Suicidium


Part 1

 

"You must find the boy."

 

Daniel took a swig of his orange juice, reveling in the silence of his apartment. He could smell the vodka in the drink, and it turned his stomach, but he swallowed anyway. Jack had told him once that he'd found a way to forget...sometimes. Maybe, just maybe, it'd work for him too.

 

He closed his eyes and set the glass on his knee, wishing the plush cushions of the sofa would swallow him whole, devour him and thereby release him from his promise.

 

How? How was he going to find the boy? Kheb was just a name. A myth. How was he going to find it, especially when the only people in the world he called friends, and the ones he needed to help him, didn't believe him?

 

He couldn't fail her again. It was the only thing she'd ever really asked of him. Find the boy. Her child. Her son.

 

But not his.

 

A choked sob burst from him, and he squeezed his eyelids as tears budded beneath them.

 

Why? Why? WHY?! Damn you, Teal'c. Why'd you have to kill her? You had no right...

 

"You must forgive Teal'c."

 

Okay, so she'd asked two things of him. One was near impossible. The other.... He didn't even know if it was possible. He hurt too much to think about it. He'd said the words. "You did the right thing."

 

He'd said the words. He'd choked them out, and they'd seemed to rip the flesh from his throat as they'd passed. Inside, he even tried to believe them. Sha're had believed them. He knew if he were in her place, holding her in the grip of a ribbon device, moments from death, he'd be screaming inside for Teal'c to shoot him. To save her.

 

But it hadn't been him on the end of the staff blast. It had been her. Sha're. Curious, bright, kind, shy, passionate Sha're. Beautiful to her very core. And he'd only had to travel across the known universe to find her.

 

God, he'd never thought it possible to love anybody so much -- so much that it hurt physically just to think about her and know he would never be with her again.

 

A jiggle of the doorknob broke the silence, and he opened his eyes to see the door open. Three men entered, all dressed in dark clothes and wearing thin leather gloves. He blinked and focused on the one in the center.

 

"Colonel Maybourne." Daniel leaned forward, his grip tightening on the glass. He looked quickly around. There was nothing he could use as a weapon.

 

"Doctor Jackson." Maybourne smiled pleasantly at him. "So sorry about your loss."

 

The two goons on either side of the colonel towered over him. Both were tall and broad-shouldered. One had dark hair, the other red.

 

Daniel pushed himself to his feet. "What do you want?" His tone was belligerent. He wasn't in the mood to deal with people breaking into his apartment.

 

"I want to offer my condolences. I know you must be devastated by the loss of your wife." Maybourne moved closer to him, shadowed by the goons, and eyed the glass held in Daniel's hand. He leaned closer, offering a sniff. "Is that alcohol? Vodka?" His smile brightened. "Looks like you've made my job easier."

 

Daniel's eyes narrowed. "What the hell are you talking about?" He edged away from the sofa, eyeing the closed front door.

 

"I told you, Doctor Jackson, after your treasonous act with the Tollans, that I'd have you permanently removed from the program, and this is the securest and most permanent method of removal available. You're a security risk. As Colonel O'Neill was so kind to point out, because you're a civilian, you can't be court-martialed, and we'd have a hard time prosecuting you through regular judicial channels. You know, that right to a public trial thing? Sort of puts a damper on national security."

 

Daniel swallowed hard. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You're going to kill me." He felt numb inside, his eyes darting to the two goons. The whole thing felt like a dream.

 

But just in case it wasn't, he yanked his arm back and threw the glass at the goon to Maybourne's right. Orange juice flew everywhere, and Daniel bolted just as the glass bounced off the man's head, hitting hard enough to draw blood.

 

None of the three men made a sound. Daniel just felt himself falling all of a sudden, but he landed softly on the floor, hands easing his descent.

 

"Do it," Maybourne ordered. "No bruises. Make it look like a suicide."

 

"N--" Daniel started to yell, but a hand over his mouth.

 

He bucked, trying to break free. The hand slid away, only to be replaced by a cloth that covered his nose and mouth, smelling sickly-sweet. His head felt instantly lighter. The room swayed, rocking gently, then swirling, and he went limp, barely hanging on to consciousness.

 

He felt himself being carried. Heard running water. Hands stripped him of his clothes. He thought he struggled, but every movement sent the room into a tailspin. He threw up on white tile. The hands grabbed him again and lowered him into warm liquid that clung to his bare skin. He squinted up at the showerhead, then looked down, blinking through blurry vision to see himself submerged to his chest in bathwater.

 

"So sorry about your wife, Doctor. I am, and, believe it or not, I don't enjoy having to do this, but you are a security risk."

 

Daniel felt his head drop back. His skull smacked hard against the wall, but the pain felt dull and distant.

 

He couldn't see Maybourne, just one of the goons crouched almost eye-level to him. The man's eyes were bright blue. Beautiful and serene.

 

The blue eyes softened. "This'll make it easier on you."

 

Daniel blinked just as the cloth descended over his face. He held his breath, but after nearly a minute, his lungs burned, and he gulped in a greedy breath, inhaling the chemical. He felt himself floating and spinning, and the room was suddenly dimmer. A hand grabbed his arm and held it along the edge of the tub. Something sharp sliced across his wrist, but it hardly hurt.

 

"Get the bottle. Put it with him."

 

Sha're. Daniel clung to consciousness, the sticky wetness spreading on his arm, down the side of the tub, and swirling into the water around him. As he felt his strength ebbing, he could only lie there and hope there was an afterlife. Dying wouldn't be so bad if Sha're were waiting for him on the other side. And maybe, even though they had their doubts, Jack, Sam, and Teal'c would find the boy and keep him safe.

 

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

 

Jack held the six-pack of beer in his left hand and used his right hand to knock on the door. He gave the wood three hard taps, then waited. Nothing. Leaning closer to the door, he listened, but the apartment inside was quiet.

 

"Come on, Daniel. I know you're home! I saw your car out front."

 

Still, he got no answer. Sighing heavily, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his keys, sifting one-handed through them until he found the one that would open Daniel's door. He knew Daniel was upset with him for not believing that Sha're had sent him a message through the ribbon device, and Jack was beginning to feel a few painful twinges of guilt because of their disagreement. Daniel had come to them with some pretty outrageous stories before, and he'd always been right.

 

So, even if Jack didn't exactly believe Sha're had communicated with Daniel, he believed in Daniel, and if Daniel believed that they needed to find the kid, then Jack would back him up. Now, all he needed to do was tell that to Daniel, and maybe some of his guilt would leave him the hell alone.

 

"I'm coming in," he yelled. "And don't bother changing your locks after this. I was in black ops," he chattered as he slid the key into the deadbolt. "I know how to get past even the orneriest deadbolt."

 

He turned the lock and pushed the door open. Looking around, he frowned at the quiet emptiness of the apartment as he kicked the door closed and strolled toward the kitchen. Setting the six-pack on the counter, he took a deep breath and sauntered into the living room.

 

"Daniel?"

 

No answer. He hadn't really expected one, but it never hurt to try. If Daniel's car was parked downstairs, where was Daniel? Had he gone for a walk? Was he crashed in the bedroom, dead to the world?

 

"Anybody home?" he sing-songed, heading toward the bedroom, sparing only a glance at the bathroom door. It hung open a crack, and the bathroom light was off. That, combined with the complete silence, told him Daniel wasn't in the bathroom.

 

If Daniel were asleep, maybe he should just let him sleep. But then again, Daniel was depressed, and depressed people tended to sleep a lot, so maybe sleep was the last thing Daniel needed.

 

Maybe the best thing for Daniel would be to get his ass outside and inhale some fresh Colorado air.

 

He pushed open the bedroom door and peeked inside. The room was dim, the bed neatly made. His frown deepened.

 

Okay, so no Daniel. Well, Jack supposed he could just pop open a beer, turn on the television, and wait for Daniel to return from wherever it was he'd gone off to.

 

But first, he had to take a leak.

 

Jack whistled to himself as he spun on his heels and headed back toward the bathroom. He pushed the door open, his hand already reaching for the switch on the wall, when a shock of dark red against white froze him in mid-step.

 

“Oh, God.” He blinked, his chest suddenly tight. He couldn’t breathe.

 

God! No. No. No. His hand slapped the switch, and light flooded the room, bringing to life the gory details of the scene in front of him. Daniel lay in the tub, his face corpse-white. One arm dangled over the side, and his eyelids hung open a slit, revealing a hint of dull blue beneath. A half-filled bottle of Vodka rested on the rim of the porcelain. Red water covered him to his chest. There was also red on the sides of the tub, dripping down like paint on a white canvas and pooling on the floor. At the edge of the bulk of the puddle lay a bloodied razor.

 

Lunging forward, Jack dropped to the floor, his knees falling into a puddle of the warm, sticky liquid. He accidentally knocked the half-filled bottle of Vodka into the bathtub. It splashed into the water between Daniel’s hip and the tub, and the red water swallowed it slowly.

 

“Daniel. Goddamn you. No. No. NO! Damnit!” His raised a shaking hand and felt along Daniel’s neck Come on. Come on.... There! He found it! Weak, but there. Right there. Beneath his fingertips. Life.

 

He expelled a violent, relieved breath and shot to his feet, almost slipping in the blood but catching his balance in time. He leaned over the rim of the tub and grabbed Daniel's arms, then hauled the archeologist out of the water and guided him to the floor. He cupped his hand beneath Daniel's head as he laid him flat on the bloodied floor. Then he scrambled to the medicine cabinet and flung it open.

 

Bandages... Something! Anything! He needed to stop the blood. All he saw was toothpaste and allergy medicine. Damn. Frantically, he stooped and flung open the cabinet beneath the sink. There! Gauze! It would have to do.

 

He snatched the white box, yanked out the gauze, and flung the box toward the tub. Dropping back to his knees, he quickly began wrapping Daniel's torn wrist as tightly as he could, hoping it would be enough to slow the blood. The cotton weave was already soaked red by the time he'd reached the end of the small roll.

