This story takes place right after The Scourge, and is an Alternate Universe to the main SG storyline. I haven't seen S10 yet, but I wasn't keen on every aspect of where the storyline at the end of S9 was going. In particular, Vala getting pregnant through immaculate conception (though I'm hoping events in S10 makes it palatable). As such, I wanted to paint my own picture, particularly one with a Daniel/Vala component. ;)

Daniel leaned over the bench in his lab and studied the artifact before him with a keen interest and a slight smile on his face. The tablet before him was of course covered with strange writings, and he studied each character, word, and phrase on the granite slab with an attentiveness that came from a passion deep within him. He was in his element here, content and satisfied. Lost in the deep thought required for the translation and reading, he was able to forget about the events of the past year.

His lab was deathly quiet, and he liked it that way. Solitude was a welcome companion, a friend for almost two decades that shepherded him through years of college, graduate school, and then the lonely year following the publication of that now infamous paper on the pyramids. Of course, after he had done that, the Stargate program found him, and solitude was more of a casual acquaintance now, rather than a bosom companion. Over the years he had found closer friends than he could have ever hoped for, friends whom had risked their lives for him and whom he had done the same for. Still, however, he liked to pay his friend of old a visit from time to time, mostly now in the quiet of his lab or his apartment.

As his mind wandered over such things, he glanced up at the clock with a grin. The big hand hovered over the 10, seeming frozen in time. It felt like hours since last checked the time, when he had found the same hand creeping towards the 9. He sighed and looked back at the tablet, tapping the table restlessly with his pen. SG-9 should be checking in at the top of the hour, with news of the ruins they were investigating.

Daniel had been waiting for this mission for months. The ruins they were investigating promised to be of Ancient origin. Such finds were important now more than ever, with the threat of the Ori imminent. Daniel lamented how it seemed their luck that they had finally dispatched one pair of seemingly unstoppable enemies, the Goa'uld and the Replicators, only to be greeted with another pair, far worse – the Wraith and the Ori. The only thing saving the galaxy now was the fact that both enemies were galaxies away. As the Replicators had shown, however, distance could only provide so much protection.

Of course, as important as the potential of Ancient knowledge and technology was, a lot of Daniel's interest was still that of a geek finding a new toy. The trip was one that he was originally supposed participate in, joining SG-9. The mission had been scheduled immediately after a standard SG-1 venture, but that first mission had been scrubbed in favor of what became their disastrous trip to the Gamma site with the IOA. Due to the weeks it took the Odyssey to bring him and the rest of the team to get back to Earth, he had missed SG-9's departure completely.

Missing the trip was extremely frustrating, and was proving to be a disturbing pattern in his life of late. It was bad enough that he had missed on the trip to Atlantis when Vala slapped that damned bracelet on him. Shortly after that had happened, when he had resigned himself to staying on Earth, he began unpacking and found the tablet that was now sitting before him. In studying it, he learned of the importance of the world which SG-9 was currently exploring. After realizing the importance of his discovery, he made his presentation to Landry and the trip for SG-9 was planned. It didn't take much asking for Daniel to be made a key player in that mission. The prospect was bittersweet for many reasons. Not only did this venture pale in comparison to actually visiting Atlantis, but at the time, he had the certain expectation of having to drag Vala along with him.

Vala. It had become quite difficult of late to avoid thinking about her for any length of time. Visions and memories of her had been floating unbidden through his consciousness again and again since he lost her. His insides felt turbulent whenever he thought of her, and strangely empty when he wasn't thinking of her. Now and again, she haunted his dreams, her last words to him echoing in his ears as a painful rebuke, You wouldn't listen to me, Daniel.

Daniel dropped his pen. Taking his glasses off, he put his face in his hands and sighed. Thoughts and memories of Vala flooded his brain again and as they did, conflicting emotions tore through him, as always.

The woman had twisted him up in knots when they were together, and now that she was gone, it was worse than ever. He was more confused now than ever before, his stomach twisted up in knots and his heart aching. He hated her, didn't he? She stole, lied, and never gave him a moment's rest with her relentless teasing, innuendo, and cheap propositions. She made him miserable in so many ways. So why did he miss her so much?

"Daniel, are you alright?"

Sam's voice broke him out of his reverie, and he lifted his face from his hands. He was surprised to find that his eyes were moist, and he blinked quickly, rubbing the bridge of his nose to keep the evidence from Sam. "Yeah, just a bit tired, I've been looking at this tablet a little too long. I'm fine," he lied, reaching for his glasses and placing them back on his face. He looked at her and smiled a fake smile.

