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At first, she had caught him in flashes:
At the Gate, his lips pursed with pain.
In the field, his eyes filled with worry.
After the blast, his face marred with anger.
But it couldn't be him, not here, not now.
The attacks had happened without warning. They had bolted to the Gate, pounding through the tall grasses that stretched through the meadow. Jonas had already made it to the DHD, dialing home while she punched the current code to open the iris. She'd heard O'Neill's shouts, urging her and Teal'c to close the gap, and she'd heard his P-90 barrage the air with fire.
Sam knew it wasn't enough. The Jaffa were hiding in the cave walls of the mountains surrounding them. One by one, they would pick SG-1 off; the open platform by the Stargate left them vulnerable. The mission would be in vain.
She knew what she had to do.
Quickly, Sam handed her pack over to Teal'c. Between the volleys of shots, he glanced over to her, his face a mix of slight confusion and apprehension, before it melted into a stern understanding.
"I will not," he said, ducking as a blast charred the grasses beside him.
"I'll be okay," she told him, her tight voice betraying her. "We can't let Anubis get his hands on this technology. You know that."
Teal'c nodded. Though reluctant, he grabbed her gear and slipped through the grasses, zigzagging as enemy fire continued to rain down on them.
Between the grasses, Sam could see that Jonas was hiding behind the DHD, shooting at the caves, trying to provide them as much cover as he could. While she couldn't see Colonel O'Neill, she knew that he was nearby, obscured by the grasses, waiting for his team to reassemble so they could make one last break through the event horizon.
Sam wasn't going to back down.
When she was certain that Teal'c was close to Jonas and O'Neill, Sam dug into her vest and took out one of her two remaining flares. She only hesitated a moment before she grabbed her radio.
"Phoenix is coming home," she shouted, giving her most recent code for the Alpha Site. She snapped off the radio before O'Neill could order her back. Then, gritting her teeth, she ignited the flare and ran.
Immediately, the Jaffa concentrated their fire on her. She weaved through the grasses, placing as much distance between her and the Stargate as she could without sacrificing her advantage. However, as she continued to move, she felt the grasses beginning to thin. Sam found it more and more difficult to find shelter from the blasts. Only when she heard the Stargate snap off did she dart back into the thick of the grasses.
That proved to be a fatal mistake. As she dove into the grasses for more cover, one lucky shot hit her thigh, sending searing pain through her body. Sam cried out, her legs buckling underneath her as she hit the ground. All around her, she heard the buzz of movement, the Jaffa reassembling, coming down to snatch their prize or maybe even finish her off. And though she tried to bring herself back up, part of her felt the blow of defeat, of just wanting to know if this mission hadn't been in vain.
Neither option mattered right now. Already, she felt fuzzy, her head clouded while her leg throbbed with pain. Everything faded into the distance, and with a rush, she felt herself whizzing through the grasses as she lost consciousness.
Sam rested quietly, concealed in the shadows of an abandoned shack, trying to reconcile her reality with the one before her. Daniel finished dressing her wounds, more expertly than she recalled, with a gentle touch that spoke of years of experience. That made her wonder if she was hallucinating. She couldn't tell just how badly she'd been injured or if maybe this was something more.
"Daniel," she finally said.
He lifted his head, turning away from his work, and managed a small smile. While he was mostly obscured by the darkness, she could still see the twinkle in his eyes and the grooves on his face, familiar comforts that she hadn't realized she'd missed. He seemed too real for a hallucination.
"You can't be here," she said between heavy breaths. "It's impossible."
His smile softened. "I know you better than that, Sam."
He did know her. She didn't doubt he knew why she was here, either.
Sam swallowed hard, trying to keep the fogginess at bay, and ignored the doubts that threatened to overwhelm her. "I knew you'd come."
Daniel didn't say anything. He tied the bandana a little tighter around his head and sat back, slipping deeper into the shadows.
Sam wasn't sure how he did it. Somehow, Daniel had managed to take her past the meadows and back to the old ruins left by the settlers before they had reestablished a new settlement. Why he hadn't brought her back to the sparsely populated village beyond the ruins, she didn't know. Maybe the Jaffa had them cornered. Maybe he just couldn't.
She winced, feeling the pain radiate down her leg as she shifted. Daniel moved to intercept her, to keep her from fidgeting, but she shook her head. With some effort, she pushed herself against the wall while keeping her leg elevated. She ignored the pain and looked away from her mangled leg.
"Colonel O'Neill?" she asked, biting down the pain.
"I didn't see him," Daniel said softly. "I didn't see any of them." When she felt panic rising in her chest, he shook his head. "Just rest and stay with me. They'll be fine."
"Can you see it?" she found herself asking, unable to hold her curiosity despite the situation. "Can you see where they are or what will happen?"
When he frowned, the doubts Sam had were drudged up to the surface. Suddenly, she felt that maybe she had been wrong all along. It made her a little lightheaded.
Sam felt her body waver, but she snapped back to reality when Daniel grabbed her arm.
