Holding My Breath

Chapter 1
Before Ren’Al’s Arrival

Daniel lifted the barbell back to its rest, pushing past the tremors that he could feel crawl up and down the muscles of his arms.  The metal bar clunked awkwardly into position and he worried for a moment that his jerky movements would bounce it right off its perch to slam down on him before a pair of large dark hands reached out to steady the weight.  Breathing heavily, he rose from the flat bench and retrieved the towel he’d hung nearby to sop up some of the sweat from his face and neck.  He snatched the glasses held out by his teammate and settled them onto his face as he nodded his thanks.  Teal’c began adding plates to raise the weight from the archaeologist’s respectable 180 lbs to double that and Daniel caught the eye of Major Mansfield who was just finishing his own set.  As the Jaffa took his position on the bench and reached up to grasp the barbell, the two men moved to the head of the bench to spot him.

“Thanks,” Daniel muttered, shifting his eyes momentarily towards the taciturn airman before turning them back towards his friend.

Mansfield shrugged.  “No problem.”  His sharp eyes glanced between the two men, wondering if he’d ever seen a more dissimilar work-out team.  “Do you guys usually spot for each other?” he couldn’t help asking.  He’d just returned from a rotation to the Alpha Site as 2IC to Colonel Dekker to take command of the newest SG team, but he’d been bouncing around the SGC for years before that, filling in for injured members of various teams.  He’d seen both guys in here before – everyone recognized the members of SG-1 – but thought the big Jaffa and Colonel O’Neill usually paired up, leaving the two scientists on the team to their less strenuous workout.  By the look of Jackson’s build, a few things had changed since Mansfield was a regular at the SGC gym.

“Ah…” Daniel swiped at a trickle of sweat that was dripping down his temple, “about six months or so, I guess.”  He pulled the sweat-soaked undershirt away from his chest to try to move some air over his skin.

“Indeed,” Teal’c added easily, the smooth repetitions seemingly taking up little of his concentration, “since my experiences during the Rite of M’al Sharran.  I found Daniel Jackson to be a more… calming… companion than O’Neill.”  Setting the bar to rest in its brackets for a moment before beginning another set, the Jaffa held Jackson’s gaze.

“Only because I’m usually too beat to maintain a running commentary like Jack does,” Daniel snorted, looking away.

“I believe that is what I said,” Teal’c agreed, taking the strain of the weights once more.
It might have been his imagination, but Mansfield caught an undercurrent of irritation as they joked about their team leader and the 2IC of Stargate Command.  Trouble in SG-1 paradise? he wondered.  Well, it was bound to happen sometime.  That team had been close-knit since day one, mismatched, uneven, diverse, the officer smirked to himself, but extremely loyal and devoted to each other.  He knew it wouldn’t last.  Let teammates get too close and they lose all objectivity, Mansfield thought to himself.  He glanced around the gym at the members of his new team.  Won’t find me making the same mistake.

When the Jaffa had completed his reps and the Air Force officer left to continue his workout, Daniel and Teal’c moved towards a couple of decline benches for crunches to finish up.  Teal’c was pleased that his quiet encouragement led his friend to challenge himself through an extra set despite the young man’s groans of protest.  Afterwards Daniel gratefully grasped the outstretched hand and used it to haul himself to a standing position, allowing Teal’c to steady him for an instant before he found his equilibrium again.

Having grown used to the routine over the past few months, Daniel and Teal’c headed to the locker room to shower and dress before trudging to the commissary for lunch.  With three new SG teams commissioned within the past week, the room was full of the dull roar of many voices, mostly male, and Daniel winced at the sound as the two managed to find a pair of chairs at a table farthest from the chow line.  Daniel let his gaze wander through the crowd of blue and green fatigues, noticing the overabundance of marines and the scarcity of civilian consultants among the back-slapping military types.  He was not surprised to find that the trend continued.

The shaggy blond head that twisted around at the door before looking their way was a surprise, and Daniel smiled a welcome at Sam as she waved before hurrying off to get a tray.  He caught Teal’c’s eye and gestured with his chin at the now empty chair to the Jaffa’s left, not willing to raise his voice above the din.  Adept at reading his teammate’s unspoken request, Teal’c dragged the metal chair towards him with one ankle and deposited his dish of red jello on the table in front of it to reserve the spot, quickly retrieving it when Sam’s tray slid into position.

