First published in Redemption 7 (2006)
“You call this a report, Airman? The figures are all over the place, you spelled Goa’uld wrong—again—and what is this?”
Daniel paused mid-step, wincing, and considered turning back and going to Sam’s lab the back way. Jack had been in a bad mood for at least a week, and the long weekend off they’d hoped would improve his temper had only left him more irritable and difficult. After a few attempts to draw out what was bothering him—all squashed by Jack without hesitation—Daniel had backed off and decided avoidance was the better part of friendship in this case. But the poor airman Jack was chewing out didn’t have that option, and it wasn’t like Daniel wouldn’t have to face O’Neill in the lab in a few minutes, anyway. With a soft sigh, he forged ahead.
“Th-that’s the weapons inventory you requested, sir.”
“What about acquired weapons, Kitts—stun grenades, zats, staff weapons? What do they count as, archaeological finds?”
Daniel wouldn’t have even heard that squeak if he hadn’t just rounded the corner, to the scene of Jack towering over the hapless Airman Kitts, while other personnel sidled past them looking studiously elsewhere.
Daniel smiled pleasantly, as if he had no idea he was interrupting. “Jack. How’s it going?”
Jack glanced up at him, but there was no smile of greeting, no softening of the eyes inviting Daniel to join in the joke of rookie airmen, nothing but an unwelcoming twist of the lips. “Swell,” Jack said sarcastically, then fixed a steel gaze back on Kitts. “Go back, fix it, and get it right this time.”
“Yes, sir!” Kitts was positively quaking.
“Dismissed,” Jack snapped, and Kitts scuttled away before the colonel could change his mind.
Daniel forced an amused look. “Don’t you think you were a little hard on him? He just transferred here last week.”
“Don’t you think you should mind your own business, Daniel? Last time I checked, the Air Force doesn’t cut you any slack just ’cause you’re new on the job.”
“You did for me,” Daniel said quietly.
Something of his friend flickered in Jack’s eyes, then his gaze quickly cooled again. “You’re a civilian,” he said flatly.
Daniel had a sudden déjà vu to three years before, SG-1 newly formed, Jack still chafing at the thought of having someone non-military on his team. He’d said “civilian” as if it were a dirty word then, too. But they’d come a long way in those past three years … and then they were times like now. Daniel crossed his arms and tried not to sound as disappointed as he felt. “And you’re military. I guess we’ve all got our shortcomings.”
Jack’s lips thinned, his eyes narrowing. Challenge met. He was just opening his mouth to launch a no-doubt nasty retort when a door down the hall opened and Sam stuck her head out. “Colonel, Daniel. We’re ready when you are.”
Jack didn’t look at her, just glared at Daniel a long moment, then spun on his heels and strode off.
Daniel let out the slow breath that had collected in his lungs. Well, that had gone … badly. Something must have happened to turn Jack’s usual good nature so dark and unpleasant, something that was getting worse, and that usually meant bad news. Which usually meant it was time to start worrying.
At the same time, Daniel had to admit as he turned to trail after Jack, he wasn’t feeling the most open and sympathetic toward the man right then. Not because of the jibes, the sarcasm and insinuations of the last few days, although they’d stung. Jack had certainly made it hard to be his friend of late, but they all had their bad days, and there had been times when Jack had had to cut him a few generous miles of slack. Daniel could certainly return the favor if a black mood had been the only problem. But no, this was a whole other kind of resentment.
And also fruitless to think about just now. Clearing his thoughts from his face with a shake of the head, Daniel stepped into Sam’s lab.
“So, what’s going on, Major?” That was Jack, diving right in.
“Thank you for coming, Colonel, Daniel. I’ve been going over some of the latest MALP reports, and there’s something I wanted you all to see.” She stood across from them, next to the computer, in what Daniel often thought of as her teaching mode. Between his lack of hard sciences and Jack’s sometimes deliberate obtuseness, she engaged in it a lot. Teal’c sat on a stool to her right, as much at ease as the Jaffa ever got, and while his attention seemed fixed on her, Daniel could see him give Jack a sideways glance when O’Neill first spoke.
Jack buried his hands in his pockets, a stance that should have looked casual but that somehow looked belligerent to Daniel. “Anytime now, Carter,” he prompted.
“Uh, yes, sir.” She clicked a remote at the screen, and a picture appeared on the monitor, MALP readouts lining the bottom edge.
Daniel moved a little closer to see the image more clearly. It had obviously been taken at night, and while the picture had been lightened, it was still dim and obscure. But even as Daniel peered at the screen, he could make out a few lines that looked too straight to be organic, squared corners and shadows, darkness that didn’t sway with the breeze like the vegetation did.
“What is that?” Jack sounded more like himself as he leaned forward, also trying to get a better look.
“Teal’c and I believe it’s an abandoned Goa’uld outpost. IR lighting shows some inscribed pillars, but the MALP’s not picking up any heat signatures indicating a current human population. With the signs of deterioration, we’re guessing it’s been abandoned for decades, perhaps even centuries.”
Daniel moved in closer still, fascinated. Inscriptions—that meant information: more reference for the language banks, possibly more on the Goa’uld, maybe even about the people who had lived there. His hands itched with the desire to feel the carvings himself and try to unlock their secrets. “That’s … promising,” he murmured. “We’ve found a lot of temples, monuments—buildings erected in worship of the Goa’uld—but an actual outpost … If the interior is intact, we might find some records, Goa’uld devices, even a sarcophagus. This could be a major—”
“Nothing. It’s a deserted outpost.” Jack’s voice was starting to grate on his nerves. “Not exactly what we’re looking for, Carter. You think we’ll find any weapons there?”
It was an old question, one Daniel had thought they’d moved past long ago. Even Jack had learned in his own way to appreciate some of the non-strategic treasures they’d found. Daniel frowned up at the older man, and was pointedly ignored.
“Uh, probably not, sir.” She threw Daniel an apologetic glance. “We haven’t found any sign of the Goa’uld having abandoned it in a hurry, and they don’t usually leave valuable equipment or information behind.”
“Once an outpost is no longer useful to the Goa’uld, it is completely deserted,” Teal’c added. “Very little is left behind, and nothing of worth.”
Jack made a face. “And you’re showing me this … why, Carter?”
She slipped another glance at Daniel, her surprise obvious to him but dampened as she turned to her CO. “We still might find something that was overlooked, or that the Goa’uld didn’t think would be useful or found. It’s worth visit, sir—General Hammond said it was your call. SG-8 will go if we don’t.”
SG-8. Daniel tried not to wince. They weren’t even the archaeological SG team, and their team archaeologist was the only one Daniel hadn’t handpicked himself. For good reason, too: Forsyte had no love for his field, as uninspired as most of the soldiers when it came to antiquities. He would do a basic classification and recording but nothing more, no exploration or translation or … appreciation. And that was a loss Daniel couldn’t stomach in silence.
He straightened, turning to face O’Neill. “Jack, I think this one would be worth checking out.”
Jack met his gaze, eyes opaque, offering nothing of what he was thinking. “Why?”
Well, at least he was listening. “A find like this could have long-term strategic possibilities.” Daniel hadn’t worked with the military for nearly three years for nothing. “If the interior is intact, we might find histories of their interaction with the Goa’uld, maybe why they needed to abandon the outpost in the first place. We could learn something that will help us fight them.”
“We’re a first contact team, Daniel, as in contact with people. You see any people there?” Jack waved a hand at the screen.
“Well, no, but—”
“SG-8 can go do the history thing—Sikes’ll love that. Tell Hammond we’re passing, Carter.”
