It was shortly after seven when Daniel arrived at Jack's place. He rapped on the door a couple of times, then walked in, where he was greeted with the smell of Chinese food.
"You're just in time," Jack said. "The kid just delivered our dinner a couple of minutes ago."
The colonel got two plates while Daniel fetched the silverware. They dished out their food and ate in silence for a few minutes.
"So, I read your report on the stuff that went down in L.A.," Jack said. "I suppose it's a given that, whoever was behind that whole thing, we'll be tangling with them again. We were constantly butting heads with the NID when they were getting into mischief."
"Yeah, that's what I figured. The thing with the NID, though, is that they had to be a lot more cautious in what they did since not everyone in the NID was part of their group. These guys don't have to worry about that."
"Which means that they could end up being an even bigger pain in the ass."
Daniel and Jack finished eating, then rinsed off the dishes. Jack turned on the TV and flipped it to a channel with a hockey game. The archeologist could see that the game was more than half-over but didn't say anything. If Jack wanted to talk, Daniel would just have to be patient and wait until the man was ready.
The two men watched the game with Jack's usual comments, complaints and cheers accompanying the sounds from the TV.
As the game ended a while later, Jack started flipping through channels. "So, wanna watch a movie?"
"Jack," Daniel said quietly.
The colonel didn't look at him. "Hmm?"
"Why am I here?"
That made Jack look at him. "I seem to recall you asking that question once before."
Daniel knew that he was talking about their talk in his tent on Vis Uban. "Yes, and, like that time, I'm not asking about the meaning of life."
"You're here because I invited you over. Did you have something more pressing to do?"
"No, I didn't, but you didn't ask me to come over just to eat and watch TV with you."
Jack turned off the TV and tossed the remote onto the coffee table. "Okay, you're right. There is something I want to talk to you about. I'm just not sure how to broach it."
"Why don't you try your usual straightforward manner?"
"All right. I was talking with Ferretti a while ago, and he told me that the guys all think that you're going to be offered your own command."
Daniel sat in stunned silence for several seconds. "M-my own command? Of an SG team?"
"An archeological team?"
"No, most likely a first contact team."
"But I'm a civilian. How could I be put in command of a military team?"
"It could be done. Heck, if they wanted to, they could put a civilian in command of the SGC."
Daniel fell silent again, eyes staring off at nothing.
"Would you want that?"
Jack's question brought the archeologist's attention back to him. "What?"
"Would you want to lead your own team? If you were the team leader, you could pretty much handle missions the way you wanted to, well, as long as Hammond didn't object to something. If you wanted to spend an extra day in some ruins, you'd only have to ask him. And you could take as much time as you wanted to make nice with the natives, no more having to cut it short because I got impatient."
The colonel continued as if he hadn't heard Daniel. "Of course, with leadership comes a lot of responsibility. You're completely responsible for the men under your command. It isn't an easy job—"
"Jack!" Daniel said more loudly. This time, Jack halted his rundown of pros and cons. When he met Daniel's eyes, the archeologist realized that Jack was worried, afraid that Daniel would want a team of his own.
"Jack, I don't want a team of my own."
"Several reasons. The biggest one is that I don't want to leave SG-1." Daniel looked at Jack more closely. "Did you honestly believe that I'd want to leave the team?"
"I wasn't sure. I mean, I know you like being on SG-1, but it would be your own team, Daniel, one that you could mold the way you wanted. You'd have full control over who got put on it. You could pick a bunch of wiz kids who could actually keep up with you when you go into professor mode . . . well, almost keep up with you."
"What fun would that be?" Daniel asked with a little smile. "Can you imagine commanding a team of people who are all trying to show off how smart they are?"
"Jack, the thing that makes SG-1 strong is our diversity, our differing strengths, skills and viewpoints. Yes, it drives me nuts when you refuse to consider my point of view, but that doesn't mean that I'm not satisfied with the way things are on SG-1. Besides, I really can't picture myself leading an SG team."
Daniel gaped at him. "You can?"
"I'll admit that if this topic had arisen several months ago, I'd have said that you'd be great at leading an archeological team, but a first contact team? I couldn't have pictured that. But things are different now."
"Because of my abilities."
"It's not your abilities themselves, Daniel, though they sure would make it easier for you to keep your team all in one piece. It's the way that you've changed since all this started."
Daniel looked away from him. "Teal'c told me that I've changed, too."
"What exactly did he say?"
Feeling rather self-conscious, Daniel replied, "That I've, uh, become a leader."
Jack nodded. "It doesn't surprise me that he saw it, too."
