The silence is not promising.
Jack is standing across the briefing room from them, hands in his pockets. It’s a blue day, apparently, though Jack’s the only one wearing them. She’s still dressed in her Offworld gear, and the General is in his service uniform. Hammond looks from Sam to Jack, his body braced over the long table mostly on bent fingers.
“Walk me through this again, Major.” Jack finally demands, drawing her attention back to him.
Sam hesitates. It was a pretty long explanation, but not a particularly complex one, and she knows full well he understood it all the first time around. Still, she takes a deep breath and prepares to launch into it again, as ordered. Before she can get the first word out, the General stops her with a lifted hand and a glance.
“Jack,” he reproves in a quiet voice and then straightens to pull out his chair and sit down at the head of the table next to Sam. She appreciates that - even though she knows she hasn’t done anything wrong, sitting with both of them looming over her reminds her uncomfortably of being in trouble at the Academy. The colonel doesn’t make any move to sit, and it doesn’t escape her notice that their commander tactfully refrains from commanding him to, or that he has subtly changed the tone of this conversation by addressing him as ‘Jack’ and not ‘Colonel’.
For just a moment, she laments not sending Teal’c back through the Gate to do this part. Tactically, she knows that leaving the Jaffa to watch Daniel’s back was the better choice; he could never in a million years have successfully pitched their admittedly farfetched plan to these two men. Sam can.
But it’s not fun, especially when Jack pins her under the full weight of his gaze again, frowning. “Why can’t we just send in a different team? Two marines. I’m sure we could even find an actual couple. They can be the official negotiators, with Daniel to translate.”
“They don’t allow the use of an additional translator, it has to be the negotiator, and Daniel says there’s no way he can teach the language to anyone else in any reasonable time frame.” Leaning forward a little bit over the table, she anticipates his next objection. “They really don’t want to bring in anyone else at all, Sir. They’re bending the rules just to allow this, to bring in Daniel’s person, because that rule is apparently just a little less strict than the one that says the person doing the negotiating has to speak their language.”
The ‘but why me ’ is written all over the Colonel’s face; Sam actually can see the thought process as he flicks a glance at the General and decides that’s not a can of worms he wants to open here and now. Instead, he turns to Hammond and reasons with just a hint of entreaty, “It seems like a situation with a pretty big number of unknowns, Sir. Lots of ways for us to get into bad situations. Maybe it would be wiser to scratch this one?”
“Sir, we need this treaty. We need this naquadah,” she counters regretfully, “And we could really use some of their other technology. They’re not going to barter with us any other way.”
Jack turns away, muttering something under his breath about how he never should have let them go off-world by themselves, which stings a little. She knows he doesn’t mean it that way - doesn’t mean he thinks she didn’t do a good job as mission commander - that’s just how he always reacts when the team is in a less than stellar situation centered around their favorite civilian. The General stares down at his hands clasped in front of him, considering, and finally sighs.
“Unfortunately, I have to agree with the Major,” Hammond starts.
“Sir-” Jack makes a last effort, frown deepening into a scowl, but the man cuts him off as he shakes his head and stands.
“No, Jack. We need this naquadah, and we need it yesterday. We have dragons breathing down our necks again.” Hammond looks tired, as he often does these days. She thinks he needs a vacation, but it’s not like the whole SGC can just be paused for a week so he can take one. “Colonel O’Neill, I know you only got back this morning, but I’d like you to be ready to return to the planet with Major Carter at 1500 hours. Let’s get this one wrapped up and get home, people.”
The locker room door swings open, and he glances up from lacing his boots to find Sam holding a small collection of black duffle bags. She drops two at her own feet and, readjusting the one still on her shoulder, offers him the empty fourth. He doesn’t take it, just raises his eyebrows and waits.
“I know the General said get it wrapped up and get home, Sir, but I don’t think it’s going to be that kind of mission,” she explains. “Teal’c and I both agree it just has...that feeling.”
“‘That feeling?’” Jack echoes dryly, but he stands up to take the bag, already mentally inventorying how much clean gear he has available between what’s in his locker and what’s stashed in his base quarters.
Sam gives him just the hint of a smile, the one that warms her eyes more than it transforms her face. “Yes, sir. Plus, you know what it’s like when only Daniel speaks the language. We’re going to have a lot of downtime.”
Yes, he does. He adds his new book of crossword puzzles to his packing list and hopes it’s still on his desk. Or did he leave it in Daniel’s office? His other puzzle book is at home in his office, and he doesn’t have time to go get it. Shoving the two clean t-shirts and extra pair of pants into the bag, Jack looks up just as Sam is turning away and reaching for the door. “Carter?”
He takes a little bit of perverse pleasure in watching her wince before she turns back. Clearly, she thought she was going to get away without explaining...everything...in more detail than the General had insisted on. She should have known him better than that. “Sir?”
“Explain again why it has to be me?” Jack grabs a handful of the chocolate energy bars that he keeps for Daniel off of the shelf and adds them to the bag before he slams the metal locker door shut and looks at her, expectantly.
“Uh...well, you know, Daniel will probably be able to explain it better, Colonel. It’s complicated.”
Nice try, Sam. “We’ve got an hour until we Gate out. Plenty of time. Walk with me.”
Ever the good soldier, she falls into step beside him even though she looks like she’d rather be anywhere else. He turns out the door and heads towards the elevator, giving her silence to fill. He’d read her short report before he came down to the locker room, trying to figure out what’s been going on with his team while he wasn’t with them, but he could tell that Sam was being unusually cagey in her report. Something’s up. It might take her a minute to find the words, but Sam will eventually answer his question. Teal’c would just ignore that he’d even asked a question if he didn’t want to answer it or give a completely unhelpful one-word response. Daniel would change the subject or pretend to forget the question. But not Sam.
“As far as I understand, since we made the first contact and initiated negotiations, by their laws our team are the only ones the Icrosians will deal with. The first problem is that their law also says negotiations must be conducted in their language, so only Daniel can talk to them at all, and he says he has a rudimentary grasp of the language at best.”
That doesn’t surprise Jack, but he also thinks it’s probably not completely true. If Daniel thinks he’s communicating on a ‘rudimentary’ level, he’s probably nearly fluent. And if he isn’t yet, he will be given a couple of days of immersion. Their linguist can be critically hard on himself. It’s probably a good thing that the names of the academics who destroyed his confidence aren’t in Daniel’s official file. If it was easy to track them down, one Air Force Colonel might get himself into trouble.
“The second problem is that in their culture, they can’t deal with only half of a - well, now Daniel’s translating it as a ‘partnership’ - present. He translated it at first as ‘marriage’ but he explained that he was a widow, that he lost Sha’re, and they said Sha’re wasn’t the partner they were talking about. They insist there is someone else.” Sam pauses because they’ve reached Jack’s door. She glances up and down the hall, hesitant to continue. Reaching past her, he opens the door and gives a quick jerk of his head to indicate she should follow him, and lets the door swing shut behind them.
“You still haven’t answered the question of why me , specifically, Major.” He drops the duffle on the bed and walks across the room to the small dresser, in search of socks and underwear. A few steps take him back to the bed, and when Sam still hasn’t continued, he sighs. The air feels charged with whatever she isn’t saying. “Spit it out, Carter.”
“They insist that Daniel’s someone else is...a man, sir.” Well, that explains why she stopped out in the hallway. Daniel isn’t military, so he’s not subject to DADT, but that’s still not something anyone who cares for Daniel would announce to the general public in a military installation. As a rule, the SG personnel are open-minded and accepting of their civilian coworkers, but you never know, especially with some of the marines. More interesting, is that Sam sounds a little surprised. Jack is confident in his position as Daniel Jackson’s best friend, but their archaeologist loves Sam like a sister. How is it that Jack knows Daniel’s bisexual, and somehow Sam doesn’t? He tucks that away for further contemplation later, tapping his fingers briefly on the bedframe before he turns back around, arms crossed over his chest.
Sam returns his steady look for a minute, and he can’t tell what she’s thinking. “They won’t work with us unless we produce Daniel’s partner, and we need them. And, it’s a convenient way to get you there as well, Sir, now that you’re back. Otherwise, they wouldn’t allow you to rejoin the team, since you weren’t there originally.”
Jack understands now why she was so unusually guarded in her report, and with the General. Officially, as far as the military is concerned, it will read like the Icrosians needed Daniel’s professional partner. Most of the military bigwigs will extrapolate based on the vague details that they wanted the team leader. In reality… “So what’s the real plan?”
Her spine straightens, her discomfort at being called on her minor deception making her as tense as a bowstring. Jack doesn’t let his expression change, but he’s torn between wanting to grin or to strangle someone. Whatever Sam is about to say, it was absolutely not her idea. And only one person could convince her to go along with whatever they wanted, even up to misleading Jack. What is Daniel up to?
“He - we - need you to pose as his partner, Sir. As his husband, as far as I understand it.” Jack keeps his expression neutral, waiting for the rest of it. He’s not interested in going into one of his archaeologist’s plans blind. He has enough trouble keeping up with Daniel when he has all the facts already. “Daniel says it has to be you,” she continues, standing very nearly at attention and not quite meeting his eyes. “However it is they know what they do, or what they think they do, he says it has to be someone who really does know him, and you’re the only one who might know him like that.”
Sam’s eyes go sad and a little distant, and he can immediately imagine how that conversation went. One of those clueless Daniel moments where he probably said something offhand about how Jack, Sam, and Teal’c are his only friends; something that to Daniel would have just been a fact, but to his team (his family) is a terrible tragedy. Jack studies her for another moment, surreptitiously checking his watch. Thirty minutes. Too much time to leave Major Samantha Carter to stew in uncertainty over whether her grift was crossing a line topped with how she feels about Daniel’s confession, but just enough time to get back at her for including him in her duplicity just a little bit in another way. He unfolds his arms, turning to grab a book and his crossword off of the nightstand, and asks casually, “So I’m assuming some of what Daniel had you get was the requisite trimmings?”
“Sir?” You can’t sound that baffled and still be at complete stick-up-your-ass military attention, so he knows he’s succeeded in redirecting her focus. Good - he also already has ‘that feeling’ about this mission, and he needs Sam on her A-game. Schooling himself back to impassivity, he zips the duffle and swings it over his shoulder before he turns around, using a voice of very faint incredulity as if he doesn’t understand why she’s confused.
“The trimmings, Carter. The accoutrements.”
“Accoutrements, sir?” She repeats.
“Daniel and I are supposed to be pretending to be married, isn’t that what you said?”
“Well here on Earth, weddings usually come with some physical sign of commitment, Major. Rings, most often.” Sam’s mouth drops open, a bit, so he goes for the kill. “This is an important negotiation, you and the General have both made that very clear. So we better not slip up over something so minor, yeah?”
“I…uh...yes, Sir. I’ll find something.”
“Peachy. I’ll see you in the Gateroom.”
All Daniel can think about is hoping that he’d had clean clothes in his quarters for Sam to find. If he hadn’t, he’s going to have to take the Icrosians up on their offer of clean garments, and he doesn’t want to be out of his gear when Jack arrives. If they are here long enough the colonel will probably relax about uniform, but it won’t happen right away. The last thing he needs is to give Jack something else to be pissy about; he’s already going to have plenty of explaining to do to an unhappy team leader. Later, hopefully, when Jack gets a better idea of what’s going on here, but possibly sooner if Sam was a particularly bad liar.
This is likely, because she’s terrible at lying to Jack. Daniel is, too, for most things. All but the most important thing. The thing that Jack can never know. This mission is going to jeopardize that secret, and Daniel wants nothing more than to go home and get out of it, no matter how much Sam says they need the naquadah.
He trails his fingers down the wall, cataloging the smooth feel of the tiles that make up the mosaic even as his eyes roam hungrily all along the mural. An archway looms overhead, one of the many closed doors taunting him from underneath, and Daniel steps towards it. Movement from the dark opening, a flash of metal under a black uniform, and Daniel has to stop himself from flinching away. Just behind him, Teal’c steps closer to him, and the Icrosian guard stops, but doesn’t retreat. Daniel drifts back towards the wall, purposefully defusing the situation, though the desire to find out what is behind those dark stone doors is driving him crazy. Though he keeps his eyes on the murals, he’s aware of the many guards around them who had gone on alert when he got too close to the forbidden space.
