Mathématique: Chapter 20
“The whole world owes me coffee,” Jackson said, and, while his delivery was light, those blue-fire eyes were anything but.
Revised Author’s Notes: This is a piece of fan fiction. It’s a trope-twisting, epic-length, crossover AU that spans all three series of Stargate. There’s a lot of science. A lot of plot. A lot of emotions. Timelines have been slightly altered so that season 4 of Stargate Atlantis (without Carter in command) occurs contemporaneously to season 10 of SG-1, which occurs in the year prior to season 1 of SGU.
Disclaimer: I’m not making money from this; please don’t repost to other sites.
Warnings: Stressors of all kinds.
Young was looking for Jackson.
Ten minutes or so after Sheppard’s team had departed, he was limping through the busy corridors of level twenty-one, trying not to think too much about Rush—Rush for god’s sake—on a world halfway across the Milky Way, dismantling a DHD.
He felt—not exactly responsible for the man, but maybe—maybe concerned.
Maybe slightly responsible.
Maybe slightly responsible and slightly concerned.
After all, the guy hadn’t even been able to turn on his own air conditioner.
Okay, so that assessment was a little bit unfair.
Also, McKay was probably the one actually taking apart the DHD.
It would be fine. The planet was in friendly territory, the Odyssey was standing by for a remote beam-out if Rush broke the DHD, and Dr. Perry was on deck for science backup, not that the team would likely need it, since McKay would be onsite. Worst-case scenario, Carter had recovered to the point that Brightman had okayed her to leave the infirmary for half an hour if it came to that. Most reassuring of all, Sheppard was leading the mission. Young couldn’t think of a better man for the job, with the possible exception of himself, which, apparently, hadn’t been an option that Landry was willing to entertain.
Young supposed he couldn’t blame the man for that.
Sheppard though—Sheppard was perfect. He was enough of a closet intellectual that he could go toe to toe with any of the science staff if it suited him, which it usually didn’t. The man had the most laid-back command style to ever survive an ascent up the SGC chain of command. But behind Sheppard’s MENSA membership, his laissez-faire leadership style, and his SoCal veener, was something hard-edged. Young had never seen him in action, in real action, but he’d heard enough water cooler talk to get a feel for the guy’s rep. Telford had been the one who’d put it best: “Brain of a nerd, heart of a surfer, enthusiasm of a kid, nerves of a test pilot, and soul of a stone cold badass.”
So. Sheppard was perfect.
Young turned off the hallway into the main floor space of the infirmary. The room was mostly empty, aside from the medic sitting at the intake desk. He angled left, avoiding the gatekeeper with a noncommittal wave before heading toward Teal’c and Jackson, who were standing on either side of Carter’s gurney, watching her and Mitchell go at it over a chessboard.
Carter looked pretty good for a soldier who’d taken a round to the chest. She was sitting up, the fluorescent lights glinting off her hair. Mitchell was perched on the edge of her bed, hunched over the board.
“Oh, okay, so that?” Jackson said, grimacing, his arms crossed over his chest. “That—that was not a good move.”
“God, Jackson,” Mitchell snapped, not looking up from the board. “Stop backseat chess-driving.”
“I don’t think that’s a thing,” Jackson said. “Is that a thing?” He asked the room at large, his eyes scanning over Carter, Teal’c, and then settling on Young.
“Of course it’s ‘a thing’,” Mitchell replied, “because you’re doing it. Right now. Teal’c, help a brother out here?”
“I concur with Daniel Jackson. This is not your game.”
“You guys are the worst.”
Carter gave Young a wave and a wan smile while Mitchell considered the board with more intensity than really seemed necessary.
Young nodded at Teal’c, then leaned over Mitchell’s shoulder to eye the board. It was mostly covered with black pieces. The majority of the white ones seemed to be in a neat row on Carter’s side of the table.
“This is not looking good for you,” Young observed.
Mitchell jumped and half-turned in his seat. “Oh sure,” he said, when he had recovered his equilibrium, “kick a guy while he’s down. I’m not hearing constructive criticism from any of you.”
“Endeavor not to lose so many pieces,” Teal’c said.
“Indeed,” Jackson added, raising one eyebrow in an understated imitation of Teal’c.
“Come on guys,” Carter said, her voice quiet and rasping slightly. “This isn’t helping.” She turned to Mitchell, raising both eyebrows. “It was your opener that sank you. You didn’t set up a good pawn skeleton right at the outset.”
“I know,” Mitchell said, “but it’s hard to set it up if you insist on taking it down all the dang day.”
Carter’s laugh turned almost instantly into a wince, her hand coming up to her chest.
