JD-DIVAS: STARGATE SG-1 JACK & DANIEL SLASH FICTION
BY PHOENIX E

VARIEGATED GREY  BY PHOENIX E

Part One


Slash:  Jack and Daniel involved in a loving and committed relationship, which usually involves sex.
Rating: R.
Category: First Time, Angst.  Drama.  Episode Tag
Season/Spoilers: Season 3  A Major re-telling of 'Shades of Grey'.
Synopsis: Shades of Grey from the perspective of one of the members of SG-1 who was left in the dark.
Warnings: None
Length:   Kb  I haven't been able to track down an original Part 0 for this one (it's old!)  but it was written some time in early 2001.  I think.

 

'Shades of Grey' from another perspective.

I can't believe I'm doing this.

Jack's as nervous as hell.  Can't tell it to look at him, but I know him too well to be taken in by appearances.  It's nothing he's done. He's been very well behaved since we got here.  Must be the dress uniform or something.  Though he's projecting the appearance of cool, controlled aplomb he's definitely not at ease; I can feel the restless tension percolating behind the calm façade of the man at my side as I try and master my own nervousness before addressing the High Chancellor.

Don't worry Jack. I won't back out on you.  I said I'll do this, and what's more I'll give it my best shot.  I know how much this means to you.

If you'd told me a week ago I'd be standing here in the council chamber on Tollana preparing to try and convince our new 'friends' to put aside their justified reservations about handing out pop guns to a bunch of unruly children I'd have laughed in your face.  Especially as I happen to agree with them!  I'm still not entirely convinced putting an ion canon in the hands of the US military is in the best interests of the citizens of the entire planet.  I was even less enthusiastic about the idea when Jack first brought it to me.

Who am I kidding? I didn't want anything to do with it.  The Tollan might seem to be arrogant and unyielding on this point, but they have their reasons and for my money, they're damned good ones. They've learned from hard experience.  Derived a bitter object lesson from an error in judgment which destroyed two worlds we 'primitives' don't seem to have quite gotten yet from similar tragic occurrences on our own planet.  We certainly can't claim our terrestrial track record to be any better when it comes to reviewing the results of our past attempts to 'help' those 'less fortunates' who were doing just fine without our version of 'civilization'.

Since becoming involved with the Stargate program I've seen no great indication our ventures into the universe have brought with them any significant advancement of our species toward a more enlightened and less self-involved and contentious state. The truth may hurt, but it doesn't make it any less true.  We're on our way, but we've got a long way to go yet.  I've got no desire to see the Earth go up in flames as a result of the misuse of something given to us in a well-meant attempt to help us prevent that very thing from occurring.  Neither do the Tollan.  So I told Jack he could tell the Joint Chiefs to stuff it.  They could find another messenger boy to do their dirty work.  I wasn't having any part of it.

So, why am I here in this monkey suit preparing to do something I swore up and down I'd never do?  Damned if I know, I'm still trying to figure out how Jack talked me into this.

That's not true.  I know exactly why I'm here.

It wasn't his argument.  Which was well organized, logical and concise, consequently surprising the hell out of me.  He'd come well prepared for my objections, moral and otherwise. But that wasn't what did it.

It wasn't his appeal to my patriotism or concern for the welfare of Earth that won me over, nor did it have anything to do with learning about the pressure the Joint Chiefs were experiencing from political corners to once again pull a technological rabbit out of the hat to justify the continued existence of the Stargate program. Meaning the pressure was being put on us - hence me, to try and talk the Tollan out of one of their larger ticket high tech items.  Let's give 'em one for good ole Earth, Doctor J.  Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah.

As compelling as all of these reasons were, none of them were what eventually made me agree to go along with this.  I'm here for one reason and one reason only.

Jack asked me to. It's important to him. That's all I need to know. He needed my help so I put aside my reservations and busted my butt trying to come up with some way of getting around what I know will be formidable resistance to the very concept, never mind agreement with our request.  I'm pretty sure I haven't got a prayer, but Jack asked me to try.   So that's why I'm here, fully prepared to argue myself into a stupor even though realistically the chances of being successful are slim to none.

If it doesn't happen it WON'T be because I didn't try, Jack.  You have my word on it.

This collar and tie are choking me but I try to put my discomfort and discomfiture aside as I address the sternly smiling woman in front of me.

Lovely opening exchange of pleasantries.  Might be a bit of a mistake playing my biggest 'don't forget you owe us' ace at the very beginning, but somehow I don't think opening with a joke is appropriate.

Okay, here we go.  She's rolling up the welcome mat and pulling up the drawbridge the second the word technology is out of my mouth.  Oh dear, this is going bad faster than I thought it would.  Talk fast, Jackson.

"Okay, I understand that.  However, in our culture laws can be changed when it is deemed that the reasons for those laws are no longer relevant."

Stupid.  That was stupid. What does the way we conduct our business have to do with the way they run their planet?  I'm going to blow this.  She's telling me their reasons are still relevant and it's going to be hard to refute this point, as I happen to agree with her.  Don't fall to pieces, Daniel.  You've made a bad beginning but if you can just keep her talking, get her to LISTEN to you……

Oops. I really didn't want to bring the weapons thing up quite so soon.  The Tollan certainly are a 'cut the small talk and bottom line it for me' people when it comes to negotiating.  An approach Jack certainly can relate to, and seems to be as he abruptly takes over.

He's not doing any better, but he's kept her talking and given me the time I needed to adjust my approach.  I know how I need to handle this now and am just about to take control of the conversation back when the sentence I am about to utter is blasted out of my head by Jack's next remark.

"You know what?  Forget it!"  He emphasizes the disdain in his voice with a disgusted wave of his hand and gets to his feet.

"We knew you wouldn't give us anything!"

We…..uh…..did?  That's not what you said to me last week.  And every day since then! What happened to  'if anyone can pull this off, it's you, Daniel? We're counting on you, Daniel?  We'll never know unless we try, Daniel?'

"We're wasting a lot of time here!"

I can't believe what I'm hearing!  Over a week getting ready for this, assembling my arguments, attending the briefings, psyching myself up.  We haven't even been here five minutes and he's giving up?

"Jack?"

This has to be a mistake. He can't honestly mean we - we're just LEAVING……

"No, Daniel.  Let's GO!"

He is serious.  It's over. He's leaving. We're - we're leaving.  Just like that.  He's just pitched a small fit in front the High Chancellor of the Tollan and stomped away in an angry huff I can no more explain or gloss over to the dignitary he's so roundly snubbed and insulted than I can understand it myself.  There's no time to make amends.  Presuming he'd even let me.