It’s probably irrelevant that they need the naquadah. He’s pretty sure that he wouldn’t have been allowed to leave. The people of this planet want something from him, and he doesn’t know what it is. He’s been hiding a lot from Sam and Teal’c, and his lies are going to crumble when Jack gets here. Jack’s going to kill him. This is probably his last civilization to discover before Jack chains him up somewhere in the SGC and never lets him leave the base again. They’re just so interested, these people, and the SGC needs the negotiations to succeed. The deceptions built up before he could stop them.
The ground pulses softly under his feet, a warning that someone is coming. The first couple of times it happened he’d been startled, but now he’s used to it. But he’s the only one who seems to be able to feel it, so he touches Teal’c’s arm to alert him as he turns towards the entrance. The Jaffa pivots with him, never out of reach. There’s a fairly good chance, he muses, that Teal’c isn’t as fooled as he has been letting Daniel think, but rather willing to go along with the plan. For a brief moment, before he focuses on the approaching woman, he allows the warm rush of affection for his friend to wash over him.
“Daniel,” the woman folds her hands at her chest and bows over them.
“Minister Sul,” he carefully returns the gesture, his bow a degree deeper than hers. As the Tau’ri ambassador, he should be a higher rank than her, but without a ‘lifepartner’, he ranks somewhere above children but below all married adults in the Icrosian society. They’re horrified that he was traveling without his lifepartner , but have at least accorded him some leeway since he is a foreigner - which is good, because he’s fairly sure their normal response would have been to place him in some sort of protective custody.
It’s hard to be certain because he doesn’t understand a lot of their language yet. The only reason he’s communicating at all is because they seem to be able to speak some English, and they have some sort of telepathy. Telepathy that only seems to work for Daniel, not Sam and Teal’c, much to Sam’s frustration.
“Come,” the minister commands, “it opens.” The picture Daniel receives of the spinning Stargate is so clear, he can hear it. She turns without a word, assuming they will follow, and strides towards the door. Her floor-length outer robe billows with the movement and Daniel feels like he’s jogging to catch up, though Teal’c a half-step behind him looks as unhurried and unbothered as ever.
The guards in their sober black swing the big double doors open before they reach them, allowing her to sweep out and down the steps without pausing. The Stargate stands in the center of the city, a stone’s throw from the building he’d been touring, and the last chevron locks in as they reach the bottom of the steps. One of the pieces of technology they have here that Sam wants dearly is something that slows down the dialing process, allowing the Icrosians to identify who is dialing in before the Gate opens. Or, well, at least the location they are dialing from.
An inlay of crushed blue rock marks out the safety zone for the whoosh, and he hurries over to stand just outside the line. Tickling the back of his mind is a trickle of amusement and approval from Minister Sul and the other men and women who are slowly joining her; they think he’s that eager to see Jack, and they approve.
They aren’t wrong. Daniel wishes it was the act he’s convinced Sam he was going to be putting on, but he’s overwhelmingly relieved that Jack is coming. He’s a little worried that he’s in over his head, here. The whoosh of the opening wormhole is so close he can feel the prickle of energy on his face. He shoves his hands in his pockets, holding his breath.
Sam is the first person through the Gate, with the controller for the MALP which precedes her. Her gaze scans the whole courtyard first and then settles on Daniel. She gives him a very short nod, and a subtle thumbs up with the hand most sheltered from view of the group of ministers as well as from Jack, who steps through quickly on her heels.
The colonel also has both hands on his P90 across his chest, and he pauses on the threshold of the Gate to look around, a thorough survey of the situation. He doesn’t look at Daniel until last, and then he holds his eyes without blinking as he walks directly up to Daniel, ignoring everyone else. Daniel can’t look away, but he can’t interpret the look on Jack’s face either. He doesn’t look straight up pissed off, but he doesn’t look happy , either. His hands go clammy, and he’s glad they’re stuck into his pockets.
Sam had given him the all-clear signal, but as Jack keeps moving right up into Daniel’s personal space, he realizes maybe they don’t have the same definition of all-clear. Their commander looks...very intense. Jack is forced to stop because he can’t step forward any more without moving Daniel. “Jack,” Daniel croaks, mouth suddenly dry. He’s frozen to the spot - he couldn’t move if he wanted to. He never gets to stand this close to Jack - he doesn’t let himself, anymore.
“Daniel,” Jack returns in a drawl, still blank-faced, but then he reaches out and grabs Daniel, pulling him into a tight hug. Daniel hadn’t realized how tense he’d gotten until the strong arms close tightly around him, warming him from the inside out, and he sags a little into Jack’s hold. His heart restarts, and he is glad nobody can see his face as he buries it into Jack’s shoulder, because he’s pretty sure there are hot tears in his eyes, humiliated at how good it feels to be held.
His stomach turns over - it’s going to be so easy to pretend to be Jack’s husband, but at what cost? Will he be able to put himself back together when they get home and the game ends? The thought of it already hurts. “You’ve got some ‘splaining to do,” Jack growls in his ear, his best Ricky Ricardo impression, but he doesn’t loosen his grip until Daniel takes a deep breath and leans back, supporting himself again, albeit on unsteady legs. When he does let go, it’s just to transfer his hands to Daniel’s shoulders and push him back a half-step so he can study his face. “You okay?”
“Uh,” Daniel sneaks a look out of the corner of his eye at the gaggle of diplomats hovering just out of earshot. “It’s complicated.”
“Ya think?” Jack shakes his head and then turns Daniel towards the Icrosians. There’s a moment when Daniel feels cold, regretful to be out of Jack’s embrace, but then the colonel settles one hand on the back of his neck to steer him. The grounding effect gives him the strength to take a deep breath and settle his racing mind, which is good because communicating with these people requires all of his skills.
Sam and Teal’c step in to flank them and the diplomats glide towards them. The two groups meet halfway, and Sul emerges from the pack and bows to them again. Daniel bows back, Sam and Teal’c both nod respectfully; Jack, predictably, just glowers at them over Daniel’s shoulder. “Minister Sul, this is Colonel Jack O’Neill. Jack, this is Minister Sul, the head of the Icrosian, uh, senate, I think is the closest translation.”
The woman barely comes up to their shoulders, but when she locks eyes with Jack she gives as good as she’s getting in the glare department, long enough for the standoff to grow uncomfortable. Daniels shifts from foot to foot and opens his mouth to say something, but she silences him with one hand held up and a mental feeling that he’s come to understand as the equivalent of a shake of the head. “You are the leader of the Tau’ri,” Sul says in slow and careful English.
“No,” Jack corrects her, “but I am the leader of this team, and we are authorized to speak on behalf of the United States Government.” The group of men and women behind her undulates for a moment as they exchange small touches, a sign that they are communicating silently. One leans in when they have finished and rests a hand on Sul’s shoulder, and she nods.
“And you are Daniel’s lifemate ?” she asks, using the Icrosian word he hasn’t quite been able to translate directly. Jack is silent behind him, and Daniel wants nothing more than to turn around and translate for him, offer him protocol advice, but Sul still has her hand held up for his silence. The last time he’d argued with one of the ministers, they’d had him escorted back to his room like a naughty child and a posted guard outside the door had not allowed him to leave until the next day’s breakfast. That had been the day that his low social rank amongst them had been made plain, and he realized that they really wouldn’t barter with him alone.
Jack’s warm hand tightens on the back of his neck, at once a physical warning because he can probably feel Daniel vibrating with frustration, but also a reassurance. “Yes. Daniel is my partner.”
Sul’s wrinkled face eases into a warm smile, and she bows again, this time bending several degrees further than she has ever bowed to Daniel thus far. “Ambassadors,” she murmurs, and the collective of people behind her hurries to follow suit. Daniel, speechless in relief that his crazy plan is working , bows respectfully back to them again. It momentarily dislodges Jack’s hand, but when he straightens Jack simply moves his hand to a spot just below Daniel’s shoulder blades.
“Ma’am, I’d like some time to get caught up with my team,” Jack announces. He phrases it like a request, but his tone is as much of a command as it’s ever been. The hand on his back suddenly feels a little possessive, but for some reason, Daniel isn’t offended (though he thinks he should be).
The minister’s mouth quirks up into a little secretive smile and she inclines her head. “Daniel can show you to your quarters,” she agrees. “Will we see you for dinner?” Sul looks directly at Daniel, and he gets the impression of the bigger, formal dining room; they haven’t been invited to dine there amongst the full complement of the Icrosian leaders since the first night when it was revealed that the Tau’ri wanted to negotiate and that Daniel was ‘Life-bonded’ but alone. It would be humiliating, infantilizing, if he wasn’t sure that Jack would have received the same treatment.
“I never turn down dinner,” Jack agrees behind him, sounding more cheerful than he has since he arrived.
They collect the packs and bags off of the MALP and then as a group walk silently across the courtyard to another imperious building. Jack feels like there are eyes following him the whole way, so he doesn’t speak, and the rest of his team seems to follow his lead. They get into a strangely luminous elevator car and ride up four floors, and then wander down a long hallway. He stops behind his team as Sam presses her palm to a square beside the door, and it slides open. Following them in, he dumps his packs on the floor and looks around.
“When do they serve dinner here? I’m starving.” They’re standing in an open room, with wide windows all along the far wall. There are a few low, inviting couches in the center, and off the side, there’s a table and what looks like a small kitchenette. Four doors open off of the main room; even from here he can see beds in three of them and the fourth is closed.
“You aren’t going to like it,” Daniel answers him absently; he’s already dug a book out of the duffle Sam had handed him, and he’s got it open and is running a finger down the page with his brows furrowed.
“Why not?” A part of him wants to start in immediately on demanding answers from Daniel, but he can’t help but be intrigued.
“It’s like a twenty-five-course meal,” their archaeologist mumbles, face still in his book, “and mostly fiddly finger foods. Nothing like a steak or a burger.”
Across the room, Jack catches Sam and Teal’c exchanging a confused look. The big man clasps his hands behind his back and raises an eyebrow, leaving Sam to frown at Daniel. Neither of them says anything, reminding Jack that something is super off about all of this, and he was intending to get to the bottom of it before it can get any more twisted. “Spit it out, Carter.”
Glancing at his way, she turns towards their distracted civilian. “Well, Sir, that doesn’t sound like the dinners we’ve had here at all,” she admits. “Daniel, are you alright?”
“We’re not having dinner in the lower hall,” Daniel mumbles without lifting his eyes from the page. “Minister Sul invited us back to the upper hall after Jack got here.”
Sam and Teal’c exchange another look. “She did not change our dining location,” Teal’c declares after he apparently loses whatever silent argument they have. Daniel makes a disagreeing noise but otherwise ignores him, lips moving silently as he runs his finger down his page. Jack is momentarily torn - on the one hand, it’s been two weeks since he saw his team, and this is just so Daniel , he can’t help the trickle of fondness he feels. On the other hand, there is the overwhelming rush of pure irritation at the same behavior; it’s stuff like this that gets them into sticky situations.
Irritation wins. “Hey!” Stalking over to the younger man, he yanks the book out of Daniel’s hands and tosses it behind him, aiming for one of the couches. The man’s startled gaze jerks up to Jack’s. “Pay attention, Daniel. That woman didn’t say anything to you about where dinner was.”
“Um,” Daniel blinks and crosses his arms. “She did, actually. She, uh, showed me.” Behind Jack, he can hear that both Teal’c and Sam move restlessly at that, Sam quietly murmuring Daniel’s name, but he doesn’t have time to look at them, because he has to keep his eyes on Daniel to make sure he hears the things Daniel doesn’t say.
“The Icrosians....their language isn’t entirely verbal. They’re at least partially telepathic. The nuance is just so...so!......and I think the b-base might be….” Daniel looks over Jack’s shoulder at their teammates, catches himself, and snaps his mouth shut mid-thought, looking longingly towards the book Jack had taken from him.
“Leave some things out of your report, Major?” Jack growls without taking his eyes off of his linguist. For just a second, Daniel’s face had been lit with the pure joy of discovery, so excited he couldn’t get the sentences out, but when he’d looked at Sam, resignation had replaced all of that. Why? Jack wants the happy discovery face back.
He doesn’t have to wait long for an answer. “Teal’c and I haven’t experienced it, Sir. I wasn’t going to report something I haven’t had a chance to corroborate for myself.” That would do it - their boy hates it when they don’t believe him, so if Sam has been dismissing him out of hand again, that partially explains why Daniel’s being secretive and reticent with information. They really have to work on their communication issues, he thinks to himself as he scrubs a hand over his face. He counts to ten, and then starts over. After the third set, he feels less like strangling someone.
