TITLE: Reconstructing Trust

 

AUTHOR: SGC Gategirl

 

STATUS: Complete

 

EMAIL: sgcgategirl@optonline.net

 

Content Level: 13+

 

CATEGORY: Angst, Hurt/comfort, Action/Adventure, Jack whumping

 

SUMMARY: Friends are often the ones most taken for granted. For SG-1, an off-world mission helps to seal the breech before things get totally out of control. (Part of the 2004 Jackfic-a-thon)

 

SPOILERS: Season five. Takes place immediately following Menace and prior to Sentinal.

WARNINGS: The usual whumpage when I get going. And, well, Jack’s mouth of course. Y’all know how he gets when Daniel doesn’t listen.

 

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I should have stuck with my first instincts and simply organized this little challenge instead of asking for a plot bunny. It’s all your fault! (And you know who you are.) Seriously, much thanks go to the entire Jackfic-a-thon group for I would not have gotten the plot bunny if it were not for you. Thanks also to Hoo, my in-my-time-zone, YIM writing partner, who was very patient through my questions and paranoia. An abundance of thanks must go to Lynette for her truckloads of patience and her ever-willing red beta pen.

 

And even after all of this help, if there are any mistakes, trust me, they’re mine.

 

ARCHIVE: Jackfic. Do not archive elsewhere without the author’s express permission.

 

 

FILE SIZE: 385 KB

 

DISCLAIMER: The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Sci Fi and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-1, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles, and back story are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions, and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea, and the story itself are the sole property of the author.

 

 

***

 

Reconstructing Trust

By SGC Gategirl

 

 

“I trust you because I need you.”

—Mason Cooley, City Aphorisms, Thirteenth Selection

 

 

“The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.”

—Douglas Adams, Mostly Harmless

 

 

“The most fatal disease of friendship is gradual decay, or dislike hourly increased by causes too slender for complaint, and too numerous for removal.”

—Samuel Johnson, The Idler, no. 23, Universal Chronicle

 

 

***

 

Nearly a week and a half later and the words still echoed in his mind.

 

‘You stupid son of a bitch.’

 

It’s not that they were shocking, or strange, or even undeserved. He’d been called worse things in his life.

 

It was more than that. Much more. But it had taken this long for him to realize it.

 

He’d been busy, he knew, not that it was much of an excuse, but it did serve its purpose. Over the course of the week, they’d been through the base several times, but to Colonel Jack O’Neill it still felt as if there were more of those bugs in the rafters. Every now and then he swore he could hear the click-clicking of their metallic feet along the concrete. That, and the absolute disdain dripping from Daniel’s lips.

 

‘You stupid son of a bitch.’

 

It was more than the words. It was as if their entire friendship was wrapped up in that one simple sentence.

 

When did he lose their trust, his trust? When did the decay of their friendship first begin? How could he have missed it?

 

But when he had stood over Daniel, his gun still warm in his hands, something was different, something had changed. He’d turned and walked away, leaving Daniel in a heap on the floor and had gone about his business as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

 

Maybe because the extraordinary had become commonplace. Since when had he become so callous? Since when had Daniel become a stranger?

 

With everything they’d been through—the highs and lows of life and death—it all came down to moments—moments of time, instances of seconds. Would he have done anything differently given the chance?

 

Jack couldn’t lie to himself, even sitting here on his back porch in the dark with a beer in his hand. He’d done that too many times during his life, especially with Sara. But now, when you got down to the facts, he knew for a certainty that things couldn’t have happened differently.

 

If those Lego bugs had gotten out, even just one of them—

 

The possibility of what might have happened was something Jack did not want to think about, but the nightmares still surfaced, crawling over his body, up his legs, under his clothing, waking him up in a cold sweat every time he managed to catch a few hours of sleep.

 

Tilting the bottle to his lips, he took a mouthful. The beer was bitter, the liquid warm, but he swallowed it anyway.

 

He wasn’t in the mood for it, but there was nothing else in the house. He’d spent the better part of the last week on base until he was absolutely certain that not one block of those little buggers remained. Unfortunately that meant whatever edible items had been in his fridge had quickly become science projects.

 

Sighing, Jack stretched out his arm, placing the empty bottle on the deck railing, the glass thumping quietly against the wood, the sound blending into the deepness of the night air.

 

Thinking back, Jack realized that it had been nearly a week and a half since he’d last seen Daniel, last looked him in the eye. He’d left him in the Gateroom, cradling his injured arm, anger filling his features, those venomous words hanging in the air between them.

 

‘You stupid son of a bitch.’

 

It had been a week and a half since he’d talked to him.

 

He’d been busy, leading the sweep of the base, Teal’c and Carter helping him, each leading teams. He’d then had to fight to make sure that every last piece of those damn bugs was disintegrated instead of kept around for study. If the NID had gotten their way truckloads of replicator remnants would already be making the journey to Nellis and God only knows what might have happened then. Jack knew full well of their ability to keep highly classified material safe. So much for a high-security, secret facility. It was probably easier to walk into Nellis than the Colorado Springs Post Office.

 

And while all of this was going on, Daniel had been treated in the infirmary for his injury and sent home. Their paths never crossed, neither of them going out of their way to find the other.

 

Those words that had dropped from Daniel’s mouth however, hadn’t exactly made Jack want to go calling.

 

Once the yelling and screaming was over and the entire base wiped clean, he’d had dinner with Teal’c late one night, a quiet affair at a local pizzeria. They’d been wired, the two of them unable to sleep, craving a late-night binge and the flashing neon sign drew them in.

 

The smell of baking dough mixed with sauce and cheese instantly placed them in heaven, their stomachs rumbling ravenously, and they couldn’t wait a moment longer. Settling down at a table in the corner, the smell and the lights washed away the memories of dark, dank places crawling with spiders and remnants of replicators.

 

The pizza wasn’t particularly good.

 

The beer was warm.

 

But it didn’t matter. It was perfect.

 

In the morning even Jack had to admit that after a full night’s sleep and a breakfast of pancakes with a side of eggs and bacon, he felt almost human. But the familiar routine of work and meetings forced the next several days to blend, molding into an endless ream of paper and people, until pizza and companionship were a thing of the distant past.

 

And now sitting in the dark, the stars his only companion, Jack had finally found a moment to sit back and breathe. But what was he thinking about?

 

Daniel.

 

Those words, that tone, the whole incident with Reese—it just set his blood boiling. Trust, he knew, had to be earned, but hadn’t he? All those years of sacrifice, all those years of hard work and sweat, fighting with every breath to make sure that the snakes were defeated. Every day he fought to keep the Earth free of the disease that was the Goa’uld.

 

After everything he’d done, why wasn’t it enough?

 

Besides, it wasn’t as if he could change who he was or what he did. This was a military installation not a walk in the goddamn park. Sometimes, though, it seemed like Daniel forgot that. Forgot that this was a highly classified government project, a project that very well could come around and bite them in the ass.

 

How many times had the enemy come close to winning?

 

And what was Daniel crying about this time? That he didn’t have more time to talk to the robot. Well, her little toys were about ready to overrun the entire base and if it wasn’t for his quick thinking they might not be here anymore, another planet wiped out by the replicators because he felt bad for a machine.

 

That self-absorbed, whining little—

 

Damn him.

 

***

 

Dusting off the top of the book, Daniel’s nose twitched and his frown deepened as the cloud of dust hovered gracefully above the cover before dispersing into the room. Normally he wouldn’t mind working in his lab, in fact with all of the fieldwork SG-1 was required to do as a front-line team, working in his lab had become a luxury not oft enjoyed. But the fact that he was still having problems using his left hand made his work a little more cumbersome than usual.

 

Every twinge of his wrist, however, only reminded him of the incident with Jack. What was it with his shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude? Why did the military continue to support that kind of unnecessary behavior?

 

Dropping the book on the counter, he turned to the door, his body tensing as he hesitated. Honestly, he had to admit that he was bored, but everyone had been busy—even Sam and Teal’c. The replicators had certainly infested the base and it had taken nearly a week to make sure everything was clean. The teams had been through his office often enough that, at one point, he was convinced it had turned into Grand Central Station.

 

He could tell that it was Jack’s order—the thoroughness, the single-mindedness that every corner had to be examined fifteen times. That military mindset of his wouldn’t let anyone rest until every single block was accounted for.

 

If only Jack had let Daniel do his job—talking to Reese and allowing her to shut them down—they wouldn’t have had to go through this whole circus affair. And they’d have a much better picture as to how Reese was created and how she made her toys.

 

But, of course, things hadn’t gone that way.

 

He could still see Jack standing there, his face an unfeeling mask, the military man at the forefront. Even his words—from his insincere apology to the curt orders he issued as he left the Gateroom—just drove home the reality of the situation and the absolute absurdity of everything.

