The flames were warm on his skin. Daniel stared into the fire, entranced by the play of colors. The music had been going since ten, and it was now midnight. The archaeologists were giving him a magnificent send-off.
He yawned a little, and stood. Saying a few last quiet goodbyes, he headed for the tent. He'd packed and stowed his bag in the chopper after lunch, returning to the Essene site until dark.
Pulling aside the flap, Daniel saw Tobe and Kate sitting side by side, waiting for him. "Hey guys," Daniel said, raising a brow.
"Daniel," Tobe said. They both stood, jumping off the cot. There was a short moment of silence. "Katie and I wanted to thank you for what you did for me, the other night."
Daniel knew immediately what he was talking about. He shook his head, but knew that the only right thing he could do was to gracefully accept. "You're welcome," he responded. "But it really wasn't that big a deal."
Katie laughed a little. "It's not every day you trade places in front of a gun for someone."
Daniel smiled. "You'd be surprised. But you're welcome."
"We also wanted you to be the first on the dig to know - we're getting married."
Daniel grinned. "Congratulations!"
Anyone who had seen the two in each others' company could see the love between them. They were devoted to one another, and to archaeology. Daniel had been witness to a few fights and make-ups, and their willingness to work to improve their relationship was remarkable.
"We're going to wait until Katie graduates, of course," Tobe added. Katie smiled at him, and Daniel spied a ring on her left hand. They were officially engaged.
"I'm sure you'll be very happy together," Daniel said, still smiling. Their happiness was contagious. "I wish you all the best."
After quiet thank-you's, Katie went to her tent while Tobe and Daniel bunked down for the night. Daniel slept restlessly, waking every time he tossed and turned in the sleeping bag. With only a few hours till dawn, he gave up, getting dressed and walking around the dig in the early morning. He went to the tents housing the artifacts, and walked among the tables of discovered relics. He ran his fingers lightly over the burnished edges of the bronze firepan he had found, remembering the moment of discovery. A contented feeling filled him, under the canvas and surrounded by remnants of ages past.
He stayed there until the first rays of sunshine began to lighten the inside of the tent. Pulling the flap aside, Daniel walked around the exterior of the dig, taking the opportunity to say goodbye to a place that had come to signify home. He traversed the dig, at one point crouching to run his hands through the dirt. Daniel walked to the bluff overlooking the ocean and stood for some moments, gazing at the waves.
He turned at a sound behind him, and saw Mac walking through the brush toward him. "Morning," the Scot called softly.
Daniel nodded, not breaking his silence.
Mac moved up next to him, staring at the waves.
"I guess I'll have to take a raincheck on our debate," he sighed eventually.
The older professor smiled a little, the wind playing with his wild hair. "I want to ask you something, Daniel," he said brusquely. "But you don't have to answer if you don't want to."
Daniel was slightly perturbed by the older man's unusual behavior. "Shoot," he said.
Mac took a deep breath. "Is what you're leaving here worth what you're gaining back in America?"
Daniel turned the question over in his mind. He smiled a little. "I've been asking myself that ever since Jack, Sam and - Murray showed up." He considered a bit more. "I really don't know, Mac. What I stand to gain is priceless compared to what I'm leaving behind."
"And what is that?" Mac was openly curious now. The younger man, while talkative and inquisitive, rarely shared much about himself.
"Family," Daniel said.
And Mac understood. The archaeology paled in comparison to something of that magnitude.
"The job -" here Daniel's mouth twisted a little. "I did love it, for all its ups and downs. I still might. I don't know - the job itself was never really the issue. If we can move forward, get beyond the problems that split us up, then I want to give it another go."
Mac smiled, happy that the younger archaeologist had a plan. "Jack, Miss Carter and Murray seem to want that."
Daniel was silent. It was good to know that the others wanted this as much as he did, but that reassurance was a small step towards regaining trust between them. He had no doubt that the others still trusted him the same way they always had, despite his running out a month before. But his faith in them was shattered. Picking itself up, putting itself back together, but still in hundreds of pieces.
"I know that it won't be easy for you," Mac said suddenly, the seriousness back in his tone. "But don't write them off until you have to."
Daniel looked at the professor in surprise.
"I've seen how much they care about you," Mac continued. "If it's a fraction of what it used to be, and there's the slightest chance of getting it back, don't let anything get in the way."
Daniel smiled. "Thanks, Mac."
The professor winked impertinently. "That, however, is as profound as I get without my coffee," he finished. "Take care, Daniel."
The other nodded. "You too, Mac. If you have any more problems with people sneaking around the dig - let me know." If the NID was still looking for him, they might try the dig again, and he'd have to persuade Hammond to call them on it.
Mac nodded. "Good luck."
Daniel smiled, and the two men turned away from the sea, headed in different directions.
Daniel made his way to the chopper, noticing the first signs of students stirring in their tents. When he reached the machine, he found Sam beginning the pre-flight checks. Teal'c was stowing the gear securely, and Jack was nowhere to be found. Daniel stuck his head inside, and said, "Anything I can do?"
