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A Square Peg in a Round Hole, or Junior Year of High School, Revised, A Clones Tale

Chapter Text

"O'Neil, stay after class."

As the rest of the students filed out of the classroom to join the swarm in the busy high school hallways, Jake wondered what he could have possibly done wrong. School had only been in session for a month and he'd kept his head down. He was even passing all his classes.

That last had proven to be harder than expected given that while his body was that of a regular sixteen-year-old, he memories were that of an air-force colonel in his fifties. When had calculus become a high school course?

This was the third teacher to "talk with him" after class but the other two were thoroughly patronizing in their attempts to be friends with their students and particularly the poor emancipated minor. Mr. Matthews wasn't like that. He respected his students and they respected him in return. Plus, he had a raised eyebrow that could quell disruptive students better even than Teal'c's. Now that was impressive for anyone, much less a young high school pre-cal teacher.

After reading the background check on this teacher, Jake had even thought of trying to get him and Daniel Jackson to meet. They had both been bounced around the foster care system as kids and they were both really smart. And he liked them both. Maybe they would like each other.

Jake really hoped he wasn't about to be disappointed in his reading of this teacher's character. The problem was that he couldn't think of any other reason for the teacher to have asked him to stay after.

"Sir?"

"Wait a moment." Mr. Matthews dug some papers out of his desk and seemed utterly absorbed in reviewing them.

Although, as Matthews still didn't say anything or even look at him as everyone else packed up and left the classroom, Jake got a bad feeling about the situation.

At least there was no way the man was NID. The SGC had done background checks on all of his teachers and made sure that none of them had connections that could get him in trouble. Being the science experiment of an evil alien did not make you a particularly trusting sort and there were plenty of people in the world who would demonstrate that distrust was a great habit to have. But if the situation wasn't going to be bad in a kidnapping and dissection sort of way, well, there were plenty of other ways for it to be bad.

The one that immediately popped into his head was that while a lot of girls had crushes on the young teacher, he flatly ignored their sighs, and Jake's own disinterest in any of the girls in his apparent age group had started a few rumors of his being gay. But if this guy tried anything, Jake would show him a few moves he remembered from his black ops days.

He didn't even notice that he was balanced on his toes and tensed for response when the last student finally left and Matthews looked at him with no little amusement. And raised an eyebrow.

Jake blushed as he settled back down. Damn hormones. Everything seemed to be about sex. "Um..."

"Don't say anything. I'm probably better off not knowing."

"Uh, yeah. Sorry, sir."

Matthews waved the apology away. "I wanted to give you these." He handed Jake the pages he had been looking at.

It was a list and at a glance a few key phrases, "Supreme Court", "Gen. Alexander Haig" and "Yugoslavia," caught his attention. However, reading just those lines, it didn't actually make much sense unless it was seriously revisionist history:

4. There has always been a woman on the Supreme Court, and women have always been traveling into space.

6. They never realized that for one brief moment, Gen. Alexander Haig was "in charge."

16. Yugoslavia has never existed.

Mr. Matthews was still speaking. "Every year Beloit College compiles a list of facts describing incoming college freshmen and their perspective on the world. So this year's one describes kids a couple of years older than you. Kids born in 1981. It's not definitive by any means but it's a good starting summary of a generation. I thought you might want to read and think about it."

And there went the pit of Jake's stomach.

"Sir? How did, what do..." Jake trailed off. What did Matthews know? How did he find out? This wasn't his social science teacher telling him he should learn to have fun and play with kids his own age. This was a smart observant man telling him that his cover had holes in it. And there wasn't any way to ask about it without compromising security even more.

After a moment, Matthews asked, "Was there something you wanted to ask?"

And that question asked in that tone had only one answer and Jake was more than happy to give it. "No, sir!"

"Then both of our next classes are calling."

And Jake O'Neil grabbed his bag and left, pronto, printed list still clutched in one hand.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Methos watched the kid race off as the students for the next class period started showing up. This little hiatus after Adam Pierson finally died just got more interesting by the day.

Adam Matthews was a temporary identity only meant for a year. Short term identities were useful in checking for pursuit but more importantly it gave him some time to study the youth culture. Even short-term identities were solid and could pass background checks, but they could be orphans and have skills more common to an experienced immortal than to a young mortal, such as being able to effortlessly control even the most rowdy of classrooms. Because the intention wasn't to make friends or live for a decade or two without raising questions; it was to be himself, relax, and prepare for the next "real" identity.

And so he studied the type of child that next identity would have developed from.

He observed their mannerisms, their speech patterns, and their views on life, the universe and everything. When he slipped into his more permanent identity, it would be as a young man who had similar views and who was much like his current students.

Well, much like most of them.

Because Jake O'Neil was different. Jake O'Neil had obviously not done his research because he might physically appear to be in his teens but movement and speech patterns were dead on for the baby boomer generation. Among other things, he also had the classic humor of a baby boomer rebelling against the "serious" definition of adulthood that the generations before then had made. And he had the slightly condescending manner, common to immortals in their second and third lives, of someone who thought the kids around him were "children" where he was an "adult."

The military mannerisms on the other hand were only slightly less peculiar. They might possibly be explained by being a military brat raised on military bases but it was both a little too intense and a little too casual for that. Once he had starting thinking of O'Neil as being older than he appeared, that clicked into place, too: they were the mannerisms of a ranking officer who knew the system and how to manage all of its quirks.

So, Methos had settled down to figuring out the mystery of his teenage middle-age student.

He didn't seem to be a Narc from the police force, although that had seemed the most likely at first. But the boy seemed to truly have a teenager's hormone shifts and emotional issues which a cop who merely looked young would not.

He wasn't immortal - he had no quickening.

He wasn't a vampire - he ate solid food and went out in the sun.

From the evidence, Methos guessed that the boy had grown up to adulthood and then reverted back in age, which was odd for someone who appeared so young. Methos might start an identity as young as 17 and let it grow as old as 45, but he wouldn't have thought O'Neil could pass as middle-aged long enough to pick up the patterns. Which implied that maybe he had physically changed appearance. And even delving into all the mythology that Methos had picked up over the millennium, he couldn't think of anything that did that for a long-term change. Quick illusions for an hour, even a day, yes. Years spent in high school, no.

So the question of what the boy was became ever more interesting as every possibility Methos had ever run across in all his years were crossed off. This left the rather interesting possibility that it was something entirely new.

And that was a possibility well worth investigating.

Chapter Text

"With all the physical intimidation I could have brought to bear as a boy without any of my adult muscle mass, with no weapons, no backup, and no advance warning, you think I should have questioned an unknown about top secret matters during a high school passing period?"

Jake put as much incredulousness into his voice as possible and wished he didn't sound so much like a teenager. In his adult voice, it would have been scathing and probably earned him a sharp reprimand. With his current one, he had to be careful to avoid sounding petulant.

He wasn't at all sure he succeeded but at least General Hammond didn't remark on it. Instead, his old CO sighed heavily and finally agreed that there wasn't anything that could have been done immediately. With only phone contact, it was too hard for both of them to remember that Jake O'Neil was not the same person as Jack O'Neill, despite the same memories and genetics.

"What do you want me to do, Sir?"

Another sigh and Jake could practically see Hammond pinching the bridge of his nose. "I'll order a more in-depth background search done and assign a surveillance team, but for now, just carry on."

"You'll update me if you find anything?"

There was a long pause. For all the times Hammond seemed to think he was Colonel O'Neill, he found the most annoying times to remember that Jake was physically and legally fifteen.

"Sir? I can call you up personally every evening to check in?" Jake tried to sound innocent and helpful and let the words rather than any tone of voice let Hammond know exactly how much a nuisance he could make of himself if he weren't updated.

It seemed to work. "I'll let you know what the background check comes up with and make sure you can contact directly whoever gets assigned the surveillance duty."

"Thank you, Sir."

"You're welcome." The General's voice was remarkably dry. "Good night, O'Neil."

"Good night, Sir."

And thus started what was possibly the most nerve-wracking three weeks of either Jake or Jack's life.

There was no physical torture involved, which made it better than times when he had been tortured, Jake reminded himself nearly hourly, but he wasn't at all sure his pre-cal teacher wasn't trying to drive him insane.

It was a sad state of affairs when you actively long for someone to try to kill you, Jake thought, or even kidnap and torture you, because at least that would create a well-defined enemy. Plus, you could fight back. Capture the bad guy, escape the ambush, report the situation, all good things.

Instead he had to walk into a potential ambush every day he had pre-cal and there was nothing he could do to fight back.

As far as any one could tell, Adam Matthews was a perfectly ordinary, apolitical, twenty-four-year-old teacher who'd had a crappy childhood but wasn't unduly effected by it. The researchers had dug deep trying to find any evidence that that unhappy childhood in the foster care system had turned him into a rebel of some sort. But Matthews didn't seem to have any connection to any political group or even any chip on his shoulder. Really, the only unusual thing about him was how unconnected he was from any rebel elements. He had apparently made a habit of remaining unconnected and unremarkable. Most of his old foster parents had only vague memories of a quiet kid and some of them didn't remember him at all.

Meanwhile, the surveillance team lead by Captain Sapiro reported a lifestyle that involved a lot of time in the library, a lot of documentaries being rented from the video store, and an occasional evening spent at a bar chatting with casual acquaintances rather than any close friends.

The twenty-four-hour surveillance by a ready team of the first few days was cut back to a couple of microphones hidden in Matthews' habitual haunts and a daily spot check by the team.

So instead of achieving any understanding of who Matthews was and how he had recognized Jake O'Neil as different, Jake spent his evenings trying to fix the situation. Studying Beloit College's Class of 2003 Mindset List was an exercise in frustration.

31. President Kennedy's assassination is as significant to them as that of Lincoln or Garfield.

On November 22, 1963, young Jack O'Neill had been in his fifth grade homeroom class when his teacher had been pulled out of the room. When she had come back in she was crying as she told them the president had been assassinated. And now he was supposed to forget that? Have it merely be a fact of history?

11. While they all know her children, they have no idea who "Ma Bell" was.
12. They never heard anyone say, "Book 'em, Dano," "Good night, John-boy," or "Kiss my grits," in prime time.

But while all the things that Jake was not supposed to know or remember were simply impossible, all the things that he was supposed to know were incomprehensible.

6. They know the profound meaning of "Wax on, Wax off."

22. They hold a special place in their hearts for Back to the Future.
23. They thought Molly Ringwald was REALLY cool.
24. They actually thought
Dirty Dancing was a REALLY good movie.

His evenings now followed a schedule to have him watch every cult classic movie of this new generation of his. "Dirty Dancing". "The Karate Kid". "Pretty In Pink". "Gremlins". "Back to the Future".

At least "The Breakfast Club" was kind of good. In comparison.

Math classes had become an exercise in paranoia easily matching any training exercise or mission he had ever been on. There was the constant sense of being watched. Just watched. Even when Matthews was lecturing or focusing on some other student, Jake felt himself observed. God damn it, Jake thought, he had gone undercover before, he had been in deadly situations relying on only his own acting abilities before, but all those situations had been different. In those, his continued survival demonstrated with each passing moment his success. If he had failed in any of those, he would have discovered his error by a bullet between the eyes most likely.

Here, he knew he had failed and Matthews continued to point it out to be him with small smirks or quirked eyebrows but seemed more interested in critiquing him than in killing him. Deadly consequences for his failures refused to show themselves. He was just waiting for the other shoe to drop and trying desperately to fix things before it did. At the very least before someone less benign than Matthews noticed him.

During one period, a testing period, Matthews had spent the entire class walking up and down between the rows of student desks. Every time he walked up one, he did so in a loose teenager's gait. Every time he walked down one he walked in a crisp military manner. And every time some student who was not Jake O'Neil was looking up from their paper, he walked with his regular stride.

Jake had failed that test and then tripped over his own feet five times before school had finally let out for the day. Rather than going home after school that day, Jake had gone to the nearest mall to eat dinner in the food court and see how the real teenagers there walked.

The next day he had sauntered into pre-cal, tired and annoyed, but demonstrating his newly practiced walk. Matthews' eyes had laughed at him.

Jake was somewhat disgusted with himself. It wasn't like he didn't know exactly what Matthews was doing. It was a classic way to discover someone's secret. One of the best ways to keep a secret was to not think about it. Conversely, the best way to get a secret out of someone else (if you weren't going to torture them) was to make sure they thought about the secret as much as possible and then wait for them to give themselves away.

Jake was fairly sure he was giving himself away piece by piece with every school day that went by. There was just nothing he could do about it. Matthews was too observant and Jake had been too unprepared to deal with truly going undercover in the foreign environment high school had turned out to be.

Matthews had revealed himself on that one day as suspicious and observant enough to notice discrepancies in the behavior of random students while also being open-minded enough to come to draw correct improbable but conclusions from his observations.

Neither Jake nor all of the SGC's research and observation had been able to discover anything more about the man.

The man's life was an open book of nothing. They knew where he had lived and gone to school and how much he had paid on all his taxes and yet absolutely nothing about how he saw the world or why. There were no loose ends in his history with which to figure him out; there were no odd motivations in his character with which to manipulate him.

For three weeks, the man didn't reveal anything he didn't want to. It was Friday of the third week when he did and Jake almost missed it. Almost. He probably wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't spent the last few weeks becoming sensitized to his teacher's near constant scrutiny. That day, Matthews didn't pay him any attention.

Jake was way too paranoid to believe that Matthews had given up and way too confident in the SGC's security to believe that Matthews had discovered everything about him. The only answer was that something else was going on and Matthews was worried about it. With that, Jake rediscovered the fact that he liked his pre-cal teacher. The man was annoying and most days seemed intent on driving him mad, but then again, most of Jack O'Neill's friends did that, too.

So after class was dismissed and the other students were filing out, he asked, "What's wrong?"

And for the first time, he saw real wariness in Matthews' eyes before they reverted back to his regular faint amusement.

"I can't have an off day? I would have thought you'd appreciate a short reprieve."

Also for the first time, Jake stood in Matthews' presence and felt like a mature adult. "This is not just an off day. Something's wrong."

"Just an off day. You're next class will be starting soon."

Jake glared but knew there was nothing he could do during a passing period in a school filled with children. Except, of course, make a phone call. Which he did.

He went to his next class reassured with the knowledge that Captain Sapiro and his team were on high alert and would run a full search pattern of the school property and surrounding blocks between now and when school let out.

After school, and wasn't that a juvenile way of thinking, Jake thought and winced, he met up with Sapiro to get an update which included the suspicion that someone else was following Matthews.

A Mr. Samuel Seuijuro had driven past the school three times that afternoon and stopped once to walk on the patio nearest Matthews' classroom. Running his license plates, they had identified Seuijuro and gotten a quick background check.

Seuijuro was a successful Japanese-American business man known for his playboy lifestyle. Seuijuro had a concealed weapons license and three registered firearms. Five years previously, he had also been questioned in a murder and mutilation case but no arrests were made and the case was never solved. His current whereabouts were unknown but they confirmed that he was not in his normal office.

Jake, Captain Sapiro and his team of two, Marines Foster and Gunning, settled down to watch and see what happened next. With binoculars, parabolic microphones, and zat'ni'katels at the ready.

A good thing, too, that they had had forewarning because without it they almost certainly would have missed it. On his regular walk home, Matthews sidestepped into an alley and out of sight.

The parabolic microphone still worked beautifully and everyone in the van heard him speak, loud and clear.

"Show yourself."

And another voice answered. "Ha. I am Hiko and I challenge you."

Matthews interrupted him with a sharp, "Shut up, you idiot." He continued, "I'm under military surveillance."

"K'so. Do they watch right now?"

"I think so. But one of my students, one of my tenth-grade students, with no quickening but life experience beyond his physical age, is connected somehow to a military group,"

And that was a confirmed security risk. Captain Sapiro signaled to move in, subtlety no longer an issue.

The few seconds that followed seemed endless while they could still hear Matthews talking. "...that has a hell of a lot of casualties for being based under a mountain in their own country, and yet he's worried about some other player I haven't figured out yet. I'm no hacker, so I haven't been able to get into the base records, but I imagine I'm about to be taken in for questioning."

There was a rustling noise and then Hiko, Seuijuro?, spoke sharply, "Stop."

The rustling noise briefly became flapping. "Take this and get out of here."

The van finally squealed to a stop at the alleyway entrance and Sapiro, Foster and Jake all leapt out, zats at the ready.

But Hiko was already half way up the fire escape of one apartment building apparently carrying Matthews' coat. Foster shot but the blast must have been blocked by the metal bars of the railing because it didn't even slow him down.

As Foster tried to follow Hiko up the fire escape, Sapiro trained his weapon on Matthews in case he tried to run too. But Matthews just stood there watching. His arms spread and hands visibly empty, he shivered slightly in the chill air but watched events with interest.

Then Foster called down that "Hiko" wasn't visible anywhere and they would have to pick him up later.

Matthews quirked an eyebrow at Jake.

"So, what now?"

Chapter Text

Methos sat quietly in his chair. He wanted to pace nervously and burn off his anxiety that way, but he had long since learned the benefits to staying still in this mood. Don't give away your thoughts, don't waste the energy, don't reveal your physical abilities until you absolutely have to.

And there was absolutely no benefit to making this a physical fight. Not even staging a massacre or taking hostages would win him his freedom from this place. It was too deep under the mountain, he didn't know the terrain and there were a hell of a lot of dead ends between where he was and the surface.

"... going to recognize me?..."

The door to the interrogation room opened and closed letting in a person and that one phrase, spoken in a tone of doubt and exasperation. Methos filed away the exact intonation and accent for further consideration later. It had only been a few minutes since he'd been left alone in the interrogation room 20 floors down in Cheyenne Mountain Military Base. There would probably come a time when they left him alone for longer to imagine the unimaginable evils awaiting him should he continue not answering their questions.

But now, the first round was coming.

The man who had entered was in his late thirties or early forties, Methos thought, wearing military fatigues but no rank insignia. An odd dress choice which made him wonder if the man was actually a civilian attaché.

The man held out his hand and introduced himself, "Hi. I'm Daniel Jackson. Jake asked me to be the one to question you."

His voice held a faint accent that was really the mishmash of accents more common to older immortals than to mortals. It made him seem more dangerous to Methos.

Methos looked at the man's face, Jackson's face, and tried to read his soul. There were pain lines showing a hard life. There were laughter lines showing a sense of humor, although they were not as deep. His face had a somewhat tentative smile, knowing that he wasn't liked but trying to change that. And his eyes were intent behind the glasses. Jackson would probably make a good anthropologist, going into strange cultures, knowing things could be hard, trying to be nice, and noticing how things really were.

Or, of course, Methos chided himself, he could be projecting his hopes and the man was a psychopath. Or just an ordinary military grunt.

Well, hope for the best. Jackson had lowered his hand, stepped back, and his smile turned somewhat bitter by the time Methos stood and offered his own hand. "Jackson. I'm Adam Matthews, but I rather imagine you knew that already."

They shook hands. "Yeah. I'm sorry for the, ah,"

"Kidnapping?"

Jackson winced. "Abrupt relocation? We're not really sure what to do about you," the man spoke wryly. "We have security protecting our secrets and laws to punish people who break past that security, but as far as anyone can tell you didn't break through any security. We can't punish you for being observant. You don't need to be afraid. We're not going to hurt you."

"I'm sure you're very peaceful. For the military." Methos couldn't help but point out rather sarcastically. Damn, but hadn't thought he had shown how afraid he was. He was too deeply acquainted with fear to reveal it easily. Perhaps the man had only assumed?

But a secret project that involved a tenth-grader with experience being middle-aged and energy weapons of some sort is just the sort of thing that would attract the very brightest. So it was really just as likely that the man had seen through his acting just fine. Damn it.

"Jake's told me a bit about you. You've quite impressed him and that's not an easy thing to do."

"He's a good kid."

Methos was actually being both honest and sincere. He liked Jake. But Jackson looked at him sharply. "Yes, he is." Then after a moment, "One of the things he told me was that you would provoke whoever interviewed you and read a great deal into their reactions. So I have to wonder, what did you learn from my reaction just now?"

Honesty, when used right, was a remarkable tool for dealing with someone who was used to too many secrets. It was both unnerving and refreshing. Even knowing this, Methos was unnerved yet wanting to reward it in hopes of it continuing.

"That you know Jake is not a kid in the traditional sense of the word. And you know that I know that, too. I think you also probably know the answers to a lot of my questions."

"I probably do. But you can see how we're a bit stuck with what to do with you. Who's Hiko?"

"A mugger who must have watched too many old westerns."

"Why did you give him your jacket?"

"Because he was a mugger."

"What did you mean when you described Jake as with no quickening'?"

"He's not pregnant." Methos replied immediately to the abrupt questions and actually managed to say them all with a straight face. The look Jackson gave him, though, was nearly enough to force out a laugh. It was the same mixture of exasperation and humor that MacLoed had worn whenever Methos had told him some particularly improbably historical story that he couldn't quite find a way to disprove.

"You're probably going to learn more from this interview than I am, aren't you?

"I don't know what you're talking about." Methos attempted a look of guileless innocence.

" A smart man can learn more from the questions asked of him than the questioner does from his answers.' I can't remember who said that, but I think you qualify as a smart man. How would you deal with this situation?"

"A rousing game of truth or dare?"

But Jackson just sat back in this chair and watched him inquiringly, waiting for a serious response. Since he was being given the time to consider it, Methos took the time to consider the possibilities.

Finally he answered. "I have a great many questions and I think you also qualify as a smart man.' So turn it around and I'll ask you my questions for as long as you give me answers to them."

Jackson burst out with a startled laugh which was actually rather endearing. "Really? Why not. Let's give it a try. What's your first question?"

Which, of course, was when someone knocked rather decisively on the other side of the two-way mirror they had both been ignoring.

"I don't think you were supposed to go along with my suggestion."

"Give me a moment to go deal with him. I'll be right back. Think of your first question."

And Methos was along again in the white room with only his thoughts.

Playing completely innocent, might have won him his freedom. Maybe. But one thing such an act would have nearly guaranteed was to leave him unprepared for whatever the people here were scared of. Because this was a military instillation at fighting ready, which meant there was an enemy.

Methos had no idea who that enemy was. But if the US military thought there was an enemy of sufficient threat to have this whole compound put together for it, then Methos needed to know what that threat was. He really didn't want to leave himself vulnerable to an unknown future threat. Unfortunately, the alternative was to leave himself vulnerable to the military right here and right now. He had to keep them interested enough in him to trade him the information on who the new threat was. And it would almost certainly become an exchange of information rather than any one-way education.

It had been some centuries since he'd been last caught and identified as immortal by a militia and there had been severe torture involved. That had not been the first time it had happened like that either. He had really been hoping it was the last time, though.

He was desperately afraid of what they would do to him once they understood how vulnerable he was. He didn't want to die a permanent death, but he didn't think they would do that. It would be a waste and he could tell them enough about the quickening to ensure they couldn't kill him within the base for fear of their entire electrical system blowing up. But he hadn't been seriously tortured in centuries and he desperately didn't want to break that streak. It could hurt so much.

But sometimes the greatest power came from weakness; sometimes the greatest defense was vulnerability. To appear strong was a challenge, in and of itself, that brought on attackers. To appear weak brought defenders nearly as easily. One must be careful to avoid reliance on that, to submerge yourself in learned helplessness, but it was too powerful a technique to avoid entirely.

