Chicanery BY Kalimyre


Gen: Gen stories about the friendship between Col. Jack O'Neill and Dr. Daniel Jackson, with a team focus.
Rating: R
Category: Gen, Angst, H/C
Season/Spoilers: Minor for The Other Side, FIAD, anything with Colonel Simmons, Scorched Earth, others up to mid-season 4.
Synopsis: Daniel will only put up with so much – OR – How to alienate an archeologist.
Warnings: Tissue warning.
Notes: Lavish thanks to the heartsisters, who cheered, chided, cajoled and threatened me into writing more of this.
Length: 290 Kb

~~~

“Do you know what this is about, sir?”

Jack shook his head, dropping into a chair by the conference table. “Beats me. Maybe it’s a new mission.”

Sam frowned, then looked questioningly at Teal’c as the Jaffa entered the briefing room. “Teal’c? Have you heard anything?”

“I have not. My presence was requested by General Hammond.”

“Same here,” Jack said. “And I was right in the middle of something.”

“Yes, Colonel,” Hammond said from the doorway. “No doubt your overdue personnel evaluations.”

Jack winced, then nodded, trying on a charming smile. “Of course, sir. Wouldn’t dream of putting those off.”

The General entered, followed by Colonel Simmons, who was, as usual, dressed in a civilian suit, complete with a thick maroon tie the exact color of his rubbery lips. Jack’s smile faded. “Hiya, Frank,” he said, leaning back indolently. “And here I was hoping to go without the pleasure of your company for at least another few years.”

Simmons gave him an oily grin. “I’m sure you’ll be glad I’m here once you’ve heard what I have to say.” He sat down at the head of the table, Hammond frowning and raising an eyebrow before sitting at his side.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Daniel?” Sam asked pointedly. She gave Simmons her polite little smile. The one with all the teeth.

“Doctor Jackson is why we’re here, actually,” Simmons replied.

Jack narrowed his eyes. “I’m not gonna like this, am I?”

“I doubt it, O’Neill,” Teal’c said. His dark gaze never left the NID Colonel. Simmons stared back at him blandly, his smile growing a little wider.

“Enough,” Hammond said firmly. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Simmons flicked him a quick, resentful glance out of the corner of his eye, but nodded dutifully. “We have discovered a leak in the archeo-linguistics department,” he said without preamble. He drew three thickly bound scientific journals from his briefcase and passed them out.

Jack peered down at the cover. A Study of Linear B Script As Seen in Early Pre-Dynastic Cultures—A Theory of Cross Cultural Pollination. “This should mean something to me?” he asked, pushing the journal away with his fingertips.

“It contains several examples of Goa’uld writing. Examples that were found off-world, by SG teams.” Simmons folded his hands and nodded, as if his case was now closed.

“You think Daniel had something to do with this?” Sam shook her head, flipping through the pages. “He would never. Whose name is on the articles in question?”

“They were submitted anonymously. The publisher refuses to disclose the names, but we did discover a money trail from the publisher to an offshore account. We have not yet determined who the account belongs to, but under the circumstances, we do have our suspicions.”

“This is foolishness,” Teal’c snapped. “Daniel Jackson’s loyalty is not to be questioned.”

“Nobody is beyond reproach,” Simmons replied. He gave Teal’c a meaningful look. “Something you may become familiar with yourself soon.”

“Colonel,” Hammond said warningly. “You are not here to make vague threats against my people. Get to the point.”

Another brief, resentful glance. “Yes, sir. The point is that Doctor Jackson is well known for his theories on cross cultural pollination, a subject that this journal deals with in depth. He is the head of the department in question. He had access to all the samples of Goa’uld script we found in the journal. And he has a long history of bucking the rules when it suits him to do so.”

Jack cocked his head to one side, then looked at Hammond, ignoring Simmons entirely. “With all due respect, sir, are we actually going to sit here and listen to this crap?”

“I’m afraid so, Colonel,” he replied grimly. “The NID has some valid concerns. They have asked us to assist in their investigation of this matter.”

“Assist how?” Sam asked, glaring openly at Simmons.

Simmons grinned, obviously relishing what he was about to say. “We wish to initiate a sting operation. An NID operative will approach Doctor Jackson, with an offer to publish in a reputable archeological journal, anonymously and for a great deal of money, if he can provide more unique writing samples like those found in this one.” He tapped the journal in front of Sam, who was sitting closest.

Jack nodded impatiently. “Yeah, and when Daniel tells your guy where to stick his offer, you’ll back off?”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple,” Simmons replied. “We’ve had concerns about Doctor Jackson’s loyalty for quite some time. The current investigation is an ideal opportunity to clear his name—or discover his true nature—once and for all.”

“Cease your meaningless circles,” Teal’c said, placing his hands flat on the table. “What is your intention?”

Simmons’ smile faded somewhat. “Quite simply—since you do seem to insist on putting things in the simplest possible way,” he added in a sneered aside to Jack, “we want to test him. Push him to his limits, and see how he reacts.”

“I’ve heard enough,” Jack said. “Whatever you’re asking for, the answer is no. No way you’re getting your hands on him.”

“That is not your decision to make.” Simmons raised an expectant eyebrow at Hammond.

“He does have orders backing this up,” the General said tiredly. “Orders that I have no intention of following blindly. But if they do manage to stand up...” He spread his hands, shrugging.

“What do you mean, ‘push’ Daniel?” Sam interrupted before Jack could make another caustic remark.

“That will be up to you. We want Doctor Jackson so become so dissatisfied with SG-1, and indeed, the SGC in general that he chooses to resign. Then, when he has no steady income and is most likely angry with his former employers, the operative will make the offer. If that offer is still refused, we will have conclusive proof of this ‘loyalty’ that you’re all so sure of.”

“You think Daniel will quit the SGC? Not gonna happen,” Jack argued.

“Everyone has limits.” Simmons pressed his fingertips together, and then tapped them against his chin. “In fact, you’re already headed in the right direction. Mission reports often find their way to me, Colonel. Doctor Jackson is frequently chastised, dismissed, and has been outright ignored on more than one occasion. All you need do is step up that sort of thing. He won’t put up with it forever.”

“You are incorrect,” Teal’c said, cutting off Jack’s sputtered reply. “Daniel Jackson is a valued member of SG-1.”

Simmons raised an eyebrow. “Oh? ‘Shut up, Daniel, is that clear enough for you?’ Ring any bells?”

Jack stiffened visibly, and Sam’s mouth dropped open. Teal’c scowled, his hands curling into ominous fists on the table. “That was not in any report,” Jack said after a moment.

A small, curved smile. “I have my sources. Are you suggesting that you didn’t say that? Was I misinformed?”

Jack glared and said nothing.

“Just keep that up,” Simmons said, flicking his fingers as if dismissing the whole argument. “Also, carry the slights over to your personal lives. I assume you have social connections as well? Team nights?” His lips curled distastefully around the words.

“Yes, Frank,” Jack said icily. “People with friends do tend to spend time with them. Maybe someone can explain that concept to you.”

Simmons looked unperturbed, but for a bare, irritated tapping of his manicured fingernails against the table. “Well, start shutting Doctor Jackson out of them. Whisper to each other where he can see you. Stop talking when he enters a room. Let him overhear you complaining about him, or making jokes at his expense. I’m sure he’ll get the picture fairly quickly. He’s a smart man, after all.”

“This is ridiculous,” Sam said. She leaned forward, her eyes snapping, her chin thrust out. “You can’t possibly think we’d go along with that.”

He shrugged. “Your choice. Major,” he added pointedly. “If the SGC waives their right to take part in this investigation, then of course, you will all have to accept whatever our own search turns up. If Doctor Jackson is indeed guilty, you will have no right to contest our verdict.”

“Daniel Jackson is not guilty,” Teal’c said. “Your search will discover nothing.”

“Don’t be so sure.”

Jack shook his head, and then threw his hands up in the air. “Sir?” he said, once again bypassing Simmons and speaking directly to the General. “You know they’ll just dummy up some ‘evidence’ and put Daniel away.”

“You shouldn’t make accusations with nothing to back them up,” Simmons protested.

“Neither should you,” Jack shot back. “You know damn well Daniel has nothing to do with this.” He smacked his palm flat on the journal in front of him. “This is just you trying to get him out of the SGC, and forcing us to do your dirty work.”

“This of this as an opportunity,” Simmons replied persuasively. “Despite Doctor Jackson’s many shortcomings, you’ve always been his proponent. Here is your chance to prove once and for all that he would never betray the SGC. Once the operation is over, he can return to his normal work, and you can all begin treating him as you usually do.”

“That’s if he’s willing to come back,” Sam countered. “What makes you think he’d work for people who did something like this to him?”

“You all have orders. I’m sure he’d understand.”

Jack snorted. “Yeah, right. If he doesn’t come back, that’s just icing on the cake for you, isn’t it?”

Simmons’ eyes narrowed, and he leaned forward, dropping the smarmy smile. “Listen, Jack, I’m here as a courtesy. I don’t have to ask for your cooperation at all. You have been ordered to participate in this operation, and if you defy those orders, there will be consequences. If any of you,” he swept the table with his eyes, “inform Doctor Jackson that he’s under suspicion, you will all be brought up on charges. Serious charges, I assure you.”

“Bullshit charges is more like it,” Jack retorted. “I’m done listening to this.” He stood abruptly, his hands clenched at his sides, glaring down at Simmons.

“Colonel,” Hammond said quietly. “Sit down.”

Jack stared at him, a muscle in his jaw working silently. Then he nodded and sat down, complying out of respect for the General and nothing else.

Hammond fixed the NID Colonel with a hard look. “You’ve said what you came here to say. Once I’ve verified that these ‘orders’ are genuine—”

“Oh, I think you’ll find you can’t dodge this one,” Simmons interrupted.

“Do not interrupt me while I am speaking, Colonel,” Hammond shot back. “And as I was saying, once the orders have been verified, we will comply with them.”

“What?” Jack shoved his chair back, standing again. “Sir, you can’t be serious.”

“Sir?” Sam protested at the same time, shaking her head.

Teal’c simply leaned back and folded his arms. “I will not.”

Hammond held a hand up, stilling all of them, his focus still on Simmons. “You are dismissed.”

Simmons rose to his feet, taking his sweet time about it. “I will, of course, expect regular status reports.”

“You hardly need them,” Jack muttered, “seeing as you seem to know everything that goes on here anyway.”

After a smug smile sent Jack’s way, Simmons waited for the General to nod, and then he walked out, his head held high, still smiling.

Everyone turned to stare at Hammond, obviously waiting for him to tell them it was never going to happen.

“I’ll do my best, but we may have to bite the bullet on this one.”

“But—”

The General held a hand up, then pulled a pen from his shirt and tilted slightly, turning his back to the security camera. He tugged Sam’s copy of the journal close and scrawled on the cover a single word. Bugs. Sam’s eyes widened briefly. Jack and Teal’c never blinked.

“Orders are orders. And that’s the end of this discussion, is that understood?”

“Yes, sir,” Jack said in a hard, clipped voice. “Was that all, sir?”

“If you want to discuss this as my second in command, Colonel, then yes, that is all. If we’re going to have a friendly conversation, we will not do it in this mountain. I’m not about to compromise the chain of command.”

Jack gave a slight nod. “Understood, sir.”

Hammond returned the nod, and then held a hand in front of his chest, still hidden from the camera. He pointed a finger skyward, and then flashed five fingers three times. “You’re all dismissed,” he said.

They left without another word.

Once in the hallway, Sam turned, looking up at Jack. “Colonel, we can’t—”

“Nothing’s decided yet, Carter,” he cut her off. “I assume you got the message in there?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then we’ll talk about it later.”

She nodded and turned on her heel, walking away with hard steps that barely toed the line of stomping. Jack and Teal’c looked after her, and Jack shook his head.

“Major Carter is not pleased.”

Jack snorted. “Ya think?”

“I am also not pleased,” Teal’c informed him.

“Yeah, well this isn’t my best day either.” Jack sighed, then scrubbed at the back of his neck, casting a brief glance at the security camera in the corridor, an action that did not go unnoticed.

“Perhaps we should continue this discussion later,” Teal’c said.

“My thoughts exactly, big guy.”

~~~

Precisely fifteen minutes later, SG-1 minus Daniel assembled at the top of the mountain. Walking past the guard shack with their heads up as if they had important business to attend, they climbed a low rise, moving until the entrance to the mountain was mostly obscured by trees.

The second they were safe from observation, Sam wheeled, her hands on her hips. “I won’t go along with it, sir. Orders or not.”

“Easy, Carter,” he replied, waving a hand. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but they’ve got us by the balls here.” He winced, and then offered a half-smile. “If you’ll pardon the expression. I’m sure Hammond is making some calls, but if these orders stand and we refuse to obey, we’ll all be court martialed and they’ll create some ‘evidence’ and lock Daniel up anyway.”

“I cannot be court martialed,” Teal’c pointed out.

“T, you have even fewer rights than we do. They could take you to a holding facility and you’d disappear in transit. Probably wind up in some lab somewhere.” Jack shook his head, scowling at the ground.

“We can’t actually do what Simmons is suggesting,” Carter said. “Daniel would never forgive us.”

“I’m thinking that’s the point,” Jack told her.

“You may be right, Colonel,” General Hammond said, coming through the trees. They all stood a little straighter as he approached, taking several steps toward him so he wouldn’t have to climb all the way up.

“Tell me you have good news, sir,” Jack said by way of greeting.

He shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Let’s face it, Jack, we knew something like this was coming.”

Sam leaned in, her arms folded and her back straight. “Excuse me? We did?” Then she added, “Sir?” as an afterthought.

“Doctor Jackson has been a thorn in the side of the NID for years. Thus far, the Colonel and I have been able to dodge the bullet, as it were, but it looks like our luck has run out. SG-1 has bucked the system too many times, and I don’t have any favors left to call in. Unless you know someone...?” He raised his eyebrows at Jack.

“Not unless you count Mayborne.” Jack wrinkled his nose at the thought. “And personally, I wouldn’t count on him to water my plants, much less save my best friend.”

Hammond nodded. “That’s what I thought. I assume you’ll try contacting him anyway?”

“Of course, sir.”

“Where did these orders come from?” Sam asked.

“I’m still tracking that down,” the General replied, “but my best guess? Kinsey.”

Jack snorted. “Figures. He’s an ass.”

“You’ll get no argument from me. But he’s also the man who looks good to be our next vice president, and he’s got a real grudge against Doctor Jackson.”

“Why does the NID seek to destroy Daniel Jackson, and by extension, SG-1? Has he not proven his value many times?” Teal’c asked. “Are they not aware that they are sabotaging their own assets?”

“You can’t go expecting logic from bureaucracy,” Jack told him grimly. “Besides, just because we know how important Daniel is to the program, that doesn’t mean they do. A lot of his contributions have been overlooked or conveniently forgotten.”

“Still, he has unique skills that no one can just ignore,” Sam argued. “What has he done that deserves this?”

“He disclosed confidential information to a civilian, Doctor Langford.” Hammond ticked the points off on his fingers as he spoke. “He helped the Tollan refugees escape—and we were kidding ourselves if we thought the NID were just going to forget that one—he encouraged, pressured, and generally pestered SG-1 to disobey direct orders after Kinsey had the gate shut down—”

“Which resulted in saving the planet,” Jack interrupted. “But hey, that’s just a piffling little detail, right?”

Hammond acknowledged him with a brief look. “More recently, he left the Harcesis child, whom the NID considered to be nothing but an exploitable resource, in the possession of an unknown alien being.”

“He didn’t have a choice!” Sam protested. “Oma wasn’t exactly someone you could say no to.”

“I never suggested this was fair,” Hammond said gently. “But this is how the NID sees things. Doctor Jackson has always operated at cross purposes with them. Consider how much they would have loved the agreement we almost had with the Eurondans.”

“That wasn’t just Daniel’s call,” Jack said. “We all chose against that deal in the end.”

Hammond nodded. “I am aware. But he argued against it from the beginning. If he hadn’t been there, do you think your suspicions would have led you to discover the truth about the situation?”

There was a long pause. “I like to think so,” Jack said eventually.

“Well apparently, the NID doesn’t agree with you. I’ve spoken to a few people with the inside track, and what I’m hearing from everyone is that the blame for all the technologies and allies that we didn’t get in the past four years rests squarely with Doctor Jackson.”

“This is a false conclusion.” Teal’c looked as troubled as he ever did. “Daniel Jackson has accomplished much.”

“There you go expecting logic again,” Jack muttered.

“Bottom line, sir,” Sam began, “are we really going through with this... operation?” The curl of her lip suggested she’d rather call it something else.

“Consider our choices, Major.” Hammond’s voice was weary, and he looked his age. “One, we defy orders, and we’re all court martialed and replaced, and Doctor Jackson goes down for something he didn’t do. I have no doubt that the NID is capable of forming an impenetrable case against him. Two, we go along with this farce, but we tell him what’s going on from the beginning.”

“That could work, sir,” Jack interrupted. “I mean, we all know he’s not the leak.”

“We also don’t know just where Simmons and Kinsey are getting their information,” Hammond countered. “Just the fact that Simmons knew something you said on the mission to Euronda, something I knew perfectly well was never in any report, official or otherwise—what does that suggest to you?”

“More bugs?” Sam guessed. “In our gear? How else could they know?”

“The NID stole alien technologies for some time before O’Neill was able to infiltrate and stop them,” Teal’c said. “They may have access to listening devices that we have no way to detect.”

Hammond nodded. “My point exactly. Which is why telling Doctor Jackson is out. It’s a risk we can’t take.”

Jack spread his hands. “What does that leave us with?”

“Option three. We go through with it.”

“That is not an acceptable choice,” Teal’c said flatly.

“No. But it is the only choice we have left.”

“No option four, sir?” Jack asked.

“Not unless you know one I haven’t thought of.”

Jack shook his head. “There has to be another way. There’s always another way. Carter?” he asked, turning to her hopefully.

“I’m sorry, sir. I wish I had something.”

“Yeah,” he murmured. “Me too.”

“I’m sorry,” Hammond said, shaking his head. “If there was any way around this...”

“I am certain you fought this disgrace with every weapon at your disposal,” Teal’c said. The General nodded at him, forcing a small smile.

“There’s something we’re not considering here,” Sam said, frowning thoughtfully. “What if Daniel refuses to quit?”

Jack grimaced. “Yeah, I thought of that. But even Daniel will only take so much crap. Especially if we make it personal, like Simmons suggested.”

“No, think about this, sir,” Sam argued. “Where else is he going to go? Academia has a long memory, and reputation is everything. He’ll never get a job civilian side, not in his field, anyway. His credentials are excellent, but he can’t explain his employment for the last four years, his credit history reads like a tabloid, especially since he was actually listed as dead for a year, and then again for two weeks when Nem falsified our memories. Plus, last time he got in touch with his old colleagues, his professor died under mysterious circumstances, one of his assistants literally disappeared off the face of the earth, and the other was severely injured and fed a pretty flimsy cover story. Nobody is going to touch Daniel.”

“He’s got a lot saved up from his time here, though,” Jack said. “He doesn’t have to find a job right away.”

“Daniel Jackson would not react well to having no work.”

“Teal’c makes a good point,” Hammond said. “And so does Major Carter. Do you think you can push him hard enough to make him resign, even though he essentially has nowhere else to go?”

Jack nodded slowly. “Yes, sir. But only if this gets nasty.”

