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by Tasha - A Highlander/SG-1 Xover


Part 4

After the incident with Sef't nobody took anything for granted. They'd reached the Jaffa just in time, and although he hadn't said a word to anyone since, he hadn't attempted to harm himself in any way. Jack wasn't sure he liked the effect the recent mission had had on his team. Daniel seemed permanently on edge and was being quiet and distant. Teal'c spent frustrating hours trying to communicate with his fellow Jaffa, and didn't seem to be down the road any further than when he first started. Then there was Carter, buzzing with curiosity about both Richie and Adam, but Jack knew her well enough to know she was hiding her deeper feelings about her brush with death. And as for himself he really didn't quite know what to think. He'd spent some time with both Richie and Adam, but mostly Richie, and he was slowly beginning to get inside the kid's head. He couldn't be sure, then again what about life was set in stone, but he was definitely coming down in favour of the view that in Richie they had just gained a valuable ally.

Three days after the end of the mission something happened which put everyone in SGC in the same corner. On the Tuesday morning, Mayburne arrived. Jack was a soldier, he had killed on several occasions, but there was really only one person he ever wanted to shoot on sight, and this time it was no different. Colonel Mayburne walked in with a senatorial order, a dozen or so nasty looking soldiers and dragged Richie away from the breakfast he had been eating with Jack and Adam. Mayburne had double-crossed, tried to eliminate and plain pissed off SG-1 so many times that their leader didn't need an excuse to get annoyed anymore. After a bit of shouting, O'Neill had half walked, half run to General Hammond's office.

"I know," was the first thing Hammond said when Jack barged into the General's office with as much control as he could muster, "there was nothing I could do. I have Dr Frasier sitting in on any debriefing Mayburne thinks he is doing, and I will have this sorted out as soon as I can."

Everything Jack had been about to say dried in his throat, as he realised that it didn't need to be said.

"Colonel, there's no way I'm letting that animal get his hands on that boy," the General stated firmly. "I'm putting you in charge of making sure nobody from this facility causes trouble. I will concentrate on the President."

"Yes, Sir," was all Jack could find to say.

The first thing Jack saw when he walked into Sam's office was Daniel Jackson, and the look on the anthropologist's face showed O'Neill there were some things in the universe that made Daniel madder than a Goa'uld. If thoughts could have killed Jack realised that Colonel Mayburne would have died in several very nasty ways.

"The General is pulling strings as we speak," he informed all his friends. "Mayburne has pulled another fast one, but he's not going to get away with it."

"From what the others have told me," Adam spoke first, "are you sure Hammond can handle this character?"

"Oh, when he's annoyed," Jack replied evenly, "he can handle anyone."

"What are we going to do?" Carter sounded very unhappy.

"For now we wait," O'Neill told then calmly. "If something happens that we don't like, then we'll act. Janet won't let Mayburne get away with anything."

"Colonel," Dr Frasier's voice could have welded steel, "my patient," she stressed the 'my' with Hippocratic authority, "has been through terrible stress over the past few days. If you insist on trying to give him a mental breakdown I will have you removed from this facility so fast your feet won't touch the ground."

Richie was very glad of the respite, although the goons were far from putting that amount of pressure on him. He had tried helpful, but they had thought he was lying, he'd tried surly and they'd decided he was hiding something, and he was up to cold and dispassionate. It was difficult to keep his reactions under control, and every time they annoyed him to the point when his eyes glowed or his voice changed tenor, it just seemed to make them push harder. If they weren't asking such damn stupid questions he might have been able to help them.

Mayburne growled something in a low voice to the doctor which Richie couldn't be bothered to decipher, and then the Colonel turned his attention back to him.

"Okay," he said slowly, "let's put the attack on Earth aside for the moment, and go back to this weapon."

The man waved the ribbon device he had displayed on a table at the other side of the room.

"How does it work, and how do we make more?"

Richie actually found himself laughing.

"You think we're too technologically inferior to understand your weapons?" Mayburne snapped, immediately jumping to the wrong conclusion.

"That's got nothing to do with it," Richie replied.

He was going to go on, but Mayburne interrupted him.

"You know it would be much better for you if you co-operated," he hissed.

"I don't know exactly how it works," Richie told him for the fifth time that morning.

"Do you take us for fools?" the Colonel shot back.

The Immortal bit his tongue before he sent back the reply that leapt to his lips, and took a deep breath. Suddenly it came to him.

"You're a soldier aren't you, Colonel," Richie said slowly, "you carry a gun."

This caught Mayburne somewhat by surprise.

"Of course," the man replied without really knowing why.

"Tell me exactly how it works, and build me one using an old milk bottle and a light bulb," Richie said bluntly.

Mayburne actually shut up for a moment and Richie scored himself another point, but it didn't last for long.

Mayburne didn't leave until it was nearly midnight, and he left behind several of his lackeys who refused to let Richie anywhere near the rest of the SGC personnel. The General held a council of war.

"I've been talking to the President," Hammond told SG-1 and Methos as they sat in the briefing room.

For his part that didn't fill the Immortal with a whole lot of confidence.

