I dreamed of Abydos last night. I was caught in a deadly sandstorm, fighting against the wind and grit in the air, almost blind. Through the howling wind I heard a distant voice calling from behind me, from the city, but I didn't turn. My lungs ached and the sand slashed painfully against the exposed skin on my hands and face, but I kept moving. Something, I didn't know what, drove me forward, impossible step by impossible step. Suddenly ahead of me I saw a hazy figure. I started to push harder against the wind, running, stumbling. The figure shimmered, then became solid. I tried to cry out through the cloth around my mouth, but the sound was lost. I pulled the cloth down and took in a mouthful of sand, but I managed to croak out his name. "Jack!" I called. "Jack!" He didn't answer, just stood there staring at me. I reached out for him, was almost there, when he started to shimmer again. I lunged forward to grab him, but my arms closed around nothing but air.
He was gone.
I opened my eyes and found I was on the cot in my office, but I could still feel the sand choking me and the emptiness in my grasp, and I had an overwhelming urge to get out of the mountain and breath air, real air. I sat up, shoved my feet into my boots, grabbed my jacket and headed topside. The elevator ride seemed interminable, and when I finally got to the desk to sign out I think I was practically hyperventilating. A young kid I'd never seen but who obviously knew me said, oblivious to my distress, "Dr. Jackson, hold on a minute, please. Let me get your escort."
"I'm just going topside for a few minutes," I stuttered, trying to speak calmly, even though it felt as if the walls were closing in around me. "I'm not leaving the base. I don't need security." I knew even as I spoke that the young airman had no choice. Since that day on the way back from the cemetery, when security had spotted a "suspicious vehicle" that even more suspiciously sped off when it was approached, Landry had issued orders that I be assigned a guard every time I even think about sticking my head outside the door.
Which is why I haven't seen the sun in almost two weeks. Not our sun, anyway. It's just too much trouble.
"I'm sorry, sir," the guard―Owens, his name tag read―said. "Our orders are that. . . ."
I don't know if it was the dream, or just exhaustion or too much time in this damn gray box, but I almost lost it then, and I would have if Ferretti hadn't come by with Major Briggs at that moment. What they were doing there at oh-three-whatever in the morning, I had no idea, but Ferretti's appearance stopped my tirade before it could get started.
"Hey, Daniel, where you headed?" he asked calmly, as if it were perfectly normal for me to be signing out.
"For some air," I ground out, "if I could just. . . ."
Ferretti, who after Sam and Teal'c, probably knows me better than anyone on the base, had no trouble reading the situation. "Mind if I go with you?" he said.
I let out a long breath and nodded, a little too freaked out, still, to trust myself to talk. I really, really needed to get out of the mountain.
"Will that be all right, Airman?" Ferretti asked, turning to the guard.
"Sir, you really ought to be armed if. . . ."
"Airman," Ferretti said, and this time there was steel in his voice. It sounded odd coming from Lou―I guess I'd never, even after all these years, heard him use his "command voice"―but it was effective.
"Yes, sir," Owens said.
By the time we got out, I felt as if I were going to be sick, but I drew in great lungfuls of air, and gradually my heart settled back to normal and I didn't feel so dizzy. Lou didn't say a word, just gave me the space I needed. We were out on the hill, not far from where I'd contacted the Nox for the Tollan that night so long ago. I sat on a rock and closed my eyes and let the cold air surround me, and I just breathed.
Thirty minutes later, I was back inside, apologizing to Owens.
I asked Teal'c one day how he'd stood it, in those months after he'd first joined SG-1 but still hadn't gotten clearance to leave the mountain. He'd looked at me in that way he has, his long years of experience showing in his eyes, and didn't speak for a moment. Finally he said, "My situation was not the same as yours, Daniel Jackson. You must remember, when I first came to the SGC, I had lived for decades as a slave. To be able to traverse the corridors here, to go to the commissary when I desired nourishment and return to my room when I wished for solitude―to be able to speak my thoughts without risking death―this was more freedom than I had ever known."