“Everyone sit,” he points at the couches. Sam moves immediately, Teal’c trailing just behind in his usual unhurried manner. Daniel pushes his glasses up further on his nose, tilts his chin, and opens his mouth; all clear signs he’s building up to say something belligerent or quarrelsome. In no mental state to deal with Daniel’s usual insubordination right now, Jack drops his voice a full octave and commands icily, “ Sit down , Dr. Jackson.”
Daniel’s teeth click together as he snaps his mouth shut. His eyes widen at the tone of the command, and something darkens in his gaze when Jack says ‘Dr. Jackson’. Without a word he turns and moves to the closest of the couches in a series of short, jittery movements. When he sits down, he wraps his arms around his middle and looks at the floor.
Jack got exactly what he wanted from Daniel at this moment, but it feels so much like he kicked someone’s puppy, that it gives him no satisfaction. He follows slowly, starting to move to sit next to Daniel, but when the man’s grip on his own middle tightens and his shoulders tense, the colonel changes course and sits across from him. “Oy.” He’s been on this planet less than an hour, and he feels like someone is stabbing him through the eye with an icepick. Heaving a sigh, he opens his hands. “Okay. Start over, from the top, and catch me up. Don’t leave anything out. Not even if you ‘can’t corroborate it’,” he flicks an irritated glance at Sam, “or you don’t want to tell me.” He moves his glare to Daniel, but it’s wasted because he hasn’t looked up. “ Every thing,”
Both Sam and Teal’c turn and look at Daniel. When he studiously ignores them, Jack can see the resignation dawn on Sam’s face that she’s going to have to do it. Teal’c, in contrast, is giving Jack a disapproving look that he knows is directly related to Jack’s treatment of Daniel. Maybe, he thinks irritably, if Teal’c and Sam didn’t coddle him so much, he wouldn’t pull this crap.
Because Jack has absolutely no doubt, whatever is going on here that has him on edge, it’s going to trace back to Daniel Jackson.
“We arrived on this planet five days ago,” Sam looks like she wants to stand up and be at attention, but she manages to remain seated. “The first night, the Icrosians welcomed us to a feast and a party. On the second morning, they gave us a tour of the city, and then we were allowed to meet with their council. The Ministers thought that Teal’c and I were, uh, a couple, and that we’d be able to do the negotiating.” She pauses, flushing a little as she looks at Teal’c. “When it turned out that we aren’t a couple, and can’t speak their language, they told us we had to go home. Daniel spent the night in their library learning the basics of their language, and before they could send us home the third morning he tried to convince them he should be allowed to negotiate.”
The linguist is still ignoring them, so Sam goes on, though she’s slowed considerably in her report, a sign that she’s not completely confident in her answers. This, then, is where this mission went Daniel-sideways. “They told him he was ineligible because he was single, or that’s what he thought at first. He tried to explain to them that he’d been married to Sha’re and she died, but however he tried to prove that to them, they decided that he was bonded to someone, and nothing we said could convince them otherwise. That’s the point, Sir, when all the guards appeared. Daniel talked them into letting me go home to fetch his partner, and thankfully when I got there, you were back.” She looks him right in the face, looking a little perturbed. “Honestly, Sir, I’m not sure they would have let us take Daniel and go home. But while the Icrosians are happy to show me the science and the technology, and we can do all the culture and sightseeing we want, they won’t talk to me about anything official.”
“Because you don’t speak their language?” Jack clarifies.
“Can’t.” It’s very quiet, that single word, but all heads turn towards Daniel.
“I’m obviously not going to pick it up as fast as you, Daniel,” Sam protests, “but don’t you think teaching us so we can all work on the negotiations is a good idea?”
“I can’t,” his head snaps up, light from the huge windows glinting off of his glasses. “Even if they were willing to overlook the fact that apparently being single makes you barely more than a child in their eyes, I can’t teach you if you can’t hear them! Nearly half of their language isn’t spoken at all, it’s all images and impressions in my head. And I think between themselves, it’s entirely in their heads.”
“You didn’t tell me that!” Sam blurts out.
“You acted like I was crazy when I told you I saw anything!” Daniel shoves to his feet, glaring at them. “Why would I tell you more about my theories when you clearly don’t believe me!”
“Why can you hear them, and nobody else can?” Sam counters, looking frustrated. “It doesn’t make any sense, Daniel!”
“Hel lo ! When has anything we found on the other side of the Stargate made sense?” Daniel gestures wildly towards the windows; Jack follows his movement and takes a moment to admire the very beautiful view of the Stargate from here. “Just because you can’t do it or science your way out of it doesn’t mean it isn’t real! You are just -”
“Enough!” Jack interrupts before Daniel can say something they both know he’ll regret later. Carter, sitting at the other end of Jack’s couch, looks a little stunned. Daniel, for all his ability to be downright mean occasionally when he gets into it with Jack, never goes after Sam like that. He looks to her for support when Jack lets him down, bounces ideas off of her, and serves as her sounding board in return, and he has always forgiven her unquestionably when she takes Jack’s side in a conflict. Or he did, before his short stint in the psych ward. He hasn’t quite forgiven any of them for that, but the strain on his relationship with his science twin has been the worst. Jack knew they had no business going into the field like this without him; he just hadn’t had the words to explain why to the General. And he’s not going to be able to fix it now, he’ll just have to manage the collateral damage until they get home.
Speaking of managing the collateral damage, he still has more than a couple of questions for Daniel, but knows instinctively that he’s not going to get them in front of Sam. It’s going to be a waiting game; to take all of his patience and practice handling Daniel. “Look, kids, is there anything else I have to know before dinner?”
Sam shakes her head. Daniel doesn’t respond - he’s not big on lying, which is just another sign that he hasn’t told them everything. Teal’c nods serenely, saying, “These people do not like to speak of business during their meals. As long as they believe you to be Daniel Jackson’s lifemate, I do not think we shall have any issues.”
Oh yeah, big guy, way to rub that in. “In that case, let’s all just get some rest.”
The living room feels charged and unsafe; he welcomes the chance to flee to the bedroom he’s been using, for a moment to breathe. It’ll only be a moment, but as he drops his head against the warm glass of the sunlit window, it’s a very welcome reprieve. Daniel didn’t want to fight with Sam, but her reaction when he first tentatively tried to explain that he was hearing and seeing the Icrosians in his head had sent him spiraling, and then everything had gotten a little out of hand, and he hadn’t been sure how to even begin to explain it all to her.
The sound of footsteps behind him, and then a bag thumping to the ground, He doesn’t have to turn around to envision the look on the colonel’s face: frustrated, irritated, a little concerned, all choked down as he tries to look casual. “The fourth door is a bathroom.” Jack throws out, forcedly casual.
“There were only three of us,” Daniel murmurs. “And they’re expecting you to, um, stay with me.”
“Well, sharing a bed is still a heck of a lot more comfortable than sharing a tent,” he closes the door, and Daniel listens to him cross the room and sit down, the blankets rustling and the bed frame creaking. “What else are they expecting, Daniel?”
Daniel represses the urge to hunch over, and doesn’t turn away from the window. “I’m not sure.”
“Oh no. You might have pulled a fast one on Carter, but I’m not buying it.” Daniel closes his eyes and wishes that Jack didn’t know him the way he does. He’s always been good at fleecing authority figures, at doing what he thinks is right and getting away with it even if they don’t agree. At convincing them to see his point of view. At slamming the door in their faces if he thought they were at risk of discovering the real Daniel. A long time ago now he’d cracked that door open for Jack O’Neill, and now his best friend keeps his foot in the door even at their worst moments.
“Nope.” It’s unbelievably aggravating that Jack sounds almost cheerful. “Sit the hell down and spill all the crap you’ve been keeping from Carter and Teal’c.”
Aggravating, but sometimes there’s solace in having the choice taken away from him. In being known, and seen. Slowly, he spins around, and walks over to him. There are no chairs in the rooms, they’re quite stark and obviously intended to push the residents back out into the common areas for social interaction, so he lowers himself onto the empty half of the bed. The sunlight is still streaming in, illuminating Jack’s face just right, and he has to just take a moment to admire it, watching him from under his lashes.
For all his growling and sniping, maintaining his hardass exterior, Jack isn’t the hardened soldier he was when they first went through the Stargate to Abydos. He has more lines on his face and he’s going grayer every season, but there’s something else. Sometimes Daniel hears the youngest soldiers mocking him, wondering aloud when the ‘old man’ is going to give up being on a forward team and take a desk job, but that’s not it - Jack might not be a spring chicken, but he’s plenty fit for the field and runs those same soldiers into the ground every time he takes times for hands-on training. No, the change is in Jack as a person. He’s grown as a person.
“Daniel,” Jack stresses, drawing his attention back to the here and now.
“I don’t know where to start.”
“You with all your fancy words?” Jack leans back against the headboard, raising an eyebrow.
“Jack,” Daniel protests the teasing, feeling his face get hot.
“Just talk to me, kid.” Daniel can’t. He can’t open his mouth and admit to all the things he’s kept from Sam. Jack eyes him for a minute, watching him flounder, and then throws him a lifeline. “Start with the language.”
A soft start. Daniel could talk languages in his sleep. God bless Jack, honestly. He takes a deep breath. “Most of them speak some limited English, at least here in the capital. I get the feeling that out further, they might not, and it’s very formal and a little old fashioned here, though they seem to be learning every day as they talk to us.” He leans forward, warming up to the subject. “But their native language, what they speak out loud, it’s got an Indo-European base. I haven’t been able to get a complete history, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were one of the first people the Goa’uld transplanted through the Stargate. Well before they insinuated themselves into the Egyptian culture. Though there must have been visitors or an infusion of people later, for them to know any English at all. But the adults here rarely seem to speak whole thoughts out loud - they’re communicating nonverbally. But only the adults - the children speak out loud, the ones I’ve seen, and the adolescents seem halfway between. So, when they say they won’t negotiate with us because we don’t speak the language, it’s because they think we communicate like children.”
“But you can hear them.”
“Only - only kind of,” Daniel can’t sit still anymore, jumping up to pace near the window. “I understand the spoken words, or at least I will be able to the more I study it. It’s coming together. But I can only see and hear some of what they’re saying mentally. So I’m like-like a teenager to them.” He resists the urge to kick at the legs of the bed, but barely. “They treat me like a teenager, Jack. The other day when I got upset, they escorted me here, like they were sending me to my room!” He glances over, and finds Jack stifling a grin. “Don’t laugh at me!” he adds warningly, but he can’t deny that the warm look in Jack’s eyes at that moment is quite nice.
“Why can’t Carter and Teal’c hear any of it?” Jack asks instead.
“I don’t know.” Daniel spins back towards the window and stares hard at the Stargate. “I thought maybe Sam was just blocking it because she doesn’t believe it’s real, but I can’t imagine that would be what was holding Teal’c back.”
Jack mulls that over for a minute, but has nothing to add. Every heartbeat makes Daniel more tense, because he knows what’s coming next. Finally, Jack asks, “Okay. What about this boyfriend thing?”
It feels like someone hit him with a hand device; for a minute he can’t breathe. ‘Boyfriend’ sounds so trite, so casual. It doesn’t even begin to address the level of bond the Icrosians are speaking of. And, heaven help him, it doesn’t even begin to describe how Daniel feels about Jack. He squeezes his eyes shut and stubbornly fights down the pain until he thinks he can manage around it, and then walks back over to the foot of the bed, hands in his pockets where Jack won’t see them shaking.
“I think the telepathy requires multiple minds. Somehow, it doesn’t work with one person. That’s why the teenagers can kind of start to do it - they’ve started to form emotional bonds with their peers. Children are need-driven. They attach to parents, not because of an emotional bond but because they’d die without a caretaker. Once they reach the teenager stage, that changes. The strong friendships and loyalties they’re developing give it a start, and when they form emotional attachments to others as they start dating, it amplifies it somehow.” He studies the intricate pattern on the brightly woven blankets that form the top layer of bedding. This is why he never told Sam his theories - he sounds insane. “All of the ministers and higher officials we’ve worked with are mated pairs, and the strength of the bond between partners seems to determine their social hierarchy.”
“So you decided that faking a relationship like that would make them willing to work with you?”
“No.” Daniel winces, and can’t help pulling his hands out of his pockets to wrap them around his chest. Jack’s going to take a very dim view of the rest of Daniel’s explanation. “What I tried to do was convince them I’d already had that bond with Sha’re. I’m not sure what they do with widows, but I was hoping it would get us to be deemed adult enough to be negotiated with. They didn’t want to believe me, so I, um, Iofferedtoletthemreadmymind.”
“Carter agreed to that?” Jack asks, incredulous.
