Daniel looked over at his lover as the event horizon winked out. They were back on P4X-993 and to be honest he was really rather apprehensive about what he was going to find here. Part of him wanted answers; what the purpose of forcing the memories to the fore was and why he’d been chosen. The other side of him was more than a little afraid of what they would be dealing with. He knew he couldn’t go through another time like the last few weeks.
Their return from La Troza had heralded a battery of tests, blood draws and scowls from Janet and a really rather thorough dressing down from the general. Daniel knew they were both angry with him and Jack for keeping the details of the alien influence from them, but they had both agreed on the flight home that it had felt right to deal with it alone. Now here they were, trying to officially find out what had affected them on this planet and also to hopefully draw a line under the events of the last month or so.
Daniel’s gaze wandered over to Jack. There was something pensive about his lover that Daniel hadn’t been able to get a handle on. At first he’d thought the older man was just readjusting to being back in Colorado. They’d both found it stressful and frustrating to once again be watching every word and gesture lest it give them away. They knew General Hammond was aware of their relationship; that he would try to deflect any attention that came their way. But the loss of the simple pleasures of holding hands, kissing when they felt the urge and sleeping together every night felt like a huge deal and Jack had been downright morose despite every attempt Daniel had made to cheer him up.
P4X-993 was the first off-world mission since their return and Daniel was hoping it would reignite Jack’s enthusiasm; get him back in the saddle so to speak. Daniel smiled wryly to himself. Who was he trying to kid. If he was honest, the spark had gone for him, too. The years of being off-world, running into trouble; being hunted, hurt and tortured, were beginning to far outweigh any joy at the discovery of new cultures and civilizations. The powers that be were pushing the missions with a military aspect to the forefront as opposed to those making allies and first contact; sometimes Daniel felt more like a soldier than an archaeologist. He pulled his gaze from Jack and looked around at the terrain. There was a huge moon hanging in a sky streaked with neon green clouds. The ground was covered in white salt deposits that looked exactly like snow, except the temperature was a perfectly balmy 75 degrees. There was, of course, the obligatory tree or two, but Daniel knew that was to be expected. What frustrated him was that he had no idea what had caused the events of the last few weeks and he hated feeling so out of his depth. ‘Perhaps that’s why I feel so thoroughly disenchanted,’ he muttered to himself.
His musing was cut short by a firm but gentle hand on his shoulder; a touch so familiar it made his heart warm.
“Ready to move out, Danny?” Jack asked, his eyes crinkling in a fond smile. “T and Sam are going to secure the gate and collect extra soil and mineral samples while we go back to the rock pile.”
“Temple ruins, Jack.” Daniel replied with a grin, knowing the comeback was expected of him.
“Yeah, whatever.” Jack sketched a sloppy salute towards the other half of their team and they set off to walk the short distance to the ruins, which were close enough to be visible in the distance.
They walked in comfortable silence until about half way to the structure. Jack cleared his throat as if to speak and then fell silent again. Daniel quelled the urge to ask if he was alright, knowing Jack would speak when he was ready. Daniel somehow knew whatever Jack was mulling over was big and trying to get him to open up before he was ready was going to end badly. Out here in the field he couldn’t even offer a hug or a kiss to soothe and encourage his lover, but he did let their fingers brush for a moment as they walked and was gratified to receive a small smile from Jack.
“Tell me again what happened last time you were here,” Jack asked, obviously changing the subject from their unspoken conversation.
Well, if Jack wasn’t ready, Daniel was perfectly willing to give him the time and space he needed. If nothing else, the visions they’d had proved they needed to communicate more clearly and to listen with an open mind.
“I was translating some inscriptions on the main temple wall,” Daniel began.
“By translating, you mean running your fingers all over them and muttering to yourself,” Jack retorted.
Daniel gave him a sheepish look. In fact that had been exactly what he was doing. “Shut up! So I was translating and then suddenly I felt a sort of shock, like static electricity and my vision went…”
“Sort of like a dream sequence in a hokey movie?” Jack interrupted.
Daniel frowned. “Yes exactly that, how did you know?”
“Because that’s what happened to me when I touched you in the infirmary.” Jack bit at his lower lip. “Whatever this thing was it transferred between us.”