 

Sitting on the cold floor of the Gateroom everything was crystal clear. They could have learned so much from her.

 

Sometimes he wondered why he’d stayed around so long, why he’d insisted on it. He’d done what he set out to do at the beginning. He’d unlocked the secrets of the Stargate only to watch later on as his wife was killed before him.

 

Not exactly the best payment he could have imagined. He’d been through the Stargate hundreds of times, met hundreds of different races, fought the Goa’uld, and forged alliances that helped them survive.

 

And what thanks did he get? Did anyone trust him any more now than they had when he was a wet-behind-the-ears bookworm?

 

Hardly.

 

He’d changed over the years, gotten stronger, gotten harder. He knew that. The things he was doing were worlds beyond anything he could have ever dreamt of when he was a student. He was world-wise now. He knew the risks, but he also knew just how much they still had to learn.

 

Reese would have been a piece of the puzzle—an important piece—if only things had gone differently, if only Jack had put some faith in him and his abilities.

 

Violence, while an answer, was never the right answer. Knowledge was stronger than any weapon, but one that Daniel never had the opportunity to wield.

 

He had that feeling again, the same feeling he’d had when he stood on the sidewalk in the pouring rain, a paper airplane ticket in his hand, as Catherine’s car pulled away from the curb. It was time for a change, a major one—and this time he wasn’t afraid of what it might be. At this point in time, anything would be better than this.

 

But why was he hesitating, standing beside his lab table, his eyes fixed on the corridor outside?

 

If he were honest with himself he’d admit that he didn’t want to run into Jack. He wasn’t scared, he was tired. He just didn’t want any more aggravation. His wrist was giving him enough as is.

 

The last thing he wanted to hear, however, was the announcement over the loudspeaker for SG-1 to report to the briefing room.

 

Expelling his breath, he rubbed the back of his neck trying to brace himself for the confrontation he was about to face.

 

Talk about timing. He grimaced as he put one foot in front of the other, his steps taking him closer to the one person he wouldn’t mind avoiding for the rest of his life.

 

***

 

Major Samantha Carter glanced up from her microscope, glaring at the speaker above the door.

 

Why was it that every time she was in the middle of a research project and it was getting interesting she was called somewhere else? Was the universe just trying to pull one big prank on her?

 

Sighing, she savagely punched a combination of numbers on the speakerphone pad. “O’Shea.”

 

“Gillian, it’s Sam. I need your help in my lab. Do you have some time to spare?”

 

Carter swore she could hear the smile on the Sergeant’s face. “I heard the announcement and I was just packing up a few things here. What are you working on?”

 

“General Hammond let me keep one of the replicator blocks for study. I just need you to put it into containment for me. I don’t want to leave it lying around.”

 

“Trust me, I understand. I think I can still hear the Colonel’s yelling from the other day. I’m surprised you were able to keep one of them for study.”

 

“Well, actually,” Carter said as she felt her cheeks turn a little red, “the Colonel doesn’t know about this one.”

 

“Ah,” O’Shea said, her tone full of comprehension. “And he’s not going to know about it either. I’ll be there in a minute.”

 

“Thanks. I appreciate it.”

 

“Not a problem. You’d better go before you’re late.”

 

“I’m okay. It should take Daniel at least another ten minutes to get there. His coffee pot wasn’t working last I checked and knowing him, he’d stop for coffee on the way.”

 

Gillian’s chuckle filled the room as they signed off. Carter slid to her feet, her hands straightening the papers on her desk as her eyes scanned its surface, making sure nothing was out of place.

 

Reaching for her pad and a pen, she gathered both in her arms before heading to the door. Footsteps in the hall signaled the Sergeant’s arrival and ushered Carter out into the corridor in a hurry. “Thanks again,” she said as O’Shea passed entering the lab Carter had recently vacated.

 

“I’m keeping track.” O’Shea kidded. “And I’m going to ask for a payoff soon.”

 

“Just tell me when,” Carter called, already halfway down the hall.

 

Pausing to swipe her card in the reader next to the elevator, she only had to wait a few seconds for the car to arrive, taking her a few levels down to the briefing room.

 

She was surprised to find everyone except the Colonel in the room when she entered. Daniel was sitting in his usual place, his fingers tracing patterns on the briefing room table. Teal’c looked like he had come directly from the gym and Carter realized that the announcement must have interrupted one of his training classes. Teal’c had started a program for those interested in learning some of the Jaffa fighting techniques. Over the course of the past few years it had become more and more popular and he tried to keep the sessions as regular as possible while he was on base. This morning must have been a scheduled class.

 

“I’m sorry, Sir,” she said to General Hammond as she dropped her pad and pen at her place at the briefing room table. “I was in the middle of some research—“

 

“Understood, Major. We’re just waiting on the Colonel who should be here any minute now. He was signing in upstairs when I called the meeting,” Hammond said, settling down at the head of the table, straightening several of the pages in the folder he’d carried into the room.

 

Carter nodded as she moved to the sideboard table to grab a mug of coffee. Daniel, she noted, was coffee-less. Catching his eye she gestured to the carafe in her hands. Shaking his head, she nodded and poured herself a cup, surprised he didn’t want any.

 

A sudden shuffle of clothing was the only warning Carter had before O’Neill strode through the doorway, his long blue jean-clad legs taking him quickly to his seat. “Sorry, Sir,” he said apologetically, gesturing to his attire.

 

“At ease, Colonel,” Hammond said as everyone took their seats around the briefing room table. “I’ve called you all here this morning because we seem to have a problem at one of our scientific outposts.”

 

“Problem, Sir?” O’Neill asked and Carter swore she could hear his back straightening.

 

Hammond nodded gravely. “It appears as if the scientists on P3S-295 have missed their scheduled check-in.”

 

“That’s happened before, General,” O’Neill said, his fingers twirling the pen he’d snatched from Carter as soon as he slid into his seat. There went any thought about taking notes at this meeting.

 

“True,” the General conceded, “but that was because of weather conditions and it was only once. They missed the last two check-ins, the second earlier this morning.”

 

“Were we not able to make contact with them ourselves?” Teal’c asked, his baritone tones only adding to the seriousness of the General’s announcement. Carter knew all of the scientists on P3S-295 personally. She’d picked several of them especially for this mission.

 

“We’ve tried twice but haven’t gotten any response. The MALP appears to be operational and from the limited perspective we can get from its camera everything seems to be normal. There’s no weather anomalies and no evidence of battle. In short, I’m worried that we may have overlooked something when we did our initial survey of the planet. In any case, I want you to check it out and see what happened to the scientists.”

 

“When do you want us to leave?” O’Neill asked. Out of the corner of her eye Carter swore she saw something flicker across Daniel’s face, but when she turned to look at him, it was gone. She raised her eyebrow in question, but he shook his head, waving off her question.

 

“Within the hour if possible. I’ve already alerted Supply and your gear should be in the locker room waiting for you,” Hammond said, pushing himself away from the table.

 

Carter and O’Neill immediately clambered to their feet, Daniel and Teal’c not far behind.

 

“We’ll be ready, Sir.”

 

“Good. I know you’ll find them. Dismissed.”

 

Even before the General had crossed to his office, Daniel was already gone, a spinning chair the only evidence of his passing.

 

Carter raised an eyebrow at his behavior, managing to catch Teal’c’s eye. O’Neill, on the other hand, just shook his head, a sigh escaping from his mouth before his face hardened, as if he was closing down, pulling down the shutters. “I guess we should get ourselves geared up. Come on, campers. We’ve got work to do.”

 

***

 

By the time O’Neill and Teal’c made it to the locker room Daniel was struggling into his tactical vest, the unsecured bindings of the leg harness swinging free.

 

O’Neill walked over to his locker, his gaze settling on Daniel every now and then, watching the younger man’s fits and starts as he tried not to over-extend his injured wrist.

 

“You sure didn’t waste any time,” O’Neill finally commented, pulling his folded BDUs from the top of his locker and shrugging off his sweater. Teal’c had stepped into the adjoining room for a quick shower, leaving the two men alone.

 

“What?”

 

O’Neill glanced over his shoulder, watching as Daniel fastened the final pieces of his gear together, tightening down the straps.

 

“I said—“

 

“I heard what you said,” Daniel said, his clipped words interrupting O’Neill. “I’m just surprised by the comment. I thought you of all people would appreciate efficiency—especially when there’s a team missing.”

 

O’Neill could feel the flush of warmth on his face as he turned, his eyebrows drawing close, his forehead tight. “Me of all people? What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

Daniel shrugged, refusing to meet his eyes. “I’ll meet you in the Gate room in ten. Can’t keep the General waiting.”

