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Leather, Feathers, and Garters

 

Chapter 3

The path that they followed led directly to the steps of the temple. All of the walls seemed to be undamaged, the roof in one stable piece; although two of the columns that had supported the roof had fallen, and part of the portico had collapsed as well. It meant climbing over the broken pieces of stone, but didn't present any problems getting inside, nor did it seem to be any safety hazard once they entered the large chamber.

Several minutes passed, while the team stood waiting for their eyes to adjust to the dim interior of the structure. Jack ordered the scope lights of the P90s to be attached; and he, Daniel, and Teal'c held up the handheld spotlights that offered enough illumination for Casey and Sam to begin recording the interior.

There were sconces on the walls, and half a dozen torchieres, which Teal'c and Daniel carefully lit upon discovery, no one mentioning the fact that the torches that fit into the sconces were still in place, or that the there was still oil in the lamps. It wasn't unusual, Daniel knew, to find a temple or a room that seemed to have been left as if the occupants would return at any moment. He wouldn't question the 'blessing' of the lighting.

The team moved around the large room, two rows of columns that supported the very high ceiling marching silently from the open front of the temple to flank the area where a stone altar sat, as if waiting for the next ceremony to begin. For all its size, they were discovering that the temple was much smaller than they'd first anticipated. So far there had been no doorways or openings to other rooms that would have been frequented by the priests.

The murals decorating the walls depicting Ba'al...telling story after story of battles won, conquests made, enemies defeated...were faded. Enough pigment remained, however, to give an idea of just how colorful the paintings had been.

Another thirty minutes passed as they looked for the specific image of Ba'al that Casey had seen. There were numerous battles illustrated, and three scenes that could only be the propaganda that Ba'al's priests put out...people kneeling before the bas relief of the god, smiles on their faces. As if they welcomed their slavery, were happy to be in service to the Goa'uld.

The tiles on the floor were in bad shape, incongruous with the condition of the rest of the room; most of them were loose, had risen slightly at odd angles, making the floor uneven. Daniel theorized that the floor was not 'original' to the structure, that at some point in time the tiles had been removed and then replaced. The fact that there were no designs in the floor led him to believe that not only was the work below par when compared to the rest of the temple, as if the workers either didn't know, or didn't care about the proper laying of the tiles; the tiles themselves seemed to be of poorer quality. He didn't have any ready theories on the how or why of such an event.

Sam and Casey were taking pictures of two of the walls, getting close-ups of what Daniel had deemed important. Teal'c had taken up a position of defense at the wide door that led into the room, his keen eyes moving over the ruins of the city, making certain that no one...or nothing...could take them unawares. Daniel was translating a bit of text on one of the pillars. And Jack was wandering through the room, looking for anything that might be trouble.

The colonel stopped to take in the images on one section of the wall when he heard a distinct snap, one that echoed loudly in the almost silent room, causing the heads of his teammates to whip in his direction. And then suddenly the floor beneath him gave way, the tiles dropping into the pit in which he found himself. He covered his head with his arms until the rain of broken slate tiles ended. Slowly pulled himself to his feet, checking with his scope light to make certain there were no other surprises waiting for him.

"Oh, hell no!" Daniel's voice moaned. He ran to the now gaping hole in the floor. Looked down at the man who was covered with dust, but seemed otherwise unharmed. Who was staring back at him. "Just had to do that, didn't you?" he grumped. Just a couple of hours, Jack had promised him. They'd be home in time for dinner had been the vow given. Jack knew that he had plans for the weekend! Plans that would begin as soon as he and Casey had signed out..."I don't freaking believe this! I swear you did this purpose!"

"Yes, Daniel, I fell into this pit so I could screw up the mission, just to keep you from going on your anniversary get-away," Jack spat, glaring up that the disgruntled archaeologist. "Now stop bitching and get me out of here!"

The rest of the team was standing beside him now. Casey looked at Daniel. "We're going on an anniversary get-away?"

"We were," Daniel replied. He glanced at his watch. Heaved a sigh. Unless they could get Jack out of that pit and all of them back through the 'gate in the next hour, which had been when the mission was scheduled to end, they would miss their flight. Their non-refundable flight. "We were supposed to leave this evening. Thanks to Jack, and his big footed ways, that's not going to happen now."

"And you were going to tell me...when?"

"On the way to the airport."

"Um...question, Stud Muffin. What about packing?"

"I already packed for you," he replied absently, searching for anything that could be used as a rope.

She shook her head. While it was a sweet thought, Daniel didn't know about her 'special surprise'. And if she didn't know about their trip, she couldn't make certain to bring it along, now could she? She could wear it when they returned, of course, but where was the fun in that? "So we'll just reschedule."

"Can't. It's a bed and breakfast. Near Portland. They're booked solid for the year. I was lucky that they had a cancellation. If we don't show up on time, they give the cabin to the next person on the waiting list." He tested the floor near the gaping hole...heard the groan of protest that the wood gave. Backed away slightly, not wanting take a tumble himself.

Casey glared down at Jack. "I don't suppose you can sprout wings and fly your ass out of there, can you?"

"Nope."

"Then somebody had better think of something damned quick!"