“Uh, no, Sam doesn’t know. I mean, I told her the broad strokes of what the Icrosians think but I didn’t, um, go into any detail on why they knew.”
“So you let some aliens go poking around in your head,” Oh yeah, Jack’s pissed. His voice has lowered and he’s leaning forward, eyes burning. “Not only without clearing it with your team leader, but without even INFORMING your team so that someone would have SOME IDEA what was going on if something happened to you?!”
He figures his responding silence is incriminating enough.
“I don’t care what your personal issue with Carter is, you damn well know better! For crying out loud, Daniel, do you have a death wish?” Daniel shakes his head. Jack runs a hand through his hair and then continues, voice clipped and icy. “So they poked around in your head and...what?”
“They decided I already had a person.” He bites his lip, reconsiders his wording. “Not had. Have. Currently. So then, on the one hand, it made me a candidate for Ambassador. On the other…” Daniel hadn’t told Sam this part either, though the heightened security must have given her some idea. “They were very much less than impressed that I was here without my person at all. It’s just not done here, from what I can tell. Some of them seemed prepared to make allowances since we’re not Icrosian, but not all of them. I think I’ve essentially been on house arrest, or a mental hold, or something.”
“Oy, Daniel,” Jack sighs.
His stomach feels a little like he’s been eating rocks. The things he’s still not telling his best friend are heavy. But - he can’t. He’d admitted that his ‘person’ was a man, and allowed Sam to take that information back to the base. Jack will extrapolate from there - that they needed him here because they aren’t getting along the best right now, that it had to be someone who knew him well enough to make the Icrosians think they were a bonded pair of some sort, that it was safer than admitting to anyone else at the SGC that Daniel wasn’t straight.
Jack won’t have any reason to suspect that he was Daniel’s person all along. He can’t suspect that. Daniel can’t afford it, because he can’t afford to lose his best friend and his family on SG-1. Jack can never know.
“Sit.” He glances up, startled, and realizes he started pacing again. Jack points to the other side of the bed, imperiously, and Daniel very briefly considers just refusing. He feels like he needs to regain ground in this conversation, and bucking Jack’s attempts at casual authority over him tends to give him a little thrill. “ Daniel, ” Jack stresses, “I’m tired. You look exhausted. I wasn’t kidding about everyone getting some rest. Sit. Down.”
Daniel sits, absently toeing off the casual Icrosian shoes he’d forgotten to change back out for his uniform boots this morning when he made sure to don his full uniform. He’s got no real interest in taking a nap, but the Icrosian history books he’d been devouring are on the nightstand by Jack. “Hand me that book, please?” he requests, pointing at the volume of interest.
“No,” Jack finishes unlacing his boots and tosses his hat and jacket over the top of the small stack of boots with a sort of finality. “Lay down. Go to sleep, kid. If you’re the only one who can talk to these people, you can’t fall asleep over the third course tonight.” His words are gruff, but Daniel knows better than that. His urge to refuse just to be difficult fades, and he lays down, not even summoning up the energy to gripe about Jack stealing his side of the bed.
It no longer feels weird to be shrugging back into his field uniform, even knowing that he’s going to be walking into a situation where all of the natives are dressed in their version of formal wear. He used to hate it, to argue with Jack every damn time that it would be easier to do his job if he could just assimilate into the cultures he’s trying to learn, but the answer had almost always been some variant of ‘no’. Eventually, he’d stopped asking, and at some point, he’d even come to believe some of Jack’s reasons that had been incomprehensible to him at first.
Sometimes, in low moments, he let himself wonder if Jack’s hard stance on Daniel ‘going native’ was because when he did it on Abydos, he’d ended up staying. But that’s stupid, so he doesn’t let himself think it very often. Jack might have welcomed him back to Earth with open arms, come to accept him as a friend, but he didn’t miss Daniel the way Daniel had missed him. The attachment he’d formed to the man so quickly had been irrational, after all, and inappropriate. Not to mention, Jack liked women. A certain type of woman.
He jerks, banging his knee as he spins around, glaring at the man who’d just been at the top of his thoughts. “Don’t sneak up on me,” he complains out loud. Reason number one why he had been trying hard not to think about Jack: thinking about Jack tended to summon Jack, which could be quite uncomfortable depending on where his thoughts had been. That being reason number two: how unethical was it to fantasize about your best friend, knowing he had no interest in men, much less you?
“Didn’t,” Jack grunts, not sounding particularly friendly, but he’s got one steadying hand on Daniel’s shoulder anyway. The other hand he holds out, something glinting on a swinging chain. “Here.”
Reaching out, Daniel takes the proffered item without thinking and then blinks at it when it’s lying in the palm of his hand. “It’s a ring,” he says dumbly.
“Part of a successful cover is having the right equipment,” Jack says quietly.
Which clears up...nothing? Daniel’s having trouble focusing on anything except the fact that there’s a ring in his hand, and Jack is the one who gave it to him. “W-what?”
“These people think we’re married,” Jack takes his hand off of Daniel’s shoulder, and as he draws it back, Daniel realizes that Jack is wearing a ring. How had he missed that yesterday? “Marriage on Earth comes with accessories. I’m just saying, we should be playing the part.”
He has to work hard to form coherent thoughts, to keep the doors barred tight against his feelings. “I-I didn’t have one when I got here. Won’t they be more suspicious than if I didn’t have one at all?”
“Ergo, the chain.” Jack swipes it off of his still outstretched hand, and drops the whole assembly over Daniel’s head, tucking it into the front of his jacket. “Hurry up and get ready to go, or we’re gonna be late for your fancy dinner.” Jack clasp both hands down on his shoulders and then walks away.
Unable to support himself a single minute more, Daniel falls back shakily onto the edge of the bed. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s a prop in the game he himself told Jack they were playing. It doesn’t mean anything, and Daniel needs to forget about it and focus on dinner, which is not just dinner , it’s his first opportunity to get any real information from the Icrosians now that he’s not going to be dismissed out of hand.
Good thing it’s beneath his clothes. Out of sight, out of mind.
The first time it happens, Jack thinks he’s imagining things. They’ve seated him next to Daniel, and for the most part, he’s been left alone to people-watch while the ministers around them have spirited conversations with Daniel in multiple languages. Between course eleven (some sort of tiny fish, decorated with colorful roast veggies) and twelve (he’s not sure he wants to know what it was made of but it was purple and looked a little like caviar), the woman who seems to have taken Daniel under her wing leans forward to look around the archaeologist and speaks directly to Jack.
“Where did you meet?” she asks, and a picture of Daniel flashes across his mind; it’s the look Daniel gets when he’s super involved in something, the furrowed brow and the slightly vacant look in his eyes that means his mind is somewhere far away. One of his favorite Daniel looks - so it doesn’t make any sense that it’s a telepathic message from a woman he doesn’t know. It was just his brain supplying an image of Daniel since it was obvious that’s what she was referring to.
“Daniel’s the one who unlocked the Stargate for us,” he answers, “I was the leader of the first team who went through the Gate, so I inherited Daniel because he was the only one who could make it work.” He looks away from Sul’s face, and finds Daniel’s very blue eyes steady on Jack’s, his expression unreadable. Jack is reminded abruptly that their first trip through the Stargate hadn’t been great for either of them. Jack had been prepared to end his own life, and Daniel...well, Daniel had already been at a low point in his own, and Jack’s men hadn’t been kind. Jack hadn’t been kind. And what had Daniel done? Daniel had died for him. “Daniel saved my life,” he continues quietly, not looking away from the younger man in question. “And he opened up the stars for Earth. We couldn’t put forth a better representative.”
Jack knows he doesn’t praise Daniel often enough. He knows well that he isn’t winning any awards for greatest friend, or most supportive teammate. On bad days, he could probably win awards for the opposite. None of this is a surprise to him, so he’s not sure why the surprise that appears on his friend’s face at his declaration hurts so damn much. He’s even less comfortable with the way he feels when warm affection replaces the surprise, making Daniel’s eyes crinkle in the corners and his whole face look years younger.
Someone calls to Daniel, asking a rapid question in their short, clipped language, and he looks away. Jack is left with the minister staring directly at him. There’s a man on her other side - her ‘person’ according to Daniel - who is also smiling in contrast to her intense stare, and he reaches up to take her hand on the table. It should be fairly casual, but when she turns to look at him and their eyes lock but they say nothing out loud, it feels incredibly intimate and Jack has to look away.
The next day, they’re invited to begin negotiations for real. Daniel looks past his tension with Sam and convinces the ministers that he needs her to attend, because she’s the one who knows the science they’re negotiating for. Jack doesn’t get a choice; he’s required to be there with Daniel, whether he can understand a single thing that they say or not. Teal’c was unreasonably smug about it, as he got approval to hare off to who-knows-where and cross-train in martial arts with the Icrosian police.
There’s a room several floors above their quarters, with long, curved tables set in a circle in the middle. It’s depressed, slightly, allowing more chairs and desks to be set up behind them. It makes Jack twitchy, and he can’t seem to settle into his assigned chair next to Daniel. The desk behind them is currently empty, while silent people are filling the other places around the room.
“They’re for scribes,” Daniel catches him glancing behind them, again. “Minister Sul asked if we wanted one assigned to us, and I told her no. I didn’t think you’d want someone sitting there.”
“It’s not much better empty,” he mutters. His partner looks at him for a minute, his thinking face one, and then stands up and the circle to where Sul is seated with her man directly across from them. It’s a small group, nine ministers and their partners, so the distance between them is short and he can hear Daniel clearly, but since he’s not speaking English, it doesn’t matter how well he can hear them. He’s stuck with trying to guess what’s going on by watching Daniel’s body language; he knows that Daniel’s gotten what he wants when he relaxes, stepping back and then offering the formal bow favored by these aliens before coming back over to their station just as a mousy man walks over with a spare chair intended for Sam.
“We won’t need that,” Daniel stays the man with a brief hand on his arm, and then turns to Jack. “Sul says that Sam can sit there, if it makes you feel better. It’s ‘against tradition’, of course, but apparently not offensive enough to say no.”
It does make Jack feel better. Immensely. But all he can admit to Daniel is a grumbled, “It’ll have to do.”
The look he gets from his linguist is not one of his favorites. It’s the one that says ‘I’m used to your bullshit, O’Neill, and I don’t have time to call you on it right now’. Daniel turns away from him and climbs up the two steps to that level to get Carter settled. When he comes back, his voice is short and his tone is unfriendly. “Can you sit still like an adult now?”
He deserved that, Jack thinks, but he misses the Daniel from last night who had been all bright and glowy with the thrill of everything cultural he’d learned over dinner. Normally, the rest of them would have had a silent battle over who had to pay active attention to Daniel so he could gush and who could make a listening noise or two every couple of minutes but work on their own paperwork, or Kelno’reem, or play with their yo-yo. Last night had been different. Last night, Jack had found himself with an endless supply of patience to sit and listen. It turns out when he pays attention to what Daniel wants to tell him and doesn’t brush him off, he gets a lot of warm, happy looks from his friend that he does like. Quite a bit.
In hindsight, maybe he shouldn’t have wasted all that patience. Sitting quietly all day while everyone around him speaks in a language he doesn’t even begin to comprehend is not something he particularly enjoys.
And, Daniel took his yo-yo while he was in the shower this morning, and hid it somewhere. He suspects it might have gone into Teal’c’s possession, since he didn’t find it when he ransacked Daniel’s things, and Carter would have handed it right over when he complained loudly about it.
The conversation picks up around him. He focuses on the words for a minute but he can’t understand any of it; it’s foreign enough that he can’t even get any hints from tone of voice. Settling down into his chair and crossing his legs in front of him, he changes tack and lets the words wash over him like white noise, focusing instead on watching their faces and their body language. Or, he watches them when he’s not distracted by Daniel.
Contrasting starkly to Jack’s indolent slouch, Daniel is leaning forward, alert nearly to the point of tension, hands moving as often as his mouth. He started the morning with careful notes but he doesn’t have the time to fill his notebook with cramped, urgent writing and juggle the whole negotiation, so he’s resorted to jotting down the occasional note without looking down. This is why the others have scribes; Jack feels guilty that Daniel turned down his own because he knew it would make Jack uncomfortable. So when Daniel’s about to write on top of his last note because he didn’t look down, he slides the notebook up an inch. When the page is full, he gently extracts it from Daniel’s desk and turns the page.
