Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

Rating: PG

Synopsis: It's not easy being in charge. It's not easy losing friends. It's not easy being attracted to someone you can't have. Nope, O'Neill wasn't having an easy time.

The night air was generously mild, a soft breeze blowing over the area, rustling leaves, making curtains flap in open windows. What was it about nights like this one that brought those feelings up in him that drove him up on his roof to watch the stars? Jack O'Neill sat on the roof of his house and watched those stars through his telescope; the same stars that he visited several times every week. And they still managed to amaze him, even now that he knew what was out there.

It had been almost a year since he had lost one member of his team, and it was the first time since starting out on this insane mission of saving the universe that this had happened. With a slight sigh, he settled back on his chair and stared up at the stars without the benefit of his telescope. He had lost members of his squads before, of course, had lost friends even, but somehow it wasn't the same. Kawalsky had been a friend as much as a team member, but he had known what he was doing, had been fully aware of the risks. He had been a trained air force operative. Daniel Jackson hadn't. He had been a geek, one of those guys men like Jack made fun of. But Jack had learned to respect and like the guy, had found out that even though Daniel wasn't the physical type and knew more than he had any business knowing in Jack's opinion, he had still been a fun guy to be around and his demise had been a hard blow to all of them. Jack wasn't the type of guy who showed his feelings and he knew the rest of SG-1 was wondering about his apparent indifference to losing Daniel, but he did his mourning in private. He always had and he probably always would.

Jack had long since realized that with the death of a friend came closure because there usually was a body and a memorial service. But there had been neither for Daniel Jackson. He had just disappeared, never to be seen again. It had been a year since his 'ascension', as Teal'c called it, and Jack still couldn't let the kid go. He missed him like nothing he'd ever experienced before.

On top of all of that, his long-time dormant feelings for Carter had started to stir again. But rules were rules. As long as they worked together, nothing would come of it. Not from his corner and not from hers. Carter was and always would be dedicated to upholding the rules and, even though he himself did like to break those rules now and again, there were certain rules he wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. But he couldn't help the way he felt, couldn't stop feeling, and it ticked him off. The anger, he knew, was a byproduct of his fear of losing her. Samantha Carter had ticked him off the first time he had met her, but damn, she was one tough lady. It was extremely hard to make her blush and heaven knew he'd tried. His first attempt to make her think twice about joining the SGC had been shot down in a blaze of glory and despite his dislike of scientists, he had started liking her already then. She gave as good as she got and she appeared to think he was funny, which was an added bonus. How many times hadn't he noticed the quirky little smile when he had let one his stupid remarks slip?

With a small shake of the head, he leaned forward again and changed the direction of the telescope a little to get a closer look at the northern constellations. Daniel was gone and Sam was out of his reach. How much more miserable could a guy get? Well, there was always Teal'c, who was actually beginning to develop a sense of humor. Jack had always liked the big guy and the Jaffa was much more fun to be around now when he actually understood Jack's jokes rather than to take them literal as he used to do.

So suddenly that it startled him, the phone went off. He gave it a brief look before picking it up. "Speak to me," he said, well aware who was calling without even hearing the man's voice first.

"Colonel, Hammond here. I need you to return to duty at once. We've got a situation brewing here and SG1 will have to set out immediately," Hammond said, sounding every bit as serious as Jack had expected him to.

"What's up?" Jack asked, well aware that not saying yes sir immediately sometimes ticked the good General off.

"We've got trouble on P4X421," Hammond replied, his tone a little testy.

Jack frowned. Those reference numbers were going to be the death of him. He couldn't remember one from the other when they were called by their computer codes. "And what world is that again?"

"Just get your behind back here, Colonel. That's an order," Hammond demanded. "And pick Major Carter up on the way. She's visiting with friends in the area. Let me give you the address."

Jack quickly dotted the address down. "Aye, sir," he replied. "We'll be there as soon as we can," he added and hung up before the General could make any further remarks on his behavior. "And so ends another uneventful and totally boring leave," he muttered to himself, packed up the telescope and carried it back inside.


Carter was waiting on the curb in front of her friend's house when Jack pulled up. She was quick to get in before he could even make any moves of gallantry. "Sir," she said with a nod.

"Evening, Carter. Did you have a nice weekend?" Jack asked and stepped on the gas pedal, sending the jeep back onto the road with screeching tires.

Sam gave him a look, one eyebrow arched, her lips pursed to hide the beginnings of a smile, while she strapped herself in. "Well, what little of it there was, sir, was fine," she replied. "What about you?"

