Second Impressions

 

“You’re in no position to make demands, Jackson.”

Daniel backed away as the hard-faced general strode slowly up the ramp towards his fallen men.  One fierce scowl and a snarled phrase – that was all the new commander had given him, eyes cold as death at Daniel’s plea.  No.  He had to make the man understand.  His heart beat frantically within his chest, tears of frustration barely held back, still threatening since he’d said goodbye to his people, his home, his heart.   This couldn’t be real, he couldn’t be back here, on Earth, the tearing in his chest and tightness of his skin must mean he was sick, feverish, these had to be nightmarish hallucinations of his mind.  The grey concrete bunker seemed to shrink around him, the dry, ventilated air still too moist for his desert skin, fluorescent lights shattering into rainbows of the wrong color and striking straight into his brain.  He gasped and stumbled backwards, unconsciously seeking out the only familiar face, the only warmth in that cold, cold room.

“Hey, take it easy.”  Jack’s hand fell on his shoulder like a weight, the whispered words barely recognizable through the buzzing in Daniel’s ears.  He turned towards the shadowed eyes, but Jack wasn’t looking at him.  He followed the other man’s gaze towards the figures on the ramp.

The general quieted Dr. Carter with one wave of his hand as he stood over the bodies of his fallen soldiers and Daniel wrestled with his own emotions.  The bald man crouched down, touching the dead, bending his head solemnly, his silent lips moving, face pale.  Suddenly Daniel felt like he was intruding, eavesdropping on something that should be private, unwitnessed, and his desperation to be heard, to make the military machine understand faltered.  White-coated men and women gently lifted Ferretti onto a gurney and Hammond stood, taking a moment to connect with the brutally injured man before he was taken off through a steel door.  Daniel blinked his own tears back, frowning, as the cold eyes turned once again to him.

“Airmen.”  The short, barked word confused him for a moment, until Daniel realized it was not directed at him.  Two uniformed men peeled away from their stiff stances against the back wall and appeared at his sides.

“Take Doctor Jackson to a holding cell.”

Hands closed around his arms and Daniel opened his mouth to protest, trying futilely to pull himself from the soldiers’ grasp.  Another voice beat him to it.

“General Hammond,” Jack began, stepping between Daniel and the angry figure walking down the ramp.

Hammond’s gaze flashed momentarily towards the Air Force colonel before coming to rest on Daniel’s wide blue eyes.  “Enough, Colonel O’Neill.  Get the rest of your team to the infirmary and get checked out.”  He pointed one hand towards the uniformed man stationed at the open doorway where Ferretti disappeared.  “Major Samuels and I have some questions for this man.”

Jack didn’t move.  “Sir…”

“Dismissed, colonel.”  Hammond spat.

Daniel watched helplessly as Jack’s posture stiffened.  He caught a glimpse of Dr. Carter’s wide eyes over the general’s shoulder before the grip on his arms tightened and he was hauled around to face the door.  The blonde woman’s voice was cut off as the two men pushed him, unresisting, down the hall ahead of them.  “Wait.  This isn’t…”  He tried, but a sharp nudge in the middle of his back caught him by surprise and he stumbled over the hem of his robe, catching himself painfully against the wall.  He got the message.

***

Jack O’Neill hesitated outside the general’s closed office door.  He’d followed orders, had himself, Kowalsky and Carter checked out, and hustled back here as quickly as possible.  Sure, Hammond had been pissed to find out that his original mission report had been, well, incomplete was the best spin he could put on it at the moment.  And the loss of men and women under his command – a command that everyone had believed to be of an empty silo with a 64,000 pound paperweight at the bottom – had filled the general with righteous anger, an anger he now appeared to be directing at the civilian who sat, heart-broken by his loss, alone in a military holding cell.

Jack knew about blame, about warped focus, and the furious insistence on finding a scapegoat, a concentration for all the guilt and pain that filled up your soul.  But Daniel didn’t deserve it, and was the most ill-equipped of all of them to fight for fair treatment.  He was drowning in his own guilt and blame, horrified by the loss of his wife and brother, and still wounded by his isolation from the people of Abydos – people who clearly had grown to love the stuttering academic during his year of self-imposed exile among them.  No longer stuttering, Jack noted, and hardened by the kind of life a primitive civilization afforded.  But the emptiness in the blue eyes behind those clumsily patched glasses as Daniel had turned from the embraces of his Abydonian family towards the dialing device and Earth would stay with Jack forever.

He knocked.

“Come!”

Samuels stood as Jack entered the small office, but he waved him back down into his chair.  “General, if I could have a word?”

Hammond narrowed his eyes at Jack’s rigid posture.  “Debriefing isn’t set for another two hours, colonel.  Something that can’t wait?” he asked sternly.

“No, sir, I don’t believe it can,” he answered, careful to keep his voice level and direct, to filter out his frustration and impatience.  He hadn’t had to censor his own words for far too long to have it feel comfortable.  Dry sarcasm and swift verbal punches were his strength, not careful diplomacy.  He eyed the general warily – he didn’t know this man, and he’d been out of range of base gossip for over a year, and not really paying attention before that.  Hammond was still an unknown quantity, quick to threaten to send a bomb among an innocent population, but also willing to listen to Jack and Kowalsky’s advice.

