A Road Not Taken - Part Seventeen


"Dear Jack,

"Thank you for the beautiful watercolor of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. I'd imagine that the artist used the Greek historian Strabo's description for his inspiration. And if that is truly what the gardens looked like, if they truly did exist, then it doesn't surprise me in the least that they are considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

"I hope you liked your Christmas present as well, and that Sara and Charlie liked theirs. It was a relaxing way to spend what little free time I had this last semester, although I drew most of yours while I was in Egypt. Inspiration just seemed to come a lot easier there for whatever reason. Maybe it's because I was back in the land I had thought of as home. Not that I think of it that way anymore; that trip revealed that thought for the dream it was. I'll always have a soft spot for Egypt, but the United States is home. But I've already told you about this so I'll just get on with it.

"You've gotten your wish, Jack. I was originally intending to seriously focus on my anthropology masters so I could have it finished by the summer and the dig in Wales I'm set to join this June, but something happened right before Christmas that made me change my mind. Do you remember me telling you about the two episodes of sleepwalking I had growing up? Well, apparently I had another one the night I graduated. When I woke up in the morning I found one of my books on my desk next to a pad of paper and an unsharpened pencil. Looking closely I could see that there were imprints of written letters on the top page, like someone wrote on it with something that didn't leave a mark.

"I've been told that episodes like that only happen during times of extreme stress. When I saw the evidence I realized that I'd been pushing myself too hard and really needed to slow down. So I've switched some of my graduate classes around and added some other classes I've been interested in taking for awhile so that I'll end up with my masters in December instead of May. Trust me when I say that just knowing I'm not going to be pushing myself quite as hard has already taken a huge load off my shoulders.

"You know, now that I think about it, my little middle-of-the-night excursion, on top of Sam staying with me so she wouldn't have to spend money on a hotel room, explains this really vivid dream I had that night. It was amazing how real it seemed to be. I'm just glad Sam managed to sleep through it all. I would have hated to wake her up and make her worried for me.

"Now, Jack, you've had more experience with women than I have so maybe you can help me figure a few things out. Mel is a very intelligent woman. She has an amazing intuitive understanding of her field, and I thought she had a drive to learn that matched it. But ever since she got her masters degree she's been like a completely different person. She's going out nearly every night and staying out to all hours of the morning. She usually tries to drag me along, but this is not the kind of social life I'm interested in. And then Mel tends to call me at two, three in the morning to come get her - she usually leaves her car here and goes with her friends - because she's way too intoxicated to get herself home and her friends are in the same condition. One time she scared me when she called from the hospital for the same reason. Turns out one of her friends had drunk himself into a case of alcohol poisoning.

"I really don't like what she's doing and the way it seems to be making her go through major mood swings, but since we're still on winter break it hasn't affected her hunt for a doctorate. The times I've been able to talk with her about my concerns have ended up in arguments that she apologizes for when she swings the other way. I know she's better than this, and the fear that flashes in her eyes when I talk about her upcoming doctorate suggests there's a deeper meaning behind it all, but I don't know what to do in the here and now. It's almost like she's hiding behind the shallow persona she had built up before she met me, and I haven't been able to figure out why yet. I think I'm too close to the situation to see it clearly, and she's hurt me with some of her comments. I've lashed out a couple of times in response, so I'm not completely free of blame here, but it's all a huge mess I wish I could straighten out.

"I think I've said enough on that subject; it actually helped to write it all out. If you have any advice, I'd be glad to hear it. And don't worry about me too much. Now that I've vented some of my frustrations I should be able to think more clearly about this. Mel and I will work it out. You just take care of yourself, and say hello to Sara and Charlie for me.

"Your friend,


* * * * * * * *

"Dear Daniel,

"You're more than welcome for the picture. I thought of you when I saw it, so it had to be yours. The pictures you drew for us have been matted and framed, and are now hanging in my office. Well, Charlie's is in his room, but I think you kind of figured that.

