Title: Sierra Hotel

Author: Charli Booker

Email Address: charli.booker@netzero.com

Status: Complete

Category: Angst, Humor, Hurt/Comfort

Pairings: None

Spoilers: Nothing worth mentioning

Season: 8

Sequel/Series Info:  N/A

Content Level: 13+

Content Warnings: Minor language

Summary: With Daniel’s help, Jack discovers that being ‘The Man’ can really crack you up.

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

File Size (kb): 126

Archive:  JackFic, Heliopolis

Author’s Note:  This story is my entry in the 2004 Jack-Fic-A-Thon.  Thanks to dee for all her hard work; thanks to Arnise for the beta; and thanks for the plot bunny, whoever you are.  Hope you enjoy the story.

 

 

 

SIERRA HOTEL*

 

By: Charli Booker

 

Stress is when you wake up screaming and you realize you haven’t fallen asleep yet.

Anonymous

 

* * * * *

 

Tuesday, 05:47

 

There’s a word used by archaeologists to refer to something made of stone:  lithic.  And when I stood at Sergeant Davis’s shoulder, staring down and out across the empty ‘gate room, and asked him, “Have you seen, Jack?”, lithic was the word that immediately came to mind.  Norman - or Walter, as Jack calls him half the time, for God only knows what reason - slowly swivelled his chair and stared up at me with a lithic gaze.  Hard.  Cold and . . . hard.  “I - I mean, the General,” I corrected.  “Have you seen the General?”

 

Frowning slightly, Norman shook his head - more in disgust with me than in answer I think - and turned back to his keyboard.  “No, General O’Neill hasn’t reported in yet.”

It had been several weeks since Jack had grasped hold of the reins of Stargate Command, and still it amazed me.  Not that he had been asked to take over, and not that he did.  No, what I found amazing was how, at the very moment of Jack’s promotion, the men and women who had casually worked alongside Thor’s favorite pain in the mikta for over seven years suddenly became enamored of him, and possessive.  Defensive even.  It was like, suddenly, Jack was their Golden Boy, and as with every good parent of a juvenile delinquent who’s finally done something right, they were simultaneously proud and scared out of their fronds.  Glorified by his achievements, and worried to death that he was going to do something to embarrass the crap out of them.

 

Crack a Jack O’Neill dumb joke two months ago, and everyone within hearing would be laughing their asses off.  Make one now, and you’ll find yourself pinned against the wall by the lithic glare and the massive forearm of the nearest Marine.

 

Jack had the entire SGC-half of the mountain walking on pins and needles.  That was my theory anyway.

 

So, like any good scientist, I stood back and observed - completely dumbfounded as my best friend was deluged with a torrent of respect, to say nothing of the military formality that was suddenly so thick, it hung over us like a cloud cover.  You know, all that stuff that Jack the Colonel had managed to avoid like the plague.

 

Now, the respect part I can certainly understand.  After all, despite the jokes, Jack is the only one of us who falls for his dumb act.  And, at the end of the day, if you had to be stranded on a desert island, who’d you rather be stuck with?  The guy who speaks twenty-six-plus languages, is addicted to caffeine and chocolate, and can recite the names of the Egyptian gods in chronological order?  Or Jack O’Neill - the guy who’s gonna kick the ass of anything that dares lay a finger or a claw on you?  The guy who can build a raft from your sleeping bag and his P-90, and brew a cold beer with a canteen, a palm leaf and the piss of that dead creature he’s got roasting over the fire for dinner?

 

So, yeah, the respect I don’t have a problem with.  It’s that formality thing that’s really got me puzzled.  I mean, yeah, I know this is the military.  I know that Jack is a brigadier general.  I understand all that.  But, come on, this is Jack we’re talking about!  The same Jack O’Neill who spent three weeks sucking up to the chef on the day shift, and another week and a half convincing the man that Hammond’s all-time favorite meal was macaroni smothered with chili, accompanied by pimento cheese spread, crackers, and lime jell-O with cottage cheese and pineapple tidbits.  The same man who removed all the heating devices from SG-3's MRE packets when the jarheads were sent on a week-long reconnaissance mission to P9R-773 - that really wet, really cold planet.  That Jack.  The one who was willing to subject us all, himself included, to two days of debilitating diarrhea, and incur the wrath of a Marine combat unit just to keep the troops entertained.  Bob Hope could have taken lessons.  That Jack and formality did not go hand-in-hand.

 

Except that it did.  He did . . . accept it, that is.  Jack seemed to take the surge of hero worship without a single hitch in his long-legged stride.  He didn’t seem to mind that he suddenly had hundreds of men and women just waiting for something bad to happen so they could rush out there and show him what they could do.  They’d risk life and limb to save the world.  All Golden Boy had to do was ask.  It didn’t bother him.  In fact, I wasn’t even sure he’d noticed.

 

And, I’m ashamed to say, all that annoyed me.  Partly, I guess, because it was so unexpected - Jack suddenly being The Man, and SG-1 being fractioned down into a three-of-three.  The whole thing pissed me off just a little.  See, worrying about Jack, demonstrating absolute trust in him, and defending his character were my jobs.  Ever since Abydos.  I had performed those tasks longer and, with a few notable exceptions, had done them better than anyone else.  Then, suddenly, I found myself standing at the back of a queue of manic worshippers that stretched twenty-eight floors deep.

 

Mainly, though, I think it ticked me off because I missed him.  I missed the easy camaraderie and the bickering.  I missed the annoying jerk who used to wear wings and who made crude jokes about the people who wore stars.  I missed him and I wanted him back.

 

“He’s here.”

 

I jumped, startled, and saw Norman hanging up the telephone and pushing his chair back.  “What?”

 

He smiled as he walked past me.  “The General just checked in with the guards at the front desk.”

 

Frowning, I followed him up the stairs towards the briefing room and Jack’s office.  “They call you?”

 

Norman glanced at his watch.  “He’s early.”  He looked at me, clearly worried.  “He really shouldn’t be in this early.  I was told he didn’t leave until nearly oh-two-hundred.”  When I just stared, he barked, “What?”

 

“Well,” I had to hurry to keep up with the short-legged sergeant, “I - why do they call you when he gets here?”

 

Looking at me like I was an idiot, Norman stopped in front of a small credenza, and picked up a carafe and a stainless steel mug.  “I get him coffee.”

 

Watching him pour, I couldn’t help but take a whiff.  Oddly, it smelled nothing like the recycled motor oil that was served in the mess hall on a daily basis.  “You get him coffee?  You get coffee . . . for Jack?”

 

Insert lithic glare.

 

“I mean, the General.”

 

“Yeah,” he nodded, screwing the lid on the cup.  “So?”

 

I shrugged, once again dumbfounded.  “I just-,” I shrugged again, but before I could form a coherent answer, Norman was headed for the elevators.  I had to trot to catch up.  The man moved like a Shetland pony - fast and rough as a washboard.  Just watching him made my teeth ache.

 

He stopped at the elevator doors, wiped a tiny drop of coffee from the bottom edge of the cup, and picked a piece of lint from his shirt.  All he needed was a rosebud corsage with baby’s breath held in one shaky hand, and he would have looked exactly like a nervous teenager awaiting the arrival of his first date.  I smiled at the mental picture just as the elevators doors slid open.

 

Jack was leaning against the back wall, wearing slacks and a sweater, his leather jacket slung over his shoulder.  As soon as the doors opened, he straightened and walked past us so quickly that I felt a breeze.  He smelled like he always does - kind of like a Junior Mint that’s been dipped in warm Chai tea.  After several experiments conducted with items pilfered from Jack’s locker, Teal’c and I had long ago concluded that it’s a subtle blend of Old Spice and minty toothpaste.

