Was he really going to do this? Was he really planning on leaving everything he'd known for the past nine years behind for a woman he'd barely known a month?
Remembering the crestfallen look on Vala's face when he'd told her Jack was throwing her back to the unknown, and then the immediate relief when he said he wouldn't let her face that unknown alone, convinced Daniel that he was doing this. As much as Earth needed him, as much as the SGC needed and relied on him, Vala needed him more.
For a moment, Daniel understood why Sam had just up and left. It was something that needed to be done. But of course, Sam had done it for herself. That's where the understanding stopped. Daniel wasn't doing this for his own good – he was doing it for Vala's. If he couldn't help her change in the right way on Earth, then they'd find somewhere else they could. He was sure at least half of Earth's allies would take him in, even if he had abandoned his world. They wouldn't have become allies if it hadn't been for him, so at least his diplomacy would be paying off in the long run.
"May I enter?"
The deep voice at the door had Daniel looking up from the lengthy letter he was writing and distracted him from the hurricane of thoughts whirling around in his head. He smiled at the looming Teal'c figure cast in the shadows of his office entryway.
"Of course, Teal'c." He said softly, the mere presence of his long-time friend comforting him just a little.
Teal'c stepped into the room, hands clasped behind his back. He looked around at the various books and artifacts, as if it would be the last time he would see them. "Has Vala Mal Doran retired to her quarters?" He asked after coming to a stop before Daniel.
The younger man glanced up at him. "Yeah…" He felt a pang of guilt for knowing he would be leaving Teal'c behind as well, but the Jaffa was strong and would be okay. Not like Vala, if Daniel just allowed her to be thrown away like garbage. "I told her to go get some rest, for when we leave tomorrow."
"So it is true." Teal'c asked, his voice heavy with sadness. "You intend to leave with her tomorrow."
Daniel gave Teal'c his most sympathetic look. "I don't have a choice, Teal'c. Vala needs me…" He looked away, staring hard at the bookshelf on the far side of the room. "I just know if I let her go, I'll lose her forever. There is just something inside telling me I can't let her go – that me and her were just meant to meet and do things." He found Teal'c's eyes once more. "You understand, right?"
"Indeed." The Jaffa offered quietly. "It is like abandoning your god to fight alongside those who you have no reason to believe in, but do nonetheless. Blind faith that, perhaps, is not so blind." He inclined his head and smiled. "If there is anyone who understands this, it is I."
Teal'c's smile dimmed a little as Daniel nodded in complete understanding. "May I ask one favor of you though, Daniel Jackson, before you leave?"
Daniel's eyes came up again. "Of course – anything."
"Speak with O'Neill." He immediately saw the reluctance and resistance on Daniel's face. "I understand he has wronged you, but have you not also wronged him?" At Daniel's hesitant nod, Teal'c continued. "I simply request you go to the briefing room and try and work this disagreement out. O'Neill waits for you there now."
This caught Daniel's attention, and surprised blue eyes met deep brown. "Jack's waiting for me? How does he know I won't say 'no' to you and just ignore him?"
"He does not." Teal'c admitted, knowing in the long run Daniel was going to give in. O'Neill, of course, had not been certain at all. "As I have said, Daniel Jackson – blind faith. He does not wish to lose yet another member of his family." His dark eyes grew soft as he finished. "And neither do I."
Daniel blinked and dropped his gaze. His fingers fiddled with the pen he'd been writing with for several long, silent moments. Then slowly he raised his eyes again, and there was the ghost of a smile on his face.
"You knew I couldn't say no after all that." He ventured.
"I did." Teal'c admitted, a sly smile on his face that indicated everything he'd said had been the truth.
Pushing out of the chair, Daniel shook his head. "Okay then – I'll go try and talk to Jack. He isn't exactly my favorite person in the world right now, but I will try to be reasonable."
Teal'c followed Daniel as the younger man started for the hallway. "I believe that would be a wise decision." He came to a stop as Daniel spun towards him, as if he'd half-expected the archaeologist to do it.
Blue eyes stared him down with earnestness. "You believe in her, right?"
"Indeed." Teal'c offered, and the look of relief and acceptance on Daniel's face made the guilt the Jaffa would always bear for the young man feel just a little bit lighter.
