Welcome Back - Jack

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Pre-Slash, Drama, Smarm, Missing Scene
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  1
Spoilers:  Stargate (the movie), Children of the Gods
Size:  81kb
Written:  March 29-30, April 1-4,7-9,14,23-24, May 4,6, 2007
Summary:  Jack gets an unexpected visitor and discovers he's surprisingly happy about it.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) This story is a companion piece to “Welcome Back - Daniel”
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Melissa, Pam, Linda, Jodi, Claudia, Sara!

Welcome Back - Jack
by Orrymain

As he sat down on the sofa, remote in hand, Jack stared at the television set.  After a moment, though, he shook his head.

“Nope, not tonight,” the colonel spoke aloud.  “Sorry, Boob Tube, but it's clear out, and I have a date with the stars.”

It was cold out, so the retired colonel slipped on his brown leather jacket before heading outside, taking a laptop computer with him.  He hated computers, but a friend had loaned him this one, showing him exactly what to do to access astronomical charts.  It was the only thing he knew how to do on the ~blasted thing,~ as he referred to it.  Tech toy in hand, he climbed the ladder to his small, wooden roof deck.

Grumbling to himself as he sat the laptop down on a small table, Jack flipped open the lid and called up the desired chart.  Then he sat down and fixed his telescope into the necessary position.

~Stars:  lots and lots of stars up there.  Is Abydos one of them?~  Jack leaned back.  “Abydos?  What made me think of that?”  He leaned forward and altered the angle slightly.  ~There.  Right there.  Abydos should be ... there.~

As he looked through the telescope, Jack became lost in his thoughts.  He started daydreaming, imagining himself piloting the fictional Starship Enterprise throughout the galaxy.  He wondered how the logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock, would have responded to Ra.  All of a sudden, he laughed.

“James T. O'Neill, with two 'L's, Bones Jackson, and ...” Jack paused, shrugging, not knowing who to put in that third role.  ~Mr. Kawalsky?  Mr. Ferretti?  Hmmm.  Doesn't quite feel right.  Neither of them fit the logical image of a Vulcan, and they'd look funny with pointed ears.  Why am I thinking about this?  Never mind.~  He let out a tiny chuckle, deciding to let the third actor/character be unnamed.  “Exploring the galaxy, bringing intergalactic goodness to the evil doers who want a piece of our action.”

The amateur astronomer stood up and stretched.  He walked to the edge of the deck and stood at the center of the railing.  He raised his arms so that his hands were clasped together behind his head.  He leaned his head backwards, then let out a loud groan as he lowered his hands.

~This is the life.  No cares in the world.  It's just me and the stars,~ the retired man thought.  ~Right.~

Sighing, Jack sat back down on his stool and continued to look through his telescope, studying the stars and occasionally letting his mind wonder about life on Abydos.

~I wonder how he's doing.~

====

Sometime later, an airman drove an officer to Jack's house, parking the car in front.

~Intruder alert!  Intruder alert!~ Jack's mind sounded, pretending to be a computer alarm sensor in a futuristic spacecraft, having sensed the presence of others nearby.

While the officer knocked on the door, not getting a response, the airman caught sight of the ladder at the side of the house and pointed it out to the officer.

~Crap, it's the friggin' Air Force.  What do they want with me now?  I'm retired, for crying out loud!~

Climbing the ladder, but not going onto the roof deck, the officer spotted his prey still looking through his telescope.

“Colonel Jack O'Neill?”

“Retired,” Jack added, continuing to look through the telescope.  ~Leave me alone.~

“I'm Major Samuels,” the officer stated.

“Air Force?” Jack asked.

“Yes, Sir.  I'm the general's executive officer,” Samuels explained.

Unimpressed and still looking through his telescope, Jack suggested the major get reassigned to NASA, where the action would be.  Samuels responded that he had orders from General Hammond, who had replaced General West, the man who had been in charge when Jack had led the first team through the Stargate to Abydos.

Talking about Hammond, Samuels stated, “He says it's important; has to do with the Stargate.”

~The Stargate?  Daniel?~  Slowly, Jack turned around, staring at the man, while sizing him up at the same time.  “Is that all you know?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And if I say 'no'?” Jack questioned.  ~Like I would.  I have to know why he's asking about the Stargate.~

“I'd advise you not to, Sir,” Samuels responded, remaining respectful to a man who, if reinstated to active duty, would be his senior officer.

~I'm soooo scared ... not,~ Jack mock-shivered silently.  A few seconds later, he stood up, saying, “I'll meet you out front in five minutes.”

“Sir ...”

“Samuels, I'll meet you out front in five minutes,” Jack repeated emphatically.

“Yes, Sir,” Samuels acknowledged, saluting.  He waited for a return salute, but Jack just glared at him.  The major blinked, lowered his salute hesitantly, then retreated back down the ladder to join the airman.  ~He's as bad as his reputation.~

Jack sighed, turning around and looking up at the sky once more.

~Daniel Jackson, resident of Abydos.  I have a bad feeling about this, Danny.  Why do they want me back?  I'm retired -- again.~

Shaking his head as if to snap himself out of a dream, Jack made sure his telescope was secure.  He powered down the laptop and headed down the ladder. After setting the laptop on the coffee table, he turned off the lights in his house and walked out the door, without locking it.  Not locking his door was something Jack had begun doing, or not doing, since his return from Abydos.  He really wasn't sure why he'd adopted this new, strange habit, but neither did he dwell on the subject, either.

“Five minutes on the dot,” Jack quipped as he got in the backseat of the Air Force vehicle.

“Yes, Sir,” Samuels said with a nod, getting into the vehicle and nodding at the other man to begin the drive back to the base.

For the first few minutes, the two officers in the front attempted polite conversation with the retired colonel, but Jack said nothing as he stared out the side window, wondering what had happened to warrant his return to Cheyenne Mountain.  The rest of the trip was made in complete silence.

====

Arriving at the base, Samuels went on ahead, while another officer escorted Jack inside.

~He sure is in a hurry,~ Jack observed, seeing Samuel's fleeing back.

On Level 11, Jack quietly signed in and headed for the elevator, subtly taking in the surroundings and the personnel apparently working at the base.

Unnecessarily, the officer escorting Jack explained, “We have to take a second elevator the rest of the way, Sir.  It's a long way down.”

As the officer used his key card to unlock the elevator, Jack replied dryly, “Yeah, I know.  I've been here before.”

“Ah, of course,” the other man responded.

When the doors next opened, Jack was led down the corridor, where Major Samuels was waiting to escort him to the general's office.

~This place really needs some color,~ Jack thought, trying not to think about Abydos.

Once Jack and Samuels entered the office, Samuels introduced, “General Hammond, Colonel Jack O'Neill.”

“Retired,” Jack added as Samuels closed the door behind them.

Sitting behind his desk, Hammond replied, “I can see that.  Me, I'm on my last tour.  Time to start getting my thoughts together, maybe write a book.  You ever think of writing a book about your exploits in the line of duty?”

Standing with his hands on his hips, Jack answered, “I've thought about it, but then I'd have to shoot anyone that actually read it.”  When nothing but silence filled the room, he clarified, “That's a joke, Sir.  Most of my work the past ten years was classified.”

“Yes, of course,” Hammond replied, his hands clasped together on the top of his desk as he quietly assessed the man before him.  ~He has a reputation for being difficult to handle.  It would seem the reputation is accurate.~

“Major Samuels mentioned something about the Stargate,” Jack prodded in an effort to get things moving so that he could get home as quickly as possible.

“Down to business; I can do that,” Hammond stated as he stood up.  “This way,” he said as he led the way to another part of the facility where Jack was shown one of the dead aliens.

~Where'd he come from?~ Jack wondered.

While they looked human, the species had a pouch, similar to a marsupial's, in their abdomens.

As if sensing the retired colonel's question, Hammond stated, “These people, or aliens, or whatever you wanna call them, came through, killed four of my people, and kidnapped another using advanced weapons.”

“Weapons, Sir?” Jack asked curiously.

At that point, an airman brought over a staff weapon, which Hammond took and handed to Jack.

Samuels stated, “We can't ... figure out how they operate.”

Confidently, Jack activated the weapon, causing Hammond's head to rear back at the sound.  He quickly deactivated the weapon.

“Seen one before, I take it?” the major general questioned.

“Yes, Sir,” Jack answered as he returned the alien weapon.  Continuing, he said, “But there were no creatures like this on Abydos.  Those people were human; they were from Earth.  Ra brought 'em there thousands of years ago.”

