Unexpected quiet made Jack’s skin crawl. The Jaffa troops hadn’t been that far behind them, but now there was nothing, not a sound. Only an occasional distant birdcall intruded in the stillness of the warm summer afternoon. The sounds reminded him of Earth and sent an unexpected pang of homesickness through him. He turned to look at Daniel, who was close beside him, his face drawn with pain and fatigue.
“Hold on, Jack,” Daniel panted, limping to a stop and leaning against a tree for support. He shifted his burden, checking for the hundredth time to make sure the ancient tablet was still in his backpack, though the weight of it should have been enough to confirm that. Certain his prize was still safe, he took a better grip on his Beretta and nodded, sweat running in rivulets down his face. “Ready now. Let’s go.”
“I will scout ahead,” Teal’c offered, glancing at Jack for permission. “I do not like this silence.”
“Go,” O’Neill agreed, nodding in the direction they were already headed.
The Jaffa trotted off, his eyes scanning the perimeter for trouble, glancing at the ground for tracks. He disappeared into the trees in a matter of moments.
Carter jogged up to them as Jack pulled Daniel’s arm across his shoulders again, helping him bear weight on his injured leg. “Sir, I think we’re… somewhere else,” she reported, her expression a mixture of fear and confusion.
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” Jack shot back irritably. “We’re just a few klicks away from where we started. That ‘gate’s gotta be around here somewhere.”
“We should’ve been there by now,” Daniel countered, wincing as he started forward again. “I think Sam’s right, though. Something feels different about this place. I don’t recognize any of the terrain, not since that stone archway we passed through a while back. I thought the terrain was flatter. This feels like... high ground.”
Jack glanced around the forest surrounding them, thick with evergreens and moss. The soft earth beneath them had given way to rocky soil humped up in a winding ridge, like the back of a mountain. The rest of the landscape fell steeply away from them, cloaked in a thick forest on all sides. Nothing looked familiar, but Jack was sure this was the right direction, toward the alien sun on its way to the horizon, whatever direction that was on this world. He always thought of it as west, using Earth directions even on other planets.
They did seem to be at high altitude, which meant mountains. P2X-whatever didn't have any mountains near the Stargate. Which meant that his teammates were right. They were "somewhere else" on a mountain, with no idea how they got there.
“I don’t know how to explain it, sir,” Carter murmured, glancing back the way they had come. “I could swear we passed through something back at that arch. A force field, maybe. Didn’t you feel it?”
Jack sighed. “Yeah, I felt something, but I thought it was just static electricity. So where are we? Did those Jaffa follow us?”
“Maybe they couldn’t,” Daniel offered, limping staunchly along. “Maybe we can take a break here, catch some rest and see if we can figure out where we are.”
“Eventually we have to find the Stargate,” Jack argued. He stopped walking and propped Daniel against another tree. “Maybe it’s still up ahead. Let’s see what Teal’c has to say when he gets back. Meantime, everybody stay sharp.”
It didn’t take long before Teal’c returned, his pace unhurried, thoughtful. His head was down, apparently lost in thought, and when he greeted his CO, there was a look of wonder in his eyes. “I do not know how it has happened, O’Neill, but we seem to have crossed a great span of space without knowing it. We appear to be on Earth.”
“Thank God,” Daniel groaned. “I don’t know how it happened, and right now, I don’t really care. I just want to sit down and bleed in peace.”
“We’ll get you fixed up, Daniel,” Sam promised, “but we may still have to go back the way we came. This may not be our Earth or our time, and if these folks don’t have a Stargate, we should probably go back the way we came and see if we can find the one we lost.” She glanced at Teal’c. “We’ve had a few alternate universe experiences, and even though we didn’t see a quantum mirror, that field we passed through could have sent us anywhere.”
“Oh, fer cryin’ out loud!” Jack griped. “Can’t any mission ever be simple?” He sighed in exasperation. “Well, come on, kids. Let’s see if we can figure out where we are and what the hell happened.”
“This way,” Teal’c directed, and set off at a leisurely pace through the trees.
