Part I: TEAL'C'S DAY: BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
Before opening his eyes, Teal'c was aware of his body. He lay on his back on the narrow bed, barely big enough for his large frame, and sighed. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and gracefully moved into an upright position. His back and shoulder muscles were tight, and he lifted one hand to knead what he could reach with his fingers.
He glanced disdainfully at the mattress, covered in rough regulation cotton sheets. It was a warrior's bed and he would never complain about it, but he hated that standard issue military cot. It was uncomfortable and left him feeling stiff and sore after sleeping in it. Worse still, he hated sleeping. Since losing his symbiote, he had been forced to take up the practice since kel'no'reem no longer refreshed him as it once did. He continued to meditate, of course, but now it was a matter of mental discipline rather than survival.
Rising from the bed, he spread the covers neatly over it as O'Neill had shown him, making perfect creases and folds and stretching the linens tight enough to bounce a coin. Teal'c had been impressed by O'Neill's efficiency when he had demonstrated the technique, and gave the bed a final inspection.
That done, he stopped briefly in his private lavatory. He gathered up the newspapers he had been reading the previous evening, his gaze falling on the headlines about a subject that had captivated him for weeks.
The story was an intriguing one, featuring an enigmatic hero who had been appearing during the commission of crimes in the city, subduing the criminals and leaving them for the police to collect after he disappeared. It seemed that the Tau'ri believed they had a fictional superhero come to life in their midst, and much was being made of his heroics in the local press. Teal'c was following the story avidly and wondered what news of the Man in Black might appear that day.
When he finished his morning routine in his room, he took the pass card to his quarters and headed down the hall to SG-1's private locker room. Snagging a clean towel from the linen supply, he turned right into the shower facility, strolling around the privacy wall into the men's section. Draping his towel over a nearby bar, he stripped off his sweats, dropped them into the hamper marked with his name, and went to the nearest shower. He turned on the hot water three-quarters of a turn and stood leaning against the cool tile with his palms, waiting for the water to heat up.
Looking down at himself, he noticed that the flaps of his pouch were beginning to adhere to each other. In time, DoctorFraiser had told him, the only proof that he had ever been Jaffa would be the X-shaped scar on his abdomen and the golden tattoo on his forehead. He tried not to think about the fact that he no longer carried a symbiote, but the knowledge was always there, in the back of his mind.
He felt it when he went to lift something heavy and no longer had his former strength. He remembered when he sat down to meditate, knowing that he could no longer find that inner landscape in the depths of kel'no'reem. Injuries were another telltale sign, taking far longer to heal than what past experience told him was an appropriate length of time, learned over the century-plus that he had been a Jaffa.
Most devastating of all was the disgusting weakness of illness. Twice now missions had been scrubbed because he had been stricken with some simple virus. He'd tried not to let anyone know when illness struck, but DoctorFraiser's frequent and thorough checks of all the teams before and after missions would always turn up any shade of less than perfect health.
Although he felt weaker physically and had many adjustments to make in this new life without a symbiote, he was content with his place at the SGC. He enjoyed work with his team and in the training he did with new recruits. His friendship with DanielJackson had brought a new dimension to his life, a sense of kinship he had felt with few people, even among the Jaffa. Keeping busy was almost a necessity now, but in quiet, private moments of routine like this, Teal'c's thoughts always strayed back to what he was not, trying to make some sense of what he now was.
The steam began to curl up from the spray and he nudged the cold water tap one-quarter turn to the precise setting he liked best, stepping under the shower head. He turned his back to it, letting the hot water spray against his stiff neck and shoulders. Teal'c closed his eyes, enjoying the heat, feeling his muscles begin to relax.
Today was his one hundred and fifth birthday. His friends had told him they wanted to do something special to celebrate this year, but were vague about what they intended. Teal'c had seen evidence of many birthday parties on television and occasionally in the commissary. Much of the merry-making had to do with colorful paper cones worn on the head, rich pastry adorned with candles, one torch burning for each year of the celebrant's life.
O'Neill had made many jokes about the number of candles that would be needed for Teal'c's cake, many having to do with the size of the cake, the measured brightness of the combined candlepower, or the safety hazards of uncontained bonfires. The colonel seemed to enjoy making such remarks, so Teal'c allowed him that pleasure without so much as a raised eyebrow in the man's direction. Still, it pleased Teal'c that his teammates wished to mark this date with him, to celebrate each other and the friendship they shared.
He smiled as he finished up his shower, shut off the water and retrieved his towel. His Tau'ri teammates were interesting people, he thought. From the first moment O'Neill challenged him in Apophis' dungeon, he knew what sort of man the colonel was. All fire and steel when called to action; all warmth and good humor when at rest. He gave and demanded respect, and was determined to make Teal'c his "running buddy."
Teal'c hadn't understood that term at first. He and O'Neill did sometimes lift weights together and do combat training, but they never ran together because Teal'c was much faster and O'Neill couldn't keep up. Teal'c did that exercise on his own, usually in the evenings as the day was winding down. O'Neill did his running in the neighborhood where he lived, though Teal'c suspected the colonel had cut down much of that because of the continued deterioration of his knees. It was enough that he could run to the Stargate when necessary, and that he kept in good physical condition to fit the demands of a first contact team.
"Running buddy," he said aloud, wrapping his damp towel around his waist and heading for the locker room to fetch his fatigues.
Col. O'Neill had explained that the term meant 'someone you hang with to have fun.' They did that, sometimes. In the last year or so, there had been fewer fishing trips and more Jell-O wrestling nights. It seemed that O'Neill needed something to keep his mind occupied, rather than sitting in the peace and quiet of rural Minnesota dangling an empty hook in the water of his stagnant pond. Such inactivity gave rise to introspection, and O'Neill wanted none of that lately. Teal'c understood why.
Though there had been no memorial for DanielJackson following his ascension, each of them had, in their own way, engineered personal memorials for their lost comrade. Having him back now was reason enough to celebrate, and in Teal'c's mind, that was what he would be doing tonight. The scientist had only been back in human form for a few months, and it was a pleasure to be able to look upon his face again.
Teal'c laced up his boots and stood, heading for the elevator that would take him up three floors to the commissary. The team was meeting for breakfast and, no doubt, to wish him a happy birthday, though he had told them many times that such attention to the date was unnecessary on his behalf. MajorCarter had simply told him that they celebrated the privilege of his friendship, and that they had another year at his side.
She was an affectionate and beautiful woman, brilliant and stubborn, and a great warrior all at once. He was proud of her, and felt privileged to fight at her side. Beneath all that, however, was a heart that felt deeply for those she trusted with her love.
He smiled, grateful to be among those fortunate few.
Stopping at the elevator, he punched the button and waited for the car to arrive, hands clasped lightly behind his back. When the doors slid open he stepped inside, turned to face the control panel and felt a moment's surprise as he noticed DanielJackson a few paces from the door, about to join him. He hadn't heard the man approaching, hadn't felt the usual awareness of someone coming up behind him that his century of training had taught him.
Somehow, the scientist had sneaked up on him without even trying.
"Morning, Teal'c," he said with a weary smile, his eyes hidden by his prescription sunglasses. "Happy birthday."
Teal'c inclined his head. "Greetings, DanielJackson. You are awake early today."
Daniel reached for the button numbered 22 and winced, one hand automatically going to his side and then dropping self-consciously.
"Yeah, couldn't sleep last night." He made a face and straightened, shrugging his shoulders, rolling his head around and rubbing at the back of his neck. "I've been up since about five."
The car began to move and Teal'c faced the doors. "You have not been sleeping well. Perhaps you should mention this to DoctorFraiser."
"Nah. She'd just push sleeping pills at me. I'll be fine. It'll pass."
"You are wearing sunglasses, yet we are below ground. Are you afflicted with a migraine this morning?"
The other man nodded. "Medicine hasn't kicked in yet." DanielJackson's voice was soft and tense with pain.
Teal'c knew the scholar often suffered from those terrible headaches and that they made him light-sensitive and nauseous. The Jaffa decided to spare his friend further conversation and allow him time for his medication to take effect. Silence fell between them as the car continued its upward journey.
Though he was innately aware of the man beside him in the elevator, Teal'c did not make eye contact or look at him directly. DanielJackson stood silently, arms clasped around his body, head down in thought. He was quieter now, Teal'c thought, since his return to the mortal plane. Quieter in the sense that there seemed to be less noise beneath the man's surface, though he did tend to chatter less as well.
What disturbed Teal'c most was the sense of quiet desperation he had felt lately whenever DanielJackson was near. He jumped at small unexpected noises, was distracted in briefings, and never seemed rested any more. The strain was beginning to show in his face and posture, Teal'c mused as they strolled down the corridor side by side on the way to the commissary. He let DanielJackson go ahead of him in the food line, ignoring what the scientist put on his tray in favor of a subtle study of his demeanor instead.
For almost a month now, DanielJackson had been avoiding their regular meditation sessions in the evenings. What once calmed him now seemed only to agitate him, and whenever Teal'c extended a formal invitation DanielJackson appeared alarmed. Then his gaze would slide guiltily away and he would mumble some excuse to be elsewhere. It was troubling.
"DanielJackson, are you angry with me?" Teal'c asked gently as they set their trays down on a table surrounded by four chairs. The two men sat across from each other, rather than side by side. Teal'c kept his eyes downcast on his plate rather than pin his friend with a direct gaze.
"No. Why do you ask?" DanielJackson tore open a syrup packet and poured the gooey brown stuff all over his pancakes. He reached for a second syrup packet and then a third without looking up.
"You are avoiding my company in the evenings."
The scientist looked distinctly uncomfortable for a moment, as if wrestling with himself for the proper words. "It's not you, Teal'c, I promise. It's me. Something I need to work out." He sighed and seemed to wilt slightly, meeting his friend's gaze hopefully. "I just need to keep busy, keep my mind occupied so I don't..." He shrugged. "I can't explain it."
"This difficulty... Is this what prevents you from sleeping properly?"
"Yeah. I need to do something about it because what I've tried already isn't really working like I thought it would." He picked up his fork, carved off a piece of pancake and stared at it, watching the syrup drip off it. "I just don't know what else to try." He stuffed the morsel into his mouth and cast his gaze back on the stack of flapjacks as he chewed.
"If there is any way I can assist you..." Teal'c offered, still studying the man.
DanielJackson swallowed. "Thanks, but I don't think there is. I have to handle this myself. Somehow."
It seemed unnatural for the human to ingest his favorite breakfast without the attendant pleasure noises and facial expressions that always went with the first bite and Teal'c missed that. He felt something was truly troubling the man and he was beginning to show physical signs of the stress. Teal'c could see the dark smudges under his eyes, half-hidden beneath the sunglasses. DanielJackson looked more than tired and worn. He looked... anxious.
"You should speak with DoctorFraiser," Teal'c insisted. "Perhaps she may find the answer to your difficulty that is not in the form of medication."
DanielJackson hunched over his plate. "If I don't find an answer on my own soon, I will. I promise. Okay?" He made reluctant eye contact through the dark haze of his lenses.
Teal'c nodded in agreement.
An ear-splitting song sounded from the commissary doorway and both men turned to look. Colonel O'Neill had just made his entrance, spied Teal'c, and burst into a loud, grating, off-key version of the Tau'ri birthday tune. The entire room sat in stunned silence for a moment and then other voices joined in from all over, trying to drown the colonel out.
"Stand up. Take a bow!" DanielJackson urged, smiling now. He also began to sing.
Reluctantly, Teal'c got to his feet, surveying everyone in the room with what he hoped was an intimidating glare. He was having a hard time not smiling and pulled his mouth down into an even more severe frown. Everywhere he looked voices fell silent and people turned back to their meals. All except O'Neill and DanielJackson. The scientist, at least, could carry a tune.
The colonel grinned as he finished up. "Top o' the mornin' to ya, Birthday Boy," he called and headed for the chow line to get his breakfast. As O'Neill sat down with them, he eyed the scholar beside him. "Headache or hangover?"
"DanielJackson has a migraine," Teal'c announced. His young human friend just grunted in acknowledgment.
MajorCarter joined the trio at the table moments after O'Neill sat down with his tray. "Happy birthday, Teal'c," she announced happily. "Boy, is today gonna be busy! And tonight-did we decide on where we were going?" She directed that question to her commanding officer.
"Jack Quinn's Irish Ale House and Pub," O'Neill answered brightly. "Can't wait for that Drunken Angus ribeye. I'm pickin' up the tab, kids. My treat, in honor of the big guy's big day."
MajorCarter looked startled. "Was that your choice or Teal'c's? Remember whose birthday it is, sir."
"It was my choice," Teal'c assured her. "DanielJackson has described a traditional dish from a place called Ireland. I intend to sample Bangers and Mash this evening at JackQuinn's." He gave her a slight nod of approval for her quickness in ensuring his happiness in the choice of restaurant.
His stomach reminded him of the meal he had piled on his plate and settled quietly into satisfying his hunger while the others -- mostly O'Neill -- talked about the upcoming day.
When he finished, Teal'c disposed of the remains in the appropriate container, turned in his tray and empty dishes, and headed for his first assignment of the day, taking the elevator up from the 22nd floor, where the commissary was located, to the 17th.
The room he wanted was a short walk from the lift. Teal'c greeted SergeantSiler quietly and offered his assistance in setting up the photographic equipment. "Thanks, Teal'c, but I've got it," SergeantSiler assured him. "Happy birthday. You sure don't look your age, sir."
Understanding that was a Tau'ri compliment, Teal'c gave him a polite nod and stood patiently by until the sergeant was ready for him. The 17th floor was still largely undeveloped, most of it set aside for future expansion. This room had been allocated about ten months back as a small studio where SergeantSiler had set up his photography equipment. The photos he had taken over the past ten months were part of a project spearheaded by MajorCarter in the wake of DanielJackson's ascension.
A year of planning had been put into the project, most of the time hers. Now, almost all of it had been completed, except for a revision in the roster. She would need help from many to finish on time, and this was among the last of the items needing to be completed. SergeantSiler had taken individual photos as people were available in their off time, teams when they were on stand-down and not in the infirmary. Taking portraits and team shots of all the SG teams had been a scheduling nightmare, since the sergeant had never been assured from one day to the next who would be called to emergency duty or come back injured from a mission. Some had never gotten their portraits made at all, and MajorCarter had had to scrounge for photos of those who never came home.
"Teal'c, are you ready?" SergeantSiler asked, adjusting with one of the umbrella lights.
"Indeed. Where do you wish me to stand?" Teal'c was dressed in standard SGC attire: black T-shirt and green fatigues. This was the outfit that all of their pictures that morning would feature first, with wardrobe changes to follow. A clothing rack stood to one side of the stage area with their extra uniforms ready and waiting. Teal'c's Jaffa armor was waiting for him behind a dressing screen set up in the back corner of the little room for privacy.
"Have a seat on the stool, please." SergeantSiler stepped away from the lights and picked up a small hand-held device. When Teal'c was seated, the sergeant held the device up in front of his subject's face and pushed a plunger attached to a long cord. The lights all went off at once, and SergeantSiler checked the meter for proper settings. "Okay, let's do a standard military head shot first, and then we'll do some portrait style poses without the jacket."
They were almost finished by the time O'Neill, MajorCarter, and DanielJackson appeared in the doorway. Seconds later, the scholar excused himself to retrieve his fatigue jacket and O'Neill sidled up to the sergeant, watching him work.
"This is the last one in regulation clothes, sir," SergeantSiler informed him. "We'll do a couple in the Jaffa armor and that'll be it for you till we do the team shots. Major, you're next, so if you'll please get ready..."
O'Neill's eyes gleamed with mischief as he watched Teal'c disappear behind the dressing screen. He bounced on his toes, hands clasped behind his back. "Hey, T, got a word for ya. I want you to think about this while you're changing. This is the money shot, buddy. The one for all the girls back home."
"The girls back home will never see these images, O'Neill," Teal'c called over the screen as he took off his clothes. The Jaffa armor was heavy, some of it pliant metal mesh, other pieces stiff and unyielding. The silver gleamed in the dim light behind the screen and the feel of it against his skin brought back old memories, most of which he preferred to leave buried; however, this was how he had arrived among the Tau'ri and they wanted a photograph to commemorate what he had been then, in addition to the man he had become when he offered O'Neill his allegiance. "SergeantSiler, do you wish the helmet on or off?"
"Off, please, sir," the photographer answered quickly. "Even when it's open, it covers too much of your face. Just the rest of the armor will do."
Teal'c threw on a dark Chulakian robe over the top, then stepped out from behind the screen and took his place, standing beneath the lights where the stool had been before the sergeant moved it. This would be a full length shot and SergeantSiler handed him his staff weapon to complete the outfit. Teal'c drew himself up stiffly, proud to be a former First Prime, proud because he had betrayed a false god and was now fighting for his people and for the Tau'ri.
He glanced at the colonel. A grin spread across O'Neill's face. "Okay, Teal'c. Think about... Ishta."
The colonel was a very smart man, Teal'c knew. The images that flashed through his mind were filled with soft skin, softer lips and long, golden hair. The thought of the Jaffa priestess brought warm memories of love and tenderness that contrasted wonderfully with the warrior Ishta had been, fighting to save her people from the tyranny of Marduk. Teal'c smiled, unable to contain it.
"There we go," O'Neill crowed. "Bet that one's tacked up in the nurse's station before the day's out." He winked.
"It better not be," MajorCarter shot back. She eyed SergeantSiler sternly. "These prints go only to me, right?"
SergeantSiler's eyes were twinkling. "Yes, ma'am. For the project."
Teal'c was absolutely certain now that there would be extras made of all the prints, handed out to whoever wanted them.
The Tau'ri, he thought, were strange people. Endearing, but strange.
He shed the robe and posed for a few more solo pictures in his armor.
DanielJackson reappeared as the last photograph was taken, looking a little surprised at seeing his teammate in his old Jaffa uniform. Teal'c left the hot stage and wandered over to stand with O'Neill and the archaeologist while MajorCarter took her place on the stool beneath the lights, also dressed in black T-shirt and green fatigues. SergeantSiler held the light meter up in front of her and began readjusting the lights to account for her smaller stature and fair complexion.
Informed that he would need additional changes of clothes, DanielJackson left again for the locker room.
"Do you think he suspects?" asked Teal'c.
"Well, he got the memo about the special presentation tomorrow," O'Neill returned casually, "but he doesn't know how big a deal it is. I think we've all managed to keep it a secret. Everybody's managed to keep him off 27 and 28, and the guards won't let anybody get a peek past the partitions on 11, so we should be good to go." He tipped his head back and gave his friend a coolly dangerous gaze. "If I get wind that anybody's let even a hint slip, they're dead meat."
Teal'c gave him an approving nod and turned to watch as SergeantSiler worked with MajorCarter. O'Neill's background conversation made her cast incredulous looks in their direction and all of her pleasant mood was caught on film. Then MajorCarter went to change out of her fatigues and into her Class A's for the next shot.
While they waited for her to dress, talk turned to the enigmatic local celebrity, the Colorado Springs ninja, dubbed by the press as the Man in Black. To date, since the man's first appearance two weeks earlier, he had foiled seven crimes in progress, caught the perpetrators and immobilized them without harm to anyone. When his missions had been completed, he had disappeared into the night accompanied by the sound of a motorcycle engine fading into the darkness.
Reports said he sometimes carried a sword and kept his face covered with a motorcycle helmet or black ninja-type mask that covered his entire head and showed only his eyes. Teal'c had been following the story with interest, especially the wildly absurd theories promoted by local tabloids. Whoever the masked man was, Teal'c heartily approved of his personal campaign against crime. He was saving lives.
O'Neill gave Teal'c a gentle punch in the shoulder. "So, T, I heard the Ninja was out again last night. Picked up a story on the radio as I was driving in this morning. You heard anything new, 'cause I know you keep up with all that."
"I have not yet listened to the local news, O'Neill. I will investigate further as my schedule permits." He gave his C.O. a slight bow, pleased that the colonel was taking interest.
"Yeah, well... Ya think a guy like that has a death wish or something? And how the hell does he know where to go?"
"That is, indeed, the mystery," Teal'c returned with a slight smile. Everyone who followed the story was asking that question. If the police couldn't do such things, how did this lone vigilante manage it?
DanielJackson returned during the middle of that discussion, his regular glasses now in place on his nose. He listened intently, apparently unaware of the mysterious local celebrity. Teal'c was surprised that the scholar had nothing to say about the subject, just shrugged and walked away to hang up his BDUs on the nearby clothing rack. Teal'c saw the gleam of interest in those blue eyes as DanielJackson listened and made a mental note to take up the subject with him again when they were alone. Teal'c was curious about DanielJackson's opinion of the local hero, though the younger man remained inscrutable on the subject.
Interestingly enough, O'Neill seemed to disapprove of the man's heroic acts, questioning his sanity. That seemed to get a reaction out of the scholar. His eyes gleamed with a silent challenge, and when O'Neill met his gaze, the colonel seemed a little startled. DanielJackson's gaze slid away then, keeping his opinions to himself, and O'Neill straightened a little, believing himself to have won their unspoken battle of wills. The discussion stopped when the colonel's impatience to be done returned and more flashes went off.
Teal'c thought about that interesting little interchange between the two men as he posed with his team for the group shots. He changed out of his armor and back into fatigues and then civilian clothes for a few more, still thinking about his teammates. He knew that those two often seemed to have entire conversations composed of body language or simple looks. They could simply call each other's names and express opinions that only the other could read. It was uncanny how they could communicate like that and still be so vastly different from each other.
It was also something Teal'c enjoyed watching.
He stepped out from behind the changing screen with his armor draped over his arm and said goodbye to his comrades and the sergeant.
"See ya, T. Don't forget, 1900 hours," O'Neill called out as he headed for the door.
Teal'c went directly to the gym to start his workout. He started with the Jaffa martial art, mastaba, and the warm-up exercises Master Brata'c had taught him so long ago, letting his mind drift back over his youth. Those were good days, filled with fierce hope and pride. Experience had tempered those emotions in this older and wiser man, but now that he had joined the Tau'ri, he often found himself hopeful that one day the Jaffa would know freedom from the slavery and oppression of the Goa'uld; and proud that the team on which he served worked hard to make a difference in that conflict.
For most of his life, Teal'c had lived in exile, made homeless by Cronus and again later by Apophis. Though he had earned the respect of the Jaffa society on Chulak, he had cast it away at a moment's notice with the promise of freedom that came through in the person of Colonel O'Neill. Not once had Teal'c regretted that decision.
