|Navigation: Home About News Fiction Links Email|
Posted April 6, 2006
Series: Starting Over
Title: Starting Over
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.
Summary: A:tS, SG-1. "Uh, hi," an unfamiliar voice said. "This is Colonel Jack O'Neill of the United States Air Force. I'm looking for a Wesley Wyndham-Pryce?" 3500 words.
Spoilers: A:tS up to "Ground State" (4.02); SG-1 "Redemption Part 2" (6.02)
Notes: For a_phoenixdragon, for the Wesley Crossover Ficathon. The two seasons mentioned began airing a couple of months apart in the U.S., but for the purposes of this story the timelines run in parallel.
"You wanted to see me, sir?" Jack asked, hovering in the doorway of General Hammond's office. He was pretty sure he already knew what for, given the conversation he'd walked in on between Hammond and Colonel Chekhov a couple of days ago, but he'd hoped Hammond would have given him a little more time to work something out.
The general looked up from his desk and sighed. "I know this is not what you want to hear," he said heavily, "but part of the deal to get the Russian Stargate involved agreeing to let one of their officers join SG-1."
Jack made a face. Of course the Russians weren't going to let an opportunity like this one go. An opening in the lead gate team coinciding with the rare occurrence of the US owing Russia for their assistance? It was a no-brainer, no matter what Jack's personal feelings were on the subject. Still, he couldn't just let it pass. "This is the thanks I get for saving the world again?" he quipped.
Hammond gave him a regretful look. "I'm sorry, Jack. You're going to have to live with this."
Maybe, maybe not. Jack had spent a little time thinking about it between brushes with imminent death in the last couple of days, and thought he'd come up with an alternative Chekhov wouldn't spit on. "Sir, can't we just throw them a bone? Give them their own unit. They'd be happy with that, wouldn't they?"
Hammond's eyebrows went up, but he was listening. "What about SG-1?"
Jack had given that some thought, too. Teal'c and Carter had been hinting around the subject of Quinn, but however forgiving the pair of them were, and however blameless the kid might actually be when it came right down to it, Jack just couldn't imagine himself trusting Quinn with his back anytime soon and that kind of thing could be deadly in a front-line field unit like theirs. As a last resort, maybe, before yielding to the Russians-- but he hadn't hit the bottom of the barrel just yet.
"Actually, General," he said, slowly. "There's one more linguist I'd like to try. Just one. And if he falls through, I swear I'll take Quinn. No more if's, and's, or but's."
Hammond sat back in his chair a little, pursing his lips thoughtfully. "Who, Jack?" he asked. "You've been through half the social scientists on this base already. The ones you haven't taken on a mission since Dr. Jackson's death have either gone out with SG-1 before and declared themselves unwilling to do so on a more permanent basis, or do not meet the minimum fitness standards required of gate team personnel."
"I'm aware of that, sir," Jack said, retrieving a slip of paper from his pocket and stepping closer to the desk to offer it to the general. It wasn't much to look at, just a rough-edged scrap torn from one of Daniel's ubiquitous journals, but it contained a short list of names written in the archaeologist's hand. All but the last had been ruled out, courtesy of Jack; doodles of tombstones and baby's rattles filled the whitespace around them. The last name, however, had been circled with red ink.
Hammond took the list, giving it a quick perusal, then looked back up at Jack with an expectant expression.
Jack cleared his throat. He knew George wasn't going to like the explanation much-- but no less than Jack liked talking about it in the first place. "You know Daniel wasn't having much fun, the last few missions before, well, before. Hell, the last year; it wasn't just the thing with Reece, it was... a lot of things."
He paused to collect his thoughts and grimaced at the echoes of the frustration and anger that had colored a lot of their interactions in those last months. He still wondered sometimes if that had figured into Daniel's decision to go with Oma. He hoped not, but shit happened sometimes, to him more often than not; and either way it made no difference to the situation at hand.
Hammond nodded pensively, then gently prodded him. "Go on."
Jack sighed. "Anyway, I asked him what we were supposed to do without him while he was gone." Phrased differently, of course-- and Daniel's initial reply had been sharp and sarcastic. Jack had tried to convince him that even when he disagreed with Daniel's opinion and didn't take his suggestions, the linguist's viewpoint was still a necessary part of the way SG-1 did things, but Daniel hadn't been in the mood to try to follow Jack's train of logic. "He said he'd been out of the field for a few years, but he could think of a few people off the top of his head that could probably manage at least half of what he did every day without freaking out over it, then wrote out that list of names."
