Daniel remembers when, once upon a time, he would have been able to work through the night and not even feel it in the morning. But it's one AM Sunday night -- Monday morning -- and he's already starting to fade. Even the clear, crisp air of the Colorado fall doesn't do much to wake him up; he has to open all the windows as he drives home so he doesn't fall asleep at the wheel. He shouldn't have even been on base, but General Landry's been loading him down with translation duty lately. He's not sure why; there are other linguists in the department who speak Ancient, other linguists who've been able to adapt to the dialect used by the Ori. But Landry's been pushing and pushing him to translate everything they find, and Daniel's almost starting to wonder if someone's trying to get him to throw up his hands and admit that he can't handle both field duty and heading up Xenoarchaeology & Linguistics at the same time.
He makes it through most of the drive without incident, though; he's only a few blocks from his apartment when his cellphone rings. One section of his thoughts is stuck on the revised apocrypha of the Book of Origin the Prior dropped on P5T-461 before self-immolation, while the other's processing street signs and the lines on the road; the distraction is his excuse for why he doesn't look at the caller ID before answering.
"I need you to come meet me," the person on the other end of the phone says without preamble. "Now. Tonight."
Daniel can't place the voice immediately. Male, not female; slightly high, a little bit reedy, with a quick and easy intonation. As though whoever it is has every right in the world to come calling on him like this. There aren't many people left in the world who can do that anymore, and this voice doesn't belong to any of them.
"I'm sorry," Daniel says, as pleasantly as he can. His mind's still on the subjunctive mood indicator, and whether or not this particular dialect makes the distinction between subjunctive and predictive, and whether it changes the meaning of the fifth sermon of the Book of Antiophes if it does. "You must have the wrong number."
"Oh, for cryin' out loud, Daniel," the voice says, and suddenly, despite the youth, the intonation is nothing but familiar.
For a minute the cognitive dissonance is so bad Daniel thinks his brain might fracture. Then he remembers. "Jack," he says. Not-Jack. Clone Jack. The one that got away.
There's a pause. "I go by JD these days," not-Jack says. And that's okay, because it's a way to differentiate between the two of them. Daniel just doesn't want to think about what the initials stand for.
"I need your help," JD is saying, as though he doesn't care whether Daniel has enough time to adjust his mental landscape. "There's a problem, and I need backup."
Daniel blinks. The traffic light turns green, but he doesn't hit the gas; he's too busy trying to identify the pull in his gut. After a minute, he recognizes it: anger mixed with relief. "You call me for the first time in three years because you need my help?"
"You didn't call me either," JD says. The bitterness in his voice makes Daniel suddenly realize Jack had probably been lying when he'd said that his clone had preferred to make a clean break of it.
The address JD gives turns out to be a rat-trap motel, one of those extended-stay rent-by-the-week places on the outskirts of the city, all the way down 29 in the district neither the military nor the churches have shown any interest in buying up and making over yet. A dirty, drunken old man leans against the door next to the one Daniel knocks on; Daniel catches the look, the curiosity-mingled-with-disdain of the perpetual underclass, and realizes he's being made for a trick. He wonders if JD has enough visitors for it to be a reasonable suspicion, if this is how JD makes a living these days.
Daniel knows the Air Force set JD up with something better than this. Three years ago, there'd been talk about high school, and eventually college, and perhaps a re-commissioning under a different name, a different identity. Not-Jack had gotten the best forged papers the SGC could turn out -- and that 'best' was pretty damn good; Sgt. Browning up in Records has acquired a great deal of experience in inventing identities at the drop of a hat over the years -- and a chance at a new life. Daniel wonders what happened between then and now.
All he can see when the door cracks open is a single brown eye, the shadowy hints of a body behind it. He tries to look harmless.
"You come alone?" JD asks, and Daniel nods.
The room's less fetid than the outside promises, but that isn't saying much. Daniel doesn't know how JD can stand it. Jack's not exactly fastidious, but if given a choice, he always chooses tidiness over squalor. Daniel thinks it has something to do with something in the years Jack never talks about. JD lets him in and gestures to the unmade double bed; it and the particle-board dresser are the only two pieces of furniture in the room.
"Have a seat," JD says. Daniel shakes his head.
"I'd rather stand." He's not thinking of his pants, or of the way his skin is already telling him he won't feel clean until he showers later; he's thinking more of the wariness on JD's face and the way JD moves to stand between Daniel and the door. He doesn't want to be caught off-guard. He still doesn't know what JD wants.
It's unsettling how JD looks almost nothing like Jack, except in the eyes and in the way he moves. Daniel wonders if Jack looked this angelic at eighteen. If it weren't for the lines already settling in around JD's mouth, the wariness of his stance, and the hair curling down to almost touch the collar of the plain grey t-shirt JD is wearing, he would be virtually indistinguishable from the hundreds of fresh-faced cadets flowing in and out of town with the seasons.
JD's staring at him. If Daniel had to give that look a name, he'd call it hunger. "I didn't know if you'd be around," JD says. "I knew you didn't make it to Atlantis, but I didn't know if you were offworld this week dealing with the Ori or not."
It sounds like casual conversation, but it's not; the Lost City had been nothing more than a distant dream when JD had been born from Jack, and the Ori are new, too. Daniel frowns. It's not inconceivable that they have a leak -- there's no such thing as total secrecy -- and it's reasonable to think JD's been keeping up, but he's not sure why JD's telling him so early in the conversation.
He doesn't bother asking, though. If JD's anything like Jack, and Daniel has to assume JD is, he won't say anything. So instead he just says, "All you had to do was call." JD's face twists at that; on Jack, it would have been the "yeah, right" face. Daniel's not sure what it means coming from JD, so he just sighs. "You said it was urgent. What do you need? What can I help with?"
JD folds his arms across his chest. "You remember the Trust."
Daniel pinches the bridge of his nose. "Of course I remember the Trust. We're keeping a careful eye on them." There's another branch of Homeworld trying to track down and root out the extent of the Trust problem; when Vala had gotten her memory back and corroborated that Charlotte Mayfield was, in fact, the Goa'uld Athena, it had become more urgent than it had been before. "If this is about --"
"This is about the fact that there are a bunch of new kids in town." JD is carefully controlling his voice; Daniel can't tell what he's thinking. "The Trust was an offshoot of the NID. These guys are an offshoot of the IOA. They want to work with the Ori, think if we give them what they want and stick our heads in the sand, the Ori will leave us alone. They've got people from the Trust, and people from the IOA, and people from Homeworld. I need your help to deal with it."
Daniel frowns. "To get you to General Landry?" But JD's shaking his head, frowning, and even on an eighteen-year-old face that particular twist of lips is the 'don't be stupid, Daniel' look.
"Do you trust him?" JD asks, quietly. The undercurrents of his voice say that he doesn't.
"That's --" Daniel shakes his head. "You picked him."
"The old man picked him," JD corrects. Which threatens to send Daniel's mind off on the age-old question about what makes up identity, whether JD and Jack were the same person, then or now, and if what one of them did, the other's responsible for -- but now's not the time, and JD's face makes that clear. "And you of all people should know how much this shit can change someone. I need you to get me some information I can't get."
Something about JD's body language hits the spot of Daniel's psyche that will always roll over the minute Jack issues an order. It's a spot not even Jack can reliably find anymore. "Not if it's classified."
JD's lips thin. "You wouldn't say that to the old man."
"You're not him," Daniel says.
Something goes hard in JD's eyes. "No. Not anymore. But I was. You're in danger, Earth's in danger, and I don't know who the hell I can trust enough to deal with this and not immediately go running to whoever's calling the shots on the other side these days. If you're not interested in helping, I'll see what I can do on my own."
Daniel sighs. He wonders how long JD's been trying to deal with things on his own already, wonders why he hasn't come to them sooner, but he knows he's not going to get an answer if he asks. "Tell me what you need," he says. It'll be a start, and there's no harm in listening.
SG-1 doesn't all eat dinner together often, not anymore. Daniel's been spending more time with Vala lately, and Sam's been spending more with Mitchell, and Teal'c has been spending more time offworld. But Daniel tells Sam he misses her, and she can read him well enough to know something's up. When he mentions Amicci's in the next sentence, she can catch a cue.
They're both quiet until they're in her car and heading for downtown, when she finally says, "Tortellini craving? I'm not convinced."
"Amicci's makes good tortellini," Daniel tries, but she casts him a glance as she navigates through evening traffic and he sighs. "Yeah, I didn't think that'd work, but it got you out of the Mountain. I got a phone call last night."
Daniel looks out the window; he always hopes that if he keeps his eyes on the road while she's driving, she will too. It doesn't usually work, but he has to give it his best shot. "And I'm going to have to invoke Rule Twelve on it until we get to where we're going."
Sam's eyebrows go up, but she hushes. Rule Twelve was one of Jack's, way back when, about how to frustrate surveillance. No talking about sensitive things in your house or in your car, because you never know who might be listening. Thor equipped them all with counter-surveillance measures a long time back, and it helps, but they'd already trained themselves into keeping good habits anyway. They're never sure what kind of surveillance methods the bad guys, whoever those bad guys might be at the time, have developed.
They haven't had to invoke Twelve for a long time, but Sam knows better than to keep asking. Instead, she just nods. They talk about random nothings instead -- Vala's love of Internet porn sites, what awful movie Mitchell's going to inflict on Team Night next. Parking downtown is a bitch, but Daniel's apartment comes with the right to two spots in the parking lot and he only uses one, so Sam parks in the other. Amicci's is only three blocks away.
