Genre: Dramangst/character study/introspection.
Beta: The term "beta carbon" in organic chemistry refers to the second carbon after the carbon which attaches to the functional group. Organic chemistry is very important in beta-reading.
Continuity: Season 5, tag to Menace.
Prerequisites: Well, Menace. It'd also help to know about Meridian, but you don't need to. Other episodes are referenced, but not pivotally.
Summary: Jack and Daniel have a clash of wills re: moral obligation. When don't they?
Disclaimer: If MGM and I had a clash of wills re: ownership of SG1, they would most certainly win. The opinions expressed herein are the properties of the characters and not of Reece the Replicator-maker. Failure to use this product in a manner consistent with its labeling will probably not result in prosecution by law. Tempers will be hot after heating. Questions, comments and consciences can be left in replies or directed to magistrata(at)gmail(dot)com. Thank you for reading!
When Air Force Major Samantha Carter stepped into her commander's office, it felt like nothing so much as being called to task for something by her father. She had gone through that for years-days when her brother would do something and her father would call her out on it, partly because she was the oldest and supposed to provide the guidance Mark wouldn't accept from their father, partly because Jacob had never been good a talking to Mark and it was easier just to go through her. It was amazing, she reflected, how so much had changed while everything remained exactly the same.
As soon as the General opened the door for her she saluted, letting protocol take the place of comfort. "Reporting as requested, sir." (I have a feeling what this will be about.)
"At ease, Major," Hammond said, stepping back to let her through. "Have a seat."
Carter complied, and Hammond closed the door behind her. He made his way to his own chair, settling into it with a sigh. "You know why I've called you down here?"
She tried not to swallow. "Something about Reece, sir?"
"More or less." Hammond folded his hands, picking his next words carefully. "SG-1... is a very visible, very respected unit, and for good reason. You represent the best this facility has to offer in all aspects of our operation."
"Thank you, sir," Carter replied.
"We've had a very difficult past few days," Hammond went on. "Tensions are high. Even with all indication that the android is disabled, there are a lot of nervous people on base. It's difficult for anyone to work effectively in this kind of an atmosphere, and it's difficult for me to oversee."
Carter nodded, glancing away. "An atmosphere which isn't helped by Daniel and Colonel O'Neill waging a private cold war."
"Dr. Jackson was to accompany SG-9 on their upcoming mission to P2A-018, but given the state of affairs around here I'm not sure that's such a good idea."
"I see," Carter said.
(Waiting for me to fall on the grenade of my own volition, I guess,) Carter thought. (I really wish I wasn't in this position.) "I'll see what I can do."
Hammond nodded. "I think that putting pressure on them from above would only make things worse," he said. "Colonel O'Neill, at least, is none too fond of having his superiors intrude upon his personal life."
(I'm sure he'll just love it when I intrude. ...but he's got a point; if the General calls him in, it becomes an order. That would only make the Colonel's mood worse.) "I understand, sir."
Hammond smiled. Her father used to do that, when he'd roped her into something she didn't want to do. "Thank you, Major. You're dismissed."
Oh-nine-hundred found Jack in the commissary, not-quite-enjoying a light breakfast of pie and coffee. He had been in a foul mood for most of the past two days, and because these foul moods were generally followed by very guilty ones he hung on to the tail-end of his annoyance with a single-minded determination. He wasn't trying to air his grievance to the world at large, but somehow everyone seemed to sense it anyway- no one had made any attempts to communicate with him for anything but work for a while.
"Good morning, Colonel!"
Of course, that never lasted, did it?
Jack looked up. Carter drew up to the side of the table, and it didn't take his special-ops training to realize that something was off. She didn't have anything to eat-odd enough, for standing in a commissary at breakfast-and her cheer sounded forced. Something was definitely bothering her. "Carter," he greeted.
"Mind if I sit down?" she said. Jack shrugged, and she sat. Several seconds passed, each more awkward than the last. "...pumpkin?" she asked, gesturing weakly at the pie.
