Sweetness Follows

At first, the dreams came to him only at night.

They hadn't seemed dreams as much as echoes in the beginning. He would awaken, his body tense with the effort of listening for the original call of those nighttime visions. He never seemed nearer to reaching them, even as the dreamechoes gained power and began encroaching upon his waking hours. When this started, Arrom had segregated himself even more from the kind people who had taken him in, then, afraid his waking dreams would only make him seem stranger in their eyes. None of them seemed to notice his withdrawal, but he suspected that was simply because they chose not to or because there was not much difference in how he behaved toward them. He was grateful for their hospitality but bore no illusions about his lack of place in their community.

Only Shamda had ever spoken with him on a regular basis and was the only one who continued to do so. Shamda, who had the wisdom to call him the naked one and not because he had been so, physically, when he had been found. He wasn't quite so naked anymore, though the garments he wore still felt inadequate. Someday he might have enough to cover himself completely. Arrom smiled at his strange mental ramblings. He looked around his tent. It was dark, quiet, as the others all slept. Sleep was something he rarely did anymore. The dreams...they kept him from attempting it. When they came, they were so much stronger at night than during the day, and yet not strong enough. He lit several candles, the warmth of their glow aiding against the chill and fighting the shadows spiriting around the tent. He didn't know why, but he always found comfort in the smell of wax melting, the flicker of the flames.

There was something from his unknown past, perhaps, possibly even a religious connection. That idea seemed so alien to him. Arrom might not be able to remember who he was, but he had a distinct sense he was not one to believe in unseen powers. Or...perhaps he did. But not in the sense that the people here did. He could not imagine himself praying to some omnipotent deity. Nothing was all knowing, so powerful. He could not believe that. No, his affinity for candles had nothing to do with religion. He stared at the wall of his tent, watched it ripple fluidly in the slight breeze and tried to determine what he should do with his night. He picked up a lighting stick and ignited it on one of the candles.

"Some believe a person will die from lack of sleep before he will die from lack of food, Arrom."

Arrom jumped, nearly dropping the stick he held. He looked toward the door, saw Shamda peering in at him from the shadows. Speak of the devil and he will come. He tipped his head down, recognizing he had been caught. He wondered how long Shamda had known of his sleepless nights. He motioned the older man in, though he had no wish to speak with anyone. He never did.

"Good evening, Shamda," he greeted, waving the old man to take a seat.

While it was true he wasn't desirous of company, Arrom thought having someone to speak with for a fraction of his night would make time go by faster. Shamda was as good a person as any for that. Arrom blew a harsh breath from his nose. Shamda was the only person, he reminded himself. He knew many of the people laughed Shamda off as a senile old man, but he had watched and listened closely since his arrival. If there was one thing Shamda was not, it was senile. His stories might often seem incomprehensible on the surface, but digging deeper often reaped much insight. He didn't mind a visitor after all, he decided.

Shamda groaned as he settled himself on the mats, nodding at Arrom's greeting. For several minutes, they spoke no words. It did not take Arrom long to become disconcerted by the silence. He studied the dancing silhouettes the candlelight reflected onto the tent walls. In turn, he felt Shamda studying him.

"You are unhappy here," Shamda announced at last, shifting around as if trying to distract Arrom with an exhibition of discomfort.

"No, that's not true," Arrom said, shocked by Shamda's assessment even though there was truth to it. "You all have been so kind."

"Kind, yes. Strangers can offer kindness but cannot help you find what you search so painfully for." Shamda shifted on his mat again, then picked up a stick and rolled it between age-gnarled fingers. His gaze was so intent upon him, Arrom had to look away. "You are haunted, Arrom. Any fool could see this."

Shivering, Arrom huddled closer to his candles and wished for a true fire. Haunted was a more astute description than Shamda could possibly know. But then, if he didn't know, he wouldn't have said it. It bothered him to know his emotions were so apparent. His breath seemed to catch in his throat, and there wasn't enough of it. He shouldn't be so upset, but he wanted to disagree, just to show Shamda his observations weren't accurate in a childish show of will.

"I know who I am must be in me somewhere," he said instead, unsure how that had slipped out. He stared up at Shamda, as if the old man could give him explanation. After a moment, Arrom shook his head. "That sounds ridiculous, doesn't it?"

"Not so much as you might think. You try too hard, my friend, and I worry for you. Sometimes the only way to find answers is to forget the questions."

Now that...that was ridiculous. Arrom barked out a laugh and shook his head again. He could not simply forget he didn't know who he really was, and he could not forget the cold feeling his dreams left him with. His skin prickled. He knew he couldn't have become so blank without reason. He had to know why this had happened to him - it was a need so deep and desperate it frightened him almost as much as the cold remnants of dreams. He feared he would never know himself again. If he had ever known himself.

"Time for a parable?" Arrom murmured. "I wish you could tell me one that would help."

"No, I have no stories to tell on this occasion," Shamda said, in a voice quiet and more sober than was customary for the jovial storyteller. "Though I do have one about a young woman and her tendency to watch her cooking pot."

Blue water, surrounded by gray that wasn't harsh, but warm. Almost familiar, and not at the same time.

"It never boils."

"Ah, you know this one."

"What?"

"Never mind."

Arrom's pulse raced. It felt as though he had had this conversation before. He stared at Shamda, half expecting the other man to look different somehow. He didn't know why. He blinked. Dark, nearly black eyes looked back at him. He blinked again and Shamda's watery, kind eyes were there. He shivered, drawing himself even closer to the candle flames. His fingertips burned, and he flinched but kept them where they were. An acrid smell rose up to him as one of his fingernails scorched.

"Remember what I said, Arrom. Do not try so hard. The answer will come to you." Shamda struggled to his feet, waving off Arrom's halfhearted offer of assistance. "Perhaps when you least expect it. You should sleep. I should sleep."

"But sleep brings me no rest," Arrom whispered to himself, watching Shamda's form blend with the darkness outside.

"You do not allow it to, my young friend," Shamda called back. "Empty your mind of its thoughts, and you will find peace enough to sleep."

He jerked in startlement, spinning to glare out the opening of his tent. In doing so, his hand went directly into a flame. Hissing, Arrom drew his hand back and cradled it close to his body. The burn was negligible but stung as if much worse. He scowled out at the darkness and saw no more evidence Shamda remained around his tent. He leaned down and blew out all of his candles. The smoke hung thickly around his head, making him slightly dizzy and sick to his stomach.

His hand stung. The smoke wafted into his nostrils. It was strong and seemed tainted with the smell of burned flesh and cloth. He choked. Worse than the stench, was the terrible smell came intense pain and panic that accompanied it. He fell to his side. He wanted to curl into himself, hide from the agony searing him but it came from his shoulder, not his hand. It was so real, so close. Arrom moaned. He was afraid of what was happening to him. He was more afraid he'd never understand it, that he'd done something wrong and these dreams and the thrums they left behind were part of his punishment. The pain would not dissipate completely, tolling through him. Torture for the rest of his days.

It was this last thing that always brought the soul chill, always ended the dream with jarring suddenness and left him with aching reverberations. He felt that now and was again surrounded by the silence of the encampment. Arrom uncurled enough to pull up a blanket. He could pile twenty of them on and still remain cold. He did not think sleep would come for him this night, the chances of it even less than on a normal night. Shamda was right - he was haunted by the ghost of his past self. His burned hand itched. He clenched it so he could have something else to focus on besides the terrible shudders of the dream. The pain wasn't great, but it was sufficient.

He thought about nothing, centering on the tingle in his hand for a good number of minutes until he was relaxed. What do you know, Arrom thought, Shamda had been right about that, too. Shamda seemed to be right about a lot of things. It might have taken him a couple phases of the moon to figure out just how wise the bumbling man was, but now that he had - he knew there was at least one person in his lonely life he could turn to. For the first time since his arrival with the travelers, he didn't feel quite so disparate.

Arrom stretched his legs out a little more, warming a bigger pocket underneath the thick blankets. This existence wasn't a bad one. He could learn to not try so hard to seek out a life he wasn't even certain he wanted, spend more time providing what he could to the travelers. He burrowed into his bedmat, relaxing even more. He was so tired. It had been so long since he had slept well. In the dim light, he could see the fuzzy outlines of his candles. Their arrangement seemed to become a grotesque face staring back at him. His heart started to beat faster again, because...no. No, no, no, no, no. He shut his eyes. This wasn't going to happen again. He inhaled, keeping the air in his lungs until they burned as sharply as his hand had. He opened his eyes. The candles were just candles.

How could he expect to lead a normal life when he couldn't go more than five minutes without being struck with a feeling he was experiencing something he could not be experiencing? Arrom rolled onto his back, limbs flailing out from his warm cocoon into the shock of cold. He squeezed his sore hand again, but this time the trick did not work. These fluctuations - of memory, mood and decisiveness on his course of action - were unacceptable. He had to choose a path and walk it, leave the other behind. Tomorrow, he decided. Tomorrow he would go into the woods and think about his choice. More than think. Decide.

Arrom blinked, pressure lifting almost bodily from him. He could hear his own breathing, and the susurration of his blood pumping was a faint hiss in his ears. Mortal sounds, more real than anything his disjointed, terrible dreams gave him. In and out. In and out. Life. Alive. One thing his blank mind could not whitewash - he was alive. In and out, he breathed. In and out.

A child screeched, then laughter and shouts filled the air.

Sleep was yanked from him. Arrom sat up. He gasped, disoriented and uncertain where he was. Confused haze faded quickly as he saw two blue-robed people walk by his tent's open entrance, carrying buckets that sloshed water as they moved. So he had managed to sleep well after all. Shamda would be pleased with that information. He had to admit he was happy himself. The rest had done him good. He felt fresh and rejuvenated. He scrubbed a hand down his face and reconsidered fresh as a viable adjective. He stretched his arms up and began moving to ready himself for the day. He remembered his resolution from the night, had every intention of following through with it. While he was out doing his soul searching, he thought he might make himself useful and harvest some of the mushrooms Shamda enjoyed so much. He shuddered. He hated mushrooms.

Anxious to get started on both tasks, he strode to his washbasin and peered down into the water. He scowled at the strange face eyeing him with suspicion...or perhaps it was apprehension. Fool, he thought to himself and the reflection, that's your face. He dipped his hands into the water, and the image rippled away. The cool water stung his burned hand and his face. He choked, feeling a strong charge of energy course through him. Shaking his head, he kept his eyes shut tightly as he fumbled for a rag with which to dry himself.

He patted his skin gently, finally dared to look back into the basin. His reflection was normal. He sighed with relief, glad he wasn't already undergoing a waking dream. He kept staring at the pool of water. His face looked the same as it did yesterday, but...had his hair grown so much already? The collar of his robes should be blue, not green. No. He was making things up now. Arrom jarred the bowl, making the still surface of the water wave. The reflection broke apart, and he backed away. He had managed some control over the dream visions last night; he could do so again. Until he decided if he had to battle them or nurture them.

Pulling on the outer layer of his robes, Arrom ducked out of his tent. He tried to smile at a woman who had started noticeably at his arrival into public. The poor woman scrabbled with the load of firewood she carried, nearly dropping it onto her feet. Apparently he needed to work on that particular facial expression. After that incident, he kept his eyes to the ground, navigating through the collapsed buildings the travelers and he sheltered in, until he left everything behind. In truth, he had learned watching where he walked was as much to keep himself from tripping on the uneven ground as it was to shield himself from stares.

He glanced back at the bustling people, all of them oblivious of his presence. Or his absence. As was usual, and by his own design, he reminded himself. Arrom gathered his robes slightly and began walking at a faster pace. The air was still chill, the leafless trees unwelcoming. Despite that, it was here in the woods where he found the most serenity. He was certain the landscape was lovely when not in its barren, winter state. He gravitated, as he always did, to the spot Shamda told him he'd been discovered. He had no real memory until waking up dressed in scratchy blue robes and swaddled in thick blankets as if he was a small baby.

His entrance into the travelers' lives was mysterious and spectacular, Shamda told him. A bare patch of ground marked it, exhibiting nothing particularly special and revealing none of his past's secrets. It never had, during any of his visits here. He sat down, folding his legs beneath him and stared at the spot as if today, all of a sudden, it would be different. Like it would be a sign telling him which direction to go. Arrom tipped his face toward the sky and studied the looming gray clouds. They appeared to threaten rain, pregnant with the possibility of bursting. He would understand if they ended up pouring everything out of themselves, letting all the pressure build-up release onto the planet below them.

Lightning flashes, sparks shower, and in the blink of an eye you've missed seeing.

Arrom blinked. Where had those words come from? The clouds didn't answer his unspoken question, nor did they look as dangerously stormy as he had thought. He frowned. He had sworn...cold washed over him and he shivered so hard the small of his back locked with spasms. He knew this sensation. The dreams were coming to him so seamlessly. He didn't know how he could avoid them. If he wanted to do that. Had he thought he could? He bent forward until his forehead was nearly on the ground. He saw black clouds, unnaturally swirling and savage. Clouds didn't mean anything, couldn't be a dream, he told himself. He felt fear and awe and hope and desperate loss, but wasn't really feeling those things at all. He was so confused. He lifted himself back up and crushed the clouds in his mind.

Mushrooms.