"But he did intend to return?" Hammond asked, concern for the absent man clear in his tone.
Jack nodded, shortly. "Just to catch his breath a little, he said." He curved his lips in a wry, bitter smile, and glanced up at the ceiling. "I wouldn't count on that applying in this situation, though."
The general nodded again, then changed the subject. "But why these names, and why now? I've heard Dr. Jackson complain several times over the years about the lack of civilian social scientists in his department, but the only one he ever requested clearance for was the unfortunate Dr. Rothman."
Jack had wondered that himself; fortunately, he'd also asked for the answer at the time. "Most of them have their own pet projects," he said. "And a lot of them don't-- didn't-- get along with Daniel at all, even though he respected their work. You remember how we got him in the first place; he didn't exactly leave all that many bridges unburned."
Hammond examined the list again, tapping a finger against it thoughtfully. "I suppose my next question is, why haven't I seen this list before?"
Jack winced. "I had Carter do a little research on them first, to make sure they were actually available. Daniel wasn't kidding; he really had been out of touch the last few years, and most of them were either dead, out of the country on a dig, pregnant, or what have you. That last guy, Pryce, isn't even a linguist any more; he's some kind of independent PI out of LA. But Daniel recommended him, so I thought it was at least worth a shot."
"What do Teal'c and Major Carter have to say about the idea?" Hammond asked, still skeptical.
"Carter said that if Daniel recommended him, we should at least meet him, get him to sign a non-disclosure agreement and sound him out. T feels about the same. Quinn's starting to grow on him, but he wants to meet this other guy before we make any decisions."
The general considered that a moment, then passed the list back across the desk. "Very well. You have three days. But this is your last chance, Jack. No more delaying tactics. Keep that in mind."
"Yes, sir," Jack agreed, then turned and left to tell his team, feeling as though he'd won a minor victory. Pryce had better turn out to be worth it after all of this-- but anyone would be better than a Russian. Even Quinn.
Wesley stirred muzzily at the sound of the phone, blinking his way out of a series of blurry, indefinably disturbing dreamscapes. He hadn't slept well in months, not since he'd first found the words "Facto Ergo Importuna Tauum" in a commentary referencing the Nyazian prophecies and determined that he was going to have to steal his friend's son to protect them both. Nothing had gone right since. Nothing... except...
The phone rang again, and Wesley sat up, swaying a little at the unexpected weakness and fatigue that assailed him at the motion. His left forearm twinged, and he glanced down at the bandage encircling the limb in confusion; then he remembered the events of the previous evening and briefly closed his eyes. A wave of-- not relief, precisely, but perhaps a reduction of the usual gnawing guilt and anger that propelled him through his days-- swept over him, and he mentally ticked another item off of his mental to-do list. With Angel retrieved, Justine banished, and Gunn and Fred enlightened as to Connor's state of loyalty, all that remained was to turn his research on Cordelia's disappearance over to his former friends. Angel could attempt to contact Dinza, dark demi-goddess of the lost, and free her, or not; Wesley's role in their lives was now over.
The phone rang a third time, and he shook away the dark thoughts, then climbed out of bed and tracked down the nearest extension. It was likely one of his new team, perhaps Diana, reporting on the progress of Mrs. O'Leary's case; they'd had a hot lead on the team of demons that were holding her husband for ransom the night before.
"Pryce," he said hoarsely, raising the phone to his ear.
"Uh, hi," an unfamiliar male voice replied. "This is Colonel Jack O'Neill of the United States Air Force. I'm looking for a Wesley Wyndham-Pryce?"
The Air Force was looking for him? Wesley frowned, turning over the last several cases he'd solved in his mind, but could recall no connection. He knew of only one American military organization that had any grasp of the supernatural, and thus would have reason to contact a former Watcher, but as far as he was aware that unit had been strictly Army and was mostly disbanded at this late date. "This is he," he answered, cautiously. "Are you in need of my professional services, Colonel, or is this a personal call?"
"You could say that," Colonel O'Neill answered, in a suspiciously wry tone of voice.