"I wish I hadn't gotten what I wanted in the way I got it. I really wish you never would have driven yourself to the point where you needed to back off in the first place. But I get the feeling this won't be the last time we'll be having this little exchange. Oh, who am I kidding? I know this won't be the last time.

"As a side note, just what kind of dream did you have, anyway? And Sam was staying at your apartment? Wasn't Jacob in Chicago, too? Just what did Mel have to say about all that?

"Daniel, you dog.

"Thinking of Mel, I'm flattered you think I'd have a clue about what goes on in the minds of women, however much it's not true. Yeah, I've had a few more girlfriends than you, but that's not exactly proof of a greater understanding. In fact, I think it's more proof of the opposite. But I'll do my best to help.

"I think you're on to something with that fear thing. Maybe she's scared of getting her doctorate for whatever reason. Maybe she doesn't even realize it. And maybe she's rebelling against the picture you represent to her. I mean, think about it. You've already got one doctorate, and you're working hard at getting two more. You don't go out and socialize like she's used to from what you've told me. Let's face it, Daniel - you're a goody-two-shoes. Maybe it's rubbing her the wrong way a bit that her boyfriend is so driven and isn't suffering from the fears about the future that she is.

"Mind you, this is all a wild, stabbing guess here. I only know what you've told me about Mel and the situation. I could be completely off base here. God knows I've been off base enough at home.

"Just so you know you're not the only one with woman troubles, I'll let you know that I had a few arguments with Sara during my last leave. She hates that I can't tell her anything about my missions, and that I can't always make it home when I say I will. I didn't get home until the day after Christmas because of an unexpected snag in my team's extraction plans, and Sara didn't take it well. At least Charlie was happy to see me.

"This is exactly why I asked Sara if she'd be okay with me joining Special Ops. I explained to her way back then that I wouldn't be able to tell her everything and that sometimes surprises would happen that I couldn't see coming. She knew. And she said she'd live with it, because she could sense it was something I really wanted to do. To be fair, Sara's usually very understanding. I think it was mainly missing Christmas that got her on edge. That, and she could tell something was bothering me and I refused to go into details. Some bad things went down on my last mission, Daniel. Things that point toward something nasty - and I don't know which side I should be looking at for the source. That's as much as I'm comfortable saying; I know you'll understand. I only wish Sara would, too.

"Well, that's enough depressing stuff. I hope your plans for spring break with Sam are going well. Have you decided where you're going? Please tell me it's somewhere fun. You may have decided to slow down a bit on your school stuff, but I know you. Take that week and relax. Just be sure to let me know where you're going. I want to give your trip the Jack O'Neill stamp of approval. And that means it needs to be fun!

"As you can see from the postmark I'm out and about again and sending this from one of my pre-mission stopovers, so I may not be able to write again for a while. But in the meantime, good luck with Mel, say hi to Sam for me, and above all stay safe.

"Your friend,


* * * * * * * *

"Dear Daniel,

"I am so sorry to hear about your troubles with Mel. I really do like her. It's a shame she seems to be throwing away her talent, but I think I agree with Jack on this one - she's afraid of something. We both know what it takes to make your way through graduate school; it's a daunting task. Although it might be the unknown of what's going to happen after she gets her doctorate that has her worried. Does she have any plans? Does she know what she wants to do with her doctorate? You might want to find out.

"I know it's been a while since I wrote last. We were all caught up in getting things prepared for another semester of ROTC, and I'm afraid I let other things fall by the wayside for a while. But now that school's back in session, oddly enough, I have more time to myself, and I knew one of the first things I had to do was reconnect with you. You said you were going to switch some classes around so you could slow down your masters quest - did that turn out all right? I know there have been some individual classes you wanted to take, and I can only hope some of them were available. But the big question is, did you manage to get your Fridays off again? It still astounds me you've been able to do it for so many semesters. Lucky dog.

"I have some great news. I've secured my leave for spring break, so our travel plans are a go! I am so going to enjoy this! Are you still sure that you don't want to go through a travel agency? I know you know the area and all, but an agent might be able to get us better rates. Just something to think about.