“Yes, sir,” she said in that quiet way she did when she didn’t agree with an order. Daniel recognized it, and knew Jack did, too, but he didn’t seem aware of it now. Which meant it was up to Daniel. He stepped toward the older man.
An upraised finger cut him off. “Don’t start with me, Daniel.” Jack started to move around him, end of discussion.
Daniel set his jaw, anger rising. Maybe Jack made the ultimate decision, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t hear Daniel’s side of it first. “Jack, listen to me. Finding ways to fight the Goa’uld is part of our mission, too, and who knows why the Goa’uld abandoned this outpost? They might have been forced out somehow—we’ve found some—”
Jack wheeled on him, and Daniel actually faltered a step back at the thunderous look on the older man’s face. “What part of ‘don’t start with me’ is giving you trouble, Jackson? You want me to write it down for you so you can work on that for a while? I’ll be happy to take you off the roster for the next mission if you need more time.”
Daniel gaped, speechless. Jack was threatening to pull him from the team because Daniel disagreed with him? As if that were some sort of unusual occurrence. And casting aspersions on Daniel’s intelligence wasn’t Jack’s style. What was going on here? Was this going to be the new status quo for them?
And then Daniel saw it. The flash of contrition in the dark eyes, the regret for his words even as Jack was helpless to stop them. Helpless, as in compulsion, and unless Jack had been taken over by a Goa’uld that week, that meant being under orders.
Daniel’s apprehension immediately cooled. He should have known. Well, he did now, and he wouldn’t be so gullible this time. He just raised his chin and nodded his acceptance, if not agreement.
Jack’s eyes narrowed, as if he were trying to figure out what Daniel was really thinking—how hard was that?—then he included Sam and Teal’c in a sweeping, impassive glance around the room before turning and striding out.
Behind him, Daniel could hear Sam stir. “Wow.”
“I believe O’Neill is troubled.”
“You think something happened?”
Daniel winced, and finally turned back to face his friends, away from the empty doorway. “What if it’s another act?”
Sam frowned, while Teal’c canted his head. “You think the colonel’s under orders again?” she asked carefully.
“Sure, why not?” It had been close to a month since Jack’s undercover job for Hammond had left the rest of his team out of the loop, worried and clueless. Explanations had been made since then, apologies given and accepted. But trust took a lot longer to grow back. Daniel knew it was what they were all thinking, could see it in their eyes. “He pulled the same thing last month—why not a second time?” But Jack wouldn’t fool them again. Daniel knew where they stood now: clearly well behind O’Neill’s responsibility to the military.
Sam crossed her arms over her chest. “He had to put on a convincing act to fool the traitors last time, Daniel—that wouldn’t work again.” Her eyebrows rose, daring him to disagree.
Daniel shook his head. “Look, I’m not saying the same thing is happening again. All I know is that something’s going on that Jack isn’t talking about, something he acts like he can’t talk about. He’s said some really … tactless things, and then for a second he looks like he’s almost sorry he said them … but he can’t admit it. What does that sound like to you?”
“O’Neill,” Teal’c said simply.
Despite everything, Daniel’s mouth quirked. “Okay, yeah, I guess it does, but something’s different this time. He’s not joking, he’s not ….” Being a friend, was what he almost said, but how could he explain that one?
Except that Sam was nodding, and Teal’c looked thoughtful. Well, more thoughtful than usual. “I, too, have noticed this change.”
“I’m not saying nothing’s wrong,” Sam said slowly, “but we’ve all had our bad days. That’s not a reason to think the colonel’s on another mission, especially this close to the last one. I mean, think about it, who would fall for that act twice in a row?”
“It’s probably not the same mission,” Daniel argued, feeling every bit the devil’s advocate. “Maybe he just needs to stir up some doubt. Or maybe it’s a cover for something else—I don’t know,” he puffed in frustration. “I never understood how the military thinks. All I know is, I’m getting the same feeling I got during Jack’s mission last month. I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. He’s doing something he doesn’t want to be doing but he has to, and that usually means orders.” Daniel hadn’t meant to say the last word so bitterly, but there it was.
“Or an outside influence,” Teal’c spoke quietly.
“Yeah, but how?” Sam answered. “The colonel hasn’t been off-world without the rest of us since he came back from the rogue base, and he was fine after that. How could anyone or anything get to him without also getting to us?”
“Daniel, that doesn’t mean he’s under orders.”
“Are you saying he isn’t?” Daniel asked suddenly.
She looked at him, then ducked her gaze. “You know I can’t say that for sure.”
“And even if you knew, or Hammond did, you couldn’t tell us,” Daniel finished.
Sam set her jaw and gave him a hard stare. “Daniel, you knew that when you signed on to SG-1. But I swear, I don’t know any more than you do this time.”
Remorse set in, slumping his shoulders. Attacking Sam had been the last thing he’d wanted to do. “I know,” Daniel nodded. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to take this out on you. I guess I’m just …”
“Concerned,” Teal’c unexpectedly provided.
Daniel nodded again. “I don’t think this is just a bad week. But if Jack’s setting us up again …”
Neither of them finished that one. Or pointed out that technically it hadn’t been his team Jack had set up the last time. Technically.
“We should give him a few more days. If things don’t get better by Friday, I’ll talk to Hammond.”
Daniel nodded at Sam. “Okay. I’ll see if I can’t get something out of Jack by then.” Which was what he usually would have set about doing, in all the subtle ways he’d learned to pry Jack open: watching TV together, sharing a few beers on his rooftop observatory, even doing yard work. But that was when he thought he knew his friend well enough to know something was bothering Jack, before an undercover mission had tangled that fine-tuned sense with military duty. When Jack still had his benefit of the doubt. Daniel hated assuming the worst, but hated even worse the way he’d felt when he’d learned Jack had been lying to him under orders, not just about their work but about their friendship. He had no intention of putting himself out to that again. What was a friendship, anyway, if you couldn’t trust the other person?
Teal’c inclined his head, and Sam gave him a small smile before Daniel walked out. Friday meant he had three days, and Jack was never easy to open up even when he was just being Jack. But for the sake of what they still had, Daniel was determined to try. Because when it came down to it, one thing hadn’t changed between them.
For better or for worse, Daniel still cared.
Not every settlement they came to greeted them en masse.
This one had all the marks of an early twentieth century culture on Earth: wobbly vehicles that traveled on mostly unpaved roads in clouds of black smoke, buildings of several stories made out of a light green rock, signs of indoor plumbing but none yet of electromagnetic radiation or radio waves. It wouldn’t have surprised Daniel if out in some distant field, that planet’s equivalent of the Wright brothers was gearing up for its first flight. And as SG-1 walked along one of the streets toward the center of town, no one gave them more than a curious look or silent nod.
For once, Teal’c was the first to put their thoughts into words. “They do not seem troubled by our presence.”
“If you walked down the street back home in your full uniform, you’d get a few strange looks but nobody would run get our leaders, Teal’c,” Daniel pointed out. It was the first time they’d come across a culture at this level of industrialization, on the cusp of technology and modernization, but the reaction wasn’t unlike some of the big cities they’d arrived in.
“Our leaders?” Sam repeated, grinning.
Okay, so it wasn’t like anyone would go running for the major of Colorado Springs, no matter what. “Or the police, or someone from Cheyenne Mountain,” Daniel added patiently.
“Cut the chatter, people.” Jack’s abrupt entry into the conversation was like a cold shower. “Let’s stay alert.”
“’Cause God knows we can’t both talk and keep our eyes open at the same time,” Daniel muttered petulantly. It earned him a sharp glare and he pressed his lips together. It looked like their mission would be as much fun as the previous week had been.
