"Sir, there's a message coming through and it's using Ambassador Jackson's code."
General Hammond stared out over the gate room at the shimmering Stargate, then, face a mask of stone, said, "Let's hear it, Lieutenant."
A moment later a synthesized voice came over the speaker as channeled through the gate.
"Hail, General Hammond. I am Tollar. My Lord Ketar wishes to arrange a visit with you and it is vital that this meeting occur as soon as possible. It is also--" the voice paused, as if searching for the right word, then, "imperative that knowledge of this not leave your--mountain. May I have your answer?"
Puzzled, Hammond turned to an airman behind him. "Get Major Carter down here, now."
As the airman saluted and scuttled off, he turned back to Lieutenant Pierce. "This makes no sense. Why would we not be receiving this request from Jackson?"
"Tollar is, in essence, 2IC, Sir. Would Ketar allow Ambassador Jackson to make such a request?"
"Good point, Lieutenant."
He clasped his hands behind his back and thought about what Tollar was asking. Why such secrecy and urgency? And why a meeting with him? He'd had absolutely nothing to do with Ankoran delegation, let alone any decision that placed Doctor Daniel Jackson in their hands as the first intergalactic ambassador. No, he'd not been consulted by anyone, nor been involved in any of the meetings that hammered out the treaty between Earth and Ankor. And now they wanted to meet with him?
"I don't like this," he mused more to himself than anyone in particular.
"Sir, they did use Ambassador Jackson's code," Lieutenant Pierce reminded.
Before Hammond could answer, Major Carter bounded down the stairs to his side.
Without taking his eyes from the Stargate, Hammond said tersely, "We have a request by the Ankorans, Major. They wish an immediate visit and meeting with us. And by us, I mean--me, the SGC. They also wish their visit to remain top secret."
Sam's face and body language reflected her complete surprise at the news. "Sir, are you saying no Colonel Simmons? No Senator Kinsey?"
"That's not what I'm saying at all." He finally faced her. "That's what Tollar is saying. Any suggestions?"
Sam glanced at the gate, then back to her commanding officer. "We meet with them, Sir."
Working his jaw overtime, Hammond nodded curtly. "Lieutenant, the mike?"
Pierce complied and taking it, Hammond said, "Tollar, I would be honored to meet with Lord Ketar at his earliest convenience."
The synthesized voice came over again. "We are grateful, General Hammond. Time is of the essence. Would it be possible for your command to be ready to receive us within ten of your hours?"
One eyebrow raised, Hammond responded. "Ten hours is acceptable. Please provide a list of your needs and--"
"Two rooms is all we require, General. However, our Lord's Douna will be accompanying him and there are several--bits of--I believe protocol is the correct word, that must be adhered to in order to preserve the sanctity of their union."
Hammond shot a questioning look at Carter, who shrugged and shook her head.
"I understand, Tollar. If you would provide Major Carter with all pertinent information, we shall ensure that we meet all your requirements."
"We are most grateful, General."
Hammond handed off the mike to Carter. "Pin this down, Major. I'll be upstairs in the briefing room."
General Hammond dropped into his chair and regarded the table before him. How many de-briefings had he conducted in this room? How many lectures had he attended, the majority given by Daniel? He gazed at the chair once used by Jackson, then his gaze strayed to the chair Jack had usually occupied, and finally, the seat once once occupied by Teal'c.
His best team and one that no longer existed.
Hammond sighed heavily. When exactly had SG1 started to erode? When had the friendship between Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson disappeared? Butn if he really tried to pin it down, the closest he could come would be the days following Martouf's death.
As he looked about him, he found himself thinking of the last de-briefing in this very room--
Eight months earlier
"Sir, the Ankorans are actually willing to share their advanced technology with us. And let me tell you, we're talking advanced."
"I understand, Colonel, but it's apparent that Doctor Jackson has a few concerns." Hammond shifted his gaze from O'Neill to Daniel. "Doctor?"
"I don't believe we saw the real Ankorans, sir. There were many areas that were off-limits and I had the impression that we were seeing only what they wanted us to see. I don't--trust them, General."
Jack leaned forward, body tense. "Daniel, they were very up front about their weapons. And their desire to share said weapons. They hate the Gou'ald as much as we do and they're willing to share. Get it?"
There it was again, Hammond thought as he watched half of his best team battle silently. And as happened all too often lately, Daniel Jackson shut down. His body language surrendered and he sat back in his chair, his gaze dropping to his clasped hands.
What the hell was going on between them? And why wasn't Jackson fighting?
"Teal'c, your thoughts on the Ankorans?"
Dark, unfathomable eyes flicked between O'Neill and Jackson before Teal'c finally answered. "I too believe their weapons and their offer to exchange is worth investigating. And I also believe that the Ankorans did not share everything, but is that not what you, General Hammond, would do under similar circumstances?"
"Good point, Teal'c. Major Carter?"
Shooting one agonized glance at Daniel, Carter folded her hands and said, "I believe their offer is sincere, Sir."
The only sign that Jackson understood that he had been outvoted by his team was the wash of dull red that crept over his face. His hands remained clasped tightly, his head down.
"I see." Hammond stood. "I'll take all of this under--"
"I wouldn't worry about it, General Hammond."
All eyes turned to a spot behind Hammond where Colonel Simmons of the NID stood.
"Colonel Simmons, may I ask what this has to do with you?" Hammond's voice held a thread of iron in it as he faced the NID colonel.
"Simple. The NID, per the President's order, will be taking over the negotiations with the Ankorans. The SGC need no longer worry about them," then with a withering glance at Jackson, he added, "Nor whether they're on the up and up. That is now my concern."
Jack started to his feet, but Hammond, even with his back to the man, said quietly, "Colonel O'Neill--"
Jack sat down but if looks could kill, Simmons would by lying on the ground, bleeding from his ears, eyes, nose and mouth.
"I would appreciate it if you would leave all pertinent information with me, General? We'll be conducting the negotiations here, at the SGC, but we'll make every effort to stay out of your way. And General? Don't bother making any calls to the President. I'm working under his orders."
"And of course," Daniel finally spoke up, "It is an election year, right?"
"Why, Doctor Jackson, I had no idea that you even bothered knowing such mundane information about your country. I'm impressed."
Hammond took two steps closer to Simmons. "Is there anything else you require, Colonel?"
"No, General, nothing. Thank you. My people are already getting set up."
"Naturally," Hammond commented dryly.
"I don't believe this. We're supposed to go about our business while he takes over our negotiations with the Ankorans?"
"So it would appear, Major." Teal'c stood with his back to the door, arms crossed over his chest. Next to him, Jack sat on one of Sam's stools, one of her toys in his hand. Daniel was the only member of the team not present.
"You heard Simmons, Major. And let's face it, at least we can claim credit for the Ankorans. The SGC finally proved itself."
"That's not comforting, Colonel."
"It's the best I can offer, Major."
Five days later
Colonel Simmons raised his fist and knocked on Doctor Jackson's door. A moment later a tired voice said, "Come in."
Pushing his way inside, Simmons wasn't surprised to find the good doctor bent over his books, eyes squinting in spite of the glasses that gleamed in the muted light while he scribbled furiously.
Daniel straightened and with a frown, said suspiciously, "Colonel Simmons. What brings you to my office?"
"Maybe I figured you'd be interested in how the negotiations were going with the Ankorans."
"Then your visit will be short. I'm not."
Simmons made a motion with his head, indicating the second chair and Daniel, after giving a small impatient shrug, nodded. The colonel pulled it out and sat down.
"You may not be interested, but the Ankorans are very interested in--you, Doctor. In fact, one of their--requests--is that they be allowed to name their US ambassador and imagine--they named you."
Daniel stopped writing and dropped his pen. "Excuse me?"
"You have been requested to serve as the US Ambassador to Ankor, Doctor Jackson. The President has already approved their--invitation."
Daniel took off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes. As Simmons watched, he picked up a small carved box and started to play with it. Daniel noticed and putting his glasses back on, said dryly, "That's a priceless artifact, Colonel."
"Oh?" Simmons cocked one eyebrow. "And just what planet did you stea--retrieve this from anyway?"
"That would be planet Earth, actually. Egypt. Valley of the Kings to be even more precise. And it's very fragile, Colonel."
Colonel Simmons stared at the box in his hand, then glanced back up at the archeologist. "So, the ambassadorship?" "You're kidding, right?"
"No, not at all. The President is quite excited by the idea, actually. And not to put any pressure on you--"
"No, you wouldn't want to do that, would you, Colonel?"
Eyes narrowing, Simmons' gaze bore into Jackson. "When did you develop teeth, Doctor?" Then he smiled, a cold, humorless smile. "Never mind. All cubs grow up, don't they? Anyway, suffice it to say that no Jackson, no treaty. It's that simple."
Then, artifact still in hand, he rose. "But this is the real world and nothing is that simple. As you pointed out a few days ago, this is an election year and I think many people, myself and Senator Kinsey prime among them, have made it quite clear that the SGC is a huge, and dangerous, drain on our resources. I also don't believe that it's any secret that the President's only real competition in his bid for a second term is Senator Kinsey."
Simmons stepped closer to Daniel and noticed with another cold smile that the younger man didn't budge an inch. "So basically, if the President loses this treaty, he loses credibility as far as the SGC goes. And Senator Kinsey becomes our next president."
"And since when have you been interested in preserving either the current administration or the SGC?"
"Why Doctor Jackson, I hold only the highest respect for the SGC. And unlike some, I'm fully aware of the real threat the Gaou'ld represent. But--" he leaned closer, his face inches from Daniel's, "without the treaty, there will be no SGC. That I can promise you, Doctor." He leaned back and smiled again. "Is that a threat?" Daniel asked, incredulous.
"Please, let's not go where we don't want to go, Doctor. Think of this as the honor that it is. You'll be making history. And let's face it, you haven't exactly been happy lately, have you? And did I mention that your tenure as ambassador would be for a brief three months? The Ankorans have agreed to another ambassador at that time. This is a slam dunk, Doctor."
Then Simmons raised the hand that still held the small box. "And of course, I'm back to reiterating--without the treaty, there will be no SGC." Then he dropped the box, which shattered into several irreparable pieces.
"Priceless is a relative term, Doctor Jackson. You have twenty-four hours to give me your answer." He walked to the door, opened it, and just before stepping out, repeated, "Twenty-four hours." Then he was gone.
Daniel dropped his head into his hands.
For several minutes, he remained in that position. But finally, he lifted his head. Then stared at the shattered box. Slowly, and moving as if ancient, he walked to a corner, took a broom and dustpan, then began cleaning up the destroyed artifact that had come from the tomb of King Haremhab. When he was done, he walked over to the cot in the corner and sank down.
Hands behind his head, he surveyed his ceiling.
In his years working with the military, he'd learned the fine art of translating militaryspeak, which included the equally fine art of reading between the lines. Simmons had made it clear, between the lines, around the lines and in the lines, that if Daniel refused this--this--ambassadorship, the SGC would be, what, destroyed? Dismantled? Or simply that the SGC as Daniel knew it would cease to exist?
Daniel knew the answer. Hadn't it been threatened before? Hammond forced into retirement, Jack, God only knew what, Sam transferred to some arctic station and Teal'c--God, Teal'c. And the SGC would then become the tool for Earth's destruction. Of that, Daniel was certain.
Daniel sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the cot. Rubbing at his face he stood, stretched, and walked back to his worktable. He stared at the objects spread out on the surface, at his notes and open books.
"Okay, Jackson. So. If you do this, what do you lose? What's the worse thing that could happen to you?"
The table refused to answer, but Daniel wasn't surprised, after all, he'd been asking himself.
*Not like anyone would miss you here, right, Jackson?*
Oh sure, now the table talks to him.
"No, no one would miss me here. In fact, this could be the answer they--and I--have been looking for, in a way."
*Now you're cooking. Not to mention, you're gonna be famous.*
"Oh, yeah, that's a real seller. The chance to be the famous Doctor Jackson. As opposed to the infamous Doctor Jackson. Gosh. Gee whiz. I think I'll pass."
*Then it's over for the SGC, bucko.*
"Bucko?" Daniel bent over and looked under the table. "Jack, you under here?" Standing, he shook his head. "No, of course not. Last place on earth you'd be. So, back to square one."
*You don't have a choice, Jackson.*
"I know," he said sadly.
"Hey, Teal'c. Whatcha watching?"
"I believe it is something called 'Lost in Space'."
Jack moved in and stood in front of the set. "Oh, hey, I used to watch this. It's a classic."
"It is--very interesting."
"Oh, man, Doctor Smith. The bad guy we all loved to hate and love. And the robot. Who could forget him?"
"I take it you enjoyed this show?"
"Well, it was kind--of--fun. In a juvenile, cheesy kind of way."
"Have you seen Daniel recently?"
"I have not, O'Neill."
"Is there a problem?"
"I don't know. I don't really like the way Simmons is sneaking around the base."
"I have not seen him sneak. He walks down the corridors with the others--"
"I was being facetious, Teal'c."
"He's asked for a meeting with Hammond."
"This is bad?"
"Since Simmons does nothing good, yeah, I'm thinking it's bad. And since Captain York saw a delegation from Arkona meeting with Daniel, well, my curiosity has been aroused."
"Why would DanielJackson be meeting with the Arkonans?"
Jack turned away from the set and waved his hand airily, "Oh, it's probably just some Daniel thing. But it felt--wrong. Or--" he let his voice trail off.
Jack smiled at his friend."No you don't."
"No, I do not. But I find that saying that I do, saves time where you are concerned, O'Neill."
Jack gave Teal'c a suspicious look, then said, "You've been around me way too long, my friend."
"Yes, that is what DanielJackson says as well."
Jack crossed his eyes.
Sam poured herself a cup of coffee, then took her usual seat across from Jack. Teal'c was already seated. The only member of SG1 still missing was Daniel.
"Do you know why General Hammond called this meeting, Colonel?"
"Not a clue, Major. But I've noticed that as a general, he has a penchant for calling meetings."
Sam looked at him over the rim of her cup and he shrugged while flipping his pen over and over around his fingers. Before she could say anything in return, General Hammond entered. His eyes flicked over the empty seat, then came to rest on Jack, who immediately said, "Yes, sir, he's late. Again."
"Not late, Colonel O'Neill. Doctor Jackson will not be joining us."
Stunned silence met that announcement, but before the team could recover and start asking questions, Hammond went on.
"I've just come from a meeting with Colonel Simmons and--Doctor Jackson. It seems that our archeologist has accepted an ambassadorship. To Arkona."
Sam leaned forward. "Sir? Maybe I didn't hear that right?"
Hammond looked over at Jack who was still staring at him, mouth agape.
"You heard me correctly," he said, eyes still on Jack. "Doctor Jackson was asked to be our ambassador to Arkona. He's accepted. He leaves in two days. The Arkonan delegation has, along with our representative, Senator Kinsey, signed the treaty that ensures a long alliance with the Arkonans, and the sharing of technologies."
Hammond's gaze traveled from Jack, who had not moved a muscle, to Teal'c, whose one eyebrow was typically raised, to Major Carter, whose face had gone pale.
"Doctor Jackson has asked that the news be restricted to just us. He wishes to leave quietly. No fuss. Colonel O'Neill, your team is not scheduled to go off-world until next Monday, which leaves time to find at least a temporary replacement for Doctor Jackson."
When there was no response, Hammond added, "Since there are apparently no questions, you're dismissed."
He turned and walked out.
"Daniel wouldn't do this. There's something wrong, Colonel. We have to do something."
Jack stared at the pen in his hand, the only sign that he'd heard Carter was the clenching of his jaw.
"Sir? You know Daniel would never--"
Jack got up in one fluid movement while at the same time throwing the pen across the room. He stalked out without a backward glance. As he disappeared, Teal'c rose.
"Major Carter, I believe we should follow him."
"I think you're right."
Daniel stood in the middle of his office and surveyed the scene. Boxes were stacked in one corner, his name inked across the tops and sides. Additional boxes sat in the opposite corner and were marked for the SGC. Books were piled in several stacks, each one with a post-it note that would direct the pile to the appropriate person. And last but not least, two small, lonely boxes marked "Personal."
Daniel wasn't sure what he'd do with those. He doubted that he'd need coffee mugs, some with various Hockey team insignias, a few with the USAF insignia and still others with dirty jokes and or dirty pictures. For some reason, people enjoyed giving him mugs with dirty pictures on them. It was probably the blush they could count on seeing. No doubt many would pay to see a man in his thirties blush.
Of course, the two boxes also held other assorted weird items, like a genuine Avalanche hockey puck given to him by Jack. Photos.
Daniel walked over to the two boxes, lifted the lid of the top one and removed the hockey puck and the--pictures. He then stuffed them into the only item leaving with him--his duffel bag.
So the Arkonans could marvel over a hockey puck. Maybe he'd get them interested in the sport. Then invite Jack--
"Don't go there, Daniel."
Right. Road less traveled and all that jazz.
Shit, his laptop. He quickly disengaged it from the docking station, unplugged it, then stuffed the HP and the power cord into its case. He would definitely be taking it.
All right. He was packed. He had his reference materials, his duffel bag, his laptop. All he needed to do now was finishing packing at home. And decide about his apartment. Of course, he was only scheduled to be gone for three months--and damn, he most definitely did not want to lose the place. General Hammond had assured him that upon his return, he'd still have his place with the SGC--if he wanted it. "That last part was yours, Danny boy."
Well, not exactly. More like, if they still wanted him. Daniel gazed about his office one more time. Anyone seeing it would immediately assume that he wasn't coming back.
Daniel was one of them.
But--hope springs eternal so maybe he'd--keep--the apartment. Which meant writing a check to the landlord for three months rent in advance. No problem.
So. This is it. In less than 48 hours he'd be gating to Arkona.
Ambassador Daniel Jackson.
Daniel scrunched up his face.
"Is there some reason we had to hear it from Hammond, Ambassador Jackson?"
Daniel whirled to find himself facing Jack O'Neill lounging against the door frame.
"Well?" Jack asked with one raised eyebrow.
"I had--packing to do."
"Of course. We must pack. Much more important than telling your teammates that you're leaving."
Daniel shrugged. "I felt it was appropriate for the General to give you the news."
Jack leaned away from the door frame and walked intothe office. He looked around, noted the boxes and the duffel bag, but before he could say anything else, Sam ran in, then skidded to a stop and tried valiantly to regain her composure. Teal'c arrived next, his face implacable as usual.
"Gee, look, Daniel. The whole team, together, in your office. Anything you'd like to share? With the whole team?"
"Jack, cut it out. I'm only going to be gone for three months." "Three months, Daniel?" Sam stepped in front of Jack.
"Why, Daniel? Why did you even consider this?"
Daniel closed his eyes briefly, then said, "Look, this is a great opportunity for all of you--"
"This I've got to hear. Please, share with us, Daniel. How is this good for us?" Jack said, not even trying anymore to mask his sarcasm.
"For the SGC, Jack. In spite of the fact that the negotiations were taken from us, the SGC is still responsible for the treaty. It's just what you need to keep the NID at bay."
"Okay," Jack said, his voice hard. "How does all that translate into you being the one to go?"
Up until that moment, Daniel, seeing the barely concealed anger in Jack, had started re-evaluating his place with SG1. But at Jack's words and tone, Daniel shut down.
"Oh, right. I forgot. I'm the idiot. The one who says and does all the wrong things. Right. Stupid of them to think that I might be able to do this." Then he grabbed his duffel bag and computer case, hoisted both onto his shoulder and headed for the door.
"I've got several errands to run before I leave so if you'll excuse me?"
Without waiting for an answer, Daniel walked out.
"I do not believe that went well, O'Neill."
"Colonel, maybe if you'd been less--"
Jack turned on Carter. "I'm not the one who accepted a fucking ambassadorship to fucking Angora."
Jack pushed past Teal'c and stalked out. Carter looked after him and said quietly, "Arkona."