The general leaned back in his chair and gestured for the colonel to proceed.

So far, so good.  Now for the hard part.  “It’s about Doctor Jackson, sir.”

“What about him?” Hammond drawled.

Jack winced.  “He’s not to blame for any of this, sir.  It was my decision to allow him to remain among the Abydonians, my decision to falsify my report and to order my men to do the same.”

If it was possible, the small eyes narrowed even further and Jack felt his own chin go up, welcoming the scrutiny.

“General, he came back willingly, and also gave Captain Carter some pretty impressive intel about the operation of a network of Stargates that might be able to access ours.”  Hammond didn’t move and Jack felt the tension rise, his natural disdain in the face of what he considered to be military thick-headedness threatening to erupt.  He swallowed a mocking comment and hurried on.  “Daniel saved our lives on that first mission, sir – saved my life.  And he’s smart.  Figured out the language, the culture, hell, the Stargate itself when everybody else came up with squat.”

“Permission to respond, sir?”

Jack turned with a sigh.  Samuels.  Smarmy, manipulating, butt-kisser extraordinaire.  Talk about a sorry excuse for the uniform – if half of what Jack had heard was true, he wouldn’t trust Daniel within a hundred miles of Samuels, let alone a small, windowless interrogation room.  He hoped the guy hadn’t gotten his hooks too far into Hammond’s command yet.

Hammond nodded.

Rising with an oily ease, Samuels faced Jack.  “Has it occurred to you, Colonel, that Jackson – as smart as he is – could have been compromised by this alien attacker?  That the address for Earth’s Stargate could have been given to the alien by Doctor Jackson, in fact, that he is the only person with that information who was out there in the galaxy in a position to divulge it?  Your report clearly stated that Ra, the only one with Earth’s address, was destroyed by your bomb.”  He shrugged almost casually.  “Sounds to me like Doctor Jackson has a lot of explaining to do.”

“I concur.”

Jack twisted around at Hammond’s statement.  “That’s crap – sir,” he added hastily, fury at Samuels’ greasy tone releasing the rein he’d kept on his tongue.  “Daniel would no more give up Earth’s address than I would.  And have you missed the fact that his own wife and brother were kidnapped by these aliens?  And half the Abydonians at the ‘gate killed?”

“Watch your tone with me, Colonel,” Hammond warned, sitting forward.

Samuels stepped forward.  “His ‘brother’?”

Waving one hand in the air, Jack snarled.  “Brother, brother-in-law, whatever.  Skaara.  One of the kids who saved our asses from Ra’s soldiers.”  Damn it.  He’d grown up so much in the past year, but he was still a kid playing soldier in Jack’s eyes.  He rubbed at his forehead with one hand, trying to shut out the memory of Skaara handing back Jack’s lighter.  The creak of Hammond’s chair drew his gaze back to the general.

“Colonel O’Neill.  I cannot and will not take any threats to this facility, or to this planet, lightly.  I plan to hold Doctor Jackson as long as is necessary to determine whether or not he is in any way responsible for the attack and loss of life here or on Abydos.”  Hammond nodded towards the other uniformed man.  “Major Samuels will be questioning him shortly.  In the meantime, if you have nothing else to add, I suggest you type up your report.”

“Request permission to sit in on the interview, sir.”  Jack’s voice snapped coldly.

“Permission denied.”  Hammond squinted up at him.  “I want to know what happened to my men, colonel.  That should be your first priority, not this… deserter.”

Jack came to attention, fury radiating from his clenched jaw, blazing in his dark eyes.  He felt it.  Knew Hammond and Samuels could see it.  His lips thinned as realized he was impotent, helpless to change this course of action Hammond was so set on, unable to penetrate the fog of confusion and fear of the unknown threat just the other side of that metallic ring one floor down.  Two hours.  Two hours until he and Kowalsky and Carter could try to force some sense into Hammond’s head.

He nodded sharply at the general’s words of dismissal.  Samuels was foolish enough to follow him from Hammond’s office, a smug smile on his lips.

“Don’t worry, colonel.  I’m sure Doctor Jackson will be able to shine some light on these developments.  One way or another.”

Jack turned suddenly and grabbed Samuels by his lapels, pulling the shocked, round face close to his own.  “You might have Hammond fooled, Major,” he growled, “but I know you.  And you know me, and what I’m capable of.”  He straightened abruptly and smoothed the blue uniform over Samuels’ chest.  “Don’t make me sorry for bringing Daniel back here.”  He leaned forward, using every inch of his tall frame to intimidate.  “Trust me, you won’t like the results.”

***

The slam of the metal door jerked Daniel from a nightmare.  It was a nightmare, wasn’t it?  He blinked eyes crusted with salt and raised his head from his folded arms, the bright light deepening the throb inside his head, the tight muscles of his neck and back.  Sha’re… Skaara… Where?

A folder slapped down on the table before him puffed air into his face and he wrenched backwards, away from sound, from touch.  A metal table.  Electric lights.  Concrete walls.  No.

“Doctor Daniel Jackson.  Archaeology.  Anthropology.  Born in Egypt.  Orphaned at age eight.”  The stocky, uniformed man stood over him, both arms braced on the table.  His words were cold, full of disdain, his tone threatening.  Daniel frowned, crossing both arms across his chest.  The man’s smile held an ugliness that he had not witnessed since his last confrontation with the boy-alien who called himself Ra.

