Veritas

A/N: Stargate: SG-1, Rurouni Kenshin, and Airwolf belong to their respective creators. No infringement intended. Story takes place sometime after "Spin Cycle"; another bit of "Urban Legends". Refers back to "Closer Than They Appear" and "While There Is Life".

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Jack

When you've been in the Stargate program a while, you start thinking about Fate.

Can't help it, really. After you've died a couple times, "Why are we here?" takes on whole new meaning.

So, if you're a somewhat introspective type like me - hey, I've got a telescope on my roof, I know about introspective - well, you start to look around. You start noticing that a lot of people go through pretty regular lives. No big ups, no big downs, just kind of ordinary. Fate pats 'em on the head, or maybe socks 'em in the jaw, and moves on.

'Course, you also start noticing that some people only meet Fate once - and it's fatal. Car wreck. Maniac with a sniper rifle. One bolt falling out and derailing a train. Bam. Case closed.

Maybe they're the lucky ones. Fate doesn't have it in for them. Like they say, nothing personal, just business.

Daniel would argue with that. Daniel would argue that being alive is lucky, no matter what snarky tricks Fate pulls out of a hat. Daniel would probably keep arguing while Fate tied him to a railroad track with barbed wire and a red silk bow on top.

Which is probably why he's still alive, come to think.

...No, I take that back. I try to be honest. With myself, anyway. And honestly, I have no clue why Daniel's still breathing.

Though lord, have I ever seen the result.

'Cause you see, there's really three types of people out there. You've got your ordinary Fate types, your one-touch-of-Fate-and-die types...

And then you've got the people Fate follows around like a manic wrecking ball, smashing the living daylights out of anybody who doesn't run like blazes the minute they get that little quiver down the spine that says time's up.

Oh yeah, we say it's training. We say it's instinct. Finely honed warrior reflexes giving warning at the very last minute.

Bull. It's that little twitch of hairs at the base of your neck, hairs that are tied right into the ears. All the better to hear Fate giggling at you.

Clue time. Fate giggling is bad.

And Fate giggles a lot around Daniel.

Which is why we're here in the Kamiya dojo, right now, swinging sticks around.

Well, Daniel's swinging a stick. I'm kind of hiding here in the back, watching, while a little lady named Kaoru leads the class in kata and free-form fighting, a tall, spiky-haired guy by the handle of Sanosuke Sagara wrestles three students at once, and a little redhead older than Teal'c coaxes one absent-minded archaeologist into paying attention to the very hard wood coming at his not-so-hard head.

Older than Teal'c. At least. I don't know exactly how long he's been around. I'm kind of scared to ask.

Yeah. Scared. Me. Colonel. Guy who regularly deals with Things Man Was Not Meant To Know - not in any sane galaxy, at least. Forget seeing aliens - I've shook hands with 'em, killed 'em, and hijacked their spaceships. Not all to the same guys, thank god. Anyway, I've seen the strange. A lot. But it's always been alien strange.

All of which kind of leave the mind not ready to accept that some small, scrawny redhead who's not a Goa'uld, a Tok'ra, or anything else in the alien line, was becoming a bloody legend in Kyoto about a hundred and forty years ago.

140 years ago.

Hell, I still can't wrap my mind around it. Civil war, WWI and II, all the messy ups and downs of a world that can't seem to ever keep itself straightened out more than a year at a time, tops - he's seen it all. Survived it all. Even disco.

Which is to say that Kenshin Himura, AKA Himura Kenshin, AKA Himura Battousai, AKA Hitokiri Battousai, has been going nyah in the face of Fate for a Very Long Time.

Fate tends to get annoyed about this.

And every once in a while - not every day, mind you, or even every week, but every once in a while - Fate takes a swing at annoying little guys.

'Cause after all, you never know. You just might get lucky.

Kenshin's still here. Which to a guy like me, is scarier than all the swords in the world.

"Yamete." Kenshin steps back, giving my archaeologist a fishy eye. "Your sight is off, that it is."

"Ah - well-"

A slim hand goes up, cutting off the stammer. "I do not believe it is a deliberate difficulty. Come."

And... they're heading this way. Eeep.

Deep breath, O'Neill. See those two knife-marks, crossing on his cheek? Himura's not invincible. People have gotten close enough to hurt him.

People have gotten that close, and he's still here, the more cautious part of me yelps. Running? Good? Now?

And I tell that part of me to go stuff it, 'cause he's here. Now. Looking me over like....

Okay, that's weird.

Himura's not looking me over like an assassin, dissecting an opponent before the first blade strikes. Not even an instructor, alert for holes in form and technique.

