The last thing he was expecting was the light touch on his arm. Everyone else was busy, or so he’d thought. Jack was trying to explain to a very irate General Hammond why they’d brought a slew of refugees through the Gate with them, not to mention the very serpent guard who had led the initial attack on the base. The rest of the personnel were trying to figure out what to do with the refugees. All but one, anyway.
“Dr. Jackson, are you all right?” Captain Carter’s concerned voice followed her hand, and he flinched from both. He tried not to look at the flash of hurt that passed through her eyes. It wasn’t as if he’d asked for comfort, after all.
Still, it wouldn’t be fair to take the anger he harbored towards himself out on her, so he forced his voice to sound less caustic than he felt: “No, actually, I’m not.”
“If there’s anything I can do to help…” she offered.
Her compassion was genuine. After a moment, so was the sad smile he offered in answer. “I know. Thanks.”
“Daniel Jackson,” a newly familiar, deep voice interrupted and Daniel stiffened. It was the serpent guard, Teal’c. The one who called himself a “Jaffa.” The one who, according to Skaara–before he was taken to become a host–had kidnapped him from Abydos and given Sha’re the staff wound that killed her. But at the same time, also the one who had saved all their lives barely an hour ago. The reason they were standing here now.
“May I speak with you?” he asked formally.
Carter looked from one to the other, warily. She said nothing, but her eyes offered Daniel her silent support. After a long, agonizing moment, he nodded. He’d heard Jack tell General Hammond that he wanted Teal’c to join SG-1. So, if the colonel had his way…even if he hated the Jaffa for the rest of his life, he would have to learn to live with him.
Returning the nod, the Captain quietly backed away. Close enough that she could still come to his aid if he got too upset, but far enough away to give the two some privacy.
“O’Neill tells me that the boy who was chosen is dear to you.”
How exactly like Jack O’Neill to pass the buck for his own attachment to the kid, so he wouldn’t have to admit how much it had hurt him to see conclusively that Skaara was no longer the boy they knew.
“He was my brother-in-law, yes,” Daniel confessed tightly.
“Then the woman I fired upon in Ra’s temple was your wife.”
He didn’t answer. Every part of him just hardened at the words–which amounted to a confession–his eyes, his face, and his body…even his heart. He felt almost as if he’d turned to stone.
“I have told General Hammond that I wish to make amends for what I have done in the service of Apophis. I hope by explaining my actions, I can begin to earn your acceptance, if not your forgiveness.”
Forgiveness. He could have laughed. The man–or the Jaffa, rather–who had stolen everything from him, wanted his forgiveness.
“Fine. Explain.” The words were forced through clenched teeth.
“From the moment I saw your wife, I knew Apophis would desire her. He sought a new host for his queen, Amaunet, and she possessed all the qualities of beauty and spirit that he would find admirable.”
“That seems rather ironic,” Daniel spat, “considering the host’s ‘spirit’ appears to be crushed by the takeover.”
“Indeed. Which is why the quality is so attractive to the Goa’uld–it gives them great pleasure to destroy it, just as it gives them pleasure to destroy the will of the people they enslave.”
That silenced him. No wonder his reckless, foolish offer had been rejected–he’d had no spirit left to break.
“If your wife had been brought to Apophis’ attention, as she surely would have been had I not wounded her before her passion caught his eye, I feel certain she would have also been taken, like her brother. It was, however misguided, intended as an act of mercy.”
Mercy? He opened his mouth to object, but then an image of Skaara flashed into his mind. How Jack had run after him, only to be struck down with a cruel smile by the creature that now controlled the boy. How the glowing eyes had gleamed with pleasure at their deception, and the devastation in the eyes of a man who had once been like a second father.
Against his will, he saw Sha’re like that–her eyes glowing, her face cold and cruel. Maybe even her hand lifting to throw him against the far wall of the banquet chamber, instead of Apophis’.
It was an image that made him suddenly sick to his stomach.
“I am sorry, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c stated quietly.
Daniel could only nod. Apparently, though, it was enough for the Jaffa, who quietly returned to where several MPs were waiting to take him to a holding cell.
Carter was back at his side almost the minute Teal’c left. “What did he want?”
