Before Ren'al's Arrival
Daniel lifted the barbell back to its rest, pushing past the tremors that he could feel crawl up and down the muscles of his arms. The metal bar clunked awkwardly into position and he worried for a moment that his jerky movements would bounce it right off its perch to slam down on him before a pair of large dark hands reached out to steady the weight. Breathing heavily, he rose from the flat bench and retrieved the towel he'd hung nearby to sop up some of the sweat from his face and neck. He snatched the glasses held out by his teammate and settled them onto his face as he nodded his thanks. Teal'c began adding plates to raise the weight from the archaeologist's respectable 180 lbs to double that and Daniel caught the eye of Major Mansfield who was just finishing his own set. As the Jaffa took his position on the bench and reached up to grasp the barbell, the two men moved to the head of the bench to spot him.
"Thanks," Daniel muttered, shifting his eyes momentarily towards the taciturn airman before turning them back towards his friend.
Mansfield shrugged. "No problem." His sharp eyes glanced between the two men, wondering if he'd ever seen a more dissimilar work-out team. "Do you guys usually spot for each other?" he couldn't help asking. He'd just returned from a rotation to the Alpha Site as 2IC to Colonel Dekker to take command of the newest SG team, but he'd been bouncing around the SGC long before that, filling in for injured members of various teams. He'd seen both guys in here before – everyone recognized the members of SG-1 – but thought the big Jaffa and Colonel O'Neill usually paired up, leaving the two scientists on the team to their less strenuous workout. By the look of Jackson's build, a few things had changed since Mansfield was a regular at the SGC gym.
"Ah…" Daniel swiped at a trickle of sweat that was dripping down his temple, "about six months or so, I guess." He pulled the sweat-soaked undershirt away from his chest to try to move some air over his skin.
"Indeed," Teal'c added easily, the smooth repetitions seemingly taking up little of his concentration, "since my experiences during the Rite of M'al Sharran. I found Daniel Jackson to be a more… calming… companion than O'Neill." Setting the bar to rest in its brackets for a moment before beginning another set, the Jaffa held Jackson's gaze.
"Only because I'm usually too beat to maintain a running commentary like Jack does," Daniel snorted, looking away.
"I believe that is what I said," Teal'c agreed, taking the strain of the weights once more.
It might have been his imagination, but Mansfield caught an undercurrent of irritation as they joked about their team leader and the 2IC of Stargate Command. Trouble in SG-1 paradise? he wondered. Well, it was bound to happen sometime. That team had been close-knit since day-one, mismatched, uneven, diverse, the officer smirked to himself, but extremely loyal and devoted to each other. He knew it wouldn't last. Let teammates get too close and they lose all objectivity, Mansfield thought to himself. He glanced around the gym at the members of his new team. Won't find me making the same mistake.
When the Jaffa had completed his reps and the Air Force officer left to continue his workout, Daniel and Teal'c moved towards a couple of decline benches for crunches to finish up. Teal'c was pleased that his quiet encouragement led his friend to challenge himself through an extra set despite the young man's groans of protest. Afterwards Daniel gratefully grasped the outstretched hand and used it to haul himself to a standing position, allowing Teal'c to steady him for an instant before he found his equilibrium again.
Having grown used to the routine over the past few months, Daniel and Teal'c headed to the locker room to shower and dress before trudging to the commissary for lunch. With three new SG teams commissioned within the past week, the room was full of the dull roar of many voices, mostly male, and Daniel winced at the sound as the two managed to find a pair of chairs at a table farthest from the chow line. Daniel let his gaze wander through the crowd of blue and green fatigues, noticing the overabundance of marines and the scarcity of civilian consultants among the back-slapping military types. He was not surprised to find that the trend continued.
The shaggy blond head that twisted around at the door before looking their way was a surprise, and Daniel smiled a welcome at Sam as she waved before hurrying off to get a tray. He caught Teal'c's eye and gestured with his chin at the now empty chair to the Jaffa's left, not willing to raise his voice above the din. Adept at reading his teammate's unspoken request, Teal'c dragged the metal chair towards him with one ankle and deposited his dish of red jello on the table in front of it to reserve the spot, quickly retrieving it when Sam's tray slid into position.
"Hey, guys," she smiled, looking hungrily at the dessert before Teal'c moved it out of her reach. She flopped into the chair with a heavy sigh and darted a frown at the loud party of marines across the table.
"You sound tired, Sam," Daniel observed when the noise died down for a moment.
She nodded. "The labs are a mess," she mumbled around a bite of lemon chicken. "Between the tests we've been doing on the remains of the Russian DHD and what information we managed to scrounge from our dealings with the Aschen and the Tollans," she swallowed past a sudden icy plunge of sorrow and pushed on, "we've suddenly got more science than scientists." The dark circles under her eyes spoke more about her struggles to hold herself together in the wake of their past several missions than in a lack of research time.
