Persistent Illusion

by Merlin

E-mail: Merlin

Spoilers: Absolutely everything, seasons 1-7

Category: Angst, H/C, a bit of whumping

Summary: Daniel wakes up…

Disclaimers: All the usuals; Stargate and all the characters are the property of MGM, Double Secret Productions and Gekko Productions and I ain't nearly as brainy as them. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is being made. Probably some other stuff I'm meant to say but I'm new at this. This fic's mine, so is my deranged imagination.

Author's Notes: I want to thank Jillian, Maz and Ruthie who answered some really inane questions, and patted me on the head at all the right times. And demanded that I write a fic in the first place...

Please note – this began life before Season 7 aired, and was still being penned when Changeling was shown; an episode which, and you will see why, caused me to wonder if the script writers were reading over my shoulder!

Originally printed in the zine "Kawoosh", September 2003, in aid of The Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

____________________________________________________________

Persistent Illusion:

As consciousness gradually returned, Daniel could feel the familiar coverings of starched infirmary sheets, and the unmistakable aroma of chemicals permeated his nostrils. Gently moving his head he winced as a persistent throbbing started up in his left temple.

Blearily prying his eyes open he recognized the outline of a blonde figure sitting in a chair near the foot of his bed. It hurt to try and focus in the darkened room, but the unrelenting pulse of the machine near his head assured him that he had not returned from P3X 747 uninjured.

He flexed his fingers, inhibited by the sats probe monitoring his pulse, and was relieved that he seemed unharmed except for one almighty headache.

One big, annoying, pounding headache.

Jack would really kick his butt for this one. "Spending time with Oma obviously didn't teach you how to duck..." He could hear the scathing words in his mind already.

Daniel closed his eyes to the pain as he tried to recall what had happened. He remembered the mission briefing when Jack had asked for the designated planet to be changed as he was in the Air Force, and only airline pilots dealt with 747s. Daniel smirked at the thought, but even twitching facial muscles aggravated the headache.

He moaned softly at the sudden twinge, unable to stop himself, and clenched his fist in an unsuccessful effort to suppress the ache.

"Daniel?"

Through the lightning flashes across his closed eyes, Daniel could hear Sam's voice.

"Daniel? You awake?"

Why did people always ask such stupid questions?

"... And if I said 'no'?" he managed to croak before licking his dried lips, and opening his eyes a fraction. He saw Sam's concerned face peering into his own, and her hair a tousled hint of how long she had been waiting by his side.

She reached for the water beaker - usually Jack's job when he regained consciousness - and used her fingers to dab water against his lips. "Better?"

"Mmm. Much." He closed his eyes as she brought up a damp face cloth, gently wiping over his face.

"Thanks, Sam." He smiled at her.

"Anytime." She rinsed the cloth and slowly wiped the palms of his hands. "Well, you know what I mean."

"Did Jack...?" His unuttered question trailed off as a quizzical look appeared on Sam's face. "What?" he asked.

For the first time he registered that she was in civilian clothes, as opposed to the usual fatigues. He also noticed the lack of other beds and the alternative color scheme. With widening eyes he found himself in a completely unfamiliar environment. This certainly did not resemble the SGC; if still on 747 then surely the Tok'ra would have used the healing device on him. And anyway, he was fairly certain he remembered them 'gating back from 747... didn't he?

Sam was holding his hand for reassurance, adding a second hand on his shoulder, preventing him from trying to push himself up.

"Daniel, please." Her voice was firm. "You've been out for quite a while. That was a nasty blow to your head."

"How...?" He had figured out the 'blow to the head' part, and his aborted attempt to sit up had refueled the pain cylinders. Flopping back down against the pillows, he waited for Sam to inform him of his latest "ouch factor". Odd though: she had smudged mascara. He didn't think he'd ever seen that on her. No matter what they'd ever been through, any make-up on her always looked immaculate.

Sam shifted onto the edge of his bed, still holding his left hand, carefully avoiding the IV needle there. "Six days, Daniel." She smiled. "We were very worried for the first few. The head injury caused a subarachnoid haematoma, which they had to relieve. Do you know what one of those is?"

Daniel frowned, ignoring his headache. Why was Sam asking him that, when she knew that he would know the answer?

Mistaking his frown for misunderstanding, she began to explain until he stopped her.

"Sam, it's okay. I'm okay. We've gone through situations before. I'm awake. I'm coherent, so I'm probably going to be fine with a few Tylenol. Janet will back me up... just before she shoves yet another needle in my butt and kicks me out of her infirmary." Carter moved to interrupt, but Daniel squeezed her hand and continued. "Jack will be making my life a misery by the end of the day, Teal'c will raise an eyebrow, my department can analyze the cultural significance, and I'll be cleared for gate travel before the end of the week... What're you doing?"

"I'm reaching for the help button," came the response, an agitated Sam quickly releasing his hand.

"Why?" Daniel was bemused.

"Because you're in a hospital not an infirmary; you're talking about something called 'gate-travel', and as for Teel and Jack, I have no idea who you're talking about."

"It's Teal'c," Daniel retorted. "Big guy, Jaffa, symbiote..." Sam was demonstrating either excellent acting skills or a genuine lack of knowledge. Something in the pit of his stomach lurched, his mouth began opening and closing goldfish-style as a portly male doctor walked in, accompanied by a nurse wielding a sheathed hypodermic. "Ah, I see you're awake Mr. Jackson. Welcome back."

"General Hammond!" Daniel exclaimed, once again attempting to sit up. "What the hell's going on?"

The new entrant glanced at Sam before addressing him. "My name is Dr Kershaw, Mr. Jackson." The doctor flashed the obligatory penlight into Daniel's eyes, causing the latter to regret snatching his head away from the glare. "Can you tell me your name, date of birth, and where you are?"

Daniel stared bleakly at the wall by the window before quietly answering. "I thought I was Dr Daniel Jackson, PhD, anthropologist, archaeologist, born July '65. And I thought I was at the SGC." He paused and sighed. "But maybe I'm just making that up, Mackenzie was right, and I am insane after all."

Out of the corner of his eye, he could not mistake the look of concern mixed with horror on Sam's face.

"I see," pacified the doctor. "A certain amount of confusion and disorientation is not uncommon in these events - so it's unlikely you're going insane," he added as an afterthought to try and relieve some of the mounting tension. He moved around the bed to stand in Daniel's line of vision. "And if I said you were in Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia; you are Mr. Daniel Jackson, born 1966, and are a teacher at Cub Run Elementary School, Virginia, how would you react?"

The doctor considered Daniel's blank expression and asked, "Do you recall any of Saturday's events leading up to your injury?"

He allowed a few moments for his patient to gather his thoughts before answering his own question. "You were coaching Little League and were accidentally struck in the head by a rather overenthusiastic young player. Do you recollect any of that?"

Daniel slowly turned his head to look directly towards the speaker. Jack had obviously gone to great deal of time and trouble to set this up. Hathor was dead so she couldn't be the reason. He hadn't touched any quantum mirror that he knew of. Maybe his drink had been spiked with the blood of Sokar. Either way he was so not falling for it.

So he did the only thing his pulsating headache would allow him to do.

He laughed.

_____________________________________________________

The following morning dawned as another crisp, clear Virginia day. Beams of sunlight shone onto the bed where Daniel lay facing the blind covered window, watching the dust particles playing in the light.

Sam sauntered into the hospital room, her hands jammed into the pockets of her leather jacket. She paused before venturing further into the room in case the patient had fallen asleep. "Hey," she opened, tentatively.

Daniel frowned at her voice, but didn't stir. His right hand remained tucked under his head, his left hand draped over the top of the sheet.

She waited for any sign that he was awake.

Seeing none, she walked around to the other side of the bed and peered down at the pallid face. "Daniel?" He blinked in response but neither moved his head towards her or attempted to make eye contact. He merely continued to gaze transfixed at the window.

Sam perched on the edge of the bed and took his clammy hand into her own. It was colder than she'd thought it would be, implying how long he had lain in the same position. She stared down at his long fingers with the neatly cared-for fingernails, and gently massaged the back of his hand, avoiding the area of the needle. He didn't even seem to register her grasp.

"I stopped by your apartment on the way here, and brought you some sweat pants and a sweatshirt to change into. I fed your fish for you and set the dishwasher." She watched Daniel's face to see if he was listening. He moistened his lips before renewing his frown, the lines above his eyebrows ageing his boyish looks.

Carter followed his gaze, and could only see the white of the inside of the blind. She sat up straight to see what kind of view he had of the parking lot seven floors below. Examining it, she smiled. "Mmm, you're not missing much down there." She looked down at him quizzically. "Can you hear me, Daniel?"

He sighed resignedly before quietly murmuring, "Go 'way, Sam."

Belying his words, he didn't pull away from her. "Why?" she asked, as she continued to rub his hand. "You okay?"

"Just go, would you?" His soft voice made it difficult to determine any emotion. "Just go."

Sam stopped but declined to move. She chewed her bottom lip in thought before placing Daniel's hand back on the sheet. "Sure, Daniel, if that's what you want." She lightly patted his hand and made to stand up.

She was halted by a stifled groan and an extended sigh. Unbidden, she sat back down and took up his hand again.

"Okay, so I'm staying."

Daniel shoulders sagged as though he was wrestling with some arduous thought.

The dressing on his head had been changed that morning, and contrasted against his pale skin. The bruising over the left part of his face was gradually transforming from purple into a less vivid hue of green-yellow. He looked so vulnerable and frightened lying there, as though intimidated by the world around him.

For nearly twenty minutes there was silence in the room. In that time, Daniel didn’t move once, nor did his grip lessen on Carter's hand. She had time: her friend needed her, and she knew that the conversation would start as and when he was ready. There was no point in rushing him, but until then, she would wait.

Eventually he spoke. "Sam?"

Carter altered her hold on his hand. "I'm here."

"Am I insane?"

Swallowing hard, Sam turned to the confused figure lying in the bed. "Of course you're not. You heard what the doctor said; a certain amount of disorientation is common among these types of injury. You'll be fine in a few days."

Unappeased, he didn't answer her out loud, but inside he felt himself plunging into a quagmire of self-doubt.

_____________________________________________________

"Hey!"

Daniel turned his head to see Sam walking into his room, bearing flowers, books and a copy of the Washington Post. But no chocolate walnut cookies. He smiled as she dropped her burden on his bed, and flopped herself down in the chair.

"Figured you'd be bored." She shrugged off her leather jacket and made herself comfortable. "I've got one of the Lilian Jackson Braun books from "The Cat Who …" series, and today's newspaper so you can catch up." Sam's easy smile was about the only familiar sight to his bleary eyes. At least she was still 'Sam Carter'. A little more feminine in mannerism than he was used to, but definitely still her. It didn't register that she was still speaking. "I know you're not much of a reader …"

"Is that a joke?" Daniel couldn't help but interrupt. "I love reading. Always have done. Just wish I could read faster. Like that time Anise brought those devices they found, and you could finally write that book on wormhole physics you'd always wanted to do."

