Summary: A parallel universe story with a wounded Daniel looking for a universe where Jack is alive. It’s not quite the typical “Our Daniel’s dead, can we keep this new one?” story.
. . .
Daniel sat in one of the interrogation rooms on Level 16 of the SGC, designated Base Security. He was alone. There were three security cameras in the room, stationed at the rear corners and over the door, and their green lights signaled that they were ‘on.’ He was no longer in his civilian clothes. An hour before, a member of the Security Force had come into the room and dropped a folded jumpsuit on the table in front of him.
The SGC didn’t have the typical security set-up and everyone arrested for a crime would be put into a flight jumpsuit absent of all patches and labels. These flight suits were a dull gray-green, designated for newbies. Certain things never change in parallel worlds.
On the table sat a plastic pitcher and cup typically seen in the Infirmary. Both were empty. Daniel wondered if they were part of the décor for actual criminals. There was no need to place them here to deprive him of thirst. He hadn’t done anything wrong . . . other than to freak out everyone.
On the other hand, the empty pitcher’s inducement of thirst was working to distract him from the pain in his right calf where a staff weapon blast had hit him, along with another hit along the left trapezius muscle, and he’d gotten both of them as he’d tried to dodge weapons’ fire before running straight at the stargate’s event horizon. On the other side, he’d found himself tumbling down the ramp of the SGC’s gateroom, and soon after, a remarkable number of more weapons trained on him.
This had occurred once before, eight years ago, only through a quantum mirror. He didn’t know how the hell this entrance into another universe could have happened via the ‘gate. There had been that one time the gate had sent him and his teammates back in time, but certainly not into another universe. Even though the ‘60s had felt like another universe.
So far, he hadn’t seen anyone familiar. Yet. He wasn’t sure he wanted to. He couldn’t go back where he came from. That way led to death. It was all beside the point, regardless. If his counterpart in this universe was still alive, he was going to have a really bad day in about forty-two hours.
The people who had seen him so far . . . SFs mainly . . . had all looked at him in anger. Had his counterpart done something wrong? It wasn’t likely but he had to prepare himself for a worst-case scenario. His adopted grandmother had taught him that a very, very long time ago.
“Always expect the worst, young man. That way you will never be disappointed.”
Daniel’s addendum had always been a little cheerier.
Always prepare for the worst but wish for the better.
Two hours had passed and his throat was getting a little raspy. Then the pain in his leg spiked and he hissed.
“I could use a little medical attention,” he said, raising his voice only slightly as he looked at the camera over the door. “If this treatment is typical, I’m gonna assume General Hammond isn’t in charge.”
Unless everyone on this world had gone dark side. If that ended up being the case . . . He had no idea what he’d do. It wasn’t a scenario he’d ever prepared himself for. How could he?
No, instead, he’d prepared himself for his loved ones dying. And that had happened. Not by aliens. No Goa’uld or space pirates. Just good old-fashioned nuclear war. Reports from the Jaffa who had ‘gated to the Alpha site where he had been working had stated that a bomb had landed on the SGC. Technically, the basement of the silo below NORAD. They had said that the resultant sparks down the silo had set off the ‘gate’s naquadah and that had been that. The resultant explosion would have taken the top off Cheyenne Mountain, turning the valley of Colorado Springs into a giant crater.
Everyone he loved was dead. Daniel swallowed hard and suddenly felt a little dizzy as grief tried to take over and send him into a fugue state—something that typically happened when overwhelming despair visited him on occasion. Angrily, he pushed the threat of deep, rage-filled mourning away. Now wasn’t the time. He couldn’t allow that self-indulgent nonsense until he was safe and alone.
His leg stung again and he rolled his eyes. “Took you long enough,” he barely whispered as he pushed away from the table and pulled up the right pant leg. The pain from this sort of wound was immediate, but the burn took longer due to the destruction of surface nerves. The exposed muscle damage took longer to report pain, but it was with the program now. He hissed again as he took in the ugly red wound on the outer side of his calf. It was sort of shaped like an elongated egg and about eight inches long and four inches wide. The edges were blackened but just past the edge where it met red meat, it was beginning to puff up and whiten with infection as the body tried to get rid of the dead skin and flesh.
The door opened, startling him, but he continued to methodically and gingerly roll up the pant leg. It grew difficult as the rolled fabric bunched up behind the knee, threatening to cut off circulation.
“We’re to take you to the infirmary,” said the SF.
Daniel sighed and unrolled his pant leg, letting it fall back to his ankle once it was past the wound. He hissed again. Walking to the infirmary was going to be a blast but at least he was going to get it bandaged. The SF came around the table and gestured at Daniel’s wrists. In his hands, he held a handcuff restraint, the type that was electronic with thick rings that grabbed his wrists and snapped into a locking position. Daniel then raised his wrists and gave the SF a raised, sarcastic brow.
“Afraid I’m going to get up to some shenanigans?”
“Sorry, Doctor Jackson. Protocol.”
“Right,” Daniel nodded, remembering.
The SF lightly guided him by the biceps to walk in front of him. Two more SFs waited outside and they led the way down the corridor.
As they walked, Daniel mulled over the fact that the SF had used his name and title. And as they headed for the elevator, the people they passed stopped in the tracks to stare. Daniel kept his gaze o the floor after a minute. He didn’t want to see familiar faces. It would be akin to seeing ghosts. His heart hurt and the back of his throat felt hot, accompanied by an odd taste of metal. Staring at the floor thankfully became monotonous. Everyone’s boots were practically the same.
The only minor irritation about keeping his gaze on the floor was that it reminded him of the first day of college. He’d been fifteen and an emancipated minor—which was just a fancy way of saying “Under Unrestricted Guardianship.” At college, he’d been horribly introverted and had the unfortunate habit of staring at the ground. He’d had the errant understanding that staring into people’s faces would cause a confrontation, so when he did look, it was a brief glance. Not even long enough to gauge eye color. It had taken a few empathetic teens to break him of it and afterward, it had been as if he’d broken through some sort of hard cocoon.
The opening of the elevator broke him from his memories and he stepped inside. He wasn’t in the elevator for more than sixty seconds before it opened and he was led down two familiar corridors. Even looking at the floor, he recognized the colored stripes that led to the central nurses’ station.
“Ward B,” said a woman’s voice.
Daniel recognized it with shock and he looked up, eyes widening. Doctor Janet Fraiser. She wore her hair up in a chignon and it was dark brown. She hadn’t highlighted it yet. He’d always liked her hair dark brown. It set off her expressive eyes and her amazingly doe-eyed eyelashes. Somewhere in his memories, Janet rolled her eyes at the description.
His heart wanted to smother him.
“Janet,” he whispered.
Her eyes widened slightly as she held out her arm and took hold of him, guiding him to Ward B, down another corridor to his left. The SFs followed but she didn’t tell them to get lost. Protocol, Daniel remembered. When he gave up looking at the floor and swept his gaze around him, he found other people with the same wide-eyed expressions.
He didn’t have to worry about Parallel Spasm Syndrome. Their Daniel had died. Guild warred with relief. He should be feeling sympathy for their loss but his self-preservation was taking charge for the time being. That only increased the guilt and he chastised himself for being heartless. He suddenly recalled Teal’c’s voice. “You are not paying attention to your surroundings, Daniel Jackson. Visit your grief and guilt later.”
He didn’t want to hear that voice. His heart was now carving a hole in his chest. His eyes began to well up and he blinked rapidly and widened them slightly to force down the emotional display. Showing weakness wouldn’t do—then another voice, his own, asked, “Since when is showing grief a weakness? Stop the nonsense, Daniel.”
“Have a seat here,” said Janet, leading him to the back of Ward B, which was empty. She pulled the curtain from the wall and walked it halfway around the bed to cut him off from the entrance, where passersby could easily look in and see the ghost that had arrived on their doorstep.
Daniel looked into her eyes as she handed him something. And his eyes burned with the threat of tears again. He looked down. In his hands was a set of blue scrubs.
“Change into these, then we’ll get a look at your leg.”
He nodded silently and began to change while she stepped beyond the curtain. He gritted his teeth as he unzipped the flight suit and pushed it over his wounded shoulder, then over his legs. When he unfolded the scrubs, he found that the bottoms were actually shorts, not pants. Convenient.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he replied quietly.
As she returned, with a nurse in tow, he plucked at the scrubs top around his shoulder and hissed again through his gritted teeth.
“What is it?” Janet asked.
“Bullet graze,” he said. “At least, I think it is. I’ve been shot before so I don’t think it’s that bad. But it stings like a bitch.” She raised her brows at his words. “Sorry. Stings like crazy.” She didn’t say anything, just nodded and motioned with her hand. He lifted the bottom hem of the top to reveal his left shoulder and though her expression didn’t change, he had the feeling she was grimacing on the inside. “Bad?” he asked.
“Infected,” she said. “But you were right. It’s a graze. Like a . . .” She thought a moment. “Like a skid of turf.”
He snorted. “Feels about right.” He sat down on the edge of the bed and she motioned for him to sit further back so he could elevate his leg, but it became awkward because of the shoulder.
“Okay,” she said, picking up the remote control for the bed. “You’re gonna have to get fully on the bed and then sit up.” He obliged and the nurse, whose name tag read Farraday, slid a bolster under his right knee and another one behind his back to make sure the pillow didn’t touch his wound until it was bandaged.
Janet motioned with her fingers for Farraday to switch places with her. “Grab two trauma kits.”
“Doctor Fraiser?” came a woman’s voice from the far end of the Ward.
Janet moved past the curtain. “What is it?”
“He’s stable but he’s refusing to stay put.”
“For cryin’ out loud,” Janet muttered. “Daniel, I’ll be back. Shelly, join Mara please, and start on the trauma leg.”
“Yes, ma’am.” When Shelly came around the curtain, she inhaled sharply but quickly composed herself. He noticed her tag, which said “Waters.” He couldn’t help himself. “Sorry,” he said.
She waved away his concern. “No need,” she said. As Mara worked on his shoulder, Shelly got to work on his leg. She grimaced as she and Mara laid out two trauma kits on separate rolling tables and gently set to work.
Daniel swallowed. “Um, I hate to bother you, but could you get me some water?”
Both nurses had their hands garbed in disposable gloves and they winced. “Sorry, Doctor,” Mara said. “You’ll have to wait.”
Daniel took a sighing breath. “Understood.”
Suddenly there was the sound of running boot steps, which squeaked as the runner came to a halt in the ward. Daniel assumed it had to do with Janet’s troublesome patient but the steps were coming closer and the person came around the curtain, slightly out of breath. Given his well-built frame, the heavy breathing was due to an increase in adrenalin. His eyes were wide and he held his breath as he met Daniel’s eyes.
Daniel inhaled sharply and then held his own breath. His heart began to hurt all over again and his eyes welled up. It was Jason. But his rank had eagles on the lapels, not gold oak leaves. And instead of his cleanly-shaven face, he had a closely-sculpted mustache and beard. There were two long-healed scars; one over his left brow and the other over the center of his chin. And lastly, his name tag didn’t say Coburn. It said, Fox.
His full name had been Jason Kit Coburn, and he was half Scottish and half Navajo, also known as Diné. The middle name was for the kit fox cub that had come to the sliding glass door of his parents’ house, where his crib had been set up. It had sat there yipping at the crib until the mother had come to fetch him. His mother had called him Kit from then on. But the last name change didn’t make sense. His Diné mother’s name? There was a whole history there that Daniel didn’t know about and he wanted so much to learn.
Jason opened his mouth to say something but nothing came. He blinked a few times and swallowed again, but before he could try to speak again, Mara said, “Colonel, could you get Doctor Jackson some water? We’re a bit tied up here.”
“What?” Jason said, blinking. “Oh. Right.” He looked around. “Where’re the pitchers and cups?”
“Nurses’ station,” Shelly said.
