I'll just put my head down for a few moments, thought Daniel muzzily, taking off his glasses and laying his head on his arms. He was just drifting off when someone burst through his office door, making him jump.
"Daniel!" Sam said.
"Wha--" He groped for his glasses, unwilling to talk to a blurry lump of olive and black and blonde.
"Do you know what today is?"
"Tuesday? No, Wednesday. Thursday? Sam, I don't even know what *month* it is." He found his glasses and put them on, blinking to try and focus.
"It's the fourth of July!"
"Really?" Staring around the room, he tried to remember where he'd put that Far Side calendar Jack gave him for Christmas. It was hard to see anything, since the only light came from his small desk lamp. The rest of the room looked like the forgotten attic of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, friezes and sculptures and unidentified doodads festooning nearly every surface.
"Fourth of July? American independence? Is this ringing any bells?"
Rubbing his eyes beneath the glasses, Daniel tried to focus on her. Sam looked like she'd just solved the problem of cold fusion, eyes wide and a smile tugging at her lips. "Yes, I'm familiar with the holiday," he said. "What's your point?"
"We're not scheduled for any missions today."
"That's good to hear, because I don't think I've been home in a week. Even *my* fish are going to be getting impatient for their dinner right about now. Their feeder only holds a week's worth of food." He ran his fingers through his hair, wondering if there was time to get a haircut before their next mission. What day was it again?
"Daniel, please concentrate."
"The holiday. We are off on the fourth of July. What are we going to do?"
Daniel stared as she actually bounced on the balls of her feet. He had a sinking feeling the answer to her question wasn't 'go home and get some sleep.' "Um..."
"I wonder if there's time to get a picnic together? Where *are* the nearest fireworks anyway? I'd better go find out." She grinned at him. "This will be fun. Have you see Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c?"
Anything to get her out of his office. "I think they went to the mess for breakfast. Or maybe it was dinner."
"Right, I'll go find them." She jogged out of the room, looking for all the world like a woman who'd had a full night's sleep. He hated her. *Really*. He dropped his glasses on the desk and put his head back on his arms.
* * * * *
"Rise and shine, campers!"
Without lifting his head, Daniel just groaned. Not him, too. What was with these people? Didn't anyone need sleep but him? There wasn't enough coffee in the *universe* to help right now. "What do you want, Jack?"
"Aren't you ready to go yet?"
"Memorial Park, where else?"
There was a shuffling noise and a gray-topped blur leaned over him. "Today? Forget it. You can go home after the fireworks."
"No, thank you, I already have a penguin."
"Don't we get enough fireworks when we go offworld?"
"It's the Fourth of July, that's why."
"Didn't I have this conversation with Sam?"
Jack picked up Daniel's glasses and slid them onto his face. "C'mon, it'll be fun!"
Groaning, Daniel stood up, easing out of the chair carefully to keep from pulling any of the muscles in his stiff back. "What is this obsession you two have with this holiday? I was barely ever in the country for it, anyway. July's prime dig season, you know."
"What?" Jack looked aghast. "No picnics? No fireworks?"
Daniel rubbed his eyes and stifled a yawn. "Not that I recall."
"That's just wrong. Okay, now you have no choice, you're coming with us."
"Did I *ever* have a choice?" Too tired to even argue, Daniel let Jack steer him out of the room.
* * * * *
At least they didn't expect Daniel to do any planning, or anything except sit in Jack's Ford, which was heated to boiling in the strong sunlight. Despite the stuffy warmth, he dozed off while they were loading things into the back and napped most of the way through town, waking up as a beam of sunlight hit him squarely in the eyes.
Half-sprawled across Teal'c's lap, he pushed himself upright. "Sorry."
"That is quite all right."
Yawning, Daniel looked out the window and found they were in a long line of cars snaking into a parking lot. He blinked at the sight of hordes of people swarming by, laden with backpacks and strollers and screaming children. "Where are we?"
"Memorial Park," Jack said. "C'mon, Danny boy, try to keep up."