 

Damn. Damn. Damn. He leaned forward, placing his cheek close to Daniel's airway, feeling and listening for breath. He felt the soft tickle against the skin of his cheek, so slow and shallow that he couldn't even see Daniel's chest moving. Damnit, Daniel. Damn you! Don't you die on me, you son of a bitch!

 

Jack squeezed his eyes closed as he reached into his jacket pocket and yanked out his cell phone. Please, God, please, don't let him die. I haven't told him. I need to tell him. Please, just this one FUCKING thing, damnit, please.

 

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

 

Cold. He couldn't feel his body, except for the cold. He thought he was moving. The whiteness around him seemed to swirl. He was floating. Then something was above him. A face. Graying hair. Brown eyes. Angry eyes, sparkling with tears. And a voice, washing over him, pleading. Also angry, but touched with fear. Panic.

 

Jack.

 

Daniel made the connection, some part of his sluggish, foggy brain identifying the face. He felt oddly detached. Numb, but cold. So cold. He was floating. Spinning. Dizzy. The white was turning gray. Jack's face was fading, his voice growing weaker, more distant.

 

Jack.

 

He couldn't move. Couldn't feel anything. Maybe he was already dead. Maybe this was his soul leaving his body.

 

"Yes! Yes!" Jack's voice became louder. "His right wrist. He only slit one. Blood's everywhere. He's barely got a pulse, barely breathing. If they aren't here in seconds, he's not going to make it. Got it?"

 

No. Daniel tried to make his tongue work, but it stayed limp in his mouth, tilted to the side. Pasty. Bitter. I didn't... Jack... Maybourne. Killed me. If he could just get his tongue to work, to say the name. Maybourne. Just one word. Maybourne.

 

It was right there. On the tip of his tongue. Literally. He could feel its weight, ready to spring off, but then the gray faded to black and Jack's voice to silence.

 

~~~~~~~~

 

Janet had beaten the ambulance. She paced near the doors where the nurse told her they'd be arriving. The colonel had called her. He'd sounded so...strange. His words had been clipped and tight with fear. She'd heard the paramedics arrive, had listened while Jack barked relevant information at them.

 

She'd known from the tone of his voice and the subtle trembling of his words that Jack didn't expect Daniel to make it to the hospital alive.

 

The wail of sirens sent her heart into her throat. She stopped her pacing and faced the double glass doors, holding her breath as she waited. Seconds later, the ambulance glided to a halt, and the rear doors burst open. Jack was the first out, and Janet sucked in a deep breath when she saw him. He was covered with blood, his shirt and pants soaked. Even his hands were caked with it.

 

Two blue-clad paramedics, both young men, leapt out the back, guiding the stretcher onto the blacktop. They wasted no time as they pushed the gurney through the glass doors. Janet fell into step beside the gurney just as another physician -- an older man with graying hair and glasses -- fell into place on the other side. A couple of nurses and an orderly assisted, running down the hall with the stretcher as Janet struggled to keep up. She listened to their clipped, professional exchanges, her mind taking in the technical details as her eyes stayed locked on the pale, unconscious figure on the gurney.

 

Daniel looked dead already, and she swallowed hard. The hospital staff pushed the gurney through two solid doors, and hands grabbed her shoulders, halting her. She found herself facing a young woman with sympathetic blue eyes.

 

"I'm sorry, but you'll have to wait out here."

 

Fraiser nodded. "I'm Doctor Janet Fraiser with the Air Force. That man, Dr. Daniel Jackson, is Air Force personnel. When there's a moment, I need to speak to someone about transferring him to secured facilities once he's stable."

 

The young woman nodded. "I'll let them know."

 

Janet sighed as the woman disappeared through the doors.

 

"What do you think, Doc?" Jack asked from behind her, his voice soft and strangely flat.

 

She turned to face the colonel. Someone must have stopped him, too. She hadn’t noticed. She did, however, notice the stares he was receiving from the cluttered waiting room, but he didn't appear aware of the attention. He just stood there, dressed in blood-soaked clothes, his gaze locked on the double doors, his eyes distant and haunted.

 

"I think there's nothing we can do right now except wait and get you cleaned up." She placed a light hand on his arm. "Come on, Colonel," she whispered gently as she guided him toward the bathrooms at the other end of the hall, "let's get you out of that shirt. I'll see if the staff here has some scrubs or something that you can slip on."

 

Jack nodded, his face blank, his eyes focused on the doors through which Daniel had disappeared, his head turning to keep the visual contact even as she led him down the hall.

 

She stopped in front of the door to the men's room, a frown touching her lips as she studied O'Neill. He hardly seemed aware of her presence. She didn't want to leave him alone to clean up the blood, but the men's room wasn't really a place she could enter, not here in a civilian hospital. She pushed him gently toward the women's restroom. At least that one should have ample stalls to protect the privacy of anyone who just happened to be inside, and if she was lucky, the large, handicapped stall would be free.

 

Swinging open the door, she tightened her grip on O'Neill's arm as she led him inside. She stooped quickly, checking the stalls, and saw a pair of sneakers in the last one. There were a total of four stalls, the closest one being the large handicapped facility, and the lack of feet told her it was empty.

 

"Come on, Colonel." Quickly, she pulled him toward the stall, opened the door, and slipped inside. She slid the lock closed and gently grabbed his shoulders, pushing him on to the toilet seat.

 

"Colonel?' She knelt to keep herself eye-level with him. "Jack?"

 

He blinked, and his eyes seemed to snap into focus and lock with hers. "Doc?" He took a deep breath and looked around, his brow furrowing with confusion. "What...?"

 

"You were out of it for a minute. We're in the women's restroom. I thought it would be a good idea to get you out of those clothes."

 

He blinked again, the crease in his brow furrowing, then looked down at himself. He was still for several seconds, but she couldn't see his face, then a strangled, choking sound erupted from his throat, and he flung himself off the toilet. His knees hit the floor, and he gripped the edges of the basin as he threw up into the toilet.

 

She took a step back to avoid crowding him. Years of experience with the Colonel had taught her that he didn't take well to having his self-perceived weaknesses put up for display.

 

When he sighed and dropped his forehead to the porcelain rim, she cleared her throat. "I'm going to see if I can round you up some scrubs. I'll call Sam, Teal'c, and General Hammond. One of them can bring you a change of clothes on their way here." She hesitated, waiting for a response, but he didn't look back at her. "Are you going to be okay?"

 

"Yeah." His voice was strained. "Thanks."

 

"I'll be right back." Giving him a final, lingering look, she turned and unlocked the door, then hurried out of the bathroom. She was not looking forward to making those phone calls.

 

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

 

Teal'c sat in silence in the passenger seat on the drive over. The baseball cap he wore to cover his emblem irritated the skin on his head, but he tried to ignore the unpleasant sensation. Major Carter seemed content to drive without engaging in conversation. For that, Teal'c was grateful. He wished for the solace of Kel Noreem, but the interior of a moving vehicle was not conducive to achieving such a meditative state, though he could, no doubt, achieve it if it became necessary for him to do so.

 

He focused on the passing scenery. The cars. The buildings. The pedestrians. The world on which he now resided but of which he had seen far too little.

 

The car slowed, pulling into a large driveway. Teal'c turned his head and saw the hospital looming ahead. He inhaled a deep, steadying breath. Fear weighed in his gut like a stone. He did not want to walk into that building. He was a coward, and it shamed him, but he did not wish to face O'Neill or Fraiser...or Daniel Jackson.

 

Teal'c closed his eyes briefly, forcing himself calm. He had no right to give in to his cowardice. He was personally responsible for causing Daniel Jackson the pain that had driven him to seek death. Teal'c felt the car come to a complete stop, and he opened his eyes, seeing Major Carter staring at him, her face grim.

 

"Are you okay, Teal'c?"

 

He nodded once. "It is not I with whom you should concern yourself."

 

She turned off the ignition and gazed out the front window, her eyes distant. "This is not your fault, Teal'c."

 

"If it were not, you would not see the need to tell me that."

 

She looked back at him, her eyes glistening with tears. "It's only because I know you feel responsible, Teal'c, that I said it."

 

"I was the one who chose Sha're for Apophis. I took her by force, and I was the one who ended her life."

 

"To save Daniel."

 

"It appears that I was unsuccessful."

 

Sam shook her head and blinked back the tears as she unbuckled her seat belt. "Don't say that, Teal'c. Daniel's alive. Fraiser or the colonel would have called us if anything had changed, so let's just see how he's doing. He'll get past this. He'll be okay."

 

Teal'c bowed his head respectfully. He did not wish to upset Major Carter further, but he could not share in her optimism. He knew Daniel Jackson to be a strong and resilient man, but he also knew that Daniel Jackson's passions ran deep. Daniel Jackson had been driven by his hope of finding Sha're, and now that hope was gone, and Teal'c had been the one to take it from him. No matter what O'Neill or Major Carter told him, he would never seek solace by forgiving himself.

 

~~~~~~~

 

Sam sucked in a breath when she spotted Fraiser and the colonel sitting next to one another in the waiting room. Jack was slouched in his seat, his eyes studying the floor. He wore an aqua scrub shirt and jeans. Dark blotches soiled the legs and knees of the denim, and Sam swallowed hard as she forced herself to walk up to him.

 

"Sir." She stopped a foot away from him. Janet looked up, her face grim.

 

O'Neill slowly lifted his head. "Carter. Teal'c."

 

Teal'c stood ramrod straight next to Carter, a duffel bag hanging from his right hand. "How is Daniel Jackson?"

 

Jack shrugged. "Don't know. They haven't told us anything yet. I guess that's a good thing."

 

"We brought you some, uh, clothes." She glanced nervously at the duffel bag.

 

"Thanks." With a deep sigh, Jack pushed himself out of the chair and took the bag from Teal'c. "I'll be..."

 

His words cut off when the squeak of rubber on tile signaled the arrival of a doctor. "You're the group here for Doctor Daniel Jackson?"