Jason frowned and looked around, but his gaze kept returning to Daniel, who was struck dumb without any idea what to say. “That’s a dumbass place to keep them,” he growled and left.
Mara snorted and Daniel looked up at her. She blushed a little and stammered, “He . . . he . . . well he, um, was just surprised to see you.”
“I’ll bet,” Daniel whispered. He tried very hard to replace the image in his head of NORAD in a mushroom cloud with the sight of the very real Jason. Except he wasn’t Jason, was he? He had a mustache and beard, which made him sexy as shit, damn him. “What’s his name?” he blurted out, not really talking to the nurses. “I mean, Colonel Fox, clearly. His first name? Is it Jason?”
At that moment, Jason returned with a pitcher of water and the associated cup. He poured some water into it and came much closer, holding it out for him. Daniel took it without looking. “Your name. Is it Jason?”
Jason smiled ruefully. “It’s my given name, yes. But when I joined the Air Force, I switched my names up because, in the recruiting office, there were three of us named Jason.” Daniel’s brows rose. “Yeah. Weird, right? So, I’m officially Kit Jason Fox. Or Kit Fox. And trust me, that decision has earned me a lot of teasing.” He smiled with humor in his eyes. “I don’t mind. Teasing is okay. But those who are mean don’t get to stay that way. They either apologize or they get smacked.”
Daniel raised a brow. “That’s earn you a reprimand.”
“No, they get warned first. Ignorance is wonderful.”
“Huh?” Daniel asked.
“I tell them, ‘If you don’t apologize, I’ll consider them fighting words. Meaning I have the law on my side so if you try to sue, I’ll win.’”
“Ah,” Daniel said, his small smile faltering. This wasn’t Jason. This was Kit. And they still weren’t all that different.
Kit’s brow furrowed as he studied Daniel’s face. He started to say something three times before he eventually said, “You’re looking sad. Was it something I said?”
Daniel shook his head. “Where I came from . . .” He swallowed hard. “Everyone here is dead.”
“Christ,” Kit said softly. “Goa’uld?”
Daniel shook his head. “World War Three.” His voice shook a little. “I was working at the Alpha Site.”
“How’d you get shot?” Kit asked as he looked at Daniel’s wounds.
“They wouldn’t let me ‘gate to the Antarctic site so I went to Chulak to see if Teal’c and Sam were still working there on a security device to replace the iris at home. And Osiris showed up in three ships and two battalions of ground forces. I was already at the DHD and I dialed home without thinking, then ran through.” He gestured at his leg and shoulder. “Seems I wasn’t quick enough to dodge fire.”
“And then what happened?” Kit asked.
Daniel detected a bit of a change in Kit’s demeanor. “Jason, what’d I say? Your expression and body language changed. What part of my narrative caused that?”
“Christ, you really are Daniel,” Jason muttered rapidly. He then cleared his throat. “You mentioned Teal’c. So he was still part of your world. He was a part of ours, too, but he died.”
“Oh,” Daniel said. “I’m sorry.” He truly was. He hadn’t allowed himself much hope lately but he realized that he had privately been looking forward to seeing him. Now there’d be no training, no meditation. “How?”
“An attack at Dakara,” Kit said, clearly not willing to talk about it. “And my name is Kit.”
“Oh,” Daniel repeated. “I didn’t realize.”
Kit studied him, and he said, “Jason’s fine. I don’t mind. It’s my middle name. And I kinda like you using it.”
Daniel smiled at him and blurted out, “Secret code.”
Jason said, “Jesus fuck, you really are him. It’s what he would’ve said.”
“Right,” Daniel said, and cleared his throat.
As Shelly and Mara finished bandaging his wounds, everyone heard yelling and running boots.
“Jonathan, get back to your bed!” Fraiser yelled. “Jonathan, you’re gonna open up the wounds!”
The running grew louder as it grew closer and Daniel dreaded seeing another person he knew and knew intimately. Like Jason.
Jason turned and ran to block the person before he came into the Ward. Squeaky bootheels came to a halt. “JJ, don’t. You aren’t ready and neither is he.”
“Fuck that, Kit. I wanna see him.”
Turmoil ran through Daniel’s mind as a flight-or-fight response kicked in. He needed to hide. Seeing him would only cause him to tear up in front of everyone. He managed a compromise, given his wounds: he crossed his arms and shaded his eyes, refusing to look at the man who came around the curtain. In the back of his mind, he thought Jack’s voice sounded just a tad higher in pitch than the last time he’d seen him. Was he imagining that?
“Holy freezing shit balls,” said the voice in a choked whisper.
Daniel’s panicked mind kept saying, “It’s Jack! It doesn’t matter the universe! It’s Jack!” But the cautionary side of him said, “In another universe. He’s not your Jack. And listen to his voice. Something’s off. Tread carefully.”
“Hey,” Jonathan said, and fingers touched Daniel’s shading hand, trying to gently remove it. “Daniel.”
“I’m not,” Daniel said, resisting the urge to shake his head because it would move his hand. “I don’t belong here.” But Daniel lost his composure and the last word was abruptly filled with stuttering, turning a single syllable word into many. He grimaced behind his hand, then brought both knees up so he could bury his face, surrounding his head with his arms. Pain shot through him from his calf and shoulder and it seemed to steady him for a moment. He didn’t know what else to do. Thankfully, Janet solved that issue.
“Out!” Janet said. “I won’t have you upsetting him. He’s wounded, in more ways than one. Out! You can come back when I determine it’s safe, not before.”
The bootsteps retreated, although grudgingly and Daniel let out a sigh of relief. He raised his head and found that the nurses had left and only Janet stood there, chart in hand, reading the nurses’ notes.
“Why does he sound different?”
“Who?” Janet asked as she studied his face, then pulled out her penlight and shone it quickly at his eyes, using a rapid slanting motion.
Daniel blinked several times and shied away slightly. “Ja . . . Jonathan.” Janet was silent for what seemed like minutes as she fussed around him, pulling down the blanket and sheet and cajoling him under the covers. Daniel complied but he didn’t want her to leave until she answered him. “Doctor Fraiser? Janet?”
She finally gave his gaze her full attention and sat on the edge of the bed, hands gripping the clipboard just a tad too tightly. “He’s Colonel O’Neill’s clone. Did you have that happen in your universe?” Daniel’s brows rose as he nodded. “He formally named himself Jonathan Jackson Doyle, after his mother’s side of the family. The Jackson he added after your counterpart died three years ago.”
Daniel winced. “Radiation poisoning?”
Janet frowned and shook her head. “No. SG-1 was on a planet called Tegalus, which had suddenly broken into a civil war. They barely escaped through the ‘gate but a shot from a cannon came through before the iris closed and killed several people, including Daniel. Teal’c, Sam, and the Colonel were badly injured.”
“Is he . . . ? The older Jack.”
“The Colonel was killed later during . . .” Daniel’s face crumpled. “Oh, I’m sorry, Daniel.” She hugged him, hard. “I’m so sorry.”
Daniel sniffed back tears, refusing to cry. He kept telling himself that now wasn’t the time. He pulled away from her hug and she sat back. “Why’s Jonathan here?”
“We needed his memories from the initial Ancients’ download. Did you have that in your universe?” He nodded. “He somehow kept the memories of the database he’d input into the computer and we were missing some data.” She smiled fondly as she remembered something.
“When we found him, he was in a flight suit. A Lieutenant in the Navy. And in exclusive pilot training at Miramar.”
“The Navy?” Daniel asked, brows skyrocketing. “I bet that encouraged a lot of inter-service boasting and name-calling.”
She grinned. “To put it mildly. He’s twenty-four years old, a crack pilot, was attending the real-life Top Gun school, and he is full of bravado and unwarranted self-assurance.”
“Ah,” Daniel said, and followed it with another wince.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Leg,” he said, and pulled up the right side of the blanket and sheet. Once the cooler air hit his leg, he sighed in relief. “Leg burns and stings. I need ice.”
She nodded and got to her feet. “I’ll get you a gel pack. Remember. Twenty minutes—”
“Twenty minutes off, twenty minutes on, two hours only. Break for an hour, then start again.”
She smiled and patted his good leg. “I’ll be back.”
“Janet?” She paused. “Can I get something to eat?”
She paused and looked at her watch, then gave him tiny smile and nodded. “I’ll send someone down with both.”
Once again, Daniel had to endure staring, but at least it was the matron from the Department of the Air Force kitchen staff. A civilian. She was a small, plump woman with iron hair under a net and a bluegreen apron absent food stains. She had cherubic cheeks and always seemed to be in a good mood. She was one of those people who could brighten someone’s dour mood with her bright smile and encouragingly soft voice. Her name was Thalia and it appeared that he had known her in this universe too. Her reaction to him was to stare, wide-eyed, when she came in with a tray.
“Sometimes, rumors are true,” she said, her Italian accent not as heavy as he’d last heard. She placed the tray on the bed cart and wheeled it over the bed for him.
“Thanks, Thalia,” he said.
She gave him an admonishing, motherly squint. “In any universe, it seems you are always getting into trouble.” She tsked, patted his foot, and left, saying over her shoulder, “Do try to behave yourself, Doctor Jackson.”
“Thanks, Thalia,” he said, somewhat lamely because she bustled out so fast she couldn’t have heard him. Janet had been supervising the woman’s visit, having withdrawn the curtain so Thalia wouldn’t have any trouble finding him, but now she drew it back around the bed.
Daniel lifted the primary plate’s cover to find fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and broccoli with butter. On the tray were small salt and pepper shakers, a glass of iced water, and coffee. He just stared at the tray as a lump rose in his throat. Then he picked up the white mug and held it in both hands despite it being hot and inhaled the aroma. Tears came to his eyes that had nothing to do with the temperature of the mug. It had been a while since he’d had SGC mess hall coffee. It smelled wonderful, and a myriad of memories came to him as he sipped his favorite beverage. Before he knew it, a few tears took up residence in the corners of his eyes as he set down the coffee and began to eat. Unfortunately, eating and crying was impossible.
“Janet, could I get some tissues?”
“Sure,” she said, and opened a drawer in a cabinet across from his bed and brought over a box. She set it between the railing and his pillow after giving him a few. He blew his nose noisily and thoroughly and half-laughed with self-deprecation. At that moment, a black phone on the wall rang and Janet pushed aside the curtain to answer it.
“Fraiser . . . . . . yes, sir. Injured, but semi-ambulatory. He’ll need a wheelchair for a few days because I don’t want him using his right leg . . . . . . yes, sir . . . . . . Now, if you like . . . . . . yes, sir.”
She returned to Daniel’s bedside and drew back the curtain to reveal his entire bed.
“You don’t have to babysit me,” he said.
“I’m taking on the role because you need seeing to. And protection from lookieloos, no matter how well-intentioned.” She sat on the foot of the bed, clipboard in hand, and began flipping through pages, writing notes, and repeating the process. “That was General Hammond. He’s on his way down to interview you.”
Daniel’s mouth was full and he spoke around the chicken. “You mean ‘debrief me.’”
She grinned. “Chew and swallow. Doctor’s orders.”
He grinned at her, mouth closed, as he followed her orders. He sobered a little as he ate. Some dark time was coming.
“You’re a bit somber,” Janet observed.
He nodded but said nothing as he continued to eat. He was starving, truth be told. He hadn’t eaten for nearly two whole days. And his last full meal had been with Jason at the Alpha Site before he’d returned home with his team, SG-4. He wondered when he’d tell these people that they’d been married. Sort of. He’d been married to Jack, but they’d had a private unofficial wedding that had included Jason. His throat started to tighten up along with his nose. He cleared his throat and concentrated on drinking his coffee to push away the tears.
“It’ll take time,” Janet said, almost off-handedly as she flipped another page.
“Grieving? I know that.”
“No. The PTSS. You do realize you’re in for some hard time?”
“PTSS?” he asked.