I try to mumble an apology to her, try to say SOMETHING to salvage the situation but his voice rings out angrily even as it is swiftly receding.  "Come on Daniel!  NOW!"

I feel like an errant four-year-old being called to task by his daddy.  And feel just about as small as I duck my head beneath Trevel's piercing stare and hasten past her, painfully aware my cheeks are burning.

I have no idea what's going on, Jack, but if this has all been one sick exercise in trying to make Daniel Jackson look like a complete and utter fool it's gone rather well.

 


 

I am now convinced I'm going crazy.  There is no other logical, rational explanation for what I am seeing right now.

I'm stark, raving mad.  I have to be, because I CANNOT be watching Jack O'Neill, one of the most strongly principled and honourable men I have ever known, clawing the protective panel concealing the Tollan security device off the wall prior to reaching in, grabbing and pocketing said device.   Brushing aside our objections with uncharacteristic, angry callousness.  Showing no concern or remorse about his actions or our reaction to them.

Shut up, Daniel?

Jack just told me to shut up.  He's NEVER, ever said that to me before.  The whole time we have known each other, I'm sure there have been many times when he's wanted to, but he's never said those words to me.  

Never.

Any more than he's ever given me any reason to believe he'd ever be capable of any of the things I've just watched him do.

One look at Sam and Teal'c tells me the same things are going through their minds.  They can no more believe what's just happened than I can.  We're all of us too stunned to say a word as we bleakly straggle toward the Stargate in the wake of the swiftly striding stranger who seems to have supplanted the identity of Colonel Jack O'Neill.

There's something very, very wrong, here. Horribly wrong.  Whatever it is, I'm going to get to the bottom of it.  Make no mistake about THAT, Jack!

 


 

"I took it, sir," Jack announces casually, like he's just told Hammond he's going for a stroll around the block.

Finally!  For a few completely awful seconds it looked as if he wasn't going to own up to it, was going to force one of US to explain what happened on Tollana.  The actual theft was bad enough without compounding the wrong by seeming to be okay with passing the accountability over onto our shoulders.  Fortunately although it looks as if Jack has slipped quite a ways down the slope he hasn't fallen THAT far yet.

"Took it?"  Hammond looks like we feel.  This isn't happening.  Jack did NOT just say what he did.  This is a joke, right?

"Yes," Jack reiterates with painful pride.

Sorry, George.  No joke.   Apparently no remorse, either, if the extremely smug smile accompanying Jack's admission is any indication of the state of his conscience.

"You STOLE it?"  Hammond looks at Jack with earnest incredulity.  Clearly floundering beneath the enormity of his disbelief.  You think THIS is bad, George, try being there for the actual event.

"I like to think of it as borrowed," Jack returns nonchalantly.  Yeah, I'm sure you do.  Semantics is our friend?  A euphemism covers a multitude of sins? Oh, apparently he's not finished with his creative suggestions for putting a different spin on the events.

" Major Carter can figure out how to reproduce it; we'll give it back."

This is nuts.  Jack did NOT just say that.  I'm hallucinating, been infected by some alien virus again.  I'm seeing things, hearing things, stepped through the looking glass. All of the above.  Any of the above.

Please.

He's still looking at us with that SMILE saying as far as he's concerned there's no problem.  He's offered the perfect explanation and solution to all of our silly concerns. He didn't STEAL the device,  he just BORROWED it without their permission.  As long as they get it back, it's not wrong.

What's the problem?

He hasn't come right out and SAID this, but it's plain in his expression as he looks expectantly at all of us.  Expecting us to agree.  Not a hint in his aspect or manner to suggest he thinks he should expect anything else.

Jack's not getting we won't sanction either his actions or his attitude because he clearly doesn't feel he's done anything wrong.

If I previously had ANY doubts there was something seriously strange happening here this last little piece of business has removed every single one of them.

Whoever this man grinning at General Hammond and all but boasting about his actions on Tollana is - he is NOT Jack O'Neill.  Oh, he is, I'm not suggesting an  'Invasion of the Bodysnatchers' scenario or he's undergone any sort of mind altering procedure.  Nothing like that.  He's Jack O'Neill.

But he isn't.

"I can't believe what I'm hearing!" The utter astonishment in Hammond's face emphasizes the utterance.  He's the first one to put into words what all the rest of us are feeling.

Confused.  Appalled.  Bewildered.

Betrayed.

Welcome to the club, George.  You've just become our official spokesman.  No one here wants to fight you for the honour.

I watch Jack carefully as he maintains his demeanor of unconcerned jocularity.  Gazing benignly at Hammond almost as if he feels the General should praise him for his initiative rather than continuing to harp on a technicality he doesn't feel anyone needs to be bothered with.

"You and your team stole an alien device from an extremely advanced alien culture."  The general is recovering from the initial shock and shifting gears rapidly into 'extremely displeased with the inappropriate behaviour of a subordinate' mode.  'You HAVE done wrong and you are going to catch hell from it' is plain in his tone.

"They won't retaliate, if that's what you're worried about," Jack offers, to soothe the worries of his commanding officer.   "Not their way, right, Daniel?"

He looks to me, flashing me a smile, clearly expecting me to back him up.  Like he's looked to me so many times in the past to talk him out of some fix he's gotten him or us into.  Help me out, here, Daniel.  You can talk George into just about anything.

Not THIS time, Jack.  Not if you got down on your knees and begged.

I look away from his entreating eyes, feeling both hurt and dismayed he would do this to me.  Try to trade on our friendship in this shoddy fashion, try to enlist me as an accomplice in justifying his wrongdoings.

The Jack O'Neill I know wouldn't do this. Couldn't do this.  Who the hell are you, and what have you done with my friend?

"This command has already been accused of stealing from several other alien cultures, Colonel," the general continues, his tone becoming more and more official and severe.  "Until now, we've denied it. Perhaps that was a bit premature.  Dare I ask, how many other items you've stolen?"

That's a terrifying thought!  But surely, surely...not...

"None. This is the first," Jack answers with an ingenuous smile.  Butter could melt in his mouth.

"Colonel, you don't seem to understand how SERIOUS this matter is.  You and your team have committed a court martial-able offence."  Hammond is becoming more and more exasperated with Jack.   Jack's NOT getting it.  Not getting what he did was wrong, not getting he's in VERY deep shit.  None of us can understand the profundity of Jack's studied and determined ignorance, most especially the man charged with holding him responsible for the consequences of his actions.

"To be fair, general, I did it.  Carter and Daniel protested.  And Teal'c - well he didn't really SAY anything but I could tell he was opposed to my actions by the way he...cocked his head and sort of raised his eyebrow - "

This is even more nuts.  Now Jack is trying to make a joke of the whole thing.   Hammond is NOT amused.