"WHATEVER," Jack's voice floated back to them from the corridor.
Daniel stood at the foot of the ramp, Senator Kinsey and his aide at his side. His luggage had already been sent through and just two hours previously, he'd been sworn in during a private ceremony in General Hammond's office. At the top of the ramp stood two Arkonans, backlit by the shimmering blue of the open gate.
General Hammond stood to the right of the gate, Colonel Simmons to his left. Carter, in full dress uniform and standing at attention, stood to the immediate left of the gate with Teal'c. The two of them represented the only members of any SGC team present, per Daniel's request. Jack was conspicuous in his absence. He'd told Sam that he had no intention of watching Daniel make the biggest mistake of his life.
On the other side of Sam stood Doctor Frasier, also in full dress uniform. Daniel had spent the previous evening with Janet and Cassie, saying his good-byes and promising to bring the teen something Arkonan upon his return. Now he waited for the nod from Kinsey that would signal his official status.
Senator Kinsey signed the final document and handed it off to his aide, who painstakingly rolled it, then tied it off with a red ribbon before handing it back. Kinsey nodded at one of the Arkonans, who immediately descended and accepted the document.
"Thank you, Senator Kinsey. It is with great pleasure that I, Tollar, Lord Ketar's Vice Counsel, accept Daniel Jackson as your Ambassador to Arkona. It is our wish that this moment will herald a long and prosperous association with Earth."
"Thank you, Tollar. May I now present Ambassador Daniel Jackson."
Tollar was tall for an Arkonan, but like all Arkonans, his skin held a slight green tinge to it. His hair, like all male Arkonans, was cut uniformly around his head, leaving one inch of thick, black hair. His eyes were a dark brown, almost black. At Kinsey's words, he stepped forward and held out his hand.
"I believe that it is customary for your people to--how do you say it, shake hands to seal a bargain?" At Daniel's nod, he said, "Then we will shake, Ambassador Jackson."
Smiling politely, Daniel took the offered hand. "Vice Counsel Tollar, I look forward to an exchange of ideas and philosophies in the coming weeks."
Tollar's eyes flicked to Kinsey, who gave an almost imperceptible nod. Tollar returned his gaze to Daniel.
"Well, I believe we are ready to begin a great journey, Ambassador. If you will follow us?"
Daniel turned and looked at Sam, Teal'c and Janet, then he straightened his shoulders, walked up the ramp and disappeared into the event horizon.
Moments later, the gate closed.
Senator Kinsey faced General Hammond and with a satisfied smile, said, "It seems that the SGC can at least do one thing right, General. This treaty may save you yet."
There was nothing Hammond could say. Kinsey's smile grew. "Well, I believe this is good-bye then. I have a campaign to attend to."
Colonel Simmons stepped forward. "Allow me to escort you up top, Senator?"
Colonel Simmons saluted Hammond, who returned it with little enthusiasm. Once they were gone, the General turned to stare at the Stargate. Sam shot a look at Teal'c and Janet and by an unspoken agreement, they joined their commanding officer.
"Sir? Are you all right?"
"No, Major, I don't believe that I am." Then he lowered his voice and said sadly, "Jack should have been here. He should have been here."
The four of them continued to stand at the foot of the now silent and empty gate.
Jack sat with his chair tilted back, legs perched on his desk as he tossed a small red ball at the wall and catching it as it bounced back. He'd been playing catch for the last twenty minutes--since the gate had been activated.
The slight tremble in the floor had clued him in and that's when he'd started tossing. It was either play catch--or shoot something--or somebody.
As he caught the ball again, the trembling stopped.
Jack stared at his hand.
Jack dropped the ball into the trash. Daniel was gone. Really--gone. Jack got up, walked out of his office and down the corridor to Daniel's. The door was open, which surprised him, so he walked in and--froze.
"What the hell?"
He moved further inside, eyes scanning every inch of space. Good God, in the five years that Daniel had occupied it, the room had never been clean, let alone--organized. Daniel's office always looked as though a hurricane had struck. But now--
Jack stepped over to the center worktable and could do nothing but gawk. It was empty. No artifacts, no tablets, no open books highlighted in yellows and oranges, no reference material--nothing. And God damn it, the bookshelves were empty as well.
There was nothing of Doctor Daniel Jackson left.
Jack glanced around helplessly, a dazed look on his face. Then his expression hardened.
"God damn you to hell, Daniel."
Jack turned on his heel and stalked out, slamming the door behind him.
Present day -
Hammond shook himself and turned in his chair."Major?"
"The VIP rooms are ready."
"Thank you. Do you have that protocol book?"
"Right here, sir. There is a reference to a Douna--"
"At the time this was put together, Lord Ketar had no Douna and no spouse, sir."
"All right, Major, but what is a Douna?"
"Apparently it's a--well, concubine is the closet word to describe a Douna. However," Sam, at a wave from General Hammond, sat down in the chair to his right, "for the Arkonans, a Douna is actually more revered than a spouse. This individual can be of either sex and is considered to be a mishata. And before you ask, the closest translation would be soul mate."
"Tell me that book of Kinsey's tells us what the protocol should be upon Ketar's arrival with this Douna."
"Yes, sir, it does. The Douna will be masked, as no one is allowed to look upon her, or his, face, other than in private and with Lord Ketar's permission. No one is permitted to address the Douna unless--"
Hammond held up a hand. "Let me guess, unless the Douna speaks to you--"
Sam grinned. "Yes, sir."
"No one is allowed to touch the Douna. In any manner."
She turned the book around and pointed at a drawing on the open page. "This is what the Douna will be wearing if female and this," she flipped the page, "Is what the male Douna would wear."
"All right, that could be a problem."
"Yes, sir. But since Tollar has expressly asked for secrecy and privacy, we should be able to limit the number of people in both the gate room and the control room. I'm going to assume that Lord Ketar and Tollar will be dressed in such a manner as to not alert anyone to who they really are, and since no one has ever seen a Douna, well, if we keep the halls empty--"
"To quote a famous admiral--make it so."
Sam frowned and cocked her head. "Sir?"
"Please tell me you've watched Star Trek: The Next Generation?"
"You don't know what you've missed."
Sam looked behind her and nodded in satisfaction. Only Lieutenant Pierce sat in the control room. The corridors that led from the gateroom to the VIP suites were empty and would be for the next two hours, thanks to a memo that had gone out regarding work needed on the wiring in those halls.
In the gateroom itself, only she, General Hammond and Major Ferretti, acting as security, were present. Sam glanced at her watch--ten minutes to go.
There'd been no further communications with the Arkonans and it was unknown whether Daniel would be shortly walking through the gate, but Sam prayed that he would.
His three months of service were long over and the only communication that had been received had been via Colonel Simmons five months earlier. He'd contacted the General three months to the day after Daniel's departure and informed him that Daniel's assignment had been lengthened and might approach a year.
To this day, Sam believed with all her heart that hearing that news had finally ripped the soul out of SG1. One month later--Jack had retired and Teal'c had requested permission to return to his homeworld--permanently. Hammond, his own heart nearly breaking, had agreed.
Sam allowed her gaze to travel over the beloved gateroom, remembering moments with Jack, Teal'c and--Daniel. Moments of extreme hurt, humor, danger and the impossible. Not to mention the rather cavalier way in which SG1 had routinely saved the world.
She still couldn't believe that Jack had buried himself in Minnesota. But then, how could any of them have known or understood what the loss of Daniel would do to the SGC? Even the first three months of Daniel's ambassadorship had left SG1 different, less--somehow. Jack seemed to lose his sense of humor, Teal'c actually became more silent, if that was possible, and General Hammond--
Sam shook her head. There was no point to this now. SG1 had been officially retired, much like a famous athlete's playing number. But she'd stayed on and now served as General Hammond's 2IC. But only because she believed that Daniel would return and that upon his return, Teal'c would come back and finally--Jack. She was the only who knew that the General had not put through Jack's retirement paperwork. And Sam had to have hope.
God, how she missed Daniel. Decisions were so hard to make now. There was no stabilizing compass anymore. No one to tell them that they were headed in the wrong direction, that the military mindset was trampling on humanity. How could they not have known what Daniel really contributed to the SGC?
Sam felt her face heat up and she coughed slightly to hide her sudden discomfiture and pain. At that moment, Lieutenant Pierce's voice penetrated the gateroom.
"General, we're getting activation."
The claxons went off, the steam rose, and the gate lit up. Moments later, the wormhole connected. Beside her, General Hammond came to attention, as did Ferretti. Several seconds sped by as the even horizon calmly shimmered. Then--three people stepped through--
Three hours earlier - on Arkona
Daniel sat in the large suite and stared at his reflection in the mirrors across from the bed. He wasn't certain that he knew the man staring back at him. The blue eyes were dark with fatigue and pain and bore no resemblance to the man of almost a year ago. But then--the man of a year ago hadn't spent nine months on Arkona.
Daniel rose and walked unsteadily toward the mirrors, stopping when he was a few feet away. He'd lost weight and his hair was longer than when he'd first met Jack. And oddly, it was lighter too. Probably the artificial light here on board the Arkonan planet. It was a strange light, one that Daniel had finally realized had all the properties of Earth's sun.
The planet Arkona was actually a huge ship that remained anchored in space, thus making gate travel possible. And even though they were on board a ship, the Arkonans had managed to create an outdoors to go with their indoors.
In the last six months, Daniel had tried to spend most of his time outdoors, but the Arkonan outdoors simply meant a fake sky, hothouse plants and the strange outdoor lighting. He'd received his first clue that their artificial light could be as dangerous for him as Earth's sun after coming in and finding his back red and burned. A light with no real warmth, yet had the capability of burning human skin. Amazing.
It was strange being on a ship that was a planet, a home to an entire race. Daniel stepped closer to the mirror and touched the glass. He traced the shape of the face and frowned. More angular now. Cheeks more pronounced, eyes shadowed--
He turned to see Tollar at the entrance to his room.
"Is it almost time?"
"Yes. And you should be resting."
Daniel smiled, then walked back to his bed and sat down. Tollar inclined his head and Daniel grimaced. "Even now, after all this time, I must still invite you to enter?"
"I am sorry, it is a very old habit." Then Tollar smiled. "But let me see if this once, I can enter without invitation." With that, he stepped inside and walked over to the bed.
"Look, I made it."
"Truly amazing, my friend."
Tollar sat down beside Daniel and said, "And I am your friend, Daniel. There is no man for whom I care more. Not even my Lord. My shame is so great--"
"Tollar, didn't we agree that there would be no more discussion of those first weeks? They are over, done with, history."
"And yet nothing."
"Then I must ask again--why? Why stay?"
Daniel gazed at his hands, noting with a detached observation that they were shaking slightly. He clasped them tightly together and addressed Tollar.
"I have no choice. You know that, Tollar. You know what was at stake and how long it's taken to bring Ketar to this point and you know what is at stake now."
"We've protected the treaty and thus my friends and your people, Tollar, and now--"
Tollar searched the handsome face of the man who'dbecome so much to the Arkonans. He would never understand such sacrifice, but maybe, just maybe, he could alter its nature.
"Come, Daniel, we must prepare."
Sam's heart plummeted. No Daniel. God, no Daniel.
And the Douna was a man.
It took all of her willpower to keep her composure. Lord Ketar stood in simple clothing, with no outward appearance of his station. On his right, Tollar, his Vice Counsel, was also dressed informally. The only thing that could possibly tell anyone they were gazing upon Arkonans was the slightly green skin. And that was, for the most part, hidden by the simple grey pants and shirt, as well as the darker grey cape with hood that both men wore.
But the Douna. Sam sighed. The Douna wore only three things. Over his body, a long, gold, sleeveless cape that brushed the ramp. Sandals on his feet and from slender hips, a thin gold braid that held a white piece of material that covered the man's genitals and in the rear, another piece that just covered the swell of the Douna's buttocks and that was it.
Other than the gold face mask.
It was also evident that the Douna was not Arkonan.
His skin was pale white.
And why no Daniel?
Jack picked up the burlap sack and carried it out to the porch. He stood for a moment, breathing deeply and enjoying the deepening shadows that heralded the coming evening. He plucked up several logs and stacked them in the bag, then before going back inside, he walked to the south edge of his porch and gazed out over the lake.
The still waters calmed him and the faint breeze brushed his face. He thought it odd that only here, alone, could he regain his sanity. And he supposed, in reality, he wasn't sane at all. How could a man, who spoke with someone on a daily basis, someone who happened to be light years away, be sane?
"But you're not light years away, Daniel. You're right here, with me. Where you belong." Jack chuckled, then said to the wind, "Of course, you're here in the abstract, but damn, talking to you this way certainly ensures no lectures."
He turned almost reluctantly and went back inside. Closing the door, Jack walked to the stone fireplace and after putting two of his newly retrieved logs on the fire and stoking it up, he placed the rest of the wood in the brass basket to the right of the fireplace. Rubbing his hands in front of the blaze, he said, "Stew for dinner tonight, Daniel, and your cornbread. We're going to have to do without the sour cream though. The storm kept Mr. Stubbing from his grocery delivery today."
Jack turned, walked into the kitchen and over to the stove. He lifted the lid on the simmering food, leaned over, took a good whiff, then grinning, dipped the spoon in and after blowing on it, he tasted it.
"Perfect. Natch. And ready."
He'd already set the table, so all he needed now was a cold beer. Jack retrieved that from the fridge, and after setting it next to his placemat, he picked up his bowl, took it over to the stove and ladled up some of the rich venison stew. Jack set the bowl on the table, then opened the oven and took out the cast iron fryer that held the cornbread. He'd set it in the oven earlier to keep it warm and now he cut himself two huge squares and juggling the hot pieces between his hands, he hurried back to the table and dropped them on the plate.
"Okay, we're ready. Chow time."
Jack sat down, picked up his beer and then saluted the chair opposite.
"Skol, Daniel." He took a healthy swig, then after swallowing, said, "You know, the day I actually set the table for two is the day I check myself into Happydale Farm."
Jack dug in and ate hungrily. As he ate, he kept a running commentary with his absent friend. Daniel never answered back.
When he was done, Jack looked at the dishes that needed washing, then with longing at the cozy and warm living room as well as the Dirk Pitt book that sat waiting for him.
"So, Daniel? Which? Wash the dishes or read?" Jack cocked his head.
"Yes, well, I'd be thrilled to fuck instead, but dishes and Dirk wait for no man."
Laughing at his own joke, he got up, carried the dishes to the sink and decided a compromise was in order. He put them in soak, then with a satisfied smile, walked into the living room and sat down with his book, which he didn't open as his gaze immediately fell on the framed picture that sat on the end table.
"Why Daniel? Why did you leave? And if you had to leave, why didn't you come back?"
The picture stared silently back at him. Jack reached out and tenderly touched Daniel's face as it laughed from the safety of Kodak paper. The photo was one of Jack's favorites and had been taken at the ice rink in Boulder. Daniel had agreed to a hockey lesson and once Jack had him all "padded" up, he'd pushed him onto the ice. Daniel had flailed his arms like a windmill and then as predicted, had fallen flat on his very cute ass. And that was when a hockey buddy had snapped the picture. It was a very special moment, capturing a laughing Daniel.
"I don't really need to ask, do I? I think I've known all along. And God forgive me because I have no explanation, none. No reasons, no excuses. But I do know this. The moment I knew you'd passed through the gate for Ankora, I knew in that instant that I loved you. I. Loved. You."
Jack set the book on the arm of the recliner, then picked up the picture. "Just come home, okay? Just--come home."
Tollar stepped forward and slipped the hood back from his face. Extending a hand, he said, "Thank you, General Hammond. My Lord Ketar is very grateful that you have allowed this unplanned visit. My Lord's Douna is very tired. Would it be possible for the three of us to be shown our quarters before my Lord Ketar meets with you?"
Hammond stepped forward, took the offered hand and as they shook, said, "Of course. Major Carter will show you to your quarters, and when Lord Ketar is ready, she can bring him to our conference room." Then without looking directly at the silent, slender young man standing next to Ketar, he asked, "Is the Douna ill? Is there anything we might do to assist you?"
"Actually, our Douna is--not well. We would greatly appreciate any assistance you might be able to provide. Would it possible for your," he seemed to struggle for a moment, as if searching for the right word before saying, "doctor--to attend to him? Perhaps while you and my Lord Ketar meet?"
"Of course, Vice Counsel Tollar." General Hammond turned to Sam and nodded. "You'll inform Doctor Frasier?"
"Yes, sir. I'll stop by the infirmary after showing Lord Ketar to your meeting."
"Very good." He faced Tollar again. "If you'll follow Major Carter, she'll take you to your rooms."
Tollar bowed and as the General and Feretti stepped aside, Lord Ketar, his hand under his Douna's arm and clearly providing much needed support, started down the ramp. Sam smiled at Tollar and together, Lord Ketar and the Douna bringing up the rear, they proceeded out into the empty corridor.
As they disappeared, Feretti turned to the General. "Sir? What do you think?"
Hammond scratched the back of his head. "Major, I have no idea. But even without looking at the Douna, I'd say he's in bad shape."
"And, from outward appearances, human?"
"For all we know, Major, some Arkonans come in shades other than green."
Feretti grinned. "Yes, sir." Then sobering, he added, "Why do you suppose Doctor--I mean--Ambassador--Jackson didn't come? As the US Ambassador, shouldn't he--"
"I expect Ketar will brief me, Major, and until then, no speculation."
"Yes, sir. Understood." He saluted, pivoted and exited the gate room, leaving General Hammond behind.
Turning back to the now closed gate, he shook his head. He feared bad news. Why else this covert meeting? If something had happened to their ambassador--No. Nothing had happened to--Daniel.
General Hammond headed up to the conference room to await Lord Ketar of Arkona.
"Major Carter, if we might--slow down a bit?"
Sam immediately slowed and without looking over her shoulder, said, "I can get what we call a wheelchair from the infirmary, if that would help? Although, it's not much further."
Tollar, who was still beside her, shook his head. "No, we just need to provide a more--leisurely pace. Thank you."
"All right, and we're turning here."
They turned the corner and a few steps took them to the VIP suites. She opened the door and stepped aside, saying, "We've given you the rooms that connect--"
"Connect?" Tollar asked, puzzled by the word.
"Oh, I'm sorry, here, let me show you." She stepped in and walked to another door, then opened it. "See? Two rooms, connected by this door. I hope it's adequate?"
She tried not to watch as Lord Ketar, who as yet, had not spoken, led the Douna to the bed. He sat him down, then pulled the chair from the desk and sat, his eyes fastened only on his--concubine.
"These are very adequate, Major. However, we would request--one other item? Immediately?"
"A--screen--to divide the sleeping area from the rest of the room? This is, I'm not sure how to explain, but it would be--appropriate. Would that be possible?"
"Of course. I'll take care of it immediately. Why don't you settle in, I'll find a divider, then escort Lord Ketar to the conference room."
Tollar sighed in relief. "Again, our thanks. It is not our wish to be--"
Again it seemed he was searching for a word, then he smiled and said, "A burden."
Sam heard a snort from the bed and it took all her will-power not to look because the sound of disbelief had most definitely come from the Douna. Tollar grinned, a true grin, full of affection and directed at the man on the bed.
Sam waved her hand dismissively. "You are not a burden, please believe me. We are honored at your visit. Now, I'll go scare up that divider and be right back."
Tollar frowned in confusion. "Scare up? Does not that word imply fright?"
God, it was like dealing with--Teal'c. She smiled at that thought and said, "That was--simply an expression. I'll be right back."
"Ah. I see. I am aware of your ‘expressions’. Thank you, Major Carter."
She nodded again and walked out wishing it were appropriate to ask after the US Ambassador.
As the door closed, the young man on the bed slipped the mask back and off. "Burden, Tollar? We don't wish to be a burden?"
The Vice Counsel walked to the bed and sat down. "Was the word incorrect, Daniel?"