"Yeah, I was stargazing when the General called and bossed me around," he replied and ripped the wheel around, breaking several safety rules as the jeep tore onto the main road leading to the nearest highway. "Seems like P4X421 has a bit of a problem and we've been called in to solve it," he added.

Biting her lower lip in that contemplative manner she had, Sam eyed the road ahead. "So the General told me. Any idea what it is?"

"Nope, not a clue," Jack said, keeping his eyes on the road as well. "So, what's P4X421 again?"

Sam smiled. "A small backwater with no significant interest to neither us nor the Goa'uld, sir. Remember? The desert planet we went to about two years ago. Even Daniel said it was dead," she replied. Almost immediately, the smile died again.

"Yeah, good old Danny-boy," Jack said, hoping to lighten her mood. "And he was so in love with all those dead places. Imagine hearing that from him," he added and gave her a sideways glance.

"Yes, sir, that was... a bit of a surprise," Sam confessed, a sad tone to her voice. "Do you ever think about him, sir?"

"About who?" Jack asked back, well aware who she was talking about.

"Daniel, of course," she said.

"Oh," Jack replied and figured this wasn't the time to make jokes. Not that he felt like making a joke on that subject anyway. "Yeah, I do actually. Just thought about him tonight. Kinda hard to let him go when he isn't really gone, isn't it?" He knew how Sam felt about this topic and he was quite certain she would retaliate with her usual reply. For some reason Jack himself couldn't really explain, he had taken to the idea that Daniel wasn't really dead, but had just moved on without them and Sam saw that as an escape from reality and always tried to steer him back onto the road of real life.

"But he is gone," she insisted, and not for the first time. "Sir, how can you assume that he's still around?"

"I don't think he's still around 'around'," he said, not sure he could explain to her how he felt about all this without having her stare blankly at him as she did sometimes when he wasn't sure of what he was really saying. "I just think he's... 'around', you know?"

There was that blank stare again.

"I just get the feeling sometimes that he's still with us, you know? Like you know when someone's standing right behind you? I get that feeling sometimes, like he's standing there right behind me, looking over my shoulder or whatever. Don't you get that too?" he tried.

Sam's blank stare had been replaced by a sad one. "Yes, sir, I do," she confessed. "But not lately. I kind of felt him for a while and then it suddenly stopped. Like he gave up on us or something."

"Well... yeah," Jack said and pulled the jeep onto the road leading up to the Mountain. "I feel the same way, Carter. I miss him too. But... he was given a choice and he took it and that's it. To be honest, if I had been in his shoes, I think I may have made the same choice. And Daniel was always so curious about what was out there. I guess he's found a safer way of getting around now," he added and gave her a crooked grin.


Hammond looked up from his paperwork when O'Neill and Carter stepped into his office and he could tell that O'Neill had caught onto the ruse.

"Reporting for duty, sir," O'Neill said, saluting him in pure mockery.

For the briefest of moments, Hammond felt compelled to smile at the man. However irritating he could be, he did like Jack O'Neill for his attitude. He didn't take himself too seriously and that was rare in their line of duty. "At ease, Colonel," Hammond replied and pursed his lips to hide the smile.

"So, what's up on P4X421?" O'Neill asked. "I mean, it's not like there's much going on on that little backwater of a planet."

Hammond glanced at Carter, well aware that she had filled the Colonel in on which planet it was. She in turn was glancing at O'Neill with a small smile on her lips and Hammond once again couldn't help thinking that those two would have made a hell of a couple if they hadn't been working together. "Well, I must admit that my... excuse for calling you both back here was a bit of a... ruse," he admitted.

Just then, the door opened once again and Teal'c stepped in and took up position next to O'Neill. "General," he said and nodded.

"A ruse?" O'Neill asked, his expression one of surprise, which was just as fake as a rubber snake on an open road. "Why, General, you called us back here under false pretenses?"

"Shut up, Jack," Hammond warned him. "I have received word that Maybourne is up to his usual little games and we've run into a bit of a problem in that concern. This is not a matter I wished to discuss with any of you over the phone. Hence the ruse," he added.

"Maybourne," O'Neill grumbled and made a face. "What's he up to now?"

"I don't exactly know," Hammond confessed. "I have been informed by a unnamed source that Maybourne is in possession of something belonging to the SGC and that if he is allowed to keep whatever it is, that it could hurt this program severely," he continued, looking from one to the other before returning his gaze to O'Neill. "Colonel, you are the only one I know off who can tick the man off enough to make him reveal something. That's why I want you to go to where ever it is Maybourne is holed up and have a little chat with him. Maybe you can trick him into revealing what it is that he is hiding."

O'Neill frowned a little. "Uh... how am I supposed to know where he's holed up?" he asked, slightly surprised by this request.

