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A Lifetime

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It was funny how a man could hold a hope in his heart and acknowledge it only when the hope was lost.

For months Daniel had held a secret yearning, one that he hadn't been all that comfortable actually giving a name. But now, now that the object of his yearning was impossible to attain, the name came easily.

Jack O'Neill.

Daniel was no stranger to same sex relationships, but still, discovering that he had feelings for his best friend had shocked the hell out of him. He'd honestly never expected to love anyone again after Shar'e. He had in fact, chosen not to love again, not to let anyone in. And no, he didn't count Kira, aka, Linea, Destroyer of Worlds. He'd been vulnerable, damn vulnerable, and lonely. No excuse, though. Which brought him back to Jack.

Hard to believe he'd fallen for the man.

Fallen for. Strange phrase, but then, the idea of loving Jack was pretty strange too.

He knew that he hadn't fallen for Shar'e. No, with her, he'd -- floated -- into love. It had been gradual and sweet, full of mornings waking to her warm, soft, willing body, her special sleepy smile, followed by a whispered, "Dan-yel" always said in that 'just for you' way. She never ceased surprising him with her sensual looks and touches, her possessiveness and her aggressive manner when they were alone. Her blend of shyness and eroticism had never failed to blow him away.

Needless to say, Jack was nothing like Shar'e. But then, the love he felt for the man wasn't sweet. In fact, now that he thought about his feelings, he realized his love for Jack hadn't come gradually. In thinking back over the last months, he could now pinpoint the exact moment it had landed on top of him like a mothership.

Jack and Teal'c had been trapped on board a Russian sub with a horde of rampaging replicators, and no way off. Jack was yelling at him to do it, to blow them up, to destroy the replicators before it was too late. But that meant destroying Jack as well.

The memory rushed back to him in a painful burst of odd Technicolor pictures. He could see Jack's face in the viewer, could hear him begging him to push the button, but Daniel was mentally screaming, "NO!" because it would mean - killing the man he loved.

Shaking himself out of the memory, Daniel lifted his coffee mug and took a sip, then stared at his watch. It was late, almost midnight, and Daniel gave a small wry smile. It seemed that time, like so many other things in his life, was slipping away from him.

He watched the second hand travel slowly around the face of the timepiece, and wished with all his heart to go back in time. To either skip the last eight days, or to somehow change what had happened on P4X-639, to change his death. Of course, he was the only one who knew that he'd died when Malikai had fired the weapon at him, but still, if he could go back, he'd make darn certain that he'd miss out on that little joy. He'd take the hint Malikai had tried so hard to give him and make like a leaf. By doing so, he'd be spared the agony of seeing Jack kiss Sam in the control room. By avoiding his death, he'd be able to skip seeing the 'look' Jack bestowed on Sam at the breakfast table after the time loop had ended.

Okay, so he should have been better prepared for Jack's feelings toward Sam; after all, hadn't he been told about the conversation between them when Sam had been trying so hard to keep Jack from having to undergo the Zartac detector? But then, it was altogether different to hear about a conversation then to actually see the physical evidence of Jack's true feelings regarding his 2IC.

In hearing from Teal'c why Sam and Jack had failed the Tok'ras version of a lie detector, he'd assumed they'd all have failed. SG-1 was close, very close. None of them would have been able to leave another behind to save their own life. But then he'd been on those damn stairs just as Jack had entered the control room, witnessed him hand the general his resignation, then tip Sam back and kiss her - oh, yeah, he'd understood the truth then.

Jack hadn't been able to leave the woman he loved. The woman he was in love with.

He shuffled that particular truth into the darkest recess of his mind.

Daniel suddenly realized that perhaps there might be another bonus to going back in time and avoiding his death; he'd also be able to miss his friend allowing him to be knocked down in the hall a couple of times too many. He was pretty sure such antics were a guy thing and definitely a military guy thing; a "laugh till it hurts 'cause the guy slipped on a body part" kind of military guy thing. Daniel had no trouble admitting that he wasn't into that kind of "guy thing." Watching someone get hit, and hit hard, and knowing that it was going to happen, and then letting it happen, had never been a "Daniel thing". He was also pretty sure that the problem lay with him rather than Jack.

If he'd been a different kind of guy with a different upbringing, an upbringing that hadn't included being the butt of jock jokes and being 'accidentally' tripped, not to mention pushed, shouldered and deliberately jostled. If his glasses hadn't been flung off more times than he could count, he'd have laughed the whole thing off -- probably. Yeah, the lack of appreciation for the joke was his problem, not Jack's.

On the other hand, Daniel still had the niggling feeling that Jack had - enjoyed -- seeing him take both tumbles. Enjoyed it not in a 'ha-ha' way, but in an almost perverse manner. As if it satisfied something raw in Jack, a kind of a payback for all of Daniel's lectures, prattlings and failures to jump when Jack yelled. Or for all the times Daniel argued with Jack, or seemed to find fault with him, or... for just being who he was. A geek.

All of which begged the question of why the hell Daniel loved Jack.

For the first time in days, Daniel smiled. It was kind of funny, not in a ha-ha way, but definitely in a perverse way.

Why did he love Jack? Let him count the ways. Now he chortled, then the chortles turned to chuckles, and finally, he was laughing. And if the laughter had a slight edge of hysteria to it, well, Daniel chalked it up to too many hours on the job and not enough sleep.

He slipped his watch back on, pushed time loops into the same dark corner as Jack's love for Sam, and got back to work.

Major Paul Davis was about to do the one thing he didn't want to do, namely going through the 'Gate. He held his military bearing in spite of the weakness in his knees, and prayed his nervousness didn't show. He glanced over at Daniel, and received exactly what he'd wanted: a grin. It wasn't one of Daniel's better smiles, in fact, it appeared to be a bit on the wan side, but still - it was the grin he'd been counting on. He nodded his head in return, then inwardly winced as General Hammond announced over the loudspeaker, "SG-1, you have a go, and good luck, Major Davis."

Okay, he'd done this before, once, and he could do it again. He gave what he hoped was a jaunty salute, a Colonel O'Neill kind of salute, and followed Daniel up the ramp. Halfway, he realized what a pleasure following Daniel could be. He immediately stomped down on his very unmilitary-like libido and concentrated on the shimmering blue in front of him. His body was about to become so many little atoms and who said they'd all come back in the exact same place and way? No one. Unless you counted Major Carter, and didn't everyone?

Paul went back to looking at the back - side - of Daniel Jackson.

"...and the medical advancements that we'd be able to share with you will aid your children, Ankat. What you call 'munshad,' we call 'measles', and we have vaccines that will prevent your children from contracting them."

"And in... return, you wish to ... what was the word again?" the Ukhat leader asked as he turned to face Daniel.

Leaning into the conversation, Daniel said, "Mine." Then in the language of the Ukhat, he said, "In other words, dig for the mineral our instruments have registered."

Ankat nodded in understanding. "I ... see," he said in his halting English. "And our," he turned to Daniel and said, "sheema?"

"Land," Daniel answered.

"Ah, yes. Land. Our... land... will be... clean?"

Major Davis nodded. "Absolutely. The methods used for this kind of mining will not harm your land, nor your environment."

Ankat looked at each member of SG-1, then back to Davis, then, finally to Daniel. "You are... not the... Yuron?"

"No, Major Davis is. I'm a simple scholar... a tumeron."

"Daniel?" Jack said, clearly asking for a translation.

"The speaker of... heart, is the closest translation for Yuron. The Ukhat believe that every tribe must have this Yuron, one who speaks with wisdom, speaks for all, and speaks only the truth, even when truth is not what the tribe wishes to hear. The Yuron is the reason the Ukhat have no wars. If there are disagreements, be it about land, or goods, or leadership, the Yurons of each Ukhat tribe come together and settle it. Each tribe is honor bound to abide by their decision. All of which you'd know, by the way, if you'd listened to my report in the briefing."

"You're kidding, right?" Jack said, a crooked smile on his face.

"Yes, Jack, I'm kidding."

"So let me get this straight... you just told them that Major Davis is our... is this...."

Jack sputtered to a stop and simply could not say the word. Daniel shrugged and nodded. "He speaks for us, for our government. That makes him the Yuron in their eyes."

Jack managed to stuff his disgust down and out of sight, knowing that the Ukhat didn't need to know about the Pentagon, the senator running rough shod over them, and the NID. Not to mention that it wasn't Davis' fault that he'd been assigned to the negotiations instead of SG-1. Hell, they were lucky to have been allowed to accompany him back to P3-whatever. Ankat's voice ended his sour thoughts.

"Then I believe... we have an... an...."

"An agreement, Ankat," Daniel supplied.

"Yes. An ... agreement."

Davis could barely contain his excitement as he pulled the appropriate documents from his pack and handed them to Daniel, who would make the necessary adjustments in both languages. Daniel quickly explained the paperwork to Ankat, and the two of them moved to a small table behind the circle of pillows they were all seated at. Bodies bent, heads almost touching, the two men conversed as Daniel wrote quickly. When he was done, and all explanations made, Ankat took the offered pen and signed. Davis joined them and added his signature beneath Ankat's.

They had their naquada mine.

Jack huffed a bit as he pulled off his boots. "Are you sure we need to do this, Daniel?"

Daniel peeked around the short, thin stone wall that separated their sleeping quarters and said, "Yes, Jack, I'm sure. It's a very important celebration and they have asked that we dress in the manner they deem appropriate."

"Teal'c doesn't have to wear this get-up," Jack whined.

"They respect his tribal robes, Jack, so stop whining and put it on," Daniel mumbled from the other side of the rock partition.

"I'm a colonel in the United States Air Force, Daniel. I do not whine."

"You do, continually. Now hurry up."

"O'Neill, I believe it would be an insult if you were to show up in your uniform," Teal'c said from behind another partition, this one on Jack's right.

"Et tu, Teal'c?"

"He too, Jack."

"All right, all right, I'm changing. But I am not wearing these... these... bedroom slippers. I'm putting my boots back on, and that's that."

When that announcement was met with silence, Jack said, "I can hear you rolling your eyes, Daniel."

"Good for you, Jack," Daniel said as he came around the wall. He glanced down at the clothes he was wearing and commented, "These are really comfortable. I don't know what the material is, but it's nothing like anything we have at home."

Jack stared.

The 'outfit' that had been given to Daniel was amazingly simple. The pants were nicely formfitting and in the palest blue imaginable. The shirt, a pull-over with a v-neck, was the same color as the pants. The sleeves ended just above the elbow and were cuffed and design-stitched with a white thread. The only 'fancy' part of the outfit was the vest. It was an indigo blue in what appeared to be a rich brocade. Jack felt his mouth go dry.

"Jack...."

Daniel glanced up from his clothing inspection when Jack didn't answer. Puzzled, he asked, "Jack? What's wrong?"

Jack closed his mouth. "Uh, nothing, nothing. You're right, that does look... comfortable. Maybe this won't be so bad after all."

Jack turned away and picked up the shirt that had been laid out on his bed. As he did, he noticed that his outfit was very similar to Daniel's, other than the color. In his case, the pants were a pale gray, the stitching on the shirt sleeves, black. His vest was also black, but definitely not brocade. His was leather, but as he ran his hand over it, he realized that it was the softest, smoothest leather he'd ever felt in his life. And the material for the pants and shirt were incredible. Yeah, he could handle this.

Looking back at the vision in blue, he said with a sniff, "Do you mind? I'd like a little privacy here?"

Daniel rolled his eyes and said, "Can you hear this, Jack?" Walking over to Teal'c, he said, "Come on, let's leave the man to his privacy."

"Proceed without me, DanielJackson. I will remain here and await O'Neill."

"Oh, right. Okay."

Daniel scratched his nose, pushed up his glasses, and finally walked out.

Once in the long drafty hallway, he paused and rested against the wall. Why the hell was he here? He felt his pulse throbbing and absently rubbed at his temple. Felt like another migraine. Damn, he could not afford one now. He turned and, reluctantly, went back inside their quarters.

"Don't mind me, Jack, I just need something out of my pack," he said as he walked by, deliberately averting his eyes. He moved quickly, skirting around the partition and over to his bed. His pack was on the floor and he lifted it, dug around inside, found the small packets of migraine medication, pulled out two and stuffed them into his pants pocket. He took a deep breath, then said, with what he hoped was the right amount of tease in his voice, "You decent? Can I come back out now?"

"A barrel of laughs, our Daniel," Jack said with a look at Teal'c. "I've never been accused of being decent, but I am dressed," he added.

Daniel walked around the partition, and his step faltered at his first look at Jack.

God, did anyone look better in black leather? Doubtful. And the soft pale gray of the shirt and pants, in unison with the vest, softened the character lines that Jack had earned over the years. Daniel figured Jack had never looked so good. He really needed to get out of there - fast. He gave a wave and made his escape. It was a safe bet they wouldn't be on his heels since Jack was still barefoot.

He walked quickly down the cool corridor, marveling at how a tribe so similar to the nomads of his world could have architecture like the ancient Egyptians. Homes and communal buildings were built of sun-baked rocks with corbel arches marking each entrance way. Like the Egyptians, the Ukhats dug into the earth, but unlike the Egyptians, they didn't fill the hole with rocks to create a foundation. Rather, they built up to the landline and slightly above so that you were always walking down into a building and up into the sunlight. Considering the heat of the planet, the architecture was brilliant. The buildings were always cool and it was very like walking out of one of the dog days of August in Colorado Springs and into a cool air-conditioned building.

The communal building that was currently serving as living quarters for SG-1 and Major Davis had been designed for the express purpose of housing guests. It was a large building with eight rooms, each sleeping three, with low walls that divided each sleeping room. In the center of the building was a large communal hall, which was also his current destination, as it was the site of the evening's festivities. As he continued around the building, the door on his left opened and Major Davis stepped out. Seeing Daniel, he grinned and saluted.

"Nice work today, Daniel. Very nice. Senator Kinsey might have thought he was taking the negotiations away from you and SG-1, but I knew better, as did General Hammond."

Coming abreast of the man, Daniel said, "I only helped with translating, Paul, you did the real negotiating. Kinsey may be a jerk, but he was right about putting you in charge."

They'd continued to walk toward the hall, but at Daniel's words, Paul stopped. With a hand on Daniel's arm, he said in his best Jack impersonation, "Tell me you're kidding?"

Daniel shook his head, and puzzled, said, "Why would I-"

Davis didn't let him finish since his question had done a flyby straight over Daniel's head. "Daniel, I did what you told me to do, I said what you told me to say, I-"

"Paul, you were honest, heartfelt, and sincere. The Ukhat knew that. They instinctively knew that you meant only good for them, and for us. It's as simple as that."

"Are you really this... this...."

Paul couldn't go any further. He'd worked with Daniel Jackson before, but this far exceeded any notions he'd had of Daniel's ego, or lack thereof. The man honestly had no idea that the contract with the Ukhats was due entirely to him.

Staring at him, Paul felt a familiar tingling, a feeling he tried, as a major in the Air Force, to keep at bay. He stared at the blue eyes across from him, at how brilliantly they blinked back at him, and without thought, blurted out, "When we get home, perhaps we could meet for dinner?"

He should have regretted the words the moment they hit the air, but the sweetly confused look on Daniel's face brought a smile to his own and he knew that he had every intention of following through on the invitation, given half the chance.

"I... sure," Daniel said some hesitation. "Why not?"

Grinning from ear to ear, Paul said, "Good,"

Smiling, they continued on their way.

The festivities were in full swing, SG-1 and Major Davis the center of attention. As Daniel sat on the comfortable cushions, legs crossed, he watched his teammates enjoying the evening. Even though all the members of SG-1 were seated at the table of honor with Ankat and three other tribal leaders, Daniel had found himself at the opposite end, separated by the Ukhats' leaders. He hadn't been surprised to see Jack take the seat next to Sam, nor to see them lean into each other all evening. What did surprise him was how much it still hurt.

It had been months since the time loop fiasco, months and months of trying to reclaim a little something of what he'd had with Jack, of trying to concentrate on the friendship, and the team. Unfortunately, it had also been some of the most trying periods in SG-1 history. He and Jack had spent much of their time fighting and arguing as they bumped heads and philosophies about everything from how to help the Enkarans to what constitutes a life worth saving, let alone studying. He supposed, to be fair, he'd have to admit that the differences between them had started to interfere with their friendship during their interactions with the Eurondans. Never had they been as far apart as when trying to determine how much to help the people who appeared to be descendants of Earth.

And did anyone need to say 'ice world' or 'Jona' and 'Carlin'? Oh, yeah, he and Jack got along just fine while believing they were someone else. Talk about hate at first sight. Jona had hated Carlin instantly and violently. Even toward the end, as hazy memories had resurfaced, Jona only came to a grudging acceptance of Carlin.

Freudian, anyone?

As he watched Jack and Sam now, both laughing, bodies touching, he had to admit that Sam had never looked lovelier. Her outfit was as simply constructed as his and Jack's, but instead of pants, she wore a long, billowing skirt. The color chosen for her skirt and blouse was a pale yellow, the silk vest, a sunny yellow. Not even on Simarka, wearing the dress the Shavadai had put her in, had she looked as beautiful. Her skin fairly glowed, her eyes never brighter. The Ukhats had chosen the colors well for both Jack and Sam. Glancing down the table, he had to acknowledge that Paul Davis looked pretty good in forest green.

As he let his gaze rest on Jack again, he noticed Shakat, another leader, leaning in to speak with Jack. Uh-oh, this should be good, he thought.

"Colonel, we would hear more of your ways."

Jack turned to his right and smiled. Shakat, the only tribal leader to miss most of the negotiations, was leaning toward him, his gaze alight with curiosity. As he looked at Shakat, he thought about the colors that had been chosen for him and his teammates -- okay, more specifically the colors chosen for Daniel. He knew, thanks to his archaeologist, that color was very important to the Ukhat, their belief being that people were governed by it, that their souls were visible via a primary shade that emanated from each soul.

Since Shakat's English was far more advanced than any of the others, Jack felt fairly confident in getting involved in a discussion with the man. He shifted his body toward the leader and said, "I'd like to learn more of your belief in how a person's soul is seen. How 'bout we trade information?" he offered.

Shakat nodded happily. "I would be most pleased to share our beliefs of the shurosh, or as you call it, the soul. We believe that an individual's soul is evident to us in the curok, or glow that surrounds us all."

"On Earth, we call that an aura," Jack said, glad that Daniel couldn't hear him. His reputation would be ruined, not that Daniel actually believed Jack to be stupid. But still, he had a rep to protect.

"Aura?" Shakat asked. "I like that word. I shall steal it," he added with a grin.

"Be my guest," Jack said as he lifted his goblet and saluted Shakat. After Shakat touched his glass to Jack's and they'd each sipped some of the sweet wine, Jack said, "So what do the colors tell you about a man's soul?"

"Ah, the color of a man's soul tells us everything. His future, his past, all that he is. For example, you, Colonel O'Neill. For you, we chose black, or 'burak' because your soul-"

"Let me guess: dark and full of unspeakable-"

Shakat held up a hand. "No, Colonel, not at all, although there is a darkness in you born of your past. A sadness as well. Oddly enough, burak is a color we seldom use as we have no real understanding of its nature, namely the nature of 'space', as you call it, and flight, or movement through space. None of my people have been through what you call the 'Stargate', nor have we reached our own skies yet. But the moment we met you, Colonel O'Neill, we understood that you are the miracle of flight. Flight beyond the skies of our world, beyond the blue that carries our birds.

"But burak is also a color that is absent of color, and thus has great power to banish negativity. We have witnessed this in your ...I believe you call it... 'humor'. Burak also signifies great wisdom hidden deep. Were we wrong?"

Jack found himself stunned. He managed to shrug noncommittally, but he sensed that he hadn't fooled the Ukhat. Time to move away from himself... quickly.

"So you chose the pale yellow-"

"Yroma is our word for this most wonderful color, and we chose it for your Major Carter because her soul sings of intelligence and is governed by it, while others, when exposed to it, find themselves illuminated by it. There is great stubbornness as well in your Major Carter, and this is never more apparent than in an oddly rigid belief system rooted in her scientific beliefs that can sometimes hamper her. Her soul sings of a complicated knowledge that governs her as well as telegraphing her inner... and outer... beauty."

Jack coughed into his fist and glanced to his left, praying that Sam was too busy talking to have heard Shakat. He was relieved to find her deep into a conversation with Major Davis. He turned back to Shakat. "That's very... interesting, Shakat."

"And true," he responded easily.

Smiling, Jack said quietly, "And true."

Shakat's gaze fixed on Davis as he said, "Your Major Davis was more difficult, his soul not as easily seen or understood. But as the talks progressed, he became clear to us."

"So he's in green, why?"

"There are ribbons of desires that run through his soul, ribbons in direct opposition to each other. He has great ambition, yet is unwilling to conform in order to attain that which he desires. But therein lies the strangeness. He desires to conform, so denies other desires. For us, grekat, or 'green' as you call it, represents prosperity, but also division. Major Davis is a soul divided."

Jack looked past Sam to Davis and bit back a low whistle. Who knew Davis could run so deep or be so conflicted? And yet, he took orders from Kinsey, but was loyal to Hammond and the SGC. Yeah, seemed as though green might fit after all. He turned back to Shakat and asked, "What of Teal'c? If you'd dressed him, what color would he be wearing?"

"Ah, he is simple. A fierce and loyal warrior. His soul would be represented by the curok rudt. Or... I believe you call it... red. It signifies health, strength, physical energy, sex, passion, courage, protection. It is associated with the fiery liquid that flows through our bodies, and thus, life and death, birth, and intense emotions. He is a good man to have by your side, is he not, O'Neill?"

"You nailed another one, Shakat. He is a very good man to have protecting your six."

Shakat raised an eyebrow in puzzlement. "Six?"

"Oh, uhm, backing us up? Protecting us from the rear?"

"Ah. Your... six."

Jack nodded and chuckled. This process of exchanging information and words was a lot more fun than he'd ever imagined. No wonder Daniel loved languages. Another question popped into his head and he asked, "You use many shades, but only two per individual. Why is that?"

Shakat folded his hands over his stomach and leaned back. "Do you not wish to know why we chose the curok that we did for Danal?"

Now that Shakat had come to the one individual Jack was truly interested in, he hid his interest behind a joke. "Oh, that one I have figured out. Blue is your representation for geeks," he said with a wink

Puzzled, Shakat said, "Geeks?"

"Uhm, sorry, inside joke."

"Ah, yes, your ... humor again," Shakat said with a smile. He then waved a hand at the table and the people around it, and asked, "Look at us all, Colonel. Do you see anyone else in baul, or anyone else with another curok other than Danal?"

Frowning, Jack looked ... and found that Daniel was, indeed, the only individual wearing a shade of blue and with a different color, in this case, the white thread, trimming the sleeves. Now his curiosity was definitely piqued.

"All right, why two curoks?"

"Baul represents the one element we can not live without: water. It is our life's blood. It brings us peace and healing, patience and ultimate happiness if we have unlimited access to it, if we listen to it, and if we do not try to change its ultimate course. Water purifies and creates. But it also represents the sky, a world we have yet to conquer or understand. But Danal has opened this world for you and your people, and now, because of his accomplishments, the world is open to us as well."

Shakat let the information sink in, then he unobtrusively pointed at Daniel's shirt. "The lighter shade represents a valued ability to my people; the ability to understand that which is beyond understanding for most. It also represents peace and protection, and more importantly, the power to perceive that which eludes all others."

Jack was dumbfounded. Never had anyone captured so thoroughly the individual that was Daniel Jackson.

"You noticed that with Danal, there is a wiute thread at the edge of his sleeve." At Jack's nod, he said, "This small thread is as important as the entire wardrobe," he said. "Wiute contains all curoks, and therefore can be all things. It can protect, discover, purify and heal. It symbolizes faith, hope, truth and sincerity. It represents the potential of us all. It is written that he who has the wiute soul is our future."

Holy shit.

"Let me get this right... you think that Dana... Daniel, is your future?"

"We do not see things in such a narrow manner. When I say 'our future', I mean... all. We, the Uhkat, have always been able to see beyond our world -- we see beyond tomorrow."

Okay, things had definitely entered the Twilight Zone. Good thing Jack was, if not comfortable in the zone, at least able to move around it, thanks to being a member of the SGC. He looked back at Daniel, and it seemed as though there actually was an indigo blue aura surrounding his friend.

"You see it, do you not?" Shakat asked softly. "You have always seen it, and it has frightened you, still frightens you. That so much should rest on the shoulders of one so troubled, so young. And you worry that such a responsibility will destroy him and you will lose him, Colonel."

Double holy shit. Okay, they'd passed the Twilight Zone and entered the Outer Limits.

Maybe they'd always been there.

"You may indeed lose him, but it is my opinion that the keeping of him, or the losing of him, rests solely within your power, Colonel."

Oh, yeah, Outer Limits.

Daniel's migraine was back. He fumbled in his pocket for the second packet, thanking God he'd thought to bring two. He'd taken the first one upon his arrival in the hall and it had at least helped him make it through the last four hours of food and revelry. He tore the packet open, shook the tiny pill into the palm of his hand and, since he only had wine, he swallowed it dry. If this one got any worse, he'd have to excuse himself.

Thirty minutes later, in the middle of the 'entertainment', his stomach revolted and he managed to get out without anyone taking notice. He doubted that he'd make it to his room, which was a good thing, communal that it was. He hardly needed Jack and Teal'c returning to the wonderful scent of vomit. He scrambled to make it up and out of the building, his head pounding, gagging, and trying his best to hold off until he was outside. He made it.

The little that he'd eaten came up and christened the backside of a rock pile.

Daniel somehow made it back to the room, washed his mouth out, brushed his teeth, then collapsed on the bed, thankful for the cool, quiet darkness. Eyes closed, he worked on some of the techniques Janet had drilled into him when the migraines had started coming back. Fifteen minutes later, the throbbing had subsided enough for him to rise slowly, remove the clothing and slip into his black tee shirt. He crawled under the soft material that served as both a blanket and sheet, settled his head on the pillow, and waited for sleep to claim him.

The celebration seemed to be winding down, and by two in the morning, only a handful of Uhkats were left. Jack, better for the wine he'd imbibed in, needed the strong arm of Teal'c to maneuver his way back to their room. Sam had excused herself earlier, as had Major Davis. Walking back, Jack said, "You're red, Teal'c. Did you know that?"

Looking at his brown hand, Teal'c said, "I believe you are wrong, O'Neill. I am not red."

Jack wagged a finger in his face. "Oh, yes you are. Red is the color the Uhkats would have put you in if you did not have your own... what, royal robes? Red is a very good color for you. The Uhkats have you pegged, my friend."

"And do they have you ... pegged, O'Neill?"

Laughing, Jack said, "Oh, yeah. And no. Shakat rattled on about flight and space and a bunch of other gobbly-gook, but he had you and Carter down pat. Their spin on Davis was interesting, but he blew me out of the water with Daniel. Speaking of which, where is our errant archaeologist?"

"I believe he excused himself a bit before Major Carter."

"They're wusses, both of them."

Teal'c pushed at the door to their room and helped Jack inside. He sat his friend on his bed, lit several candles, then walked O'Neill over to his own bed, sat him down, and began the process of removing his clothing.

"Teal'c, what the hell are you doing?"

"It is altogether possible that you are unable to properly undress yourself."

"Pish tosh. I'm perfectly capable of... besides, I need you to check on Daniel. Is he over there?"

"He is. I can hear his breathing. He is asleep."

"Cheater, skipping out early like that."

"He worked very hard in the days leading up to our mission," Teal'c said as he pulled Jack's boots off.

"Yeah, yeah, he did. All that work, only to have the mission turned over to Davis."

"I do not believe that bothered DanielJackson."

"It wouldn't. But it bothered me. Kinsey is an ass and now that he's in charge of the NID, thanks to his chairing the Intelligence Oversight Committee... and is that not the best possible name? A committee of people for whom intelligence is an oversight. Yep, works for me."

Teal'c pulled off Jack's pants, then pushed him back until he was lying flat on the bed. He pulled up the covers and walked around the partition to his bed, Jack's words following him.

"Yep, the perfect name. And there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Kinsey is perfect for the committee. Just perfect."

As Teal'c changed, O'Neill kept up a steady stream of comments, but Teal'c was gratified to notice that the words were growing softer... with longer pauses in between. By the time he was ready for bed, the only sound was Jack's heavy breathing. Teal'c walked around the partition, past the sleeping man, and around the final partition to where DanielJackson slept.

The blanket was on the floor and Teal'c immediately picked it up. His friend was on his stomach, one arm dangling over the edge of the bed, his legs askew, his face buried in the pillow. Teal'c draped the covering over his friend, then rested the back of his hand against one pale cheek. Cool. That was good. He'd been worried that perhaps DanielJackson was becoming ill. He returned to his section, sat down, crossed his legs, and began the process of moving into kel-no-reem.

"Excellent job, everyone."

General Hammond rose and closed his folder, declaring by his actions, that the de-briefing was over. He started toward his office, then as if remembering something, turned back and said, "Doctor Jackson, Doctor Frasier mentioned that she'd like to see you again when we were finished here."

Surprised, Daniel looked up and said, "Me, sir?"

"Yes, Doctor, you. Don't get me into trouble with her, understand?"

"Er, no sir, I won't sir."

As soon as Hammond entered his office, Jack prodded Daniel on the back and said, "You been holding out on us, Daniel? You and Mama Frankenstein got a thing for needles?"

"Ha-ha, Jack. Very funny. Now I know why I need to see Janet again... it's because you keep me in stitches with your sharp wit."

"Sir, I do believe you've been one-upped," Sam quipped.

"Me? Never. Why, I can one-up Daniel with my eyes closed-"

"And you haven't... yet... exactly why?" Daniel asked with a smirk.

Jack waved a hand dismissively and said, "Not worth my time." With a smirk, he left, Sam trailing behind him.

Daniel thought that was par for the course.

He gathered up his notes and books, pushed back his chair, and was about to head down to the Infirmary when a voice behind him said, "I will accompany you, DanielJackson."

Damn, he'd almost forgotten Teal'c was still in the room. He shook his head and smiled. "No need, Teal'c. She's been trying some new medication on me and probably just wants to see how I'm doing. Can we say, 'boring'?"

"Boring."

Daniel squinted at his friend, caught the gleam of humor in the dark depths of Teal'c's eyes, and grinned in return. "You're getting damn good at this humor thing, Teal'c."

"I have observed the master for many years now."

Chuckling, Daniel nodded. "Yeah, Jack's the master, all right."

They started out and, once in the corridor, Daniel reiterated the fact that Teal'c didn't need to follow him to the Infirmary.

Bowing his head, Teal'c said, "Very well. I shall see you later."

Daniel gave him a slight wave and turned to his left as Teal'c went right. Daniel really had no desire to see Janet, but he knew better than to disregard an order from her, let alone a more gentle 'order' from Hammond.

"How many in the last ten days?"

Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose and debated telling a small white lie.

"Daniel, the truth," Janet ordered.

Damn.

"I don't know, maybe... three?"

The look she gave him clearly said she was less than thrilled with his answer.

"How many on the latest mission?"

"Uhm... really only one."

Oh, good, that really sounded convincing... not.

Janet crossed her arms over her chest and said, "Care to explain, Daniel?"

"Oh, well, you know... the same one, it receded, then came back, then... you know...."

"Daniel, what am I going to do with you?" Janet asked, clearly exasperated.

Daniel shrugged sheepishly.

"Why do you suppose you're suddenly experiencing migraines again? What's changed?"

With another shrug, Daniel said, "I don't know. But that last set of pills worked pretty well."

"You're sure?"

He nodded in a way that he hoped looked reassuring.

"That's something, then. All right, this is what I want you to do for the next thirty days-"

Daniel groaned inwardly and listened as Janet insisted that he document any further migraines, what he was doing when they hit, what time of day, and where he was. He nodded and jumped off the bed. "Can I go now, mom?" he said with a grin.

"Get out of here," she said with a laugh.

He got out.

He almost had it....

And lost it as his office phone rang.

Throwing his pencil down, he walked over to the wall and picked up the receiver.

"Jackson."

//Daniel, it's me, Paul. I was hoping we could have that dinner... maybe tonight?//

Daniel leaned into the wall. He'd forgotten all about Paul. Even though he'd started out in the debriefing with SG-1, Paul had quickly been summoned away for a conference call with his boss, Senator Kinsey, who evidently hadn't been able to wait for General Hammond's report.

//Daniel? Are you there?//

"Oh, yeah, I'm here."

//So... dinner?//

One phrase kept playing in his head... 'why not?' so he said it.

"Why not?"

//Great. I'll come down there around six, and we can head out?//

"Sure. You up for Italian?"

//If you're thinking of Caesar's, I most definitely could go Italian.//

"Caesar's it is. See you in a few hours."

Hanging up, Daniel wondered what had possessed him to say yes. Besides... loneliness.

Daniel followed Paul down the mountain, still shocked that they were doing this. That he was doing this. By the time Paul had shown up in his office, Daniel had convinced himself that all Paul was looking for was a friend. One look at his face, however, told a different story. The man's eyes glittered as he'd checked Daniel out, clearly glad to see him dressed in civvies. Now, as he followed Paul, he had to admit that this was a 'date'.

He wasn't overly surprised about the date being with Paul, as he'd sensed a kindred spirit. His only surprise was that Paul had asked him out.

Daniel sipped his wine and looked around the restaurant. Paul had just excused himself following their dinner plates being removed by their waiter and Daniel was enjoying a few moments of silence. They'd been talking non-stop, albeit enjoyable talk, but it was equally nice to experience silence. The wine was good and had been an excellent compliment to their shared family-style meal of Caesar's famous cioppino, but he was looking forward to the rich coffee that would accompany their dessert of cannoli.

"Miss me?" Paul asked as his hand brushed Daniel's shoulder and he retook his seat.

Eyes sparkling, Daniel said, "No."

Clutching his heart, Paul said, "I'm mortally wounded."

"Not," Daniel responded with a grin.

Paul leaned forward, the candlelight reflecting an undeniable heat in his eyes as he said, "Yes...."

Daniel entered the SGC whistling and immediately stopped as he realized how silly he probably sounded. He replaced the whistling with a silly grin instead.

It had been weeks since his dinner with Paul -- and what had followed -- and while his problems at the SGC hadn't abated, nor had his conflicts with Jack, they'd all taken a back seat to the joys of sex with Paul. They met as often, and as discreetly, as possible and the sex was... terrific. Of course, some would say that any sex for Daniel at this point would have been terrific, it had been so long, not to mention even longer since he'd been with another man.

And that's what felt so good - sex with another man. Hot, sweaty sex; a man's dick in his mouth; his in a hot, tight ass; the feel of rippling muscles; the strength that came from having sex with a man. If Paul wasn't the right man, he was a man who held Daniel when he needed it, who looked at him with respect, and whose softly whispered words in the middle of the night soothed him back to sleep. Paul was surprisingly funny in bed and it was like a return to his youth, to his first experience with a man, to the wrestling, the fun, gymnastics, and playfulness.

Jack's barbs, when he actually saw the man, now bounced off Daniel, and if it seemed that SG-1 consisted of Jack, Sam, and Teal'c, well, when Daniel left the mountain on many a day, it was to meet Paul, to see the light come on in his eyes at his first glimpse of Daniel, and to feel his cool lips on his. And no, he didn't feel guilty about being with one man when his heart wanted another. He could never have Jack, which meant that he needed to move on, and Paul was everything he needed to move to.

Daniel was happy, as happy as it was possible to be under the circumstances, and for that, he was grateful.

Daniel looked at his watch, then at the restaurant door. Paul was only fifteen minutes late, but for an Air Force major, that was tantamount to days late. Something must have come up - but no, Paul would have called. They'd been back from Russia for days, and this was their first chance to meet up since returning. Daniel smiled at the memory of Teal'c walking through the 'Gate, completely unaware of all that had led up to his resurrection.

Grinning, Daniel glanced up and spotted Paul as he entered. He watched him shake off the hostess' attempt to take his long coat, and Daniel's heart fell. Something had come up, and Paul would not be staying.

He watched as Paul looked for him, spotted him, and started to make his way over to their table. As he came up to his chair, he said with a half-smile, "Hey, Daniel, sorry I'm late."

"That's okay. I take it something's come up?"

Paul glanced around the room, and noting that the table was in one of the darker corners, nodded in satisfaction, pulled out his chair and sat down.

"Not exactly," he finally answered, his eyes darting around the room again.

Something was definitely wrong, Daniel thought. He held up the bottle of wine he'd ordered and asked, "Shall I pour you a glass?"

Paul's gaze came back to the table and he said, "What? Wine? Oh, no, thank you. I... I can't... I'm not staying, Daniel."

The last part of Paul's sentence was said with a degree of finality that put Daniel on edge.

"I... I can't do this anymore, Daniel. I'm sorry. I thought... I thought I could," his eyes raked over the room again, "I thought... but I was wrong. This just isn't worth it to me and I need to think of my career. You know how important it is to me, and you know how the military feels about," he wiggled his finger between the two of them, "this, us, about... well, you know what I'm trying to say." He squared his shoulders and added, "This just isn't worth my career."

Daniel would have loved to say that he'd been expecting this conversation, but truth be told, he hadn't. He should have been, because it wasn't new to him. But once again, he'd been caught by surprise by a rejection, a choice that wasn't him.

Damn, when was he going to learn?

"Hey, I understand, Paul. No sweat. It was great while it lasted, and no, I can't believe I just said that. Trite, eh?"

Paul shook his head, pushed back his chair, and stood up. "I'm sorry, Daniel. Please, have dinner on me, okay?"

He tossed down two twenties and Daniel thought, 'How tasteless,' even as he shook his head. "No, I won't stay either."

"Please, I'd feel better...."

So that was Daniel's job now? To make Paul feel better about Daniel not being worth Paul's career? Sorry to disappoint. He got up quickly. "No, I have some work to do anyway, so I'll be heading back to the Mountain."

"Order to go, then?" Paul said, the pleading evident in his voice and eyes.

Daniel waved off the offer and watched with a perverse satisfaction as Paul picked up the money. Who knew he could be so petty?

"Well, then, I guess this is-"

"It's not good-bye, Paul. We'll see each other at the SGC, work with each other. And don't worry, we're okay, the friendship is intact."

That was evidently what Paul needed to hear. He expelled a long breath, and nodded.

Guess he wasn't so petty after all.

Daniel watched Paul head toward the base, and the plane that would take him back to Washington. He turned his car toward the nearest liquor store. Once in front of the Booze Brothers, he parked, ran inside, got a bottle of scotch, Jack's favorite, paid for it, then got back into his car and headed home. He supposed he could have headed back to the SGC, but he'd have felt too guilty drinking on government property.

Once inside the quiet of his apartment, he opened the bottle, poured what he assumed was a good shot, and downed it in one. As the liquid hit the back of his throat, he started coughing and sputtering, but he let it go down, and a moment later, poured another one.

He thought back to Sarah, now Osiris, and their parting so many years ago....

//"It's not worth it, Daniel, it's just not worth it. I'm asking you not to go."

"Well, maybe I think it is. I believe in what I'm doing, Sarah. I know I can convince them. And it's only one lecture."

She climbed out of their bed and walked over to where he stood by the window. Placing a hand on his arm, she said, "There's no other way of saying this, Daniel, but straight out...you're the laughing stock of our profession and, by association, so am I. My God, Daniel, you've lost your apartment and if that isn't enough, Doctor Jordan has given you an ultimatum. Surely you can see that this trip isn't worth losing everything you have? Your theories just aren't worth it."

"Thanks for your support," he said, knowing his sarcasm wouldn't be lost on her.

"I've tried the supportive bit and now I'm saying I can't take it anymore. It's just not worth it, Daniel. My God, you're the most intelligent man I've ever known. How can you persist in your theory? You're throwing everything away. You're throwing us away."

He turned toward her. "This is what archaeology is all about, Sarah. It's suppositions, investigations, and finally, the attempts to prove our theories. How can you not see that? Or are you really saying that every time there's a bump in the road, we're not going to be worth it? Is that it, Sarah?"

"I'm saying that this particular bump is too much. Everyone thinks you're crazy, Daniel, even Doctor Jordan, and you know how he feels about you. If you keep this up, if you persist in expounding on these ridiculous theories of yours, you're going to lose any respect you've earned so far."

"You're asking me to be something that I'm not, Sarah."

"Then you're not the man I thought you were-"

"Meaning that I'm not worth the fuss, right?"

"That's not what I was going to say, but now that it's out there... damn you, Daniel Jackson. Damn you. You could be so much, you could be the one of the greatest archaeologists of our time. Why do you want to give all that up?"

"Evidently we don't see archaeology in exactly the same way."

Turning away, she pulled on her robe and started toward the bathroom. "Evidently not, Daniel."//

So ended the fiery relationship. Of course, Sarah hadn't been the first to find Daniel 'not worth it'. There'd been a foster household or two, near the beginning, who'd found his nightmares, his silence, and his funny habit of hiding in the closet 'not worth the trouble'. And Paul Davis wasn't the first man to find an affair with Daniel to be 'not worth it'. Hell, Paul hadn't even been the second.

Daniel walked out onto his balcony, bottle and drink in hand, and sat down. He stayed there through the rest of the night.

The weeks and months crawled by as Daniel did what Daniel did best: work. He threw himself into translations, off-world missions with other teams, and eighteen hour days. SG-1 seemed to exist as a threesome, and no one seemed to mind. Except Daniel. Then SG-3 brought back several stone tablets from an abandoned city on P3X-302, tablets that were given to Daniel.

Three days after receiving the tablets, and while hard at work on the translations, he was ordered to report to the briefing room. Tossing his pen aside, he gathered up what he'd been able to put together, and headed upstairs. He was exhausted, but in an energetic, frenetic kind of way. He knew he was close, knew the tablets were important, and he hated this interruption.

Walking into the briefing room, he made a beeline for the coffee. He refilled his cup and took a seat, surprised that he was the first one to arrive. He enjoyed the quiet as he sipped the hot brew, wondering if the tablets were the reason for the meeting. He glanced over at the general's office, surprised that it was dark. So where was everyone?

A moment later, he received part of an answer as Jack, Sam, and Teal'c entered the room.

"Wow, red letter day, guys, Doctor Jackson got here before us," Jack said as he moved to the coffee and poured his own cup.

Teal'c and Sam sat down, both waving off Jack's invitation to join him in a cup. General Hammond came in next, and to Daniel's surprise, Jacob Carter was right on his heels. Jack took the chair to the right of Sam and Teal'c moved over one so that Jacob could sit next to his daughter. Hammond took his usual spot.

"Jacob, you requested this meeting," General Hammond said. "so maybe you'd like to get it started?"

"Thank you, George. I'm afraid the news isn't good-"

"Is it ever?" Jack asked. "Why don't you just cut to the chase and tell us what Earth has to do, and how the Tok'ra will fail to live up to their end of the bargain."

"Colonel O'Neill," Hammond warned.

Looking around the room, Jack said, "Am I wrong?"

"Oddly enough," Jacob said with a wry smile, "I'm here to share information. That's it, just share. But I warn you," he added, "you won't like it."

"Never do, Jacob, never do."

Ignoring the jab, Jacob said, "We've been aware of something happening within the ranks of the system lords for some time. In spite of our recent losses, we'd managed to get a spy within Yu's camp and as a result, we've discovered that the system lords have been under attack from an unknown nemesis. Three major Goa'uld have already fallen and the situation has become so dire, they actually held a top secret meeting in an attempt to identify this new enemy. The answer came from an unexpected source." Jacob glanced over at Daniel and added, "I'm afraid the information came from ... Osiris, Daniel. He attended the meeting as an emissary of a goa'uld believed long dead."

Daniel bent his head and found his pen suddenly fascinating, the memory of losing Sarah in Egypt too fresh.

"Do we have a name for this new guy?" Jack, ever practical, asked.

"Anubis," Jacob said simply.

Daniel knew without looking up that everyone had turned their attention to him as they waited for the information about Anubis that they knew he'd provide. Eyes still fastened on his pen, he said, "Supposed son of Set, although many feel Ra was his father. He was known as the god of the dead, was represented by the dark head of a jackal, and, oddly enough, was superceded by Osiris and relegated to a supporting role in guiding the dead to their final resting place. It must be quite galling for Osiris to be subservient to Anubis now. And the fact that she... he... is, doesn't bode well. Anubis must be extremely powerful."

"That's exactly what we've come to discover, Daniel," Jacob agreed. "So powerful that he's managed to bring on board one other strong Gou'ald, Zipacna. And prior to joining Anubis, Osiris had put together a pretty formidable army as well. An army that, like Zipacna's, now belongs to Anubis.

"Okay, so we have another Gou'ald to worry about, got it," Jack said. "But why do I think you're holding that second shoe in the air, ready to drop it on our heads?"

"Because I'm about to drop it?" Jacob answered with a half-smile.

"Dad, please?"

"Right. Evidently Anubis has collected five jewels. Alone, they're nothing, but when added to a sixth one-"

Daniel's head shot up and he said, "Eyes? As in the Eye of Horus, Eye of Apophis, Eye of-"

"We get it, Daniel, we get it," Jack interjected. "So there are six of them," he waved his hand in a 'gimme' gesture and said, "Let's get to the money page here, guys."

"Jack, you don't understand. The tablets SG-3 brought back," he held up his folder, "mention these Eyes. With some more time, I think I can find-"

"He's already found the last one, Daniel," Jacob announced quietly. "Now that he has all six, he's been able to create a weapon of horrific proportions. And he's already used it. He destroyed an entire planet, Baal's home world. Baal escaped, but lost the majority of his forces."

"Shit," Jack breathed out.

"That seems appropriate, Jack," Jacob said as he looked around the table.

"Uhm, what I'd been about to say was that the tablets seem to be about something that protects against what it calls, 'The Eye of Ra'."

Once again he was the center of attention. He shrugged. "With more time, I should be able to figure it out. "

"Time may be a commodity none of us have, Daniel," Jacob said softly. "Anubis is moving against the other system lords, but how long will it be before he moves against the Tok'ra? And Earth?"

"Hey, Daniel can do this," Jack said in a firm, 'take that, Jacob' voice. Then he looked at Daniel and asked, "Right, Daniel? You can do this?"

Looking a great deal like the Sphinx, Daniel just blinked back at him.

The meeting was adjourned with the understanding that Daniel would keep the general up to date with his translations, and that the SGC would contact Jacob if the news was good.

Daniel walked back to his office, his thoughts in turmoil. His head was pounding, accompanied by small jagged zips of light behind his eyes. Migraine... again. But Janet's medicine had been working pretty well, so he hurried his step. He had a lot of work ahead of him, and he wasn't going to let a migraine stop him.

Back in the quiet confines of his lab, he got one of the packets, tore it open, downed the pill with a swallow of cold coffee, and got back down to work.

"Daniel, tell me you're still not working on those tablets."

"I'm not working on those tablets," Daniel said without looking up.

"Yes, you are."

"Yes, I am."

"I thought I told you not to tell me that," Jack said as he approached Daniel's worktable.

"One of us lied."

"That didn't make any sense. And you look like death, Daniel."

"Then I don't have to worry about Anubis, do I?"

Jack took the pen out of Daniel's hand and said, "Come on, I'm taking you out of here. You need fresh air, good food, and some laughs, provided by yours truly. Get your jacket and let's go."

"Number one, I'm close here. Number two, since when do you... look, I repeat, I'm close to a breakthrough here, so give me some peace, okay?"

"So you really think the answer is in those tablets?"

"Yes, I do, and as Jacob said, time isn't on our side right now."

"Actually, he said time wasn't a commodity we have-"

"What, you remember what he says, but not me?"

"I remember everything you say, I just kind of relegate it to this area in my brain called the 'Daniel Corner', that's all."

"Huh-uh." He made a shooing motion with his hand and added, "Go. Bother Sam."

"I tried, she wasn't in her lab."

Daniel looked away, closed his eyes a moment, then said, "That leaves Teal'c, but let me guess, you went there after Sam and he was-"

"In the weight room, and you know how he gets when he's doing his exercises."

"Right."

"So... you sure you don't want to go-"

"I want you to go," Daniel said, his voice more harsh than he'd intended.

"Hey," Jack said, raising both hands in surrender. "I know when I'm not wanted. I'm outta here."

"Good, and close the door after you ... please."

"Closing doors I can do."

And Jack did. Loudly.

Daniel winced, rubbed his temples, then went back to work.

Daniel sat back and took off his glasses. He stared down at his notes, his scribbles blurring on the yellow paper. He almost had it. Actually, he had the important part, but the exact location was still eluding him. So much of translating something like this was knowing the people who'd done the writing. The people and their culture. Daniel just wasn't sure he knew enough about the Ancients yet. There was so much room for misinterpretation, and that worried him. He couldn't afford to make a mistake... not on this.

The phone on his wall buzzed and he got up and walked slowly over. He suspected it was Jack, calling to bug him since Daniel had kept his door closed for the last two days.

"Jackson."

//Doctor, General Hammond has called a special meeting for fourteen hundred hours. He asks that you bring all that you have on your current work.//

"Oh, okay... I'll be there."

//Thank you, sir.//

Daniel hung up and rested his back against the wall. What was up that the general would call a meeting so soon? He glanced at his watch and groaned. It was already one-thirty, which meant the meeting was very last minute, and he had little to no time to get his notes into some semblance of order. He hurried back to his desk.

"Doctor Jackson, I believe you know Doctor Kurt Jamison?" General Hammond asked.

Daniel had arrived on time for the meeting, and had been surprised to find only Hammond and two others present. He'd immediately recognized Jamison and had inwardly cringed.

"Doctor Jamison," he said as he nodded at the man.

"And this is Colonel Myron of the NID. He's replaced the late Colonel Simmons."

Not sure where this was going, Daniel simply nodded at the man and said, "I ... see."

"Doctor, I need you to provide a copy of all your notes on the tablets to Doctor Jamison. The NID thinks things will go faster if two of you are working on the translations. I assume you have copies with you?"

"Sir--"

Daniel started to object but Myron leaned forward and said, "Doctor Jamison is up on the language, Doctor Jackson. He's been studying your reports and findings for six years."

"Doctor, if you would?" Hammond asked gently.

One look at Hammond told Daniel this wasn't his doing, nor his choice, which meant that Daniel had no choice. He took out the copy he'd made for Hammond and slid it across the table to Jamison.

"Thank you, Doctor Jackson," Myron said stiffly. He then turned slightly in his seat and addressed Jamison. "Twenty four hours, Kurt?"

Jamison thumbed through the pages, then nodded slowly. "I think that's all I'll need, Ben."

"Fine. General? Another meeting at sixteen hundred hours tomorrow?"

"Fine. I'll inform Colonel O'Neill."

"Very good."

Jamison and Myron rose and quickly exited the room, leaving Hammond and Daniel alone.

"I'm sorry, son. The word came down from the President. I had no choice."

Closing his folder, Daniel rose. "I understand, sir."

Daniel hurried out, afraid the general would see more than he wanted anyone to see.

Walking back to his office, Daniel had the feeling that the final nail had just been hammered in his coffin - a coffin he hadn't even known was being built.

"I am certain that your work will far surpass Doctor Jamison's, DanielJackson," Teal'c said from where he stood on the other side of Daniel's worktable.

Daniel should have known it would get out.

"Thanks, Teal'c. I appreciate the... support."

"O'Neill says this is the work of Senator Kinsey. If he can-"

"Teal'c, it's okay." He glanced up from the book he was studying and smiled slightly.

"Then I shall leave you in peace, DanielJackson. But if you require my assistance-"

"Thank you, Teal'c. I'll yell."

Teal'c nodded solemnly, then left Daniel alone. He went back to work.

Daniel hurried down the corridor knowing he was late for the briefing, and knowing that the others would be waiting impatiently this time. As he turned the corner, he smacked into Paul and his papers went flying.

"Damn," he muttered as they both bent down to pick everything up.

"Sorry, Daniel. I'm late... well, I guess we both are-"

"No problem," he said as he scraped the last of the papers together and held out his arms so that Paul could dump what he'd collected into them, which he did.

As they both rose to their feet, Paul's hand brushed Daniel's and Daniel pulled quickly away.

"Daniel... I'm so sorry-"

"Never mind, Paul."

"But... look isn't there some way we... I'd like to... maybe we could-"

"Paul, it's okay."

Daniel looked around them both, and thanking God they were alone, said, "We have a meeting to attend and we're both late, okay? And I don't think it would be good idea if we got together for anything, all right?"

Paul ducked his head and rubbed at the back of his neck. "I feel like a total shit, here, Daniel. And not just for how ... things... ended between us. I'm sorry about this whole Jamison thing too."

"Paul, it's over because that's how you wanted it and as for Jamison, hey, no biggie, okay? Now, no one is going to say anything to you about being late, but Jack will hound me to death and never let me live it down, so do you mind?"

He made a motion with his hand, indicating that Paul needed to get out of his way which he did, and Daniel moved on, Paul quickly following. Neither of them saw Sam, who stepped around the corner, a frown on her face.

Paul and... Daniel?

"Sir, sorry I'm late, but-"

"Understood, Doctor Jackson. It seems you're not the only tardy one. But I see that you've brought Major Davis with you... and here comes Major Carter."

No one missed the sarcasm that edged his tone. As the late arrivals went to their seats, Hammond said, "Doctor Jackson, can you let us know what you found?"

Dropping his books and notes onto the table, he tried to catch his breath, but before he could speak, another voice said, "I'm sure Doctor Jackson has found the same thing I have, so why don't I go ahead and give him the chance to collect himself?"

"Doctor Jamison, that's a good idea. Proceed," Colonel Myron answered, then with a glance at General Hammond, he added, "If that's all right with you, sir?"

Hammond looked over at Daniel, then gave Myron a curt nod.

Daniel sat down, felt his heart constrict, and wondered if anyone else would find it ironic that one of the scientists who'd laughed him out of academia, was now sitting across from him, and about to do a report on tablets found on another planet, thanks to his notes?

"So as you can see, I believe that we'll find this device on Abydos."

Kurt Jamison sat down, a slight smile on his face.

Jack looked at the man, then at Colonel Myron. Obviously both were in Kinsey's back pocket - must be a bit crowded back there. All of which was to say that Jack was immediately suspicious.

"Well, Abydos certainly makes this easier. Doctor Jackson, do you agree?"

Daniel glanced up and met the general's steady gaze. He looked over at Jamison, who smiled. Several things popped into his head to say, but what came out was, "It's been a while since we saw each other last, hasn't it, Kurt?"

The smile faded.

"When was it again? Oh, wait, I remember. My little speech about how the pyramids were built long before it was traditionally believed, right?"

"Apparently... you were correct, Doctor Jackson."

"Apparently." Daniel turned back to Hammond. "And no, sir, as it happens, I don't believe we'll find the device on Abydos. In my opinion, that's the last place the Ancients would have hidden such a device. From what I was able to decipher, the device was hidden in what the Ancients called, The Lost City, and I believe-"

"There are many who believe that the Abydos of Ancient Egypt is, in fact, the Lost City of Ani, Doctor Jackson," Jamison interrupted, one dark brow rising.

"Those 'people' are wrong," Daniel countered.

"I see you haven't changed in all these years, Doctor. Surely you can grant the possibility that the ruins at your Abydos represent the Lost City of Ani, and thus possibly the location of this device?"