 

Janet was out of her seat instantly, standing beside Jack. "Yes."

 

"How is he?" Jack faced the physician and dropped the duffel bag to the floor.

 

"I'm Doctor Jeffries." The physician extended his hand, and Fraiser shook it. He was an older man with dark eyes, peppered hair, and a square jaw. Deep crevices lined his forehead, and the skin beneath his eyes sagged, giving him an air of fatigue. He looked directly at Fraiser. "Are you the Air Force physician?"

 

She nodded. "Yes." She gestured to Jack. "This is Colonel O'Neill."

 

"We have some things we need to discuss." He tilted his head toward the double doors. "Would you follow me?"

 

She nodded as the physician turned. Jack followed them through the doors.

 

With a tired sigh, Sam sank into the chair Janet had vacated. "You might as well sit down, Teal'c. We're probably in for a long wait."

 

~~~~~~

 

Doctor Jeffries gestured to the two empty seats in his office, then slid to the large, leather-backed chair behind the desk.

 

"How is he?" Jack dropped into the chair. "Tell it straight, Doc."

 

"He's lost a great deal of blood, but he's going to make it." Despite the good news, the doctor's face remained grim. "Who found him?"

 

Jack took a deep breath. "I did." Inside, he was quivering with the news. Daniel was going to live. Thank you, God. Thank you. "He was in the bathtub with a bottle of vodka. Blood was..." he swallowed hard, "everywhere."

 

Jeffries nodded solemnly. He looked worn out, older than his years. "He had alcohol in his blood, but it was only about .05 by the time we measured it. It was most likely higher when he slit his wrist."

 

Jack winced at the matter-of-fact way the doctor had blurted those words. Slit his wrist. Daniel. A vision of Charlie, lying limp on the floor in a puddle of blood flashed in his mind, and he closed his eyes.

 

"Colonel, are you okay?" Fraiser asked.

 

Jack opened his eyes and nodded at her. "I will be." He looked back at the doctor's grim face, and his relief faded. "What's the bad news, Doc?" Please, don't let it be brain damage.

 

Jeffries took a slow, deep breath. "Doctor Jackson attempted to kill himself, Colonel O'Neill..."

 

"I realize the ethical issues you're facing," Fraiser interjected. "The Air Force would like to take over Doctor Jackson's medical care."

 

Jeffries shook his head. "We can't do that. Not yet, anyway."

 

Jack stiffened. "Why not?"

 

"Does Doctor Jackson have any immediate family who could make medical decisions for him?"

 

Jack shook his head, annoyed that the doctor hadn't answered his question. "No."

 

"Does he have a medical form listing someone as having durable power of attorney?"

 

Fraiser shook her head. "No, he hasn't. He did fill out an Air Force medical form..."

 

Jeffries sighed. "Well, we'll need a copy of whatever he filled out, but legally, since he is a civilian, we think it's best that we don't release him into the Air Force's custody without a court order."

 

Jack slapped a palm on his knee. "Oh, come on! If this had happened on the base, he'd be in Air Force custody!"

 

"But it didn't happen on the base, Colonel." Jeffries laced his fingers together and placed them on top of the desk. "It happened in his home. He tried to kill himself, and established psychiatric protocol deems a person who has attempted suicide to be incompetent to manage his own medical affairs. Since he is a civilian who has given no one durable power of attorney, and he has no immediate family, the hospital ethics committee has decided that he is to remain in our custody pending a full psychiatric evaluation."

 

"Look..." Jack leaned forward.

 

"If you want him transferred to the Air Force hospital, you'll need to show me a legally effective document, signed by Doctor Jackson before he became mentally incompetent, or you'll need to obtain a court order. In the meantime, he will remain under our care, in restraints for his own --"

 

"Restraints!" Jack shot out of his seat and placed his palms flat on the desktop. "You don't know anything about him, damnit! He just lost his wife, for crying out loud! He's not mentally incompetent, and he doesn't need to be strapped down to a bed!"

 

"Colonel." Fraiser rose from her chair and placed a hand on his arm. "Arguing won't get us anywhere. We need to start the paperwork." She pulled him away from the desk. He yielded, but kept hard eyes focused on the doctor.

 

"Okay, for now, he stays here," Jack told the man. "But we'll get whatever we need to have him transferred. Right now, I want to see him."

 

Jeffries nodded. "That, I can do for you." He pushed himself to his feet. "Follow me."

 

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Doctor Jeffries stopped in front of a door that had a large glass panel in it that gave a clear view inside the room. Daniel lay on a bed, his eyes closed. Machines surrounded him. A clear nasal tube delivered oxygen, and buckled restraints held his arms to the bed, fastened around both wrists. A bandage peeked out from beneath the right restraint, and Jack felt a sudden flare of anger.

 

He turned toward Jeffries. Fraiser stood next to the physician, dwarfed by his frame.

 

"Is that a good idea?" Jack jerked his head toward the door. "His wrist--"

 

"He's fine." A gentle, tired smile lifted Jeffries' lips. "Don't worry, Colonel. We repaired the damage, bandaged the wound, and the restraint is on just tight enough that it won't slip over his hand.

 

"He hasn't even woken up yet, for crying out loud. Is it really necessary to strap him to the bed?"

 

Jeffries sighed and leaned against the wall. "We are unable to evaluate his mental and emotional state until he regains consciousness. We're just playing it safe. Would you rather we not restrain him and have him wake up and try to injure himself?"

 

Jack's shoulders sagged. "No, but I know that man. He may have gotten a little drunk, done something stupid, but he's not going to off himself when he wakes up, sober, in that bed. He'll probably feel stupid enough to want to crawl under a rock, but he'll be okay." He took a breath and looked through the glass, his voice growing lower as he added, "In time."

 

"You might be right, but better safe than sorry." Jeffries pushed off the wall and gestured to the room. "You can go in and see him, just don't touch any of the equipment."

 

"Duh." Jack grabbed the doorknob, but Fraiser's hand on his arm stopped him. He looked up at her, his eyes questioning. "What?"

 

She glanced down at his jeans. "Maybe you should change into the clean clothes Sam and Teal'c brought."

 

He turned the knob.

 

"Colonel, I realize the odds of him waking are slim, but if he does wake up, do you really want him to see...that?" She bowed her head to indicate the blood stains on his jeans.

 

Jack sighed and let go of the knob. "No. Okay." He scrubbed a hand through his hair as he glanced through the window, then met Fraiser's gaze. "I'll be back. Watch him, Doc." He threw a glare at Jeffries. "If he wakes up..."

 

Fraiser nodded. "He won't wake up alone, Colonel. Now go on. Hurry up. You might as well update Sam and Teal'c. Oh, and Hammond said he was on his way, but he had a few things he needed to do first. You might want to give him a call and let him in on what's going on. Maybe he can get the ball rolling on Dr. Jackson's transfer."

 

Jack nodded tiredly. "Okay." He offered a weak smile. "And thanks, Doc."

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

Janet took a deep breath as she stopped at the edge of Daniel's bed and stared down at the young man. His face was slack and pale, and his eyelids rippled, indicating REM sleep. He was dreaming.

 

She looked up at the monitors, noting his respiration and heartbeat. Both were within normal parameters, and she sighed with relief. Glancing around the room, she spotted the empty chair in the corner and hurried over to it. Lifting it so it wouldn't scrape against the floor, she moved it to the side of the bed and sank into it.

 

Her eyes fell on the restraint wrapped around the wrist closest to her. She swallowed hard. The entire situation was all too reminiscent of another time when she and Dr. MacKenzie had committed Daniel to mental health.

 

Only, this time, Daniel had tried to kill himself. He'd almost succeeded. She swallowed hard and closed her eyes. Damnit. She should have seen this coming. She should have realized his depression could turn dangerous. Daniel had held on to the hope of finding his wife for years, and now that that hope was gone, what did he have left?

 

She should have considered the possibility that he'd become suicidal, but maybe she'd been blinded by her relationship with him as a friend. Having grown to know him over the past few years, she saw him as a strong, driven man. But every person had a limit. Why hadn't she considered the possibility that Daniel might've reached his?

 

~~~~~~~~

 

Jack stepped through the double doors leading to the waiting room and stopped.

 

Awww, hell. There were Sam and Teal'c, both seated in chairs. Teal'c had a baseball cap on his head to hide his emblem. Remorse hovered over the Jaffa, twisting the features of his face into a mask of barely suppressed agony.

 

Straightening his shoulders, Jack made his feet move and let them carry him to his teammates. "Carter. Teal'c."

 

Sam's gaze shot up, her eyes wide. Teal'c remained still.

 

"Daniel's going to be fine."

 

Sam released a breath, her eyes brimming with tears. "Thank God."

 

Teal'c bowed his head. "That is good news."

 

Jack sighed and stooped to pick up the duffel bag next to Carter's feet. "Yes, it is." He hefted the bag for emphasis. "I'm going to change, then I'll be going to see Daniel."

 

Sam straightened. "Can we--"

 

"I'll ask, but first, Carter, I need you to call Hammond. We've got a problem. Because Daniel tried to..." His throat tightened around the words. "You know... Anyway, the hospital's writing him off as a nutcase. They want to keep him here."

 

Carter's eyes grew wider, and her lips tightened with concern. "Can they do that?"

 

"Well, they're doing it," Jack huffed. "I need you to call Hammond and tell him what's going on. Ask him to get on the phone with whoever he needs to, but we've gotta get Daniel transferred to a military facility. That Doctor Jeffries said we might need a court order. Whatever. Just make sure it gets done, Carter. The only place for him is back at the SGC."

 

Carter shot to her feet. "Yes, sir." She threw a brief look at the double doors leading to the interior of the hospital, then headed toward the exit. Jack assumed she was going to find a more private place to make the call.

 

"Teal'c." Jack fidgeted on his feet. "Uh, look..."

 

"Do not concern yourself, O'Neill. I am fine."

 

"Yeah, I can see that."