Teal'c's customary calm was in place as they rolled their way to a parking spot, but one eyebrow kept inching its way up to the baseball cap pulled low over his forehead.
"Is something wrong?" Daniel asked.
Teal'c considered the question gravely. "Although I have traveled your country on a number of occasions, I had not realized that this area typically had such long, cold winters."
Daniel glanced out the window and wondered when he'd joined the Mad Tea Party. "I don't understand."
"The people here seem to have stored up a great deal of fat."
Sam covered her mouth to hide the snickering and Jack cracked up. Daniel leaned his head against the seat back and decided the Mad Tea Party might be an improvement.
* * * * *
Jack maneuvered the SUV into a spot between a wood-paneled station wagon and a cherry-red Jeep, and the four of them climbed out--with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
"C'mon," Sam said, "let's go see what kind of music they've got. I can hear the drums from here."
Giving in to the inevitable, Daniel managed a semi-gracious smile in the face of her pleasure. "Sure."
By unspoken agreement, they steered away from the carnival, although Daniel did garner quite a bit of amusement from the look on Teal'c's face. Jack looked a bit wistful, shading his eyes and peering up at the Ferris wheel, but just then, the wind shifted, bringing them the sound of squealing children. That was enough to drive him away.
Sam paused to look at a table of jewelry, rows of pins and bracelets in gaudy glass and delicate silver. Teal'c looked over her shoulder as Jack meandered over to drop a few crumpled bills into the donation box for the Colorado Springs Fire Department.
Leaning against a tree, Daniel stifled a yawn. The noise was overwhelming and he wondered how Sam could possibly have heard music. Just the voices of the crowd made him want to cover his head and there was also the tinkling of the carnival rides, vendors shouting for attention, honking cars from the parking lot...
He was just seriously considering the benefits of the fetal position when a familiar smell made his nose twitch. Head up, he turned slowly around, trying to decide on the direction.
Away from carnival, past the lemonade stand, he decided. Yes, it was definitely that way.
"Kettle corn," he said with great satisfaction, setting off without looking to see if the others were behind him.
They caught up with him as he got in line. "I thought you said you missed the whole 4th of July experience," Jack said.
"The fireworks and things, sure, but we're talking about kettle corn here."
Tapping his foot, Daniel waited as a woman, huge slabs of fat hanging over the top of her neon pink spandex shorts, bought three large bags. Finally, it was his turn and he blissfully dug out a handful of kettle corn, popping it in his mouth as he handed four dollars to the cashier.
The salty-sweet warmth burst across his taste buds and he nearly moaned, restrained only by Jack's obvious amusement. The kettle corn was just right--fresh and crunchy, but without annoying kernels and such--and it almost melted on his tongue as he munched away.
He didn't really care where they dragged him now, and everyone wandered down an aisle of raku pottery, turned mahogany bowls, and pashmina scarves, all of them happily crunching the popcorn. Even Teal'c seemed to enjoy the snack.
Sam paused at several stalls. "It's never too early to shop for Christmas presents," she said in response to Jack's scrunched-up nose.
She was just about to pick up a delicate tiger on a silver chain when her head shot up. For a moment, Daniel's stomach dropped, before he realized she was reacting to the sound of music, not some danger.
"I think it's them," she said. "Let's go!"
Daniel, Teal'c, and Jack exchanged glances, all three looking equally confused. Shrugging, Daniel pushed his way around a crowd of elderly folk who'd stopped in the center of the walkway.
As they got closer to the music, an infectious swing beat became clearer and Daniel smiled in relief. At least he wasn't going to be forced to listen to some odious rock band--he should have known she had better taste than that.
They caught up with Sam just as the song ended and the crowd began to cheer. Her eyes glowed and she seemed to have forgotten the rest of them were there as she stood on tiptoes, trying to see over the crowd. An announcer shouted into a squeaking microphone. "Let's have another big welcome for Big Bad Voodoo Daddy!"
Sam screamed and clapped as loudly as everyone else, still standing on her toes, and Daniel grinned, trying to remember the last time she'd looked so...well, happy. He didn't have a clue.
