Almost. Always.

By marzipan77

GEN, SG-1

Tag to Moebius – the Ancient Egypt segment. This fic was spawned when I tried to read the SG-1 book, Moebius Squared. My muse turned away after page 3 and this fic was born.

Warning: Canon character deaths. Talk of suicide. Sad. Sadsadsad. Just saying.

Chapter 1

Daniel turned the crystal mechanism over and over in his hand as he walked across the dunes. His head down, eyes narrowed even in the darkest hour of night, his bleached hair hidden beneath a dark headscarf, he kept his footfalls quiet and controlled unwilling to dislodge a single stray grain of sand. He felt the weight of the clear sky on his shoulders, the sweep of stars watching with dazzling bright eyes. The only ones, he hoped, that marked his progress.

The headaches were getting worse. He'd managed to hide it so far – from everyone but Khefti – but he knew his time was short. Whatever had happened when he was injured in the original attack, whatever had become … broken … inside his skull, was slowly catching up with him. Dr. Daniel Jackson wasn't meant to live in a lost desert land, not on Earth, not on Abydos. The universe was going to make sure of that. The knowledge spurred him on, urged him forward, always forward. He could do this. He had to do this.

O'Neill had finally collapsed – dosed by Nabura once Khefti had given her the signal. The fighting was over, the last pockets of resistance eliminated hours ago by Daniel's band of young men, armed with captured staff weapons and a couple of well-placed Goa'uld grenades. The colonel had allowed the burn on his thigh to be treated, scarfed down his first hot meal in three days, and had fallen onto the first available pallet, snoring in an all-too-familiar cadence.

Dr. Carter had been conscripted into service as Nabura's assistant in the hospital tent from the beginning. There wasn't much for a theoretical astrophysicist to do in ancient Egypt – not many career paths to follow. She was still brilliant, however, Daniel smiled to himself. In any universe, Samantha Carter was a force to be reckoned with. And, it seemed, she had only one thing on her mind right now - Daniel was sure she'd watch over O'Neill. Never let him leave her sight, more like.

As for Teal'c – this timeline's Teal'c had put himself in charge of inventorying any Goa'uld tech that Ra had left behind and eliminating any sympathizers that had missed a ride on the Goa'uld's limping hatak two weeks ago. Teal'c had been brutally efficient. But, of the three time travelers from the altered timeline, he was the most like the Jaffa – the warrior brother – Daniel had known. Daniel found himself relying on the Jaffa's strength and loyalty instinctively.

In another life, they might have been friends, comrades. He sighed silently. In another life they had been.

He leaned forward, digging his toes into the dune's steep incline. For the first time he lifted his gaze to track his approach, gently easing himself to lie full length and crawl up the last few meters to peer over the top of the windswept dune.

Moonlight turned the sand of the narrow valley to a sea of whipped gold. The night winds had left tiny crests as of waves caught in mid-motion, and had smoothed away any trace of Jaffa boots, sandals, or bare feet come to inspect the oddly shaped mound curling around the invisible time-ship. He waited, examining the empty plain, the naked rock face on the other side, until he heard the lonely call of the jackal before he rose to make his way down the hill.

At the bottom, he stood a moment in the deep shadows, considering.

If Daniel's Jack and Sam had survived – if the stubborn impatient bastard had listened, had – the grief and rage rose up again, roaring like a tsunami over his thickly built and defended walls. Daniel breathed deeply, eyes closed, and firmly, painstakingly fought the churning sorrow back to lie in a sludge-like pool at the very base of his psyche. Murmured prayers sliding silently on his tongue, weight balanced perfectly between shoulder-wide stance, canted hip-bones, and straight shoulders, Daniel breathed to spark his Ka to life, to strengthen and heal him.

They were gone. Dead. Returned to the earth from which they had not yet been born.

Sam had died in Ra's first reaction to the human rebellion, destroyed by targeted strikes from death gliders on the village's main buildings. Teal'c had taken apart Ra's Jaffa with ruthless efficiency, fighting on when anyone else would have given up. Daniel and Jack, leading the flanks, had seen him take the fatal hit, had moved immediately to support him, fighting through their own injuries to get to him. Jack had fought like Daniel had never seen him fight before – silent and deadly. He might have succeeded, but a lucky shot had knee-capped him and he'd been taken captive by Ra's personal guards. That left Daniel to be carried, bloody and unconscious, from the battleground by a group of Ra's slaves who hid him away and nursed him back to health.