 

"Nothing you say can change the facts, O'Neill. Daniel Jackson no longer wishes to live because he has lost Sha're. I took her from him."

 

"C'mon, Teal'c. We've been over this. Daniel even told you you did the right thing."

 

Teal'c nodded an acknowledgment. "Had I not been in the service of Apophis, or had I acted earlier to free the prisoners on Chulak, I would not have needed to fire upon Sha're to save Daniel's life."

 

"Teal'c...." Jack shook his head. He was too tired to deal with this at the moment. "Let it go. Guilt does no one any good. You can't change the past. Believe me, I wish we could." He almost choked on those last words. How many times had he wished he could go back and change things? Too many times. Too many damn times.

 

Releasing a tired breath, Jack turned away from his friend. "I'm gonna change into clean clothes. Thanks for bringing this."

 

"It was no trouble."

 

Nodding an acknowledgment, Jack headed to the men's room.

 

~~~~~~~~

 

/“Daniel. Goddamn you. No. No. NO! Damnit!”/

 

Beeping.

 

/"Yes! Yes! His right wrist. He only slit one."/

 

A creak.

 

/"Blood's everywhere. He's barely got a pulse, barely breathing."/

 

The sharp scent of antiseptic.

 

No. I didn't... Jack... Maybourne.

 

"Hey, Doc."

 

Jack?

 

Voices. Jack's. A woman's. Familiar. Hushed.

 

"...calling Hammond."

 

He was cold. Tired.

 

"...hasn't woken up..."

 

He tried to move, but his limbs felt heavy.

 

"...danger to himself..."

 

No. Maybourne. Daniel struggled to open his eyelids, but they refused to move. What was wrong with him?

 

"...promised Carter I'd ask the Doc if they could visit."

 

Daniel focused on making his tongue move.

 

"You look tired, Colonel."

 

His mouth felt like paste, but Daniel thought he managed to part his lips. His tongue moved like a glob of drying cement. "J'ck."

 

"Yeah, a little, but I'll be fine."

 

Daniel tried again, focusing all his energy into giving strength to his voice. "J'ck."

 

The voices died suddenly, leaving only the steady beeping and soft hums of the machinery. Then Jack spoke again, his voice very close to Daniel's right ear.

 

"Daniel?"

 

Yes! Daniel tried again to open his eyes, and a crack of white pierced the darkness. The whiteness expanded to a rectangular, glowing panel. Pain flared in his head, just behind his eyes, and he closed them again.

 

"That's it, Daniel. Come on."

 

"Doctor Jackson?" Fraiser. Daniel finally identified the woman's voice.

 

One word. All he had to say was one word. He swallowed, wincing inwardly. His throat felt like sandpaper.

 

"You're going to be okay, Doctor Jackson."

 

"Don't try to move," Jack said, his voice low. "They've got some straps on you just as a precaution."

 

Daniel forced his tongue to move again. Two syllables tore from his dry throat. "Maybourne."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Jack's chest seized. "What?" He leaned closer and placed his hands on either side of Daniel's face. "Come on, Daniel. Open those eyes."

 

"I'll get the switch." Fraiser rose from her seat. "The light coming from the hallway should be enough, and it won't hurt his eyes."

 

"Thanks, Doc." Jack gave Daniel's cheek a light tap as the room dimmed. "You hear that? Open your eyes."

 

"'Kay," came the weak reply. Daniel's eyelids drifted open, revealing tired and glazed blue eyes. "Jack?"

 

"Yeah. You're going to be okay. What was that about Maybourne?"

 

Daniel licked his lips. "Broke into...my apartment. I...thought I was dead."

 

"No." Jack took a deep breath, anger blossoming in his chest and giving him an instant headache. He closed his eyes briefly and gave Daniel's cheek a reassuring stroke with his palm. "No, you're not dead. You're going to be okay."

 

Daniel tried to move. His brow furrowed, and he raised his head weakly to look down at his arms. "What...?"

 

"Don't worry. I'm going to have you out of those A.S.A.P." Jack straightened and looked at Fraiser, who had moved to the foot of the bed. "Maybourne." Jack wanted to hit something. "Get Doctor Jeffries in here. He's going to be changing Daniel's status to an attempted murder victim."

 

She nodded, then gestured toward the hall. "Of course, but a word, Colonel, please."

 

"Jack?" Daniel's voice sounded stronger.

 

Jack turned back to the young man. "Yeah, Danny?"

 

Daniel blinked up at him. "What happened? It's a bit fuzzy."

 

Jack patted Daniel's arm. "I tell you what. Give me about five minutes to talk with the Doc, then I'll come back in here and we can fill each other in. Okay?"

 

Daniel nodded weakly, his eyes closing. "'Kay."

 

Jack turned away from the bed and followed Fraiser into the hallway. He closed the door quietly behind him and leaned against the wall. "Okay, Doc. What is it?"

 

"I think we should get a forensic unit over to Daniel's apartment to search for corroborating evidence that someone broke into his apartment."

 

Jack nodded. "Agreed."

 

"But," Janet took a deep breath, "I think we need to consider the possibility that Daniel did attempt to kill himself."

 

Jack shook his head. "I don't think so, Doc."

 

"Just hear me out, Colonel. Please."

 

He nodded grudgingly.

 

"I don't like thinking this anymore than you do," she continued. "If I had to bet on it, I'd place good money on Daniel's story about Maybourne. However, I'm not a gambler. I'm a doctor. I need to consider all possibilities and not be swayed by my friendship with Doctor Jackson."

 

"Your point?"

 

"Colonel, Doctor Jackson just lost his wife. You know how deeply he felt for her. On top of that, he was subjected to a," she lowered her voice, "ribbon device and came within seconds of dying from it. Then he wakes up with a story that Sha're communicated with him through the ribbon device and told him to search for her son, who happens to have all the knowledge of the Goa'uld."

 

"A bit of a stretch," Jack acknowledged, "but we've seen a lot of strange stuff, Doc. He could be right, and even Teal'c confirms that it is forbidden for two Goa'uld to conceive a human child. With their need for hosts, you'd think that wouldn't be forbidden unless there was a really good reason."

 

"Okay, maybe," she nodded, "but you can't deny the possibility that Daniel was suffering delusions or other damage as a result of the ribbon device. Then he spiraled into depression..."

 

"Which is totally expected!" Jack pushed off the wall. "C'mon, Doc, he just lost his wife. You can't expect the guy to be bouncing with cheer."

 

"I'm not, Colonel." Her voice turned hard, and her eyes flashed with pain. "I know well enough how normal that is. What I'm saying is that if we look at all the facts, there's a possibility that Daniel did actually slit his own wrist and he's now in denial, suffering from another delusion, probably due to the effects of the ribbon device, that has him believing he never tried to kill himself. Instead, Maybourne broke into his apartment and tried to kill him. Why? We don't know."

 

"He's never liked having Daniel on the program," Jack countered, "especially after the Tollan incident. This would be a great way to get rid of him. Perfect timing, wouldn't you say?"

 

She nodded, her shoulder's sagging. "Yes, perhaps, but we'd better look for corroborating evidence. Doctor Jackson hasn't sustained any injuries that show signs of a struggle. The only fact that I can think of right now that would in any way corroborate Doctor Jackson's story is the fact that his right wrist was slashed. Daniel's dominant hand is his right. He writes with it. Although he can use his left, he'd have likely held the blade with his right hand and cut his left wrist."

 

Jack snapped his fingers. "So there you go."

 

Fraiser sighed. "It's not enough, Colonel. Doctor Jackson could have easily used his left hand. Standing alone, that doesn't help us. Did you notice any signs of a struggle in his apartment?"

 

"No, but I'm sure they would've cleaned up. Maybourne may be an idiot, but even he's not stupid enough to leave evidence of a break-in and a struggle if he's trying to make Daniel's death look like a suicide."

 

"So, we send a team over. If we can find even a shred of evidence to support his story, then we'll know for sure, right? But, on the other hand, if we totally ignore the possibility that Daniel did try to kill himself, then he might try again, and next time, he might succeed. Then how will you feel, Colonel?"

 

Jack closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall. "Like a fool who failed his friend." He opened his eyes again. "I get it, Doctor. Call Hammond and ask him to order a team over to Daniel's apartment. In the meantime, I'm staying here officially as his bodyguard. If Maybourne did try to kill him, that son of a bitch isn't getting another chance."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Jack eased open the door to Daniel's room and closed it quietly behind him. He'd talked with Doctor Jeffries, and the man had agreed to allow Jack to remove the restraints and stay with Daniel as protection, agreeing that with him on guard, Daniel had much less chance of injuring himself, assuming he was suicidal, which he wasn't. Jack made sure that was officially noted in Daniel's chart. Fortunately, it was easier to convince Doctor Jeffries that Daniel had been an attempted murder victim than it had been to convince Fraiser. Jeffries didn't know about the ribbon device and Daniel's insistence on the Harcissus child.

 

Stifling a yawn -- it had been a long, long day -- Jack hurried over to the bed. Daniel was asleep, his face still too pale, but looking better. Jack lowered the rail, then gently reached down and unbuckled the restraint around Daniel's injured wrist, letting the strap fall away to dangle over the edge of the bed. Moving around to the other side of bed, he again lowered the rail and unbuckled the restraint.

 

Daniel turned his head toward Jack, his brow furrowing and his eyes drifting open. He blinked a couple of times, then swallowed hard. "Hey."

 

Jack smiled and sank into the chair Fraiser had occupied earlier. "Hey. How are you feeling?"

 

"Tired. Weak." Daniel's voice was hoarse. "Cold."

 

"Ah. I think I can do something about that last one. Hang on."

 

Jack sprang to his feet and hurried to the door. Stepping out into the hallway, he found the nurse sitting at the counter and asked her to bring in another blanket for Daniel. She gave a friendly smile and told him she'd be there in a moment.

 

Hurrying back to the room, Jack dropped back into his seat and scooted the chair closer to the bed. "So, you think you can tell me what you remember?"

 

Daniel nodded. He lifted his head and looked down at his hands, then dropped back to the pillow. "He cut my wrists?"

 

"Just the right one. It was Maybourne?"

 

Daniel nodded. "Yeah. He had two guys with him." He swallowed hard again. "Can I get some water?"

 

"Yeah, hold on."

 

Jack again sprang out of his seat, his eyes going to the doorway set into the far wall. He assumed that was a bathroom. Hurrying to it, he opened it and, sure enough, it was a bathroom, with another door on the other side that he assumed connected with a neighboring room.

 

Grabbing one of the small plastic cups from the dispenser, he filled it with tap water and shuffled back to Daniel's room where he saw the nurse standing over the bed, spreading a fresh blanket over Daniel.

 

"Thanks." Jack walked up to her.

 

She gave another smile. "It's fresh from the dryer, so it's nice and warm."

 

Daniel managed a weak smile. "Thanks."

 

"You need anything?" she asked Daniel.

 

"Uh," Daniel's eyes flitted to Jack, "I think I've got everything. Thanks."

 

"Okay then. The button's right over there." She pointed to the other side of the bed. "Just buzz if you need me." Giving Daniel's arm a light pat, she turned and hurried out of the room.

 

Jack sat on the edge of the bed and grabbed the control, bringing up the head of the mattress a few degrees. He held out the cup of water. "Think you can manage?"

 

"Yeah." Daniel wrapped his good hand around the cup. "Thanks." He brought the cup to his lips and took a few tentative sips, which turned into gulps. Handing the empty cup back to Jack, he closed his eyes and sank into his pillow.

 

"So?" Jack set the empty cup on the small table next to the bed. "What else do you remember?"

 

Daniel opened his eyes again. "Maybourne said I was a security risk...because of the Tollan thing. I tried to..." He closed his eyes, his voice growing weaker. "They put something over my face. Drugged. I think they carried me into the bathroom. Then I felt something cut my wrist. That's all I remember."

 

"The doc found alcohol in your system."

 

"I had a drink when they broke in."

 

"Ah." Jack pursed his lips. "Did it help?"

 

Daniel opened his eyes and threw an angry look at Jack.

 

"Sorry." Jack raised his hands. "Not the time, I know."

 

"You should talk."

 

"I know. I said I was sorry."

 

"I wasn't drunk, not that it's any of your business. I was on my own time."

 

"I know that, too. Doc said your blood alcohol level wasn't that high."

 

"I didn't try to kill myself."

 

"I know, Daniel. I believe you. We're sending a forensic unit over to your apartment now."

 

"They wore gloves."

 

"We might still find something."

 

"And if you don't?"

 

Jack sighed, raising a hand to rub at his forehead. "I'll personally have a little chat with Maybourne, and I'll bring Teal'c along just for fun."

 

A tiny smile cracked Daniel's face. "Thanks."

 

"Hey," Jack shrugged. "I went over to your apartment to make amends. I know we disagreed over the Harcissus thing, and I may not really know for sure whether Sha're actually communicated with you..."

 

Daniel's face darkened instantly, and he looked away.

 

"....but," Jack continued, "I believe in you. Your batting average is pretty damn high, so I'm prepared to support your search for Kheb. I'll talk it over with Hammond. See what we can do, and even if the child isn't a Harcissus, he's still Sha're's child. He deserves to be with his family."

 

Daniel looked back at Jack, his eyes moist. "You really came over to tell me that?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Thank you."

 

Jack tilted his head. "You're welcome. Now," he patted Daniel's arm, "you want to get some sleep? Or you want me to round up some cards? I'm here for the duration, just in case Maybourne is stupid enough to try again. Oh, and Carter and Teal'c are here. Fraiser, too. They'll be here to see you in a bit, just as soon as Doc Fraiser finishes up some business. Then she'll bring the whole gang in to see you."

 

"Ah." The fingers of Daniel's good hand niggled at the thread of the blanket. "They know...?"

 

"Yes. Fraiser's on it. They know you didn't do this to yourself. Teal'c will be especially happy to hear that." Jack studied Daniel's expression carefully. "He feels really guilty about this whole thing."

 

"I know." Daniel's face remained impassive. "He did the right thing."

 

"Yes, he did."

 

A sudden, deep sadness rose in Daniel's eyes, and he closed them. "You know, I think I'd just like to get some sleep right now. Can we hold off on the card game?"

 

"Yeah." Jack sighed, recognizing the evasive maneuver. "I'll just grab a magazine to read." Patting Daniel's arm, he slid off the bed and slipped into the hallway, intent on finding something to help him pass the time.

 