"The only reason Mayburne is here, is because otherwise he would have had Richie removed from this facility to Area 51, something none of us want," the General went on. "The President has assured me that Mayburne will conduct his debriefings and be gone."

"Well if he tries anything he's going to have to go through us," Jack said with a tone in his voice that made Methos believe every word.

"Colonel, we will do this by the book," Hammond reminded his officer, but his voice didn't sound quite as sure to the ancient ears listening. "Is that understood."

"Yes, sir," was the barely contained reply.

"Look people," the General continued, "that man annoys me as much as he does you, but this is a military establishment and insubordination is not acceptable. Unfortunately covert operations attract weasels like Mayburne, but the only way to handle them is through the proper channels."

The officer glanced around the room and his eye met Methos' for a moment. The Immortal let his face stay placid and calm, but his mind was working furiously. If this was going as badly as he thought it was he had one more card up his sleeve, but it was definitely going to be a last resort.

"With all due respect, sir," it was Daniel who spoke, "Richie isn't in the military. He didn't sign on for any of this and he sure as hell isn't being paid for it. If we let Mayburne get away with this, it won't just be unfortunate, it'll be criminal."

Hammond sat down with a sigh, and Methos had to admire Daniel's spirit. He knew that the anthropologist had trouble with Richie's presence because of what he represented, but he was still willing to fight for him.

"We all know it's not that simple," the General replied. "That young man is technically an alien, and a hostile one at that."

"He's also a citizen of the United States," Methos left his voice neutral, and in doing so his message went through loud and clear.

"Unfortunately that's not going to mean much to people like Mayburne," Carter sounded very annoyed.

The fact that Jack did not leap in and agree caught Methos' attention, and the Immortal noticed that the Colonel was looking around at the rest of his team. The officer was obviously considering something.

"What if Mayburne doesn't just go away?" O'Neill asked slowly.

"Well there are several courses of action open to us ..."Hammond began.

"Do any of them definitely come down to a win for the good guys?" Jack didn't give him a chance to finish.

"Most things in this world are not definite," the General replied, "but we are going to do everything in our power."

"If he were a valued member of staff, would that give you better leverage?" O'Neill was not letting this one go.

Methos watched as Sam caught on to what her superior was suggesting, as did Daniel, who looked worried for a second, and then just determined.

"Are you suggesting what I think you're suggesting?" Hammond asked slowly.

"We did it for Teal'c," Jack pointed out. "What could be more useful to an exploration team than someone who knows a large amount of the terrain? Look at all the information he's already given us on the star charts."

Methos watched as the four members of SG-1 all glanced at each other, a silent question going between them.

"We all agree, sir," O'Neill said evenly. "We'd like Richie on our team."

Now Methos wasn't sure his Immortal friend would be thrilled at the idea, but it was a damn site better than his other prospects. The oldest living Immortal smiled to himself and kept his mouth shut.

"I'll keep that under advisement," Hammond finally agreed. "If it comes to that I'll give you my support."

"What about Sef't?" Daniel asked quietly.

"Him I'm not sure how to help," the General told them all. "He's not co-operating, and we don't have the man power here to watch him 24 hours a day."

"If you do not mind, General, I have some thoughts on this problem," Teal'c spoke for the first time.

Everyone looked at him since he usually had something important to say when he did open his mouth. Methos had to admit to himself that he really hadn't given much thought to the problem of the lion Jaffa, but he decided he was interested anyway.

"Go on, Teal'c," Hammond encouraged.

"I believe, Master Bra'tac may be Sef't's best hope," the Jaffa responded calmly. "Bra'tac's name was respected through many systems, and I think Sef't would respond to his teaching. It will also remove him from this facility and harms way."

"You may be right, Teal'c," the General replied thoughtfully. "I'll see what I can do."

"Thank you, General," the Jaffa said sincerely.

Jack caught up with Daniel as they left the briefing room.

"Are you okay with this?" the Colonel asked his companion almost as soon as the anthropologist acknowledged his presence.

Now this was a question Daniel didn't quite have an answer to yet, and he decided to think about it before he gave an answer. Jack took this the wrong way.

"Look if you're not happy I'll go in there and tell the General that we need a new plan," O'Neill told his friend. "If I'd thought you had any doubts in there I wouldn't have pushed it. If Richie is going to be a problem ..."

"Jack," Daniel interrupted him before the officer could get overly worked up about the subject, "it's okay. If I'd really objected I would have said so in there ... I just have to get used to the idea, okay."

O'Neill didn't look convinced.

"You're not just saying that?" he enquired.

"No," the anthropologist promised, and hoped Jack would believe him. "I know I'm having trouble accepting that Richie is around, but I'll get over it. It's not as if he acts like a Royal Goa'uld, it's just my prejudices getting in the way."

He was actually pleased that Jack had cared enough to ask, but he was slowly coming to believe his own answer.

"Jack, it's fine, honestly," Daniel tried once more to shift his friend's dubious expression. "Besides, I'm just like the rest of you, I'll go to hell and back to get Mayburne."

That did it; O'Neill actually smiled.

"Mayburne, put him back now!"

It was seven o'clock in the morning and Mayburne had arrived to cause trouble very early. Hammond was to say the least, furious.

