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A Birthday Fic for Aurora Novarum

Here is a fic I wrote for [info - personal] aurora_novarum's birthday. Naturally it is gen! Happy birthday.

[*Glances about furtively. Mutters something about "If it was started on October 1st it totally counts as an October 1st gifty, even if it was posted around 2:00 a.m. on the 2nd...Right?...Right?!!!*]

Title: A Birthday to Remember
Author: Thothmes
Season: Seven, shortly after Homecoming
Spoilers: Nothing too notable. You know Daniel just won't stay dead, don't you?
Summary: Daniel struggles to find his place back on Earth. This day of all days more literally than others.

A Word to the Wise, and a Cudgel to the Obtuse: If you claim to have Jack O'Neill's appreciation of sci-fi and have never seen or did not follow Quantum Leap, it may help you to know ahead of time that it is a science fiction series where the main character is a time traveller whose memory is frequently described as Swiss-cheesed.



 

A Birthday to Remember

by Thothmes

 

Dr. Daniel Jackson abstractedly said “Good night” to the airman at the final guard post at the entrance to Cheyenne Mountain and blinked as he stepped out into the strong light of a late July afternoon. He was unprepared for this. The last time he’d entered the mountain from this same guard post, it had been late February, cold and icy, and although he’d known intellectually that more than a year had passed while he was ascended, he hadn’t really experienced it – at least not in a way he could now recall – and he’d unconsciously expected to brace himself against biting wind and drifting snow, and instead he found himself met by a wall of heat that made him burst into an immediate full-body sweat and hurriedly remove the leather jacket he’d donned and roll up the sleeves of his flannel shirt. Then he glanced once more at the tag attached to the keys to the motor pool car that General Hammond had kindly allowed him to drive until he could buy himself another car of his own.

On the tag, neatly printed and laminated was the license number of the vehicle, and a short search turned up a non-descript grey Taurus sedan that matched the tag at the end of a row of vehicles with government plates. Daniel breathed a sigh of relief that he would not have to navigate his way to his new apartment in some behemoth Hummer, and checked his pants pocket to be sure that the piece of paper Jack had handed him in his characteristic angular scrawl listing Daniel’s new address was still there. It was, so he unlocked the driver’s side door, threw his jacket over to the passenger seat, and lowered himself into the driver’s seat, noting with approval that the Air Force had sprung for air conditioning. Jack had said that by the time he got there most of his belongings should be unpacked. He was hoping that a t-shirt and shorts would soon be available.

In his initial confused and disoriented state immediately after he had de-ascended it had seemed like a good idea to let his friend and commander pick out a new apartment for him and organize the return of his belongings from storage. Now he was not so sure. His memory, drifting back fitfully and piecemeal, had recently reminded him that he and Jack were very different people. Would he end up in some building more secure than the Denver mint, thanks to Jack’s over-developed protective streak? Perhaps some place conveniently placed for access to all of Colorado Springs’ sporting venues? He had noted that the address was in the city proper, not out in the ‘burbs closer to Cheyenne Mountain where both Sam and Jack preferred to live. That was a hopeful sign. And come to think of it – if Daniel was remembering correctly, and there was no surefire guarantee that this was so – Jack never locked his own door when he was in residence, so perhaps there would be no security guards with dogs and surveillance cameras. 

At that point Daniel’s mind inconveniently reminded him that he really hadn’t a clue where in Colorado Springs the address he had been given lay. He hoped the glove compartment held a map. Seeing a rest area approaching he pulled in and riffled around to find that he was in luck. Good luck, as it turned out. The new apartment was a scant two blocks from his last apartment. He should have known. He sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose, and re-seated his glasses. He was beginning to doubt the wisdom of releasing him out into the wider world without an escort, but like the Spartan boy holding the fox, he had no intention of saying a word. 