Was that a tear he could see glistening in the corner of Sam's eye? Sam didn't cry. Alternate Universe Samantha seemed to do nothing but cry, but this one, the one that Jack surreptitiously ogled after - he remembered how distraught she had been when Daniel was dying after the….

Now that couldn't be right. He'd died shortly after that. Then he'd spent time with Oma, learning so much - not that he remembered too much of it - and yet still able to watch over everyone. He'd descended. He'd rejoined his teammates. He'd come home.

So how in hell did he get here?

"How could I have been injured during Little League practice - I don't know the first thing about playing baseball."

She was crying. The salty drops were coursing unchecked down both cheeks, and her shoulders were shaking in distress. "Sam?" He reached forwards in search of her hand, clasping it in his. "It's okay. Everything's okay. C'mere."

She sniffed and moved towards the bed. He struggled himself into an upright position, and held his arms out for her. She welcomed the embrace and Daniel held her as best he could. In his mind, Sam was his friend.

Nothing more.

Hugging her out of passion was not on his list of 'things to do with Sam'. It was top priority on O'Neill's, along with other fanciful ideas, however Daniel felt more comfortable making her coffee, and discussing technical anomalies. Offering her physical comfort out of more than friendship would be nearly as normal to him, as say, Teal'c requesting to go fishing, or Davis not eating in the control room.

The crying soon eased to an occasional sob, but Daniel held her until she felt ready to pull away.

"Care to talk?" he asked, as she rubbed her hand across her face. Nodding, she settled herself more comfortably by his side.

"I'm sorry, Daniel. I didn't mean to cry." Her breathing hitched intermittently as she calmed down. "That's not like me at all."

No, he silently agreed, it's not. He winced from the movement as he re-settled himself in the bed, aware that his right side seemed more limited than he had first thought. He had been assessed on his movements earlier that morning, and some potential weakening on his right side had been noted. Hopefully it was only a temporary side effect from his head injury. He was too active for anything permanent.

"You start, Sam. You probably have some scientific theory for what's happening."

His statement was greeted with a long pause, before she nuzzled into his left side. Shouldn't she be making some long-standing joking comment about Jack and a sidearm? He'd come to understand that joke after many years of side comments between the Colonel and the Major. Daniel laid his left arm around her shoulders as her breathing returned to normal.

"That's what I'm talking about, Daniel." Her voice was quiet and even. "I don't know why I would have a scientific theory when my teaching major is in English." He let the comment pass but she must have felt him tense. "They said there might be problems when… if, you regained consciousness, but I hoped and prayed that you would be alright. When you woke up two days ago I thought for a moment that my prayers had been answered, but since then you've been acting as though this is a charade, and you either don't know the people you're speaking to, or you think they should be different."

"False gods," Daniel whispered under his breath, softly enough that she didn't catch it. Major Samantha Carter of the SGC didn't believe in the same god this Sam had been calling upon.

"I've known you since I was a kid, and you've never acted this way. Not even as a prank. I guess I was upset because I began to think that maybe I was losing one of my dearest friends."

Daniel frowned and chewed on his lip in thought. There were two ways he could play the next few minutes, and he debated them, opting for the one to cause Sam the least suffering. And potentially himself. Especially if he hadn't found himself back on P71 989, and therefore wasn't in the Gamekeeper's machine.

Maybe he had never actually left there after all.

How could he prove if he ever had?

His head ached from the possibilities.

He sighed heavily, and Sam raised her head to look at his face.

"You okay? Do you want me to get someone?"

"No." He hesitated. "No thanks, Sam."

She lowered her head again as Daniel spoke. "What if we say that I just had one very impressive dream, and that none of what I dreamed is factual? And that I need your help to remind me of the world that I do live in. Okay?"

"Okay," she answered slowly. "For example?"

He stared at the ceiling as he tried to piece together this new world from the information he had already gleaned. "Let's start with you. What do you do, and where do you work?"

"Me? I teach 4th grade at the same elementary school as you. I've been there about five years, and my major at college was English. I have a cat called Schrodinger…" Daniel started. This time Sam sat up straight and swung her legs off the bed. "You remember that?"

"In a bizarre, roundabout way, I suppose so." He frowned again. "But I thought that Narim had, er, that something had… happened to him." He continued to avoid eye contact as she slipped off the bed, and retook her seat. "I need more, Sam, tell me more."

"We've been friends since Junior High when I helped you with your Spanish assignment," she ignored the pained expression on Daniel's face. "This is your 2nd year teaching 5th grade at Cub Run. You majored in the sciences at NYU. You're single, and have always dreamed of going to Egypt."

The ashen color Daniel had turned alarmed Carter. She offered him water, which he refused, his frown deepening as he pinched the bridge of his nose with his right hand. "Go on."

"You have a great apartment with a nifty balcony overlooking a parking lot. Your parents live in Wisconsin, and until recently you dated a really nice brunette called Janet Fraiser."

Carter leapt out of her seat in response to Daniel's choked gurgle. She only just managed to shove the kidney-shaped dish under his chin, before he was violently sick. Slamming her hand on the call button she held the dish there while he dry-heaved, his empty stomach protesting the muscle spasms. She gently rubbed his back while he moaned softly, unable to control the heaving.

"Ssh, Daniel. It's okay. Someone will be here soon. It's probably too much of a shock for you. Sssh."

A nurse scuttled in and assessed the situation. She left the room momentarily, and returned with another syringe and a clean dish. Dispensing the contents of the syringe into the IV tube, she helped Carter settle Daniel back down and straightened the sheets.

"Too much too soon, Mr. Jackson?" the nurse asked, resting his left hand back on the top of the sheet. "You need to take things much easier if you're to get better quickly."

Daniel made no sound as the two of them fussed around his bed. He closed his eyes to the sights and sounds around him, and wished for this unreality to go away and leave him alone.

He'd give anything for Jack to come in right now and tell him it was all just a very unpleasant dream.

Anything.

_____________________________________________________

"Teal'c!" Daniel exclaimed, as a large, well-dressed black man strolled into the room. Minus the distinctive tattoo. And sporting hair.

The ironic smile on the big man's face twitched. "Who?" he enquired, as Daniel felt another part of the confusing jigsaw go through the shredder. "Man, if you can't remember your boss' name..."

"B-b-bu..." Daniel faltered. Okay, so there was no gold tattoo on this guy's forehead, and he didn't feel inclined to ask to lift his shirt to check for a large, x-shaped incision housing a larval goa'uld symbiote. That would make him a shirt-lifter... Hmm. Anyway, weren't jaffa cakes a snack food?

...

That was definitely an interesting dream he must have had - from an active imagination.

"Name's Bruce." The visitor perched on the edge of the bed, crossing his legs and adjusting his jacket. "Didn't realize you were hit that hard. Nice hair, by the way."

"Huh?" Daniel instinctively reached his hand up and gingerly felt around the bandaging to where his hair was the same length it had been since that incident with Hathor. "Wha...?"

"That long 'boy band' look was cute for the girls but shorter suits you."

Daniel collapsed back; glad he was lying down, so his legs wouldn't have fallen out from under him.

Teal'c/Bruce was predictably taciturn in his manner, and Daniel was in no mood for idle conversation. If this man had marched into the room as opposed to strolled, then Daniel would have fought to be believed, but he couldn't imagine Teal'c as the strolling type.

He chewed his lip nervously while 'Bruce' spoke about the substitute teacher taking his class, and how the children would nevertheless be delighted when their favorite teacher had returned to them. Daniel answered his questions indifferently, charting his recovery from the operation, and the considerations Sam had shown him.

Bruce's continual nodding in agreement began to grate. ‘If he so much as mutters 'I concur', I'm going to hit him.’

_________________________________________________

Sam Carter collected Daniel from the hospital, two weeks to the day after he gained consciousness in his new reality. She wheeled him from the ward, past the drooling nurses while Daniel blushed furiously, and urged her to push him out of there much faster.

She had anticipated problems when they emerged into the daylight, but he was nonchalant as they neared the car. He didn't say anything out loud, but she imagined he was absorbing the multitude of 'new' sights. The only sound she heard from him was a muffled cry as they pulled into the street where his apartment was situated. His eyes registered alarm but she didn't stop the car until they were parked outside the front entrance. The doctors had advised her to get him back into his apartment as quickly as possible, with as little disruption and contact from outside sources as she could manage.

Half an hour after leaving the hospital, Daniel was safely back in his apartment.

Sam knew he found it familiar from the way he hung up his jacket, dropped his keys on the counter, and ambled around the living room. What she didn't see was the confused surprise when he had discovered it to be his pre-Ascension apartment – furniture, drapes, textbooks, a neat row of journals.

She watched as he idly scanned each of the titles, and ran shaking fingers over the more well-thumbed volumes as if seeing them for the first time. When he reached up to pull down one of his many penned journals from the top shelf, she watched in amazement as he sniggered over the content, and offered criticism to the author as though the man who had written them were a total stranger. And someone who he clearly believed led an unexciting and unambitious existence, lacking in curiosity.

Daniel was perplexed as he drifted around his kitchen; something was missing, he just needed to identify what it was. Sam was seated on the counter, aimlessly kicking her legs against the cupboard door beneath her.

"So I told him that if he had any respect for me as a person, let alone a …"

"My coffee grinder. Where's my coffee grinder?"

"What?"

"My coffee grinder. It lived… lives right here." Daniel gestured to the vacant spot on the counter. He was looking around frantically. "The grinder goes there and the coffee…" He ripped open the cupboard door and froze. "Where's my coffee?"

She had never heard anyone sound so desperate, or so like a kid who'd been robbed of his teddy, over something so banal. "Don't be silly, Daniel. You're allergic."

"Am not."

"Are too. Brings you out in hives."

The world lurched, and Daniel quickly poured himself a glass of water, sipping it slowly. This was coming close to the final straw. Not even Hathor's deception, or the overwhelmingly convincing blood of Sokar had been this strange. He remembered the vivid illusions forced into his head by both Sha're and the Harcesis - perhaps that was what had happened. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t recall the sequence of events leading up to his arrival in the hospital, or how his memories of the SGC tied in to this life. With Sha're and the Harcesis it had seemed so much more logical - following on immediately from the actual events. Teal'c's recollection of hallucinations when he was sharing his symbiote with Bra'tac hinted of a similar blend of reality mixed with fantasy, so perhaps Daniel was dying somewhere. Maybe that was it; maybe he really hadn't made it back from P3X 747 and was hallucinating while he lay dying - just as Teal'c had done.

But if that was so, why was it taking so long for him to either die, or for Jack to rescue him?

Baffled, Daniel shook his head to clear the thoughts, and found that he had tuned out the majority of Sam's ensuing sentences.