“Sorry,” Mitchell said, reaching forward, his hands hovering in the air in front of her. “Sorry.”
“You guys are like—way too intense about everything,” Young pointed out, while Carter recovered. “You realize this, right?”
They all stared at him.
“This is not ‘intense’,” Mitchell said, with the air of a man who’d been deeply offended. “This is appropriate. You just don’t have all the facts. Dr. Coombs challenged us to a chess tournament. SG-1 versus the Infrared Spectroscopy Unit.”
“And you accepted?” Young asked.
“Colonel Mitchell accepted,” Teal’c clarified.
“You guys are toast.” Young raised his eyebrows.
“I believe that is likely,” Teal’c said.
“It’s not ‘likely’,” Mitchell replied. “We’re gonna win, thereby maintaining our street cred.”
“I think a chess tournament with the ISU, which we will inevitably lose, will do nothing to maintain our ‘street cred’,” Jackson said. “In fact, I think even accepting the challenge is likely to have the opposite effect from the one you’re envisioning. The ISU dresses up like Vulcans every Halloween. They have no ‘street cred’ to speak of.”
“There’s nothing wrong with Vulcans,” Carter said primly, “but I, for one, refuse to submit to a team captained by Jay Felger.”
“See?” Mitchell said, moving one of his only remaining pawns in a way that Young could see was not going to work out well for him. “That’s what I’m talking about. Positive attitude.”
“Checkmate,” Carter said apologetically.
“Damn it,” Mitchell snapped.
“We are so screwed,” Jackson said.
“Indeed,” Teal’c added.
“Any word on Dr. Lam?” Young asked into the ensuing silence.
The expression froze on Carter’s face, and Mitchell flinched. Predictably, it was Jackson who answered, his tone light, his delivery casual. “She’s doing okay. No problems with dialysis, no post-op complications so far following—ah, the bilateral kidney removal. She put herself back in the duty roster for the week after next.”
“Landry took her back out of the duty roster,” Mitchell added, “but she says she’s doing fine.”
Carter nodded, her eyes fixed on the end of the bed. “Any—“ her voice broke and she took a sip of water. “Did she come up with any requests yet?”
“Requests?” Young asked.
“We’re cooking her dinner,” Jackson said.
Young flicked his gaze over to Mitchell, who was blushing so subtly that he doubted the rest of the man’s team had noticed. “Oh really,” Young asked. “And whose idea was that?”
Mitchell directed a glare at him that would have ignited the uniform of a lesser man. “It’s a tradition,” he clarified carefully.
“That you made up,” Jackson said. “One week ago.”
“I approve,” Teal’c said.
“Me too,” Carter added.
“I’m not saying that I don’t approve,” Jackson said, “but I am questioning the use of the word ‘tradition.’ I’m also questioning the culinary abilities of this team.”
“You guys should get Rush in on this,” Young said.
“Good call,” Mitchell replied.
Carter and Jackson leveled simultaneous stares first at Young, then at Mitchell. “Or not?” Young said.
“Nicholas Rush,” Jackson said. “Your neighbor? That Rush?”
“That’s the one,” Young said. “He’s damn handy in the kitchen.”
“No,” Jackson said. “No.”
“Yes,” Young said.
“I don’t believe it. I don’t think he eats anything except—well, I have no idea, actually. I just—I just don’t think he eats,” Jackson said.
“Oh come on,” Carter replied. “Even for you that makes no sense.”
“Nope,” Jackson continued. “I’ve never seen it happen. And I’m very rational, thank you, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Um,” Carter said, looking back at the chessboard. “Yeah. Sure.”
Young shrugged. “He makes a really great fougasse and soupe au pistou. He’s been into Provence for, like, five days now.”
“No,” Jackson said, his voice dropping.
“I don’t get how you manage to convince this guy to make you dinner on a regular basis,” Mitchell said.
“It’s a constant struggle,” Young replied, “requiring a balance of insults, reverse psychology, appeals to pity, intermittent offers to order takeout Chinese for him, and then sometimes actually ordering it and trying to make him eat it.”
“Proof,” Jackson said. “I’m going to need proof.”
“Take a picture next time,” Mitchell said, stealing a chocolate covered espresso bean from the small pile that Jackson had left on Carter’s bedside table. “You could start a blog.”
“I feel like that would backfire,” Young said, “if my goal is to continue getting dinner.”
“I need this,” Jackson said. “I need a picture.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Young said, “but I am not jeopardizing my dinner for you. Ask Vala. She might be able to get one. He’s cooking dinner for her sometime next week.”
“For—Vala?” Jackson said. “But—why?“
“I think she might like him a little bit,” Young said, shrugging.
