the village in a hurry, Shallar.”
“ It is nearing moonrise.”
“ You were told very clearly by the Elders to tell them about the Stone Ring and the Moon Nights.”
“ I did tell them, Elissa”
“ But a few moments ago.”
“ I told them, Elissa. Perhaps not in sufficient time, but I did tell them.”
“ I doubt that will save you from their wrath.”
“ There is wrath in their hearts, my sister. But not for me. They must stay. For a while.”
He stood before the Gate, head tilted, processing the information. Beside him, he knew Daniel was doing the same thing
It was Daniel who spoke first. “Well, Shallar said it wouldn't function. Looks like she was right.”
“Daniel ...” He tried hard not to sound pissy. It really wasn't his fault, but it was hard not to take it out on the person who went ahead and stated the obvious and thus cranked up his already high crankiness levels.
“Funny how she didn't say anything before Sam and Teal'c went back through the Gate this morning.” Daniel waved a hand at the FRED and its treasure trove of diagnostic equipment sitting forlornly off to the side of the steps leading up to the silent ring, which glowed an ethereal blue-gray in the light of the planet's three moons. No Carter to work her scientific magic on the uncooperative Gate. “For all intents and purposes the Gate is dead.”
“For two nights,” Jack said flatly.
“Two entire nights.” Now who was stating the obvious?
“Until the full moons pass out of the phase that puts them in their current configuration, yes. That's what Shallar said.”
“Well. It sucks.” Jack stared hard at the Gate, hoping sheer force of will would spur it into action. “Should have packed more socks,” he offered, hoping it might lighten the mood.
At this point, Daniel would normally have added his snark-worthy contribution, or maybe encouraged him with an “It's not so bad” entreaty of make the most of this amazing opportunity to study an alien culture, yadda yadda. But Daniel stayed silent and his silence was the loudest sound in the Annarian night.
Without saying a word, Daniel picked up his pack and headed back towards the village.
Jack watched him go, shoulders hunched, right hand resting on his Beretta they way it did when he didn't quite know what to do with himself.
After a few moments, Jack trailed after Daniel.
It was going to be a long couple of days.
Jack blinked awake into the early dawn. Christ, he was getting too old for bed rolls and hard ground. Maybe he should have taken up Shallar's offer of a comfy spot in the guest cabin, but he'd been so pissed at her that keeping away from the village seemed the most politic option. Didn't want to totally ruin Earth's chances of all those useful medicinal plants that had seen Carter's face light up in the way that only a happy scientist's could. And god knew any sliver of happiness for any member of his team was a good thing at this point in time.
Jack rolled up to a sitting position, assessed his now customary morning aches and pains and scanned the area around the campfire. They'd made their temporary home on the edge of a copse of giant trees with heavy, low-hanging branches – anyone wanting to reach them would be hard-pressed to make it through quietly. A nearby stream provided another handy boundary. The water was fast-flowing and deep. Any would-be attackers would announce their presence early enough for Jack and Daniel to employ defensive measures. The site was secure.
On the other side of fire, Daniel slept on, having vanished completely into his sleeping bag. He was lying curled up on his side, facing away from the fire. Away from him.
Jack sighed. This was supposed to have been a milk run for the team. A way of easing themselves back into action after the horrors of Janet's death and the fuck-up that was the Goa'uld hybrid. So much for that. He eased up from his bed roll and stretched, easing away the residual stiffness and soreness. Early morning movement was slow some days. This was one of those days. He rifled through his pack for the remaining MREs. They hadn't expected to be here for another two nights, but supplies were adequate, given that they'd mostly been eating with Shallar and her family for the past couple of days. He took in a deep breath of the morning air. A gentle mist rolled across the ground in the early chill. The leaden sky did not promise better weather to come. It was all kind of dull and depressing. Hopefully, it would clear later.
Jack chose rations and cast a glance in Daniel's direction. It was time to get up, but Jack was reluctant to wake him. He hadn't been sleeping well since they'd lost Janet. No nightmares, just a restlessness of body and spirit that couldn't be calmed by Jack's touch or attempts at loving. Just as Jack reached out a hand to shake Daniel's shoulder, he stirred, stretching and straightening his legs like a cat that had slept too long in the sun. He moaned softly as he came to, the noise he always made when he woke. Jack had always loved the unguarded sound that was so Daniel, it made his heart ache. It was the sound that signaled the start of another day with Daniel, alive and breathing and … here. The year he was gone felt a long way away now, but any reminder still had the power to overwhelm him with the grief and loss that had stalked him. He shivered.
“Hey,” Jack said, quietly, resisting the urge to touch Daniel's shoulder.
Daniel turned over and squinted up at him, blue eyes clouded and sleepy. He licked his lips and ran a hand over his face. And just for a second, Jack could believe everything was normal. This was the way Daniel always woke up. Then, in the space between one eye blink and the next, the memory that haunted Daniel returned and the veil fell across his face. This was Daniel now, and Jack fucking hated it.
Daniel sat up and Jack backed off, kneeling on one knee in the hard dirt. It hurt like hell but Jack wasn't willing to back away completely. He needed the closeness, even if Daniel didn't.
“Not really. Some water would be nice.”
“You can't live on water.”
“I'll eat later.”
Jack threw him a “Sure you will” look but said nothing. He'd learned long ago to pick his battles with Daniel. Not all of them were winnable.
“Then, water it is.” He gave Daniel one long, last look, silently conveying his displeasure. The look he got in return showed Daniel got it. Well, that was something. It did say 'Colonel' on his uniform at the end of the day.