“I know all about that, but your report said this Ra was, in fact, some kind of alien that lived inside a human body,” Hammond replied.

“Yeah.  His eyes glowed; that was our first clue,” Jack confirmed.  ~I'd just as soon forget those folks.~

“Are you sure he's dead, Colonel?”

“Unless he could survive a tactical nuclear warhead blowing up in his face, positive.  Why?” Jack questioned.

“These people, or whatever they are, were guarding another man who retreated back through the Stargate.  I got a good look at his eyes, Colonel.  They glowed,” the bald-headed Hammond stated.

~Can't be.~  Reeling from that revelation, Jack followed Hammond through more corridors, his mind ticking over the significance of the Stargate's activation. ~It can't be Ra; he's dead.  The bomb went off.  Ra was on the ship; I know he was.~

Turning down another corridor, Jack began going over that last mission to ascertain if something could have gone wrong.

~We sent a probe through, but it couldn't get there.  Daniel said he'd bury the Gate; if he hadn't done that, the probe would have gotten through.  So, unless Daniel's unburied the Stargate, but even if he did, these aliens had to come ... noooooo, so don't want to think about that.  Okay, Danny must've unburied the Stargate.  Why?  And where did these dead aliens come from?~

Just as they approached the major general's office, the retired colonel was pulled from his speculation by Hammond asking him about the Stargate Program and if his perspective had changed.  He was about to answer when he caught a glimpse of his old teammates -- Lou Ferretti and Charles Kawalsky, apparently about to be questioned in the conference room which was situated next to Hammond's office.

~Lou?  Charlie?~

As Jack entered the office, still staring at his men, he heard the general request, “Tell me about Daniel Jackson, Colonel.”

“Why are they questioning my men?” Jack asked as he walked over to the large window that separated the two rooms.  ~Guys, keep cool.  Don't say anything about Daniel.~

“They're not your men anymore, Colonel.  You retired,” Hammond quipped.

~A smart aleck general?~ Jack pondered, impressed by his current adversary.

“Daniel Jackson,” Hammond demanded.

“You read the report?” Jack asked, turning around to face his questioner.

“Yes,” Hammond answered.  ~It's not worth the paper it's printed on.~

“It's all there,” Jack insisted.

“Is it?” Samuels challenged.

At the same time, Hammond thought, ~Bull, Colonel.  It's full of half truths, and we both know it.~

Jack ignored Samuels and asked, “What's this all about, General?”

“You didn't like Daniel Jackson, did you?” the older man questioned.

“Daniel was a scientist.  He sneezed a lot.  Basically, he was a geek, Sir,” Jack answered.  ~And that's about as much as I want to say about Daniel.  Let's get back to that alien.~

“So, you didn't have a lot of time for him,” Samuels asked.

~Moron,~ Jack thought about the major.  Perturbed, he answered, “I didn't say that.  He also saved my life and found the way home for my men and me; little thing like that kinda makes a person grow on ya, know what I mean?”

Hammond responded, “According to the mission brief, your orders were to go through the Stargate to detect any possible threat to Earth and, if found, to detonate a nuclear device and destroy the Gate on the other side.”

“Yes,” Jack answered.  ~Good.  We've moved on.~

“But that's not what you did, is it?” Samuels questioned.

“Not right away.  Ra's forces overpowered my team and ... took the weapon before I could arm it,” Jack responded.  ~I really don't like that man.~

“But with Doctor Jackson's help, you eventually regained control and did, in fact, detonate the weapon, yes?” the major questioned more sternly.

“Yes,” the retired colonel confirmed.  ~I'm being interrogated, and I don't like it, not one bit.~

“So, to the best of your knowledge, Daniel Jackson and everyone else you knew on Abydos is dead, correct?” Hammond quizzed.

“That's correct,” Jack confirmed.  ~Tread carefully.  I don't like where this is going.~

~Got him!~ Hammond exclaimed silently.  “Good.”  Standing up and walking right by Jack, he stated, “Then you won't mind if I authorize a go ahead on our plan.”

~Plan?~ Jack questioned silently, turning around to look at Ferretti and Kawalsky, who were staring right back at him.  ~Oh, man, this is turning out to be a bad night.~

====

To Jack's horror, the plan was to send another bomb through to Abydos and detonate it, said bomb already being prepped for action in the gate room.  It was more powerful than the original one had been.

“General, you can't do that,” Jack said as he stood in the gate room.  ~Daniel, please tell me you didn't unbury the Gate.  Why would you do that?~

“Countdown's already started,” Hammond stated, his back to Jack as he stood a few steps up on the ramp that led to the Stargate.  ~This will be interesting.~  Cunningly, he added, “Unless you have something to add.”

~Crap!  Daniel, you unburied the friggin' Gate.  I don't have a choice, my friend.  He'll kill you, Skaara, and everyone else.  I'm choiceless.~  After a long pause, Jack walked forward a few steps to stand beside the man who had just baited him successfully.  He stated, “General Hammond, Sir.”  He saw Hammond turn to face him, and he knew that he truly had no choice.  ~This one is crafty.~  Resigned, Jack braced for the blow and stated, “I regret to inform you that my report was not entirely accurate.”

Hammond accused, “You didn't detonate the bomb.”

Jack clarified, “Oh, I did detonate the bomb, Sir, and it was aboard Ra's spacecraft, so it did kill him and eliminate the risk to Earth.”

“However?” Samuels prompted as he walked to stand near the two men.

~I really don't like that man.~  Jack continued, “However ... Ra's ship was in orbit above the planet at the time.  Neither the Gate nor anything else on the planet was destroyed.  Daniel Jackson is alive and living with the people on Abydos.”

“You violated direct orders.  Why?” Hammond questioned furiously.

“Because the people of Abydos are no threat to us.  They deserve to be left alone,” Jack asserted.

Hammond was infuriated at the colonel's twisting of his orders, though Jack maintained that it hadn't been necessary to kill the Abydonians along with Ra.

“After we came home, Daniel buried the Gate in rocks, making my return or anybody else's ... impossible.”

“Well, those four bodies lying in the infirmary say otherwise, *Airman*,” Hammond stated.

~Okay, well, I'm not big on rank, anyway,~ Jack thought as he bowed his head.  ~The house is paid for.  Maybe I'll buy a boat; become a fisherman.~

Incensed, Hammond stared at the colonel.  He was also still sizing up Jack O'Neill, comparing the man to his Air Force jacket, the record of his good and not-so-good deeds.  It had certainly made for colorful reading when he had reviewed it prior to sending for the man.  He couldn't believe that the decorated officer in front of him had disobeyed orders and endangered the entire planet.  He could certainly understand that some orders were more difficult to carry out than others, but however distasteful they were, they were to be carried out nonetheless.

~I need time to think about this,~ the general thought.  ~Let's see how he reacts to this.~  He stated, “We'll send the bomb through on schedule,” as he turned to direct the command at one of the men working on the bomb.

“General, you can't do that!” Jack shouted.

“Oh, I can't?” the other man shouted back in disbelief.

“There are innocent people on that planet,” Jack argued, his voice still raised.

“There are innocent people *here*!” Hammond barked.  “I have my orders, too, Colonel.  I obey mine.”

Ordering Jack be taken to the holding room, Hammond swiftly walked away, thinking, ~He's insubordinate, he's stubborn, and he's a pain in the butt.~  Back in his office, he sat down in his chair and sighed.  ~He's also passionate, willing to fight for what he believes in, and he's not afraid of anything or anyone.  He's also strangely ... familiar.~  The man paused, searching his memory for any recollection he may have had of Jack O'Neill.  ~Oh!~ he expressed in realization.  ~Now, where does that leave me, my orders, and the people on Abydos?~

====

Jack was taken to the same holding room that Kawalsky was being held in.  There, the two had a chance to talk.  Kawalsky assured Jack that neither he nor Ferretti had told their interrogators anything.  They wanted to protect the Abydonian children, just like they were certain Jack did.  As they talked about Abydos and the children there, Kawalsky brought up Skaara and how he idolized Jack.

“Yeah,” Jack acknowledged.  “My kid used to do that when he was little.  Skaara kinda reminded me of him.”

Surprised, Kawalsky replied, “Oh, man, Colonel.  You and me went through that whole mission together; I never even knew you had a son.”

