P3S-304. For all intents and purposes, SG-1 could have stepped into any remote area of the midwestern United States. Short, thick, coarse grass intermittently laced with individual or small groups of cheerful wildflowers blanketed the nearly flat landscape. An occasional rolling hill or small stand of trees served to undermine the monotony of the scene.
Under normal circumstances, the terrain alone would have been enough to spark a litany of Wizard of Oz jokes, but these were hardly normal circumstances.
When the SGC had first contacted P3S-304, the MALP had been greeted by a group of about 10 curious, but wary, men. Judging by their dress and the various weapons and animal carcasses they'd held, the group of men had been a hunting party of some sort. Though it was obvious that the men's first instinct had been to run, Dr. Daniel Jackson's soothing voice had reached out via the MALP's radio transmitter to calm them and deliver his 'Peaceful Explorers' speech.
After finally convincing the men that there was nothing to fear and explaining that the MALP was no demon - that they were men of flesh and blood simply speaking through the device from a distant place, the SGC had requested permission to visit the planet. Kam, the apparent leader of the group, had quickly denied the request. Fortunately, Daniel had been able to come to a compromise with Kam. The SGC would contact P3S-304 daily and each party would be able to learn about the other, and hopefully build trust, through short conversations that were to be relayed through the MALP.
The communications had gone exactly according to plan for 10 days. Each day, the chosen SGC diplomat had exchanged cultural information with the planet's diplomat. Usually that person had been Kam. The all-too-brief conversations had always ended with a visitation request by the SGC and a prompt denial from the planet that had come to be known as Anoka.
On the 11th day, the SGC had activated the stargate and the MALP, which had remained on Anoka, but neither Kam nor any of his people had been present for the scheduled meeting. After two more days of missed rendezvous, the SGC had taken the risk of offending the Anokans and launched a UAV.
Upon exiting the stargate on Anoka, the UAV had immediately begun to follow its preprogrammed flight plan: flying a progressively larger circular path around the stargate. After only a few minutes, the UAV had found what was assumed to be Kam's village. The small aircraft had circled the area a few times, gathering information and relaying the disturbing findings to the SGC.
"What I want to know," Colonel Jack O'Neill groused, finally breaking the oppressive silence that had settled over the team since gating to Anoka, "is why an organization with a budget as large as the SGC's, can't invent a UAV that can detect humanoid life signs. Don't get me wrong, Carter, I'm thrilled that you've installed that new super-duper-sonar-radar...whatever...that can penetrate forest canopies. I just don't happen to find that a particularly useful item on a prairie planet!"
"The UAV did detect signs of a recent battle," Captain Samantha Carter needlessly regurgitated the facts from their briefing. "Large heat pockets, probably from burning buildings, interfered with the infrared's ability to localize the heat signatures from..."
"Ah, ah!" The Colonel raised a finger to halt the repeat of Carter's long-winded briefing lecture. "Whatever, Captain. I just don't like walking into a situation with any unknown variables."
"Is that not what we do each time we step through the stargate, O'Neill?" Teal'c's deep voice questioned.
The Colonel gave a long-suffering sigh. "Yeah, it is, Teal'c. But this time, we KNOW that there is an unknown waiting for us...a big honkin' unknown...and THAT'S what makes me nervous!"
No one could argue with that statement. With a simple 'yes, sir' from Carter, the team continued on their journey, scanning the horizon for possible threats.
A short time later, the members of SG-1 cautiously entered the village and were horrified by the sight that greeted them. The place was in shambles. The buildings that had not been burned to the ground had been torn or blown apart. What livestock remained had been slaughtered and the corpses left to rot in the pens. Personal possessions had been dragged out of the homes and destroyed, presumably in front of the residents. Worst of all, the people had been killed, their bodies mutilated. Some had obviously been tortured while others appeared to have been given the small mercy of a swift death. Most of the men's bodies were found near the edge of the village, where they had apparently attempted to make their defensive stand. The women and children were found amongst the smoldering rubble of what were once their homes.
Daniel's gut clenched at the sight before him. While his military teammates secured the area and assessed the possibilities of further danger, the young man passed from body to body, praying that, somehow, someone had survived. His stomach revolted as he rolled a body onto its back, only to realize that it was Kam. Daniel stepped back and took several deep gulps of air. Somehow, being able to put a name to the pour soul's face made the horror before him so much more...real.