"Not at all, but we are most definitely about to become major burdens, Tollar."
Ketar leaned forward and rested his hand on the side of Daniel's face. "You are warm, Daniel. We must get you to bed. You can barely hold your head up."
"I swear, you're worse than a mother hen." At the looks of puzzlement, Daniel grinned wanly. "No, I have no idea where that saying originated. I've seen hens with their chicks and for the most part--oh, never mind."
Ketar smiled and stood. "Bed," he commanded.
"Yes, mother, bed," Daniel sighed out. Then with Tollar's assistance, the gold robe was removed and the bedding turned down. Daniel slid gratefully under the covers, his breathing a harsh pant.
"Water, Daniel?" Ketar asked, concerned.
"I could use that. See that square brown box in the corner over there?"
At both Tollar's and Ketar's nod, Daniel said, "That's a refrigerator. I'm sure they've stocked it well. There'll be bottled water inside."
Tollar hurried over and after a brief struggle, found out how it opened. He stepped aside, clearly waiting for Daniel to point out the bottled water.
"They say "Arrowhead." Red labels."
Tollar nodded, easily spotted the Arrowhead and took one out. He carried it to Daniel who took it and twisted off the top, then raising up from the bed, took several small swallows before handing it back.
"That is better, Daniel?" Ketar asked in concern.
"Good. Then you must sleep," Ketar said firmly.
"Sam will back shortly. Tollar, you might want to meet her outside," Daniel suggested tiredly.
"Of course. Although," Tollar hazarded, "I believe you are wrong to keep your presence here a secret."
"It's better for now, Tollar. Until we know--"
"Yes, yes, I understand. But your Doctor Frasier will have to know. So why not--"
"She won't tell."
"Of this you can be certain?"
"Yes." Daniel's voice was growing weaker and Ketar held up his hand and addressed Tollar. "Enough, my friend. Did we not all agree that General Hammond would decide the appropriate course of action?"
Tollar sighed. "I am sorry. I shall go out and wait for Major Carter."
As Tollar left to stand in the hall, Ketar turned to Daniel. "Your Doctor Frasier will be able to help you, yes?"
Daniel, eyes growing heavy, said, "Let's not worry about that now. You need to prepare for your meeting with--"
"I am prepared, Daniel. I have the treaty and the secret agreement. I will be both humble and--" Ketar paused, suddenly unable to go on.
"Ketar, you are not the same leader. You are not the same man."
The Arkonan took Daniel's pale, listless hand in his own. "No, Daniel, I am not. And for that, my people and I have you to thank. I only pray that your General is as forgiving as you."
Before Daniel could answer, the door opened and Tollar entered, a large folded divider in his arms. "My Lord, Major Carter is outside and ready to escort you to the conference room."
Ketar nodded and stood. He brushed hair from Daniel's forehead, then after helping Tollar set up the screen and successfully blocking off the bed from the rest of the room, he took Tollar's arm and led him away. Voice lowered, he said, "Take care of him, my friend. And make sure that Doctor Frasier understands what is at stake."
"I shall, my Lord."
Ketar nodded, picked up a slim black briefcase engraved with the United States seal of the President and with a last glance at the screen, left.
Tollar went back to the bed and sat down in the chair his Lord had just vacated. He smiled with satisfaction as he gazed down at his sleeping friend. Then his smile faded. Ketar had more faith in the ways of human medicine than Tollar did. But then, Ketar had not allowed himself to understand how sick Daniel truly was. And Tollar could understand his Lord's reasons.
The Vice Counsel allowed his gaze to roam freely over the sleeping man and he knew he was gazing on death. His heart constricted and he found it difficult to swallow. The Arkonans had killed the man who had proven himself to be their salvation. No, that was unfair. He and Lord Ketar had killed their salvation. Tollar dared not think of the future for he had the same lack of faith in the forgiveness of Daniel's people that he had in their ability to save Daniel.
Sam led Lord Ketar through the halls of the SGC, and in spite of the fact that she was responsible for the memo that kept the corridors empty, she still found it strange to move through the SGC without seeing another soul. She'd also been surprised by Ketar's voice. The Arkonan leader still wore his cape and hood and she'd yet to clearly see his face, but his voice had been beautiful. But her curiosity about what Lord Ketar actually looked like, let alone her curiosity about the Douna, wasn't likely to be satisfied anytime soon.
She took Lord Ketar up the stairs to the conference room, knocked and at General Hammond's "enter", Sam opened the door and then stepped aside allowing the Arkonan leader to proceed inside. She went no further, per her instructions, and immediately shut the door, leaving Lord Ketar to his meeting with General Hammond. She still had to stop off at the infirmary and take Janet to see the Douna.
Would it be protocol for Janet to tell her what the Douna looked like? After all, who would know?
Sam walked into the infirmary and found Janet at her desk, engaged in the part of her job she enjoyed the least: writing reports on returning SG teams. Sam glanced around and seeing the bustling technicians and nurses, decided the place was too busy for any explanations. Coming up behind her friend, she tapped her gently on the shoulder and said quietly, "Janet? Could you join me in my lab? It's important."
The doctor closed up the file she was currently working on and looked up, a question in her eyes."Sam?"
Puzzled, the doctor rose and followed Sam out. By the time they'd reached the lab, Janet was worried. The lack of conversation was strange, but stranger still had been the lack of men working in the corridors--the same corridors that were supposedly closed for repair. And it didn't escape Janet's notice that the halls weren't closed to Sam.
Walking into her office, Carter waited until Janet stepped past her, then she locked the door and with a nod, indicated that her friend should take a seat.
"All right, what's going on, Sam?"
"What I'm about to tell you--stays between us, Janet, unless you hear otherwise from the General."
"Less than an hour ago, Lord Ketar and his Vice Counsel arrived through the Stargate. With them was an individual known as the Douna. This person is basically Lord Ketar's concubine, but that term doesn't really do justice to a Douna. On Arkona, a Douna is highly revered."
Janet held up a hand to stop Sam. "Slow down, Sam. You're saying we're once again playing host to a delegation from Arkona?" At Sam's nod, Frasier asked, "So where's Senator Kinsey or for that matter, Colonel Simmons? I've heard nothing to indicate--"
"They weren't informed of this visit, Janet." Sam allowed her words to sink in, then added, "That's why this is top secret. Tollar requested that the meeting be with General Hammond only and asked that it be highly confidential."
For a moment Janet could only stare at Sam, her expression one of surprise and confusion. "This doesn't make sense--"
"If you'll let me get a word in?" Sam gave her friend a half-grin.
"Sorry, go ahead."
"Thank you. Lord Ketar is with the General now, but the reason I'm here is that--"
Janet sprang to her feet, once again interrupting. "Wait, is Daniel here?" she asked, eyes wide and sparkling.
Sam shook her head sadly. "No, and I'm assuming that the General is finding out why not. Which brings me back to why you're here?"
Disappointed, Janet sank back down. "All right, all right, go ahead."
"The Arkonans have asked that you attend to the Douna. He's unwell and--"
"Sam, I have nothing on Arkonan physiology, you know that."
"Apparently, he's human. Or Arkonans come in a few more colors than pale green. Anyway, they seem to feel that you can be of assistance so I'm to take you to their suite now."
"Well of course I'll see what I can do, but--"
"Janet?" Sam tried once again to get her friend's attention. "Before I escort you, you need to understand the appropriate protocol."
"Protocol? I'm a physician, Sam, I'm going to be examining this--" her eyes widened, "Wait, you said he's unwell. Are you telling me that this Douna is a man?"
Amused blue eyes aimed for the heavens as Sam shook her head. "Why, Doctor Frasier, I had no idea you were a hom--"
"Stop right there, Sam. It was just surprising, that's all. There was nothing in the information that we were given, to show that--"
"Gender wasn't an issue for the Arkonans?"
"Well, apparently, gender isn't an issue. And that, in my opinion, places them several notches over us earth-bound humans. Now, may I finish?"
"To be honest, the Arkonans just went up a notch in my estimation as well. And what exactly is this protocol I need to worry about?"
Carter sighed patiently, then frowned. "Actually, I'm not sure what the protocol will be now. Normally, no one is allowed to even look at the Douna, nor touch him. And you can't address him unless he addresses you. So I suspect we'll have to rely on Tollar for guidance in this."
"Samantha, I'll have some difficulty examining this, whatever you called him, without touching him. And I'll have to ask questions--"
"I know, one step at a time. Right now, let's get you to the suite. Do we need to get anything from the infirmary?"
Janet nodded, her mind reeling from this new information. Sam unlocked the door and stepped into the hall. "Janet? You coming?"
"Oh, right. Sorry."
As they headed back to the infirmary, Janet said, more in a musing way than any other, "Obviously Daniel knows this Douna and must feel that I can help him. I suspect he's behind this whole secret meeting."
"I've been having similar thoughts. I just wish that Daniel had seen fit--"
"I know. I know." Then Janet looked up at her friend and asked gently, "Have you heard from--Colonel O'Neill at all?"
Sam shook her head. "No. No one has."
"I think I hate the Arkonans."
Daniel moaned in his sleep and Tollar bent forward, ready to soothe the man should he need it. He placed one hand on Daniel's forehead and gently brushed back the one shock of hair that was always falling forward into Daniel's eyes. Tollar smiled softly.
"I wish I believed in your God, Daniel. I would pray to him."
Daniel rolled over and moaned again, then his eyes opened blearily. "Tollar?"
"I am here."
"No, my friend. But you have not been asleep long. Is there much pain?"
"No more than usual."
A shadow crossed Tollar's face and Daniel gave a small "tsk-tsk" sound. "Stop it, Tollar."
"I am sorry."
"And you can stop saying that as well. The truth is that a good thing will come out of all of this. A treaty that will truly benefit both Earth and Arkona."
"At what cost, my friend? At what cost?"
Daniel smiled, a genuine smile that lit up his pale and exhausted face. "Now that is exactly what I'm talking about. There is a question that a few months ago would never have been asked. And the cost in this case is so small as to be negligible."
Tollar took Daniel's hand in his own much larger one and said softly, "I believe the loss of one life to be a price I am no longer willing to pay, Daniel."
Blue eyes sought out the near black ones of the Arkonan and a truth passed between them. A truth that brought a sigh of relief to Daniel's lips. "I'm glad you accept the inevitable, Tollar. I only wish that Ketar--"
"I believe he knows, Daniel. But his hope takes precedence over the small voice deep within that tells him that you are-- that says that--"
"That I'm dying? We can say it, Tollar. It's not such a bad thing. And trust me when I tell you that long before coming to Ankona, I had quite a bit of experience with dying. I'm becoming --somewhat--of an expert at it. Only this time--" he turned his head away and gazed at the picture that Tollar had placed by his bedside before saying, "I do believe I'll stay dead."
Daniel reached out his hand and ran a finger over Jack's smiling face. It was one of the photos he'd taken with him and showed Jack, Teal'c and Sam on the ramp to the gate, laughing and relaxed having just stepped through following one of their easier--and Daniel-less--missions. He didn't know who had snapped it, but he was grateful. It showed his friends and especially Jack, as they were, a team, depending on each other for surviving missions and life. And it had captured Jack's laugh.
"I don't think that staying dead," Daniel whispered, "is such a bad thing this time." He lifted the picture and set it on his chest. "I'm so tired, Tollar. I have been for a very long time."
His hand smoothed over the photo as he smiled down at his friends. In a voice oddly distant, Daniel said,"It's strange not quite fitting, always not quite fitting." Then Daniel looked over at his friend and with a small, wry grin, said, "What do you want to bet that if there is a heaven, I don't fit there either? I'll probably screw that up as well and all the angels will picket God to send me to a faraway cloud of my own. Which is okay."
"I do not understand this talk, Daniel," Tollar said, his voice tight, his emotions too close to the surface.
"Never mind. I'm known for rattling on. People learn to tune me out."
Tollar was about to argue when he heard a faint knock at the door. He rose and looking down at the ill man, said, "That should be your Doctor Frasier. Are you ready?"
Daniel nodded, his gaze once again fastened on the photo. Tollar closed his eyes briefly, then walked to the door. He opened it and smiled as he faced Major Carter and Doctor Frasier.
Both women stepped inside as Sam said, "Vice Counsel Tollar, this is Doctor Janet Frasier."
Tollar took Janet's hand. "I am very glad to meet you, Doctor Frasier. It is our hope that you will be able to aid--" he paused and glanced back at the screen that hid Daniel, then he looked back at the two women and with one eyebrow raised, said to Sam, "Major Carter?"
"Oh, yes, of course. If you need anything, use the red phone and dial 8."
"Thank you, Major." Tollar opened the door for her and after she stepped outside, he closed it and turned to Janet.
"I'm sure that Major Carter informed you of who you have been asked to see?"
"Yes, Vice Counsel Tollar. If you'll just tell me what to do?"
Before Tollar could say anything, a weak voice said, "Janet?"
Frasier whirled around and without thought, moved quickly to the screen and past it. The sight that greeted her froze her in her tracks.
General Hammond stood as Lord Ketar entered carrying a small black attaché.
"Please sit, General. We do not stand on formalities in this meeting. I am Ketar, you are--"
Ketar smiled briefly. "No. You are worthy of your title. Allow me to use it."
Surprised, Hammond nodded, then held out a hand indicating that they take their seats. After both men made themselves comfortable, the General said, "This is your meeting, Ketar."
"Indeed. But before I begin, I wish to say that the man seated before you is not the same man of several months ago. The man I was is no one to proud of and one that I expect you would hate. That man was selfish, General. He was also used to wielding great power, but not judiciously or fairly. I was young, for an Ankoran. And very young to be a leader.
"In Ankoran age, I am, at 125, younger than our--Daniel. Do you understand this?"
Hammond nodded warily, his surprise at hearing Daniel's name stopping any questions -- for now.
"Tollar, at 175, is a wise and mature man who tried desperately to teach me. But until--Daniel--he met with little success. In the last months, I have learned much and I pray to our Gods everyday that I will soon be worthy to be Lord of Arkona. That I will be able to lead my people wisely and well.
"I take the first step to such leadership today. I am here to right a--I am not sure of the word--grievous-- wrong. And with your help, the outcome will greatly benefit both our worlds."
"What can I say, Ketar? My superiors believe--"
"Your superiors believe what they have been told. Your President believes what he has been told. And very little of it was true. Would you like to know what your country, as represented by Senator Kinsey, really traded for our technology, General?"
"As I understand it, we have--"
"General Hammond, Earth had nothing the Ankoran's could use. Not in a trade of technology. Your country, in the form of Senator Kinsey, sold Daniel Jackson to me. Ten months ago I saw him and I wanted him. Do you understand now?"
Without waiting for an answer, Ketar went on.
"Your country sold Daniel Jackson into slavery so that they might have weapons of great power."
His own yell woke him up. Shaking, Jack rolled to the edge of his bed and swinging his legs over the side, he sat up. He was soaked in sweat, his heart pounding double time. How many nights now had he been awakened by his own screams? Too many to count.
Jack swiped a hand over his face, then back over his hair. He shook himself a bit and stood shakily. After using his nightstand to steady himself, he turned on the bedside lamp, then went into the adjacent bathroom. He flicked that light on, turned on the water faucet and cupping his hands under the flow, bent at the waist and splashed his face. He did this several times before finally shutting off the faucet. Jack grabbed a towel and dried off, then stared at his reflection in the mirror.
Rumpled, old, tired and lost. That was what stared back at him. Brown eyes shining with unshed tears blinked and one of those tears escaped to roll down a sleep-wrinkled cheek.
Daniel had died again. Died in Jack's arms. Always in Jack's arms. It was the nightmare from Hell.
The dream rarely varied. For some reason, Jack would find himself in a quiet meadow, on his knees, his hand in Daniel's. Then Daniel would open his eyes, smile gently and tenderly, then whisper, "Love you, Jack." Then he'd say, "It's okay, it's better this way," and his eyes would close. Daniel would then take two short panting breaths, and no more. The fingers entwined with Jack's would go lax and--
In anger, Jack pounded the mirror with his fist, watched the cracks spider out and small pieces separate and fall into the sink. Without taking his eyes from the shattered mirror, Jack reached for the towel he'd just used and wrapped it around his bleeding hand. Then he turned, walked into his bedroom, pulled out his military bag, and with well-practiced moves, packed.
He dressed a bit clumsily, his bandaged hand hampering him somewhat, but he finally walked back into the bathroom and took out the first aid kit. It took him only a few minutes to take care of his hand. Grabbing his bag and jacket, he walked outside. It was still dark and a quick glance at his watch told him it was only four in the morning. He threw his bag into the back of the Jeep, climbed in and headed out.
It was a three hour drive to the airport in Duluth. He parked in long term parking, uncertain of when, if ever, he'd return. Jack then took the shuttle to Northwest Airlines. He booked himself on the next possible flight that would get him into Colorado Springs, a flight that would leave in less than two hours. Now that the decision had been made, Jack felt a ball of tension start to unwind slightly. His stomach rumbled and he gazed around him, spotted a snack shop and headed over. He ordered a large coffee and a bearclaw. Jack paid, took his breakfast over to the counter and sat down. As he ate and fortified himself with the hot coffee, he was hit with doubt.
What the fuck could he do if he went back? The answer came to him almost immediately: He'd go to Arkona and drag Daniel Jackson home - - kick him all the way home -- if he had to.
Nodding in satisfaction, Jack took a huge final bite of the pastry. Hell, yeah. Daniel Jackson's days as ambassador to anything were over. Of course, now he had to explain this to George.
"See, it's like this, George, um, er, General Hammond, Sir--"
Which reminded him. Now might not be a bad time to call good ol'George--
Daniel lifted a weary hand in a half-salute. "Hey, Janet. Surprise, surprise."
Janet's face went devoid of expression as she paled. Then moving slowly forward, she said, "Daniel? You're this--I mean, but--Major Carter didn't--"
"She doesn't know, Janet. No one does--except--you. I wore the required mask," he said, as if that explained everything.
Tollar stepped next to the bed, sensing the need to provide support for his friend. But as he started to reach out to Daniel, the younger man shook his head. "Tollar, would you mind leaving us--alone? Please?"
Dark eyes traveled from Daniel to the petite doctor, then back again. "If that is what you wish, Daniel, yes. But what of the dis--"
"Where is it?"
"On the desk."
"Maybe you could give it to her now?"
Tollar nodded, moved away and back around the screen. Janet watched him, eyes dark and angry. A moment later, Tollar appeared next to her, a cd case in his hand.
"Doctor Frasier, with Daniel's help we have transferred all pertinent--health--information," he paused a moment, then with his hand shaking, continued. "onto this disk. I believe it will now be compatible with your--computers."
Janet took it and slipped into the pocket of her white jacket. "Thank you."
He nodded, then with a last look at Daniel, he went into the other suite.
When they heard the snick of the door, Daniel said quietly, "I guess we should have better prepared you--and for that, I'm sorry."
Finding words suddenly elusive, Janet simply shook her head. She was still trying to get around the fact that their Daniel was this Douna.
"I--I've seen Sam and she looked--well. So did Feretti. And--General Hammond. How is--Teal'c?"
Janet's expression hardened and she drew herself up to her full height of five feet. "Teal'c has returned to Chulak. He hasn't been a part of the SGC for months."
She took an almost perverse satisfaction when Daniel went white. Ruthlessly she went on. "He left almost immediately after Colonel O'Neill--retired."
"Retired? Jack--retired?" Daniel gasped out, shock written all over his face.
"Yes. Senator Kinsey cut the budget--again--and reduced the SG teams to six--but the final straw was the mandate that stated unless a world could bring Earth something of value, namely weapons, that world was not to be explored. That's when he quit."