The worry sunk deeper into the lines on his face. "Sam."
She shook him away and breathed out, wiping the cold sweat from her brow. She would be okay. She just had to know.
"As an Ascended," she stated bluntly. "As an Ascended, you must be able to see and feel things differently."
Daniel remained silent.
Sam felt her anger start to outweigh her doubts, and she glared at him with determination. "According to the locals, Oager is a place where people can see the dead. Jonas and I theorized conditions were favorable on this planet to communicate with the Ascended." When he still didn't say anything, Sam scowled with frustration. "You can't be a hallucination."
Daniel looked away. There had been a time when Daniel would have jumped right in with her, arguing for this possibility and that, when she would stand by and refute him until they had met some common ground. He had always been the one to help her push past the mundane; she had always been the one to give substance to his lofty ideas. She refused to believe that he was gone, truly gone.
"Daniel, I did the research." Sam leaned forward and tried not to wince. "The magnetic field emitted by this planet allows various forms of energy to enter the visible part of our spectrum."
"So, that would make it easier for people to see those who have Ascended without the Ascended purposefully making themselves visible."
"Yes, exactly," she said.
He gave her a look of sympathy. "Sam…"
"I checked," she stressed. Sam ignored the voice inside her that begged for reason. She remembered O'Neill telling her that maybe this place made you see only what you wanted to see. She remembered Jonas interviewing the people and having conflicting reports. She remembered Teal'c looking for anything similar to Oma Desala's place but coming up empty. She glanced down to her fingers. "I checked," she repeated softly.
Just like many times before, Daniel slid near to sit beside her. He kept to a small distance, as he always did, but was close enough to help her take comfort in his physical support.
Then, he did something unexpected. He leaned closer and cupped part of her face with his right hand, using his thumb to rub away the dirt that smeared across her cheek. His hand was warm and smooth, smoother than she'd expected, but radiated a gentleness that calmed her.
She grabbed his hand and closed her eyes. "Orlin could take physical form." She squeezed harder. "Come back with us, Daniel. You're here now. You can come back."
She felt a sharp withdrawal and snapped open her eyes. Daniel kept his hand raised, lingering in the air for a brief moment, before he brought it to his lap. His eyes were sad – distant – as he gazed ahead.
"I can stay until the others come," he said quietly.
"You've taken human form," Sam said, her frown deepening. "Orlin couldn't go back."
Without a sound, Daniel reached over and grabbed her hand. He brought it to hover over him, hesitating for a second, the pain and uncertainty swelling in his eyes, before he sighed and pushed her palm against his chest.
Sam opened her mouth, but was speechless. Nothing. No thump. No pulse. No heartbeat.
She stared at him, stunned.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
"That's not possible," she finally managed as she paused to study his face. His eyes shimmered. His skin was tight and youthful. His long hair was pulled back away from his face and held in place by his bandana. For the first time that day, she realized just how much he looked like the Daniel she'd met years ago. Except for his eyes. There was something deep, something she couldn't explain in his eyes.
Not that it mattered. A sigh escaped her lips and she slumped into the wall behind her. Daniel was gone. He truly was gone.
"You can't be here," she mumbled. "All of you were destroyed."
"It's complicated," he said with a sigh. "There's always a way…"
Sam chewed her lip, watching his gaze became distant, almost pained. Then, another thought struck her. "Then there must be more of you. Colonel O'Neill, Teal'c, myself…"
To her surprise, Daniel shook his head. "No. I'm the last one. They're gone. The technology is gone."
He shook his head again. "Sam, it's not important. Just stay focused. Stay with me until they come.
This time, Sam didn't reply. When SG-1 had first encountered Avlis and her people, Sam had thought they would finally be able to see Daniel again. Though she had witnessed him transform and leave to go wherever he had to go, that scientific skeptical part of her couldn't accept that he was somewhere else, something else. He had died. They had watched him die. Reconciling his death with the possibilities beyond still caused her to stumble even with everything she'd seen and experienced.
This was going to be the proof. This was going to show her that he truly had lived on.
Now, that was just another impossibility.
Sam raised her head, intent on remaining strong. She bit back the pain, the dizziness, and the hurt she felt both outwardly and inwardly, and stared ahead, past Daniel. "I miss you."
"I miss you, too."
And she believed it. He wasn't Daniel. He never would be Daniel. But she believed him just the same.
She caught the robotic Daniel stiffen, his head cocked to the side as he listened to something she couldn't hear. Then his sad eyes were back on her and she knew that now it was time.
"I have to go," he said.
Part of her wanted to ask him to stay. Yet, Sam knew that wouldn't be fair to him or to the memory of Daniel. He would be just a replacement, her way of holding on. He would know it. Daniel – their Daniel – wherever he was, would know it.
She nodded, giving him her blessing. When he rose, she quickly grabbed his hand, holding him for one last time.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
He smiled again, but this time the pain was deeper and more intense. It was a smile of finality. Again.
"It's going to be okay, Sam. You'll see."
