Epilogue for Shades of Grey
Mild
H/C and Angst, Rated PG. Thanks to Hephaistos for beta reading this following her "freedom day" :-)

Black and White

"We drew straws. I lost."  

Daniel gave into a slight smile as he headed to his lab. The look on Jack's face had been priceless. It wasn't every day that Daniel got the better of him where insults were concerned, but this time Jack really deserved it.

Not for those things he'd said about their friendship...

Not for going undercover...

But for agreeing to do it all on his own and keeping the rest of SG1 out of the loop. Daniel's smile faded as anger replaced the shallow amusement he'd felt. So what if the Asgard had insisted it just be Jack? Hadn't SG1 proven themselves ten times over already? It wasn't just Jack who'd blown up Apophis' mother ships. Sam and Teal'c had been right there with him.

And me, too. Me, who no one wanted to listen to. Me, who had the coordinates. Me, who stayed to die.

And yet the Tollans and the Asgard seemed to only trust Jack. Okay, so there was no accounting for taste, but damnit...!

You should've trusted us, Jack. YOU should have trusted us.

Instead of insisting that SG1 work as a team, Jack had agreed to go it alone. But that wasn't what really angered Daniel the most. It was that, by doing so, Jack knew he'd be placing SG1 in danger.

We were oblivious. Makepeace was in on it, commanding us, traipsing around with us on alien planets while following his own agenda. What if Sam or me or Teal'c had seen or heard something we shouldn't have? What then, with our guards down, not expecting danger from the CO? What would've happened, Jack? An accident? Eliminate whoever or whatever gets in the way... Did you even think about that? About us?

Daniel stopped in the corridor, closed his eyes, and leaned against the wall, suddenly very, very tired. He had barely slept since the whole mess began, already exhausted from working on the presentation to the Tollans, having learned an entire culture's law and philosophy in less than a week. He'd poured through thousands of pages of text trying to find a way past the Tollan prohibition against giving their technology to less-advanced cultures.

That's another thing you probably didn't even think about, Jack -- just watched me killing myself for nothing... 

But, damnit, he'd come up with some pretty good arguments. They probably wouldn't have swayed the Tollans -- he wasn't so foolish as to believe he really had a chance to change their minds -- but after all those hours spent preparing the arguments, he'd really wanted to present them, to let them stand on their own merits -- to see if, maybe... just maybe... he'd even gotten close to the mark.

That was... how long ago? A week? Giving into a yawn, he opened his eyes and pushed off the bulkhead. God, he was tired. Too tired to drive home. Turning the corner, he made it to his lab, his gaze flickering from the stack on his table that signified all the research and arguments he'd prepared, to the small cot against the wall.

He chose the cot, but his body swayed toward the table. The room spun, and he gave a soft moan as he sank quickly into one of the chairs.

"Oh... wow."

An inky blackness invaded his vision, and he felt himself falling. He hit the floor hard, but felt only a brief pain in his head before everything turned to nothing.

~~~~

"Awww, hell."

Jack tossed the remains of his cold coffee into the sink and left his office. He was still wound up from the final confrontation and conclusion of the mission, not to mention feeling a bit shaky from having to face three rather pissed-off teammates.

Oh, they hadn't come right out and said they were angry... not in so many words, anyway. But he knew them well enough to read their faces. Teal'c was affronted. Sam was swaying between hurt and relief. Daniel...

Well, Daniel was, for some reason, the hardest to read of the three in this case. He'd made his disapproval known, but had otherwise seemed okay with the deception... a bit perturbed that all his hard work on the Tollan thing had been for nothing, but otherwise okay.

Tired, though. The kid looked exhausted.

Guilt. Jack cursed silently. He hated feeling guilty. He knew he'd never get any real sleep until he at least talked with Daniel one-on-one and made sure things really were okay between them.

As he approached Daniel's office, he noticed the door hanging open, revealing a dark interior. It wasn't until he crossed the threshold that he saw the shadowy, crumpled figure sprawled on the floor beneath a mountain of books and paper.

Awww, hell!