"Are you serious about Jack wanting to okay our trip? Does he really think I'd let you hide away in museums and libraries all week? I know how to have fun, and even better is that I know how to make you have fun, too. Not that I won't enjoy visiting those museums and libraries - we just won't spend all our time there.

"I suppose I should keep this short. I have a couple of reports to write for tomorrow. One way or the other I'll be in contact with you soon. Good luck with Mel and say hi back to Jack for me!

"Friends forever,


* * * * * * * *

Daniel sat at his desk just before lunch the first Friday in March, the notebook page in front of him blank and his expression sour. His eyes were locked on the scene outside his window where the skies were grey and a steady rain kept things miserable. How appropriate, he thought, his scowl deepening. He sighed and let his chin rest in his hand as his elbow nudged the notebook away from him.

Soon enough a knock at his door interrupted his dark mental meanderings. "Just a minute," he called. He closed the few tomes he had been attempting to use to do his research and headed over to greet his visitor.

There was a surprise waiting for him in the hallway. "Hi, Daniel," Mel said quietly, gazing up at him with a tentative expression, her long brown hair plastered to her head and over her equally drenched trenchcoat. "Can I come in?"

"I thought you didn't want to talk to me anymore," Daniel said sharply even as he stepped out of the way, allowing her entrance.

"I didn't," Mel returned just as sharply as she stepped inside and let Daniel shut the door behind her. "At least not last night. But after I got back to my apartment..." She sighed and every ounce of belligerence drained out of her body. "Let's just say I did a lot of thinking last night. I never thought I'd argue with you the way we did yesterday."

"I've never argued with anyone like we did yesterday," Daniel said, his eyes still a bit hard. Then they softened. "I said a lot of things I didn't mean."

Mel smiled slightly. "Me too. But I also said a lot of things I did, and I know you did too. We really need to talk."

Daniel looked at her closely for a long, silent moment then gestured her toward the couch. "You didn't go out last night, did you?" he asked, sitting down on his recliner as Mel shrugged out of her jacket and hung it on the coat rack next to the door before taking him up on his invitation.

She shook her head. "No, and that's one of the things I really looked at." Green eyes met blue. "Do you really have that much of a problem with going out? You do realize there's more to life than your books, don't you?"

Her tone was one of honest curiosity, totally taking any possible insult out of the query. "I know that, I really do. And I don't exactly have a problem with going out, at least not every now and again. I just don't think you should be doing it every single night, not when you have a doctoral thesis to be working on. You can't just sacrifice tomorrow for a good time today." Daniel's gaze dropped to his lap. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to preach. I just know how smart you are, how much potential you have. I don't want to see you throw it away."

"You really believe that, don't you?"

Daniel's eyes shot back up in surprise. "Of course I do. I wouldn't have said it otherwise."

Mel sighed. "God, I'm not used to that. You know better than anyone else I've ever met that the foster care system isn't known for being a nurturing atmosphere. I was always told what a failure I'd be, how people would be surprised if I didn't turn up dead in a dumpster someplace thanks to a drug overdose. I was always angry growing up, and people only saw the anger..."

"Not the scared and hurt little girl underneath it all," Daniel murmured. "I understand."

"I knew you would. But you at least have eight years of memories of parents who loved you, wanted you. My mother left me outside the doors of the emergency room of the hospital near the building where she gave birth. And we're talking the stereotypical note pinned to the ragged blanket she'd wrapped me in that had my name and the name of my father."

"You don't have to tell me this," Daniel said sympathetically, blinking a little rapidly at the deluge of information. She'd said she was an orphan that grew up in foster care, but she'd never told him the full story.

"Yes, I do," she whispered. "If I'm going to be able to heal, to move forward, I need to face it. I never have before, and you're the only one I trust enough to share this with." She squeezed her eyes shut, struggling to hold back tears. "You're the only one I trust, period."