“I don’t see how this could be anything but nasty, Colonel.” Hammond surveyed them all with a perceptive stare. “Can you go through with this? Can you pull it off? It’s not going to be pleasant.”

“I believe that is what the Tau’ri call an ‘understatement,’” Teal’c said.

Jack gave a brief, humorless smile. “I’ll say. But yes, sir, considering our choices, we can do it.”

Hammond nodded seriously. “Very well. Let’s do this as fast as possible, people. Begin immediately.”

Sam raised a hand, waving her finger. “Sir, fast may not be the way to go.”

“I do not wish to prolong this experience,” Teal’c argued.

“Me neither. But Daniel isn’t stupid. If we suddenly change the way we treat him for no reason, he’s going to know something is up. It has to be a gradual thing.” Sam swallowed, setting her jaw. “Much as I hate to say it, we’ll have to convince Daniel that we’ve never liked him. That we’ve been hiding it for years, just to use his skills, and that the balance is now shifting against him. That he’s become more trouble than he’s worth.”

Jack groaned, running a hand through his hair, leaving it spiked and messy. “Don’t you ever get tired of being right, Major?”

“Believe me, sir, I wish I wasn’t this time.”

“Yeah.” Then Jack nodded at his CO, standing straighter, his face expressionless. “We’ll complete the operation, sir.”

Hammond matched his stance and empty tone. “See that you do, Colonel.” Then he turned and walked back through the trees. His fists repeatedly clenched and relaxed at his sides, but that was the only sign he showed.

“I just hope when this is over, Daniel understands,” Sam murmured.

“Yeah, Carter. You and me both.”

~~~

Daniel frowned as his stomach rumbled again, refusing to be appeased with the meager offering of two cookies he’d found in a crumpled bag in the bottom of his desk drawer. He didn’t want to think about how long they’d been in there, but they were the kind of cookies that came in bright blue plastic wrapping in the store, and probably had more preservatives than the average MRE.

Still writing with one hand, he felt through his desk drawers, hoping he’d discover a candy bar or something that he’d missed on the last two passes. When he came up empty and his stomach growled yet again, he sighed, dropped his pen, and surrendered to the inevitable.

Daniel grumbled to himself until he got to the elevator, and then he leaned against one wall and was quietly glad that he’d gotten out of the office. Much as he hated to be interrupted while he was working, his back and legs were sore from sitting hunched over his desk all day, he had a headache from squinting, and now that he was thinking about it, he was really hungry. He probably should have gotten lunch instead of working through, but he’d been distracted.

Normally Jack showed up to prod him when he didn’t show his face in the commissary all day—and he’d pay good money to know just how Jack kept such good tabs on him when he had his own job to do. But apparently Jack had been busy that day. Sam and Teal’c, too, since one of them could usually be counted upon to roust him if Jack didn’t.

Daniel shook his head. Obviously he was getting a tad too reliant on his team if they needed to remind him to eat. He wasn’t helpless, after all. He’d been feeding himself for the pasty thirty or so years. It wasn’t like he’d forgotten how the body worked.

The doors opened on level sixteen and he walked out, already looking forward to some real food. It was nearly four in the afternoon, which meant the main lunch serving line would be shut down, and the dinner one not yet started, but they always had short order food available on request. And the serving ladies liked him. Daniel allowed himself a small smile. Sometimes it was nice to be doted on.

Once in line, he considered a hamburger, but asked for grilled cheese instead, because it was quicker. He flashed a smile at the cook when she added a second slice of cheese for him on both sandwiches, and she grinned at him, wisps of brown hair escaping her regulation hairnet.

He scanned for an empty table, tray in hand, the tantalizing scent of crispy, buttered sandwiches making his stomach rumble again. The room was mostly empty at this hour, although there were always teams with skewed schedules from off-world travel in here at odd times.

He was surprised to find Jack, Sam and Teal’c at their usual table, Jack and Sam on one side, Teal’c on the other, all of them leaning forward as if in intense conversation. The remains of a piece of pie sat on Jack’s plate, and a half eaten cup of Jell-o was in front of Sam. Teal’c had nothing.

Curiouser and curioser. So they weren’t really there to eat, but to talk, apparently. Or had they just happened to run into each other? He was sure if there had been some team meeting planned, he would have remembered. Although he had been so busy... Daniel frowned, trying to think. Maybe he’d just forgotten.

As he approached the table, Jack’s eyes rose to him, and a brief flick of something crossed his face—what was that? Resignation? Impatience? Not pleasure at seeing him, that was for sure. Jack put a hand on Sam’s shoulder and indicated him with a tilt of his jaw, and Sam, who had been speaking quietly, abruptly stopped.

“Hi, Daniel,” she said brightly.

He paused, aware that his smile of greeting had faded somewhat. “Hey, guys. What’s up?”

“Nothing,” Jack replied casually. Very casually. “Just a little afternoon snack. You too, huh?”

Daniel looked down at his tray as if he’d forgotten it was there. “Yeah. Kinda forgot to eat lunch.” He sat down beside Teal’c, nodding at him. Teal’c looked at him steadily for a long moment, and then nodded back.

Daniel looked up in time to catch Jack rolling his eyes meaningfully at Sam. “Yeah, you tend to do that, don’t you?” he said.

His sandwich halfway to his mouth, Daniel paused, frowning. “What? Did I... was this planned?” He waved at the table, and the team seated together. “Did I forget something?”

“No,” Sam replied immediately. “Not at all. We just ran into each other.”

“Oh.” Daniel took a bite of his sandwich. It slid down his throat greasily, and he grimaced.

“I believe O’Neill was referring to your tendency to forget to eat,” Teal’c supplied helpfully. “We often need to remind you.”

Daniel shrugged, offering an apologetic smile, although he wasn’t sure what he was apologizing for. Everyone seemed a little irritated with him today. “Yeah, well... I guess I get distracted.”

Jack gave Sam another look that seemed to mean something. “So,” he said briskly. “Interesting rocks today?”

Daniel smiled, suddenly feeling on firmer ground. “Yes, actually,” he began, talking through a mouthful of grilled cheese. “The Etruscan glyphs that SG-7 found on their last mission. The symbols themselves are classic, quite standard, really, but the sentence structure and grammar are unusual. It’s almost like they had language, but no punctuation, which makes it very difficult to read. It makes me think of something a child might write, or someone who was not very familiar with the language in its written form. The words are flawless, but the way they’re grouped together...” He trailed off when he realized Jack was looking at him with thinly disguised impatience. Sam was poking at her Jell-o, and Teal’c, who usually had the most patience for his linguistic rambles, was ignoring him completely, staring at something across the room.

“Yeah, sounds like it was worth missing lunch over,” Jack said when Daniel stopped talking.

Daniel looked down at his second sandwich. His hunger had disappeared. “Yes, well, it’s quite fascinating. To me, at least.”

Jack nodded. “I’ll bet. Look, I’ve got a training meeting to get to. Catch you later.”

Quick goodbyes were said, and Jack walked out, leaving his plate of pie crust on the table. Daniel stared after him, then turned back to Sam and Teal’c. “Did I miss something?” he asked.

Sam blinked at him. “What do you mean?”

“Didn’t Jack seem...” He shrugged, frowning.

“Seemed fine to me,” Sam said. “And hey, I’ve got to be going too. I’ll see you later, Daniel.” She gave him a quick smile and rose, walking away purposefully.

Daniel considered his sandwich again, and then his one remaining teammate. “So, Teal’c. How’re you?”

“I am well. However, I have assured Doctor Frasier that I would participate in her study of Jaffa immunity capabilities.” Then he stood, nodded once, and left.

Daniel sat at the table for a long moment, drawing little Etruscan symbols in his ketchup with the corner of his remaining sandwich. “This was fun,” he said to nobody in particular. “We should do this more often.”

Eventually, he threw the sandwich in the trash, picking up Jack and Sam’s dishes as well, depositing them all on the conveyer belt that led into the kitchen. He walked slowly back to his office, still feeling like he’d missed something. Maybe they had all just happened to be busy right when he showed up?

Yeah, the same way they all happened to run into each other. Even though Teal’c didn’t even have the pretense of food.

And what was with the short, impatient feeling he got from Jack? He supposed the translations weren’t really that interesting to anyone who wasn’t a linguist, but Jack usually let him chatter for a while before cutting him off. Although, lately, he did seem less inclined to be indulgent. Maybe it was time to cut back on the scientific babble.

What was really puzzling was the way they’d stopped talking when he came in. The rest of the odd encounter could be shrugged off in one way or another, but keeping secrets from him?

Daniel paused outside his office, a wide smile lighting his face as he suddenly realized what was going on. His birthday was in two weeks. They were planning a surprise party! He shook his head and chuckled. The standoffish attitude he’d gotten from all of them was probably their way of trying to lead him off the trail. Too bad they’d taken it a little too far, or he would have fallen for it.

Disinterest from Jack, he could buy. Unfortunately. But Sam finding her Jell-o more interesting than his discussion? Teal’c ignoring him altogether? No, those were dead giveaways. His friends didn’t act that way.

He sat down at his desk, and his smile faded a little. They usually didn’t act that way. Sometimes, when Jack was angry with him, they’d follow his lead and shut him out. And Jack had seemed irked about something.

Nah. Daniel grinned again. The kind of deliberate, forced coldness he’d gotten could only mean they were faking it. Which meant a surprise party. Even though he’d told Jack he didn’t want to make a big deal of his birthday, he was pleased.

Still smiling, Daniel bent to his work.

~~~

Three days later, they were off-world. One of those planets where the gate was indoors, which was usually a good sign of some kind of advancement. They hadn’t found any actual people, but the building itself was impressively huge, and Sam was interested in the material it was made of, because despite the lack of visible supports, the high domed ceiling was very solid.

Daniel was more interested in the shape of the building, rather than the material. Apparently all the arches and open space and high windows were suggestive of a religious function, all designed to draw the eye upward. Since the ‘gods,’ or Goa’uld, often came through the gate, its placement in a temple wasn’t especially farfetched.

It was intended to be a quiet mission. General Hammond wasn’t about to send them into a high risk situation while they were deliberately causing a rift in the team.

Jack was not pleased with the progress of the operation. They’d made a good start with that setup in the commissary, although they’d had to wait for an hour before Daniel showed up. Daniel had been confused, troubled, but then suddenly, the next time the team stopped talking when he walked into the room, he’d just smiled. Since then, all attempts at shutting him out had been met with rolled eyes, tolerant smiles, and little chuckles.

At first, Jack thought Daniel was somehow onto them. But then Carter pointed out the obvious, given the date. Daniel thought they were planning his party.

Ironically, there actually had been plans in the works, until Simmons had dropped his little bomb. Then their plans had changed.

The stage was set for that night. They’d planned it earlier, sitting in a huddle and speaking in low voices in one corner of the big temple, while Daniel worked just outside. Jack had felt him watching a couple times, and subtle glances from Teal’c had confirmed his intuition, but Daniel had probably just thought they were doing more birthday planning.

Daniel was enthusiastic about a small line of script he’d discovered etched into the walls at about knee height all the way around the capacious room. He’d been squatting, hunched over it for hours, and would doubtless stay that way for hours more. He’d also cheerfully shared his thoughts on the language, the meaning of where it was etched—something about kneeling and humility was all Jack had caught—and the method used to impart the words on the incredibly hard material. Despite being blatantly ignored on more than one occasion, Daniel had pressed on.

Jack was beginning to think that they couldn’t push him away after all. He’d underestimated Daniel’s stubbornness. But the results of the night’s planned mission should tell him either way whether the whole operation was going to work. They were taking things to the next level.

He sat in their central camp with Sam and Teal’c, facing his dinner with little appetite. Sam was merely stirring her pork and noodle MRE, without actually eating any of it. Teal’c, who could normally be relied upon to put away two of the prepackaged meals, had barely made a dent in one. They all knew what was coming.

With the small campfire at their center, they were easy to see, but the area around them was perfectly black. A poor tactical choice, but perfect for their intended objective.

Teal’c heard him first. He put his MRE down and raised an eyebrow at Jack, who nodded. He, too, heard the soft, gritty slide of Daniel’s approaching footsteps in the coarse sand. Before Daniel got too close, Jack tapped the toe of his boot once, initiating the mission.

“Do you think he’s on to us?” Sam asked, a trifle too loud.

The footsteps paused.

“Daniel? Nah, he’s clueless.”

“I believe you are incorrect, O’Neill.”

Jack leaned back lazily, forcing down another bite of his mac and cheese. “Yeah?”

“Daniel Jackson is aware of a subterfuge. However, I believe he is mistaken as to its nature.”

Sam laughed, shaking her head. “Oh, no. Teal’c, even Daniel couldn’t be that oblivious. He doesn’t still think we’re planning a surprise party, does he?”

Teal’c nodded. “It is the only explanation I can find for his continued good spirits.”

Jack snorted. “Figures. He couldn’t take a hint if it jumped up and bit him.”

“Maybe we should be a little more obvious,” Sam said. “I mean, he talked to me about the difference between the way Mayans and Aztecs used capitalization for an hour yesterday.” She lowered her voice, affecting a droning, nasal tone. “While the two cultures are often associated or even mistaken for each other, and shared a close geographic location, there were many subtle differences. Language is often a telling sign when surface similarities blur together.” She groaned, shaking her head. “For an hour. I’m an astrophysicist! Why would he even think I care about stuff like that?”

“Beats me, Carter. At least you’re a scientist. When he lays that crap on me, I just wait for him to be done. And wait, and wait...”

“I tire of waiting,” Teal’c said. “Why must we continue to cosset him?”

“Hell if I know,” Jack replied. “I mean, sure, he’s been useful a time or two, but what can he do that the rest of us can’t? Translate some old chicken scratches? T can speak all the important languages, and besides, the whole universe speaks English anyway. He’s a passable soldier, but so is anyone else at the SGC, and I just bet anyone we could replace him with wouldn’t be such a pain in the ass.”

“Why did he join the team in the first place?” Sam asked.

Jack shrugged. “Well, at first, he was searching for Sha’re. Our mission objectives were different then, too. More sciency stuff, less acquisition. But times have changed, and if he can’t keep up... he’s gonna be left behind.”

Sam nodded thoughtfully. “He does seem to be clinging to the past, doesn’t he? I mean, did he think we’d just play nice with all the aliens and dig up old cultures forever? We can’t all have our heads in the clouds. Some people are actually aware of the bottom line, even if he isn’t.”

“Perhaps Daniel Jackson would be of more use if he remained on Earth.”

“I doubt it,” Jack replied. “Even there, we’ve got more scientists than we know what to do with. They all specialize in something. There’s a whole team who can do exactly what he does.” Which was bull, because nobody could do exactly what Daniel did, but Jack was on a roll now, and didn’t dare slow down. “All he can do is run the department, and you know how much Hammond hates the way he does it now.”

“Oh yeah, I heard about that,” Sam said. “Didn’t the General have to get someone to clean up after him when he screwed the admin report up?”

Jack nodded. “Yep. Took two pencil pushers a week to fix his mess.”

Teal’c frowned. “Why did he not have to correct his own mistakes?”

“Are you kidding? He’d only make it worse. Hammond just didn’t have that kind of time to waste. Now he doesn’t even ask Daniel to do it. Technically, he’s still in charge, but you know everyone there just humors him and then reports directly to Hammond.”

“That is what we all do,” Teal’c said. “We humor him. Why must we continue to tell him when to eat, or retrieve him when he becomes lost? He is not a child. Why is this tolerated?”

“Habit?” Jack suggested. “Hell, I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I didn’t have to pull his ass out of the fire on a semi-daily basis.” He snorted, rolling his eyes. “I might actually be able to do my job. God forbid.”

“I know what you mean, sir. Do you know how often he just wanders into my lab, going on about something or other? I mean, do I not look busy to him? Does he think I have nothing better to do?”

Jack nodded, aware of a soft catch of breath behind him. He ground his teeth together, forcing his mask of irritation to stay in place. “At least there’s one good thing about him being so damn clueless. How long have we been hanging out on our downtime without him ever knowing the difference?”

“Nearly a year, O’Neill. We first shared a meal in your home without informing Daniel Jackson eleven months ago.”

“That was a good night,” Sam said, smiling. “We had fun, didn’t we?”

“We always do when he’s not along. Nobody to explain all the cultural fallacies of whatever movie we’re watching, or insist we eat some weirdass Indian food, or get weepy drunk on only two beers.”

“Oh, I hate when he does that!” Sam groaned. “I mean, the whining when he’s sober is bad enough. Get him buzzed and his eyes go all big, his mouth starts to do that ridiculous little boy pouting thing, and he tells us how much he ‘loves’ us all. ‘Don’t ever leave me, guys.’ How pathetic is that?”

Jack nodded, swallowing. He remembered that night. Shortly after Sha’re’s death, Daniel had gotten outside a few drinks on a team night and broken down. He hadn’t been the only one crying by the end, either. He could see Sam biting her lip hard, her eyes suspiciously damp, and Teal’c was especially impassive, a mask of control. They couldn’t keep this up much longer.

“We’re still on for the eighth, right?” Jack said, his voice brash and overly cheery.

Lifting her chin, Sam forced out a vicious little laugh. “You’ve got to love the irony. He thinks we’re planning his party, and we’re actually putting together a trip to your cabin on the same day.”

“I look forward to visiting Minnesota again,” Teal’c said. Which was the biggest lie Jack had ever heard.

“Yeah, that weekend a couple months ago was great,” Sam agreed. “Sir, didn’t you actually ask Daniel up there once?”

Jack chuckled. “Right after he had his appendix out. I was counting on him being stuck in the infirmary. Can you imagine the two of us actually going? Trapped in a car with him for eighteen hours, then a cabin for a whole week?”

“I believe you would cause him bodily harm,” Teal’c observed.

“Ya think?”

Sam frowned, tilting her head to one side. “He still thinks we’re having a party for him, though. Won’t he suspect something when the eighth comes and we’re nowhere to be found?”

“Nah, he’ll just think we forgot. Hell, maybe it’ll be the clue that wakes him up.”

“We can only hope,” Teal’c said.

Jack nodded, stretching his back. He could see Sam losing the battle, her head down, her shoulders hunched. During the whole conversation, Teal’c had turned several small sticks into a pile of splinters. And Jack was seriously considering returning the little bit he’d managed to eat. It was time to wrap this up.

“Guess it’s my turn to go round him up,” he muttered. “I can already hear him explaining why it was ‘just so fascinating, Jack.’ And really, I have nothing better to do than drag him back to camp, right?”

“Do me a favor sir? Give him first watch. If I have it, he’ll stay up with me and talk.”

“Don’t worry, Carter. Why do you think I usually give him that shift? Although I must admit, there’s nothing like one of his lectures to put me out.”

Jack rose to his feet, moving slowly, giving Daniel’s retreating steps time to carry him back to the temple. Once he received a nod from Teal’c, confirming what his own ears told him, he sank back down, putting his head in his hands.

“We’re clear,” he muttered.

Sam let out a choked sob, then took a deep breath, fiercely controlling herself. “God, how could we do that? We were so... so cruel, sir.”

“We do this for Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c said solemnly. “That is the only reason I continue with this mak’tel.”

“I can guess what that means,” Jack said. He straightened, setting his jaw. “Alright, game faces, everyone. When I bring him back here, the operation continues as planned.”

Sam sniffed audibly and then squared her shoulders. “Yes, sir.”

Jack nodded, then turned to Teal’c. “T? We good?”

“We are not, O’Neill. But I will not reveal our deception.”

