Under Alien Skies-Propagation
Author:Alec Star
Fandom: Stargate SG-1
Rating: 15+
Chapter 1: Keeping Watch
(Daniel's POV)

Chapter 1: Keeping Watch
(Daniel's POV)

I'm doing my best to keep my eyes, or rather my ears, on the perimeter as I've been taught to do, though I have to say that night vision is not my strong suit. That’s the reason why I'm focusing mostly on the sounds of the forest around me... on that and on keeping the fire going. In a way these moments at night allow me to almost pretend that I'm back in some dig, roughing it out in the middle of nowhere as I used to do before my life was turned upside-down... before I foolishly disclosed my theories about the pyramids... before the coverstone was dropped on my lap... before Sha're...

At times like this when we are sleeping alone on a deserted planet where the main threat comes from the wild life, on one of those planets Jack hates so much in which the only things left standing are the ruins, the reminders of what once was, I can almost pretend that none of the things that have happened to me in the last couple of years have been real... of course, that only lasts until I look around and I find myself surrounded by SG-1.

In these past few months, ever since my return from Abydos, we've become friends. I feel like I can trust these people and the truth is that that is a feeling I'm not particularly familiar with. I've had friends before, of course, but never like this. As a child I never really stayed in one place for long enough to form any solid friendships and even when I managed to build the foundation of one I knew it was only a matter of time before it would be taken from me. In college I was the wiz kid who blew the grading curve for everyone else... not exactly the best way to make friends... besides I was always so much younger than everyone else that going by my fellow students' reactions you would have thought I had the plague. As an adult the friendships that were forged during the course of one dig or another were always temporary, so different from the one I now share with the rest of SG-1, even if I am supposed to have more in common with other archeologists than I ever will with an Air Force colonel, an astrophysicist and an alien warrior.

For starters we are a team, there's no room for any sense of competition here and the fact is that that sense of competition is something that underlies every single dig. Yes, under those circumstances archeology requires a certain level of teamwork but everyone there is also dreaming of that big discovery, that big find that will allow a single individual to stand out from the crowd. We work together yet we all know we are bound to spend our lives competing against each other for every last research dollar --and when it comes to archeology there are nowhere near enough of those to go around-- so while friendships are forged in those digs, they are not friendships that are based on trust. Out here it's an entirely different story. Here we must rely on each other if we want to survive... and that's not just a metaphor.

The thing is that I'm not that used to trusting people... not on Earth anyway. Abydos was a different story. There I could have a fresh start. It was like I could leave my past and my scars behind... and now I'm learning to trust my team. Of course, it's a trust that's been earned the hard way. We are fighting a war here and that is something I was most definitely not prepared for. Up until the coverstone was dropped on my lap I was a scholar and, no matter what happens from now on, I know I'll never be a soldier... luckily in this particular group they seem to be willing to see me for what I am rather than for what I'm not.

I think somehow I got lucky, somehow I managed to fall in with a crowd of misfits that is probably the least military-minded team in the entire SGC. Of course, I know that voicing such thoughts in front of Jack or Sam or even Teal'c would be suicidal. The fact is that a truly military team wouldn't have welcomed Teal'c, a truly military team wouldn't have welcomed me and even Sam herself would probably have had a hard time fitting in... no matter how many PC proclamations are made by the higher ups in the chain of command. She may be the poster child for the Air Force, the daughter of a general who used to dream of becoming an astronaut but there are many who will never see her as anything but a woman... and besides I am well aware that in a way her military persona is just a glaze.

Whether she likes it or not she is a scientist first and foremost, not a soldier. Sure, she can put up with anything the stargate or the military throw at her, she can keep up with any of the guys who are convinced she doesn't belong because she's a woman, she does her best to pretend to be a good little soldier and she is all but obsessed with her career but I know that when the military clashes with her own convictions she will choose her own convictions each and every time... and the same goes for Jack. They have already proven it time and time again. Teal'c's presence here with us is the only evidence I need of that fact.

As I said, over these past few months I've learned to trust them. I care about them --though I know they would most definitely not want to hear it-- and the truth is that I actually enjoy watching my team sleep.

I know it sounds crazy but the fact is that these couple of hours when it's up to me to keep watch give me a chance to study them when they drop their masks and for a moment I can actually pretend that I'm helping to keep them safe and not the other way around, that for once they don't have to cover for me. They may be willing to accept me as I am but that doesn't mean they are not very aware of the fact that I'm not a soldier, that I'm a scholar rather than a warrior.