Sam's lips barely move as they walk down the street, and Daniel has to strain to hear. "Who called you?"
They haven't been followed; Jack taught them all how to spot a tail, back in those years when the NID was around every corner, and Daniel has been watching. "Jack's clone," Daniel says. He's not as good as she is at talking without moving his lips, but it'll have to do. "He needs our help."
Amicci's is loud and bustling, which is the first reason Daniel picked it, and choose-your-own-table, which is the second. Daniel seats them in the very back after they place their orders and brings Sam up to speed as quickly as he can, keeping his voice down so they won't be overheard. She frowns.
"Plausible," she says. "Scarily plausible. We should tell General O'Neill --"
Daniel nods. "I said the same thing. But JD says he doesn't know if the people around Jack are in on it or not. And -- you know Jack's been --" Getting old, he doesn't say. Slowing down. "--paying less attention lately. If he says or does the wrong thing at the wrong time --"
It's JD's argument, but it makes sense. Sam purses her lips. "You have a point," she says. "How far does he think this goes?"
Daniel shakes his head. "I don't know. He doesn't know. And he doesn't want us to risk saying something to the wrong people, not unless we're sure --"
Sam drums her fingers on the table, her eyes going distant. "He suspects Landry, doesn't he."
Daniel's known her for nearly ten years now, and he never stops being amazed at how quickly her mind works. "Yeah. And -- I'm not sure he's wrong."
It's tough for him to say it. But JD's right; the stress of life at the SGC can change people, until crazy things suddenly look like the best plan possible. Landry spends a lot of time closeted in his office with people from the IOA; nobody would ever know if he was actually talking to the people he said he was talking to, and nobody would know how much information was going out.
"I hope he is," Sam says. She sighs, shakes her head. "What makes him suspect --"
"Nothing concrete," Daniel says. "But there are things. The Ori are interested in me and in Vala." It says something about his life, he thinks, that the thought of being hunted down by alien bad guys just prompts a reaction of oh, not again. "And the SGC's been keeping both of us on a short leash. Hell, I was just thinking right before JD called me that the amount of work they're piling on me seems designed to keep me in the Mountain. And sure, all that could just be trying to keep us safe, but Vala was kidnapped from Earth, by the Trust, and if the people who were in on that are also in on the plan to appease the Ori --"
"They didn't take you," Sam points out. "You were there too."
Daniel nods. "I know, which makes me think the reduction in offworld missions could just be coincidence. But when we were questioning the Trust operative, he didn't say, or didn't know, where the Trust was getting their information from, and --"
"Landry never seemed too interested in finding out." Sam purses her lips. "Which we were all too busy welcoming Vala back to worry about. And okay, it's not exactly our business to pursue that kind of thing, but..."
Daniel leans back in his chair. "Exactly. Then there was the second Supergate. The bad intel we got from the Jaffa -- Teal'c followed up on that, and he and Bra'tac can't find any source. At all. It's as though nobody contacted us in the first place. How easy would it have been for someone to fake a transmission?"
"Oh, God," Sam says. Her eyes are haunted, a bit sick. She still hasn't explicitly told him what Anateo did to her, but he'd seen the bruises, and he knows what her body language means. Once upon a time, she would have told him, but they've all drifted apart lately. He can only hope that she's managed to tell Vala, because there are some things another woman can help with. "You don't think someone specifically arranged that to try to take out one of our ships? To try to keep us from having the resources to get off-world except through the Gate?"
"Could be," Daniel says. "Could be a coincidence. All of this could. But -- you have to admit, there are a lot of things we haven't been able to explain."
"Ba'al," Sam says. "We blamed Barrett for giving him the specs to the anti-beaming technology, but that never rang true to me. He wouldn't have had access..."
She breaks off as the waitress brings their dinner, but the look in her eyes says she's going over the past year and a half with a fine-toothed comb, looking for suspicious things. And finding them. JD's accusations had sounded insane, but the longer he and Daniel had talked, the more sense they'd started to make.
It's possible that everything that's gone on in the past year has been bad timing or coincidence. And it's possible JD's right, that someone's trying to stop them from meddling, stop them from making things worse. Daniel doesn't know which is the truth. But he's getting sick and tired of people manipulating him for their own purposes.
"All right," Sam says, when the waitress is gone again. "What does he have in mind?"
"We find the leak," Daniel says. "And then we plug it. And once we can be sure of who's part of this and who isn't, we bring it to the IOA, and we let them clean house."
Sam fiddles with her fork. "Why now? Why didn't he come to us earlier?"
"I think he thinks something big's about to go down unless we stop it," Daniel says. "And I'm a little worried about what that might be."
They brief Teal'c on the situation on Tuesday, on P3X-117, while Mitchell and Vala pitch camp and the three of them allegedly securing the perimeter. JD had asked Daniel to keep quiet about things, to do nothing more than get him lists of who'd have access to which systems so JD can extrapolate who'd be able to pass on the information that made it out of the Mountain, but JD should have known Daniel was going to tell Sam and Teal'c. Maybe he was even counting on it.
Teal'c listens and nods in all the appropriate places. He doesn't think Daniel's crazy for even suggesting the existence of a conspiracy, which reassures Sam and Daniel both that maybe they haven't gone off the deep end. It's easy to lose sight of sanity when you've been doing insane things for so long.
"What does he wish for us to do?" Teal'c asks, once Daniel's gotten through his explanation.
"He just wants information," Daniel says. "He says we shouldn't dig too much, that if we trip something we shouldn't, we might be in danger. Especially since Vala and I are on the Ori Most Wanted list. But if there's proof, I want to find it." Especially if Landry really is involved. There's no way Daniel will keep taking orders from someone who's working against them.
Teal'c appears to consider this. "Indeed we should," he says, calmly. "I believe I shall make some investigations of my own."
It makes Daniel a touch nervous -- he's seen what Teal'c considers appropriate investigative technique in the past -- but Mitchell's calling for them and they really have been gone too long.
They're on 117 for three days, making nice with the locals enough to finally be allowed access to the library, but it's a dead end; anything about Merlin's weapon or the Ancients is long gone. When they get back to Earth, Daniel watches Landry's face carefully as they report their failure. He can't tell if that really is a twitch of relief or not. And surely, even if Landry is working for the group-with-no-name which wants to appease the Ori instead of fighting them, a weapon that could destroy them instead would be welcome enough? Unless the ultimate goal is to hand Earth over to the Ori, which Daniel can't imagine anyone even contemplating as a good idea.
While they're in the locker room changing, Daniel takes his cell phone out of his locker and checks for messages. Nothing. He dials Jack's number, and gets the machine again. He'd left three messages before they'd left for 117, so he hangs up without leaving another one and shoves the phone in his pocket. He'll feel it vibrate if it rings while Landry's debriefing them. JD hasn't left a message either, but Daniel hadn't been expecting that; he'd said he was off to San Francisco to track down a lead.
Sam's planning on trawling the base computers for records, patterns, glitches, anything that would suggest someone's passing information through non-official channels. Teal'c is planning on creeping through a few offices in the middle of the night; after ten years, the SFs are used to him wandering around base, even though he does need to sleep now. Daniel's going to start by going through everything he can find on the IOA and its people, make lists of who works for them officially. Then he'll comb through those lists and see whether anyone in the SGC or in Homeworld has off-the-books connections he can find. It's not how he'd planned to spend his weekend, but JD had seemed adamant that something big was coming up on the horizon, even if he didn't have any clue what that something might be.
He's already thinking about what else they can do, but that'll have to wait until they prove or disprove JD's theories. It still could be nothing. They don't have anything but suspicion and coincidence, instinct and rumor.
They've proven things with less in the past, though.
Daniel comes awake in the middle of the night on Monday, to the sound of someone moving in the hallway. He reaches for his Beretta -- he started sleeping with it on his nightstand as soon as JD had mentioned danger -- and slinks, barefoot, out the bedroom door. But it's only JD, standing in the kitchen and swearing under his breath as he runs water in the sink.
"Put that thing away," JD says, without looking over his shoulder. He's bruised and dirty in the downtown street-light filtering through the kitchen window, and one arm is hanging uselessly at his side.
Daniel checks the safety, shoves the weapon into the waistband of his sweats at the small of his back. "How'd you know I had it? And what the hell happened to you?" He flicks on the lightswitch; JD flinches from the sudden stab of light.
"I always know when someone's pointing a weapon at me. Didn't think you'd ever agree to keep one at home." JD turns around; Daniel winces as he sees the blood soaking through JD's shirt, from dried and crusted to fresh stains still damp. It's coming from a bullet hole in JD's left arm; through the hole in the fabric, Daniel can see more blood smeared across angry and inflamed skin. "Ran into some trouble in San Francisco. I couldn't find anywhere safe to stop between there and here, but I'm pretty sure I didn't lead them to you. I lifted a car to get here, dropped it in the parking lot of the police station, and walked over. You need better locks."
"I don't often get people trying to break in." It's ten blocks to the police station; given the way JD's moving, Daniel suspects "staggered" is a better word than "walked", and he wonders if anyone had noticed and would remember JD's progress. He crosses the kitchen floor on bare feet, notes the dirt and grime and blood JD tracked in. He'll have to mop in the morning. He digs a pair of scissors out of the odds-and-ends drawer. "How badly are you hurt?"