Daniel got up and wandered over to the stream to throw some water on his face. Jack heard his breath catch at the cold shock of the water. Daniel then headed for the trees to take a leak. When he returned, Jack tossed him a couple of ration packs, just in case he'd changed his mind on the food front.
“Peanut butter and crackers?” Daniel inquired, waving the packets accusingly. “For breakfast?”
“There's meatloaf, if you prefer.”
“Shallar might have something more … appealing … on the menu,” Daniel said, placing the packs on the ground with unnecessary delicacy and precision.
“Yes. I'll be having words with Shallar. And those words aren't food-related.” Jack handed over his canteen.
“It's not worth kicking up a fuss, Jack. I guess she just forgot to tell us about the Gate until it was too late.”
Jack dug into his food. “Bullshit. Carter and Teal'c going home should have been all the reminder she needed.” He munched on the crackers for a while. “I also need to have a word with Oma. You've come back way too trusting. Shallar knew exactly what she was doing. The question is why did she do it?”
Daniel pulled a face as he sipped his water and shook the canteen accusingly. “Has canteen water always tasted like this?”
“Funny. I don't remember it being this awful.”
“Well, it didn't get any better while you were away.”
Daniel nodded. He went quiet, peering into the depths of the water container. “Is that how you think of the time I was gone. That I was just … away?”
Jack thought about that for a moment. “I don't know. You were gone.”
“But you didn't think I was dead?”
Jack's heart did that lurchy thing that took him straight back to the days after Daniel left. Those awful, lonely, angry days.
“Oh, I knew you were around pretty soon after you vacated the premises.”
Daniel handed the canteen back to Jack. “You felt that.”
Jack looked him in the eye, wanted him to know how much that had meant. “Yes. I did.”
“Good. That's … good. I hoped you knew it was me.”
Jack nodded. “I knew.” He stowed his empty ration packs away. “Your touch is so much more caressing than any air conditioning unit knows how to be.”
And there, my god, was an actual smile. It was a small one. One that only touched one corner of Daniel's mouth, but it was a smile and Jack counted that as a minor victory. Maybe he could push his luck and get Daniel to talk. They had so much they needed to say, but damn it was hard.
“We should head to the village. We've probably already dishonored the Annari by not returning last night. Maintaining a good relationship is important.”
And with that, Daniel was up and tidying the campsite, handily avoiding further conversation, which was par for the course these days. Daniel wasn't talking to him in any meaningful way. Not at work, not in bed.
And, minutes later, Jack again found himself trailing along behind Daniel.
It was getting to be a habit.
“ Our friends did not return last night, Shallar.”
“ They will be here.”
“ How can you be certain?”
“ Because they are in need of the sacred plants and herbs, and our knowledge. They have all these things only in part. They need more from us.”
“ Perhaps they are too angry.”
“ They are, and for many reasons. The Moon Nights will give them time.”
“ Time for what?”
“ Patience, Elissa. Patience.”
Jack had caught up to Daniel by the time they'd walked the half-mile or so to Shallar's settlement. Daniel had been reluctant to call it a village. It was a half dozen wooden cabins containing Shallar's close family - her sister, an aunt and uncle, couple of cousins and their children, and her grandmother. The Annari population was scattered in similar, small clusters across a wide area, or so the team had been told during the initial meet and greet. They farmed funny-looking goat-a-likes and grew a wide variety of crops. Each community had a healer who was the recipient of the Annari's precious plant and herb knowledge, passed down the generations in the oral tradition. That person, in this instance, was Shallar.
“They live with their extended families and work as co-operatives with other families, with decisions collectively made by Elders from every grouping. It's fascinating,” Daniel had said. Jack had just been relieved to see Daniel interested in something again.
“Fair morn,” Shallar called from the doorway, as Jack and Daniel reached her home. She was a tall, slender woman with a handsome face framed by long dark hair, some of which was intricately braided with brightly-colored rags, denoting her role as healer. Jack estimated her age to be somewhere in her forties. She wore a soft hide skirt and a blouse made from a natural cotton-like material. They lived a simple life. They didn't have much, but it was obvious to Jack that the Annari made the best of what they had.
“Fair morn, Shallar.” Daniel nodded to her.
“We missed your company last night,” Shallar said, addressing Jack in a mildly challenging tone.
“Yeah. Well. We weren't exactly the best company, on account of being stuck here when we really should have been at home with ESPN and takeout.”
Shallar frowned. “I do not know of those things.”
Jack chose to ignore Daniel's patented “Stop being a dick” look. Whatever else Daniel did or didn't remember these days, he remembered how to deploy that. “What Jack means is we feel you should have told us about the Gate becoming inoperative at sunset a little earlier than you did, so that we could have gotten home. Our friends will be worried. They'll think something is wrong.”
Shallar gave a slight silent shrug. She looked between the two men. Jack felt as though he was being assessed, weighed, and probably found wanting.
“Why didn't you tell us, Shallar?” Daniel, sounding all reasonable and gently curious. But Jack knew him better. He was pissed and he would get the answers he wanted.
Shallar clasped her hands in front of her. “You must be hungry. You did not break your fast with us. Come. I have some kaylan tea steeping. It is best shared with friends.” She smiled and turned to go into the house, not waiting to see if Jack and Daniel followed. They did, after glancing at each other for permission. Jack waved Daniel ahead.
