It took a week for Soren to finally accept the general's invitation and come to Earth. During that time, the changes to the communications system were completed. Since then, they'd dialed up the gate several times to listen in on the radio signals being broadcast from Rand. So far, they'd heard nothing from Daniel. That didn't necessarily mean anything, though. It was all a matter of timing, hoping that Daniel would just happen to be broadcasting while the gate was open . . . if he was broadcasting at all.
As it turned out, waiting for Soren to come to Earth had been a complete waste of time. The man was nothing but a power-hungry, religious zealot incapable of listening to reason. He was still being totally uncooperative, having just turned down their offer to provide food and medicine in exchange for helping to find Daniel, wanting weapons instead so that he could take over Caledonia, too. Teal'c was right. The man didn't care how many people died. All he wanted was to have total control of the planet.
After leaving the general's office, Sam stormed into her lab. She had hoped that, because Soren agreed to stay at the SGC for a while instead of leaving right away, there was a chance he'd listen to reason, but the more she thought about it, the more she came to the conclusion that wasn't going to happen. Soren would only help them if they gave him weapons, and that's not something they could do, which meant that their best hope for finding Daniel was gone. Picking up a radio transmission from the archeologist was just a shot in the dark. What were the chances that Daniel would have access to a radio? Next to none.
A fit of rage seized Sam. "Dammit!" she yelled, picking up the mug on her worktable and throwing it across the room. It shattered against the wall. She collapsed into a chair, burying her face in her hands, fighting back the tears. She felt so helpless. The weeks just kept passing, weeks in which the fear that Daniel was dead kept building and building. Even if, by some miracle, he had survived, how were they going to get him home if Soren never agreed to help them or even allow them to send people through to search? Daniel would be stranded there, trapped on a world decimated by war, disease and starvation. It was far, far worse than when Jack was stranded on Edora. At least there, Jack was able to live a peaceful life on a beautiful planet once the meteor shower ended and the survivors had recovered. What kind of life could Daniel have? What if he had no life at all? What if he really was already dead or ended up dying of some horrid disease or at the hands of one of Soren's men?
Sam didn't realize that she had started crying until a gentle hand was laid upon her shoulder. She looked up to see Teal'c gazing at her with gentle eyes full of understanding and sympathy.
"Oh, Teal'c. What are we going to do?" Sam asked in an anguished voice. "It's been almost five weeks. It seems like five months. God, I miss him so much. It's like it was back when he ascended. I didn't know if we were ever going to see him again. The difference is that at least then I knew that he was still alive in some form. This time, I don't know anything. He could be dead, and we may never know." More tears slid down her cheeks. "Up till now, I've been trying to convince myself that Daniel's okay, but I'm so scared. If Soren is telling the truth, almost the entire population of the planet was wiped out. What kind of chance is there that Daniel survived that?"
"Daniel Jackson has survived many things that would have killed others of lesser strength and determination," Teal'c said quietly. "As O'Neill stated, he is a man of great resourcefulness. He is also one of the strongest and bravest men I have ever known. If anyone could survive, it would be him."
Though Teal'c believed the words he was speaking, he still feared for his friend. He, too, was feeling guilt over having left Daniel on the planet alone. He wished with all his might that he had remained with the archeologist, though it might have resulted in his own death. Long ago, he had sworn to protect Daniel with his life, and, yet again, he had failed to fulfill that oath.
"If we don't find him soon, the general will have no choice but to declare Daniel MIA, Teal'c. He's been putting it off as long as he can, but it's only a matter of time before he's given the order to discontinue the search. Then it'll be over. Even if Daniel is alive, he'll be stuck on that planet with no way to get home." Sam was crying in earnest now. "This is all my fault. I shouldn't have let Daniel stay there by himself. I should have ordered him to come back with us. Why did I leave him there alone?"
"You could not have known that things would suddenly occur as they did. As Daniel Jackson said, there seemed to be no imminent danger when we left."
"Yes, but I should have anticipated that something like this might happen. A good team leader has to anticipate every possible outcome. If they don't, people under their command die. Daniel is on that planet, possibly dead, because I failed to do that. General O'Neill knows I screwed up. He knows this is my fault. That's why he's so angry with me."