"Got shot. Just a graze; I stitched it up. It'll heal." JD looks tired, worn-through -- Daniel recognizes it as the way Jack always looks after zat-stun -- but he's vibrating, ever so slightly; Daniel feels it as he puts a hand on JD's chest and leans in. "Hey, careful," JD says.
Daniel winces in sympathy as he begins cutting away the t-shirt; the way JD's holding his arm, he's not going to be able to lift the shoulder to get the shirt off. The bullet hole's in JD's upper left bicep, far enough in that it looks like it just barely missed bone. It looks as though he was shot from the front or the side, maybe while ducking out of the way. Daniel can't tell what caliber it was, but the wound looks big enough to be nasty.
There's blood all down JD's arm and down his chest. The entry wound's been mended -- the sloppy stitches are clearly self-inflicted -- but it's still bleeding sluggishly, and the edges are ragged and inflamed. It looks like infection's already starting to set in. "This needs medical attention," Daniel says quietly.
"Couldn't exactly go to the ER," JD says. "And I didn't have any antibiotics with me. It'd help if you could lift some from the infirmary." JD's eyes are dark as they study Daniel's face. He looks old, so old.
Daniel wonders if this is what Jack was like back in his Special Ops days, all the days nobody's ever been able to get Jack to tell the stories of. "I've got some Vicodin in the medicine cabinet," he says. "Let me get it."
JD doesn't protest, which tells Daniel how bad it must be. Jack always hated taking narcotics. They all do, which is why Daniel has fifteen or sixteen near-full bottles lined up on the shelf of his cabinet. He pulls down the newest one, pushes others aside until he finds the last antibiotic prescription he'd never bothered to finish and counts six pills left. Good enough to get started on.
He adds a handful of sterile gauze pads and brings the whole mess back to JD, who's stripped out of the last of the remnants of his shirt and tossed the whole deal in the trash. There are bruises all down JD's ribs and sides, as though someone was roughing him up before he got free. Looking at the extent of the blood painted across JD's skin, Daniel changes his mind. "Go take a shower," he says. "Then I'll see what I can do to patch you up."
JD's pressing a towel against his shoulder. "Wanted to clean up a bit first," he says. "Not track blood through your entire apartment. I'd hate to lose your security deposit for you."
"My second-to-last rental blew up," Daniel says, wryly. "I'm used to losing security deposits."
For a second, it almost seems as though he's bantering with Jack again, the way it used to be, as JD laughs with Jack's quick sharp bark. "Yeah, well. Just call me Martha Stewart." He kicks off his sneakers, leaves them by the sink.
"Who was it?" Daniel asks. He takes the towel from JD, starts dabbing at the parts JD can't reach without twisting.
"I was stupid," JD admits. "Thought I'd go straight for the Trust, see if I could get any of their records, try to see if I could find any sign anyone was in contact with people from the IOA. Got caught by building security, who turned me over to a few thugs. I didn't recognize the faces." He winces as Daniel uses a bit too much pressure; Daniel murmurs an apology. "They roughed me up a little. I got shot trying to get out of there. They won't come looking for me, though."
The look in JD's eyes says that can't would probably be a better word than won't. "Will their superiors think to look for you here anyway?" Daniel asks. He isn't worried, not precisely. With advance warning, they can handle just about anything. And JD's invoked Rule One, by default even if not explicitly. Rule One is the one that says they'll all always have a safehouse with each other, no matter what. SG-1 comes first.
And even if JD isn't Jack, well, Jack isn't part of SG-1 anymore either, except in the way they'll all always be. And Rule One covers Jack. So it has to cover JD, too.
JD's shaking his head. "I don't think so. They haven't made me as being O'Neill. Not yet. At least, I don't think they have. They weren't expecting me to be able to get back up that quickly after being zatted, and they sure as hell weren't expecting me to be able to keep going after getting shot."
"Did you find anything?" Daniel asks. He has to ask.
JD's lips twist. "Some. You're not going to like it."
Daniel doesn't like any of this. He gets JD into the shower, finds a towel he can stand to lose, rummages through the bottoms of his drawers. They all used to keep clothes at each other's places, in case of late nights and not wanting to drive home, and he's pretty sure he's been hauling some of Jack's stuff around since Jack moved to DC. They won't quite fit JD, who's shorter and skinnier than Jack is, but they'll fit better than Daniel's clothes would.
JD has left the bathroom door open, probably so he can hear what's going on. Daniel's makes sure to make enough noise as he comes back in. He's seen Jack's instincts in action, but never quite at full force. Whatever JD's been up to these past few months, Daniel would bet it's woken up all the old lessons Jack's done his best to bury over the years.
"I found clothes," Daniel says, and JD pokes his head around the shower curtain. With the blood washed away, he looks younger again, and more tired. His skin's bruised in more places than Daniel can count, and it's drawn tight over his bones.
"Thanks," he says. Then looks at the t-shirt on top of the pile, and his lips press together.
Daniel wonders what he's thinking -- it's one of Jack's old t-shirts, from some bar in Chicago Daniel's never been to -- but he just puts the clothes on top of the toilet tank and then leans against the sink, not knowing what else to do with himself. "Anything else you need? Should I call Teal'c and Sam and have them go take care of the car you used to get here?"
He can see JD, shadowed, moving behind the shower curtain, rubbing shampoo into his hair one-handed, unable to lift his left arm. "If you want. But if they wipe it for prints or anything, it'll just lead them to the old man. Who's clearly in DC right now. And if they call him in for questioning, well, it'll at least mean they've managed to find him, right?"
Daniel winces. Shit. "You haven't been able to contact him either," he says. It's not a question. There's a cold, dark feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"Haven't tried. But nobody I've talked to has heard anything from him in a few weeks. Don't know if he's on assignment or if they've got him."
A few weeks. Daniel tries to think back to when the last time he heard from Jack was, but it's been so long, and the days have all been blurring into each other for a while. But if they've got Jack, whoever they are, this is something they can't let wait. "I'll call Sam," he says.
"Tell her to bring more antibiotics," JD says. Daniel can see him ducking his head under the spray.
Sam brings antibiotics, bagels, and a file folder full of cell phone records that Daniel doesn't know how she got (and doesn't particularly want to know, either; what he doesn't know, he can't be forced to testify about). Teal'c brings spare BDUs stolen from Stores in a size that's probably closer to what JD's wearing, a mild burn on the back of his hand from the thermite he used to burn the VINs off the car JD stole, and the news that by the time the police and fire departments manage to put the rest of the fire out, they probably won't be able to get any useful DNA or fingerprint evidence out of the remains.
JD sits on a chair in Daniel's kitchen, wearing sweats and nothing else, and resolutely turns his head away as Sam picks out the stitches. "I was in the HQ of Masterson Engineering," he says, without further preamble. "They're a Trust dummy corporation. Their VP of global strategy had a whole file drawer full of SGC reports. From Landry to the IOA, talking about strategies to make the Ori happy and make them go away."
Daniel looks at Teal'c. They both raise identical eyebrows -- Daniel hasn't ever liked Landry, but until recently, he's at least been reasonably sure the man could be trusted. It's easy to imagine a difference of opinion as to the best way to combat the Ori, but it's hard to imagine Landry actually passing secrets. "Could be from someone else," he says, slowly.
JD snorts, then winces as Sam pulls out a stitch that's set into the area around the worst of the swelling. "Ow, dammit, watch that. And why? Because the old man picked him? The old man's not infallible. Trust me, I know."
There's a lot of bitterness there, and Daniel wonders -- not for the first time -- what JD's been up to for the past three years. "I just think -- we need proof. Something tangible. Something that can't be coincidence."
"What, my word's not good enough for you anymore?" JD challenges. He meets Daniel's eyes, fearlessly, and Daniel can see Jack there, the Jack he used to know. The Jack he hasn't seen for a long time. Daniel had chalked it up to Jack moving to Washington, being forced into the role of the political appointee. Maybe it is. Maybe it's just that Jack's getting old. Jack shouldn't get old, but they've all done a lot of things they shouldn't in the past ten years.
"It's not that," Daniel says, feeling helpless underneath that gaze. "I just think --"
"One of the strategies in Landry's memo was turning you and Vala over to the Ori, since they want you so badly," JD says, tightly. "I have records. Financials. Couple thousand at a time, trickling in over the past seven months. Nothing big or splashy, nothing that'll ring warning bells. But Landry's taking money from the Trust. Filtered through some of their dummies, so I don't know whether he knows it's theirs or not. But he's selling intel. And he's selling it cheap, which means the money's not his primary motive. The dates of the deposits coincide with the dates on the reports I found. But Carter's got something too if my word's not enough, don't you, Carter?"
JD turns his head to face Sam; his eyes glitter as though they're in shadow even though every light in the kitchen is on. Sam's hand doesn't falter as she draws out the last of the uneven stitches. "I have cell phone records, yes," she says, quietly. "Landry to various members of the IOA, and a few unidentified numbers that I'm still trying to trace. I wouldn't consider it enough evidence to convict him. It could be legitimate business."
JD snorts. "On unsecured lines? And what do you wanna bet that those unidentified numbers belong to people in the Trust? Or whatever this group is calling themselves. This goes up high. I don't know how high, but that just means we won't have anyone we can trust enough to report it to. We're going to have to handle it ourselves, or else one of these days you and your girlfriend are just going to disappear."
