The climb was fairly easy for an experienced climber like Jack and he had soon reached the top of the twelve feet wall. He quickly secured the rope around a protruding rock and sent it down for the others.
“Tie the rope around your waist,” he called down, “and be careful. The edges are great for grip but they’re pretty sharp too. Don’t cut your fingers.”
Sam was the first to head up the wall after Jack. She was not as experienced in climbing as him, but thanks to her military training she made quick work of the ascent. The rope around her waist was a comforting security, particularly since her heavy backpack made her back-heavier than she would have liked for climbing. Once at Jack’s side, she unclipped the pack from her back and readied herself to help in pulling the remaining two up.
When the rope came snaking down again Teal'c helped Daniel secure it around his waist. Having had a chance to catch his breath while he waited for his turn, Daniel managed better than Jack had hoped. Almost as swiftly as Sam and Jack he reached the top of the wall and the two of them helped him up over the edge.
As soon as Teal'c saw Daniel’s legs disappear above the edge of the cliff he heaved himself up onto the wall, with Jack’s pack on his back along with his own. He had no need for the rope, which belatedly fell down beside him. Jack couldn’t help but smile at the silent demonstration of self-sufficiency.
The team took a breather passing around a canteen of water and gazing out over their new scenery. The ruins of the ancient city were barely discernible at the horizon from their vantage point on the edge of the canyon. Between them and it was more than a day’s trek across a seemingly endless stretch of torrid sand. When all four of them had gathered some strength and quenched their thirst they rehefted their packs and Jack took point as they started walking.
Despite the desert’s quite accurate Sahara-impression the trek proved to be a lot less difficult than their struggle down in the canyon. The sand was harder packed up here, and even if a fair amount of it constantly seemed to be airborne it wasn’t much of a nuisance. The only problem was the blistering heat from the sun up above, which soon had the sweat running down their backs despite their light desert camouflage uniforms.
“Phu!” Jack exclaimed as he pulled off his cap for what seemed like the hundredth time to wipe his brow.
“Oh, come on Jack,” Daniel teased from behind him with a surprisingly bright tone of voice. “At least we aren’t ‘sand-swimming’ anymore.”
Jack spun around to stare at the archeologist, who to his great annoyance actually seemed to be quite comfortable in the blazing sun.
“’Come on’? I’m turning into a puddle here and you’re telling me ‘come on’?”
“It’s not that bad. Take the chance – get a tan.” Daniel passed him by with a magnanimous smile.
“Not that bad? You can’t seriously tell me that you like this heat?”
The team came to a complete halt as Jack stepped in front of Daniel with a sweeping gesture to the great expanse of sandy hills. Sam and Teal’c hesitantly hung back, waiting to see how the stand-off between their teammates would turn out this time. It wasn’t unusual for them to banter like this. Hell, Sam thought, it is almost the only way they’ve ever talked to each-other. Sometimes the banter turned into bickering – like an old married couple – and sometimes it turned into a full-blown argument. The last scenario wasn’t usually the case though when the subject was as unimportant as the weather, so she felt reasonably sure the outcome of the pair’s latest spat wouldn’t be too bad.
“Jack, I grew up in Egypt,” Daniel pointed out with another smile. “And I spent over a year on Abydos.” He was actually enjoying himself, he realized, both in being in familiar surroundings and in taunting Jack.
“Yeah, okay, but even Teal’c thinks this is uncomfortable.”
Even Jack seemed surprised at his own allegation, and all three human members of SG-1 turned to regard the stoic Jaffa. Teal'c scowled at their scrutiny, but eventually gave a slight nod as acknowledgement to Jack’s statement.
“See?! No human, or Jaffa, in their right mind could find this oven of a planet comfortable. Not to mention the sand. Feels like I got sandboxes on my feet instead of shoes.”
“Well, I’ll admit it’s hot,” Daniel conceded, making Jack grin victoriously – until he finished off, “but I like it.”