Sometimes it felt as if no progress at all was being made. Then he would remind himself of all those among the System Lords who had fallen before the Tau'ri, more false gods destroyed by SG-1 than any other team in the command. He was partly responsible for that, and one day they would find a way to neutralize the threat the Goa'uld posed to all who might potentially be their slaves.
Teal'c attacked the weights, letting his anger fuel him, pushing himself until his arms and legs were trembling with fatigue. He paused to rest, noticing that most of the other occupants of the gymnasium had left, as they always did, when he started his workout. O'Neill had told him it was because they were intimidated, but Teal'c did not understand. He was no longer as strong as he once was and, though he could still lift far more weights than any other man at the SGC, he saw no reason for the other men to leave.
He began to wrap his hands in preparation for a workout on the heavy bag, glancing up at the sudden sound of others entering the room. O'Neill was chatting away, regaling something of importance to DanielJackson, who strolled at his side, head down, listening to the older man's informative monologue about the value of martial arts. Teal'c ignored them as they did their warm-ups, glancing at them occasionally as they started their regular round of hand-to-hand combat training.
DanielJackson had requested this intensive training shortly after his return to Earth.
It seemed strange when Teal'c first observed O'Neill teaching DanielJackson, but understood after spending more time with the newly descended man that this was not quite the same DanielJackson they had lost after Kelowna. He was more intense, more serious, but also quicker to smile and laugh than before his ascension. He took all his training at the SGC more seriously, driven to learn, to better his fighting skills. Applying his prodigious intellect to this physical challenge, the scientist had become a proficient warrior.
His first reaction in a fire fight or fist fight was still to duck and cover but the reaction time was shorter now when he would flow into the appropriate action and carry his own weight in the battle. Teal'c thought there was still a great deal for DanielJackson to learn but in time, with experience, he would become the equal of any of SG-1 in battle. Perhaps, one day, he might even surpass them all.
Teal'c smiled to himself as O'Neill threw his younger friend down on the mats yet again. DanielJackson sucked in a breath painfully, and O'Neill gave him a hand to haul him back to his feet.
Teal'c had made another recent observation about his youngest teammate. The revelation had come as a surprise and required additional covert study before Teal'c was certain of his conclusion. He strolled over to the equipment rack, chose a rubber knife similar in size to ones they used in the field, and walked toward the two men on the mats.
"DanielJackson," he called. When the man turned, he tossed the knife to him. Caught with expert grace by the handle, Teal'c smiled inwardly and glanced at the colonel. "Try that technique again, O'Neill."
Before his ascension, the scholar would have dodged the knife, let it hit the floor and then picked it up. Now, he had known exactly where to reach in mid-flight to pluck it out of the air without touching the blade. This was a different DanielJackson, indeed.
"Why?" The colonel rested his hands on his hips and cocked his head. "I think I've beaten Daniel up enough for one day, don't you?"
Teal'c just waited, one eyebrow arching in a silent challenge.
O'Neill turned back to face his student. "Okay. One more time, though that knife's not gonna make any difference." The colonel tipped his chin up in playful defiance. "Stab me, knife boy."
DanielJackson looked down at the rubber weapon in his hand. When his head came up, his expression was different, glittering with intensity. He turned the weapon in his hand so that the spine of the blade was flat against his forearm, the handle clutched in a reverse grip, thumb closed over the top of the handle. With his arm hanging down at his side, the blade was pointing straight upward, in line with his forearm and all but hidden from view.
Teal'c knew this would make the knife harder to dislodge from a fighter's hand because it was protected by the arm and tightly clutched in a firm grip. Using the weapon in that manner would require the fighter to get in very close to his opponent, but it also allowed the one wielding the blade to push it harder and cut deeper because the fighter's weight would be pressing in with the natural motion of the arm. Holding the knife like that was like growing a sharp spine on the underside of the forearm.
He smiled to himself and stood still to watch, his own workout temporarily forgotten.
"I haven't taught you reverse grip," O'Neill corrected, pointing at the knife. "Do it with the blade pointing forward."
"I'm more comfortable with it like this," DanielJackson assured him.
"Okay, whatever. Go for it." He dropped down slightly into a ready position and waited for the attack, knees slightly bent, hands raised defensively, one close in to the body, the other extended outward.
DanielJackson's left shoulder was angled toward O'Neill, his head turned to make eye contact. Knife held in his right hand, DanielJackson dropped his gaze to the center of O'Neill's chest and then attacked. He moved faster now, stepping in close to O'Neill, turning to his left as he closed the space between them. His body deflected O'Neill's hands as he finished the turn, his arm rising as he moved, fist closed over the handle, the blade hidden against DanielJackson's forearm. Almost faster than Teal'c's eye could follow, Daniel sliced diagonally across the colonel's sweatshirt from left hip to right armpit, following the arc described by his thumb as if he was simply raising his arm inside that tight space between the two men as he turned.
Stunned but still stepping into position for the throw, O'Neill stopped dead in his tracks when that rubber blade made a sharp, graceful turn from his right armpit up to his left ear, swiping across his throat. The dull blade scraped deeply against the underside of his jaw. Had it been a real knife, the second cut would have been a mortal wound.
Teal'c saw the look in DanielJackson's eyes at that moment. It was fearless, calculated, powerful. He had learned the lessons O'Neill taught him, and improved upon them.
For a moment, no one spoke. DanielJackson stepped away, his face flushing bright pink. His eyes slid away from Jack's and he spoke to the far wall, looking anywhere but at his C.O, and finally at the mats beneath their feet. "Sorry, Jack. I don't know what came over me. I didn't mean to do that." He stood with his head down, looking guilty and contrite.
Teal'c cocked his head, expecting the scholar to respond with stubborn pride rather than apparent shame in his prowess. That made no sense. Perhaps it was a result of the migraine the man had been experiencing earlier in the day. He was not quite himself.
"Yeah, you did," O'Neill returned a little breathlessly. His head turned now toward Teal'c. "Okay, why'd you give him the knife, and what difference did it make? 'Cause it obviously made one." His eyes turned back to study the younger man.
"I have noticed that DanielJackson is a more accurate and effective fighter with a weapon in his hand," Teal'c intoned. "In the field, his skill with his pistol never fails us. While he is not the expert marksman that MajorCarter is, he is still an excellent shot. Given a knife in hand-to-hand combat, his fighting skills improve dramatically because he can focus on the weapon, rather than on himself, against his opponent. Rather like using a magnifying glass to turn sunlight into an ignition source. A man with a weapon fights far differently than one who is empty-handed."
DanielJackson appeared startled by that observation. He stared down at the rubber knife in his hand. "Huh," he grunted softly. "I never thought of it that way but you're right. I need a tool."
He flipped the knife up into the air and caught it, flicked it into the reverse position in his palm and sliced it through the air. "Imagine that." He smiled up at the Jaffa. "Thanks, Teal'c. I'll remember that." He looked at O'Neill. "Shall I kill you some more or have we had enough for today?"
"We'll work on T's theory some more tomorrow, maybe. I need to get to work. Colonel stuff, you know."
DanielJackson nodded, expertly tossed Teal'c the knife and headed out of the gymnasium. Both men watched him leave, contemplating what they had just seen. Then O'Neill turned to him with a sigh. "Thanks, buddy. You know, I never expected that, but as smart as he is, I guess it was only a matter of time before he learned to beat me at this stuff." He touched his throat, remembering, "but he still needs to learn to do it empty handed. There won't always be a weapon in reach out there and he's gotta know how to hurt, disable and kill with his bare hands, for when the time comes, when it's necessary."
"Yes. I am pleased to see that he is learning to overcome his weaknesses. We will be a stronger team for it."
O'Neill raised his head, shook off the somber mood and smiled up at his taller teammate. "Enough of the talk about work, T. It's your birthday. Go have fun striking fear into the new kids." He clapped the Jaffa on the shoulder and followed DanielJackson out of the gym.
Teal'c cocked his head, thinking about the irony in that last exchange.
The Tau'ri were very strange people indeed.
After a rousing workout teaching new recruits some of the mastaba fighting methods, Teal'c returned to the showers, afterward heading back to the commissary for a late lunch. Following that, he wrote up the necessary reports on the training session and saved the electronic file for future use. The reports were only filed weekly, though he made daily entries to ensure they were as accurate as possible.
Taking a little break, he decided to log onto the Internet, checking both of the Colorado Springs newspapers' websites, investigating new reports on the mysterious ninja crime-fighter. Theories abounded but none of the handful of articles he read about the Man in Black had the feel of real research, filled instead with mild to wild public speculation as to his identity. Several people remarked that he carried a sword; others said they never saw one. Sometimes he would wear a black ninja mask; at other times a motorcycle helmet. No two descriptions of him were exactly the same but the efficient way he had carried out his rescues left no doubt that he knew what he was doing.
Teal'c was certain that the enigmatic hero would eventually be unmasked or, as the colonel feared, hurt or killed during one of his encounters. He logged off, hopeful that whatever gods were watching might look after the man.
He checked the clock on his computer and saw that it was time to meet MajorCarter on Level 28.
"Hey, Teal'c," she called when she saw him. She stood just outside the embarkation room beside a folding table stacked with picture frames. Holding a pencil and ruler in her hands, she pointed to the marks she had made on the corridor wall. "I've got the punch spots marked," she informed him. "Sergeant Siler's bringing me a power drill to make the holes, and once I get a couple started, you can put in the screws. How was training today?"
He frowned at her mightily and made a disapproving growl low in his throat. "These recruits are innocent children who have very little concept of true combat. Their training will go very slowly because they have so much to learn."
"That bad, huh?" She grinned. "Well, maybe I'll be able to come up and help tomorrow after the excitement dies down. Yelling at the new kids is always fun." Her smile broadened.
She pointed with her ruler at the electric screwdriver and canvas tool belt filled with metal screws. "Those are for you. I'll be finished with the marking in a sec."
Teal'c tied the apron around his waist, fastening the straps in the back, then picked up the screwdriver and gave it a test squeeze, making the shaft turn and die. "I am ready, MajorCarter."
She glanced up just as SergeantSiler appeared with the drill. "Shall we?" she asked, and pulled a stepladder into position to start the top row of holes, aiming the drill at the first mark. "Major Ferreti and his team will be by later to help with hanging the pictures once we've got the screws in. That part shouldn't take long."
"I will assist you until we are finished here," Teal'c assured her.
"Thanks," she said with a gleam of contentment in her eyes. "I couldn't have done this without you, you know. You've been a big help, Teal'c. I appreciate that."
He nodded and waited for her to get started on the project that had taken so much of their personal time over the last year, now coming to fruition. Hours later, all the holes were punched and the screws set.
MajorCarter hung Ernest Littlefield's picture at the top herself, straightening it until it was perfectly level. Small magnets attached to the lower corners on the back of the frames would help keep the pictures in place through all the vibrations the rotating Stargate sent through the floor and walls, but eventually many would need straightening.
The second row of pictures featured Colonel O'Neill, Ferretti, Kawalski, Daniel, and all the others from the very first mission to Abydos. Below that, hung closest to the door, was a group photo of the current roster of SG-1, with the other teams in line after that in numerical order. As rosters changed, new photos would be taken and old ones replaced so that only active teams were featured on this tribute wall.
"It's gonna look great, Teal'c," she told him, reaching for the next team picture.
"Indeed," he agreed. "A fitting tribute to the first contact teams, from the beginning."
He stepped back to gaze at the completed display and felt satisfaction in her accomplishment blossom again. It was a beautiful homage, he thought, an accomplishment that MajorCarter should be proud to have completed. It was a reflection of her spirit, of her warmth and kindness, her courage and support, not only of her fellow teammates, but also of everyone who served at the SGC.
The work was tedious and monotonous but as each picture went up Teal'c felt a growing sense of contentment. Trapped as he was between two vastly different worlds, this was the one place that felt like home, the only family he could still claim. Master Brata'c was like a father to him, raising Rya'c in his absence but the toll of this never-ending struggle against the Goa'uld had kept his son so far away from him it felt as if Rya'c belonged more to his mentor than to himself.
By the time the last screw had been set Teal'c knew time for their appointment at Jack Quinn's was drawing near. He excused himself to change into civilian clothes and find an appropriate hat to go with his outfit, choosing a black Henley shirt, dark grey pants with a fine houndstooth print, with an Irish walking cap to top it off. Lastly he picked up his black leather jacket, draping it over his arm for fending off the cool of the early spring night.
He went to DanielJackson's office and knocked on the frame around the open door. "It is time, DanielJackson," he announced, eyeing the new suit the scientist was wearing and taking note of the fact that his sunglasses were back in place of his regular lenses. "Are you ready?"
"Just one second," he said, jotting down a note in his journal. He sighed, closed the book and started stacking the other books on his desk. He opened a drawer and took out a wrapped package covered in gold paper and tied with a festive red bow. With a smile, DanielJackson rose, tucked the present under his arm and headed for the door. "Shall we?"
They checked a car out of the motor pool and Teal'c drove to the restaurant on South Tejon. The exterior had the look of a European bookshop, with gray-blue painted wood and tall, narrow windows. Above the door a large black sign with white letters bore the establishment's name, Jack Quinn's Irish Ale House and Pub, and the two men strolled in and asked to be seated with the O'Neill party. They found the colonel already seated in a booth, a small package wrapped in brightly colored paper featuring cartoon characters set in the middle of the table.
As Teal'c and DanielJackson slid into the booth with him, O'Neill checked his watch. "Hey! Happy birthday, T. Thought you guys would never get here. Women have been trying to pick me up for half an hour."
DanielJackson glanced over the top of his sunglasses, checking out the dining room which was exquisitely decorated in rich dark woods and frosted glass panels. "What women, Jack? Sheesh. You wish." He rolled his eyes and shook his head, then pushed his shades up higher on his nose.
A moment later, a breathless MajorCarter dashed in and plopped down onto the open space beside Teal'c. "Sorry I'm late, guys," she panted. "Just tying up loose ends." She glanced at her watch and shot a meaningful, sober glance at the colonel.
He lifted his eyebrows in a silent question, then raised his hands to emphasize the gesture.
She shook her head. "He promised," she told him emphatically. "They'll be ready."
"Who promised what?" asked DanielJackson, glancing between them. "What will be ready when?"
O'Neill's eyes twinkled. "You wanna add a 'where' and 'how' for good measure, there, Daniel?"
"You will find out tomorrow," Teal'c promised. "For now, we must celebrate another year together." He sobered, remembering that DanielJackson had been gone for most of that year between his birthdays. "And the return of one we have greatly missed."
"Celebrate the living," O'Neill agreed with a nod. He glanced up and eyed the waitress who appeared at their booth. "Drinks all around, on me."
They ordered beverages - Guinness for O'Neill, diet cola for MajorCarter, Zinfandel for Daniel and water for himself - after which the group turned their attention to the menus. By the time the waitress appeared with their drinks, they gave her their order and raised their glasses in salute to each other. Conversation was quiet and familiar and Teal'c felt at peace for the first time in a long while. Periodically his gaze would drift to DanielJackson's face when he was not speaking, listening intently to the talk flying back and forth between O'Neill and Major Carter.
Teal'c saw the restlessness there as he fidgeted, unable to sit still. He seemed to be looking for someone or something, as if expecting an unwanted guest to come through the door, glancing at it often over his shoulder. Something vexed the scholar at a time when he should have been able to relax with his friends and that troubled Teal'c.
Their food came and he stared down at his plate for a moment. Covering most of the platter was a heaping mound of Yukon gold mashed potatoes. Beside them lay a steaming pile of mild Irish sausages nudging into fresh steamed green beans and battered strips of fried onions. He tried one of the sausages and approved the flavor after a thorough chew. Taking a bite of each of the offerings, he decided he liked Bangers and Mash.
O'Neill reached over with his fork and speared a sausage without a break in the joke he was telling.
Teal'c watched his sausage disappear into his commanding officer's mouth. Such an act on Chulak could lose a man both his hand and his social standing, but customs on Earth were different. Over the years Teal'c had learned that taking food off someone else's plate was never done in polite company but in the intimate surroundings of family it was often accepted. That O'Neill felt comfortable enough with his teammates to sample their food - as he also did with MajorCarter and DanielJackson as well - was testimony to the strength of the bond between them all.
For a moment Teal'c just sat and looked at the humans surrounding him, contemplating his appreciation of them on this special occasion. From his first look in O'Neill's defiant eyes and his plea for help in Apophis' dungeon, Teal'c knew this man was a singular warrior but he was so much more than that. He was a man of honor, strength and courage; someone worth admiring.
MajorCarter, for all her brilliance and pleasant demeanor, was a well of deep affection and fierce loyalty.
And DanielJackson was the best of them all. His was the way of the peaceful warrior, fighting only when necessary, always seeking other alternatives to violence. He was compassionate and wise far beyond his years. Teal'c felt humbled to know that a man less than a third his age had managed to reach a higher spiritual plane simply by virtue of his character and understanding.
There was much Teal'c could learn from these three and much that they had learned from him. Courage, love and wisdom were excellent companions, and he thought those were the best gifts of all, the constant presence of these three in his life. He felt he was a rich man, indeed.
The waitress came and cleared the plates away and three presents were pushed toward him.
"I need no gifts," he told them fondly. "I already have all that I need, here with me tonight."
"Aw, Teal'c! That's sweet," MajorCarter said warmly. "But we got you stuff anyway. Here, open mine first." She thrust a large envelope toward him.
On the cover was a small black and white drawing of a kitten looking up at a dark blue sky spangled with stars. Beneath the cat it read, I hope the stars shine especially bright for you tonight.
Inside, the message continued: If they don't, squint. It makes them look sparklier.
She had written, Happy 105! Love, Sam.
He read the card aloud and withdrew a gift certificate to Illuminations, his favorite candle shop. "Thank you, MajorCarter. I will enjoy this greatly." He smiled and accepted the gaily wrapped package from O'Neill. That was a new game for his X-Box, patterned after the wildly successful television series, Wormhole X-treme!
"I get to be the colonel when we play it," O'Neill told him adamantly.
Teal'c smiled. "Then I shall be Grell." He offered a polite nod in thanks for the gift.
DanielJackson held onto his package for a moment, a look of indecision on his face. Finally, he laid the gold-wrapped package on the table and slid it across to his teammate. "Happy birthday, Teal'c." Then he looked away.
Carefully, Teal'c unwrapped the parcel. Inside was a leather-bound book, the cover stamped in gold. He read the title aloud. "A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi and The Art of War by Sun..." He couldn't pronounce the last name.
"Sun Tzu," DanielJackson finished for him. "Open it up."
The title page inside had an added note, printed at the bottom. "A new translation by Daniel Jackson, Ph.D." That surprised Teal'c. "You wrote this book for me?"
The scientist cleared his throat. "Uh, not exactly. I'd been working on it for a while, since Lord Yu came here for the negotiations with the Asgard. Figured I should brush up on my Asian histories and cultural icons." He glanced at O'Neill, then back at Teal'c. "I found the manuscript in the base archives and finished it up after I got back. Then I had a copy of it bound just for you. They're both classics for warriors from some of the greatest military minds of our planet."
"Can I see that?" asked O'Neill, lifting it out of Teal'c's unresisting hands. He looked down at the book, turning the pages, talking as he skimmed through it. "Musashi was a samurai who was never defeated in a swordfight. Sun Tzu trained armies that conquered most of Asia. Both of 'em scholars as well as warriors."
He fell silent for a moment, looking at an illustration in the book. Then he squinted at it. "Daniel, did you draw this?" He held up the picture, pointing at the signature. MajorCarter reached for the book and pulled it away from him and Teal'c got a look at the artwork then.
It was a portrait of Teal'c dressed up in samurai armor, striking a dramatic pose.
DanielJackson shrugged. "Well, yeah. All archaeologists learn to draw. We have to. Not everything we recover from a dig site can be photographed properly and we have to make notes on pieces of artifacts and-"
"Damn, Daniel, is there anything you can't do?" O'Neill demanded with a note of startled admiration.
The scholar looked nonplussed behind his shades. "Well, of course, Jack. I can't tango, drive a tank or give birth. There are lots of things I can't do."
MajorCarter burst out laughing.
Daniel reached for his after-dinner coffee and casually took a sip. The two men just stared at each other, until DanielJackson finally turned away with a small smile.
"That was a good one, Daniel," MajorCarter said gaily. "Give birth. Not exactly something you can learn, though the other two..." She stopped talking when the colonel gave her a stern look. Handing the book back to Teal'c, she added, "It's a beautiful book, Daniel. Nice job." Then she glanced at her seatmate. "Could I read it when you're done? I'd like to see Daniel's take on those subjects."
"They were translated from the original texts," DanielJackson announced. "Both men were elegant writers. I think you'll enjoy it."
"I believe I will, DanielJackson. Thank you. I shall treasure this book which you have made for me." He glanced down at the picture, impressed by the likeness and the attention to detail. Teal'c would not have guessed that the man was such an excellent artist.
He looked up at his young friend. DanielJackson was fidgeting in his seat, looking even more tense than usual.
"Uh, sorry, Teal'c, but I have to leave now," he said brusquely, sliding off the bench and standing beside the table. He stuffed his hands into his trouser pockets, then pulled them back out and buttoned his jacket. His hands were shaking.
"Then we shall accompany you, DanielJackson," Teal'c responded, reaching for his gifts and starting to stack them together.
"Oh, no, that's okay," the scientist shot back, raising a hand. "You guys stay and party. I'll take a taxi back to the base. Hope you had a great birthday. See you guys later." He fumbled in his pocket for his wallet as he talked, threw down a couple of bills on the table and left before anyone could speak.
"What the hell was that all about?" O'Neill asked unhappily, his brows tugged down in a perplexed frown over his eyes. "He didn't even stay for the cake." He signaled the waitress, who disappeared into the kitchen to fetch their dessert.
Teal'c sighed. "DanielJackson has not been himself lately," he offered quietly. "I do not believe he is ill aside from an increased frequency of migraines, but he is distracted and tense, especially at night. I have suggested he see DoctorFraiser but he wishes to find his own solution to this problem."
"I thought something was up with him," O'Neill agreed worriedly. "Has he had any trouble with anyone on the base, arguments or head-butting with anybody?"
Teal'c shook his head.
"No, sir, not that I know of," MajorCarter answered, her eyes wide with concern. "Has he been working out too hard, maybe? I mean, I know you two have been getting really intense with the hand-to-hand combat training lately but he just seems like..." she glanced down at the table, her brows twitching together as she remembered specific incidents in question, "...like he's had a lot of accidents lately. He winces when he moves but passes it off to clumsiness, running into doors and stuff."
