Daniel turned slightly and put his hand on the younger man's shoulder. "You mean he should not win. Casualties mount with every battle and although the people continue to come to us to replace those who have fallen, we have lost strategic positions. We run short of weapons and supplies although I believe Hunan has no idea of how weak we are becoming."
"You are going to accept his offer," Mani said. His voice was resigned. He had already argued with Daniel for hours as had his other top aides.
"If I make peace with him now, we negotiate from a sufficiently strong position that I can protect the people who fought with us. I can protect you. His terms are generous."
"To everyone but you."
"He doesn't seek my life, Mani, only my exile and the abdication of King Davi in his favor." Daniel knew that Mani had no idea that far from being a blow to Daniel this was what he wanted more than anything else. His greatest fear was that he would too easily accept defeat just to escape the burden of this world and free himself and his son. When he had sent Davi, Elspetha, and Tildi through the gate, he had wanted desperately to go with them, but had he gone then, he believed there would have been a purge of all those who had supported him. Now there were thousands dead in his name. If he did not concede soon, the only difference in the death toll would be that it was spread out over 8 months rather than completed in a bloody two or three weeks.
"We must go to meet him. There is less than an hour to the time set," he said and led the way back to the camp.
As he rode down from the heights and across the trackless valley floor on the back of his black stallion, he turned over in his mind what he knew of Hunan once again. The man had arguably the best claim in the murky waters of the blood succession, yet he had actively supported Daniel from the beginning. He was young and, like Davi's mother, was the offspring of a commoner. She had given him a perspective on the excesses of the court that allowed him to see the wisdom of Daniel's reforms.
Daniel had uncovered serious malfeasance in the conduct of the head of Linter's second largest religious sect and acted upon it. Not surprisingly, soon afterwards that sect had developed an alternate interpretation of the prophecy that had earlier won the unprecedented acceptance of Daniel as Regent. This new interpretation agreed with history up to the present, but then predicted utter ruin if Daniel were to found a dynasty. Hunan, a very ambitious man, now had a justification that he could live with for usurping Davi.
There was a small tent that had been set up halfway between the camps. Both men had approached it on horseback, the only appropriately dignified way to arrive at such a meeting, with four of their most trusted commanders. They dismounted and left the others behind as they walked slowly to the tent. They entered together and sat opposite each other. Daniel had assumed all the arrogance that he had allowed to soften at the edges during his months among leaders from outside the cold pride of the court. Hunan was handsome and powerfully built and he lounged opposite Daniel, effortlessly projecting the same strength and confidence that Daniel hoped he was.
"I am glad that you have decided to end the death," Hunan said at last.
"Deaths that lie at your door alone."
Hunan did not dispute the accusation. "Your men understand what will happen next?"
"They do. I trust yours do not?"
"They do not."
Hunan knew that as soon as he had won, the most powerful of his supporters were likely to come after him. Many of them had had their ox gored by one or the other of Daniel's reforms. They would be worried that Hunan was likely to continue them. Hunan's next step would be a preemptive strike against those most powerful families and their replacement from among those that supported Daniel. Knowing and believing this was what had allowed Daniel to decide he could accept the treaty.
Hunan placed the agreement on the table that would among other things formalize Davi's abdication. Daniel did not touch the paper but rather moved it with his pen. Contact poison was not an unusual tactic. He trusted that Hunan did not want to make a martyr of him, but he must continue to play out the role of the Regent. Satisfied, he signed. Hunan signaled for Daniel to stand. Daniel stood and bowed to Hunan, now his liege lord.
Hunan's army made a corridor several miles wide for Daniel and several hundred of his force to return to the capitol and to the gate. On a fine summer morning, Daniel looked at the beauty of Linter for the last time, embraced Mani, the only one of his commanders who had accompanied him, and walked through the gate.
He met a dozen rifles pointing in his face on the other side. Landry wasn't in evidence and the officer of the day was unfamiliar to him. "Identify yourself," the man barked. Daniel was surprised that they would have opened the iris to him if they were this uncertain who he was and whether he was a threat. A frisson of cold ran up his back as he wondered at how close he had come to the iris being closed on him.
"Dr. Daniel Jackson."
"Put your hands in the air," the officer said curtly.