The only problem is that as I watch them I can't quite quiet a nagging little voice in the back of my mind that keeps telling me that there's something that is clearly out of place here, that there's something very wrong with this picture... something we should have noticed but we didn't. I know it doesn't make sense, I know the feeling may have more to do with boredom and lack of sleep as I keep watch over my teammates than with anything else but in spite of that I can't quite shake that feeling no matter how hard I try... and the fact remains that I've been trying to shake it for weeks.

The problem is that while we've been on almost forty missions to almost forty different planets, as I try to trace the root of the problem I can't. Whatever it is it goes deep, back to the very beginning. Whatever it is that's bothering me I am all but certain that it goes back to one of our very first missions... which would probably explain why it's managed to go undetected for so long. If it can be traced back to a time before we really got to know each other then it would have been possible for us to overlook a problem out of ignorance.

Having nothing better to do with my mind for the time being, I decide to try and tackle the situation from a logical perspective. The first thing I have to do is to determine whether or not there is a problem to begin with. I'm not sure where my certainty comes from, I can't really point to a single shred of evidence to substantiate my own suspicions but all my instincts are saying that yes, there is something going on here.

Unfortunately having sort of settled that first issue in my mind does very little to narrow down the problem, to identify its source. The next question is where is the problem... or more accurately with whom. I guess the best way for me to try and go about figuring that one out is to try and pinpoint the feeling in some way... the problem is that there are way too many ghosts around us and that's not going to be easy.

I know Jack still has nightmares about Charlie. Teal'c probably has more than enough issues with the fact that he had no choice but to abandon Chulak, his family and everything he knew (not that he'll ever admit it). With Sam I'm not exactly sure what the problem is but I do know she too has enough ghosts of her own, though she doesn't ever mention them... of course, some of the things we've seen since we started this gig are enough to give anyone nightmares. The thing is that camping together on a regular basis does serve to give us a lot of insight in that regard. As for me I have plenty of ghosts of my own, with Sha're being the most recent one though she is certainly not the only one.

In other words, the source of the problem is anything but clear, in fact from what I've seen it could be anyone but as I consider our respective ghosts the thing that becomes apparent is that whatever it is that's bothering me, I have a tendency to think about it mostly when it's my turn to keep watch... and especially when it's my turn to keep watch on a planet devoid of any real threats, a planet in which keeping watch is done more to satisfy military paranoia than to fend off any real threats. That means that the problem, whatever it is, is more apparent at night. Either that or I think mostly about it when I'm bored out of my mind, like I am now.

Shaking my head I look around at my teammates, determined to figure it out once and for all, after all, we have more than enough time. Even though we've had a few very stressful missions, the truth is that most of them haven't really been all that exciting. In fact about two out of every three missions usually go down without a hitch and going by what we know about this particular planet this will probably be one of those... which means that with any luck this will be a good opportunity for me to try and crack this little mystery and hopefully do something about it before it comes back to bite us in the butt.

In other words I know that there's a problem here, I know that it has a tendency to become more apparent at night, even if I'm not sure whether that difference in relevance is real or imagined, and I know there are enough issues among us to keep a dozen shrinks happy for years. That doesn't sound very encouraging in terms of coming up with a reasonable explanation but at least it is something.

Seeing how I know that whatever is bothering me is more connected with the team or maybe one team member than with me I rule out anything having to do with Sha're, in fact I think I can safely rule myself out altogether as the source of the problem. What is bothering me is something external. That narrows it down a little. I am also tempted to rule out Teal'c. I'm not sure why that is but somehow I know it doesn't have to do with him... maybe because whatever the problem is it becomes more apparent when I see them sleep and Teal'c doesn't sleep, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. For the most part he puts himself in a deep meditative trance instead... though he does pretend to sleep sometimes, just to settle Jack's nerves. Having effectively ruled out half the team, that leaves Sam and Jack as the two most likely sources.

Almost without conscious thought my eyes drift to their sleeping forms once more but the scene in front of me is a familiar one... though that sense of familiarity doesn't cause the weird feeling that something is wrong to go away. In fact I know that --whatever it happens to be-- it's right in front of me, staring me in the face but I just can't see it and that is only adding to my frustration.

I know the problem dates back to the early days of our team so I try to go for a different approach. Rather than focusing on what I'm seeing right now I decide to focus instead on trying to remember my earliest possible memory of the team sleeping in a mission on some planet where we weren't under attack, and then trying to compare the current scene with that oldest possible reference. Almost immediately I rule out our first two missions, seeing how neither Abydos nor Chulak qualify as uneventful and instead I settle on our trip to another abandoned planet, one we visited shortly after Teal'c first joined our team and a few days after Kawalski’s death. It wasn't much of a mission, in fact Jack was anything but a happy camper when we were ordered to go chasing some 'rocks' as he so eloquently puts it. I remember the whole thing took a lot longer than he would have liked it to simply because we had to hike to those ruins and back, as is the case with our current mission. That meant we had to stay there for a couple of days even though our orders were pretty simple and our task was quite straightforward.