One day from their self-appointed deadline, Jack’s disposition hadn’t improved. In fact, when Daniel considered it dispassionately, things had gotten worse. Jack’s face was etched with a permanent frown, his every word clipped as if he were struggling to even stay civil. Which was the normal nature of more than one career soldier at the SGC, but was a far cry from the Jack O’Neill Daniel had come to know.
That wasn’t the part that really disturbed him, however. It was that every time he’d tried to spend some time with Jack, to try to figure out what was eating him, he was very firmly and unquestionably rebuffed. One night he’d settled down to watch TV with Jack in the rec room, as subtle an offer of friendship as Daniel knew. Jack had promptly gotten up and left. The next day, a visit to his home with a cup of his favorite coffee hadn’t even earned Daniel an invitation inside. Even the coffee had been rejected. He’d finally cornered Jack in his office. He still remembered the exact words Jack had flung stingingly back at him after his open query about what was wrong.
Mind your own business, Jackson. If I want a friend, I’ll find one.
He’d avoided Jack after that. And if Jack had cared, it sure hadn’t shown. He’d gone home every chance he got, seemingly as anxious to be away from them as they were from him, returning that morning only to lead the mission that had already started badly. Daniel sighed to himself. Whatever snit Jack was in, he was sick of it. Daniel didn’t think he’d ever count the minutes a mission was over just so they could get away from each other, but he was doing so now. This Jack O’Neill, as unfriendly and condescending as the first time they’d met, was not one he wanted to be around any more than he had to. People didn’t just change personalities overnight, but Jack had.
But that was kind of the point, wasn’t it? And Daniel’s heart hardened all over again. It had been stomped on enough last time, thank you very much. People didn’t change overnight but orders did, and Jack could just stew in them for all Daniel cared. Who needed a friend who ditched you when ordered, anyway?
For now, however, they had a job to do. And while Daniel didn’t much care about what Jack thought just then, the rest of his team was another matter. Sloppy work could mean danger to his friends or the loss of a new potential ally, and that wasn’t an option. He slid past Jack’s glare, tacitly taking point as he was supposed to when they were going to make first contact, and led the way deeper into the city.
Still no sign of any kind of leader or welcoming committee, and that was a problem. Most civilizations they’d come across so far were either primitive enough to quickly notice any newcomers and gathered the ruling body to greet them, or were advanced enough to know the gate had been used and there were new arrivals to be met. This middle ground was a lot less certain. Would there be a monarchy they were supposed to appeal to, or some sort of governing body? Would such a ruling body inhabit the largest building, or the most ornate? If not, they’d have to start asking passersby for help, which wasn’t always a good idea. So for now, while he thought, Daniel just kept walking.
The suburbs they’d passed through on their way there had been thin, and the “city” wasn’t so sprawling, either. A sign of fledgling industrialization, or just a small populace? This was more the purview of geographers than archaeologists, but Daniel puzzled over the matter just the same. Limited population probably meant a people who knew and had been harvested by the Goa’uld. But there were no temples, not even a building that looked like a church, so what guise had the false gods taken here? Or had another, more natural cause kept the population low perhaps? Poor food production, low reproduction, disease? There was always so much to learn, and no way of knowing what bit of information might prove useful in fighting the Goa’uld or advancing their own culture. A scientist’s dream, and nightmare, in one.
They remained unapproached and unchallenged as they kept going. In fact, the natives seemed to be giving them a wide berth, and the few smiles Daniel offered were unreturned. Come to think of it, the natives all wore dark and heavy clothing, too, with straight cuts and stiff appearance. A serious people, probably, perhaps one beset by many difficulties or tragedies. They would have to tread carefully not to upset or give offense.
Finally reaching the center of the city, the cluster of tallest buildings that seemed to make up its hub, Daniel slowed and stopped, wondering where to now. Just try the buildings until they found some sort of governing body? Or ask for help? No one was coming within twenty feet of them, which would make that difficult. How would the people take it if strangers just started trying their doors?
Jack’s voice, sharp and impatient. Oh, yeah. Daniel had almost managed to forget he had another, equally frustrating problem to the one that lay in front of him. He turned back to Jack and said with forced patience, “I don’t know, Jack. It’s not like they’re lining up to meet us.”
“Figure out something.”
“I’m open to suggestions.”
“This is your job, Doctor,” Jack growled. “Do it.”
Hurt mixed with anger flooded Daniel. Was Jack really saying Daniel was failing at the one thing he was there for? “My job,” he answered stiffly, “is to provide archaeological and anthropological support, Colonel.” Two could play that game. “Not to make command decisions about what to do next.”
“That never stopped you before.”
Daniel gaped at the man. He was literally seeing red, a haze over his vision. “Jack, so help me—”
“Is the guard at that building not of some significance, Daniel Jackson?”
It took a few seconds, but Teal’c’s calm voice finally sunk in. To all of them. Daniel jerked away to see what Teal’c was looking at, and felt Jack next to him do the same. Sam, on the verge of interceding in their argument, fell silent and also followed their gaze.
The building itself was unremarkable, three stories of pale rock and unimaginative façade to the east of the center of town. Daniel wouldn’t have given it a second look except that Teal’c’s eagle eyes had caught what he had to peer now to see: there was indeed a guard at the door, standing at stiff attention in some sort of uniform. Like there would be someplace important.
Jack threw Daniel a poisoned glance and started off in that direction. Sam gave him an apologetic one and followed. Only Teal’c stayed patiently behind, waiting for Daniel.
The anger had ebbed as quickly as it had crested, leaving Daniel slumped and tired. What was he doing? Jack was being an ass, yes, but he was also Daniel’s best friend. Or at least, he had been until the previous month. If he was throwing that away again out of some sense of duty, yeah, it made Daniel mad, and more than a little resentful. But what he felt most of all was sadness. For whatever reason, the most important friendship in his life was withering, just a half-year after Daniel had buried the love of his life. And that … that made him more sick than anything.
“Are you all right, Daniel Jackson?”
He swallowed, blinked. Jack and Sam were twenty feet away now and still going, Jack never looking back, Sam lingering as she kept checking to see if they were coming. What could possibly have been so important that it was worth fragmenting your team and closest relationships for? Had Jack even argued it?
“No, Teal’c,” he said honestly, heavily. “I’m really not.” Before the Jaffa could answer that, though, Daniel resolutely started moving again.
The building was more distant than it looked, taking a good ten minutes to approach. This time Daniel hung back, not interested in taking point. Jack didn’t seem to need him anyway.
The older man strode up to the guard, his arm casually draped on his gun, and stopped. “We’re here to see your leader.”
Typical Jack; Daniel would have been amused another day.
The guard frowned, appearing confused. Apparently, this situation hadn’t been covered in his job training. “You be …?”
“O’Neill. We come from a place called Earth.”
The man’s confusion only deepened. “Here wait,” he finally said, and turned and disappeared into the building.
Jack shifted from one leg to another, glancing up at the building’s height, then both ways down the street. Still not looking back to check his team’s status, Daniel noticed, nor asking for reactions as he usually did. Fine. If he wanted to do this himself, Daniel had no intention of offering unwanted help.
A minute ticked by. No sign of the guard, nor of anyone else. Jack glared at his watch, then at the building. Sam wandered closer to the building’s wall to examine the hewn rock, which Jack tolerated all of five seconds before waving her back. Another half-minute ticked by. Jack’s arm was fidgeting, the one on his weapon. Daniel cringed, and hoped the guard would be back before Jack’s patience ran out.
No such luck. “I’m going in,” Jack suddenly announced, and stepped toward the door.