He got to his feet, determined to carry out the mundane task he had given himself. Don't try so hard to remember, he reminded himself of Shamda's advice. What he meant, though, was run, run away. It was cold today. Arrom rubbed his hands along his roughly hewn robes, hissed when his tender, burned fingers stung. He lifted his hand so he could see it better, and was suddenly standing in a strange room, touching an image of himself. But not himself, again. In one instant, he could read the feelings of this other person, by expression, by something indefinable. He felt a stranger among people who should be friends. Pain. Confusion. Fear. So much fear he choked and stumbled back a step. The dreams were becoming more potent and portentous.

No. This must stop, this torture had to stop. He could control this.

He flung both arms out in front of him, spreading his fingers as if to ward off evil. Arrom had thought he needed to weigh the choices regarding his past, his memories, but knew now that he had known the answer for some time. The reason he could never progress to a point that would give him tangible, meaningful memories was because he always suppressed the dream images and fought with the lingering thrums. It hadn't been a conscious act on his part, not really, which told him there was a good explanation for the repression. Whoever he was before, he was not someone good. Somewhere deep down, he must know that and want to protect himself. He was better off not knowing.

Arrom clenched his jaw and his fists in unhappiness. The tortures he had suffered these last months were of his own doing, but that would change. He banished the image of the long-haired, green clad man from his mind's eye easily this time. If that was truly him, Arrom no longer cared. From this point on, he was a nomad. He would live an uncomplicated life. He yearned for peace, and forsaking a life he knew nothing abut was not a great loss. The skin at his nape began to tingle. He reached back to brush away the irritation.

He walked deeper into the woods, intent on beginning his new life. He would have to learn a trade of some kind. Arrom wondered if Shamda had ever considered writing down his stories and anecdotes or if the people would accept a written history. His past might remain a mystery, but there was no reason the travelers should be the same. He had always been drawn to the markings on the pillars and walls of the ruins and sensed there was something deeper to that inclination. Smiling, he found a thick patch of mushrooms. He squatted down and began picking. Things were going to be okay. The answer had come as easily as Shamda said it would.

He finished foraging quickly, frowning with distastes at the ripe smell the fungi caused in the air around him. He wanted to get back and share his decision with Shamda, and perhaps even speak with some of the other people. Start living. Head down, Arrom concentrated on his footing and made good time back toward the camp. He tried not to think about how making the decision to follow this path of life wasn't a guarantee that the dream flashes would stop. He would deal with that when it arose. And it would. He couldn't delude himself into believing that wouldn't.

A cool draft chilled through his robes, cut right into him. Arrom knew before he took his eyes off the ground that he would see something he did not wish to in his path. He suspected his life was going to be difficult for some time, and that the visions would persist. They would go away, though. They had to. He looked up to face his new vision anyway, because there was nothing else he could do.

People he did not recognize stared back at him, pointed big menacing devices that seemed weapons of some sort. Coldness thrummed. In all his dreams, what he saw was himself, as if looking in from the outside somewhere. This was different. This was worse. Were these people real or figments? He couldn't tell, but the resonant waves of chill seemed to indicate...he attempted to make the images go away. He closed his eyes and shook his head, but when he looked again, the men were still there.

"Doctor. Doctor Jackson?" one of them said at last. He sounded as if the words caused great pain.

Arrom had no idea what to make of the greeting. He shook his head slightly and shrugged his shoulders. This was not happening. He didn't recognize these people. But...but he recognized the green, uniform clothing the strangers wore. He felt sick with cold as it took him over.

"Colonel O'Neill's gonna blow a gasket!" man number two blurted.

"You can say that again," Number One agreed, nodding at his companions while smiling at Arrom. "Doctor Jackson, you've had a whole helluva lot of people worried about you."

Arrom blinked. These men knew him. He clamped his teeth together tightly. This wasn't right. He had chosen. He glared up at the men, noting their shocked expressions and pale complexions. He didn't care about them. He knew what they meant for his life, his future.

"Who are you?" Arrom demanded. "Why are you calling me that...Doctor Jackson?"

"Oh, Christ," Number One said.

He had chosen. His mind was clogged with thought. He had already chosen. Arrom didn't think that mattered. He saw himself, wearing green just like these men. So terrified, so confused, guns pointed at him. His hands were on his head. Please. What was going on? This wasn't right. Not him, not his memory. He didn't want this. It wasn't what he had chosen. He was a fool.

"Oh, Christ," Number One said again. "Don't do that."

Arrom was on his knees, his hands at the base of his skull. He was afraid. The fear reverberated through him, from the dream vision and from something else. He knew. He wasn't going to get the life he had chosen. He knew it. He didn't know how he knew, but he was angry about it. He lurched to his feet, jerked away when Number One laid a hand on his arm to help him. They might want to take him wherever it was they came from, but he'd not go easily.

~~~~~

The shock of his first view of those people lingered with him, even after a couple of hours. It replayed over in his head, not unlike the dreamechoes. Odd coincidence. As he had entered the village, Arrom had known his life path had already changed, but seeing them...he had known why. He hadn't known any of them. He still didn't. He didn't want to. He didn't have a choice any longer, it seemed. He glared at the tent's opening, the dusty ground outside, the people on the far side of the village mall.

He had felt an immediate spark when the older pale-skinned man had said that word. Daniel. He was supposed to believe that was his name. Daniel, Arrom said in his head, testing it out. Daniel Jackson. It sounded both wrong and right in his head. It sounded better than Arrom. It sounded worse. He was ridiculous. He looked away from the green-clad cluster of people. He re-lit the candle he had extinguished when Samantha Carter had invaded his tent. He needed centering and calming effects of the candles now more than ever.

He had lied when he'd told - what did that guy say his name was? Jim? - when he'd told Jim he tried to reach out and grab his memories, but that they always disappeared. He wasn't sure why he had done that. Fear. Denial. He was still angry, he supposed, after garnering a small portion of peace in his life only to have it turned completely upside down in a matter of minutes. Something deep within himself had wanted to punish Jim...for what? Arrom was tired. He just wanted to settle into the life he had resigned to lead. No, not resigned. He had accepted his existence here, embraced it, wanted it. Admitting he had more than floating, vague inclinations of his past would be a contradiction of his decision to be Arrom. A betrayal.

Yet despite his anger at being yanked from that decision, Arrom wanted to go with these strangers. It felt as though he were attached to them with a string and couldn't do anything but go with them, and he resented that his choice had been removed. His brain raced with the information Samantha Carter and Jim had shared with him, and his heart beat with excited terror. Could he simply give up the life he had chosen based on their words? The flames from his candles danced with chaos, giving him nothing to ground himself to. He snuffed one of them out between his fingertips, hissing when the action reawakened the burn from last night. His mind continued to race.

Being told he was someone's friend, that he belonged somewhere, that he had been a good man didn't make any of it truth. Arrom continued to have a nagging feeling that he wouldn't like much of what he might remember about this Doctor Daniel Jackson. About himself, he corrected. His dreams held only horror. He absently looked around his humble tent, the only home he knew, and saw Samantha Carter through the entrance. She now sat alone across the village square, glancing around with seeming casualness. More frequently than not, her gaze landed in the direction of his tent. He heard voices in his head, echoes of reality this time.

"All I know is that if I were you, I would definitely want to get to know me...you."

"Hey, why are any of us here? Honestly, I don't know, but you've gotta trust me. You are Daniel Jackson."

Arrom cupped his hands over his ears, even though he knew the words hadn't actually just been spoken. He was being childish. But since the soldiers from another world had disrupted the village, he had felt faint reverberations of cold. He was transmuting actual words in this instance, confusing them with dream visions. He knew this. He could not stop it from happening. It felt as though the dreams and the lasting thrums had changed places, that what he was experiencing was a precursor to something else. Something worse. He wanted to stop it before it happened. This was the only thing keeping him here, trapped in his tent and scared out of his mind. The words of Daniel Jackson's friends, apparently his friends, were compelling but they couldn't know what it was like to see things and not know what the visions meant. To be left with cold hollowness that was a tangible wound.

He watched Samantha and found he wished he remembered her. Her visual scans of the village once again led to his tent and their eyes locked. Arrom immediately looked down at his hands, feeling a fool. He couldn't have it both ways - he couldn't not want to remember to forestall pain, while all the same wanting nothing more than his memory intact. It would be nice if there was a way to just get everything back at once, clear and distress-free. If that would be the case, perhaps he wouldn't be so hesitant. Life, what little he had even experienced, did not seem to work that way, however.

"Daniel."

He closed his hands into fists, watching as the action made his knuckles more defined. His flesh thinned out and whitened, making the bones underneath protrude. Arrom shivered, unnerved by a wild, sickening thought of his knucklebones ripping through the scant layers of skin.

"Daniel...Arrom."

Oh. Not hearing things. His hands weren't split apart and bleeding. He unfisted them, tucked them into the folds of his robes and looked up to see Shamda's kind but blurred face peering through the tent flaps. Arrom could read the concerned expression easily enough, though, and felt guilty for causing it. Shamda's words about answers coming when least expected sang through him as he nodded the old man in. He had misinterpreted the decision he had made this morning as the answer, he thought. Clearly.

"It is very strange to call you by this name," Shamda said, entering but not sitting. "Daniel sounds foreign."

"Because I am Arrom," he said. He didn't feel like Arrom now any more than he did Daniel. Confusion was the only thing recognizable in his life, an unwelcome constant.

"Yes. And no, it would seem."

This wasn't helping him. Arrom shivered again, thinking he'd never be warm. The cold was becoming all, giving no room for anything else. He hadn't had a waking dream since seeing those people in green. He didn't know what that meant, if anything at all. He should feel glad for the reprieve but he could not. There was no amnesty in the lack of visions when he still dealt with similar, pervasive effects.

"I don't know what to do, Shamda," he admitted.

Shamda didn't speak. No matter how much Arrom wanted someone to tell him what to do, he knew no one could. Not Shamda. Not Samantha Carter. Not Jim O'Neill. He had no desire to think about it anymore. He looked up at Shamda and suddenly recalled the mushrooms he had picked. He searched for his bag and proffered it to the storyteller. He detected the overpowering smell of the fungi through the fabric. He tried not to wrinkle his nose.

"I got these for you this morning. Hopefully they're still good."

"Ah," Shamda said as he opened the bag and looked inside. "Arrom, you are kind to think of me. I know you do not have a taste for these."

"That's an understatement. Enjoy, and thank you for being my friend."

Shamda lost his smile and closed the bag. He looked down at Arrom with fondness in his eyes. "I wish we could have known each other better and for a longer span of time."

"Shamda?" Arrom said. There was finality in the old man's words that he did not like.

"I have seen how they look at you, Daniel. Even if you are not Daniel, you would be lucky to walk beside them, I think."

Another vote cast. It seemed he would go after all. As if that had been in question. He had known as much from the moment Jim had uttered his new name. Or his old name, Arrom corrected. He nodded, but couldn't give spoken acquiescence just yet. He blinked, opening his eyes to see a strange bald man, decorations of some sort on his shirt, glaring at him. He was filled with a desperate, feral need to be with the people sitting next to him. He felt the others beside him, their presence already impacting his own life though he didn't even know them. He had to be with them, he had to be at their side when they went...where? Arrom's whole body tensed with purpose so strong he gasped.

"Are you ill? Daniel...Arrom?"

Shamda was before him again, stooped down until their faces were only a short distance apart. Arrom realized he was doubled over. He couldn't breathe, the force of the waking dream was great upon his lungs. Shamda patted his shoulder awkwardly. He reached a hand up, meaning to signal he was on the way to recovery. He wasn't convincing to himself, let alone the old man. His hand shook like a leaf.

"I will get help."

No, no. The idea of being exposed to prying eyes, even if well intentioned, was not a pleasant one. There was nothing anyone could do for him, anyway. He could ride out the aftershocks of cold, just like he had been doing for at least two weeks now. And for the past several hours.

"No, I'm fine, Shamda," Arrom said. He was a liar. He cleared his throat and straightened up. Shamda stared at him with concerned suspicion. "I'm fine, really."

After a moment, Shamda frowned and backed away a little. The old man nodded his head once, narrowing his eyes in continued disbelief all the same. Arrom rubbed his forehead, then pinched the bridge of his nose. His head ached from the intense vision and feelings that had wracked him moments ago, and from the knowledge that if he indeed went with Da...his friends they would very likely only get worse.

"You are certain?" Shamda said, clasping his hands together. "You still look unwell. Your skin is pale."

"I'm positive." Already, he felt better, warmer than he had been all day. More solid. He didn't want to discuss it anymore. Time to change the subject. "I guess you were right about finding the answer when I least expected it."

"Yes, though I would say the answer found you rather than you it."

"True enough," Arrom said, laughing slightly. The sound was bitter, not cheerful.

"If you are well, I believe I will seek out Colonel O'Neill. He seems fond of my stories, a quality I find rare among our..." Shamda paused and blinked at him several times. "...or I should say my people. I should like to prove my feeling about them correct and can think of no better way than to spend time with them. Something you should consider, my young friend."

Oh, he would miss this man. Arrom smiled up at Shamda, wondering if he would ever allow anyone else to see the un-bumbling side of him. Someone should understand and appreciate. Perhaps one day he could return here and fulfill his idea of writing down Shamda's stories and the nomadic journeys these people had lived. He still regretted he could not simply stay and do so now.

"I've considered. I know what I need to do."

"Good, good."

With that benediction given, Shamda picked up his gift of mushrooms and shuffled out of his tent. Arrom was alone again, but it was now no longer a state he wanted. In truth, the echoes left behind with his most recent vision - which he should really accept was a memory - continued to wash through him. He was still terrified to face who he used to be, to feel the coldness that accompanied the good memories, and to imagine what it would be like to remember the really bad ones. He knew there would be ones worse than the jumbled flashes he'd already seen. Jim told him he had died. He shuddered.

He was without choice. He knew this. It was stupid to sit around, steeping in his fear until he became toxic with it. He knew he was about to leave this place, but he didn't want to leave it all behind. The only physical possessions he had here that brought him comfort were his candles. They'd likely have them where he was going. They wouldn't be the same. He couldn't take many. Arrom blew out three.

"Are you...are you okay?" Samantha Carter said as she burst into his tent. His hand, still cupped behind a wick, jerked. The candle tipped over, dribbling wax down the side. Arrom stared at his unexpected guest. Her question confused him. "Daniel?"

"What?" he said.

"I saw Shamda leave. He looked worried. I thought something was wrong."

"I'm fine."

"Oh. Okay. I'll go, I'll leave you alone then," she said and withdrew again before he could even blink.

Arrom wanted to call her back. He wanted to tell her of his decision, but his voice failed him. He turned back to the candles, blowing the rest of them out and gathering the first three, which had hardened enough to pack away. He flicked off a bit of the wax dripping from one of them, rubbing his fingers together. The wax clung to the tips. He was Daniel Jackson. He was Daniel Jackson. He didn't believe it quite yet. For the first time, though, it didn't sound like such a bad name or a bad thing to be. He heard voices outside, listened to them for a moment before taking one last look around his home, and then stepped through the tent flaps.

"What of Daniel Jackson?" the big guy, Teak, was asking Samantha.

"He's going home," Arrom said, pleased his voice demonstrated more determination than he felt.

His announcement earned small smiles from Jim and Sam, a head nod from Teak and a broad grin from Jonah. Arrom frowned a little. Of all of them, Jonah was the only one with whom he felt no string, no sense of vague familiarity at all. He didn't think he had known that man very well. So why was he grinning so widely? Maybe he would find out he and Jonah were really good friends. Jim walked over and spread his arms out a little.

"Great, knew you'd come around," Jim said happily. "Remember me yet?"

"Nn-ot really."

"Oh." For some reason, the disappointed look on Jim's face chilled him as much as the visions always did. It felt as if the other man was somehow dependent on his memory for survival. Arrom wasn't sure where that idea came from. It seemed silly. Jim scowled and dropped his arms. "Well, let's go then."

Arrom found himself amid an entourage, marching in time with those hovering around him. He shared a silent farewell nod with Shamda, then did as always and fixed his eyes on the ground. The chances of stumbling were greater than usual. His legs were unsteady. Every step increased both his fear and his determination. But come what may, he could do this. From the looks of it, he wouldn't go through it alone.

They walked in silence but he could feel them all throwing glances at him every so often. He speculated if they wanted to speak but couldn't find the right words. That was how he felt. There was nothing to say, nothing they could tell him. He must see for himself. Arrom dreaded the idea of going through another waking dream, but felt a stirring of excitement in him grow as they approached the Stargate. Many times, he had tried to imagine what the giant stone ring was used for, never had he considered he would actually find out.

"If I," Arrom said. "If I don't remember, I want to come back here."

He hadn't meant to speak. He looked up from the ground. Ungrateful. He sounded very ungrateful. He didn't know what had possessed him to say that. Jim stopped walking, his shoulders stiffening before he turned around to look at Arrom.

"That won't happen," Jim told him. He didn't sound angry, just weary. Arrom wondered what had happened to Jim to make him sound like that, why his eyes were that of someone much, much older than his appearance spoke of. Arrom had to look away from the intensity of the gaze. "You're going to remember, Daniel."

"Of course you will," Samantha said.

Of course he would. Arrom did not yet believe. The Stargate loomed ahead, like a giant eye staring right through him. His excitement waned but didn't disappear. This all seemed to be happening so fast, too fast. Arrom began walking again when the others did, casting a look behind him. He couldn't see the village anymore. He felt hollow inside. He returned his attention to his footing, feeling as though he could fall over despite being so cautious. If he fell, his hollow bones would shatter.

"Carter, dial us up."

Arrom watched Samantha...Sam, she said he used to call her Sam...walk over to the device that had always reminded him of a misshapen mushroom and press glyphs with efficiency. He startled when the Stargate came to life with a massive flux of energy. He couldn't seem to catch his breath.

"It's a breeze," Jonah said, nudging Arrom with his shoulder. The point of contact burned strangely. Arrom stepped away and rubbed his bicep. "You'll love it."

He wasn't so sure about that. Jonah's grin was still a little too wide for him to believe in its sincerity. Hurtling through the heavens by stepping into a vertical pool of water didn't sound like it could possibly be a 'breeze.' He wasn't even sure what that meant. He assumed it was some kind of expression, similar to the morals to the odd stories Shamda loved to tell. Arrom raised his eyebrows skeptically.

"How exactly does this thing work?" he asked, needing more than a simple assurance.

"Well, when you step -"

"Anh, Carter. Now really isn't the time," Jim cut Sam off, looking at Arrom with a shrug. "Trust me, Daniel. You don't want to get her started. You'll thank me later."

He frowned, thinking Sam could speak to him for hours about something she found fascinating and he would not mind. He saw her nod, though, and start for the shimmering portal with no other attempt at an explanation. As she passed by him, she lifted her hand as if to take his elbow, but then pulled away. He regretted shutting out any type of contact from her before, from all of them. He had been so angry and confused. He remained confused most of the time.

"I will?" he said.

"Oh, yes. You will. Don't think about the hows. Trust me on that, too. Now, to Earth?"

Right. Earth. His palms were damp. He tucked his hands into his robes and hoped it wasn't obvious how nervous he was. Without warning, he saw the Stargate, no, a Stargate, not this one. Its glow filled a vast and bleak gray room, and it felt as though he were being invited toward it. Blue was an icy color, but it felt warm. He had never been more terrified and exhilarated in his life. He blinked and was again standing in a field of brown grass. Arrom sucked in a breath, relieved the flash of a vision didn't leave him cold. This would be all right. He could make this journey. He'd done it before, apparently.

"Okay," he said, and followed them to the Stargate. His new life awaited.