Eyes focused on the ceiling, Daniel asked in a whisper, "When did this--"
"Amazingly enough, not long after we received word that you had accepted the position as Arkonan Ambassador permanently. " She then added, "Colonel O'Neill has buried himself somewhere in Minnesota. None of us have heard so much as a word from him since he left. Of course, he saw the handwriting on the wall. Kinsey is predicted to be our next President, and we all knew what that would mean to the SGC."
Daniel turned his head away and Janet had to strain to hear his next words--
"--for nothing--all for nothing--"
When he didn't look back, she said, in a voice both brusque and businesslike "What seems to be the matter with you?"
Daniel lifted a hand and waved it aimlessly. "Nothing serious, Jan---Doctor Frasier. I'm afraid the Arkonans don't know how to handle the flu. And of course, my allergies kicked up. Maybe you could just prescribe--"
Without allowing him to finish, she placed her hand on his forehead and nodded. "You are feverish. I'll send the appropriate medications back. In the meantime, stay in bed and drink--"
Giving her a dry, humorless chuckle, Daniel said, "Plenty of liquids--"
"You remember the drill. Good. Well, if that's all?"
"Thank you, Janet," he whispered.
As if hoping he had something else to say, she waited a moment, but when it was clear that nothing was forthcoming, she turned away. But then she stopped and without looking at him, asked, "How could you choose--over--I don't understand, Daniel. I just don't understand."
Squaring her shoulders again, Janet walked out.
When the door closed, Daniel allowed the tears of frustration that he'd been holding back--fall.
It had all been for nothing. Kinsey had managed to undermine the SGC anyway.
"God, you're a fool, Jackson. A total fool."
All these months in exile, in pain--for nothing. But par for the course. It was almost funny, actually. Slowly Daniel swept back the covers and got unsteadily to his feet. Using the furniture for support, he made his way to the bathroom. Once inside, he braced himself on the sink and stared at the pale, thin man opposite. His thoughts strayed to where they often did: Jack.
"Jack, I'm so sorry--"
Then his lips curled back in a snarl as his hate for the man in the mirror took over. He brought his arm up and with one swift move, smashed his hand into the mirror. There was the sound of shattering glass, the shaking of the wall, and streaks of blood smeared over the remaining bits of glass. More blood flowed in thin streams, bright against white porcelain and the world wavered, went dark and Daniel collapsed.
Tollar heard a thud from next door and without thought, hurried through into the other suite. The bed was empty. He turned toward the bathroom and tried to open the door, but something was wedged against it. He pushed and hearing a light thud, glanced down. A bloody hand.
He pushed again and was finally able to get the door open enough to step over Daniel's body.
Tollar bent down and lifted him into his arms as if he weighed nothing. He had to get help. He had to get help.
Tollar straightened and moved sideways through the door. Somehow he managed to get the main door open and he stepped frantically into the hall.
"SOMEONE, PLEASE? I NEED HELP! ANYONE?!"
Ketar waited for General Hammond's reaction to his words. He wasn't surprised to see the man's jaw tighten, nor was he surprised that Hammond waited—
Ketar, as much to punish himself as to get Hammond to understand, said, "I am certain that you realize I hardly needed someone to dress me, General. No, the moment he and Colonel O'Neill were brought before me in peace, in that first moment of gazing on him, I was not thinking of any need to acquire a new servant but rather--what I wanted from Daniel--"
Voice hard as granite, Hammond said, "I understand exactly what you wanted from Daniel Jackson. And it's equally obvious that he--wanted--something similar. We can agree on that. So why are you here?"
Ketar stood, anger evident in every line of his body. "Daniel was correct. You humans are a very judgmental race. But he believed only the best of you, General."
Ketar pushed the black case over to Hammond. "In here, you will find the agreement between the Arkonans and your people. Not the agreement your President believed he was signing, but the real one. The one giving me Daniel."
Ketar walked away from the table to stand at the window overlooking the gate room. With hands clasped behind his back, he said tersely, "Daniel Jackson did not know that he was being sold into slavery, General. But he was blackmailed into accepting the supposed ambassadorship."
Hammond had been staring at the black case, but at Ketar's words, his head shot up. "Excuse me?"
"You heard correctly. He was blackmailed. Daniel was told that unless he agreed to become the ambassador, you would be forcibly retired, Colonel O'Neill would be dishonorably discharged, the Jaffa, Teal'c, would be sent to a lab in a place called--Mary-land and Major Carter would be assigned to--I believe the term was Siberia. Daniel called it--a--I do not remember the word.
"But it was enough. He accepted, believing that it would indeed, be for a brief three months. You can imagine his surprise when, upon being presented to me, he was immediately placed in chains."
Ketar turned to face Hammond. At last, he thought, a reaction. Perhaps this man cared for Daniel after all.
"What the fuck did you do to my archeologist?"
"You do not want to know, General. But he fought me at every step. And if I'd known that he'd been blackmailed, well, things would be very different today. I would have used that against him, and would have succeeded. But I didn't and he never gave in. In spite of the--" Ketar stepped back to the table and leaned in, "--torture, the repeated torture. And each time I had him brought back to life, Tollar would stay with him while he recovered, and until I could next attempt to bend him to my will. Tollar talked with him and--learned--from him."
Slowly Hammond walked around to the opposite side of the table until he stood inches from Ketar. "What the fuck did you do to Daniel Jackson?"
Refusing to back down, Ketar said, "You wish a description of the torture, the rapes? Would that really satisfy you, General? Or is it enough to know that our machines could bring him back to life, could heal the injuries, but not without taking their toll? A toll we could not anticipate? Or perhaps you'd prefer to know that when Tollar finally convinced me to stop, convinced me of Daniel's true worth, that Daniel became so much more to all of us? That he changed me, changed who and what I was? And that finally, we agreed that the only way to stop Senator Kinsey--was to come here, in secret and tell you everything? To give you the proof you would need?"
Steely eyes stared back at Ketar, eyes full of anger, revulsion and yes, hate. But then all of Ketar's words sunk in. Hammond stepped back.
"Why didn't you send Daniel back to us?" he asked sharply.
"Because the same words that convinced Daniel to come to us, the same threats, still existed. And it took--time--for Daniel to work his," Ketar smiled, "magic--on me. I may have accepted some of what he and Tollar shared, but it took time to bring me to this point. To help me understand that the treaty could truly become beneficial to my people and that an alliance with you was, in fact, our best hope."
"What is really wrong with Daniel Jackson?" Hammond demanded.
"The devices we use to cure, and to bring back, were not meant for human physiology. But we did not know this. We could repair the immediate damage done by--but not the devastating effects that the body suffered. Daniel is now very weak and his heart--" Ketar bent his head and closed his eye--"his heart is now damaged. It is my hope that your doctors can help him."
"Why the whole Douna set-up? Or is he--"
Ketar's eyes blazed dark fury. "Have you heard nothing? Do you believe for one minute that--" Ketar shook his head hopelessly. Then said, "Do you really believe that our visit will remain secret? How else to protect all of you? If word should get out to Kinsey or Simmons, it will appear as though Daniel is indeed, my Douna. And perhaps, they will be satisfied enough to provide the time required to allow you to bring the truth to your President."
Then Ketar's shoulders slumped. "Believe me, even now, perhaps even more so, I would give anything if Daniel could return my feelings. Feelings for him that now--are real. But he does not. But he has forgiven me. That must be enough. Now, may we sit and discuss calmly?"
Sam was headed back toward the suites, eager to find out what she could from Janet, when she heard the anguished yell. She broke into a run and as she rounded the corner, she came face to face with Tollar. And in his arms--an unconscious and near naked Daniel. Sam's brain was racing, but she figured that the facts that placed Daniel in Tollar's arms could wait until it was figured out why Daniel was unconscious.
"WHAT HAPPENED?" she yelled as she slid to a stop.
Stricken, Tollar was barely able to articulate anything and his words came out in a stammer. "I--I found him--please, please--"
Sam rushed to one of the phones on the wall and punched the emergency alert number, than yelled, "WE NEED A MEDICAL TEAM ON THE DOUBLE -- VIP SUITES!"
As she barked her orders, Tollar sank to the ground, holding Daniel close to his chest. When Sam finished, she knelt next to him and spotting the bloody hand, immediately clamped hers over the wound. As she did, Tollar raised anguished eyes to her.
"Why? Could your doctor not see that Daniel is dying? Why did she leave him? We came here--we came to you--for help," his voice started to rise, "WE TRUSTED YOU TO HELP HIM!"
Shocked and frightened, all Sam could say as she held the bleeding hand and stared at the man she'd not seen for over eight months was, "I don't know, Tollar, I don't know."
The alarms went off in the infirmary and as the order for a medical team came through, Janet moved quickly. When she heard the location, she blanched, but did not pause. Moments later, her team following with a gurney, she was running down the corridor toward the VIP suites.
"What is that?" Ketar demanded, afraid that he already knew.
"There's an emergency--a medical--emergency--a team has been sent to your suite. It must be--"
Both men rushed from the room.
The sight that greeted Janet confirmed her worst fears. She never paused, but quickly dropped to Tollar's side. "What happened?"
Tollar, still frightened but now blazing with fury, responded angrily, "Why did you leave him? Could you not see--"
Janet simply shook her head at Tollar's words and with stethoscope out, was already listening to the weak and erratic heartbeat. One of her technicians was taking Daniel's pulse and as Janet caught his eye, he shook his head.
"All right, let's get him up and to the infirmary, STAT."
Together, two of the techs took the unconscious man from Tollar's grasp and lifted him gently, then laid him on the gurney and even as Janet was covering him, they were moving. While she continued to monitor, they picked up their speed until they were all, Tollar and Sam included, literally running. As they wheeled the gurney into the infirmary, General Hammond and Lord Ketar came around the corner from the other side.
"What's happened, Major Carter?"
Shaking her head, she said, "I don't know."
Lord Ketar, eyes fixed on the gurney being wheeled behind a curtain, said, "Tollar?"
Panting harshly, the Vice Counsel said, "He asked that I leave him for a few minutes so that he could converse with the doctor. I did so, and several minutes later, I heard a thump. I hurried back and found him - -"
Loud words from behind the curtain stopped him--
"His blood pressure is dropping, Doctor!"
Sam found herself gravitating toward General Hammond, heart in throat as she listened to Janet bark out orders. She didn't understand any of this--but--it was Daniel in there, their Daniel and Tollar had said that Daniel was dying—
It was obvious to everyone in the hall (where they'd been banished by Janet) that the panic was over. Stats, orders, and medication amounts were no longer being yelled out and the frantic movements of nurses and technicians had ended. What wasn't known, was Daniel's condition. And because no one knew anything, Ketar was pacing in one direction, General Hammond in another. Sam had her back to the corridor wall, Tollar beside her, his eyes fixed on Ketar.
Sam was still reeling at finding out that Daniel was evidently the Douna but that paled compared to his current condition. She was just about to march into the infirmary and demand answers when Janet stepped out. Ketar immediately stopped pacing and put out a hand. "Please, is he--"
"Daniel is alive." Turning to the General, Janet went on. "His heart appears badly damaged, but until --we've run several tests--and until I have the results, I can't give you any more information. Right now, he's stable and asleep."
Tollar, his anger rushing up again, pushed himself from the wall and asked, "Why did you leave him? Could you not see--"
"Daniel told me that he had the flu--" Janet stopped, closed her eyes and shook her head. "No, that's unfair. I knew there was something else wrong. On some level I knew. I was--angry--"
"Janet, why on earth--" Sam tried to ask, but General Hammond held up a hand.
"That's enough everyone." He turned to Ketar and Tollar. "Lord Ketar, I imagine you and your Vice Counsel would like to be with Daniel?"
At their nods, Hammond turned to Janet. "Doctor, would that be a problem?"
Janet shook her head. "Go on in, Lord Ketar. There are two chairs just inside. The nurse will help you."
Ketar nodded in relief, then looked over at his Vice Counsel. "Tollar, does the doctor have the--disk?"
"Yes, my Lord."
Janet blushed as she nodded. "I have it, but perhaps things will go faster if you could--"
"Doctor Frasier," the General interrupted, "is Daniel stable enough that you could join me, along with Major Carter, in the briefing room?"
Janet nodded and as Ketar and Tollar entered the infirmary and were escorted to Daniel's bed, Hammond motioned to the two women to follow him.
Sam fell in beside Janet, but her heart and mind were in the infirmary with her friend.
As they sat down, Sam's curiosity got the better of her. "General Hammond, I can't believe that Daniel is this--this--Douna. That he would--"
"He isn't and he wouldn't, Major Carter. But neither is our Doctor Jackson the Arkonan Ambassador."
General Hammond looked from one worried officer to the other. This was not going to be easy--for either of them--but he didn't want Janet to find out cold when she ran the cd provided by the Arkonans.
He took a deep breath.
"What I'm about to tell you will be difficult to hear and equally difficult to—accept. But the fact is, our government--sold--Daniel to the Arkonans. To Lord Ketar, to be more specific."
Janet had been sitting quietly, hands clasped on the table in front of her. At Hammond's words, she shuddered. He caught it and said, "Doctor?"
"This is my fault, General. What happened to Daniel in the suite--it's my fault. I was so hurt that he'd apparently chosen--I knew. I could tell by looking at him, hell, a first year medical student could have told by looking at him, that he wasn't suffering from the flu. But Major Carter had told me about--"
"The Douna?" Hammond asked, his voice soft and without censure.
"Yes. And there he was, only--it was--Daniel. I told him about--Teal'c and Jack and the changes--" Janet dropped her head in her hands. "Aw, God. I'm a doctor, I'm supposed to heal, to--"
"Doctor Frasier, your reaction was understandable. I made a similar judgment about Daniel right here in this room only a short time ago. Lord Ketar straightened me out. It seems," he smiled wryly, "It seems we are, according to Daniel, a judgmental race."
Janet's brown eyes filled and she had to turn away a moment. Hammond waited, allowing her the time to compose herself. When he felt she was ready, he said softly, "You're not going to like what you see on the disk, Janet."
The use of her first name brought her head up sharply. "What do you mean?"
He again looked from one to the other. "I mean that his current state of--ill health--is due to how he was treated in his first weeks with the Arkonans. Daniel's heart has been damaged. They evidently use a device similar to the Gou'ald device SG1 discovered on Crimmeria.
"Unfortunately, the Arkonan device, when used on human physiology, and as often--" his voice choked up and he coughed. He then went on-- "as often as it was on Daniel, does not restore the recipient as completely as the Gou'ald healing device does. As a result, each time he was--injured--his body was never allowed to fully recover."
Janet's voice was hard as she asked, "I assume that the CD Tollar gave me will provide me with a complete list--"
General Hammond didn't allow her to continue. "Yes, Doctor. And you need to be prepared. He was sold to Ketar as--"
Janet held up a hand. "I get it. Our government has taken up the fine art of what, white slavery? Selling bodies? Is that the right terminology for what we've done to Daniel?"
"Janet, I think General Hammond has more to say." Sam's voice was low, husky, and full of emotion so close to the surface that she couldn't begin to hide it. She didn't try.
"I'm sorry, General."
He nodded his understanding, then began to relay allthat he'd learned from Lord Ketar. When he was finished, both women were stunned and shocked silent. As they processed all that he'd told them, he found his gaze straying to the black case. Slowly he opened it, took out the papers and began to read.
"Sir?" Sam finally interrupted.
Hammond looked up, his eyes slightly dazed. "In spite of Ketar's words, I'd half hoped that it wasn't true. I can't say that I liked Kinsey, but he is a United States Senator and he sold an American. Sold our Daniel. Ketar was telling the truth. It's all here."
Face pale, Hammond handed the papers that represented the secret treaty between Kinsey and Ketar, to Sam. Taking them, Sam, with Janet looking over her arm, read the same words. Her eyes skimmed down to the signature.
"But this doesn't make any sense, General. Kinsey hates the Stargate. Why would he enter into such an agreement?"
Perhaps I can answer that, Major Carter?" All three looked up to identify the new voice and Hammond stood, eyes blazing.
"Colonel Maybourne, how the hell--"
Jack dialed General Hammond's private line but when there was no answer, he tried the regular line.
//General Hammond's office, Staff Sergeant Wilkins speaking.//
"I'd like to speak with General Hammond, this is Jac--Colonel Jack O'Neill. It's urgent."
//Just a moment, Colonel, he's in a meeting--//
"This is urgent Sergeant."
//I understand, please hold.//
Jack closed his eyes in frustration. Tapping his fingers, he waited.
Before anyone could move, the phone at General Hammond's hand rang. With a grunt, he picked it up.
"Hammond and this better be good."
//General, I have Colonel O'Neill on line six. He says it's urgent.//
"Put him through."
A moment later--
His patience almost worn thin, Jack was about to hang up and try again when the General's voice came on.
//Jack, where the hell are you?//
Something in the General's voice alerted Jack and he answered immediately. "I'm in Duluth. My flight for Colorado Springs leaves in two hours."
//No it doesn't. Give me twenty and I'll have you on an Air Force transport in thirty. Daniel is--here--and ill, Jack. And you'd better have your uniform because you're still a Colonel in The United States Air Force, is that clear?//
General Hammond hung up, made a call, barked a few orders, then dialed the number Jack had given him. He quickly gave Jack the information and finally hung up again, then faced Maybourne.
"Give me one good reason for not having you arrested immediately? And how the hell did you get in here?"
Maybourne moved into the room and stopped a few feet from the table. "A few calls and the right passwords can accomplish almost anything, General. And before you consider having me arrested, perhaps a call to the President would convince you that I'm on your side?"
Stunned, Hammond shot a glance at Carter, who shrugged. He reached for the red phone.
Hammond put down the phone. "Well I'll be damned."
"May I sit down now, General?"
Without looking at him, Hammond waved Maybourne to a seat.
The General looked at Sam and with a small shake of his head, said, "It seems that Colonel Maybourne works--for the President and has--from the beginning."
Shocked eyes were turned to Maybourne, who was still looking at Hammond.
"I believe you were about to explain Senator Kinsey and this," Hammond tossed the secret treaty across the table, "piece of trash."
"It's simple really. Kinsey wants to be President and he can't do it without Simmons and Simmons wants the stargate. A match made in heaven."
"More like hell," Janet muttered.
Hammond sank back into his chair and closed his eyes in frustration. Maybourne's voice washed over him, but all he could hear were the machines attached to Daniel and all he could see was that pale face--
"General, I understand how you feel about what has happened to Doctor Jackson--"
Pale blue eyes shot open. "No, Colonel Maybourne, I don't believe you do." He clenched his fists and added "And you'd better be able to tell me that you knew nothing about," he indicated the treaty, "that. Or that you could have stopped it."
"I didn't know. I suspected something and I've spent the last months trying to find out what they'd done, but until today, I'd come up empty handed."
Sam leaned forward and said tersely, "And exactly how did you come to be here today?"
Maybourne gazed from Sam to Hammond, then back to Sam and he smiled. It was the smile Hammond knew Jack hated and Hammond found himself not to fond of it either.
"There are a few NID agents among your intrepid crew, Major. It's their job to find out what's going on at all times and to report back to Simmons. I intercepted one such missive last night and another one this morning. Unlike Simmons, I correctly interpreted what the information regarding the arrival of the Arkonans meant. He's not worried--yet."
"Care to explain that, Colonel?" The General asked, his tone only slightly more civil.
"Simple. Whomever decided that Daniel should show up as the Douna, made a good decision. Simmons believes, for now, that Lord Ketar and Vice Counsel Tollar are here for Daniel's health. He undoubtedly believes that Daniel has been--correctly--trained and is, in fact, the real thing."
"Wouldn't Simmons expect Tollar to communicate with him first?" Doctor Frasier asked.
"Very good, Doctor. But no. The agreement was no direct communication other than through the normal channels of diplomatic communiques. And those--business related."
"So you're telling me that you figured out that Ketar was really trying to--"
"Right a wrong, General? Yes. I have an advantage over Simmons. I know Daniel Jackson. In trying to decipher what this visit by Ketar and his Douna could mean, it became simple. I know that Jackson couldn't be changed, so the alternative would be death--or he'd change the Arkonans. So here I am."