Anyone else would get tired and frustrated, but as the morning drags on, their Daniel just gets more excited and burns brighter. Unfortunately for him, his body isn’t as indestructible as his mind. Two hours in when he starts to sound noticeably hoarse even in the guttural pronunciation of the clipped language, Jack stands up and fetches a glass of cool water from the table of refreshments. On second thought, he selects a few pastry-looking things as well. Returning to their table, he sets them at Daniel’s elbow.
Both offerings are initially ignored, but Jack isn’t one to be out-stubborned by anyone, much less one of his teammates, so he leans over and holds the glass directly in front of Daniel’s face. The archaeologist has a choice - take a drink to placate Jack, or stop his negotiations to pick a fight. With a searing glance of impatience, Daniel takes a sip and starts to lower the glass; when the water hits his dry throat, a look of incredible relief flashes across his face and he drains the glass. The second glance Jack’s way is soft and appreciative.
One point to Colonel Jack O’Neill. He mentally adds a gold star to his ‘Good Care and Keeping of Doctor Daniel Jackson, Genius and Multiple Ph.D. Academic, While in the Field’ chart, and starts breaking up the pastry that smells the best into tempting, bite-sized pieces that he can place directly into Daniel’s hand. Before they break for lunch, he manages to covertly feed their negotiator two pastries and keep him sipping out of the cup at his elbow.
Lunch is thankfully going to be neither a working lunch nor a formal meal like dinner had been. Service workers are rolling carts laden with food into the room, but the formal environment evaporates as if it had never been. As soon as they break up from the circle of desks, the ministers swarm around Daniel and sweep him off to the corner with a deluge of questions - it seems that since they’ve finally been released from the social stigma keeping them from talking to him, they’re as curious about the Tau’ri as Daniel is about them. Jack stands back to watch, and Carter steps up next to him. “Even after Daniel gave me lessons on the basic language and syntax this week, and I had a translation guide sitting in front of me today, I didn’t follow any of that,” she admits, sounding frustrated. “It’s like they skip around - they skip words, and concepts, and whole thoughts.”
“Have you considered,” he doesn’t look around at her, because he isn’t sure exactly what she’d see on his face, “It’s because Daniel’s right?”
“Sir?” She glances over, startled, and then frowns and follows up with a very hesitant, “Can you hear them, sir?”
That’s when it happens again. Daniel looks up, meeting his eyes, and Jack gets an incredibly clear mental image of himself walking over, breaking up the intense knot of ministers, and guiding Daniel over to one of the food carts. That is more than just a memory of Daniel’s face when he’s talking about his friend - Jack is generally not that imaginative. His imagination also doesn’t stretch to conjuring up feelings to go with the scene, but he could swear he can feel Daniel’s weariness.
“I don’t know,” he answers Sam honestly. “But right now, he’s got the future of all of your naquadah projects in his hands. And he needs us all to believe in him .”
Maybe it was just a flight of fancy, watching Daniel get mobbed and thinking he probably was tired and needed to eat. It almost certainly wasn’t Daniel asking him telepathically...but that didn’t make it a bad idea. Jack uncrosses his arms, and starts walking across the room.
Against a backdrop of Sam grumbling, the satisfaction in Jack’s voice is very nearly obscene. But then again, the fact that their commanding officer has Teal’c and Sam playing a very competitive game of ‘Go Fish’ is absurd anyway. They could be playing any number of adult card games, but no. Daniel begged off playing so he could transcribe his notes from the past two days of negotiating into something legible, but he hasn’t even made a dent. The living area of their suite isn’t that large, but from where Daniel is sitting at the counter it feels half a world away. Far enough away to be safe to watch Jack.
The effect of having him here had been subtle at first, but steadily over the past 48 hours, it had become undeniable. Daniel could have studied the language here until his eyes fell out and his tongue went numb - he hadn’t been far off - but it simply didn’t work for him. He only had glimpses of its intricacies with the Icrosians he spoke to the most, moments where he ‘heard’ the missing links in his mind, but it wasn’t consistent, and practice didn’t seem to help.
A week. He’d spent a week trying to get more proficient, with no results. Something had changed within moments of Jack’s arrival; Daniel hadn’t taken note at the time, but when Minister Sul had invited them to dinner in the upper hall those first few minutes by the Gate, it had been one of the clearest pictures he’d ever received from her. Less than two days later, and he is very nearly fluent. And the only change is that Jack is here.
Daniel’s hand closes absently on the ring, hanging innocently from the chain around his neck. The bulk of his field jacket usually holds it in place during the day, but the chain is just a hair too short, and when he strips down to his black t-shirt, it frequently refuses to stay tucked away. And Daniel...Daniel doesn’t want it to. Daniel, god help him, wants to pretend it’s real for as long as he can.
Even from here, watching Jack, he can see the glint of light off of his left hand as he plucks a card off of the table. The band Jack is wearing is classic - a plain gold band, with a lightly hammered texture. It could be any man’s wedding ring. The one around Daniel’s neck is slimmer and has a single twist in it that turns the whole thing into a sort of infinity loop. It feels daft to be getting attached to it; who knows where they even came from. Certainly, nobody had picked them out - Sam had been gone through the gate less than 12 hours altogether - they were probably borrowed from someone or picked out by some poor airman sent to the closest department store.
On that uncomfortable thought, he drops the ring as if it’s burning him and returns his focus to the notes that are mocking him from the counter. Sinking into the work, into scribing out as much as he can remember or extrapolate, he doesn’t notice when the card game wraps up and Sam and Teal’c retreat to their rooms. Jack drops a hand on his shoulder and he falls sideways off of the stool as he swings around, leaving a bold streak of ink across the page where his pen skitters across the surface.
“Crap!” Jack exclaims, grabbing at his waist to prevent him from crashing to the ground.
“Don’t sneak up on people!” Daniel snaps in return, forcing open his fists which had clenched instinctively. Jack glances at his hands and then back up to his face, looking unimpressed.
“If I had been sneaking up on you, you would be out for the count. That was slow, and with no follow-through. You’re spending too much time locked in your cave and not enough in the gym with the rest of us.”
“Jack…” He’s been avoiding the training mats with Jack for the same reason as everything else. He doesn’t trust himself to keep his feelings hidden. He wants to rub his hands over his face, try to inspire his itchy eyes to be less dry, maybe pull his hair just to ground himself. He refrains on through sheer willpower, not wanting to give Jack the satisfaction. Instead, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Not now, alright? Just....give it a rest.”
Frowning thoughtfully, Jack eases away and crosses his arms, props himself up on the opposite counter. He glances at Daniel’s work spread out behind him, his initial transcribing of his shorthand notes into something legible having evolved into a dozen pages of Daniel’s most condensed scrawl as he tried to write as fast as his thoughts were moving. “Not going well?”
“The translations are fine,” Daniel puts aside two copies of today’s notes he’d made for Sam and Jack to read over in the morning before trying to surreptitiously gather all of the pages of his rambling thoughts into a pile, with a page on top that doesn’t contain anything he doesn’t want to talk about.
“Excellent,” Jack says, and then waits. Silence opens up between them and Daniel stubbornly doesn’t fill it. Irritated impatience flashes in the colonel’s eyes, replacing the softer annoyance tempered by concern, and it hits Daniel hard enough that he looks away. “If the translations are ‘fine’, what’s eating you?”
He doesn’t know what to say, or at least, how to say it without admitting to any of the things he’s still keeping from his best friend. But, well, it’s not like he has any choice. The Icrosians aren’t going to let it go much longer. “I’m not having any trouble with the language. That part of the negotiations is fine. We’re hung up on...cultural stuff.”
“Well, what’s the problem then? Right up in your wheelhouse.”
That might be true, if ‘cultural stuff’ wasn’t just his attempt not to say ‘we’re hung up on you, Jack’. “It’s complicated,” he mutters. Though, it might be argued that handling Jack is also in Daniel’s wheelhouse. Usually. As well as anyone can. If he’s not careful, this is not going to be one of those times. “Jack, can you understand them?”
“Daniel, you know I’m no good with languages,” he scoffs, rolling his eyes. He pushes off of the counter and starts to walk away, forcing Daniel to reach out and grab his arm.
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
“Daniel…” he can see Jack hesitate, but he can read the answer in his face before Jack can find the words. Colonel Jack O’Neill doesn’t believe in mind-reading aliens, and his friend Jack is just trying to decide how to break it to him gently. He drops Jack’s arm like it’s burning him; or maybe that’s how suddenly angry Daniel is.
“Well I understand everything,” he snaps. “I’ve been able to hear everything since you got here. It’s-it’s like having you on the planet tuned my brain in to the right radio station, and things that were static before are now crystal clear. I think if I let them, they’d do the entire negotiation nonverbally.” Slamming the stack of papers in his hand back down because he doesn’t want to ruin them crumpling them in his fists, he takes a shaky breath before turning back to Jack. “Instead of talking about naquadah deposits, I had to spend the last two hours of today defending you. Because according to the Icrosians, you should be able to hear them just as clearly as I can! Now they’re suspicious that you’re hiding something, that we’re not being honest with them about our intentions. I need you to try. If you just kept an open mind about it-”
“For crying out loud, Daniel, it’s crazy. I don’t know how you’re doing what you're doing with their language, but it’s not some magical link between soulmates or whatever.” Jack flips a hand in the air dismissively. Daniel is several feet away, but Jack may as well have punched him in the gut. He goes on, but Daniel can barely hear him over the rushing in his ears. “Even if it was, we’re acting, so it wouldn’t work with me. Just tell them I’m a private person or something. Figure it out and let’s go home. Next time they need an ambassador, we’ll send a married couple.”
Jack’s had to raise his voice, because Daniel turned his back and walked away. He reaches the door to the bedroom they’ve been sharing and walks quickly to Jack’s side of the bed. It’s a matter of a couple of seconds to pick up the pillow, yank the top layer of blankets off of the bed, and he makes it back to the door before Jack. As he drops his armful of linens on the ground and shoves them through the doorframe with his foot, he knows the minute Jack clues in, because the larger man jumps forward, with a startled, “Daniel!”
Surprise has its advantage, and Jack’s not quick enough. Daniel slams the door shut and throws the deadbolt, letting out an unsteady breath as he slides down the door, sitting with his back up against it and putting his head between his knees, arms crossed over the back of his neck. There are frustrated tears building behind his eyelids, but he bites the side of his tongue, refusing to let Jack hear him cry. Jack thinks he’s just pissed off, and he will do anything to keep it that way.
“Daniel, come on.” Jack hisses, his hand landing heavily on the other side of the door. Daniel does not doubt that the colonel would rather pound on the door, maybe kick it in, but he has faith that Jack will choose not to draw Sam and Teal’c’s attention to the situation. “Damn it, Daniel, open the damn door.”
It’s getting harder to breathe, and all he can do is wish passionately for Jack to go away, because he doesn’t think he can climb to his feet and make it to the bed, even if his pillow would muffle the sounds threatening to tear out of his throat. Obviously, the Icrosians got it wrong. Maybe not all bonds were reciprocal - Jack is Daniel’s person, but Daniel isn’t Jack’s. It was idiotic for Daniel to get his hopes up. Jack is straight, has always been straight, and lately doesn’t like Daniel all that much anyway. He couldn’t have made it clearer, but Daniel just wasn’t listening.
Maybe Jack never really liked him all that much to begin with. Maybe he was just being patient with the geeky, out of place academic, waiting for him to grow up and pull his weight with the team. Daniel was barely an adult when they met, and Jack had just lost his son - he’d probably felt sorry for him, intended to take him under his wing just until he got his feet under himself. Jack probably thought he owed Daniel something for saving his life, but he’s repaid that debt many times over, and now he just wants Daniel to stop clinging.
If he wants to keep Jack as a friend, Daniel will have to change. And since he has nobody else besides his friends at the SGC, and nobody like Jack, he’ll just have to change. He’s out of practice with the chameleon thing, at least in his personal life, but those aren’t skills you forget. He’ll succeed if he tries.
First, he deserves a chance to grieve the little bit of hope he’d nurtured up over the past week. Jack’s still hissing and muttering on the other side of the door, but if he was going to try to force his way in, he’d already have done so. Running a hand over his face, Daniel is vaguely surprised to find his cheeks wet. Apparently, the grieving has already started. Forcing himself to his feet, Daniel manages to walk over to the bed, where he collapses face first. Feelings are healthy. He knows he needs to feel them, or he won’t be able to let them go.
He can be different tomorrow.
Long years of self-training to be able to wake instantly in the field serves him well, and Jack’s eyes snap open, to a view of Carter’s knees and lower half, hesitating on the other side of the low table. “Carter?” he grunts.
“Uh, why are you on the couch, sir?”