"Perhaps we could simply contact the SGC and request a rope?" Teal'c suggested. He had also retreated a step, the sounds of creaking in the floor warning him away from the edge of the hole.

"That's good," Jack said quickly. He had two pissed off Jacksons to deal with. One was a bit pissier than the other, but Radar was quickly catching up. A pissed off Radar was never a good thing. "I'm fine by the way, thanks, just in case anyone is interested."

"I'll go," Sam offered, grinning down at her CO...and the man she just happened to be crazy in love with. Who, at the moment, was in more danger from ticked off teammates than anything in the temple, or that pit. "I should be back in less than thirty minutes."

"I will accompany you, Major Carter."

Jack looked at Radar and the Space Monkey. Their expressions left little doubt of what they were thinking. He wondered briefly if being left alone with them was such a great idea...didn't have the chance to protest when both Sam and Teal'c disappeared from his line of vision. He could hear the retreating echo of their footsteps.

Daniel studied his friend for a moment. "Well," he said, a slight smile tugging at his lips, "at least I wasn't the one to set off the trap this time."

"You coulda warned me," Jack groused.

"How?" Daniel asked incredulously.

"Not you. Radar."

"How was I supposed to know?" Casey squeaked.

"Uh...the 'radar' thing?" Jack replied, rolling his eyes.

"Right. I don't get the full daily agenda. Nothing came through about the boss falling through a trap door on the floor!"

"You should've been watching where you were going," Daniel added.

"I was watching!"

His cheek began to twitch. "Apparently you weren't, or you wouldn't be where you are now," he said, tossing words that had been directed at him far too many times, at his CO...and best friend.

Jack put his hands on his hips. "You're enjoying this way too much."

"Hey, if I have to sit here because you're trapped and we can't leave without you, damned straight I'm going to enjoy it."

Daniel's response to her question about the surprise anniversary get-away poked at her. While she had always wanted to stay in a quaint bed and breakfast, doing so for her anniversary wasn't her first choice. She wanted to be somewhere that would offer...privacy. Maybe, she thought, she'd have to leave that special outfit at home after all. "Bed and breakfast?"

"Yeah. Well, actually they're cabins. Ten of them. They're spread out, lots of privacy. And room service. The brochure shows the owners driving around in their modified golf cart. It has a little refrigerator and an oven, so what needs to be warm stays warm, and what needs to be cold, stays cold. Breakfast is delivered when you call for it, lunch can be ordered or eaten in the main house, and dinner is between seven and eight. The main house dining room is open to the public, so most guests choose to eat in their cabins...or so the brochure claimed," Daniel explained.

"Wow."

"Yep. Jacuzzi in the room, fire place, down duvet covers and pillows-" He was cut off when her lips crashed onto his. He grinned mentally. It seemed that she approved of his anniversary plans.

Jack watched, couldn't help but grin as Casey kissed Daniel. Looked like she was trying to suck his face completely off the front of his head...the kiss was even more intense than the one he'd witnessed Sha're giving the archaeologist. The edge of the floor beneath her boots began to shift. "Casey! Watch out!"

The warning came a second too late. The tiles that had been hanging over the edge of the hole where Jack had been trapped broke free. With a squeal of surprise Casey began to fall. Daniel wasn't quick enough to move away, her arms were still locked around his neck.

Jack's only choice was to press himself against the dirt that made up the walls of the pit as the two tumbled down beside him.

Daniel realized in a heartbeat that he'd landed on top of her. He rolled to his side immediately. "Casey?"

A soft moan was the only response.

"Oh, god," Daniel muttered, his hand moving over her gently, checking for any discernable injuries.

"No more cookies for you, Stud Muffin."

He couldn't help but smile. "Don't move, we need to make sure you're okay."

"I'm fine. Just had the wind knocked out of me."

He closed his eyes, whispered a prayer of relief and gratitude. Opened them to see the amusement in the depths of her emerald green eyes. "Hey."

"Hey. You don't mind if I just lay here for a minute, do you?"

The smile became a grin. "Don't mind at all."

"I suppose it's a good thing that Sam and Teal'c aren't here," Jack mused.

"Why?" Daniel asked.

"Chances are they'd be down here, too."

"I have an idea," Casey said.

Jack looked at the still prone seer. "Which is?"

"Well, one of you could lift the other up. I can give a hand up to whoever is here. Then one of you holds onto the other, and you can pull me out."

"You can't lift one of us!" Jack declared.

"I'm betting that I could. At least, as long as I'm scared spitless. Adrenaline, Jack."

"What's there to be afraid of?"

She raised a shaking hand and pointed to the dirt 'wall' behind Jack. "Holes."

Both men swung their heads in the direction she indicated. Lit up by the angle of the scope light on Jack's P90 where it lay in the dirt, were a dozen or so small round holes in the far 'wall'. Dropped when he had pressed up against the dirt wall to avoid being hit when the two Jacksons fell, the light shined brightly and left little doubt about what the holes were. "Shit. Snakes," Daniel hissed.

"I suggest we leave. Now," Casey said firmly, sitting up.

