A Moving Sea Ch 27

"Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it be a moving sea between the shores of your souls." Kahlil Gibran.

"… oh, yeah, well I was once forcibly addicted to an enzyme from the Wraith – it made me super strong and superfast and really, really tough. I took out two guards – two big – huge – guards so I could get back to Atlantis. The withdrawal from that was horrible – terrible pain. Carson could tell you-"

"Goa'uld sarcophagus addiction. 1998. Beat up some airmen, a petite doctor, and nearly shot my best friend."

Jack stayed quietly in the shadow of the lab's doorway listening to the odd back and forth. McKay was animated – heck, when wasn't he? – pacing through the small room with a data tablet held lovingly in one arm. His voice was loud, as if he was making some sort of point. Some feet to the left, Daniel sat, barely moving, before a large screen filled with Ancient text, tapping now and then on a keyboard placed next to his left hand: the fidgety scientist's polar opposite. His few replies were dry, drained of emotion or curiosity; he merely let the words fall out of his mouth and into the air.

"Oh." McKay turned back towards Daniel, frowning. "Right. I remember hearing about that." He paused, eyes searching the empty air before him – maybe for inspiration, Jack figured. Maybe he had a mental filing system for all the crap that the Pegasus galaxy had thrown his way.

"Okay, how about the time – times, more than once, actually - where I was captured by the Genii and tortured for information?"

Daniel poked at a couple of keys. "Apophis. Honduran rebels. Adria. Take your pick."

Jack grimaced. What the hell was this? Some kind of SGC Name That Wound where the guy with the biggest set of scars wins? In Daniel's case, a meandering trip down memory lane was chock full of landmines of every description and Jack should know – he'd been front row center for most of them.

"Hmm, well, okay, I'll just call that a tie then," McKay mumbled, annoyed. "Hey, I did have alien fog invade my memory and build up this whole fake inner world where I went back to –"

Jack couldn't take it any more – not McKay's apparent blindness and definitely Daniel's quiet pain. He stepped forward.

"Yeah, we've got that covered, too." He caught Daniel's startled gaze. "Gamekeeper. Hathor." And let's not go into that even one inch further, Jack shuddered to himself. "Bloody Goo of Sokar."

Daniel's small smile was filled with gratitude. "And let's not forget Merlin."

"Let's try," Jack whined.

McKay huffed impatiently. "Okay, I know you've got me with the whole actual death and ascension thing," he raised one finger, eyes glittering with victory, "but have you ever been trapped in a crashed ship at the bottom of the ocean because a huge sea monster –"

"McKay!" Jack spun, both hands up as if to physically hold back the man's torrent of words. "What the hell are you two doing? Beckett didn't release Daniel to light duty so you could dredge up all of the worst horrors of the past twelve years!"

Daniel's gaze flicked towards the other scientist. "Not my idea, Jack," he muttered in a sing-songy voice.

Clutching his tablet to his chest, McKay was still waggling that finger in the air. "Now, hear me out, General. I figured if I could simply remind Daniel of all the stuff we've been through, well, that I've been through, and how well adjusted I am, that he would, you know," the small eyes widened slowly in the face of what Jack figured was his 'you've gotta be shitting me' expression, "feel better. Be encouraged." Jack's intense scrutiny seemed to dry up the man's constant word-flow. "Get well soon," he added feebly.

"New therapy regime?" Jack threw back towards his teammate, still eying the fidgeting McKay.

"Not one that Doctor Prandahl mentioned to me, no."

Jack could still hear the unconvinced, slightly rebellious tenor to Daniel's tone every time the subject of his therapy sessions came up. The soft-spoken psychologist was growing on him, even though Daniel would never admit it. His initial resistance to the doctor's slow, patient overtures, Beckett's calm explanations, and Jack's stubborn insistence that he – finally – get the help he needed had settled into reluctant obedience. Of course, that was the only kind of 'obedience' Daniel understood.

The condition that Daniel get to ask the psychologist one question for every three of his – in his native Hindi – was something Jack had seen coming from a mile away. Thankfully, Prandahl's face had lit up upon hearing his native tongue and now the two were fast becoming more than doctor and brilliant, depressed patient. Jack smiled to himself. One thing that would never change in any universe – Daniel Jackson would make friends wherever he went.