Lucky he could still recall how to drive, wasn’t it? Also lucky that his driver’s license still had eleven months to go before it expired, so that as long as a cop didn’t run it through and discover that he was a dead man, he should be street legal. He foresaw a day of DMV hell in his future. Maybe he could get Jack to come with him. Jack had a well-honed line in intimidating, although his diplomatic skills and patience with officiousness were appalling. Perhaps he could be sworn to silence and convinced to wear mirrored sunglasses and his class A’s.

Much to Daniel’s relief the way from the rest stop, now that he knew where he would be going, seemed to flow naturally, and he was pleased to pull up in front of an older brick building that he had admired as he had strolled past it often on the way to his favorite coffee shop. It was two blocks closer to the Wise Old Owl Book Nook too, a used book store that specialized in scholarly and antiquarian volumes, where Daniel had been a frequent customer. Daniel contemplated strolling down to The Well-Grounded Bean for a mocha before joining his friends and seeing his new digs, but the idea of walking even that short block-and-a-half in flannel and cords in heat that had to be over ninety degrees put a capper on that thought. He got out of the car – jacket in hand – closed the car door, and then immediately opened it again to retrieve the keys. For some reason, whether by design or defect, the Taurus wasn’t chirping at him to remind him to take the keys like his own car did. He hoped not to be driving it long enough to manage to lock the keys in it.

As he approached the front door of the building a group of cheerful but sweaty marines and airmen came out of it, interrupting some sort of good-natured inter-service ribbing to chorus a greeting to “Dr. Jackson” before they moved off to their individual vehicles, making plans to rendezvous at Bailey’s Bar after they went home to wash up and two of them returned a large grey Air Force truck to the base. The last of them held the door open for Daniel to enter, and pointed out which buzzer was his so that those who remained in the apartment could let him in. The lobby, with its polished hardwood floors, dark stained moldings, and old-fashioned Victorian pressed-tin ceilings showed promise, and Daniel began to think that he could easily feel at home here. Well, as at home as someone who had lived such a rootless life as he had could expect to be. It was an ironic fact that he had felt most settled and at home in a tent in the sands of Abydos, light years away from the planet of his birth. That was over now, and neither he nor anyone else would ever return there. Shaking off a momentary pang of grief for the loss of a wife that his return to the flesh had forced him to mourn all over again, he proceeded up the stairs. Jack had done well, given that the only tent city in Colorado Springs was the shabby and impromptu land of the homeless, and unsuitable for protecting a scholarly library and ancient artifacts.

Reaching the third floor, Daniel found that there was only one door, and that was labeled with his apartment number. A half-flight of stairs proceeded on to allow roof access, but Daniel’s apartment was topmost in the building. He grasped the intricately patterned brass doorknob and went in, to discover the bizarre sight of his team, fortified with his co-workers in archaeology and linguistics from the mountain, Dr. Frasier and Cassie, General Hammond and both his grandchildren, all wearing garish conical party hats, and supplied with matching noisemakers of the sort that unrolled an squawked when tooted, ensconced in a small forest of floating balloons.

“Surprise!” they said.

Daniel was surprised. Clearly he was also puzzled, because Sam was regarding him with fond amusement, and Jack had that “Gotcha now!” expression. Clearly there was something here that he was planning to belabor in older-wiser-brother fashion.

Sam was the first to move. She walked up to Daniel, gave him a brief hug and a peck on the cheek.

“You forgot, didn’t you?” she said.

“Daaniel,” drawled Jack, enjoying himself way too much. “What’s the date today?”

Teal’c raised an interrogative eyebrow and waited.

“July 8th. Why? Oh…It’s my birthday!”

“Yes. Yes it is,” said Jack, clearly preparing to be insufferable.

Janet Fraiser moved to derail this train and redirect Jack’s attention.

“We went to Farid’s and brought back lots of your favorite Middle Eastern dishes” she said, gesturing towards the doorway into the kitchen, where a vast spread of aluminum and waxed boxboard containers could be seen, along with stacks of paper plates, plastic utensils, and Styrofoam cups waiting to receive the sweet mint-tinged hot tea from a rented commercial urn on the stove.

