manips by Darcy

Had Sam gotten a hair cut, Daniel wondered as he doodled in the side margins of his notebook.  He checked his watch and frowned, it was nowhere near as long as it felt.  This had to be the most... dare he even think it?... boring briefing in the history of the SGC.  Landry was going over paperwork; budget forms, changes in requisition procedures, updated loss control measures.  What?  Someone was taking home Air Force toilet paper?

He repressed a smile.  A briefing in the war room at Stargate Command was boring? Yeah, wrap your head around that concept, Jackson.  He could hear Mitchell’s voice in his head like he used to hear Jack’s.  It was weird being at the SGC without Earth being under the imminent threat of enemy attacks.

Sam caught his eye, smiling at his line drawing.  He pointed to his own hair to acknowledge hers.  She winked, pretending to fluff it and he gave her a thumbs up.  She must be as bored as he was, Daniel decided, missing the glare Landry shot at both of them. 

Sam, however, subsided instantly, folding her hands on the table and turning her gaze up to the general with every evidence of earnestness. 

Daniel wanted to shout out the irony of it all, but a glance around the table convinced him it would be wiser to keep his mouth shut.  Landry was all business, droning on about the necessity of department heads filling out the new financial statements correctly.  Daniel could do financial statements in his sleep, new or not.  They still wanted the same information, still in triplicate, like everything in the military.  They just wanted it in different places.  He swallowed a yawn and tried to pretend to look interested, but his gaze wandered to his teammates. 

Mitchell was his usual focused self; ever vigilant, lead by example, professional soldier and team leader.  Even Vala seemed more interested than he or Sam.  Teal’c sat with his hands folded on the table and his eyes on the general.  Whether by design or accident, Sam had copied his pose exactly.  It was difficult to get an accurate read on the Jaffa.  Daniel momentarily wished he could see past the stoic demeanor and into the big guy’s head, though admittedly that might be a scary place to be. 

What a difference twelve years made.  Old enemies were gone, for the time being at least, and any new enemies lurking out there had yet to become a serious threat.  Earth’s David and Goliath journey had been as improbable as it was amazing.

In the beginning, defeating the Goa’uld had seemed impossible.  They’d been around for thousands of years prior to the existence of Earth’s population.  But the proof was in the pudding; the powerful alliance of the System Lords was broken, kaput, finished.  The Goa’uld would never recover from the blow the Tau’ri had dealt them.  

The replicators had come within a hair’s breadth of devouring every resource, living and otherwise on the planet.  Daniel shuddered at the memory of his fierce battle of wills with evil, replicator Sam.  It seemed dreamlike now, as if it had happened a lifetime ago.  Then again, it had been four years, he realized.  In SGC time, that was a lifetime ago.

Most recently the Ori had presented perhaps the biggest challenge of all with their bogus miracles and false promises of spiritual enlightenment.  If the Ori had reached Earth, Daniel had no doubt much of the planet would have fallen to its collective knees and worshiped at the feet of the powerful beings. They were that convincing.  

There had been other enemies over the years, but those were the top three on his personal ‘greatest hits’ chart.  As if possessed, his pen started scratching names on the legal pad:  Euronda, a computer on P3X-389, the mimetic aliens, the Re’tu.  They’d made such fierce enemies of the Bedrosians, Nyan had never been able to return home.  Daniel lifted the pen with a silent, derisive snort.  All small potatoes in the scheme of things, at least compared to the top three.  

They had every reason to celebrate briefings where the fate of the planet didn’t hang in the balance.  So what if they were boring?

Still doodling, Daniel acknowledged that for him, celebrating was difficult. To celebrate the present meant remembering the past and the past conjured up too many ghosts, not the least of which was the innocence and joy that had been Abydos.