"No, I can't. And you never understood that language is more than words, that translations are about people and cultures, and that having an intimate knowledge of them is required in order to correctly understand what they were trying to say. You jumped to an erroneous conclusion based on-"

"Doctor Jackson, you've been out of the loop for quite some time. The belief that our Abydos is the Lost City of Ani has grown. It's no longer the opinion of some, but the belief of many. And if our Abydos is the Lost City of Ani, then it makes very good sense that your Abydos is the Lost City mentioned in the tablets. I find it difficult to believe that if that Abydos was the Abydos, Osiris wouldn't know every inch of it."

Jack made a motion as if to dislodge water from his ear, then said, "You know, even for me, that made no sense whatsoever. Did anyone understand what Doctor Jamison just said?"

"It doesn't really matter, Colonel O'Neill," Myron said, "because the President has authorized a mission to Abydos to find the device needed to protect this planet from Anubis. You will lead it, and Doctor Jamison will accompany you."

"General Hammond, tell me-"

"You're set to depart at o-eight hundred tomorrow, Colonel," Hammond interrupted.

"Sir-"

"That's all."

"But sir-"

Daniel watched the interplay between Jack and Hammond, knew that Jack had been about to suggest another team be assigned to Daniel in order to follow through with his ideas, but he knew that the President wouldn't allow Hammond that choice. Money talked, and authorizing another team for Daniel when Jamison had convinced the President that he was right would be an unnecessary expense and one without justification.

His conclusions were proven when Hammond interrupted Jack.

"Colonel, I said that's all. You have your orders."

Daniel looked at his watch. Damn, he was behind, thanks to another headache. He pulled another book forward, opened it, and was about to delve back into the mysteries of the tablets when his door opened and Sam entered. She stopped just over the threshold, knocked on the now open door, and said tentatively, "Daniel?"

"Hey, Sam."

She walked in and over to the spare chair, and at his nod, sat down "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine."

She picked up a paperweight and started fiddling with it, her action so like Jack that it almost made Daniel laugh. She played with it for a moment, then put it down and said, "I saw you and Major Davis... earlier."

Daniel felt his heart plummet. He swallowed and said, "Oh?"

"I...I mean...."

She'd been staring at the rock, but now looked up and met his gaze. "I guess you two were-"

"What happened to 'Don't ask, don't tell', Sam?"

She blushed and picked up the rock again. Twirling it in her fingers, she said, "I can... delve... without mentioning names, you know. So... what happened?"

Daniel had been prepared to talk about a good many things with Sam, but this hadn't even been a glimmer on the horizon. He stared at the ceiling for a moment, then shrugged and said, "I wasn't worth the risk, okay?"

Blue eyes stared into his and Sam blushed again. "Oh. God, I'm so sorry, Daniel, so very sorry."

"You seem to be taking the idea of me with a-"

She waved her hand quickly and said, "I'm not blind... and besides-"

"Robert told you."

She grinned self-consciously and blushed for the third time. "Yes."

"Was that all, Sam, because I have a lot of work to do."

"Oh. Well... I was just wondering... I mean... I...."

"Spit it out, Sam."

She sighed heavily and said, "I... is it possible Doctor Jamison is right? I mean, I read some things on the net, and evidently-"

"He's not right."

"Oh? But couldn't... he could be, right?"

"Does it matter? You're going and you'll all know soon enough."

"His arguments, his notes... were... seemed... pretty sound. Pretty, you know, black and white."

"Well, there you go then. Black and white - says it all."

"Please, Daniel," she begged, "please understand. We have no choice, and if he's right, and he could be, then we're doing the correct thing here."

"Fine."

She stood up and shook her head. "You're not going to give an inch on this, are you? Is it at all possible that you're allowing your feelings about Jamison to color any valid points he might have?"

Daniel looked up at her and tilted his head. "Is that what you think?"

"I think it's possible, yes. From what he said, you two have never agreed on anything and-"

"Maybe you'd better go, Sam. As I said, I've got a lot of work to do, as I'm sure you do, so...."

He let his voice trail off and was relieved to see her nod.

"Right. Okay, so... see you tomorrow then. Bright and early."

Daniel said nothing and Sam started to edge her way to the door.

"Daniel, I'm ... if things don't go well, I'm sure that General Hammond will authorize-"

"Good-bye, Sam."

Ducking her head a bit, Sam nodded and walked out.

My, that went well. Not.

He looked down at his work and shook his head. No way would anyone believe him if he told them that he believed the device had been secreted right here ... on Earth.

He went back to work.

Five hours later, his theory was confirmed. He checked his watch, did some quick time-zone computing, and decided now would be a good time for a few phone calls.

"Doctor Jackson, if you're here to try to talk me-"

"I'm not. I know you have no choice, sir, and I know that you wouldn't get the authorization for a second exploratory team. The reason I'm here is to request a leave of absence."

Daniel stood in front of Hammond's desk, the appropriate form in his hand. He held it out to the general, who, with some hesitation, took it.

"Son...."

"And I'd like to be excused from the mission tomorrow. I don't think that will be a problem, I haven't actually been on a mission with SG-1 for some time, and I'm pretty certain Jamison won't want me-"

"Hold on, son, hold on."

"Sir, I'm tired. I need the time. It's been a rough several months, and Janet can tell you about the-"

"Migraines? Yes, I know, she's already informed me."

"Then you understand that some time away can only do me good, sir."

Hammond sat back and regarded Daniel, a worried expression on his face. "Are you sure, Daniel?"

Surprised at the use of his first name, Daniel found himself temporarily at a loss for words. He did manage a nod.

"Have you told Colonel O'Neill?"

"No, sir, but I don't think he'll mind. Like I said, it's been awhile since I was actually a part of SG-1."

Hammond stood, placed both hands flat on his desk, and leaned forward. "What if the device isn't found on Abydos? We'll need you then, Daniel."

"I'll stay in contact, but I've left a copy of my notes with Nyan, so should anything come up...."

He let his voice trail off and waited. Hammond closed his eyes briefly, then opened them and asked, "How long?"

"I'm not ... sure, sir."

Hammond sat back down again, his body language that of a man who'd lost a war. "Take as long as you need, son. As long as you need. But, I expect you back."

Daniel ducked his head and said, "Thank you, sir."

Back in his office, he stood for a moment and gathered his thoughts. He'd need... and....

Excitement warred with sorrow but the archaeologist won out. He quickly packed his notes and the few reference books he'd need, then turned off the lights and shut the door.

Daniel wasn't altogether certain he'd ever be back.

His flight was leaving out of Denver the next afternoon, so it only made sense to head out tonight, especially if he wanted to avoid contact with anyone... like Jack. It took him two hours to pack, check his passport and credentials, and ensure that his fish would be taken care of. He'd change his money at the airport.

Bags on the floor in the foyer, Daniel glanced back at his home... then hoisted his luggage up, opened the door, and ... snapped off the lights. He closed the door and headed toward the elevator.

In his car, he took a few moments to control his breathing, then started the engine and headed for I-25. He made one stop; for coffee.

It took him a little over an hour to reach Denver. He'd decided on staying at the Hilton Gardens Inn so he got off at Pena and drove until he could see the white spires of the hotel. Even in the dark, the view brought a smile to his face. The Hilton reminded him of the pyramids... had they been huge white tents. He pulled into the parking lot, and a few minutes later was walking into the lobby. Ten minutes after that, he was in his room.

He walked over to the windows and pulled open the drapes. No balcony. Just as well. He took his shaving kit out of his bag and put it in the bathroom, then got his folder out of his briefcase, along with his laptop, and put both on the desk. He checked the room service menu, picked up the phone... and called down to the bar. As he waited for them to pick up, his gaze came to rest on his laptop. He sighed, and when a voice came on asking how they could help him, he said, "Sorry, I meant to dial room service," and hung up. He sat down, opened up his computer, plugged it in to the room's DSL line, and waited for the world to come to him.

//It will be good to see you again, mi amigu.//

Daniel smiled and typed in Quechua, "How many years has it been?"

Thanks to AIM, his answer was immediate.

//Eight long ones, Daniel.//

"You have everything ready?"

//Naturally. I received the wired money and all is in place. I will meet you at the airport and in forty minutes, you will be at The City of the White Men in Tiahuanaco.//

There was a pause, but his chat box told him that Rodrigo 'Rico' Rubalcava, one of only two scientist friends who'd, if not believed in his theories, at least continued to respect him, was entering text. He waited, and a moment later....

//You do understand that the war of drugs is close to where you wish to be, si?//

Daniel typed, "Understood, but we should be safe, yes?"

//Safe? That is not the word I would use, Daniel. You must be prepared for the fact that you might not be allowed into the ruins. All permits have been denied since my government decided to declare war on drugs.//

"I'm not interested in the ruins, Rico. I'll be surveying an area just south of them."

//Then we should be all right. Can you not tell me what this is all about?//

"When I arrive, old friend," Daniel typed, "I will tell you all that I can. "

//Fair enough. See you soon, Daniel.//

"Good-night, Rico."

Daniel logged off and moved into his Word program. He pulled up his notes on the translation and began putting together all the clues to the location of what he hoped would be the device to protect them from Anubis' new weapon. Once done, he moved to his Map Publisher program and began constructing the map he'd use once he arrived in Tiahuanaco. He bounced back and forth between MP and existing maps and photos of the City of the White Men, overlaying photos onto the map, making notes, and creating one document that would serve his purpose. It was painstaking, but it kept his mind away from Colorado, and from Jack. It also kept him so busy that the thought of numbing his brain... and heart... with alcohol drifted away.

As he worked, he felt the excitement that came with discovery... a feeling he'd been missing for far too long.

At six in the morning, Daniel fell to Earth. He'd been working for hours, ignoring his stomach, his need for coffee, ignoring everything but the task at hand. Now, finally, his body began to rebel as the need for sustenance took over. He took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes, then reached for the phone, grateful for twenty-four room service. He ordered scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, and sourdough toast, orange juice, and of course, an entire carafe of coffee. He knew he'd need his energy, so food was a must.

While waiting for the delivery of his breakfast, he went through everything he'd just completed, and satisfied, saved it, then powered off. Later, he'd use the business room at the airport to print it out, knowing that they had the necessary protection, not that he seriously believed that was needed. No one would know what to do with his map, should they get their hands on it.

He pushed himself away from the desk and walked slowly into the bathroom, his legs and back protesting so many hours in an uncomfortable chair, hunched over the desk. He flipped on the light, turned on the water, and cupping his hands, bent over and splashed his face several times. Eyes closed and dripping, he turned off the faucet and reached for a towel. Drying off, he checked out his reflection and winced. Dark circles underscored his weeks of work, unrest and misery. His pale face was punctuated by the beginnings of a dark beard, the shadow of which gave him a slightly haunted look. He debated shaving, but discarded the idea. He tossed the towel down on the counter, hit the light and walked back into his room. His stomach growled, and was matched by a tentative knock and a voice announcing, "Room service, sir."

He opened the door and the man, tray balanced on one hand, entered with a smile and carried the food over to the small table by the window. He set it down, opened the drapes, arranged the dishes and set the table, then took the cover off the plate and held out the chair. "Sir."

"Uhm, yes, thank you," Daniel said, unused to such service. He took his seat and the bill and a pen was handed to him. He signed, added a nice tip, and handed it back.

"Thank you, sir, and if you need anything, my name is Rick."

"Thank you, Rick."

The man gave him a little bow, that oddly enough, reminded him of Teal'c, and he was hit with a surge of homesickness. Suddenly the whole idea of looking for the device himself seemed ridiculous, especially since, in reality, he'd run away from home.

As the door snicked shut, Daniel put his head in his hands.

God, maybe Sam was right, maybe Daniel was reacting to the past, to Jamison's disparagement and to the being treated like a pariah by his friends and colleagues all those years ago. Maybe he was reacting to the fact that he wasn't needed at the SGC, that he was a useless piece of human machinery caught up in a military endeavor, and that he was still someone who people weren't going to listen to, even after six years of proving himself... more or less. And if so, then he'd have to accept the fact that Jamison was... right.

It was altogether possible that Kinsey's disdain for him was correct. After all, did anyone remember Pandora for unleashing hope? No, they only remembered her for unleashing all that other crap.

Eating lost its allure.

God, what the hell was he doing here?

What the hell was he... doing?

Jack slammed the locker door and sat down on the bench. He bent over to lace up his boots and thought this whole mission was a loser from the getgo. It was a colossal waste of time, in his opinion, but hell, since when did that count when Kinsey and the NID were involved? He straightened and wondered where the hell Daniel was. Even for him, he was late, and they were due in the 'Gate room in twenty minutes. He knew Carter was already there and working on last minute adjustments to some scientific doodad, and Teal'c had been leaving the locker room as he'd entered, so that only left Daniel. Who was nowhere to be seen.

"Colonel?"

He twisted on the bench, then immediately stood as he found himself looking at General Hammond. A distinctly uncomfortable Hammond.

"Sir?"

Hammond looked around, seemingly to assure himself that they were alone and, satisfied, walked further into the room. His blue eyes seemed to bore into Jack, and he had the sudden fear that something was very wrong.

"Jack...."

"Sir?"

"I... this isn't easy for me, but I suspect, thanks to the fact that you didn't blow into my office insisting that I at least jail Doctor Jackson, that he might not have told you that he's requested a leave of absence... and that I've granted it."

Jack now knew what the word 'dumbfounded' meant. He'd found the world of dumb. He couldn't breathe, think or speak. He could blink, so he did. The general took pity on him, sat down on the bench and said, "I tried to talk him out of it, but the truth is... Daniel isn't doing well, and with the number of migraines he's been experiencing-"

Jack moved out of dumb territory into thunderstruck country.

"WHAT?"

"Ah. So you weren't aware of the migraines either. That gives me another piece to the Doctor Jackson puzzle. Perhaps you can tell me how his commanding officer-"

A rising eyebrow stopped General Hammond mid-sentence. He rubbed the back of his neck and said, "Commanding officer and Daniel Jackson don't exactly belong in the same sentence, do they?"

"No, sir, they don't. But that aside, I know what you were going to say, and the fact is, I haven't seen much of Daniel lately and...."

His voice trailed off as the import of his words hit home.

"Yes, that would appear to be a great deal of the problem, wouldn't it, Jack? I have to tell you, I'm not sure what's gone wrong with SG-1, but I know that none of us are quite the same now. The SGC seems to have lost something, and I find that I want it back. How 'bout you?"

Jack bent his head and stared at the floor. The past circled in his brain and he could hear Daniel as he shared his opinion of the Stargate program....

"The SGC may be the single most important human endeavor for the future of mankind."

At the same time, he could see past meetings where the words Daniel used also managed to express his opinion of himself, if anyone bothered to listen.

"I know I'm a guest at this party...."

Did Daniel still feel that way? That he was simply a guest, and not a true member of the SGC, let alone a member of SG-1?

Other phrases, all Jack's, also came back to haunt him, and he realized that he'd spent a good deal of time belittling Daniel's contribution to the SGC without intending it.

He could remember his response when Daniel's pleas to go back to the Land of Light had been heard and Hammond had said, "The president agrees with you... he's asked that we evaluate the scientific and cultural value of each mission...."

Yeah, his response had been so very supportive and typical Jack O'Neill....

"Oh, for crying out loud...."

As he thought back on that moment, he could see so clearly how remarks like that, peppered throughout their friendship, would seem to be negating Daniel and who he was. If evaluating planets, cultures and ruins, was nonsense, than so was Daniel, which was exactly the message he'd been sending all these years. Jack, without realizing it, had been attacking more than Daniel's opinions, he'd been attacking Daniel, because Daniel was his philosophy. Jack, on the other hand, had simply been parroting a military philosophy that, if honest with himself, he didn't even believe in. All of which now begged the question: had he finally worn Daniel down? Had his actions eroded Daniel's trust, faith, and...even his confidence in himself? Was that what was missing?"

"Jack, you're going to be late and the mission isn't a go without both of us there," the general reminded gently.

Jack stood up and straightened his jacket. "Yes, sir, I do want it back," he said as if the question about SG-1 had just been asked.

He didn't bother to add that he also wanted Daniel back.

Having finally succumbed to his exhaustion, Daniel now tossed and turned, his sleep fitful. As General Hammond gave SG-1 a go, Daniel moaned in his sleep. As SG-1, Jamison, and Mayron walked up the ramp and into the wormhole, Daniel kicked off the covers and, still asleep, murmured one word: "Jack."

His 3:25 flight to Miami was uneventful and he arrived pretty close to the announced 9:30. He had almost a two-hour layover before his flight to La Paz, so he searched out the nearest bar, took a seat at an empty table, and ordered a scotch and water on the rocks. He was actually beginning to enjoy the taste. While waiting, he pulled a magazine out of his carry-on. His mind was racing and he hoped the articles, along with the alcohol, would get his attention focused on something other than Bolivia and the City of the White Men. In spite of his new misgivings, he was going ahead with his plan... after all, what did he have to lose?

Nothing.

At 10:45pm, American Airlines announced boarding for first class passengers for flight 922. Daniel downed the last of his drink, gathered up his belongings, and headed to gate 12.

When the plane touched down in La Paz, the sun wasn't up yet, but Daniel was, and had been throughout the entire flight. His nervous energy helped catapult him out of his seat before the plane rolled to a stop. He was first out the door and, as he entered the La Paz-El Alto International Airport, he spotted Rico immediately. He grinned, suddenly extremely happy to be in Bolivia.

"Daniel!"

"Rico, it's damn good to see you."

They hugged and when they parted, Rico immediately took his bag and slung it over his own shoulder. "You have more?"

Daniel nodded and Rico took his arm and began to lead him to baggage claim. Daniel grinned again. Rico had always been the 'take charge' guy on any dig they'd worked on. It was nice to see that nothing had changed.

They collected his luggage and Rico guided him outside, where a Land Rover, fully packed, stood at the curb, a special government placard keeping airport security away from the illegally parked vehicle. Rico ran around to the back, opened the gate and began to load Daniel's luggage.

"You hungry, kawsaqe?"

"Not really, just eager to get going," Daniel said as he handed Rico his last bag.

"Then we go."

He closed the gate and they climbed in. Daniel pulled the seatbelt across his chest and snapped it into place, and not a moment too soon. Rico peeled away from the curb and they were off. Good old Rico and his love of speed.

"You have cut your hair, Daniel," Rico observed as he cut off another car in order to speed up.

"Uh, yes," Daniel said as his fingers tightened on the door handle. "A few years back."

"You are well?"

The question was asked easily, Rico's eyes fixed on the road, but there was an undercurrent of something in his voice. Daniel nodded and said, "I'm fine."

"You do not... look fine."

"Thanks, Rico, old buddy, old kawsage. You know how to make a guy feel all warm and tingly inside."

"It is my job to make the women feel all tingly, as you well know. I leave the men to you." There was a slight pause, then he added, "And alas, most of the women as well. It has always puzzled me how you could be so oblivious to the tingles you were responsible for, my friend."

Daniel rolled his eyes and said, "How is it that we've not seen each other for God knows how many years, and yet, you pick up the conversation right where we left off the last time we were together?"

Laughing, Rico took the next corner at forty and said, "Si, you are right. I am hoping to reap the rewards once again of being associated with you. You will ignore the women, the men, and they will all look to me, and I will have my pick, as usual."

"And Isabella will skin you alive, and you'll sleep outside for weeks, and-"

"This is true."

"And how is the lovely Isabella?"

"She is pregnant again. Our third, and if not a boy, I will seriously consider visiting the local shaman."

"Are you still with the University?"

"No, my friend, I am now with the government. It is my job to protect the very cultures that I have spent a lifetime studying," he answered dryly.

Daniel looked at his friend in surprise, and not some irony, and asked, "You? With the government?"

"I am afraid so. Much of our heritage is being destroyed by the drug lords, so I did the only thing I could, I became a part of the solution. I learned well from a certain young archaeologist," he said with a smile.

"So one of the most brilliant minds is now a policeman?" Daniel asked with a grin.

"Nothing so simple, my friend. I work with a special branch of our government, in conjunction with the university, as well as anthropologists and archaeologists around the world. We have become a strong force." He turned his attention from the road and said, "Is it not ironic that we both ended up in the service of our governments?"

Daniel stared at his friend, then said, "Eyes back on the road, and you have been busy, Rico. That special branch you mentioned must be highly connected."

Rico looked back at the road, an enigmatic smile on his face.

A few moments passed and finally Daniel said, "Isabella must be very proud of you."

"She is, when she's not worrying."

"Dangerous then?"

Rico gave a self-deprecating shrug, then pointed to a bag on the console between them. "There is food, fruit and some of Isabella's bread, as well as some cheese. Please, eat. There is hot coffee in the thermos. It has not been so long that I do not remember your love of our coffee."

Ignoring the bag, Daniel immediately reached for the thermos. He unscrewed the top and pulled out the stopper, than looked around for something to drink out of.

"Glove compartment," Rico said with a grin.

Smiling, Daniel popped it open and pulled out one of the two mugs inside. He poured, and took his first sip, then groaned in pleasure.

"Nothing better, eh, old friend?"

Daniel nodded, too busy drinking to talk.

Jack sat on a rock, Skaara beside him. SG-1 had been on Abydos for twenty-four hours and the only good thing had been the chance to see his friend again, whom it seemed, was getting married.

"So when exactly did this happen, this falling in love?"

"We have known each other since childhood, O'Neill," Skaara said with a mischievous grin. "I wish to ask you to sha'loki, to stand beside me."

Surprised, Jack frowned. "I would have thought that you'd want Daniel to do this shylocky thing."

"I would wish my good brother to do aruki for me. There is no one I would trust more to ask the gods to bless our union."

"Ah, then I would be honored to be your best man, Skaara. When do I get to meet the blushing bride?"

"She is with her family in the Thirnoch village but they will be leaving to join us soon." He ducked his head and the long braids temporarily obscured his face as he asked softly, "I do not understand why Daniel is not here with you. Major Carter said that he was well. Have we done something to dishonor my good brother?"

"God, no, Skaara, no. Daniel simply needed some time. He's been working very hard...."

Jack realized how lame his words must sound because everyone knew that Daniel would never miss the chance to see his family, to return to Abydos. And yet... that was exactly what he'd done.

God. How bad must things truly be that Daniel would forgo an opportunity to visit Abydos? Not even that jerk, Jamison, would normally have been able to keep Daniel away. Jack twisted around and glanced over to where Jamison and his team were working, and he frowned. He was missing something here... something important.

Dawn had come in its usual spectacularly South American way and Daniel had watched, enraptured by the beauty. Now, almost forty minutes later, he sat up in interest once again. They had reached their destination.

Tiahuanaco could be seen from their vantage point on the road. It was spread out below, and as always, Daniel was amazed by the ruins. He let his gaze roam further out and he could just see the sparkling blue of Lake Titicacca to his north. As he glanced back at the ruins, he noticed the fence.

"Rico?"

He pointed at it, and Rico, in spite of negotiating the road, looked to his left.

"Ah, yes. A real deterrent to the criminals who traffic in drugs, eh?"

"I doubt that fence deters the animals, let alone man."

"It was our government's attempt to assuage us. We received that fence and two guards. However, there is a military operation only twenty miles from here so the guards have been relieved."

"Military action against?"

"Carlos Mobatay. He is one of the biggest smugglers in this region. They believe they have him cornered." He shot a look at Daniel and asked, "You would wish to turn back?"

"Such an operation isn't likely to interfere with my work. No matter how it goes, we probably won't be here more than a few days."

Rico smiled. "I am glad to hear you say that. I am very curious as to what has brought you back and am eager to work with you again."

"Will the workers you hired feel the same?"

"Pablo and Kio? What do you think?"

Daniel turned in his seat to stare at his friend. "Pablo? Kio? You... they...."

"Yes, Daniel, they are as eager as I to work with you again. You helped them choose all those years ago. Kio is now Doctor Kio Chunaya, Mayan cultures, his speciality, and Pablo, now out of the military and free to pursue his real love, is a few months away from his doctorate."

"My God, I had no idea... you never said anything in your emails, nothing...."

Rico shrugged, and by way of explanation, said, "They wished for it to be a surprise. They have hoped to work with you again. I am only sorry you did not need more assistance. There were several others eager to work with Daniel, the yachachej yachayniyoj and sut'inchaj."

Laughing, Daniel said, "I vaguely recall being called t'uku, Rico."

"But it was always said fondly. You were our lunatic."

"Oh, well then," Daniel said with a grin. He sobered as he reflected back to his months spent in Bolivia and Tiahuanaco. Finally he added, "God, I was so young in those days. Young and foolish."

"Young, yes, foolish, no. Dedicated and focused? Definitely, yes. You taught us all so much, Daniel. You left us better than you found us, and what more can be said of a man, even a very young twenty-year-old with two doctorates to his name? I now see these ruins with your eyes. I see their magic, and believe that the creators came from the stars. Isn't that a great deal for the young man that you were, to have taught the thirty-year-old scientist that I was?"

Daniel didn't answer, couldn't answer. He'd had no idea he'd left any kind of impact following his months in Bolivia. Then a thought struck him and, smiling, he said, "Well, that explains everything, Rico. I obviously used up all my influence on you, old friend."

Rico laughed, then turned the vehicle onto the rough road that paralleled the city's ruins. Daniel spotted a truck a hundred or so feet ahead and watched as two men jumped out and waved. Daniel's grin widened.

Rico stopped the Land Rover next to the truck and shut off the engine. Before opening his door, Daniel turned to him and said softly, "If I find what I'm looking for, we'll have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that this city was built by those not of this world. But it will be a fact you will be unable to share with anyone, Rico."

"I suspected as much," Rico said easily as he climbed out of the vehicle.

"So. Anything happening, Carter?"

Sam sat down next to Skaara and Jack, and shook her head. "Nothing. Jamison was certain he'd find the device in the map room."

"He should have asked me, I could have told him that it wouldn't be there," Jack said as he shielded his eyes and gazed over at the temple. "Does anyone here think that Daniel could be on this planet an entire year and not find all there was to find?"

Before either Sam or Skaara could, in fact, answer, Jamison and Myron marched over to Skaara. Jamison, hands on hips, asked, "Was there any other place that Doctor Jackson found, young man? Something you haven't shown us? Or a place unknown to Doctor Jackson?"

"All that we know, Daniel also knew. But there is a room in the pyramid-"

Myron pushed Jamison aside and said brusquely, "Take us there now."

It was clearly an order but Skaara looked to Jack for permission. Jack nodded and Skaara said, "Follow me."

Jack got up, held out a hand to Carter and gave her a tug up. They fell in next to Skaara and headed for Ra's pyramid.

Tents had been erected, their supplies unpacked and camp set up. A half-tent had been put together at Daniel's direction, and a table set up for his work space. The generator was humming and his laptop was plugged in. He stood just outside his workspace, Rico, Pablo and Kio before him.

"Okay, what we're looking for is basically a mound of stone that looks natural. It will be covered with vegetation, and will be one of three, all interconnected. It will be no further than four or five miles from the City of White Men, but in what direction, I don't know." He smiled as he looked at each man, and added, "Good thing there are four of us."

Rico made a show of counting heads, then said, "I'm taking the north-"

Kio said, "You wish the breezes of the lake, mi amigu. But then, you are older and this search will be hard on your bones."

Pablo nodded, stretched out an arm, popped a muscle, and said, "I am the strongest, I shall take the terrain of the East."

"No, you are simply the most foolish," Kio shot back. "The terrain to the South is the most difficult, therefore," he added proudly, "I shall take that direction."

"No, actually, I will," Daniel said with a faint smile.

"Daniel, Kio is correct, that direction is not only difficult, but-"

Daniel grabbed his canteen and pack, and said, "Then we'd best be going, don't you think?"

Jack lounged against the rock wall and watched the 'great' Doctor Jamison work, if one could call what he was doing... work. Jack certainly didn't think staring counted, but then, who knew what was going on in the man's head. Maybe he was actually thinking.

Nah.

Jamison scratched at his bare thigh, his Jungle Jim shorts riding up to reveal an expanse of white Jack really didn't want to see. The scientist turned around, then turned again. Jack tried to see the room as Jamison must see it, but he couldn't. For some reason, he could only see it as Daniel must have his first time. Jack could imagine his friend's awe, an awe that would have been overlaid by excitement, and a kind of odd joy and anticipation. He could picture Daniel wandering from wall to wall, touching a pictograph every now and then, running his fingers lovingly, but lightly, over the surfaces, blue eyes going dark with the kind of passion that Jack figured no human had ever seen directed at them... not even Shar'e. The look was more than the result of a scientific passion, it was the look born of a man who actually 'felt' history, became one with it, absorbed it, learned from it, and grew in direct proportion to the amount consumed.

Jamison simply didn't have a clue.

And speaking of the devil....

"Kid, what did Jackson do down here?"

Skaara's head turned unerringly toward Jack, who rested his arm on his P-90 and shrugged. "We all know Daniel loves playing a good game of Tiddly-winks in ruins, but hey, maybe he was different here on Abydos. "

Skaara looked back at Jamison and said, "He found several hidden compartments-"

He got nor further as Jamison moved to stand in front of him. He reached out and grabbed Skaara's arms, fingers gripping tightly. "What... where," he sputtered out as he gave Skaara a shake.

Jack moved so quickly, even Teal'c was surprised. He pressed his body against Jamison's back, placed his hand on Jamison's neck, thumb over the man's carotid, and said mildly,

"Take your hands off of him now."

Jamison's hands dropped as if shocked.

"That's better." Jack moved away and pulled Skaara to his side. "Now, what were you asking the future leader of these people?"

Jamison swallowed hard, then said, "Did he find anything... Mister... Skaara?"

"No, the compartments were not full. Daniel believed Ra had taken what had once been here, but when I told him that Ra was not the only god... false god... to visit, that a ... ship... had landed on the pyramid a few weeks before Daniel and O'Neill came here, he then believed that since we were not bothered by the visitors, they knew where and what they wished to find, and they found it."

"Would... you show me?" Jamison asked with forced politeness.

Skaara moved to the far wall, the one with the more colorful drawings. "It was here," he said as he pointed upward.

Jamison started to move, but he stopped and looked nervously over at Jack, who grinned like the Cheshire cat, then nodded slightly. Jamison almost ran over to the wall. Once there, he looked it over, then stepped up close and ran his hand over the wall. His touch was neither gentle, nor reverent, as Daniel's would have been, and Jack felt almost... insulted. After several moments, it was quite apparent that Jamison didn't have a clue how to unlock the secrets of the wall. Jack kicked up the Cheshire grin.

"I can feel the wider crack here and," Jamison murmured as his fingers traveled up, "here, but there's no spring trap, nothing to trigger it to open." He kept feeling up the wall, his face growing more and more red with his frustration, anger, and embarrassment.

Jack shot a look over at Carter, who just shrugged. He realized that she didn't get it. She didn't realize that the man in front of them was the equivalent of a tofu burger compared to Daniel's filet mignon. Jack approached the wall and, taking a leaf from the book of Daniel-watching, said, "If I remember correctly, Daniel said something once about how these were built to slide up or sideways, no springs, per se, just weights and pulleys?"

"Trust me, I've been in enough of these things to know that there's a spring here. All I have to do is find the right stone to compress."

"Ah," Jack said. He turned to Skaara and said, "Do you remember how Daniel got it opened?"

Skaara favored him with a beautiful smile, then pointed at the red sun painted near the top of the wall. "Daniel figured out that the sun was Ra, the rays the way to open the wall. He-"

Before Skaara could say anything else, Jamison snapped his fingers and said, "YES!" He pulled out his flashlight and aimed it at the sun... and nothing happened. He stepped even closer and... nothing happened.

"DAMN IT!"

Skaara started to speak, but Jack put out a hand to stop him. He walked over to the wall and stared at the sun. He could see Daniel standing here, staring up at it, could envision those blue eyes narrowing, his agile mind working out the puzzle....

"The rays are red," Jack said almost to himself.

"That is exactly what Daniel said," Skaara said, eyes wide with surprise.

Jack chuckled and said, "I've got to know how he did it, Skaara. I know damn well he didn't have this," he pointed to the red target beam on his P-90, "so how the hell did he do it?"

Laughing delightedly, Skaara hurried to Jack's side. He held up one of the colorful strips of cloth that made up his shirt. "He held this up in front of his flashlight."

The strip of cloth was red.

Jack shook his head in wonder, then aimed his target light at the sun.

Slowly... a piece of the wall slid up... revealing the compartment behind.

The empty compartment.

Carter gave a low whistle, and said, "Sir, does this mean that Anubis found one of the Eyes here?"

"Off hand, I'd say it's almost guaranteed. Which means Abydos is damn lucky Anubis didn't have all of the Eyes at that point, and that he didn't want anyone to know that he was alive."

"Yes, sir."

Daniel paused and wiped the sweat from his eyes. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out one of his bandanas. He wrapped it around his head and tied it in back, then grabbed his canteen, opened it, tipped it back, and allowed the stream of water to flow into his mouth and dribble down his chin. He capped the canteen and surveyed the area around him.

He'd been at it for over six hours but, so far, he'd found nothing that matched what he was looking for. He'd been checking in with the others every hour, and they too were coming up empty handed. He sighed, but the stubborn streak that a certain Air Force colonel found so aggravating, surfaced. He kept going.

Twenty minutes later, he hit pay dirt.

He'd been about to change direction when it struck him that he'd been going steadily downhill and had probably made a nice huge half circle.

The back of his neck started to tingle.

Heart rate spiking, he slowly turned to look at what he'd been descending... and caught his breath.

There they were... his crags.

Eyes shining, he walked forward until he stood inches from the more prominent of the three. It was covered with brush and vine-like plants, which he began to pull away until the face was almost completely clear. Eyes narrowing, he studied every inch of the rock, then slowly, tentatively, reached out and touched it. With a reverent hand, he smoothed over the surface... and frowned. It felt... off. He brushed lightly, carefully, lovingly, and particles fell away like peeling paint, more particles than should have. He stepped back and reached for the walkie-talkie.

The three men stared at the rock, then at Daniel.

"This is it?" Kio asked in disbelief.

Smiling dreamily, Daniel nodded. "This is it."

The three men stared at each other.

"T'uku," Pablo said with a grin.

Taking his working brushes from his pack, Daniel said, "I heard that, Pablo."

"Truth is truth, Daniel."

Smiling, Daniel held out the brushes and said, "Let's do it."

Each man took one, and moments later, each was brushing delicately at the craggy surface.

"This feels... different, Daniel," Rico finally said.

"That's because it is. If we were to study this stuff we're brushing off, we'd probably find it's not real rock, sand or dirt at all. Keep brushing."

Kio let some of it trickle into his open hand. He brought it up close and studied the material, then said, "It's almost as if ... as if it had been...."

"Sprayed on?" Daniel suggested with a grin.

"Si, sprayed on."

"It probably was," he said as he continued to brush away what was obviously a façade.

They went back to work. As more and more of the material came away, something else entirely was revealed. They worked faster.

After an hour, a smooth metal material stared back at them.

Daniel stepped back and frowned. No words, no pictographs, no designs of any kind adorned the surface. And thus... no clue as to how to open it.

He glanced upwards... and noticed that the top of the crag jutted out, but it appeared as one smooth curvature. Maybe....

"I'm going up," he announced.

"Up? UP?" Rico exclaimed, stunned.

Daniel faced him and nodded. He pointed at the crag to the left of the one they'd been working on and said, "Footholds, vines, I can make it to the top. I think the answer to opening this baby is up there."

Rico shielded his eyes and glanced up, then shook his head. "It's too dangerous, Daniel. We could go around, maybe approach from the other-"

"Been there, done that. It's a good two hours around, then a steady climb up for another two hours or more, and, unless I'm very much mistaken, I heard gunfire earlier."

Rico nodded. "You did. I suspect Mobatay is fighting back."

"Then we don't have all that much time, do we?"

"There is no way I can say, Daniel."

Daniel walked over to the other crag and started climbing.

The process was slow and laborious as he had to search out handholds and footholds, but it was actually easier than he'd thought when staring up at it from the ground. The height was no more than climbing a two story building, and as long as he didn't look down, as long as he focused on the apex, he was fine, his fear of heights taking a back seat to what he hoped to find at the top.

From below, the others watched, eyes wide, hands clenched. They gasped when, at one point, Daniel lost his footing, but he recovered quickly and continued upward.

It took him three quarters of an hour to reach the top, but at last he was hauling himself up and standing. He had to jump about a five foot crevice to reach his goal, and, with a running start, did so, easily. He walked to the edge and waved at Rico and the others, then dropped down and began to clear the brush away. Some of the vines proved more difficult to dispose of, so he pulled out his knife and began to slice them away. When all the greenery was gone, he started the process of removing the same kind of cover they'd faced down below, but this time the process went faster because the area was much smaller. It only took him twenty minutes to find and uncover the relief.

He sat back on his haunches, hands on his knees. He stared at the one inch thick, raised square with seven symbols... and smiled. The center symbol was flanked on each side by three others that obviously represented the six 'eyes' that Anubis now possessed. But it was the center symbol that captured his attention. He knew instinctively that if he pressed it - the temple below would open. It seemed fitting that he was looking at the glyph for Earth. He leaned over far enough to see over the edge and yelled down, "BACK UP, I'M GONNA OPEN IT!"

The three men did as told and Daniel sat back and gently pressed down on the top of the pyramid.

Rico waited, uncertain of what to expect. There was a kind of ... suction sound followed by a long hiss... then the face of the ... whatever it was... opened outward. He looked at his two friends, who stared back.

"Well, I'll be damned," Kio said. "It opened."

"You are surprised, Kio?" Rico asked, grinning.

"I shouldn't be," the man admitted sheepishly.

"Oh, ye of little faith in our sut'inchaj."

Rico looked up and yelled, "GET DOWN HERE PRONTO, T''UKU, WE'RE NOT GOING TO WAIT ALL DAY!"

A waving hand was his answer. Rico turned to Kio and said, "You two head to camp, break it down, and set up here, all right?"

"You got it," Pablo said. He slapped Kio on the back and said, "Let's go."

The two men headed off with the promise that they'd be back before dark. Rico turned his attention to Daniel, who was coming down the crag much faster than he'd gone up. By the time he was standing next to Rico, sweaty and breathing hard, Rico had water, a towel, their backpacks and his duffel bag. "Here, drink up, clean up, then we'll go in."

Eyes on the dark inviting opening, Daniel took the offered canteen, dumped a good portion of it over his head, then swallowed the rest. The towel came next and Daniel, attention still on the opening, swiped it over his face and hands, then took his pack from Rico and said, "Well?"

"Thought you'd never ask," Rico said.

Smiling, the two men flicked on their flashlights and started forward.

"It's here, I'm sure of it," Jamison said.

Colonel Myron's hard gaze flicked from Jamison to the wall behind him. "Why here?"

"Because the Eye of Ra was found here... at least... that's what I believe. What better place to hide the device that can neutralize the power of the Eyes, then where one of them was found?"

Myron shrugged, then with a curt nod at Jack, turned around and went back up to the main room. Jack sauntered over to Jamison, who managed not to flinch, and said, "You believe the Eye of Ra was found here? You? Nice one, Jamison. Who knew you were so honorable. And were you born this stupid or did your parents drop you on your head one, or fifty, times too many?"

Jamison's eyes narrowed, but he stepped back, muttered something under his breath, then began to inspect the walls again. Jack gave a jerk of his head and said, "Come on, Carter, Teal'c, Skaara, let's up back to the village. This idiot isn't going to find anything."

They left Jamison to his... work.

Rico followed his friend inside, both their flashlights lighting their way. Daniel stopped long enough to inspect the door, running his fingers up the side and giving a low whistle.

"What?"

"You don't think this metal is odd?" Daniel asked.

"I think it's like nothing I've ever seen, but," he flashed his light at Daniel, "I suspect you have."

"Oh, yeah, but if I told you, I'd have to ki-"

"Coming from you, it doesn't work, mi amigu."

Daniel smiled, then said, "It's an air lock."

"Si."

They turned as one and moved deeper inside. They found themselves in a large chamber, no other doors, just three walls and the entrance behind them. But on the wall before them, and to their right, were, even in the limited light, the most beautiful paintings either man had ever seen. Rico opened the duffle bag and lifted out a portable Fostoria halogen light set. He popped the legs of the pedestal, then with a few quick, well-practiced moves, set them up and turned them on. He repeated the process with the second set, but placed them in the opposite corner.

Now the full beauty of the pictures was revealed.

"Amazing," Daniel breathed out.

Rico moved to his side, then pivoted in order to see each wall. "I do not believe what I am seeing, Daniel. The artist... this rivals any artwork ever created. The colors are more vibrant than anything we have here. They almost seem alive and shining."

"The pigments are so deep and rich," Daniel said as he walked over to one of the walls. He held his hand up to the surface, but didn't touch. He chuckled and said, "Jack is always accusing me of being unable to avoid touching things - he should see me now."

"Why do you not touch it, Daniel?"

"Oils from my skin," he answered simply. "This is older than you can imagine, and thanks to the airlock, perfectly preserved. I want to keep it that way."

"Ah, of course. And who is this 'Jack'?"

"Colonel Jack O'Neill. We work together."

Rico nodded and said, "The file says Colonel 'Jonathon O'Neill'."

"You government people," Daniel said with a grin. "No matter where I go nowadays, there you are."

"There we are, my friend."

Daniel winced... and went back to studying the wall.

Sensing that he'd hit a sore spot, Rico rushed to change the subject. "How old are these, Daniel?"

"Old," came the quiet, almost whispered answer.

"You were right, were you not? And this... this was built by others not of this world, si?"

"Si."

He waved his hand at the center wall in front of them, and asked, "What are the pictures telling us?"

Daniel stepped back. "This first panel with the four columns represent the four great races." He indicated the column on the left and said, "This is the language of the Asgard, and this," he pointed at the next column, "the Nox, the Furlings, and finally, the last column, the Ancients, the race that I believe built Tiahuanaco and all of this."

He quickly gave Rico a brief rundown of his experiences with the Asgard, the Nox and the Ancients, and when he finished, Rico, obviously in awe, pointed to the fifth column, the one with only a single symbol on it, and asked, "And that?"

Taking in a deep breath, and exhaling, Daniel said, "That... that is, very possibly, the fifth race."

"Fifth race?"

Mesmerized, Daniel nodded slowly. He reached out his hand, then drew it quickly back, the temptation to touch the beauty almost too much to bear. "That symbol on the column is a symbol the Ancients used for ... Earth. We may be the... Fifth race."

Rico studied his friend, then looked back at the wall. "Why do I think this is the greatest archaeological find ever known, that no one will ever know about?"

Daniel stepped back until his shoulder just brushed against Rico's. "Because it is," he said.

Rico looked at the other walls and said, "But I know...."

"Yeah," Daniel breathed out. "And that's enough, isn't it?"

Rico looked at Daniel, who looked at him. They both grinned foolishly and said, "Yes."

"So what now, mi amigu?"

"Now... I find the other chambers. There should be three-"

"That's why the three crags?"

"Yes. And in one of them, I hope, we'll find what I came for."

"So go to it."

Daniel went.

His translations of the tablets told him that the walls in the chamber would point the way to where the device that would "protect against the six Eyes" was secreted, but he knew how vague the clue was likely to be. He started with the wall to his right... and immediately discarded it. It was too bright and full of celebration. The entire panel showed men, women and children, all dressed in loose, rainbow-colored clothing, dancing under a teal blue sky. In the background rose a stately city with tall, slender, streamlined buildings, all with an ethereal rosy glow. Daniel knew he was looking upon the Ancients as they'd once been, and his heart almost ached for them.

He moved back to the middle wall, looking again at the columns. He shook his head. The answer wasn't there. He turned his attention to the other two panels.

One, he knew, represented the devastating plague that had almost destroyed the Ancients. The artist chose to depict it by painting an incredibly beautiful garden, but one where darkness, in the form of a few deep purple, almost black, vines crawled out from under the dirt. They seemed to be reaching out with greedy tendrils, their intention clear: to choke the life out of the garden. As the eye was drawn up, more and more tendrils could be seen invading the garden, while in the distance, three people stood around what Daniel realized was a replica of the time control mechanism they'd found on P4X-639. He winced at the memory of the time loop, and looked away from the hopeless horror.

The third panel was the strangest of any in the chamber room. It seemed to blend the innocence of the first wall, with the dark foreboding of the second.

"I do not understand this one, Daniel. I sense hope, yet, something strange as well. The garden in this panel seems to be evolving, but into what, I haven't a clue."

"The Ancients were nearly destroyed by a plague. As their numbers decreased, their scientists worked on a kind of... time machine, in the hopes that they could go back in their history and stop the cataclysm. Unfortunately, their machine didn't work."

Drawn in by the tragic story, Rico asked almost breathlessly, "What happened to them?"

"They did what this garden is doing - they evolved. I guess you could say that they moved to a new plane of existence."

"So then the Ancients still exist?" Rico asked hopefully.

"They do."

Both men looked at the panel for a few moments longer, than Rico observed, "The evolution of the garden seems oddly... beautiful, doesn't it?"

"Yes. It's almost hard to tear my eyes away. It's almost as if I can see it happening...."

"Exactly," Rico whispered.

Daniel finally moved to the last wall, the wall shadowed by the door. He frowned at the simplicity of the painting. It was nothing like the other walls, and clearly not done by the same artist. In fact, this one seemed more like a child had been let loose with a set of paints.

"This doesn't fit at all," Rico said, echoing Daniel's thoughts.

"No, it doesn't. But it's oddly sweet, isn't it?"

Rico chuckled and said, "It is as if, while the artist was busy with the other two walls, he, or she, allowed their child to play over here."

Suddenly Daniel started to laugh. Rico, slightly taken back, said, "What? What?"

"This is it," Daniel managed to say. "This is the one."

"You are t'uku."

"No, no... just... young," he gasped out, still laughing. Then he walked up to the wall, because even through his laughter, he'd spotted the youthfully drawn symbol for Earth hidden among the many attempts at painting animals and flowers and stick figures. He raised his hand... pressed it against the symbol... and slowly the wall slide backward, revealing another passageway. Daniel turned and smiled. "Someone very wise once said, 'the young do not always do as they are told.'"

"What the hell does that mean?"

Turning on his flashlight, and starting inside, Daniel said, "You had to be there."

"It's open," Kio said unnecessarily.

"So observant."

"Should we go inside?"

"Oh, no, we should stay out here, where it's nice and warm and sunny and without shade."

"Right. We go inside."

"We do."

Pablo and Kio approached the opening, both wary. Kio gave Pablo a push inside, then followed him. Their lights flickered, but were overshadowed by an eerie glow from their left.

"A corridor," Kio said unnecessarily.

"Lights at the end of the tunnel," Pablo said just before he pushed Kio into the corridor.

They followed the glow, ducking as the roof sloped down.

"I hope this widens out... soon," Pablo whispered.

"It will," came an eerie reply from ahead.

"I hope that was Rico," Kio whispered.

"It was," came another eerie reply.

The tunnel widened and they entered another chamber. Their lights showed them flashes of bright swatches of color on the walls, as well as small niches filled with artifacts. They almost stopped, their archaeological bent demanding they investigate, but ahead of them, the light was even brighter and drew them like moths. Eventually, they could see Rico, arms crossed over his chest.

"Finally made it, guys?"

Pablo and Kio entered the third and final chamber, eyes wide with wonder. Kio spun around and, taking in everything at once, asked, "Ric, did you see those chambers?" At the same time, Pablo said, "My God, the colors, and those artifacts," but he was promptly interrupted by Kio, who said, "What is this place? I've never seen anything like it."

Pablo nodded his head hard and fast and asked, "Yeah, and that door? I know I've never seen anything like what that door is made out of...."

"Guys?" Rico drew a finger across his throat and nodded toward Daniel, who was inspecting the far wall, which was covered in ancient writings. Both men nodded, put fingers to their lips, then walked over to Daniel and peered over his shoulder.

Rico shook his head in disgust and said again, "Guys?"

Kio and Pablo shook their hands at him and followed Daniel as he moved a few inches to his right.

"Guys, leave him alone. Let's go out and set up while Daniel does his thing in here."

Kio nodded, but didn't move away. Pablo stepped to his right and gazed up at the wall and said, "I've never seen anything like this, Daniel."

"Ssh," Kio said as he continued to study the writings on the wall.

"Right. Ssh," Pablo agreed.

The sun was long gone and the air had cooled enough to stop the sweat. Daniel sat at the table they'd set up, the writings he'd filmed in the chamber now downloaded to his computer. He was studying the screen, several books open in front of him. The letters were beginning to run together and his vision was blurry, but Daniel kept going. He was close, he knew it, but he also knew time was running out. The gunfire that had occasionally punctuated the stillness of the night was increasing, and getting closer. Every muscle was tense and he could feel the beginning of a migraine, but he couldn't stop, couldn't rest.

Rico watched from his vantage point a few feet away, a rifle across his legs. Pablo too was armed, as was Kio. All three were worried, as much for the battle that seemed to be drawing closer, as for Daniel. He'd barely eaten dinner, and all of them could see the pain etched in his face, but they did nothing, sensing the importance of his work.

Rico knew that Daniel needed to translate the writings in order to find whatever he was looking for, and this he understood, but he was still wrapping his mind around the fact that Daniel could translate them. Sure, there was a vague resemblance to the writings he'd observed in Egypt, but he knew, in spite of his experience, that he wouldn't have a chance of translating anything worthwhile.

He doubted that anyone on Earth could translate the writings. Anyone other than Daniel.

"Daniel, you must rest."

"I will, just a few more minutes."

"Daniel," Rico said, his voice soft, "it is after midnight. Please, sleep for a few hours? This will all be here when you awake."

Daniel took off his glasses, rubbed at his eyes, then swiped his hand over his face. "Maybe you're right, Rico."

"I am always right, Daniel. Except when I am wrong, but I was wrong only once, because it turned out I was right. Now come with me and we'll get you into bed."

"I'm only going with you because I understood what you said, and that's a very bad thing."

"Yes, Daniel," Rico said as he helped the younger man stand. As he led him to the tent, Pablo moved ahead of him and got the sleeping bag ready.

Rico sat Daniel down on the cot, then knelt and pulled off his boots.

"Wake me in four hours, Rico, okay?"

"Four hours, you got it," he answered as he lifted Daniel's legs and got him settled.

"I mean it."

"I know. Four hours."

Pablo turned the lantern off and the two men exited the tent to Daniel's mumblings.

"He has not changed, has he, Ric?"

"No," Rico said, smiling. "He hasn't. And I suspect that this is a very good thing for all of us."

Daniel managed two hours of restless sleep before his mind, filled with ancient writings, brought him to full wakefulness. He stumbled around in the dark until he found his pack, then pulled out a package of the migraine pills he'd brought with him. He groaned as he realized it was the last packet. He took one, then made it back to his cot, sat down, and eschewing any light, yawned and put on his boots. He stood, stepped out of his tent, and walked over to his worktable. He picked up his notes, video camera and flashlight, then headed over to the chamber. The full moon was bright enough to forgo the flashlight until he got inside. He made his way to the last chamber room, turned on the halogen lights, then sat down cross-legged in front of the far wall.

He was deep in his translations when a cup appeared from over his shoulder and Rico said, "If you're going to give up sleeping, then you'll probably need this."

Daniel took the offering and smiled wanly. "Thanks. I hope I didn't disturb you?"

"No, it's my turn for guard duty."

"Everything seemed quiet," Daniel said after swallowing the much needed coffee.

"It is, for now. But I suspect things will heat up again at the dawn. According to my office, we could very well be in the middle of the fight by noon tomorrow. I've been ordered... to leave."

"Ordered? How can you... I mean, you're on vacation, right? How can they order-"

"I'm a government employee in the middle of military operation. What can I say?"

Daniel bent his head and studied the dark swirling liquid in the cup. Finally he said, "Give me... till ten, Rico. If I haven't been able to-"

"Daniel, I have no intention of leaving until you've found what you came for. Kio and Pablo feel the same."

His head shot up and he looked at his friend. "You'd stay in spite of orders?"

"I would. This is important, we know this. But hurrying would not be a bad idea," Rico finished with a smile.

"Right."

Daniel went back to his work, but he couldn't help comparing his experience with Rico, Kio and Pablo to the last months with his teammates.

SG-1 lost.

Jack stared up at the Abydonian sky and wondered where Daniel was at that moment. Was he at home, in bed? Or had he gone somewhere to 'get away from it all'? He looked back at the pyramid and the years were swept away by the desert wind. He could see Daniel standing on the steps with Ra, staff weapon held clumsily in his hand, blue eyes boring into his. The breeze swept that memory away and replaced it with a moment in the catacombs, a moment when Daniel had challenged him to live. And finally, the moment before he'd stepped back through the 'Gate. He could hear his own words... his promise.

"See ya 'round, Doctor Jackson."

God, he'd love to see Doctor Jackson right now. He needed to hear his voice, see his hands moving as he spoke, and watch his glasses bob up and down with his words. Being here, on Abydos, without him, was so wrong. And why was he realizing this ... now?

Damn, always late to the party, that was Jack O'Neill.

Rico looked at his watch. It was after six and the sun was up, the temperature outside already climbing. Daniel had barely stirred from his position on the ground in the last four hours and the only sound had been his pencil scratching across the surface of the yellow legal pad on his lap. Daniel had been alternating between the playback on his video camera, his notes, and the walls and Rico was beginning to think the man wasn't human.

"I think I've got it," Daniel suddenly announced.

Kio, who'd been lounging against the wall, straightened and said, "I'll go get Pablo, don't do anything till we get back."

He hurried out as Daniel, with some difficulty, got up. He braced himself against the wall and closed his eyes, but Rico could see the smile of satisfaction on his face. He relaxed somewhat, and a few minutes later Kio and Pablo hurried in. Daniel pushed himself away from the wall and walked to the opposite one. He tapped a small panel and said, "Watch this. If I've translated correctly, when I'm done, it should open."

Kio moved to where Daniel was standing and nodded. Pablo joined him while Daniel walked back to the other wall, his back to them. He glanced down at the notes in his hand, then up at the glyphs. He raised his arm, and with one finger, touched one square, then another, then up to a third, down and over for the fourth. He paused, checked his notes, then touched a fifth square, a sixth, and hand poised over a seventh square, said, "This should be it."

He pressed the seventh square and immediately turned around. The panel that Kio and Pablo were standing in front of... slid back.

Pablo jumped back with a muttered, "Whoa", while Kio immediately jumped forward, eager to see what was revealed. Before Daniel could stop him, Kio reached out to touch the small, round, gold and jeweled device now visible. His hand, however, bounced back.

"Hey! What the heck-"

Pablo, not one to be outdone, tried to touch the item, but he also hit something invisible. "Wow, it's like some kind of force field, but it doesn't hurt or anything." He reached over and touched what couldn't be seen, and kept right on touching it. "It's like... rubber, Daniel. I can feel it, and my finger just kind of bounces back from it."

Rico looked over at Daniel, who nodded. Rico moved the two men aside... and reached out.

"Very strange, Daniel," he concluded.

Daniel had been watching, and now joined them. "Touch it again, Rico," he asked as he bent down to peer at something below the compartment.

Rico did as instructed and Daniel said, "Keep your finger there."