"Enough, Colonel!"  he snaps impatiently.  He's done playing around.  He'll deal with Jack later. Right now there's a much more important matter to be addressed and attended to.

"Doctor Jackson," Hammond begins, turning his attention to the rest of us,  "Major Carter and Teal'c, you will return this device IMMEDIATELY to the Tollan and hopefully smooth over what must be some very ruffled feathers."

'Yes sir," Sam speaks for all of us as she responds to the order in a barely audible voice.

"Why?"  Jack's snarls suddenly, bitterly, the resentment and rancor in his voice a startling contrast to his formerly festive mood.

"Our core mission is to go through that gate and find technologies we can use to defend against Goa'uld incursions," he snarls at Hammond.   "Am I right?"

He's furious, frighteningly indignant, 'man with a cause' fervor and fire blazing in his eyes.  Just as vehement and outspoken as he has been every other time I've seen him fighting for something he really believes in.

The sight terrifies me more than I can say.

"You are bordering on insubordination!" Hammond yells right back at him.   "We do NOT steal from 'Friendlies.'

Not until today, that is.

Jack's not finished and he's not taking the hint, either.

"Well with NO due respect, General, that's just plain STUPID!"

"Colonel!"  Hammond shouts at him warningly, stunned by sheer effrontery of his last statement.  Not to mention the blatant disrespect for him in the utterance.

Jack's NEVER spoken to him this way.  He's really racking up a lot of 'firsts' today.

And it seems he's still shooting for a new personal record. He keeps right on going with his hateful harangue, hollering almost incoherently over several of Hammond's attempts to silence him.

"And since the Pentagon won't approve our backup program we have no choice - "

"Colonel - do NOT go there!"

"We have NO CHOICE but to take whatever steps we need to GET what we need!"

Carter and Teal'c are horrified by the torrent of ugly, bitter words pouring out of our friend.  He's completely unrecognizable in his rage, his furious face as twisted and odious as the alien filth he is spewing.

Hammond is giving Jack back as good as he is getting.

"As long as I am in command of the SGC we will hold ourselves to the HIGHEST ethical standard…"

Jack chews up the rest of the general's sentence and spits his invective straight into George's face.

"And when the Goa'uld WIPE US OUT because we have NOTHING with which to DEFEND ourselves I'm sure we'll all feet GREAT about ourselves and our 'high moral standards'!"

He says the last three words as if doing so will subsequently require him to wash his mouth out with soap.

This is finally too much.  Even from Jack.

"Colonel O'Neill!"  Hammond thunders with the clout of the stars on his collar duly emphasizing the 'official' force of his righteous indignation.   "You are OUT of line, now STAND DOWN!"

This is NOT a request, Jack.  Or a suggestion.  One more word out of you and you might find your plans for the next few years being made for you.

Jack glares at Hammond as if he's considering mouthing off again, but Hammond isn't kidding and finally, thankfully, Jack seems to be clueing into SOMETHING.

He doesn't say a word.  About time he shut up.  He doesn't need to dig the hole he's in any deeper.  He won't be seeing the light of day for years as it is.  If the look on Hammond's face is anything to go by, Jack is through.

"Colonel O'Neill, I am hereby relieving you of your command. You are to report to the infirmary and stay there until I send for you."

Oh god.  There it is.  Hammond's said the words.  Looking like the Right Hand of God as he passes judgment on the unworthy who's left him no choice.

"No holding cell, SIR?"  Jack sneers in response.  

Jack!  God!  Did you leave your brains as well as your conscience back on Tollana?

"That could very well be your next stop if you say another word, Colonel!"

He means it, he means it, shut up Jack!  Don't say another word. Enough, already!

Jack glares at him, still obviously furious, but mercifully, he stays silent.

The general rises. He's calmer, his tone warmer as he addresses Jack once more.  Still the commander in chief, but one trying to be a friend.

"Now, get down to the infirmary and submit yourself to a complete examination.  Teal'c, escort him. "

Jack pushes himself to his feet, his face dark and foreign with simmering rage and barely suppressed attitude. He doesn't even flinch as he hears Hammond tell Teal'c he is no longer under Jack's command   - the final insult to his former authority.  He snorts and turns away from us without a word,

I'm struggling to keep my own reactions under control as I watch him stalk arrogantly from the briefing room, Teal'c in tow.  Without a backward glance or any sign he's at all sorry for anything he's said or done.

Quite the opposite, actually.

I simply cannot accept what I have seen.  I know I've seen it, but I can't accept it.  Won't accept it. The Jack O'Neill I have been to hell and back with more than once over the course of the last three years simply is not capable of being the man I have just watched him be.  I'd stake my life on this.  Have - have staked my life on it.  More than once.

Yet - there it is.  This is NOT Jack, and yet he is.  Or rather, SEEMS to be.  Seems to be. Seeming is not the same as being. Doesn't make it so. There has to be a REASON for what seems to be, but can't possibly be.

I'm realizing I'm not making a whole lot of sense when any further opportunity I might have had to start making some has to wait.  The warning klaxon penetrating the chaos in my head tells me the Stargate is activating.

Shit.  Sorry, Jack, You're going to have to wait.  I don't know what this is all about, but believe me, I'm going to find out.  Just as soon as I can.  That's a promise.

But unfortunately, right now I'm going to have to put this puzzle on the back burner.  Leave it simmer for later.  We've got a more immediate problem to deal with.  The Tollan are coming to call and I'm guessing they're pissed.

 


Now I know how Judas felt.

I've just laid my best friend on the sacrificial altar of the Tollan's demand for explanations and satisfaction.  Hung him out to dry. Gave him up.  Spilled the beans.  Left him holding the bag.

Turned him in.

Doesn't matter it was the right thing to do.  Or that he more than has it coming.  Doesn't matter he deserves it, or that he's guilty.  Or has no one to blame but himself.   It STILL feels like I'm betraying him.  Selling him out for the sake of the restoring amity between Earth and Tollana.

My equivalent of thirty pieces of silver.

I have an anxious moment as Trevel considers what I have just told her.  Hammond is silent, his usually warm face grim, humourless and dangerously serious as he spares me a tight nod both acknowledging what I have done and thanking me for it.  He knows what coming clean is costing me.  Costing both of us, for that matter.  But we've got no choice.  It has to be done.  Some things are more important the mere personal considerations.  This is one of them.

Damn it, Jack!  How could you do this?  How could you do this to yourself?  How could you do this to your friends?

Not right, this isn't right.  Not. Not not not right. Not happening, it's not happening.

The High Chancellor is dissecting me with her cold, glittering eyes.  Raking them over me with merciless precision as she scans every particle of me, sparing me nothing in her visual evaluation, comparing what she sees with what she has just been told.