He's looking me over like... Janet would.

"Sit," Kenshin instructs Daniel. Takes a silent step back, and looks us both over. Frowning.

Daniel and I trade bewildered glances. Huh? My eyes ask.

Got me, wide blue blinks back.

"You have been within a strong magnetic field," Kenshin says deliberately.

Say what?

"I would say it was artificial, that I would." Kenshin moves a flattened palm a few inches away from Daniel's shoulder, as if he's feeling static prickle the air. "The distortion in your energies is too long-lasting to be born of a natural phenomenon, such as a crater."

...How the hell did he know we just came out of Janet's MRI?

"For you, this is not so great a difficulty," Kenshin informs me, one dark red brow arched. "For one who sees with his heart, it distorts the sense of ki greatly. Your sense of others is off, is it not? There is an ache, here?" Light as a feather, he presses his fingers to the side of Daniel's head.

Danny looks like he's just been gut-shot.

By which I'm guessing Himura's dead right.

Damn.

Headaches have been kind of a given around the SGC for years now. You 'Gate, you get headaches. Daniel's are the worst of anybody's who goes through the Stargate - which is one reason MacKenzie was so quick to believe Daniel cracked under the pressure.

Only - and damn it, why didn't I think of this before - Danny doesn't get headaches like that off-world, no matter how many 'Gates we trip through. Only after he gets home. After the post-mission exam.

Which, ever since Jolinar stashed away in Sam, includes an MRI. Mandatory.

"Stay still," Kenshin says gently, picking up Daniel's left hand. "This should lessen the pain, that it should."

Accupressure, I realize, watching slim fingers press home at specific spots. Himura's done this before.

And it looks like he knows what he's doing, 'cause the fine lines just eased around Daniel's eyes. He still looks tired, but he doesn't radiate so much of that stretched-elastic tension anymore.

Violet eyes look Daniel over one more time, and Kenshin nods, satisfied. "Come."

They head back into the class, and I nibble at my knuckle, absently wishing for a little salt. Okay, O'Neill. What just happened here?

I know Himura's not your standard human. I don't know what he is, but I know that much. He's too fast. Too strong - maybe not Teal'c's range, but way stronger than anyone smaller than Janet should be.

And he sees energy.

I don't know if "sees" is the right word for it. From the stuff I've cornered out of Daniel about the Aindrias corpse-smoke, it's kind of a see and feel and scent, all wrapped up in one weird synesthesia-type package. So say Himura senses energy. Or ki, as he calls it. Funky New Age warrior-mystic type stuff....

Only if it was all in his head, he wouldn't know about the MRI, would he? A snarky part of me points out.

Sometimes I hate it when I'm right.

Kennedy would have Himura in Area 51 by now.

The hell with Kennedy. I wouldn't give Apophis to Kennedy.

Though maybe Hathor. Yep, definitely Hathor.

And anyway, Kennedy getting his grimy paws on Himura would lead to Kennedy getting his paws on Daniel, and that is just so not an option-

Wait a sec.

I double-check that chain of gut reaction, fitting in feeling with facts. Older than he looks. Senses energy. Able to read people well enough to take them apart with words like razors.

Whatever weird part of the human spectrum Himura falls into, Daniel's just a few shades away.

And with that, my gut finally settles. Daniel is human, so Himura is human. Weird human, but human. And humans aren't Kennedy's problem.

If I weren't already propped in this chair, I think I'd melt in relief.

Which leads me right back to annoyed all over again. I am not a samurai. I can disobey orders that are against the law. Heck, I have a duty to. If Kennedy tried to grab Himura, or Daniel....

I'd be in real trouble.

Damn.

I tangle my fingers together, poking gingerly at that thought. I like to think that Special Ops gave me a broader view of the world than your average officer. More of a feel for the subtle shades of gray between black dishonor and the purity of following a righteous command.

And then I work with Daniel, and I wonder when the world came out in color.

Daniel isn't a soldier. That's not a slam against his combat skills; heck, by now he could back me up any day. He's no special operator, but he can shoot, and hit, and keep his head under the worst fire conditions I've ever seen. He can kill if he has to. He hates it, but he can do it.

Yet even with all that skill and experience, there's a part of Daniel that will always ask why. Why are we shooting? Why can't we just talk?

Soldiers don't ask that. Not when the chips are down.

"The only reason to fight is to protect. And the only thing worth protecting is love."

Daniel protects us. With words when he can, with weapons when he can't. When the chips are down, when everything goes to hell in a gift-wrapped hand-basket, Daniel will shoot. But not for the mission. For us.