“Yeah.” Jack paused, feeling his fingernails dig into his palms. He hadn’t been able to unclench his fists since they’d started this sick little charade. “I know this is hard—believe me, I hate it too. Just remember who we’re doing it for.”

They nodded and he turned to go. He hoped Daniel would be composed by the time he found him. He didn’t think he could handle Daniel’s emotions on top of his own at the moment.

As he walked away, he heard Sam whisper, “He’ll never forgive us, and I don’t blame him.”

She wouldn’t get any argument from him.

He moved slowly, unsure what he would find. He kept his head down, concentrating on his control. His face would show nothing but the proscribed impatience at having to fetch Daniel.

“Jack?”

Jack’s head shot up, his mouth open. He was only halfway to the temple, and Daniel was hurrying to meet him. “There you are,” he said, regaining his role quickly. “Decided to join us, have you?”

Daniel stood before him, meeting his eyes for a brief moment and then glancing away. “Yeah, I... I lost track of time. I’m sorry, Jack.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Jack turned back toward the camp, and after a pause, Daniel walked beside him. He was quiet, his arms folded tightly, his head down. His breathing was a little rough, but other than that, he seemed to have things firmly under control. Jack was glad for small favors. If Daniel pushed, confronted him with what he’d heard, Jack doubted his ability to keep up the pretense.

“Uh... Jack?”

He sighed impatiently. “I’m sure the carvings or whatever were great, Daniel, but could we save it for another time? It’s late.”

“No, no, I wasn’t going to... I mean, I just wanted...” Daniel’s voice was rising and he took a deep breath, swallowing. “I guess... I’m just sorry.”

Jack gave him a sideways look. “Why?”

Daniel shrugged. “I know you... you shouldn’t have to come get me. I mean, I knew I was supposed to come back to the camp when it got dark. So, sorry for making you... uh, waste your time. I know you probably have better things to do.”

Jack ground his teeth together again. His right hand, hidden from Daniel’s view by his body, clenched until his knuckles ached. His voice was the perfect blend of mild surprise and weariness. “Glad you realize that.” Unspoken but clearly heard: finally.

Daniel nodded rapidly. “It, uh... I won’t let it happen again, I promise.”

Jack snorted. “I’ll believe that when I see it.”

Another thick swallow from beside him. Jack’s teeth were beginning to hurt from being crushed so tightly together.

Sam and Teal’c were sitting close together, speaking quietly as they walked up. They both eyed Daniel, stopping their conversation, and then gave Jack knowing looks. Daniel ducked his head, taking a long, slow breath.

“Alright,” Jack said briskly. “Daniel, first watch. Then Teal’c, me, then Carter.”

Sam flashed him a grateful smile. “Yes sir.” Teal’c nodded his understanding.

Daniel gulped again, and then abruptly sat down, staring into the fire, his face pale and set.

“Good night, Daniel,” Sam said, her cheery voice just a tad too bright.

“Wake me in two hours, Daniel Jackson.”

Daniel nodded, giving them both a brief, pained smile. They disappeared into their tents, and Jack stood beside Daniel for a moment, watching him curl his body incrementally tighter by the second. Jack heaved a long, put-upon sigh.

“For crying out loud, eat something,” he said, tossing an MRE at Daniel. “The last thing I need is you passing out on watch.”

Daniel fumbled to catch the tan plastic package, immediately tearing it open. “Right, of course, I... I was going to, really. You don’t have to remind me.” He opened a packet of applesauce and began spooning it in rapidly, offering Jack an apologetic smile between bites.

“Sure I don’t,” Jack retorted. “And don’t start scribbling in your notebooks and forget to keep your eyes on the perimeter.”

“Of course, I... I’ve got it, Jack. Really. You can count on me.”

Jack snorted and ducked into his tent. He pulled the flap closed, wrapped his arms around his shins, and pressed his face against his knees. Three deep, ragged breaths later, he thought he had some semblance of control back.

Opening the flap a tiny bit, he peeked out, finding Daniel’s pose markedly similar to his own. As he watched, Daniel lifted his head and ground the heels of his hands into his eyes. Jack could see his back rise and fall as he breathed, hard and fast. Daniel tilted his face up and stared at the sky, blinking rapidly. Then his jaw jutted out and he began to eat as he’d been ordered, grimly stuffing in bite after bite.

Jack retreated, unable to watch any longer. It looked like the operation was going to be a success. Peachy.

~~~

Daniel’s hands wouldn’t stop shaking. The script on the temple wall that he’d been so excited about yesterday seemed to be deliberately balking him today. It was fine, spidery, all but invisible to the naked eye. The video camera wouldn’t pick it up at all, no matter how he wrangled the lighting and angles. The only way to properly record it was with a fine charcoal rubbing.

That was difficult to do with shaking hands.

Taking a deep breath, he held the onion paper up against the wall more firmly and began delicately stroking the charcoal over it, watching the script appear, as if by magic, on the paper. There, he was getting it now. Not that it really mattered. Maybe a couple years ago it would have, but apparently, times had changed.

Daniel shook his head. He wasn’t going to think about that. He was just going to do his job. He was a professional. So his co-workers didn’t like him. That was nothing new. Pretty much all of academia thought he was nuts. At least the SGC knew he’d been right about some things. And okay, so maybe he’d been wrong more often than right lately, but hey, everyone made mistakes, right?

He would just keep his chin up and do the work like nothing had happened. His job. Just a job, that’s all. Not like it was his whole life or anything.

He dropped the paper, his charcoal leaving a long black streak on the pristine tan wall before he dropped that, too. He stared at the streak for a long moment. He’d contaminated the site. It should matter. He should be hurrying to wash it away before it had a chance to set, before the color seeped into the tiny pores in the material. Yeah, he should do that.

Daniel stared and did nothing. Wasn’t like anyone else would notice. Wasn’t like there would be a follow up team to fully explore the temple. Maybe one of Sam’s teams, to take samples of the building material, cutting chunks out willy-nilly, but an archeological team? Never happen. Different priorities now, after all. He just needed to get with the program. Before he was left behind.

Closing his eyes, Daniel leaned forward, resting his forehead against the cool, smooth wall. He needed to get a grip. Focus. This wasn’t so bad. He was still on the team, wasn’t he? If he was really so useless, really such a liability, wouldn’t they have removed him already? There was hope still. It could be salvaged.

He’d have to shape up, that’s all. Stop rambling endlessly about crap that nobody on his team cared about. Stop making them look after him and... what was the term Teal’c had used? Cosset. Yes. They shouldn’t have to cosset him. He didn’t need special treatment, special tolerance. He could keep up.

If he obeyed orders like Sam and Teal’c, if he shut up once in a while, if he wasn’t late to briefings or missions or... or anything, then maybe, maybe...

Sure. This was fixable. He’d just have to stop screwing up. Have to take responsibility for his own actions. Like that thing with the admin report Sam had mentioned—why hadn’t anyone told him he’d messed it up? He’d tried, really he had, but those military forms were supposed to be done in a certain way, and it wasn’t like they came with instructions or anything. How was he supposed to correct his work if nobody told him? He could learn, he could adapt. If they’d told him...

Daniel heard a crackling noise and looked down, blinking at the crumpled onion paper in his hands. He’d smeared the charcoal, blurring the rubbing beyond recovery. All his careful work, blown, just like that.

No. It wasn’t too late. As long as he was on the team, it wasn’t too late. He could do better. He knew he could.

He couldn’t help feeling that they’d expected the impossible. How was he to know? Why lie to him? If they were so bothered by his behavior, why didn’t they say something? He felt his cheeks burn, the tips of his ears hot, stinging. God, how many times had he prattled away, oblivious? How long had they been laughing at him?

It was okay, though. He could handle it. So he talked too much—that wasn’t exactly news, was it? Hardly. That would be an easy fix. And he could keep himself on a schedule, stop getting so distracted, so wrapped up in his work. Not that hard. He’d stop...

Daniel paused, rolling the charcoal between his fingers, watching it coat his hands in chalky black dust. Did he really whine? Sometimes he felt strongly about something, and he argued hard for it, but that was... it was debating, right? Did it sound like whining to them? To everyone?

Pathetic. Sam had called him pathetic. He remembered that night, oh yes. Devastated by Sha’re’s loss, woozy from lack of sleep and the inability to eat, and quickly falling under the influence of the two drinks Jack had plied him with, he’d lost it spectacularly. Cried all over them. Begged them to stay, to never leave him. But... they’d given him assurances, told him they loved him too—well, at least Sam had. Jack hadn’t said it, but the way he never stopped touching Daniel, the way he looked at him, that had said it for him. Daniel had felt secure, had trusted them.

Had he really been so stupid? After he’d fallen into an exhausted sleep that night, had they all laughed? Complained about his clinginess, his whining?

Maybe that was when it had started. Eleven months of getting together without him, Teal’c had said. The time frame was about right. Was that when they’d decided they didn’t want a pain in the ass who never shut up around? Was that when the tide had turned?

They’d been friends once, he was sure. They’d been close. His team had cared about him, respected him.

Hadn’t they?

After all, yesterday he’d been sure they were planning a surprise party for him. If he could be that blind, that—what had Jack said? Clueless. Yeah, Jack had him pegged with that one, didn’t he? Absolutely clueless.

How long? That was the big question, wasn’t it? How long had they tolerated him, putting up with his crap not because he was worth it, but because...

He didn’t even know why. Why hadn’t they kicked him off the team months ago? Or... or years ago? Why did they keep him around? It was true that Teal’c could translate Goa’uld, which was really the only pertinent language they still found besides English. SG-1 was about first contact, and he was good at the whole cultural thing, but when was the last time he’d used his skills purely as an archeologist? And for that matter, when was the last time culture had mattered? All they did now was visit other worlds, hang around long enough to determine if the people had anything worth trading for, and then leave. Whenever Daniel tried to offer some cultural insight, some advice, Jack cut him off.

That probably should have been an indicator, shouldn’t it? But then, he wouldn’t know a hint if it jumped up and bit him.

Daniel turned, pressing his back against the wall, folding his legs in front of him. He lowered his head, staring blankly at the floor. He was still worth something. He had to be, or he would have been history long ago. He clung to that idea, repeated it over and over. He was worth something. He was. He had purpose, value. He had to.

The balance could shift back in his favor again. It could. A little work, a few behavioral changes, and he wouldn’t such a pain in the ass anymore. He just couldn’t mess up again. He had to be careful. Had to do everything exactly right. Because his team had run out of patience, and this was his last chance.

~~~

Jack thought that if Daniel wound himself any tighter, he’d implode. He’d been vibrating like a bowstring all day, showing up first for every meal, keeping his head down and his mouth shut, occasionally flicking his eyes up to give them little lost glances.

Now they were gathered around the fire again, the sky falling into dusk all around them, alien stars coming out, a vast sparkling sprawl. They were close in to the center of the galaxy here, and the sky fairly teemed with stars, more than making up for this planet’s lack of a moon.

Daniel was eating methodically, as fast as he could, his shoulders hunched, holding the MRE close to his chest. He didn’t seem to notice that nobody else was eating much.

“So, Carter,” Jack said when he couldn’t stand the quiet any longer. “Did you figure anything out about that building?”

She nodded, putting her dinner aside with relief. “The material is hard, like stone, but the surface is slightly porous, more so than stone would be. Also, I can’t see any visible joints. It’s as if the whole structure was carved out of a single piece, or if it was constructed, the joints were somehow melted together.”

“Uh-huh.” Jack turned to Teal’c. “You ever seen anything like that before?”

“Perhaps the builders used a method similar to the way the Tok’ra create their tunnels. I have seen many great temples build for the Goa’uld, but they were all made on the backs of slaves, by hand. This place is more artificial.”

“Yes, that’s the word I was looking for,” Sam agreed. “Artificial. Like the whole thing popped out of an assembly line somewhere.”

Jack nodded. “So, is there any reason we need to stay another day?”

“Not that I can see, sir. I’m not going to find anything more in one day that I haven’t already found.”

“I concur, O’Neill.”

Jack glanced at Daniel, who had watched the whole exchange silently. “Daniel?”

He nodded rapidly. “Sure. No reason to stay.”

“So you’re done with your...” Jack waved a hand vaguely, “rubbings, or whatever?”

“Yes. Done. I can get my equipment and have it packed in about ten minutes if you want,” Daniel replied. The outer wrapping of the MRE rattled in his hands and he put it down quickly, digging his knuckles into his thighs.

Jack shrugged. “I dunno. What time is it on Earth right now?”

Sam checked her watch, which was still set to SGC time. “Just after seven in the morning, sir.”

“Oh, forget that, then. We’d end up at the mountain all day. Let’s sleep here, get back around four, do the debrief and go home.”

Sam nodded. “Once we’re off, we can—” She cut herself off, looking at Daniel. He met her eyes for a brief moment, and then dropped his gaze.

“I’ll, uh... I’ll probably work late. Um, going over the rubbings I got. So, if you guys want to, um... get together or something, I’ll take a rain check, okay?”

Sam bit her lip, but by the time Daniel looked up again, her face held the proper slightly relieved expression. “Okay,” she said. “Sir? Any plans?”

“It’s Friday, right?”

“Indeed it is,” Teal’c replied. “Is there not a sporting event on television?”

“Yep.” Jack leaned back against his rucksack, lacing his fingers behind his head. “I figure we order some pizza, watch the game, maybe play a little cards.”

He felt Daniel’s wounded gaze on him for a moment, but it was quickly dropped. Jack closed his eyes briefly, and then twisted the knife.

“You sure you have to work, Daniel?”

Daniel blinked at him, frowning, and Jack saw the flare of hope in his eyes flicker and die. “Um, yes, I’m sure, sorry Jack. Maybe next time.”

“Too bad,” Sam said, in a tone so obviously false that Daniel ducked his head again.

Jack dusted his hands together. “Okay, let’s get some rest. Up bright and early tomorrow.”

“I’ll take first watch,” Daniel volunteered. He was cleaning up the remains of dinner, stuffing empty wrappers and half eaten meals into a trash bag, then bundling it with their gear. They were always particular about not leaving their trash on other planets.

“Good,” Jack said. He made sure Daniel caught the meaningful look he shared with Sam and Teal’c. “Same watch schedule as last night.”

They retreated into their tents quickly. Nobody wanted to watch Daniel hang onto the edges of his control with grim determination.

Jack could hear Daniel pacing outside, soft, rapid steps, moving in a tight circuit. He listened to the catches in Daniel’s breathing, to the occasional muttered comment. Daniel seemed to be hushing himself. Jack could hear the repeated phrase, “Not too late, it’s okay, it’s okay... shhh... can do this, easy, fixable...”

Closing his eyes, Jack huddled in his sleeping bag and put a wadded up shirt over his ears. Daniel probably didn’t know he could be heard. He seemed absolutely set on holding onto his dignity, if nothing else. Obviously, he wasn’t about to just give up on SG-1. He was going to fight.

This would be harder than Jack had thought.

~~~

“Alright people, take the weekend. Dismissed.”

SG-1 rose from the briefing table, gathering up their various coffee cups, notebooks, and writing implements. Daniel in particular had gone through a lot of coffee. Jack surmised that he hadn’t been sleeping too well lately. Wasn’t too hard to guess why.

“See you tonight, sir,” Carter said. “About seven?”

Jack nodded. “Sure. Seven good for you, T?”

“It is,” Teal’c said.

Daniel gave them all a brief, furtive glance and said nothing.

The General cleared his throat, and once both Jack and Daniel were looking at him, he motioned to the Colonel. “A word?” he asked, letting his eyes linger meaningfully on Daniel for a moment.

Jack followed his gaze, then nodded. “Yes, sir.”

The others filed out, Daniel giving worried little backward looks over his shoulder all the way to the door. Jack raised his eyebrows and made an impatient shooing gesture. Daniel ducked and scuttled away, his notebook clutched to his chest.

“Sir?”

“My office.”

Jack followed him, sitting when he was invited to do so. Hammond settled behind his desk, met Jack’s eyes, and tugged once on his ear. Jack gave a slow blink, his head dipping ever so slightly.

“I noticed Doctor Jackson was very quiet during the debrief,” Hammond began.

“Yes, sir. He’s been quiet ever since we let him overhear us.”

Hammond nodded. “What was said?”

“Quite a lot,” Jack replied tiredly. “Enough to send a less resilient man directly to you to ask for a transfer. But apparently, Daniel is not going to play ball.”

“We knew that might be the case.”

“Yes, sir.” Jack sighed, scrubbing his hands over his face. “This could take a while.”

“What has his reaction been so far?”

“You saw.” Jack waved, jerking a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the briefing room. “He’s quiet. Withdrawn. And trying very hard to do everything right. He seems to think that if he just fixes everything we complained about, this will blow over.”

“Fixes everything? Is he actually going to change his whole personality because he thinks it’s what the team wants?” Hammond frowned, lacing his fingers together on the desk in front of him. “I had no idea he would be willing to do so much. I assumed he’d be angry, embarrassed—that he’d walk away rather than conform.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” Jack shook his head. “We underestimated how important SG-1 is to him. Since he heard us, he hasn’t spoken a word about his work. Not one. He’s only assured us, repeatedly, that he can stop whenever we’re ready to go. That he’s not going to slow us down. He waited for me to give him permission before returning to the temple yesterday, rather than just heading off on his own. He got out of bed this morning with no argument, no grumbling. Nothing. He’s like a different person.”

The General nodded, then tilted his head to one side, considering. “Isn’t this, in some way, what you’ve wanted? I know you haven’t been happy with his behavior, some of his habits. I know you’ve clashed when you gave orders he didn’t like. Isn’t this level of cooperation an improvement?”

Jack was quiet for a long moment. “I think, sir, this is a case of ‘be careful what you wish for.’ Daniel is obedient, he’s quiet, he’s helpful. He doesn’t argue, doesn’t talk back, doesn’t go on and on about whatever he’s excited about at the moment. And you know what? It sucks.”

“It’s only temporary,” Hammond replied. “Once the operation is over...”

“I think Carter was right about that.” Jack ran a hand over the back of his neck, looking down at the floor between his feet. “Daniel isn’t going to understand. He won’t get over it. One way or another, we’ll lose him.”

“Surely, once he realizes the necessity, that we had no choice, he could be talked around?”

“I don’t think you realize how vicious we were,” Jack said. “We didn’t just complain about his work habits. It was a personal attack. We cut him to ribbons. If I were in his place, I wouldn’t care about orders, or rationality.” Jack shook his head, lifting his hands in the air. “Hell, in his place, I would have already walked out. I would have said, ‘fine, you don’t want me, I don’t want you either.’ But Daniel...” He shrugged. “He won’t quit.”

“That is unfortunate,” Hammond murmured. “In the long run, his persistence only makes this whole thing harder.”

“Don’t I know it.”

Hammond took a deep breath, and sighed. “Very well, Colonel. The operation continues as planned. We’ll just have to push harder.”

Jack nodded, rising to his feet. He tossed off a mockery of a salute, turned on his heel and strode out, walking rapidly down the hall. He didn’t stop moving until he reached his little-used office, where he shut the door behind him and leaned against it, closing his eyes. Push harder? Just how much more could they hurt Daniel? Daniel didn’t break easily, or at all, as far as Jack knew. How much more was it going to take?

And more to the point, how much more could he and his team take before they just couldn’t do it anymore?

~~~

When Daniel caught himself checking the clock for the third time in as many minutes, he groaned and closed his laptop. Getting any work done was clearly a lost cause. Besides, his notes and recordings from the planet were a mess, erratic, missing big chunks of data. He hadn’t exactly been concentrating after the first day.