 

Norman just stood there.  As if on cue, Jack stopped about ten feet away, then turned and looked at us like he couldn’t believe we were actually there.

 

“Walter.”

 

“General.”  Norman stepped up and, smiling, handed Jack the cup.

 

Jack tentatively took it, stared down at it, then glanced over at me.  “Daniel?”

 

“Morning, Jack.”  I pretended not to see Norman’s glare.  “You’re here early.”  Like I wasn’t.  Then again, if the rumor mill was to be believed, I’d been five hours into a deep sleep when Jack had signed out to go home.

 

His left eye twitched, and he forced a tight smile.  “Yes.”

 

“General?”  Norman tried to hand Jack a piece of paper, but Jack merely blinked, seemed to reach some grave decision, and turned to go, his pace slowed down to normal, human speed.  Norman stepped up beside him, and I dropped in behind them both.  “Sir, here’s the list of meetings scheduled for today.”  Jack finally took the paper, but didn’t look at it.  “The meeting with Senator Connelly has already been rescheduled three times, sir.  I think that he’s-”

 

Entranced by the dynamics of a Davis/O’Neill daily routine I never even suspected existed, I nearly stumbled when Jack suddenly stopped.

 

“Walter,” Jack fumbled with the cup and the sheet of paper.  Finally, looking at me as if he’d never seen me before, Jack handed them to me.  As I sipped a finely brewed Arabica blend, I skimmed the paper.  I never realized Jack spent so much of his time in meetings.  “Here.”  When I looked up, Jack was digging a small scrap of paper from his pocket, and was holding it out to Norman.  “Find out who this belongs to.”

 

Norman took it, frowning at it.  “A license plate number, sir?”

 

“Yeah.  Bastard keeps parking in my spot.”

 

I couldn’t help but laugh softly.  One of the top ten items on Jack’s ‘I Want To Be The Man Because’ list was a parking spot closer to the door.  Now some poor slob was taking it?  Obviously, something brown and really stinky would soon be hitting the fan.

 

“Daniel,” Jack frowned at me, “was there something you needed?”

 

Norman pulled the list of meetings from my hand and gave it back to Jack.

 

“Uh, yeah, actually.  Have you had breakfast?”

 

“Breakfast?”  Jack’s eye twitched again.  That had to be downright irritating.

 

“Yeah.  You know, breakfast - as in, breaking the fast; that meal that falls somewhere between waking up and lunch.”

 

“Oh.  No.  I haven’t had breakfast.”

 

“Good.  Then, why don’t you join me.  I’ll buy.”

 

Something like the old Jack O’Neill smirk crossed his face.  “Sure, but I have to change clothes first.”

 

“Great.  I’ll meet you there,” I smiled at Norman, “Jack.”

 

Norman glared, and Jack reached over and slapped me lightly on the arm.

 

“See you there,” he grinned.

 

 

Thursday, 06:17

 

I tossed aside The Gazette and snagged the copy of The Post that someone had left spread across one of the tables in the mess hall.  I pushed away my empty plate, and was digging for the funny pages when Jack plopped down in the chair across from mine.

 

“Morning, Daniel.”

 

“What are you doing here?”

 

“You invited me for breakfast, remember?”

 

“Jack, that was two days ago.”

 

Frowning, he took a slow drink of orange juice, before replying, “Really?  Two days?”  He cocked his head slightly, then smiled.  “My how time flies, huh?”  His eye twitched, and he finished off his juice.

 

“Yeah, well, you’ve been a little hard to catch up with.”

 

“Meetings,” he mumbled, emptying a small box of dry cereal into a bowl.

 

“No kidding.”  When he hadn’t shown up for breakfast two days ago, I’d gone looking for him, only to be told by Norman that ‘the General’ was already knee deep in an unscheduled meeting.  After making two more unsuccessful attempts to talk to him before lunch, I’d finally given up.

 

Jack poured milk into his bowl and nodded at the stack of newspapers.  “Anything going on up there that I should know about?”

 

I’ll let you in on a little secret:  Jack thinks I’m smart.  Actually, Jack thinks I’m extremely smart.  Way smarter than I am.  Okay, so yeah, I’m basically an idiot savant when it comes to languages, and I’m no slouch in the fields of archaeology and anthropology and Egyptology.  I am not, however, a genius at everything.  No one is.  Not even Sam.  Still, I’d hate to let Jack down.  So, I play along.  Grabbing the first page of The Post that I could lay hands on, I quickly skimmed the headlines.

 

“Yeah, here’s something interesting.  The 2004 Nobel Prize for physics went to Gross, Politzer, and Wilczek for their discovery of asymptotic freedom.”  I looked at Jack, who was using his spoon to create a milky whirlpool in his cereal bowl.  The guy may be circling fifty, but I guarantee you that if you gave him a straw, he’d be blowing milk bubbles inside of a minute - which is probably why you’ll never see straws in the conference room.  Obviously, it’s just another theory.  I smiled.  “Can’t say I’m surprised.  You?”

 

Allow me to let you in on another little secret: Jack O’Neill is nowhere near as dumb as he pretends to be.

 

Jack glanced up.  “Seeing as that hypothesis was a major player in the establishment of quantum chromodynamics as a sound theory of strong nuclear force, then - no, I can’t say I’m surprised.  Carter might not be too happy about it, though.”

 

I lowered the newspaper and took a sip of my coffee, gathering my thoughts as I tried to recover from Jack’s mental slap across my face.  I’m a nosy person.  I’m not sure if it’s because of what I do, or if I do what I do because I’m so nosy.  In any event, I would absolutely love to know the reason behind Jack’s ‘My Hatch Appears To Be Cracked’ act.  There has to have been a defining moment in his life when he decided that looking stupid was critical to his survival.  I’d just like to know what it was.

 

“You know, Jack, hiding one’s ability takes a lot of skill.”

 

He looked up, and gave me The Glare - the one that used to make me want to puke, and now just makes me want to laugh . . . or run, depending on the circumstances.  My change in attitude is probably due to the fact that I understand Jack better now than I ever have; then again, it might just be a side effect of dying way too many times.

 

“Francois de La Rochefoucauld,” I added in my best French accent while giving due where due was . . . well, due.

 

Brown eyes went momentarily dead, which meant the man was thinking.  It’s a subtle symptom - one that many unfortunate humans and aliens alike often miss - but I immediately recognized the signs and braced myself.  Mere seconds later, he blinked and dipped his head, and for a brief instant I could have sworn I was going to hear Selmac’s voice come out of Jack’s mouth.

 

“Dave Barry,” he smirked enigmatically.

 

When Jack merely looked down and dipped his spoon into his cereal, I gave in.  As hyperactive as he is, Jack surprisingly has the patience of a saint.  If I didn’t ask, he’d never tell me.  And a lot of times, even if I did, he wouldn’t.  “Okay.  I’ll bite.”

 

He toyed with his cereal, spelling FUBAR with tiny, sweetened letters of the alphabet, before taking a sip of coffee and smiling up at me.  “A child can only go so far in life without potty training.  It’s not mere coincidence that six of the last seven presidents were potty trained, not to mention nearly half of the nation’s state legislators.”

 

I snorted; I couldn’t help it.  I’ve known the man all these years, and I still can’t figure out how his mind works.  He blind-sides me on a daily basis.  Funny thing is, I once heard Jack quote Homer Simpson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Sun Tzu, verbatim, in the same breath, all while managing to stay on topic.  Like Barry, I doubt it’s mere coincidence.