"I have orders to transport the prisoner to Area 51," the Colonel returned from where he was escorting two of his men who had Richie in restraints being dragged between them.

"I don't care about your orders," the General was barely concealing his anger. "Put my guest back in his room, remove those ridiculous chains and then report to my office."

"But General," Mayburne made the mistake of trying to argue.

Hammond's face was eerily calm when he placed it only an inch from the Colonel's.

"This is my facility," the senior officer said evenly, "you are man handling a person who is my responsibility, and you didn't even ask first. Now if you so much as breathe in the wrong place I will personally throw you off the top of this mountain. Is that understood?"

Mayburne's face was pale where he tried to stand his ground.

"Yes, Sir," he said very tightly.

Methos was not a happy man, and he was barely holding onto his composure as he watched General Hammond speaking to the President on the phone. At least he was in good company, because from the look on O'Neill's face the Colonel felt the same way. It was obvious that Mayburne had been hoping to get Richie out of SGC without too many people noticing. The fact that everyone had been expecting such underhand tactics was the only thing that had prevented the evil little man getting away with his plan. One thing that Methos was damn sure about, he wasn't letting any government lackeys get their hands on Richie.

"Yes, sir, I realise this is slightly different from Teal'c's situation," Hammond was saying, "but my team is willing to do this. Colonel Mayburne's initial report is inaccurate and inflammatory, Richard Ryan does not pose a threat to national security."

There was a pause.

"Yes, sir I am willing to stake my career on this," the General responded.

Methos' mood was getting darker by the second. There was another pause.

"But Mr President, if he is removed from SGC it will be that much harder to get him back," Hammond continued.

The General looked about as pleased with everything that was going on as Methos, and his expression didn't get any better in the next pause.

"Yes, sir, I understand, but..." the General definitely didn't want to give up on this one.

To the oldest living Immortal it looked like a loosing battle and he finally made a decision.

"General," he said stepping forward, "give me the phone."

Hammond looked up at him sharply, but Methos stared him down. Looking into eyes that had seen over five thousand years was a daunting challenge and the General was not up to it. Reluctantly he handed over the receiver.

"Good morning, Mr President," Methos said in a calm pleasant tone, "you don't know me, but I have something very important to tell you. This is a Prometheus matter, Mr President."

There was a pause from the other end.

"I'll make the necessary calls," came the reply from the other end.

"Thank you, Mr President," Methos replied, and handed the phone back to General Hammond.

He could see the questions building up in the room, and rather than answer them all at once Methos just turned and walked out. He hadn't really wanted to do what he had just done, but he hadn't been able to see any other way. There was only one person he knew who could sort out the current mess, and he hadn't seen him in fifty years. Methos was one of only a dozen or so people who could call on him for assistance and it was something he would only ever do in a dire emergency.

Jack spent the best part of the next two hours trying to find Adam and ask him what the hell was going on, but it seemed that the Immortal was a master of the vanishing act. When things started happening again as if by magic, Adam reappeared.

"Are you going to tell me what's going on now?" O'Neill asked pointedly as he found the Immortal on the way to the outside.

"Not a lot to tell," Adam replied, and Jack really wasn't sure whether to believe him or not. "I've involved an old friend, most people call him Prometheus, and he solves problems."

"Who's problems?" unanswered questions were one of the Colonel's pet hates, and he didn't like the feeling this operation was giving him.

A few days ago his world had been complicated enough when it involved aliens and Stargates, now it was even more of a nightmare and Jack was beginning to think a lot more things were beyond his control than he had first thought.

"Everyone's," Adam told him calmly.

"Everyone who?" O'Neill was in the mood to push for answers. "What is he, US Black Ops?"

"To tell you the truth I'm not exactly sure about the answer to that question," the Immortal replied. "When I say everyone I mean everyone ... Prometheus handles the problems no one else can fix, for anybody who needs it. I met him in 1937 in Greece and we found it mutually beneficial to keep in contact for several years. Heads of state all over the world do their damndest to remain on his good side, and that's all I can tell you."

They paused as the soldier on duty passed them through to the outside.

"If he's so useful why didn't you mention him as soon as Mayburne showed up?" Jack asked as they moved on.

"Because Prometheus always makes up his own mind," Adam said evenly. "His idea of solving this situation may be to make Richie disappear. He always looks at the big picture and sometimes that makes him a really dangerous man."

O'Neill chose not to ask any more questions.

Methos stood beside Colonel O'Neill and General Hammond as the helicopter landed, and three men got out. They all wore dark suits and carried themselves like people who knew they were supposed to be exactly where they were. The man in the lead looked the youngest of them all, but the familiar sensation of another Immortal just underlined to Methos that he was nothing that he seemed. Clear green eyes scanned the three of them and then Prometheus smiled.

"Michel, how nice to see you again," he said lightly as he settled on Methos.

"It's Adam now," Methos said calmly, Prometheus just smiled again and turned his attention to the others.

"And you must be General Hammond and Colonel O'Neill, I've heard great things about you both," he said in a disarmingly charming manner.

Prometheus reached out his hand and the General shook it.

"Nice to meet you, sir," Hammond said, obviously not quite sure how to take the youthful figure in front of him.