Daniel was certain if there were some device that could read the amount of tension in a room, the current amount in the briefing room would break it. The readings would be off the charts because he could feel the thick sensation, invisible yet choking, as he took the seat next to Jack at the table.
The older man's first words, though however unintentional, eased that tension just slightly. "I know I'm probably not your favorite person in the world right now-"
The laugh escaped before Daniel could stop it and Jack looked at him, confused.
Daniel looked up for a moment, and then returned his gaze to the table just as quickly. "It's just-" He shook his head and smiled faintly. "I was just saying that about you to Teal'c."
Instead of seeing the humor in it, Jack saw just the opposite. "So it's true." He fell back against his chair. As Daniel looked up at him, his brow slightly creased, the older man continued. "I'm not your favorite person right now."
"Well, do you blame me, Jack?" Daniel asked. He leaned forward and placed a hand flat on the table. "You're kicking me off the planet."
Jack held up and finger and shook his head. "No, no…" He, too, leaned closer to the table. "I'm not kicking you off the planet. I never said you had to go with that woman – that is your own choice."
"She isn't just 'that woman'…" Daniel said slowly, trying not to get upset too early in the 'discussion'. "Vala," He emphasized her name and slowly brought his eyes up to meet Jack's. "Is a woman who came to us – to me – for help in changing her life. And the choice I've made is the only choice I have because it's the only one you've given me."
"What do you expect me to do, Daniel?" Jack asked, almost desperately. "Do you just expect me to let her stay and seduce you? How do you know this isn't just some elaborate scam to get a man, or in this case a woman, on the inside?" He held up his finger again as Daniel opened his mouth to speak. "No, let me finish."
Nodding, yet keeping his mouth shut, Daniel sat back in the chair again and crossed his arms over his chest.
Jack wasn't sure which he hated more – Daniel arguing every word out of his mouth, or the intense gaze Daniel was giving now. It was a gaze that once again reminded the General that the man before him was more than skilled in the art of arguing. It was a characteristic he'd always admired in his younger friend, except when he was on the warring end of it. Because when he was, Jack knew he'd lose eventually.
Still, he forged on anyway. Daniel was giving him his moment to get his point across first, and that had its advantages. Disadvantages too, because now the archaeologist would have ample time to examine and take apart everything Jack was about to say before he'd even finished speaking.
"This woman-" Jack started, but saw Daniel tense at his words and amended them quickly. "Vala is a known seductress, thief, and scavenger. She hustles people out of things for her benefit, and no one else's. And I'm not just talking about the Prometheus thing here – we've heard plenty, off world, describe a woman like her robbing them of some of their most valuable things."
Daniel nodded again. He'd read those reports, and had even been part of discussions about said 'woman' on other planets.
Jack nodded as well. "And I know there's no guarantee that Vala is that woman, but it doesn't help that she's proven to us that she is that type of person." He paused, thinking not for the first time that day how much he really hated speeches like this. But if there was anyone he'd make a speech like this for willingly, it was Daniel.
"I know you have faith in her, Daniel." He smiled a little as Daniel dropped his gaze. "And it's a good thing to see – you giving out blind faith again." As those blue eyes came up quickly, Jack smiled self-deprecatingly. "It's good to know this job hasn't made you completely jaded."
Flashing a brief smile of understanding, Daniel gave a little half-shrug.
Jack continued when Daniel found his gaze once more. "But it hasn't made you completely immune to the powers of a woman, either." The younger man's expression grew uncertain, and Jack didn't miss the slight reddening of his cheeks. "As much as you hate to admit it, you are just as much a man as the rest of us, and I know you are more than attracted to Vala."
"I am." Daniel admitted in a quiet way that let Jack know there was nobody else Daniel would ever tell that to. It made him feel significant, and yet still upset him at the same time. If Daniel left, whom would he have to tell those things to? Who would he confide in? Jack had seen what happened when Daniel stopped talking and kept everything to himself – and that was one ascension and year with no Daniel Jackson he'd never wish to relive again.