“Yes, but not anyone else. If it was a virus or a contagion it would’ve moved to others; Janet and the nurses, the SF’s in the gate room, the other members of SG-3. But it didn’t.”
“Sooo,” Jack drawled. “What do you think it was?”
“Fucked if I know,” Daniel replied, frustrated.
Jack snorted loudly. “Something the great Dr. Jackson doesn’t know. That must frustrate the hell out of you!” He laughed at the glare Daniel gave him.
“Perhaps I can illuminate this issue for you.”
Daniel was pushed to the ground as, in one move, Jack pressed on his shoulder and flicked off the safety on his P-90, whirling to the location of the strange voice. Daniel slowly turned his eyes in the same direction and was amazed to see the strangest looking being they had ever encountered in all their exploration through the Gate.
Floating about three feet off the ground the alien seemed to be made of a swirling cloud of purple and white light that rippled and glowed. Set near the top of the cloud was a clearly discernible face, reptilian in nature with bulging white eyes beneath a crest of white, feather-like plumes fluttering in the breeze.
“Shit,” Jack hissed in Daniel’s ear. “It looks like one of those glowy people, like that Oma gal. Only more like a toad than a person. An ascended toad, Danny?”
Daniel gave Jack a quelling look and despite the heavy hand on his shoulder he struggled to his feet and faced the creature.
“I know who you are, Dr. Daniel Jackson. I see the threads of your existence stretching out in front and behind you.”
Jack frowned and took a small step forward, inserting his body between the alien and Daniel. He waved the end of his P-90 towards the creature and Daniel could see he was in full ‘protector mode’; his body tense and ready for action, his eyes steely and focussed.
“Jack,” Daniel pleaded quietly. “He’s not made any aggressive actions towards us. Can we just let him talk?”
“Are you one of Oma’s glowy club?” Jack asked, belligerently.
The creature looked as confused as it was possible with its reptilian features. A little bubble of hysteria rose in Daniel’s chest as he thought about all the different species in the galaxy Jack had managed to baffle.
“Jack is talking about ascended Ancients. We’ve met Oma Desala and one of our team was visited by another called Orlin.”
Again the range of facial expression available to the being left him looking slightly constipated, but the feeling Daniel got was that the alien was rather disgusted.
“Yes, we know of them, but we are not of them.” The being’s voice was sibilant and slightly slurred, but the hardness in the tone was clearly detectable. There was obviously no love lost between the two species.
“I am L’mar of the Amaranth and we lived many millennia before the Ancients decided the higher planes were their intended destination. Their thread is so far only tenuously linked with those of you and your mate, Daniel.”
Jack and Daniel looked at one another and Jack’s eyebrows rose almost to his hairline. He didn’t like or trust the ascended and the thought that they might be floating back into their lives didn’t fill him with joy.
“You keep talking about threads and our lives. Are you fortune tellers? Can you see the future?” Jack demanded, ignoring the glare he got from Daniel. He was feeling very insecure. Their position was vulnerable to say the least and the creature seemed totally unfazed by Jack waving around his automatic weapon. He remembered what had happened to the Jaffa at Kheb and shuddered. If this creature had half that power then he and Danny were pretty much sitting ducks.
“We are able to read the threads of possibility which emanate from all living things. The myriad options available to each of you are clear for us to see.”
“So, what happened to me when I was here…?” Daniel asked.
“Was a mistake that we were unable to rectify, as you left the planet before we were aware.”
“What you did to him…it nearly broke…us…him…apart.” Jack’s voice was cracked and tinged with anger and sadness and Daniel moved to press along his side, offering support and also recognizing this emotional state left Jack feeling vulnerable, which in turn made him all the more dangerous.
“I understand that dealing with the effects of the Sturina without proper guidance will have been disorientating and maybe even dangerous. It is a testament to your strength both of character and emotions that you are here and unaffected.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say unaffected,” Jack replied coldly. “We went through hell…”
“But we survived, Jack.” Daniel pressed a firm hand to Jack’s shoulder, pleading by touch to be allowed to continue questioning the Amaranth. He felt the tension in Jack’s muscles give a little and shift away from such an overtly aggressive stance.
“So what happened? What is the Sturina and why was I affected when no one else in my team was?”