"I will not yield up my soul."

From the patchy history I've been wading through, Himura gave up being an assassin at the height of his side's power. Just up and vanished, when other guys like him were slotting into the new government and getting their hands dirty in ways that had nothing to do with blood.

Probably one reason he's still alive, I reflect cynically. Governments tend to get itchy about people who stalk their enemies in the dark. After all, if he can get through El Bad Guy's security, he can get through yours....

And a weird part of my brain throws up a memory of a certain ATF web page Daniel sneaked his way into, finding info about Seth so we could nail the snaky bastard.

I don't think how we got that info ever made its way into our report on the whole mess.

Yeah, people were turning too many cartwheels about Sam embedding Seth in the floor with a ribbon device, I think wryly. A little human-type sneakiness isn't nearly as exciting....

Whoa.

Human sneakiness. Daniel... Himura...

Archangel.

Somebody had to build Kenshin and Kaoru's cover. It's a good cover, so solid Sam and I couldn't find any holes, even with that nineteen-hundreds photo in hand.

Don't get ahead of yourself, O'Neill. Archangel's not the only shadow guy out there. And those two don't feel like agents.

Yeah. And setting up a dojo on the off chance Daniel might eventually wander in would be too far-fetched even for the White-Suited Catastrophe.

But there's a common thread; I can feel it tugging my hunches up into the light of day. A thread that links orders, and defiance, and that impulse to protect at all costs.

Hitokiri were not given orders. Only targets.

You don't tell Daniel "translate this for the SGC". You give him some rocks, and some time, and some people to talk to, and he comes back with legends, allies, a couple of near-death experiences, and weird facts about the universe you never would have guessed. You don't tell Archangel "shoot down this spy plane". You point him toward something dangerous and stand back; the resulting chaos is likely to leave everybody in the area too dazed to even think it was a U.S. action.

They're not soldiers. Heart and soul, they're something else.

Samurai hired ninja for the tactics bushido wouldn't allow them to use.

And before Battousai disappeared, the hitokiri killed so one of the main political leaders of the Ishin Shishi, Kogoro Katsura, would have no blood on his hands.

Suddenly I feel sick to my stomach.

I always told myself that as a good commander, I'd never order my men to do something I wasn't willing to do myself. That's a good officer. That's a good person.

But I rely on Daniel to do things I'd never order anybody to do. Pull answers out of thin air. Talk when any reasonable person, including me, would start shooting. Find solutions that go around orders, or under them, or even blithely ignore them if he has to. Negotiate with the people that stole and raped his wife.

And I count on him doing it. I count on the fact that I don't even have to ask; the minute I'm figuring out the problem is a problem, Daniel's already working half a dozen different solutions that think outside the military box. I count on the fact that he does this so fast, and so well, that most of the time we don't have to even put it into a report, 'cause he's solved the problem before it happens.

Archangel and his angels snoop through the dirty laundry of I don't know how many nations, sneaking here, fiddling there, teasing and nudging and sometimes outright blackmailing and assassinating problems. It's a dirty, nasty, thankless job, that people like me usually only notice when something blows up and we end up being sent in as a more permanent solution.

And Himura... Himura was that permanent solution for one hell of a lot of the Ishin Shishi's enemies. Years, he lasted, in a job that history says killed most people within three months.

I have the heart of a samurai, Himura says. The one man I need on SG-1, that I... care about as family....

Doesn't.

So what does that make me?

Thwack.

"Ow...." I glare up at the wooden sword that's parting my hair. How the heck did he get that close? "Your point?"

"You might notice class is over, that it is," Kenshin says mildly.

And practically all the students have cleared out, though Daniel and Kaoru are over by the door talking to Karen Jacobs. "You couldn't have sent a note?" But the hairs on the back of my neck are prickling. I don't know why, until I realize violet eyes are paling toward blue, amber sparkling in their depths.

Hello, Battousai.

And amber burns at me - challenge, territory-threat, call it whatever you want, it's Death walking loose and laughing - as he offers a wooden sword.

Hello, O'Neill. This is the assembled neuronal council of your brain. We humbly submit that this falls in the category of Bad Idea, right up there with dressing Teal'c in a mini-skirt and calling Apophis a wimp. Therefore, being of one accord, we - what the hell do you think you're doing?!?

Shut up. I think I deserve this.

And I take the sword.

"Kenshin?" Sanosuke's hovering, if a five-foot-eleven martial artist with hair like a rooster feather-puff can hover, black blindfold dangling from his hand as Battousai leads us into the middle of the dojo. "You sure you want to do this?"