Daniel's eyes widened at the statement. "Mel, before you go any further, I need to tell you something about my feelings for you. I think they've changed. I know they have. As upset as I was last night, it wasn't what I would have expected over someone I was in love with. I still feel the strong friendship we built over in Egypt, but I'm not in love with you." He took a deep breath and released it as he took in the bowed head across from him that had dropped as he spoke. "I'm sorry, Mel, so sorry. But I thought you should know before you shared anything else so personal. I want to be your friend, very much so. But I just can't..."

A snort from the woman on the couch cut him off. "You want to know something, Daniel?" she asked as she raised her head. Daniel was surprised to see a small smile teasing her lips. "I was going to tell you the same thing, but then you threw me with that statement of confidence in me. I'm not ready to commit to a serious, long-term relationship. Hell, I need to get into one with myself first. And you're so serious about everything, too serious a lot of the time, that I can't see you in anything but a serious relationship. You deserve one. Just... not with your books." Mel smirked and shrugged.

Daniel searched her eyes for a long, silent moment then nodded. "So we can be friends?"

"I know how important friends are to you, Daniel, and I'm honored you still think of me as one after everything I've put you through these last few months." Mel gave a short laugh. "I've never even thought about being friends with an ex before. But then again, none of them were like you."

"Have you thought about counseling?" Daniel asked.

Mel nodded. "I set up an appointment for tomorrow morning at eleven through Student Health Services. I really scared myself last night."

Daniel gave her a look that was half teasing, half worried. "Are you sure you'll be able to get up on time?"

That made the brunette laugh outright. "I have no plans to go out tonight, if that's what you're worried about. That's part of what scared me."

"You don't think you're an alcoholic, do you?"

"You really don't want to believe that, do you?" Mel asked softly, a touch of wonder in her tone. She shook her head. "No, I don't think I'm quite there yet. But I know I could end up one if I keep going down the road I'm on. And I refuse to give any of those bastards who called themselves foster parents the satisfaction."

Daniel smiled. "And that's why you're going to keep working hard for your doctorate, right?"

She grinned. "Of course."

"You also need to do it for you," he reminded her gently. "This needs to be because you want it, not just because you want to show off to people who really aren't going to care one way or the other."

"I want this," she whispered. "I want this very much. I know I've got a lot of work ahead of me - unlike you, I'm going to have to spend a few years on this - and I know I can do it. Just as long as..." She cut herself off and gave Daniel a rare vulnerable look.

"Just as long as what?" he asked.

She swallowed nervously. "As long as you'll stick by me," she replied shyly. "I need a friend like you."

He hesitated for a moment, then reached over and grabbed one of the hands that were fidgeting with the hem of her blouse. "You have one, for as long as you need me," Daniel promised.

Mel gave him a watery-eyed smile then struggled to pull herself back together. "Then I'm good," she declared, her voice getting stronger with every word. "Which also means I get to help you overcome some of your faults."

"What?" Daniel practically yelped, thoroughly surprised, as he let go of her hand and sat back in his chair. "What do you mean?"

"You get lost in your books, Daniel. And I mean big time, all the time. There were times where I felt like I had to act up just to get your attention, even if it was you yelling at me to leave you alone." She shot him a pointed look.

"I didn't yell," he protested.

She shrugged off the distinction. "You use those books to hide away from the world, Daniel, and that's just not right. There are probably lots of people out there who would love to be your friend if you would just go out and make an effort. I'm not talking about socializing every night or anything like that," she said quickly, cutting off the next protest she could see forming on his lips. "I mean once or twice a week go sit at the Student Union and do your reading, or join a once-a-week study group. You could be a lot of help to some of those undergraduate students. Your world has revolved around your two anchors, Jack and Sam, for so long because they were the only ones you could count on to be there no matter what. It's great that you have that foundation, but now you have to build on it. Stop hiding behind your brain and take some chances." Her expression softened when she saw him swallow and his gaze drop to his lap. "I'm not telling you to find new best friends, Daniel. No one will be able to take Jack or Sam's place in your heart. Just... find some friendly acquaintances at the very least, okay?" She smiled. "I think you'll find life around here a bit more bearable if you do."