Seven thirty. They’d all be at Jack’s house by now. Teal’c would have possession of the recliner that he always managed to steal from Jack with an imperious look and a subtle flex of his mammoth arms. Sam, who often chose to sit on the floor with her back against the couch, would be picking the toppings off her pizza and eating them, leaving the thick, greasy cheese and carb-laden crust behind. Jack would have his feet up on the coffee table and his hands in the air, shouting advice and abuse at whichever team was playing.

Maybe he could go? He’d been invited, after all.

Yeah, the same way Jack had invited him to the cabin.

Shaking his head, Daniel neatened his office, closing his books and replacing them on the shelves, stacking his notes neatly. The notes still made no sense, but at least they were neat.

He headed down the corridor, towards the elevators and home. He didn’t need to intrude where he wasn’t wanted. He’d taken care of himself for years before SG-1, and he could handle solitude. Enjoyed it, actually. Here was his chance to catch up on his reading. Shampoo his carpets. Update his journals.

Oh yeah. This was going to be a great weekend.

Daniel got into his car and leaned forward, resting his head against the steering wheel. The parking lot was mostly empty around him, the streetlights casting puddles of light against the deepening evening. The top of the mountain was silhouetted against the lingering pale blue in the west, the sky tinted darker blue mixed with green where the last bit of the sunset was, and black with approaching night everywhere else. He normally loved this time of night, loved the coolness and the peace.

Daniel started his engine, quickly flipping his radio off when it blasted a political ad at him. He’d had it turned way up, singing along with some Beatles song on his way in—what was it? Three days ago? Two? He’d lost track. Seemed like forever.

As he drove down the mountain, he lowered his window, relishing the blast of cold air against his face. His cheeks felt hot again, the flush creeping up from his neck every time he thought of how blind he’d been. How stupid. Such a fool.

He could do this, though. Daniel still believed that he could conform to his team’s wishes, he could salvage his place, hang onto it like grim death. After twenty four hours of doing just that, he knew he could. What he wasn’t so sure about was if he wanted to.

What was he hanging on to? Memories? The hope that things would go back to the way they were if he just tried hard enough? He hadn’t changed. They’d changed and left him behind. Things were never going to return to what he remembered with such fondness. If he did manage to hold onto SG-1, what was he holding? A place where he couldn’t speak about what he loved to do because it bored them all to tears? A place where he was laughed at, mocked behind his back, and duly tolerated?

Why was he even trying?

When he’d first heard their casual, cruel words, it had cut him to the bone. It had been all he could do to keep silent, to listen. Much as he’d wanted to turn away, to shut it out, he’d forced himself to stay. Punishment, perhaps, for not knowing. For being clueless.

His first reaction had been panic, the need to cling to what he had, fear of losing them altogether. A desperate wish to change, to fix things, to repair whatever damage had been done. But why should he do that? Why should he change who he was for people who didn’t even like him? People who laughed at him, who called him pathetic.

Daniel had to admit that had stung the most. Pathetic. Talks too much, yes, okay, he could cop to that. Argumentative, stubborn, sometimes arrogant, those all had a grain of truth. But pathetic? Whiny?

Shaking his head, Daniel tapped the brakes, realizing he was going far too fast. Trying to outrace his thoughts would only land him wrapped around a guardrail somewhere.

The past twenty four hours he’d been meek as a mouse. He’d complied with everything they wanted, been on time for every meal, every briefing. He’d given the shortest, most concise report ever at the debriefing, had argued with nothing, had asked no questions, had obeyed everything Jack said, even if it was a mere suggestion, not an order.

That, Daniel had to admit, was pathetic. Weak. Was he so dependent on them that he was willing to put himself in a straightjacket just to please them? And how long could he keep up the stringently controlled behavior? Moreover, how could he possibly do his job without arguing? Without questioning, without pushing, he would simply be rolled over, ignored, dismissed. Then he really would be useless.

Maybe Teal’c had been right. He could better serve a purpose if he stayed on-world. Daniel hated the thought of giving up the exploration, giving up the camaraderie of the team, but those things were apparently already lost. He’d just had his head in the clouds, like Sam had said.

But could he do anything here? Did his whole department really just humor him? He didn’t think so, but clearly, he wasn’t the sharpest crayon in the box when it came to knowing what others thought of him. And it was true that he’d never been asked to do those admin reports again. At the time, he’d been grateful, thinking that Hammond had simply assigned them to someone else so Daniel could devote his time to research, translation, where his real gifts lay.

Had he really screwed them up so badly that the General wouldn’t even consider asking him to fix his work? Had he been written off as merely a waste of time?

Daniel pulled into the parking garage of his apartment building and got out of his car, hitting the remote button that activated the alarm and locked the doors out of habit. Instead of taking the elevator up, he walked back up the ramp to the street, crossed, and then craned his neck, staring up at his apartment. The windows were dark, the balcony bare of attractive plants or outdoor furniture. It looked like no one lived there.

He abruptly turned and started walking down the street. He had no desire to enter his cold, empty apartment.

Maybe a compromise could be reached. He could handle curbing his enthusiasm over his latest discoveries and theories, but not complying mindlessly with every single thing Jack said. He’d be willing to make a point of getting to briefings and meals on time, but he couldn’t stand the idea of pushing himself on a team that genuinely didn’t want him. Maybe, if he changed some things, they could accept the rest?

Daniel stopped and leaned on a streetlight, wrapping one arm around the thick metal pole and pressing his cheek against it. He figured that with a little low sax music and some cold rain the mood would be complete. Then he shook his head, snorted, and walked on. It was time to stop feeling sorry for himself.

He’d talk to Jack tomorrow, he decided. Try and hammer something out, a way to keep him on the team where he didn’t have to be miserable, and they didn’t have to tolerate a bunch of crap.

Daniel thought he was probably kidding himself that such a compromise would be possible, but what else could he do? He had to at least try.

So. Tomorrow, he’d know. One way or another.

~~~

By three on Saturday afternoon, Jack was just finishing cleaning his house from what had turned into a night of heavy drinking on Friday. Sam and Teal’c had arrived as promised, on the off chance that Daniel might swing by. When it became obvious that Daniel wasn’t showing, the suggestion of something a tad stronger than beer had been made.

Jack wasn’t entirely sure who’d started the shot contest, but he was reasonably sure Teal’c had been the victor. His capacity for alcohol had been staggering. And so had he, by the end of the night. Just the fact that Teal’c had actually been willing to drink said a lot about the general mood that evening.

They’d all been pissed off at the NID, guilty as hell over going along with it anyway, no matter how choiceless, and worried about what they’d have to do next. The drinking contest had started shortly after Jack had told them what the General said.

They’d slept late. Jack had come down the stairs around noon after a fortifying shower and a ten minute teeth brushing job to find Sam sprawled on the couch and Teal’c kelnoreeming for all he was worth. Luckily, Teal’c had the added benefit of zero hangover, so he’d been able to drive Sam home.

Jack had just about gotten the smell of tequila out of the couch cushions when a series of soft knocks landed on his door. Hoping like hell he’d get lucky and it would be some kid selling candy for his school and not Daniel, he opened up, squinting against the too bright sunlight.

Luck was not with him.

“Hi, Jack,” Daniel said with a wincing little smile. He kept blinking, his eyebrows rising and falling acrobatically, his coat held in front of him in both hands. Jack was unpleasantly reminded of the last time he’d had to lie to Daniel in this house. It had taken weeks of groveling before Daniel had really forgiven him for that one. This time it wouldn’t be so easy.

“Daniel.” Jack stared at him for a moment, unmoving. Maybe if he was exceptionally rude, Daniel would go away.

“I need to talk to you.”

Well of course he did. When did Daniel ever make things easy on him?

Jack rolled his eyes, sighed, and stepped back, allowing Daniel to enter. “What now?”

Daniel threw his jacket over the back of the couch and began to pace, his brow deeply furrowed, biting his lip. Jack sat down and waited, watching him go back and forth with a carefully constructed look of impatience.

“If someone wasn’t doing their job, if their performance in the field was shoddy, you wouldn’t hesitate to let them know, would you?”

“Sure.”

“Especially if that someone was a member of your team?”

Jack twirled one hand. “Do you have a point we might get to sometime today?”

Daniel turned on him, his arms tightly folded. “I want to know why you never told me. Why I had to overhear it on P2R-553. If the whole team was so fed up with me, why the lies? Why the pretending? And moreover, why talk behind my back? If you’ve got something to say about me, I want to hear it.”

Jack stared at him blankly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you don’t,” Daniel shot back. “Sorry, Jack, I’m not buying it. Maybe I’m not so clueless after all. Maybe I can take a hint when it jumps up and bites me.”

Jack’s eyes slid away, his mouth curling down into an irritated grimace. “Ah. That.”

“Yes. That.”

“So you heard us. Good for you.” Jack shrugged, folding his arms, matching Daniel’s hard stare. “That’s what you get for eavesdropping.”

“What?” Daniel threw his hands in the air and shook his head. “Is that all you have to say? Don’t you think I deserve a little more than ‘that’s what you get for eavesdropping?’ Jack, the things you said...” He trailed off, his arms lowering to his sides and hanging there, limp. “I didn’t know. If I had known, I could have done something about it. Changed. How was I supposed to know?”

“You’re a bright guy,” Jack said, inwardly wincing when he heard himself. “What, you never put two and two together?”

“That doesn’t make any sense!” Daniel sputtered, beginning to pace again. “What two and two? How was I supposed to know you were all putting up with my ‘crap’ for some unknown reason? And for that matter, if I’m such a pain in the ass, why am I still on the team?”

Jack slowly raised his eyebrows. “Good question. One we’ve been asking ourselves lately.”

Daniel stood still, just looking at Jack. His head shook ever so slightly. “So that’s it? It wasn’t like I came over here expecting an apology, but... but you’re...” He closed his mouth, blinking down at the floor for a moment. “Look,” he began again, his voice quiet and even. “I came to see if we could reach a compromise. Something we can all live with.”

“A compromise?” Jack echoed, mimicking Daniel’s tone. “Like what?”

Daniel waved vaguely. “I don’t know. I thought maybe, if I didn’t go on quite so much about my work, and tried to be on time for things, you could live with me sometimes arguing with you, or asking difficult questions. Because doing that is my job, Jack, a fact which seems to have escaped you.”

“Oh? You think arguing with me is your job? Disobedience, putting the rest of the team at risk, rushing headlong into risky situations—I guess that’s all in your job description too, right?” Jack stood, walking up to Daniel, glaring at him face to face. “I’ve got news for you. Your job is to translate, to dig, and to do what I tell you. We don’t need a translator on the team, we sure as hell don’t need a digger, so what does that leave?”

Daniel stiffened, leaning close, his eyes flaring wide. “In case you missed the memo, Colonel, I’m not in your chain of command. I was never your subordinate. I don’t take orders from you.”

“Way to state the blindingly obvious, Daniel. When have you ever taken orders?”

“That’s my point!” Daniel threw his hands up in the air, then reached forward, as if he wanted to shake Jack, stopping just short of actually grabbing him. “Are we not in the same conversation? You are not my commander! If you want to talk rank equivalence, I outrank you! And you damn well know it.”

“Not in a military situation, you don’t, and any time we’re off-world, that is a military situation. As long as the potential for combat exists, I’m in charge.”

Daniel blinked at him, his mouth working soundlessly. “Oh that is such bullshit!” he finally shouted.

Jack stared at him levelly. “I think it’s time for you to leave.”

Daniel closed his eyes, putting a palm over his face and taking a step back. “This was a mistake,” he muttered. “I never should have come here.”

Jack indicated the door with his eyes and said nothing.

After a long, charged moment, Daniel dropped his gaze, the fight going out of him in a rush. His shoulders slumped, his chin pointed toward the ground, and when he looked up again, his eyes were wide, pleading. “We can fix this... can’t we?”

Jack didn’t bother answering.

Daniel gave a tight little nod, picked his coat up, and left, closing the door behind him.

Jack waited until the sound of his engine went up the road, and then he flopped onto the couch, putting his hands over his face. Without removing them, he called out, “Simmons, I hope you’re listening, you son of a bitch. You’re only shooting yourself in the foot by driving him away, and it’s too bad you’re too goddamn stupid to see it.”

Then he located the remaining half bottle of bourbon underneath the recliner, opened it, and began to drink.

~~~

Daniel went to Sam next.

He was still whirling inside from his confrontation with Jack, so angry his hands shook, his heart thumping in his ears. What really galled him was the way Jack had simply shrugged off what he’d overheard that night. Jack had to know how much that had hurt, but was there even the slightest hint of apology? Even regret that Daniel had heard? He would have settled for a muttered ‘crap.’ But no, Jack couldn’t care less. Sure, Daniel had had all his misconceptions illustrated in the harshest way possible, had heard his supposed friends tearing him to pieces, had been thoroughly crushed. Big deal.

In hindsight, going to Jack had been the wrong move. They were always combustible together, and he’d gone in angry and hurt, in no mood to be reasonable. Jack had reacted predictably, Daniel had gone off on some tangent about rank which was nothing but an alpha pissing contest, and boom. He should have known better.

Sam, on the other hand—she’d always doted on him. They were like siblings. She’d have some patience for him, wouldn’t she?

Sam was the one who’d called him pathetic. Who had viciously belittled his work.

Daniel slowed considerably as he turned onto her street, considering. Could he really expect reason from her? At the very least, some answers? Or was he only setting himself up for another ride through the wringer?

Much as they respected each other—at least, he respected her, Daniel corrected himself. But even with that supposed respect, there had always been an aspect of competition. Sam was brilliant, but in a different way than Daniel, and he often came up with the unorthodox solutions when she was still crunching the numbers. Not to mention the none too subtle vying for Jack’s attention and approval. Had she always resented him? Was that why the claws had come out that night by the fire?

Maybe it would be better to go to Teal’c. The big Jaffa had often stood by Daniel when Sam and Jack would not. He’d always been a good friend. He was also not given to flights of temper, and he never minced words. Daniel could count on straight answers from him.

What had Teal’c said that night? That he was tired of humoring Daniel, of cosseting him, of tolerating his mistakes. He hoped Daniel would wake up.

Well, he was awake now. And since Teal’c was so sick of dancing around the truth, all the more reason he’d lay things out honestly. But he also wouldn’t hold anything back out of consideration for his feelings.

Sam, at least, would try to be polite, even if she was angry. And she might understand the situation better, the subtle politics involved, the cultural mores that Teal’c simply had no frame of reference for. That night, Teal’c had seemed genuinely puzzled. He might not know why Daniel had been lied to, or why he was still on the team.