As soon as he had convinced himself that his morning cup of coffee would not be making a reappearance, Daniel resumed his gruesome task. He had barely taken three steps towards the next body when a noise from behind caused him to swing around abruptly. Determining that the noise had originated from the ruins of a nearby home, he silently alerted the other members of SG-1.
Colonel O'Neill easily interpreted the archaeologist's amateur hand signals and relayed another silent message to Carter and Teal'c. Secure in the knowledge that the two soldiers would watch their backs, O'Neill cautiously preceded Jackson into the crumbling building.
As the two men made their way through the rubble, the sounds became slightly louder and more frequent. It sounded almost like the whimper of a wounded dog, or that of a person in pain, trying desperately to remain silent. O'Neill halted their progress as they came to one of the few walls that were left standing near the middle of the dwelling. Using basic hand signals, he directed Daniel to stay put while he confronted whatever was to be found on the other side of the wall.
With a speed that belied his age, O'Neill rounded the thin barrier that separated them from the unknown and brought his weapon to bear upon the being on the other side.
"Whoa!" O'Neill exclaimed, instantly snapping his weapon up so the barrel pointed safely towards the sky. "Daniel!"
At his team leader's shout, Daniel rounded the wall to offer whatever assistance was needed. The sight before him consisted of Colonel O'Neill crouching in front of a distraught young woman. Jack quickly relinquished his position to the younger man and radioed Sam and Teal'c.
"Don't be afraid," Daniel crooned as he knelt before the woman. He held his hands out before her, demonstrating that he had no weapons. "My name is Daniel, Daniel Jackson, from Earth." Confusion marred her delicate features. "Our people have been communicating through the stargate - the stone circle." Daniel made a circular gesture in the air with one hand.
The confusion lifted and the young woman's dark eyes brightened in understanding. She nodded. "Yes, my husband, Kam, has spoken of your talks."
Daniel was taken aback. "Kam is your husband? You must be Paran."
"Yes, but he is dead now, as are the rest of my people." The woman bit back a sob that changed into a pained hiss.
Much to his shame, Daniel felt relieved. He knew it was more than likely that this young woman had lost her family and, eventually, they would have to find their bodies to give her some closure, but he didn't want to be the one to have to tell her, right here and now, of Kam's fate. Paran already knew, and that lifted the burden from his shoulders.
An ominous creaking sound from one of the remaining walls of the structure pulled them from their bleak thoughts.
Daniel held a hand out for Paran. "Please, we need to get out of here. It's not safe."
Paran looked skeptically at the proffered hand for a moment until another loud sound from the structure prompted her to accept it. Carefully, Daniel assisted the distraught woman out of the ruins of her former home, noting her obvious discomfort and the way she seemed unable to stand completely upright. Once outside, Daniel found a comfortable spot for Paran to sit while the Colonel headed over to check in with his 2IC.
"Sir," the Captain began as her commanding officer approached her. "We've found a few more survivors. Teal'c is with a group of children that were hiding in some sort of cellar, and there are a couple of men and a woman who are all injured and unconscious, but alive."
"Any signs of further danger?" O'Neill questioned, his dark eyes laced with suspicion as he surveyed the landscape around the village, as if expecting another attack at any moment.
The two were tending to the wounded and still discussing what course of action to take when Dr. Jackson walked over to join them a short time later. "According to Paran, the battle ended sometime late last night. The enemy stole what they could carry and destroyed the rest. They left believing that everyone was dead, so they shouldn't be back anytime soon."
"Who, exactly, is 'the enemy' and why did they attack?" O'Neill asked, frustrated with all the unanswered questions.
"I haven't been able to figure that out yet," Daniel answered. "It sounds like they were this planet's version of raiders or pirates, but I'm afraid I can't answer why."
Jack removed his cap and raked a hand through his hair before replacing it. He sighed loudly. "Well, if there's no danger of a return visit, let's just take care of the survivors for now, and we can deal with all of that later."
"Um, yeah, uh, about the survivors... Sam, I could use your help with Paran."
"Of course, Daniel, but why do you need MY help?"
"Well," he began, shifting restlessly from foot to foot. "If you could give her a medical exam..."
"Was she injured?" Sam interrupted, concern flooding her features and obvious in her voice as she glanced over towards the Anokan woman. Paran was clutching her midsection and panting. Her complexion seemed pale and she had a sheen of perspiration covering her skin. She was clearly in pain, but there were no serious injuries visible.