Daniel brought his eyes back up. "It is bearable, but I see your point."

"Daniel, you are so very alone. And I don't even think I was lucky enough to get close enough to change that. I don't doubt our friendship - anyone else would have kicked my ass by now either for the way I've acted or what I've said - but I'm not next to your heart. Like I said, there are only two people there. But there's more room at my level in your life. Invite some more people in so I can have a party - I'm bored!" She grinned to show she was teasing.

"You're always bored," Daniel replied through a laugh. "I'll try," he promised, turning serious once again. "I can't promise more than that."

"Wasn't expecting it." She gave him another grin then glanced at her watch. "Crap. I have a meeting with Professor Neitzel about one of my projects I've been slacking off on. I need to go." She pushed herself up off the couch, Daniel rising from the recliner as she did so.

Daniel crammed his hands in his pants pockets as the two of them stared at each other a little awkwardly. "You can stop by again after your meeting if you want," he offered finally. "If you wanted to talk some more, I mean."

She smiled shyly. "If you're still willing to listen, I think I'd like that. Thank you."

"Your appointment is at eleven tomorrow, right?" Mel nodded. "Do you want me to come along for moral support?"

"You... you'd do that?" The brunette's jaw dropped. "After everything..."

"After everything," Daniel said with a firm nod. "You're my friend, Mel, and friends mean the world to me. Remember that, okay?"

She bit her lower lip for a second. "I will," she whispered, then smiled shyly again and headed for the door. Daniel walked with her to see her out. "One last thing," she said as she stood in the open doorway, her jacket back on. "To remember what we had." She took Daniel's face in her hands and pulled him into a deep, passionate kiss. A shocked moment later he responded, giving as good as he got, taking his hands out of his pockets to wrap his arms around her waist and pull her close.

A desperate need for oxygen finally made them pull back. "That should tide me over for a while," Mel said breathlessly, grinning. "I'll be back later."

Daniel merely nodded, still trying to catch his breath and control his body's reactions. He watched his friend walk down the hall and disappear into the elevator with a wink and a wave. He couldn't help but smile. He somehow knew everything would be okay.

* * * * * * * *

"Dear Daniel,

"You know, it totally sucks that things didn't work out for you and Mel. She sounded like someone who really cared about you and was able to drag you away from your books when you needed it. I am glad you guys are still friends, though, and that she's getting the help she needs to keep her life on track. It's good to know you're just as good a friend to her as you've always been for me.

"She really gave you one last kiss, did she? Are we talking a peck on the cheek or something that steamed up the hallway? Oh, who am I kidding? As stunned as you sounded it must have been R rated. So how long did it take for you to get your breath back? To be able to take the pillow out of your lap without fear of embarrassment? Come on, you can tell me. I won't laugh... too much.

"Okay, okay, I'll stop the teasing. I bet you're as red as a tomato by now anyway. Wish I could see it. Maybe Mel's around and she could get me a picture?

"Right, I said I'd stop the teasing.

"I'm in northern Africa at the moment, between assignments. I have no idea where we're going next - my commander hasn't confirmed anything yet. He said something about double-checking a translation of some information we got from a contact in the Middle East. I wonder what he knows that we don't. I guess we could use your skills over here if our people are having enough trouble that Colonel Pohoski feels the need to get a second opinion. Not that I really want you over here exactly. I'd enjoy your company, but it's dangerous.

"Then again, he might have received more information he needs confirmation of, or something else entirely. I just remember him complaining a few months ago about the quality of translations we were getting. I also remember wondering how the heck he'd know if it was a little off. I almost wish I could send you a sample. Maybe that would put the colonel's mind at ease about the whole thing. He stresses too much.

"I don't mind leading the team in the field, but when I see the kind of responsibility the colonel has it makes me nervous about taking that next step up the promotion ladder. The further up the chain of command I go, the closer I get to being The Man. While I'm sure there are lots of perks to being The Man, it looks like there are a lot more negatives. Can you imagine having to deal with the stupid little things? Like - oh, I don't know - having to figure out what to do if the base had the wrong kind of potatoes delivered to the commissary. God, can't you just imagine?