~~~~~~~~

He didn't know what he had expected, but this was not it. That made very little sense at all. But then, his life in the past day hadn't made much sense. He stared at the stark gray walls as he was led through corridor after identical corridor. For a brief moment, he thought they were leading him in a complicated path intentionally, to make sure he didn't know where he was going. That was foolish, though, because if he was Daniel, then he belonged here. His head was beginning to ache, and he remembered he had not eaten.

"What is a doctor, again?" he asked, more than a little uneasy about undergoing the tests the others had hinted at.

"Don't worry. Doc'll be so happy to see you she'll be extremely gentle," Jim said.

That didn't answer his question.

"What the colonel means is, a doctor is someone trained to care for a person's body and overall health," Sam said. "Janet - Doctor Fraiser - will want to make sure you're okay, that there haven't been any adverse physical effects in taking human form again."

Taking human form again. Was this reality? It didn't sound or feel like it all of a sudden. He felt a resurgence of panicked dread.

"Doctor Fraiser is a most learned physician, Daniel Jackson," Teak said. "There is no cause for alarm."

"I'm not alarmed, I'm just...alarmed," he said. In his head, he reminded himself he was Daniel Jackson. "It's been a strange day."

People stared at them, at him, making him self-conscious. Teak and Sam shifted their positions, blocking him in and buffering him from the frequent glances. He smiled when Sam looked over at him, but became startled when she got a very unsettled expression on her face. He tipped his head down until his gaze was fixed on the floor, a posture he didn't really need - the flat, man-made surface didn't hold the dangers of uneven terrain. His robes weighted down, pulling his shoulders into a slump. He was out of place here among all this military structure.

"Here we are. Ten bucks says the doc elbows everyone else aside to get her hands on Dannyb...him...Daniel," Jim said as they filed into a room.

Gadgets and things with buttons and knobs and lights were everywhere, strange sights for him to take in. They had no such items on Vis Uban. He scanned the room, half looking for anything that might jog his memory, half dreading the same. He heard a sharp tap-tap, pinpointing the sound as coming from a tiny woman in a white coat. Wide brown eyes focused solely on him, and he figured everyone had been wise not to take Jim's bet. He assumed this was Doctor Fraiser.

"Oh, my God," the woman breathed. "He...you almost the...it's like time..."

"Yeah, that's about it, isn't it? A real kick in the pants," Jim said, affable but sounding forced.

He frowned, shooting a glance at the other man. Something wasn't right. He had no idea what or even why he thought that, but the inclination was strong. He wondered how close he and Jim had been, truly. Friends or teammates? Teammates and friends? What was the foundation of their relationship built on? He realized this was the first time he had actually wanted to delve into his past, understand if and how he fit into these people's lives.

"Daniel," Doctor Fraiser said, reaching out toward him.

"Janet, he seems a little sensitive to touching just yet," Sam said. She held her hand out, stopping Doctor Fraiser's before it reached him. "I thought maybe we should take it easy?"

The doctor immediately dropped her hand and straightened her shoulders. He was disappointed. He said nothing.

"Oh. Well. Yes, you're probably right. SG1, if you'll just head over there for your post-mission, I'll begin with Doctor Jackson."

Doctor. He was a doctor. He furrowed his eyebrows. Being a doctor should have made the equipment, this infirmary, trigger a memory, if anything was going to magically do that for him. He looked around the room again.

"You're not that kind of doctor," Jim said to him, as if reading his mind. SG1 walked past him to where they'd been directed. "There are different types. It'll come to you." Jim paused. "Remember me yet?"

"No, I'm sorry." The man was persistent.

"Had to ask."

"Right."

"We're going to go do our thing over there, then go do another thing with General Hammond. By the time we're done with that thing, your thing'll be done. I'll come back and take you to your room."

"Okay," he said. He had a room?

Jim tromped off after the rest of his team, back to business as usual, apparently. He watched them and was envious. He wanted. He needed. He would remember.

"Daniel..." Doctor Fraiser said. He looked down at her, his heart jumping a little at the bare happiness that seemed to flow from her whole being. She blinked. "Should I call you Daniel? Is that what you want?"

No one had asked him that. He wasn't quite sure how to answer. If he really wanted to move forward in his new old life, he was going to have to stop thinking of himself in terms of time spent with the travelers. Reminding himself alone wasn't going to help him, but he couldn't take the idea of abandoning his nomadic experience quite yet. He stared at the ragged tip of his footwear, which stuck out from beneath his robes.

"Daniel's fine," he said at last. It was. It had to be.

The doctor relaxed into a smile. "All right then, Daniel, I should prepare you for what's going to happen. I'm going to run a number of tests to determine a good number of things. The two most important for the time being are that you are healthy and that you are indeed Daniel Jackson. This will involve taking a blood sample as well as an examination of your physical person."

"I understand."

"To do that, I'm going to have to touch you. Will that be a problem?"

He clenched his jaw and shook his head. She shouldn't feel it necessary to ask permission, he didn't think, since she was someone whose responsibility it was to care for people. He presumed she cared for him. He considered it might be possible Daniel had never been a particularly tactile person. The thought brought back that hollow feeling. Maybe it had more to do with the warning Sam had issued before.

"No. No problem," he said. He swallowed. His throat was raw. "Before, when Sam said that...I...it was...I was..."

"Overwhelmed?" Doctor Fraiser guessed. When he nodded, she said, "I can only imagine. If you're feeling anything like what the rest of us are, overwhelmed is a bit of an understatement."

"I don't know who I am." What a brilliant thing to say. "And back with the travelers, I didn't understand anything. I still don't, but the shock has worn off some."

Why was he telling her all this? He looked down at her shoes, noticed the heel was quite high, yet he still towered over her. He didn't feel big, though. He scrunched his eyes, and Doctor Fraiser's feet came into better focus. Warmth on his arm, penetrating layers of robes, prompted him to raise his head up. She was touching him, more than a fleeting pat on the back or brush against his shoulder. It was an actual touch. The warmth spread until it filled him. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, feel hers around him. Perhaps Daniel Jackson wasn't remote at all. He could not recall if he had ever felt such comfort from a simple touch before. Couldn't recall - that was a good one.

"Everyone will tell you it'll get better. Some of them probably already have. No one can make those wishes turn into guarantees, but you should know right now that there are many people here who will do just about anything to help. We're here, Daniel. Now, we're here."

Oh. There were tears in her eyes. She was starting to cry. He didn't know what to do for her. He felt useless, helpless. He lifted his hand and placed it on top of hers.

"Thank you," he said.

Doctor Fraiser nodded and brushed her free hand across her cheek. Her job must be difficult in a place such as this, where danger likely happened often and without warning. How many injuries did she treat, how many people died despite her care? From even a small amount of interaction with her, he could tell she was dedicated to her job and patients. Something in her eyes told him everything, assured him of this. Every death must affect...his death. He realized somewhat belatedly that he had 'died.' She must have been there.

"I know you do, but I don't remember. Anything," he said quietly, as if that would make her feel better.

"Be grateful for that, Daniel," she said after a pause.

She didn't elaborate but pulled her hand away and ushered him out of the medical room. Following silently, he wondered where she was taking him. It wasn't far, just around the corner, to another room isolated from the main one. It was filled with some of the same devices, plus additional ones. He shivered, all the warmth he had gained from her touch depleting from him quickly. Doctor Fraiser went in, but he seemed trapped in the doorway.

"I thought it would be better if we did this without onlookers." Doctor Fraiser turned around and noticed he had not entered. She looked at him nervously, clasping her hands together. "People have been buzzing about your return since the news was delivered. I thought you might appreciate some privacy."

