A Flickering of the Flame

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Pre-Slash, Drama, Angst, Missing Scene/Epilogue
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  1 - June 3-17, 1997
Spoilers:  Cold Lazarus (minor), Brief Candle
Size:  98kb
Written:  November 19-26,28, December 1-3, 2007
Summary:  When Jack suddenly grows old, Daniel must deal with yet another loss in his life.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
2) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s), “Letting Go”
3) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Jo, Linda, Tonya, Carol, Claudia!

A Flickering of the Flame
by Orrymain

Daniel smiled as his teammates assembled in the gate room.

“What are you smiling at?” Jack asked.

“You're wearing a boonie again,” the archaeologist mused.

“You don't own the patent, you know,” the colonel replied, looking a little embarrassed as he adjusted the green head covering.  As the wormhole opened, he ordered, “Let's move out.”

SG-1 stepped through the Stargate and began surveying the room they had just arrived in.  As they walked down the many steps from the platform to the floor, Jack noticed a large stone statue of a warrior standing in a chariot resting between two winged horses.  He was holding a lightning bolt, as if he were about to throw it.

Waving his arm at the statue, Jack questioned, “And who might this be, Daniel?”

“I'm not sure.  Maybe early Greek, but I don't recognize the god form,” the archaeologist answered.

Suddenly, the team heard a woman screaming and exchanged concerned glances. Using hand signals, Jack directed his teammates to move cautiously in the direction of the sound, prepared to attack and defend should it be necessary.  Fortunately, it wasn't.  The screaming turned out to be coming from a young woman, apparently in labor.  The man, who was bent down by the woman, looked up at the Tau'ri.  He was panicked, both by the impending birth of the child and the appearance of the strangers.

“Sorry.  We, we ... we didn't mean to scare anyone,” Daniel spoke, hoping that the people before them would understand the tone of his voice if not the words.

“You are not Pelops,” the young man, who was dressed in a purple toga with a wreath of leaves around his head, stated.

“No ... no, uh ...” Daniel responded.  Pointing to the statue, he asked, “You mean him?  Uh, no.  We're, we're visitors; friends.”

When the woman panted that the child was about to be born, the panicked man explained that the midwife was gone, and he didn't know what to do.  He pleaded for help from the strangers.

“Um, okay, well, I'll ... try,” Daniel stated hesitantly after everyone else had just shrugged helplessly.  “Sam?”

“I can help, but that's it.”

“I wish Janet was here,” Daniel spoke as he walked forward and knelt down.  “Uh, hello.  I'm Daniel.  This is Captain Carter,” he introduced, pointing at Sam.  He looked up and to his right and said, “That's Jack, and he's Teal'c.  We're from Earth.  We ...”

“Daniel, I think that can wait,” Jack interjected, motioning towards the grimacing woman.

“Uh, yeah, right.”

“I am Alekos, and this is my wife, Thetys.”

“Hello,” Daniel stated again, a warm smile on his face.

As the woman screamed out after another contraction, Jack pointed to a place beyond the columns that separated the impromptu maternity ward from the rest of the temple, and said, “I'll just ... wait out there.”

“I will assist O'Neill,” the strong Jaffa stated.

Sam watched the two teammates leave and shook her head.

“What?” Daniel asked.

“Oh, nothing, but ... the colonel and Teal'c ... I don't think they want to be anywhere near this room right now,” Sam confided.

“Neither do I,” Daniel admitted.  Seeing the pregnant lady's frightened look, he reassured, “I mean, I'm glad I'm here to help.”

“I will wait with the others,” Alekos said, giving his wife a kiss before walking out.

Sam rolled her eyes, and Daniel just shrugged.

====

Bent over the laboring woman, Daniel comforted, “You're doing just fine.”

“Where did you learn how to do this?” Sam asked in a panicked state as she remained kneeling down beside Daniel.

“Uh ... uh, on a dig in the Yucatan.  Um, after the first one, I made friends with the local midwives, and they taught me a lot.”

Encouraged, the blonde captain questioned, “How many babies have you delivered?”

“Uh ...two,” Daniel answered.  A bit uncomfortably, he clarified, “Uh, counting today.”

Sam's eyes widened.  That wasn't what she wanted to hear.

====

“Alekos,” Daniel called out a bit later.  “It's a boy.”

The happy father grabbed Daniel's shoulders and pulled him in for an excited hug, after which he went to see his wife and newborn son.

With a smile, Jack looked at Daniel and praised, “You never cease to amaze me with all your talents.”

“Thank you,” Daniel acknowledged.  Looking around the room, which he realized now was a temple, he commented, “Wow, this ... place is incredible.  It's like we just ... stepped into the citadel at Mycenae.”

“Thought you said it was Greek?” Jack inquired.

“Oh, uh ... Mycenae was an ancient city in the southern Peloponnesus region.”

“Where's that?”

With a little smile, the archaeologist answered, “Greece.”

Shaking his head, the colonel questioned, “Why do I do that?”

Just then, Alekos and Thetys walked up to the men.  Sam called out, concerned that Thetys was walking around so soon after giving birth.

Laughing the woman assured, “I'm fine.  I'm fine.  We wish for you all to be the first to see ...”

Thetys held her baby out towards Daniel and pulled back the blanket covering him.  On his arm is a small pyramid-shaped mark, which the couple explained would bring the child luck.  They then announced they were naming the baby Dan-el, in Daniel's honor.

An embarrassed Daniel responded, “Oh, you don't have to do that.”

Ignoring the comment, Thetys asked, “May we offer you the hospitality of our village?”

“Well, that'd be nice,” Jack responded.  “Who are you folks?”

“We are the Chosen,” Alekos answered.

“Where do the gods reside?” Teal'c asked.

“Doesn't everyone know?” Alekos questioned in reply.

“In the sky, of course,” Thetys stated, a big smile on her face.

“Of course,” Daniel agreed, smiling.  As they began walking, he asked, “What do you call this place?”

“This is Argos,” Alekos answered.  “You are welcome to stay with us for as long as you wish.”

“Thank you,” Daniel replied with an appreciative nod.

====

“Wow,” Daniel expressed as he followed Alekos and his family outside and took in the picturesque setting.

Looking back at the temple that SG-1 had just exited, Sam commented, “A temple on the beach.  I like that.”

“Temple-side resort,” Jack chortled.

“It's, uh, beautiful,” Daniel added, looking off at the blue waters and then down at the familiar sandy substance he was walking on.  ~Not as smooth as Abydos.~

The village was roughly a quarter-of-a-mile from the temple, and as the group got closer, they could see the excitement building on the faces of the inhabitants as they saw Alekos and Thetys approaching with their newborn.

Once they'd reached their friends, the couple showed off the baby, prompting the beginning of a special celebration as all were joyous over their new addition.  No one seemed the least bit alarmed about SG-1, welcoming them as the festivities broke out.

SG-1 sat down on the bench that circled a fountain in the center of the village and watched the party unfold, observing the residents curiously.  Most of the villagers were wearing some kind of colorful toga, with wreaths adorning their heads, and all were young, beautiful or handsome, and healthy.  One female in particular caught Jack’s eye: a tall brunette, who was gazing flirtatiously at him.  He continued looking at her while talking with his teammates about the people on the planet.

~Whoa!  Here she comes,~ Jack thought as the woman suddenly walked towards him.

“I am Kynthia.  Welcome to our village,” the woman spoke.

“Thank you.  Jack O'Neill,” the colonel stated.

Kynthia smiled and uncovered the dish she'd carried over with her.  It held a cake, which she offered to Jack.  He quickly took a piece and bit into it.

“It is pleasing?” Kynthia asked hopefully.