"I'm not angry with you, Carter," said a voice from the doorway. Sam and Teal'c turned to see Jack standing there. "I'm angry with myself," he finished as he walked the rest of the way into the room.
"Sir?" Sam inquired, perplexed. She wiped the tears from her face.
"Carter, I'm the one who gave Daniel the green light to return to the planet, and I did it against my better judgment. I shouldn't have let him talk me into it. He's just so. . . ."
"Passionate about what's morally right?" Sam finished.
"Yeah, and he's too damn good at talking people into doing things they don't want to, though, when it comes to other people, that's usually a good thing." Jack looked at Sam in the eyes. "Teal'c's right that you couldn't have known that everything would go downhill so fast. By what Daniel said when I talked to him last, there was no hint that would happen, and you said the same thing. We don't know the whole story since that Soren guy was a bit stingy on the details, but it's pretty obvious to me that he's somehow to blame for this whole mess. The guy's an idiot when it comes to what he believes about the Goa'uld, but the fact that he so quickly united all the religious nuts and took control of Rand tells me that he's no dummy when it comes to tactics and strategy. I'd say that there's a good chance he sprang his big attack very suddenly and unexpectedly, which led to everything going to hell."
Sam stared down at the top of the table. "Sir, do you really believe that Daniel is still alive?" She lifted her eyes to Jack's.
"I have to believe that, Sam," Jack replied. "I have to believe that Daniel's done it again and survived against all the odds. We all know that he is really, really good at that."
Sam nodded, the tiniest of smiles on her face. "Yes, he is, isn't he."
"Damn right he is. Daniel's okay. I won't accept anything else." He laid his hand briefly on Sam's shoulder, giving it a little squeeze in an effort to pass on some of his confidence. Then he patted Teal'c on the shoulder. "Come on. Let's go talk to Soren again. Maybe we'll actually get through that thick skull of his this time."
Again, talking with Soren had been a waste of time. The man refused to listen to them, so blind in his faith that nothing would sway him. Sam had suggested that they show him the footage they had compiled for the Rand government, but Jack's instincts told him that if Soren saw exactly how the people of Earth were dealing with his so-called gods, he'd get really ticked off. And, if that happened, Soren would probably kill Daniel if he ever found him.
Jack had been tempted to hold Soren hostage to force his men to go find Daniel, but, not only would the president never go for that, it could backfire. Jack had no choice but to let Soren leave and hope that either Daniel got through to the SGC via radio or that Soren would eventually agree to let them search for the archeologist. But how long would that take? It had already been nearly five weeks. How much longer could Daniel stay on that hell hole of a planet?
As Jack watched the gate dial up and waited for Soren and his men to arrive for their trip back to Rand, he thought about what he'd told Sam earlier. His words of confidence had been partly for show. The truth was that he was really afraid that Daniel was dead. He'd seen the wreckage of cities destroyed by war. He knew what a missile attack could do to buildings and to people. Thankfully, Rand and Caledonia didn't have nuclear armaments. If their war had been a full-scale nuclear attack, nothing would have survived. Even so, the payload of a missile with standard explosives could cause massive damage. If what Daniel had said about Rand's and Caledonia's stockpile of weapons was correct, and if they launched all of their missiles at each other, there probably wasn't much left standing. The odds of surviving that kind of destruction would be pretty remote.
But Jack wasn't ready to give up hope yet. He knew that, by now, a lot of commanders would have declared Daniel MIA and called off the rescue attempts. General Hammond had called off the search for SG-1 after three weeks when they were taken by Hathor. He had understood Hammond's reasons for doing so. In that situation, the chances of finding SG-1 had been virtually zero since they could have been just about anywhere in the galaxy. But Jack didn't have to search the whole galaxy for Daniel, only one relatively small section of a single planet. And, until there was no hope left, or until the president ordered him to stop their attempts to find Daniel, he was going to keep trying.
As Sam watched the wormhole to Rand engage, she got the urge to scream in frustration. She felt like beating Soren over the head with something to knock some sense into him. How were they ever going to get Daniel back if Soren wouldn't let them search for him?