The loss of his wife’s playful, teasing nature combined with her unparalleled compassion and beauty had left a hole in his core that would never be filled. The intensity of their love and happiness had been a once-in-a-lifetime deal and Daniel worked very hard at being grateful for the uniqueness of it when the loss threatened to overwhelm him.  There had been other losses at the SGC as well, Janet, Jacob, Robert, Elliot, Barber: the list of the dead was endless.  But it was a source of pride to everyone on the base that their deaths hadn’t been in vain. 

For the first time in a long time Daniel felt stirrings of pride in the knowledge that he, along with everyone seated around this table, had played a major role in making the hope of Earth’s freedom and survival a reality against technologically superior enemies. 

Of course, thinking of old enemies reminded him of old friends.

Jack should be here. The colonel – no, that was the general now – would never sit quietly through a briefing this lackluster.  Daniel struggled not to laugh.  His friend’s antics at countless briefings over the years were legendary at the SGC. Jack’s voice replayed in his head.  Okay. Everyone who thinks this is an absolutely insane idea, raise your hand.  Come on, be honest.   Followed by General Hammond’s, Keep your hands up, people, because the next question is who is going to make this happen?

Lots of their ideas had been insane, but planet Earth still rotated on its axis, orbiting the sun as had been ordained at its inception.  So they’d done something right. 

There was no doubt Jack had a unique command style.  He was a leader in every sense of the word and saw no need to ram that fact down everyone’s throat.  He didn’t need to demand respect, it came naturally to those under his command.  Daniel had come to rely on Jack’s gut instincts as much as any weapon or technology.  Jack’s prowess as a military leader and strategist, while brilliant, had been no surprise. What had surprised Daniel was the man’s protective nature, his ability to not only assess situations, but to read and connect with people, his loyalty to Earth, and his no fanfare aspiration to live up to the best principles of the military code.  

Jack brought out the best in every man and woman on the base, military and civilian alike. Those who’d had the honor of serving under his command swapped exaggerated tales and bragged to the incoming personnel who hadn’t met the legendary general.  But in Daniel’s eyes, Jack O’Neill’s finest attribute was his ability to get the job done without concern for who received the credit. 

A rare man indeed.      

Jack was still missed.  And Jack being Jack could never have managed to keep his sarcastic tongue in check through this yawner of a briefing.

Daniel sighed. He was way too young and had more important things to do than stroll down memory lane.  It was a quiet time for Earth.  Great! Terrific!  It probably wouldn’t last so he needed to take full advantage of it and work on all the things he’d put on hold for the past ten years.  And he would – if this damn meeting ever broke up.

The only interesting part had been Vala’s brief synopsis of how Chenzira, Ba’al’s host, was coping with his recent freedom.  An odd flicker of a shadow had swept across the landscape of his mind as she’d mentioned the host’s reticence to talk about his feelings, or the strangeness of living solitarily in a body he’d shared for eons.  Vala had shuddered at one point, as though the shadow had passed through him and into her.  He would have sworn, in the moment, it passed through all of them; a wraith, feeding on the soul instead of the body.  Sitting here an hour later, the chill of the moment warmed by the longevity of being forced into stillness for this length of time, he thought maybe – out of sheer boredom – his imagination had been playing tricks. 

Vala’s summary had been short and sweet, unlike Landry’s, who was still tediously nattering on about things that held no interest for Daniel.  He couldn’t wait to get back to his office and work on some of the really cool stuff that had been coming through the Stargate.  The puzzle Nyan had recently sent was most intriguing.  

Daniel jumped when Landry slapped a clutch of envelopes down on the table.  For a second he felt like a kid again, caught daydreaming in math class.  He’d hated math with a passion in school; didn’t care for it much now either.  Except now, he had Sam to solve those problems for him. 

“What are those, sir?” Mitchell asked.

“Airline tickets.”  Landry looked directly at Daniel.  “The president has requested your presence in Washington.”

“There’s only three tickets,” Vala astutely pointed out.

“That’s because only three of you are going.”

Daniel breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t want to go to Washington, he wanted to stay right here and work on one of those hundreds of projects.