"To do what, exactly, Colonel?"
"To help you, General. To get the truth to the President. And to bring down Senator Kinsey and the NID. Which has been my goal all along."
"So you were a double agent, so to speak?" Hammond asked sarcastically.
Maybourne smiled that smile again. "So to speak."
Hammond turned to Janet. "Doctor, perhaps you should return to your patient?"
Janet nodded and rose, but before exiting, she said, "In case Daniel awakes, what could I tell him about Jack?"
"Colonel O'Neill will be here in less than three hours."
"Very good, sir."
As she walked out, Sam stood and said, "Sir, I'd like to get a message to Teal'c. He'll want to see Daniel."
"Of course. And Major?" When she turned back to him, he added, "You'd better tell Teal'c--that it's--urgent."
Lifting her chin, Sam said, "Daniel will be fine, sir."
"I hope so, Major."
Without a glance at Maybourne, Sam left.
"How bad is he, General?"
"According to the Arkonans, Doctor Jackson is dying, Colonel."
Jack gazed out the window and thanked God for the Air Force. No layovers, nice speedy travel, no hassles. And he'd be touching down in, Jack checked his watch, thirty minutes. And Daniel was--ill.
Jack hadn't liked the tone of Hammond's voice. It didn't bode well. No one was just ill. An ill Daniel was a seriously hurt or injured Daniel.
Jack's nightmare was taking on real dimensions. He shuddered and went back to gazing out his window. Not exactly space. Not gating. But it was flying. He only wished he was piloting. It would have made him feel more in control. Not to mention that he would have put the pedal to the metal.
"Aw, God, Danny, what have you gotten yourself into now?"
Sam walked into the infirmary, then over to Janet, who sat hunched over at her desk.
"Janet? How is he?" Sam wasn't prepared for Janet's expression or her tear-stained face. "God, Janet, what is it? He isn't, God, tell me he isn't--"
"No, no, Sam. He's still asleep."
Relief flooding through her, Sam reached back for a chair and pulled it up. Placing her hand on Janet's arm, she asked, "What's wrong?"
Janet reached over opened the CD compartment on her computer and took out the CD. She held it up. "This. This is what's wrong." She let the disk drop from her fingers. "God, Sam, you just don't know. You just don't know."
Sam looked at the round disk but didn't touch it, somehow feeling that it would--hurt--too much. "Janet, tell me."
Her eyes glazing over, Janet whispered, "They broke every bone in his body--several times. He died, Sam, he died three times, from his wounds. Do you understand? And you don't want to know the rest--trust me."
Janet dropped her head and the tears fell freely. Sam felt her own threaten. "I need--to see him, Janet. Teal'c will be here soon. So will Jack." Without lifting her head, Janet said quietly, "It had better be soon, Sam."
"What--what do you mean?"
"He doesn't have long. A few days, maybe. There's nothing I can do for him. Nothing. All this technology and I can't do anything. His heart simply can't handle any more. Tollar was right--Daniel is dying."
She'd known. She'd known. And still--Sam couldn't believe. Couldn't accept.
"I--I'm going in now, to see him." She stood and took a few steps, then repeated, as if in shock, "I need to see him."
Jack stepped onto the tarmac and a regulation Jeep pulled up.
"You're looking at him."
"General Hammond sent me."
Tossing his bag into the back, Jack climbed in saying, "A man after my own heart."
The driver took off and it was quickly apparent that he knew how to put the pedal to the metal.
Sam stepped over to the bed and Tollar immediately stood, letting her slip into his chair.
"Thank you, Vice Counsel."
"Please, it is Tollar."
She nodded, but her attention was already focused on Daniel. As she sat and stared, as she took his hand into hers, she found it amazing that she was sitting with the men who would bring down Kinsey and the NID.
And with Daniel's killers.
God, she wished Daniel would wake up. She just wanted to hear his voice, to see his eyes.
"General Hammond, it is good to see you again."
Smiling for the first time in days, Hammond said, "And it's good to see you again, Teal'c."
"It is true? DanielJackson is here?"
The smile faded. "It is. But the news is not good. Daniel is very ill."
"Has Colonel O'Neill been informed?"
"He has and should be any time now."
"He's here right now, General."
Both men turned to see Jack striding into the gate room, a soft smile on his lips as he looked at Teal'c. With no thought, both men moved toward each other and hugged. When they stepped back, he saluted, rather absentmindedly, and then put out his hand. General Hammond took it.
"I can't tell you how glad I am that you're here, Jack. You too, Teal'c."
"Tell me about Daniel, General," Jack asked, his emotions under tight rein.
"Let's go upstairs and I'll fill you both in. Then, you should see Daniel."
As they followed the General out, Jack glanced back at the Stargate. So many memories flashed through his consciousness. He closed his eyes briefly, then stepped out into the corridor after Hammond and Teal'c.
Daniel opened his eyes and winced. He immediately closed them again.
"Is it too bright, Daniel?"
He cracked open one eye to see Tollar's concerned face.
"A--bit," he managed to rasp out.
Tollar immediately reached up and shifted the lamp away from the bed. "Is that better?"
Daniel nodded, then looked around, confused. "How--"
"You collapsed in our rooms. Tollar found you," Lord Ketar informed Daniel from his chair beside his Vice Counsel.
Daniel frowned, trying to remember, but damn, his mind was fuddled and foggy and he couldn't connect with himself. He licked his lips, then asked, "Where am I, Ketar?"
Ketar reached for a glass and brought it to Daniel's lips. "Drink this, slowly."
Daniel did as he was told, then swallowed gratefully and put his head back down. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. And you are in the--infirmary--is that the right word?"
Daniel squinted as he looked around, then nodded and repeated, "Infirmary."
Both Tollar and Ketar nodded, then Tollar said, "Infirmary. The doctor ran several tests, Daniel. It is--as you--predicted."
Daniel's eyes fluttered closed, then opened. "Ah."
Tapping heels alerted them to the approaching presence of the Doctor.
Janet came around the curtain and smiled at seeing her patient awake.
Daniel nodded, eyes wary as he watched Janet pick up his chart. She perused it, even though there was no reason, then said, "Sam is here. Would you like to see her?"
"Sam?" Daniel repeated.
"Yes. And Teal'c will be here soon and Colonel O'Neill is flying in."
She nodded, then took his hand. "Daniel, please, I'm so sor--"
"Doctor, may I speak with you?"
Her gaze moved to Tollar and even though puzzled at the interruption, she nodded. Tollar took her arm and with a smile at Daniel, he led her out. As they stepped far enough away from his bed so that their words wouldn't disturb him, Tollar said, "You were going to apologize, were you not? Ask for his forgiveness?"
Looking into the dark eyes, eyes that in spite of near blackness, literally swam with emotion, Janet nodded.
"Do not. Think of him now, not your own need to be absolved," he said kindly. "Trust me, I am an expert in needing absolution from Daniel, as is my Lord Ketar. But all you will do is bring him pain."
"But--but, he needs to know--"
"What he needs to know is that everything is all right with you. Smile, ease him, do not add to his pain."
As Janet gazed up at the tall Arkonan, she tried to reconcile this man to the man who had been a party to the atrocities visited upon Daniel and his body. She couldn't do it. And she realized that she didn't need to. Smiling tremulously, she said, "Thank you, Vice--"
"Tollar. You're right."
He smiled in relief. "Perhaps you could summon Major Carter?"
"Yes. Right away."
A moment later she returned, Sam at her side. "Go ahead, Sam, he's awake."
Sam shot a glance at Tollar, who nodded. Slowly, she approached the bed and at seeing her, Lord Ketar stood.
"Major Carter, I will leave you and Daniel to speak together."
"Please, you don't need--"
He held up a hand. "Yes, I do. Besides, Tollar wishes to try something called--what is it again, Daniel?"
"Fruit Loops," Daniel said with a tired smile, his eyes on Sam.
"Ah, yes, Fruit Loops. And I am eager to try a hotdog. We will return shortly, Daniel."
Daniel nodded, but never took his eyes from Carter. Ketar left quietly.
Sam took the abandoned seat and looked at her friend, eyes shining with tears that she tried to hide. Daniel reached out a shaking hand and took hers.
"Hey, Daniel," she said softly.
Jack was--speechless. Teal'c was--stoic--even more so than usual. Both men gazed at the papers sitting between them. Slowly Jack's eyes rose to land on Maybourne.
"So help me, Maybourne, if you knew about this, I swear, I'll kill you." The threat was spat out coldly and deliberately and Jack couldn't have cared less that his commanding officer sat next to him.
"He didn't know, Colonel."
General Hammond had filled Jack and Teal'c in—on everything, including Daniel's health--well, almost everything. Now he had to deal with Jack's fury, and judging by the incredible stillness of Teal'c, his anger as well. And he'd yet to tell them that Daniel was--
"Jack, Teal'c, there's--more."
Jack tore his gaze from Maybourne's face to look at the General and in that moment, seeing Hammond's eyes, he knew.
"He's--dying, isn't he?"
"I'm afraid so."
"According to Doctor Frasier--days."
Teal'c spoke for the first time. "There is nothing that can be done?"
Jack couldn't move. He'd known--but hearing it—he couldn't move. He wanted to see Daniel more than anything in the world--and he couldn't move.
Maybourne had no such difficulty. He rose, reached for the papers that would go to the President and said, "I'll take care of this, General. You have more pressing matters."
That galvanized Jack. He shot up. "I don't think so, Maybourne. Maybe you'd like to share exactly what the President can do with that?" Then with a look around the table, he added harshly, "Does anyone here really think that selling one archeologist to some aliens is going to bring Kinsey down? Or the NID? What, you really think the President is going to blow the whistle on the Stargate program? Tell the world that there really are little green men? Okay, not so little, come on, who are we kidding?"
"This won't stop Kinsey, Jack," Maybourne said quietly, "But it will encourage the President to allow sanctions."
Jack's eyes narrowed. "Sanctions? As in--"
"As in sanctions, Jack."
Teal'c gazed from one man to the other, then with raised eyebrow, suggested, "O'Neill, perhaps you should--accompany--Colonel Maybourne?"
"You know, Teal'c, that's a mighty fine idea. You up for a short trip?"
General Hammond didn't bother trying to talk either man out of their decision, he simply reached for the phone.
As it turned out, the trip was shorter than anyone anticipated. Maybourne's people confirmed that Simmons was in Colorado, no doubt ready to descend on the mountain. Senator Kinsey was in Los Angeles, addressing a Republican woman's group.
Maybourne, Jack and Teal'c stood at the entrance to Cheyenne mountain awaiting their ride and trying to decide the correct course of action. Finally Teal'c stopped the arguing.
"Does anyone here think it odd that we are fighting like children over who and how to kill two men?"
"Sanction, Teal'c. Sanction two men."
"Thank you, O'Neill."
Maybourne looked out over the parking lot and said, "I'll take Kinsey. You two take Simmons."
"And just how did you decide that, Maybourne?"
"Simple. You want to spend as much time with Doctor Jackson as possible. Besides, I don't believe that--assassination--is your style, Colonel. And that's what we're talking about. He is a Senator."
Jack gazed back into the tunnel. Half of him wanted to race back down and into the infirmary to see Daniel, to spend as much time with him as possible, but the other half--the other half demanded retribution. Vengeance. Maybourne's solution was the compromise he needed.
"Teal'c and I will take Simmons."
They sat outside the hotel, staring up at the lighted windows. When they'd arrived, three hours earlier, Simmons had not been in his room and by the time he'd arrived, both men had decided that they should wait until dark before going in. The decision had left Jack antsier than hell, but with so many people leaving the hotel for dinner, there would fewer chances of being seen.
"It is dark, O'Neill."
"Gee, thanks for the observation, Teal'c."
"Why are we waiting?"
"Because you're still not wearing the cap?"
The Jaffa picked up the black woolen knit cap and pulled it over his bald head. "Now--I am."
"Yes, you certainly are." Jack reached for his cell phone, his intention to ensure that Simmons wasn't in the bar or restaurant. He dialed the hotel and when the operator answered, said, "I'd like Colonel Simmons' room, please."
A moment later, he hung up. "It's busy. Simmons is there. Let's go."
They climbed out of the rental car and after checking traffic, jogged across the street, then entered the lobby.
"He is on the third floor, is he not, O'Neill?"
"Would it not be better to draw him up?"
"Out, draw him out."
"No? It would not be wise to call him again, get him to meet us?"
"Then what, drag him into a dark alley?"
"That is not a bad suggestion, O'Neill."
"Wrong, Teal'c, it's a very bad suggestion."
One eyebrow arched.
"It's supposed to look like a hit, Teal'c. So let's just go up and invite ourselves in, shall we?"
"If that is what you believe will work."
"I do. Now let's go."
They headed for the elevators and as they approached, one car opened, spilling out several guests. Jack jumped in when the last guest exited and Teal'c joined him. Jack punched three and alone, they rode up. As they passed two, Teal'c turned and brought the side of his hand down on the back of Jack's neck. The man crumbled and Teal'c caught him neatly.
When the elevator opened on three, Teal'c stepped out, looked carefully in both directions, then spotting the stairs, he carried Jack down the hall and into the stairway. There, he gently laid him down, propping him up against the wall. Then he turned and walked back into the corridor.
Teal'c approached suite 316. When he stood before the door, he raised his hand and knocked. A moment later, Colonel Simmons stood before him. "Well, well. And what brings a Jaffa to my door?"
"I have information for you, Colonel Simmons."
Eyes narrowed in suspicion, Simmons nevertheless stepped back and allowed Teal'c in. As the door closed behind them, Teal'c wrapped his arm around Simmons' throat and squeezed just enough to keep the colonel still. He drew out his knife and flashed it before Simmons' face.
He was rewarded as Simmoms' stiffened in his grasp. Teal'c rested the blade against the man's throat, allowing it to just slice the skin.
"This is for DanielJackson."
Teal'c grinned ferally as the smell of urine rose up. Simmons' had peed in his pants.
Teal'c entered the stairwell and was relieved to find O'Neill waking. He knelt down and waited.
Jack rubbed the back of his neck and groused, "What the hell?"
"It is done, O'Neill."
Jack stood angrily, then swayed and when Teal'c tried to support him, he swatted the hands away.
"Are you crazy? What the hell did you--"
"I believe that DanielJackson would not approve of you murdering another officer. I have picked the envelope--"
"Planted," Jack said as he rubbed his sore neck.
"Planted--the envelope given to us by Maybourne. It is over."
Teal'c opened the door and stepped aside so that Jack could precede him. As they walked into the corridor, Jack said, "Daniel Jackson would not approve of you murdering a man either, Teal'c." "Ah, but Daniel Jackson is not in love with me, O'Neill."
Jack came to such a sudden stop that Teal'c thudded into him.
"Teal'c, what the hell--"
"We should perhaps--get out of--Dodge?"
As they walked through the lobby, they passed the lounge and Senator Kinsey's face flashed across the screen. Jack grabbed Teal'c's arm and both stopped in the entrance to listen.
"...Kinsey was found shot to death in the bedroom of his suite at the Pasadena Ritz-Carlton tonight, the victim of an apparent suicide. As more information becomes available, we will report it. Again, Senator Robert Kinsey was found shot to death in his room, the victim of an apparent suicide."
"Gee, Teal'c, that's too bad, isn't it?"
"Most definitely, O'Neill."
They walked out.
"You shouldn't have done it alone, Teal'c."
"Have we not had this discussion, O'Neill?"
"I'm just saying--"
"Yes, you are."
Jack drove slowly through the darkness, his ability to see greatly hampered by the rain, great, huge sheets of the stuff. As he drove, fingers tight on the wheel, his sense of urgency was almost a living thing. The hate that had driven him to leave Cheyenne Mountain in order to take down Colonel Simmons had been appeased and all that was left was the burning need to see Daniel.
His decision to go before seeing Daniel was part cold, all-consuming hate, part need to expunge from the face of the earth the men responsible, and part --shame. He simply had not been able to face Daniel while the people who had sold him still breathed. And now - - they were dead and Maybourne had undoubtedly put into action the plan that would bring down the NID. Did Jack feel better now?
Yes--and no. He felt relieved, but he also felt--dirty. Not because he'd had a part in their deaths, not because Teal'c had protected him, but because, in a way, he was as guilty as Kinsey and Simmons.
"You are too quiet, O'Neill."
"It's taking all my concentration, Teal'c."
"I did the right thing, O'Neill. You could not have truly faced DanielJackson with blood on your hands."
Jack's fingers tightened convulsively on the wheel. "Just tell me Simmons knew. Tell me that bastard suffered."
"I had little time--but yes, he knew. There is a ceremony that goes back many centuries on my world, O'Neill. When a man was executed, the blade was flashed before his face as his crimes were repeated for all to hear. Then the edge of the weapon would be rested against soft flesh and very slowly drawn across the skin of the throat. The cut would be deep, but the executioner would move slowly and steadily so that the guilty felt every inch as he experienced the loss of his life's blood. This is how Colonel Simmons died. And before he lost awareness, I told him why."
Jack breathed out a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Teal'c."
The Jaffa nodded.
As they drove on, the windshield wipers seemed to lecturing Jack and he kept hearing Hammond's words about Daniel's condition. But more importantly, Jack could hear what Hammond hadn't said and that was getting under his skin. With the rain slowing Jack's progress, his imagination began to supply him with all the horrors that had been done to Daniel. Jack made himself a promise that upon their return to the mountain, he would see Daniel's file--the file brought to Earth by the Arkonans.
Daniel was alone. And grateful. Putting up a facade around Ketar, Tollar and Sam had been almost more than he'd been able to handle. His energy, now that he was actually--home--was dwindling fast and he still had to face Teal'c and--Jack. And General Hammond. And--Jack.
God, he was so tired. But then, dying was a tiring occupation--and no one could deny that Daniel Jackson had made it just that over the years. Which reminded him--he needed to prepare for Sam. And her attempt to secure him a symbiote from the Tokra. She would fail, of course. Ketar had already made the attempt and there were no failing Tokra. But had she listened? No. She'd insisted on communicating with Jacob. Not that it would matter if there were, because Daniel would refuse. He was ready to die.
Hell, he wanted to die. In fact, he was pretty sure that the last five years had definitely been borrowed time. He should have stayed dead in Ra's ship on Abydos. It was nature's way, the way of the world. You die, you fucking stayed dead. Not that Daniel had ever really followed rules. On the other hand, it was never too late to start.
Like staying dead.
He could hear the gentle whisper of soft voices on the other side of the screen and could almost fool himself into believing that the sound was a gentle wind on Abydos--or--maybe--the ocean here on Earth--Daniel closed his eyes and drifted, pretending that he was indeed, on the water, sun beaming down on his face. That was the good thing about being home. He was warm. On Arkona he'd always been cold. Even in the artificial light of their outdoors, he'd been cold.
For the first time in months, Daniel was relaxed. He continued to drift as he listened to the murmur of the voices--human voices, and reveled in the warmth under the blanket, a blanket that unlike Arkonan covers, was soft, not scratchy. The sheet his cheek rested upon was almost as soft. And considering that they were military sheets, that was saying something.
Alone, at peace, warm, and safe--he was--happy. If it could stay like this, he'd die truly content.
It was amazing how one could allow a dream to fade in the hope of death. On the other hand, in Daniel's dream world, Jack was beside him, loving him, once again caring about him. The Jack of his dreams had been the only thing that had kept him strong in the weeks after stepping through the ‘gate onto Arkona. Not once in those first weeks had sanity ever been an issue. How could it have been, when Daniel, whether in pain, or exhausted, or feverish, had talked with Jack? Daniel rubbed his face against the soft pillow and smiled. No, sanity had not been a goal in the those first weeks.
He was drifting again when a voice broke through, a voice he'd dreamed of hearing for months.