~Sorry I never told you, Kawalsky.  Charlie was named after you, you know.~  Jack couldn't bring himself to admit this fact to his friend after all this time.  Charlie's death was still too recent and was way too painful to talk about.  He just wanted to end this line of conversation quickly.  “Well, he died ... just before the Abydos mission,” he explained.  ~Why does thinking about Charlie always make me think of Daniel?  I guess he reminds me of Charlie, in an odd sort of way.  The hair, maybe.  Geeky scientists always have long hair.  No, that wasn't it.  It was the challenge to do the right thing, that's why I'm thinking about both of them.~

Hammond interrupted the colonel's thoughts as he entered the room.  Kawalsky jumped up to stand at attention.  Jack rose more slowly, not bothering to stand as erect as his friend was doing.

~That was quick,~ the retired colonel, or was that soon-to-be-airman, thought.

~I hope I'm not making a mistake.~  The major general faced his opponent, not surprised by his demeanor in the slightest.  Finally, he asked, “How many people did you say are on Abydos?”

Feeling encouraged, Jack answered, “That we saw, maybe five thousand.”  He saw Hammond's expression change.  ~Maybe he's not like West and the others; maybe he's ... not like I was.~  He glanced at Kawalsky, who appeared to be equally surprised and hopeful.  “Does this mean you're reconsidering sending the bomb, Sir?”

“It means I'm open to suggestions.”

~Okay, I've got a plan,~ Jack thought, walking to stand right in front of his opposition, who seemed not so bad, anymore.  He proposed taking a team through the Gate.  Hammond, however, wasn't thrilled, not certain what the team would be getting into.

~Plan B is surefire,~ Jack professed inwardly.  “Sir, there is one way to find out.”

“Right.  We'll have that prototype probe shipped from M.I.T.,” Hammond said with a nod.

“General, we don't need that probe,” Jack stated, feeling an excitement he hadn't felt in a long time.  He wasn't sure why he felt it, but he liked it.  The best he could equate the emotion to at the moment was an adrenaline rush from a hockey victory.  ~This'll be quicker; don't want Hammond to have a chance to reconsider.~

“We don't?”  Kawalsky asked, pleased to see that the general didn't seem to know what Jack was talking about, either.

“Nope.”  Jack grinned and picked up an almost full box of tissues from the table. “This'll do,” he stated as he headed out of the room and towards the control room.  ~Oh, yeah.  This is much better; not such a bad night after all.~

~Kleenex?~ a confused Hammond questioned.  ~And where does he think he's going?  I didn't say he could go.  Look at him -- all the way down the hallway already.  He has some nerve.  He reminds me of me!~ he exclaimed as he hurried after the retired colonel.

====

Walking into the control room, Jack ordered, “Dial Abydos.”

“Excuse me?” the technician questioned.

“Go ahead, Sergeant,” Hammond ordered, staring at Jack as he walked over to stand behind the man who was about to begin the dialing sequence.  “A little anxious, Colonel?”

“You know what they say, General,” Jack began.  “Making hay while the sun shines.”

~What?~  Hammond stared in disbelief at the man a few feet away.  Certainly, he hadn't seen this side of Jack O'Neill yet.  At the moment, though, there were more important considerations going on.  After the fourth chevron engaged, he requested, “Care to explain this concept?”

Jack answered, “Jackson has allergies.”

“I get it,” Kawalsky responded, grinning.  ~He's right; it'll work.~

The retired colonel continued, “He'll know this came from me and not from someone,” he paused as he looked over at the general, “with all due respect, Sir, like yourself.”  ~Daniel, it looks like we're gonna have a little reunion.  I hope you've been taking care of Skaara.  Crazy kid, saluting me like that all the time.~

After the sixth chevron encoded, Jack headed for the gate room, walking in just as the kawoosh of the Stargate thundered forward, then retreated.  He walked carefully up to the shimmering blue event horizon and paused.

~Yeah, Daniel, it's awesome. Listen, I'm sending you a message. Answer it, okay, not just because if you don't I may not be able to stop them sending a bomb through to Abydos, but because, truth be told, I'd kinda like to see you again, for a little while; that is, until you start going on and on like this,~ Jack thought as he tossed the box through the Stargate. He waited for another moment, then turned around. ~This is exciting.~

“Now what?” Hammond asked after the Stargate disengaged.

“Now we wait,” Jack answered as he returned to the control room.  “If Daniel's still around, he'll know what the message means.”

“What if the aliens get it?” Samuels asked.

~Yep, a Class A moron,~ Jack thought.  Dryly, he responded, “Well ... they could be blowing their noses right now.”

“They could be planning an attack,” Samuels shot back.

~With a box of tissues?~ Jack questioned as he gave Samuels an amused grin. “Oh, come on, Samuels.  Let me be the cynic around here, okay?”  He turned to Hammond and, in the most respectful tone he'd used yet, stated, “Sir, this could take some time.”

With that, the group adjourned to the briefing room, where they waited for a response.

====

~I wonder what he does to get through a day?  Make sand castles?  Whittle?  Geez, no TV, no appliances ... no beer!~  Jack let out a sigh, looking over at Hammond, who was seated at the head of the table, apparently lost in his own thoughts as he pretended to read some papers that were in front of him.  He looked down, his thoughts returning to Daniel Jackson.  ~Of course, he has his gift,~ he thought about Sha're, Daniel's wife who had been gifted to him on their first day on Abydos.

Jack let out a chuckle, drawing a few looks, the most questioning being from Major Samuels, who stood talking with a couple of other men a few feet away.  He shrugged innocently and then returned to his thoughts.

~Seems to me she was a tiger; had a lot of spunk.  I don't know, Daniel.  She might be too much of a handful for you.  Oh, yeah, she was definitely a handful,~ Jack thought.  He made a funny face, thinking, ~Hey, I'm a guy, and guys think about this stuff.  Well, we're supposed to, anyway.  We have an image to uphold.~

The retired colonel let out a sigh, then went deeper into his mind, thinking, ~I never expected to respect a geek.  I don't have any use for them.  Mostly, all they've ever done was get in my way.  Then there's you, Doctor Jackson.  You definitely got in my way, but you're different.  I couldn't run you off, and I tried.  Believe me, I did try.  I had a plan, but you came along and changed it, made me want to live again.  Now, why would you care whether or not I lived?~

Jack put his head in his hands for a few seconds, then glanced over at the others gathered in the room, noticing that everyone was feeling the pressure of the unknown.  He blinked, his thoughts turning a bit unpleasant.

~What if you unburied the Gate and some evil thing ... no, there aren't any monsters here, except for morons like Samuels.  Could there be other life on Abydos that no one knew about?  Maybe some renegades?  Maybe you didn't open the Gate, Daniel.  Maybe they killed you and ... no!  Stop, right there, O'Neill.  Too many maybes that are unpleasant to think about.  Daniel's fine.  He's a curious geek, so he unburied the Gate.  He'll get the message, and *he* will respond to it.~

Jack took a deep breath, ridding himself of his deepest fear, that Daniel was dead. For a minute, he glanced around the room at the nervous and anxious military personnel; then he looked downward and got lost in more pleasant thoughts.  Not realizing he had done it, he also brought his left hand up to rub against his chin.

~You're an unusual one, Daniel Jackson.  I wouldn't admit this to another soul, but I've missed you.  Ridiculous.  Didn't even know you that long before I had to leave you behind on Abydos.  Didn't care squat about you one way or another until we set foot on Abydos, but ... I guess I do care.  Now that's just crazy.  Gotta be the wrong word.  Respect: that's the right word.~

All of a sudden, the loud noise of the Stargate moving got everyone's attention. Jack's head shot up, and he dropped his hand back.

~Daniel?~ Jack called out silently.

The Air Force colonel, still retired, looked over towards Hammond, then at the vibrating water pitcher and the empty glasses that were near it on the tray.  The Stargate was definitely engaging.  Immediately, he got up and headed for the control room.

~Okay, this is it,~ Jack decided, his heartbeat having increased.  ~Why is that?  Why is my chest pounding so hard?  Get a grip, O'Neill.~  When the Stargate kawoosh retreated, Jack, followed by Hammond, Samuels, and Kawalsky, went down into the gate room and waited, all unsure what was about to happen.  Nearby, armed guards waited, poised to shoot, if the enemy, whoever that might be, came through.  ~Daniel, are you there?  What's happening?~

All of a sudden, a box flew through the Gate, landing about a third of the way down the ramp.