Besides, he was already in front of Sam’s house, and his patience was in short supply. If he got nothing from her, he could always go to Teal’c next. At this point, what did he have to lose?

~~~

“It is your move, Major Carter.”

Sam blinked, shaking herself slightly. She focused on the game board sitting on her dining room table, staring blankly at the small, carved pieces. It was an exquisite set of the game Jackal and Hound, thousands of years old, in pristine condition. It had been a gift from Daniel. A birthday gift, she remembered with a bitter twist in her chest.

“Right. Sorry. Guess my mind isn’t really on the game.” She rolled the dice, then pushed two of her pieces forward, grouping them together to form a block that Teal’c would be unable to skip over.

Teal’c nodded. “I find myself distracted as well.”

“Yeah.” She gave him a small smile. “I appreciate you staying with me. I know you could have gone back to the base, but I’m not really in the mood to be alone.”

“I am glad to stay.” Teal’c frowned down at the game, one thick finger gently stroking the carved ebony head of a jackal. “I often played this game with Daniel Jackson. He used a great deal of his own time to teach me the finer points of strategy.”

“You’ll play it together again when this is over,” she told him.

He looked at her. “Perhaps.”

Sam nodded, looking down. Maybe they’d get Daniel back. Maybe he’d forgive them, he’d understand. She had to hold on to that hope, no matter how slim.

“I took it too far,” she blurted suddenly, picking up an alabaster hound and clutching it in her fist. She could feel the pointy little feet digging into her palm.

Teal’c raised an eyebrow, giving her a questioning look.

“By the fire that night.” Sam bit her lip, squeezing a little harder. “I could have sniped about something petty, or made something up. I never should have brought up the night after Sha’re died. That was just... even if he can understand the rest, that was unforgivable.”

There was a long moment of quiet, and then Teal’c reached over, gently uncurled her fist, and plucked the game piece out, placing it back on the board. “You underestimate Daniel Jackson’s capacity for forgiveness. If he can remain my friend after what I have done, what I have cost him, then he can forgive you as well.”

“You had no choice,” Sam said, rubbing the red mark on her palm where the hound had dug into the skin.

“Nor do we have a choice now.”

She shook her head. “That’s my point, I did have a choice. I didn’t have to bring that night up. Do you remember how he was, Teal’c? So broken. So afraid he’d lose us too, and then he’d have nothing. How could I use that against him? God, he probably thinks we were laughing at him that night.”

“When we began this deception, we knew we would have to hurt Daniel Jackson. It is a battle we fight, to force him to do that which he does not desire. In that battle, you did not waste time with a thousand small cuts, but delivered the killing blow with calculated aim. It is the mark of a formidable warrior.” For all his stern voice, Teal’c watched her with warm, understanding eyes.

Sam met his gaze, then blinked rapidly, brushing the moisture from her eyes with harsh, angry strokes. “Sometimes I hate being a warrior,” she said.

Teal’c nodded, and he suddenly looked very old. “It is not an easy thing to be.”

Taking a deep breath, Sam reached out to him, squeezing his wrist briefly, her slim fingers barely able to reach around it. “For either of us.”

“Indeed.”

Sam gave a little laugh, then sniffed, wiping away the last of her tears. “If I had a dollar for every time you said that...”

“You would still have no time to spend them.”

Her laugh was stronger this time, and Teal’c allowed himself a small, pleased smile. He picked up the dice to take his turn, but before he could roll them, a soft knock sounded at the door.

Sam frowned, her eyes finding the blurred shape of a man behind the thick mottled glass that surrounded her door.

“Daniel’s Jackson’s vehicle is outside,” Teal’c said, looking out the window.

Sam closed her eyes for a moment. “Oh, God, I can’t do this again.”

Teal’c rose to his feet and looked down at her. “You do not do it alone.”

She gave him a pained smile and rose as well, taking a moment to focus, to wipe all signs of what she felt from her face. They walked to the door together, shoulder to shoulder.

“Daniel,” she said flatly when she opened the door.

“Hi, Sam,” he replied, dropping his gaze for a moment, then raising it, meeting her eyes directly. He raised his eyebrows when he saw Teal’c, and seemed to hesitate for a moment, but then he nodded. “Teal’c. I didn’t expect you to be here, but it simplifies things.” He turned back to Sam and tried on a hopeful smile. “Can I come in for a minute?”

Sam shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. Did you want something?”

Daniel followed them back into the dining room, where Sam and Teal’c resumed their seats. His eyes lingered on the game for a long moment, and a brief, sad smile flickered across his face. Then he took the remaining chair around the small table, folding his hands in front of him.

“There’s no easy way to lead up to this,” he began, “so I’ll just come out and say it. Our first night on P2R-553, I was late coming back to camp in the evening. You two and Jack were already there, and I heard you talking about me.”

Sam winced not so much at the words, which she’d expected, but at the tone of his voice. So determined to be brave and rational, it was betrayed by the slightest quaver.

“Oh,” she said, giving him a rueful look. “Guess you got an earful, huh?”

Daniel’s lips tightened to a hard line for a moment before he forced them to relax. “You could say that.”

“I was aware of your presence, Daniel Jackson.”

Sam and Daniel both stared at him. Daniel’s mouth was opening and closing wordlessly, and Sam felt her own jaw drop. Teal’c looked at her steadily, one eyebrow twitching just a little. So they weren’t telling Daniel the truth, but cutting him in a new way.

“And you didn’t say anything?” Sam asked, folding her arms.

“I grew impatient with the deception,” Teal’c replied coldly. “What O’Neill calls ‘hinting’ was not effective. Daniel Jackson needed to be corrected bluntly.”

“Corrected?” Daniel echoed. “I don’t know about that, although it was certainly blunt. I got the message loud and clear.”

Sam shook her head impatiently, falling into the requisite role with frightening ease. “Teal’c, that’s just not how we do things. You know the Colonel and I wouldn’t have spoken that way if we knew Daniel was listening.”

“Why not?” Daniel snapped, fixing her with a hard look. “That’s what I came here to ask, actually. Why all the lies? Why keep me around if I’m so useless and pathetic?”

Sam didn’t have to fake her pained look when he tossed the words back at her. “It’s complicated,” she muttered.

“So explain it.”

“Look, it’s not like this happened overnight,” she said, glaring at him. “It wasn’t always this way. But you kept getting more insubordinate, and made more and more mistakes, and our priorities changed. We kept hoping that you’d see that, and either fix your attitude or take it elsewhere. We never wanted this to get messy.”

Daniel gave a slow, deliberate blink. “Messy,” he murmured. “So, you just laughed at me behind my back because actually telling me the truth would be messy? How long were you going to let things go on like that? And what would be so bad about saying ‘Hey, Daniel, stop talking once in a while?’”

“Daniel, a few months ago the Colonel told you to shut up to your face, and all you did was argue more!” Sam snapped, throwing her hands in the air.

“And I was right!” he shot right back, his eyes widening.

“That does not matter,” Teal’c interrupted. “You were openly defiant to your commander. The Eurondans could have been allies or enemies, and in either case, the Tau’ri needed to present a unified front. Your insubordination cost O’Neill respect in their eyes, and undermined his authority.” Teal’c leveled a dangerous stare at Daniel. “Were you a Jaffa under my command, you would have been immediately killed.”

Daniel closed his mouth, and for a moment the anger drained from his eyes. He looked betrayed, lost. But then he rallied, turning back to Sam. “Euronda was different, and besides, Jack apologized for that later. I’m talking about the every day stuff. If my coming into your lab and talking about my latest project bothers you so much, why didn’t you just tell me? Was I supposed to read your mind?”

“The Colonel apologized to keep the peace, not because he’d done anything wrong,” Sam retorted. “And that’s the same reason we all coddled you, to preserve the team. We go into life or death situations all the time. We had to be able to count on you, so we had to keep you happy. It wasn’t that big a deal at first, but as time went on and keeping you happy became a full time job, we all got sick of it. So we started blowing off a little steam, talking when you weren’t around.”

Daniel stared at her, swallowed, and then set his jaw. “So, that little session by the fire, that wasn’t the first time? This is a regular event for you?”

“Perhaps we would have complained less frequently if you had not given us so much to complain about,” Teal’c said. “You grew far too dependent.”

“Dependent,” Daniel repeated softly to himself. He looked up at Sam, reaching toward her with spread fingers, staring into her eyes. “I need to know if... if what I did on that team night after Sha’re died has anything to do with this. Is that when you all decided I was too... clingy? Too close?”

Under the table, Sam’s hands clenched hard enough to send stinging pain from her palms all the way up her arms, but her irritated, impatient expression never faltered. “Well, that was certainly part of it. We all recognized that you were under stress, but this is a professional military unit, Daniel. We expect a certain amount of self-discipline. Detachment.”

Daniel shook his head slowly, dropping his gaze again. “I can’t do that. I’m just not wired that way.”

“That has become increasingly obvious,” Teal’c said, raising one imperious eyebrow. “I have known for some time that you no longer belonged with SG-1. If I were in command, I would have removed you long ago. However, I acquiesced to the wishes of O’Neill and Major Carter, and showed you tolerance. My patience has now run out. That is why I allowed you to hear us that night.”

Daniel’s eyes closed for a long moment, but opened clear and hard. “Thank you, Teal’c, for being honest.” He shot a pointed look at Sam. “I knew I could at least count on you for that.”

Sam rolled her eyes. “Don’t give me more of your higher morals crap. You think you’re so much better than the rest of us because you walk along doing ‘the right thing’ while we wind up cleaning your mess. We can’t all be idealists. Some of us have to consider reality.”

“So what is the reality?” he asked quietly. “That you’ve all been mocking me for God knows how long? That the only reason I’m still on the team was because you felt sorry for me, or didn’t want things to get ‘messy?’”

“Yes, Daniel. Finally, you get it.”

He stared at her. She stared right back, uncompromising. Daniel looked to Teal’c for help, and got nothing but that same dangerous look. “Well,” he murmured. “At least now I know where I stand.”

Sam sighed, shaking her head. “Look, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry you had to find out that way.”

“I’m not,” he replied. “Better I know the truth than go on the way I was. I don’t enjoy playing the fool.”

“We wouldn’t have let it go on much longer anyway. Teal’c and I were both arguing for you transferring off the team. It was the Colonel who wanted to give you that one last chance, over and over. But after that mess with the Gadmeer... well, his fondness for you had limits.”

“Oh, let me guess,” Daniel muttered. “Yet another case of me being right, and yet somehow doing the wrong thing anyway.”

Sam threw her hands up in the air. “Oh, forget this. I was trying to be patient with you, but you just never stop, do you?” She gave him a disgusted look and stood, backing away from the table. “Teal’c, you explain it to him. I need another cup of coffee.” She walked through the open archway into the kitchen, veered toward the coffee machine, and as soon as she was out of Daniel’s line of sight, she slumped against the wall and put her face in her hands.

She could hear Teal’c telling Daniel how going back up to the Gadmeer ship was a complete act of disobedience, because he’d known perfectly well that Jack didn’t want him there. Using Jack’s order to ‘find another option’ was simply an excuse. In the end, he’d forced his commander to choose between his life and the lives of an entire race.

“Must not have been that hard a choice,” Daniel muttered. Sam bit her lip, forcing herself to breathe quietly.

“Despite your behavior, O’Neill had no wish to kill you. When you forced him to initiate an action that he believed would lead to your death, with no regard for what such an action would cost him, you lost the last of his favor. Indeed, I believe he has already spoken with General Hammond about your reassignment.”

There was a long pause. Sam hoped Daniel didn’t notice how long she was taking with the coffee. She just couldn’t face him again.

“I think I’ve heard enough,” Daniel said quietly. “Tell Sam goodbye for me, would you?”

Teal’c didn’t reply, but she assumed he nodded, because then she heard Daniel’s voice again, further away. “I’m sorry. I guess you all cut me a lot more slack than I deserved. I just wish I had known sooner. Would have saved us all a lot of trouble.”

Sam slid down the wall, curling her knees against her chest, holding her breath until she heard the door close. Then she let out a single ragged sob. After that, she was perfectly silent, but for soft puffs of breath, hitching rapidly.

Large, warm hands pressed against her shoulders, and she looked up, Teal’c blurring before her. He helped her up and pulled her close wordlessly, and she buried her face in his chest.

“This will be over soon,” he murmured. “We have succeeded.”

Sam gave a harsh, bitter laugh and said nothing. There was nothing left to say.

~~~

Daniel drove aimlessly for a long time, any kind of rational thought lost in the rush of white noise in his head. Bits and pieces of what his team had said kept coming back to him, but he refused to listen. Every time he heard Jack’s voice calling him clueless, useless, a liability, a waste of time, he shook his head sharply and turned the radio up.

Over the crashing noise of the local heavy metal station—one he didn’t normally listen to but the wild discordance fit his current mood—Sam’s voice somehow insinuated itself in his mind. Whiny. Pathetic. Also, apparently arrogant, full of himself, and out of touch with reality.

Teal’c, at least, had been straight with him. Brutally straight. ‘If you were a Jaffa under my command, you would have been immediately killed.’ Pretty much said it all, didn’t it? Hell, apparently Teal’c had wanted him off the team even before the others.

So Jack had been the last holdout? Hanging on to a friendship that had eroded long ago, out of some misguided sense of... of what? Old times’ sake? But apparently he’d pushed Jack away as well.

Gritting his teeth, Daniel cranked the radio up another notch. The big speakers in the back seat were now vibrating with each beat, the windows rattling, the steering wheel pulsing in his hands. People stared as he went down the street. Someone yelled something at him that he couldn’t hear, but he assumed it was an angry directive to turn that crap down.

He had to do something. Make some decisions, take some action. He felt like he was a step behind, playing catch up. Not acting, just reacting. There had to be some kind of way to salvage...

No. He’d been wrong before. It was too late.

So he’d be kicked off the team. That old joke—you can’t fire me! I quit!—came back to him and he smiled grimly. That’s what he would do. He wouldn’t be called before Hammond and given his walking papers, oh no. Not Daniel Jackson, multiple PhD, multiple homes, multiple families. Walk away from his life? Hardly a new experience. Hell, he’d walked away from his planet. They couldn’t send him away. Not if he left first, of his own free will, with his dignity intact.

Daniel turned the radio off, the noise giving him a headache. He steered toward the mountain until it occurred to him that it was Saturday. Getting to be late Saturday, actually. Hammond wouldn’t be there. Well... he might be there. As far as Daniel could tell, he pretty much never left. He could swing by and check.

He drove up the mountain road for about five minutes, and then he glanced in the rearview mirror and saw his reflection. He made an abrupt U-turn and headed back toward his apartment.

Presenting his resignation to Hammond wasn’t going to be the act of a desperate, unshaven, unwashed man. And moreover, he wouldn’t do this on the weekend. This was his time. Let it wait until Monday. Use some of their time. He’d show up in Hammond’s office at nine on the dot, clean, crisp, in control.

No one sent Daniel Jackson away, no sir. He didn’t go where he wasn’t wanted. “That’s just fine,” he murmured to himself, unwittingly echoing Jack’s words of the day before. “You don’t want me? I don’t want you either.”

He clung to the pride, the anger. It kept the voices of his friends away.

~~~

Sunday was not a good day to look for a new job. Apparently, most of the world took Sunday off. Or at least, most of Western culture, which was more an influence of widespread Christianity and general tradition than...

Daniel leaned down and smacked his forehead against the desk. The superfluous chain of Sunday and work related thoughts stopped.

Really, it was no longer about respecting the Sabbath, which very few people still did in the strictest sense of the word, but more about having a day away from work to get chores done around the house, spend time with family and friends, sleep in...

Another head smack. He was beginning to get a headache.

Of course, it was also possible that the headache was due to the massive amounts of coffee and chocolate he’d consumed. Those two things had always been his comfort devices. That, and some time spent curled up with a good translation or a really interesting archeological journal, but he didn’t have any translation work to do and all his journals were full of Earth based bunk. Of course, he knew they were wrong, but he couldn’t tell them they were wrong, and oh, by the way, he was right.

Which led back to his difficulty with finding a job.

Daniel had to admit that the current date was not really the reason he was coming up empty. Those who wished to employ an archeologist-slash-linguist-slash-interstellar diplomat and explorer...

Oops. Must strike that last one off the resume. Which left his last five years of employment history a tad bare.

Anyway. Those who would hire someone with his education didn’t exactly put want ads out in the yellow pages. You had to know someone who knew someone who had tenure and published works to his name and then maybe if you sucked up enough you could get a position.

Daniel was reminded why it had been so easy to leave academia in the first place. It was restrictive, competitive, highly political, and if you didn’t have the right connections, you were toast.

Of course, going against hundreds of years of accepted theory hadn’t helped.

“I was right,” Daniel muttered. “Must be another case of right and still wrong. I seem to be good at that.”

Then he decided talking to himself was a bad sign. Perhaps it was time to cut back on the coffee. Or the chocolate. Or both? Hmm... massive doses of caffeine combined with enough sugar to induce coma in a diabetic...

Could explain the current ‘pinging off the walls’ ambiance in his head.

No coffee tomorrow when he saw the General. He’d be calm, collected. No jitters, no twitches, no stuttering.

Well. Maybe just one cup. Falling asleep in Hammond’s office wouldn’t be particularly dignified either.

Sighing, Daniel abandoned his online search for a dig seeking an archeologist, and went to his bank website. The numbers in his checking account were decent, and the ones in his savings were very reassuring. He could keep paying the bills for quite some time with that. The Air Force had paid him well.

Daniel snorted. Too bad for them they hadn’t gotten their money’s worth.

So. The job search could go on the back burner. Maybe he should consider looking for a new place? He certainly didn’t want to hang around here, where he could run into someone from the SGC in the grocery store or the library. Which were pretty much the only two places he ever went in town.

Getting a new lease on an apartment would be tricky without a job. Landlords liked their tenants to have steady sources of income. This was one of the harder facts of life he’d learned as a dirt poor student. That, and the fact that car loan companies who said ‘We approve everyone!’ didn’t.

Daniel winced. At least his current car was paid for. His credit was pretty shaky. Being officially dead tended to scare creditors off. Particularly when it happened more than once. And if creditors didn’t like him, life insurance companies wouldn’t even talk to him.

He could always go back to Egypt. They didn’t perform a whole lot of credit checks there, and the cost of living was extremely low. He could find a dig in process—there was always a dig somewhere in Egypt—and he’d ask if maybe he could help. Once they saw how much knowledge he had, he’d be in. Provided they didn’t inquire too deeply into who he was and where he came by that knowledge.

No, that wouldn’t work. Not in these days of background checks and internet access in remote areas. No reputable archeologist would hire a complete unknown with a suspicious gift for the work. Too much paranoia in the business, always needing to guard against someone else stealing your work, taking credit for your discoveries.

If Egypt was out, then so was any other area popular with those who occupied themselves studying the past. He was persona non grata in the profession. Nobody would touch him with a ten foot pole.

Daniel lifted his coffee cup, having already forgotten his intention to stop flooding his bloodstream with caffeine. Before it got to his lips, he froze, a new idea coming to him.

Why not Abydos? Kasuf was there, and Skaara, and while going back to the home he’d shared with Sha’re would be painful, at least he could visit her grave whenever he wanted. He’d be among friends, welcomed, respected.

They did respect him, right? Or had he been wrong about them too?

No. Daniel shook his head, then closed his laptop, slamming the top down with far too much force. There was nothing on Earth for him. Abydos would be happy to have him back. To think otherwise was nothing but paranoia.

But would Hammond let him go through the gate?

Daniel paused, fingering the open button on his laptop. Maybe he shouldn’t cut his ties to Earth so quickly. He might not have the option of taking off.

Now that he’d decided on Abydos, the possibility of not being allowed to go was disturbing. Where else could he go? When he’d first gone through the gate a little over five years ago, the decision had been so easy. Stay with his beautiful new wife and explore a living culture that he’d only known through dusty artifacts, or go back to his place as a penniless crackpot. What Jack would call a no-brainer.

Daniel closed his eyes and firmly pushed thoughts of Jack away. His friend’s irreverence, his quirky sense of humor, and his quiet courage were in the past now. Apparently, the friendship itself had been in the past for quite some time. He’d just been the last to know.

Anyway. Focusing. Abydos was still the best choice, the only choice. Without the SGC, what did he have to hold him here? Nothing, that’s what. He’d never created any permanent ties outside work. Never put down roots.

Maybe, on some level, he’d known all along that this wouldn’t last.

Hammond just had to let him go. If he didn’t... well, Daniel had gone through the gate without permission before, and he’d do it again. Get to the other side, immediately dial out so they couldn’t chase him, and then rally some help to bury the gate. With the DHD, he could always dial faster than the SGC computer. He’d just keep that outgoing wormhole active until the gate was permanently cut off.

Maybe, after a while, they’d tire of trying to dial Abydos, and he could unbury the gate and go back to some of the planets SG-1 had visited. He could linger over all the sites he’d wanted to fully explore and was never allowed to. He could indulge himself, spend weeks or months poring over the fascinating things out there, and really learn something meaningful. On his own time, in his own way, nobody breathing over his shoulder and telling him to hurry up.

No one watching his back, bringing him food, listening to him explain what he’d learned. What had Ernest said? No prize is worth attaining if you can never share it, there would be no point.

Well. He’d just share it with the people of Abydos then, wouldn’t he? Sure. They were still mostly illiterate and thought the Goa’uld were demons, but they’d appreciate higher archeological insights, right?

Daniel considered whacking his head on the desk again.

Never mind. He’d been happy there once, and he’d be happy again. Sure, it would be harder without Sha’re’s warmth and affection to go home to each night, but Kasuf cared for him. And Skaara had seen the galaxy as Klorel. He’d gained knowledge and experience—in the worst possible way, yes, but that knowledge was there. He could speak to Daniel as an equal.

That is, if he even wanted to think about his time as a host. Which he probably didn’t. And Daniel was probably selfish and inconsiderate to even think of asking him to remember what had to be the worst time of his life.

Never mind. Abydos was a starting point. He had the whole gate network to choose from. If his adopted planet didn’t work out, he could move on. The Tollan liked him. Well... maybe ‘liked’ was a bit optimistic. But they seemed to tolerate him better than the average human. They were advanced. They’d appreciate what he could contribute. Except that they were so advanced he’d be like a child, given little pats on the head and amused glances for his efforts.

Didn’t matter. He’d find a place, a home. There had to be one somewhere.

~~~

General Hammond glanced once again at the clock, and then quickly directed his eyes back to his desk, staring down at some form as if it could really hold his interest. After conferring with his co-conspirators on SG-1, he was fairly certain Doctor Jackson would be appearing in his office soon. SG-1 had done their job, and now it was his turn.

He picked up several pieces of paper and tapped them on the desk, neatening them. Then he placed the whole stack in one corner, lining the edges up with the side of the desk. His eyes wandered to the clock again. Nearly nine in the morning. The traditional start of business was still nine, even if the SGC typically got rolling much earlier. He’d been in since six, but had spent the whole morning in his office so far, rather than holding briefings and meetings. He’d wanted to be available, just in case Daniel was early.

Hammond snorted and shook his head. The flagship team of what was arguably the most important military endeavor on the planet, and the commander of that same facility, all put on hold to accommodate one archeologist. They were doing their utmost for Daniel. Pity that he’d never see it that way. Not that Hammond blamed him.

When he’d spoken with Jack on Sunday, his 2IC had been obviously hung over, wrung out, and impatient for this charade to be over. His description of the brief, intense ‘conversation’ with Daniel the day before had gone a long way to explain the hangover. Hammond had pretended not to notice.

He’d never been a drinking man himself, and even if he were the type to indulge when things were bad, he had too many responsibilities. He was always on call, General or not. So while Jack could seek comfort in a bottle, and apparently Sam and Teal’c were supporting each other, he had to content himself with the knowledge that his part in this farce would be mercifully brief.

Right on schedule, three sharp raps sounded on his door. The General looked up, took a deep breath, and then called out, “Enter!”

Daniel walked in, his chin up, wearing simple khaki slacks and a dark red button down shirt, done up all the way. He stopped three paces in front of the desk, squared his shoulders, and met Hammond’s eyes. The implication of civilian clothes rather than the standard uniform was not lost on either man.

“Doctor Jackson, please, sit down. What can I do for you?”

“I’d rather stand,” Daniel replied evenly. “I came to speak with you about my position on SG-1.”