“We’re watching Kill Bill. Not sure how that’s gonna go, but—“
“What do you mean she likes him?”
“Vala likes most people,” Carter said, looking up at Jackson with eyes that were just a bit too wide to be entirely innocent.
“Kill Bill?” Mitchell said. “Man, but she has a thing for Quentin Tarantino. I don’t get it. I really don’t.”
“But—“ Jackson said, looking entirely out of his depth.
Mitchell began setting up the chessboard again. “Do you think if we invited him to this thing for Dr. Lam—“
“I think there’s no way he’d show,” Young said.
“What if Vala invited him?” Mitchell asked hopefully.
“Only if she managed to catch him when he wasn’t paying attention.”
“Dang,” Mitchell said, stealing another one of Carter’s espresso beans. “Ow,” he added, as she smacked his hand.
“I believe that commissioning an outsider to cook dinner for Dr. Lam defeats the purpose of the tradition,” Teal’c said.
“Outsider?” Young echoed, raising his eyebrows at Teal’c.
“True,” Mitchell said, plowing over Young. “Come on guys, we’ll be fine. Teal’c makes an awesome Jaffa dip. Chel’mek or something, right?”
“Hate to break it to you, but ‘Chel’mek’ consists of pulverized Doritos mixed with hot sauce, sour cream, and cilantro,” Jackson said, with a bit more snark than was typical for him.
“Teal’c,” Mitchell said, turning the man’s name into a half-shout as he twisted in place to fix the Jaffa with a pointed stare. “Seriously. What. The hell.”
“It is delicious, is it not?” Teal’c asked, unperturbed.
“Yes, but—Chel’mek? I thought the stuff was Goa’uld.”
“Following the founding of the IOA, United States Customs inserted a classified clause regarding the importation of offworld food products. I have been unable to bring food back through the gate for some time,” Teal’c said.
“Well then—“ Mitchell began.
“Chel’mek translates into something like ‘the fire of awesomeness’,” Jackson said, amused. “Most correctly: ‘a burning thing, in which the thing that is on fire is the thing that is awesome’.”
“You guys are punking me,” Mitchell said. “Again.”
“Nope,” Jackson said.
“Not this time,” Teal’c confirmed.
Young did his best to keep a straight face as Mitchell leaned forward, bracing his elbows against the table in front of him and burying his head in his hands. “Doritos? But how is it so delicious?”
“You guys, stop,” Carter said breathlessly. “I can’t laugh.”
“So, just to summarize,” Jackson said, “we’ve got Chel’mek, which we can pass off as a regional variant of a traditional Jaffa dish, the ability to burn cookies, and some kind of grilled meat as options, presuming that Mitchell can operate a grill. You can, can’t you?”
“Yes,” Mitchell said. “I can operate one and I have one.”
“Don’t forget the cocktails,” Carter said, making a concerted effort not to laugh. “We’re definitely going to be having Mal Dorans.”
“They should pair with the rest of the meal really nicely,” Jackson said, “as all cocktails involving salt tend to do. They’re like wine in that way.”
“One day she’s going to figure out that we don’t like them,” Carter whispered, her expression caught between amused and guilty.
“Nooooo,” Jackson said, drawing out the word. “That day is never going to come. Not for me, not for you, not for any of us.” He turned to glare at Young.
Young held his hands out in front of him, palms out.
“You’re a tyrant,” Mitchell said to Jackson. “A weird, autocratic, Prince of Geeks.”
“I concur,” Teal’c said.
“Ow,” Carter said, grinning, one hand pressed over her sternum. “You guys.”
“I’m not an autocrat,” Jackson said, scandalized.
“Where is Vala anyway?” Young asked.
“Probably improving her cultural lexicon,” Jackson replied.
“So, watching The X-files then?” Mitchell asked.
“I’m not so sure,” Carter said. “I think she has a new project. She was awfully secretive in the bookstore about two weeks back. I’m not sure what she was buying, but she didn’t want me to see it.”
“Well, let’s just hope it’s not illegal,” Mitchell said cheerfully, reassembling the pieces on the chessboard.
“Oh god,” Jackson moaned.
“She has had only one illegal hobby,” Teal’c said, “despite your many fears to the contrary.”
“I don’t think you can buy many illegal things in a bookstore, if it’s any consolation,” Young said.
“But knowledge of illegal things,” Mitchell said, rotating the chessboard and positioning it in Carter’s easy reach, “that you can buy.”
“Not helpful,” Jackson snapped. “Not helpful, you guys.”
“You need to chill out, Jackson,” Mitchell said.
“Indeed,” Teal’c agreed.