"I have every confidence in the accuracy of Doctor Jackson's report," Hammond gently ventures in a deeply conciliatory tone.  "If, however, his account is not satisfactory, you are welcome to question the other members of SG-1 for corroboration."  He makes an open-handed gesture toward her, his tone as accommodating and soothingly persuasive as he can make it.

 "Your Eminence, I cannot emphasize enough how deeply distressed we are by this incident. Nor can I sufficiently stress how much we regret its occurrence.  Colonel O'Neill's actions in no way reflect the policy of this command, or are representative of the regard and respect with which we hold your people and your customs.  We wish you would give us the opportunity to demonstrate our sincerity.  What do you need from us, Your Eminence? What can we do to regain your trust?"

Her dark, formidable stare shifts over to the general and for one heart-stopping second I'm afraid she's going to demand we turn Jack over to her for punishment.  She'd certainly be within her rights to do so, and after what Hammond's just told her he could hardly refuse her if this is what she does, in fact...want.

He knows it as well as I do.  What's more, if handing over Jack is what it's going to take, he's not even going to blink while doing it.

I'm holding my breath waiting for the next words out of her mouth feeling suddenly, strangely, as if my life is literally hanging in the balance.

Not….not sure why…..

"You are holding Colonel O'Neill accountable for his actions and dealing with him appropriately?"  She asks Hammond coolly.

"We are, Your Eminence."

"Very well."  The vastly dark and assessing eyes swing back to me.  "We are satisfied with Doctor Jackson's word the colonel alone is accountable in this incident, and that he was acting entirely of his own volition.  As we are not in the habit of interfering with the way other worlds conduct their own internal affairs," she pauses, and for a brief second the irony fleeting in her gaze does not escape me, "we are content to leave the matter of the disciplining of Colonel O'Neill to your discretion.  The return of our property and your apology will be sufficient reparation."

She nods formally to me as she begins to rise.  "You have my thanks, Doctor Jackson, for your complete cooperation in the face of what must have been for you a personally trying experience.  You are to be commended for your integrity."

I really could have done without that last bit.  I'm feeling a lot of things right now, but full of integrity definitely isn't one of them.

Hammond is shaking her hand, making with the last minute pleasantries and I'm contenting myself with standing here trying to become invisible.  Or absent, as soon as possible.  I've done my bit, did what I was supposed to do, everything's okey dokey now.  Tollan are happy. George is happy.

Well, Daniel isn't happy. Daniel wants to go. Daniel has some thinking to do and can't to it standing here.  Done here, done now.  Can I leave?

Not done?  I have to escort Her Eminence and Company to the gate?  Why can't someone else...  Okay.  All right.  Fine.  The things I do for the SGC.  You'd think, for once, someone else could do this.

Why does it always have to be me? Daniel Jackson, poster boy for 'Diplomacy Monthly.'

 Remind me to cancel my subscription.

I'm trying not to slip into sulking as I open the door to the general's office and wave Trevel and her travelling companion out.  I instantly want to run back inside and close and bolt the door as a familiar voice rings out.

In a completely unfamiliar tone of voice which is becoming distressingly MORE than familiar……..

"Well, look who's here!  Come to retrieve your vastly superior STUFF?"  Jack's sneer is so tangible you could spread it on toast.

I know he's not done and there's no way to avoid having to run the women through his gauntlet of contempt.  I try to rush them past him as quickly as possible so the whole thing isn't quite as horrible as he's evidently going for.

I can't look at him as I pass him, but I can feel his dark eyes boring into me as we sweep by.

"It'd be a lot more superior if it wasn't so easy to STEAL!"

God, Jack, what's WRONG with you?

 


 

The event horizon shimmers placidly behind the High Chancellor as she stands beside me at the base of the ramp.

"This unfortunate incident almost made me forget I wished to tell you how much I regret having to disappoint you in the original reason for your visit."

"Your Eminence?" I'm confused, now, both by what she's saying and the sudden switch in her aspect. Her tone is warmer, fonder, and I'm quite astonished when she puts a hand on my arm before continuing.

"I wish you to understand my refusal to grant your request was motivated solely by law, and was no reflection upon my personal regard for you as an individual."

God! The negotiations!  I'd completely forgotten about them.  I wish she hadn't reminded me.  If not for that stupid, misguided attempt I knew had no chance of succeeding we wouldn't even have been on Tollana in the first place!  If not for that exercise in futility none of this would have happened.

None of this would have happened...wait a minute...

I'm blinking at her in utter confusion.  She's still talking but my brain is otherwise engaged trying to latch onto what it KNOWS is something important. Significant.

It's taking every scrap of self-control I have to stop myself from pushing her up the ramp and shoving her into the event horizon.  Nothing personal, I just have to get her to shut up.  To let me alone to track this mental thread before I lose it completely.

"I have a great deal of respect for you, Doctor Jackson.  I am confident that although you were acting on the behest of your superiors, you do understand why what you were asking of us was impossible."

"Yes, Your Eminence," Still not entirely sure what she's saying to me, but when in doubt, smile and nod.

She takes my face in her hands and looks intently at me. An answering smile so warm her eyes glow flows up to meet me.  I'm pierced by its intensity, and the fervour of her words.

"You should feel optimistic for the future of your race.  That it boasts such representatives….."

Her eyes flicker briefly, darting up toward the glass windows of the briefing room, then quickly back to me once more.

"……..speaks very highly for what it has the potential to become.  We are encouraged by what we have seen.  Hold fast to what you are, and know."

She releases me, bows, and then strides up the ramp, followed by her silent escort.  Just before she reaches the rippling surface she turns and looks back at me once more.

Now, she seems sad. I am WAY past able to keep up with any of this.

"I cannot tell you how deeply sorry I am for what has happened. You came to us with only the best of intentions, and now through no fault of your own you must bear the consequences of being involved in circumstances you have done nothing to create, but will nevertheless bring you deep, personal suffering you do not deserve.  My apologies for what must be."

 She smiles sorrowfully at me and turns away. I can only stand there and gape after her as I watch her being absorbed by the cool blue pool.

I know what I just heard her say, but there was something else.  Some other message embedded in the words now ringing in my head.  She was trying to tell me something.

What?  What was she saying?  Hold fast to what I know?  What?  What do I know?

More than I realize?

I'm still frozen to the spot trying to get what just happened when the gate shuts down, leaving the room darker and somehow smaller in the absence of its light.

 


Jack's gone.

From the team, from the SGC, from the Air Force, from the base.

From my life?

Nope.  Can't do this, can't - can't go there.  Isn't happening. This is NOT happening.

