Disclaimer: The research I did precludes my staking claim to Amaterasu, Budo and the Martial Way, among others. This is a post-Menace season 5 AU fic off the "Daniel is a Nigh-Time Ninja" tidbit, courtesy Michael Shanks. Stargate, obviously, doesn't belong to me either.


Daniel heaved a soft sigh. Pulling off his glasses, he pinched the bridge of his nose. He glanced at the time, blinking in the corner of his computer screen. 0035. Nearly 1 a.m. When had he started thinking in military time? he wondered, then dismissed the question with a shake of his head.

The translation sitting in front of him was fully complete, the touch-ups and refinements finished a half-hour ago. The archaeologist glanced around the room, noting the other piles of work to be done, and pursed his lips, feeling his heart crack just that little bit more.

Turning to the computer, he finished the final sentence of the letter, and then read it over. His attention wandered twice before he could drag it back to the brief missive, which he automatically saved to file and buried in the secure depths of the massive USAF hard-drive.

He knew the time was coming when SG-1 would be expected out actively in the field once more. The last few missions had been simple – mineral and botanical samplings – to allow the team to get back on their feet after the disastrous replicator incident. His arm had healed long ago. His heart hadn't.

Daniel sat back, trying to think of where it had all gone wrong.

It wasn't simple. The NID cover-up had been truly a rude awakening for him. Forgiveness had never been the issue, though he had been angry for a short time. It had been hard all around, a complex issue pitting the good of the many over the good of the individual. Daniel winced, running a shaking hand over his face in utter exhaustion. He tried to tell himself that it had only been temporary, in any case, but that was somewhat akin to using a gauze pad to try to staunch a sucking chest wound. Forgiveness was never easy, but forgetting was even harder. Some essential element of trust had shattered in Jack's living room, and Daniel had to wonder now if it was broken beyond repair. He'd tried, hiding his wariness and unease around the others. He'd been conscious of a subtle difference ever since Jack had forced him to react, instead of act, to leave in order to allow the colonel to infiltrate the NID. That had changed everything. Recalling the ugly scene in Jack's living room, Daniel shuddered.

He didn't know if that had been the beginning, but it blazed in his mind as the catalyst of how easy it would be to tear SG-1 apart. The team didn't function without Jack – Daniel firmly believed that he was the core, the charisma that held them together. It had been hard for them to face how bereft they felt without him, and the knowledge was most unwelcome.

Things hadn't been the same since then, sliding away from him so gradually that by the time he noticed, Sam and Teal'c were firmly entrenched by Jack's side, a seemingly unbreachable gap between them – and him. The proof had been Euronda. Even thinking about that incident made Daniel slump dejectedly back in his chair, the hot shame of humiliation curling within him. He'd been fully aware of the consequences of questioning Jack in front of the Eurondans, knew that it was never wise to appear to have a divided front in the face of opposition. But he seriously doubted that Jack was able to hear him any other way – a fact which he was still internally debating.

The battle had always been an uphill one, he mused, hating the feeling of chilly detachment winding sinuously through him. From the moment he had entered the Stargate program, he'd had to fight tooth and nail for respect and acknowledgement. A part of him knew that yes, respect should be earned. Another part was crying out at the injustice of a respect that was so rarely shown that its appearance heralded bewilderment. The jibes and remarks that Jack had always made during missions had become more cutting, and less friendly, over the past few months. He was, he conceded reluctantly, tired of the censure, tired of being degraded. While he loved Sam and Teal'c, their silence was tacit support of the colonel's position. Somehow, without his knowing it, he'd been edged to the outside again. He fought to be heard, fought to do the right thing. He'd been battling twice as much as the others since the start - he'd been combating them in order to wage war on the Goa'uld. As he was just now realizing, wars fought on two fronts were seldom won. Denying this battle had only, in the end, prolonged the unacknowledged conflict.

Daniel turned contemplative eyes once more to his resignation letter. It said none of this, of course. It was barely eight sentences long. The simple request stated that he was leaving the program, and gave none of his reasons. The real reason had taken Daniel himself a long time to realize. He had nothing more to give, nothing more with which to fight. His colleagues - he could no longer think of the team any other way - had finally succeeded where the NID and Goa'uld couldn't, simply by wearing him down. It went against everything he was to quit. He had held out against this for a long time, but the last several missions had brutally shown him that whatever he had accomplished in the last few years was being steadily negated, sometimes with his own assistance.

With all these thoughts swirling in his head, Daniel reached automatically for his journal, to try to sort out some of his turmoil. He opened to a blank page, and stared. He just - couldn't. Turning the page, he glanced at the date of the last entry, and was surprised to find that it was nearly a month ago. He'd been so tense, for so long, that he would shatter to pieces if something didn't give. With a sour taste in his mouth, he confronted the knowledge that the only thing that could yield without snapping was he himself.

Glancing at the clock, he found that it was now 1:15 am. This day was the last of their downtime - there was a mission briefing the morning after, and a mission scheduled to leave that afternoon.

Daniel shut down his computer and stood. He stretched stiffly, and then grabbed his jacket, leaving all his papers and books in his office. He needed to relax, and he could think of only one way to do that - in the process, wiping all thoughts of translations and enemy parasites from his mind. He'd missed so many practices as it was.

Daniel walked through the nearly empty corridors to the locker room, and changed. He opened his locker, looked at the three extra pairs of clothes, and took two down. He cleaned out some of the excess items as well, personal things that he knew he would be better off taking now.

Moving to the elevator, he waited in silent deliberation. After signing out and plodding tiredly to his car, he realized that his choice had been a long time in the making. He simply was no longer able to find joy in his life. He hadn't been truly happy since Abydos, but he accepted his own unhappiness as a consequence of opening the Stargate. The truth was bitter, but he knew that only he was at fault for his life. Sha'uri's death twisted within him like a knife, bleeding a little more every day. She was the first thing on his mind each morning, and Daniel rarely got through a day without thinking of her.

He was thinking of her now, he wryly recognized, turning the key in the ignition. His mind was a blessed numbness until he reached the highway, when it picked up the thread exactly where it had fallen.

That pain was somehow harshly compounded by the increased military focus of their missions. They were no longer a first contact team, rather a de facto fighting unit. Daniel had adjusted to the increasing violence in an effort to avoid being cast aside; but he could feel himself closing off, shutting down, even more. Bit by slow bit, his soul was being chipped away. It . . . hurt.

Leaving now, getting out, was his only last-ditch means of survival. He had done it before, was no stranger to cutting loose and starting over. After the second abusive foster home, he'd known what he had to do. He'd simply packed his backpack, gone to school one day, and never gone back. True, he'd been picked up by Social Services three states away, but it had been enough to get him out of that jurisdiction. He'd been able to talk his way out of being returned.

But this was different. Jack, Teal'c and Sam – they had coaxed him from his solitude, blasted away his precious ability to be alone without being assaulted by loneliness. And now the utter isolation he felt ripped viciously into him with every breath. They were never further away than those moments when, physically, they stood side by side.

Daniel made the last turn slowly, pulling his car into the parking lot behind his building. Gathering up his things and locking the car, he made his way up to his apartment. Clothes were haphazardly tumbled into the laundry basket, miscellaneous items thoughtlessly cast onto the kitchen table.

For a moment he stared at the loft, which in the semi-darkness and its half-packed state looked foreign and unwelcoming. Suddenly unable to stand it, he moved to his bedroom, which he had held off packing for the obvious reason. Surrounded by comforting familiarity, he felt able to breathe again and sat on the bed, slowly peeling off his clothes before crawling under the covers to try to dream himself back into happier days.