"No," Daniel said. He'd already bowed to the man who had stolen his son's birthright. He wasn't doing submissive any more today.
The soldier vacillated. He was surprised by the refusal, but there were no weapons showing and Daniel's was a familiar name. Shooting him seemed extreme. "Can you prove you are Jackson?"
"Let me see," Daniel said, suddenly quite over it, "we could do on the spot DNA testing. Maybe Sergeant Harriman, General Landry, Colonel Mitchell, Colonel Carter, Dr. Lam, or any number of others—I could go on—would be willing to stroll down here and identify me?"
At that point, Cam came striding rapidly into the gate room. "Put your weapons down," he ordered the squad as he kept moving toward Daniel. He drew Daniel into a hug and said, "There's a little boy who's been needing his father for quite a while."
Daniel submitted numbly to all the testing to clear him as safe to leave the Mountain from a disease stand point and all the questioning to establish whether he was safe to let loose in general society on other counts. A move initiated by the State Department to bring charges against him had been narrowly defeated, but Landry was uncertain that Daniel would be able to work for the SGC again.
Daniel remained at the Mountain for three days. Elspetha and Davi could not be cleared to reenter the Mountain to see him for some arcane reason and so Cam and Elspetha kept it from Davi that his father was back for the time being. Sam was off-world, assisting another SG team and could not immediately return, Jonas and Teal'c had gone to their respective homeworlds for a short visit, and Jack was unreachable for the moment. Daniel felt like a pariah. It was an amazing reversal of fortunes. It surprised him that he didn't mind it very much. He had longed for months to be invisible and left totally alone. Being ascended was looking pretty good in hindsight.
He was immediately issued a BDU so he didn't look quite so much the oddball. The second day, Cam brought him jeans, t-shirts, and a couple of sweaters from the possessions he had left in storage and to which he had given Elspetha legal access when he had sent her to safety. He managed to say please and thank you appropriately, both to Cam and in the cafeteria. He kept telling himself he could be Daniel Jackson again, but he knew there was more to it than good manners.
He stood looking at himself in the small mirror over the sink in the guest quarters bathroom. He had unbraided his hair and it hung around him. There was a pair of scissors in his hand, a hand that was beginning to hurt a little from having tightly grasped the scissors for the past five minutes while he stared at himself. Suddenly they clattered into the sink. He wasn't going to cut it. If Davi remembered him, it was with long hair. In any case, he wouldn't be Daniel Jackson again just by cutting off the hair. It was better to force people to confront the truth than be lulled into making assumptions about him that weren't true.
The tantalizing idea formed in his head of going back through the gate to any of a dozen worlds where he would be welcome. He could never do it; he had a son on Earth. Still, deep inside of Daniel somewhere still lived traces of the boy Danny who had hungered to belong, but never had, through in a series of foster homes. It was tempting to think, just for a moment, that he wouldn't have to deal with the fact that, on top of his career being over, the people he loved didn't really need him any more. Elspetha had Cam. Cam had admitted that they had become convinced that Daniel was dead after six months had gone by. As a result, Cam had begun to think of Davi as his son. They had not let Davi forget Daniel, but the little boy had still begun calling Cam daddy. Believing him an orphan, they hadn't had the heart to try to stop him. Then there was Sam. She should be with Jack now if Jack had listened to him. But, even if she wasn't, he had tested her love for him and it had failed. If someone really loves you, they should love you no matter what. That was his belief. He had kept loving Sha're even when she was inhabited by a monster. Sam had kept on loving Jack for years without encouragement, but she couldn't sustain her feelings for him for a matter of days. What if they were together and he got sick or he had a mental problem or was disabled, would she just walk away? He didn't want to be with someone, did he, whose love was conditional?
He turned from the sink and was about to rebraid his hair when there was a knock at the door. He glanced quickly at his recently acquired watch and confirmed that it was close to 5:00, about the time Cam had said he would try to drop by. He thought about ignoring the knock. He didn't want to see the man who had replaced him in Elspetha's and Davi's lives. There was an unreasonable wave of jealousy washing over him, even though the rational part of him knew he should be grateful that Cam had been there for them when he couldn't be. Remembering what Cam had done made him ashamed and he went quickly to the door, unlocked it, and pulled it open.