"N-not that kind of an exam, Sam." Daniel hoped that his friend would make the intuitive leap herself, but seeing that would not be the case, he continued. "Look, you can kill me later, but I think Paran needs to be asked something that she isn't going to be willing to discuss with a man - especially a stranger." He folded his arms across his chest and cast his eyes downward, obviously uncomfortable with the situation.
"Do you think she was raped?" Sam was appalled at the thought, her feminine side momentarily overwhelming her military training.
"What?" Daniel's head snapped up and he locked eyes with her. "Oh, no, Sam. She claims that the raiders never even saw her. I, uh, I think she may be having a miscarriage, but in her society, a strange man can't just walk up to her and ask such a personal question. Besides, it's not something that most women would consider discussing with a man. It needs the touch of another adult woman. I know when Sha'r..." Daniel ended his rush of words and took a deep calming breath. He continued at a much slower pace, carefully enunciating each word. "If Paran is pregnant and having difficulty, we need to know so we can get her some help. If she's actually miscarrying, she could REALLY be in trouble if we don't act quickly."
Without waiting for further explanation, Sam excused herself from the presence of her male teammates and made her way over to Paran. The 'military soldier' was firmly tucked away to allow 'compassionate female' to come forward.
Approximately twenty minutes later, Sam emerged from the small lean-to she had fashioned from an emergency blanket in order to provide privacy for Paran. She approached Jack and Daniel with a grim expression on her face.
"You were right, Daniel," Sam stated. "Paran is most definitely having a miscarriage. We need to get her back to the SGC for medical treatment."
Daniel said nothing. He simply adjusted his arms to hug himself more tightly and looked to the ground.
It was O'Neill who finally spoke. "I've had Teal'c take the children back to the SGC. He's going to arrange for help and should be back soon."
The Captain nodded to her CO before returning her attention to Daniel. "The Colonel was right. You never cease to amaze us. How were you able to recognize Paran's symptoms?"
A subtle, pained look flashed across the younger man's eyes, prompting Jack to speak up. "That's not important right now. Captain, you go stay with Paran. Daniel and I will look after the wounded here."
Sam nodded in understanding and retreated to the lean-to.
Jack placed a gentle hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Come on, Danny," he softly urged. "We've got work to do."
Sam strode purposefully through the halls of the SGC. Five hours earlier, SG-1 had returned through the stargate with the Anokan survivors. Out of a village of an estimated 200 people, only nine, including Paran, survived the attack. Four adults and five children. Though some of the injuries were severe, Dr. Janet Fraiser was confident that they would all survive.
Sam entered Daniel's office and found her friend completely engrossed in the study of an artifact. It was covered in some ancient writing that he was, more than likely, the only person on Earth able to decipher.
"Hey, Daniel," she greeted warmly.
Daniel looked up from the artifact he'd obviously been studying for far too long, and blinked owlishly to bring Sam's features into focus. "Hey."
Sam chuckled softly at the familiar scene. "I just wanted to come by and tell you that Janet thinks all of the Anokan people will pull through alright."
Daniel straightened his posture. "Paran?" he questioned eagerly.
"Janet wasn't able to prevent the miscarriage, but, thanks to you recognizing her symptoms and getting her help, she's alive and should recover."
"Physically, anyway." Daniel slumped back into his chair.
"Paran is pretty upset about it. The baby was to be her and Kam's first. Fortunately, the other woman we brought back is her sister, Calla. They'll be able to help each other through everything."
"Yeah. At least she has that much."
Sam would have to have been completely blind and deaf to miss the raw emotion emanating from Daniel. Her instincts and intellect were screaming for her to depart, to leave Daniel to face his demons in his own way. He was a private man when it came to his pain. If he wanted to discuss things, he would seek out one of his friends - he always had in the past.
Despite this, Sam found her mouth working of its own accord to ask the question that seemed to be the crux of the situation. "Daniel, how were you able to recognize Paran's symptoms?"
Every muscle in Daniel's body instantly froze in mid-motion. Even his breathing ceased momentarily. His eyes remained fixed on the artifact clutched tightly in his hands, but he no longer saw it.
Jack, who had arrived unnoticed at the overcrowded office shortly after Sam, swept past his 2IC to approach the desk and its occupant. He gently removed the artifact, which was in danger of being crushed into a very fine powder, from Daniel's hands and placed it on a near-by shelf.