“Fostered far and wide.  Two doctorates and a master’s by age twenty-five.  Speaks over twenty languages, including many of Middle-Eastern origin.  Laughed out of academia two years ago when you identified a possible relationship among various ancient cultures.”

Emotions tried to cut through the despair that filled him – loss, anger, isolation – but Daniel let them go, struggling to concentrate on the so simple phrases that this man had chosen to define his life.  After all, it was the truth up to a point.

The ugly smile grew.  “Catherine Langford invited you to take part in a Top Secret military operation here under Cheyenne Mountain.  You cracked the code others had worked on for years in just two weeks, accompanied Colonel O’Neill’s team through your self-named Stargate, blew up an alien ship, and decided to forswear your loyalties to this world and this country.  That about right?”

A thin blade of anger pierced Daniel’s pain.  “Well, that’s me in a nutshell.  And you are?”

“I’ll ask the questions, Jackson.”

Daniel’s laugh echoed with grief.  “Of course.  Sorry.  Don’t know what I was thinking.”  He waved one hand between the two of them before holding it tightly to his body.  “Go ahead.”

“I don’t need your permission, Jackson.”  The man leaned closer, but Daniel sat perfectly still, unwilling to be intimidated by either his proximity or his apparent control of the situation.  “Just tell me, when did you start working for this alien?  How did it contact you on Earth?  Was Langford involved?”

“What?”  Daniel felt his mouth drop open.  “What are you talking about?”

The man circled the table, stopping directly behind him.  Hands gripped his shoulders and Daniel shuddered, staring straight ahead, unable to comprehend what the man was saying.  He felt himself pulled backward against the officer’s chest.

“There are just too many coincidences here, Doctor.  You just happen to need a job when Dr. Langford is reaching the end of her funding.  You just happen to speak the languages needed.  You just happen to hit on the right idea to dial the Stargate from seeing a newspaper article.”  Every time he spit the word ‘happen,’ the man’s fingers dug deeper into Daniel’s muscles, grinding against bone.

“And then there’re your actions on the planet.  You just happen to be captured by the alien, are miraculously revived, or so you claim-”

“Hey-” Daniel wrenched out of the man’s hold and leaped to his feet, turning quickly to confront the ridiculous charges.  “I took a staff blast for your colonel, because he couldn’t trust me or keep his mouth shut.”  He snapped.  “Do you think I knew Ra had some kind of sarcophagus that would bring me back?  Do you think I manipulated all this so I could go to Abydos to be killed or enslaved?”  He hurled all the rage, the horror at his wife’s ordeal, the loss of his people, his family, at the man before him, arms flailing within the robes he’d taken as his second skin.

Hands grabbed at his chest, clutching the heavy fabric, forcing him backwards over the metal table, the man’s pale face inches from his own.  Daniel held onto both wrists but couldn’t budge them, his sandaled feet scrambling for purchase as he was bent back and down, held motionless, the officer’s weight pressed against his chest.

“Don’t threaten me, Jackson.”

The snarled words ghosted hot breath across his face and Daniel closed his eyes, shaking his head back and forth, unwilling to believe that only hours ago he’d been caught in Sha’re’s close embrace, her scent filling his senses, the warm sands of Abydos beneath his feet.  No.  This wasn’t – it couldn’t be real.  The weight left him and the hands lifted his body a few inches from the table, only to slam him down, hard, before letting him go.  Daniel, empty of breath, of reason, of hope, stayed there, gasping, listening as the footsteps walked away, circling again.

“You certainly made an impression on Colonel O’Neill with that stunt,” the man stated lightly, “but it’s all too coincidental for my book.”

Daniel struggled to his feet and then dropped heavily back into the straight-backed chair, arms hugging himself defensively.  “I don’t…” he swallowed, the words choking his throat.  “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

The blue-uniformed man leaned casually against the closed door, body language clear to the linguist – this man was his gatekeeper - there was no way out for him except by his leave.

“How about the truth, Daniel.”

The voice was even uglier under the guise of gentleness.  Daniel shuddered.  “You already know the truth,” he forced through stiffened lips.  “Jack and I killed Ra.  We thought he was the only one.  We thought the Stargate only connected Earth and Abydos.  I had nothing to come back to – no family, no job – and everything to stay for.”  He paused, watching for a reaction, for a return of the anger, the violence, but the man stayed put, back against the door.  “For my wife, to help the people there restore their civilization.  I didn’t know anything about the attack on Earth until Jack and Kowalsky came through – if I thought,” his voice was getting louder, more desperate, but he couldn’t help it – “if I thought it might happen to us, to Abydos, do you think I would have left them there?  Left her there?”  Tears filled his eyes and he tried to blink them away, hating the weakness they showed to this man, finally dashing them away with one shaking hand before capturing it again against his body.  “I didn’t know.  I didn’t-” He lowered his head, defeated.

The silence grew, but Daniel had no heart for the battle.  If he’d only left the ‘gate buried.  His final words to his people came back to him and he listened bitterly as his own voice told the Abydonians that nothing good could come through the Chappa’ai.  Nothing.  He’d known of the network of Stargates, he’d found the cartouche room months ago and understood.  But he couldn’t leave it alone, couldn’t be content with his life there, with his new home, his new future lived out among them.  Nothing the military did to him now mattered.