He remained standing in the doorway, but leaned in. He glanced around and saw large windows high up along one wall. Behind the clear barrier, he could see another room was adjoined with this one, apparently for the express purpose of looking on. He smiled to himself as he finally understood what Doctor Fraiser was talking about. He remained at the door. There was something about this room, the same vague something he'd felt before and so he knew a memory about it had to be buried within him. Still, nothing here made anything of his past clarify. He was both disturbed and glad he hadn't had a waking dream yet. It was strange, to be sure. Perhaps the test results would indicate he did not actually belong here. He felt a pang at the thought.

"Those rooms are locked," Doctor Fraiser informed him. She smiled at him. "Don't worry, I'm not charging for a peep show."

"What's a peep show?" he asked.

She barked out a little laugh. "Never mind. Let's get you out of those robes and down to business."

He might have been a simple nomad for a couple of moons, but that sounded like a very lewd suggestion. He arched his eyebrows and took a step back instead of forward.

"Uhm."

"I can't examine you while you're wearing so many clothes," she explained. "It will impede the tests."

"Oh."

"You're going to have to trust me, Daniel."

"Everyone keeps saying that." Well, one person had said it, but he could sense the same idea from nearly everyone he had been in contact with.

"I knew this wasn't going to be as easy as you were letting on," she sighed. "You never were one to show much skin."

"Well, I guess waking up naked in a field with people staring at me hasn't really helped with that issue." Since that day on Vis Uban, he had draped himself in robes. He wore them like a blanket of armor.

Doctor Fraiser didn't respond, looking a little like he imagined he did after trying Shamda's mushrooms for the first and last time. He recalled the moment well. He shuddered. He suddenly missed his home. Irrationally, he wished he had asked Shamda to come with him here so he would have more than a few candles to remind him of all he knew. But Shamda wouldn't appreciate Earth. There was something too sterile and unnatural about anything he had seen. It couldn't all be like this. He reached into his bag and made sure the candles were still there.

"Naked in a field..." Doctor Fraiser said at last. "Uhm, oh my. Maybe you'd prefer if we went back to the main infirmary. We can just cordon off a section with a curtain. That way you'll be near the colonel - Jack - and Sam and Teal'c."

He considered that option and decided it wouldn't be much better than this. He was overreacting. His robes were not truly armor. He shook his head and lifted the bag of his meager possessions over his head. Handing it to Doctor Fraiser, he moved closer to the single bed occupying the room. Here, alone, he wouldn't have to deal with feeling everyone else's anticipation. The doctor appeared to check her expectations with more professionalism than the others; that must be why he felt more comfortable around her. He saw a garment folded into a square on the bed. He picked it up and it came undone.

"While you put that on, I'll see if I can find something for you to put on after we're done. I should have thought of that before."

"I want to keep my robes," he said.

"Of course, just like you kept the ones from..." She stopped, held up his bag and studied it for a second. She put it on a tall stood with wheels and backed out of the room, repeating, "Of course."

He blinked. Robes from... Sand. Bright sun and heat surrounded him, but he was cold and there was only darkness within both his body and his soul. His hands - Daniel's hands placed a white feather on a scale. He waited. He hoped. He looked down at his hands and they were covered with gauze. He clenched them, making bright red spots discolor the pristine bandages. Pain, not the same pain as what the feather caused. He frowned. That wasn't right, was it?

"Daniel? Why haven't you changed?"

Something pressed into Arrom's back and the sand disappeared. His hands were free. Clinical brightness replaced sunlight. He was still cold. It was the metal bedframe that dug into his back. He felt something on his hands, looked down expecting to see gauze. He had the gown wrapped around them. He tried to get himself loose, releasing his fists. He watched the piece of clothing flutter to the floor like a feather.

"I lost track of time," he said stupidly. Too much time. He was certain the sensations normally lasted for a mere flash.

"Okay," Doctor Fraiser said. There was no conviction in her utterance. "Doing what?"

"Thinking." Kind of true. The images stayed with him. They weren't right, didn't belong together. "I was trying to remember."

At those words, the doctor paled, and he wondered why. "Do you?"

"No." Also kind of true.

"Oh." She looked at him for a couple seconds, then extended a pile of drab green toward him. "Once you get settled in, I promise I'll take you shopping for a better wardrobe." Instead of giving him the uniform, she set it on the bed and leaned down to pick up the gown. "For now, though, let's get you into this. Do you want me to turn around or something?"

"No, it's okay." He figured he should get used to being in various states of undress around her, if some type of examination was routine around here. He felt a draft of air ruffle his hair. "You could shut the door, though."

"Right."

As she was doing so, he shed his robes and slipped his arms into the gown. It swung open in the back, and he struggled to find the strings to bind it up enough to provide at least some cover. He wasn't sure if he was supposed to stay standing or sit on the bed, so he lifted himself onto it. He crossed his right leg and removed his shoe, then did the same with his left.

Doctor Fraiser began the examination, running her fingers along his head, his neck, his back. Her fingers were chill at first, but they warmed. She spoke to him in soft tones as she proceeded with each step. He heard her. He didn't listen to the words. He lost himself in a haze of nothing, just waiting for her to be finished. He was afraid now he had had a waking dream that more would follow. That something would make him remember. A touch, a smell. Only minutes ago, he had wished for such a reaction. And while he tried not to, but he thought of the feather and the scale. Of sand and bandages. All of those things were loss. He sensed it. He wondered again how much he really wanted to remember about his life as Daniel Jackson.

He was urged through the examination. Stand up. Turn head. Cough. Look into bright light. Blink. Sit down. Tap on knee, leg jerk. Read chart. Blood drawn. Lie still. Pull jumpsuit on, follow Doctor Fraiser where she led. He went through it all, barely aware, responding only when asked questions. Responding in what he hoped was a normal tone of voice. He thought he did all right, or at least she didn't indicate anything he said or did was out of the ordinary.

Before he knew it he was sitting again, in the main infirmary this time. Ji...Jack sauntered in. He looked up at the other man but didn't speak. Neither of them did.

"Well, I'm happy to say, sir, that he's in perfect health, except for one small exception," Doctor Fraiser announced.

She extended something to him, but he couldn't see it clearly. He reached for it anyway, and recognized the object from seeing something similar on others throughout the base. He unfolded the bows and slipped the object on. His vision became sharper.

"Wow, that's different," he said. He looked up at Jack, who stared back at him with expectancy he was now accustomed to.

"You recognize me now?"

He wished he had another answer. He blinked a couple of times and tried to think of what to say. "Has your hair always been that way?"

"What way?" Jack asked, sounding a bit offended.

Wrong comment to make, then.

"Never mind."

He saw Doctor Fraiser wave her hands in the air out of the corner of his eye. Jack rolled his eyes, and then tipped his head toward the door and raised his eyebrows. He yawned with his mouth closed, and his stomach growled. He hoped no one heard it. Right now, tiredness outweighed hunger.

"Come on," Jack said to him.

He trailed after Jack, drifting into the wall once or twice. Sleepiness was overcoming his motor skills. He kept his eyes focused on the broad shoulders of the man in front of him, and that helped. He felt as though he should be speaking with Jack. All of his few words had been used up. So they moved silently. He wanted to rest his eyes. The world was strange and clear now that his vision was corrected. It was disorienting.

"Here we are," Jack said and opened a plain metal door wide, ushering him to go in. "Not exactly home, but...we unpacked some of your stuff."

Items littered the room, clearly in an attempt to make it more hospitable. He didn't recognize anything, but was amazed by the gesture itself. Facets of Daniel Jackson's life were apparently better than the brief snippets of confusion he had experienced. He picked up a statue.

"You kept all this even though you thought I was dead?" he said.

"To be honest, we tossed out a ton of junk," Jack told him. He had no claim to these items at this point, but felt a stab of hurt. Jack looked uncomfortable. "A lot of which seemed to be very valuable."

He set down the object and looked around the room again. There was a photograph of a person on the table on the other side of the bed. He was compelled toward it, picked it up. The face smiling back at him was beautiful. It struck something within him.

"I...kept a few of your...personal things alive there," Jack told him.

More was said in tone than in words. He studied the woman, wanting so much to recognize her.

"I know her," he said.

He did. He had to. He thought of sand and sun and wind.

"Really?"

"I mean, I must. Right?"

"Yeah." Jack sounded disappointed.

"Who is she? What's her name?"

"You tell me," Jack told him, then backed out of the room, shutting the door behind him.