That thought in mind, he finished his point. "And how do you know that Vala isn't using that fact for her own good – to gain a place here just to turn around and sell our secrets out there? You don't know, Daniel. That's why it's not safe to have her here anymore. You have some of the highest security clearance imaginable on the planet, and if she's already got you compromised, what are you expecting me to do?"
Daniel cocked his head slightly, and pulled in a deep breath. "I understand where you're coming from, Jack…" He said with his gaze intent on the table.
"I know you do." Jack said softly, showing his confidence in Daniel wasn't the issue here.
"But judging Vala on first impressions and rumors is something I can't understand." Daniel continued, finally looking up at his older friend. "Yes, she's shown she can be pretty ruthless in the past, but so have we. Vala's done things to stay alive, to stay ahead of the game, and so has SG-1. When it comes down to it, there isn't much difference between her and us."
Jack couldn't stop himself from letting out a sigh. "There is a difference when she's gone about doing it by lying and stealing and cheating."
Sitting forward in his chair, Daniel rested his elbows on the table and clasped his hands together. "How many times have you lied on a mission report to protect me? To protect Teal'c or Sam?" His blue eyes were focused intently on Jack's. "We've stolen ships and weapons to get out of hostile situations, and I've lost count on the number of times you and I, combined, have cheated death. It's all a matter of perspective, Jack. We say we did it for the better of the world, but deep down it was to protect ourselves."
"I'm not saying some of the shadier things we've done weren't necessary, but what if Vala's were too?" He continued, dropping his attention to the wood below his hands. "She's a resourceful person, and I think you should be trying to keep her, not lose her."
There, he'd said it. Okay, well, Daniel hadn't actually put forth that what he really wanted was to have Vala on the team. That he wanted her closer and closer with every day that passed and that he didn't think he could stop himself from getting more involved. But as he looked up and met Jack's gaze once again, Daniel knew the man had understood what was being implied.
"I'll ask again…" Jack said calmly. "What are you expecting me to do?"
Suddenly, Daniel felt nervous. It wasn't so much the fact that Jack was asking him, but the fact that he knew if he put his plan in motion to get Vala in the program, his ass would be on the line. And there was no guarantee Jack could protect him if things went south – there never was in these sorts of things.
Still, he took the leap. Vala was depending on him, and Daniel wasn't going to let her down. She'd been let down too many times before and he wasn't about to join the long list of people who had just brushed her aside so they could save their own asses.
"I'm expecting you…" He started, then paused and licked his lips. It was a short stalling act to gather his thoughts and find the one way to spin it that would get Jack to agree. Manipulating his friend wasn't something he liked doing, but Daniel would do it if it were for the greater good. Plus Jack wouldn't let him do it if he didn't feel like he needed the moral push. "To give her the same faith you gave me nine years ago."
"To give her a chance to prove herself and show you she's one of the greatest assets the SGC will ever have." Daniel pulled in a deep breath and finally let his final request slip out. "I'm expecting you to find her a place here…maybe even on SG-1?" The last part came out as a plea of sorts, hesitant and unsure.
Jack smiled a little. "There it is…" At Daniel's confused blink, he shook his head and laughed. "I was waiting for you to get through all the lawyerish rebuttal and tell me what you wanted out of this. You want her here because…"
He let out a sigh, one that sounded slightly reluctant. "Because you have fallen for her."
Indignantly, Daniel flopped back in his chair and crossed his arms. "I want her here because I can protect her and maybe show her there's more to life than just survival."
"Daniel, you can just tell me ya know?" Jack was grinning smugly now. "I get it – she's a pretty little thing and you want to be her knight in shining armor and all that crap. It's deluded and sappy, but honorable, and that's very you."
"Jack." Daniel growled in that way of his.
The amusement fell away from Jack's tone. "Daniel, if I do this – trust your word about this Vala – you know what it will mean if she ends up being just what I'm afraid of." As the younger man nodded, Jack sighed again. This time it was more in surrender than anything else.
"I'm not gonna make it easy for her, just like I didn't make it easy for you all those years ago. Vala is going to need to prove to me that she is capable of being what you say she can be." Jack tried not to react to the excitement Daniel was fighting to hide. "She needs to prove to me that I can trust her – not just with this base's secrets but also the lives of every person under my command. That's a very tough burden for someone whose past isn't very solid…"
Daniel's smile was filled with relief. "I'm more than sure she can handle it."
