Things aboard the Prometheus resembled barely-controlled chaos. "Bedlam" or "pandemonium" would have been close synonyms since it just wasn't normal for all of SG-1 to suddenly go missing at once. Colonel O'Neill had a tendency to disappear sometimes, especially when the Asgard were around, and Dr. Jackson, well, aliens loved him. The fact that all four members of the SGC's flagship team had disappeared and couldn't be transported back to the ship was cause for concern.
Walter knew better than anyone that SG-1 could handle anything thrown at them. How many times had he seen them come back from impossible missions? Sitting up in the control booth, he'd seen them come back from countless impossible missions. Sometimes they were a little banged up and bruised, sometimes they were a little traumatized, but they always came back and it was never very long before they were back to their old selves and ready to go on another mission. Now, it looked like they might not be coming back.
People working the transporters were trying everything they could think of to get them back. They could get a lock on all four members of SG-1, but whenever they tried to transport them, the transportation wouldn't even engage.
"I don't want to have to tell the general that his best team's not able to transport up," one of the techs said as he examined the transporters. "He's liable to have that apoplectic fit he's been threatening."
"Let's not borrow trouble until he's actually having that fit," another tech said. "Then we'll worry about it, all right?"
"I can't help thinking about it," the first one said. "He did say that he didn't think he could stand much more of having SG-1 in trouble. Didn't he retire once because of all the worrying he had to do?"
"But he came back," the second tech said. "Like I said, don't worry about it until it's a problem. Let's focus on the problem at hand."
"As far as I can tell, there's nothing wrong with the transporters. They're in top condition, but something's going wrong."
"I'm thinking it's the aliens who have Dr. Jackson," the second tech said. "They're pretty advanced since they were able to stop the Gate from dialing, so it stands to reason that they could stop transporters. Now, the problem we have is to figure out how they're blocking them and override it."
"Nothing's changed in the programming here, so there has to be something they've done down on the planet."
"Okay, I'll have people start scanning for any anomalies, see if there's anything we can work with or switch off. You keep working here and let me know if anything changes."
Walter didn't have to see into these guys' heads to know that they were as worried about SG-1 as everyone else was. Everyone was wearing the same strained look and more than once Walter had seen someone jogging his or her leg up and down, a sure sign of trying to work out excess stress.
For once, Walter was very, very glad that General Hammond was back on Earth. If he were actually on the ship, Walter was sure that there would be a lot of people approaching breakdowns.
"What do you think is going on in there?" Jack asked as he paced. He, Carter, and Teal'c were all in the living room, asked to wait there by Daniel while he spoke to his "parents." Needless to say, the waiting was starting to get to him.
"A lot of talking, O'Neill," Teal'c said. "It is likely that they are explaining."
"They'd better be," Jack said darkly.
"Yeah, Daniel deserves it," Sam stated. "They've put him through hell I couldn't imagine, so he's definitely owed some explanations."
The two men looked at her. Usually, Sam didn't get angry. Not like this, anyway.
"Carter?" Jack said cautiously. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she said rigidly. "Why?"
"I dunno, it just seems like there's something wrong," Jack said. "Like something's bothering you."
"What would be bothering me?" Sam demanded, getting to her feet and pacing. "The fact that my very good friend Daniel, who has already been through countless versions of earthly hells through no fault of his own, finds himself in yet another type of hell due to two aliens who don't know how to take a hint—why should that bother me?"
"Hey, I think that's a very good reason to be bothered," Jack said quickly. "It's a perfect reason to be bothered. You don't need to justify it."
"It just ticks me off," she complained, picking up a pillow and pitching it across the room. "What did he ever do that he deserves to have the universe treat him like this? Not only is he forced to live through the worst moments of his life more than once, he's been tortured, kidnapped, held prisoner, injured, and now he's having his head played with by two aliens with delusions of parenthood!"
"Major Carter, are you worried how Daniel Jackson will cope with this?"
"Of course I'm worried!" she snapped. "You weren't there when the Gamekeeper was messing with his head and making him witness his parents' deaths over and over again! You didn't see his face or have him throw himself into your arms after seeing it again! I couldn't stand it then and I can't stand the fact that they've dug up all these old memories! It just isn't fair to Daniel! It's not!"
She sank into a chair and hugged a pillow, her eyes swimming with tears.
"He's one of the kindest people I've ever known and it's like the universe can't give him a break! Something always has to happen to him!"
"Carter, we know how you feel," Jack said. "Trust me, there's quite a few times when I've been tempted to do something to protect Daniel."
"I, as well," Teal'c said. "Daniel Jackson is an individual that is easy to care for and worry about."