Nodding slightly, Jack affirmed, “Very.”  He looked at the archaeologist and suggested, “You should have some of it.”

As Daniel reached out to take a piece, Kynthia pulled back, firmly telling Jack, “It is only for you.”

Sam laughed, realizing the woman hadn't even looked at Daniel at all.  She had eyes only for Jack O'Neill.

“Only for me?” Jack asked.  He took the food, smiling and nodding while saying, “Thank you.”

Kynthia ambled away, joining her friends, the group resembling a bunch of gaggling geese with Kynthia continuing to give Jack flirtatious glances.

Amused, Daniel smirked, “It is only for you.”

“I think you have a fan, Colonel,” Sam stated with a grin.

“I believe this woman wishes to spend time with O'Neill,” Teal'c surmised.

“Thank you, Teal'c,” Jack responded while still eating the cake.

As the team continued to talk, Jack continued to eat the cake given to him by the young woman.

~What's he doing?~ Daniel thought, noticing that the colonel was holding the cake in an odd manner, almost dropping it.

Jack's vision began to blur, and he seemed to find everything funny.  All of a sudden, Kynthia's friends walked over to the colonel, pulling him to his feet.  To the team's surprise, he let himself be pulled away.

~I'm not sure that's a good idea,~ the archaeologist thought as he, Sam, and Teal'c all stood and attempted to follow Jack.  ~What?~ he thought when a blonde Argosian gently pushed him back and urged him to sit down.  The same thing had happened to Sam and Teal'c.  He looked down at the woman, wanting to ask questions about what was happening when, all of a sudden, loud music began to play.  ~What's going on?~

Unsure about the unfolding events, Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c watched as Jack, now seated on a bench several feet away from them, became the object of a ritualistic dance performed by Kynthia.

Kynthia was now draped in a long, sheer, sleeveless robe that, when spread wide, gave off the appearance of her being a butterfly.  She danced seductively towards the unusually happy colonel.  At the climax of the dance, she bent down in front of Jack, wrapping the wings of her dress around him and then shimmying downward.  As she stood, she pulled him up and led him into a nearby building, while villagers laughed and celebrated joyously.

~Okay, that's not right,~ Daniel thought, standing up, as did Sam and Teal'c.

Alekos approached the three and said, “Unto every man the creator gives one hundred blissful days.  It is a sin not to celebrate each and every one.”

“A hundred day celebration?” Daniel questioned.  Taking a breath, he supposed, “Guess we should pace ourselves.”

“I'm going to look around a little,” Sam stated.

“As am I,” the Jaffa added.

“I'm ... gonna talk to them and see what I can find out,” the archaeologist said, smiling down at the young woman who seemed to have a fondness for placing her hand on his knee.

“Good luck,” Sam said with amusement as she stood and walked away, with Teal'c rising and following close behind.

“Hello,” Daniel said to the woman, a nervous smile on his face as he began his interviews.

====

“I don't like it, Daniel,” Sam said later that afternoon.

“Every time we try to go near that building, they stop us; they give us a drink or something to eat,” Daniel stated.  He glanced back towards the place where he'd last seen his friend, stating, “It's not like Jack.”

“They don't seem hostile, but ...”

“But ... what is Jack ...”  Daniel paused, smiling nervously.  They all knew exactly what Jack was doing with Kynthia inside the building.  “Never mind.”

“What are we going to put in our reports?” Sam wondered.

“I think I'll write mine in Egyptian,” the linguist quipped.  ~I really don't even want to think about it.~

“Wish I could,” Sam lamented, sighing as she looked down.

“You're ... disappointed,” Daniel observed.

“Daniel, we're on a mission.  The colonel is Special Ops.  I can't believe he's engaging in a ... a ...”

“Afternoon romp?”

Sam shrugged and said, “I guess I did expect more from him.  Didn't you?”

“Uh ... I can honestly say I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about who ... or when he ... uh, you know,” Daniel expressed a tad nervously.  ~But I'm not sure we should have let it happen.~

“I didn't mean to say I did; I mean ...”

“Sam, it's ...” Daniel paused, walking forward a few steps.  “What's, uh ... happening?”

“Good question,” Sam said.  An alarm had begun to sound, resulting in several of the villagers going inside buildings and others finding comfortable spots elsewhere to lie down.  As Teal'c approached, she asked, “Teal'c, do you know what's going on?”

“I do not,” the Jaffa answered.

Daniel looked up, observing, “The sun just set.”

“Uh, excuse me?” Sam called out to one villager, who had curled up on a bench, only to get no response.

Having checked two other villagers, the archaeologist stood up, saying, “They're all ... asleep.”  He looked over towards the building Jack was in.  “Jack.”

With a look over at his teammates, Daniel motioned towards the building.  Quickly, the three SG-1 members hurried to check on the colonel.

--

About the same time, Jack came to his senses and realized he was atop a very serene, but out of it, Kynthia, who did nothing but smile at him.  As the alarm sounded, he looked with surprise as others entered the building and began to lie down.  Quickly, he pulled a blanket over his naked body.  Confused, he turned back to Kynthia, only to discover she, too, was now asleep.  Even more uncertain, he wrapped the covering around himself more firmly and stood, walking around the building.  Then he saw his teammates walk in.

“Um ... what happened?” Jack asked.

Looking at him, Sam answered, “To them or ... you?”

“We'll talk about that later,” Jack said.  ~Over my dead body, that is.~

“I've seen parties end abruptly, but never like this,” Sam stated and then bent over to check on Thetys and Dan-el.

“They all just ... collapsed,” Daniel informed.

As the team continued to discuss the situation, Jack sat down and questioned, “How does an entire village pass out?  Something in the food?” while he drank out of a goblet.

“We all partook of the same food,” Teal'c responded.

“Except for that cake,” Sam noted.

“Which was 'only for you',” Daniel pointed out slowly as he walked towards Jack with a growing concern for his welfare.

In a flash, Jack realized he'd been drugged and immediately put down the goblet.  Quickly, he stood and headed for the bed Kynthia was on.

“Whoa!” the colonel exclaimed as he collapsed to his knees and began to pass out.

Sam caught Jack, after which Daniel pushed by her, grabbing Jack on the other side, preventing him from hitting the floor face-first.

Just before passing out, Jack quipped, “From now on, we stick to rations.”

After she and Daniel lowered their commanding officer to the floor, Sam sighed, “No fever, shallow breathing, slow heartbeat: just like the others.”

Daniel was frustrated.  The mystery was actually intriguing, but he wasn't happy about Jack's involuntary involvement in it.

“Well, let's look around.  Maybe we can find out something while they're all ... asleep,” Sam suggested.

“Right.”

====

Daniel sat on the floor, his back against the wall, staring straight ahead where Jack was sleeping on the bed, having been placed there by Teal'c and Daniel earlier.  He looked off to the side, seeing Sam asleep.  He knew Teal'c was outside, walking around.  Quietly, he reached into his backpack and pulled out his journal.  Looking again at Jack, he sighed and began to write.

//Excerpt from Daniel's Journal//
On Earth, it's a cultural dilemma.  Women are wrongly labeled as the weaker sex, taken advantage of by their predators -- man.  I can attest from personal experience, that I'd just as soon forget about, that that isn't always the case.  I'm used to it now.  I know what's it like to be in unpleasant situations, but I'm worried about Jack.

Jack O'Neill: macho military maestro of sarcasm and wit.  Will that save you, Jack, from what happened here tonight?

We don't know the whole story yet, but the colonel was drugged and seduced, which in reality amounts to rape.  I'm still getting to know this man of secrets, but I already know him well enough to know that he won't admit to any pain.  He'll cover it up with bravado and probably refuse to acknowledge that it was anything other than sex between two consenting adults.