Teal'c's eyebrows seemed to have taken up permanent residence under the baseball cap, but Jack was getting into the spirit. He gestured to Teal'c and Daniel. "Think we can get her closer?"
To keep her looking this happy? No problem. Daniel gestured grandly with a broad sweep of his hand. "Teal'c, if you would?"
Jack and Daniel took up positions on either side of Sam, while Teal'c stepped in front of her. She looked confused for an instant, until Teal'c tapped the shoulder of the man in front of him. The man, wide straw hat bobbing, turned, then realized he was staring at a very broad chest. His eyes traveled up and he instinctively stepped slightly aside.
Sam was obviously torn between outrage and amusement, but finally she laughed. By dint of pushing, glaring, and apologizing, they made their way to the front of the standing crowd. Teal'c looked like he was going to make someone vacate a seat for her, but she tugged on his arm, shaking her head.
From their new vantage point, they could clearly see the band in their retro suits with a modern flair. There were several trumpets and trombones, a piano player, a man dancing with his bass. In front of the band, even more retro-clothed dancers shimmied and rolled and threw each other around the stage, energy not flagging despite the sweat pouring down their foreheads.
The song was unfamiliar, but the lyrics seemed to mostly involve repeating "you know you wrong," so Daniel found himself singing along.
Toes tapping, Daniel was surprised to find he was enjoying himself. The sound of the fair was submerged by the music, and the infectious beat made his heart pound in counterpoint.
The band segued into something the crowd obviously recognized, as most of the people were singing about a "zoot suit riot."
Teal'c was people-watching, Jack and Sam grinning like a madman, and Daniel felt a similar grin move across his face. In a lull in the music, Jack leaned over. "Sorry you came?"
Daniel rolled his eyes and ignored him.
* * * * *
Sam had consulted the day's program with all the seriousness she used on her mission reports. So, at 8:30, she dragged the team to find a fireworks viewing spot.
"If we don't sit down now, we'll never see anything when the show starts," she said.
"Besides," Jack added, "that gives us plenty of time to read the Declaration."
"Read the..." Daniel just shook his head and followed the other three over a gentle rise down toward the waterfront.
The long shore of Prospect Lake filled rapidly, crowds of people chasing away the ducks and geese, who honked irritably at the invasion. SG-1 wove their way around a horde of teens in capri pants (Daniel wondered why he knew what they were called), neon tube tops (when did those come back into fashion?), and high-heeled sandals (just...no).
Daniel nearly tripped over a toddler who wandered into his path. The little girl, pink dress smeared with what looked like most of a chocolate ice cream cone, opened wide blue eyes and waved both chubby hands at him. "Hi," he said as her mother came up.
The toddler gurgled as her mother grabbed her hand, smiling politely at Daniel. "Come on, Tanya, back to Daddy."
For a moment, Daniel watched and wondered what it would be like to be Daddy, who sat a few feet away on a fuzzy blue blanket, trying to convince his toddler to sit down for a few minutes. Little Tanya shrieked with laughter as she evaded her father's arms, running around him in a wobbly circle. The man's grin was so wide, it looked like it might split his face. Mom fumbled with her camera, trying to capture the moment, but she was laughing too hard to operate it.
What was it like to have a normal life, anyway? Had he ever had one? One that included 4th of July picnics and ice cream and baseball?
"Daniel?" Sam called, coming down the path. "Did you find a spot?"
"Hmm? Oh, no I didn't."
He turned away, his earlier good mood gone. Now he remembered why he rarely ventured off base anymore. It was easier to stay where he wouldn't constantly be reminded of the things he didn't have, the things he would never have.
In his office, at least he could pretend his life, his work, had meaning.
Sam was still waiting, frowning. "What's--"
"Nothing." He cut her off, not interested in sympathy or empathy. "Let's go."
Up ahead, Jack waved as Teal'c stepped carefully across the grass. Daniel glanced back at Sam. "What are you waiting for? It looks like they've found a spot."