Daniel lowered his eyes towards his own plate and forced himself to take another bite. While he'd never begrudge his teammate the new technologies and insights that were being revealed every day lately, he missed the days when his own labs were just as busy. During the first two or three years of the program he'd had to be dragged kicking and screaming from his office to work out, or spar, or take part in any of the other military-type training that Jack insisted upon for a member of his team. Now, he welcomed the distraction. He used to feel the weight of the backlog of translations and artifacts awaiting him after the end of every mission as a sword of Damocles that was waiting to fall; at this point he realized that, with the SGC's new focus on weapon procurement and political strategy, that backlog was dwindling. And the relaxed atmosphere that was pervading the archaeology and linguistic labs was not bringing with it the sense of peace and freedom he expected, but the growing dread that that backlog had actually represented something completely different: job security.
"Is O'Neill still in conference with General Hammond?" Teal'c's low rumble muscled through the background noise.
Sam shrugged in an attempt at nonchalance. "I guess. I haven't seen him since the briefing this morning." Daniel raised his eyes to watch the emotions play across her face that she kept carefully lowered. She felt his scrutiny and met his gaze. "I know he and the general are getting pretty frustrated by these constant requests for briefings from the Pentagon."
Daniel kept his expression carefully neutral but cringed inwardly, knowing that the repercussions from his warp-speed negotiations with the Russian government to save Teal'c from destruction within the collapsed wormhole were falling heavily on the leadership of Stargate Command.
"It isn't just because of your negotiations, Daniel," Samantha Carter insisted. "McKay's report on some of the 'shortcuts' I've taken with the Stargate over the years has stirred up a hornet's nest. Combine that with the failure of the Aschen negotiations as well as the colonel's exposition of Simmons' involvement with the Goa'uld and everyone is starting to realize that things have to change."
A low grunt swung Sam and Daniel's heads towards their less vocal friend. "Don't blame yourself, Teal'c," Daniel said quickly, face intent. "I wouldn't change anything, and I'm sure Sam, Jack, and the general feel the same way."
"And yet, my friends have once again found themselves at risk on my behalf," he replied. Once Teal'c had processed the deep satisfaction that came with the death of Tanith at his hands, he realized the lengths his teammates had gone to to retrieve him.
"We're not 'at risk,' Teal'c," Sam countered, missing the skeptical raise of Daniel's eyebrows as she locked eyes with the Jaffa seated next to her. "Things are just… complicated right now."
"I believe things have been complicated, Major Carter, for quite some time," the Jaffa replied softly. "Your government's involvement in the Stargate program and in the missions of SG-1 and other teams has become more direct of late, more urgent."
Daniel felt himself starting to nod – he and Teal'c had had these conversations on and off over the past few months, about the change in the feel of the base, the nature of their missions, and the functionality of the team itself. As Sam rehashed the same tired rhetoric about primary missions and the need for tangible results and weapons to protect Earth, he could hear her trying to convince herself. He knew Teal'c shared his own disquiet – they both felt the awkwardness of their positions outside the military establishment: they were quickly becoming the only two non-ranked members of any active SG team.
But it was more than that. He let his gaze wander over the familiar and unfamiliar faces seated around him. Masterman was a geologist and a lieutenant. Sgt. Armstrong was a medic. Foscarelli did double duty as 2IC of SG-4 and engineer. So many of the new scientists on the base were experienced military men and women who specialized in some area of science while pursuing a career in the Air Force or Marines. Skilled in combat, schooled in tactics, and proficient in his or her own field as well. Daniel's searching blue eyes returned to his companions. Teal'c was a recognized expert on Goa'uld tactics, a weapons specialist, and had more information about the state of the galaxy than any other person on the base. And everyone respected Sam's unmatched ability to understand and utilize alien technology almost instantly. He frowned and placed his fork carefully on his plate. What the heck was a civilian linguist/archaeologist doing here?
"I'll see you guys later," he muttered, sliding his chair back and grabbing his tray. He found his left wrist trapped in Teal'c's grasp and looked up into his friend's concerned face.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Sam's confused reaction, her head swiveling between her teammates. "I'm fine, Teal'c. I've got to prepare for the orientation this afternoon." The Jaffa's one raised eyebrow let Daniel know that Teal'c would accept that explanation for his hasty departure – but only for now, and in front of their teammate. Daniel smiled in gratitude and headed out, making his solitary path between groups of airmen and marines.
Sam leaned towards Teal'c to make herself heard as her eyes watched the archaeologist's figure get swallowed up by the mob at the commissary doors. "Does Jack still have Daniel doing the primer for the new SG teams? I know how Daniel hates standing up in front of a roomful of military types to try to teach basic first contact protocols, especially when he could be working on translations – is that why he's upset?"
Teal'c hesitated, wondering how much of his friend's unrest he was at liberty to reveal. "I do not believe that Daniel Jackson is upset, Major Carter." He allowed the growl in his voice to communicate his dissatisfaction with the word. "I do not believe his concern, however," he corrected her, "has to do with this assignment from O'Neill." He raised troubled eyes to his teammate.