"Yeah, I've suggested a few things to Hammond in order to keep Daniel safe," Jack said, hoping that Sam would take the bait.
She did. "Like what, sir?" she asked, wiping her eyes.
"Maybe a plastic bubble," Jack said. "You know, a big one with a computer and lots of books and maybe a coffee dispenser."
Sam cracked a watery smile, glad that her CO was kind enough to try to amuse her out of her teariness.
"What?" Jack asked, seeing her smile.
"I don't think Daniel would stand being kept in a plastic bubble, sir," she said.
"Okay, where would you guys put him to keep him safe?" he asked.
"I would protect Daniel Jackson in a reinforced underground bunker," Teal'c said. "The walls would be covered with script for him to translate so he would be occupied."
Sam chuckled and hugged her pillow. "Good idea, Teal'c, but I don't think translating it would take him very long. Once he'd finished he'd be searching for a way out."
"Okay, what would you suggest, Carter?"
Sam thought about it. "A library. I'd try to keep Daniel in a very big, very safe library."
"Sounds perfect. Do you think the government would be willing to loan us the Library of Congress?"
Sam threw her head back and laughed while Teal'c and Jack chuckled. It looked like Jack's attempt to cheer up his 2IC had worked.
"I don't think so, sir, but it's a nice thought."
"Indeed," Teal'c said. "It would be nice to know that Daniel Jackson is safe, but I do not think he would stand for being locked up in an effort to make him so."
Sam nodded. "Yeah, doing something like that would make us no better than anyone else who's tried to keep Daniel prisoner."
"Tempting, though," Jack said. "Waaaaay tempting, don't you think?"
If SG-1 could have known the directions General Hammond's thoughts were taking, they would have laughed. At the moment, George found himself considering a way to get Daniel to take some downtime just so he would be out of danger for a while.
If I were still young and still had hair left, it would be gray by this point with all the worrying I've done about that boy, he thought, reviewing Daniel's file. Daniel wasn't a boy, but he certainly brought out the same protective tendencies that everyone usually reserved for children. Whenever something happened to Daniel, the entire base seemed to worry.
Why did crises often come so quickly after one another? Just before SG-1 had gone to 554 they'd gone to another planet that had been full of perils for Daniel. The society had been a feudal one, similar to Simarka with a clan structure, but the people there had lived in cities and lived in a matriarchal culture. Oddly enough, the feudal culture didn't do much feuding. Instead, the lady overlords of each city attended a council meeting every six months, and it was because of those frequent meetings that there was peace.
SG-1 had arrived on the planet just as the council was meeting, which was good, since they got to talk to all the leaders at once, but it was bad since all of the leaders were in the same place, including one woman who thought Daniel would make the perfect husband for her.
That poor, poor man, Hammond thought with a bit of amusement. It was clear she fell head over heels for him and thought they should get married right away, but it was a bit of a shock for her when Daniel didn't share her views.
It had been a big shock for her, but it was an even bigger shock for SG-1 when they learned that it was acceptable for women to kidnap the men they wanted and make them their husbands. It was more than accepted, young women were actually encouraged to do it so their mothers didn't have to worry about locating suitable husbands for them.
According to Major Carter's and Teal'c's reports, Colonel O'Neill swore a blue streak when he found out that Daniel had been kidnapped and none of the locals were going to do anything about it, he remembered.
Daniel had spent a very tense week in that woman's compound while SG-1 negotiated for his release. Once they had explained the situation several times and the woman had heard Daniel's views, she let him go. Still, she'd offered to have him as her husband should he ever change his mind.
What was it that Daniel had said to Jack once they were back? He'd have to be a glutton for punishment before he accepted her offer? That could have been it.
Hammond had sent them off to 554 two weeks later hoping that a new mission would take away the nervous look Daniel had been wearing since his previous mission, but then his parents had shown up in the base…
He sighed. Sometimes, life just wasn't fair for the people how most deserved to have a fair life. Hopefully, something would change for the better for Daniel.
Daniel sat on the edge of his bed, his "parents" in chairs across from him. He sat very still and told himself to take deep, calming breaths. It's going to be all right, he told himself. You'll be fine. It was odd, but he didn't feel fine. No, instead, he felt like crying. Scratch that, he felt like having a full-blown, all-out tantrum, one with plenty of kicking and screaming and throwing things. It wasn't dignified or how an adult should react, but that was what he wanted to do.
They weren't his parents. He knew that and he'd known it all along, so why was he so upset? Why did he feel as if the world had turned against him yet again?
"Danny?" Claire said, looking at him with concern. "I know you aren't all right."