 

“You’re trying to change the subject, Jack.  We were talking about your intellect.”

 

“Were we now?” he replied in that tone of his that always makes me stop and think, ‘weren’t we?’.

 

“Uh, yeah.  I’m pretty sure we were.  So, why don’t you drop the act?  You’re obviously not as dumb as you look.”  When he squinted over at me, I shrugged.  “I meant that as a compliment.”

 

“Well, thank you.  But, for your information, it has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value.”

 

I had to think about that one a second.  “I don’t know.  I think I’d have to-”

 

“Arthur C. Clarke,” he said tiredly.

 

Another quote . . . from the same man who swears he never reads anything besides mission reports and Mad Magazine.  Teal’c and Sam saved me from trying to come up with some gifted reply by entering the mess hall.  While Teal’c got in the serving line, Sam poured herself a cup of coffee, and joined us at the table.  Speaking of word games, Jack was spelling again.  FIGMO bobbed alongside FUBAR.

 

“Hey, General.”

 

“Carter.”  Jack nodded and scooted over his chair, making room.  “How’s it going?”

 

“Good, good.”  Sam smiled at me.  “Hi, Daniel.”

 

“Sam.  Got the results back on P5C-232 yet?”

 

“Yeah.  Finally.  In fact, I just sent the report to your office a few minutes ago, sir.”

 

Jack nodded, frowning in concentration at a tiny ‘B’ that refused to march along to the General’s orders.   He had yet to take a bite.

 

“So, think we can head out in the next day or so, Jack?”

 

He stared over at me.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was pissed.  “I haven’t even looked at the damn report yet.”  He reached up and rubbed his eye, hard.  If he was trying to rub away the twitch, it didn’t work.  A few seconds later, his eyelid fluttered almost imperceptibly.

 

Sam grinned broadly.  “If the MALP readings are accurate, then I think we’re looking at a possible abandoned outpost.”

 

“Aren’t they all?” Jack muttered.

 

As Teal’c sat down, I tossed the newspapers onto the neighboring table.  “Aren’t they all, what, Jack?”

 

“Morning, T,” Jack said, watching as Sam filched one of the three bagels on Teal’c’s tray.  “Seems like every ruin we come across is an ‘abandoned outpost.’  And I’m using that term loosely, considering the fact that they’re almost always not abandoned, and are rarely ever an actual outpost.”

 

“Well, sir, hopefully, this will be the exception to the rule.”  Sam slathered a thick layer of butter on the stolen bagel.  How the woman stayed so thin was one of the great wonders of the universe.  Maybe she had a tapeworm or something.  As if to prove my point, she reached over, grabbed a banana, and said,  “How about we get together for dinner tonight?  It’s been ages.”

 

“Sounds good to me.  Where?”  Because if memory served, my dining room table was covered with packing material, research books, and the tiny, fossilized remains of what an acquaintance at Nabta Playa insisted was an ancient insect - particularly, a weevil that had gone extinct several thousand years ago.  Personally, I was pretty sure it was your common, every day cockroach.

 

“My apartment is not adequately presentable to host a dinner party.”  Teal’c - you’ve got to love a guy who’s that honest.  “However, I would enjoy partaking of a meal together.”

 

“If you don’t mind a little dust, we can have it at my place,” Sam offered.  “General, you in?”

 

“Huh?”  Jack looked up as if surprised to see us there.  “Oh, yeah.  I guess.  You’re not cooking, are you?”

 

“Okay, now I’m insulted.”  Sam tossed the banana skin onto Jack’s tray.  “Pizza?”

 

“Thai,” I suggested.

 

Jack stood, his chair scraping loudly on the cement floor.  “I’ve got to go.”

 

“So, we’ll see you at my place after work?”

 

He nodded at Sam.  “Sure.”

 

“Oh, by the way, Jack, did you get your parking space back?”

 

“Yup,” he replied, lightly slapping me on the arm.  “See you guys later.”

 

Watching him leave, Sam muttered, “That’s weird.”

 

I pulled Jack’s tray across the table.  “What’s weird?”

 

“He wasn’t parked in his spot.”

 

I slowly turned the cereal bowl, trying not to slosh the contents.  “No?”

 

Teal’c gently retrieved the apple-cranberry muffin that Sam was in the process of stealing from his tray.  “In fact, O’Neill was parked in his previously assigned space.”

 

“Really?”  I frowned down at Jack’s uneaten breakfast.  “Sam, what’s FIGMO mean?”

 

She laughed softly and shoved the last of the bagel into her mouth.

 

“How about BOHICA?”

 

Swiping butter from her upper lip, she smiled around the crunchy bagel, “If you really want to know, Google it.”

 

 

Thursday, 19:28

 

Just when we’d decided he’d forgotten, Jack pulled up to the curb in front of Sam’s house.

 

“Oops,” I let the curtain fall in place and turned back around on the sofa.

 

“I told you, you shouldn’t have eaten all the peanut chicken.”  Sam got up and opened the front door as Jack raised a hand to knock.  “General.”

 

“Carter,” Jack grinned and stepped inside, nodding over at me and Teal’c.

 

“Working late again, Jack?”

 

Giving me nothing more than an absent glance, Jack walked over to the center island in the kitchen.  “God, I’m starving.”  He began digging through the containers.  “No peanut chicken?”

 

Glaring at me, Sam pulled a plate from the shelf.  “Uh, I think they were out.”

 

“They were out of peanut chicken?”  Jack shook his head and, ignoring the plate, he picked up the container of pad Thai and grabbed a fork.  He dropped next to me onto the sofa with a heavy sigh.

 

“Sir, don’t you want an eggroll, some fried rice?  How about some lemongrass shrimp?”

 

“Naw, this is fine.”  He took a couple of bites and set the container on the coffee table, accepting the beer Sam held out to him.  Downing a couple of large swigs of the cold drink, he leaned back on the sofa, stretching out his legs.

 

“So . . . busy day?”

 

“Daniel,” his head tilted back and his eyes closed, Jack slowly turned his head, then looked at me, “shut up.”

 

“Wha-”

 

“Did you know that the neon-colored sticky notepads that you keep requisitioning cost twice as much as regular old yellow?  Or, that the SGC spent $387.13 on tampons in the month of August which, oddly enough, represents a nineteen percent increase over July and September?  Or, how about this?  The guys in NORAD swear they can hear Jimmy Buffet’s ‘Margueritaville’ coming through the ventilation shaft in the storage room on Level Twelve . . . and they’re blaming us.  Did you know that?”  At my blank look, Jack faced forward again and took another swallow of beer.  “I’m sorry, Daniel, but I’ve been in meetings for the last three days - straight - and I really don’t want to talk about work.”

 

“Oh.  Okay.”

 

He waggled a hand at us.  “Just go on with what you were talking about.”

 

No one spoke.  I looked at Sam and at Teal’c.  Sam looked scared, as if the very thought of discussing something other than work terrified her - which it probably did.  Teal’c looked - well, Teal’c looked like he always does.  He did, however, have one eyebrow cocked as if he were wracking his brain for a topic of conversation that didn’t fall under the purview of the SGC.

 

Jack took another swig of beer.  “Well?”

 

We looked at each other.

 

Jack sighed, deeply.  “God, you guys are pathetic.”

 

Speaking of which, a pathetic “what?” was my only defense.

 

“You were talking about work, weren’t you?”  When no one answered, he repeated, “Weren’t you?”

 

Teal’c nodded.  “Indeed, we were.”

