|Genres:||Alternate Universe, Angst, Friendship, Smarm, Team|
|Summary:||After he's been stranded for over a month, SG-1 is finally able to bring Daniel home. But there's something strange about this seemingly happy situation.|
August 1st, 2006: I finished editing the entire series, and am now in the process of replacing the 'old' version with the new. Nothing has significantly changed; just some ordering of the story, some added dialogue and scenes--all things I felt made the story run more smoothly. =)
"Are you sure that's him?"
"Just look at him. There's no way it's not him."
"I concur...though he appears to be quite content. Perhaps he will not wish to return--"
"Aht! Don't go there, Teal'c."
"I am going nowhere, O'Neill."
"Teal'c, it's just a figure--"
"Sir, he's right. What if...you know; what if he doesn't remember us? What if he doesn't remember who he is? It may not go over well if we try to take him out of here. He looks happy here."
"He doesn't belong 'here', Carter! Whether he likes it slash knows it or not, he's been kept here against his will, and he's coming home. That's that."
O'Neill--Jack, Carter--Sam, and Teal'c, three-fourths of SG-1, flagship team of Stargate Command, hung back in the arched entryway of the green, meadowlike--'and green,' Jack grumped in his head--park, modeled, it seemed after a scene straight from the pastoral imagery of 'Watership Down'--Carter's description of the place; not his. They were struck dumb by the sight before them--for even though the park was milling with adults, small children and those in between, all engaged in some form of...park-y behaviour (that was the only way Jack could currently think to describe it), relaxing in the warm sunshine, the children playing their version of 'Tag' or romping in the lush grasses with various domesticated animals that appeared to be a cross between a pit bull and a miniature horse--the flurry of park activity seemed to vanish, as the trio only had eyes for a pair doing their own romping away from the others, near a small pond tucked into the corner of the downs. A tall, slender young woman, who appeared to be in her early twenties, by SG-1's age assessment, with dark hair tied up in a tight bun at the back of her head, smiled mischievously as she ducked behind one of the scattered, broad trees. Her back to SG-1, she was visible to them, but obviously not to her companion. No sooner had she vanished from sight of the pond than the head of a shaggy-haired blond boy of about five popped out of a tangle of tall reeds at the water's edge, the little face stretched in a broad, delighted grin.
SG-1 watched the boy's smile falter slightly as the child realized he had lost his playmate, and he fought his way free of the reeds, the legs of his loose, cream-coloured leggings soaked to his knees, turning this way and that, searching for her. His smile reappeared all at once in a peal of laughter as he wandered close to the tree, and was pounced on by the young woman. She seized the boy's hands as he play-wrestled in an attempt to escape, and his laughter turned to a scream of delight as his companion spun him in a circle, holding tightly to his hands, his head tossed back and his hair flying. Also laughing, the woman finally allowed the boy's feet to regain their ground, and even SG-1 found themselves smiling as the little guy tottered about dizzily for a few moments before his rear end met the soft grass.
SG-1's archaeologist had left for a survey of this planet--P7X-990--with SG-6 more than a month ago. The week-long expedition had been extended for Daniel after the man had begged, via a MALP check-in, more excited than Jack had seen him in a long time, to be given a better opportunity to engage the nymph-like, peaceful inhabitants of the planet. General Hammond had been assured by Colonel Anders, SG-6's commanding officer, that a safer planet wasn't to be found, and the base commander had agreed, granting Daniel a four-day extension free of SG-6, allowing the team to return home.
That extension had ended twenty-seven days ago.
The SGC had tried in vain to dial the planet; no wormhole would establish. The remaining Tok'ra in the galaxy, including Carter's father, Jacob, had all but vanished from the map after the breakup of the Alliance, so borrowing one of the ever-present Goa'uld cargo ships was out of the question. It wasn't until that very morning that, for reasons unknown, a lock was finally established with P7X-990. SG-1 had been geared up and ready to embark before Hammond could say "You have a go".