"And that was the way we kept it. Paul always…"

"Paul?" Daniel spluttered, water splashing everywhere, his previous line of thought forgotten.

"Yeah, Paul Davis, my ex. The guy you hated so much. You always said told me how he was too much of a military type, now what were your words?" Sam grinned, pretending to recall the phrasing. "A military, pole-up-the-ass butt-kisser."

"You dated Paul Davis?" Daniel was utterly incredulous. This was a colliding of worlds he could not reconcile. "Paul, as in, Pentagon Paul, as in, the one who likes… oh, I'm so not going there…" Shaking his head and chortling under his breath, Daniel thought how the definition of Davis sounded far more like something Jack would utter. Personally he'd always gotten on well with him, but Jack on the other hand…

"You were right about him, and you didn't stop gloating for months. He just didn't understand how I could be so close to you, and not be sleeping with you."

Daniel whipped his head up and stared at her like a rabbit caught in headlights. "Please tell me I've never slept with you."

Sam's outright laughter obliterated his concerns. "Well, thanks. It's nice to know you love me too." She hadn't felt the freedom to laugh this much in a long while. "And how am I supposed to justify sleeping with someone I consider my brother?"

He looked suitably subdued and sheepish. At least that part of his life seemed to resemble normality.

"So, you dating anyone now?" He looked up at her through his lashes, wrapping his arms around himself in case he was putting his foot in it further.

"Daniel! Stop that self-hugging business. Thought we'd cured you of that." She swatted down his arms, still laughing. "You know I am, I've been engaged to Marty for the past three months."

"Let me guess," Daniel responded. "Tall guy, skinny, deep voice, blond hair."

"You remember!" She seemed relieved.

"Not in the way you think," he muttered, searching the kitchen drawers for any utensil that looked familiar. "Do you want iced tea? Tell me I drink iced tea."

_____________________________________________________

It was early evening, and the sun was fading behind the wall enclosing the playing field. Inside the school, the bright wall displays echoed of the children's contributions to their classrooms. The usually vibrant peals of laughter and play were non-existent, as Daniel sat alone at the teacher's desk in 'his' classroom.

On Dr Kershaw's advice he had been allowed to visit the school for short periods at a time, with the aim of re-familiarizing himself with his surroundings. Sam had shown him to his teaching room, the substitute teacher having already left for the afternoon. He would meet up with Sam in the teacher's room when he was ready.

He had wandered aimlessly around the room for several minutes, feeling no twinge of recognition from anything within the four walls. Now, defeated, he was at the desk, staring vacantly at the open book in front of him: a novelette by Simone de Beauvoir from the local library. Idly flicking over the pages the French words meant nothing to him. He couldn't even begin to analyze the sentence structure because only words that looked the same in English meant anything. Shifting the book to one side he passed over copies of books in German and Spanish, and opened the copy of Budge he had found in the local bookstore. He was fairly sure he understood how Jack had felt all these years: for Daniel they had spelt sentences, and yet now the hieroglyphics looked just like a bunch of pretty pictures.

"I speak twenty-three languages, which one do you want me to speak?"

He knew he'd said that to Jack. He knew he had. They were discussing his going to New York to talk to Katherine, all towards helping them return from 196… Rubbing the bridge of his nose, even Daniel had to admit that when he retold these events in the cold light of day, they did sound fanciful. Almost ridiculous.

From force of habit he went to adjust his glasses, before remembering that in this reality he had 20/20 vision. That thought alone probably disturbed him more than any others. If he had never worn glasses then wouldn't that take away memories he had of being teased as a kid, and of Jack threatening to enter him into the "Sexiest Geek Alive" contest? Despite feeling troubled over his apparent linguistic memory loss, Daniel laughed out loud over some of Jack's more inane comments to him. The whole Sexiest Geek Alive" contest set of jibes came from one of the trashy magazines Teal'c had been reading.

He missed that banter. Being with Oma had taught him many things but he knew he had missed the joking, the teasing, the arguing, the sleepless nights, not least the coffee. No, he didn't remember much of his time with her, but he remembered that much. Perhaps he had re-ascended and all of this was a form of afterlife?

He returned his attention back to the books, pulling the Budge towards him. Didn't he have disdain towards this guy? Perhaps that was why it didn't make any sense. He continued to thumb through the pages, hoping that it would come flooding back to him, to prove to himself and maybe even to others, that he had not been dreaming - and he was not psychotic.

After further minutes of frustration Daniel's temper got the better of him, and he scrunched the paper of the page in his hand, before launching the book across the room. "Damnit," he yelled as the French and Spanish books followed the Budge. "Damnit to hell! I am NOT crazy!" He rammed his clenched fists into the desk, ignoring the pain flaring from the sides of his hands. "This isn't real!" Through gritted teeth he continued to pound the desk, until his flushed face was beaded with sweat from the exertion.

Collapsing down into his seat he put his head on his arms, and wished the world to hell. There was only a certain amount he could take.

"Feel better for that?"

The voice was familiar, but only from his dream.

"No." His arm muffled the reply.

"Didn't think so."

Raising his head, Daniel ran a hand through his hair and pushed up his fictitious glasses. The silver-haired figure standing against the doorjamb was dressed in jeans and a threadbare sweater. There was no mistaking the lean gait and the sardonic smile.

"Good to see you back. Heard you got sick."

"Jack? " Daniel was reluctant to venture the name for fear of being rebuked. This was the one person he had desperately needed to see for the nearly seventeen days since he had woken up. "Jack O'Neill? With two 'l's?"

"Yup. Who else?" Jack pushed himself off the doorframe, and sauntered up to the desk.

"What you doing here?" Daniel was puzzled. So far this seemed like the Jack he knew - so something was surely going to go wrong.

"My job."

"Which is?"

"Same as always." Jack reached the desk, then leaned over the back of Daniel's chair to grab hold of the half-full trashcan. "Cleaning up after everyone else."

The calloused hands were the same, with the same long fingers that had pulled the trigger on both zats and P-90s. But these hands were emptying the garbage into a sack.

"You… you clean here?"

"Have done for the past fifteen years, and probably will until I retire. Or they fire me. Tried retiring once, and they wouldn't let me." He straightened up, arching his back and massaging the base of his spine. "If it isn't the knees, it's the back."

Daniel stared at the familiar face, noticing the nick in the left eyebrow, and the dark twinkling eyes. "Do you know me, Jack?"

"Know you? Of course I know you Mr. Jackson," he placed a stray candy wrapper into the sack. "I'm cleaning your room, aren't I?"

He frowned, and watched Jack traverse the classroom. "But you hate cleaning," Daniel interjected. "You even get someone in to clean your house when you're off-world 'cause you hate it so much."

"Course I hate cleaning, who doesn't?" Jack moved around the desks to retrieve the books Daniel had thrown. "As for that 'off-world' crap, … what happened to you anyway?"

Daniel remained seated as he tried to comprehend another shattered segment of the life he thought he knew. "I had a subarachnoid haematoma from a blunt trauma sustained to my head," he muttered, as though he was merely repeating a statistic.

Jack grunted. "Sub-arachnoid, huh? Anything to do with underground spiders?"

Now that was the Jack he knew.

"Ach. Never mind. You always were way smarter than me!"

Jack left the room only to return with a wide brush and proceeded to sweep the back of the classroom. Daniel was sick of playing along with the charade everyone was forcing upon him; he needed to know that some of his dreamed-up life actually existed.

"Jack, can we talk?" Daniel rested his elbows on his desk and templed his fingers together, raising his forefingers to his lips.

"Sure, what about?" Jack nudged in stray chairs with his hip as he continued to sweep. "Watched a great hockey game last night…"

"No, I mean about us."

"Us? What d'ya mean… uh buddy, I hope you don't mean that kinda 'us'!" Jack stopped sweeping and stood propped against the broom handle. Daniel felt the tension desert him as he caught Jack's childish grin.

"Uh, no, Jack. Not that kind. And you know it!" Daniel felt himself blush.

Chortling, Jack picked up a snapped pencil and pocketed it. "Just testing. What is it then?" It didn't take many more sweeps before he was happy with the floor, and moved towards the door.

"While I was in the hospital I had a weird dream. And you were in it."

"Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas any more."

"What?" Daniel's train of thought strayed sideways as he thought of the number of references Jack had made to The Wizard of Oz in the past. "Why did you say that?"

"Isn't that what Dorothy says when she sees the munchkins?"

"I guess." This was becoming harder than he had anticipated. "Anyway. In this dream you and I were friends of a sort." He blatantly ignored Jack's raised eyebrows. "We were colleagues."

"We are now. Of a sort."

"Don't interrupt, Jack. You always interrupt." Daniel stood up from the chair and followed O'Neill into the corridor. "There were certain things that happened and, strange as it seems, our friendship meant a lot to me."

He wasn't sure whether or not Jack was now ignoring him, as the latter emptied the trash into a cart and began mopping the floor.

"You weren't a cleaner."

"Janitor."

"Huh?"

"Janitor. That's my job title. Always have been; always will be. Too dumb to do anything else." Jack turned his back as he swept the mop along the floor, and flicked the dirt out from the edges.

"You're not dumb at all. You know how to fly. You're damned good at tactical operations. We travel together to planets - you, me, Teal'c, Sam. We have tough times and great times; we fight the bad guys and kill false gods, and win so many times. I didn't dream all of this; I know I didn't. You have an ex-wife called Sara, and had a son called Charlie. He died about eight years ago and you went through a rough patch, but now you love life and take every advantage you can for a full life, because, as you're always saying, life's too short." Daniel could hear the catch in his own voice, and knew that he was talking about a completely different O'Neill. His Jack would never be caught dead mopping the floor of a school corridor. Until this moment Jackson had had the overwhelming impression that everything would finally make sense when he ran into O'Neill. Either the world of his dream would arrive back, or he would figure out where this reality came from. He'd passed the point of believing it to be a game or a ploy, a trick, an alternate universe or an hallucination.

There was silence for a few minutes, before he realized Jack had stopped by a wall display and was speaking to him.

"What did you say?"

"Carpe deum - seize the day." Jack responded.

Daniel reconnected his jaw mechanism, the words connecting as they sunk in. "See? See? See what I mean?" punctuating the words with his hand. "Latin! You know Latin!"

"Do not!"

"Do too!"

"Do not!"

"Do too!"

Daniel was becoming so exasperated. This was typical Jack, or rather the Jack he swore he knew. "It wasn't a dream at all. You learnt Latin when you were caught in the time loop caused by Malacai, when we visited Alaris."

His animation was cut short by Jack's smirk as he approached, and the brotherly arm that he slung around his shoulder. It reminded Daniel of the time, or so he thought, he himself had acted similarly on P3R 636 when Jack was trying to get out of the mine. "Buddy," Jack soothed. "Dead Poet's Society. You know it? Robin Williams, inspiring teacher; encouraging kids to seize the day? And time loop?" He faced Daniel squarely. "There weren't any groundhogs involved were there? Or fruit loops?"