 

“Geesh.”  Jack sat forward, rubbing a hand over his face.  “Okay.  Okay.”  He finished off the beer, shoved the pad Thai to the center of the table, and cleared his throat.  “So, T, how’s Rya’c?”

 

Teal’c straightened, but did not answer.

 

Jack looked over at him.  “What?”

 

Teal’c shifted slightly, which - in case you didn’t know - is the equivalent of a human getting his or her panties in a wad.

 

What?”

 

“Rya’c is,” Teal’c paused, shifted again, and said, “he is . . . Rya’c is . . . fine.”

 

Which was a bald-faced lie.  Teal’c had just told us that Rya’c and a small group of rebel Jaffa had left over four weeks ago on a mission and hadn’t been heard from since.  Kar’yn was worried, as was Teal’c.  I’d always thought that Teal’c and Jack had absolutely no secrets from one another; this was the first evidence I had that Teal’c actually tried to shelter Jack from the truth.

 

Jack squinted, and as if on cue, his eye twitched.  “Dammit.”

 

I couldn’t tell if he was cursing at his eye or at Teal’c’s obvious fib.

 

“Uh,” Sam picked up a chopstick and started twirling it like a tiny baton, “sir, don’t you want an eggroll, some fried rice?  How about some lemongrass shrimp?”

 

I belched peanut chicken.  “Excuse me.”

 

Crap, Jack was right.  We were pathetic.  All of us.  Sad and pitiful and pathetic.

 

Jack glared at Sam, then his eye twitched.  She flinched, and I wanted to tell her it wasn’t a wink, that Jack wasn’t making a pass at her.  Hell, if twitches were winks, Jack would be screwing half the personnel on base - men included.  I grimaced at the thought.

 

Trying to not think about Jack and Ferretti in each other’s arms, I forced a smile.  “So, Jack, how come you’re parking in your old spot?”

 

I swear, it suddenly felt like Malakai had punched a button on that oh so lovely f’ing time machine.  Even the dust particles roused by Sam’s teeny baton twirling gig seemed to slow into a weird sort of freeze-frame tumbling act.  Jack closed his eyes, and I saw his chest swell slightly as he took a deep, calming breath.

 

What?  What’d I say?  I glanced at Sam, who was staring at Jack.  Then looked at Teal’c.  He looked constipated.  What?  What’d I say?

 

“I-,” Jack grimaced and reached for his beer, then remembered it was empty.  “I-,” he swallowed, and pressed a finger against his temple as if squashing a headache, or perhaps digging for the root of the twitching eye problem.  Then, patting me lightly on the shoulder, he stood up.  “I’ll be right back.”  He disappeared down the hall in the direction of the bathroom.

 

I glanced at Teal’c.  “What’d I say?”  He closed his eyes, and I suddenly wondered just how many times Teal’c had used kelno’reem as an excuse to escape our company.  Then, I wondered if he missed it.  I looked at Sam.  “What?”

 

She dropped the chopstick and stood up.  “I’m hungry.  Who wants dessert?”

 

 

Thursday, 21:55

 

“Jack, you can’t do that.”

 

“Bet me,” he laughed evilly as he shoved his queen under the edge of mine with enough force that the playing card snapped in the middle and an empty beer bottle rolled off the table and onto the floor.

 

I gave in, withdrawing my violated matriarch.

 

“Daniel!” Sam protested.

 

We were playing NERTS - a weird card game that I was pretty sure Jack’d had a hand in inventing.  It was like multi-handed solitaire complete with body slamming, jabs to the face, under-the-table kicks to the groin, and at least one episode which involved Jack wrestling me to the floor and prying a three of spades out of my hand - although, admittedly, he later apologized . . sort of.  On the Daniel Jackson Scale of Fear - one being peacefully awakening in your own bed and ten being not-so-peacefully awakening inside a sarcophagus - NERTS had a pucker factor of approximately eight point two.

 

I hated the game.  I don’t think Teal’c much cared for it, either.  But, Sam and Jack loved it . . . which should tell you something.

 

Supposedly, we played in teams of two, but if the SG units demonstrated teammanship like that exhibited while playing NERTS, my rotting corpse would have been left at the base of some exotic tree in a faraway galaxy many, many years ago.  As usual, I was ‘paired’ with Sam.  She hated teaming with me, mainly because, like now, I’d rather lose a game than a limb.  The only thing worse than being paired with Sam was being paired with Jack.  Poor Teal’c had given up all pretenses long ago.  Now, he sat there, staring down at his handful of cards, and looking like he missed Apophis just a little.

 

Finished playing his own cards, Jack reached over and grabbed Teal’c’s.

 

“Sir, you can’t do that!”

 

Ignoring her, Jack started slapping down cards like his life depended on it, which considering the look on Sam’s face, maybe it did.  The finish line in sight, Jack and Sam were both standing now, scrambling to be the first to play all their cards.  Unfortunately, Sam had once again forgotten that she was one-half of a team.  I sat there holding my fistful of unplayed cards, the fractured queen of hearts still clutched in my left hand.

 

“NERTS!” Jack yelled triumphantly.

 

“You cheated!”

 

“And yo-ou lo-st,” Jack sing-songed.

 

Her upper lip trembling with suppressed rage, Sam did what she does best - she headed for the freezer.  She yanked open the door, dug through a stack of frost-bitten pot pies, and pulled out a half gallon of Moose Tracks.  Grabbing a can of Hershey’s syrup and four large spoons, she set the tub of ice cream in the middle of the table and tossed us each a utensil - Emily Post, eat your heart out.

 

Plopping down in her chair, Sam glared over at Jack, dug out a mountainous spoonful of ice cream, drizzled it with syrup, and shoved it in her mouth.  “You know, that game doesn’t count.  You can’t play your teammate’s cards,” she opined around a mouthful of fudge and milk by-products.

 

“You’re just sore because you didn’t think of it first.”  Jack blew on his spoon, steaming it up.  “And, because Teal’c was on my team.”

 

He was probably right on both counts, and it was an indication of how little I cared that I didn’t even take offense.  It didn’t matter who won.  I was just happy to have survived.  Maybe Teal’c and I should get consolation t-shirts declaring, ‘I played Jack and won Jack-squat.’

 

“Well, I want it on record that you forfeited by cheating.”

 

“Oh, grow up, Carter.  It’s just a game.”

 

Laying my cards on the table, I studied the giver of such sage wisdom.  Wonder what Thor would think if he could see Jack now - head tilted back slightly, hands held out to his sides, spoon hanging precariously from the end of his nose.  Yessir, that’s our Golden Boy!  Hero of Planet Earth; the Asgard’s favorite human; fearless leader of the SGC.  Who would have guessed that the same man who could blow a friggin’ mothership to smithereens could also magically dangle a metal implement from the tip of his nose?  Don’t answer that.

 

Teal’c pulled the carton of ice cream closer, and dug in with a vengeance, pointedly ignoring Jack’s balancing act.  Carter frowned at her CO, then looked at me as if I could enlighten her.  I simply shrugged, and helped myself to a spoonful of ice cream.

 

Sam tugged the carton away from Teal’c, and doctored up another mountain of the frozen confectionery.  “So, did you get a chance to review my report on P5C-232?”

 

Jack frowned, and the spoon dropped from the tip of his nose.  He deftly caught it, then stared at the half-empty ice cream container, looking slightly nauseated.  “Yes.  As a matter of fact, I did.”

 

“And?”