~It's Daniel!~ Jack asserted mentally as he walked eagerly up the ramp to retrieve the box.  He knelt down, picked up the Kleenex box, and rubbed off the residue that Gate travel caused.  Reading it, he smiled.  ~Sweet!  That's Daniel Jackson all right.~  He glanced over at Hammond as he stood up and then jogged down to the end of the ramp.  Just as he reached the end, he tossed the box to Samuels, who read it and showed it to Hammond.  The box said, 'THANKS, SEND MORE'.  ~Definitely a good night after all.~

After Hammond nodded, indicating he'd read the box, Jack practically chirped, “Permission to take a team through the Stargate, Sir?”

“Assuming I get the President's authorization, the mission briefing will be at 0800 hours.  Consider yourself recalled to active duty, Colonel,” Hammond said, after which he and Samuels left the gate room.

~Oh, yeah.  I like the sound of that rank; beats airman, that's for sure.  Nice save, O'Neill!~ Jack cheered, glancing over at Kawalsky, shaking his hand, and then heading out of the gate room as well.

====

Two hours later, Jack was back at home, making a few last minute preparations before his trip through the Stargate.  Sitting at his kitchen table, he pulled out his wallet and removed a treasured photograph from within it.  It was his family -- him, his wife Sara, and their deceased son, Charlie.  He sighed, placing the photo down in front of him.

Licking his lips for one brief moment, Jack began a letter:  “Dear Sara”.  Thirty minutes later, he looked at the paper, noting that “Dear Sara” were still the only two words on it.  He got up, grabbed a beer, and then sat back down to try one more time.

--

“I'll always love you,” Jack concluded his letter some fifty-five minutes later.  He sealed the envelope and put it in with his legal papers and his most prized personal affects.  ~Just in case.~

The colonel's focus then shifted to the item he'd brought home from the SGC and which now sat on the counter that separated the dining nook and kitchen from the living room.

~Why'd I take it?~ Jack asked himself.  ~It was just sitting there, on Hammond's desk.  He wasn't looking.  He would have just thrown it away.~  Jack ran his hands through his hair and let out a little growl, saying, “Sometimes, I'm too sentimental.  What the heck am I going to do with an empty Kleenex box?”

Briefly, Jack considered returning the box to the SGC, but he quickly rejected the idea.  It was, after all, just a box with no significant value.  Wasn't it?  He stood and walked to the box, picking it up.  He carried it into the kitchen, intending on throwing it away.

~Nah, I'll do that later.~  Having placed the box down on the kitchen counter, Jack headed for his hallway.  Just as he got there, he turned back and looked at the box, saying, “Don't worry, Box.  I won't throw you away.”  He sighed, ~Daniel's writing is on that box.  That's why I stole, uh, rescued it ... yeah, that's it -- rescued.  Geez!~

--

Having locked up the house, Jack went upstairs and opened his closet.  He reached back into the furthest corner, pulling out the clothing that was wrapped in a protector.

“Okay, never thought I'd look at you again,” the no-longer-retired colonel told the suit as he undid the zipper and pulled out the crisp, blue uniform.  “I really thought I was done.”

Jack chuckled, “Third time's the charm.  Next time, I'm moving to Tahiti.”

====

Just a few hours later, Jack awoke, showered, dressed, and ate a quick bowl of Froot Loops before taking a final look at his home and making sure everything was secure.  Unlike his trip to the base the night before, this time, all the doors and windows had been locked.

“Colonel O'Neill?” a spry older woman called out, pausing her morning power walk.  “Don't you look handsome!”

“Top of the morning to you, Mrs. Valissi.  I hope you're feeling better today,” Jack commented, knowing the woman had been a little under the weather lately.

“Fit as a fiddle.  I thought you were retired,” the neighbor inquired.

“So did I, Ma'am, but the Air Force disagreed,” Jack explained, smiling as he opened the door of his truck.

“Take care, Colonel,” the woman spoke, getting a nod in return before she continued on.

~I like her,~ Jack thought as he watched her move swiftly away.

After that, Jack headed for Cheyenne Mountain.

====

“Colonel,” Samuels greeted Jack when he entered the briefing room.

“Samuels,” Jack acknowledged, returning the salute as he walked around him and placed his papers at the end of the conference table.  He glanced up, seeing General Hammond standing at the window between the two rooms.  He was about to walk towards him, but the general turned around, walking over to his desk.  ~The real test comes now; let's see how you do, General,~ he thought as he walked over to the larger glass window which overlooked the Stargate.  ~So, Daniel, are you ready for us?  Do you even remember me?~

--

As Hammond sat down, he observed, ~You're a completely different man this morning, Colonel.  Last night, you looked sloppy, and not just your hair and attire, but in your attitude, too.  I sense a new you today.  Well, the real test comes now. Let's just see how you do, Colonel.~

--

A couple of minutes later, General Hammond emerged from his office, inwardly smiling at the snappy, crisp salute Jack O'Neill had just given him.

~Now that's more like it,~ Hammond thought.  “Gentlemen, take your seats,” he ordered those in the room.

Besides Jack and Hammond, those gathered for the briefing included Ferretti, Kawalsky, Samuels, and three others.

“Where's Captain Carter?” Hammond inquired.

Jack looked over in surprise.  He hadn't been apprised of anyone named Carter joining the briefing.  He was also a little upset when told that this person would be a part of the team going through the Stargate.

~Choiceless again,~ Jack realized after Hammond sternly stated that Sam Carter would be assigned to the mission and was their expert on the Stargate.  “Where's he transferring from?” he asked as he began to write down the name for his records.

“*She* is transferring from the Pentagon,” a female voice answered from the doorway.  Sam walked across the room to her seat and looked at Jack, who was standing opposite her.  “I take it you're Colonel O'Neill.”  Saluting, she introduced, “Captain Samantha Carter reporting, Sir.”

After Jack returned the salute, Ferretti and Kawalsky immediately began to tease her.

“But of course you go by Sam,” Kawalsky stated.

With a sneer, Sam responded, “You don't have to worry, Major.  I played with dolls when I was a kid.”

~Okay, she has an attitude,~ Jack noted.  ~I don't need someone on my team who is out to prove themselves.  Get over it, Captain, and fast.~

“G.I. Joe?” Kawalsky asked.

“No, Major Matt Mason,” Sam, who was blonde and obviously physically fit, answered.

“Oh,” Kawalsky expressed.

~Score one for the captain,~ Jack mused inwardly.

Looking at Lou, Kawalsky asked, “Who?”

Ferretti explained, “Major Matt Mason, astronaut doll.  Did you have that cool little backpack that made him fly?”

~Amusing or not, this is not why we're here.~  Hammond interrupted, “Let's get started.  Colonel?”

“Thank you,” Jack stated as Sam sat down.  What followed, though, surprised him.  He had barely given his opening remark about being prepared for what to expect when going through the Gate for the first time, when Sam interrupted, saying she'd practically memorized his report from the first mission.  ~I'm not the teacher, Carter, and I don't need a pet.~

Jack watched as Kawalsky and Ferretti took on the female captain, neither of them giving her credit for being able to endure the mission.  Sam, however, held her own, having had actual combat experience, even if, in actuality, it was all off the books, due to the military rules of the time.

Still trying to get the best of the blonde captain, Ferretti stated about the trip through the Stargate that, “By the time you get to the other side, you're frozen stiff, like you've just been through a blizzard, naked.”

With an arrogant smirk, Sam replied, “That's a result of the compression your molecules undergo during the millisecond required for reconstitution.”

~Oh, no, I don't think so!~  With attitude, Jack stated, “Oh, here we go, another scientist.  General, please.”  ~Daniel's bad enough.  Okay, well, I got used to Daniel.~

“Theoretical astrophysicist,” Sam elaborated.

“Which means?” Jack questioned.

“Which means she is smarter than you are, Colonel, especially in matters related to the Stargate,” Hammond interrupted.  ~That should do it.~

~No need to be a smart aleck, General,~ Jack thought before looking over at the snickering Kawalsky and Ferretti, both of whom straightened up after seeing his glare.

Sam spoke, “Colonel, I was studying the Gate technology for two years before Daniel Jackson made it work and before you both went through.  I should have gone through then, but, Sir, you and your men might as well accept the fact that I am going through this time.”

“Well with all due respect, Doctor, I ...”

“It is appropriate to refer to a person by their rank, not their salutation,” Sam interrupted.  “You should call me Captain, not Doctor.”

~Oh, this is *so* not good.  A hormonal captain who wishes she had a penis and has an attitude because she doesn't,~ Jack thought.

“Captain Carter's assignment to this unit is not an option, it's an order,” Hammond reiterated, further ruining Jack's morning.