Teal'c led them off the ridge, moving steadily down slope. Following a curving trail, they emerged from the woods on the slope of a mountain, looking out into a clearing. Spread out on the landscape below them was a big two-story gray house with large windows, decorated for a party. It perched above a cliff, a winding driveway scrolling down the side of the mountain. The house faced a large city spread out all around them, the largest buildings on a promontory surrounded by fingers of silver water sparkling in the sunlight. Grey stone islands decked out with thick patches of evergreen trees dotted the water, and tall white buildings rose up from the mainland jutting into the bay.
Jack studied the imposing home not far below them. Big windows on the backside of the house gave an excellent view of the mountain behind and above it. A cedar deck stretched in a smooth plane from the rear wall of the house almost to the base of the mountain. Set into the middle of it was a long rectangular pool, probably designed as an above-ground structure, but the deck hid that fact and seamlessly joined the house to the sloping back yard where it joined the mountain ridge.
About twenty people were out on the sunlit deck, watching some children splash and play in the pool. Soft jazz played in the background, and constant talk made a pleasant buzz in the air. The property was isolated from any neighboring houses, with nothing but wild lands and mountain behind them.
The Colonel decided the apparent isolation was a good thing for the moment. He needed to assess their situation, and for that, he needed information. These folks might be able to provide that, and let them know whether or not they might find assistance in the city or make a run for the ‘gate.
If these people even had one.
Daniel squinted through his dirty glasses at the distant skyline. “I don’t know where we are or how we got here, but that looks like every photo of Vancouver I’ve ever seen,” he breathed, and hurried along under Jack’s faster pace, watching the ground for his footing as they half climbed down the steep grade. “How could we just zap across the universe to Canada, of all places? Ow! Can you slow it down a little, Jack? I’m wounded, here, remember?”
Jack came to an abrupt stop on the far side of the deck. He loosed an impatient sigh. “Oy, not again.”
Daniel lifted his head to see what Jack was looking at, and did a double-take.
“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” Jack observed dryly.
“Looks like alternate universe to me,” Daniel murmured, where only Jack could hear him.
The four Tau’ri, dressed in their BDUs and field gear, stood facing a small group of well-dressed, obviously affluent people. Among the faces on the crowded deck were four who were identical to their own. The team stared, dealing with the shock much better than their doubles, who stood with eyes wide, mouths hanging open, shock and disbelief written on every face on the deck. For a long time, nobody spoke. Everyone at the party seemed frozen in place, eyes not blinking, no one even breathing.
Only the kids in the pool seemed oblivious, their laughter and high-pitched voices punctuating strains of instrumental music in the background. SG-1 had experience with this situation, so the shock wore off more quickly for them.
Finally, Daniel stepped forward. Making eye contact with a tall silver-haired man who had a forgotten drink in his hand, Daniel decided to try breaking the ice. “Hi,” he began. “Um, I’m Daniel Jackson. I know this is a little unnerving, but it’s really not as bizarre as it seems. We’ve apparently crossed into an alternate Earth, but we won’t stay long, I promise. We’re just trying to figure out where we are, how we got here, and how to get home.” He backed toward an empty lounge chair and glanced up at the man whom he’d pegged as the host – the one who looked just like Jack O’Neill. “Mind if I sit down?”
Daniel didn’t wait for an answer, and let himself down on the chair with a groan.
Carter turned toward him and went into action. She got down on one knee beside the lounger and went through her vest, pulling out various first aid materials and laying them out on the chair beside Daniel’s leg. “I don’t suppose you’d have some hydrogen peroxide, would you, sir?” She glanced up at the tall, silver-haired man who was still staring unhappily at Jack.
The man who could have been his identical twin, except for the expensive suit he was wearing.
Jack’s twin coughed, blinked and shook his head as if to clear it. He focused on her face, and then on Daniel in the chair. Carter pulled up the leg of Daniel’s BDU pants to examine his wound. Jack’s twin glanced between Daniel and a man identical to the archaeologist standing perfectly still just a few feet away with a lovely, dark-haired woman at his side. Daniel’s double’s blue eyes were wide, his mouth hanging open. Except for the difference in apparel and the fact that one of them wore glasses and the other didn’t, they, too, looked exactly alike.
“Michael, you want to lend a hand over there?” Jack’s twin asked, gesturing toward Daniel. Then to Carter he offered a tense smile. “Right this way, ma’am.” He led her off into the interior of the house.
Jack glanced around the perimeter, still half expecting the Jaffa troops to appear at any moment. He sidled up to Teal’c. “Did you hear what he called Daniel?”