 

Absently polishing the spoon with his thumb, he watched as Sam shoved ice cream into her mouth.  Finally, blinking, he seemed to rouse and squeezed the bridge of his nose.  “What makes you think 232 has anything worthwhile to offer?”

 

“Well, you saw the atmospheric conditions - probably the most Earth-like of any worlds we’ve seen in a long time.  And, from the photos, it’s evident that there’s been a lot of recent activity in the area.  Daniel concurs.”

 

I did.  “To be more accurate, after looking at the film footage, I think we’re talking about a significant human population in residence no more than two or three years ago.  Maybe less.”

 

“Maybe less,” Jack repeated.  Sighing, he looked to Teal’c.  “What’s your take on it, Chia Head?”

 

“I, too, believe there has been much recent activity around the Stargate.  Possibly human.  More likely Jaffa.”

 

“More likely Jaffa,” Jack stated to no one in particular.  “Hmm.”  He glanced pointedly at Sam.

 

“Meaning,” she pointed her empty spoon at him, “P5C-232 could be important.”

 

Jack smiled and shook his head as if in disbelief.  Standing, he squeezed my arm as he walked past me and left the room.

 

“So, you think that was a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?”

 

I grinned at Sam.  “I believe he’s taking it up with his adviser as we speak.”

 

Teal’c frowned and cocked his head.  “Actually, O’Neill is using the bathroom.”

 

“Yeah, but-,” I shook my head.  “Never mind.”

 

“Daniel, have you noticed anything weird going on between you and the General?”

 

I looked at Sam, who was obviously lost in thought and, for the first time in days, seemed oblivious to food sitting within arm’s reach.  “Weird?  Between me and Jack?”  I thought about it, but could only come up with my internal ‘he’s my best friend! mine! mine!’ dialogue - which might explain why my “No.  Why?” sounded a bit defensive.

 

Sam didn’t seem to notice.  “You don’t think he’s acting a little . . . out of character?”

 

“You mean his eye twitch?”

 

She frowned.  “His eye is twitching?”

 

“I believe Colonel Carter is referring to the fact that O’Neill touches you whenever he takes leave of you.”

 

What?”  Now that one had not occurred to me.

 

“Yes.  That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”

 

“Well, so what?  Jack’s always touching people.”

 

Sam nodded, smiling.  “Yeah, but not like this.”

 

“What do you mean, ‘like this’?”  I suddenly felt a little dirty without even knowing why.

 

She was laughing softly.  “Nothing.  It’s just that, lately, it seems like you’re the only one he’s been doing that to.”

 

Okay . . . ew!  What was she trying to say?  That Jack didn’t have an eye twitch?  That he was winking?  At me?  “I think you’re both demented.”

 

“Who?  Me and the General, or me and Teal’c?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

As Teal’c scraped the last of the ice cream from the container, Sam began sorting the playing cards.  “Fine,” she shrugged, looking entirely too pleased with herself.  “Forget I mentioned it.”

 

 

Friday, 05:40

 

‘Forget I mentioned it’ is kind of like telling the jury to ignore the fact that the prosecutor’s key witness has just sobbed out a murder confession on the stand.  It stands, technically.  Practically, it goes over about as good as one of Teal’c’s jokes.

 

Sam had planted a seed.  A seed which sprouted when Jack had left Sam’s house last night.  Seated on the armchair opposite the front door, I had watched, perplexed, as Jack had made a point to cross the room, had straightened a painting hanging on the wall behind my chair, then had nudged my arm with a quiet ‘see you guys at the ranch.’  When the door closed behind him, Sam had smirked triumphantly.  She didn’t even need to put a voice to the deafening ‘I told you so’ written all over her face.  Even Teal’c looked smug.

 

Now, sitting in the passenger seat of Jack’s pick-up, I studied my friend with a cautious eye.  “Sorry about this, Jack.”

 

“Not a problem.”

 

“I tried calling Sam, but I guess she’d already left for work.”

 

“That woman needs a life.  And I guess you need a new battery.”

 

“Yeah.  Maybe.”

 

“Go over to that auto parts store by the mall.  They’ll have what you need, and they’re pretty reasonable.  We could swing by there after work, if you want?”

 

“That’s okay.  You’re busy.  I’ll have Sam take me over.”

 

“I don’t mind.”

 

I grinned nervously.  “We’ll see.”

 

Jack frowned over at me.  “You all right?”

 

“Yeah.  Why?”

 

“I don’t know, you just seem . . .,” Jack shrugged.

 

“I’m fine.”

 

 

Friday, 06:07

 

“Jack, why are you parking here?”

 

“What?”  Jack put the truck in park, unlatched his seatbelt, and reached for the key.  “What do you mean?”

 

I laughed softly.  “I mean, this is your old spot, General Alzheimer.”

 

Jack frowned and looked around.  “Uh, yeah.  So it is.  Habit, I guess.”  Suddenly, he smiled and shut off the motor.  “Oh, well, since we’re here . . . .”

 

“No, Jack.  One of the main perks of being ‘The Man’ is that you get to park by the door.  You should park there.”

 

Jack hesitated.

 

“Come on, Jack.  You finally get that spot by the door, and then someone else parks in it.”  He stared over at me.  “Come on.”

 

He sighed heavily.  “Fine.  Whatever.”  He started the truck, backed out, and pulled into the spot marked ‘Reserved - Brig. Gen. J. O’Neill.’  He put the truck in park, turned off the engine, and we climbed out.

 

“See?  Now, don’t you feel better?” I smiled.

 

“Oh, yeah.  Much.  You?”

 

“Actually?  Yeah.  I’ve never parked by the door before.  Being a mere civilian, I’m privileged to park at the end of the lot.”  I squinted off into the distance, pointing.  “With your binoculars, you can almost see if from here.  You know, that nice, narrow space right next to the trash dumpster.”

 

“Whiner,” Jack commented as a guard opened the door for us - obviously another perk reserved for people wearing stars.

 

We approached the first check-in desk, and I took the sign-in clipboard from a young enlisted man who made Teal’c look like a shrinking violet.  As I was writing my name, Jack started digging in his pockets.

 

“Crap.”  He patted his shirt pocket.

 

I looked up.  “What’s wrong?”

 

“Is there a problem, General?” Baby Huey inquired, dropping an enormous hand to the itty-bitty holster on his huge, honkin’ hip.

 

“Oh, no.  It’s nothing.  I just . . . I left something in my truck.”

 

“Oh.”  I handed the clipboard back.  “Well, I’ll hold the elevator.”

 

“No.”  Jack looked slightly anxious.  “No reason to wait.  I need to . . . to make a call on my cell phone anyway.  You go on ahead.”  I could see it coming a mile away, but there was no inconspicuous, inoffensive way to dodge the hand that snaked out of his pocket and reached over to pat me on the side of the head like his pet Cocker Spaniel.  “I’ll be along in a bit.”

 

Yes, Master.

 

Having rubbed his Lucky Danny Troll Doll, Jack disappeared back outside.  Resisting the urge to fix what I knew was my ruffled hair, I gave the guard a warning glare, got on the elevator, and wondered which one of us was the one losing his mind.  I hate to admit it, but I think to the casual observer, it’d be a little difficult to say.

 

 

Friday, 13:53

 

“So,” I used the nifty laser pointer to highlight a small, pale spot on the aerial photograph being projected onto the far wall, “this is the area where we’ll want to concentrate our dig.  But, over here to the east, I also want to set up a smaller search pattern.”

 

“Thanks, Daniel.”

 

“We’ll use a reticule for this large area here, but for the smaller one, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.  Just make sure that your sketches are-”

 

“Daniel!”