"Aa." Standing ready, Battousai lets Sanosuke blindfold him.

Huh?

Sanosuke steps back. Shakes his head. Looks at me.

"Might as well call Megumi now," he mutters, walking off.

Now I'm really confused.

"It occurs to me," Battousai observes coolly, "That you may need reason to avoid this... magnetic anomaly."

Well, maybe. Command's slow to ditch what works, and the MRI does work to keep the Goa'uld hitchhikers out. But Janet said ultrasound could work too, and it wouldn't take that much to get her to give it a try....

And his left hand twitches, invitation clear as day. Come at me.

For a long second, I hesitate. Blindfold or not, this guy is good.

Reality check, O'Neill. He's not going to kill you. Not here. Not in front of Daniel.

And if he hurts you... well, if you were him, what would you do?

Hope Janet's got icepacks.

Here we go-

And Battousai just vanishes. I feel a ruffle of air-

Overhead!

Wood or not, a blade's a blade; I do have some idea what to do with this thing-

Clack! Crack!

Ow.

And I shake out my stinging hand, gripping the hilt again to turn toward the blindfolded swordsman who parried my blow, thwacked me on the shoulder just hard enough to feel, and landed behind me.

Perfectly.

Which ought to be impossible.

Your sense of balance is based on vision. Believe me, I know. I've taught blind-fighting. Fought blind, or in the dark, with my ears ringing from enemy and friendly explosions alike. Blind people develop a sense of balance that feeds back from touch and inner ears, but for people with working eyes, balance depends on sight.

And that blindfold's a good one. Battousai can't see.

So I ignore my eyes, and go after him again.

And he whirls aside, dodging me by a paper's width, wood kissing my neck in a feather-light slice that live steel would have turned into bloody fountains.

No. Friggin'. Way.

I turn to my strengths, stalking him down the dojo, silent as a mouse. Turning and wheeling as much as I can, trying to throw off whatever the hell he's doing that can let him stand on two feet.

Only he's silent wind and cat-leaps and tighter, wilder whirls of his own, finally letting loose with a quiet laugh-

And next thing you know, playtime is over, 'cause screw it, there isn't even a blur-

Just a sense of impact that goes all the way through my ribs to my spine, and twisting, and falling....

Hello, Mr. Ceiling.

"Jack?" Daniel. Worried as heck.

And I'm lying here painfully aware that a real sword would've sliced me in half. And he pulled it.

Don't ask me how I know, all right? This was just practice, a demonstration....

Hell. He pulled it.

"I'm okay," I wheeze. "I'm just not moving."

Cloth rustles, and Kenshin shakes out the blindfold. Amber's gone again, leaving just concerned violet. "Do you see?"

Actually, I think I'm starting to.

I look up at one bespectacled archaeologist, meeting concern with speculation. I've seen Daniel shoot with glasses, and read with glasses, and walk into low-lying pipes without glasses. Not to mention have the occasional conversation with fire extinguishers.

But when Daniel needs to hit something, when our lives are on the line and he has to shoot an enemy....

He shoots, and he hits. Glasses or not.

I've been trying to teach somebody when I don't even know how he sees the world.

If I were Himura, I'd have kicked my ass all over this dojo.

And violet smiles ruefully at me, and Kenshin gives me a little shrug. And what would that have proven? I can all but hear him say. I am not the one you have injured, that I am not.

I sit up. Carefully. I don't think he cracked anything, but I can bet Janet's going to have some nasty words about the pretty colors on my ribs. "This... ki sense. Whatever you call it. It's more basic than sight. You can use one to substitute for the other."

"Whoa, is that what this was about?" Sanosuke breaks in. "Kenshin? What's going on here?"

"A lesson in seeing, Sano." Kenshin nods at me. "The two are not the same. Just as the body's eyes can be fooled, so can those of the heart and soul. Sensing ill intent will not tell you the nature of the weapon you face; for that, you must have eyes, ears, and wit. And even the keenest sense of ki may fail in the face of one who bears no soul to burn in the mind's eye."

"Or in layman's terms," Sanosuke puts in, "Psychos are really hard to spot."

"They may even draw the heart of one who is injured," Kenshin states, drawing Daniel in with his eyes. "For the silence within them seems like peace, and their chill quenches the fire of knowing, leaving the soul numb. And they themselves are drawn to you, for you burn so brightly, and they believe that here, at last, they may find something to fill the freezing void within them." Pulled-back red hair whispers over his gi as he shakes his head. "But their quiet is only the dead, cold stillness of an empty grave. And trying to warm themselves, they will burn you to ashes; that they will."