"Please, call me Prometheus," the Immortal said amiably, "every one else does. These are agents Kovor and Davis, my associates."

"Welcome to SGC, gentlemen," the General greeted.

Methos found Prometheus looking at him again, and he stared back calmly.

"If you don't mind, I'd like to have a word with my old friend before we dive into the red tape," the younger Immortal said evenly.

"Of course," Hammond agreed, "why don't we show Agent Kovor and Agent Davis the way in."

The two Immortals waited as the other four men walked away, and then Prometheus' mask of cheerfulness was replaced by an expression that told Methos he was now deadly serious.

"The official reports say Goa'uld technology has created a man with incredible healing powers," the green-eyed man went straight to the point. "I assume he is actually one of us."

"You assume correctly," Methos replied without the least trace of emotion.

"Do any of the mortals suspect?" Prometheus obviously wanted to know exactly what was going on before he moved in.

"General Hammond and the SG-1 team know the truth," the oldest living Immortal supplied, and wondered just exactly what was going through his companion's head. "It was the only way to launch a rescue mission. The information will go no further."

His companion looked a little unhappy at the news, but he didn't comment, just nodded.

"Why when there's big trouble do you always seem to be in the middle of it?" Prometheus asked shortly.

"A talent I've being trying to shift for centuries," Methos replied. "I've led them to believe I'm a little over two hundred years old, I would appreciate it if it stayed that way."

The two men regarded each other for a long moment, and in the end it was Prometheus who looked away.

"Well let's get on with this then," he said with just a trace of annoyance.

He went to walk towards the entrance, but Methos caught his arm. The ancient man looked into his companion's eyes.

"He's my friend," he said calmly, his tone totally neutral, but the expression on Prometheus' face said he understood the meaning completely.

There were many things Richie could have been feeling, but having been dragged out of his room, chained up and then virtually thrown back in he had settled for really annoyed. If he'd let himself he probably would have been terrified of the prospect of being imprisoned at Area 51 for the rest of his life, but he was covering that with seething anger. Hence when he felt the presence of another Immortal he was ready to yell at anyone and that included Methos. His plans fell into pieces, however, when it wasn't Methos who stepped through the door.

The first thing Richie noticed about the newcomer was his bright green eyes, and the second was the fact that he did not look too happy.

"Good morning," he said in an even tone, "my name is Prometheus."

Richie just sat very still trying to figure out what was going on.

"At this moment I am working for the United States government, Adam called me," the stranger went on.

"Are you here to kill me, or help me?" Richie decided to be blunt, he was in no mood for games.

At that Prometheus actually smiled.

"Practical, I see," he said and walked further into the room, "and to answer your question, I haven't decided yet."

Well at least this was going to be an honest conversation. It was something Richie had not seen a great deal of since Mayburne arrived.

"According to one report you are the greatest find since the Stargate itself, according to another you the biggest threat," Prometheus told him. "Once I have decided who is right I'll decide which course of action to take."

The cards were on the table. Richie knew his future was now never going near Area 51. He gazed at the man who held his life in his hands and tried to come up with a plan should this not go well.

"Tell me about yourself," Prometheus said calmly and sat down on a chair next to the door.

"I don't have a god complex if that's what you're wondering," Richie responded trying to think of something useful to say. "I'm just me, which isn't quite who I used to be, but it's pretty close. I have no idea what Mayburne had been saying about me, all I can tell you is he asks really dumb ass questions."

"On that count, everyone seems to agree with you," the other man said, and then fell silent again.

Richie knew this was going to be a very long few minutes.

Sam stood beside O'Neill and General Hammond, and watched with great satisfaction as Mayburne's men loaded everything they had brought with them back into their truck. It had taken over an hour, but Prometheus had emerged from his conversation with Richie and given the Colonel his marching orders. Sam didn't really know who this man was, and she had decided that she definitely wasn't going to ask any questions, she was just pleased he seemed to be on their side. Watching Mayburne get his ass kicked was like a cloud being lifted from the whole base. They were certainly dragging their heels about leaving, but Sam knew she was watching the losers packing their bags.

She was quietly smiling to herself when she caught the approaching figures of Adam and Daniel out of the corner of her eye. The Major turned to greet them and realised that they didn't look like winners.

"What's up guys?" she asked and saw Jack take an interest.

"He's gone," Daniel said tersely.

"If you mean Prometheus," Sam said, not quite sure what her friend was getting at, "I don't think he's left yet. The other two lifted off a few minutes ago, but he stayed to look around the complex."

"Not him," Adam supplied helpfully, "Richie. He's not in his room, and no one has seen him for at least half an hour."

Instinctively Sam looked to where the helicopter had been standing and as she looked around at her companions she realised they were all thinking the same thing.

"Prometheus wouldn't have double crossed us would he?" she asked.

She really wasn't sure enough of the man to know if it was possible, but from the look on Adam' face it seemed that it might have been on the cards.

"It doesn't make sense," the Immortal said after a pause. "He's a devious son of a bitch, but he's never lied to me like this before."

There were other possibilities of course, and Sam didn't want to be the first to voice them.