And yes, it could get bad. Sometimes rather than protectors, you acquired torturers and it could get very, very painful. He could survive it, though.

Sometimes you had to accept the pain and the risk. It was like willingly dying that temporary death immortals had. Over the millennium he had come to have faith that it would work, that he would wake up from these deaths. That faith made the process less painful, both physically and emotionally. This was the same thing, Methos told himself. Willingly lowering his defenses on the assumption that after it was over, even if he was whipped bloody and mentally torn to pieces, no matter how much it hurt, how much of himself had been broken, he would be able to piece himself back together. He had to have that faith. Long-term survival was more important than short-term pain.

And sometimes you had to risk permanent death in order to avoid the much greater risk later.

When he had been approached by the Watchers, it had been a risk to accept. The risk that they might identify him as immortal was not trivial. And the results of such a discovery would not have been trivial, either. But the risk that they would identify him eventually was a near certainty if he didn't accept. And so he had put his swords in storage, and walked openly, naked of any weapons, into the fortress of his stalkers.

He had survived and had accomplished his careful edits of a few important chronicles.

And here he was again, weaponless in a fortress, just without his previous advantages. These people already knew he was hiding some secret and while he knew they were hiding a secret, too, he had no real sense of what it was.

Methos didn't enjoy such equitable battles, but he would see what he could do. When Jackson came back in, Methos had decided to start off with a tangential approach.

"Go ahead."

"What language have you been speaking most frequently in the last few years?"

"English."

Methos grinned at the dry comeback. "Other than English."

The man looked at him and then very carefully said, "Goa'uld."

Methos frowned a bit, trying to sense anything familiar about that word. Nothing. If it was a language, it was not one he'd ever run across by that name.

"Say something in it."

Again, Jackson paused to consider this request before finally saying a few lines that Methos didn't understand. Odd.

And of course, there was the knocking on the other side of the mirror, again. Methos rolled his eyes and noticed Jackson doing the exact same thing.

"It's Egyptian of some sort, right? And old." Methos mused aloud. "Has to be older than 6,000 years, I think. Which makes it a very odd language for you to be speaking."

"About ten thousand, we believe. And yes, it is, isn't it?" Jackson was good, Methos thought. Giving just enough fact to trigger ideas and maybe make Methos reveal more than he intended to while not giving many signs of his own about where the boundaries were between secret and safe areas of interest. Of course, the person now pounding on the glass was practically holding up a sign saying you're getting close.'

Jackson seemed to realize this, because he sighed and said, "I'd better go and deal with this. Again."

And Methos was alone with his thoughts. Again.

It was a bit unnerving to have stumbled across some vital information so early on in the game. Although he supposed the man behind the mirror could just be overly paranoid. Or intentionally leading him in the wrong direction by making him think the language was important. Methos didn't think that was it, though.

The language had struck a faint cord in his memory. It was an odd language, almost Egyptian but not quite. He might have passed it off as simply a dialect he hadn't picked up, except that the military was keeping it a secret and there being something about it that tugged at his memory.

He repeated by rote the words Jackson had spoken, rolling the sounds around his tongue. He had never spoken this language, but he thought he almost remembered it.

Methos could remember, remember not through some stolen quickening older even than him but from his own personal experience, a time when there were no secrets. When he could enter some village and announce that he was Methos, five-hundred-year-old swordsman. It was a time when history still included the gods walking the face of the earth. It may not have been true, it could be exaggerated or completely made-up, but at least it wasn't told with the condescending disbelief of modern mythology' texts.

But society changed, morality changed, and that condescending view became the norm. And so secrets came into existence. The village watchman who could see like a hawk, hear like a wolf, and go insane like a man, was discounted and those genetic lines were snuffed out as no one would admit they were real or knew that they needed protection. The vampires changed from being recognized predators of mankind with their own place in the world, to being horrors that could not be acknowledged or granted any civilized edge. Immortals were discounted as individual anomalies where they were noticed at all; something to kill on sight in order to maintain the image of homogeneity within humanity. People were no longer willing to offer death a game of chess in hopes of bargaining.

Even most immortals these days had grown up in a world that contained chivalry, romantic love, and the idea that different was the same as demonic. They thought those beliefs were true and an intrinsic part of the human condition. Methos had lived with those ideas for the past several centuries but they still chafed at times.

He wasn't sure if it was more of a relief or more of a terror that this whole situation was beginning to feel like a secret revealed.

He turned to face the mirror. "Jackson, I have something close to a photographic memory. I also have a past which includes enough really unpleasant things that I try my very best to not ever think about it. Combined, these two can give me rather severe symptoms of PTSD.

"I have it under control and simply don't think about my past much. However, something is niggling my memory that I think might be important. Given that I'm in a locked room with no weapons anyway, I'm going to go ahead and try to remember what it is.

"For my peace of mind and your safety, I request that you not open that door until I invite you to."

There was no response, which he decided to take as agreement.

He had always collected languages. He disliked anyone being able to communicate around him without his understanding, so he tried to learn every language he came across. So why did he not know this language?

There had been frustration, he was suddenly sure. He had been frustrated at the person speaking it. It had been hot and dusty and he just wanted some peace.

And suddenly he was there.

It was hot and the sand reflected the bright light back into his eyes. She had left the temple to run at him, screaming. She was beautiful as all immortals were but her clothes were rags and there was blood drying on her face and her fingers, as if she had been scratching herself.

He struck her with the flat of his blade and she had screamed at him again in that language that was not quite Egyptian.

"What language is that? If your return to the temple and invite me with, you can teach me your language. I will not harm you on holy ground."

She screamed at him again and reached for his face with her dirty hands like claws.

He stuck his sword in her chest and watched her drop down dead.

Methos blinked. He had spent so long avoiding flashbacks that it was second nature now to jerk himself out of them. This was not a reflex he wanted to change, and yet, it was important to remember this person. Her quickening would know the language and if he had taken it, all he had to do was access it. He had learned that a long time ago. It had helped him immensely at times for all it made taking a quickening an even more maddening experience.

He shook his head violently to shake off his reluctance to remember what surely came next.

The white walls of the interrogation room kept it bright and the two-way mirror reflected the fluorescent lights into his eyes. It was as overwhelming as the desert had been. Nearly blinding.

The quickening had pounded into him with such sound and fury that he wasn't sure he hadn't gone deaf and blind. She had been old, old, old, and had long been mad. And with the quickening came her power and her experience.

She tried to kill every immortal that came near, not for their power but because of their evil. They were inherently evil just as she was. She was cursed with no hope of redemption. They all were. Because they were all god-killers.

Methos convulsed and remembered the feel of a something entering her head and a screaming death that was almost like a quickening except nothing like it at all.

She had been so excited.

When she had shown the Jaffa how blessed she was, they had taken her to the god and he had agreed that she would be the avatar for his queen! She would give her god a queen who had no need for a sarcophagus, a queen who could not be assassinated.

She had thought herself blessed.

Only it had all gone wrong then.

It must have been a trick by some enemy of the god because when his queen entered her, she screamed. They both screamed, inside her head and outside in the temple, screaming of burning. The light that healed her wounds, it came and it healed her of her god-infestation.

And the queen was dead and she had felt that death and been unable to save her.

Methos pressed his palm into his mouth and swallowed several times trying to suppress the nausea. It was a good thing he'd not eaten recently.

Then the years of pain until the people attacked their gods and the gods abandoned their people. They left through Heaven's Gate and did not take her with them.

They left her more silently than the queen had done.

For the queen continued to scream in her dreams and in her walking visions. The burning, I'm dying. How can you kill your god? What are you that you kill your god?

God-killer. Goa'uld-killer.

And wasn't that a life lesson, Methos thought, to be wary of ever losing yourself to flashbacks.

Methos stood and found that he had to pause for a moment on shaky legs before he could walk. He wondered what his observers had seen. Had he remained still the entire time of flashbacks? Had he moved, ranted, and raved? A quick glance around the room and a deep breath let him know that at least he hadn't injured himself to the point of bleeding and thus hadn't demonstrated any obvious signs of healing. His shirt and slacks were sweat-soked and smelled of his own fear.

He moved to stand right in front of the two-way mirror. He felt too old and tired to try and peer through it, to see who was on the other side. There were certainly people there, that was enough. First though, he just looked at himself in the reflection. His pupils were still dilated. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply a few times. When he opened them again, they were better. Not back to normal yet, but better.

"Okay, Jackson, you can come back. Preferably with something to eat and a change of clothing."

Jackson came back in accompanied by Jake, carrying a set of BDUs and a sandwich, and a female doctor. He brushed off the attentions of the doctor, stripped and re-dressed quickly, and ate the sandwich.

Then he took the time to really look at Jake. Took some time to make sure the kid was okay with being in the military base. He seemed more worried about what Methos was doing to himself than what the military doctor would do to either of them, which was a good sign.

It didn't make what he was about do any less of a leap of faith, though.

"I have another question," Methos temporized.

He was going to sound really stupid if he was wrong. Well, really stupid and/or really crazy. He could hardly trust the half-recalled quickening memories of an insane woman he'd killed millennia ago, which made it all the more necessary to ask.

It would probably be worse, though, if he were right.

"Have you found where the old Egyptian pantheon went?"

Chapter Text

"Just tell me. I swear, if you tell me whether I'm right or not, I'll answer all your questions. I swear. Please." Where Matthews had seemed so adult and in control before, now Jake suddenly recalled that he was only twenty-four.

It was another abrupt change in perspective during an evening full of such changes. Little more than three hours ago he had been in school. Since that time he had participated in a kidnapping to stop a potential security breach, spent more time in one room with his original than he had ever wanted to, enjoyed watching Matthews and Daniel toy with each other, and then seen his favorite teacher have a seizure or waking vision or something that had proven to be a true security breach.

And Jake knew that security breach meant that Matthews would not be released. No matter what Daniel thought or how innocent Matthews was, he would not be let off the base with the information he somehow knew.

"How about you answer all of our questions first and then we'll decide what to tell you." With his original entering the room, Jake shifted to be as far away from him as possible. He still noticed Matthews quick glance between the two of them and quirked eyebrow. But it was a subdued quirk and Matthews' voice was subdued too when he agreed.

"Okay. What do you want to know?"

"How about you start with why you asked about the Egyptian gods." Colonel O'Neill as his usual demanding self.

"I'm, look, I know it sounds stupid, but I guess I'm sort of a psychic."

"Sort of a psychic." Jake's original cut in while Matthews was taking a breath. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means it doesn't work like in the movies. I don't touch a murder weapon and see the murderer or anything. It's like, I'll remember something, but it's not anything I knew before. And sometimes I'll have flashbacks to things that happened a long time ago. Usually its just day-to-day stuff. You know. Like Mrs. Young, the school secretary, the first time I met her I remembered this chatelaine in Italy in like 1152 or something. Very competent woman, Mrs. Young."

Matthews seemed to be calming down now that he had agreed to talk and was doing so. Jake was glad to see the fine trembling disappear altogether and pleased to figure out his teacher, but he still had to smother his annoyance that it was his original who was getting the answers. Smother his annoyance and postpone contemplating exactly how treasonous that annoyance was since he sort of wished that Matthews had continued stonewalling the SGC.

"Somehow I doubt it was a day-to-day scene that had you convulsing earlier. What did you remember'?"

"I was selected to host a goddess, Ra's queen, and," Matthews frowned and rubbed his forehead as if soothing a headache, "I don't understand it. I remember her being in my head. And I spoke just regular egyptian, but she spoke the language that Jackson did. She spoke goa'uld. In my head."

The interrogation room had gotten crowded with the number of people who had shifted from the observation room to this one. The process of them all casting each other meaningful looks and trying to catch each others' eyes was pretty damn funny from an outside perspective, Jake thought. Jake certainly appreciated the humor until he noticed Daniel sending Matthews a suspicious look. Taking a careful look himself at the too-innocent unawareness on his teacher's face, Jake got the distinct impression that Matthews also thought it was funny.

And then Jake had to postpone thinking about the fact that apparently he and Matthews, both, were looking at the members of the SGC from an outside perspective. Because what he needed to think about right now was the fact that Matthews may be giving answers, but that didn't mean he wasn't manipulating them just as thoroughly as when he wasn't.

"How well do you remember this?" His original demanded, apparently not noticing the too-innocent look and obviously ignoring the exhausted look on his subject's face.

"The older the memories are, the more emotionally charged they are. Disjointed and unpleasant. The recent ones are mostly just distracting. But I really don't like remembering the old ones." And Matthews looked up with a nearly pleading look at the original Colonel Jack O'Neill. And Jake could see his original react to that look, fall completely into his role of 2IC of the SGC, a combination of stern task master and overarching protector.

"Sometimes you have to do unpleasant things for the greater good."

Yup, Jake thought, Matthews knows how to play people. He's admitted to something that would get him dissected by the NID, but here in the SGC, he wouldn't be let go, he had to have known that he wouldn't be let go regardless, but he'll be made use of, and he'll be protected.

"I'm tired and I have a headache." Matthews sounded young and petulant and on the verge of cranky. Jake looked around and suddenly realized that ignoring his own age-disputed self, his twenty-four-year-old teacher was the youngest person in the room by more than a decade. Several of them were also parents, or had been. That tone of voice got results.

"Very well. We'll give you a bed and figure out what to do with you in the morning." Colonel O'Neill directed.

"After that seizure, I'd like to keep you in observation for the night. We have a number of empty beds in the infirmary." Dr. Lam spoke half to O'Neill and half to Matthews.

Jake's original nodded his agreement at the same time that Matthews answered with a careless, "I don't care. Do you have some Tylenol?"

"Yes. Come along." And Dr. Lam pulled Matthews out of the room and, with an escort of four marines that they both ignored, headed off to the infirmary. Jake was tempted to follow along but he needed to know what decisions were going to be made regarding his favorite teacher and knew that it would be hard to get briefed about it afterwards if he didn't hear it now.

The door had barely shut behind the departing Matthews and Dr. Lam when Jackson burst out.

"What was that, Jack? I thought we had all agreed that I would be the person asking the questions."

Never one to back down from conflict, Colonel O'Neill responded with knee-jerk sarcasm. "And that worked so well, Danny-boy. At least I got answers. Which is more than your interrogation' did. He'll ask all the questions and you still think its your interrogation of him?"

Jake wondered what had changed that here he was staying quietly out of sight and out of mind while his original didn't seem capable of thinking before he spoke.

"My interrogation' might have worked slightly better if you weren't clueing him in with your pounding on the glass. And it's not the fact that you got answers, it's how trustworthy those answers are."

"What? You think he was lying to me?" Jack was obviously insulted and Jake rolled his eyes. How could his original have come over so overbearing and then not even realize that he was being played? Man, less than a year ago, that was him. For the first time in his existence, Jake was glad that it wasn't.

"No, I don't think he's lying, exactly," Daniel had calmed down now that he had an alien perspective to explain to his team. "But he's certainly not telling us everything. I knew kids like him in foster care. He'll tell you what you want to hear and try to not draw attention when he can avoid it. Some kids with really bad experiences, get survival instincts that demand they not make people mad at him. Lie, cheat, steal, whatever, but don't contradict the people in power. If he's really getting memories from throughout history, then he's had a lot of painful experiences to reinforce that instinct, and if our background check is accurate, a lot of practice being nearly invisible."

"He said most of his experiences were day-to-day stuff."

"Most of it. And what about the rest? And, day-to-day stuff like being taken as a goa'uld host?"

Colonel O'Neill winced as that barb struck home.

"Look, I'm not saying he's a bad guy. In fact I think I could like him. I'm just saying we should be careful not to rely on him too much. One of the first things you learn as a historian is that primary sources can be just as biased as any other source. And Jack, a lot of things we would consider torture now used to be just day-to-day stuff.' I think he's a valuable resource, and since we can't really let him go, we should do our best to make use of him, but we're going to have to be careful because we currently have a hell of a lot of theories based on very little hard evidence and some of what he knows will almost certainly contradict some of them. And we're going to have to try to make him comfortable enough in a prison situation, to argue with us."

Jake though about the times that he, well, his original, had been a captive. Arguing had not been a problem, but the results had been his further torture. And he had argued in order to prevent his captors from gaining the truth. How hard would it be to convince Matthews to argue with his captors in order to give his captors the truth? They had him, now they had to convince him that they were the good guys. Jake winced.

From the look on his original's face, they were thinking the exact same thing. This was going to be close to impossible.

"I went in there with a real light touch and no, I didn't learn all that much other than he almost certainly speaks multiple languages. But I did put him enough at ease to let his guard down and allow us to know that he can remember things like that.

"Then, Jack, you came in, strong military guy, you, and demanded answers. You got a hell of a lot of answers but I seriously don't know how to sift the truth from the lies from the omissions. And everything I know about kids like that is that there were certainly some rather pointed omissions and probably some straight-out lies depending on whether he thought he could get away with them."

"You're a trained historian, as you just said, and you've had loads of practice dealing with suspicious characters who might be lying, we all have, don't you think we would have noticed if he were lying to us? I didn't see any indication that he was."

"And he's a a psychic. With all the circumstantial evidence pointing to the idea that he can lie and he can manipulate, really, really well."

"Manipulation isn't that easy, not the kind you're talking about. I've done undercover work. You have to know your audience for the kind of manipulation you're saying he might be pulling off. I get that the kid has probably learned to please his audience, but he'd have to know his audience to do that. That's not the sort of acting a person can pull off cold to a bunch of strangers."

"But what if we're not a bunch of strangers. He says he's psychic after all."

"So now you're saying you do believe him?"

"Yes. No. I'm saying that something has to be true because he obviously can acquire information from out of nowhere. But that doesn't mean all of it's true."

"No, but it does mean," O'Neill was cut off as Daniel overrode whatever he was about to say.

"Just the more I think about what he said, the more I see. He said he remembered an Italian chatelaine when he first met the school secretary. Then he said that she was a really competent woman. Depending on how exactly this remembering' thing of his works, I'd guess that the reason he's so good at reading people is that none of us seem like strangers. We're all similar to people he knows. He can play a role cold to a group of strangers."

"We're not all the same, Daniel. You're the one who's always telling me not to lump people together from just because they're from one culture."

"Well, you shouldn't, but that doesn't mean we don't all have personality types." Daniel was getting that frustrated edge to his voice that meant people weren't getting what he was trying to say.

General Hammond, one of the few people who had not left the observation room earlier in order to squeeze into the smaller interrogation room, did so now.

"Before this deteriorates into a school yard scuffle, I have to ask: what are your suggestions?"

Jake spoke for the first time in what seemed like forever. "I suggest that you tell him about Teal'c here." Somehow the large and rather spectacular looking alien had managed to slip quietly into the small crowded room, more or less overlooked. It occurred to Jake that not even the seemingly ever observant Matthews had noticed him doing so. Jake hadn't noticed, he'd just assumed that Teal'c was present and had been proven correct. "Because Teal'c is an example, both of an alien who is not being dissected, and of a former enemy who is now a trusted team member."

"You suggest we tell him even more than he already knows?" Hammond asked, not criticizing, but checking to see if he understood the suggestion. Jake appreciated the respect that showed.

"Yes. He knows too much already to be let out. So more information won't change that. He will probably learn all our secrets eventually anyway, but this way we're demonstrating our trust rather than our lack of control. And, if we tell him, we can do some spin control rather than having him piece together the facts from the worst and most emotional memories of events."

"Indeed." Teal'c who had been silent for even longer than Jake had been spoke. "The rock fall upon the egg: alas for the egg. The egg fall upon the rock: alas for the egg."

A quick glance around reassured Jake that he wasn't the only one who's response to that was, "Er...?"

Luckily Teal'c continued. "Some people will win regardless of who the fight is against or what the weapons. If young-Jack-O'Neill believes that that Adam Matthews will learn our secrets however we hide them, we should at least control the manner of that learning. And a man who can learn such secrets in such a way would be a useful resource in learning the secrets of our enemies."

General Hammond nodded his understanding and looked thoughtful. Even Colonel O'Neill seemed resigned.

"It might be helpful in figuring out whatever has got the system lords antsy this time." The acceptance did not last long, because soon enough he looked suspiciously at his younger version. "Hey, what are you even doing here?"

"I'm here because I just helped in the kidnapping of my pre-cal teacher." He could do snide just as well as his original could. "I'm still here because I feel I should have some input into the future of said pre-cal teacher."

"Look. We'll be nice to him, all right. It's in our best interests to do so and we're nice people anyway. But you're not part of the SGC anymore. We decided there needed to be a break between us." Thus spoke the original O'Neill at his awkward best.

Jake gave him a look of contempt, a true teenagers look that spoke volumes about how stupid and and completely out of style the recipient was. Jake was marginally pleased by how well it was received by his original, ie. how insulted his original looked. Then he turned back to Hammond, "I also think I need to be around here if you're going to try and gain Matthews' trust. He seems to like me, and more to the point, he knows I'm different, too, and I can be another living example that I trust the SGC not to torture me."

"Very well. I'll make it clear with security that you're allowed in. Do you want to come back to the SGC full-time or continue as you are in high school?"

Hammond always seemed to be able to get right at the heart of every situation. It's what made him a good general, but it could be unnerving sometimes. Most times.

Jake took a deep breath and looked at his former coworkers, his team mates. Carter was either off base given that it was late Friday evening, or back in some lab doing some experiment, given that, well, she was Carter. But there was Daniel who had interviewed Matthews because he had requested it. Teal'c was being stolid, dependable, and unreadable as usual. General Hammond who could see to the heart of every issue. And himself.

His former self. His respected and highly ranked alternate version. His alternate version who wasn't him anymore, and made him realize that maybe that was a good thing, after all.

"No. I'll stay in high school. I'm creating myself anew, after all, and that doesn't change. I'll be back with the SGC soon enough. And every weekend, if you permit it, to see Matthews."

"Very well." General Hammond agreed and left, either to return to his regular duties or to just go home. Most of the other people in the room left with him.

Colonel Jack O'Neill looked uncomfortable, like he always did when thinking about his younger version, but didn't say anything before following the General out.

Teal'c inclined his head briefly in his direction before exiting.

Soon enough it was just him, the marine who was his escort while on base, and Daniel Jackson.

Attempting to make it into a joke, Jake said, "I guess you were right, Daniel, one little phoneme different can make a large difference. I really am Jake now rather than Jack."

Either he didn't manage to sound humorous or Daniel ignored that veneer to get to the underlying issue. Jake figured it was even odds either way. "Little differences can snowball. You're not just a copy. I'll look forward to seeing more of Jake, now that you'll be around."

"Yeah. You'll take care of Matthews when I'm not here?"

"I'll do my best. It's late, though, and I'm with Matthews here: I'm tired and I have a headache."

"Yeah. Me, too. Good night."

"Good night."

Chapter Text

Methos slowed the already lazy swing of the jumprope, letting it hang limp in his hands, as he watched Jake coming towards him on his weekly visit.

"You're not going to improve if you don't push yourself."

"Jake." Methos smiled in greeting and then nearly laughed at the expression of disapproval on the teen's face. "I am improving. I jumped rope for seven minutes and twenty-four seconds just now. When I started six weeks ago I lasted for under a minute."