After all, she's a pretty woman, and it's certainly not inconceivable that he might willingly have chosen to sleep with her; but free will is the key, isn't it?  Like the others we've met here, she's even innocent.  He'll use that, too, and claim her innocence wipes away the act.

We're strangers here, and, even if what happened was part of some local custom or tradition, she has to know we're outsiders and unaware of their ways.  I guess I'm feeling a little angry about what happened.  

Okay, maybe I'm a lot angry about it.  He's my friend, and he's been taken advantage of, but I have to forget about that and focus on the mission.  Still, men like Jack bury their nightmares.  Maybe that's why we're friends.  I bury mine, too.  We're not supposed to have the same nightmares; not this one, anyway.

I look over at him, sleeping peacefully, and wonder if he's dreaming about Sara, his wife.  He loves her.  He doesn't talk about her much, or their marriage, but they are still married, and I catch him staring at her picture sometimes when he thinks no one is watching.  Has Kynthia made a reunion between them impossible?

Jack won't admit to feeling guilty.  He'll take this in stride and blow it off as nothing, but I, of all people, do know what he's feeling.  The perspective may be different, but I understand.

I can't help feeling guilty about what happened.  I let Kynthia lead him away from us.  I knew something was off, but I didn't stop him.  I noticed something almost right away: the way Jack was holding that cake plate and the way he was laughing.  It just wasn't like him.  Why didn't I stop him?  I don't know, and my failure to save Jack will always be with me.  It's my fault.  All I had to do was stop him from going inside that building.  It would have been so easy.  Why didn't I?  Why?

I'm part of SG-1.  That means something.  He counts on me to cover his six, but what did I do?  I got lost in studying a new culture, talking to the villagers.  I gave him a passing thought.  Okay, I worried, but I didn't act.  I let him go through a nightmare because I didn't want to offend these people.  That's the truth, and it's a truth I'll have to live with for the rest of my life.
//End of Excerpt//

Daniel closed his journal, folded his arms on his knees, the journal still grasped in his right hand, and leaned his head against his arms.  He felt so much remorse over his inaction.  Jack had been hurt, all because of his failure to be a good teammate.  He peeked up for a moment, staring at his sleeping friend.

“I'm sorry, Jack.”

====

The next morning, the villagers awoke and went about their business.  Daniel took the opportunity to speak with more of the villagers, while Sam wrote down some observations in her notebook and Teal'c simply watched over the happenings.  Jack woke a bit later, not used to the experience, and appeared hung over as he went to the fountain and immersed his head into the water as a remedy for his sluggishness.

After hearing what his team knew of the mystery slumber, which wasn't much, Jack ordered Daniel to go back to the temple and see if he could learn anything more there, while Sam continued to question the villagers.

The archaeologist asked Alekos to accompany him and Teal'c to the temple, which he did.  Once there, Daniel used his digital camera to film most of it as they talked.

Alekos revealed that the statue was of Pelops, “giver of days,” and that the temple was where he'd lived when he was on the planet.  No one knew when Pelops would return, but the villagers were certain he would.  Until then, it was their duty to rejoice and wait.

“Why are your people called the Chosen?” Teal'c inquired.

Pointing towards a mural on the wall, Alekos answered, “My ancestors were so beloved by Pelops that he fashioned this garden for us.  It is said he chose us and brought us here from beyond the stars.”

When Daniel asked about the temple writings, Teal'c revealed that the symbols on the base of the statue were an obscure Goa'uld dialect.

A bit frustrated, Daniel questioned, “Why didn't you tell me that before?”

“You never before inquired,” Teal'c answered calmly.

“Well ... you call it Goa'uld.  Um, I call it linear A script.  We found pictographs like this in ancient Greece and ancient Cretan, but we ... we never completely deciphered this form.”

“The symbols are a sequence,” the Jaffa announced.

“What?  Like a combination?” Daniel questioned.

Before the archaeologist could answer the Jaffa's question about what a combination was, Teal'c had opened a drawer at the bottom of the statue to reveal an embedded small triangular tablet and a Goa'uld device.  Glancing at it, Daniel could tell that it was a record of some type, but it was difficult to decipher.

====

Meanwhile, Sam had found a shell that she wanted to give to the baby, Dan-el, to use as a rattle.  She was shocked to see that, overnight, the baby had grown and looked to be about two.

“Okay.  That's not possible,” Jack stated when confronted with the discovery.

“Do you not have children who change and ... and grow?” Thetys inquired, wondering why the visitors found the baby's growth to be so strange.

“Well, yeah, sure we do; but not like that,” Jack answered.

A few more questions later, SG-1 had finally discovered that the villagers lived their lives in days, not years.  Thetys was twenty-one days old and Kynthia thirty-one.

~Great.  I had sex with a ... with I don't even know what,~ Jack growled inwardly.

====

A bit later, Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c were sitting on the floor in front of Pelops statue discussing the unusually short lives of the planet's inhabitants.  Daniel had various papers and a book strewn out in front of him as they talked.

“I think Pelops brought humans here to be lab rats.  From what we've been able to translate so far, he wanted to know how humans evolve, so he shortened their life span to about 1/250th of normal,” Daniel reported.

“So, instead of having to wait a hundred-thousand years to see how human physiology evolves, he could do it in a hundred?” Sam responded.

“That is correct,” Teal'c confirmed.  “Pelops wanted to determine what the human host body would become in the future, and perhaps accelerate the process.”

That left the trio with the question of how Pelops managed to accelerate the people’s growth cycle.  Hesitantly, Daniel theorized that Pelops might have created a virus, one that was spread through bodily contact.

“Some are, and some are airborne,” Sam refuted argumentatively, not wanting to believe that her commanding office had doomed himself simply because he'd had a drunken one-night stand with Kynthia.

“But I think that this one isn't,” Daniel asserted.

“What has drawn you to this conclusion?” the Jaffa inquired.

“Because only one of us passed out last night, and that was Jack,” Daniel answered, even as he felt the sting of his own failure to protect his teammate.  ~I wish I was wrong.~

====

“Found anything?” Jack asked as his three teammates cautiously approached him, upon their return to the village.

Since they were surrounded by the Argosians, SG-1 went for a short walk along the beach, reviewing their findings.

“Okay, Kids, you've gone all around the bush here,” Jack said as they began to return towards the village.  “What haven't you told me?”

“Well, it's ...”

“We still can't be certain, Sir,” Sam interjected when Daniel paused.

“Will someone just tell me ... please,” Jack requested anxiously.

It was twilight as Daniel and Sam finally briefed the colonel with their grim findings.  They finished just as they reached the center of the village.

“You have to give them credit for one thing,” Daniel observed, hearing the rhythmic music and seeing the Argosians dancing.  “They do enjoy life.”

“Perhaps it is because they do not have much life to enjoy,” Teal'c offered.

“Great,” Jack snarked.  “So now what you're telling me is this virus, which, by the way, I do *not* have, is deadly?”

“Well, if the kids age five years in five days, what happens when they reach a hundred days?” Daniel asked.

The team was just rounding the fountain when Jack began to slow.

~Crap!  It's happening again,~ the colonel thought as he dropped like a dead weight to his knees.

“Colonel!” Sam called out, bending down to help Jack just as he rolled over to rest on his back.

In the short amount of time it took for Sam to remove Jack's sunglasses, Daniel turned, seeing the villagers quickly lie down as well.

“I guess it wasn't the cake,” Jack spoke with not a bit of surprise in his voice, only disappointment.

“Maybe it was your physical contact with Kynthia,” Sam stated.

“Get back to Earth, Captain,” Jack ordered.  “Figure this thing out,” he added, falling asleep as the sun set.