"Well," Sam quickly finished her meal and gulped her diet soda before brushing a napkin against her mouth, "I've got to get back to the lab. The blueprints for the ion cannons that the Tollans gave us before –" she stopped herself abruptly. "Just the knowledge that this technology is possible," she began again after a deep breath, "has been a huge help." Her own expression had darkened for a moment before she could will herself back into scientist mode. She absently placed one hand on Teal'c's shoulder as she turned, more intent on getting away before she lost the fragile grip she had on her emotions. "Maybe we could drag Daniel and Col. O'Neill out for pizza later – what do you think? It's been a while."
Sam hurried off before Teal'c could respond. "Indeed it has," he murmured.
Daniel turned the corner into his office and dropped his files onto one of the metal tables, watching as the slick photographs slipped out of the folders and spread themselves across the clean, shining surface. His gaze traveled along the empty expanse as details of the afternoon briefing with the new SG teams sped away from his thoughts, leaving him with the same sense of dread and emptiness that had become so familiar to him. Slipping behind his desk, Daniel fell into his chair and let his head drop into his hands.
Who knew that addressing first contact experiences with the newly formed SG teams would bring up so many unresolved issues in his own mind? Even as he spoke, emphasizing caution and humility, reinforcing warning signs of ongoing Goa'uld influence in off-world cultures and subterfuge by less than friendly natives, his mind whirled with doubt as he heard Jack's voice reverberate with sarcasm and anger. The Standard Operating Procedures of off-world teams encountering new cultures had been a work in progress for Daniel and his team of anthropologists since the beginning of the program, and, now that they finally had a workable sketch of do's and don'ts the rules seemed to be unimportant. He ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. If the front-line team leader didn't feel compelled to listen to his own supposed expert – the guy who literally wrote the book – then why should any of the other SG teams?
The Eurondans. The Gadmeer. Old wounds and Daniel had really gotten past those, he insisted to himself. Jack's mind would always run to the black and white – the good guy v. the bad guy – allies and enemies, those were the only possibilities. Trust in his teammate wasn't the issue. He felt the tight grip he'd taken around his own chest and smirked at himself. Gotten past it. Right. Jack taking the lead role in their discussions with the people of K'tau, and freezing Daniel out of the situation with the Ascended being Orlin and with the talks with the Aschen had effectively ripped at those scars. Daniel knew he'd taken a step back since then on missions – several steps back, actually, which made it that much harder for Jack to listen to him when he did put himself forward and insist on something. He'd gotten out of the habit of asking for Daniel's input, and so relegated Daniel to the background. That's really why he and Teal'c had started seeking out each other's company – Teal'c was in the same boat.
These past few briefings had felt more like he was passing off his responsibilities than that he was sharing any expertise. Handing over the reins. Educating the next generation, he chuckled to himself, considering that he was still younger than most of the other people on base.
Seasons change, he reminded himself. Just like the weather in Colorado Springs, the climate of the SGC was changing and the military machine was slowly but surely absorbing the roles of the civilian consultants, just as the goal of Stargate travel had turned from exploration and discovery to appeasement of those who controlled the purse strings of government. And as fewer artifacts made their way back through the Stargate, and more mines and off-world trade opportunities were established, the American military felt more comfortable. Why else would Jack have –
Daniel cut off that train of thought abruptly. He knew Jack's stress level had never been higher. He felt every loss of life as if he had been personally responsible. The mistakes that had been made in recent months, the destruction of the Tollan world, the sacrifice of Ambassador Faxon, the threatened loss of two of his close friends and team members – all of these weighed heavily on Jack O'Neill's mind. He had no patience with the flagrant self-serving stupidity of Kinsey and his type, but he had no choice, now, but to accede to the government's demands, and to assimilate both the outside observers that the Pentagon was sending and the full-time Russian team that had been one of Daniel's suggestions during the recent negotiations. That didn't exactly help the situation.
He surged out of his chair and paced. "C'mon, Jackson," his inner voice insisted, "use that brilliant mind for something other than a repository of failures. How about figuring out a solution?" The Tollan were out – their Stargate had been destroyed and nothing had been heard from them since Narim's last transmission. He had no reason to believe that the Ascended beings would be of any further help since their interaction with Orlin. About the only allies they had left were the Asgard, who seemed to adopt a "don't call us, we'll call you" mentality, the Nox, who were adamantly opposed to anything having to do with weapons, even in defense of billions of innocent people, and the Tok'ra who had been less than friendly of late, or ever, actually.
They needed something big – no, something huge – something to shut up their critics in Washington, to give General Hammond and Jack some breathing room, and to light the fire of exploration and optimism within the browbeaten SG teams. Maybe if he talked to the Nox again, or tried to get back into touch with Shifu. Maybe the Goa'uld knowledge he'd rejected wasn't as dangerous as he'd believed. He found himself standing once again at his desk, hands clenched into fists on its metal surface, tension constricting his muscles painfully. Dammit. Daniel forced himself to breathe, to relax one muscle group at a time until he slumped back into his chair again. This wasn't about him – he could not selfishly insist that the answer was his to imagine, or that his role in any far-reaching mission would be more than a supporting one. This was about defeating the enemy, continuing the Stargate program whether Daniel Jackson still had a place in it or not.