“Unwinding the Cloth”
Missing Scene to “The Shroud,” Season 10
My take on the Writers/Readers Challenge on Stargatedrabbles. Daniel the Prior has wrenched control from the anti-prior device, beamed Woolsey to the SGC and beamed Jack up onto the Odyssey where he is alone on the bridge.
On the Odyssey
General Jack O’Neill dropped his head and stuffed his hands into his pockets. The white blaze of the Asgard beams had burst against his vision, sizzling across overloaded nerves and sending sharp cramps through his exhausted muscles. Damn, maybe he was too old for this. Before the transportation beams released him he steeled his face into its protective mask, displaying equal parts skeptical veteran of one too many fantastic missions and stalwart, loyal friend. He knew what he’d see when his sight cleared, knew who was in control, who, he angrily acknowledged, had never actually been their prisoner, no matter what Woolsey, the IOA, and even the rest of SG-1 had thought at the time. The view of space through the front window of the Odyssey quickly came into focus and he struggled to stand there calmly, waiting, staring, before calling the name that still came so easily to his tongue.
He forced his legs to lazy strides as he wandered to the navigation console and lowered himself to the chair, eyes darting towards the pale, commanding figure who occupied the center seat. His fingers skittered over the controls that lay quiescent beneath them, not surprised to find the systems were closed to his input.
“Yep, just like old times,” Jack sighed, the picture of a weary yet patient commander. “Except I’m here against my will and you look like Marcel Marceau.”
The voice that replied almost matched the one from Jack’s memory. “Yeah, you know, some things change but others stay the same.”
Jack felt his lips twist into what was nearly a smile. “Very good.” Fear for his friend surged at the deceptively normal, taunting response. “Why’d you bother giving me the intel if you were going to bust out anyway?”
He watched as Daniel turned to face him, forcing himself to take in the unearthly paleness of the skin, the scarring on his friend’s cheek and chin, and the eyes, warm blue leached to eerie colorlessness.
“Well, obviously I’m improvising at this point. I had no idea when or even if I was going to be able to overcome the effects of the anti-prior device. Time was running out. Adria was going to notice my absence and become suspicious, so sending the rest of SG-1 to get the device was my only choice at the time.” The words were logical, firm, the reasoning rational.
“Then why do this now?” Jack asked, impatience growing, the anger that had been simmering since Mitchell’s call weeks ago to kindly inform him that Daniel had been left behind by his team to deal with Adria on his own finally reaching its boiling point.
The figure in the commander’s chair sighed. “Because I’m afraid the rest of the team won’t be able to complete the mission without me.”
“Oh, aren’t we full of ourselves.” He couldn’t hide scorn.
The lifeless eyes blinked, once. “That and I wasn’t about to let Woolsey freeze me.”
Jack nodded, suddenly saddened. “That I understand.”
“Yeah.” The word was just barely more than a gloating breath.
Daniel turned back towards the view out the front window, but Jack wondered what those eyes could see, what the world, the universe, looked like from the other side of those unnatural irises. Back in the holding cell, when Daniel had spoken of faith and trust, he thought he’d seen a sudden flash of emotion blazing there, something to tie the inhuman image to the memory of his best friend. Now he saw only an uncanny resolve with just a touch of… what was it? Relief? Victory?
Jack brushed his hands against the frozen controls again, helpless again, choiceless again, unable to reach across the distance separating the two again. The feeling uncomfortably familiar.
“You know, it’s funny,” he began, grinding his teeth in an attempt to control his rage, “You work with a guy for eight years, haul each other’s butts home through the ‘gate, watch each other get tortured and die, save the world every other Friday, and you kinda get to know him.”
Daniel turned, scarred face blank.
Jack’s eyes hardened. “You could say I know Danny better than anyone.” He leaned closer, voice steel. “And you know what, skippy?” His finger jabbed the air. “You ain’t him.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” he waved both hands expressively. “You’re doing a darn good imitation even under all those weird tattoos and that pasty skin. I’m getting some ‘earnest Daniel’ and a big helping of ‘trust me Daniel’ and even a little ‘mildly sarcastic Daniel’, but you’re playing him just a bit over the top if you ask me. A little too megalomaniac.” He took a deep breath and leaned back, forcing himself to wait, to ready his muscles for action – if there was an action he could take against the thing that sat next to him wearing his best friend.