“Hey, guys,” she smiled, looking hungrily at the dessert before Teal’c moved it out of her reach.  She flopped into the chair with a heavy sigh and darted a frown at the loud party of marines across the table.

“You sound tired, Sam,” Daniel observed when the noise died down for a moment.

She nodded.  “The labs are a mess,” she mumbled around a bite of lemon chicken.  “Between the tests we’ve been doing on the remains of the Russian DHD and what information we managed to scrounge from our dealings with the Aschen and the Tollans,” she swallowed past a sudden icy plunge of sorrow and pushed on, “we’ve suddenly got more science than scientists.”  The dark circles under her eyes spoke more about her struggles to hold herself together in the wake of their past several missions than in a lack of research time.

Daniel lowered his eyes towards his own plate and forced himself to take another bite.  While he’d never begrudge his teammate the new technologies and insights that were being revealed every day lately, he missed the days when his own labs were just as busy.  During the first two or three years of the program he’d had to be dragged kicking and screaming from his office to work out, or spar, or take part in any of the other military-type training that Jack insisted upon for a member of his team.  Now, he welcomed the distraction.  He used to feel the weight of the backlog of translations and artifacts awaiting him after the end of every mission as a sword of Damocles that was waiting to fall; at this point he realized that, with the SGC’s new focus on weapon procurement and political strategy, that backlog was dwindling.  And the relaxed atmosphere that was pervading the archaeology and linguistic labs was not bringing with it the sense of peace and freedom he expected, but the growing dread that that backlog had actually represented something completely different: job security.

“Is O’Neill still in conference with General Hammond?”  Teal’c’s low rumble muscled through the background noise.

Sam shrugged in an attempt at nonchalance.  “I guess.  I haven’t seen him since the briefing this morning.”  Daniel raised his eyes to watch the emotions play across her face that she kept carefully lowered.  She felt his scrutiny and met his gaze.  “I know he and the general are getting pretty frustrated by these constant requests for briefings from the Pentagon.”

Daniel kept his expression carefully neutral but cringed inwardly, knowing that the repercussions from his warp-speed negotiations with the Russian government to save Teal’c from destruction within the collapsed wormhole were falling heavily on the leadership of Stargate Command.

“It isn’t just because of your negotiations, Daniel,” Samantha Carter insisted.  “McKay’s report on some of the ‘shortcuts’ I’ve taken with the Stargate over the years has stirred up a hornet’s nest.  Combine that with the failure of the Aschen negotiations as well as the colonel’s exposition of Simmons’ involvement with the Goa’uld and everyone is starting to realize that things have to change.”

A low grunt swung Sam and Daniel’s heads towards their less vocal friend.   “Don’t blame yourself, Teal’c,” Daniel said quickly, face intent.  “I wouldn’t change anything, and I’m sure Sam, Jack, and the general feel the same way.”

“And yet, my friends have once again found themselves at risk on my behalf,” he replied.  Once Teal’c had processed the deep satisfaction that came with the death of Tanith at his hands, he had been amazed at and humbled by the lengths his teammates had gone to to retrieve him.

“We’re not ‘at risk,’ Teal’c,” Sam countered, missing the skeptical raise of Daniel’s eyebrows as she locked eyes with the Jaffa seated next to her.  “Things are just… complicated right now.”

“I believe things have been complicated, Major Carter, for quite some time,” the Jaffa replied softly.  “Your government’s involvement in the Stargate program and in the missions of SG-1 and other teams has become more direct of late, more urgent.”

Daniel felt himself starting to nod – he and Teal’c had had these conversations on and off over the past few months, about the change in the feel of the base, the nature of their missions, and the functionality of the team itself.  As Sam rehashed the same tired rhetoric about primary goals and the need for tangible results and weapons to protect Earth, he could hear her trying to convince herself.  He knew Teal’c shared his own disquiet – they both felt the awkwardness of their positions outside the military establishment: they were quickly becoming the only two non-ranked members of any active SG team.

But it was more than that.  He let his gaze wander over the familiar and unfamiliar faces seated around him.  Masterman was a geologist and a lieutenant.  Sgt. Armstrong was a medic.  Foscarelli did double duty as 2IC of SG-4 and engineer.  So many of the new scientists on the base were experienced military men and women who specialized in some area of science while pursuing a career in the Air Force or Marines.  Skilled in combat, schooled in tactics, and proficient in his or her own field as well.  Daniel’s searching blue eyes returned to his companions.  Teal’c was a recognized expert on Goa’uld tactics, a weapons specialist, and had more information about the state of the galaxy than any other person on the base.  And everyone respected Sam’s unmatched ability to understand and utilize alien technology almost instantly.  He frowned and placed his fork carefully on his plate.  What the heck was a civilian linguist/archaeologist doing here?