Keep saying it, Jackson.  Keep saying it; maybe you'll actually believe it.

Jack's...gone.

Those two simple words have punched a hole into the centre of my existence big enough to drive a Stargate through.  I'm a whole bunch of things right now.  Shocked, stunned, confused, angry, bewildered, HURT, but what I am, most of all, is damned determined I'm going to find out WHY.

Oh yeah.  Count on it.

It's Friday night. I'm off duty.  I don't have to show my face around here for the next two days.  Guess... I guess I should go home.  Might as well.  Nothing for me here, now.

Friday night.  It's Friday night.  Jack and I, we usually - but we didn't, not for tonight.  Not any formal plans, anyway.  W e weren't sure how long we were going to be off-world, whether the business on Tollana would wrap up soon enough for us to get back in time to do the usual Friday night pizza, beer and fight over what we weren't or were going to watch on television, thing.

Somehow, even though it turns out we're back in plenty of time, I'm thinking I still have no plans for the evening.

Sam's been and gone. She came primarily to pass on Jack had passed all Janet's tests with flying colours.  Whatever's up with him, it hasn't got a physiological cause.  At least not one showing up in any tests known to medical science.

Which was as much as I was expecting.  I'm not sure how or why I know this, but Jack's not sick.  He's also not crazy, no matter how things look.

Sam apparently had a bit of a run-in with him just before his attempt to make a lasting impression on the High Chancellor.  Sam didn't want to let on, but it upset her.  I wasn't much help.  She wanted me to be able to tell her I knew what was happening, and I couldn't.

Not yet, anyway.

Teal'c stopped by to tell me Jack had left the base.  He'd accepted the general's 'offer' of early retirement, had packed up his goodies and gone.  Just - just like that. No words.  No explanations, no good-byes.

Just -  gone.

i guess I'll be going too.

 


 

Sam and Teal'c expect me to handle it. Find out what's going on.  Fix it, even.  I wish I could say I felt as confident about my abilities as they are.

I wish to hell I'd never even heard of Tollana.  Or their stinking ion canons.

I glance at the machine on my way to the kitchen.  No blinking lights.  No messages.  It's Friday night.  I wonder what Jack is doing right now.  What is he thinking?  How is he taking all of this?  It's my turn to pick the pizza place.  Damn, I was looking forward to that. I bet he's gone ahead and ordered from Gonzo's again. He knows I hate that place. The crust is way too greasy.  He does it just to annoy me. Also knows it's my turn, the selfish bastard.  Selfish, self-absorbed, inconsiderate...bastard.  God, I hope he's okay.  Maybe...maybe I should...

No.  Coffee.  I need coffee. That's what I need.  I need...I - I need....

I don't know what's wrong with me, but I have to sit down because all of a sudden I'm having trouble breathing. It feels like there are huge steel bands constricting my chest and if I try walking I'm not going to make it because I suddenly can't see. Everything's blurry.

I just need to sit for a minute.  Just a minute.  Take deep breaths and this shaking will go away.  Rub my eyes for a minute or two and they'll be fine. I'm okay. I'll be fine.  I'm not going to fall to pieces, here. There's a reason why all of this is happening.  A logical explanation for everything.  There is.  There has to be.  I just need to keep my head, and use this preponderance of grey matter I've been given to work all of this out.

Think, Daniel.  Think.  Jack says you're always doing it too much and now when he most needs you to, you're choking.

Come on sissy boy, stop snivelling and THINK!

Step one - define the problem.  Jack.  Not being Jack. So not being Jack it's a wonder the world isn't spinning madly on its axis.  As out of control as my personal universe has suddenly become.

Focus, Daniel.  Stay with it.  No digressing off into irrelevant asides.  Not now.

What exactly has he done?  Stolen technology from the Tollan. Did the deed, admitted it, proud of it, seemingly prepared to do it again. He's been dangerously insubordinate to General Hammond.  Belligerent and rude to the High Chancellor and her aide.  Cold and callous to his team mates.  Gone and left us.  Turned his back on the Stargate program, his entire life, his friends.

Quite a day's work, even for Jack.

What do I know?  I know Jack O'Neill.  Jack O'Neill is not a thief.  He's not a liar.  While at times the power of his convictions has taken him close to the line, he is not deliberately or carelessly inconsiderate of his duty, his colleagues or the people he answers to.  Most particularly the man we all answer to at the SGC.  Jack is not a rude or thoughtless man, nor is he needlessly cruel and provocative to those who are different from him, whether he agrees with them or not.

It's true he may ACT like a jerk at times, but that doesn't MAKE him one.  Any more than acting like a thief...

Jack O'Neill is a man of honour.  At least, until today.   So it would appear.  But appearances can be deceiving.  And in this case, especially, they have to be.  Because Jack O'Neill is no more the man he is trying to appear to be than he is capable of….oh god, I don't know, stealing a blind man's cane. Or a lollipop from a kid.  Pulling the wings off flies.

Shit, I'm doing it again.  Cut it out, Daniel.   Focus.

Jack isn't what he did and said today. No matter what he's said since to the contrary. Therefore, there is another reason for his behaviour.  SOMETHING is MAKING him behave the way he did today.

Something.  Or...someone.

This is the only possible explanation for what has happened today.  The only one there is.  The only one I will accept.

Let's start with door number one.  Something.  Some sort of influence affecting his behaviour.

Physical?  We've pretty much ruled that one out. Jack's been gone over within an inch of his life and physically, he's perfectly fine.  So says Janet.  So, that one's out.

Psychological? Thinking about this one.  He wasn’t too happy about having to do it, but he went through quite a battery of psychological tests when we got him back from Eudora.  He came through those fine as well.  There didn't seem to be any time bombs lurking in his psyche.  Nothing hiding down there waiting to bite him in the ass when he wasn't looking.  Certainly nothing that would explain his current behaviour.

In short, he was as well adjusted as one could reasonably expect a former Special Ops Air Force Colonel who's blown up 'gods' with nuclear weapons, goes across the galaxy to go to work, who's been shot up, Goa'ulded, killed for the cause, nearly frozen to death, had to watch his son die, watched his best friend turn into monster and die, lost his wife, briefly almost lost his mind courtesy of the Ancients and been to hell and back - literally...to be.

Yeah, there are dark places inside him.   He's not the only one. But he knows what he is, he knows what he's done.  He's never shied away from facing any of it, not as long as I have known him.  And I've known him for most of it.

I feel pretty confident in ruling out the psychological factor as well.  Not because of the opinion of the dedicated mental health professionals who checked him over and pronounced him fit to go out and start saving the universe again.  I'm saying I know Jack's mentally sound because I know something they don't.