"Is it possible that he could have escaped on his own?" the General had to put forward the counter argument.

"Richie is many things, General," Adam replied, "but he's not stupid, and he doesn't let his friends down. He wouldn't run out on us."

The Immortal sounded so sure, but Sam couldn't quite bring herself to totally believe him. The fact that these people lived their whole lives pretending to be what they were not bothered her a little, although she could see exactly why they did it.

"I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to make this official," the General said and snapped Sam out of her reverie. "Where ever he is we have to find him."

Adam opened his mouth to reply and then shut it again, looking back the way he had just come. There was a vague hope in his eyes and Sam realised the Immortal thought he might be about to see Richie. Over the past couple of days the younger of the two had been quite open about his own Immortality, and had explained that he and Adam could feel each other coming. As it was the man who appeared in the entrance was Prometheus. He walked directly over to the group, covering the few feet in only a couple of seconds.

"I hear we're missing a piece of the puzzle," he said almost before he stopped.

Sam's immediate reaction was to ask how Prometheus knew, but she bit her tongue as her senior officers got there first.

"How did you find that out?" Hammond asked pointedly.

"I have spent a very long time keeping an eye on things, General," Prometheus replied, "I notice these things. Before you ask, no I did not have anything to do with it. If I had you wouldn't have noticed yet. That leaves two options ... our Goa'uld has gone AWOL on his own, or someone on this base has kidnapped him."

There was nothing like stating the obvious, but Sam held on to her reaction to this unsettling man. On the whole Carter believed she could get on with most people, but Prometheus gave her the creeps.

"I assume that if one of you gets close enough you'll be able to find him," she eventually heard herself say.

Prometheus frowned slight, he didn't seem to like the fact that she knew his secrets, but he nodded, as did Adam.

"Then lets divide into two teams and start looking," Hammond decided firmly.

Richie awoke to find that his head hurt. This was not an unfamiliar sensation from over the past few days and he wished it would just go away. A fraction of a second after this he opened his eyes and found that it was very dark and there was very little space around him. He was lying down, and he seemed to be in some sort of box. Following this his memory clicked in and he remembered how he came to be in his current predicament. Mayburne and one of his goons had come into Richie's room and shot him with something. When the Immortal moved he found that his hands and ankles were chained in a similar fashion to when the Colonel had tried to remove him earlier that day.

Goa'uld's were not known for their patience, and Richie had a hot temper of his own. His current predicament made him very angry, and as Mayburne's gloating face filled his mind's eye rationality stepped out of the picture. With a roar that came from deep in his chest he took hold of his chains and pulled. No one really knew how much stronger a human could be with a Goa'uld symbiant living inside him or her, but Richie managed to push the envelope. There was a satisfying clink as more than one link gave way and then he forced his arms upwards. Wood splintered as his hands connected with it and light flooded into his world.

The prisoner bursting out of his captivity was obviously something that had not crossed the mind of the soldier guarding the box. If Richie had been in anything but his current frame of mind he might have actually felt sorry for the man as a look of sheer terror crossed his face. As it was the Immortal took one look around himself, noted that he seemed to be in the back of a truck and then grabbed the shocked soldier before the man could react. One good throw and the unfortunate individual went flying out the back of the vehicle and Richie quickly followed.

"Mayburne!" the Immortal yelled at the top of his lungs, barely noticing that his voice held the Goa'uld edge to it.

Anger was the only emotion coursing through Richie, and with it came the thought of retribution. His gaze swung around the loading area and he found his quarry with very little trouble. The Colonel was looking surprised and a little afraid; he obviously hadn't expected his captive to be awake let alone free. It was almost as if everything was in slow motion as Richie took a step towards Mayburne. He felt the touch of an Immortal presence, but didn't bother to wonder where it was coming from. All that mattered was venting his fury.

Then quite suddenly pain shattered his incoherent state of mind. He came crashing back to himself and looked down stupidly at the front of his shirt as it slowly turned red. It seeped into his brain that someone had shot him and then his legs gave out and he was dead before he hit the ground.

Sam stopped running as she saw Richie fall to the floor; it just didn't seem quite real. One minute the General had been dividing them into two teams and the next people had started drawing guns. Her logical brain told her that Richie was Immortal, that he would get up again soon, but the rest of her was screaming that some bastard had just killed her friend.

Carter shook herself out of the shock and realised that there were now two groups out the front of SGC and they were pointing guns at each other. There was Mayburne and his men, and the SGC soldiers including O'Neill. It looked like a war about to happen.

"I'm going to count to ten," General Hammond's voice reverberated off the mountain, "and if anyone is pointing a gun at anyone else by the time I am finished I will have you all court marshalled."

At first Sam wasn't sure anyone was going to take any notice of him, but as O'Neill put away his sidearm, others followed suit. Slowly the war was being averted. Daniel and Adam were the first to run to where Richie had fallen, but it was Prometheus who caught Sam's eye. There was an expression on his face that could have killed all by itself.

"Colonel Mayburne," he said, and he wasn't shouting, but his voice carried everywhere.

He had the officer pinned down with his gaze, and he walked over slowly, closely followed by Hammond. It seemed that the General was leaving this to the really big guns.