Daniel shook his head. "I just don't see myself like that. I don't see myself leading a team on a mission, I mean not the kinds of missions that we end up doing quite often. If it was just a meet and greet or an exploratory mission, then, yes, maybe I could do that. . . ."
"But not a military mission, one where we're going off to kick some Goa'uld ass."
"Why is that? After all these years, you've got the whole military thing down pat. You're as good a shot with both a sidearm and a P-90 as most people who are in the armed forces, better than some. You know all the hand signals and terms. You know how we operate. You definitely know how we think. You've butted heads with us military-minded guys enough times to know that. There have been plenty of times when any outsider watching us would have no clue that you were a civilian." Jack stopped when he saw the way Daniel's expression had changed and how his gaze was now focused on his hands. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. It's nothing."
"Uh uh. You're not getting away with that this time. Come on, spill."
Daniel gave a soft sigh. "You remember what I said there in the gate room in that last interview with Bregman, all that stuff about using the Stargate to explore and discover the wonders of the universe?"
Daniel looked at him. "Did you ever wonder why I unburied the gate on Abydos?"
"I never really thought that much about it."
"I did it because I wanted to explore, Jack. When I found that room with the cartouches and realized what they were, I was so excited. I was thinking of all the thousands of worlds that were out there, worlds with peoples and cultures to study, archeological wonders to explore, new and long lost languages to find. That's what I am, Jack, an archeologist, and a linguist, and an anthropologist. And, in my heart, an explorer, too." Daniel's eyes left Jack again. "Before I ascended, during that last year or so, I was starting to feel . . . lost."
"Think about those last couple of years, Jack. How often were my skills and knowledge, the stuff I went to college for, really used? A handful of times. Oh, I got plenty of use out of my diplomatic and negotiation skills, but I wasn't trained as either a diplomat or a negotiator, and I certainly never intended that I'd become the SGC's lead diplomat."
"You are because you're damn good at it," Jack told him. "I've dealt with my share of diplomats in the past, Daniel, and you leave most of them in the dust. I doubt that many of them could have negotiated a treaty with a bunch of Unas."
"The point is, Jack, that, toward the end, I was forgetting who I was," Daniel said, finally looking at him again. "I was being turned into a soldier, something I never wanted to be. I never wanted to learn how to shoot a P-90 or how to fight in hand-to-hand combat or other things like that. When I joined SG-1, it was to find Sha're, not fight the Goa'uld. After the first couple of times that we went on a mission, I found a second reason for going through the gate: the chance to explore, to learn, to use my skills and knowledge of archeology, anthropology and linguistics. It was this amazing journey to me, a dream come true that I could never have imagined. But, along the way, after Sha're died, I lost that dream and a big part of myself as well."
"I had no idea you felt like that," Jack said, upset to hear his friend saying those things. "I didn't know it had gotten that bad. I guess I thought that you were . . . going with the flow, accepting the way that our missions and your role on the team were changing. Is that how you still feel?"
Daniel's head shook. "No. Yes, I still wish that I had more opportunities to use those skills and my knowledge on missions, but I've come to accept that the most important thing I'm doing out there is helping to stop the Goa'uld and free the human race from enslavement. I guess you could say that I'm . . . content with my role on SG-1 and in the SGC."
"But for me to be the leader of a military team would be like saying that I really am just a soldier."
"Okay, let's get a couple of things straight, Daniel," Jack said on a no-nonsense voice. "First of all, you are not a soldier. Yes, you have become a damn fine warrior, but you are not now nor could ever be a soldier. A soldier is . . . well, you know what a soldier is. You're a lot better at words and what they mean than I am, and you should know that the definition of a soldier does not fit you. And I'm not just talking about the fact that you have a problem with obeying orders and do things pretty much the way you see fit whenever possible. Second, you could never be just a soldier. Correction, just a warrior. Even if you never picked up another artifact or translated another language, you'd still be a hell of a lot more than just a guy who's skilled at warfare. You will always be so much more than that, and leading your own team wouldn't change that." Jack paused a moment. "Do you look at me as just a soldier, or, rather, just an airman?"
"No, of course not," Daniel quickly replied. "I know there's more to you than that."
"Then what makes you think that being in command of an SG team would somehow make you less than what you are now?"
Daniel didn't reply. He really didn't know what to say. Logically, he knew that Jack was right. Even if he was to take command of an SG team, he'd still be an archeologist, and a linguist, and all the other things that he was now.
"Well, it doesn't really matter anyway," he finally said. "Despite what the guys think, there's no way that anyone is going to offer me command of my own team."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that. I think that, sooner or later, someone up the chain of command is going to realize the advantages of having a team with you as its leader."