Leave it to Teal'c to put things into perspective. It wasn't his intention, I know. He feels my isolation almost as keenly as I do, but his words resonated. I have to remember that, really, I am one of the lucky ones. I have a warm bed and full stomach. I have my life, and I have my work. And yes, I've lost people, so many people, that I've loved, but―and I never stop being grateful for this―I have Sam and Teal'c, and people like Ferretti here to watch my back.
That's what I tell myself, anyway. I'm one of the lucky ones.
Teal'c, Sam and I try to make our bond enough; we hold on to each other like lifelines. When we're not on a mission, Sam will stick her head in my office several times a day, if I'm not already sitting in her lab watching her work. Teal'c hovers over us both, ready to catch us should we falter, and Sam and I both join him in Kel'no'reem whenever we can. Sam stays on the base more often than she goes home, and Teal'c comes back more quickly than he should from his business on Dakara. A year ago I would have told them they were being silly, that I didn't need a babysitter, and I should probably tell them that now.
But I don't.
Jack's loss is a hole we can't fill, and we can't help but be changed by everything else that's happened. Sam is so much quieter, so much sadder, so much harder than the woman who left with Teal'c that day for the Ida Galaxy. She's all business on missions now, a soldier doing her job, a teammate watching our backs. I think she's considering transferring to Area 51, or would be, if she could take us with her. Here every hallway holds memories; every mission is a reminder.
And Teal'c, his anger is sometimes so close to the surface that most of the base personnel, consciously or unconsciously, cut a wide path around him as they pass. After all these years, despite everything he's seen, I think Teal'c had finally started to feel at home among the Tau'ri, had started to trust us, and others, like the Asgard. The trust is gone, and I know that hurts him more than he can say. I see his thoughts turn more and more to the Free Jaffa. He still finds hope there, something to strive for.
And me? I'm still passionate about the fight against the Goa'uld, of course. I will never let that go. But everything else just seems so . . . flat. General Hammond told me there might be a mission to Atlantis to contact the expedition, and he asked if I was interested in going. There was a time when I wouldn't have hesitated. A chance to see Atlantis and the wonders it must hold? It would have been a dream come true. Now, though, I just don't know. To go would mean to leave Teal'c and Sam behind, and I don't think I'm ready for that yet. None of us are.
And there's more, of course.
Sam and Teal'c have guessed, I think. They know something else brought me back here, that something else holds me firmly to the planet, despite all my reasons for leaving. I must have said her name out loud once, in a dream maybe, because Sam even asked me: "Daniel, who's Elena?" I just smiled and shook my head, and Sam didn't mention it again.
But I'm pretty sure she knows.
Elena, I hope wherever you are that you are happy, that someday you can smile when you remember me and not remember only the horror of our last day. I hope, at least, that you don't hate me, although you have every right. Maybe someday―
God, I'm an idiot. Elena would curse me for this. She'd damn me again for my pretty words, and tell me that they aren't enough. That they're no substitute for living, for loving, for staying. And she's right. She's right.
But sometimes words are all I have.
São Paolo, Brazil
Elena sat at her metal and glass desk in her two-bedroom flat, with its high windows looking out over the city. Her friends, her family, they'd all teased her, Elena Borques, the studier of ancient cultures, for selling the old, rundown place her parents had helped her buy when the children were small and moving into a new high rise, never mind decorating it with ultramodern furniture. But that was the way she liked it. The children were rarely home anymore, and hardly ever at the same time, so she didn't need the space. And somehow, the clean lines and stark rooms freed her mind, allowed it to roam more easily through the past. The distant past, that is. The recent past was. . . .
Elena shuffled through papers on her desk. Manoel had dropped by the sealed manila envelope that morning. He didn't say what was in it, but he didn't have to. She could tell by the look in his eyes. She'd considered dropping the whole thing in the trash―she'd told him, hadn't she, that she didn't want to know―but in the end, she couldn't do it. She needed to look inside.