“We receive visitors; supplicants you might say, from many races in the galaxy. The Sturina is a biological anomaly – a virus if you will – that seeks to untwist the knots in the threads of life that have emotionally damaged the supplicant. All bring another with them who will tend them through the initial physical effects and then support them during the inevitable emotional stresses of the aftermath.” L’Mar looked positively sorrowful as his big milky white eyes slid over Daniel. “Your threads were so tightly woven with pain and difficulties that the Sturina sought you out with unprecedented ferocity.”
“You’re right about that,” Jack spat, his anger fully back at the fore. “He almost died. You could have contacted us, helped us to help him.”
“We cannot leave this place. It is our duty to fulfil the needs of those who come here on pilgrimage. We are tied to the planet and have no freedom. Once Daniel had gone through the Astria Porta we had no means of getting him back.” The being floated forward and the edges of its glowing cape of lights drifted around both Jack and Daniel.
“Hey,” Jack yelled, his P-90 once more at the ready. “Back off, buddy.”
“Fear not, Jack O’Neill. I wish no harm to you or your mate, merely to explain and perhaps atone for the pain and difficulty the touch of the Sturina on Daniel put both of you through.”
Suddenly they were back in the Enchanted Cave at La Troza, but this time they were accompanied by L’Mar. Both Jack and Daniel were dressed in beach clothes and Jack’s weapon was no longer hanging from a clip around his neck.
“Now wait a minute…What the FUCK!”
Daniel had to physically stop Jack from launching himself in what would no doubt have been a useless attack on the floating alien. “I don’t think this is real, Jack.”
“You are correct, Dr. Jackson. We are in fact in a construct made from the most recent happy memory in both your minds. Your bodies are still standing in the same place on the planet and regardless of the time spent here no time will pass in the ‘real world’ as you would put it. I had hoped it would prove calming for the colonel, but it appears I was mistaken.” The alien looked quizzically over at Jack’s glowering face.
“I don’t like surprises.”/“He doesn’t like surprises.” They blurted out together and the synchronicity made them both grin and broke the tension.
“OK, Lamarr, I’ll bite, so we ain’t in Kansas anymore. I’m listening.”
“Thank you, Colonel. Firstly I must again apologise. Dr. Jackson was affected in an unwarranted way partly because of the tangled nature of his life threads and the unusual twist of them with your own.”
Daniel and Jack exchanged looks of ‘no shit, Sherlock’ at that little pronouncement.
“But also,” the alien continued, “Because of his ability to both read and interpret the writings on the temple wall. He unknowingly, but instinctively traced the carvings in the exact way that myself or one of the adepts would have done in order to bring the Sturina to the fore.”
“See, I knew all that hands on stuff would get you into trouble,” Jack scolded. But Daniel was too interested in the alien’s words to take any notice.
“So the virus itself forms part of the structure – the fabric of the building. That’s fascinating…”
“What is more fascinating,” L’Mar interrupted, “is the fact that your threads were so linked with the colonel’s even decades into your past, yet you were unaware and came together as mates despite this. It was that link between you that caused the Sturina to move from Daniel into Jack. The unravelling of that particular tangle is especially pleasing to us.”
“So there is an emotional component for you, too?” Daniel was intrigued by the investment the alien seemed to have in their happiness and well-being.
“There is a great…satisfaction in the harmony caused by the righting of twisted threads, yes.” L’mar agreed. “And a sensation you would equate with pain when those threads remain inextricable.”
“So is this all over for us then?” Jack asked earnestly. “Because I have to be honest with you, Lamaze, I wouldn’t want to go through the last few weeks again for anything or anybody.” The look of concern and love he sent Daniel melted the younger man’s heart and he reached out to squeeze Jack’s hand. He was surprised when Jack didn’t let go and pulled him closely into his side.
“The effects of the Sturina are fully purged from your bodies. There will be no after effects and you may leave here secure in that knowledge.” The alien floated over to hover closely in front of them and it took everything Jack had not to haul Daniel out of reach. But his lover seemed unperturbed by the proximity of the creature and Jack found he trusted Daniel’s intuition. And after all, they weren’t even really here in the cave, so there was very little to be gained from retreating.
“However,” L’Mar continued, “I see new threads already forming which will have far-reaching consequences if they continue to unravel as they are.”