"Would you care to explain what you think you were doing?"

It was a simple question, but it caused Mayburne to make like a goldfish. Prometheus had stopped half way between where Mayburne was and where Sam was, and he just stood there.

"Come here, Colonel," he said in a completely neutral voice.

It was almost like watching the condemned on the way to the executioner's block as Mayburne turned his back on where several people were trying to find out if Richie was alive, and walked to where the other Immortal stood. Sam found herself edging closer, as if her limbs had a will of their own.

"Well?" Prometheus prompted again.

"I ... I was under orders," the Colonel spluttered.

"Orders to kidnap an American citizen," Prometheus said slowly, "orders to shoot him? Orders to destroy what could be the most incredible discovery next to the Stargate itself?"

Mayburne seemed to discover at least a little backbone as he pulled himself to his full height.

"Orders to remove the deadliest threat to a neutral place," he said, a little foolishly as far as Sam was concerned.

Prometheus lifted one eyebrow.

"Who's orders, Mayburne?" he asked evenly. "They weren't from the President, and they weren't from the senatorial sub-committee. Is there another player in this game you would like to tell us about?"

Finally the Colonel appeared to discover that silence was the best course of action.

"I know all the players, Colonel," Prometheus said eventually, "and I have a pretty good idea who would have put you up to this. Believe me when I say that they will leave you out to dry. I could have you court marshalled for this, and they wouldn't lift a finger to help you."

Sam was morbidly fascinated by the Immortal's verbal deconstruction of the officer in front of him. Mayburne actually seemed to shrink a little. Then Carter realised that the activity behind the Colonel's shoulder had ceased, and she moved slightly to see what was going on. Her eyes opened wide at what she saw.

"Then again there are worse things I can think to do with you," she heard Prometheus say, just as a hand reached out and tapped Mayburne of the shoulder from behind.

The Colonel turned and before he could even react he went flying backwards as Richie's fist connected with his jaw.

Daniel was hovering, he knew there were plenty of other places he could be, but he really couldn't help himself. He'd seen someone come back from the dead without the help of man or machine, and it had been quite an incredible sight. Of course he'd been a witness to the powers of a sarcophagus before, but this was entirely different. A marine had ripped the front of Ryan's shirt and tried to put some life back into him, and it had given Daniel a view of the healing process. Watching flesh and bone actually knit back together without leaving so much as a trace of an injury was incredible.

After Richie had decked Mayburne, knocking him cold, both men had been taken to the sick bay. The Colonel had woken up en-route, and Dr Frasier had sent him away as soon as possible with two aspirin. Janet had then turned her attention to Richie who was doing a good impression of someone surprised to be alive. SG-1 all knew that he was Immortal, but as far as the others were concerned he'd just been a fast healer. Daniel was actually quite surprised that the Immortal had the presence of mind to pretend, it had, after all, been quite a morning.

Somehow, watching Richie hit Mayburne had changed Daniel's attitude towards him. Goa'uld's were capable of incredible violence, but they tended to express it slightly differently. The Immortal's reaction had seemed so human, even if his eyes had been bright white at the time. Daniel wasn't sure why he was hovering in the sick bay as Dr Frasier finished the examination of her patient, but he couldn't quite bring himself to leave. The more he looked at Richie the more he was beginning to see more of the man and less of the monster.

"Not even a trace," the doctor said as she examined the x-ray that she had taken of Richie's chest.

The Immortal himself was sitting on one of the beds, bare torso available for inspection.

"So even if we have the technology it's irrelevant, he can rebuild himself," Richie quipped.

"Did you watch too much TV as a kid?" Janet shot back with a grin.

"I'm a product of my generation," he replied.

Daniel found himself smiling. To begin with there had been other people hanging around as well, but Jack and Sam had been dragged away to talk to General Hammond, Teal'c had gone to see Sef't and that left just Daniel and a nurse. No one seemed to object to his presence so the anthropologist had decided to stay. He wasn't sure exactly why; he thought he probably wanted to talk to Richie at some point, being the only one of SG-1 who hadn't really done so yet, but he wasn't certain he wanted it to be now.

"Are you going to hover in my doorway all day, Dr Jackson, or are you actually coming in?" Dr Frasier suddenly took an interest in him.

Daniel coloured slightly and tried not to look too embarrassed. He took a few steps into the room.

"Um, I ... ah ..." he tried to think of something to say.

Janet just smiled at him.

"Well I want to get these results into the computer as soon as possible," the doctor announced to the room. "Daniel would you mind making sure no one steals my patient while I'm gone? He keeps disappearing these days and I'm almost afraid to leave him alone."

"You could always handcuff me to the bed," Richie offered with a wicked grin.

"Don't give me any ideas, kid," the doctor returned with a twitch of her eyebrows.

Daniel was laughing as the woman walked passed him towards her office. The nurse who had also been in the room a couple of seconds earlier had vanished, it seemed that people were conspiring against Daniel. In this case he came to the conclusion that it might be a good thing. An awkward silence fell as the anthropologist tried to find something to say, and he took to staring at his hands.

"Jack told me about Shauri," it was Richie who spoke first and his tone was quiet and serious, "I'm sorry."