She waited for acknowledgment from either of the men. They just looked at her, waiting for more details. "Look, I don't know if you two have noticed it or not but he's not as clumsy as he used to be. I'm not buying the stories."
O'Neill stared down at the table, deep in thought. "I saw bruises on him this morning before our workout. That was why I was asking about the arguments. I know I've been rough with the training but it's what he's wanted. I'd know if I were leaving a mark. I didn't put those there and they didn't come from falling against the stair railing."
"You are correct," Teal'c told them both. "He is hiding something from us. Something he does not wish us to know."
"I'll find out what it is," O'Neill promised. "We'll help him, even if he doesn't want help."
The waitress came toward their table with a small round chocolate cake bearing a handful of burning candles. The entire waitstaff of the pub followed her and when she set the cake down, they began to sing the Jack Quinn version of the birthday song.
"Well, here sits a bloke with a birthday "Who thinks getting older's a curse, eh? "But you're never too stale "To get laid and drink ale, "So be thankful today's not your worst day!"
O'Neill and MajorCarter chuckled and applauded. Teal'c merely raised a questioning eyebrow, after which the staff scattered.
He looked at his cake. "There are only seven candles, O'Neill," he observed.
The colonel smiled. "Yeah. One for each year you've been with us, T. I figure when you joined up with us, it was kinda like being reborn. Brave new world, and all that."
"Indeed." He leaned over and blew the candles out.
They flared into brilliant life again.
Teal'c stared at the candles, then blew them out again. And again. And was about to try for a fourth time when O'Neill explained that they were trick candles.
"The Tau'ri are strange people," he observed aloud, staring at the candles as O'Neill dunked each one into DanielJackson's coffee cup.
MajorCarter cut and served the cake and they chatted about classic practical jokes and birthday traditions as they ate it. Eventually they began to make ready to go their separate ways. O'Neill paid the bill, and MajorCarter and Teal'c stood up to wait for him. They exited onto the sidewalk out front and stood silently for a moment, just looking at each other.
"There's one more present for tonight," O'Neill told him warmly, patting him on the shoulder. He stuffed his hands into his pants pockets, his expression serene and pleased. "We took the liberty of having Siler put it in your quarters while we were out tonight. Hope you don't mind that we barged in like that."
"What is this gift, O'Neill?"
"You'll see when you get home," MajorCarter assured him with a smile. "It's from almost everybody on the base, Teal'c. We took up a collection and got you the best one we could find, engineered by NASA. Janet and I picked out the... uh... wrappings."
"Do you wish to observe while I open it, as with your other gifts?"
They shook their heads, both grinning. "No, this is one you should open alone." MajorCarter said goodbye and waved as she left, promising to call if she needed any help finishing up her project.
The two men watched her walk away.
O'Neill clapped him on the shoulder. "Go home, T. Get some sleep. Got another big day tomorrow." He grinned. "The biggest."
Teal'c nodded, remembering. "Tonight we have celebrated the living. Tomorrow we remember the dead. It is good that we do this for ourselves... and for those left behind."
Pride shone in O'Neill's eyes. "Yeah. It's a good thing. Friendship is a gift we give ourselves, and we need to remember how privileged we are to have such good folks in our lives." He turned to stroll toward his truck, head down in thought, casting his voice over his shoulder as he walked. "See you later, T. Happy birthday."
"It has been happy, O'Neill." Teal'c strolled slowly toward the borrowed car, wondering what this last gift was that the whole of the SGC had purchased for him.
After turning in the borrowed car at the motor pool, he climbed up the side of the mountain, his breath puffing out in a sheer white cloud as he exhaled. There was a special spot he had picked out, high up on the slope with a view of the yawning entrance to the mountain and of the city sprawled out beneath it. This was the place he had come to mark his own memorial to the lost, practicing the ritual of Chulak for the dead. In this spot he had burned many candles in the sheltered alcove of stone, reading aloud the words he wished to say to the departed and then burning the letters, watching the ashes fly away on the wind, carrying his message to the stars.
He could see little in the darkness but the memories of that place were sweet and sharp, bitter and warm all at the same time. Here he had mourned DanielJackson in private, when no public ceremony was held after his ascension. Now his friend was back but tomorrow Teal'c would return here in the dark with another letter, one for all those who would be remembered in the coming ceremony. He would read their names aloud to the night and every year afterward, he would repeat the ritual, adding in the new names on the list for those most recently fallen. As long as he lived, that would be his special part in the ceremony, his personal memorial to the lost.
Looking upward, he saw great swaths of tiny lights dotting the sky. Millions of stars shone overhead in the cold blackness of space, separated by vast spaces from each other, yet many of them connected by a network of portals placed by an ancient race eons past. The Tau'ri had explored a few of them, discovering fascinating new things on each planet they touched. Sometimes they all came home with nothing more to report than sand in their shoes, but sometimes they didn't come home at all.
Embracing himself against the cool seeping through his jacket, Teal'c looked around in the darkness below him, watching the distant city lights twinkle against the gloom. Those lights reminded him of the lost ones, bright points of light gleaming against the smothering shadows. One day, he promised himself, there would be a sunrise of freedom for a thousand worlds. When the Goa'uld were defeated, when they were no longer a threat to anyone, all of humanity scattered all through the galaxy would then be able to live in the light.
That would be a good day, indeed. Well worth whatever sacrifice they paid.
He trudged down the mountainside and took the elevator down to Sublevel 11. Checking in at the security station posted between the elevators, he saw that DanielJackson had signed in ahead of him. He straightened and stared down at the signature page, an idea beginning to form in his mind. He shook it off, chastising himself for being as absurd as the tabloids he so enjoyed.
Teal'c glanced at the partitions standing behind the security desk. Construction had been underway on this floor for three months now and it had only been finished that week. The short gray corridor that once linked the access elevators was now covered with beautiful wood paneling. Soft dark blue carpeting made a welcome cushion beneath his feet. The partitions where the wall had been were gray and ugly but Teal'c had already seen what was on the other side of that temporary barrier, having helped to build it and finish up the decorating. Most of it was done, save for a last few pictures to hang.
He glanced at his watch. The deadline was nearing and he knew MajorCarter had been stressed as she arrived at the party because SergeantSiler had not yet returned with the printed photos as he promised he would. Teal'c wished the soldier at the security post a good night and rode the elevator down to Level 25, where he and DanielJackson had their permanent quarters.
As he passed by the scholar's room, he glanced down at the book in his hands, his suspicion from moments earlier growing more powerful as each second passed.
He looked at the closed door, staring, trying to imagine...
No, he must be wrong, he decided. DanielJackson rarely left the base, and then only in the company of others on his team. Perhaps it was time to stop reading the tabloids and concentrate on more worthwhile publications, such as the wonderful book in his hands.
Teal'c pulled his pass card from his pocket and swiped it through the lock on his door. He pushed it open and found the lights already shining, left on by the interlopers who had brought his final gift. Directly in line with the door, his meditation cushion and the surrounding candles were undisturbed. He stepped inside the room and glanced left, his face breaking into a wide smile as he spotted his final gift.
The uncomfortable military cot was gone. In its place was a large bed, fully big enough for a man his size. Stout wooden posts stood at the four corners. The mattress was covered in beige sheets, already folded down in invitation. Thick, soft blankets lay beneath a black velvet bedspread embroidered in heavy gold thread.
Entranced, he moved toward it, reaching out to touch the linens in awe. The sheets, he discovered, were made of silk, smooth and soft, warming beneath his fingers. With one hand he pressed into the mattress and saw that the surface of it formed exactly into the shape of his spread fingers. It was firm yet pliable and he wondered what it would feel like beneath him.
Standing by the foot of the bed was a large card, fully five feet tall and four wide. Someone had airbrushed a caricature of him on the front of the card beneath the words, "Our Favorite Jaffa!"
The cartoon Teal'c was smiling outrageously. In his hand he held a staff weapon in the shape of a giant blue-and-white-swirled birthday candle. Dressed in Jaffa armor that twinkled silver, he stood on a cake with fluffy yellow frosting, all the candles in a bundle on the side, looking more like jet exhausts than candles. The emblem on his forehead was a white oval outlined in red, but instead of the snake of Apophis in the center, there were three red letters.
He wondered what they represented, making a mental note to ask MajorCarter later. Stepping fully into the room, he set his presents down on a nearby table and went to take a closer look at the card. Inside in big, bold letters, a message had been printed:
Happy Birthday, Teal'c! From all of your friends at the SGC.
The inside surface of the card was covered with signatures. He felt a lump rising in his throat as he looked at them, taking care to try and read every scrawl. Some were so indistinct he couldn't distinguish a name in the loops and squiggles but it didn't matter. That the people he saw in the corridors each day cared enough to add their names to this paper touched him deeply. Some wrote little messages, which he read with a full heart.
Finally, when he was certain he had looked upon each signature at least once, he turned back to the bed. Eagerly he took off his clothes and left them in a pile where he stood. Tonight he would forego meditation until a little later; he had to try out that bed immediately. Slipping beneath the covers, he lay back against the thick new pillows and let his body relax.
It was like floating in a pool of warm water. He sighed as his eyes drifted closed, aware of the wide smile on his lips, unable to wipe it off. His arms and legs spread out until he completely covered the mattress, end to end and side to side. He meant to rise and brush his teeth but the lure of the bed kept him snuggled down into it, unwilling to leave its comforting warmth.
"Ahhhhh," he moaned blissfully. "The Tau'ri are wonderful people."
Without realizing exactly when it happened, he fell asleep, content in the knowledge that, on this world, among these strange, wonderful people, he was loved. Now, in this comfortable bed, it seemed to Teal'c that he had, after more than a century in exile, found a place to call home.
Part II: SAM'S DAY: FORGET ME NOT
From the moment the alarm clock went off, Samantha Carter was wide awake. She'd had trouble getting to sleep the night before, but that was simply anticipation at work on her active mind. Today was a big day, the biggest she'd had in a while. She smiled as she threw the covers back and climbed out of bed. Today was Teal'c's birthday and the day she would finish up the Wall.
She turned on the bathroom radio, hoping for some music she could sing to in the shower. Instead, she heard a reporter delivering the story of yet another incident regarding Colorado Springs' very own mysterious hero. For nearly two weeks now, a man dressed in black, his head covered by a mask or motorcycle helmet, had appeared at several crime scenes during the commission of the violent acts. To date, he had foiled two robberies, stopped a carjacking, prevented a torch job and averted two attempted murders.
The latest crime hit Sam a little more personally. As she stepped under the spray of water in her shower, she could envision a man breaking in and attacking the sleeping woman in the report. Had the Man in Black not shown up when he did, the woman might have been raped and/or murdered in her home. Sam shook her head, thankful that the unknown hero had been there at just the right moment.
Her thoughts turned elsewhere as music began to play and soon she was humming along with the upbeat tune.
As quickly as she could, she hurried to dress, get her makeup on and grab some coffee on the way to the base. It was still early, but the most important things for tomorrow were yet to arrive and she was starting to get a little antsy.
After rushing through the check-in on Level 11, she stopped by the studio on Sublevel 17 to confirm that it was still set up, just as it had been after the last photo shoot. Sergeant Siler had been taking pictures there off and on for the last ten months and the majority of his equipment was still in place.
Sam had been pleased to learn that photography was among the sergeant's background skills. Though annual formal portraits were required of all the military personnel on the base, several were long overdue and this seemed the most expedient way to get those done, as well as to provide a cover for the other photos being taken. Aside from ID photos, many of the civilian personnel at the SGC had no official portraits and she was taking care of that, getting all of them scheduled to sit for Siler over the last several months. Those photos would be added to their employee files for future use and team photos would be displayed on Level 28, decorating the wall just outside the 'gate room.
She smiled as she remembered Daniel's face when she told him what she was doing - though not the full details of the project. He apparently didn't like having his picture taken and complained about it. Sam reminded him that everybody else had to do it and teased him that he wasn't exempt just because he was Dr. Daniel Jackson.
She headed for the locker room to gather the clothing she'd need for the shoot. Hanging them on the garment rack, she headed for the commissary at the far end of the floor, close to the elevators. The team was meeting for breakfast and she wanted to tease Daniel some more about the pictures.
Hurrying through the breakfast line, she spotted the other three of her team members already seated at their usual table.
"Happy birthday, Teal'c," she announced as she sat down with her tray. "Boy, is today gonna be busy! And tonight - did we decide on where we were going?" She looked at the colonel.
She was surprised by his answer because it didn't sound like a place Teal'c would choose and the choice on this night would definitely be his as the guest of honor. However, the Jaffa assured her that Jack Quinn's was, indeed, his preference for the birthday dinner. She settled into her breakfast, in a hurry to eat and be gone since there was so much waiting for her to do.
"You missed all the excitement," Daniel told her as he polished off the last of his pancakes. "Feel privileged that you weren't here to hear Jack and I sing 'Happy Birthday.' " He smirked.
She leaned toward him, lowering her voice conspiratorially. "The colonel sang? In front of everybody?"
Daniel nodded. "At the top of his lungs," he assured her, a twinkle of merriment in his blue eyes as he peered at her over the top of his shades. "What the man lacks in tone he makes up for in sheer volume." He pretended to clean out his ear with his pinkie, making a sour face to emphasize his comment.
Sam grinned. "Oooh, I almost wish I hadn't missed it." She shot a glance at Colonel O'Neill, who was leaning back, giving Daniel a melodramatic stare down his nose. "On second thought..."
"You know, I'm gonna remember that come July when it's your turn," said Jack. "Just you wait."
That got a wide-eyed look of mimed terror. "Uh... Jack, the only thing I want for my birthday is for you not to sing to me. Can I have that? Pleeeeease?" His lips peeled back in a grimace meant to be a pleading smile, his eyebrows arching comically up his forehead.
Jack just stared at him for another moment, temporarily out- dramatized by the younger man. He straightened up and attacked his eggs, deigning not to make any rash promises. As he was bringing his fork to his mouth, he asked, "So, is Siler ready upstairs? We gonna get this show on the road today?"
Mouth full of blue raspberry Jell-O, Sam just nodded. She hadn't seen the sergeant yet but was sure that, come Hell or high water, the man would show up for his shift. She hurried to swallow, but by then the colonel had moved on to another subject, some of it having to do with real business and upcoming missions, then moaning about how wonderful it had been to work strictly at the base for the last two weeks with nothing off-world in sight.
"That's been quite a change," Daniel agreed. "Everybody healthy and sitting at our desks all day. I'm practically bored to tears." He sighed and leaned on his left hand, making hieroglyphs in the remains of the syrup on his plate with one tine of his fork.
"There have been invitations," Jack reminded him. "We asked you to come with us to hockey games, a kegger at my house, movies... There was even that bachelor party for Coburn, but we haven't been able to pry you away from the base. I was surprised you agreed to the party tonight."
Daniel stared at him over the top of his shades. "It's Teal'c's birthday, Jack. You know I wouldn't miss that." He frowned down at his plate. He drew the snake of Apophis, then slashed his fork through it rapidly, slicing the image to bits. "As for the other stuff... I just wasn't ready. I've been trying to learn to feel comfortable here before I go out there." He sighed, gesturing around at the room, and shrugged.
"Okay. I don't wanna push you," said Jack after he swallowed another bite. "So, have you got your last mission report finished yet?"
"No. I'll have that done by lunch."
"How about the video and photo records? Are they ready to show General Hammond?"
"Working on it. They're almost catalogued. Should be completed by the end of the day."
Teal'c stood up gracefully, picking up his tray. "I shall take my leave now, O'Neill." With a polite nod, he made his way toward the disposal area.
"See you in a few, Teal'c," Sam called. She turned to Daniel with a smug, teasing smile. "We're gonna take so many pictures of you, you're gonna see flashbulbs popping in your sleep for a week!"
"One head shot for the records," he argued back. "I can live with that."
Jack allowed Teal'c to depart with barely a batted eyelash, listening to Sam and Daniel argue good-naturedly while he finished his breakfast. Then the three of them headed for the elevator and the 17th floor.
On the way, the colonel decided to tell a rambling, aimless story about a photojournalist once assigned to go with his Special Ops team on a mission. It might have been a funny story, but Sam found herself shutting out her C.O.'s chatter as details of her day scrolled through her mind. When they arrived at the studio, Teal'c was seated on a stool with his fatigue jacket off, dressed in black T-shirt and green fatigue pants, looking stoic and handsome as always.
"I forgot my jacket!" Daniel announced, and headed back for the elevator while Sam and the colonel moseyed closer to the makeshift stage, careful to stay well out of Siler's way.
"How's it going, sergeant?" she asked the man looking through the viewfinder of his Hasselblad.
"Almost finished with Teal'c, major," came the brief reply. "I'd like to shoot you next, if that's all right with you." He glanced up at Sam. She nodded and he turned back to the camera. "This is the last one in regulation clothes, sir," Siler told his model. "We'll do a couple in the Jaffa armor and that'll be it for you 'til we do the team shots. Major, you're next, so if you'll please get ready..."
Teal'c left to change into his armor behind the dressing screen in the back corner and Sam caught the look of mischief in the colonel's eye. He was planning something; that much was obvious. When he mentioned 'the money shot' Sam's mind went a whole other place and she had a hard time keeping a straight face.
"Okay, Teal'c," said Jack. "Think about... Ishta."
A smile of remembrance and delight spread across the Jaffa's face at the mention of the Jaffa Amazon he'd taken a shine to recently. Sam felt herself smiling, hoping he might get another chance to see his new girlfriend soon. Colonel O'Neill seemed pleased by Teal'c's response and by the fact that the look was immortalized on film.
Daniel hurried back into the room during the last photo, coming to a dead stop when he saw Teal'c in his old armor. Daniel's eyebrows arched up his forehead, his mouth drawing up into a quizzical pout. He frowned at the clothing rack he seemed to notice for the first time and looked back at Sam, carrying the stool back in place under the lights.
"Hey, come join us," Jack called to the younger man.
"Hi, Daniel," said Sam, taking her seat. "What took you so long?"
Daniel's nervous reply about his lack of clothing made her feel a little sad for him. Hopefully the suit they'd bought him would make up for some of that loss. Sam sat quietly while Siler adjusted his equipment for her, listening to her teammates talking.
A moment later, Daniel was gone again.
She started to go after him but the colonel told her he was just fetching additional wardrobe changes.
"Apparently he didn't read through the whole memo," Jack told her. "You got the suit, right?"
"Yes, sir. It's in that garment bag on the wardrobe rack." She pointed to the black bag at the end of the horizontal pole.
"You're sure it'll fit?"
She nodded. "I helped him buy his last new suit, and I remembered his sizes." She smiled. "He'll love it, sir. Daniel may not know beans about dressing casually but he does know suits."
"That was really nice of you guys," Siler observed. "Okay, now, major, look right here and let's have your Major face on for this shot."
She turned her attention to the photographer. In the background she heard the colonel and Teal'c discussing the possibility of whether or not Daniel knew any of the details about tomorrow's presentation, but Siler distracted her and she focused on doing what he needed so they could move faster through the shoot.
Then she was off to change into the next outfit, listening to the men discussing the Springs' ninja. She wished she could catch a glimpse of the mystery man. Risking his life to save others made him cool in her book but, like the colonel, she was sure that his heroics would only bring him to a tragic end at some point.
She felt a little weird in Class A's from the waist up and fatigue pants below, but her whole body wouldn't be in this portrait shot, and Siler promised her she didn't need to fuss with the skirt, stockings and pumps for this picture.
"You know, I think the Man in Black is giving a lot of people hope," she stated as she stepped out from behind the changing screen.
"And scaring the pants off the crooks," Siler agreed with a smile. "Crime statistics have dropped fifteen percent in the last month. Did you guys know that?"
"The guy's an idiot," Jack pronounced. "He's been lucky so far, but the bad guys out there aren't all stupid. Somebody's gonna shoot his ass and then the crooks'll think they can take over the place. He's not doing anybody any favors, in the long run."
"He is saving lives," Teal'c argued gently. "There are now nine people in this city who are grateful that he exists."
Jack nodded as he crossed his arms over his chest. "I know, and good for them, but it can't last. Nobody's immortal and somebody's gonna kill the guy. He should get a clue."
Sam saw that Daniel had returned with his BDUs draped over his arm. He stood by, listening to the conversation between the three men, his eyes moving from one face to the next, thinking and taking it all in. When all eyes turned to him for an opinion, he shrugged silently and went to toss his cammos over the top of the clothing rack, waiting for his turn.
"The guy's probably nuts," said Jack as Sam returned to her seat on the stool.
She didn't miss the look Daniel shot at the colonel. Evidently, Daniel had the same opinion as Teal'c and Siler, that the mysterious ninja was a gift horse that shouldn't be looked at too closely. That look seemed to surprise the older man and he returned it forcefully until Daniel backed down.
Those silent conversations between Daniel and the colonel amazed Samantha Carter. For two people who were such direct opposites on almost every level, the way they could understand each other's slightest gesture or most veiled look was just amazing. They might have next to nothing in common but the team, yet they would defend each other to their dying breaths... and maybe a little beyond.
She smiled on cue and turned her full attention back to Siler.
After two more changes of clothes, they did the group shots and the sergeant was finished with her for the sitting. Sam changed back into her green fatigues, gathered up all her various costumes, and headed for the locker room to put them all away. With a sigh of relief, she checked her watch, calculating how long it would take for the remaining photos to be shot, developed and printed. Then she crossed her fingers and hoped they'd be ready in time.
Following a brief stop by her lab, she rode the elevator up to the eleventh floor. The room looked great, and as soon as the partitions were gone it would be a real showplace. The crews were scheduled to break down and cart off the partitions during third shift, with plenty of time for the room to be properly presentable at 0800. Presentations would begin at 1400, so there was still plenty of time to finish up.
Checking her watch again, she recounted as she looked up at the bare spaces on the walls, only a handful of them, but the most important spaces of all. When she started this project a year earlier, she'd asked everyone she knew who had any kind of social contact with the man of the hour for any photos they might have taken of him. Aside from the one left in his office and the few team shots she and Colonel O'Neill owned, almost none existed. They'd had to make do with employee ID photos and those small snapshots until recently. Now a full tribute could be made, finishing everything with the quality she originally envisioned.
Colonel O'Neill came by with his contribution for the ceremony the following day, carefully setting all the boxes out in neat rows on the desk behind the raised marble counter. Pride warmed her as she eyed the Medal of Honor that she knew would be presented to him the next day.