"I'm okay," he lied. "I'm fine."
The explanation of their motivations and how they'd done what they did hadn't taken long. Forty-five minutes or so at the most. It was the rest of their explanations that took a while and left him feeling as if someone had pushed him off a cliff.
"Daniel, you do understand what we've told you, right?" Melburn asked, sounding nervous.
"Yeah, I understand," he said quietly. "You're both…members of the 'elves' here, which means you're part of an advanced alien race. When humans were transplanted here by the Goa'uld you took them under your protection and drove the Goa'uld out. The humans didn't understand what you were and called you elves and since then you've been content to be in that persona."
"And what did we tell you about us and you?" Claire prompted.
"Your people could sense unhappiness in me, so you all decided that it would be good if I got to see my parents again. The two of you took on their likeness and searched my mind for knowledge of them so you would appear convincing and you followed me to Earth. When it appeared I was resisting you and couldn't seem to accept who you were, you used your other abilities to get into my mind and help me accept you as my parents. You used those same abilities to keep my mind fogged so I wouldn't think too much about it and then to bring me here."
"That's our scholar," Melburn said.
Daniel pursed his lips in thought. "There's just one thing I don't understand," he said quietly. "You know I know the truth; why are you keeping me here?"
Claire looked sad and Melburn put an arm around her. "There's a good reason for that," she said. "You see, when we're in a form other than our own, we take on the thought processes and emotions of the form we adopt. If we take on a specific person's form, we begin to think like that person and behave like that person. Most importantly, we begin to feel like that person would. We wanted to keep you here because…" she trailed off, as if uncertain of how to say it.
"We kept you here because we were afraid of losing you, Danny," Melburn said. "What we feel for you is what your parents—your real parents—would feel at the thought of their only son leaving and not coming back. Neither of us could bear it. We couldn't bear the thought of the SGC separating us from you, so we brought you here. You would have a much harder time going away from here and we wouldn't lose you so quickly."
Daniel looked at them and he could tell that they were close to tears. Melburn kept swallowing and Claire was blinking a lot. His parents always did those things when they were trying hard not to cry or let their emotions get away from them.
Daniel nodded. "I see."
Both of them looked at him, their expressions incredulous.
"No, I really do understand," Daniel hastened to reassure them. "I understand why you did what you did and I accept your reasons."
Melburn swallowed a few more times and brought his eyes up with an effort to meet Daniel's. "Can we hope for forgiveness, Daniel?"
Daniel looked at them, from Melburn to Claire and back again. "I don't know yet," he said honestly. "I still have questions."
Claire sat up straight and gave him her attention. "We'd be happy to answer them, Danny."
"If I told you that I still wanted to leave, what would happen?"
Claire's eyes shot off a rapid-fire blink and Melburn's Adam's apple bobbed up and down a few times before he got control of himself. "We would let you go," Melburn admitted, and it was clear to Daniel that each word had to be forced from his throat.
"Would you follow me back to Earth?"
"Not unless you wanted us to," Claire said, her voice hoarse.
"Before I left here, would you do anything to me that would make me want or need to return?"
Both of them shook their heads. "No." "No, sweetheart."
"Would you try to contact me later in an effort to bring me back here?"
"No," Melburn assured him. "We wouldn't do that."
"How do I know I can trust you?" Daniel wanted to know. "After all the things you've done, how can I know you're telling the truth?"
Neither of them knew what to say. Daniel had a point, they knew it, and he knew it.
"For what it's worth," Claire said at last. "Our people can give you the assurance that they would make sure we would do nothing after you left. They would abide by your wishes. In essence, you are refusing the blessing, so they must accept the situation and enforce it."
Daniel got up and started to pace, his mind working furiously. All of their explanations made practical sense, but there was something that didn't quite fit and something that he wasn't seeing. It was important and he could tell that it had to do with everything they'd done so far, but what was it? He looked at Claire with her tear-filled eyes and then looked at Melburn with his grim face and stopped mid-pace as something became clear to him. A jigsaw made up of what he'd seen and heard since this whole mess began to put itself together in his mind and completed the picture. Could it be that simple?
"One more question for right now, and I want you to answer it one-hundred percent honestly," Daniel said quietly.
They waited, expecting a verbal ax to fall.
"Do you love me?"
Claire finally burst into tears and Melburn hugged her, tears pouring down his face.
Daniel waited and let them cry. It looked like they needed to do it. When he saw that they were having trouble stopping, he went to his dresser and took a few handkerchiefs out of the top drawer and handed them to them. His gesture made them both break down again.
"Please don't cry," he said at last. "Did I…did what I say hurt you?"