Right. His argument with Daniel comes back to him and he closes his eyes, rolling up to a sitting position where he can glance covertly at his watch. Still forty-five minutes before he agreed to meet with Teal’c and Sam and go over Daniel’s report from the day before. He raises his head - Sam is dressed to work out, and so is Teal’c who is standing at parade rest behind her, which explains the early hour. “Daniel snores,” he lies, keeping his voice a friendly grumble. They both smile, and Sam chuckles, and they head out the door for their run.
Jack drags himself to his feet and goes to the bathroom to splash cold water on his face, shocking himself to fuller wakefulness. He needs all the advantages he can get to go beard the lion in his den. Leaning over the sink, he curses himself six ways from Sunday. He could write a damn treatise on how to handle Daniel, but he ignored all of his own advice last night. Daniel basically begged for him to be here, needed his support, and Jack blew it. Even after he lectured Sam about it, he blew it. He’s an asshole. It was knee-jerk to push Daniel away because not pushing Daniel away meant he might have to consider his own feelings, but it chips off another chunk of their friendship every time he does it. He’d be lying if he said he didn’t know that.
It was inexcusable to do it here, when all of the stress was already on Daniel.
The door is still locked, but it’s a piece of cake to chivvy it open, and then he slips inside and closes it gently behind him. Daniel’s still asleep, the morning light from the wide window spilling across his face. A face that shows clearly that Daniel had gone to sleep with tears on his face. He’d seen that often enough, with Sara, after Charlie, to recognize the signs. Jack stands by the doorway for a minute, watching him breathe, and considers waking him up to talk. It might be better for them to hash this out while the rest of the team is out of earshot.
Convinced of this course of action he steps towards the bed, but grinds to a sudden halt when Daniel shifts, curling up tightly and letting out a little sigh. Noiselessly, he crosses to grab some fresh clothes out of his pack and walks out instead. Daniel can sleep for a while longer. He probably needs it. And, Jack’s a little bit of a coward.
Even for Sam and Jack, who still understand next to nothing, the negotiations are going noticeably less well this morning. Daniel is talking a lot more, his voice strained, and he’s as stiff as a board.
Jack knows he didn’t eat breakfast, though he downed four cups of the coffee Carter made, and he’s also refusing to touch the snack foods that Jack has been trying to put in his space. The last attempt he made, Daniel rather pointedly brushed directly off the other side of his table into a scrap piece of paper and discarded it immediately into the wastebin on his other side. Doctor Daniel Jackson, communicating quite effectively whether he’s talking to you or not.
And he’s not talking to Jack.
They break for lunch, and Daniel is out of his seat and across the room before Jack can stand up and snag him. Frustrated, he stalks over to the selection of sandwiches and tries to decide what looks edible. He ignores the way Sam hesitates to look between them, confusion written all over her features.
Minister Sul’s husband appearing at his elbow and staring at the side of his head is harder to ignore. After a very long, concentrated attempt to do just that, Jack admits defeat and turns around. The man bows over his hands; Jack refuses to put down his lunch to do the same, so he sketches his best attempt to bow without dropping anything, and then offers a friendly smile.
“Ambassador Colonel O’Neill,” the man says formally.
“It’s Jack,” he corrects uncomfortably. “Or just Colonel. Minister Cirant, right?”
“It’s Cirant,” he mimics, and gestures Jack to a door nearby, half-hidden by gauzy curtains that match the fabric panels lining all the walls. “Would you join me, a moment? You can bring your midday meal.”
The man’s smile doesn’t reach all the way to his worried eyes, and Jack’s spidey sense tingles. He hasn’t missed the tension rising in the room, and he hasn’t missed the way the ministers are looking at him. It’s different from the warm, affectionate way they all look at Daniel, and it’s different from the way they looked at him yesterday. Something’s wrong, here. He nods once, shortly, and follows the man into the room.
It’s a cozy little nook, decorated in darker, gem-tone colors that are a big change from the bright neutrals of the negotiating room. There’s a couple of low chairs and couches, tucked in close enough together to indicate it’s a place where intimate conversations take place. The faint sound of running water draws Jack’s attention to the fountain in the corner by the door, with clear glasses stacked discretely beside it.
Cirant sits down in one of the wing-backed chairs, smoothing his long robes while he pointedly waits for Jack to sit. Placing his plate on the table between them, Jack lowers himself warily into the chair set closest to Cirant’s. For another awkwardly long pause, the minister simply looks into Jack’s face, searchingly; just before Jack thinks he’s going to have to come up with some excuse to break the man’s concentration, the alien looks away, glancing at the door before he speaks.
“You do not speak our language well,” he says carefully, “but you are a man who can understand people. You know this is not going well.”
Rather than answer that, Jack observes, “You speak English pretty well.”
“I am a scholar of languages and cultures. Much like Ambassador Daniel, I believe.” He pauses, and then reiterates gently, “You know this is not going well, Jack.”
“Yeah, well,” he taps his fingers on the arm of the chair, but that just draws his eyes to the gold ring he’s wearing. He may have brought them along just to fluster Daniel and Sam, initially, but there’s a certain forbidden satisfaction to wearing a ring supposedly tying him to Danny that he can’t shake. He moves his hand so he doesn’t have to look at it. “I got that feeling, yeah. But there’s not anything I can do about it - Daniel’s the only one who can even understand anything that’s going on.”
“Ambassador Daniel did not discuss the issues with you last night?”
Jack wants to tell him it’s none of his damn business, but he’s got Daniel in the back of his head staring him down and the General reminding him that since SG-1 is first-contact, sometimes he has to act like he has some diplomacy training. He settles for, “Yeah. We talked.” and picks up his sandwich.
Shifting backward in his seat, the man frowns at him. “And yet, today you are even more closed off than before.” Jack takes a deliberate bite of lunch instead of responding; he doesn’t want to talk about this, and certainly not with this stranger. He shouldn’t have to believe in mental mumbo-jumbo for this negotiation to proceed. He knows Daniel, that’s all; there’s no mind-reading involved. When Cirant speaks again his voice has lost its gentle touch. He sounds serious and disapproving. “Colonel, I thought this treaty was very important to your planet.”
“My superiors want more naquadah,” Jack agrees. “They can’t wait to get their hands on some of your technology. But if Daniel can’t get it done, it can’t be done. It won’t be the first time things didn’t go our way. We Tau’ri are regularly the underdogs - there will be another planet. More allies.”
“Perhaps there are more allies.” Cirant stands up, folding his hands into his sleeves. “I hope, for your sake, you will still have Ambassador Daniel to help you negotiate with them.”
Now that? That sounded like a threat. Jack is between the man and the door before he stops to think about it, drawing himself up to his full height so he can loom menacingly. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“If this negotiation fails, it will not be because of Daniel Jackson. He has opened his heart and his mind to us, and many of the council would give him all you ask for if it was not for you.” When he crosses his arms over his chest, it’s an oddly un-Icrosian gesture. The banked fire of anger in his eyes is far and away also from the quiet, gentle natures they have presented so far to SG-1. “They might even forgive that you are closed off from us; it is not our way, and they are suspicious of your need to hide your intentions, but it is your treatment of Daniel that they are not going to be able to forgive.”
“Oh, jeez, so we argued last night!” Jack throws up his hands. “Daniel’ll get over it. We fight, and he gets over it. That’s how it works.” Even as he says it, he knows how that sounds, and wants to wince. Daniel does usually get the short end of the stick in their disagreements.
“How many times?”
“What?” he snaps it, he knows he does, but defensive has never been the best look on him, and today is no different.
“How many times can you hurt him before he doesn’t ‘get over it’, Colonel?” Cirant asks, voice hard. “You are lucky, Colonel, that you are a foreign diplomat and the mate of a respected ambassador at that. Several of my countrymen wanted Daniel put into protective custody when they realized he was here on his own, and many more have been swayed to believe you should be detained for your treatment of him. At this point in time, saving the negotiations is unlikely, and Daniel is negotiating for your freedom.”
“Wha-we had an argument!” Jack splutters. “It’s not like I beat him, for God’s sake.”
Cirant eyes him like he’s grown a second head. “Colonel, Daniel has allowed us complete access to his mind. We send...pictures, and some words, when we are sending for communication. But when we open to one another, as Daniel has to gain our trust, we share emotions. And Daniel is untrained, so he did not ever close us back out. We’ve felt every feeling you have ever caused him to have. And here, it is forbidden to treat one’s lifemate in such a manner.”
They’ve been to many planets, met many peoples, and it’s been a long time (if ever!) since Jack has found himself feeling this….upside-down. The way Cirant talks about the mind-reading thing is so matter-of-fact, it’s hard to keep in mind that Jack doesn’t think he believes in it. But...well...he doesn’t think an otherwise logical entire race would decide to hate him for no reason. And Daniel would never have told them anything that compromised the mission or the team - not on purpose. Which means he has to consider, if they can feel what Daniel has felt, what have they experienced?
Oh, damn it. He knows exactly what they’ve experienced. Jack knows how many times he’s pushed his friend away, belittled him, yelled at him….Jack closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. They can’t afford to lose this negotiation - they need the naquadah. Allies aren’t scarce on the ground for the Stargate program, but allies who want to share with the ‘kids’ in the galaxy certainly are. Moreover...Jack needs to not screw this up for Daniel.
Doctor Daniel Jackson has more intergalactic friends than Jack can count. Even if he doesn’t have a huge number of opportunities on Earth, since he can’t tell anyone about anything he’s been doing for almost a decade, he could go to a hundred different Stargate locations and be welcomed with open arms. Even on Earth, many top-level government groups would kill (maybe literally) to take Daniel from the Stargate program and make use of his talents, whether it was a way he wanted to be put to use or not.
But the Stargate program needs its moral compass.
Jack needs his moral compass.
Cirant moves to step around him, and he throws an arm out, stopping just short of grabbing the man because he thinks it might be something like grabbing the First Lady. No need to add a Diplomatic Incident to this fiasco. “Wait! Just, wait.” Cirant steps back, folding his hands back into his sleeves and staring impassively. “You’re right, alright? I’m not always the best partner. I’m not the catch of the day. But I don’t value Danny any less than you folks do. How can I prove it to you?”
“It’s not me you have to convince, Colonel.”
“Fine. Whatever. How can I prove it to them?”
“They aren’t going to trust you unless you open your mind up to us and let us feel .” Something of Jack’s disquiet and distaste must show on his face, because the man sighs, and points imperiously to the many seating options. “Sit down, Jack.” At least it’s ‘Jack’ again, not the formal and disapproving ‘Colonel’. Jack sits down. Cirant crosses to the fountain and calmly fills a tall glass with cool water and sets it in front of Jack. “You don’t believe in this, Daniel has told us. It’s preventing you from hearing. Partially I believe this is intentional on your part, but part of it is not. I agree you will not be able to open your mind to the council on your own. But you don’t have to.”
“It is generally considered the greatest offense, for one of us to force our minds on another. But it is possible. We do so only in cases of serious wrongdoing. But,” he tilts his head and reaches out to rest a hand on Jack’s wrist, butterfly light, “with your consent, if you asked, it could be done.”
A knock on the door interrupts anything else he might have said, and they both glance over to the sound of Daniel’s voice. “Jack? Is everything alright?”
Daniel’s still totally pissed at him - he’d made that clear throughout the morning. And yet, here he is, worried about Jack. Jack doesn’t deserve to be Daniel’s best friend, much less to even consider anything more. “We’re fine. Be out in a moment,” he calls back, keeping his voice steady and reassuring, though he feels anything but balanced. He’s on a tightrope, with letting Daniel down on one side and allowing these people to force their way into his head on the other; neither feels safe.
“I’ll leave you to your thoughts,” Cirant says gently, “but time is of the essence.” He opens the door and stands for a moment, just looking silently at Daniel, who is frowning. The standoff continues long enough to be uncomfortable. It takes Jack a minute but then, with a prickling feeling across the back of his neck, he realizes that it’s probably not silent for either of them. Spinning the glass in his hand rather than drinking it, he also realizes that Cirant is physically blocking the doorway, preventing Daniel from coming in, and Daniel is flicking increasingly agitated glances in Jack’s direction.
Jack only has one real option here, and it’s not let Daniel down. He does it often enough on accident, he can’t do it with his eyes wide open.
“I’m fine, Danny.” He climbs to his feet and crosses to the door. “Cirant, I need to talk to Minister Sul, please.”