“Okay, let's get our gear,” Sam ordered.

“No,” Daniel said.  “I'm, uh ... he needs someone here.  I can ... study what's happening, talk to the villagers some more.”

“They're asleep,” the captain pointed out.

“I can still study the temple some more,” the archaeologist argued.

“Daniel ...”

“I'm not leaving him, Sam.”

Sam sighed and then nodded her head in agreement.  After all, if the team's theories were right, then time was of the essence and maybe Daniel would find something useful buried in the writings of the temple.

====

“Don't you know how to follow an order?” Jack questioned the next day when he'd awoken and found the archaeologist sitting nearby.

The two were walking towards the temple as they talked.

“You didn't give me an order,” the younger man pointed out.

“I don't need a babysitter,” Jack sniped.  “And don't even try to tell me that Carter didn't order you back to the SGC.  *She* knows how to follow orders.”

“Neither do I, need a babysitter, I mean; and, uh, you're older than me,” Daniel said with a sly smile.

“That's not funny,” Jack groaned.  “I may never look in a mirror again.”

“You're not so bad,” Daniel stated, smiling nervously when Jack just glared at him.

A couple of minutes later, the friends entered the temple, stopping in front of the statue of Pelops.

“Troublemaker,” Jack mumbled.

“What?” Daniel asked.

“Nothing.  So, learn anything?” the colonel asked, pointing around the temple.

“Yeah, a lot,” Daniel answered.  He sighed when the other man looked at him hopefully.  “But, uh, nothing about this.  I'm sorry.”

“Nah.  This is my own doing,” Jack stated, walking away a few feet.

“I should have ...”

“Daniel, I went in that room with Kynthia, not you,” the colonel stated bluntly, cutting off the younger man's words.

“But ...”

“I'm a grown man, Daniel.  Kynthia's a pretty girl.  I just wasn't thinking,” Jack stated.  “Bad command decision.”

“Command?” Daniel questioned incredulously.  “You were drugged,” he pointed out sternly.

“No excuse.  I'm trained to ...”

“To be invincible?” Daniel challenged, closing the gap between them.  “Jack, what happened here wasn't your choice.  If anyone is to blame, it's me.  I knew it was strange, but I just sat there.”

“There was nothing you could have done to stop it,” Jack maintained.  “I like food; I ate it.  I followed the pretty girl into Eden.”

“Yes, there was something I could have done, and we both know it, so don't cover up for me, Colonel,” Daniel stated, suddenly angry that Jack was trying to take away the blame that was rightfully his.  “All I had to do was follow you inside, or just ... ask questions, but I didn't.”

Jack saw his friend's bowed head.  Daniel was also self-hugging and hunched over a bit, as if trying to make himself as small in stature as he believed himself to be in character.  He walked up to the archaeologist, facing the young man's back.

“Danny, I have to own this,” Jack confided more softly than before, needing to take responsibility for what happened.  “It was my mistake, letting myself become a prize.”

“You were drugged, Jack, and I watched her take you into that building,” Daniel said, turning around while continuing to keep his arms crossed in front of him.  “You can say whatever you want, but the truth is something that's hard to escape.”

“I had sex with an alien: sounds like a movie title,” Jack spoke, joking about the situation.  “We'll get Tom Hanks to play me and maybe Mary Steenburgen to the alien.”

~I don't believe this.~  Daniel looked away, rolling his eyes in disbelief at just how nonchalant Jack was being.  “No, you were ...”

“Daniel!” Jack interrupted, holding one hand up to stop the words from being spoken, as if not saying them could change the reality.  “Don't say it; don't think it; and don't write it.”

“And what are you going to say?”

“That I was drugged, and it was a party gone bad.  That *is* the truth,” Jack put forth.

“What about Sam and Teal'c?” Daniel inquired.

“Teal'c's reports are all of fifty words; Kynthia won't even be a footnote.”

“And Sam?”

“She'll write what she knows,” Jack asserted.

“I don't know what that means, Jack.”

“It means, Daniel, that I used bad judgment and ended up having sex off-world.  That's what the report will say.”

“Somehow I don't see Sam accusing you of bad judgment,” the archaeologist replied.

“That's up to her, but, if she does, I won't deny it.  Heck, that's what is going to be in my report.  Nothing else happened,” Jack insisted, his mind having already convinced himself that anything else was an outlandish stretch of the truth.

“Why?  Because you're Special Ops and there's some ... code of honor that says no one can ...”

“Daniel!”

Daniel paused and then completed, “... take advantage of you?”

“Do we have to talk about this?” Jack asked, feeling uncomfortable about the discussion.  ~Haven't we said it all?~

“Yes, we do have to talk about it,” Daniel insisted.  “I *know* what happened to you.”

“*Nothing* happened to me, except that some cute princess decided to slip me a Mickey in a cake.”

“Okay, fine.  Have it your way,” Daniel said, staring intensely at his friend before he turned and walked away.

Jack sighed and, after a moment, walked over to the archaeologist, saying, “Danny, I'm sorry.  I don't want you feeling guilty about something you didn't have control over, and you didn't have control over this.”

“I think I did,” Daniel confided quietly.

Jack walked around the other man to face him and said, “Maybe, but, if you did, then so did Carter and Teal'c.  You want them to walk around the rest of their lives blaming themselves?  Let it go.”

Regretfully, Daniel nodded his silent agreement to go along with Jack's view.  Inside, though, he knew the truth.  It was his fault.  He was the SG-1's so called cultural expert, not Sam and not Teal'c.  The colonel was right, though.  If he let on that he felt guilty, Sam and Teal'c would think they were at fault, too.

~It was just me, though.  I knew what was happening; I know how it feels; and ... and I'm his friend.  I'm the one who should have said something.~

====

Later in the day, while still working in the temple, the Stargate activated.  Excited and hopeful, Daniel ran down the stairs of the platform towards a doorway on the other side of the temple, where Jack was at the moment.

“Jack!  Carter's coming back!”  As he waited for his friend, he realized that his friend looked even older than he had earlier in the day.  Most notably, his hairline had receded further.  “Jack.”

Sam, holding a large container, was shocked when she saw her commanding officer, so much so that she gaped at him.

“Come on now, don't keep the elderly waiting.  It's rude,” Jack quipped, anxious to find out what she'd discovered at the SGC.

Putting the case she was carrying down, Sam informed, “It isn't a virus.”

Unfortunately, neither Sam nor Janet Fraiser knew what it was, either.  What they did know was that Jack's blood sample showed way more of the strange organisms than that of the Argosians and were, in fact, multiplying.

“Which means?” Jack questioned.

“It ... it means the organism, or whatever it is, seems to be compensating for your natural age.  You've already lived way longer than anyone with this, for lack of a better word, disease ever should,” Sam responded.

“Cut to it, Captain,” Jack ordered sharply.

“At the rate you're changing, by the end of two weeks, you'll be the equivalent of one-hundred-years old,” Sam revealed.

“So, in two weeks I'll be dead?” Jack questioned.

“Not if I can help it,” Sam refuted.  “I'd like to set up a lab here.”

~There's an answer; we'll find it,~ Daniel thought at the same time as he stood off to the side, holding his notebook and papers down by his hip with his right hand.

“Negative, Captain,” Jack stated, ordering the entire team back to Earth after glancing over at the archaeologist.  “We're not going to bring another disease back through that Gate.”

“I will remain here, with O'Neill,” Teal'c offered, walking forward.  “I cannot be affected by ... whatever this is.”

“I don't need company, I need a cure,” Jack asserted angrily.  He added, “... and Daniel needs help translating that Goa'uld tablet thing.  It might hold the answer,” Jack stated.

“Jack ...” Daniel began, not wanting to leave.