"What is it?"

"Every time one of you touched the protective shield, a segment of the panel beneath, lit up. Give me a minute...."

Rico shrugged as Kio and Pablo now focused on the words that had miraculously appeared below the compartment.

Daniel moved under Rico's arm and ran a finger over the words as he murmured, "Only... the one... who has been...touched... by the Others, may pass."

Daniel moved away and straightened up. "You can put your hand down now," he said.

Rico let his arm drop and asked, "Do you know what it means?"

"I think so," Daniel murmured. "I think so."

He rubbed his eyes under his glasses and swayed a bit. Rico reached out immediately and helped support him. "You okay?"

"Yeah, just tired. Look, I need to make a phone call. I think I know someone who can get through and retrieve that."

"All right, let's go."

Rico helped Daniel, Kio and Pablo following. Once out in the daylight, Kio ran ahead and grabbed Daniel's cell and handed it to him.

"Thanks, Kio." Shielding his eyes from the now bright sun, Daniel punched in the number at the SGC, and when someone answered, he said, "General Hammond, please, it's Doctor Jackson calling."

While he waited, he closed his eyes and thought about what they'd found. Oddly enough, the item behind the shield looked a bit like a Gou'ald healing device. It was obvious that it was meant to be held in the palm of the hand, but he'd noticed the small 'latches' on each side, which made it look as though it should attach to something else. Unfortunately, it appeared too small to protect against a weapon as apparently powerful as what Anubis now had at his disposal.

//Doctor Jackson?//

His eyes flew open at Hammond's voice. "Sir, yes, I... I think I've found it, General."

//Care to be a bit more specific, son?//

"The location of the device, sir. Well, actually, the device itself, or at least... a part of it. But I've run into a small snag and I need... well," he scratched the back of his head, turned away from the others, and said, "Jack. I need Jack, sir."

//Give me your exact location, Doctor Jackson.//

He turned back to Rico, covered the mouthpiece, and whispered, "Co-ordinates, I need our-"

"Got it. Give me a sec."

"Sir, I'm in Bolivia, about forty miles out of La Paz and south of Lake Titicacca. We're getting you the exact-"

//Who's 'we'?//

"I have... I called a good friend of mine, Doctor Rico Rubalcava. He's with the Bolivian government, sir. And there are two others here, both good friends, and very... trustworthy."

//Doctor Jackson, I hope you know what you're doing.//

Daniel closed his eyes until Rico's snapping fingers got his attention. He turned and took the paper Rico was holding out.

"Sir, I have the co-ordinates, if you're ready?"

//I'm ready, son.//

Daniel read them off, then waited, his gut clenching.

//Colonel O'Neill is still on Abydos. Since it appears his search is useless, I'll radio him immediately. I think, however, I'll leave Myron and Jamison there.//

Jaw clenching, but understanding that Hammond had no reason to believe that he'd actually found anything, Daniel said, "Yes, sir. And I should mention that time is of the essence. There's a slight... military issue here, and we could be overrun by-"

//I'm aware of the situation, Doctor Jackson. I just didn't know you were in the middle of it. This will take a fine hand. And I wish you'd told me that you believed the device was right here on Earth.//

Daniel once again turned his back on his friends and lowered his voice. "Sir, no one would have believed me, Jamison would still be on Abydos, and I'd... still be here."

The silence on the other end of the phone worried him. He rubbed his temple and wondered why jagged edged lights always came with migraines.

//Doctor, we'll discuss this further upon your return. Be careful and I'll have the rest of your team there as quickly as humanly possible.//

"Thank you, sir."

He disconnected and pocketed the phone. Looking back at the crag, he said softly, "Now we wait."

//We need you back here, Colonel, and now.//

Jack stared at the M.A.L.P. and, puzzled, nodded. He wasn't too upset about being called back, but still, what could have come up that required the return of SG-1?

"We're on our way, sir."

//Very good. Let Myron know that SG-5 will take your place.//

"Will do, sir."

The three men sat around the worktable, saying nothing. There was no more gunfire and a quick call to friends in the know had confirmed that the military would most definitely be making another move on Mobatay, this one promising to be the final, and conclusive, maneuver. They had, at best, twelve hours.

Inside the tent, Daniel lay sleeping, finally, but it had taken a great deal to get him to succumb to their demands that he rest. It had been obvious to all of them that Daniel had been in pain.

"What do you suppose this is all about, really?" Kio asked as he twisted his cup of coffee around in his hand.

"Whatever it is, it's important, Kio. Perhaps even ... critical," Rico said.

The wormhole exploded out, then settled, and a moment later, Jack, Carter and Teal'c walked through. Jack glanced up at the control room just as Hammond bent over, clicked on the mike, and said, "Colonel, my office after you've checked in with Doctor Frasier."

Jack gave him a small salute and all three walked down the ramp and out of the 'Gate room. At the stairs, before Jack headed up, Carter asked, "What could be up that we'd be called back?"

"As soon as I know, I'll let you in on it, Carter."

Carter, clearly curious, nodded and said, "We'll wait for you in the commissary, won't we Teal'c?

Teal'c's famous eyebrow rose sharply and Jack couldn't help but say, "Indeed."

Jack approached the general's open door. He paused, and when Hammond, who was on the phone, waved him in, he proceeded. He had a bad feeling, and that feeling had a name: Daniel Jackson. Jaw clenching, he stopped in front of the general's desk.

"Yes, thank you, Captain Salas... yes, I understand, and again, thank you for your assistance."

Hammond put the phone down and said, "Sit, Jack."

Jack pulled up the chair and sat down.

"Has Jamison found anything?"

"With all due respect, General, Jamison couldn't find his ass with a rearview mirror."

Biting back a grin, Hammond said, "Yes, well, I'll take that as a no." His eyes narrowed a bit, then he said, "It seems that Doctor Jackson has. Found something, that is."

"I... he was on... he requested a leave, sir. He went through the 'Gate?"

"No. It seems the protection we're looking for is right here on Earth. In Bolivia, to be more precise."

"Bolivia? Daniel is... what, in Bolivia?"

"He is. And he evidently needs... specifically... you."

Jack suddenly understood what he'd been missing before. Of course Daniel would go off on his own to find the device. Unable to sit any longer, he rose quickly and started pacing nervously. "He's in Bolivia. Daniel is in... in Bolivia." He turned and faced Hammond. "Why didn't he tell us? How hard would it have been to tell us?"

"He didn't think we'd believe him, that anyone would believe that this... this... whatever it is, would have been here, on Earth. And yes, I think that's an issue that deserves some investigation later, but for now, we need to get you to him. I've made all the arrangements, called in quite a few markers, and you're set to leave the base in one hour. Initially, I considered sending only you, but there's a slight wrinkle. It seems the Bolivian government is making a major move against Carlos Mobotay and they're only a few miles from Doctor Jackson's position. I think it would be very good idea if you took the rest of your team with you."

"Sir, how much danger is Daniel in?"

"The whole situation could blow up in less than twelve hours. Fortunately for Daniel, it seems Major Ferretti and his team have also decided to ... vacation... in Bolivia. Amazing coincidence, wouldn't you agree?"

Smiling, Jack agreed. "Just incredible, sir."

"So that's it. We're flying into Cochabamba, and the base that Clinton built, or should I say, the base he didn't build, and from there, we'll transfer to a Sea Stallion and less than an hour later, we'll be setting down a few miles from this Tiwecacca place of Daniel's. Any questions?"

"Sir, it's Tiahuanaco, near Lake Titicacca."

"Gee, thanks, Carter. I feel so much better now."

Jack looked at the six men and women in front of him, and said, "We leave in fifteen, and Ferretti, it's a real pleasure taking this -- vacation -- with you and your team. I'm looking forward to the volleyball tournament. SG-1 will cream you guys."

Lou Ferretti grinned and said, "SG-1 creaming SG-2 in volleyball? I don't think so, Colonel. But the miniature golf tourney has me worried."

They were piled into the military van that would take them to Schriever Air Force Base. A special flight had been 'arranged' by General Hammond, undoubtedly one of those favors he'd called in. The general stood at the right passenger door, and as Jack slipped on his seatbelt, Hammond said quietly, "Bring him back in one piece, Colonel."

Jack met the steadfast gaze... and nodded. "Wouldn't have it any other way, sir."

The flight to Bolivia and Cochabamba was made in relative silence. Most of SG-2 slept while Teal'c used the time to kel-no-reem in the back of the plane. Carter sat with Ferretti, which left Jack alone and with too much time to think. He'd been disturbed by Daniel's apparent leave of absence, but now, knowing that he'd really headed off by himself to find the device that could protect Earth from Anubis, he was downright upset. How had they all come to a point in their lives where Daniel would be forced to do something like this alone? He rested his chin in his hand, stared out the window and wondered why the hell he hadn't kissed Daniel during that stupid time loop. He'd wasted a perfectly good kiss on Carter. Come to think of it, he'd been wasting a whole lot of thoughts and 'what ifs' on Carter.

Jack sat up in his seat.

What the hell had he just thought? Had he just thought... what he'd thought?

He had.

Too much silver on top of his head, and bad knees. Yep, all responsible for his most recent thought. And Daniel. Daniel was responsible for his most recent thought. And Daniel's lips were responsible, and his eyes had to share in this as well. And let's not forget his voice or those damn legs that went on forever -- he supposed.

His mind took a virtual tour of Daniel's other side and -- assets, but Jack put the kibosh on that and concentrated on Daniel's eyebrows. Yeah, his eyebrows. Absolutely nothing sexy about Daniel's eyebrows. Okay, they were nicely shaped, and sure, sometimes they were as expressive as Daniel, and it did seem as though they moved in conjunction with his hands when he was on a verbal roll or just plain excited about something, and they did, kind of, set off his long lashes... sort of, but really, they weren't sexy or anything.

God, he missed Daniel. And he'd been missing him for months.

//And whose fault is that?//

"Colonel, we'll be landing in ten."

Jack looked up into the face of an airman who'd just saved him from killing his conscience, and nodded. "Thank you. Is there any news?"

The airman, understanding what was being asked, shook his head. "I'm afraid not, sir. All we know is that a little under an hour ago, the Bolivian military started what they're calling the final offensive against Mobatay."

"Thanks."

Swell. Leave it to Daniel to end up in the middle of the war on drugs.

Didn't anyone ever tell Daniel to just say no?

"The gunfire has started up again, Ric," Kio observed as he turned the page of the book he was reading.

"Yes, I noticed. I just hope it doesn't wake him," Rico said as he dealt a card to Pablo, then the final one to himself.

Pablo pulled two cards out of his hand, slid them over to Rico, and said, "He won't wake up, he's dead to the world."

Rico dealt him two new ones, then pulled out one of his, and gave himself a card. "Let's hope so. His eyes were screaming migraine. I've seen that look a few too many times with my wife."

Pablo dropped two matchsticks into the pile in the middle of the table and said, "He's too thin, Ric."

Rico added two matchsticks, then put in two more and nodded. "I know. Not that he's ever been a heavyweight, but still."

Pablo put in the call bet and as Rico laid down his cards, an eight high straight, he said, "I doubt that he's slept much in the last seventy-two hours, but then, sleep never was high on his list of priorities."

Pablo smiled and laid his cards down with a flourish as he said, "I remember well. He could exist on two hours, if that."

Rico looked at Pablo's flush and groaned, then said, "Of course, we remember the twenty year old Daniel, not that he's changed all that much."

Pablo raked in the matchsticks and challenged, "But he has. Can't you see it in his eyes? There's now a depth of hurt we only caught a glimpse of when we worked with him last, but what bothers me the most is the desperation."

Rico nodded, and as he put the cards away, said, "I saw him a week before the disastrous lecture, and there was no desperation. He'd left Doctor Jordan, or should I say, Doctor Jordan left him when he served Daniel with the choice of skipping the 'aliens built the pyramids' lecture, or giving up his associate position with Jordan; and he'd lost his apartment. But still, he was excited, certain that his theories would be embraced. But now, now even when faced with proof that Daniel's theories were true, even knowing that he's accepted somewhere, I see this desperation in his eyes, and I wonder... what put it there?"

"Or who," Pablo mused.

Suddenly Kio stood and walked to the edge of the open tent. "Do you hear that?"

Both Rico and Pablo joined him, and a moment later, a dark object appeared in the sky north of the crags.

"A helicopter," Pablo said.

"Ours or...."

"I believe ... it is American," Rico said. "I'm going to wake our sleeping beauty."

"Daniel? Daniel, your friends are here."

Rico gave Daniel's shoulder a slight shake and said again, "Daniel?"

"Wha'?"

"We've got company."

Bleary blue eyes opened and Daniel reached for his glasses. Rico guided his hand to the trunk that was serving as a nightstand. Sitting up, Daniel slipped them on, then swung his legs over the edge of the cot.

"Good company... or bad?"

"Can't you hear it? It's a chopper, and it's American."

Daniel ran a hand through his hair and stood up, swaying. Rico put out a hand to steady him, and, together, they walked out of the tent and into the afternoon sun. Daniel immediately shielded his eyes as he looked skyward. Kio pointed to Daniel's left, and now he could see the helicopter, which meant Jack.

In spite of everything that had happened in the last months, and in spite of knowing that it was Sam that Jack loved, he felt the stirrings of excitement at the thought of simply seeing his friend again. He was actually looking forward to some of Jack's signature snarkiness.

Life just wasn't the same without it.

Jack could now see the campsite, and four figures standing near a tent. As they drew closer, he could finally make out Daniel. He almost waved, which would have been ridiculous since Daniel couldn't see him. As he surveyed the area around the camp, he was grateful to find that much of it was flat, which meant they could land fairly close. Very close, in fact.

Oddly enough, he saw nothing that looked like... anything that might hold the key to staving off Anubis. Just hills off to the south, and the ruins of Tutucuckoocaca, or whatever it was called, to the west. Daniel's campsite was too far from the ruins, so he knew whatever he'd found, it wasn't there. For which Jack was very grateful. He had no desire to go tramping around in something he couldn't pronounce.

The ground came up fast, and moments later, they'd set down. Two men moved to the cargo doors and slid them open, then dropped the ramp. Jack unbuckled and stood, his team and SG-2 following suit. The two airmen went down the ramp, anchored it, and Jack started down, his gaze focused on Daniel.

Daniel watched as his friends approached, all dressed casually, but he didn't miss the rifle cases carried by the entire group. SG-1 and 2 looked like a group of men and women on vacation - with some serious hunting lined up.

"Doctor Daniel Jackson, I presume?" Jack asked with a smile.

"Colonel O'Neill, as I live and breathe," Daniel said with an almost matching smile.

He grinned at Teal'c, who nodded, his brown eyes crinkling with his barely there smile.

"Daniel," Sam said as she came up to him.

"Sam. I didn't expect all of you... just... Jack, but I'm glad you're all here."

"Hey, Doc, when the colonel said he was joining you on this little vacation in Bolivia, well, me and the crew just had to muscle our way in. We couldn't let SG-1 have all the fun, now could we?"

"No, Lou, guess not," Daniel said with a smile gone suddenly, and oddly, shy.

Jack looked at his archaeologist, at the faded denims and the pale blue denim shirt open at the collar, sleeves rolled up; at the dark stubble, the bloodshot eyes and the dark circles punctuating them. Finally Jack noticed the small lines that radiated out from the corners of Daniel's eyes, that always signaled pain. Acutely aware of the three men just behind Daniel, he pointed at Daniel's face, made a twirling motion with his finger, and said, "We don't shave on vacation?"

Daniel rubbed at his face and gave a small shrug. "Hey, what can I say?" He turned toward Rico and quickly introduced Jack and the others, then said, " Everyone, this is Doctor Rodrigo Rubalcava, or Rico to his friends, and this," he indicated Pablo, "is Pablo Cochin, and next to him, Doctor Kio Chunaya. The four of us have worked together before and they're completely trustworthy. Completely," he added with emphasis.

Jack regarded his friend for a moment, then said, "Okay, Daniel, point taken. So... you need me why?"

Daniel glanced over at Rico, then back to Jack, and said, "Well, I guess I have something to show you. Follow us."

Daniel headed toward the crags, Rico falling in on one side of him, Jack on the other. As they drew close enough to see the opening, Jack whistled and said, "Okay, that was definitely not visible from the air."

Daniel smiled and kept going. Once inside, he reached down, picked up one of the flashlights they'd left near the door, flicked it on, and turned it on the walls. Rico picked up the second one, and Pablo, who was bringing up the rear, picked up the last one. All three lights played over the beautiful walls.

"This isn't why you're here, but I thought you guys might like a quick look at the ... artwork," Daniel murmured.

"My God, Daniel," Sam almost whispered. "It's beautiful, and these colors," she looked back at him, "they're like nothing I've ever seen."

"I know. Incredible, isn't it?"

"But who?" she asked, eyes back on the walls.

"The Ancients," he said reverently. He turned his flashlight to his left, toward the other opening, and said, "Come on, the main show is this way."

With some difficulty, they all turned from the beauty on the walls to follow Daniel through another door and down a long corridor. They passed another chamber and Jack stuck his head inside. Voice echoing, he asked, "What's in here, Daniel?"

"We haven't really had time to catalogue it all yet, but the Ancients basically left a history of themselves in that chamber. Not unlike our own time capsules."

Jack wrinkled his nose, said, "Artifacts", sniffed, then continued down the cool hall.

Grinning, Daniel entered the final chamber and immediately turned on the portable lights, then stood next to the far wall and the jeweled device, Rico taking the other side.

"Whoa, that looks just like a Gou'ald healing device," Sam said without thinking.

"Ixnay the Gou'alday, Carter," Jack said.

Shaking his head, Daniel said, "Jack, I said they're completely trustworthy."

"Yeah, yeah, no offense, but-"

"Jack, chill."

Jack's scarred eyebrow rose. "Chill?"

"Chill."

Rico smiled at the two men. There were strange emotions zipping back and forth between Daniel and his colonel, along with the repartee, but there was also a deep friendship. Rico found himself wondering why Daniel would have come here alone, in the shape he was in, if he had this Air Force colonel, this friend?

"Okay, so, once again, why am I here, now that I'm ... chilling?"

Daniel nodded at Rico, who raised his hand and 'knocked' on the opening. The others watched as his hand bounced back.

"Force field," Daniel said simply.

"It's like rubber," Rico added.

Jack held up the rifle case that undoubtedly held his P-90, and said, "What, you want me to blast it? Like I didn't notice the rifles leaning against the tent?"

"No, Jack, we don't need you to blast it, or anything else," Daniel said with an impatient shake of his head. "Rico, do it again, but this time, Jack, look at the squares below the chamber."

Rico tapped the field again, and all eyes watched as several strange symbols lit up, and remained aglow as long as Rico kept his fingers on the shield.

"I assume you translated that?" Jack asked.

"I did. It says that only one who has been touched by The Others may pass," Daniel said with significant look at Jack.

"The Others meaning the Ancients?" Jack asked.

Daniel nodded.

"O-kay, so how does that translate to needing me?"

Daniel's glasses bobbed up and down with his facial expression as he said, "Jack?"

"Daniel?"

Exasperated, Daniel held up his hands and mimicked something slipping over his head as he said, "Hello? Does 'download' ring a bell, Colonel 'I'm so special according to the Asgard' O'Neill?"

Jack frowned, then glanced at the shielded device. "So you're saying that I'm ... what, touched?"

"Has there ever been any doubt, Jack?" Daniel said with smirk.

"Ha-ha." He stepped closer and peered at the compartment, then said, "I'm not so sure, Daniel...."

Sam moved in and knuckled the shield, then pulled her knife from its sheath and tried to cut into it. Nothing happened. She tried again, putting all her strength into it, and again, nothing happened.

"We tried everything short of dynamite," Rico said.

She turned and faced Jack. "Sir, I'm sure that eventually I could figure this out, but from the troop movements we observed from the air, I don't think we have that kind of time. You might as well give it a try."

"Okay, then," Jack said as Sam stepped away.

Rico glanced over at Daniel to smile, but instead, frowned. Daniel had withdrawn as surely as if he'd left the chamber. His blue eyes were full of a sadness Rico didn't understand, but he had the urge to move to his side, to protect him. Unfortunately, at that moment, O'Neill stepped up to the shield, effectively blocking Rico.

"You sure it doesn't hurt... or anything?" Jack said as he tentatively reached out his hand.

"No, sir, it doesn't hurt... or anything," Sam said with a smile.

"Not that I'd care," Jack assured the group. "Being the macho Air Force colonel that I am."

"Of course, sir," Sam grinned.

Daniel actually stepped back several feet then. Rico watched him, then watched as the one called Teal'c, stepped to his side, allowing their shoulders to brush. Rico realized that the dynamics of the group had changed. He didn't like it.

"Okay, here's goes nothing," Jack said as he moved his hand toward the shield. His finger touched it... and bounced back. "Wow, it is like rubber," he said in awe. Then realizing that he hadn't penetrated the shield, he turned to where Daniel stood, now several feet away. "Guess I'm not as 'touched' as you thought, Daniel."

Daniel rubbed at his forehead, trying to erase the pain, and the frown he knew he was currently wearing. "I don't understand it, you should have been able to penetrate the shield, Jack."

"I do not believe he is the 'touched' one, DanielJackson," Teal'c offered.

Daniel looked up into his face, then his own frown cleared. "Of course, it has to be Sam... no, she already tried." His shoulders slumped in defeat.

"I believe there is only one individual who has truly been touched by the Ancients, DanielJackson. And he is in this room."

Jack snapped his fingers. "Of course, Teal'c. Good work. Daniel, he's talking about you."

Daniel looked up, and puzzled, asked, "Why would it be me?"

"You have had far greater contact with the Ancients than any other individual, have you not, DanielJackson? Were you not touched by the one called Oma? Have you not directly interacted with them-"

"Teal'c," Daniel interrupted, "Sam had her own bit of interaction with Orlin, remember? And she-"

"And are you not the one," Teal'c went on as if Daniel had never spoken, "who understood before anyone else, that the Ancients built the-"

"I think that's enough, Teal'c," Jack warned with a glance at Rico and the others.

"Oh, for crying out loud, Jack, I told you they're-"

"I know. They're trustworthy, but let's not stretch it, all right?"

Rico moved away from the wall and walked over to Daniel as he said, "They are right here, and all three of us can hear perfectly well. And we're not stupid."

"Of course not, I didn't mean-"

"Yes, you did, Jack. I trust all three of these men with my life, and thus with the secrets of the SGC," Daniel challenged.

"Daniel, this is a discussion for another time. Right now, we need to find what you came here to find."

"Sir," Sam interrupted in an effort to get the conversation back on the shield. "Isn't it obvious that it can't be Daniel? He's most certainly already tried."

"Damn, you're right," Jack said.

Blinking rapidly, Daniel said, "Well, actually, I never, you know," he made a motion with his hand, "touched it. Rico did, and Kio, and Pablo, but... not me."

Jack cocked his head. "Daniel?"

Daniel stared at the compartment, eyes wide, then shook his head. "No, no, you're wrong, Teal'c."

Canting his head, Teal'c said, "Please prove it, DanielJackson."

"Go ahead, Daniel," Rico encouraged.

Shrugging, Daniel walked up and with rather more force than necessary, plunged his fist toward the device.

"OW!"

Daniel quickly pulled his hand back, and waving it in the air, said, "That HURT!" He started blowing on his bruised knuckles as he said between puffs, "I thought you said it didn't ...hurt?"

Jack, a grin on his face, stepped in close and said, "You hit the device, Daniel, so of course it hurt."

"But you guys said... I what?"

"Watch my lips, Archaeology Boy. You. Hit. The. Device."

Daniel looked back at the compartment, then at Jack. "I did?"

"You did. Care to remove that thing now?"

Daniel reached out, and with a kind of wonder, touched the round, gold, jeweled device. His fingers grasped it, then slowly, he withdrew it. As he held it up, Pablo, Kio and Rico started to clap, and SG-1, led by Lou Ferretti, followed suit.

Grinning, Jack slapped Daniel on the back, then said, "All this time and you were the answer, Danny boy."

Daniel wasn't listening. He'd turned it over and was peering at the back. "There's writing here... I'll need some time to translate...."

Hand on Daniel's shoulder, Jack said softly, "Of course you will."

Daniel sat in the dirt of the chamber, a legal pad on his lap. His head was bent low as he studied the back of the device and, occasionally, scribbled on the pad. It had been two hours since he'd plucked the object from the shielded compartment. Ferretti and his people were on guard outside, Sam was in the second chamber room inspecting the items housed there, and Teal'c was in the first chamber with Kio and Pablo, who were explaining all that Daniel had told them. Jack and Rico were both standing together, watching Daniel work... and watching each other. Finally Jack jerked his head and indicated that Rico should follow him.

He headed outside and several feet away from anyone who could hear them. As Rico came alongside of him, he said, "So. How long have you known Daniel?"

"You brought me out here to ask that?"

Jack shrugged... and waited.

"I've known him for over fifteen years. When I first met him, he was barely out of his teens. Does that answer your question?"

Jack glanced back at the chamber as he asked, his voice strange, "What was he like then?"

Rico studied the man a moment, then said, "He was all arms and legs, clumsy, quiet, but with more intelligence than anyone I'd ever met. His hair was longer and kept falling into his face, and he was all over the ruins of Tiahuanaco, fascinated by them in spite of the fact that his field of study was Egyptology. He was certain that Tiahuanaco was built by men from the stars. I came to believe in his theories."

That drew Jack's gaze back to Rico. "You believed him?"

"I did."

"Maybe I like you after all," Jack mused.

"I am so pleased," Rico said sarcastically.

They stood a moment, Jack somewhat self consciously, and finally Rico asked, "I do not understand. You and Daniel appear to be friends, and yet, he came here, alone, unwell... and I am uncertain as to why."

Jack glanced back at the crag, and said softly, "Sometimes... friends let their friends down. We get caught up in other things and allow the important people in our lives to take a backseat."

"So... then you move them back up front, do you not?"

"You try, Doctor, you try."

"It's Rico. And something tells me that trying for you is the same as succeeding. You do not strike me as a man who fails."

"Maybe not, but sometimes, the damage is too great to overcome."

Rico stepped closer to Jack and seared him with a piercing look. "Do you not know Daniel at all?"

"I think I know him better than anyone, actually."

"Then how can you say the damage is too great to overcome? Daniel doesn't operate that way, surely you must know this? There is nothing you can not make right where Daniel is concerned. He battles his own enemies, Colonel O'Neill, and assumes that injuries done to him by others are his own fault."

"Yeah, I've noticed that character quirk of his."

"Then you know that you can undo any damage you believe you have caused him, yes?"

Eyes fixed on the crag, Jack said, "No, I don't know that."

"Then I am truly sorry for you, Colonel." With that, Rico walked back inside the chamber.

Jack stood a moment, swiped a hand over his face and through his short hair, then he too re-entered the chamber.

When Rico walked back into the chamber, Daniel was standing at the opposite wall and running his hand over the blocks. He could tell Daniel was onto something by the way the younger man stood, shoulders hunched, muscles tense. He continued to watch as Jack walked in.

"You figured it out?" Jack asked as he joined him at the wall.

"I think so," Daniel said. "Look up."

Before he could stop himself, Jack looked up. He grinned, whistled, and said, "Wow, a ceiling."

Chuckling, Daniel said, "Look closer. Anything seem... off, to you?"

Rico joined them and glanced upward. "It... there appears to be-"

"The corners don't meet where they should," Jack finished for Rico.

"Exactly. This wall is fake. The writing on the back of the this thing," he held up the device, "represents a riddle, and I think I've solved it. This wall is a fake and the whole thing is a giant puzzle."

Jack scratched the back of his head and said, "But they all look the same to me, Daniel. There aren't any symbols or markings...."

"No, but to answer the riddle, there doesn't have to be." Daniel moved to the corner and started counting upward. He counted six, then moved right six, then down six, then over seven. On the seventh square block, he pushed.

The wall receded, then swung inward and to the left. What was revealed was a ring set into a stone holder of sorts. It looked remarkably like the Stargate, only much smaller. So much so, it could easily have fit inside the Stargate.

"Okay, this is interesting," Jack said.

Daniel nodded, and with eyes wide, he moved into the chamber and walked slowly up to the ring. He touched it gently, and said, "It's ... it looks as though it's made of the same material as the 'Gate, Jack."

"But no symbols, so I'm guessing it's not a Stargate for midgets."

Daniel walked around to the back of the ring, and groaned.

"What? It wasn't that bad a quip."

"Actually, it was, but I was groaning because, of course, the back is covered by more writings. Probably the directions. And again, they've done a super job of combining several 'languages'. But the good news is... this is it, Jack. We can take it and this," he again held up the smaller device, "and get them both back to the SGC. I'll video the back and get started right away." He looked through the center and asked, "It'll fit, right?"

Understanding the question, Jack nodded. "It'll fit. We may have to run alongside, but, yeah, it'll fit." He moved toward the door and said, "I'll go get the guys and we'll see what we need to do to get this loaded up."

Jack hadn't taken two steps when they heard the shouting.

"COLONEL, WE NEED TO MOVE OUT - NOW!" Ferretti yelled from the outer chamber.

Puzzled, Jack hurried out and met Carter and Teal'c half-way.

"Sir, the Bolivian military is only a couple of miles away and Mobatay's people are scattering. We can expect to be overrun in less than an hour," Carter said breathlessly.

"Right. Get everyone in here. Daniel's found it, but it's a bit larger than anticipated. We need to remove it, load it and secure it."

Teal'c nodded and immediately turned around and headed back out while Carter hurried past Jack, headed for Daniel and the device.

"This is incredible, Daniel," Sam said as she walked around the ring. "But I don't see how it could possibly...."

Daniel lowered his video camera, watched Sam a moment, listened to her opinion, then tuned her out and ... slowly raised the camera and went back to taping the markings on the back of the ring.

Daniel stepped back and out of the way as the ring, now unlocked thanks to him, was carefully rolled down the makeshift ramp and onto the wheeled cart, courtesy of the Sea Stallion. Two marines began the quick process of tying down the ring with straps, and once secure, they rolled it out. Daniel gathered up his notes just as Jack said, "Okay, let's go, Daniel."

"I'm ready."

They headed out, but Jack should have known it wouldn't be that easy. Daniel, instead of continuing down the corridor and out, turned right into chamber number two. Jack fingered his P-90, which now rested against his chest, and considered using it to get Daniel the hell out and into the chopper. Instead, he turned back and entered the chamber.

"Daniel? Did we miss the part where we had just minutes left? Are we not hearing the sounds of battle?"

"We didn't, and we are," Daniel said somewhat abstractly.

"So why are we still here?"

"Because we need to find something. You think we're just going to leave that nice shiny door open for everyone and their uncle to see?"

"My uncle can't see two feet in front of him, but other than that... how the hell do you... sorry, do we... expect to find anything in here to... uhm, Daniel? What are you doing?"

Daniel had moved to a far corner and was picking up something that looked surprisingly like an old canister-type Hoover vacuum cleaner.

"I think this is what we're looking for," Daniel said as he inspected the item.

"We're going to vacuum up a bit, are we?"

Daniel inspected the long hose, then the body of the device. "Ah-ha, the on-off switch. Cool."

"Daniel, you're starting to worry me here."

"Starting? Only starting?" the younger man said as he passed Jack and exited the chamber.

Jack, frowning, followed as he said, "Okay, you always worry me, but would you mind sharing with -- us -- just what the hell that thing is?"

"Well, see, when we found the crag, the front was covered in a material that looked exactly like rock and dirt. We had to brush it off to reveal the door. I figure that the Ancients would have had to leave whatever they used to spray the door with, you know? Just in case they needed to cover it up again. And I think this," he held up the 'vacuum cleaner', "is it."

They were in the main chamber now, and Jack nodded as if he understood, which he most certainly did not. Daniel stopped at the door and indicated, with a sweeping motion of his hand, that Jack should preceded him out. Jack cocked his head. "Daniel?"

"I need to close the door? Hello?"

"Oh, right." Jack started out, then paused and asked, "And you know how?"

Daniel simply blinked at him.

"Right. You know how."

Jack walked outside and turned and faced the door. A moment later, Daniel exited and a second after that, the door slid shut with a soft sucking sound. Daniel immediately began spraying the front of the door. Just as he finished, sporadic machine gun fire could be heard. Jack judged that the battle was very close. He reached out and snagged Daniel's arm.

"Come on, everyone has already boarded the chopper. Let's get the hell out of Dodge."

"Go on, I'll be right behind you. I need to-"

Jack had heard that too many times. "Daniel, NOW."

"Jack, I have to go up," he pointed to the top of the crag. "I have to hide the panel that opens the chamber." He glanced over at the helicopter, the blades whirling silently, then back at Jack. "Can it pick me up from above?"

"Are you crazy?"

"Jack, I have to hide the panel."

"Hand me that thing," Jack said, disgust in his voice. "I'll go up."

"No offense, but I can do it a hell of a lot faster. Better knees, and I've already been up once."

Seeing Jack's indecision, Daniel added, "We didn't get a chance to really inspect the second chamber, Jack. We don't know what's in there. If someone lucks into finding that relief, and they touch any of the squares, they're bound to hit the right one, and that's it. Do we really want anyone-"

"Go, Daniel, but make it snappy."

Daniel hitched the canister over his shoulder and started climbing. Jack put on his sunglasses and watched as Daniel made his way up the side of the crag. He checked his watch and shook his head.

"COLONEL, MEN COMING UP FAST FROM THE EAST!" Carter yelled from the door of the chopper.

Jack could assume they weren't military. He turned east just as more gunfire, loud gunfire, erupted. He glanced up at Daniel, who'd made it only halfway, then over at the chopper. Damn.

"Daniel, so help me...."

Two marines, and two members of SG-2 jumped out of the chopper and ran toward him. Captain Elmore yelled, "GO, SIR. WE'LL PROVIDE COVER!"

Jack looked up at Daniel, who paused, glanced down, and mouthed, "Go," then started climbing even faster.

The marines and SG-2 came abreast and took up defensive positions. Jack knew he had no choice. He ran to the chopper.

From the ramp, he watched with the others as Daniel continued his climb. Two men broke through the brush on the other side of the crags, spotted the soldiers and immediately opened fire. Clearly the shooters weren't military, so the marines fired back. One man fell, the other started backing up -- until he spotted Daniel. Taking cover behind a tree, he aimed for Daniel's vulnerable back, and fired.

Daniel heard the rapid firing of weapons and knew without looking down that the battle had arrived. Since the marines were firing back, he knew it was Mobatay's men, not the Bolivian military. He only had a few feet to go....

Something slammed into the rock next to his right hand, spraying slivers of granite into his face and dislodging his hold. His foot slipped at the same time and only the firm grip of his other hand kept him from dropping like a stone. He somehow managed to swing back up, get a new foothold, and grab at another vine. He took two deep breaths, then hauled ass.

"DAMN IT!" Jack yelled as bullets hit the crag and Daniel almost fell. He started down the ramp, but Teal'c stopped him.

"I will go."

Teal'c jogged down the ramp and ran a few feet, then dropped to one knee, aimed his staff weapon at the crouching shooter, and fired. The man went down.

"Sir, look!"

Jack followed Carter's pointing finger. Daniel had made it to the top.

"Thank God," he said. "OKAY, TEAL'C, GET THOSE MARINES AND GET ABOARD! WE'LL GET DANIEL FROM ABOVE!"

Teal'c nodded, yelled at the others, and all five began backing toward the chopper. A minute later, they were lifting off just as more men broke through the bushes.

Two marines remained at the open door, ready to return fire if necessary. The chopper moved over to the crags and hovered as Ferretti and Teal'c lowered the ladder for Daniel, who was just finishing up the spraying. The men below hadn't seen him, and couldn't see him now, but as soon as he started climbing....

Daniel wiped his brow and turned off the machine. There was no longer any hint that a panel had existed. He kicked some brush over his handiwork, then stumbled back as the helicopter approached his location. The whirling blades blew loose brush into his face for a few moments, but then it rose higher until it was positioned directly overhead. He could see Ferretti, Teal'c, Jack and Sam, the first two ready to help him aboard, the second two ready to protect his back from the men below. The ladder came within reach....

"OKAY, CARTER, GET READY!" Jack yelled against the sound of the chopper.

Sam was in position and nodded. Both had their P-90's aimed on the clearing below, ready should any of the drug traffickers move forward.

"O'NEILL, TAKE MY PLACE!" Teal'c yelled.

Understanding immediately, Jack moved back, let Teal'c slide over, then he got down with Ferretti, ready to help Daniel.

Daniel reached up and managed to snag the bottom of the ladder. He gave an experimental tug, then yelled, "LOWER!"

The chopper lowered slightly and, hitching the canister around to his back, Daniel gave a slight jump. His fingers locked around the third rung up and he somehow found the strength to haul himself up, grab another rung, and yet another. He kept it up until he was high enough to actually climb the damn thing. Feet on the bottom rung, he stared up and into Jack's worried countenance.

"COME ON, DANIEL, GET YOUR ASS IN GEAR!"

Right. Ass. In gear.

Daniel started climbing.

Teal'c could see the figures below readying themselves to shoot at Daniel. He aimed his weapon and fired - once. As expected, the men fell back, in awe of the power unleashed by his staff. He glanced down and could see that his friend was over halfway up.

More men poured out from the brush, but before Teal'c could fire, Doctor Rubalcava tapped his shoulder and pointed. Now Teal'c could see the soldiers. He smiled grimly. The men below would be too busy with the Bolivian Army to bother with DanielJackson.

Jack held his breath. The canister on Daniel's back was swinging and hitting him continually, but Daniel kept climbing. After what seemed an eternity, Jack was reaching down, wrapping his fingers around Daniel's wrists, then hauling him up and into the chopper. He gripped the back of the man's jeans... and pulled. Daniel landed on top of him.

"Yes, well. Seems I made it," Daniel huffed into Jack's face.

Jack looked up at Daniel, and said, "Would seem so. You know," he added as the doors slid shut and the chopper started climbing, "I could have sworn you'd lost weight, but right now, I'm guessing... no."

Daniel scrambled up, and brushing off his jeans, said, "Sam, you might have some fun with the stuff in here." He handed her the canister. "It actually simulates a living material that fosters the growth of plants. It's what the Ancients used to hide the chamber."

He turned to Rico, Kio and Pablo, and said, "Hey guys, long time no see."

"You certainly know how to show a guy a good time, Daniel," Kio said with a grin.

Rico slapped Daniel on the back, waved away the dust that arose, and said, "I've been telling him that for years."

Jack rolled over, watched the interaction, frowned at the sudden surge of jealousy, and then grimaced when he realized that Daniel's friends, together with Daniel, were more like SG-1... than SG-1.

The landing at Cochabamba went smoothly, as did Jack's report to a Captain Salas of the Bolivian Army, and evidently a friend of Hammond's. He wisely left out any mention of alien weapon usage by an alien Jaffa named Teal'c. Watching Daniel say good-bye to his friends, that wasn't so easy. The only thing that redeemed the moment was the fact that Rico, Kio and Pablo were going to be allowed to work with the special team being sent in by the SGC to further investigate Daniel's find. Jack knew full well that it was Daniel's hope that all three would eventually be offered positions with the SGC.

But for now, they had to say good-bye.

"Don't worry, my friend. We will take good care of your discovery," Rico said with a smile. "But I will miss you, Daniel. This has been more fun than any of us have experienced in years."

"Just like old times then," Kio quipped. "Whenever Daniel was around, there'd be adventure."

Daniel shot a quick glance over his shoulder, put his finger to his lips, and said, "Ssh, not so loud. I have a reputation to protect, you know?"

Rico laughed and pulled the younger man into his arms. "Oh, I think that reputation has long since been destroyed, Daniel."

They hugged, then Daniel shook hands with Kio and Pablo. "I'm going to miss you guys, and thanks, for everything," he added meaningfully.

Jack tapped Daniel on the arm and said, "We've got to go, Daniel."

Daniel nodded, shared a final look with his friends, then joined Jack to walk toward the plane that would take them home. They climbed the steps, and as Jack went inside to join Sam and Teal'c. Daniel gave a wave, and a final look at Rico, Kio and Pablo, before going inside.

As tired as he was, Daniel found that, once again, he couldn't sleep on the flight. He should have been able to drop off immediately, after all, he'd found what he'd been looking for, but sleep continued to elude him, his curiosity his undoing. He reached under the seat in front of him and pulled out his pack. He took the video camera out, along with his journal, pen and two reference books. He glanced around and, satisfied that he wouldn't be bothering anyone, clipped his buddy light to the journal, turned on the camera, and started working on the translation.

From across the aisle, Jack stirred, twisted in his seat, and woke up. He rubbed his eyes, checked his watch, and realized he'd only been asleep for a little over an hour. In looking around, he noticed that he was the only one awake... if you didn't count Teal'c, who was deep in kel-no-reem. And Daniel. Who was deep in... writing.

Jack undid his seat belt and got up, stepped into the aisle and walked the two steps over to Daniel. Since no one was seated next to him, Jack sat down.

"Sleep would be good right about now, Daniel."

"Can't. Tried. Thought I'd get a head start on this."

"This being the stuff on the back of the ring?"

"Yeah, Jack. The 'stuff''."

"Carter doesn't think the ring can-"

"I know." Daniel kept writing.

Jack felt as though he'd just made a major error, but was clueless as to what it had been. He decided on a different tack.

"You have a headache, don't you?"

Daniel put the pen down and turned in his seat. "Jack, it's been a long day. I'm betting you have a headache."

"I do, and its name is Daniel. But that's hardly news."

A dull flush crept up Daniel's neck to his face. He picked up the pen and went back to work.

Perhaps another tack was needed.

"Did anyone clean that?"

"Clean what?"

Jack wiggled his finger at the side of Daniel's face. "That. Your face."

"I've been bathing on my own for years, Jack."

"I mean the cuts."

"Yes, I took care of it back at the base."

"Ah. Must hurt."

"Not really."

"Looks bad."

Daniel closed his eyes, counted to ten, then opened them. "Thanks, Jack."

"I was just saying... that's all."

Jack drummed his fingers on the armrest. Daniel clenched his jaw.

"Am I bothering you?"

"No, Jack, you're not. Your fingers are, but you're not."

Jack stopped. "Yes. Well. Guess I'll go back and try and get some shut-eye."

"Good idea."

"Or ... I could just sit here and sleep."

"Fine."

"Fine."

Jack stayed where he was, and while feigning sleep, he watched Daniel work... and received quite an education.

He learned that Daniel spoke silently to himself, lips moving softly as he puzzled out various symbols. He also had a habit of gently, almost soundlessly, tapping his pen when he was stuck, and his leg jiggled when he was on the brink of a breakthrough. He had an intimate knowledge of the books he was using and flipped quickly and efficiently through them until finding a particular reference.

Jack also learned that Daniel simply didn't stop, which in this case, meant that he had to have the greatest bladder known to man. Jack was going to have to clue Frasier in on the little miracle of science that was his archaeologist.

He would have loved to have discovered more, but after his third trip to the closet that served as a bathroom aboard the transport, he finally succumbed to real sleep.

Daniel looked at the small, jeweled device, then at the picture currently frozen on his video cam. If he understood correctly, it wasn't just the key, it was also a kind of an on-off switch, but how?

Damn. He gave a small shake of his head, and realized something heavy was pressing down on his shoulder. He glanced sideways....

Jack's head was on his shoulder.

Jack was asleep... on his shoulder.

Daniel very carefully transferred his pen to his left hand, grateful once again for being ambidextrous. He went back to work.

The landing at Schriever was completed without any problems, the ring transferred to a large Army truck just as easily. No one was surprised when Daniel insisted on riding in the truck with the object.

It had been decided to move the ring down to the lab next to Sam's so tables had already been set up. While Daniel worked on the translations, Sam and her crew would test, investigate, and basically have a ball. Daniel figured Siler was foaming at the mouth and wiping the froth away with fingers itching to get to work on the ring.

Now, as he followed the ring into the mountain, he wondered if it would all be taken away from him and given to Jamison. He also wondered if he'd be able to handle it if it were.

In the elevator, two silent marines and one mysterious junior Stargate wannabe his only company, Daniel gave silent voice to the thought that if his worse case scenario came to pass, it might be more than he could take.

The elevator slid open to reveal Jack, hand braced against the wall. As the marines wheeled the ring out and turned left, Jack snagged Daniel's shirt and steered him right.

"Uhm... Jack? I need to-"

Jack gave an exaggerated sniff and said, "Shower? Isn't that what you were going to say?"

Daniel blinked back at him and said, "Shower?"

"Shower, Daniel. Trust me on this."

Daniel allowed himself to be dragged to the locker rooms. Once there, Jack said as he gave Daniel a small push, "Go, be clean, be next to Godliness, the SGC will love you for it."

Daniel lifted his arm and sniffed. His nose scrunched up. "You know, I think I'll take a shower."

"No, really? What an idea."

Daniel turned and headed for the showers, stripping as he went, a feat that involved some pretty nifty moves as he got his boots and socks off as well. Jack looked heavenward, then followed along, picking up the discarded clothing as he went. He paused when he realized Daniel was about to step out of his jeans, then muttered, "Been there, seen that." He kept right on going until he had all of Daniel's dirty clothing in his arms.

With a start, he realized he was standing in the shower room, arms full, while a naked Daniel showered.

Oddly enough, he had absolutely no desire to leave.

Daniel was under the far shower, which left his back to Jack. He was standing under the rush of steamy hot water, head lowered, hands flat against the wall in front of him. It was obvious that he had no idea someone was watching him.

Jack once again found himself in dumbfounded land.

He had never seen anything more beautiful in his life. For a man in his late forties, who'd been around the world, seen everything there was to see, including a tropical paradise on a planet with three moons, that was saying something.

A vague question about where Daniel's glasses were flitted across his mind, but his body was so involved with Daniel and his shower that he couldn't honestly give any time to answering it.

Lord, Daniel's legs really did go on forever. And had they always been so finely muscled? Had Daniel always possessed such broad shoulders and beautifully slim waist? As his gaze slipped lower, Jack stomped down on any mental comments or questions about Daniel's... Daniel's....

Aw, God.

His fingers clutched at the clothes as if they were those firm ... round....

Suddenly he could imagine his thumbs rubbing across Daniel's smooth pale skin, parting the near perfect cheeks....

God, it was hot in here.

Jack brought his gaze up to the small of Daniel's back and he realized he was having some difficulty breathing. He could almost sense how that tender sweet spot would feel beneath his lips.

"ATTENTION, COLONEL O'NEILL!"

Okay... yelling at himself hadn't worked. The soldier in him was just as enthralled with the wet and naked Daniel as the man was. He was thoroughly disgusted with both soldier and man. But not enough to leave.

His steadfast dedication to watching Daniel ended the moment Daniel reached for the soap. Jack figured he hadn't moved that fast since... 1996, and considering his hard on...

Back in the locker room, he juggled the dirty clothing while reaching for a laundry bag. Eyes closed, he got it open and stuffed everything inside, afraid that the urge to smell the musky sweat would be too much. He labeled the bag with one of Daniel's laundry tags and tossed it into the bin.

Okay, he really needed to control his breathing.

He sat down and, with arms resting on his thighs, tried to figure out what had just happened.

Jack was no stranger to lusting after men, to being with men -- although it had been a while -- but he was most definitely a stranger to lusting after Daniel.

Which begged another question; why was it so strange to be lusting after Daniel? Who better to lust after if not Daniel? Was there a more beautiful man, inside and out, anywhere? Not hardly.

Was there a better friend?

Not hardly.

Jack suddenly remembered a comment Daniel had made while trying to defend Kira.

"Who would you trust with your life more than anyone else in the world? Don't worry, I won't be offended if you don't pick me. Could it be TEAL'C?"

Jack also remembered his less than stellar response.

"Sure."

In reality, Jack realized that there was no one he trusted more than Daniel to watch out not just for him, but for the SGC as well.

Jack heard the shower shut off and found himself rudderless. Should he go, or stay?

Jack had the medals to prove his courage - so he ran.

Daniel toweled off, then slung the towel around his neck. He grabbed a second one, tied it around his waist, and headed out to the locker room. Walking over to his locker, he wasn't surprised to find Jack gone. The man had done his duty and protected the SGC from Daniel's manly sweat. Daniel dressed quickly, then grabbed his kit and headed to the sinks. He shaved and brushed his teeth, then packed everything back into his locker, dumped the towels, and headed to the lab. He had work to do.

Daniel's stomach rumbled, and Sam, from her perch on a rolling ladder, said, "Someone's hungry."

Daniel couldn't argue, thanks to his body.

"Go, eat, satisfy," she said as she held a vibrascope up to the ring.

He put his pen down, stretched, and decided that since he'd very likely hear again how the ring couldn't possibly stop any kind of attack from Anubis, eating would be a good thing.

"Want me to bring you anything, Sam?"

She waved him off, her attention glued to the ring. He remembered she'd taken a food break an hour earlier, so he stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked out. He knew it was late, the quiet halls bearing testament to the fact, so he figured there probably wouldn't be anything good left in the commissary. He had chocolate in his office. He changed direction. A few minutes later he was munching happily on a Nestle Crunch bar. Probably not the healthiest food he could have chosen, but damn, it was good. Now all he needed was coffee. He glanced over his shoulder, debated starting his coffeemaker, then decided it was easier to simply go back to Sam's lab. He started to leave, remembered another candy bar he'd hidden, and walked over to the shelves. He lifted an ancient Egyptian box down, opened it, and plucked the bar out. He slipped it into his pocket and replaced the box, then left, closing the door after him.

Heading back to Sam's lab, he wondered how Rico and the others were doing with the chambers and all the goodies. He envied them. He knew what he was doing was important, that the ring was the key to protecting Earth, but still - he'd love to be back in Bolivia, with his -- friends.

Funny how Rico, Kio and Pablo seemed to be more....

No, he wouldn't go there. Sam and Teal'c were still his friends, and even Jack had been acting more like the friend he remembered. But being a good friend wasn't what made a good teammate, you needed respect for that, and that was an ingredient still missing. Not that he could blame them. He had far more failures to his credit than successes.

He wondered if he'd ever be able to garner their respect? Because he had to admit - it mattered. It mattered a great deal.

The silence was almost oppressive. Usually Daniel enjoyed it, but not now. Sam and her crew had left at midnight, with Sam trying to get Daniel to close shop for the night. He'd told her he would, but of course he'd been on a roll, and now, two hours later, was still at work. His translations were moving slowly, thanks to the strange manner in which the symbols were arranged, and he continued to have the feeling that he was missing an important clue. Maybe if he put his head down... just for a few minutes. Just to rest his eyes....

"He looks cute when he drools, doesn't he?"

"I do not see this... cute."

"Teal'c, you're impossible."

"Perhaps we should wake him?"

Sam placed a hand on Daniel's back and rubbed gently. "Daniel?"

Daniel jerked back, gulped, and said intelligently, "Wha'?"

"It's after eight in the morning, Daniel."

He sat up, blinked, rubbed his eyes, and said, "What time is it again?"

"After eight. And would I be right if I said you never left last night?"

"Uhm, well... see - yes." He got up, rubbed a hand over his face, and added, "And if you'll excuse me, I think I'll just," he pointed at the door, "go, you know...."

He beat a hasty retreat to take care of business.

Feeling decent again after using the bathroom and brushing his teeth, Daniel hurried back to the lab, ducked his head when Sam gave him a knowing look, gathered up his notes, the smaller device and his camera, then with a quick, "I'm going up top," he left, eager for some fresh air to clear out the cobwebs.

Once above ground, he walked over to one of his favorite spots about three-hundred yards away, sat down on a fallen log, and went back to work.

"Hey, where's Daniel?" Jack asked as he walked into the lab.

"He went up top, needed some fresh air," Sam responded.

He walked up behind her and tried to look over her shoulder at whatever she had under the microscope. "Whatcha got?"

"I managed to get some scrapings from the ring, but so far, no luck on identifying the material. And no, it's not made of the same metal as the Stargate, sir. Of all the new minerals we've come across in our travels through the 'Gate, this one takes the cake."

"So you've changed your mind?"

"Sir?" Sam asked, puzzled.

"About it being what we need to protect us from Anubis."

"Well, sir, just because it's something we haven't seen before, doesn't mean it can do anything for us. I'll be testing these scrapings later, see what they can withstand, but," she straightened, "the very fact that I could even scrape some of this off...."

She shrugged, her gesture saying more than words could.

"I take it you couldn't scrape anything off our 'Gate?"

"No, sir."

"So that's why Hammond hasn't called Jamison back yet."

Sam shrugged.

He studied the ring, thought back to his conversation with Daniel's friend, Rico, went even further back, to his ambivalence toward Daniel's theory that Jack could penetrate the shield and touch the device, and to the fact that it was only after Carter had urged him, that he'd done it.

His mind carried him even further back - to Kheb. To the moment when a barefoot Daniel had exited the building and asked them to put down their weapons. What had he said again? Oh, yeah.

"Jack, if you're ever going to trust me on anything, now is the time."

Jack could see the moment so clearly - Teal'c and Bra'tac lowering their weapons, but not Jack. And not Carter. Then Bra'tac had spoken....

"We must do it."

Jack had finally lowered his weapon, Carter following suit.

He finally got it. He glanced back at Carter, who was back to studying the ring, and he said, "Carter, let's give this a chance, all right? We've seen some pretty miraculous things in the last several years, so let's... just give this a chance. Give Daniel a chance."

"Sir?"

He waved his hand at the ring and repeated, "Just give it a chance, Major."

Jack left, his intent to find his archaeologist.

He could have spent the night thinking about what had happened in the showers, not to mention his time loop regret, but being the man he was, he'd chosen to drown his thoughts in a bottle of good Scotch whiskey. But now, now he faced his feelings but not what to do about them. He hadn't come that far just yet. Right now, he just wanted to see Daniel. Maybe a few answers would come along.

When he got to the surface, he knew exactly where to go, and sure enough, there was Daniel, far enough away from the goings on of the mountain that they could talk easily and without fear of being overheard.

The morning was cool and crisp, with a slight breeze rifling through the trees. Sunlight danced its way through the branches, dotting the ground around Daniel. Jack stopped several feet away, suddenly unsure of what to do, so content to simply watch him for a moment. At least this time he didn't feel like some kind of pervert. Daniel was fully clothed. Damn it.

As the minutes ticked by, Jack found it amazing that Daniel didn't have a clue that he was being observed. Years of working with soldiers, and his internal sensors, still didn't register a thing.

Okay, that was probably unfair. If Jack were a Goa'uld, Daniel would undoubtedly be on top of the situation.

Jack squashed all sudden visions of Daniel on - top -- of anything.

The breeze picked up a bit and Daniel leaned forward, evidently protecting his papers by using his body as a buffer. Jack frowned as he caught Daniel's profile. What was wrong with this picture?

It took two minutes of study for Jack to figure it out. Daniel was what was wrong. Sitting on the log, shoulders hunched over, head bent, hand pushing the pen across the tablet perched on his crossed leg, Daniel was completely self-contained. It was as if... as if he'd journeyed to another plane of existence that kept him separate from his friends.

Jack felt his stomach turn at the realization, but at the same moment the proverbial bolt of lightning struck.

This was how it had always been for Daniel.

Always different, always separate, always forced into this... this... cocoon of himself.