McKay's sigh drew him back to this particular little scene of the crime. "I miss Kate Heightmeyer." The scientist was wistful, yearning.

"Good looking, was she?" Jack quipped.

"Oh, yeah," McKay replied, a slight smile tipping up the edges of his mouth. Jack watched as the guy's brain caught up and he straightened with a jerk. "What? Oh, well, yes, Doctor Heightmeyer. I suppose she was – she was a competent psychologist, okay?" He stormed off and fiddled with a console at the other end of the lab, muttering to himself.

Jack dusted off his hands and turned back to Daniel with a grin. "Ready to go?"

The shadows were still there behind his friend's blue eyes. Not even an ego as big as Jack's could believe that a few apologies and explanations could conquer the dark memories that had been gradually chewing pieces out of Daniel's soul. But he was better. Less likely to explode into rage or descend into brooding silences. He was healing.

"I'm not sure that 'ready' is the correct word," Daniel grunted, unconsciously holding his right arm – still in its cast – closer to his chest. Jack recognized it as his newest 'self-protecting' gesture.

Jack hitched one hip onto the nearest console, making sure he didn't turn on any planet-destroying tech with his butt cheek. "This is what we agreed to, Daniel. And getting you out of the lab to interact with people – that's part of Prandahl's process, too, isn't it?"

"It's not that –" Daniel cut himself off and pushed up his glasses, rubbing his eyes with one hand. Eyes closed, hand across his face – he stayed that way for a long moment.

Yeah, Daniel could make friends in any universe. With one notable exception. "So it's not 'people,'" Jack crooked his fingers, "so much as it is 'person,' right?"

The silence grew until Jack wondered if Daniel was digging in his heels again, digging in so hard that nothing would budge him from that chair until that particular 'person' was on a spaceship on his way home.

A half-groan, half-sigh preceded Daniel's hand dropping away and weary blue eyes searching Jack's face. "Just promise me one thing, Jack."

Eyebrows lifting, Jack reached out and dropped his hand onto his friend's shoulder. "Name it."

"Just tell me that I don't have to 'be the bigger man' this time."

Jack snorted and helped Daniel to his feet. "Sorry, buddy. Somehow you always end up being the bigger man."

oOo

"This was your idea wasn't it?"

Daniel smiled at the mock hostility in the whispered words. He turned from the small table, busily stirring his coffee, and pasted on an innocent mask, eyebrows high. "I have no idea what you're talking about, Steven." He blinked once, twice, until Caldwell's stern expression collapsed into an amused – slightly exasperated – shake of the head before he turned away. That combination he was very familiar with, having seen it just a few minutes previously crowned by silver hair. He sipped, closing his eyes briefly and offering a silent prayer to any gods or ascended beings within the area to mercifully grant that they find a Pegasus planet rich in coffee beans soon. Going back to that swill that Rodney had offered him when he first arrived after the last of Jack's precious stash was depleted wasn't something Daniel was looking forward to.

Kinda like this meeting.

He glanced past the colonel's tall figure to check out the seating arrangements. Rodney was inching his way behind Ronon's chair, balancing his data tablet, a sheaf of papers, and a cup that matched Daniel's, as the Satedan seemed to expand to take up every molecule of space between the table and the wall. Sheppard, a few seats away next to the empty chair that Rodney was, undoubtedly, headed for, was watching with unconcealed humor. On the other side of Sheppard, Teyla was in deep conversation with Dr. Keller, the women's faces canvases on which was painted the colors of their particular personalities. Teyla was calm, deliberate, but with a thick layer of kindness muting her intensity. Keller was anxious, uncertain; her gaze flickering away from the other woman's to measure the individuals gathering around the conference table.

Steven remained at Daniel's side, hands in his pockets, having traded his flight suit for a pair of uniform pants, shirt and tie. Daniel wondered if he was uncomfortable. He shifted closer.

"Actually, it was Jack's idea," he muttered.

The colonel didn't turn, just took his own count of the people who were slowly taking their seats. "All on his own, right?"

"Pretty much," Daniel insisted. "I actually wasn't that interested in getting involved in chain of command decisions – it's not really –"

"- not really your thing, I get it," Steven met his eyes and flashed a half-smile before turning back to survey the room. "The general's little flow chart makes it obvious that your position is somewhere … sideways … to the command chain. Not unlike O'Neill's own."