Sam pitched in to help.

“And the General brought that wicked fudge-chunk chocolate ice cream from Scoops and Loops, and the Colonel brought cake!” she added.

The redirect worked.

“Gotta have cake for a birthday!” Jack beamed proudly, popping an even more garish hat on Daniel’s head and releasing the chin strap with a snap. The brief glimpse he got of it – Jack could move very fast when he chose to – showed that it was emblazoned with the words “Birthday Boy” in screaming pink neon.

“And with that,” said General Hammond, “Let’s celebrate!”

So they did.

Farid was an Egyptian, and he and his enormous extended family, sponsored one by one to work in the States as the business grew, made all the traditional foods with the flavors that transported Daniel back to his earliest and happiest memories with the efficiency of Thor’s transporter beam. He had forgotten how much he missed it until he saw it spread before him, but once he caught sight of it all and smelled the zatar and sumac covered flatbread, still warm and moist as Cassie carefully removed it from the oven and its protective aluminum foil, he could not stop the moan of pleasure it called forth.

“We even got you some of the slimy green stuff,” said Jack.

“I believe that it is called ‘meloukhyia’ O’Neill.”

“It’s not slimy if it’s prepared properly, Jack, and Farid’s wife is a master!”

“Well, it always tastes to me like slimy tobacco! Why waste yummy saffron rice on that!” Jack asserted.

Cassie and Nyan were looking dubious, so Daniel had to convince them to try some immediately before sentiment built, and an opportunity to share some of his favorite tastes was lost. The feasting began. There was Sumac chicken and slowly fried onions on flatbread, meloukhyia on saffron rice, platters of tomato and cucumber and yogurt cheese drizzled with wonderfully high-end olive oil and fresh mint, dark, sweet fresh figs on thin slices of goat cheese, braised goat ribs and lamb kebabs, tabouleh, Faizi’s secret recipe roast duckling shreds tossed in a fresh garden salad, and a tomato cucumber salad in a yogurt and toasted ground cumin sauce that Daniel’s mother used to make even back in New York. 

Just when Daniel thought that he had reached gastronomic nirvana, Sam hit her forehead with the heel of her hand in the classic “I forgot” gesture, and pulled another aluminum foil packet out of the oven. Inside were a special gift from the proprietors to one of their favorite patrons, an off-menu recipe, consisting of potatoes cut thin and fried crisp and brown in rosemary flavored olive oil so that they were crunchy and fragrant on the outside, with a soft, almost creamy and white potato-y center. It was a simple home cooking recipe that Assiya who had cooked for the crew on the dig site had made for Daniel as a treat from time to time when he was hungry and mealtime was a long way off. Such a simple thing, but such a gift, because it brought a flood of his most cherished memories with it, ones he had not realized he had misplaced.

Then after a period of quiet recovery on the part of most of the party goers, although Cassie and the Hammond girls spent their time indulging in a puzzling game with Jack which seemed to consist of trying to navigate their way around the apartment by means of following the pattern of the ceiling as reflected in the shiny surface of various metal pans and lids out of Daniel’s cupboards, there was dessert. General Hammond, with Tessa and Kayla’s proud assistance, retrieved the sinfully rich ice cream from the freezer, and Janet Fraiser hunted down the scoop. Jack took a bakery box out of the fridge that was so large that Daniel was surprised it had fit inside, and with a flourish he produced a clasp knife, and cut the string and proudly opened the lid.

There was a moment of sudden and aghast silence, as the assembled partygoers gazed at the carefully piped whorls and swirls of white icing sprinkled with non-pareils revealed within. Sam’s eyes were stricken. Teal’c raised both eyebrows. Janet Fraiser scowled in a way that boded ill for the Colonel’s next physical.

“Uncle Jaaack! It’s vanilla!” wailed Cassie.

Jack, who had been silently mouthing “What?!!!” was unfazed.

“I like vanilla! I thought that the whole chocolate fiend thing was for women.” he said.