Given all that he knew of Daniel, it was pretty easy to figure that his early years in foster homes had left him, more often than not, on the outside,. In later years, it was a no-brainer that Daniel had always been the different drummer. He seemed to have spent his life running against the flow of traffic and beating that weird drum. He fought against the accepted and railed against those who thought with unimaginative minds, never moving out of their self-imposed boxes. Obviously this cocoon thing he had going had been a form of self-preservation when he was younger, and protective coloring later. Jack also suspected that it was often a mixture of voluntary and involuntary, like now.

An involuntary act in the beginning as a result of his teammates living and moving around him for months, leaving him behind, ignoring his advice, discounting his expertise, and discarding his instincts. Voluntary now because in being left behind, he needed it in order to function and survive.

Two or three years ago Daniel Jackson would never have gone to Bolivia by himself. He'd have argued, nagged and talked incessantly until Hammond agreed to allow him to go - with SG-1 as his backup. But back then, Daniel had felt a part of SG-1.

Not knowing what to do to fix Daniel, and confused as hell, he shoved his hands in his pockets, turned around, and quietly headed back the way he'd come.

Daniel yawned and put his pen down. He glanced up and squinted into the sun, then turned his head and looked back at the approximate spot where Jack had recently been standing. Daniel had been fully aware of his presence, had waited for Jack to announce himself, and when he hadn't, when he'd finally walked away, Daniel hadn't been surprised. He checked his watch and decided to stay out for another hour.

"I take it the news isn't good?" he asked Carter from across his desk.

They were seated in his office, at Sam's request, and Jack was pretty sure he didn't want to hear what Sam was about to answer. He'd left a note in the lab, asking Daniel to see him once he came back down just in case Carter came up with something definitive. He sat back in his chair and added, "You have finished all your testing, right?"

Sam took a deep breath... and said, "Yes, sir. And while it is unique, well, in spite of your ... order... to give it a chance, we're all of the opinion that it simply can't be, by itself, a defense against Anubis."

Jack grasped at a straw and asked, "By itself? What about the smaller device, the one that looks like the healing thingy?"

"We think it's simply a key. We have no doubt that the ring does something, but...."

Jack had the urge to ask her who the infamous 'we' were, but he refrained. He was feeling too sick to his stomach. This wasn't what he'd wanted to hear, and he knew damn well it wasn't what Daniel would want to hear.

"I see," he finally said.

Sam stood up and said, "Who's... I can tell him... if you want?"

One word took root in his brain: Trust.

Shaking his head, Jack said, "That won't be necessary, Major. You see, I think he'll pull this out because he's right about that... whatever it is... and it will do exactly what its purported to do... or be... or ... whatever."

Sam looked shocked by his words, but she took it gamely and said, "Yes, sir."

She started for his door, but he stopped her. "Carter, just this once, do you think you can trust Daniel? Put your scientific theories aside, put what you think you know aside, and go with him?"

"I... sir, I-"

"Give it a try, Carter. Trust him."

Slowly she nodded. "All right, sir."

"Thank you."

Daniel needed one more book and, once out of the elevator, he had to pause in order to remember if it was in his office or at home.

Here. Definitely.

At his lab, he found a note on the door - from Jack. He peered at it, deciphered Jack's squiggles, and figured out that he wanted to see him. Daniel peeled the paper from his door, unlocked it, and once inside, went to his shelves, hunted for the book, and once found, it was tucked under his arm as he headed out.

He couldn't seem to wipe the smile from his face. Putting all his faith behind Daniel was simply... smile producing. He pulled a couple of reports out of his in-box, and started signing.

"Jack?"

The pen dropped from his fingers at the sound of Daniel's voice. He looked upto see his friend standing on the threshold of his office. Smile still in place, he asked, "Hey, Danny, you saw my note?"

Looking somewhat distracted, Daniel nodded. He held up the book and said, "I really need to get back to work, so," he wiggled his head, "what's up?"

"For heaven's sake, come on in."

Daniel looked at the book, then at Jack. Jack must have won because Daniel walked slowly inside, gaze traveling warily around the room. Jack could almost understand it considering that Daniel was rarely in his office. Hell, Jack was rarely in it. He was about to ask Daniel to sit down when the younger man's face split into a wide grin.

"You recreated it, Jack," he said as he walked over to the credenza and bookshelves that took up the south wall. He picked up a lovely pottery bowl and turned it in his hands. "You glazed it too," he said, admiration coloring his voice.

Jack felt a proud grin tug at the corners of his mouth - then it hit him.

His skin went cold and he could have sworn his heart had stopped.

Daniel was still twirling the bowl in his hands while Jack fought to find speech. He finally stood, unsteadily, and braced himself by placing his palms flat on his desk.

"How... how do you... I never told...."

Daniel's back stiffened, but his voice was deceptively calm as he answered, "You must have. How else would I know that you made this?" He put the bowl down, turned around, and asked, "So what did you need?"

His face, eyes, all spoke total innocence and yet Jack sensed the fear. It was deeply buried, but it was there and was equal to his own.

And it meant... that Daniel... that Daniel....

No. It was impossible, and inconceivable that Daniel could remember the ... that any part of the ... that Daniel, and Daniel alone, could remember....

The time loops.

"Somehow you know I made that, and yet it's impossible for you to know because I made it for the first time during the time loops, then recreated it afterwards. I never told a soul that I learned how to throw pottery during the loops, nor that I was still trying it."

Daniel's body language whispered calm, but again, Jack could sense the fear.

"Jack, you must have told me, you've just forgotten, that's all," he said with the kind of voice you use on children and mental patients.

"I never told you, I never told anyone." Jack moved around his desk and joined Daniel. "You remember," he said with finality.

"That's impossible, Jack. You know that," Daniel said with same deceptive calm.

"Yeah, I know that - but you remember."

They did their version of the ever popular childhood game of who can stare at the other the longest - and Jack won. Daniel's eyes finally drifted down and Jack guessed they were fixed on his shoes. He said the only thing that came to mind.

"How?"

"Does it matter?" Daniel said, head still down as he fidgeted with a paperweight on the credenza.

"It matters, considering...."

Another thought hit, a thought worse than anything he could imagine, and he had to voice it.

"Others... who else... if you remember... God, Carter," he finally exclaimed.

Daniel's head shot up as he rushed to assure Jack with, "No, Jack. No. She doesn't remember, and don't worry, I'll never tell her about... about the ... you know... the kissing thing." He took a step toward Jack, his expression earnest, and added, "I know how you feel, Jack, and you don't need to worry. I'd never say anything."

Jack was suddenly assaulted by everything that was Daniel. They were standing so close, and he could smell Daniel's aftershave, could see every emotion in his eyes, and he could see the way his lips were parting to reassure him again. He watched, fascinated, as Daniel's hand came up and rested on his forearm. The touch, that simple touch, seemed to burn through his sleeve... but Daniel had seen him kiss Sam.

And he wished he'd kissed Daniel instead.

And he'd seen him in the showers, had wanted him, as he wanted him now, wanted him more than he'd ever wanted anything or anyone.

Except -- Daniel had seen him kiss Sam.

"How?" he managed to ask when all he wanted to do was kiss Daniel.

"I was just on my way into the control room. I saw you walk in and hand Hammond your resignation, then... well, you know."

"No, how could you remember?" he said softly, his tender gaze caressing Daniel's face.

"Oh, that. Well, I have a theory, sort of, one that Sam would probably blow apart, but you see, when Malachai killed me-"

Jack thudded to Earth.

"Excuse me? What the hell do you mean - Malachai KILLED you?"

"Hey, don't yell. Look, when I started questioning him and getting too close, he shot me with that weapon, then dragged me out of sight-"

"I know that part, Daniel. Tell me the part I don't know, the part about how you getting killed -- again. Carter went to you immediately and she never-"

"She never had a chance, Jack. By the time she got to me, I was already out of... uhm, you know, floating above all of you. She started to check my vitals, but then you and Teal'c were hit by the electrical charge. That got her attention and she yelled your name, and of course, the loop started then."

Trying to deal with the idea that Daniel had died again, Jack absorbed his words... and found himself still confused.

"Okay, so you died. How does that translate into you remembering the loop?"

"Oh. Well, that one is kind of weird. See... when you and Teal'c started in on Malachai, I was... I was headed up, see? Only I saw you ... and you were in trouble, and I drifted down and over to you."

Jack waited, but Daniel's expression told him he was supposed to understand - which he didn't. "I don't understand."

"Uhm... my ... you know," he pointed up, "my soul was trapped in the loop too."

Again Jack waited, and again Daniel wore the same "get it now?" expression. Jack didn't get it and said so.

"I was dead, Jack. My soul was trapped in the loop, but in the loop, I was alive because it was the past. When the loop ended, the past me was then in the present, along with my soul, which, I suspect -- well, obviously it did, I mean, I'm not standing here without one, so yeah, my soul and the past me kind of combined when we walked back through the 'Gate. Once through, the past me met up with my soul and, well, obviously I remembered the loop."

Jack felt like he's just run a marathon. He took several breaths, then said, "Is that it?"

Daniel appeared to look up at his eyebrows as even, white teeth closed down on his bottom lip. "Mmm, yeah, that's it."

"I can't fucking believe that you died again. When are you going to stop?"

"I don't do it on purpose, Jack," he said in a reasonable tone.

"You know, I think you do." At the incredulous look on Daniel's face, Jack said, "No, really, I think you do it on purpose."

Daniel looked...stupefied. There was no other word. His mouth was hanging open and he was staring at Jack with a look of such utter disbelief that Jack almost laughed. Would have laughed if not for the fact that they were talking about his having been killed. Again.

Daniel finally closed his mouth and his expression went from stupefied to impatient. "That's ridiculous and you know it. On the other hand, if dying pisses you off, well, there could be some satisfaction in that for me. Now, if you have nothing else, Colonel, I have work to do."

Funny how a moment can take on a kind of surreal importance. Jack knew deep in his bones that if he let Daniel walk out now, he'd be saying good-bye to his last chance at... at what?

At a life with Daniel.

At life.

An incredible sense of calm stole over him -- and with a confidence he couldn't believe he possessed -- Jack stepped into Daniel's space. He watched as the younger man's eyes widened with suspicion, but he just smiled, a rather smug smile, as he moved closer still.

"Umm, Jack?"

Jack could feel Daniel's breath brush his face, could see his pupils dilating, and slowly, and with several pauses, Jack began to lower his head....

"Umm, Jack?" Daniel whispered again, his darkening eyes fixed on Jack's mouth.

"Mmm?" Jack murmured as he came within lip-reach of Daniel's mouth.

"Wha'... whatcha doin'?"

"Oh, umm, studying," he whispered.

Jack put his hand on Daniel's hip.

"Studying... what?" Daniel breathed out, his body subconsciously leaning forward and up to meet Jack.

Jack raised his left hand and touched Daniel's lower lip with his finger. "That," he said softly. He watched those lips form into a perfect, round 'o', and he couldn't stand it, he had to do it....

He kissed him.

Daniel kissed him back.

That surprised Jack more than anything else. And just as soon as they were done with the kissing thing, he'd ask him about it, but for now... man, this was nice.

No, no, nice was an understatement. Kissing Daniel Jackson, stroking that silky tongue, and being stroked in return, exploring each other's mouths... spectacular was the only word. And otherworldly. And unfuckingbelievable. That was a good word too.

The saliva-sharing session came to a slow and easy end, and in spite of the flushed appearance and swollen lips of the man whose mouth he'd so recently invaded, Jack felt the overwhelming need to say something... so he did.

"I've been wishing for weeks that it had been you I'd kissed during that damn loop, Danny." Daniel started to say something, but Jack held up a hand and said, "I know, I know, I kissed Sam. Chalk it up to attraction, to curiosity, to feelings I thought I had and the whole 'no consequences' thing, okay?"

"Jack? I was just going to say that I don't know what brought this on, and I'm grateful, mind you, but you're pretty good at the whole tonsil excavating thing yourself, that's all."

Jack smiled brilliantly and rubbed a thumb gently over Daniel's bottom lip. "Oh, yeah? Well, you're not bad yourself, Doctor Jackson."

"Yeah, well, it's been a few months. I was afraid I might have forgotten... things."

"Fortunately for me, you haven't forgotten a thing."

Daniel smiled lazily, then zeroed in on Jack's mouth. "Care to do some more... exploring?"

"My pleasure, Danny boy, my pleasure."

This time the kiss was hot and demanding as both men let everything they felt and needed, out. Daniel's kiss had a touch of desperation to it, a fact that, in spite of his rising passion, Jack felt. He poured every ounce of his love for the man into the kiss, and prayed Daniel would read the signals.

At some point it hit Jack that they were kissing in his office... at the SGC... in Cheyenne Mountain. Not a good thing. He started to pull away, and was heartened by the groan of disappointment that transmitted itself to him from Daniel. He rested his lips against Daniel's temple and murmured, "Office."

"You want to do it in your office?" Daniel murmured back, his smile pressed against Jack's jaw.

"Someday, sure, but today? I'm thinking... no."

"Chicken," Daniel said with a soft laugh.

Jack leaned back a bit so that he could see Daniel's face, and asked, "You seem to be taking all this rather well, Daniel. I'd have to assume you've been thinking about this for a bit, too?"

"Ya think?"

"Well, it was either that, or you're really desperate."

"That too," Daniel said with a chuckle.

Jack slipped his hand under Daniel's shirt and tee shirt, then slipped it between his waistband and warm skin. "Dare I bring up business?" he asked with a grin, his hand sliding further down.

Daniel arched slightly, and said, "This is an office. I think business is completely appropriate."

Fingers grazing the beautiful ass he'd seen in the showers, Jack asked, "Any progress?"

Daniel closed his eyes and gave a small sigh of contentment as he said, "I think I've got it, I just need to figure out how to use the smaller device. The book I brought in may have the reference I need... oh, that's nice," he murmured as Jack's hand gently gripped one cheek.

"Mmm. So you're pretty sure that ring is what we're looking for?" Jack asked as he slipped a finger between the two cheeks.

Daniel arched his body again, this time sharply and with a groan of pleasure. "Yesss," he managed to say.

Jack bent his head and started nibbling at Daniel's neck as he teased Daniel with his finger. He was rewarded with a quickening of Daniel's breathing and another sweet moan.

"Ja-ack... door... is it... locked?"

Cold water wouldn't have been more effective. And he was the one who'd done the reminding that they were in his office.

"Shit," he said, the pain of having to stop almost as bad as being hit by a staff weapon.

"Yeah," Daniel agreed as, reluctantly, he pulled away.

Jack had to release him, drawing his hand away with real regret. Daniel coughed slightly, blinked as the blood rushed back where it belonged, then smiled dazedly. Jack, his own blood moving back to his head, grinned happily. Time was on their side now.

"So why don't we go to your office and you do what you need to do with that book of yours, okay?"

His breathing returning to normal, Daniel shook his head. "You in my office will guarantee no work. I'm thinking... you stay here, I go to my office, and if all goes well, you'll hear me yell in jubilation when I crack this puzzle. Then you can come running."

Cocking his head, Jack said, "You know, I don't like that idea. Now that... now that we're... you know, I don't want to leave you alone for a second. Let me come with you. I promise to stay a discreet distance away, I'll be quiet, and I'll even bring some of my own work to do. What do you say?"

Daniel stared at him for a minute, then, surprisingly, said, "Okay."

Jack had the urge to yell, "YOOHAW!" but he refrained.

Daniel stared at the words in front of him... and they were meaningless. He was acutely conscious of Jack seated across from him and studiously reading and signing reports. In the last two hours, everything he'd ever wanted had been handed to him, and now he was stumped. He didn't have a clue how or why it had happened, but suddenly Daniel wasn't alone.

Maybe Jack was under the influence of some alien... something or other.

"Jack?"

"Mmm?"

He pushed his glasses back up his nose and asked, "Are you ... really you?"

Without looking up, Jack answered, "As opposed to?"

"I don't know... an alien, maybe?"

Jack put his pen down and regarded him with assessing eyes. "An alien? Because I kissed you?"

"Well, you have to admit, it doesn't make sense otherwise."

"Really? I couldn't have just wanted to, huh?"

"Out of the clear blue?"

"Matches your eyes."

Daniel scrunched up his nose, then gave Jack a very puzzled look. "That didn't make any sense."

"Sure it did. And are you done yet?"

"Done?"

Jack nodded at the work in front of Daniel. "Done. Translations. Stuff. Anubis."

"Oh. Uhm, almost."

"How can you be 'almost' done? You either have it translated, or you don't. Surely you have a clue by now?"

"I'm pretty sure I know what we're supposed to do with the ring, and I think I know how to actually get it to work, but there's a word here, 'Aroshak', that's got me puzzled. I think it's a reference to this," he held up the smaller device, "and something else it can do, but I'm just not sure. If I put all that I know of the Ancients to use, like the fact that they built the 'Gate system, it seems unlikely that they would create something that could only protect one planet. So when I...."

His voice trailed off as he realized that he was probably putting Jack into coma. He ducked his head and picked up his pen.

"Daniel? I want to hear the rest."

The words were simple, but the meaning behind them were worth their weight in gold. Daniel looked up and one eyebrow rose as if to say, "Really?" Jack nodded at the unasked question, and smiling, Daniel said, "Well, see, there's a word, "aro", which in Ancient Egyptian means connect and in a dialect of Mayan, means a connective-"

"I get it," Jack said softly, his eyes alight with understanding.

His smile broadening in gratitude, Daniel said, "Right, so, " he twirled the smaller device in his hand, "this is definitely the key to turning the ring on, but I think it may also help create a link... or a connection between our 'Gate and any other 'Gate. "

"So you're saying that once we get the device up and running, there's a way to connect the protection to other 'Gates?"

"Uhm... in a word: yes."

Jack stood up, put his papers in the folder, and said, "So what are we waiting for? Let's give Hammond the good news."

Daniel looked back down at his notes, then at Jack, and shrugged. "I could be wrong, Jack. Probably am wrong, which means I need to make sure about the meaning of Aroshak before-"

Jack stopped Daniel with a look of confidence in him that it nearly took his breath away.

"Daniel, my money is on you. All the way." Jack closed the book in front of Daniel, tucked his notes inside the journal, and said, "Come on, let's get cracking. We have a weird Gou'ald to beat."

Daniel had no choice but to follow.

The conference table was full. Jack sat in his usual seat with Daniel beside him, Teal'c sat on the other side, Sam next him, and General Hammond at the head of the table. At the opposite end of the table sat Colonel Myron, Doctor Jamison to his right.

Jamison was 'reviewing' Daniel's notes, a small frown creasing his forehead, while Myron sat back in the chair looking bored. Daniel had finished his 'presentation' and now waited for the reactions of those around the table.

Hammond cleared his throat and said, "So you're saying that we place the ring behind the 'Gate?"

"Yes, sir," Daniel replied, trying to keep his gaze from returning to Jamison.

"And that," Hammond indicated the small round device, " turns it on?"

"In a way, sir. It actually 'connects' our 'Gate to the ring, and thus activates the ring's power."

"That's not all it does, General," Jack added with an encouraging nod at Daniel. "It will also protect any planet that we're connected to via the 'Gate."

Hammond looked at Daniel and asked, "Is that correct, Doctor Jackson?"

"I... believe so, yes."

Jamison looked up and shook his head. "I highly doubt it, General Hammond. In looking over Doctor Jackson's notes, I would have to disagree with some of his conclusions which appear to be based on his translation of 'Aroshak'. I think we're looking at something else altogether. If we look at where this was all found, I think we'll find the answers. There's a derivative of the Mayan language called Kulcan, and in it, 'aro' means string. I'd have to say that with that kind of error, Doctor Jackson's entire hypothesis comes into question."

Jack leaned forward and hissed out, "Well, there's one damn fine way of finding out, isn't there?"

"Don't bite the messenger, Colonel O'Neill. I'm simply adding my expertise," Jamison said smugly.

"Expertise, Jamison? I hardly think so," Daniel said as he leaned forward. "I don't believe you have the faintest idea of the deeper meanings of the Kulcan dialect. Oh, you're right about how the word 'aro' can mean string, but Kulcan is a very complicated dialect with many hidden depths and meanings, so again, I find myself reminding you that a linguist must understand the people and their culture in order to truly grasp their language."

Ignoring the others, his anger focused solely on Jamison, Daniel said, eyes narrowed, "Now, in this case, the 'string' is actually the invisible connection that ties all mankind. The connection each has to another in battling evil. The common link here, in case you missed it, is 'connection' and 'evil'. So yes, I translated correctly."

"Well, I guess it comes down to you... or me, doesn't it?" Jamison asked coldly.

"Actually, it doesn't," Daniel said, a thread of steel in his voice. "First of all, whether the ring can help protect any planet we're connected to or not isn't the primary issue, and will be easily proved once we get the ring set up. Second, any pissing contest you foolishly choose to enter into with me when it comes to language will always end the same, namely with you covered in-"

Jack, hiding a grin, quickly put his hand on Daniel's arm, squeezed, and said, "Yes, well, I think our next step is, in fact, to get the ring into the 'Gate room, correct, General?"

"May I interject something into these proceedings, General?"

The question came from Colonel Myron, who'd been sitting quietly, but was now leaning forward.

"Of course, Colonel."

"I believe that Major Carter has stated that it's quite impossible for the ring found by Doctor Jackson to protect us. According to her, it has no properties capable of generating the kind of power required to defend against Anubis. So it seems to me this entire meeting is a colossal waste of time. Time that could be put to better use by Doctor Jamison in finding the real device."

Hammond looked over at Carter and said, "Major?"

Jack suddenly found himself holding his breath and praying his conversation with her had meant something. He just enough in his seat to see her, and groaned inwardly. Her head was down and that did not bode well. There was a lengthy pause, and finally she glanced up and met Hammond's gaze with her own.

"Sir, the fact that the ring was found exactly where Daniel figured it would be, combined with the fact that the writings on the back of the ring tell us how to utilize it, say to me that it will work, and work precisely as Daniel has explained it. I can't claim to know how, but then I suspect that isn't important right now."

Hammond shot a look across the table at Jacob, who nodded his agreement with his daughter's words. Rising to his feet, Hammond said, "Well, Major, I leave it to you and your team to get things set up. Doctor Jackson, the ball is in your court."

Almost everyone that had been present in the briefing room, now stood in the 'Gate room, the only missing individuals being Jamison and Myron, both recalled to Washington following a phone call to the President by General Hammond. It had been several hours since the briefing, hours used to set up the necessary equipment and scientists to measure any changes in space once the ring was activated. The 'mini-ring', as Jack called it, was now suspended two feet from the ground and directly behind the 'Gate.

Daniel stood next to it, the smaller device in his hand. He glanced up at the control room and said to Sergeant Davis, "Start dialing, but put in only the first six symbols for Earth."

Davis nodded, and started the dialing sequence. When Davis announced that the sixth chevron was locked in, Daniel stepped behind the mini-ring, Jack following. Slowly he reached up with the device and fitted it into a slot on the right side.

It was a perfect fit.

With a glance at Jack, Daniel started to turn the 'key'.

Daniel held his breath, and a moment later, of its own accord, the seventh chevron locked into place.

For several seconds, nothing else happened. Then a slight hum filled the room, followed by a vibration in the mini-ring. Jack grabbed at Daniel and started to pull him away, but Daniel resisted. Suddenly the ring lit up like a Christmas tree. At the same instant, Sam, holding one earphone in place, and seated at a console on the other side of the ramp, said, "General, NASA just confirmed a strange SE field has surrounded the planet. They're having trouble measuring it...."

She paused as she listened to whoever was at the other end, then added, "It's having no effect... on any instruments, there are no changes in radiation levels, or any other levels, and yet - it's there." She glanced up, her blue eyes sparkling, as she said, "And its point of origin is... here. This precise spot."

Hammond nodded and looked to Daniel. "Doctor?"

Daniel stepped away from the ring and said, "Sir, as long as the mini-ring is turned on, every planet we connect to should be protected."

Hammond nodded in understanding, then ordered, "Sergeant, shut her down."

Daniel disengaged the small device the minute the 'Gate shut down. The mini-ring dimmed, but remained lit.

And almost immediately, the 'Gate began to turn.

"UNAUTHORIZED GATE ACTIVATION!"

Several SF's ran into the 'Gate room as Jack pulled Daniel out from behind the 'Gate, and back towards the wall. Sam moved toward Teal'c just as the General commanded, "Close the iris!"

The shield slid shut, but a moment later Davis announced, "We're getting a signal, sir, from Abydos."

"Open the iris."

Jack and the others hurried out of the 'Gate room and up to the observation room. As they all slid into place, Davis said, "We're getting a transmission from the M.A.L.P., sir."

A moment later, Skaara's face appeared on screen. He looked pale and wan, his expression tight with worry. Unconsciously, Jack leaned in toward his friend as he asked, "Skaara, what's wrong?"

"O'NEILL, WE ARE UNDER ATTACK! A GREAT SHIP IN THE SKY RAINS LIGHTNING DOWN UPON US!"

Jack whirled around to face Hammond, who, in anticipation of Jack's question, nodded and said, "You have a go, SG-1. I'll have SG-2 and 8 on deck in fifteen."

They burst through the 'Gate in full defensive mode. SG-8 went down and low, SG-2 took flanking positions on either side of the 'Gate, while SG-1 moved forward, Jack taking point, Teal'c, the rear.

All was silent within the pyramid.

Jack signaled that they should all move quietly and cautiously ahead. When they reached the opening, they stopped. Jack peered out... and saw nothing but desert, until he glanced upward.

A huge Goa'uld mother ship hovered over the planet.

"It seems like we have company, gang."

Lou stepped up to Jack's side and observed the obvious, "No cover to the city, Colonel."

"That is a true statement." Jack looked over his shoulder and said, "Suggestions, anyone?"

Daniel slipped his pack from his shoulders and let it drop to the ground. He knelt down in front of it, opened it, and shook something out. He took his jacket off and slipped the other item on over his head.

"Colonel, I think Daniel has an idea," Feretti said with a grin.

Jack took one look at his archaeologist in his Abydonian robes and shook his head. "No, Daniel... just... no."

"Jack, I speak the language, I'll have my mike, and it's the only way."

"He's right, sir," Sam said.

Daniel pulled the hood of his robe up, took off his glasses and handed them to Jack... who finally, reluctantly, took them.

Lou handed him a couple of smoke bombs with the words, "Just in case," and Teal'c held out a zat gun, which he gratefully took and slipped into the back of his waistband.

Feeling helpless, Jack watched, and finally warned as Daniel started out, "You keep in constant touch, and at the first sign of anything, you make tracks and get your ass back here, understood?"

Daniel nodded even as he was walking out and into the bright sunlight. They watched him head down the ramp. When he reached the sand, he turned back and waved before proceeding on.

"I don't like this," Jack said as the figure that was Daniel grew smaller and smaller.

"It's the only way, O'Neill," Teal'c said softly.

"I know... I know."

Daniel walked through the desert, his mind racing. He had his suspicions about the ship that hovered above the city, and if he was right... they'd all see sooner rather than later whether the ring's defensive capabilities for Earth ... and any planet connected via the gate... like Abydos, actually worked.

As he crested the last dune before Nagada, he dropped down onto his stomach and squinted at the city below. Four Jaffa stood guard at the entrance. He figured they'd come down via a set of rings and it was a pretty good bet that in spite of not being able to see well enough to identify the emblems on their foreheads, they were in the service of Anubis. He glanced to the east, toward the catacombs, and tried to gauge his chances of getting to them.

//Daniel? You better be able to hear this.//

Smiling, Daniel said, "I hear you fine, Jack. There are four Jaffa guarding the entrance and while there is some damage to the city, it's not as much as I expected. I'm going to try and make it to the catacombs-"

His earpiece crackled and he could almost imagine that it was a direct result of Jack's anger. He waited, and a moment later a deceptively calm Jack came back to him.

//Daniel, why would you want to do that?//

"I think the ship belongs to Anubis. It's a good bet that he's found out about the defensive shield and he's here looking for the ring."

//That's quite a leap in logic, there, Einstein.//

"Not really, Anubis has been here once, to collect the Eye of Ra, so he could certainly have drawn the same conclusion as Jamison."

//And you want to go to the catacombs, why?//

"Jack, they're not in the pyramid, are they?" he asked, his tone reasonable.

//No-o....//

"So... the catacombs."

//And you have this overwhelming need to go there... why?//

Jack had him stumped there. He certainly couldn't help anyone....

Before he could make a decision, movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. Three Jaffa, including one who appeared to be a First Prime, crested a dune. They were pushing someone ahead of them, but Daniel couldn't make out who.

"Jack, whoever was in the catacombs, they're out now and headed back to Nagada."

//You stay right where you are, Daniel, you hear me?//

"Jack, it might be... it could be... Skaara. And if they didn't find what they were looking for, and we know they didn't... they could take it out on him. I've got to do something."

//Damn it, Daniel, stay put, we're on our way.//

Daniel watched as the Jaffa drew closer to the entrance to the city, a sense of foreboding filling him. He needed to buy time until Jack and the others arrived.

Slowly he rose... and started down the dune.

Skaara walked with a heavy gait. He knew he was about to die, he'd heard the instructions given by the one called Anubis. The Goa'uld was angry that his Jaffa had been unsuccessful in finding whatever they'd come to find, and all of Abydos would pay, starting with him. He was to be an example, a means to lull his people into believing that they would live... and then they would all be destroyed from above.

He could see his city, the guards, and a crowd of Abydonians on the other side of the entrance, his father in front. He did not wish to die in front of Kasuf, but as he had no choice in the matter, he would do it with his head held high.

Skaara was suddenly shoved hard by the tip of a staff weapon and he almost fell. He could see his friends straining to get past the guards, but helpless to do so. He was pushed out a few feet, but in full view of everyone. This was it.

Daniel was close, but the guards had yet to see him, so intent on whatever the hell they were doing. They'd moved Skaara so that he now faced the entrance to Nagada and they'd forced him to his knees. It looked too much like an execution for Daniel's comfort. He continued walking even as he plucked a smoke bomb from each pocket. Keeping them hidden under the folds of his robe, and hoping Jack and the others were closing in on the city, he stepped up his pace.

Kasuf hadn't felt this helpless in more days than he could count. The majority of the men were at the mines, and thus the Jaffa had easy control over the situation. Currently, they had his son on his knees and were readying themselves for what could only be Skaara's death. The Abydonians had evidently failed to provide, and now would pay with the death of Skaara.

His eyes met Skaara's, and the courage that flashed in the youthful gaze gave him little comfort. He glanced past his son... and his eyes widened.

A man... a lone man... was fast approaching. Kasuf frowned, unable to believe what he was seeing. In spite of the hood that covered so much, he recognized his good son,

Dan-yel.

He knew that Skaara had managed to get a message to O'Neill, but surely, surely his good son was not alone?

They were almost running, or at least as almost as the deep sands of Abydos allowed. Jack was scared, a deep down, heart-stopping scared. He couldn't lose Daniel now. Not when they'd finally ... done whatever they'd needed to do to be... whatever they were now.

There was no fucking way he was going to lose the man now. Just no fucking way.

He was less than fifty yards away when the First Prime spotted him and yelled, "JAFFA, KREE!" Two of the Jaffa immediately swung their staff weapons in his direction. He was approaching at an angle, one that he prayed would allow him to grab Skaara and make the protection of the city once all hell, a hell he planned on starting, broke loose.

Deciding to play it à la Jack O'Neill, Daniel said, "Yeah, yeah, don't you guys have anything original to say?"

He was almost close enough... his finger ready to release the latch on the smoke bomb.

A yell from another Jaffa caused everyone but Daniel to look back at the far dune... and the men running down it and toward them.

It was time.

Daniel flicked the latch and tossed the bomb to his right. It hit the sand, made a popping noise, and immediately the area was filled with billowing clouds of smoke. He tossed the second one even as he broke into a run toward Skaara. A Jaffa, more on instinct than the ability to see, turned his staff weapon toward Daniel and fired. The heat of it skimmed past him, searing his left arm. He fired the zat gun twice, and the man went down. He was within reach of Skaara, who was struggling in the arms of one of the Jaffa, thus too close not to be injured by the zat if Daniel fired. But Skaara, sensing Daniel's nearness, kicked back, his foot connecting with the Jaffa's leg. It was enough to allow Skaara his freedom. Daniel fired twice in quick succession as Skaara moved out of the way, then he grabbed him and hauled him backwards, toward the city.

Gunfire erupted and Daniel knew that Jack and the others were close enough to fire at the Jaffa. Hands reached out for them, tugging them into the protection of Nagada. Bodies closed in around them as closely as the smoke, but Daniel strove to see, to find Jack. He moved against the bodies, and it was a good thing he did. Two Jaffa backed through the entrance, then turned their staff weapons on the crowd. Daniel, vision impaired in the best of times and eyes watering from the smoke, fired twice at each... and both men went down.

An eerie silence fell.

Daniel felt Skaara's arm on his, knew that Kasuf was on his other side, and as the smoke cleared, Jack appeared, walking toward them, a smile on his face.

Saluting Daniel, he said, "Nice work, Doctor Jackson. Nice work."

Before Daniel could respond with his usual wit, several death gliders shot out from the mother ship. Jack yelled back over his shoulder, "EVERYONE INSIDE THE CITY!"

SG-2 and 8, along with Teal'c and Sam, starting running. The death gliders dipped and began firing....

But not one blast struck its mark - or anything else.

Frowning, Daniel stepped backwards, head up, eyes searching the sky.

"Daniel, get the hell back here," Jack ordered.

Daniel kept going. When he was several feet away from the protection of Nagada, he turned in a circle, still staring upward, and said, "There's something... a shield... the shield... it worked, it really worked, and it's even stopping the cannon fire from the gliders... the blasts simply dissipate."

He moved further out, the others now following, with Jack rushing to his side. Squinting at the sight above him, Daniel added, "And yet, the death gliders were able to enter the planet's atmosphere after we'd initiated the shield when we gated here, which means the shield must be... but that would be impossible...."

Sam, gaze fixed on the ship, said absently, "No, not impossible. I think the shield is delivered somewhat differently from the originating 'Gate, which would be us, to the connecting 'Gate, once we've dialed it. We know our shield extends out to our thermosphere, which means that a ship could get no closer to Earth than-"

"Three hundred and seventy-two miles," Jack said as he held a set of binoculars to his eyes.

"Exactly. But judging by what we're seeing here, it would appear that for secondary planets, the shield goes only as far as the troposphere, or approximately nine miles from the surface."

"Tropicalshere, or spaghettisphere, all that matters is that it works," Jack said.

"But will it stop the rings?" Daniel asked quietly.

"Not here, but I don't believe we've ever seen the rings work beyond, what, maybe nine or so miles? So ringing down to Earth won't be possible, Daniel."

Before Daniel could respond, heavier blasts could be seen as they were discharged from the ship itself. They too dissipated. The Abydonians gathered around the SG teams and began to cheer wildly as blast after blast failed to strike. After six failed tries, the firing stopped and silence fell. Daniel moved away from the group and started shaking his head. Jack, worried, said, "Daniel, what's up?"

"He's... going to try it now, Jack," Daniel said, sounding deeply prophetic.

At that exact moment, a strange sound seemed to come from the skies. Jack moved to Daniel's side. Stepping around the dead Jaffa, the Abydonians, along with the SG units, joined Daniel and Jack to stare at the sky... and the ship.

The sound grew, and now a ring of bright light could be seen on the bottom of the ship.

"You know, I'm guessing we're about to find out if that ring works against the Eye," Jack said.

Running a hand through his damp, sweaty hair, Daniel nodded. "I'm thinking you're right."

The light flickered, spread inward and formed a beam, which shot downward.

No one moved.

The beam seemed frozen as it hit the shield... but then it doubled up on itself... bounced back up... and struck the ship.

From that point on, it was chain reaction time. Explosions ripped through the ship as it began to drift away from Nagada. No one missed a smaller ship disengaging itself from the self-destructing one.

"Anubis," Teal'c intoned.

"No doubt. Those system lords really know how to run and live to fight another day," Jack said sarcastically. He turned and placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder. "Seems it worked like a charm, Danny boy. A charm."

"You should have said something, Daniel."

"Like what? 'Oh, hey, everyone, a discharge from a staff weapon almost hit me, let's all moan and cry'?"

"The heat of the damn thing did hit you. This is a second degree burn, buddy."

Daniel gave a mock shiver and said, "Oooh, alert Janet, call out the EMT's, I have a burn. Will I live? Perhaps amputation is called for here?"

"I'll amputate your head, is what I'll amputate, Jackson," Jack said, trying not to laugh as he carefully applied the salve to the burned area.

Hammond had been informed of the success of the ring and its ability to protect and destroy, and Anubis' ship was now nothing more than a dark burning shell that had finally come to rest several miles from Nagada. Understanding that they were safe from almost any kind of attack, the city was celebrating, the sounds of the party surrounding Jack and Daniel. They were in Kasuf's home, everyone else out in the middle of the city enjoying the celebration.

Jack looked at the burn and said, "I wonder if I should bandage this?"

"No, let it breathe. The salve will protect it from infection until we get home," Daniel said as he pushed a worried hand away. "I'm okay, Jack," he added softly. "And so are you."

"Yeah, we are, aren't we?" Jack said tenderly. He brought his hand up and laid it against Daniel's cheek. "Not a bad day, was it?"

Leaning into the hand, Daniel said, "No, not a bad day at all."

Jack grinned, then leaned in, paused, and seeing the invitation sparkling in Daniel's eyes, he touched his lips to Daniel's. The kiss was brief, both conscious of the close proximity of... everyone. When Jack straightened, he said, "One of these days, we really need to have sex."

"Ya think?"

Kasuf, Skaara, and several Abydonians were gathered around SG-1 and 2 in front of the 'Gate, preparing to say good-bye, but loathe to do so. It had been two days since the destruction of Anubis' ship, days spent cleaning up after the attack and attending to the injured Abydonians. SG-8 would be staying behind even longer, their orders being to go through the wreckage and retrieve weapons and surviving technology. They stood off to the side, quietly watching.

"Can you not stay also, Dan-yel?" Skaara asked.

"Don't worry, Skaara, we'll be back for the wedding," Jack said, a mischievous gleam in his eye.

Skaara looked from one man to the other, noted their closeness, and grinning, said, "You will be 'bringing' O'Neill, Dan-yel?"

Jack took a couple of steps away from Daniel as he glanced around to make sure no one had heard Skaara's words. Satisfied that no one was close enough, he said firmly, "He'll bring everyone, Skaara."

"Of course," Skaara said quickly.

Daniel frowned, but at the same moment, Sam finished dialing Earth and the wormhole exploded outward. Daniel clasped arms with Skaara, then embraced Kasuf, who whispered against Daniel's hair, "Thank you, Good Son, thank you."

As they separated, Daniel said, "There is nothing to thank me for, Good Father. Take care."

Knowing better than to argue with his son, Kasuf simply said, "You will return for the wedding, that will find me content."

"We all will, Good Father."

SG-2, followed closely by Sam and Teal'c, walked into the wormhole. At the same time, Jack said, "Okay, Daniel, time to head home. It's been fun, Kasuf, gotta do it again real soon."

Shaking his head in mild exasperation, Daniel gave a final wave as he joined Jack, who, now that they were, for all intents and purposes, alone, said, "I'm counting down here, Daniel."

Approaching the wormhole, Daniel said, "To what?"

"Like you don't know?"

"You really have a one-track mind, Jack, but then, so do I," Daniel said with a leer.

Jack stepped in front of Daniel, and walking backwards toward the 'Gate, said, "And thank God for that...."

The General watched the wormhole burst outward, then settle back. He straightened his shoulders and prepared to welcome his people back home. SG-2 stepped through the wormhole first, huge grins on their faces, and all giving the thumbs up sign. Teal'c and Sam came through next, and on their heels, Colonel O'Neill and Daniel.

Hammond frowned at the fact that Jack was exiting - backwards - while waving his arm. Daniel was shaking his head in that typical "Jack, what am I going to do with you?" way of his -- and it was so ordinary -- so right, that it was all the more atypical given their relationship of the last several months. Hammond felt a surge of hope at the sight before him. Maybe he was going to get his flagship team back after all. Stepping forward, he said in a deliberately loud voice, "Welcome back, SG-1."

Hearing the General's voice, Jack almost tripped in his effort to turn around while Daniel simply froze in his tracks.

"Good job, Doctor Jackson," Hammond added.

Daniel's face went an interesting color of red and he looked so uncomfortable that Jack took pity and said, "Sir, we'd love to stay and chat, but we need to get Daniel to the Infirmary."

Hammond frowned in worry and asked, "Doctor Jackson?"

"It's nothing, sir."

"He needs to get his arm checked out. It got in the way of a staff blast."

Hammond nodded at Jack and said, "Get going then, all of you. Briefing at ten hundred hours tomorrow. And again, good job, everyone."

Jack hustled a slightly disgruntled Daniel down the ramp and out of the 'Gate room, the others following.

Daniel sat on the bed, eyes closed. Doctor Warner stood next to him and was in the process of checking out his burn. Daniel, like everyone else, had already been through the MRI procedure, but unlike the others, he was fast running out of gas. The past several days and nights were catching up to him and he was completely unaware that he was swaying where he sat. Jack, on the other side of him, quickly put his arm around Daniel to keep him from falling. "Whoa, Daniel, where do you think you're going?"

He opened his eyes and looked bleary-eyed at Jack. "Wha'?"

"You were just about to take a header into the doc there. You okay?"

"Me? Yeah, fine. Peachy. Dandy. Super." He followed his words with a wide yawn.

"Well, your arm looks good, but I'm not happy with the rest of your results. Your blood pressure is too low, you're down about twelve pounds, and your overall physical condition isn't great, Doctor Jackson. I'd like to keep you overnight and do a complete blood workup," Warner announced.

"Couldn't you take your blood now and let me go home? " At the look Warner gave him, Daniel said, "I admit I've been working hard, but so has everyone. I'll be fine."

"Look, Doc, how 'bout I take him to my place and make sure he eats, sleeps and does everything healthy. What do you say?"

Warner looked from one man to the other, noticed Daniel's eyes shift away, frowned a bit, glanced back over at Jack, who smiled his 'I'm the Colonel' smile.

Warner capitulated in the face of Jack's steely smile. "All right, Colonel, but I want him back in here tomorrow. Doctor Frasier will want to keep tabs on his progress."

"We'll be here," Jack promised. "We'll be here."

While Daniel put on his seatbelt, Jack thought back on Warner's recitation of Daniel's current health. His SUV was parked under one of the parking lot lights, so he could see Daniel clearly, and he found himself wondering how he could have missed it. Sure, he'd noticed how tired Daniel had looked back in Bolivia, but he'd chalked it up to the man's natural tendency to keep at a project until he had it cracked, which usually meant very little sleep. But now... now he really looked. Daniel had lost weight, and his skin color was as close to the descriptive phrase of 'pasty' that Jack immediately thought of the flour-water mixture that stood for glue when he was a kid. There was also a certain gauntness to Daniel that had him worried. He figured he really had his work cut out for him in getting Daniel back to top form.

"Jack? You waiting for Christmas?"

"Huh?"

"Car? Start? Home?"

"Ah. How many more shopping days till Christmas?"

"Jack, hello?"

"Right. Start the car." He reached over, turned the key, and a moment later, they were headed for the exit gate.

As they headed down the mountain, Jack said, "When are you going to learn, Doctor Jackson, that man does not exist on coffee and oxygen alone?"

"Are you implying something?" Daniel asked innocently.

"Oh, for crying out loud, Daniel, you're a grown man. You know damn well that you need food and sleep. You heard Warner, and let me tell you, Janet is not going to be kind to you tomorrow."

Daniel merely shrugged as he said, "Look, the stress is gone now, we've succeeded, the defense weapon was found, and all's well. Everything will be back to normal and I think Janet will recognize that fact. She knows how I can get when I'm working on something."

Jack had to admit that everything Daniel was saying sounded... plausible. But then he heard Warner's words again. Shaking his head, he said, "Nice try, Danny boy, but you don't lose twelve pounds in a few days."

There was nothing Daniel could say to that... so he didn't. He really didn't think bringing up his migraines would be overly conducive to what he hoped they'd be doing in about forty minutes.

Jack pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine. He smiled as he glanced over at his sleeping archaeologist. He'd managed to stop at Daniel's, sneak the younger man's keys out of his pocket, then get upstairs, grab several needed items, and get back down to the car without Daniel so much as twitching a limb. Still smiling, Jack carefully removed the seatbelt from around Daniel, then gave his shoulder a gentle shake.

"Wakey, wakey, Daniel."

Daniel shifted, heard the words and wondered why everyone always used them with him. He decided to ignore it, waved his hand aimlessly in the air, and said, "Go 'way."

Laughing, Jack said, "Come on, buddy, you'll be a lot more comfortable inside, if you know what I mean."

Lifting his head from the seat rest, he blinked blearily, looked around, adjusted his glasses, and said, "We're at your place?"

"Well, this is where we were headed so I'd be rather surprised if we'd ended up somewhere else."

"Oh. Right."

Daniel opened the door and stumbled out while Jack reached back and grabbed the overnight bag he'd put together for Daniel. Daniel stretched a bit, and when Jack joined him, he noticed the bag. He pointed at it and said, "Jack?"

"I stopped on our way and got you a few things. We may have to go in tomorrow for the debriefing, but after Janet sees you, I'm pretty sure she's going to insist on some serious downtime, during which I, your commanding officer, will nurse you back to health."

"Jack, there's nothing wrong with me that a couple of good meals, and twenty-four hours sleep won't cure." He moved in close to Jack and added softly, "Both of which will, hopefully, follow a bit of exercise."

Jack stopped dead and looked hard at Daniel. "Why you insatiable scientist, you," he said, only slightly amazed.

Daniel grinned, rubbed Jack's ass possessively, then started up the drive - whistling.

Daniel flushed the toilet, washed his hands, dried them, then checked out his reflection in the mirror. O-kay, so maybe he'd looked better, but there was one thing staring back at him that hadn't been there a couple of days ago, and that was the sparkle in his eyes. He grinned, turned off the bathroom light, then walked back into the bedroom. He stared at his bag, which was sitting on Jack's bed.

Jack's bed.

Maybe he should move his stuff into the guest room. Maybe. For now.

Jack stared at the interior of his refrigerator. He reached in and took out one of two lonely items, a moldy hunk of cheese. Turning it around in his hand, he said to himself, "And I thought this only happened on television. Who knew?" He took out the other item, a carton of milk. He sniffed it, and his eyes immediately watered. He waved his hand in the air in hopes of dispelling the odor of spoiled milk, then holding his nose, he walked the carton to the trash and dumped it.

"Okay, so sex, then the store, then I feed him."

Satisfied, he walked out into the living room and called out, "Daniel? You better not be sleeping...."

The ringing of the doorbell stopped any further efforts on his part to connect on a physical level with his archaeologist. He hurried to the door with every intention of quickly getting rid of the salesman who dared interrupt said efforts. He swung open the door... and found Sara standing on his porch.

"Sara?"

His ex-wife looked up at him, and her eyes immediately filled with tears. She brushed them away angrily and said, "I... drove by in hopes... and I saw your car. I left messages, but I guess-"

"I'm sorry, I just got back and I haven't checked my phone yet." He reached out and took her hand, then led her gently inside. After he closed the door, he asked, "Honey, what's wrong?"

The tenderness in his voice must have been her undoing because she immediately turned and wrapped her arms around him. Stunned at the uncharacteristic move, Jack slowly put his arms around her.

"Sara, what is it?"

Fingers gripping his shirt, she lifted her head and said, "Dad, it's dad. Oh, God, Jack, he had a heart attack three days ago. He's... he's ... and they said... and he doesn't even know I'm there...."

A sob caught in her throat and she ducked her head and rested against him as the tears flowed easily. Jack closed his eyes as he thought of the man who'd been his father-in-law and friend, then he rested his cheek on the top of Sara's head. "I'm so sorry, honey, so sorry."

"I can't... please, come with me to the hospital, please, Jack?"

Daniel heard the doorbell but ignored it thinking it was probably some kid selling something, a common occurrence in Jack's neighborhood. It was only when he heard the soft voices that he thought to check it out. He walked down the hall and... froze in his tracks.

Sara... in Jack's arms.

Neither had seen him yet, so he gave thought to quickly backtracking and was about to do just that when Sara stepped away from Jack and said, "Please?"

"Of course I'll go with you, Sara."

At that moment, Jack glanced up and caught Daniel's eye. Sensing that her ex-husband's attention was elsewhere, Sara turned around.

Daniel raised a hand and gave a half wave, uncertain of what to do.

"Sara, honey, you remember Doctor Jackson?"

"Of course," Sara managed to say.

"Daniel, my father-in-law has had a heart attack and I'm going to head over to the hospital with Sara."

Daniel stayed where he was, suddenly feeling very intrusive. He could see the shape Sara was in and his heart went out to her. "I'm so sorry, Sara. Look, I'll just," he pointed behind him, "take off, Jack." He started to back up as he added, "If there's anything any of us can do, just let us know...."

He glanced at Jack, saw the gratitude, smiled slightly, then turned around and headed back to the bedroom to get his stuff. He could hear Jack talking softly, trying to get Sara into the kitchen for some coffee before they left. He hurried his step, got inside, picked up the bag, and left without a backward glance. He managed to make it out of the house, quietly and easily and was halfway down the driveway before he remembered - no car.

Feeling like seven kinds of an idiot, he looked back at the house, thought about going back and having Jack drop him off on their way to the hospital, but then ... there was his bag, so he shook his head, and headed down the street, remembering that there was a bus stop only two blocks away.

As he walked, he prayed that he'd catch the bus before Jack and Sara came by.

Jack poured the coffee into the cup, added the sugar, then carried it over to Sara, who was seated at his kitchen table. She glanced up, smiled wanly, and said, "Thanks. I'm sorry about all histrionics earlier. It was just such a relief to actually see you." Her eyes suddenly widened and she added, "I didn't interrupt anything, did I? Were you two planning something?"

"No, no," he assured her. "We were... just going to hang out. He's been overworking a bit lately so... we were just going to, you know, hang out."

He knew it sounded lame, even to him, but what else could he say? "Gee, Sara, we were just going to fuck our brains out, that's all."

No, that probably wouldn't have gone over well. And damn, he really should call Teal'c and get him to look in on Daniel....

"Oh, shit."

"Jack?"

"Hang on a minute," he said as he headed out of the kitchen. "I just remembered... Daniel doesn't have his car here!"

He ran through the living room and out the front door, hoping against hope that Daniel hadn't gone far. When he hit the driveway, he checked right and left... and no Daniel.

"God, damn it," he muttered. "You couldn't have just come back into the house, could you, Jackson? Oh, no, not you." He sighed heavily and headed back inside. Maybe they'd find him on the way to the hospital.

Daniel let himself into his apartment, and based on his breathing and slight lightheadedness, Warner might have been right about his physical condition. The walk to the bus stop, and from, shouldn't have left him this weak. He got his jacket off, kicked his shoes into a corner, and wandered into the kitchen. He got some water out of the fridge, and while he unscrewed the cap, he considered food. He had the makings of a salad, but that didn't appeal at all. He rested his arm on the top of the fridge door and sighed. He hadn't been home enough to really trust anything in the refrigerator. He'd clean it out later and do some shopping, but for now, maybe a bowl of soup and bed. Yeah, that was the ticket. He closed the door, took a swig of water, then walked to the pantry. He grabbed a can of split pea soup. Fifteen minutes later, he took his mug of soup and walked into the living room. He sat down, put his feet up, and sipped his Anderson's.

He thought about Jack and Sara, and how they'd looked holding each other, Jack giving comfort, and Sara receiving it. He sipped his soup.

Jack sat in the small waiting room set aside for family of patients in the CICU. Sara sat next to him, her eyes closed, her hand gripping his. They had to wait for shift change before they'd be allowed in to see Mike, and Jack was trying to psych himself up. Mike had always been a big man, full of life and energy and humor, and to see him as he would undoubtedly look... scared the hell out of him.

The antiseptic smell hit him then.

As did the memory of sitting just like this -- for Charlie.

Jack pulled his hand free and almost jumped to his feet. Sara looked up, eyes reflecting her surprise. He tried to smile reassuringly as he said, "Bathroom. Be right back."

He almost ran.

Once inside the empty bathroom, he leaned against the door and tried to control his breathing. He could do this.

Calming, he walked over to the sink, turned on the water, and refreshed himself by wetting his face down. He pulled out a paper towel and mopped up the moisture, then crumbled the towel and tossed it. He glanced back at the mirror and grimaced. His stomach growled and he immediately thought of Daniel.

Damn.

He needed to call Teal'c, get the man to run interference for Daniel's stomach. Jack leaned against the sink, hands bracing him. Things hadn't worked out as planned, that was for sure. Time to rejoin Sara.

It was worse than he'd imagined. Mike looked almost frail in the bed. Jack led Sara over and watched as she immediately reached for Mike's hand. The news from the doctors hadn't been good. They'd been blunt in telling Sara that Mike wasn't responding, and the only thing keeping his heart pumping - was technology. They'd tried to prepare her, to help her understand that at the moment, Mike was alive, but they weren't far from the time when they'd be suggesting she allow them to turn off the machines.

Sara started talking quietly to her father and Jack, feeling only moderately invisible, sat down, ready to be there for her, to lend his support.

Daniel pulled the bedspread down, then the covers. He sat down, set his alarm, not that he thought he'd really need it, then stared at his phone. He reached for it, put his hand on it, then shook his head. Leaving a message would be ridiculous. He turned out the light and dropped back. After a moment, he pulled his pillow down and slipped it behind his head.

His bedroom was quiet, and yet, he could hear Paul's voice.

"It's not worth it, Daniel...."

His bedroom was dark, and yet, he could see Jack, with his arms around Sara.

Quiet and dark, and yet, he could see and hear Sam, telling him about the days she and Jack had spent in the cave in the Arctic. He could see the sadness in her eyes and hear the poignancy in her voice as she told him how the only person Jack had called for had been -- Sara. How, in their darkest hour, when she'd given up and finally accepted that they were going to die, she'd allowed Jack to believe that she was Sara.

He was most certainly not Sara and he doubted that Jack would ever mistake him for his ex-wife.

Which left him... where?

He hauled himself and his pillow up, turned around, and got in under the covers.

Daniel had the feeling it was going to be a long night.

Jack closed the door softly and turned away from his spare bedroom and Sara. He checked his watch and decided that two in the morning wasn't too late - or early - to call George. Sara was in no shape to handle the coming days alone, which meant it was up to him to make sure she wasn't. Alone.

Daniel slid into his seat in the briefing room, smiled at Teal'c, and took a sip of his coffee. A moment later, Sam walked in, helped herself to some coffee, then sat down next to him.

"You've looked better, Daniel. How's your arm?"

Daniel had completely forgotten the injury. He wiggled his arm and smiled. "Fine, and thanks for the compliment, Sam."

Sam didn't have the chance to answer as Paul Davis walked in. He paused, then walked over to the chair next to Teal'c.

"Morning."

"Major Davis," Sam acknowledged.

"Major Davis," Teal'c intoned.

Daniel was saved from saying anything by the timely arrival of General Hammond.