 

Before O’Neill could say another word, the archeologist slipped out the door and into the hallway, leaving him standing shirtless in the locker room, his BDUs hanging from his hands.

 

This mission was going to be a pip.

 

Sighing, he turned around and tried to put his mind on the mission, on the missing scientists, but his thoughts kept circling back to Daniel’s words and the coldness behind them.

 

When Teal’c finally returned a few minutes later, O’Neill was nearly completely kitted up, his face set in a military mask. It was the only way to get through the mission—otherwise he might end up punching one arrogant archeologist. Although if it was the only way to get some sense into the man’s head…O’Neill shook the thought out of his mind. This was not the time or the place.

 

“Daniel Jackson is gone?”

 

O’Neill nodded once, tugging his tactical vest and clipping his P90 into place. “Yep. Headed to the Gate room already. How long you gonna be?”

 

“I shall be prepared momentarily,” Teal’c said, already pulling on his BDUs.

 

“Good,” O’Neill said, one hand on the door to the hallway. “I’m going to see if the General has any other information and I’ll meet you in ten.”

 

“I shall be there.”

 

“Great,” he said, pausing in the half-open doorway. “Make sure you grab Carter on the way.”

 

Teal’c inclined his head, a simple gesture that held tremendous respect and meaning. With his temper simmering just below the surface, O’Neill knew the little things—like the tilt of Teal’c’s head—went a long way in easing the pressure that was building in his head.

 

And it just emphasized the point that through everything, Teal’c was someone he could trust.

 

***

 

Twenty minutes later SG-1 was assembled in the embarkation room, minus one member—Jack.

 

Daniel paced at the bottom of the ramp, his arms crossed over his chest. Sam and Teal’c were off to the side waiting patiently, Sam double-checking her ordinance while Teal’c stood silently, his gaze sweeping around the room.

 

Looking into the control room for what seemed like the hundredth time, Daniel caught sight of Jack and the General deep in conversation as they walked down the stairs from the Level 27 briefing room. What was he doing with the General? A brief flutter filtered through his stomach, but he pushed it down. Instead, he pulled his attention away from the window and glanced at his watch again. What had happened to punctuality?

 

Jack appeared a few moments later, the large metal door sliding back as he strode in, finally stopping at the bottom of the ramp, a few feet from the archeologist. After a brief glance at Daniel, Jack turned, including Sam and Teal’c in his conversation. “Sorry about my tardiness. I wanted to make sure I had all the information from the General before heading out.” Jack looked up, obviously catching the General’s eye since the Stargate immediately started spinning, the chevrons locking into place one by one. “We’re ready, Sir.”

 

Following Jack’s gaze, Daniel watched as Hammond leaned down, his hand holding onto the microphone. “SG-1 you have a go. Bring them home.”

 

“Yes, Sir,” Jack said, turning his attention back to the team. “The General sent another MALP through about fifteen minutes ago to get a reading on what was going on around the gate. He’s going to have them scan the clearing again before we proceed through, but it seemed fine.”

 

“Now there’s concrete intel,” Daniel commented under his breath, but apparently loud enough for Jack to hear since the older man flicked his gaze to him, his eyes narrowing, but ignored the comment.

 

“The scientists hadn’t reported anything out of the ordinary during their last communication with the SGC,” Jack continued, the locking chevrons providing a backdrop to his words. “No large predators, no signs of human or Goa’uld habitation for that matter. The General was about ready to approve the establishment of a scientific outpost on P3S-295 before their missed communications.”

 

The ka-whoosh of the opening wormhole signaled an end to Jack’s short briefing. It really wasn’t anything he didn’t already know. Unlike some people, Daniel read his memos.

 

“SG-1, the MALP indicates the area around the Gate is clear. Good luck.”

 

O’Neill offered a partial salute to the General before turning on his heel and heading up the ramp, Sam and Teal’c not far behind.

 

Daniel sighed, but stepped in line, hard on Teal’c’s heels.

 

Things were going to change. He could feel it in the air and he was ready to follow wherever it led him.

 

***

 

The cold of the wormhole helped to bring Jack’s temper down a few degrees, but from the looks and the comments he was getting from Daniel it wasn’t going to take much to set him off. And on a rescue mission the last thing he needed was a smartass.

 

He knew that from first-hand experience.

 

Sliding down the stairs from the Stargate, O’Neill’s raised P90 tracked the edge of the clearing, the early morning sun filtering down through the leaves of the trees. The MALP sat in the middle of open area, just in front of the DHD. Three squishes behind him signaled the rest of his team’s arrival. A quick glance around showed them all moving into position, Daniel heading to the DHD with Carter and Teal’c scanning the clearing in much the same way he was.

 

Daniel gave a thumbs-up at the DHD while quick nods from Carter and Teal’c confirmed his initial assessment. O’Neill reached for his radio, depressing the button to report back to the SGC. “General, we have all clear and are proceeding to the camp site. We’ll report back in two hours.”

 

Hammond’s voice was clear through the earbud. “We’ll be waiting for your call. SGC out.”

 

The wormhole snapped shut, the blue tinge coating the closest trees changing to a more normal color.

 

“Carter, which way?”

 

A quick gesture with her head indicated the direction. “About an hour hike, Sir.”

 

“Teal’c, take point, then Daniel, Carter, and I’ll watch our six.”

 

The Jaffa nodded his consent and moved immediately to the path Carter had indicated, his staff weapon at the ready. Everyone else fell into line, the silence of the forest settling upon them.

 

The hike was not difficult, an easy trail over flat terrain, but there was something missing—and it was more than the easy companionship of friends.

 

There were no birds.

 

No insects.

 

No animals.

 

The trees and the plants were plentiful, but without the sounds of the forest—the birds crashing through the leaves, the local equivalent of squirrels scurrying through the undergrowth—something was missing.

 

O’Neill was surprised by the camp when they arrived. Instead of the usual small tents SG-1 normally traveled with, there were several temporary buildings set up—a bunk-house, a mess hall, storage, and a complete lab. When the General said they were about ready to approve the establishment of a scientific outpost here, he wasn’t kidding. Just moving all the crap back to the SGC would take a week.

 

The silence, though, was absolute.

 

“Everyone spread out. Let’s make sure no one’s home before we go crazy searching the area,” O’Neill ordered, watching as Carter and Teal’c moved to opposite ends of the camp. Daniel, on the other hand, hadn’t moved. What was it about civilian scientists?

 

“That wasn’t a suggestion.”

 

Daniel caught his gaze, his blue eyes cold. “Yes, Sir. Right away, Sir,” Daniel said, sarcasm dripping from every word. He turned as if to go, but hesitated, swiveling around to look back at O’Neill. “I noticed you’re very good at giving orders lately.”

 

O’Neill’s eyebrows drew close. “And that’s different than normal? This is a military operation, Daniel, and I am the commanding officer, if you haven’t already noticed.”

 

“Yeah,” he said glancing away, his eyes scanning the compound, “I’ve noticed.”

 

“Well, from the way you’ve been acting it seems like you’ve forgotten a lot.”

 

Daniel turned back to O’Neill, his eyes flashing. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

O’Neill shook his head, trying to get his growing temper under control. His hand slashed across the air in front of him. “Look, it isn’t the time or the place for this.”

 

“No, it’s not, but then again, there’s never a good time for anything that doesn’t fall into your personal set of preferred topics.”

 

“What the hell has gotten into you?”

 

“Maybe I’ve finally come to realize what’s important in my life.”

 

O’Neill’s voice dropped, words forced out through clenched teeth as he took several steps toward the archeologist. “What’s important? What do you think we’re doing? Do you think we’re out here for our health? Do you think that I enjoy losing people, good people, to the likes of the Goa’uld?”

 

“No, I know you don’t, but—“

 

“But what, Daniel? Right now, there’s a group of scientists who need our help. If you’re not going to start acting like a member of my team then you can hightail it right back to the gate and go home, because we have work to do.”

 

O’Neill paused, narrowing his eyes as he watched Daniel’s non-reaction. It actually looked like Daniel was considering his options, his eyes focused on something beyond Jack’s shoulder.

 

“Am I clear?”

 

It took a few moments before Daniel finally nodded once, albeit reluctantly. “Have it your way,” he replied and O’Neill could hear the unspoken words hanging between them.

 

‘You stupid son of a bitch.’

 

Daniel’s mouth tightened and he turned, heading down the path they’d hiked, the curving trail that led back to the Stargate.

 

At that moment, if Daniel had come anywhere within swinging distance of him, the rest of SG-1 would have found one unconscious archeologist flat on his back on the ground.