“Wait,” Daniel said involuntarily. “Don’t you think we should—”
Jack whipped around so fast, Daniel nearly ran into him. As it was, it brought him nose-to-nose with O’Neill, close enough to see how dangerously dark his face had become. “Either you shut your mouth or I shut it for you, got it?” Jack ground out.
And everything changed in that one moment. Only the fact Daniel was trying to wrap his mind around a horrible realization kept him from saying something that would surely have gotten him punched in the face. Instead, Daniel stood gaping and shocked as Jack whirled back to the building and disappeared inside.
This wasn’t an act.
Maybe the clincher had been the quietly lethal tone, which Jack had never, ever used on him before, and never would have no matter how angry he got. More likely it was the flash of not just regret but actual panic this time that inked his eyes. But it hit Daniel with all the subtlety of a falling safe: something was seriously wrong with Jack that no orders nor bad week could account for. In fact, the only explanation Daniel could think of in that awful moment was the one they’d dismissed so casually out of hand before. Something was influencing Jack, something against his will and out of his control. Something that was getting worse. Something his three closest friends, in all their wisdom, had decided was nothing and had even blamed the colonel for.
Something that was about to blow up in their faces.
Daniel lunged for the door, past a white-faced Sam. She knew, too. They had all realized, now that it was way too late.
He’d unconsciously expected a dim room inside, but was surprised to find it well-lit with primitive but numerous lights lining the walls. Daniel’s eyes didn’t require any adjustment, taking in the scene in a moment’s glance.
The guard from the door was standing in front of Jack, along with another in identical costume. Between them stood a small group of men in black tunics, more formal than the clothes they’d seen on the natives outside, one a little bit separate from the rest, right in front of Jack. His chin was raised, his body language as stiff as his clothes. Daniel gave an inward groan; Jack hadn’t wasted any time rubbing the people in charge the wrong way. He wasn’t a diplomat on a good day, let alone whatever state of mind he was in now. Daniel edged forward, ready to do his best to smooth things over.
“We talk not with strangers armed who wait not for summons.”
“Yeah, well, back home we don’t usually keep our guests waiting. I don’t know what your problem is, but—”
“—we would like to offer our apologies and start again. We are strangers to your city and customs, but we would like to learn more.” It was about as smooth as Daniel could get with a lead-in like that.
Jack’s and the ruling body’s eyes all turned to him. Jack’s were the most suspicious.
“Please, we would just like to talk, perhaps conduct some trade.” Daniel kept his stance humble, his eyes downcast. Some people believed a straight stare was a challenge, others considered it a sign of worthiness. It was always hit-and-miss with a totally foreign culture, but considering the rulers didn’t seem to care for Jack’s direct stare, Daniel took a chance. “We are also looking for allies against what we suspect is a common enemy.”
Another few moments of silence, then a bare nod from the leader. “Talk we will, but only you with. This one here must stay.” An irritated wave at Jack.
Daniel opened his mouth to agree, and heard Jack’s abrupt “No,” instead.
The leader lifted his chin again. “That is the only way acceptable.”
“Then we’re outta here,” Jack said flatly, and began to turn.
Daniel couldn’t let this happen, not just because something was wrong with Jack. “No, wait! I can do this, Jack. Just let me stay—you guys can go back for now. I’ll just, uh, need some stuff from Sam.” Like a quick conference over what they’d have to tell Hammond. Jack needed to get help, not go off on missions where he could get people killed, especially himself.
Jack didn’t argue, didn’t even look at him, just grabbed Daniel’s arm and pulled him along like a reluctant puppy on a leash.
There came a low growl from one of the guards—apparently Daniel wasn’t the only one discomfited by Jack’s behavior. Unfortunately, while Jack seemed to regard Daniel with mere irritation, an armed stranger didn’t get off so lightly. Before Daniel could even try to stop him, Jack had let him go and moved with the silent lethality of the special ops soldier he’d once been. In less than a second, the guard was pinned against the wall, Jack’s weapon pressing on his throat, cutting off his air.
“Any problem with us leaving?” Jack asked softly.
The other guard started to raise his weapon, only to find himself at the wrong end of Jack’s handgun. The colonel didn’t seem to have any trouble holding one enemy at gunpoint as he suffocated another.
Talk about going from bad to really, really worse in record time. “Jack.” Daniel struggled to keep the panic out of his voice, as much for his friend’s state of mind as for their own well-being. The city rulers were stirring, angrily murmuring between them. “This is insane. Please, let him go.”
Jack didn’t seem to hear him, but he was still a soldier and knew an impasse couldn’t last forever. Giving the guard against the wall one more shove, Jack stepped back and let him fall to his knees, gasping. The other guard, face cold and hard, stepped cautiously toward his compatriot and sank down beside him, finally deliberately turning his back on Jack to help his friend.
For a moment, Jack seemed to falter. And then he smoothly holstered his gun, and turning away from the elders, walked out without a backwards glance.
Daniel stared after him an incredulous moment, then back at the ruling elders. “I am so sorry. This isn’t the way we—”
“Go. Return not.”
With the restrained fury in the leader’s voice, it was probably only acknowledgement of their technical superiority that was keeping SG-1 alive at that moment. Future contact would probably not be welcomed with open arms. Daniel swallowed a sigh. “Right. Returning not.” And with a last look of remorse at the guards still kneeling on the ground, he followed Jack out.
Jack wasn’t there again. Neither was Teal’c, Daniel realized a moment later, and glanced expectantly at Sam, who had stepped aside to make room for him as he walked out the door. “He started back to the gate with Teal’c. I told him we’d catch up. I was about to come in for you.” Her eyes flickered. “Daniel …”
He’d already started moving toward the shrinking figures two blocks away, not anxious for another confrontation but not wanting to let the man out of his sight. It was only when Sam jogged a few steps to match his stride that he spared her a worried glance.
“Sam, we’ve got a problem.”
They never did catch up to Jack.
By the time they reached the suburbs, Daniel had explained what had happened inside the building and what he’d seen in Jack’s face just before. Jack and Teal’c had resolutely widened the gap between them, and even as Daniel fell into silence and picked up the pace, he couldn’t seem to close it any.
Sam had listened silently, her face troubled. Jack was her commanding officer in ways he wasn’t for Daniel, and he knew going against her CO wasn’t something she’d do lightly. But they’d been together a long time, long enough for a feeling of family to have transcended that of military hierarchy, and she was worried about Jack, too. And Daniel was willing to bet Teal’c felt the same way. The Jaffa was probably in step with Jack even now to keep an eye on him. Daniel poured on a little more speed, Sam effortlessly matching it beside him, but Jack and Teal’c still remained frustratingly far ahead.
“If the colonel’s under some kind of influence, there’s no telling how far it’s spread. We don’t know if it’s infectious or how long he’s been affected—this could mean a major security breach, Daniel.”
Which actually didn’t matter nearly so much to him as the fact that Jack was in trouble, but as Daniel glanced over at Sam, he saw the frank concern in her face that wasn’t just for the SGC. He nodded.
“And if it is just the colonel …”
He’d already been down that road. “… how did someone or something get to him and not the rest of us?”
“The only mission he’s been on without us was over a month ago.”
Sam wasn’t saying it, either. It wasn’t as if either of them could have forgotten what that mission was. Or why it had stifled the warning bells that had been ringing in Daniel’s head for the last ten days. He squirmed. “Sam—”
“Yeah. I know.” There didn’t seem to be much need for conversation after that.
Up ahead, Jack and Teal’c had reached the gate, and Teal’c dialed while Jack sent their GDO code. Then, still without a backward look to make sure the rest of his team was following, their team leader stepped through the gate. Daniel could see the subtly disapproving set of Teal’c’s body even from a distance, and the Jaffa turned back to watch their approach. Apparently satisfied they were coming, he followed Jack through.