“Been tellin’ him that for years,” Carter said, crunching an espresso bean delicately between her teeth. “Vala’s fine. Vala’s great.”
“Oh no,” Jackson said. “No you don’t. I’m not the only one who needs to ‘chill out.’ Who stayed on base without going home for two-weeks solid while trying to phase-shift her lab bench, hmm?”
“It wouldn’t have been two weeks if someone hadn’t spilled coffee in that array,” Carter replied, frowning.
“Right,” Jackson said. “And what happened with that? Did you ever figure out who it was?” he shot Mitchell a pointed look.
“Yeah, so maybe we all need to chill out,” Mitchell said, glaring back at Jackson while Carter considered the board. “Not just you. Apparently.”
“I am adequately chill,” Teal’c said.
“Okay. Fair point. Everyone, except for Teal’c, just needs to chill.”
Young had not made a trip to the infirmary with the express purpose of participating in the SG-1 Banter Hour, however easy they decided to made it.
“Jackson.” Young caught the other man’s eye. “I think I owe you a coffee.”
“The whole world owes me coffee,” Jackson said, and, while his delivery was light, those blue-fire eyes were anything but.
“Let’s take a walk,” Young said.
“Sure,” Jackson replied. “Sam, you want some more of that blue jello?”
“That would be great,” she said. “Thanks.”
“I would also like some jello,” Teal’c added.
“Okay,” Jackson said.
“Daaaniel,” Mitchell said, as Jackson rounded the bed.
“I only have two hands,” the archeologist replied.
“You know you’re gonna do it, if you don’t get sidetracked by a library book that lost its mom, that is,” Mitchell said.
“No jello for you,” Jackson pronounced.
“I got your back,” Young said, slapping Mitchell on the shoulder as he turned toward the doorway.
“That’s my man,” Mitchell said, pointing after him, his eyes never leaving the chessboard.
Jackson and Young left the infirmary, the archaeologist naturally slowing his stride to match Young’s pace as they proceeded toward the elevators. They didn’t speak until they had reached the metal doors.
“How’s the leg?” Jackson asked, as they stepped inside. “And the back?”
Young shrugged. “About as good as can be, I suppose,” he said. “How’s your stuff going?”
“It’s been a bit lighter lately, other than, you know, the horrific foothold situation here and there. We scrapped a mission requiring Sam that was supposed to embark only a few hours after the LA showed up, so that’s made things less busy. We’ve also been—" Jackson sighed, and hit the button for level twenty-two. “Bogged down in some red tape.”
“I heard about that,” Young said, “if by ‘red tape’, you mean the planning stages of a certain feature film.”
“Ugh,” Jackson said. “We do not speak its name.”
“So I heard. I also heard, from multiple sources, that they’re resurrecting Dr. Levant.“
Jackson rolled his eyes. “They promised me that they’d killed him off once and for all. They’d let him rest in peace. But noooo.” He drew out the word with a sweeping hand gesture. “Mitchell is going to be insufferable when that thing comes out.”
“Mitchell and half the base,” Young said. “Vala’s pretty psyched about it.”
“I know,” Jackson said. “And I know.”
The elevator doors swished open, and the archeologist pressed his hand against the metal to hold them in place, waving for Young to precede him.
“Thanks for—“ Jackson began, as they started toward the mess. “Your report was—well. I read your report. You said some nice things about her.”
Young raised his eyebrows.
“It’ll help. It already has. She doesn’t know it yet, but—as of this morning, the paperwork’s in motion to make her a full-on member of SG-1.” Jackson tried not to smile, but couldn’t quite hold it back.
Young nodded, grinning. “Good on her.”
“Don’t tell her though,” Jackson continued. “We want to find the right moment, and we’re going wait until it’s really official. She’ll just talk my ear off about it if it’s not carved in stone when we give her the patch.”
“My lips are sealed,” Young replied.
They were quiet as they navigated the busier corridor near the mess hall.
“Seriously, Jackson,” Young began, as they entered the cafeteria.
“Daniel,” Jackson corrected him.
“Daniel,” Young continued. “A Dodge Dart? From the seventies?”
“Late seventies,” Jackson said, smiling faintly. “It runs fine.”
“Except for the air conditioner.”
“It builds character,” Jackson said, cocking his head and fixing his gaze on the floor with a disarming half-smile.
“Right,” Young said. “Sure.”
They didn’t speak again until they were seated, coffee in hand and an array of blue jello lined up at the end of the table, waiting to be delivered to the rest of SG-1, presuming they were able to defend it from passersby. The main lunch crowd was on its way out, and they managed to find a table near the back of the room, relatively distant from any occupied tables.