The disapproval did not go away. "You stop before you break a sweat or your breathing speeds up."

"I'm a hedonist. I like my physical comforts."

What he didn't explain was that his quickening gave him stamina, endurance, and a certain amount of strength beyond his body's abilities. It was enough that while in the Watchers he had been able to forego any suspicious looking training. Now, though, he had to build up his body again, and that meant stopping every time he felt his quickening kick in. Every time too much lactic acid built up, every time he started getting sore, he would feel his quickening surge to heal the internal 'damage', and he had to stop just short of that, slowly working to increase what strength and stamina he had without his quickening. It was a slow process and had gotten him more than his share of contemptuous looks from the other people in the base gym.

"Why do you come to the gym so often when you never actually push yourself to do anything here?"

"It's a popular place and I can't always sit around in my room."

"I'm not saying you should. It's just, well, I would have thought you'd like to hang out more with the anthropologists, but if you're going to be in the gym, you should really use it. All the classes are open to you, you know."

"Yeah, but I'm working on my jump-roping skills."

Jake actually managed to look saturnine in response to this, Methos was interested to see. He was obviously growing up and regaining some adult facial definition. "Some how I think you're up to more than just that since you never push yourself while jump-roping and you never miss watching any lesson Teal'c teaches."

Methos just smiled at him.

While he spent a couple hours a day with Daniel Jackson and the languages and cultures group making himself useful, the gym, Methos had quickly discovered, was the place to be. Everyone spent serious amounts of time in the gym: marines, scientists, cafeteria workers... everyone. Because everyone knew that if they were on the base, they were on the front-line. The stargate teams may go into enemy territory, but when the enemy came to home territory, that was them. So everyone went to the gym and learned as much about defense as possible. Even the people who went home to eat rather than go to the cafeteria, went to the gym, so here he could case out the population, and had been pleased to realize that there were no other immortals and only a single pre-immortal wandering around. There was no immediate danger to him from that direction, then.

Plus, practically every martial art that Methos knew was taught here and few more that he didn't. Learning styles and techniques as they developed through the ages was a survival skill for any immortal. Most of the fighting lessons were standard stuff, generic military technique and hardly worth more than a glance and the capoera teacher was seriously missing the point of the art. But the karate and knife-fighting teachers were both very good. And Teal'c was absolutely amazing.

Teal'c's lessons caught his attention and held it. Because Teal'c was a master and teacher of a martial art that Methos didn't know at all. The large man moved with a grace and fluidity that actually reminded him of his brother Silas when working with animals. Teal'c was connected to the world around him in a way that most people weren't and it showed in the manner in the way his art was designed and the way in which he performed it. The apparent fact that Jaffa successfully replaced sleep with meditation demonstrated to Methos exactly how centered their fighters would be on a regular basis.

"Daniel says that Teal'c has been performing all of his forms and making his lessons more formal for your viewing pleasure."

Methos laughed. "He told me the same thing. And I appreciate it."

"So why aren't you taking the lessons with him? You talk with him enough."

"I talk with him about the politics of the Jaffa and the Goa'uld. I've noticed that the politicians on base are focused on your allies while the military is focused on your enemies. But knowing ones enemy is important. And Teal'c is very good source of information for that. He was a first prime, after all."

When General Hammond had explained that he, Adam Matthews, would not be allowed to leave base, he had also explained that Teal'c had been an enemy soldier who was now a respected soldier in their command. The general must have hoped that it would tempt Matthews to think of himself as a team member rather than a prisoner. It had not done so but then Methos wasn't much of a team player to begin with. What it had done was create the first spark of interest in the large warrior.

"Yeah. He was First Prime to Apophis. He's really very good at teaching fighting so you should take lessons with him instead of just watching."

Teal'c, at least, must have guessed that Methos was master of enough martial arts at this point to be able to pick others up by careful visual study and running through the forms mentally. Teal'c could assuredly pick up moves in a similar fashion. See a move, figure out how it works, perform it on an enemy in the heat of battle: three easy steps that only the very experienced could achieve. Teal'c's performing the forms for him to see, was him teaching Methos. But if he hadn't revealed this to anyone else, then Methos surely wasn't going to.

"His fighting style is quite beautiful, isn't it?"

Jake heaved a melodramatic, and properly teenage, sigh.

It had taken some questioning of Daniel Jackson and some of the other anthropologists over the weeks to get more information on Teal'c's background and it was clear that few people understood the significance of what they told him: Teal'c had led the armies of a multi planet empire at war. His personal fighting skills were the best in a competition among millions of contenders. His large-scale strategy and tactics knowledge made him the right hand of a god. Being the right hand of a god gave him the inside knowledge of the politics and personalities within his god's pantheon.

Infiltration of new and different cultures had once been something Methos had consciously worked at. For the past several centuries it had become second nature as Methos wandered around but never really met any cultures of which he didn't already have a basic understanding. It was an interesting experience, alternately exhilarating and frustrating, to suddenly find himself introduced to completely new cultures and Methos wasn't going to let pass by him a source of information like Teal'c was proving to be.

"I guess I'm just more interested in the politics than the fighting." Methos said at his most disingenuous. "Did you know that system lords can trade control of planetary systems back and forth amongst themselves? Or that the Jaffa armies of a defeated system lord are absorbed into the armies of the successful system lord? That system lords control the planets and the armies but that goa'uld queens are necessary for the survival of the Jaffa?"

"Yeah. Each time we defeat one system lord, the next one comes along even stronger."

"But Earth doesn't control the Jaffa armies of your defeated enemies...?"

"And don't think the NID haven't suggested we do that. But we don't accept slavery and paying them wages and giving them a choice would be horribly time consuming, expensive, and an overall bureaucratic nightmare."

Methos enjoyed the irony for a bit. Modern morality was always somewhat amusing.

But cultural ideas of 'universal truths' created blind spots that could be even more dangerous than they were amusing. Any assumptions could be dangerous but the ones about good and evil were the worst. Too many people thought the distinctions between good and evil were clear cut and easily defined. Methos' experiences had taught him to believe Nietzsche when he wrote that "Good and evil that are not transitory do not exist. They must overcome themselves again and again."

"Might makes right" had turned into "white man's burden" had turned into "all men are created equal". Killing and torturing for the purpose of saving souls had turned to treating the bodies equally and letting the souls fall as they will.

Methos could remember when he first heard of the Emperor Alexander killing only one man for every ten in the cities he conquered. It had been a surprising act of mercy and, after giving it some consideration, Methos had been impressed. He had traveled to Alexandria to live and change with the times. It had not been an easy transformation and it had taken decades, perhaps centuries for those morals to become reflex.

Now Methos wondered whether Jake or anyone in the SGC realized that Teal'c had not had that time to change. He wondered if any of them really understood how alien Teal'c truly was.

Before he could come up with any more subtle questions for Jake about his take on Teal'c, they were interrupted by the appearance of Colonel O'Neill.

Colonel O'Neill had been avoiding him for the most part during the past month and a half. The colonel had realized or, more likely, had pointed out to him, that he had come on a bit strong in their first meeting. Since then their interactions had been restricted to a few short and awkward conversations when they happened to run across each other. For the colonel to seek him out now meant that something had happened to throw off the current status quo.

Sure enough, the colonel opened with, "We found Hiko aka Samuel Seijuro aka Saito Hidoro."

"Saito Hidoro?"

"Yep. I high-level advisor for the Japanese government whose fingerprints match those in Seijuro's office and home apartment. He's got bodyguards, full diplomatic immunity, and friends in high places who are asking questions."

Methos looked as blank as he possibly could.

"Hidoro is asking some quite pointed questions about the Cheyenne military complex and is getting a whole variety of answers which I doubt are relieving his suspicions. The NID are providing some of those answers and are now asking their own questions."

"Oh." Methos suppressed a wince. He had heard plenty of stories about the NID from various SGC personnel. They could be dangerous if not dealt with correctly or a powerful tool if properly manipulated. He wondered what exactly Hiko had been telling people and how to mesh that into his own story. Hiko was stirring up an anthill, which was admittedly what Methos had hoped when he first let himself be taken, but it now seemed more likely to backfire than to help him.

"So, now I need you to tell me the truth: who is Hidoro? Why did he confront you in the alley that day? We can and will protect you, but we need to know what we're protecting you from."

Jake interrupted. "Look. I know you're not being let go, but it's not so bad here, is it? We're saving the world, and we'll save you, too, if you give us a chance."

Colonel O'Neill ignored the interruption. "This isn't an interrogation. Just tell me what you can."

Methos sighed and shrugged. "There are people with special abilities. I'm one of them, you know that. But so is Hidoro."

"He's also psychic?" the colonel asked for confirmation.

"I don't know. Just that he has some special abilities. And well, no one much cares to go public as an oddity, but we do like to meet people we can talk freely with. So there's sort of an Old Boys Club sort of thing. We don't necessarily like each other, but we tend to meet up, chat, keep an eye out for each other, and just feel more emotionally attached to people who know what it's like to be different."

"Does this have to do with what a 'quickening' is?"

"Yeah. A quickening is slang for an extra ability. Jake here is odd, but something was done to him rather than his having an innate difference. So far as I know, he doesn't have a quickening."

"But why did Hidoro challenge you? That's what he said, that he challenged you."

"He probably wanted to know which one of us had the more useful ability. Some people are like that."

Both Jake and the colonel snorted at that: the gym in the SGC was a perfect demonstration of the fact that people liked to compete merely for the sake of competing.

"Is Hidoro a threat to you?"

Methos had known this question was coming and looked the colonel dead in the eye to answer. "No. I don't need protection from Hidoro. He's probably trying to protect me from you."

Colonel O'Neill continued to look suspicious but Jake looked like he believed Methos, which was proper since he truly did believe Hiko was trying to protect him, or at least protect the secret of immortality. Jake was getting surprisingly good at reading Methos.

Colonel O'Neill seemed to realize the same thing and took his cue from Jake. That didn't mean that the colonel acknowledged that Jake was standing there, though, merely that he nodded acceptance of this newest variation, thanked Matthews for his honesty and walked away.

Ignoring the issue of Hiko and the NID for the moment, Methos considered the interaction between Jake and Colonel O'Neill. It was similar to a lot of the interactions between SGC personnel and his young student. In the difficult situation of having two people with the exact same past, it seemed that nearly everyone had decided to simply ignore the one that looked too young.

Jake in high school was at loose ends, surrounded by people who didn't know who he was and who couldn't be told. Jake in the SGC was hurting, surrounded by people who did know who he was but wouldn't acknowledge him anyway.

The solution, to Methos, was obvious: Jake needed a teacher in the immortal sense.

An immortal teacher was not just someone to point out issues for correction. One of the most important things an immortal teacher provided to a newly awoken young thing was the presence of someone much older than themselves. In that first century, as the disparity between apparent age and real age was first developing, it was easy for a new immortal to become bitter and frustrated and most likely homicidal. Most young headhunters had not had teachers in any real sense. Because a teacher needed to be there, not to demonstrate the sword or means of creating false identities, but to laugh at the student. To tease and mock the student and tell him he is young, practically a babe in arms, and force him to believe it.

Lance that pocket of bitterness as often as necessary and maybe a few times more for grins until it heals clean and scars over. The student has to learn to live behind the mask that is his appearance and have that mask so much a part of himself that he appreciates other people not seeing behind it rather than be frustrated by it.

"Do you know why Teal'c doesn't like you?" Methos spoke abruptly. "It's not the same reason as everyone else."

The question pulled Jake out of the thoughts that had kept him morosely staring off at the departed colonel's back. He was still bitter when he responded, "I imagine it's because I'm a poor copy of his best friend."

"No. He doesn't see you as a copy, I rather think he sees you as a false prophet."

"What?"

"He was the head priest of a large-scale religion before SG-1 came along and converted him. Colonel O'Neill specifically is the head of the Earth faith that proclaims freedom and loyalty as its tenets, and he is the colonel's disciple. Then you came along and tried to trick him into following you instead of him."

"I didn't try to trick him!"

"You may not have known what you were doing, and he understands that. It does not change the fact that you are the physical manifestation of a false path of his new religion."

"And that's another thing, I'm not a religious figure. I'm not as Jake and I wasn't as Jack, and that has not changed. I've never been religious."

"Which is probably why you haven't noticed that Teal'c very much is religious."

Jake frowned and shook his head. "That doesn't make sense."

"The SGC fight gods. You should have realized that that very fact makes this a religious war. The religion of the system lords and their Jaffa armies worship the goa'uld. The religion of the Earth worships freedom. Do you think you could have convinced Teal'c to fight the gods of his youth without providing him with another faith to take their place?"

"He's not fighting gods. He's fighting snake aliens who pretend to be gods."

"The gods you fight are alien snakes. All of the goa'uld and many of the slave populations know that their gods look like snakes. That does not change the fact that they are gods."

Jake suddenly looked taken aback as a new idea presented itself to him. "You sound like you think they really are gods."

"They are gods."

"No, they're not. They use technology to trick people into thinking they are, but we can show you those tricks. They are not gods. And if you think they're gods, why are you helping us defeat them?"

"The fact that they're gods does not make them good guys. I don't have a problem with fighting gods. And it doesn't matter what technology they use. We're not talking about the omniscient, omnipotent singular god of judeo-christian beliefs, we're talking about ancient pantheonic gods. They can use whatever tricks they want, the facts remain that they have power of life and death over their followers, their followers do worship them, and their temples are holy ground. They are gods. I know that and Teal'c knows that."

"He calls the goa'uld 'false gods.' He knows that they're not really gods."

"They break faith with their people. They play their worshipers falsely. That makes them false gods. It does not make them non-gods."

Jake glared at him. Methos could sympathize with the frustration of not knowing how to properly argue for a belief and not being given the respect you felt you deserved, but those were the very things Jake needed to be trained around.

"They're not gods." Jake stalked away without giving Methos a chance to respond.

Methos casually swung the jumprope he still held, hoped over it, and thought about all he had learned during his stay here.

His confinement to within SGC wasn't bad. Methos had voluntarily lived in many worse situations than this. Adam Pierson's first apartment, a garret in Paris with only a fifty percent change of having warm water on any given day came to mind. Here, the accommodations were militaristic but perfectly comfortable, the companionship was both polite and interesting, and the matter of immediate safety was dealt with. In the weeks he had been there, he had met no other immortals and only one pre-immortal.

It was safe enough from regular threats, but he had only come here to figure out what the not-so-regular threats were. He had now discovered the goa'uld and had a good notion of how they attacked and how they fought. And this particular setting was rife with dangers. The base was a battle zone with attacks possible from enemies and traitorous allies, alike. And Methos himself was relegated to a position of protected prisoner which meant he could not help defend himself against the dangers he saw coming.

It was time for him to think more seriously about his escape plans. And if Jake was going to be his student, Methos would have to see about taking him with. MacLoed would not have approved but Kronos would have roared with laughter if he knew what Methos was planning. He missed having immortal friends but this was not the time and place to grieve for what was lost.

Now there were plans to make and people to subvert. He had his work cut out for him.

Chapter Text

"Hey, Matthews. I survived the first week. More or less," Jake called out as soon as he spotted the other man.

After spending all day every day together during the holidays, the first school week of the second semester had come as a period of painful isolation. But finally, Saturday had rolled around and Jake met up with Matthews in the second floor corridor, the closest the psychic was allowed to the exit. He always met Jake there and then they would ride down the rest of the elevators together. Today, rather than smiling at Jake as soon as he stepped into sight, Matthews was frowning and didn't appear to even notice Jake approaching.

Suddenly Matthews laughed. It was rich and wild and more delighted than anything Jake had heard from him before. And the near constant ache of homesickness that Jake carried around became nearly overwhelming. Because that laughter was honest, it was something he'd never heard before from Matthews, and Jake realized that after whatever was happening had happened, he probably wouldn't hear it again. He had to consciously refrain from wrapping his arms around himself and wailing that he "just wanted to go home." He wanted to be in a place where he knew the people and the people knew him and nobody needed to hide.

At the very best he should be able to see what had made his old teacher laugh so delightedly. "What?"

"Why, oh why had I not thought of this before?"

It was clearly a rhetorical question because Matthews was standing frozen in position with his eyes slightly unfocused, clearly only peripherally aware of Jake's presence or the presence of the two guards. None the less, Jake tried responding with a sigh and, "Thought of what?"

But Matthews shook his head slightly and murmured, "go down. Speak with Daniel. I'll follow in a bit." And then he started swaying from side to side.

Jake closed his eyes briefly and counted to ten. When he opened his eyes again, Matthews was still swaying in some uneven pattern. Even the two guards were casting frustrated and uncertain looks at each other. Jake hated the fact that both he and Matthews were each assigned marines to escort them around base.

Making a sudden decision before those damned guards could start making presumptuous suggestions, Jake nodded decisively. "Very well. Find me when you're finished."

By the time the elevator doors shut in front of him, Matthews was standing still again, his guard looking frustrated despite an attempt at looking blank. Jake descended the rest of the way down the mountain complex to get to the SGC in the silent but much resented company of his own guard.

It took a nearly supreme act of will on Jake's part to avoid scowling at his marine escort. It wasn't the soldier's fault that Jake was no longer part of the SGC and thus required to be escorted and supervised at all times while on base.

There was a time not that long ago that Jake, when he had been Jack, had known the faces and the files of every person allowed in Stargate Command. It had been his right and his responsibility. And now here he was being escorted by some marine who had been brought in since his time, about whom he knew nothing and who in turn knew nothing about him. The absolutely blank face was enough of a give away about what the marine thought of letting a kid on base.

Jake told himself to just ignore the guy. Instead, he would find Daniel as the one person other than Matthews who was generally happy to spend time with him.

Daniel was in his office flipping through some papers but he put them down and smiled at Jake when he entered.

"Hey Jake, how has life been treating you?"

"Hey Daniel. Awful. I hate high school."

Daniel just laughed. "Then you fit in just fine with the majority of the students, I imagine. But you didn't think it was so awful last semester, did you? What's changed this semester?"

"Pre-cal, among other things. You do remember that my pre-cal teacher, by far my best teacher, is "in a coma" after that "car accident," right? The substitute teachers were bad enough, but now they've hired this new teacher and she teaches straight from the book. I have serious doubts about whether she even understands the math she's supposedly teaching."

"Why don't you ask Adam from some help? I'm sure he has some suggestions to both understand the math and to shake up the classroom." Daniel's voice was remarkably dry and Jake wondered what it was that Matthews had done recently to shake up the linguistics department here.

Over the holidays when Jake could be on base all day, every day, the two of them had gotten up to all sorts of things from paintball fights that somehow managed to range beyond the assigned area for such practice, to deciding to learn parkour and leaping over/under/around any obstacles they could find or make, including other people, such as the guards they always had on hand. At least, Jake argued, he had gotten Matthews to do more than jump that damned jumprope.

Come to think of it, Matthews was probably bored without his accomplice. Although perhaps he was still busy trying to get back into the good graces of the maintenance crew who were not happy with his apparent inability to hit his target with the paintball guns and his seemingly supernatural ability to instead hit every single security camera in his vicinity. After a while, Matthews had stopped simply apologizing and started volunteering to clean up after himself.

Before Jake could ask what Matthews had been getting up to recently, though, Daniel frowned, looked around, and asked, "Where is Adam? Normally when you come down, he's right there with you."

"He had another psychic moment or something up on the second floor. It looked like it was going to take longer than usual, so I came down here to see you."

"Huh." Daniel grabbed the phone on his desk and Jake had enough experience to immediately recognize the pattern Daniel dialed as the numbers for Security. Jake sat up suddenly in question but didn't interrupt. "Hey, Frank, who's manning the surveillance camera's for the second floor?... Thanks. Yeah. Adam Matthews doing anything odd? ... Yeah." Daniel spun his chair around so that he faced his computer, pressed the phone to his ear with a shoulder, and started opening new windows. "Give me the access codes so I can watch from here ... mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm ... Thanks."

Finally a video image came up, and there was Matthews back to swaying unevenly in the second floor hallway. Long sways, short sways, brief periods when he seemed to catch his balance, but then back to swaying side to side. Daniel was clearly seeing more because after a few minutes, he went, "My, my, my. That's interesting. I wonder how it works? ... Hey Frank, has he ever done anything like this before that you guys in security have seen? ... Okay. Copy everything to a cd and send it down to me once Matthews finishes. I'm going to watch live from here."

Jake waited for Daniel to put the phone down before going, "uh Daniel? What are you seeing that I'm not?"

"Oh, I'm not positive yet. I could be completely wrong. Pretty much regardless, I'm going to be really boring for a bit. Why don't you go say 'hi' to Teal'c or something for a bit?"

Daniel's eyes never left his computer screen and he was now scribbling onto a pad of paper.

Jake scowled. This weekend visit to the SGC had become his reward to himself after the awfulness of another week in school. Why then, was this particular visit not being very rewarding? The feeling of homesickness surged again. He wanted to go home. He wanted to have a home to go home to.

And Daniel had clearly not been paying attention because Teal'c didn't speak to Jake unless it was a one word reply to a direct question. Teal'c followed Jack's lead, and did his best to ignore Jake. Instead of bashing his head against that again, Jake wandered his way to the cafeteria for something to eat.

He supposed he should be thankful to have a teenager's metabolism again. He had a couple of danishes and a glass of orange juice. It didn't do anything to cheer him up.

Wandering around being bored and homesick was not a good reward to himself, Jake thought, but unfortunately, he couldn't think of anything else to do. God, he was depressing. What sort of teenager was he?

He was well on his way to a fit of depression and sulkiness when, for the first time in his, Jake's, life, Teal'c approached him.

"Greetings, Student Jake O'Neil." Teal'c spoke with his normal deep bass formality but why was Teal'c initiating a conversation with him at all? Teal'c thought he was the Antichrist according to Matthews, a Trojan Horse according to Jackson, and had never shown any previous inclination to speak with Jake himself.

Jake cleared his throat and hoped he didn't do anything to mess up this opening to a new friendship between him and his old best friend. "Hello, Teal'c. Um, where'd I pick up the title?"

"Are you not Student to Adam Matthews?"

"Yeah, but I've been his student for months now, so..."

"You were a student in his class, yes. Now you are his Student."

Jake wondered what Matthews was doing to poor Teal'c. It wasn't nice to play games with the alien's ideas of Earth culture. "What exactly did Matthews tell you?"

"Adam Matthews explained to me that within his culture, those who are yet ready to live independently are taken as Students by those who are. You are not of his kind, but your need is still there. He claimed you are his Student."

After a flash of anger and frustration, Jake had to acknowledge that Matthews had probably been right: Jake wasn't ready to live independently. He still struggled sometimes to be what he wasn't and was lost in the search for what he was. He still waffled between being a middle-aged adult and being a teenager, between a focused career soldier and a kid with an undefined future. Matthews was the only person who seemed to find the right balance point to the way he treated Jake.

For one, Matthews paid attention to him. Oh, he would mock Jake, sometimes with clear and cutting critiques that showed how much Jake had yet to learn about life while other times with specious taunts that showed how much Jake had yet to learn about having fun. But when Matthews was condescending, it was always an intentional taunt and never the brush off that so many others now used it as.