Sam stood before him, her hand raised, preparing to knock again. She blushed a little and quickly lowered it. She looked about to cry. She looked good enough to eat. "Oh hell," she blurted out and she grabbed him and hung on as if he was going to try to get away. "I'm so glad you're okay. I've been scared to death that you'd die on Linter, that you'd never come back," she said brokenly, her face pressed against his neck. His arms went around her of their own volition. He felt moisture and realized she was crying. He pulled her roughly into the room and closed the door with his foot, never breaking his hold on her.
At last when he felt her calming in his arms, he gently set her away from him. "You look good, Sam." She looked much better than good, but he reminded himself that he was Daniel Jackson again. He lacked the aphrodisiac of power and wasn't competition for a guy like Jack. No point in setting himself up for a fall with a woman who didn't want him even when he had it all.
"You look REALLY good," she said. Her tone was much bolder than he would have expected from her. She was a confidant woman professionally, but seemed to have never lost her shyness completely with men.
"You like the biker look?" he asked fingering his hair. She reached out and slid a lock of it between her fingers. She was making him nervous because he couldn't read the signals.
"Very interesting," she said and inched a little closer.
"So, how's Jack?" he asked.
"I guess I saw him about a month ago, give or take. He seemed to be in good spirits. I think he's getting back together with Sara."
She smiled. "When you sent him to me, I guess I said some things about being with one person when you really love another, about how invidious comparisons get made. I didn't think it was healthy that he had always compared me to Sara or that I had compared him to you."
Years of not tolerating any one crossing him came to the fore and Daniel thundered, "He didn't dare tell you of his conversation with me?"
"You don't scare me," she said. Her tone was even, but the way she enunciated the words, her body language, made it obvious to Daniel that there was something deeper intended.
"I guess I don't scare much of anybody any more," Daniel said ruefully, walked across the room, and sat down, purposefully choosing an arm chair over the small couch.
"You still look pretty dangerous to me," she said softly. She went directly to where he sat and leaned over him, her arms braced on the arms of the chair. Her mouth was inches away from his and blue eyes looked deep into blue eyes. "You told me that if I turned you down, you would never offer again so I guess I'm the one who has to do the asking."
"Sam, I'm in disgrace here. It would be best for your career to distance yourself from me."
She said, "I really don't care, but I think all the good you have done and the skills and abilities you have will take care of any problems in that department. Just give people like General Landry and Cam time to work on it. Now," she said and moved another inch closer, "I would like to quit talking about side issues and talk about what really matters. I love you. Letting you walk out of that cabin was the biggest mistake of my life. At first I kept rewriting the scene so that you gave in to me, said the things I wanted to hear, but that wasn't realistic and, in my heart, I knew it. After the first couple of months, I began to replay it so that I simply said yes, unconditionally. It's what I should have done."
"Sam, I'm not in a place where I can cope with losing anything or anyone else. Be sure."
She answered by closing the distance the rest of the way. There wasn't a lot of finesse in the kiss. It was too hungry and desperately yearning for that. He moaned and pulled her into his lap. His hands roamed all over her body as if making sure she was really there. She squirmed to get closer and he moaned again. "I've dreamed about this," he whispered against her mouth.
She slipped her hand inside his shirt and said, "I'm going to make it better than any dream." She repositioned herself so she was straddling him and resumed the kissing.
Daniel was in pain, longing to breech the barriers of clothing that were between them and find the consummation that they both wanted so urgently. It might have happened if the phone hadn't rung and rung. He didn't answer it, but it made him think just a little. He pulled back and captured her hands. "Stop. There's something I have to say."
She wasn't cooperative but he shook his head and she made a frustrated face and said, "Make it quick."
"Sam, are you planning on marrying me?"
"Are you afraid I'm not going to respect you in the morning?" Her attempt at humor fell on stony ground and she realized now was not the time to be coy. "Yes, I am planning on marrying you."
"I want to wait until after it happens."
"Until we're actually married, I can't be sure that something won't go wrong. It would be hard enough to lose you now. I don't want to lose you and have actual memories of being with you to get over instead of just fantasies."
She rolled her eyes. "You're what, 45? Don't you think this is just a little on the missish side?"
"Maybe this whole thing is a bad idea. Are you going to make comments that question my masculinity every time you don't agree with me?"