Vala scooped up a ticket, pressing it dramatically to her chest.  “Well, I’m going,” she announced. “Will there be liquor?”

“You’re not going,” the general countered in a tone that brooked no argument.  “The presence of the senior members of SG-1 has been requested, that would be Colonel Carter, Dr. Jackson and Teal’c.”

Mitchell pushed the remaining two envelopes toward Sam and Teal’c.  Daniel was relieved it appeared Vala wasn’t giving up on the trip without a fight.  Maybe he could still get out of this. 

“What will be the purpose of our visit?”  Teal’c raised an eyebrow as he picked up the envelope Mitchell had thrust his way.

“I’m glad you asked, Teal’c. You, the colonel and the good doctor will be in Washington to receive commendations for your work at the SGC.  Basically for saving the planet...” The general started ticking off fingers, but gave up at five.  “Never mind, I’ve lost count.” 

“We have saved this world eight times, General Landry.”  Teal’c bowed slightly.

“Thank you, Teal’c.”

“I’ve saved the world and I want to go, too.” Vala made her case.

“She can take my place,” Daniel piped up.  “Besides, I’ve only saved the world seven times.  I wasn’t there when Jack, Sam and Teal’c were on Thor’s ship full of replicators. Appendicitis.”  His lopsided smile was anything but sweet.

“I do believe your battle with the replicator in the form of Colonel Carter was essential to saving Earth, Daniel Jackson.” 

“Thanks, Teal’c.” Daniel gave him the evil eye and took his envelope from Vala who had industriously slit it with a fingernail and was busily going through the documents she’d drawn out.  He took those too. 

“Tomorrow?  We’re supposed to leave tomorrow?” he exploded indignantly.  “You’ve got to be kidding!” He was scanning the missive incredulously.  “We’re expected to drop everything at an instant’s notice and jump on a plane to Washington because they want to give us medals?”  First class tickets had fallen out of the envelope onto the table top.  “Whose idea was this?  I don’t have time for this and I’m not going.”

General Landry folded his arms over the back of the chair at the head of the table and stared him down.

“Sir,” Daniel began.

Landry put up a single finger, shutting Daniel down, though it took only a moment to register the fact that this wasn’t Jack.  That finger had far less authority than Jack’s – who’d earned his right to silence the archaeologist the hard way.  “Sir-” he began again, but was drowned out by Vala’s insistent tones.

“I don’t understand why Cameron and I aren’t invited, General Landry.  Can’t we at least go to the ceremony?  Support our friends and all, you know?” And in a whispered aside to Daniel, “And have a jolly good time in the process.”

“Did the words, senior members of SG-1 escape your notice, Miss Mal Doran?”  Landry queried politely.

“Well, I suppose they did.”  No one suppressed Vala for long. “But isn’t that beside the point?  What are medals and why wouldn’t you want to go, Daniel?”

“They’re usually a piece of metal dangling from a ribbon; they’re good for gathering dust and sometimes prestige, but little else,” Daniel replied, pushing back from the table.  “Are we done here, sir?”

“Not quite, Dr. Jackson.”  Landry pinned him in his seat with a raised eyebrow.  “You will be picked up at your respective residences tomorrow morning at 0430 and taken to the Denver airport.  The top brass have gone to a lot of trouble to keep this quiet for as long as possible, they don’t want a repeat of the ’98 fiasco.  You’ll be met in D.C. by one of General O’Neill’s aides and taken to your hotel, where you will be picked up Friday morning and delivered to the White House prior to the ceremony.  You’ll return home Monday afternoon.  Any questions?”

Vala raised her hand.  “Are they made of precious metals?”