He had found over the weeks that he could bicker with Matthews and it was okay. He didn't have to worry about going too easy or too hard on Matthews or of Matthews going too easy or too hard on him. He had taken plenty of advantage of that over the winter break when school was out and he could come in to the base every day and had even slept over a few nights. Matthews didn't have any family to miss so didn't grouse any more about being kept on base than he did at any other time, and had proved himself perfectly capable of pestering Jake until he came out of his own funks at being unable to contact what little family he had. They had gotten so outrageous at times that Daniel, another orphan who found the continued workload over the holiday season more a blessing than a curse, would throw up his hands and leave them to each other.

"It's more than just being a student."

"Indeed. Adam Matthews spoke of a sacred trust closer than that of parent and child. A Student is protected from all the world with the teacher between him and any foe."

"Oh."

Jake considered that in silence for a bit. Teal'c remained silently standing in that way he had, as if he could out wait the end of the world. It had sometimes frustrated him when he was Jack, now he found it reassuring. It gave him the time he needed to think things through and there were so many things he needed to think through these days.

"Is my being Matthews' student the reason you are now speaking with me?"

"Indeed." There was no shame in Teal'c's voice and Jake realized that Teal'c probably didn't even think there was a reason to be ashamed of shunning him for so long when he had needed a friend. Perhaps Matthews was right in how truly alien Teal'c was. "As a Student, any difficulties may and should be discussed with the teacher."

"And what 'difficulty' did you have with me?" Jake couldn't quite curb his sarcasm.

Teal'c merely answered, "You pretended to be Colonel Jack O'Neill."

Wasn't sharp anger a condition of being a teenage boy? Probably hormones, again. Because he wasn't an actual teenage boy, Jake reminded himself, he was not going to shout that it wasn't his fault. Instead, through gritted teeth, he asked, "And have you taken that up with my new teacher?"

"Yes."

"And what did he say?"

"He said that you were no longer pretending to be Colonel Jack O'Neill, just as I was no longer fighting for Apophis."

"So forgive and forget, huh?"

As always, Jake found himself wondering whether Teal'c didn't recognize sarcasm at all or had simply decided that it was best ignored. "You no longer have a position in Stargate Command."

It felt like a punch in the gut. Jake barely heard Teal'c continued to speak as he tried to remember how to breath.

"Adam Matthews explained why it is that many beliefs can coexist within Earth culture. It is something that has confused me for some time. When I was First Prime to Apophis, I followed the rules set forth by the false god and enforced them with the other Jaffa as well. Those who did not worship Apophis were destroyed. Adam Matthews pointed out what a waste this was. On Earth, an individual is given the opportunity to find his own source of loyalty. Multiple religions are acceptable as long as they do not directly conflict. The NID are dangerous to the Earth; Adam Matthews and yourself are not. You are an acceptable ally."

It was the possibly the longest speech Jake had ever heard Teal'c made. It was also one of the most confusing explanations of Earth culture that Jake had ever heard. Even his guard, who's job was to fade into the background, looked like he wanted to jump in and give his own opinion. Jake wondered what Matthews could possibly have intended with this. Because he was quickly coming to the conclusion that Matthews was definitely acting with intent.

And there was Matthews himself, approaching. Before he got into hearing range, Jake turned back to Teal'c for a moment. "Thank you, Teal'c. You have given me food for thought."

"You are welcome, Student Jake O'Neil. Good day, Adam Matthews."

"Good day, Teal'c."

Together, Matthews and Jake watched Teal'c walk away, back to his regular Saturday activities. Jake wasn't sure what to think about either the man walking away from him or the man standing next to him. He wasn't even sure where to start. He tried to think of something, anything to say.

After a minute, Matthews made it unnecessary. "Sorry about earlier. I was caught off guard by a new idea. And yes, I'll tell you about it but only after I have some time to think it through. So how about a game of cards and you can tell me about how the rest of the world is getting on without me."

"You get cable, don't you? Where do you think teenagers get their knowledge of the world?"

"A veritable point. Then you can still play a game and tell me about how terrible your new pre-cal teacher is compared to me."

And with that all the tension that Jake had felt building up broke apart and he relaxed again. "You don't need anyone to stroke your ego. You need someone to force you to exercise."

"Piffle. Anyway, I'm not the one who still moves like a middle aged man sometimes. You're the one who needs to get a bit more fluid in your motions."

"Did you want to play cards or are you volunteering to go to the gym and get in trouble with Maintenance again."

"Cards it is."

Jake happily gave up thinking about deep and dark thoughts for a bit. Trying to read Matthews much less bluff him would take all of his concentration. It was a very good distraction indeed.

Hours later and preparing to leave for the evening, Jake thought: banter, inside jokes, a certain amount of trust with the promise of more to come. These were things he had with Matthews rather than anyone part of the SGC. He wasn't part of the SGC anymore. They weren't asking for his loyalty. They weren't even allowing him to demonstrate his loyalty. And Teal'c of all people, had given him permission to look elsewhere.

"Teal'c thinks that I am not loyal to the SGC."

"Are you?"

"Yes!"

"Are you sure? Or are you loyal to humanity and to the U.S.?"

"They're the same thing in this case."

"Are they?"

"Will you please stop asking those stupid psychotherapist questions?"

"Will I?"

Jake had to laugh. "Oh, shut up."

They stopped off at the second floor so that Jake could change elevators to get to the surface and Matthews could head on back down.

Breaking the comfortable silence, Jake said, "Hey, Matthews."

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

"You're welcome." There was a beat of silence with a humorous look in Matthews' eyes, then, "Thanks for what?"

"You know exactly what you're doing, don't you? This whole 'Student' thing you told Teal'c about, it's for real, isn't it?"

Matthews quirked a smile but nodded his head in agreement. "Yeah, it's for real. Will you be my Student and accept my protection and guidance?"

"Isn't that what I've been doing?"

Matthews grinned. "Get out of here. I'll see you next week."

Jake grinned back, glad to have covered the heavy emotional subject so easily. He stepped into the elevator taking him up to the surface. It had been a good afternoon.

The lack of any real responsibility combined with the easy camaraderie made a good combination for lazy days. It did not, however, help him remain attentive or careful. He didn't notice anything wrong until the two marine guards who had been shadowing them all day pulled their guns.

"Stay where you are and don't make any sudden moves," his guard told him.

"Get into the elevator and don't make any sudden moves," Matthews' guard told Matthews. "We're going on a little trip. Off base."

Chapter Text

The elevator ride to the surface was made in silence and seemed to take significantly longer than a mere two levels should have taken.

Methos had seen Jake tense to fight back immediately when the guns had first been pulled but he had caught the kid's eye and shaken his head. A small confined space, Methos thought, containing him and two guys with guns who he wanted to dispose of quickly would normally have been a near perfect set up. A small confined space containing him, two guys with guns who he wanted to dispose of quickly, and an innocent bystander he wanted to protect, on the other hand, was a disaster in the making.

Jake seemed to agree, although probably had a different view of who the innocent bystander was.

After that, they stood in silence and Methos let his thoughts drift.

At least Hiko had let him know ahead of time that the kidnapping-cum-rescue would be going down today but a few more details would not have been amiss. The problem with using the quickening sense to send messages in morse code was that it was a damnably slow form of communication.

Not to mention how cumbersome it was given the necessity of standing still at the exact outer edge of the other immortal's quickening sense, unable to move without either losing the sense entirely or being sufficiently within it to make communication impossible. A slow and erratic sway in and out of range could be done, he had discovered, and successfully sent messages but it was only as secure as the viewers were close-minded. Random guards might not see any pattern, but only Jake's reluctance to stand in the middle of the corridor prevented him from noticing. There were bound to be other observers who were talented and experienced with thinking outside of the box and seeing what others had missed.

So there had been no chance to really talk. Instead it was a heads up from Hiko to him that the rescue was scheduled using NID agents who thought they were kidnapping him. In response Methos had thanked Hiko but told him to scram because Methos was going to have to resist the rescue and it would just complicate matters if another immortal was caught in the fight.

Hiko had gotten in touch with the NID but Methos hadn't been able to get all the details of the other immortals manipulations. It would have been nice to at least know if these were legitimate NID or rogue. He really didn't like making enemies without knowing who they were.

The elevator finally came to a stop, pinged it's little signal and the doors opened.

Jake had tensed again but luckily remained subdued and compliant as they were met by six other uniformed soldiers. The now eight soldiers quickly formed a moving barricade around their two captives, hiding them and the drawn weapons from casual view.

Together, they all walked away, the outer soldiers talking casually as if they really were just leaving for the day. Methos found himself rather impressed by how well this kidnapping was being played out. A well-done raid on an enemy fortress was really a thing of beauty and he was just as glad that he could enjoy it and had decided to let it play out until they reached their destination.

With the heads-up, he could have stopped the kidnapping before it ever started, but it would have been a postponement only and he probably wouldn't be forewarned next time. While they were still on SGC grounds, there were too many potential bystanders and witnesses. So the best time for escape, he had decided, was while in transit when there were a defined and finite number of individuals involved. A certain number of vans, a certain number of people, and no readily available backups for either side who were more likely to confuse the issue than help.

Although, Methos was tempted to make it all the way to the NID headquarters. There would be more bad guys there, but then, he could gain more knowledge of who exactly the bad guys were if he saw their base.

Either way, though, he would have to return to the SGC.

The same train of thought that had been troubling him all day started up again: It was just too damn soon. There was no point in taking a student if he wasn't going to treat the responsibility seriously. And, seriously, it was too soon to separate Jake from his old life.

A lot of immortals thought it was important to immediately remove their students from their old lives. This was reasonable when there had been a public death, but otherwise Methos generally tried to let a student outgrow their life at their own speed. It was important for young immortals to understand why they needed to leave everything behind on a regular basis. If they didn't learn it early, then they would learn it later, possibly without the benefit of a teacher on hand to help smooth over the results.

With Jake, it was different, of course. The kid wasn't immortal or even pre-immortal. Of course, Methos had been thinking through the pros and cons of either acquiring a sarcophagus or some highly submissive goa'uld in order to grant a different kind of immortality. How hard would it be to break some goa'uld so thoroughly that it could be used as an immune system without demonstrating any personality? Caspian could have done it. And he and Caspian had always had a little sibling rivalry going about who was the best at keeping prisoners on that edge between life and death. Methos had always used the psychological aspects which had gotten him better results. But with a completely alien creature, Caspian's methods of pure physical experience would probably be necessary. At least until Methos got a better understanding of them. And it was Silas who had always surpassed them all in being able to understand non-humans.

But this was all definitely something to think about some other day.

For now, Jake had barely even been won to the extent of following Methos' lead when surrounded by guys pointing guns and his lead was the only way to not get killed. As long as he didn't push too far, too fast, Methos thought he could gain Jake's loyalty. But running away from the SGC at this point... Methos gave it maybe even odds that Jake would follow along and even if he did, he'd probably do so intending to be the SGC's eyes and ears.

And if Methos couldn't give him a purpose immediately, a purpose equal to or more compelling than saving the world, whatever loyalty had survived the escape would shrivel up and die all on its own. It was all the more frustrating because Methos had a purpose all lined up, it just wasn't ready yet either. He needed just a few more months to work out the details of his plan, woo Jake over, and then...

Apparently Jake didn't agree that they should allow themselves to be taken off of SGC grounds.

They had just reached a pair of vans when Jake spun sideways away from the gun pointed at him, kicked the guard in the knee, grabbed the gun still clutched in the guard's hand, and, with the guard's own finger on the trigger, started shooting at the other soldiers surrounding them.

And Methos thought, Shit!

The chances of him getting out of this without injury seemed slim but at least it was a situation that called for one of his old standby excuses. One of his very old standby excuses in this case, but one he had used before. Thank the gods for the Book of the Dead which in Ancient Egypt had gotten him out of all sorts of situations with its "Spell for being transformed into a living soul and not entering into the place of execution. He who knows it will never perish."

He doubted it would work as well here, where they merely interacted with the cultures of Ancient Egypt rather than truly lived them, but it was worth a try.

Even as he reacted, Methos started to recite, loudly, for all to hear: "I am the soul of Re who issued from the Abyss, that soul of the god who created authority."

He kneed his own guard in the gut and stripped him of the gun he was holding and the other one in its side holster, before positioning himself to stand on the downed guard's ankle. The guard was yelling, but ankle holsters, a sarcastic thought flashed through his head, hadn't been secret for nearly a century at this point.

"Wrong-doing is my detestation, and I will not see it; I think about righteousness, and I live by it; I am Authority which will never perish in this my name of 'Soul'."

Everyone else was shouting, too, but they were all making short pithy statements like, "I'll kill you" or "Stop shooting". There was even one guy going "let's get out of here."

Jake and two of the NID guys apparently recognized what he was saying because they were giving him, variously, looks of pity, contempt, or just plain bemusement.

He managed to knock out one of the two NID agents.

"I came into being of myself with the Abyss in this my name of Khepri, and I come into being in it daily."

They had certainly caught the attention of the outer perimeter guards for the whole Cheyenne Complex who now came running with their own weapons drawn. Frankly, Methos was more worried about them than about the original kidnapers who, standing in a circle around Jake and he, couldn't shoot them for fear of hitting their own people. And at least when there were only ten people, the sides were clearly defined.

"I am the Lord of Light; death is my detestation, and I will not enter into the place of execution of the Nether-world. It is I who cause Osiris to be a spirit, and I have made content those who are in his suite."

Now there seemed to be dozens of people all with weapons drawn and bullets whizzing this way and that.

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Shit-shit-shit-shit.

He liked his fights one-on-one, or, failing that, himself holding a position of extreme power. It had only been a matter of years since he had killed his brothers and had not had a proper chance to really grieve for them. Now, outnumbered in this farce of a gunfight, he missed them with a passion.

"I desire that they grant fear of me and create respect of me among those who are in their midst, for I am lifted aloft on my standard, on my throne and on my allotted seat."

He really hadn't wanted this all to go down out here. There were too many people and he had no way of knowing who was NID, who was SGC, and really, with them both infiltrating each other, neither did they.

Methos took the opportunity to empty the guns he had taken into the engine block of the van that was the intended getaway vehicle.

He took a bullet in the shoulder, then another one in the back.

"I am Nun, and the doers of wrong cannot harm me."

A bunch of guys in matching military uniforms, only half of whom knew that they were on different sides, and two civilians with guns fighting the uniforms: It was a situation that just screamed for friendly fire.

At least they were aiming for him as the adult civilian rather than for Jake.

Then Jake screamed, a wordless yell of pain.

"I am the eldest of the primeval gods, the soul of the souls of the eternal gods; my body is everlasting, my shape is eternity, Lord of Years, Ruler of Everlasting."

The only points in his favor at this point, was that Jake was still at the gangly stage of teenager-hood and could curl up small and Methos was unlikely to be permanently harmed by bullets. As long as none of them caught him in the neck.

Methos crouched and swept out a leg forcing Jake to the ground and then covered him with his own body. Two more bullets hit as he went down and he wasn't sure any more who had fired them or if they had been intended for him or for Jake.

"I am he who created darkness and who made his seat in the limits of the sky. I desire to reach their limits, and I walk afoot, I go ahead with my staff, I cross the firmament of those who ..., I drive away the hidden snakes which are upon my march to the Lord of the Two Regions."

Pure healing was a really weak point when it came to winning anything, but at least it might decrease damages taken.

"I am the soul of the souls of the eternal gods, my body is everlasting, I am he who is on high, Lord of Tatjebu, I am young in my city, I am boyish in the field, and such is my name, for my name will not perish. I am the soul who created the Abyss, who made his seat in the realm of the dead."

This wasn't a winnable situation with two trigger happy groups with him and a mortal student caught in the middle.

It hurt like hell and he wasn't sure, anymore if any of the bullets were going straight through him and into Jake. People were still shouting and a few more crumpled to the ground to lay on his same level.

Jake was silent underneath him.

"My nest will not be seen, my egg will not be broken, I have got rid of my ills, I have seen my father, the Lord of the Evening, and whose body it is which is in Heliopolis;"

His lungs were giving out and his quickening hadn't kicked in sufficiently to keep him alive through the healing.

He barely managed to mouth the last words of the prayer into Jake's ear before he finally gave up the fight.

"I govern those who are in the dusk upon the western Mound of the Ibis."

Chapter Text

Hammond opened the first meeting of the evening with an introduction: "Gentlemen and ladies. We have a situation. We have NID agents who have infiltrated the SGC in order to carry out a kidnapping. We have proper SGC soldiers who need to be proved innocent of NID connections and properly debriefed after this mix up.

"And we have Adam Matthews who's loyalty is still uncertain. Given the disasters we have been dealing with recently, practically on a weekly basis, we have allowed Matthews' situation to remain uncertain. He's been making himself useful and no more a nuisance than many of the civilian attaches we have, so dealing with him has never been a particularly high priority. However, most American citizens would have complained and ensured that their situation was given high priority. He did not. So people, give me possibilities: what is Adam Matthews and what are his motivations?"

"He's an alien."

"He's an NID alien."

"He's NID and infiltrated us himself."

"He's a psychic who we grabbed."

"He's a magician."

"He's a high priest."

"Maybe he wants to be here, to help us."

"Or maybe he wants to be here to destroy us. We can't be sure."

"He could be afraid to be out there. Hiko attacked him after all. Maybe he doesn't care where he is, as long as he's not there."

"He might have been afraid that we would find something unusual if we looked too closely so decided not to argue to avoid scrutiny."

"What if he wasn't fighting to be released because he was preparing to escape? He went quietly with the NID, after all, until the clone started shooting."

"I'm Jake O'Neil, not 'the clone', if you please." Jake spoke with cold precision in a way he had practiced to make himself sound adult and dangerous. It seemed to work because the guy jerked in his chair.

"Yes-sir. Sorry."

Jake couldn't prevent his mouth from twisting in a somewhat ironic smile as he nodded his acceptance of the apology.

Even before Matthews had even been taken to the base, he had directed Jake's studies on how to fit in. Jake had spent hours figuring out how teenagers differed from adults. At the time his intent was to act the teenager. Now he dropped all of those mannerisms, even the ones he'd had naturally, the ones Jack O'Neill still had, and acted the adult. Because here, finally, in keeping Matthews safe, was something he could and should fight for.

High school had been about going away to lick his wounds. As a poor copy of Jack O'Neill, Jake was merely a disruptive influence. He had no place at the SGC. And maybe Teal'c was right and even as Jake, he had no place at the SGC.

But Matthews had become a comrade in arms, like Teal'c and Sam and Daniel had once been. Like Kawalsky had once been. The SGC tried to prevent him from being involved in anything. Matthews hadn't prevented him from doing anything, and Jake had a sneaking suspicion that he could have if he'd tried. Instead, he had provided backup and a safety net for when it went down. Now it was Jake's turn to provide backup and a safety net to Matthews as the consequences got sorted out.

The arguments ran hot and wild around him.

"It's magic. We're going to have to accept that magic can exist and words, the right words, have power."

"There is no such thing as magic. We've run into how many cultures that think they have magic, and it all comes down to technology."

"So far, we've seen a lot of technology. Yes. I agree. Shut up about that. It doesn't change the fact that we know Matthews doesn't have any technology on his person."

"No technology that we've identified yet. Or are you going to say you can now prove a negative?" There was a definite sneer in that tone of voice.

"You're the one who's saying there's no such thing as magic!"

"Gentlemen." Hammond interjected just the one word and both men took deep breaths and sat back in their chairs again.

After the pause the argument started again at a lower volume. "Science, all science, is hypotheses. We believe the ones that haven't been disproved yet. When new evidence comes to light, the theories that don't match it can go hang: we have to believe the evidence. In this case, evidence says the spell works."

Daniel had been showing more interest in the wood grains of the table than in the discussion up to this point. But he did finally speak with a sort of distant amusement. "Have none of you ever seen a stage magician perform? Portentous words and elaborate hand waving, all to distract you from what's really happening. Although I have to say I am impressed that Jake O'Neill recognized a spell from the Book of the Dead."

That got a laugh out of many of the people at the table who knew how hard O'Neill tried to appear the pure military man despite his close friendship with the archeologist.

"Hey. I've been hanging out in Egyptian tombs for years now. I'm going to pick up a few things. It's not my fault."

"Of course not, Jack. But now that you've learned something, we'll expect great things of you."

"You're never going to let me live this down, are you, Daniel?"

"Nope."

"If we could get back on topic, gentlemen."

"Then in response to Jackson's comment, most stage magicians don't give impromptu performances of death and resurrection for an audience of trained medical personnel." The man sneering at Daniel really should have known better, Jake thought. Daniel almost always knew more than he appeared to and, next to Jake and Teal'c neither of whom were saying anything at this point, had spent the most time with the person in question.

"Yes, he healed. But, ignore the words. There are thousands of dead Egyptians demonstrating that the spell doesn't work."

"Except for this time when we have pretty clear evidence that it did."

"No, evidence says something worked. And common sense says Adam wants us to believe it was the spell."

Colonel Jack O'Neill nodded his understanding. "How much do you want to bet the first words out of his mouth are 'Ha! I told you they were gods'?"

There were a few grins around the table and Jake gritted his teeth at this display of humor that he could no longer afford. His former self could act as immature as possible, slouching in a chair and tossing off witticisms, but his gray hairs protected him from looking the stupid kid. Now that he was younger, he had to sit up and speak sharply to counteract the first impression of youth.

It was helped by the circumstances though, because usually in this existence he felt lost and directionless. Now, for the first time in this existence, he had a goal that he needed to achieve, and a plan on how to achieve it.

"So, now we're supposed to believe the goa'uld really are gods?" Jake wondered whether he was the only one wanting to take sneering-guy out back and shoot him. Nope, he caught that look the Colonel was sending Hammond.

Daniel, on the other hand, was apparently completely oblivious to the sarcasm. Jake didn't believe it for a second, but recognized the frustration on sneering-guy's face so felt mildly cheered. Daniel just responded to the question. "Well, 'god' is a word like any other, really, so it's a matter of definition, what you call a god or not. The goa'uld do have temples and worshippers, and can perform some rather miraculous feats. So by that definition, Matthews would be right in saying that they are gods."

"But it's based on slight of hand."

"We saw his wounds heal. No technology, just light and healing."

"Yeah. Actually, that's what got me thinking," Daniel responded. "Slight of hand. Suppose it's in his nature to heal like that. But if he wants to be seen as human he has to hide the ability and, when he can't hide it, blame it on the people who are willing to take the credit."

The argument had gone round and round until Hammond had finally called a halt. It was only the first of many meetings that had taken place in too few hours and Jake was exhausted from observing as many as he could and waiting for his chance to argue his own point.

He had finally managed to and now he just had to wait.

Jake pulled a chair up to the side of the hospital bed in one of the private rooms in the infirmary. He settled into it with a sigh. His arm throbbed from the bullet hole in his arm but didn't actively hurt. He couldn't think of a better place to wait than by Matthews' side.

Adam Matthews lay in the bed, alive and healthy if somewhat dehydrated according to all test results, but completely unresponsive. His eyes would open and close but they did not track and he did not speak. The only thing the medical staff could do was set him up with a drip to introduce some more fluids, and hope he came out of his catatonic state on his own. He hadn't spoken since getting shot by the second round of gun fire. The last thing he had said was "Jake!"

That was some twenty-four hours ago, some time after Jake had felt him die and immediately before three bullets were blasted into Matthew's chest.