“I’ll see you guys later,” he muttered, sliding his chair back and grabbing his tray.  He found his left wrist trapped in Teal’c’s grasp and looked up into his friend’s concerned face.

“Daniel Jackson.”

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Sam’s confused reaction, her head swiveling between her teammates.  “I’m fine, Teal’c.  I’ve got to prepare for the orientation this afternoon.”  The Jaffa’s one raised eyebrow let Daniel know that Teal’c would accept that explanation for his hasty departure – but only for now, and in front of their teammate.  Daniel smiled in gratitude and headed out, making his solitary path between groups of airmen and marines.

Sam leaned towards Teal’c to make herself heard as her eyes watched the archaeologist’s figure get swallowed up by the mob at the commissary doors.  “Does Jack still have Daniel doing the primer for the new SG teams?  I know how Daniel hates standing up in front of a roomful of military types to try to teach basic first contact protocols, especially when he could be working on translations – is that why he’s upset?”

Teal’c hesitated, wondering how much of his friend’s unrest he was at liberty to reveal.  “I do not believe that Daniel Jackson is upset, Major Carter.”  He allowed the growl in his voice to communicate his dissatisfaction with the word.  “I do not believe his concern, however,” he corrected her, “has to do with this assignment from O’Neill.”  He raised troubled eyes to his teammate.

“Well,” Sam quickly finished her meal and gulped her diet soda before brushing a napkin against her mouth, “I’ve got to get back to the lab.  The blueprints for the ion cannons that the Tollans gave us before –" she stopped herself abruptly.  “Just the knowledge that this technology is possible,” she began again after a deep breath, “has been a huge help.”  Her own expression had darkened for a moment before she could will herself back into scientist mode.  She absently placed one hand on Teal’c’s shoulder as she turned, more intent on getting away before she lost the fragile grip she had on her emotions.  “Maybe we could drag Daniel and Col. O’Neill out for pizza later – what do you think?  It’s been a while.”

Sam hurried off before Teal’c could respond.  “Indeed it has,” he murmured.

~---~

Daniel turned the corner into his office and dropped his files onto one of the metal tables, watching as the slick photographs slipped out of the folders and spread themselves across the clean, shining surface.  His gaze traveled along the empty expanse as details of the afternoon briefing with the new SG teams sped away from his thoughts, leaving him with the same sense of dread and emptiness that had become so familiar to him.  Slipping behind his desk, Daniel fell into his chair and let his head drop into his hands.

Who knew that addressing first contact experiences with the newly formed SG teams would bring up so many unresolved issues in his own mind?  Even as he spoke, emphasizing caution and humility, reinforcing warning signs of ongoing Goa’uld influence in off-world cultures and subterfuge by less than friendly natives, his mind whirled with doubt as he heard Jack’s voice reverberate with sarcasm and anger.  The Standard Operating Procedures of off-world teams encountering new cultures had been a work in progress for Daniel and his team of anthropologists since the beginning of the program, and, now that they finally had a workable sketch of do’s and don’ts the rules seemed to be unimportant.  He ran his fingers through his hair in frustration.  If the front-line team leader didn’t feel compelled to listen to his own supposed expert – the guy who literally wrote the book on first contact – then why should any of the other SG teams?

The Eurondans.  The Gadmeer.  Old wounds and Daniel had really gotten past those, he insisted to himself.  Jack’s mind would always run to the black and white – the good guy v. the bad guy – allies and enemies, those were the only possibilities.  Trust in his teammate wasn’t the issue.  He felt the tight grip he’d taken around his own chest and smirked at himself. Gotten past it.  Right.  Jack taking the lead role in their discussions with the people of K’tau, and freezing Daniel out of the situation with the Ascended being Orlin and with the talks with the Aschen had effectively ripped at those scars.  Daniel knew  he’d taken a step back since then on missions – several steps back, actually, which made it that much harder for Jack to listen to him when he did put himself forward and insist on something.  He’d gotten out of the habit of asking for Daniel’s input, and so relegated Daniel to the background.  That’s really why he and Teal’c had started seeking out each other’s company – Teal’c was in the same boat.