The archaeologist was cut off by the colonel, who lashed out, “And don't you dare say good-bye,” as he looked over at the younger man.  Then he told the entire team that they'd “better be coming back.”  He ended his remarks by ordering the trio to “... get out of here, all of you,” after which Jack turned and walked away.

“The sooner we get back, the sooner we can find the cure,” Sam stated, turning around.

“DanielJackson?”

Daniel walked several paces towards the path that Jack had just departed.  He had a bad feeling about leaving his friend.  Jack needed him.  The uncharacteristic outburst was proof of that.

“I think I should stay here.”

“Daniel,” Sam said, walking over to her friend's side.  “The colonel's right.  You need to translate the tablet.”

“I can do that here.”

“I believe O'Neill wishes to be alone,” Teal'c put forth.

“Maybe,” Daniel said, looking back towards the corridor again.  ~But that doesn't mean that's what should happen.~

“We're wasting time, Daniel.  We need to go,” Sam urged.

“I'll be right back,” Daniel said hurrying off.

“Daniel ...” Sam called out helplessly, walking forward a few steps and then raising her hands up into the air and looking back at the Jaffa while shaking her head.

Without looking back, the archaeologist called out, “Or go, and I'll follow.”

Sam looked over at Teal'c and said, “We'll give him a few minutes.”

“DanielJackson and O'Neill are very close,” the Jaffa observed.

“Yeah, I guess they are,” Sam said, walking over to the platform steps and sitting down.

====

“Jack!” Daniel called out, running up to his friend.

“Daniel, I told you to go back to Earth,” Jack barked, not stopping his motion forward.

“I know, but ... Jack, wait,” the archaeologist said, tugging on the older man's arm in an uncharacteristic display of physical contact, especially when he didn't let go of his hold once the colonel stopped walking.

Jack stared at his young friend and then down at his arm.

“Oh, uh, sorry,” Daniel said as he finally released his grasp.  “Jack, it's just ...”

“Danny, I know,” Jack spoke a bit emotionally.

“Just hear me out,” Daniel requested.  “We said we weren't going to bring another disease back through the Gate; well, then, that should mean we all stay, or we all go.”

Jack smiled, reaching out to pat the young man's right shoulder.  He patted it twice, and then clutched the material, rubbing on it a bit, as if caressing it.

“Follow my orders,” Jack spoke softly.  Realizing he was still gripping Daniel's arm, he let out a tiny chortle of a sound and let his hand drop to his side.  “Now, please ... go.  Then come back.”  More firmly, he stated, “Make *sure* you come back ... with the cure.”

Daniel smiled and nodded, watching as Jack walked away from him again.

“We'll be back,” the archaeologist called out.

“Bring Froot Loops,” Jack shouted in a huskier voice than was normal, his left hand waving a goodbye at his teammate.

“Froot Loops.  Right,” Daniel said, sighing and heading back for the temple to return to Earth.

====

At the SGC later that day, Sam made a startling discovery.  The abnormal organisms in Jack's blood weren't multiplying, but were replicating, which meant that the objects weren't living organisms, but were actually some kind of mechanical devices.  They were, in reality, nanotechnology, something Janet knew nothing about.

Sam, however, did have some applicable experience.

“When I was at the Pentagon, I worked for a year with a group that studied nanotechnology.  We were looking at it for a lot of different uses; one of them was medicine: creating artificial immune systems, repairing individual cells; even manipulating DNA to stop the aging process,” the captain expounded.

“It sounds like Pelops succeeded in what you were experimenting with, only in reverse.  Nice guy,” Janet replied sarcastically.

====

Meanwhile, on Argos, Jack was trying to deal with his rapidly aging body.  Sitting on Pelops' throne, he vented his anger by telling the statue of Pelops exactly what he thought of him.

“Can you really talk to the great Pelops?” Kynthia interrupted, leaning around to look at Jack from behind the back of the statue.

“Sure; why not?  Just a piece of rock.  Not so great, anyway,” Jack replied bitterly, his tone sharp and full of edge.

“Your people: they have gone?” the woman inquired as she walked to stand a few feet in front of the colonel.

“Yeah, they've gone,” Jack replied.  ~Should have let Daniel stay.  I miss arguing with him.  I always know I'm alive when Daniel is around ... because he drives me out of my mind ... sometimes.~

“Then, you will leave also?” Kynthia asked.

“No, I'll be here for a while,” Jack answered.

“I am glad,” Kynthia said happily as she settled down on the pillows at Jack's feet, placing one hand on his knee.  “I would like to learn of your customs.”

~Is she for real?~ Jack thought.  “Maybe some other time, huh?  Kinda got a lot on my mind.”

“But you ate the marriage cake, came to my bed ...”

Surprised, Jack echoed, “Marriage cake?”  ~Okay, what's the deal here?~  After Kynthia nodded, he questioned, “Kynthia, you thought we were married?”

Warily, the woman answered, “By all our customs, yes.”

“Sweet,” Jack said with a sigh.  ~You drugged me and now you say we're married.  Great culture you've got here,~ he thought in disbelief.  “Kynthia, wh...what you were feeling wasn't really love.  That takes time.  I mean, you can't get to know someone in one day.” ~Not to mention that I'm already married and in love with my wife.~

“Unto every woman the creator gives one hundred blissful days,” Kynthia stated, looking serene and euphoric.

Impatiently, Jack barked, “Kynthia, will you stop that?  Your creator was not a god, and he certainly didn't give you life.  He took it away.”

“We are the Chosen.  He made this place for us ... to be happy, to love.”

“To be experimented on,” Jack interrupted angrily.  “I mean, look at me!  I'm forty-years old, or I was.  That's ... thousands and thousands of days.”

Kynthia refused to believe Jack, becoming emotional until she eventually ran out of the temple in tears.

“Go ahead -- run!” Jack shouted a moment later.  “Okay, maybe she doesn't deserve the anger; maybe she's just a product of this place and that stone fake over there.  Calm down, O'Neill.  Stop being so crotchety, even if you are a crotchety old man.”  He grimaced and thought, ~Did I say forty?~  Shaking his head, he sighed, ~The mind is the second thing to go.~  He laughed, “Right now, I'd settle for being forty again.”

====

“I thought you'd still be here,” Sam said, entering Daniel's office late that night.

“There's nothing here, Sam,” Daniel said about his translations.  He got up and walked over to the coffee pot that lived in his office, refilling his white mug.  “Anything new?”

“No.  You saw what happened this afternoon,” Sam stated as she sat down on a stool.  “The nanocytes ate right through the rubber gloves, trying to spread.  We have to be extremely careful.”  She paused and then asked, “How did he sound?”

The SGC checked in with Jack before the sun set on Argos.  Daniel and Teal'c had been in the control room to make the report.

“He barked a lot,” Daniel said.  “It's all a cover up.”

“Janet's getting some sleep; we probably should, too,” Sam stated hesitantly.

“I just want to do a couple more pages,” Daniel said, sitting back down at his desk.

Sam began to suggest that Daniel should sleep, too, but she had a feeling she'd be wasting her time.  Truth was, she thought she would be wasting her time trying to sleep as well, but she was so tired she felt she at least needed to try.  At the moment, her brain felt sluggish, and she couldn't afford that.  Jack was on borrowed time now, and everyone knew it.

“I'll touch bases with you in the morning,” the captain said, standing up.

Sam saw a slight nod from her friend, but that was it.  He was hard at work, trying to solve a puzzle.

====

The next day, Jack was again sitting on what was Pelop's throne.  His hair was almost white now and had grown to the length of his shoulders.  His skin was extremely wrinkled and etched with age marks.  In his hands, was a notebook and pen.