Daniel cleared his throat. "I prefer to think of it as adjacent and yet not directly impinged on by the Atlantis command structure."

Caldwell turned back, pausing a moment as if to sound out the phrase within his mind. He chuckled loudly. "Nice," he finally grinned.

Daniel sipped his coffee, not quite hiding his smile. "It turns out, I'm pretty good with words."

"I've heard that about you."

The conference room door slid open to reveal the three men they were waiting for. Daniel felt himself take a deep breath and square his shoulders, pulling his still casted arm in tight against his chest as the ache all along his right side reminded him he wasn't long out of bed. Jack looked up and immediately found him there, pinned to Caldwell's side like a badge of office, and gave him a pleased, affirming nod. Carson Beckett and Richard Woolsey entered just a half step behind him, Carson clearly in the middle of one of his stories, capturing the bureaucrat's attention with his Scottish brogue and well-chosen words.

Carson's voice dropped away abruptly as the screech of chairs pushing back and the rustling and thudding of boots hitting the floor and people rising to their feet sounded in the suddenly still air. Jack stepped off to one side, leaving Woolsey framed by the doorway. After a moment, and a friendly pat on the back, Carson stepped away as well.

"Attention!" Daniel couldn't help reacting to the deep-voiced command coming from beside him – and didn't know a man or woman who could. He lifted his chin, and saw the exact same movement echoed in Woolsey's stiff figure on the other side of the room. And, since he was looking, he saw the dawning amazement on the small man's face as each military officer within the room lifted his right hand to salute. Including Jack O'Neill. Teyla looked utterly regal as she nodded solemnly, Keller less so as she followed the Athosian woman's lead. Ronon offered nothing more – nor less - than a grim stare, and Rodney fidgeted, with a confused, impatient expression. Woolsey took a deep breath and met every pair of eyes, acknowledging the respect and gratitude for past service. Service that was now ended.

It was Daniel that Woolsey faced last across the length of the table, bringing his shadowed gaze to meet Daniel's troubled eyes. What made up the fabric of Woolsey's shadows? Were they so different from Daniel's own? The administrator's frown deepened as he stood, obviously undecided, uncomfortable, and Daniel knew his own features reflected the same. After a long silent moment, Woolsey managed a single nod, and Daniel returned it silently. He didn't know what that exchange had meant, he just knew that it was a mutual recognition that their fight – this fight - was over. Woolsey was leaving. Daniel was staying.

Salutes snapped, Steven Caldwell stepped out from beside him and approached Atlantis' previous administrator. He held out his right hand. "Mister Woolsey, I relieve you, sir."

Woolsey's mouth was pulled into a tight line. "I believe the correct response is, 'I stand relieved.'" He shook the offered hand and then rubbed his palms together awkwardly. "Well then, I suppose I should actually … leave."

"Give it a minute," Jack added, raising his eyebrows in Caldwell's direction.

"Yes, since the Daedalus isn't going to be ready to leave for another week or so, I'd appreciate it if you could sit in on the senior staff meetings during the changeover." Steven clasped his hands behind his back. "If you wouldn't mind."

Woolsey glanced back over in Daniel's direction. "You're sure?"

And now everybody seemed to be waiting for Daniel to speak. To say something wise or profound or forgiving. Instead, he reached for the closest chair and lowered his gaze, breaking the expectant tableau. "They just want to wring out every possible drop of information and insight from you before they lose the opportunity," he stated evenly, not daring to look up.

More rustling, papers shuffling, awkward coughs. Caldwell took his place at Daniel's left, Jack at his right, and the archaeologist could feel the general discomfort of the room ratchet upwards a few notches.

"Yeah, something like that," Jack agreed, one hand patting Daniel lightly on the shoulder as if in reassurance before he settled. "Never let it be said that the SGC let anyone get away without a complete brain download. Sometimes literally. Have a seat, Richard."

oOo

After that the meeting had been, thankfully, even-toned and generally pleasant. And if Daniel never actually spoke directly to Woolsey, well, he hadn't pointedly ignored him, either. Caldwell, Sheppard, and Jack were going out of their way to make the transition smooth and painless, while Woolsey maintained his professional composure, answering questions openly, making tentative suggestions without that undergirding of arrogance and superiority he'd thrown at Daniel when he'd arrived in the city. It had been … troubling.