 

A brief flash through his mind nearly found him striding to grab Daniel’s arm, to stop him from going. He couldn’t just leave. They were already missing six scientists, the last thing they needed was to misplace an archeologist too.

 

But something stopped him from moving.

 

Daniel was a big boy. He could take care of himself. He’d been telling Jack that for years now. And you know what, Jack thought to himself as the younger man’s figure blended into the foliage, let him go back home. Have him explain why he left. Hammond would sure get a kick out of that.

 

Taking a deep breath, O’Neill forced himself to turn away from the path and the man striding away from him, focusing instead on the mission and the camp in front of him. He had a job to do and, unlike some people, he’d get it done.

 

***

 

Carter circled around the west side of the camp first, checking the perimeter as Teal’c headed east. The camp and planet were quiet, unusually noiseless. There was nothing out of the ordinary, nothing out of place—except for the missing scientists.

 

She spotted Teal’c out of the corner of her eye and she gestured, catching his attention. She pointed toward the door of the nearest portable shelter, indicating that she was going inside. He nodded once, and proceeded on, his staff weapon poised and ready.

 

Sliding into the hut, her eyes adjusted to the dim light. From an initial glance around, it looked as if she’d found their lab. Various pieces of equipment were placed throughout, papers and files covering most surfaces. She reached out, testing the switch on the nearest microscope, the little light shining immediately. She switched it off as she felt the muscles in her jaw tighten.

 

Whatever happened wasn’t sudden. They knew they were going—wherever it was—well enough in advance to turn off their equipment.

 

Moving closer, her fingers leafed through the nearest file, her eyes scanning their findings. High concentrations of minerals. Fertile soil. Moderate climate. Long growing season.

 

Moving from desk to desk, she skimmed the files, looking at their notes, trying to discover where they might be, where they might have gone.

 

Nothing jumped out at her as being unusual.

 

The opening door startled her, her head snapping up to watch as the Colonel entered followed by Teal’c.

 

“What did you find, Carter?” he asked, stopping on the other side of the table.

 

She shook her head. “Not much. They’ve been running standard environmental tests, as far as I can tell. It looks like Annette Wales and Mark Andrews headed up the biological studies. They’d spent a lot of time down by the river recently, about a half-hour walk from here. Collin Gibson and Naomi Dean spent a good amount of time in the caves just north of here, while Colonel Carpenter and William Page were filling in with supplementary tests and surveys in addition to making sure the SGC was kept abreast of their findings.” Glancing up, she met the Colonel’s brown eyes. “There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the planet or their reports.”

 

“Nothing about Sasquatch?”

 

The corner of her mouth twitched. “No, Sir.”

 

His mouth set in a thin line and he glanced away, his eyes focusing on some of the equipment in the back of the room. Teal’c stood silently to his side, patiently waiting for his decision.

 

Daniel normally would have jumped in right about now. But, where was Daniel? Her eyes searched behind the Colonel until realization dawned: he wasn’t there.

 

“Sir?”

 

His head snapped back toward her, his eyebrows draw together. “Carter?”

 

“Where’s Daniel?”

 

“I, too, wish to know this information.”

 

If she hadn’t been looking, she would have missed it. Something had filtered across his face, a bevy of emotions, but they moved much too quickly for her to pinpoint any one of them. If she’d blinked, she would have missed the subtle changes in his demeanor.

 

His words, though, were not what she was expecting.

 

“Heading back to the gate.”

 

“Sir,” she began, not entirely sure how to continue. The air in the room had changed as well, tension building around the Colonel. “Is he okay? Is everything okay?”

 

“He’s fine,” he replied, much too quickly. “He thought it was best that he returned to the SGC.”

 

“I shall accompany him,” Teal’c said, already moving toward the door. “It is not safe for him to go alone.”

 

“Teal’c,” O’Neill said, his tone stopping the Jaffa mid-stride. “He’s fine and we have a mission to complete.”

 

“But, Sir, Teal’c has a point. We have no idea what happened to the scientists. Daniel shouldn’t be returning to the Stargate by himself. Let one of us walk back with him.“

 

“Absolutely out of the question. Have you forgotten why we’re here?”

 

“No, Sir, but I think—“

 

“Carter, your concerns are noted, but we don't have time to argue about this. I had to make a choice between six scientists or one archeologist. I don't like it anymore than you do, but other than physically restraining him, I had no choice but to let him go."

 

“But, Sir. Daniel—“

 

“Can take care of himself. He knows the risks. He knows the dangers. He knows the mission and he made the choice. Most of those scientists out there haven’t had a hell of a lot of off-world experience. I know Carpenter. He’s a good man. That team is in trouble and it’s up to us to find them.”

 

O’Neill’s gaze was penetrating, his tone deadly serious.

 

Before either her or Teal’c could react, however, a crackle echoed across their radios.

 

“Colonel O’Neill, do you read?”

 

The Colonel turned, thumbing the button on his radio. “Loud and clear, Sir.”

 

“What’s your status?”

 

“We’ve located the camp and nothing seems out of place. We’re going to spread out and see if we can find any sign of them. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so it’s going to take some time.”

 

She could hear the concern in the General’s voice. “Do you need additional teams?”

 

“Negative. We still need to do more recon before I can recommend sending additional personnel to the planet. We may still be dealing with nothing more than the usual absent-minded scientists."

 

“Understood,” Hammond replied. “Report in when you have more information. I’ll have SG-3 and 5 standing by. If we haven’t heard from you in six hours we’ll make radio contact.”

 

“Understood. SG-1 niner out.”

 

O’Neill turned back to them, his brown eyes deep and Carter could swear that she saw the gears grinding away in his mind. “Carter, I want you and Teal’c to follow Wales and Andrews’ footsteps to the river. Check out the surrounding area. I’m going to head north and take a look at the cave system, starting on the western end. When you finish up at the river work your way back to meet me. Keep in radio contact.”

 

Carter nodded once. If only Daniel had stayed the Colonel wouldn’t be forced to search on his own.

 

“Understood, O’Neill. We will endeavor to journey swiftly so as to return in a prompt manner.”

 

“Don’t hurry on my account, Teal’c,” O’Neill said, pausing in his movement to the door. Something filtered across his face again, the emotion gone as quickly as it came. “The scientists need our best. Let’s give it to them.”

 

***

 

Daniel stood up, taking a final drink from his canteen before fastening it to his waist. He’d stopped to rest against a large rock adjacent to the trail when he heard the General’s voice, a gentle stab of doubt shooting through his mind.

 

That only lasted until he heard Jack’s voice.

 

Everything about it set his teeth on edge. Jack’s condescending comments about scientists didn’t make him jump for joy either.

 

Rolling his shoulders to ease the tension in his muscles, he started moving again, continuing his leisurely stroll back to the gate. He wasn’t in any particular hurry and, honestly, he wasn’t sure what he was going to tell the General when he got there.

 

‘Well, Sir, Jack ticked me off and told me I could go home,’ didn’t seem like the best explanation.

 

He should have a draft of his resignation letter around somewhere. He’d been plucking away at it lately. Apparently his unconscious mind had made this decision a while ago and his conscious mind was just catching up now.

 

Maybe he’d be able to go back to Egypt and continue some of the work he sorely missed. His welcome back into the archeological world might be a little rocky, but after dealing with the Goa’uld, he could handle just about anything. He’d be away from the front lines, away from the life and death decisions that marred every waking moment.

 

Low chatter over the radio pulled his attention away from his internal musings, his left hand immediately turning the volume back up so he could hear.

 

“…clear. Teal’c and I are going to scout a little more by the river, but there’s no sign of them anywhere.”

 

“I copy. These mountains seem to be infested with caves. If they’re in here they could be just about anywhere. I’m—“

 

A scuffle over the radio melded into a thump before silence echoed over the line.

 

“Sir?” Carter’s voice held a hit of anxiety, which only increased with each additional syllable. “Sir? What happened? Sir?”

 

“—damn rocks. You know what’s a good idea, Carter? I think they should outlaw rocks on planets.”

 

Humor colored Sam’s next words and Daniel could picture the half-smile on her face. “Are you okay, Sir?”

 

“Fine. Nothing more than a bruised ego and some scrapes and bruises. And this…dust…gets into everything.” Jack coughed once before he could click off the microphone, coming back on a few beats later. “Take a good look around the river and then head back to my position. The caves are going to take a lot longer than I originally anticipated.”

 

“Should we call for back-up, Sir?”

 

“How much more daylight do we have?”

 

“Not much,” she admitted, her tone a little distracted. “I’d say another few hours at the most.”

 

“Negative then. It’ll take the teams too long to get here. Let’s rendezvous in an hour at the camp instead and we can plan our strategy for tomorrow. It might pay to get Hammond to send the UAV. Even though there’s a lot of plant-growth, it should be able to pick up the scientists if they decided to go on a field trip.”