He heard the door open, but didn’t raise his head until he heard metal touch metal, smelled a dampness in the air.  A tray with a pitcher of water and one glass stood on the table before him.

“You must be thirsty, Daniel.”  The man poured a glass half-full and held it out towards him.  Daniel frowned and made no move to take it, didn’t trust the officer that close to him.  After a moment, the man put the glass on the table, and, with a smile, moved away.  Daniel took it, warily, and drank it down, grateful for the chance to swallow his emotions as well as the water.

“Thank you.”

The man’s eyebrows rose slightly at the polite response.  “Listen.  Everything is kinda screwed up around here.  I’m sorry if I scared you.”  The smile returned, no less forced, no more sincere.  “I’m Major Samuels, by the way.  Bert,” he added.

Daniel nodded, forcing his shoulders back, his head up to meet whatever new threat this man represented.

“Good men are dead, Daniel.  The general wants an explanation.  Wants to understand who is responsible.”  It sounded so logical, so reasonable, but Daniel knew he could never trust a thing that came out of this man’s mouth.

“He said it was Ra, that the alien’s eyes glowed like Ra,” Daniel muttered.  The boy had died in his arms, trying to tell him, to make him understand.

“Now, you see, that’s what the general said.  The man who attacked our base had eyes that glowed.”  Samuels walked closer and Daniel couldn’t help leaning back in response.  “So, if it was Ra, that would mean that you and Colonel O’Neill never really destroyed him, wouldn’t it?”  Hands settled on the table again, on either side of the tray, as the major leaned down.  “Or maybe O’Neill just thinks you destroyed him.”

“We did!”

“Then who gave this new ‘Ra’ the address for Earth, Jackson?”  The faux friendliness was gone.  Daniel scooted his chair back and stood, backing away, unwilling to be manhandled again.

“I don’t know – maybe… maybe if Ra really did live on Earth for a time, maybe other aliens did too.”  His mind surged with possibilities, explanations.  All of history was suddenly suspect, open to manipulation by a race of beings who masqueraded as gods to the primitive civilizations of the past.  “Maybe it’s common knowledge among these beings, the ones who took human hosts.  Or maybe,” he stopped, back against the wall, unable to retreat further, “maybe now that Ra is dead, someone else has taken his place, along with all of his territories, which would include Abydos and Earth.”  And, possibly, many others.

The threat posed by one snarling officer no longer registered as Daniel let his mind embrace the problem.  He turned, beginning to pace along one wall of the small room, ignoring the simmering major and his own despair for the moment.  Ra was dead.  If there was another glowing-eyed alien, that meant the Stargates might link worlds ruled by others of his race.  And, if the one who had kidnapped Sha’re and Skaara had adopted another Egyptian deity as his identity – well, maybe he could figure out which one.

He tried to pull his arm from the suddenly painful grasp, tried to keep moving, but the hand around his bicep tightened and he turned his head to protest.

“Look – I don’t know, I don’t know how else to say it.  But if you give me some time, I’ll figure it out.  Doctor Carter, she knows-” The hand shook him, hard, and he bounced against the wall, Samuels’ face slowly coming back into focus too close to his.  “What?” Daniel demanded angrily, trying to pry the fingers away from his bruised arm with one hand.

“Did you give this alien access to Earth’s address?”

The words could have been in some alien language for all the sense Daniel could make of them.  “What?  Why would I…”  He shook his head.  “Are you crazy?”

“Answer the question, Jackson.  You were the only one to speak to Ra alone, when he supposedly killed you and brought you back to life.  You were the only one living on an alien planet.  How do we know this other alien didn’t contact you, didn’t get Earth’s Stargate address from you, didn’t decide to attack Earth because of what you told it?”

Samuels had backed him into a corner now, his voice growing softer and softer as he pressed closer, eyes narrowing, pupils darkening with mindless fury.  Daniel struggled ineffectually, heart pounding, knowing he didn’t have the strength or skill to escape, and that all his protests could never convince this man or his superiors that he had not done this.  If Sha’re’s abduction didn’t show them that Daniel had lost more than they could imagine, nothing would.

“Major Samuels.”

The tinny voice released Samuels’ hold and Daniel cradled his arm against his chest.  Furious eyes kept him pinned to the wall before the man took one step away and addressed the thin air of the small room.

“General?”

Daniel stumbled back towards his chair, anxious to put the table between them again as his eyes searched the walls for – ah, a speaker box.  Someone had been listening.  The general.  He’d been listening, silently, allowing his officer to…

“My office, Major.”

“Yes, sir,” Samuels replied, straightening his jacket and smoothing his hair down with one hand.  He moved towards the door.

“Major.”  The same voice sounded, tighter, somehow more intimidating in its intensity.  “Have Doctor Jackson escorted to the infirmary on your way out.  Let Doctor Warner know I’d like him to perform a full physical and have the young man escorted to the briefing room along with his medical report in one hour.”

Daniel watched the general’s words sink into Samuels, and the man turned to spear him with a fierce, punishing glance, promising pain.  “Of course, sir.  We’re on our way.”

***

General Hammond turned to the tall man standing next to him, hand still poised above the toggle switch that let him hear every word spoken in the interrogation room.  He gritted his teeth.  “Your concern is duly noted, Colonel.”