“That I did, O’Neill.” Teal’c turned his back to the party, and began scanning the landscape for signs of impending attack. “Perhaps this is a very different place than we had believed. In all other alternate universes, we have always had the same names.”
Jack stepped closer to Daniel’s chair, watching the crowd and listening to the exchange between the doppelgangers to learn what he could.
“This is way cool,” said the man called Michael, who was Daniel’s identical twin. “You guys were hired by some Hollywood doubles agency, right?”
Daniel glanced up sharply behind his smudged glasses and rotated his leg to show off the deep gash in his calf. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but this is real blood. I’m not acting. And why did your Jack call you Michael?”
The twin grinned. “That’s Rick, not Jack.” He pointed at a beautiful blonde woman who was the spitting image of Carter, dressed in a short, slinky black dress, smiling back at them nervously from a few feet away. A tall, attractive man stood beside her with his arm around her waist. “And that’s Amanda and her husband, Allan.” He tightened his grip around the brunette at his side and smiled at her. “And this is my wife, Lexa.” She smiled up at him and gave Daniel a little wave.
Michael gestured with a nod to a huge, muscular black man with cornrows covering his scalp and no gold tattoo in sight, but otherwise exactly like Teal’c. He was smiling and laughing as he chatted with a beautiful blonde woman beside him. “That’s Chris over there, with his girlfriend. We’re actors, too.” He laughed. “And this is the best gag I’ve ever seen! I can’t wait to tell people about it.”
He let go of his wife and leaned closer to Daniel’s face, studying him very closely. “The resemblance is uncanny. You’ve even got that same little mole above your right eyebrow, just like I do. It looks real.”
“That’s because it is real, and I’m not an actor,” Daniel growled, rearing backward slightly in his chair to get away from that too-close scrutiny. “But I am really bleeding. And I would like something to drink, if you don’t mind.”
“It probably wouldn’t be a very good idea for any of us to talk about this to anyone,” Jack suggested. “You especially, Daniel. Michael. Whoever the hell you are. They might lock you up in the looney bin.” He glanced at Daniel, who had shot him a sour look. “Sorry, Danny. No offense.”
“None taken,” Daniel grimaced. “That was a long time ago, and it wasn’t your fault. MacKenzie, however, can take a flying leap.”
Jack shrugged slightly. “He went a little nuts once,” he said to Michael, explaining, “and we had to lock him up.”
Michael stood up. “I’ll get you a drink, uh, Daniel.” He turned and headed for the bar just inside the house, shaking his head in disbelief, still grinning broadly.
“Coffee, if you’ve got it,” Jack called after him. “He likes coffee. Black.”
Michael chuckled. “How did I know that?”
Daniel glanced up with a wincing smile. “Thanks, Jack.”
Teal’c’s twin strolled up to them, chuckling. “Hi, guys,” he said cheerily. “Who put you up to this? It’s freaky.”
Jack and Daniel exchanged a glance. “Not our Teal’c,” they said in unison, and shook their heads.
“Naw, man, really!” Chris insisted. “Where’d they find you guys? Did Greenburg arrange this?”
“Greenburg?” asked Daniel. He glanced up at Jack. “I don’t think we have a Greenburg, do we?”
Jack shrugged. “Isn’t he the food guy in the commissary?”
“I have no idea,” declared Daniel.
Carter exited the house armed with cotton balls and a large bottle of peroxide. She edged past the Teal’c-clone, wide-eyed and on alert, to attend to her patient.
As the on-lookers began to crowd closer, Jack straightened and moved the muzzle of his P-90 toward them, angling it toward their feet. “Stand back, folks. Nothing to see here. Just ordinary blood, and God knows he’s lost enough of that over the last couple of years. No big deal.” He offered a dangerous glare to them, looking out from under the bill of his OD baseball cap. “Why don’t you folks just move on back into the house? Let the Major work.” He waved his free hand at them, shooing them away.
A smattering of applause went up. Most of the group politely turned and did as ordered. All, that is, except for the doppelgangers and their partners. They remained standing by, watching Sam clean, medicate and bandage the deep wound that cut across Daniel’s calf. He made appropriately pained noises all through the process, and sighed with relief as she pulled his pant leg back down.