I know about Eudora.  I know what he never told them.  I know what really happened and how he really feels about it.

Three days after he got back he called me in the evening.  Barely coherent, but in an evidently drunkenly companionable mood. He anted some company, could I come over and while I was at it, could I bring some more beer.

The very fact he was drunk was enough to tell me I needed to go over there. Sans the beer.  Contrary to popular belief, Jack doesn't drink a lot.  Certainly rarely ever to excess.   Hardly ever to the degree he'd been imbibing that night.

It's the control thing.  Jack's got a lot of stuff on his plate.  An awful lot of stuff he doesn't like coming out and saying 'hi' when he's not prepared for company.  So he very rarely ever gives it a chance to take him by surprise.

Drinking doesn't make him forget - it makes him remember.

He opened the door almost as soon as I hit the buzzer and stood there wavering in the entranceway, his clothes disheveled, hair not much better, beer bottle in his hand, a gooney, shit-eating grin spreading even further across his slightly flushed face as he looked me up and down and yelled, "DANNY!  My FRIEND, DANNY!"

Next thing I knew I was hauled into the house and enveloped in one of Jack O'Neill's patented full body hug specials.  If you've never tried it, I thoroughly recommend it.

I was pressed up so tightly to him I could barely breathe.  A cold beer bottle chilling the small of my back as Jack's free hand cupped the back of my head and cradled it in tight against the side of his.  Thinking about it now, it's almost like being back there again.  Remembering the familiar, comforting mixture of the smell of his aftershave lightly accented with shampoo and a heavy chaser of beer.  Feeling the way his stubble rasped across my face as he rubbed his cheek against mine.  Holding me and hugging me longer than he'd ever done before.  Tighter, closer, like he wasn't ever going to let go.

"My friend, Danny, " he chuckled and rumbled in my ear before finally pulling back until he could look me in the face, but still not releasing me from his embrace.  "Where ya been, Danny?  Missed you. Missed you lots. Lots and lots."

Right about then I was trying to figure out how to get him to let go of me so I could get him to a chair before he fell down.  He was loaded.  Drunker than I had ever seen him.  That's the only explanation I have for what he did next.

He cupped my cheek in his palm, burped loudly in my face and beamed proudly at his accomplishment. "My friend!" he announced extravagantly.  'My Danny."

After which he sighed happily, applied his lips to my other cheek and planted an enthusiastic and rather noisy kiss on it. Then he patted my face, peered at me with bleary expectation and promptly collapsed.

He came to again as I was laying him out on the sofa.  I was leaning over him, just about to straighten up when his eyes opened, his hands clutched at my jacket and he pulled me down on top of him.  Once again I found myself unable to move as his arms wrapped around me and crushed me implacably to him.

"Danny, don't go!" His voice was raw and laced with fear.  The pain in it alarmed me.  "I'm really sorry, I shouldn't have done it.  It wasn't right.  Wasn't fair.  She's a good woman, but she wanted...  I couldn't give her what she deserved.  I shouldn't have, but I thought I'd never see you again. You won't go, will you Danny?  You won't leave me?"

He wasn't making any sense but he was clearly upset about something.  I couldn't imagine why he thought I'd leave when I'd only just gotten there.  He couldn't think I was upset about the condition he was in.  I've seen Jack drunk before. He's seen me drunk before.  We've seen each other in far worse shape for various reasons than he was at that moment.

He in particular can claim to have the advantage of me when it comes to not being exactly at my best due to mind altering substances.

Or sarcophagi.

I tried to reassure him and also tried to get him to let go of me, but he wouldn't.  Not that it bothered me to be close to him.  Somehow, in that moment I was drawing as much comfort from his complete proximity as he seemed to be deriving from mine. Probably for the same reason.

He wasn't the only one who thought he'd never see his friend again.  Never get to be with him again.  This way, or any other way.

Three months can be an eternity when you don't know for sure if someone you care about is alive or dead.  It's true the Tok'ra ship would have gotten to Eudora in a year.  But until we did, we didn't know for sure Jack had made it to the caves and had survived the meteor shower.  We didn't know a damned thing until Teal'c broke through.

If Jack needed me to be there with him; I was happy to be.  So I lay there quietly in Jack's arms and let him talk.  He needed to do that, as well.

I know all about Eudora.  Jack told me everything.  Maybe it was the beer and maybe it wasn't, but he opened up and told me everything weighing on him.  He talked until he fell asleep, still not letting go of me, and after a while I fell asleep as well.  Several hours later I was awakened by his dulcet tones in my ear. Jack complaining rather loudly and completely unfairly I should learn to hold my liquor better or go on a diet before I passed out on him again. We traded a few more insults, got up, teased the shit out of each other and talked some more.

This time, without the beer.

By the time I left the next evening Jack was okay with Eudora.  Okay with a lot of things as well, most especially Jack O'Neill.

Three days later he came to me needing this favour from a friend.  And, here we are.

No, Jack's not suffering from stress, nor is he mentally unhinged.  Whatever's making him act this way, it isn't a some…..thing.

I'm tired, my head is splitting and I need to lie down.  I can't do this anymore right now. I don't want to remember.  I need to rest, just for a little while.  Things will be clearer if I rest.

Sleep well, Jack.

 


We knew you weren't going to give us anything.

We're wasting a lot of time, here.

Shut up, Daniel!

Offered us a nice fruit basket, though.

I took it, sir.

This command has already been accused of stealing from several other alien cultures, colonel.

Hold fast to what you are, and know.

I took it, sir.

This command has already been accused of stealing……

Accused of stealing...

I took it, sir...

I am confident that although you were acting on the behest of your superiors, you do understand why what you were asking of us was impossible."

Of course it was impossible.  It always WAS impossible.  There was no way I could have succeeded.  I wasn't supposed to.

Wasn't supposed to.

I've been an idiot.

I'm wide-awake, mind racing, heart pounding with excitement.  So simple.  It's just so simple.  The trip to Tollana was for one purpose and one purpose only. To provide Jack with the opportunity to steal the device.

Wasn't about trying to get ion canons for Earth.  Wasn't even about Jack O'Neill trying to make Daniel Jackson look like a horse's ass.  It was about trying to make Jack O'Neill look like a thief.

Mission accomplished.  Jack's done the deed, and been cast aside, branded a thief, a pariah, disgraced, dishonoured.  And I helped.  Set the stage for him, gave him his shot and then gave him to the Tollan.

And Jack's the one who asked me to get involved in the first place.  Asked me to do a favour for a friend.

Set up.  The whole thing was a set up.  Jack set me up. Set me up to take him out.  Why?

WHY!