The man bows again with a quicksilver smile, and slips past Daniel with an ease that Jack admires from a part of him that will always belong to his special ops training, leaving Daniel blinking bemusedly after him. The linguist turns back to Jack, and his gaze refocuses, though Jack can still see the reserved, distant look in his eyes that he hates ; the look that says he’s hurt by the Colonel’s behavior and thinks he can’t say anything else about it because Jack doesn’t care.
“Jack, you can’t talk to Sul about the negotiation,” Daniel protests, “You know that’s not how it works. You don’t speak the language-”
“You don’t even really know what’s going on.” Daniel pushes on, sounding increasingly distressed. “I know you can probably tell it isn’t going well, but I’m working on it, I think I can turn them around-”
“Daniel!” He raises his voice and barks it fiercely.
The man in question blinks, mouth falling open in momentarily shocked quiet. Daniel studies Jack’s face, which makes Jack’s heart ache because he knows that his friend is checking to see if Jack’s temper matches the volume he’d just used, and he feels bad about unleashing his temper on Daniel before. When he seems to find whatever he’s looking for, he ventures, “Jack?”
“I know you’re doing everything you can, kid. I’m the half of this team who isn’t pulling their weight.”
“Um, well…” he ducks his head (Jack notices he needs a haircut, it’s getting a little longer than Daniel’s been keeping it) but doesn’t seem to immediately come up with a rebuttal. Rare, and a wordless condemnation about how Jack has been acting.
“The minister’s husband and I had a little come-to-Jesus moment. I’m a jerk, okay? I’m sorry.” He gets only a glimpse of blue eyes over the rim of Daniel’s glasses; the man isn’t looking all the way up at him. It’s another familiar frustrated, closed-off, uncertain Daniel move. Daniel’s moved past mad to that point where he’s still mad, but he’s starting to turn the blame back on himself because he doesn’t know what else to do with it. He’s probably a terrible man for being fond of even those looks on his best friend, but he can’t help himself. Though, it’s less the look itself and more the feeling of knowing him well enough to know what feelings are behind every expression.
“Colonel O’Neill?” Sul appears just behind Daniel, her husband beside her. Daniel turns, clearly having forgotten that Cirant and gone to fetch the minister, and looks from Sul’s unsmiling face to Jack’s and back again.
“It’s okay. I’m gonna do my part.”
“You don’t have to do this.” Jack glances over his shoulder at Daniel as he sits down. They’ve placed two chairs in the center of the circles of desks, and apparently, only Daniel is allowed into the circle with him, but he’s hovering over Jack instead of sitting. He’s also very much not on board with the plan, and his objections are starting to get repetitive - and a little desperate. Desperate enough that Jack is starting to think there’s something else going on, but hell if he knows what . “I’ll talk them around. You just need to give me more time.”
Jack looks over the other shoulder - Sam is doing a little hovering of her own, behind the desks that had been assigned to Jack and Daniel, and Teal’c has joined her. Neither of them had been thrilled when Jack announced his plan to the team after lunch, but Teal’c hadn’t opposed it strongly enough to say anything, and Carter hadn’t been able to find anything to object to without either questioning Jack’s judgment or admitting the mind-reading thing was real. Poor Sam, she’s so out of her depth here and Jack knows she hates not having something directly useful to contribute.
“I have a few other things I can try,” Daniel insists. “If you want to help you can just be a little more friendly and they’ll come around. We just need to avoid arguing, and I’ll learn to block them back out, and then they’ll back off...” When he gets no response, he gets frustrated and stalks around to the front of the chair, planting himself directly in Jack’s line of sight. “Jack, are you even listening to me?”
“Ya sure you betcha,” looking up at him, Jack narrowly avoids smiling at the familiar frustrated expression. “Listening, yes. Changing my mind, no.”
“Jack, I really don’t think you understand what’s about to happen. I know you think you do, but you don’t. And I don’t think it’s a good idea. Just...just trust me, I can do it. I can finish the negotiation without this.”
There it is again - the desperation. Jack studies his partner, trying to puzzle it out. Daniel hates to fail, to feel like he couldn’t do what the team needed, but this feels more serious than that. It’s not guilt turned inward expressed as frustration - this is more like when Daniel’s hiding something from him, but in those situations, he’s usually evasive and avoidant, not whatever this is.
“This IS Plan B. You’ve already done it, and it didn’t hurt you. It won’t hurt me, and it’ll help you get the negotiations done.” Jack hardens his voice just enough to get Daniel to be quiet for a minute. My turn to do the heavy lifting for a minute , he thinks to himself; Daniel still looks exhausted and their fallout last night hadn’t helped. While he’s momentarily silenced his loquacious linguist, he pivots to face Minister Sul, who is watching them intently.
Everyone in the room is watching them intently, and mostly not particularly in a friendly way; at least Cirant, beside Sul, looks calm and approving. Jack kind of likes him, actually, and is glad that they’re seated directly in front of his chair.
“Let’s rock and roll,” he says cheerfully, but at the soft half-strangled noise from Daniel at his shoulder and the poorly concealed snicker from Teal’c behind them, he adds more soberly, “I’m ready.”
“Very well. We’ll proceed, as we discussed. Just to say it one final time - this would be easier if you simply open your mind to us, Colonel O’Neill. This is unnecessarily invasive, and we’re doing it only at your insistence.”
He can nearly feel Daniel quivering with tension behind him, but the man won’t interrupt this woman that he seems to admire so much, so Jack can respond with quiet confidence, even if he’s faking some of it. “I’m just not much of an open guy. This way’s gonna be way more efficient.”
“The matter of concern is your relationship with your lifemate ,” Cirant speaks up, his voice calm and lilting. “To help focus the process, Daniel, it would be helpful if you were in physical contact with Jack.”
“Um...alright.” There’s a brief hesitation, and then a light touch. Daniel’s hand on his shoulder is so hesitant and fluttery, it might as well not be there. The hesitance is no good - it makes Jack regretful; a feeling he would usually push away, but the part he’s supposed to be playing gives him an excellent excuse not to ignore it. Instead of withdrawing, Jack reaches up and places his hand over Daniel’s, anchoring Daniel’s hand to his shoulder with steady pressure.
Daniel startles, going stiff, and there’s a space of a breath where he thinks he might pull away. Instead, Jack hears him exhale unsteadily and then feels him step closer, tucking himself right up against the chair so he’s brushing against Jack’s exposed back and shoulder. Cirant smiles a little, Sul nods to him, and then everything goes quiet.
Not just the quiet where nobody’s talking. In that sort of casual quiet, there are other sounds - people fidgeting, breathing, papers rustling, movement as people whisper and move and exchange glances. This is the creepy quiet where everyone in the room is staring at you, focused on you, to the complete halt of all other activity. Jack hates it, loathes the sensation of eyes all around him, every hair on his body standing on end to warn him he’s being watched. Daniel’s hand squeezes almost imperceptibly on his shoulder, and he forces himself to take a deep breath and let some of the rigidity go. He focuses instead on his partner behind him, matching his breathing to Daniel’s slow and deep breathes.
As soon as he focuses directly on Daniel, it changes. It’s not painful, exactly, but there’s an undeniable pressure in his head; it’s like a low-grade migraine: uncomfortable enough to be seriously distracting, but not debilitating. Or, rather, it starts that way; the pressure slowly builds and builds, as if his brain is a balloon someone is sitting on until it pops.
Everything gives under enough pressure. He’s no different. Just as it starts to become unbearable, something in his head gives way. His body trembles with the release, and he drops his head to his chest to catch his breath. The tension is replaced by a low-grade anxiety, but Jack pushes that away because he doesn’t have time for it.
“We’re going to be traveling through your memories of Daniel.” It’s the voice of an elderly man seated somewhere on Jack’s right. “Close your eyes, and don’t resist it.” Jack takes a last look around the room, lingering on his team behind him, and the faces of Cirant and Sul, which are rapidly becoming familiar, in front of him. He doesn’t want to close his eyes - not because he’s afraid it won’t work but because he’s afraid it will. You’re a coward, he scolds himself, and then there’s a faint sense of creeping calm, and he lets his eyes drift shut.
He’s back in the SGC for the first time; standing in an open doorway watching a long-haired kid talk circles around the rest of the geeks in the room. He’s mercifully one step removed from his own feelings, but he doesn’t need to feel them full-force to remember how much he’d hated himself at that moment. That Jack hadn’t had any real feelings about Daniel at all, except that he looked entirely too young and too ‘free-spirit’ to be standing in the middle of a top-secret military operation.
Fast forward - there’s a vague sense of admiration when the kid solved the puzzle none of the other ‘experts’ could. Absolute fury when he realizes that Daniel doesn’t have the faintest idea how to get his people home, and now shame looking back at the way he’d allowed his airmen to bully the linguist. But he’d tolerated Daniel, at best, until they were kneeling on the floor in front of Ra. That’s when Daniel had realized Jack had come on a suicide mission and fully planned on carrying through even after they’d found the place occupied - he’d been horrified, but then he’d died for Jack anyway.
By the time he left him on Abydos, Jack liked Daniel. That’s how long it had taken - not even a week, all told. They’d all liked him by then - he was smart, and friendly, and not a complete dead weight like some civilians. Daniel was indomitable, and they knew it even then. But Jack had been able to walk away and think fondly, occasionally, of the ‘dead’ civilian; until another Goa’uld had come through the Stargate, and Jack went through to get Daniel back because he was still the only one who could figure any of it out.
Then, after only a handful of trips through the Gate, they’d almost lost him entirely in the Land of Light. The Nox. Argos. They’d destroyed their best bet to save his wife to save Teal’c. They’d made so many mistakes in those early days, and Daniel had been at the center of more than his fair share of them. Jack remembers being livid when Daniel almost got himself killed staying behind on Heliopolis; he relives the horror of thinking they’d lost Daniel on Nem’s waterworld - it hadn’t even occurred to him then, but the totally disproportionate response he’d had then should have been his first hint that Daniel was more than a teammate.
Something tickles at the back of his mind - a faint sense of uncertainty - but he doesn’t have time to worry about it, because they are hustling him along to the next set of memories. Hathor, which he remembers with great reluctance. His mind drifts a little as they move along, sharpening suddenly when he remembers where this is going. The first time they’d all decided to turn their backs on Daniel and not back him up, when Kinsey tried to shut them down. He’s ashamed of himself, has always been, and he hates knowing that all of these people know now too.
And, well, damn. He guesses that means he’s admitting it’s the real deal. If he was captaining this ship, he would very much have skipped that whole episode.
Daniel’s hand tightens briefly on his shoulder; Jack must have tensed, thinking about this. Breathing deeply, he obeys the hard tug of whoever is in charge of this delightful journey, through the highs and the lows but also all of the mundane day-in-day-out stuff. There’s a sharp spike in the lingering sense of anxiety when they touch on Jack’s experience with the Ancient repository, and Jack knows then that it’s not his anxiety - he’s pretty at peace with that nonsense. So where is it coming from?
Their cruise director lingers on Hadante, the Salish, on Machello the first time; that means they’re rapidly coming up on Machello’s second incursion into their lives, when Jack let them lock Daniel up in the padded room. I’m sorry , he thinks; Daniel I’m so sorry I was such an idiot .
The feeling of affection and forgiveness isn’t vague at all. Jack’s distracted from the memories and feelings the Icrosians are sorting through because the feelings must be Daniel’s . He tries to reach out in response, to figure out how to speak to him….
Daniel’s staring at him, as he tears Tollan technology off the wall after tanking the negotiations their boy had worked so damn hard on.
No. He doesn’t want to relive this. If Daniel’s watching, he doesn’t want Daniel to relive any of that, or have to remember anything Jack said. They’re so close to being back on an even keel, and they don’t need this. He shuts it down, hard, opening his eyes to tell the Icrosians to look somewhere else.
The pain is excruciating, sudden; like the worst headache he’s ever had, but tripled. Jack doubles over and grabs his head, yanking on his hair to distract himself. It doesn’t work, and the shock knocked the breath from his lungs; he can’t even get enough air to cry out, but he hears himself groan.
“Jack? Jack!” Daniel’s hand leaves his shoulder and flutters at the side of his head, cool fingers against his forehead and eyelids for a second. “Stop! You’re hurting him!”
“He has to stop resisting,” that’s Cirant’s voice, stressed but sounding less panicked than Daniel’s. “That’s what causes the pain. Jack, let them see.”
Over the top of the pain is sharp, spiking worry. It’s definitely Daniel’s, and it’s rising. It’s more important than his splitting head. Jack expels the mental passengers with a snarl and opens his eyes. Immediately when they’re gone, the agony drops to a bearable level, a residual throb. “Daniel, I’m fine.” No immediate response, but he can see Daniel’s back a few feet away where his linguist seems engaged in an intense argument with Sul. “DANIEL.”
