"A Moving Sea"
Missing scenes for SGA "First Contact" and "The Lost Tribe." Daniel's trip to Atlantis is motivated by more than pure research, much more than a desire to find Janus' lab. Is he burning bridges or is he searching for the boundaries of his connections, fingering the bruised edges of his friendships, and craving absolution in discovery?
"Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it be a moving sea between the shores of your souls." Kahlil Gibran.
He drew a deep breath, letting the broad vista of swarming light fill up his mind. The emptiness of the room, the noiseless hum that crept along his muscles from where the soles of his feet connected with the deck, the darkness at his back – they all spoke to him of space and silence, of the peace that was night aboard the Daedalus. And night gave him freedom, freedom from his expected role of prophet and legend, from the mask he assumed under the watching eyes of the crew, from the mantle of SG-1, the opener of the 'gate, the sorrowing scholar, the de-Ascended One. Here, now, standing before the awe-inspiring flow of hyperspace, watching the galaxy slip by around him, here, he could be simply Daniel.
It had been some time since he'd traveled alone. The space at his sides seemed still crowded with ghosts, with teammates old and new, with playful banter, fleeting touches, and the warmth of belonging. But through the years the team had dwindled even as it grew, bonds fraying to memories of connections, and the particular space into which he himself had fit was worn and ragged. His office felt dry and brittle, not the comforting home he'd once wrapped around him like a blanket; the faces he passed everyday were blank masks, without life or meaning. Or, more probably, it was he that was disconnected. Life under the mountain had transformed him from a living man into a gruff, crusty troll – a thing of story and fable instead of bone and blood, thought and love and fear.
One hand pressed against the metal bulkhead between the floor to ceiling window, Daniel's thoughts were thrust into the past, to warmer days beneath double suns, to comfortable nights forcing down Air Force MREs around a fitful campfire, to losses and griefs and friendships hard-won and connections welded strongly by the unimaginable. Faces flitted by, each one surrounded by the context of affection, hate, love, denial, loyalty, bitterness, sorrow. Strong, resilient filaments had grown around his heart, connecting him relentlessly with the few who he had let inside, who had accepted his flawed hopes and selfish dreams and all the rest of the complex light and dark that made up his soul.
Sam. Sister. Mother. Sounding board and competitor. A study of contrasts, logical ambiguities and random regularity. Air Force blue blood in her veins. She'd liked him better when he was too young, too wounded, too naïve and hopeful to fit in. When she could lead him by the hand or wrap her arms around him to hold him together. And when the sometimes friendly, sometimes nasty competition between them hadn't yet shifted to private jealousy and secret wishes.
Teal'c. Unwanted brother and fixed point of grief in Daniel's life. Every deep wound in his heart was connected, somehow, to the Jaffa warrior's hands. And yet, the bright blaze of their connection, at least, had never dimmed. Teal'c was both the most and least complicated of all of them. A true friend.
The General. Daniel smiled to himself. No matter who sat in the office or signed the paperwork, there would only ever be one General in Daniel's memory. George Hammond. Grandfather, mentor, overseer of Daniel's maturation. Passionate protector, straight-talking confidant. The man Daniel dreaded disappointing more than any other.
Mitchell and Vala – strange, ill-fitting step-siblings that had, despite Daniel's best intentions, scraped out places within his heart. Vala, the flirting dilettante who bore hidden scars as deep – deeper – than his own. And Mitchell; flyboy, partner, sometime fan turned rock who'd given Daniel someone to follow who never demanded submission.
Leaving only … Jack.
Masked with the simple, shallow façade he showed to the world, Jack O'Neill was a complex mix of friend and foe that filled Daniel senses with the heady feeling of home and love and acceptance even while Jack shoved him away with cruel and cunning purpose. His teasing dance with Sam, his stormy presence at Daniel's side, the effortless way Jack had of demanding all of Daniel's attention and devotion, had smoldered, spat, until, finally, the last spark died.
Something had told him to touch each of those threads connected to his heart before this trip – before they were frayed by time and distance. A night on the town with Mitchell and Vala. A time of quiet repose within Teal'c's new home among his Jaffa brothers. A long talk with Sam. A few hours at George Hammond's bedside, sharing what might be the last warm words a truly great man ever spoke to him.
The visit to Washington didn't work out quite as well.
And, barely days into this three week journey aboard the Daedalus, Daniel wondered why he'd finally decided to take this step. To let go of the half-life he'd been clutching so tightly, and, finally, finally, set his sights on Atlantis. To go to the place that had been at the end of so many of his searches, to the place the Ancients had built with their own hands and that had tugged at him since Elizabeth Weir and Rodney McKay took that first giant step five years ago.
The familiar bitterness burst across his tongue. Atlantis. Daniel's discovery – his destiny – denied to him by those who had claimed to know better. First Jack. And then Landry. Weir. Mitchell. Sam. Woolsey. Every one of them become a barrier to his search, every one of them setting up roadblocks on a path that shone as clear as moonlight on a Minnesota lake before Daniel's eyes.