These past few orientation briefings had felt more like he was passing off his responsibilities than that he was sharing any expertise.  Handing over the reins.  Educating the next generation, he chuckled to himself, considering that he was still younger than most of the other people on base.

Seasons change, he reminded himself.  Just like the weather in Colorado Springs, the climate of the SGC was changing and the military machine was slowly but surely absorbing the roles of the civilian consultants, just as the goal of Stargate travel had turned from exploration and discovery to appeasement of those who controlled the purse strings of government.  And as fewer artifacts made their way back through the Stargate, and more mines and off-world trade opportunities were established, the American military felt more comfortable.  Why else would Jack have –

Daniel cut off that train of thought abruptly.  He knew Jack’s stress level had never been higher.  He felt every loss of life as if he had been personally responsible.  The mistakes that had been made in recent months, the destruction of the Tollan world, the sacrifice of Ambassador Faxon, the threatened loss of two of his close friends and team members – all of these weighed heavily on Jack O’Neill’s mind.   He had no patience with the flagrant self-serving stupidity of Kinsey and his type, but he had no choice, now, but to accede to the government’s demands, and to assimilate both the outside observers that the Pentagon was sending and the full-time Russian team that had been one of Daniel’s suggestions during the recent negotiations.  That didn’t exactly help the situation.

He surged out of his chair and paced.  “C’mon, Jackson,” his inner voice insisted, “use that brilliant mind for something other than a repository of failures.  How about figuring out a solution?”  The Tollan were out – their Stargate had been destroyed and nothing had been heard from them since Narim’s last transmission.  He had no reason to believe that the Ascended beings would be of any further help since their interaction with Orlin.  About the only allies they had left were the Asgard, who seemed to adopt a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” mentality, the Nox, who were adamantly opposed to anything having to do with weapons, even in defense of billions of innocent people, and the Tok’ra who had been less than friendly of late, or ever, actually.

They needed something big – no, something huge – something to shut up their critics in Washington, to give General Hammond and Jack some breathing room, and to light the fire of exploration and optimism within the browbeaten SG teams.  Maybe if he talked to the Nox again, or tried to get back into touch with Shifu.  Maybe the Goa’uld knowledge he’d rejected wasn’t as dangerous as he’d believed.  He found himself standing once again at his desk, hands clenched into fists on its metal surface, tension constricting his muscles painfully.  Dammit.  Daniel forced himself to breathe, to relax one muscle group at a time until he slumped back into his chair again. This wasn’t about him – he could not selfishly insist that the answer was his to imagine, or that his role in any far-reaching mission would be more than a supporting one.  This was about defeating the enemy, continuing the Stargate program whether Daniel Jackson still had a place in it or not.

 

Holding My Breath Chapter Two

Summit – Ren’Al’s Arrival – Extended Scene

That SG-1 just happened to be in the Control Room when the Tok’ra called was an odd coincidence – they hadn’t spent more than a few minutes in the same room with each other for more than two weeks.  Longer than that, actually, Daniel realized, thinking back to the mission that had trapped Teal’c in the wormhole and sent Jack, Sam, and himself off on three very separate efforts to rescue their friend.  That drawn look on Jack’s face, the uneasy smirk that hovered around his mouth, were enough to let Daniel know that the SGC was still being scrutinized by the powers that be, whoever they were at the moment.  Or that he was pissed.  Probably both.

“Receiving IDC transmission, sir.  It’s the Tok’ra.”

The technician’s words didn’t exactly dissolve the tension in the air, but the team was quick to follow General Hammond down to the ‘gate room after his command to open the iris to welcome their erstwhile allies.  Daniel chanced a quick look at Sam as Ren’Al exited the event horizon – he knew that the Tok’ra council had been dodging her questions about Lantash – Martouf’s symbiote – since the host was killed nearly a year ago, and that every time Sam made an attempt to find out more she had been stonewalled.  If Daniel had been the unacknowledged whipping boy of the SGC during the first few years of the program’s existence, Sam was rapidly catching up, he thought sourly.  The past year had been hell for his teammate.

“Your father Jacob sends his regards,” the Tok’ra woman commented gently and Daniel wondered at the implied apology in her words.

Sam blinked.  “How is he?”

“On a mission at the moment, which is why I am here,” Ren’Al offered with a slight bow, acknowledging that SG-1’s semi-friendly association with the Tok’ra had more to do with Jacob Carter’s blending with Selmac than with any real sense of mutual respect.  “There is a serious situation developing regarding the System Lords.”