~~~~

 

Sam peeked through the glass and saw Jack sitting at Daniel's bedside, a partially constructed house of cards towering on the swingable food tray jutting out from the bed. She took a deep breath as she grabbed the doorknob and glanced at Teal'c to her right, who stood rigid with a blank expression, then to her left at Janet.

 

"Go on, Sam." Janet smiled.

 

Sam managed to return the smile. She felt foolish for her hesitation. After all, Daniel hadn't tried to kill himself. Well, probably hadn't, anyway. Not that that should make a difference, but somehow it did. What did you say to someone who felt so bad inside they no longer wanted to live?

 

Turning the knob, she pushed the door open. Jack was totally focused on placing the final card composing the fourth wall of the top level of the "house." He looked up and offered a weak smile, leaning back in his chair.

 

"Whatever you do, don't sneeze."

 

Sam forced another smile on her face. "Okay," she whispered, turning her attention to Daniel, who looked asleep, his eyes closed and his breathing shallow.

 

Her gaze drifted to the dangling restraint on the side of the mattress facing her, and she felt a pang in her gut. Poor Daniel. Fraiser had said he'd woken up to find himself tied down. After all he'd been through, that was the last thing he needed.

 

Fraiser stepped to the side of the bed and peered down at the archeologist. "I called Hammond." She glanced quickly at O'Neill, her voice low. "The forensic unit is on its way, and the general said he'd be here within the hour."

 

"Did he tell you the details of what happened, Colonel?" Sam asked. Fraiser had only told her and Teal'c the basics - that Daniel had woken up and said Maybourne had tried to kill him.

 

Jack ran a hand through his hair, his face weary. "Yeah. Maybourne broke in with a couple of goons, drugged him, then carried him to the bathroom and slit his wrist. Apparently, Maybourne views Daniel as a security risk, especially after that Tollan thing."

 

He gazed absently at the house of cards, his gaze turning hard. Suddenly, his hand whipped out and knocked the fragile structure into a chaotic heap. Sam flinched at the unexpectedness of his reaction and the ferocity of anger on his face.

 

"It's my fault," Jack looked back up at the three. "I practically taunted Maybourne, shoved it in his face that Daniel was a civilian and couldn't be court-martialed. And let's not forget I encouraged Daniel to help the Tollans in the first place because I was too chicken-shit to do it myself."

 

"That's not true, sir." Sam glanced at Teal'c, hoping for a little support, but the Jaffa seemed content to stare straight ahead. With a sigh, she looked back at the colonel. "We couldn't have known Maybourne would do this."

 

"Maybe not to this extreme, but we knew there could be repercussions for Daniel. Maybourne could have had him kicked off the program even with Hammond going to bat for him with the President. Hell, for that matter, Daniel could've been killed. Maybourne did order those guards to open fire, and let's face it; things could've gone badly, even with the Nox and their nifty disappearing act."

 

~~~~

 

Daniel kept silent as he listened to the conversation. He felt a twinge of guilt as he listened to Jack take the blame. His eyes grew hot with the confirmation that Jack did, in fact, believe him about Maybourne. He half-expected to wake up and find himself discharged from the hospital and sealed in a white, padded room under McKenzie's care once again.

 

"...even with the Nox and their nifty disappearing act."

 

Daniel remembered those few moments as though they'd happened only a few hours ago. He'd known he was in no danger. Even as he stood there, directly in the line of fire, and listened to Maybourne give the order to open fire, he knew no bullets would issue from those guns. The Nox were strong-willed peace-keepers with an admirable respect for life. Their incredible abilities had saved his life along with the lives of his friends and were more than a rival for the Goa'uld and any armed guards at the SGC.

 

Ironically, he hadn't been truly worried until Maybourne had threatened to have him removed from the program, and even then the full impact of that statement hadn't hit him until minutes later, after the euphoria of saving the Tollans had worn off.

 

He'd had an intense, raw flash of panic as he'd thought maybe, just maybe, Maybourne could make good on his threat. After all, helping the Tollans escape had violated Presidential orders, and the President was bound to be pretty pissed about that, and Daniel doubted the President would be receptive to any plea Daniel could make that he needed to stay on the program to find his wife.

 

"I, too, cannot be court-martialed, O'Neill." Teal'c's deep voice filled the room. "Yet I also allowed Daniel Jackson to risk his life for the Tollans when that risk should have been mine. If you blame yourself, O'Neill, you must blame me as well."

 

"Oh, for crying out loud, Teal'c. Don't you ever quit? Is there anything you won't feel guilty for?"

 

This was getting ridiculous. Daniel finally decided that listening to his friends play musical chairs with blame was worse than dealing with their questions, pity, or well-meaning wishes if he let them know he was awake.

 

Opening his eyes, he cleared his throat and asked, in a low, weak voice, "Do I have to kill myself for a bit of peace and quiet?"

 

Sam's face flashed with surprise. Janet grimaced, and Teal'c remained silent.

 

"Ah. Sleeping beauty awakes," Jack quipped.

 

Horror darkened Sam's eyes, but she smiled nevertheless. "Daniel! Sorry! We didn't mean to wake you. How are you feeling?"

 

Daniel smiled weakly to compensate for his morbid joke, though he felt a strange sense of satisfaction as he noted the remorse in Teal'c's eyes. His satisfaction quickly changed to guilt, though. He knew Teal'c had done the right thing, and one of Sha're’s dying wishes had been for him to forgive Teal'c, but even so, it was hard.

 

"I'm okay. Just a little tired."

 

Janet nodded her head. "Well, you lost a lot of blood, Doctor Jackson. They transfused you, but your body still needs time to recover."

 

Sam moved closer to the head of the bed and gently brushed her fingertips over Daniel's brow. "It was close, Daniel. If we'd known Maybourne was capable of that --"

 

"It's okay, Sam." Daniel held his shallow smile. "You couldn't have known. I never even suspected myself."

 

Daniel's eyes darted back to Teal'c. The Jaffa remained stiff and silent, gazing straight ahead at some indefinable point on the far wall.

 

With an inward sigh, Daniel asked, "Teal'c, can I request a favor of you?"

 

Teal'c's gaze dropped to Daniel and surprise touched his face. "Of course, Daniel Jackson. You may ask anything."

 

"You sure? Because, it may be a bit hard to do."

 

"If it is within my power to grant your request, I will do so."

 

Daniel allowed himself another moment of self-satisfaction at his successful play on Teal'c's guilt. "Will you believe me when I tell you Sha're didn't blame you? Forgive yourself."

 

An almost imperceptible hint of moisture touched Teal'c's eyes, and he nodded slowly. "I will endeavor to do as you request."

 

Daniel focused on the next words he knew he had to say and swallowed the thick lump in his throat, but the words wouldn't come. Sha're had wanted him to forgive Teal'c, but he wasn't ready to say the words, yet.

 