Daniel sat oddly still, strange eyes focused on the rapid play of emotions across Jack’s face.
“Now, I’ll admit,” Jack’s smile was cold, “Daniel could get on his high horse every now and then, try to convince everyone that he’s right and everybody else is wrong on most days, but to think that he’d put his team, his family, in this position? I don’t think so, buddy.”
“Jack, this was the only way.”
The voice was so soothing, so reasonable. It made Jack want to spit. “Yeah. Right. The only way.” He crossed his arms. “Even if Daniel felt that the only way to get me to cooperate with his crazy plan was to throw Ba’al’s little sarcophagus routine in my face, he would never, ever do it. Never.” He shifted in his seat, fear battling with rage. “So give it up.”
Any resemblance, besides the obvious, to Daniel Jackson fell away as if a cocoon had split and taken the stubborn, resilient, compassionate scholar away with it. Jack saw it in the sag of the muscles, in the way the long fingers curled against each other, in the lowering of the head, the sluggish turn of the mouth. A sigh shivered his sturdy frame as if it was frail, fragile, and the eyes closed for a moment.
Jack sat forward, intent.
The eyes snapped open. “You are correct, General O’Neill. It does no good for us to maintain this facade – you will apparently trust us no further.”
“Well you know what they say, ‘fool me once’ and all that.” Jack tried to cover the fear-laden weight in his gut with mockery. “So, Merlin I presume?”
Daniel’s head nodded almost regally. “Yes, I am Merlin. But fear not, your friend Dr. Jackson is here with us. He has not been harmed.”
Jack felt his nostrils flare. “Yeah. Sure. He looks great.”
“I have been protecting him.”
“Well, you’ve done a bang-up job, I’ve gotta say. In our century we like to return things the way we found them, not with a face-full of scars and a bad case of Ori leprosy.” Jack clenched his fists until he thought his tendons would rip and tear from the tension. “It’s been you the whole time, hasn’t it?”
Merlin brushed Daniel’s hands awkwardly against the Air Force jumpsuit he was wearing, plucking at the seams, the zipper, adjusting the collar against Daniel’s throat. “I could not allow Daniel to have control when we are so close to our objective. He is… anxious. Distressed.” He rubbed two fingers along Daniel’s forehead. “Quite distracting in his intensity.”
“Gee, I wonder why,” Jack queried the air above him.
“General O’Neill - there is no choice; the Ori must be stopped. Daniel knows this; he is as committed to this end as am I. Is this not the reason he sought me out after all of these centuries?”
“You hijacked him, kidnapped him! You made him a damn Prior!” Jack flew out of the chair to loom over Daniel’s body, anger pushing him to move, to fight, to do something.
“Adria made him a Prior, and it was the only way.” Daniel’s voice, but not – it quavered as if he was an old man, but the underlying authority was undeniable. “We needed the power of the Priors in order to control the Ori vessel.” He hesitated, a faint smile tightening the skin around the colorless eyes. “It took some time to convince Daniel of this necessity – he was quite reluctant at first until I…”
Bile rose in Jack’s throat. “What? Until you what?” he snapped, sure that he didn’t really want to know what the formerly ascended being had to do to convince Daniel that this… this makeover from hell was the way to go.
Daniel’s chest rose and fell in a sigh. “Please, General,” the eyes blinked balefully in the face of Jack’s fury. “Oh, very well,” Merlin shook Daniel’s head wearily, “perhaps it would be best if I allowed Daniel to explain it to you.”
“Right, like I’m gonna believe that anything that comes out of that mouth is Daniel talking and not you – come on! You can’t pull off the ventriloquist act a second time!” Jack stepped back – his fingers itched to grab onto the green fabric and physically drag Merlin out of his best friend’s body. He shoved his hands into his pockets.
One hand waved dismissively. “Believe or not, that is your choice.”
Jack was about to spit out a reply when Daniel’s body slumped, his head smacking solidly against the back of the commander’s chair, Jack’s quick reflexes keeping him from sliding bonelessly to the floor. His hands grasped Daniel firmly, struggling against the dead weight, one pushing against his chest to keep him folded in the seat, legs pressed against Daniel’s knees. His other hand fumbled at Daniel’s neck, scrambling for a pulse while trying to hold his head in some sort of natural position. The staccato beat under Jack’s fingertips flipped his own heart into high gear and he breathed a curse and a prayer over Daniel’s slack face.