Hammond pushed a piece of paper across his desk. "I have the address here," he said.

O'Neill stepped forward and picked up the note. "Let me guess. The unnamed source?" he asked.

With a slight smile, Hammond settled back on his chair. "Your brilliant reasoning is truly surprising at times, Colonel," he said, adding a bit of sarcasm of his own to the mix.

The right corner of O'Neill's lips twitched. "Why, thank you, sir," he replied and stepped back again.

"There is, however, some truth to the reason why I called you all back to duty tonight," Hammond continued and that earned him surprised looks from all three of them. "It was P4X421's turn to be checked out again ten days ago and, as you know, we sent the probe through on schedule and it came back... on schedule. We thought that there had been nothing to detect until one of the techs reviewed the information recorded once more. There appears to be something alive on that world and I want you, Major Carter, and Teal'c to go check it out while the Colonel has a little talk with Maybourne. Unless you feel you can't handle it without this man's brilliant deductive skills?"

Carter and Teal'c both glanced at O'Neill, who wasn't quite sure how to respond at first. "Well, sir, if you don't mind, I'd rather go talk to Maybourne. As far as I remember, P4X421 is - in want of a better word - dull. I'd rather see some action," he said before Carter and Teal'c could say something he would regret hearing. He had long ago realized that he was much better at dishing out sarcasm than he was at taking it himself.

"Well, that settles it, then. I suggest you get going immediately, Colonel. And the same goes for you two," Hammond replied, barely unable to keep a smirk at bay.

"Sir," Carter said, thereby dismissing all three of them.


Once outside the General's office, the door closed behind them, they all came to a stop again. "What do you think Maybourne is hiding?" Carter asked.

"Knowing him, it's crucial," Jack replied. "I have no idea, though. I'll have a little chat with the guy and see if I can't make him spill the beans."

"I do not understand what spilling beans has to do with questioning Maybourne, O'Neill," Teal'c said, his expression its usual unmoving self.

"It's a metaphor, Teal'c," Jack replied with a sigh. "I'll try to make him talk. So, I'd better be on my way. You kids have fun on that little desert world of yours," he added, gave them a mock salute and was off.

"I've got a strange feeling about all this," Carter said and shook her head. "Come on, Teal'c. Let's go see what it is the probe picked up."

"A good idea, Major Carter," Teal'c agreed and followed her as she hurried off toward the locker rooms.


Washington D.C. was as busy as ever when Jack stopped at the entrance of the FBI Headquarters. The J. Edgar Hoover building was bustling with activity and he once again thanked his lucky stars that he didn't have to work in a beehive like this every day. What he did was slightly more exciting than being a pencil pusher. Okay, it was more dangerous too, but the danger was what made life worth living.

Except when it cost him his friends, of course. He quickly pushed that thought aside. He had spent way too much time thinking of Daniel lately. It wasn't healthy to worry about the dead. With a sigh, he made his way up the stairs and entered the building. So, this was where Maybourne was hiding out at the moment. It didn't really surprise Jack. Maybourne could weasel his way in anywhere. He quickly covered the distance to the reception desk and gave the woman sitting behind it a quick smile. "Hi, I'm looking for Major Maybourne. He's supposed to be working here today," he said and showed her his id-card.

"Mr. Maybourne is located on the tenth floor, Colonel," she replied instantly. "Office 1019," she added and handed him a visitor's badge.

"Thank you," he replied and headed straight for the elevators.

On the tenth floor, the activity was a lot more subdued than it was on the ground floor. Jack searched for and found office 1019 and entered without bothering to knock. "Maybourne," he said when he spotted the other man behind his desk.

Maybourne raised his head and stared at him with surprise. "Jack O'Neill. How the devil did you know where to find me?" he asked and rose.

"Well, a little bird was singing quite loudly, so I thought I'd drop by and say hi, find out what the heck you're up to these days. Killed anyone lately?" Jack replied and looked around the impersonal office.

"No, have you?" Maybourne replied, not missing a beat. "Seriously, Jack, what are you doing here?"

"Oh, I don't know. Hammond's concerned that you may have snatched something that belongs to us the last time you dropped by. Wouldn't happen to know what he's talking about, would you?" Jack pulled a chair over and dropped down on it. "You know, he gets kinda testy when things go missing."

Maybourne's expression alone told Jack all he needed to know, but that didn't stop the other man from giving him a grin and a shake of the head. "Wouldn't know what that should be," he replied. "Apparently, you don't know either, huh?"