Twenty-four hours ago Jake had seen and heard and damn well felt the man die. But cleaning up after the chaos that was that kidnapping attempt had not been simple. While the guards had raced around detaining everyone present until they could figure out what had happened, the medics had raced around performing emergency triage.

Three men had been raced to the infirmary for immediate medical attention. Three more were declared dead on the scene.

Matthews had been one of those when he was rolled off of Jake. And everyone was still jumpy when they had all heard the gasp and seen Matthews struggle to breath before calling out to him. "Jake."

Three gun shots and Jake watched Matthews die for the second time in ten minutes. And three more people had their weapons confiscated and were placed under guard until someone could sort out the situation.

It had been the worst sort of mess and Jake wasn't sure if he was more unhappy that he hadn't been in charge of fixing matters or more glad to be well out of it all. He had been a witness to some of the emergency meetings being held as General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill tried to sort things out.

Jake shook himself out of his memories and leaned forward to grab Matthews' hand off the bed. He held it in his own hands and inspected the calluses that said more about the man's abilities than his words ever did. "I don't know whether you're doing it intentionally or not, Matthews," he spoke to the unresponsive body in the bed, "but you're replacing my friends at the SGC. And they're letting me go. More than that, they're pushing in this direction."

Matthews blinked once slowly but didn't otherwise move.

"What am I doing, Matthews? No, you don't know because you're still playing possum. I know what I'm doing, I just hope I'm doing the right thing."

Laying Matthews' hand back down, Jake settled back into his chair. He was tired but didn't want to sleep until everything was more settled.

It was never absolutely silent in the infirmary. There were always machines humming away, nurses cleaning and sorting equipment, doctors running tests and murmuring amongst themselves. The sounds all blended together to form a rather comforting background noise. Jake let it wash over him and prepared to wait some more.

After two miraculous healings, there had, of course, been an emergency meeting for the medical staff to update General Hammond and his immediate support staff, including SG1, on the status of their resident psychic. Jake had sat in on that meeting, too.

"Doctors. Thank you. First how are marine's Johnson, Alcala, and Simone?"

"Johnson and Alcala are out of danger and expected to make a full recovery. Simone is stabilized for the moment but if he recovers, it is doubtful that he will regain full mobility."

"Very well. And how is Matthews?"

"Ah." The doctor said. She rubbed the side of her nose. "Ah. we had on record his baseline good-health readings and he's within normal parameters according to those tests. His weight is down and we're currently hypothesizing that it is down by the weight of blood and muscle mass that was left on the tarmac outside. We're introducing fluids intravenously to help replace what he lost. He's unresponsive, but he's healthy."

"Good. Is he human?"

"Well, that's a bit of a question. He passes all of our tests for human. The only thing inhuman about him is he has a bit more static charge than normal. Otherwise, he seems supra-human. Human to the extent that his body rejects any modifications from its baseline good-health readings.

"We first discovered this when we included a mild antidepressant and calmer in his drip. Since we were running blood tests at the same time, we quickly discovered that his body broke the drug down into its component parts within the first six inches of his blood stream. Blood samples taken from any further away than that, didn't find any sign of the drug at all."

The general frowned in thought. "If he's both healing from major wounds and removing poisons, would that imply that he simply doesn't get sick?"

The doctor actually smiled at that. "Very good question. We thought of that, too, and tested a blood sample for any immunities. Chicken pox and the like. The results were interesting."

Jake wondered if he was the only one who thought she was dragging out this revelation. Apparently not, because Hammond went ahead and prompted her to continue.

"How so?"

"Matthews shows no immunity to any modern diseases. But he does have some immunities. All for diseases more than 5,000 years old. The logical conclusion is that whatever is healing him, started about that long ago and heals him from aging as well as both gross physical damage and disease. We think he's effectively immortal."

The doctor actually looked please at this. Most everyone else in the room looked completely taken aback. The one exception to this was Daniel Jackson who looked pleased in that way he had when he was proved right.

Jake was not the only person who recognized this. Hammond seemed more resigned than anything else. "Dr. Jackson. This does not appear to be a surprise to you."

"Because it's not really." Daniel was using his I'm-a-civilian tone of voice, the voice he used when he flat out disobeyed military protocol.

Colonel O'Neill certainly recognized it quickly enough. "What did you know?"

"I knew he was at least several hundred years old and more likely several thousand. Although I had guessed three thousand."

"You knew and you didn't tell anyone."

"That's right."

Hammond interrupted the beginning of another round between Jack and Daniel. "Dr. Jackson. How did you know?"

And Jake felt tremendous admiration for the general, because any other military leader would have either brought Daniel up on charges or have given way and appeared weak. Hammond somehow did neither. He maintained control with a light touch that allowed him to work with the wide variety of experts SGC required. Running the SGC was a bit like herding cats and Hammond did it beautifully.

Daniel pulled out a folder and laid four pages on the table.

The first was a college year-book page with a picture of Matthews circled. The second was a copy of a photograph of Matthews at the turn of the century given the clothes and the photo quality. The other two were both copies of sketches, by different artists, both of Matthews.

"Adam Pierson, 1983, an ancient languages student at Oxford; Ben Adams, 1898, a medical doctor; Alejandro, 1730-ish, the lover of a lady in Portugal; Francois de la Mer, 1632, an Italian sculptor."

The pictures were passed around the table for everyone to see. Colonel O'Neill summed it up best. "So he's not psychic at all, he's just really freaking old."

"No, he's also psychic. Or something. After all, the doctors say he's about five thousand years old but he has remembered events from ten thousand years ago. He's also remembered some events that happened at the same time but in different places. However, some memories appear to come more easily than others. The memories that come the easiest are the ones I think he was actually around for. I used that assumption to track down these images, at least."

"You can tell the different between his various episodes, right, Daniel?" Jake asked the question and hoped he wasn't going to get Daniel in trouble. "Is that why you wanted to see what he was doing this morning?"

"Ah." Daniel said. "Yes. Because that was different from anything else I've seen him do. I should probably apologize because it seems to have been a warning of sorts of the upcoming kidnapping."

"What?" More than one voice shouted that response.

Even General Hammond looked furious. "Explain, Dr. Jackson."

"Look. I didn't know it was going to happen this soon and in fact I thought it wasn't going to happen at all. I just heard he was doing something different, so I watched him and realized that he was swaying in an irregular pattern that looked like it might be a code. It took a while to figure out that he was somehow communicating in morse code in church Latin. But he never really said much. It was just half a conversation: 'go ahead', 'I don't want to be rescued', 'can you get away', 'do you know Cassandra', 'she can find out when there's real danger', 'thanks'.

"Assuming there's a second half of that communication, Matthews received a warning that there would be a rescue attempt and told it to go away and instead meet up with someone named Cassandra. I was going to talk to you, General, on Monday. I hadn't thought it was urgent."

"Okay. I can see that. Were you going to tell me at some point about your suspicion of Matthews' age?"

"About that." Jackson took off his glasses and rubbed his the bridge of his nose. "So I had guessed that Matthews was older than he appeared and I found some evidence of that. I also believe that he is pure Earth-native but I have only circumstantial evidence for that. I wanted to have some reassurances before I raised suspicions."

"And you didn't think that we could be trusted, is that it?"

"Since Matthews was shot three times in the chest when he first demonstrated his ability to heal, I'd say I was quite right to not trust first reactions."

"Maybe that wouldn't have happened if we'd had some forewarning that he could heal like that!"

"Gentlemen. Now is not the time for what-ifs. Dr. Jackson, you said you had circumstantial evidence that Matthews was not an alien."

"Yes. He doesn't know any of the alien languages we've run across. He's smart and quick and picks them up as fast as the fastest of us, but he didn't come in here knowing them. On the other hand, he did come in here knowing every single Earth language any of us spoke. Between all the linguists here and all the semi-learned bits and pieces of languages we cover over a hundred different languages. He knows them all."

"Saying he doesn't know the alien languages doesn't mean he doesn't know them. If he's lying about being an alien then he's lying about the languages, too."

"But he's curious about them. He's interested. He's studying all the languages we know of and the cultures that speak them. He doesn't show much interest at all in any of the Earth-based cultures."

"So," General Hammond interjected before the sneering-guy could respond, "if he's not an alien, what is he?"

There was a long silence as everyone considered this question. For the first time that evening, Teal'c spoke. "He is a god."

"Er. What?"

Everyone looked at Teal'c a bit unnerved. They had gotten used to his deep voice and tendency toward portentous statements but this one made them nervous. Teal'c, on the other hand, looked surprised that no one else had thought to say it first.

"He does not suffer from damage to his physical manifestation. He helps to protect the world around him. He is a minor god."

"Um, actually, I think I agree with Teal'c here." Daniel had everyone looking at him now. "Like I said, it's a matter of semantics, what a 'god' is. Every culture has stories about gods and nature spirits and heroes with amazing abilities and all that. So far, we've discovered that a lot of these stories are more or less true with the main characters played by aliens. There's no real reason to believe that some of them aren't true and about some Earth-native subspecies, maybe."

"You can't possibly believe all this."

"I'm just saying that there are a lot of myths that we don't know the original basis of. And a lot of myths involve keeping their existence secret. Vampire myths, for example, are about people who come back from the dead, have some sort of psychic power, and try to remain a secret."

"You're saying Matthews is a vampire?"

"No." Daniel was getting frustrated. "I'm saying that there might be a subspecies of human with special capabilities, and all the stories about them have simply been ignored as fiction."

A soldier entered and gave Hammond a message which was a relief because he then postponed the continuation of that conversation. "Okay folks. I now have to make good with the NID. Please keep an open mind and we'll continue this discussion at some later point. Everyone, dismissed."

Jake watched rather wistfully as SG1 left together. They were probably headed to the cafeteria to discuss everything further. As everyone else filed out, Jake stayed where he was, figuring this was going to be the best chance he had to pitch his idea to the general.

"General. I have a suggestion. My cover has been pretty thoroughly blown. I can't go back to the same high school and the NID will probably be keeping an eye out for me in other high schools too. You can, with presidential permission and a reason for needing me specifically, draft me back into the Air Force."

"O'Neil. You're dismissed."

"But, Sir,"

"Jake. This is going to have to wait because as much as you want to come back, and as good as you were as a colonel, the reasons you left remain true. You can't command a team, you can't even be assigned to a team, with your current physical age. And as you can see, we're dealing with another crisis involving your pre-cal teacher. I'll see what I can do for you after his situation is settled."

"That's just it. I think you can settle both of us at once. You can trust my loyalty to the SGC, and so far, the only person Matthews' has been inclined to trust is me. Draft me back and assign me as Matthews' minder and liaison. There is a solid precedence for assigning liaisons to more volatile allies and there's even a precedence for allowing those liaisons to not meet regular military standards."

The general stared at him for a time and Jake stood at attention and tried his best to look mature and dependable.

"How long have you been thinking about this?"

"Just today. I was honestly planning to graduate from high school again."

"It would have gone a long way to confirming your new identity."

"Yes, it would have," Jake agreed keeping his voice expressionless. Surely Hammond could see that it just wasn't possible anymore and even if they all wanted to take the risks involved, back at the SGC and assigned to Matthews was a much better place for him. A place where he could matter.

Hammond frowned a tapped a finger on his desktop.

"I'll speak with the president about this."

"Thank you, Sir."

"Go wait in the infirmary. I'll send someone there to let you know what your status is once it's been confirmed."

"Thank you, Sir."

Hammond waved him out and Jake left. He was so close to coming home. Please, please, Jake thought, have them let him come home. This could all work out.

He went to infirmary to wait and pulled a visitors chair over to Matthews' bedside.

It was several hours later when the airman came to deliver a set of papers to him. Jake knew he had succeeded in his goal before he even read them when the man came to attention and saluted. "Sir. General Hammond has requested I deliver these to you. Sir."

"Thank you, Airman. Dismissed."

Flipping through them, Jake confirmed that he had been drafted back into the Air Force with the special assignment to act as liaison between the Air Force bureaucracy and the alien ally Adam Matthews who had been granted similar rights and protections as Teal'c.

He got up and closed the door so no one could casually eavesdrop on what was said.

"Hey Matthews. First off, I think you're malingering. But that's okay. Because, really, you're a captive here and where is anyone a captive but in enemy territory? The three goals of a captive: survival, reconnaissance, and escape.

"But here's the catch-22, I think you want me to trust you. And trust has to be reciprocal. As much as I want to, I can't trust you unless you also trust me.

"I have arranged it with General Hammond and with the President himself that nothing will happen to you without your agreement and my involvement. I can and will protect you should you need protection from anyone here, but you are going to have to trust me to do so."

Studying Matthews' carefully, Jake saw no immediate response. "A hell of a lot of meetings have been taking place with you as the primary matter for discussion. We have a lot of theories about you but for the most part we agree that you're benign. Possibly you'll even be helpful if we can convince you that we don't intend any harm.

"And you won't have to hide from us. We've had you declared an alien with the rights of an ambassador. It's more freedom than you ever had as a high school teacher pretending you didn't have the abilities and the memories you have.

"We can make this a good situation for you, not just acceptable."

Jake fell silent and hoped that he was right that Matthews was pretending and not truly catatonic. As he waited for Matthews to think over what he had said, he finally allowed himself to remember the attack itself.

Jake remembered the adrenaline-packed moments of standing back-to-back with Matthews fighting. Feeling adult and in control with bad guys to fight and friends to protect and be protected by. And then had come the soul-wrenching period of being protected with his friend's own body.

Jake had never felt so small as with Matthews laying on top of him, doing his best to cover him entirely. It was an unnerving experience to be covered like that. Rolled into a near-fetal position, he was blanketed by the other man with their faces eye-to-eye, nose-to-nose. Every breath he took was taken against Matthews' weight and breathing in Matthews' breath.

It was a sensory overload with the hard pavement pressing into his back, and the warm body covering him. His arm hurt from where a lucky bullet had gotten him in the arm. The sky was still light from the day, but shadowed by Matthews' and staring into his face, Jake felt like he was in the dark center of the world. And he could feel the impact of every bullet that hit Matthews' back.

His friend, his teacher, maybe even his Teacher, was being killed right there where Jake could see the pain, the determination, and the exultation on his face. It was a terrifying combination. And there he was himself, scared of what could happen, terrified and already mournful of the loss of his friend, and yet still comforted by the pure physical contact and protection he was being given.

Was he truly that touch-starved? Jake tried to remember the last time he'd had physical contact with anyone. A hug? A handshake, even? A pat on the back?

It felt sick to him that, in its own way, it had felt so good to be held like that.

When Matthews sat up in bed, Jake wasn't either startled or smug. This was serious. The man's voice showed he understood that too.

"You're right. I can help more than I have been. And its time and past for me to relearn who I am without masks layered one on top of another. But it's not an easy thing to do. I'm not a simple person and you can't expect me to be. The instant you expect me to be something, I'll probably fall back into the habit of giving you what you expect."

Jake actually snorted at that. "You've never given me what I expected of you. You play everyone else here, but I have always been confused."

Matthews grinned. "Well, there is that. But you're a student. You don't need to be played in that way, you need to be trained to play other people."

"Gee, thanks."

"You're welcome."

"So, are you going to get out of bed and help out around here?"

"Yeah. It was real tedious just laying there, anyway. Although the next time anyone shoots me I'm going to respond in kind. It hurt like bloody hell." Matthews slipped out of bed and grabbed some clothes had been left on a side table and started to dress.

"It looked like it did. And well, thanks. For real this time."

"You're welcome. So give me an update. How much of a mess am I in?"

"Well, we know you're a bit over five thousand years old. Last I checked they were still arguing about how you did that. I don't suppose you have an explanation?"

"Urgh. Maybe I should just stay here." Matthews sat back down on the bed but continued tying his shoes despite the threat. "I don't even know how I do it. I just heal. I got used to it and it hasn't let me down so far. I don't remember a time when I didn't heal."

"Well, get up. It's time to face the music yourself instead of leaving me to go to all of the meetings."

Together they left the room. Jake felt better than he had since this existence had started. He had a comrade in arms to fight beside and banter with and everything would work out.

Chapter Text

"So, to start off your new life of trust and honesty, we are going to play twenty questions."

"Are we now?"

"Yup."

"Ah." Methos let amusement color his voice but he had no intention of telling Jake anything. The kid should have realized that Methos had used up his entire stock of honesty and then some with getting up off his hospital bed.

"So, the first question is: do you like the food in the commissary? Come on, you can be honest."

Methos was forced to laugh. He had clearly misjudged the kid who apparently did know when to back off of the serious issues.

But it wasn't as easy a question as it should have been to answer. Methos found himself rather unnerved to discover how difficult it was to think about the answer. Adam Matthews had thought the food was better than his own cooking. Adam Pierson would have complained, but only to friends, and only because he enjoyed complaining. Methos was a method actor, really, and once he was in character, he thought as his character should think, he acted as his character should act. It was hard to break out of those characters and rediscover who Methos really was.

There had briefly been a time just a few years ago when several of his friends had known him as Methos, when he had tried to be more honest. When he had started re-discovering and re-forming his own opinions, rather than living totally as Adam Pierson.

That had all ended with Kronos' arrival on the scene, and it had become abundantly clear that honesty wasn't wanted, only the new character 'Methos'. MacLeod had confronted him and had wanted a simple yes/no answer to a question that just wasn't that simple. With Mac refusing any sort of real explanation, Methos had fallen back on giving him what he wanted to hear rather than anything real. So he had given Mac what he wanted to hear.

"Killing was all I knew, is that what you want to hear?"

"It's enough."

Too many people didn't want the truth; they wanted their own ideas confirmed. And it was so very easy to give it to them. Some of them wanted their hopes and dreams while others wanted their doubts and fears, but they would never seem to accept the truth with its mixed up combination of good and bad. Just, yes or no.

"Is that what you want to hear? The answer is: Yes. Oh yes."

And yet, here he was, testing the waters one more time to see if this time he had found people who truly could accept him as he was.

Methos dragged his attention back to the question of the commissary food. "I guess it's okay. Bland. Rather pointedly unoffensive, actually."

"Hmph. And here I thought I might get support in my quest to get some real chefs in here."

"Well, I'm sure I'll shake up the base in other ways," Methos pointed out rather dryly.

"There is that." Jake agreed.

And thus began several weeks of pure joy, broken only rarely by the knowledge that it could not last.

It became one of those periods in time that made up for all the pain. It was a lot like the Horsemen, actually, back in the early days. Back when they had first formed, when they were four immortals, each one an obvious threat, a clear and present danger to each other, and yet worth every risk just for the companionship. Back then the raids had been about survival, first, and then about the challenge. Life had been good with brothers and freedom and ever evolving plots and plans.

Eventually, life had soured, the brotherhood that had once warmed him had become smothering, the raids that had once been about power had become about pain. Sometimes Methos wondered if there was any point to surviving. Plenty of immortals simply gave up after a time. But it was always an academic question because no matter the pain, no matter the sorrow, Methos loved living.

Especially now.

"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" kept running through his head. And yeah, the context was different for all that being part of the military and having an adolescent apprentice took him back to his Greek days, but the general idea was the same. He needed to enjoy the fun and games while they lasted because something bad was coming. And there were fun and games. The first time he had stepped off base in months, he had gone to a mall and checked out their game shop. He had returned with several bags worth of games purchased with his first SGC paycheck.

Methos was willing to accept that the SGC were more or less humanitarians who were capable of accepting him as he was. But they shouldn't have accepted so easily. The only way they would have is if they simply didn't have the time or energy to expend on someone not an immediate threat.

There had been a few ruffled feathers over Methos' classification as being "supernatural" but those had been ignored in favor of other more urgent issues.

And at least Methos had finally met the mysterious Major Carter. He had heard her first.

"I can't believe it! I skip a few meetings and suddenly the entire base has accepted 'magic' as a reasonable explanation? Is this a joke? Have the doctors tested the air for contaminants?" The women's voice was one that Methos had not immediately identified, but she was answered by Colonel O'Neill.

"Yes, the doctors tested, well, they're always testing the air for contaminants, but they tested Matthews, too. All tests came back negative for technology."

Matthews had put out a hand to stop Jake and while Jake looked at him inquiringly, he leaned against the wall and settled down for a spot of eavesdropping. Jake had looked amused but not too disapproving since it was just a hallway.

"Well, they probably weren't testing for the right thing."

"Sam, we decided on magic because he's a good guy, he's an ally, all evidence points to earth-origin, and all further tests involve doing physical damage to him."

"There have to be other tests…"

"They ran them all: x-ray, CAT scan, sonar, blood tests by the millions, everything. The phenomenon only appears when he is hurt. So we've decided to just say 'magic' and leave it at that."

"Okay, I can see that." A grudging admission. "But it's still annoying."

Deciding that was about as good an opening as he was going to get, and wanting a chance to meet the mysterious Sam Carter before she disappeared back into her lab, Methos continued down the hallway. He had wanted to meet her for some time now but she had always been busy somewhere else. This little overheard conversation between Carter and O'Neill actually supported one of his suspicions about her and the reason for her continued absence. Methos smirked as he turned the corner and joined the conversation.

"Consider magic the working hypothesis. A bit like Newtonian physics really. Maybe it's not really true but it's a lot easier than calculating the real thing and the answers only differ at extremely small sizes." Methos smiled his most charming smile at the quantum-physicist-cum-soldier.

Watching her face in response was highly entertaining.

Jake knew he was pushing buttons. "That's just mean."

Methos tried to look innocent. It clearly failed because Jake just rolled his eyes while Sam Carter looked from one to the other apparently wondering if she was missing something.

"And here I thought you were trying to be nice?"

"No. I was trying to be nice before you called me on it. Now I'm trying to be myself. And," Methos was sure the laughter had left his eyes, it had certainly left his mind as he continued, attempting to be honest with his newest student, "I may not be a very nice person."

Sam took the opportunity in the change of conversation to excuse herself to return to her lab. Then she walked away. After a moment of stunned silence, Colonel O'Neill excused himself and followed after.

Jake clearly forgot what he had been about to say, and burst out with: "She walked away, just turned around and didn't look back!"

"And have you thought about how hard that is to do?"

"Apparently not hard enough."

Methos ignored Jake's muttered interjection. "I've done it, I've had to do it, time and time again. It's the loneliest thing in the world to intentionally turn away from friends and family. But sometimes it is necessary."

"How was it necessary? She didn't do anything for me. She was my second-in-command and my friend and when I needed her, she did nothing."

"I rather think she did the best she could."

"How? By ignoring me? By avoiding me?"

"Yes."

"Well, it didn't help."

"No, it didn't. But it did the least possible harm. Sometimes you have to accept that you can't help. That refraining from actively harming another is the best you can do." Methos thought of Cassandra and wondered how she was. He had tried to refrain from harming her further, but with Hiko needing information, she was really the best resource.

Cassandra, whom he had hurt more than Kronos ever had. Beautiful Cassandra who was a pawn all the way through, Methos thought, and it made him rather sad. She had been a comfort at a time when he had already worried about losing the companionship of his brothers, but for all her survival, she didn't have the forethought necessary to be more than a pawn. And he had sacrificed her, more than once, as a pawn is meant to be sacrificed.

"You should have killed me when you had the chance."

He wondered if it would have been a mercy to have killed her earlier, but he didn't really agree with euthanasia. There was too much loss in the world already to kill someone you didn't want dead. And Cassandra was such a useful pawn.