Daniel’s expression was one Jack had seen a million times before. His blue eyes sparked with excitement at the possibility of new discoveries. But the look dimmed with L’Mar’s next words.
“We are not ‘fortune tellers’ as Jack puts it. We see the threads and their interactions with one another but not their destinations or consequences. Every thread can be stretched or tangled or broken by the others around it and by new threads put into place by design or accident.” The lizard faced alien gave an approximation of a smile with its wide toad-like mouth. “We simply strive to smooth the tangled threads that hurt those they are attached to – this is the purpose of the Sturina and our vocation.” He turned to Daniel and bowed. “Once again I apologize for the method. But we of the Amaranth have contentment that the pain of the past has been untangled and the twisted threads between you and your mate are now aligned. It is time for you to leave, Daniel Jackson. We will not meet again.”
Suddenly Jack found himself alone with L’Mar. Jack was dressed in a hazmat suit and they were in the centre of an area of blasted ground. Around them were all the hallmarks of the aftermath of a major nuclear event; blasted buildings and the fine ash of vaporized organic matter. Jack looked around himself in horror.
“Where’s Danny?” he demanded, slightly panicked by the devastation around him and his missing lover.
“Have no fear, Jack O’Neill. This is but another construct.”
Jack sighed deeply, his faint sheepish blush mostly hidden by the heavy helmet of his suit. “Yeah, right…OK.”
“Your mate is safe and time is not yet moving for him. When you rejoin him he will not realize you have been apart. There is something we must discuss and a decision you must make.”
Jack had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. The explanations of the alien had been plausible enough, but it all seemed a little too easy. So now there was something expected of him and Jack was almost relieved. Decisions were something he had been trained for all his life; he made difficult choices every time they went through the Gate.
“There is something you have been thinking about; something that will change your life.”
Jack’s eyes went hard and he looked over at the alien floating in front of him, with a steely gaze. “Have you been reading my mind?” His concerns were for the command codes that lay buried in his memory. Knowledge of those would compromise the SGC.
“No, merely watching the threads,” L’Mar replied cryptically. “I cannot…should not influence you but…” The alien faltered and for the first time Jack thought he saw a flicker of doubt on the reptilian face.
“But…” he prompted.
“I do not need to tell you how bright a star your mate is; how he shines in intelligence and compassion.”
Jack shook his head. He needed no one to sing Danny’s praises when he was the loudest voice in the choir.
“Then believe me when I tell you that for no other would I go against the precepts of my race and give a warning.” The white and purple mist making up the body of the alien clouded to murky grays and putrid greens. “If the threads you are spinning now do not come to fruition and very soon; if you make a different decision even in the next few hours, then what you see around you will not come to pass. But the threads that bind you to Daniel will be severed and although they will be remade in the fullness of time, neither of you will ever be the same again.”
Jack felt the icy fingers of premonition tighten around his gut. “But if I do go ahead, with what I have been thinking?”
“Then what you see around you will come to be.”
“I thought you told Danny you couldn’t see the future. Why did you lie to him?”
“Because you know as well as I do if he thought he could prevent this, he would willingly risk anything to make that come to pass. Even telling him that this would happen eventually – even with his interference – would not stop him.”
Jack nodded. Everything the alien said was correct. Daniel would stop at nothing to prevent the pain or death of others. Jack was no fool. Even though the alien hadn’t been completely overt about it; the soldier knew that Daniel would die preventing this disaster happening.
“And so that’s the decision I have to make. Keep things the way they are and save this world for the time being or follow through with my plans and save Daniel, allowing this world to suffer this sooner rather than later.”
“If it helps at all, colonel, the people of this planet will eventually destroy themselves. Even if you decided to sacrifice Daniel this outcome will be the final one.” L’Mar’s gaze drifted around them and Jack swallowed hard. At first it looked like he was being made to make the hardest choice of his life – Daniel for a whole planet of people and the alien was right, Daniel wouldn’t see any choice at all. He would give his life gladly to save others. But if they were still going to make this happen despite the possible sacrifice of his lover; if they were going to eventually take that sacrifice and piss it away, then Jack knew the decision he was going to make.
“You do not need to give me your answer, Jack O’Neill.” The alien’s aura glowed once again with deep amethyst and silver shades. “I see the strands of your decision coiling away into the distance, binding the future to you both.”