Daniel and Sam traded a glance and broke into a trot.
They reached the gate not two minutes later, and went through. Teal’c stood patiently waiting at the top of the ramp with General Hammond, “holding the door” for them, but otherwise the room was empty. No Jack.
Daniel frowned. “General, where’s Jack?”
Hammond didn’t look any happier. “Colonel O’Neill said the mission had failed and requested moving the debriefing to 0800 tomorrow. I didn’t see any reason to refuse. Teal’c’s been telling me a different story, however.”
“Yes, sir.” That was Sam, standing near at attention. Doing her duty, and Daniel felt for her. “Sir … we believe Colonel O’Neill has been compromised, either deliberately or accidentally.”
Hammond’s eyes narrowed. There was a beat, then he strode over to the intercom on the wall. “Find me Colonel O’Neill,” he said into it, and returned to them. “Explain.”
Sam glanced at him, and Daniel took up the ball and ran with it: Jack’s increasingly short temper and impatience, his rebuff of any attempt to find out what was wrong, their suspicions at first about why. The lines on Hammond’s forehead deepened at that last.
“I can tell you unequivocally that Colonel O’Neill is not currently under orders to act in any way not appropriate to his rank and post.”
“Yeah, well, we finally figured that out, General, but after last month …”
Hammond’s jaw shifted. “I see. Go on.”
The intercom squawked his name. Hammond put up a hand and went to answer it, and Daniel traded a tight look with Sam and Teal’c. Jack hadn’t showed yet, and Daniel was guessing that was not good news. Hammond’s expression as he returned confirmed it.
“Colonel O’Neill went directly topside still in full mission gear and has left the mountain as of eight minutes ago. From what you’re telling me, he could be on his way to anywhere right now and we have no way of knowing where he’s going or what his intentions are.”
Daniel thought feverishly. “General … I have reason to believe Jack’s going home.”
Even Sam turned to look at him in surprise.
Hammond, calm as ever, turned grave eyes on him. “What reason is that, Doctor?”
“Look, Jack has been acting irrational and irritable for the last ten days—influenced, true, but to what end? To alienate everyone he comes into contact with? If he’s being compelled to do something deliberately, there couldn’t be a lot worse ways to achieve that purpose than to make Jack hostile and raise everyone’s suspicions.”
“As he did on previous occasion,” Teal’c reminded him quietly.
“That’s true, but then that was the purpose of his behavior: to raise suspicions and get himself ‘fired.’ Assuming there isn’t some other rogue shadow group out there wanting to recruit him, what possible good would it do anyone to get Jack pulled from SG-1 or even trapped in the infirmary?”
“Maybe it’s a different kind of compulsion—maybe the colonel’s being forced into something he doesn’t want to do and this is his way of fighting back and protecting the SGC and the rest of us, getting himself isolated so he can’t do what they want him to.”
Sam was just bringing up possibilities no matter how remote, but that was good; they needed to consider every option. Jack was too important for them not to get this right. Daniel just wished they’d done this a week before. “So he goes around biting people’s heads off for ten days, ruins any potential diplomatic relations with a new planet, then takes off before the general does anything officially? That doesn’t make any sense. Besides, that wasn’t regret I saw back there in the city. It was panic.” If only he’d seen it while they were still on-base instead of off-world.
If only Daniel had listened to his instincts instead of his hurt feelings.
“What about some sort of physical cause to the colonel’s behavior? This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve encountered a behavior-altering alien virus.”
“That’s true, General, but Jack hasn’t been anywhere we haven’t been in over a month. That either means this thing has the longest incubation of any bug I’ve ever heard of—in which case we’d still have some of Maybourne’s men showing similar symptoms by now—or it’s not something contagious, like, well, a brain tumor or something.”
That one managed to cast a pall even over their sober little group. Not that Daniel really knew what he was talking about; this was all a little out of his league. They taught a lot more psychology and medicine in officer training than they did in archaeology, let alone strategy and situation analysis.
But … this was Jack. And Daniel knew Jack. The last month might have thrown a little doubt into that, but it hadn’t materially changed it. He could see that now with 20/20 hindsight.
Sam was silent, tacitly agreeing with him, and Teal’c had turned back to Hammond for a verdict. They were united in this, then. It was small comfort, but it was comfort.
Hammond was also slowly nodding. “I’ll send a team to the colonel’s house to retrieve him. I hope you’re right about this, Dr. Jackson.”
“General, wait,” Daniel surged forward a step after the man. “Let me go.”
He could feel Sam giving him a look again.
Hammond turned back to him. “Doctor, if Colonel O’Neill is as out of control as you say he is—”
“He’s still Jack. Maybe he doesn’t like me very much right now, but he still knows who I am. If you send armed strangers after him, as paranoid as he is right now, there’s no telling how he’ll react.”
“There’s no telling how he’ll react to you, either, son.”
“He won’t hurt me.” Daniel said it quietly but certainly. He’d been angry with Jack those last few weeks, suspicious, hurt, worried. But the one thing he’d never felt was fear, not even on the planet with Jack ready to shoot those two guards and anybody else who got in his way. Daniel was afraid for Jack, maybe, but not of him.
Hammond chewed on that a moment, and nodded. “All right, I’ll make you a deal, Doctor. You go to the colonel’s house with Major Carter. If you’re right about the colonel, you can bring him in. But I’m going to contact state police to keep an eye out for him, too, in case you’re wrong and he’s not there.” If he was wrong about Jack being home, Daniel could be just as wrong about how he’d react, was the implied corollary, but Daniel appreciated the general not saying it. As sure as he’d sounded a minute ago, uncertainty still churned in his gut. If he was wrong …
Well, he just couldn’t be wrong.
Teal’c wanted to go, too, but it would take longer to sign him out and get him prepped for topside travel, and they all knew time was short. The Jaffa helped them drop their gear, waited until they changed into civvies, then went with them up to the ground level. He accepted Daniel’s promise to bring Jack back with a silent nod before turning away. And a minute later, the two remaining members of SG-1 were on their way to the outlying neighborhoods of Colorado Springs.
Daniel watched the first few miles roll by before finally saying it out loud. “We should’ve known.”
“It did start out a lot like last time,” Sam quietly countered, her hands tight on the steering wheel.
“Yeah, but even then, Jack wasn’t …”
“… cruel?” Sam finished gently. “Yeah, he was, Daniel.”
And there had been no compulsion that time except for orders. Even when Daniel had seen the necessity for it, that had still hurt. In the light of his worry for Jack, however, it shone with a very different color. Jack hadn’t enjoyed the deception any more than they had, perhaps even less, knowing what he was risking. But the Asgard, Tollan, and General Hammond had all asked him to do it, for the sake of his world, and there was no refusing that. Daniel would have made the same choice. He knew that, had heard General Hammond explain it in detail afterward. It had just never struck home before now. Jack had even tried to protect him, in what limited way he could, with his “cruelty.” Maybe he’d hoped Daniel would see through the act. But Daniel had nursed his injured feelings and refused to see or forgive.
Maybe, if he was honest with himself, that was why he’d refused to see the truth now, too.
Daniel rubbed his forehead, feeling the strain of the last several weeks. “We really should have trusted him,” he murmured.
He expected Sam to agree at least with that. She and Teal’c had both insisted secrets were sometimes necessary in the military and Jack hadn’t damaged their trust in him while under orders, although Daniel had seen the moments of doubt in her face, too. But she shook her head. “Daniel, you can’t blame yourself. I don’t think the colonel would. For all we knew, it could have been another deliberate personality change. It makes sense after last time.”