Daniel frowned deeply. "I don't understand. What are you getting at?"
"Think about what's been going on lately. You manage to single-handedly capture a Goa'uld and bring back her ship with her. You take control of the situation at the Alpha Site and save a hell of a lot of lives. You have the entire Jaffa rebellion ready to follow you into hell. And, most recently, you manage to completely turn the tide of a battle in under a minute, sending the Jaffa running with their tails tucked between their legs. If I was some general at the Pentagon, I'd look at all you've done and all the things you can do and say, 'Gosh, if this guy was the leader of a team, we could send him on missions too dangerous or downright impossible for an ordinary team. With him as the leader, he'd have the control and freedom to do things in the way that would make the best use of his abilities. There would be no one to hold him back on missions.' I don't know how long it will be before someone tells Hammond to offer you a team of your own, but I'd be surprised if it doesn't happen sooner or later."
"Then I guess I'd better start coming up with the best way to turn them down."
Jack searched his face for a long moment. "Are you sure, Daniel? This isn't something you should reject out of hand."
"Yes, I'm sure. You . . . don't want me to leave SG-1, do you?"
"No," Jack replied in a tone that left no doubt that he meant it. "Absolutely not. I'd be nuts not to want you to stay on SG-1. And in case you're wondering, I'd have said the same thing before you were transformed into Superman."
"Actually, I'm more like one of the X-Men," Daniel responded with a completely straight face. "They're the ones with the psychic abilities."
A grin filled Jack's face. "I stand corrected." He reached for the TV remote. "So, wanna watch a movie?"
Daniel smiled as well. "Sure, why not."
It was midnight by the time Daniel was ready to call it a night. Because of the late hour, Jack insisted that he spend the night there. Daniel didn't object since he had a change of clothes and a shaving kit there at Jack's house.
As he lay in bed, his thoughts turned to what they'd talked about. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't picture himself as the commander of an SG team, not one that went on military missions. He didn't think he'd be very good at it, and he'd probably give General Hammond and the others in charge even more headaches than Jack did.
Most of all, he wouldn't want the lives of three people in his hands every time they went on a mission, three people who would be looking to him to keep them alive and in one piece. If anything ever happened to one of the people under his command, he'd never forgive himself. That thought really made him appreciate the weighty responsibility that Jack and the other team commanders had.
A sudden realization hit Daniel with so much force that he sat straight up in bed. He peaked under the closed door and saw that there was still a light on in the other room, meaning that Jack hadn't gone to bed yet.
Throwing back the covers, Daniel got up and padded, barefoot, out into the living room.
"I thought you went to bed," Jack said from the kitchen, where he'd been munching on a midnight snack.
Daniel looked at him piercingly. "You blamed yourself, didn't you."
"What? Daniel, what are you talking about?"
"What happened to me on Kelowna. You blamed yourself. I was a member of your team, and you failed to keep me from suffering a fatal accident while on a mission you were leading."
Jack turned away, suddenly showing great interest in the kitchen curtains.
Daniel came forward a couple of steps. "It wasn't your fault, Jack."
"Yes. Yes, it was," Jack responded in a low voice. "I should have been there, Daniel. I let the team split up. I was with Teal'c checking out the city while you and Carter each went off without backup to do your own thing. I assumed it was safe. I thought there wasn't any danger. And I was wrong. God, I was so wrong."
Daniel came all the way up to his friend. "Jack, you had every reason to believe that there was no danger. We didn't know that they were running such dangerous tests on that device."
Jack spun around, eyes boring into Daniel's. "But I shouldn't have left you alone! I shouldn't have left Carter alone. We should have split into teams of two, like we usually do."
"Jack, that wasn't the first time that I went off on my own on a mission. And what if someone had been with me? The accident with that device would still have happened. If Sam had been there, she couldn't have stopped it, and she wouldn't have had a scientific way to fix it after it did happen. Teal'c couldn't have done anything to stop it. And you. . . ." Daniel stared at Jack even harder. "That's it, isn't it. You think that you should have been with me so that you'd have been the one to pull the core out."
"It should have been me."
"Why? Because you're the team leader?"
"Yes, dammit!" Jack yelled angrily. "Because it's my job to keep the people under my command alive!"
"Even if it means sacrificing your own life in place of theirs," Daniel said softly.
"Yes. Any commander worth a damn feels the same way."