"In theory." Jack watched her, silently daring her. (If you have something to say, say it.)
Carter cleared her throat, shifted, and finally spoke. "...I hear you and Daniel haven't been speaking to each other much recently."
Jack winced. "Aha," he said.
"We've been busy," Jack lied, turning his attention to his coffee. "Very. Busy."
"I was just wondering if there was anything I could do to help."
She stared. He stared back, refusing to give any ground. "With... this," she eventually settled on.
"Carter, I'm not entirely sure how you managed to make it five years without realizing this, but it's perfectly normal for people to stop talking to me for weeks at a time."
"That's hard to believe, sir."
"Isn't it?" He shrugged. "Must be my magnetic personality."
Carter's head rolled downward, her on-duty eye-roll equivalent. "Sir, permission to speak freely?"
(Why the hell not? Even though I'm already sure I won't like what you're going to say.) "Go ahead."
"I think we both know that SG-1 can't continue operating like this."
He set down his fork, the better to cross his arms. "Like what?"
"You and Daniel," she said.
"What about us?"
"Sir." Her voice was firm. Jack groaned inwardly. (Yeah, yeah-we both know what you're talking about, and you know that.)
"Carter, this is an argument we've had many times before, and we'll probably have many times again. It's nice that you're so concerned, but we're big boys now and we can probably figure it out for ourselves." (Never mind that every time, it seems to take us a bit longer. I'm not sure who's approaching their last straw faster, but it's definitely coming up on one of us.) "If Daniel wants to sulk over his little robot friend, that's his problem. Not mine." (And don't go making it yours.)
"I think there's a bit more to it than that, sir."
(Really. I'd had no idea.) "Oh?"
"Colonel-of course I don't know what happened," she began.
"Carter," he growled.
"-but from what I heard, he has some pretty serious complaints to air."
"Because I did what had to be done?"
"He thought there was another way."
"He was being an idiot, Carter. There was no other way. How close were we to blowing up the base, again?"
Carter shook her head. It wasn't about the the logistics-with Daniel, it never was. "He wanted to save her."
"Of course he did." Jack pushed his plate away, glaring at the pie. "Daniel wants to save everyone-that's his problem." (One of many, might I add. None of which he thinks are problems. Dammit.) "The man doesn't think. One of these days he's going to try and save someone who's already gone and doomed themself and he's going to get himself killed, and the thing is he doesn't care at all."
Carter nodded politely. "He's kept himself alive this far."
Jack looked up. (You can't really be that dense,) he caught himself thinking. "We've kept him alive, Major. Barely. He still dies more often than Kenny."
Carter blinked. "Who?"
He stared for a moment. "...never mind."
Carter gave him one of those damnable knowing looks. "You're worried about him."
(Worried? You think 'worried' is the word for this?) "Carter, this goes so far beyond worry," he growled, grabbing his coffee without any real desire to drink it. "It's like being stuck in a tunnel while a train comes down the tracks. You know it's gonna hit you, but there's not a damn thing you can do about it."
Carter watched him. In a moment he realized he'd said too much, and glared down at his coffee again. (But that's it, right there. That's the danger. Sooner or later he's just going to slip through our fingers-his luck will run out, and there won't be anything any of us can do to stop it. Every time he gets himself into one of these messes, I'm convinced it'll be the last time. Dammit, I don't need any more excuses to go grey.)
"You should talk to him," Carter said softly. He glanced up, more sharply than he'd intended to, and she backpedaled quickly. "...just a suggestion."
"Carter," he groused, "he's pissed at me. When he wants to talk, he knows where I am."
"I don't think that's the way these things normally work, sir."
"Yeah, maybe not in your family." Jack drank again. Maybe it was his imagination, but the coffee tasted more bitter than usual. "Is there any way we could have this conversation another time? Maybe around a quarter after never?"