Wesley's frown deepened at the reply. He had only been operating independently for a few short months, since Angel's disappearance and Lilah's seductions had prompted him to stop wallowing in his own pain and do something productive to alleviate the fallout of his ill-considered attempt to save Connor. What could he possibly have done to bring himself to this man's attention? Or was this the first step in yet another of Lilah's attempts to bring him into the fold of Wolfram and Hart?
"What sort of services are you in need of, Colonel?" he asked. "And might I inquire how you got this number?"
"We have our ways," the colonel replied, deliberately vague in a way that set Wesley's nerves even more on edge than they already were. "Look. Is there somewhere we can meet? Make it as public as you want-- I have a couple of friends with me, and we have a proposition for you."
An offer of a neutral meeting place, not even a request to meet at Wesley's office; something serious lay behind the Air Force officer's presence in Los Angeles, something vital enough that he could not speak of it over the phone but would willingly take steps to ensure that Wesley felt the risk of meeting him blind to be less important than the opportunity offered. Seen in that light, his decision was a simple one.
"Forgive me, Colonel, but I don't know you, and in my line of work it would be inadvisable to be seen publicly meeting with members of the armed forces. I shall have to decline."
"You're right," O'Neill answered, but his tone of voice was anything but defeated. Wesley braced himself for the rest of the colonel's argument-- just in time to receive a considerable shock.
"You don't know me," O'Neill continued. "But you know Daniel Jackson."
What had Daniel to do with the United States Air Force? Wesley thought, utterly thrown. "I fail to see the relevance, as Dr. Jackson has been dead for more than five years," he replied, acerbically. "If you're looking for someone who had some knowledge of his work, I'm afraid I can't help you; we crossed paths whilst studying philology at Oxford many years ago, but our specific research interests were entirely unrelated and we did not keep in contact."
"Let's just say that the rumors of his death were exaggerated, up until a couple of months ago," the colonel said, cryptically. "And I'd kinda prefer to talk about the rest in person."
Wesley paused for a moment, clutching the phone, running over all the possible implications of the situation in his mind. The archaeologist had been scouted by the Watcher's Council during his time at university in England, in part due to his intelligence and in part due to a connection on his father's mother's side, but Daniel had not responded positively to the overtures. The fallout had included the dissolution of his tentative friendship with one Wesley Wyndham-Pryce and his relocation back to the United States to finish the next of his post-graduate degrees. Nevertheless, the Council had continued to track him, with the idea of approaching him again when his own notably fringe theories led him to professional failure. Daniel's disappearance and reported death in Colorado mere weeks after his last, disastrous public lecture had been widely attributed to suicide by those among the Council whom Wesley had overheard discussing the event. If Daniel had not in fact died, but instead been swept up in secrecy by the United States government...
"Very well," Wesley said, quickly reversing his decision. He named a nearby park he knew would be crowded with parents and children during most of the day, then a time-- an hour from, well, whatever time it might currently be.
"We'll be there," the colonel said decisively, then rang off.
Wesley sat motionless on his bed for several more moments, considering all the ramifications of the government having acquired Daniel Jackson despite the man's wild theories, and what that might mean about the theories themselves in conjunction with ancient Watchers' texts, thought mythical, that Wesley had researched during the period of their acquaintance. If the Air Force had discovered any trace of the parasitic demons known as the Goa'uld or the fixed portal that race and their servants, called Jaffa, had purportedly used to travel to and from their home dimension, this might quickly become a matter for the Slayer. He could not afford not to investigate. He could only hope the officers he was about to meet were not already under the demons' control, or the situation might shortly become desperate indeed.
He dressed quickly, secreting a minimum of defensive weaponry on his person, then made a quick detour to the nearest post office. It was the work of a moment to write a brief note to Angel summarizing the information and conclusions contained in his file on Cordelia's disappearance; he then enclosed the whole in a large envelope, addressed to the Hyperion. Should something go wrong at the meeting, at least her fate would not be on his conscience.
At first glance, Colonel O'Neill and his accomplices were both more and less dangerous than Wesley had feared. They had dressed in civilian clothes and seated themselves around a picnic table, busily eating what looked like sandwiches and other lunch items from small brown bags. They did not stand out from the surrounding populace; anyone seeing the meeting would not look at them askance. They spotted him almost immediately, however, and the watchful gaze of the gray-haired man and his large, dark-skinned companion raised the hair on the back of his neck. He recognized seasoned warriors when he saw them; he was not unskilled in the art of self-defense, especially given the events of the last few years, but he had a feeling these men could easily hand him his head given the least provocation. Perhaps the blonde woman accompanying them as well, despite her welcoming smile.