Suddenly, the technician at the console turned to her. "Colonel, I'm receiving a radio signal!" he said excitedly. "It's Doctor Jackson!" He flipped a switch, sending the audio feed through the bigger speakers so that everyone in the control room could hear it. And that's when Sam heard a sound that almost made her cry.
"This is Daniel Jackson calling Stargate Command. Come in, please. . . . This is Daniel Jackson calling Stargate Command. Please respond."
Joy and relief burst through Sam with almost overwhelming power, nearly making her shout aloud. 'He's alive!' she cried in her mind. She almost made a grab for the microphone, but curbed her desire, only letting the words, "Thank God," slip from her lips. With a tremendous effort, she calmed herself, assuming the poker face that she'd learned so well from her three male teammates over the years.
"Tell him to hang on," she said, not quite squashing the smile that was threatening to split her face in two.
As the technician answered Daniel and told him to stand by, Sam looked out the observation window and saw Soren and his men disappear through the event horizon. She called to Jack to come to the control room.
The expression on the general's face when he heard Daniel's voice over the speakers almost made Sam smile again. There was a brief, bright flash of surprise and great joy in his eyes, then, he, too assumed a calm expression. It would simply not do for the SGC to see their commander dancing with delight.
A while later, they were all in the briefing room discussing Daniel's plan. Both Jack and Sam were surprised that Daniel had come up with such a sound plan of attack and was able to give them so much intel on Soren's forces. While they had all been wondering how they could find the archeologist and get him home, he was busy joining forces with the surviving Rand military and planning an attack that would not only get him off the planet but might also get rid of Soren. The man never ceased to amaze them.
Jack was also feeling more than a little pride. Daniel had come a long way since he first joined the SGC, and Jack liked to think that he had a little to do with it. But then, if he was really honest, Jack would admit that Daniel had always been a pretty amazing guy. It's just that he was even more amazing now. He'd turned into quite the soldier. No, that wasn't true. Daniel would never be a soldier. He was too free-minded and strong-willed to follow the rules of a soldie, especially when told to do something that clashed with his morality. No, Daniel was not a soldier; he was a warrior, a warrior who was finally coming home.
Jack paced the length of his office. He was going absolutely nuts. It had taken all of his will power not to say to hell with it and go with the SG teams to Rand. He'd been waiting for what seemed like hours, but had, in fact, only been a few minutes. Was this what Hammond went through every time an SG team was on an especially dangerous mission? If so, it was a good thing the man already had no hair when he started the job. Otherwise, he surely would have gone bald during his time as the SGC's commander. Jack ran a hand through his own hair, thinking that Rogaine might be in his future.
Jack was about ready to climb the walls when the claxon warned that there was an off-world activation. He was out of his office and in the gate room in an instant. A moment after the wormhole was established, a blessed voice announced. "It's SG-1's IDC, sir."
"Open the iris," the general called. He then stood and waited. A few seconds later, Teal'c came through, followed by Sam . . . and a whole and unharmed Daniel Jackson. Jack couldn't quite stop the smile that spread across his face.
"Yeah," he murmured. More loudly, he said, "Welcome home, Daniel."
"Thanks. It's great to finally be home."
"I bet it is." Jack looked his friend over. "Are you okay? Any injuries the doctor needs to know about?"
"No, not anymore."
Jack frowned. "What does that mean?"
"I was, um, hurt in the attack on Rand."
"How hurt?" When Daniel didn't reply immediately, Jack's frown deepened. "Daniel? How hurt?"
"Uhhh, it was pretty bad. It took a while to heal."
"Okay, that's it. You're going to the infirmary right now."
"Jack, I'm fine, all healed."
"All the same, I want the doc to check you out. You never know if some medicine they gave you is just waiting to hit you with some nasty side effects."
Daniel rolled his eyes and let out a sigh, knowing that it was useless to argue. He turned to his teammates. Sam was fighting not to grin and not doing a very good job of it. Teal'c wasn't bothering to hide his smile. Daniel remembered a time when the Jaffa would have been standing there with not a shred of emotion on his face. It was actually quite nice that Teal'c now felt comfortable enough to dispense with his years of training to show no emotion.
"Can I at least take a shower first?" Daniel asked. "I promise I won't disappear, get kidnapped or get involved with anyone on the brink of world war while I'm in the shower, though it might be more of a challenge while I'm getting dressed."