~Have some guts, O'Neill,~ Jack urged himself.  ~Tell her the truth: that you were an idiot, that you're sorry, and ... tell her that you love her and want her back.  Come on: write the words.  This is your last chance.  Don't let her think you're ...~

Emotionally, and holding back tears, Jack let out one sniffle and then reached to his right side and let the notebook and pen drop to the floor, thinking, ~I can't do it to her now.  It would be selfish.~

As the sound of the notepad hitting the floor was heard, Alekos approached Jack, asking if the stories Jack had told Kynthia about living for thousands of days were true.  When Jack said they were, he pleaded with the statue, asking why things were as they were.

As the two men talked, Alekos admitted that if he could, he would walk beyond the village and boundaries of the Chosen.  No one had ever done that because their god forbade it; that was same god he was certain would strike him down if he attempted to do such a thing.  He wanted to learn and to teach his people.

Jack felt encouraged by the Argosian's comments and mused, ~That's for you, Dannyboy.  I've challenged him to explore, just like you love to do.~

Suddenly, Jack's joy diminished, turning into a sad melancholy.  He sat back, returning to his inner thoughts.

====

The next day, Kynthia searched for Jack, finding him sitting on the platform, facing the Stargate, just staring at it.  Jack's hair was now completely white and hung past his shoulders.

“Come back to the village.  It is not good to be always alone,” Kynthia pleaded.

Without facing the woman, Jack replied, “Whatever time I have left, let me spend it in my own way.”

Now, the colonel's voice cracked here and then as he spoke, the victim of the age he appeared to be.

Walking up the steps and sitting on the top one, Kynthia refuted, “But you do not spend it.  You waste it.”

“I don't think reflecting on my life, or ... trying to figure out how to get the rest of it back, is a waste.”

“You are angry.”

“Yes.  Yes, I am.  Aren't you, now that you know the truth?” Jack challenged.

“What can we do but live in the way we always have?  We do not have thousands of days, but we treasure every moment,” Kynthia answered.

“I know, Kynthia, but in my heart ... I'm a military man, a warrior.  That's my life,” Jack said, looking away.  “To which my ex-wife will attest.”  ~That's the first time I've said that out loud; it sounds strange.~

“You love her still?”

~With every inch of me, and she's still my wife.  Okay, she's filed the divorce papers; I'm going along, for her sake.  Why didn't I fight for our marriage?  It wasn't Sara's fault.  I'm the idiot who left the gun in the drawer,~ Jack thought, not saying a thing or moving a muscle in response to the woman's question.

Then the man's thoughts drifted to Daniel and the way the archaeologist had wormed his way through his defenses.  It was still something that surprised Jack whenever he thought about it.  He knew, too, that Daniel was supportive of his feelings for Sara.  He remembered back to their recent dealings with the unity crystal.  Afterwards, the young man had urged him to call Sara.

“And now, because of me, you will never see her again,” Kynthia stated.

~You got that right.  I should be on Earth, fighting to get Sara back, but because of this ... No, it's not Kynthia's fault,~ Jack reminded himself.  Patting her comfortingly, he spoke, “You meant no harm.”

“Then let me give what I have taken.  The time of one heartbeat can become eternity,” Kynthia stated, leaning in and kissing Jack gently a couple of times.

“Kynthia, I'm married.  Or ... maybe I won't be for long, but she's in my heart.  I pushed her away for a long time; I won't push her out of my thoughts now, when I may never have another chance to remember her, to remember us.”

“I do not understand all you say.  I know only that every day should be a celebration.”

“Yes, well ...”  Jack stood, saying, “Let's go back to the village.”

====

Back on Earth, General Hammond had called a briefing.  He had just made a difficult decision.

Entering the conference room from his office, the two-star general announced, “I'm canceling all work relating to Argos.”

“You can't do that,” Daniel objected.

“But, Sir,” Sam began at the same time from her spot next to the archaeologist.

“Sir, I think we can ...” Janet began, the physician seated across the table from Daniel.

“GeneralHammond ...” Teal'c began, speaking up from his position across from Sam.

“I'm sorry, people.  My decision is final,” the major general declared as he sat down, interrupting their simultaneous refusals.

“Sir, neither of us show any evidence of the nanocyte,” Janet argued, referring to herself and Sam and the testing that had gone awry the day before.

“We can keep working here in *total* isolation,” Sam added.

“All blood and tissue samples are to be incinerated and pulverized.  Work on the Argos project stops now,” the general ordered, rejecting the arguments.

“General, you are condemning Colonel O'Neill and the Argosians to death,” Daniel stated forcefully.

“Captain Carter,” Hammond called out, looking over at the monitor that displayed the nanocytes, “these things appear to possess artificial intelligence.  Correct?”

“Yes, Sir.  That's the only way they could adapt their programming to their situation,” Sam confirmed.

“Which means they could adapt themselves right out of this facility,” the general deduced.

“Sir, if we destroy the samples, we will have *nothing* to work from,” Sam stated strongly.

“I'm sorry.  The risk is just too great.  The order is final,” Hammond said, standing up, causing Sam and Janet to stand as well.

Angrily, Daniel called out, “Sir!”  When the general turned, the archaeologist stated slowly and emphatically, “We cannot just leave him there.”

“Doctor Jackson, Colonel O'Neill is one of the finest men it has ever been my pleasure to serve with.  It will be a great loss to this country and to all of us in this room, but I am *sure* he would not hesitate to make the same decision for himself that I am making now,” Hammond said before walking away.

“We have to do something,” Daniel stated.

“There's nothing we can do, Daniel,” Sam stated a bit emotionally.

“I don't believe that.”

“You have a plan, DanielJackson?” Teal'c questioned.

“No,” Daniel stated, standing and walking speedily out of the briefing room.  ~Not yet,~ he thought as he headed for his office.

====

“Daniel ...”

“Why is it so easy for you to go along with this?” Daniel asked the blonde.  He turned to Teal'c and questioned, “And you, too?  He saved you from being a slave, and you're not going to do anything now that he needs your help?”

“What is it you would have me do, DanielJackson?” the Jaffa questioned calmly.

Daniel banged his hands on the lab table out of frustration.  With a burst of angry energy, he pushed some papers off the desk, needing to do something.

“Daniel, we all want to go back, but you heard what General Hammond said,” Sam spoke quietly.

“Yes, and he's condemned Jack to death,” Daniel stated.  He laughed nervously and said, “And now we're supposed to send Jack this ... 'bon voyage' tape?”

“It's the only way to tell him,” the captain stated.

“Let's just do it,” Daniel said, walking to the door and waving in the airman who had been instructed to capture SG-1's good-bye to their commander.

====

“Well ...” Jack said, staring at the event horizon and the package that had just been tossed through.  “Not good news.”

The colonel walked over and opened the package, discovering a small video communicator.  As he ambled over to the throne of Pelops, he pressed 'play'.

“Hello, Sir,” Sam began.  “There's a lot to report.”

“He won't let us come back,” Daniel interjected loudly.

Jack smiled, thinking, ~Not happy about it, are you, Dannyboy?  I'll bet the general's seen that not-so-meek side of you that most people think doesn't exist.~

“We're working with computer simulations and practical simulations. Realistically, Sir, I'm afraid it might take years,” Sam reported.

A little calmer now, Daniel spoke, “The general says that Gate travel to Argos is strictly off-limits for the next few, uh, millennia ... but we can send objects through, so if you need anything, just ... call.”  He looked over at the Jaffa and instructed, “Say something.”

“Colonel, I've learned very much from you.  Thank you.”

“You know, goodbyes really suck,” Sam stated.

“I'm not saying goodbye,” Daniel stated, his eyes communicating as much as he could on the tape without saying more.