“Thank you, General,” Jack replied, hands clenched at his sides.

Hammond coolly appraised the officer’s tightly controlled expression.  “You have my permission to escort Dr. Jackson to the infirmary and to the debriefing, where I hope your confidence in the honesty of this young man will be rewarded.  If not…”

“Understood, sir.”  Jack turned and reached for the door.

“Colonel O’Neill-”

“Sir?”

“I will deal with Major Samuels.”

Jack imagined himself beating the slippery major to a pulp.  “Yes, sir.”

***

Daniel stood under the shower in the infirmary for a long time, mind in neutral, hands braced against the tiles.  Such a simple thing, running water.  Being clean.  No sand.  No sweat.  A familiar taste of home.  Warm water flowed over his skin, the spray massaging cramped muscles and bouncing painfully against bruises that were just becoming visible.  He hurt.  Ached.  But the soothing water didn’t reach the true pain.

He pushed back from the wall, blinking up into the spray until his eyes were sore before wrenching at the control knob.  No.  Sha’re had no comfort, no flavor of home.  She was afraid, maybe hurt, facing something horrible, so alien to her existence, and he was complaining about a few bruises.  Daniel grabbed the towel and swiped it quickly across his chest and down each leg before rubbing it through his hair.  The blue scrubs stuck to his damp skin as he wrestled with them, unwilling to wait long enough to dry completely, relishing the discomfort of the cold air on his arms and legs, against the back of his neck where his wet hair dripped.

An airman waited just outside the door as if convinced Daniel posed some serious threat to the heavily armed soldiers roaming the hallways.  He didn’t bother making eye contact – if everyone here was as rampantly suspicious and instantly violent as Major Samuels, the least personal contact the better.  He lowered his gaze to his bare feet and walked quickly to the bed where the grey-haired doctor awaited him.

“I knew you were under those robes, somewhere.”

“Jack?”  Daniel looked up at the familiar voice, a rush of relief bringing heat to his face.  He felt a hesitant smile falter and die as his anger surged.  “Where the hell have you been?”

Jack held both hands up to head off his tirade.  “Hey, keep it down.”  He jerked his chin towards the curtained bed towards the end of the row.  “Ferretti’s still in surgery, but they’ll be bringing him back anytime now.”

“Sorry,” Daniel sighed, flicking a trail of water from his cheek.  He looked up at the doctor’s lined face.  “How is he?”

“Doctor Kent believes he will make a full recovery,” the older man quickly assured him.  “Now, if you don’t mind Colonel, I’m sure Mister Jackson would appreciate some privacy for his exam.”

Doctor Jackson,” Jack insisted.  “And, give us a minute here, doc, would ya?”

Warner’s gaze shifted between the two men before he nodded and placed the blank chart on the bed.  “Five minutes, Colonel.  The general wants Doctor Jackson’s,” he enunciated the title clearly but with no trace of bitterness, “information in time for the debriefing.”  He hurried off to pick through a tray of equipment that sat against the wall.  Daniel wondered what the calm man made of all this.

He watched the doctor curiously for a moment, uncertain about whether or not he wanted to hear what Jack was liable to say.  He was a part of this military machine, had been determined to set off his bomb and kill every living thing on Abydos at one time.  It had been a full year since they’d seen each other, and even though Daniel had observed an easier Jack O’Neill, one who seemed comfortable, now, within his own skin during those few minutes spent around the fire on Abydos, drinking moonshine and swapping stories with the kids, the fragile bond between them might be all in Daniel’s mind, growing in his memory into something that had never been.  Was the friendship he remembered real or just nostalgia, something to pull out at lonely moments among a strange people on a strange planet light-years from Earth?

“Listen,” the colonel had moved closer to his side and Daniel finally looked up, watching the dark eyes for a clue.  “Samuels is a moron, and Hammond is reading him the riot act as we speak.”

“He is?”  Daniel folded his arms across his body, inadvertently touching the spot where the major had clutched his arm and wincing at the aching muscle there.  Jack’s eyes caught the movement and Daniel watched the colonel’s mouth tighten in anger.  “The same General Hammond who told me I was in no position to make demands, who ordered me to a holding cell and then sicced his attack dog on me?”

Jack rubbed one hand across the back of his neck.  “Yeah.  I think he’s a good guy, Daniel, but he’s also a Major General who is responsible for one of the craziest, most dangerous commands in the history of the planet.”

“Believe it or not, I realize that, Jack,” Daniel whispered harshly in reply, glancing up to make sure the doctor and the waiting soldier were not listening.  “I watched him with the men we brought back, I know he’s upset, worried.  But for them to think I have something to do with this alien attack – that’s… that’s…”  He gestured, angry, frustrated.

“I hear ya.  It’s nuts.”

Daniel dropped his hands, searching Jack’s face.  “You think that?  You – you trust me?”

“Daniel – you saved my life.  That’s not something I’m gonna forget.”  Jack sighed, rolling his eyes at the ceiling.  “Of course I trust you.  But Hammond wasn’t here when you hijacked this project from a bunch of hand-picked geeks and did your magic on a humorless, suicidal Air Force hard-ass.”  An amused smile lit his face.  “And, you know you don’t always make such a great first impression.  Heck, even I thought you were a dweeb.”