"Come on," Jack ordered, heading towards the two obliviously happy young people. It had only been a few months since Daniel had descended from Oma-land, an even shorter amount of time since he'd regained the majority of his memories, and Jack had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that someone had screwed with his friend's mind yet again.
As SG-1 picked their way across the park, the young woman glanced up and noticed their approach--or, more accurately, Jack assumed smugly, puffing up like a blow-up life jacket, his less-than-thrilled expression. She paled slightly at the approaching strangers, and gestured rapidly to the little boy at her side, picking him up and settling him on her hip.
The boy, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with her maternal protective instincts, because he spotted SG-1 and squealed with delight, squirming in his guardian's arms. "Jack! Jack!"
Jack stopped in his tracks, dumbfounded, as Daniel--and it just had to be Daniel--tumbled to the ground and sprinted pell-mell over to him, launching himself at Jack's chest. Instinctively, he caught the flying little body and hefted him up, where Daniel promptly wrapped his arms around Jack's neck and squeezed him like a vice. "Jack! I wondered when you were gonna get here; I was waiting forever!" His blunt little chin hooked itself over Jack's left shoulder, and one hand disentangled itself from its death grip around his neck to wave ecstatically at Carter and Teal'c before worming its way back around. "Hi Sam'n'Teal'c!" He found his own rushed pronounciation hysterically funny and giggled, leaning back to grin in Jack's face, freezing Jack even further.
"Hello DanielJackson," Teal'c replied habitually, and Jack turned slightly to catch the Jaffa's eye, finding the normally unshakable man blinking slowly in uncharacteristic shock.
The woman, who hadn't taken her eyes off Jack and steeled herself further when Jack turned back to glare her down, smiled fondly when Daniel followed Jack's lead and squirmed around until he was facing her. "Rana, this is Jack, and that's Sam, and that's Teal'c!" He pointed over his own shoulder without looking, and Jack had to duck to avoid getting a finger in his eye. "'Member I telled you all about them? 'Member?"
The alien woman--'Rana?' Jack wondered. Daniel's rapid-fire speech was even harder to understand now than it ever was when he was in full lecture mode--anyway, the alien's smile widened a little, affection for Daniel clear in her demeanour. "Yes, Dan'iel; I remember," she said, voice soft and lilting. "Sadly, it appears the time has come for you to return to your home."
"The 'time had come' a month ago," Jack couldn't help but snap. "You people locked us out, and locked him in. 'Remember' that?"
"I apologize, Colonel O'Neill," the alien said, turning her attention to Jack and the rest of his team. "I am called Rannia. My people desperately required Dan'iel's aid, and he was unwilling to contact you through your machine to request permission from your superiors. I see now," she said, gently teasing, "that is was because he believed you would react as you are at this very moment."
Jack wasn't going to be moved an inch, keeping his expression stone-set, even though Daniel was dividing his anxious attention between him and Rannia, looking like he was about to launch into one of his 'Why can't we be friends?' tirades. A troubled expression flitted across Rannia's face, and she raised her right hand, surreptitiously waving toward Daniel. Jack gave a start when the boy promptly turned himself around again, his head lowered to rest on Jack's shoulder, and he went limp. "What'd you do?" Jack demanded, attempting to crane his neck to get a look at Daniel's face while jiggling the suddenly dead weight in his arms, trying to rouse him. Carter hurried forward and felt for Daniel's pulse, sighing in relief after a moment and tenderly brushing the long hair back from Daniel's face.
"Slow and steady, sir," she informed Jack. "He's just asleep."
Despite his relief, Jack rounded on Rannia again, giving her his best 'tell me what the hell's going on or I'll make you tell me' glare, willing the answers out of her.
"He should not overhear," Rannia told Jack calmly, unfazed by his intimidation tactics. "The Rebirth will go all but perfectly should he overhear anything that would offset the effects of the transference."
"Overhear what? What 'transference'?!"