“Gold,” Landry supplied succinctly.  “If there are no other questions, I have other things requiring my attention.  You people are dismissed.  Colonel Carter, Teal’c, Dr. Jackson, give my regards to General O’Neill and I’ll see the three of you next Tuesday.  Mitchell, the X303 coordinator asked to see you as soon as we were done with this briefing.  Vala-” he’d been about to say, take the weekend off, but if he let her out of his sight, she’d likely follow the trio to Washington, and Dr. Jackson’s credit card had been abused enough. Plus, Jack had specifically asked that the loose cannon that was Vala Mal Doran be contained for the duration of the weekend.  “I have a project I need you to undertake for me.”  He glanced at his watch, repressing a sigh.  “I’ll be available in about 45 minutes to discuss it with you.”

That peaked her interest. “What sort of project, General?”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”  Landry turned away before she caught him rolling his eyes.  He’d have to put Walter on the trail of a project that would keep her occupied for the next 72 hours.  “Oh, by the way,” he turned back.  “General O’Neill asked me to relay to all of you that he expects you to come back rejuvenated from this little trip, so take the time to relax and enjoy yourselves.  No taking work along.”

Landry frowned at Daniel’s inarticulate growl.  “You have something else to say, Dr. Jackson?”

“Yes, I do, sir.  I want it on record that I object to being ordered to Washington when there are far more important things I should be doing here.  If I have to go, it will be against my will – sir,” he added as an afterthought.

“So noted, Dr. Jackson.  Against your will or not – you’re going.  Don’t make my driver come in and drag you out of bed.  It won’t be pleasant for either of you.”  General Landry exited the briefing room with more verve than grace.  Arguing with the garrulous linguist was not his idea of a good time.

“Congratulations,” Mitchell offered, pushing back from the table to stand up.  He extended a hand to Sam, who was already standing beside him.  “Colonel,” he grinned.  “You’ve done a damn fine job, ma’am. I’m glad someone recognizes your contributions.  Teal’c.”  He reached around Sam to clasp hands with the Jaffa.  “Haven’t we saved the world once or twice more since you told me it was eight times?  Congratulations, my man.  It’s well deserved.”  Turning, he stretched slightly to reach across the table.  “Come on, Jackson, this is a singular honor.  It puts you up there among the distinguished few in our country’s service.”

Daniel grimaced.  “Goody.”  He returned the handshake less than enthusiastically.  “Becoming distinguished has never been a high priority in my book.”

“Yeah, well, living large may not be your style, but it can be pleasant every now and again.  Try to relax and enjoy it; go with the flow, brother,” Mitchell admonished.  “All work and no play makes Jackson a dull boy.”

Daniel growled again but stayed quiet.  Clearly he was in the minority.  Sam and Teal’c were both beaming, as much as Jaffa could beam.  Singular honor or not, if there was a way he could weasel out of this, he’d find it. 

Grabbing a cup of coffee-to-go, Daniel headed for his office.  A foot high stack of documents all needing his attention decorated his desk, but Nyan’s filming of the ruins discovered on P2X-345 was calling his name. The visceral thrill of unlocking the mystery had been put on hold by the constant distracting interruptions over the last few days.  If he was lucky, he might still get in a few hours of study with the puzzle before he needed to go home and throw some things in an overnight bag. 

The planet had origins very similar to Earth, which wasn’t necessarily unusual, except these ruins appeared to have uniquely U.S. connotations, something they hadn’t run into before.  Not American Indian, not South American, not French Canadian; modern 21st century United States culture, but thousands of years old, given the state of the ruins.  The script looked as if it might be of Aequian origin, an extinct language with Indo-European roots, and he was anxious to find out if his initial observations panned out.  If he was very lucky, they might let him go make a trip to the planet. 

Daniel sank into his chair, propped his elbows on the desk and rested his head in his hands.  Shortly after they’d returned from Ba’al’s de-Goa’ulding ceremony, he’d begun to feel unsettled.  Small, seemingly random things, like that shadow that had passed through him to Vala and on around the table during the briefing, nagged with a kind of toothache quality.  The exact spot unidentifiable, but nevertheless, irritating.  It felt as if the universe was out of alignment, as if it needed a chiropractic adjustment to make it right again. 