“They hadn’t changed the designation yet?” she asked. “PTSD has been changed to PTSS. It’s a syndrome, not a disorder. Medically-speaking, it’s an injury of the mind that coincides with the trauma.”
“Oh, I get it.”
“Personally, I think they changed it because some medical people actually got elected to Congress.”
Daniel grunted in agreement as he continued eating, knowing that he wouldn’t be eating once Hammond arrived. He’d lose his appetite, discussing how he happened to arrive here.
And to both his delight and dread, Hammond came into the ward with Sam. Who was in a dark gray business suit. Was she a civilian contractor or was he assuming she was? He remembered her in another universe, in a business suit with an ID badge, saying goodbye to her fiancé. Jack. Shit. Had it been that way here, too? What was with Jonathan’s need to see him then? Morbid curiosity, romantic feelings, or was he too in love with Sam like Jack—maybe—had been?
“Jeez Louise,” he said to himself as he finished his coffee. He suddenly wanted to leave to find more. He then realized that there was no SG-1. Jack and Teal’c were gone. He was gone. Had they retired the team number like the jersey of a hall of fame football player?
“Doctor Jackson,” said Hammond as he walked over to shake Daniel’s hand.
“Sir,” Daniel said, shaking hands.
“My apologies for the way you were treated after your arrival. Our base is under Lockdown due to an unknown pathogen infecting our computer systems.”
“It is?” Daniel asked, surprised, looking at Janet for confirmation. She nodded. He frowned. “Pathogen? You mean a computer virus?” That seemed impossible. Sam had had their base software protected to the Nth degree.
“No, he means a pathogen,” Sam said. She was a little reticent to greet him but she grudgingly held out her hand. “Doctor Jackson.”
He gave her a wan smile. “Daniel.”
She warmed slightly with her own wan smile. “Sam.”
“This is Doctor Samantha Carter,” Hammond said, introducing them as if Daniel didn’t know who she was.
“Yes, I know.”
“Of course,” Hammond said. “Again, apologies, but we’ve had this experience before.”
Daniel looked at Janet, then Sam. “What?”
“Not separately,” Sam politely corrected Hammond. “We had a stellar anomaly that connected parallel universes and a cross-stream of Einstein-Rosen bridges and a lot of SG-1 teams began appearing through our ‘gate.”
“Um. Wow. Was this was after Jack and Teal’c had passed away?”
Sam nodded mutely.
“Yes,” Hammond said. “Let’s set that aside for later discussion. And I’ll take my leave. I’m due in Washington to explain the pathogen. I need you to explain to Doctor Carter exactly what happened to bring you here. How our ‘gate was yet again a focal point of a parallel universe transfer. Good evening.”
Daniel watched the man leave. He was a very dour version of Hammond. “Something bad’s happened. Why is he so dour?”
Sam and Janet exchanged a look. “The Pentagon and the President want to shut us down,” said Sam. “They don’t like that you’ve shown up and they don’t like that a pathogen . . .” Her voice faded as she thought of something that made her eyes widen. “I wonder if that’s what did it. The pathogen struct, then you showed up.”
“No,” Daniel said, shaking his head. “The Tok’ra explained to me what happened while I was at the Alpha Site. Half of them have a second headquarters there along with a science lab, so they signaled a ship to find out what had happened to make our ‘gate disappear. Took a day, but they came back and said the nuclear attack set off the ‘gate’s naquadah.”
“Nuclear . . .” Sam began, then grimaced. “Of course. It’d blow a crater through the North American Plains.”
“No, just Colorado Springs and surrounding towns,” Daniel said.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Apparently the granite and basalt of Cheyenne mountain sort of contained the explosion so only the mountain blew taking out the valley.”
“Wow. I gotta make a note of that.”
Daniel suddenly said in a low voice, “I lost Jack and Jason.” Then he realized what he’d said through the widened eyes of Sam and Janet. “I mean, you know. Everyone died. Uh, anyway. I wanted to try to ‘gate home anyway but they wouldn’t let me try. If it somehow survived, the radiation would rebound and come through the ‘gate trying to dial in. Like what happened with that black hole. Um, if you had that here, I mean.”
Sam nodded. “So what happened then?”
“I went to Chulak, to see if I could ‘gate home from there, to the Antarctic ‘gate, even though it was in Russia. I didn’t care. Russia’s . . . was . . . a Democratic state.”
“Then who attacked us?” Sam asked.
“North Korea,” Daniel said with disgust. “The western U.S. is in their havoc radius.”
“Where in the hell did they get a nuclear bomb?” Sam asked, just as disgusted.
Daniel’s smile was sour. “I have no idea. I stayed the hell away from the whole mess by getting reassigned at the Alpha Site.”
“What were you doing there?” Sam asked.
“Building the linguistic database for the Alteran language.”
“Holy Hannah. How’d you find out who they were?”
“Antarctica. There’s a whole other base down there with Ancients’ tech. You can’t get to it except by drilling down a hundred miles using a powerful laser. Jack . . .” He cut himself off because talking about him made his heart hurt. Janet placed a hand on his good leg for a moment.
“Sorry,” Sam said.
“Thanks. Anyway,” he said, nodding. “I went to the DHD on Chulak and dialed home. The chevrons lit up but when they tried to lock, the lights on the ‘gate began to circulate around the entire ring and the DHD’s chevron panels began to randomly blink off and on. It was bizarre.”
Sam took out a notepad from her jacket’s pocket and began to write.
“Then a wormhole connected, did the usual kerwhoosh thing, but it did it three times. When the event horizon settled, I thought it was too bizarre so I was about to press the center dome on the DHD to shut the ‘gate off when I heard the tell-tale high whine of glider engines and the lower hum of a hatak. Goa’uld gliders appeared and began shooting at me. Then the Jaffa showed up and I just took off like a shot at the ‘gate. I figured that I’d rather face whatever painful death existed on the other side of the wormhole rather than be taken hostage by the Goa’uld. I was a class one target.”
“A what?” Sam asked.
“The Goa’uld and their shaky allies, the Lucien Alliance, had put SG-1 on a Capture list. We were to be taken alive at any cost.”
“For implantation,” Sam said, scowling.
Daniel nodded. “Anyway, as I went through the wormhole, I saw and sensed nothing since, you know, atomized. But as I passed through the event horizon and landed on the ramp, I felt ice cold. A lot more so than the first trip through the ‘gate, remember?” Sam nodded. “And that’s that. I don’t know how that’ll help you, but it’s all that happened.”
“Were there any known stellar phenomena going on at the time?”
“Sorry,” he said. “I have no idea. I’m only aware of the ones that occur here on Earth.”
“What phenomena?” Janet asked him.
“Eclipses, solar flares activity, the aurora borealis and australis, shooting stars, and other stuff like that.”
Daniel pushed his bed tray aside. “I need some sleep.”
“Oh, sure. I’ll come back later,” Sam said. “Nice to meet you, Doctor Jackson.”
He watched her leave, frowning, and murmured, mostly to himself, “She’s different. That makes sense, since she’s not a Colonel.”
“She was in the Air Force in your universe?” Janet asked, eyes wide in surprise.
“Yeah,” Daniel said tiredly. “A damn good scientist. A really good friend.” He’d lost her too, he realized. In fact, that applied to everyone here.
“You’re tired. We’ll pick this up tomorrow,” Janet said. “If I had a room available right now, you’d be moved there. But that’s not happening until 0900. You’ll have to sleep here.”
Daniel frowned. “I don’t follow.”
“We have a few private patients rooms. They’re occupied until 0900. We can move you there after that time and you can sleep yourself out.” She lowered his bed only slightly because she didn’t want him sleeping on the injured shoulder. She then drew the curtain fully around the bed. “Goodnight Daniel.”
The lights mercifully dimmed, though. Daniel closed his eyes and drifted, telling himself he couldn’t sleep upright. Instead, memories of Jason and Jack kept flitting across his mind before they were replaced by the images of Jason and . . . Jonathan. Twenty-four years old. Jeez Louise, he was young. And really, really hot. It felt wrong somehow, as if he was replacing Jack with a younger version of . . . well, okay, he was replacing him, but whether that meant a relationship was an entirely different scenario. And one that wasn’t a guarantee. Would he mind being around the younger Jack if the younger Jack had a girlfriend? Or god forbid, girlfriends. Good grief.
And then there was Jason. None of them had returned to see him and he felt abandoned. It made no sense to feel that way. What made sense was allowing himself to grieve for the husbands he’d lost.
So as his eyes grew heavier and heavier, Daniel silently cried for them. And for himself.
In the morning, Daniel woke to the sound of the curtain being drawn back to the wall by Nurse Shelly Farraday.
“Good morning, Doctor Jackson,” she said.
Daniel grunted and gave her a nod. “What time is it?”
“0834. We’re moving you to a private room two corridors over in Wing C. You’ll get plenty of privacy and time to heal.”
Daniel absently nodded. “But I think I’m good to go,” he said, lying there without any pain. But when he moved, pain shot through his shoulder and leg making him gasp and go still. “On the other hand . . .”
She gave him a sad, weary smile. “I know. But the wounds are deep and exhibiting infection. You’ll have a fever until the antibiotics take full control.”
Even as she said it, he felt the sensation of humidity against his temples and over his upper lip. He swiped at them with a hand and looked at the condensation on his fingertips. “I couldn’t even tell,” he said, mystified.
She nodded. “So you’re not going to be allowed to wander or set up shop in the office that used to be your lab. His lab. Whatever.”
Daniel nodded back. “I get it.” He then detected the aroma of coffee and groaned as his stomach echoed the sentiment. “Coffee. Could I get—”
Janet and Mara appeared as they walked into the ward and Mara held the common black and tan coffee carafe. “You guys are saints,” he said.
“Don’t canonize us just yet, Daniel,” Janet said, gesturing at Mara to put the carafe down.
They began to unhook stability harnesses under the head of the bed along with the electric plugs intended for the hydraulics, but Daniel interrupted their work by sliding off the bed and unhooked the I.V. apparatus.
“Daniel—” Janet began.
“I need the exercise,” he objected, looking around for a wheelchair. “I can’t just lay there as if I’m on death’s door.”
Janet gave him her Doctor’s Flat Look. “We have the blood tests back. There’s a quantity of naquadah in your blood transferred by the staff weapon and whatever it was that grazed the back of your shoulder. It’s not stable and it’s poisoning your system. Get back into bed.”
Daniel stared at her. “And just when were you planning to tell me?”
“After we moved you,” she said, pointing at the bed.
Daniel sighed and Mara took the I.V. bags and hooks from him as he slid back onto the bed. “I feel stupid.”
“I understand, but it’s medical protocol.”
Daniel lay there and began to blush with humiliation as the women moved his bed and they passed several members of the base. He tried to ignore their stares and glances by focusing on what Janet had told him. Naquadah was poisoning his system? How? Hadn’t Sam and Teal’c carried it in their . . . no, those were markers, not the mineral ore itself. He formulated questions in his mind as he prepared to grill Janet once they finished moving him.
As they rounded the last corner for the far end of the infirmary half of level 21, Daniel saw a few people pass by carrying boxes whose contents stuck out at angles. Long wires with plastic spiders, pumpkins, and ghosts on the ends, and folded squares of orange and black crepe tissue. Was it Halloween? He realized that he had no damn idea what day it was, never mind the season. He supposed that was understandable, given the trauma and general confusion of entering another universe. Still, why hadn’t it occurred to him to ask what day it was?
Poison, he thought, coming back to that revelation. Poison. Why hadn’t he ever heard of such a thing after seven and a half years working with the stargate and against the Goa’uld? He felt his upper lip go moist and touched it just as he realized his forehead was also damp. A fever. Was that why he felt hot? He’d assumed it was due to the sudden exercise, which in retrospect was silly. He was in better shape than that.
But now he had a fever, and blood poisoning. Which meant . . .
No wonder he was being moved. He needed to have a transfusion. Probably three of them over the next four days, if his memory recall was accurate.