 

Daniel turned the sound back down low as Sam acknowledged Jack’s orders. They were working well without him, like a well-oiled machine.

 

They wouldn’t miss him.

 

That bothered him—more than he wanted to admit.

 

They’d been a team. Friends, even. What had happened? When had things begun to change? Could he pinpoint the exact moment when things had changed, when things had become about fifteen degrees off-center?

 

He sighed again, his thoughts deep and dark. Casting his eyes ahead, the Stargate rose into view, the foliage thinning as he approached the clearing, The DHD appeared as he rounded the final corner.

 

Thinking back, Daniel realized that it had been a gradual decay, his tensions with Jack growing until they enveloped everyone, everything he did, everything he said, everything he saw.

 

But now, standing before the DHD, his hands hesitated over the glyphs.

 

Was he really being fair to the team, to the scientists?

 

He looked at his watch before casting a glance at the sky. It was already starting to darken, the afternoon quickly rushing into twilight. He could make it back to the camp before night completely claimed the landscape.

 

But did he want to?

 

Why should his issues with Jack affect Sam and Teal’c? They didn’t do anything to him, in fact, they’d been supportive, his constant companions. It wasn’t the scientists’ fault that Jack was an ass.

 

His hands dropped to his side and he sighed, but he already knew that his mind was made up.

 

He turned, his feet sure against the uneven ground.

 

The time slipped away as he moved, the fast encroaching darkness slowing his progress. Two unanswered calls to Jack quickly turned to four. Each passing minute stretched out before him, yet slipped away faster than he could count.

 

Something had happened. He knew it in his bones.

 

After the fifth call, Daniel raised his hand to the radio, his chilled fingers struggling to find the button as his body continued to move. “Sam? What happened?”

 

The surprise in her voice was expected, but it hurt nonetheless.

 

“Daniel? I thought…the Colonel said…where are you?”

 

“I’m hiking back to the camp, probably about three-quarters of the way there,” he answered, stepping over a branch that stretched across the trail. He waited a few beats, wondering if she was going to speak again. “Sam?”

 

“Sorry. Teal’c’s walking out to meet you and he’s bringing a bigger flashlight. You’re going to need it.”

 

The worry in her voice nearly sent his stomach into back flips. “Sam, what happened to Jack?”

 

Her soft exhale carried over the channel. “We don’t know. He’s not here and he’s not answering our radio calls. It could just be interference…”

 

“But you don’t think so.”

 

“No.”

 

“What was he doing off by himself?” Daniel found himself asking, the words falling from his lips. At Sam’s hesitation, he knew the answer instantly. He heard the confirmation in the tone of her reply.

 

“His job.”

 

The same words that hung between him and Jack now hovered on the air once again, this time aimed in his direction.

 

‘You stupid son of a bitch.’

 

He was speechless.

 

If Jack were here, Daniel knew what he’d say. Something about turn-about being fair play and all.

 

And for once, Daniel would have to agree.

 

***

 

Even with the bigger flashlight he’d swiped from the camp, the tunnels were still dark, the dust clinging to every surface. His knee ached from where he’d tripped and fallen over the stupid small stalagmite in the middle of the floor. He’d ripped the material of his BDUs open and given himself a nice sized gash that seemed to have stopped bleeding, but his leg and knee still hurt, the residual ache reminding him that he wasn’t as young as he wanted to remember.

 

And it seemed as if he couldn’t get the dust out of his lungs.

 

The cave system was larger than he originally thought, the passages curving, angling up and down, forcing him deeper into the mountain. He’d lost count of the number of tunnels he’d searched, reaching the end before turning around and backtracking to the entrance and starting again on another one.

 

Stalactites hung from the ceiling in various shapes and sizes while hundreds of stalagmites rose up from the surface of the cave floor to meet them. In some places he’d had to squeeze to continue on to the end of the tunnel only to turn around and trudge back, wiggling through a space that he swore had gotten smaller.

 

He coughed again, for what seemed like the fiftieth time in the last ten minutes. Even after a few swigs from his canteen, it wasn’t getting any better.

 

The passage he was in this time was different than the others. Moving steadily, the floor had sloped downward sharply at first before finally leveling out, his free hand finding purchase against the wall, guiding him, the coating of dust and dirt getting thicker with each step.

 

He’d stood in the middle of several intersecting passages, holding the wall for support as he coughed, taking a few minutes to decide which way to go. He picked one finally, shoving himself off the rocks, his flashlight’s beam cutting through the darkness.

 

In any other instance wandering through these caves would be fun. Looking for misplaced scientists wasn’t exactly his idea of a good time.

 

The first passage he picked dead-ended where the stalactites and stalagmites had joined, forming a wall that blocked his way. Using the tip of his P90, he enlarged a small hole on the side of the corridor, opening it enough to shine the flashlight through. From what he could see—mainly the thick plume of dirt and dust in the air, floating in the beam of his flashlight—it looked like the passage continued on but there was no need for him to look any further. The scientists were not here.

 

Turning around yet again he returned to the crossroads of passages, his feet making the next choice. Twice more he picked paths before finally returning to that same intersection and the last passage.

 

The floor sloped downward once again, sharply in places, the loose dirt under his boots making it slippery. Bracing himself against the wall, he placed his feet precisely before shifting his weight, easing down the incline.

 

Movement in the corner of his eye distracted him and he lost his footing, barely recovering before he stumbled and fell. Squinting into the darkness, he tried to figure out what he’d seen, but there was nothing there.

 

Darkness played weird tricks on your eyes.

 

Shaking his head, he focused instead on his exploration, calculating how much further he had to go. Shining the flashlight forward he could just make out the end of the passage and the point where it leveled off.

 

He wasn’t expecting the feeling of movement under his boots.

 

***

 

By the time Daniel and Teal’c stumbled back into camp it was dark and the wind had picked up. It wasn’t much warmer in the tent, however—and Daniel wasn’t talking temperature either.

 

Sam eyed him from across the room before returning to the papers she was reading. Stepping in further, the Jaffa slid around him, laying the flashlight and his staff weapon on one of the large tables.

 

Wiping his hands on his pants, Daniel didn’t think he’d been so uncomfortable in his life.

 

Walking closer to one of the desks, he leaned against it, fingering the papers cluttering its surface. He knew she should probably say something, anything to break the silence, but he didn’t know where to begin or how to explain. How do you apologize for letting your friends down, for being an idiot?

 

“Sam?” he began, the word hesitant. She stiffened at the sound of his voice, her shoulders tensing. A few moments passed before she glanced up at him, her eyes hard.

 

“What, Daniel?”

 

He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”

 

“You should be.” Her tone was uncompromising.

 

Teal’c approached silently, his gaze lingering on both him and Sam. His tone, while somber, was not accusatory. “What has occurred between you and O’Neill?”

 

Daniel sighed, his eyes dropping to the page his fingers were playing with, rolling the corner, bending and folding it. “It’s a long story.”

 

He could hear the Jaffa shift beside him and Daniel glanced up. He could feel his eyes widening as his friend seated himself carefully on a nearby stool, his body relaxed. “I believe we have the time you require.”

 

“Shouldn’t we be looking for Jack?”

 

“If you haven’t noticed, Daniel, it’s dark,” Sam commented, moving closer to where Teal’c was perched. “Stumbling around in unfamiliar terrain is not exactly a bright idea.”

 

“But isn’t there something we can do?”

 

“We are doing something. Unless you’re willing to hike back to the Stargate to dial up the SGC, it makes more sense to stay here and wait for General Hammond to dial in, which should only be a few hours from now.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Therefore we have sufficient time for your lengthy tale.”

 

Daniel sighed, his fingers shoving up his glasses to squeeze the bridge of his nose. Letting his hand drop, he glanced back and forth between his friends. “I don’t even know where to begin.”

 

Sam moved closer, her jaw tight, her eyes flashing with an anger he knew he deserved. “Why did you walk, Daniel? You knew we had a mission. The scientists are depending on us.”

 

“I was angry,” Daniel replied, the words falling from his mouth. “Jack can be such an ass.”

 

Sam crossed her arms over her chest, her eyes narrowing. “While I admit that the Colonel can be difficult at times to deal with, being angry with him is no reason to walk away from a mission.”

 

“I know,” Daniel muttered, unable to hold her gaze.

 

“But you stormed off in a huff leaving him—us—to find the scientists. And because you weren’t here the Colonel was forced to search by himself. And where does that leave us now? One Colonel short, that’s where.”

 

“It’s not my fault that Jack got lost—“

 

“Lost? He could be lying in a heap somewhere for all we know. There could have been a cave-in. Anything could have happened, but we can’t look for him until morning because we don’t have the right equipment. How exactly do you plan on explaining all of this to General Hammond?”