“Daniel Jackson prefers chocolate,” Teal’c announced in a voice as dark and powerful as the cake within was supposed to be.

Jack merely turned back to the counter to pull one of the larger straight knives out of the knife block there, and handed it to Daniel.

The bakery didn’t have any candles,” he said. “Sorry. Make a wish and cut the first piece, Birthday Boy.”

Daniel had been just a little embarrassed by the protests being made on his behalf, since he was sure Jack’s intentions had been good, but Jack’s unrepentant reaction rubbed him the wrong way, and instead of speaking up on his behalf as he had intended, he had taken the knife and wordlessly cut into the large sheet, only to reveal that the white outside was a layer of whipped cream over a deep, dark, moist, and sinfully chocolate torte alternated with thin layers of espresso-flavored icing.

“Another fine line, Son,” said Hammond.

Jack just smirked, and Daniel felt sure that the hand had played out just the way Jack had wanted it to, right down to Daniel’s own almost sullen reaction.

“Funny, Jack!” he said.

“I thought so.”

After the last of the dessert had been served and consumed with copious coffee for the grownups and chocolate milk for the younger set (Cassie ostentatiously helped herself to coffee) the members of Daniel’s department began to wish him a final “Happy birthday!” and gather their personal effects and go. General Hammond and his granddaughters were not far behind, since he had promised them a fishing trip the next morning since there were currently no teams offworld and he felt comfortable leaving the base in Colonel Dixon’s hands for the weekend, and this would require an early start. Soon SG-1 and the Fraisers were the only ones remaining.

As soon as the last vestiges of the discussion of fishing sites moved far enough down the hall to be inaudible, Daniel’s friends made their way into the bedroom and returned with gaily wrapped packages. Teal’c’s looked professionally wrapped, and probably was, although it was also possible that Jack had wrapped it. It came as a shock to those who knew him, but Jack’s packages were always neat and professional looking. When confronted about it he’d confessed that as a teenager he’d taken a job wrapping gifts during the Christmas season to earn some money. But no, Jack’s present, although carefully done, was in Santa-themed paper, while Teal’c’s was in tasteful gold foil. Janet and Cassie presented a gift in cheerful happy birthday paper, with yarn for ribbon. Sam ruefully extended her gift nestled in tissue paper inside a glossy flowered gift bag about the size of a paper grocery bag. Whatever it was, it was rather heavy from the way she carried it.

“I forgot I hadn’t wrapped it, so I stopped on the way here, and this was the best they had,” she offered with an apologetic smile, and a brief embarrassed hunching of her shoulders.

“It’s lovely, Sam,” he offered kindly.

“Open it!” Cassie demanded, so Daniel put the bag on the floor between his knees, and sitting forward, he reached down into it; he removed a box holding a coffee machine.

“I noticed that yours was getting old, and the cord was frayed,” she said. “This one does espressos and lattes, but it has this attachment here” – she gestured to the picture on the box – “that you can use to make regular coffee, and it has a timer so you can program it to have it all made when you get up…” She continued to point out features with growing enthusiasm until she noticed the dense and deepening silence from the rest of the room and trailed off.

Daniel was delighted and said so.

“Ours next!” said Cassie, seizing the bright package from her mother’s lap and shoving it onto Daniel’s.

He insisted on untying the knots in the yarn carefully (there were several) just for the joy of watching both Cassie and Jack’s mounting impatience, but was unable to goad Jack into bursting forth with the “For crying out loud!” that he was sure must be burning the tip of his tongue.

Inside was a beautifully photographed, extensively illustrated book on the pyramids by Zahi Hawass. 

“It came out while you were away,” Janet said softly. “We thought you might get a few good laughs out of it.”

“I’ve met him, you know,” offered Daniel. “I’m sure I will.”

Teal’c’s present was next. It was astonishingly heavy, a fact that Daniel was totally unprepared for, given the apparent ease with which Teal’c had been hefting it about. When the contents were revealed it was all made clear. Inside were a graduated set of barbells.