Jack felt the gnawing pain in his gut begin to ease as he realized the alien was right. The decision was made, for better or worse.
“Do not allow your people to return to our world, Colonel. With this one act we have interfered enough for a millennium. We wish to prevent any further unwarranted interventions.”
“OK,” Jack agreed. “I’ll make sure the address is locked out of the dialling computer.” He looked L’Mar in the eye and sketched a salute. “I came here wanting to kick your butt for what you put us through, but now I think…Thank you.”
Before the last syllable of his thanks had left his mouth, Jack found himself back in his BDUs complete with his P-90 and a confused looking Daniel beside him.
“Where did he go?” the archaeologist asked.
Jack shrugged, “I think he’d said everything he needed to say. I get the impression we’ve outstayed our welcome here.”
“W…what?” Daniel was irritated in the extreme. “We haven’t even got to the ruins yet.”
“And we’re not going.” Jack replied quellingly. “You heard what Toadface said. The virus is in the fabric of that temple. I’m not risking you getting re-infected or anyone else for that matter. We’re going back to base and locking this place out of the dialling computer.”
Jack watched as Daniel warred with himself until (thankfully) he saw the sense of Jack’s argument. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”
“I know I am,” Jack replied, trying not to let Daniel see his relief at his acquiescence. “Before we do though, there’s something I wanted to talk to you about.” He looked around and saw a small rock formation about fifteen feet back from the pathway. The tops of the stones were worn flat offering a perfect place to sit. They both settled, Jack pulling out his canteen and sipping at the lukewarm water as Daniel found a rather crushed power bar and ripped open the foil wrapper.
Jack used sipping the water as a cover for gathering himself. This subject was one he’d thought he would have a few more days, maybe even weeks, to think on. But L’Mar had made it very clear time was of the essence; any delay on his part could have consequences he wouldn’t even allow himself to think about. So he had to do this, do it now and convincingly enough that Daniel would also agree.
“Jack, is everything OK?” Daniel’s worried tone told Jack he had been cogitating for a little too long and his subterfuge had become obvious.
“Yeah, Danny. It’s just…well, this is a big thing to talk about and I want to say it right.”
Daniel bit down on his bottom lip and a worried frown puckered his brow. He didn’t say anything else, just looked at Jack, waiting.
“I loved our time in Mexico,” Jack began. “Even with all the worry and the misunderstandings; the fear and the travelling half way around the world…” He looked over at Daniel to see if he agreed and the small crinkle at the corners of his lover’s eyes told him he did.
“I loved being together as a real couple; no hiding, no pretending. Waking up with you in the morning and hearing you breathing at night.”
“Not to mention the hot sex.” Daniel grinned, warmed by the real pleasure his older lover had taken in the simpler parts of just being together.
“Well, that goes without saying,” Jack agreed, pressing his hand playfully on Daniel’s thigh. “But that first night back home, when I dropped you at the apartment and you had to stop me from kissing you goodbye because I’d forgotten we couldn’t, it struck me… I don’t want to live my life like that anymore.” An expression of alarm flittered across Daniel’s face and Jack carried on quickly to halt the misunderstanding before it started. “I want to be able to kiss you and hold your hand; to introduce you as my life-partner, fuck it, as my husband if that’s what you want.” Jack caught Daniel’s hand in his and turned it over tracing his fingertip down Daniel’s lifeline. “I’m so much older than you, Danny, and I don’t wanna waste anymore time. I want to retire and I want you to think about it, too, or at least about not being on a Gate team anymore.”
Daniel opened his mouth to speak, but Jack stopped him with his fingertips, pressing them against his lips. “I know you love it and I‘d never want you to have to give it up completely and I was thinking, how would you like to live in a castle in Scotland for a while?”
He moved his fingers away from Daniel’s mouth which dropped open in shocked amazement.
“Well, there’s this Asgard laboratory in the grounds of Simon’s castle just waiting for a genius linguist/archaeo-anthropologist to winkle out all its secrets. And I’m sure Simon and Mac could find things a retired Air Force Colonel could do with his time. There may even be some civilian freelance work I could do for the SGC or the RAF.”
Jack stopped talking and held his breath as he watched Daniel think about everything he’d said.