Given that being in a pit, and a small one at that, made all the smaller by the presence of the three of them, wasn't a great thing in the first place, and that there was no way of knowing whether any slithering reptiles would be poisonous or not in the second place, Radar's idea had merit. "How much do you weigh, Space Monkey?"

"One ninety."

"One eighty-five. I'll lift you out, Radar can give me a boost."

Daniel nodded. Five pounds might not seem like a lot of difference, but it certainly could be under the circumstances. One look at Casey's pale face spurred him into action. He could see that she was already trembling with fear, her eyes glued on the holes that were visible.

Jack was also aware of the fact that Casey was just a step and a breath from full panic mode. He turned her away from the dirt wall and the numerous holes. "Look at me, Jackson," he ordered.

She obeyed, locking her gaze on the brown eyes that watched her carefully.

If those green eyes got any wider, there wouldn't be much of her face left to see, he though worriedly. "Concentrate, Jackson. I need you here, got it?"

"Got it," she replied shakily.

"Daniel, let's get you up there." He took a look around the top of the opening. "Think one side is sturdier than the other?"

"Let's try the side opposite of where Case and I were standing," Daniel suggested. "It's past the trap, should be more stable."

"Sounds good to me. Okay, let's do this." He bent over, sliding his fingers together and locking them. He gave a grunt of exertion, lifted as much as he could, Daniel clawed for hand holds in order to pull himself onto the floor.

Didn't I just do this? he complained silently. Although that had worked out all right, he thought. Wondered if Kiam had made it home before the first snows of winter...if he'd had the time to sing the songs that would send Maelu's spirit on its journey to the afterlife.

"Daniel!" Jack grunted.

With every ounce of strength he could call forth, Daniel heaved himself over the ledge, rolled away from the edge, breathing heavily. "Give me a second," he said, needing to catch his breath.

Jack turned his attention to Casey once again. "Give one good shove. Daniel will pull me up. Keep your eyes on him at all times, got it?"

She nodded. "Got it."

"Daniel?"

"Yeah, I'm ready." He was laying on his stomach, one shoulder hanging over the edge, already reaching for his friend, ignoring the creaks and groans the floor beneath him made.

"On three," Jack said.

Casey laced her fingers together. Waited for Jack to start counting. Her gaze flickered to those holes. Had she just seen something in that one? Her heart was pounding so hard and fast she was afraid she'd pass out. "Three!" she shouted.

Jack put his foot into her hands, felt himself moved up just enough to reach Daniel's hand. Wrapped both of his hands around the archaeologist's wrist. Daniel's other hand came over the side, grabbing at his shoulder.

One glance down at the panicked look on Casey's pale face had him pulling as much as he could. But it wasn't enough. The hole was deep, making the reach a struggle, and Casey just wasn't strong enough to keep Jack as high as was needed. His grasp started to slip. "Damn it!" Daniel growled, renewing his effort. One last scramble to reach the other man before he felt Jack's hand slipping away. Casey collapsed to the ground from the effort, panting heavily.

With a groan of defeat, Jack dropped back into the pit. "C'mere, Radar, let's get you out of here."

"We can't leave you here!" Casey protested.

"I'll be fine. Just as long as you and Daniel stay nearby. I can shoot any snakes that show up."

At the mention of snakes, her slender body shuddered violently.

"C'mon, Angel, give me your hand," Daniel said softly.

Within a matter of fifteen seconds or so, Casey was laying on the floor beside her husband.

"So what kind of a trap is this, anyway?" Jack asked, looking around the small pit.

"I don't know," Daniel replied. "It could be nothing more that a hiding place."

"Hiding place? For whom?"

"Not whom. What. I'm betting that temple priests hid their most valuable temple goods...bowls, pitchers, chalices, anything made of gold or silver, anything decorated with gold or silver or precious jewels."

"Sort of like a vault," Jack mused.

"Yep. If there were uprisings, and trust me, there were always uprisings, then that's where they'd keep everything. Prevented it from being stolen and then having to face Ba'al about losing his temple goods."

Casey glanced at her watch. It had been fifteen minutes since Teal'c and Sam had left. Walking, it had taken the team almost three-quarters of an hour to reach the temple. Even running...she shook her head. If her teammates returned within another thirty minutes or so she 'd be surprised. Granted, they weren't due to leave the planet for another half hour...

"Daniel, I really am sorry," Jack said quietly. He knew how excited Daniel had been; making the plans, keeping it a secret from Casey, which he had apparently been successful at doing. How much the archaeologist was looking forward to time alone...and away from the SGC...with his wife

"Hey, don't worry about it. We could still make it," Daniel replied easily.

"Should have asked the general to wait until next week."

"We managed to put this mission off for almost three weeks. I don't think General Hammond was going to accept any more excuses."

"Probably not," Jack agreed reluctantly. That the general had been willing to give the team the time he had was a bit...surprising. Especially with the growing list of missions on the roster. "Still, he knows that this weekend is your anniversary."

"This was supposed to be an easy recon," Daniel pointed out. And he hadn't mentioned the plans to anyone but Jack and Teal'c, because he hadn't wanted Casey to find out. It had been difficult enough to make the arrangements without her knowing...and trying to keep his emotions in check, so that her gift wouldn't pick up his eager anticipation.