“Daniel – Daniel! Shit!” He froze as the white eyelashes fluttered against the pale skin. “Daniel?”
Half-lidded eyes, still the same bleached shade, searched Jack’s face through pooling tears. Jack, breath snared in his throat, watched as the alien face settled into familiar lines, saw the uncanny calm retreat into desperation and misery.
Aboard Adria’s ship
Daniel felt as if he’d been submerged far too long just beneath the surface of a crystal lake - life was there, in the air above, so close sometimes that he sensed it brush against his skin, or he caught a scent of it as he momentarily emerged to breathe. At times he struggled and the water bubbled and frothed, obscuring his vision, but then the cold fingers of Merlin’s presence closed around him, holding him in place, and the stilted voice insisted that he watch, his eyes held open even when he cried and screamed and begged to be made blind.
Nothing had distorted the sounds. The whispers never left him, at times floating just at the edge of hearing, stroking his mind, trying to mold it to patterns it didn’t want, at others surging through him in searing waves that demanded notice. Merlin helped the words to pass over and through him, still stinging, still wounding, but unable to catch hold and burrow deeply. His body lost somewhere in the water, Daniel knew only sight, only sound, each picture, each phrase more hideous than the last, until, finally, he found himself cocooned in silent darkness, and he wept for joy.
Dry hands brushed against his awareness and he saw that Merlin stood there, white robe glowing, regret clouding his eyes. Daniel looked down at himself – solid, familiar - blue robes cradling him – and turned his hands over and over again, marveling at the sight of his own flesh, of movement under his control. He knew there should be fear, loss, the memory of pain, but those feelings were remote, removed, belonging to another place, another time. He stared at his companion, searching for context.
“Am I dead?”
Merlin smiled and shook his head. “No Daniel, you are not dead. You are, however, unconscious. Quite the best thing for you right now, I assure you.”
Daniel turned, eyes searching for dimensions, light, another reference point in this space that seemed to hold only the two of them. “The best thing?”
“Yes,” Merlin repeated with a slight nod. “You have an amazing mind, Daniel, your focus and control is remarkable for this stage in human development, and your heart, well, your heart is quite noble. It seems my former colleagues chose well in welcoming you to the Path.” A smile lit his features for a moment, but soon fled away. “But, having said this, and even with my protection, Adria’s continued attacks have become quite hurtful, dangerous.” He raised both hands to gesture at the nothingness around them. “I’ve brought you here for a respite by manipulating your body, your blood flow, heart, lungs. Adria does not want to permanently injure you, so she was forced to stop her assaults for the moment.”
Daniel frowned, reaching back for his memories. “Assaults? I… I don’t…” He swallowed in a suddenly dry throat. Images crowded in – Mitchell choking on blood, broken, grasping at his stomach in a vain effort to hold the strangled mass of his own guts. Sam clothed in ornate robes, coldly regal, eyes flashing white as she stood entwined at Ba’al’s side. Teal’c writhing, blunt fingers struggling for purchase on the smooth floor where he dragged his useless legs, spine crushed. Vala’s skin peeling from her bones, eyeless sockets turned towards him, pleading. He found himself on his knees, hands clenched tightly in his hair, eyes screwed shut against the punishing visions. Merlin was crouched at his side, one hand pressed firmly against his brow. “Not… not real… not…”
“No, Daniel, none of it is real. Adria is simply attacking your mind by using those things you hold most dear against you.” His smile was colored with sadness. “She grows frustrated in her attempts to breach your defenses and lashes out against you as would a spoiled child. The power that the Ori have imprinted within her is formidable – fearsome in the hands of one still so young.”
Daniel sensed the shield of Merlin’s presence standing between him and the endless loop of horrifying imagery. “How long?” he whispered.
The hand fell away from his face, but the shield remained, and Daniel struggled to stand, to face this being who now shared his mind. “Why?” It was all he could think to ask.
“She wishes to weaken you, to batter at you until you are beyond resistance. Only then will she be able to bring you to her side, to gather your strength and knowledge – your very spirit – to join with her in her cause. To serve the Ori.”
No. No. His head moved back and forth as his lips formed denials.