As the general ushered their guest towards the briefing room with Sam and Teal’c, Daniel hesitated at Jack’s side at the base of the ramp.  He let himself wonder if this “serious situation” could be the answer they’d all been looking for – or if it would at least offer a convenient distraction from the political wrangling that did nothing to reduce the number of Jack’s grey hairs.  A snarky comment from the Air Force officer startled him and Daniel found himself at a loss for words.  Was that just weariness that underlay Jack’s remark, or had it been an actual attempt to reach out in friendship?  As Jack walked off, hands in his pockets, Daniel realized he probably wouldn’t recognize that kind of gesture from his one-time best friend any more.  He hurried to catch up.

Ren’Al’s explanation of the upcoming Goa’uld summit of System Lords and the opportunity to cripple the entire Goa’uld hierarchy was met with more wariness – Jack was clearly on the same page as Daniel – at least for a moment – sarcastically welcoming the Tok’ra to the “dark side” while imagining the defeat of the entire Goa’uld leadership just by planting some C4 at the upcoming summit.  Naturally, nothing the Tok’ra were involved with could be that simple.

 “This has always been a part of our long-term plan,” Ren’Al assured them all.  “We just weren’t quite prepared for the opportunity to present itself so quickly.”

As usual, Jack was the first to cut to the chase.  “Okay.  Let’s hear it.”  Daniel saw how his eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Every System Lord in attendance will be permitted to bring one human slave.”  And suddenly Daniel felt the heat rise in his cheeks as his stomach clenched.  What? Was she suggesting what he thought she was suggesting?

“Specifically, we need someone who speaks fluent Goa’uld.  Someone who is not Jaffa.”  Okay, maybe she was.  “If you agree to participate, we ask that you come to our base on Revanna tomorrow.  Jacob will be there – he will tell you all that you need to know.”  The strange distorted voice sent chills up and down Daniel’s spine as he looked from side to side while managing to avoid eye contact with each person at the table.  “It is up to you, Doctor Jackson.”

What?

Reaching into a pocket in the front of her tunic, she withdrew a sheaf of papers covered with notes scrawled in the Goa’uld tongue.  Daniel watched his hand automatically reach out to take them from her grasp.

“These are Selmac’s notes on the current breakdown of the System Lords and their relevant histories.  I suggest you familiarize yourself with them immediately.”

“Um,” Daniel’s brain hadn’t quite caught up to her rapid-fire briefing – emphasis on brief.

“Are you suggesting that we send Dr. Jackson into a conference of all of the high ranking Goa’uld System Lords, alone, disguised as a human slave to plant a bomb to destroy them?”  General Hammond’s voice projected utter bewilderment.

Not one muscle in Ren’Al’s face twitched at his tone.  “Not a bomb, but something just as deadly to the Goa’uld,” she explained patiently, as if she were addressing a group of very dense children.  “I cannot speak of it here, but on Revanna…”

“Wait a minute,” Sam interrupted.  “My father knows about this plan?”  Her emphasis on the last word made her feelings about such a plan – and the woman who proposed it - obvious.

“Jacob and Selmac originally proposed it to the Tok’ra council,” Ren’Al answered, seemingly unconcerned.  The silence that descended on the conference room as the members of SG-1 and General Hammond exchanged glances – everyone but Daniel, who was frowning at the papers clutched in his hands where they rested on the mahogany table – surprised her.  “I am sorry – the Tok’ra were under the impression that the Taur’i were determined to eliminate the Goa’uld threat in this galaxy.”

“The Tok’ra were correct,” Teal’c replied steadily.

A slight frown appeared between Ren’Al’s brows.  “Then I do not understand your hesitation to undertake such a plan which brings little risk and yet accomplishes all we might hope.”

“‘Little -’” Jack’s whispered comment was cut off.

“We will supply more information about the details tomorrow,” she insisted, “but I am expected back immediately.”  The slight woman bowed her head for a moment.  When she raised it again, she spoke in a clear alto voice, with no sign of her symbiote’s distortion.  She stared at the lowered head of the human scientist.  “Please, Dr. Jackson.”  Daniel’s head snapped up as she uttered her first impassioned words.  “You must understand that we would not ask… that the Tok’ra only ask what they themselves would do in your place.”

