Daniel’s voice was surprisingly clear, given the circumstances; he had to be closer than Jack had thought. Crap. “Now? You want to bring this up now, Daniel?”
“Not a good time?” Daniel hazarded.
“There’s an alien incursion at the Mountain,” Jack pointed out fairly calmly, given the still-blaring sirens. “Granted, there don’t seem to be a lot of them, but we don’t know what they want, or how they got past the iris. We barely got away from them, we’re unarmed, and we’re holed up in the commissary kitchen. Oh, and because of some weird alien hocus pocus, every other human on the base got transported off the mountain.”
“So you’re saying, this is just the usual?” Daniel asked. “Because…I don’t remember hiding out in the commissary before.”
Jack could imagine Daniel’s expression. “I’m not laughing,” he said flatly. He didn’t mean for the irritation to leak into his voice, but they were both injured, both huddled on the kitchen floor, and…well, he didn’t need his Magic 8 Ball to tell him the future was cloudy. Damn.
“I remember you being a lot more fun,” Daniel said. “Look, at the moment, we’re safe. Sam and Teal’c and everybody else are okay; we heard that before the comms shut down. The commissary staff was baking before they…” he waved his hand to indicate disappeared in one of the standard ways, “so it smells good here, and we won’t go hungry.” He shifted, and his voice hitched a tiny bit, but he continued smoothly before Jack could say anything. “We could be on that ice planet with the feral dog-things, or the one where everything smelled like a latrine. You have to admit, Jack, we’ve been in worse situations.”
Jack just tilted his head in Daniel’s direction, listening as Daniel shifted again, trying to ease the pressure on the injury he thought Jack didn’t know about.
“Remember when…” Daniel began.
“No,” Jack cut in firmly. He’d only just stopped dreaming about empty spaces and weird, glowing lights. Memory Lane had lost its charm, just the way it had when…but no, he wasn’t going there, either.
“You don’t even know what I’m going to say,” Daniel pointed out in his But I’m being so reasonable! voice.
“Not, no, I don’t remember,” Jack said. “No, I don’t want to go there. Let’s focus on the here and now, Daniel.”
“It’s supposed to be good for me to—”
“Not now, Daniel.”
“Daniel, I swear—”
“I’m an archeologist, Jack,” Daniel interrupted. “I have to focus on the past, or I don’t get paid.”
Jack could tell Daniel was amused; his eyebrows were probably about to hit the ceiling. He relaxed fractionally, and could tell the moment when Daniel noticed. “Don’t look back,” he recited, a thankfully non-fraught memory suddenly bubbling to the front of his mind. “Because if you look back, you’ll want to go back. And you can’t go back.”
Daniel was apparently stunned into silence. Jack squinted into the inky darkness, waiting while Daniel ran through their standard checklist: Concussion? Alien mind control? Late-onset schizophrenia?
“That’s…kind of profound,” Daniel finally said.
And people said he and Daniel had the same conversation over and over. “I have my moments,” Jack said.
“Did Homer Simpson say that?” Daniel asked.
“Sonny Crockett,” Jack said. “Miami Vice. The show, not the movie.”
“There was a movie?”
“Not so much,” Jack conceded. “But wait – you remember the show? You know about the show? Was there an archeology episode?”
“No,” Daniel said, “but the whole series was actually a modern-day retelling of an ancient Assyrian myth. It was a clever idea, actually; the--”
“Are you serious?” Jack broke in, and he could hear Daniel moving closer, could tell he was leaning in, assessing. Damn. He must have figured out Jack was hurt, after all, though by now they could both tell it was minor. Minor-ish, anyway.
“Sam owes me twenty bucks,” Daniel said with no small satisfaction, and Jack heard him settle back against the cool tiled wall. “I told her you couldn’t tell anymore when I was lying.”
Jack chewed that over for a minute, thinking about change, and the unknown, and the comfortable familiarity of petty annoyances. “So…” he said, wondering what Daniel could hear in his voice, “when my computer kept futzing out, and you said my polarity was probably affected by all our Gate travel, and that I should change my ground by going outside in my bare feet…?”