“I’ve been thinking along the same lines actually, although I hadn’t got as far as you, obviously. I’d never ask you to retire for me, Jack. I know you’ve always loved what you do and you’re good at it – the best. I have to admit, I’m getting tired of being shot at and not getting to do the stuff I’m really good at. But,” he frowned and looked at his hands, “what about Sam and Teal’c? And what about the general? I can’t imagine he’d be very happy about losing half of his flagship team.”
Jack grinned, as he had a rebuttal ready for this part of Daniel’s argument. “T and Sam can carry on going through the Gate if that’s what they want. Carter is ready to take command and between you and me she’s up for her silver oak leaves any day now. If for some reason she doesn’t want it then there are a couple of really good prospects in the chain of command – Major Lorne comes to mind and T is always happy to go out with SG-2; he loves those Marines!”
Daniel snorted in agreement.
“And as for the general, well, I think he’s been expecting this for a while now. He knew we’d either get outted or we’d decide to go on our own and I for one would rather have a retirement party than a court martial.”
“You really have thought all of this through,” Daniel shook his head in surprise. “Is this really what you want, love,” he asked as he laid his hand gently over Jack’s.
Jack lifted their entwined fingers and pressed them to his lips. “Yeah, it really is. We’d have to talk it through with everyone and I don’t think I’m pandering to my own ego too much when I say we might have a bit of a fight with the President, but in the end I’ve put in more than my time and if I decide to go there isn’t a great deal they can do to stop me.”
“My contract is actually up for renewal within the next month or so,” Daniel mused, “so it really would be the ideal time to put in some clauses about Gate travel and being put in charge of the project at Castle Blair.” He was starting to look really excited by the prospect now, and Jack let himself finally believe that this was going to happen. The cold clutch around his heart was easing and he could almost see those threads of destiny stretching out ahead of them.
“Why don’t we go back to the Gate and talk to Carter and Teal’c, off the record. Then we can get back to the SGC and start filling the general in on the next phase of our lives.”
Daniel nodded and they both stood, brushing the white crystals from their pants and stowing their canteen and wrappers in their packs.
“We have another mission on the list for this week,” Daniel commented as they started the short walk back to the Gate. “It’s a second visit actually; diplomatic.”
Jack nodded and tried not to show the discomfort he was feeling as once again a trickle of fear ran down his neck.
“They are running at about 1950’s level of tech according to Dr. Phillips, the anthro on SG-9. They may be dabbling with nuclear fusion too so that should be interesting and the geologists say they have a new mineral we haven’t seen before.”
“I think someone else can take that one then,” Jack said brightly, feeling proud of the way his voice didn’t shake.
“Oh, really,” Daniel said, vaguely disappointed. “I thought Kelowna sounded quite interesting. But…perhaps you’re right. We need to get the ball rolling and prove we really mean it. Well, never mind, I can give it back to Phillips. I’m sure they can pull it in in a few weeks.”
Jack nodded, knowing that in a few weeks the SGC wouldn’t be able to get a lock on that gate. “Yeah well, we’ll have enough to do getting the rest of our lives sorted out.” Jack replied, relief making his knees feel shaky. “We’ll have paperwork up the whazoo for the next month I’m sure.”
“The rest of our lives, huh,” Daniel smiled over at Jack and reached out to squeeze his hand. “You know they have civil partnerships in Great Britain.”
Jack looked over at his lover, hope overwhelming him. He’d thrown out the idea of getting ‘married’ without believing Daniel would be interested. Once again, when it came to his archaeologist, he was pleased to be wrong. “Was that a yes?”
“Was that a proposal?” Daniel countered, but his broad smile and dancing eyes showed he knew that’s exactly what it was.
“Well, come here, Dr O’Neill,” Jack teased as he tugged on Daniel’s hand, pulling the younger man into his arms.
“What for, Colonel Jackson,” Daniel teased.
“For this…” Jack pushed one hand around Daniel’s waist and the other into his thick hair and pulled them into a deep lush kiss. It felt brand new and yet as familiar as all the hundreds they had shared before this one.
Their lives were changing again, but the threads that had tied them together for longer than either of them had been aware were now binding them more tightly to each other; the strongest strands of love wound around them, holding them safe as they began a new adventure into the future – together.