"Actually..." Daniel raised his eyebrows, but refrained from pursuing that point. Undeterred from his mission, he persisted. "You have to remember what we did. Our, well, I guess you'd call it friendship. When you brought me back from Abydos you invited me to your house. We drank beers in your lounge. You beat me at chess when you can't win a battle with words. You stuck by me when Mackenzie sectioned me over the Machello incident. You carried me back to P4X 347 when I flat lined from withdrawal from the light at the Goa'uld pleasure palace. We fight over most things, but you finally admitted that you admired me when I was dying from radiation exposure, just before I ascended to Oma as the beam of li…" Daniel's tirade weakened to a stop when he realized Jack was, what, laughing at him?

"For crying out loud, Mister..."

"Doctor..."

"Mister Jackson." Jack picked up the mop and resumed his work on the floor. "I clean your room. I clean these floors. I get paid for what I do. All these P3-whatevers sound like you've named all the computer system passwords for the entire staff. Hey," he paused and looked up. "You seen The Dead Zone? Season 1. He did something like you're doing. And this 'white-lighting' crap sounds like you've gone girlie, and started watching Charmed."

Daniel's arms dropped to his sides, as he helplessly watched Jack's retreating back. As a final gesture before admitting defeat, he called out:

"And I suppose you don't fancy Sam, then."

Jack turned, a glint of mischief in his eyes. "See ya, Danny."

_______________________________________________

Daniel had made regular return visits to the school, occasionally chatting with parents, catching up with the antics of the children - never once letting on to the youngsters that he had no idea who they were. That had been made possible by the continual intervention of Jack, who had adopted the role of guardian angel. Each time a child approached, Jack would appear and add something to the conversation, including the child's name and some pertinent fact.

He never got the opportunity to thank O'Neill, or comprehend his reasons, but it facilitated Daniel's personal transition from stranger to member of staff. Sam had also been indispensable and Teal'c, or rather, Bruce, had been wholly sympathetic, contacting the school board and placing him on indefinite medical leave, with explicit instructions only to return when completely ready.

In the two weeks since his conditional release from the hospital Daniel had explored the local area, and benefited from extended walks in the parks. He had indulged in spending whole days at the two large nearby malls; lunched in small shops, and watched several movies at the theater. Sam had called him every evening, and his time was usually spent in her company either with or without her fiancÚ Martin Wood. He interspersed his activities with cab and bus rides to Inova Fairfax for daily appointments, physiotherapy routines, analyst sessions, and a plethora of tests and examinations.

They had given him a tentative clearance, with strict instructions on dealing with potential symptoms and side effects from the initial injury, the surgery and the pain meds.

He had taken things as easily as he could, rested when commanded - or in Sam's case, been nagged at - but he still faced the hour-to-hour battle with both his mind and his physical surroundings. He wondered whether it was this that was making him so utterly exhausted.

He had been at the school for about thirty minutes and accomplished nothing. Since leaving the hospital two hours previously he had been finding concentration increasingly difficult. Maybe he was more tired than he had thought.

Back in his place at his desk Daniel was trying to work his way through a hockey magazine. It was something Jack had rammed into his pocket with an impish grin. 'I'll convert you yet,' he had confided. He was trying to read a full-length article on Bobby Orr, but no matter how hard he stared, or how much he screwed up his eyes, the words on the page refused to come into focus. The throbbing had started up again behind his left eye, and he jammed his fist against the socket. Viciously scrubbing both eyes, Daniel stared down at the pages but found them to be as blurred as before. He fumbled in his pockets for more Tylenol, popped two into his mouth and swallowed them dry, tossing back his head to aid their passage.

He closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing steadily, in the false hope that this would ease the pounding. The light was beginning to burn, and the onsetting stiffness in his neck felt as though he'd endured a car crash. If this was going to evolve into another migraine then perhaps he would do better to cut his losses and make his way home. He put his elbows on the table and drilled his fists into his temples, carefully avoiding the tender patch towards the crown.

Dr Kershaw had said to contact him immediately if anything untoward happened. This wasn't anything untoward; it was only a headache: just one that didn't know when to quit. Not dissimilar to himself, he mused.

After a few minutes the pulsating seemed to ease a little and he brought his hands down to the desk. He waited a moment longer before gingerly easing himself from the chair. Daniel immediately slumped back as a wave of nausea came crashing over him, and he gulped several times to prevent himself from retching.

"This isn't good," he mumbled, breathing hard. "Definite migraine." Sagging in the chair he groped for his cell phone and forced himself to punch in Sam's number. Her cheerful tone answered, but he was disappointed to hear that it was her voicemail. "Sam, it's me." There were times when he hated voicemail. "I don't feel so good, so I need to head home. I'm in my room. 'Kay?" He cleared the call, and let the phone fall from his grasp onto the floor. He didn't care. The room was too busy swaying for him to pay any attention.

Daniel gasped as the lancing pain seared through his skull, and he frantically clutched the desk for support. He remained slumped in the chair with his eyes shut, but the hurt remained, and even in the darkness the room still moved.

He felt that all he needed to do was find somewhere dark and quiet to lie down and sleep this off. He could make it to Sam's room. Or at least make it to the teacher's room, which was nearer. Someone there could alert her for him.

Sliding back the chair, he slowly stood and pushed himself away from the desk, swaying in a concentrated effort to remain upright. He focused on his breathing, and fought to keep control of his legs. Using the board behind him as support, Daniel unsteadily inched his way towards the door. He flinched, and reluctantly tried to force his eyes open, even though someone appeared to be drilling a hole through both sides of his head. The light ripped through his skull, and he slammed his eyes shut again.

He didn't even care anymore which Daniel he thought he was. The one who belonged in an elementary school classroom, or the one who journeyed through an open wormhole. All he knew was that this headache was akin to the searing pain of the ribbon device, and becoming crippling in its intensity. He stopped in the doorway and inhaled quickly, the nausea again threatening to overwhelm him. Sweat had begun streaming down his temples, and he rested his hot head against the windowpane.

Daniel's hands shook as he slid open the door. Why hadn't he asked to go home the moment the headache had hinted at its ferocious return? His breath was fast becoming ragged, and the dizziness overpowering. How could he have become this sick this quickly?

He could discern a figure further down the corridor. Please let them see him. He didn't know if he could make it much further.

"I need help," Daniel gasped, "I don't feel…"

The figure in the distance hurried towards him as Daniel's eyes rolled back, his legs buckled beneath him, and he slid down the wall onto the floor. He vaguely heard Jack calling to him.

"Daniel? Daniel? Okay, I've got you. I've got you." Daniel felt his head cushioned in someone's lap, his hair being brushed from his forehead, as he lost the battle for consciousness.

______________________________________________________________

"P77 SMX."

The letter/number combination hovered in the air.

"P77 SMX," Jack repeated. "What, the cat sit on your laptop and you just copied it down?" He was sitting on a hard, plastic chair at the foot of the hospital bed, with his boot-clad feet perched on the edge. Jack was nonchalantly flicking through the pages of Daniel's journal, investigating the recent entries of handwritten scrawl, and the intricately detailed pictures. He stopped at one entry and puzzled over the words. 'Of course, Jack would be intolerably sarcastic over all this and for once, I miss that.' Confused, he read over the sentence several times before looking up at the unconscious figure in the bed: "Why have you written that, Daniel? You don't know me."

A movement from the bed caught his attention. The steady bleeping of the monitor increased, indicating the patient's potential awareness. He cocked his head to look for more positive signs, and was rewarded by a view of flexing fingers.

"Daniel?"

Daniel issued a soft moan and moved his head slightly, a tuft of brown hair shifting on the pillow.

"Ja'k?"

"Yeah, buddy, I'm here." Jack stood up and looked down at the younger man, glancing across at the machines to compare the statistics from five minutes previously.

"Wha' happened? Am I back at the SGC?" Jack inwardly groaned at the second question. It had been hoped that the relapse may have triggered some of his former memories, and help to wash away the delusions.

"Not yet, Daniel. No." He would play along with the idea until Daniel was a little more alert.

"So where are we?" He blinked opened his eyes, and stared groggily at O'Neill. "Jack?"

"Yeah?"

"What happened?"

"Oh, nothing. You had a relapse." He began to fiddle with the IV bag, an action that Daniel found reassuringly familiar. "Beats having a prolapse…" He cut himself off. "So, Daniel," he continued, looking back at the patient. "You gonna sue me for slipping on my nice, clean, shiny floor? Took me hours to get it that slippery."

This was normal. He could deal with normal.

He was injured and in pain, and Jack was here hovering protectively.

Daniel inched his head into a more comfortable position. "You been here long?"

"Nah. Only the last," Jack made an exaggerated gesture of checking the watch he wasn't wearing, "twelve hours."

Daniel raised his eyebrows in surprise as he finally recalled that this was not Colonel O'Neill, but Jack the Janitor.

Ow, that thought was too amusing for his current headache.

So the man who hardly knew him had sat in vigil. "How come, Jack? I mean, I'm grateful, but …"

"I have a soft spot for people who collapse in my arms. Though I prefer them to be tall, blond, female, and with no five o-clock shadow."

"Like Sam, then!" Daniel couldn't resist the line. It was Jack's turn to raise his eyebrows before returning to his seat. "Ow!" Daniel regretted trying to raise his head, and brought up his hand to discover fresh bandages.

"What the…?"

In answer, Jack pulled a scraggy piece of paper from the pocket of his jeans. "Got it right here. Full of lots of techno-babble, which is why I got them to write it down." He analyzed the piece of paper, drew a large breath and read: 'Patient initially exhibited a remarkable recovery from blunt trauma to the skull, which was alleviated through a small craniotomy. The relapse was symptomatically indicated by sudden onset of severe headache, followed by nausea, and a period of loss of consciousness. Symptoms ascertained from brief periods of consciousness on arrival. Unable to determine whether or not photophobia or meningism occurred. CAT head scan revealed the first surgery to have been a success, but an unexpected occurrence of a second aneurysm. Consequential surgery therefore took place through a second small craniotomy and the aneurysm clipped. 25% of patients with this condition recover fully….' Blah, blah, blah. Yadda, yadda, yadda." Jack looked up with a bemused expression on his face. "People understand this crap?"

Daniel was amused. This was what he needed. He ignored Jack's musings about whether perimesnecephalic was an erogenous suggestion as a thought struck him, "You mentioned that 25% of patients fully recover… what about the other 75%."

"Not important. You're part of the 25%. Trust me, Daniel. 10-15% die within a few days it says here, so you're definitely not part of that percentage. Think positive."

For someone who claimed not to know him, Jack was being a good friend.

"Glad you're awake, I was getting bored watching Dead Zone on my own." Jack gestured to their right.