“And that estimation has changed?” Daniel asked dryly, warmth beginning to replace the sense of isolation that had been tightening around his being like a shroud.

“Well, maybe.”  Daniel waited out the half-smile and the annoying narrow-eyed scrutiny for a moment.  “Anybody who could prompt a goodbye kiss like you got when he was only taking a walk around the block, well, apparently you’ve got some hidden depths,” Jack finally smirked. 

His emotions were still right there, under his surface composure, and Daniel turned away in time to see that Warner had run out of patience and was heading their way.  A touch on his elbow drew Daniel’s wandering attention back to the man beside him.

“This debriefing – it’s not formal,” Jack began, “Hammond’s been in touch with the powers that be in Washington, and some big-wigs are headed here in the morning.  Tonight he wants to get a feel for us, an honest look into the story of Abydos, the first mission, and why you’d choose to abandon us to live there.”

“Abandon…”  Daniel shook his head.  “So it’s all about me?  Jack, we don’t have time for this.  Sha’re and Skaara-”

One hand dropped gently onto his sore shoulder stopped him.  “You want a chance to get out there and find them?  To see the outside of this mountain any time soon?  Then you’re gonna have to do this my way, Daniel.”

He hesitated, wanting to insist, to demand that Jack do something – anything – to find his missing wife.  He had to act, to do; he couldn’t just sit here in meetings trying to convince people he was telling the truth.  Remembering the fury in Samuels’ eyes, the insanity of his questions – Daniel figured convincing any of these people might take the rest of his life.  “Jack – if I can just figure out which ancient god this new alien is portraying, I might have a way to determine-”

“Aht!”  One long finger waved in front of Daniel’s face.  “Daniel.  Do you trust me?”

“I trust you,” he found himself answering immediately.

Jack smiled tightly.  “Then we do this my way.”  He nodded to the doctor and headed towards the door, Daniel’s eyes following his retreating back.  At the open doorway he paused and turned around.  “I’ll have someone bring you some clothes and escort you to the debriefing.”  Dark eyes seemed to be communicating beyond the everyday words, but Daniel couldn’t grab hold of the meaning.

“Jack?”

“It’s okay, Daniel.  Let the doc here check you over.  I won’t be far.”

Daniel took a deep breath and steeled himself to wait, to do this Jack’s way.  He could do that.  For now.

***

Exhaustion pulled at him and Daniel found himself cradling his empty coffee mug to his chest and letting Jack’s and Kowalsky’s voices wash over him where he sat at the long wooden table.  He’d managed to make it through Dr. Warner’s very thorough exam, change into an ill-fitting Air Force jumpsuit, and offer careful comments on the first mission to Abydos, but he hadn’t done this much talking in over a year and he was tired.  Tired of talking, tired of listening, tired =of rehashing his role in the destruction of Ra, his certainty that the alien had been destroyed, and his desire to leave Earth behind – permanently – and live among the freed people of Abydos.

Jack had been right – Hammond seemed to be listening.  But the continued presence of Samuels sitting on the general’s left kept Daniel on edge, his stomach tied in knots that pulled tighter every time the man caught his eye.  Dr. Warner’s medical report lay unopened next to Hammond’s right hand, detailing every bruise, every scrape, and each bump on his head.  Daniel didn’t think it would be too hard for the general to draw the correct conclusions.  What he chose to do with that information was anybody’s guess.

He glanced up as Captain-Doctor Carter spoke again.  She was brilliant, Daniel mused, asking questions and drawing inferences about the alien, his technology, and the Stargate itself that left the table-full of men in the astrophysical dust.  He closed his eyes and listened to the rise and fall of her voice, so animated, so alive, so like Sha’re’s.  He blinked, trying to concentrate to clear the fog from his brain, clutching the cup tightly.  A throat clearing to his right turned his head and he saw that Jack was holding the coffee decanter up with one hand, and attempting to extricate his cup from his stranglehold in order to refill it.  Daniel smiled and let him.  He’d missed coffee.

“So, you have no proof that this Ra was actually destroyed when his ship blew up,” Samuels voice was too even, too studiously reasonable to disguise his skepticism.

“Well, we didn’t actually see his body, if that’s what you mean,” Jack replied smartly, handing Daniel his cup.  “Sorry, Major, no alien autopsy for the tabloids.”

“But we didn’t exactly give him a lot of time to respond to an armed nuclear weapon suddenly appearing on his ship,” Daniel added.  “The countdown was seconds away from zero.”  He saw the comment beginning to form behind Samuels’ eyes.  “Single digit seconds.”

Jack nodded agreement.  “Blast wave was impressive.”

“And he sure didn’t make an appearance down on the planet.”

Samuels smirked.  “That you know of.”

Anger sparked in Daniel’s gut.  “Well I lived there for a year, Major.  I think I might have noticed if the being who had kept the Abydonians in slavery and poverty for centuries suddenly showed up.”

“And we’re supposed to take your word for that.”  The major’s fists clenched and unclenched on the table before him, one vein standing out in his neck as he bristled.

Daniel felt Jack’s tension at his side, the whip-crack tautness of a man poised on the edge of action, held back by a single strand of control.  The two officers had been baring their teeth at each other for hours, verbally dueling, striking hard and fast to attack or defend the target each realized was the most vulnerable – him.  And Daniel had no idea how to stop it.