The inside of the cabin was comfortable and welcoming. It contained a single room, with a bed against one wall, and a table and chairs against another. Beside the bed was an ornately-carved wooden box that contained Shallar's potions. A wood fire burned on an open stove in the center of the building, and a pot of what must have been the herbal tea sat above the fire.
Elissa was sitting at the table sewing. She looked up as her sister entered and smiled at Jack and Daniel. In terms of looks, she could have been Shallar's twin, although her long hair was a shade or two lighter.
“Fair morn, and welcome,” she said, laying down her needlework.
“Some tea for our friends, Elissa.”
Jack caught a brief look pass between the women but couldn't read it. He tried to catch Daniel's eye, see what he made of all this, but Daniel's attention was on the beautiful bed covering that he'd coveted the first time they'd entered Shallar's home.
“Perhaps I will make a coverlet for you and your wife,” Elissa said, motioning for Jack and Daniel to sit as she poured the tea into small cups.
Jack winced. Even now, mentions of Sha'uri were hard to hear. Daniel's memories of her were among the first to return when he came back. That was no coincidence. He'd always love her; Jack knew that. He was just glad there was space in Daniel's heart for him, even when things were difficult, as they were now.
“That is very kind but there's really no need. I'm happy to appreciate the beauty of your work in your … coverlet. You are a skilled needlewoman, Elissa.”
She blushed a little, obviously delighted at the praise. “Shallar is more skilled than I, but she has little time to make such things. Her time is spent learning the art of healing, which is much more important to our people.”
Jack sipped his tea. It tasted sweet, with a slightly bitter after-taste. It wasn't unpleasant but it would never replace Maxwell House in his affections.
“Artistic skills are every bit as important as medical, just in a different way,” Daniel said, sipping his tea. “The legacy of the great civilizations would be greatly denuded without the amazing art that helped define them,” he added.
Elissa and Shallar were nodding politely but their eyes were beginning to glaze over. Jack recognized the signs – Daniel was getting enthusiastic in a very Daniel-like way and everyone else was struggling to keep up.
“Daniel ...” Time to change the subject.
Daniel blinked at him. “Yes. Right. Um, Shallar … we really need to know why you didn't tell us about the Gate ceasing to work.”
And there was the shared glance between the sisters again. Shallar took Daniel's cup from his hands and then Jack's.
“There is no mystery, Daniel. I am a forgetful woman, as Elissa will tell you. Now. Will you walk with us?”
“That depends on where we're going,” Jack suddenly felt antsy. There was no reason to distrust these people, but that did nothing to dispel his growing unease that something was going on here that he wasn't getting.
“The day is growing bright. There is something I think you will find interesting.” And Shallar took her sister by the hand and they set off, again not waiting to see whether her guests followed. And again they did.
Daniel walked between the women, doing what he did best, learning about their way of life, sharing information, making friends. Jack heard them talk about why there were so few men around the place; it was late summer and they were out in hunting parties, leaving the young and elderly to help with the domestic chores. Jack brought up the rear, covering their sixes, his P-90 reassuringly at rest in his hands.
They walked for about a mile in a westerly direction, across open fields where the tall grass waved softly in the breeze, making a restful shushing sound. It was lulling, almost hypnotizing, and it did a lot to ease Jack's undefined discomfort. What could happen here, where the sun shone, the grass grew and the people spoke in soft tones about mutually beneficial trade deals and the powerful medicinal properties of the plants? Where Daniel's beautiful voice mingled with the lighter tones of the women. Step by step, the warmth eased Jack's residual aches and pains and he breathed in the sweet-smelling air. And the sun was shining and grass was shushing and his body felt light and free, and Daniel was back and he'd remembered they'd loved each other after the Stromos thing busted loose some hidden memories and feelings. They'd kissed so hard and long and cried and fucked, and god, he'd felt whole for the first time in forever.
And then he'd nearly died and Janet had died.
And he wanted to cry now because, although the love was there, nothing was the same as it had been before he lost Daniel and he knew Daniel loved him but …
The grass was soft and mesmerizing and danced enticingly, and, as he sank slowly to the ground, he thought he called Daniel's name but he heard no sound. In his peripheral vision, he saw Daniel's legs crumple, and he landed silently amid the waving grass.
There was just the shushing.
And the swaying grass.
And then there was nothing.
“ They have slept so long, Shallar.”
“ It is necessary. The journey to healing is hard.”
“ They have turned to each other in their sleep. See how their hands entwine.”
“ Their true hearts are taking them where they need to be. This need is not new or unexpected for them.”
“ They will be angry when they wake.”
“ Maybe. But my hope is they will come to understand why they are here. And that, too, will take them where they need to be.”
He was dreaming. He saw images of Daniel, moments that he had never witnessed, but that had broken the man he loved and had broken Jack's heart, too. He saw the shot that robbed Daniel of his wife; he saw Daniel watching Ba'al pierce Jack's body with countless knives; he saw Daniel screaming for help as a staff blast ripped through Janet. He watched it all, a helpless bystander, desperate to stop the hurt.
“Please,” he said, into the dream void. “Please.”
“There is a way.” Shallar – a dream version, ethereal and beautiful, standing before him against a backdrop of a moon-filled sky.
“How?” Jack pleaded. Begging, he was begging. If that's what it took. He fell to his knees. “How? Tell me.”
“You must trust, Jack. You must give yourself to me. Trust what is to come. I wish only to heal, to make whole what is shattered. Will you trust me, Jack?”
“Then you must trust ...”