"Wise guy. Yeah, all right. Go take your shower first. But don't make me have to drag your butt down to the infirmary."
"Yes, Dad," Daniel said over his shoulder as he walked out of the gate room.
"That's 'yes, Dad, sir,' Daniel, and don't you forget it!" Jack called out to the retreating form. He turned back to Sam and Teal'c, who were both grinning.
"It's great to have him home, isn't it, sir," Sam said.
"Yes, it is, Carter. Yes, it is."
Doctor Brightman declared Daniel to be perfectly fit, though she did do an extra thorough check on his eyes when she found out that they had been injured.
The archeologist was now in his office. He knew that Jack was going to want a full report on everything that happened on the planet, but, right now, Daniel just wanted to sit for a while and revel in the fact that he was finally home. There had been moments when he'd wondered if he would ever make it back to Earth, especially when he didn't know if the Stargate had survived the destruction of the city. Daniel now had an idea of what Jack had felt when the man was stranded on Edora. Thank God he hadn't had to wait over three months to get back home like Jack did. Five weeks might not seem like a long time to some, but, for Daniel, they'd been thirty-five of the longest, most frustrating days of his life, right up there with the two weeks he was stuck with SG-6 on P3X-808, wondering why they couldn't connect to the gate on Earth, learning afterwards that it had been because of a black hole. Then there were the days that Daniel and his team were stranded on P3L-997 as the flood waters got higher and higher and seismic activity made things even more interesting when the entire gate network went down because of Felger's Avenger virus. And let's not forget the lovely days he spent in the company of Nem on Oannes, wondering how he was ever going to get home if he couldn't get Nem to let him go.
This had been the fourth time that he was stranded on another planet without the rest of SG-1 and with no way to get home, and, as Jack would say, it was really starting to get old.
But the thing that made this time so much worse was the knowledge that he was stranded there on that world, surrounded by death and destruction, because SG-1 had stepped through the gate and inadvertently been the spark that set off a bomb that had been waiting to explode for decades. Leda had told him that what happened wasn't their fault, that this was something that was bound to happen sooner or later. Jared Kane had also told Daniel that it was not their fault, and Daniel had said that he knew it wasn't, but, deep down inside, he couldn't help but think that, if SG-1 had never come to their world, the people of Rand and Caledonia might have eventually settled their differences and ended the cold war peacefully. Now, it was too late. The war might be over, but it had cost the lives of countless millions, millions that might not have had to die.
Daniel was pulled from his dark thoughts by the arrival of Sam. He stood up when he saw the expression on her face. "Sam? What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Nothing's wrong. I just wanted to, um. . . ." Sam's voice trailed off. A moment later, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Daniel in a fierce hug. Surprised, he just stood there for a second, then returned the hug.
After a few seconds, Sam pulled away a little, gazing at him as she blinked back the moisture in her eyes. "It's really good to have you home, Daniel," she said in an unsteady voice. "I missed you. We all did. Every time I came in this office and you weren't here, it made me think of . . . of when you were gone before, when you were ascended."
Daniel tightened his arms around her, drawing her in close again. "I missed you too, Sam," he told her gently, his hand rubbing up and down her back soothingly. "I have to admit that there were times when I thought I might never see you guys again. It's great to be back."
Closing his eyes, Daniel let himself feel the happiness and contentment of being safe at home and back with his friends. He took a deep breath and smelled the scent of Sam's hair, a familiar smell he just now realized that he'd missed while he was gone. He'd missed her face, her eyes, her smile, her voice, everything. It felt really good to be holding her like this . . . too good, a voice in his mind was telling him.
Pulling back, Daniel looked into Sam's eyes and saw confusion there, along with something he couldn't identify. Not quite knowing why he did it, Daniel gently kissed Sam on the cheek. But as his lips left her skin, he did not pull back. He hovered there, his mouth a mere inch from her face. He could feel her warm breath on his skin. Her respiration had increased, and she had grown still in his arms.
And that's when something that neither one of them was prepared for happened.
Sam turned her head, intending to look at Daniel, but the closeness of their faces caused their lips to brush together. A little jolt passed through both of them, like they'd just touched a live wire. They could see the surprise in each other's eyes.