I'm off the couch, pacing, so furious I don't know whether to laugh or cry.   Right now I hate the fact Jack O'Neill knows me better than any person alive.  Bastard!   You low-down, scheming, manipulative BASTARD! USED me!  My so-called best friend USED me to help him look like a thieving piece of trash.  Played me like a violin. Set me up, cut me off at the knees and then walked out on me.

If he was here right now I'd smash his double-dealing face in!

Calm down, Daniel, calm down, it's not like that and you know it.  This is still Jack we're talking about.  Whatever he did, he had a good reason.   That's what I have to do, focus not on WHAT he did, but WHY he did it.

Okay, I'm hurt he didn't trust me enough to let me in on it.  Maybe he thought I wouldn't be convincing enough to the Tollan if I knew the whole thing was a lie.  I'm not known for being very good in the lying department.    That's probably why he figured he couldn't say.  Whatever he's involved in, it HAS to be important. Had to be absolutely sure it looked right. Couldn't take the chance the Tollan wouldn't buy it.  The Tollan, and whomever else he's trying to convince with his macho asshole, 'I'm just in it for the big guns' act.

Which brings us right back to the 'why' - doesn't it?

It all seems to be coming back to technology.  What I was supposed to try and get from the Tollan, what Jack stole, what he sat there and screamed we should be trying to get for Earth no matter how we had to get it.

Something ELSE was mentioned in that briefing.  Something the general said.  Had it, had it just a minute ago.

Stealing.  The fact the SGC has been accused of stealing.  Oh yeah, remember how good THAT felt during the business with the Touchstone. To be branded thieves by people who had trusted us. Being accused of stealing didn't go over any better with Jack than it did with the rest of us.  We got to the bottom of it, got the Touchstone back for the Medronans, and cleared ourselves and the SGC.  The real thieves were a rogue group using the second Stargate.  No one directly involved with the SGC.

A rogue group that got away.  Escaped through the gate, right under our noses. That's still out there, somewhere.

I'm starting to feel a lot better about this and am on my way to turning the coffee maker on to brew up a little aid to further contemplation when the phone rings.

 


I'm feeling a little guilty I didn't let on to General Hammond I've figured out what's going on.  He seemed to be so concerned about how I was taking all of this, and I'd like to set his mind at ease about me, but I've put a few other things together during the ride over to Jack's place making me glad I held back, now.

Who to trust.  Jack didn't just cut me out of the loop, he's left Sam and Teal'c and the general in the dark about what's really going on as well.  So there may be more to this than I realize.  Having to do with what's happening at home as much as what's going on out there on the other side of the gate.

Not that I think the general or my friends are involved in anything shady. Not at all. They'd no more be capable of dishonest dealings than, well - Jack!  But until I get more of the picture from Jack, I'm not going to unintentionally blow his cover by mouthing off to the wrong people.   Or anyone, for that matter.

Hammond picked an interesting time to call, though. He sounded a little surprised I didn't know anything more about how Jack was doing. Funny, never realized it before, but when it comes to Jack, everyone assumes I'm the resident authority.   The one to come to if they need up to date information.  Or explanations.  I guess he just took it for granted I would have already called or dropped by.

I didn't need the excuse of promising to furnish him with an 'update' to be making this trip today.  I'd already been intending to go over to speak to Jack.  Now that I've put it together.  We'll be able to sit and talk in private, and once he knows I know, I'm sure he'll come clean and tell me the rest.

So I'll be able to get the full story and allay as much of the general's concern as the situation will allow me.  Two birds, so to speak.

Can't believe how much better I feel now I KNOW why Jack has been acting the way he has.

 


Hmmm.   Not exactly the first ring this time.  Far from it. Strange. I've stood at this door hundreds of times, waiting to be allowed admittance, and this is the first time I find myself suddenly feeling as if I'm……not welcome.

Can't say I'm thrilled with the sensation.  Nor am I exactly sure where it's coming from.  No reason for it, it'll be fine, I know what's going on, I'll tell Jack I know, we'll get it all cleared up.  I know it'll be okay, but all of a sudden I've got this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and I'm just about to lose my nerve and turn tail and run when the door finally opens.

My friend is there in the doorway, beer bottle in hand, not a shit-eating grin in sight and while he may have been drinking, he's certainly not been overdoing it.

Jack O'Neill is standing there, glaring at me, not only in total control but so deeply hidden behind his stone-cold face I almost don't recognize him.

"What do you want?" he mutters at me.

"I'm not really sure, to tell you the truth."

And it is the truth.  I'm totally stunned by this less than warm reception. While I wasn't exactly expecting a brass band, surely after three years and a few billion light years Jack could manage a slightly friendlier greeting than this.  What's with the stonewalled, shut out routine, Jack?  You don't have to play the asshole now, not when it's just the two of us.

What do I want?  I want to let my friend know he's still got one!

"Came here to talk, I guess."  Well, I did.

"So talk."

Still not moving, still not inviting me in.  Okay, well maybe he figures I'm still buying the act and mad at him.  He doesn't know yet, I haven't told him.  No wonder he's being less than forthcoming.  He's got to think I think he's pond scum.

But if that really were the case, Jack, I wouldn't be here, would I?  The fact I am should tell you something.  Let down the walls.  I'm your friend, remember?  Said so loud enough, right here, not so long ago.  Let me in.

He takes a swig from the bottle and glares at me.  Still not moving.  Looks like I have to ask, he's not offering.

"You got another one of those?"

"Yeah."

I see.  You're going all the way with this.  Going to make me beg?

"Feel like sharing?"

"The beer?  Sure."

Finally, he moves away. Lets me walk through the door. I enter and close it behind me as he heads toward the kitchen.  It feels about ten degrees colder in here than it does outside. The air in the house is positively glacial on my skin as I move through it and walk downstairs. Feeling more and more like the unwelcome, unwanted intruder.

It's a disquieting, unsettling feeling. Disconcerting. When we're back on Earth I probably spend more time in this house than I do in my own place.  Jack finds it hard to relax at my place.  Always afraid he's going to break something. This is practically my second home, and now I feel awkward, out of place, afraid to sit on the furniture, even.

"So, how do you feel about all this?" I call out to him as I move restlessly about, still uncertain as to what to do with myself.  I can tell you how I feel, Jack. Confused.  I thought I knew what was going on, but now I'm here, nothing feels right.  I was going to come out and tell him everything I'd figured out but now I'm caught in this pocket of awkward and I'm coming up empty.  I'm still hesitating, trying to figure out what to do and say when his next words send me spinning even further into the realm of uncertainty.

"Yes to the beer.  NO to the feelings," he announces as he joins me and hands me a beer.  I seat myself, twist the cold bottle in my hands and try to get a grip on myself.