“Actually, that was true,” Daniel said.
“You’re not fooling me, Daniel,” Jack said quietly.
“No, really,” Daniel insisted. “Ask Sam. And look, your computer worked after that, didn’t it?”
“Yeah, but that’s not what I meant,” Jack said. “How bad, Daniel?”
He heard Daniel move again, favoring his…leg? No, hip, he thought.
“Not bad,” Daniel said.
“You owe Carter twenty bucks,” Jack said.
But Daniel ignored that. “Do you…Jack, do you ever wonder why we’re doing this?”
You could get whiplash around Daniel, Jack thought tiredly. On the bright side, that sudden shifting of gears made it less likely Daniel was under alien control, unless the alien was particularly flaky. On the other hand, this could be the iceberg tip of a concussion, or that mental breakdown MacKenzie kept saying they were all just one step away from. But they didn’t have time for that; even in the old days Daniel would have known that, so he probably just had a concussion. “The answer that comes to mind,” Jack said, his voice mostly steady, “is that we’re saving Earth and all its inhabitants.”
“Not enough? You need some greater mythological reason? Something linguistic?”
“Something to do with rocks? Relics? Ancient depositories of…ancient stuff?”
“What if they don’t want to be saved?” Daniel broke in, his voice a little too quiet.
Jack sighed and slid over until his shoulder was touching Daniel’s. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s still the right thing to do. And anyway, even if humankind does want to destroy itself, we don’t have to aid and abet.”
Jack could practically hear Daniel blinking, could almost hear his brain grinding into overdrive.
“Okay,” Daniel said.
“Just – okay?” Jack blinked hard. He still couldn’t see Daniel, but now there were definite streaks of gray at the edges of his vision.
Daniel nudged Jack’s arm. “You want the linguistic derivation of the term?”
“Tough question,” Jack deadpanned.
“No,” Jack said. “But it would prove it’s you, and while I’ve ruled out late-onset schizophrenia, I’m not entirely sure you haven’t been taken over by an agreeable, non-argumentative alien.”
“I did bring up a meaning-of-life thing,” Daniel pointed out.
“That’s right, you did,” Jack acknowledged. “Okay, not so worried about you being an alien now. Concussion?”
“Just a little,” Daniel said. “Not even in my top ten. Let’s take down the bad guys, get out of here, go to your place, and grill some steaks.”
“Okay,” Jack said. “How do we do that?”
“I’m pretty sure Route 115 goes right past your house,” Daniel said. “I’ll drive, if you still can’t see.”
“You noticed that, huh?”
“When we ran into the aliens," Daniel said, "something that looked a lot like a flash grenade went off practically in your face. After we got away, you let me take point to find cover, and you followed me pretty closely. Also, you haven’t been looking at me.”
“It’s getting better,” Jack said, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “It doesn’t look like we’re in a cave any more.” He sighed. “I don’t suppose you got much of a look at those…whatevers?”
“Tall,” Daniel said. “Not muscular, not strong. I think they use some sort of audio-visual sensors located in their…well, face, for lack of a better word…to communicate, and to control their weapons. They seemed to be networked, and to need a clear line of sight to do anything – they tried to keep a direct sight-line with each other at all times. It’s possible they’re not able or willing to fight, since they just transported our personnel out of the way. I think they were surprised we weren’t transported with everybody else.”
“Me, too,” Jack said.
“We’ve both had contact with the Ancients, maybe that had something to do with it,” Daniel mused. “Anyway, their weapons seem designed to visually impair us, not kill us, so either they’re against killing, or sight is so important to them they just assume it’s crucial for everybody. Other than that, they seem to have a problem with cold temperatures. The ones near the vents got sluggish when the a/c went on.”
“You noticed all that?” Jack said.
“I can be observant,” Daniel said in mock hurt.
“Of rocks,” Jack said.