“Actually, General,” Doctor Carter’s eyes were fixed on the base commander, ignoring the source of the last comment completely, “the people of Abydos were the best indication of Doctor Jackson’s character.”

Hammond nodded.  “Go on, Captain.”

The tall woman folded her hands calmly on the table.  “Every evidence showed us a society at peace – even though the young men we met were armed with the weapons left behind by Colonel O’Neill’s team on the first mission, they were quick to put down their arms and welcome us.  During the hours we spent waiting out the sandstorm we observed no internal tensions, no signs of deceit or signals of any kind to lead us to believe we were being taken in.”  A smile flashed across her face.  “Frankly, sir, they were completely open and honest, sharing food-”

“- and drink-” Kowalsky interrupted with a grin.

Carter nodded.  “And drink, and stories as if we were long-lost relatives coming back for a visit, which, I suppose, Colonel O’Neill and Major Kowalsky were.  They were reveling in their freedom.”  She lifted her head and her eyes met Daniel’s for a moment.  The compassion there revived Daniel’s pain and he dropped his head, trying to close himself off from her words.

“And Doctor Jackson – well – he was loved by them, sir.  It seemed as if, in the year he spent there, he’d become central to them, not just a homeless stranger taken in, but an essential part of their community.  They were devastated that he was leaving them – it tore them apart.”

A strained silence filled the room, but Daniel didn’t raise his eyes, not willing to see what was behind the stares of any of the others.  Disbelief.  Suspicion.  Pity.

“Yeah, well, he does have that affect on people,” Jack drawled into the abyss, breaking the spell.

“Thank you, Captain.”  General Hammond’s level voice lifted his head and Daniel struggled to focus on the man at the end of the table.  “Gentlemen, Captain, it’s late.  I appreciate your comments and clarifications.  I’ll see you all here at 0800 for the formal debrief.”  He rose and Daniel could only watch, frowning, as all the other figures at the table scrambled to their feet.  He just didn’t have the energy to worry about military protocol at the moment - if they’d just take him back to his nice, warm cell he could curl up on the floor and go to sleep.

Before he could decide whether to get up or remain slouched in his chair, the general spoke again.

“Doctor Jackson, if you wouldn’t mind remaining for a few minutes, I’d like to speak with you.  Alone.”

“Um, sure.”  Not like he had much of a choice, Daniel thought.  Doctor Carter and Major Kowalsky shot him anxious grins before they left, meaning to be reassuring, he guessed.  He looked up to see that Jack’s expression was carefully shuttered, closed off, the fingers of one hand resting lightly on the table.  Daniel followed his shadowed eyes and wasn’t surprised to find them focused not on the general, but on Samuels where he shifted nervously at Hammond’s side.

“Colonel O’Neill, you’re dismissed,” the general stated, gathering up the folders near his hands, and placing the medical report on the top of the pile.  “Major Samuels, I’d like you to remain on base.  I’m not quite through with you yet.”

What did that mean, Daniel wondered.  Was Hammond going to let Samuels have another crack at him?  He shuddered.

“Of course, sir.”  Slick.  Oily.  The man’s smile was predatory.

Hammond collected the folders and turned towards his office door.  “If you’d join me, Doctor Jackson?”

Daniel stumbled to his feet, a strong hand steadying him.  He met Jack’s eyes.

“It’s okay, Daniel.  Nothing to worry about,” he advised.  “Just be your own charming self.”  He patted him on the back.  “I’ll be around here somewhere when you’re done.”

And then he was seated across the large wooden desk from a thin-lipped Major General, his fingers fidgeting nervously with the material of the jumpsuit, pulling it away from his chest and then releasing it, over and over again, as the general’s eyes perused the medical file in front of him.  Daniel looked around the small office, noticing awards, ribbons, the golden eagle on the desk, and a hinged picture frame displaying the smiling faces of two young girls.  Children.  Maybe grandchildren.  His eyes snapped to the figure seated across from him and, for the first time, he saw the lines of stress, the wrinkled forehead, the exhaustion in the shoulders beneath the blue uniform.  Not just a military man.  A man.

Hammond closed the folder with a sigh and looked up, eyes bright, direct.  “Captain Carter referred to you as a ‘homeless stranger,’ Doctor Jackson.  Is that what you were, what you thought yourself to be back on Abydos?”

Daniel was startled to speechlessness by the question.  “I – I don’t know, sir,” he finally stammered.  “I suppose homeless is accurate – I’d lost my job and my apartment when Catherine picked me up outside the lecture hall.  You already know I had no family left, foster or otherwise.”

“Didn’t you consider yourself to be a part of Colonel O’Neill’s team?  Under his command?”

Daniel shrugged.  “Under his command?” he repeated, trying the words out.  “No, not exactly.  I mean, yes, Jack was in charge, but I didn’t really see myself as a member of his military unit.  More of a consultant,” he waved one hand to his side, “somewhere outside the chain of command.”

“I see.”  Hammond frowned.  “I’ve noticed you always refer to Colonel O’Neill by his first name.”

“Yes,” Daniel drew the word out slowly, not quite understanding the change of subject.  “Is that a problem?”

A quick smile hurried across the general’s face.  “Somehow I have a feeling that military protocol might not be one of the languages that you speak, Doctor Jackson.”