In a way that one was an odd mission for me. I remember that even though I found the ruins to be fascinating at the time, I absolutely hated being there in the first place. On a rational level I knew it was necessary, I knew not all of our missions were going to be about confronting the Goa'uld or going after Apophis, but the only thing in my mind was finding Sha're, freeing her. That was my main objective and in a way it still is. I haven't forgotten her, far from it, but I know now that rescuing her, if we can ever pull it off, will not be easy and it may take some time but as long as I know she's out there I have hope. Of course, the fact that I have hope doesn't mean I'm blind to the reality of what we are facing. I know the odds are stacked heavily against us and that means that every bit of knowledge we can possibly find along the way may hold the key that will allow us to defy those odds somehow... and that is something we most definitely need.

The thing is that that was the first night our team spent sleeping peacefully under alien skies. I remember it mostly because even though I had spent a whole year in Abydos and Jack had spent a few nights there during our first mission, it was the first time Sam had a chance to observe the night sky without worrying about an imminent attack and she was so excited. For the scientist in her I think that was the moment in which the realization that she was actually on a different planet hit home and she spent hours memorizing every little detail of that firmament before she finally drifted into a peaceful sleep.

Come to think of it that may be one of the things that have been bothering me, the fact that lately her sleep has been far from peaceful. Sure, she doesn't have nightmares every single night that we are out here and she is also not in the habit of waking up screaming so in fact I can't really say whether or not there's actually been a change there. The thing is that for some reason seeing her distressed --especially when I don't know the cause of it-- does bother me. Of course, with the military mindset of both Sam and Jack, nightmares are never to be mentioned so my hands are basically tied in that regard... besides, as I said, I have enough demons of my own... we all do.

I can still see Sha're's glowing eyes in my dreams almost every night and I've heard Jack calling out for Charlie more than once. What's different about Sam is the pattern of her nightmares. To be accurate, what concerns me is the fact that during our first couple of missions she didn't have any and that is enough to pique my curiosity.

I can tell something's bothering her, something she doesn't want us to know. We all have skeletons in our closets but unfortunately the 'don't ask, don't tell' military mindset extends beyond people's sexual orientation and it seems to encompass everything that could possibly be perceived as a weakness... or as a sign of humanity for that matter.

I quietly let out a relieved sigh at the thought that I may be finally approaching something remotely resembling an answer to my little mystery. It may not be much but at least now I'm reasonably sure I've managed to identify the person who is to be found at one end of this tangled web and that means that maybe I can now begin to untangle it. Yes, there is a difference in Sam from the first few missions to the way things are now, even if the difference is not that apparent, even if it's only noticeable when she sleeps, when she lets her guard down and I'm determined to figure out what's going on.

Luckily at least tonight she seems to be sleeping peacefully... and oddly enough that's what tells me that the nightmares are not the thing that's wrong with this picture, though I'm not willing to assume they are completely unrelated. The thing is that if her nightmares were the problem then I wouldn't have this nagging feeling when she isn't having one and that means I'm back to square one... well, maybe I've made it all the way up to square two. The point is that I'm back to trying to overlap my memories of that first peaceful mission with the one I'm seeing now, trying to find out what has changed, what doesn't belong. The most obvious difference is that Sam no longer spends hours looking at the firmament, though she still enjoys doing it for a little while... of course, whether that is due to a significant change or if it's merely due to the fact that the novelty has worn off, at least somewhat, is anyone's guess. Common sense would indicate that she's simply gotten used to it but at the same time my instincts are telling me that there’s more to it than that.

I'm still watching her, I'm still remembering when suddenly it hits me, the difference. It's so silly, so insignificant, but somehow I know better than to dismiss it. On that first night Sam fell asleep stretched out under an alien sky, trying to memorize every detail of that alien firmament. Right now she's curled onto her side, in a not-quite-so-small, not-quite-fetal ball... or into a ball as small as a 5'9'' astrophysicist can manage. That's what's been bothering me, that’s the small change that I couldn't quite place, the little difference that refused to be ignored... the one I know is nowhere near as little as it seems because adults don't usually change their sleep positions without a damn good reason to do so. It is one tiny piece of evidence, one that can be easily dismissed but also one that confirms to me that something has really changed since our early missions... now I just have to figure out what it is.

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