Sam glanced down and away. "Sorry, sir," she said, pushing away her chair. Then she paused. "Sir, with all due respect..."
"Spit it out."
"I think you're wrong," she said. "I think you're just as 'pissed' at him as he is at you."
(Dammit!) He set down his coffee hard enough that it splashed over his fingers, allowing a moment of utter, unconcealed ire to spill through his expression. Carter took the hint.
"Sorry, sir," she apologized again. "I didn't mean to pry."
Jack grimaced, grabbing a napkin as she left. "Yes you did," he muttered.
Four levels above, Daniel was not sulking. Or brooding. He happened to be working on a large and quite involved translation project, and if he applied an attention bordering on fanaticism to his work, well, that was hardly out of the ordinary for him, was it? So there was really no reason for Sam to show up at his door and give him that look of long-suffering... knowing. At least, that's what he told himself.
"Hey, Sam," he said, as amicably as he could manage on short notice. "Need something?"
"No-just, ah, stopping by." She looked over at his recent-acquisition shelf, feigning casualness. On seeing the silver statue Reece had given him, she looked away. "What are you working on?"
"Translation. SG-5 brought back photos from some old structure, possibly a temple or a closed forum of some kind, looks like it was influenced by late-Hellenistic..." he trailed off, and took a closer look at Sam. "Do you need something?"
"I thought you might want to talk," Sam said.
"What happened a few days ago."
He nodded. "Reece."
"Among... other things."
Daniel sighed. "Jack send you?"
"Actually, no," she said. "I just notice you're not on the best of terms at the moment."
"Yeah. Kinda surprising how often that happens," Daniel said. "...I'm not trying to antagonize him. He's just-" he made a big, empty gesture that illuminated nothing. (It doesn't help when you have no idea what you're trying to say.)
Sam took another step into the office. "You know, for how often you two fight over this, I'd think you'd have found some way to resolve it."
"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" Daniel grinned thinly. "But, no. I don't think either of us are going to change our mind."
"Compromise," Sam suggested.
"Yyyeah, that's a lot easier said than done. And really, it would help if Jack wasn't so-"
He bit off the end of the sentence. Sam shook her head. "What?"
Daniel hesitated. He could speak twenty-three distinct languages fluently and knew bits and pieces of plenty more, but somehow, he could never get any of them to do what he wanted in times like this. (What am I supposed to say? That he's a trigger-happy reactionary? We both know that isn't true. It's just-) "He gives up," he settled on. "He writes people off. I know he'll do anything to keep us alive, but anyone else... he gives up. He killed Reece without ever giving her a chance."
Sam shifted. "She tried to kill you, Daniel."
Daniel shook his head. This wasn't fair to either of them-he'd put her on a spot and he knew it, wedging her between trying to defend a commander's decision and respect his own conviction. But she was the one who'd come knocking. "I was getting through to her."
(...she knows this is an argument that's never gonna get resolved,) he thought, and waved it off. "Look, it's not just her. Jack gave up on Lotan. He gave up on Simon's village. He would've shot Malchus, shot Ke'ra, shot Chaka... he always expects people to be the worst they can be, and that lets him just toss their lives away."
"I wouldn't call that 'giving up,' necessarily," Sam said. "His first responsibility is to protect us."
Daniel caught himself sighing. (Do you really have to be that military?) "I know that. But don't you think there's a broader responsibility? Like using our knowledge, our advantages, doing everything we can to help people?"
"I'd like to," Sam conceded.
But Daniel was on a roll. "How did we come to the idea that we can help people until it seems like things aren't going our way, and then we're justified in just-killing them? How far do we go before we turn into Goa'uld-when we can just kill people because we think we're worth more?"
Sam's eyes widened, and she stood straighter. "That's not what anyone is thinking," she said.
"Maybe not consciously." Daniel gestured at nothing. "Any time you kill one person to save another, you're making a value call on those peoples' lives. In a way, it's even worse if you don't know you're doing it."