“Actually, it makes less sense after last time. You were right when you said an act wouldn’t work a second time—I should’ve listened to you.”
Sam was dividing her attention between him and the road. “I didn’t realize what was going on until today, either, Daniel. Actually, we still don’t know what’s going on.”
Jack needed help, that was what was going on, and it was time to stop thinking about should-haves and concentrate on what came next. Like what he’d say to the man when he got there. Daniel sighed, then sat up a little straighter in the seat.
“I think only one of us should go in.”
He looked over at Sam, surprised. “Non-confrontational?”
She nodded. “You might get through to him more easily, but if he’s violent, I’d have a better chance of restraining him.”
“I can handle him.”
Sam’s eyes assessed him very carefully. “Are you sure? He’s not the person we know anymore, Daniel.”
“Honestly, I think he is.”
She didn’t argue, just gave him another glance, then let the matter drop. But after pulling up in front of Jack’s house—just behind the colonel’s truck—and stopping, she made no move to get out of the car. After a moment of hesitation, Daniel reached for the door latch.
“Daniel …” She was pulling something out of her pocket. A zat, Daniel realized, and swallowed.
“Look, Sam … I know it makes sense but … I just can’t. Just … let me try this my way, okay?”
She hesitated, nodded, and slipped the zat back into her jacket. “Five minutes, Daniel.”
He climbed out of the car. A cursory glance at Jack’s truck showed an unusually sloppy parking job, and Daniel jogged past it, up the front walk onto the porch. And stopped, hand raised to knock, as some sixth sense possessed him to try the door instead.
It opened as he turned the knob, and Daniel frowned. Not at that—for all Jack’s caution on a mission, these days he rarely bothered to lock his own front door. No, it was the feeling that crept along his shoulders and down his spine, raising goosebumps as it went. Something was wrong.
He slipped inside the door, leaving it ajar behind him, then ventured a few silent steps farther, into Jack’s living room.
And jerked to a stop.
The place had been ransacked. Couch cushions teetered on the edge of the overturned coffee table. Jack’s precious tapes were pulled off the shelves and lay in careless piles on the floor. Most of the bookshelves were also bare, their contents scattered and broken on the floor.
Three years ago, Daniel would have taken one glance and then run to call the police, or at least get Sam. Whoever had done this could still be in the house, even holding Jack prisoner, and Daniel had no gun, no tools, possibly not even the element of surprise. But he did have those three years of training by Colonel Jack O’Neill. And a sudden powerful fear for the man that outweighed any fear for his own well-being. Daniel started to head for the bedroom.
And Jack stepped through the doorway.
Or at least, someone who’d once been Jack.
The man who stood before him was a shadow. Jack couldn’t have been home more than ten minutes, but the difference from even an hour before was devastating. Hair disheveled, eyes wild, posture stiff: there was little Daniel recognized of the Jack O’Neill he knew. And even less when one arm rose in formal shooting stance and pointed a gun squarely at his chest.
Daniel tried to swallow but his mouth was too dry. “Jack, what’s going on?” he managed to ask anyway.
Jack, on the other hand, was blinking sweat out of his eyes. “What are you doing here?”
If he’d had his eyes closed, he might not have recognized his best friend’s voice. Daniel winced. “Well, you’re not going to believe this, but—”
“Hands where I can see them!”
The command froze him in place. He hadn’t been doing anything but fidgeting, antsy at having a gun on him and deeply frightened by the stranger who was holding it. “I didn’t mean … Jack, we were worried about you. Something’s been … wrong the last few days and we knew it but, I’m sorry, we didn’t realize—”
Jack’s eyes had flicked to the door at the first “we,” narrowed at the second. “How many?”
It took him a second to understand. “Uh, just Sam and me. Teal’c would have come, but—”
But Jack was in control of this conversation. “Where’s Carter?”
“Out front in the car. I wanted the chance to talk to you alone.” To reach him. Had he been naïve in thinking that was even possible?
Jack was still thinking, or at least trying to. There was fresh sweat above his lip, and his eyes winced occasionally as if some interior pain had grown too strong to bear. His indecision was almost painful to see. Daniel’s voice softened.
“Jack, there’s something wrong with you—you have to know that.”
“What I know,” the gun was hefted, gripped a little more strongly, “is that you won’t leave me alone.”
“That’s because I’m your friend,” Daniel said reasonably. “I’m worried about you. Sam and Teal’c and General Hammond are, too. Something’s making you act this way—doesn’t the fact that you’re holding a gun on me tell you something?”
Jack’s eyes flicked to the weapon as if to confirm he was indeed holding a gun, then back to Daniel. Confusion creased his forehead, and he trembled once before tightly pulling himself back under control. It looked like it took an enormous amount of energy, and knowing Jack, he’d been fighting that hard for the last ten days.
“Daniel … leave,” Jack finally said, hoarse. “Please.” The gun wobbled toward the door.
He was begging. And Daniel gaped at him with shocked realization.
Jack was fighting for him now.
It changed something in him, too. In a rush, his pity drained away, replaced by an overwhelming compassion. Whatever they could have done differently before no longer mattered; his best friend needed help now, and that was something Daniel could do. “I am not leaving you like this,” he said softly.
Jack swore. “Just … get outta here.”
“Put down the gun, Jack. You won’t hurt me.” He watched Jack’s finger tighten on the trigger, and a moment’s doubt flashed through his mind. Death in itself hadn’t scared him now for many years, but death at the hands of a friend? That terrified in a whole different way. Daniel licked dry lips. “You’re my friend, Jack, probably the best one I’ve had in, well, ever. You’ve saved my life more times than I can count. After Sha’re died, you were the one who kept me from giving up. So … I’m not going to give up on you now.”
The tension was so electric, it made the hairs on the back of Daniel’s neck rise. He didn’t move, not trying to creep forward like they always did in movies because he knew Jack wouldn’t react well to being boxed in. Knew him well enough to see in his friend’s face the battle being waged. The rest was up to Jack now.
And then Jack said tightly, “Take the gun.”
It wasn’t exactly what Daniel had asked for, but he wasn’t feeling picky. He strode forward and pulled the gun from Jack’s grip, feeling the reluctant give. It took only a second to flick the safety on, then he gently pushed Jack’s outstretched hand down. “Jack—”
“Tie me up.”
He stared at Jack, aghast. “I can’t—”
Jack grabbed his arms so tightly, it hurt. “For God’s sake, Daniel, listen to me—I can’t hold it much longer. Find something to tie me up, get Carter, knock me out—something, or so help me, I’m gonna go right through you out that door.” The momentary clarity in his eyes was already slipping, losing the battle.
But it was a decision he didn’t have to make.
“Daniel,” Sam’s voice came from behind him, gentle and firm at once. “Step back.”
He had to wrench away to do it but obeyed immediately, trusting Sam.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said, and as Jack looked toward the front door, Daniel thought he saw a flash of relief across the older man’s face. Then the zat blast hit him and he fell, already unconscious but body writhing from the shock.
Daniel waited until the last arc of light faded, then knelt at Jack’s side, feeling for the pulse in his neck. It was pounding faster than Daniel could count, his skin clammy. Daniel yanked his jacket off and tucked it around his friend, then jammed two of the couch cushions under his legs. Sam finished talking in the background and hung up the phone, and he looked up at her, trading frightened glances.
“Janet’s on her way with a team,” Sam finally said. “How is he?”
She already knew the answer to that. Daniel looked down again into Jack’s haggard face, made some attempt to smooth the disheveled gray hair, and felt utterly, painfully helpless. “Not good,” he said grimly.
A hand squeezed his shoulder, and while it was comforting, Daniel couldn’t help thinking he wasn’t the one who needed it. He looped his own hand around his friend’s wrist, hoping maybe Jack wouldn’t feel alone.