Jack had gone to Daniel's office with the intention of dragging the young man (kicking and screaming, if necessary) away from the mountain and to his house to relax with some bad take-out food and even worse old movies. At the sounds of voices coming from the office, he'd been dismayed at the thought that someone had beaten him here, probably with more translations for the overworked linguist. The dismay had changed to apprehension when he'd realized that the second voice belonged to Carter and that they were discussing the day's mission. The apprehension had been instantly replaced with anger when he'd heard her question.
Standing in front of the cluttered desk, his eyes still fixed on Daniel, Jack addressed Sam coldly. "That's not important, Captain." He turned slightly to lock smoldering black eyes on her. "It's late. Why don't you head home..."
"It's okay, Jack."
Jack visibly flinched at the defeated tone of his friend's voice and returned his attention to the, as of yet, unmoving young man. "But..."
"Jack." Daniel raised his chin to look meaningfully at his friend. "It's okay. Why don't you give me and Sam some time alone to talk?"
"Um, yeah. Okay. If you're sure."
Against his better judgment, Jack agreed to leave his two teammates alone to talk. But before he did... "Daniel, um, before I go, I just wanted to invite you..."
"Chinese food, you can pick the movie, your place, one hour," Daniel interrupted with a small smile.
Jack returned a grin and turned to leave, only to be stopped by one more request.
"And pick me up some good beer. I can't stand that cheap domestic stuff you drink."
Jack chuckled, gave a thumbs-up sign, and left, closing the door behind him.
When Jack left, the silence that engulfed the room was anything but comfortable. The air became heavy and thick, threatening to choke Sam. Her earlier question loomed over them, suspended in the air, almost tangible. Daniel had slouched back into his chair and crossed his arms in front of his chest in the familiar self-hug he always employed when a situation threatened to overwhelm him.
"How did I recognize Paran's symptoms?" he asked, as if clarifying the question. His eyes were glazed and fixed on some spot before him.
Suddenly, Sam wished she could take the inquiry back. She had the feeling that she had just dived head first into a part of Daniel's past that was best left untouched. "I'm sorry, Daniel, if you'd prefer not to..."
"Sha're had the same symptoms."
Sam froze. Her heart skipped a beat.
Sam felt the blood drain from her face and her legs become weak. She felt strong hands guiding her until the back of her legs made contact with a chair.
"Sit down before you fall down, Sam. Here, take a drink of this."
A small glass was pressed into her hands and she drank the cool water without question. When she had regained her composure she looked to the man sitting before her. The concern she saw in Daniel's eyes - concern for her - made her feel even worse.
Seeing that she would be alright, Daniel returned his attention to his desk. Sam finally realized that all the time she had believed Daniel to be staring into empty space, he had actually been looking longingly at a picture of his beloved wife, strategically positioned on his desk to be in his full view while remaining nearly hidden from the prying eyes of others. She knew he wasn't actually seeing the picture that Ferretti had taken while on that second fateful journey to Abydos. He was staring into the past, reliving the painful memories.
Daniel picked up the picture and gently caressed it before speaking again. "A few months after Jack and his team left Abydos, Sha're came to me and told me that she was pregnant." A wistful smile flittered across his face. "I was so excited. I wanted to share the wonderful news with everyone, but Sha're cautioned me against it. I didn't understand at the time, but I followed her wishes.
"About two weeks later, Sha're woke me in the middle of the night. She was in a lot of pain. I ran and got the healer, but with such limited medical knowledge, there was nothing that could be done. The healer told me that Sha're had lost the baby, but fortunately, she would recover."
Tears welled up in Sam's eyes as she realized that those words were very similar to the ones she had used only moments ago when informing Daniel of Paran's condition.
"As upset as Sha're was," Daniel continued, "I was even worse. I tried to put it behind me and concentrate on helping Sha're regain her health, but she saw right through me. She and Kasuf tried to explain that, on Abydos, it was actually quite common to miscarry early in the first pregnancy. It was hard to accept something like that when there was a bassinet that I had worked so hard to make sitting in the corner of the room."
Daniel paused in his story to look towards Sam. Seeing her nod in encouragement, he took a deep, shaky breath and continued.
"Sha're was eager to try again and less than six months after the miscarriage, she told me she was pregnant again. I tried to prevent myself from getting too excited in case something happened, but her enthusiasm was contagious. Soon, not only did I have the bassinet back in the room, but we had also told all of our friends. It didn't take long before our home was overrun with things for the baby.