The mood between them changed subtly as Jackson traced the rim of his coffee cup with a fingernail, watching Young with an expression that was intelligent, guarded, and contained only a trace of his characteristic friendliness. Young cleared his throat and did his best not to let the other man unnerve him.
“You wanted to talk,” Jackson said evenly.
“I did,” Young replied, but said nothing further.
“The fact that you’re not actually doing any talking makes me think that you realize some of the delicacies of our current situation,” Jackson said, wry and dry, examining the rim of his coffee cup.
Young hated this coy bullshit—talking about a thing without talking about it at all. “Some of them,” he replied cautiously. “Yes.”
“I’ll start,” Jackson said. “I usually do. Jack told me that he offered you Icarus.”
“He did,” Young replied. “And he gave me some extra time to think on it. A bit more time than was originally on the table, in light of—last week’s developments. Telford back, but in no way cleared. The offer’s still on the table—with a whole lot more caveats attached. I wanted to talk to you before I decided either way.”
“How impolitic of you,” Jackson said, giving him a small smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I hope you didn’t tell them that.”
“No,” Young said.
Jackson lifted his coffee cup in a half-hearted toast. “So why talk to me?”
“I hear you give good advice,” Young said.
“It’s been known to happen,” Jackson replied, his eyes scanning the room, lingering on the personnel who’d lasted this late into the lunch hour.
“You gave my neighbor a pretty good tip last week,” Young said mildly.
Jackson’s eyes snapped to Young’s. “Yes,” he admitted. “One of my narrowest needle threadings yet. What did you think of my work? I assume he told you what he found in his medical file.”
Young suppressed the urge to shift in his chair. He’d thought it was hard to stare down Mitchell. The man had nothing on Jackson. He took a sip of his coffee. “I’m not sure I know enough to have an informed opinion about whether it was a good idea or not,” he said finally.
Jackson dropped his eyes back to his coffee cup, and Young had the feeling that—to the extent it was possible—he’d answered correctly.
“What’s your role in all of this?” Young asked. “What’s your angle?”
“My angle?” Jackson echoed with such perfect control of face and voice that it made Young’s teeth ache in irritated sympathy.
They faced each other in silence, poised on some kind of fulcrum, while Jackson decided whether to tip the conversation into informative territory. Dangerous territory.
“Do you know,” Jackson said quietly, “what you’re asking?”
“No,” Young replied, trying to keep the frustration out of his voice. “Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be asking. But in this environment—” Young broke off. “I can think of a few reasons why you might not want to answer.”
Jackson continued to watch him, undecided. “Tell me why you’re considering Jack’s offer.”
“For the same reason I’ve done everything I’ve done,” Young said, rubbing his jaw. “I have no great aspiration to find out where this nine-chevron address goes, but I could get behind it the Icarus Project, especially if it made some kind of difference in the shit that’s going on here. The LA. The Ori. Whether I do this, or something else, I’m not benching myself just because I broke my damn back.”
“That’s the vibe I get,” Jackson said with a half-smile. He didn’t continue.
“So there’s all that,” Young said, “and then, there’s also the fact that I find my neighbor to be something of an interesting guy.”
“He is,” Jackson said. “Isn’t he.” It wasn’t a question, and Young didn’t answer it. Instead he watched Jackson, beginning to get a feel for what it was, exactly, that made the man one of the most sought-after diplomats in the galaxy.
“So, are we done with the job-interview part of this?” Young asked.
Jackson took another sip of coffee and did not answer. That was probably a no, then. Young tried to figure out what else the man might be waiting to hear.
“I’m not gonna throw you under a bus here, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“No,” Jackson said, slowly, searching Young’s face. “I don’t think you will. Not purposefully. But I have to say—no one’s meant to shove me in front of most of the busses that have hit me over the years. Here and there, sure. But most of the time—people don’t see the shove as a shove.”
“Yeah,” Young said shortly. “I get it. it’s hard to be you. So what’s your angle, Jackson? Because you’ve got one, that much is obvious.”
“You want to know my angle? My angle is that I’ve been there,” Jackson said, low and intent, his control cutting out like he’d flipped a switch on it. He sat forward, eyes blazing, fingers pressing against the table. “I’ve been there.”
“Where?” Young replied, leaning forward, mirroring the other man’s posture.
“Where?” Jackson echoed. “What does that even mean. ‘Where.’ As if we’re speaking of locations that can be grounded in a limited, non-specialist conceptualization of spacetime. The act of leaving changes you. Even if you don’t remember the nature of the change. Even if those memories are stripped from your mind.”
“Jackson,” Young ground out, gripping his coffee, leaning forward despite the pull in his back. “I’m terrible at this metaphorical bullshit. I have no experience with it. You have to nail down what you’re talking about.”