"Come." Rannia gestured to one of the many long, pristine park benches a few yards from the park entrance. "Sit; I shall attempt to explain everything."
Keeping Daniel's sleeping weight tucked close, Jack warily followed the alien and perched himself stiffly on the edge of the bench. Carter took up the seat to his immediate right, while Teal'c opted for standing room seats behind them all. "Talk," Jack ordered.
Rannia turned to face him, hands clasped in her lap. "Your Dan'iel held much pain," she blurted without preamble, and Jack bristled at her accusing tone. He bit back a sharp retort and kept his own tone as calm as possible.
"Yeah. He, didn't--doesn't--really have an easy go of it."
Rannia's brow furrowed slightly at the unfamiliar turn of phrase, but then nodded once in apparent understanding and pressed on. "The Rebirth allows my people to pass to the Eternal Garden while giving those in pain a second chance to live their lives purely content and free of their former burdens. My...great-grandfather, I believe you would categorize him, passed on, thanks to your Dan'iel."
Jack's heart skipped several beats. What the hell went on around this place? "Daniel didn't...kill him...did he?"
Rannia laughed, a light, musical sound. "No, no. Quite the opposite," she assured. "My papé was able to find the Eternal Garden because Dan'iel agreed to the Rebirth."
"Wait. You're saying Daniel agreed to...this?" Carter asked dubiously, leaning around Jack and indicating the small body that slept on, oblivious.
"DanielJackson would not agree to such an experiment," Teal'c confirmed.
"What exactly did you tell him would happen here?" Jack asked equally as skeptically.
Rannia blushed. "Dan'iel was told that Ryahil--my papé--required witnesses to his transcendence. Dan'iel was enraptured with the intracacies of the Rite."
"I'll bet," Jack muttered, defeated, knowing full well the archaeologist's penchant for curiosity.
"The Chalice sensed Dan'iel's unrest…and he was Chosen."
"'Chosen'," Carter echoed. "To what? Trade his life to help someone else die--er, pass on?"
Rannia nodded serenely. "Yes--a Chosen is reborn, and the Transcendant is granted the energy required to pass on to the Garden. During the transference--the Rebirth--a Chosen is purified, year by day."
Jack slowed her down right there. "Year by day...?" He shook his head helplessly. "What..."
"What Dan'iel called…'memory'," Rannia strove to clarify. "The tainted 'memory' has been transferred, year by day, to Ryahil. Yesterday was the final day of the transference; Dan'iel has been purified." She smiled eagerly at SG-1, obviously hoping they'd join in her celebration. 'Not gonna happen,' Jack snarled silently.
Carter's eyes widened. "Sir, I think I understand."
"That makes one of us."
"Okay; apparently, Daniel's been losing a year's worth of memory everyday. Sir, how long has Daniel been here since SG-6 returned to Earth?"
Jack puffed out his cheeks with a thoughtful sigh. "Uh…"
"Thirty-one days," Teal'c provided.
Carter nodded eagerly. "Thirty-one days, thirty-one years--that would put Daniel at about five or six years old."
"Oh for cryin'--can you change him back?" Jack asked Rannia, his tenuous grip on his anger beginning to slip. "And while you're at it, answer me this--if he's lost thirty-one years of memory, how the hell does he know us?"
Rannia smiled sadly. "I am afraid Dan'iel must regain his former incarnation on his own--the transference for Ryahil is complete; he is among the Blessed in the Garden. As for Dan'iel's memories of the three of you…he was most unwilling to lose them. Experiences enjoyed throughout the Rebirth are retained. When we first met, Dan'iel often spoke of the family he holds on his home world, and he entrusted your memory to me. I sensed that he feels greatly loved and protected by you--all of you," she told SG-1 admiringly. "With such love in his heart, making the transition to his childhood was a simple feat."