"I was a lot more cautious with Sha're's health that time. Skaara and Sha're used to tease me when I tried to do what they deemed 'woman's work', but it didn't bother me. I was happy to grind the flour, fetch water, and cook. All that mattered was that I was looking after Sha're and our baby. Kasuf understood what I was feeling and tried to help out. He had lost his wife in childbirth."
Sam smiled even as the tears began to roll down her cheeks. She could easily see Daniel waiting on Sha're hand and foot, urging her to rest, doing 'women's work', and enduring the teasing with a smile. He would never feel angry or overworked, because he was doing it all for the woman he loved and for the unborn child, the family, which was yet to come.
Daniel shifted restlessly in his chair for a moment before finally standing and walking to the shelf upon which Jack had set the small artifact he had been studying. He picked it up and turned it over and over in his hands. With his back still facing Sam, he began the next part of the story.
"Sha're had made it through the first half of the pregnancy with no problems, so we began to relax. She had begun to accompany me to get water. She had argued that if I wouldn't allow her to help do the work, then she could at least be there to keep me company." Daniel gave a slight chuckle at the sheer stubbornness of his wife.
"I was collecting the water when I heard Sha're cry out. I rushed to her side and found that she had been stung by a ratafu, the Abydonian equivalent of a scorpion. I carried her home and sent for the healer. The ratafu's sting had never been known to be fatal, even in children, but it could make a person very sick.
"Even with the healer's help, Sha're was sick for weeks and it caused her to miscarry. The combination of the miscarriage and the ratafu's toxin was pretty rough. There were several times that we feared her next breath would be her last. But, she held on and, eventually, regained her strength."
Daniel replaced the artifact on the shelf and turned around. With his arms crossed tightly over his chest, he studied the floor. "I don't know what was harder; grieving privately after the first miscarriage because we hadn't told anyone of the pregnancy, or grieving in public after the second. People came to visit and offer their condolences. I know they meant well, but it was all just too much. Does that make any sense?"
Sam found that her voice had deserted her, so she settled for a simple nod.
"I found myself reluctant to consider trying to have a baby again. The last time, it had nearly cost Sha're her life. She was the world to me and I didn't want to do anything to put her at risk. Sha're was nothing if not persistent and I eventually agreed.
"We were waiting until we were sure Sha're was completely recovered. During that time, if something caught my attention - an artifact, a translation, the map room - she would, um, remind me that I would soon have duties at home to tend to. Her reminders were always very public and VERY embarrassing."
Even in the dimly lit office, Sam could see the blush coloring Daniel's cheeks. In a flash, a realization dawned on her. "That kiss...the one Sha're gave you right before you took us to the map room..."
"Yeah." Daniel smiled. "That was one of her reminders. She liked to make sure that EVERYONE knew that I had a promise to keep. She also claimed that I was cute when I blushed from embarrassment."
Sam knew that this was the end of the story, but remembering the Colonel's earlier words and actions, she had one question to ask. "Colonel O'Neill already knows all of this, doesn't he?"
"Yeah," Daniel answered almost as if ashamed. "The first night after I returned from Abydos, Jack took me to his house. With a little alcohol and a lot of encouragement, I told him everything about my time on Abydos. I never told anyone else because I honestly thought we'd find Sha're and Skaara before now."
Sam felt the urge to ask Daniel what he was planning to do once they did find his wife. Would he remain on Earth and work for the SGC or would he return to his life on Abydos? She held the question back. They had opened enough wounds for one day.
Wordlessly, Sam approached Daniel and wrapped her arms around him in a crushing embrace. "We'll find them," she whispered softly into his ear.
"Thanks, Sam," Daniel replied while returning the hug.
When they finally disengaged, Daniel wiped his eyes and checked the time. "I'm sorry, but I need to get going. Jack will send out a search party if I'm not at his house on time. He's really got the mother hen instincts set on high today."
"You're telling me," Sam laughed. "I think he was ready to court-martial me for asking that question."
"Don't worry. I'll smooth things over with him."
"Thanks." With a final hug, Sam helped Daniel gather a few things and place them in a bag to take with him.
On his way out, Daniel paused at the door. "Sam? Thanks for asking the question." Without waiting for a reply, he left.
"Anytime, Daniel," Sam stated to the empty space her friend had occupied only moments before. "Anytime."