"Nope, I've got no clue. But then I did tell the General that this would be a waste of time anyway. You lie faster than a horse can run, Maybourne. I wouldn't believe anything you said anyway," Jack said and made a face. "So, you're a fed now, huh?"

"No, I'm not. I just work in the building for now," Maybourne replied. "And I have no idea what your General is talking about either, Jack. Whatever it's supposed to be, it's not something I have stolen," he added with a smug smile.

"Borrowed, then?" Jack asked and Maybourne shook his head. "Oh well. I guess I'll have as much luck banging my head against a brick wall as I have of getting anything out of you. So... I guess I'd better leave then," he added and rose again. "Which way was it to the elevators? Left or right?" Without waiting for a reply, he left Maybourne's office again and headed off in the opposite direction of the elevators. While in the building, he was going to take the scenic route and perhaps pick up a clue or two on the way.


P4X421 hadn't changed a bit since they had set foot on it two years ago and Sam couldn't help feeling a surge of sadness when she envisioned that trip for a brief moment.

"Are you all right, Major Carter?" Teal'c inquired, obviously having noted her expression.

"Yes, Teal'c. I was just thinking about the last time we were here. Daniel was still with us then," she said thoughtfully, but then pushed it aside. "Well, let's take a look around and see if we can figure out what that shadow was all about."

"Agreed," Teal'c replied. "There has to be something casting a shadow on this world," he added almost to himself.

They started a perimeter search which took them almost a mile away from the Stargate, but there was no sign or indication of anyone or anything having been there in ages. P4X421 had been dead the first time they had visited it and it still appeared to be dead.

After several hours of marching through sand that got into every opening in her boots and made her feet all sticky, Sam decided to call it a day. There was obviously nothing on this world that would cast a shadow. And yet that was what the probe had picked up and Sam couldn't help wondering what it could have been. There were no trees, no life on this world that could have cast a shadow.

Teal'c was already back at the gate when she returned and she dropped down on the hot sand next to the probe to take a moment to gather her thoughts before returning to Earth. "Anything?" she asked, squinting up at Teal'c.

"No, Major Carter, there was nothing. I do not understand what could have cast a shadow on the probe," he replied.

"Neither do I. I guess we have to try and figure it out once we're back on Earth," she said and glanced from the probe to the Stargate and back again. "The gateway stays open while the probe is recording so that the transmission can go through directly," she added, mostly to herself. Squinting back up at Teal'c, she frowned a little. "Isn't it possible that whatever cast the shadow may have gone through the gate ahead of the probe and arrived in the Mountain only moments before the probe did?" she asked.

Teal'c looked back down at her, his expression as impassive as ever. "I believe it is possible, but would the guards in the gateroom not have discovered this?" he asked back.

Sam made a face. "Probably," she agreed. "Silly idea anyway. Let's go home. There's nothing out here," she added and got back to her feet. "Would you do the honors?"

"Certainly," Teal'c replied and dialed home. The moment the connection was established, the probe set in motion, returning the way it had come. Teal'c and Sam followed it, but not before Sam sent another lingering look back at that wasteland which held one of her many memories of a dear friend. With a sad shake of the head, she turned and followed Teal'c through to report to Hammond that there was nothing to be found on P4X421. A waste of time, as Jack always called places like this.

Her sadness was temporarily replaced by a small smile. Jack said a lot of things, some more intelligent than others, but she couldn't help liking the man. And she knew he would call her on calling him by his first name while on duty. She didn't bother replacing the smile when she stepped out of the event horizon on the other side. Leave them wondering, she thought and made her way back to the locker rooms to get changed and hit the showers.


The J. Edgar Hoover building was a hell of a lot bigger than Jack had initially thought and he suddenly found himself quite lost. Since he wanted to leave Maybourne with the impression that he knew what he was doing, he didn't ask for guidance, something which would immediately rouse suspicion about the validity of his visit. Instead, he continued to prowl the corridors, wondering if he wouldn't eventually find an elevator that could take him off this floor. Or a staircase would do, too, he thought.

In his search he passed many doors, some closed, some open, and he did chance a glance inside when a door was open and he couldn't hear voices from within. In general, he looked like he belonged and nobody stopped to question him. The fact that he wore his uniform helped a lot, too. He knew that from experience.

Passing another half-open door, he heard a brief snippet of a conversation.

"So, what do you remember?"

"Uh... nothing... really. Well... a little, but... it's not clear."

Jack stopped dead in his tracks, the immediate sensation that his mind was playing tricks on him making him balk at the thought that formed at the tone of that voice. The hesitation, the lilt, it all fit. But it was impossible. Despite himself, he remained where he was, listening for that voice again.