~~~

 

Fraiser opened the door and let Hammond walk through in front of her, then closed it behind her. Jack and Daniel were engaged in a card game, and Daniel looked up from his hand as Jack rose from his chair.

 

"Hello, Doctor Jackson," Hammond nodded at the young man. "How are you feeling?"

 

"Not bad, considering." Daniel set his cards on the swing table.

 

"I'm happy to hear that." Hammond turned his attention to O'Neill. "Colonel, can I have a word with you in the hall?"

 

A frown darkened Daniel's face, and he pursed his lips, dropping his head back to the pillow.

 

"Yes, sir." Jack tossed a glance at Daniel, then moved around the bed toward the door and followed Hammond out.

 

In the hallway, Hammond made sure the door was firmly closed, then walked a few feet away from the room to ensure their privacy. Finally, he stopped and turned to O'Neill. "I've spent hours on the phone investigating this matter. The forensics team is still at Doctor Jackson's apartment, so I don't expect to get the results back for a while. However, Maybourne has a solid alibi for the time during which Doctor Jackson was attacked."

 

Jack's eyes narrowed. "An alibi? How solid, sir? You know he can get people to lie?"

 

"Perhaps, but he has the word of two senators to back him up, one of which is Kinsey."

 

"Kinsey!" Jack huffed. "He's got plenty of reasons to want to back someone like Maybourne."

 

Hammond sighed. "Regardless, unless we find some evidence in Doctor Jackson's apartment, there's nothing we can do against Maybourne if he has two senators acting as his alibi. It'd be their word against Doctor Jackson's, and in light of recent events..."

 

Jack's eyes flashed angrily. "Right. Daniel's gone one too many rounds with that ribbon thing, so we can just write off whatever he says. Is that it?"

 

"Colonel, it's not what you or I believe. It's what we can get other people to believe, and right now, what we need is concrete evidence."

 

"That's just great."

 

"It gets worse, Colonel."

 

Jack looked ill. "How much worse?"

 

"I got a call from the President. In light of Doctor Jackson's interference with the Tollans, his recent behavior, and the, uh, suicide attempt, the President wants Doctor Jackson removed from the program."

 

"What?!" Jack spun on his heels and started to pace. "What the hell? Does he know Daniel's the only real expert we have on...?"

 

"He knows. He says Jackson has become more of a liability than an asset."

 

"That son of a bitch."

 

"Watch it, Colonel!"

 

"He knows nothing about what we do here or how valuable Daniel is. Hell, if it weren't for Daniel, there might not even be a Stargate program."

 

"I've told him that. He knows. His decision is final."

 

Jack swallowed hard and stopped pacing, turning to face the Colonel. "This is just great. I'm supposed to go back in that room and tell Daniel, 'Don't worry, we believe you, but you're off the program." That's wonderful. Peachy."

 

"It's not your place to do that, Colonel. It's mine. As soon as Doctor Jackson has recovered, I'll inform him."

 

~~~~~~~~~

 

Jack wanted to punch something. He headed down to the cafeteria where he knew Carter and Teal'c were, not trusting himself to go back to Daniel's room until he calmed down. Spotting his teammates seated at a table with a couple of trays loaded with food and hot drinks, he hurried to them and dropped into an empty chair.

 

"O'Neill." Teal'c bowed a greeting.

 

"General here yet, sir?" Carter asked.

 

Jack sighed. "Yeah, he's here all right, and bearing good news."

 

"What's happened?" Carter leaned forward, her face grim.

 

"The President wants Daniel out of the SGC."

 

"What?" Carter's eyes went wide. "Why?"

 

"The Tollan thing. The so-called suicide. Everything, I guess. This whole thing started with the Tollans, and it looks like this is just the final straw. Or, if Maybourne's behind this, I'm sure he's helped the President's decision. Who knows what kind of garbage Maybourne's been dishing out?"

 

~~~~~~

 

Jack paused and took a deep breath before entering the room. Looking through the glass, he saw Hammond and Fraiser standing on opposite sides of Daniel's bed.

 

Hammond had said he wouldn't mention the President's decision until after Daniel recovered, and Jack hoped the general had kept his word. Daniel had obviously noticed that something was wrong when Hammond first came to visit, and the archeologist had a way of picking at something until he got what he wanted. In this case, if Daniel suspected something was up, he could very well subtly pester Hammond into spilling the beans.

 

The sooner Jack got in there, the better. Pushing open the door, he plastered on a smile and sauntered into the room. "Hey, Danny. Bored with this place yet?"

 

Daniel arched his eyebrows. "You could say that."

 

Jack stopped at the foot of the bed and glanced from Hammond to Fraiser. "Now that Daniel's awake and, uh, capable of speaking for himself, it should be a cinch to get him out of here and into the SGC's infirmary. Right?"

 

"Yes." Fraiser nodded, looking to Daniel. "All you have to do is say the word, and we can arrange a transport."

 

Daniel's brow furrowed, forming a crease between his eyes. He looked at Jack. "Uh, the hospital thought I tried to kill myself and considered me incompetent to make my own medical decisions, right?"

 

Jack swallowed. "Uh-huh. But we cleared that up..."

 

"You sure?"

 

"Yeah, of course." Jack shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pockets.

 

"Uh-huh." Daniel's eyes narrowed. "Is there something I should know?"

 

"No."

 

"Okaaay. Then is there any real reason I need to be in any kind of medical facility?"

 

"Doctor Jackson," Fraiser answered, "you nearly died..."

 

"I know." Daniel sighed and sank deeper into his pillow. "But they fixed me up, transfused me, and now there's nothing much for them to do except keep me under observation."

 

"You're forgetting the whole Maybourne thing, Daniel. He's after you, right?"

 

"Yeah." Daniel nodded slowly. "Okay, send a transport. I'll go to the SGC,"

 

Jack leaned forward and patted Daniel's leg. "Good boy.”

 

Daniel didn't look happy. "You know, with the amount of time I've been spending in the infirmary, would it be too much to ask to get a TV? Here," he jerked his chin to the television hanging off the far wall, "I think I could probably get the History Channel."

 

~~~~~~~

 

Maybourne frowned as he hung up the phone. "Damn." He closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair. The Jackson thing had become a huge mess, but at least the President had finally stopped catering to Hammond's whims. Jackson would no longer be a nuisance, but with his knowledge of the SGC, he still posed an unacceptable security risk.

 

~~~~~~~~

 

A knock tore Hammond's attention away from the report on his desk. "Come in."

 

The door swung inward, and Colonel O'Neill strolled inside. He stopped a foot away from the desk. "Any news from the forensics folks?"

 

Hammond grimaced. He'd just gotten the report an hour ago, and he wasn't looking forward to breaking the news. "They didn't find anything out of the ordinary. No fingerprints or footprints except yours, Doctor Jackson's, and the paramedics'. Basically, nothing."

 

Just a whole lot of blood in the bathroom. Hammond tried to block the imagined scene from his mind. He could only guess what O'Neill must have felt seeing it in living color.

 

"Damn." Jack closed his eyes briefly, then opened them again. "So, when are you going to break the news to Daniel?"

 

Hammond sighed tiredly. He really, really hated his job sometimes. "Doctor Fraiser says he's doing well. I thought I'd give him a couple more days to recuperate."

 

"Permission to tell him myself, sir?"

 

"Denied, Colonel, I--"

 

"Please, sir." Jack stood straight. "No offense, but I think this should come from me. I’m Daniel’s direct commanding officer. Besides, I owe it to him."

 

"You really want to do this, Colonel?"

 

Jack took a breath and nodded. "No, I don't want to, sir, but I think I know Daniel better than just about anybody here. I owe it to him as both his commander and his friend."