She wouldn't come running to his rescue and get in the way of his plans, but once she knew about the military base, she would figure out what it was hiding, and then she would spread the word if ever there were an invasion the base needed assistance turning back. It would have been kinder to her, perhaps, for him to have simply forgotten her again after the Bordeaux affair. But he had always been more ruthless than that.

"Okay, explain it to be, since there's obviously something I'm missing, if you think her ignoring me hurt less than seeing a friendly face every once in a while. Keep in mind that I'm firmly of the camp that says half a loaf is better than none."

"Yeah, me too. But consider the situation for a moment: there you were, mentally one person, physically another. Mentally you were the man Major Carter trusted with her life, the man who if he told her to jump she asked "how high," and you were desperately lonely."

From the look on Jake's face he could probably tell where this was going. The fact that he didn't interrupt was a sign to Methos that he didn't disagree.

"Physically you are a bundle of teenage hormones, the progeny of her commanding officer, and jailbait."

Jake winced.

"There is no way any relationship could have developed between the two of you without messing you both up and everyone else in the vicinity. I don't know whether she thought this through or not, since she avoids me too, probably because I'm so close to you, but I would guess that she did, at least a little."

"I'd like to think I have sufficient self-control not to go about destroying my friends' careers." But it was a subdued defense. Methos wondered if Jake even believed it.

"And maybe you should be pleased that she had enough self-control to maintain her own career regardless of your actions." Samantha Carter may not be a major player in their current game, but she was not a pawn. It was a sharp retort and Methos felt rather bad about kicking the kid when he was down, but really, he could not allow him to brood.

This was the time to enjoy what they had because it wouldn't last.

That there was an immediate threat out there was clear. He knew he should feel troubled and worried and sympathetic for the soldiers and the base at large. He didn't though. Instead he wondered if the attack, when it came as it so obviously would, would help him escape or merely make his escape all the more necessary.

But for now, he enjoyed the role created for him. The role he had requested was teaching strategy and tactics.

There were war games. Constantly.

Methos had requisitioned games; board games, card games, parlour games, anything and everything various game stores could provide as long as they were strategy games. And every day he had a room reserved for several hours in the morning and several hours in the afternoon and games would be played and sometimes he would give brief lectures on bits of strategy and tactics. The other strategists were a mixture of ecstatic to have him as a resource and jealous of the simple elegance he brought to even the trickiest military situations. But they were all respectful and they all joined in the games.

At least once a week, he and Teal'c would play long games of Go and discuss the various battles they had taken part in. This became such a routine that Hammond had even requested that they held these games on stage so it could become yet another class available to the SGC community. He and Teal'c ignored their audience and carried on.

It worried him sometimes, though. Laying down one stone at a time, carefully considering where Teal'c placed each of his stones, Methos was frequently reminded of his brother to whom all the world and all the people in it were as little stones to be placed on or removed from the board at whim.

"Men without conscience. Without fear. Think of the devastation. The destruction. The death. A world of anarchy and madness. You think of that and dream. The weapons of today are different but it all comes down to the same thing: There are the conquerers and there are the conquered."

In some ways Kronos was his mirror image. They were so very much alike for all that their differences made them such complete opposites. In so many ways, they were alike and that worried him at times.

Methos loved the war games and the strategy. He loved taking Jake in hand and expanding his training. He loved befriending Teal'c and learning all he needed to know about the greater war games taking place between the system lords.

He loved being part of a small band of warriors.

He had once tried to explain to Kronos, "Don't you understand? I'm not like that anymore. I have changed."

"No. You pretended to. Maybe you even convinced yourself you had. But inside you're still there, Methos. You're like me."

"Not anymore."

"No? Tell me you haven't missed it."

"The killing?" Methos had asked with genuine surprise.

"The freedom! The power! Riding out of the sun knowing you're the most terrifying thing that they've ever seen. Knowing that their weapons and their gods are useless against you. That you're the last thing that they'll ever see. That's what you were meant to be, Methos. Don't fight it. Feel it."

Well, Kronos had failed in his attempt to make Methos desire the terrorizing, and he had failed in his attempt to bring the horsemen together, but that didn't mean he was wrong. Because here Methos was again, creating a place for himself as a respected war strategist, using his plans and strategies to make his new band of warriors into a feared enemy to the goa'uld. And it was a joy.

"A dozen time I tried to take up the old ways. … The others I rode with were trash. Scum. … You were one of a kind, Methos. As we all were. There was never a band like us. Never in all history."

Kronos' voice seemed to echo in his head. Kronos had loved the life of the horsemen, they all had, but he hadn't understood what it would take to recreate them. You couldn't turn back time, you couldn't recreate history. The only thing you could do was go forward into the future. You didn't find again but found anew those things you missed.

When Kronos had tried to take up the old ways he had started with the violence that, yes, had been an important part of the horsemen but which had eventually served only to tear them apart. The place to start, Methos thought, was not with the thing being accomplished but with the group of people all focused on accomplishing one thing. You start, Methos thought, with the best and brightest you could find.

And here he was, surrounded by the best and brightest that could be found. One of them was even a pre-immortal soldier who had gravitated to him as pre-immortals tend to do to full immortals. These people were a temptation like nothing else in the world. It was a wonderful stretching feeling, like spreading his wings, or maybe that first breath after coming back to life: scary, painful, and yet oh so satisfying. Now that he had stopped hiding his own thoughts and abilities, more or less, it was all the more difficult to hold back from acting with those abilities.

Most people at SGC were amazed and delighted when they realized that there really weren't any earth languages that he couldn't speak, there really weren't any earth martial arts he hadn't studied, and there really wasn't any boundary to his interests. They thought he was a resource. And for nearly three thousand years he had kept himself a resource, an adviser, rather than a player.

The habit had kept him safe for millennium but it was beginning to feel like a rut, and he wanted out.

He thought about Major Carter and how she had walked away from her friend to protect them both. He had done similar things times beyond count. And it was about time to do it again, he knew, because he was going to break the habit of passivity one way or the other soon, and if he wanted to leave SGC with its autonomy, then he had better find another place to finally spread his wings.

"Tell me, Jake: do you have any particular ties to Earth?"

"Aside from it being the land of my birth, my family, my history, and my undying loyalty?"

Methos took a moment to admire that response. He rather thought Jake was experimenting somewhat with speaking styles to differentiate himself from his progenitor. Regardless of the reason, though, it was a lovely list.

"Exactly. Aside from all that. I love the earth, myself, and would certainly never want it destroyed or enslaved, but there are a hell of a lot of worlds out there. If I wanted to spend some time exploring them, is there anyone here you would miss too much?"

Methos felt particularly virtuous asking the question. Here he was being honest and checking on another's feelings before he acted. MacLeod would approve. Of course, it was probably less virtuous that the answer Jake gave would only be used to manipulate the boy and wouldn't do a thing to change Methos' plan to leave the planet eventually, taking Jake along with.

"None of my family or friends outside of the SGC know I exist."

"Excellent."

"Excellent?" Jake looked pissed off but at least Methos had managed to nip at the bud what had seemed likely to develop into a brood.

"Yes, excellent." Methos regarded the kid with some challenge. "You can accompany me."

Jake laughed. "You've got ahead of yourself. What makes you think we can get permission to just go traipsing off through the stargate?"

Methos shrugged. "I have time." He didn't mention that he wasn't waiting for the trust of the military hierarchy, or for permission.

He was waiting for the right opportunity.

Chapter Text

"I'm busy." Matthews attempted to wave off the linguist encroaching on the physics lab's space.

It was a considerable understatement and it didn't even work, Jake noticed with some asperity. Honestly, he had thought his position as Matthews' escort would be a sinecure. Instead it was proving to be as intense, if not more so, than officer's academy had been. The man had a schedule that included teaching strategy and tactics, assisting the linguists, and learning from the astrophysicists. In his breaks, he went to the gym to practice parkour, that being the one sport he didn't already know, and had decided for reasons of his own to teach one of the marines how to fight with a sword. His late night reading, Jake had discovered when he had hoped to get some company in watching a hockey game one night, was a mixture of physics textbooks and SG mission reports.

In Jake's opinion, that just made the man somewhat masochistic. What was worse was that Jake himself had somehow been drafted into being his study buddy. Thus, Jake found himself tired, frustrated, and increasingly irritated with the SGC personnel who wouldn't leave them alone long enough to allow them to focus on one subject at a time.

"But it's important! It could be vital! We know Ptah is gathering his forces for invasion, and this is what SG8 just brought back from one of the his older strongholds." The linguist waved some photographs of some text written on what seemed to be a palace wall. "If we can find clues as to where he went next, we could prepare better."

Jake decided it was a toss up between beating the linguist's head against the wall, or his own. They were all worried about Ptah and knew he was planning to attack soon. It was a valid interruption, but goddamn it, he felt like his brains were going to explode.

"Give them here." Matthews took the sheaf of photos and started flipping through them.

Jake sat back and tried to let his poor brain relax. Matthews had been stuffing it with information for more than a month and really, Jake had been happier playing Jack the dumb military grunt. Then, whenever he had had a brilliant idea, it came as a surprise and everybody was impressed. Now he was struggling, and every time his ideas weren't brilliant he felt like he had failed. At least Matthews hadn't summoned him to peer at the photos with him this time and have various glyphs pointed out and explained. Matthews was probably just as irritated at the interruption as he was.

"Well?" The linguist attempted to drag Matthews to the door. "Come on."

But Matthews moved in the opposite direction to grab a pen, then circled a few sections on two of the pages, reordered them a bit, and handed them back. "I'm busy. Start there. There's nothing that you can't translate in a couple of hours."

"But we might need the information now!"

"There's nothing there but some back story." And Matthews turned back to the physicists who had moved off to continue their own discussion.

The linguist, Richardson, was left with his mouth hanging open. Jake felt much the same.

After all these months of Matthews' presence, of his assistance in the language labs, working with all the linguists to piece together the ancient languages, glyph by glyph, it had never occurred to Jake that Matthews was only teaching them something that he already read with ease.

He should have realized sooner, of course. After all, it was only the science that Matthews studied after hours.

"Come on," Jake escorted Richardson out and took the opportunity to get some distance himself. Matthews had been intentionally holding back on his abilities, forcing the SGC personnel to expend unnecessary time and effort on tasks that he could have done in moments.

It was clear, now that he actually thought about it, that Matthews was forcing Jake to learn completely unnecessary skills for no particular reason. If Matthews wanted to learn everything in the world then more power to him, but it was practically sabotage when it came to squandering the time of military personnel under constant threat of attack.

There were times that he really, really hated Matthews. And he knew that he was not alone in this. Even without everyone discovering that the man had been holding back, people were starting to get aggravated. The man was too brilliant and too educated and just too - everything. Anything Jake could do, Matthews could do better.

Jake was used to having brilliant friends. Daniel knew more about language and culture; Sam knew more about science and the ways of the universe; Teal'c was better at hand-to-hand combat. But into that team, Jack had fit as the leader, as the guy who had the plan and the motivation for their ultimate victory.

Matthews was better than he was at everything and even seemed to have a plan of his own that he wasn't sharing, while Jake struggled to keep up with the academics and was placed on the sidelines of the fight. He had to content himself with watching the fight rather than being completely shut out.

He was sick and tired of struggling to no purpose.

"I hate him," Richardson spoke for the first time on their trek through the hallway. "I really and truly hate him."

Jake closed his eyes for a second and took a deep breath, willing away his own feelings. He knew perfectly well that the hatred he felt was for something more general than just Matthews. "Yeah. But you shouldn't. He is a good guy."

"I don't care." And they were at Richardson's office. The linguist, still clutching his photos, vanished inside and very quietly, very gently closed the door.

Jake wondered if this was how all those other academics had felt when Daniel had stood up and gave that last lecture of his. When he had stood up there and told them all that they weren't smart enough to see the obvious. Daniel had shown them all up as idiots and they had done their best to return the favor. For the first time, Jake felt some empathy for them.

Academia may be about finding the truth regardless of how palatable that truth was, much like the military was about protecting the home nation, regardless of what it took, but human nature still had to be taken into account. There was pride and jealousy and all other sorts of messy feelings to consider, not just in other people, but in himself as well.

It was time for a vacation, Jake decided. Just one day. He didn't have to be with Matthews all the time so there was no real reason not to, and a less structured day might help. It sure couldn't hurt.

Instead of returning to the physics labs, he wandered around, catching up on who was working where and generally being ignored by everyone. It was somewhat depressing to realize that Matthews remained his passport to being acknowledged at all in this grown-ups' world where he no longer quite belonged.

As annoying as it had been to be in high school again, in some ways it had been really cool. He had been really cool. Most of what they were taught, he'd only had to remember rather than really learn. He had learned much more easily than the first time through. Also, a lot of what they were asking of the other students for the first time, he'd had a lifetime of experience in. He'd had decades of experience in memorizing facts and being able to recite them back; decades of experience at writing reports. Simple life experience meant a lot at that age, just as knowing how to interact with people did.

He knew how to schedule his time, how to budget his money, and how to flirt with a librarian to get some extra help. It had occasionally annoyed him that the other students hadn't been up to his level. He had helped some of them, tutoring them when they asked. It had never really occurred to him that it was unfair to them to be in a class with him.

He had thrown the curve and he had been a poor example to them of how to study because he hadn't really had to. Instead he'd gone out to the mall or stayed home and watched movies.

As he meandered down the hallways, Jake realized that he couldn't go back to the Air Force Academy. He cared too much about the Air Force and the students of that academy to give them unfair competition. What sort of cadet had to compete against an experienced Colonel?

And what sort of people could measure up to a man a hundred times their own age?

The girls in high school had gotten crushes on him as one of the few teenagers who actually seemed to have his act together and honestly didn't care about his teachers' or his peers' opinions.

Jake's current lifestyle left a lot to improve but at least he was no longer an adult in a teenagers' world. In many ways, though, Matthews had done the opposite: moving from a place where he was a recognized authority figure to a place where suddenly the people around him expected to be on his level. And they weren't. Matthews was still fighting far below his proper weight class.

The newest Goa'uld threat was becoming increasingly worrisome, but Jake had the impression that Matthews was almost looking forward to the expected invasion. At least that would be an enemy in his weight class. Or at least it would be an enemy that no one would worry about if it were outclassed Jake recalled wishing for NID kidnappers at his high school.

His stomach growled so he broke off his general meanderings and headed to the cafeteria.

Matthews was already there and Jake almost turned around and left again.

But Matthews was sitting alone at one of the cafeteria tables. He looked completely careless of the fact that no one was sitting near him. To all appearances he didn't notice the nasty looks shot his way, either.

And Jake discovered he wasn't quite so mad at Matthews anymore. He was unhappy with their general situation, as two misfits in a military compound, but it wasn't really Matthews' fault. Or it was, but his fault the way he was a catalyst, his fault for being who and what he was, rather than for anything he had particularly done. He'd had a choice to hold back and try to fit in, or let everyone know how much he already knew and be that much more of an outsider. Jake himself had been given that choice when he realized that he was a mere clone. And he had made the same decision as Matthews had, trying to fit in with the people around him.

Jake filled a tray at the cafeteria line and then plopped it down next to Matthews and began to eat. He didn't want to talk.

"I create people." Matthews spoke abruptly into the silence. His tone of voice was the first sign of any distress. It was clipped, cool, and disinterested.

"Every five, ten, twenty years, I'm a whole new person. I create them and I live them and now you're asking me to be everyone I've ever been all at once. I can be each of them, but I can't, I'm not all of them. So now maybe I'm many of them, a hell of a lot of strengths, and as few weaknesses as I can possibly manage, and now they're asking me what I've accomplished."

Jake winced. Apparently he wasn't the only one who was feeling like he didn't have enough purpose in life. He still didn't speak.

"What has this amalgamation of myself accomplished? Survival. My own. That's what I created. I've survived. And maybe that hasn't changed the world, but what could I possibly accomplish that would live up to their expectations of what I should have done? What accomplishment would satisfy the masses as being appropriate for the really fucking old guy?"

"You can die."

"What?"

"I didn't mean as an accomplishment. Sorry, I'm changing the subject. I meant it is possible for someone to kill you." Jake watched the complete lack of expression settle on Matthews' face. "You create new lives every few years. You're too suspicious and too knowledgeable. You know both people and academics backwards and forwards. And you aren't picking up astrophysics instantly. A hell of a lot faster than I am, certainly, but not instantly and not effortlessly. You wouldn't push yourself this hard unless there were a reason."

"Elementary, my dear Watson." The smile that Matthews gave was more similar to a grimace than the cheerful smirk that was his usual expression. "Everything dies eventually."

Jake wondered if this conversation constituted an apology and if so, who was apologizing to whom. And for what.

Before he could think of what to say next, someone else intruded on their little island of isolation in the large cafeteria.

"If you're so fucking brilliant, then what's your real name? Where's your place in history? What did you ever accomplish? We're making history here and you're just sitting back and doing nothing!"

The whole cafeteria fell silent to hear the response.

"You want to know where my place is in the history books?" There was a sneer in Matthews voice that made it cold and hard and infinitely dangerous.

"A blatant lie," Jake interrupted, cutting Matthews off. "He's been working sixteen hour days." Matthews' voice had raised goosebumps on his arms and he really didn't like the pale taught expression on Matthews' face. Jake wondered how many times that question had been posed to Matthews in the few hours that had passed since that morning. It would take a lot to push Matthews to the edge. He used his own voice to warn the man off from pressing further.

"Maybe he's not doing nothing," the response was grudging, "but he's not doing enough either."

"There is no enough," Mathews' voice was still hard and cold but it had at least lost some of its dangerous edge. "You're making history because you will die before your actions are forgotten, before your achievements are destroyed. History will remember you long after you've left your mortal coil after all. Nothing I do, nothing I create will outlive me. You want to know my name? My name is Ozymandias."

He got up and left, not running really, but slipping through the people and tables very quickly and disappearing through the doorway before anyone else could respond.

Jake let him go and hoped he was retiring to the physics labs again. That seemed to be the one place where Matthews was still appreciated. He was just now learning the higher levels of physics they knew over there. As quickly as he was learning it, he still wasn't a particular threat to any of their positions. On the other hand, he was smart enough and had an interesting enough perspective that many of them liked explaining things to him to see what questions he would ask. He makes a good sounding board.

Jake leaned back and wondered which would come to a head first: the anger against Matthews amongst the general population of the base, or Ptah's invasion, which they were all expecting on a daily basis.

The silence in the cafeteria was finally broken when Daniel Jackson spoke up from the doorway where Jake hadn't even noticed him.

"'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

A military cafeteria filled with silent people was really unnerving. Usually it meant that some mission had gone horribly wrong. Jake didn't like the fact that it was happening now.

Daniel had made his way to Jake's table and politely told the man who had confronted Matthews: "I'll talk with you later about this." The man turned pale, jerked a nod, and scampered off. Jake took a moment to appreciate how threatening Daniel could make a simple comment.

"How are you doing, Jake?"

It was a whole lot easier to enjoy the threat that Daniel could apply to other people than to notice the sympathy directed at himself.

"You know that Matthews has been holding back in his translations. He could have been doing them a hell of a lot quicker than he has been." As head of the linguists department, Daniel would have already heard.

Daniel sighed. "Of course. What I hadn't realized was that no one else already knew."

And now it was Jake's turn to gape at his friend. "You already knew?"

"Of course."

"Then why didn't you call him on it? He was wasting your time and the time of all of your people."

"Jake, he wasn't wasting their time, he was teaching them. When the SGC started, I was pretty much irreplaceable. I knew how to speak languages no one else here did. I knew how to relate to cultures that no one else on base had ever been in contact with."

"You still do."

"No, I don't. When I was given the whole linguistics department to organize, one of the first things I did was to make sure that no one was irreplaceable, not even myself. There are too many things that could happen. I've made sure that every language we use has at least two translators on staff."

"I thought that was so they could check each others' work. Guard against mistranslations."

"Mistranslations either accidental or intentional, yes. That too. But mostly so that no one person has too great a burden. When I realized that Matthews was fluent in so many languages the rest of us didn't know, I thought I was going to have to ask him to teach the rest of us. Instead he started working with the others all on his own."

"But they didn't know that's what he was doing."

Daniel frowned in some displeasure. "From the reactions today, no, they didn't. I'll have some talks with my staff about using their common sense and noticing things like that. Really, it was pretty obvious. He wasn't hiding it, and I knew perfectly well. In fact, didn't I tell everyone that he was fluent in most Earth-based languages? I feel sure I did at some point or another."

"Ah," Jake tried to pull up any memory of that and actually came up with a meeting when they were first talking about hiring Matthews. "Maybe. I don't really recall, but if you did, apparently no one really believed you."

"Hmph. Why does everyone consistently blow me off until they discover it for themselves? That gets old, fast. Even saying 'I told you so' gets old eventually."

Jake grinned at his old friend. "I guess we each have our cross to bear."

He felt lighter, less worried and tense. If Daniel didn't think Matthews had done anything wrong, then maybe he hadn't. Daniel had a pretty good moral compass when it came to things like this. He was pretty intuitive on a lot of things, actually. "What did you think of Matthews' outburst earlier? Just letting off steam or is he seriously that depressed?"

"I'd say he's under as much stress as the rest of us are, but he's still getting used to being in the saving-the-world business. But you would know him better than I do."

"I spend more time with him. But you have probably met more people in various stages of going crazy, one way or another, than most psychologists have."

Daniel snorted a brief laugh. Then he looked pensive as he spoke. "He's not going crazy. I think he's actually remarkably stable. Unlikely to act irrationally. Unlikely to change from who he is, because who he is has already gone through so much stress over his lifetime. He's found a stable point. I think it would take a lot to push him off of it."

"So, sane."

"But not necessarily sane in the way you or I think of sanity."

"Huh."

Daniel continued rather contemplatively. "A bit like you, actually."

"What!"

"You're neither sixteen nor fifty-one, really. You're part of two very different generations. With Adam, it's just a lot more extreme. Think about that." It was the end of the conversation, clearly and Jake got up to go.

"Oh, and Jake, I'm not a psychologist, and I really don't know anything for sure, but Matthews still doesn't tell stories of his life older than three thousand years. And you interrupted him before he could say anything about 'his place in the history books.' At a guess, I'd say he has a place in history and it's not pretty."

Jake almost sat back down, but Daniel had turned away. It was clear that Daniel had some guesses, but it was equally clear that he didn't want to discuss them quite yet.

After a moment of indecision, Jake wandered back out into the hallways of the SGC. He didn't complete his full tour of the SGC floors until after the dinner hour had come and gone. He grabbed some snacks he'd had stashed in his living quarters but avoided the cafeteria this time.

He found himself in one of the lesser-used recreation rooms on base. Channel flipping got boring fast and the only movie showing was "Peter Pan."

Jake left before he could be suckered into watching it again.

He could remember watching "Peter Pan" on HBO before, not that many years ago. He had been Jack at the time but he had already joined the SGC and Charlie had been dead long enough that the occasional day went by when he didn't mourn him anymore. But watching that movie, Jack had gotten horribly drunk and cried for Charlie just as he had in the early years.

Now he remembered realizing how easy it would be to become Captain Hook. How easy it was to hate that smiling little boy who was so perfect at everything, could fly, and never ever had to grow up.