“How’s it feel, Daniel?” Jack asked, still eyeing his identical twin, named Rick.
“Hurts, Jack,” Daniel replied brusquely. “But I’m pretty used to deep, bleeding gashes by now. Thanks, Sam.”
“You guys can drop the act now,” Rick advised them. “You done good. Everyone was impressed. Everybody totally in character, like you’ve been doing this as long as we have. Bravo.” He gave them a quiet little round of applause in appreciation of their performance.
Jack narrowed his eyes. “Look, Rick.” He said the name with a verbal sneer. “I’m no actor, and neither are my people, except when we have to fool some alien to get our asses to higher ground. I can’t believe one of my… ‘me’s’ is an actor! Do you at least play hockey?”
“I did until the knees gave out,” Rick admitted sadly. “And what the hell’s wrong with bein’ an actor? You’re doin’ it.”
“Not! So not! I’m a Colonel in the US Air Force, for cryin’ out loud.”
Rick grinned. “Bet it says that on your uniform, doesn’t it?”
The other actors chuckled at the inside joke, which Jack got since he’d been on the set during the making of Wormhole X-treme!
He drew himself up stiffly and leveled an angry glare at the actor. “Well, Rick. Or is it Richard?”
“Richard Dean Anderson,” the actor shot back, a wary gleam in his eyes. “And I prefer that to Dick, but I guess they call you that all the time, don’t they?”
Jack was taken aback a little. The guy beat him to the punch! He’d stolen the joke Jack had been about to make at his expense. He didn’t quite know what to think about that and took a moment to recover, mouth hanging open, while he searched his mind for the next one-liner.
“Guys, guys,” Michael intervened with a smile, stepping between them to break the tension and hand a cup of hot coffee to his counterpart on the lounge chair. “Let’s turn it down a couple notches, okay?” He sighed, and glanced between the two tall men. “Rick is damn good at what he does, and was one of the executive producers of the series, so he really was sort of our Colonel on the show. Okay? He’s not just a pretty face.”
Jack shot a look at Michael that was at once startled and almost approving before turning his attention back to Rick. “You played hockey, huh? I guess that makes you okay. Shame about the knees. I know just how that feels.”
“Tell me about it,” said Rick sadly, taking a sip of his long-neglected drink.
“What about you?” Daniel asked his double. “Do you have any degrees? Any interests in dead languages, hieroglyphics, ancient cultures?”
Michael shook his head with a broad smile. “I like history and mythology, but I’m just an actor, dude. I like to think I do it reasonably well, though.” He clapped Rick on the shoulder. “And it’s been a good run for all of us. I hope they’ll make at least one post-series movie, though. That would be way cool.”
“Movie? About what?” asked Sam, handing the peroxide back to Rick. She glanced toward the trees as well, always the soldier, always on guard.
“About SG-1,” Rick answered with a shrug. “What else?” He gestured toward the house. “This is the wrap party for the end of the series. Eight long years! You guys should’ve done some homework on the series before getting all decked out for the farewell bash.”
“End of the series of what?” Daniel inquired distractedly. Carefully, he got to his feet and tested the strength of his leg. “I think I’d like to sit down for a little while longer.” He dropped back into his chair, and took a sip of coffee, his eyes closing in caffeinated bliss.
“Stargate SG-1, of course,” replied Lexa. “They really ought to do a theater release feature film at some point, with the original team. Maybe they could give Jonas a guest spot, though, for continuity.” She grinned up at Michael and gave him a wink.
He gave her a thoughtful glance. “I do like working with Corin. He’s fun.”
“Who’s Corin?” Jack demanded. “And I can live without seeing any Kelownans, ever again. I mean, Jonas tried hard, but he’s not the kind of guy you want watching your six.”
“Corin Nemec is the actor who played Jonas Quinn,” explained Chris. He rolled his eyes and shook his head. He glanced at Michael and smiled broadly. “Boy, was letting Michael go a big mistake. Huge! The fans went nuts. First time in the history of TV that a fan campaign was successful in getting a character reinstated. Didn’t they tell you anything when you were hired for this gig?”
Ignoring the question, Jack looked at Daniel, then up at Michael. “You quit?”
Michael’s expression closed. “It wasn’t as simple as that,” he answered defensively. “I tried to work it out. And I did come back when the invitation was extended.”