~~~~~

"What's the verdict?" Jack shifted in the chair next to the bed where Daniel lay still except for the shallow, steady rise-and-fall of his chest.

Dr. Janet Fraiser looked up from the clipboard, a hint of disapproval in her eyes. "Exhaustion. Dehydration. Low blood glucose. Stress. Dr. Jackson has been going virtually non-stop for over a week."

Jack pushed himself to his feet, suppressing a sigh as he faced the doctor. "My fault, right?" This time, he gave into the sigh. "Daniel was working himself ragged preparing that thing for the Tollans." He gestured to the bound stack of papers he'd found in Daniel's office. They rested on the small table next to Daniel's bed. 

He'd found the binder amidst a mess of papers scattered over the young man, and after Jack had called for a med team, he'd begun cleaning up the mess to get Daniel better situated. The binder's cover had fallen open, and he'd seen the first page and realized the binder contained Daniel's Tollana appeal.  He'd grabbed it on an impulse as he followed the med team out of the lab, and while waiting for word from Fraiser, he'd managed to read a few pages. He was pretty sure it was borderline brilliant.

All that work for nothing.

"Yes." Janet nodded. "He worked hard on that. He was already near exhaustion when your undercover stint began. The circumstances surrounding your apparent early retirement hit him harder than he let on, and I'm pretty sure he hasn't gotten any substantial sleep since this whole thing began."

That twinge of guilt twisted in Jack's chest again, and he winced, scrubbing a hand over his head as he straightened his shoulders and met Janet's gaze. "I'm sorry about that, but we were backed into a corner. The Tollans and the Asgard insisted...."

"I know all about it, Colonel. I'm not pointing fingers, simply stating facts." She turned toward the bed, eyeing Daniel critically. "But don't worry. A little sleep, some fluid and nutrients, and Dr. Jackson will be good as new."

"Thanks, Doc," Jack replied, eyeing Daniel's report thoughtfully.

~~~~~~

Jack gave a curt nod to the guard stationed outside the conference room as he stormed past. Inside, General Hammond, three Tollans, and some guy in a suit sat around the long, cherry oak table. Every head turned to look at him, and the buzz of conversation immediately silenced.

"Colonel O'Neill?" Hammond straightened in his seat. "What brings you here?"

O'Neill knew Hammond well enough to understand the real message underlying the general's polite inquiry -- 'You'd better have a damn good reason for barging in like this.'

Jack walked stiffly up to the table and tossed a binder in front of the Tollan leader. "This is the appeal Dr. Jackson prepared. He worked himself ragged on it. In fact," he threw a frustrated glare at Hammond, "he's in the infirmary right now, after collapsing from exhaustion, dehydration, and low blood gluecane levels." He paused, seeing an indefinable expression cross Hammond's face that made Jack suddenly unsure whether he'd relayed Dr. Fraiser's diagnosis correctly. "Uh, anyway," he waved a hand at the binder and met the Tollan leader's gaze, "I figure the least you can do is read over his arguments. I don't care whether they make an impression or not, but considering he's lying unconscious in a hospital bed in part because of that stack of papers there, I don't think it's too much to ask that you take a look at it. Maybe send him a thank you note or something." That last part came out with more sarcasm than he'd intended, but his anger at himself, the Tollans, the Asgard, and the whole situation was threatening to get the better of him.

General Hammond rose from his seat, his eyes soft and his face lined with concern. "When did Dr. Jackson collapse? Is he going to be okay?"

Jack nodded. "The Doc says with some rest, fluids, and nutrients, he should be just fine."

The Tollan leader's face remained impassive, but she lowered her gaze to the binder and placed her palm gently on its cover. "We cannot share our technology with you, and Dr. Jackson's appeal will not persuade us otherwise, but we will review it out of respect for the work Dr. Jackson put into it."

Jack nodded as the Tollan leader returned her gaze to him. "Okay then." He gave another curt nod, his eyes flickering to Hammond. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna head back to the infirmary and --"

Hammond waved him away. "Go, Colonel."