It wasn’t just his bored imagination playing tricks during the briefing; he’d noticed it in his teammates as well.  He’d tried some of the relaxation techniques Teal’c had taught him all those years ago, during those first anxious months after he’d retaken human form.  He’d tried meditating, even a little self-hypnosis, all to no avail.  Stupid little things got under his skin now, flaring his temper in ways he’d never had to deal with in the past; like being order to Washington on a moment’s notice.

Maybe he should have tempered his objections, but the whole scenario, and the timing of it, was so out of the blue, it had caught him off guard.  Sam had looked at him as if he’d grown two heads when he’d flatly refused to go.  Landry’s “Jack” look – you will go and you will go happily – had finally silenced his vocal protests, though it had done nothing to impede the still warring pikes and lances filling his interior dialogue. 

Maybe it was irrational, but the whole medal thing had flashed up home movies of playing midwife for Sha’re as she had labored with Shifu.  If Jack and Sam had been there that fateful day, would things have turned out differently?  Jack could be damned determined, and no one was smarter than Sam.  Teal’c had done everything he could, there was no doubt about that, but four heads were better than two.  His teammates hadn’t been there because they’d been in Washington, supposedly receiving medals; apparently that hadn’t turned out particularly well either.

He’d never voiced the thought, initially because the Jack who’d returned from Washington had been shell shocked and reacting a lot like the Jack Daniel had first gone to Abydos with, distant, hard-eyed and military to the core.  Daniel had been reeling himself – to find his wife, apparently unharmed and herself, had been an insidious kind of torture that had taken years to get past.  Guilt had been a constant companion in those early years.  So many ‘what ifs’ and ‘should haves’ living cheek by jowl with the constant, pervasive excitement of traveling through the Stargate. 

There was no point to it now.  He’d been a widower for almost ten years and he’d done his best to move on.  If he wanted to put a positive spin on things, maybe receiving the medal would put the past to rest for good.  Then again, he’d lose most of the weekend, he hated Washington, D.C., and flying commercial always left him with a hangover worse than any drinking spree had ever spawned.  The pros column seemed a little light compared to the cons.  

Straightening, only to slump back with an aggravated sigh, Daniel tapped the computer’s enter key, dispersing the screen saver and automatically opening the desktop.  He typed in his password and clicked on the folder with Nyan’s transferred film.  He was as addicted to puzzles like this, where the fate of the galaxy didn’t hang in the balance, as Jack was to the New York Times crossword puzzles.  Celestial bodies notwithstanding, he found it relaxing to match wits with folks who’d inhabited long forgotten ruins.

Instantly transported, he leaned closer to the screen, pulled a legal pad over and began scribbling. 

“Hey, Daniel.”  Sam’s voice cut through his thoughts like a sudden, cold rain.  “You busy?”

Couldn’t she see he was busy?  He turned his head slightly, eyes never leaving the computer screen, mumbling a noncommittal response.  Unlike Vala, Sam usually understood his obsession and disappeared with a “Never mind, I’ll come back later,” particularly since she was often guilty of similar behavior. 

Today, however, he suspected she was on a mission.  His negative reaction at the briefing would have her finely honed instincts on high alert.  She was almost as bad as Jack in that regard.

“So.”  She wandered in and propped her elbows on the densely populated counter he used as often as his desk.  “What are you working on?” 

Sam cursed under her breath.  Admitting she knew he was working was about as transparent as asking – so, what’s wrong?  And asking that would make the linguist clam up like an oyster with an invaluable pearl.  She picked up a small glass vase that had inhabited this particular corner of the counter for years.  It was cool to the touch and she turned it over and over, her fingers mapping odd bumps and scratches.

“Oops!”  It smacked down harder than intended when she replaced it.  “Sorry, sorry.”  She hated when people randomly touched things in her lab. “That’s not important, is it?”