Sam looked back at him, seeing the faint redness in his eyes. "Uh-uh," she said simply, and by her expression he could see she didn't believe a word of it. Sam knew him too well to be fooled; she could read him like a book. She walked into his lab and leaned on the other side of his bench, "You're doing so well that you didn't show up for SG-9's check-in." She turned her head and glanced at the clock on the wall beside her.

Daniel's gaze moved to follow and he sighed, the hand was now twenty past the hour. "Damn," he muttered softly, amazed at how the time slipped by. It would be another day before SG-9 phoned home again. Yet again, he had managed to miss another opportunity to study the Ancients, and yet again Vala had something to do with it.

Sam grinned at him with a knowing and playful look in her eyes. "The wormhole's still open, Daniel." He looked from the clock to her, confused. That check-in shouldn't have taken more than ten minutes. Her grin blossomed into an enigmatical smile, her eyes playful. Daniel looked at her and tilted his head, his brow furrowed as he tried to divine what she knew. She knew he was excited to hear news about the ruins, but there was something different going on. He could tell by the look in her eyes.

"Come on," she winked, moving towards the door. Still confused, he stood up from his bench and followed her out towards the Gateroom.

The command center of the Gateroom buzzed with the usual hum of activity, the myrad of monitors bathing the dimly lit room with an electronic glow. Many of the monitors overhead and some on the consoles showed the MALP camera view of rolling green, grassy land with the fallen walls of some forgotten structure in the middle of it all and a tree line off in the distance. Colonel Parker stood in the camera's view, talking with another member of SG-9.

The fluorescent lighting from the Gateroom washed into the bunker, doing little to brighten the room. Uniformed men and women went this way and that, tending to computer consoles and speaking with each other and on the phones. General Landry stood in the center of it all, his arms crossed as he spoke quietly with Teal'c and Cameron. Sam and Daniel walked up the stairs and Landry turned, grinning at them. "What kept you, doctor?" he called out. It was something of a rhetorical question; Daniel had gained a reputation for becoming readily distracted of late. Everybody knew why.

Daniel shrugged nonchalantly as he stuffed his hands in his pockets. "The tablet was rather engrossing. You see, the dialog was rather unique and given where we found it," Landry cut him off. "No need to overdo it, Daniel. We get the point." The general shared a knowing look with Sam, who hadn't stopped grinning since leaving Daniel's lab. Teal'c stood by with one of his rare, warm smiles.

Daniel looked from one to the other, more confused than ever. "What's going on?" he asked, starting to feel left out. Glancing out through the large panes of glass into the expansive room that sprawled out before the consoles, he saw gate with its closed iris the undulating blue light bathing the far wall. He asked further, "and why is the gate still open?" He hesitated, then added, "Tell me you didn't do this just for me."

Landry chuckled, "Well, we did, actually. We thought you'd want to see what SG-9 found. It turns out to be very rare, actually."

"One of a kind, really," Sam piped in, still smiling.

"Indeed, it is a most unusual finding and not something that one would expect in a place left by the Ancients," Teal'c added, his smile strangely persistent.

Daniel sighed. He was feeling guilty now. His friends were obviously overly concerned about him. He'd let this strange melancholy consume him since losing Vala. In spite of Sam's hope that the blackhole had taken her matter stream to the Ori galaxy, he firmly believed her lost forever. The thought of that caused such a turbulent array of emotions that he was left even more confused than he was when she was with him. Apparently he'd let it all go too far, though, since his friends were making such a strained effort to cheer him up.

Looking from Sam to Teal'c and Landry, and smiling at Cameron, he rubbed the back of his neck. "I could have just read the report. Really, it wasn't that big of a deal." His words didn't have the effect he was intending, and if anything made everyone's smiles grow and share more knowing looks. "I mean, really, I can't do anything now with whatever they've found. I need them to bring it back so I can see it and get my hands on it."

A disembodied, sultry female voice suddenly filled the room through the speaker system, "Now that's just the kind of thing I've been waiting to hear you say for a long time, Daniel." The voice was instantly familiar to the befuddled archaeologist, though his brain refused to process it at first. He furrowed his brow as he looked at his friends, none of whom said anything. The identity of the speaker was quickly confirmed by way of a face framed in dark hair suddenly thrusting itself in view of the MALP camera.

Daniel's jaw dropped open as he looked into Vala's smiling visage. The rest of the team shared knowing looks behind his back as she waved at them. Cameron clapped Daniel on the back, making the stunned archaeologist jump, though he never moved his eyes from the screen. "We told ya it was rare, Daniel."