But even at the end, the movie had acknowledged that Pan had his own tragedy. As happy as the boy was, as blessed and as carefree, he didn't have a mother and never would. Even the one he had found for himself had left him behind, taking with her all of his lost boys.

It was a tragedy, it was angst-ridden, it was a horrible tear-jerker that Matthews could so easily have played on to make everyone sympathize. Perhaps what made Pan and Matthews both so irritating was that they refused to even acknowledge their own tragedies. Matthews understood what he was missing but he refused to dwell on it. He would live his life as he thought best and he would enjoy it.

How many others would have sunk into self-pity? And wasn't that what Jake himself was on the verge of doing?

Jake found himself eventually standing in front of the closed door to Matthews' quarters.

He opened the door without knocking, but Matthews merely looked up inquiringly from where he was sitting on the floor. He looked completely certain of himself, complacent and carefree.

It would be so very easy to become Captain Hook.

"I'd rather be a lost boy."

Jake was rewarded immediately by the bemused expression on Matthews' face. "Er… if you say so."

He had actually caught the other man off guard for once. Jake walked in, flopped down on the floor next to Matthews and grinned. After a moment, the serenity fell away from Matthews like the mask it was, and personality swept back into that angular face along with a tentative smile. Everything was right with the world.

Everything was right with the world even as the loudspeaker announced "Unscheduled Off World Activation"

Then it announced "Unauthorized Off World Activation. The iris is not responding. Code Red. I repeat, Code Red."

Chapter Text

"Code Red. Marines to the Gate Room. Marines to the Gate Room."

By the second repetition, the loudspeaker had to compete for audibility against the sound of pounding feet racing this way and that.

"And lo, here is Alexander come to cut through my very own Gordian knot." Methos spoke wryly but he really was relieved.

Jake seemed to understand because rather than getting huffy at Methos' response to the invasion, he nodded. "Yeah, having a well defined enemy can be a real relief at times. I take it you want to get down there and fight him off yourself?"

"I really, really do."

Which was pretty obvious because they were both already moving. They had to get to the staircase, go down seven floors, and then get to the gate room.

As they ran out the door, Methos grabbed the pair of swords Daniel had lent him and sent up a random thank-you to whoever might be listening that immortals actually had some societal rules. In immortal circle it was generally considered bad form to ignore a new immortal or, as in this case, a pre-immortal with a dangerous lifestyle. Either kill the newbie or teach him, but don't abandon him to live without knowing the rules. They tended to gravitate to the more experienced immortals anyway.

So Methos had started teaching Marine Jorge Garvin some basic sword drills. And virtue was extra rewarding this time because Daniel had loaned him the swords to teach with. He was armed with his weapon of choice and ready to do some damage.

Finally, there were the stairs.

Unfortunately the stairwell was even more crowded than the hallway. At least he was moving with the flow of traffic. And Jake was close at his back, moving in his wake. It was a smart move.

Jake was a good kid, smart and insightful but he was still a kid. Less than sixty years life-experience total. To regular humanity that was more than an adult, but once you got to dealing with some of the more extreme versions of humanity, that was just an introduction to how complex life could get.

Sir Walter Scott had gotten it right, "What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive."

One set of stairs down, six more to go, Methos counted. And the crowd just kept getting worse.

Secrets are interesting things. They multiply. If you have one, your chances of having another increases; if you have two, your chances of having two hundred increases. When the world was young, there were no secrets. But as the millennium pas, more and more things are hidden.

If any secret is discovered, then its all the more likely that other secrets being kept in the vicinity will be discovered, too. Because once people start looking for things out of place or unusual, there is no real way of confining their discovery to just those unusual things related to the specific secret they seek.

Once you realized that discovery was inevitable, Methos thought, it came down to controlling the discovery rather than preventing it. And for that, timing was everything. If another week had passed without Ptah or any other system lord showing up he would have had to consider some lure. And committing an act of arguable treason would be both difficult and risky.

But timing was everything and his time was running out.

Two sets of stairs down, five more to go.

This attack, or rather, his response to this attack, had to happen before he was identified as simply one of a race of immortals. There was a mystique attached to being unique and unknown. Once labeled, regardless of how general or semi-accurate the label was, that mystique was gone. Mystique was almost as important as timing when it came to manipulating people and most of his mystique was limited by how long it took the Watcher on staff to decide to break his nondisclosure agreement to one group or the other and report him as immortal.

Members of secret Watcher societies didn't tend to pass military background checks, but that just meant that Methos had only seen one man so far with the distinctive tattoo instead of ten. Now Methos' very presence made the man struggle with conflicting loyalties. And there was no way for the man to know for sure whether Methos really was Immortal and not some other type of entity. Should he tell the Watchers about the SGC or tell the SGC about Immortals? Both? Neither?

Of course the man must have been struggling with conflicting loyalties for years and just hoping that nothing would press the issue. Too bad Methos came along.

Methos could definitely sympathize. Especially when he saw Marine Garvin up ahead.

Three down, four to go.

Marine Jorge Garvin had somehow found Methos and was now right between him and Jake, following in Methos' wake. And Methos didn't have the time or attention left to lose him again.

There was something about pre-immortals that just attracted them to older immortals and dangerous situations. The statistics regarding them were ludicrous and the watchers still hadn't come up with any explanation for how many pre-immortals had their first deaths in the presence of older immortals.

It made Methos want to turn around and march Garvin right back up to his quarters and lock him in for the duration of the invasion. He liked Garvin. In response to the thought, his own shouts of, "I killed Silas! I liked Silas!" echoed in his head. He knew that Garvin would die before the night was over and he would do nothing about it.

The timing was just too awkward. He would have to abandon Garvin to whatever fate held in store for him.

Four down, three to go.

Garvin had to shout to be heard even though he was practically pressed against Methos' back. "Matthews, you want to confront the snake, right? Fight mano-a-snake-o?"

"Yeah."

"Then why are we fighting through this crush? Every single marine on base has been waiting to see you finally fight no-holds-barred."

"You got a better plan?"

"Hell, yeah." He took a breath and then bellowed out, for a moment drowning out even the loudspeaker and stomping boots, "MAKE WAY! Immortal coming through! Last chance to declare your bets and MAKE WAY!"

Methos winced at the bellow in his ear, and winced some more at being referred to as an immortal even though he knew it was descriptive and Garvin at least hadn't yet learned about Immortals as a group. But he had to laugh at the effect it had because all of the marines did in fact make way.

Five down, two to go.

With the path clear before him, he started hopping down the stairs three steps at a time, flashing a smile of appreciation to the soldiers lining the path. They were helping him get in the mood for the upcoming fight.

He was no longer a fish swimming along with the current. It was time to stop being hidden or reserved. It was time to become a god once more, before whom others made way and bowed low.

He felt his thought process twist, not unpleasantly, as if he were putting together a jigsaw puzzle or turning a transformer from one state to another. Pieces of himself were clicking back online, as he let the thrill of the fight come to him.

Most immortals that lived for any length of time were dominant alpha types. It was important in fighting for ones life, and it could be vital in receiving a foreign quickening and not being taken over by it. Methos had refrained from acting in that manner for the better part of his very long life. He had been an alpha male for two millennium and then spent the majority of the following three pretending he wasn't.

Now it was time to resume the mantle of power that he had forgone for so long.

Six down, one to go.

Although he had to wonder, how did he get himself into these sorts of situations? He did his best to avoid fights, avoid all risk really. And as successful as he was with ordinary day-to-day dangers, he seemed more prone than ever to the big risks. He was turning into a big game hunter. It was ridiculous.

He could avoid fights with jay-random immortals but went out of his way to pick a fight with an alien warlord declared god?

Of course the pay off for defeating the god was just too much to overlook.

And the cost of not defeating the god was too dreadful to be allowed.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I spent as a god?" Methos remarked casually, even as he raced downstairs. He carefully controlled his breathing. An adrenaline high was a good thing in these circumstances; being out of breath, on the other hand, was decidedly not.

"Uh, no. I don't believe you have." Jake was breathing heavily but didn't seem otherwise distressed. The sarcasm managed to make it through which was a good sign.

"I was a god of death, for obvious reasons." Methos spoke blandly while inwardly pleased at the beautiful ambiguity of the English language. He left it up to Jake to decide if "the obvious reasons" meant Methos' ability to resurrect or a practice of killing people.

And they were there. Methos hoped Jake and Garvin were ready because he barely paused to listen, confirming that the jaffa were using zat'ni'kels, before walking through the door into the jaffa infested hallways.

He had kept his swords at his side, trailing back slightly to avoid accident as he had raced headlong down the stairs. Now the held them, still pointed down, but more in front and spread out as he walked. He didn't bother to avoid the zat blasts.

Their lack of effect would just build his mystique, after all.

He silently recited to himself chapter three of Sun Tzu's Art of War.

"In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good."

Methos did his best to take all the zat blasts that came down the hallway, to protect Jake and Garvin and anyone else following behind him. The blasts made him vaguely nauseous, but didn't knock him out or kill him. He was fairly sure that he was absorbing them much like he did quickenings.

It didn't feel as terrible as a quickening but it didn't feel as wonderful either. It was sort of like drinking flat soda: unpleasant. The zats carried none of the personality, none of the memories and life experience that a dead immortal's quickening gave the survivor. All that was left was the carrier energy. Like drinking flat diet soda.

It was nauseating but working. The frequency of blasts trailed off. And the jaffa were looking impressed.

"So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them."

The jaffa were backing away from him. He walked towards them, his swords spread out to sweep the sides of the corridor he was walking down, shining and as yet untouched with blood. And the jaffa backed away.

Methos held his head high and proud.

The certainty of a god was dangerous, addictive and compelling. From both sides, worshipper and god.

The memory of his brothers' voice interrupted his recital: "Methos, you look troubled."

No, Methos thought, he was troubled but he did not look. "Just thinking."

It was a dangerous certainty that many immortals went through. But being a god led to some impossible contradictions. Methos had thought better of saying anything, but his friend MacLoed walked his own dangerous line with this. There was the Mac who was kind and fun and playful but he was also serious, judgmental, and violent.

"You were always good at that, eh. Glad after all these years you still are."

"Me, too."

And Methos was glad of his ability to reason, but still he wished he were not thinking so much right at this moment. Now, he had a simple task ahead of him and surely he could do it best without the haunting words of his lost brother or the worries for his distant friend.

But still he had hoped to be there when Mac finally realized what he had become.

Mac saw his own values and morals as right. He was a man who didn't see any hypocrisy in considering himself better than others due to his belief in equality. Mac who believed in equality between all people, who believed killing people was wrong, was also the same man who cut the heads off of his immortal enemies, and who wouldn't even consider letting the police handle a matter he considered his jurisdiction rather than theirs. It was apartheid all over again and Mac didn't even see it.

Well, Methos had had his time as judge and jury and survived the experience with sanity more or less intact. Mac might surprise him and do the same. Maybe.

"It's not like the old days, is it?" Silas asked him.

"What do you mean?" Methos remembered asking but the memory was disrupted when the jaffa finally attacked.

He had reached the final bottleneck before entering the gateroom itself. The jaffa finally felt required to attack rather than back into their god's presence, demonstrating their failure. The struggle shifted from sheer weight of personality to the speed of a blade.

Those who had backed away before now surged forward in this last bottleneck. It was a last desperate attempt against a foe they knew to be their better. They fought like cornered rats. They came with their staffs and their knives and Methos cut them down.

Methos cut them down and it was like a dream of the olden days. His friends were at his back and the coppery scent of blood was in the air. Methos moved with a joyful swiftness and a deadly dance with the fire of the quickening in his veins.

"For two thousand years," Silas had said, "I've dreamed of the day we would rise again. Like you always said, Methos: we live, we grow stronger, and then we fight."

Yes, Methos thought, the fight was like a dream.

Silas' quickening was a comfort to Methos, a friendly presence inside him, who knew him better in some ways than Kronos had at the end.

"I don't like this killing from a distance." The memory of Silas whispered to him again, "I like to feel my ax in my hands. Look into my enemy's eyes before I strike."

The one-on-one fight still gave him that surge of glee. Silas was right; it was better to look into your enemy's eyes as you strike. The grand strategies of lands and nations were a joy in their own way, but there was nothing quite like the dance of blades with life and death just a moment away.

The hardest part, that part that had taken him centuries to learn, was to withhold the strike. It had taken centuries, but he had learned it eventually. So even as he killed every jaffa that came at him, and let them fall dead at his feet, he didn't continue forward or press them back. He left them come to their deaths voluntarily.

Eventually, no more came at him and he walked over their bodies into the gateroom. He heard Jake and Garvin behind him and knew from the sounds that, though they both still lived, one of them was badly injured.

He didn't look back.

They were now surrounded by the final jaffa guard who lined the walls. They, he imagined, were the elite bodyguard of their god, and would not attack impetuously. He ignored them.

And there was the goa'uld himself. Ptah.

Methos stood silent and studied Ptah and let himself be studied in turn. The goa'uld was housed in a large man with a large brown beard. Any fight would need to end with a beheading blow, like with an immortal, to kill goa'uld along with the host. But, Methos reminded himself, he would have to remember to compensate for the beard.

It was the goa'uld who finally broke the silence. "I am Ptah. Bow before me for I am your god!"

Methos couldn't help but smile at that bit of over-the-top melodrama. It was somehow fitting under the circumstances. He shifted the swords so that he held both in his right hand and, with one quick slash, used them to slice open his left hand. He was on such an adrenaline and quickening high he could barely feel it. He had to worry more about accidentally cutting too deep and losing a finger or two than he did about not flinching. The slices healed practically as soon as the blade left contact.

He raised his left hand and rubbed it down his face, leaving the whole left side red with blood and his hand visibly uninjured.

"I am Methos and I challenge you." Methos grinned. For the first time in centuries, he felt alive and aware, with his whole personality, his whole chi focused on the battle before him.

"God to god, I challenge you. Winner takes all."

Chapter Text

And then they were in the eye of the storm and everything was quiet.

The blast doors between the gate room and the hallways swarming with marines had slammed shut, trapping Jake, Garvin and Matthews in with the Goa'uld and Jaffa, separate from any backup. Despite that, Jake found himself temporarily… safe.

The surrounding Jaffa had shifted, not in stance, but in presence. Their faces were no longer intent and aggressive but now carefully blank. Jake figured Mathews had rather neatly trapped the Goa'uld into a fight. The Jaffa looked like they were waiting for the challenge to be answered before they obeyed either one's orders. Jake smirked. There was a reason why actual Goa'uld system lords preferred to not interact with each other face-to-face.

Ptah had locked eyes with Matthews, with Methos, and they were both ignoring everything else around them.

Everything around them was very calm, waiting. The only sound was Garvin's struggling breath. Jake felt a horrible mixture of very young and very old. He was trailing behind Matthews, expecting all of his troubles to be solved for him, making him feel all of about five years old. At the same time, he was holding up a kid, who probably wasn't more than twenty-five, as he died, which made him feel older than dirt.

Deciding that his best course of action was to take the time he was being given, Jake half-carried, half-dragged Garvin over to the wall. He could feel the boy's stomach swelling from an internal injury. Getting the blast doors open without a fight just wasn't going to happen, and Jake had seen enough death to doubt that Garvin could survive even with immediate attention. He settled the boy down and tried to make him as comfortable as possible leaning back against the wall. If he was at all conscious, he could at least watch the fight that would come.

Settling into parade rest, guarding Garvin, Jake watched Matthews—Methos—and Ptah and tried not to wince at his own thoughts.

Methos.

The silly, stupid thing was, he recognized the name. It had taken a bit to remember from where, but Daniel had briefed SG-1 some years ago about the minor Asian deity. When a French scholar with a known interest in ancient deities had been tortured to death, the crime had popped up as possible Goa'uld activity on Earth. They got around four or five such hits every year and it was almost never true, but they still had to look in case another Seth was out there. Daniel had been quite excited when he realized that the man had made a hobby of tracking the Methos myth. It was apparently a really obscure myth that frustrated the few scholars who cared by popping up in strange places.

If Jake recalled correctly, Methos had gone from being a god of death back around 1500 BC to a spirit of scholarship and secret knowledge to some weird combination of flying Dutchman and holy grail in modern times. There remained some mystery around the death of the Frenchman but since there was no evidence of Goa'uld involvement, they had filed it under random human evil and not their jurisdiction.

It was a stupid name to pretend to have because it was thousand of years too late for Ptah to have ever heard of it. Matthews was not stupid, however.

And Jake knew that to fight the way Methos had been fighting took a level of non-thought that in any other person he would have said precluded lies. With Matthews, Jake couldn't be sure, but he thought the same would be true. The thought that Methos might not be just another bit of historical trivia was unnerving. The thought that Matthews might actually be Methos was close to terrifying.

"God to god, I challenge you. Winner takes all," the man had said. And Methos-Jake went ahead and accepted that he thought Methos was Matthew's real name-Methos had been happy. He was excited. He was smiling even now.

Ptah and Methos had been slowly circling each other, Methos with his swords, Ptah with his staff.

Methos was smiling even now, his eyes gleaming like gems. He didn't look human. One side of his face was red with blood only just starting to dry. The other side was pale as ivory. His cheekbones and nose were as sharp as any carven idol.

He looked like a pagan god.

What he did not look like was someone who followed any commands of the SGC's.

Silhouetted against the Stargate, Methos and Ptah both froze. For a moment Jake thought the wait was over. Instead they both settled into ready positions and waited motionlessly, eyes still locked.

Jake had once seen a demonstration of Japanese sword fighting. The competitors had been like this: waiting for that moment when they could take out their opponent with a single perfect strike.

Jake tried not to blink. It could happen that quickly and it would be over.

He suddenly felt a pang of loss as he realized what was already over. He'd been living an idyll for the last few months, living and learning with a man who treated him as an adult, pushed him to his limits, and gave him the companionship he'd so dearly missed. And now it was over.

As they'd pressed the man to learn more of his abilities, they'd all unknowingly watched as Matthews reverted to Methos. Jake doubted Methos was the type to play babysitter to a clone or even advisor to a military base. He had, after all, declared himself a god, winner take all.

In this instance, "all" was probably made up of half a dozen planets, armies and warships.

The silence was deepening. Jake had thought it was silent before but it was only with the absence of those faint muffled thumps that Jake realized that the marine outside the blast doors had stopped moving around.

His ears started to ring with the silence when he could no longer heard Garvin's breathing. He tensed to prevent the shudder the realization produced.

Then it happened.

Jake didn't know what the signal was, but suddenly there was movement and sound in a sudden burst.

And Ptah was dead, not just the host but the snake itself. Methos had decapitated them both with a single blow.

Jake found himself staring with sick fascination at the truncated neck which exposed half a Goa'uld. It reminded him of the old joke, what's worse than biting into an apple and finding a worm? Biting into an apple and finding half a worm.

It had been funny back in grade school. The first time through at least.

"Kneel."

The command brooked no disobedience. Even though Jake, no, Jack had refused to kneel to gods before, and Jake had been struggling for months to break his own military habits, it still took serious effort to lock his knees and stay standing.

He would not kneel.

All the Jaffa kneeled. They went down with a resounding thud of knees hitting concrete. Jake could almost sympathize: that was painful.

Methos scanned the Jaffa dispassionately. "Kneeling with one knee is a sign of respect and preparedness to act upon my command. Kneeling on both knees is a sign of a pilgrim requesting a boon." He paused, then continued, "A god is a protector, a commander, and a miracle worker. You will obey me. You may pray to me. I may or may not answer your prayers, but you may always ask." And he turned away from them.

It was, Jake realized, not unlike any other orientation to a new program or introduction to a new commander. Methos had made a demonstration, then laid out the ground rules, and finally left the new recruits to themselves to consider it all. It was also all the confirmation Jake really needed to know that Methos was not staying on Earth with him.

His junior year of high school, revised, over when his pre-cal teacher left to became a god-king. It was almost funny. Almost.

Said pre-cal teacher was now approaching and Jake watched him warily. Methos nodded in acknowledgement to Jake, but crouched down in front of Garvin. A hand at to the throat checked for a pulse and confirmed death.

"If you're really a god, then can't you do something about Garvin?" Jake spoke somewhat wryly. It was an old standby reaction from being Jack, one that he had kept: when in doubt, or in pain, or scared, joke. Humor could be just as important in tense situations as in relaxed ones, and as long as it was intentional, it wouldn't be so obvious that he didn't know what else to do.

He had expected Methos to respond with some excuse about why he wouldn't do it. That was actually a lesson he had learned way back in the Academy and which had been relearned in Matthew's lessons on strategy and tactics: never say you can't do something, only that you didn't or won't. Let your opponent think you can do it, whatever it is, if you wished to.

What he didn't expect was Methos' glare. "There is a reason people stay dead. Would you sentence him to a life beyond his time?"

Jake jerked back. There had been more venom in that voice than Jake had heard from him before. "Ah, no. Sorry."

He felt like he'd missed some important cue. What was he supposed to say? The apology had been automatic even though he realized even as he said it that he wasn't actually sorry. The answer was really, yes, he would give the boy another chance at life he could. Look at Jake himself, after all, he was living a reasonably happy life despite it being other than his own. Well, better than not living it. Sort of. Now that he was living it, he wasn't interested in giving it back, at least.

He didn't say anything since now he realized that he had given Methos the perfect excuse for not bringing Garvin back from the dead.

Unaware of Jake's thoughts, Methos shook his head. "It's too late. He'll be back." Methos grimaced. "It's a long trek from death to the living, but he's a marine. I'd say less than a day till his next breath."

"What?" And now Jake really felt like he had missed his cues. "Wait, what?"

"Religion does make fools of us all," Methos murmured under his breath and Jake wasn't sure if he was supposed to hear it or not. Speaking louder, Methos continued, "It wasn't your fault, not really. But he's tied to the living now. For as long as he has a body to which to return, he will make his home among the living and only visit death upon occasion."

"Um?"

But Methos turned his face to the observation window and the camera that couldn't be seen but which Jake knew was there. "I will not be taking him with me. When he wakes up, though, tell him to be respectful of holy ground. Religion is not an easy thing but any consecrated ground will be a refuge, as long as he never desecrates it with violence."

"So, you're taking off."

"Yes, I need to consolidate power. Probably for fifteen, twenty years at least, although I imagine it will be a thousand year gig, at least. It was a successful strategy to use a whole Jaffa army as bait to draw the other system lords to us, one by one, but I think it needlessly cruel to so use the same Jaffa so repeatedly."

"We didn't…" Jake was appalled at the idea but then bite off further denials. Even if it hadn't been their intention, it probably was what they had done none the less. And, frankly, it probably would have been their intention if they'd thought of it. The Jaffa had only ever been considered as part of the Goa'uld retinue. Even with Teal'c and Bra'tec and the Jaffa rebellions and the free Jaffa as examples, the SGC military strategists never considered them a separate people worthy of consideration. Finally, he settled with a casual shrug and a flippant, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Methos smiled and it was the smile that Jake recognized from Matthews, the one that laughed silently.

"I notice you're not kneeling, by the way." Methos spoke conversationally.

"No, I'm not." Jake hardened his eyes. He had hoped that Methos would just take his new command and leave Earth behind. "Think I'll worship you any more than I'll worship one of the snakes?"