After his bed was attached to the plugs in the wall in his new room, Daniel was suddenly hit with a minute case of claustrophobia. He kept thinking of a hospital room from a long time ago. It had been equipped with three windows that overlooked a valley of trees. Where had that been? He’d had his gall bladder out at eighteen, interrupting his studies at Brown University. That was Maryland? No, that was . . . it was in . . .
“Janet, remind me where Duke . . . no, sorry . . . Brown university is?”
“Providence,” she said, mostly absently as she saw the sheen of his skin. “Mara, Shelly, get the . . .”
Daniel no longer paid attention. His fever was spiking and he was hit with both hot and cold running water . . . no, hot and cold . . . sweating and shivering, that was it . . . Halloween. It wasn’t snow weather yet, was it? Where was he? Oh. Colorado. Did they have snow already? Why was he freezing? And why the hell was his attention span jackknifing all over the place like a semi-truck on black ice?
“I think I need a Popsicle,” he muttered. “No, a Hot Pocket. No, um . . . water.”
“Hang on,” Janet said, and she injected something into his I.V. on the back of his hand.
When had the I.V. been put in?
Janet then twisted the valve on his I.V. tubing and the fluid increased to a rapid drip.
“I fees all,” Daniel said. “Free wall.” He growled. Aphasia? Jeez Louise. “I . . . feel . . . nausea,” he finally managed to say once he slowed down to speak.
“We’re working on it,” Janet said.
There were two more people in the room besides the nurses and Janet. Hooking up more machines. Janet pulled his arm out straight while a new nurse inserted a ginormous needle into his arm. An empty tube looped around and around toward a machine and soon red stuff began travelling toward his arm. Good thing he wasn’t squeamish.
“Run, run, run,” he mumbled, then laughed. Because it looked to him like the blood was running away from the machine.
Janet’s eyes were wide. “Daniel? Are you hallucinating?”
“Not . . . exactly. Just thought the blood flowing down the tube was running away from the machine.” He frowned. “But that doesn’t make sense since it’s coming from there.”
“From the units of blood,” Janet reminded him. “You’re getting a transfusion.”
“I know. Uh oh,” he said in a dark voice.
“Better alert the AMA and the cops. You’re giving blood to a queer.”
Her eyes widened even more, and so did a few of the nurses whose expressions he caught before they soberly schooled them.
“What’re you talking about?” she asked.
“You know. Can’t give queers blood. Or take it from them. We’re all dirty. Cause, you know, the phobes are in charge. That’s just ass-backward, don’tcha think? Shouldn’t the good guys with empathy be in charge?”
“Daniel, you were married,” Janet frowned. “And I know you loved your wife.”
His heart hurt again. “I did. But not enough. She’s dead. So I stick with guys. Specifically, I’m a bisexual.” He pronounced sexual with too much emphasis on the S and too many letters for the x. “Switchhitters, he used to say. Teasing though. ‘Why can’t you just pick a side?’ he used to ask.”
“Who?” Mara asked.
Daniel frowned and looked around. Janet was gone. He looked into Mara’s dark eyes. “Jack.” He waited, looked around. Only two nurses now. Mara and Shelly. “My husband,” he said very clearly. “Who’s dead now.” He abruptly stopped talking as tears heated up the sclera of his eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” Mara said, rubbing his biceps.
Daniel finally, truly looked at her. She had blue eyes and black hair. Shelly came over and adjusted his pillows and placed a damp washcloth on his forehead. It was wonderful. She had deep brown eyes and paler than pale skin. Irish? Scottish?
“Sorry for what?” he asked Mara.
“Your husband’s death,” she said.
“You had the laws changed over there,” Shelly said.
“Not just for LGB but the TQ.” She gave him a blank look. “Transgender, transsexual, and transqueer,” Daniel said. “Many people ruined a lot of lives until Congress passed an amendment.” He was suddenly hit with grief and he looked away and stopped talking. His nurses left him alone for a little while.
Meanwhile . . .
Jason parried the staff and with two lightning-fast movements that drew an ‘X’ in the air, he came down on JJ’s defensive stance and knocked the bo out of his hands. JJ stepped back and shook his right hand with a hiss and grimace.
Jason straightened, bowed, and set his staff on the tatami mat that covered the floor of his home dojo and went over to him. “You told me to stop pulling punches. And you won’t learn by playing it safe.”
“I know, I know,” JJ sighed and shook his hand again.
“Lemme see,” Jason said softly and took JJ’s hand in his own, examining the backs of his fingers. They were red but otherwise undamaged. “You’ll have a bruise over your knuckles but no damage.”
“Can’t see the damage,” JJ complained. “Feels like you gave me some fracture lines.”
Jason stared into his deep brown eyes, studying him, and lifted JJ’s hand. “You were distracted. What’s on your mind?”
JJ sighed and dropped where he stood to sit on the floor and folded his legs in a meditation cross and stared down at his hand. Jason sighed in return and dropped to a knee. He reached over and threaded the fingers of his right hand through JJ’s hair. “It’s him, isn’t it?” JJ said nothing. “He’s on my mind, too.”
JJ looked up, surprised. “He is?” Jason nodded. “Kit, it’s him. And yet it isn’t.” He swallowed hard. “I can’t help the feelings I have. I want to . . .” He blushed a little.
Jason enfolded JJ’s hair in a loose fist and push-pulled his head in a teasing gesture before letting go. “I know. Me, too.”
“Really?” JJ asked, looking doubtful.
“Really,” Jason said, and with a crooked grin added, “And yeah, it’s him and it’s not.”
The timer in the kitchen interrupted them and Jason got up. “Did you finish the pumpkin?”
“Yeah,” JJ said, following him. “It’s on the porch, ready for the candle.”
“Cool. Let’s munch on pumpkin seeds and figure out whether we’re going to the infirmary or we’ll stay here and mope.”
“Mope, huh?” JJ said, pushing at Jason’s back as they reached the kitchen. Jason grinned and went to the stove to remove the pan of baked seeds. After he set the sheet on top of smooth surface of the ceramic stovetop, JJ snuggled up to him and wrapped his arms around his waist. He rested his chin on Jason’s shoulder and kissed the side of his face. “Infirmary.” Jason nodded, turned, put his arms around JJ’s neck and kissed him lightly on the lips. JJ returned the kiss with something far deeper and more passionate.
“Maybe you’re just horny,” Jason said, smiling against his mouth.
“Ha,” JJ scoffed and mock-glowered. “Then let’s expend some energy. And when we get to the mountain, I’ll still want to fuck that man’s brains out.”
“You have such a way with words,” Jason said, and took his injured hand gently and led him down the hall.
Back to Daniel . . .
Standing just outside the infirmary’s ICU room, Jason and JJ stared in alarm after finding out about the poison.
“Shit,” JJ said.
“Shit,” Jason said.
Behind them, Janet’s voice said, “You can go in, but if it looks like you’re upsetting him in any way, you’ll need to leave.”
They both turned to her. “Upset him? How . . .” JJ began, but he thought it over and grimaced. “Me.”
She gave them both an understanding look but then she warned, “He needs his strength to combat the infection in his wounds. The poison is the reason his wounds aren’t healing.”
“How’re you going to be able to fix the naquadah in his system?” Jason asked. “Isn’t that a permanent marker?”
“He’ll have that after the mineral ore has been purged from his blood.”
“Transfusions?” Jason asked.
“Several.” She looked past them through the windowed door. “That’s why I don’t want him upset. It’s bad enough that the people he lost are now walking around and have no memory of him or their relationships.”
JJ frowned. “What’re you saying?”
Janet sighed deeply. “He was married to senior Jack O’Neill and held a poly relationship with you, Jason.”
They blinked at her as they digested this news. “Same sex marriage isn’t legal,” JJ said.
Janet gave them both an enigmatic look. “But it was where he came from.”
They turned to look back at the sleeping form of Doctor Jackson. “Shit,” Jason and JJ said at the same time.
Jason pushed at the swing door to Daniel’s room and went in. JJ hesitated. “Lieutenant?” Janet asked.
“Jason and I share Jack’s house. After Daniel’s done healing, we could take him home, look after him.”
“Except when you’re here at work,” Janet said. “That’ll have to wait until he’s fully cleared and accepted as a member of this facility. That isn’t a guarantee. But the Pentagon may want him to create an Ancients database. But that’s not looking good.”
JJ sighed, then went into the room.
Jason and JJ were quiet as they entered Daniel’s room. His bed had been raised so he was in a permanent reclining position and the head of the bed was at a forty-five-degree angle. Daniel seemed to sense their presence and opened his eyes. Groggy with sleep, he murmured, “Oh. Hi, guys.” He made as if to sit up but the tubes running out of both arms reminded him there was no need. And no need to move, either. He raised his arms slightly and quipped, “While no one was looking, I’ve been transformed into a Borg. Are both my eyes still blue?”
The comment made Jason and JJ smile. “You’re much better looking than Locutus,” Jason said. He dropped his tone and asked, “Want me to bring you something decent to eat?” Daniel frowned and Jason pointed at the bed table, upon which sat a food tray. On the tray was nothing but a glass of water and three small plastic cups of red, yellow, and green Jell-O. “Apparently you’re supposed to turn into Cellulose Daniel.” Daniel snorted.
JJ nodded. “We’ll sneak in a pizza or grab a hoagie from Tom’s Hoagies on Maple Drive.” He then grabbed a washcloth off a cabinet and mimicked a waiter by formally laying the cloth over his forearm and bowed slightly. “What’ll be, sir?”
At that moment, the door opened and a man in camo fatigues blurted out, “Yo, Triple J, what’s the hold . . .”
It was Major Charles Kowalsky.
“Up,” he finished lamely. “Holy shit. It’s true. How ya doing Doctor Jackson?”
Daniel smiled broadly. “Hey there, Kowalsky.”
Kowalsky returned the smile, then said to Jason and JJ, “C’mon. We’re due to test run the new sidearms, the Sig Sauers. Then we’ll get outfitted for the recon mission on Friday.”
Jason and JJ didn’t move. They looked awkward, Daniel thought. Or maybe guilty? Which made no sense. “You’re all on the same team?” he asked.
“Hell yeah,” Kowalsky said as if it were obvious. “JJ’s my science guy and Jason here is my bodyguard.”
Jason snorted. “Security operations,” he corrected.
“Oh,” Kowalsky said, grinning ear to ear. “My mistake. I always get that wrong. Why is that?”
“Because you’re an idiot?” Jason asked.
“Right,” Kowalsky fired back. “I can’t remember why that’s not remotely true.”
JJ then patted Daniel’s foot. “We’ll see you later, Daniel.”
“Yep, count on it,” Jason said.
“What team are you guys on?” Daniel asked.
“SG-1,” Kowalsky said over his shoulder as he left the room.
Daniel’s eyes widened. “No shit?” he asked Jason, who lingered.
“Yeah. He’s finally leader of a team and it’s this one. Makes it bittersweet, I guess.”
“Is Sam on any team?” Daniel asked.
Jason frowned. “Sam who?”
Jason snorted. “Uh, no. Civilian.”
“So am I.”
“Sorry, I meant one assigned to the base.”
“She’s not a member here?”
“She’s a floater. Travels back and forth between here and Area 51. Her job is to make sure the base computer is always up to par.”
“Right,” Daniel said, nodding.
“Look, I’ll come check on you after we’re done on the firing range. Bring you that food. So which is it, pizza or a sub?”
“Both?” Daniel asked. Jason grinned. “But by the time you come back, maybe Janet will see that I need something more binding than gelatin and there’ll be a real dinner sitting on that cart.”
“Don’t count on it,” Jason said, rolling his eyes. He tapped the frame of the bed and left.