“So you can continue your routine on days in which you do not report to the mountain,” he said. “I initially desired to get you the Star Wars DVD’s with added content, but O’Neill persuaded me that you would enjoy it more if I brought my set over, and provided companionship as you watched.”

As usual, the Jaffa’s gift was thoughtful and carefully selected, with an eye to quality, and as usual it was offered with that unique slightly-off-kilter Jaffa point of view. Daniel’s answering smile was genuine and heart-felt.

That left just Jack’s offering. Daniel approached it with some caution. Jack’s presents tended to be rather hit or miss. Sometimes they were things that he had clearly put much thought into or gone to great trouble to find or commission, but he was equally capable of wrapping up a six pack of some microbrew or handing over one of his valuable and valued childhood baseball cards if he found himself facing an occasion he had forgotten to plan for. But this particular package didn’t clank, and if it was baseball cards, then it was nothing less than an album full of them.

“Before you open it, ya gotta tell us how old you are,” Jack said. “We can all do the math,” here he broke off to stare pointedly at Cassie until she proved she could in fact subtract the year of Daniel’s birth from the present one and get the correct answer, causing her to roll her eyes in a way that was almost a parody of teenage disgust with adult idiocy – no doubt the point of the exercise – “but your body wasn’t around to be aging. So are you now a year younger than you would have been? For that matter, is today even really your birthday? You were gone for over a year, so really ya gotta shift your birthday over to account for it, if you’re using a birthday to mark a year of aging!”  He made a sweeping gesture with one hand towards the gift. “Better hurry up and open it before I figure we better save it for different day!”

As it turned out it really was an album. Inside the leather covers were picture after picture of SG-1. Some were from various missions, if they could be cropped to be safe to be shown outside the mountain. Others were from team nights and barbeques, and some were even photos of Daniel’s own, freshly printed from negatives he’d archived and hardly looked at since, and a few were copies of the few dog-eared photos he had remaining from his life before his parents died, reprinted and retouched to hide the little tears and wrinkles left from boyish mishandling. At the end of the book were a selection of photos of various events and gatherings during the time he was gone, as evidenced by the presence of Jonas Quinn.

Daniel glanced up at Jack, then down again at his gift. So many memories, so many times he had forgotten he’d known. Unable to speak as he was carried along by a torrent of moments he’d hadn’t known he’d had, rushing back to take their rightful places in his mind, he busied himself with the business of assiduously cleaning his glasses with the tail of the soft cotton t-shirt he’d donned as soon as he decently could after he got in. At last he looked up, meeting Jack’s fond gaze.

“Thank you.”

It was almost a whisper. Jack gave a self-deprecating shrug.

“Thought it might help with your Swiss-cheesed memory,” he said.

“And you say you don’t know anything about science fiction! Jack, you are such a faker!”

“I don’t! Carter does! Teal’c does! Jonas did...Does!”

“You so know about it!”

“Don’t!”

“Do!”

And they let the familiar call and counter-call lead them out of the dangerous deeps of emotion and into safer and more familiar waters, as the rest of their chosen family looked on in fond exasperation, echoes of previous arguments flickering in their minds. Their Daniel was finally, and beyond all expectation home again.

 



 



Edited because, darn it! I managed to screw up something again! This time, of all things the cut! [*Sigh* Dramatic eyeroll of self-exaspiration]

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
bluewillowtree
Oct. 15th, 2009 03:07 am (UTC)
That was very sweet! I love those moments when Jack knows the exact right thing to do.

Also, your description of those potatoes made me very hungry. They sound delicious, and it makes me happy that you used the word "potato-y."
thothmes
Oct. 16th, 2009 04:57 am (UTC)
Thank you!

When I was seven and staying with my stepfather's family in Palestine (this was in 1965, so at the time it was Jordan) while my mom and stepdad were off on their honeymoon, one of his sisters used to make those potatoes for me and the other elementary school age kids as a treat sometimes. They were indeed wonderful, although I concede the possibility that I am remembering them "with advantages" given that it was so long ago.
bluewillowtree
Oct. 16th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
I don't know; I think I'd love those just as much as an adult! Have you ever tried to make them? I think I might. Rosemary olive oil sounds pretty glorious, so I'll have to be patient and make some of that first. What shape are the potatoes?