"Sara was very disappointed that I wasn't able to come home between assignments. She's been talking about starting to try for a brother or sister for Charlie. I don't really have an objection to that - hey, just the trying is fun - but I'm not sure we're going to have a whole lot of time anytime soon. There's a few things around here that need to be taken care of, and we'll more than likely be shipped off to put out the next fire as soon as we're done. It's just what we do. But I really miss them, Daniel. I miss the way Sara's skin feels so soft when I cup her cheek, or the way the sunlight makes Charlie's blond hair glow like a halo around his head, making him look like the angel he is. Kissing Sara, holding Charlie. Eating Sara's cooking, listening to Charlie's laugh. I miss it all. Those are all the things I fight for over here, you know. All of that, and the right for you to bury yourself in your books and not write to me for a month and a half.

"What was up with that, by the way? I don't exactly expect daily updates, but a month and a half? Were things that bad with Mel before the end? It better not be because of schoolwork. You told me you were slowing down that stuff. You're going to end up with an ulcer, you know that, don't you? And that is just too typically geek-like, a total cliche. You know how I feel about cliches.

"But you wrote me, so I'll forgive you. It's nice to hear about normal stuff back home, about things I don't have to make decisions about or arrangements for. I do that enough here. And I don't have to worry about questions I can't answer. There's always at least one in every letter from Sara. She's usually okay when I tell her I can't explain, but she still asks. I'm just waiting for Charlie to join in. At least his questions will be more understandable - he's just a kid, and I'm sure he's going to be as curious as hell.

"So I see you and Sam have finalized your vacation plans. I looked them over, checked them out, and I must say you guys have really done your homework. It's a tight itinerary, filled with out-of-the-way spots and nice little bed and breakfasts. A little too heavy on the educational side for me, but I do see that you've added some stopovers at some of the more well-known hot spots. Sam's doing I take it?

"All in all, I'd have to say they look pretty good. I'm willing to give them the Jack O'Neill stamp of approval. Hell, I wish I could join you, even with all the educational stuff. Beats sitting around here. Besides, I'd really like to see you again. I'm hoping to be able to catch your graduation in December when you pick up your anthropology masters. It's been a while since I was able to be there for something like that, and it's about time I did. I figure I can make a stop there for a couple days, then spend the rest of my holiday with Sara and Charlie. I think I'll just consider it my Christmas present to myself and leave it at that. What do you think?

"I know what I'm thinking - I can see where someone might get the idea I talk too much. I mean, this was a really long letter, especially for me. I better cut myself off now before yet another tree sacrifices its life for the cause. Write sooner this time, and stay safe.

"Your friend,


* * * * * * * *

"Do you have an extra pair of swimming trunks?"


"An extra bottle of suntan lotion?"


"How about sunburn creme?"

Daniel sighed. "Yes."

"A light-weight suit?"

"Yes, Mommy. I managed to pack my bags all by myself and everything. Aren't you proud?" The sarcasm was scathing.

Mel grinned at him, ignoring the attitude. "My little boy is all grown up!" She reached out and pinched his cheek.

Daniel slapped her hand away. "And before you ask, I have three pairs of light-weight khaki slacks, two pairs of blue jeans, a variety of casual and dress shirts, a selection of four ties, two pairs of sandals, a pair of dress loafers, a pair of casual loafers, and a pair of tennis shoes. No, I didn't forget my socks, underwear, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush or toothpaste, an extra pair of glasses, or my prescription sunglasses. I will, however, be using my clip-on shades until we get there. My passport is in my beltpouch, along with my driver's license, cash - both dollars and drachmae, traveler's checks, my allergy medicine, Dramamine, and a pack of gum. In short, I'm ready. Can we go now?" He hiked his carry-on bag onto his shoulder and picked up his two suitcases - both lightly packed in anticipation of what he'd be bringing back - before striding past Mel and heading for the open front door.