Sam continued, “I'm an Air Force officer just like you are, Colonel, and just because my reproductive organs are on the inside instead of the outside, doesn't mean I can't handle whatever you can handle.”

“Oh, this has nothing to do with you being a woman.  I like women.  I just got a little problem with scientists,” Jack responded, smiling.  ~Especially hormonal ones.  Score one for me: I was right.  Listen to her rant about the hours she logged.  I don't care about logging hours or her reproductive organs, it's being able to count on your teammates, and, Captain, I'm not convinced.~

Finally, the briefing continued, and Jack was able to persuade Hammond to approve a recon mission to see what threat, if any, was on Abydos.  Jack's team would have twenty-four hours to either return or send a message through; otherwise, the bomb would be sent through the Stargate and detonated.

====

As they changed into their BDUs, Kawalsky and Ferretti were still making jokes about Sam Carter and her reproductive organs.  Nearby, Jack was enjoying the humor, but not participating.  He was leery of her attitude and feared that her desire to prove that she was as good as a man might jeopardize herself, another member of the team, or the mission itself.

~Carter, you have brains.  I'll give you that.  I checked your jacket, and it's solid. The only thing I have an issue with is that confrontational attitude of yours and that you seem to think you have one up on Daniel.~  Jack laughed, Kawalsky and Ferretti both assuming it was because of their latest crack about Sam playing with dolls.  He turned away to close his locker, thinking as he did so, ~I watched that man solve a puzzle in two minutes that other scientists, which probably included you, had been trying to solve for two years, or more.  You certainly weren't having much luck playing with your toys at the Pentagon, Captain, so let's be careful with just how you line up in the ol' pecking order.~

“Ten bucks says she throws up,” Kawalsky offered.

“I'm not taking that bet,” Ferretti laughed.  “She'll be upchucking for sure.”

Clearing his throat, Jack turned around, looked at his two friends, and said, “I'll take it.”

“Colonel?” Kawalsky questioned.

“She's a captain, Boys, and she did some time in those fighters.  She'll survive the trip through the Gate.  The bet is on.  I'll collect when we get back, Ferretti.  Come on, let's go!” Jack ordered, nodding towards the door and then walking out of the locker room.

Kawalsky and Ferretti shared a look, then shrugged as they finalized what they were doing and headed out to the gate room.

====

Hammond and the team entered the gate room just as the wormhole formed.

The major general turned around to face Jack and ordered sternly, “Try to follow orders this time, Colonel.”

Confused, Jack asked, “Sir?”

“This time, you bring Daniel Jackson back,” Hammond stated.  “Is that clear?”

“Yes, Sir,” Jack acknowledged.  ~And what about his wife?  We didn't talk about that one.  That's probably a good thing, since it means you haven't ordered me to leave her behind.~  He saluted Hammond, then ordered, “Move out,” to his team.

Sam hung back, fascinated by the Stargate and its event horizon.  Jack watched, still assessing the captain.  All of a sudden, she seemed to want him to like her.

“You know, you really will like me when you get to know me,” the blonde spoke.

~Geez, she actually said it. Okay, I can play,~ Jack thought. “Oh, I adore you already, Captain,” he retorted. ~Just like I adore that fish I caught a couple weeks ago.~ He listened as Sam rambled on about the event horizon and its appearance. ~Enough already. I'd like to see Daniel before he reaches my age.~ With that, Jack shoved the unsuspecting captain through the Stargate. ~Tsk, tsk, Captain. Always be prepared ... and don't make me lose the bet!~

====

~Okay, I forgot how cold that trip is,~ Jack thought the moment he'd finished going through the Stargate.  ~Moving right along,~ he thought as he surveyed the room.  They were now in the temple on Abydos.  He walked over to Sam, who had just commented about feeling sick.  ~Hold on, Captain.  Win me, this, and I'll owe you one.~  He patted her on the back and said, “Maybe you shouldn't have had that big lunch.”

Jack moved forward, curious as to Daniel's location.  Although the chamber they were in seemed to be empty, he was sure it wasn't.  There were too many places to hide, too many nooks and crannies of the temple room to lurk in.

~I can't believe you'd be that far from the Stargate, Daniel.  You *have* to be here, somewhere,~ Jack surmised.

The team moved forward, all on their guard, weapons poised and at the ready.  They were quiet, not certain what to expect.

~Daniel?  Come on out,~ Jack urged.  ~You're a lot smarter than this.  Where are you?~

Suddenly, armed Abydonians appeared, aiming their own weapons at the team from Earth.

Jack looked around, thinking, ~That's more like it.  Now, Daniel, where the heck are you?~  As he fixed his look in a certain spot to his left, he thought, ~I'm guessing you should be ... yeah, there.  Hello, Daniel.~

Daniel had just emerged from his hiding spot, calling out, “Cha'hari!”  He licked his lips, looking around, wanting everyone to stay calm.  “Cha'hari.  Lower your guns.”  He walked forward a few steps and stopped, his eyes focused Jack O'Neill. “Hello, Jack.”  He let out a nervous laugh and said, “Welcome back.”

~Daniel, you seem nervous.  Got news for ya -- so am I.  Why am I so dang happy to see you again?  Crap, you're a geek.  If I met you at a party, we wouldn't do more than introduce ourselves before we'd be on the other side of the room, away from each other.~  Slowly, Jack began to cross the temple floor.  ~I'm really glad to see you, but, uh, image, you know.  Sorry, Daniel,~ he apologized as he brushed by the archaeologist, their shoulders making contact.

A few feet behind Daniel, Jack had spotted Skaara, Sha're's brother.  They'd formed a bond, too, during the colonel's first trip to Abydos.  The teenage boy was all smiles as Jack approached.  As he had done before, he saluted Jack, who smiled in return.  They hugged and laughed, happy to see each other again.

“Skaara!” Jack greeted.  ~Looking good, and thanks for giving me an out.  I think I just might have hugged the crap out of the geek if you hadn't been right here, and that wouldn't have been good for my image.~

“O'Neill!  I did not think to be seeing you again!” Skaara exclaimed happily as Jack patted his shoulder.

The colonel turned to face Daniel and, in an upbeat tone, asked, “Daniel, how ya doing?”  ~Could you hug yourself any tighter there, Dannyboy?~

“Good.  You?” Daniel responded.

“Much better, now that I see everybody's okay,” Jack answered as he looked around at the Abydonians.  ~And they do look good.~

After some greetings from Ferretti and Kawalsky, Jack spotted another familiar face.  He recognized the female native as Skaara's sister and, more importantly, Daniel's wife.  She was as beautiful as he remembered.

Spotting his wife as well, Daniel called out, “Sha're, don't be shy,” and reached out for her.

Once Sha're was at her husband's side, Jack walked forward and greeted, “Hi, good to see you again,” as he shook her hand.  ~She seems a little distant.  I thought she liked me a little, but I'm getting an odd vibe from her.  Then again, if she knew why I was here ...~

Daniel's words interrupted the colonel's silent thoughts, as he intoned, “So, I figured it was only a matter of time before you had to tell the truth about us still being here.”

“Yeah.  Why the militia?  Has something else come through?” Jack asked.

“No, we're just taking precautions.  Why?” Daniel countered in question.

Jack was about to respond when he heard the sound of a gushing female voice coming from near the device that controlled the Stargate.

“Amazing!” Sam exclaimed.  “This is what was missing from the dig at Giza.”  She laughed, “This is how they controlled it!  It took us fifteen years and three supercomputers to MacGyver a system for the Gate on Earth.”

~Here she goes.  I really don't like scientists,~ Jack groaned inwardly as he stared at the talkative captain.  Seeing Daniel staring at him quizzically, he shrugged lightly, thinking, ~Another scientist, Daniel, and she's already driving me crazy.  I was ordered to bring her along.~  “Captain?” he called out.

“Look how small it is,” Sam observed enthusiastically.

“Captain!” Jack called out more forcefully, motioning towards the archaeologist.

“Oh, right, excuse me,” Sam apologized as she walked over to them.  With bright, admiring eyes, Sam stated, “Doctor Jackson, I presume.  I'm Doctor Samantha Carter.”

As Sam and Daniel shook hands, Jack questioned antagonistically, “I thought you wanted to be called 'Captain'?”  Seeing Sam’s embarrassed and slightly confrontational expression, he thought, ~Not now, Captain.  I have far more important concerns at the moment.  Where do I start?~

“What's going on, Jack?” Daniel asked with a confused expression.

“Six hostile aliens came through the Stargate on Earth; four people are dead, one's missing,” Jack answered.