“No, Daniel,” Merlin’s soft words drew him from his mindless panic. “We shall not allow it. Adria will see only what we wish her to see.” The aged eyes twinkled with dark mirth. “As will all others who seek to hinder us from our intentions.”
After a moment Daniel understood. “The Ancients.”
“Indeed. Together, Daniel, we shall complete my work, started so long ago. You came to me for the Sangraal, the weapon that will destroy the Ori utterly, the making of which my fellow Alterans deemed a crime.” The scent of his bitterness was sharp in the air. “You shall shelter me from their discovery and I shall shelter you from lasting harm at the hands of the Orici.”
At length Merlin explained, drew out his plan to Daniel’s wounded mind while Daniel paced, restless, certain that, at any moment, the darkness would lift and they would be exposed. He felt the fragility of Merlin’s protection as if it were a thin glass shell around them, easily crushed once Adria’s fiery gaze found them out. “Wait – a Prior?”
Merlin paused in his recitation. “Of course. She will expect no less.”
“The changes to your body will be temporary, my friend. Once our plans are completed, once the weapon has been launched, my task here will be finished and I will rest.” He sighed. “Your body - your mind – shall be your own again, just as they were before we joined.”
Daniel watched the ancient figure as he took up his tale, certain that Daniel could do nothing but agree, concede the use of his body and mind for Merlin’s purposes. What had he told Vala within Merlin’s chamber? That he had to let this merging, this blending of his consciousness with Merlin’s happen? That he had to stop struggling to maintain his own identity, to separate himself from the vast memories, dreams, and desires of this being. He was lost – had been forced to hide while Adria flayed his mind rather than become more fully and finally lost under the domination of her will. Nothing of him was hidden from Merlin.
“Why are you bothering to explain this all to me,” he interrupted abruptly. “It isn’t as if I could do anything to stop you – you’re clearly in control here,” he snapped.
Merlin tilted his head. “Do you really wish to stop me, Daniel? It was your search for me that brought us to this point, your determination to stop the Ori. Has that changed?”
He wanted to say yes, to argue that this was too much to ask, too much to sacrifice, to demand the use of his body, his mind – his soul – back and hang onto his existence with both hands. Hadn’t he done this enough? Hadn’t he borne the weight of the struggle on his back, won it with his lifeblood, with his sanity, long enough? He raised his eyes to Merlin’s and saw the sorrowful recognition there and remembered that he had no place to hide.
“No,” he whispered, acknowledging that he would go on, he would do anything, everything, to fight this evil, to protect his friends, his family, the inhabitants of a thousand worlds in this galaxy that were vulnerable to the Ori.
One wizened hand lighted softly on his shoulder. “I will help you bear this, Daniel, shelter you from everything that I possibly can, but she must feel our submission, our utter surrender to her will. It will be difficult, but you must trust me to hold your soul intact and to return you to your friends as I found you.”
Daniel lowered his head and Merlin held on for a moment before he moved away and continued to recount his plan to build the weapon, to open himself to Adria’s thrall, to convince her of his loyalty and then seek out Daniel’s friends.
“Wait – they won’t – there’s no way that they’ll believe me. They’ll lock me away, won’t let me get near the Supergate.” Daniel frowned. “If you let Adria make me a Prior they’ll never trust me again.”
“But, Daniel,” Merlin smiled, “you don’t believe that. If you did I would not have conceived this plan.” He moved closer. “Don’t you see, there is nothing hidden from me here in your mind. You trust them to listen to you, to see you behind the mask Adria will draw over your skin. In your innermost being, you believe in their faith in you, especially in this one.”
Suddenly Merlin was gone and Jack O’Neill stood before him, brown cap covering his grey hair, hands folded over the length of the P90 strapped to his chest, head cocked as if waiting for an explanation. Daniel blinked, unconsciously taking a step towards the image of his oldest friend, ashamed of his immediate reaction while knowing that it was foolish to try to shield his emotions from a being that inhabited his mind.
“Come on, Daniel,” Jack’s voice – under the dry wit, the familiar whining tone – Jack’s voice sounded like home. “Do I have to remind you of SG-1’s unofficial motto?” Long fingers crooked into dramatic quotation marks in the air between them. “Say it with me,” the figure urged and Daniel couldn’t hold back a smile.