“Ascension,” Jackson whispered, his expression twisting into something pained, his nails digging into the styrofoam of his now empty cup. “Ascension.”
“What does Ascension have to do with Icarus?“
“It has everything, everything to do with Icarus,” Jackson hissed, hands braced against the table, looking like he might be sick.
“Jackson,” Young said, staring at him, feeling his heart rate increase for no other reason than the sense of strain he was picking up in the lines of the man’s shoulders, in the shredding of a styrofoam cup beneath his hands. “Daniel.”
“I can’t,” Jackson whispered. “I can’t talk about—about what it is, exactly, that I think. Already, they’re watching me. Both sides. All the time. Do you know what that’s like?”
“What do you mean ‘both sides’?” Young asked, at a loss. “What do you mean ‘all the time’?”
“You think I’m worried about the SGC?” Jackson murmured, a smile twisting its way out of his face. “You think I’m worried about pissing Landry off? God, I wish I were. I wish that was my life.”
“So by both sides—” Young said, already feeling his blood beginning to chill.
“The Ori,” Jackson said, “and the Ancients.”
Holy shit. Young took a deep breath. The skin between his shoulder blades prickled with nerves. “Okay,” he said, unwrapping one hand from around his coffee and opening it in Jackson’s direction. “Okay. I get it. You’re in a tight spot.”
Jackson pulled in ragged breaths.
Young tried to relax the muscles in his back and leg. “What can you tell me?”
“It’s so hard to say,” Jackson said, wistfully, most of his composure back in place. “Less than I’d like. I prefer not to speculate too widely so as not to lay down too many cards in front of ostensibly omniscient parties. As far as the SGC is concerned? Officially? I’m cleared to tell you nothing. Unofficially—well. I can point out a few things. In isolation unimportant, but—considered together, maybe suggestive.”
“Shoot,” Young said.
“The Ancients,” Jackson said, “are unwilling to help us in our fight against the Ori, despite a direct, personal appeal. By me.”
“The Ori have a city,” Jackson continued, dropping his voice to a whisper. “A city called Celestis. It’s possible for humans to travel there. In fact, humans are taken there—to be made into Priors.”
“No shit,” Young said.
“I’ve seen it. I’ve been there.”
The other man paused. Young waited him out.
“When we discovered the nine-chevron address in the Ancient database,” Jackson continued. “It contained a reference to another repository of Ancient knowledge, which, when cross-referenced, provided more detail on what’s at the other end of this nine-chevron address.”
“What kind of detail?”
“That one could travel there,” Jackson whispered, “but that to truly access it, to unlock it—well. Certain benchmarks must be met.”
“Benchmarks?” Young asked.
“Physiological benchmarks. On the road to ascension,” Jackson whispered. “Or—on the road to something else. The road to Priory, perhaps. The text isn’t clear.”
Young stared at him.
“Ascension,” Jackson whispered, “is not an inherently moral process. It can be twisted. The Ori have twisted it. Others have twisted it. There are no ethical safeguards, but there are biological limitations. Limits that some people are closer to breaking than others.”
“Shit,” Young whispered.
“Yes,” Jackson said. “You begin to see. Why specify these benchmarks, if this address simply leads to a place. A place like any other.”
“So where do you think it leads?” Young whispered. “Somewhere else? Somewhere like Celestis? To Celestis itself?”
“I don’t want to say,” Jackson said, swallowing convulsively, looking at the ceiling, “what I think.”
“But you think Rush might meet these benchmarks?” Young asked, gripping his coffee.
“We know he doesn’t,” Jackson said. “Not yet. But we also know that he’s closer than anyone else.”
“But if he doesn’t meet them—“ Young trailed off in the face of Jackson’s twisting expression.
Jackson said nothing.
Again, Young waited him out.
“There’s a way,” Jackson said finally. “A way he could meet them.”
“Of course there is.”
“He doesn’t know it,” Jackson whispered. “He doesn’t know any of this. He might suspect some of it.”
“He wants to unlock this shit.”
“Yes. Yes, I know he does.”
“You know how to do it,” Young said. “You know how he could meet those benchmarks.”
“I do,” Jackson confirmed, “as does Colonel Telford, Colonel O’Neill, General Landry, and—Dr. Lam.”
This was the crux of it, then. Young held himself very still as he spoke. “O’Neill said that you and Telford—that you were arguing about wall carvings.”
Jackson smiled an unhappy smile. “He said that? I’ve already told you too much. No one can find out about this; do you understand? This isn’t a road that we want to walk, but there would be other parties who would be extremely interested in going down this road. Who are probably pursuing it now.”