“That's one pissed and pain-in-Hammond's-neck archaeologist,” Jack observed.  “Go to it, Danny!”  He let out a sound and found himself replaying the message.  ~Maybe just one more time.~

====

The next day, Jack looked even older.  His hair was longer, and he hunched over more as he walked.  His skin showed his additional years.

Sitting on the throne, the aged colonel was stunned when the Argosians entered the temple and began placing food and offerings all around the statue of Pelops.  They were asking the pretender god for help in understanding their situation.  Incensed, Jack stood up, walked to where the Argosians were, and grabbed one of the dishes, throwing it to the floor, causing it to shatter.  He shouted at the people that Pelop's didn't care about them and that he had kidnapped others like them to be his slaves.

“Pelops thinks of us as his slaves?” Alekos asked, shocked by the words he'd heard.  Looking around at his people, he announced, “Then I will no longer be one of the Chosen.”

After a few gasps, Thetys tearfully agreed, “Nor will I.”

Once the shock settled, Jack said, “You really ought to get rid of this thing.”

“Get the ropes!” Alekos encouraged.

Soon, the people had toppled the representation of the false god, the statue crashing into pieces.  At first, they were frightened, fearing retribution, but when nothing happened, they realized, at last, that Jack was right and joyfully embraced one another.

Kynthia looked up at Jack.  He patted her shoulder supportively, after which she placed her hand over his, causing the man to let out an internal sigh.

~Try to give a little support, and she always tries to take it further.  Nice kid, a victim, too, but what does it take for her to get the hint?~ Jack asked himself.  ~Well, I guess there's no harm.  I'll never see Sara again.  Danny ... SG-1 is gone. Sitting in that temple, watching that goodbye, isn't exactly doing me any good.~ He got up and walked outside with the people.  ~Danny.~

“You are sad?” Kynthia questioned.  “We have destroyed the statue, as you wished.”

“You did it for you, Kynthia.”

“But why are you sad?”

“I'm an old man on a planet of strangers,” Jack answered truthfully.

“We are not strangers.  You ate of the marriage cake and ...”

“Kynthia, I told you about that.  It wasn't my choice,” Jack stated more bluntly than ever, a little annoyed by the woman's refusal to understand that what she had done was wrong.

“You are sad because of us?”

“There is no us, Kynthia, but ...”  Jack groaned and then continued, “I was thinking about a friend.  He's, ah ... never mind.”

It was twilight now as the two walked along the beach.  Jack was holding Kynthia's hand, needing the extra support for the walk along the tricky sand.

“Nice beach,” Jack commented.  ~Too bad I'm too old to really enjoy it.  I wonder if Danny likes the beach?  Danny,~ he sighed, thinking of his friend and the way his death would affect him.  ~Maybe Carter will help him.  He hides behind those books of his, and I'm still discovering why; and that guilt complex of his.  Crap, he's gonna add this to that mountain of blame he attaches to himself for everything.  I need to find out why he does that, too.  I have my suspicions, but there's so much more to be discovered.~

“You are still sad,” Kynthia said.

“Thinking about my friend,” Jack replied, not saying anything for another minute or so.  Finally, he determined that he needed to snap out of it.  He'd wallowed in depression after his son had died, but he'd learned to live again after meeting Daniel Jackson.  He knew his team would be back, someday.  When they did, if Daniel learned that Jack died in that state of depression, languishing in nothingness, that the guilt the younger man had placed on himself would increase.  Not wanting that, he decided to ~suck it up~ and try to be more positive in his final days.  “So, you like older men, do ya?”  When the woman froze in place, he asked, “What is it?”

Fearfully, the woman spoke, “We should go back.  We have gone too far from the village.  Pelops forbids it.”

“He's gone, Kynthia.  He's gone.  It'll be okay.  Promise,” Jack replied.  ~Forgive me, Sara.  Daniel is big on forgiveness.  I'm doing this for him.  I hope you understand that.~

====

On Earth, very late that night, Daniel used his key to enter Jack's country-style home.  He'd only recently, and if he was honest with himself, a little reluctantly, moved out into his own apartment.  He loved this house and the memories he'd made here.  Living with Jack had been the closest thing Daniel had had to a real home since his parents died when he was eight.

The anguished archaeologist walked through the darkened house without turning on any lights.  There was some moonlight filtering through the windows, though, since Jack hadn't closed the curtains before leaving.  He sat down on the sofa, remembering some of the time spent with the house's owner.  They'd had a lot of fights in this house, but Jack had taught Daniel that fighting didn't mean the end of their friendship.  That was still a hard lesson for the young man to live with.  His life experiences had proven the opposite, but his recent dealings with Jack were changing his mind.

Now, with Jack gone, Daniel was certain he'd never trust anyone again.  Of course, he wasn't sure exactly why he even trusted Jack, but he did.  He'd trusted him almost from the first moment he'd seen him, and that was odd, since Jack had had absolutely no use for the archaeologist at that first meeting, except, of course, for the progress he could make in opening the Stargate and thus allowing the intended suicide mission to proceed.

~I let him down.  Gawd, I really don't belong on SG-1,~ Daniel thought, his doubts and insecurities taking hold.  ~Sam didn't do anything, either,~ he attempted to rationalize, failing miserably.  ~She's a subordinate; she couldn't do anything; and Teal'c?  Who knows?  He's from a different culture.  It was up to me.  All I had to do was say something, insist on knowing what was going on.~

Daniel stood up and began to pace the room.  Suddenly, he banged down with his fists onto the back of the sofa.

“I knew what he was doing.  I was just too ... embarrassed to question him about it,” the archaeologist spoke aloud.  “Why?  Because I didn't want him to think I was ... some geeky stick-in-the-mud square?”

The young man sighed, full of regret, anger, and sadness.  No matter how he looked at it, the colonel's predicament was entirely his fault.  As the team's cultural expert, it had been his responsibility and failure to stop Jack from being led away from the team.  He was to blame for allowing his friend to be seduced by Kynthia during the dance, and he was in error for not breaking through the Argosian 'wall' of people to try and wake his friend from the dazed trance of the drug he'd ingested.  Now, Jack was dying, alone, on a faraway planet.  All because Daniel was afraid of being embarrassed and being teased.

“I let you down, Jack.  If I get another chance, I won't ever do it again.”

Daniel crouched down, burying his head into the back of the sofa.  He felt tears running down his cheeks.  Slowly, he collapsed to the carpet, turning to sit with his back to the sofa.  His heart was in his throat, and his soul felt unworthy of anything good.

~What?~  Suddenly, the archaeologist blinked, seeing a book on one of the shelves.  Edging to the side a bit so that the moonlight bounced at just the right angle off the volume, he managed to read the title of the book.  ~I don't remember seeing that here before.~  He mumbled the title out loud:  “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”

After a minute of just staring at the title, Daniel stood up and walked over to the bookshelf, pulling the book out and thumbing through it, wondering if he had remembered accurately.  He read the relevant passages and then looked forward before closing the book with a bang.  Looking at his watch, he pondered the date: June 9.

~I believe in science, and this isn't scientific, but I'm just thinking that ... well, it couldn't hurt.  Besides, I need to stay busy, and I know if I sleep, I'll just have nightmares about how I've failed with Jack.~

Daniel went to the kitchen and perused the shelves.  He wouldn't be able to do much, but he'd improvise and do the best he could with what he had at hand.  Seeing an unopened package of banana bread, he took it and opened it, placing it on a platter he retrieved from one of the cupboards.  Checking the spice rack, he pulled out a bottle of bay leaves and sprinkled it over the banana bread.