"Colonel O'Neill won't be joining us today. There's been an emergency in his family and he'll be taking some time off." He sat down and immediately addressed Sam. "Major, what can you tell me about our new defense system?"

Daniel hadn't been expecting Hammond's announcement and as Sam prattled on about the device and how it worked, Daniel watched his fingers play with his pen.

"... then how does the device discriminate between weapon fire and, say, a ship?"

"That's what we don't know yet, sir, but we're working on it. The important thing is that while a ship could enter our space, any weapons fired prior to that would be useless. And that's not all. We've discovered that the shield actually changes. It apparently shifts and moves, sir."

Daniel, who'd heard only a small portion of the conversation to date, now looked up in interest.

"What does that mean, Major?"

"At the moment, I'm not sure."

Daniel leaned forward. "Is the shield lessening?"

"No, not at all. It's only the hem that's changing. It raises and lowers periodically, but so far, there's no rhyme or reason to the shifts. Nothing that could be plotted out to avoid, for instance."

"There was a phrase on the ring, one that made no sense when I was translating. It makes sense now," Daniel said thoughtfully. "The phrase was, 'The edge of the tide'."

"Edge of the tide," Sam repeated slowly. "So... tide, like the ocean, in and out?"

"Evidently," Daniel agreed.

"Why do I sense that this could be important, Major?"

"Well, sir, I'm not sure-"

"Bombs," Daniel said quietly.

Hammond turned his attention from Sam to Daniel. "Bombs?"

"Yes, sir. As we originally thought of the device, we thought in terms of a weapon or weapons fired from space, Specifically, the weapon created by the collection of all the Eyes. Now we've found out that any weapons fired from space are stopped. But I'm assuming that still leaves two modes of attack. One; the enemy lands. We don't have much in the way of stopping them, but we can fight them once here. Which leaves the second mode; a bomb. That remained a threat no matter what. But now, if the hem shifts, if it covers us from land on up, I suspect that even a bomb wouldn't detonate."

Daniel may have surprised the general with his words, but Daniel wasn't surprised when the man turned to Sam and said, "Major?"

"Daniel's summed it up pretty well, sir. I think some... experimentation is warranted, though."

"Then consider SG-1 on stand-down until the colonel's return. Whatever you need, Major Carter, you have. And that came directly from the President. To say that he's pleased would be a vast understatement." He gave her a brilliant smile, then said, "Good work, all of you."

The general rose, closed up his folder, and said, "Dismissed, SG-1." With that, he turned and went back into his office.

Sam, grinning, rose, as did a clearly happy Teal'c. Daniel got up, but every move was like that of a much older man. He tried to feel the same joy of his teammates, but he only felt tired.

Sam moved over to him, and her smile dimmed as she asked, "Do you know anything about the colonel's family emergency?"

"It's his father-in-law, or I guess... ex-father-in-law. He had a heart attack and it's not good," Daniel answered.

Before anyone could say anything, Hammond came to the door of his office and said, "And Doctor Jackson, Doctor Frasier is waiting for you. I'd get a move on, if I were you."

Daniel pushed his glasses back up and said, "Yes, sir. I was... just going to head down there... sir."

"Of course you were, Doctor. Of course you were." Hammond smiled enigmatically and stepped back to his desk.

Daniel gave Sam and Teal'c a sheepish look and said, "I think I'll head down to the Infirmary, guys."

"Was the burn to your arm worse than we believed, DanielJackson?"

"No, no, Doctor Warner just insisted I come back today. I'll catch up to you guys later."

He headed out ahead of them, and at the bottom of the stairs, he went left, they right.

"You've been having migraines again, haven't you?"

Doctor Frasier had inspected his arm and was now looking hard at him... and waiting for an answer. He could bluff, but bluffing Janet usually came with high penalties, like long sharp needles in places you really rather she didn't stick them. He decided on a semi-bluff.

"Yeah, a few. Not surprising considering the stress lately. But now, I'm fine."

He mentally crossed his fingers.

"I see. Well, the blood workup Doctor Warner ordered says you're not so fine. You need rest, and you need to reacquaint yourself with food, Daniel. With that in mind, I'm recommending that General Hammond bar you from entering the SGC for the next seven days-"

"Janet, we're already on stand-down, you don't need-"

"Oh, but I do, Daniel. I do. Seven days away from here, away from translations, artifacts, fatigues, lousy food, poor lighting, no sun, no bad jokes from Colonel O'Neill-"

"I get it. Seven days, at home, watching my fish and eating good food while watching mindless television."

"Now, Daniel, you can always watch the Discovery Channel."

"What's that?"

Janet looked heavenward, then pulled a bottle of pills from her pocket. "Here, take one every morning - vitamins - so don't worry. And make sure you have a full eight ounces of orange juice too. Your potassium levels are the pits."

One elegant eyebrow rose. "Pits? New medical terminology?"

"Yes. I've always tried to stay up with medical miracles and trendy jargon."

"You do a damn fine job. If I weren't under strict orders to curtail my work, I'd rush right back to my office and look up 'pits' so that I could use it intelligently in a sentence."

"Daniel, get out of here." Her smile softened her words considerably.

Daniel saluted smartly, hopped off the bed and headed out.

Janet watched him leave and prayed that he'd do as told. She'd have a talk with the rest of SG-1 and make sure they looked in on him. As she went back to work, she had no idea that sending him away was the worse thing she could have done.

He walked down the corridor toward his office, hands stuffed in his pockets. He had a couple of books, new, that he hadn't had a chance to read yet and he thought since he now had - seven - days off, he'd catch up. As he rounded the corner, he was surprised to find two SF's standing in front of his office.

"Uhm, hello?"

"Doctor Frasier asked us to escort you to your car, sir," the tallest... and beefiest, said.

"Oh. I... well, sure. Uhm, I just need to get something from my office...."

"Sir, Doctor Frasier gave us strict orders not to let you into your office - sir."

Daniel blinked at the two men, then with his index finger, he pushed up his glasses. He bit his lip, then scuffed his right shoe. "Uhm, guys? Would one of you be willing to get a box that's sitting on my desk? It's labeled "Manhatten Rare Books."

The two men looked at each other, and seeing their doubt, Daniel added, "It's just books, as in reading books, as opposed to working books. It arrived several days ago but I haven't had a chance to take them home yet. It's safe, I swear." He made a motion of crossing his heart, followed by a hopeful smile.

The smile did it.

"I'll get it for you, sir. Just a moment."

Five minutes later, Daniel found himself being 'escorted' out of the SGC. The closer to the exit, the more embarrassed Daniel became, thanks to the looks that followed him.

Every rejection he'd ever experienced - came swirling back, in spite of the fact that he knew Janet was doing this for 'his own good'.

So why did he feel so rotten?

As he drove down the mountain, he started feeling that odd culture shock he used to experience after returning from 'Gate travel. So much had happened in the last several days, and for it to end like this, with him driving away from the SGC, alone, seemed so strange. Or not.

He was having a hard time reconciling jetting to Bolivia, discovering the find of the century - hell, the find of all time - then 'gating to Abydos and watching a miracle save his family - and Jack -- with where he was now. Which was, basically, nowhere.

He pulled his car into the underground garage of his apartment building, parked in his space, shut off the engine, grabbed his box, and headed for the elevator. As it carried him up to his floor, he realized that he should have gone shopping first. Damn. He let himself into his apartment, put the box down, shed his jacket, and picked up his mail. As he thumbed through the envelopes and circulars, he let his gaze flick over to the phone... and wasn't surprised by the absence of the message light. He dropped the bills on the dining room table, dumped the circulars in the trash in the kitchen, then wandered back over to the box. He got it opened, and with the first real smile, lovingly took out the first book.

Running his hand over the beautiful cover, he read the title; "History of Persia from the Most Early Period to the Present Time Containing an Account of the Religion, Government, Usages & Character of the Inhabitants of the Kingdom by John Malcolm"

He opened it and his smile grew. He rarely spent money on himself, but this, and the other book, were too good to pass up. The History of Persia had cost him nine thousand, but was worth every penny. It was a first edition, had been written in 1815, and was done in purple straight-grained Moroccan leather with gilt border decorations. It was lovingly rubbed and worn in some spots, but that made it all the more valuable to Daniel. He set it down, took a deep breath, and carefully lifted out the second tome.

His breath caught as the oh so familiar cover came into view. The memories that assailed him as he stared at the book in his hand brought forth feelings of both happiness and incredible sadness. He carried the book over to the couch and sat down. He ran his finger over the engraved lettering that spelled out, "Zankiwank & the Bletherwitch by S.J. Fitzgerald".

The book had been written in 1896, and like his History of Persia, was a first edition, but while not nearly as expensive, this one costing twelve hundred dollars, it was far more valuable to Daniel. Even now, holding it in his hands, he could hear his mother's voice as she read him the fairy tale, her hand smoothing down his unruly hair. He could almost imagine that this was the very same book... and wasn't that possible? Following his parent's death, Nick had disposed of most of their belongings, keeping only those items he thought were important. Daniel doubted that a child's book would have come under the heading of "Keep" versus "Don't keep."

Daniel put the book down, got up and started a fire in the gas fireplace. He went into the kitchen, got a bottle of brandy down from the cupboard, poured himself a snifter full, then walked back to the couch, sat down, and while sipping the warming drink, he opened the book and started Zankiwank & the Bletherwitch.

He never really noticed the tears that fell as he read.

The fire crackled in the fireplace and Sara sat on the couch, legs tucked under her, an afghan on her lap. Jack handed her a mug, then sat down on the opposite chair, a like mug in his hand. Sara took a sip, then smiled. "Your famous hot toddy. I haven't had this in...."

She paused and stared down at her drink. Jack smiled and said, "Since the divorce. That's what you were going to say, right?"

She nodded, glanced back up, and said, "Thanks for everything, Jack. I don't think I could have made it through these last three days without you."

Jack shrugged and took a sip of his drink. He looked over at the fire as Sara asked, "What did the doctor tell you, when I went to the women's lounge?"

"I'm pretty sure you have a good idea," he answered without taking his eyes from the blaze.

"His brain waves... they've - they're-"

"Yes," was all he said.

She took a deep breath, then, like her ex-husband, stared into the fire.

Jack could feel the silence lengthening and the reminder to the days following Charlie's death couldn't be ignored. The pain of the past was suddenly very real again.

He glanced over at Sara, expecting to see the same accusations of the past in her eyes. Instead, he saw only abject misery, loneliness, and need. He moved quickly to the couch. With tear-filled eyes, Sara glanced up and said, "I'm going to have to let them turn off the machines, aren't I?"

He didn't answer, he didn't need to. He simply took her into his arms and let her cry.

Okay, he was officially bored witless. It had only been three days, but he'd already read his new books, his old books and every magazine in the place. He'd cleaned the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, even his study. He'd rearranged the furniture in his bedroom, and he'd played the piano for endless hours.

Worms were making their homes in his brain.

He wandered over to the balcony, but didn't open the door. It was far too cold out. He stared out at the night and thought again of calling Jack's place. But he didn't because it was too late and he figured Jack would be with Sara - at their - home, rather than at Jack's.

He really should go to bed, but bed only brought strange dreams and uncomfortable sleep. Janet would not be pleased. He looked over at the phone again, which, at that precise moment, rang. The leap his heart took convinced him that he didn't feel things were so hopeless for him with Jack after all. Smiling, he picked up the phone.

"Hello?"

//Doctor Jackson?//

Heart sinking, Daniel said, "Nyan? What's up?"

//I need your expertise, Doctor--//

"Nyan, after all this time, don't you think it should be Daniel?"

//I... I need your expertise, Daniel.//

Daniel could hear the smile in Nyan's voice, and he chuckled as he said, "Okay, spill."

//SG-7 brought back an urn from P3Y-265, among other things, and it was sent down to me. There was absolutely no sign that the Goa'uld had ever been there, but... well, there are these writings on the urn, and they seem to be an odd derivative of Goa'uld. No one here can get a handle on it so I was hoping....//

"Nyan, I'm not allowed to return to the mountain for another four days," Daniel reminded.

//Yes... of course....//

"But... you could send me, say, a fax? Or better still...."

//I could ... email you the photos?//

"Why, yes, I suppose you could," Daniel mused, his grin of anticipation spreading across his face.

//You'll have it in the next few minutes, Doc-Daniel.//

"I'll let you know what I come up with, Nyan."

They said their good-byes and after he hung up, Daniel rushed to his computer and turned it on. He sat down, moved into his email program, and with fingers tapping restlessly, he waited....

When his "you've got mail" icon flashed, he eagerly dove in and brought up the missive from Nyan. He opened the attachment, studied it a moment, then turned on the printer, and printed it out. As the pages flowed into the chute, he cleared some room on his desk, then pulled the printed copies out and got to work. He was in heaven.

Two hours later - he was in hell.

He needed reference material, books that happened to be at his office. The translation was proving tricky, but what he had so far told him he really needed his references. He debated calling Janet and explaining to her, but he had a feeling he'd lose the battle the minute she asked him about his weight. Which was exactly what it had been three days ago. And she'd ask him about headaches and rest, so unless he lied... which he could certainly do, he'd be doomed. On the other hand, if he wore a bulky sweater... he could probably convince her that he'd put on a nice three or four pounds in the last three days.

Ummm.

Or he could ask Nyan to bring....

No, that wouldn't work. Too much material. And who knew what he'd actually end up needing? Okay, so... an end run around Janet to General Hammond. Unfair, but necessary.

He picked up the phone.

An hour later he was walking down the halls of the SGC ... on his way to his office.

The surprise was not that General Hammond had allowed his return, no, the surprise occurred when he entered his office.

"Daniel."

"Janet," he said, his most charming smile in place.

"Nice maneuver, going over my head to the general."

She hadn't moved from where she stood near his desk, and her demeanor told him this wasn't going to be as easy as he'd thought. He was suddenly glad he'd worn a bulky sweater. He decided to take the offensive, after all, he was an adult and a guy with two doctorates. Hell, if he wanted to work - he'd work. Yeah, take that, Janet Frasier.

"Uhm, sorry, Janet, but I didn't think if I... well, if I called you, I didn't think you'd let... and I'm bored and this is important, and I was going bonkers sitting at home, and do you know how many times I've rearranged the furniture in my bedroom?"

Right. So much for taking the defensive. He'd lay odds that he'd just done a fine job of whining. Wait. Her lips were twitching. Yep, definitely twitching.

"You should have called me," she finally said, her tone less steely than gentle.

"I ... know. I'm sorry. But... uhm, this urn that SG-7 brought back has this writing on it-"

"Don't they all, Daniel?"

"... and it's a ... wow, you sounded just like Jack."

"It must be time for me to retire then," she said as she walked up to him. She fingered the sweater and said, "Was this supposed to fool me, Daniel?"

He scrunched up his face as he looked down at her hand. "Uh, why... Janet, what do you mean?"

"You do know that you're hopeless, right? But now that you're here, I guess I'll have better control over you... won't I?" she asked with a wicked grin on her face.

"Well, sure you will. See? I told you this would work out."

She gave a little shake of her head and said, "I'll be back before I head home, and I will be bringing you food and you will eat. Got it?"

He nodded. "Got it."

"Good."

As she walked out, he debated calling her on her late and long hours, but thought better of it. She'd probably decide to administer his vitamins via a shot in the ass.

Jack pulled the afghan up to Sara's neck. He'd let her sleep a bit longer before getting her up and getting her to bed. She'd actually sleep longer this way. After a final glance, he walked over to the phone and dialed Daniel's place. After the fifteenth ring, with no pick-up by the answering machine, he finally hung up. With his hand still on the receiver, he wondered if Daniel might have gone back to his place....

He dialed his number and when his own voice answered, he waited for the beep, then said, "Danny? You there? Pick up, if you are...."

Realizing how silly that sounded, he waited half a beat, then hung up. He checked his watch and scowled. It was after ten. Damn. He thought of calling Daniel again, on the off chance that he was sound asleep and hadn't heard the phone, but the idea that Daniel would be sound asleep convinced him not to call. On the other hand, he had to admit to some worry. He needed to know what was going on. He picked up the phone and dialed Carter. She had call-forwarding, so base or home, he'd reach her. Sure enough, after five rings, she answered.

//Carter.//

"Working late, are we?"

//Yes, sir. How... is everything?//

"Not good. How's... everything there?"

//We're really trying to figure out this device, sir. It apparently works a bit differently than we originally thought. And Daniel's working on something important enough to get Janet to allow him back on base.//

There was a slight pause, then....

//Are you all right, sir?//

"I'm fine. Tired. We've spent every day, until ten or so at night, with Mike. Sara's completely wasted and I'm worried about her. This isn't going to end well."

//No chance of recovery?//

"Quite frankly... no," he answered, lowering his voice.

//I'm so sorry, sir. If there's anything I ... or we... can do....//

"I know," he said softly. "And thanks, Carter, but right now, just take care of yourselves... and watch Daniel, okay?"

//Naturally, sir.//

He hung up somewhat mollified that Daniel was fine, working, and that the rest of his team would take care of him.

Daniel needed ... something. Not food - exactly, but something. A munchy. Yeah, he needed a munchy. He swiveled around in his chair and attacked his food drawer, only to find it completely devoid of anything. This was not good. Time to raid the rec room. He headed out.

The halls were silent, but he wasn't surprised. It was after midnight and the next shift change wasn't for another two hours. When he got to the lounge, it was empty, also not a surprise. He walked over to the candy machine, dug a few quarters out of his pocket, put them in, and punched in the appropriate codes that would deliver up one Reese's peanut butter cup, one Payday, and... one Baby Ruth. As each bar slid into the cup at the bottom of the machine, he stuffed them into his pocket, keeping out the Baby Ruth. He'd start with that. As he unpeeled the wrapping, he stared at the piano in the corner. He remembered the first time he'd seen it, what, six years ago? He'd been floored to find a musical instrument in a military facility. Jack had assured him that in officer lounges, it wasn't so unusual. Daniel had been equally floored to find that the lounge was an officer's lounge.

Now, as he stared at the piano, he decided to take a short break from the headache-producing translation and relax by playing a bit. He walked over, sat down, took a bite of the candy bar, set it down on the bench next to him, and chewing, he flexed his fingers. Before starting, he glanced out the door, and assured that he was entirely alone, he began to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.

Lieutenant Hastings heard the music and paused in the hallway. Hearing music wasn't all that usual, but when one did hear it, they heard rock, not... classical. Not Beethoven so beautifully played.

He turned the corner and headed toward the lounge. Along the way, he met up with Captain Morgan of SG-8. Salutes were exchanged, then Morgan said, "Who do you suppose is playing?"

Hastings shrugged, and the two men continued on to the lounge. They entered quietly, only to find they weren't alone in being drawn to the music. Seven other officers were scattered around the lounge - listening.

Morgan walked over to his SG-8 teammate, Captain Laura Reynolds, and perched on the end of the couch. Hastings leaned against the wall, content to listen from there, but still surprised at who was at the piano.

The bittersweet notes of Beethoven's work seemed to wrap themselves around every man and woman in the room, and for a few wise and discerning individuals, the music was a reflection of the man playing. A sadness seemed to flow from him in waves, and a few in the makeshift audience couldn't help but wonder why the famous Doctor Jackson would be sad. He was a hero several times over, and never more so than now. How was it possible that the man responsible for giving them the gift of 'Gate travel, and now of protecting Earth from Goa'uld attack, could radiate such incredible sorrow and melancholia.

Laura Reynolds, who'd worked with Daniel a few times, found tears springing to her eyes as she listened and watched him. It was obvious that the man didn't have a clue that he was no longer alone. He was so immersed in the mood and music that he saw nothing outside the black and white keys beneath his fingers.

God, how could anyone be so forlorn? So sad? Let alone one of the greatest men in the world? Hell, he was her hero, for crissake's. Okay, so sure, everyone on SG-1 were heroes, and the four member team commanded a respect unequaled in military history, but the civilian (Teal'c didn't count, being an alien warrior and all) on the famous team commanded a different kind of respect and admiration. For Laura and many others, Daniel was, as Colonel Jack O'Neill once said, "...our voice; our conscience."

The tears flowed freely as she continued to listen, and she noted she wasn't the only one crying.

All right, that qualified as the most embarrassing moment of his life. Daniel rubbed his eyes under his glasses and shook his head. How could he have been so oblivious to the fact that the lounge had filled while he'd been playing?

He was a total asshole.

The phone on the wall rang and without thinking, he got up to answer. Fortunately, reason returned. He went back to his chair. It was probably Janet - checking on him. If he answered, she'd berate him for still being at work and breaking his earlier promise that he'd be out of the mountain no later than midnight. If he didn't answer, maybe she'd go away, content that he'd heeded her words.

Or she'd check with the guards to see if he'd signed out.

He sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. His head was throbbing but he didn't want to face his apartment, let alone the drive home. He reached for some more aspirin, tossed back four, gulped down some cold coffee, and went back to work. But he knew he'd never live down the fact that twenty officers of the SGC had watched him playing the piano. When Jack got word - Daniel would pay.

Although, it wasn't as though Jack had never seen the piano sitting in his living room. He had to know that anyone who had one - played one. Right? Right.

Just not in front of hardened, seasoned military personnel.

He sighed and went back to the task of translating the urn.

Jack stood behind Sara, his hand resting reassuringly on her shoulder. The doctor's news was not good.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. O'Neill, but there is so little brain activity now, that basically, your father is... brain dead. I know this isn't what you want to hear, but, I believe it's time. For your father's sake, as well as yours."

Sara rested back against Jack and closed her eyes. Moisture leaked out from underneath her lids, and blindly, she reached back for Jack's hand. He took it.

His own emotions were so close to the surface that he was grateful Sara wasn't looking at him. This was too much like... too similar to....

Charlie.

"All right," Sara whispered, exactly as she had over seven years ago. It had been her strength that had allowed the machines to be turned off, thus allowing Charlie to leave them. And it was her strength that now freed her father.

The doctor, who'd been squatting in front of her, rose, nodded, and said, "You're doing the right thing, Mrs. O'Neill. Would you like to be there? Or to have a few moments with him before....?"

"Both."

"Then go ahead on in. I'll join you in, say, twenty minutes?"

She nodded tiredly, and with her hand still holding Jack's, she rose. "Thank you, Doctor Emerson. Thank you for everything."

He nodded and left the two of them alone. Slowly she made her way to her father's cubicle, Jack having no choice but to follow, his hand still captured by Sara's. Once inside, she let go, took her seat next to Mike's bed, and took his hand in hers. Resting it against her cheek, she said, "Dad, I never gave up, but I guess... you did. No, that's not right. You didn't give up, you just chose to move on, and I have to let you, don't I?"

She kissed the back of his hand and searched the ravaged face. "You've been everything to me since Charlie died, giving me your strength when I needed it most, and I can never thank you enough."

Jack's vision blurred at Sara's words, because he knew that he should have been her strength when they'd lost their son. He should have given her all that Mike had, and he should have been able to receive the same in return. But he'd been too deep within his own grief, had been only able to see the part he'd played in his son's death, to allow Sara in.

He wouldn't fail her this time.

At twelve fifteen, the doctor switched off the machine that had kept Mike's heart beating. Sara watched, as she'd watched another doctor do the same for her son seven years ago, and gradually, the green line... went straight. And as she'd done with Charlie, she dropped her head onto the bed and ... cried.

In a fit of anger, Daniel threw his pen across the room, then swept the books from his desk. He felt a surge of immense satisfaction as everything hit the floor. He was getting nowhere fast. Oh, he'd figured out that the words on the urn were not a derivative of Goa'uld, but rather someone's personal version of shorthand, but so far, he'd been unable to unlock the key that would help him decipher the code. He wouldn't have minded so much, except that one: he felt it was important, and two: it kept his thoughts at bay, and he badly needed to do that.

He got up with every intention of picking up the mess from the floor, but a bout of dizziness assailed him, and he had to grip the edge of the desk to keep from falling. He closed his eyes against the wavy lines that crossed his vision and the upheaval in his stomach.

It wasn't enough.

He lurched over to the sink and threw up the breakfast Janet's nurse had brought him that morning. He continued trying to empty the contents of his stomach long after there was nothing to empty. Exhaustion finally forced him to the floor. Sweating, he rested against the cupboard below the sink. This was a bad one.

Daniel tried to control his breathing, and after nearly five minutes, he succeeded and was able to make his way back to his desk and take one of the new migraine pills Janet had given him the night before. He swallowed it and prayed it would stay down. He took a few painful moments to clean up the sink before walking unsteadily over to the couch in the corner and dropping down. He'd rest for just a few minutes, then he'd get everything off the floor and pick up where he'd left off.

"No, Major Carter, I'm afraid the news isn't good. Colonel O'Neill's father-in-law passed away at noon today. He called an hour ago to let me know. As I understand it, the funeral is Saturday at one, at the Mountain View Cemetery."

Sam felt heartsick. "Sir, I think it would be appropriate if at least one member of his team attended?"

"I heartily approve, Major. And if you can make it possible for Teal'c to join you, you have my permission."

"Well, the hat's worked in the past. I'll let him know, and then drop by Daniel's office and give him the word as well. It would be nice if all three of us could attend. I think the colonel would appreciate it."

Hammond nodded, then dismissed her. He still needed to order the flowers to be sent to both the church and the cemetery.

"I shall be honored to attend this funeral for O'Neill's father-in-law."

"I thought you might, Teal'c. I'm going down to Daniel's office and let him know. I'm sure he'll want to attend as well."

"Allow me to tell him, Major? I know you are anxious to get back to work on the ring."

"Thank you, Teal'c."

"Have you made any headway?"

"Actually, we're at the point where we may need to run a few experiments. It's unbelievable that the shield has been able to shift continually in a way that not even our supercomputers can predict, but the question remains, will it shift based on the mode and method of attack?"

"What is planned to test this?"

"Well, right now, we're looking at two planets with no life signs that we could test the bomb theory on, and perhaps other tests as well. But I need to make sure that whatever we do, it does no harm to either planet or their ecosystems."

Teal'c nodded his understanding, then took his leave to inform DanielJackson of O'Neill's loss.

As he walked down the corridor, he once again found it odd that others were, in a way, reaping the benefit of DanielJackson's discovery. To his knowledge, no one had yet to congratulate nor thank the young archaeologist personally for his perseverance, hard work, and incredible success. Including him. He would endeavor to correct that oversight now.

He wasn't certain what had brought him back to awareness, but Daniel blinked in the muted light of his office and slowly sat up. He stretched a bit, moved his head around in an attempt to unkink the knotted muscles at his neck, and finally swung his legs over and stood. His headache was actually better, being nothing more than a faint ache behind his eyes. He checked his watch... he'd been asleep for a little over an hour. He stretched again, then walked over to the mess on the floor. Before he could bend over and retrieve any of it, his door opened and Teal'c stepped in.

"DanielJackson, I have brought disturbing news."

Frowning, Daniel turned. One look at Teal'c's eyes told him all he needed to know.

"Jack's father-in-law?" he nevertheless asked.

"I am afraid so. He is no longer of this Earth. There will be a ceremony in his honor on Saturday and Major Carter and I feel it would be appropriate if we, O'Neill's teammates, attended. Do you not agree?"

Daniel nodded dumbly, his mind still registering the fact that Sara's father was dead. He knew from his many talks with Jack when he'd first returned from Abydos, that Mike had been a good friend to Jack, and that after Charlie's death, he'd tried hard to break through to Jack.

"Could you, perhaps explain this thing called a funeral? I have seen a wake, but not a funeral."

Daniel looked up at the Jaffa and asked, "A wake? When did you-"

"There was a wake in your honor, DanielJackson. When we believed you to be dead."

"A wake? For me?" he asked, incredulous. He knew about the ceremony in the 'Gate room, but this?

"Indeed there was. I have a thorough knowledge of memorial services, and the ceremony honoring Shaur'e is very similar to the manner of honoring the dead on Chulak, but I suspect a Tauri funeral is vastly different."

"Not really, Teal'c. A person will speak of the departed, and others, family and friends, may also speak. Memories will be shared and that's about it. I've found that in many cultures, honoring the dead is done in very similar ways, Teal'c."

"I see." Teal'c noticed the papers and books on the floor and his eyebrow shot up. "DanielJackson, did you experience an accident?"

Daniel followed Teal'c's gaze, and quickly bent down to pick everything up. Teal'c helped him as Daniel said, "Uhm, no, not exactly. And thanks for the help."

They both straightened, arms full, and moved to the desk, where everything was put down. Teal'c looked at Daniel, concern easy to see in his brown eyes. "DanielJackson, are you well?"

"What? Oh, yeah, I'm fine, just fine. This damn translation has me stumped, is all."

"May I be of service? I feel that I have been neglectful in my duties as a friend, DanielJackson."

Daniel had been rearranging his papers, but at Teal'c's words, he stopped. "Teal'c, there are no duties to being a friend. It's not a job."

"It may not be a job, but to keep a friendship alive, one must work at it, much as Major Carter works with her plants. I have failed at nurturing our friendship, Daniel."

He didn't miss the fact that Teal'c had finished by using only his first name. Daniel sat down and looked up at his friend. "Well, if you have failed to nurture this friendship, then so have I, Teal'c."

"I disagree. You have come to me often and offered your help, your time, and your words of comfort. In the last several weeks, I have failed to give you any of the same. I have even failed to both thank you, and congratulate you for being successful in the discovery of the device to protect us all from Anubis. Your knowledge, abilities, perseverance, skills and courage should not go unrewarded or unappreciated. We are all in your debt."

Daniel was so shocked, he could only stare at his friend, mouth hanging open.

"I have surprised you, DanielJackson?"

Slowly he closed his mouth and shook his head. He could feel emotions welling up and a burning sensation behind his eyes. Unwilling to allow Teal'c to see any weakness, he quickly stood and moved over to the sink. Once there, he realized he had nothing to do, so he grabbed a mug and began to wash it.

"I am sorry if I have disturbed you, my friend."

Swallowing hard, Daniel said, his voice rough with emotion, "You haven't, Teal'c. And... thank... you."

Sensing that there was more going on than his simple words could have produced, Teal'c walked over and sat down. He waited patiently, understanding that Daniel needed time. He fully intended to remain here, to aid his young friend in any manner required.

Jack checked his tie, and satisfied, he turned out the light in the bathroom and headed downstairs.

It had been a very rough night, and neither he nor Sara had slept more than a couple of hours. He was very grateful that Mike had made all the arrangements for his funeral several years ago, when his beloved Amy had died.

They'd both managed to avoid talking about Charlie, and that had necessitated not really talking about Mike, because if they talked about Mike, they'd have to talk about Charlie. As he stepped into the living room, he realized that he desperately needed a drink. He backtracked a bit and went into the kitchen, where he grabbed a beer from the fridge - one of Mike's beers. He twisted off the top and drank some, then thought of the two rooms upstairs.

Mike's and Charlie's.

He wondered if Sara would leave Mike's room alone, for as long as she'd left Charlie's. The doorbell rang and he walked out to answer it, wondering if it was another neighbor with yet another casserole.

It wasn't. It was the limo driver from the cemetery.

The ride to Mountain View was quiet, but Sara never let go of Jack's hand. One of Mike's wishes had been that there be no church ceremony, only a small gathering at the gravesite. There would be, according to Sara, maybe fifty people in attendance. For all of that, Jack was again grateful. He remembered the long funeral procession from the church to the cemetery for Charlie and he remembered the number of children in attendance. Several boys and their families from Charlie's little league team, as well as neighbor friends of Charlie's and finally, several classmates. Jack supposed that the most telling thing of all - had been the complete absence of the Air Force. Jack hadn't told anyone, not even his commanding officer. Of course, later it had gotten out, thanks to a reporter from the Colorado Springs Sentinel. But by then, Jack was already on leave. A leave that had turned into something more permanent - until the day two Air Force captains had shown up with a message recalled him to active duty for the something they would later call the Stargate Program.

The car turned into the long drive that would take them to the plot chosen by Mike and his wife so long ago. A plot that included a spot for Sara, her husband... and her children.

"Do you believe in an afterlife, Jack?"

Caught unaware, Jack said, "What?"

"An afterlife."

Sara was staring at the expanse of green lawn as they drove slowly through the cemetery and her voice sounded odd. He tightened his fingers around hers and said, "Yes, I do, honey."

"Then dad and Charlie are together, and Charlie isn't alone anymore."

Jack closed his eyes. "No, honey, he's not alone anymore."

They were in one of the black Air Force cars, and after giving the name of the deceased at the front gate, they were given a map that would direct them to the site. Teal'c sat in the front with Sam, who was driving, and Daniel sat in the back. In spite of the dark and cloudy day, he was wearing sunglasses. He and Teal'c had been up late, but miraculously, had made some headway in the translation. With Teal'c's support, Daniel had finally been able to concentrate enough to find the key to breaking the code. He figured that by tomorrow, he'd have everything translated. Unfortunately, his headache had returned, thus the reason for the glasses.

"I believe you turn here, Major Carter."

Sam nodded and made the turn. They could see the cars lined up ahead of them, and they could see the mound of dirt hidden by the green 'blanket', as well as a line of white chairs. There were thirty or so people milling about, all wearing dark clothing, but Daniel didn't see Jack yet.

As if reading his mind, Sam asked, "Can you see him, Teal'c?"

"Yes, as he is the only one in a uniform, Major Carter."

Daniel tried to spot the dress blues, but his vision wasn't so hot, so he gave up. Sam parked and all three of them got out and began to make their way up the small hill to the site. They stopped by a set of three trees that left them a part of the group of mourners, yet unobtrusively so, in spite of Sam's uniform. They only had to stand a few minutes before the ceremony started.

Jack was now clearly visible, looking dignified in his dress blues as he stood behind Sara, one hand on her shoulder. Sara was seated in front of the flower-draped coffin, head bowed as the minister began to speak.

From their location, Daniel could hear the man easily but his concentration was less on the words and more on Jack. Daniel knew this had to be hard on him, and neither he, nor Sam and Teal'c had failed to notice the small gravestone to the right of where the minister now stood. A gravestone that read simply, "Charles Jonathan O'Neill - Beloved son of Sara and Jack - b. June 4, 1988 - d. April 12, 1996".

The long hours of waiting and sitting at the hospital had to have been a nightmare for Jack, and Daniel had no doubt that he'd spent any time not directly comforting Sara by reliving the hours and days following Charlie's injury and death. Daniel would have liked to have been there for Jack, the way Jack had been, and continued to be there, for Sara, but he'd have to content himself with his presence, here, at the cemetery.

Jack listened, and remembered another funeral. He glanced away from the coffin, and spotted his teammates... and Daniel. They'd come. He inclined his head slightly in their direction, and received a smile from Carter, a matching nod from Teal'c, and a typical, but subtle finger wave from Daniel. God, he missed them - missed Daniel.

The ceremony ended and Sara walked up to the coffin, touched it lightly, then set a photograph on the lid, followed by a small stuffed animal. She stood a moment, then seemed to almost collapse. Jack caught her, and with his arms around her, he led her back to the chair. As the other mourners made their way to the coffin, to touch it, or lay flowers upon it, Jack knelt in front of Sara and talked softly.

Eventually Sara seemed to calm, and gradually, the people gathered around her to offer their condolences, share memories, or talk quietly. Jack chose that moment to make his way over to his team. As he approached them, he took off his sunglasses and smiled tiredly.

"I didn't really expect you guys, so thank you for being here."

"It is an honor, O'Neill. Are you well?"

Jack shrugged noncommittally and said, "How are things at home? Carter, you making any headway on our new defensive edge over the Goa'uld?"

"Things are quiet, sir, and yes, and no. We're learning more every day, though."

He smiled at her politically correct answer, then looked at Daniel. "How you doing? Janet off your back?"

"I'm fine, and we're the last people you need to be worrying about right now, Jack," Daniel answered softly.

"He's correct, O'Neill. We shall take 'care of business' while you do the same here."

"Wow, Teal'c, you actually got it right," O'Neill said with a grin.

Teal'c simply stared back at him in that implacable manner of his, but Jack was no longer fooled by it. There were always telltale signs of the Jaffa's humor, and Jack was seeing a couple of them now. He really loved these guys. One in a completely different, more all-encompassing way. He looked back at Daniel, his gaze softening. "I really miss you... guys," he said, hoping his meaning would be understood by Daniel.

"How much longer do you feel you'll be... gone, sir?"

"I'm not sure, Carter. There are quite a few legal issues to settle and Sara isn't going to be in any way prepared to dive into them, so I'm figuring... maybe another week."

"We will survive, O'Neill."

"I'm sure you will, and Teal'c, I expect you to make sure of that," Jack teasingly ordered.

Teal'c gave him a slight bow. "I shall endeavor to do my best."

Jack looked to Daniel again and asked, "Daniel, can I speak-"

"Honey? The Marshalls want to say good-bye." Sara came up to Jack and took his arm.

She smiled at all of them as Jack said, "Sara, you remember Major Carter, don't you?"

Sara held out her hand, palm down, and when Sam slipped hers beneath, Sara gripped it hard and said, "Of course. And thank you so much for coming, Major."

Sam nodded and said, "If there's anything we, any of us, can do, please don't hesitate to let us know."

"I will. I could always count on the Air Force in times of trouble."

There was nothing in her voice to contradict her words, but the glance she shot Jack said something vastly different. Jack ignored it and said, "And this is... Murray, a special consultant working with me at Cheyenne Mountain."

Fortunately, Sara didn't notice the lack of a full name. She shook hands with Teal'c, who bowed formally and repeated much of what Sam had said.

"And of course, you remember Daniel?"

Sara smiled softly and nodded. "I hope you weren't too inconvenienced that day? Jack mentioned that he'd given you a ride."

"It was no problem. Buses are my friend," Daniel said with a grin.

"They have to be with that clunker of yours, Daniel."

Daniel waved a dismissive hand at Jack. "Yeah, yeah."

Sara grinned, but at the same time, gave Jack's arm a slight tug. He glanced down at her, then back to his team and said, "Thanks again for coming, guys."

For a moment, it almost seemed as though he'd hang back, his body swaying toward his teammates, but then he and Sara were walking away from them. Sam moved so that she now faced Teal'c and Daniel.

"Well, guys? Anyone for lunch?"

"There will be no wake then?" Teal'c asked.

"No, Teal'c, no wake," Daniel answered as he took Sam's arm and started down the gentle sloping hill to the car.

Jack unlocked the door and escorted Sara inside. He took her coat and hung it up, then added his own, after dropping his hat on the hall table. He was seriously glad that Sara had opted not to have any kind of get together here at the home. Mike had left his job and his home after Charlie had died, and Jack had been recalled, to be with his daughter. He'd retired early and moved in with Sara, so the fact was, most of his friends were back in Boston. And since Sara's friends had been dropping by for days, leaving food, calling, making sure she was all right, it had seemed unnecessary to have some kind of gathering after the burial.

By the look of Sara, a good stiff drink and Jack could put her to bed, which would allow him to work on getting a start with Mike's effects and will. As he made her an Irish coffee, he thought back the funeral and his teammates. He smiled slightly, then frowned. Daniel hadn't looked all that great, and what had been going on with sunglasses? His team had been standing in the shade, yet....

"Jack?"

Sara's voice brought him back to the present and he turned. "Go back and sit down, Sara. I'm fixing us both something hot and strong. I'll join you in a moment."

She sat down at the kitchen table and put her face in her hands. Jack quickly poured the coffee into the mugs, the whiskey already in them. He decided against whipped cream and simply carried them over and set them down. He took a chair and pulled it out, then sat down. He pushed one of the mugs toward Sara, pulled her hands away, wrapped one of them around the warm mug, and said softly, "Drink up."

She nodded, brought the drink up, and sipped lightly. "I'm so tired," she said as she put it back down again.

"In a few minutes, I'll get you to bed and you can sleep, honey."

Sara looked at him then, and smiled a sad, half-smile. "You've been so good, Jack, through all of this. Thank you." She reached over and covered his hand with her own. "Thank you," she whispered.

It had been four days since the funeral and Daniel sat hunched over the photos of the urn, the real thing sitting a couple of inches from his hand. It was amazing how much had been painstakingly placed on the ancient urn. There were pages of text already completed, with much of it a kind of history, but the other part of it was a story that hinted at something incredible. Daniel's suspicions had started to grow halfway through his work, and now, as he found himself coming down to the finish line, his amazement grew.

"Daniel, it's after ten," a stern voice announced from his doorway.

"You know," he said without looking up, "I thought Jack was the only one who could announce the time so professionally. Guess I was wrong."

Janet walked over to his desk. She didn't say anything, just stood there, allowing her personality to do all the talking for her. Daniel had no choice, she was too strong for him. He put his pen down and looked up.

"Hi, Janet."

"You look like hell, Daniel. And that would be the hell in hell."

"I'm almost done, and then I'll get this off to the General, and go home. I swear."

"Does it strike you odd that a man your age shouldn't need me to police you?"

Daniel felt a prick of resentment at that, and frowning, said, "Does it strike you odd that you think I need policing? I am a grown man, as you pointed out, I'm not going through the 'Gate, no one's life depends on me, I'm not bothering anyone, I'm not military, I have no one under my command, and this is how I always work, have always worked, will always work."

Janet blinked at him, but before she could say anything, he went on.

"If I want to work twenty-four hours in a row, I will. If I want to exist on coffee, candy bars, and soup, I will. It's my job, my life, and again, no one's life depends on me. No one's." He held up the urn and added angrily, "Do you think anyone cares what's on this, but me?" He put it down and jerked a hand at his surroundings, "Do you think anyone cares about any of this but me? But it's what I do, it's the only thing to do for me at the SGC, so I do it, and I love it, and what, I should go home and wander around wishing I were back here doing this? You think I'll go to sleep at home until I finish this? You think-"

"Daniel, stop," Janet said gently.

"... that I - what?"

"I said, stop."

Surprised, Daniel stopped, caught his breath, and let it out as though he'd been pierced.

He pulled off his glasses and set them down, then said, "I... I'm sorry. You didn't deserve that, Janet. I'm so... sorry." He cringed inwardly at the obvious catch his voice.

"Don't be, Daniel. You're absolutely right, other than the fact that I'm here not just as a physician, but as someone who cares a great deal about you." She sat down and took his hand. "Daniel, it's not just the hours you've been working lately, or the state of your current health, which could certainly be better. It's the fact that something is wrong, and it's like... you're ... as though you just don't care anymore. About yourself, I mean. The migraines are a strong indicator of the stress and emotions you're denying, and you know it. You haven't reacted like this since ... Shaur'e died, and you know that too. You buried yourself in work then, just as you're doing now. Just as-"

"Just as I always do, no matter what," Daniel finished for her.

"No, Daniel, not the same at all. When Colonel O'Neill and Sam were trapped, you immersed yourself in the problem, but it was with a specific goal. You risked your own health, yes, but there was a definite purpose behind your almost manic behavior." She noticed the raised eyebrow at her choice of the word 'manic', and she smiled slightly. "Yes, Daniel, I did mean manic. That's how you can get when you're chewing on a bone - for others. But again, this is different. There's no real bone this time." She pointed at the urn and said, "Those translations could easily wait, or be worked on in the normal Daniel manner, but you're hiding from something this time, and burying a hurt in all of this work. You're not caring enough about yourself to take care of your health, and that is my concern, as your very good friend."

Daniel looked down at their hands, fingers entwined. He sighed deeply, a gut wrenching sound, then spoke so softly, Janet had to strain to hear him.

"If I am... hiding or burying myself, then so be it. I'll have to work through this one myself, as I've always had to. And as I've always done, I'll succeed. I'm grateful for your concern, Janet. In fact, you'll never know how grateful, but-"

"But - stay out of it?" she interjected with a smile.

"Kind of, yeah."

Rubbing the top of his hand with her thumb, she said, "I don't think you have a complete grasp of friendships. You know how to be a good friend, one of the best, but you're sorely lacking in how to let others be a good friend to you."

Daniel didn't know what to say, so he said nothing.

"Aw, God, Daniel," Janet whispered as she dropped her head a bit. She finally glanced back up and said with pleading eyes, "Will you go home and get some rest?"

Daniel was choking up and found that he couldn't immediately answer. He swallowed a couple of times, then said in a suspiciously rough voice, "If... I can't finish in the hour, yes, I promise you, I will go home. I'll even set my timer, okay?"

Knowing what that concession cost him, she smiled in relief and said, "No, I'll set the timer for you." With that, she reached behind her and took the little clock off the shelf. She set it for one hour exactly and set it down next to the urn. "There. One hour."

Janet got up, leaned over, and kissed him on the cheek. "And remember, if you need someone to just... listen... you know, where I am."

"Thanks again, Janet."

She turned and walked out, shutting the door behind her. Daniel sighed, and finally rested his arms on the table, then cradled his head on them.

How do you tell a friend, a military friend, that you're afraid that the person you love is a man who just happens to be a colonel in the United States Air Force? And that even though it seemed that your dream was about to come true, it now appeared as though the love of your life would end up back with his ex-wife and you had no where to go, and no one to... be?

Daniel had six minutes on the timer when the last of translation fell into place. For a moment, a long, breathless moment, he couldn't grasp what he'd translated. He sat, immobile, eyes wide, mouth dry, heart pounding as he read the words he'd just scribbled on the yellow paper.

My God, he thought. My God. This was... this was ....

He grabbed the papers in his hands, pushed away from the desk, and literally ran out of his office. He ran down the halls, bumping, bobbing, and weaving his way to the elevator. Once there, he slid his card down the slot and waited impatiently for the damn thing to get to his floor. He almost jogged in place and he scowled at the numbers. When it finally opened, he jumped in, hit 28, and with foot tapping an urgent melody, he watched numbers as the car took him down. The elevator had barely opened when he slid out sideways, and on the run, headed for the General's office.

General Hammond locked his drawers, pocketed the key and stood up. Time to head home. He was reaching for his hat when he caught a glimpse of Doctor Jackson, a glimpse that solidified as the young man skidded to a halt outside his door.

"Sir? Oh, you're... you were just leaving?"

"I was-am. Is this something that can wait until tomorrow, Doctor?"

Daniel looked down at the floor, all the energy oozing out of him, leaving him nodding and mumbling so low Hammond couldn't catch but every second or third word. And just like that, he was transported back in time to the Daniel of six years ago. He expelled a breath and said as he sat back down, "No, obviously it can't. You wouldn't be here now if this weren't important. What is it, Daniel?"

The use of his first name almost sent him to the floor. As it was, he had to reach back and grab one of the General's chairs. He sank down and realized just how late it was.

"Daniel?"

The one word, spoken softly, brought his gaze back up. The pale blue eyes that met his were so full of expectation, trust and faith that he shook his head in disbelief. Finally he placed the folder on Hammond's desk and said, "The urn, sir. I... I've finished the translation and it would appear that the people who once inhabited P3Y-265 were... okay, let me back up a bit. The city where we found the ring, in Bolivia?"

General Hammond nodded, a small smile turning up the edges of his mouth. "I'm fully aware of that, yes. However, I would correct one thing. We did not find the ring, Daniel, you did."

Daniel blinked rapidly and felt his face heat up. He knew he must be doing a fine imitation of a cooked lobster. He shook his head again, more to clear away the weirdness than anything else, and said, "Yes, well. I need to give you some background here, sir, if you don't mind?"

General Hammond smiled broadly and said, "I look forward to it, Daniel."

Daniel frowned and considered pod people. He scratched his cheek and said, "Could you... are you aware that you've called me 'Daniel' several times now, sir?"

"That is your first name."

Eyes wide, he nodded. "Yes, yes, it is, of course... but you've never... of course, it's technically after hours, but still, you've never...."

His voice trailed off and he found himself checking out his shoes.

"I've always preferred to use your title, Daniel, for the simple reason that you deserved the respect attached to it. But there are many times when use of the first name also shows great respect, as well as friendship."

"Oh."

Funny, that was all he could think of to say. Pod people were becoming a greater possibility with every passing moment. Only question left was whether it was General Hammond or himself who'd been 'podded'.

"So, the history lesson?"

"Oh... right. Yes. Well, Tiahuanaco-"

"Tiahuanaco?"

"That's what it's called. It means City of the White Men. It actually predates the Mayans and has a history steeped in the mystery surrounding the question of who built the city. The legends say that a group of white men with beards constructed the city led by a man they called Viracocha. This Viracocha gave the inhabitants rules to live by, spoke lovingly to them, taught kindness, and admonished them when they weren't kind to one another. Sound familiar?"

Hammond sat forward. "Very. I can't believe I've never heard of this city until you traveled to Bolivia."

"Well, it gets more interesting. There are similar stories within the legends of both the Mayans and the Aztecs. Viracocha was called Quetzalcoatl by the Aztecs, and Kukulcan by the Mayans. All of which leaves the burning question in the minds of scientists all over the world of how white men arrived in Bolivia and Peru long before the Spanish. Archaeologists long ago estimated that Tiahuanaco was founded around 200 A.D., so if the legends are true, who were the men in beards? Some have theorized that they could have been Phoenician, then there are the wilder theories such as visits by the Cretans or the Greeks. Some even theorized that Irish monks crossed the Atlantic and others that it was the Egyptians-"

"Wait, why does that ring a bell? The Egyptians?"

Daniel smiled and said, "Thor Heyerdahl, sir?"

Hammond snapped his fingers. "Of course. The whole boat of reeds, sailing across the ocean to prove that the Egyptians could have done it, right?"

"Yes, sir," Daniel acknowledged, his grin widening.

His energy returning, he stood up and began to pace as Hammond said, "But we now know that the men with the beards were the Ancients, correct?"

Daniel stopped and said with a strange smile, "Yes... and no. Based on the paintings in the caverns in Bolivia, the ring was hidden by the Ancients as we met them on Kheb. But Tiahuanaco was built by the Ancients in their infancy of space travel, in fact, by a sect called Cymru. Now here's the thing; the Cymru never went home again. They were not a part of the plague, sir."

He let that information sink in, waited to see if Hammond would catch the possible significance, and when the older man's eyes widened, Daniel nodded. "Yes, sir. If they weren't there at the time of the plague, then they're still out there."

Hammond nodded slowly, then sat back and asked, "How does this relate to P3Y-265?"

"The Cymru built the cities on P3Y-265, then they saved a people called the Johte, from the Goa'uld, and took them to P3Y-265. Unfortunately, based on the writings, the Johte destroyed themselves after an huge division left them at war for three generations."

Daniel stopped when he saw something flicker across Hammond's face. He waited, a small frown on his face. Finally Hammond said, "So all of this boils down to a race out there, one of the original four, not ascended, that could be allied with us?"

Daniel caught the shaded disappointment in the General's voice, and said, "Uhm, it's more than that, sir. Much more. Aumstu, the religious leader who created the urn, told of his attempts to find the Cymru, via the Stargate, in order to save his world. He was already fatally ill, thanks to what was basically a biological weapon unleashed by the other side. He failed to find them in time to save his world, but he did locate them."

He started pacing again, his fingers rubbing at his temple as he said, "They were, themselves, in a battle with a Goa'uld we've come to know better than we'd like, namely Anubis. Aumstu witnessed the battle, and he witnessed the fall of two Cymru who sacrificed themselves so their comrades could move innocents out of harms way." Daniel walked over to the desk, took a sheet of paper out of the folder in front of Hammond and began to read.

"I cannot express in mere words what I next witnessed. The fallen saviors were enveloped by a great light, brighter than any seen by this poor Johte. I watched their bodies disappear before my jaundiced eyes, only to become as bright a beacon. At the moment of their rising, the great rings of the Goa'uld pierced them. The beams seemed to explode outward, then gather back to form one funnel of silver that shot up into the sky. When the rings hit the earth and blinked away, there, on the ground, lay only a gold uniform."

Daniel looked up and captured Hammond's gaze. After a heartbeat, Daniel went back to reading.

"The soldiers of the Goa'uld scattered in the face of the power of the Cymru and the battle was over. Several of our saviors walked to the golden suit, and I watched as they looked to the sky. Dark clouds began to gather with a speed I could not comprehend. They billowed, thundered and swirled in what had once been blue skies. They seemed to scream a holy anger before a great rift appeared. For a moment, I held my breath, and hidden from the Cymru, I witnessed a violent ball of light shoot from the sky and hit the ground. The sight would have stayed with me all the rest of my days, had I any left to count. I hurry even now to get these words down in a manner not easily found or understood before I take my final breath.

"The ball of light hit and the Cymru stepped back and away. I watched them ignore that which lay before them as they gathered the people they had struggled to free from the false gods. One approached me, his face sad. 'I know you, Aumstu, and I fear we are too late to save your world. Even now the last fade to nothing. We are most sorry. Do you wish us to return you, Aumstu?' I nodded, knowing that I must end my days with my people and put into writing, all that I had seen. The savior nodded and said, 'Rest, we shall return for you in less time than you can imagine.' With that, he and the others were gone. But all was not silent. As I attempted to close my eyes, to vanquish the pain of my impending death, a sound sent swirls of fear throughout me. I managed to stand, and there, in the spot where the great ball of light had landed, a molten shape now rested. It moved in many directions at one time, seeming to form itself into -- even now, I find difficulty writing this - a body. Half alight with energy, dark and deep and horrifying, it stood on what could only be called legs. Arms separated from the mass, and then a head and face that was not. I shuddered at the visage before me and if I had not already been dying, surely looking upon such a face would have dealt me a fatal blow. It stood in its entirety now, naked and vulnerable. It raised its face to the sky and the sound that emanated from deep within its - I can not say soul, for I was looking up at a soulless being - center and the cry of hate and frustration tore through me to leave me weak. I collapsed, but was able to witness the creature walk to one of the Goa'uld ships, and moments later - it took off."

Daniel stopped, rubbed his head, then with shaking legs, sat back down. Hammond quickly rose, turned to the credenza behind him and, from the refrigerator contained within, he took out a bottled water, uncapped it, walked around to Daniel, and placed it in his trembling hand.

"You're not well, Daniel. Another headache?"

Daniel nodded as he took a healthy swallow of the cold water. He withdrew a packet from his pocket, and Hammond, seeing the shaking fingers, took it from him, tore it open and shook the small pill into Daniel's hand. He watched him toss it back and follow it with more water.

"I apologize, sir," Daniel said quietly.

"No need, Daniel. No need. I will admit that I had to bring myself back to the present thanks to being so engrossed in Aumstu's story." He perched on the edge of his desk and asked, "What exactly did he see?"

Eyes closed, Daniel said, "If I'm right - it was Anubis. He was caught in the ascension, whether on purpose, I don't know. But I suspect - yes. Once," his hand made an airy move upward, "they realized what happened, they sent him down, but something went wrong. Anubis is, I believe, half ascended. A half-ascended being."

"That's how he knew about the Eyes, then."

Daniel nodded. "He has the knowledge, or at least some knowledge, of the Ancients, which makes him very dangerous, sir. He's spent this time learning to master what power of the Others that he retained, and when strong enough, he finally made his move."

"So in spite of our new defense, he still poses a serious threat," Hammond mused almost to himself.

"Uh, well, I think... here," he picked up the papers again, "let me finish-"

Hammond took the papers from his hand. "Why don't you rest and this time, I'll read. All right? I'm not too thrilled with the idea of further upsetting Nappy."

Daniel cocked his head questioningly.

Smiling, Hammond said, "Doctor Frasier. I heard Jack call her Nappy once and the nickname stuck."