"No, I think we got it covered," Sam said, turning to him with a grin.
"Indeed," Teal'c responded.
"How are we getting home?" Daniel asked. Teal'c's lips twitched at his unconscious use of the term 'home' in relation to Colorado Springs.
Sam smiled. "We're going to chopper to Tel Aviv, then take a military transport to Denver, stopping in London and New York to refuel."
Daniel grimaced. "My flight here was across the Pacific and Siberia. Stopover in Tokyo."
Sam winced. "Sounds long and - grueling."
Daniel shrugged. "It was the only thing I could get on such short notice."
"Good morning, campers!" Jack was enthusiastic, nearly bouncing with excitement. Daniel was coming home!
"Morning, sir," Carter replied, turning back to her controls.
Jack handed Daniel a cup of coffee, and was surprised when the archaeologist gave it a considering glance. "Did you put any sugar in this?" he asked suspiciously.
"Ah, no," Jack replied, puzzled.
"Good," Daniel murmured, a mischievous smile crossing his face. He sipped carefully, and then again with greater enthusiasm. "Who's awake at the tent?"
Jack's statement was cut off by a thunderous screech from the pavilion. Daniel's eyes widened and he scrambled into the helicopter and out of sight.
"What the hell was that?" Jack asked in horrified fascination. Teal'c was staring at the tent, puzzled.
"Revenge is best served cold, to the terminally unsuspecting," Daniel responded, peering cautiously toward the pavilion before ducking back out of sight.
The archaeologist asked, "Sam, how soon before we're ready to leave?"
"Five minutes, maybe ten," she replied, somewhat confused.
"Do you think you could speed it up?"
Jack caught sight of red hair emerging from the pavilion several hundred yards away. "Danny, Galya looks pissed," Jack said frankly.
The archaeologist swore under his breath. Jack didn't recognize the language, but he knew a curse when he heard one. "Danny, she's headed this way," Jack hissed, noticing the fiery-haired professor lock onto their position with all the single-minded focus of an armed missile.
Daniel grimaced, and then decided to play ignorant for a bit, and see how far it got him. He climbed nonchalantly out of the chopper, praying that Sam hurried. Leaning against the metal casing, he noted that Jack hadn't been exaggerating - in fact, he might have understated the case a bit. Galya was fuming.
"Daniel Jackson!" she shouted. The young man winced. "What the hell is this?"
"What?" Daniel asked, feigning both ignorance and interest.
"There's no sugar," Galya roared. She was a terrifying morning person. Jack cowered against the side of the helicopter, and even Teal'c looked taken aback. Sam was the only one safe - inside the cockpit. "It's all salt," the Latin professor finished with an outraged bellow.
"Classic," Jack murmured softly, a grin twitching on his face. When Galya's gaze hit him, however, he muttered something about pre-flight checks and beat a hasty retreat into the chopper.
Daniel decided that innocence would no longer serve him. "Galya," he drawled. Hearing the tone in his voice, the woman's face turned into a wary scowl. "Decaf?"
For a moment, there was silence. A range of emotions swept across Galya's countenance. Confusion, comprehension, outrage.
The next sound everyone heard was Galya's raucous laughter. She caught Daniel up in a hug, squeezing the taller man tightly. "God, I'm going to miss you," she said, stepping back and sniffing slightly. She smiled up at him. "Take care of yourself," she managed, eyes bright with tears.
Daniel smiled back at her, and said conspiratorially, "I had help."
Galya's face transformed into an expression of vengeful calculation. "I will have my revenge," she murmured wickedly.
Daniel shuddered dramatically. "Don't mess with their minds too much," he cautioned, smiling.
"I know," she responded, continuing with the other half of the teachers' maxim for this dig. "There has to be something left to grade!"
"We're ready," Sam said from inside the chopper. Daniel glanced up, and saw that many of the teachers and students were leaving the pavilion, coming to see him off.
"Let's get this show on the road," Jack murmured. "Danny, you ready?"
Daniel looked around the dig, and at the approaching group. He smiled a little. "Yea, I'm ready," he responded. He squeezed Galya's hand, both of them ignoring how teary she became at the gesture.
Daniel climbed into the chopper, giving a last wave to the crowd of students, all shouting goodbyes and well wishes. The door shut and he fastened himself into his seat, behind Jack and next to Teal'c.
"There's no place like home," he heard Jack say cheerfully.
Sam started up the motor, and the rotary blades began spinning, kicking up dust. Daniel glanced back at the NID agent, who was secured - and securely unconscious - in the back of the helicopter.
He felt the chopper lift off the ground, and within moments they were high above Ein Gedi. Daniel peered down, at the oasis and the Dead Sea, the people who he'd come to care for still grouped together, staring up at him. He was leaving, as suddenly as he'd arrived.
Daniel settled back to rest. It was going to be a long flight.
Yes, I'm still alive. Just wanted to apprise you that the story will continue (soon I hope) in the sequel, SHIDACHI. J