Daniel scratched at the band-aid on his wrist, itching carefully around the few mottled purple spots that marked where the guard had grabbed him. He looked up, found several worried eyes on him, and didn't know whether to be amused or grateful.
He'd returned from the last mission a little banged up. The bruises, and a few scratches, were the only physical legacy he had. As for the way the mission had deteriorated, well, he'd lived through much worse. It had been more confusion – on both sides – than anything else. He was actually fine, this time. But from the way his former team had descended upon the Infirmary – rather the way he imagined Valkyries descending upon a battlefield, now that he thought about it – the SF's could be forgiven for thinking he was dying.
Ferretti, of course, had started the pool on when Janet'd set him free. And on how many members of SG-1 would be escorted out of the infirmary until she had. While he'd apparently cleaned up on the first, no one had predicted that Janet would lose patience with all three members of SG-1, individually, together, and in various pairs, and boot them into the hallway. Numerous times, as they kept sneaking back in.
Daniel himself had been at a bit of a loss as to how to deal with all the genuine concern being leveled his way. Lack of practice would get him every time. And for some reason, he'd been completely tongue-tied in the face of Sam's relief, Jack's baiting of Janet, and Teal'c's amused brow when they had discovered exactly what he'd done to that guard.
SG-2, predictably, was being incessantly ragged on by at least half the base – and Ferretti had had the fear of Jack put into him, suddenly, loudly, and all over the 'gateroom. Bets were now being placed, by the braver half of his team, as to when he'd be able to show his face before the base's 2IC again. The lowest timeframe, if Daniel recalled correctly, was set at a month to six weeks.
Daniel had gotten them out of the mess of an unexpected first-contact, and SG-2 had gotten them off the planet. All in all, though the meet'n'greet dropped on them from thin air – literally, in this case – it could have been much worse. Thankfully, it had not deteriorated into violence; sneaking and skulking had been the order of the day. But for some rough handling, they were all fine. Hammond wanted to send a return MALP through in a week or so, and put a trained first-contact team on the mission. Not SG-1, given the current . . . well. SG-4 was slated to head out, and their first-contact guru, Charlie Watson, was waiting in Daniel's office for his impressions. Despite the fracas into which the mission had descended, there was still hope for a chance to be able to sample some of the minerals on the planet.
But SG-1 had a different priority. Daniel wanted to address something that had recently come to his attention, and couldn't be ignored.
"They're Goa'uld symbols." He slid copies of the fax to each person at the table – Hammond, Jack, Sam, Teal'c. "But from what I can tell, they're a slightly more archaic version of what is in use today."
He looked to the Jaffa, and Teal'c studied the paper in front of him. One brow quirked, intrigued, and settled. "Indeed."
Jack frowned. "What, you mean like the difference between Old and Middle English?"
Daniel hid a grin. He really did have to talk to Sam about that stunned look she got every time Jack displayed academic as opposed to tactical knowledge. "It's a good comparison," he agreed. "A little more like the difference between slang in the '70's and slang in the '90's, though."
"The Goa'uld use slang?"
There were only so many ways to say ha'takka, after all.
Hammond waited until Daniel nodded to Jack before breaking in, sobering the mood considerably. "And where was this found? N79-458? "
"No, actually. Before I left on that mission, I was contacted by Mac and Galya. The heads of the dig I was working on in Ein Gedi, Israel," Daniel clarified.
From scowl on his face, Jack hadn't forgotten. Sam opened her mouth before he could speak. "Was this the phone call you got before your last mission with SG-2?"
She'd been there. "Yes. I didn't get the fax until today, however. Galya was running into a bit of a problem with the translation." Daniel's voice was wry. Just a bit of a problem, according to the fiery-haired Latin professor. Like the whole thing.
"A problem?" General Hammond's expression was neutral. But the man had every right to be concerned. Remnants of the Goa'uld on Earth were thankfully – for the sake of the SGC's secrecy, at any rate – rare. Enough so that the only real problem they'd had so far had been Osiris. Limited as the archaeological record was, and intense as the Middle East was, it was still the most ancient area of human activity, with the best record for preservation, on the globe. Despite current political pressures, a lot of digging took place in various parts of Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Israel.
"Apparently, the entire text is written in this script, and it's like nothing she's ever come across. I haven't responded yet, but from what's on this page . . ."
"Do you believe this information important to the SGC, Daniel Jackson?"
Daniel pushed up his glasses. "It mentions the god Apollo. And something that I think might be a metaphor for the Oracle at Delphi."
The room was suddenly silent, pieces jostling but not falling into place. Daniel was frustrated – despite the treaty and note he had translated, there was too much they didn't know. And this coming on the heels of the NID's –
The odds were likely that the two were more than connected. But the timing . . . suspicious wasn't too strong a word for it.
"I want to go back to Ein Gedi," Daniel said abruptly, cutting that thought off. Not that it mattered, anyway, in the face of what this text hinted. . . . "I have to see the manuscript, work a translation."
"We have to go back there?" Jack wasn't whining. "Again?" Quite.
Daniel grinned a little. "The text is the biggest find this site's come across. Mac and Galya will no doubt use it to snare every bit of extra funding they can get. They'll be set to dig the Essenne site on their own timetable, and won't be rushed by pressure from the Hebrew University. There's no way we'll be able to get near it if we don't go there."