Daniel holds up his hands. "Wait a minute. This isn't proof of anything. You can't suggest --"
JD pins him with a look. "Daniel," he says, softly. The voice might be younger than Daniel's ever heard it, but oh, he knows that tone. It's the "don't stand in the way of something important if it's the only way for us to get it done, Daniel" voice.
And God help him, but he actually doesn't want to argue, not the way he used to. Maybe it's because this involves his own personal safety, but if JD's right, if Landry's dirty, they're going to have to act. And if they can't trust anyone they could possibly report it to, they're going to have to get irrefutable proof and then take matters into their own hands.
Just not yet. "Jack," he says back, deliberately -- I just don't think we should be jumping to conclusions quite yet, that's all -- and JD's eyes flare again.
"If General Landry is in the employ of our enemy, we must take action," Teal'c says. "However, I do not believe it is wise for us to do so until we have obtained all the information possible."
"This may hurt," Sam says softly, as she picks up the sterile scalpel -- the contents of Daniel's medicine cabinet are odd, but they've all learned the hard way to keep useful supplies on hand. "I'm going to have to open this up a bit, let some of the infection drain."
"Do it fast," JD says, and turns his head to look away. He meets Daniel's eyes, and Daniel shivers a little, because he's seen that look a thousand times before. Just not on this face. It's the look Jack wears when he's getting ready to do something he doesn't think Daniel's going to approve of.
"What do you suggest we do?" Daniel asks.
Sam sighs. "If there's really nobody we can trust to tell --"
"I don't know who's in on it and who isn't." JD doesn't flinch as Sam slices into the infected skin with the scalpel, reaches for the gauze to blot away the blood and the pus before she starts to flush it out with antiseptic. "And I still think it's suspicious that nobody's heard from the old man."
Teal'c lifts both eyebrows. "You believe General O'Neill's unavailability is due to his having been kidnapped?"
JD looks like he wants to shrug, but is stopping himself. "Timing's suspicious, is all. If this really is a plan to get control of the SGC, to give Daniel and Vala over to the Ori in exchange for them agreeing to leave Earth alone, they'd have to get rid of the old man first. He'd never buy into it."
The timing is suspicious. Daniel pushes his glasses up his nose, sighs. Closes his eyes and tries to think. "We're going to have to try to get more information," he says, slowly. "One of us is going to have to get close enough to Landry that he'll be willing to talk. I just don't see any possible way we could be convincing. Everybody knows there's no way in hell any of you would ever agree to do something that'd endanger me."
Daniel sometimes thinks that the universe has an impeccable sense of comedic timing. That's the only possible explanation for why the sound of a key in his front door comes at that very instant. JD's chin comes up and he shoots Daniel an accusing look, even as Sam and Teal'c freeze.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck fuck. Mitchell lives ten minutes away; Daniel carpools in to work with him on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. He hadn't realized it was morning already, or close to it.
There's no escape route from the kitchen that doesn't go by the front door -- it's the one flaw in the floorplan of the apartment, and the one reason Daniel had almost passed it by -- so everyone gets to see as Mitchell comes through the door calling, "Good morning, sunshine! Rise and shine, this is your chauffeur bearing the oh-five-thirty wakeup call --"
It's almost like a farce, the way Mitchell freezes and takes in the tableau. To his credit, Mitchell doesn't start shouting immediately. He just flicks his eyes over the blood-soaked gauze on the floor, the shirtless and bleeding teenager in the kitchen chair, the rest of the team standing around and staring back at him. "Okay," he says, pretty calmly, all told. "Did I miss a text message or something?"
But Daniel's already starting to get an idea. "But he could probably be convincing," he says, finishing up his thought, and Mitchell opens his mouth to say something even as Sam nods once, slowly.
"It could work," she says.
"You're crazy," JD says. "You have no idea --"
If he's in on it or not, Daniel knows JD is thinking, but Daniel shakes his head, because there is no way in hell Mitchell's a good enough actor to have fooled them for this long. "It could work," he says. "Better than anything else we have as an option." He feels a little guilty, but Mitchell wanted SG-1, and it's about time he realized that SG-1 is more than just a badge on the shoulder and all the missions nobody's supposed to come home from.
Mitchell's looking around him like he's getting ready to bolt. "You wanna fill me on what's going on here?" he asks. "'Cause this sure as hell doesn't look so hot."
Daniel looks at Sam; Sam looks at JD, who looks back at Daniel. Daniel flicks his eyes over to Teal'c. Teal'c looks at Sam, then at JD. It takes less than a second, and it's precisely the kind of unspoken team decision they haven't been making -- at least, not in this way -- for a very long time.
SG-1, you have a go.
"Mitchell," Daniel says. "Meet JD. We've got a job for you."
It doesn't take long to convince Mitchell at all.
Daniel tells himself Mitchell agrees because he's incensed at the thought that someone might want to negotiate with the Ori instead of destroying them, and not because he wants the chance to work with SG-1 the way it used to be: before Jack let them kick him upstairs, before Daniel half-Ascended again and came back remembering this time, before Sam got screwed by internal politics and before Teal'c had his nose rubbed in the fact that his people weren't as worthy as he thought they were.
Mitchell's an idealist, is all. They were all idealists once. If he concentrates long enough, Daniel almost remembers what it used to be like.
Mitchell's better at deception than Daniel thought he would be, though. Not perfect, but it'll pass muster. Daniel sits back and watches him at work for the rest of the week: bumbling through the way he always does, either too-genial or too-hotheaded, dropping just the right comments at just the right time in briefings or in the corridors. The tension builds fast enough.
They're up to the level of screaming arguments in the commissary by Thursday. Mitchell pulls his punch when he takes a swing at Daniel; that part they'd agreed on. Daniel doesn't bother pulling his when he swings back. He remembers all the old lessons enough to connect with the heel of his palm, not his knuckles; the thump and shock of impact radiates all the way up his arm. Mitchell's eyes flash quick betrayal as he goes down, tables and chairs flying. Daniel crouches over him just as the SFs come running.
"Play it up," Daniel murmurs, and then raises his voice. "I don't know what the hell's gotten into you this week."
It takes a second for it to sink in, and then Mitchell's shoving himself up onto his elbows. "Maybe I'm just sick and tired of having to deal with you," he spits. "Maybe I'm just sick and tired of research this and babble that and all of your blind damn insistence that there's only One True Way to save Earth. Your way isn't working. The Ori are on their way and you sure as hell don't seem to be able to stop them."
He's good. Daniel might even buy it. With the bruise that's already starting to come up on Mitchell's jaw, the righteous indignation plays even better. It's why he did it; nothing at all to do with the way he's been itching to slap some of that enthusiasm straight out of Mitchell since day one. Really. "Oh, sure," Daniel says. "Let me just snap my fingers and make them go away."
The SFs are pulling them apart, dragging them both out and away, but Mitchell's got time enough to shout, "Well, they sure as hell seem to be interested in you, so maybe if we hand you over and let them do whatever the fuck they want with you, they'd leave us the fuck alone. You're supposed to have been all Ascended and all-powerful, how come you can't do something to save us before there's nothing fucking left to save?"
Even if he and Mitchell had agreed on the tactics to take ahead of time, hearing that still stings. Maybe because it echoes what Daniel tells himself in the middle of the night, when there's nobody there to keep him from trying to remember all the reasons he isn't Ascended anymore.
The SFs escort him back to his office and stand guard outside the door; God knows what they're doing with Mitchell. Landry comes knocking on the door half an hour or so later. "You wanna tell me your side?" he asks.
Daniel leans back in his chair, studies Landry's body language. He can't tell what the man's thinking, what he's heard and what he knows. "Colonel Mitchell took a swing at me. I hit back. He's been touchy all week."
Landry sighs, rocks back and forth on his heels. "It's the stress, I suppose," he says. "He's new at this. I've been a little on edge myself lately, not knowing what's coming next."
On edge enough to do something about it? Daniel wonders. He makes sure none of it shows in his voice. "I still don't think that's an excuse for telling me he wishes someone would hand me over to the Ori so maybe they'll leave Earth alone."
He's watching for it, so he's not entirely surprised to see the flicker of surprise -- and is that almost agreement? -- flashing over Landry's face. "I'll talk to him," Landry says, on a sigh. "Make him understand that's not an appropriate thing to say. You go on home early, get some rest. It'll all look better after a good night's sleep. I don't want to make a big deal out of this unless you think you can't work with him anymore."
It's amazing how something that would have been reassuring from Hammond is nothing but annoying from Landry. Daniel says something noncommittal, waits until Landry dismisses the SFs on guard and leaves. He waits a careful two hours before wandering down to Sam's lab and begging an early ride home, since he rode in with Mitchell and nobody's seen Mitchell since the incident.
Neither one of them says anything that might be overheard, but it's as though old instincts are waking up; it's been a while since Daniel could read Sam's thoughts from her eyes, but the ability's starting to come back. Let's hope Landry's trying to recruit him right now.
Let's hope he doesn't fuck it up, Daniel telegraphs right back. They've had a week to prep Mitchell, but a week's nowhere near enough time for Daniel to be comfortable with letting Mitchell loose. Jack had started coaching all of them after his undercover NID sting, in case it ever became necessary for any of them to do something similar; Jack had had years to drill The Way Things Work into their heads. Still, all they can do is hope Mitchell will manage to make it through without giving them away.
The tiny quirk at the corner of Sam's mouth probably says he's not stupid, he'll be fine. Daniel's not quite sure. Not anymore. But her expressions are starting to look familiar again.
