The challenge: To write a short story based on this icon by Psychofilly.Outside the night was warm and still, and crickets; or whatever this world’s equivalent was; sang in unison, making the humid air vibrate. Jack and Teal’c took turns at watch beside the little campfire that was there purely for its cheery presence and coffee-making properties.
Inside, halogen lanterns cast long white beams of light across the ornate floor, bringing the faded writing on the paving stones to life.
Daniel winced and shifted slightly, feeling his knees creak. The floor of the temple was hard and unforgiving. Beside him, Sam moved too, and if he was uncomfortable, it had to be worse for her. He was used to hours on end crouched in dirty holes at funny angles; to bad lighting and sweaty, painstaking work. She was used to running, shooting, ergonomic chairs and laptops.
It was unusual that she had volunteered to assist him. To spend the night tracing and sketching, instead of sleeping or guarding the camp. Not that he wasn’t grateful; there was more here than he could ever hope to record in one night, even with Sam’s help.
And Jack was adamant; they were leaving at sunrise.
They’d arrived at dusk, after the MALP readings indicated the scorching heat of the day had subsided to safe levels. When it became clear, in the dying light, that there was nothing more interesting than a crumbling ruin, Jack had ordered Daniel to dial home. The customary debate had ensued, and Daniel had won himself one night. He was kinda surprised, actually. Normally by now he would have been home in bed, lying awake while frustration gnawed at him.
Perhaps Jack was feeling benevolent after P3X-866. Since they’d held Daniel’s memorial service and started to clean out his apartment. Just four days had passed since he’d escaped Nem’s lab, and they were all still acting a little strange around him. Something in their eyes every time they saw him, like despair and joy all tangled together. Just a flicker and then it was gone, covered by a warrior’s composure.
Sam shifted again, her arm brushing Daniel’s, and he heard her back crack.
“You don’t have to stay with me, Sam,” he said, putting his pen down and stretching for the first time in hours, feeling muscles pull and burn.
She turned and smiled up at him. “It’s okay, Daniel. I don’t mind.”
Suspicion prickled. “Jack ordered you to keep an eye on me, didn’t he?”
“Uh.” Her smile wavered.
Jack still didn’t trust him, then. Didn’t think he could look after himself. Because he wasn’t a warrior, like them. The civilian needed a babysitter.
Daniel’s annoyance must have shown, because Sam sat up, her work discarded, and put a hand on his arm. “You know it’s standard procedure not to leave someone alone in the field on an unexplored planet.” For a moment, guilt flickered bright across her face, and in that second he understood. Why Sam was plastered to his side. Why Jack had ordered her there.
“You guys didn’t know. Your memories were altered.” He covered her hand with his; felt the fine tremor running through her fingers.
“We left you,” she whispered.
“You came back for me,” he replied, and the realization washed over him like the waters of Oannes. They came back for him, even when they thought he was dead. Just like Jack came back for him on Abydos.
Her fingers on his cheek snapped him out of his reverie. “Daniel? You okay? Does your head still hurt?” She examined him with a critical eye.
“No, just my butt.” He wriggled on his heels, and the smile on her face added to the glow inside.
“Mine too.” Sam bent down and retrieved her pad and pen, and resumed sketching.
He bent down beside her, arm-to-arm again, and blocked out some of the letters with his hands, trying to make sense of them.
“Daniel.” Sam didn’t look up.
“Try not to die again, okay?” she said, her voice only half-joking.
“I promise.” He nudged her with his shoulder, only half-joking, and reached for his pad.
Outside the crickets continued to sing, and Jack and Teal’c sat guard, and the little fire crackled. Inside, the halogen lanterns cast long white beams of light across the ornate floor, bringing the faded writing on the paving stones to life.