“Nope,” Daniel replied, shooting her a conspiratorial grin. “It’s a decoy.”

“A decoy?”  Sam tilted her head, a confused frown creasing a line between her brows.

“I picked it up at the Dollar Store years ago to distract Jack from playing with the really important stuff. He thinks it’s the last vestige of an ancient civilization. He can’t keep his hands off it.”

They both sniggered, then burst out laughing, the laughter pulling Daniel the rest of the way out of the translation.  Pushing away the legal pad, he crossed his arms over his chest.  “What is it, Sam?” 

She hesitated, not wanting to trespass, but concerned enough to push a little.  “What’s up with the medal thing?  I know it feels like too little, too late, but...”  Her shoulders came up around her ears in a questioning shrug.

No one on base knew him better than Sam and he hadn’t made much of an effort to hide his feelings.  Okay, no effort might be more accurate.

The truth was probably his best option. “I’ve been looking forward to working on some different stuff this weekend.” He glanced wistfully at the open computer file. “You know how that is.”  He’d have his laptop so maybe the weekend wouldn’t be a total bust.

Sam nodded.  Two peas in a pod; she loved her projects as much as he loved his. “So it’s not the medal thing so much as the time?”

He’d never been a good liar. “Honestly, Sam...”  Daniel leaned back with a frown, his desk chair creaking with the activity.  “I can’t remember ever caring about medals.  We never set out to save the world, it just sort of happens.  Have you ever stopped to wonder if our presence is what triggers the need to save the world?”

Sam was having none of his misdirection. “Oh come on, you know that’s not true.  Besides, you and Teal’c ought to be recognized,” she insisted. “You especially, you’re the foundation of this program.”

Daniel rolled his eyes and closed the reference book beside the laptop.  Sam was digging in for the long haul.  Either he’d have to state his objections clearly, or cave. 

Fortunately Teal’c and Vala’s entrance, the latter chattering about the trip to Washington, offered an excellent redirection, despite the fact he’d rather have been left alone.  Normally he didn’t mind his office being the gathering place for teammates and friends, but some days, like today, it was a pain in the ass.

A united wall of silence met his questioning look. 

“What?” Daniel sighed again.  “Look at this!”  He waved his hand at the piles and piles of paperwork covering every flat surface in his office.  “I should start charging rent to anyone who dumps their stuff in here expecting me to unravel it.  Aside from all the work I have to do, I have no patience with politicians and bureaucrats.  And I have better and more interesting, not to mention more important, things to do than make nice with a bunch of know-it-all jackasses.”

Under the guise of looking over his shoulder at the still open computer screen, Vala cozied up behind him, sliding her arms around his shoulders.  “You can make nice with me,” she cooed.

Daniel swatted at the ear she’d tickled. 

“If you don’t want your bit of shiny,” Vala continued, moving to perch her shapely derrière on the edge of his desk, “I’ll be happy to accept it in your stead.  I’ve saved Earth’s collective ass several times. It’s not fair that I’m not getting one.”

“I believe everyone within the complex is aware of your opinion on the subject,” Teal’c rumbled.

“Hello?” Daniel straightened in his chair, looking up at her incredulously.  “Do the words death-by-bracelet have any association for you?  How about hijacking?  In our neck of the woods they put people in jail for those kinds of things. They don’t give them medals.”

Vala pouted, then brightened.  “I must be the exception to the rule!  And someone seems a bit testy.”

Daniel snorted, resorting to his coffee cup.  It was cold and one sip was enough to make him put it down.  “Hey, I have an idea.”

“Do tell,” Vala breathed encouragingly, leaning forward so her not-so-regulation décolletage was prominently on display.

Cold or not, Daniel grabbed the coffee cup again, as a line of defense if nothing else.  “You could take my place at the medal ceremony.”  Guilt niggled at a tiny corner of his mind when he caught Sam’s disappointed look, but he brushed it aside.  He and guilt were old friends; he could deal with a little more. 