“‘We don’t leave people behind,’” he muttered, in perfect stereo with his friend. When the warm brown eyes dissolved into Merlin’s, Daniel felt as if his heart would break at the loss.
On the Odyssey
Jack bent his knees, crouching before the figure slumped in the command chair, steady hands holding tightly to Daniel’s arms, easing his friend through the shivering that coursed over him from head to toe, leaving him breathless and weak. At the first deliberate shift of muscles he let go, sitting back on his heels, watching the figure clutch the arms of the chair in an attempt to sit solidly even as his head hung forward, too heavy to lift. Elbows were drawn in to rest on knees and pale, shaking fingers combed through hair which should have been brown.
Every military instinct within Jack O’Neill cautioned him to move back, to disbelieve that this sudden transformation from confidence to collapse meant Daniel was in control of himself again. But Daniel had always operated far outside military thinking, and Jack was used to following the man with leaps of logic and through tangled mazes of thought that would render the average lateral thinker dizzy with vertigo. ‘Benefit of the doubt’ was the accepted phrase to define their relationship – and he couldn’t imagine anything ever changing that.
“I’m sorry, Jack.” The words were murmured through Daniel’s hands, his splayed fingers now tracing the scars on his own face, following the patterns over and over again until Jack couldn’t stand it anymore and snatched at them, holding Daniel’s hands tightly between his own. The pale head rose.
“You should be,” Jack replied, the words softer than he intended. “I should ream you a new one for this little debacle, Daniel. What the hell were you thinking?”
The colorless stare captured Jack’s gaze and he saw – thought he saw – life there, a familiar pain coupled with a customary passion that had been missing until now. The specter of Daniel Jackson.
“Merlin’s not lying, Jack. Believe him. Do what he asks.” Short, choppy sentences panted out between tightened lips.
“And I should trust that this isn’t just him trying to pull another fast one, pretending to be you, exactly why?” Jack shot back.
Daniel’s head tilted back to rest against the chair and he closed his eyes wearily. “I don’t know – don’t know why you should believe me.” He struggled to raise his head and look Jack in the eye again. “But you should. It’s the only way.”
Jack pushed himself to his feet, cringing at the sharp pain in his joints. Insane missions hurdling through deep space were a young man’s game – they shouldn’t be left to broken-down generals dragging too much baggage behind them. He limped across the bridge to stand watching the muted colors of the hyperspace window flow towards him. Flying shouldn’t be like this – no whistle of wind, no thrill of speed, no sense of escape – of defying gravity. The force that every pilot fought like a bitter enemy, resisting the irresistible pull that kept him tied to the ground. Irresistible, like the attachment Jack still felt to each member of his team – he smiled to himself – to SG-1, not his team anymore. He felt it now, still strong, between him and the man behind him. And that force pulled him back around to face the figure in the chair – their bond, their connection, just as inexorable, inescapable. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the metal bulkhead, purposefully keeping his distance.
“Why couldn’t he just let you come to us instead of pretending to be you? Why the big charade, tell me that!”
“I… I’m not…” Daniel licked dry, white lips before quirking them in a hesitant half-smile that was alien to a Prior’s face. “Adria hurt me, Jack.” A sharp laugh wracked his frame. “I can’t… keeping a train of thought is hard.”
He still heard them - words, cruel laughter, bitter curses – they followed him below the waters, sinking deeply into his skin, leaving him choking and shivering, desperate for a pair of hands to clamp over ears he could not find. Hearing his own voice had startled him to stillness, straining to listen. He couldn’t fight, couldn’t scream, couldn’t plead for release. This voice – his voice – sounded so calm, so reasonable, agreeing to her wishes, her demands, blithely accepting her twisted logic and the searing stroke of her hands on his skin. Merlin acting, speaking, not him, not Daniel.
He remembered flame-filled eyes within the porcelain face, ever present, unblinking reminders of his helplessness before her. And the unbearable burn of his physical transformation to puppet of the Ori, scarred mannequin armed with their empty promises and willingly mouthing their lies and threats. His body could still feel, still hurt, even though he could no longer find it.