It was Daniel's turn to be bemused. He compelled his attention to the small table to the right of his bed. Balanced precariously there were a small television and a VCR. His astonishment was topped by a glance at Jack's smug air, as he wiggled a tandem of remote controls towards him.

"If you're going to reincarnate Dead Zone then you can help me watch Season 1, so you know who you're plagiarizing."

Daniel's surprise was not placated, as Jack blinked at his use of words of more than one syllable. "You, you're…?"

"I'm going to sit here and make sure you watch Dead Zone."

Jack scraped back his chair, and kicked his feet up onto Daniel's bed. "Pilot episode first. No snoring."

Despite the strange sensation of fresh scar tissue cutting into his head, and the instinct that perhaps the nurses should be informed of his conscious state; Daniel still sensed an inherent trust that this Jack only had his best interests at heart.

He smiled at the older man, watching him wriggle himself down in the chair and switch the TV from 'standby' to 'on'. Jack had already tuned out the regular beeping of the stats monitor, and was engrossed in the opening moments.

_____________________________________________________

Daniel floated in and out of consciousness for the next few days. More often than not, each time he opened his eyes, Jack would demand to know how much he remembered of the episode they had been watching, and rewound the tape accordingly.

During one of his more lucid moments, Sam had assured him that it was excellent therapy to keep his mind alert.

"Doesn't he have a home to go to?"

On further enquiry Daniel was touched to discover that both Jack and Sam had requested personal leave so that there was always someone sitting with him. Marty had dropped by several times, but Daniel was usually sleeping. He received a stack of unwanted visitors in the form of analysts, physiotherapists, surgeons, assessing consultants - whatever they were - neurologists, cardiologists, 'and an -ologist for every system they could think of' to quote Jack.

After a week of bed rest, Daniel wasn't quite sure whether or not to throttle Jack for producing Season 1 Farscape, the previous season's ice-hockey play-offs and the first two tapes of Season 1 Charmed. It was either throttle him or scream blue murder at Sam for insisting on mothering him.

She had believed it a threat to call his mother, and insist that she wet-nursed him back to health if he complained too much more. Daniel would have been delighted to see his mother again after so many years of knowing that in 'his' world she had died so many years before. He speculated how she might have changed.

He was grateful for Jack's presence this time, as he had been embarrassed to ask for Sam's or a nurse's assistance over certain, um, masculine issues. Although the weakness in his right side was abating, it still left him with certain co-ordination difficulties when dressing, compounded by the lethargy and debilitation in the wake of the second surgery.

The day after his second operation, Sam had wandered in to find Jack trying to force-feed Daniel some repulsive looking vegetable soup. The patient was complaining vociferously.

"I think this is the famous Jackson pout I've heard all the kids talkin' about," Jack had observed, and forced another spoon-full into the protesting mouth.

"You like vegetable soup, Daniel. So what's the problem?" Sam had asked, as the ensuing spoonful covered more sheet and skin than went into his mouth.

"Tastes like chicken," he had grumbled, as the orange goop dribbled down his chin. "I hate chicken."

__________________________________________________

After his initial bed rest, and a further fourteen days in the hospital, he was finally allowed to return to his apartment. With his recuperation and rehabilitation even more closely monitored than before, Daniel began to feel claustrophobic, and pressurized from too many sides. There were hardly any moments that he was able to keep for himself without someone being in the apartment with him, someone calling on either his cell phone or landline, or someone escorting him to one of his farcical number of appointments.

In all that time, he had tried to disguise his continuing confusion and pretended to accept that it was all resulting from the head trauma. Whenever Sam broached the subject he laughed her away, and believed that he was even fooling the psychiatrist who was counseling him. Only during the sporadic quiet moments before he fell asleep or upon waking, was Daniel able to reflect on everything that had occurred in the previous weeks. He endeavored to cross-match the life at the SGC with the people who were being so kind and generous in their attention and affections.

It was suffocating him. He needed to escape.

_________________________________________

Daniel was panting from lack of exercise by the time he reached the pinnacle of the hill. He flopped himself down on the ground, and stretched his legs out in front of him. Shucking off his cream-colored, v-necked sweater he draped it back over his shoulders, the arms reaching down across his chest. He was sweating from the exertion of the climb, and enjoyed the sensation of the breeze over his t-shirt.

The view was precisely what he had hoped for, and what he felt he’d needed. When he had arrived at Sam's house demanding his car, she had vehemently protested, declaring that he still shouldn't be driving. He had countered by saying that unless she wanted him to go insane, then she had to trust him on this.

He had driven carefully to Shenandoah National Park, enjoying the freedom as well as the control. Abandoning the car, and he spent the first part of his day following one of the easier, flatter trails, but had soon tired of that and tackled a harder trail, leading him atop, to be greeted by the vista of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The unreal views and the spectacular landscape to the East and West rivaled his memories of the Colorado Rockies where the four of them had gone hiking occasionally during downtime.

He flipped his sunglasses up on top of his head and brushed his hand across his face. It was a relief to have some time to himself for a change, where he didn't have to try reconciling his existence to anyone, or to expend so much energy understanding the life he was leading.

Daniel set his glasses to the side and scrubbed his hand through his hair. The operation incision was nearly invisible under the new growth, and although tender to touch, it no longer hurt or throbbed. The headaches were thankfully receding, and he had suffered no memory loss of any of the events since he first regained consciousness over two months ago. Daniel considered himself fortunate to have regained full strength in his right side, especially after research he had done into the long-term effects that he might have had to endure.

What he struggled with over and above everything else, was the idea that his whole life at the SGC and on Abydos, was just crazed ramblings of his subconscious mind. If he had imagined it, then why had he invented such a pain-filled world with death, injury and the voids left from all that loss? How could he have created the deaths of his parents, of Ska'ara, of Kawalsky, of Rothman, of Martouf… of Sha're?

A life he knew where everyday saw him studying in an underground office, dealing with covert situations and having bizarre excursions into a puddle of water through a great stone ring. A life where he fought bureaucracy, political ridicule, Jack's sarcasm, and the revolting food from the commissary.

Daniel laughed as he thought of Jack and his fruit loops, Sam and her blue jello, and Teal'c and Jonas with anything they chose to dreg up on Jonas' visits. If none of it was real, then why did he feel such a pang of loss? Why did his stomach churn and his eyes prickle at the thought he would never have those close friendships again?

He blinked and stared up into the cloudless sky. The mere contemplation that all he had achieved was a myth, scared him more than he could imagine. He had accomplished nothing in this life. Not in the way he had at the SGC. Okay, so doctorates weren't everything, nor the ability to speak more than his native tongue.

"Take Jack as a prime example." The nearby bushes didn't appreciate the humor and Daniel found himself laughing out loud. Was he becoming hysterical?

Through the SGC he had initiated contact with so many races and civilizations, and, incredibly, secured the safety of the planet. He had explored cultures far removed from anything they had previously known, and rediscovered the history of Earth. The frustration of never having been able to share his findings, and the constant battle to preserve their work from the prying Government agencies, was negated by the fascination of the discoveries themselves.

How did his work as an elementary school teacher compete with that? Other members of staff had assured him that he was a competent, well-respected teacher - a change from a competent, laughed-at-by-the-academic-community archaeologist - who always sought the best for and from his pupils. He had been told that such a positive influence during a child's formative years would secure them a more confident and successful future. And thereby he was achieving extremely worthwhile objectives, even if he believed the contrary.

Personally, he felt it sounded like more like an accompanying letter with a resume, and it was verbose, literative crap.

Absolute crap.

Mastadge manure. All of it. Jack would have smacked him upside the head if he even ventured to produce spiel like that. Teal'c would have raised an eyebrow before offering him a lesson in self-defense, and Jonas would have stared at him wide-eyed on his next visit, before raising a book in front of his face, and pointedly ignoring him. Sam would have been Sam.

What would she have done?

Daniel frowned as he realized that the Sam of his memory, and the Sam of his current reality were becoming intermingled. While so much of the two was the same, there were too many aspects that were different - and he desperately wanted them to stay that way. In spite of it all, he liked the SGC life that was running amok through his head, and he was too frustrated with this one.

Becoming conscious of himself again, Daniel realized he'd been holding his breath, and his hands were clenched into fists. Breathing out heavily he fought against the tension and relaxed his fingers, pressing his palms flat against the ground.

After a few moments he bunched his sweater, and punched it into a cushion for his head as he lay down. The warmth of the sun's rays on his face reminded him of Abydos, and he closed his eyes. He had to order his thoughts - he couldn't cope with the continued assault of mixed ideas.

In the orange light under his eyelids, Daniel forced himself to envisage everyone he had known at the SGC and how they related to this world.

Jack, okay, Jack was here.

Daniel winced. If he ever woke up and told Colonel O'Neill that his Wizard of Oz fantasy had re-employed him as a janitor, he would never be allowed to forget it. And the whole idea of Daniel dating Janet was nothing short of criminal.

Teal'c had become his boss - obscure, but vaguely feasible. After all, First Prime to Apophis is a boss to some extent. His relationship to Sam was brotherly, which he was happy with. The General as his doctor wasn't too far from the mark, a superior who watched out for him. Jonas worked in the medical library at GWU, he had established that by surfing the University website.

Daniel chuckled at the reminder that Sam had been dating Paul Davis of all people, but then felt a glow of warmth that she had finally found happiness with Martouf, sorry, Martin. Learning that Jacob Carter had died from cancer some years previously had come as a shock, but if he reflected on it, then it had been a foregone conclusion had they not met the Tok'ra, and answered the need for a new host for Selmac.

He was convinced he had glimpsed Lieutenant Simmons wandering down one of the hospital corridors, and the plumber at Sam's house one afternoon had not only resembled Siler, but he was holding a rather large wrench in his hand the first time Daniel had seen him. No Feretti, no Tok'ra, no Makepeace, thankfully no snakeheads, but not seeing anyone from Abydos also meant an absence of Sha're.

An appearance by either the Tollans, the Nox, or the Asgard would have been interesting. Daniel knew that the little green men were, in fact, gray, that Area 51 was real, and the ability to transform matter and walk through walls did exist.

He sat bolt upright, pulled his knees up and slumped his head onto his arms.

Who in hell was he kidding?

How ludicrous did all of this sound?

No one in their right mind would believe a word he had to say.

And no one had.

Only a traumatic head injury could cause these delusions - and Daniel had certainly suffered that. He lightly fingered the scar on the left side of his head, and rammed the heel of his right hand against his forehead.

Sitting on a hilltop in the middle of Virginia on a bright, clear, warm day, Daniel suddenly realized why, no matter how real it seemed to him, he had to let the fantasy part of his memory slide. If he was going to be classed as "sane" then he had to accept that he had never been a part of something called the SGC, and that he had always led the life that Sam had been suggesting. He had been born and raised in Wisconsin, where he had two healthy, happy parents still blessedly calling him to ask when he was next going to visit. He had a decent apartment, and for the moment, a decent job. The insurance policy imminently paying out on his injury would guarantee he would not be short of income until he was fully recovered, and if the debilitation continued, then further payouts were due.