When following normal procedure, Congress voted on who received that particular award of honor in the US military; however, since Area 52 did not officially exist, the President and Joint Chiefs, in response to her project, had decided to award a few special commendations to be recorded in private books, to be voted upon and re-awarded once the SGC went public. The Medal of Honor was for the first Abydos mission, when Jack O'Neill had laid his life on the line to save the Earth from the threat of Ra.
That medal would go up beside his photograph on the Wall, until such time as he could publicly bring it home.
After he left, Sam re-checked the list on the clipboard she'd retrieved from her lab and headed for General Hammond's office to acquire files on the new entries. He handed her the necessary photographs and she took them to her office to begin the solemn process of adding new faces to the Wall. Frames had already been purchased and were kept in one of the storage closets on Level 11, but brass plates with the person's name, the appropriate date and planet designation would have to be engraved onto a brass plate, which she would later affix to the frame.
There were three new ones, and she knew their stories by heart. Memorial services had already been held and she had spoken at each one. The rest of the process would be finished later, because there wasn't time to get them in with this first group.
She eyed a small potted plant on her desk, the blossoms glowing softly blue under a full spectrum lamp. Being so far underground, the plants she kept in her personal spaces needed special lights to keep them alive, but this little flower held a special place in her heart. It was a forget-me-not, her perennial reminder of the project she started so long ago.
Brushing her fingers against the long, slender, delicate leaves, she sighed and turned her attention back to the files before her. Once the initial paperwork was completed, she put the photos into the folders with the engraving request and set them aside for later routing. The plaques would take at least a week, though she thought seriously about putting up the framed photos and adding the plaques later. After all, the people in the photographs would never know when their pictures went up.
Sam Carter, however, would remember.
After spending a few hours on necessary reports, she checked her watch and contemplated calling Sergeant Siler. Having to stop processing to answer a phone call to belay her fears would only interrupt the process, so she sighed and opened up a report, checking the data from the validation studies on the alien scanner they had recently brought back from a vanished civilization on P8X-23Y. The scanner had potential, and the next step would be to send it off to Area 51for backward engineering studies.
A thorough workout in the gym took some of the tension off and after a shower and a change of clothes, she headed down to 28 to see if the supplies she'd ordered for 1400 hours had arrived.
She signed for delivery of the tools and began measuring the wall outside the 'gate room, calculating the proper measurements for the exact number of team photos necessary, and started marking off spots for drill holes. There were 17 active teams at the SGC, with more under consideration, provided the budget could be approved. With all the fantastic things being discovered off world and quietly making their way into public use, the revenues promised to fatten the SGC's operating budget and eventually make it self-sufficient without requiring the use of any government funding. When that day came, the SGC might be able to add even more teams, exploring the vast unknown to the benefit of all humanity and coming closer to that enigmatic promise of a solution to the conflict with the Goa'uld.
"More teams," she said quietly, gazing at the neat rows of pencil marks on the metal walls. "They could really screw up my symmetry here, if they're not careful." Then she smiled to herself, hoping the government would see its way to blowing her neatness to smithereens. She'd love to see the entire walls on both sides of the corridor covered in team pictures.
Her smile faltered as she thought of the memorial upstairs, realizing that additional teams photos on this wall would also inevitably mean more casualties on the other wall. First contact missions were never cut and dried. Exploring other worlds was fraught with dangers and those who undertook this job knew and accepted the high cost. Honoring those teams here was a small gesture of respect, as was the Memorial Wall on the 11th floor for the individuals who had fallen in this endeavor.
It wasn't enough, but it would have to do for now.
The faint sounds of footfalls made her look up as Teal'c strolled toward her for their appointed meeting. "Hey, Teal'c," she called, pointing at the wall with her pencil. "I've got the punch spots marked. Sergeant Siler's bringing me a power drill to make the holes and once I get a couple started, you can start putting in the screws. How was training today?"
His flicker of expression was eloquent enough, but his description of the recruits' shortcomings left no doubt of his opinion. They bantered a little while she gave him his screwdriver and tool belt.
Siler delivered the drill and she asked about the progress on the photos. "They'll be done in time, I promise," he assured her. "I've got the film developed and initial prints made, and Lt. Marshall is scanning them in for me now. We'll drop in the preselected backgrounds, do any necessary retouching, and then we'll start printing. Want me to bring them by in batches as we finish or all at once?"
"All at once is fine. That way, I'll get it all done at once. Thanks, sergeant. You've been an invaluable asset to this project." She gave him a smile and he seemed pleased.
"Thanks, major. My pleasure." He headed back toward the elevator and the photo project and Sam turned her attention back to Teal'c.
"Shall we?" She pulled her nearby stepladder into place, climbed carefully up it, and aimed the drill at the first mark. The chatted companionably as they worked, taking breaks as more volunteer help showed up to assist. Hours later, all the holes were punched and the screws set.
Sam hung Ernest Littlefield's picture herself, straightening it until it was perfectly level. The second row of pictures featured Colonel O'Neill, Ferretti, Kawalski, Daniel and all the others from the very first mission to Abydos, and below that, hung closest to the door, was a group photo of the current roster of SG-1.
She felt a little bad that Jonas wouldn't be up on there, but the idea had been to honor current teams, rather than feature photos of ever team as it evolved with original members disappearing due to retirement, disability, transfer or death, replaced by new blood. Showing every team past and present would take up more wall space than they had available, so the administration decided on photos of current teams only for the Littlefield Wall.
"It's gonna look great, Teal'c," she told him, reaching for the next team picture.
"Indeed," he agreed. "A fitting tribute to the first contact teams from the beginning." He bowed out shortly afterward, and after checking her watch again, she turned the task of hanging the rest of the pictures over to Major Ferretti, who had appeared to help just in time.
"Go have fun with Teal'c," he suggested with a smile. Glancing at the wall, he turned admiring eyes back to her. "Great job, major. Thanks for thinking of this. It's hard, not letting anybody outside know, and this is a nice little tip of the hat for the teams."
"You're welcome, major. Thanks for helping me pull this off." She shook his hand and headed for the elevator.
Hurrying up to the locker room, she changed into black dress slacks and a pink sweater, checked her makeup, slipped into a pair of dress flats and took Teal'c's birthday card from the shelf in her locker. Moments later she was on her way to Jack Quinn's, looking forward to a little R&R with her team.
The colonel, Daniel and Teal'c were there by the time she arrived and she apologized for being late. Jack shot her an inquiring glance, asking without words whether or not the project would be finished on schedule, if Siler had come through yet on his part of the bargain. She shook her head.
"He promised," she told him emphatically. "They'll be ready."
Instantly, Daniel clued in on the fact that he'd been left out of the loop.
The colonel teased him and Teal'c put him off politely and turned their attention to the reason they had gathered just as the waitress appeared.
Sam felt a momentary twinge of sympathy for Daniel, who had his sunglasses back on, though it was already dark outside and the restaurant wasn't brightly lit. He'd been having a lot of migraines lately and she wondered if he'd been by to see Janet about changing his medication. She made a mental note to mention it to Janet the next time she saw her friend at the base. Conversation distracted her and soon she was enjoying the camaraderie while keeping an eye on the team linguist hiding behind his shades.
When their drinks were delivered, Sam ordered the potato encrusted salmon and grinned when Teal'c ordered Bangers and Mash. He made it sound so erudite, but then everything had a tone of formality with her Jaffa teammate. Daniel chose Nora Barnacle's Seafood Boxty and the colonel picked the drunken Angus ribeye he'd been dreaming about all day.
Sam's eyes went back to the menu to read the ingredients for the boxty. It was an incredibly rich Irish potato pancake filled with seafood and cheese, covered in a cream sauce and served with seasoned veggies. Daniel might have to be reminded to eat regular meals when he was hip-deep in some translation or research project, but he did love food - the more exotic, the better -- and this dish was a prime example. Just looking at the boxty would put ten pounds on her hips. She was going to have to keep her eyes averted from his plate during the meal.
Conversation turned to fun when the food arrived. The colonel's appreciative remark about his steak brought back an old memory from her Pentagon days; once again she remarked to herself how similar to and how different he was from the man in her past that resembled him so much. He didn't need to know about her steamy affair with the Angus of her past, though, and she was pleased when he let the subject drop without further details.
She dove into her potato encrusted salmon with delight, savoring every bite except the one her C.O. filched off her plate. Sam thought that was sort of endearing about him, how he treated them all like family, like his children, even knowing that he was less than half Teal'c's age.
Daniel's restlessness kept drawing her eyes back to him as she ate. He checked his watch, glanced over his shoulder at the door and shifted in his seat as if anxious to be somewhere else. That bothered her, because she knew how he needed this sort of social interaction with his friends, but lately he'd almost been avoiding them.
She wanted to talk to him, to put her hand over his and ask him to talk about whatever was bothering him. He seemed even more closed off now that he had when he first descended and it was starting to scare her. When he should have been growing closer to them, he seemed instead to be pulling away.
The waitress came and cleared away their dishes, interrupting her train of thought, and when she was gone, Colonel O'Neill called for the presents.
"I need no gifts," Teal'c declared contentedly. "I already have all that I need, here with me tonight."
Sam saw the look in his eyes as they moved from face to face around the table. Such fierce loyalty, deep friendship and trust for them all brought a lump to her throat. This was rare company, indeed, and she felt privileged to be among these men.
Swallowing down the lump, she leaned toward him with a smile. "Aw, Teal'c! That's sweet, but we got you stuff anyway. Here, open mine first." She handed him a large envelope, sealed on the back with a Hallmark sticker, and sat up straight to watch him open it.
Teal'c was a hard man to present with an appropriate gift. His needs were few and simple. The SGC gave him food, shelter and clothing. His team gave him companionship. The colonel had presented him with the biggest gifts - his television, VCR and X-Box, all of those without any special occasion in sight. Along the way they had all shared their choices in music, movies and reading material with him, though Teal'c had certainly started developing his own taste in those things. He was big into science fiction and tabloids, with a fondness for classical music and techno.
Choosing the right gift had been hard. He would love the sentiment behind anything they gave him, but Sam had wanted to find just the right thing that would touch him, something he'd truly treasure. This time, without much time to spend shopping because of all the hours she had been putting in on the Wall, she'd simply done the expedient thing and gotten the gift certificate. He would understand and appreciate, but she intended to make it up to him later.
He'd have a good time shopping for new candles, anyway.
The colonel's gift was a surprise, considering how he carped about that television show that he saw as making fun of them. Still, getting to play SG-1 in a videogame under the guise of a Wormhole X- treme! universe could be fun. She'd have to sit in on that sometime and at least watch Teal'c play with the colonel.
Daniel's present, however, blew her away. His talents never ceased to amaze her. She didn't understand why he seemed so hesitant and embarrassed when he gave Teal'c the book, complete with his own illustrations. Something truly handmade, from his heart... that was priceless.
When Jack started to banter with Daniel, Sam took the book and gazed down at the drawing Daniel had done of Teal'c as a samurai. It was beautiful and lifelike, full of drama. She angled the book so her seat mate could see and turned a few more pages, stunned by the thoughtful, gorgeous book, wondering at the time and talent and caring that had gone into making it.
"Damn, Daniel," the colonel said admiringly, "is there anything you can't do?"
"Well, of course, Jack," said Daniel casually. "I can't tango, drive a tank or give birth. There are lots of things I can't do."
Sam snorted with startled laughter as she had been about to take a sip of her cola, continuing to chuckle as Daniel and the colonel stared at each other. They were fun when they were like this.
"That was a good one, Daniel," she chuckled. "Give birth. Not exactly something you can learn, though the other two..."
Jack's brown eyes turned her way with a silent command to knock off her commentary and she instantly obeyed. She gave the book back to its new owner and asked to read it when he was finished, then looked back at Daniel, her good humor suddenly vanishing.
He was sweating in the cool room. Sam caught a glimpse of his eyes before he pushed his shades back higher on his nose. His pupils, normally twice the size of everyone else's, were almost completely dilated. He was trembling.
Before she could ask what was wrong, he was on his feet, making excuses to leave and then dashing out the door.
Something was up with Daniel. She'd see him like this more often recently, usually late at night when she'd cornered him into helping her with some deadline or other. The later it got, the worse he'd twitched until he had bolted, begging off in favor of his bed or a shower or something. Suspicions began to rise within her as they discussed the linguist's odd behavior of late.
The colonel's news about the bruises shocked her. If someone on the base was picking on Daniel behind the scenes, she'd find out whom and deal with them. She, Teal'c and the colonel would take a personal interest in anyone who had issues with their archaeologist. The three of them made a silent agreement just as the pub's staff came up to embarrass Teal'c with a birthday limerick.
Conversation turned to more pleasant things as she nibbled on her cake and ice cream, but Carter couldn't let go of the idea that someone on the base might be stalking Daniel. Of course he'd be too proud to admit it but such situations were intolerable, especially if it was military personnel. She knew there were undercurrents of disquiet, factions of military types who believed there was no place on the teams for civilians who might be liabilities in a battle, but she knew first hand how invaluable those civilians could be, their wits and knowledge often saving the lives of their military teammates.
This was Dr. Daniel Jackson, for crying out loud, the most famous person at the SGC. He was the one who had opened the Stargate in the first place, a VIP of the first order, and if anyone was treating him badly, they were in need of a swift reorganization of their priorities and some education, which Sam Carter would be only too happy to provide.
O'Neill paid the bill with his credit card, picking up Daniel's cash with the intent to give it back to him later.
Slowly, they made their way toward the sidewalk, lingering for a moment in each other's company before parting. She waited for the colonel to make his announcement and smiled as she thought of the last present waiting for Teal'c in his quarters. She and Janet had searched far and wide for just the right linens, several sets of them, and the perfect, most comfortable bed they could find. This one had been engineered by NASA, a new advance in the field of sleep technology, and it was touted as the most comfortable and healthful bed in existence. Sam trusted the science behind it.
Teal'c might never have complained about his Spartan quarters, but she wanted him to have a real home with them. He couldn't yet live off base, not until the SGC went public, but between her team and their doctor, she fully intended to make his quarters a place he enjoyed, rather than just a space where he stayed during odd moments of down time.
It was important to her, to everyone at the SGC, for Teal'c to know that he belonged with them. When the war was over, when he had no more reason to be on Earth, he needed to know that he could stay here if he wanted, to live among them as one of them. He had earned that many times over.
She waved fondly and said goodbye, promising to call Teal'c if she needed help finishing up the project. As she strode toward her car, she tried to imagine his reaction to the bed and smiled. He was going to love that present best of all, she was sure.
Returning to the base, she signed in, stepped into the new official entry of the SGC for another look, then headed down to her office.
There was no sign of Siler, no voicemail messages, no emails. She checked her watch. It was nearly 2300 hours already and growing later. It would take her a couple of hours, minimum, to get the photos into the frames, cart them up to the eleventh floor and get them hung. If Siler didn't come through...
She phoned the maintenance floor but the night shift hadn't seen or heard from the sergeant.
Sam headed up to her lab and checked one of the projects she had running, talking with the technicians and trying to keep her mind occupied. She stopped by the commissary for some coffee, glancing at her watch every five minutes and trying not to panic. By almost midnight, she returned to her office and saw Siler coming up the hallway toward her.
Heaving a great sigh of relief, she cleared a spot on her desk for him to lay out the envelopes he had tucked under his arm. There were dark circles under the man's eyes and he looked beat, but Siler had come through for them.
She pulled the biggest portrait out of the first envelope, her whole face lighting up as she stared at it. "Oh, sergeant, this is just beautiful! This is just so... Daniel. Great work. You really captured what this whole program is all about."
Siler shook his head and grinned, straightening his glasses. "I just clicked the shutter, major," he countered with a note of wonder as he looked at that picture with her. This was the one where Daniel had been remembering his first encounter with the Stargate, the wonder of the miracle shimmering before him. "The camera caught what was already there, but you're right. That's it. That's the essence of the Stargate, right there in those eyes."
Gently, she laid the photo down and shook Siler's hand. "Thanks. I was so afraid we'd miss our deadline but there should be just enough time to get it done now. You saved the day, sergeant."
Patting him on the shoulder, she pulled back and saw him smile. "It was my pleasure, major." He cleared his throat. "There are some... uh... extra prints in there for SG-1. Some of the ones that weren't appropriate for official use might be ones you guys want to keep for yourselves." He nodded toward a smaller envelope.
Curiosity wouldn't wait. She pulled the pictures out and laughed. There were the four of them, hamming it up, teasing each other, all four with big smiles - even Teal'c! "These are priceless," she sighed. "Thanks, I love them. And I know the guys will, too. Even the colonel."
Siler grinned. "I hope so. My only other option was to use them for blackmail, but I figured that would just get me dead."
She nodded. "Yeah. This is the safest way to hide the evidence that the colonel plays like a six-year-old. Not that everybody here doesn't already know that, but he likes to pretend we don't."
He slipped away then, leaving her to look at the rest of the photos, lay them all out in order and start placing them in frames. Once that was accomplished, she took a moment to just look at the big one, that magnificent portrait of an awestruck Daniel Jackson. It was fitting that this should be the biggest photo on the wall, the one that said everything about what they wanted to accomplish at the SGC.
With a sigh, she stacked the others on top of it, loaded the frames in three stacks on top of a small cart she'd borrowed from Supply, and headed for the elevator. During the ride she glanced at the top three photos, one of Daniel on a camel that had been copied months earlier from the original that had once been in his office. She had taken that one home after Kelowna and had recently offered to give it back, but Daniel assured her that it was all right with him if she kept it.
That photo had been taken of him as a very young man, long before he ever heard of the Stargate. Since she hadn't had any early photos of him, that was the one she had chosen to use for his Abydos mission picture. Beneath it was a small brass plaque giving his name, the planet designation and name, followed by the date of his death from a staff blast meant for Colonel O'Neill.
Robert Rothman's personal effects yielded a single photograph of Daniel when he still had his long hair, covered by a bandana but curling up at the nape of his neck. That was the one she used for P3X- 774, when Apophis had killed him and most of the rest of the team, and they had consequently been resurrected by the Nox. In all, there were seven photographs of Daniel in the set; six for actual entries and the seventh as a commemorative portrait.
"Six times, Daniel," she said aloud in the quiet of the elevator car. "Wow."
She had no clue how he would react, but that hadn't been a factor when she started work on the Wall. He hadn't been around to give an opinion, and besides, it wasn't just for him anyway. If he disapproved it was his business. He'd earned every photograph up on that wall, far more than anyone else on any team. No, this wasn't for Daniel. This was for all of them, for everyone who walked the halls of the SGC, whether they went off world or not.
A few had died there on the base during the Replicator attack. All of those featured hadn't necessarily been first contact people, yet each man and woman pictured on the Wall had earned their place. They had made the ultimate sacrifice for their world, for the human race, and for their comrades in arms at Stargate Command.
They should never be forgotten for that.
The world they had served would not know for a long time the truth of their heroism, but one day, she knew, visitors would fill the halls of this facility, going on tours to see the old Stargate and hear tales about the secret adventures of these brave few. They would see this wall and look at all the faces and their hearts would swell with pride and tighten with grief. She smiled as the elevator doors parted, blinked the tears from her eyes and pushed the cart across the carpeted floor, giving a nod to the SF on duty at the security station, and went past the partitions into the beautiful new foyer.
A stepladder was still in place against the back wall, waiting for the last entries. Sam was tired but she shrugged it off, making the multitude of trips up and down the ladder, moving it to the next empty spot, each row arranged in chronological order from the first mission to the most recent ones. Last of all were the three casualties from SG-12, killed in a Jaffa attack on P77-X2Y.
The plaques with their names would come later, but for now, their faces were nestled among the lost... and some of the found... in the SGC's newest place of honor.
Finished at last, she folded up the ladder and carried it out into the hallway, leaning it against the corridor wall. Then she stepped back into the huge room, stood in the center where posh new furniture would soon be placed, and took it all in for a moment. Tears filled her eyes as she took her time with each and every face, recounting their names and circumstances in the quiet of her mind. A lump rose in her throat and she did not try to dislodge it.
So many, she told herself. Far too many, and she knew these ranks would swell through the years. The cause was worthy, but the toll...
She let her eyes rove over the whole room, from the marble appointed desk with its gleaming brass fixtures to the enameled steel SGC logo gracing its front. Two large flags stood behind the desk, flanking the elegant chair where an SF in dress uniform would sit throughout each shift, greeting dignitaries, signing people in and out and keeping watch over the first point of entry to their secret world belowground.
The intricate Air Force logo was dyed into the blue carpet in the center of the room against a navy field in a large square. The outer edges of the square, including the wider space out in the corridor stretching between the elevators, was a lighter shade of blue, designed as a border that would draw the eye to the circular seal at center. It was an elegant, imposing room, grand without being overpowering, yet dignified and beautiful.
"Never forget," she said aloud. Drawing herself up to her full height, squaring her shoulders, she raised her right hand to her brow in a crisp salute and held it for a moment as her gaze swept the photos one more time. She let her hand down slowly and, with a weary sigh, slipped it into the pants pocket of her fatigues.
Moving to the desk, she reached for the phone and dialed a number. "Sir? It's done. Can't wait for you to see it... Yes, sir. See you tomorrow, 0800 sharp." She smiled as she hung up, stepped back for one more glance, then pivoted on her heel and grabbed the folded ladder with one hand, carrying it out with her. She smiled at the SF on duty. "Tomorrow you get the comfy chair, Lieutenant Norris," she told him.
He grinned back. "Yes, ma'am. Not that I need one, but..." He hesitated, his expression sobering. "You did a helluva thing, Major Carter. Thank you."
She shook her head. "No." Nodding toward the partitions, she said, "Thank them."
He just nodded in agreement, grief in his eyes. "Yes, ma'am. I think we all do."
"G'night, lieutenant. See you at 1400 hours for the big event." She started toward the elevator, then turned, balancing the ladder on one shoulder. "Hey, has Daniel signed back in yet?"
Norris shook his head. "Yes, ma'am. He and Teal'c left together, but Doctor Jackson came back alone about an hour ago. Teal'c arrived a little while later."
"Okay, just checking. He wasn't feeling well earlier." That sounded lame, but it was the only thing she could think of to say to the soldier. "Did he look all right?"
The soldier grinned and shook his head. "Except that he was wearing his shades and I know it's night outside, yes, ma'am."
She thought about Daniel all the way back to Supply, where she turned in the ladder, comforting herself with the fact that the team would handle things as a unit, and whatever was bothering Daniel would be taken care of once the ceremony was over.
Heading back to her office, she took a moment to add a little water and plant food to her forget-me-not, organize her desk for the following morning, and then head for the locker room to change before going home. Just as she stopped at the desk on Level 11, she spotted the general bending over to sign out.