It's been fun chatting the last few weeks. Is it cool if I add you?
thothmes
Oct. 16th, 2009 04:07 pm (UTC)
The more friends the merrier, I say. Back atcha.

No, I've never tried to make them, for a long time because we have non-stick cookware, and I really suspect that to get them just right I would have to have a well-loved well-seasoned iron skillet like my mom does. In the village they had an iron skillet, and cooked them over a wood fire. The wood was likely to be almond or olive, given what was growing nearby, although I also remember one glorious afternoon, climbing to the height of land near by (which is now the Israeli settlement Ariel) to pick fresh figs for drying, and there were larches(?) and cypress visible in the scenery. The potatoes were smallish, but not quite new potato small, but none of them were larger than my closed fist (I have small hands for an adult), and they were simply sliced up into rounds as thin as they could with a kitchen knife -maybe c. 1/8 of an inch?, then the skillet was placed over the flames, plenty of olive oil was added, and when it was good and hot, the potatoes were added, and cooked until browned. They were not stirred, but may have been flipped once near the very end.

Of course the real reason I think that I've never tried to make them is that I'm afraid that they won't ever measure up to the orgasmically wonderful ones in my head. I suppose I should gird up my loins, get out my iron skillet while muttering "No guts, no glory!" and give it a try, huh? Maybe next time my two older kids are home so they can taste a bit of my childhood I will.
bluewillowtree
Oct. 16th, 2009 09:47 pm (UTC)
That's a fantastic and beautifully-described memory, and I totally understand the worry about the taste not matching up. Even if they don't taste the same, though, I can't imagine that potatoes cooked in rosemary olive oil could fail to be delicious. Of course, I really, really, love potatoes in pretty much every form :)

I don't have an iron skillet either, but I definitely want to give this a try. We didn't grow herbs this year (stupid endlessly rainy June), so I don't have fresh rosemary, but hopefully I can track some down to infuse the olive oil. Yay, cooking projects make me bouncy!
scifithinker
Nov. 16th, 2009 04:23 am (UTC)
Sometimes the right present really is a sign of love, cliched as that may be. You nailed the tone of Daniel's return in this story: Daniel's uncertainty, Jack's need to help, everyone else's need to make Daniel feel at home and to make him remember. Well-done.
thothmes
Nov. 16th, 2009 05:34 am (UTC)
Why, thank you!
rdamel
Jan. 17th, 2011 12:40 am (UTC)
Wonderful story, thanks for sharing!

Melissa M.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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A Few Words from the Wise

Speak to him, for there is none born wise.

-The Maxims of Ptahotep

~~~~~~~~~~


In mourning or rejoicing, be not far from me.

- an Ancient Egyptian Love Song

~~~~~~~~~~


But your embraces
alone give life to my heart
may Amun give me what I have found
for all eternity.


-Love Songs of the New Kingdom, Song #2

~~~~~~~~~~


To Know the Dark


To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.


-Wendell Berry

~~~~~~~~~~


Up in the morning's no for me,
Up in the morning early;
When a' the hills are covered wi' snaw,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

-Robert Burns

~~~~~~~~~~


Visit to the Hermit Ts'ui


Moss covered paths between scarlet peonies,
Pale jade mountains fill your rustic windows.
I envy you, drunk with flowers,
Butterflies swirling in your dreams.


-Ch'ien Ch'i

~~~~~~~~~~


Mistress of high achievement, O lady Truth,
do not let my understanding stumble
across some jagged falsehood.


-Pindar

~~~~~~~~~~


Every Gaudy colour
Is a bit of truth.


-Nathalia Crane

~~~~~~~~~~


I counted two-and-twenty stenches,
All well defined, and several stinks.


-Samuel Coleridge

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