Daniel opened his eyes and strained to hear--aware that Jack was speaking to Janet--
"Teal'c, if you want to go on and see him first, go ahead. I have some questions for the Doc."
"I will wait, O'Neill."
At that moment, Janet walked in, a chart in her hands. She spotted Jack and a combination of joy and great sadness crossed her face.
Jack smiled slightly and said, "Janet."
The use of her first name undid her. The tears swam to the surface. She brushed them away and turned to the Jaffa.
"Teal'c, welcome back."
Teal'c bowed his head. "Thank you."
"How is R'ytak?"
"Growing tall and strong, Doctor Frasier."
She glanced from one man to the other, then said, "He knows you're coming. He's in the far bed, with the closed curtain."
Jack indicated the chart in her hands and asked, "Is that his?"
Janet looked down and shook her head. "No, it's Lieutenant Wilshire's. He received a mild head injury on P5X-282."
"I understand that the Arkonan's provided you with a record of Daniel's--injuries and physical condition. May I see it?"
Janet gazed into Jack's brown eyes, eyes that told her nothing and shook her head. "I don't believe that would serve a purpose, Colonel. Just--go see him."
"I need to see it, Janet. Please."
Janet's chin lifted. "No, Colonel."
The warmth that had been in those chocolate brown orbs disappeared instantly. Jack squared his shoulders and in a slightly louder tone, said, "I would like to see Daniel Jackson's chart, Captain."
The order was clear. Janet started to take a stubborn stance, to argue, but something about Jack stopped her. "Jack, I'll tell you the same thing I told Sam--you don't want to see it. I wish now that I hadn't."
She was stunned when Jack paled.
"Show me, Janet," Jack persisted.
"Colonel O'Neill," General Hammond said from the doorway. Sam stood next to him and behind her, Lord Ketar and Tollar.
As Jack and Teal'c turned toward them, Sam moved into the room and immediately hugged first Jack, then Teal'c.
"It is very good to see you again, Major Carter."
"You too, Teal'c. And Colonel."
Hammond, Ketar and Tollar joined the others and Hammond immediately pinned Jack with one of his patented steely gazes.
"You were asking Doctor Frasier for something, Colonel?"
Jack, no slouch in the steely stare department, fastened one on Lord Ketar. "Yes, sir. I'd like to see the file on Daniel, the one the--Arkonans so thoughtfully provided."
Before either the General or Janet could respond, Tollar whispered something in Ketar's ear and the Arkonan leader nodded. Tollar moved away and disappeared behind the curtain that hid Daniel.
"Where's he going?" Jack demanded, his anger suddenly finding a new outlet. "Colonel, do I have to remind you--"
Hammond and Teal'c stared at each other, then Teal'c said, "My apologies, General Hammond."
"Not at all, Teal'c."
Jack narrowed his eyes and said again, "I want to see Daniel's file."
Sam put her hand on Jack's arm. "Colonel, that isn't a good idea--"
"Don't tell me what is and isn't a good idea. He was a prisoner of the fuc--" "That's enough, Colonel O'Neill," General Hammond barked out. "Perhaps, Colonel, you have more pressing needs?" He inclined his head toward Daniel's bed--
Tollar walked around the screen to find a pale and weak Daniel trying to sit up. He rushed to his side and quickly putting an arm behind his back, helped the younger man.
"Daniel, should you be--"
Tollar blinked at the curtness of the answer, then winced as the voices on the other side of the screen rose. He glanced back at Daniel and was shocked at his appearance. He seemed to be shrinking before his eyes. His body was shaking and sweat had broken out on his face. As Tollar took it all in, Daniel stared at the screen as if he could see beyond it and it was obvious to Tollar that he was listening to every word.
Placing a comforting hand on Daniel's shoulder, Tollar said quietly, "The Colonel is worried, Daniel. And he is afraid. They all are. It is understandable. They care a great deal for you."
Tollar's words seemed to have an amazingly calm effect on Daniel. The shaking subsided and he drifted back to his pillow. Then he turned an looked at Tollar and the Arkonan was struck by the sudden strength of purpose he found in the blue depths. And it frightened him. Daniel had made a decision and Tollar suspected it was not a good one.
Face devoid of all expression, Daniel said, "Tollar, please ask Lord Ketar to come here."
Frowning in consternation, Tollar nodded, then moved to the other side of the screen.
"My Lord Ketar?"
His voice interrupted the General and all eyes were turned toward him.
"Daniel wishes to speak with you. He is once again awake."
As one unit and following Ketar, the others moved toward the curtained off bed. They all stopped just short as Ketar moved it aside and walked in. His voice carried easily to the people on the other side.
"Daniel? You are all right?"
"Yes, Ketar. But I believe it's time to return to Arkona. There is nothing that can be done for me here and I wish to return--home."
On the other side of the screen, Daniel's words struck hit Jack like an avalanche.
Jack moved before anyone could stop him. In a flash, he was around the screen and standing at the foot of the bed that held his friend.
"Earth is your home, Daniel. What the hell are you talking about?"
The words left Jack's mouth--and died in the air--as he got his first look at his friend. It was like being struck in the gut by Teal'c's staff weapon--wielded by Teal'c. Jack swayed, then with incredible will power, straightened, his hand gripping the rail at the foot of the bed. His eyes met Daniel's and Jack moaned, a low, guttural sound, then he reached out blindly, grabbed the chair nearest and sank down.
Several things happened then as Teal'c pushed the curtain aside, thus allowing him, Sam, Hammond and Janet to move around the bed. Ketar was still staring at Daniel, as surprised by the man's words as Jack. Only Tollar showed no puzzlement. His dark eyes regarded Daniel with an appraising look.
Janet, seeing the sudden and rapid deterioration of her patient, immediately barked out, "All right, everyone out now. And I mean--"
She stopped and looked at Daniel, then said, "You need rest. Even from here I can see--"
"No. All I need is to go home." He reached out and took Ketar's hand. "Now."
Hammond stepped closer to the bed. "Son, Doctor Frasier is right. You need to get some--"
"I can rest upon my return to Arkona." Daniel looked up at Ketar and asked, "They know everything now, don't they?" At Ketar's dumbfounded nod, Daniel went on. "Then there's no reason to stay, is there?" A stunned Ketar lifted agonized eyes to Tollar, who nodded ever so slightly. Ketar turned his attention back to Daniel. "Daniel, I believe the doctor is correct, as is General Hammond. You need rest. We can discuss our return later--"
Daniel lifted his eyes to Ketar and shook his head. "I won't rest here. Our job is done," he paused, took a shallow breath and added, "and whatever time I have left, I prefer to spend it on Arkona--with you."
For a moment, no one could say a thing. Then Jack stood. "Could I have a few--moments--alone--with Daniel?"
Amid soft spoken reassurances to Daniel, everyone started to move away, but they didn't get far. Daniel struggled up and Janet, seeing the heart monitor jump, immediately moved to his side.
"Please Daniel, please, relax. You need to--"
Gasping for breath, Daniel struggled to speak. "No--no, I--I need to--go--home, just let--me go--"
Ketar, his protective streak coming to the fore, said, "Yes, yes, do not worry, we will go, we will go--calm yourself, Daniel. Please."
Anguished eyes were once again raised to Ketar as Daniel managed to say, "Yes? Swear?"
"I swear Daniel, by all that I am. We will take you--"
"But for now," Janet interjected, "for now, you have to rest." She turned and said loud enough for her people to hear, "Connor, I want 200 mcg's Dexmedetomidine, IV push, now."
Janet patted Daniel's shoulder, saying, "I'm going to give you something to help you relax, we'll just add it to the IV, all right? Then, later, we can make any necessary arrangements--"
"To--go--home," Daniel whispered. "Of course," she soothed. Lieutenant Conner moved unobtrusively around to the IV and inserted the ordered drug into the line. Janet glanced over at General Hammond, who nodded and immediately started to silently move his people away from the bed. He left Jack alone. Lord Ketar and Tollar remained at Daniel's bedside.
The drug worked remarkably fast and in spite of his best efforts, Daniel's eyes drooped and finally he slept.
"Janet," Jack said, his voice hushed, "is he--"
"He's sleeping," she said softly. Then with a nod of understanding at Jack, she left the three men alone and joined the others out in the corridor.
"I don’t understand, General. Why would Daniel wish to return to Arkona?" Sam asked, puzzled and worried.
"I too do not understand, General Hammond."
General Hammond was prevented from answering by Janet, who stopped beside Sam. "He's sleeping," she announced.
"Did we make things worse, Janet?"
Shaking her head, Janet said, "That would be hard to do, Sam. We're losing him."
"My Lord, you do understand his plea, yes?"
Ketar took his eyes from Daniel's face to look at his Vice Counsel. His expression said no.
"Maybe you'd like to explain to me why Daniel would want to go back with his murderers?" Jack's tone was deceptively easy, in deference to the sleeping man, but his eyes were rock hard.
"He does not wish to bring more pain to his friends, Colonel O'Neill. He would rather die alone, in a place he abhors, then to cause any of you more discomfort. So he allows you to believe that he wants to return to Arkona. And in believing, you will be able to let him go and his passing will be easier to endure."
Tollar watched the myriad of expressions float across the colonel's face and noted with satisfaction when Jack nodded, his expression telling Tollar that Jack finally understood. Cocking his head, Tollar said quietly, "But he is wrong. To allow loved ones to say good-bye, to collect together in strength in order to share those final precious moments is a gift. And you, Colonel O'Neill, must show him this."
Jack stood, his gaze piercing. "How could such wisdom come from someone who--"
"Someone who could hurt Daniel so thoroughly that he is now dying?"
Tollar looked to his leader and said quietly, "We had an excellent teacher, Colonel. Did we not, my Lord Ketar?"
Lord Ketar slowly allowed Daniel's hand to slip from his. He rose to his impressive height and said, "Yes, my friend, we did. And now, I believe it is time for you and I to return home--alone."
"I think that would be a wise decision, my Lord Ketar."
Jack gazed from one to the other, understanding the sacrifice they were offering. And seeing the quick look Ketar bestowed upon Daniel, seeing the naked love, want and need, he understood the depth of that sacrifice.
Hammond stood at the bottom of the ramp and watched as Tollar and Ketar walked up toward the event horizon. Just before entering, Ketar turned back, then Tollar put his hand on the man's arm and together, they went through. The gate closed.
"That took guts," Hammond observed.
"Leaving? How, sir?" Sam inquired.
"Daniel is their friend, Major. They love him as we do, Ketar--more. And yet, they leave him to us. They know they'll never see him again and they've given up their rights to spend time with him in his last--"
Hammond couldn't finish.
Sam stared at the gate.
Teal'c sat down beside Jack, who was now seated close to Daniel. "The news is very illuminating, O'Neill."
Jack, eyes fixed on Daniel's face, simply nodded.
"Senator Kinsey has been implicated in a plot involving the NID and apparently a suicide note was found."
"Do tell," Jack said quietly.
"I will. The plot was to sell American weapons to a terrorist organization. His position apparently made it possible for him to hide the real purpose of the NID. Sources close to the President say that Senator Kinsey's illegal activities were about to be--outed."
Jack arched one eyebrow. "Outed, Teal'c? And you did a fine job of repeating the report, but it's disclosed, not outed."
"Well, unless Kinsey was also gay, yeah. And come to think of it, the way he looked at you--" One elegant eyebrow rose. "Indeed, O'Neill?"
"So Maybourne's plan seems to be working."
"It would appear so."
Jack took Daniel's hand. "I wonder if the President knows what this election actually cost."
"Perhaps we should--enlighten--him."
"I like the way you think, Teal'c."
The hours slipped by and Jack never moved from his place beside Daniel. The other chair saw several visitors as each of Daniel's friends took their turn. Janet never even tried to move Jack.
Sam leaned forward as Daniel shifted and moaned. Jack was asleep, his head resting on his hand, his other hand holding Daniel's. As confused blue eyes opened, she whispered, "Daniel?"
"Sam?" he whispered.
"It's me. How do you feel?"
Daniel wet his lips. "Thirsty?"
"Of course, hang on." She quickly grabbed the cup of water and after positioning the straw, she placed it against his lips. "Okay, here you go."
Daniel drank greedily, then let his head fall back. After a moment, he opened his eyes again and looked around. When he saw Jack, he stiffened.
"Where's Ketar? And Tollar?"
He started to work his way into sitting up and the heart monitor went crazy, waking Jack who nearly jumped from his seat.
"Daniel, you need to--" Sam started to plead.
"Where are they?"
Jack rubbed at his eyes, then squinted. "Carter?"
Thin, pale fingers gripped Jack's arm. "Where. Are. They," Daniel demanded. "He wants Ketar," Sam provided.
"Carter, why don't you leave Daniel to me, take a rest."
Sam glanced down at Daniel, who was staring at Jack. Then she nodded. "I'll be back in a few."
Jack waited until she was gone, then he sat back down. He looked up at the monitor and said, "You're lucky. It didn't go too haywire. Janet didn't come running."
Daniel's grip hadn't lessened when he said, "One more--time--where--"
"They're gone, Daniel."
"What--do you--mean?" Every other word was spoken between fought for breaths.
"Daniel, will you calm down and let me talk? Or do I get Janet?"
Slowly, almost painfully, Daniel slid back down, his fingers dropping from Jack's arm.
"That's better. And by the way? Long time, no see."
Daniel's lips twitched.
"So. How ya been?"
The twitch grew. Jack settled back into his chair and spent a few moments fiddling with Daniel's blanket in his effort to avoid the younger man's piercing blue-eyed gaze. It didn't work.
"Now--that we've got the--pleasantries out of the way--where did they go?"
Jack frowned at the strained pauses between words, pauses that signaled Daniel's breathing difficulties. He considered calling for Janet, but abandoned that idea. The equipment that monitored every aspect of Daniel's health said that he was doing as well as could be expected. Which meant there was no valid reason to continue to stall.
"They've returned to Arkona, Daniel. They won't be back."
It was obvious Jack's words were a blow to the younger man and Jack considered the possibility that Tollar had been wrong and that he'd misinterpreted Daniel's reason for wanting to return to Arkona. Unconsciously, Jack sat forward as Daniel digested the news.
With eyes focused on his own hands, Daniel said woodenly, "I see."
Just those two words, plus the sudden stillness that followed, frightened Jack more than anything else. Daniel was no longer with Jack. He'd crawled back inside himself. And Jack, seeing the withdrawal, had an epiphany.
Five years, six if you counted back to when he'd first met Daniel, and Jack was finally understanding the man. He almost smiled as he said, "I don't think you do see, Daniel. But I can help. Returning to Arkona was the most difficult thing that I think they've ever done. Especially Ketar, who is in love with you."
Daniel blanched, which Jack would have thought impossible, considering how pale Daniel was before he'd said anything. Jack knew he had to get through to Daniel and he had to do it now--time was running out. And getting through meant total honesty, so with a deep breath, he plunged in.
"He and I have that in common, you know. Being in love with you. And Tollar really had your number. He understood immediately what you were doing. The whole ‘protect my friends’ thing and all. Nice try, by the way. But we figured it out. Anyway, Tollar and Ketar knew that you belong here with us, that we should be here for you, with you. They knew that if they stayed, they'd give into you and whisk you away to Arkona. They--care for you very much."
"I--you, no--" Daniel stopped, then clamped his mouth shut.
"Yeah, you should stop talking. But I'd appreciate it if you'd look at me, Danny. Please?"
Daniel shifted in the bed but didn't comply. Eyes still on his hands, he said, "They--shouldn't have--"
"Yes they should. And are you going to just skip the part about me and Ketar? We're going to ignore that? At a time when we most definitely should not be ignoring it?"
Slowly Daniel looked up, then at Jack. His eyes searched Jack's face, almost as if memorizing it and Jack thought that was weird because he was the one who needed to memorize. But he remained still and let Daniel have his look, which felt like Daniel was looking into him, through him and piercing his soul. He realized that he couldn't have moved if he tried.
"Why--did you--leave?" Daniel finally said.
The only answer that came to Jack was the--truth.
"I found that I didn't like life without you in it. So I decided not to have one. A life, I mean. I just packed up and found the most isolated spot in the country and spent six months sitting, drinking and talking to you."
Jack smiled as he scooted his chair closer to the bed. "Yeah. Talking to you. Everyday. As if--you were with me. And I gotta tell ya, Danny boy, some of those talks were pretty pornographic."
Jack was rewarded with a small smile that made Danny look about five. And unless he was sadly mistaken, those blue eyes were glittering with humor.
"Porno-graphic? Can I--talk--dirty?"
"Oh, yeah. You do a bang up job, Danny."
The smile broadened. "Good--to know--all those--mugs--weren't wasted."
Now it was Jack's turn to smile. Then he cocked his head and said, "So. You know my feelings, care to share yours?"
Daniel's hand crept into Jack's.
"How did he take the news?"
Jack looked up, surprised. Carter and Teal'c stood at the foot of Daniel's bed and he'd never heard their approach.
"He's fine with it, Carter. I told him Tollar had figured him out."
Satisfied, Sam offered, "Thought you'd like to take a short break. You've been in here for five hours, Colonel."
Jack gazed from Carter to Teal'c, then nodded. "Page me if he wakes?"
Teal'c and Sam sat down, Sam taking the chair Jack vacated. Before leaving, Jack swept back some hair from Daniel's face. "It's grown so long," he said softly. "I think it's longer than when we first--met."
Sam nodded, worried about how Jack sounded. "I think it's longer than when I first saw him on Abydos."
Jack smiled, then as he moved away, said, "I hope when he's better, he doesn't cut it again."
Both Teal'c and Sam watched as Jack walked out. Then they turned to each other. "He does not sound--well, Major Carter."
"I think--he's finally had to slow down enough to accept--the truth about Daniel. The Colonel has been going non-stop since his arrival and until these last hours, he's had no peace, nor any time alone with Daniel. It's finally sinking in, Teal'c."
"I believe you are correct. And you, Major Carter? Has it--sunk in?"
Sam turned a tender gaze on her sleeping friend. "No, I don't think it has. Or maybe--I'm just not willing to accept that after getting him back, we're going to lose him again. Forever."
"I do not believe I will like a world without DanielJackson in it."
Sam felt her throat close up and all she could do was show her agreement with a nod.
Jack stared at the coffee cup in his hand, at the dark, swirling liquid. His body was finally responding to the shock of going from Minnesota to Colorado, of being a part of a conspiracy to sanction a Colonel in the United States Military and a United States Senator and to bring down a government agency. Not to mention the small fact that the man he loved had only days left on this earth. Sometime in the next days, Daniel would stop breathing and his heart would cease to beat.
Daniel was going to die. He wasn't going to get better. He was never going to have the opportunity to cut his hair. Or to make love to Jack, or be made love to by Jack. They would never sleep in each other's arms, or wake up to the soft breathing of the other. Jack would never know what it would feel like to run his hands down Daniel's bare back, or to see him exit a shower glistening wet and hungry for Jack.
Jack would never have the simple comfort of sitting on a couch next to Daniel, legs stretched out on the coffee table while a fire blazed before them. He'd never know the simple joy of those quiet moments when, with shoulders and hips just touching, Jack would watch a game while Daniel read quietly beside him.
So many moments Jack and Daniel wouldn't have. So many moments in the past--wasted. Not cherished nearly enough, never held close and buried for the day when Jack would need to take them out as his only source of comfort.
Shouldn't he be able to remember how Danny felt when Jack hugged him four years ago as he welcomed him back from the dead? God, he couldn't even recall how Danny had smelled. Or how his hair had felt when Jack rested his cheek against it. Shouldn't he be able to remember?