~~~~~~~

A soft, steady beeping intruded upon the nice, warm silence and prodded him toward wakefulness, a condition he tried to resist as the dull pounding in his head accompanied him to that higher level of consciousness.

Outside of the pain, he became aware of soft voices, female and male. As he rose further from the fog of slumber, he recognized one of the voices as Jack's. Then a vaguely familiar female voice spoke. The inflection sounded like a question, but Daniel didn't have the energy to focus on the words.

A second female voice overrode the first, so close it tickled his left ear. "Daniel?"

He recognized that voice -- Samantha Carter. 

"Is he waking up?" The voice belonged to Jack.

"Yeah, I think so, sir."

"Daniel?" Jack again.

"We should leave him to his rest." The first female voice again. Daniel knew he knew the speaker, but his brain refused to furnish her identity.

"Nah, he's slept enough. Right, Danny?" A pressure gripped his shoulder and shook him. "Come on, Danny boy, rise and shine. You've got visitors. Very important visitors. Stop drooling and open your eyes."

Drooling? Daniel's brow furrowed, and he made an effort to open his eyes. After a few seconds of struggling to raise eyelids that felt like lead, a crack of light penetrated the darkness, then grew until three blurry figures came into view.

"That's it."

Daniel's eyes shifted to the first figure on the left. "Jack?" He blinked, and Jack's face solidified, a familiar smirk on his lips. 

"Nice of you to join us."

General Hammond and the Tollan leader stood on either side of Jack, both looking at Daniel as though he were a turkey on Thanksgiving. The crease in Daniel's brow deepened, and he swallowed to wet his throat. "What happened?"

"You collapsed." Sam's voice came from his left, and he shifted his gaze to look at her. She was smiling, her blue eyes warm and touched with something akin to mischief. "Exhaustion, dehydration, low blood glucose levels. You really drove yourself into the ground, Daniel."

And this was a good thing? Why did she look so darn happy? For that matter, why did Jack look so happy? Daniel looked back at the colonel, then to the Tollan leader. What was she doing in the infirmary, anyway? Was he in some kind of trouble? Surely Jack and Sam wouldn't be smiling if he were in trouble... So what then?

"What's going on?"

Jack straightened and cleared his throat, his smile fading. "Well, Dr. Jackson, since you asked, Her Eminence here would like to have a word with you."

Daniel looked at the Tollan leader. "You do?" His mind reeled, trying to come up with a reason why anyone from Tollana would hover over a hospital bed waiting to talk to him. He couldn't possibly have done anything wrong... 

Could he?

The woman smiled, raising her arms to show him a familiar, brown soft-cover binder. "I reviewed your appeal, Dr. Jackson."

Daniel focused his gaze on the binder, trying to make sense of the situation. Why would she review his appeal if the whole thing had been a set-up? Unless...

"Did..." He looked at Jack. "Did you go undercover to bust up a theft ring, or did I dream that?"

Jack raised his eyebrows. "The whole thing about us arranging for you to present a killer appeal to the Tollans and not telling you it was all an undercover sting? The 'lack of foundation' stuff? The part about me supposedly not trusting you, Carter, or Teal'c with the information? That? That was all a dream. Never happened."

Daniel's headache flared, and he squinted against the overhead fluorescent lights as he digested Jack's words. "Oh..." 

His brow creased. Wait...

A hand patted Daniel's left arm, and he turned his head toward Carter. "Yeah?"

"I think you need to go back to sleep, Daniel."

A deep voice followed. "I concur. If you were functioning at full capacity, you would realize that O'Neill could not know your dream, therefore the events he described actually happened."

Jack threw a shallow glare to someone standing some distance behind Carter. "Thanks, Teal'c."