 

Hammond leaned back in his chair, his chest heavy. "Okay, Colonel," he said gently. "Permission granted."


~~~

Jack strolled into the infirmary, his hands in his pockets, and saw Dr. Fraiser hovering near Daniel's bed, clipboard in hand.

"Hey. How's it going?"

Daniel's bed was raised to a comfortable sitting level, a book perched open on his lap. He looked up at Jack and managed a weak smile. "Okay." Eyeing Fraiser, he added, "Doctor Fraiser says I can do the rest of my recovery in a VIP room."

"Yes," Fraiser nodded, lowering her clipboard and turning to face Jack. "He's doing very well. In fact, he could even go home, if it weren't for the threat from Maybourne."

"Ah, right." Jack swallowed, then took a deep breath.

"What?" Daniel closed the book. He looked at Jack with dark, skeptical eyes. "Let me guess. The forensics team found nothing in my apartment that would corroborate my story?"

"Uh, no, they didn't, but they haven't filed their official report yet." Jack fidgeted on the balls of his feet. "Like you predicted, they left no evidence."

"Not surprising."

Fraiser threw a concerned look at Jack. "I see." She pursed her lips, then turned to Daniel. "If you'll excuse me for a moment, Doctor Jackson, I need to go over a few things with the Colonel."

"Right." Daniel's face was stone. "Going to discuss whether I made up the Maybourne story?"

She sighed. "No, I don't think you'd make something like that up."

"Then the ribbon device has caused me to suffer some more, uh, vivid dreams, right? I'm deluding myself because I don't want to face the truth, just like with Sha're. Is that it?"

Fraiser brought the clipboard to her chest, hugging it tightly. "Doctor Jackson, I believe you about Maybourne. Personally, that is. However, I still want to have you undergo a psychiatric eval--"

"Great." Daniel batted his head against the pillow. "More one-on-one time with McKenzie?"

"It's just an evaluation, Doctor Jackson."

Daniel eyed her. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but my last psychiatric evaluation resulted in a misdiagnosis that ended up with me in a white room and drugged out of my mind."

Fraiser bowed her head, then looked up at Jack.

"Oh, no." Jack raised his hands. "Don't look at me, Doc. Last time, I said it was 'stress,' if you remember. Okay, granted, that turned out to be wrong, too, but at least I was all for not putting him in the little white room." He looked at Daniel. "For the record, I believe you about Maybourne."

A faint, lopsided smile brightened Daniel's face. "You do?"

"Yes," Jack glanced at Fraiser. "I do."

"Thanks." Daniel waved a hand in the air, "As for the psych evaluation. Fine. You'll find out that, yes, I'm depressed because my wife just died but, no, I don't want to kill myself. Is that okay, or am I not allowed to be depressed?"

"You're allowed, Daniel," Fraiser gave a sad smile. "I'll schedule the appointment for you."

Jack took a slow, deep breath as he watched Fraiser turn and head out of the infirmary. He looked back at Daniel, and guilt tugged at him when he met the relieved blue eyes of the younger man. He could hold off telling Daniel for a day or so, but eventually, he'd have to give him the bad news.

Damn Maybourne. Damn the President, too. Politicians. They were worse than lawyers.

 

~~~

 

"Twenty-five."

 

Jack frowned, his eyes sweeping over the dominoes arranged on the table. "Damn." Glancing up at Daniel, he scribbled the score in the column beneath Daniel's name on the top sheet of the notepad.

 

"You sure it's been fifteen years since you've played this game?"

 

Daniel gave a faint smile. "About that."

 

Leaning back in his chair, Jack's gaze swept around the VIP room. "You know, we need a TV and VCR in this room. We could do a movie night." He raised his eyebrows. "I'll spring for the pizza and beer."

 

"I'll take you up on that offer." Daniel gestured to the dominoes. "Your turn."

 

Giving a scowl, Jack looked down at the blocks on his lap. He studied them for nearly a minute, then slapped a piece on the table, matching Daniel's four on the right end of the arrangement. The other end of the domino displayed three dots, and he quickly recalculated the outer blocks.

 

"Ten." Flashing a smile, Jack scribbled his score on the pad.

 

Daniel nodded solemnly, leaning over the table to view the score sheet. "Good. Now you only need, uh, seventy-five more points to catch up."

 

Jack looked up at him. "Smartass."

 

"Must be hanging around you too much."

 

"Apparently."

 

"So," Daniel looked down at his own blocks, "has the official forensics report on my apartment come back yet?"

 

Jack nodded slowly. Damn, what a way to spoil a game. "Uh, yeah."

 

"When?" Suspicion laced Daniel's voice.

 

"This morning."

 

"Ah. I'm guessing you haven't said anything about it because it's bad news. They didn't find anything to corroborate my story, did they?"

 

Jack shook his head. "No, they didn't, but like you said, it was a long-shot. Not even Maybourne is that stupid. If it's one thing those NID folks tend to do well, it's hide their tracks."

 

Daniel frowned, his eyes never leaving the blocks on his lap. "So, what now?" He placed a domino on the table and jerked his chin toward the pad. "Five."

 

Jack scribbled the score down, grateful for the brief distraction. He looked down at his remaining pieces. Silence dragged as he stared blankly at the blocks while trying to decide the best way to break the news to Daniel.

 

Hell, there was no way to do it other than straight. He looked up at Daniel and sighed heavily. "It's not good."

 

Daniel leaned back, his shoulders slumping in resignation. "Let me guess. I'm grounded pending a full psychiatric evaluation."

 

Jack shifted in his seat. "Uh, no. Hammond received orders from the President." He grabbed his dominoes and tossed them on the table, frustration clawing at him.

 

Daniel's eyes narrowed, and he set his jaw firmly. "Yeeeaah?"

 

Damn. Jack took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Daniel. The President wants you dismissed from the SGC."

 

Daniel didn't even blink. He just sat there, still, and looked at Jack. Finally, he bowed his head slightly. "No."

 

Jack raised his eyebrows. "No?"

 

Daniel looked back up. "I have to find Sha're's son. I promised her."

 

Jack sighed and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "Daniel..."

 

"I didn't dream it, Jack."

 

"Okay." He nodded slowly. "We'll look for him. I'll talk to Hammond...."

 

"No."

 

"No." Jack shook his head. "Daniel, I hate to break the news to you, but you don't have a choice here." He winced inwardly at the harshness of his words, but forced himself to meet Daniel's stoic gaze.

 

"Fine. Request permission to return to Kasuf. He's the closest I have to family."

 

Jack nodded, grateful that he might be able to grant the request, after he discussed it with Hammond, of course. He knew why Daniel was agreeing so readily. He wasn't stupid. As soon as he went through the gate to the Abydonians, he'd have free access to the Stargate system, minus Earth, of course.

 

"I'll talk to Hammond about it." Jack leaned forward. "But I know what you're thinking. I'm not going to try to stop you, but you know it'd be a virtual suicide mission. You'd be without backup, virtually weaponless..."

 

"I made a promise."

 

"I can't guarantee that Hammond will approve it."

 

"Just ask. Please."

 

Jack nodded, a sadness swelling in his chest as he looked at Daniel and realized that, in the very near future, his friend would be gone, one way or the other. "Okay."

 

~~~~

 

"No, Colonel."

 

Jack couldn't believe what he was hearing. "No? Sir..."

 

"The President refuses to clear this. Doctor Jackson represents too great a security risk to allow him free access to the Stargate network."

 

"He just wants to live with the only family he has left." Jack swallowed the lie hard. He knew he wasn't fooling Hammond.

 

"Colonel, you and I both know what Doctor Jackson is likely to do the moment he steps through that gate."

 

Jack sighed and dropped to the chair. "Yeah, I do." He leaned back in his chair. "We owe this to him, sir."

 

Hammond's shoulders slouched, and he bowed his head slightly. "I know that, but we can't give it to him. Like it or not, Colonel, we take our orders from the President."

 

~~~~

 

Jack watched silently as Daniel held the large wedding cup up to the light, the bandage around his wrist barely peeking out from his long sleeves. He seemed oblivious to Jack's presence, his eyes focused on the cup, looking as though he relished the heaviness of it in his hand. Jack wondered what memories were playing behind those calm eyes. Daniel had once described the wedding ceremony for him and Sha're as simple but full of laughter and joy. It had followed Ra's defeat, and the ceremony had served not only to cement his and Sha're's marriage, but also to celebrate the Abydonians' new freedom.

 

Leaning casually against the doorframe, Jack cleared his throat. "Hey, Daniel."

 

Daniel sighed and wrapped the cup in bubble wrap, then placed it carefully in the box and looked up. "Hello, Jack."

 

Jack pushed off the doorframe and sauntered inside. "How's the packing going?"

 

"Slowly."

 

"Ah." Jack bit the inside of his cheek as he prepared to deliver the bad news.

 

"The general didn't approve my request, did he?" Daniel asked calmly.

 

Damn. Jack wondered whether his face had given him away or whether Daniel had just made a lucky guess. "No," he sighed heavily, his shoulders slouching. "He wanted to, but the President overruled him."

 

"I see." Daniel pursed his lips and looked down to the table at a small, round artifact that remained unwrapped.

 

"I'm sorry, Daniel."

 

"I know." Daniel picked up the artifact and began delicately wrapping it in bubbled plastic.

 

"What are you going to do now?" Jack moved closer to his friend.

 

Daniel shrugged one shoulder, but his eyes were cold and steady. "Find a dig somewhere, I guess."

 

Jack's eyes narrowed. Daniel was supremely calm for a man whose life was crumbling around him. Maybe the kid had gotten used to it. Hell, he'd lost everything several times during his life -- his parents, his wife, his career. Somehow, he'd rebuilt from the ashes each time, so maybe this was all just second-nature to him by now.

 

Jack didn't think so, though. Beneath the calm exterior, Daniel was a passionate, driven man. Even now, Jack could see the hard resolve in Daniel's deceptively tranquil blue eyes, but how Daniel hoped to continue his search for Sha're's son without access to a stargate was beyond Jack's comprehension.

 

"You haven't published in years," Jack said matter-of-factly, wincing inwardly at the reminder of the sacrifices Daniel had made for the SGC. "You think someone will let you work on a dig?"

 

Daniel placed the wrapped artifact into the box. "I'll find something."

 

"What about your promise to Sha're?"

 

Daniel stiffened almost imperceptibly.

 

Aha. Jack knew he'd hit a nerve. He'd meant to, even though he hated the whole situation. Hated seeing Daniel leave. Hated watching everything Daniel had worked for shatter into pieces. He needed to know what was going on in Daniel's head, though. God forbid...

 

Daniel looked pointedly up at Jack. "I guess I don't have much chance of fulfilling it without access to the Stargate, do I?" There was a hard undercurrent to Daniel's voice that stood in stark contrast to the words of defeat.

 

"No," Jack conceded, "I guess you don't."