With that, he let go and before she had a chance to say goodbye, his body disappeared in a blur through the rotting doorway. Not even seconds after he had gone, she heard the thunder of boots on the rock as they approached. On instinct, Sam grabbed her P-90 and aimed for the opening. If this was going to be the end, she was going to go out with a bang.
One, two, three…
Sam let out a sigh of relief as Colonel O'Neill slipped through the opening. Armed and ready, he stepped over some debris in the room and moved toward her. Behind him, Jonas and Teal'c entered the shack.
Jack lowered his weapon when he realized she was alone and safe. "Carter?"
She breathed out again and wiped the sweat from her face. "I'm okay, sir."
"I'm glad we established that." He crept to her side and looked at her wound, wincing as he lightly touched the bandages. "Because if you ever pull a stunt like that again, I'll shoot you myself."
She chuckled, trying not to wince too much as the pain rattled her bones. O'Neill didn't look happy.
"You were supposed to meet me at the Alpha Site," she said, holding her leg.
"Like that was going to happen," Jack mumbled. He nudged his chin toward her wound. "How's the leg?"
"I'll be fine." She winced again. "You should have gone through the Gate."
Jonas raised his eyebrows. "You didn't think we were just going to leave you?"
She couldn't help but smile. To be honest, she never thought they would leave her behind. Only her concerns weren't for herself right now.
"The package?" she asked.
"It is secure," Teal'c answered, motioning to the knapsack on his back. "However, I do not believe we can keep the Ancient device concealed for long."
"We got Jaffa on our back," O'Neill explained.
Some of the panic Sam had felt early returned. "How many?"
"Oh, there's enough," Jonas said, motioning to the door. He came over to Sam and helped her to her feet, bringing one of her arms around him to help her up. "Are you going to be okay to walk?"
She nodded. She didn't have a choice.
"Good," O'Neill muttered, swinging her other arm around his shoulder. "There are Jaffa everywhere. It's going to take a mir—"
The explosion rocked the land, shaking the shack at its very foundation and bringing SG-1 to their knees. Sam bit back the howl of pain that begged to escape, a cry not just for her wounded leg, but for the life she knew had just ended.
"What the hell was that?" Jack asked, quickly helping Jonas bring Carter back to her feet.
"That was your miracle," Sam said, feeling a cold shiver.
He frowned with confusion, searching her face for an answer. But when he didn't receive one, he urged her and the rest of the team onward. They all knew they could use the explosion as a distraction so they could make it back to the Gate.
Together, the four of them crept out of the shack and into the sparsely grassed land, on the lookout for any activity. Just ahead and to their right, Sam noticed a blazing fire in the meadow, the smoke rising and blocking the line of fire from the mountain caves.
"Nice," O'Neill said, pressing her to move faster. "We just got our break. Let's go!"
They hobbled across the meadow, Teal'c taking point with his staff weapon in the event any stray Jaffa happened into their path. The four of them pushed and pushed, cutting through the singed grass. Ahead, the Stargate loomed with the sweet promises of escape, of comfort, and of home.
As Jonas broke away to start dialing, Sam stared ahead, studying every chevron with longing detail. It seemed like only yesterday she had discovered the beauty of its true function, but it seemed like a lifetime since she'd been able to feel that wonder and excitement. There were too many wounds, too much pain, too much loss.
Though, now that she had come to this planet and faced her hopes and fears, she felt refreshed. Nothing would ever be the same. The pain would still linger. But she knew that it was over and she could finally give Daniel the peace his memory deserved.
The Stargate sprung to life. Her head held high, Sam walked through the even horizon and promised herself she would put the past behind her.
Far above the Stargate, Daniel watched SG-1 slip through the event horizon. He sighed, part of him wishing to go after them.
"The longing remains," he heard her say.
Daniel stole a quick glance at Oma before bringing his attention back to the Stargate.
She didn't have to explicitly voice her disapproval. He could feel it emanating off her like heat from a cooling fire. He was getting bolder, more impatient. He'd nearly crossed the line with Jack and now he'd nearly done it again with Sam. It had taken a lot of finagling on his part to work through the loopholes in the system to restart Harlan's machinery and recreate an old copy of himself. Luckily, his expanding consciousness allowed him to cut some corners and create only his physical likeness without copying any of his old personality, thoughts, or memories.
The Others couldn't get mad at him for this. He had only inhabited an empty shell, after all. Technically, he hadn't really interfered. Besides, the likeness was gone.
He watched the event horizon disappear with a snap. "Is it true the technology Anubis was after can control Ascended beings?" he asked.
Oma gazed ahead with him. "Mere dreams in a landscape of impossibility."
"I'll take that as a no."
Though, the revelation was a relief to Daniel. Even if the device couldn't be used to force Ascended beings into the operator's control, he was glad that it wasn't in Anubis' hands. He didn't want to even consider the outcome.
Yet, as he continued to gaze down the empty meadow, through the fading fire and the dissipating smoke, he knew that if he trusted anyone in the world with the key to control his soul, it was Sam.
And that was enough to keep him going.