“Your adverse reaction is puzzling, Daniel Jackson.  Is there not honor in being thus recognized by your country for the service you have undertaken on its behalf?”

“That’s the spirit, Teal’c,” Sam encouraged, glad someone was as enthused as she was about the trip.

“You’re just excited about getting out of here for a road trip,” Daniel muttered.

No one argued; Teal’c loved to travel the globe.

Vala slipped an index finger under Daniel’s chin.  “I’m in.  I’ll take the medal.  And I enjoy road trips as much as any alien on the base.  How much is it worth?”  She batted her eye lashes at him for good measure.

“This isn’t like the Oscars where you can send someone to accept your award.” Sam attempted a little levity.  “Daniel’s the only one who can accept this medal.”

“That makes no sense,” Vala insisted, stubbornly clinging to her position. “Daniel doesn’t even want it. And I’d be much more fun at the party. I have this hot little red dress that would be perfect...”

“There is a way Vala could go,” Daniel mused, his gaze going slightly unfocused as he turned over the possibilities in his mind.

Sam so knew that look.  “Daniel?”

Vala leaned forward again, removing the coffee cup from between his hands and setting it down, somewhat precariously, on the reference book he’d recently closed.  “Spill, handsome.”  Vala knew that look too.

“The replicator devices are still at Area 51.”  He let that sink in for a moment before adding, “It would be a win-win for everyone.”

Vala clapped her hands like a delighted child and ran her fingers through his hair. “He’s so smart, isn’t he?”

 “Area 51 has greatly upgraded its security levels since the last incursion.  Their system is said to be impenetrable,” Teal’c stated.

“And?  So?  Therefore?  We have Vala,” Daniel refuted with equal confidence. 

“Thank you, Daniel.” She patted his cheek and preened. “The security system has yet to be built that can keep me out.”
“See.”  Daniel sucked down a smile. “It could work.”

“How do you propose getting into the inner core of the facility?”

“Teal’c, he’s kidding,” Sam intervened, shooting a scowl at the agitating archaeologist.

“He’s not,” Daniel and Vala said simultaneously.

“He is.”  Colonel Mitchell appeared in the doorway. “Jackson, you’re going.  Vala, General Landry is ready for you.  Now.”

“We’ll talk later.”  Vala winked and slid off the desk, making sure her thigh brushed Daniel’s shoulder in passing.

“Besides,” Mitchell paused to offer some parting words of wisdom. “You can’t just take someone else’s medal.  Medals need to be earned.”

“Had that conversation already,” Daniel pointed out mildly.  “But don’t pay any attention to them.” He tossed Vala an enigmatic half smile. “They say the same thing about money and we all know where you stand on that subject.”

Vala pressed her fingers to her lips and blew him a kiss.  “Later then, dah’ling.”

Sam rolled her eyes.  “You’re not really thinking of setting her lose in Area 51 are you?”

“Who could it possibly hurt, Sam?”  He might be outgunned, but he wasn’t going down without a fight.

“Vala, for one, if she got caught.”

“Alright, alright, you’re probably right, but that doesn’t necessarily make the idea any less appealing.  Is there something else I can do for the two of you?”  Daniel’s gaze wandered back to the computer and the screen saver that had rolled up from lack of use.

Sam straightened from where she’d been leaning on the counter for the duration of their heart-to-heart.  “Well, I did have another reason for coming down here.”

“You already have the replicator devices?”  Daniel waggled his eyebrows.

“Smartass.  General O’Neill has invited us to dinner tomorrow night.  It’ll be just like old times.  Whatta’ ya say?”

Of course Jack would know about this and Sam’s enthusiasm had the effect of lifting the corners of his mouth in a rueful smile.  “Sorry I’m being such a stick in the mud, guys. I just have a lot to do here.”  He flicked a stack of files. “And you know how I feel about fighting airport security, overheads and baggage claims...”