The ache of loss swiftly became so acute Daniel couldn't move. His head pounded with the hurt of grief, and his breath came in rapid gasps. He began rocking backwards and forwards, still tightly hugging his knees, fighting against the frustration and agony of losing something he had apparently never had.

This life wasn't so bad, was it? He could cope. Couldn't he?

He could be a teacher. He could learn. If not, then he could find a different job. He could visit those places he'd always vowed to visit, but never had the opportunity. He could live this new and different life in the comfort and security of friends and family, he could celebrate birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas in a way he hadn't done since he was so young. He could deal with knowing that he had never been with Oma, that he had never had a close friendship with Jack or Teal'c, that he had never spoken different languages, or interacted with different cultures, or understood the meaning of… of life.

Daniel smacked his head against his knees. He was going to have to survive. Dr Daniel Jackson PhD clearly had never existed, and the pathetic imagination of his, had cruelly led him to believe otherwise.

He was not insane. He was not crazy. He had sustained a serious head injury, and he was going to have to live with the resulting traumas.

Inexorably, his self-control crumbled, and the devastating force of misery left Daniel wracked with sobs, as he grieved the final acceptance of his new life.

_____________________________________________________

"Explain to me again why I'm going." Daniel was hunched on the passenger seat of Sam's SUV. He still couldn't get over the fact that she owned a 4x4. Perhaps she'd let him drive it sometime - after all, no matter how hard he had fought, Jack had always refused to let anyone behind the wheel of his truck.

He bit his tongue.

Maybe the trip would cure the flashbacks of the non-existent life.

"The Psychological Assessment Service at GWU Hospital is going to assess you." Sam slammed on the brakes as a Chevy pulled out in front of her. "Damn, sorry about that, you okay, Daniel?"

He removed his fingernails from the dashboard, and shrugged an affirmative.

"They're specialists at head injuries and memory problems. They're the best people to try and help you. Dr Kershaw suggested that they may offer regressive hypnosis to restore your lost past."

"Regressive hypnosis?" Daniel lurched and faced her. "That's what they do to abductees, isn't it? I haven't been kidnapped by aliens. Do I look like Fox Mulder?"

He seemed surprisingly agitated, even though his words conveyed humor. Sam glanced over and for the first time looked into Daniel's eyes, and saw the fear he had been containing. She immediately pulled over and killed the engine. As the passing cars sped by she turned towards Daniel. He was puzzled that she'd stopped the car.

"Uh, Sam?" He ran his tongue over his top lip, and folded his arms.

"You're gonna be all right," she said, reaching out to hold his shoulder. "They are the best at what they do, if they can't help you…" She stopped, aware that it was the unspoken words which were causing Daniel's concern. "It may take some time, but we're here. All of us. Marty sends his best, and Jack said he'll drag you out for a beer tonight if you're up to it. Well, his words were that with the meds you're on, he'd drink and you could watch."

"Sounds like Jack."

"It does, doesn't it!" Sam smiled, but didn't question which Jack he was referring to. As Daniel turned his gaze back to the road she took it as an unbidden request to continue driving. She squeezed his shoulder before re-igniting the engine.

He clearly didn't want to discuss this; wanted to fight this demon on his own. That was fine by her, as long as he didn't screw himself up too badly over it.

They completed the drive in silence. She was dropping him off at Vienna, the western end of the Orange Metro line. He'd virtually begged her to let him Metro in, on his own.

"I need to do this," he'd said. "Please."

"Like you driving all the way to Shenandoah yesterday and refusing to take your cell phone?"

He'd grinned sheepishly and looked so young and coy. She'd given him so many hugs this morning, that he had probably twigged that it was more for her own sense of security than his.

"Call me when you're heading back towards the Metro so I know what time to pick you up. Promise?"

"Yes, Mom," Daniel laughed, and threw her a mock salute as he released his seat belt. "Sam? Thanks. For everything." To her surprise he leant forward and hugged her hard. "I'll be fine," he whispered in a tight voice. "Trust me."

She waited until he'd entered the North entrance of the terminal before pulling away. The hesitation in walking had gone, and he looked like the Daniel she had known for so many years.

Daniel watched her go using his peripheral vision, not wanting to make eye contact. Yes, he was nervous. Just like a child going in for their first audition. His hands trembled slightly as he fed the dollar bills into the ticket machine, his eyesight blurring as he focused on the ticket type he wanted.

Within five minutes he was heading towards McPherson Square where he planned to disembark and use some of his extra time to wander around some of the famous DC sites. 'The 3M City', his mother had joked on the phone the night before: 'nothing but monuments, memorials and museums.' He beamed each time he reminded himself that the parents he had lost nearly thirty years before were very much alive.

The metro ride lasted half an hour, during which Daniel found himself nodding off. He was glad, because his brain was shouting a cacophony of thoughts, and he suspected he had an idea of how schizophrenics must feel.

He left the station and survived the blustery wind tunnel of reaching the escalator. Emerging in daylight he blinked to adjust his vision, and his eyes traveled to the impressive building on his right. Down the mall, glistening in the sunshine was the Capitol Building. Resting on one of the benches for a moment, he then turned and took in the Washington Monument, recently cleaned, and pointing straight to the sky.

He had plenty of time and decided to wander down the Mall, past the Monument and in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial. Daniel ambled across the grass, reading the banners on the outside of the Museum of American History. It had been a long time in any reality since he had roamed around his nation's Capital. He felt like a tourist, as he continued towards the Reflecting Pool and observed the hoards of visitors massing around the statue-filled memorial at the far end. A rush of familiarity ran over Daniel as he cut back towards Pennsylvania Avenue and sauntered past the White House. At last, points of reference and history for both America and himself. Here was something he knew. Finally.

Feeling more relaxed he turned down towards Wisconsin Avenue, to get to Metro Center. He could walk to GWU from here, but was happier to catch the metro. This meant passing by Starbucks Coffee, which made him laugh, knowing that Dr Jackson would have done anything to stop by there and sample at least two grande coffees, but Mr. Jackson didn't even find the aroma of freshly ground coffee scintillating.

As he passed the windows, Daniel did a double take. His reflected expression reminded him of Face in the opening credits of The A-Team, when the Cylon walked by him.

He turned away and took a deep breath, before turning back, incredulous.

Sitting at a small table near the window were two men in suits, and one in a military uniform. They were engrossed in conversation, and it was all Daniel could do not to run in and confront them. Why would Senator Kinsey and Colonel Maybourne be having a discussion with the reporter Armin Selig?

Open-mouthed he hadn't realized he was staring until 'Kinsey' scowled at him and shooed him away with his hand. Some things would never change.

Satisfied that this had to be yet another coincidence, he headed towards Metro Center, descending the escalators and choosing which flashing light would mark the door when the train stopped.

A few stops later he was at Foggy Bottom-GWU. Frowning, he scrubbed a shaking hand through his hair, before ramming his hands into his trouser pockets and climbing the escalator.

He ignored the fašade of the imposing building, and aimed straight for the doors. Either this was the place where he could become 'normal' again, or where all his internal struggles would be given permission to continue. Following yesterday's decision, he was not going to consider the latter as an option.

"Yes sir, can I help you?" The receptionist wore a white, uniform-style overshirt. The pleasant smile eased some of Daniel's nerves.

"Yeah, uh, which way to the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department?" Did her expression change when she assumed him to be a patient there, or was that just paranoia?

"Certainly, sir."

Daniel arrived outside the relevant department with ten minutes to spare before his appointment. He sat on one of the hard, plastic chairs, twiddling his thumbs, and hitching up the glasses he wasn't wearing. "Why are the chairs always so damn uncomfortable?"

"Mr. Jackson?" The smiling face beckoned him to the desk. "We have your documentation but we need you to sign some further forms before Dr Kawalsky sees you."

"Dr Kawa….?"

"Kawalsky. Yes. The forms I need to complete are…"

Daniel moved in a bewildered haze while he wrote his signature where indicated. He had thought that the Kinsey/Maybourne idea would be the last nasty trick. This final one had whipped the carpet out from under him, and he fought the onset of a panic attack. This would be neither the time nor the place.

"Excuse me. Is Dr Kawalsky?…" He trailed off. What in hell was he to ask? Does he have a Goa'uld in his head? Has anyone ever switched off a vortex while his head was in it? Is he really a doctor, or is he actually a Major in the US Air Force?

The headache was back.

With a vengeance.

"Mr. Jackson?" The smile on the nurse's face had turned to concern. "Is there anything I can do?"

"No, no. No. Thanks. Can I go straight in now?"

She guided him through to the office - the sign on the door reading, naturally, Dr Charles Kawalsky, MD.

"Ah, Mr. Jackson. Pleasure to meet you." A tall, dark, striking gentleman came forward, and vigorously shook his hand. A man that Daniel could quite happily say he could not recall ever having met. On any planet. In any lifetime. His relief was immeasurable. Maybe this was real - after all, coincidences happen all the time.

"Likewise, er, Dr Kawalsky." At least he wouldn't have trouble remembering the name.

For the next hour Daniel talked. The doctor only offered occasional prompts as Jackson narrated everything he could remember from the moment when he first woke up in Inova Fairfax Hospital. He related the differences and similarities between the real and the imaginary and how he had struggled to reconcile the two, aware that maybe the fantasy was a subconscious way of dealing with a situation, and of categorizing facts in an original way. He even used the Wizard of Oz analogy. What he didn't include were comments about Jack and his usage of it, with references to Kansas and Toto - even though that part now seemed to make complete sense.

Daniel described his journey out to the Shenandoah Mountains, and accepted the admonishment that he should not be driving due to the nature of the surgery he had had, not to mention the relapse caused by the aneurysm. He finished by declaring that, while it had been a nearly impossible decision, he had acknowledged which life was the true one, and therefore the one he needed to concentrate on.

And he didn't even care that he'd ended his concluding sentence with a preposition.

Kawalsky must have been eternally grateful for the invention of recording equipment, Daniel contemplated, as his sermon drew to a close. At the speed he had been speaking, he doubted many could have kept up.

He sensed that being able to tell a complete stranger everything would have helped him. Moreover, the stranger appeared non-judgmental.

"Mr. Jackson,"

"Daniel."

"Daniel. Let me tell you two things." He leant forward in his chair, placing his elbows on his desk. Daniel had made himself comfortable in the wide office chair soon after starting to speak. "Firstly, you are not crazy. Secondly, you are not the first person to have had this kind of experience."

He paused to allow the words time to settle.

"There are a number of forms of therapy we can attempt, although I'm not guaranteeing any level of success with any of them. If you are open-minded and willing to try, then I do believe we can help you."