Sam drops Daniel off and just forgets to leave. They order in a pizza -- well, two, really; JD's got a teenager's appetite the way Daniel never saw from Jack. He actually seems almost embarrassed about eating Daniel out of house and home; Daniel would call it sweet if he wasn't weirded out just a little.
Mitchell shows up around 2100, dragging his feet and looking half-sheepish, half-sullen in the hallway when Daniel opens the door to his knock. "I came to apologize to you for what went down this afternoon," he says, loudly enough that it'd carry if anyone's listening in.
They're going to have to work on him; he gives away far too much. Or else Daniel has just gotten used to being able to convey a message with nothing more than the flick of his eyes and the twist of his mouth. Either way, Mitchell's over-exaggerated chin-jerk -- which could very well read as stubbornness to anyone else and which Daniel knows is intended to convey that they're being watched -- reads as far too obvious.
"I suppose you were ordered to come apologize," Daniel says, holding to nothing more than cool annoyance. He keeps the door open just a crack, giving everyone behind him time enough to arrange themselves so they won't be visible when he lets Mitchell in. He doesn't think they, whoever "they" are, have the hallway on visual, and the Asgard anti-surveillance gear has been on in his apartment since JD first showed up. But he doesn't actually think Mitchell knows about that, and it's better to be safe than sorry.
Mitchell mimes frustration, indignation, and then reluctant assent. It's actually not entirely bad, if a bit amateurish. Daniel supposes he's just a snob about these things. "Doesn't mean I'm not sorry. Can I come in and we can talk about it?"
Daniel pretends to consider this for a few minutes, until he hears the soft whistle from the other room that says everyone's out of line-of-sight. "I suppose," he says, and holds the door open.
Mitchell stalks in and Daniel shuts the door behind him. The minute it's closed, Mitchell lifts his hand, flashes "eyes, ears" so quickly it could just be him scratching an itch.
Daniel can't help but roll his eyes. "Yes, that's obvious, so you don't need to warn for it. I assume you and Landry had a nice chat?"
Mitchell looks as though he's been hit between the eyes with a brick. "I, uh --"
"Spit it out," JD says, from the doorway. Mitchell whirls around; he should have been expecting the others to be there, but it seems to have startled him anyway. Daniel finds it fascinating to watch Mitchell and JD interact; Mitchell seems torn between dismissing him because of his apparent age and being hyper-conscious that this is, even despite appearances, one of his heroes.
"Pretty sure we're being watched," Mitchell says, as softly as possible, sticking to his caution.
"Oh, for the love of --" JD stalks into the kitchen, turns one kitchen chair around, straddles it backwards. He's moving a little better; his shoulder's healing clean this time, at least. "Of course we're being watched. We're not stupid. Surveillance doesn't work in here. I said, spit it out."
Watching the realization dawn over Mitchell's face is almost funny, Daniel thinks. He likes the guy well enough, but oh, they have to polish off some of those shiny sparkles before Mitchell drives them all insane. Mitchell looks over at Sam. "Those glitches on the security tapes, the ones you and Siler have been tearing your hair over about for years --"
Sam nods. "Asgard frequency jammer. We turn them on every now and then in the SGC to alleviate suspicion, so we don't just short out surveillance when we need to."
"And besides," JD chimes in, "it's fun to watch them panic."
Mitchell closes his eyes. Daniel can almost see him counting to ten. Daniel flicks his eyes over to JD. Be nice, we need him. JD rolls his eyes, ever-so-subtly. Doesn't mean I can't yank his chain a little.
It's Daniel's turn to steer them back on-topic, so he prods, gently, "You and Landry."
Mitchell doesn't open his eyes. His voice sounds tired. "Yeah. It was more of the conversation we had back in the cabin. About how he knows that the way we're doing things isn't working, and we're getting our asses kicked, and he sympathizes with my belief that we need another way, but I should watch what I say in public." He pauses. "He says that people are considering other ways of handling the situation. Ones I might find more -- satisfying, I think the word he used was."
There's silence for a few seconds, and the look goes around the kitchen again: Daniel looks at Sam, Sam at JD, JD back to Daniel. Daniel's still reeling -- it's one thing to consider the thought, in the abstract, that the people he's been working for for ten years are willing to consider handing him over to The Enemy. It's another thing entirely to have his nose rubbed in the fact.
"I hate to say it," Sam finally says. "But I think that might be good enough for me."
Daniel doesn't need to verbalize his agreement; he knows they can all see it. Except Mitchell, but Mitchell will go where the rest of them lead.
"So," JD says. It's got a ring of finality to it. Daniel recognizes it as the start of Jack laying out all the facts. "Money from the Trust --"
"The phone records," Sam offers.
"Could be legitimate," Daniel says. He doesn't believe it, not at all, but this is their equivalent of a trial and conviction, and every trial needs a defense advocate. Even if the trial is over someone trying to sell him; he still wants to be sure.
"Calls are too frequent," JD says. They've traced the phone numbers Landry was calling; they belong to a variety of people, from the IOA to the business world to identified Trust underlings. It's more than a little suspicious. "The conversation with Mitchell --"
"Could be innocent," Sam says. "He didn't say --"
"The Trust," Daniel says. The intel JD found there has to have gotten out of the SGC somehow. "The reports --"
"The financials," Sam says. That's the one piece they absolutely can't deny. Landry's taking money from somewhere.
"Yeah," JD says. "Yeah. Okay. Let's get started."
The whole thing takes about five seconds, tops. Mitchell's watching them like a spectator at a tennis match, and Daniel can tell he's getting about one connection in three. JD gets up, disappears into Daniel's bedroom. Digging out Daniel's cellphone to call Teal'c, Daniel knows. Of course JD knows Daniel left it in his messenger bag, dumped on the bed.
"Whoa," Mitchell says, holding up his hands. "Wait a second. Wait a second, here. What just happened? What'd I miss?"
Daniel lets Sam be the one to tell him; it'll come better from her, they all know. "We can't just let this go, Cam," she says, as gently as possible.
"Well, yeah." Mitchell's looking wild around the eyes, as though he's running along behind the train and waving for the conductor to stop it just for a minute so he can catch up. "But -- there's gotta be somebody we can call or something, right? Someone we can report this to?"
Daniel flicks his eyes to Sam. He can't really be serious, can he? He sees her answering sigh. "Anyone you trust enough to drop this in their lap?" Daniel asks, as gently as he can. "Someone in the IOA, maybe? I'd really rather not risk my life, thank you. Not to mention Vala. Again."
At least Mitchell has the good grace to wince. "Okay, yeah, dumb thought, but -- Homeworld?"
"Sure," JD says from the doorway. He smiles. It's not a nice smile. "If you want whoever's got O'Neill to make sure he's never heard from again. If they really did take him."
"Teal'c?" Sam asks.
"Twenty minutes," JD says. Drops himself back down in the chair. "Time for a plan."
There are a few points where Mitchell almost objects. Daniel can see them. But there are even more points where he just sits and stares, watching SG-1 clicking back into action, the way they used to be, the fabled SG-1 Mind Meld that he had, no doubt, dismissed as SGC legend, because he's never seen it happen around him. And it's partly because they'd lost Jack, and partly because they've all been feeling old and slow and disillusioned, and partly because they'd all grown apart, but Daniel knows that Mitchell also realizes it was mostly because they were being commanded by an outsider and not by one of their own.
But in the end, Mitchell keeps his mouth shut and his eyes open, and Daniel can see, in those eyes, his strong desperate need to be part of that connection. That teamwork.
It's okay. They can work with need. Daniel can't blame him, anyway. He's realizing now, once he has that gestalt back again, how much he'd missed it and how good it feels to have it back.
They take the whole night to plan; better to be safe than sorry. Daniel proposes waiting until Monday, to give them the entire weekend to get things in order, but Mitchell reluctantly shakes his head. "Landry said 'soon'," he says. "I don't know if we should risk it."
Daniel can't help but agree; he can stay on guard, can make sure he's not alone all weekend, but Vala's a sitting duck under the Mountain and if whoever Landry's working with or for decides the time's right, there isn't much they can do to protect her. They're not going to tell her until it's over; that much, Daniel insisted on. She's just starting to stop flinching every time someone moves too quickly around her, and he doesn't want to upset her until they're sure the danger's contained.
JD's still prowling Daniel's living room like a caged panther when Daniel finds himself smothering a yawn, after everyone's gone back home for the night to catch a few hours of sleep before being up and running far, far too early. For a minute, Daniel remembers being eighteen again, having that seemingly-boundless well of energy to draw on.
Then again, JD remembers being fifty, so it's kind of weird all around.
"Don't let me keep you up," JD says. He nods in the direction of the bedroom. "Sleep. You've been up late every night this week."
"Yeah," Daniel says, and then sighs, because he should still be able to get by on five hours when he needs to. He wonders if this was how Jack felt when they started this whole crazy ride; Jack had been about the same age Daniel is now. It would explain a lot about how cranky Jack always was. "Anyway. How's your shoulder?"
JD shrugs. "Healing."
He's been favoring it all week, but at least he isn't wincing every time he moves it now, which is something. Daniel knows he's been cutting back on the pain pills, wanting to stay alert and awake, but that's something Jack always did too. The lines are blurring; one minute JD seems exactly like Jack, one minute he's someone else entirely. Daniel's not sure which one JD would prefer.
Daniel's not sure what else he can say, what else he can offer, so instead he just makes the same statement he's made every night this week before going to sleep -- "let me know if there's anything else you need" -- and heads off to bed.