Jack was right not to tell him, he knew that. He looked down at the picture in his hands. The skin at the back of his neck tingled.

~~~~~~~~

There had been sand again, a desert of it, in his dream. He had walked with her along a dune, but they had not been alone. Several boys had followed them, laughing and joking in a language he knew but couldn't fully understand. He had felt so happy just to have her at his side. Yet something else had beckoned him, something he could not name. The feeling of contentment had not been complete, and he somehow knew that this would be his undoing. She had looked at him and had smiled in sad understanding. I love you, my Daniel, she had mouthed to him. He had smiled back.

"You battled Anubis while we escaped harm and returned to the SGC," Teal'c finished. "That was two months ago. Your fate was undetermined until we discovered you on Vis Uban."

He remembered her name. He remembered how she smelled, how much he loved her. He remembered being her Daniel. It was torture, this knowing. He was lost in the agony of it, lost in the sadness he saw in Teal'c's eyes. He tried to listen, tried to find something else to focus his attention on, as if Sha'uri could be replaced by some other quest. That was impossible. He didn't know her, but he knew her well. He had fought for her and lost. Lost it all. Lost his life. Lost.

"Daniel Jackson, are you unwell?"

Yes.

"I'm fine. Thank you, Teal'c, for telling me all this," he said. Teal'c's eyes were filled with concern now, and the light from the candles reflected off of them. Familiar, comforting, but also frightening. "I have a lot to think about."

Anubis was the last thing on his mind. He didn't want to think about anything else. Couldn't stop thinking. Sha'uri, Sha'uri. Daniel stood and moved to the door.

He turned the handle, pausing when Teal'c said, "I am pleased that once again you seek my knowledge, Daniel Jackson. You are welcome here at any time."

He was rocked with a tremor of vague recognition. He let go of the door handle and turned back toward the room. The scent of melted wax was soothing, as it always had been for him when he was in back on Vis Uban, but it wasn't enough to make him forget. Ironic that he spent his time wishing to forget.

"I...I come to you often?" Daniel asked.

Teal'c's gaze was a pall, eliminating the minor calmness the candles had provided. Shadows covered half of the dark face in a fearsome mask, ever flickering and shifting. Scary and alluring at the same time. Reassuring and demonic. He couldn't understand the contradiction, didn't know if he was meant to.

"I don't remember, but I do remember trust. I trust you, with everything. With my life. I don't even know why."

It was true. He had come to this room without even considering going elsewhere, as if drawn. Teal'c looked at him for a moment, bearing a veiled burden in his eyes and on his shoulders. Sadness still, but for what Daniel was uncertain. He frowned and worried at his lip. He thought about his visits from Sam and Jack back on the planet. Why had Teal'c not come to see him? He wasn't wrong to trust this man, and yet his confliction was perpetual. It was as if he were being rent in two by some great force but at the same time being held together by it.

"You are my brother. We have battled side by side. We have seen great joy and great sorrow. It is my hope you will one day remember this."

While speaking, Teal'c lifted his right arm and placed a fist over his heart. Daniel couldn't take his eyes off of the gesture. He shivered slightly, touched by the words and the strength behind them. He pressed his back into the door, unable to think of anything to say that would compare to what he had just been given.

"I remember the feelings, if not anything concrete. That'll come, just like how I remembered Sha..." He couldn't say the name. "Her. Like I remembered her."

Daniel glanced at Teal'c's face, saw a muscle twitch along the jaw line. He swallowed and then shivered again, afraid he had upset his old new friend. Teal'c let his hand fall to his thigh, and his gaze moved toward the chair upon which Daniel had sat. No, the cabinet next to it. The photograph that he had lain face down there. He could no longer bring himself to look at the image of her beautiful face, but he couldn't be without it. He abandoned the door, walking across the room to gather it into his hands.

He saw sand and felt wind upon his face. Someone keened a mournful song. It bit into him so deeply he embodied the horrible melody. There was the feather again, fighting the breeze to stay in place. His hands were bandaged, and he wanted to scream in pain. By the time he inhaled enough oxygen to let his own misery out, he realized the bandages were not his. It was her, it was Sha'uri. Wrapped and so small, unrecognizable, deep within a hole carved out of sand. He still wanted to scream in pain, only now he couldn't..

"Daniel Jackson?"

"No," he said, finding his voice. "No."

He tried to suppress the waking vision, understanding that he was in it because he knew Sha'uri had died long ago. The ache held him, though, and he wrapped his fingers around the picture frame until it hurt and his fingertips became numb. Then it wasn't a frame he held, it was a handgun. Though he couldn't see his hands, he could tell his fingers were white with tension. His head felt like a pressure cooker, intense with heat that needed to escape but had no outlet. His legs wouldn't hold him. He folded onto the ground. He landed heavily, sending a minor shock through him. Bright light. Roughness under his knees.

"What is wrong?" Teal'c said, close to him.

Sha'uri. He saw her, majestic and beautiful in a rich, jeweled gown. She wouldn't wear that on Abydos. She wouldn't wear that anywhere. He remembered the simple, coarse clothing she somehow made elegant. He convinced himself it couldn't be her causing him such torment, but he knew she was in there somewhere. He squinted against the light projecting unnaturally from the palm of a long-fingered hand. The hand moved to the side a fraction of an inch, and he saw her haughty face. Sha'uri's eyes glowed.

"No, Sha'uri, fight it," he said, but it was not him now who spoke. It was him then. He couldn't stop this dream, couldn't pull away from it. His wife was a Goa'uld. His wife was killing him. No. "Sha'uri."

"Kel ma, no," Teal'c said, though Daniel believed the words were not directed to him. There was something on his shoulder, a fleeting touch. "I will assist you to the infirmary."

The gun slipped from his useless fingers. It barely registered to him, his whole world consisting of fire in his brain and his failure. A thunderous noise crackled, ringing with inevitability, and then he was falling. Sha'uri already had. He could see a shape at the tent's opening, a person, perhaps. He hit the ground hard and was surrounded by the glow of a multitude of candles and the gray walls of SGC quarters. Sharp heat stung his right palm. The flexible pad of his glasses dug into the bridge of his nose. He closed his eyes.

"Oh...God," Daniel murmured, caught in the reverberations of a waking dream unlike any other he had experienced. His body was wracked by the aftershocks. He tasted something salty and coppery. He pulled his legs up, curling to try to stop shaking. "Ohgodohgod."

"Use extreme caution, Daniel Jackson. You are surrounded by broken glass. Were you injured when you fell?"

His heart. Only his heart. If Oma had intended for him to remember only to lose his life all over again, even in retrospect, then she had meted out the cruelest punishment he could imagine. Better he not know who he was than this. The candlelight colored his vision red through his eyelids. He thought of sun and wind and Sha'uri smiling at him. He scrunched his eyes shut tighter, until all was black.

"Sha'uri," he gasped. "You."

"Yes, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said quietly. "I am sorry."

Oh, God. His soul was empty space. No physical wound could match the strength of this lesion. Just knowing he had lost Sha'uri left him gutted. Knowing how kicked the pieces of himself so far away he couldn't hope to recover them, left him without the ability to fill his spirit again. How had he lived through this when he could not relive through this?

"Please," Teal'c said.

"I'm okay."

He tried to focus on his physical hurts, to ignore the continuing images that pulsed through him, even though he knew it was likely a futile effort. The heat in his palm thudded, a dull radiation that spread all the way up his forearm. Shifting, Daniel felt pricks as miniature shards of the picture frame's glass ground into his shoulder. None of his injuries were deep enough, of course. Of course. His head throbbed with residual knowledge. There had been only one choice for Teal'c. God, Sha'uri. He sensed Teal'c's presence right next to him.

"You are not," Teal'c said.

Daniel didn't think Teal'c was referring to any bodily injury. Teal'c was very perceptive. He wasn't anything like okay.

"Your hand is bleeding, as is your nose."

He opened his eyes at last and was met by a giant knee. He moved back a little and raised his right palm up in front of his eyes. His hand shook. He dully thought Teal'c's perceptivity might have little to do with it. He couldn't stop shaking. His glasses were crooked, but Daniel saw a decent sized gash on his hand. He sat up awkwardly, careful not to jar the injured limb. He winced when the change of position introduced more blood to the wound. He pulled the hand toward his chest and rubbed under his nose with his left hand. It came away streaked with fresh red and already dried flakes. He wiped the blood onto his pants, but his hand wouldn't come all the way clean. A smudge of rust remained. He looked down and saw droplets from his right hand raining down his the front of his shirt, dripping onto his lap.

"I'll live," Daniel said. He was dead inside. Teal'c. Sha'uri. The smell of burned flesh. The taste of smoke in the air. "I have to get out of here."

"You wish to put distance between us," Teal'c said, rising to his feet. "I understand."

Daniel adjusted his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose before realizing what a mess that would make. He didn't care. Let the blood decorate him. Mark him as damaged. He had come to Teal'c with wonder and excitement and love but was voided of all now. He had made the wrong decision. He should have stayed with the travelers. There, he hadn't hated.

"No, I -" Yes, he thought, run. Run far away. "No."

"Let me first assist you to the infirmary. You are in need of medical attention."

There was no blame in Teal'c's tone, only the same burdensome sadness he had exhibited during their entire conversation. He had been through this before as well, Daniel reminded himself, but it was so hard. Sha'uri. He hated the Goa'uld. He hated this Oma being. He hated himself. The only person he didn't seem to hate was Teal'c, and that confused him. If he ran now, he would do more harm than good. He wouldn't find comfort in isolation. He remembered.

Sha'uri had been as wise as she was beautiful.

"I'd appreciate that," he made himself say.

Teal'c moved past him and, for a crazy moment, Daniel thought he was being abandoned. The fluorescent lighting from the bathroom, accompanied by sounds of rustling clued him in. He propped himself up between the cabinet and the chair, resting his elbow on the seat. He closed his eyes again, weary.

"Daniel Jackson," Teal'c announced his return, pulling Daniel from a state of drowse.

A hand was extended and Daniel blinked at it several times before he took it. He was pulled smoothly to his feet. Teal'c held a thick pad of gauze. He eased Daniel's right hand down just far enough to press the makeshift bandage onto his palm. Redness dotted along the edges of it, sopping up blood. He cringed. He had seen this before, or something like it. He tightened his hand into a fist so he wouldn't have to look at the ominous bandage any longer.

He thought of Sha'uri, of sand and sorrow and grace. He looked at the floor. Her picture was still lying face down amid a burst of glass splinters and broken frame. There were beads and smears of blood staining the white back in a grotesque masterpiece. Leaning down, he picked up the photograph and laid it on the cabinet without turning it over to look at it. Glass crunched under his feet.

"I should clean this up," he said.

"That is not necessary, Daniel Jackson. I will handle it later. Come."

Teal'c opened the door and stood out of his path, waiting for him to exit the room. Daniel's hand and fingers were now wet with blood. He must have cut it worse than he thought. He pressed his fingers into the covered wound. He moved his middle and ring fingers against each other, falling into a subtle, gliding rhythm. There was no sound accompanying the rhythm, but he imagined a soft shirrup. After a moment, he realized he could hear Teal'c moving behind him, keeping pace several steps back. Fabric catching on fabric.

He glanced over his shoulder, saw an impassive face but knew the lack of discernable expression did not mean Teal'c was without emotion. The eyes said it all. His right elbow scraped against the wall; his path had veered quickly. Daniel returned his attention to the corridor in front of him. He wanted to flee from the eyes staring into his back. He slowed his strides and looked behind him again. He couldn't run from that. He had before, despite Sha'uri's wishes. The first time, he had withdrawn, shunted Teal'c away. More than that. He had isolated himself from everyone. From feeling.

"I am okay, Teal'c," Daniel said, wanting the guilt and concern to disappear from his friend. He stopped rubbing his fingers together. The blood was tacky now, the sliding rhythm impossible to maintain. Without the action, he felt unsettled. He smelled wax on his clothes and in his hair. "We didn't blow out the candles."

He stopped walking. So did Teal'c, keeping his self-imposed restraining order in place. Daniel frowned and tipped his head up. He felt displaced out here in the corridor, going on with life because he thought he had to. His nose itched. He scratched it, his fingernails compacting with dried blood. He wasn't okay. He was nauseated.

"The candles are not important."

The candles were the only things that were important. He needed them. He thought Teal'c needed them as well, though earlier he had professed not to. Nodding, Daniel flicked the blood from under his nails.

"You lived through the death of Sha'uri as if for the first time. You are not okay, Daniel Jackson. We should delay no longer," Teal'c said, sounding close to insistent.

"Okay," Daniel agreed. His legs were unstable and his head hurt. He began to believe these were permanent conditions. "It was never this bad before."

"Before?" Now Teal'c sounded close to alarm. "This has occurred on previous occasions."

Daniel finally tore his eyes away from the ceiling. His right hand started throbbing again. He didn't want to talk about the dreams, waking or not, here in the hall. He wanted to lie down on the comfortable mattress in his guest quarters and not be considered a guest anymore. He walked a few steps, had to stop again. He looked left, then he looked right. He was in the middle of an intersection.

Daniel looked at the dull gray wall of the corridor, which was cool and unreceptive.

"I don't know which direction to go," he said.

He felt solid warmth next to him as Teal'c finally broke his distance. He continued to look at the wall, as if it would become some sort of oracle and reveal an answer.

"I am at your side, Daniel Jackson. I will not leave it," Teal'c told him. Daniel jerked slightly and tore his gaze away from the wall. "That is a promise."

What an odd thing to say. Daniel chewed on his lip. He knit his eyebrows together, staring at Teal'c in an attempt to gain understanding. He thought it was quite possible to become lost in the depths of Teal'c's eyes, they were so expressive. This time, though, he was unable to decipher what they were conveying, only the strength of that mysterious conviction. Something within him eased. Teal'c said nothing more. He tipped his head to the left and Daniel nodded. They started walking that way, side by side.

~~~~~~~~

Since his arrival on Earth, Daniel had spent very little time alone. A major part of that probably had to do with the revelation of his waking dreams, which Teal'c had done without compunction. Upon hearing of the incidents, Doctor Fraiser had been adamant that Daniel report every one for 'at least several days' and apparently had reason to believe he wouldn't do so on his own. Hence, whenever he turned around someone always seemed to be right next to him. It was a shock at first, after months of being alone, but it hadn't taken him long to become accustomed to the companionship. Really accustomed. Very. He still occasionally missed his life as a nomad but realized he would never have been content on Vis Uban.

"So, how are the lessons going with Teal'c and Jonas?" Sam asked him.

The room had been shrouded in silence for so long Daniel had almost forgotten she was there. Huh. It was more likely he had become so attuned to her presence that she felt like an extension of himself. He was amazed now that he had ever considered isolation to be better than inclusion into a culture.

"Teal'c told me he thinks pretty well."

"Yes, good. Good." The languages seemed to be flooding back into his brain. It was strange and exciting, a mix of fluid knowledge and jumbled confusion. Much like...he fumbled the wooden square between his fingers. "I guess I have an aptitude for language."

Sam laughed, the sound somehow making his dreary quarters a much brighter place. While he enjoyed being around Teal'c, Jack, Jonas and countless others on base, it was with her that he felt the most at ease. The connection Daniel had felt with her on Vis Uban had only strengthened. Whatever it might have seemed initially, the friendship that was forming was something he relied upon.

"An aptitude, yes," she said. "That would be one way to put it."

"Teal'c mentioned I used to speak, and I quote, 'a great number of Earth's languages.' So far, I've got the basics for five."

Language had been a reason not to hide from everyone. From Teal'c, he corrected. He really did enjoy Teal'c's company, but being armed with a mostly complete picture about the tragedies in their past relationship hadn't really helped him overcome a certain amount of tentativeness. Memories of Sha'uri still plagued him, coming at random and filled with bitterness that, most times, canceled out any sweetness in them. Focusing on learning languages, Goa'uld in particular, helped him through it. Incongruously enough, so did being with Teal'c during those bouts of resentment and anguish.

"Five already? That's fantastic, Daniel."

Daniel turned his hand so he could see the gauze strip overlaying the stitches on it. The covering was another mandate by Doctor Fraiser to prevent an infection. Or something. He believed the doctor was over treating him but was reluctant to say anything to her face about that particular idea. Judging from the memories he was regaining, he thought she probably had good reason for this predilection. The appearance of the bandage suddenly disturbed him, though. He pulled it off and gazed at the jagged row and cross thatches of black thread underneath. He flicked the dirty gauze covering toward a garbage receptacle, but the shot fell short. It fluttered to the floor.

"I still haven't figured out how having a knack for linguistics made me a member of SG1," Daniel commented, distracted by the discolored patch of white next to the garbage can. "Doesn't seem like much to offer."

He had spent most of his re-education with Teal'c, going to Jonas' office for new materials. Jonas, who had assumed his role...he assumed. Daniel felt uncharitable, but he couldn't find the same camaraderie with Jonas. None of his dreams thus far had included Quinn, which led Daniel to believe he hadn't known the other man well. He had wanted to ask about it many times, but got a strong impression that there was something taboo about discussing his past relationship with Jonas. Jack, especially, became really...preoccupied whenever he made an attempt to understand. It was all very bizarre.

"Don't say that," Sam said, pulling him away from his thoughts. "Don't ever say that."

Daniel looked up, startled by the force with which Sam spoke. She was looking at him with the most horrified expression he had ever seen in his life. So taken aback, he couldn't come up with anything to say. His mouth went dry.

"You have more to offer than you've ever liked to admit. I see that hasn't changed," she continued, looking and sounding angry. "You lef -"

Sam cut herself off, standing up jerkily. Her chair screeched against the floor, as angry as her words and movements seemed to be. Daniel watched her pace in swift, long steps at the foot of the bed. He tried to get a grasp on his surprise and her reaction. As her laughter had warmed him earlier, this made him nervous. This wasn't like her, not what he knew of her anyway. Which wasn't much, if he thought about it. His dreamechoes, now much more solid in nature, hadn't involved much of her either. More than Jonas, less than Jack or Teal'c. Couple that with the connection he felt to her, and perhaps that was why he preferred her company to anyone else's.

"I was just making an observation," he said. It...he sounded absurd. He tried to think of a way to say what he meant. For someone who was supposedly gifted with language, he was having a hard time expressing himself. "The same of which could be applied to Jonas."

"Oh," Sam said. "Oh, don't make that comparison."