Hammond smiled at her.
She added her signature to the registry, then followed the general as he gestured her into the new foyer.
"Superb job, major," he congratulated her warmly as he gazed around the room, hands clasped loosely behind his back.
Sam beamed with pride. "Thank you, sir. It turned out way better than I imagined."
"I think Doctor Jackson will be pleased... once he gets over the shock." He patted her shoulder. "This took a great deal of perseverance to bring about, not to mention a tremendous amount of effort."
"I had a lot of help, sir," she admitted. "Everybody wanted to be a part of this. It was an honor for me to be allowed to carry it out. And sometimes, when we're lucky, they come back." She glanced at him, suddenly cognizant of the time. "You're here awfully late, general."
He nodded, not taking his eyes off the Wall. "Just waiting to see if you needed any more help, major, but I see you've taken care of everything and finished on schedule." His voice deepened with emotion. "I think that once the powers that be get a look at this, it'll have a significant impact on how they think of us in the future. They'll know our people will be looking at this every day and constantly be reminded of the price of our freedom." He sighed. "I just wish more people could see what we do and understand."
"They will, sir," she promised. "One day."
She looked at the profile of the man beside her, how moved he was by this display, and knew that he would never take a single face on that Wall for granted. Like her, he knew every name, every circumstance of each casualty. They were, in some small way, his children, though some of them he had never even met, lost before he took command of the SGC from General West.
Soon, their names and faces would be familiar to everyone in the program.
Her eyes dropped down to the marble desk and she smiled, promising herself to come in very early. There was a spot on the far left side of the desk that would be perfect for a small lamp and a little potted plant. Before she left she would move her flower there, a tiny little reminder of life up top to counter the lightless, windowless underground. It was the perfect place for it, after all, just where a forget-me-not ought to be, among the eternally remembered.
She wished the general a good evening, set up the plant and headed for the parking lot, climbing wearily into her Volvo with a yawn. She switched on the radio for company as she headed for home, pulling out onto Highway 115, heading north. It was a short drive to her Rockrimmon neighborhood, but it was very late and she turned the volume way up to keep her awake as she drove.
"In a late-breaking story, KRCC news is reporting live from Manitou Springs," the newscaster said breathlessly. "We are on the scene in a quiet neighborhood where the Man in Black, Colorado Springs' very own ninja crime fighter, has struck again."
Sam crossed her fingers, hoping the guy was okay.
"Tonight, our hero has apparently foiled an alleged stalker, saving the lives of a young couple and their small child from almost certain death..."
Sam's heart beat faster and she gripped the steering wheel as she listened to the excited reporter recount the sketchy details of the rescue. She breathed easier when she heard that the man had gotten away clean once again, but worried that he had apparently been shot by the "alleged" perp. If the Man in Black showed up at any of the local emergency rooms, the police would be all over him.
She really hoped he wouldn't be caught and would take this opportunity to fade into the woodwork. This was a wake-up call for the mysterious hero, time to hang up the biker helmet and retire. She just hoped he listened, for his own sake.
Turning into her driveway at last, she shut off her car, went into the house and started getting ready for bed. Fifteen minutes later, she slipped under the covers and reached over to the lamp on her nightstand. Sitting beneath it was that photo of Daniel on the camel in Egypt. She noticed he was wearing a sweater with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows and wondered what the hell he was doing in the desert in a sweater?
She just looked at him, at that defiant expression on his face, and wondered what he'd been thinking when that photo had been taken. Maybe he'd just been hot in the sweater. Maybe it was laundry day and he had nothing else to wear. Maybe his professor had trashed his theories or tried to dissuade him from his radical ideas about aliens in the ancient world. Whatever the reason for that sour expression, she hoped that the smiles she'd been seeing on his face since he descended would develop into a habit because there hadn't been enough of them lately.
Daniel deserved happiness. He'd lost so much, so many people whom he had loved, given up his career, his very existence. He was due some recognition for his efforts, and tomorrow he would get a small measure of it.
She turned off the lamp and smiled up at the ceiling in the darkness.
Tomorrow he would see just how special he was to his family at the SGC, and to his country as well.
She closed her eyes and slept, filled with peace and satisfaction.
Part III: JACK'S DAY: A MAN OF HONOR
Opening his eyes to the darkened room, Jack stared at the ceiling for a while before turning to look at the clock beside the bed. With a heavy sigh, he reached over and turned off the alarm, still twenty minutes from ringing. He got up with a groan, his body reminding him how many campaigns he'd been through, how the years were catching up to him. Soon he'd find it necessary to retire but there were things to be done yet, people to protect. He arched his back and heard it pop and crackle all the way up.
"Teal'c's birthday," he reminded himself aloud, his voice croaking from a night of disuse. "Party tonight. Yay."
He didn't feel much like partying but then he wasn't really awake yet, either. His sleepy mind skipped over the plans for the day - team breakfast, photos, administrative meetings and then the birthday shindig. He could make it through that kind of day just fine, maybe even without coffee.
That made him think of Daniel. Back from the dead, still not all there in the memory department, but his character was unchanged. Jack stopped walking, staring down at the floor for a second. That wasn't quite true, though.
The resurrected Doctor Jackson was different, in some intangible way. Quicker with a smile than just before he... died. More intense but less overtly passionate. The passion was still there, just... leashed somehow. He was quieter, calmer, more accepting of things that used to notch his voice up in volume and send his hands into wild gesticulations of frustration. He just seemed... more grown up. Older and wiser, perhaps.
Lately, though, the man had seemed on edge. Jumpy and strung a little too tight. Pushing himself too hard, especially with the workouts they'd been doing.
Jack sensed there was more to it than that but Daniel wasn't talking. He spent most of his off time alone or with Teal'c, meditating until all hours of the night or surfing the Internet with his Jaffa shadow peering over his shoulder. Those two had become almost inseparable over the last couple of months, since bringing Brata'c and Rya'c home safely.
He turned on the hot water in the shower, letting it heat up while he peeled off his T-shirt and sweats. Still weary, he adjusted the temperature of the water and climbed in, letting the spray soak him and run down his chest for a while before engaging in his efficient bathing routine. The steam cleared his head a little, and by the time he was groomed and dressed, he was mentally halfway through his day, all the important things planned out in detail long ago.
Padding downstairs, he stopped in the living room long enough to drop his socks and shoes by the sofa and went into the kitchen to start the coffee brewing. While that was underway, he returned to the sofa to put on his footwear, then returned to the kitchen for a hot cup of coffee. Carrying the mug with him to the living room, he set it down on the coffee table and switched on the overhead lights.
It was still dark outside, still early. The light from the kitchen gave enough illumination that he could see the cardboard box sitting on the coffee table in the living room, but he wanted one last look and needed good light for that. He pulled the box closer and reverently lifted the flaps, peering down inside at the neat rows of small dark blue velvet boxes. In the middle were other boxes wrapped in blue tissue.
Reaching carefully inside, he lifted the center box out, laid it on his lap and unfolded the tissue. Inside it was a handmade teak shadowbox, the front covered with a piece of beveled glass. On a long blue ribbon edged in white, a gold medal dangled. The five-pointed star at its center was enameled in white, backed by a red pentagon. At the points of the star, five gold eagles spread their wings, and within the star's heart lay a blue circle emblazoned with thirteen tiny gold stars, representing the original colonies of America. This was the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian citation ever awarded to a citizen of the United States. Originally awarded by President Truman to those who made significant contributions during WWII, President Kennedy revived the medal's use to honor distinguished civilian service in peacetime, and this one was off the books.
The Medal of Freedom winners were publicly acclaimed, celebrated in the press for their heroism or outstanding contributions to their country. This one, because of the secrecy of Area 52, was listed with an employee number followed by the initials "SGC." One day, this award would be made public... but not today.
Jack couldn't touch the medal, sealed as it was in the shadowbox. Through the glass surface he could see it, along with the engraved brass plate mounted on the white velvet background to which the medal was fastened. The shadowbox was beautiful, worth every penny he'd paid for it, as were all the others Uncle Sam had purchased for this occasion. Jack had wanted something special for this particular medal to make it stand out from the handful of others in the cardboard box, so he'd commissioned a handmade display case for it.
This medal belonged to Daniel.
He sighed again, wondering not for the first time how the cosmic clock worked. This award had been delivered posthumously, given to Jack personally by the President himself in response to a letter Jack had written to the Pentagon. Bureaucracy moved slowly, but in this instance the timing was perfect. Jack rubbed his fingers over the glass fondly and felt his eyes burning. He blinked to clear them, wiped off the finger streaks and carefully folded the tissue back over his prize. He was as proud of this as he was of his own Medal of Honor, also nestled inside that cardboard box. Slipping it back inside the carton, he closed the flaps, took a sip of coffee and stood, carrying the cup with him.
Ambling over to the fireplace, he let his eyes rove over the collection of awards, medals and commendations so prominently on display, drinking his coffee as he looked at each one. This was his pride and joy, his proof of a life well spent and of the depth of his patriotism. Each and every medal on display was testimony to the fact that Jack O'Neill served his country; that he was a good soldier; that he had put his own life on the line for God and Country, for team and unit, time and time again. It was recognition of his character, of his valor, of his dedication and patriotism.
Today he could be proud of those emblems again. For a little over a year he hadn't been able to stomach looking at them. Shortly after Daniel's ascension, Jack had boxed them all up and put them in the attic, leaving only pictures of his team and his son on the mantle. Centered among them had been a few photographs he'd taken from Daniel's office: a portrait of Sha're; a team photo showing them all standing in a sunlit meadow; and most precious of all, a family photo of six-year-old Danny with proud parents, Melburn and Claire Jackson, taken at a dig in Italy. Jack had kept that one after he, Teal'c and Carter had cleaned out Daniel's apartment and disposed of his possessions.
The most personal things, like those photographs, had been kept by his teammates as mementos. Most of them had been given back to the man when he came home to them. Sha're's picture, Jack had noticed, ended up in Teal'c's room. He hadn't asked about that, figuring it was none of his business, something personal between Daniel and Teal'c.
So much of Daniel's life was gone, like his things, and so little of it had been replaced to help him feel more connected, like he belonged. Maybe the medal and the memorial wall could help make up for that. Daniel needed to know how much he was valued by those around him.
Tomorrow the SGC would gather in acknowledgment of the sacrifices made by those who served in the program on behalf of the human race. Only a small handful of people on the planet would be aware of it, but one day, Jack knew, that memorial would be made public. It would create a stir, as it well should. And no one, until the secret could be revealed, should ever forget those who gave their all.
Jack headed into the kitchen for the other, smaller box sitting on the dining table beside a roll of Scooby Doo wrapping paper, carefully cut off the proper amount from the roll and began to fold the paper over the box. He didn't do this very often anymore, but liked for the gifts he presented to look nice and neat, with perfect square corners and neatly taped closures covered by ribbons and bows. When he was sure the wrapping job would pass muster, he returned to the living room and set the present on top of the cardboard box full of medals, gathered his keys and wallet and left for the base.
The Walls were Carter's babies, and Jack couldn't have been more proud of her for not only conceiving the idea, but following it through to completion. She had campaigned for it with the SGC administration and taken her cause all the way to Washington, garnering the necessary support, getting the funding, arranging for special log books to be kept for the medals and commendations awarded. She had worked tirelessly on the project for the better part of a year, and now, on this auspicious date, it was all coming together. These were the last pieces, and once the photos were printed and slipped into their frames, it would be complete.
The photo shoot was scheduled for shortly after breakfast and all required personnel had been informed to be there or incur his wrath. Sergeant Siler promised the color prints would be ready by the end of the shift and Jack was counting on that. If there were any delays, heads would roll, starting with Siler's. Jack had every confidence that everything would come off without a hitch.
He climbed into his truck, started the engine and switched on the radio while the truck warmed up. In the dark quiet, he punched the pre-set station buttons looking for traffic and weather reports. Landing on one, he backed out of the driveway and into the street, easing away from home before any of the neighbors had even risen to start their day.
"In other news, the Colorado Springs ninja has made yet another mysterious appearance at a crime in progress," the radio announcer said brightly. "The unknown hero apparently came in through the window of a third floor apartment in time to stop an intruder who had allegedly broken into the apartment to assault at woman sleeping in her bed. The Man in Black managed to pull the alleged attacker off the woman and restrain him, ordering the woman to call the police while our hero immobilized the alleged attacker."
With a sigh, Jack turned onto the highway. Whoever the ninja guy was, he was going to get himself killed. "Idiot," Jack rasped, but there was also a little twinge of respect mixed in with that assessment. He swung the truck easily into the fast lane as the newscaster droned on in the quiet.
"By the time police arrived, the Man in Black had pulled his standard disappearing act and was nowhere to be found. Police are still uncertain how this masked avenger locates crimes in progress but they are anxious to talk with him. The Springs seems to be breathing a sigh of relief with the shadow of this unknown hero watching over us. However he manages this feat, many citizens feel safer knowing he's out there somewhere, our own personal superhero, come to life. The police, however, feel that this mysterious man's luck may soon run out-"
Pushing another button, Jack turned on the local NPR station for some classical music. In minutes he had made his way to the base, parked and signed in, then headed straight for the commissary. Pausing for a moment in the doorway, he scanned the seated personnel in search of his teammates, and found Daniel and Teal'c bent over their plates in quiet conversation.
Jack couldn't help but notice how tired Daniel looked and that he had his shades on again, most likely indicating another migraine. Maybe it was time he put a word in Doc Fraiser's ear and had the little Napoleon drag their archaeologist down to the infirmary for a good once-over. At least he was eating, which was always a good sign. Then again, he usually remembered to do breakfast. It was the other meals he forgot on a regular basis.
Drawing in a deep breath, Jack gathered his courage and let fly with his horrific version of the birthday song. Grimaces on all the faces suddenly staring up at him in stunned disbelief confirmed the fact that he couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, but this was for Teal'c. Jack would much rather serenade his teammate there in the commissary than in a public restaurant, where the real birthday celebration would later be held.
The Jaffa stood up partway through the song and surveyed the room with a threatening glare, shutting people up wherever he looked. Jack loved how he could do that; intimidate people with just a look. By the time the song was done, only Jack and Daniel were still singing. He smiled as he stopped by the table to greet the birthday boy, then headed for the chow line.
Moments later, Carter breezed in and sat down with her ever-present blue Jell-O, accompanied by a strawberry yogurt and a banana. Then they argued about where they'd be having dinner until Teal'c confirmed the pub was, indeed, his choice. Jack could already taste that ribeye, marinated in Irish whisky and flame broiled to perfection.
He shoveled in his eggs and bacon, listening as Daniel teased Carter about his birthday serenade. He leaned back in his seat and gave them both the full colonel glare, right down his nose. Only they didn't look, so he told the younger man to cut it out.
Returning to his breakfast, he speared a piece of sliced strawberry with his fork. "So, is Siler ready upstairs? We gonna get this show on the road today?"
Sam nodded, her mouth full.
Jack swallowed the strawberry he'd barely chewed. "Is everybody ready for their close-ups? I am. Conditioned, exfoliated and everything."
"Yes, sir. I put my things in the studio just now," Carter agreed after swallowing a mouthful of yogurt. "I think I should've had a haircut but there wasn't time." Her left hand smoothed nervously at her nape, checking the length against her collar.
Jack stared obliquely at her. "You have hair, major?" He blinked. "If it were purple or you were suddenly bald, I'd probably notice. You look fine."
She flashed him a bemused smile. "I'll get it cut tomorrow on my way in." She scooped up another mouthful of gelatin and shook her head in wonder.
"I'm just about done with my mission prep for next week, so be getting your gear together," he reminded them, already thinking ahead to the scheduled trip off-world to PX7-44Niner. That one was going to be winter gear all the way, with at least a week planned to knock around the ice towers sculpted into the white landscape. "Prepare to freeze your asses off, kids, and I don't wanna hear any complaining." He sighed. If only there were hills and snow skis, maybe with a chair lift to take the work out of getting back uphill, he might be able to have a little fun on that planet, but fun was never on the off-world agenda.
"I hate snow," Daniel moaned. "It's so damn cold."
"Well, duh," Jack shot back. He rolled his eyes and shook his head.
Carter grinned and took a bite of her banana.
Teal'c seemed to be ignoring them all in favor of the dwindling mountain of food on his plate.
Jack sighed. "Having a couple weeks off with nobody broken or sick has been nice, but we knew it wouldn't last."
"That's been quite a change," Daniel agreed. "Everybody healthy and sitting at our desks all day. I'm practically bored to tears."
Jack reminded his younger teammate about offers to engage in social activities, all of which had gone down in flames. Jack steered the conversation back to work while he watched Daniel draw on his plate.
The man really needed to get a life, something besides work that might get him out of the mountain and let him have a little fun. Jack wondered if Daniel actually understood the concept of fun and smiled as he remembered Jell-O wrestling. He shot a glance up to the Jaffa and made a mental note to check out that place and see if they were still holding the same events. If they were, he and Teal'c would shortly be taking their scholarly friend out for a little mindless entertainment soon.
Daniel had been practically monosyllabic for a good two hours following that first time, when he could actually use real words and not just make inarticulate throat noises.
"I shall take my leave and adjourn to the studio," Teal'c announced, wiping his lips on a napkin. "I will see you all there shortly." He stood, bowed slightly, and took his tray to the disposal window.
"See ya, T," Jack called, stuffing his mouth with another bite of buttered toast and eggs. "Carter, have you got those test results on that alien doohickey we brought back from..." He drew a blank on the planet designation and stopped chewing, searching his mind for it.
"Two-three-Y," she supplied instantly. "Yes, sir. The technicians finished the validation study during last night's shift and I'll be reviewing the data this afternoon. I'll get the report written up and on your desk by the end of the day, providing there are no anomalies that need additional study."
"Good. I probably won't understand a word of it, but at least I'll be able to tell General Hammond I've seen it." He turned to the man at his left. "Daniel, you fallin' asleep, there?"
The younger man was leaning on his left hand, his body at a strong leftward tilt, the flesh of his face pulled out of shape by the heel of his hand so that his mouth was a crooked slash across his face and he could only see out of his right eye through the dark lenses. He sighed deeply. "No, just thinking." He put his fork down and straightened up, wincing at the movement and issuing a soft groan. He stared down at his empty plate.
"You're kinda distracted there, Daniel. Somethin' wrong? I mean, besides the headache." Jack stuffed the last bite of toast into his mouth and started stacking his utensils onto his plate.
"I'm fine," Daniel answered automatically. Listlessly. He yawned and made no attempt to cover his mouth with his hand. Then he stretched his eyes wide, blinked several times, straightened and took a deep breath. He seemed to wake up a little more.
"Off we go," Jack announced, picking up his tray and leading the charge to the studio on Level 17.
As they stepped out of the elevator, Jack glanced at Daniel's black T- shirt and green fatigue pants. "Aren't you short a few threads? And your regular glasses. You'll need those. The coolness of the shades isn't necessary for these shots."
They rounded the corner of the doorway with Daniel frowning in thought. His eyebrows lifted and he snapped his fingers. "I forgot my jacket!" he blurted, pivoted on his heel and headed back to the elevator.
Jack and the major eased quietly into the studio, watching Siler working with Teal'c. It never ceased to be a source of pride to have a man like that on his team. Teal'c was the perfect warrior: physically intimidating, unflappable and loyal to a fault. He was also fun, allowing Jack to talk to his heart's content or not say a word as the mood struck, going along with whatever hare-brained activity Jack planned without complaint and just generally being good company. Teal'c never put on airs or treated him like anything other than his commanding officer and brother-in-arms, and that was priceless. Jack had few friends like that, people who took him at face value and knew the riches that lay beneath the surface. Only a handful of people ever got to see the real Jack O'Neill, and the rest of them were on his team as well.
He teased the big guy all through the shoot, eventually realizing that Daniel seemed to be MIA. Just when he thought he ought to start looking for the younger man, he turned to see Daniel standing in the doorway of the multi-purpose room, shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot, staring at the lights and the backdrop, watching Sergeant Siler work the light meter with Carter as his new model. Daniel eyed the clothing rack nearby where Jack's Class A's hung, still in their dry cleaning wrap, along with several other outfits, enough for twenty people.
Jack spied the younger man, now sporting his regular frames, and called him over to where he and Teal'c stood watching.
"Hi, Daniel," Sam called, waving a little. "What took you so long?"
"I had to go to the locker room for my fatigue jacket and my quarters for my glasses," replied Daniel nervously. "What's with all the clothes? And why is Teal'c in his armor?" His eyes swept up and down the tall Jaffa, gleaming in his silver armor, staff weapon held familiarly in his right hand.
Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "Did you not read the memo, DanielJackson? These portraits are to show us in several aspects. A variety of costumes will be necessary to reveal all our many facets."
Daniel looked down at himself. "This and my blue robes from Vis Uban are all I have. You guys gave away all my clothes after I di-asc-- left. I bought a pair of jeans and some sweaters, but that's the extent of my wardrobe for the moment. I've hardly been off the base in the last couple of months."
"Which will shortly be addressed," Jack reminded him with a nudge of his elbow and the ghost of a smile. "Party at 1900 hours. Be there or I'll hunt you down and drag you kicking and screaming away from your desk." He bounced on his toes a little and loosed a playful smile.
"I know. I wouldn't miss Teal'c's birthday party, Jack." Daniel smiled up at the tallest man in their group and received an elegant nod of approval. Daniel's smile faded as he regarded the clothing rack again. "But like I said, all I've got is fatigues. Should I get my BDUs? What about my robes?"
"Yeah, bring whatcha got 'cause we're gonna do casual and full length group shots, too. Robes, jeans, the whole nine yards." Jack saw Daniel's discomfiture and knew that the younger man didn't like to have his picture taken. O'Neill had heard Carter discuss that with Daniel once when she complained about not having any pictures of him to put with her other family and team photos. At every opportunity thereafter, when she had asked Daniel to pose with her or the others on the team, Daniel dutifully had not complained. He didn't always smile on cue but there were a few shots where the younger man was positively beaming. Those were Carter's favorites, ones she kept on her desk and at home.
Jack had been a little envious of some of those photos after Daniel ascended and intended to ask for copies but had never done it. They were her photographs and he could look at them and remember Daniel whenever he visited her office or on the rare occasions when he and Teal'c were at her home.
These, however, were for a wholly different purpose. Jack watched Daniel's back as he hurried away, leading with his head as he always did when he walked with his mind focused on a single objective. When Daniel was out of sight, Jack turned to watch Siler again, flashing the umbrella lights and checking something with a little thingamabob Carter was holding. He and Teal'c talked quietly for a moment, until he began to grow impatient.