During some of the discussion Daniel had found himself studying the man out of the corner of his eye, looking for the confrontational, condemning bureaucrat who had come into SG-1's life at one of its darkest moments and had done nothing but accuse and dismiss Daniel ever since – personally as well as professionally. Their first meeting in Atlantis had convinced Daniel that Woolsey had not changed – he was still a twister of facts, an opportunist, a politician, eager for reputation and standing. Someone to fight, to oppose on every level. Daniel's enemy. But now, studying mannerisms, body language, facial tics, Daniel could barely find that man.

Was he still there, beneath the reserved, amiable surface? Were there strategies and agenda even now being tied together in intricate knots to garner Woolsey's reinstatement and Daniel's dismissal? Daniel had fidgeted, his anxiety level growing as his mind tried to piece together the puzzle of Richard Woolsey and found that the sharp, cutting edges of his memories would not fit with the earnest, reserved professional sitting across the table.

It took Jack's not-so-tentative boot in the shin to distract him from his thoughts and remind him of the discussion going on around him. Not much was being required of him – but Daniel was experienced enough in all things Stargate to know that couldn't last. As the head of the new Cultural Research Division on Atlantis, Daniel's work would be largely background, providing assistance to exploration and diplomatic teams when needed but rarely venturing off-world. He was in no shape – in any way he'd care to be measured – to be going off-world and he knew it. The pain was manageable – just - but the depression and guilt that had driven him from his home out into Pegasus still lingered. It was Jack's unexpected – and apologetic – presence that gave Daniel reason to hope that there might still be something out there for him to discover, something to inspire and move him. A future.

Knowing that his friend had pled Daniel's case before the highest government officials and close-minded military officers and had wrestled official Atlantis postings for both of them was more than he had ever imagined.

He received Jack's unspoken message when the semi-retired Air Force general sent Daniel a look over his shoulder as he'd escorted Woolsey and Caldwell out the door. Daniel was due to have his cast removed this afternoon, and Jack would meet him in the infirmary later. Until then, he was reminded to avoid any more 'helpful conversations' with Rodney, and specifically not to avoid his scheduled doses of medication. He chuckled to himself, shaking his head. Jack seemed to have descended gracefully from decorated flyboy to annoying mother hen with no stops in between. Frowning, Daniel took stock of those inner voices which had been his constant companions for so long. Yes, there was a general consensus – that he'd never reveal to his friend – that Daniel kinda liked this new/old Jack O'Neill. Protector. Encourager. Straight-talker. Comrade. Friend.

Laptop carefully braced between his chest and the thick cast on his arm, Daniel grabbed up the thick sheaf of papers he seemed to have collected and made his way towards the door. Atlantis was much more 'paperless' than the SGC had ever been – no matter how much Sam had tried. Ironically for a fellow scientist and teammate, Daniel had often been one of the main thorns in her side on that quest. She'd never understood that the feel of thick parchment beneath his fingers, the tactile sensation of turning pages, the musty scent that had defined every library he'd ever felt at home in – Daniel loved the written word. Not electrons grouped together on a screen, but the actual scratching of pens and pencils. Maybe the Ancient technology and clean lines and surfaces of Atlantis would change him. He smiled as the door slid closed behind him. Change could be good. It was his new mantra.

The steps down from the admin level still surprised him – caught him off guard every time. They were proportioned oddly – felt strange to his weary muscles. Three-quarters of the way down he realized he'd started down too fast. His fingers clutched the paperwork in one hand, his arm cradled the heavy laptop in the other. Off balance, hip joints aching with every faltering, jolting step, he realized he was about to lose them both. His mind raced through several scenarios that allowed him to rescue the falling papers, keep the laptop from a fatal trip to the ground, and keep himself from tripping down the last few steps and landing on his butt – each more unlikely than the last.

Hands reached out and steadied him – one catching his left elbow and the other folding around his white-knuckled grip on his papers. Daniel blew out a breath in relief. And then he realized whose hands had rescued him.

"Doctor Jackson. I thought you were going to get that cast off today, not try to get yourself a new one."