The soothing touch of Merlin’s presence had tried to erase the pain, the shame, the misery of her closeness; the ancient man’s voice whispered to him, promising that it would pass, that he would be whole again, wearing his own skin. He’d clung to Merlin’s image, struggling to hide behind his shielded power, but the sensations dragged him to the surface again and again where he watched himself trapped beneath her, her seemingly delicate form imbued with supernatural strength as she ravaged him, mind and body, convincing herself that he was hers, utterly, completely.
The tears tracked down Daniel’s face but didn’t leave a trail. Jack watched as one drop hung precariously at the edge of his lip, Daniel’s mouth opening and closing, babbling, unconsciously trying to explain, to justify his supposed weakness with broken words and rambling phrases, baring what he’d never want to reveal, especially to him. Telling Jack why he’d given up, run away, abandoned his mind and body to hide in the darkness of Merlin’s protection.
He was next to his friend before he realized he’d moved, closing the distance, one hand pressed against Daniel’s cheek startling a gasp and a desperate jerk away from the touch, uncanny eyes widened in panic. “Daniel, stop. It’s me, just me.” He waggled his eyebrows, face pulled into a grin. “Just Jack. Not scary at all here.”
Jack held himself in check, dropping his hand to Daniel’s shoulder when he realized his friend was back with him. “Well, when this is over I do want you to remind me to have a little chat with you about this tendency you have to throw yourself on live grenades and in front of head-sucking alien technology.”
He watched as his fury laced flippancy stilled Daniel’s fear and his head bobbed, apparently finding the prospect of a lengthy sarcastic, patronizing lecture delivered at full voice in front of an entire base full of witnesses a welcome change if only he could be alive and alone within his body when it happened. Jack couldn’t agree more.
“I’ll do that,” Daniel promised.
Jack ruffled one hand through the whitened hair, surprised at the soft texture, expecting to feel a thick coating of ash between his fingers. He straightened and shoved his fists into his pockets. “And this is what Merlin calls taking care of you, huh, protecting you? The guy needs a lesson in the care and feeding of civilian archaeologists.” Jack aimed for playful but realized he was firing wide. “Doesn’t Mitchell make you take that handy ‘How To’ guide I made for you on missions?”
“Merlin - he did, Jack. He will. It’s almost over.”
“Not too convincing, buddy.”
Daniel’s long fingers curved around the arms of the command chair. “Please. Please help us.” It wasn’t a plea, just Daniel asking - asking his friend Jack, the one he trusted to always watch his back. “Don’t make this… this…” one hand gestured towards his own chest, his face, “all this for nothing.”
“Daniel,” Jack’s voice held a warning.
The shivering began again and Jack started to reach down when the figure abruptly stilled and shifted, the eyes still pale but now empty of the presence of his friend.
“I am sorry, General O’Neill, but Daniel is simply not up to answering any more of your questions.”
Daniel’s body stood in one fluid motion, as if the trembling and weakness had been dropped like a cloak. Or a disguise. No, Jack shook his head, Merlin wasn’t that great of an actor – he might have access to all of Daniel’s memories, could duplicate his friend’s emotions and mannerisms like a bad copy machine, but those few tortured phrases he’d managed to get out had been pure, unadulterated Danny. And he’d rarely been able to refuse Daniel anything.
“Yeah, he’s hurting. I get that. And just in case you’re wondering, I’m blaming you,” Jack barked.
Merlin tilted Daniel’s head into a bow that reminded Jack of his favorite ex-Jaffa. “I accept your blame, General. When I leave him, Daniel will be restored to you. Unfortunately, I will not be able to completely purge his memories of his trial at the hands of the Orici, but these recollections will be but vague shadows that, for a time, may haunt his dreams.”
“I appreciate that,” Jack mumbled reluctantly. He lowered himself back into the station at Merlin’s right and then turned to the ashen figure. “Not that I care, but what happens to you when your timer goes off?”
Merlin smiled. “I shall die, General O’Neill – for the last time. But, if you act as Daniel believes you will, if his faith in you is not misplaced, I shall do so happily knowing that the Ori are no more.”
Jack held the ancient man’s stare, hating to hear those words about death from Daniel’s lips. “No matter what happens, I’m getting Danny back, right?” He leaned forward menacingly. “Because if it turns out I don’t, there’s no 'Plane of Existence’ far enough for you to run.”
“I believe you, General O’Neill. Now,” Merlin turned to face forward as the ship exited hyperspace. “Shall we begin?”