“We know.”

“We are aware,” Teal’c said in unison.

Sam rounded the corner of the counter, sliding around behind Daniel to wrap her arms around his neck, much like Vala, except there was nothing suggestive in the embrace.  “Come on, it’ll be fun.  And a few days up in the sunshine will be good for your complexion.”  She hugged him again and let go.  “We could all use a few days of down time.  Be a mensch,” she mimicked, “have fun with us.” 

The deplorable imitation of their inimitable team leader provoked a genuine smile.  Daniel lifted his hands in surrender.  “I’ll call off Vala.”

“Teal’c and I will waltz you through security and make sure no overhead luggage breaks your neck.  We’ll have a good time.  I promise.”  Sam squeezed his shoulders in parting.  “Go home and pack.  0430 will be here before you know it.”  A moment later, she stuck her head back around the door, almost bumping into Teal’c who had bowed slightly and followed her out.  “The general said to throw in some warm casual clothes.  Weather permitting, we might go sailing over the weekend.”  With a wave she was gone, Teal’c disappearing after her. 

Daniel reached for his coffee cup.  Fun?  The jury was still out on that one.  Spending time with his teammates and Jack would be enjoyable.  Being jammed into three feet of space for hours on end with a hundred and fifty strangers – not so much.  Nor was the idea of sailing overly appealing.

Budget cuts notwithstanding, he didn’t see why they couldn’t just beam into the White House for the ceremony and beam out again when it was done.  It would save a lot of time and hassles.

Daniel rose to replace his now icy coffee with freshly brewed.  Vala had said he was smart.  He was supposed to be smart.  He wasn’t smart.  If he was smart he would have brought up Area 51 and the replicator devices with Vala in private.



“She doesn’t look like much yet, and the name has to go – I think I’ll call her Dorothy,” the general extemporized.  “But,” he gestured grandly for his guests to precede him up the irregular gangplank, “be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”  The narrow plywood passage shifted precariously as the tide tugged at the boat’s anchoring moorings.  “Come on, come on.  It’s cold out here.  Daniel, go!” 

“Ahhh – I don’t think so.”  The creaking, ill-lit two-by-fours planking the maze of docks they’d followed from the marina entrance, where Jack had met their car, to the boat, left a lot to be desired as far as Daniel was concerned.  The thin, shadowy board he was being asked to pass over from the dock to the deck made a scraping sound like fingernails on a blackboard every time the boat rocked.  It also calved like an iceberg, then rejoined with a seam down the middle, though that might have been his double vision. He shuffled backwards, shoving his hands in his coat pockets. “Does it always pitch and yaw like that?”  The boat was a new acquisition. Jack had still been living on dry ground the last time he’d been in Washington, D.C. 

Planes pitch and yaw, Dr. Jackson.” Jack grabbed an elbow to keep him from shuffling off the dock.  “In nautical nomenclature, boats heave and heel.” 

“Well that explains why I feel like shit.  But if planes pitch and yaw and boats heave and heel, why am I getting on a boat?”  Heedless of the vise grip on his arm, Daniel attempted to shuffle further back.   

Jack leaned down and gave the mooring line a strong tug.  “This one is doing neither.”  The aft railing danced a foot closer.  “You’re drunk.  Teal’c, Carter, one of you better go first.  While my insurance is paid up, I don’t need Plant Boy sprawled face down with a broken nose.”

Teal’c obliging inclined his head and traversed the narrow plank in three swift strides.  Stepping lightly onto the deck he turned and held out a palm.  “I will ensure that you make it safely across, Daniel Jackson.”

God his head hurt.  And his neck.  And his jaw.  He’d probably ground his teeth down a few more millimeters, as well.  “Do I have to?” 

“No, of course not,” Jack offered pleasantly, planting a foot on the jouncing plank.  “Let me just call your driver back and have him take you and the luggage to the hotel.” 

Part 2


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