"You gonna get started sometime today, Siler?" Jack nudged.
"Yes, sir," the sergeant shot back without looking up. "Ready to start now." He took the gadget from Carter and stepped back. "Okay, major, let's do a three-quarter pose looking up and to my left." He held his left hand up in the air, and her eyes went to it. He moved around until he had her head at the proper angle, then pushed a plunger on a long cord attached to his camera, and all the lights flashed at once. "Nice. Okay, one more, then get your BDU jacket and put that on."
"No flag in the background, sergeant?" Jack asked, taking note of the wide roll of green paper that formed their backdrop. "I thought these were supposed to be formal portraits."
Another flash went off and Carter got up to get her jacket. "He'll be digitally inserting the backgrounds according to what shots he needs," she told him. "Some will have the Stargate for a background with an American flag furling in place of the event horizon. Some will have the standard flag at parade rest, others-"
"As long as the flags are there," Jack cut in, "I don't care how they get there. I just thought this looked kind of... naked. Unpatriotic. There should be flags."
The major grinned. The flashes went off, capturing that. "Yes, sir, there will be. Green screens help the photographer drop in pre- selected backgrounds. They're also used in movies for special effects, things blowing up, space ships and such."
Frowning, Jack cocked his head back, drawing his brows together to appear confused. "You mean, they don't actually film Wormhole X-treme in space? Huh. Imagine that."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow. Carter laughed. Siler took a picture of Carter laughing.
Jack suspected the sergeant might have a thing for the pretty major.
"Okay, Class A's next after this, major," Siler called.
Sam took her BDU jacket off the rack and when that shot was done, she snagged her dress blues and retreated behind a dressing screen set up just for that purpose.
"Hey, did you guys hear about the Man in Black?" asked Siler as he adjusted the umbrellas slightly. "Made another appearance last night."
"He's gonna get himself killed, stupid do-gooder," Jack rasped. He leaned way over to the left, pretending to sneak a peek behind the privacy screen. Teal'c's hand gently caught at his jacket sleeve and pulled him upright again just as Daniel returned from the locker room. He hung up his BDUs on the rack and Siler sat him down on the stool while they waited for Sam.
"Yeah, I know what you mean. Still, he's helping, out there. Saved a woman's life."
"Who did?" asked Daniel, trying to get comfortable.
"The Man in Black."
"Who's that?" His heavy brows scrunched together in confusion.
"Some ninja wanna-be," Jack explained. "Don't you listen to the news, Danny-boy?"
Daniel cocked his head with an impatient sigh. "No radio, Jack. No car with a radio and no TV. Remember?"
"Oh, yeah. Sorry. The guy's a one-man crime stopper, right here in the Springs. The press likes him but the cops aren't too thrilled about the whole vigilante deal. He's showin' 'em up, making them look bad. If he can get to the crimes in progress, why can't the police? That's what the press is sayin', anyway."
"Does he wear some kind of costume?" Daniel asked, obviously intrigued by this idea.
"He does not," Teal'c assured him. "He merely dresses in black and wears a motorcycle helmet or mask that obscures his face, thus ensuring that he cannot be identified. He is a clever man and a great warrior."
"He's a nutcase, is what he is," Jack argued vehemently. "Certifiable."
Daniel frowned, glaring at Jack. "If he's dangerous, the police will catch him eventually." He shrugged, obviously thinking. "Unless he is a cop and they're trying to find a way around regulations by having one of their own bag the bad guys in ways they can't."
"That is an interesting theory, DanielJackson," the Jaffa rumbled. "I do not believe I have heard it mentioned. Perhaps we should do some research on the Man in Black later this evening."
"As long as you're not late for dinner, T," Jack cut in, patting the taller man on the shoulder. He sighed. "It's getting bad when the Springs has its own tabloid superhero running around in tights."
"Tights?" asked Siler. "I haven't heard that."
"I'm just sayin'. If he's doin' the Batman thing, he probably wears 'em." Jack shrugged. "Take pictures, Siler. We haven't got all day, here." He waved at the subject on the stool impatiently.
"Do you want your glasses on or off?" Siler asked Daniel, fiddling with the camera.
"Both," said Jack.
Daniel cast a confused gaze his way.
"If we get reflections on the lenses, we'll have backups," Jack clarified.
Those eyebrows lifted in acquiescence, and Daniel waited to be posed.
It seemed hours had passed before they got to Jack's portraits, followed by the team shots, which Jack knew were the last on the list. Aside from some horsing around - which Siler captured neatly on film - those went quickly and Teal'c disappeared to start his workout in the gym. Jack whispered in Siler's ear and he nodded, waiting patiently by the camera. Carter caught the look in his eye and headed for the garment rack.
"There's one more shot Carter wants," Jack told Daniel, nodding at the major. "Go get that black garment bag she's holding and take it over yonder." He nodded toward the privacy screen, his eyes twinkling. "Get a move on, too. I've got important colonel things to do."
"What is it?" Daniel just stared at the bag.
"Daniellllll." The impatient tone of voice was answer enough.
He watched Daniel stride over to the garment rack and unzip the bag where it hung on Carter's fingers, peeling the opaque wrapper off. Beneath it, a pale gray-blue silk suit hung over an azure blue shirt, just the color of Daniel's eyes. Draped across the neck was a navy blue tie, pinned with a tie-tac in the shape of silver wings.
There was wonder and surprise in Daniel's expression as he studied the new clothes. He looked at Sam, a question in his eyes.
Sam smiled warmly at him. "Like you said, we gave away all your clothes. We thought you should have a nice suit for your formal portrait, so we took up a collection. Janet and I picked it out. There are dress shoes and socks to match in the box under the garment rack. You won't need 'em for the portrait but you will when you wear your new suit tomorrow for the official inspection."
All the memos relating to the ceremony the next day referred to it as a formal inspection, just so it would be a surprise for Daniel, but everybody else on the base knew what was really going to take place: the dedication of the Littlefield Wall of Honor and the Jackson Memorial Wall, along with the presentation of the medals to their recipients. It was a big day for the whole base and Daniel was still clueless.
"It's beautiful, Sam. Wow. I can't believe you guys did this for me. This is great." His eyes were wide and blinking and his voice was very soft and small when he added, "Thank you." Daniel's hands touched the cloth, rubbing the lapel between thumb and fingers, smoothing down the front. He took it from her and pulled it close to his chest, almost hugging it as he walked to the changing area.
Carter turned to her C.O. with a knowing grin. "I think he liked it, sir."
"You gals have good taste," he answered with a nod, and turned his attention to the photographer. "Just do him up good in this one, Siler. This is the one that counts." He held up his hands, indicating the size of the portrait, then gave the sergeant a thumbs-up.
"Will do, sir."
Jack ambled close and peered over Siler's shoulder to see what he was doing. The sergeant shot him a questioning look, and Jack decided he'd played curious little boy long enough and backed off before he really got in the way. He stayed long enough to see Daniel emerge, walking slowly and looking down at himself in delight. His fingers brushed the sleeve, enjoying the tactile sensations of the silk against his skin.
His tie was crooked, though. As Daniel took his seat on the stool, Carter stepped up and fixed it, turning the tie-tac until the wings were at the proper angle. "That's my dad's tie-tac," she told him. "Now it belongs to you. You're the only guy I know who's earned wings of a whole other kind..." She made a circle with her fingers and held it over her head to indicate a halo. "...and he and Selmak aren't gonna be wearing this again, so we wanted you to have it."
"I don't think I've ever owned a suit as nice as this one, Sam. Thank you." Daniel's eyes were earnest as he watched her fuss over him. He was obviously moved and hugged her for a moment before she stepped away, leaving to start her workday in the lab.
"Okay, Daniel, sit up straight..."
With a little wave and a smile, Jack left them, sure that whatever expression Siler pulled out of the scientist would be the right one. Jack thought about the significance of that photograph, then turned around and went back into the room.
"Forget something, sir?" asked Siler, taking notice.
Jack eyed Daniel, standing close to Siler with his hands clasped loosely behind his back. "I was just thinking, Daniel. Do you remember the first look you got at the cover stones?"
"Close your eyes for a minute. Really remember."
Daniel obeyed. He slumped a little, tipping his head back as he had done when he entered that display room, where the cover stones were attached to the wall. He reached back into memory for that feeling of awe, that frisson of excitement as he stared at the huge, wondrous carving unlike anything he'd ever seen unearthed. A tiny little smile danced at the corners of his mouth.
"Now, open your eyes," Jack commanded softly.
Still looking up, Daniel obeyed, the vision of that marvelous beginning washing over him and showing in his face.
Jack touched Siler's arm. The photographer understood instantly... and took the picture.
Daniel jerked around to face them, startled by the flash. "What?"
"That was one shot I wanted. Now sit up straight and see if you can do it again." Jack grinned as Daniel shot him a warning look from beneath his lashes. "First view of the Stargate, Daniel. Remember that? Or standing on the ramp, going through it the first time."
A dreamy look settled over the man's face as he smiled, staring off into space as he recalled that moment when it all truly began.
The lights flashed and Daniel didn't move, still lost in memory.
"That's a wrap, Doctor Jackson," Siler announced. He flipped the switch on a small generator sitting on the floor and the umbrella lights went out.
Looking a little startled, Daniel asked, "That's it? We're done?"
"Back to work," Jack said lightly, flicking an imaginary whip. "Don't you have some translations or somethin' to do?"
Daniel slid off the stool. He looked down at his sleeve and touched it fondly again. "Yeah... This suit feels like a million bucks, Jack. I hate to have to take it off, but... maybe I'll wear it to the party tonight." He smiled.
"Do that and the waitress'll be handing you the check," Jack teased. "Don't forget our training session later." He hesitated, smiling at his friend. "Carter and Fraiser did good, huh? You look like a scientist again in that. Like Doctor Jackson." Jack had missed that but he wasn't going to admit it to anybody. He cuffed the man lightly on the shoulder playfully. "Don't be late, Daniel. You know how I hate waiting." He hurried out to get started on the rest of his day, hoping there would be time enough for Siler to finish by the deadline.
Jack headed for the locker room where he had temporarily stowed his cardboard box full of goodies. Removing the small box wrapped in birthday paper, he left it on the shelf in his locker and then took the rest to Carter's office. She wasn't there. On a hunch, he went up to 11, stepping behind the partitions to find her tallying up tasks on her clipboard.
"Carter," he called softly, not wanting to startle her. "We gonna get this puppy whipped into shape on time?"
Her head whirled around to glance at him before returning to her checklist. "If Siler gets done on time, yes, sir. I'll be hanging the pictures on twenty-eight early this afternoon and that one will be done. Our group shot's the only one we're missing at this point, so we can count that one as almost complete. This one..." She glanced up at the Wall. "Siler may have to skip counting sheep tonight but I'm sure he'll come through for us, considering who's coming." She smiled at him conspiratorially.
Jack nodded. He handed the box toward her and she nodded him toward the desk.
"Just set it over there, sir. I'll take them out and place them in a minute." She scribbled a few more notes.
He stepped behind the desk and began taking the smaller boxes out, carefully unwrapping the presentation boxes and shadow boxes and setting them out in neat rows. "Ever seen one of these in person, Carter?" he asked solemnly, opening the lids on the velvet presentation boxes before setting them down on the desk.
"No, sir." She finished writing and came around behind the desk, standing next to him and eyeing the medals. "They're beautiful. Wow." Sam had to touch one. Picking up a velvet box, she stroked the satin ribbon and let her fingertips stray over the colorful enameled surface. Respectfully, she set it back down. "They deserve these."
"They deserved a lot more than a piece of metal," Jack murmured. He slid the Medal of Freedom to the beginning of the row and stood looking at it. Then he turned and looked at the empty space on the wall behind him. All around that spot pictures hung in beautiful wooden frames, pictures of people no longer available to receive the medals that would be affixed to the Wall beside their portraits, until such time as the SGC went public and their relatives might receive the medals personally.
"Yes, sir," Carter agreed, turning with him. "But sometimes, we get lucky. Sometimes they come back."
He looked at the years-old formal portrait of Major Charlie Kawalski and nodded. "And in other universes, they're still alive." He sighed. So much death, he thought, his eyes moving from face to face. In the years to come, there would be many more.
He picked up the teak shadowbox, admiring how it stood out from the walnut ones that enclosed the other medals. Carefully wiping a fingerprint off the glass, he set it back down, remembering Daniel as he lay dying in the infirmary, wrapped up like a mummy in bandages. He swallowed down the lump in his throat and stepped away from the desk, heading for the door without a backward glance.
"Good work, Carter," he said huskily. "Let me know when it's finished."
"Yes, sir. I will, sir."
"Even if it's 0200."
He strolled out of the room with the cardboard box filled with tissue tucked under his arm, looking for a waste bin big enough to hold it. Once he'd tossed it properly, he headed for the locker room to change and found Daniel already there, carefully removing his suit and slipping into sweats. Jack stopped in the doorway and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Okay, where is Daniel Jackson and what have you done with him?" he demanded.
Daniel glanced up, eyebrows lifted, mouth drawn up in that inquisitive bow. "Huh?"
"You beat me here," Jack explained. "What's wrong with you? Normally I have to go find you and browbeat you into working out."
"Oh. I just..." One hand waved in the air as he hung the suit jacket on the clothing bar in his closet. "...I was... I found a stopping point, Jack. It's no big deal. I can be on time for things."
"Now." Daniel eyed him coolly, hanging up his pants. "Aren't you going to change? God forbid I should actually beat you to the gym."
"Never happen," Jack challenged.
Half a second later, both men were stripping and dressing in their sweats at light speed. Jack kept glancing at him, trying to catch up and get a little ahead but Daniel had a good head start. The tie and the buttons on his dress shirt slowed him down enough that Jack was even with him when he got down to his boxers, and by the time they got their shoes on they were both panting and pointing at each other.
"I beat you!" Daniel crowed, a wide grin on his face. "Even with the buttons!
"Did not," Jack shot back, pouting. "I won."
They argued back and forth light-heartedly, stepping closer and closer until they were glaring in each other's faces, barely able to suppress their smiles. Finally, each leaned back and crossed arms over their chests, drawing up manfully just before they lost it and laughed. "We'll call it a draw, then," Jack suggested, sticking out his hand.
Daniel stiffened slightly, chin cranking up a little as if he was going to challenge that ruling. Then he exhaled heavily, the ghost of a laugh on his lips as he smiled. "Deal." He shook the proffered hand firmly.
That had felt good. It was fun and wonderful to see that the younger man was recovering some of his sense of play. Daniel did so little of that, and Jack really wanted to encourage him in it. He clapped the man on the shoulder and gave him a playful shove toward the door. "Let's go, Danny-boy. Time for me to kick your ass."
Daniel spun out of Jack's grasp before he could get the push going and turned around with a grin. "Oh, yeah? Says who?" He gave Jack a taunting little tap on the shoulder.
"Says your colonel, geek."
"Who're you calling a geek, smart-ass?"
"Old fart. I'll be kicking your butt before you know it." Daniel jostled him with his shoulder.
"In what universe? Dream on, bookworm." Jack gave him another easy little shove.
With a snort, Daniel fell into step beside him and argued playfully all the way to the elevator and up to the gym on Level 15.
"You feelin' better?" asked Jack as the doors opened. "I see you lost the shades. You don't look like your ready to keel over any second now."
Daniel nodded, walking beside Jack down the corridor. "Yeah, sometimes the migraine meds Janet prescribed just take a little while to kick in, but it does help. I think I can manage a good workout today."
"You've gotten a lot better at using your fists," said Jack admiringly as they strolled into the gym. "I thought we might do some take-downs, maybe some arm locks, a little falling and rolling. You got anything in particular you wanna work on today?"
Daniel nodded, looking at the floor as they walked. "Maybe some leg sweeps? Some exotic stuff, fighting from a position like... on my knees, maybe? I mean, somebody might knock me down and I'll know how to fight my way back to my feet or take an attacker down who's still standing when I'm not."
"Oooh, the good stuff! You're on, buddy." Jack clapped him on the shoulder enthusiastically and moved off to the mats, slipping off his Nikes. "Warm-ups first," he ordered, and started doing jumping jacks and arm circles to get his blood pumping.
Daniel sat down on the mats and slowly, gracefully, began to stretch his legs, leaning down over them in a graceful glide. That done, he moved to hands and knees, extending his left arm and right leg, balancing and stretching his back, shoulders and legs. Rising to his feet, he noticed Jack watching him.
"Where'd you learn that yoga shit, Daniel?" Jack asked between exercises.
"Sam's been teaching me," the younger man admitted. "She says it's making me more graceful." He frowned a little. "Um, not that I needed to be graceful or anything, but..." He shrugged and stepped into The Warrior posture, legs in a lunge and palms pressed together high over his head. "They're great exercises for toning the muscles and warming up and I don't get out of breath doing them."
He moved slowly out of the posture and winced.
"You okay?" Jack asked, catching a glimpse of that expression of pain.
"You always say that, even when you're bleeding and obviously not fine," Jack countered. "You need to come up with a more original answer to that question, one that actually gives some information."
"I just..." Daniel hesitated. "I tripped on the stairs and fell against the railing, is all." He put his right hand on his ribs for a moment, then started another posture.
A frisson of alarm shot through Jack. There weren't that many stairs that people in the facility often used. Most of them were emergency access for when the elevators weren't running. The other two sets of commonly used stairs were the ones joining levels 27 and 28, both leading up to the briefing room.
Everyone on the base had been involved in the conspiracy to quietly keep Daniel away from there for the past two days, so he wouldn't see what was going up in that hallway.
"Which stairs?" Jack asked.
"To the briefing room. I went up to see General Hammond yesterday afternoon."
Jack just stared at the man, unable to believe he'd just caught Daniel in a lie. He gritted his teeth and said nothing. Daniel had lied to him and done it without batting an eyelash! What kind of friendship did they have when Daniel would do that? More importantly, what was Daniel covering up with the lie?
They needed to talk but there wouldn't be time today. Maybe tomorrow after the excitement died down, he'd take his teammate aside and clear the air between them. Jack didn't like the idea of this breach of trust and didn't intend to take it lying down.
"That's enough warm-ups," he suggested. "Let's get to it, shall we? Daniel, Kree!"
The younger man came up and stood casually, face to face, arms dangling at his sides.
"Ready stance," Jack ordered.
Daniel just stood there. "I'm ready."
Jack's hands settled on his hips and he frowned, growing more irritated with his friend by the moment. "Do it like I taught you."
Tilting his head, Daniel replied, "Sometimes the first blow will come out of nowhere. I won't always be in a ready stance. Let's do it this way sometimes. Okay?"
"Okay, Jackson. We'll do it your way. Let's see just how ready you are."
Gritting his teeth, Jack decided that Daniel Jackson was probably the most stubborn human being ever born. He lashed out at the man with his foot, aiming a kick at Daniel's ribs. Jackson sidestepped and avoided the kick, then came back with a punch to Jack's midsection. Catching Daniel's wrist with his left hand, Jack stepped in close, applied the right pressure to Daniel's left shoulder, swept one foot out from under him and dropped him flat onto his back. He listened to the air whoosh out of the man's lungs with a note of satisfaction.
Maybe he wasn't getting too old after all.
He bent over Daniel. "You okay down there?"
"Fine," Daniel ground out.
Jack watched Daniel get slowly to his feet. "Okay, let's try some take-downs for a while. You can throw me around a little, and then I'll make you pay for it. Wanna see how I did that?"
Daniel glared, pouting. "I know how you did it, Jack. I just can't believe I fell for it again."
"Okay, so maybe we'll move on to that cool stuff you wanted instead. Ready?"
The younger man's face took on a look of grim determination as Jack knelt on the mats, ignoring the discomfort, and guided Daniel through an attack to demonstrate defensive maneuvers. As soon as he'd been through them once, he got up slowly, walked the stiffness out of his knees, and let Daniel take the kneeling position with himself as the attacker. He had Daniel make the moves at slower than normal speed, critiquing his technique and body alignment, correcting him, and then trying them out full speed.
Jack managed to stay upright most of the time, but Daniel wasn't as adept at pulling his punches and landed some that got a few grunts out of his sparring partner. Daniel learned fast, picking up the unusual moves efficiently, and after fifteen minutes they switched back to take-downs.
Daniel hit the floor a couple of times and Jack offered his hand to help him up. The younger man was obviously suffering, and Jack knew it wasn't from the few falls Daniel had taken. Jack had seen the bruises while they were changing clothes, and it disturbed him.
He was just about to say something when Teal'c caught Daniel's attention.
Both heads turned toward the Jaffa, and Jack watched a rubber training knife sail through the air and land in Daniel's hand without the slightest bobble.
A startled gasp escaped Jack. "Whoa. Nice catch," he said softly. When had Daniel learned to do that? Jack wondered.
"Try that technique again, O'Neill," Teal'c challenged.
"Why? Don't you think I've beaten Daniel up enough?" Jack returned. He'd been about to call things to a close for the day. Teal'c's eyebrow answered and with a sigh Jack turned back to his student and issued the challenge to begin.
Daniel flipped the knife around in his hand. Not many people used a blade in that fashion. Those who did usually knew what they were doing. Daniel just liked the way it felt... or so he said.
The next thing Jack knew, he'd just been disemboweled and killed in two beautifully efficient, precise moves.
For a moment, Jack had seen the glitter of intent in those blue eyes. There had been no hesitation, no holding back of force. Even now, Jack could feel the rubber burn across his throat from the friction of the dull edge pressing and pulling against his skin.
There was no question about Daniel's abilities any more. He was a warrior, hardened from years in the field. Jack had little more to teach him. Show him how to improve the use of his fists and his feet and in no time at all he'd be a far better fighter than his Special Ops-trained commander. When Daniel Jackson learned something, he learned it all the way to his core.
He looked up at the obvious pride in Teal'c's face as he watched Daniel walking away, and remembered what day it was. "Enough of the talk about work, T. It's your birthday. Go have fun striking fear into the new kids." He clapped the big guy on the shoulder and followed Daniel out of the gym.
While he showered, he thought about his teammate. Daniel had come a long way in the last eight years. He could certainly hold his own in the field now and Jack had no problem trusting him at his back. That look on Daniel's face in the gym was haunting him, though. So intent, so dangerous... and an instant later, consumed with fear.
Why would Daniel be afraid of him?
Then his face had closed up completely. Daniel was hiding something. He was afraid the knife thing would give it away, wasn't he?
