Epilogue

Jack had stopped listening shortly after the stuffed shirts started picking their way through Daniel's report. He'd been through this already, days after they'd brought the miraculously healthy archaeologist back from his most recent meeting with the glowy-types on Hosta, and he knew backwards and forwards the story of Morgan Le Fay and her intent to hide Merlin's weapon away among a bunch of people with the ATA gene as well as her failed attempt to consign the legendary sorcerer to a system of planets that was akin to an Ancient padded cell. He and Landry had worked with Daniel for hours making sure that the archaeologist's written report had included – and left out – all the integral pieces, even over his sometimes explosive disagreement. Good thing that promotion to general came with thick skin and the inability to take no for an answer – they weren't about to let Daniel fall to his own bloated sense of culpability.

Jack flipped the pencil back and forth across his knuckles, stifling, once again, the urge to fold one page of his notebook into sharp corners and start a game of table-football with Mitchell – he knew the Air Force lieutenant colonel was just as bored and annoyed as he was. Unfortunately, anything he instigated to try to drain off his rising aggravation at this point would be liable to irritate the already pissy archaeologist to his left, something it would be in Jack's best interests to avoid. Plus, the whole 'fidgety-toddler' image he'd developed so well at the SGC just didn't fit with the dress uniform with the shiny stars on the shoulders. He wondered – not for the first time – if Hammond hadn't anticipated that reaction when he'd encouraged Jack to accept the promotion in the first place. Spoil sport.

All of these Capitol Hill committee rooms looked alike. Jack let his gaze wander over the dark paneled walls, the flags of the member nations alternating with layers of plush draperies behind the seated IOA members, royal blue carpeting doing its best to absorb the yammering voices or anticipated shoe pounding of the representatives, no matter how shrill the rants of the French delegate might become. His eyes narrowed at the sneering blonde man, considering whether or not another off-world trip was in order to remind the blithering blow-hard about the differences between sitting in his comfortable embassy eating croissants and reading reports and actually setting foot on alien soil. Another few hours of terrified flight from flesh-eating bugs would do that guy a world of good.

The Chinese delegate looked worried. Her uncomfortable glances towards his teammate hadn't been lost on Jack – he remembered Daniel's careful approval of the slight woman when the team had returned from their encounter at the Gamma Site, but, then again, Daniel had liked Colonel Chekov, too. The new Russian representative, Colonel Navroski, was too GQ for Jack's comfort – tall, dark haired, no more than forty-five – Jack unconsciously straightened his shoulders and sucked in his gut. Russian military types were supposed to be short, squat villains who sounded like they were intent on 'making trouble for moose and squirrel,' not soft-spoken diplomats: Jack didn't trust the guy. He glanced over at Daniel and was surprised to see a dangerous glitter in his friend's eye. Uh oh. Jack made an effort to focus.

"I'm sorry Dr. Jackson, but this all sounds more like a fairy tale than a mission report, so you can understand our… confusion… over this..." Jean LaPierre flapped his hands above the thick folder resting before him on the table. "Ah," he sighed dramatically, "words fail me."

"We wish." Jack barely heard the muttered response from Mitchell where he sat to Daniel's left, and he was fairly positive that Daniel was too angry to even register his teammate's attempt at lightening the mood. Daniel had been remarkably patient about having the backseat drivers of the IOA interfering with his life of late, but listening to the idiots continually disparage his conclusions about Merlin, the weapon they were seeking, and the Ancients was taking its toll. His blue-eyed buddy was about to blow.

Reaching out one hand to lay it lightly across the sleeve of Daniel's well-pressed suit, Jack cleared his throat meaningfully. Suddenly, all the eyes in the room were on him. Well, all except for Daniel's of course, Jack noted, smiling wryly when he glanced down to see that Mitchell had a restraining hand on the archaeologist in a move that mirrored his own. He wimpered silently to himself. Daniel would make them pay for this.

"Look," Major General Jack O'Neill began, "for the past few years the SGC has been pretty darn wrapped up in fairy tales and legends. Gods, demons, angels, swords in stones, heck we've been wandering down the yellow-brick road since Daniel Jackson first opened the Stargate eleven years ago." A little walk down memory lane never hurt, he smirked inwardly. "So now we're talking about Ancients who called themselves wizards and sorceresses – how is that such a big leap from the Norse gods being little grey aliens or Nerdy- "

"- Nirrti -"

"- whatever, actually being a snake-headed goddess wannabe who created a bunch of oozy, leprous X-Men?" Jack leaned forward and gestured towards the panel. "If you guys are getting to the point where all of this stuff is becoming too much for you, hey, just let me know and we'll recruit some new blood to stand in the background and tell the people going toe-to-toe with unbelievable crap every damned day just what they can and can't do."

"I can live with that," Mitchell piped up quickly.

"General O'Neill," Richard Woolsey intoned smoothly, trying to take control of the hearing again, "I believe I speak for all of the members of the IOA when I say that-"

"No."

Jack shifted his weight uncomfortably. He recognized that tone.

"Daniel?"