Sam's eyes tracked over his desk, mind going over who knew what. "...I see," she said.
"Yeah." Daniel nodded. "You do."
"But I think you have to understand Colonel O'Neill's perspective, too." Sam looked up at him, grey eyes catching his. After a moment, he had to look away, uneasily shifting his attention down to the papers on his desk.
"What? That it's better to fold and start shooting than-"
Sam shook her head, exasperation tinging her tone. "He didn't see any choice."
Daniel looked up again. "Did he look?"
This time, it was Sam who glanced away.
Almost immediately, Daniel felt bad. (She was trying to make a point, and I totally dragged her into this asinine argument again. I'm sorry.) "...no matter what the odds are," he said, trying to explain, "I can't just stand around and do nothing. I have to try. And I'm not sorry for that."
"I don't think you should be," Sam hedged. "But, Daniel. No matter how hard you try, you can't save everyone."
"Yeah. I've noticed."
Sam watched him a moment longer. "You know," she said, "he's waiting for you to make the first move. Why don't you just talk to him?"
Daniel felt his eyebrows raise. (You're seriously asking this?)
Sam glanced away, smiling wryly. "Right. Of course. Forget I asked." She hiked a thumb at the hallway. "...I should go."
"See you," Daniel said, and turned back to a translation miles away from his mind.
It took a while for Carter to find O'Neill again. By now he had disposed of his pie and vacated the commissary. Hammond was in his office with Major Benton, door closed, and likely had no idea of the Colonel's whereabouts anyway. Checking in with the control room technicians and the Briefing Room guards yielded no useful information, and his office was empty-not that she'd expected him to be there. He never had been before.
Finally, a strategic sweep of the lower levels yielded results: she caught him just as he was exiting the gym rubbing his knuckles absently. (The punching bag in the far corner looked more than a little abused.) Despite the growing certainty that she was about to make a very large mistake, she cleared her throat. "Sir?"
O'Neill cast her a tired look. "What is it, Major?"
"Daniel wanted to see you."
O'Neill chewed on that. "He did?"
"Yes, sir." She put on her best on-duty expression, hoping that no trace of the lie would make it in. (It's only kind of a lie. I bet Daniel really does want to mend things. He just hasn't... expressed it.) "He's up in his lab."
"Right," O'Neill said. "I guess I'll head up to his lab, then."
"Yes, sir," Carter said, and headed for her own lab before consequences could result.
Two minutes later and three floors above, Jack steeled himself for battle before rapping a knuckle against Daniel's doorframe. Daniel glanced up, did a quick double-take, and carefully turned his attention to whatever he was doing again. "Jack," he acknowledged.
Jack wandered into the room. "You wanted to see me?"
Daniel looked up again, and stared. "Nnno...?"
Jack's eyes narrowed, then he grimaced. "I'm going to kill her," he growled.
"What?" Daniel demanded.
Jack winced. Poor choice of words. "Carter sent me," he explained.
"Oh. Yeah." Daniel turned his attention with exaggerated care to a stack of journals. "She thinks we have something to talk about."
"I don't know. Do we?"
Jack snorted. "I'm outta here."
"Jack," Daniel said, quickly. Jack stopped, and Daniel paused on his next words. "You didn't have to shoot her."
Jack rolled his eyes. "Oh, here we go."
Daniel's mood went from cautious to sour in the space of half a second. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means we've already had this conversation, Daniel."
"And I suppose that means it's not worth having again?"
"Uh," Jack snapped, "yes? Unless you have something to add?"
"Like you'd listen if I did."
"Well, maybe if any of your reasons made the slightest bit of sense."
"Of course pure human compassion wouldn't be good enough for you."
"It didn't seem good enough for that android."
Daniel found himself standing, hands flat on his desk, before he'd realized it. "She needed help, Jack-"
"Dammit, Daniel!" Jack's voice no longer resembled anything remotely civil. "She was trying to kill you!"