Daniel blinks. Gapes.

I don't. Though I want to. Years, I've been thinking Daniel attracted the psycho type. Never would have guessed I was actually right.

"You never do that in class."

Violet flinches almost imperceptibly, and I let out a quiet breath. Thanks for the distraction, Ms. Jacobs.

...Wait a sec. He's that good at this Hiten Whatsis, and he never shows it off in front of the students?

Cheyenne, we have suspicious quiet over here.

"Why don't you ever do that in class?" The brunette asks Kenshin, one hand describing a graceful arc in air. "It was... beautiful."

"Because it's ancient kenjutsu, Karen, not kendo. A satsujin-ken." Kaoru's voice isn't disapproving, just a little sad. "Kamiya Kasshin is meant for self-defense. It's safe. Hiten Mitsurugi... is meant to protect."

"And it's not safe at all," Sano adds dryly. "What Little Missy's trying to say, Ms. Jacobs, is that kenjutsu was meant for real war. Unless you really think somebody's going to drop you in the middle of a firefight with nothing but your sword-" he spreads wide hands, "-you're better off here."

Meant for real war. Damn. That's what you used in the Revolution, isn't it, Himura? The blade that flashed lightning, that struck and killed where it passed.

And with a few exceptions like Sano, here, your wife's students aren't warriors. Just people, trying to get by. Odds are good they'll never pick up a sword for real....

Unless people like me screw up royally, and the Goa'uld come calling.

It's almost happened. It's almost happened a couple times too many.

"You should teach."

"Jack?"

One word, and Daniel manages to pack in, Say what? Asking him about gaki and ki is one thing - you're asking Kenshin to teach people how to kill with swords? and, You're the guy who worries about security clearances, and you're actually telling him this much?

Kenshin looks us both over, and I'd bet next week's pay he caught at least half of that. "There are very few who can master it. Hiten Mitsurugi demands strength, agility... and above all, a clear head."

"Not to mention a sakabatou so you don't kill your teacher," Sanosuke mutters.

Erk. He's not serious...?

Damn. He is.

Hold up. If Kenshin doesn't show off in class, but Sanosuke knows his style that well....

I add another name to my list to check out, and set the question aside. "Start looking," I advise.

"What," Kaoru says in a voice that could cut glass, "Are you people doing under that mountain?"

"Deep-space radar telemetry," Karen states, pretty eyes narrow. "Or that's what I was told."

Heh. Busted. "Night, all," I wave, heading for the door.

"What happened to my husband, Colonel?"

Karen's tone rips the civilization right off the words.

Part of me wants to freeze right there. Part of me wishes I were back on that floor facing Battousai; he'd kill me quickly. Karen, with all that grief and pain and rage....

I'm not getting into a dark alley with that woman. No way, no how. Sure, I could probably put her down in five seconds flat. You know how long five seconds is when someone's going at you with a knife? I like all my various bits and pieces right where they are, thank you.

Thank god for pagers.

I check the number, note Janet's message. So SG-2's finally back from Abydos with their samples, and....

Negative match.

Sweet Mother Mary.

"Daniel," I say when I can breathe again. "Please let me take you home. There's something I need to tell you."

But the look in Karen's eyes stops me on the threshold. Just for a moment.

It's classified. I can't tell you how he died. I can't tell you that we're fighting a war nobody knows about. I can't tell you how his team got ambushed, and the whole mission went down the tubes, and a Jaffa's arms snapped his neck like a twig.

I can't even tell you that he went down fighting.

"He was a brave man," I say simply.

Her words chase me into the night, haunting me all the miles home. "Then I wish he'd been a coward!"

"She didn't mean it," Daniel says as we walk into the house. My house; there's no way I'm leaving Daniel in his own apartment. Not tonight. Not with what I have to tell him.

"Yeah, she did." I head for the fridge, pull out a pair of the bottles of dark microbrew Daniel likes. He doesn't drink much; surprising, given he's the guy who taught Skaara's crew how to distill moonshine. For medicinal purposes, of course.

One of these bottles probably won't put him out. But it will make him numb.

Which might just save my ass.

"Jack...?"

I hand him an open bottle, take a pull of mine. Confused, he echoes me. "Ferretti just got back from Abydos."

"He did? Nobody told me. Why? Is something wrong? Is Kasuf-?"