Then, before either one of them stopped to think about what they were doing, they closed the gap between their mouths.
The kiss was slow and gentle, filled with discovery, wonder and an exquisite feeling of pleasure. It went on for a very long time, neither of them wanting to stop.
"Wow," Sam breathed when the kiss ended at last. "That was, um. . . ."
"Yeah, it was," Daniel agreed softly.
They remained like that for several seconds, both of them stunned that it had happened, but not sorry it did.
"We should, uh. . . ." Daniel said at last.
"Yes, we probably should."
Simultaneously, they drew apart, putting a few feet between them. Feeling embarrassed now, they avoided each other's eyes. They both cleared their throats nervously.
Sam decided that they needed to get what just happened out of their minds. "So, um, I was going to ask you how you're doing. Are you really okay?"
Silently agreeing with Sam's decision not to talk about the fact that they had just kissed, Daniel replied, "Yeah, I'm all right. It's been a rough five weeks, though."
"I can imagine so. I wish that we'd heard you sooner."
"Me too. At least then I'd have known that the Stargate was still standing."
"You didn't know?"
Daniel shook his head. "Not until Jared Kane and his men arrived at the house where I was hiding out. Leda didn't know what had happened to the Stargate."
"Leda?" Sam asked curiously, surprised at the tiny twinge of jealousy she felt.
"Kane's wife. She's the one who nursed me back to health."
Sam sat on the edge of Daniel's desk. "How bad was it, Daniel? The attack."
"Actually, I don't remember much. I was at the library for several hours. When I left, I noticed a lot more activity than usual and that everyone seemed to be in a hurry. I thought that it was just, um, rush hour, people hurrying home. I realize now that the real reason was probably because the people had heard of the fundamentalists taking control of the whole country, and they were getting scared. Maybe some of them were trying to get out of the capital. I fell asleep at the inn. When I woke up, everything was in chaos. People were panicking, and I heard explosions in the distance. A soldier came to take me to safety, and that's when I found out that the Stargate had been moved. I went to the bunker and learned that every major city was in the hands of the fundamentalists, and they were attacking the capital."
Daniel settled beside his teammate, his eyes staring off at nothing. "It happened so fast, Sam. How could Soren's troops have taken control so quickly? Kane never explained."
"I don't know, Daniel. Maybe we'll get some answers from one of Soren's men. General O'Neill thinks that Soren planned it all to be a surprise attack. It's possible that, while the military's attention was on reclaiming the cities taken over by the fundamentalists, Soren's forces were secretly moving into all of the major cities, waiting for the signal to strike."
Daniel nodded. "It's possible that they had a lot of help from citizens who were sympathetic to their cause. Ever since we came through the gate, more and more people have been wondering if the fundamentalist factions were right about the gods. I remember that, shortly before Caledonia launched their missiles, Minister Treydan said that a lot of Rand's soldiers were on the brink of mutiny. If those soldiers joined forces with Soren or even if they just ran, it would have been a major blow to the military's ability to stop the fundamentalists."
Sam nodded in agreement. "So, what happened next?"
"Soren's troops got control of one of Rand's missile deployment facilities. That's when Caledonia fired their missiles. They were only planning on taking out the missile sites. Kane told me later that, if that had been the only things hit and if Rand hadn't returned fire, it's possible that the destruction could have been contained. But Soren's forces launched a counterattack on Caledonia."
"Which caused Caledonia to fire the rest of their missiles."
Daniel gave a sigh. "Yeah. I don't remember much after the first of Caledonia's missiles started hitting the capital. I have a vague memory of Kane trying to get me to the Stargate, then a fight with Soren's troops, who had gotten into the bunker. Kane told me that he was wounded in the leg, and I pulled him out of there. We escaped to the surface, but there was an explosion, and I guess we were caught in the blast. We were found by some of the surviving soldiers. I was hurt a lot worse than Kane was. He had me taken to where his wife was, in a house several miles from the capital. The first few days were confusing. I was in and out of consciousness. My eyes were bandaged, so I couldn't see. It wasn't until after Leda removed the bandages that I suddenly started remembering what happened. The next few weeks were spent healing and trying to reach you guys by radio."