"You didn't know that!"
"Well, maybe you'll excuse me if I'm not quite as eager as you are to toss your life away on some idealistic... crusade!"
Daniel sat down, stunned into silence. (That's-)
"Now, I'm sorry if it's just me," Jack barked, "but I've had my fill for a good long time of standing around and watching you die. And I don't care how pissed you get at me-I take care of the people on my team, and that's just the way it is. And I'm sure as hell not going to apologize for it!"
Daniel's gaze fell to the floor in front of Jack's feet. "I'm sorry," he said at length.
"Well, that's-" Jack trailed off. "...what?"
Daniel couldn't help smiling. (So maybe you always see the worst in people and I always see the best. I guess we both have an issue with perspective.) "I'm not trying to make any of this hard for you," he faltered. "I mean, I know how hard your job is. I'm not trying to make it worse. And I really do appreciate it."
Jack tried-and failed-to come up with a response. "Oh. Well."
"I'm just trying to do the right thing."
"I know," Jack finally answered. "...I guess so am I."
"And as long as there's a chance to help someone, I have to try."
"Here's the thing, though," Jack said, raising both index fingers to make his point. "If you're dead, you won't be doing a lot of helping."
"Ah!" Jack cut him off. "Odds are you could do more good in the future than you could with any one heroic stunt that gets you killed right away." He put his hands down. "Part of my training is knowing who can be saved."
"Well, it's not my training." Daniel crossed his arms, daring Jack to press the issue.
"I've noticed," Jack said, an element of resignation to his tone.
Silence followed. Daniel glanced down at his work, over at the statue on his shelf, and finally back to Jack-who was staring aimlessly at the floor in front of his desk, chewing at the inside of his lip. "I'll try to be more careful," he conceded. "...and if you're sorry for being a jerk the last two days, I guess I'm sorry for being such a brat."
Jack glanced up, eyebrows raised. Then he grinned. "I guess that covers it."
Daniel nodded. "See you around."
"See you," Jack said, taking a step backward, toward the hall. "Hey, if you see Carter before I do, could you tell her that she's not nearly as clever as she thinks she is?"
"Tell her yourself," Daniel tossed back.
"So all that talk about helping people out-"
Daniel shot a Look over his glasses. "Go away, Jack."
Jack smiled. "See ya," he said, and walked out the door.
Three hours and twelve queries later Daniel found Sam in the MALP bay, adjusting the sensors on one of the tread models. "Hey," he said.
Sam glanced up, sending him a brief smile before turning her attention back to the calibrations.
"Did you sic Jack on me?" Daniel asked.
Sam looked up again. "Hammond's orders, actually," she said.
Daniel blinked. "Hammond sent him?"
"Nnnnnnnn... kinda," Sam said. Daniel caught the unvoiced laughter in her eyes.
"Sam," he admonished.
"You were disrupting base morale," she said. "Hammond asked me to do something."
Daniel took in the room, the probes lining the walls. "So now you're hiding out because you know Jack never comes here."
Sam exhaled. "Actually, I'm uploading a new scanning protocol," she said.
"While hiding," Sam agreed.
"Out of curiosity," Daniel said, stuffing both hands into his pockets, "what made you think it would help?"
Sam half-shrugged. "I have a brother," she said. "Not to mention a father who can be as stubborn as the both of you combined. I have some practice."
"Well, it worked. I think."
"Just don't make a habit of it," Sam said.
Daniel caught himself grinning. "Too late."
Sam flipped open the diagnostic console on one of the MALPs, moving in with a screwdriver. "Finished that translation?"
"Taking a break. I should probably head back to it."
"Have fun," she said.
"I will. You have fun... hiding." He headed out the door, only to pause at its threshold. "Hey, Sam...?"
Sam glanced in his direction. "Hm?"
"Thanks," he said.
She smiled. "Any time."