"Uh – thank you, Mister Woolsey, no, uh – " He felt the heat rising up his neck and into his face, tripping his tongue over his words. He applied mental brakes and forced himself to meet the other man's amused stare. "Believe me, I'd rather avoid another cast if at all possible. I had forgotten how annoying it makes every single moment of one's life."

Woolsey stepped up beside him, still holding on. "I remember breaking my collarbone as a child –"

Daniel frowned. "They put you in a cast for that?"

"Yes, back in the olden days," Woolsey replied dryly. "As I was saying, I can imagine it was somewhat similar. I found it difficult to live my life one-handed."

Daniel hazarded another step down, Woolsey following along, tethered to his side by the leash of his unwanted concern. The uncomfortable silence expanded around them and Daniel cast about for a topic – a safe topic. But how do you begin a casual conversation with a man you had fired from his position as administrator of an Ancient city in another galaxy? With a man who had been painted as 'enemy' and 'distrusted' and 'dangerous' in bright neon letters across Daniel's mind's eye?

"I'm glad we ran into each other, Doctor Jackson."

That makes one of us, Daniel thought. At the bottom of the stairs now, he glanced over at the guards stationed near the Atlantis 'gate who were, suddenly and quite casually, extremely busy checking their weapons.

Woolsey moved in front of him, shielding the closest guard from Daniel's glare, and tugged the last few sheets from Daniel's tenuous grip. Squaring them up in his hands, eyebrows high as if poised for flight, Woolsey began. "I just wanted you to know …" he cleared his throat and started again. "I wanted to let you know that –"

Daniel couldn't stand it any longer. "Look, Mister Woolsey," he interrupted. "I know you probably blame me for your orders, and rightly so-"

"Doctor Jackson." The administrator held one hand up between them. "That's exactly what I wanted to tell you. I assure you that I don't blame you for this change of assignment. In fact," the man looked decidedly uncomfortable, as if he'd been forced to swallow some bitter pill, "I believe some things have finally been set right."

"You do?" Woolsey's quiet tone made Daniel lean closer. "I'm pretty sure that I don't understand." No, not at all. Tension. Animosity. Resentment. Those feelings he'd completely understand – and, most days, reciprocate. Any other feelings, any excuses or explanations – Daniel was quite sure he didn't want to hear about them.

The smaller man sighed. "I've been placed in awkward positions for most of my life, Doctor Jackson. I considered it somewhat of a specialty." His smile seemed sad, remorseful. "And, I must admit, I've sometimes reveled in placing others there with me."

Daniel nodded, the tension within him surging like an encroaching tide. He wanted away – back to his small lab, to the infirmary – anywhere. But here he stood, stuck in place by Woolsey's softening gaze.

"And then I met your team, SG-1, and I realized – not right away, I'm sure you'll agree – that you people were much more advanced in all things awkward, alien, and downright incomprehensible than I would ever be." Woolsey dropped his gaze for a moment before straightening his shoulders and staring straight into Daniel's eyes. "And I hope you'll allow me the fact that I've learned and, most of the time, have avoided making the same mistake twice." He paused, acknowledging Daniel's slight nod with a quick smile of gratitude. "Except, for some reason, whenever it is I find myself in a situation with you."

"Yeah, why is that?" Daniel finally asked. "Why me? Why is it you can get along with Jack when you have to, with Sam and Mitchell and Landry on Earth, or even with McKay and Sheppard and the people here on Atlantis, but one measly little archaeologist turns you into …" Daniel shook his head and shrugged, at a loss for a fittingly cutting metaphor.

"A pissant bureaucrat with a chip on his shoulder?"

Daniel considered, waggling his head back and forth. "Okay, yeah, I think I was going for asshole, snake in the grass, two-faced idiot, but potato/potahto." A slight movement and sound from over Woolsey's shoulder caught his attention and he shot out another glare in the 'coughing' guard's direction. "Should we…?" he jerked his chin towards the closest hallway

"Perhaps," Woolsey allowed, following him a little farther from the listening – and chuckling – airman.

"Believe it or not," the bureaucrat continued once their steps had carried them beyond the 'Gate Room, "it was our first meeting that set the tone for our future interaction."