Better late than never, anyway.
Jack groaned in his sleep and tried to turn on his side, thwarted by the restraints that held his wrists and ankles fast. He pulled against them a few seconds, testing, and when they didn’t yield, settled back into his restless doze. It was the third time Daniel had watched him go through that same process, and he couldn’t bear it any longer. He turned away, feeling sick, and saw Sam standing behind him looking no better.
“This is just … wrong,” he murmured. After Ma’chello’s device had driven Daniel temporarily insane, Jack had promised him he’d never let anything like that happen ever again. Yet here they stood now, watching Jack restrained and fighting madness. The fact that it was in the SGC instead of an asylum and that they were there this time with their friend, was scant comfort when Jack no longer seemed to recognize anyone or anything besides the fact he was trapped. Was it bringing back memories of being a POW? Or maybe of the helplessness of his grief after Charlie’s death? Daniel didn’t know and didn’t want to. He just wanted very badly for this to end.
The door opened and Dr. Fraiser sailed in, a hypodermic in her hand. “I’ve got it,” she said tersely, and with that cryptic comment, shouldered past Daniel to Jack’s bedside. He turned back in time to watch her inject the contents of the syringe into Jack’s IV.
“Got what, Janet?” Sam asked, but Daniel just watched. He didn’t have to wait long for an effect. Jack’s face smoothed out in a wash of calm, and he relaxed into the bed for the first time since they’d gotten to the SGC.
Janet checked a few vitals, then patted her patient on the shoulder. “Sleep well, Colonel,” she said, and capping the hypodermic and setting it aside, turned to them. “We need to talk.”
Daniel wasn’t arguing. Exchanging a glance with Sam, he followed Janet out and up into the observation room overlooking the infirmary. Teal’c and Hammond were already there, and Daniel dropped into a chair next to the Jaffa. He glanced once down at Jack, confirming the man was still quietly resting, then gave Janet his attention.
She didn’t sit, just gave them all an even look. “Well, we were right about the colonel being physically compromised. Preliminary tests showed a significant quantity of a foreign compound in his blood. What was a surprise is what it turned out to be: a drug used to treat brain chemical imbalances. When given to a healthy individual, especially in the quantities the colonel ingested, it actually causes serious chemical imbalances, particularly irrationality, aggression, and paranoia.”
“So in your opinion, Doctor, you would not say this is an alien influence?” Hammond asked carefully.
“No, sir,” she shook her head. “Colonel O’Neill was almost definitely exposed on Earth, or by someone from Earth. Furthermore, every indication points to the colonel having ingested the drug orally.”
Daniel stared at her. “You’re not saying Jack …”
She shook her head. “I’m not ruling anything out just yet, Daniel, but I can’t imagine why the colonel would have taken something like this deliberately. I think it’s a lot more likely we’re looking at either accidental or deliberate poisoning.”
“His home,” Sam murmured.
“Sir, Colonel O’Neill seemed to get worse every time he’d return from having been home for a while. Right, Daniel? He’d been spending a lot of time there lately.”
“That is correct, Major Carter.”
Daniel half-rose from his chair. “You think somebody’s been poisoning Jack in his house?”
Hammond was already moving to the intercom, and Daniel vaguely heard him order a search of Jack’s place. But Daniel’s eyes had moved to Jack, sleeping peacefully below them.
“It is possible,” Fraiser answered in the background.
Your home was supposed to be safe, a haven. It had been one of the first tentative offerings of friendship Jack had made to him, inviting Daniel into his home after his return from Abydos, offering him a haven for a little while in the grief of his loss. Daniel still often ended up there, unwinding with Jack … at least until O’Neill had calmly told him they weren’t really friends after all. Jack had invited him over for dinner once since then, offhandedly, and hadn’t seemed surprised when Daniel had found an excuse not to go. The invitation hadn’t been repeated.
But it had still been Jack’s refuge, and he had retreated to it only to fall under invisible attack, instead. Had he even suspected, or had the drug clouded his mind too much by the time he realized something was wrong? Would the rest of them have noticed something was off if they’d been there?
Probably not, Daniel thought unhappily.
“Is there a cure?” Trust Teal’c to get to the point.
“Actually, that isn’t necessary. Without further exposure, what’s already in his system will break down and disappear within a matter of days.”
Daniel frowned. “But you gave him something …”
“A sedative. Now that we know what’s wrong, we can safely medicate him. We’ll keep him under until the drug is gone.”
And just like that, Jack would wake up cured, no trace left of the madness he’d fallen asleep in. Daniel knew the feeling. Of course, it had taken him close to a month before he could go to bed without wondering if he’d wake up in a straitjacket again. Maybe Jack wouldn’t remember the last two weeks when he woke up. Daniel wouldn’t have minded forgetting them, himself.
“How long?” he asked quietly.
“Two to three days,” Janet answered.
Sam asked another question, and their voices faded to a soft murmur. General Hammond strode out of the room. Teal’c, however, joined Daniel at the window.
“He will be well, Daniel Jackson,” the Jaffa said solemnly.
“Yeah, I know,” he sighed. Janet had at least sounded certain about that part. “I’m just not so sure he’s gonna like what he finds when he wakes up.” A nurse was unbuckling Jack’s restraints, and Daniel was surprised to find a pressure he’d not noticed in his own chest easing at the sight.
Teal’c knew exactly what he was talking about. “O’Neill will understand.”
The heck of it was, he probably would, at least about the part his team had played in letting things get that far. And that was both comforting and painful at once. Daniel just nodded.
Teal’c stood there next to him until Daniel finally left to get some sleep. It would be a quiet few days, apparently but he wasn’t going anywhere. He wanted to hear what they found at Jack’s place, whether the drug was breaking down like it was supposed to, and if the SG team Hammond was sending back to the planet they’d visited that morning had any luck repairing the damage they’d wrought. But most of all, he wanted to be there when Jack woke up. Not to apologize—this wasn’t about making himself feel better—but just to be there for his friend, finally.
Friend. It was the first time in weeks Daniel could use the word without sarcasm. They’d paid a high price for that, but it still felt good.
He would just have to wait to let Jack know.
The call came in the middle of his turkey sandwich and chips. Daniel swallowed hastily as he toggled the commissary intercom. “Jackson here.”
Fraiser answered. “Daniel, we’ve had a jail break.”
His eyes widened. “But … I thought he wasn’t supposed to wake up until tonight.”
“Well, you know the colonel usually has his own timetable. We only had him under light sedation, and the first minute the room was empty, he was gone.”
“Uh, is he all right?” So much for being there for Jack when he woke.
“He’s probably a little confused from the sedatives still in his system, but the drug’s run its course. He should be fine. I still need to examine him before I can let him go, though. Do you want to find him, or should I send out a search party?”
“No … no, I’ll find him. I have an idea where he went.”
“I thought you might,” she said dryly. “But if I don’t see you both in a half-hour, I’m sending that search party.”
He smiled faintly, and flipped the intercom off. Barely giving his half-eaten lunch a parting glance, Daniel left the commissary to track down the runaway.
He’d told Janet he had an idea where Jack would be, but that knowledge was based on a healthy, clear-thinking Jack O’Neill. Where would he go if he was working only on instinct? His quarters maybe, although that seemed an unlikely reason for which to break out of the infirmary. He’d be in no shape to work out, and his office was just another useless room on the base as far as Jack was concerned. Would he seek out one of his friends? That would have been Daniel’s first thought of where to look a month before … He turned his steps toward where their cluster of quarters was.