"Whoa, whoa. Everybody's fine. And - I had a reason." This is a nice beer. I know it is, I've had it before. Why doesn't it taste good? "I didn't think about it, any more than you did... and then when I did, I had to wait for when somebody I could trust could go. Somebody who wouldn't be suspicious, and who could keep his mouth shut no matter what. I had to wait, when it hurt, when it hurt you... but I had to." Deep breath. "I sent Ferretti to check on the grave."

The grave. For Daniel, there's only one that matters.

"Why?" he whispers.

Another tasteless sip. "Janet just got done running the tissue samples. Compared them to Kasuf and Skaara." I set down my beer. "It's not her, Daniel."

And I catch his bottle, just before it hits the carpet.

The punch, I miss.

Damn, he's gotten good over the past few years.

He steps back and shakes out his hand, breathing hard. There's this odd little catch in his breath, and his eyes are way too bright behind his glasses. "Why?"

Oh man, I do not like that break in his voice.

So I start talking. Fast. "PC-1240. The Mirror. Went to another SGC. Got some info that said Amaunet might have pulled a fast one. But I had to check. Had to."

He kind of wobbles in place, shaking his head. "It's not her?"

"No. It's not."

I grab him as his knees give way. Let him lean on me, hot saltwater dripping through my shirt, a soundless keen vibrating in his throat.

"I left her. Oh gods, Jack, I left her out there...."

"It's not your fault," I tell him, over and over again. "It's not your fault."

It is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.

So when did I get a Meiji swordsman's voice stuck in my head?

"We'll find her, Danny. I promise."

I tuck him in for the night, curled on himself like an exhausted kitten, and tiptoe back to the kitchen to pour out the rest of the beer. I'm going to need a very clear head tomorrow.

Three little words. Three words that flip the world upside down, shifting shades of gray to blazing color.

Three words I'm going to have to tell the general about, in great and explicit detail. Why do I get the feeling this is not going to be easy?

"You told a person of unknown abilities, possibly an assassin, living under an alias that there's a war going on under this mountain?" Hammond thunders the next morning.

Knew this wouldn't be easy.

I resist the urge to pat the ringing out of my ears. Wow. We really need a little more paint on these office walls. Dampen the vibration that comes from a pissed-off general trying to decide whether he'd like you filleted or just skewered. "You know, technically he's not living under an alias...."

"Colonel!"

"Sir." Time to stand uniform-straight. "All I said was, 'You should teach'."

"Knowing precisely how he'd take those words!"

Well, yeah.

I may not have funky ki senses, but I can read people. Himura's pared his priorities down to basics: family, students, the general area if he's got the time. And I just warned him all of that might be in danger. The kind of danger that needs a lethal dose of steel to convince it to back off and go the hell away.

He got us out of a tight spot. I warned him more might be coming. Fair's fair.

"All right, Colonel." Hammond goes from boil to simmer, just waiting to release a blast of superheated steam if he gets a dumb answer. "Enlighten me as to precisely why this was a good idea. And not one word about security or lack of breaches thereof. We both know there's the letter and the spirit of the law. You may not have broken one but you've definitely bent the other."

"A hundred and forty years later, history's not that easy to piece together," I start, laying down the folder of bits Sam and I were able to find. "Parts of Kyoto burned in the Revolution, wiping out a lot of the contemporary records. And what's left is mostly in Japanese. But what I got tells me most hitokiri were just rumors. Ghosts in the night, until somebody left their hacked bodies in the street. They sure as heck weren't legends."

Hammond raises a faded red brow. Translation, I'm listening, but you've got five more minutes to make your point before I toss you out on your ear.

"I think - I'm not sure, but I think - Himura Battousai only spent the first half of his career as an assassin. After that, he was a free swordsman, protecting other revolutionaries against the government's death squad, the Shinsengumi," I state bluntly. "If you look hard at these little bits of legend, he was a running skirmisher. The guy who held the rearguard when everybody else was making a fighting retreat. The guy who took bridges, and ships, and the odd bunch of cannons when he had to. He may say he's not a soldier, sir, but he's one hell of a guerilla warrior."

"He was then," Hammond points out. If you're right, he doesn't add. 'Cause impossible as it seems, the general thinks I am right. Red hair. Cross-shaped scar. Hiten Mitsurugi. And that damn photo... we've seen enough improbable stuff off Earth. Why not something on it?

"One phone call and a few hints from Daniel, and he suckered in that corpse-smoke," I point right back. "You don't lose that edge, sir. Trust me. It's a quirk of mind. Some people have it, some don't. Himura's got it. He trained it. He used it. He's dangerous now. Give him a month to blow the dust off, and he'll be lethal again."