Now he was completely baffled. Sam stopped walking, stared at him instead, with wildness in her eyes he had never seen before. Her nostrils flared as gusts of air were forced through them, and Daniel started to become uneasy. He shifted in his chair, blinking a couple times before distracting himself again with the soiled gauze that lay on the floor. He leaned to pick it up. Rather than tossing it into the garbage, he straightened and stuck his thumb to the tape and then pulled it off again.

"Look, you can't understand right now, I know that. But, Daniel, you're more than just someone with a knack for linguistics. You're our conscience. You force us all to look at more than one side to any given issue. You make us see things differently, and you do it all just by being you. Don't you see how important that is?"

Pulling his thumb from the tape made an odd fuzzy noise, over and over and over, as Daniel continued to fiddle with it. He didn't not want to hear what Sam was telling him, but he didn't want to hear it, either. Everything he remembered so far was pain and heartache. Despite the illogic of it, he knew he couldn't be the conscience she thought he was, because who would feel such hurt and not deserve it? Therefore, what she said about him couldn't be true. The thought was pervasive and always with him.

"Okay," he said stupidly.

It didn't matter how many times he was told, most often by Sam, of his past attributes. Until he saw evidence, it was as if he were simply having a stranger described to him. The adhesive started gumming, pulling away from the tape and sticking to his skin. He dropped it on the table and rubbed his thumb on the rough fabric of the chair until it was clean. His thumb was left feeling slightly numb.

"Okay, Sam," he said again.

"I'm sorry," Sam said after a pause. She sat back down, pulling her chair closer to the table. Her hands went right for the pile of wood squares, rearranging some of them in no recognizable pattern. He thought they were supposed to be random. "I kind of went off on a tangent there, didn't I?"

"Kind of."

"I shouldn't have been so..." She stopped and looked at him. She broke her gaze and looked down at her letters. "Whose turn was it?"

"Yours, but I should probably tell you something."

"What?" Sam said. She still wore an ill expression

Anything to get rid of that look. And the unease he felt himself.

"I looked at your tiles," Daniel told her, shrugging his shoulders.

Sam's eyes widened, and she stared at him with her mouth agape. After a moment, she glanced down at her row of letters, apparently checking for tampering. He watched her look back to him several times, eyes narrowing.

"No, you didn't."

"It's only fair, Sam. I've got the basics down of language, and that's it. You've had a big advantage over me every time we've played."

"Basics, right."

This felt better, back to how it had been when the game had started. Lighthearted. Relaxed. As close to normal as Daniel knew. Sam shook her head at him while she rearranged the letter tiles. It didn't matter if he had sneaked a peek or not - they weren't keeping score this round. Both of them were far too competitive to keep a game friendly that way, he'd discovered. Sam scowled at him. She carefully laid out her new word, building around an open 'e' and 's.'

"Specious," she said triumphantly, as if daring him to deny the not-so-subtle implication. Sam reached to draw some new letters, keeping her attention on him. Gloating, Daniel thought. Her exultant expression wavered after a moment. She frowned. "You do know what that means, don't you?"

Something told him that question should bring more offense than the accusation she had made, but he took none. "Actually, since I was honest about cheating, I am not being that."

"Pfft." She relaxed back into a smile. "You know how to lie, I'll grant you that, but I'm not buying that you looked at my tiles, Daniel. No way. If you did that, you'd be no better than -"

Daniel shivered and couldn't hear her anymore. Didn't want to hear her. His hands clenched around something though he knew he had discarded the ragged gauze. He looked down to see a gun, and not a small one. It was very much like those that had pointed at him back on Vis Uban. The metal was cold under his fingers, the chill seeping into him and touching his core. He held onto it tightly. It never warmed. He hated the feel of it, but he hated what he was looking at even more. Ugliness filled his soul, dark, acidic and unrelenting. The squirming, screeching creatures were him, if he were to believe what Sam was telling him. He was not like those things. He couldn't...he wouldn't do this.

He thought of Sha'uri and of Skaara, drenched by images of them with breathtaking smiles turning to haughty, inhuman stares. He was holding potential death in his hands. Daniel nodded and heard Sam walking away from him. There were bigger issues at stake. He really wanted to understand that. He did understand that. He just couldn't care. The metal refused to warm against his skin, tugging at him. Seductive, sinister as if it had intent of its own. He turned away from the disgusting creatures, wanted to put as much distance between him and them as he could, and quickly. He was sick with hollow grief. Those things would mature, would tear apart so many other families. Would enslave another Jaffa far before that time, even.

Everything went black - his heart, mind, soul and body.

He moved. The MP-5 vibrated through his hands until they tingled and felt numb. He heard nothing but the sound of artificial thunder, and it was music. It felt so good to do something for a change. Blackness within him turned red. He wanted to scream it all out, rail against the things, the horrible things he was killing, but he couldn't even really breathe. The decorative tank exploded in a shower of glass and water. He kept firing for several seconds longer than he had to, then let up on the trigger.

Daniel's muscles were atrophied, glued to the gun, as he watched a few of the infant Goa'uld slither helplessly on the ground. He was victorious. Vindicated. He sensed Sam rejoin him, but she said nothing. Clenching his jaw, he looked at her and saw it all in her eyes. The weapon wrenched from his hands. She was appalled by what he had done. And frightened. She walked away, left him standing alone with his realization.

Oh, God, what had he done? No better than them. No better. Sam was right. She would probably forget about this in time, but her expression would be imprinted in his mind forever. He was horrified that he carried within him his own brand of evil, as terrible as the Goa'uld. He retched, but there was nothing in his stomach but black and red.

"Daniel, what is it?" Sam said, voice urgent. "Daniel."

Thick bile was at the back of his throat. Daniel stood, knocking his chair backward. Taking long strides, he headed for the bathroom. He slammed the door shut behind him and lunged for the toilet. He knelt there like a penitent who had no true hope of redemption. He gagged. Everything came out of him, mucus and bile and horror. It wasn't enough. He couldn't stop, dry heaving until his stomach ached and throat burned. He breathed deeply and flushed the toilet, glad when the last of the mess spiraled down. He leaned back. His hands were clammy. He wiped them on his thighs, the stitches on his right palm catching.

"Are you okay?" Sam called through the closed door. "I'm going to get Janet."

"No, don't," Daniel croaked. No one. He wanted no one around him right now. "I'm feeling better."

He swallowed carefully. His esophagus would be raw for a while. Daniel got to his feet shakily, using the wall to keep himself propped up. Legs useless, he leaned for several seconds and tried to get the trembling under control. Shadows through the crack at the bottom of the door and soft rustling sounds spoke of Sam's restlessness. He didn't want her to see him like this, wrecked by the incalculable darkness he possessed. She must have already seen it once, but that wasn't relevant here. Not for her.

"Daniel, please. Tell me what happened."

The ugliness remained, in his mouth, at the back of his throat. He needed toothpaste or mouthwash. Something to wash it away, to give at least the appearance of clean. He understood now why he had such strong reservations about himself. He was back at the beginning, after making so much progress. He didn't know if he wanted to be the Daniel Jackson who was capable of such horrendous things. Killing. Trading the wall's support for the sink's, he rummaged for the brush and paste in the medicine cabinet.

"Just give me a minute."

Or a lifetime. Daniel couldn't reconcile in his head how Sha'uri could have loved him, how any of them could consider him a friend, when he was cold and harsh and violent. He didn't want to know this about himself, wished he could employ selective memory and be a fine, upstanding citizen. He uncapped the toothpaste and squirted too much onto the bristles. It oozed off, slapped into the basin in a gelatinous heap. He turned on the faucet and dipped the toothbrush under the water anyway. He brought it to his mouth. The mint smell was overpowering. His stomach clenched. He took a deep breath. He scrubbed at his teeth forcefully, raking the toothbrush across his tongue. He plunged it too far back and gagged.

The door opened just a crack. He saw Sam without looking, that expression flashing before him. He closed his eyes and stopped brushing, let the toothbrush clatter into the sink. Go away, Sam, he thought, and counted to ten with an adolescent hope that when he got to the end he'd open his eyes and be safely alone. He didn't get his wish.

"May I come in?" Sam inquired, already in.

An unexpected laugh came up, too loud and manic to cloak as amusement. Welcome to my abode, he thought, the commode. He obviously couldn't prevent her from doing anything she wanted, so Daniel nodded. Sam slid past him, put the toilet seat down and sat on it. He picked up the toothbrush and put it away, then went back to his living quarters, leaving Sam in the bathroom. He glanced at the Scrabble game on the table. He should put it away. He went to the bed and stretched out on it. He started counting again, making it only to four before Sam followed him out. She moved quietly.

"It's not always like that," she said, not asking. She stood at the bedside.

Only the really good ones.

"No," Daniel said. He didn't want to talk about it. "I don't want to talk about it."

"I'm not asking you to."

"You paint this picture of me when you talk, Sam."

As he had been for days now, Daniel contradicted himself by talking when he had had no intention to do so. He couldn't seem to keep from saying these things. He needed to, even though he once again really wanted solitude. He needed Sam to stay with him, even though he was unfit for companionship at the moment. God, he was a mess.

"Did you know that?"

A helpless infant Goa'uld screeched at him, flopped on the stone, and he was glad. Repulsed, horrified at his actions. So very glad.

"I suppose I do," she said after a pause.

The mattress dipped as she sat down. Daniel kept his eyes on the ceiling, flashes of Goa'uld larvae and Sam's shocked, pinched face flickering before him in alternating waves. His stomach queased.

"There must be more than one way to interpret that picture, because what I'm seeing doesn't match your description," Daniel said.

He expected a protest, or maybe a show of sympathy. He got silence, and he could feel how tense Sam was through the mattress and the small space between them. She moved, lighting quick, her face and shoulders appearing above him so suddenly that for an instant the image of horrified Sam of years past and the real Sam meshed, and he couldn't discern between them. Daniel pressed back into the bed as if he could get away from both.

"So you're assuming your interpretation is the correct one."

Sam's eyes closed. She bowed her head just a little, then brought it back up. It looked to him like she was trying to contain anger. Then she sighed and opened her eyes back up. If there was somewhere else he could possibly look, Daniel would have tried to do so and failed. The blue of her eyes deepened to indigo. She leaned closer, lifting a hand to his temple and brushing a thumb down to his jaw line, and then stood and walked to the door.

As she opened it, she looked back and said, "Let me know when you want to finish the game, okay?"