Not to mention the obvious impossibility of moving it out of the country. And if Galya was as intrigued over the writing as her little notes suggested, there'd be no getting it out of her sight.
"When do you need to leave?" Hammond, obviously evaluating the worth of this new piece of information, and approving.
"I'd like to go as soon as possible," Daniel admitted. Aside from what the text hinted at, the language itself was just fascinating. He really couldn't wait to see the whole thing. But if he had to play peacekeeper between the military and the none-too-cowed citizens of the Ein Gedi dig, he'd never get anything done. It shouldn't be too hard just to get Jack to stay -
"There's no way I'm allowing Dr. Jackson to re-enter a hazardous political climate, and an area where the NID are known to have been, without appropriate backup," Jack suddenly spoke up. There was a glint in his eye, and a set to his posture, that Daniel recognized as the colonel at his most tenacious. "General, your permission to take SG-1 as backup?"
Daniel blinked. Just what did Jack think he was –
"Granted." Hammond had just what? Wait – what was going on here? "Dr. Jackson, could you tell us more about the information you were able to translate from what you have?"
Confused, Daniel managed to semi-coherently stammer his way through the rest of the thankfully-short briefing. At least until the end, when Hammond informed them that transportation would be arranged in two days, for the trip back to Ein Gedi.
In the meantime – well.
It looked as if Jack was pushing for Daniel to be back on SG-1. Pushing hard.
But Daniel didn't feel as if he wanted to oppose it. It's time.
So he found himself in the deserted gym hours later; it was nearly eight at night, and he was staring at Senichi's katana. It was time for this, as well. Time to face the fear, once and for all, accept it, and move one.
'Fear leads to the Dark Side,' Daniel let himself think, before wiping the grin off his face.
Honed steel shone brightly.
Daniel looked the blade over, carefully. He had drawn it before this, to clean it and keep it in good condition. The technicalities of etiquette and insult were precise when they came to weapons; he had no wish to offend, even if he would probably be the only one to recognize it as such.
The weight, even now, was lighter than what he had suspected. Lighter than his own live practice blade. It had been honed to a sharper edge, as well; steel almost sang through the air. Beautiful.
It was a weapon, its purpose to kill. He had always known that. But after killing with it, the knowledge sat differently.
Daniel raised the honed edge then, and remembered the fight. Replayed it, using body and mind. Thinking, slowly, through every step, every parry and strike. No motion felt off, no decision wrong for what he had faced.
And perhaps that was the hardest knowledge of all.
Blue steel cut viciously through the air, neck-high.
Daniel let his stance relax, and realized that he was covered in sweat. Out of practice, he decided. Very out of practice.
There was only one way to remedy that.
Placing his feet with care, Daniel began the first of the katas he knew, fighting only as the defender. He wasn't quite ready, yet, for the other side of the dance.
Ignoring the sweat, his own heaving breaths, the empty room – Daniel descended into his senses. All he could feel was bare feet on the blue mat, oxygen laboring in his lungs, the grip of cord-wrapped hilt in his hand.
Constant, ceaseless motion of turns and parries, riposted strikes and blocks. Intricate as language itself. It was another language – one of body and intent. One that went on, and on, as he pushed himself through a second kata, and a third. Moving slowly, relentlessly. Speed now would only get him hurt.
But there was no conscious thought. Just action and instinct. And maybe he was thinking, about every little move, every breath, every sensation. Daniel trained. It had been months since he had picked up a blade for more than moving or cleaning it.
He slowed even more through the fourth of the pattern-dances, his attention on the placement of each foot, the straightness of his stance, striving for perfection of technique in every motion.
The fifth, he sped up once more. This was harder, his energy and stamina flagging a little. But he completed it nonetheless, and moved on to the sixth. More difficult in complexity and more demanding to the body, he slowed even more, omitting the trickier moves for a time when he was not so exhausted. Same with the seventh, and final, kata.
It was two hours since he raised it before Daniel finally lowered the blade, and became once more aware of the world beyond the mats. Attention to surroundings was always crucial – but attention to more than the immediate surroundings, the immediate area of threat, was dangerous in the distraction it offered.
So he was surprised to see Jack, holding up the wall and hidden in shadows, clandestinely observing him. "Hey, Danny."
Jack tossed him a towel, and he gratefully wiped his face. "So."
Daniel looked up at him. "Been standing there awhile?"
Jack threw a grin his way. "Yea. That was pretty impressive, Dannyboy."
Daniel ducked his head, swiping the towel through sweaty hair. "Yea. Well. . ."
Jack interrupted the silence before it could stick awkwardly between them. "So. You ready to go?"
He could have been asking anything. Maybe Jack had no idea about the depth of his question. But looking into serious brown eyes, Daniel thought maybe he did. And deep inside, the wariness and uneasiness had settled, drifting into quiescence. He felt – not threatened, by Jack's presence. Safe. Home. Friends.
"Yea. I think I am."
A/N: So, this is it for now! Ending on an up-note. I don't know how long it'll be until I can turn my attention to Uchitachi, but rest assured I'll be working on it.