He'd do anything. “Anything ...” The word was carried away on the breeze that swept the image of Shallar into nothingness.
He woke up to the biggest hangover since Daniel's first night back on Earth, when he'd cracked open his dad's favorite Laphroaig and raised several glasses. He'd been alone at home, while Daniel had been confined to base and had begun the slow process of rediscovering his life, but as the alcohol had burned and soothed, it was the least lonely Jack had felt in a year.
Cautiously, he opened one eye, and closed it again immediately. He carried out a sit rep. He was lying on his left side on a bed of the softest, most accommodating grass he'd ever known. Beside him, facing him, Daniel slept on. They were holding hands. Holding hands. They never held hands, except those times when their fingers entwined when they made love, and, god, that always felt good. It felt good now, and he stroked his thumb across the back of Daniel's hand in a gesture he hoped reassured both of them. He felt peaceful, despite the headache. And he felt rested. He felt … safe. And yet a part of his brain was willing him to be alert, to force his military training to kick in. They were vulnerable here; he needed to be on his A game. That part of his brain eventually won the battle and he shot up to a sitting position, looking around frantically for his P-90.
“Your weapon is safe, Jack.”
About six feet away, Shallar sat cross-legged in the grass, Elissa beside her.
“What the ...”
“It will be returned to you, along with your other goods, when you leave us.”
Jack winced, shook his head. He had to get a grasp of what was happening here. His thought processes were sluggish. Definitely hangover, only this time with added jet lag.
“What's going on? How long have we been out?” He licked his lips. Tea. It must have been the tea. He could still taste the slight bitterness on his tongue. The women had drugged them. They had no right, no fucking right … Jack shook his head again. He looked down at Daniel, who was showing no sign of rousing. The anger that had been masked by the sluggishness really took hold. “What have you done to us? I swear, if you've hurt him ...”
Shallar smiled softly. “I gave you the tea so that we could bring you here and you could prepare for the Healing. Do not be angry or afraid. All will be well.”
“No. No. What you did is not acceptable. You do not drug people without their knowledge. That is not the act of friends. Now get us the fuck out of here.”
Jack's anger seemed to have no impact as Shallar said, quietly, “You have rested for a good while. We are now in the second day of the Moon Nights. This is what I thought you might find of interest.” Shallar indicated the ground they were sitting on. For the first time, Jack saw that he and Daniel were in the middle of a perfect circle of grass, edged with a variety of plants, each one different from the last. It took him a minute or two for his tea-drugged mind to figure it out but when he did, it was pretty obvious. They were in the middle of a representation of the Stargate.
“A grass Gate?” He couldn't keep the incredulity from his voice.
“Not a … Gate, Jack. A sacred place. A place that heals on the Moon Nights.”
Jack rose to his feet and sat back down with a thump when his head swam and his vision grayed. “Whoa,” he breathed. He gritted his teeth, fighting down the rising fear that he had no control of what was happening here. “Look. I don't know what you think you're doing here but this is wrong. I'm telling you now, we're leaving. Take us back to the village. I won't ask again.”
But he was in no position to bargain. He felt weak from the drug and Daniel wasn't even awake. Daniel's safety had to be his first priority. Think … think . If threats didn't work, perhaps reasoning would. He deliberately softened his tone.“Shallar, you might think you're helping here but trust me, we're fine. We're not sick. We don't need healing.”
Shallar sighed and closed her eyes. “Healing does not always involve sickness of the body, Jack. There are times when the mind and spirit need to mend. Do not fight this. Let the circle of healing do its work.”
Jack took a deep breath and let it out slowly. God. He hated this New Age mumbo-jumbo. First Oma, now another well-meaning alien, this time with 1960s hippy hair and a penchant for lacing tea with stuff to knock you out. Okay. So be it. Time to play along and find a way out of this.
“All right. What do we do?”
Shallar rose gracefully to her feet, Elissa following suit.
“You will be completely safe here, this I promise, but now that the Healing has started you will not be able to leave the circle until it is complete. I will return when the sun rises.”
Jack swallowed hard. “What? We can't …? No. Absolutely not. Shallar, you fix this.”
Shallar's whole body seemed to stiffen. She appeared tall, imposing, her face implacable. “Trust what is to come,” she said, unblinking. Her gaze pinned Jack in place and her words washed over him in a warm, comforting wave. He grasped for them, but they were just outside his reach, winding around him like wisps of dreams. He recognized them from somewhere. Knew the truth in them.
Shallar shifted her gaze to her sister and reached out a hand and Elissa took it. They walked away together.
A part of him, the part that was ingrained military, wanted to rail, to shout himself hoarse, to make them see that this wasn't right, but Shallar's words rang like a tolling bell in his head.
Trust what is to come.
He had no reason to trust them. None. But no physical harm had befallen them; if the Annari had wanted to hurt them, they could easily have done so before now. And something deep down, deep in that place that loved Daniel and wanted to protect him, told him that this was his only chance to get back the man he loved.
In silence, Jack watched the two women walk into the distance until he couldn't see them any more.
Swearing softly, he looked around. The grass circle appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. There were no signs of life, no trees, no streams, just a whole lot of … nothing. Gingerly, he got to his feet. The headache was receding fast and he no longer felt as though his mind was wading through molasses to get to its next thought. He counted the beautifully tended plants around the edge – 39. They were of every color, from hot reds to cool blues and every plant was in full bloom. Tangentially, Jack wondered if Oma had sent Daniel back with his allergies intact. Just one of a million things he hadn't found out since Daniel's return. He looked up, tried to gauge the time. It must have been around noon, and, although the sun was high in the sky, he didn't feel particularly hot. Hands on hips, he scanned the horizon one more time. Nothing to see, only wave upon wave of swaying, shushing grass.