“Why?!’ The incredulous look on Jack’s face would have made Sam laugh, hadn’t it been for the fact that she agreed with him. She did not enjoy their hike through the desert any more than he did, and aside from his childhood and Abydos she couldn’t understand why Daniel seemed to like it so much. It’s not like he’s better equipped for it than us either, with his light complexion. Daniel didn’t seem quite as eager to answer Jack’s question as Jack was for an answer. Instead of continuing the banter as he usually would, he suddenly turned away and went back to walking.
“Wait!” Jack had to run to catch up with him. “Why?”
“Why what?” Daniel asked in response, with feigned incomprehension.
“Oh no, no you don’t. Don’t try to avoid the question. Now I really want to know: why do you like it here?”
“I want to know too.” Sam couldn’t help but throwing in her interest when Daniel just barreled on silently.
To her surprise Teal’c chimed in almost at the same time, “I too am curious as to the reason for your affection of this place.”
Daniel stopped at this sudden consensus vote from his teammates, but he didn’t turn around. He stood gazing out over the dunes towards the ruins in the distance. When he spoke it was with a low and pensive voice, thick with emotion.
“It reminds me of Egypt. Of being on a dig. Of...” He paused for so long that they almost thought he wouldn’t continue. Just as Sam opened her mouth to say something encouraging he finished with a whisper, “…of my parents.” Then he simply resumed his march across the sand. This time Jack let him go without another word. I should have known.
They traveled in silence the rest of the day, only exchanging the necessary words for direction and passing around the canteens of water. When night came it came quickly, bringing with it a compact darkness as soon as the sun slipped below the horizon. The pre-mission scans from the MALP had revealed a quite unique feature of the planet: it had no moon. The only night-time light was the faint glow of stars far away in space. While it made for a spectacular display of the Milky Way, it wasn’t much use when it came to guiding their steps and just minutes after the sun had set it was already too dark to see even a few yards ahead.
SG-1 managed to set up their camp before the dark fell, but they had to finish their evening meal with the help of night vision goggles. They ate sitting in a ring, in a world almost aglow with the night vision’s green phosphorous tint. As Daniel looked around at his friends, half of their faces obscured by the big bulky devices, he could barely suppress a laugh.
“What is so amusing DanielJackson?” came Teal'c’s voice from across from him.
“We just look kind of funny, that’s all.”
There was a beat of silence as Teal'c turned his head to take in the scene. Then, to everyone’s surprise, he said:
“You are correct.”
“Wow, was that an admittance of having a normal sense of humor?!” Jack teased and shoveled another spoonful of MRE-style beef stew in his mouth.
“Actually, his sense of humor is more normal than yours, Jack.”
Jack was glad to hear Daniel clearly baiting him for another banter-match, and the colonel was not one to disappoint.
“Is that so?”
“Yup.” Daniel turned to him with a grin that enveloped the entire visible part of his face.
“And what do you base that on?”
“Ehm…” He made a show of thinking. “Last night, maybe…”
Jack didn’t retort, and even if Daniel couldn’t see his eyes he knew he was being glared at menacingly. It was time to shut up, but what he didn’t know was that the situation already was out of his control. Sam leaned forward.
“What happened last night?”
“Daniel…” The warning in Jack’s voice was evident.
“We…we were at Jack’s place, he made a bad joke, end of story.”
“You were at Jack’s place? Again?” Of course Sam had to latch on to the wrong part of his explanation.
“Yeah?” Daniel tried the feigned incomprehension from last time a conversation had gone where he didn’t want it, only hours earlier. It didn’t work any better this time. Sam had found a ragged thread to tug and her curiosity wouldn’t allow her to let go until she knew the truth.
“Didn’t you move off-base to your own place a couple of weeks ago?”
“Yes.” Sort of.
“But, if my calculations are right, you haven’t even spent one night there. As soon as we’re off duty, and you actually leave the base, you’re at Jack’s place. Why?”
Daniel didn’t know what to say. Dumbfounded at the mess his mouth got him in today – well, most days – he turned to Jack, hoping that his pleading eyes would somehow translate through the goggles. They must have, or maybe Jack had just picked that same moment to put a stop to the proceedings.