He watched the stoic figure follow his escort out of the room before answering, “He wanted to apologize…for killing Sha’re. He asked me to forgive him.”
“Are you going to?”
A long silence followed as he pondered her question. Could he learn to forgive the Jaffa who had killed Sha’re rather than let her share Skaara’s fate, when he couldn’t even forgive himself for letting it happen? “I don’t know.”
“It’s okay.” The Captain gave him a reassuring smile. “It takes time. If he really wants to set things right with you, he’ll understand that.” And if he doesn’t, then maybe you’re right not to trust him. She didn’t say it, but she didn’t need to–it was there in her eyes.
He nodded again, offering her another tentative smile, this time in gratitude. Gratitude for the long talk they’d shared the night Sha’re died, for her unobtrusive, unconditional support and compassion in the time since that night, and most of all, for understanding why he couldn’t yet accept the full gift of friendship that she’d offered him.
Seeming reassured that he would be all right, she walked away without another word.
He wasn’t all right.
Despair hit him again as soon as she was gone, staring at the silent Stargate. Despair, and the bitter memory of Skaara’s choosing. A choice that would never have been made if he hadn’t wanted so badly to forget his loss…
“How much would I remember if you chose me?”
The words came almost without him willing them too, just like the hand that had shot out to grab the robe of the “god” who was searching the crowd. It was a rash thing to do, utterly without logic, and he knew this. It was also suicide, but what did that matter if Sha’re was already dead and the chances of him being able to keep even that last promise to her were dwindling by the second? Jack still hadn’t found a way out, and now that the “gods” had come to choose…it seemed likely that he never would.
If he had to live, wouldn’t it be better to just forget? Forget that he had ever loved and lost; forget that he had failed her even in death…
“Daniel, what are you doing?” Jack hissed in his ear, incredulous.
“Does anything of the host survive?” he demanded, almost in tears. “Or would I just…cease to exist…forget everything…”
He felt more than saw a movement out of the corner of his eye. One of the serpent guards had shifted almost imperceptibly, and glancing to the right revealed Jack’s eyes firmly fixed on the guard’s face.
He didn’t look to see what the Colonel was seeing. He didn’t care.
He just wanted the pain to end.
“We choose…” the male “god” began.
Daniel held his breath. Hell, the whole room seemed to be holding its breath.
“Him.” He pointed to Skaara.
No! God, no…that wasn’t what was supposed to happen…
The boy screamed as the guards lunged for him, grabbing him between them and pulling him away: “Na-ney! Na-ney! O’Neill! Dani’el!”
One of the voices shouting Skaara’s name in return was easily identified as Jack’s. The other, he barely recognized as his own. Hands like steel vices held them both back, forcibly denying the first instinct of his desperate panic–to run after his terrified brother-in-law and beg the “god” who had taken him to choose him instead…
Oh, God, Sha’re…what have I done?
“Daniel?” The voice was Jack’s, the question surprisingly careful and unaccusing. Without turning, he knew that the military man was standing beside him now. And he felt that he was looking at him, not with the blame he expected for what he’d brought on the alien boy they both loved, but with the same concern Captain Carter had shown only moments ago.
“I failed,” Daniel whispered. “It was the last thing she asked of me, and I failed her.”
O’Neill just looked at him for a long moment, then shook his head. “No you didn’t. Skaara’s still out there.”
Still out there…and still alive, even if only the loosest sense of the word.
“So what do we do?” the archaeologist asked helplessly.
Jack clapped a hand on his shoulder and smiled that sardonic, confident smile. “We find him.”
He then looked back up at Major Kawalsky, who was still crouched on the ramp leading to the Gate, looking slightly dazed. “You gonna stay there all night, Kawalsky?”
Charlie slowly shook his head, the confused frown never leaving his face. “No Sir.”
Seeming satisfied, O’Neill turned and walked away, the other two men following him.
End Note: Daniel’s mini-treatise on arranged marriages in Part I is based on my own observations of a college friend who grew up in the Middle East, and who entered into an arranged marriage after graduation. I still remember her telling me about her engagement, and especially how she said the only difference was that she and Bassem decided to marry first, then started dating and fell in love. And she was in love–you could see it in her face every time she talked about him. I can’t help but believe something similar is what happened between Daniel and Sha’re.