 

I stopped, suddenly aware that Jack had been trying to get my attention for some time.  When I studied the faces of the people seated around the large conference table, all but maybe two looked like they were in a coma, and I realized I’d been doing it again.  Jack called it ‘pontificating.’  Mainly because he knew I hated the word.  It reminded me of a college professor I’d had - Professor Albert Getzmeier.  He’d been dry and boring and a prude.  And, he’d pontificated daily.  I didn’t pontificate, I expounded.  However, despite running the risk of being mislabeled, there was one more point I felt I needed to make.

 

“Just . . . just let me finish, Jack.”  Fifteen separate lithic glares slapped me in the face.  I winced, but Jack just smiled.

 

“Daniel, just tell them where they can set up base camp.”  He picked up his own pointer which - I suddenly noticed - was bigger and much brighter than my own, and indicated a spot just to the south and east of the area where I was pretty sure most of the artifacts would be located.  “How about there?  That seems like a logical place.  We’ll-”

 

“No!”

 

With the exception of the silver-haired man wearing the stars, there was a cohesive shift in the BDU-clad bodies seated at the table.  If I’d been wearing my pistol, I’m absolutely certain I would have drawn it.

 

“I mean,” I fumbled, still unaccustomed to the alteration in the rules of etiquette when dealing with my friend in the presence of his subordinates, “well, I just thought . . . that area would probably best serve as a midden.”

 

“Excuse me.”

 

Lieutenant Eileen Petersen, a young archaeologist who’d only recently been assigned to SG-6, smiled and looked over at Jack.  “General, a midden is an area used for collecting trash.”

 

Jack nodded and arched his scarred eyebrow.  “Thank you.”  He looked back at me.  “Why didn’t you just say ‘compost heap,’ Daniel?”

 

“We need a place to put the dirt and debris that we’ll be removing from the dig site.  Obviously, the closer the better.”

 

“Fine.”  Jack closed the file folder I’d given him when the meeting started.  “Anything else?”

 

“Actually . . . .”  I may be off in my own little world, but even I was aware of the collective sigh and sagging of shoulders.  “Uh, never mind.  I just . . . I wanted to say that the most important part of the project will, of course, be absolute dating.  If we can determine the exact age of the artifacts we retrieve, then we’ll be that much closer to filling in the blanks on the some of the questions regarding the Ancients.”

 

There was a pregnant pause before Jack smiled stiffly.  “Of course.”

 

As I straightened my papers and tucked my pointer into my pocket, I saw Jack getting to his feet.  He walked to the credenza and refilled his coffee cup.  I pulled out my chair and started to sit down.

 

“Uh, Daniel?”

 

When I looked at him, Jack sipped his coffee and smiled.  “There’s no reason for you to stay.”

 

“Oh.”

 

He shrugged.  “We’re just going to go over security measures, reconnaissance assignments.  Nothing that concerns you or your team.”

 

“Oh, okay.”  Feeling a bit ‘dismissed,’ I gathered my books and papers and folders.

 

Jack snorted softly and began to walk towards me.  “Make sure you turn in your supply requisitions before you leave today.  We’ll need a couple of days to get everything together, and then we’ll pack it up and ship it out with SG units 5 and 12 on Wednesday.  I don’t want any last minute surprises.”

 

“Sure, Jack.”  My arms full, I watched him coming towards me.  Oh, crap.  He wouldn’t dare.  Not here!  “Well,” I began backing up, aiming for the double doors somewhere to the left and behind me, “yeah, well, I’ll just head back to my office now.”  He was still advancing on me, coffee cup in one hand, an odd grin on his face, his left eye spasming furiously.  “Okay.  So, if you need me, you know where to find me.”

 

My back hit the corner of the wall - sadly, I’d miscalculated the angle of my retreat.  My vision tunneled slightly, causing the people around the table to spiral and shrink down to the size of a distant bottle cap.  Jack, on the other hand, ballooned.  He was all I could see.  Jack and that arm of his reaching out towards me - that wiry arm with that weird, knobby elbow and those long, crooked, deadly fingers.  They traversed the space between us, hesitating momentarily as Jack frowned at me, then finally, settled firmly on the back of my neck, squeezing, clutching.

 

“Daniel,” Jack’s eye twitched and he laughed softly, “you’re a nut.”

 

As he slapped me lightly on the ear and turned back to his meeting, I stumbled my way out the doors and into the hallway.  Breathless, I stood there, clutching a week’s worth of research, and mentally reenacting the latest episode in the series entitled ‘Daniel Jackson, This Is Your Sucking Life.’

 

Yeah, right, I was the nut.

 

 

Friday, 16:16

 

“It’s not funny.”

 

Despite my pronouncement, Sam was still giggling.

 

Even Teal’c looked amused as he said, “What is a ‘lucky Troll Doll’?”

 

Carter guffawed, spraying graham cracker crumbs across what looked like an array of botanical samples lined up in a neat little row of open containers.  Still laughing, she began picking the larger crumbs out with her fingers, and proceeded to eat them.

 

I frowned over at Teal’c.  “Well, keep letting your hair grow like that, and you’ll find out.”

 

“Daniel!”

 

“What?”

 

Sam was frowning at me.  “That was rude.”

 

It was.  Unfortunately, it was also a defense mechanism I learned long ago, one which has been reinforced by hanging around Jack O’Neill: when attacked, fight back using whatever ammunition you have.  No one said the fight had to be fair.  I shrugged in Teal’c’s direction.  “Sorry, Teal’c.”

 

He rubbed a hand over the thick, stubby growth on his head.  “You do not like my hair, Daniel Jackson?”

 

“No.  I mean, yes.  Yes, I like it.  It’s just . . . .”

 

He cocked his head and arched that Jaffa eyebrow.

 

“Well, we’re all kind of wondering why, all of a sudden.”

 

His mouth tightened as if he were fighting back a satisfied grin, and suddenly it hit me.

 

“It’s a celibacy thing, isn’t it?”

 

What?”  Sam sounded shocked, but Teal’c merely looked away.

 

“It is.”  For a moment, I forgot about the fact that I was being routinely fondled my superior officer.  “You finally got some, and so you’re letting your hair grow out.”

 

“Daniel, I don’t think . . .,” Sam stopped and glanced at Teal’c, then shook her head as if clearing her thoughts.  “I . . . I don’t think that’s any of our business.  I mean, unless Teal’c wants to tell us.  Do you want to tell us?”

 

Teal’c smiled.  “We will speak of it no further.”

 

I was right.  I knew it!  I grinned smugly at Sam, who licked her finger and used it gather the last of the crumbs from a slimy-looking green leaf thingie.

 

“So, you were saying that you think the Colonel is touching you for good luck.”

 

I sighed at her not-so-gentle reminder.  “Yeah.  Maybe.”

 

She glanced at me, frowning as she nibbled.  “Why would he do that?”

 

“Why does Jack do anything?  Besides, if it weren’t for you pointing it out, I probably would never have noticed.  Now, thanks to you, it’s all I think about.”

 

“Then, perhaps you are the one who is obsessed, Daniel Jackson.”

 

I glared at Teal’c who appeared to be studying his fingernails.  Newsflash: Jaffa can be real assholes.  “Yeah, well, I considered that.”

 

“And?” Sam grinned.

 

“I discarded it.  Jack’s the one with the problem here.”

 

“Are you certain?”