Not in time to save Jack from enduring soul-rending, inhuman torture, death, and sarcophagus revival over and over and over again.

By the time Daniel recovered enough to find a way to his friend – his best friend – the man who had become father and brother and an integral part of his own soul – Jack O'Neill was gone and a haggard, bloodless, scarecrow of a man stood in chains at Ra's side. When the blank gaze had moved across Daniel's face twice, unseeing, uncaring, Daniel knew.

It was Khefti who had helped him. Had helped Daniel back to health. Had given him one chance to see Jack again, to release Jack from an inhuman existence as Ra's object lesson. Daniel deliberately turned his memories away from the last time he'd seen – the last time his best friend had known him just before the end.

He opened dry, bloodshot eyes and pushed the button on the Ancient remote.

The ship's outline wavered. Flickered. A static charge flirted with the fine hairs on his arms before it settled to a mere distracting buzz. Dr. Carter had done what she could with the controls, rewiring obvious damage and putting the pieces back together. The cloak worked. The ship's systems responded to the ATA gene. With just a few more nighttime visits, Daniel knew that he could get it to fly.

It had been another unbelievable coincidence that, on one of O'Neill and Dr. Carter's few trips to work on the ship, Khefti had been acting as guide and protector. Khefti, Royal Eunuch charged with the care of Ra's female slaves, had been Daniel's greatest ally. The middle-aged slave harbored a sharp mind beneath the curls of his ornate wig, and he'd welcomed Daniel as harbinger of freedom. Later, it was Khefti who had, day by day, helped him plant the seeds of a new rebellion, one that would take years to ripen. He ferreted information, weapons, and technology out from under Ra's nose and had fought and bled at Daniel's side once the fighting began. When the man had brought back the excited tale of how the Ancient ship's systems had responded to him, to his presence and his mental commands, a plan had leaped fully formed to Daniel's mind.

He thumbed the control disk, lowered the aft ramp, and hurried inside, checking connections as he moved quickly forward. The starboard engine clamp had fused during O'Neill's firefight with Apophis' Jaffa over Chulak. It had taken Lithia, the finest jeweler in eight villages, two weeks to craft him a new one from the wreckage of the other ship – their original time-ship. Tonight Daniel would see if it fit. He pulled off his outer robes and dropped them on the co-pilot's chair, fingering the thick scars along the left side of his ribs, before crouching over the engine hatch.

An hour and a half later, Daniel wiped his hands and stared at the pristine mechanism. "Beautiful," he whispered, a faint grin teasing at his lips. Bone-weary, it was the closest to a cheer that he could come. He'd bring Khefti by in a few days for a complete systems check; the eunuch could be excited and effervescent enough for both of them.

"Planning a little joyride, are we?"

Daniel's back stiffened, his awkward crouched position over the internal engine controls taking on the aspect of an animal crouching protectively over his kill. He pushed the disappointment and resentment back and replaced the cover-plate with a few quick, precise twists of his fingers. Tucking the rag into the waistband of his shenti, and missing pockets, again, he turned to face the doppelganger leaning against the hatch and wearing a dead man's face.

"O'Neill." Not 'Jack'. Not this man.

"Jackson."

Daniel narrowed his burning eyes, denying the thumping in his temples, the way his vision wavered as if they stood in the blazing heat. "I thought you were resting."

"That's what I figured." O'Neill pulled away from the bulkhead and limped towards him. "Gonna answer the question?"

"Well, I wouldn't get far alone, now would I?" Daniel tried a smile. It didn't seem to fit.

"Which begs the question. Why have you been sneaking off at odd hours to come here?"

Daniel shrugged, having no problem at all keeping silent before this version of Jack O'Neill.

O'Neill's lips twisted. "No comment. Getting kinda tired of hearing that from you."

Daniel grabbed his outer robes and moved towards the rear of the ship as if he was being pulled along in some strange dance with the other man, one going backwards and the other forwards. It sort of defined some of his worst memories of friendship with Jack, he thought, touching his internal hurt like he would tongue a broken tooth. He eyed this thinner – sharper - frailer-looking version warily. Daniel didn't want his memories of Jack, of the circuitous path of their friendship, tarnished by his interactions with this man.

His robes a warm bundle in his hands, Daniel slid his fingers along the braided cord of his belt and felt a sliver of cold steel against his spine. Deliberately keeping his eyes open and locked with O'Neill's, he did not look towards the ship's remote mechanism which he'd, apparently, left lying in plain sight on one of the side benches. He'd never win against O'Neill in a wrestling match – he knew that for a fact.