He wakes up abruptly in the middle of the night. The lights are still out, and JD is straddling his hips, leaning down over him. His body's pale in the moonlight; Daniel can see the fading bruises, the healing wounds. JD's got a hand over Daniel's mouth. They're both half-hard. Daniel sleeps naked, and JD's stripped to skin as well.
It probably says something about their lives, Daniel thinks, that his first thought is that they're under attack.
"The old man never did get off his ass and do something about this, did he," JD says. It's not a question. In the darkness, with a little bit of gravel in his voice, he almost sounds like Jack.
Daniel knows exactly what he means. He spent a good eight years always expecting the next touch -- the next moment -- to be the one that tipped them over the edge past being able to ignore their weird thing and into the realm of having to finally confront it. But time passed, and it never happened, and the last time they'd been in the same room, there'd been nothing there but a sweet soft regret and a mutual understanding that the ship had already sailed.
But JD doesn't remember that part. That had been after.
There are a hundred things Daniel could say to that, if JD would free him. If JD remembers being Jack, he'll also remember all the excuses they'd used to talk themselves out of it over and over again. (But how many of those excuses still apply? he asks himself, and then stops. Don't go there.)
He doesn't say anything. He can feel his heart beating, slow and steady, in his chest. The pressure JD's putting on his mouth, on his lips, means that he can feel the pulse there, too. If he concentrates hard enough.
"You gonna say no to doing something about it now?" JD asks. It's half a question, and half a dare.
How long, Daniel wonders, has JD been waiting to ask that question?
Fuck it. Fuck it; he's sick and tired of all of this. Tired of doing the right thing, tired of always worrying who's watching, tired of asking himself what's Good and what's Right and what he's supposed to be doing. He's given ten years of his life to should-haves and supposed-tos, and it hasn't exactly gotten him anywhere.
He shakes his head.
JD takes his hand away from Daniel's mouth. "Good," he says, softly, and then bends down further, careful to keep the weight off his injured arm.
Daniel tries to pretend JD's kiss isn't screaming mine, mine, mine over and over and over again.
Friday is harder to get through than Daniel would have expected it to be. He didn't wind up getting any real sleep at all, just a half-hour cat-nap with JD draped over his chest and dozing, and he's too keyed-up and on edge wondering if they're going to be able to pull this off.
The plan's to get Landry somewhere nobody will find him for a while, sweat him a little and try to get names and facts out of him. Ideally, a confession; at the very least, some sort of clue about what the full plan is, how they -- whoever they are -- hope to pull this off. How they think they'll be able to trust the Ori to keep their word, even if a Prior agrees to the bargain. (Or has the bargain already been arranged? Daniel can't help but shiver at the thought; how likely is it that he's been standing in the control room seeing off or welcoming back a team that had gone to negotiate for his betrayal?) Once they get something, no matter how long it takes, they'll keep Landry there until they can find someone they think is clean enough, and turn him over to them. Then they'll go find Jack. If they're lucky. If Landry knows where he is.
Sam's in charge of the transportation. JD's going to arrange the destination; he's mentioned a few abandoned properties owned by Trust companies in the area, and Daniel thinks they'll probably end up at one of them. It's the kind of irony Jack always liked the most. Teal'c manages to get into the pharmacy with no problems, but the armory's too well-monitored: no zats. They're going to have to go with their own personal weapons. Fortunately, they all have something. That's another habit they picked up from Jack.
Mitchell's job is getting Landry out of the Mountain and into the parking lot at the right time, and he does just fine. Landry's only got a few seconds to look shocked at the prick of the needle before he's crumpling over. Teal'c catches him expertly, slides him into the backseat of the SUV before climbing into the passenger seat. It's over in under thirty seconds, and to any casual observer, it would look as though Landry stumbled on his way.
They're seconds away from a clean break when Vala comes pounding into the parking lot. "General, they need you down in --"
She freezes as soon as she realizes Landry's not climbing into the car under his own volition. Daniel's behind her; he gets a hand over her mouth before she can do anything more than draw breath for a reaction. "Don't say anything," he says into her ear. He can feel her body tensing against his chest, practically sense her mind going click-click-click, before she nods once, sharply.
Sam's driving. Common sense says it should take about two and a half minutes for someone to notice the security cams are out and come investigate; any delay could spell disaster. "Into the car," Daniel says, and Vala nods again.
It's a tight fit with four in the backseat, but there's not much else they can do. Good thing they'd agreed to meet JD at the warehouse.
Sam peels out of the lot as though she's being chased by the forces of Hell, but it's all right. Sam drives like that half the time anyway.
There's silence for a few minutes, and Daniel's just ready to start explaining when Vala says, quietly, "I was trying to prove it before I brought it to you. I didn't think you'd believe me. I should have realized you'd already know."
Sam's eyes flick up to the rear-view mirror, meet Daniel's, then drop back to the road. Daniel presses the heels of his hands against his closed eyelids, watching the bursts of light flash and fade. Dammit, he'd been hoping to spare Vala. "When did you know?"
Her thigh's pressed up against his; he can feel the heat radiating off her. She always runs a few degrees warmer than anyone he's ever known. "I didn't. Not for sure. I didn't have anything tangible, just a sense. After I was taken, I thought --" Her voice catches, and he imagines she's looking over at Mitchell, at Landry. "I thought Colonel Mitchell was part of it. Especially given the amount of time he's spent with the General this week, and the fight you had yesterday. When I saw them leaving, I had to come up with some reason to follow --"
"That was stupid," Daniel says quietly. "If they had been conspiring, you'd have disappeared again, and we wouldn't have been able to find you this time."
Her shoulders jerk; he can feel it. "Well, I couldn't think of anything else I could do --"
"Never mind," Daniel says. He lets his hands drop, opens his eyes again. "Teal'c? Any pursuit?"
"I do not see anyone," Teal'c says from the passenger seat.
Daniel nods. "Okay. Let's do this, then."
JD's eyes narrow when he sees Vala. "Hitchhiker?"
"Change of plans," Daniel says shortly, pushing past him and helping Teal'c get Landry out of the backseat. Landry started to stir a few minutes ago, and they need to secure him before he shakes off the sedative entirely.
Vala's studying JD with bright eyes. "I know you," she says, suddenly, then stops and frowns. "I think." They hadn't had time to brief her in the car, not fully. Just the high points. But she's a bright girl whose ability to remember people, to evaluate and manipulate and con them, has ensured her survival for years. She'd only met Jack during that whole TV fiasco, but Daniel knew she'd probably stored every small detail about him in that steel-trap mind of hers, ready to be called up if it ever became useful.
"No," JD says. "You really don't." His tone is final, and he strides over to help tie Landry to the chair.
Sam touches her fingers to Vala's elbow, lightly. Pulls her off to the side to explain in a low voice. Sam and Vala have bonded, Daniel knows; he lets Sam deal with it. Vala trusts him, chases after his approval, but she likes Sam, and that's more useful right now.
"I still don't like this," Mitchell says, at his elbow. "What if something goes wrong? We're not exactly going to be able to explain kidnapping a superior officer --"
Daniel blows out a breath, halfway to a sigh. Was he ever this annoying? If so, he really needs to apologize to Jack. "If this goes bad, they'll call it alien influence again. Or brainwashing. Or drugs. They won't look too deeply." They never do.
Mitchell recoils, slightly. "You mean --"
Daniel turns around to stare at him. Something in his face must show, because Mitchell stops in mid-sentence. "We're SG-1," he says, and he knows it's coming out as though he's speaking to a very small, very slow child, despite all his efforts to have patience. It isn't Mitchell's fault this is his first time. "It's how they always explain it."
He can see the realization dawning across Mitchell's face, see the minute it all clicks into place. Mitchell's going through the mental file he keeps, Daniel knows. Pulling out all the times when SG-1 did something insane or idiotic and never got sanctioned for it. Pulling out all the outrageous things explained away by a thousand excuses, and wondering how many of those excuses were trumped-up after the fact to keep them out of hot water and in the way of danger. Wondering how many other things were just quietly left out of the reports, never set down, never documented.
People are willing to forgive a lot in their heroes, Daniel thinks; it buys a great deal of leeway. It's because smart people realize that there aren't very many people who are heroic enough -- or stupid enough, same thing -- to keep coming back and painting giant targets on their chests, stepping into the line of fire to shield everyone else. He and Sam and Teal'c are going to have to work on explaining it to Mitchell a little bit better once they're through all this; Mitchell's still trying to hold on too tightly to the "right" way of doing things.
Landry's nearly conscious by now. JD snaps his fingers; Daniel strides over, takes up his place. Landry's right side, just far enough over that he'll be in the corner of Landry's vision, so Landry will have to turn his head to face Daniel full-on. Sam takes the left, Vala behind her. It's a subtle piece of psychological maneuvering, intended to keep Landry off-guard; he won't be able to see all of them at once. Teal'c takes the left rear flank, JD takes the right. Landry won't be able to see either of them, but if he's got good enough senses, he'll be able to tell there are people there. It'll put him even further off his stride.
"But if you don't want to take the risk," Daniel says to Mitchell, very quietly, "you'd better get out of sight now."
Mitchell hesitates for a minute, and then his jaw firms. He looks around, as though trying to figure out where to stand, and finally seems to decide that behind Daniel is as good a place as any.