 

“Yes, Teal’c, I’m certain.  I mean, think about everything that Jack’s gone through in the last year:  being downloaded with the Ancient’s repository . . . again; being frozen . . . again; losing Janet; now his promotion.  And with his history - being Special Ops and all - the guy’s practically a walking time bomb anyway.  For crying out loud,” I exclaimed, borrowing one of Jack’s favorite lines, “his eye twitch alone is enough to drive me crazy, so what’s it doing to him?”

 

“Daniel, calm down.”  Sam began digging in a drawer for something.  “Don’t you think you’re getting a little . . . worked up about this?”

 

“Worked up?  The guy’s practically molesting me, Sam.  So, yeah, I guess I am a little passionate about it.”

 

She chuckled.

 

“Okay,” I admitted, “wrong choice of words.  Still . . . .”

 

“Well, actually, when I mentioned it, I was really kind of kidding.” Sam pulled a half-eaten candy bar from the drawer and proceeded to pick what I hoped was lint off of it.  “But, now that I think about it, maybe you’re right.  I mean, what’s the deal with the parking space?”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

She took a bite of the candy, grimacing slightly.  “Why does he keep parking in his old spot?”

 

“He didn’t.  Not today, anyway.  I was with him.”

 

“Oh, yeah?  Well, check again, Sherlock.  I ran an errand this morning and got here late.  He was parked in his old spot.”

 

“But he-,” and then it hit me.  He didn’t leave something in his truck.  He was moving his truck.  “Okay.  This is really weird.”

 

“Perhaps not,” Teal’c commented.  When we looked at him, he merely smiled.  “Compulsive behavior is actually nothing more than a ritual which is engaged in in an effort to dispel anxiety.  It is merely one’s attempt to create order out of chaos.  Therefore, it is not ‘weird.’  In fact, it is quite understandable.  However, it is also rarely successful, and the anguish created by the repeating of the ritual itself, often generates additional anguish, thus perpetuating the anxiety which initially spawned the compulsive behavior.”

 

Damn!  I looked at Sam, who seemed to have forgotten her snack, and was staring at Teal’c.

 

“Holy Hannah,” she mumbled.

 

“Yeah,” I agreed.

 

 

Friday, 17:42

 

“Make it quick, would you?  I’m beat.”

 

“Yeah, sure.”  I sat down in the chair opposite Jack.  He leaned back in his office chair, groaning softly as unidentifiable joints audibly protested the move.  Settling myself, I debated the best approach.  Even on a good day - which I suspected Jack hadn’t had in some time - the man could turn from a cute, playful puppy to a pissed-off attack dog quicker than you can say ‘acclimatory adjustments.’  Speaking of which . . . “So, how are things going, Jack?”

 

There was no change in the sharp-angled features.  He sat there, watching me with that same calculating look on his face that I’ve seen him give innumerable aliens who greeted us bearing loaded weapons and false grins.  I softened my smile and tried not to fidget.

 

“I don’t think you came here to discuss how my life’s going.”

 

“Actually, Jack,” I crossed my arms, steeling myself for the assault, “I did.”

 

His eye twitched.  It was the only sign of life.  Finally, there was a subtle shift in the room, and the taut muscles hardening Jack’s shoulders eased somewhat.  With the exception of the tiny spasm, it was like everything else that Jack did - it was a controlled move.  “Digging again, are we?”

 

I laughed softly, and shrugged.  “What can I say?  It’s what I do.”  When he didn’t respond, I pressed forward.  “I’d imagine that, what with being The Man and all, you’re under a lot of stress these days.”

 

“Everyone who works here is under a lot of stress, Daniel.”

 

“Well, yeah.  But, not everyone around here is responsible for everyone else around here?”

 

“Aren’t they?”

 

“Well, not technically.  Technically, only one person calls all the shots.  And, I know how you think, Jack.”

 

“Do you, now?”

 

“Yeah.  Even when General Hammond was sitting in that chair, you felt responsible for the whole mountain.  If there was any guilt or regret over something, you made sure to hog as much of it for yourself as you could.”  His response was to shift his gaze slightly to the left of mine.  “Most likely because, despite what you think, you’re a decent guy.”

 

Jack flinched slightly, and reached up to rub his forehead.  Too late, I had vague recollections of a similar assertion made by me during this man’s horrifying stay at Baal’s House of Torture.  I remembered more of that little venture than I cared to admit.  It was nothing Jack and I could ever talk about it.  It exceeded the realms of verbalization, even for a linguist, and I suddenly felt as if I were kicking a beaten, dying man.

 

“You’re just trying to protect us,” I offered him.  “And we all appreciate it.  Every single one of us.  It’s one of the reasons these people here follow you without question.”

 

There was a momentary pause, and then his eyes met mine.  Held them.  “Do they?” he whispered..

 

It was my turn to frown.  “Yes, Jack.  They do.  They will.  They have absolute trust in you.”

 

He sighed, and his shoulders sagged for real this time.  I had a sudden, brief moment of clarity in which I realized the extreme pressure under which Jack operated.  He had the weight of Cheyenne Mountain . . . Earth, resting on his shoulders.  General Hammond had made it appear so easy.  But, I hadn’t known George Hammond.  Not really.  I couldn’t read him.  Not like I could Jack.  Besides, as much as they respected each other, the two men were very different.  If Hammond had been a father figure to us, Jack was our point man.  Perhaps it was to our shame that we had allowed him to assume the position.  Somehow, I . . . we, had placed all our faith in this man.  We had entrusted him with leading us into the fray, and safely bringing us back home.  I saw now what a disservice we were doing him.

 

“Jack, no one expects you to be perfect.”  He shifted uncomfortably.  “You’re going to make mistakes.”

 

“Mistakes are deadly.”

 

“Sometimes.  They’re also inevitable.”

 

“Could you just get to the friggin’ point, Doctor Man of Many Words.”

 

I laughed at the tired, gentle rebuke.  “Okay.”  I straightened in my chair.  “You know how some ball players perform these little rituals before a game?  Or before stepping up to bat?”

 

“Sports analogies?”  He grinned.  “Does this mean that at least some of my efforts have not been in vain?”

 

“Officially, I admit to nothing.  Anyway, my point is this . . .,” I paused, hoping Killer, the attack dog, wasn’t going to come charging at me.  “You seem to be engaging in a little bit of what some people might call . . . obsessive-compulsive behavior.”  I counted to ten, slowly.  Waiting.  “Maybe.  That’s all I’m saying.”  I counted to twelve.

 

“Obsessive-compulsive?” he said softly.  “So . . . what?  You think I’m a nut job?  That’s what you’re saying?”

 

I leaned forward, my hands pressed against the edge of his desk.  “No, Jack.  That’s not what I’m saying.  It’s just, your behavior lately seems to be slightly . . . odd.  Out of character.”

 

“Odd.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Like?”

 

“Well,” I grinned, softening the impact of my words, “you’re displaying a lot of affiliative behavior patterns.”  He squinted, and I cleared my throat.  “Close-proximity behavior.  You know, like . . . touching.”

 

“Touching?”  Disbelief tinged the otherwise colorless word.

 

“It seems I’ve become your lucky Troll Doll,” I laughed.  He didn’t seem to recognize the humor in the situation, so I sobered.  “Apparently, we can’t part ways without you touching me.”

 

What?”

 

“Exactly.  That’s what I said.  But, after Sam pointed it out, I-”

 

“Carter pointed it out?”

 

“And Teal’c.”

 

“Geez.”  He groaned, and scrubbed his hands through his messy hair.  “This is unbelievable.”

 

“We’re just worried about you.”

 

“I think you should go now.”

 

“Jack-”

 

“Daniel,” he glared at me, “dismissed.”