Daniel stirred, rolled onto his back and opened his eyes.
Jack knelt beside him and put a staying hand on his chest. “Hold still for a while. The nail in the head stuff will ease off soon. Come to slowly and I'll fill you in.”
Daniel subsided beneath Jack's hand. Jack could feel Daniel's heart pounding. “Easy,” he said, quietly. “We're safe, as far as I can tell.”
Daniel breathed deeply and ran his hands over his face. “Again. Ow.” He started to sit up, so Jack placed an arm around his shoulders by way of support. “What the hell happened?”
“Shallar's magic tea happened. Then this circle that isn't a Stargate but is somehow linked to it happened, then I woke up and Shallar spouted some New Age stuff about healing the mind happened, then they walked away and left us to it. That's it in a nutshell.”
“They drugged us?”
Jack was pleased his outrage was shared.
“Probably ritualistic, culturally speaking. No intent to harm.”
“What?” Not shared, then. Oh, they would so talk about this later.
Daniel blinked. “How long were we unconscious?”
And that appeared to be as far as any disquiet went on Daniel's part.
“Hard to say but we're in day two of the moons thing, apparently, so it was a long time.”
Daniel frowned. “Right.” He looked around and then at Jack, squinting against the sun. “What happens now?”
Jack shrugged. “Now, we heal. It's already started, so I've been told. We just need to take that sucker home and then it's goodbye Planet of the Plants, we're outta here.”
“We'll get right on it, then.”
“Starting right now.”
“This very minute.”
“We don't have a clue, do we?”
“Not a clue.”
Daniel sighed loudly and motioned for Jack to help him stand. He swayed a little as he got to his feet and Jack placed his hand in the small of Daniel's back. It fit so well there. Before Daniel ascended, Jack always loved the small, intimate gesture; it spoke of familiarity and a degree of possession. He left his hand where it was. The connection was necessarily grounding at a time when he felt anything but grounded. His head was spinning with what-ifs and half-remembered dreams. He had no idea how to get out of this. He was fervently hoping Daniel did.
Daniel walked to the edge of the circle, absently running a hand across his forehead and pinching the bridge of his nose, frowning and squinting. Headache was still there then, but at least he wasn't swaying like the grass. He walked slowly from twelve o'clock, inspecting each plant, mouthing numbers silently as he went. “And we can't leave the circle?”
“Not until we're, “ Jack made air quotes, “healed.'”
“Have you tried?”
Daniel nodded, still studying the plantlife.
“I've kind of had my hands full with hippy aliens, a major, major headache and keeping watch over Sleeping Beauty so, no, Daniel, I haven't tried.”
It came to him in a rush of understanding that he didn't want to try. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen here. And Shallar had said they were safe; despite everything, for reasons he couldn't understand, he trusted that. How many times had he told his told his team in the field to trust their instincts, to go with their gut? Perhaps it was time to put that to the test.
Daniel put his hands on his hands and pursed his lips. “Maybe you should try.”
“You're in charge.”
“Daniel … I have never, either before you ascended or since your ass landed back on earth, been in charge of you.”
Daniel pouted some more. “Nominally in charge, then.”
“Not even … look … all I know is that somehow by some weird alien space magic, the Gate is connected to this ring when the moons align. I have no idea if it's dangerous to step outside the circle but I have no desire to see either of us hurt and besides, if we leave it, what's the point? We can't Gate home for hours yet. We're stuck here. So we might as he stuck here.” He held his arms out and indicated their surroundings. “It's peaceful. We're together. Alone. It's … nice.”
God alone knew if Daniel would buy that. He wasn't entirely sure he did.
Daniel adjusted his glasses, a sure sign that he was about to engage lecture mode. “This is … actually really interesting. The circle is a familiar archetype – clocks, yin and yang, the geometry of creation. Healing circles offer prayer and energy. Humankind has long sought inspiration, understanding and healing from stones and circles. This could be the Annari version, using healing plants and herbs.” He took a breath, then licked his lips. “Do you feel hungry?”
He was thinking about his stomach now ?
Jack thought about it. “Actually, no”
“Wanna pee, or …?”
Daniel's brow furrowed. “So … all of those needs are being taken care of. The sun is high in the sky and it should be hot but I feel fine. I'm not sweating.”
Jack considered this, too. “Same here.”
Daniel started talking with his hands – always a sign that he was cranking through the gears. “The circle is looking after us.”
“And it's doing that how?”
“I have no idea.”
Daniel sighed right along with him and planted his hands on his hips, frustration evident in every action. “Tell me again exactly what Shallar said about the healing.”
“That we shouldn't fight it. That sometimes the mind and spirit need time to mend. That kinda stuff.”
Daniel shook his head. “But why does she feel we need to,” he mimicked Jack's air quotes, “'heal'. I mean, why us and not Teal'c and Sam? If this is about Janet, they lost her, too. She was Sam's best friend and I'm pretty sure Teal'c always had a very soft spot for her. Why us? What was she picking up on?”
Jack shrugged. “Perhaps she sensed we had more of a … connection. That we have a lot of stuff tangled up in … us.”
Daniel thrust his hands in his pockets. “I thought we were doing a good job of keeping that … connection … private.”