That too familiar feeling of emptiness opened wider within him as if hungry for his response.  Daniel searched the woman’s eyes and found an intensity that he hadn’t noticed in his own reflection for over a year.  He remembered the feelings that went with that look –passion, fervor – and he longed to feel that again.  Finally, he drew his gaze away from hers to reach for a connection with his friends.  Teal’c’s calm expression reflected a kind of solid concern, while Sam’s face was pinched, still too pale, and her eyes were wide with surprise and confusion.  General Hammond had pursed his lips in deliberation and stared at the Tok’ra as if his very silence could get her to reveal her secrets.  And Jack – what was that behind Jack’s hooded stare?  Calculation?  Dismissal?  Suddenly Daniel was cold.

Hammond stood and Jack and Sam scrambled to their feet.  “Thank you, Ren’Al,” he said.  “We’ll be in contact with you shortly with our answer.”

With another bending of her neck, the symbiote was in control again.  “The Tok’ra council looks forward to your answer, General Hammond,” she replied and, at a gesture from the commander of the SGC she preceded him to the stairs.

As the general made to descend he looked over at the silent figures ranged around the conference table, each surrounded by his or her own pool of stillness; no fidgeting fingers, whispered jokes, or communicative gestures.  “SG-1, you’re dismissed.  Colonel, my office.”

Notes firmly in hand, Daniel hurried from the room before any of his teammates thought to follow.

 

Holding My Breath Chapter Three

After Ren’Al’s Departure

“Have a seat, Jack.”  General Hammond nudged the door to his office with one elbow before waving his 2IC to the empty chair as he moved around his desk to drop into his own.  He scrubbed a hand over his face and blew out a breath noisily.  “If that wasn’t the damnedest…”  He shook his head, unable to continue.

“Yes, sir.”  Jack couldn’t think of any other response.  After weeks – months – of dealing with some of the most FUBAR missions he’d ever had the misfortune of being associated with, the Tok’ra – the damned Tok’ra! – come and drop this can of snakes into their laps.  Almost literally, it seemed.

“If Jacob Carter weren’t behind this, I’d seriously wonder if we weren’t being set up for something decidedly unpleasant, Colonel.”

Jack squirmed, his ass having become all too familiar with the feel of this particular chair over the past couple of weeks.  “Well, sir, it’s not like I don’t love the Tok’ra,” he began, his open sarcasm bringing a brief smile to Hammond’s face, “but until I hear about this little mission from Jacob’s own mouth…” he didn’t bother to finish the thought.

Hammond nodded.  “But if this intel is viable, well,” his hands opened and closed on his desk, “one surgical strike could take out all of the major Goa’uld players – all of them.  Hell, Jack, after five long years of heavy losses -”

“– and an occasional massive win, sir,” Jack inserted smoothly.

“- we could be looking at the end of the Goa’uld threat in this entire galaxy.”

The silence stretched for long moments as Jack chewed over the completely unexpected events of the last ten minutes.  His sight turned inward and he rewound his mental tapes to replay each word and gesture, paying more attention than he had in the heat of the moment.  It was no wonder that Hammond was excited – this was a wet dream come true – a way to wipe out Earth’s greatest threat and a magic wand to make all of the incessant justifications for the program go poof.   “Quite a coincidence, wouldn’t you say, General?” he finally remarked.

Hammond harrumphed.  “I was just going to say the same thing, Jack.”

“Amazing how the Tok’ra come along with this plan, a plan that is so unlike their usual crap, I’ve got to say, right when we need something positive to convince the bureaucrats on Capitol Hill to keep paying the electric bills.”  Jack sank further into the chair, running one hand through his short graying hair.  “Funny how the only guy they can think of to put undercover in the midst of a whole boatload of Goa’uld System Lords is our own Daniel Jackson.”

The flash Hammond noticed in his 2IC’s dark eyes wasn’t amusement.  He leaned forward.  “What do you suspect, Jack?”

“Who me, General?”  Jack made an attempt at innocence.  “I am the picture of faith and trust when it comes to our buddies the Tok’ra.  I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“Colonel…”  Hammond’s tone drew Jack O’Neill up from his slumped posture as if his strings had been yanked.

“All I’m saying is, these Tok’ra, they don’t make plans like we do, sir.”  His words came faster now, with more bitterness.  “These guys can out Black Ops our Black Ops any day of the week.  You remember Shan’uac and Tanith, don’t you?  They led us along by our noses that whole time knowing full well that she hadn’t talked that slimy snake into anything.  Hell, they’ve been stringing Carter along for months about the situation with Lantash, and let’s not forget those pesky armband thingies.”