“The LA?” Young whispered. “You think that’s why the LA wanted our personnel? So that they can try to—alter them? Benchmark them up?”
“Yes,” Jackson hissed, leaning forward. “It’s why they were recruited. Why Dr. Volker was recruited. Why Dr. Lam was pulled from the CDC—why Rush was brought here. There’s a guy in ITS and a guy in linguistics who are entirely useless, but who are here for this reason. There’s a medic, there’s a sergeant, there’s a molecular biologist—everyone we’ve found with any of the genes has been brought here.”
“To protect them?” Young asked, “or to use them as a resource?”
“Even I don’t know,” Jackson whispered, “and I am—deeply involved in this project.”
“And Rush is the number one draft pick,” Young said. “So to speak.”
“Yes,” Jackson said.
“What would he have to do?” Young asked. “To meet these benchmarks? What would he—“
“Nothing,” Jackson said. “He would have to do nothing. Because if anyone does this? It’s going to be me.” His tone was flat and brooked no argument.
This didn’t stop Young from arguing anyway. “Even if you don’t have the genes for it?”
Jackson looked at him without speaking.
“Why you?” Young asked.
“They’re pushing this because the situation with the Ori looks so bad. And this—“ Jackson broke off, swallowing. “This is not his fault.”
“But it’s yours?” Young couldn’t keep the skepticism out of his voice.
“Yes,” Jackson said simply.
Young stared at him.
“It’s not widely known, but yes. It is my fault,” Jackson said, low and measured, his eyes boring a hole straight to the back of Young’s skull. “It is entirely, absolutely my fault. And some miserable, genius cryptographer is not destroying himself over this just because he wants to.” Jackson sighed, broke their gaze, looked down at his hands. “Because it’s convenient for everyone. And because David Telford is leading him straight into it.”
“So take Jack’s offer,” the Jackson said, “because I need someone in my corner on this.”
“Having a hard time persuading O’Neill that it should be you?” Young asked evenly.
Jackson looked away and took a sip of his coffee.
“I’m not sure he’s wrong,” Young said mildly.
“Well, it shouldn’t be Rush,” Jackson said. “It shouldn’t be anyone. You’ll see. If you take the post. You’ll see.”
“Rush is throwing himself at this problem,” Young said. “If he finds out about this—option, or whatever it is, he’s going to want it. He’s going to actively seek it out.”
Jackson looked away, out over the room.
“You know he will,” Young persisted.
“He named it,” Jackson said. “Did you know that?”
“The project,” Jackson whispered, still watching the room. “He named it Icarus.”
“Kind of a terrible project name,” Young said, running his thumb over his cup of coffee. “Not very optimistic.”
Jackson smiled, brief and small and terrible to look at. “I know, but I—I let it stand.”
“For whom?” Young asked. “For him? Or—for you.”
“For us both,” Jackson said. “For both of us. But—I’ve already had my fall.”
“Jesus, Jackson,” Young said. “You always talk like this?”
“No. I only dial up the rhetoric when I need something,” Jackson said. “Only when I need it very badly.”
Young looked at him, considering.
“So step in,” Jackson said, low and fiery. “Take the number two position. Telford may not make it out the other side of the psych department depending on whether or not they find evidence of coercive persuasion. Even if he does make it out, even if he gets backing from the entire IOA to go forward on this—this other project—you’ll be in a position to potentially stop it.”
“Jackson,” Young said, his voice cracking, “listen to yourself. I can’t even acknowledge what you just said it’s so fucking out of line. God damn.”
Jackson pulled back, his jaw tight, his empty styrofoam cup pulling apart beneath his nails. “You don’t know,” Jackson said. “You don’t know what I know. You can’t feel what I feel. It has to be me. It has to. I have to stop this.”
“Stop talking,” Young growled. “Right. Now.”
Jackson stared intently into the air above his own clasped hands, unmoving.
Waiting for Young to make his move, to say his piece. To go to Mitchell, or to Landry, or hell, maybe to MacKenzie. Maybe to the Psych Department.
“We are not ever talking about this again,” Young said, pitching his voice low so that it wouldn’t carry.
Jackson pushed back in his chair, looking away, but before he could get to his feet, Young reached out, his fingers snapping shut around the other man’s wrist.
“After today,” Young said. “Because this shit? This is conspiracy.”
Jackson relaxed back into his seat, looking warily amused. “I prefer the term ‘planning’, personally,” he said.
Young shot him a dark look. “First of all, what the hell are you thinking, doing this here?”
“I’m not exactly an inexperienced ‘planner’.” Jackson said.