Sam closed her eyes tightly for a moment. "I'm sorry Daniel. I didn't mean it the way it sounded. If you want to wait, we wait, but the wedding had better be the day after you are released from the Mountain."
When the phone rang again an hour later, Daniel discovered that the caller on both occasions had been Carolyn telling him that he had a clean bill of health to leave the Mountain. As soon as he got off the phone, Sam said, "Let's go," and Daniel found himself reluctantly following her to the elevators and back out into a Tauri night for the first time in four years. He yearned to see his son and Elspetha, but he was more than a little afraid that everything would be changed.
When they pulled up to Cam and Elspetha's house, they heard noise coming from the backyard. Instead of going to the front door, they walked around the house. Cam and Davi were playing catch after a fashion with Elspetha looking on and enthusiastically applauding all of Davi's clumsy catches of Cam's soft pitches of a beach ball. Davi made a particularly good catch and he crowed, "Look at me Daddy. I going to be just like you soon."
Daniel felt like he had been stabbed. He thought about how young the boy was and how long it had been. Would he remember him? Would he hang back shyly and seek refuge with his new father? Sam turned and saw his face in the gathering dusk. She called out immediately, "Hey everybody. Look who I have!"
They all turned and Elspetha lit up and ran to them, almost tripping over a garden hose. She flung herself at him and hugged him tightly, then pulled back immediately to study his face. "Danyal, my Danyal. I have been so afraid. Even after Cam came home and told me, I was afraid you would be changed somehow, hurt." Tears were streaming down her face now and she hugged him again.
When she released him from the second hug, he found himself looking directly at his son. Davi walked slowly, cautiously toward him. "Let me look," Davi said and Daniel understood that Davi wanted him to come down to his level.
He lowered himself to kneel in front of the child who reached out and traced the scar slashing across his eyebrow. Davi's eyes widened and he said in Linteri, "Are you my da?"
"Would that be good?" Daniel asked in the same tongue.
Davi nodded very gravely. "I miss Da very much 'cause I love him," he said, still speaking Linteri.
Daniel opened his arms then and in the language of fathers everywhere, he hugged his little boy, stood, and whirled him around. "Yes, forever I am your da," he said at last.
He shifted Davi to one hip and grabbed Sam with his other arm and drew her toward him. "Sam is going to marry me and we'll all live together. Would you like that?"
"Will Daddy and Grandmother come to visit a lot?"
Daniel nodded, understanding that for Davi, Daddy was simply a name and that Cam would probably be Daddy for years to come while he would be Da. He had no problem with that. "Will Sam be my mommy?" Davi asked.
Daniel nodded again. "Then," Davi said, demonstrating that there was still a bit of being King for him to get over, "you have my blessing and that of all my realm."
Almost five years later, Daniel and Sam stood watching a beautiful sunset from the deck at the back of their house. He turned to her and said, "I have something for you."
"Really?" she said. He loved the way she was always excited when he made some small romantic gesture. The time apart and the near loss they had experienced had managed to keep them from taking each other for granted.
"Close your eyes and don't open them until I tell you," he commanded softly and she immediately complied. He took the length of golden chain with its many small jewels out of his pocket and laid it around her neck. After he fastened it, he tenderly kissed the nape of her neck, put his arms around her, and then said very quietly in her ear, "You can open them now."
She looked down and gasped a little. "You've had this ever since you left Linter?" she asked bemused.
"Since Elspetha left. I didn't trust that I would make it back to give it to you."
"Not that I'm ungrateful, but why wait all this time?" She looked back over her shoulder at him.
"You're still an officer of the United States Air Force and still unable to accept gifts from foreign governments." She started to protest and he silenced her with a finger on her lips. "All these years since I've come back, I've struggled to figure out who Daniel Jackson is. There were good things I learned on Linter as well as a lot of bad habits. I wanted to be the best man I could be resulting from all the experiences I've had. Yesterday, I was in a meeting with that ass from the Pentagon, Colonel Mason." She rolled her eyes in complete understanding. "He was acting just like His Grace Danyal and watching him I realized that I was finally free of everything from which I needed to be freed. I can give this to you now because the Regent is gone."
Sam turned around and put her arms around his neck. "You were always there. Every day I give thanks that I finally understood that." She kissed him very tenderly and Daniel Jackson was whole and complete at last.