“I thought so, too, but who knows what these people can detect with their hippy-huggy superpowers.”
Daniel gave him the look. “Do you have to be so dismissive?”
“Hey, I've just about given up trying to make any sense of anything happening here. Forgive me if I'm getting a little ticked off at being stuck in a grass circle in the middle of nowhere.”
Daniel toed the grass. “I thought you said you liked being stuck here because we're alone and together and it's nice.”
Jack threw up his arms. “It is , Daniel. I love being alone with you. We rarely get to be alone and we never get to talk . My patience is just wearing a little thin with all this. I should have seen this shit coming, that's my job. I'm losing my fucking edge and wondering if it's time to fly a fucking desk, something I never thought I'd hear myself say.”
They lapsed into silence, Jack fearing he'd already said too much while simultaneously feeling that there was a hell of a lot more that they both had to say before this was done.
“You want to talk ?” Daniel said, eventually, narrowing his eyes.
Jack gritted his teeth. Now who was being dismissive? “Well, as it happens, this time, yes, since it appears to be the only way we get to home anytime soon. And I really, really want to know what's going on with you.”
Daniel began his perambulations around the edge of the circle again, stopping suddenly at three o'clock. He stood up straight, hands clenching.
No, no, no …
Fight or flight, Jack could see it in Daniel's body. He knew what that felt like. Every fiber of your body screaming for a response.
Daniel's hands clenched again, his body poised on the cusp of action. And then his fingers uncurled and he breathed out, shoulders slumping a little. “We're okay for now, right?” His voice was a little shaky.
“Yeah,” Jack said, softly.
“Okay. Okay. The first sign of anything squirrelly and we leave. Together. No question, no debate. We just go. We take the consequences.”
Jack's relief spilled over into a muted guffaw. “You really have been hanging around me too long. You sound more like me than I do.”
Daniel nodded, more to himself than Jack, and carried on his tour of the circle.
Jack watched him closely for a few seconds, then eased himself down to sit on the grass, wrapping his arms around his raised knee. “Do you get the feeling we're going around in circles here?”
Daniel stopped in his tracks. He laughed. It was a magical sound. The Daniel who had come back was more serious and introspective than Daniel Mark I, who, come to think of it, hadn't laughed often enough either. This one, however, seemed to have forgotten how. He sat down beside Jack, close enough that their shoulders touched.
Jack smiled at him. “That feels better,” he said, softly, earning a smile in return. Jack felt a weight begin to lift. On a whim, he leaned in and took Daniel's lips in a tentative, gentle kiss and was nothing but relieved when Daniel responded, lengthening and deepening the contact. Jack closed his eyes and lost himself to the feeling, tasting and exploring, remembering how this had felt that first time after Daniel came back; the overwhelming relief and hope. His hand came up to cup Daniel's cheek and he felt delicious stubble and an unexpected, gut-wrenching wetness. Startled but determined not to show it, he gentled the kiss, easing down to just the barest brush of lips.
Jack pulled back, leaving his hand on Daniel's cheek. “Hey,” he whispered. “Talk to me.”
Daniel opened his eyes. His distress was evident. “Sorry. Sorry, I don't know why I'm ...”
“Daniel ...” He had said that name in so many ways down the years – in fear, in jest, in anger. But this time, he just breathed out the word on a sigh full of all the love and longing he could muster.
Shaking fingers were raised to Jack's lips. Daniel's gaze raked his face, searching, mapping. “Say my name again,” Daniel said, quietly.
“Daniel,” Jack said against Daniel's skin. “Daniel.”
“I couldn't touch you. In Ba'al's cell. When you called my name. I could hear you, see you but I couldn't touch you. I don't think I understood how fucking hard ascension could be until that moment. I couldn't do anything while you were tortured and killed over and over. And I was being so arrogant and superior while you were just being right – what was point of having the power to toss lightning around if I couldn't help a friend; my lover. So, I came up with a plan to get you out of there but I never forgave myself for letting you go through that. I came back, or got kicked out of heaven and I'm still not sure about the truth of it, and, bam, I had no time to process any of it. The missions kept coming, one after another after another, and each one challenged who I was now, who this Daniel Jackson was, and I didn't know, I didn't ...”
“Daniel, I ...”
“Don't … don't interrupt. I have to say this. I kept going, day after day, unsure of who I was and even less sure of my place on the team. Sam and Teal'c tried to talk to me and sometimes I felt I was getting to grips with things. After we rescued Bra'tac and Rya'c from that death camp, I started to feel like I belonged. But then, along came the Stromos and I remembered enough that we loved each other and we fucked, and I can't tell you how good that felt, but in a way that was pure us – so purely, utterly us that it wasn't even funny - we didn't talk about it. It wasn't your fault that you didn't see how I was feeling. I closed you down, except for the fucking. I closed everyone down. I've been snowing psychiatrists since I was eight years old; it wasn't hard.” He paused and shifted his fingers from Jack's lips to his cheek. “The Stromos thing … although I remembered what was between us, I lost a bit of myself again in the process of figuring out the voices in my head. I was still struggling with that when along came Honduras.” He stroked Jack's cheek, gently. “I couldn't tell you at the time but I was glad to go out of the SGC, to get away.”
“From us?” God, this hurt.
“Partly.” The truth was as painful for Daniel as it was for Jack; he could see it in his eyes. “We were so fucking complicated. I still suspected there might have been feelings between you and Sam. Unresolved stuff from way back.”
Jack opened his mouth to interject.