Daniel stared at the door, replaying the last five minutes. Kowalsky had called them Triple J. Jason and JJ. It was kinda adorable, and it fit with Kowalsky’s personality. So at least that hadn’t changed. So he’d lost Sam as a friend but maybe gained Kowalsky. No offense to Kowalsky but Daniel wasn’t so certain he liked the switch. But then, there were a lot of things about this reality he didn’t like. First and foremost: Jonathan Jackson Doyle. He was technically Jack, but twenty-five years younger. While that was hot as hell and worth private fantasies, JJ wasn’t Jack.
Then reality hit Daniel like a smack between the eyes: No, he wasn’t Jack. Jack was dead. Up to this point, Daniel found that he had been reacting instead of acting. He was still in shock, he knew that. He was existing, not living. Not allowing his brain to take in the whole of what was happening to him.
Jack was gone. JJ was not a proper substitute.
With a heavy sigh, tears began to slide down his cheeks in a moderate flow. This loss was so tremendous that no sound escaped his tightened throat. He wanted to scream, to break things, to tell everyone just how wonderful Jack was. As a husband, as a lover, and as a human being. Did the people of this world recognize even the latter? Had JJ replaced him so effortlessly?
And upon that thought, based solely on his grief, Daniel didn’t want to stay in this world. No Jack. No Sam or Teal’c. This wasn’t his world. He didn’t belong here. Jason was here, yes. But he had JJ, and Daniel wasn’t stepping into that. He’d have to ask Jason for a huge favor though. A huge favor.
Daniel kept his eyes closed and let the monotonous sounds of the transfusion machine lull him back to sleep.
Daniel was lulled from sleep by the sound of voices. By the time he opened his eyes and allowed his mind to return to a reality he wanted no part of, he found Jason sitting in a chair reading a book. Daniel studied his face, his scars, his presence. He knew he was going to upset the man and he didn’t want to do that. On the other hand, if this Jason was like the man he loved and lost, he would understand. He wouldn’t like it, but he would understand.
Daniel realized that Jason was no longer reading but watching him. Studying him right back, if Daniel was any judge. “Hey,” Daniel said and swallowed against a dry throat. “Can I get some water?”
“Sure,” Jason said. He went to the rolling bed cart and filled a cup from the pitcher there and handed it to Daniel.
“Thanks,” Daniel said and drank the entire cup in one go. “Now, can I get a pizza?”
“Ain’t no hotel, D,” Jason said. “Janet would go through the roof.”
“D?” Daniel asked. Jason blinked, and Daniel gave him a sad smile. “It’s what you called him, wasn’t it?” Jason mutely nodded. “Listen, I . . . need a big favor. Huge. Massive favor. And if I might be so presumptuous, you’re not gonna like it.”
“Tell me,” Jason said grimly.
“I need to find a quantum mirror.”
Jason stared at him and the emotions that crossed his face were easily read: disbelief, betrayal, loss, sorrow, and inevitability. It was like watching the five stages of grief in one ten-second look at a man’s emotional status. Jason’s status.
“I’m sorry,” Daniel said. “But I don’t belong here.”
“Jack,” Jason sighed. “Your world is gone.” He nodded but made a face. “You don’t want to stay here?”
“Not really. The world I know isn’t in this one, not even a little. No Jack, no Sam, no Teal’c. I love that you’re here, but you have someone. I’m not interfering with it.”
“Even if we asked?” Jason offered in a hushed voice.
Daniel looked away and pinched the bridge of his nose as he closed his eyes.
“Yeah, I told him it wouldn’t work,” Jason said, and his tone made Daniel look at him. “You had me and Jack. He’s gone, but I’m with JJ. Not exactly fair.” Daniel held his breath. “So yeah. I can help you out. And it’s just your luck that one of those infernal things is housed here, not at Area 51.”
A bit of desperation filled Daniel as he forced himself not to move or say anything ungrateful. He wanted to leave and go find that damn mirror, then spend hours trying to find . . .
“Does it have its dialing device?” Daniel asked, heart sinking in preparation for being told no.
“I have no idea,” Jason said. He got up and set his book on Daniel’s lap. “I’ll take Kowalsky and we’ll go look. I don’t have the clearance. He does.”
“How’s that?” Daniel asked.
“He’s the base XO,” Jason said. “Not just the head of SG-1.”
“Like Jack,” Daniel murmured, gaze unfixed as a few memories of Jack’s complaints about personnel reviews came back to him.
“Yeah,” Jason said, opening the door. “Like Jack.”
While Jason was gone, and hopefully getting Kowalsky to accept Daniel’s request, Janet had come in with a nurse and they were in the process of unhooking and delinking his I.V.s from the machine. It was a slow process since they needed to wait for the two sets of tubing to be completely plasma & blood free. Daniel had a feeling it wasn’t necessary. The only reason to wait was to avoid the inevitable blood and plasma spray, leaving a hell of a mess for an orderly to clean up. Janet didn’t like to do that. Or rather, his Janet hadn’t liked it. Seems like this one didn’t either.
“What’s got you so focused inward?” Janet asked as she pinched the tube attached to the needle in his arm and slowly peeled one strip of tape before removing the needle. Daniel reached over and turned the drip release to close off the tubing, even though it wouldn’t stop the small spray of blood if Janet uncrimped the tube. “Thanks.”
“Sure,” Daniel said.
“Hmm?” Daniel asked, then replayed the last ten seconds. “Sorry. Just random thoughts, comparing my world to this one.” He was finally free of the I.V.s and he exercised his arm joints for a few seconds. “So I’m good to go?” She nodded, but she looked a little worried. “But?” he prodded.
“There’s nowhere for you to go. No job, no housing. And the word’s come down about the Pentagon’s position, which is that they’re not all that interested in raising you from the dead.”
Daniel winced. “I’m not surprised. Dickheads.”
Janet gave him a sympathetic look. “That’s what he would’ve said.”
Daniel nodded and gave her a long look. “Don’t worry. I’m leaving. Hopefully.”
Her brows arched. “Where?”
“Keep it between us?” he asked. “Well, me, Jason, Kowalsky, and you?”
She looked wary. “Is it a violation of any—”
“No.” At least he didn’t think it would be. He didn’t care, in any case. “And the Pentagon would be happy.”
“What is it?” He told her. She frowned at him. “Daniel, that effort could take you a long time.” She was clearly worried about him.
“I know you’re worried. Thanks. But the truth is, and let’s just forget about the Pentagon’s opinion, I just don’t belong here.”
She sighed and patted his arm. “Remain here for the next two hours to make sure there are no other problems, such as a sudden clot in one of your arteries.” His brows rose. “It can happen during and after transfusions.”
“Numbness, then pain,” she said, tapping his right knee. “Legs, arms, rib area, kidneys, liver—”
“Okay, I gotcha.”
“All of which leads to your having a cardiac arrest. To be on the safe side, I’m sending Mara in with an ultrasound machine to check on all your major arteries.”
Daniel grimaced. One of the major arteries was in his groin. “Won’t that be fun,” he quipped with forced cheer.
“Safe than sorry,” he said, quoting the phrase with her.
She grinned. “Hungry?”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” she said. “I’ll have someone bring you some lunch.”
“Thanks. Jason said that he and JJ were going to bring me something, but I think they’ve been sidetracked with, you know, work.” He swallowed. “And now with this request.” She nodded mutely and left his room. She had looked upset, but she covered well. He hated himself for hurting her feelings. She missed his counterpart. Like with his Janet, they had probably been good friends. And now here he was, leaving. Again.
Daniel’s stomach was filled with butterflies. He wanted to go home. But he had to find one.
Next to the mirror, Jason had placed a chair, a pillow, and a table filled with snacks from a vending machine. He too looked upset; he’d also gotten confirmation that the Pentagon wanted Daniel gone.
“That’s convenient,” Daniel said when Jason told him.
“For me,” Jason clarified. “What might have been an Article 15 punishment for using the mirror without authorization now has authorization. So no getting demoted to Lieutenant.”
Daniel stared at him. “You were risking that?”
“Yeah,” Jason said, not looking at him as he looked around to make sure Daniel had everything.
The bulkhead door to Cargo Bay 6 slid open with a mechanical whine and JJ appeared, pizza boxes in one hand and a heavy plastic bag in the other. “I got permission,” he said to Jason as he set the boxes on the table – on top of the bags of snacks – and set the bag next to the boxes. He began to withdraw the contents, starting with bottles of Coke and then a lot of napkins.
Jason raised a brow. “You’re not serious.”
“As long as we don’t make any kind of mess whatsoever, we’re allowed to keep him company while he searches.”
Jason’s expression turned dark. “You mean we’re babysitters.”
“Babysitters?” Daniel asked as he flipped open the top pizza box and snagged a slice, which he neatly folded and took a large bite. As the flavors hit him, making his mouth water, he closed his eyes and groaned in satisfaction. “Well, at least you’re decent company. SFs would’ve made me self-conscious.”
A half hour went by before Daniel felt he was ready to start searching. The mirror sat about twenty feet to their left. Other items were housed here as well, such as broken MALPs, FREDs, and UAVs, along with dozens of crates and boxes and free-standing shelves. He got up and looked around at the chairs, the table, the shelves.
“Where’s the controller?”
“Not here,” Jason said. “It’s—”
Kowalsky entered the cargo bay and waggled a steel box in his hand. “Got it.” He walked over and handed it to Daniel. “Behave, don’t invite anyone over, and when you’ve succeeded . . .” He paused, then said with a knowing look, “make sure you keep this controller on you.”
“But don’t you need . . .” Daniel began and Kowalsky was shaking his head. Thanks, Colonel.”
Kowalsky’s brows rose. “You’re welcome.” He pointed two fingers at Jason and JJ. “You two. Back to work at the range. No babysitting until 1700.”
“Okay there Mister Bossy,” Jason said in a strangely unnerving imitation of Dory from Finding Nemo.
Daniel barked out a laugh and watched them snake slices of pizza before heading for the door. In the doorway, Jason paused. “Don’t leave for another three hours?”
Daniel nodded slightly, saying nothing. Jason left. They wanted to say goodbye. Daniel’s long-kept secret was that he disliked goodbyes. He’d rather leave a note but he supposed he owed Jason, JJ, Kowalsky, and Janet a big thank you for making him feel like he wasn’t something they found under a rock.
Daniel dragged the chair and table closer to the mirror. He needed new glasses and distances were a problem. Hopefully, he’d find a home, then get his lenses replaced. He removed the glasses and studied them for a moment before putting them back on. Maybe it was time to upgrade the frames, too.
He was dithering. With a deep breath, he opened the box to retrieve the controller. Only it wasn’t like the last one he’d seen which had been shaped like an odd seashell, with just one dial to twitch, it had been a pain in the ass to operate. This one wasn’t a seashell. It was a tablet of sorts. Black, almost six inches square, it had three sets of control buttons.
On the left was a half-inch wide column of five buttons labeled with Ancients’ numbers for 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. To its right was a set of squares that dominated the whole of the tablet. It was a 10 x 10 grid and each box was labeled with a constellation glyph or another glyph Daniel was unfamiliar with. The last set of buttons ran along the top of the tablet. It held two buttons: one elongated recess with a sliding button. It was currently set to the middle. Labels along the edge read “retreat,” “advance,” and “stasis.” It was Ancient-speak for back, forward, and stand by. To the right of this long button was a small cylindrical button, a quarter of an inch in diameter. Daniel pressed it, correctly intuiting that it was the power button. It clicked on and the labels on the buttons turned on in bright blue-white illumination.
At the same time, the mirror’s typically slate surface, indicating that it was off, turned into a voidless black. Staring at it, Daniel wondered if he was doing the right thing. The selfish thing, certainly, but was it right? He didn’t want to answer that odd question. It was time to learn how the tablet operated; it was trial and error time.
“Great. Works for remotes, not alien devices,” he muttered as he began to press buttons in combinations. None of them activated the mirror. After ten minutes of failure, he thumped the tablet’s glyph keys with the heel of his hand.
The mirror connected.