A wondering, slow, but reluctant smile spread across Carter's face. "Is that how happy he was when he was that small?" she wondered aloud. "We've never...what I mean is, he's never really--"
Jack knew exactly where she was coming from. If this was exactly how Daniel would be found if they were to beam themselves back through time to watch him during his 'real' childhood, he didn't think there had ever been a more...childlike child. He'd obviously learned to grow out of that quickly enough--Daniel usually had to be pretty out of it, whether from alcohol, happy juice or otherwise, to let his outer self-protective mask slip.
Rannia beamed. "Yes. He is a delightful child--such zest for life, for learning. It is normally unprecedented that a Guardian such as myself would share memories of the Old Life with the Chosen, but I could not allow Dan'iel to lose what he knew of you; to lose what you represent to him. I kept you alive for him, even as his 'memory' slipped away." She looked to Jack again, who guardedly kept his uncertainty clouded by anger. "Have you any more questions?" she asked cautiously, keen silver eyes riveted to his. "You must take him home--he may be weak in body for a short while when he leaves this place; the Blessed enhance the atmosphere; purify it to keep us free from illness or fatigue. Your world may not be so unmarred, but he will be perfectly healthy soon enough."
"'Questions'. 'Perfectly healthy'," Jack snorted. "My friend is stuck as a kid, and she wants to know if we have questions; tells us he's 'perfectly healthy'." He stood abruptly, glaring down at Rannia. "I have, not a question, but a demand of you--turn him back. Now. Then he'll be 'perfectly healthy'. I know damn well Daniel wouldn't just choose this. He battled his way through his first childhood; I find it very hard to believe he'd just take up the first chance that came his way for another one."
Rannia was already shaking her head as he was speaking. "It is impossible, Colonel O'Neill," she apologized. "I promise you, Dan'iel is aware he is not as a normal child. He may not recall the events of his former life, but he knows what he once was, and he accepts this. He has been happy here...he will be happy in his former home...if you allow him to be."
Jack didn't respond, but just jerked his head in the direction of the Stargate, prompting Carter and Teal'c to follow him. "Let's get out of here," he muttered, silently fuming.
Rannia didn't hesitate in following, seeming to float along at Jack's side, eyes worried. "I know Dan'iel's first childhood was marred by grief, anguish," she said hastily. "You must vow that he will not be left alone, as he was. If you cannot make this promise, he is more than welcome to remain here, with us."
Jack turned on her, raw and scathing. "He won't be left alone like this," he snapped, "and since you people are the ones who left him like this, there's no way in hell I'd leave him here, either."
Rannia studied his profile as he stalked on, then half-smiled, as though she saw something in him that he wasn't showing her. Jack ignored her until she waved a hand as they passed under the archway of the park and Daniel stirred, lifting his head from where it had been tucked in the crook of Jack's shoulder. "Hmm? Jack? We goin' home?"
Jack narrowed his eyes briefly but slid Daniel out of his arms, tousling the blond head with a rueful smile. "Yeah--so, uh, say goodbye to your 'pal' here, huh?"
Daniel turned to Rannia, who immediately swept him up in a tight hug, placing a kiss on each baby-round cheek as Daniel returned the embrace enthusiastically. "Be well," she said softly. "Be happy."
"Thank you Rana," Daniel mumbled, blushing. "For everything."
With a final tight squeeze from Rannia, Daniel was set down to join the rest of SG-1, who waited near the open wormhole. Carter and Teal'c stepped through, seeing that Daniel was ready to go, but Jack waited for him. Daniel bounded up to his side, reaching up for his hand.
Rannia smiled to herself as she watched Colonel O'Neill hesitate only a moment before grasping the small, searching hand in his own, squeezing reassuringly before passing into the event horizon for home, Dan'iel giving her a final glance and a smile over his shoulder before he disappeared and the wormhole disengaged. If what Dan'iel had told her in their time spent together before the Rebirth, she fully believed that her people's gift to him would heal wounds not only in the child, but in all those around him.
That was, after all, the entire point.