“I don't need to know. That's between you and her. I don't believe that any feelings you may have had for her have ever impacted on your feelings for me but it was a factor in those complications. And then, then we lost Janet. And I nearly lost you and if that had happened … I can't lose you, Jack. I can't.”
Jack hauled him in close, wrapped both arms around and held on.
“I'm not going anywhere,” he whispered, pressing the words into Daniel's skull. He had to make him believe.
Daniel's arms tightened on him. “That's a promise you can't make, and neither can I. Although god knows I wish we could. We have no idea what's waiting out there.”
“Us, Daniel. We're waiting. Anything else, we deal with, just like we always have.” He breathed Daniel in; the scent of him was heaven. He'd missed that so much.
Jack was dimly aware that he was rocking Daniel the way he had done back in an SGC storage closet so many years ago. He'd comforted Daniel then; he hoped he was offering the same comfort now. So much time had passed, yet here they were, still loving, still trusting each other with everything that mattered, good and bad. He still loved this stunning, vulnerable, amazing man.
A slight shudder ran through Daniel's body before he pulled back. He looked tired. “Us. We. I want that, so badly. I'm sorry I shut you out. It wasn't my intention. I think I shut myself down. It's always been my default setting – push feelings away, shut them down. Ironic, isn't it? I've spent my working life digging stuff up when all I ever do is metaphorically bury it.” The smile that touched his lips was wry and sad.
Jack rested a hand on Daniel's knee. “I dunno. It has a kind of cosmic symmetry to it, I guess.”
“And what about you?” Daniel rested his hand over Jack's, his thumb tracing gentle circles. “You're pretty good at playing it close to the vest.”
“Oh, I don't know about that. Someone seems to have an uncanny ability to make me spill my guts when I least expect it.”
Jack tilted his head and grinned. Daniel followed suit.
“Yes. About what you said earlier.”
“I was kind hoping you'd missed that.”
“Well, I didn't.” The circles on Jack's hand ceased and Daniel squeezed his fingers instead. “You want to leave the field? Fly a desk?”
“It's not a case of wanting to. I think it may be a case of having to. Soon. If they ask, I'll probably say yes.”
Daniel frowned, seemingly genuinely puzzled. “Why? You're every bit the effective commander you've always been. You've kept us safe for seven years.”
“Not safe enough. You bled to death from radiation poisoning on my watch, remember? Left us, left me. ”
“That was the result of my actions, Jack. You weren't even there.”
“Well, I damn well should have been. Things might have turned out differently.”
“What? You would have stopped me disabling the bomb? You would have done it instead?”
Jack had gone through this scenario a thousand times while lying awake, alone and adrift during that year, and every time he saw himself crashing through that window instead of Daniel. He would have done that.
“And then you'd be dead and I'd be alone and lost and grieving instead, with no hope of getting you back because you would never have accepted an offer of ascension. And that's a better outcome?”
“There is no better outcome. Any outcome that has either of us alone is not an outcome I like to consider, okay?” His voice was rising, the suppressed anger spilling out. He'd held it in for so long there was no holding it back now.
Daniel squeezed his hand again. “I know. I know. I'm sorry.”
“I was so pissed at you for leaving, even though it was the only option. I was pissed at myself for waving you on your way and not hauling you off the ramp. And then I was pissed for an entire year, and I took it out on the poor schmuck who tried his best to put things right, but who was never going to succeed with me because he wasn't you. I took it out on the rest of the team, and Hammond and Fraiser and the entire fucking world. I thought I'd done being angry with the entire fucking world after Charlie ...” He paused, the sound of his son's name on his lips robbing him of breath.
Jack sat in silence, grateful that Daniel wasn't pushing him into territory that still ripped his heart out.
“We've both been hurt so much,” Daniel said, softly, looking down at their joined hands.
“Two angry men,” Jack huffed a self-deprecating laugh.
“We just need another ten and we can make a movie.”
Jack managed a smile. “You'd be Juror 8, Henry Fonda, the single not guilty dissenter on the jury. The one who talked the others around.”
“You'd be number 3 – the opinionated, stubborn juror with the temper.”
Jack's smile became a grin. “You remember the movie. That's great.”
Daniel's smile in return was real and warm. “We watched it late one night, together with a bucket of popcorn and an expensive bottle of red wine after a team night where Teal'c kicked your ass at Ker-Plunk and Sam made you act out Priscilla Queen of the Desert in charades.” Daniel looked a little wistful. “It was a good night.” He fixed Jack with a fiery look. “It got better later.”
“Oh my god. It was the first time we tried that thing with the candle wax.”
“And, as far as I recall, the last time.”
“I did not squeal like, how did you describe it, a stuck pig?”
“You so did.”
Jack pulled a face. “Yes, well. Moving on.”
Daniel lay flat on his back, looking up at the sun and clouds. Jack lay down beside him, making sure their shoulders brushed. They watched the clouds scud across the sky, their shapes morphing at the whim of the wind.
“I've been so angry, Jack,” Daniel said quietly, after a while, no anger left in his voice at all. “I was angry at you for letting me ascend, although I know you had no choice. I was angry at my failure to make anything better as a so-called higher being, and, god, I was angry at Janet's fucking pointless death.” His voice cracked a little at the mention of Janet's name. “And the worst thing of all? The thing I could never admit to anyone? There was a tiny part of me that was relieved it was Janet who died and not you and that is fucked up and I hate it because it shouldn't have happened. She shouldn't have died. Not a medic. You don't kill doctors. There's been so much loss … I can't be this angry any more. I can't ...”