Landry stirs again, groans a little. Daniel makes his voice as cold as it gets. "Stop pretending. We know you're awake."
Watching Landry realize what's going on is almost amusing. His head snaps up; his eyes widen as he takes in Daniel with Mitchell at his back, then turns his head to look at Sam and Vala. Tests his hands, finds them bound; pulls at the rope around his feet. Daniel can see the mental addition: two plus two equals four, SG-1 is a five-person team. Landry turns as far as he can, cranes his head in both directions behind him, but JD's got him trussed with a loop of rope around his throat, and pulling too far nearly chokes him. He subsides, lets his eyes flick around him. Daniel can spot the exact second Landry spots where they are -- abandoned Trust warehouse, the kind of property they keep in reserve for interrogations and other unpleasantries. That's what eases Daniel's last, well-buried doubt.
Sam sees that recognition too. "I see you know where we are," she says. Her tone's almost sweet. They're slipping back into the rhythms, maybe for good this time. She can follow Daniel's lead easily enough, and it's been a while since he was bad cop. "When was the last time you were here?"
Landry wets his lips, nervously. "I don't have any idea what you're talking about."
"Wrong answer," Daniel says.
Landry whips his head around to look at Daniel again. "Dr. Jackson -- Colonel. Colonels. Vala. I don't know what's going on. If there's something wrong --"
Daniel's startled when Mitchell speaks up, but not really surprised. Not completely. Mitchell thinks well enough on his feet when he has to, and knows the importance of presenting a unified front. Maybe he guesses in for a penny, in for a pound. "Yeah, I'd say there's something wrong. How long you been planning on selling us out?"
Strangely, that almost seems to relax Landry; his shoulders go slack, his head bows. "You've finally snapped," he tries. "It's the stress. If you untie me, we can go back and forget about all of this --"
Daniel and Sam both look at Teal'c at the same minute; all three of them look at JD. Daniel can see Landry following their eyes, see the realization that there's not one but two people behind him, see the frisson of unease that sends through him. JD nods. Daniel looks at Sam -- you? Sam shrugs, flicks her fingers in an offhand gesture that means You're bad cop. Yeah, good point.
Daniel steps forward and backhands Landry. It's almost a little disturbing how satisfying it is; he hadn't realized how much resentment he'd been harboring against the man for not being Hammond. For not being Jack. When he adds in the thought that Landry's apparently been considering selling him and Vala down the river, it's really not surprising that Daniel wants to hit him again, but he refrains. Landry's head jerks with the impact, and Daniel can see him probing his teeth and the side of his jaw with his tongue. "We're really not as stupid as you apparently think we are," Daniel says, trying to match Sam's pleasantness. Good cop/bad cop works better when it's stable cop/unstable cop instead. "How long?"
Landry's pupils are starting to dilate, his breath starting to grow more rapid. Daniel's close enough to smell his rising fear. "I don't --"
Teal'c knows his cue. "I do not believe he will be forthcoming, Daniel Jackson. Perhaps we should employ alternate methods of interrogation."
There's always something disturbing about having a voice that clear and dangerous coming out of nowhere. They've used the trick to good effect before. Daniel makes his face casual, shrugs one shoulder. "Maybe you're right. Vala, did you bring the ribbon device, or should we do this the old-fashioned way?"
He can see Vala's surprise, but she covers it well enough and saunters forward as though they'd planned it all along. He'd figured he could trust her to catch the ball if he threw it. "Left it in my other jeans," she says, examining her fingernails as though bored. "I do remember some techniques, though. Are you sure you don't want Teal'c to do it, though? I just had this manicure done; I'd hate to chip the polish."
Landry flinches. "I don't know what you mean," he tries again. But Daniel knows the difference between innocent fear and guilty fear, and Landry's shame is written across his face when he looks at Daniel.
"I don't like it when people contemplate selling me to the enemy," Daniel says. "I don't think Vala likes it, either. We have enough to prove it. You can explain what you were thinking, or we can kill you. It's really up to you."
He always feels like a B-movie supervillain when he says something like that; it's the kind of line that really calls for a mustache to twirl and an evil cackle. But Landry seems to take him seriously, and that's enough.
"Start at the beginning," Sam says. "You can stop talking when you run out of things to tell us."
It takes them a while to break Landry down, and Daniel's actually starting to think they might have made a mistake by the second hour or so. In the end, Daniel thinks, it might be the fact that Landry can feel the weight of JD's eyes on his neck, constantly watching, never saying a word, that tips Landry over the edge.
He'd been approached five months ago, Landry finally explains. Right after the Ori fleet incursion, right after Vala had given birth and then come back to them. A delegation composed of half Trust, half IOA members had come to him, laid out a plan, floated the idea of a bargain with the Ori that would allow Earth to continue unmolested while the Ori could have the rest of the galaxy as their own. In exchange, Earth would give up Vala, whom the Ori wanted because she was Adria's mother, and Daniel, whom the Ori wanted -- well, no one seems to know why the Ori want Daniel, but Daniel can make a few guesses, and they start with Oma Desala and end naked on a planet halfway across the galaxy.
"They said you wouldn't be harmed," Landry says, his eyes a little wild around the edges. "They said --"
"And you believed them," Daniel says. He's mostly just tired by now: tired because he hasn't slept, tired because they're staring at a whole hell of a lot of cleanup, tired because he would have thought someone would have realized by now that paying Danegeld is just the same stupid mistake over and over and over again.
Sam flashes him a look, takes over. She's tired too, Daniel can tell, but she isn't taking this as personally as he is. She's pissed too, but she can hide it better. "General O'Neill," she says. "What did you do with him?"
"I don't know," Landry repeats, and they're back to the questions again.
They get some names, but not many. A few dates -- Daniel's shocked to discover the tentative plan called for him to be taken by a team from the Trust on Sunday. Mitchell flips him a look at that revelation, and Daniel's glad they decided to move fast instead of letting this go. He's still not entirely sure what made Landry think this plan would work, but maybe JD was right, way back when; maybe the stress of knowing the fate of the world, of the galaxy, rested on his shoulders broke Landry down.
Daniel can't find too much sympathy, really. The fate of the world's been resting on his shoulders for ten years, and he's never betrayed anyone to uphold it. Not exactly, anyway. All his betrayals have been on a smaller scale.
After a while, they don't even need the intimidation techniques anymore; Vala sits down on the stone floor of the warehouse, Mitchell leans against the side of the SUV, Teal'c comes around and plants himself against the wall with arms folded across his chest. Daniel and Sam pass the questions back and forth, line by line, but by now it's almost as though Landry wants to talk, wants to unburden himself.
JD watches the whole thing from where he's leaning against the wall behind Landry, still out of Landry's field of vision. He hasn't said a word, but there's a quiet pride lurking in his eyes that Daniel wonders if Sam can see too. He -- Jack -- taught them well. At first they'd thought he'd just been paranoid. Then all that training had started to come in useful. You never know when you'll have to interrogate someone, Daniel supposes.
There's one question Daniel's willing to believe Landry isn't holding back on, honestly doesn't know the answer to, and that's where Jack is. He's telling them everything else, even if it takes a few promptings. He's cooperating. He's cooperating so much, in fact, that it takes all of them by surprise when he finally moves.
It happens in a heartbeat. Sam's pacing back and forth in front of him, throwing questions at him, when suddenly he's out of the chair, trailing ropes behind him -- how the fuck he managed to get out of the restraints, Daniel has no clue; he would have thought JD would use cuffs or zipties instead of rope, but he doesn't have time to wonder about that right now -- and lunging for her. Before anyone can blink, he's got Sam's weapon out of her tac holster and is snaking an arm around her throat to pull her back as a shield. Daniel didn't think the old man could move that fast. Teal'c's already lunging forward, and Sam doesn't hesitate, just drives an elbow into Landry's gut so quickly it could be reflex. He manages to stay standing, but it loosens his grip enough that Sam can get free. She dives out of the way, pure instinct, knowing someone has her covered --
Daniel's bullet catches Landry directly in the heart. Textbook shot. Landry's on the ground before more than ten seconds have passed.
Daniel always forgets how loud gunfire is until it's too late. The sound echoes through the empty warehouse, rattling around the rafters, making his ears ring in the sudden quiet.
JD's the first to speak. "That could have gone better."
Daniel's anger crashes down on him, followed a second later by the guilt that always comes when he has no choice but to commit violence. Followed by the creeping, numb realization of just how fucked they really are right now.
Sam pushes herself up from the floor; she'd crashed into Vala, who stumbles up to her feet as well. Vala's shaking, Daniel notices. Just a little, in the knees and the elbows. Mitchell opens his mouth. Closes it again. Says, very quietly, "Fuck."
Which about sums it up. Daniel looks down at the weapon in his hand like they both, hand and weapon, belong to someone else. Carefully, calmly, he flicks the safety back on, stows it back in its holster. Teal'c bends down, picks up Sam's weapon from where Landry dropped it -- just as carefully, avoiding the puddle of blood beginning to form on the ground -- and hands it back to her. She takes it from him.
"What the hell did he do that for?" Mitchell demands. He's still staring down at the body on the floor, as though he's trying to make sense of things. "How the hell did he get loose? Where did he think he was going?"
Sam slides her weapon back into her holster, scrubs her hands over her face. "Out. Away. Before he gave something up, before we got too close to something he didn't want to give us. Maybe he just realized what he was saying. Maybe he thought he could actually overpower us, get away. I don't know." She throws a frantic look at JD. "Sir --"
It slips out, Daniel can tell, without her intending it to. Habit. Reflex.