“One of them looked like Ra, Daniel,” Kawalsky added informatively.

“Well, they didn't come from here.  I mean, the boys take shifts guarding it thirty-six hours a day, every day.  We'd ... know if they came through here,” Daniel responded.

“Well, they came from somewhere, Daniel.  I'm gonna have to look around,” Jack stated.  ~And we really need to talk.  They want you back, Daniel.~

Thoughtfully, Daniel replied, “I ... I think I can help you find out who it was, but, um, it's gonna have to wait until this sandstorm is over.  Uh, we were about to have our evening meal.  Why don't you join us?”

“Sure, I never turn down free food,” Jack quipped, motioning at the teams to go with the friendly Abydonians as they led the way to the eating area.  ~Maybe we can talk then.  Bad news always goes better with some good food.  Wonder if Domino's delivers here?~ he mused inwardly as he and Daniel walked side-by-side, Jack's hands tapping lightly on his weapon, while Daniel's hands were concealed inside his long, khaki robes.  “So, things are good?” Jack asked, routinely glancing behind him to check his surroundings.

“Ah, yes.  It's ... it's good here,” Daniel responded.

“I'm sorry about this,” Jack sighed.  ~Even sorrier about what I'm going to have to do later.  I didn't tell them about Sha're.  That'll have to be your call, but I'll back it,whatever you decide.~

“They had to find out sooner or later,” Daniel responded with a shrug.

“At least you understood the message,” Jack stated.

The younger man chuckled, “I've missed Kleenex.  Who else but you would have thought of something like that.”

“You know me, Daniel,” Jack began.  “Words aren't my thing.”  ~Even though, for some reason, I find you easy to talk to.~

“Well, it ... it worked,” Daniel stated with a small smile as they entered the eating area.

“Daniel, we need to talk later, alone,” Jack intoned, not really happy about what he was going to have to do.

“Alone?” Daniel asked.

“We don't have a lot of time here.  Hammond's going to lock out our signals, if we don't report back on time.  Before we do that, we need to figure out our options,” Jack stated.

“Our options?” Daniel questioned, totally confused.

“Yeah, we ...”

“O'Neill, sit here,” Skaara instructed enthusiastically.

“*My* Danyel, sit.  We will serve the meal,” Sha're stated, giving Jack a stern look.

~I *really* thought she liked me, but I'm not getting that from her, not anymore. I feel like I'm the enemy all of a sudden.  What'd I do?~ Jack wondered.

With the team and the Abydonians sitting down for the meal, a festive atmosphere broke out.  Jack wished he'd had more time to talk with Daniel, but he knew it would have to wait.

~There's always after dinner,~ Jack thought, not really that eager to break the news to Daniel that he was about to return to Earth, whether or not he wanted to.

====

Towards the end of the meal, Skaara gave Jack a bowl of what amounted to moonshine, better known as alcohol, something Daniel had taught them how to make.

As he smelled the alcohol, Jack asked, “Daniel, what are you teaching these kids?” ~And don't give me that innocent look.~  After tasting the potent liquid, he spit some out and rasped, “Smooth, very smooth.”  ~Very impressive, Daniel, and where on Earth did you learn to make moonshine?~ he wondered, pleased to see a small smile cross the archaeologist's face, even if it was at his expense.

As everyone laughed, Jack teased Daniel about the moonshine.  The Abydonians themselves, some of who were seated and others who were standing as they ate, were proud of their alcoholic accomplishment.

When things calmed down a bit, Daniel remarked, “So this ... this man who looked like Ra, he must have come through another Gate.”

“What other Gate?” Sam asked.

“A Stargate?” a surprised Jack asked at about the same time as Sam.  ~Hey, I thought there was just one.  Isn't there just the one?~

Confidently, Sam stated, “The Stargate only goes here.”

“No, no, I think you're wrong about that,” Daniel stated.

“I was there,” Sam spoke.  “We ran hundreds of permutations.”

“But you didn't have what you need,” the archaeologist pointed out.

“Daniel, what are you talking about?” Jack questioned, tired of the nonspecific nature of their conversation.

Just then, Skaara entered the eating area and told Daniel that the sandstorm had passed.

“I'll show you,” Daniel stated, standing up.

Looking down, speaking in Abydonian, the linguist told his wife where he was going.

Jack watched, totally amazed, as Sha're suddenly planted a huge kiss on Daniel, one that lasted several seconds and included a few smaller kisses as they parted.

~I didn't think the boy had it in him,~ Jack thought as he watched the public display of affection.  ~Whoa!  Daniel, you've been holding out on me.  First, moonshine and now that honey of a kiss.  Hmmm.~

“Bye,” Daniel said at last, obviously stunned by the passion of the kiss.

Jack stood, still surprised, thinking, ~There's more to this geek than meets the eye, that's for sure.~

====

Leaving Ferretti in charge of the two remaining members of the team, Jack, Sam, and Kawalsky left the temple, going out into the sunny and arid desert.  Blinded by the brightness of the light, they immediately put on their sunglasses.  For a moment, they stood at the top of the steps, looking out over the desert, past the two tall obelisks that were at the end of the long temple walkway.

“Boy, I can't say I missed this place,” Kawalsky stated about the vast expanse of sand that seemed endless from where he now stood.

~It's not so bad, to visit,~ Jack thought quietly.

Daniel urged, “Come on,” and began to walk down the long path that led away from the temple.

Lagging behind a moment, Sam observed, “This is just incredible,” before following the others.

“You haven't seen anything, yet, Carter,” Jack stated once the blonde had caught up with them.  Feeling quite excited about sharing this particular story, he added, “Tell her about your pet, Daniel.”

“My ... pet?” Daniel asked.

“Yeah, that giant whatever it is that slimed you,” Jack chuckled.  ~That could make a great kid's cartoon.~

“Jack, let's just forget about that.”

“What happened?” Sam asked curiously.

“Big honkin' horse thing,” Jack began.  ~I'll never forget it; funniest thing I'd seen in a long time.~

“Mastadges, Jack,” Daniel corrected.

“Yeah, that's it,” Jack responded.  “What was his name?  Tiny Morsel?”

Daniel shook his head, answering in a near whisper, “Little Bit.”

“Little Bit:  cute,” Jack teased.  “Well, Carter, ole Little Bit the horse thing took a liking to Daniel here and carted him halfway across the desert.”

“My foot got caught in the reins,” Daniel admitted.

“Yeah, the big guy picked up some speed, dragging Daniel through the sand, arms flailing.  We were chasing after him.  It was crazy funny.  He looked totally bedraggled by the time the animal stopped.  His hair was full of sand, his glasses had fallen off, and he had a face full of slime.  Yuk!  All I can say, Daniel, is better you than me,” Jack laughed.

“Thanks, Jack,” Daniel replied dryly.

Smirking, Jack inquired, “Whatever happened to Little Bit, Daniel?”

“Uh ...” Daniel sighed as he looked off in another direction.  Finally, he admitted, “He's ... around, somewhere.”

Jack laughed, “He still follows you around like you're his mother, right?”

“Jack!”

From behind, Sam and Kawalsky shared a chuckle as Jack and Daniel continued to discuss the mastadge that was still, in fact, very much attached to the archaeologist.

“He ... likes me,” Daniel sighed.

“Who wouldn't?” Jack teased.  ~Not sure that came out right.~

“You haven't changed much, Jack,” Daniel replied.

“Nor you, Doctor Jackson,” the colonel responded with a smile.

After another minute, looking back to see they were a few paces in front of the others, Daniel questioned, “Jack, you said you wanted to talk to me about something.”

Jack let out a groan as he also turned round to ensure his team were a few paces behind and out of earshot.

“What, uh, was it you wanted to discuss?” the archaeologist questioned, glancing over at the colonel and seeing a frown on his face.

Still frowning, Jack wondered, ~How do I put this?~  Clinching his weapon, he asked, “You like it here, right?”

“Very much.  It's ... my home now,” Daniel answered.

“And Sha're?”

“Things are ... good,” Daniel acknowledged.  “Jack?”

“Have you thought about showing her Earth?” the older man asked.  ~Way to go, O'Neill.  Nothing like wording it right, is there?~

Daniel let out a tiny snort, responding, “Are you serious?”

Cocking his head slightly and looking back to make sure they were still ahead of the others, Jack said, “Sure.  Why not?  Let her see how another part of the universe lives.”

“Ah, no,” Daniel responded.