“There weren’t any around, so I compensated,” Daniel said. “Look, given the circumstances, I think our best bet would be to launch targeted, cold, projectile missiles at them, preferably toward their eyes. That should disorient them, and maybe even—”
Jack stared at Daniel, though he could only make out his barest outline. “Daniel,” he broke in. “Are you suggesting we take out the aliens by hitting them in the face with a pie?”
“Well, not the chocolate cream, obviously,” Daniel said. “That would be a waste.”
“You and Teal’c watched The Three Stooges last weekend, didn’t you?”
“It’s not like we have that many options,” Daniel said.
“Star Wars!” Jack hissed. “You could watch Star Wars again; it’s a perfectly good—”
“I meant weapons,” Daniel said.
Jack slumped against the wall and closed his eyes. “I can’t base military strategy on pie, Daniel.”
“It’s that, tuna casserole, or creamed corn,” Daniel said. “The commissary’s not really prepared for this kind of thing.”
Jack opened his eyes. The room was a little clearer. “We’ll need a diversion. And we’ll both have to man the…pies. Have you ever thrown a pie, Daniel?”
He could almost see Daniel’s face. “Teal’c’s decided,” Daniel said carefully, “that he could more fully understand facets of Tau’ri culture by reenacting scenes from our classic movies.”
Jack shook his head. “I can’t believe you didn’t invite me.”
“You were in D.C.,” Daniel said. “We’ll call you next time.”
“You’d better,” Jack said. “Think you can stand? We’ve probably played this out as long as we can.”
“My legs are fine, Jack,” Daniel said, but he didn’t move.
“But your hip isn’t,” Jack said. “Don’t argue; I can tell.” He stood up slowly. The room was foggy, but clearing nicely, and there was a refrigerated rack full of pies straight ahead. “One other thing I don’t want to argue about,” he added, offering Daniel a hand and levering him to his feet. “After this is over? We’re never speaking of it again.”
“Wouldn’t matter if we did,” Daniel said cheerfully as he moved over to the pie rack, limping only a little. “No one would believe us but Sam, and she’d assume your strategy was based on the mathematical constant, not the dessert.”
“Small mercies,” Jack said and joined him at the rack, measuring ratios and distances and whether they could get away with squirreling a chocolate cream pie away, just for them, for later. “You know, it’s a good thing the commissary wasn’t serving cookies today, or it would be the end of life as we know it.”
Daniel looked up, startled. “That’s a disturbing thought.”
Jack hefted a pie. “Says the man who used to be a glowstick. Say – when everyone comes back, how are we going to explain the sudden lack of pie in the commissary?”
“The way we explain everything,” Daniel said, balancing on his good side and pulling a tray of pies off the rack. “We’ll tell them it’s classified.”
Jack just looked at him. Daniel had a hell of shiner, and his BDUs were torn, but his eyes were bright and his slight grin was clearly and entirely Daniel. “Okay, then,” Jack said as they settled several trays of pies behind the serving line. He crouched down, checked the distance to the door, and repositioned himself for what he was absolutely not calling Operation Coconut Cream. “I guess we’ve got everything covered.”
“Except for my raise,” Daniel said, carefully positioning himself by Jack’s side. He held up his radio. “Same diversion as on PX...uh…the planet with the giant flying toads?”
Jack nodded. Things were, surprisingly, looking better. He’d forgotten how often that happened around Daniel.
Daniel’s threw a glance at Jack while he fiddled with his radio. “This worked with the flying toads, right?”
“Actually, not so much,” Jack admitted. “But the odds were against us that time. We didn’t have pie.”
“Well, then, lucky we get another chance to get it right,” Daniel said.
“Indeed,” Jack murmured as he waited for the commissary doors to swing open, for instinct and muscle memory and chance to kick in, for the future to throw whatever it was going to throw at him.
This time he was going to throw something back, and despite the laws of probability and the echoing mistakes of the past, despite everything, he was going to do it with Daniel.
He didn’t see how they could miss.