Daniel's head came up sharply and he gazed directly at his companion. The Immortal's face had lost its playful expression, and had gained a youthful sincerity.

"I'll understand if you never want to lay eyes on me," Richie told him.

They looked at each other for a while, the Immortal had obviously said what he wanted to say and was waiting to see what the reply would be.

"No," Daniel finally said, "I'm not quite fine with you here yet, but I'm getting there."

A relieved expression emerged on Richie's face, and he relaxed a little. When he didn't have a serious frown the Immortal actually looked very young, and Daniel found himself wondering about the person behind the revelations for the first time.

"How old are you?" he heard himself ask.

"26," was the somewhat surprised reply, "27 in the summer."

"You don't look it," Daniel commented.

"19," Richie replied with a resigned sigh and a grin, "I will always look 19. You have no idea how irritating that can be."

Actually, Daniel thought he had and he smiled.

"I looked about 18 until I was 24," he told his companion, "I can sympathise. I lost count how many times I was carded."

The anthropologist wandered over to one of the other beds and sat down.

"So you'll never age at all?" he asked, trying to understand the other man's condition.

"Never," Richie confirmed, "I'll be like this at 500 if I make it that far."

That caught Daniel off guard a little.

"Why wouldn't you make it?" he asked.

Richie looked a little awkward for a moment, as if he wasn't sure what quite to say, but after a moment his features cleared.

"I can die," he said honestly, "but I hope you understand if I don't go broadcasting how."

Daniel actually smiled; he could see the reasoning behind that one. The anthropologist walked further into the room and perched on one of the empty beds. He did not want to miss this conversation.

The entirety of SG-1, General Hammond, Methos and Richie sat round the large table in the briefing room. The meeting had been called once Mayburne and his people and Promethius' team had all left. The base once again belonged to the SGC staff and they alone and it was time to deal with the leftovers. Richie knew it was crunch time, but he felt a great deal more comfortable knowing that his fate was in the hands of the people around the table rather than those he had met that day.

"Mr Ryan," the General greeted after everyone had sat down, "I believe you realise we have a problem here."

Richie simply nodded; it was mostly a rhetorical question.

"We cannot in good conscience simply let you go back to your life," Hammond continued in a sympathetic tone. "Although you have continued to prove that you are not under the influence of the Goa'uld larva which took residence in your body you are in possession of knowledge which could be damaging to the security of this planet. If our enemies were to find out about you, you could become a powerful weapon against us."

This was not news to Richie; he had been expecting a speech like this. Part of him had dreaded it and part of him was coldly analytical about the whole situation: after all it could have been worse. He did not think that Hammond was going to have him dissected.

"To allow you to run loose on this planet is not an option," Hammond concluded firmly and paused. "However," he continued shortly, "we have two possible suggestions to resolve this issue."

Richie was impressed; he couldn't even find one.

"We are allies with the To'kra," the General told him calmly, "and although they know nothing about you yet, we are willing to contact them for you. They are probably the closest people to your own situation and I have no doubt that the information you possess would be of use to them."

The name To'kra caused Richie a moment of distaste as Shu's prejudice against them made itself known, but he put it aside. It was after all an option and one that did not have him locked up for the rest of his life. It would mean leaving everything Richie Ryan knew and all the people he cared about, but it wouldn't be the first time his world changed. He nodded for Hammond to go on.

"Our second option is that you join the SGC," Hammond said and actually surprised Richie. "Your knowledge of the system lords and the rest of the Goa'uld would be invaluable to us."

This sounded so much more appealing than the To'kra that Richie couldn't keep the interest off his face, however, there were a couple of questions.

"What would I be doing other than acting as a fount of knowledge?" he asked, trying to sound calm about the whole subject.

"We'd like you to join SG-1," O'Neill said before Hammond could answer and grinned brightly at the younger man.

Now if the offer to join the SGC had surprised Richie, this simply stunned him. Jack looked as if he was enjoying the effect as he simply beamed at what Richie knew was a slack jawed expression on his own face.

"You're serious," he said, not quite sure what to say.

"Kid, you saved our necks once already," O'Neill said after letting him suffer for a few seconds. "I for one would feel very safe with you at my back."

"Your knowledge would be invaluable every time we go through the gate," Sam added with a warm smile.

"It would be an honour to serve with you," Teal'c put in stoically.

That left Daniel who simply looked at him for a while

"No objections here," the anthropologist said calmly.

Richie couldn't believe it: what they were offering was better than his wildest dreams. He looked at Methos who simply appeared smug.

"You knew," he accused and that drew an even smugger grin from the ancient man.

"Then I take it you accept our second solution," Hammond said cheerfully.

Richie grinned and then set his face in a very serious expression.

"Just one suggestion," he said earnestly.

"And what would that be," the General asked, sobering his own expression.

"Could we tell Dr Frasier the truth, please," Richie said lightly. "If she x-rays me every time I heal I'm going to glow in the dark."

Jack was the first to crack and he seemed to find the comment extremely funny.