Mel cleared her throat loudly, stopping the brown-haired man in the middle of his doorway. She waited until he'd turned around before waving what she held in her right hand at him. "Your tickets?" she asked innocently.

Daniel stared at her for a long moment, then stomped over, snagged the tickets in his teeth, and spun around, storming out toward the elevator. Mel followed, locking his door and laughing all the way to the car.

"How's the counseling going?" Daniel asked once they were on their way to the airport.

"It's going," Mel replied, shooting a glare at a jerk that pulled in front of her, cutting it awfully close to her front fender. "I really do want to talk it all out, but I'm having trust issues. Doctor Collier's been pretty understanding so far, thank God. And he says it's normal. He also says it's good that I've been talking to you." She gave him a quick smile. "Thanks for all that, by the way."

"Anytime, you know that."

A quiet moment went by while they turned onto another road. "What about you? Working on that whole socializing thing?" Mel asked finally, purposely not looking at her passenger.

Daniel sighed. "I talked to Doctor Jordan this week, since I needed to let him know where I was at with the projects I've been working on. I told him I was interested in joining the archaeology mentor program he set up a couple years ago. When I get back he'll match me up with two or three students." He couldn't help but smile. "I thought it best I start small and work my way up."

Mel laughed. "Whatever it takes, Daniel. Whatever it takes." She shook her head, the smile not fading. "And what about that new theory you were working on? Are you going to try to publish a paper?"

"Once I have some more research done, I'll be in a better position to make a decision. But I'm leaning it that direction."

"You know there'll be people out there who won't like what you have to say."

Daniel blinked at the sudden serious tone. "There are always people out there like that. But if what I have to say is the truth, it doesn't matter how many people don't like it. It'll need to be said."

Mel nodded. "That really doesn't scare you, does it?"

"No," Daniel said simply. "But this theory isn't as 'out there' as something else I've been considering. I need to get back to Egypt to do some hands-on checking, but there's just something about the differences between the inside of the Great Pyramid and writings from the time it was supposed to have been built that nags at me. There's something big there, but I don't know what it is. Doctor Jordan's helping me put together a grant proposal that will let me run a dig over there. Hopefully that'll help me put whatever there is into perspective and solidify things for me. And something's telling me that the answers to the questions in my head are going to turn the world on its ear." He crossed his arms over his chest as he turned an unfocused gaze forward.

"Be careful," Mel whispered. "Be very careful."

"What do you mean?" Daniel asked, blinking his way back to the real world.

"Exactly what I said. The world doesn't like to be turned on its ear. And it doesn't usually like the person that does it, either. Whenever you decide to come forward - assuming everything pans out the way you seem to think it will - be completely sure, and be ready for people to not want to hear you. It's not fair, but it's the way it is." Daniel merely nodded, and the rest of the ride to the airport was made in silence.

When they arrived, Mel stopped in the unloading zone and helped Daniel get his bags out of the back seat. "You are required to have a good time," she declared once he was ready to go inside. "And Sam is, too. Tell her I said so." She grinned.

Daniel nodded, returning the smile. "I will. And we will. Our itinerary has the Jack O'Neill stamp of approval, remember?" They laughed and Mel stepped forward to give him a tight squeeze. "You have a good time at your geology seminar," Daniel told her once they separated.

She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, okay." She winked impishly. "I'm just lucky Professor Neitzel is willing to let this make up for the work I missed in the beginning of the semester. Fun isn't important."

"But you'll have it anyway," Daniel refuted, smirking.

"And you'll have more. What's your point?" They laughed again. "Now get going. You need to check all this crap in. I'll be here to pick you up when you get back, and I expect to be shown everything you bought and all of your pictures of you guys being wild and crazy. That's part of the deal."

"I remember," Daniel said, shaking his head. "I'll see you next weekend." He accepted one last hug then disappeared into the airport.

Mel watched him go with a smile, gave a little wish that he'd have a good time and come home safe, then left to get ready for her own trip.

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