"Ah. I get it."

Hammond gave the papers a little shake, and started reading aloud.

"The Cymru returned as promised and I was carried back through the 'Gate to my home, where I now rest. They offered me life, but I refused. I shall rest for all eternity with those I failed. I begged them to leave me, and seeing my truest desires, they agreed. But as my tale comes to a close, I find I must add one last event. In believing that I had documented all that has happened, I placed the urn on a shelf where none would come upon it thinking it more than a sign of décor, and lay upon my bed to await the end. As I drifted between the light and the dark, a wondrous vision came to me. A woman, bathed in the glow of silvery light, rose above me and held out her hand. She uttered not a word, but I knew instinctively that what rested in the soft ethereal palm had to be described for the one who would find it. That the creature whose birth I'd witnessed, the thing that should be consigned to the depths of Diells with the demons of Piknu, would be destroyed by that which she held. This I have done. May I now rest with my people, at peace at last."

Hammond put the papers down and rubbed his eyes. The last of Amustu's words clung to him and for the first time in his life, he understood men like Daniel. Men who sought to know the past, to learn of ancient cultures and languages. To be brought so close to a world long gone, to a people that no longer existed, was almost like touching the face of God. He was humbled.

"Sir, in the folder you'll find another sheet of paper. I drew a likeness of what Amustu described."

Lifting his head, Hammond reached back and brought the folder forward. He flipped it open - and his jaw dropped.

"It's the small device - the key to the ring that you found in Bolivia."

"Yes, sir," Daniel said, exhaustion coloring his voice.

The import of what it all meant hit Hammond then, and he had to sit down.

They had the weapon that could destroy Anubis, a half-ascended being.

"Well, I'll be damned," Hammond said softly.

Jack tried to move his arm, but something was weighing it down. He cracked open one eye, and found himself staring at a mass of hair - Sara's hair. He turned his head the other way and by squinting, could just make out the time: eleven-thirty. Now he remembered - Sara had experienced a nightmare and he'd rushed into her room to calm her. He'd ended up sitting on her bed and trying to get her back to sleep. He obviously had fallen asleep as well.

Okay, time to pry himself out from under....

"J'ck?"

"Ssh, it's okay, Sara, go back to sleep."

She rolled over, which had the advantage of freeing his arm, and he sat up. Rubbing his face, he said, "It's late, go back to sleep."

Yawning, she hauled herself up and rested against the backboard. "God, I feel... hung over."

"I know, but it'll pass, you know that," he said gently.

She reached over and turned on the light, then blinked owlishly. "You look awful, Jack."

He grinned. "Thanks."

"No, you do. You need sleep."

"Ya think?"

She gave a low throaty laugh and took his hand. Holding it steadily, she said, "In spite of everything, these last few days have been oddly good. We're getting to know one another again, and I like that." She glanced down at his hand in hers, squeezed it, and said, "Jack, I'm not going to say that it's been like before, because, of course, it hasn't. But - I like this new you." Her voice lowered. "I like this new you, very much."

Feeling very uncomfortable, Jack said rather lamely, "Thanks?"

She laughed outright at that and said, "I think... I think we could try again, Jack. We're both different now, and I think it could work." She tilted her head as if studying him, and added, "You really are different. More - now don't take this wrong, but you're more nuturing, you're funnier, more relaxed... do you think there's a chance for us now?"

Feeling as though he were standing in the middle of quicksand, Jack struggled to find words - any words - to get himself out. Two came to mind immediately, but throwing Daniel Jackson into the mix at the moment seemed tasteless at best. He decided to use two other equally true words.

"Air Force, Sara. I'm still in the Air Force."

"I understand that, but you retired once, you could retire again and we could do all that we used to love talking about doing when retirement came. Travel the world, spend time in Minnesota at the cabin, do it all, Jack."

Slowly he pulled his hand away and stood up. Facing her, he said, "Sara, I can't explain it, but I'm in the middle of the biggest project of my life and I want to see it through to the end. You were caught up in it briefly, remember?"

Puzzled, Sara nodded slowly.

"Retirement isn't in the cards just yet," he finished with an expelled breath.

"I see. All right, so the retirement doesn't come right away and I become a military wife again. I could-"

"Sara, no, you couldn't. You deserve a husband who puts you first and that wouldn't be me. My hours are nothing you could live with, I'm off wor-out of the country for days on end and when I'm back, I spend all my time at Cheyenne Mountain. You deserve a helluva lot more - hell, you deserve it all, but that's not me."

Sara got up and quickly put on her robe. She tied it and walked to the window. Arms crossed protectively over her chest, she asked, "There's someone else, isn't there, Jack? You've found someone."

"Sara-"

"The truth, Jack. Now of all times."

He sighed, considered walking over to her, but decided distance was safer, and said, "Yes, Sara, there is someone else."

She nodded thoughtfully and asked, "More important than the Air Force and this big project?"

Without any hesitation, he said simply, "Yes."

"You'd retire for this person then."

"Yes."

She turned to face him and he was surprised by how calm and almost serene she looked. She smiled slightly and said, "Anyone I know?"

"Does it really matter?"

Sara had always known him well - not understood him - but known him. She was staring hard at him now and he could see the precise moment it hit her.

"My God. It's... him, isn't it? The young man, Daniel, wasn't it?"

There was nothing he could do or say. He shrugged.

Sara walked over to the bed and sat down - hard. "My God. My God. I - I-"

"Sara, don't start questioning our marriage. I loved you, was in love with you, and wouldn't trade our years for anything. You need to believe that."

"Before us, were there - were there - other, you know - men?"

"Long before, Sara-"

She turned her head and looked at him over her shoulder. "And after? After we made it final? That year before you were recalled the second time?"

"I was still in love with you then."

"Were.there.men?"

There had been. A large part of his heart had been placed in the deep freeze at their divorce, but his need for connection, and the nights on his rooftop thinking of a young archaeologist in glasses had driven him to men. But he didn't need to share that with his ex-wife, the woman he'd loved deeply for so many years. And he could lie when needed.

"No, Sara, there weren't."

The relief in her eyes and body language told him he'd done the right thing.

"Go to bed, Jack. We'll talk in the morning, all right?"

Her voice sounded calm, her body language accepting. He reached over the bed, clasped her shoulder a moment, then said softly, "Good night, Sara."

She nodded and he walked out, closing the door behind him. Walking down the hall, he paused in front of Charlie's room, hesitated a moment, then opened the door and walked in. He sat down on the bed, picked up a small fighter plane that sat on the nightstand, and held it as he looked around.

He'd been up here all those years ago when two Air Force men changed his life. No, that was wrong. They'd only started him on the path that would lead to the change. Funny how sitting here in Charlie's room now brought forth a memory of the moment he'd been led to the SGC.

And Daniel.

He put the plane down, got up and walked to the dresser. He lovingly touched the photos of Charlie in his baseball uniform, of Charlie and the two people who'd been his parents, and slowly, Colonel Jonathon 'Jack' O'Neill smiled. A gentle, loving smile.

"Good bye, Charlie. I love you."

Jack walked out of the room and closed the door softly behind him.

Daniel was truly exhausted. He knew he was in the general's office, but if asked to describe it, he'd have failed. He could hear Hammond's voice and thought he'd better look up just in case the man was talking to him and not on the phone.

No phone. He guessed that meant Hammond was talking to him.

"Sir?" he mumbled apologetically.

"Daniel?"

Boy, had he moved? Hammond's voice sounded so far away. He blinked and cocked his head, and that was his undoing. The room started spinning, lights fractured, he tried to stand, saw a very large face looming in front of him, then he was falling... and hitting something hard, and the lights went out.

Hammond shook his head at the thought that not only was there a half-ascended being out there, but that, in all likelihood, they had the weapon that could destroy him. He looked over at Daniel - and frowned. The younger man looked terrible. Leaning forward, he said, worried, "Daniel?"

Bleary eyes looked back at him as Daniel mumbled a nearly incoherent, "Sir?"

Hammond shot up and hurried around his desk as he asked again, "Daniel?"

He almost made it in time. Daniel seemed to blink up at him, then tried to stand, but his knees never even had the chance to straighten before he was pitching sideways and out of the chair. He hit the floor as Hammond's hand brushed against his arm.

"God," Hammond muttered, one hand trying to cushion Daniel's head, the other reaching up for the phone.

"I should let the colonel know," Sam murmured from her seat just outside the Infirmary.

"Would that be wise?" Teal'c asked.

"What do you mean?"

"His hands are complete, are they not? Perhaps until we know more, we should wait?"

Sam puzzled over the 'complete', then smiled. "You mean 'full'. His hands are full. And maybe you're right. We'll wait."

Inside, Hammond stood a few feet from where Janet and her crew were working. He was itching to ask how Daniel was, but held back, knowing full well she'd let him know everything as soon as she had the answers. He gave brief thought to calling Colonel O'Neill, but until he knew something definitive....

Jack walked downstairs, and thanks to the smells emanating from the kitchen, he headed in that direction. Sara was at the counter, her back to him. She was already dressed, and considering that it was only nine, he had to assume she'd been up for quite awhile.

"Morning," he said as he reached for a cup. Taking it over to the automatic coffee maker, he poured, then took a seat at the kitchen table. "You were up early," he commented after taking a sip.

"I had a great deal to do. Give me another forty seconds or so, and you'll have waffles."

He sniffed appreciatively and asked, "What made you-"

"Seemed a fitting last meal for us. They were always your favorite."

He frowned at her tone and started to get up, but she must have been using the eyes in the back of her head because she waved a fork in the air and said, "Stay there, they're almost ready. I did put the syrup on the table, didn't I?"

Sitting back down, he said, "It's here."

"Good."

A moment later, she was lifting the lid up from the waffle maker and pulling one out. She set it on a plate, carried it over to him, then opened the oven and took another plate already piled high. She added that to the table along with a dish of already cooked bacon. Jack looked at the spread and whistled. "You have been busy, haven't you?"

Nodding, she took her seat, forked a waffle onto her plate, added some bacon, then smiled brightly at him.

He smiled back, albeit a bit tentatively, poured a good portion of syrup over his waffle, thought of Daniel -- and waffles - then ducked his head and started to eat.

"I have a plane reservation for this afternoon, Jack," Sara said as she sipped her coffee.

"Excuse me?" Jack asked, his fork poised mid-air.

"You remember Maggie? In California? Los Angeles?"

"Sorority sister, was married to that-"

"Yes, the guy who drove you up the wall. They're divorced. Anyway, I'm going to spend some time with her, quite a bit of time. I'm not sure what I'll do eventually, or if I'll come back here," she glanced around her kitchen, "but I suspect - not. I think... while you're opening doors, I may need to close some."

Jack reached over and took her hand. Squeezing it lightly, he said, "We're all right, then?"

"Friends, Jack," she said, squeezing back.

"To put it bluntly, Daniel's hit the wall." Janet sat at her desk, General Hammond across from her. She tapped Daniel's folder and said, "It's my fault, I let it go too long. I knew what he was doing, knew he'd extended himself beyond anyone's ability to bounce back, but I let him-"

"Recriminations will do none of us any good now, Doctor. I knew what was happening, but we needed him. Besides, we both know more is going on here then just allowing Doctor Daniel Jackson to over work himself. Now, what are we looking at?"

"A week at the very least in bed, here. His blood pressure is dangerously low, but what worries me are the continuance of the migraines. Daniel's gotten himself into a cycle of migraines, exhaustion, followed by more migraines, followed by-"

"I think I've got it, Doctor Frasier. What's the prognosis?"

"We've got to break the cycles. Complete bed rest, no stress, no work, we feed him, control him-"

One faint reddish eyebrow rose.

"We try to control him," Janet amended. "I'm also going to hope he'll talk with... someone. As you said, there's more going on here."

George Hammond looked back into the room where Daniel slept unaware, and said, "The Promised Land is within reach, Doctor Frasier. Let's do all that we can to ensure that our Moses sees it, all right?"

Jack stood in front of Sara and felt strange. They were in the middle of the airport, her flight had been called, and she was about to, for all intents and purposes, walk out of his life. A cool hand rested against his cheek as Sara murmured, "Be happy, Jack. Be happy."

"I will. You too?"

"I'm ready to really try," she acknowledged. "Thank you, Jack. For everything."

He took her hand, kissed the back of it, then her cheek. "Thank you, Sara."

Her eyes were sparkling with moisture as she slowly stepped back, picked up her bag, and started for the gate. She never looked back.

Jack didn't move until the gate door had been shut. Hands in his pockets, he walked out of the airport and into the warm Colorado sun.

He debated: home, or Daniel's? The Avalanche made the decision. Daniel's.

Thirty minutes later and disappointed, Jack returned to his car. Daniel wasn't home. He should be, unless Janet had relented? No way. On the other hand... he fished into his pocket and pulled out his cell. Two pushed buttons got him to Sam.

//Major Carter.//

"Carter, where's Daniel? And tell me he isn't at work."

The pause that followed sent a shiver of dread coursing through him.

"Carter?"

//Daniel's in the Infirmary, sir. He collapsed in General Hammond's office last night.//

The ice in his gut forced out, "How... how-"

//Janet said it's exhaustion. His blood pressure is very low, and there have been several migraines....//

"I'll be there in forty."

The few speed records he busted on his way up the mountain were hardly worth mentioning - to anyone.

He almost ran through the various checkpoints, flashing his ID, skittering to a stop and dropping his hand for identification when he got downstairs. He ran to the elevator and headed down. Once out, he hurried his step until he rounded the corner and was within sight of Janet's domain. He paused, took a few deep breaths, stuffed his hands in his pocket, and sauntered into the Infirmary.

Janet looked up from her examination of a patient, gave a nod to the far bed, and bent back to her task. Jack cleared his throat, nodded unnecessarily and walked to the last bed, partially blocked by a privacy screen. He swallowed and rounded the screen - for his first look at Daniel since the funeral.

Jesus.

He was on his side, facing Jack, and sound asleep, as in deeply. His face was the color of the sheets so the dark circles under his eyes stood out in stark relief. The weight loss stood out in the too thin wrist resting on the pillow. Frail was not a word Jack would ever, in his entire life, have used to describe Daniel Jackson - until now.

Jack quickly took the seat next to the bed, and for the first time, noticed the IV. Shit, this was bad.

"He was dehydrated, Colonel. We also have pain medication in there," Janet said in a soft whisper.

"How-"

"We were seeing, and not." Janet pulled up another chair and sat down. She rested her hand on Daniel's covered foot. "I never realized the full force of his personality until this happened."

"What do you mean?" Jack asked, his voice low.

"It's all you see when he's in the throes of a discovery and I fell for it. So now, here he is."

Jack took Daniel's hand in his and said, eyes fixed on the serene face, "I'm sure you've already been cautioned about the guilt, Doctor. Besides, Daniel Jackson has enough of that for the entire population. Let's just consider this a lesson learned, all right?"

Surprised and not a little shocked, Janet nodded as she blinked back the sudden threat of tears. "He's going to be all right, he just needs lots of rest, a steady diet, and no stress. I've suggested to General Hammond that we encourage Daniel to seek out-"

"That won't be necessary, Doc. Trust me."

"Colonel, this hasn't been normal, by any means. A year, two years ago, this would never have happened, he'd have never let it get to this point and neither would-"

"Would I. I know. But that's all going to change. Trust me, this won't happen again. Ever. But don't for a minute think we're the only ones with a hand in this," he waved at the sleeping man, "because he has to take responsibility too, but maybe together, we can all teach him how to accept help and friendship in the future."

"I tried to tell him that very thing," Janet said quietly. "Daniel honestly doesn't get that we're his friends, which begs the question, why not? What could cause this kind of blindness?"

"Years of not counting on the adults he was living with, burying himself in his one true love, archaeology, and a pretty impressive talent for languages, all of which, with his intelligence, set him apart as nothing else could have. Add to that some rather crazy sounding theories, and you have a man who's never had many friends. Zoom forward a few years and his whacky theories prove to be true, he does what no one else had been able to do in years, and as a result, he finds a family. A wife, a brother, a father, and entire civilization. You know what happened next."

"But he found another family - us."

"Sure, he did. And weren't we so supportive."

Janet didn't miss the heavy hint of sarcasm. "Look who's feeling guilty now, sir."

"Unlike you, or Daniel, I'm entitled, and no, I'm not going to explain why because," he shot her a piercing look, "you can't ask, and I can't tell."

Janet's eyes widened at that but she said nothing. He turned back to stare down at Daniel, rubbed his thumb over the top of the cool, dry skin and let that say anything else Janet needed to hear. He wasn't being foolish, just practical. Janet was their physician. Not much got by her.

He kept his eyes on Daniel and let her absorb what he hadn't said. Finally, after several quiet minutes, he asked, "When do you think he'll wake?"

"Hopefully? Not until tomorrow. At least."

"Okay, that deserves a 'wow'."

Janet rose, put a hand on his shoulder, and said, "You might want to check in with the general. Daniel shared something important with him just before his collapse. Then get some sleep yourself. I'll let you know if he so much as twitches, I promise."

Jack nodded and she stepped away and went back to work.

Thumb still caressing Daniel's hand, Jack said softly, "I swear, Daniel, what am I going to do with you? Who knew you needed such taking care of, huh? Okay, that was a stupid question - I knew. Day one, Daniel." He lifted Daniel's hand and held it close. "I promise, Danny, I promise to never trust the taking care of you to anyone else. And no, I'll never say that when you're conscious, you'd kill me. But truth is truth, Danny boy, and you need a loving keeper. Guess who's taking the job? Yep, me, buddy boy. But don't worry, you'll enjoy it, trust me."

He thought as proposals went, that one was not half bad. All things considered.

"So now the little thing that turned our protection on, can also destroy Anubis?"

Hammond nodded. They were in his office and he'd just finished filling Jack in on all that Daniel had discovered. Jack stared at the papers in his hand and shook his head. The story he'd read had sent shivers up and down his spine, and the idea that there were still 'Ancients' out there who hadn't ascended sent another set of shivers racing each other up his spinal cord. He dropped the folder back on Hammond's desk and said, "Off hand, I'd say Daniel really earned his salary this time, sir."

"Oh, yeah. He accomplished a great deal more, by the way. I had a nice conversation with the President earlier, and based on my report, we may have some serious changes coming up. We've given him the leverage he needed, Jack. Or should I say, Daniel has."

Feeling strangely proud, Jack nodded and grinned like an idiot.

Daniel felt warm, cozy even. Everything seemed soft, like a warm bed on a cold winter's morning. He was surrounded by near silence, the sound of soft beeping not intruding on his hazy sleep. He kind of thought he should recognize the beeping, but he was too comfortable to exercise his mind. He thought of digging his hand under the soft pillow he knew instinctively was under his head, but his hand seemed - not trapped, but otherwise occupied. He didn't really care, he was comfortable.

"Danny? You're moving your lips. Got something to say?"

Daniel frowned. Moving his lips? And who....

"Jack?" he murmured low.

"None other, buddy. Care to open your eyes and take a look?"

Daniel didn't really think Jack was anywhere near him, but it might be worth it to chance a look. He cracked open one eye and sure enough, blurred though he was, Jack's face was only a short distance away. He went ahead and opened the other eye.

"Afternoon," Jack said with a smile.

A frown creasing his forehead, Daniel said absently, "Hullo."

"Before you ask, you're in the Infirmary. You collapsed in the general's office, you're exhausted, undernourished, low blood pressure, the works."

Jack was still smiling. That was really odd. He squinted his eyes and looked beyond Jack, but there was no Sara, no anyone. He looked back at Jack, still squinting.

"Umm, glasses might help," Jack muttered as he searched the table and found them. He unfolded the earpieces, leaned over and slid them on. "There, how's that?"

Licking his lips, and confused as hell, Daniel nodded. "I can see now, thank you."

Jack flicked a finger at the tube that ran from the back of the hand he wasn't holding and asked, "Taste good?"

Daniel, still frowning, followed the clear plastic tubing up the IV and said, "Huh?"

"God, you are brilliant, Daniel. I knew you had that doctorate in languages for a reason. What alien dialect is 'Huh', anyway?"

Daniel was still looking totally lost and confused so Jack took pity on him. "You're going to be fine, eventually. If you're real good, maybe Janet will let you go to Skaara's wedding."

The horror on Daniel's face told Jack he'd been less than - diplomatic. He hurried to reassure. "I'm just kidding, Daniel. The wedding is weeks off, you know that. In a few days, I'll take you home and we'll get you back in shape in no time."

"Where's... Sara?"

"Sara? Well, she's in Los Angeles, actually. Why?"

"Los... Los Angeles. She's in Los Angeles."

"Umm, yes, Daniel. Los Angeles. City of the Angels. LA. The hub of the West Coast. Land of-"

"I get it, Jack. When's she coming back? Is everything all right?"

Jack started to answer, but there was something dark in Daniel's eyes, a shadow that bothered him. "Hey, you okay?" he asked, concerned.

"Me? Sure. Just - is everything all right?"

"Daniel, let me refresh your memory. You're the one who collapsed and are now in the Infirmary, okay?"

Daniel closed his eyes and counted to five. "Jack, look, I know ... oh, shit. What I'm trying to say is... I know how you feel about Sara, and this... you two looked, well, not happy at the funeral, but right. These last days had to be special, and I'm worried about you if she went to LA, and don't worry about me, why don't you just go... you know, after her, to her, to LA?"

The haze lifted, the curtains parted, the light bulb went on, Jack got it. He sighed his patented, "I'm such a jerk" sigh, checked that they were alone, and satisfied, said, "I know I should have called you during the whole mess with Sara and her father, and for that, I apologize. I can only say that I was dealing with too many memories-"

"Jack, I know that."

"In a way you do, but then that insecure brain of yours jumped a couple of hundred miles and right into the wrong conclusion."

Daniel's face went carefully blank as he said, "Wrong conclusion?"

"Yes, Daniel. Wrong, as in so wrong. If you'd been awake a while ago, you would have heard the most terrific proposal in the world, if I do say so myself."

Daniel looked over Jack's shoulder as if searching for someone, someone like Sara. Jack rolled his eyes, leaned over and knocked gently on Daniel's head. "Daniel, tell me you don't have brain damage, just tell me that."

"Jack, I'm kind of tired, okay?" He immediately rolled over, pulled the sheet up, and gave Jack a small wave from over his shoulder.

"Daniel, I proposed to you, you asshole. It was really romantic, considering you were asleep and this is the Infirmary. And we're two guys... and I'm a - you know - a colonel, and all."

Daniel slowly craned his neck and peered at Jack over his shoulder. He blinked a couple of times, then said, "You proposed... to ... me?"

"Yep. As in who else? As in, you're it, buddy, the last love, my remaining years in your arms, no one else, last run around the track, last time I give it away-"

Something hard inside of him - melted away, and with a sense of ease and relief, he asked, "You normally charge?"

Jack stopped - looked at those crinkling blue eyes, and grinned. "Last time I give my heart away, Daniel," he finally said tenderly.

"What about... Sara?"

"Sara and I are friends, Daniel. Just good friends, and she's all right now."

Daniel rolled back over and said, "Oh." He chewed his lower lip a bit, then said very seriously, "I won't break it, Jack," Daniel said quietly.

"I know. And I swear to you, I won't break yours either, and I'm fully prepared to spend the next few decades proving it."

"Mine's pretty tough, Jack. Doesn't break easily. But I'll take every day in every one of those decades."

"They're yours."

They watched each other for a few minutes, Daniel's eyes at a sleepy, dreamy half-mast. Finally Jack said, "Go to sleep. I'll be here when you wake up."

Daniel hid a yawn and said, "You don't have to be, you know."

Hand on Daniel's blanket-covered knee, Jack said, "Yes I do. Now go to sleep."

Daniel's eyes started to drift shut as he said, "I'm sorry about Sara...."

Jack swatted the covered leg and Daniel's eyes flew open. "Wha'?"

"Get it through your head, Daniel. I'm not in love with Sara, and haven't been for better than four - five years, okay? Now damn it, repeat after me - 'I love Daniel'."

One eyebrow arched deliciously. "I love Daniel. He's kind of weird, as Daniels go, but hey."

Jack rolled his eyes. "Okay, repeat this: 'Jack loves Daniel and no one else.'"

"Jack loves...Daniel... and no one else."

"There, do you believe it now?"

"I'm thinking it's a good thing this room isn't wired, Jack. As it is, the camera must be getting an eyeful."

"The screen has you mostly hidden. Now, do you believe it?"

Laughing freely, Daniel said, "I believe, Jack. I believe. You, Santa, the Easter Bunny, and Tinker Bell, okay?"

"Don't start rumors about me and Tink. That's all I need. Now go to sleep."

Daniel gave him a little salute, scooted down again, bunched up the pillows, and dropped his head down. His eyes made it shut this time, and a few moments later, his breathing was deep and even.

As he watched the thin pale face, he planned the long days of healing ... for both of them.

The next few days found Daniel actually enjoying doing nothing. He slept, read, talked quietly with Jack, enjoyed visits from Sam, Teal'c and even Lou, ate whatever Janet had someone set in front of him, and slept some more. His bed area was quickly filled with flowers and chocolate walnut cookies kept showing up at the oddest hours. So did the occasional candy bar and cream cheese brownies. On day five, Janet actually allowed him out of bed. Jack showed up with sweat bottoms and his USAF undershirt. Once changed, and topping his outfit off with his robe, he was moved to a wheelchair so that Jack could take him for a 'walk'.

As he pushed him along the corridors, he bent low and whispered, "I'm not allowed to take you within a hundred yards of your office, but maybe we could look in on Carter?"

"Okay."

As they moved down the hall, men and women smiled and he was hit with several, "Good to see you up and around, Doctor Jackson" and "Looking good, Doc." Frowning, he said, "So what, the entire mountain knows I collapsed from exhaustion?"

"In a word; yes. And you're surprised why?"

"Why should they know or care?"

Jack turned the chair to the right and headed down the long hall toward Carter's lab. His fingers tightened on the chair handles as he said, "Daniel, what am I going to do with you?"

"I've got a list, Jack, for the minute Janet lets me go home. What you're going to do to me, and I to you, figure prominently on said list."

They'd reached Sam's door and Jack turned Daniel's chair so his back was to the door, then got it opened and pulled Daniel through. Any chance at talking further ended the moment Sam caught sight of Daniel.

"Hey, she let you out for awhile, Daniel. Congratulations."

"Hi, Sam. How's it going?"

She held up the device that had turned on what they now called the Ring of Cymru and said, "We're playing. Trying to figure out how it could become a weapon. My other team is still having fun with the Ring."

Jack wheeled Daniel over to Sam's worktable, and as she put the device down, Daniel lifted it. "I don't think it's a weapon, per se, Sam."

"How could it destroy Anubis then?" she asked, curious.

He shrugged. "I don't know - exactly. But from what we've seen, the Others are all energy, which means he's half that plus Goa'uld. Maybe this can actually - I don't know, drain the energy? Feed it back on him, maybe?"

"That's possible." She laughed lightly and added, "By now, I'd believe anything, Daniel."

He smiled and set it back down. There was a moment of silence before Jack said, "How 'bout I take you up and let you catch a few rays?"

"That'd be great, Jack."

"Carter, you want to join us?"

Eyes on the device, she shook her head, her mind already taking Daniel's words and trying to figure out how to test his theory. Jack shook his head and started pushing Daniel out. "She's a goner, Daniel. Just like you when you've got a bug up your archeological ass."

"There you go again," Daniel said as he was pushed out the door, "talking about that 'to do' list of mine."

Jack actually felt his face heat up. How could this guy do that to him? He was hardly an amateur here. He hurried his pace to the elevator, the sooner he had Daniel outside and away from prying eyes and cameras, the better.

"This is nice, Jack. Very nice."

"Yeah, it is, isn't it. It's warm, we have blue skies, and a squirrel watching you from that tree root over there - yeah, very nice."

Daniel smiled at the small animal, then raised his face to the sun. Jack had chosen a nice spot several yards away from guards or anyone else who might be out and about and now he took the opportunity provided by the upturned face - and kissed Daniel.

Eyes open, he watched as Daniel's did the same. He smiled into the kiss and was immensely gratified when Daniel's hand came up and pulled him further into it. A minute later, he lifted his head slightly and murmured, "Yep, nice. Very nice."

"She has got to let me go home tomorrow, Jack."

"I've heard rumors to that effect and I'm looking forward to your 'to do' list."

Daniel was shocked at how weak he actually was. The walk up to Jack's front door had left him breathless and shaking and he'd barely made it to the couch. Jack made a quick trip for a glass of water, and after drinking it down, he'd rested his head back against the cushions.

"Now aren't you glad Janet didn't let you walk to my car?"

"No. I'd ... have handled ... this walk ... better."

"No, you'd have died."

"Humph."

Jack sat down and took Daniel's hand in his. He could feel the small tremors so he just held on tight. Daniel, eyes closed, smiled and said, "Game on or something?"

"Don't know, don't care. As soon as you're ready, I'm getting you to bed, then I've got some shopping to do. I have a very specific list from Janet, all aimed at getting you healthy again."

Daniel yawned, then said, his voice tinged with exhaustion, "I could go to bed, but don't tell her that, okay?"

Grinning, Jack stood up, and since he still had Daniel's hand, he simply pulled. Daniel came easily, and together, they walked up the two steps, then down the hall. At the first door, Daniel started to turn right, but Jack said, "Nuh-huh. My room, soon to be our room."

Daniel stopped, looked confused, then as Jack tugged him along, he said, "You sure?"

"Repeat after me," Jack instructed as he led Daniel into his room. "'Jack loves Daniel more than anyone else - Jack loves Daniel more than anyone else'...."

As he was pulled into Jack's bedroom, he said, "Jack loves Daniel more than anyone else - Jack loves Daniel more than anyone else...."

Glancing at the mess that was Jack's room, he added, "Jack's going to redecorate his room because he loves Daniel more than anyone else...."

Putting the bags on the kitchen table, Jack pulled out a chair and collapsed into it. He hated grocery shopping, always had, and shopping healthy only cemented the hate. Not that he hadn't snuck a few items in amongst the fruits and vegetables. Not that he'd really needed to sneak. After all, he was a colonel in the United States Air Force and if he wanted Count Chocula breakfast cereal, than damn it, he was going to have it - and so was Daniel. He'd bet anything the man loved the stuff.

Okay, the sooner he put it all away, the sooner he could crawl in next to Daniel for a nice, flesh-to-flesh nap. Rubbing his hands gleefully, he dug in.

Fifteen minutes later he was folding the last bag and tucking it between the fridge and the wall. Whistling, he walked down the hall, the whistling stopping as he walked into his darkened room. He toed off his sneakers, pulled off his sweater, slid out of his jeans, and padded over to the bed. Daniel was no more than a lump, but an inviting one. Jack had nothing more on his mind that sliding in next to Daniel, wrapping his arms around him, and sleeping soundly for two or three hours. He pulled the blankets away, slid in, scooted over, and stopped.

He was in bed with Daniel. Not sharing a tent on some green planet somewhere, and fully clothed, no, he was in bed. His bed. And all he had to do was reach out and touch Daniel.

He reached out and touched Daniel's back, placed his palm against the smooth warm flesh, and grinned. He spooned up behind him, placed his arm over and across Daniel's waist, buried his face in Daniel's neck, sniffed appreciatively, and closed his eyes.

Daniel buried his face deeper in the pillow and made a slight 'hmmm' sound. He frowned at the warmth at his back, but it felt so good that he decided to edge back into it. Puzzled that it didn't give way, he reached back and his hand hit something fairly hard - and definitely immovable. He started to turn over, but something tightened around his middle. He glanced down and was surprised to see an arm that wasn't his. A nicely tanned arm at that. He really hoped it was Jack. He grinned and rubbed down the length of Jack's arm, feeling the softness of the hair and the strength of the muscle. Warm breath whuffed against his neck and he smiled as the soft exhalation turned into a kiss.

"You're awake," Jack murmured.

"So it would seem. Been here long?"

Jack lifted his head and peered over Daniel's shoulder at his wrist. "Couple of hours. Nice nap."

"Mine or yours?"

"Yours qualifies as a sleep, mine was a nap."

Daniel rolled over so that he was now facing Jack. They grinned at each other.

"We're in bed together," Jack said with a little nod of his head.

"Appears so. Long time coming."

"That depends. I'm talented, I grant you that, but we're both probably a bit anxious, so long time coming isn't likely. At least not the first time."

Both eyebrows shot up and Jack threw back his head and laughed.

"Who knew you had the capacity to take any conversational gambit and turn it into something more sexual?"

"Daniel, it's been weeks since we acknowledged how we felt and we've only kissed. Give me a break. I may be on my way over the hill, but I'm still a guy, you know?"

"Mmm, let me see what I can do about the 'guy' thing," Daniel mused as he leaned forward and began to rain soft barely-there kisses on Jack's chest. Two strong hands stopped him and pushed him back just a bit.

"Whoa, I have a few fantasies of my own, Daniel, and they don't start like that. Especially since one of us is recuperating."

Daniel fell onto his back and tsk-tsked. "I swear, I can't make you happy. What am I going to do?"

Laughing again, Jack smoothed a hand down Daniel's face and said, "Just let me do for you, okay? Today, just let me do for you."

"That doesn't seem very fai-"

A hand over his mouth stopped him. Jack leaned forward, slipped his hand away, and kissed him.

The next several minutes found Daniel allowing Jack to do for him. It was a strange experience and Jack was forced to constantly stop his hands or lips from reciprocating. Finally Daniel relaxed back, realizing that he really didn't have the strength to do much else. He soon closed his eyes as Jack lavished attention on his neck, then his chest. He couldn't believe it was Jack, that his Air Force colonel was sending him soaring. Not because Jack wouldn't be a good lover, but the gentleness, the concentration... it was overwhelming and more than Daniel had ever experienced.

"Jack...."

"Shush, Daniel...."

Jack was on the move again, helping him out of his sweat bottoms and he seemed to be concentrating on the areas below the waist. Daniel shut up.

Wait... did moaning count?

He could tell Daniel was close, but he found he didn't want this to end. He wanted to go on worshipping the body below him, to continue listening to the soft moans and "Jacks" said with such love and urging, to run his hands down Daniel's flank, sliding them around to cup a firm cheek, or to slide a finger between the two, feel the slight buck, hear the heavy moan of anticipation. He dipped his tongue into Daniel's navel, then drew it down, following the dark arrow of hair that led to Daniel's leaking cock. He'd been doing his best to ignore it, to drive Daniel just a bit crazy with need, but he wasn't exactly strong-willed when it came to Daniel. He wanted Daniel's cock in his mouth as much as Daniel did.

He licked up one side of it and marveled at its beauty. Long, just the right thickness for pumping and holding in his mouth, as beautiful as Daniel himself. He teased him a bit more before taking it in, and the long drawn out moan when he did, sent shivers of exotic pleasure shooting up and down his spine. He loved this moment, his throat working to take it down, constricting and feeling Daniel's response, the sudden bucking, his fingers tightening on Daniel's flesh, the heat of it, the supreme joy in knowing that he was doing this for Daniel.

"God, Jack... I'm... you need to... so close...."

Knowing Daniel, Jack knew precisely what he was trying to say, but Jack had other ideas. To be this close and not taste all of Daniel would be sacrilege. He sucked in his cheeks, gave another swallow to take him all the way in, and was immediately rewarded as Daniel's hands scrabbled to dig into the sheets, fisting tightly as he moaned out, "Jack... now, I'm... coming... you need to-"

Daniel bucked into the back of his throat and came so fast, Jack had to work to swallow in time. When the last of Daniel's orgasm thrummed through Jack, he let his spent cock slip out, swallowed again, then kissed the tip before climbing his way up to Daniel's lips.

"Taste yourself, Daniel."

He watched as blue eyes opened sleepily and delighted at the beatific smile that graced the handsome face. Daniel reached out and drew Jack down until they could kiss. It was deep and satisfying, but Jack nearly bit Daniel's tongue when long slender fingers encircled his cock. As Daniel fucked his mouth, he pumped Jack's engorged cock until, nearly breathless, Jack came, violently, in Daniel's hand.

"Holy shit," Jack finally said as he sank down and rested his head on Daniel's chest.

Daniel smoothed his hand over Jack's hair, brushing the short soft bristles forward, then back, as he said, "Amen" and yawned.

Chuckling, Jack ran his hand over Daniel's face and said, "Sleep, my Prince."

"Prince?"

"Go with it, Daniel," Jack said through his own yawn.

"Right. Sleep. Prince. Why the hell not?"

"Exactly."

With Jack's head over his heart, Daniel slept.

The air was hot and arid and Daniel could barely see for sand whirling in the air around him. He heard Sam yelling off to his right but couldn't make out her words. He reached out for Jack, but came up empty. Pulling his Abydonian robes around him, trying to protect himself from the sand, he yelled out, "JACK!"

"O'NEILL BATTLES ANUBIS, DANIELJACKSON!"

No, that was impossible. He whipped around and gasped at what he could now see.

Jack was on his knees before Anubis, his body twitching helplessly, caught within the grip of Anubis' mighty power. A blue light surrounded Jack and seemed to be burning him alive from within. In Jack's outstretched hand, he held the small device, but it did nothing. Anubis laughed a dark laugh and sent another wave of energy into Jack.

"NO!" Daniel yelled....

"It is not real, Daniel...."

He blinked as the vision before him disappeared. Suddenly he was in the 'Gate room, but not as he'd ever seen it. The edges were muted and the room was completely empty of personnel. He looked up at the control room, but nothing was there - just a gray wall.

"I am here, Daniel."

He turned back toward the ramp to find a woman, or the barest form of a woman, standing at the top of the ramp.

"It is not real, but it will be. Two are stronger than one, Daniel, remember that."

She started to fade and he jumped forward, hand reaching for her as he yelled, "NO! DON'T GO!"

"Daniel, wake up, you're having a nightmare...."

Someone was shaking him and the 'Gate room melted. He awoke to find himself staring up into the most beautiful brown eyes ever created. "Jack?"

"Yeah. That must have been a humdinger. Care to share?"

Daniel sat up and scrubbed a hand over his face. With arms on his covered knees, he said, "I should make both of us miserable?"

"Wow, that bad?" He started rubbing Daniel's bare back as he added, "On the other hand, I can't remember the last time someone I made love with awoke thanks to a nightmare."

"Yeah, I don't understand that either. But we'll chalk it up to my current health, okay?"

He rubbed his eyes and groaned inwardly. A headache, damn it. He threw off the blankets and got out of bed. He started for the bathroom but his knees buckled and he barely caught himself on the edge of the dresser. "Whoa."

Jack was out of bed in an instant and had his arm around him before his vision cleared.

"What the hell? Daniel, what is it?"

"Nothing, honest, just got up too fast."

Jack stepped around to face him, tilted his chin up, peered into his face, and said, "Headache."

Daniel sighed - and nodded.

Jack started to steer him back to the bed, but Daniel said, "Bathroom for a reason, Jack."

"Ah. Okay, can you make it while I get the pills Janet sent home with you?"

"I'm fine, honest. Go."

Jack nodded and moved away, but he watched as Daniel walked into the bathroom. When the door closed, he hurried out and down into the living room and the pill bottles, which were sitting on the table where he'd left them. He held the three bottles in his hand and read each one... and finally popped open the larger of the three and shook out one tiny pill. He went into the kitchen, got a glass of water, and headed back to the bedroom. He heard the toilet flush, then the water was turned on, off, and two minutes later, Daniel came out carrying a wet towel. When Jack handed him the glass and pill, Daniel gave him the towel, gave him a knowing look, then nodded at Jack's chest and the now dried evidence of their earlier lovemaking.

Taking the wet towel gratefully, Jack said, "Thanks, and good thinking. It was starting to pull."

Daniel tossed the pill back and drank the water, then sat down on the edge of the bed. He watched Jack clean himself up and then his stomach growled. Jack stopped. Stared at him.

"What?"

"Was that sound... did that actually come from ... you?"

His face heating up, Daniel nodded.

"Well, shit, no wonder you nearly dropped getting out of bed. You're starving." Jack tossed him his robe, grabbed his own from the closet, and said, "Come on, it's time to feed you."

He took Daniel's hand once he'd slipped into his robe, and led him to the kitchen.

"Sit."

"Jack, I'm not an invalid, I can help."

"Fact: you are an invalid, a recuperating invalid. Fact: I'm cooking and I'm thinking... pancakes."

"It's..."

He peered over at the clock on the wall, but his glasses were back in the bedroom so he

said, "Late. I'm sure it's late. It's dark out."

"What, you never had pancakes for dinner before?"

"I... uhm, well, no."

"I... uhm, well, now you will. And when we're done, and your headache is gone, we'll try another round in bed and then discuss us and Hawaii."

Daniel tilted his head and closed one eye. Jack, seeing it, asked, "What?"

"Hawaii? Us?"

"Hawaii, us. You, me, sand, sea, sun, surf. You in a thong, me in short-"

"Thong?"

"Okay, okay, a skimpy Speedo."

"You're nuts, you know that, right?"

"Just wait and see, Daniel, just wait and see."

"I have to admit, Daniel, you're doing better than I thought you would under the colonel's care." Janet removed the stethoscope and draped it around her neck. "Your weight is up a bit, which is good. Your coloring is much improved-"

"Doc, yes nor no?"

Janet scowled at Jack and said, "You're in here by my good graces, Colonel."

"Aw, come on, is it a go for Hawaii or not?"

"One week."

Jack shot up from the stool. "Aw, Doc, come on - one week? In Hawaii? He needs--"

She held up a hand. "Ten days is the longest I want Daniel away from here, Colonel. And I'm not happy with ten."

He started to protest again, but she wagged her finger and warned, "One more word, and it's five."

Jack rubbed his hands together and grinned. "Ten days it is. So he's free to go now? We have a lot - correction -- I have a lot to do before we leave."

Daniel had been sitting on the edge of the bed through the entire exam, nodding yes, when appropriate, and no when appropriate, and watching Janet and Jack spar. Now he quirked an eyebrow at Janet, who nodded. He jumped down, grabbed his jacket out of Jack's hand and slipped it on. He waited.

"Just remember, Colonel, he's to take it easy. Sleep, sun, eat, sleep, sun-"

"I got it, Doc, I got it. I'll bring him back so healthy, you'll wonder if he was ever ill-"

"I was never ill, I simply-"

"See that you do," Janet said, completely ignoring Daniel. "And see to it that he continues with the new medication for the headaches, his allergies, and the new vitamins."

"Just call me Colonel Nightingale."

"Oh, brother," Daniel moaned.

"And don't let him out of your sight either. The minute you do, he'll sneak-"

"I am not a child," Daniel complained.

"I know, he'll sneak some work into the mix. I'm not even letting him take his laptop-"

"WHAT? I am too taking my laptop. Sam may have questions, or Nyan, or-"

"Good thinking, Colonel. And no research books either. A couple of good mysteries - I understand Clive Cussler has a new one-"

"Yeah, and he's brought Dirk Pitt back-"

"Who the hell is Dirk Pitt?"

"Really? I thought Cussler was going to let the 'kids' take over?"

"Hello? Anyone here?"

"They're in it, but it's still mostly Pitt, thank God."

"I'm glad I bought it-"

"Am I here?"

"...I'll go ahead and give it a read this weekend. DeMille has a new one too-"

"I'll pick it up for him. I'm thinking some ... comic books too."

Janet rolled her eyes in sync with Daniel, who simply started out the door. She nodded in his direction and said, "You're losing someone, Colonel."

"We might have gone too far."

Janet cocked her head and said, "Ya think?"

Sighing dramatically, Jack said, "Everyone's an O'Neill."

"With two 'l's'."

"I'm outta here."

He ducked out and jogged up to Daniel, who was walking firmly and resolutely toward the elevator. Matching the younger man's stride, he said, "So, how many pairs of shorts shall I pack for you?"

Daniel ran his card and pushed the up button. "You're actually going to let me wear shorts?"

"Sure, when we go out to eat. What, you think I want every man, woman and child on the island ogling you in your Speedo?"

"I'm taking my laptop."

Jack frowned. "That won't cover much, but hey, it's okay by me."

Jack watched as Daniel's lips twitched, and the smile finally broke out.

"Daniel, you are so easy."

"Damn if I don't know it, too."

It was unbelievable. Jack had done everything. He'd packed for both of them, made all the arrangements, even scheduled a car to pick them up and take them to the airport. He hadn't allowed Daniel to leave the couch. Now they were dressed for the flight, their luggage by the door, and they were simply waiting for the car. Jack was seated on the chair, one long leg dangling over the arm, a magazine in his hand. Daniel noted the top story: Buff Bods Take On The Islands. He snorted.

"I swear, you're going gayer by the minute, Jack."

Without looking up, Jack said, "I plan on burning this when I'm done. No evidence."

"Oh, really? You burning me up when you're done too?"

"Never gonna be done, but if we work it right, and so far, we have, we'll burn together, baby."

"Oh, dear, God, I don't believe you said that."

The doorbell saved Jack from the cleverly planned rejoinder. He got up and said, "The car's here, Danny boy. We're on our way."

The car turned out to be a limo, which drew an appreciative whistle from Daniel.

"Ya like? First class all the way, Danny. All the way." As he followed Daniel into the long, luxurious car, he added, "Good thing I've got such a rich partner."

The flight was long but comfortable in First Class. Lots of leg room, good food, and a great movie. Daniel was under strict orders not to imbibe any alcohol so Jack enjoyed a second glass of champagne in Daniel's name, and barely hid his snicker when Daniel was forced to order an apple juice. As he watched him watch the movie, he had to admit, Daniel did look a hundred percent better than when he'd first seen him in the hospital bed. Still too thin, but his color was back and he looked relaxed - and happy.

It hit Jack then. He'd never really seen Daniel happy after Abydos. Not happy. But Daniel looked happy now, his body fairly screaming it to anyone with brains enough to hear. Jack had the brains. He smiled and continued watching Daniel.

"Okay, this is... this is-"

"Nice?" Jack asked, grinning.

Daniel turned in a circle to view his surroundings, and nodded. "Nice. This is... wow."

Jack slapped him on the back and said, "I just love being the toy of a rich man. A fantasy come true."

Daniel's dark glasses were moved further down his nose so he could look at Jack over the rims. "Toy? We're not a bit too old for 'toy'?"

"Now, Daniel, you're only in your thirties - still young as far as I'm concerned."

"And apparently rich, so that's all that really matters, right?"

Pulling Daniel into him, he said between nibbles on an exposed neck, "You make... more than... me and Hammond... put together... but I've always wanted... to be... God, you taste good... a kept man...."

Daniel pulled Jack's head up until their mouths were aligned, and kissed his "kept" man. When they broke for a moment, he whispered against Jack's jaw, "Oh, I'm definitely keeping you, Jack. Definitely."

Daniel slept for four hours while Jack unpacked and got himself acquainted with their island home. Thanks to Hammond, Jack had been put in touch with "an old friend" who now ran a rental business on Maui. As a result, they had a beautiful villa called The Hana. It had been built to mesh with the jungle around it and was very much like a treehouse with a center circular stairway that went from the ground floor to the cupola on the third floor. They had a spectacular view of the ocean two miles away, but the real seller was the fact that they had their own lagoon and waterfall, the sound of which was far more soothing than any ocean. The kitchen was a dream, the master bedroom unbelievable. The windows of the bedroom overlooked their waterfall, which at the moment, was lulling Daniel to sleep.

And if their own lagoon wasn't enough, they also had a tropical pool that wound its way in and among the jungle greenery.

As Jack looked out over the pool and Jacuzzi now, he was seriously pissed that he hadn't purchased a thong for Daniel. He grinned as he fixed himself a drink and walked out to the edge of the living room. He flicked a switch and the windows slid up leaving nothing between their living room and the backyard. A sweet fragrant breeze wafted into the room and he inhaled deeply.

It was official. He was happy too.

For the next ten days, he was going to make damn sure that Daniel thought of nothing more important than which sun lotion to use. No aliens, no Tok'ra, no Anubis, no Stargate, no translations, no gray walls. Just Jack and Daniel and Hawaii.

His stomach growled and he wandered over to the phone where several menus had been left by Hammond's friend, Stuart Barkley. Evidently several restaurants in the area catered to Barkley's rental customers. He picked them up, perused several, and settled on Yee's Dynasty. Somehow Chinese seemed appropriate for their first night. He was dying to feed Daniel with chopsticks. Grinning, he picked up the phone and ordered.

Thirty minutes later, he walked into the bedroom and woke Daniel.

"Dinner will be here in about fifteen minutes, sleepyhead. You want to join me for our first sunset?"

Daniel rolled over, stretched, yawned, and ran a hand through his hair. He blinked a couple of times, then as the sound of water cascading over rocks made it through his consciousness, he smiled and reached for his glasses.

"We're really here," he said as he slipped them on.

"Yep. And we're having a gourmet Chinese spread that would be the envy of all."

"Yum." He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, and as he scratched his back, said, "You know, I've never really enjoyed sleeping, but I'm learning a real appreciation for it now."

Jack bent down and kissed him, then said, "I'm getting very fond of a sleepy Daniel. You look cute with bedhead and a mussed and creased face."

Daniel wiped at his mouth and said, "What, no drool?"

Jack kissed the corner of Daniel's mouth, licked his lips, and said, "Nope. But I'll check again tomorrow morning."

Daniel laughed, kissed Jack again, and said, "Where's dinner?"

Daniel snagged another aromatic shrimp from Jack's plate and popped it into his mouth. "God, this is good," he murmured, an ecstatic look on his face.

"I agree. What the hell is this stuff they've got the walnut chicken in, anyway?"

"It's a champagne sauce of some kind, and it's rich. Very rich. And very good."

"Well, I've never tasted anything like it."

Daniel took a Chinese pancake, rolled it up, then dragged it across the sauce before popping that into his mouth too. "Mmm, you sure know how to pick 'em, Jack."

Looking at Daniel's mouth as he munched on another one of his shrimp, he nodded. "Yep, I do."

Jack walked out onto the patio, two cups of coffee in his hands. Daniel had his legs up on a small table and was staring out over the expanse of jungle currently bathed in the sunset colors of Maui. The ocean was tinged pink, the tips of the trees between them and the water, the color of a Tequila Sunrise. As Jack walked around the chair, he handed down the coffee, then sat next to Daniel.

"Ever seen anything like it?"

Jack shook his head. "Nope. Been all over the world, seen a million sunsets throughout the galaxy, and still - no."

Daniel smiled dreamily.

As the sun finally disappeared, Jack said, "We've got to try out our lagoon tomorrow."

With a smile that promised more than Jack had ever dreamed of, Daniel said, "Full moon tonight, no clouds, and there are tiki torches. What's stopping us, Jack?"

With an alacrity Daniel didn't think Jack's knees were capable of, Jack was up and grabbing his hand.

"Well, come on, then."

Laughing, Daniel allowed himself to be pulled up. "You get the towels, I'll pack up some moonlight munchies."

"Deal. And Daniel, you're one brilliant man."

"Duh."

With the moon and their torches lighting their way, they walked down to the falls and their private lagoon. The path was well carved out and easy to follow. When they got to the bottom, Jack took Daniel's torch, used it and his own to light the tiki torches, then smothered their torches in the bucket of sand left for exactly that purpose. Daniel meanwhile, was putting the mats and towels down, along with the basket of munchies. As Jack walked over to him, Daniel started taking off his robe. Which gave Jack the shock of his life.

"Uhm... Daniel?"

"Don't tell me you're wearing a suit?"

Jack peered up the side of their little paradise, coughed slightly, then nodded.

"We're completely alone, no one could possibly see us, this is a private area, and you're wearing a suit?"

Jack tore off his robe and just as quickly dispensed with his suit. Arms out from his sides, he said cheekily, "Not any more, Danny. Not any more. "

With one of the most seductive smiles Jack had ever seen, Daniel walked into the water, which gave Jack the most delectable view of the most beautiful ass in this or any other galaxy. A moment later, Daniel dove under and came up several feet away. He splashed water in Jack's direction and called out, "Come on, it's great. And not at all cold."

Jack stepped down, his toes sinking slightly in the wet grassy bottom, then he was up to his waist in water that seemed too soft to be real. "This feels incredible," he said in wonder.

Laughing, Daniel swam over to the waterfall and came up under it. He swam around to the side, climbed up on the rocks and, poised behind the rushing water, dove back in. His body sliced through the water with grace and barely a splash, causing Jack to whistle low in appreciation.

Considering the years spent in the desert, this guy was a whiz in the water.

He dove under himself, and came up a few feet from the waterfall. He looked around and was about to call out for Daniel, when the younger man tapped him on the shoulder. He whirled around and grinned. "Hey."

Smiling at him, Daniel said, "Hey. Wanna race?"

"No, Daniel," he said as he grabbed for him. "Racing is not what I want to do."

They were treading water, the spray from the falls landing lightly on their faces and upper bodies. As Jack brought the pliant body into his, he felt Daniel's leg wind around him, and his smile broadened. Unfortunately, making love while treading water was not something he did well - did anyone? He maneuvered them both backwards until his feet hit the sandy bottom. The water still reached his shoulders, even though he could touch bottom, but he had control now. They kissed, a wet, dreamy kiss, slow and easy, tongues loving the other, exploring sweetly. Jack felt Daniel's roving hands as they moved over his back, down his backside, and up again. He's always wondered what it would feel like, being an artifact under Daniel's beautiful hands, and now he knew. Daniel's lips slid away from his mouth and he actually groaned at the loss, until Daniel began to nip at his ear, tug the earlobe, and dip his tongue in and out, teasing him mercilessly.

"Aw, God, Daniel...."

"Love you, Jack," Daniel whispered just behind Jack's right ear. He nuzzled there a bit, then moved down, sucking and biting lightly at the juncture between Jack's neck and shoulder. "Love you so much...."

And God, he did. Daniel did love him. So damn much. How could he not have seen it and responded to it? He'd been so wrapped up in the misery of thinking he loved someone that A) he shouldn't, and B) that couldn't possibly feel the same way, that he'd missed every sign. He'd been so damn oblivious to Daniel's love that he'd almost destroyed him.

"Love you too, Daniel. Love you, will always love you... so sorry for so much...."

Hands held his face still as blue eyes bore into his. "Sorry? About what? What's this 'sorry' crap?"

"Been hiding my feelings, Daniel. Too afraid, too uncertain, too disbelieving that you could feel the same, and all the time, all I had to do was pay attention."

Grinning, Daniel said, "Oh... that."

Laughing in spite of the seriousness of the moment, Jack said, "Yeah, that."

"We're together now and that's all that matters, isn't it?"

Hand to Daniel's cheek, Jack said, "No, it isn't. But I learn from my mistakes, Daniel. I learn."

"I had my own fears, Jack. You're not alone in this. I thought of confronting you many times, of demanding to know what I'd done, but it seemed so childish, you know? So whiney. Especially since it didn't appear to be just you. And can we not talk about this? We're in a romantic lagoon, moonlight overhead, you in my arms... surely we can think of something else to do?"

He punctuated his question with a nibble at Jack's jaw, then small kisses along the bone until he'd made his way to Jack's mouth. Capturing it and invading it pretty much took care of all talk for the next several minutes.