Daniel nodded tiredly.  “I would have to agree with you there, General.”  He sat forward on his chair, intent, exhaustion forgotten.  “But I’m a quick study.  I can learn.  If that’s what it takes for you to consider…”

The general held up one hand.  People seemed to be doing that a lot, Daniel mused, frustrated.

“Son.  I think I’m beginning to get the picture here.”  He leaned back.  “You never considered that choosing to remain behind on foreign soil might be seen as desertion, or turning your back on your country, did you?”

“What?”  Daniel felt like he’d been struck.  He stood to pace across the small space in front of the general’s desk, arms gesturing wildly.  “I didn’t… how could I ‘desert’ when I’d never joined the military?  I agreed to help, yes, to translate, to decode the language of the Stargate and act as go-between to anyone we met out there, but I never…”  The surge of energy quickly ran out and Daniel dropped back into his chair, shoved his glasses up onto his head and covered his face with both hands.

A few moments later he looked up to stare blearily at the silent man behind the desk.  “General Hammond.  I accepted a ‘job’ with the military, a great job, a fascinating, unbelievable job, but just a job.  And, even then, I wasn’t brought into the loop, was I?  I mean, I had no idea that Colonel O’Neill had been ordered to blow us all up.”  He looked down to focus on the small American flag on the desk.  “As for turning my back on my country – I really don’t know what to say to that.  I didn’t defect.  Didn’t run away to trade secrets to an enemy.  Would you consider an American who chose to live in Tahiti, or Borneo, or Egypt to have turned his back on his country?  Maybe you would,” he added quickly, “but that isn’t the impression I intended to give.  After all,” he spread his hands, “it’s not like anyone was going to miss me.”  Daniel frowned, intent on trying to communicate, to reach this man with the truth.  “I mean, I’m just not that important, sir.  But I was, there, on Abydos, with Sha’re and Kasuf and their people.”

He shifted his glasses back into place.  Hammond seemed to be trying to peel away the layers to get under Daniel’s skin, to see into his soul with those pale blue eyes.  And Daniel was too tired to fight any longer.

“Sir.  General Hammond.  I didn’t trade in my allegiance.  I didn’t turn my back on anything that I thought was my duty.  And I definitely didn’t give away any of Earth’s secrets.  I just… I found.”  His throat worked, struggling to choke back the emotion, the pain.  “I guess I finally thought I’d found my place.  And now,” his breath caught and he blinked rapidly.

“And now you’ve lost it all.”

Hammond’s gentle words tipped Daniel over into despair and the tears spilled.  He didn’t try to hide them, or brush them away, just waited, silently, for the man who held all the power to render judgment, a judgment, after all, that he deserved.

“Doctor Jackson,” the general spoke as if watching a man break down in his office was all in a normal day’s work, “I’d like to apologize for the treatment you’ve received at the hand of this command.”  He sat up, straightening his shoulders as he met Daniel’s eyes.  “There’s been some confusion, some misunderstandings of the facts on both sides.  I can only say that, this being our first alien invasion, we’re doing our best.”

 Daniel sat, surprised, making an effort to pull himself together.  “Uh, I’m sure you’ll do better the next time, sir.”

A sharp snort of agreement reached him from across the desk.  “Thank you.”  Hammond stood and Daniel quickly rose in response, eliciting a nod from the military man.  “I’m still not quite sure what to do with you, Doctor.  But, in the days ahead, I’m sure we’ll figure something out.”

He stared down at the hand the military commander offered.  Reaching out, Daniel gripped it, relieved at the tight hold Hammond took of his hand, feeling, for the first time, as if he were grounded, connected to this world again.

“You’re free to go, son.”

***

Samuels had no warning, just the quick jerk of a strong arm around his neck forcing him into the darkened store room.  Air supply cut off, he kicked back with one foot to meet only empty space.  A dry chuckle sounded next to his right ear.

“Nice try, Bert.”

He fought down panic at the familiar voice, his mouth gaping, trying to draw oxygen past the blockage at his throat.  Stiff fingers pressing painfully into one kidney stopped his awkward movements.

“Good.  Are you listening, Bert?  Hearing me?”

He tried to nod – the tightening of the muscles in his neck apparently getting through to the man behind him.

“Excellent.  Listen close,” Jack whispered.  “You so much as come within three feet of Daniel Jackson again, and they’ll never find the body.”

Samuels’ limbs were filled with pins and needles, straining for oxygen.  He couldn’t nod, couldn’t refuse.  He knew O’Neill’s history, his reputation, his connections.  This wasn’t an idle threat.

Just as the world was funneling down to a pinpoint, the pressure was removed and Samuels gasped, heaving, swallowing great mouthfuls of air.  Hands against his back spun him to face the lanky figure, shoving him against empty shelves.

“I see we understand each other,” O’Neill drawled lazily.  He gave the major a two fingered salute and strode calmly from the storage room, leather jacket slung over one arm.

Samuels was bent over, struggling not to vomit, eyes watering, when the sound of the base loudspeaker cut through his raging thoughts.

“Major Samuels, report to General Hammond’s office.  Major Samuels to General Hammond’s office.”

End

 

 

 

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Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This is a parody for entertainment purposes only. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted anywhere without the consent of the author.