Jack’s was, indeed, empty, as Daniel had expected but checked on anyway. Sam’s was as well—she’d only planned to come back in the evening, when Jack was going to wake up. Scratch those plans, too. Teal’c wasn’t home, either, which probably meant he was in the gym. Daniel opened his own door last, and most hopefully, but nothing. Of course, if Jack remembered anything at all of recent events, he would probably remember Daniel’s impatience, or maybe holding a gun on Daniel. Not exactly the kind of person one sought out instinctively for help. But still …
Daniel hurried out of the room and toward the elevator and the office level. At his own office door, he hesitated a long moment, then opened it.
A figure in a thin infirmary robe sat at his desk, silvered head pillowed on crossed arms, face hidden.
Daniel’s breath came out in a long sigh of relief, as much for where he’d found Jack as for the fact he’d found him at all.
Jack hadn’t stirred, and Daniel eased away from the open door long enough to use the nearest intercom and ask Janet to hold off on that search party. Then he slipped inside the room and quietly shut the door behind him.
Creeping around his desk afforded him a view of at least half of Jack’s face, and Daniel examined it for any sign of distress. There was none. He wasn’t so pale anymore, either, possibly from his recent exercise, nor were the circles so deep around his eyes, the ravages of a mind tearing itself apart all but vanishing during those last two days of sleep. He was once more the Jack that Daniel knew, the old soldier and impish kid who’d become Daniel’s best friend. How could he have ever believed that foundation was gone?
Daniel finally gave the usurper of his desk a fond smile, and picked up a journal from the stack on the floor, cleared off a chair, and sat back to read.
When Jack’s head suddenly shot up some time later, it nearly sent Daniel toppling from that same chair in surprise.
He caught his balance, and saw Jack’s eyes dart around the room in assessing silence. For a moment, Daniel wondered if Janet had been wrong about the drug’s effects being gone, but he could also recognize a soldier’s instincts now when he saw them, and knew the colonel had woken up in some unfriendly places before. “It’s okay, Jack,” he said, voice low and unthreatening. “You’re at the SGC, in my office.”
The eyes had snapped to him as soon as he’d started talking, narrow and suspicious. Just as Daniel started getting worried, recognition finally appeared in them, and the coiled tension in Jack’s body relaxed as if it had never been there. “Daniel.” The voice was a little rusty from days of disuse, but neutral in tone, the hostility of before completely gone. Daniel found himself breathing a little easier. The worst really was over.
Jack glanced down at himself, took in the robe impassively. “Mind telling me what’s going on?”
“Well, uh, you escaped from the infirmary.”
“Ah.” Nothing more than that. A yawn stretched Jack’s jaw, and he scoured his face with his hands, then gave Daniel a slightly more wary look. “There was a … mission?”
“You didn’t get hurt on it, but oh yeah.”
Jack grimaced. “Not my shining best, huh?”
“Not exactly.” Daniel almost smiled. “I think SG-9’s finally managed to repair most of the damage.”
Another silent moment. And then Jack aged before his eyes.
Oh, he’d really wished the man wouldn’t remember that part. “Yeah … about that …” Daniel hedged. “It’s not as bad as you think, Jack.”
“Yeah? You mean I didn’t go nuts and almost shoot you?”
“Well … yeah, okay, you did, but it wasn’t your fault.”
One eyebrow rose eloquently.
Daniel leaned forward. “You were poisoned. Hammond sent a team through your house and found something attached to your water main. They figure it’s been lacing your water for the last two weeks.”
Jack’s face had grown hard, but he didn’t look surprised, didn’t so much as twitch. “Maybourne.”
Daniel blinked. “Actually, that’s what the general thought, too, or rather, somebody else in the NID. He’s still working on that part. Makepeace did say you’d upset the wrong people. But …”
“… we got no way of proving it. Swell.” Jack suddenly sounded tired, and he rubbed his eyes. Then hesitated, looking at Daniel. “Nobody got hurt?”
“Nobody, Jack, I promise.” That at least he could say with heartfelt sincerity. Nobody but Jack.
“So what aren’t you telling me, Daniel?”
This wasn’t how he’d planned to do this. The drugs may have been out of his system, but Jack still looked tired and unsettled. No doubt in part at not remembering what had happened to him, but nevertheless, a little more sleep would have been a good thing. Sam had wanted to be there, too, and Jack never could get mad at Teal’c … But it was just the two of them, there in his office, with Jack looking to him for answers, and Daniel found he couldn’t lie. “We—well, I, anyway—owe you an apology.”
Both Jack’s eyebrows rose.
Daniel made a face and rushed on. “The truth is, we’ve been seeing the effects of the drug for over a week now. With the whole undercover thing last month, though, we thought …”
“Aw, geez.” Jack’s head dropped back down onto the desk, this time without benefit of cushioning arms. “I knew it.”
Daniel winced. Okay, not exactly how he’d hoped this would go. “You did sound a lot like last time,” he said defensively. “We couldn’t figure out why you’d be pulling the same act again, but nothing else seemed to make sense, either. Poisoning isn’t exactly the first thing you think of.”
“I knew it,” Jack muttered again into the cherry wood. “I told them, but did they listen? Nooo.” His head rolled from side to side in what Daniel presumed was supposed to be a shake, then lifted to look at him. “Look, Daniel, I didn’t want to do that assignment. I told Hammond you all could play along, too, and that it would mess things up between us if I lied to you, but the Tollan had us between a rock and a whole … mountain, and they were calling the shots, so I didn’t have a choice. But it’s not gonna happen again, I swear—if we can’t trust each other, we can’t be a team.”
That wary look had returned. It reminded Daniel suddenly of when they’d first been able to get back to Jack after a meteor shower had buried a gate and stranded Jack off-world for over three months. He’d looked like this then, too: weary, closed-off, no longer sure where he stood. Daniel had just started coaxing details out of him when Jack unexpectedly stole a device from the Tollan homeworld, and everything became royally screwed up. Not much recovery time for any of them, especially Jack. He probably still didn’t know where he stood.
Daniel shook his head, exasperated and gentle. “I trust you, Jack. We all do.” He wasn’t sure exactly when that had happened, but it was as undeniable again as it had been six weeks before.
Jack looked at him intently for a moment, then seemed to take great interest in the faint red bands across his wrists.
Daniel colored. “Okay, so maybe the trust was a little dented …”
Daniel gave him a suspicious look. Was Jack actually enjoying this a little? He steepled his hands together on the desk. “Look, I’ll make you a deal. You ignore the fact it took us ten days to figure out you were being drugged, and we don’t mention your little assignment again.”
“Where does me holding a gun on you fit into that?” Jack asked seriously.
He winced. “How about we both forget that one? It was my fault you got that far, Jack, but you were the one who decided not to shoot me.”
“Yeah, well …” Jack gave an uncomfortable shrug. “Seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”
Daniel slipped him a small smile for that. Truth be told, and only to himself, even when he’d been mad at Jack, he’d missed this. He took a deep, cleansing breath. “Uh, if we’re done with all the apologizing, Janet wants to have a few words with you about your little disappearing act.”
Jack yawned on cue. “Terrific,” he muttered. Daniel helped him to his feet and held his arm while he steadied. It had to have been some powerful urge to rouse him from bed and bring him down there when he was still partially sedated, Daniel realized. Straight to Daniel’s office.
“Yeah?” Jack said distractedly, looking around the office as if he’d forgotten something.
“The foundation … it’s good.”
Jack was thinking a little slowly and it took a few seconds for the words to sink in. But then his head swung up to look at Daniel, and after a moment more, the brown eyes softened. He didn’t say a word, just lifted a hand to the side of Daniel’s neck, ruffling his hair.
Oh, yeah. Solid as ever.