God damn it, so many moments taken for granted. As if Danny would be with him forever. Jack could give him the cold shoulder, flirt with Carter or tell Danny to shut up. Jack could get ready to blow him to kingdom come, and always because there would be a tomorrow. Because Daniel always bounced back, always gave as good as he got. He never gave up. Didn't matter how many times Jack rolled his eyes or interrupted one of Daniel's lectures or explanations, Daniel kept on trying. A regular Timex watch, that was their Danny. Could take a licking, but kept on ticking--
Until--now. No more ticking.
For a moment, Jack almost wished that Sam had brought good news after contacting Jacob. Of course, Jacob was here now, had confirmed that there was no symbiote for Daniel. It had been a long shot, no doubt of that, and of course, Daniel might have refused anyway. But still--it had been a hope.
And where was a fucking Gou'ald and sarcophagus when you really needed one?
Here a Gou'ald, there a Gou'ald, everywhere a Gou'ald--unless you really needed one. God damned snakes.
O'Neill lifted his head and found himself staring at Hammond. "Sir."
Hammond pulled out a chair and sat down. "How are you holding up?"
"Without help, sir."
The General smiled wryly. "Word has gotten out, Jack. Most SG teams have returned from either off-world or leave. And--the President is on his way. Seems Maybourne brought him completely up to speed."
"Don't let him see Danny, sir. I'm begging you."
"I have no intention of allowing him to see Daniel."
Relief flooded through Jack. "Thank you, sir."
Hammond's expression changed, grew softer somehow. "I have so many things I feel I need to say to Daniel and yet, I know they would only add to his pain, to the pain he feels for us."
"I think he knows how you feel about him, General."
George looked at Jack, his expression thoughtful. "Does he, Jack? Does he? We're military men, expressing our feelings doesn't come high on our list of duties or accomplishments."
"Then tell him." Jack held Hammond's gaze, held it hard and said, "I did."
General Hammond didn't even blink. But he did smile.
The infirmary was quiet and Daniel knew it must late. Sam was asleep, her head on his bed. Daniel knew he was getting weaker by the minute, that he didn't have much time. Somehow he managed to lift his hand and touch Sam's hair. He was going to miss her, as he'd missed her for the last nine months. His sister. Daniel smiled.
Strange. He was--not alone, yet--he felt at ease about it. He was worried about his friends, hated doing this to them, but--he felt loved. For the first time since leaving Abydos five years ago--he felt loved. And it was never too late for that. He only wished that he could tell Tollar how grateful he was.
A large shadow fell over him and he glanced up. Teal'c.
"Hey," he said softly, not wanting to wake Sam.
"I will get O'Neill, DanielJackson."
Daniel lifted his hand from Sam's head and waved it listlessly. "No, no, let him--rest, have his--break. How are--you, Teal'c?"
"I am well. I have--missed you, DanielJackson."
"And--I you, my--friend."
"I would give anything to undo this, DanielJackson."
Daniel gave Teal'c a wan smile. "Believe me, I--would like—to undo--this as well."
They were silent for a few moments, then Daniel said, "Teal'c--I don't want--to die--here."
Teal'c's mouth turned down into an even deeper frown. "We were wrong, DanielJackson? We should make arrangements to return you to Arkona?"
Daniel gave a dry chuckle. "No, no." His gaze skimmed the room, the equipment, the dark walls--then said almost to himself, "They have no--sun on Arkona, I--haven't--seen sky, or grass--or trees, or birds--for so long. Or inhaled--fresh air, clean--full of life--"
The longing in Daniel's voice seemed to pierce to the very core of Teal'c soul because it was a simple plea for freedom.
Jack walked down the corridor, his steps quick. He'd been gone too long. As he entered the infirmary, he paused. Janet was no where to be seen, nor was a technician in evidence. The lighting was muted, but he could just see Teal'c's back, the only part of the Jaffa visible thanks to the screen. Jack looked around at the greyness of the base hospital and he shuddered.
His gaze fell on Janet's desk and a chart. Daniel's?
Jack didn't even hesitate. He walked over, confirmed that it was indeed Daniel's, and picked it up. For a moment, he held it, then with clenched jaw, he flipped it open and started to read.
Janet was tempted to get something to eat before returning to the infirmary, but she hadn't liked Daniel's color earlier so she decided to skip feeding her stomach and check in on her patient. As she walked in, the first thing that caught her eye was the open chart. Open.
She rushed over, closed it, then looked around. Nothing. Teal'c was still seated by Daniel's bed, she could just see him, and she'd bet that Sam was on the other side, but--no Jack. Janet started to move toward Daniel when she noticed one of the curtains had been pulled around the last bed at the other end of the room. That was odd. She had no other patients--
With a quick glance at the thin material that protected Daniel, she moved in the opposite direction, toward the last bed. As she got closer, she could hear breathing, harsh and quick. She moved the curtain aside to find Jack on the bed, knees drawn up, elbows resting on said knees, his head in his hands. He didn't move even though he had to know she was there.
"You read his chart." Not a question, nor an accusation, just a quiet statement of fact.
Jack still didn't move but a slight tremor made its way through his body.
"He's accepted it all, Jack. Came to terms with it, forgiven."
Without lifting his head, Jack said, his voice muffled, "So I'm supposed to forgive?"
"Yes, or it will destroy you, Jack. And then, everything he's done is wasted. Everything he's been through. You need to forgive yourself, us, the Arkonans and--Daniel."
His head did shoot up then and Janet could see the track of tears on his weathered face.
"There is nothing to forgive Daniel for!" he hissed out.
"Isn't there?" Janet asked quietly. "You're angry with him for going to Arkona. And you're angry at him because he's dying."
"Aw God." Jack dropped his head back into his hands. His body shook again and Janet heard the stifled sob.
"He needs you, Jack."
Slowly O'Neill lifted his face to Janet, the tears were running freely now. He searched her face and seeing nothing but comfort, asked, "How? You saw what they did and yet--how can you deal?"
Janet put a comforting hand on Jack's shoulder. "I'm not dealing, Jack. Right now, I have time only to be there for Daniel, to make these last days bearable for him. Later--" her gaze shifted from Jack's, "I suspect there will be plenty of time to deal."
Jack nodded and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He swiped a hand over his face, then palmed his eyes. He was about to stand, with a hand from Janet, when a shadow loomed over them. Teal'c.
"Doctor, is there any reason that DanielJackson must remain here?"
Both Janet and Jack were stunned but Janet was the first to recover. "I'm not sure what you mean, Teal'c."
"He has not seen sun, nor anything of his world in nine months. I do not believe that it should be permitted that he die here, underground, away from all this world has to offer."
Jack stood, swayed, was bolstered by Teal'c's hand, and said, "My place. We take him to my place." Then he stopped to look at Janet. In an uncharacteristically submissive tone, he added, "Unless--"
Janet, bowled over by the pleading in Jack's eyes and the total surrender, shook her head. "If we do it right, carefully, we can move him, Jack. You'll probably want to go ahead, perhaps with Teal'c, to get your place ready. I can send a couple of techs with you, and a hospital bed, in the livingroom?"
Jack's smile was warm and genuine. "Thanks, Janet."
The only difference to Janet's plan was that it was Sam and Jacob who accompanied Teal'c and prepared Jack's home while Jack remained behind with Daniel.
Seated beside him now, and knowing that Janet would be in soon to prepare Daniel for transportation, Jack thought it might be time to give his friend the good news. But first, he'd have to get the man to stop looking at him as though he were the last cup of coffee in the world.
"You've got to stop staring at me, Daniel. I have something to tell you, but damn, with you looking at me like that--"
Daniel's grin was slow to come, but come it did as he asked in a weak voice, "Like--what?"
"Like, like a guy--"
"Exactly like that. Now cut it out."
Daniel closed his eyes, schooled his expression, then opened them. Mischief played in the blue depths as he said, "Okay--serious--face--here."
Jack shook his head helplessly. Somewhere along the line, Daniel had let go of everything: worry, fear, insecurity, all of it. And what remained was this, this, incredibly calm man, a man full of love for Jack. And accepting of all of Jack's love. Jack felt that traitorous lump again in his throat, but he swallowed hard.
"We're going to move you to my place in a few minutes, Danny. Teal'c, Sam and Jacob are there now, setting things up. I gave them strict instructions to place the bed facing the windows that look out over the back, you know? So you can see everything. And I'm thinking, if we don't tell Janet, that maybe later, I can take you out back, set you up on one of the chaise lounges and let you get some--sun."
He stopped because Daniel's fingers were digging into Jack's arm.
"Your--house?" he asked incredulously.
"Yeah, Danny, my house. Is that okay?"
The blue eyes filled with tears, but they didn't flow over. Daniel couldn't speak, so he mouthed, "Thank you."
Jack placed his hand against the side of Daniel's face, then he leaned forward and not caring if anyone was there to see, he kissed Daniel. Their first kiss.
Soft lips against chapped, dry lips, but it was everything.
Word of the move had quickly spread throughout the base and as Daniel was wheeled down the corridor to the elevator, he received the surprise of his life. The halls were lined with the men and women of the SGC, all in dress uniform. All at attention.
Daniel gripped the rail of the gurney tightly as it was moved forward. Hands reached out, touched him as he passed and similar words were shared and whispered.
"Take care, Doctor Jackson--"
"Come back to us, Doctor Jackson--"
"Looking good, Danny--"
"We're with you, Doc--"
By the time the elevator closed, Daniel had tears streaming down his face.
Up top, another gamut of personnel had formed and more words of love, encouragement and appreciation were given. As two airmen opened the ambulance, Daniel twisted his neck to look back at Cheyenne Mountain.
His last look.
Two days later--
Dawn was still a few hours away. Jack sat beside Daniel, his hand wrapped up in Daniel's. Sam was asleep on the couch while Janet slept in Jack's room. Teal'c was in the spare room, in the middle of Kelno'reem. Jacob had fallen asleep in his chair beside his daughter. General Hammond had returned to the base but was due back later in the day.
The house was quiet and Jack found himself marveling how easy the move had been. Daniel's expression as the world became real for him again had made it more than worth while for all of them. They'd all watched as he'd tried to breathe in the air while his gaze darted all over the place, struggling to see as much as possible. Once they'd pulled up in front of Jack's and unloaded Daniel, he'd stopped them on the walkway and had lifted his face to the sun and for several minutes no one had moved, that one gesture more telling than any other.
Jack had made sure that every blind, curtain and shutter was open to the outside so that when they finally did get Daniel into the house, it was barely discernible that he was indoors. Now, two days later, with Daniel's condition deteriorating rapidly, every moment with him had become precious. Every moment that Daniel could see light and sun and sky, equally precious.
In his heart, Jack knew that it would be soon, that Daniel's minutes on this earth were few. For that reason, as he stared at the man he loved, as he rose and moved machinery and lowered the railing of the oversized bed, he knew that he had to feel what it would be like to have Daniel in his arms.
They'd talked about that very thing just the night before, sharing their fantasies, smiling in the dim light as their friends slept. There'd been no regrets, only love and intimacy as Jack had sat beside Daniel, their fingers entwined. There was no time for regrets now, no time for remorse.
But tonight, Jack was going to make one his fantasies real. Only one light in the room was lit and Jack turned it off, allowing the full moon to be their only source of illumination. Then he carefully got into the bed next to Daniel. Cognizant of the tubes, he moved gently, put his arm under Daniel's body and tenderly brought him into his side.
In those hours before dawn, Jack could have inhaled nothing but the odors of medicine and illness, but he didn't. He could have felt only bones and so little flesh, but he didn't. With his cheek resting against Daniel's hair, his arms around Daniel's waist and chest, Jack felt only--Daniel. Took in only Daniel, and knowing that this moment would have to last him a lifetime.
Teal'c rose and blew out the candles O'Neill had thoughtfully provided. His internal awareness of life told him that the rise of the sun was minutes away, which meant that DanielJackson would soon wake. Somehow, no matter how his condition worsened, Daniel awoke with the sun, as if his body understood that he had limited dawns remaining.
Teal'c moved cautiously out into the hall, not wishing to wake Major Carter or Doctor Frasier. As he walked into the living room, he paused.
O'Neill slept in DanielJackson's bed.
Slowly Teal'c moved to the sliding glass door and opened it, thus allowing the summer morning's air inside. He breathed deeply, then turned to find blue eyes fastened on him. He moved back to the bed and took one of the dining room chairs that stood a few feet away.
"Good morning, DanielJackson," Teal'c whispered.
Daniel just smiled, then looked down at the arms that encircled his body. He placed one very pale hand on Jack's, then slid it up and down the tan arm.
"Does--this--bother--you, Teal'c?" Daniel asked, his voice so low and weak that Teal'c had to lean forward to hear.
"No, DanielJackson, it does not."
Daniel's gaze shifted to take in the beginnings of the sunrise.
"I--would--like--" he paused, closed his eyes, grimaced, then with a shuddering breath, went on. "--to go--out--side--now."
Teal'c understood. He reached out and gave Jack's arm a gentle shake and when one brown eye peered blearily up at him, said, "We should take--DanielJackson outside, O'Neill. For the rise of your sun."
Jack lifted his head to see Daniel's weary smile. He quickly disentangled himself and carefully climbed out of the bed.
"If you will get the screen, O'Neill? I will carry him--"
"Give me a moment, Teal'c." Jack moved silently but quickly to the hall closet, took down several blankets, then walked outside and set up Daniel's chaise. Walking back in, he nodded to Teal'c, who carefully lifted Daniel, bedding and all. Jack took the IV and together, they moved outside.
Teal'c deposited his charge and while Jack began to tuck the other blankets around Daniel, Teal'c said in a hushed voice, "I will wake Major Carter and Doctor Frasier."
Jack nodded as he knelt by Daniel. "Tell Janet to call - -General Hammond."
Jack was still on his knees as the sun began to change the colors of his backyard. Daniel had tried to rise, to see better, so Jack had placed his arm around Daniel in order to lift him, and now--they watched together.
O'Neill rested his lips against Daniel's temple. "I know," he murmured. "I know. Wish--I'd known sooner."
"Yeah, it has something to do with our constant defying of gravity."
Daniel shook his head. "No--you've--just--got--nothing," he took a painful breath, "between--your--ears."
Jack grinned and tightened his hold.
Sam turned over and yawned. Then she opened her eyes to see Teal'c staring at her. "Teal'c?"
"You had--best get up. We have taken DanielJackson outside so that he might see--the sunrise."
Sam sat up quickly, the dark emotion in Teal'c's eyes spurring her on. "Thank you, Teal'c. What about Janet?"
"I will go to her now. Jacob is calling General Hammond."
Sam ran her fingers through her hair and stood. The impossible was happening.
Janet could hear soft voices and she gazed over at Jack's bedside clock. It was a little after five. She threw off the covers just as someone knocked on the door. Rising, she pulled on her sweater and stepped quickly into her jeans, then opened the door.
"You should come now, Doctor Frasier."
The words had been spoken softly, but Janet didn't miss their intent. She nodded. "General Hammond?"
"Jacob is calling him now."
"Thank you, Teal'c."
The land was bathed in the golden glow of dawn and as birds darted and glided overhead, they watched. Sam sat at the foot of the chaise, one hand on Daniel's leg. Jacob sat to her left and Teal'c, seated cross-legged, to her right. Janet stood behind Daniel, her hand on Daniel's head.
The sun finished its journey up and as the world awoke, Daniel turned to gaze up at Jack. He smiled, a beautiful smile. "Love--you."
"Love you," Jack whispered back.
Daniel closed his eyes, took two shuddering breaths--then--nothing.
The call had come from Jacob fifteen minutes ago and General Hammond was about to head out when the claxons went off. Since there were no teams off world, Hammond had no choice. He hurried to the gate room.
Pierce shook his head. "We don't know, sir."
"Why is the iris open?"
"We don't know, but we can't close it. We're not in charge here, sir."
As Pierce spoke, the event horizon shook and a bright, white light sped out. It hovered over the room, then zoomed up to the glass that separated the control room from the gate room. The light, blazing in its glory seemed to hang effortlessly before them before swooping down to the doors.
Hammond stared at the light, the very beauty of sparking a memory--
"Open the doors and make sure no one interferes."
Surprised at the command, Pierce nevertheless nodded.
Hammond turned and charged out. Fifteen minutes later he and Ferretti were on their way to O'Neill's.
It was his nightmare, only far worse. This time—it was real.
Jack shook his head in denial. It was too soon. Too soon. He stared at the so still body and it registered in his mind that somewhere someone was quietly sobbing and down the block, a dog was barking. But what he couldn't hear, was Daniel--breathing.
He rested his hand on Daniel's chest, and in spite of the lack of movement or the thrumming that should have been present, Jack smiled. Everything was okay. Of course it was.
"He's just asleep. Just asleep."
Jack touched his forehead to Daniel's temple and frowned because--Daniel's skin was cold.
"No--no. Just asleep."
Placing his hand against Daniel's cheek and turning the head toward him, he pleaded, "Please, just be asleep."
Her heart breaking, Janet moved to Daniel's side and needing to see him free of the machinary that had done nothing for him, she slowly began to remove the IV.
Jack's hand shot out and he yelled, "NO!"
Then in a quieter tone, "He needs that, Janet. He needs that, he's only sleeping."
Eyes brimming with tears, Janet stared down at him, even as she continued to take all evidence of useless modern medicine away from Daniel's body. Then, voice choking, she said gently, "No--he doesn't, Jack."
When she was done, she sunk down into a chair and buried her face in her hands.
Jacob wrapped Sam in his arms and held her head against his chest, his worried gaze on Jack.
Teal'c reached out and took Daniel's hand.
Jack heard the words and immediately stood up and back. This wasn't right.
IT WASN'T RIGHT!
Jack wanted to scream, to yell, to destroy--
Lifting his face to the sky, ready to bellow his rage, he froze--and--blinked. Then blinked again.
Something--familiar. Something brilliant and shining and--full of life. His mouth dropped open as the streak of light twisted and turned in the sky above him, then started down--
Jacob, seeing Jack's expression, looked up. Shocked, he dragged Sam to her feet and pulled her away as Teal'c did the same with Janet.
The light swooped in, then paused to hover over the backyard. Jack's eyes were glued to it, his heart beating triple time. Then the light started to move again.
"Dear God," was all Jack could say as the trail of brightness spread out and floated to the ground, then began to take human shape.
Oma Desala stood at the foot of the lounge chair, staring down at Daniel, light radiating out from her luminous form. She glanced over to Jack and smiled softly.
No one said anything, no one could say anything. They could only watch, stunned.
Oma Desala floated to Daniel's side. She reached out a hand that shimmered with power and placed it over Daniel's heart. With her other hand, she stroked back his hair and smiled lovingly. A moment later both she and Daniel were bathed in an even more luminous beam, a sweet, pure brightness that drew the others closer.
As they watched transfixed, Daniel's chest rose—and lowered. Then it rose again.
Jack sank to his knees at Daniel's side and placed his hand on the alien's. Later, he wouldn't be able to say why. A heat traveled through him and he heard her voice, like the tinkling of chimes, in his head.
"Some gifts can not be accepted and his sacrifice is one of them. There is so much for all of us to do and the battle will be better waged if he fights by our side."
Then the voice and the heat were gone.
Jack stared up at her as she continued to float next to the chaise. Then someone coughed--and with a start, Jack realized it was Daniel.
Jack glanced down at Daniel just as the younger man's eyes opened. Daniel blinked, looked around, took a deep shuddering breath, then another. It was the most beautiful sound Jack had ever heard.
Daniel moved a hand to his chest, shook his head and in voice full of wonder and disbelief, asked, "Don't tell me. I came back again, didn't I?"
Jack, eyes filling, nodded as he chuckled. "Yeah, Danny boy, you did. And I swear, you have got to stop this dying thing. I can't afford anymore grey hairs, okay?"
The next few minutes were strange as the others stared at the man who had been dead. No one actually moved. It was almost as if they expected it to be a hoax, that Daniel couldn't be alive, couldn't be lying there and talking, his voice strong, his color good.
Then he sat up.
And spotted Oma Desala.