"We have to move," JD says. He starts to gather the rope, tosses the chair in the back of the SUV. Anything they touched, Daniel realizes. Anything that might have fingerprints or skin cells or trace evidence of their presence. They touched Landry a few times, but they'll just have to hope they didn't leave enough trace. "Fast. We're in the middle of nowhere, but someone still might have heard that."
Mitchell's looking wild around the eyes. "We have to -- we have to tell someone, we have to turn ourselves in -- if we explain --"
JD shoots him a look -- it's a variation on the 'don't be stupid, Daniel' look Daniel's seen a thousand times before. Don't be stupid, Mitchell. JD opens his mouth to say something, but Vala gets there first. Her eyes are dark in contrast to her pale face, but her voice is steady. "We still don't have enough proof. Not hard evidence, I mean. We have hearsay, but Daniel just shot our main witness."
Daniel breathes deeply. "He was about to --"
"Shut it," JD says. "She's not blaming you." JD's staring at Vala; his face is curiously detached, as though he's evaluating her sincerity. He looks at Daniel, reads Daniel's opinion of her as easily as he'd read a book. "Come on. Let's go."
"Where?" Mitchell asks. Daniel can hear the incipient hysteria building. It makes him want to give Mitchell another good crack across the face; they don't have time for this. Daniel has, at least, learned over the years how to save his breakdown until the immediate crisis is over. "And what do you plan on doing?"
"We still don't know who we can trust," Vala says. "And we still need proof. And -- General O'Neill --"
Yes, Daniel thinks; Vala understands what it's like to have no one believe you. There'll be six in the SUV again, but not the six they came with. Daniel takes another deep breath. Later. He'll freak out later. "You know where we're going?" he asks JD.
JD nods. "Plan C. Move."
Mitchell steps back. "Guys, this is crazy, this is over the line --"
"Cam." Sam brushes his elbow with her fingers as she moves past him, leans in to say something in his ear. Whatever it is, it makes Mitchell's face change, smooth out just a little. Enough. Mitchell takes a deep breath.
They really, really don't have time for this, but if Mitchell's going to break, better he break now. If he breaks later, somewhere they couldn't abandon him if they had to, it might fuck everything up. But right now, they've got a world to save from the bad guys. Again. "He said move," Daniel says to Mitchell and climbs into the SUV. He's almost a little surprised when Mitchell actually follows.
They're going to have to disappear for a while, Daniel knows. Lay low at least until they can root out who else might be behind this. They've got some names, but Daniel knows better than to think they have all of them. He's already ticking over faces of the people connected to those names in his head, wondering who else might be connected. He's not the only one. He can feel their brains humming around him, slipping back into the old familiar wavelengths, pondering the best way to approach people and who they're going to have to kidnap next.
It's fortunate Vala stumbled into this; they would have had to go back to get her if she hadn't, in order to keep her safe, and that might have gotten them caught. They're going to have to avoid the SGC for a good long while. And Vala's got a lot of experience in subterfuge that might prove useful. She and JD together, if they can manage to trust each other enough, will probably be able to come up with as close to foolproof an idea as possible.
They'll get to wherever JD has in mind, and they'll lay out the possibilities, and by then JD will have a plan. Jack always had a plan, and JD is Jack, at least in all the ways that count. And then they'll deal with Mitchell -- Daniel's already got a section of his brain working on the problem, which buttons to push. It'll help that Mitchell wants this, wants SG-1, so badly, even if he's having a little trouble with some of the smaller details of what SG-1 can be.
And then Daniel will go off somewhere and shake for a long, long time, replay the whole day in his head and poke at it from every angle to see if there was any other way it could have gone down, and Sam or Teal'c or JD will come find him after he's had enough time to work through the worst of it and pull him back in. It'll probably be JD. It always used to be -- always used to be Jack -- even before Jack became JD and JD broke the habit of years and actually touched Daniel, let Daniel touch him. JD -- Jack -- takes care of people. And then they'll go out, and they'll handle the rest of this, and they'll find Jack, and they'll bust who they can bust and kill who they have to kill and wrap it all up neat and tidy and find someone to handle the rest.
They'll find the right lies to tell to get themselves off the hook, clear the way for them to save the world again next week. Same song, thousandth verse. Maybe this time he'll get through it without dying. If he's lucky. If it works. And if it doesn't work, they'll all be dead anyway. At this point, there isn't much left to lose.
Funny how familiar it feels. It's a shame about Landry, though. Daniel hadn't liked him, not at all, but he always wakes up screaming from nightmares for weeks after he has to kill someone. And it would have been nice to have someone who could testify if they needed him to.
(Thor beams General O'Neill back down directly to his office, bypassing the Pentagon's security detail and saving him a few minutes of hassle and irritation. He'd been beamed up the same way, five weeks back. Jack always looks forward to signing out after those long gaps, taking pleasure in the look on the guards' faces as they try to figure out whether or not he really has been sleeping under his desk and raiding the cafeteria for weeks at a time. It's about the only pleasure he gets out of his new life, so he makes it last.
But it was worth it this time; the Asgard are close to coming around on the Ori threat, about to decide that yes, it is something they should bother worrying their little grey heads over. Jack considers it work well done. Still, he's looking forward to a beer and a pizza -- God, real food again -- and a shower, using real water, instead of those sonic things the Asgard use. Life on an Asgard cruiser is a little short on the creature comforts.
He's barely had time to take off his cap before his aide's rushing through the door with one hell of a story. Landry's dead; they found the body yesterday. SG-1's missing, and nobody's heard hide nor hair of them. The SGC's in turmoil; nobody has any clue what the hell's going on, nobody knows what to do next, and welcome back, General sir, could you please make the world stop falling to hell?
He's still trying to make sense out of the situation, still trying to piece together some kind of coherent timeline, still trying to push worry for his kids out of his head, when his phone rings. He picks it up automatically, without even thinking about it. "O'Neill," he says, hoping it's a familiar voice.
"Hell of a mess, isn't it, General?"
The voice is familiar, but it takes him a minute to realize why. He's not used to what his own voice sounds like when it comes from outside his head. "Where are you?" Jack asks. "What do you know?" Why did you call now?
"I know that you've got a conspiracy among Homeworld, the IOA, and the Trust," his other self says. "I know I was smart enough to find it, and you were too stupid to see what was under your nose. I know I was going to use it to get revenge, ruin all of your lives like you all ruined mine. But you know, I got here to start luring them in, and as soon as I saw them again, I realized it wasn't their fault. It was yours. So now the mess is all yours to clean up. If we don't get to it first."
It takes a minute to sink in. "They're with you," Jack says, slowly. On the one hand, it's a relief: at least they're safe. On the other --
"Right in one," his other self says. Jack knows that fucking tone. It's glee. "Daniel's beautiful when he's naked, isn't he? Oh, wait, you wouldn't know. Just another thing you moved too slowly on."
The fury crashes into Jack like an eighteen-wheeler slamming into a VW bug, but the fucking kid's still talking. "Good luck figuring out who's in on the conspiracy and who's not. If you're smart, you'll sit back and let us handle it, if you know what's good for you. Wouldn't want to say something to the wrong person and run the risk of disappearing for good. I wouldn't cry, but they would. And I'd hate to hurt my team."
"You little shit," Jack says, clutching the edge of his desk. Trying to think. He catches up with himself enough to remember to push the button that'll start a trace on the call.
"You should know. Landry was dirty, General. Planning on selling Daniel to the Ori --"
"What?" Jack's heart stops, but the kid's not lying. He knows the sound of a lie from his own lips, and he doesn't think the kid's good enough to have learned better. Dammit. Not Hank. He'd picked Hank out to take care of his kids.
Who are missing. Who are, apparently, with the kid. Safe and sound. And naked. No, don't think about that.
The kid snickers. "Thought that might get your attention. Find out who else is in on it. If you're smart enough. If you get stuck, follow the trail of dead bodies. I'm pretty sure we're going to have to leave a lot of them. Maybe by the end of it, our kids will believe me if I say that you're the one behind it all, and then I can be the only Jack O'Neill left."
The phone clicks before Jack can say anything else, and he's left holding the receiver, knowing there wasn't enough time for the trace to complete, knowing himself well enough to know that the call would have come from a pay phone far enough away from wherever they're hiding that it wouldn't be useful anyway.
Fuck. Fucking flaming hell. He should have seen this coming. He should have known. He should have realized that if it had been him -- and the little shit is him, in all the ways that count -- he wouldn't have just rolled over and walked away either.
Jack sits there for a very long time. He thinks about the part of him that understands vengeance, and the part of him that always chafed against the rules, and the part of him that had contemplated, so many times, how much easier it would be if he could forget about oaths and think about expediency. The part of him that always knew how easy it would be to capture the team's loyalty for himself, and not for the ideal and the goal. The part of him that, once upon a time, would have done anything to keep them. To get them back.
Then he thinks about what he's always known the team would be capable of, if he'd just given them the right nudges. What sort of damage they could do, how far down they could go, if they thought they were doing it for the right reasons. And this would be the right reason. If it's true. If the kid's not lying.
He doesn't think the little shit's lying.
When he finally moves, it's to pick up the phone and start giving orders. He's amazed at how calm his voice can stay. He knows where he would hide. How he would do this. It'll have to be a good enough place to start looking.
The little shit has a head start, but Jack's not willing to give up yet.)