Jack's body responded as passion took over. Words were forgotten in the silky tongue that took charge of his mouth, disappeared in the miraculous hands that manipulated his body, pinched eager nipples, smoothed lightly over sensitive abs, invaded his ass, and encircled his cock. Two long slender legs locked him into position and held him prisoner until he felt possessed and owned. It was an incredible feeling.

He was coming without complete awareness, his head thrown back, eyes tightly shut as Daniel did things to him, commanded his body, loved him into oblivion.

He was floating, his body coming down from a high he would have argued was impossible from just the act of making love. He felt a soft kiss on his abdomen and realized he was actually floating in Daniel's arms. He lifted his head from the water and looked blearily at his lover. Who was smiling like a loon.

Sounding drunk to his ears, he asked, "Do loons smile?"

"Undoubtedly. Why?"

"You look like a smiling loon. A very satisfied smiling loon."

Chuckling, Daniel started swimming back to shore, Jack in his arms. He thought he should probably help so he kicked and flopped one arm in and out of the water. When they reached shallow water, he stood, swayed, and thought, no one should be able to make him feel this way. Was Daniel some kind of superhuman lover? From where he stood, he watched Daniel make his way out of the water, watched the moonlight capture the lithe body, and he exhaled sharply.

Yes, Daniel was a superhuman lover and a beautiful one at that. Shaking his head and grinning stupidly, he followed.

Daniel dropped down on the toweled mat and with hands behind his head, watched as Jack walked out of the water. The moon hit the top of the silver head, bathed Jack in its soft glow, and Daniel thanked God for the gift that was Jack. God, he was beautiful. Long limbed, beautiful arms, firm butt, broad shoulders, and inside - even more beautiful.

Complex, yes: simple, equally yes. Oddly sweet, funny, and kind, that was his Air Force colonel. Jack dropped down beside him, rolled over onto his side, head propped on his hand, and said, "So what munchies did you bring?"

And hungry. Always hungry. Laughing, Daniel tugged the basket toward him, pushed it between them, and said, "Carrots, celery, Ranch dressing, there were marinated olives in that little bar, so they're in there, along with nuts and ... oh, yeah, two chocolate bars and a bag of Famous Amos cookies, also from the mini-bar."

"You want the cookies or the chocolate bars?"

"Choices, choices...."

Jack tossed him one candy bar and said, "We'll split the cookies. What's to drink?"

Daniel pulled a junior bottle of wine for Jack, and a bottle of apple juice for him.

"All right, chocolate cookies and white wine. Yummy."

"Baby Ruths and apple juice - blech."

Jack laughed and opened the dip. They ate contentedly, talked little, kissed a lot. It was a perfect evening under an Hawaiian moon. They went back into the water, swam lazily, got out, and made love, Jack using his thighs for Daniel's enjoyment. Daniel fucked them, Jack's own cock trapped between them, rubbing and rubbed by Daniel's body. They both came, Jack moments before Daniel.

Panting, Daniel fell onto Jack and felt the older man's arms come around him instantly. Warm breath in his ear, then, "We're going to... have to try that the right way... when we have lube."

"Shop... tomorrow," Daniel breathed out.

"Oh, yeah."

Their next five days went much like the first one. They slept, ate, swam, sunned, made love. They also shopped for the appropriate items necessary to take their lovemaking to the next step. There was a brief discussion about bottoming, but it was short thanks to the fact that both men were equal opportunists where topping and bottoming were concerned.

On day seven, Jack, who'd brought his clubs, just had to hit the links, so Daniel, now tan and almost up to his fighting weight, went with him. They rented a cart, rented a set of clubs for Daniel, and played eighteen holes. By the time they finished, Jack was scratching his head. Oh, he'd won, but barely.

"Exactly how did you get so good at this game, Desert Boy?"

"They have something on Abydos called 'shiroc'. You try to hit a little leather ball from goal to goal with sticks that are remarkably like a wood."

"And you excelled at this game?"

"Well, I was eventually named team captain, and yes, my team did finally win the championships... Skaara never forgave me."

Jack couldn't help it - he laughed hysterically. "God," he said almost breathlessly, "I'd have ... loved to have seen ... Skaara's face when you hit the winning sinker."

"It was... an odd moment. And the balls weren't 'sunk', you simply tried to place them within different circles around the pins."

"Like... what, darts? Horseshoes?"

"Sort of. Although, each pin placement had a different desired circle to reach and it wasn't always the one closest to the pin. It took a great deal of precision, so to speak."

"Well, I'll be damned. You're gonna have to teach me when we attend Skaara's wedding."

"Oh, sure, we'll have so much time. Not."

They drove to the clubhouse, which was approximately ten yards from the beach, turned in both the cart and the clubs, then walked over to the patio, their shoes clicking as the small spikes hit the cement. They sat down, fully prepared to relax before heading home. Sunset was forty minutes away and as they watched the ocean and the fantastic waves break only a few yards away, Jack said, "Let's check out the menu here. Sunset might be nice from this vantage point. What do you say?"

"Sounds good to me."

Jack went inside for a menu while Daniel ordered a ginger ale for himself and a beer for Jack. When Jack returned, he handed the small black book down to Daniel and said, "I'm okay with it, very much so. The guy inside said the steaks are the best on the island and the fish are purchased from the local fishermen. You should see inside, it's packed."

"I wonder why not out here?"

"Only three waitresses for the whole place, but I told him we're in no hurry."

"Amen to that," Daniel answered with a lazy grin.

They sipped their drinks and watched the surfers and swimmers. A waitress came and took their orders, steak for Jack, opah for Daniel, Caesar salad for both, and baked potatoes.

It took well over forty minutes for their food to arrive, but they were too busy enjoying the spectacular sunset to care. When it finally did come, the sun had dipped below the horizon, leaving the sky and water different shades of pinks and mauves. When their plates were slid in front of them, they both took appreciative whiffs and dug in.

"Okay, this food could become addictive," Jack said as he swallowed a nice forkful of steak topped off with string beans.

"Agreed. This fish is incredible. Tender, subtle flavor, delicious."

"So we're agreed. The Restaurant on the Eighteenth gets a thumbs up from both of us," Jack pronounced with a grin.

Daniel's answer was an upturned thumb.

When they finished, the waitress asked if they wanted dessert. Daniel shook his head, but Jack had to ask what his choices were.

"Well, we have pineapple pie tonight, plus a white chocolate macadamia nut bread pudding that I personally can't live without, and we have deep fried coconut ice cream."

Jack didn't miss the rising eyebrow on Daniel's face and said, "I'll have the 'can't live without it' bread pudding, and he'll have the ice cream."

"Very good. Be right up. Things are much quieter now, and thank you both for your patience tonight."

"Trust me," Jack said with his most charming smile, "it was our pleasure."

The waitress blushed and hurried back inside, which prompted Daniel to swat Jack on the arm. "You flirted with her. I can't believe you were flirting."

"I wasn't flirting, Daniel."

"You were too. You should have seen that smile of yours. It was your come hither smile."

"I do not have a 'come hither' smile, Daniel. I may have a 'let me at you, you geek, you' smile, but I do not have a 'come hither' smile."

"You do so, and that nice, innocent waitress now thinks you're going to ask her out."

"She does not. She knows perfectly well that we're together."

"Oh, really? And how does she know that?"

"Daniel, you ate off of my plate, and by the way, is this going to be a habit from now on? Because if so, I'm ordering double."

"You had the string beans, I had squash. I prefer beans."

"You ate my pancakes this morning, you took two egg rolls last night-"

"I didn't know I wanted pancakes this morning. I thought I only wanted cereal. I didn't know you were making gingerbread pancakes. And you didn't get me any egg rolls, so naturally I took two of yours."

"And Tuesday? You had your own toast, but you took a slice of mine?"

"You had that Hawaiian honey on yours."

"You couldn't have put that on yours?"

"No."

Jack could see the twinkle in the blue eyes staring back at him and suddenly he grinned. "Okay, you win. Help yourself to anything on my plate - ever."

"Gee, thanks," Daniel said as he clutched the area over his heart with both hands.

"Putz."

The waitress arrived and set a bowl with the fried ice cream in front of Daniel, and the bread pudding in front of Jack. It didn't miss Daniel's notice that he had one squirt of whipped cream while Jack had three times as much on his dessert. As he put the new napkin in his lap, he said innocently, "So, when's the little woman due again, Jack? And is this child number six, or seven?"

Holding out his coffee cup for the woman to refill, Jack didn't miss her indignant expression. He shot a wicked look at Daniel, then said, "Number eight, actually. Thank God I have you and our little get-a-way villa, or I'd really go crazy. You're the light of my life, Daniel."

Daniel spewed coffee all the way across the table. Jack figured a coffee stained shirt was worth it.

Their last night came too fast and they spent it with a packed picnic hamper down at their lagoon. From sunset to after sunrise, they swam, ate, made love, and slept under the night sky, the warm tropical air caressing bare skin, the fragrance of the flora and fauna around them surrounding them like a soft blanket. At seven, they packed up and went back to the house. After showering and changing, their limo arrived to take them to the airport for their puddle jump over to the big island. Their flight wasn't until eleven-twenty that night, so Jack had reserved a room at the Royal Hawaiian for the day. After checking in, they dumped their overnight bags in the room (the rest of their luggage remaining downstairs until their trip to the airport) and decided to start their day with breakfast at the Royal Beach Club, which offered poolside dining and a view of the beach.

After croissants and fruit, Daniel asked, "So where to first?"

"Don't laugh, but I'd like to go to the Pearl Harbor Memorial. Would you mind?"

"Not at all. We renting a car, or what?"

"No, the limo is ours all day. We'll take in a few sights, do some shopping per Janet's and Sam's instructions, lunch at a small place recommended by Lou, and dinner here at the Surf Room. Sound good?"

Grinning, Daniel nodded. "Sounds great. Let's get going."

Enjoying the energy now evident in Daniel, Jack eagerly paid the check and they headed to the front of the hotel where the limo waited.

Taking the advice of their limo driver, Cho, they decided to save Pearl Harbor for later in the day. That meant shopping. Cho took them to several non-touristy spots and they actually had fun shopping for Janet, Cassie and Sam. All three women, and Teal'c as well, got matching loud Hawaiian shirts, courtesy of Jack. Janet, Cassie and Sam had requested that they be brought back something called 'Pikake Lotion", so that was added to the haul. Daniel spotted some lovely coral pieces, a bracelet, a ring, and a necklace, so they were added for Sam, Janet and Cassie. Daniel also found a Hawaiian totem for Teal'c and snatched it up. Loaded with packages, they jumped back in the limo and Cho drove them to Lou's suggested restaurant.

Ono's was on Kapahulu Avenue and was literally a hole in the wall, but the smells emanating from the small building drew both men in without a struggle. The wait was almost an hour, and once seated at a small corner table, both men heaved a sigh of relief. The menu was brief and both ordered the specialty, Laulau. Jack never even blinked and Daniel was dying to know if Jack had even a clue as to what he'd just ordered.

"Do you even know what Laulau is, Jack?"

"Nope, but if Cho says to order it, and Lou says to order it, who am I to argue? I suppose you do know?"

"I do, and I think you'll like it. They take pork or chicken, along with salmon and butterfish, wrap them in luau leaves, then in a ti leaf, steam them, then serve them with sweet potatoes."

"Okay, sounds... interesting. This menu says their Laulau is also served with something called pipikaula. What's that, Brainiac?"

"Basically it's barbecued meat, only done the Hawaiian way. They take a brisket, slice it, salt it, drizzle it with water. When it's dry, it's marinated in soy, sugar, garlic and oil, then the meat is air dried. Once it's ready, they brown it over a grill. We should order some to go, by the way. You'll love it."

"Okay, smart ass, what's this haupia we get?"

"That's dessert. Coconut pudding, basically."

Something in Jack's brown eyes got Daniel's radar bleeping. Looking at him with suspicion, he said, "You know damn well what all this stuff is, don't you?"

Trying to look innocent - and failing badly, Jack said, "Why whatever gave you that idea?"

"You schmuck," Daniel said fondly.

Their lunch arrived and they enjoyed every bite. And Jack did order the pipikaula to go, the strips of meat came in a plastic sack that would fit nicely in his carry-on.

By the time they finished, the timing was perfect for Pearl Harbor.

"Cho was right. Going this late in the afternoon means no lines."

Daniel could only nod as he was still reeling from the short film shown prior to the tour.

"It's strange how," he was finally able to say as they came out of the small theater, "you can know everything there is to know about the attack, yet seeing that film...."

Daniel shook his head as they headed to the car. Thanks to their background and Jack's rank, they were about to go on a more private tour of the base, saving the Arizona for last.

Daniel knew how much their tour was affecting Jack, yet he also figured Jack had to have been here before. When they got into the car, he scooted closer so that their legs were touching. A brief smile from Jack was more than enough.

"When was the last time you were here?" Daniel asked, curious.

"I've never been, believe it or not."

Okay, that explained a great deal.

Daniel didn't say anything, just moved closer.

The tour had been fascinating, the privacy of it working for Jack as their guide, a Captain Humphrey, took them to all the sights they'd want to see. Jack didn't speak much, and the young naval captain was both respectful and somewhat in awe of the man he knew to be a colonel, a very special colonel with pretty powerful ties. When finished, the captain escorted them back to the limo, saluted smartly, gave a precision turn and headed back inside.

Daniel felt ridiculously proud of Jack at the moment of the salute, the admiration in the young man's eyes mirrored in his own.

For Jack's part, as he returned the salute, he wondered what the naval captain would say if he knew that the man responsible for saving Earth had mostly been ignored throughout the tour. The thought gave him a strange sense of unease as they both climbed back into the car.

Would Daniel ever receive the acknowledgment he deserved?

The USS Arizona was spectacular - and spectacularly sad for Daniel. In his case, it brought up memories of every single SGC member who'd died protecting Earth from invaders the rest of the world knew nothing about. It was the only war that he had any hands on knowledge of, and in that, he felt ridiculously stupid. In spite of the brief twenty-plus minute film they'd watched earlier, and the base tour, he still found himself unable to connect to the war represented by the USS Arizona and could only think in terms of the current war. He wasn't sure what that meant about him. He was awed by the Arizona, but in a strange, detached way. A small shiver ran up his spine as he thought of the Stargate as a memorial someday. Something people paid to see, to wander through the halls with guides pointing out General Hammond's office, the briefing room, the control room - the Infirmary - Sam's office....

He could almost hear the guide, someone as detached from the reality of the 'Gate and the SGC as he was now from the Arizona and Pearl Harbor.

"This is where Major Samantha Carter...."

He stopped his mental recitation. Hell, by the time the SGC would be some kind of memorial, Sam would have to finally have made general. He grinned.

"This is where General Samantha Carter, then Major Carter, made the breakthroughs in astrophysics and quantum physics that are so commonplace today. It is doubtful that without her knowledge and intelligence, The Earth Alliance would be what it is now - a major power in the galaxy. Her work on the Stargate allowed the travel that we now take for granted."

His mind moved to Teal'c's room....

"This is the room inhabited by the Jaffa, Teal'c, during his years with the SGC. It was here that he would go into 'Kel-no-reem', the almost meditative state required by the symbiote he carried within. Master Teal'c is now, as you know, alive and well and living on Chulak. His son, the great Rya'c, is the Chulakian President and confers often with our own government...."

And the real hero of the SGC?

"And now, before we take you to the actual 'Gate room, we have the last, but certainly not least, office to view. It belonged to Colonel Jonathan O'Neill. O'Neill was the leader of the first, and best, SGC team known simply as SG-1. They were the first contact team and as led by the great man himself, gave us the allies we so treasure today. Our entire way of life is due to Colonel O'Neill. His courage, leadership and intelligence were responsible for saving Earth more times than we can count. The Asgard revere him even today."

Daniel suddenly frowned as he realized he was envisioning a world where Jack no longer existed. He shivered as his nightmare of several days ago, and last night, came back to him.

"Daniel, you okay?"

He blinked into the sun, slipped his sunglasses back on, and nodded. "I was just thinking of the day when Cheyenne Mountain would be called - O'Neill Mountain," he said with a grin, the humor diluting the sudden coldness invading his body.

Jack looked at him strangely, then said, "You are really weird, you know?"

"Yeah," he sighed. "I know."

When they got back to the Royal Hawaiian, it was after five. They decided to go upstairs, change into swim trunks, and check out the beach before their dinner reservation at seven. They never made it farther than the bed.

At six thirty, deliciously tired and sated, Jack hauled himself up on one elbow and looked down at Daniel. He traced a finger along Daniel's jaw, then his lower lip. "You do know how beautiful you are, right?"

Daniel, eyes still closed, gave a little snort and 'humph'. Jack kissed each closed eye and said, "You are, Daniel. You're the most beautiful man - hell, the most beautiful person - I know."

"And you're full of it, Colonel O'Neill. But I love you anyway."

Jack ran his hand down Daniel's side, ending on one hip. He brushed his lips against Daniel's ear and whispered, "Dinner or me?"

"Had you, hungry," Daniel murmured, a smile playing around his lips.

Jack slapped the side of Daniel's left ass cheek and got up. "Okay, your loss, Danny boy."

Laughing, Daniel sat up and watched Jack pad naked into the bathroom. As the door closed, he said, "No, Jack, you're the beautiful one." He dropped back down, hands behind his head, and regarded the ceiling as he waited his turn.

Listening to the shower come on, he thought suddenly of Sam and Teal'c. So far, he and Jack hadn't discussed who, if anyone, to tell about their new relationship, and now he wondered how each of their teammates would take the news - if they decided to tell them.

He had a feeling Teal'c might not understand. Nothing in his knowledge of Chulak or Jaffas told him that homosexuality would be accepted. He just hoped Teal'c's respect and love for Jack wouldn't change. As for Sam, that one had him worried.

Sam had feelings for Jack, he knew that. After all, hadn't he believed that Jack had returned said feelings?

Jesus, why did he have to think of this now?

The bathroom door opened, letting out a billow of steam and Jack.

"Your turn, Danny. Lots of hot water left and that shower is a must have when we get home. Renovation time."

Daniel got up and walked into the bathroom, not even bothering to skirt the towel Jack whipped out toward him. He never even felt it as it slid against the back of his thigh.

Inside, he turned the shower back on, noted absently that it was pretty nice, large, all glass with tons of greenery, and stepped in. He rested his head against the tile and let the water run down his back. He knew he and Jack would have to talk about their friends, and how much to tell, but he wasn't looking forward to it. He suspected it would end badly and he knew he couldn't face life without Jack.

Jack pulled his shirt on, buttoned it up, tucked it in, then slid his belt into the loops and fastened it. He checked himself in the mirror, nodded, and turned back to the bed. He'd laid out Daniel's clothes and repacked their carry-ons, so they were ready to check-out before going to dinner. From there, they'd be driven to the airport. He hoped Daniel would sleep on the flight and was worried that they'd done too much today. It had been a very silent Daniel that had gone into the bathroom.

He lifted Daniel's clothes, carried them to the door, knocked lightly, and when nothing happened, he stepped in, set the clothes down on the counter, then watched Daniel shower. Only he wasn't. He was just standing, braced against the wall and allowing the water to flow over him.

Jack didn't think he'd ever seen anything so beautiful - or so - lost. He frowned, and suddenly tore off his clothes and, with a need he couldn't explain, opened the door and stepped in behind the love of his life.

"Daniel?"

Daniel pushed away from the wall and, consequently, into Jack's arms.

"You okay? Did we do too much today?"

Daniel shook his head. "No, today was wonderful. Not tired."

"You looked so... lost."

Daniel turned in his arms and kissed his throat. "Not lost, just thinking. And before you ask, about nothing in particular."

Tilting his head back to give Daniel better access, he said, "Liar."

Daniel laughed into Jack's throat, kissed and nibbled at his Adam's apple, then murmured, "We should get out."

"Will you tell me later?"

Turning away and shutting off the water, Daniel said, "There's nothing to tell, Jack. Come on, dinner awaits."

Jack watched, shocked, as Daniel got out, tossed him a towel, wrapped another one around his waist, then grabbed yet another. Rubbing the thick terrycloth into his hair, he walked into the bedroom.

Jack had no choice but to get out.

Their carry-ons now resting with the rest of their luggage, they walked to the Surf Room where Jack gave the maitre'd his name. They were seated almost immediately, a nice corner table on the patio with a beautiful view of the beach and Diamond Head. As they sat down and perused both the menu and the wine list, Jack commented in a low voice, "You gotta love Hawaii, Daniel. Same sex couples don't even get a raised eyebrow."

Daniel whipped his head around, clearly looking, to Jack's delight, for a same sex couple.

Shaking his head, Jack said, "Daniel, I mean us."

"Huh?"

"You dork. Us. Same sex couple. Intimate corner table, host not even blinking at two men being together in a romantic restaurant. Hello?"

Suddenly smiling, Daniel said sheepishly, "Oh."

Jack put the menu down and asked, "So, what looks good to you?"

"Besides everything? Everything."

Smiling, Jack took a carrot strip from the small vegetable plate that had been set down at the same time as their water glasses had been filled. He munched contentedly while Daniel continued to look at the menu. He watched the candlelight flicker over the handsome features and congratulated himself on how very well Daniel looked. Janet would have to be pleased. The waiter approached and asked if they were ready. Jack gave Daniel a raised eyebrow and when Daniel nodded, said, "I'll start out with the shrimp cocktail, then the onion soup, and finally the tenderloin with the half lobster."

"Very good, sir."

Daniel looked up from the menu and said, "I'll try the foie gras, the onion soup too, and I'll have the Macadamia nut crusted lamb chops."

"I don't think Janet would mind if we shared a bottle of wine, Daniel."

"I won't tell if you won't."

Smiling, Jack looked up at the waiter and asked, "What would you recommend?"

"I would suggest a nice glass of house Riesling for the gentleman having the foie gras, and we have an excellent house Chardonnay for you, sir. Then with the meal, I'd recommend a bottle of 1998 Giusti and Zanza Super Tuscan that would compliment both meals."

"Sold. Thank you," Jack said with a grin and after a questioning look shot at Daniel.

The waiter seemed to float away, leaving the two men alone. Daniel reached for a couple of olives and popped them into his mouth. For the first time in ten days, the silence was uncomfortable for Jack. He took a sip of his water, then asked, "Don't you think it's time you told me what's wrong?"

Looking up in surprise, Daniel let his eyebrows say it all.

"Daniel, we may have only been a couple for a short time, but I know you pretty well. You're bothered by something and I'd like to think we've already built the kind of relationship where you can talk to me about anything. In fact, I don't want any other kind."

The warning, as kindly put as it was, got through to Daniel. His expression went somber as he said, "I was thinking earlier about... telling Sam and Teal'c. Or... not."

Jack sat back, stunned. For ten days he'd not given a thought to the SGC, other than with regards to Daniel and his health, and now, out of the clear blue - the big question had been dropped onto the middle of their dinner table.

He swiped at his brow and said, "Wow. I wasn't expecting that, Daniel. I admit it."

"We're going home, Jack. Janet will certify me for duty, we'll be going to Abydos for Skaara's wedding, then SG-1 starts up again. I couldn't help but think about it, especially since I know how Sam feels about you. This isn't going to go over well with her. And I'm not all that certain about Teal'c either. There's no one he admires or respects more than you, Jack, and I sure don't know how he'd feel about us. Homosexuality just hasn't come up in our discussions of Chulak customs, you know?"

Jack, wishing their wine had come, took a huge gulp of water, then said, "Okay, let's start with Sam. She and I had a talk awhile back, Daniel. I was her safety net, she was ... 'instead of' for me. We both care a great deal for each other - as friends. Does that help?"

"Instead of?"

"Instead of you. Instead of recognizing how I felt about you. "

"Wait. You told her that?"

"Of course not, but she's pretty intuitive where the team is concerned, and I'm betting that like Janet, she knows. Deep down inside, she knows."

One eyebrow shot to the sky. "Janet knows?" Daniel almost squeaked.

"She does. In a 'don't ask, don't tell' kind of way. I seriously doubt that she would have trusted you with me otherwise, Daniel."

Now it was Daniel's turn to sit back. Before he could say anything else, the waiter arrived with their appetizers and wine.

Looking at their plates, both men immediately reached for their wine. As Jack set his empty glass down, he said, "I'm sure that was a delightful wine, too bad I missed the taste."

Daniel put his empty glass down and said, "Ditto."

Jack got their waiter's attention, motioned at the empty glasses, and at the waiter's nod, sat back.

"Still leaves Teal'c, Jack."

"Let's wait for the wine, all right?"

"Why not just order a Scotch on the rocks?"

Jack blinked, then raised his hand and once again got the waiter's attention. When he'd ordered and the waiter had made a discreet exit, he said, "You're wrong, you know. The man most respected by Teal'c is you."

"Don't be ridiculous, Jack. I'm not even on his top ten list."

"His top ten?"

"All right, top... five or six. You, Master Bra'tac, Sam, General Hammond, Selmac. Although, I suspect Rya'c now ranks above you," he added with a grin. "Me, I'm just someone whose six he needs to protect."

"Daniel, you know damn well how Teal'c feels about you."

"Hey, I'm not saying we're not friends. We are. But-"

Jack waved his hand to stop Daniel and said, "I'm not worried about how Teal'c will feel. Like Carter, he's one smart Jaffa and probably knew about us before we did. Now, I'm going to try my shrimp and your foie gras is getting cold. As to telling our teammates, I vote yes, and I'm thinking before we go to Abydos."

Daniel blinked a couple of times and watched as Jack bit into a fat shrimp. He glanced down at his foie gras, picked up his fork, and cut into the tender liver. He added some of the asparagus risotto to the fork, then slid it into his mouth. For a moment, he almost forgot about their conversation, the taste of the risotto and foie gras sending his taste buds into heaven. His moment didn't last though as he thought about telling Teal'c. He just had a feeling that same sex relationships weren't exactly accepted on Chulak, and since joining the SGC, Teal'c had certainly learned that it wasn't accepted on Earth, and most definitely not in the military.

Daniel didn't want to even consider the friendship between Jack and Teal'c taking a header because of Jack's relationship with him.

They finished their respective appetizers in silence, nodded as the plates were removed and replaced by the onion soup and another Scotch on the rocks for Jack. Daniel had another glass of wine.

When the empty soup cups were whisked away, Jack cleared his throat and did something Daniel would have thought was completely out of character; he took Daniel's hand. In public. Daniel tried to tug it back, but Jack held fast.

"I've been sitting here trying to figure out what to say to you, Daniel, and I'm coming up short. You tend to take the guilt of the world on your shoulders, blame yourself for just about everything, and that scares me, because if, God forbid, Teal'c should react badly, it just won't matter a hill of beans to me, but how you'll take it... that will matter."

"For somebody who was having difficulty figuring out what to say, you're doing all right," Daniel gave him grudgingly.

With a small laugh, Jack added, "We need to trust our friends, Daniel. That's really all I can think of to say, along with ... I love you, and I'll love you for as long as I live. Nothing will change that. Nothing. And before you start thinking, let me add, I'll never have any regrets either."

"Maybe all I need to do," Daniel finally said, "is what I've been doing for the last seven years - trust you."

"Works for me. Now, can we sit back and enjoy the view and our meal?"

"Sounds good to me."

Their timing was perfect as their waiter arrived bearing their entrees. The waiter opened the wine, let it breathe a moment, then pouring just a bit into each glass, waited for their approval. When he received it, he filled each glass before doing his disappearing act again. They toasted each other, sipped the flavorful wine, and started to eat.

Jack waited exactly five minutes, counted down, and sure enough, Daniel reached over with his fork and speared a bit of lobster from his plate.

"What, you're not going to dip into my butter?" he asked with a sly grin.

"Nope. This three mustard glaze works just fine." He grinned cheekily back at him. "But thank you just the same, Jack."

"Your ass is mine, Daniel."

"Yep. Right after I have yours."

They enjoyed the music, the water, the meal, but all too soon it was time to head to the airport. The drive was silent, both men sitting quietly and close together. Cho checked their bags once they arrived, then said a heartfelt good-bye.

"It was a pleasure to be your driver, Colonel O'Neill and Doctor Jackson. A pleasure and an honor. I hope should you return, that you will ask for me."

"Guaranteed, Cho, absolutely," Daniel said as he shook Cho's hand.

The young driver tipped his hat and climbed back into the car as Jack, hand at the small of Daniel's back, guided him inside. Crossing over the threshold, he whispered, "First anniversary."

He enjoyed Daniel's laughter.

Daniel did indeed sleep through the late flight to Denver. Jack caught some as well, but he was up when they landed and, with regret, had to wake Daniel for their connecting flight - which, thanks to bad weather over the Pacific, they were just going to make. A sleepy Daniel allowed himself to be pulled through the airport to the second gate. Jack waved the boarding tickets and they were let through seconds before the door was closed. They hurried down the ramp and entered the plane. Their seats were again in First Class so they quickly sat down and belted themselves in.

"What time is it?" Daniel asked as he slipped the pillow behind his head.

"Eight-twenty. We're taking off right on time, be home in about forty minutes."

"Okay."

Sixty minutes later they were walking out of the airport with their luggage, the limo Jack had ordered to take them home parked at the white curb across the street. As they handed the driver their luggage, Jack asked, "Your place or mine?"

"Fish," Daniel said around a yawn.

"Right, your place."

Daniel tapped the glass of the aquarium as he shook a small bit of fish food into the water. His next door neighbor, Mrs. Robbins, had obviously taken good care of them, and as promised, had even cleaned the aquarium. "You guys miss me?" he asked as he peered at them.

"Sure, I distinctly saw them chasing their tails with happiness when we walked in."

"You're making fun of my fish, Jack. That's a no-no."

"What, you didn't see them?"

"I'm ignoring you."

"So soon in the relationship. I'm devastated. And we're due at the SGC in an hour. Surely you can think of other things to do besides make love to your fish?"

"Let me think," Daniel said, tapping his lower lip.

Jack grabbed him by the front of the shirt and kissed him. It would have been extremely romantic if Daniel hadn't started laughing.

"Aw, the lovely gray walls of the SGC. How could we have stayed away so long, Daniel?"

"I don't know. It's a real mystery."

They were walking down the corridor toward the Infirmary and Daniel's appointment with Janet, Daniel carrying their gift bags in one hand. Jack had the silly urge to take Daniel's other hand and skip their way to Janet's office, but he wisely resisted.

"Jack, why don't you go check in with Sam and Teal'c? I'll join you when Janet's done with me, all right?"

Jack didn't argue, he knew what was going on, so he just nodded and let Daniel continue on alone while he turned in the other direction and headed toward Sam's lab. They'd discussed today, and the fact that together, they'd tell Teal'c and Sam, but Jack had his own ideas. Knowing that Daniel wanted privacy while he was with Janet, he decided now was the time to tell their teammates. That way, if either teammate reacted poorly, Daniel wouldn't have to deal with the fall-out.

"Well, you certainly look better," Janet said as she set his wrist down after taking his pulse.

"I am better. And before you ask, I haven't had a migraine in days - eight to be exact."

"That's a very good sign. Your weight is right where it should be, your coloring is good, and your blood pressure perfect. I have no doubt that the blood workup will be equally good. If everything pans out as I suspect it will, you'll be a go for going through to Abydos tomorrow. We should have the results back by later this afternoon and I'll let you know immediately."

Daniel jumped down from the examining bed and put his blue jacket back on. "Thanks, Janet." He picked up the bag he'd brought with him and handed it to her. "From us to you," he said with an anticipatory grin.

Janet then proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was a little girl at heart. She tore into the bag with a gleeful squeal. At the garish shirt, she giggled, and at the lotion, she squealed again. But when she reached in one more time, at Daniel's urging, to find the small black box, she gave a little shiver. "Daniel?"

"Just open it, Janet."

With a shaking hand, she pulled the top up... and gasped. "Oh, Daniel, this is beautiful." She slowly took out the coral necklace and held it up. "Thank you, Daniel."

"There's another box in there for Cassie, and a matching shirt," he added with a grin.

"In fact, if you, Cassie, Teal'c, and Sam work it right, you could end up at one of Jack's barbecues similarly attired."

"You guys didn't?"

"We did."

She wagged a finger at him and said, "Don't think we won't wear them at the next O'Neill bash, Daniel. Then you two will be sorry."

Daniel laughed and said, "I'm the only one who'll be sorry. I bought one for Jack too."

"Glad you're here, Teal'c," Jack said as he walked into Sam's lab. He eyed the other technicians and gave Sam a pointed look. She got the message.

"Uhm, guys?"

They got the message too, and quickly made themselves scarce. Sam's lab was under surveillance, but no audio, so Jack made sure his back was to the camera. He pulled out a stool and perched on the edge of it as he said, "I have something to talk to you both about and this definitely requires privacy."

"Oh, God, it's Daniel, isn't it? There's something wrong-"

"Carter, it's not Daniel's health. In fact, he's never been better and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Doc Frasier isn't giving him a clean bill of health right now."

"Then the trip was successful, O'Neill?"

Smiling, Jack said, "Very. He's tan, filled out again, and doing very well."

"This is very good news," Teal'c said with a bow of his head.

Suspicion tinging her voice, Sam asked, "Then what's wrong? Is it Skaara? The wedding?"

"No, Carter... this is more of a ... personal nature. I... I'm not sure how to say this, but our vacation, I mean the trip to Hawaii, well, actually, it happened before Hawaii, and we both feel you two need to know, being our teammates and all, so I just need to say it, I guess."

"That would be wise, O'Neill," Teal'c intoned.

"Right." Jack swiped a hand over his face. "Okay, it's like this... about Daniel and I... uhm, er, I can't tell, and you," he looked at Sam, "can't ask."

Sam looked at Teal'c, then at Jack. "Sir?"

"I believe I understand," Teal'c said in a low voice. "DanielJackson has become your 'chu'pla', then?

Jack immediately bristled at the way Teal'c said 'chu'pla'. It sounded even worse than when a Goa'uld called Teal'c a 'shol'va'. He was pretty sure he had his answer about Jaffa and homosexuality.

He glanced over at Carter and was heartsick to see her expression change. She was suddenly on guard and closed up. Jack was very glad he'd done this without Daniel. Very glad. He cleared his throat and said, "Is this going to be a problem with either of you, as far as working on SG-1?"

"Since there's nothing to be said or asked, no, sir," Carter said as she turned away and picked up a tool to go back to work.

Teal'c shrugged and said, "You are a great warrior, O'Neill. Your choices are yours and yours alone."

Why didn't that make him feel better?

He straightened his shoulders and said, "We're scheduled to leave for Abydos tomorrow at zero eight-hundred hours. I'll see you both then."

"Very good, sir."

"Indeed."

Feeling like a shit, he left them. How the hell was he going to prepare Daniel?

"Hey, there you are."

Jack looked up and almost cringed. Daniel was walking toward him and he looked happy, relaxed and at ease. He put on a cheerful face and said, "You up for some lunch?"

"Sam and Teal'c meeting us?"

"Uhm, no, actually. You know Carter. She's still hard at work on the 'on button', but I confirmed our departure time for tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to seeing an Abydonian wedding."

Daniel had stopped walking. Jack paused and turned back around. "Daniel?"

"What happened?"

Shit.

"Come on, Daniel, they've got salmon cakes today." He snagged Daniel's jacket and started to turn away but Daniel wasn't having any of it.

"Jack?"

He looked past Daniel, and decided there were just too many people around. "Not now, Daniel. Lunch, okay?"

Daniel studied him for two very uncomfortable moments, then said, "Let's go to my office, Jack."

With that, he turned away and started walking back the way he'd come. Jack sighed heavily and followed.

The minute the office door was shut and locked, Daniel said, "You told them."

Jack thought very fast. He wasn't a colonel in the United States Air Force for nothing.

"Yes, I told them. They were both surprised but assured me that everything was fine."

"You're lying."

"No, Daniel, I'm not. I asked point blank if they were all right with what I couldn't exactly say, if they were all right remaining on SG-1, and they both assured me that they were. The law made it very difficult to say anything, if you know what I mean."

"What aren't you saying now, Jack?" Daniel walked over to the table and sat down, then waited expectantly.

"I've told all of it. You'll see for yourself tomorrow."

"I see."

Hopeful, Jack said, "Okay, now we go for lunch?"

"Sure."

Daniel got up, but Jack had a feeling all was not well.

"You're not eating."

"Am so."

"Are not. You're doing a bang up job of pushing your food around but you're most definitely not eating."

"Jack, don't make anything of this. I had a huge breakfast and that wasn't so long ago, all right?"

"Fine, fine," he said, holding up his hands in surrender. "I'm not going to bug you, but everything is okay."

"Great." He pushed his plate away and stood up. "Look, like you, I've got a bunch of catch-up work to do, so what say we go our separate ways until tonight?"

Feeling strangely disappointed, Jack said, "Sure. And I assume Janet gave you your freedom?"

Daniel smiled for the first time since questioning him about Sam and Teal'c. "She's pretty sure I'll have a go for tomorrow. She's just waiting on the blood results, but she was very happy. "

"Good. Okay, see you around five or so."

Daniel gave him a small salute and left.

Jack watched him leave and felt like so much shit. He'd lied, sort of, and he wanted nothing more than to follow Daniel and take him home and away from the SGC.

Maybe retiring was the answer.

"You are bothered by what O'Neill could not say, Major Carter?"

Sam looked up from her work and frowned. "Teal'c, I can't really discuss this...."

"I am not military, this is, therefore, not a military discussion. Simply two friends talking."

She sat down on her stool. "I... don't know how I feel. I admit to being... surprised, but right now... I just don't know."

"You, perhaps, had expectations for yourself and O'Neill?"

Sam frowned and turned the words around in her mind. It was true; she'd had 'expectations' at one time, but not now. Admittedly, since she and Jack had talked all those months ago, that 'attraction' had been put to rest. She'd come to realize that her affections had been blown out of proportion by her own loneliness. But Colonel O'Neill and ... Daniel? She gave a small shake of her head and said, "There's nothing between the colonel and me, Teal'c. Sure, for awhile I thought there might be, but no. I guess I just can't get my head around the colonel and Daniel - together. If anyone had asked me a few weeks ago, I would have said they weren't even friends any longer, let alone ... more."

"I see."

She cocked her head at him and asked, "What about you? What's this 'chu'pla'?"

His mouth turned down even more than usual as he lifted his head high. "You must understand that the Jaffa may go for months, even years, without seeing their families or wives. A Jaffa might not even see a woman for months or years, hence it was not unusual for one to take a slave and make that individual his 'chu'pla'. Needs had to be meant in order for a Jaffa to perform to his maximum abilities."

"Did you ever have a... chu'pla?"

He looked away as he said, "I did not. I was fortunate in that I returned home frequently."

"I see." She thought about the whole situation and simply could not envision Colonel Jack O'Neill with a man, let alone Daniel. Then another thought struck.

"Teal'c, you said... a slave?"

"That is correct. A Jaffa would take one of the human slaves, with permission of his God."

"You said the word, 'chu'pla' with such disdain. Is that how you personally felt about the Jaffa warrior who took one to his bed?"

"Of course not. Even Master Bra'tac had a 'chu'pla' - more than once. The greater the Jaffa, the more beautiful the chu'pla. Often a system lord would give his own personal slave to his First Prime as a reward."

"But it was always a man?"

"There are no female warriors, Major Carter. The only females a Jaffa was likely to run across when on board his God's ship, or on campaign, would be a female Goa'uld."

"And a female Goa'uld would not engage in sexual behavior with a Jaffa, correct?"

"That is correct."

"So does your disdain for the chu'pla come from the fact that he was a human slave, or because he allowed a Jaffa to use him?"

Teal'c's eyes narrowed at the strange question, but he did not answer immediately.

"Teal'c?"

"A chu'pla had no choice, Major Carter. He was a slave."

"He was... weak, then?"

Teal'c frowned, but again, simply looked at her. She wondered where she was going with this and gave herself a mental shake -- and something crystallized.

"Daniel is neither a slave, nor without choice. How is it you called him the colonel's chu'pla?"

Several silent moments passed and Sam was just about to ask again when a voice behind them said, "Hi guys."

Daniel didn't go to his office. He needed to see Sam and Teal'c himself, hear from them that everything was all right, and since he still had their gift bags, well, any excuse in a storm, or whatever.

As he arrived at Sam's lab, his throat tightened up and his left eye started to throb. He knew Jack had lied to him, he just didn't know how badly the lie had been needed.

He paused at the door, then turned the knob and walked in.

"Hi, guys."

"Daniel," Sam said in surprise. "Uhm, welcome back."

"Thanks." He held up the two bags. "I bring gifts."

Sam smiled and said, "You didn't have to."

"Yes, I did. In fact, if I remember correctly, I had strict orders to bring back 'presents'. Here." He handed one bag to Sam, then turned to Teal'c. "Teal'c, this one's for you."

Teal'c bowed his head, took the bag, and set it down on the table. Daniel pretended not to notice that he didn't open it. Sam was digging into hers, and found the lotion first.

"Oh, Daniel, thank you. This stuff smells incredible. Did you get Janet some too?"

"As ordered," he said with a grin.

Teal'c still had not said anything and Daniel felt a cold fear blossom in his chest. He fought it down and said, "There's more."

"I can tell," Sam said as she dug in again. She pulled out the tissue wrapped shirt, uncovered it and, laughing, held up her hand to block her eyes. "God, this is one bright shirt."

Daniel laughed and said, "Janet thought so too. Jack insisted we get all of you the same one." He turned to Teal'c and added, "Check yours out, Teal'c."

With a nod, Teal'c reached in and pulled out his shirt. "It is indeed bright."

"There's more in there, Teal'c. And Sam, go in one more time."

Sam did as instructed and pulled a box similar to Janet's. She opened it and smiled. "Daniel, this is beautiful."

"Glad you like it." He glanced at Teal'c, who was simply watching Sam. Swallowing a sudden rise of bile, he said softly, "There's a Hawaiian totem in your bag. I think you'll find its history interesting. There's a card," he added with a clumsy wave of his hand.

"I am most grateful for the thought, DanielJackson."

Daniel felt his face heat up at the coldness of Teal'c's voice, and it hadn't skipped his notice that Teal'c had yet to actually look at him.

He glanced from one to the other, and finally said, "You two are a pretty big part of SG-1, in fact, with Jack, you are SG-1." He took a deep breath, and stepped off the cliff. "So I'm thinking it's time for me to leave the team, you know? I'll... I'll see you both tomorrow morning."

He neither expected, nor received, any response. He turned and walked out.

Once in the corridor, he rested his back against the wall and closed his eyes. When his breathing calmed, he pushed himself away, walked to his own office, went inside, closed the door, and went to work.

Sam fingered the lovely bracelet as she tried to grapple with what had just happened. Daniel had said he'd leave SG-1. Just like that. And she'd said nothing in return. Nor had Teal'c.

She put the bracelet on, then took it off and replaced it back in the box. She put the box, the shirt and the lotion back in the bag.

God, why did she feel as though her world had changed, irrevocably, for the worst?

"I am in need of... meditation, Major Carter. If you do not require my services at the moment?"

"No, of course not, Teal'c. I just... you never answered my question."

Walking to the door, he said quietly, "I do not think I have an answer - yet."

Daniel popped two more aspirin, swallowed the last of his coffee, and pulled another book toward him. The work was rudimentary, boring even, but had to be done. He flipped through several pages but the words were starting to run together so he pushed it away and took off his glasses.

He'd spent the last four hours ignoring thoughts, worries, Sam, and Teal'c. He'd concentrated on the backlog of work and nothing else, but now... now his life came rushing back.

There was no way he could allow the real team of SG-1 to suffer because he and Jack were a couple. And hadn't the last several months proven that he was an unnecessary component of SG-1? Yep. So no loss, and maybe a major save.

And who said a guy could have his cake frosted, then eat it?

He rubbed his eyes and thought of never going through the 'Gate again, or at least, very rarely, and certainly not with SG-1, and it hurt. He could admit it - he wanted to be part of SG-1, wanted to make a difference or at least be a part of something that was making a difference. He'd thought he'd finally found a place where he belonged, but if he'd been shown anything in the last months, it was that SG-1 wasn't it, wasn't the place.

But Jack was.

And that would have to be enough.

Except....

Who knew better than he what the SGC could take from an individual? How long would he and Jack last if he weren't a part of SG-1? How often would they even see each other?

Daniel's fingers tightened around his coffee cup... and suddenly he turned and threw it with all his strength against the far wall.

Okay, that felt... good. But nevertheless, he got up, walked over to the mess, and immediately started cleaning it up. Pieces of ceramic in his hand, he started for the trash just as his door opened and Jack walked in.

"Aloha, Daniel. Did you hear from Janet?"

Daniel dumped the broken cup and turned back to his table and said, "Yep. All clear."

"Cool. Unfortunately, I just talked with Hammond and we've been called into a briefing in," he checked his watch, "now."

Daniel looked at the stack that now rested in his out-box and compared it to the stack still in the top box. He'd done remarkably well. His in-box had shrunk by better than ninety percent and what was left had no "Need Now" dates. He shrugged and said, "Let's go."

As Jack took Daniel's jacket from the peg and handed it to him as he asked, "You okay?"

"Yep," Daniel answered, taking the jacket from Jack's hand. "Curious though. I hope whatever this meeting is about won't stop us from going to Abydos tomorrow."

"I'm with you on that. I guess the quicker we get to it, the sooner we'll know."

"If you don't mind, Colonel Irving of SG-9 is joining us. Colonel, thank you for making yourself available so late in your day."

"No problem, sir."

Hammond looked around the table and said, "SG-1, we're meeting on this now because Doctor Jackson will have some... homework to do while attending Skaara's wedding. Colonel Irving, would you fill SG-1 in on the mission they'll be undertaking after their visit to Abydos?"

Irving opened a file and took a sheaf of papers which he unclipped and shot across the table to Jack and Daniel before passing two more copies down to Sam and Teal'c. As the papers were accepted, he said, "We just got back from P2S-4C3. This particular planet has a civilization similar to the States in the forties. Their Stargate was discovered about fifteen years ago on Kelowna, one of three nations that inhabit the planet. What's unusual is that along with the 'Gate, they discovered a Goa'uld temple and something called 'naquadria' which is proving to be even more powerful than naquada. This is what puts them in your area of expertise, Major Carter." He turned his attention to Daniel. "Kelowna is using naquadria now in order to make a bomb."

"A bomb? But ... why?" Daniel asked.

"Kelowna is currently having difficulty with the other two nations and they feel that this weapon could be their best defense. However, they did seem open to the idea of representatives from Earth acting as a kind of mediator for them with the Andari's and the Tiranian's. That's where you'll come in, Doctor Jackson. Unfortunately, we couldn't get them to agree to stop experimenting with the naquadria in the meantime. A meeting could not be arranged before next Tuesday, and because all schedules are tight, you'll probably need to 'gate from Abydos directly to Kelowna. If we're successful in mediating a treaty, the Kelowans have promised to give us a sample of naquadria."

General Hammond leaned forward and said, "You can see why this could be important. From all of the information brought back by Colonel Irving and his team, naquadria could prove to be an alternate source of energy."

"So we come back from Abydos, and 'gate to this Kiwanis planet, where upon Daniel does his thing and Carter does hers. Do I have the gist?"

Holding back a grin, Hammond said, "You've got the ... gist, Colonel. "

"Jonas Quinn," Irving added, "the Special Advisor to the High Minister of ... Kelowna, will meet you upon your arrival. He's especially interested in meeting you, Doctor Jackson."

"Understandable," Jack said with a smirk, "given his devastating wit, charm and... OUCH!" He turned toward Daniel. "You kicked me!"

Innocence personified, Daniel said, "Moi?"

"Yes, well," Hammond interjected. "If all goes as planned, this could be very rewarding for all concerned. Doctor, Colonel Irving has a special packet for you that should supply you with all the information you might need on the three countries, their history, etc."

Irving slid a portfolio across the table to Daniel, who collected it and said, "Thank you, Colonel."

As Irving answered questions for Sam, Daniel flipped through the notebook and decided that after Kelowna, he'd approach General Hammond and step down from SG-1.

"So, after we left you on Abydos, did you and Shar'e have a real wedding?"

They were standing in the 'Gate room waiting for Sam and Teal'c and Daniel was adjusting his backpack. He paused and tilted his head at Jack, his body language asking if Jack really wanted to know. The older man smiled softly and simply nodded.

"We did." Daniel smiled with the memory. "The celebration lasted six days and nights. Kasuf honored us by doing 'aruki' and Skaara was my-"

"Let me guess - your shylock?"

Daniel's eyes narrowed. "Shylock, Jack?"

"Yeah, you know, the Abydos version of a best man."

"And you know this - how?"

"Well, duh. Obviously one of us is going to be shylock for Skaara."

"Dumb Jack works for you, but not for me, okay?"

"Touchy, are we?"

Daniel was saved from answering by the arrival of Sam and Teal'c. He made a show of 'fixing' something on his pack while Jack joked with his other teammates. Neither said anything to him, but fortunately, before it could become noticeable, Hammond was giving them the go and telling them that he'd see them on Abydos in two days.

Daniel was the last to go through the 'Gate.

Jack sat in a corner and watched the celebration unfolding in front of him. Evidently the Abydos way of preparing for a wedding was to party before as well as after the ceremony. Of course, he realized that in this case, the young prince of the city was the groom and therefore the wedding held greater significance. To top it off, they were also celebrating Daniel's return. Speaking of whom... Daniel was, at that very moment, sharing some wise words with Skaara, as befitted his duties as the man who would stand 'aruki' for Skaara. Judging from the laughter and covert looks in his direction, Jack suspected the wise words were actually embarrassing anecdotes about him. He didn't really mind, it was kind of fun watching Daniel laugh so freely. Here on Abydos, he was surrounded by people who loved him unconditionally and he seemed to blossom as a result. Which only served to show Jack how far away Daniel had grown from the SGC. He glanced across the group of dancers to where Teal'c and Carter sat with Kasuf and his expression darkened. Teal'c had not exchanged more than a few words with Daniel in the two days they'd been on Abydos, and Carter hadn't been much better.

He pulled his hat off and brushed a hand over his short hair. God, this was a mess. As the party continued, he pondered retirement. They had their weapon against a Goa'uld invasion, hence, they'd accomplished their primary mission. Why not quit while ahead and alive? He glanced back at Daniel and noted the totally relaxed manner, and the ease with which he joked with his Abydonian family. He hadn't seen this particular Daniel around the SGC in years and he wanted nothing more than to see this Daniel all the time.

Okay, after Kelowna, he'd broach the subject of retirement for both of them. Decision made, he felt instantly better.

The wormhole shot out before settling back and SG-1 and Kasuf waited. A moment later, General Hammond and Janet walked through, followed closely by Bra'tac and Rya'c. Teal'c immediately embraced his son, then clasped arms with Bra'tac. Janet thanked Kasuf for allowing her to be a part of Skaara's wedding, asked Daniel if he was "being good", then promptly went to Sam's side. As the two headed out of the pyramid, Sam could be heard catching Janet up on the parties she'd missed. General Hammond watched the two women walk away, then turned his attention to Kasuf.

"We are honored by your presence, General Hammond," Kasuf said with a slight bow.

"It's an honor to be a part of the celebration, Kasuf."

With a nod at Jack and Daniel, who both smiled, Hammond, Kasuf, Teal'c, his son, and Bra'tac walked towards the exit, leaving the two men standing alone.

Rocking on up on his toes, Jack said, "Gee, just one big happy family."

Daniel pulled up the hood of his robe and took a deep breath in an effort to calm his nerves. The ceremony was just minutes away and he was starting to feel his responsibility.

Jack, watching from his place on the pallet that served as Daniel's bed, whistled low. "You look hot for an aruki, Daniel, but why so colorful?"

Adjusting the hood, Daniel said, "A wedding the magnitude of Skaara's demands more color than usual. You'll see some pretty terrific combinations in a few minutes."

"Well, blue is definitely your color, and you still look hot."

Daniel, wearing robes in a mixture of pale blues, teal and royal blues, turned and said, "You'd think I was hot in rags, Jack."

"Oooh, rags. All those strips of cloth, all that flesh...."

"We've only been separated for two nights, Flyboy."

"Daniel," Jack said as he arose and slipped into his dress uniform jacket, "we're in our honeymoon phase. Two nights is the equivalent of forever to this horny colonel."

They were in Daniel's 'quarters' and thus alone, so Jack walked up behind Daniel, wrapped his arms around him, then nestled his face in Daniel's neck. "I miss you. Sue me." As he kissed the warm skin, he murmured, "Do you know why blue looks so good on you?"

Eyes closed and body rocking slightly in Jack's arms, Daniel said, "No, but like I said, anything would look-"

"The Ankat," Jack said as he lifted his mouth from behind Daniel's ear.

"I look good because of the Ankat?"

"Yep. Didn't you wonder about the colors chosen for each of us by the Ankat?"

"Of course, which is why I asked, and by the way? They really nailed you, Sam and Teal'c." His eyes darkened slightly as he added, "They weren't far off on Paul either, come to think of it. But what really got to me was how they saw through you and right into your soul, Jack. I was impressed. They understood your need for flight and the exploration that it represented. They recognized through you, the desire in all men to go beyond the acceptable boundaries, to push the envelope, to climb the next tallest mountain, to see what's on the other side." He smiled at Jack as he brushed the back of his hand along Jack's cheek. "They saw your beauty, strength, humor and wisdom. They chose very wisely. You also looked incredibly hot."

Jack leaned into the caress and grinned. "Thank you. So what did you think about what they said regarding the color blue?"

A small frown creased Daniel's forehead. He shrugged lightly and said, "The Ankat haven't lost anything - or anyone -- as a result of our coming through the 'Gate. Who knows what will happen in the future? They may soon regret the opening of the 'Gate on one world that would lead them to explore beyond theirs. Like Washington and Kinsey, they may come to regret Earth's real version of Pandora."

"Daniel, you can't compare Kinsey to the Ankats. Kasuf lost his daughter, and almost his son, but do you see any regret from him that you came through that 'Gate so many years ago? No. He loves you, Daniel, and he's wise enough to know that you're not to blame for what happened to Shar'e. No one is. What happened would probably still have happened with or without you. In fact, it probably would have. Only difference is, without you, Shifu would now be in the hands of a Goa'uld, Skaara would never have been returned to us, and these people would still be slaves."

He pulled away from Daniel, ran a hand through his short hair, and said, "You did a great thing, Daniel. The Stargate is our saving grace. Don't you get that? I believe with all my heart that when you opened it, you gave us our one chance to change the course of Earth's future, and for the better. The Ankat saw this, they knew who and what you were, namely, our conscience." He paused, then added, "Shakat compared you to water, did you know that?"

Struck dumb, Daniel could only shake his head.

Jack wracked his brain to remember all that Shakat had said about the color blue, and its representation of water....

"He said... that we can't live without water, that it can brings us peace, heals us, and if we have unlimited access to it, listen to it, and never try to change it, it will bring us patience and happiness. He said something about water purifying and how it creates, and I remember how all of it seemed to just click into place as far as blue being a good color for you."

Jack moved further away and started pacing as he struggled to express his thoughts.

"I don't know if this makes sense to you, but you do tend to ... kind of... purify things, Daniel. You take something down to its basic meaning, you get rid of all the clutter and get to the heart of the matter. And when we listen to you, we do the right thing. I guess... the best example I can come up with is Euronda. You stripped that whole fiasco down to the simplest context. It was a war, and there are always two sides, a little fact we all forgot, and we were about to help one side defeat another. God, I know I'm not saying this well, or expressing how I feel...."