"I don't believe I mentioned worship. I mentioned kneeling."

"Do I need to remind you that this little fight did not put you in command of Earth." Jake could taste the bitterness that came from having to protect Earth from what he had thought was a friend.

It was made all the harder because Methos' eyes still sparkled with amusement.

"Of course not, that's way too late. I already command Earth."

That was not the response that Jake had expected. He stalled. "You think we're going to obey your orders?"

Jake racked his brains to think of how Methos could think himself already in charge. Did he have some political connections? Had he been playing with the SGC this whole time? He couldn't think of any signs but then none of them knew what all Methos was capable of. All Jake knew was the half-remembered briefing from Daniel about what Salzer had been studying which mostly amounted to secrets.

It took a pained moment to realize that a smart man who knew enough secrets could get some powerful people under his thumb. He could feel his face whiten.

Methos's smirk stretched into a grin as he shook his head. "Haven't you read The Little Prince?" He asked lightly. "I command the sun to rise in the east and set in the west and to do each every day. And lo, the very sun obeys my commands. As will Earth, all of it, as I command that it carry on as before, even in my absence."

The tension broke and Jake had to laugh. "Just like that, you command and we obey."

"Indeed." But then he continued much more seriously, so not even his eyes laughed. "Earth is mine. I have lived on her for five thousand years and have loved her as a mother. She is mine to love, to care for, and to protect. And I will keep her as a preserve, as a historical monument to the origins of humanity for as long as I live, and I will live forever.

"But, there's a power vacuum right now and the SGC is making it worse. They are killing off all the 'evil system lords' but not replacing them with anyone. The end result is that more and more powerful lords are coming in to fill the void until eventually one is going to be too powerful for them. You've been fighting the good fight, but you haven't been playing with an endgame in sight.

"I have just gained the entry." Methos waved to the Jaffa guards who kneeled behind him. "My stay here has given me the knowledge, and I have always had the raw ability to fill that void of power."

"What do you think you're going to do with them? Play toy soldiers? Be General Methos of the Jaffa branch of the armed forced?"

"No toys here. I intend to be a system lord. A system lord who is and always will be an ally to Earth. But I am an ally, not a minion."

Jake nodded. He wondered if Hammond would seriously consider it his duty to try to keep Methos here. The NID would certainly make the argument but really any attempt would be asking for failure.

Methos stood in front of him for a little longer, as if waiting for a conversation opener. Jake couldn't think of a single thing to say. He straightened his shoulders and remained silent. He noticed the blood on Methos' face starting to dry brown and crackle. It wasn't too long before he broke the silence to ask, "You're a god of death?"

"I was. I'm not anymore. Now I'm a god of the Jaffa."

Jake couldn't think of anything more to say so fell back into silence.

Methos finally turned around and approached one of the Jaffa who still knelt on two knees. Jake watched with interest to see how Methos thought a god should interact with his subjects. It seemed about the same way a commander did.

"What is your name?"

The Jaffa was clearly surprised by that opening. "I am Nel'ta."

"And I am Methos. What would you ask of me, Nel'ta."

"Lord…" the Jaffa, Nel'ta, Jake reminded himself, Nel'ta started and then paused. He looked into Methos' face and Jake dearly wished he could see what Nel'ta was seeing because the Jaffa seemed to take strength from the look. "Lord Methos, I have been under the command of three gods before you. With each conquest I have been elevated in rank as the previous Jaffa commanders were culled. I am tired and k now that I cannot serve you as you deserve. When you leave to inspect your new lands and peoples, I ask that you leave me behind, here on Earth."

"Is this request to avoid death by my hand or do you truly wish to retire here?"

There was silence as Methos waited for a reply and the Jaffa waited to confirm that the question was not rhetorical. Methos seemed still and patient as a stone, waiting to hear the answer.

"I wish to retire here."

"Do you understand that Earth is a wildlife preserve, a monument to the source of humanity? I will not protect you from the society that has developed here."

"I understand."

"Then with my departure through the Stargate, you will be released from my guard, Nel'ta. As my last command, you will hold the gate open for me as I leave. After that you and the child you carry are free to live as best you can within the Earth preserve."

Jake found himself just as surprised as the Jaffa did at the reference to "the child." Nel'ta, after all, was male and pretty clearly not pregnant. But, Jake realized in the very next thought, he did carry an infant in his gut. Urgh.

"Thank you, my lord."

After a moment of uncertainty and, Jake thought, probably a quirked eyebrow from Methos, the Jaffa shifted so that he kneeled on only one knee.

Then Methos moved on to the next Jaffa who knelt on only one knee.

"What is your name?"

"Ni'tam."

"Ni'tam, I am Methos."

"Yes, my lord Methos."

Methos moved on.

And suddenly, it wasn't just similar to an orientation and introduction. Jake felt like he'd taken a punch to the chest when it finally registered exactly what Methos was getting himself into.

What Methos was about to walk into was hideously dangerous.

Probably about a fifth of the population he was claiming would take the opportunity to try revolting. The other System Lords would not be pleased to have a human amongst them, so assassination attempts would abound. And even if Methos couldn't be killed he probably could be trapped in unpleasant places.

It was impossible enough that no one else had even considered doing this. The SGC wanted to explore, make friends, and destroy the Goa'uld. The NID wanted to sneak around, steal technology, and not be attacked by the Goa'uld. The Trust, who knew what the Trust were after? But none of them had thought to try and meet the Goa'uld on equal footing, and force them to negotiate as equals.

It hadn't even occurred to them to try.

Jake wondered whether it was a good or bad sign that it had occurred to Methos. Diplomacy was good but sufficient empathy for the Goa'uld to make diplomacy work? Referring to a goa'uld larva as a child?

That was just disturbing.

But demanding the obedience of an army of Jaffa with nothing more than your own personal abilities was the sort of high wire walking that demanded absolute self-confidence. The first flinch would very likely be the last one.

It was the sort of dangerous situation that Jack tried to never send anyone else into.

It was the sort of situation that Jack had always done himself.

The thought settled in Jake's mind.

His eyes continued to watch Methos circulate, but his thoughts were everywhere and nowhere.

"What is your name?"

"Lay'c"

"Lay'c, I am Methos."

"Yes, my lord Methos."

Maybe Methos could do it alone. After all, he was already on his way to owning the respect of the Jaffa guard here. But true loyalty was slow to acquire and scarily fragile at the beginning.

Take at a look at himself, after all. He liked Methos and had trusted him for months now, but could still be scared of him after a few words, still have cause to doubt him after discovering a new secret.

So maybe he wasn't loyal yet. But he was becoming loyal, and Methos could use someone loyal to him when everyone else had to be won over. And Earth needed someone of known loyalty to Earth, because they had even less trust in Methos than Jake did.

And for the first time since he was Jake rather than Jack, he would be useful. He would be useful to Earth and to Methos and to the Jaffa people whom he had ignored for so many years.

He wondered if this was at all like what Daniel had gone through when considered staying behind on Abydos. Maybe, maybe not. They had different reasons for leaving Earth. Daniel had wanted to stay with his wife. While Jake wanted to protect the Earth and be useful again.

Then again, they both had nothing to really tie them to the lives they'd lived before and the new ones offered so very much.

Daniel had been in this situation and he had made his choice, his friend would not begrudge Jake his own choice.

And Teal'c, Jake remembered, had already given his approval. "On Earth, an individual is given the opportunity to find his own source of loyalty," the warrior had intoned in that way of his. "Multiple religions are acceptable as long as they do not directly conflict. The NID are dangerous to the Earth; Adam Matthews and yourself are not. You are an acceptable ally."

Sam had given up on him. He didn't even know her well enough anymore to guess what she'd say. She was probably ranting about something right this moment, typing as quickly as she could to find some information or to reprogram some lock. But he didn't know what she'd be saying or what she'd be trying to accomplish.

Hammond still had trouble remembering that he wasn't Jack.

Jake looked down at Garvin.

His final tie to Earth was not to his old teammates or his old commander or his old subordinates. His last tie was to the boy who had died in his arms and who's family deserved to speak to someone who had been there.

It was a fragile tie at best. But still, it was a responsibility that he could not lightly forsake.

Methos had continued circling, stopping at every single Jaffa, getting a name from each.

"What is your name?"

"Tra'am"

"Tra'am, I am Methos."

"Yes, my lord Methos."

Two more Jaffa knelt on two knees, requesting a boon. One of them asked to remain with Nel'ta and that request was granted. The other asked to be granted the same immortality as Garvin had been and that request was denied.

Methos had circled the whole room, speaking individually to each of the Jaffa there and then he was back with Jake.

"Methos?"

"Yes?"

"Will Garvin really come back to life? Truly?" He made his voice serious, needing Methos to answer him honestly. Methos studied him for a moment and seemed to get the message. He was serious when he answered.

"Yes."

Jake struggled with the idea. No machine, no technology, just a man who had been like any other, suddenly gaining immortality. Because he had died in service to a 'god'? But But Methos wasn't being cryptic regarding this. A simple, "yes." There was no room for interpretation, just a matter of believing it or not. It was a matter of trust.

A matter of Faith, so to speak. Jake smirked at the thought, and made his decision.

"I'm going with you." It was a statement. It was not a question. He wasn't giving Methos have a choice on this.

Methos smiled. "Of course you are. You're my First Prime."

Jake snorted laughter. He wanted responsibility, after all. And there it was.

They walked together, side by side and surrounded by an honor guard of Jaffa, through the Stargate.

His last thought before leaving Earth was, Junior year was interesting but Senior year is going to be a bitch and a half.

Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
The End
Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Chapter Text

Mac looked up from his seat at the bar, half hopeful, half wary. He was keeping Joe company in the early hours of the morning after the bar had closed. It was a good time for someone to catch them both alone and there was an immortal with a familiar quickening approaching. It wasn't that he could recognize quickenings, per se, but he could tell if his own quickening had spent time growing accustomed to the foreign one. He hoped it was Methos.

More than a year had passed since he'd helped arranged Adam Pierson's funeral, been surprised to be named in the will, and hoped that wasn't Methos' way of saying "goodbye". It seemed like a reasonable time to get a drop-in visit. Instead of one old man, however, two immortals entered. Cassandra, looking unhappy, and an Asian man he didn't recognize.

"I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I do not want a fight."

"And I am Seijuro Hiko the eighth. I will not start a fight here and now."

"Thank you."

Cassandra had waited impatiently for them to sort themselves out. Now that basic introductions had been made, she burst out, "I do not need to be patted on the head and told to leave greater politics to the men-folk! I do not need to be protected! I do not want it and I do not like it!"

Mac could feel his eyes widen at Cassandra's abrupt rant but if the centuries had taught him one thing about women, it was to not argue with them in that kind of mood. Clearly Joe needed a few more years to work on that lesson because he snorted in obvious disbelief. Mac snuck a peak at his friend out of the corner of his eye. Alternately, Joe may know but just not care. At least he was taking on protective camouflage: looking down, and cleaning glasses in the age-old barkeep tradition.

Cassandra cast a poisonous glare at the barman but, when she got no reaction, turned back to Mac. He struggled to keep his expression sympathetic. He didn't think he wholly succeeded.

Cassandra spoke again through gritted teeth, "I do not need to be told my place is in the home by That Man."

Apparently it was time to hear from Methos after all. Mac couldn't help brightening up at the promise of news, which didn't do anything to soothe Cassandra. Lord. He loved them both but neither of them were the easiest of people to get along with separately. Together they were impossible.

"So, what exactly has Methos done?"

Cassandra opened her mouth but Hiko interrupted, "In the interests of brevity, I imagine I had better explain." Cassandra glared but made no move to argue. "I met an Adam Matthews in Colorado Springs when he was allowing himself to be taken prisoner by a secret military organization based out of NORAD."

"What!" Joe and Mac spoke in unison. Joe put down his cleaning rag and Mac straightened to attention, ready to run to the rescue.

Hiko gave him a sympathetic look. "Indeed. But it gets complicated. In hopes of rescuing him, I did a bit of digging and discovered that the US military is in contact with extra-terrestrials who are not entirely friendly."

"What?" This time Joe interrupted alone, more dubious than anything else. Mac was less surprised by that part. When he had first accepted the idea that the stars were distant suns and that Earth was not the center of the universe, he had accepted the fact that there were likely alien societies out there, too. Hiko must have felt the same since he just shrugged.

"After an aborted rescue attempt, the Matthews, or Methos, suggested I contact Cassandra as a source of further information. Through a mixture of visions and a brief visit to the base with judicious use of her Voice, the lovely Cassandra discovered that Methos has recently departed Earth, taking with him an Air Force officer, leaving behind a newly immortal student, and with the stated intent of conquering the galaxy in order to keep Earth safe. I consider the matter resolved but Cassandra decided to come here and I didn't have anything better to do. So here we are."

Hiko fell silent.

Mac said, "huh."

There was a long pause.

Joe picked up his cleaning rag and continued to clean the already very clean bar.

Mac considered what he had been told. "Exactly how unfriendly are these aliens?"

"Sentient parasites with advanced technology calling themselves gods," Cassandra answered rather succinctly before expanding. "The closest set of aliens and the most immediately dangerous are apparently the Goa'uld: worm-like parasites who take over people's bodies. The Goa'uld have historically kidnapped populations of humans to keep as slave labor and as a source of hosts. They have also genetically engineered a subspecies of humans, called Jaffa, to act as living incubators for their larvae."

"Yuck."

"Quite. Apparently there is a faction of the Goa'uld who have broken away and renamed themselves the Tok'ra. They consider themselves morally superior to the Goa'uld in that they tend not to take unwilling hosts."

"Does anyone go to them willingly?" Mac was faintly appalled at the idea. Then he waved off the question as extraneous. He was used to learning about dangerous enemies and wars and having to be briefed quickly and thoroughly, but this was a bit extreme even for him. "Sorry. The Goa'uld, the Jaffa, the Tok'ra. What else?"

"Well, then there's Methos," Cassandra added with heavy sarcasm.

"Who's going off to save the world?" Mac couldn't help sounding dubious. "No, I suppose I can see it, if he thinks the world is in real danger and no one else can do it instead. Is it really that bad?"

"Probably yes," Cassandra admitted rather reluctantly. "But he's not going to save the world, he's going out there to conquer it. He needs to be stopped."

"First, he's not exactly an easy person to stop even when he's actually on the same planet, and he's my friend so I want him to survive. More importantly, though, he said he's going to protect the Earth. He's got a real talent for surviving, it's what he's best at. And if he can use that talent on the Earth's behalf, al the better."

Cassandra looked at him like he was seven years old. And slow in the head. "Surviving is not his specialty. We're all good at surviving. If we weren't, we wouldn't be alive. Think about it, though, what is he better than anyone else at? What is the one thing that Methos has managed to do successfully that hundreds of other immortals have tried and failed at?"

What was it with these ancient immortals? Mac reminded himself that he was a suave, sophisticated man. But whenever he was with them he felt like the barest greenhorn, a bit slow, and whiny to boot. He sighed and seriously considered shrugging and making her just tell him what she was talking about. It took serious effort to suppress the urge. Instead he leaned back and considered what he knew about Methos and what he knew about Cassandra.

When he finally spoke, he did so slowly. "I've run across other groups of immortals, mostly pairs like Carter Wellan and Haresh Clay or the Valicourts: couples who have been together for centuries through their love of each other. But there have also been hunting groups. Packs of immortals who didn't necessarily even like each other but they still protected each other. None of them lasted more than ten years, most less than one year, before the Game broke them up."

Cassandra was nodding and, Mac could see out of the corner of his eye, so was Joe. Hiko was watching it all with serene eyes that didn't give any thoughts away.

"But Methos took a group of natural enemies and kept them together for a thousand years. Even when they finally broke up, none of them killed each other. None of them raised a blade to another until Methos himself three thousand years later."

It was really only as he was speaking the words that the full impact of what Methos had done hit him. And what he had demanded of his friend. Cassandra could obviously see it on his face because her mouth twisted to something between a smirk and a grimace. "Your friend, your little Judas."

A glass was put down with more force than necessary on the bar. Mac probably would have been just as mad if he couldn't see the pain so evident on her face. He wondered what betrayals she was thinking of. Then decided to let it go.

"His best skill is turning enemies into allies." It was a statement rather than a question but he waited until she gave him a confirming nod.

"Why do you think he needs to be stopped then? He's turning our enemies into our allies."

"Weren't you listening when we told you about the Goa'uld? They have a completely fractured society out there and they've still nearly conquered us half a dozen times. The Jaffa are treated like replaceable servants, the humans are slaves, and the Goa'uld themselves are autocratic gods. There are dozens of weaknesses in that society and if he were going out to destroy them, it would be one thing. But he's going out to lead them. By the time Methos is through with them, I have no doubt the Jaffa will be treated as half-craftsman and half-parents to the Goa'uld they carry, the Goa'uld will be protectors, and the human hosts will be carefully selected advisors. Methos is going to make them all love him."

"You seem to have a great deal of respect for a man you loathe," Hiko pointed out.

Cassandra pointedly ignored him.

"All it would take is the right kind of training institute for advisors and a good matchmaking services before all of Methos' followers are twice as smart as anyone else and both the Goa'uld and the Tok'ra are looking to him for leadership. And," Cassandra continued grimly, "if I can think of this, Methos surely has had a dozen more plans as well."

"I can see all of this being possible, I can even see why it's a bad thing to give an enemy people a smart charismatic leader who will smooth over some of their internal social problems, but," Mac raised a hand to stop Cassandra from interrupting, "Methos is not making them a stronger enemy. He's making them a stronger ally."

"No. He's. Not." Cassandra snarled. "They'll be our protectors while everyone on Earth sits cozily at home not paying any attention to the universe beyond our atmosphere. I didn't go through the women's rights movement just to be trapped in the same box, one size bigger."

"That's not," Mac began but sort of trailed off. He didn't think that's what Methos was doing, but he wasn't sure how to argue it.

"Or maybe you'd prefer to think of it like a reservation. Have you been to an Indian reservation lately? That's what Earth will become: a stagnant living monument to what we once were but are no longer. And all because of Methos."

"Actually," Hiko interrupted and reminded Mac that he and Cassandra were under observation from both Hiko and Joe, " the government is the one barring access. Methos slipped past and even took an American soldier with him."

"Yeah." Mac was grateful for the support. "Methos would probably welcome more with open arms."

"Hah!" Cassandra clearly didn't believe it for a second.

Hiko looked quizzical and even Joe looked somewhat dubious. He wished Joe would speak up rather than quite so obviously relegating himself to the audience position. The mortal understood Methos in a way Mac simply didn't. Sometimes he thought the mortal understood Methos in a way that he never could. Deciding to force the issue, Mac turned and asked, "Joe?"

Joe placed his hands carefully at on the bar. "I remember a conversation I had with the old man. I was trying to get him to tell me any secrets he knew about the Game. He said that Oscar Wilde had it right: "As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular." It didn't occur to me for days to wonder if he had a plan to stop war. When I asked, he just laughed at me in that way he had and said he was just a guy. But I've wondered."

Hiko smirked. "According to reports, Methos is claiming to be anything but 'just a guy'."

"He's told everyone at the base that he's a god." Cassandra sounded disgusted. "The new immortal even thinks it's true."

"Garvin didn't say that exactly," Hiko objected. "He just thought there was no convincing argument against it."

"We told him that Methos is merely another immortal like we both are and like he himself is."

"And yet Methos is a myth to most Immortals, even so, more than half again as old as the next oldest Immortal. Plus, 'immortal' is merely a description, and a poor one at that. It's not like there have been any good scientific studies on what exactly an Immortal is."

"And Cassandra," Mac couldn't resist stirring up trouble in order to add some lighthearted teasing to what was becoming an increasingly troubled subject, "you have to admit that Methos doesn't exactly act like any other Immortal."

Cassandra looked superior in a way that made Mac dread her response. "Anyway, we were going to kidnap that one and bring him with, but the military police would undoubtedly track us down and we wanted to avoid that for now. So you'll have to go to him: he's your student now."

"Wait, what?" Mac yelped.

"Jorge is your new student. I'm certainly not going to teach Methos' dregs. Hiko here has refused, and the child needs a teacher."

Hiko looked amused at the appealing look Mac cast in his direction. "He's not a child. He's a professional soldier who has already been trained in rudimentary swordplay, told not to fight on holy ground, and knows to avoid people attacking him. Plus, he works on a military base and I'll not teach anyone who places himself under another's command."

"He needs someone to teach him what being an immortal means because No One," Cassandra stressed the words and clearly meant 'Methos', "told him of the Game. And he can't go on thinking Methos is some sort of god."

Mac looked at Cassandra's angry face, Hiko's amused one, and Joe's watchful one and wished for a moment that he didn't know any of this. From the sounds of it, Methos was actually trying to do something good, something great. Helping a troubled foreign culture find peace and cohesion was exactly what Mac himself tried to do whenever he traveled. Methos had become in a few years one of Mac's closest friends. And some of that friendship was based on ideals, as much as Methos would have denied it. The old man tried so hard to be completely apart from the world, but when he thought it was necessary, he would do anything to protect his friends.

He looked down at the table and considered the wood grain. Cassandra clearly didn't know him as well as she thought she did. Methos' voice seemed to echo in his head from years back with new meaning, "We were brothers. In arms and blood and everything except birth and if I judged him worthy to die then I judged myself the same way."

And yet, a parasitic alien race? Declaring himself a god in order to redirect an entire species? Leaving behind a new immortal student?

Although, really, if anything, that abandoned student seemed like a message in itself. He wondered if this Jorge Garvin would be amused to horrified to be so similar to a matchbook casually tossed in a corner, left behind as a message to bring Mac closer.

Mac smiled faintly. Methos had admirable goals but sometimes he was a bit too ruthless. He had to know more. And he really, really hoped he wasn't forced to challenge his friend.

"Look I'll see what I can do about the student. I can move to be nearby and I still have a few connections in both the US military and government. I'll see what I can do." He hoped that was suitably ambiguous about what his plans were. Thoughts still caught up with who he would have to contact and what he could say to them, he gave Cassandra his apartment key so that she could stay there, he got Hiko's contact information as a Japanese official and promised to send his own as soon as he was settled into the next MacLeod identity, and finally managed to usher the two of them out of the bar.

Joe had finally stopped cleaning the bar when they were gone and Mac just looked at him for a moment. "Am I going to have to challenge him?"

"If I go up against him, I lose." The memory of Methos' voice spoke his own thoughts. There was no way to win a challenge against a friend. And, if Cassandra was right, Methos would also be the beloved leader of an alien species. There was no way Mac would challenge him, even if he could.

Joe knew him as only a Watcher could and knew Methos better. He spoke dryly, "Somehow I don't think that's part of Methos' plan. Anyway, eventually there's going to need to be an ambassador to Methos' new empire. You've done that before, Ambassador MacLeod."

"You think we're going to have to play this Methos' way, don't you?"

"And you don't? He's leading this dance and it sure looks like an interesting one. So, do I need to start looking for real estate in Colorado?"

Mac relaxed seeing at Joe's faith in the old man. Everything was going to work out all right.

"After all of his talk of Bora Bora, we're moving to ski country for him. Contrary old man."

"And for all his talk of lying low, he sure manages to keep life interesting." They grinned at each other. "We've got some busy times ahead of us."