"Of course you are." Jack said with a roll of his eyes. Did he really know what he was getting himself into here? Not really, but with Daniel, when did he ever know? "Alright, you've won me over – at least for the time being."
The archaeologist looked intently at him. "She can stay?"
Jack nodded. "She can stay, but most of my decision is based upon losing you – that's something I can't do." He smiled faintly at Daniel's hurried 'thanks, Jack. You won't regret this'. As his friend pushed out of his chair and moved to leave, though, the General stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"If you want this to go smoothly," Jack felt guilty for what he was about to say, but he knew it had to be said. "Anything you feel for her right now, beyond interest in her well being and future, are gonna have to be locked away." He saw Daniel's excitement practically disappear at the statement.
"For now, anyway." He continued on quickly, not wanting to completely kill Daniel's suddenly revived romantic life. Jack waited until Daniel nodded hesitantly. "I mean it, Daniel. You and Vala cannot take this relationship any further if you really care about wanting her to stay – at least, not until I say."
Daniel's faced hardened slightly at the fatherly tone Jack had adopted. That whole 'teenager' feeling was back again. "Fine. I understand. I can't be involved with her until you think she won't use me." And here he'd thought he'd succeeded in convincing Jack that Vala wouldn't do that.
"It's not about her using you, Daniel." Jack tried to clarify, but it was hard considering Daniel was already like an abused puppy when it came to love. "It's about your word and what others will think if you two are already romantically together."
The blue-eyed stare he was getting was almost like ice. "I get it." Daniel tugged on his arm in Jack's grasp. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to go tell her she's being given a chance… if nothing else."
Jack released Daniel and the younger man stormed out of the room before he could say anything. He turned back to the table and dropped his head on his arms down on the wooden surface. Well, at least Daniel wasn't going to leave him. The man was more pissed at him now then he'd been before, but Jack knew beggars couldn't be choosers.
He found her sitting anxiously on the bed in her quarters. As soon as Daniel had the door closed behind him, Vala sprung up from the bed and ran over to him. Her arms came up around his neck and he oomphed as he caught her in his arms.
"Oh Daniel," She whispered into his neck. "Muscles told me you had gone to speak to your General Jack. My mind just kept wondering over all the horrible ways that would turn out. I just kept thinking 'oh gods, he's gonna change his mind.' Or 'that Jack man will certainly just throw me in a dark jail cell and make Daniel work, work, work for the rest of his life!'"
Daniel couldn't help himself from giving her a reassuring squeeze, just taking a moment to remember the feeling of her in his arms. He didn't know how long it would be before he would ever be able to do so again, if ever as the way he had been imagining for weeks now. His eyes closed at the thought of missing out on yet another love he yearned for desperately. Still, it was a sacrifice he was willing to make if it helped Vala in the long run. He would give up love once more to give her a home and a family. He could be just family, and nothing more…
That's why he forced himself to push her away, even as she continued to babble on about all the horrendous scenarios she'd gone over in her head. Vala stopped mid-scenario, which involved swords, and gave him a nervous look.
"Daniel?" She questioned, realizing he'd yet to say anything. She honestly didn't know him enough to know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
He looked down at her, and Vala could see the sadness horribly masked behind relief. "Jack said you can stay," A weight lifted in her chest, but that look in his eyes made her heart feel even heavier. "That you could go through all the evaluations and maybe even be on SG-1."
"Then what's wrong?" Vala's tone was soft, and it made his response even harder to get out.
Daniel looked to the floor and crossed his arms, frowning. "We need to talk about what's been going on between us."
She knew immediately from his tone that obviously didn't mean anything good. "Oh…okay…" Vala stepped away a little bit, giving Daniel the space to walk over to her bed and sit down. He never met her eyes as he started talking, and that only made her heart feel just a little heavier.
Do not worry - I haven't forgotten about Cameron. He will be prominent in the next chapter, which I've already started. No guarantee when it will get done, but it IS started - that's something, right? ;P As always, reviews are definitely appreciated!