He turned back to face Daniel and said, "There have to be lines we draw and refuse to cross, no matter what, just as there are lines we can smudge. You never fail to show us which is which. So often we've come close to becoming that which we abhor, but you always seem to know-"

"No, I don't, Jack. Not even close. Hell, if that were true, Shifu never would have had to give me that God awful dream. I was just as ready as everyone else to throw him to the dogs of war. To force memories that would surely have destroyed him - and us - had we succeeded."

"Daniel, it went against everything you are to agree, didn't it?"

Daniel didn't answer; he was too ashamed because it was true.

"You didn't want to buck us again. To fight again. To lose again." He re-started his pacing. "Let's talk about Chaka. How is it you're the only one who saw him as an individual, a sentient being worthy of the chance for life and freedom? I was trying my damnedest to keep from harming a 'human' simply because they looked like us, placing them 'above' Chaka because he didn't look like us, and you were trying to show me that didn't matter a hill of beans. Don't you get it yet, Daniel? You didn't just open the galaxy to us, you opened our eyes. And for that ability, the Ankat chose the lighter shade of blue, remember? That represented the ability to understand what the rest of us can't. That's you. Oh, and then there's the white thread. They really had you nailed with that, Daniel. Shakat said you were our future, and he was right. And he meant it in a kind of universal way. I agree a hundred percent. And of course, I know you're my future."

Daniel stood there, dumbfounded. He gave a small shake of his head and said, "Jack, let's not get carried away here, all right? I've screwed up more than I could ever get right, I can get like a dog with a bone and forget anything else in the world, including people, and speaking of people, my interpersonal relationship skills leave a whole lot to be desired, you know? And right now, I have aruki to do, so come on."

Jack caught the swirl of blue robe and yanked Daniel backward and into his arms. Sometimes words just didn't work with the great linguist. Captured, Daniel started to protest, but Jack put words to rest and poured all his feelings into Daniel via a kiss.

A nice, simple, Abydos-shattering kiss.

When he was done, he let go, rubbed his thumb lovingly over Daniel's bottom lip, and said, "That's what I was trying to say. Now, let's go get Skaara married."

The wedding was scheduled to take place in the very heart of the city, and the Abydonians were already gathered in a semi-circle before a large pedestal where Daniel stood, ready to receive Skaara and his bride. The special guests, General Hammond, Doctor Frasier, Sam, Teal'c, Rya'c, and Bra'tac all stood to the right of Daniel, Jack to the left. A fire blazed in a shallow platter atop the pedestal.

Side by side, Skaara and Lei'er walked toward Daniel, Kasuf and Lei'er's parents following a few steps behind. When Skaara and Lei'er reached Daniel, Jack stepped in from the left to stand next to Skaara.

Daniel's job as aruki was first, to get the business part of the ceremony out of the way. He looked to the parents of the bride and said softly, "The Mahr."

Lei'er's father nodded, turned toward Kasuf, bowed low, then handed him a small carved box. Kasuf opened it, held it high for all to witness, and said, "The Mahr is received."

Daniel then turned to Skaara and said first in Ancient Egyptian, then in English, "The Shabka is as promised?"

Skaara nodded, and from around his own neck, he pulled off a necklace and faced his bride. "As promised, my Shabka. Let it stand as proof of all my promises, past, present, and future."

He placed the necklace around Lei'er's neck and both faced Daniel again.

Speaking first in the language of the Abydonians, then in English, Daniel performed 'aruki'. He told of the oaths that both Skaara and Lei'er had made, he informed all who witnessed, that it was their duty now to honor the marriage as Skaara and Lei'er would honor it. He shared that now a third family had come of Kasuf and Lei'er's parents, that the young couple owed allegiance to each other first, their respective families second. Skaara and Lei'er then shared their oaths and finally, Daniel turned to the blaze behind him. He lifted a long taper, touched the tip to the flame, then picked up another taper and repeated the process. He invited Skaara and Lei'er to join him and he gave them each a taper. With a wave of his hand over the blaze, the flames died down. Skaara then fitted his taper into one of the holders now visible at the bottom of the platter as Lei'er did the same. Again, in ancient Egyptian, then English, Daniel said, "If the gods have blessed this union, the flames will join the candles and purify the union of Skaara and Lei'er."

He waved a hand over the gold platter and flames shot up around the two thin, burning candles. A huge cheer went up, and Skaara, clearly delirious with joy, lifted his new bride, spun her around, then kissed her solidly on the lips. When he finally set her down, she blushed, kissed Daniel on the cheek, then buried her head in Skaara's neck.

There was no official pronouncement of husband and wife, there was no need.

The party was in full swing with food, wine, dancing, and singing. It was obvious that Rya'c was having a ball and he was clearly a favorite among the younger Abydonians. Bra'tac watched, amused, often sharing anecdotes with Kasuf. The big surprise was General Hammond, who was having a great time with Janet. They danced, sang to the new couple, which caused Sam to whisper to Teal'c that she'd have given anything for a camera at that point.

The suns of Abydos set and the party went on. Darkness swept over the sands and more food and wine joined the long low tables in the center of the city. Fires and torches lit the city and hid the stars that now studded the sky overhead so no one spotted the small dark ship drift down to land behind the large pyramid that held the Stargate.

"What else do you have to do as aruki?" Jack whispered in Daniel's ear. "I'm thinking we should find a nice corner and do a little aruki of our own."

Laughing low, Daniel said, "I'm supposed to take the happy couple to their new home in a few, but after that, if we were to ... disappear, I don't think we'd be missed."

Jack lifted his cup of rose water wine and said, "Maybe you should take them now? Skaara looks as though he'd really like to get his bride alone...."

Daniel shot a glance over at the happy groom and decided if that glazed look in Skaara's eyes was any indication, Jack was right. He quickly stood, which was all that was evidently needed. Everyone hushed each other and looked at him expectantly. Smiling nervously at the attention, he leaned down and hissed out of the corner of his mouth. "I'll take care of Skaara; you go find that corner so you can take care of me."

Daniel raised his arms at Skaara and Lei'er, both of whom shyly stood and moved toward him. Suddenly all those especially close to the couple were scrambling up and they all moved out, with Daniel leading the way. Sam leaned over toward Jack and asked, "What's going on now, sir?"

"Daniel and the close friends of the bride and groom now take them to their new home. I guess you could say... the honeymoon is about to commence."

"But they're going to leave them alone, right?" Janet asked, brown eyes following the torches as they flickered against the city walls.

"Yep. They're just escorted, then everyone will return to party until dawn. They'll just take a few-"

Jack never got any further as the walls two hundred feet away and to the south, burst apart. Rock and dirt shot out, covering the wedding party. People moved immediately, rushing to their feet, eyes darting in every direction, including upward. Another wall was blown to smithereens and people began to panic and scatter. Several, Teal'c, Bra'tac, and Rya'c among them, headed for the entrance, weapons in hand. Jack was up and running toward his teammates as General Hammond moved to join him. Janet immediately tried to calm the people and offer aid to any injured.

Another explosion rocked the city and sand and dust filled the air.

Jack ran, head low, for the entrance, only to be stopped by Teal'c, who put out an arm.

"It is Anubis, O'Neill. He is there."

Teal'c pointed and now Jack could see the dark shape standing a several yards from the city. He was alone, his arm outstretched. As Jack watched, a blast of light appeared to shoot out of Anubis' arm and they all dove for cover. The entrance to the city was hit, the archway crumbling to the ground.

As the dust cleared, a voice boomed out from under the dark cloak.

"I want the device, and I want it now. I will destroy the city and all within if you do not deliver it to me. You can not stop me, nor can you destroy me. The device can not keep this weapon," he waved his arm, "from leveling Nagada. I will continue to riddle the city with blasts until it's delivered."

He punctuated his threat with another shot from the weapon hidden beneath the dark cloak, and more of the far city fell. Screams from within could be heard as more panicked and ran. Jack caught Carter's attention and said in a low voice, "Stall him, Carter. I brought it with us-"

At her surprised look, he shrugged and added, "Call it intuition. Anyway, I need time and it would be helpful if I weren't killed on my way, if you know what I mean."

Carter nodded. "Go, sir. We'll take care of things here."

He turned and started back toward Daniel's quarters, which were still standing. Carter watched a moment, then faced the spot where Anubis stood. She started forward, but a hand on her arm stopped her.

"I'll take care of this, Major," General Hammond said, his face set in stone.

Slowly he stepped over the rubble until he was in plain sight of Anubis.

"I'm General George Hammond of the Tauri, and as you can see, I am unarmed. The device you seek is here, but it will take time to disengage it from its present location. I have sent one of my men to gather several Abydonians and they will work as quickly as possible...."

Kasuf's home was in a part of the city as yet undamaged. As Jack hurried toward Daniel's quarters, he kept his mind fixed on the task at hand, and not on the fact that the part of the city that housed Skaara's new residence hadn't been so lucky. He prayed that Daniel and Skaara were all right, and he wanted nothing more than to find them, but the device was their only chance of stopping Anubis. He spotted his pack and dove for it. A moment later, device in hand, he said triumphantly, "Got it!"

He ran out and back to the entrance, his fingers tight around the smooth, jeweled object.

As he neared the destroyed archway, he could see General Hammond standing just outside the city. Neither he nor Anubis were saying anything, but neither was the Goa'uld attacking the city. He took a deep breath... and joined Hammond.

Daniel lifted his head as quiet once again descended. After the last blast, he'd thrown Skaara and Lei'er down and covered them with his own body. Now it seemed that the assault on the city was, at least temporarily, on hold. He'd heard Anubis, knew that everyone in the city had heard the demanding voice, the strange timbre of it, the eerie range and power of it. As he blinked away the dust and dirt, he realized he'd lost his glasses. He moved away from the couple, and with shaking limbs, sat back. "Skaara, are you all right? Lei'er?"

"We are well, thanks to you, Dan-yel." Skaara helped his wife stand and they quickly moved to see how their friends were.

Daniel got to his feet and started to look absently about for his wayward glasses. More dust filtered down, and as he stumbled over a large chunk of wall, it hit him.

His nightmare.

His glasses forgotten, Daniel began to run toward the city's entrance.

"Sir, you might want to step back within the safety of the city now," Jack said as he came abreast of his commanding officer. "I don't know what this thing can do."

"I'll stay right here, Colonel. Don't you think you should wait for Doctor Jackson?"

Eyes back on Anubis, Jack said, "Sir, I don't even know if he's alive. The first two blasts hit the side of the city that houses Skaara's... new home."

Hammond shot Jack a hard glance, then said tightly, "Do what you need to do."

"Yes, sir."

He began to walk forward, pausing only when Anubis lifted his arm. He found it strange to be approaching this 'thing' with a weapon he had no idea how to use, while unable to see anything of the creature he hoped to destroy other than a long dark robe.

"Where is the device?"

Jack stopped, then took a few steps to his right, hoping to get Anubis turned away from the city. "I have a part of it." He took several more steps in the same direction and gave a silent 'yoohaw' when Anubis followed. At the same moment, he became aware of something strange. The device seemed to be... heating up in his hand. It wasn't uncomfortably hot, but it felt strange. Was it reacting to Anubis?

"Give it to me and bring me the rest or the city will fall."

Jack took a few experimental steps closer to Anubis and the heat in his hand increased. Oh, yeah, Anubis was the cause, all right. So what would happen if he simply raised his arm and pointed the thing at him? Now would be a good time to find out.

"I don't think so, Nuby. In fact, we don't have the device here. All I have is this little trinket, which, supposedly, can destroy you."

With that, he raised his arm and bent his hand back so that the device was now aimed at Anubis.

A strange thing happened then. The device seemed to pull Jack forward, as if it needed to be even closer to Anubis. He tried to pull back, but was helpless. A light swirled around his hand and he felt his fingers loosen their hold but nothing happened. The device seemed melded to his palm.

An eerie laughter filled the desert night air and Jack had a feeling he'd blown it.

"You hope to harm me with that? I think not, Tauri."

A wave of energy flew out of Anubis' hand and Jack was quickly engulfed in a fiery red glow. The pain that hit him drove him to his knees instantly. He knew he was dying and his last fleeting thought was that he'd give anything to see Daniel one last time....

Daniel rushed through the city, ignoring all cries, knowing only that he had to get to Jack. He was sweating and the moisture carried the dirt and grime into his eyes, further blurring his vision, but not slowing down. He could barely make out several figures ahead, thought he spotted Teal'c's tall dark form, but couldn't see Jack anywhere.

"JACK!"

He heard Sam yelling off to his right but couldn't make out her words. Pulling his Abydonian robes around him so that he could run faster, he yelled out again, "JACK!"

"O'NEILL BATTLES ANUBIS, DANIELJACKSON!"

No, that was impossible. He blinked away the grime and gasped at what he could now see.

Jack was on his knees before Anubis, his body twitching helplessly, caught within the grip of Anubis' mighty power. A red light surrounded Jack and seemed to be burning him alive from within. In Jack's outstretched hand, he held the small device, but it was doing nothing. Anubis laughed a dark laugh and sent another wave of energy into Jack.

"NO!" Daniel yelled....

Teal'c watched, open-mouthed, as Daniel ran toward the entrance. His robes were flapping behind him and Teal'c found himself reaching out to stop him. Daniel veered left and avoided Teal'c's hand. Others reached out to stop him, and failed just as miserably. Teal'c quickly moved to stand beside General Hammond, as did Sam, Bra'tac and Rya'c. Teal'c brought his staff weapon up, ready to protect if given half the chance.

As Daniel ran toward Anubis, Teal'c's eyes widened as he realized what the younger man was going to do. He'd already fired his staff twice, to no avail, so now he watched, helpless, as Daniel flew into the lion's den.

He was running, leaping over debris, avoiding hands that would have stopped him. He rushed past Hammond and, with head down, raced for Anubis. The Goa'uld was so intent on destroying Jack that he was totally unaware of Daniel's headlong approach. Daniel barreled into him, knocking Anubis several feet away.

Rising to his knees, Daniel looked around, shaking his head like a bull in a ring. A few feet away, he could barely make out Jack's form, face down in the sand. Daniel made it to his side and pulled him into his arms even as Anubis gathered himself up.

Daniel knew what was coming.

When Daniel flew into Anubis and they went down, Teal'c saw his one chance to save O'Neill. He moved forward and brought his staff up to bear. Daniel was crawling over to O'Neill and Teal'c opened his staff weapon as Anubis rose to his feet.

Teal'c fired.

The staff fire bounced harmlessly off the Goa'uld.

"TEAL'C!"

He turned to see Major Carter, knife in hand. Understanding, he raised his arm. It flew toward him and he caught it easily by the hilt. As Anubis turned toward O'Neill and Jackson, Teal'c ran out to a spot just behind the two fallen men, drew back his hand and, as the blue light once more engulfed O'Neill, and now DanielJackson, he threw the knife.

It shot straight and true - and bounced harmlessly to the ground.

Shifting his body around so that it was now between Anubis and Jack, he heard something hit Anubis, or rather, his personal shield, but it didn't matter because Anubis was raising his arm toward them. A knife flashed through the air, hit the shield, and fell to the ground. A moment later, the same red light flowed from the Goa'uld, and words from Daniel's nightmare floated just out of reach. Daniel frowned and, as the light engulfed him, as he held Jack tightly, the words returned.

"Two are stronger than one...."

Two are stronger than one.

Daniel reached for Jack's hand....

Teal'c was now helpless to protect his friends. Stricken, he and the others watched as Daniel twisted their bodies so that he would take the brunt of the power, watched shocked as Daniel slowly reached out, against all the odds, to fit his hand over Jack's. He lifted Jack's hand, and somehow, even while protecting O'Neill - and while engulfed in the red power of Anubis -- he raised their hands so that the device was aimed toward Anubis. A pure blue light flowed from the device, striking the red one.

"My God, what's happening?" Hammond asked as the red beam seemed to lessen but continued to attack Daniel and Jack.

"I don't know, sir," Carter said softly, her own gaze fixed on the strange battle.

Daniel felt the power of the device through his hand, but there was also great pain. He prayed Jack was feeling nothing. He prayed Jack was still alive. He could no longer see or hear, but he could feel Jack. He tightened his hold, closed his eyes and concentrated on Jack's hand, on his hand against Jack's, and on the device. He willed power through it and oddly enough, he could suddenly feel the memory of Jack making love to him, could feel his kisses, and it seemed as though they were back in their lagoon.

Warm breezes, cool water, and he was floating on his back, staring up through the trees at a sweet blue sky. Hands were roaming over his body as soft words were whispered into his ear.

"It'll be okay, Danny boy, don't worry."

"I'm not worried."

"Yes, you are. Trust us, Daniel. Trust us."

Floating free, Daniel nodded. "I do... I do."

"Trust me...."

"Always, Jack. Always."

"Daniel - don't leave me... stay... stay...."

The red light curved around Daniel's body and Teal'c realized that the younger man was, indeed, protecting O'Neill. The blue light seemed to grow so bright, Teal'c had to raise a hand in front of his eyes to shield them. The light grew brighter still and Teal'c was seized with a fear he could not give a name to.

It was as if... as if DanielJackson were pouring all of who he was into the light, that the light was DanielJackson, blue, pure, and cleansing. Teal'c felt tears stream down his face at the sacrifice he was witnessing and could do nothing to change. He would gladly have traded places with DanielJackson at that moment, done anything within his power to save the younger man.

And he had called him a chu'pla.

"It's like... a stalemate," Bra'tac murmured. "They battle and no one wins."

Even as he spoke, the blue light seemed to change. A thread of black joined the blue.

"No, look!" Rya'c said excitedly.

The lines of black and blue intertwined and slowly, ever so slowly, the red was beaten back. Daniel and Jack were free of Anubis and the red was being driven back. When it was only a foot from Anubis' hand, it brightened. A terrible scream rent the air and sent shivers up and down the backs of the witnesses. The energy seemed to double, then triple on itself and, a moment later, it surrounded Anubis.

It was over. The red light faded and the black robe fell in swirls of material upon the desert floor.

Worried, everyone looked back to Daniel and Jack. Jack's body was resting on Daniel's prone one, their hands still clasped, Daniel's other hand cupping the back of Jack's head.

"Oh, God," Hammond said as he started to run toward the two men.

Teal'c moved quickly to his friends and knelt down beside them. He could see O'Neill's eyelids fluttering but he was hesitant to remove him from DanielJackson's arms.

"O'Neill?"

"Teal'c?" came the raspy response.

"Do not try to move until help arrives. You are in... you are ... safe."

Jack tried to move anyway, and found himself in a tight, but not uncomfortable, hold. His head was resting on Daniel's chest and he could hear a faint heartbeat beneath his ear.

"Daniel...."

"Doctor Frasier is on her way, stay where you are," Teal'c warned again.

Carter dropped down next to Teal'c as General Hammond went to his knees behind Daniel's head. Carter carefully reached out and picked up Daniel's and Jack's hands. She folded back each of Daniel's fingers, then took the device from Jack's hand. His palm was red, but other than that, there appeared to be no damage.

Janet reached them and went to her knees. "What happened?"

"The colonel was exposed to some kind of energy beam for approximately two minutes, then Daniel interrupted it, and shielded Jack with his own body. He was then exposed for several minutes while... while using the device to defeat Anubis," Carter explained.

"Colonel O'Neill, can you hear me?" Janet asked loudly as she peered into his face.

"I... can ... hear you. Don't ... yell."

Janet smiled and said, "All right, let's get him off Daniel."

Bra'tac, Rya'c and Sam did as Janet instructed and carefully helped Jack up. He was incredibly weak and couldn't support himself so he found himself in Bra'tac's arms.

"You are a lightweight, human," Bra'tac said gruffly.

Since his brain seemed unable to come up with a snappy comeback, he said the only word he could.

"Daniel?"

"Give me some time here, Colonel," Janet said as she bent down and lifted one of Daniel's eyelids.

"Major Carter, you need to go to the 'Gate and let the SGC know what's happened here. We'll need a clean-up crew, so I want SG-8 and 11. The Abydonians will need medical aid as well, and Doctor Frasier will need her bag," Hammond ordered.

With obvious reluctance, Sam stood and nodded. "Yes, sir."

"I will take you, Major Carter," Kasuf said. He quickly ordered torches be brought to them and when they arrived, the two, along with six other Abydonians, set off for the pyramid.

Jack, still unable to voluntarily move, watched them disappear out of his range of sight and said groggily, "Jaffa...."

"It is doubtful, O'Neill," Teal'c, who was now holding Daniel's head while Janet finished her examination, said. "If he had come with any of his soldiers, they would have been out here with him. I believe he came in a single death glider."

Satisfied, Jack repeated his favorite word.

"Daniel?"

Janet leaned back on her haunches and said, "We need to get both of them back to the city. I can't really do anything until I have my bag."

"I will carry Daniel," Teal'c said. He moved his position, slipped his arms under Daniel's body, and lifted him into his arms like a child. He began to march toward the city.

"Can you stand, O'Neill?" Bra'tac asked.

"Stand?" Jack repeated.

"I'm thinking... not," Janet said after another look at her other patient.

Jack sat on the edge of the cot, his head in his hands. His body was coming back to life and it hurt like hell. Carter had returned with two SG teams and a medical team and they were working hard to help the Abydonians. Fortunately, only a handful of people had actually been injured, with a broken arm being the worse injury. They'd found the death glider behind the pyramid, just as Teal'c had surmised, and under Anubis' robes - they'd found the skeleton of a symbiote - and nothing else.

Anubis was most certainly dead.

"You okay?"

Jack lifted his head as Janet walked in. He immediately started to stand but she waved him back down. Knowing damn well he wasn't going to answer her until he asked a question of his own, she said quickly, "Daniel's going to be fine-"

"He's awake? You swore you'd-"

"He's asleep. His body is going through exactly what yours did, only to a greater degree. I gave him a muscle relaxant and he'll sleep through the night."

"But he's ... okay?"

Janet smiled. "He's fine. You're both damn lucky."

"Luck's our middle name, Doc. Don't you know that by now?"

"Yes, well, Daniel's about out of those nine lives and you're getting pretty low yourself, Colonel."

"And you're not the least curious about what happened, are you, Doc?"

In a totally uncharacteristic gesture, Janet patted Jack's knee and said, "I work for the SGC, Colonel. Get real."

"Good point."

"No, I don't 'hurt', okay? Cut it out, Jack."

"Well, I hurt, how can you not?"

Daniel was sitting cross-legged on his pallet, head back, eyes closed. An open book lay on his lap. Jack was sitting on a mound of soft skins, legs outstretched in front of him.

Daniel had awakened that morning and, once assured that Jack was alive and well, had insisted on getting up to help get the city back in order. Janet had informed him that the clean-up detail was progressing nicely and his help wasn't required, but that he'd probably not be able to stand anyway. Daniel had then attempted to prove her wrong - only to prove her right. Jack had arrived just in time to catch his archaeologist.

Now in the late afternoon, both had been alternately napping, reading, and talking quietly, with Jack punctuating the day with questions about how Daniel felt. Now, after being asked for the one hundred millionth time if he 'hurt', Daniel was getting a little pissy.

"You do still hurt."

"My eardrums hurt from you asking me that question all day, that's what hurts." He opened his eyes and lifted his head. "Is this going to be our life from now on, by the way?"

"You mean crazy gods with delusions of grandeur trying to kill us every time we turn around?"

"No. This."

"Ah. This. Yes."

"I was afraid of that. We may have to rethink this relationship, Jack."

"Oh, really? In what way?"

"I may have to keep you in bed in order to keep your mind off my health."

Jack looked thoughtfully up at the ceiling, then over at Daniel. "Umm, that could work, Daniel. In fact, that fits very nicely into my plan."

"You have a plan?"

"Yep. We're going to retire right after P-whatever... what's the name of the place again?"

Daniel sat forward. "Retire?"

Jack got up, only somewhat stiffly, and sat back down next to Daniel. "Yes, retire. You and me. Maybe to Hawaii?"

"You're serious," Daniel stated flatly.

"I am. Come on, there's no better time, Danny."

Daniel searched Jack's face, a frown on his own. "Jack, when did you decide this?"

"A couple of days ago, before Anubis."

"You're not fooling me, Jack. I've already decided to leave SG-1 so your retirement isn't necessary, all right?"

Jack noted that Daniel had moved from pissy to pissier, but he didn't think 'pissier' was a word. In any case, it meant that he still hurt, and that he was angry - with Jack.

"Daniel, we can both retire."

"There's no need for you to retire if I leave SG-1. And you know damn well that you don't want to retire - yet. There's still a lot to be done, the Cymru to find, and you know you want to see this to the end."

Jack rested his head back against the wall. "Daniel, you're impossible. I don't want to see anything to the end if it's not with you. SG-1 isn't SG-1 without you, so why bother?"

"Don't be an ass. You, Sam and Teal'c got along fine without me and you know it. And Jack, we both know they won't tolerate me on the team now. You can sugarcoat it all you want, but again, we both know they didn't take the news about 'us' like you'd hoped."

"God, I hate you."

With a grin playing hide and seek with his lips, Daniel patted Jack on the head and said, "I know, dear."

Jack was saved from making a scathing retort by the appearance of Teal'c. He bowed at both men, then said, "I wish to speak with ... DanielJackson, alone."

Jack couldn't have explained why he did what he did next, but he did it anyway. He took Daniel's hand. Looking up at Teal'c, he said, "I don't think so."

"Jack-"

"No, Daniel," Jack warned. He cocked his head and said, "If you have something to say to Daniel, you can say it in front of me."

"You are not the individual I have wronged, O'Neill," Teal'c said simply.

That brought Jack up short. He felt Daniel's hand slip from his and he got to his feet. Pointing out the doorway, he said, "I'm just going to go... do... something. Somewhere. Don't mind me."

Daniel uncrossed his legs and, as Jack walked out, he stood and said, "Teal'c, you haven't-"

Teal'c interrupted Daniel. "I have, and for that, I am most sorry." Standing before Daniel, hands behind his back, eyes on the wall behind Daniel's head, Teal'c said, "I forgot our friendship, DanielJackson. And I forgot that you are truly the greatest warrior I have ever known. I am honored to serve on SG-1 with you and ask your forgiveness. I also ask that you do not leave SG-1." Brown eyes finally meeting blue, Teal'c added softly, "Do not leave -- us."

Daniel felt himself choking up. He turned away from Teal'c and picked up the book he'd been reading. Making a show of putting the bookmark in place, Daniel blinked several times in an effort to blink back the moisture building in his eyes. He coughed and said,

"Nothing's changed, Teal'c. Jack and I-"

"Have been fortunate enough to find one another at a time when it appeared to all who cared for both of you, that you'd lost the friendship that was so important. I believe SG-1, indeed, the SGC, will benefit greatly by the new relationship between you and O'Neill. I understand that speaking of it is something that, once back on Earth, we will not be allowed to do, so let me say here and now, that O'Neill is a lucky man. I am equally fortunate to count you as my friend, DanielJackson."

Daniel cleared his throat and turned back around. "Thank you, Teal'c."

Teal'c held out his hand. Daniel looked down at it, and with a smile that took years from his face, Daniel took the offered hand.

"Colonel?"

Jack turned and found himself facing ... Carter. She looked distinctly uncomfortable as she stood in a shaft of sunlight that had penetrated the wooden slates overhead.

"Carter."

"I was hoping to have some time with Daniel. Is he-"

"Perhaps you'd like to take a number?"

"Sir?"

"Teal'c is with him at the moment."

"Oh. I see."

"If you're not planning on apologizing, may I suggest you not see him?"

A dull flush of red tinged Carter's cheeks. She ducked her head, tucked some hair behind an ear and said, "Well, as a matter of fact, sir, I do want to apologize."

"I see. So what's responsible for this miraculous turnaround by you and Teal'c?"

Carter's chin rose a fraction of an inch. "That's unfair, Colonel. You surprised us, then Daniel did the same by telling us he'd leave SG-1. Both of us were stunned." She pulled her hat off and ruffled her hair. "Sir, this isn't something we can really sit down and talk about. You know that, I know that. But damn it, give us both some credit. When the chips are down, Teal'c and I know who we care about, what we care about, and what's important."

"I wonder, Carter. What do you think Daniel was doing when he told you he'd leave the team?"

"He was serious, sir. I know that. He really thinks we could be as effective without him. He's wrong."

"When did you come to that realization?"

"We're unique, sir, but only as strong as the four of us together. Stronger still with Daniel than without. Seeing him out there, fighting Anubis, holding you, protecting you, it was so right, Colonel. So very right."

"Hey, Sam."

Both Jack and Sam turned at the sound of the voice. Daniel and Teal'c stood in the sun. Teal'c was smiling, but Daniel's was broader and brighter.

Sam walked over to him and hugged him. "It's good to see you looking so well. You and the colonel both."

"Thanks, Sam."

They looked at each other, then Sam, with her own broad grin, said, "Looks like SG-1 is in very good shape."

"Indeed, Major Carter," Teal'c agreed.

The city of Nagada was quiet. Repairs had been made, families relocated, and Skaara and Lei'er were finally starting their life as husband and wife. Hammond, the two SG teams and the medical teams had returned through the 'Gate, and the Prometheus was on its way to pick up a certain death glider. Both Jack and Daniel had been cleared for active duty by Janet and on this, their final night on Abydos before 'gating to Kelowna, Kasuf was hosting a small farewell dinner. Rya'c and Bra'tac would also leave in the morning, as would Janet.

Seated on cushions around the long low table in Kasuf's home, they ate the rich, spicy meat enfolded in flat bread and drank the Abydonian wine. Platters of grilled vegetables were passed around, as well as grilled fruits.

Everyone pretended not to notice the early escape of two guests of honor.

"God, I love you...."

Daniel lifted his head and grinned. "That would probably mean more if you were looking at me instead of my dick."

"I'm talking to your dick," Jack said between licks.

Laughing low, Daniel dropped back down and said, "You want to make love to my dick, I say go for it."

"Daniel, I'm gonna make such love to you, you'll never forget it, you'll never be able to leave me, and you'll never doubt your worth again."

And Jack proceeded to do just that.

Their bodies cooling, Daniel smoothed a hand down Jack's back to stop at his ass. Jack's head was on his shoulder, but Jack was far from out of it. At the moment, he was tracing circles around one of Daniel's nipples.

"I don't envy you tomorrow, Daniel. According to Hammond, you're only going to get a small respite before being thrown to the wolves. While we're touring the city, that special advisor guy-"

"Jonas Quinn...."

"Yeah, him. He's going to give you a tour of the lab, but then you go behind closed doors with the ambassadors from all three nations. Gee, lucky you."

"Anybody but me think it's odd that I'm the one going on the tour of the lab and not Sam? I should be doing the tour of the city."

"I don't get it either, but hey, our job is to do or die, not to reason why."

"I thought our job was to persevere through rain, snow and sleet, evil aliens notwithstanding."

"I think that's the mailman."

"Where?"

"Daniel, can I go back to loving your dick?"

"Not if the mailman is anywhere around."

"Does Abydos have mailmen?"

Daniel shoved Jack's head back down where it would do the most good.

"Daniel, what the hell are you doing here?"

Daniel turned, and in the moonlight, smiled softly. "We've come full circle, Jack."

Daniel had gotten up in the middle of the night, wrapped his robes around him, and headed for the pyramid. Jack, awakened by the absence of Daniel in his arms, had somehow known where he'd find him. Now, standing at the entrance, he said, "What do you mean?"

"You and I. Full circle. We started here. Everything started here."

Jack stepped up next to Daniel and slid his arm around Daniel's waist. "I... you're right. You know, when I stepped through that ring of whatever, I-"

"You said...'See you 'round', Doctor Jackson'."

Jack cocked his head. "I did?"

Daniel nodded. "See you 'round, Doctor Jackson."

"I didn't think I'd ever see you again, truth be told. I thought you were the bravest man I'd ever known, staying behind like that."

"It didn't take any courage at all, Jack. I had nothing on Earth. Nothing. And I'd found everything here."

There was nothing for Jack to say, so he said nothing.

"Then - I found even more," Daniel said softly as he put his own arm around Jack.

"Let's skip this Kelowna place and stay here another few days."

"Why do I not think that'll fly with Hammond?"

"Because you're a smart man?"

"That and we both know this naquadria sounds too good to pass up."

Feeling a sense of unease, Jack said, "Come on, Doctor Jackson. We're up and at 'em early tomorrow - er - today. Let's get some more - sleep."

Daniel looked up at the pyramid and said thoughtfully, "I'm thinking... that making love right here might be rather fitting...."

"You know, sleep is highly overrated."

"That's what I'm saying."

Kasuf hugged his son and said, "We will miss you, Dan-yel. Return soon."

"I will, Good Father." Daniel then hugged Skaara and kissed Lei'er's cheek. "You two be happy."

"We can do nothing else, my brother."

Bra'tac and Rya'c had already left through the 'Gate, and now SG-1 was ready to depart for Kelowna. Jack was about to give Skaara a hug when the 'Gate lit up.

"Sir, someone is trying to dial in."

"Huh-oh. Okay, let's take defensive positions, just in case."

Daniel ducked down behind Jack and a moment later, the wormhole opened.

//Colonel O'Neill?//

"Sir, it's General Hammond."

Standing, Jack and the others walked over to the M.A.L.P.

"General?"

//I have some bad news. Apparently your presence won't be required on Kelowna after all.//

Jack looked at Daniel and whispered, "And this is bad, how?"

Daniel poked him in the ribs for his efforts.

//I'm afraid there's been a ... tragedy. I'll fill you in upon your return. See you shortly.//

The wormhole disengaged.

Swiping his cap from his head, Jack scratched the back of his neck as he said, "Carter, dial us home."

"Yes, sir."

While Sam dialed, the rest of the good-byes were said. When the wormhole re-settled, SG-1 turned one final time, waved, then stepped through.

On the other side, Hammond waited at the foot of the 'Gate.

"SG-1, briefing room, ten minutes." With that, he walked out.

"Okay, that was - brief."

"He didn't look well, Jack," Daniel commented in concern.

"No, he didn't."

"It seems the scientists of Kelowna couldn't wait and a particular experiment they were saving for Doctor Jackson's tour was pushed ahead of schedule."

Hammond looked around the room at his best team. His eyes darkened. "Something went wrong and millions are dead including the ambassadors, Jonas Quinn, the High Council...."

"My God," Sam breathed out.

"We'd probably be dead now if they'd waited," Carter said from her seat.

"Or not," Jack said.

SG-1 had remained in their seats, too shocked to move even though Hammond had dismissed them. Now the other three members looked at Jack. He shrugged. "If they'd waited, you might have been there, Carter, or more likely, you, Daniel. You might have been able to stop them. If they'd waited - they might all be alive today."

"Indeed," Teal'c agreed.

Three weeks later:

Daniel checked his watch. Damn, it was after four. When were they due in the 'Gate room again? He shuffled papers around on his desk looking for the memo... ah, there it was. Okay, five. He had time. His stomach growled and he considered going to the Commissary for a salad, but Jack had mumbled something about a special dinner, so maybe he shouldn't spoil it with an early salad. Okay, chocolate should hold him. He got up and checked his stash, only to find it empty. Damn. Okay, the lounge. He walked into the corridor and headed to the officers lounge. On the way, he found himself turning around several times as officers in full dress uniforms passed him over and over again.

Man, he thought, the mountain is really full of brass today. And was everyone dressed up or was that his imagination? Shaking his head, he went on into the surprisingly empty lounge. He got his candy and went back to his office.

Thirty minutes later, deep in a translation, he was startled by Jack's voice.

"Daniel, you're not ready."

"Ready?" he said as he peered over at the door and the backlit shadow that was Jack.

"Daniel, what am I supposed to do with you?"

"Haven't we had this conversation? Have we forgotten the list so soon?"

Jack wagged a finger and said, "Don't go there, Jackson. You're supposed to be in your good suit. 'Gate room at five, remember?"

"But it's only a little after four," Daniel almost whined.

"It's a quarter to five, Mister Clock Watcher."

"Huh-oh."

"No shit."

Daniel put his pen down and got up. "I'm glad I showered earlier. It'll just take me a minute...."

Jack sat down to wait - and watch.

Daniel tore off his jacket and black shirt, grabbed the hanger that held his dress shirt and suit, tore the suit jacket off, pulled the shirt off, then set the hanger down. He slipped into the shirt and began to button it. With a wry smile, Jack got up and rescued the tie, which had slipped to the floor.

"Hold still," he commanded. Daniel did as he was told and Jack slid the silk tie under the collar and began to knot it. "Where's the tie clip?"

"Uhm... shelf with the links. And you're wearing your dress blues, Jack. Not that I'm complaining. You look... good. Very good."

"Get out of your pants."

"I like your response to a compliment, but do we have time?"

"Daniel."

"Yeah, yeah." Daniel sat down, kicked off his boots, pulled off his socks, then stood and unbuckled and unzipped. He stepped out of his pants.

Jack, clip and links in hand, said again, "Hold still."

Daniel rolled his eyes, but held still while Jack set the clip, then took one arm. He rolled the cuff, then inserted the cuff link. When satisfied, he did the same with the other arm.

"Okay, pants. Although, you'd be a definite hit as is."

Daniel grabbed his slacks and slipped them on. As he zipped, Jack handed him his belt. He threaded it through and buckled it, then asked, "What's all this about, anyway?

"The only thing I know is that I take orders from Hammond, and Hammond's ordered this. Where are your good shoes?"

"Same place as the cuffs. If they'd been a snake, they'd have bit you."

Jack took the shoe box down, took out the dark shoes and socks and handed them over. "Hurry up."

Daniel sat back down and put on his socks and shoes. As he tied the left one, he said, "Why do I have to dress up?"

"Because?"

"Oh, well, that says it all." He stood up and flashed his teeth. "Any chocolate?"

"If not for the camera, I'd check personally. But no, no chocolate. And I hope you didn't spoil your appetite for tonight."

"Nope. Just a, you know, candy bar to tide me over."

Jack tossed him his jacket and Daniel put it on. He straightened it, pulled the cuffs out, and asked, "Okay?"

"Perfect." Jack turned and looked up at the video camera. He saluted. As he took Daniel's arm, he said, "I'm betting that your strip act ends up on the internet within the hour. You're about to become the SGC pin-up, Doctor Jackson."

"Dart board, more like."

Jack let Daniel precede him into the 'Gate room, but had to give him a little push when he faltered. "Go on, Teal'c and Sam are right over there."

"Jack," Daniel hissed, "what the hell is going on?"

The room was full of soldiers, scientists, flowers, the American flag hanging from the 'Gate, and on the ramp, a podium covered in red, white and blue.

"Go on, over there."

Jack guided him to where the other two members of SG-1 stood, but they weren't alone. Next to Sam stood Jacob Carter, and next to Teal'c; Bra'tac and Rya'c. And if that weren't enough, on the other side of Sam stood Kasuf and Skaara, both grinning at him. But the real shock took the form of the three men behind Teal'c and Rya'c. Both men stepped aside to reveal Rico, Kio, and Pablo.

The three men immediately surrounded Daniel, and Rico, an expression of sublime joy on his face, said with a shrug, "Evidently we are trustworthy, Daniel. We've been cleared, educated, and the move is on to make it possible for us to become a part of," he twirled a finger indicating the room, "this. Your government is even going to help Pablo finish his doctorate."

Hugging each of them in turn, Daniel said, "This is amazing. And you couldn't call me?"

Kio grinned and said, "Sorry, Daniel. This was on a need to know basis."

Pablo shoved him slightly and said, "How long have you wanted to say that, Kio?"

Laughing, he said, "A long time."

Rico lowered his voice and said, "We'll be returning to Bolivia to finish up with your find, but then, we will all be relocating."

"And Isabella is all right with that?"

"She is. The baby will come before the move, and that's the only thing that worried her. She wants her mother nearby."

Shaking his head, Daniel said, "I just can't believe this."

Before anyone could say anything else, Jack nudged Daniel and pointed to the entrance. Daniel's eyes widened as Catherine and Ernest Littlefield walked in, escorted by two marines. They were guided across the room to where Jack, Daniel and the others stood.

Jack instantly held out his arms and said, "Catherine."

She moved into them as Ernest shook hands with Daniel. Introductions were made quickly, but before Daniel could give Catherine a hug, Jack pulled him back and put a finger to his lips. Curious, Daniel looked around, eyes wide behind his glasses. There were more than a hundred people in the room, but he still managed to spot Nyan and the rest of his people. He started toward them, but Jack, hand on his arm, said, "Not now, Daniel."

"I just want to go over and say hi-"

"Not now," Jack repeated as he pointed at the opposite doors, which slid open to reveal General Hammond and Paul Davis. "I think they're getting ready to start," Jack added as he nodded to Hammond.

Daniel fell back and muttered, "Just wish I knew what they were getting ready to start."

On the heels of General Hammond came several members of the Joint Chiefs, all of whom moved to stand solemnly in an open area next to the ramp. Daniel's eyes nearly popped open.

"Jack, that's... those are-"

"I know."

Two men in dark suits now stood, hands behind their backs, legs slightly parted, in the doorway. Hammond walked up to the podium, turned on the microphone, opened a notebook, and began to read.

"Today, July 27th, represents a milestone in the history of what we call the Stargate. Exactly seven years ago, the Stargate was opened for what turned out to be the second time." He acknowledged Catherine and Ernest with a smile, then said, "And six years ago today, thanks to Presidential Order 654261, the Stargate Command became a reality... and we began the adventure of a lifetime.

"Our adventure started with nine teams. We now have twenty-one with orders to add four more within the next three months." He glanced up and smiled. "The last six years have been nothing short of miraculous, and the pride I experience when I look at the men and women who make this happen is often overwhelming. I am in constant awe of the fact that I've been allowed to be even a small part of this incredible adventure."

He paused as his audience, in a show of their affection and respect for him, broke into spontaneous applause. He finally held up his hands to quiet them, and when he had silence once more, said, "Seven years ago, we took our first step beyond our own space, and it's fitting that today of all days, we celebrate this fact. But we will not be celebrating alone. At this time, it is my great honor to welcome...."

He paused for effect, then said, "The President of the United States."

Heads swiveled toward the entrance to the 'Gate room as the two men who'd been 'standing guard', moved aside. The small military band behind the 'Gate began to play 'Hail to the Chief' and surprised applause broke out as President Ellison walked in. He walked up the ramp to stand in front of General Hammond. The general saluted him, then stepped back to allow him to take the podium.

President Ellison faced the men and women of the SGC.

"I am honored to be here to help commemorate this day, and profoundly honored to be standing in front of the brave men and women of the SGC. General Hammond, a man I respect more than I can express, called this 'the adventure of a lifetime' and I couldn't agree more." He looked back at the 'Gate for a moment before readdressing his audience.

"When I look at that ring, I marvel at what it can do and where it can take us. I recognize the inherent dangers of 'Gate travel, as do we all, but I also know that risks are a part of every great endeavor and if we'd allowed the 'what ifs' to stop us, we would never have taken to the sky, let alone the stars. I believe with all my heart and soul that the incredible potential of what we can learn beyond the Stargate makes every trip worth the possible danger. I have every faith in the men and women of the SGC to keep us safe and to deal effectively with anything that should come through the Stargate."

President Ellison looked out over the crowd of soldiers, scientists and politicians. His gaze landed on SG-1 and he smiled. "General Hammond pointed out that seven years ago today, the Stargate spun seven times and a wormhole burst forth. A brave team walked up this very ramp, their mission: to determine the danger to Earth from whatever might be on the other side. What they found was another world, and a people who were a part of us. But the real exploration had to wait another year, a year in which the Stargate remained silent. On July 30th, the first Stargate team was created and called, appropriately enough, SG-1. On August 3rd, SG-1 became official. Today, the same four members make up that flagship team and I'd like to take a moment to recognize them. First, the commanding officer of SG-1, and the man who led the very first mission to Abydos seven years ago; Colonel Jonathon 'Jack' O'Neill."

He paused to allow the audience to show their appreciation through another round of enthusiastic applause, then said, "The second member of SG-1 perfected 'Gate travel and has proven herself time and again. Major Samantha Carter."

More applause followed Sam's name, but President Ellison went quickly on. "The third member of SG-1 comes to us from the stars, from a world called Chulak. Teal'c, a fierce and loyal warrior who dedicated himself to Earth and whose experiences with, and knowledge of, the Goa'uld, quickly made him an invaluable member of the team."

When the applause dwindled, President Ellison once again glanced back at the 'Gate before facing his audience and saying, "And finally, the last member of SG-1, the man who was able to do that which had been previously impossible, the man who understood exactly what the Stargate was, what it meant, what it could do and even who built them. The man responsible for giving us this adventure: Doctor Daniel Jackson."

The applause was loud, constant, and punctuated by several yelled out "Yoohaws", whistles, and cheering. A grinning President Ellison waited patiently and, after several minutes, was able to continue.

"To these three men and one woman, Earth owes more than it can ever repay. The team of SG-1 has, on more occasions than could be enumerated here today, saved Earth from certain doom. Major Carter received the Air Force Defense Distinguished Service Medal two years ago, Teal'c, even though a civilian, was honored with the Department of the Air Force Civilian Medal of Valor, and just last year, Colonel O'Neill became one of only three thousand, four hundred and sixty recipients of the highest military award possible: the Medal of Honor."

The President got no further as the 'Gate room went wild with applause again. He stepped back and let the three members of SG-1 relive their awards as the crowd continued to cheer and clap. Finally, he held up his arms and everyone quieted. When he was certain he had their complete attention, he said, "The mission of the SGC has always been to determine threats to Earth, find ways to nullify those threats, and whenever possible, make contact with the people of the many worlds they visit. Shortly after the SGC became official, a Presidential Directive added to their duties by stating that the SGC would also evaluate the cultural and scientific value of each mission. Unfortunately, there were those who put themselves in a position to thwart the SGC, to control it, to turn it into a perverse kind of caricature of what it was meant to be. Because of these individuals, the thrill of discovery and the search for allies took a back seat to the search for weapons. Their voices were powerful and deceitful. But thanks to the efforts of one man, those voices have now been forever silenced."

He allowed his words to sink in, then said, "No one could argue the need to ensure Earth's safety, and that way has been discovered. Is it any surprise that the one man who could open the Stargate for us, should also be the man to find our ultimate defense?"

He got no further as his words brought forth another round of wild applause. Daniel, eyes wide, face flushing a deep crimson, started to take several steps back. Jacob and Rico, huge grins on their faces, blocked Daniel's path.

Ellison once again raised his hands to encourage the crowd back to silence.

"When I began reading the reports from the SGC, primarily the reports of SG-1, one quote jumped out at me and helped me to understand the Stargate program. I quote it to you now: 'The SGC may be the single most important human endeavor for the future of mankind'." He paused, bowed his head for a moment, then said, "Prophetic words, and words I take to heart. I wasn't the least surprised to find that those insightful words had come from Doctor Daniel Jackson." He paused, then said, "Colonel O'Neill once said that Doctor Jackson was the conscience of the SGC, and again, I couldn't agree more. He became, through his words, his discoveries, his theories and his beliefs, my conscience.

"How can we begin to recognize such a man? How do we recognize his vast and often immeasurable contributions?"

He looked down now and began to read.

"In 1945, President Harry Truman established what is now called The Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy reintroduced it as an honor for distinguished civilian service in peacetime. It has long since been a tradition to award the Medal of Freedom on July Fourth of each year. Today, we break that long standing tradition, but I believe it is more than warranted. The Presidential Medal of Freedom recognizes individuals who made, and I quote, 'an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, or to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.'

"I believe that in entire history of the award, no man or woman, no military nor civilian has so encompassed all that this award represents -- until now. And my only regret is that the entire world can't share in this moment. Doctor Jackson, we would be honored if you would join us."

Daniel tried to step back again, but all he succeeded in doing was to slam into Jacob's chest. Jacob put both hands on Daniel's arms and whispered, "Go on up, Danny. Let us thank you."

"For what?" he squeaked.

"Danny, for once, accept a very good thing and let us see this happen."

Biting his lower lip, Daniel looked over at Jack... and his stomach settled. Dark brown eyes watched his every move with such love that Daniel was compelled to move toward the ramp. Once he was face-to-face with President Ellison, the man smiled warmly and said, "It is with the greatest pleasure, honor, respect and gratitude that I award you, Doctor Daniel Jackson, the Presidential Medal of Freedom for your work in not only giving us the stars and the worlds beyond our own, but for protecting us from any alien threat such a miracle might bring."

President Ellison placed the award around Daniel's neck.

The applause and cheering that erupted at that moment could probably have been heard 'round the world.

Daniel was in shock. He was seated at a table in one of the large hangers that had been converted into what could only be called a ballroom. The color scheme was, fittingly enough, red, white and blue, and the room was festooned with balloons and flowers. The dinner was formal and sit-down, and champagne flowed freely as waiters moved about the huge room. SG-1 was seated on a dais that had been erected for the celebratory dinner, and he was exactly two people down from the President of the United States.

Catherine was on his left, and when she put her hand on his arm, he leaned in to hear her words.

"Daniel, I'm so proud of you."

"Catherine, you and Ernest deserve this, not me. If not for your persistence-"

"I have my thanks, Daniel. And persistence didn't open the Stargate, you did."

"Yeah, well-"

She laughed softly and said, "Daniel, you are the Stargate program. I knew that in the beginning. Now just let us all be proud of you, all right?"

He gave a hopeless shake of his head, causing her to laugh again. "Daniel, one of these days-"

"God, you sound just like Jack."

"Who sounds like me?" Jack said as he turned his attention away from his dinner.

"Never mind, Jack. Finish eating," Daniel said with a smile.

"We got you tonight, didn't we?"

Daniel snagged a carrot from Jack's plate and said, "Yep, you really got me."

Paul Davis watched Daniel and Colonel O'Neill. Their heads were close, almost touching, and Daniel was smiling the kind of smile Paul would have given anything to have received. The sparks flying between the two men were obvious to anyone smart enough to see.

For the first time in his life, Major Paul Davis regretted what he'd given up for his career.

It was a regret he'd have to live with for the rest of his days.

Jack gazed down at Daniel's medal, which now sat next to his Medal of Honor. He stared at them for a moment, and when Daniel came out of the bathroom, said, "I'm thinking you might be the first gay recipient of the Medal of Freedom. Whatcha' think?"

Daniel slung an arm around Jack's neck and rested his chin on Jack's shoulder. "Jack, there have been quite a few of those given out over the years. Chances are that at least one other had to be gay."

"I don't know, Daniel. I'm thinking you're the first."

"Should I let the President know?"

"Well, it is a red letter day for gays. One Medal of Honor winner and one Medal of Freedom. That's pretty big."

"I say the day the 'Gate becomes common knowledge, we come out."

"Deal."

"By the way, what did President Ellison mean by the comment 'those voices are now silent'?"

"Kinsey is pretty much a lame duck now. He's done for in Washington."

"Okay, that's good news. What about the NID?"

"The President is cleaning house. He's going to be naming Senator Kilpatrick as the new head of the NID."

"Kilpatrick? That's a very good thing."

"Yep. Major Davis will be his liaison with us. Also a good thing."

"Very. And a big move for Paul. He should be very happy now."

Something in Daniel's voice alerted Jack to a deeper meaning.

"Daniel, is there something you're not telling me about Davis?"

Daniel moved away and went to sit on the bed. He pulled on his sweat bottoms, then lay back down, hands behind his head.

"Jack, you're probably not going to want to hear this...."

"Huh-oh. It's a sure bet after an opening like that. But unless you and Davis had a torrid affair, I really... Daniel? Daniel?"

"It was hardly ... torrid."

"My God." Jack walked over to the bed and sank down on the other side. "You and Davis?"

"Long time ago."

"Long time? As in years? Months? Weeks?"

"As in after the Ankat treaty."

Jack swiped a hand over his face, then rubbed his eyes. "Okay, you and ... Davis. You were in love with me, but you-"

"Don't go there, Jack. You know damn well that I didn't think... that there was no way I could know you'd suddenly get truthful and face your feelings for me. Paul asked me to dinner, I went. He was funny, made me laugh and looked at me like I was the best thing since sliced bread. Of course, I wasn't and I'm not, and after a few weeks, he came to the usual conclusion that I wasn't worth the risk, but for a while, I was damn close to being happy."

"Paul Davis is, and was, an idiot. You're worth any risk, Daniel. Any risk. And do you mean you're not happy now?"

Smiling, Daniel said, "I'm delirious now."

"I just can't believe you and Davis. This may ruin our sex life for weeks."

Daniel bit back a laugh and said, "Look, Jack, I hadn't had sex in... a really long time. Give me a break. I'd almost forgotten what went where and how, you know?"

"Well, thank God you were able to 'brush up' with Davis."

"You know, I think you should be treating the Medal of Freedom winner a whole lot better than this."

"At least now I know why you got the damn thing. For having sex with Davis."

Daniel couldn't hold it back any longer. He burst out laughing.

Jack turned and looked at his laughing bedmate, and his lips curled upward. He put on a mock frown and said, "Don't worry about me, Daniel. I'll get over this... in a few months ... or so."

Daniel laughed even harder.

"What, you don't believe me?"

"You'll get... over it," Daniel said between hitching breaths, "the minute... I touch your... dick."

"Wanna bet?"

Daniel rolled over on his side and reached for Jack's shorts. He slipped his hand in and began to lovingly massage Jack's dick. As it lengthened and thickened, he smiled and said, "I win."

"God, I'm so ashamed. I'm nothing but a horny old Air Force colonel."

"Don't leave out Medal of Honor winner."

"That too." He looked down at Daniel's hand and smirked. "You know, it's a real turn-on to have the Presidential Medal of Freedom winner jerking me off."

"Then it should send you to the moon when the Medal of Freedom winner deep throats you, Flyboy."

"Ya think?"

"You know, I feel for Davis, I really do."

Daniel had his head on Jack's belly. Both were naked and stretched out on the bed. The lights were off, the moon filtering in behind the loosely drawn curtains.

"Why?" Daniel asked sleepily.

Jack ran his hand through Daniel's damp hair and said, "Duh."

Daniel smiled in the darkness.

Several minutes later, he suddenly sat straight up.

"Daniel?"

"Jack... bombs."

"Let me get this straight - and I use the term loosely - we have mind blowing sex and you suddenly say 'bombs'?"

"Yeah, remember when we were discussing the Ring of Cymru and how the shield is constantly moving? We were only thinking in terms of the Goa'uld, but Jack, the threat of a nuclear war doesn't exist anymore either. Anywhere. Oh, I'm not saying wars are over, because they're not. Hell, missiles could still be used, especially as fired from submarines, but air to ground? My God, Jack, do you get it?"

"Well, I'll be damned," Jack whispered.

"Do you have any idea of what this could mean?"

"Yeah, it could mean we're going to come out a lot sooner than we expected. And maybe you should have received the Medal of Honor too?"

The End

Special Note:

Thanks: Many thanks to both Delilah and Gershwhen for their beta, and a huge thanks to Dangermouse for both hosting me, downloading this huge monster, AND for the final beta!

Special Note 2: Quechua translations

kawsaqe friend
yachachej yachayniyoj wise teacher
sut'inchaj.- prophet
t'uku - lunatic

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