Well, great. Jack closed his mouth and sat back against the thin cushion of his chair. The glasses had been discarded on the table, and Dr. Daniel Jackson had risen from his seat, radiating righteous fury and barely controlled spite behind a thin veneer of academia and Armani. No one in his right mind would try to contain Daniel in "snit" mode; the guy could kill you with his brain and flay skin with his tongue when he was in a good mood, let alone after the mission from hell and a coffee cup that had been empty for two hours. He met Mitchell's widened eyes and settled in, consigning himself to the role of "piece-picker-upper" with the other Air Force officer once Daniel had said all that he wanted to say.

"No, Mr. Woolsey," Daniel continued, long fingers of one hand splayed on the report before him. "Your lack of insight in the area of Ascension has been quite obvious of late, so I believe that I speak for everyone on this side of the table when I ask that you actually listen, for once."

Woolsey had the good grace to know when he was beaten, and gestured briefly for Daniel to continue. As if he wouldn't have anyway, Jack snorted.

"You've seen Lt. Col. Carter and Dr. Lam's findings on the engineered 'water' that was discovered on both Hosta and the worlds of the Islands of Fortune system, and its potential benefits both medically and in dealing with the Priors' mental control. These discoveries in themselves speak to the underlying truth of the Hostans' mythos concerning their relocation to their current home planet by the Ascended being known as Ganos Lal, or Morgan Le Fay, as well as their role in the hiding of Merlin's weapon – a truth you must concede even if you continue to completely disregard my own personal dealings with this entity." Jack listened to the bitter tone of Daniel's words and felt the familiar blossom of indignant protectiveness within his own gut. His former teammate may have accepted that his own testimony concerning the Ancients would never be accepted at face value by these idiots, but then he was a better man than Jack O'Neill. Much better. Jack would have gladly torn each of them a new one up close and personally.

"You've also all been briefed concerning the ill-advised 'research' of Dr. Forsner – someone whom the IOA itself vetted – and the results of his unauthorized experimentation." At least some of the delegates had the common sense to look away, reluctantly embarrassed that their insistence on probing Daniel's mind had almost ended with his death. "Further examination of my neural responses shows no trace of any higher brain activity the likes of which were observed in both Khalek," he stared piercingly at Woolsey, "and Orlin."

"Now we've," Daniel gestured quickly at Mitchell and Jack at his sides, "explained the significance of the search for Merlin's weapon again and again to this committee, and you yourselves have acknowledged the vital importance of finding a way to protect Earth from the Ori, even if your pursuits in this direction have been both reckless and ignorant." Jack watched the momentary bridling of the usually catered-to international delegates and mentally applauded as Daniel dismissed the reactions and continued without a breath. "Your efforts resulting in, in no particular order, airmen's deaths, destruction of SGC property, the potentially fatal wounding of Col. Mitchell during the Hostan Tegera, and the loss of dozens of prospective allies among the Jaffa of Bren-Nek-Mok..." He hesitated, eyes closing against an unwilling memory.

"Not to mention," Mitchell spoke up when Daniel took a moment to regain control, "almost losing the guy – not once, but twice - that is the only one who has a clue about defeating the Ori and is most likely to solve this Ancient riddle." Jack nodded in agreement.

"So," Daniel picked up the thread of his argument, his tone suddenly extremely neutral and mockingly light. "Tell me, just how does the IOA intend to proceed? Are you going to insist on interfering when you don't even have a tiny grasp on what we're up against out there, or are you going to get the hell out of my way and let me do my job? Because," Daniel smiled tightly and blinked in what Jack had always labeled his 'failed attempt at innocence' expression, "I can guarantee that, without the assistance of the Ancients, you will not succeed."

A cold shiver ran up O'Neill's spine as Daniel very carefully lowered himself back into his seat. He watched as a similar reaction spread through the committee opposite him. Faces paled, hands stilled, and eyebrows rose in shock at what the IOA representatives quickly realized was a not so subtly implied threat from the bland, harmless academic. The formerly Ascended bland, harmless academic.

"Dr. Jackson," the Chinese representative recovered first, "are you saying that if you, as the closest tie we have to the Ancients, are not allowed free rein to pursue your mission to discover Merlin's weapon that the Ascended beings will withdraw their support from the humans of this galaxy?"

Daniel leaned forward. "Madame Representative." Jack frowned and met Mitchell's worried glance again at the archaeologist's cold tone. "I am saying that, for good or ill, no matter how anyone in this room might feel about it," steel-blue eyes swept over the gathered bureaucrats, "the Ancients have made their choice." The glare clouded momentarily as it turned inward. "And I've made mine." Jack was about to reach out towards his friend again when Daniel blinked once and straightened. "It is time for the IOA to do the same."

The uncomfortable silence stretched on while fingers tapped and eyes shifted under the focused attention of the most stubborn man in any galaxy. Woolsey recovered first, and after adjusting his glasses in a move that Jack had often seen in his teammate when he was playing for time, the thin man opened his mouth only to shut it again when a blue-suited aide strode into the committee room and handed the man a sealed envelope. The general watched, eyes narrowing, as Woolsey's face blanched at something the aide whispered before the man disappeared as quickly as he'd come. The chairman of the IOA carefully slit the envelope and shaking hands pulled out one sheet of paper. Huh, Jack thought. Looks like someone's strings were about to be yanked pretty damned hard.