O'Neill still watched, head tilted to one side, and then laughed to himself at Daniel's stubborn silence. "Right. Well I didn't much like the other you either."

That had been obvious from the beginning. From the older man's first dismissive grunt, Daniel knew it would be an uphill battle getting any respect from him. So he hadn't tried. Daniel ordered. He'd demonstrated – but he'd never left O'Neill an opening to take charge, to take over the mantle of leadership that his best friend had worn so naturally. This O'Neill was still too angry, his character carved and molded by the loss of his child. He'd been left alone to chew on his grief and guilt too long, the Stargate coming into his life after years of bitter loneliness – no mission to Abydos, no surrogate son in Skaara, and no long-haired geek who would give his life for the surly officer. He fought – oh, Daniel reminded himself, O'Neill fought – with teeth clenched and blood in his eyes, he'd fought. But without any of the Jack O'Neill signature panache, or self-effacing humor, or innate compassion.

Daniel's greatest weapon to keep this 'new' O'Neill off balance had been the fact that he didn't know a word of Ancient Egyptian – and few of Daniel's followers had any knowledge of English.

Except for Khefti. The eunuch had absorbed whatever Daniel taught him with eager joy. So he'd understood O'Neill's nasty slur about 'girly men' perfectly when Daniel introduced the two.

"Don't try it."

Daniel stopped, hands crushing the robes to his chest as if it were a shield. "Try what?"

O'Neill eased himself into one of the command chairs with a hiss. He pressed his right hand to his thigh, just above where a bleached linen bandage peeked out from his homemade cut-off BDUs.

"Try going back."

Daniel screened his eye roll by pulling the robes over his head. Idiot. Whatever timeline they were living in now already had a Daniel Jackson. Hopefully one who'd found Catherine at the end of his rope so he could open Earth's Stargate and defeat Ra. Again. He wondered, not for the first time, if Ra remembered his face from this successful rebellion. Remembered and blamed him. And that was why the Goa'uld would place him in a sarcophagus to bring his dead body back to life on Abydos. He shook off the useless rabbit trail and faced his current enemy.

"I'm not trying to go back. There's no place for me there." Daniel let all the bitterness, all the loss and despair, color his voice with tones of grey and black.

O'Neill's sigh was tired – the exhausted sigh of a tired old man. "So – what, then? What's the attraction to this thing?"

Daniel tucked his zat back into his belt with shaking hands. "Just making sure I keep our options open. Without the Ancient ships we wouldn't have been able to run Ra off without a lot more loss of life."

O'Neill must have let his thoughts wander to the ship's controls for a moment – the flight console lit up, faintly welcoming him. He twisted the pilot's chair to face the controls and Daniel quickly grabbed the remote mechanism and hid it within a fold of his robe.

"Huh." A whining drone sounded, a winking yellow light turning to bright green. "Look at that."

Daniel stayed still, watching.

The colonel shut down the systems and turned back to face him, eyes hooded. "Engine pod controls are working. Nice job."

Daniel nodded.

"I notice the drive circuit is still missing a crystal, though." His smile was brilliant-edged with danger. "Not going anywhere until you figure out a replacement."

"Nope." And until Daniel and his crew were ready, that crystal would remain "missing." He didn't want O'Neill to get any bright ideas about moving the ship to another location before he was ready to leave. "I hope to come up with something eventually," he added.

"Uh-huh." O'Neill's scrutiny was nothing like Jack's had been. It didn't come from a place of friendship and caring; it didn't turn on years of mutual understanding and experience. It didn't skid across Daniel's nerves, didn't raise a flush or dip into the pool of guilt in his belly. Daniel had never been able to lie to Jack – but this man – this … This was easy.

"I'm heading back." Daniel crooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Try to catch a few hours of sleep." Tonight he'd gladly take the tincture Khefti always offered. Tonight he'd sleep – and forget. The concern in his eyes was honest. "So should you."

The older man paused a moment, clearly communicating his distrust. "Okie dokie," he finally relented, rising stiffly to his feet and following Daniel from the spacecraft.

When they stood side by side in the desert night, Daniel didn't turn his head to seek out a familiar half-smile, or listen for a snide remark about trees or the lack thereof. He heard O'Neill close the hatch behind him and felt the snap of electricity as the ship re-cloaked. And then Daniel led the way back to the village. Walking at O'Neill's right shoulder, in his footprints, would never happen again.