Jack nodded, thinking, ~Not yet.  I'm not ready to burst his happy bubble.  Surprise is the best bet.  I'll wait until we have to report in.~

Suddenly, Sam laughed, drawing Daniel's attention as he turned back to see what has happening.  Jack glanced back as well and caught Daniel's quizzical expression as he studied the interaction between Sam and Kawalsky.

“Daniel, I've only known her for one day, and she's already driving me crazy,” Jack confided.

“Because she's a scientist?” Daniel probed.

“No!” Jack responded emphatically.  “She walked into the briefing room with a chip on her shoulder from the start.  We'd barely been introduced when she started reciting her resume.”

“Uh, maybe that's because she's a woman,” Daniel pointed out.

“No duh!” Jack exclaimed, shaking his head.

“Jack, correct me if I'm wrong, but, traditionally, in military circles, aren't women thought of as being inferior?  I mean, uh, the men do the fighting, and the women keep the clerical records.  Isn't that the stereotype?”

Jack glared at the younger man, then replied, “That's stupid, and it wasn't the case when she walked in.”

“Maybe not for you, but what about Kawalsky and Ferretti?” Daniel challenged.

Jack glanced between him at the bickering adversaries/teammates and sighed, “Maybe.”  Suddenly, he looked at Daniel and questioned, “Why don't you think I think like that?”

“Oh, you ... want me to think that?”

“No, of course not, but ... Daniel, answer my question,” the older man commanded.

“Jack, I'm not sure you even noticed that she's a woman.  I ... I think there's something else that's upsetting you,” Daniel stated, licking his lips as they changed direction as they headed for their destination.

“Reproductive organs,” Jack mumbled, looking away and shaking his head.

“Excuse me?” Daniel asked.  “Did you say re...”

“Yes, I said it, and please don't make me say it again,” the colonel interrupted.

“Uh, okay, but why ...”

“Like I said, Daniel.  She walked into the conference room with this giant chip on her shoulder.  She stood there, in front of Hammond, and said, and I quote, 'I'm an Air Force officer just like you are, Colonel, and just because my reproductive organs are on the inside instead of the outside, doesn't mean I can't handle whatever you can handle'.”

“Oh,” Daniel replied.  “And ... what did you say?”

“I told her I had a problem with scien...tists,” Jack said, coughing when he saw Daniel turn and glare at him.  “Most scientists.”

Daniel nodded, looking down as they continued to walk, and asserted, “I'm sure she'll be fine once you prove to her that her sex isn't what you're concerned with.”

“Daniel, I wouldn't care if she was unisex.  I have to be able to rely on every person on my team.  I can't be worried about personal issues getting in the way,” Jack admitted.  ~Why am I telling him this?  I don't talk about my command style with anyone.  I've *never* done that.  Shut your trap, O'Neill.~

“She seems capable,” Daniel observed.

“She's doing okay,” Jack admitted.  “She already won me ten bucks.”

“She did?” Daniel asked in surprise, shaking his head as Jack filled him in on the bet with Kawalsky and Ferretti.

====

“Doctor Jackson, what's it like, living here?” Sam inquired a couple of minutes later after she had jogged forward to catch up with Jack and Daniel.  ~I've had enough of Kawalsky's humor for now.~

“Oh, it's, uh ... it's ... interesting.  Life is actually very simple here.  Everyone works as a community.  That's not to say that we don't have our problems, but ... it's good,” Daniel answered, glancing around at the captain, who was walking a couple of paces behind him and to his right.

As he caught up to the two, Kawalsky teased, “That was a whopper, Daniel,” referring back to the kiss.

“Wha...what?” Daniel questioned, suddenly realizing the topic after seeing the man's smirk.  He looked over at Jack who was smiling and shaking his head.  “Sha're is ... she's ...”

“She's a knockout,” Kawalsky said boisterously.

“Okay, Kawalsky,” Jack interrupted.  “Leave the man alone,” he said, noticing that his shy young friend was a little embarrassed.  The group continued to walk onward.  After a few minutes, he added quietly, “That was quite the kiss, Daniel.”

“Yeah.  I guess she just wanted to ...”

“... to *really* lay one on you,” Jack smirked.  “I didn't know you had it in you, Daniel -- moonshine and the hot babe of Abydos.”  ~And it isn't making my job any easier.  You won't leave her behind, and I'm sure she doesn't want to become a specimen for the military, either.~

“Jack, she's not a babe.”

“She's hot!” Jack opined.  “Not exactly my type, but then Kasuf gave her to you, not me,” he said about Sha're's father, one of the Abydonian leaders who had given his daughter to the archaeologist.

“Envious, Jack?” Daniel asked.

“No,” Jack answered, suddenly sobered by their conversation and getting a faraway look on his face.  ~I'm going to have to force you back to Earth.  Crap, sometimes I hate the military.  I could be home, watching 'The Simpsons', instead of here, about to wreak havoc on your life.~

“Jack, are you okay?”

Jack nodded, then said, “Two nights ago I was minding my own business, and now I'm back here.  It's like a Ray Bradbury novel.”

“I thought you were more the Stephen King type.”

“Actually, I'm more of a George Lucas type of guy,” the colonel teased.

“He's not a novelist, Jack,” Daniel pointed out.

“Daniel, I do know the difference.  I was trying to be lighthearted,” Jack explained, turning to face the younger man for a moment.  ~I'm amazed you even know who George Lucas is.~

“Oh,” Daniel responded, a tiny smile on his face as he bowed his head for a second.

“He is a screenwriter, though, and a director and producer,” Jack added about Lucas.

====

Finally, the group reached the structure Daniel had been leading them to.  The room was off to the left side of the temple and was below ground, covered by the sand.  Torches were lit to light the way inside.

“This is it?” Jack questioned, looking down at the steps that led to the entrance, then twisting around to look back behind the group.  “It doesn't seem like it's that far away,” he observed, seeing the top of the pyramid looming behind them.

“It's not, really.  It's the dunes that make it seem so far,” Daniel confirmed.  “With everything we'd gone through ...”

“You mean Ra?” Sam questioned.

“Yes.”  Going inside the torch-lit room, Daniel explained, “So, I, I figured that there had to be more to this place, so I started exploring, um ... just the area around the town and the pyramid at first, and, after about a month, I found this place.  Uh, Captain Doctor, you're gonna love this.”

~'Captain Doctor' -- that's not helping, Daniel,~ Jack groaned inwardly, though he then thought, ~But good one; covers all the bases.~  The walls were full of elaborate drawings and symbols.  He could see the look of wonder on Sam's face. ~I don't get it,~ the colonel admitted to himself, taking in the sights of the room and having no clue what any of it meant.  “Daniel, you had a chance to translate this yet?” he questioned.

“I think so,” Daniel answered.

“What's it say?” Jack questioned.

“Well, uh, it doesn't say anything.  Actually it's ... sort of a chart, more of aaaa ... map.”

“Of?” Jack prodded.

“Well, I, I haven't been able to analyze all of it.”  Daniel let out a laugh, turning around and raising his hand out to gesture at the immensity of the symbols on all of the other walls.  As he turned, so did Jack.  “I mean, I mean look at it.  It would take my whole life.”

“Well, Daniel, we don't have that long,” Jack stated a bit dryly.  “What's it a map of?”  ~We're on a schedule here, and I really need to tell you what I don't want to tell you.~

Speaking rapidly, the archaeologist answered, “Well, the cartouches seem to be separated clearly into groupings, each grouping is attached to the others with a series of lines, and each grouping of glyphs contain seven symbols, so you can see where this is going, of course.”

~He's kidding, right?~ Jack thought upon hearing the younger man's last comment.  “Tell us, anyway,” he requested, ignoring Daniel's expression that said he shouldn't need to have it explained to him.  ~Before I turn gray would be nice.~

“All of the symbols are on the Stargate in the Abydos chamber,” Daniel began. “I've also managed to, to chart some of them in the Abydos night sky, or at least pretty close.”  He had walked around the fire that lighted the center of the room.  As he walked back towards his friend, he spoke excitedly, “Jack, I think that this is a map of a ... a vast network of Stargates, Stargates that are, are all over the galaxy.”

~He sure lights up talking about this stuff,~ Jack observed.
 
Disbelievingly, Sam refuted, “Uh, I don't think that can be, Doctor.”

“Why not?” Daniel questioned.

~Careful, Carter.  Daniel's sharp, and my guess is that he's at least two steps ahead of you and your Pentagon team,~ Jack thought from the sidelines.