Hammond waited patiently for his 2IC to put it together – that was one of Colonel Jack O’Neill’s greatest strengths: his ability to threat assess with little information.  He interlinked his fingers and nodded for Jack to continue.

“The Tok’ra have never given us anything remotely useful, sir,” Jack sputtered, all of the suppressed tension from months of screwed up missions erupting from his throat harshly.  “We’ve got this crazy treaty that Daniel drew up saying how we’re all going to play nice and share intel, but what exactly have they done for us?”  He lurched to his feet and began pacing within the small confines of Hammond’s office, his voice rising to match his posture.  “They may not be Goa’uld, but they are still arrogant, sanctimonious pricks who think they own this fight, and they always will.”  He turned abruptly to face the man across the desk.  “Why the hell would they read us in to this kind of go-for-broke, no-holds-barred mission?  And,” he thrust one pointed finger at the slightly ajar office door, “why would they insist that they couldn’t do it without Daniel, of all people.

Hammond’s eyebrows drew down at the unconcealed contempt in the colonel’s voice.  So he hadn’t been imagining it:  SG-1 was in trouble.  He’d tried to ignore the way Daniel Jackson had been retreating – physically and verbally – from the team for months now; he’d tried to take the changes in the young man’s attitude as normal signs of growth and maturity, as the kind of vital hardening a soldier on a combat team needed in order to survive.  He’d tried to find the humor in Jack O’Neill’s more frequent cutting remarks – remarks that had once been tempered by friendship and an almost fatherly affection - and the proper detachment of an Air Force CO in his fiery impatience at Dr. Jackson’s more creative ideas and contributions.  George Hammond felt a sense of utter fatigue drag at him and let his eyes close for just a moment.  When he spoke, his voice was cautiously muted.

“And you can’t see any reason for the Tok’ra to assume Dr. Jackson would be successful in an operation like this one.”  George couldn’t quite manage a questioning inflection at the end of the sentence since he was already painfully aware of Jack’s likely response.

Daniel?  You’ve got to be kidding, uh, sir.”  Jack hastily added the honorific when he heard the outrage in his own voice.  “He’s exactly the wrong person to send into a situation like this one.”

“Why is that, Colonel O’Neill?”  General Hammond let a trace of steel undergird his question.

Jack’s eyebrows quirked in astonishment.  “C’mon, sir, the Tok’ra want to send Daniel Jackson, ‘the great negotiator,’ into a room full of Goa’uld to blow them to kingdom come?  Yeah,” he laughed rudely, “that’s gonna happen.”

Hammond’s tone dropped another few degrees.  “You don’t think he’s capable of carrying out a mission like this, Jack?  Or is it that you don’t think Dr. Jackson has the guts to see it through?”

After a moment his commanding officer’s harsh whisper registered and Jack looked up in surprise.  “He’s not incapable, exactly, sir,” he finally insisted, nervous movements stilled as he faced the general’s desk.  “The point is, Dr. Daniel Jackson wouldn’t be caught dead agreeing to do something like this.”

Each officer studied the other for a long moment, eyes intent, searching for meaning beneath the facades that had been designed to give nothing away and had been honed to near perfection by their life-long military careers.  Uncomfortable with Hammond’s weighing stare and his own tone of voice, Jack took a few steps to his right and pushed the office door until it closed with a thunk.  Both hands now strafed through his hair and moved down to rub his eyes before he managed to get a grip on his emotions and turn back to the general, his movements concealing the retreat of the quiet figure that had been standing just out of sight in the corridor, eyes glued to the scene playing out through the office window.

“Just what are you saying, Jack?  It wasn’t that long ago that you were arguing, quite forcefully, to keep a certain civilian scientist on the front-line team of the SGC,” Hammond reminded the colonel.  “I, for one, would like to know what has changed so much for you to dismiss Dr. Jackson’s value to this program, or to such a vital mission.”  He waited, but O’Neill remained half-turned away, eyes narrowing as his hands dropped to his sides.

Suddenly Jack’s fierce dark gaze was locked onto the general’s, pinning him to his chair as if Jack was desperate to communicate something to his CO that he only barely understood himself.  “Yeah, Daniel’s only slightly less dedicated to seeing the Goa’uld defeated than Teal’c is, and we both know he’d gladly strangle the lot of them.  I’m just saying that Daniel’s approach has always been violence only as a last resort – he’d rather talk his way to a solution even when the other guy has a gun to our collective heads.”  Another humorless chuckle escaped before Jack pressed his lips together.  “There’s plenty of precedent, sir.”