Jack looked down at Daniel in the chair, staring at his bloody, torn BDU pant leg. “I guess that explains why you died,” said Jack unhappily.
“And why I descended,” added Daniel thoughtfully.
Things were starting to make a crazy kind of sense to Jack, and that was scaring him a little. He sidled up to Rick and made eye contact, keeping enough distance not to be threatening, but speaking low enough to keep his remarks private, just between the two of them. “Look, pal, I don’t know what kind of agenda you’ve got going on, but I just wanna let you know something.”
He glanced down at Daniel and over at Michael. He turned back to Rick and narrowed his eyes. “How is it that you could lose Daniel? This is his destiny. We…” He gestured toward Carter, Teal’c and himself. “… We’re just here to watch his six. He’s the one who matters. Don’t you get that?”
“I was the star, the actor with the name.” Rick shrugged with a lift of his eyebrows. “Doesn’t matter anymore. The series is over. This is the wrap party, and we’ll all be going our separate ways now.”
Jack shook his head. “You don’t get it, do you?” He leaned a little closer without taking a step. “We’re real. We matter. We’re not just playin’ around here. The war with the Goold is happening out there, and like it or not, you’re part of that, whatever role you may think you’re playing.”
Rick held up his hands, palm out, and stepped back a little. “Whoa, buddy, chill out! I’m just an actor. A retired actor, at that.” He nodded toward the pool, where a little girl in a pink bathing suit squealed with delight and waved to him before jumping back into the water. She and a dark-haired little girl of about the same age started splashing madly until Michael called for them to stop. “One of those little girls is my daughter, Wylie, and I’m getting out of the biz to be a full-time daddy to her.”
Head whipping around, Jack regarded the children happily splashing in the water, his mouth suddenly dry, his throat closing up. He struggled to find some spit and swallow, unable to tear his eyes away from the child who was so obviously Rick’s, who had his eyes, his mouth, his chin. God, she was beautiful. His heart ached for what he’d lost, and what might have been.
“Take care of her,” he murmured to the actor. “She’s the most precious thing there is.”
“You got that right,” agreed Rick.
Carter stepped away from her twin and came up to Jack’s side, away from the actor. Her eyes moved from one face to the next, and she nudged him with her elbow, frowning. “Sir, may I have a word with you?”
Jack moved away with his 2IC on his heels, never taking his eyes off the group except to glance at the surrounding landscape. “What is it, Carter?”
She looked distinctly uncomfortable. “I think we may have crossed more than a few universes here. I think maybe we might’ve crossed the boundary of realities.”
“Well, I was talking to Amanda, the gal who looks like me, and apparently we seem to be the stuff of fiction in this universe. Characters on a television show, like that campy Wormhole X-treme. Which was their hundredth episode, by the way. They decided to spoof themselves.” She winced. “Or rather, us.”
His sharp gaze turned on her and stayed there. “Just as long as I’m not a toon. Nobody makes Jack O’Neill a toon. In any universe.”
“Sir, if we’re fictional, maybe we don’t really exist. Maybe that portal we passed through brought us into being somehow. Temporarily.” Tears standing in her eyes were blinked hastily away, and she straightened, shaking off that dismal thought.
He cracked a smile. “No way. You’ve lost it, Carter. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” He snickered. “We’re not real? Hell, we’re as real as they are.”
She shrugged. “It’s just a theory. Maybe we should get more information.”
“Compare notes. See if they know what’s happened to us. Missions we’ve been on, that sort of thing.”
“And if they know?”
She just looked at him, but her eyes spoke volumes.
They returned to the group smiling. “So, Rick, what was your favorite mission? Uh, episode?” He cast an apologetic glance at Carter and shrugged.
“That would have to be the one where I got to whack a golf ball through the Stargate, learn pottery, and then I got to juggle. I like juggling. Used to do that as a street performer when I was still wet behind the ears.”
Jack eyed Carter and saw her subtle nod. Check. They’d both done the time-loop thing, then. The episodes somehow overlapped what happened in the team’s lives.
“How about you, Amanda?” The major studied her double.
“I liked the one where we found that android, Reese. It was fun watching Michael get beaten up by a girl.” She winked at her co-star, and he grinned back. “That, and the story Michael wrote about the human/Goa’uld hybrid created by the NID, because I got to direct it!” She raised her right hand and slapped his, exchanging high-fives.