Melburn shook his head. "No," he choked out. "You didn't hurt us, Danny."
"Then what is it?" he asked, beginning to get rather worried.
"We love you," Claire gasped, trying to get herself under control. "Oh, Daniel, we both love you so much."
Daniel looked at them, Claire with her face buried in the handkerchief and Melburn trying to comfort her. "So that's why you didn't want to let me go," he said. "You love me."
Claire nodded wildly, almost bashing her head on Melburn's chin while he nodded as well. "We love you, Daniel," he said, looking at the younger man. "We love you as if you were our own son. Before we took on human form, we didn't realize how strong human emotions could be or how deeply they could affect us. We can tell that those feelings will remain the same even after we change back to our normal forms and others of our kind have confirmed that that is what will happen. Those feelings for you are why we're so reluctant to let you go."
Daniel tilted his head to the side and considered this. "You're saying you'll miss me."
Claire lifted her face from her handkerchief and looked at him. "Yes. We will miss you very, very much."
"But we understand why you wish to return home and why we should not have taken you the way we did," Melburn added. "We understand."
Daniel was quiet and took his seat on the bed, leaning back against the pillows and headboard. He was thinking very, very hard. Claire and Melburn waited, sniffing occasionally, but they were quiet, letting him think. They remained quiet as he got to his feet and paced again and they were still quiet when he stopped and looked at them.
"You love me." This time it wasn't a question.
"Yes," they both said, one after another.
"Would you do something for me?"
This surprised them. "Of course," Melburn said while Claire nodded. "What is it?"
"I'd like it if you could help me say goodbye to my parents," he said after a moment. "I didn't get the chance to say goodbye when they died. Just after I say goodbye, I'd like you to become yourselves. Will you do that for me?"
Melburn looked confused. "Say…goodbye?" He thought about it and he seemed to understand. "Yes, I think we could do that. Claire? What do you think?"
She nodded, smiling. "Yes, Danny, I think we could do that."
Daniel smiled. "Then I'm ready now."
They both stood and held out their arms and Daniel all but flew into them, content to let them embrace him.
"I love you, Mom and Dad," he said, hugging them back. "I'm sorry I was bad sometimes. I loved you even when I was being a brat. I'm sorry I got angry when you left me and I'm sorry I hated you when you died and left me alone. Even when I was angry I loved you both more than I can tell you."
He felt Claire kiss his forehead and felt Melburn run a hand over his hair.
"I know you can't stay with me," he said, fighting tears. "I will miss you, but I know you have to go. I know it's past your time to leave. I understand. I'll think of you often and remember you as you were and I'll be happy. You won't have to worry about me; I'll have Jack and Sam and Teal'c as my friends. They'll take care of me just as I take care of them. Thank you for letting me say goodbye this time. I love you."
"We love you, too, Danny," Melburn said, wrapping him in a bear hug and pressing his lips to Daniel's temple. "We'll miss you, son."
"Oh, sweetheart," Claire breathed, kissing Daniel's cheek and holding on as if she never wanted to let him go. "We love you. We love you so much."
"I know," Daniel said, his throat tight. "I love you, too. Goodbye, Mom and Dad."
"Goodbye, son. Goodbye, Daniel. We love you."
Daniel felt the arms release him just as he stepped back and light filled the space where his parents had been. He waited, squinting, but then he had to put up a hand to shield his eyes. The light faded after a long few moments and he took his hand away. In the place of his parents stood two people who looked as if Tolkein had called them into being.
"Hello," Daniel said. "My name is Daniel. I'm a peaceful explorer from a place called Earth. What are your names?"
The male "elf" smiled. "I am Lidanas. This is my wife, Yarenna. We are pleased to meet you, Daniel."
Daniel smiled. "As am I. May I ask what your people call themselves?"
"We are of the people Eolinath," Yarenna said. "What do your people call themselves?"
"We call ourselves humans, or Tau'ri," he answered. "We are exploring the galaxy in order to learn more about other worlds."
"You are welcome here, Daniel of the Tau'ri," Lidanas said, smiling. "You and your friends are welcome. As the representatitves of the Eolinath, we have the authority to tell you that our people have heard of you and wish you as allies. As the first of the Eolinath you've met, it is our honor to offer you the protection and companionship of our family. In essence, acceptance on your part would cause others of our kind to recognize you as our child and would grant you the same rights as someone of our kind."
Daniel blinked and realized what they were saying. "If you would like to have me, then I'd be honored."
They held their arms out as an answer and Daniel stepped into them. As he felt their arms wrap around him, he could sense their overwhelming love for him. It was as if he'd found some measure of home.