"Hey, we're SG-1. When has anything ever gone right for us?"

Daniel grinned. "Good point."

Casey crossed her arms, rested her chin on top of them. "Too bad I didn't see this happening. I could have warned you."

Jack snickered. "Before or after I fell?"

"Well, considering I had no idea that plans had been made," she said, tossing an accusing look in Daniel's direction, "I suppose that would have depended on my mood at the moment."

The two men began to chuckle.

"At least we're together," she said softly. "I mean, it's an inconvenience, but you're okay, Daniel is okay, I'm okay, and Sam and Teal'c are okay, and will be back any time."

Daniel reached out and ran his hand over her shoulders. "As long as the team is together, we can face anything."

Jack grinned up at them. "I guess the snakes haven't read the memo about that little fact."

Daniel's grin matched that of his friend. "So it would seem."

"Maybe we should re-send it," Casey suggested with a giggle.

"Makes sense to me," Jack replied.

"To the snakes it will concern," she composed out loud, 'writing' in the air with her finger, "Be aware that SG-1 is a very special team, and will kick your slimy snake asses. They are unstoppable as a team, and not too shabby independently." The two men were chuckling loudly. She jabbed the air with her finger. "There. Done."

Daniel laughed. "Doubt they'll pay attention."

"Probably not, arrogant bastards," Casey grumbled.

"Why don't you and Radar finish getting all of the pictures you want of this place while we're waiting," Jack suggested. Because as soon as he was out of this hole, he was heading home. A shower, a beer, and a hockey game...and Sam snuggled next to him, even if she was pissier than a Goa'uld. Sounded like a good time to him!

"Are you sure?" Daniel asked, uncertainly.

"Daniel, just do your thing, will you?"

With a smile and a nod, the archaeologist pulled himself to his feet. "Come on, Case, let's get this finished up."

Casey cast a worried look at her friend. Couldn't help but smile at the cheeky grin he offered. "Just holler if you need anything."

"You're a real comedienne, Radar," Jack said dryly.

"Thanks for noticing," she tossed back. Camera in hand, Casey returned to photographing the walls of the temple.

Twenty minutes had passed, when the silence that had filled the temple was shattered by the sound of two gunshots. Daniel and Casey raced to the edge of the pit.

Jack looked up. "What? Just a couple of snakes."

Casey gave a shiver. "We have to get you out of there!"

"It's no big deal, Radar," Jack replied. Even though his heart was pounding. The first snake had actually dropped onto his shoulder. The second had been right behind it, slithering out of the hole to drop to the hard packed dirt of the 'floor'.

Teal'c ran into the room at that moment, his face dripping with sweat, a rope over his shoulder. The echo of the gunshots had been loud enough for them to hear as he and Sam approached the temple, spurring him to race forward.

"Where's Sam?" Daniel asked immediately.

"She is right behind me. She insisted that I come ahead, as I am capable of larger steps, and advancing more quickly than she," the Jaffa explained breathlessly. "What has happened? I heard gunfire."

"Snakes. Jack had to shoot a couple of snakes," Daniel explained.

"I understand." Teal'c was already uncoiling the length of rope. Tested one of the nearby columns with a hearty shove. It remained firm. A loop was tied around the column, an anchor against Jack's weight as they lifted him. "I believe we are ready."

Daniel nodded. "Let's do this."

The end of the rope was tossed down to Jack; Teal'c and Daniel grabbed the slack. "Ready," Jack called calmly.

Muscles bulging, the two men began to pull on the rope, each of them taking a step backward. Another step, and another, and Jack appeared over the edge of the pit. Casey hurried to the edge, offering her hand. Teal'c reached out with one hand and grabbed the waistband of her pants.

Seeing that the seer was being held firmly, Jack accepted her assistance. With a groan, he rolled to the floor. "Thanks."

Sam was rushing between the columns to join her teammates. Everyone was safe, it seemed. She gave a silent sigh of relief, would find out about the weapons fire later. "We need to hurry. Walter picked up some weather anomalies from the MALP, he thinks a storm is heading this way."

"Figures," Jack mumbled. "Pack it up, campers, we are so out of here."

When they emerged from the temple, the horizon was lined with dark, heavy clouds. "Moving damned fast," Jack noted.

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed, his gaze scanning around them carefully.

"Double time, kids. Let's go."

Sam and Teal'c were already tired and winded, having run to the 'gate and back again. Their teammates adjusted their stride, kept the two surrounded, understanding that their bodies had already been pushed close to the limit. The dark clouds continued to move toward them, the wind that moved the storm making itself felt with more frequency and intensity.

The 'gate was just a few yards away from them when the first large hailstones began to fall. Daniel dashed ahead, began to dial for home, holding his pack over his head with one arm.

The others followed suit, protecting their heads as much as possible. The event horizon opened with its usual grandeur, the IDC signal was sent and the all-clear received. The MALP pushed through first, the team close behind.

Shaking themselves, bits of ice falling through the grate of the ramp to the concrete floor beneath, the team approached the waiting general, the security teams already withdrawing from the room.

Trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, Daniel checked his watch. They'd have to leave the SGC within the next twenty minutes, and then head straight for the airport to make their flight. He'd known he was cutting it close when the mission had been approved and put on the mission roster, but if all had gone as planned, they would have returned thirty minutes earlier. He'd even tossed their duffel bags into the back of the Jeep the night before, in anticipation of leaving straight from the SGC. If he had just talked to the general, chances were the mission could have been moved back by an hour or so. But then Casey would have found out...well, she knew now anyway, didn't she?

"Doctor, is there somewhere you need to be?" the general asked quietly. Jack had been correct, he was well aware of what Sunday was. And the reason for the request of three days vacation time.

Daniel sighed. "No, sir." Not now, he added silently.

"Very well. Post-mission check ups. We'll debrief in one hour."

"Yes, sir," Jack replied. Apparently the general wanted to see the photos that had been taken of the temple, to understand just exactly what they had managed to find. Daniel hadn't said anything; Casey had finally located the image she had seen, but it had been alone in one corner. The only thing the archaeologist had muttered was that it was 'odd', and that he had no clue what it was that Ba'al was holding.

He dropped his arm around her slender shoulders. "I'm sorry, Angel."

She smiled up at him, wrapped her arm around his waist. "If you hadn't been so determined to keep me from finding out, we might have made it."

His grin was automatic. "Is that your way of telling me to stop trying to keep secrets from you?"

"Gee, you're pretty smart," she teased.

Jack stepped closer. "I'm really sorry, Radar."

"It wasn't your fault. You had no idea that Ba'al had booby trapped that corner..." her voice trailed off. She cocked her head sideways as images, part of an earlier intel dump that she hadn't been able to even see clearly, began to snap into place. "We have to go back."

"What?" Daniel said, his voice rising in pitch.

"There's more there. We'll have to be careful, there are other traps, we're lucky we didn't set them off...and I think we need to find a hidden room."

"Hidden room?" Jack asked, a frown on his face.

"Yep."

"You know, it would have been nice to have had all of this intel before we actually walked through the 'gate," the colonel grumped.

"You're telling me?" Casey said, just as aggravated as her commanding officer. "In fact, I think I need to have a little talk with whoever is in charge of my downloads. This getting the news after the fact is getting rather annoying."

"Maybe you should have Danny talk to them," Jack suggested. "He's The One...might as well take advantage of his status."

She stopped walking, turned to face the older man. "That's a great idea! Let Them deal with The One. And if they piss me off, I'm going higher!"

"Higher?"

"Yep, higher than the Ascended. When I told Oma Desala I'd do that, it worried her, I sensed it, I could see it in her eyes," Casey reported. "So, one way or the other, this will be taken care of...I promise."

Jack chuckled. Looked over at Daniel. "Might want to warn them. If Radar is pissed off, might not be much of the astro-turf left when she's finished."

Daniel laughed. "I'll do that."

Casey rolled her eyes. Led the team into the infirmary. "So let the poking and prodding begin," she sighed heavily. The medics on duty began to chortle.

"I heard that," a familiar voice called out.

"Busted, Radar," Jack teased.

"I am not a pin cushion," the young seer declared. "Just stating that for obvious reasons and general purposes." Her teammates snickered as they seated themselves on two available cots. They had learned that by staying together, they were able to avoid the most probing of the routines...the majority of which were unnecessary, considering what they were.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Freshly showered and wearing clean uniforms, the members of SG-1 trooped into the briefing room. Prints of the photos that Daniel, Casey, and Sam had taken were waiting in folders at their usual places at the conference table. Jack quickly pointed out what the seer had 'seen', and that a return trip to the planet would be necessary.

"I believe we can hold off discussing further missions until Monday," the general replied. "I rather imagine that Doctor Jackson and Casey have plans for the weekend."

Daniel bit back his sigh. Not now we don't, he thought irritably. He'd planned on spending the weekend in bed with his Fantasy Angel. Not that he couldn't do that anyway. But damn it, there was a Jacuzzi and a fireplace...yeah, he had those things at home, but not within just a few feet of the bed...and there wouldn't be room service!

She could feel his frustration. And his disappointment. While spending three days off together was always time to be treasured, she understood that he'd made special plans for those days. Well, maybe her little 'outfit' would console him, somewhat.

They began to go through the photographs. Daniel admitted that the corner that bore the images Casey had seen was...unusual; that the mural drawings seemed out of place. That it would take a bit of study to determine just exactly how, or if, they fit in with the rest of the murals. Work that he had every intention of handing over to Jonas Quinn and Cam Balinsky. He was confident that the meticulous work of the two would net the information needed.

The briefing was adjourned, Casey and Daniel offered anniversary congratulations and well wishes, and the two hurried to his office to file their reports before leaving for the weekend.

Dr. Nichols was leaving a note on Daniel's desk when they arrived. "Doctor Jackson, just the man I needed to speak to!"

He bit back yet another sigh. He wanted to file his report and go home. He wanted to be totally alone with his wife...a fact that he'd reiterated to Jack, and mentioned three times to Sam, knowing that the she'd prevent any unwelcome 'visits'. "What can I do for you, Doctor Nichols?"