“Yeah, watching me get whumped would have to be fun for just about anybody but me. You don’t get the bruises,” Michael agreed with a dramatic sigh and eye roll. He stretched a little and rubbed his back for emphasis. “Even breakaway furniture hurts when you hit it hard enough. Or a half dozen times when the director makes you do it over and over.”
Jack knew they’d done those things, too. This was starting to seriously creep him out.
Daniel looked up at his double solemnly from the chair. “And your favorite, Michael?”
“Torment of Tantalus, no doubt. It was all about discovery and knowledge and exploration. It was the perfect vehicle for showing who Daniel is.”
“Sorry, I don’t know episode titles,” said Daniel with a subtle look at Jack. His gaze slid back to Michael as he waited.
“The one where we found Ernest Littlefield and the meeting place of the Four Races.”
“Ah. Yes. That one.” A look of wonder settled on Daniel’s face and was slow to leave.
So far, every story had clicked. Jack wasn’t liking this in a big way. He wanted to get the hell out of there and back where they belonged, but Daniel needed to rest, so he had to be patient.
“You know, I still don’t get the whole ‘Danny whumping’ concept,” Michael mused thoughtfully. “If the fans like Daniel so much, why do they wanna see him hurt? I mean, I love emotional angst because it gives me a chance to really dig down deep as an actor. But then, Daniel’s a sensitive guy. He cries at the drop of a hat.”
“I do not,” Daniel snapped.
“Do, too,” Jack refuted.
“Do not,” Daniel growled between clenched teeth with a warning glare.
“Perhaps it is not the hurt that the audience enjoys, so much as the comfort that must surely follow,” suggested Teal’c.
Daniel glanced at Jack, who met his gaze instantly before they both looked away.
“Any of you read series fanfic?” Amanda asked brightly. She lowered her voice slightly. “I-I mean, I know we’re not supposed to, but we all do, right?”
“There’s some pretty good stuff out there,” Michael agreed, nodding. He blushed. “Even if some of it’s not exactly to my liking.”
“Here, here,” agreed Rick, meeting his co-star’s eyes with an embarrassed glance.
“My favorite was one of the Ninja Daniel stories,” Michael declared. “Daniel became a host to some alien beings and went around the Springs fighting crime as the Man in Black, but it was killing him. He had to fight a gargoyle to get rid of the things inside him. Too bad we couldn’t have put that one on the small screen.”
Daniel turned horror-stricken eyes up to Sam, and then to Jack. Then he lowered his head, clutching his empty coffee cup numbly in his lap. “Michael… did the Daniel you play ever become a Tok’ra host?”
“No. Why? It could’ve made a good story, if it was handled right. I just can’t see Daniel doing that voluntarily.”
“He would if he were suddenly and irrevocably rendered quadriplegic.” He glanced at Jack, who shook his head and pressed his lips together firmly. Daniel got the message not to say anything more about that and rose stiffly from the chair. He limped off toward the edge of the deck.
Michael Shanks followed him. “You okay, man? Want us to take you to the hospital or something?”
“No, thanks. I’ll be fine once I get back to the base.” He glanced up sharply at his twin. “Uh, when I get home, I mean.”
For a moment, the two men just stared at each other. Michael turned slightly, and let his gaze rove over the others still chatting about this episode or that fanfic. Then he turned back to his silent double and frowned.
“Something I’ve noticed is that it’s a very rare thing for people who resemble someone else to sound like them. You and your group… You do look just like us. Identical, down to scars and moles and skin tones, way more than a strong resemblance. And your voices are exactly the same. Same accents, same pitch, same expressions and body language. The odds of that happening are—“
“—astronomical. I know.”
“Which means…” Michael swallowed hard. He shook his head, his eyes haunted. “I can’t begin to think what it means. Could this be real? It’s just not possible, right? You’re not really… Daniel Jackson. Are you?”
Daniel met his troubled gaze with one of his own. “Words are powerful things, Michael. We compose them from our thoughts and dreams; we imbue them with our emotions until they resonate. Who’s to say that the energy we send out in our words, in our fiction, doesn’t take shape somewhere out there in the universe, and truly be?”
“Do you talk like that all the time?”