Daniel's expression changed as he found himself gazing into the soft eyes of the entity to whom he'd entrusted Sha're's son. He struggled in his attempt to get up and didn't catch the way his friends all leaned forward, hands out as if to help.
"Jack, I'm tangled here--"
"Got it, Daniel, got it."
Jack tore at the sheets and blankets and to everyone's amazement, Daniel--stood.
With one blanket clutched around his shoulders--he was standing, he was strong and he was breathing. But before he could say anything, someone was trying to break down the front door and then it was flung open.
The group immediately moved as one, moved forward to stand in front of Daniel and the miracle that was Oma Desala, their stance protective and fierce.
It was this picture that General Hammond faced as he charged through Jack's living room and out into the backyard, Ferretti hot on his heels.
Five people, his people, ready to attack, standing in front of the same light that had come through the gate.
As soon as everyone realized that the intruder was not dangerous, the entire group started to--smile. They stood there beaming at the General as he stopped dead in his tracks.
Jack was the first to see the opportunity to repeat history. He stepped forward, a cheeky grin in place.
"General Hammond, there's someone who'd like to see you."
He stepped aside and the others moved enough for someone to be able to step around them and stand next to Jack.
For a moment, Hammond was frozen, then he started to grin. Daniel was standing and he was alive and he was well.
Then the General did move and before Daniel could do a thing, Hammond had his arms around him, hugging him close and patting his back.
Hammond's clearly visible emotion seemed to unlock the same feelings in the others and they quickly surrounded Daniel, hands reaching out to touch, to stroke, to confirm. From his spot a few feet away, Jack stood and grinned. Then he glanced at Oma Desala, who still floated in the background, and he nodded his head at her.
Hammond heard him and followed his gaze. "I assume you can explain this, Colonel?"
"Sir, this is--"
Jack got no further as the alien rose into the air and floated toward General Hammond. Sensing a change, the others turned toward Oma Desala and Hammond, with Daniel returning to Jack's side.
She smiled a blinding smile and Hammond found himself responding in kind. His body was suddenly filled with a warmth that comforted him and a softness touched his mind and became words.
"It is not the search for weaponry that will win your war, General, but rather the quest for allies. Grow and reach out, as all children must, and in the reaching, understanding will come. Allow the follower to lead, General."
The alien turned back toward Jack and Daniel. She reached out and brushed Daniel's face with her hand. Then she began to move and with eyes on Daniel, she floated up, then faded into the day.
A moment later, the brightness was gone and their world returned to normal.
And Daniel was alive.
"Daniel, so help me--"
"Janet, I'm fine!"
"Pardon me if I need more than your word for that, Daniel. You were dead, you know."
"You just had to rub that in, didn't you?" he said with a grin.
Janet shook her head hopelessly.
"Come on, Janet, there's nothing you can check here that your eyes can't confirm. When we get back to the SGC, you can test to your heart's content. But right now, well, I'm practically naked and I just want to shower, then put on some real clothes. Oh, and have some coffee, yeah, and eat. Eating would be good."
To punctuate his statement, his stomach growled. Janet laughed and it felt good.
"You're right. Go, shower. When you come back, we'll have food ready."
Grateful, Daniel jumped to his feet, almost losing the blanket in the bargain. A hand steadied it, and Jack was there.
"Come on, Space Monkey, let's get you into the bathroom."
As Daniel was led out, struggling to pull the blanket up, he whined, "Jaaaack, I can shower by myself. I'm a big boy now--"
"Uh-huh. Right. Yeahsureyoubetcha."
Jack got Daniel into the bathroom and immediately shut the door on the rest of the world. He quickly moved in close, backing Daniel up against the sink. At that point, Jack proceeded to touch, just touch. He ran his hands over Daniel's face, through his hair, then down across his shoulders. He slid them the length of each arm before linking his fingers with Daniel's. For a moment, cheek resting against Daniel's, he listened to him breathe.
Jack rested his lips against Daniel's neck, then mumbled, "Couldn't do this four years ago--when you came back the first time."
Eyes closed, Daniel murmured, "Technically--the second time."
Jack released Daniel's fingers and continued his touching, skimming his hands across Daniel's chest then down to stop at the narrow gold string that rested on Daniel's hips. Somehow the garment that signified the Douna had never been removed at the infirmary.
"I need to take this off--"
Daniel did it for him. The meager garment dropped to the floor. "I only wore it once, for our arrival--I was never--
"I know," Jack said softly.
Jack continued his affirmation of Daniel.
His touches weren't sexual, even with Daniel standing in front of him unclothed, there was nothing sexual in what he was doing. He just needed to--assure himself.
"Cold, Jack," Daniel finally said as Jack's hands smoothed up his thighs.
Without taking his eyes from Daniel, Jack reached out and turned on the shower. "Give it a few, takes some time to warm up."
"I know, I remember."
Jack smiled disarmingly. "Last time you were here and showering, it took everything I had not to join you."
Daniel rested his forehead against Jack's. "So much time wasted."
"Wanna get clean with me, Jack?"
Jack had his clothes off in five seconds flat.
The mood in the kitchen was--almost slapstick.
Janet and Sam were laughing as they smashed eggs in a bowl; General Hammond was happily juggling bread before popping it into the toaster; Ferretti was pouring juice and didn't care what he spilled; and Teal'c, with some rather unique coaching from Jacob, was frying bacon.
Sam chortled as Janet started stirring pieces of eggshell, then she did a great imitation of a dive-bombing raid on the shell as Janet crowed, "Bombs away!"
Jacob smiled indulgently, then turned to Teal'c and said, "You can turn them over now."
"Um--they have to brown on the other side, Teal'c."
"I see. Like O'Neill's hamburgers."
"Close enough, Teal'c."
At the other counter, Ferretti had abandoned his pouring in order to coach his commanding officer on the fine art of toasting.
Silence suddenly descended and Teal'c stepped away from the bacon, tongs in hand. At the same moment, Sam stepped away from the eggs and Janet.
Sam grinned at Teal'c.
"He's alive," they said at the same time.
"What the hell was that?"
Daniel chuckled. "My stomach. I told you I was hungry."
"Well, next time, tell it to shut up while I'm investigating your navel."
Daniel grinned down at Jack and placed his hands on either side of the kneeling man's head. "You could," he said, as he brought Jack up, "concentrate a bit lower than my navel--"
"Ah." Jack leaned in and kissed Daniel. Surprisingly enough, it was their first kiss since entering the bathroom. It wouldn't be their last.
When they parted, Jack whispered, "Sweet." Then he went back down on his knees.
"Here. They'll be a bit big, but--"
Daniel caught the sweat pants and the sweater. "Have I lost that much weight?"
Jack took the towel from Danny's hands and started rubbing the younger man's wet hair. "Yeah, but we'll get you back in shape in no time. Stuff you full of junk food, comfort food--"
"You'll gain twenty sympathy pounds--"
"You'll love me anyway--"
"We'll have to build a bigger 'gate--"
"More of me to love--"
"I love love handles--"
Jack put Daniel's hands on Jack's hips. "Try these on for size, Danny boy."
Daniel leaned in and grinning, said, "Nuh-huh. I smell--bacon."
The platter of eggs was passed around, followed by the plate of bacon. Jack filled Daniel's plate, then his own. Toast was tossed and coffee poured. When everyone was ready to eat, General Hammond lifted his orange juice and let his gaze travel from Teal'c, to Sam, then Jack and finally--Daniel.
"Here's to the return of Daniel Jackson," then with a pleased smile, he added, "again."
Jack stood in front of the screen, a glass of ice water in his hand. Outside, Sam, Teal'c and Danny sat around his patio table. Hammond and Ferretti had departed two hours earlier, taking Janet and Jacob with them. It had been decided that the General would return to Cheyenne mountain and prepare the troops for the shock of Daniel Jackson being very much alive and well. He would also send word to Arkona and Maybourne.
In the meantime, Daniel would remain at Jack's for at least one more day.
It had been apparent during the impromptu celebratory breakfast that Daniel, not to mention the entire team, needed some time to adjust. Janet had contented herself with the knowledge that Daniel would report to her in two days--just to ensure that he was--indeed--cured. No one doubted it, but paperwork was paperwork and miracles had to be explained and documented. Janet had gotten pretty good at that part of her job.
Now the house was quiet and Jack was happy to stand for a moment, to enjoy the view of his friends, his comrades--Daniel.
At the moment, Daniel had his head back, face raised to the sky and his hair was almost golden thanks to the warm afternoon sun. His eyes were closed--his expression content. Sam was talking, catching Daniel up with all the latest gossip at both the SGC and on his home world. His gentle grin said he was listening. Teal'c seemed to want nothing more than be in their company.
Jack realized that Daniel's water was quickly losing its coldness so he finally opened the screen door and stepped out. He was immediately glad that he had as Daniel raised his head, opened his eyes and smiled.
The smile was beautiful, private and just for Jack.
Jack drank it up. This was his life as it should be.
Daniel was home.
Jack watched as Sam's taillights disappeared. It was late and she and Teal'c had finally managed to tear themselves away from Daniel to head home. Noticing Jack's feigned yawns had been their clue to leave.
Now he walked back inside, closed and locked the front door, then stepped down into the living room. What he saw, stopped him cold.
Daniel was walking slowly around the room and every few feet, he'd pause to touch something. Sometimes he'd smile, sometimes frown.
God, he was even touching the furniture.
Without turning around and his hand on a framed photo, Daniel said, "You can't understand how often I took this walk while I was on--Arkona. How many times I'd imagined myself here, with you." He turned then and smiling, added, "You were always barbecuing. And I'd make my special cornbread."
"How long?" Jack asked quietly.
Daniel's grin broadened. "Maybe--from the beginning. I'm not sure. But definitely, I knew definitely, when you were impaled by the alien spikes that shot out from the orb we brought back from Tel'ak. Seeing you pierced and so God damned helpless--"
Daniel's smile faded. He took a deep breath, then said, "Anyway, that's when I knew."
"That--that was a while ago, Danny."
Daniel shrugged. "What can I say?"
"That's a long time to love someone without acknowledging it."
Daniel didn't answer, instead choosing to return Jack's gaze.
Jack walked over to stand by his friend. "A very long time."
Daniel continued to watch him, his own question hanging in the air between them.
"From the beginning," Jack said, sheepishly as he broke eye contact.
Daniel smiled slyly. "That's even longer then my 'a while'."
"I was married."
Jack nodded. "Yeah, so was I."
"But then you weren't, but I--"
"But you--were. And out there, looking for her."
"Yeah. You loved Sarah, I loved Sha're."
Daniel ran his finger along the line of Jack's jaw. "Now we love each other."
Jack grinned. "Yeah." Then Jack really grinned. "But I loved you first."
Daniel rolled his eyes. "You flyboys, always competing."
Daniel was seated on the edge of the bed, staring at the closed bathroom door. Jack had been in there for over twenty minutes--and he wasn't showering. There was, in fact, no sound coming from the other side of the door at all. Finally Daniel got up, walked over and feeling a like a bridegroom on his wedding night, knocked.
"Um, Jack? You okay?"
A muffled, "Yeah", came back to him.
"You coming out?"
Daniel looked down at his feet. "Anytime soon?"
The door opened. Jack, backlit, stood in the doorway, unmoving. Daniel stepped closer, trying to see Jack's face. When he did, he gave a small groan.
"Aw, Jack." Daniel took the man into his arms."I'm here, I'm here."
Jack's arms wound their way around his waist and Daniel smiled into Jack's neck. "It's okay, Jack."
"Tell anyone, and--"
"And what? I'm dead meat? Oh, yeah, there's a threat that'll work against me."
Jack chuckled and Daniel felt it all the way through his body. It felt good, great even. Amazing how one could be so--cavalier--about dying, when you weren't--anymore.
"Bet you didn't expect salvation in the form of Oma Desala," Jack said between small kisses to Daniel's neck.
"No-o, no I didn't."
"She's kind of handy to have around."
Jack lifted his face to stare intently at Daniel, his expression suddenly serious. "You okay with--this?"
"This being life, or what?"
"This being," he wagged his eyebrows, "This. Us. Bed."
Daniel looked up at the ceiling and said, "Um, well, I seemed to have been all right earlier, in the bathroom, when you were--"
"Yeah, well, that was then, this is now. You were flush with joy at being alive. Now--"
"I'm flushed with the joy of being alive. Not to mention flushed with the joy of a raging hard-on."
"You went through a great deal--"
"And I've had months to deal, to cope with it. You don't have much choice but to deal with it when faced with the people who--"
Jack placed a finger against Daniel's lips. "I get it."
"But you don't want to hear it."
Jack's eyes clouded over. "I don't--think I can, Danny. Not yet. Don't hate me for that."
Daniel kissed Jack lightly on the lips, then said softly, "Don't worry, I'm not really able to talk about it yet. I suspect when we're both ready, well, there will be a great deal to say and tell."
"I don't deserve you, Daniel."
"Oh yes you do, Colonel. I'm exactly what you deserve. Now, can we go to bed? Please?"
Without letting go of the younger man, Jack moved them backwards until his legs hit the bed. He dropped back, Daniel landing on top of him.
"There," he panted, "now we're in bed."
Rubbing himself against Jack, Daniel murmured, "No, we're 'on' the bed. But for my nefarious purposes, that's close enough."
"Nefarious, eh? Cool."
Daniel laughed joyously, then ran his hand down the side of Jack's leg. "You are wearing way too much for nefarious acts, Flyboy. Strip."
"You want it off, you gotta take it off."
"Is that a dare?"
"Will it work?"
Daniel grinned as he reared up enough to grab at the sides of Jack's sweats and start pulling. It took some work, especially with Jack being so helpless and all, but he succeeded--finally. "There. Nicely naked below the waist. Now the shirt."
With no preamble, Jack raised his arms helpfully and smiled innocently.
"You rat," Daniel calmly observed as he drew the shirt over Jack's head.
"But don't you love my tail?"
"Oh yeah," Daniel breathed out as he started kissing Jack's bare chest. A finger tapping his shoulder gave him pause and he raised his head. "Yes, Jackrat?"
Jack looked suggestively down. "Seems one of us is now slightly overdressed, don'tcha think?"
"Then do something about it, Ratboy."
One eyebrow arched heavenward. "Ratboy?"
Daniel didn't bother to answer, he simply licked a trail up Jack's chest to his Adam's apple.
"O-kay, that was--nice."
Daniel smiled, then with lips hovering over Jack's, he said, "You know, you're kind of cute, Jack. For a rat."
"And you're wearing too damn many clothes, Danny boy." With that, Jack flipped them over and with a triumphant "Yoohaw", he pulled off Daniel's tee shirt, tossed it over his shoulder, then started on the sweats. Seconds later, they were rubbing skin to skin.
"Aw, God, Jack--"
Eyes blazing with love and sensuality, Jack nodded. "Got that right, Danny. Got that right."
Their lovemaking escalated, but both were so needy, so intent, that it couldn't last long. Hands had to touch and explore frantically as lips and tongues did the same. Small moans with names whispered lovingly were followed by hands pumping hard cocks, and Jack came, hissing out Daniel's name. A few seconds later, Daniel followed, neck arched, Jack's name mouthed silently.
Eyes closed and Daniel in his arms, Jack said dreamily, "We have got to try that again sometime."
Using one of Jack's favorite phrases, and with his lips poised over one of Jack's nipples, Daniel said, "Ya think?"
Their Tuesday alone, their one day before returning to the SGC and Daniel's welcome back, was spent alternating between meals outside and under the sun, and meals in bed. That was it, bed or outside. Daniel couldn't get enough of either one. Outside, he'd walk the length and breadth of Jack's backyard, touching trees and bushes, his bare feet buried in the rich grass as he marveled at the birds and other animal life. He'd spend minutes rubbing leaves between his fingers and inhaling the sweet fragrance of the flora. Inside, he'd treat Jack and his body in much the same way.
They talked a bit, Jack sharing his months in Minnesota, his own form of insanity, and Hammond's refusal to put through his resignation. Daniel shared his good months with the Arkonans. But mostly--they ate and "rutted like rabbits" as Jack called their lovemaking.
They also watched the news, side by side, shoulders and hips touching. Quietly, peacefully, they watched the unfolding of the latest American scandal.
On Tuesday night, sitting in bed, a pizza between them, and naked as Jaybirds, they watched more news.
"Gee," Jack said, his eyes flicking to the screen, "can you believe it, Danny? Who'd a thunk that the NID would be so--nefarious."
Mouthful of pizza (eating having become his second favorite pastime), Daniel nodded sagely. "Oh, yeah."
"Imagine. Selling weapons--what did Peter Jennings just say?"
Daniel swallowed. "Um, selling weapons to terrorists."
"Ah, yes. Terrorists. Imagine that."
Daniel grabbed another piece of pizza, folded it between his fingers and took a huge bite. He chewed, then mumbled, "Amd imagime, Semator Kimseytoo."
Jack tsk-tsked. "Didn't anyone ever tell you not to talk with your mouthfull?
Daniel just grinned.
With his head cocked, Jack regarded Daniel seriously for a moment, then said, almost tentatively, "So, you seem okay with Kinsey's death? And Simmons'?"
Daniel thought it about it for a minute, then said, "I'm actually more surprised about Harry."
Relieved, Jack nodded. "Oh, well, yeah. Talk about turn arounds."
"Pretty clever way of hiding what really happened though. Gotta give him credit."
"I'd have preferred the truth."
Daniel looked up quickly. "Well, I wouldn't, Jack," he said tightly.
"Aw, shit, I'm sorry, Danny. I'm sorry."
Daniel's face cleared immediately. "No, I am. But this really is the best--for now. The right time will come for telling the world about the Stargate, Jack. Trust me."
Jack reached out a hand and rested it against Daniel's cheek. "I do, Danny, I do."
Wednesday found Daniel strangely reluctant to return to the SGC. They were standing in the living room, readying themselves to leave when Jack finally grabbed Daniel and pulled him to his chest. Tilting Daniel's head up a bit, he said gently, "Look, they're your friends, Danny. They just want to see you. And trust Hammond, he'll have gotten the word around--it won't be difficult. And Ketar and Tollar won't be returning through the 'gate for several more days. Which I thought was damn thoughtful of them, and the President has gone back to Washington. It'll be okay."
Jack could see that his words weren't working yet. "Hey, don't forget, you've got that nifty letter from the President. You've got to be just so eager to read that, right?"
"Oh, yeah, real eager. That's gonna make me feel so much better."
Jack buried his nose in Danny's hair. "It's gonna be fine, Danny."
"I know," he said unconvincingly.
"Trust us, Danny."
Daniel closed his eyes a moment, then sighing, said, "Okay, okay, let's go."
Jack had been correct. Hammond had made it very clear to his people that understatement was the watchword of the day. When Jack and Daniel arrived, there were no crowds lining the halls this time and Daniel breathed a sigh of relief.
As they rode the elevator down, he actually started to feel better--and at home again. When they exited and headed for the gate room as ordered, the halls held the usual number of bustling people.
With one difference.
Every time someone passed Jack and Daniel, they saluted. Twice.
The first time it happened, Daniel paused, thinking he'd seen it wrong. A few feet later, it happened again.
"You're not wrong. They're saluting you, Daniel."
By the time they reached the gate room, Daniel was thoroughly choked up.
The huge door slid open and they entered--only to find it full of Stargate teams and personnel. The moment they spotted Daniel, the applause started.
"Aw, God," was all that Daniel could say. Then he glanced up at the Stargate. A huge banner that read, "Welcome back, Doctor Jackson" had been hung across the top.
Jack led him up the ramp to where Sam and Teal'c stood. Surrounding Daniel, all three smiled broadly.
General Hammond stepped to the foot of the ramp and everyone quieted.
Indicating the four of them with a nod of his head, he said, "Now that is something I've been waiting to see for quite awhile."
He waited for the applause to die down, then added, "Welcome back, SG1."
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