"It's about Doctor Fremont."

Casey rolled her eyes. She and the young anthropologist didn't get along very well. He was determined to flirt with her at every opportunity, no matter how often or how bluntly she let him know that she didn't appreciate his comments.

Daniel didn't miss the eye rolling. "Casey?"

"What?"

"Is there something about Matt you'd like to share?"

"Um...not really," she murmured.

Dr. Nichols cleared his throat. "If I may, Casey...er...Mrs. Jackson? I've overheard some of the very...inappropriate...comments he's made."

Daniel looked hard at the lean face of his colleague. "Such as?"

"He's made comments regarding favored sexual positions used during ancient rituals, then asked Casey...er...Mrs. Jackson, which were her favorites. He has also intimated that he'd like to meet her at O'Malley's for a drink. In spite of Casey's repeated requests that he not speak to her in that manner."

Daniel took a deep breath, his heart racing, his blood beginning to boil. One glance at his Wife and he realized she hadn't told him because she believed herself to be complicit...probably blamed herself for what the bastard had said. "Is this true?" He was amazed at how calm he sounded.

She nodded. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

He crossed the room, wrapped his hand around her chin, tipped her head back so that she was forced to look at him. "No reason for you to be sorry, Angel. I'm sorry for not paying closer attention, for not realizing that this was going on. For allowing you to be put into a position to have to hear that kind of crap." He turned back to Nichols. "I believe you have a complaint as well?"

"I just spent the better part of two hours redoing one of his reports. He missed five very obvious comments in mission reports made by SG-13, which documented their meeting with a group of tribal people on...darn it, I can't think of the planet designation-"

Daniel waved his hand. "Don't worry about that part. Did he miss them, or dismiss them?"

Nichols frowned. "Well now, I'm not certain. I do know that the next team to visit there could be harmed, if not killed, if they follow his ill-advised recommendations. Just because we have located several conclusive links between these people and two known Bedouin tribes who live in modern day Saudi Arabia, doesn't mean that the groups have the same laws. In fact, according to the mission reports, the laws and customs of the group on...that planet, are much more...brutal. Any breach of those laws or customs results in swift, and cruel, punishment."

He shook his head. This wasn't the first time that Matt Fremont had screwed up. Twice he claimed his mistakes to be simple oversight. The others...Daniel was certain that he had simply refused to accept what had been learned, because it didn't fit in with his preconceived notions of how the people in question should have been behaving. He'd talked to the young man, who was barely out of college, about his work on several occasions, always received assurances that it 'wouldn't happen again'. "I'll take care of it. Do me a favor...get everyone except Fremont into the commons."

"No problem. Matt left the base about an hour ago. Said he had personal business to attend to, and wouldn't be back until sometime tomorrow."

"All the better," Daniel said grimly. "Case, go on to the commons, I'll be right there."

She nodded, followed Dr. Nichols out of room.

Daniel picked up the phone, called the general's office. Explained the situation, and his decision. Received full authority, as well as the promise that the requested investigation would begin immediately. Another call to the security office to alert the MP's that Dr. Matt Fremont was not to be allowed past the level two visitor's lounge when he did return to the SGC, and that his security clearance was to be pulled right away. A third call to Dennis Ballard to see to it that any and all access Fremont might have had to the computers was summarily and immediately revoked. He took a deep breath. Casey had made a suggestion before...before Christmas actually. It was about time he implemented it.

There was one phone call left to make, however. He would prefer to do this face to face...but he was not about to step foot on the base until Monday, once he and Casey had left for the evening. He looked up the number, dialed carefully.

"Hello?"

"Matt? Doctor Jackson."

"Hey, Doctor J! What's up, my man?"

"I'd really prefer to have this conversation in person. Can you be at the SGC in the next hour?"

"Sorry dude, no can do. I'm kinda busy with some personal stuff right now."

"Anything serious? Ill family members or something?"

Matt laughed. "Nothing like that, I assure you."

"Well, if you can't be here, you've left me no other choice. You don't have to worry about coming in tomorrow."

"Cool!"

"In fact, you can turn in your security badge at the main gate. I doubt you'll be allowed any further than that."

There was a pause. "I don't get it."

"You're fired, Matt. The report you turned in to Doctor Nichols today was the last straw. I've tried to work with you, tried to give you a bit of latitude to become adjusted to the way things work around here. But you continue to make mistakes that could cost lives. I can't allow that."

"You can't fire me!"

"Yes, I can, and I just did."

"Yeah, go for it, dude. I'll be calling CNN as soon as I hang up."

"Really? 'Go for it, dude'," Daniel replied, mimicking the young man. "We'll see just how long it takes for you to be picked up by Air Force security. You do remember those non-disclosure forms, right? There are no release dates on them for a reason. And each of those forms state that the agreement is effective until the United States government no longer feels the need to keep the project classified. Don't delude yourself into thinking that just because you aren't working here, that you won't continue to be monitored. Breathe one word, and you'll be spending a very long time in prison. And you'll be branded a lunatic. Probably even diagnosed with some sort of delusional disorder." Not that he agreed with or approved of that type of thing. But he wasn't naïve enough to think it didn't, or wouldn't, happen.