The older man's gaze dipped toward Wesley's throat as he approached; when Wesley came to a halt at their table, he nodded at the scarring there and said, "That looks like it hurt."
The blonde at his side hushed him with a quick, "Colonel!" and then took over the conversation, reaching out to Wesley with an open hand. "Hi! I'm Major Samantha Carter. This is Colonel O'Neill, and Murray; Daniel was the fourth member of our team."
"I find that rather difficult to believe," Wesley said, avoiding her hand. "What would the military have to do with an archaeologist, especially one with as poor a public reputation as Dr. Jackson had at the time of his disappearance?"
"How about you sit down and stay awhile," the colonel parried casually, gesturing at the open portion of bench across the table from him and next to Murray-- who almost certainly was traveling under an alias, given the way Major Carter had paused on his name.
Wesley considered that a moment, then nodded and took his seat, intensely aware of the looming menace at his side. Something about the man was setting off his danger sense, even moreso than the officers; he ignored it as best he could and raised his eyebrows expectantly at Colonel O'Neill.
"He translated things for us," the colonel finally said. "Classified information, in a lot of rare languages. Urgent stuff. You were on his short list of potential replacements, if anything happened to him. So, here we are."
Considering how narrow the overlap was in their respective language pools, as far as Wesley remembered-- and how much of that overlap was concentrated in languages considered dead by modern scholars-- that was a rather baffling assertion. What could Daniel have possibly been translating? And that was not the only problem with O'Neill's statement.
"That seems unlikely," Wesley countered aloud, "considering the fact that it has been some years since I last heard from Dr. Jackson, and we did not part on the best of terms"
Major Carter apparently decided it was time for her to be diplomatic; she glanced sideways at the colonel, then leaned forward a little, earnestness in every line of her face and posture. "He admitted that he didn't get along with you personally," she said, "but he respected your ability, and he thought you'd be able to work with us. We can't tell you more in such a public location-- you'll have to sign a confidentiality agreement, as well-- but please, consider it. The work is very important, and you would be well compensated."
Wesley glanced from her expectant face to the narrow-eyed, considering look O'Neill was favoring him with, then to the calm expression and raised eyebrow of his silent benchmate. There was still only one reason he could think of that Daniel would have become such a vital resource to the armed forces, one that correlated suspiciously well with the cap pulled low on 'Murray's' head.
Still, the presence of one potential Jaffa did not a demonic invasion of the Air Force make. He had only to remember Angel to imagine that this one, in company with a pair of soldiers who did not exhibit any traces of inhuman body language or manner of speech, might well be a 'friendly'. He decided to take a chance, and recalled a few words from the limited linguistic codex the long-ago Watchers had included in their descriptions of the demons' rule of ancient Egypt.
"Tek ma tek," he said carefully, still watching the demon, hoping that the phrase really did mean "Friends, well met."
Spines stiffened universally around the table, confirming his suspicion. "Where the fuck did you learn that?" O'Neill hissed, but there were no sounds of weapons being drawn; Wesley ignored him, still watching 'Murray', who inclined his head and repeated the phrase with a slightly different pattern of emphasis.
Wesley listened, then nodded back. "I'll take you up on that confidentiality agreement," he said, turning from 'Murray' to Major Carter. "I think we have much to discuss with one another."
"I'll say," Colonel O'Neill said irritably, and rose from the table. "Carter? You think you could show him to our suite at the Sheraton? I have a few calls to make."
"Certainly, sir," Carter said, then smiled at Wesley again, a bit warier than before. "If that's all right with you?"
Demons in the hands of the United States Air Force; what other choice was there? Duty drove him forward, as it always did.
"Of course," Wesley replied, and rose from his seat, feeling the press of destiny at his back. Hopefully, this career would go better than his last... and the ones before that... and his original friendship with Daniel; he was getting rather used to starting over, time after time, but each occurrence was more painful than the last. At least he had no ties to hold him back at present, nothing to leave behind.
He touched the scarring at his throat absently, aware of O'Neill's eyes still on him, and followed the major toward her rental car.
© 2006 Jedi Buttercup.