“Jack?!” he whirls around and drops to his knees in front of Jack’s chair. “Are you okay? That didn’t happen to me. We’re done, alright, you don’t need to do this. It’s not worth this.” The words are fairly benign, normal, but Jack can feel the despair underneath now, and the self-blame for this hurting Jack when Daniel had been fine.
“Stop that,” Jack growls.
“Stop what?” Daniel asks, baffled, and then yanks his hands off of where they are resting on Jack’s knees as if he’s on fire. “Sorry, sorry, did I hurt you? Let’s get out of here-”
“No, not the touching. The blaming yourself. Quit that.” Jack grabs his arm before he can pull away. “This is not your fault. They warned me all along that it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience if I didn’t go with the flow.” And he had, for the most part, right up until that moment. He hadn’t allowed them to delve deeply into any of his inner feelings, but he’d allowed them access to the surface ones. It wasn’t all that different a technique than what they were taught to use resisting torture in special ops.
Daniel blinks at him a minute, eyes wide and uncertain behind his glasses. Jack could drown in those eyes. That’s so stupidly sappy, but it’s the truth. “You were ‘going with the flow’. Why did you stop?” he asks, and Jack can feel his confusion.
Jack flicks a look up at the tables above them, but the ministers are all silent at least, even if some of them aren’t looking very happy. “We were almost to my undercover assignment,” he admits quietly, “and I didn’t think either one of us needed to relive that right now.”
“Oh.” Daniel blinks again and drops his gaze, which would normally mean he thought he could hide whatever he was thinking from Jack, but the hurt hits Jack in the gut, more intensely than any of the other emotions before. Well, so much for avoiding it. He supposes he could have just let them go through it in memory land and saved himself the massive headache.
Jack reaches out and grabs both of Daniel’s arms before he can stand up and back away. “Hey. It wasn’t real, remember? It was all lies, and I’m sorry.” He doesn’t get an immediate response, but the other man doesn’t pull away either. Under his hands, Jack can feel Daniel breathing unsteadily, but his heartbeat is slowing. Unfortunately, pulling a little bit of his focus back away from Daniel just means he can tune in to the argument raging around them. None of the Icrosians are raising their voices, but the intensity in their tones makes him edgy before he even tunes in to the words.
Or, tries to tune in to the words. They’re speaking rapidly and not in English, so consciously, he knows it should be gibberish. The problem is, it’s not. Jack can’t understand a damn word, but somehow, he understands what they’re saying, or at least most of it. They’re fast and talking over one another.
“It is wrong. It is against The Laws-”
“Their ways are not our ways - you cannot enforce our customs on the Tau’ri!”
“I don’t see why we can’t - we would not allow this hurt to be inflicted on one of our youth, why should we not step in here?”
“Has anyone asked him what he thinks?”
“It’s an abomination!” that’s the most volatile voice, which feels like nails against a chalkboard in Jack’s head. “He should be imprisoned.”
Daniel’s head shoots up at that, alarm shooting through him, and he looks over Jack’s shoulder at the speaker, crying out, “No!”
They ignore him completely, getting louder by the second, and Jack gives Daniel’s arms a quick sympathetic squeeze, thinking, It’s going to be okay, Danny . Daniel jerks back around to face him, mouth momentarily hanging open, eyes wide as saucers above his glasses.
Jack? Confusion, uncertainty.
I’m right here, kid. Jack tries to imbue it with as much reassurance as he can muster, Breathe.
“Sul, even you have admitted that you felt Daniel Jackson to be more like us than like his Tau’ri cadre. Is he then not due the same protections as our people?”
“It’s not a protection if it’s against his will,” that voice belongs to Cirant, speaking sternly. When he used that voice on Jack it had been quite effective - and it works here, too, silencing many of the overlapping argue-ers. “The Council can decide not to go forward negotiating with the Tau’ri if that is what you desire, but we should be listening to Ambassador Jackson when he tells us their ways are not the same, and Colonel O’Neill is not doing anything wrong by Tau’ri standards.”
I don’t understand, Daniel thinks, brow furrowed. You can hear me?
Jack nods, with a tiny little quirk of the lips that hints at a smile, without ever really being one.
I didn’t….this doesn’t make any sense, Daniel feels frustrated, but he’s still not pulling away from Jack’s hands on his arms. It’s only supposed to be like this between their mated couples. Everyone else just g-gets pictures, and some feelings?
The thoughts crashing around in Daniel’s head are a chaotic backdrop to Jack’s slow realizations. He replays everything Daniel has said since this started - and everything he didn’t say - in his mind. They’re both completely ignoring the argument still happening loudly around them, but Jack suspects Daniel isn’t even aware of it.
“Daniel,” he drawls his best friend’s name with just enough of a bite to ensure he gets his attention, blue eyes snapping up to Jack’s. “You’ve been sharing mental pictures with these people more or less since you got here?”
Uh….yes? Daniel blinks.
“So when they knew your partner was a man, it’s because they saw that man?” This time Daniel doesn’t answer, but he stiffens under Jack’s hands. “And then they weren’t surprised when I stepped through the Gate,” he presses on, “which means they saw me in your head, right?”
The feeling of shame is like a tidal wave, and the flood of thoughts that follows takes a minute to sort through. Jack’s used to Daniel having to slow down enough to bring the words from his brain to his mouth, and even then he can move faster than most other mortals...this is overwhelming. I’m sorry I didn’t mean for it to happen I don’t know when it happened don’t be mad I know you don’t feel that way about me you’re my best friend I don’t want to lose that I can’t lose you-
“Daniel,” Jack gives him a little shake, but the archaeologist just tries to pull away harder; a panic response if he’s ever felt one, and his runaway train of thought continues.
I didn’t want to lie to you but I know this will freak you out I’m so stupid I shouldn’t feel this way I need to stop I won’t ever say anything again it doesn’t have to be weird this is why I didn’t want you to do this-
Everyone abruptly goes silent at his shout- Daniel’s thoughts as well as the ministers around them - and all that’s left is a tremor of trepidation from Daniel that makes Jack ashamed of every thoughtless thing he’s ever said to his best friend. This shouldn’t be something Daniel is afraid for Jack to know - embarrassed, maybe, nervous, but afraid? Maybe the Icrosians aren’t so far off-base in their condemnation of him.
“Danny, I’m sorry.” Daniel tries again to pull away, the trepidation turning into sour rejection, but Jack holds fast, shaking his head. “No, stop it. Wait just a second, okay? I’m trying here.”
“It’s fine. Jack, I’m fine. We don’t have to do this, please can we just go home and forget this happened? We can find the naquadah somewhere else.”
No? Daniel tilts his head, squinting at Jack, too confused to be upset.
You know I’m terrible at this, he thinks dryly. Stop jumping to conclusions. Daniel, I love you. Glancing around at the intent stares of the council all around them as well as the vaguely smug smirk on Teal’c’s face and the shell-shocked look on Sam’s, Jack decides he better repeat that bit out loud. “I love you, too, Daniel.”
“But you never…”
“Yeah, well, ‘you never’ either, Dannyboy.” Daniel doesn’t look persuaded, and in this moment, Jack needs him persuaded. He reaches down into reserves of belief that could only ever have been inspired by Daniel, and opens himself back up, mentally; he doesn’t know how to direct things to one person, but the Icrosians seem to have left him broadcasting open on all channels, so he grasps at that. He focuses as best he can on Daniel, but is dimly aware that everyone in the room can probably hear and see the things he’s showing him.
Feel them also, this time, with nothing held back on Jack’s part. Every emotion that went with all of those memories, and the more mundane ones, instead of just the things he wanted them all to see and feel. The unedited versions, with the feelings he has been keeping buried even from himself. Daniel is silent, for once, but when Jack pauses, there’s a return stream of Daniel’s own memories, tinged with a formidable amount of affection. When their eyes lock again, there are tears in Daniel’s, but thankfully Jack doesn’t have to guess what kind of tears they are. He’s not unhappy.
“Spacemonkey,” he murmurs, and then gives up any attempt to remain aloof and yanks Daniel closer, wrapping his arms around him. Over the top of Daniel’s head, he finds Cirant watching them, smiling. “Are we done now?” he addresses the whole group, challengingly.
“I believe this changes much,” Sul agrees serenely. “If there are no objections, I move that we adjourn for the day. We can resume negotiations tomorrow.”
There are no objections, which is good, because Jack doesn’t think he’s currently above inciting an Intergalactic Incident.
Daniel props himself up a little so he can look down at Jack’s face. His lover - his lover! - still has his eyes closed, but he knows that Jack’s awake. He knows everything, now, and he’s never felt more secure about any relationship...not since his parents died. This means everything, and he can’t help but just stare down at Jack’s relaxed face.
And think about what it looked like before it was relaxed NO don’t go there right now -
He can feel himself flush as he tries to wrestle his imagination back under control and slowly, Jack’s lips curl into a smile, though he doesn’t open his eyes. “Why aren’t we still sleeping?” he growls in complaint, but his orneriness is contradicted by the warm feelings that wash over Daniel.
“Um,” Daniel glances over at the clock on the nightstand. “Dinner’s in half an hour.”
Brown eyes crack open, and Daniel has to fight the urge to squirm. The look is pretty intense, and he doesn’t think it’s because Jack is really excited about dinner. “Room service,” Jack proposes, and reaches one hand up between them to cradle the ring still hanging on a chain around Daniel’s neck possessively.
“This isn’t a hotel, Jack.”
“Shame,” he muses, “because I can think of a much better way to spend our evening than a four-hour dinner with those stuffed shirts.” Jack helpfully sends some of his ideas in vivid thoughts accompanied by strong feelings, running his hands down Daniel’s back as he does and making him squirm for real.
“Um, wow.” Daniel’s brain short circuits for a minute, but he fights through it. “Uh, well, I guess we could go hungry. Or -” Jack’s hands are in his hair, and he has to stop a minute. He thinks perhaps the sound he makes could be described as purring, and later he might find time to be embarrassed about that, but right now he just doesn’t want Jack to stop. “God, Jack. Oh! We have MREs. We haven’t touched them. Picnic dinner.”
“That’s my brilliant Spacemonkey,” Jack grins, his voice low, and then he flips Daniel over, rolling on top of him and looking decidedly less asleep. “Thinking outside of the box. I approve. But, later. I think we can find something better to do first.”
“You have an excellent point,” Daniel agrees, or tries to, but he’s breathless so he’s not sure Jack hears the words out loud so much as in their heads.
A brisk knock interrupts Daniel’s attempt to redirect Jack’s slow exploration to where he wants it and they both freeze. “Colonel? Daniel? Are you coming to dinner?”
They stare at each other a minute, and then Jack answers her with deadly calm. “Carter?”
“Go away, and don’t come back. We’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Uh, yes, sir.” She hurries away, leaving them to contemplate the combination of laughter and mortification they’d heard in her voice.
Daniel groans and squeezes his eyes shut. She’s never going to let us live this down, he thinks, and when Jack touches his face this time it’s gentle again, and he waits for Daniel to open his eyes again.
I think it’s Teal’c who is going to be insufferable, actually, he responds seriously, but the laughter underneath makes Daniel laugh in return and punch him halfheartedly in the chest. “Jack, it’s not funny,” he groans, but he can’t help the onslaught of anxiety, fear of what their friends will do when they emerge from this bubble.
In an instant, he has serious Jack - his hands stop wandering and he gazes solemnly down at Daniel. Before, Daniel would have been sure this grim look meant Jack was mad at him, but now he knows that’s just not true. He can feel Jack’s warmth and love, and Jack will share thoughts he would never in a million years vocalize. Danny, they’re happy for us. They said they were. You have to trust that they meant it. And, he rests his forehead on Daniel’s, you have to believe that if they aren’t, we’ll have each other’s backs. You aren’t alone.
Okay. He takes a deep breath, and smiles tenderly up at his...partner? His boyfriend? Honestly, he thinks the Icrosians probably already said it best. His ‘ lifemate’ . “I love you,” he whispers, feeling saturated and stupidly sappy with the feeling. Jack gives him a minute with the feeling, reflecting it back at him but saying nothing, and in the silence, they both hear the outer door slam shut. Jack dives in and kisses him, one last gentle action before he pulls back and gives Daniel a wicked smirk.
“Stop thinking,” he says. “If you’re still overthinking this in sixty seconds, I’m not doing this right.”