Daniel nodded, confused, but it was too late. She was already gone.

~~~~~~~~

Jack rarely stopped glaring at him. Through the course of the briefing, of which he understood very little anyway, Daniel had concentrated on keeping from lifting his hands to shield his face from the glowering. He wasn't at all certain there wasn't some actual threat when Jack had warned everyone to look away. He had no fear of that, not in a physical sense. He just didn't know. He couldn't tell how serious Jack had been. Over the course of weeks, he had become very good at reading other people within the SGC, but with Jack he couldn't figure it out. Every time he felt there was something just as strong as the bonds he felt with Sam and Teal'c, it was then contradicted by an angry stare and sudden stoniness in the eyes.

Memories had made him think wry teasing would be a good way to approach conversation with Jack, and that smart remarks would probably be volleyed back to him. It was a strange dance of friendship, emotion disguised as verbal jabs. He didn't fully understand that concept, either, but if it worked... The iciest glare Jack had bestowed on him had come after he'd called the colonel Jim in jest. Daniel could still feel it but didn't think something so innocent could possibly be the cause for such continual irritation.

Sam and Teal'c both touched him on the shoulder as they left the briefing room. He saw them linger at the door. He assumed they were waiting for him, but Daniel couldn't move. Most of his attention was for the man stiffly following General Hammond into his office. There was something, something that connected him with Jack. It was more than banter and cantankerous disagreements - those things, even in memory, seemed only an outer layer. Unwrapping their relationship was the only thing that would reveal how deeply it went. This was the only thing he knew, and didn't know. Of course, based on Jack's apparent hostility and his own discomfort, their relationship wasn't very deep at all. He sighed.

"Doctor Jackson," Jonas said. Daniel hadn't even realized SG1's fourth was still in the room. He looked up into a smiling face and immediately looked away again. "I could use your input on this tablet."

"Yeah, okay," Daniel replied. He wasn't really interested. He didn't look away from Jack and General Hammond as he waved his right hand in the air.. "I'll meet you in your office."

He saw Jack glance into the briefing room, turn away and back again in a heartbeat. An implacable and strange expression Daniel had come to associate with Jonas washed over Jack's face. Daniel suddenly wondered why Jonas always called him Doctor Jackson, even after he had insisted he be known by his first name. Jonas leaned past him to pick up a folder, and he watched Jack take a step toward the office door.

"Sounds good," Jonas said right in his ear.

Daniel jerked away, but Jonas withdrew from his personal space and left the room quickly. Inside the office, Jack relaxed and fixed his gaze back on the general. Daniel didn't think Jack was even aware he was being observed. It felt to Daniel that he was here, but not here, that people looked at him but didn't really register him. No, maybe that was just Jack.

He looked down at the palm of his right hand, the flesh there still pink and naked with healing. It didn't itch anymore, but it was tender. It also still occupied an embarrassing amount of his attention. Even with the bandage gone, the repetitive image of blood and white gauze persisted in troubling him. Sometimes he swore he'd see his hand swathed almost completely but would blink and everything would be back to normal.

"What are you still doing here?"

He flipped his hand down onto the table at the unexpected question, wincing at the resulting sting. Jack stood on the other side of the table, collecting his briefing file all the while scowling at him. Well, Daniel thought it was scowling. For all he knew, that expression was permanent and genetic and not really a scowl at all. In any case, the expression he saw as a deep frown was worrying to him regardless of cause. It didn't seem to fit with what he remembered - the goofy grins, the sarcastic smiles. He was tired of his constant uncertainty.

"You know I was joking when I called you Jim," Daniel blurted. Stupid. Stupid thing to say. Had he always been prone to stupid bursts? Stupid to keep going. He was apparently just plain stupid. "I mean, I know who you are."

Jack kept staring at him but now like he were some kind of big, ugly beast. A mastadge that smelled like months of built up sewage. Daniel's stomach flopped, both from the expression and the reminder of Abydos. He had to look away. His hand, damn it, started to itch and burn.

"I," Jack said, "have no idea what you're talking about."

He had known Jack's ire couldn't have been about the wrong name thing, but he was so relieved Jack didn't have that incident on his mind that he let out a loud breath. He turned his hand back over. The scar stared back up at him, and seemed pinker, deeper, widened out toward the edge of his palm, as if it wanted to spread over to the other side. He checked the top of his hand just to make sure it was unmarred.

"Nothing."

There was nothing, no blemish, only fine hair and traces of blue veins.

"Then why did you bring it up?"

Bring what...oh. Daniel balled his hand into a fist and pulled it off the table. He had to get his fixation under control, figure out what the hell was so important about the hand - or, rather, the memory linked with the hand, so he could move on. Be that not so perfect but apparently okay guy Sam and Teal'c considered a friend. Be Daniel. He was starting to think he should speak with Doctor Fraiser about the recurring feeling. There was nothing she could do about it, just as she hadn't really done anything but monitor his health during all his other visions and memory dreams. He rubbed his fisted hand along the rough fabric of his coveralls. Jack cleared his throat.

"I don't know. I'm sorry, I just...you hungry? We could grab lunch," Daniel said.

Lunch, yes, such a great idea. So they could sit in tense silence for a prolonged period of time and listen to each other chew. He wouldn't be surprised if he eventually learned he had a tendency for self-torture. When he remembered things about himself he didn't like, did that mean he had to follow the same path he had taken or could he choose to be someone different? Or maybe the same person, just modified. He'd done okay with everything so far, even Sha'uri, after a brief period of misery. The others treated him...actually, he had no idea if they treated him the same way now as they had then.

"It's 0930."

Daniel blinked.

"So, not lunchtime? I must have for - " He stopped himself. There were only so many times he could make a memory joke, and since no one had appreciated his earlier attempt, he reasoned he had already exceeded the limit. "Breakfast, then."

"I've got a lot of...paperwork I should do."

"Okay," Daniel said, while feeling rejected. Disproportionately so. "I told Jonas I'd offer my, uhm, skills in reading Ancient text, anyway, so I'll just go there and do that."

He got to his feet, ignoring the itch on his palm. It taunted him, made it so difficult for him to pretend it wasn't there. Daniel shoved the hand into his pocket and tucked the chair under the table, awkwardly using his torso to guide it. It ended up crooked.

"You'll figure it out," Jack told him. No appearance of the wooden 'Jonas' expression. Daniel frowned. "You're smart guys."

"Well, I know Jonas is. I'll just have to take your word for it when it comes to me."

"Oh, for Christ's sake, you know I was just trying to rile you up!" Jack said, then snapped his mouth shut.

There it was, the expression, this time coupled with desperation. Daniel leaned against the chair so hard in shifted. He had to take his hand out of his pocket to regain balance. He got the impression Jack was somewhere and somewhen else, and crazily thought he might not be the only one having memory flashes. It stood to reason his friends might be having a difficult time with his reappearance in their lives. Jack had seemed so eager at first, though, and excited to see him. He couldn't have misread that, or the subsequent turnaround.

"I wish you would just..."

What? Daniel didn't even know what he had planned on saying. Yeah, he really wasn't all that bright.

"Just what?" Jack asked, unwittingly speaking Daniel's own thought.

"Nothing. Never mind."

The chair slid another inch away.

"Yea-ah, okay. Again."

"What?"

"See you later," Jack said, and left him still a little unsteady on his feet.

Nothing with Jack ever went the way he wanted or expected it to. Daniel dropped his head down for a moment, putting a hand down on the table again. He couldn't spend all his time trying to reconcile memory with reality. There were words to translate, after all. He had promised to help Jonas, but he didn't really feel like it now. He had never really felt like it. His stomach rumbled, giving him an unsubtle clue why he was having balance problems. He couldn't remember when he'd last eaten. He glanced up, caught General Hammond staring through the gridded window. Their eyes met briefly, then the general returned to his work. Daniel smiled to no one, which was okay because he didn't really mean it.

The commissary was where he'd go, not to the tablet. Feed the body and you feed the mind, Shamda used to tell him, usually as a means to chastise him for going hours without sustenance. Turned out that trait was a Daniel one, not an Arrom one. He felt a pang of regret - it had been so long since he'd thought of Vis Uban. He missed it, but he no longer questioned his decision to come here. Still, he'd have to ask Jonas how the people were. He hoped the travelers hadn't been steamrollered by the might of the SGC. He looked back to General Hammond and knew that shouldn't be a concern for him. It hadn't taken him long at all to realize the general was a good and honorable man.

He slid both hands into his pockets and left the briefing room at last. Sam and Teal'c no longer decorated the hallway, apparently having given up on him joining them. Disappointment rang through him. He didn't want to be alone. Daniel glanced back into the briefing room, spied his SF escort moving for the door with unsuccessful unobtrusiveness. No, he wasn't alone. Funny, though, that now being by himself - outside his small quarters - wasn't such an unpleasant idea. His stomach growled again.

Sighing, he toyed with the fabric inside his pockets and pretended he was strolling around in complete freedom. The material was rough against his fingers. It abraded against the backs of his hands. Daniel pulled them free of the coarse clothing and fisted them at his side as he walked. Relief might have come for his hands, but the sandpaper sensation soon started spreading. With every step, it worsened until his legs itched and his arms prickled. He wanted to tear the coveralls off. He didn't even care that he was standing in the middle of the hallway.

His right hand began to palm again, even though it touched none of the material. He lifted it and saw a crude, greenish bandage wrapped all around it. He walked briskly, near running. The heat dispersed from his blistered hand, and he knew he was a walking dead man. The heat of his friends' attention on his back only provided more proof. Sharp nips stung on his face. He lifted his left arm and swiped. The sleeve came away dotted with blood. Cuts. He remembered the pain as he dived through the glass. The tiny wounds cried out for cleansing and salving that he knew would be such useless efforts. He couldn't think. He could barely breathe. He could only race to the infirmary, as if what he knew could be a mistake. Maybe he didn't know. Maybe he was mistaken. Maybe...someone in his path, reaching. Maybe nothing. He was already dead. He didn't want to take anyone else with him.

"Don't touch me!" Daniel shouted, shirking from human contact.

Dangerous to touch. Deadly. He yanked his hand away. It connected with something, too soft to be the wall, and he remembered Jack and Sam and Teal'c were still behind him. He panted, shaking from fear and exhaustion and sad understanding. Someone groaned. He was terrified of what he'd just done, afraid to find who he'd contaminated.

"What the hell? Daniel?"

He looked around wildly. There were no alarms sounding, no scurrying medical personnel. There was only Jack, rubbing his nose, and the SF eyeing Daniel with obvious confusion. He lowered his bandage-free hand and tried to get his breathing under control. Trembles racked him, rendering his legs impotent. Shimmying back, Daniel collided with the wall and slid down it until his butt hit the floor hard. His teeth rattled. He bit the side of his tongue. He appreciated that pain. It kept him present. Present was better than past. Only he was having a hard time believing that at this very moment.

"Daniel?" Jack said again. Daniel heard joints crackle, felt a slight gust of air ruffle his hair. He bobbed his head down, trying to pull away from the disruptive current. "What did you remember?"

He lifted his head. Jack crouched in front of him, one arm raised in an L shape to ward off the SF. He shook his head, but the desperation his memory provoked wouldn't fade away. It was done, over, and he had survived. Daniel didn't think it was his impending death that was so worrisome to him, what caused his distress now. Blinking at Jack, he shook his head again. Jack stared back at him, and Daniel could read comprehension in them just before thin lips pressed together in an unhappy slit. The mouth was a hairline fissure on a marble sculpture.

"Yeah," Daniel said. God, he wanted this to stop, all of it. The bad seemed to outweigh the good by such a vast margin, and it compiled with every memory gained. "I thought you had paperwork."

Jack cringed. "I do. I always do these days."

"So why are you here?"

"I got hungry, I guess. I prefer food to paper," Jack said, shrugging his shoulders. "You can leave us alone."

For a second, Daniel thought the instruction was for him. The SF moved off before he could gather half a wit and figure out what Jack meant. His insides still felt messed up, but not from hunger anymore. He studied Jack's face, trying to find something that might make him understand why the man had changed his mind. Jack was guarded, careful. As always, he got nowhere for the attempt. He should just stop trying.

"Are they always like that?" Jack said quietly.

The same question Sam had asked him, he remembered.

"Only the bad ones," Daniel said, answering honestly this time. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back against the wall. There were so many bad ones. "Only."

He opened his eyes and looked over to Jack, but with his head tilted all he could really see was his own nose. He should get up, go somewhere that wasn't the floor in the middle of a corridor. Instead, Daniel drew his legs up and rubbed his right palm against his kneecap. Jack plopped out of his crouch and onto his ass. He scooted over until he sat next to Daniel. There was probably other noise in the corridor, but all Daniel could hear was the two of them breathing.

"You still don't remember anything from when you were, you know, transcendent or whatever," Jack said after a minute or two.

Ready to laugh at the odd word usage, Daniel lifted his head and slid his gaze over to Jack. The undisguised need he saw in that normally schooled face forced the laugh to stick in his throat like a popcorn hull. He should have been glad to finally see something he understood coming from Jack. But he couldn't. What did Jack have need for? He couldn't remember his own life, let alone his time as a...he didn't even know what to call whatever he had been. Before he was here. Here, now. He blinked.

"I don't think I've ever been, nor will I ever be anything that could be described as transcendent," Daniel said with a laugh that sounded as fake as it was. "But to answer your question, no. I'm glad I can help with the translating now, even though I have no idea how. I think that's all I'm going to get."

"Oh." Jack looked back at him, expression controlled once more. "That's too bad. You could have some useful information in that thick skull of yours."

Okay, an insult. Daniel could work with that. It was more than Jack had given him in almost a week. He wasn't sure why, but he had a strong thread of curiosity running through him about why Jack seemed curious about his time away from the SGC. While the naked expression might have been wiped clean, the memory of it remained in his mind.

"I don't think you'd be any worse off if I don't remember. Sounds like I did a whole lot of nothing while I was glowy. So why do you care about it anyway?"

Daniel's vision suddenly blurred, far worse than could be explained by his prescription. It wasn't just his vision. It was his whole body. Everything felt borderless, his skin, his hair, his fingernails. He let out a weak sigh, not even sounding human. He lifted his hands up and they were covered with bandages not thick enough to hide the mess beneath. Blood clotted white into pink and red. He didn't have any fingernails. His body was losing form, turning into something else. He could feel himself liquefying. Morbid fascination mixed with sorrow into a swirling mass of agony. The physical pain of it was dulled slightly thanks to Janet's medication, but the emotional center of his brain, his heart, suffered fully. It didn't matter what was happening to him physically, just what already had. Wounds that no one could see, but which still bled.

"Why do you care?" he asked Jack again.

Daniel couldn't fathom why Jack seemed so invested now when he hadn't in so long, and that hurt so much. He could barely see Jack anymore. He hadn't the strength to lift his head, so he could only look to the side with his eyes. Doing so burned, but the strange blank look on Jack's face was a razor blade shearing into him more brutally than the effects of radiation.

"Because despite the fact that you've been a terrific pain in the ass for the last five years I may have, might have, grown to admire you a little," Jack said, his voice getting more and more faint. "I think."

There was a cavern in Daniel's insides where his organs used to be, the hollowness resonant with a deep ache. It was as unfathomable as anything he'd ever felt in his life, and that was saying a lot.

"That's touching," Daniel managed to say, trying to make himself sound flip when what he really felt was heartsick.

He hadn't expected wailing or gnashing of teeth. But he had. There had been a time when he wouldn't have doubted Jack's friendship, wouldn't have needed reassurances. Maybe he wouldn't need them now if he weren't...dying, inside and out. That wasn't true and no amount of convincing himself otherwise would change that truth. He needed. He wanted.

"Daniel, Daniel," Jack said, terse and angry sounding. Daniel's entire body shook, pulsating through his dissolved insides. He shouldn't still be alive to be feeling this. "Come on, snap out of it!"

The last shake tripled in strength from those before it. Daniel arched slightly, choking back a moan of complete misery. Something in him had already died, and for the first time in his life he wouldn't fight against letting go. He couldn't. He gave into grayness, let himself pool into a mass of nothingness. He was alone now. It was the most terrible feeling in the universe.

"It's not real." Jack's voice changed. He sounded subdued. Tortured. He sounded like Daniel felt. "It's not real."

Gray ceiling curved above him, and Daniel could see it clearly. He blinked. His vision remained pristine. Not real. It hadn't been real. God, he could still feel the necrosis eating away at his flesh. Shuddering, he realized Jack had been responsible for the shaking, and that he was sprawled on his back. Not real. These memories should be getting easier to control, shouldn't they? He was exhausted. Jack's face floated above him. Daniel noticed how deep the lines on it were, how burdened Jack appeared. He didn't know if he just had that effect on everyone, or if Jack's burden wasn't related to him at all.

"You all right now?"

Do you care, Daniel wanted to ask, repeat what had just shattered him so utterly in memory.

"I..." Daniel said.

"It was that," Jack said, grabbing his arms and getting him up to a seated position. "When you died."

Daniel shivered. He must have spoken aloud during the waking dream, but he was sure Jack's words had come strictly from memory. He took the guidance Jack gave until the wall held him up again. As after every violent vision, he didn't want to talk about it. He thought perhaps not talking was what had resulted in such an emotional vacuum before. It seemed to him that all these visions were in a way providing him with chances, sometimes second chances, to determine what kind of person he should be.

"Yes, it was."

His lungs turning to liquid. His hair falling out.

"Do you...need to see the doc?"

"The infirmary is the last place I want to go," Daniel burst out before thinking.

"Of course."

Something had made him doubt his friendship with Jack back then, and he wished he could remember more than the gutting pain still ricocheting through him. He hadn't the first idea on how to fix something when all he had were piecemeal, confusing bits of the whole. He couldn't begin to understand his feelings regarding his and Jack's relationship now if he didn't know what it used to be, or how it had ended up with him dying with little actual comfort.

"I wanted," Jack started to say, stopping to clear his throat. "I wanted to say something else, you know, back then. I did want to, but that's what came out."

"It's okay, you don't have to explain."

He wanted to plead for the same explanation he denied needing, the one that could somehow fill the hole. Why couldn't he admit that? The same reason he hadn't let Jack know how much he wanted something besides sublimation of emotion into guyspeak.

"I think I do."

Jack didn't say anything else. Daniel waited, ready and afraid.

"I knew you knew I was bad at emotional stuff, and I used that as an out. Talking wouldn't have repaired what was happening to you, anyway, and I just wanted to make sure every goddamn Kelownan knew what kind of man you were, are. I didn't know you needed to hear me say specific words, I thought you would know."

Jonas was from Kelowna. Daniel frowned and began to understand a little more the looks, the strange reactions Jack and others exhibited. Jack kept speaking.

"Hell, I'm not even sure I realized how much I needed you on my team until you were gone, how much your presence impacted nearly every decision. I woke up too late, it wasn't until you came to Ba... And then I thought it had been the right thing to do, letting you have what you seemed to want."

He hadn't wanted death.

"I'm not talking about death. I'm talking about ascension. You seemed so sure."

Soft light, surreal stillness. Daniel thought his heart was breaking and bursting with hope at the same time in an incongruous combination. That's what his life had become - a confusing mess. What choice did he have? He was doing nothing here at the SGC, maybe he could do more somewhere else.

He looked at Jack. The soft light was gone, some sharp signal that he was back in real time. His life was still a confusing mess.

"I don't remember being sure," Daniel said softly. "I remember thinking I didn't have much of a choice."

"Yeah," Jack said. "Me, too. But, Daniel, I've had over a year to think about that, and unlike you, I remember everything. Would it have been different if I had said something else? If any of us had?"

"I don't know. I felt so alone," he admitted. "Even though I was surrounded by people."

"You weren't. You aren't."

"Yes," Daniel said, and he actually believed it. He was sitting on his ass in the middle of the corridor, but he was comfortable, next to someone he now knew was a friend. One he still didn't understand, but he was all right with that. "This is what I want. I think it's always been what I wanted. But, Jack?"

"What?"

"Tell me it gets easier, that all my memories aren't pain and death."

"A lot of them probably will be," Jack said. "But without sour, how would we know what sweetness is?"