 

Even as he said the words, he wasn't sure he believed them. Despite Daniel's words, Jack knew the young man wasn't giving up, and if anyone could succeed against impossible odds, it was Daniel. This time, however, Daniel would have to go it alone.

 

~~~~~~

 

Daniel leaned into the corner and kept a tolerant silence as he watched the uniformed men perform their final search of his office, making sure he hadn't misappropriated any classified materials. They'd already unpacked half of his artifacts to double check that the itemized labels on the boxes were correct, and they were now performing another sweep of his cabinets and shelves to confirm the things that should be there still were.

 

It felt nice to be trusted.

 

He sighed inwardly at his own sarcasm. He knew they were just following standard operating procedures, and in fact, they had good reason to be cautious with him. He did, after all, have a great deal of intimate knowledge of the SGC in his head, and more importantly, a mission he had to accomplish.

 

They needn't worry so much, however. He wasn't stupid enough to try to smuggle anything out of the SGC. On the contrary, the things he'd left behind would make it absolutely necessary for them to call him back to the base to tie up a few loose ends.

 

Until then, he'd have time to research and plan.

 

~~~~~~~~

 

Jack paused, his hand on the doorknob, and looked at Teal'c. "Remember, now. We're not touching him." He raised a finger. "No physical contact."

 

Teal'c nodded. "I understand."

 

"Good." Taking a breath, Jack pushed the door open. They'd traveled a long way, on official 'leave' from the SGC, to surprise Maybourne.

 

Colonel Maybourne looked up from his desk as Jack sauntered inside with Teal'c at his heels. "Hello, Harry. How's it going?"

 

Maybourne leaned back in his chair, looking aggravatingly unsurprised by the visit. "Hello, Jack. Things are fine here, thank you." He gestured to the empty chair in front of his desk. "Have a seat. What brings you here?"

 

Jack leaned forward, bracing himself with his palms on the desktop. "Oh, I think you know what brings me here."

 

"No, Colonel, I don't."

 

"Daniel Jackson."

 

"Ah, yes." Maybourne frowned, looking genuinely distressed. "I heard about that. What a shame."

 

"Jackson told us you broke into his apartment with two goons and tried to kill him."

 

"Yes." Maybourne took a breath. "I heard about that, too. General Hammond called me to ask a few questions. As you should know by now, I've been cleared of Doctor Jackson's accusations." He shook his head sadly. "Not that I blame the poor man, after what he's been through. He's bound to be a bit...delusional."

 

Jack lunged forward and grabbed the collar of Maybourne's dress uniform. "Listen to me, you son of a bitch--"

 

"Colonel," Maybourne tensed, "I suggest you--"

 

"-- don't even think about making a second attempt on Jackson's life, or Teal'c and I are going to pay you another visit, and next time we won't be so cordial."

 

"Don't threaten me, Colonel."

 

"I just did." Jack released Maybourne, letting him fall to the chair, then glanced back at Teal'c. "I think we're finished here."

 

Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "Indeed."

 

Jack threw an angry glance at Maybourne and walked out of the office. Teal'c closed the door, then asked quietly, "Was that not physical contact, O'Neill?"

 

"Not even close," Jack huffed, storming past the receptionist's desk.

 

~~~~~~~

 

Standing in the center of his apartment, Daniel barely glanced at the other unpacked boxes from his office as he reached into one of the intermediate-sized ones and withdrew a very large and very heavy book.

 

He had only a name to go on. Kheb. It was supposed to be a myth, nothing more. Apparently, however, it was more. It was a planet. One planet in an overwhelmingly large universe, and he had to find it.

 

To do that, he needed access to the Stargate system, but first, he had to find all the references to Kheb in Earth's literature and memorize any symbols associated with it. Then, he'd be armed with the minimum amount of information he needed to begin his search out there. Alone. He wouldn't be able to carry a lot of books with him. A computer would be useless with only a battery and no permanent, reliable power source.

 

He could make use of a palm computer, and take a lot of extra batteries with him, but even that would be limited in its use, with very little memory. Still, it would be better than nothing. His brain would have to do the rest. He'd have to memorize all the important facts and symbols. Fortunately, he was remarkably gifted at memorization.

 

His main concern was encoding the information on the palm device so that, if it fell into the wrong hands, only he'd be able to make sense of it. Additionally, if he ever got captured, the information in his head would be available to the Goa'uld. Such information could help Apophis find Kheb, and if that happened, Earth was doomed. He couldn't allow that to happen, at any cost.

 

He swallowed hard as he opened the book's cover and skimmed the table of contents. He had an impossible task in front of him, and he'd have to do it all alone with both the Goa'uld and the SGC hunting him down, most likely.

 

A knock on the door pulled him from his thoughts. Placing the book on top of a box, he looked at the door and sighed inwardly. It was probably Jack. Unfortunately, Daniel had a lot of work to do, and even more unfortunately, Jack and the rest of SG1 couldn't be privy to his plans.

 

"Daniel! You in there?" Jack's impatient voice filtered through the door.

 

Taking a deep breath, Daniel moved toward the door and unlocked the chain. "Yeah." He turned the knob and pulled, revealing Jack, Teal'c, and Sam in the hallway. Two large pizza boxes were balanced in Jack's arms. "Hey, guys."

 

"We brought dinner." Jack moved forward, but Daniel stopped him.

 

"I'm sorry, Jack." Daniel's gaze darted over the threesome. "I, uh, can't right now."

 

"Oh," Jack tried to peek over Daniel's shoulder. "Whatcha doing?"

 

Daniel shrugged, blocking Jack's view. "Not much."

 

"We thought we'd help you unpack," Sam offered.

 

"We have many free hours to spend here," Teal'c said.

 

Daniel shifted uncomfortably. He really needed to get to work, which meant he really needed to get rid of Jack, Sam, and Teal'c. "That's, uh, really nice, guys, but now isn't a good time."

 

"Why?" Jack tilted his head, still balancing the pizzas. "You got a hot date in there?"

 

A small smile cracked Daniel's lips. "If I say 'Yes,' will you go away?"

 

Teal'c bowed his head slightly. "We are also here to offer protection."

 

"Protection?" Daniel's chin snapped up a fraction. "You really think Maybourne's going to try something else, especially," his voice faltered a bit, "now?" Now that he was discharged from the SGC, he could no longer pose any problems for Maybourne.

 

Jack shrugged. "Nah, not really. Probably nothing at all to worry about, but you know, better safe than sorry."

 

Daniel pursed his lips, eyeing Jack tolerantly. "You can't guard me forever. I'm no longer with the SGC, and you all have jobs to get back to." His chest tightened as he spoke those words. Jack, Sam, and Teal'c were his closest friends and just about the only people he had left in the world. Now, even they were being ripped from him.

 

Daniel's eyes stung, and he blinked quickly.

 

Sam smiled softly and took a step forward. "We've got a week's downtime, courtesy of the general."

 

"Good." Daniel glanced back at the book lying open on top of a box. "I'm sorry, though." His gaze returned to his friends. "This really isn't a good time."

 

"Oh, come on, Daniel. What could you possibly have to do...?" Jack's voice died suddenly, and a pained grimace flew over his face. "Sorry, I didn't, uh... You know I didn't mean it like that."

 

"It's okay, Jack." Daniel straightened his shoulders. "I appreciate the concern, really, but you'll have to go. Do something fun with your week off. All of you."

 

Sam stared at him with wide eyes. "Daniel..."

 

"I'm sorry, Sam. Goodbye." Daniel stepped back and closed the door on his friends, quickly fastening the chain lock. Turning slowly, he walked back to the book to begin his research.

 

~~~~~~

 

Doctor Ray Cutter sighed and flopped into the one vacant chair in Doctor Jackson's former office. Of all the assignments to get, he had to find himself stuck sorting through stacks of files, boxes, and books.

 

How the hell was he supposed to pick up where Jackson had left off? The place was chaos, and the handwritten notes weren't even in the realm of legible. He wasn't even sure they were in English.

 

The only thing he could decipher was a post-it note on the cover of a file folder with "URGENT!" written in bold red pen. Inside the folder were more notes, a few photographs, and some sketches. Cutter assumed the material was in reference to one of SG1's missions, but he couldn't make much sense of the notes. Evidently, something inside the folder was important, but unfortunately, he had no idea what.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Maybourne swiveled in his chair when the phone rang. His hand lashed out and snatched the receiver. "Maybourne."

 

"Snoop Doggie Dog is in the house."

 

Maybourne glanced at the ceiling. They really needed to stop trying to be creative with the codes. "Status?"

 

"Stuck playing cards. Jack of clubs is face-up."

 

"I see." Maybourne frowned. He'd expected O'Neill to check up on Jackson, but the colonel couldn't babysit the doctor forever. "Stand down. Resume at 0800."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Daniel chewed at his bottom lip as he watched the download indicator on his computer screen. He eyed the palm device, propped snugly in its cradle, as it soaked up the information from his desktop.

 

He leaned back in his chair and yawned, eyeing the clock. It was only two hours 'til midnight, but he was exhausted.

The phone rang. He stared at the cordless on the end table and blinked. It rang again. Shaking his head, he slid his fingers under his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, then rose from the chair and picked up the receiver.

 

"Hello."

 

"Doctor Jackson, it's General Hammond. I'm sorry to bother you, but..."

 

A faint smile touched Daniel's lips. "It's no bother."

 

"Would it be possible for you to come on base tomorrow morning? Your, uh, replacement is having some difficulty deciphering your notes."

 

"Not a problem, General. Eight o'clock?"

 

"That'll be fine. Thank you, Doctor. Goodnight."

 

"Goodnight." Daniel hung up the phone and stared at it for several moments. Tomorrow might be the last time he ever saw his friends again.

 

He had a lot to do to prepare. Glancing at the monitor, he saw that the download was complete and lifted the palm device from its cradle, then shut down the computer. He had all he needed from the machine. Now, it was time to pack.

 

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

On To Part 2