Jack stood still in the shower, letting the hot spray hit him in the face, holding his breath. He heard Daniel turn off the water and leave and Jack leaned forward, resting his palms against the tile wall. The water ran down his back at that angle, and he stared at the floor, still puzzling over what had happened in the gym.
Jack shook his head, chiding himself for the ridiculous idea that leaped up in his mind. There was no way Daniel Jackson could be the Colorado Springs ninja. He was too smart for that kind of nonsense.
He finished his shower and wrapped a towel around his waist, intending to have a word with Daniel before he left, but the man must have decided to work on his dressing speed and raced the clock to get out ahead of his C.O. Jack shrugged off the thought and put on his fatigues and boots, resigning himself to the remainder of a quiet day on the base.
Half an hour later he was nodding off in a briefing meeting for all the senior officers. He doodled on his notepad, trying desperately to stay awake and focus. He sneaked a peek at Hammond's pad and saw that the older man was covertly drawing naked women in the corners of his notes. Jack smiled. Hammond was actually pretty good.
Talk turned to security measures for the visitors the following day. Jack's attention stayed riveted on that topic, questioning Major Kelly, the SGC's chief of security, by looking at planning from a tactical standpoint and poking holes in every weakness he could find. When he had done that sufficiently well, he turned the meeting back over to the general, who thanked him for his insight and suggested that the weaknesses be covered ASAP.
When they were dismissed, Jack cornered Major Kelly privately and apologized for being so blunt in the meeting. Kelly assured him he expected nothing less and expressed admiration for the colonel's expertise. He shook the major's hand and offered to help with the project, but Kelly assured Jack all would be done in time and went on to see to getting things set up for the visitors the next day.
Jack checked his watch. Lunch had come and gone during the meeting and, rather than ruin his appetite for that steak dinner by having a snack, he headed for his office. There were a couple of reports needing to be finished up. When that was done he stared at the phone for a moment, willing it to ring. Only it didn't. Carter hadn't called with a progress report and he had to take it on faith that things were still going smoothly and the photographs would be finished, framed and hung in time.
With a sigh, he shut up his office and returned to the locker room to change into civvies. The restaurant wasn't too fancy or fast food, so the festivities called for something casual but nice. He had chosen a nice pair of black jeans, a pale blue sport shirt and his leather jacket over that.
He arrived at the restaurant at 1830 hours and ordered a beer which he sipped while he waited for the others to arrive. Teal'c and Daniel came in together, followed by Carter. She still had nothing to report and Jack was considering calling Siler up to check on his progress. But that would have to wait till after the party was over.
If he or Carter still hadn't heard from the man by the end of the evening, he might go light a fire under him or see if he could lend a hand to get things done faster, but he had every confidence that the sergeant was working as fast as he could. They'd taken a lot of photographs that morning and while Jack didn't know beans about adding in backgrounds and such, he imagined that stuff didn't happen at the snap of somebody's fingers. It would take time and he had to be patient.
Jack was just about to tell Daniel to stop squirming in his seat when the food arrived. For a moment, all Jack could see was that beautiful steak, marinated in Irish whisky. He leaned over the platter and inhaled deeply, his eyes closing in pleasure. "Ah, drunken Angus. It just doesn't get better than that."
Carter smirked, then chuckled and shook her head.
"Nothing, sir. Really."
He sat up straight, glaring a challenge down his nose. "Spill it, Carter."
"When I worked at the Pentagon, there was this guy named Angus..."
"I don't think we really need to go there, do we, Jack?" Daniel asked with a grin.
Jack looked down at his steak. Drunken Angus, he repeated to himself. "No. No, I want to hear this. Was Angus a funny drunk?"
"Well, sir, you had to know him," Carter burbled. "He was a genius fix-it guy, real problem solver, true nice guy. In fact, we took up using his last name to mean 'creating unique solutions.' Only when he got drunk he got really... uh... sexy."
Jack raised his eyebrows. "Oh?"
"Yes, sir. And I think... we should just leave that story right there. Sir. Please."
"Okay, Carter. We'll just assume from here on out that you enjoyed your drunken Angus as much as I'm about to enjoy mine." He grinned down at his plate as he carved off a piece of the juicy steak and popped it into his mouth. "Mmmmmmm..."
Her face turned beet red but she was laughing. "Yes, sir. We'll assume I did."
After that, silence fell while they all dived into their food. Teal'c apparently approved of his new taste experience, and Jack stole a piece of sausage to make sure the Bangers and Mash were up to his exacting standards. Carter's potato encrusted salmon looked good, too; the fish cooked just enough to be tender without being dry. Daniel scooped up a forkful of his boxty and deposited it on Jack's plate, but he ignored that and got his own, with plenty of seafood and cheese, topped with cream sauce. Then he ate the second bite Daniel had given him and turned the rest of his attention on devouring his steak.
"The cook gets an 'A' tonight," he announced. "Is everybody happy with their food?"
Unintelligible murmurs of approval sounded all around.
By the time Daniel finished eating, he was wiggling in his seat again, jostling his seat mate with hip or elbow every few minutes.
"What's with you, Daniel? Got ants in your pants?" Jack asked after Daniel's restless foot knocked against his ankle for the third time. Jack was starting to get worried. This was not the same strong, confident warrior he'd sparred with earlier in the day. Jack wondered what the hell had happened to Daniel in the few hours that had passed to transform him into this jumpy wreck.
"Sorry. Sorry." Daniel stilled instantly, but Jack could see that the man was strung out like a junkie needing a fix. His shoulders were up around his ears, his head bobbing about, eyes scanning the restaurant over the top of his shades, fingers drumming on the table, mouth drawn up tight. He looked like he might explode at any moment.
The waitress interrupted to clear away their plates and everyone pulled out their gifts, sliding them toward the guest of honor. Teal'c unwrapped each one carefully, beaming with pleasure as he examined them. Daniel's gift, however, put the rest to shame.
It seemed every day Jack learned something new about his younger teammate that surprised him. The translation wasn't really that big a deal - Daniel could probably translate in his sleep - but the artwork, the extra little touches inside the book that made it beautiful, and getting it bound in that leather cover... it was a gift from his heart, and Jack knew Daniel had a big honkin' heart.
That was precisely what got him on that memorial wall so many times. Maybe one day his picture would go up there for a final time, but they all took that risk, every day. It went with the job.
Daniel was fidgeting again - not that Jack had seen him relaxed for a moment the entire evening. Warning bells went off in Jack's head as he watched Daniel say a quick goodbye and practically dash out of the restaurant. Daniel was the type to linger at good-byes, not hurry through them. Something was definitely wrong with the man.
Still, this was Teal'c's night and Jack let it wind down at its own pace. Discussion turned to Daniel's odd behavior and Jack promised the others to get to the bottom of whatever was bothering their missing teammate. Cake, ice cream and a bawdy limerick broke the somber mood, and soon enough they were standing on the sidewalk, saying their goodbyes.
Jack strolled away with his head down in thought, trying to figure out the little hints and tugs that had been nagging at his consciousness all day, all centered around Daniel. He climbed into his truck and started the engine, driving down Tejon Street toward the roads that would take him home, stopping by Wal-Mart for a few things he needed.
He put away the sundries he'd picked up and returned to the fireplace to peruse the commendations once more. Smiling to himself, he hoped his younger teammate hadn't guessed the surprise coming tomorrow. Carter's Wall and the Medal of Freedom would be fine tributes to the man, whom Jack had come to respect after their initial meeting. Daniel Jackson was far deeper than he appeared on the surface and Jack was pleased to call the man his friend.
Turning away, he strolled toward the stairs and up to his bedroom, dressing for bed with the events of the next day scrolling through his mind. Security was high and everyone was on alert for the slightest inconsistency, which brought Daniel's recent behavior back into focus. Something was troubling the man, and as soon as the VIPs were gone, Jack would sit Daniel down for a talk.
He slipped under the covers, rolled over onto his side, and closed his eyes with a sigh. It had been a long day, but tomorrow would be longer and he needed what sleep he could get. Only with concern about Daniel nagging at him, rest did not come quickly or easily.
In time, after much tossing and turning, Jack O'Neill finally slipped into uneasy dreams.
Part IV: DANIEL'S DAY: THE MAN IN BLACK
The word echoed all through Daniel, annoying him.
This was supposed to be better, he argued. You promised me! You led me to believe...
You may not interfere. You were told this.
He heard Jack cry out and had to go, had to help, had to do something.
The hands he no longer had were tied.
Forbidden, the light impressed upon him.
Then there was the terrible slaughter, and Teal'c lay dying.
FORBIDDEN, he was warned again.
The bonds around his spirit tightened. He squirmed and fought. He tried to reason with the Others, but they were cold and unfeeling. Daniel realized then where he was, what had happened to him.
He moved. He tore loose from the non-existent bonds, reaching out to do what none of Them would. Abydos was at stake and Anubis had to be stopped. He acted, placing himself in the line of fire.
Pain was the penalty, a rending of his soul such as he had never imagined, and then suddenly--
"No!" he gasped, flinging himself upright in his bed.
Daniel struggled to catch his breath, his heart hammering in his chest. Sweat ran in rivulets down his body, stinging his eyes. With a shaking hand he wiped them clean and turned to squint at the clock on his nightstand.
He'd had almost two hours of sleep this time, before the nightmares took him. Wide awake now, he flung the covers back and reached for the lamp. He paced the small VIP room that was his only home now, trying to recall the dream that had so disturbed him.
All he could remember clearly was that his hands had been tied. He looked down at his wrists, half expecting to see ligature marks from some kind of bonds, but there were none. He sighed and rubbed his face, his shoulders aching, head pounding, sharp spikes of pain lancing down into his eyes. Migraines were not a good way to start the day, but he'd been getting them more often, and with each passing recurrence, they were more severe. Nausea hadn't been a problem yet, but if the pain continued to get worse, he felt sure that would eventually compound his condition.
The training with Jack and his nightly excursions were taking a toll. He was getting stronger and faster, but every day his body continued to keep him informed of the price for so much physical activity. Without proper nourishment and sufficient rest to counteract the exercise, he knew his resistance was suffering and he would eventually get sick, collapse from exhaustion or go psycho from lack of sleep. He was going to have to back off a little, because he and the rest of SG-1 would be going out into the field again soon and he needed to be fresh and ready, not worn down to a nub.
He took his glasses from the nightstand, thought better of that and left them there, opting for the sunglasses in his locker instead. Pulling open the drawer, he fished inside for one of the little prescription bubble packs of Imitrex that Doctor Fraiser gave him for the migraines, reluctantly stuffed the thing up his nose and pushed the plunger to dispense the fine spray. It tasted exceedingly nasty as it trickled down the back of his throat and onto his tongue and he gagged a little, pushing to his feet and heading for SG-1's locker room.
As he waited for the water to heat up in the shower, he undressed slowly and took stock of his body. Ten years ago there had hardly been a mark on him. Now his skin was a road map of scars, evidence of the hardships he'd survived as part of SG-1. Scattered among them were a host of fresh bruises on his arms, ribs and back.
No one had said anything about the marks, even though the team was officially on downtime, but Daniel knew that eventually someone was going to notice. Maybe they already had, but just hadn't called him on it yet. So far, they'd been minding their own business. He'd tried to intentionally get in the way of Jack's fists, to take a punch hard enough to cause a discoloration, but somehow the Special Ops-trained colonel had always managed to pull his punches just enough to make a point, not a bruise.
With a sigh, he traced over a faint bluish spot on his ribs, pressing against it to feel the soreness, reminding himself how he'd gotten that one. The rapist he had subdued the night before had kicked him there and Daniel had grabbed that foot as it had impacted against him, lifted it straight up and thrown the guy down on his back. A hundred and eighty pounds of angry vigilante had then descended upon the would-be rapist, and the guy had gone down for the count.
That had been worth the price Daniel paid, and then some. He smiled, closed his eyes and lifted his face into the hot water, washing away the weariness. He hummed a little as he bathed, snatches of something classical, and when he was finished he dressed in clean fatigues, took his sunglasses from his locker to mute the pain from the base lighting, and headed for his office to do a little translating.
His computer chimed when breakfast time rolled around and he returned briefly to his quarters to return a book he wanted to study later that evening. Just as he left he spotted Teal'c ahead of him in the hallway, ready to step into the elevator. He eased in after the Jaffa and greeted him.
Teal'c seemed startled.
Daniel gave himself a mental shake, trying to slip back into his work persona. That was harder to do these days, especially after so little sleep. His mind was still out there in the darkness somewhere, waiting for dawn. Reaching for the elevator button, his body reminded him that it was recuperating from his last bit of abuse and it was all he could do not to groan. He felt his face twitch and hoped Teal'c hadn't seen it.
He decided to cover it with a little exercise, stretching and rubbing himself a little.
As usual, Teal'c didn't miss a thing.
"You have not been sleeping well. Perhaps you should mention this to DoctorFraiser."
Daniel shook his head. "Nah. She'd just push sleeping pills at me. I'll be fine. It'll pass." He put his head down and closed his eyes, letting his mind drift. A moment later, his eyes popped open, disturbing images filling his thoughts during that unguarded moment. He took a deep breath and searched frantically for a fragment of text, a quotation or table he could recite to drive those ugly visions away. Think of anything but that.
Sweat broke out on his upper lip. The doors mercifully parted and the Jaffa accompanied him down the corridor to the commissary. Teal'c let him go first in the food line and Daniel gravitated toward his favorites, foods that would make him feel good as well as fill his stomach. At the moment he didn't give a rat's ass about nutrition; he just needed to taste something wonderful, something that would take his mind out of those awful, dark places it seemed to be going far too often these days, and for much too long. Comfort food was the order of the day.
Even that wasn't working as well as it once did. He ate mechanically, barely aware of the sweetness of the syrup or the fluffy texture of the pancakes. Then Teal'c gently probed him about what was bothering him and Daniel was hard pressed to throw him off the scent. Dealing with this problem took all of Daniel's attention and he was aware that he needed to do something about it. Only he didn't have a clue what that something might be.
How could he turn something off when he couldn't understand what the hell it was?
His head whipped around at the sound of Jack caterwauling the birthday song. Relief flooded through Daniel, glad for the distraction. He joined in as he urged Teal'c to stand up, the Jaffa eyeing the breakfast crowd balefully. Moments later, the whole team was seated and enjoying a little pleasant conversation about the plans for their oldest member's party.
Daniel joked with Sam about Jack's serenade, knowing it would get a rise out of the older man, and he wasn't disappointed.
"You know, I'm gonna remember that come July when it's your turn," said Jack. "Just you wait."
Daniel pretended to be terrified, widening his eyes. "Uh... Jack, the only thing I want for my birthday is for you not to sing to me. Can I have that? Pleeeeease?" He put on a comically witless grin, his eyebrows arching up his forehead.
Jack ignored that, opting instead to talk about everyone's plans for the day, starting with the photo session next on the list. Daniel's mind wandered, almost wishing they'd get into a series of back-to- back missions that would keep them busy. The next one up, to PX7-449, promised to be a relief. Not a soul on the planet anywhere except the four of them, surrounded by ice and snow for at least a week.
Daniel complained briefly about the cold, having grown up much more accustomed to desert heat, but Jack took his complaint as a sign of being neglected. His reminder about social invitations led to a disagreement on how to spend leisure time, which simply reminded Daniel that he'd been intentionally avoiding going out with his friends in order to engage in his secret nighttime pursuit for most of the last month. Talk circled mercifully back around to work and he began to relax a little. Daniel's mind was on autopilot, answering questions while playing with the syrup on his plate, just about falling asleep as he waited for everyone else to finish.
He thought about getting more coffee but then Teal'c left and Jack and Sam started discussing alien doohickeys and sleep threatened to steal over Daniel once again. He was so tired, so distracted, and wished for nothing more than a good night's rest in a peaceful place. Maybe when they camped out on that snowy planet...
"Daniel, you fallin' asleep, there?" asked Jack, giving him a nudge with his elbow.
"No," he sighed back. "Just thinking." He put his fork down and straightened, and lightning bolts of bright pain shot through his muscles. He winced and groaned, unable to stop himself, certain the others would take notice. Terrified he'd have to come up with some sort of explanation for his uncharacteristic aches, he stared down at his plate, thinking furiously.
This time, however, fortune was with him and no one seemed to notice. At least, no one questioned him, which was a great relief. The surge of adrenaline helped him wake up, and he put on a great show of stretching and grunting as a cover. Minutes later, they were off, heading for Level 17.
Just as they reached the doorway, Jack's comment about his glasses and lack of threads reminded Daniel that he'd left his jacket for the green fatigues in the locker room and his regular frames in his quarters. On the elevator ride down to 25, Daniel thought idly about clothes. He really didn't have any, other than what the SGC had issued him and the blue robes in which SG-1 had found him a few months earlier on Vis Uban.
Maybe it was time he went off the base and did some shopping. That could give him an excuse to get out a little, do something other than work and try to remember what it was like to have a life. He must have had one once; he just couldn't recall it. There was almost nothing in his memory of Daniel the man. Sometimes there were fleeting glimpses of the team at a restaurant or other outing, and of course there were fragments of his life on Abydos with Sha're, but that was all.
He had observed others at the base leaving at the end of their shift or after a mission, talking about the activities they planned to enjoy, the families waiting for them, or the fun they'd had when they returned, fresh and rested from their downtime. Yet no matter how he searched in his mind, Daniel couldn't recall having that kind of a life, where he really lived. He wasn't sure he knew how that was supposed to be done.
He snagged the jacket and hurried back to the elevator. When he reached the studio doorway, he stopped and just watched for a moment. For the first time, he noticed the clothing rack, hung with Jack and Sam's dress blues plus several other outfits, regular clothes as well as military wear. Teal'c stood to one side dressed in his Jaffa armor, sans headpiece, and it dawned on Daniel that this was a real photo session, not like the one he'd been taken through to get his civilian ID made for the badges and such after he first arrived on the base.
They weren't just taking quick snapshots. These were official portraits. He took a deep breath and tried to gather his scattered, exhausted wits to prepare for the photography session, knowing he looked like he felt.
"Hi, Daniel," Sam called, waving a little. "What took you so long?"
"I had to go to the locker room for my fatigue jacket and my quarters for my glasses. What's with all the clothes? And why is Teal'c in his armor?" Daniel didn't understand why the SGC would want a portrait of the Jaffa as a Jaffa, and not in Tau'ri clothes.
Moments later, he returned to the locker room for his BDUs -- both the greens and the desert gear -- and stopped by his quarters for the blue robes, just in case.
He hated having his picture taken.
When he returned to the studio, the topic of conversation was Colorado Springs' enigmatic Man in Black. Daniel pretended ignorance, listening to what the others thought about the man. Teal'c considered him a great warrior. Sam was positive but reserved and Siler was openly enthusiastic. Predictably, Jack thought the Man in Black was nuts.
Daniel wanted to say something to defend the nighttime crime fighter, but he couldn't. It was better -- safer for him -- if he kept his opinions to himself. The people on his team knew Daniel Jackson better than he knew himself and he knew he was already giving away clues. Eventually, with enough evidence, one of them was going to figure it out and confront him, and when that happened, he simply didn't know what he'd do. It depended on who it was. Teal'c or Sam would probably keep his secret, at least for a little while longer. Jack wouldn't take the news well and regulations would require him, as commanding officer of his team, to report Daniel to General Hammond.
Daniel didn't want to end up in a mental institution again. There was nothing wrong with his mind.
At least, he didn't think he was mentally ill. He was pretty sure of that, since he wasn't having hallucinations and was still rational. As to what was wrong with him, he was trying to find the answer to that on his own but his methods weren't working.
He thought back to the images that had driven him out into the night that first time, how deep they went, pulling him into the darkness like a sleepwalker. A month back he had taken a taxi to Cascade and Cimarron, getting out to just walk the streets, his coat pulled up around his face to fend off the early spring chill. He'd been wearing a turtleneck Jack had loaned him for an outing the team planned for the next day, since Daniel didn't own many street clothes at the time.
The liquor store robbery had drawn him in like a magnet. Just before stepping through the door, Daniel had pulled the sweater's thick neck over the lower part of his face, knowing the store's security cameras would tape what happened next. Moving strictly by instinct, Daniel had come up behind the robber, disarmed him and knocked him cold with military precision, just as he had been trained.
Still, Jack was right and Daniel knew it. Someday soon, one of the people he hunted would get lucky or be a little faster, a little stronger, and the Man in Black might possibly be unmasked in the morgue. He looked down at the studio floor, silently giving in to Jack's appraisal of his alter ego. Maybe he was crazy. Now, for the first time, he began to consider the possibility that he might be slipping off the edge of sanity, and that terrified him.
He needed to think about something else, to distract himself and stay in the moment. He watched the sergeant work his photographic equipment, listened to Jack's wisecracks and teasing and thought about the work waiting for him in his office. Gradually the grip of fear on his mind gave way and he began to relax a little.
The photo session seemed to last forever. There was a lot of standing around and talking while Siler took pictures of whoever was under the lights, and then there were team photos where they all had to change clothes several times so their outfits matched. Teal'c finally excused himself to go to the gym and Sam pulled out a black garment bag, which she held out to him.
With a little surprise, he unzipped it with excited hands, touched that his teammates got him something special to wear for the pictures. The suit inside blew him away, because he could tell that it was an expensive one and that his friends had taken care to choose what he would like, in the right size and color to fit him. His eyes felt wide as saucers as he looked at the beautiful gray silk. For a moment he was speechless, running his fingers over it in amazement.
Sam smiled warmly at him. "Like you said, we gave away all your clothes. We thought you should have a nice suit for your formal portrait, so we took up a collection. Janet and I picked it out. There are dress shoes and socks to match in the box under the garment rack. You won't need 'em for the portrait, but you will when you wear your new suit tomorrow for the official inspection."
Daniel's heart filled up with warmth. He couldn't remember anyone ever doing something this nice for him. There were still a lot of holes in his memory, but he was sure this was the best present he'd ever received, and it came from his friends, for no reason at all other than they wanted him to have it. He swallowed down a sudden tightness in his throat.
"It's beautiful, Sam. Thank you." Daniel's hands touched the cloth, rubbing the lapel between thumb and fingers, smoothing down the front. He took it from her and pulled it close to his chest, almost hugging it as he walked to the changing area.
He was smiling as he emerged, touching the sleeve in awe. It fit him perfectly and felt great. He was still touching it when he sat down on the stool and Sam came over to straighten his tie.
"That's my dad's tie-tac." Her fingers adjusted the V-shaped wings into a perfectly upright position.
Daniel was moved by that. He remembered Jacob and knew that Sam's father viewed him as family. Jacob even called him Danny.