Woolsey cleared his throat and visibly tried to pull himself together. "Ladies and gentlemen, I have been instructed to read this statement word for word."

Jack's lips twitched and he finally let himself relax. This should be good.

"'The United States government would like to remind the committee of its complete faith and trust in the ability of the commanders of Homeworld Security and the SGC, in the persons of Generals O'Neill and Landry, and in their personnel, to perform all duties necessary to ensure the protection of this country and this world. We would not seek to interfere with these commands, especially in this time of political turmoil and uncertainty and threat within the galaxy. I encourage the members of the IOA, especially the Unites States' representative Chairman Woolsey,'" Jack noticed the tension in Woolsey's face as he was forced to utter words that left a nasty taste in the bureaucrat's mouth, "'to affirm that the members of SG-1, under the command of Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell, including Lt. Col. Samantha Carter, Teal'c, Vala Mal Doran, and especially Dr. Daniel Jackson, have this board's complete confidence as they seek out a weapon to protect our world and its allies from the Ori threat unless and until some other action is deemed to be required.'" Woolsey swallowed his own obvious disagreement and, still reading, slowly lowered the letter to the desk in front of him. "'This government regrets any harm that has come to Dr. Jackson from the interference of this civilian advisory board, and promises a swift reprisal against all those found to be have consented to any unauthorized experimentation. Letters signaling my intent to fully prosecute those responsible, and to support the SGC and its command in all staffing and personnel decisions, have been today forwarded to the heads of states of each of the IOA member nations." Bright brown eyes locked with Jack's. "Signed, President Henry Hayes.'"

Not long after, the party broke up. Hands were shaken, insincere compliments on a job well done were exchanged, and Daniel's diplomatic side resurfaced in time to brush off dinner invitations from both the Chinese and Russian representatives without leaving bruised egos. Mitchell, Daniel, and Jack found themselves strolling down the marble steps of the office building in the watery winter sunshine, a little bemused and a lot relieved. Jack, his face already shaded by the brim of his cover, slipped on his sunglasses. "Well, well, well. That went… well, don't ya think?" He smiled smugly.

"Somebody likes you, Jackson," Mitchell commented, slapping his teammate soundly on the back.

"Oh, yeah," Jack agreed. "Once Hayes had spoken it was all over but the shouting." He looked over at his too quiet teammate. "What, Daniel, you don't like winning a hand against the blow-hards for a change?"

Daniel shook his head, frowning, as he concentrated on the steep staircase. "You think I just won something, Jack?"

The lingering bitterness in his tone halted the two military officers in their tracks. It took a moment for Daniel to realize that he stood alone on the sidewalk and he turned a shrouded gaze back up the steps on his friends.

Jack recovered first and sighed dramatically, including Mitchell in his customary eye-roll. "Yes, Daniel," he stated with evident patience, "I think you just won some uninterrupted, uninterfered with time back with SG-1 – going where you want, when you want, searching for … that thing –" he chose his words carefully, glancing at the scurrying figures of Capitol Hill regulars around them. "Isn't that what you wanted?" He hurried to catch up with his old friend.

"Only 'unless and until some other action is deemed to be required,'" the archaeologist enunciated cynically, echoing Hayes' carefully worded speech. "Sounds more like they're just going to be waiting for the next excuse to interfere to me. Especially Woolsey – I'm pretty sure he hates my guts even more than ever."

Jack stepped beside his still seething friend. "Daniel, they're smarmy, second-guessing, bureaucratic assholes – that's what they do." He placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder and shook him. "They're out of your hair for the moment, consider it a win." The general watched for that moment of capitulation, for the spark to return to Daniel's eye, and then slapped his hands together. "And I say that calls for steaks – big, red, juicy meat…"

"I'm up for that," Mitchell seconded the notion, joining the two. "Our plane doesn't leave until 22:00 from Reagan, and I'm sure a sophisticated, man-about-town like yourself, General, won't steer us wrong."

Jack deliberately over-did the double take and smiled widely. "'Steer' us wrong – good one, Mitchell."

"I try, sir."

Gesturing to the waiting limo, Jack raised his eyebrows. "Daniel?"

The archaeologist looked long and hard at the two men in uniform at his sides. "As long as neither of my two self-appointed mother-hens intends to cut my meat for me, I'm in."

Cam and Jack exchanged a smile as Daniel leaned over to slide across the upholstered seat. "Dinner with a healthy, non-glowy, sarcastic archaeologist – my favorite," Jack quipped, holding out his hand.

Mitchell clasped the offered hand and nodded. "Couldn't have said it better myself, sir."

The End (finally)

A/N: Again, many thanks to those who've read, reviewed, favorited, or otherwise peeked their noses into this very long, very drawn out story. I sincerely hope you've enjoyed reading it half as much as I've enjoyed writing it.