"They can't do that!"

"Yes, they can. And they will. They have your signature, Matt. You were aware of the rules when you signed the contract." And, Daniel thought wearily, the Air Force wouldn't give a damn about the rights of one disgruntled ex-employee of the most important secret project being operated by the US government. Again, not a fact that he was personally comfortable with, but a fact nonetheless.

The silence stretched out for so long that Daniel was afraid he'd been disconnected. "This totally sucks," Matt said quietly.

"You should have thought about that before you allowed your personal prejudices to color your work."

Another long pause. "I know what I learned. I know I'm right."

"No, Matt, you don't. You're basing your decisions exclusively on what you learned in classes that taught theories which are based primarily on guesses, without taking into account the mission reports. It seems you're not capable of taking those theories and applying them in conjunction with firsthand information. And as long as you base your recommendations on anything other than current, and correct, information, you'll continue to jeopardize lives. I can't, and I won't, allow that to happen. I'll be glad to write a referral letter for you. I have no doubt that you'll have no problems finding work in any number of museums." With the young man's attitude, and work ethic, there wasn't a learning institution in the country that would consider him for any research program; teaching would be completely out of the question.

"Uh...yeah...sure. Thanks." The young man's voice was subdued. He finally realized, too late it seemed, just what he had done...what he had risked. What he had lost.

Daniel took a deep breath. Made the switch in his mind from head of the archaeology department to Casey's husband. "On a personal note, if you so much as look in my Wife's direction again, I'll knock the shit out of you."

"What?"

"You know what I'm talking about. If I had known sooner about this, I'd have said something long ago."

"Hey, it was just talk, that's all."

"Talk that she didn't want to hear. She asked you...told you...to stop, didn't she?"

"They never mean it when they say 'no'," Matt said.

Daniel could hear the sneer in his voice. Alarm bells began to go off in his head. He wondered just exactly what the Secret Service probe would find. Figured he probably didn't want to know. There hadn't been anything in the first background check. That didn't mean that there wasn't something that more digging wouldn't bring to light. Another face danced briefly in his memory, another man he had worked with, a man full of jealousy and petty spite. Someone he also suspected of behavior that was on the far side of ethical. "Yes, Matt, 'they' do."

"This just totally sucks!" the young man declared again, after a moment of silence.

"Grow up, Matt. It's past time that you did." Without another word, Daniel hung up the phone. Took another deep breath. What he was about to do now would be much easier. More pleasant, as well, he hoped.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Expectant faces greeted him when he walked into the large commons room, the buzz of conversation fading as he made his way to the front of the room. He was able to offer a real smile as he moved passed the table around which the scientists were seated. He leaned against the counter where the coffee maker and microwave sat. Crossed his arms over his chest. "Thanks for dropping what you were doing for this," he said.

"I needed a break," Dr. Leanna Izett replied. "My eyes were starting to cross trying to read glyphs."

Easy laughter moved around the room. Daniel's smile widened. "First of all, I want to let you know that Doctor Fremont won't be with us any longer. I can't and won't risk the lives of any SG team because of egos in the archaeology department."

Cam looked around. "I doubt you'll hear any complaints," he said quietly.

"That young man did more skirt chasing than work," Dr. Beth Meyers complained.

Daniel shook his head. "Why didn't anyone tell me about all of this?" He watched Casey, who was sitting between Dr. Meyers and Dr. Izett. Worried when she wouldn't meet his eyes. "I should have been made aware of his behavior immediately."

Casey dropped her eyes to her hands, but said nothing.

"I guess we were all..." Jonas said, waving his hand in a small circle.

"Please don't tell me that you're afraid to talk to me!" Daniel exclaimed.

"Not at all, Doctor Jackson," Dr. Meyers replied. "It's just that we assumed that you knew, and that as long as Matt was turning in his work on time, you weren't...concerned."

This meeting was going to be longer than he had anticipated. But it was obviously something that he needed to do. He supposed that if he'd taken Casey's advice sooner, this problem would have already been dealt with. He puffed his cheeks, blew out a full breath of air. "Okay, first of all, it seems that all of you are on a first name basis. Which is exactly how it should be. The work here can be intense, and the formality can get in the way. I'd like to be included in that. So please, call me Daniel."

"All of us?" Jonas asked shyly.

Daniel smiled. "All of you."

"Easy enough to do...Daniel," Beth Meyers smiled.

"The next thing I want you to understand is that if you have a question, or a concern, or a complaint, please let me know. I realize that my frequent absences make that difficult at times. Casey has suggested that we need a 'chain of command' here on the archaeological level. Cam has been my closest assistant for a couple of years now-"

"Um...second closest," Cam teased, nodding toward Casey.

"Okay, conceded," Daniel grinned. "But I've left him in charge when I'm away. Because Cam has been assigned to SG-13, he's often absent as well. So...I'm putting Doctor Meyers...er...Beth...as the second-in-command pro-tem when Cam is also out on missions."

Dr. Adam Warnke frowned. "Is there a particular reason that you chose Beth?"