 

Disappointed, I stood to leave.  But, there was no talking to Jack when he didn’t want to listen.  I’d have to settle for feeding him the bitter reality of his psychosis one unpleasant spoonful at a time.  “Fine, Jack.”

 

As I neared the door, he rose and came around his desk.  “Daniel, wait.”  As I turned, he was already reaching for me.  Instead of dodging him, I let him come at me.  Desperate fingers closed around my bicep, clutching me in a painful grasp.  “I don’t . . .,” he sighed and the fingers eased slightly.  “It’s just . . . I’m tired.  Do you-,” and then he looked down, saw the hand holding me there.  “Son-of-a-bitch,” he muttered.  With a stunned look, he suddenly pulled away.

 

“Jack, it’s not that big a deal.”

 

With a palpable weariness, he returned to his chair and I followed him, resuming my place in front of his desk.

 

“What else?” he quietly demanded.

 

“What?”

 

He held my gaze, prepared for whatever I threw his way.  “I mean, am I grabbing my crotch before I send people through the Gate?  Rubbing up against door frames?  What?”

 

I couldn’t help but smile.  “Well, there seems to be a little problem with your new parking place.”

 

His forehead creased as he considered it.  “And?”

 

“I don’t know.  How about you tell me.”

 

He picked up a pen, rolling it between his fingers.  “Well, I have been washing my hands a lot.  And I seem to be buying an inordinate amount of cheese.”

 

“So, how do you think this started, Jack?”

 

He looked down as if embarrassed, and I thought he wouldn’t say.  Then, he sniffed softly and raised his head.  “That first day, I parked in the wrong spot by accident.  Really.  I just . . . I was so nervous I sort of forgot.”  When I said nothing, he continued.  “Then, I had a briefing and afterwards, you came in the conference room, just to kind of rag on me about being The Man.  When you left, I slapped you on the back and went down to send SG-10 out on a mission.  That was about it.  It was a good day, actually.  Oh, except for the fact that Norman brought me lunch that day . . . a tuna sandwich that sent me puking to the bathroom.  But, yeah, other than that, it was a pretty good day.”

 

“You do know his name’s really Walter, right?”

 

“Who?”

 

“Never mind.  So, what happened after that?”

 

“Well,” Jack rolled his head, obviously trying to alleviate a stiff neck, “the next day, that Vaseline guy shows up and all hell breaks loose.”

 

“Vaseline?”  It took me a moment.  “You mean, Colonel Vaselov?”  Jack shrugged.  “The guy who was possessed by Anubis?”

 

“Yeah.  You shot up the ‘gate room; I shot you; I sealed the mountain; Anubis hitched a ride with me; then we sent him and Vaseline to Planet Freezer.  That whole thing.”

 

“Then what?”

 

“Well,” Jack shifted uncomfortably, “I guess after all that was over, the next time I pulled into the parking lot, I just sat there for a while thinking about the whole friggin’ mess.  Wondering, you know, how it’d come down the pike.”

 

“So, you . . . .”

 

Jack frowned and tossed the pen onto his desk.  “So, I pulled into my old spot.”

 

“Don’t you see what you’re doing, Jack?”

 

“Are you referring to the fact that I may be losing what’s left of my mind, or that I’ve apparently been caressing you in front of the Leathernecks?”

 

“Neither.  You’re trying to re-create that first day.  Subconsciously, you think that if you do everything right, you can make sure nothing goes wrong.”

 

“I am?”

 

“Yeah.  I think so.”

 

With one hand, he rubbed his lips, looking deep in thought.  I suddenly realized that I hadn’t seen his eye twitch since he’d sat back down.  He made a soft sound, a slight clearing of the throat, then leaned back in his chair and looked at me.

 

“And the cheese thing?”

 

I shrugged and smiled.  “It could be that you’re losing what’s left of your mind.  Or maybe you just like cheese.”

 

He nodded.  “Coincidence.”

 

“Probably.”

 

He sat up, slapping his hands on the desktop.  “Okay.  I can buy that.  So, what do I do?”

 

“Well, for starters, you can stop petting me.”

 

“All right,” he agreed.  “What else?”

 

“Park next to the door.  It’s one of the perks of being The Man.”  I stared at him, wondering what MacKenzie would say.  Or better yet, Hammond.  “There are going to be bad days, Jack.  But it won’t be because you had oatmeal instead of dry cereal for breakfast.  Or because you crawled out on the left side of the bed, or you stopped to gas up your truck on the way to the office.  It’ll just be because . . . well, sometimes life stinks.”

 

“Coincidence,” he repeated.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Geez, Daniel.”  He sighed again deeply, then seemed to come to some decision.  He stood, silently dismissing me, and I rose, too.  Sam was waiting to drive me home.  As I turned to go, Jack laughed softly.  “So, you must have thought I liked you or something, what with all the touching and stuff.”

 

I looked back at him, and chuckled.  “Well, to be perfectly honest, it was kind of weird.  I was beginning to wonder if I’d inadvertently touched some quantum mirror without realizing it.”

 

“Not that that would ever happen,” he grinned.  “But, really, it’s kind of funny.  I mean, of all the people here, it was you that figured into my warped ‘saving the day’ routine.”  His grin softened.  “Funny, huh?”

 

Suddenly, I wasn’t looking at The Man.  I didn’t even see the dark stars weighing down the points of the collar on his BDU’s.  I was simply staring at the guy who’d given us all a bad case of diarrhea.  The man who’d pissed off SG-3.  He made us laugh and, to him, that more than made up for running the risk of a little retribution.  I was looking at the self-deprecating, annoying asshole who’d left a yawning, gaping, unfillable hole in what remained of SG-1.  This weary, relentless man was the same one who’d come to my defense on Abydos, and who’d been rescuing me ever since.  He’d helped me to ascend.  And, it was because of him that I came back.  We broke the rules for each other.  He’d covered for me more times than I could count.  In all likelihood, he’d covered for me when I hadn’t even known it.  And I’d do anything for him.  Even if all I could do was be there, watching helplessly as he endured a relentless, agonizing, repeating death.  Or maybe just sitting him down and reminding him that he’s fine just like he is - opinionated, mouthy, and slightly imperfect . . . just like the rest of us.

 

Jack was much more than my point man.  He was my best friend.  And I was his.  And, suddenly, the queue of manic worshippers that stretched between us narrowed and disappeared.

 

Smiling, I reached over and patted him on the arm.  “Yeah, Jack, that’s pretty funny.  Me, of all people.”

 

“Yeah,” he agreed, laughing softly.  He started to slap me on the back, then seemed to think better of it, allowing me to leave untouched, yet strangely more affected by his presence than I had been in a long time.  As I stepped into the hallway, his voice called me back.  “Hey, Daniel, speaking of coincidences, you know, it’s not a coincidence that in no known language does the phrase ‘as pretty as an airport’ appear.”**

 

I stared at him, then sighed, and trudged my way up inside the mountain.  Jack O’Neill should come with a complimentary instruction manual.

 

And aspirin.  Lots and lots of aspirin.

 

<finis>

 

______________________

 

*Sierra Hotel stands for the letters S and H; in military terms, it translates into ‘shit hot,’ meaning that something or someone is extremely capable.

 

**“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as an airport.’”  Douglas Adams

 

Fic-A-Thon Plot Bunny Assignment:  Time frame: Season 8; Pairings: None specified; Summary:  All is not well with General Jack.  Despite appearances so far, he is not dealing well with being ‘The Man.’  The General develops a case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  The exact manifestation is up to the author, but it must be something that becomes noticeable, because a member of the SG1 team notices, and tries to help.