Daniel gave a sheepish little shrug. “Yeah, I guess I do.”
Michael stared. He sighed, and shook his head. “You really are a genius, aren’t you?”
Ducking his head, Daniel shied away from the label. He made a couple of false starts before finally pushing the words out of his mouth. “I just see things differently from most people.”
“Time to move out, Daniel,” Jack called, motioning him back to the group. “Places to go, worlds to save, snakes to kill. Why’n’t you let Teal’c carry that thing?”
He sighed, and patted the stone tablet through the cloth of his backpack. “I’ll carry it, Jack. Thanks.” He waved at his commander and glanced at his twin with a sad smile. “Take care, Michael. I hope you have a great career.”
“You, too.” They headed toward the others, with Daniel setting the slow pace and Michael keeping up with him. “Hey, I wanted to ask you something.” Michael glanced up at the fast approaching group and lowered his voice to a whisper. “In your world, are you and Jack… you know, close?”
Soft laughter bubbled up from Daniel’s chest, cut off by a gasp of pain as he paused briefly and straightened up to meet his counterpart’s eyes. “You mean, as in, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’?”
“Yeah. There’s a lot of that in the fanfic.” He shrugged. “I just wondered.”
Daniel’s eyes slid over to Jack and Rick and flicked between them for a moment. “Why? You’re married, aren’t you?” He met Michael’s blue gaze with his own.
Michael grinned, shrugged and nodded his head. “Yes. Happily.” He held up his left hand and wiggled his ring finger to show off the platinum wedding band encircling it.
“Congratulations. She’s lovely.”
A broad grin showed Michael’s agreement. He pointed to one of the little girls in the pool. “That’s my daughter, Tatiana. The one in the red bathing suit. The woman who played Sha’re and I had her together, but our relationship didn’t work out. Lexa and I were married last year. She’s an actress on a series called Andromeda and plays an AI android.”
A happy feeling of awe blossomed in Daniel’s heart. “You’re a father? Wow.”
As he gently corrected the actor’s pronunciation of his late wife’s name, wistfulness faded into sadness, and he glanced toward Jack again. “He and I understand each other,” Daniel explained slowly. “We’ve placed our lives in each other’s hands so often… There’s a trust there. We all have it for each other.”
He pressed his lips together for a moment, considering. “And yes. Jack and I are lovers.”
Surprise flickered across Michael’s face and was gone. “Okay. I guess I can deal with that. After all, you’re not me. Whatever dials your ‘gate, you know?”
“I was never attracted to men before Jack. I guess… when you’re wrecked, physically and emotionally, as often as we are on this job, sometimes things happen. Lines get crossed, and you never look back.” He sighed. “You know, Michael, there’s nothing wrong with men loving other men. It’s not a second-class love. It’s just as real and deep and meaningful as the love you and your wife share.”
Michael held up his hands in an off-putting gesture. “Hey, I’ll take your word for it. It just makes me uncomfortable when people wanna make my character something I’m so not. And I guess some of the fans have a hard time separating Rick and me from our characters.” His eyes grew wide and his mouth tightened up. He swallowed hard. “They… uh… have a hard time separating me… from… you.”
Daniel nodded solemnly. “Yeah. I’m not you,” he reminded his twin. “I may look like you and sound like you, and you may have put some of your personality into me, but I’m not you.” He hesitated. “And no one should know that better than me.”
Slowly, Michael extended his right hand toward Daniel. “I don’t know what the hell’s going on here, but it’s been an honor to meet you, Doctor Daniel Jackson.”
“Likewise, Michael.” Daniel shook his hand firmly.
“It’s Shanks. Michael Shanks.”
Daniel glanced wistfully at the little girl in the pool. “Take care of your family. You’re a lucky man.” He smiled broadly, his gaze flickering over to Jack and Rick, now shaking hands like the gentlemen they were. “But then, so am I.”
“Go win the war,” said Michael, patting his shoulder.
“Have somebody write that up for us, okay?” Daniel shook his head, still grinning, as Jack, Sam and Teal’c came up to join them. Daniel took a step and sucked in a sharp breath. “Oh, this hike is not gonna be fun.” He hobbled away with them, moving very slowly.
Michael nodded and kept pace with his twin, staring down at his bloody pant leg. “That’s another thing. Why do you get beat up and killed so often? The fans seem to think it’s cool, but damn, it hurts! Can’t you grow some mojo or something and stop getting broken all the time?”