“I'm sorry. I should have seen what was going on with you. All of it. I'm so fucking sorry.”
“And I'm sorry that you were hurt, too.”
Jack watched the ever-changing skyscape, content to mull over what had been said, allowing Daniel the space to do the same.
“I know I've said this before, but I have to know that you understand: It's not your fault that you didn't know how badly I was coping. I didn't let you in.” Daniel finally said, haltingly. Then, “I'm tired, Jack, so tired.”
Daniel's voice was fading and Jack could sense his body going limp, his muscle groups relaxing one by one, giving in to the rest he clearly needed.
“It's okay. It's okay. Sleep, Daniel, I'm here.” Gently, he reached over and slipped Daniel's glasses off, placing them in his own BDU jacket pocket. It always amazed Jack how young and vulnerable Daniel looked without them.
Jack had no idea how long he lay beside Daniel as he slept. Time had no meaning. He distantly noted the sun's passage across the sky and the way the color changed from blue to red to gold and finally a deep, velvety purple. Eventually, feeling a delicious lethargy, he shifted onto his side and reached for Daniel, tucking his head into his shoulder. He clung on, aware that Daniel was dreaming by the occasional twitch or soft moan. As night fell, Jack felt the pull of sleep and surrendered to dreams of loving Daniel. Their warm, naked bodies twined and moved as one, arching and reaching that sacred, shared moment together, and he knew, without knowing how, that Daniel was sharing the same dreams.
Daniel would get through this.
They would get through this.
In dreams, they made love beneath the soft light of the moons.
Jack woke to the now-familiar sound of shushing grass and the feel of warm sunshine on his face. He was still holding Daniel, who slept on peacefully. Turning his head, he saw Shallar and Elissa sitting a few feet away, outside the circle, watching them carefully.
“Fair morn, Jack,” Shallar said, smiling.
“You have slept well.” It wasn't a question.
“Like the proverbial log.”
“And Daniel, too.”
“I hope so.”
Jack felt Daniel begin to stir and released his hold as Daniel rolled onto his back.
“Hey, sleepyhead.” He smiled at the dishevelled, not-yet-fully-awake man beside him.
“Hey,” Daniel said, voice sleep-dry and thin.
“Room service is here.” He indicated their visitors with an inclination of his head.
“Fair morn, Daniel.” Elissa this time, smiling as fondly as her sister.
“Fair morn.” Daniel squinted, prompting Jack to hand over his glasses.
“You wish to return to our home to break your fast?” Shallar asked, addressing them both.
Jack pushed himself to a sitting position, grateful that, for the first time in a very long time, he appeared to have no morning aches and pains. “Er, yeah, slight problem. We're in this circle, you see, and we've been told we can't leave until we're A-OK.”
“Do you not feel … A-OK?”
“Oh, I feel fine and dandy. How about you, Daniel?”
Daniel sat up. “Um, actually, I feel fine.” He sounded surprised.
“Then come.” Shallar and Elissa rose and held out their hands.
“Wait a second.” Jack pushed to his feet, holding out his hand to help Daniel up. “How do we know it's safe. I mean, how do we know we're,” he hesitated to use the word, “healed?”
“In your heart you know. Do you trust what you have learned together? Will you take the next step, side by side, in faith?”
“Well?” Jack looked at Daniel, saw a hundred different emotions pass across his face, and underneath it all, he saw love. Pure, simple, unguarded love. His heart was beating so loudly he was sure Shallar and Elissa could hear it.
Tentatively, Jack held out his hand and Daniel took it, without hesitation, gripping tightly. They smiled at each other.
Together, they walked towards Shallar and Elissa.
Jack had rarely been so happy to see a Stargate spinning and clunking into action. It was a beautiful sight. Almost as beautiful as the sight of the man he loved chatting quietly to the coterie of Elders, making final plans for Carter and a team of similarly excited scientists to return for more instruction on the planet's treasure trove of medicinal plantlife.
As the kawoosh billowed towards then, Jack turned to Shallar.
"You know,” he said, stooping to pick up his day pack,“I get the feeling we could have left that damned circle at any time and been perfectly fine.”
Shallar smiled at him, giving nothing away. “And yet, you chose to stay.”
“Yes. We did.”
“ You chose, Jack. Perhaps Daniel was not the only one who needed to heal.”
Jack hoisted is pack onto his shoulders. “I'm still pretty unhappy at the whole drugged tea thing. Where we come from, it's not the best way to win friends and influence people. Best not to pull a stung like that again, if you want to be buddies.”
Shallar looked genuinely shocked. “We did what was necessary. We would never have harmed you or Daniel.”
"Yes but ...” He left it there. This was one ethical debate they would never see eye-to-eye on. For this Annari healer, the end justified the means. Jack still had an issue with those means, and he was pretty sure it would be the subject of a long, long conversation with his anthropologist at some point. He'd be sure to stock up on snacks for that.
“I suppose I should thank you,” he said, somewhat grudgingly.
“Thank the Moon Nights, friend Jack. Return soon. Elissa is insisting on making a coverlet for the bed Daniel shares with the one he loves.” Shallar's knowing look made Jack feel suddenly naked.
“Ready to go, Daniel?”
Going home felt like a new beginning.
“Yes. Ready.” Daniel looked relaxed and happy and more himself than he had done since his return. Jack's heart skipped a beat or two. God, he loved this man.
“Then home from Oz we go.”