 

“I don’t know!” Daniel yelled back, his anger finally finding some release. “If Jack wasn’t so impulsive—“

 

“Impulsive? Since when did the Colonel become impulsive about a rescue mission? Since when does he walk away when someone is in trouble? He works his ass off protecting people.”

 

The unspoken words ‘like you’ hung in the air.

 

“But that’s just it, Sam. When will Jack start to put some trust in me? He always second-guesses my decisions. He never trusts me to do my job. He treats me no better than a child.”

 

“Apparently he’s right on the money because that’s how you’ve been acting. If the Colonel didn’t trust you, you wouldn’t be on the team—end of story.”

 

“Daniel Jackson, O’Neill trusts your judgment implicitly,” Teal’c said, his voice a drastic contrast to the high emotions running through the room. “I agree with Major Carter. If O’Neill did not trust you or value your opinion, he would have found a replacement for you on SG-1.”

 

“I’m not so sure about that,” Daniel said, the Jaffa’s words giving him time to breathe, to get his emotions under control. “I mean, look at what happened with Reese. If he’d trusted me, if he’d just given me a little more time…He didn’t have to kill her.”

 

“Daniel Jackson, we were losing the battle against the replicators. Had O’Neill delayed SGC personnel would have perished. There was no room for error. O’Neill acted as he should. There was no other choice to make.”

 

“She was shutting them down.”

 

Sam shook her head. “No, Daniel. They were starting to act on their own. The Colonel did his job and saved the mountain, and most likely the planet.”

 

Daniel sighed and turned away, shaking his head.

 

“Do you disagree, Daniel Jackson?”

 

“I shouldn’t be surprised. You military types all think alike.”

 

Sam’s jaw dropped and it took her a moment to find her voice. “Us military types? You of all people should know better than to generalize since you’re the one who’s always complaining about how narrow-minded people can be when they do just that.” Sam’s eyes narrowed and she leaned in. Daniel felt a little uncomfortable under her scrutiny, but refused to back down, to move. “Is that the real problem then? Are you jealous?”

 

“No!” Daniel exclaimed immediately, but lowered his voice as he continued. ”Of course not. Why is it that anything we don’t understand we kill? Why do we always have to resort to violence? We could have learned so much from Reese, but we’ll never get an opportunity now. Jack made sure of that.” Daniel paused only long enough to draw another breath before plowing on. “And it’s more than just that one incident with Reese. Jack was going to blow up Lotan and the entire Gadmeer civilization just because he didn’t have a better solution. What kind of a plan is that? And Sam, he killed you for all intents and purposes when that entity had taken over your body. But what does Jack get? A pat on the back and a resounding ‘thank you, job well done’.” Daniel knew that if sarcasm were visible, it would be pouring from his lips.

 

“Daniel, you know in every instance that there was good reason for the Colonel to act the way he did,” Sam’s voice was hard, but had lost some of its anger. “But you also seem to forget the number of times he’s trusted you, relied upon you. In the case of the Gadmeer, setting that bomb to explode—knowing you were on that ship—it was the hardest thing he had to do. He had no way to know if you’d be able to talk sense into Lotan—“

 

“He should have trusted me.”

 

“He didn’t have a choice but to follow through with his plan. He had no idea what was going on up there. If you hadn’t been able to convince Lotan to stop the ship, the Enkarans would have been wiped out of existence. Yes, everything worked out in the end, but your actions undermined the Colonel’s authority. And do you know what your actions said to me or to anyone looking on for that matter? That you didn’t trust him to do to his job, to do the right thing. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to make those kinds of decisions—decisions that affect people’s lives?”

 

Daniel glanced away, unable to bear her heavy stare. Sam, however, wasn’t finished.

 

“Did he stop you from going on a nearly suicidal mission to the System Lord’s summit meeting? No, instead he fought long and hard to make sure you were safe, to make sure that you had a way to get home if things went bad. He trusted that you would be able to get the job done. If he didn’t trust you, he wouldn’t have let you leave the SGC. I think it’s time that you got your head out of your ass and started paying attention.”

 

She paused for a moment, taking a breath and letting it out slowly. “I also think that you should cut him some slack. He’s only human, Daniel, just like you. He does the best he can. And if our track record as a team is anything to go by, I know he’s the one I’d want watching my six when things got tough. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he’ll do everything in his power, anything it takes, to make sure everyone gets home alive—even if it means pain on his part. You might want to consider that before you go pointing your finger at him again, accusing him of not trusting you, of being anything less than the honorable man he is.”

 

Maybe the fault wasn’t all on Jack’s side. Perhaps, just perhaps, some of the blame rested with him. Sam obviously interpreted Jack’s actions differently and despite his words to the contrary, Daniel really didn’t dump Sam into the typical military mold.

 

Sam’s jaw was set, the muscles tight, although her eyes held a note of sorrow that nearly broke his heart. The last thing he wanted to do was to let her down, to let the team down. She was right; he’d been an ass. And standing here, in the middle of a temporary lab set up on an alien planet halfway across the galaxy from Earth, he knew how wrong he’d been, how shortsighted he’d become.

 

He needed time to think, to mull over the things she’d said. And then, if he decided that she was right, he had some apologizing to do. And even if Jack still deserved part of the blame, was it cause enough to lose a friendship, one that had been built up over time, over years? Because Jack was a friend—something Daniel had forgotten in his anger, a good friend, and one that he had let down. But even as realization swept over him, shame rose up from within, mixed with feelings of desperation.

 

They had to find him. He had to talk to him, to set things straight between the two of them.

 

But what if he didn’t get the chance? What if they couldn’t find him? What if they found him and it was too late?

 

The possibility of never seeing his friend again nearly sent him reeling to his knees. That couldn’t happen. There had to be something they could do here and now to ensure that he’d get the chance to talk to him later.

 

“Sam,” Daniel began, his voice hesitant, soft in the silence that had settled over them. “Is there anything we can do before the General calls? What do we know about the caves?”

 

She shrugged slightly, running a hand through her short blonde hair. “While I was waiting for Teal’c to come back with you, I’d started going through the scientists’ notes, trying to find a note, a clue, anything that could shed some light on what was going on.”

 

“Are you looking for something specific?”

 

“No,” she shook her head. “I’m just looking for anything that might indicate what they thought was in there, but there’s a lot of paper to get through.”

 

“What do you say I put on some coffee and we put our heads together and start looking?” Daniel suggested, hoping that she’d take his version of an olive branch.

 

She stood for a minute, her gaze resting gently on his face before nodding once. Her eyes slid to Teal’c for a moment before returning to him. “I’d like that and I know just where you can start.”

 

“Great,” Daniel smiled, a feeling of relief settling down on him momentarily. He’d straightened one thing out. Now he just needed the opportunity to finish the rest. “Let’s get started.”

 

***

 

‘What the…’ Jack thought as the dirt beneath his boot moved. He glanced down and could feel his eyes widen as he watched the dirt crawl up his foot, circle over his ankle, and continue north up his leg.

 

Normally, dirt didn’t do that.

 

It was right about then that commonsense exited stage right.

 

It seemed like a good idea when it popped into his mind, but the execution of the idea was somewhat lacking. Shifting his weight to his left leg, Jack lifted his right foot in an attempt to shake the dirt free.

 

That, however, only seemed to make it worse.

 

He started to backpedal, trying to get up the slope, but it felt as if the dirt was making his legs heavy. Trying to scramble backwards, he tried to move, but the dirt under his feet kept sliding away, as if it were running water, his grip on the wall the only thing keeping him upright.

 

Aiming his flashlight backwards he glanced over his shoulder, trying to judge how much further he had to go before he reached the top, but the particles caught in the beam had thickened, the dust heavy in the air.

 

For a moment, he thought the dust was swarming, like it was some kind of sentient life form. His chuckle turned to a cough.

 

It was then that his feet slipped out from under him.

 

In an effort to slow his descent, he tried to dig in his heels, but nothing was working right. His legs felt numb and unresponsive, his arms and hands feeling leaden. Each passing breath was harder to take as the dirt and dust from his headlong flight to the bottom of the slope kicked it high into the air.

 

Hitting a bump, he started to tumble, head over heels, down becoming up and up down. With each and every contact he made with the ground, scrapes and bruises were added to the total, the numbers rising exponentially.

 

The stalagmite at the bottom stopped him cold, the crack in its side showing green—a crack Jack didn’t see.

 

With his breath knocked out, he laid on the ground in a heap for several minutes trying to pull oxygen into his burning lungs. But with each successive inhalation came a series of coughs, each deeper than the next.