Sam answered, “Well, because after Colonel O'Neill and his team came back, my team tried *hundreds* of symbol permutations using Earth as the point of origin, and it never worked.”

“Well, I tried the same here, and it didn't work, either, but I figured the destinations I tried were either destroyed or ... buried, but, um, I mean some of them somewhere must still exist,” Daniel argued cordially.

“I don't think so.”

“Then where did your Ra look-a-like come from?” Daniel challenged.

~Told ya, Carter.  You're in the big leagues here,~ Jack smirked silently.

“Uh ...” Sam stuttered, feeling a little put out by Daniel's obvious intelligence, while also feeling in awe of what he had discovered.

“Look,” Daniel continued.  “I don't pretend to know anything about astrophysics, but couldn't the planets change?”  He walked closer, then passed by Sam.  “I mean, uh ... drift apart or, or something like that, to throw this map off?”

Sam had followed Daniel and was now standing right in front of him as she brightened and commented, “I knew I'd like you.”

“You mean I'm right?” Daniel asked, surprised that his theory might be correct.

A few feet away, Kawalsky walked over to stand by Jack.  The two shared a sympathetic look and then watched in a combination of amazement and boredom as the two scientists went one-on-one.   Jack found himself mesmerized by the archaeologist's enthusiastic movements, even though he tuned out all the words, while Kawalsky wondered how good of a kisser Sam was.

~It's like the friggin' Discovery Channel,~ Jack whined internally.  ~She's smart, but she's no match for Daniel.  Look how he does that.  He's leading her along, and it's not even his field.  The man has a lot of talents.  He's not your average geek, that's for sure.~  Suddenly, he jolted himself mentally.  ~I think maybe they're done now.  Better pay attention.~

“Unless you can adjust for the displacement,” Daniel continued.

“Right,” Sam confirmed.  “Now with this map as a base that should be easy.  All we have to do is correct for Doppler's Shift, then I should be able to arrive at a computer model that will predict the adjustments necessary to get the Gate working again.”

Sam had to acknowledge that even though Daniel's expertise lay in a different field, she’d finally met someone who could challenge and keep up with her.

“Okay, so what did we just figure out?” Kawalsky asked, interrupting the scientific symposium of two.

Sam answered, “Any civilization advanced enough to build this Gate network would be able to compensate for fifty-thousand years of stellar drift.”

“So ... the Stargate can go other places?” Jack questioned, looking up at the writings on the wall.  ~Maybe NASA isn't the place to be, after all.~

“The aliens could have come from anywhere,” Sam noted.

Daniel walked to one of the walls, taking in the symbols, and said, “There are thousands of worlds out there, Jack.”  He looked over at the man and continued, “You can go there.  If Captain Doctor Carter can get the computer model done, then ...”  He paused, turning back to look at the wall, wonder in his eyes.  “You can go anywhere, you can ...”

“... Explore new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, boldly go where no one in modern times has gone before,” Jack said, walking to stand next to his friend as he parodied the 'Star Trek' opening monologue.

“That was great,” Daniel opined as he looked at Jack.

“Daniel, it's a TV show,” Jack stated incredulously.  ~Geez, where have you been?~

“What?” the younger man asked.

“'Star Trek'?” Jack said more pointedly.  ~Come on, it's a classic!~

“Oh, uh, yeah,” Daniel smiled nervously, refocusing on the wall.

“So, all of this,” Jack raised his right hand to motion toward the symbols on the wall, “translates into a ...”

“... Map,” Daniel completed.  “It's a map of the universe, Jack.  Gawd, it's ... exciting.”

~He's lighting up again.  This stuff really gets to him.~  Jack smiled at the younger man, hearing the desire in his voice.  “You can come with us,” the colonel stated.  ~You'd love it.  You belong out there, not here, playing in the sand.~

“Me?” Daniel questioned, acting as if he'd never even thought about it.

“Sure,” Jack encouraged.  ~Besides, if you choose to go, I won't have to drag you back.  I'm not looking forward to that.~

“No, uh, I'd like to, but, no.  I mean, Sha're ...”

“Daniel, it doesn't have to be all the time.  Isn't this what you've always wanted?” Jack questioned.  ~Help me out here, Danny.  Give me something to work with.~

“No, I can't.”

“Okay,” Jack responded, sounding a bit less friendly than he had a moment earlier.  ~Crap, Jackson.  Why do I even care what you think, or how you feel?  I have my orders.~

“Jack, I wanted to tell you something,” Daniel stated, not looking at the man he was talking to.  “What you did, for the people of Abydos, for ... me, well, I ...”

“Daniel, I couldn't let Skaara die,” Jack interrupted.  ~Now he's gonna get all mushy.  I don't do mush, especially when I'm working up a good sweat of anger.~

Daniel turned to look at the colonel and stated, “Of course not, but what you did ...”

“Daniel ...”

“Jack, I just wanted to say thank you.”

~Crap.~  Jack nodded, echoing the sentiment, saying, “Thank you.”

“For what?” Daniel asked.

“Skaara's alive, right?” Jack questioned.  ~I have to stop thinking about what you want, Daniel.  I saved the friggin' planet for you.  You can at least do this for me.~

Daniel nodded and was about to say something else when Sam walked over to ask the archaeologist a question, setting off a new round of scientific banter.

As quickly as he could, Jack took refuge beside Kawalsky, engaging him in a conversation about hobbits.  It was distracting.  He knew he was out of time, a quick glance of his watch confirming that.  It was time to go.  An hour from now, Daniel wouldn't care what he thought.  He'd be hating Jack; Jack was positive about that, and he was greatly saddened at that realization.

“Captain Doctor Carter,” Jack called out, getting a glare from Sam and a stare from Daniel.  “Did you tape everything you need?”

“Yes, Sir,” Sam answered.  ~Male chauvinist.  I can see he's going to be fun to work with ... not!~

“Okay, let's get back to the temple,” Jack ordered.  “We need to get this information back to Earth.”

Sam and Kawalsky led the way with Jack following.  At the entranceway, he turned back, seeing Daniel looking over the walls yet again.  He stared, seeing that fascination and awe emanating from the younger man.  He wanted to hold onto his anger, but he couldn't.  He was about to hurt Daniel, to tear him away from his Abydonian home and from his wife, unless Daniel was willing to bring her with him to Earth.  Jack would let that happen.  He'd deal with Hammond later, but he wouldn't separate the happily married couple.

~I'm not that much of a bad guy,~ Jack sighed.  “Daniel?”

Daniel smiled briefly at Jack before turning his attention back to the walls with their thousands of glyphs and stating, “When I first realized what all this was, the first address I tried to find was Earth.  It took me six weeks, but ... it’s right up there, Jack.”  He pointed to an area about fifteen feet off the ground.  With a light and airy voice, he added, “It's a big, big universe, Jack.  I'd really like to see it.”

Jack smiled, saying, “You will, Daniel.”

Daniel turned towards Jack and stated, “Welcome back, Jack.”

The older man smiled, the two caught up in an unusual gaze, neither moving for a few seconds.  Though it seemed odd on one hand, it also seemed strangely normal to Jack, something he found hard to understand.

“Thanks, Daniel.  Come on.  Let's go.”

As Daniel nodded and walked towards him, Jack didn’t know what was in store for him, or Daniel, or whether the younger man would ever forgive him for dragging him back to Earth.  What he did know was that it felt good to see Daniel again, and that knowledge made him feel a little happier.

As Jack and Daniel exited the Cartouche, Jack stated, “Daniel, no matter what, it's really been good to see you again.”

“You, too, Jack.  You, too,” Daniel replied, giving his friend a small smile.

 ~Wow, I didn’t realize how much I wanted to hear you say that,~ Jack thought, returning the smile as the two headed back for the temple.

As the group walked through the desert, Jack glanced over at Daniel and observed a big smile on the his face.

~Hmmm.~  Curious, Jack asked, “What are you smiling at?”

“Nothing,” Daniel answered shyly, bowing his head.

~Okay,~ Jack thought.  Then he smiled, too.  He had a feeling that his friendship with Daniel would continue, and that made him feel pretty darn good.  ~So, he's a geek.  He's a good man.~

A minute or so later, Daniel glanced over at his friend and noticed he was smiling, too.

“Ah, what are you smiling at?” Daniel queried.

“Nothing,” Jack answered evasively, looking away for just a second or two.

Jack and Daniel shared another look, one that seemed to express what their words couldn't, at least not yet.  The two men chuckled and headed onward, toward their unknown future together.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
Feedback Welcome - click here to email the author


download web counters
Comcast DSL