"And this is a good idea because...?" Hammond's tone may be patient, but those narrowed eyes are almost as scary as Kenshin getting annoyed.

"General. What happens if somebody ever takes the SGC?"

And he's quiet, and I know he's thinking about the last Foothold situation we had. P3X-118 may be locked out of the dialing system now, but who's to say there's not some other weird alien race out there drooling at the thought of Earth on a silver platter. Maybe the Goa'uld can't wiggle their way around the Asgaard treaty to take our planet, but it sure as heck won't stop people Thor and his buddies have never heard of.

And if the System Lords ever get past Thor - and with the Replicators loose, they just might - either they'll do the smart thing and crush this whole planet to cinders....

Or they'll try to take it. And us.

Given what happened when the Hivemind crashed the party, they'd have a fight on their hands. But if even one ha'tak broke through that fight and landed... and if the Goa'uld threw enough of them at Earth, one would....

There's a heck of a difference between fighting alien ships in the air and taking on Jaffa and possessed people on the ground.

"We can call up tanks. We can call down bombs. Heck, we can call in the National Guard. But concrete and steel eat people. They always have," I say bluntly. "I don't care if it was a hundred forty years ago or last week; Himura made it through two years of urban warfare. And guns or no guns, the only way for a human being to survive a platoon of Jaffa armed with zats is to not get hit." I let out a slow breath. "Sir, I hope like hell we never need him."

Because if we do, if we're down to fighting the Goa'uld hand to hand....

Abydos did it. I was there. It was awful.

But we won.

"I'll take that under consideration, Colonel." Some of the anger eases out of those eyes. "Jack. How is Daniel?"

I touch my jaw; the bruise isn't much, I did dodge it some, but I can feel it every time my lips twitch. "Ticked off. Scared. Shaky. Feeling guilty as hell, like he should have known she was still alive. Somehow." I shrug. "Couple months ago, I would've given you even odds he'd be curled up in a corner somewhere, trying to hide in his books. Now? He's hurt. But I think he's okay. Mostly." Outside of wanting to throttle Amaunet. But then, I'd call that a healthy response.

Have I mentioned I'm not MacKenzie?

Speaking of... "Any news on the shrink search?" Given that we've just knocked Daniel's world askew again, it'd be nice if we had somebody who really knew how to pick up the pieces this time. Not to mention that while the SGC has been delighting in being shrink-free since MacKenzie and the general - ahem - mutually decided the guy's presence in this duty station was no longer a good idea, we do need somebody to handle the fallout of the usual near-death experiences around here.

"As a matter of fact," Hammond loosens up another notch. "We've managed to locate a few candidates who pass the required security vetting and indicate an interest in experiences that fall outside the norm. Naomi should have the files."

"You got a preference?" I ask, catching something in that tilt of head.

"Dr. John Baird," Hammond nods. "He's a civilian."

"But?" I note.

The general smiles wryly. "On his application, he wrote, 'Anything might be possible; some things are just implausible, impractical, or unfeasible'."

"Take him," I say instantly.

Hammond gives me a look.

"I'll read the files," I add. Mrs. O'Neill didn't raise any dummies.

But I'll bet we take him.

And on to my last place to wreak havoc for the day... I saunter into the infirmary, noting one of SG-4 trying to sleep sitting up on pillows. I'm not sure how he got a porcupine-frog critter's spines there, and I don't think I really want to know. "So what's the verdict, Doc?"

Red hair drifting over her cute nose, Janet doesn't even look up, tracing two green squiggles on her computer screen. "Hmm."

"Hmm?"

"Hmm...."

"Case you hadn't noticed, we're two short of a barbershop quartet."

She gives me the evil Napoleon eye; the one that says, I own a catheter and a really honkin' big needle, so go ahead, make my day. "Ultrasound."

Ooookay. "I know I'm going to hate myself for asking this, but - details?"

"You know an EEG traces variations in electric force in the brain?"

"Yeah." It's the same kind of funny squiggles Janet got off Sam when Jolinar was dying inside her. Sam's kept going, got stronger; Jolinar's just went flat.

Janet points to one set. "Daniel, pre-MRI." Drops her finger to the next set. "Post-MRI." Taps a few keys, turning pre-MRI from green to blue, then laying one on top of the other.

I'm no doc, but I can see a difference. Pre definitely spikes higher than post. "And this means...?"