Well, hell. All he needed was a jealous, pissed off archaeologist. "Yes, there is. Beth was the curator of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale. She's familiar with the management aspects of the job."

Warnke nodded.

He relaxed mentally. It seemed that it was a question more of curiosity than animosity. His gaze moved to the woman in question. "In fact, if you don't mind, I'd like to have you keeping track of priority work."

Beth nodded. "If I might...the store rooms are a literal hodge-podge of discoveries, and Casey has admitted that for the moment, the inventory sheets are several months behind. We need to get a full inventory on what we have, a system for logging new finds, and more storage room. It will be impossible to examine what we have if we don't know what we have."

Cam snorted. Casey ducked her head, but was unable to stifle her chuckle.

"Yuk it up, you two," Daniel grumped.

"You're not the first one to make that suggestion," Casey giggled. "However, maybe he'll listen to you."

"I have a system," he insisted.

"You have a piling system, not a filing system," Casey countered. "Besides, I keep telling you that you're the head of the department. Not the entire department."

"Daniel, no one could, or should, expect you to know about every single artifact that's brought in. You should be aware of it, yes. But to be responsible for keeping track of all of the pieces..." Beth shook her head. "I doubt that even your mind is capable of that."

He was taken aback at the comment. It had been meant as a compliment, he understood that. He'd always been considered a "Wunderkind". His theories as an adult, however, had been met with such skepticism that he'd just assumed that his contemporaries in the field doubted his intelligence.

"Let us help, Daniel," Cam said gently. "That is what we're here for. You can accept our help with translations. Why not the rest of the work that's involved?"

He frowned slightly. "I guess...I guess I just never gave it serious consideration. I was the entire department for the first couple of years...then it was just me and Robert...it's only been in the past three years that we've actually become a legitimate 'department' here at the SGC," he admitted.

"Well, then, I say that it's time we behave that way," Beth responded.

"Right now we're all busy with translations...what if we have cadets come in and inventory, or even some of the SG team members when they're not on the mission roster?" Cam suggested.

Daniel tapped a finger against his lips. "That could work. I'll speak to General Hammond about it."

"Bring him up here," Beth said. "Show him what we're facing."

The others were nodding their agreement. "I really don't think he realizes just how much as been brought back, how much is waiting to be examined," Casey said. "We don't know how many clues to the Lost City, or weapons that could be used against the Goa'uld, we might already have."

"We haven't even catalogued the stuff that SG-13 brought back, let alone actually looked at it," Cam pointed out.

"I have less to do than anyone, at the moment," Leanna said. "I could at least oversee an inventory audit, make certain that the pieces are identified correctly."

"If we could break the finds down into categories, by civilization, that might help," Craig Nichols added.

"You're still going to have to do an independent audit; as head of the department, that will be necessary," Beth pointed out, "but if everything is organized, it will be as simple as walking through a room and checking tags."

"You mentioned storage," Daniel said. "I know that we're running out. The difficulty comes from the fact that what we do is highly classified. We can't risk anyone seeing things that we can't explain."

"Which means restricting everything to levels below fifteen," Cam sighed.

"Unless we can steal level fifteen," Casey said.

"What?" Daniel's eyebrows moved up, and then back down into a surprised frown.

"It's storage now, I think they've used one of the rooms for meetings a time or two. But if level fifteen was designated as a part of the SGC proper, we'd have more storage space," she explained.

Daniel grinned. "I'll add that to my discussion with General Hammond."  He glanced around.  "Anything else?"

Heads moved back and forth, indicating that nothing else needed to be covered.

Cam looked from Daniel to Casey and back again. "I thought the two of you had some down time coming? Something about an anniversary?"

"Yeah, we do. Have to fill out mission reports first."

"Then I suggest you do so. We can discuss this further when you and Casey return," Beth said, the finality in her voice allowing for no argument.

"Thanks," Daniel said softly, humbled by the show of friendship from the people he worked with.

"For the record, I believe you've been doing an amazing job here," Beth said, her own voice soft. "You don't have to do it all alone, not any longer."

"That's right," Craig added. "We're here for you...all the way."

There was a double meaning in their comments, and Daniel picked up the hidden messages. "Thanks," he said again, his smile shy.

"Okay, if we're done here, I'm going to get back to risking permanent blindness on those glyphs," Leanna announced, standing to her feet. "More close ups. We need the teams to take more close up images."

"I'll add that to the list," Daniel chuckled.

One by one the archaeologists and anthropologists drifted back to their interrupted tasks, none of them leaving the room before patting Daniel on the shoulder, and wishing him and Casey congratulations on their anniversary.

Casey watched, a smile on her face. "See, that wasn't so difficult, was it?"

"Guess I should've done it sooner," he admitted.

"This was the right time," she said softly. "Let's finish up those reports, Stud Muffin. I want to go home."

He let her wrap her fingers around his and tug him back toward his office. She didn't seem terribly upset about the missed flight, or the now ruined get-away. He silently cursed not having attempted getting a later check-in time. Wished fervently that he'd spoken to General Hammond about his plans. Heaved a mental sigh. She would've loved that bed and breakfast.


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