Then Daniel had found Janus's notes. Mere footnotes in the vast, bottomless archives that he'd studied in every quiet moment between crises, with every deep breath allowed to him amidst other people's priorities and among every crumpled handful of images thrust out to him by eager SG teams and complacent commanders who believed that Daniel Jackson's time belonged to them. That Daniel himself was a tool, a reference book, a resident brain that turned on when his office door was opened like some quarter-eating mechanical fortune teller at the arcade. A resource that they were shocked each and every time to find came connected to a troublesome mouth and bothersome morals.
The Goa'uld. The Replicators. The Ori. Always another enemy, another puzzle, another threat, another reason he had to stay. Until now; until the Ark of Truth. The secret weapon that had left flesh and blood unwounded and yet had torn the hearts and souls of Priors into small bleeding scraps. He'd seen them with his own eyes, watched the jibbering wrecks hunched into shuddering balls; he'd witnessed the screaming grief, the empty self-loathing, the infantile mewling that replaced arrogance and bravado and militant, wild-eyed faith. He'd held some tightly against his chest as they'd wept, pleading for forgiveness. He'd restrained some who were crazed and violent. And he'd cut some down from self-made hangman's ropes. For many – so achingly, mind-numbingly many – he'd been too late and could only stand over their corpses, their graves, after they'd been ripped to pieces by their own followers.
He'd hidden within his research before; turned his back on the sorrow, the torturous chaos of the world for his own world of books and words and languages. And, for whatever reason, these tidbits, these random scrawlings about Janus, the Ancient scientist, the rebel, the freethinker who had found a way to confuse and confound those who would rein him in – they had reached out to his emotionally exhausted mind and untangled themselves into meaning amongst the madness, just when he'd needed it the most.
The same day the letter came.
A figure seemed to solidify out of the dark reflection of the window, ghostlike. Daniel raised his head, straightening aching shoulders without turning.
Something like a smile slashed across Colonel Steven Caldwell's strong face. "Now I see why some of the mess crew have reported that we have a poltergeist aboard."
Eyelids heavy, Daniel glanced down at the empty cup in his hand and smiled. Commissary workers must be the same everywhere, counting sugar packets and lining up cream pitchers with OCD-like absorption. He knew he had never left a mess, but he hadn't exactly tried to cover his tracks, either. "Sorry."
Caldwell shrugged, hands slanting into the pockets of his flight suit. "Not a problem. You're free to come and go as you please."
He ducked his head in a grateful nod. "Can't imagine spending three weeks in quarters," his eyebrows rose as he locked eyes with the other man's reflection. "Really can't imagine how you and the crew manage on a full time basis."
Caldwell stepped to the other edge of the broad window, gaze searching the streams of color beyond the clear sheet as if he could see familiar patterns in the torrents of energy. Then again, maybe he could, Daniel thought.
"We have the same kind of schedule as deployed Navy. And probably just about as much 'personal space.'"
Daniel didn't have to look to see the wry twist of his mouth.
The silence stretched – not uncomfortably. Daniel allowed himself to be drawn back down into the emotional morass within him.
"The only thing I really miss is the sky."
The colonel's words shifted Daniel's focus to the present. Daniel couldn't help but notice that, in a trick of optics, their two figures' reflections seemed to stand side by side, shoulders nearly brushing, not separated by the cold, two meter width of the window. He shivered, frozen space seeping into him through the thin barrier via his shoulder and hip. He cleared his throat, reaching for normalcy. "The sky?"
For the first time, Caldwell turned his head and the two faced each other. "Can't step out on the deck and feel the sun on your face, the wind across your skin."
Daniel breathed deep as if he could pull in the scent of the sea. "You've served on ships before."
Caldwell dipped his head. "Aircraft carrier in the Gulf."
His nail scraped at a dried smear of coffee on the rim of the cup. "You miss it?"
A chuckle hitched the colonel's shoulders up, once. "When I've got this?" He shook his head. "And Atlantis is like the world's biggest carrier. With much better accommodations."
Daniel had barely had a taste. A year ago, deeply entrenched in the battle with the Ori, he'd made this journey; on another ship, with another commander, surrounded by the noise and energy and distraction of his team. He'd stood on the bridge and drank in the first sight of the pale blue planet, the ethereal spires of Atlantis gleaming in the sunrise. But he'd been so busy, so focused, that the striking colors and shapes, the crystal and glass and fragile looking architecture had registered simply as the offhand thought that Frank Lloyd Wright must have been an Ancient.
And now, the weight of his victory bending him like an old man, Daniel could only remember losses. Paul Emerson. Merlin. Morgan Le Fay. He longed to stand on the Atlantis pier and breathe the ocean of another world, to feel the sun against his skin and trail his fingers along the Ancient's city come alive again, and to, finally, take the steps long denied him into the Ancient world, to take the ATA therapy and feel their technology come awake beneath his hands as their language and thought did in his mind. To claim life instead of the death that stalked his dreams and drove him from his bed into the cold, clanging corridors of the Daedalus.