"Now it belongs to you," Sam went on fondly. You're the only guy I know who's earned wings of a whole other kind, and he and Selmak aren't gonna be wearing this again, so we wanted you to have it."
He saw her fingers make a halo over her head.
Daniel wasn't an angel. Everything he knew about that experience he had learned from his teammates, things they had told him about times they saw him as an ascended being. He didn't remember any of it, but he was sure he hadn't been in Heaven. Lately, he was beginning to wonder if he had been in Hell.
He swallowed hard, looking up into her eyes. "I don't think I've ever owned a suit as nice as this one, Sam. Thank you." Daniel hugged her for a moment, grateful to have a friend as warm and caring as she was. He watched her smile and wave goodbye as she continued her day doing Sam Carter things.
Jack stepped out shortly afterward and when Siler was finished, Daniel gathered up his meager selection of outfits and stopped by the locker room to put them away. He headed to his office for some serious translating, still wearing his suit, reluctant to take it off just yet. Before he got started, however, he set his computer to chime when he needed to leave for his appointment with Jack. It wouldn't be long, but Daniel knew if he didn't set a timer, he'd completely forget about it and Jack would come haul him out of his office by the ear.
It seemed only a moment had passed when the chime went off. Leaving his books and notes as they were on the desk, he rose mechanically and headed for the locker room, his mind still toying with the multiple meanings of the word he'd been studying. It was key in the phrase, with the potential to take the whole sentence in many directions. He stood before the open space that served as his closet, his nameplate recently restored to its former place. Carefully removing his jacket, he put it on a hanger just as Jack came into the room.
"Okay, where is Daniel Jackson and what have you done with him?"
Daniel turned to look at his C.O., perplexed by that question. "Huh?"
He had wondered that very thing for the last few weeks. He didn't seem to be the same guy he'd been before ascension; but then, Daniel Jackson was constantly evolving. All through his life he'd tried hard to hold on to his basic character and adapt to whatever circumstances required of him; first with adjusting to the demands of life on digs with his parents, then foster care, then the academic world and now, the military world of the SGC. For a while he'd felt comfortable in his skin, at peace with his second chance at life, pleased to be making a difference on SG-1.
Since that first troubling vision, however, it was getting harder and harder to understand who he really was, underneath it all. Daniel simply wasn't sure anymore. Late in the day and in early mornings he was confused, exhausted and barely able to keep his wits together at any given moment. Weariness nagged at him during the day, but at least he could keep his wits about him and function somewhat normally.
He shrugged off Jack's teasing inquiry and raced to change into sweats, beating Jack by the flick of a shoelace. After a fun dispute about who beat whom, Daniel finally acquiesced to a draw and they headed for the gym. He found he enjoyed the banter with Jack. It had taken a few weeks for that to come back, and with it came a flood of memories and that uncanny connection with his older friend that made Daniel feel that he was truly home at last.
By the time they entered the spacious room, they had decided on the skills they wanted to sharpen with their workout. Jack liked to talk about what he knew well, and he was a good teacher. The depth and breadth of his skill in this area was simply mind-boggling. Jack O'Neill was a death machine beneath the sometimes charming, sometimes funny, hard-to-take-seriously man on the surface.
Getting started was hard. Daniel's body protested, reminding him how banged up he was. Jack saw it, of course, and asked him about the pain.
Daniel lied to him, concocting what he thought was a plausible explanation of falling against the stair railing in the briefing room, rather than admit he'd gotten kicked by a would-be rapist in the middle of the night. He felt bad about lying to his best friend but it was necessary. Jack seemed to buy it after a brief inquiry and let it go, moving them swiftly into training mode.
Daniel felt the sweep coming and let Jack take him down with it. He knew how to counter that, how to keep from getting into that position in the first place, but it was best that Jack didn't understand just how well his student had picked up all the moves. String Jack along, let him see progress mixed in with confusion and keep his curiosity at bay. Learn no faster than Jack expected him to learn and all would be well.
He picked up some new moves under Jack's expert supervision and then they shifted to take-downs. Jack threw him again, this time offering him a hand up. Daniel's body was aching, begging for him to quit, but he couldn't. Jack hadn't worked him hard enough for that kind of pain and if he showed what he was feeling, he'd tip his hand for sure. Jack would know something else was going on and Daniel didn't want to talk about it.
Teal'c called to him then and pitched him a rubber training knife. He caught it instinctively, flipped it around in his hand and waited. Jack argued with him about how he held it but Daniel was more competent with it in the reverse position. He had learned the basics of knife-fighting a lifetime ago, taught by Josť, a friendly guide in the Yucatan, after the academics at the dig site had a run-in with some bandits. Josť had saved their lives and made sure that those who were fit enough spent a little time each day learning to defend themselves with a blade. Daniel had taken the study a lot farther from that starting point, but no one at the SGC ever knew about his competence with edged weapons.
Jack had never noticed Daniel's skill with a knife and that was a good thing. Other than cutting down saplings or filleting a fish, Daniel had never had occasion to use it in the field. Pistol and P-90 were the weapons of preference, followed closely with zats. Only on rare occasions did they have to resort to using their fists, and that was usually after they'd been disarmed completely, so Jack had never witnessed what Daniel could do with a blade in his hands and his life on the line.
Daniel was still remembering Josť when Jack gave him the signal to start. Without thinking, he stepped in close, blocking Jack's hands with his body, and cut instinctively. When he finished the movements he realized what he'd done, but it was too late.
Jack's eyes were glaring at him in surprised admiration. He knew. Maybe he didn't know everything yet, but it wouldn't take him long to figure it out. He'd be watching every move now, every gesture, studying the man he thought he knew so well, looking for other clues to the warrior beneath the scholarly surface.
In time, Daniel knew, Jack would see the Man in Black.
He apologized, angry with himself for his lack of control. Jack didn't buy it for an instant. Worse still was the fact that Teal'c had seen it already and that assessment was responsible for the big guy tossing him the knife in the first place. Teal'c wanted him to show Jack just how apt his pupil was.
Had Teal'c figured it out already? When had the Jaffa ever seen him use a knife?
Daniel risked a glance at those big, dark eyes that saw so much, and saw pride gleaming back at him, mixed with speculation and a deep curiosity.
Maybe. Maybe not. Daniel couldn't be sure.
He tried to joke it off, act like he'd never thought about his proficiency with weapons, and as quickly as he could, he got out of there. By the time he made it to the locker room he was sweating profusely and ducked into the showers just as Jack arrived. They didn't speak, didn't make eye contact in there, but Daniel squirmed under Jack's indirect attention focused like a laser on him, curious and assessing, thinking about what he had just seen.
His head was pounding again. His hands were shaking; the lights in every room seemed unbearably bright. It made him nauseous and all he wanted was to lie down and sleep, but he couldn't. He had to keep up appearances. Daniel got out of the shower well before Jack and hurried into the locker room to change.
He was back in his new suit and sunglasses and at his desk in a hurry, grateful for the cover of solitude. Daniel threw himself into his work, unaware of the passage of time. He shut out all the distracting clutter that had filled his mind of late and concentrated on the words. He loved words, the way language captured ideas and conveyed them, the way different cultures created concepts others missed completely. Language was a thing of beauty, perhaps the greatest achievement of humanity. Words could wound. They could be powerful weapons as well as instruments of peace and healing. They could paint pictures of infinite beauty and touch hearts and minds long after the writer was dust.
He pulled open a drawer and lifted out the wrapped gift he'd made for Teal'c. If he gave this to his friend, it could well be an admission of guilt. It could be the last piece in the puzzle, the broadest hint of his secret identity, but he had nothing else suitable for a present. This was what he'd wanted Teal'c to have, and had gone to a great deal of trouble locating a source to have the pages professionally bound so it would look nice on a bookshelf or bedside table.
With a sigh, he slipped the book back into the drawer and opened his personal journal, this one written not in English, as most his journals were, but in the flowing Elvish script he'd borrowed from JRR Tolkein as a boy. Not many people, modern linguists included, could read that writing, so he felt his secrets were safe, hidden in plain sight.
There was no possibility of changing gifts now. Daniel hadn't been engaging in his nighttime hobby when he had decided on that homemade book for Teal'c's birthday present, and if the rest of the team found him out, so be it. He'd deal with that as it came.
Daniel read over the first entry after the aborted liquor store robbery, more than a month earlier.
I was drawn to that place at that time as if I knew I should be there to help. Everything happened so fast I couldn't think, and I just got out of there as quickly as I could. I couldn't sit down for half an hour after it happened and felt completely wrung out once the adrenaline wore off. Writing this now the morning after, I can say I had the best night's sleep ever, filled with contentment and peace. I'm strangely fulfilled, as if this is my true calling, though I know it's not. It just feels really good to have saved a life all by myself.
The next night's entry was not so positive.
It's as if I can tell the future, though I know I'm no clairvoyant. Maybe it's something else, some sense of intent or evil that draws me to the place. Tonight a man was preparing to set an old apartment house on fire, probably a hired job, but I don't care about the reasons why. There were people still living in that place and the death toll would have been unthinkable. I knew it was going to happen. I had to go there, knowing already what I would see, terrified of what I had to do.
Is this something left over from the Ancients? I have no idea what the source might be for this... power, for lack of a more descriptive word. It appears to be growing stronger and I feel I must prepare for what is to come. I don't know how to fight well enough, though I'm learning that. There are other considerations, too. I've been lucky so far that no one's pointed a gun at me, but that may not always be the case. There needs to be some planning on my part, shoring up of my defenses.
And God forbid I should get caught! The SGC would be hard pressed to help me out if I'm hauled in as a vigilante. Jack would be supremely pissed off at me personally, for one thing. I can't take the risk of being on the scene when the police arrive, so I'll need some transportation for a quick, quiet getaway.
I can't believe I'm really considering doing this. I just feel as if I don't have a choice.
I have the notion that my double life is going to get expensive. It's a good thing I'm making some money now. I'll need protective gear, too, and someplace to store all this stuff that's not on the base, somewhere private. That will take some time. I've got the day off tomorrow. Maybe I'll sign a car out of the motor pool and take care of as much of this as I can then.
Of all the things I thought my future might hold when I was a boy, this was never on the list. Part of me is laughing at myself, at how foolish it is for me to think I can pull this off and keep it a secret. Another part is curious, wondering how all this happened. And then there's the part that's scared to death that something terrible will go wrong and I'll look back and see what an incredible fool I am, being here at all. I should've died after Kelowna. That's what was meant to be, and I found a way out. Now I'm back in my body, and I'm dealing with this weirdness.
God, what I'd give for a normal life! But then, after all I've seen and done, I'd probably die of boredom.
The next record had been written a week afterward.
I found a storage place that has plenty of space, ground floor storage rooms with roll-up garage doors, and the one I rented is in the middle of the complex, with no clear view of the street. I should be able to go in and out without being seen and the motorcycle is perfect, not too big to handle or noisy, but still plenty of speed if I need it. I spent some time getting the Ducati logos off, which wasn't easy, but I figure there aren't many of these on the street, so with the brand name announcing that, I'd attract more attention, which is the last thing I want.
There's something satisfying about this vigilante thing and I'm happy with that. But it seems that, the more I'm out doing it, the more I need to be out doing it. The violence seems to be escalating, getting more dangerous each time I go out. Worse still, the visions themselves are darker and more disturbing. I'm not sleeping much, partly because I'm so battered and exhausted by the time I make it to my bed that my body has a hard time relaxing before the alarm goes off in the morning.
It's hard to sleep now. If I close my eyes I wake up screaming, horrified to the point that I've taken to keeping a trash can by my bed in case I vomit, which has happened once or twice. The only way to satisfy the visions is to go out and help someone, but seeing these terrible things happen right in front of me is far worse than watching in my imagination.
I don't see how I can keep living this double life. I have to get some rest, and the only time I seem to be able to sleep is during the day, when I should be working. I feel powerless to resist this urge to go out and help. I've tried to stay in, tried to pick and choose, but I'm losing that battle. That choice is slipping away from me. As my poor body will function, I'm driven to go out for as long as I can to do battle.
I'm terrified of all this, of what's happening to me. Something's going to have to give, and I just hope it's not my mind. I've been through that before, and don't want to go there again. I just don't know what else to do.
He took up his pen and started to make a new entry.
I can't remember when the last time was that I slept for more than a couple of hours. I know it's been a few days at least. It's hard to concentrate and I'm getting reckless. I think it's time I told somebody what's going on, but not tonight. Tonight is Teal'c's birthday and I don't want to be locked up in the infirmary and miss his party.
I'll do it after I get back to the base tonight. Maybe tomorrow afternoon instead, after all the hoopla of the coming inspection, so I don't cause Dr. Fraiser any hardship. I'll wait until the circus is over and tell her what's been happening. She won't think I'm nuts unless all the test results come back negative, but I'm hoping she'll find some reasonable explanation for why this is happening to me. I wouldn't be stalking the streets of Colorado Springs, hunting down criminals, if I had a choice. I know what I'm doing is saving lives and therefore important, but this isn't fun. Far from it.
Just then Teal'c knocked on the frame around the open door. "It is time, DanielJackson," he announced. "Are you ready?"
"Just one second," Daniel replied, jotting down a final note in his journal.
I think I'd rather just sleep.
He sighed, closed the journal and slipped it into a drawer, then started stacking the other books on his desk. He rose as he took the wrapped present out of the open drawer, tucked it under his arm and offered his teammate a smile. "All set, Teal'c. Let's go."
His mind returned to dealing with his double life in the car on the way to the restaurant. Teal'c remained quiet as he drove, and Daniel looked out the window at the city covered in darkness. He could already feel that pull, that sensation at the back of his mind, an excruciating awareness of impending violence that he tried desperately to shut out.
Daniel followed Teal'c inside Jack Quinn's, glancing around at all the people. It was a busy place, popular with the weekend crowd. The waitress took them to their booth and Daniel sat down next to Jack, needing the man's upbeat mood to counteract his own.
He tried joking, but his heart wasn't in it and it showed. Moments later, Sam joined them and Daniel began to feel a little better. She had a calming effect on him, and having the four of them there together seemed to help Daniel relax.
Then Jack gave her a look. She shot one back at him and Daniel's curiosity leaped up.
"He promised," Sam said emphatically. "They'll be ready."
"Who promised what?" Daniel asked, looking between them. "What will be ready when?"
O'Neill's eyes twinkled. "You wanna add a 'where' and 'how' for good measure, there, Daniel?"
"You will find out tomorrow," Teal'c assured him. "For now, we must celebrate another year together... and the return of one we have greatly missed."
Daniel was touched by the warmth and joy in his friend's eyes. All of them were smiling at him, even Jack. That felt good. In that moment, Daniel felt a new resolve that he really did belong back with his friends, helping them with their work at the SGC. These were the people who were closest to him in the whole world, and he felt guilty for keeping such an important thing from them. He glanced down at the book wrapped in gold paper on the bench beside him that he felt sure would announce to them all what he did in his spare time.
If it didn't, he would tell them. He would ask their help. But not tonight. Tonight was for Teal'c, and he didn't want to spoil that by making himself the object of attention. He would wait until tomorrow.
Only he couldn't sit still, no matter how he tried, until finally Jack called him on it. They talked and drank and ate companionably and Daniel enjoyed that, but nagging at him was the sense that he needed to be somewhere else. Things were happening; dark, unspeakable things, and he needed to stop them. He glanced down at his hands as he scooped up a forkful of boxty, certain he could feel invisible bonds tightening around his wrists.
He stopped chewing as the word echoed in his mind.
You must not interfere.
His stomach roiled. Flashes of memory seared his mind.
Jack, in Baal's prison. Teal'c and Brata'c, lying on the battlefield. Brata'c and Rya'c, in the death camp. Abydos, vanishing in a cataclysm of light and sound.
His hands started to shake. He forced the half-chewed bite of food down his throat, following its progress down his esophagus. He couldn't eat any more after that and his dinner sat in a cold lump in his stomach.
The plates were cleared away and suddenly it was time for gifts. Daniel tried to push those terrible thoughts away, to concentrate on the present and enjoy Teal'c's birthday. He watched his friend open Sam's card and Jack's new video game, still trying to decide if he was ready for the revelation.
It was way too late for him to have second thoughts about his gift now. He didn't have a choice. He pushed the package across the table to Teal'c and looked away, in case any of them put two and two together and made four. Jack would be first to speak, to gently question whether Daniel had lost his mind. Teal'c would be proud but worried about him. Sam would be shocked. And then they would take him back to the base and lock him up. If they did that, if they kept him from going out into the night, he was afraid he would die. Whatever it was that pushed him to do this vigilante thing, it was too powerful now to resist. He stared at the floor imagining the terror he would feel if he found himself caged behind a locked door again. If they imprisoned him, he thought he really would lose his mind.
His palms were sweating. His clothing felt restrictive. Perspiration trickled down between his shoulder blades and beaded up on his forehead and upper lip. He was shaking now, seeing the faces of an old woman as she wakened suddenly to quick, brutal death, her image bright and hazy with light that made Daniel's eyes hurt.
Daniel struggled to drag his attention back to the people around him, back to the restaurant booth where they sat. By some miracle of fate, his companions didn't make the connection. Daniel relaxed a little as they all examined the little book. Everyone seemed impressed by his choice.
Teal'c seemed especially pleased. The look he gave Daniel was filled with warmth and admiration, just the slightest smile playing about his lips. Once again, Daniel wondered if Teal'c knew.
He studied the Jaffa, suddenly aware of little tendrils of blue and green light waving about the man. Daniel looked at Sam, now emitting a glowing golden radiance that sparkled and shimmered all around her. He glanced at Jack and then around the room at all the other patrons of Jack Quinn's, and everyone looked like they were on fire. Insides clenching, Daniel turned back to look at Teal'c.
That horrifying vision surged into view again, blotting out the Jaffa's pleased smile. Daniel had to go immediately if he was going to arrive in time.
"Uh, sorry, Teal'c, but I have to leave now," he heard himself say suddenly. The waking nightmare clamored for his attention and he beat a hasty retreat, pulling his cell phone from his pocket and calling for a taxi before he even reached the sidewalk.
A few minutes later, when the car pulled up to the curb, Daniel got in and shut the door.
"Where to, buddy?" called the driver over his shoulder.
Daniel's mouth opened, but no sound came out.
I can't go out again, he told himself. I just can't. This has to stop. I can make it stop, if I try hard enough.
"Cheyenne Mountain," he answered stiffly, his voice unnaturally deep and hoarse.
The driver pulled away from the curb and drove him straight to the base, dropping him at the gate. Daniel paid his fare and gave a generous tip, then stuffed his hands into his pants pockets, his suit jacket buttoned up against the chill of the April evening. He walked the long way from the guard post where the taxi dropped him, down the winding lane across the foot of the mountain and across the wide parking lot. He kept his head down, his shoulders hunched, body sweating and twitching every step of the way to the entrance of the mountain. The brisk fifteen minute walk seemed to take forever.
His hands were still cold as he signed in on the 11th floor, but what bothered him more was the weird stuff going on with his vision. Everything appeared to be glowing. Pale radiance shone from the walls and floor, brighter outside when he'd looked at dirt and plants. People were fiery bright, their images transparent as he watched them glow.
He hurried to his quarters, turned off all the lights and took off his sunglasses as he sat on the side of the bed. Holding out his hand in front of his face, he could clearly see the outline of his fingers and hand, his whole body lighting up the room. He rose to go to his bureau for pajamas, undressing with hands that shook so hard he just left his clothes where they lay. His whole body was quivering and he dropped his pajama pants twice before managing to pull them on.
Daniel started pacing, his hands flexing as he tried to shut the other visions out.
"I can stop this," he said aloud to the empty room. "I can stay here. I can close my eyes and see nothing."
He stood still and tried it.
The old woman he had seen in the restaurant had died screaming. He could hear her terrified shriek, smell her blood in the air, and the light of her body went out before his eyes. He was too late, had waited too long, and now she was dead because he hadn't saved her.
"Oh, God." He put his hands to his head, squeezing. "Please, make it stop!"
Another vision slid into view.
Daniel whimpered, falling to his knees. He bent over, cowering on the cold concrete floor, arms crossed over his head. Heart full of horror, he wept as he watched those strangers die in his mind, certain that, if he logged onto the local news via internet the next morning, he would learn the name of the old woman he had allowed to die. Now someone else needed his help. He had the chance to help someone else now.
How could he just stay below in his quarters and do nothing?
Go to them.
Bolting upright, Daniel glanced around, wondering where that deep, gentle voice had originated. There was no one in the room with him. He could see every inch of it, even without benefit of lights. Mouth so dry he couldn't even swallow, he listened, straining to hear it again.
Had he really heard anything at all, or had it simply been an echo of his own consciousness, willing him out into the night?
You are needed. Go.
Instantly Daniel was on his feet again. He didn't want to resist the urging, not really. He could do this, had done it many times, without being caught. And he was saving peoples' lives. That mattered far more than his fear of being found out.
Heart pounding, adrenaline flooding his veins, he began to prepare for his mission with ruthless efficiency. He urinated in his tiny bathroom, washed his hands and put in the contacts he wore on these nightly missions. Pajamas were hastily yanked off and jeans pulled on without bothering to hunt for underwear. Daniel hauled on a T- shirt, shoved his feet into boots, then grabbed his pass card and base ID on the way out the door, stuffing them into his right hip pocket while hurrying down the empty corridor. Jaws clenched, mind focused like a laser on the path that would take him to the surface, he waited for the elevator and checked his watch for the time.
It was just after midnight. He pulled out his cell phone and called for a taxi as soon as he hit the tunnel mouth, power walking all the way to the front gates. Running would make him look like he was in too big a hurry and draw attention to him, which he didn't want. It was late, but people were always around and observant in a place such as that.
He arrived at the front gate at the same time as the taxi, which had made good time in the sparse traffic. Giving an address that would leave him a couple of blocks from the storage facility where his gear was stored, Daniel sat in the darkened back seat of the cab, listening to that compelling inner voice that he was learning to trust, already slipping into the meditative place that would help him use his energy most efficiently. Soon it would be time for the Colorado Springs ninja to make another appearance, then vanish afterward without a trace.
|Genres:||Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama|
|Series:||Day and Night|
|Summary:||A day in the life of SG-1-- Teal'c's birthday -- seen through the eyes of all four members of the team. On the eve of the opening of a major SGC memorial, the team reflects on their strengths and weaknesses, while one of them struggles with a burden too great to carry alone.|
Author's Chapter Notes:
Warnings: Mature themes. Violence.