"And how do you think that I feel, Jack? Do you think that I'd have let you take my place if I could have prevented it? Do you think that I'd have wanted to see you die like that? Believe me, Jack. Of all the ways that a person can die, that has to be one of the most horrible. I wouldn't have wanted to watch you go through that."
"No, instead, I had to watch you go through it," Jack snapped. "And the whole time, every damn second that I sat there at your side or was off trying to clear your name, I kept thinking that it should have been me lying there, even though I didn't even know what had happened until Jonas told us. I was so angry, Daniel. You have no idea."
Daniel met Jack's eyes with a look of understanding. "I think I do, Jack. But I'm glad it wasn't you. If it had been, you and I wouldn't be here now."
"You're right about that, because Oma sure wouldn't have offered me ascension. She'd have known I was a lost cause. You're the only person idealistic enough not to see that. Or maybe I should say delusional enough not to see it."
"I offered you ascension because I saw something in you that I believed would allow you to achieve it."
Daniel's gentle response made Jack think about what the archeologist told him in that cell in Baal's fortress. "I thought you didn't remember what happened."
"I don't. I only know what you told me. But I know me, Jack, and, though I have, at times, been a champion of lost causes, I never thought of you as one."
The two men looked at each other for a long, silent moment.
"It's late," Jack said, breaking the silence. "And, unlike me, who could take the day off without anyone noticing, you've probably got a lot of work to do."
"Okay. G'night, Jack." Daniel turned away.
"Oh, and, Daniel? Thank you for seeing that kind of goodness in me. I still think you're delusional, but thank you."
Daniel smiled faintly, gave him a nod, and headed back off to bed.
Sam walked down the hallway, heading toward Daniel's office. What with everything that had been going on, she had never gotten together with Daniel and Teal'c to discuss what they were going to do about the colonel's birthday, which was in only three days. It wasn't safe to have that kind of discussion there at the SGC since they never knew when Jack would come walking in, so Sam wanted to see about getting together with Daniel and Teal'c outside the base.
As she arrived at Daniel's office, she stopped, puzzled. The archeologist wasn't there, and the room was dark, which meant that he hadn't just stepped out for a few minutes. Sam glanced at her watch. Five o'clock. Daniel never left this early, not unless he had personal business that he needed to take care of before the evening.
Sam went to the phone and called one of the security checkpoints. Sure enough, the man she talked to confirmed that Daniel had, indeed, left the base about an hour ago.
Sam signed, wondering what she should do. If they were going to make any big plans, there wasn't much time to do it in, so the sooner they talked the sooner they could get started.
Deciding that there really wasn't anything more that she had to get done at work today, Sam went to the locker room and changed into her civvies. A few minutes later, she was in her car, heading to Daniel's.
Daniel got out of his car, purchases in hand. He'd been right in the middle of a translation when he suddenly realized that he'd forgotten something. Jack's birthday was fast approaching, and Daniel had noticed in the paper that a sports memorabilia store was having a big sale on all of their stock this week. The sale ended today, and the store closed at five o'clock, so he had rushed off to do some birthday gift shopping. It's not that he wouldn't have gotten Jack something there if it wasn't on sale, but he might as well save himself a little money, especially since he knew that whatever he got might not be cheap even when on sale.
Daniel smiled faintly at the thought of what he'd gotten for his friend. Being the huge hockey fan that he was, Jack would surely appreciate the DVD "Hockey: The History Behind the Game". Of course, Daniel knew that the colonel would make some kind of smart ass remark about the archeologist buying him a history program, but he'd shut up when he saw his other gift, a personally autographed card of his favorite player. That purchase had set Daniel back a few bucks, but it would be worth it just to see the look on his friend's face.
As Daniel approached his door, the feeling that had been plaguing him for days returned full force. He slowed and looked around, the hairs on the back of his neck virtually standing up. Keeping alert, he very cautiously continued to the door, wondering if some danger lay beyond it. Bracing himself and preparing to act in an instant, he unlocked it. He was just starting to open it when he heard a car pull up. Turning, he saw that it was Sam.
"Sam? What are you doing here?" he asked when she got out of the car.
"I wanted to talk to you about the colonel's birthday. I went to your office to ask about us getting together to do some planning, but you'd already left."
Daniel started walking toward her. "You didn't have to come here, Sam. We could have talked over the phone."
Before either of them could say another word, they were hit by the concussion from a tremendous explosion that blew Daniel's house apart. Being much closer to the blast, Daniel was tossed several yards through the air and landed hard on the ground. Sam was thrown back against her car. Stunned, she stared at the blazing inferno that had been her friend's house. Then she saw that Daniel was still lying on the ground.
"Daniel!" she cried.