Daniel laughed. He laughed so hard he bent over and couldn’t stand upright for a moment. When he did, Jack moved into place under his free arm, and Michael stepped aside to let Carter take his place on Daniel’s other side. The team waved at the actors, who waved back, all smiles.
“Bye, guys,” called Michael. Glancing over his shoulder at his fellow actors, he added loudly, “It was a great act!”
Daniel waved and smiled at him, his gaze falling once more on the dark-haired child in the red swimsuit, splashing in the pool. His smile disappeared as he turned back to his teammates, letting them help support him. They moved off toward the trees with Teal’c in the lead, back the way they had come.
“It was a good gag, guys,” called Rick. “Have your agents call my agent. Maybe we can send you to a convention or something. The fans would love it!”
SG-1 politely ignored that and continued on their way until they had reached the edge of the woods again. For a moment they stood on the peak in the shadowy trees, looking down on the party below them. Their twins were still looking upward, huddled together now, no doubt discussing that experience, doing their best to shrug off the fact that the worlds they had thought to be fictional and the one they knew to be real had just crossed paths. They would go on pretending the party crashers were hired as a stunt. It was safer to think that, but SG-1 knew the truth.
“How do we put that into a report, sir?” Carter asked her C.O.
“Maybe we leave that part out,” Jack responded uncertainly. “That is, if we can find our way back to the battle. I’d rather have that than a soiree with a bunch of Hollywood types any day.”
“I’m with you, sir,” Carter chimed in.
With a last nod, Jack waved them on with his hand. “Let’s move out, kids.”
Daniel managed to catch his breath as he lifted his head with a smile. He moved forward under his own power, limping heavily behind the man he loved, with the woman he thought of as his sister bringing up the rear, and his big brother trotting away from them on point. Going up the slope was harder on his injured leg than coming down had been, but at least it wasn't a climb up the face of the mountain. Daniel was grateful for that.
**That was an interesting adventure, Beloved.**
He smiled as Meretseger, the Tok’ra queen he carried within him, finally made her presence known.
--You’re falling down on the job, girlfriend. Wanna heal up this gash for me?—
**I am working on it. Wounds are harder to heal than illnesses, you know. It will take time, but not as much as if you were not my host.**
--I know, Meret. Just teasing. That was the strangest alternate Earth I could ever imagine! They didn’t think we were real. Talk about a reality check…—
**Perhaps WE are the ones who are not real.**
Daniel felt his symbiote’s internal smile at her teasing suggestion.
--It felt pretty damn real to me, Meret.—
**There are many who choose to believe that we do exist, and it is the power of belief that is the basis of every reality, is it not, my Daniel? We believe implicitly that what we experience with our senses is real, but it is the mind that interprets what the body experiences. Who is to say that what the mind creates and believes is not also real, somewhere in space and time?**
--I’ll have to think about that. I’m sure you’re right. I’m just glad this is my life. Michael is welcomed to have his. I’m sure he’s happy.—
Daniel chuckled, taking a glimpse of Jack’s six on the trail ahead of him.
--And so am I.—
Yes, he would take this life over that one any day. He might never have a daughter, as the man with his face did. He might never be truly safe again, as the actor most likely would be. But he could make a difference in this war between worlds. He could help save some lives here and there, and that would count on some tally in the end.
And he would have Jack.
That was what mattered to him most of all.
He watched his lover walking ahead of him, head turning, threat assessing, on high alert. Daniel gently pushed those thoughts aside and turned his attention to his senses, listening and watching for signs of danger. Everyone had their part to play, and he wanted to hold up his end, helping the others instead of being distracted by that weird encounter with their doubles in this strange alternate reality.
The team followed their own tracks back to the stone arch, grateful to feel the shimmer of static electricity pass through their bodies. They stepped back into the world from which they had vanished hours earlier, the smell of smoke confirming that battle had recently occurred there. They would have to be careful if they were to make it back to the Stargate, and home.
Teal’c scouted the way ahead and determined that the enemy Jaffa had given up searching for them and returned to their camp near a parked ha’tak several klicks back.
SG-1 made their way quietly toward the Stargate, dialed home and left the alien world in a shimmer of blue.