* * * * *
They had indeed. Not a large spot, but enough for the four of them to lay out the tarp and sort through the food Sam had scavenged from the messhall.
"If you haven't completely ruined your appetite," she said, pretending to glare.
"Too much ice cream is a solemn holiday tradition," Jack said. "Don't mess with tradition."
Daniel managed a dutiful smile, knowing if he didn't either Sam or Jack would ask him what was wrong, if he was okay, or what he was thinking about--even though they probably knew the answer. Years of marriage had nothing on years of life-threatening situations to really hone that mind-reading ability.
He looked away, unwilling to catch anyone's eye, and found himself staring out over Prospect Lake at the mountains in the background.
"The one in the center is Cheyenne Mountain," Jack said quietly to Daniel as Teal'c and Sam debated whether peanut butter needed chocolate or banana to make a proper sandwich.
Cheyenne Mountain was shrouded in mist at the summit, mysterious, like something you might climb to find a mystic to set you on the right path. But the longer he looked at it, the more it seemed to loom, the more it looked sinister rather than merely mysterious.
Looking down at the plate on his lap, Daniel tried to put it out of his mind. Sam had really talked the messhall into going all out and he didn't want to hurt her feelings, so he ate fried chicken and roasted potatoes and green bean salad. Conversation was general and Daniel was mildly amused at the number of times one of them obviously censored a sentence for security purposes--they were *all* out of practice being in the real world.
The sun began to set, casting red and orange rays over the happy crowd, and the temperature went from warm to cool. Shivering, Sam rooted around in the bottom of a bag and pulled out everyone's jackets.
Jack shook his head in admiration. "Geez, Carter, that thing's like a clown car."
"I like to be prepared, sir," she said, tossing Daniel his jacket.
"Hey, it's getting close," Jack said. "Time to read the Declaration."
Daniel wanted to laugh. The whole endeavor seemed a bit absurd to him. After all, they'd seen so many worlds, so many governments, what did this one document really matter? But Jack and Sam were so solemn, so intent, he couldn't bring himself to argue.
Settling in, he prepared to be bored as Jack looked down at the piece of paper in front of him, brandishing the flashlight he'd whipped out of his pocket.
"When in the course of human events," he read, "it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."
Against his will, Daniel found himself enthralled. How could he have forgotten the power of these words?
Certainly, the US had often failed to follow either the spirit or the letter of these ideas, but that in no way dimmed their light.
The human failings of the founding fathers and all their successors didn't diminish their ideas, their faltering attempts to create something new: a nation of the free. On that day in July, a group of men in stifling, humid Philadelphia told the world their intentions, that they would no longer stay under the heel of the oppressor.
When Jack finished, Daniel found himself repeating the final line aloud: "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."
He had tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat the size of Cheyenne Mountain and he looked down at his hands.
"Kinda says it all, don't you think?" Jack asked.
Sam was openly wiping away a tear when Daniel finally looked up, Teal'c looked thoughtful, and Jack very solemn. Perhaps they weren't really so different, the four of them. They might disagree on methods, but really their motives were the same.
They had pledged their lives (literally), their fortunes (in several senses), and most especially their honor to protect their world and many others. They'd passed the contagion of freedom and equality to so many worlds they'd lost count years before.
Music filtered through the sounds of the crowd and gradually everyone stopped talking--the unmistakable sounds of the 1812 Overture blared, bouncing off the water in a stirring echo.
Daniel wrapped his arms around his knees, staring over the water, where Cheyenne Mountain was now barely visible in the moonlight. The music, with its feel of explosions, was a bit unsettling.
He looked around him at the children and the greasy fried chicken and the arguing teenage couples--this was what they were fighting for. This was why they went through all the pain and sleepless nights, so that people could lie on blankets under the stars and eat and watch fireworks.
He and the rest of the SGC had all made their choice, their sacrifice. Their choice was to allow these people to live their lives unencumbered by the fear of the Goa'uld. It might just be worth it at a moment like this.
The first fireworks lit up the sky and Daniel cheered with the rest of the crowd.