Now she again picked up the grainy black-and-white photo on the top, obviously printed from the Internet. It showed a young man, slight, big glasses, long hair, a shy smile on his face. He looked so impossibly young and innocent, but there was no mistaking who it was.
"Dr. Daniel Jackson, Guest Lecturer" the caption said.
"Doctor," she repeated the word in English and smiled a little despite herself. She'd always thought Jacques had known way too much to be the amateur he'd claimed. She looked again at the bio Manoel had found, pulled from some old American university web page. Dr. Daniel Jackson. A triple Ph.D. By the time he was 22, no less. By the time he was 24, he had headed up digs much larger than their Upper Xingu site; before he was 30, he'd been offered a full professorship and was well on the way to becoming a respected Egyptologist. Having seen Jacques's brilliance firsthand, Elena had no doubt that if he'd stayed in academia, he would by now have been the top man in his field. But instead, he'd. . . .
She sighed as she picked up the small stack of articles from various journals, all dated some eight years ago. All of them, in some form or other, told the same story, most with a level of ridicule rarely found in professional journals. Some of the articles even suggested that he'd inherited the insanity of his archaeologist grandfather or never recovered from witnessing the death of his mother and father―archaeologists too―as a young child. Bastards, she thought now, remembering the picture of Jacques as a boy in Egypt, standing happily between his parents. How could they throw that in his face?
But she also knew her own stab of guilt, for as soon as she'd seen the articles, she'd felt the shock of recognition. She remembered the story. Barely into her teaching career, she and her friends had laughed at the Americanolouco apparently thought that aliens had built the pyramids so they'd have a place to land their spaceships.
Everyone had laughed.
Trying now to reconcile the man she knew with such a wild theory, she looked carefully at the transcript of the infamous talk, reprinted in full in one of the articles. She drew in a deep breath as she read. Far from the ravings she'd expected and thought she remembered, the lecture was, in fact, brilliant. Of course it was. Jacques―Dr. Jackson―laid out his theories clearly and concisely; he'd shown how the cross-pollination of cultures, evidenced by the discovery of Egyptian and other artifacts in far-flung parts of the world, did not fully fit any of the current models and explained, with facts that had to this day never been refuted as far as she knew, how he'd come to the conclusion that Egyptian civilization was far older than his colleagues or anyone else had theretofore thought. It was truly a masterly presentation.
Unfortunately, while he hadn't actually come out and said that aliens were responsible, there was no doubt that that is what he was implying as he ended his lecture―and, also, apparently, his career.
After that, there was no mention anywhere of Dr. Daniel Jackson and what had become of him. Nothing, nothing at all.
So what had happened? Had he truly lost his mind and joined some terrorist cell?
If she knew anything, she knew that Jacques was no terrorist. She got up and went to the closet in her bedroom and pulled the rucksack from the back. Jacques's rucksack. Saunders had found the bag the evening after the men in the helicopter had come. It had been leaning against a tree at the edge of the forest. Jacques had made it to the trees, was well on his way to escaping, but he'd come back. To protect them. To protect her.
She pulled out the journal, three-quarters finished, and flipped through the pages, as if this time she'd be able to miraculously read his strange code, but it was as impossible to decipher as always. Still searching for answers, she slipped out the three photographs he'd dropped that last day and brought the one of him standing with his friends, obviously the most recent, back to her desk. They had their arms over each other's shoulders, and they were smiling. There was an intimacy in their pose that spoke of trust and comfort, as if they'd known each other for years. And there was something else in the way they held themselves, something she couldn't quite put her finger on. A kind of competence and certainty, as if they'd taken on the world and won. Soldiers, she wondered? Saunders, before she'd screamed at him to leave her alone, had said he was certain Jacques was a soldier.
She brushed her finger lightly over Jacques's image in a kind of a caress. "Damn it, Jacques," she said out loud. "Who the hell were you?"
"Is that him?" a voice sounded behind her.
"Gabriela," Elena said, pushing the photographs away before she turned, "I didn't hear you come in. And who do you mean?"