 

Movement of the dirt under his body propelled him to his feet and he stood there swaying as he tried to regain his senses in the dark, his large flashlight lost in his tumble.

 

Searching his vest, his hands finally latched onto the smaller flashlight he always carried and switched it on, grateful it worked.

 

What he saw, though, surprised him.

 

He was in a huge hall, a cavern surrounded by hundreds and thousands of stalagmites and stalactites, in all shapes and sizes. His feet dragging, he pushed himself forward, searching for another way out, but it was hard and he was tired.

 

He pointed the light downward, toward the ground that was still moving under his boots.

 

The dirt—non-dirt or whatever—had shifted higher finding the tear in his BDUs and was sliding against his bare skin, numbing it wherever it went. He was already losing feeling in his hands, the fingers going numb where they were exposed to the air. His neck and face were in a similar state.

 

The little buggers were getting into everything.

 

He could feel them traveling down his shirt, crawling down his spine.

 

He was covered in them.

 

The ones that weren’t on his skin were coating his uniform in a thick beige crust.

 

He was tired.

 

He’d stopped moving, he realized, several minutes ago. But even as he felt parts of his body go numb, his mind was clearing.

 

His P90 was gone, lost somewhere in the caves. It was the dust, the dirt, that caused this. It was sentient, it had to be.

 

He had to tell his team, they had to know.

 

Forcing his free hand upward, one inch at a time, he aimed for his radio, a radio his fumbling fingers discovered was not there.

 

Another thing lost, dropped somewhere in the tunnels; his only link with the outside world gone.

 

The flashlight dropped from his fingers, hitting the ground with a thump as the light dimmed and then extinguished.

 

But even in the dark he could still feel them moving.

 

***

 

Daniel’s eyes were starting to cross. Reading pages and pages of scientific reports—most of which he didn’t understand—made him want to gouge his eyes out. Must be the same reaction Jack has to memos and staff reports.

 

Sliding his glasses up onto his forehead, he rubbed his hands across his face, trying to wipe some of the cobwebs away. They’d been pouring through everything in the room—from reports to computer files to scribbled notes on napkins—and nothing significant had popped up. They could spend weeks here and they’d hardly put a dent in it.

 

How could six scientists make so much paper?

 

Teal’c had gotten up a few minutes ago to take a walk around the perimeter of the camp. They’d set up the lights earlier, illuminating everything, with the thought that if any of the scientists or Jack were lost, they’d be able to spot the camp from miles away.

 

Sam had sectioned off the main lab into three zones, each of them responsible for everything within that area. Somehow, Daniel had gotten stuck with a good portion of the geological and environmental data, which he though couldn’t be that difficult to understand.

 

How wrong he’d been.

 

From what he could gather, Wales and Andrews hadn’t concentrated on any particular section of the planet, instead choosing to do a general survey of the area from the river to the foothills of the mountains.

 

Compared to Earth, things were different from the apportion of minerals in the soil to the nutrients in the air and water. Even the sunlight had its own characteristics.

 

An initial survey of the caves and tunnels had shown an increase in mineral concentration and an unusually rich soil base, some of which had been brought back for closer study. A complaint about the lack of moisture in the caves was noted twice by Wales and attributed to the altitude of the mountain range. The notes also indicated that Wales had planned further investigation of the caves and mountains, but there was no record as to whether it was followed-up up or not.

 

An aerial survey of the planet was going to be part of their next step in mapping the area, a request penciled in for the next communication with the SGC along with additional equipment—a report that was never made.

 

“Sam,” Daniel said, shifting to glance across the room at his teammate who was similarly slumped in her chair. “Anything?”

 

She shook her head, her hand rubbing the back of her neck as she stretched to get some of the kinks out. “Nothing, at least nothing that looks menacing or dangerous. For all intents and purposes this is an average, boring nondescript planet.”

 

Daniel chuckled humorlessly. “Yeah, one that eats scientists and Colonels for breakfast.”

 

Before Sam could comment, however, a crackle over the radios quickly pulled their attention to the little box sitting on the table. “SG-1, this is Hammond, do you read?”

 

Reaching over, Sam snagged the radio, pressing the button to activate it as he brought it up to her mouth. “Carter here, Sir.”

 

“Major, where’s Colonel O’Neill?”

 

She hesitated for a fraction of a second before responding, but her voice was steady when she spoke the words they were all dreading, the words that made it all real. “Missing, Sir.”

 

“Missing? What happened?” Teal’c entered the lab on the heels of Hammond’s words, his eyes meeting Daniel’s, a silent shake of his head indicating that nothing had changed outside.

 

“We’d split up to cover more ground and the Colonel missed a radio contact. By the time we got back to camp it was too dark to start looking for him. We have to wait until first light before we can begin again since we don’t have the right equipment.”

 

“What do you need, Major?”

 

“Complete search-and-rescue gear. We’re fearing the worst since the Colonel was investigating the nearby caves.”

 

“I remember Colonel Carpenter mentioning them in a recent report. Are you thinking cave-in?”

 

“It’s possible, Sir. There’s no interference to speak of, so the Colonel would answer his radio if he were able. You might want to send Doctor Fraiser.”

 

“Negative. Unfortunately, SG-2 encountered some hostiles during a recent recon and she’s up to her eyeballs treating them. I’ll send SG-8 along with SG-3, instead. SG-5 can remain here unless you think an additional team will be necessary.”

 

“I don’t think so, General.”

 

“I’ll have the teams prepare for departure. How quickly do you need them deployed?”

 

“It’s pointless to send them now since they’ll just be stumbling around in the dark. First light would be a better option, Sir, which should be in about six hours. From the scientist’s notes the days are shorter here.”

 

“Understood, Major. Anything else?”

 

“General,” Daniel interrupted. “Would it be possible to get an UAV launched? We might be able to get a better idea on their location from the bio sensor on the UAV. It might help point us in the right direction.”

 

“Major, do you agree with Doctor Jackson?”

 

“I think it’s a good idea, but I’m worried that if they’re within the caves the sensors might not be able to penetrate the rock.”

 

“I’ll have Major Warren take a look at the reports the scientists sent back to see what he recommends. Either way, reinforcements will be coming to you in six hours. Get some rest people. Hammond out.”

 

As the radio fell silent, Daniel glanced between his friends, the finality of their situation crashing down around him. At least with SG-8 on the way whoever they found would be in good medical hands and Major Warren was nearly as bad as Jack when it came to sheer stubbornness.

 

They’d find him and the scientists. They had to.

 

Hopefully, it wasn’t too late.

 

***

 

It was strange.

 

This disembodied feeling of floating was peculiar.

 

He knew he was standing, yet couldn’t feel his feet.

 

He knew he was breathing, yet he couldn’t feel the rise and fall of his chest.

 

Even if it wasn’t dark, pitch black in reality, his world had become reduced to what he could barely hear. For a while, he’d been able to feel the movement on his neck and face as the crust of dirt or dust or whatever it was had continued to build, layer by layer.

 

He could still hear himself breathe, however.

 

But even that was slowing, each breath more shallow than the one before.

 

He was dying.

 

Bit by bit, piece by peace.

 

He knew it was true, he could feel it in his heart and his soul.

 

Soon the layers would be too thick to allow even the passage of air and his inhalations would stop.

 

And on that final exhale he would make his peace—with himself and with the universe.

 

But until that time he would wait and listen to the slow breaths that kept him alive, as he became one more addition to the cavern, a landmark of the most fragile kind.

 

***

 

A clamor in the camp quickly roused Daniel from an uneasy sleep, his eyes squinting at his wristwatch in an effort to see the time.

 

What was going on at the god-awful hour of four in the morning?

 

Swinging his feet off the bed and sitting up, Daniel rubbed a hand across his face and reached for his glasses with his left hand, placing them lightly on his nose. A quick glance around the bunk tent revealed it empty.

 

Had something happened?

 

Stumbling to his feet, grateful for the three hours of sleep he’d gotten but knowing that it wasn’t enough, he shoved open the door into the darkness outside.

 

Another glance at his watch confirmed the time, but as he rounded the corner he discovered members of SG teams three, five, and eight loitering outside the main laboratory tent surrounded by piles of gear and two FREDs piled with more equipment.

 

Someone wasn’t taking any chances.

 

And they were early, very early.

 

He heard his name and vaguely saw an arm waving him over. Apparently, he’d been spotted.

 

Smiling hesitatingly, he picked up the pace a little. As he got closer Lieutenant John Peterson stepped away from the crowd, one of the members of SG-3.

 

“Doctor Jackson, did we wake you?” Peterson said, apologizing as he approached.

 

Daniel glanced around again, his eyes lingering on the people and the equipment that were littering their once pristine camp. “Kind of, but that’s okay. What are you doing here? I thought the General was only sending three and eight in two hours from now.”