“He lives there. I asked him to move in with me. End. Of. Story.” he declared tersely.
“Carter! The conversation’s over, it’s time to hit the sack. Teal’c you’re on first watch. Then me – Carter – and Daniel, you’re on last.”
“Yes, sir.” Sam gave in since the colonel’s words were only just short of an order, but she made a mental note to keep digging as soon as an opportunity presented itself. Perhaps when Jack isn’t around.
The changing of watches was a well-rehearsed routine; each of the team-members taking their turn in keeping guard against enemies and wild animals. When Sam woke Daniel and he got up to do the last two hours, it was still pitch dark and he soon realized that the night was unusually quiet. The only sounds penetrating the darkness were the ones made by him and his three teammates. Not even the sounds of insects, which he would expect at night in a desert, were there. The silence added to the compactness of the darkness around him, making him tense and on edge. The restlessness made his skin crawl as he sat there idly, gazing out across the sand through his night vision goggles. There wasn’t even a fire for him to tend, since they had nothing to light one with.
The minutes ticked by excruciatingly slow, so to busy his mind Daniel thought back to the subject of the discussion earlier in the evening. The secret was out, now the rest of the team knew that Jack had asked him to move in with him, but the reasons still no one but Daniel and Jack knew.
“Hey, Daniel. Whatcha doing?”
Jack had found him in his lab, interrupting the translation he was working overtime to finish. For once Daniel hadn’t minded the interruption. His mind was already distracted; in fact he had stared unseeingly at the same line for the past twenty minutes, and had just started to consider actually going to bed.
“Hi Jack,” he replied with a smile as the older man invited himself to sit on his one uncluttered spare chair. “Something I can help you with?”
“Ehm…well…” Jack picked up one of the many ancient artifacts that sat scattered across Daniel’s desk, and nervously tossed it back and forth between his hands. Daniel sighed and carefully picked the little clay statuette right out of the air in front of the colonel.
“What is it Jack?”
To Daniel’s surprise Jack didn’t answer him, but squirmed like a schoolboy put on the spot. Avoiding Daniel’s eyes he grabbed another small figurine from the table and fidgeted with it while he cast glances at the open door and up towards the camera in the corner of the room. For a moment Daniel could do nothing but stare at him incredulously. Then he plucked the new endangered artifact from his hands. Not entirely sure why, he walked over to the door and closed it and reached up into the corner to unplug the camera. With a little luck it would be a while before anyone noticed and came to check on the defect surveillance.
“There? Now can you tell me what’s wrong?”
“Wrong? No, nothing’s wrong…. I just…I wanted to ask you a favor.”
“Okay…” Daniel had never seen his friend like this. It reminded him of himself in the early years of the Stargate program. Or perhaps even of how it may have looked that time when Ma’chello’s machine made them all switch bodies and he ended up in Jack’s body for a while.
After another drawn-out moment of silence, Jack continued.
“I wanted to…see if, maybe…you might wanna…move in with me?”
“Move in with you?”
“Yeah, you know…you’ve got nowhere to stay off-base, being as you’ve only been un-dead for a couple of weeks…and I…”
Jack squirmed again under Daniel’s gaze, and Daniel could hardly keep from grinning amusedly at the sight.
“What, Jack? Just say it.”
“Well, I…I could use the company.”
Jack hadn’t wanted to say any more there and then, but since he had seemed so jittery about asking him, Daniel had decided go along with it and move in. After all, Jack also had a point about the state of his living arrangements. He hadn’t been able to get himself a place yet after descending. Staying on-base all the time wasn’t ideal either, even if he had already returned to his old habit of working through the nights – or perhaps precisely because of that habit. Doctor Fraiser had been on his case a lot on that particular subject, and the news that he’d found a place off-base had brought a pleased smile to her lips. The arrangement had worked out well for everyone. At least as long as they managed to keep it quiet that his and Jack’s off-base residents were the same.