It showed a dark room and several Jaffa spinning around to aim staff weapons at the mirror. Without thinking, Daniel slid the dial at the top of the tablet to the left. The mirror changed location in a flash. Another dark room. Red laser lights were crisscrossing in front of the mirror. With a sigh, Daniel slid the dial to the right. Back to the Jaffa. He moved forward. Another dark room. Again and again.
Daniel blinked and looked at the mirror. He froze. The room was well-lit. Inside, looking at him, were a startled Jack, Sam, and Teal’c. In black fatigues. Teal’c’s forehead didn’t have Apophis’ sigil. It had Chronus.’ That couldn’t be good. Then Teal’c aimed his staff weapon and Daniel slid the dial on top forward. Another dark room. He sighed and settled in.
Three hours and seven minutes later, Daniel wasn’t paying much attention. He was eating, dialing, walking around the cargo bay, returning to dialing, and wishing the stupid tablet had an auto-dial feature. He suddenly wondered what would happen . . .
He touched the button he presumed meant ‘Day’ and then tapped out the address for Earth as if dialing from Abydos, Cimmeria, and the other addresses in the Milky Way galaxy. Each address lit up the mirror but all gave him that same dark room until he dialed as if he were in Antarctica. The mirror connected, and it was in a room whose walls were made of ice, buttressed by a clear wall made of glass or an acrylic polymer. Nearby was the Ancients’ chair, darkened. And sitting on a stool in front of the mirror, perhaps fifteen feet away, sat Sam.
Her eyes widened and she jumped to her feet and yelled over her shoulder. Daniel easily read her moving lips, “Sir, I got something!”
Jack came running into the room, followed by Teal’c. It was then that Daniel noticed that they were wearing extreme weather gear to protect them. They were definitely in Antarctica then. Daniel slowly got to his feet and walked toward the mirror. Self-consciously, he gave a cautious wave and said, “Hi.”
Jack’s brows rose and he returned the wave, then waved his fingers with a rise of one brow. Come over here?
Daniel reached up to touch the mirror, but there was a sudden movement from somewhere behind them, and instinct made Daniel swipe the dial on the tablet forward. They were gone, replaced with yet another dark room.
What the hell had he seen? Daniel found that he was shaking as cold seeped into his guts and he took a few steps backward until he fell onto his chair and then toppled to the floor. The movement had belonged to a Goa’uld snake. Daniel recalled the time on ‘888 when he’d been kidnapped by Chaka and at one point, he’d damn near been implanted by a flying symbiote from the lake.
What the hell was going on in that universe? He had zero interest in finding out. But the dialing gave him an idea and he dialed another Earth address, using the exact same address as that of ‘233, where they’d discovered the mirror to begin with.
From the land of light? Nothing.
In frustration, he tapped out Jack’s name. Nine glyphs. Nine chevrons.
And the mirror connected.
That didn’t make any sense.
But neither did the scene before him. On the other side of the mirror sat Jack. He was in civilian clothes, sitting on a log, and tending a campfire. In the distant background sat two white honeycomb domes. In the sky were two moons.
It was like Daniel was watching a living painting. It made more sense than what he was seeing.
There were many things he recognized. Jack. Where he was: the Alpha Site.
He recognized the shirts, plural, he wore. A grey Air Force issue tank top. Over that, a white and red plaid button-down with long sleeves rolled to the elbow. It had a pocket, inside which his Jack kept a container of Tic-Tacs. The orange ones. The pants he wore were instantly recognized because they were pants he hated. They were oversized and baggy tan Cargo pants. Daniel loved the style. But Jack wore ones that were too big for him.
The reason? He didn’t like the idea of people looking at his ass. And since he couldn’t abide that so-called trend of young men wearing pants that were in danger of falling to their knees, Jack had opted for the “baggy no ass” look. It was infuriating. But occasionally, on the events where they went out in public to a restaurant, arena, or theater, Daniel had made him wear jeans. Any brand, didn’t matter. When Jack wore jeans—ones that fit—it was a case of putting Jack at ill ease versus looking awful. People, Daniel in particular, could admire his ass, and while Jack was just fine with Daniel “watching his six,” he still . . .
“I’m not available for everyone else to look at my hard-earned, well-muscled gluteus maximus. Just you.”
Returning from his memories, Daniel looked heavenward and asked, “Did you do that on purpose?” He wasn’t speaking to a particular god or gods. He was speaking to the Universe, whose sole job—it seemed to him—was to maintain balance. Order versus chaos in a never-ending cycle of balance.
Daniel got up and went to the mirror, noticing that Jack hadn’t picked up that the mirror was connected. He was too busy thinking with that faraway look in deep brown eyes. He looked pensive. He looked good.
Daniel waved. Jack didn’t notice. Daniel waved again. And again. And again. He gave up and just stood there, arms crossed. When Jack’s attention finally flickered up at the mirror, he did the expected double-take as he got to his feet in surprise.
There was a moment of indecision or second-guessing because Jack paused and froze. Daniel could imagine the ticking of a clock as Jack ran through all Active Threat scenarios. It lasted nearly a minute. He then cautiously walked around the fire to face the mirror. He was now ten feet away instead of twenty.
“Am I dead there?” Daniel asked, getting it out of the way. No point talking if he couldn’t cross and live.
Jack frowned. “What?”
Daniel pointed to himself, then pointed past Jack to indicate his location, and then drew a line across his throat with his hand.
Jack made an “Ohh.” Then slowly nodded. He stepped back a few paces and beckoned with his hand for Daniel to transfer over.
Daniel raised his hand, then it was his turn to pause and assess. Déjà vu. Why wasn’t Jack more cautious? He touched the mirror. Instead of facing outward, he faced the mirror—hence mirror image, hello?—and he snorted to himself at the unintended pun.
Jack stood there. His eyes were intense and his cheeks were coloring with his mood. He was either upset or angry. Daniel sometimes couldn’t tell because Jack had trained himself to hide his emotion if he felt it appropriate. He did so now. And Daniel did the same.
Jack opened his mouth finally but Daniel blurted out in his rapid speech, “I’ve been looking for a home. I lost mine. And you with it. And maybe this isn’t the healthiest thing to do, co-opting another universe because I can’t cope in this one but, I mean, I don’t belong here either. This is universe transfer one.” He paused, looked behind him at the mirror, then thumbed that way. “Or rather, that one there is. And now I’m in universe number two. I hate to sound clichéd but do I stay or do I go?”
Jack had been frowning but by the time Daniel got to the end of his spiel, he was smiling from amusement. “Need some oxygen there, Doctor Jackson?”
“Huh, ha, ha,” Daniel said. “Not quite done.”
Completely and utterly amused, Jack sat down on his log and leaned his arms on his knees. “Have a seat. I have a feeling we’ll both need to sit down.” He gestured at a carpenter’s stool that had been folded up and leaned against a thick but squat bush opposite the campfire and Jack.
Daniel’s instincts were pinging, but he ignored them as he sat down. “You and me,” he said slowly. “Were we more than friends?”
Jack’s expression sobered. His brows knotted and his gaze became guarded, but primarily out of habit. “We were. But it’s against the frat regs so we can’t . . . couldn’t . . . be open about it. At the same time, it was pretty much an open secret that we tried very hard to disguise as a very close friendship.” He paused, waiting for Daniel to respond. When Daniel only nodded, he asked, “I take you and I were . . . where you came from?”
Daniel frowned. “It’s called ‘together.’ Seeing each other. Friends with benefits. But we weren’t that.”
“No?” Jack asked, confused, given Daniel’s initial question.
“It was a committed relationship,” Daniel said, and paused significantly before he added, “We were married.”
Jack blinked. Then his eyebrows climbed into his hairline. “What? As in . . . married married?”
Daniel raised his own brows but in sarcasm. “Yes, Jack. As in.”
Jack sat there with his mouth open, then realizing it, snapped it shut. “Huh,” he said with a grunt.
The hairs on the back of Daniel’s neck began to tingle. Something was off. He didn’t know what it was but his intuition continued pinging like a smoke alarm. The last time that had happened had been in the false gateroom that had belonged to Hathor and her fellow Goa’uld. His hair had been cut off in a spectacularly horrible bowl cut and that had his nerves on edge already. Then, just before being shocked by Hathor’s appearance, his intuition had pinged that they were in imminent danger. In this instance, he was in danger.
Daniel got up slowly and pressed his palms against his scrubs, looking around. Behind him were shrubs and bushes. Behind Jack were evergreen trees. Daniel pointed there. “If you’ll excuse me, but I gotta take a leak.”
“Sure, go ahead,” Jack said, remaining where he was.
Daniel moved around the log, giving it and Jack a wide berth. He realized he’d left the mirror controller in the other universe and as he entered the small copse of woodland behind Jack, he calculated how long it would take to get back to his universe. The only reason he wasn’t there now was the insane need to verify a hypothesis.
Keeping Jack in his line of sight, Daniel opened up the slit in his scrubs pants and relieved himself. It was perhaps fifteen seconds but it seemed longer. And still, he kept his eyes on Jack. Or rather, Jack’s back.
Finished, he walked toward Jack, eyes fixed on the back of his neck. When he was no more than three feet away, he saw the vertical scar. At the same time, he detected movement through the trees, but at a decent distance away.
“I’m sorry,” Daniel whispered, taking long strides toward the mirror. He touched it, transferred over, and just before he grabbed the controller to switch to the next universe, he saw Jack’s face transform into an angry grimace as his eyes flashed white. He was charging toward the mirror, throwing up his right hand that now wore a Goa’uld Rak’na’kal, aka The Hand Device.
Daniel sucked in a breath as he swiped the dial on the controller. The mirror changed universes and showed a quiet, unattended dark room. Dropping the controller onto the floor, Daniel sat down and put his head in his hands. He was shaking quite a bit and he closed his eyes.
Jack was trapped in that world.
Tears began to fall down his cheeks. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered and shaded his brows with both hands. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t help.”
He cried for several minutes and before he was done, he hunted down tissues to clear his sinuses but found only folded linen. He used a pillowcase and brought it back to his seat before the mirror. Before he sat down, the tear began to fall. He couldn’t take more of these horrible universes.
But at least he was on alert now. What looked normal but out of place was a giant danger sign.
Daniel was on the floor, using his seat as a hard pillow as he dozed on folded arms. A tingling in his hands roused him and he pushed himself to his feet to walk around and swing his arms, putting the circulation back into them. The tingling in his hands faded to nothing and he picked up a new bottle of water and unscrewed the cap. Jason had dropped off three one-liter bottles before leaving within two minutes of showing up. Since Daniel was leaving, he was putting distance between them. It was a bit sad but Daniel could understand the meaning behind his new aloofness.
He had to piss something fierce so he left the cargo bay and walked down to the closest bathroom before returning four minutes later.
Daniel looked around the cargo bay with its bleak fluorescent lighting and strong vibe of Warehouse of Forgotten Objects. He was beginning to hate the cargo bay because it was making him feel like a forgotten object. Not by Jason or JJ but by the universe itself. A feeling that made zero sense.
Daniel grabbed a few bags from the box of snacks Jason had brought and sat down in his chair before the mirror. He wondered if he could go get a meal in the mess hall. Well, not at 2:35 a.m. He pulled open the bag of Cheetos, smelled the tang of fake cheese, and tossed the bag on the floor with a grimace of disgust. The mess hall was looking pretty damn good, even if all they would have at this hour was old coffee and stuff from the cafeteria vending machine.
Daniel then detected movement in front of him and looked up.
The darkened room was now lit. But he couldn’t see anything because that quantum mirror had a covering over it. Judging by the way the fabric hung, it too must’ve been a silk parachute. Then a shadow passed before the mirror and the fabric began to slide upward and then to the side. As the covering was pulled away, the person revealed was Sam. When she realized that the mirror was connected to another universe, she stepped back, eyes wide, and said something.
Daniel read her easily: “Holy Hannah.”