"I've always kinda wondered why, with all the trips O'Neill has made, with Colonel Carter's command, even Teal'c visited - why you …" Caldwell let the question trail out into silence as if giving voice to his curiosity would have diminished something between them.
The fuse of Daniel's anger hadn't been quite snuffed out and he felt his jaw clench, his hands gripping the coffee cup, and knew, by the unsettled twitch of the colonel's brow that his eyes blazed with too much intensity. "It's not as if I haven't tried, Colonel," he managed to grind out with more control than he imagined he was still capable of.
They'd fought him – again – as if it was a knee-jerk reaction, as expected as saliva from Pavlov's dogs. Landry, who had always treated Daniel as if he was a barely tolerated millstone that Jack O'Neill had hung around his neck, had waved him off with an unconcealed grimace. Mitchell had listened and nodded with that flash of unease behind his eyes that accompanied any suggestion that Daniel's place might expand beyond the confines of the new/old SG-1. Sam, still smarting from her recall, had been adamant that Daniel not get mixed up in the politics and posturing of the IOA, nor put himself into a position to be used.
And then there was Jack.
Best friend, cold-eyed stranger, big brother, verbal sparring partner – Jack O'Neill had blandly raised one eyebrow and sighed.
"What, this again? Bored, are we?" he'd sniped from behind a desk – a desk – in the Pentagon. A thousand miles from beer and pizza and hockey and warmth beneath Colorado skies.
Daniel had sat stiffly in the well appointed office and studied the man who he'd stepped into the unknown beside for nearly ten years. The man who he'd died to protect before they'd even said hello. Who had challenged and taunted and held him together through failure and victory, and had long taken up residence within Daniel's heart. And then had walked away.
He remembered watching from the control room, watching the eighth chevron of the 'gate address connect, watching the stream of humanity slip through the wormhole to Pegasus. He'd watched, silently, at Jack's side. Remembered how deep the wound had stabbed that Weir and McKay hadn't wanted him, hadn't even approached him about joining them. How Jack had smirked and smiled and waggled his ridiculous finger, never allowing the question to be fully formed on Daniel's lips.
"You approved it once," Daniel had reminded him.
Jack had shaken his head. "And then your little groupie came through and put the kibosh on that plan. Ever think that was the Great Bird of the Galaxy's way of telling you to stay home?"
Jack had sighed, that world-weary, Daniel-Jackson-veteran sigh that fired Daniel's anger and turned his words icy and sharp and capable of drawing blood.
"I will go this time, Jack. Whether you or Landry like it or not." The letter had been a blistering, searing coal in his pocket. "The Daedalus leaves in 48 hours. I plan to be aboard by this time tomorrow."
"Oh, you do, do you?" Jack had matched him, stare for stare, still under the mistaken impression that Daniel would back down before his sarcasm, his arrogant assurance that the stars on his shoulders should sway him where the last lingering ties of their friendship did not.
Daniel had stood, nodding. "Yes, I do. With absolutely nothing to keep me here, I'm sure the President will approve a short term posting to Atlantis if you don't."
He hadn't waited. Hadn't turned back. "I'm done playing, Jack," he remembered muttering as he snagged his coat from the rack and strode down the hallway, his military escort hustling to catch up.
The guard at the first checkpoint was just replacing the telephone in its cradle when Daniel flashed his ID. "Doctor Jackson? General O'Neill has ordered, uh," he swallowed and shifted his weight awkwardly, gaze going back to the phone, "has asked if you would mind waiting a moment while his assistant inks your new orders."
Ten minutes later he'd tucked the folder containing Jack's orders into his briefcase and the envelope with his name hastily scrawled in familiarly bad handwriting into his pocket. Right next to the other one he intended to ignore.
"Well, for what it's worth," Caldwell's words drew him back – again, "it's good to have you aboard."
Daniel glanced a 'thank you' in his direction.
The colonel straightened. "And, my door is always open."
Daniel's gaze returned to the aurora of light clouding the window. Caldwell seemed like a good man, but trading war stories – that was simply not going to happen. "Sorry, Colonel. I'm an archaeologist; rehashing the recent past doesn't hold much appeal."
Caldwell's reflection stiffened. "I meant, if you were interested in any information about Atlantis – about any minefields you might find when you stepped aboard. Especially Doctor McKay's hot buttons at the moment," he added, amusement coloring his voice.
Closing his eyes at his own stupid assumptions, his selfish arrogance, Daniel snorted. "Of course. Thank you." He forced himself to turn, to extend his hand. "Thank you, Colonel." Caldwell closed his hand around Daniel's without any of the macho straining for dominance that he might expect.
"Three weeks is a long time to be cooped up in your bunk, but even longer to go without sleep, Doctor. I think there are usually a few games of chess going on in the officer's lounge if you're desperate."
The colonel quirked a smile. "I don't think the chain of command will fall to pieces if you call me Steven."