 

“We had a briefing and once word got around Colonel Harper insisted that SG-5 accompany us. He stayed at the Gate along with Lieutenant Austin. It didn’t take us long to get the extra gear together, so we decided not to wait.”

 

“So you left.”

 

“Yep. The General’s sending the UAV through at first light so we should be able to set up the equipment to monitor the readings from here. I think Major Carter is hooking it up right now.”

 

Daniel didn’t know what to say, so he settled for something simple. “Do you know if there’s coffee anywhere?”

 

Peterson smiled. “Inside the mess hall. I think Bosco started KP duty as soon as he walked into camp.”

 

“You mean there’s food?” Daniel asked, pausing only a few steps away from the Lieutenant.

 

“Of course. But I should warn you, Bosco makes some mean coffee. Puts hair on your chest.”

 

“Trust me. It can’t be worse than Jack’s and I drink that on a regular basis. This’ll be gourmet. And who thought that Starbucks had set up a store here.”

 

Smiling for the first time in days, he sauntered into the mess tent, a feeling of elation settling over him.

 

This was going to work.

 

Jack was as good as rescued.

 

Finally, plan A was working.

 

***

 

It was quiet.

 

Very quiet.

 

And dark. He couldn’t forget about the darkness.

 

At least this time he couldn’t hear the gnawing of the rats or the clicking of the cockroaches’ feet.

 

And he was pain-free, a blissful state of non-being.

 

It was better this way.

 

And soon he’d sleep.

 

***

 

Glancing up from the computer she’d finally finished tying into one of the workstations, Sam saw Daniel enter, fully kitted up and ready to go.

 

The UAV was to be launched from the SGC in fifteen minutes and the first of the search teams were ready to depart.

 

It had been a busy morning since Teal’c had gotten the call from Major Warren, stealing in to wake her as they neared the camp. He had seen the benefits even a small amount of sleep on humans because of his close association with them over the past several years. She was thankful of his thoughtfulness and had gotten right to work when they’d arrived.

 

An hour ago, the Major had approached her, asking what her orders were.

 

She’d been a little taken aback, figuring Lieutenant Colonel Harper would be calling the shots, but the Major explained that Hammond had made it clear that she was in charge of the rescue mission.

 

She was pleasantly surprised, but the weight of the decisions that had to be made settled heavily on her.

 

The first team would depart just prior to the UAV’s release, heading directly for the Colonel’s last known location. Teal’c and Daniel had insisted on going and she hadn’t argued. Instead, she decided to send Lieutenants Peterson and Collins along with them.

 

Huddled in the corner, Sam watched Daniel weave his way through the lab. His steps were sure but she could see tenseness in his frame. For a moment she saw him as she had last night—slumped at the desk, sighs falling from his lips, his thoughts a loud distraction.

 

But as quickly as that memory came it was gone, replaced instead by the Daniel who would single-mindedly search out the nearest pot of strong coffee, who would go to the ends of the Earth to find a friend.

 

Right now was not the time for ruminations or doubts. Now was the time to focus on the living and the lost.

 

“Sam,” he called, noticing for the first time that she was watching him cross the floor.

 

“You about ready to go?” she asked, straightening her back, rising to her feet, and stepping around to the front of the desk. She needed to move, to stretch.

 

“Yeah, we’re about ready to move out. Teal’c’s going to bring one of the FREDs packed full with some of the gear we might need. He thought it would be easier than carting it all the way.”

 

Sam nodded. “Great. I figured he’d do that.”

 

Daniel eyed her for a minute, his blue eyes measuring her, before continuing. “Are you sure you don’t want to go with us?”

 

If she had her choice she would go, but someone needed to monitor the UAV and she was the one with the best qualifications. “I’m sure. I’ll join the second team in a few hours once the MALP gets some readings. Make sure you keep in radio contact.”

 

“We will. We’re expecting you to lead us right to him you know.”

 

“I’ll do my best, Daniel,” Sam said, the tone of her voice dropping.

 

“I know you will, but don’t worry. We’ll find him, alive and well. Knowing Jack, he just got turned around. He’ll probably walk into the camp minutes after we leave.”

 

“I wish that were the case, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

 

Daniel sighed, his gaze shifting away from her face. “I know, but it doesn’t hurt to wish it, right?”

 

“No, it doesn’t,” she said, pausing for several beats, her own thoughts and doubts threatening to overtake her. “Good luck. Bring him home.”

 

***

 

It was interesting. He’d always thought that when the time finally came for him to go, it would be louder.

 

He’d always pictured his death on a field somewhere in the jungles of Asia or on the sand dunes of the Middle East. That had changed when he’d been assigned to the SGC.

 

Then it was to be an explosion on a planet far, far away. Another loud and painful way to die.

 

And then, with each passing day and mission, the possibilities of different types of deaths were opened to him.

 

Shot by a staff weapon-wielding Jaffa.

 

Two taps from a zat.

 

Accidental friendly fire in the heat of battle.

 

Blowing up a Goa’uld mothership with no way off.

 

Going up in a blaze of smoke and fire as the cargo ship was blown to kingdom come.

 

A knife in the gut.

 

Being eaten alive as replicator bugs swarmed over him.

 

The smell of sizzling flesh as a System Lord’s ribbon device bored a hole in his head.

 

An attack of unfriendly natives that he did not survive.

 

Trampled by a horde of alien elephants.

 

He could go on, he knew, with more and more versions of his death, some more extraordinary than the next.

 

Yet all of the situations he envisioned were loud, unlike this time.

 

This time it was quiet, the slowing sound of his breathing his only companion.

 

It was more peaceful this way.

 

And it wasn’t so bad.

 

***

 

The hike to the foothills of the mountains where the caves began was a quiet affair, each member of the team wrapped up in their own thoughts, their own concerns and worries.

 

For Daniel, every step brought him closer to his friend and the possibility that they might not find him alive. Hope was fading fast under the thick gloom of clouds hanging above their heads.

 

He tried to keep an ember alive, continually fanning it, keeping it burning, for once that tiny flame diminished there would truly be nothing left.

 

Peterson was quiet as he walked abreast of Daniel, the young man's face was dark and brooding and he made no effort to offer up his thoughts or feelings for conversation. If Peterson's thoughts were as dark as Daniel suspected, perhaps it was for the best that they didn't speak at all.

 

To Daniel’s eye, it seemed little, if any, hope remained with him.

 

Teal’c’s determination, however, burned bright as he led them forward, his feet sure against the broken ground, his course never straying, his stride never hesitating.

 

Jack was like that.

 

Strong.

 

Bold.

 

Sure.

 

He instilled faith and confidence in the men he led, which was ever more in evidence in the teams who had appeared in their doorstep early this morning. They were here to find Jack. In a certain sad way, finding the scientists had become a secondary goal, a secondary mission.

 

Jack would never have stood for that. For Jack, others always came first.

 

But even now, hiking as part of a rescue team in search of a wayward Colonel, Daniel’s goal was clear and his motives personal. To him, they needed to find Jack—come hell or high water.

 

A raised hand from Teal’c made them pause. He tilted his head to the side, listening into the wind.

 

A few minutes passed before he waved them forward and Daniel picked up the pace until he was striding alongside his friend.

 

“What was it?”

 

“I am uncertain. The foothills of these mountains are concealing something.”

 

“What?”

 

“I am uncertain,” Teal’c said turning his head slightly and Daniel caught the hint of humor in his eyes. ”They are concealing it.”

 

Jaffa jokes, something he had yet to understand. “How much farther?”

 

Teal’c pointed ahead of them, past a clearing of trees. “I believe O’Neill began his search at the caves just past this rise. He is most methodical in his methods in instances such as these.”

 

“You mean there’s a method to his madness?”

 

This time Teal’c didn’t pretend not to comprehend the meaning of his words, the backward jab at an absent friend. “I do not understand why you insist in tearing down O’Neill. Does not every word you use against him also fall upon you? Did you not choose O’Neill as a friend? Does not that speak badly of your judgment in the matter? You might be well advised to adjust your perception of him prior to his discovery.”

 

“But I do trust—“ Daniel began to say, but Teal’c increased his pace, leaving the archeologist speaking to himself. Time to continue this discussion, however, was over as the entrance to the caves came into view. Teal’c paused at the mouth off one of them, his staff weapon at the ready.

 

“Lieutenant Peterson, accompany Daniel Jackson down the passage on the right. Lieutenant Collins, you will accompany me.”

 

Both of the Lieutenants moved quickly to comply while Daniel stood off to the side, watching the dance in a different way than he had before. He could see the decision of who to send with whom weighing heavily on the Jaffa, but that di