Daniel followed the direction of Jack's gaze to see the Jaffa standing at the entrance to the infirmary. So the whole gang was there -- from Hammond to Teal'c. Even the Tollan leader was present. 

Very strange. 

He cleared his throat and looked back at Jack, his eyes still narrowed. "I'm not dying or anything, am I?"

General Hammond gave into a low chuckle and spoke before Jack could answer. "No, son, you're not dying..."

"Well, technically we're all dying," Jack chimed in.

Hammond ignored him and took a step closer to the bed. "Dr. Jackson, I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your excellent work on the Tollan appeal..."

Daniel's head was swimming. What was everyone talking about? If the whole thing was a farce, why were they thanking him? "I don't understand..." He looked from Hammond to Jack.

The Tollan leader smiled and bowed her head. "At Colonel O'Neill's insistence, we reviewed the appeal despite our original fabrication. Your arguments demonstrate a surprisingly insightful understanding of Tollana law."

"They do?" For the life of him, he couldn't remember a word he'd written. He knew it would come back to him, probably after a week of sleep and a half dozen painkillers...

Wait... Jack insisted?

Her smile widened. "Indeed. Your argument that the very reason for our laws prohibiting our giving technology to less-advanced cultures may, in fact, be thwarted by failing to give such technology is quite brilliant."

Daniel could almost hear the unspoken "for an earth human...." in her compliment.

"You've also supported your argument quite well," she continued. "You have demonstrated the danger of our overconfidence in our own technology, and your argument that a single Goa'uld infesting a Tollan would effectively give all of Tollan technology to the Goa'uld and, as a result of our failing to share the technology with others, allow the Goa'uld to achieve unprecedented levels of destruction is quite compelling."

"Huh?" Daniel's headache was threatening to explode.

Jack chuckled. "Has anyone ever told you you're remarkably eloquent for a linguist who speaks almost two dozen languages?"

Daniel ignored Jack and focused instead on trying to make sense of the Tollan's words. "So, uh... Does this mean you're going to share your technology with us?"

"No." She kept her smile, and it seemed to hover in sharp contrast to her rejection. "But I will present this argument to the council. Perhaps we can adjust our relationship and provide your people with access to the technology should just such an event occur. In the meantime, we will increase our own planetary security and, perhaps, give you some of the benefits of our technology without actually providing you with our technology. You must understand, Dr. Jackson, that our laws are very clear, and we abide by them for the good of your own world as well as to uphold the integrity of our world and our people."

Daniel felt his eyelids growing heavy, but he fought against the tug of sleep. "Pardon me, your Eminence, but uh... What does that mean, exactly?"

"Not firing on full thrusters, Daniel?" Jack grinned.

General Hammond answered. "What that means, Dr. Jackson, is that, thanks to you, new dialogue has opened up between the Tollans and Earth, and we may be able to gain some benefits of the Tollan technologies either now or in the future without actually possessing that technology. We're setting up negotiations now. Whatever happens, you opened a door that had thus far seemed impenetrable."

The Tollan leader nodded. "We thank you for the time you invested in preparing your appeal, and again, I must say I'm impressed with your level of understanding of our laws. It is obvious you did a great deal of research and considered your arguments carefully. Still, despite your compelling arguments, I must stress that we are not altering our position, we are simply re-evaluating options. For that, we extend our sincerest appreciation."

Daniel's eyelids began to close of their own volition. "Thank you." His tongue suddenly felt thick. "Or is it 'Your welcome?'" The world went dark again, and sleep dragged him to lower depths.

Before he succumbed completely to sleep's comforting embrace, he felt a touch on his right arm.

"Goodnight, Daniel. Don't let the bed bugs bite."

"I have read such a command before in your planet's literature. What are these creatures you refer to as 'bed bugs' and how will Daniel Jackson avoid being attacked by them if he is not conscious?"

Sleep claimed Daniel, enveloping him in silence, but a small smile found its way to his lips.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The End.
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