He gave her an exhausted wave. She reflexively waved back. He picked up the clipboard and handwrote on the back of the topmost form then turned it around for her to read. Since she would’ve been reading it backward, he had written his message backward:
“Am I alive there?”
Several questions crossed her face as she looked surprised and shook her head. “No,” she said mutely. Her expression then moved from puzzled to emotional as she stared at him.
“How long?” he wrote.
“Eight days,” she said, drawing an 8 in the air.
“I’m sorry,” he said, speaking with emphasis so it would be easy to read him without writing on the back of a form.
She nodded and said “Thanks.” She then asked, “Why are you using the mirror?” and accompanied the question with hand gestures.
Daniel noted her uniform. Olive drab. Her rank: major. Her hair was super short. “Year?” he asked.
“2015,” she said.
For Daniel, it was 2010. In the universe he was in, it was 2013.
“Weird,” he wrote. He gave her the “2013” year because it just didn’t matter on this side of the mirror.
She asked again, “Why are you using the mirror?”
He gave her a sad smile. “I’m looking for a home.”
“What? Why?” she asked.
“Lost my home to nukes. You’re all dead.” To go into further detail would require that he transfer over.
She gave him a thoughtful frown. “I’m sorry.”
“Thanks,” he said, giving in to performing sign language. To his surprise, she signed back.
“Do you want to come here?”
“It depends,” he said.
“On what?” she asked.
“Whether Jack is alive and if we’re good friends.”
She looked puzzled. “Of course he is and you are.” She made a face. “You were. You’re gone now.” She wrinkled her nose and made a clear effort to sniff any tears away. She started to speak when something caught her attention to her right. She spoke to someone and pointed at the mirror, then took three steps back.
Jack appeared and upon seeing Daniel came to an abrupt halt. He and Sam had a discussion and it seemed to Daniel that she was explaining what she’d found out so far. Daniel got up from the chair and walked to the mirror. He held up his hand as if to touch the mirror but paused and raised a brow. Can I come over?
Jack eyed him distrustfully and shook his head.
Daniel sighed and picked up the controller pad he’d dropped on the floor. He gave the duo on the other side of the mirror a farewell wave and made to touch the controller when Jack waved at him, beckoning. Daniel dropped his arm, controller in hand, in a move of frustration. “Make up your mind,” he mouthed. Jack rolled his eyes and beckoned again.
Then it was Daniel’s turn to pause with mistrust. But he took a chance and touched the mirror. On the other side, he turned to face the new Jack and Sam. “Um, hi.”
“Hi,” Jack and Sam said together. “What’s up?” Jack asked.
Daniel couldn’t stop the smile from forming. “Oh, you know. Same old, same old.”
“Yeah, same old, same old. Can you be a little more specific?”
“Long or short story?”
“Short,” Jack said.
“My home was nuked. The SGC and NORAD, I mean. You’re all gone. I was at the Alpha Site. I went to Chulak to see if you and Teal’c were still there but you weren’t. So I tried to dial home and the ‘gate malfunctioned. Sent me to that universe,” and he pointed at the room on the other side of the mirror. “You’re not alive there either. I can’t stay there because the Pentagon wants me gone so I’ve been . . . surfing the universes, you might say, looking for a new home.”
Jack’s brows rose. “How long have you been at it?”
Daniel looked at his watch. “Almost twelve hours.”
Jack looked over his shoulder to study the chair and the food debris. “Looks like you’ve been abandoned.”
“Pretty much,” Daniel said. “But I really don’t mind, all things considered.” He then sighed heavily and winced at the pain in his leg.
“What happened?” Jack asked, pointing.
“Staff weapon,” Daniel said. “Leaving Chulak. Bad guys showed up just as I was going through the ‘gate.”
“What’s that?” Sam asked, referring to the tablet in Daniel’s hand.
“The mirror’s controller.”
“What? Seriously?” she asked and started to hold out her hand but Jack stopped her.
“Not now, Carter.”
“So what now?” Jack asked.
“What do you mean?” Daniel asked.
“What do you do now?”
“I guess it’s up to you,” Daniel said. “Sam said I’m dead here. That it’s only been eight days. Maybe it’s a bad time for me to pop up here asking for a home?” He was trying to be light about it but his empathy for their pain was warring with the sight of Jack standing there.
Jack sighed through his nose. “Not really sure what the protocol on that should be. We’ll need to have a chat with Hammond, then go on from there.”
“Okay, but can I get a guarantee that if I’m not wanted here, I could use this mirror to find another home? That room is getting old,” Daniel asked. He felt his throat go hot. It was hurting his heart to be this close to Jack and not be able to hold him, kiss him, and tell him he loved him.
“I don’t see a problem, but I give you my word,” Jack said. “Carter, stay here. I’ll buzz down here once we get the go-ahead to let him leave the cargo bay.”
Jack turned and left. Daniel exchanged a look with Sam, then she looked like her usual self when she asked, “Can I see that tablet?” He handed it over and told her what he’d managed to find out about it so far, which was pretty much nothing.
The sight of his temporary home vanished as Sam dialed her own addresses—which failed. Only the Forward/Backward dial would work. “I was just running on Chance,” Daniel said, gesturing at the tablet.
“I don’t think you were far off in what you learned but I agree. It’s basically a forward/backward dialing tablet until instructions are found on how to operate the keypads.”
“And that’s not likely to happen,” Daniel said.
She nodded and to his surprise, turned the tablet off. She handed it back to him. “No need to tempt fate.”
Daniel frowned as he took the tablet. “What do you mean? There isn’t . . .” He paused and felt dread make a pit in his stomach. “Is this a temptation to find something you’ve lost here?”
She shook her head. “It’s more a case of perverse curiosity.”
“Ah,” Daniel said, nodding in agreement. “It used to be that for me. Now it’s turned into graveyard humor.” Her brows raised in query and he said in a slightly different tone of voice, “Step right up, let’s find out who’s dead in this particular universe.”
“Ah,” she echoed.
Suddenly there was a mild lurching movement of the entire room and Daniel’s eyes widened as he reached out and touched something covered with a heavy tarp to steady himself. Given that Sam hadn’t reacted told him it was a normal feeling. He stared at her as his mind performed a few calculations.
“Are we on a ship?”
She became a little guarded, then seemed to think better of it and her wariness relaxed. “The first X501 Phoenix-class battlecruiser, named Andromeda. A maiden voyage. We’re traveling from Earth to the new Alpha Site. General Hammond is commanding the ship but Colonel O’Neill is commanding the mission.”
“Which is?” Daniel asked.
“To smooth out the kinks of the new ship and to deliver most of the cargo and crew to the Alpha Site to make it a true second home instead of a post.”
Daniel nodded and lifted his right foot to ease the pain of his injury. Sam frowned and went to the comm unit by the door. “Colonel O’Neill?”
“What is it, Carter?”
“Could I take Daniel to the infirmary?”
There was a five-second pause. Then, “Go ahead, Carter.”
“C’mon,” Sam said, and returned to Daniel, but this time, she took the controller, set it on the covered object, and then positioned herself on his left side as a crutch to help him walk easier. “No matter what happens, I don’t think you should sit around here and wait for the wound to get infected. God only knows what’s different between universes, you know?”
“Thanks,” Daniel said as they left the cargo bay and headed down a corridor. They passed a long narrow window that exposed bright aurora colors. They were in hyperspace. “Is that what happened a few minutes ago? We entered hyperspace?”
She nodded. “Yes, and that slight lurch is one of the kinks that need ironing out. Heimdall says there shouldn’t be any notice except the hum of the hyperspeed engines.”
“Heimdall? The Asgardian?”
“Yes,” she said, smiling. “You’ve met?”
“Not directly. I’ve only heard Jack talk to . . .” He swallowed hard. “How long till we get to the infirmary?”
She paused as they came to a double set of doors on the right. “We’re here,” she said, pressing a panel and the door swished left into the wall. After they passed the threshold, the door swished closed.
The infirmary was a large section with several isolated rooms and wards. In front of the main doors was a half-circle register station, where they stopped.
“I need to get this man some help,” Sam said to one of the nurses, who stopped cold and stared with large, shocked eyes. “Crap,” Sam said to herself. “He’s from another universe,” she said to the nurse. “Now, where do we go for help?”
“What’s wrong?” came another voice and Daniel turned to see Doctor Janet Fraiser. He assumed she was on board to work out the kinks of the infirmary. But in the meantime, her eyes were as large as her nurse’s.
“He came from another universe,” Sam repeated. “He’s hurt.”
“I see,” Janet said, recovering quickly. “What’s wrong?”
“I was shot in the calf with a staff weapon. It’s been bandaged but it’s hard to walk on it.”
“Just double-check to make sure it’s not infected,” Sam told Janet.
“Oh you,” Janet said to Sam. “We’ll do more than that. Honestly, Sam.” She gestured for the two to follow her to the closest exam room, which was one door to the right of the station. “You’re gonna have to get the General or the Colonel to state Doctor Jackson’s presence on the ship so that people aren’t continuously stopping and staring in shock when they’re supposed to be focusing on their work.” She led Daniel to the exam bed and he sat on the edge and raised his leg while she pulled out an extension of the bed for his leg to rest on. “Pull up the pant leg,” she ordered.
“Okay, while you’re clearly in good hands, I’ll go talk to the Colonel and General Hammond,” Sam said, and abruptly left.
“That was sudden,” Daniel said, gingerly pulling up the right pant leg of his scrubs.
“How so?” Janet asked as she adjusted the medical scissors under one side of the bandage and began to cut it in half. Part of the bandage was soaked through with both dried blood and a new stain. “Tsk, tsk, tsk, “ she said. “The wounds from staff weapons are notoriously difficult to heal.”
“I know,” Daniel said and began to speak rapidly. “Been shot a few times over the years. This one was particularly bad because somehow naquadah got into the wound and thus my bloodstream. I had to get a transfusion. That was in the other universe, but that wasn’t my home universe. This is the second one I’ve been in. Or technically, the third, if you count my original home.”
“How in the world did you get naquadah poisoning?” Janet asked.
“Staff weapon. Still not clear on how it did that.”
“Only reason for a transfusion,” she said, only slightly paying attention to her words as she inspected the wound. “This isn’t healing well.”
“It’s only been a few days.”
She sighed and gently pulled his scrubs over the wound. “C’mon. You’ll have to walk on it for about thirty seconds while I get you to a patient’s room.”
“This isn’t one?” he asked as she helped him to his feet.
“No, prelim exam. We’ve done that. Now to a room. You’re not walking any further on this leg, Doctor Jackson. Except to the patient’s room.”
“Because it’s just a smidge away from infection. We’ll do the cursory vitals after you’re settled. Have you experienced a fever in the last few days?”
“With the leg wound.”
“The blood poisoning?”
Once in the room, and after a very firm reprimand to all visible staff for staring, she had Daniel take off the scrubs pants. “I have another set of Scrubs for you to wear while you’re in the infirmary.” She went to a tall gray metal cabinet and rooted around in its six drawers, pulling out folded clothing. When she returned to his bedside, she set down a set of dark blue scrubs. “They aren’t appropriate for daily wear, so here are these.” She set down a pair of pale blue sweats, a white t-shirt, plain white boat shoes, and a thin dark blue jacket with a set of white wings over the breast pocket. “I’ll get you some briefs or boxers from Supply. Which do you prefer?”
“Boxer briefs,” he grinned. “Briefs, please. Jack likes . . .” He stopped talking. “Never mind.”
Janet frowned but said nothing about the pause or that he’d said, “Jack likes.”
“The sweats are easily hiked over your calf so we can see to the wound. Same thing with the t-shirt. But don’t put these on. Not until you’re discharged.”
“I don’t have any ID,” he said, thinking about military protocol on checking into the infirmary as one checks into any medical facility.
She knotted her brows. “No need. We have everything consolidated in the database.”