"Radio signals were being jammed on the planet," Sam explained. "It wasn't until we implemented spread spectrum frequency hopping that we were able to get through the jamming and hear your signal."
"You have no idea how relieved I was when I got through to you." Daniel smiled. "Jack's voice was pretty much the most beautiful sound in the world to me right then."
"Why thank you, Daniel," Jack said from the doorway. Teal'c was with him. "I may not be able to sing worth a damn, but I like to think that I have a pleasant and distinctive speaking voice." The two men came into the room. "I thought that I'd fetch you personally for the debriefing," Jack told Daniel. "But don't get used to it. I'm a busy, busy man now with lots of important matters to attend to."
"Yes, like potato crises and plants that turn the SGC into a jungle."
"And Baal. Don't forget Baal. Heaven knows I haven't been able to." He motioned toward the door. "Shall we go? I'm just dying to hear all about your adventures."
They all went to the briefing room. The first thing Jack asked for was a report on how the attack on the bunker went.
"Everything went perfectly, sir," Sam told him. "There was only a small force guarding the bunker, just as Daniel said there would be. We were able to take control with only one casualty among Jared Kane's men."
Jack turned to Daniel. "So, how did you know that there would be only a few of Soren's men guarding the bunker?"
"Some of the intel came from Kane, but there were also some educated guesses. You see, ever since the attack ended, Soren's troops had been spreading out into the areas beyond the cities, searching for people who were still loyal to the old government and executing them, terrorizing the rest of the surviving population while they were at it. As the weeks passed, they were moving farther and farther out into the countryside. Because of this, Soren's troops were spread pretty thin, especially since a big chunk of them died in the missile attacks along with everyone else. Kane was able to determine that, during the day, only a small force was left at the bunker. I timed the attack so that the troops who left that morning would be far enough away that, if Soren called them for help, they wouldn't get back in time to do any good."
Jack nodded. "Good thinking. SG's 3, 6 and 12 reported that about half an hour after you guys came back to the SGC, several dozen of Soren's men showed up. As soon as they found out that Soren was dead and the bunker was in the hands of the loyalists and our men, they gave up pretty quickly. It's going to take a long time to weed out the bad element from the populace, though. Kane and his people are really going to have to be on their toes."
"We're not going to abandon them to deal with it on their own, are we?" Daniel asked, concerned.
"No, Daniel, we're not going to do that. Helping Kane reestablish peace is the least that we can do for them. Just the fact that they saved your life and have been protecting you all this time means that we owe them a big favor."
Daniel's gaze dropped to the table. "Not to mention that, if we hadn't gone there, none of this would have happened."
"Daniel, I'm not going to lie and say that we bear no responsibility for what happened, but the truth of the matter is that Rand and Caledonia put themselves in this position. If they hadn't been carrying on their little cold war, things would probably have turned out differently."
"Leda told me pretty much the same thing. She's Kane's wife. She took care of me while I healed."
"Well, she sounds like a pretty smart lady."
"Yes, and very brave."
At Jack's prompting, Daniel told them everything that had happened since he said goodbye to Sam and Teal'c at the Stargate five weeks ago. It didn't surprise his friends that Daniel never once gave up trying to get back home, no matter how hopeless it appeared to be.
"Okay, I'd say that covers everything," Jack said. "Have your reports on my desk by 1800 tomorrow." He looked at his former teammates. "So, how about if we all go to my place and have a little celebratory dinner?" He quickly held up his finger when he saw Sam open her mouth. "Carter, I swear that if you make some asinine comment that it wouldn't be proper now that I'm a general, I'll put you on cleanup duty in the men's rooms."
Sam fought down her smile. "Actually, sir, I was going to say that having a get-together at your house sounds like a very nice idea."
Jack gaped at her. "You were?"
"Yes, sir. It's not like General Hammond never invited us over to his house."
A pleased smile lit Jack's face. "Well, in that case, make it seven o'clock. I'll take care of the food, you guys bring the beverages. Oh, and dessert. A cake sounds good. And yes, Daniel, Carter, it can be chocolate."
Jack watched them leave, thinking that it was damn good to have all his "kids" back home and safe.