"Hard to say. Some people claim you can get an EEG off a bowl of jelly if you wiggle it right." Janet gives the screen the evil eye. "But based on my experience in the SGC, Colonel, I'd say the MRI definitely has a depressing effect on Dr. Jackson, and it should be restricted to medical necessity only." She looks up at me. "I'd also like to set up a screening program over the next few weeks to see if anyone else in the SGC has this problem."

"Good thinking." Yow. Hadn't thought of that. "So you're saying this is definitely something that just happens in some people?"

"Every test I've run on Daniel since he came back from Abydos said human, Colonel," Janet says dryly. "Not to mention the medical details I've been exchanging with Dr. Takani on ki as it relates to energy-draining creatures. Apparently these gaki are known of in the traditional Oriental medical community. As are the rare people who are born seeing them. Traditionally, some of them would become priests or shrine maidens. Others might take up the profession of youkai-taijiya; demon slayers. So yes, it looks like a purely human variation. Rare, but human. Like being left-handed." She cocks her head at me. "You're really worried."

"Yeah, well... you saw what Carter found on Himura."

"That, I can't explain," Janet says frankly. "However, I will point out that your experience on Argos showed that there are ways to artificially speed human aging. There's no reason to believe there might not be a way to slow it as well. The Tok'ra certainly demonstrate that."

"The Tok'ra don't move like greased lightning," I point out.

She shrugs. "Without a medical exam, all I can do is speculate. And I doubt either of them trust me enough for that, yet."

Point. Not sure I'd trust me either. "So... did Daniel say anything when you saw him?"

"Colonel?" she frowns.

And I've got hairs prickling on the back of my neck. "You did see him, right?" I wave toward the screen. "You've got his EEGs."

"From previous examinations," Janet states frankly. "Daniel hasn't been in here today."

The prickle breaks into a sprint on my spine. Oh, no. Oh, hell. "I drove him in with me, I walked him to his office...." Automatically I pat at my pockets, checking that I've still got the key to that book and artifact-stuffed office in case he's locked himself in. I don't know why he'd lock himself in, but why can be a fuzzy thing with Daniel at the best of times, which this definitely isn't, and I really want that key in case he's decided to burrow into a stack of books and accidentally hit himself over the head with a hieroglyphic tablet-

And I come up a few lumps of metal short.

Oh, please tell me he didn't....

I turn out my pockets, checking what I've got. Change, pocketknife, a few bits of Sam's circuitry, various key rings. House, base, weapons lockers-

Houston, we have a sudden absence of key ring.

No way.

And I suddenly remember that desperate hug he gave me as I was about to head up to see the General, tight as if he was holding himself together with titanium clamps.

No way.

"Jack?" Janet says pointedly.

"Got to call the front gate," I say, still trying to add one and one and come up with something that makes rational sense. "I think Daniel-" Not stole. Not lifted. There's a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. There has to be.

"Daniel... took my car keys."

---------------

Translations from Japanese (Webster's Pocket Dictionary, the RK manga, and Flashing Steel by Masayuki Shimabukuro and Leonard J. Pellman):

Yamete - Stop.

Aa - Informal yes.

Kendo - The sport of swordsmanship.

Kenjutsu - The art of sword battle.

Satsujin-ken - Murderous sword technique.

A/N: For Stargate fans, a short intro to the manga Rurouni Kenshin.

Japan, 1864 to 1869: the Hitokiri Battousai killed in service of the Ishin Shishi, who fought to overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate and restore the emperor to power. But after the battle of Toba Fushimi was won, while other patriots took up positions of wealth and power in the new government, Battousai vanished without a trace....

Until Tokyo, 1878, when 17-year-old Kamiya Kasshin instructor Kamiya Kaoru hunted the night streets for the famous "Hitokiri Battousai" who was murdering people around her dojo. And found instead a small, apparently young and clumsy redheaded wanderer with a cross-shaped scar on his cheek, carrying a sakabatou (reverse-bladed sword) which can injure, but not kill.

Long story very short, Kaoru soon found and was attacked by the real killer... and saved by the rurouni, Himura Kenshin. Who is, in fact, the real Hitokiri Battousai, now sworn to never again take a life. (Though it seems he ends up revising that much, much later, when Kaoru is in danger.)

Kenshin does, canon, look no older than 18, though he's 28 when the manga starts. Hiko likewise seems "ageless"; constantly mid-thirties from the time he takes Kenshin into his care (when Kenshin's 8) to when he shows up again in Kyoto (Kenshin's 28-29). Hanyou and youkai are never mentioned in the manga, but draw your own conclusions.

For more setting depth, read Naga's "The Darkest Shadows, The Brightest Lights", also here on ! Way cool!