Young shot him a dubious look.
“Ambient noise,” Jackson said. “Low index of suspicion. You think I trust my apartment? You think I trust anywhere in this city? You think the people in this base are the worst people that could overhear this particular conversation? I’d rather be fired with a memory wipe as my severance pay than have the Trust find out about this.”
Young rubbed a hand across his jaw. “They’d do that?”
“In this climate? I’d be lucky if they let me go back to my former identity as America’s most preeminent archeological hack,” Jackson said, his amusement laced with bitterness this time.
“All right,” Young whispered. “Is O’Neill backing you?”
“Only partially,” Jackson replied.
“Meaning he doesn’t want you doing whatever it is that’s going to get you half-way to the Ascension finish-line?”
“So is anyone on board with this plan of yours?”
“In its entirety?” Jackson asked. “No.”
“Great,” Young replied.
“We have to get Rush to go to Atlantis,” Jackson said. “He is too perfect for this. They all see it. The fact that he’s the one who’s actively unlocking the gate? The fact that he’d want to do it? That he’d volunteer?”
“Have you considered the possibility that it should be him?“ Young asked.
“No,” Jackson hissed. “It shouldn’t be anyone, but when it has to be someone? It’s going to be me.”
“I heard you the first ten times. But what if it can’t be you?”
“They’ll make an exception,” Jackson said.
“Who, the Ancients?”
“They always make an exception. For me.” Jackson looked down at his hands. “He needs to go to Atlantis. That’s step one. Who do you think floated the idea of using Sheppard and McKay for this DHD thing he’s insisting on?”
“That was a good move,” Young said.
“We’ll see,” Jackson replied.
“I don’t think you’re going to get him to go,” Young said. “Not willingly.”
“No?” Jackson asked.
“Apparently math is a vocation these days.”
“He said that?” Jackson asked, smiling faintly.
“No chance of me pulling that one out of my ass,” Young said.
“Look,” Young said. “Jackson. Daniel. I get—“ he opened his hands. “I get where you’re coming from on this.”
“No,” Jackson replied. “You don’t, but I really wish you did.”
“I do.” Young said.
Jackson looked at him steadily, but didn’t deny him a second time.
“But if this option is as bad as you say it is, then just—take it off the table. Entirely. I’m with you on keeping Rush and Lam and your useless linguist guy, and whomever else the hell away from anything that’s going to overwrite their personal biology, but I don’t see why keeping them away from it has to put you in the firing line.”
“Sooner or later,” Jackson said, “someone is going to have to do something. Because we are going to lose this fight against the Ori. We’re already losing it.”
Young looked away.
“I have so many people,” Jackson whispered, “Who are protecting me. Who will protect me from this—against my wishes. I need someone to back the others. Specifically, to back Rush.”
“Why me?” Young asked.
“Because you’re already doing it,” Jackson smiled a small smile.
He supposed he was.
“So you’ll take the post?” Jackson asked.
“With this higher-plane-of-existence paranoia on top of institutional cloak and dagger bullshit, how can I say no?” Young said dryly.
“Good,” Daniel replied, giving him a wan smile. He arranged the shredded remains of his coffee cup into a neat pile. “Good,” he said again, and this time the word came easier, flowing into the tense space between them.
“Jackson,” Young said quietly.
“This is the way it has to be,” Jackson said. “This is the right thing.”
“Is it?” Young asked.
“Yes,” Jackson whispered. “Without a doubt.”
“I’ll tell Landry today,” Young said.
“Then soon,” Jackson said, “you’ll see.”
“Why trust me with all of this?” Young asked.
“You think this is all of it?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Because you seem like a decent person,” Jackson said.
“This place is full of decent people,” Young replied. “Most of them more decent than I am.”
“Ah, but none in the position to take over Icarus,” Jackson said.
“You could have arranged that. You easily could have had a hand in O’Neill’s offer to me.”
“I could have.” Jackson began to stack and unstack the shredded pieces of his coffee cup. “But don’t read too much machinating into this,” he said finally, pausing to look up at Young. “Or, if you do, put the machinating where it belongs. Jack likes you, and he doesn’t particularly like Telford. I just happened to have the chance to talk to you in the window during which you were making your choice. You were the one who sought me out, just now. In fact, I’m fairly certain that Landry attempted to time things so that I wouldn’t have the chance to influence you, especially as they suspect me of tipping Rush off about his medical file. If everything had gone like it was supposed to, sans foothold situation, I’d have been offworld on that cancelled mission and you’d have had to make your decision in the span of forty-eight hours. And, I’m not sure about this, but—“
“I might have turned it down,” Young finished.
“You might have,” Jackson agreed.