~~~~~~~~

Life was still a confusing mess, but it was his and he had every intention of enjoying it. After the incident in the corridor with Jack, memories had come back quickly. Some internal dam had broken, and the bad recollections had become balanced with good. It made them a lot easier for him to handle. Also after the corridor, Daniel's constant escort disappeared and he had started to feel normal, accepted. He remembered the basics of himself and what it took to be on SG1, which had allowed for his inclusion in the mission against Anubis. He wasn't certain he should have been there, but it felt good to be needed. He hadn't lied to Jack when he'd said he remembered enough - he remembered everything that was important. Life, death, forgiveness, family.

For the last hectic month, Daniel hadn't had time to think or feel or remember anything but Anubis. The mission was a different manner by which he learned about his friends and himself, and he appreciated the knowledge he had only realized after the fact. Big things, small things, some old and some new. Things like Sam still talked to her plants, Teal'c didn't have a symbiote anymore and Jack had been host to a Tok'ra for a short time. Jonas...Jonas was on Earth because of Daniel's death. Turned out there was a very good reason Daniel couldn't remember anything about the guy. And now Jonas was back on Kelowna. Daniel was mildly ashamed to admit he was glad. He had so many questions about that, and about what had happened to Teal'c and Jack while he was...glowy, but conversation was discouraged about all subjects. It just made him all the more curious and worried.

He leaned over and laced up his shoes.

"Daniel? You ready for this?"

"I think so," he said, straightening back up.

He zipped his sweater up just a little, leaving the base of his throat exposed. The material was soft against his skin. He didn't know anything about fashion and suspected he never had, but comfort was something he was becoming very accustomed to. Doc...Janet had made good on her word, purchasing this outfit without him for his first venture out of the SGC. They had a date to go shopping for more clothes next week. He stood and walked over to the mirror.

"You look good. Nice sweater," Jack said.

"Janet picked it out."

"Let her pick out all your clothes."

"I guess I don't have much of a head for this kind of stuff," Daniel said. "Janet's more reliable."

"It would make her happy."

"Oh."

Jack opened the locker room door and stood in the threshold, propping it open with his foot and waiting for Daniel to join him. Daniel blinked at his reflection once. He wasn't really ready for this. He was nervous. He ruffled a hand through his already unruly hair and took a deep breath. Considering all he had just been through, dinner with his friends should not be this intimidating. He thought about what Shamda had told him such a long time ago, how he would fortunate to walk beside these people whether he was Daniel or not. He felt a little better.

"We're going to be late."

"Where is dinner anyway?" Daniel said.

He walked past Jack into the corridor. He jammed his hands in his pockets.

"My house, which is why I would have preferred not to be late."

"Oh."

It was pretty easy to conclude that Jack was in a hurry given how quickly he walked. Daniel kept up with him the best he could, but the shoes Janet had picked for him were difficult to get used to. They weren't comfortable like his footwear from Vis Uban and not nearly secure as the regulation boots supplied by the Air Force. It seemed everything was going to take time. He felt at the same time as disparate as he had with the travelers and more than welcome here on Earth. That was the source of his pervading nervousness, he thought.

He and Jack didn't speak the entire trip out of the mountain. Daniel had learned he and Jack didn't really talk very much beyond the occasional bout of light-hearted repartee, but that no longer concerned him. They didn't need to exchange many words. They never had, only it seemed he hadn't understood that before. The discussion they'd had on a bare corridor floor was more than enough to last a while. He knew what Jack was all about and he was prepared for the long periods of silence. It had wounded his soul before but he didn't have to let it again. He wouldn't.

The lights were on at Jack's house and the street in front of it was filled with cars. Daniel took a deep breath as Jack turned into the driveway. He looked at the clock on the dashboard. They were only fifteen minutes late. He recalled an idiom, strangely fitting. He tugged at the cuff of his sweater.

"Fashionably late," Daniel murmured.

"Daniel?" Jack said. Soft. Lost.

Amber light colored Jack's face a terrible pallor, the dark brown of his tunic accentuating it all the more. Daniel's heart ached, his soul burned.

"Daniel?" Jack said again. "Say the word and I can make an excuse for you."

Daniel glanced at the other side of the truck's cab. Jack stared back at him, his face lit with blue-green from the clock's light not amber. His eyes were dark. Shaking his head, Daniel meant the action both to say no to Jack's offer and to dislodge the inexplicable rending image. He might claim he was used to flashes from his unknown past but he didn't think that was entirely possible. He felt like he had to say something.

"I wouldn't dream of leaving your side." Hmmm, odd and familiar. Jack's eyebrows shot up and Daniel winced. He tried to recover. "Any of you."

"Good, because that would suck."

He smiled and opened his door. The air was cool enough to penetrate the warm sweater, enough to make him feel solid and real. Jack clambered stiffly out of the truck. They slammed their doors in unintentional unison.

"I'd advise you have something to drink right away. It'll help relax you."

"What do I like?"

They approached the door. Daniel wondered why Jack hadn't parked in the garage.

"Beer is always good, but you might need something stronger tonight."

"I'll just have to trust you."

Jack stopped walking and looked at him intently. Daniel played with the collar of his sweater, wondering if it was sticking out or something.

"What?" he said. He narrowed his eyes.

"Nothing. Never mind," Jack said. "Come on. Carter and Fraiser are probably already tipsy. We'll need to get food in them or there will be problems."

Daniel followed Jack through the foyer and dining area, to the kitchen where everyone was congregated. He smelled something rich and spicy in the air. He thought he should recognize the scent but didn't, and he didn't really care. His stomach growled. Jack left him at the doorway.

"Daniel!" Sam called out as she walked over. "Are you okay? We thought..."

"Carter, it just took him a while to get ready." Jack's voice was a little gruff. Daniel heard the clatter of ice against glass. "Lay off."

Sam's worried expression changed to annoyance. Daniel touched her on the arm and gave her a small smile. He rolled his eyes to dismiss Jack's abrasive tone. She relaxed. He looked around the room, finding he was at the center of everyone's attention. He smiled again and wished they would stop looking at him. Jack walked over and handed him a glass filled with soda. He lifted it to his nose and smelled alcohol. The carbonation bubbles exploded and tickled his nostrils.

"Rum and Coke," Jack said. Daniel nodded and took a sip. He nearly choked as it burned down his throat. "Everyone ready to eat?"

A round of happy yeses and one indeed sounded out. Jack ushered him back into the dining area and onto a chair. Daniel took another sip of his drink. It went down much smoother. He watched the others trail into the room, each of them carrying something and setting it down on the table before claiming a seat. Teal'c plopped a big pan down on a trivet and sat down next to him. Daniel peered into the pan, his stomach growling.

"It is lasagna, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said.

"Smells good."

"Indeed."

Dinner commenced, chaotic with laughter and warmth and chatter. Daniel spent as much time studying the people seated around him as he did eating. This was what was important. This was a real example of his vague memories. He sat back in his chair, glad Teal'c with all his reticence had sat next to him. All the activity was a bit overwhelming.

He glanced around the table again. Sam's cheeks were glowing faint pink. Whether from laughter or from the two glasses of wine she'd already consumed, it was a good look for her. She leaned toward Janet as the two women spoke in what looked to Daniel a conspiratorial nature, but her eyes were focused on him. He didn't rise to the bait, didn't care what they might be discussing. He lifted his glass and smiled behind it as he sipped. It was his second glass.

He flicked his gaze toward General Hammond and Jack. Judging from Jack's animated hand gestures, they were discussing details of a mission, probably the one against Anubis. Daniel felt a residual thrum of excitement tingle through him, amazed still that he was part of something as big as the SGC. He set his glass down and looked next to him. Teal'c was employing Jaffa battle strategies against his lasagna.

"We don't do this often, do we?" he said to Teal'c.

Pausing from his attack on noodles and sauce, Teal'c glanced at him. "We normally partake of meals at the commissary."

"Together?"

"Frequently."

It was a pretty simple thing to be so pleased about, but he found himself smiling at Teal'c's answer. He picked up a piece of garlic toast and munched on it as Teal'c returned his attention to the remains of his meal. Daniel was already full, with half a plate still uneaten. He continued to pick at the bread anyway, eating the crisp edges off. He jumped slightly when Teal'c reached over and whisked away his plate, swapping it out for an empty one.

"You are finished," Teal'c announced rather than asked. "I will consume the rest of your portions."

"Do you do that often?"

"Frequently."

Now, instead of just smiling, Daniel let out a full laugh. He nudged Teal'c's empty plate away from him and picked up his rum and Coke. He felt as...pink as Sam's cheeks. He really had lost any sort of tolerance for alcohol when he'd been non-corporeal and one night wasn't going to correct that. He tossed back the glass until it was empty, noticing as he set it back on the table that everyone else had stopped their conversations to watch him.

"What?" Daniel said, then rubbed his hand across his mouth in case he had something hanging from his lips.

They just kept looking at him, smiling in varying wattages.

"It's good to hear you laugh, Daniel," Sam said at last.

"I don't do that often." My, he was being a bit repetitious tonight. Must be the alcohol. "Do I?"

"You do when it counts," Jack told him and lifted his glass of beer in a salute.

Following Jack's lead, first Sam, then Janet, General Hammond and Teal'c all picked up their glasses and lifted them up before taking quick drinks. Disconcerted, Daniel studied a greasy stain on the tablecloth. He raised his head up again, and they were all still looking at him. He was surrounded by people, but now he didn't feel alone.

"I'll try to find more things that count," Daniel murmured.

"We can help you with that," Jack said.

"Definitely," Sam and Janet said in unison, then laughed at each other.

"Indeed," Teal'c pronounced.

This counted. Jack had been right. All the sour times he remembered helped shape who he was, and made the sweetness that followed them all the more important to hold onto. Daniel smiled.

The End.

 

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Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This is a parody for entertainment purposes only. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted anywhere without the consent of the author.