"Him," Gabriela said, "the guy you've been mooning over since you got back."
"I don't moon over anyone, young lady. You know that."
Gabriela tilted her head and bit her lip, a gesture that made her look for all the world like the little girl Elena used to hold in her lap. "No," Gabriela said, sounding a little uncertain, "you didn't use to."
Elena considered keeping up the front. She formed the words in her mind, "It's nothing. He was no one," but she couldn't bring herself to say them. Whoever he was, whoever he had been, Jacques, beautiful, brilliant, kind Jacques, deserved better.
"No," she repeated instead, a sad smile on her face, "I didn't use to."
Gabriella looked at her mother, another question in her eyes, but she stopped herself and just nodded.
"I'm sorry, mama," she said.
Elena reached out to give her not-so-little girl a hug. "So am I, sweetie, so am I."
American Airlines Flight 2690, Rio to Miami
Reggie Saunders gave up, finally, on trying to sleep and shifted uncomfortably in the narrow seat. In less than an hour, they'd be landing in Miami. Assuming he made it through passport control without being arrested, two hours after that he'd be on a flight to St. Louis.
Damn, he was nervous. He hadn't been in the States in more than four years. Not since his marriage had disintegrated, and the IRS started sending him threatening letters about the taxes he'd neglected to pay, and that little side deal he was working with that weasel Hanks to try to raise the money turned out to be something less than legal.
He wondered if the pilot would maybe consider turning the plane around.
He felt the sudden slight change in air pressure and realized they were already starting their descent. Hell. He wondered if maybe, in a life full of stupid ideas, this was the stupidest. His wife hated him, understandably, for screwing around on her and then, adding insult to injury, skipping the country and leaving her with the huge tax bill and house payments she couldn't possibly keep up on her own. His brother thought he was a loser, his nieces probably didn't remember him, his mother would. . . . He frowned. His mother would probably welcome him home the way she always did, with a big embrace, and never mention the fact that he had written, two, count them, two letters to her in all those years, two letters with no return address. She wouldn't mention it, but he'd see it in her eyes.
And then of course there was the little matter of the possession of stolen goods charge that was still hanging over his head, swear as he might on a stack of Bibles that he thought his friend's electronics business was legit. His pal in the county clerk's office was pretty confident that an old Missouri bench warrant wouldn't show up when he went through immigration in Miami, but as the plane continued its descent, Saunders wasn't feeling quite so certain.
Yet here he was, heading home, hoping to some way, somehow, set things right.
Damn you, Jacques Perrault.
For if he was going to blame anyone, it would be Perrault. The man who, even with all his secrets, wore his heart on his sleeve. The man who saved Reggie's life and probably half a dozen others the day he knocked Reggie's gun aside and stood unarmed before an angry mob. The man who, scared sh**less―and who wouldn't be?―still walked back out of the rainforest into the hands of stone-cold killers, and, almost certainly, gave his life for theirs.
He figured he owed the man, and for the life of him, this was the only way he could think to repay him. He was going home, facing up to his past, clearing his name, trying to make it up to Maggie even if she would probably spit in his face. And, in jail or not, he was going to track down Hanson's wife and kids and do whatever he could to help take care of them. And he'd tell the kids about the pictures of them on their dad's desk in Altamira and how, wherever they'd been, in Afghanistan or Brazil, their dad never spoke more than three sentences without mentioning how great they were doing in school or how funny they were.
The seatbelt light came on, and Reggie glanced out the window at the fast-approaching coast. He downed the last of the Scotch from the plastic cup in his hand and clutched the armrest. He may have been this nervous without a gun pointed at him before, but he couldn't remember when. He closed his eyes and brought back the image of Perrault by that helicopter, beaten and bloody, barely able to stand, but still fighting, still talking for their lives. That was the image that had brought him this far and the image that would get him off the plane and into his uncertain future.
For the first time in a long time in his screwed up life, Reginald Bellows Saunders was going to try to do the right thing. It was the least that he could do.
Damn you, Jacques Perrault.
Thanks for reading, everyone.