"I'd agree – unfortunately." In the wake of Janet's death, when SG-1 was at their lowest – mourning, angry, blaming themselves – and each other – for not keeping her safe, not realizing in time what kind of enemy numbers SG-13 was facing, Woolsey had ridden in, his reins still held tightly in Kinsey's fist, and had bullied and badgered them until the stresses multiplied a hundred fold.

"Please remember that any information that I received concerning the SGC had come from Senator Kinsey," Woolsey explained. "He told me of O'Neill's insubordinate, stubborn leadership, of Major Carter's wasted brilliance, of Teal'c's alien strength and knowledge of tactics, but you, well, you he simply labeled an overly emotional opportunist who was trying desperately to use the Stargate program to win back some sort of academic credibility."

Daniel pulled away, blinking, amazed that this man still had the ability to wound him. "Well, thanks for that," he spat. Conversation over. Now.

Woolsey stepped in closer, his face pale, hands out to either side as if to cage Daniel in. "Please, Doctor Jackson. These are the senator's words, not mine. Not anymore."

Swallowing against the roiling storm in his gut, Daniel was desperate to get away from this man, to put his associations with Richard Woolsey behind him once and for all. "I don't –" I don't believe you, he had intended to say. I'll never believe you. And why the hell should I?

"What I wanted to say, what I would like the opportunity to tell you, is that what I saw in that interrogation room, who I saw there was a very angry, very grieved, very young man. And later, when I went to the infirmary to discuss Doctor Frasier with her colleagues, I saw that same man so weighed down by the burdens that our military and the SGC had placed upon him that he had fallen apart."

"You – you saw?" Daniel was beyond anger, now; beyond betrayal or resentment. All of the heat, the rage, that had begun to build up dropped away into that well of sorrow within him. He remembered seeking out the room in which he'd died, the place that had absorbed something of his pain and despair and even more of Janet's depth of caring and love for him – for each one of them. He remembered dropping down into a shadowed corner, hidden away from friends and enemies alike, and finally, dropping his guard and allowing the tears to come. He'd sobbed. He'd raged. No one had known, no one had seen, Daniel had made certain of that. That his breakdown had been witnessed by Woolsey … Oh, God, he was going to throw up. Closing his eyes he sent out a silent prayer for rescue. An enemy attack. An unscheduled wormhole activation. Anything.

"What I saw, what I thought I saw, was that you were beyond over your head, Doctor Jackson. That, although brilliant and clever and eloquent, you were still a young man with too much responsibility on his shoulders."

An icy chill drenched Daniel from head to toe; it sucked away his breath and held him, immobile, eyes wide open to stare this man – and his own memory – in the face. "You had no idea – you –" Daniel ground his teeth together to stop them from chattering. "I had lost a friend, a good friend, damn you." His voice was thin and jagged as it tore its way out. "I'd held her in my arms and carried her limp body back to the 'gate, I -"

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," Woolsey hurried to interrupt, his face screwed up in regret. "Doctor Jackson – I'm sorry. The man I was, the man who made those assumptions about you had a powerful senator's agenda and an accountant's mind. Toting up figures and statistics and somehow thinking that summed up an individual. And, to my shame, I allowed those early assumptions to color each and every one of our future interactions."

Weak. Broken. Emotional. Daniel frowned, his muscles clenching in tight spasms as he tried to deny the adjectives, to brush them away with that fine disregard he'd always had for brainless jerks that took one look at him and placed him in a category. Any category. Dweeb. Geek. Loser.

"Daniel's anything but weak."

"I think I'd second that motion."

The air moved behind him and Daniel felt himself surrounded, enfolded within the heat of anger, the protective warmth of concern; affection. Two solid shoulders braced him; two hands held him steady; two voices melted the ice that had tried to encase his heart. Rescue had come hidden behind black Atlantis BDUs, a shock of dark hair and close-cropped silver. And, suddenly, Daniel could stand, balanced between them, and yet on his own two feet.

"I know that," Woolsey insisted, chin lifted in defiance of the solid wall of bodies set before him. "I was just telling Doctor Jackson that I'd come to realize that there must be a deep well of strength within him to have seen him through the horrors he's experienced. And to apologize to him for seeing that much too late."