It seemed that when General Hammond wanted things done he could make the wheels of officialdom move very fast. Before Richie really knew where he was it was a week later and he was on the payroll. He had official quarters on the base, security clearance and everything he needed to be part of SG-1. That left one loose end when it came to the SGC and as soon as Hammond gave him permission he wandered into sickbay.

"Hi, Janet" he greeted as he found the person he was looking for checking her supply cabinet.

"Hi, yourself," the doctor said cheerfully, "and what brings you to my domain?"

"Well actually I really want to get you in your office alone," Richie said with a suggestive twitch of his eyebrows.

"Down boy," Janet laughed.

"Seriously," Richie said with a grin, "I would like to talk to you somewhere private. Since I'm going to be a permanent resident there are a couple of things you need to know."

"Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly," Janet said cheerfully and indicated her office.

They both walked into the smaller room, Janet shut the door and they sat down.

"Now what was it you wanted to tell me?" she asked with a smile.

Richie took a deep breath.

"Don't be mad," he opened his gambit, "but you know all that surprise about being alive after I was shot."

Janet nodded, obviously not sure where this was going.

"I was acting," Richie admitted honestly, "I wasn't surprised at all. The story about the experimental technique Shu was trying out on me is a cover. The Goa'uld didn't make me Immortal, I already was."

The doctor didn't look as if she knew how to take that one.

"There are people on Earth who don't die and don't age," Richie hurried on. "We're normal until we're killed for the first time and then nature just stops for us. I'm who my records say I am, but I died for the first time seven years ago. I'm for all intents and purposes, immortal."

"That's why they had to rescue you," Janet said slowly as if this finally explained something that had been bothering her. "If Shu had managed to take you over he would have been unstoppable."

Richie nodded.

"The only people who know are you, SG-1 and General Hammond," the Immortal said calmly, "if this got out ..."

"There'd be a witch hunt," Frasier finished for him, then she smiled. "Thank you for the truth," she told him, "I'll keep your secret happily."

Richie sighed with relief, he had had faith in Janet, but he had still been just a little worried. Some people did not take the news of Immortals very well.

"So tell me more," she said with a huge grin. "How many times have you died before?"

Richie grinned back: he knew there was a reason he liked Janet.

Seven days and two hours after Mayburne had been given his marching orders there was one more departure going on and it was a sadder one. His time at SGC had been a little more exciting than he would have liked in Methos' opinion, but then life became boring without the odd adventure. The oldest living Immortal was packing the few things he had acquired in his stay into a bag when Richie knocked on his door.

"Nearly ready to go then?" the younger Immortal said in what was supposed to be a nonchalant tone.

Richie didn't fool Methos for a second and the older man couldn't help but feel guilty about leaving him. They had decided that he would return and smooth everything over at home since Richie couldn't go. Methos was going to keep in touch, but for both of them to vanish would have MacLeod on the warpath looking for them. The Stargate was top secret and they had solemnly agreed to keep it that way even among their closest friends. Richie had taken a job at the research establishment where Daniel worked as far as the outside world was concerned. Methos was going to drop some hints about a member of the opposite sex and large amounts of money paid for computer skills that Richie had picked up over the last few years.

Suddenly Richie had a secret identity as a hacker he had not shared with his friends, and which was now coming in very handy. It helped that Richie did know something about computers, and he was pretty sure he could bluff Mac into the ground on the subject. The Highlander used modern technology out of necessity; he did not like it anywhere near as much as he pretended to.

"Didn't arrive with anything, so I think leaving with a bag is an achievement," Methos said lightly.

"Stealing the towels then?" Richie replied with a grin.

"They'll never notice they're missing," the older man said mockingly, "military operations are always the same. If they just kept track of their stores the US government could halve their defence budget."

That made Richie laugh, but he sobered quickly.

"Tell Mac I'm sorry to desert him like this," the younger man said quietly. "I'll call when I can."

"I'll let him know," Methos promised and he meant it for once.

He felt just a little guilty for getting Richie into this mess, after all it was his fault they had entered the SGC in the first place. Methos had been around too long to let the idea get him down, but he couldn't escape it entirely. Richie may only have been a toddler compared to himself, but the kid had seen far too much in his short life. The oldest living man did not envy his younger brethren.

"I'm sorry," he finally said, unable to just dismiss this problem.

"Not your fault," Richie said slowly and looked him straight in the eye. "You couldn't have predicted what was going to happen, and we both know that this is more important than either of us. You were there the first time round, now it's time for us younger ones to have a go."

Methos grinned at that as Richie smiled at him irreverently.

"Yeah well I expect you to keep me up to date," he said pointedly. "I know the military and they're never going to tell me everything. If you need me I'll be around."

"I know, Old Man," Richie said calmly and Methos could see age in his eyes that did not belong to the younger Immortal.

The Richie Ryan Methos had involved in this fiasco no longer existed and the older man knew he had had a hand in killing him. Yet the new Richie was just as earnest, just as brave and a damn sight more interesting. Methos hoped the new Richie Ryan would be better than the old one could ever have imagined.

"The universe is the limit," Methos said quietly. "Stay whole, Richie."

Richie smiled at him again and then before Methos could say anything else he turned and left. The ancient man was left with a feeling that either the galaxy was on the verge of something exciting or in really big trouble.

The End

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