Hammond nodded once, glancing down at the sheaf of papers front and center on his desk. “Yes, Colonel O’Neill told me you might be coming by.”

Daniel’s confident expression faltered for a moment, his mouth opening slightly, his eyebrows rising. “He did?”

“Yes. And to be honest, Doctor—”

“Which would be a refreshing change of pace, wouldn’t it?” Daniel interrupted pointedly.

The General’s eyes narrowed. “May I remind you that for the moment, you are still employed by the SGC, and you still report to me. I will thank you to show some decorum.”

Daniel stiffened, his jaw clenching. “Yes, sir,” he replied icily. “Please continue, sir.”

Hammond took another deep breath. He’d upbraided officers under his command before, he’d dismissed those who were unsatisfactory without mincing words as to why, he’d done hard things under orders—but this was more painful than he’d expected. He suddenly felt new compassion for SG-1, who’d had to do far more.

“As I was saying, to be honest,” he paused and gave Daniel a look, but no more interruptions were forthcoming, “I’m glad you came to me. It saves me the necessity of asking for your resignation.”

Daniel sucked in a quick breath, his eyes wide and blinking rapidly behind his glasses. “Asking for... I thought Jack had only requested a reassignment?”

“Yes, but I’ve made some inquiries, and no other team is willing to take you on.”

There was a long pause, and then Daniel said, “Oh,” in a very small voice. “What about staying on-world?”

Hammond shook his head firmly. “I’ve also spoken with the anthropology and linguistics departments. There were already quite a few complaints about you when most of your time was devoted to SG-1. If you were here full time... well, they would find that unacceptable.”

Daniel sat down, clasping his hands in front of him and staring at the floor for a moment. “I see.”

Picking up the slim stack of papers he’d looked at before, Hammond held them out. “I’ve already drawn up the paperwork, actually. In light of your past contributions, you’re being offered a generous severance package.”

A small, ironic smile touched Daniel’s lips. “Just what is the going bonus for saving the planet?”

“That was hardly a solo endeavor,” Hammond replied in a hard voice. “Also, I’m sure you’ll understand the need for circumspection after you leave? Part of your resignation includes a non-disclosure agreement.”

“Ah,” Daniel said. “Hush money.”

“National security is not something we take lightly around here, Doctor Jackson.”

Another bitter little smile. “Well, you can keep your severance package. I won’t need money where I’m going.”

Hammond set the papers down on the side of the desk closest to Daniel and leaned back, crossing his arms. “Excuse me?”

Daniel met his eyes. “I’d like to take one last trip through the gate, to Abydos.”

The General froze for the barest moment. Daniel simply couldn’t go to Abydos. He had to remain on Earth for the NID mole to approach him. “I’m afraid that’s impossible.”

“What? Why?” Daniel sputtered, half rising from his seat. “It saves the government from wasting what I’m sure is a ridiculous amount of money on my ‘generous severance package,’ and it ensures that I won’t be telling anyone on Earth about the SGC. Since apparently every single person here is sick to death of me, I’m sure they’d be pleased to have me off the planet entirely.”

“I think that’s quite enough self-pity,” Hammond said crisply. “And furthermore, allowing you off-world is simply too great a security risk.”

Daniel’s eyes narrowed at the self-pity remark, but he ignored it otherwise. “Explain to me how living on Abydos, which I’ve already done for over a year, is a security risk?”

“What guarantee do we have that you’d remain on Abydos?” Daniel flinched slightly, and Hammond knew he’d hit the mark. “With your knowledge of the gate system, you could go anywhere,” he continued. “You could be captured and forced to divulge secure information about this program.”

“Your concern for my welfare is touching,” Daniel replied coldly. “And I suppose my word that I’d stay on Abydos is worthless?”

Hammond simply looked at him. After a moment, Daniel nodded. He rose stiffly to his feet, holding himself as still and tall as possible. Scooping up the resignation packet from the desk, he raised his eyes and stared at the General for a moment, seeming to search for something. Perhaps some sign of the fondness Hammond had always had for him, the trust and camaraderie that had once been so strong. Hammond’s face was a perfect military mask, empty and unfeeling.

“Thank you for your time, sir,” Daniel said, all traces of bitter sarcasm gone from his voice. “I guess I own you an apology, too. All I can say is that I appreciate you giving me all the latitude and patience, and the opportunity to explore through the gate for as long as I did. I’ll have these papers signed and back to you within the hour.”

Hammond swallowed, forcing his voice steady. “See that you do.” Daniel nodded once and turned to go. The General let him reach the door, and then called out, “Doctor Jackson? Please be aware that any attempt to go through the gate without permission will be met with force. Is that clear?”

Daniel’s head jerked up, and he turned wounded eyes on Hammond. “It’s clear,” he murmured. Then he dropped his gaze, clutched the forms with white-knuckled hands, and slipped away.

Hammond took five minutes of quiet to compose himself. Then he picked up the phone and dialed, steeling himself for the oily, smug tone on the other end.

“Simmons.”

“It’s done,” Hammond said. “He’s resigned.”

A low chuckle. “After only a week? Apparently he’s not as resilient as you all thought.”

Hammond bristled, his back stiffening, his free hand clenching on the desk. “Doctor Jackson is a better, stronger man than you could ever hope to be, Colonel. Now send your man to do his job, and let’s get this dirty business over with.”

“Oh, not just yet,” Simmons replied lazily. “Let’s give him a little time to stew. We want this to be an accurate test of his so-called loyalty, don’t we?”

Biting back the first three responses that leapt to his tongue, Hammond ground his teeth together. “This has gone on long enough. The orders that you got so carefully authorized clearly stated that once Doctor Jackson was driven to resign, the mole would approach him. Giving him time to ‘stew’ was never specified. We’ve done our jobs, now you do yours.”

There was a discomfited silence, and then Simmons sighed. “Fine, have it your way. I just hope for Doctor Jackson’s sake that he isn’t still angry enough to take what the mole offers. Really, some time to cool down would be the wiser choice.”

“Your concern for Doctor Jackson’s welfare is truly touching,” Hammond gritted, glad he could toss Daniel’s words at the man who deserved them. “You have one day to finish this.” Then he hung up, slamming the receiver down with enough force to rattle Simmons’ eardrums. It wasn’t the payback he wanted, but it would have to do.

~~~

Daniel signed the resignation forms without reading them. He was sure they were correctly prepared. After all, Hammond had apparently had time to go over them, to put them in the proper order. He was, once again, the last to know.

He left them with Hammond’s assistant, unwilling to face the General again—the man who had once called him ‘son’ with such indulgence—and he headed for the elevators. All he wanted was to get out, to get away.

It wasn’t until he was driving down the mountain that he realized he had no idea where he was going. After all, he’d already determined that there was nothing on Earth for him. Now that Hammond had made it so clear he wasn’t getting off-world, he was out of options.

He slowed down, and then pulled off in a scenic overlook, sitting in his car with his thumbs tapping the steering wheel, ignoring the view. Why had he left the mountain? He should have made his move right away, conned someone into letting him through the gate before word of his dismissal got out.

Except... what if he’d tried that and gotten caught? How embarrassing would that be? To be caught like a grounded teenager sneaking out the window. He could imagine the looks on the SFs faces as they dragged him away from the gate. Laughing at him.

No, it was better this way. On Earth, he could start over. A new country, perhaps, and a new job. Not archeology or linguistics, those were closed to him, but he was still young, and a quick study. What was one more PhD? If he was frugal, his savings and his ‘severance package’ would see him through the costs of another degree.

It would have to be something radically different than his current field, though. Anyone even remotely associated with the study of the past would steer clear of Doctor Jackson, the man who thought aliens built the pyramids. He’d dearly love to know who started that rumor, since he’d never said any such thing. How do you get from ‘The pyramids are much older than anyone thinks’ to ‘I believe aliens build the pyramids’ in the space of one lecture? And in point of fact, aliens had built the pyramids. Not that being right helped him. Again.

So. What other profession could he take up? Medicine? Daniel considered, and then shook his head. If his own tendencies as a patient were any indication, dealing with sick people was a huge pain in the ass. Anything in higher mathematics was out as well, simply because he didn’t have the gift for it. He had the intelligence to learn it, but it would be like slogging uphill the whole way, always only good enough to pass.

He liked history, but that was too closely related to anthropology. He should be able to get a job teaching English as a second language, but that would be such a step down. Not to mention teaching in any venue made running into old colleagues likely, and Daniel didn’t want to face any of them. He was washed up, just like they’d always predicted.

Hell, maybe he could be a stripper. Since half the universe seemed to want to get into his pants, he must have something worth looking at. Or maybe he only attracted alien megalomaniacs.

Daniel snorted and pulled back onto the road, continuing down the mountain. He’d think of something. This was hardly the first time he’d been kicked to the curb. Once he regrouped, got over the shock of being left behind, he’d jump right back into the game. Once more into the breech and all that.

After all, didn’t they say that practice made perfect?

~~~

Within twenty four hours of being unemployed, Daniel was going nuts.

It was silly, when he thought about it. He’d had downtime before, sometimes a week at a time. Longer, if you counted times when he was injured and recuperating. One day without work should not have driven him up the wall.

Perhaps the difference was that he knew it would be more. There was no interesting translation to look forward to, no speculation about the next mission, no report to finish up. His apartment was clean, and he’d done a little half-assed packing, but had decided to put it off. No rush, after all. He had plenty of time.

Daniel flopped on the couch, stared up at the ceiling, and said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

Then he thought he should really stop talking to himself, especially since he never seemed to have anything good to say.

He got up and crossed to one of his bookcases, trailing his fingertips along the spines, trying to find comfort in the familiar feel of bound leather. He pulled a book out at random, leafed through it, and put it back with no idea which book it was. They were all useless to him now anyway, remnants of a past life.

Daniel went to his back window, leaning against the sliding glass door, watching the rain drip down in little rivulets. It was drizzling out, gray and cold, and he thought, how fitting. Matched his mood just fine. He allowed himself to wallow in self-pity for a couple minutes, and then he walked away, shoving his depression down fiercely. He refused to even acknowledge the bare moment when he’d considered his balcony, and the eight story drop.

He returned to his bedroom, where there were a few of the less delicate artifacts wrapped loosely in newspaper and put into a box. So many of his things would have to be shipped under special conditions, because they were sensitive to temperature and humidity. Or maybe he should simplify the process and sell the lot of them, keeping only a few personal favorites. Less to ship, more money to work with. His collection was extremely valuable.

Which pieces would he keep? His Abydonian wedding bowl, of course. It held no monetary value anyway, and even if it did, he’d never part with it. The delicate hand thrown clay would have to be packed with the utmost care. He’d also want a few of the artifacts from off-world civilizations that had been cleared to leave the mountain. The small figurine of a Minoan bull’s head from the Land of Light was a personal favorite, gifted to him by Tuplo.

Daniel frowned, looking around the room again. He had so many things, and each one meant something. Each one was unique, precious. He didn’t want to let any of it go. He was going to become an eccentric old packrat, living in some hut in Egypt with his vast collection of personal treasures worth millions, and barely enough to eat because he couldn’t bear to part with any of it.

Closing his eyes, Daniel shook his head sharply, trying to rid himself of the startlingly vivid mental image. For a moment, he’d seen the grimy, close hut, packed to the ceiling with piles of possessions, and himself, a ragged old man, standing vigilant guard over it all, unable to let go.

He could let go. He could. He’d done it before, and he’d do it again. And again, and again, however many times he had to.

Daniel pulled another box out of the closet and began piling books in it. Books were easy, flat and square and requiring no packing material. He wedged more in when the box became full, shoving them into gaps at the sides, pushing harder when they wouldn’t fit. Grunting, putting his full weight into the task, swearing under his breath until with a dull tearing sound, the cardboard box burst a seam and books spilled out onto the bed.

Daniel stared at them blankly for a moment, then turned and walked out of the room.

This just wasn’t the day to pack. Trying to deal with all that crap was stressful, and he had enough stress at the moment. He needed to unwind, to calm himself, and then he’d deal with it. He reminded himself that there was no hurry. It wasn’t as if he had somewhere he had to be.

He sank back into the couch and considered the remote on the coffee table, but didn’t bother reaching for it. Most television was vapid and overly cheerful, and the educational channels he usually favored would only be an unpleasant reminder of his former job. Daniel looked up at the ceiling again, but refrained from making another pithy remark.

He was nearly asleep when the knock came, startling him, his arms flailing upward for a moment before he remembered where he was. Daniel sat up and looked toward the door, frowning. If it was a member of his team, he didn’t want to see them, and he had no idea who else it would be.

“Yes?” he called out cautiously, walking toward the door. “Who is it?”

“Doctor Jackson?”

“No, that would be me. I asked who you are.”

There was a pause, and Daniel allowed himself a little petty pleasure at befuddling whoever had disturbed his nap.

“Doctor Jackson,” the man’s voice continued shouting through the closed door, “My name is Jerry Pembroke and I represent The Journal of Linguistic Anthropology based out of Washington DC. I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?”

Daniel blinked at the door for a few seconds, and then opened it. The man on the other side could have come out of a cookie cutter marked ‘geek.’ Tweed jacket, complete with elbow patches, horn-rimmed glasses with thick coke bottle lenses, a greasy, receding hairline and a thin, weedy body. Daniel wondered if he’d once looked that way, except with shaggy hair and a cheaper jacket.

“Doctor Jackson?”

“Yes,” he replied. “Can I help you?”

Pembroke smiled, revealing unsurprisingly bad teeth. “Actually, I may be able to help you. If I could please step inside?”

Daniel nodded and backed up, his eyes never leaving his visitor. Something about the guy immediately rubbed him the wrong way. Maybe it was the overly thick lenses of his glasses, which should have made his eyes seem huge, but didn’t, which implied they were not a strong prescription at all, but merely clear glass. Maybe it was the way he balanced on the balls of his feet as he walked, a habit he’d noticed in most seasoned soldiers. It made dodging easier. Or maybe it was the over the top nerdy academic look, like a caricature of the real thing, because nobody really looked like that anymore. The guy had a bow tie.

“I understand you specialize in a number of dead languages?” Pembroke said, crossing to Daniel’s living room and waiting for a nod before sitting.

“I did,” Daniel replied slowly. “I’ve recently left the profession.”

A small smile twitched the man’s thin lips. “Ah, yes, I heard.”

Daniel raised an eyebrow. “Word gets around fast, does it?”

“Well, I must admit my employers have had their eye on you for some time. We are aware that you were contracted to the Air Force for the past five years, give or take a few months. We’ve always been interested in your skills, but the military strongly discourages poaching of its civilian consultants.”

Daniel blinked and sat down, his head spinning. This all reminded him of getting into a limo in the pouring rain and being told that people wanted him for unknown purposes. “Your employers? Who would they be?”

Pembroke gave another thin smile. “As I’ve said, we’re based in Washington DC. The journal I mentioned earlier is only one of the many scientific publications my company handles. We’d like to solicit your contribution to several of our journals.”

It didn’t escape Daniel’s notice that the man had not really answered his question at all. “I see. If you’re aware of my employment history, I’m sure you’re also aware that I’ve been discredited in the profession? Any article with my name on it would be disregarded, and would most likely damage the reputation of the journal that contained it.”

“We’re not interested in your name, Doctor Jackson, just your knowledge.”

Daniel narrowed his eyes. “What, exactly, are you asking for?”

“Why, consulting, of course,” Pembroke replied. “The same as you did for the Air Force. According to my sources, you may be able to shed some light on several unusual writing samples we’ve found.”

“Define unusual.”

“Why don’t I just show you?” Pembroke pulled a folded sheet of notebook paper from his coat pocket and opened it on the coffee table, pushing it toward Daniel.

Raising his eyebrows and looking at Pembroke over the rims of his glasses, Daniel snagged the paper and brought it close. He instantly recognized the Goa’uld symbols, interspersed with what could be Earth-bound Norse runes, or could be Asgard writing from another world. He kept his expression carefully blank. “Where did you find this?”

“Can you translate it?”

Daniel gave a slow, deliberate blink. “I’d need to know the context. The structures around it, where it was placed, what type of culture wrote it, any related pictographs or artifacts, the dating analysis on nearby organic material...” He waved one hand, twirling his fingers.

“But you do recognize the symbols,” Pembroke pressed. “They aren’t entirely unfamiliar?”

“Which symbols?”

He got an irritated look for that one. “You know which symbols, Doctor Jackson. The Norse runes are slightly unusual, but still within the realm of our experience. It’s the other symbols we’re interested in.”

“Hmm.” Daniel peered back down at the paper. The dialect was unfamiliar, and he’d need his reference materials to do a proper translation, but he could catch the occasional word. Mostly it seemed to be praise and reverence for some Goa’uld or another. Fairly typical stuff.

“So do you recognize them?”

Daniel peered at him over the top of the paper. “What good does my knowledge do you if you can’t publish anything I say?”

“Ah, but we can,” Pembroke replied silkily. “Anonymous journal articles are unusual, but still within the range of acceptable academic behavior, provided that the work is credible and well reasoned. You could publish with us, and we’d both gain from the arrangement. Our journals would have information no one else has, and I assure you that you would be well compensated for your work.”

“Anyone could check your records and see who you’re paying.”

Another slippery smile. “We are quite careful with such things. Offshore accounts, and shall we say... creative accounting methods. You needn’t worry about word getting back to your former employers, if that’s your concern.”

Daniel eyed the symbols again. He could almost translate from memory and experience, and the challenge of that almost was tantalizing. For a moment, he was tempted. The chance to publish, to earn a living within his chosen profession, to be valued for his unique knowledge.

It was, however, a short moment.

“Do you have a card I could hold onto?” Daniel inquired, smiling politely. “I’d like to take some time to consider your offer.”

Pembroke nodded and rose to his feet, drawing a business card out of his pocket. “I encourage you to consider quickly. We have other choices for the position, and it won’t remain empty long.”

Daniel took the card, quirking an eyebrow. Sure, they had other choices. Other unemployed archeologists who happened to read Goa’uld symbols. Right.

“I’ll let you know,” he said, walking toward the door. “Have a nice day.”

Pembroke allowed himself to be showed out, and Daniel closed the door, locking it. Then he studied the small white business card carefully. Printed in simple block letters were the man’s name, Jerry Pembroke, a one eight hundred number, and the name of his company. Anthropological Journals International. Which meant nothing. Daniel had certainly never heard of it.

Flipping open a notebook on his kitchen counter, he jotted down the Goa’uld symbols to the best of his memory. He also wrote a description of the man, and outlined their conversation. Then he tore the paper out of the spiral binding, folded it up with the business card, and put it in his pocket.