"Not clear in what way?" the first voice asked. That question was followed by a brief pause where Jack could vividly imagine the expression on the other man's face; if it had been the one he had at first imagined it was, of course.

"Uh... what part of not clear don't you understand?"

Jack closed his eyes, feeling a little dizzy for a second. What the hell was wrong with him? Why was he imagining hearing Daniel's voice in the J. Edgar Hoover building? Even if Daniel miraculously had returned to life somehow, Jack couldn't for the life of him imagine why he should be in Washington D.C., let alone the headquarters of the FBI.

And then it hit him like a ton of bricks. Maybe this was what Maybourne had supposedly 'snatched' from the SGC. Too curious now and way too concerned for his own mental health, Jack turned and walked back to that door, which stood slightly ajar.

"I have no idea what happened to me or why I'm here now. That's all I can tell you," 'Daniel' said to his interrogator. "I realize that I've been gone for a while and... well... I'd just like to go home, you know. To... find out what I've missed."

"All in due time. Right now, we need some questions answered. How did you get here? Did you use the Russian stargate or the one in the SGC?"

Jack frowned. The Russians had a stargate? That was news to him. Without further delay, he pushed the door open a little more and took a peek inside. The man questioning the other man who sounded like Daniel was standing with his back to the window, hands in the pockets of his expensive looking suit, while the Daniel-sound-alike sat on a chair in front of him with his back to the door. Jack had seen Daniel from the back enough times to recognize his outline anywhere and that guy sure looked like Daniel from behind. That didn't make it any easier to believe, though. He was quite certain that his mind had gone haywire.

The interrogator suddenly realized they were being watched and raised his gaze to Jack with a frown. "What do you want?" he demanded.

Jack pushed the door fully open and stepped inside, his expression jovial at best. "Oh, I was just passing and thought I heard a voice I recognized," he said and glanced at the other man, who had turned on the chair a little to look back at him.

Daniel looked a hell of a lot more alive now than he had a year ago and Jack was stumped for a second while they made eye contact. "Jack," Daniel then said with a smile, obviously happy to see him.

"Fancy meeting you here, Dr. Jackson," Jack replied, allowing himself the benefit of the doubt. He would play along long enough to find out what the hell was going on. But he also realized that this was more than a setup. 'Daniel', or whoever the hell he was, was handcuffed to the chair and that strongly indicated that he wasn't here because he wanted to.

"This is a restricted area, flyboy. You have no access or jurisdiction here," the other guy said.

"Fancy that," Jack replied. He had come close enough to take a swing at the guy and that was just what he did; hard enough to knock the other man out cold. "Damn, I hate bureaucrats," he added, squatted down next to the unconscious man and rooted through his pockets until he found the keys for the handcuffs.

Only then did he return his attention to Daniel. "Who are you?" he asked, hesitating before doing anything more.

"It's me, Jack. Daniel. Look, I know this must seem kinda weird to you, but... it's really me," he replied, staring up at Jack with that look the colonel knew so well.

For a moment, Jack hesitated. But then he figured that he'd find out soon enough if this was his dead friend or not. "All right, I believe you... for now," he said and opened the cuffs. "Let's get the hell out of here. And we'd better move fast. I'm not sure the Feds are gonna be happy that I stole you away. And Maybourne's gonna have a fit."

Daniel blinked a couple of times in that confused way he had. "Uh... how are you going to prevent them from... uh... recapturing me, as it were?"

"Later," Jack insisted. "Let's move."

And so they did. Jack couldn't shake the feeling that he had been meant to get lost on the tenth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover building to find Daniel there, because once they were out of that office it took him about two minutes to find his way back to the elevators via a corridor that didn't go anywhere near Maybourne's office.

Fortunately, Daniel was dressed fairly normally, which allowed them to get out of the building without being stopped. But that was where their luck stopped. A hoard of guards suddenly turned up in the lobby behind them and that prompted Jack to believe that Maybourne had found the unconscious guard or whatever that guy had been. Instead of giving up right there and then, which in any event would have been very much unlike him, he pushed Daniel toward the jeep he had parked around the corner from the main entrance.

"Get in," he told Daniel, which was quite needless since the younger man was already opening the passenger side door.

Jack slipped in behind the wheel, started the engine and nearly stepped the gas pedal through the floor. His four wheel drive was nothing if not powerful and the engine roared like an angry animal and picked up speed like nobody's business.

Daniel was quick to strap himself in, aware that they were both being hunted and in danger of hitting something, considering the way Jack was driving. "Uh... Jack? I know we're in a hurry, but..." he started, but Jack raised a finger without looking at him.

"Not a word. I want to get out of Washington first," he replied, his tone tense.