Ah.  Well, if he was trying to tell me the Jack O'Neill emotional shop was closed up for the day he couldn't have been more direct.

He's seating himself in the armchair across from me.  Just for an instant I'm remembering another time, the first time Jack and I shared a beer in this house.  Seated exactly where we are right now.

That's not right.  We're in the same places we were that night.  But our positions were reversed.  Oh god, Jack, in more ways than one……

"That's - that's too bad because I really don't like beer."  One of us is going to be honest, here.  Might not be a soul shattering revelation, but at least now he knows I've been humouring him for the last three years.

"Stop your worrying.  I'm fine."  Obviously my stark admission didn't elicit any reciprocal inclinations to opening up.  Sharing still only extends to the beer, it would seem.  I don't understand why he's being so cold.  Why he's still keeping up the act. It IS an act, isn't it, Jack?

I'm getting more unsure of myself by the second.  I'm not sure what's going on.  We're alone.  It's me.  Danny.  Why is he still being so…..

 I can't be wrong about this.  About him?  Can I? All my plans to dazzle him with my brilliance are falling around me.  He's staring at me like I'm some sort of bug under a microscope.

Or an idealistic idiot taking up his precious time.

" Really?  That's funny, because I didn't figure you for the early retirement type anymore. There's another reason you're angry, isn't there?"

I know there is.  I know there's a reason for everything you've done.  Help me out, here, Jack.  Tell me I've got it right.  This is where you put aside the stone face and start being JACK again.  I'll tell you I'm with you, I'll tell you you're not alone with this, I'll tell you I understand -

"Oh, here we go, Pop Psych 101, right?" he shoots at me in a disgusted, dismissive tone.

I feel like I'm floundering in an ocean of his disdain. Maybe I have got it wrong, maybe there is something else, some other reason for the way he's been acting. Maybe he ISN'T pretending, he really MEANT those things he said in the briefing.  But - but why?  How could he have - what would have made him FEEL this way?

And why didn't I know?  Why didn't I see this coming?

Grasping at straws now, for some sort of explanation that will make even the SLIGHTEST shred of sense.  Something he mentioned in the briefing.

"No, when we were in the briefing you said something about the Pentagon not giving us the back-up we requested. What were you talking about?"

For the first time since I've gotten here something in him appears to soften.  He seems regretful, looks away from me and his voice is low and quiet as he answers me an almost apologetic voice.

"Hammond and I were planning a secondary SGC base off world.  It was going to serve as a backup in case ours was attacked.  I was going to command."

What?  Jack?  Planning to leave SG-1 and tie himself to a desk? Not even in SG Command HQ, but in some outpost out in the stars?  JACK?  Now this is just NUTS.  This is his explanation? He's pissed because the Pentagon wouldn't let him set up a place for him to be bored out of his skull?

Jack?

"And the Pentagon pulled the plug.  So you're acting out because you're hurt, and you didn't get a command."

I'm hearing myself saying the words but I'm so not buying what I'm saying.  Or hearing.

"Give me a break, Daniel," he snaps at me.  "Their denial of the program was just another indication that they're not serious about attaining our goals."

"Which you think is obtaining new weapons and technology." Pardon me for being dense, here, Jack.  I'm just trying to understand.

"Protecting ourselves!"

He's getting angrier, colder, stranger.  And it's scaring me.  Way more than hearing what he was saying yesterday.  That was an act.  At least, I thought it was.

But we're not in the briefing room now.  Now, it's just the two of us.  There's nothing stopping him from being straight with me.  From telling me the way he really feels.

So, I guess - he is.

I've got no choice. I have to know how bad it is.  How far it goes.  I have to understand what's really going on with him so I can help.

"But isn't our mission also about establishing and maintaining diplomatic relations with other cultures?"

I thought that was the MAIN point to what we were doing out there.  Making friends, securing allies, expanding our knowledge of the universe, and joining the galactic community.  That's what it's all about, Jack, isn't it?  At least, that's what I thought it was all about.  Thought you saw it the same way too.

"What's the point if we don't gain anything to help our other interests?"

Other interests, Jack?  What other interests?  What are you talking about?

" Well, there's a lot we can learn from people like the Tollan that has nothing to do with technology and weapons."

How to start behaving like more reasonable beings, for starters.

"Stuff that interests people like YOU, Daniel, not people like me." He hurls the words at me as he jabs an angry finger in the air.   "I want to see TANGIBLE gains from our efforts, and if people like the Tollan don't want to SHARE, we should just - TAKE."

His harsh words hang in the air between us, like a noxious cloud polluting the strained silence.  I can't look at him for an instant as the shock of what he has just said to me starts seeping into my consciousness.

He can't mean this.  He - he can't. Not...Jack.

"You really believe that."

I say the words slowly, feel them being pulled out of me.  I don't want to say them but I have to.  I say them so he'll have a chance to deny them.  He HAS to deny them.   Tell me I've misunderstood what I've just heard.  Clarify the whole thing for me.

Please, Jack.

"Being sweet and nice isn't going to stop three or four Goa'uld motherships if they decide to come back again.  I'd rather be a thief and alive than honest and dead.  It's a cliché, but there it is."

No apologies, no regrets, no remorse.  He snarls out the sentences with a kind of ugly pride and defiance. Being sweet and nice - ergo stupid and naïve - not to your liking, Jack?  Like me, you mean, Jack?  Honest and dead?  Me again?  Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I'll keep my principles and take my chances.

There it is?  Indeed.

"If you really believe that, I guess...I guess I never really knew you at all."

But - but I did.  I do.  I've heard what you just said and I still can't believe…..

"Come on.  You're a bright guy.  You had to sense...SOME of this."

No. No, I never did.  Not once. Not - not this.  I trusted you, Jack, believed in you.  You've always been my hero.  Would rather have died than tell you, but maybe - maybe if I say something now, maybe if I tell you, we can still….

Should say something, but I'm too - can't find the words... I can't...

His voice is soft again, almost gentle as he holds the knife to my chest.

"Then no.  I guess you couldn't relate to me any more than I could to you."

I can feel the cold steel of his contempt pressing against my heart. There's still time to save myself.  Deflect the blow.  Walk away before I let him do me in.

I must be crazy, but even now, I still want to give him the chance to stay his hand.   He has to realize he can't do this to me.  To us.

We're friends.  If I've ever been sure of anything in this life, I'm sure of this.  Whatever else he's ever been, Jack is my friend.  Stake my life on it.  Have.

Hundreds of times.

"So this, ah, this whole friendship thing we've been working on for the last few years - "

I don't even get a chance to finish the sentence.

"Apparently not much of a foundation there, huh?"

At least he has the decency to look away as he drives the knife home.

On to Part Two

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