He allowed another ten minutes to be sure Pembroke had fully cleared the building, then he grabbed his keys and headed for the mountain.

~~~

As they’d been instructed, the front gate guards called Hammond and notified him when Daniel came in. The average trip from the entrance to the bowels of the mountain took eight minutes. This gave Hammond plenty of time to prepare.

The door was open when Daniel arrived, but he rapped on the doorframe anyway, waiting for an invitation before entering. This time he sat immediately, drew the business card and folded notebook paper from his pocket, and laid both on the desk.

“I need to report a possible security problem,” he began without preamble. “About thirty minutes ago, a man calling himself Jerry Pembroke showed up at my door and asked me to translate Goa’uld symbols and what could have been Asgard runes. He suggested that I could publish anonymously in a journal he represented, which would be lucrative for both of us. Mention was made of what would probably be illegal payment.” He waved toward the card and paper on the desk. “That’s his business card, and a description, plus what I could remember of the symbols.”

He sat back and waited for a response. Hammond was just... looking at him. Warmly. Which was wrong. “Sir?”

Hammond smiled. “You did the right thing by bringing this to my attention. Didn’t he?” he added in a raised voice, directing his words out into the hall.

“Yes, General,” came the reply, and then a man walked in, looking oddly disappointed. Daniel didn’t recognize him at first without the coke bottle glasses and terrible jacket. Now he was dressed in an expensive suit—and how the hell had he gotten changed so fast?—and standing up straight, no longer looking spindly in ill fitting clothes, but lean and tall in his well cut suit.

“That’s him!” Daniel exclaimed, rising from his chair. “That’s Pembroke.”

“Wilson, actually,” he said, sticking his hand out. Daniel shook it numbly, more habit than conscious choice. “Agent Ben Wilson, NID.”

And suddenly it made sense. Daniel spun, fixing Hammond with an indignant stare. “You had to send someone to test me? You didn’t trust me to keep my mouth shut?”

“You’re partly right,” Wilson said before Hammond could answer. “This was a test, but of a greater nature than you realize.”

Daniel dismissed him with a flick of his fingers and glared at the General. “How could you even think I would betray the SGC that way? I’ve put my life into this project—literally! You think I would just sell classified information to the highest bidder? You think I’m that low? Did you ever trust me at all?”

Hammond looked sad now, which just confused the hell out of Daniel. He glanced at the NID man, who was trying with little success to suppress a smug smile, and then back at Hammond, who was shaking his head.

“We always knew you’d turn the offer down,” he said quietly. “We weren’t the ones who doubted you. This was an NID setup from the start.”

“Well excuse me if I find that hard to believe,” Daniel hissed. “Considering how much you’ve kept hidden from me lately, I’m just a little skeptical. If you didn’t trust me to go through the gate on my own, why should you trust me on Earth? Furthermore, why didn’t you just lock me up in a room somewhere so I wouldn’t divulge any of your precious secrets? Hell, why stop there? Since I’m such a liability, such a security risk, why not just take the easy way out and have me—”

“Daniel,” Hammond interrupted, his gentle voice and the use of Daniel’s name more effective than a shout. “Please, give me a moment and I can explain everything.” He turned to Wilson and the softness left his eyes. “You’ve completed your mission and he passed your test. Go tell your boss.”

Wilson frowned and took two hesitant steps toward the door. “But, sir, if Doctor Jackson is going to be rejoining the program, I really should stay and make sure before I make my full report.”

Daniel blinked. Rejoining the program? What?

“Perhaps I wasn’t clear. Get out of my office. Now.”

Wilson narrowed his eyes and snapped his teeth together on whatever he wanted to say. “Yes, sir.” He turned on his heel and stalked out.

“General?” Daniel felt blindly for the chair behind him and sank into it. “What’s going on?”

Hammond was watching him with those sad eyes again. “There’s something you need to see. I think it will explain a great deal.” He turned to a combination TV and VCR that he’d had wheeled into his office on its portable cart for just this purpose. He turned it on and pushed play, revealing black and white high angle footage of the briefing room, as seen by the security camera in the corner.

As they watched, Sam walked in, looked around, and took a seat, frowning at her watch. She tapped her fingers idly on the table for a while, then raised her head when Jack entered. The sound quality was tinny and distorted, but Daniel could still hear her ask, “Do you know what this is about, sir?”

He saw Jack shake his head, the jerky stop-motion animation making the movement seem faster than it was. “Beats me. Maybe it’s a new mission.”

Daniel’s eyes got wider and wider as Simmons entered and made his presentation, complete with the journals and the insinuations about Daniel’s loyalty. He saw his team protesting, defending him, refusing to participate in Simmons’ plan. His eyes flicked to the date stamp on the footage. June twenty-fifth. That was before the trip to P2R-553. Before he’d found SG-1 in the commissary together, talking about something they didn’t let him hear. Before... before all of it.

Daniel was glad he was sitting down. Because this meant... if he could believe it, if... then it was all...

“Are you alright, son?” Hammond asked when the tape finished.

Daniel stared at him. He felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room, leaving sound to echo hollowly, his lungs working, straining, but getting nothing. Hammond was getting further away, hazy, and he could hear a rushing white noise in his head. His arms felt numb, his head nonexistent.

Daniel squeezed his eyes shut and inhaled, the sudden pounding headache telling him he’d waited too long between breaths. When he could feel all his extremities again, he opened his eyes, and found the General watching him with terrible compassion.

“Was that... real?”

“Yes, Daniel.”

His first name again. Twice in one day. Had to be a record.

“So, so... this, all of this...” He waved a trembling hand, shaking his head.

“Lies. Designed to push you away.” Hammond leaned forward, looking like he wanted to reach for Daniel, to touch him in some way, but prevented by the desk between them. “Please know that we fought this as much as we could. If we hadn’t complied, the NID would have created some evidence and locked you away, and we would have been helpless to stop them. Going through with it was the only choice.”

The numb, buzzing feeling was fading, the disbelief ebbing away. Daniel felt something hot rush through him, making his hands clench and the skin on the back of his neck prickle. “And you never considered telling me?”

“We had no way of knowing what kind of surveillance technology they possessed. Telling you would have landed us all in prison.”

“So you decided this was the better choice?”

Hammond winced at his tone. “It was the only choice,” he repeated. “If there had been any other way...”

Daniel shot out of his seat, unable to contain the trembling in his muscles with stillness. He paced rapidly, his head down, his hands working at his sides. “So you all just went along with it. No trouble at all. Just another undercover mission, right? After all, you didn’t tell me about the last one, so what’s one more time?”

The General closed his eyes briefly, lowering his head. “I can’t begin to guess how hard this has been for you. How painful it must be. All I can say is that we hated every minute of it.”

“You hid it well,” Daniel snapped, fixing him with a piercing stare before resuming his pacing.

“We had to.” Hammond spread his hands, leaning forward, entreating Daniel with his eyes. “I know for a fact that the Colonel has resorted to drinking heavily to get through this. Major Carter was still crying when she last reported to me. Teal’c has refused to leave her side. We did this, all of it, for you.”

Daniel stopped dead, then turned very slowly, his eyes blazing. “You expect me to be grateful? To appreciate your effort on my behalf? To just come back like none of it happened?”

“That’s what we were hoping for, yeah.” Jack’s voice came from the still open doorway. Daniel spun and saw him standing there, leaning casually against the frame, his arms folded.

“Well, if you think that’s going to happen, perhaps I’m not the one with his head in the clouds,” Daniel said icily, enunciating every word.

Jack winced and came forward, reaching for Daniel’s shoulder. Daniel ducked away, raising one hand, not quite curled into a fist. Jack nodded and backed up. He stood behind a chair and braced his hands on it, suddenly looking impossibly tired. “I’m going to say something that I pretty much never say.” He cleared his throat, lifted his chin, and met Daniel’s eyes. “I am so, so sorry.”

“Yes,” Daniel said. “You are.”

With that, he blew through the door and was gone.

~~~

It took Jack fifteen minutes to find Daniel on top of the mountain. He’d guessed right that Daniel was far too shaken, angry, and responsible to drive in his current state, and that really only left one other option. The wooded area on top of the mountain was not all that large, and Daniel was making a great deal of noise crashing through the underbrush and saying some particularly nasty things in a language Jack was glad he didn’t understand. The tone was quite enough.

“Hey,” he said, leaning against a tree, watching Daniel pace and mutter.

Daniel didn’t look at him. “Go away, Jack. I don’t want to fight with you.”

“Daniel Jackson backing down from an argument? Mark that one on the calendar,” Jack replied calmly.

Daniel froze, then flicked him a quick, dark glance. “I didn’t say argue, did I?”

“Ah.” Jack nodded, then ambled forward, following Daniel when the other man tried to turn away. “Go ahead,” he said. “You want to hit me? I won’t stop you.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Daniel growled.

Jack linked his hands behind his back and stuck his chin out invitingly. “Come on. You’ll feel better, and so will I.”

For a moment, Jack seriously thought Daniel was going to knock him on his ass. Daniel actually raised a fist, the look in his eyes one that was normally directed at Apophis. Jack leaned forward a little more and waited, watching Daniel’s fingers clench and relax rhythmically. Until, after a long, drawn moment, he dropped his fist and turned away, resuming his pacing.

“Forget it, Jack. Just leave.”

“Sorry. Not gonna happen.”

Daniel sagged, raising a hand to his face, shaking his head. “Tell me one thing,” he said quietly. “How much of it was true?”

Jack swallowed, then sat on a boulder, staring at the ground. “Would you believe none of it?”

“No.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Jack watched Daniel lean against a tree, and then slide down it, sitting on the ground with his knees up and his laced hands dangling between them.

“Two weeks,” Daniel said. “Not even two weeks. Less. That’s how long your little ‘operation’ was going on. You’ve been ignoring me and telling me to shut up much longer, so no, I don’t believe none of it was true.”

Jack nodded slowly, picking up a bit of grass and peeling off little strips, shredding it. He spoke without meeting Daniel’s eyes. “You know, I got a wake up call after that night by the fire. When you started your meek, obedient mouse routine.”

“Oh, I bet that was a kick for everyone,” Daniel interrupted. “How quickly I knuckled under, so scared of losing the team. Guess Sam wasn’t so far off with that pathetic jab, was she?”

Jack closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Please, Daniel. Hear me out. I know I probably don’t deserve it, but I’m counting on a little of that famous Jackson soft side, okay?”

There was a long pause, and when Jack looked up, Daniel was frowning at him. A lot of the furious tension had left his body, leaving him looking spent and empty. He waved a hand, then rested his arm back on his knee, leaning his head against the tree. “Fine. Say whatever you need to. Won’t change what you did.”

“No,” Jack agreed softly, “it won’t.” He shredded another piece of grass, trying to marshal his thoughts, put what he felt into words that would sway Daniel. This was really Daniel’s thing, the whole talking bit, but it looked like Jack was going to have to wing it. “Some of it was true,” he finally admitted.

Daniel nodded tiredly. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“I thought I wanted you to obey orders. To be a good little soldier. To stop arguing, questioning, talking back. I really thought I wanted that. So when I said those things, yeah, there was a tiny grain of truth.” Jack looked up, meeting Daniel’s eyes across the small clearing, trying to put everything he couldn’t say into his expression. “But then, when it happened, when you got all quiet and obedient—at least, for the one day it took you to get over being scared and start getting pissed off—I couldn’t stand it. Hated it. I wanted you back, the you that never quits, never shuts up, and never lets me get away with the easy choice when it’s not the right choice. Because that is your job, and that is why you’re indispensable.” Jack lifted his hands in the air, and then let them drop. “And I’m probably saying this all wrong. But hey, points for trying, right?” He gave Daniel his best daffy smile.

Daniel did not smile back, but he seemed thoughtful, mulling over Jack’s words. “Indispensable, huh? Could I get that in writing?”

“Daniel, at this point, I’d give it to you in blood.”

And hallelujah because finally he got a tiny little smile. “Hammond showed me the tape,” Daniel said. “Showed me you guys didn’t want to do this. Although it seemed like you agreed awfully fast.”

Jack shrugged. “On the tape, yeah. We weren’t about to fight it out on camera.” He looked around, and then pointed to another small clearing about twenty feet to the left. “Actually, we were right over there when we decided.”

Daniel looked where he pointed as if that little pocket of the woods would somehow be different. “Hard decision, was it?” he asked in a voice that tried to be acid but fell short, sounding more like a plea for reassurance.

“Very,” Jack said without a trace of sarcasm. “I know what we did was wrong. No argument there. But you tell me, Daniel. What should we have done?”

“Told me,” he replied instantly. “I would have played along. Maybe I’m not as good at the undercover thing as you, but I could have pulled it off. Unless... did you really think I might be the leak?”

“Absolutely not.” Jack gave him a long, level look, making sure Daniel could see the truth of his words. “Our problem was the NID and their little off-world technology smuggling ring. You might have noticed from the briefing tape when Simmons quoted my moment of being an asshole on Euronda?”

Daniel’s lips twitched ever so slightly. “I remember. Although I don’t recall you admitting what you were at the time.”

“Yeah, well.” Jack ducked his head a little, smiling sheepishly. “You know. I was. The point here is that Simmons knew about it. Nobody on SG-1 reported that on earth. It wasn’t mentioned again. So how did he know?”

Daniel’s eyes widened, and Jack could see the moment when he got it, when he put the pieces together. “We were bugged? Some stolen technology that we couldn’t detect?”

Jack tapped the tip of his nose with one finger. “Bingo. And if he could do it once, he could do it again. Telling you meant prison time for all of us, including you. And I’ve gotta tell you, orange is not my color.”

That actually got a soft, tired chuckle. Daniel gave him a look that said he still wasn’t forgiven, but it might happen. Eventually. If he groveled enough. “And I guess refusing to do it at all would have ended the same way?”

“Yep. Orders are orders, and disobeying one still carries penalties, no matter how wrong the order is.”

A line appeared between Daniel’s eyebrows, and he shook his head slightly. “I thought anyone could disobey an order they believed to be illegal.”

“Illegal, yes. Immoral, no. It’s a fine line, but Hammond made all the calls he could, and these orders were legal, fully authorized.” Jack shrugged, spreading his hands again. “We’ve bucked the system about five times too often, and it finally came back to bite us on the ass. Only you’re the one who got bit.”

“Not just me,” Daniel corrected softly. “You look like hell, Jack.”

Jack snorted. “Yeah, well, that’s my own fault. I tried climbing into the bottle after Charlie too. Didn’t help then, and it sure as hell didn’t help now.”

Daniel dropped his head, and Jack saw his shoulders rise and fall as he took a few deep breaths. Maybe knowing that hurting him rated with losing Charlie in Jack’s book had shaken him. Or maybe the shock and anger had worn off, and he was just about done.

Jack rose and walked to Daniel’s tree, then sat down, allowing their shoulders to press together. “Hey,” he murmured. “You okay?”

Daniel shrugged. He kept his head down, but Jack could feel the shaking where their shoulders touched, could feel the series of muffled breaths that were trying to be something more. He slung an arm around Daniel’s shoulders, all very casual and friendly and above board, and Daniel allowed himself to be pulled close. Eventually his head rested in the hollow of Jack’s neck, and Jack’s cheek pressed against his hair.

They sat like that for a long time. Slowly, the shaking stopped, and the hitching breaths evened out. Daniel heaved a huge sigh that seemed to reduce all his bones to mush, and he slumped against Jack, rubbing his cheek ever so slightly on Jack’s collarbone.

Jack closed his eyes and indulged himself for a while. He’d earned it. When he’d tracked Daniel down, he’d put his odds at talking him around in the hundred to one range. That Daniel would actually lower his walls enough to lean on him this way was beyond what he’d hoped for. Luckily, Daniel never stopped surprising him.

With one last sniff, Daniel pulled away, surreptitiously wiping his face. Jack, occupied with taking a quick swipe at his own cheeks, pretended not to notice. Daniel got to his feet, cleared his throat, and gave an embarrassed little laugh. “So, ah... now what?”

Jack shrugged, standing up and dusting bits of grass and bark off his uniform. “Well, I think Hammond is holding some paperwork for you.” He gave Daniel a grin that couldn’t help being relieved. “Do you want to tell him to shred it, or should I?”

He was surprised when Daniel hesitated, gnawing on his lip and looking back at the ground. “I think we should wait. There are a few more things I need to work out.”

Swallowing back a cold quiver of fear, Jack forced a look of calm curiosity. “Oh? Not still thinking of leaving us, are you?”

“I don’t know,” Daniel murmured. He raised his eyes, searched Jack’s face. “I know you did what you had to. But knowing what it would do to me if... if this happened for real...” He shook his head, closing his eyes for a moment. “I’m not sure I want to take that risk.”

Jack bit back his first response. For Daniel to cut himself off, isolate himself rather than risk getting hurt again wasn’t very logical, but Jack could hardly call him on it. Not when he’d done the same thing to Sara years ago.

“I know where you’re coming from,” he said after a moment, his voice quiet. “But then, I always figured you were braver than me. Guess not, huh?”

Daniel’s head snapped up, his eyes flashing dangerously for a moment. “That’s not fair.”

“None of this is fair. But consider this, Daniel. Kinsey, Simmons, all those bastards, they want you gone. The whole point of this was to get rid of you. Do you really want to let them win because you’re scared to let your guard down?”

Daniel bristled slightly at being called ‘scared,’ but he took Jack’s point. “Well... if I’m coming back—and I do stress the if—we need to get a few things straight.”

Jack beamed, stuck his hands in his pockets, and rocked back on his heels. “Fire away.”

“My civilian rank equivalence?”

“Is higher than mine,” Jack sighed. “You’d be a one star general. But I’m still the team leader.”

“Jack...”

“Of course, in all scientific or cultural situations, you’re in charge,” Jack said hastily. “I just make... suggestions designed to keep you alive.”

Daniel raised an eyebrow, folded his arms, and waited.

“For crying out loud,” Jack muttered. “What do you want me to do, salute you and call you sir?”

“It’d be a start.”

Jack stared at him. Daniel stared back. Impatiently. Jack was actually straightening his back, getting ready to salute and glad as hell no one was here to witness this when he saw the little crinkle around Daniel’s eyes, the telltale twitch at the corner of his mouth.

“You little...” Jack sputtered, shaking his head. Daniel began to laugh.

“You were going to do it, weren’t you?”

Jack shot him a sideways look from under his eyelashes. “For you? Yeah. But if you tell anyone I’ll deny it and say you’re nuts.”

“No you won’t.” Daniel laughed at the resigned look on Jack’s face.

“Carter’s gonna wet herself laughing,” Jack muttered. “You better get all the mileage out of this that you can, buddy, because it won’t last.”

Daniel snickered, and then his smile faded as he started heading back down the mountain. “I need to talk to Sam, actually. Teal’c too. Things were said that... well, some of yours were true, so maybe some of theirs were, too.”

“Okay, but wait up,” Jack said, catching Daniel’s shoulder and slowing him down. “Let’s not do this in the mountain. You don’t need an audience. What do you say we take off work, I’ll call them, we all go to my place? Team night... er, afternoon.”

Daniel gave him a look that Jack couldn’t interpret. They walked silently, side by side for a few minutes, and then Daniel hung back, kicking idly at a bit of moss. “Do you guys ever have team nights... ah, you know, without me?” He flicked his eyes up nervously, watching Jack’s reaction.

Jack grabbed his shoulder again, squeezing hard. “Never. Wouldn’t be a team night without you.”