And he’s saved your butt and this planet more than once, Colonel, Hammond thought to himself.  “What’s your point.”

“Sir,” Jack leaned over Hammond’s desk, “the Tok’ra know that, especially Jacob.”  Watching the proverbial penny drop in his CO’s narrowed eyes, Jack flipped back into his chair, waiting for the general to catch up.

“So you’re saying that this supposed mission to destroy the System Lords is…”

“A crock, sir,” Jack sighed.  “They know Daniel will never agree to wholesale slaughter of hosts, Jaffa - people he would insist are innocent bystanders, no matter what they’ve done.”  The colonel’s tone made it clear that he didn’t agree.  “Oh, he might stay interested long enough to go to Revanna and hear the rest of the plan, but there’s no way he’d take on that kind of covert, decidedly dark op, sir.”  No.  Not Daniel.  Sure he’d changed to try to fit in with the tighter military agenda, toughened up, pulled his nose out of his books to take a look around and see the imminent danger every once in a long while.  But Daniel’s past actions made it crystal clear that he was incapable – yeah, there was that word again – of making this kind of big decision.  He’d never agree to take so many lives, Goa’uld or otherwise.

Fingers tapping against his desk, Hammond shifted his weight as Jack’s assessment sank past his concern for the future of SG-1.  “But what would be the point, Jack?  Granted, the Tok’ra are subtle, but what could they possibly gain by proposing a mission with this much potential if they believed that Dr. Jackson would ultimately refuse to take part?”

“I don’t know, General, but I’m guessing they figure they can use it as an excuse to keep us in the dark about any future operations –” he lowered his voice in an attempt at snooty Tok’ra arrogance, “‘oh, well, we’re sorry we can’t help, but if you’d just agreed to send Dr. Jackson on a solo mission way behind enemy lines with a big bomb, we wouldn’t be in this mess, now would we?’”  Jack shrugged.  “Or something like that.”

“It seems kind of far-fetched.”

“Yeah,” Jack could feel the wrongness of the whole situation congealing in his gut, “but I guarantee you, General, there is something else going on here.”

Hammond pursed his lips.  “And you think this is more than your usual ill will towards the Tok’ra?”  You’d better not screw this up because of your own short-sightedness, Jack.

Colonel Jack O’Neill heard the unspoken warning but brushed it off.  “Just let it play out, sir,” Jack suggested.  “Daniel’s curiosity will get him to Revanna.  Once we’re there,” he shrugged again, “we’ll have plenty of time to dig for more intel while he fights with his precious scruples.”

Hammond slapped both hands flat on the arms of his chair.  “I’ve got to tell you, Colonel, I hope you’re wrong.  Dealing a death blow to the Goa’uld leadership sounds a hell of a lot more appetizing than stepping into another diplomatic minefield off-world.”  The Tollan and the Aschen sprang immediately to mind.  “Our track record in these matters isn’t exactly stellar.”  And if the Tok’ra were sincere, and they presented Daniel Jackson with the opportunity to bring down the combined might of the System Lords?  George did his own assessment of the civilian’s character and found himself disagreeing with his 2IC.  To his knowledge, there was not one individual on the base who was as stubborn as the young archaeologist – nor as apt to put his own life on the line – but for some reason, his team leader didn’t seem to concur, or care for that matter.

O’Neill stood, taking Hammond’s words as a dismissal, but the general called him back as he opened the door.  “Ren’Al’s expecting contact at 0830 tomorrow.  If Dr. Jackson agrees to go to Revanna for briefing she’s offered an off-world orientation at the Tok’ra base for one of the new SG teams to coincide with SG-1’s TDY.”

Jack nodded.  “Mansfield’s team is ready, sir.”

“Speak to Walter on the way out, Jack.  Have him inform Major Mansfield of his team’s likely departure time at 0900 tomorrow.  And, Colonel,” his voice drew the leader of SG-1 back into his office again, but he waited for Jack to turn around before continuing, “I’d suggest you speak with Dr. Jackson before this goes any further.”

Eyes twitching wider at the general’s unexpected statement, Jack felt himself balk at the simple request.  He’d like to avoid another round of the usual arguments with Daniel at all costs.  “I’ll make sure to get his response, sir.”  Not exactly total compliance with his CO’s suggestion, but as close as he was going to get from Jack tonight.

Part 2

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