"And I'm wondering," Sheppard droned from Daniel's left, arms crossing over his chest, "if this big 'apology' is more for your benefit than it could possibly be for Daniel's."

"My thoughts exactly," Jack chimed in, mimicking the colonel's gesture. "Anytime you remind a guy of one of the worst moments in his life, I've gotta wonder if you're just trying to, I don't know, help me out here Sheppard –"

"Stick the knife in and give it a twist? Kind of a parting shot?"

Daniel felt Jack's anger vibrate through his casual amusement. "Got it in one."

"Gentlemen, I had no intention …"

The honest sorrow, the grimace of regret, the tightly-woven shadows behind small, dark eyes – Woolsey's expressions flicked through Daniel's memories, clear and precise, untainted by his own grief or despair or enmity. Jack and Sheppard's appearance had allowed him to take a step back from his emotions, their support combined with his waning self-confidence letting him slide sideways away from his pain to examine the tableau before him as a pure scientist should. He saw the evidence, examined the shards of memory, placed it all in context, and formed his conclusion. And then breathed deeply and let it go.

"I believe you, Richard."

"You – "

"… you do?"

"Daniel – I – "

Daniel shook his head at the various shades of disbelief and suspicion coloring those few muttered words. Strength reached up from a source long-untapped within him; it loosened his aching muscles and illuminated the long-neglected portions of his mind. And he found himself looking Richard Woolsey in the eye and seeing the man there – the changed man – not a demon or a monster or a cardboard cut-out reminder of Daniel's own failures. Just a man who fumbled with words, who had tried hard to access his emotions and turn them into a connection. And knew that he had failed. "I think I understand, Richard."

Listening to Jack's blustering, John Sheppard's quiet questioning, and watching Woolsey's barefaced, unashamed relief, Daniel wondered if, maybe, this was all he'd ever needed – all that he'd been missing since Jack's defection from his position as best friend and supporter all those years ago. Maybe more than half of Daniel's problems had begun when he'd found himself in free-fall, alone, suddenly bereft of the tight chains of friendship that had become the foundation of his being. He'd forgotten how to be alone, how to be that reclusive, rebellious loner who had a skin so thick not even a suicidal, crew-cut military goon could make a dent in his self-assurance. Instead of stepping aside and letting the horrors and doubts and fears of life in the SGC flow on around him, he'd absorbed them, taken them in and given them a dark, churning life of their own.

All Daniel had needed was someone he'd allow in past his armor, under his guard, someone he'd trust with access to those shadowy, hidden places. A friend. He glanced aside at Sheppard. Friends. Plural. He'd done Teal'c and Sam – even Mitchell and Vala – a disservice. He'd kept them out. Held them at arm's length. Once burned, twice shy. Fool me once …

It was time to trust again. And who better to start with than someone he never imagined he could make peace with?

Shifting the laptop to his left arm, Daniel stuck out his right hand towards the small man before him, ignoring Jack's nearly apoplectic movement beside him. "I'm sorry, Richard."

He watched Woolsey swallow, pull himself together, and then begin to release some of the shadows he, too, had built up around himself. He stretched out his right hand and then frowned, unsure how to proceed with Daniel's thick cast.

Daniel stepped forward, reached past the hand, and settled his cast – forearm to forearm – with the other man, the tips of his fingers gripping as well as they could. "We'll have to do this the Jaffa way," he offered.

Woolsey stepped in to meet him, suspicious moisture in his eyes. "I –" He took a breath. "I am honored, Doctor Jackson."

"Daniel."

"Daniel."

Their long moment of connection ended, and Woolsey nodded to Sheppard and Jack before walking away, his shoulders relaxed, his steps even.

The two military men watched with Daniel a moment before turning to face him. Jack was shaking his head, the iron mask of anger slipping back towards relief. And then amusement.

"What?" Daniel demanded, uncomfortable with the half-smiling regard.

"Told you," Jack quipped.

Daniel sought out an explanation from Sheppard, but only received a shrug and a casual wave as the colonel walked off.

"Told me, what, Jack?"

One warm, callused hand reached up and clasped the back of Daniel's neck and Jack leaned in, whispering. "I told you you'd always be the bigger man."

End

A/N: Many, many thanks to those faithful readers who took the time to send encouraging comments, to those who've favorited me or my stories, and to those who simply read.