“Right,” he said, then quickly donned the dark blue scrubs and returned to bed.
Janet nodded appreciatively. “That color looks good on you.”
“Yeah?” Daniel asked, looking down at himself. “First time for this color, ever.”
She patted his shoulder. “Let’s test the theory that you can pull up your pant leg without cutting off circulation.” With her assistance, they pulled up the pant leg until it was folded over his knee. “They’re a bit loose, which is what we want.” She grimaced at the wound. “We’ll have to debride the wound.” He grimaced with her. “It’ll be okay after the lidocaine takes effect but for the next twenty minutes, it’ll sting as you get injected. Sorry, Daniel.”
“Been there, done that,” Daniel said, but he wasn’t looking forward to the sting of the needle that injected the pain-numbing solution.
Daniel had been sitting up in bed for the last twenty minutes as he was grilled by Hammond, Jack, and a rep from the Pentagon named General Penny Johnson, who was tasked with commanding the Alpha Site. They weren’t exactly grilling him but he was in a foul mood after the leg treatment and wished he could just sleep.
But his foul mood was increasing by the minute and the source of the turmoil was Jack. Daniel thought he knew the man and had assumed that he couldn’t be that different from other Jacks in similar universes like the one Daniel had come from originally. He’d been wrong.
This Jack did not like him. Not one bit. Whenever Daniel answered a question that sounded too vague, Jack would be rough with him. “Clarify,” he’d snapped. His tone and manner were rigid and terse. He acted like had zero interest in interacting with this new Daniel.
Which was confusing to Daniel. He didn’t understand what the problem was. They’d always been friends. What had happened to change that? His death eight days ago? Was that it? Jack didn’t like to be around people while he grieved so it was no surprise to find him in a sour mood, but this open hostility was shocking.
And what it said about this universe was that his future wasn’t here. Perhaps it was just as well. Daniel was running out of the emotional energy to be supportive or understanding with this unknown Jack. The path of least resistance was to go along and then set up shop in the cargo bay. It was a shame. Living on the Alpha Site sounded okay to him. He could’ve been helpful to their archaeo division.
By the time the questioning was over, and the three people left him alone in his infirmary room, Daniel couldn’t quite recall why they’d been there. There was the obvious—what threats in his universe could they avoid, and that sort of thing. It was simply the act itself, getting questioned. He was too absorbed in wondering what was wrong with Jack and at the same time, sulking—however justifiably—over his future in the cargo bay.
A knock came on his door and he frowned in confusion. He was getting tired of being confused. Whoever it was, they weren’t medical. Medical personnel didn’t need permission to go in and out of his room.
“Come,” he called.
And in walked Jason.
Clean-shaven, wearing BDU fatigues, with a Colonel’s bird on his lapels. His name tag read Coburn.
“Hi,” Jason said. “Hammond asked me to come by to compare universes.” He offered a mischievous smile as he held up a clipboard with a lot of paper on it.
Daniel sighed through his nose as the pit in his stomach grew bigger. He pinched the bridge of his nose and made a decision that would cause guilt but he didn’t care. He was about to lie. “Could you find Janet, please, Colonel? I have a headache.”
When Janet appeared, she saw Jason, raised a brow, then put her attention on Daniel. “What is it, Daniel?”
“Could I get something to ease this headache? As long as it’s not a narcotic.”
“I’ll come back later,” Jason said and left Daniel’s room.
“Don’t bother,” Daniel said and sat up a bit. His demeanor made Janet raise an eyebrow.
“You don’t have a headache, do you?”
He shook his head and pushed himself to a sitting position, then got to his feet. He winced.
“Daniel, you need rest. Get back into bed.”
“I don’t want to draw this out. I need to get back to the cargo bay.”
“Why?” she asked.
“To find a home. This one won’t work.”
Her expression was unreadable. He frowned at her, then said, “Because the men I loved in my universe don’t feel the same way here. I’d rather be dead than hang around loved ones who no longer know me or care about me. Do you know what I mean?”
Her expression was full of empathy this time. “Yes, I think I do. But how do you know they don’t feel the same?”
“Words, actions, body language.” He shook his head. “People always forget that anthropology is the study of human behavior. That it’s typically a prerequisite before learning archaeology, then Egyptology.”
“And, I’m a student of behavior. When a person like Jack says something in a certain tone of voice and stands a certain way or makes a gesture, it’s a road map to how they feel.” He paused. “This man does not like me. Since I lost him in my universe, he’s not the only one grieving for the loss of a friend. But he wasn’t just my friend.” He paused. “He was my husband, Janet.” Her eyes widened but it was out of surprise, not shock. He watched several other expressions cross her face as the situation dawned on her. “So you see,” he said. “I can’t stay here, knowing that the man I love now hates my guts.”
“It’s quite possible you’re misreading him, Daniel,” she said.
With a heavy, broken heart that made him feel physical pain in his chest, Daniel stood before the mirror and held the controller. His sight was blurry. He couldn’t stop the tears from misting his sight but at least he kept them from falling. He knew that some people would have preferred a stoic Daniel Jackson but that had never been his way. He had developed quite a thick skin over the years and tears weren’t a regular part of any trauma. But then, losing a husband is the one thing that makes allowances for tears. Strangely, it felt as if he’d lost him three times. This world was the latest.
He looked around and found a chair with wheels and dragged it to the mirror. He began the process all over again, noting with annoyance that he was hungry. It didn’t make sense. Going by his watch, he’d eaten about 5 hours ago, albeit in another universe. It was time for liquid and a snack—if he’d been at his desk in his office-slash-lab, it would be time for an apple and a fresh cup of coffee.
He turned on the mirror, and at the same time, swiped the dial to the right because the last known location was always kept in the device’s memory. He’d learned that at least.
A dark room appeared, without the lasers. The next universe had lasers. The one after that was the same. He continued to swipe forward and minutes ticked by. Daniel found himself remembering the first time he’d met Jack. He’d just seen the cartouche at the base. Jack hadn’t much liked him then, either, although he’d warmed up to him after the traumas on Abydos.
Why had Jack hated him then? Well, he hadn’t. Not exactly. Jack had hated everyone. He had wanted to die, to atone for leaving his gun loaded and available for Charlie to play with. Daniel had changed his plans. Was this world’s Jack having a similar feeling? Was he angry that another Daniel Jackson appeared just as he was learning to live with his demise?
No, it’d only been eight days.
“Too soon,” Daniel said aloud.
“Do you always talk to yourself out loud?” came Jack’s voice from the door.
Daniel ignored Jack’s question and swiped Forward again. Another blackened room. He swiped again. He wanted to ignore Jack’s presence but that was impossible. Heartbreakingly impossible.
“Don’t worry. I’m leaving. It may take a little while but I’m leaving.”
“Why are you?” Jack asked. “We don’t have a Daniel Jackson anymore. You’re safe to stay.”
Daniel didn’t answer as he swiped right. Another dark room. Swipe.
“Well?” Jack pushed.
“I’m not staying. That’s enough, isn’t it?”
“Someone here push you into it?” Jack asked.
Daniel started to look at him and it hurt so much that he closed his eyes. He forced them open as he blindly swiped right. Yet another dark room.
Then something caught his attention.
Jack’s faint cologne.
Suddenly Daniel got up from his chair and set the controller on the seat. He began to walk to the far corner of the bay where it was mostly pitch black. “Listen, just go. You don’t need to make sure I’m leaving.” He said these words with a tremor in his speech.
It was all Jack. Daniel knew because he’d bought it for him six years ago. In another life.
He covered his face with his forearms and tried to stifle the noise of weeping that wanted to escape. His Jack was dead. Jason was dead.
Neither of them cared about him in this universe. It was worse than if they were dead here too.
“Daniel?” Jack called.
He wasn’t that far away. Daniel shrunk in on himself and moved further into the black until he was literally in a corner. Some quips from Jack or Jason would’ve come to mind, teasing him about painting himself into a corner.
“Just leave,” Daniel whispered. “Please go.”
“Why?” Jack asked, thankfully far away.
“Because seeing you hurts. More than you know.”
“Maybe I know more than you think,” Jack said.
Daniel said nothing because there wasn’t anything to add. He hated repeating himself. Jack knew what he wanted. The ball was in his court. He could leave or he could torture Daniel into making a mistake and choosing a bad universe just to escape the one where his husband hated him.
“Daniel,” Jack said, and he was walking toward him, his footfalls operating in a large cavern with a doppler effect. Echoes, coming close. “I’d like to show you something.”
Daniel let out a small moan and the tears began to fall like an I.V. drip. “I don’t want to see it. I don’t care what it is.”
Jack’s steps came closer and closer until he was perhaps ten feet away. “Turn around and look at what I have in my hand.”
Daniel sighed, gave a cursory swipe at his face, and turned around. He blinked several times until Jack’s palm came into focus. It was a ring. White gold or silver. The band was engraved with a Celtic knot design that encircled the ring. It was the same as the one on his ring finger. He blinked some more and came closer. Two feet away, he reached out and took the ring from Jack’s hand. He searched the inscription.
How I love thee, forevermore.
It was the inscription he’d placed on the ring Jack had worn. Jack . . . his Jack . . . had engraved something else for Daniel. Daniel took off his ring and handed it to Jack.
“You gave this to me six months ago,” he said, meeting Jack’s gaze. “You wrote the inscription. It says, ‘For you, my love is eternal.’ We never put our names on them but we should have.” Daniel turned away, repeating the last three words in a whisper.
“This doesn’t say that,” Jack said. “Instead, it says, ‘If loving you is life, I will live forever.”
Daniel’s eyes widened. “That was my second choice. But if you have that, then it means we were together. So why do you hate me?”
“I don’t. Daniel, from what I’ve gathered from others, like Fraiser, you’ve misread me. Grief will have been the cause. Want proof? What’s the one thing I do to avoid emotional pain?”
“Deflection,” Daniel said instantly, turning and walking away. “You either take a leave of absence or you lash . . . out . . .” His voice faded on the last two words. “You lash out,” he repeated in a whisper.
“It’s been brought to my attention that I’m behaving like a shit,” Jack said, then cleared his throat. “It wasn’t necessary,” he said, his voice rough. “I knew how I was acting. Knew it would hurt you. I wanted you to hurt as much as I was, am, hurting. Then Fraiser and Carter told me that I was hurting you more than I knew. Because you were hurting already.”
“Because I’d lost you,” Daniel said. His voice was filled with tremors thanks to the tears stuck in his throat. “And I stupidly thought I’d be able to find you again. As if you were waiting for me to show up. Is that arrogant or what?”
“You’ve always been that way,” Jack said.
“What?” Daniel asked, turning and scowling. “How the hell would you know?”
Jack cleared his throat and walked toward him, pausing with each footstep as he spoke. “Your middle name is James. You hate off-brand coffee creamer. Your favorite song is Time in a Bottle and your favorite color is teal. Now tell me who I am. If all of these are true, then you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.” He stopped a mere two feet away.
Daniel’s heart began to pound but at the same time, a peculiar calm spread over his mind. “Your middle name is Jonathan. Your first name is actually Jameson. You like cold coffee as long as it’s Folgers. You like lemon in your pancake batter. Your nickname for Charlie was Tadpole. Your favorite song is La bohème’s Che gelida manina.”
Jack swallowed hard enough for Daniel to hear it. “It was. It’s now Time in a Bottle.”
Daniel asked, listlessly letting his arms rise and fall, “What’s this mean?”
“I already told you. You’re where you’re supposed to be.”
Then Jack held up his hand for Daniel to take.
Daniel did nothing.
“I’m sorry for the way I acted,” Jack said. “You scared me. I had just prayed to have you come back and you then show up in the mirror. Not a coincidence.”
“No such—” Daniel began.
“—thing as a coincidence,” Jack finished as they both said the same thing.
Jack kept his hand out.
Finally, Daniel felt hope again. He reached out and took Jack’s hand.