Daniel was silent as he absorbed the words and their meanings. He wasn't crazy. To hear it from a professional dedicated to the field of psychiatry, it meant so much more. He wasn't alone. And there was hope.

Sam had warned him not to get his hopes up too much, in case they were dashed at a later date. Nevertheless, this doctor seemed not entirely despondent over his case.

He nodded acquiescence to the suggestions offered, as Kawalsky resumed.

"I believe Dr Kershaw may have discussed the idea of regressive hypnosis with you? Not extensively? It's very simple," he continued, moving around to the front of the desk. "It's a method used to help patients ascertain memories which have been lost through trauma. In your case we are trying to retrieve over 36 years worth, but I'm optimistic."

Daniel jammed his hands under his armpits - a gesture not unnoticed by the doctor. He weighed up the options in his head until he quietly spoke. "When can we start?"

_____________________________________________________

Carter's marine-blue SUV was waiting for Daniel, as he exited the Metro. She was waving to him, but was also holding an animated conversation on her cell phone.

He slid into the passenger seat and accepted the hug before fastening his seat belt.

"Yeah okay, I hear what you're saying," she was gesticulating, "but maybe that's not the best way to approach this. Look, Graham, I have to go; I've just picked Daniel up from the Metro. What? Hold on, I'll ask!"

She jutted out her chin and raised her eyebrows, silently asking the obvious question. Daniel tipped his head and grinned.

"He looks happy! We'll talk to you tomorrow. Call me if you sort it. Or mail me; that would be easier. 'Kay. You too. Bye."

She disconnected the call and placed the set back in its cradle. "You look good, Daniel. I'm guessing it went well?"

"Yeah, in a way, it did." He propped his feet up on the dashboard and rested his head back against the seat. "I'm not crazy!"

Sam grinned. "Darn. I had a straightjacket all picked out for you. Embroidered your name on the back myself!" She leant forward and gave him another hug. "Knew you weren't, Daniel."

He squeezed her tightly in the flood of relief that, for the first time, maybe everything was going to work out all right. His session with Kawalsky had ended on a positive note, with a further appointment scheduled for the Thursday. That gave him two days to make the list Kawalsky had suggested.

"Sam, I need your help with something." He pulled back and watched her fasten her own seatbelt.

"Anything, Daniel," she said, starting the engine and driving away. "What is it?"

He examined her face, noting the worry lines that had slowly appeared over the past two months, the ever-present mascara and eyeliner, the soft red lips, and the way her fringe flopped over her forehead. He was so fortunate to have retained her friendship and support in both worlds.

"Dr Kawalsky said I needed to compile a list under three headings. Things I am happy with now, things I am happy with in my false memory, and things I want to recall from my actual past. Can you help me do that?" His worry was unjustified, he knew, but he had asked Carter for so many favors that he disliked asking for more. He had to think of some way to repay her kindness, there must be something he could do for her.

"Of course, Daniel." She steered onto I-66, and joined the steady flow of traffic. "Marty's invited us out for dinner tonight if you like, or Jack's been on the phone non-stop since about 2pm to remind me that his offer still stands. I can stall both of them if you want a quiet evening; or we could order in pizza. Whatever you feel like, with whoever you like."

Daniel couldn't resist a raised eyebrow - which was rewarded with a smack on his thigh. "Gutter, Daniel."

He chortled, and relaxed into the seat. The pressure of the afternoon flooded out of him, and he was not in the mood to make any decisions. "Whatever Sam, I trust you." He closed his eyes and drifted, free of the tension that had been building for over two months, protected by the blanket of friendship, and optimistic about the future. Within moments he was asleep amid a comforting barrage of recognizable thoughts.

Everything was going to be all right.

_____________________________________________________

Daniel would always remember that Tuesday evening with fondness. Sam, Marty and Jack had spent the evening at his apartment. Jack had brought over his DVDs of Star Wars at Daniel's request, and they had watched the original trilogy over pizza, beer - or in Daniel's case, iced tea – humor, and good-natured banter.

"Why Star Wars, Daniel?" Marty had asked, his low voice making Daniel smile as he dismissed the za'tarc experiment. He was still overjoyed that Sam finally had a love interest that was not only feasible, but hadn't yet been killed.

"No reason," he'd answered cheerfully, grabbing a cushion and pulling it onto his lap. "Just because."

He kept stealing glances over to where Sam was nestled against Marty's arm, her feet draped over the edge of the sofa. Jack had declared the floor his area, and demanded full access to any and all cushions, "Hey, the knees aren't what they were!" he'd defended.

"And that relates to you sitting on your butt, just how exactly?"

Daniel had been delighted when his comradeship with Jack had been accepted by the future Mrs. Wood and her fiancÚ, and they had included him in their plans. To Daniel it was simply a reaffirmation of his previous life, and O'Neill had adjusted as though it were perfectly natural. He tolerated any unusual comments from Jackson, aware that there was a large healing process for him to move through, and believed that anything anyone could do to help was only fair. Even if he did not understand too many of the conversations they’d had.

If only Jackson would fall in love with ice hockey, and stop insisting on watching the Discovery Channel, they might have some common ground. At least he could admit full responsibility for Daniel's newly formed addiction to both the Showtime and Sci-Fi channels.

He was still confused how Daniel knew accurate personal details from his past, where he was convinced he had not divulged those to anyone, least of all to Jackson. Nevertheless, it gave him something else to think about instead of going home and playing with his remote control all evening.

He too glanced over at Carter. Shame she was already taken. She would never look twice at someone like him, but it was always nice to dream.

They had talked far into the night after the last of the movies, and the three visitors only left as the sun was creeping up over the horizon.

"Take care, Daniel," Sam had instructed, giving him yet another hug. "I'll call you when I get home from school tonight."

He had shaken hands with Marty and Jack, and received pats on the back from both. Marty would probably go straight to the office after a quick shower, his day at Social Services starting hours before Sam's school day. They smiled in parting, and Daniel finally clicked the door shut with a glow from the companionship.

He needed to start the list for Kawalsky in the morning. Hell, this was morning already. If he was listing all the good points from this life, now would be as good a time as any.

Absent-mindedly he moved into the kitchen for some coffee, and flicked up the switch on thin air. It took him a few moments to realize what he'd done, before turning back to the fridge and removing a jug of iced tea. What he wouldn't give for a mug of steaming hot black coffee right about now.

While sipping the cool liquid, he rummaged in the kitchen drawer for a pad of paper, and a pen. This shouldn't take long, he pondered, pulling out a chair at the living room table, and flopping down.

Where to start? He chewed the end of the pen and stared blankly at the empty sheet in front of him. There was something uncomfortable about sitting at a cleared table and his thought processes refused to work.

Sniggering, he darted into the next room and came back armed with a variety of books, none of which related to one another. Fiction books, a book on American History, Volume IV of the American Cyclopedia, the Budge and the de Beauvoir he still hadn't returned to the library, and a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Ancient Egypt.

He flung them haphazardly across the table, opening them all at random pages before reseating himself.

This felt right. Surrounded by reference material was how he worked. It was the only way he worked. If it was too organized then he couldn't think. Jack had made that joke about the Linvris not going into his own closet, because it was too messy, but Daniel knew that…

Without going any further with that incident, he began writing.

His drink sat undisturbed as Daniel scribbled furiously, desperately trying to match the speed of his writing with the thoughts rushing through his mind.

As the day continued to dawn and the light slowly bled into the room, the pages on the writing pad became filled. The only emotion Daniel outwardly displayed was frustration when he had to locate a new pen. For nearly three hours he wrote. He catalogued everything he had told Kawalsky the previous afternoon, about the fear for his own health and sanity, about the strength he had found in his close friends, about the shock and delight of rediscovering his parents, about how he yearned for knowledge of his past, how he was scared that he might suffer another aneurysm and the physical trauma that would bring, about wanting to lose the confusion of two lives clashing,… and the heart-rending regret as he felt his life at the SGC gradually, and inexorably, slipping from his grasp.

By 7am Daniel's hand was screaming for release, and he flexed the muscles to alleviate the imminent cramp. He was surprised at the ream of paper flooding the table surface, all covered in his meticulous script.

This wasn't the list Kawalsky had asked him to compile, it was a deluge straight from his psyche. From this, Daniel was sure he could objectively complete the desired list, and he accepted the wave of weariness that swept over him.

He didn’t bother to change before collapsing fully clothed onto the bed. He hauled the blanket up over his shoulders, but was asleep before he managed anything further. The day could carry on without him. He'd done enough for a while.

_____________________________________________________

The shrill demands of her landline phone made Sam snap out of her apocalyptic trance. So far she had imagined every worst-case scenario for Daniel, including him jumping under a train. Marty was texting her updates on their failed mission to find the missing anthropologist/teacher and they were quickly exhausting possibilities. Night had fallen several hours before, and still no one had heard from Daniel, including Dr Kershaw, or anyone else at Inova Fairfax.

Thursday had started out well but had rapidly descended into nightmare territory. As agreed, Carter had taken a personal day and had dropped Daniel off at midday outside the GWU Hospital building, on her way to the Pentagon Mall on a shopping excursion. He had promised her that he would call as soon as he was finished, and she would pick him up at the same location.

Over two hours had gone by with no messages. She had long since curtailed her window-shopping, and had returned to GWU. No Daniel. She parked in the nearby parking lot and walked across to the main building. Still no Daniel.

She had tried his cell, aware that should he still be in the building then it would mandatorily have been switched off, but was greeted with his voicemail. She sought out the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences but found no one at the front desk.

Unabashed, she impudently decided to wander past some of the doors to see if Daniel was indeed still here. On Tuesday, he had maintained that he would only be here for an hour, and that hour would have finished nearly an hour and a half ago.

Aware that she was in dubious territory, Sam surreptitiously listened at one of the closed doors. She had read the nameplate and had recognized the doctor's identity, but she was more concerned for the well being of her close friend.

Someone was speaking in hurried tones, and she strained to catch the words. This was wrong and she knew it, but she was beyond caring.

It sounded like whoever was speaking was conversing on the telephone, because she couldn't hear a second person in the room.

"…That's what is so anomalous," the male was saying. "No matter how many different tactics I tried, the result was the same each time." There were pauses in the monologue. "We tried that. The patient was adamant that there was no related history before the event. It's not a question of missing time, it's a case of the time frame he lived bears no relation to current events." Sam listened further as the doctor - she assumed it was Kawalsky she was hearing - described the variety of methods he had employed. "The subject has no knowledge in his subconscious of any life prior to the event, other than this fantasy world involving something called the SGC."

An icy hand had abruptly enveloped her heart, and she knew precisely to whom the doctor was referring.

"I've never had a case like it, it's fascinating. It suggests to me that perhaps this life involving the SGC is the actual life he led previously, and there is no actual memory loss at all."