The slow, warm smile that spread across Daniel’s face was more eloquent than even Daniel, with all his languages, could ever be.

~~~

Daniel was in the kitchen when Sam and Teal’c showed up. He heard Jack’s greeting, and Sam’s soft question, asking how he was.

“I’ve been better,” he answered, appearing in the archway between the kitchen and living room. Sam’s eyes went to him immediately, and he was startled to see them begin to fill almost right away. “Hey,” he said, walking forward. “Don’t do that.”

She nodded, sniffed, and swiped a hand across her eyes. “Sorry. I’m just... God, Daniel, this has been so...” She shook her head, staring at him, biting her lip.

“Yeah,” he murmured. “Hasn’t been any fun for me either.”

Her eyes widened, and she began frantically shaking her head. “Oh, no, of course not! I didn’t mean to imply... I mean, of course, it’s been horrible for you and we’re all so sorry, you have to know that, I just meant... this whole mess... so awful...” She trailed off, obviously embarrassed to be falling apart in front of them.

“Sam,” Daniel said softly. “I know you didn’t have a choice.”

She nodded, scrubbing her face dry. “Sorry, I don’t mean to get all girly on you.”

Daniel snorted and shook his head. “You? Hardly.”

Sam gave him a tremulous smile, and then stepped forward, pressing one slim hand against his chest. Only a few inches shorter, she was able to look him directly in the eye, her chin tilted up. “You do know that we didn’t mean a word of it, right?”

Daniel’s lips tightened into a hard line and he looked away. “You were very convincing.” He met her eyes again. “I have to know... what you said, about the night after Sha’re...”

Sam abruptly turned away, pinching the bridge of her nose, blinking rapidly up at the ceiling. “I never should have said that. I never should have said any of it, but that...” She looked at him over her shoulder. “All I can say is I’m so sorry, Daniel. So sorry.”

“So... that night you weren’t... I wasn’t being, you know... pathetic?”

“No, no,” Sam replied immediately, wrapping her hand around Daniel’s upper arm. “I’ll have you know you weren’t the only one doing this,” she flicked a little moisture from her cheek, “that night. We all understood.”

Daniel eyed her, and then Jack and Teal’c, who had pulled back slightly, giving them a little privacy. They all looked back at him earnestly, nodding. Teal’c touched his own cheek and then indicated Jack with his eyes, a small smile on his face. Sam saw the motion and snickered, and Jack whipped around, looking back and forth between them suspiciously.

Daniel chuckled a little, and then nodded, a lot of the tension going out of him. “I can understand the other stuff. I do babble on a lot about my work.”

“Oh, like I don’t?” Sam replied with a depreciating grin. “You always listen to me, even when I start doing that Star Trek technobabble thing. I don’t mind talking about archeology with you. When you get so excited and do that hoppy around thing... well, it’s cute.”

Daniel wrinkled his nose. “Thanks. I think. But really, if I’m talking your ear off, you’d tell me, right? I don’t want to... well, I’d rather not give you any reason to have another talk like the one that night by the fire.”

“I’d tell you,” Sam promised. “But I don’t see that happening any time in the near future. I’m thinking you’ve got a lot of patient listening time stocked up.”

Jack groaned, rolling his eyes. “Don’t tell him that, Carter! Geez, he’s already making me salute him.”

She stared at him, then back at Daniel. “What?”

He grinned. “Long story. But did you know that technically, I outrank Jack?”

Sam raised her eyebrows, and then shot a positively diabolical look in Jack’s direction. “Reeeeeeeally. Tell me more.”

“Don’t you dare.”

Daniel folded his arms, tapped one foot, and waited.

Jack closed his eyes and slumped against the wall. “Oh, fine, go ahead. Take your revenge. Don’t mind me. I’ll just be over here getting laughed at.”

Daniel chuckled. “He’s such a baby,” he told Sam in a clearly audible whisper.

She opened her mouth, but Jack cut her off. “I better not hear you agreeing with him, Major. I still outrank some of you.”

Sam gave Daniel a conspirator’s smile. “Yes, sir,” she recited.

“So,” Daniel said, a touch of uncertainty coloring his voice. “We’re good, right?”

Sam looked sad that Daniel still had to ask. She simply nodded and stepped forward, wrapping her arms around him and pressing her face into the hollow of his neck. After a moment of startled blinking, Daniel raised his own arms, holding her. He could feel her mouth move on his shirt as she whispered, “So, so sorry. Don’t leave us, Daniel, not ever.”

Daniel closed his eyes and swallowed. When he opened them again, Jack was watching him with naked compassion, and Teal’c had his head bowed. He offered them a wavering smile. Sam sniffed against his chest, and he tightened his arms a little more before releasing her altogether.

“You’re staying, right?” she asked. “The Colonel said you were, but...” She shrugged, looking up at him expectantly.

Daniel hesitated, his eyes finding Teal’c. The big Jaffa looked as he had in the vision Sha’re had given him. So certain that he was unworthy of forgiveness.

“I think so,” Daniel told Sam. “Provided that’s what everyone wants.”

“It is,” she assured him.

He nodded, walking toward Teal’c, stopping in front of him and waiting until he raised his head. Jack sidestepped, giving them some space, and tugged Sam into the kitchen under the pretense of getting some unspecified thing.

“Teal’c.”

The smooth head bowed again. “Daniel Jackson. I find myself once again asking your forgiveness.”

“You were right about some things,” Daniel said.

Teal’c jerked his head up, frowning deeply. “I do not understand.”

“When I got back on the Gadmeer ship. I didn’t stop to think what it would do to Jack.” Daniel glanced ruefully toward the kitchen. “I still need to apologize to him for that, actually. “And arguing with him on Euronda was the wrong move, too. I was right to ask questions, but I should have done it in private.”

“What you bring to SG-1 far outweighs your errors,” Teal’c replied. “If you were a Jaffa under my command, I would make you my karak’shree.”

Daniel’s lips curled upward. “That’s... most trusted advisor, right?”

“And brother in arms.”

Daniel found it necessary to close his eyes and swallow again. “Thank you, Teal’c. I know that’s not a term you use lightly.”

Teal’c inclined his head in a brief bow, then met his eyes gravely. “I ask that you return to SG-1. I know I have once again caused you harm, and if you cannot forgive this time, I will leave rather than ask it of you.”

“Teal’c.” Daniel put a hand on one beefy shoulder. “I forgive you. And thank you for doing this for me. I know it was hard for you.” He turned, looking seriously at Jack and Sam, standing by the opposite wall. “For all of you. Let’s put the blame for this where it belongs—Simmons and the NID.”

The shoulder under his palm rose and fell as Teal’c took a deep breath. “Colonel Simmons’ intent was to drive you away permanently. He underestimated your strength.”

“Easy to do,” Jack said softly. Then he clapped his hands together, smiling at his team. “So! We’re keeping you, Daniel, and I say that calls for a celebration. What do you say, kids?”

“Sounds good to me, sir,” Sam replied cheerfully. “Just no tequila, okay?”

Jack shuddered, and even Teal’c looked somewhat pained. “No argument from me, Carter.”

“Tequila?” Daniel frowned. “What?”

“Our one and only ‘team night’ without you,” Jack explained. “The night after we got back from 553. We overdid the shots a bit.”

“Tequila is a dangerous poison. We should consider it as a possible weapon against the Goa’uld,” Teal’c grumbled. “My symbiote was very disturbed.”

Sam began to giggle, leaning against the wall and covering her face with one hand. “Tequila as a weapon. I can just imagine pitching that to the General.”

“I’ve got beer and soda in the fridge,” Jack said, turning back toward the kitchen. “I think I’m all out of the hard stuff anyway.”

“I’ll order pizza,” Sam volunteered, still giving the occasional giddy little laugh.

“I will select a movie for us to watch,” Teal’c said, heading for Jack’s entertainment center.

“Anything but Alien again,” Jack called.

Teal’c gave an enigmatic smile and selected a DVD from Jack’s collection. He held it up for Daniel and Sam, who was on the phone, to see. Aliens. The sequel.

Daniel suddenly began to laugh, placing his palms flat on the wall his eyes closed, his forehead pressed against the plaster. It bubbled up from somewhere inside him, loud and helpless and maybe a little hysterical. He became aware of a warm hand on his shoulder, and then he was pulled away from the wall and into Jack, startlingly strong and close. Sam’s soft, curved form pressed against his back, and her arms went whip-tight around his waist. Broad hands that could only belong to Teal’c landed on his free shoulder and the back of his neck.

After what seemed like a very long time, his laughter tapered off into breathy little chuckles and gasps. He wiped his face on Jack’s shirt, giggling at the grunt of protest from Jack.

“Sorry,” he murmured when his voice settled.

“It’s okay,” Jack assured him, at the same time as Sam said, “Don’t be.”

Teal’c waited a beat and said, “You have no need to apologize.”

Daniel nodded and leaned back, and the tangle of arms and hands on him was withdrawn. Jack had his head down and he was actually slightly flushed, a wry, embarrassed smile on his face. Sam was blinking rapidly again. Teal’c, as always, looked utterly unperturbed.

“Hey,” Daniel began teasingly, “did we just have an actual group hug?”

Jack snorted. “I don’t know where you get your crazy ideas, Doctor Jackson. As if I’d ever participate in a group hug.”

Daniel rolled his eyes. “Of course, Jack. What was I thinking?”

“Beats me. Hey, what are we watching?”

Teal’c... grinned. Broadly. It was actually quite frightening. “We will view Aliens.”

“Oh, for crying out loud...”

“I got us a supreme and that garlic chicken that Daniel likes,” Sam said. “It should be here in about twenty minutes.”

“Shall I begin the movie, O’Neill?”

Jack threw his hands in the air and surrendered to the inevitable. “Fine, fine. Don’t you have that thing memorized by now?”

Teal’c grinned again. Jack wisely chose not to pursue the matter. He veered toward his recliner, pausing when the Jaffa cut him off and sank into the soft leather, raising a single imperious eyebrow. Grumbling and scowling, Jack sat on the couch, his arms folded and his attitude firmly displayed.

Sam grinned and put the DVD in, then sat on the floor at the other end of the couch, her legs drawn up beneath her. The space in the center of the couch was left vacant. As one, everyone looked expectantly at Daniel.

Smiling, Daniel hit the lights and settled into his place.

~~~

Jack found himself in the unusual position of looking forward to a briefing. Gleefully. Daniel had, in fact, accused him of a certain “malicious, vengeful exuberance” when he discovered Jack sitting before his desk and chortling at his computer. However, once Daniel had discovered what Jack was gloating over, he’d agreed that the reaction was quite appropriate.

Glancing at his watch again, Jack grinned as Sam entered. “You’re early, Major.”

She grinned back. “Yes, sir. I really did try to wait.”

Jack leaned back, lacing his fingers behind his head and nodding. “Points for effort.”

Sam’s eyelid gave that little twitch that he’d long ago learned meant she was suppressing the urge to roll her eyes at him. “Thank you, sir,” she said dryly.

Jack simply nodded again, rocking his chair back and forth, tapping his feet on the floor. He considered getting up for coffee, just to have the excuse to not sit still, but then he decided he was probably hyped up enough.

“O’Neill, Major Carter,” Teal’c said, striding into the room and taking his seat.

“You’re right on time, T.”

Teal’c inclined his head as if to say “duh.”

General Hammond was next, walking in with a spring in his step and a barely concealed twinkle in his eyes. Jack had given him a private briefing before the meeting, so he knew what was coming. He’d already gone to the trouble of contacting the security office and having the sound gain turned up in the briefing room. This was something he wanted a record of, for later enjoyment.

Sam sat up straighter. “General.”

Jack waved laconically.

“At ease,” Hammond said. He waited by his chair until Simmons entered behind him, and then he took a seat.

Simmons looked the room over, his eyes fastening on the empty seat finishing out the set of four that Jack, Sam and Teal’c occupied. His mouth curled upward, and then he actually licked his lips, as if relishing the sight. “Good morning, SG-1,” he said, taking the seat beside the General.

Jack beamed at him. With teeth. “Simmons! How ya doing? Having a good day? How was your trip out here? Nice flight?”

The NID Colonel stared at him, his smile faltering. He glanced at Hammond for help, and got a blank stare from those twinkling eyes. “Yes, thank you, Colonel O’Neill,” he replied slowly. “Had your Ritalin this morning?”

If anything, Jack’s smile widened. Across from him, Sam snickered softly, and then schooled her expression when Simmons glared at her.

“Right,” Simmons muttered after a moment of staring at the all suspiciously. “Let’s begin, shall we?”

“Not just yet, Colonel,” Hammond said. “We’re still waiting for one more person.”

Simmons narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth, but shut it again with a snap when Daniel appeared in the doorway, carrying a thick folder and grinning cheerfully.

“Hey guys, sorry I’m late.” He sauntered to his chair and took it, showing a lot of teeth in Simmons’ direction.

“Not a problem, Daniel,” Jack said. “No problem at all.”

“Did you finish your research?” Sam asked, peering curiously at the folder he carried.

“Yep.” He gave her a little nod.

“I assume your findings support our theory?” Hammond inquired.

“Yes, sir, they do. I’m prepared to give a report if you like.”

“Let’s hold that option in reserve.” Hammond turned toward Simmons, who was staring, wide eyed at Daniel. “Colonel? You have a presentation?”

Simmons blinked at him. “I... there were several suggestions of candidates drawn from the NID to replace... what is he doing here?”

Daniel actually batted his eyes at the Colonel, then bit his lower lip gently, looking perfectly befuddled. “My understanding was that this briefing was for SG-1. Why wouldn’t I be here?”

“But... but you resigned. Left the team. I have a report...” He looked at Hammond, shaking his head. “What the hell are you trying to pull?”

Hammond smiled. “I believe that would be, ‘what the hell are you trying to pull, sir.’ And I’m sure I sent you the notification that Doctor Jackson would be rejoining us. Didn’t you get it?”

“No, I didn’t get it!” Simmons sputtered. “Do you think I’d be here recommending replacements for him,” he glared at Daniel, “If I got any such notice?”

“I’d advise you to watch your tone, Colonel,” Hammond replied mildly. “Perhaps the paperwork simply hasn’t reached you yet.”

Simmons gritted his teeth and said nothing.

“In any case, you didn’t waste a trip coming here,” Hammond continued. “It appears we’ve solved the problem of the security leak for you.”

“You... have?” The Colonel looked at Daniel. Daniel smiled sweetly, still the picture of innocence.

“Doctor Jackson, if you would?” the General invited.

“Certainly, sir. You see, once I was reinstated I was able to look over the journals containing the leaked Goa’uld writing. From a check of internal base records, and my own personal records of the archeology and linguistics departments, I determined that the writing had not been recovered by any SG team, and had in fact never entered this base. Thanks to Jack’s contacts,” he nodded toward Jack, who grinned back, “I was able to find that the writing had appeared on a piece of alien technology smuggled on world by the group run by the rogue NID offshoot.”

Simmons picked up his pen and began fiddling with it nervously. “That’s ridiculous. That ring was broken up nearly a year ago, and besides, they were interested in acquisition, not publishing in some academic journal. Besides, I hardly believe you remember every piece of alien text that comes into your department.”

“I don’t claim to remember,” Daniel said calmly. “That’s what records are for. And speaking of records...” He nodded toward Sam, who gave him a wink.

“I was able to trace the financial records of the journal in question,” she said, fixing Simmons with a predator’s smile. “It seems that the offshore account belongs to one Arnie Cunningham.”

Simmons laughed weakly. “Well, that’s obviously a false name.”

“Yes,” Jack said, taking up the reins from Sam. “However, we spoke to an official at the bank, and faxed him a photo of our suspect. Seems he remembered the man. Apparently he was quite rude and pushy. His identification, backed up by travel records that show our suspect flying to the country at the taxpayer’s expense pretty much wrapped it up for us.”

Simmons pushed his chair back from the table, but didn’t rise. “This is ridiculous. You’re fabricating evidence just as you accused me of doing. You have no basis for making this accusation. I had nothing to do with—”

“You?” Daniel interrupted. “But, Colonel, we never said you were our suspect.”

His mouth hanging open, Simmons stared at him. Daniel gave him a moment to process how he’d just hung himself, and then he nodded slightly, a tiny, hard smile on his face.

“I think I’ve heard enough,” Simmons said, rising from his chair and backing toward the door. “I don’t need to sit here and be slandered. I’ll have you all up on charges for false accusation and evidence tampering. I’ll...” He looked around, startled, when an SF grabbed his arm. Another took his other arm, with perhaps slightly more force than necessary. “Hey!” he shouted, trying futilely to twist away. “What are you doing? Let me go!”

Hammond rose to his feet, not bothering to hide his smile. “I’ve been speaking with your superiors, Colonel. Seems they’re not happy that you profited from this little operation. Not to mention the matter of leaking classified materials in an attempt to rob the SGC of a vital asset. They asked me to detain you until they could come pick you up.”

Simmons stopped struggling, his face pale. “You can’t do that. They’ll... I won’t be given due process, they’ll just make me disappear.”

Jack shook his head, making a tsk noise. “Now, Frank, that’s just an urban legend. The government doesn’t really make people disappear.”

“Yeah, and they’re not covering up the existence of aliens either,” Daniel added, chuckling.

Hammond smiled at him. “Is there anything you’d like to say before he’s taken away?”

Daniel shrugged, flicking a dismissive hand in Simmons’ direction. “Just goodbye.” He gave a little wave, not bothering to rise from his seat.

“See ya!” Jack called out as Simmons was marched down the hall. “Wouldn’t want to be ya!”

Sam began to laugh, making sure the sound carried down to Simmons. “Did you see the look on his face?”

“Oh, yeah,” Jack agreed. “Priceless.”

“You know, this is all very petty and vindictive,” Daniel pointed out.

Jack raised his eyebrows and spun one hand. “Yeah? So?”

Daniel shrugged. “I’m just saying.”

“This is inadequate,” Teal’c grumbled, causing everyone to turn and stare at him.

“How so?” Hammond asked, sitting back down.

“Colonel Simmons deserves to undergo the punishment of kel’tor. This... ‘disappearing’ is not enough.”

Jack gave Daniel a questioning look. “Kel-what?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Probably not,” Jack agreed after a moment. “Messy?”

Teal’c raised an eyebrow, and his lip curled into a dark smile. “Very.”

“Ye-ah...” Jack was never sure when Teal’c was joking, but he didn’t think this was one of those times. “Well, sorry T, we’ve got to settle for what we have. I agree with you, though, he deserves something... messy.”

“I’m satisfied with what happened,” Daniel said, folding his arms and leaning back in his chair.

“There you go then.” Jack spread his hands, nodding. “That’s what counts.”

There was a pause, and then Hammond dusted his hands together, clearing his throat. “Doctor Jackson, I meant to ask you—SG-11 has requested your presence on a three week dig. They’ve discovered some actual Goa’uld skeletons that appear extremely old.”

“Sounds like fun,” Jack muttered.

Daniel grinned at him, and then nodded at the General. “I’d love to, sir. That is... so they did request me? I wasn’t sure other teams...” He shrugged, looking a little embarrassed.

“They all want you, son,” Hammond said softly.

Daniel blinked, trying hard to smile.

“Too bad for them,” Jack said brightly, slinging an arm around Daniel’s shoulders. “He belongs to us.”

“And don’t you forget it,” Sam added, giving Daniel a fierce smile.

“Okay, thanks,” he muttered, ducking his head and grinning. “You know, I should speak with SG-11 about their findings. Have they run a dating analysis on the fossils? How deep were they found? What about a sedimentary layer study?”

Hammond just shook his head, unable to suppress a fond look.

“I’ve gotta go,” Daniel said, standing and heading for the door. “I can go on the mission, right, Jack?” he asked at the last minute, turning back to look at him.

“Thanks for asking,” Jack said wryly. “And yeah, I guess you’ve earned a little time playing in the dirt.”

“Don’t think you’re getting off that easy,” Daniel retorted. Then he slipped out the door, muttering excitedly to himself about carbon dating and burial grounds and alien evolution.

Jack chuckled and shook his head. “Just when is this mission scheduled for, sir?”

“They’re slated to leave on Friday.”

Sam looked at her team leader. “That’s the tenth, sir. We still have time.”

Teal’c leaned forward, one eyebrow quirked. “Time for what?”

Jack spread his hands and lowered his voice conspiratorially. “To plan his birthday party, of course.”

~~~

October 13 – 18, 2004


FINIS

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