Carter thought for one horrifying moment that she was going to pass out. Her limbs were numb and the icy grip around her heart was nearly choking her.

There was no reason for the doctor to be lying to a colleague. If it weren't true, then why was he talking to him at all?

Sam couldn't listen to any more - the rushing in her ears blocking out further sounds. Conscious of where she was, she hurried back to the waiting area where the nurse was just arriving back.

"Can I help you?" The woman's demands were not the friendliest, and it was clear she did not appreciate the uninvited strolling around unescorted.

"I'm picking up Daniel Jackson," she offered, determined not to be put out by the woman's attitude.

"And you are?"

"His sister." His what? Where had that come from? Yes, he was more like a brother than her own, and certainly she had become very attached to him since the death of her father. Had she said that in the vague hope that they might confide in her?

Who was she kidding? Doctor/patient confidentiality broached no divides.

She agitatedly moved her weight from one foot to the other, the words of the doctor careening through her thoughts. How was it possible for the Daniel that she had known since Junior High only to have memories of a totally different life? Where had this SGC life emerged from? How? Why? Did Daniel know that this is what the doctor had discovered?

Of course it was. Hadn't Daniel told her on Tuesday how he would remember everything the doctor said to him while under hypnosis?

If that was the case, that meant that all of his hopes for recalling everything had been dashed. After such high expectations this would be the biggest blow of all. Whilst being informed by all that he was not crazy, and that he was Mr. Daniel Jackson, teacher, friend, and not Dr Jackson, archaeologist, anthropologist - how could it now be said that there was no means to determine who he really was?

How had Daniel taken the news? Would he be willing to accept that the trauma had caused this as a permanent injury to the brain?

More importantly, where was Daniel now?

The nurse eventually informed her that Daniel had left the premises shortly after 1pm. No, she had no idea where he had gone, and no, discussing the matter with Dr Kawalsky was out of the question, and she should respect Mr Jackson's privacy.

Not even waiting to clear the building, Sam had whipped out her cell phone and left a multitude of messages on both Daniel's voicemail and home answerphone. Feeling a great rush of helplessness, she called Mike Kershaw at Inova Fairfax and asked him to call Kawalsky, to determine Daniel's state of mind when he had left. She knew he would understand her concern.

After that she had rung Marty, who had left work immediately and headed towards Daniel's apartment. Even if Daniel had taken the Metro straight from GWU, it would take him a few hours more to make it home using public transportation. "I'll call Jack," Marty had added. "He should be finished in a few hours, and I know he'll help. He might search some of their favorite haunts."

They had agreed that Sam would search the locale but was to go home after an hour, in case Daniel tried to contact her there. She didn't let on to Marty the nature of the conversation she had overheard, but implied that she suspected Daniel to be irrational, and not thinking clearly.

"Jack and I will look for him. He'll probably arrive home soon, and realize that he should have phoned you. I'll stop by Vienna on the way."

That had been at 3pm.

It was now after 10pm, and the two men would be arriving shortly to eat the food she had endeavored to prepare for them.

Snapping her attention back to the ringing tone, the caller-ID indicated Daniel's home number. Relieved, Carter snatched up the receiver.

"Daniel, where the hell have you been? We've been worried si…"

"Samantha, it's Martin."

"Mart? Is Daniel okay?" The vegetables she was chopping on the board were forgotten, as was the water boiling in the pan. "Tell me he's…"

"We don't know." He sounded tired. Hardly unexpected after a seven-hour futile search. "Jack's just called, he'll be with you in five. Samantha? Daniel's been back and taken his car. He must have done it within the last thirty minutes, because it was here the last time I drove by. I've already contacted the authorities, and asked them to trace any visuals."

"There's no chance it's been stolen?" She wanted to account for all possibilities, but if he had taken his car then that almost equated to a recent sighting.

"It's unlikely, because he's been home. The porter tried talking to him but got distracted, and didn't establish where he was going."

"Why didn't he call? Or answer my messages?" There was an elongated pause as they both weighed up new moves. "Mart, why don't you come home? We'll have to wait."

She couldn't believe she'd said that, but they were all tired, and wouldn't accomplish too much more before morning. They had alerted as many people as they reasonably could, and although skeptical, at least the police had listened to what she had had to say when she called them. She had given them as clear a description as she could, 'last seen wearing a long-sleeved, gray zip-up sweater, and white pants'.

The bell chimed and she opened the door to the silver-haired O'Neill, dressed in a dark green, checkered shirt, light pants and his trademark Barbour jacket. He looked as weary as she felt. His brown eyes sparkling despite the dark lines underneath.

"Hey, Carter. Got any beer?"

She bowed her head with a laugh as she welcomed him in. She found it hard to believe that they had not become friends before, when he had such a casual, easy-going manner. In a perfect shipper moment, Sam grinned at Jack who pretended he hadn't noticed as he sauntered past her, and helped himself to a beer from her fridge.

"No luck, huh?"

"Nope."

O'Neill made himself comfortable on one of her chairs, and she reached into the fridge for a soda for herself. He already had his cell phone out of his pocket, answering the ring.

"Yeah, I'm here already. No, nothing. Doc said he'd call me before he went off shift. Yeah. Okay." Jack shook his head as he hung up, pursing his lips in disappointment. "You really pick your friends, don't you, Carter!"

She was wide-eyed at his impertinence, but let it slide with a grin.

"Mart's on his way. Said to make sure the dinner's on the table before he arrives." He ducked to avoid the friendly swipe aimed at his head. He grabbed her hand, and caught her eyes. "We'll find him. Whatever it takes, Sam, we'll find him."

She knew he spoke the truth, but it did not alleviate the fear.

Martin arrived later, and the three of them ate in silence that night. After making a further list of places they could search in the morning, they called it quits, Jack accepting Sam’s invite to crash on the couch.

The three slept fitfully, and Jack was already brewing coffee by the time a mussed-haired Martin stumbled into the kitchen.

"Samantha's a mess," he confided. "She spent most of the night mumbling something about needing Daniel to be real. I couldn't rouse her for the most part."

Jack handed him a black coffee, clutched a large mug for himself and scrubbed a calloused hand through his short hair. "I'm going to drink this and set off back to my place. I'll shower, then start again. Mart… ouf, who put that there?" Jack griped as he caught his hip on the edge of the counter. "How about I meet you at Marco's in forty-five minutes?"

Carter was just emerging as Jack made his exit. Martin held her in his arms, kissing the top of her head. "He's going home to freshen up. I'm meeting him later."

She nodded, wiping the sleep from her eyes, and trailing a thin line of mascara across her temple. Martin licked his thumb and carefully wiped it from her skin, kissing the spot he had just cleaned.

"It'll be okay."

He embraced her again before heading to get showered and dressed.

By late morning, there had still not been any news and Sam was growing desperate. Jack had called to say he was on his way back to Daniel's apartment yet again, convinced he had been overtaken by Daniel's Ford Probe on the freeway.

She felt useless staying in her house, but they had both insisted that it was the wisest place to be. After everything they had been through, how could the situation have fallen so dreadfully out of hand?

Her thoughts were once again disrupted by her landline. Noting the caller ID as Daniel's apartment, she ripped up the receiver.

"DANIEL! Please let that be you. Do you have any idea what we've been through? Marty and Jack have…"

"SAM!" He interrupted her concerned diatribe.

Carter yanked the receiver away from her ear as Daniel's excited yelp made her ear drum buzz.

"Yes, Daniel?" She offered her best pacifying voice, tucked the phone under her chin as she pushed aside her mail. It was clear he either hadn't listened to her question, or was doing his usual, and single-mindedly following his train of thought, thereby totally ignoring her. On reflection, Daniel disappearing for nearly twenty-four hours and then acting so nonchalantly on his return was about standard.

"Television. Now. Sci-fi. Quick."

"Uh, okay. Hold on." Grabbing the remote she flicked on the small set in the kitchen. "Sci-fi channel. Got it." She tore up and trashed the junk mail, and tried to pull Daniel back to her question. "What's up Daniel?"

"It' ... it's... um. Just. Look, can you come over?" His voice sounded frantic, bordering on hysterical. She knew he couldn't have been as calm as his opening voice had sounded.

"Sure." She quickly wiped up the coffee she had spilt when the phone rang, and dried her hands on her jeans. "Daniel, are you okay?"

"Yes. No. No, I'm not. It's all wrong. I need to talk to someone who understands. Who really understands." Carter felt the pit of her stomach churning as she identified the irrational way Daniel was talking. "Right when I think I've got it, it just goes away."

"What, Daniel?" Her concern grew at his increasing instability. "What goes away? We'll get it back. Whatever it is, we'll get it back." She was struggling with the plethora of thoughts racing through her mind. She yanked the cable taut to reach her cell phone and frenetically typed in a text message to send to the two searchers. Daniel sounded desperate and confused, but she didn't have the first idea what to say. How could she admit that even the doctor thought the SGC must be real? Daniel had spent so many weeks convincing himself that it was nothing other than a spurious flight of the imagination.

"You can't get it back. You don't know what I'm talking about." The voice drifted as Sam strained to hear words that were becoming muffled. "I tried. I really tried, but none of it means anything. None of you know what I'm talking about. It just goes away." He began mumbling incoherently until there was a faint sound the other end, and the line went dead.

"Daniel? Daniel?" Sam felt a surge of panic as she tried redialing Daniel, and only received a busy signal. She muttered under her breath, knitting her eyebrows as the panic erased telephone numbers from her memory. Jack had to be the closest to the fifth floor apartment. All she could envisage was the horrible but very real possibility that Daniel had been pushed over the edge mentally, and when he got there Jack would find the phone off the hook, and Daniel standing on the wrong side of the balcony.

Surely Daniel would never go that far. Please God, no.

She dialed and explained her previous phone call, the television set pulling her attention while she spoke. Why had Daniel sounded more alarmed by something on the television than by the hypnosis result?

"Thanks, Jack," she finished, as she absently hung up the phone.

The advertisements were over and the program had resumed. She liked the music: drums, strings. Some kind of action program - not her scene but some of the male actors were cute. The scenery reminded her of a vacation she had once taken in British Columbia. Why had Daniel been so...? No, that couldn't be right? The only reason Daniel could be….

The image of Daniel standing on the wrong side of the balcony refused to leave her head. In her mind she could picture him facing out over the parking lot, dressed in his gray zip-up sweater, the white pants creased from his night excursion, bare-foot as he always liked to be around his apartment. Seared into his face would be the distress and confusion that had led him to consider the unthinkable, head injury or no head injury. She tried to picture an anxious Jack arriving and finding Daniel on the balcony…

The television program captured her attention once more.

...

Oh.

Oh God.

At the final scene on the television screen Sam Carter abandoned everything, grabbed her jacket and car keys, and ran.

 

__________________________________________________________________

 

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."

Albert Einstein

_______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

Fin

BACK