Next, the archaeologist went upstairs, going to the hall closet where he knew Jack had some long-burning candles.  He selected the one that looked like it had the longest life to it and then went back downstairs, where he placed the candle in the center of the fireplace, which he figured was both the safest and most appropriate place for what he had in mind.  Then he went outside and picked a few of the flowers from the many plants that surrounded the home.

~It's crazy, but at least it's keeping my mind occupied,~ Daniel thought as he arranged the flowers in a semi-circle in front of the hearth.  Retrieving the bread from the kitchen, he placed it in the center of the semi-circle, halfway between the fireplace and the border of the flower arrangement.  Finally, he lit the candle and sat back.  “Okay, Vesta, do your thing.  I messed up.  I need some help, so ... keep the fire burning, and I'll try and find a way to fix it.”

Daniel crawled back, settling against the back of the sofa once again.  He closed his eyes and began to focus his mind in a visualization of cleansing.  He'd learned the technique on a dig once and invoked it now, picturing all the bad in life just dissipating into nothingness, leaving only the good.  He tried hard to imagine Jack walking cheerfully back through the Stargate.

Slowly, Daniel opened his eyes, staring at the flickering flame in the fireplace.

“I'm sorry, Jack.  I don't know what else to do.  Gawd, I'm pitiful,” the young man bewailed as he lay down on his side in despair, eventually falling asleep.

====

On Argos, Jack and Kynthia were playing games.  Suddenly, Jack realized it was dark and that they were both still awake.

“We should have been asleep.”

“I wasn't tired,” Jack stated as they walked back to the village.  “I didn't realize we'd gone so far.”

“The people will be rising when we return,” Kynthia pointed out.

“Maybe it'll be moving day,” Jack quipped, thinking back on his earlier idea that the solution to the problem on Argos might be as simple as relocation.

“Careful,” Kynthia said, holding Jack up by the arm as he almost fell.

“Dang knees.  Their bad enough at forty, but at ninety, they're barely making it,” Jack whined, nodding that he was okay and motioning for them to continue on.

====

Early that morning on Earth, Daniel awoke.  He saw the flickering flame and reached over to put it out, but then he hesitated, reluctant to extinguish the flame and what it represented just yet.

~I'll take a shower first,~ the young man thought.

Daniel went upstairs, undressed, and began his shower, his mind rumbling with thoughts of Rome, Vesta, candles, and impossible scenarios, like the one he was currently in.

~I need to get to Jack.  There has to be a way, but I can't get through the Stargate.  General Hammond would never ...~  Daniel blinked, and his mouth opened.  ~Could it be that easy?~

Quickly, Daniel finished his shower, dressed, and zoomed out of his friend's house, eager to get to the SGC.  He had a plan now, one that would get him to Jack's side, but he had to get to Hammond early enough to make it work.  Timing was important.  The archaeologist knew the embarkation schedule for the next couple of days, and there was only one real possibility for his plan to work.  He'd need to do some fancy talking to convince General Hammond.

~Think, Jackson.  You've got one chance here.  Make it work.~

====

Just after dawn, Jack and Kynthia arrived back at the village, observing that everyone else was still asleep.  Jack quickly deduced that whatever put the villagers asleep and then woke them up, only worked in the vicinity of the village. Of key importance at the moment was that apparently whatever it was that did control the sleep cycle wasn't working any longer.

~That dang Pelops,~ Jack groaned.  ~The statue!~

There had to be a connection to both situations and the fallen statue of the false god; the timing just couldn't be coincidental.  Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Jack and Kynthia returned to the temple, where the colonel noticed a light flickering across the room, quickly realizing it was an electronic device that had been hidden inside what used to be the base of the statue.

~Maybe I won't die here,~ the hopeful colonel thought.  “Excuse me.  I've got a phone call to make,” he said as he carried the device over to the Stargate.

====

“Daniel, I was hoping you could help me with ...”  Sam paused, seeing her friend packing his backpack.  “What are you doing?”

“I'm going, Sam.  I won't leave him there to die alone,” Daniel stated.  “If General Hammond doesn't want to let me come back af... if he doesn't want to, that's fine. Just ... try and find Sha're for me, okay?”

“Daniel, General Hammond isn't going to let you go through.”

Daniel just continued packing, loading his backpack with treasures that only an archaeologist and linguist would treasure having on an off-world paradise.

Frowning, Sam studied her teammate, knowing he had to have a plan; she just couldn't imagine what it would be.

“Doctor Jackson,” Major Castleman called out as he entered the office.  “I understand you're joining us on our mission this afternoon.”

“Uh, yes.  Just ... evaluating,” Daniel said, explaining his presence.

“SG-3 doesn't usually require an archaeologist,” Castleman stated.

“That's right,” Daniel stated.  “But we're ... re-evaluating our ... evaluations.”

“We move out in fifteen minutes,” the major stated, nodding at Sam before turning and walking out.

“Daniel, you can't do this.”

Stopping his actions, Daniel stared at his friend, asking her point blank, “Are you going to turn me in?”

Sam stared at Daniel and sighed, “For what?  Intending to defect from a mission?”

“SG-3 doesn't need me,” Daniel stated.  “I'll just tell them I'm coming back to Earth.”

“But you'll really dial Argos.”

“When it's ... when, uh ...” Daniel couldn't say the words, his head bowed from the emotions he was feeling.  “I'll contact the SGC.  If the general won't let me return, then maybe you can send some more of my stuff.”

Sam nodded and then surprised her friend by moving forward and hugging him.  Slowly, Daniel returned the hug, but he felt uncomfortable.  He cared about Sam, but physical touch was something he'd protected himself against for a long time. Sometimes, it was still hard to have Jack give him those supportive pats on the back or arm.  Still, this might be a permanent goodbye, so he allowed the closeness, but only for a few seconds before pulling away.

The blonde smiled, saying nothing more as she turned and left the office.

Looking around his office, Daniel put one final item into his backpack and then headed for the locker room to change.

====

When SG-3 assembled in the gate room not long thereafter, Daniel looked up at the control room.  He saw Sam standing there, looking down at him.  She nodded, giving him a sweet smile.  He returned the nod and then looked at the vacant space in the circle of the Stargate.

“Sergeant,” Hammond ordered, giving the man the instruction to go ahead.

“Yes, Sir,” Walter Davis acknowledged.  He reached over to began the dialing sequence when he heard the alert.  “Sir, someone is dialing us.”

“We don't have any teams scheduled to return or report in,” Hammond noted.

Daniel blinked when the kawoosh of the Stargate blasted in front of him.  The blaring klaxons echoed in his ears as he wondered what was interrupting his plan to join his friend on Argos.

“Close the iris,” Hammond ordered as a precaution.

“Sir, it's SG-1.”

“Colonel O'Neill,” Sam stated with a hope in her heart.  She waved to Daniel, motioning for him to hurry into the control room.  ~Whatever this is, he'll want to hear.~

“Open the iris,” the major general ordered.  A moment later, he called out, “Colonel?  This is General Hammond.”

“Sir, it's good to hear your voice,” Jack stated, just as Daniel sprinted into the room.

Daniel's breathing hitched slightly.  Jack sounded more feeble than the last time he'd talked to him.  He prayed there was still time.

“Jack, what's wrong?” Daniel heard himself ask, shaking his head at his own question.

“Nothing an enema couldn't cure,” Jack quipped, getting groans from both Sam and Sergeant Davis.

“Colonel?” Hammond called out.

“Sir, I've found a device that was hidden in the statue of that Pelops fellow.  I think it's the key to what's happening here,” Jack reported.

Sam and Daniel were both staring intently at General Hammond.  They both had the same expectant expressions.

“You have to let us go back, Sir,” Sam stated.

“General, this entire program owes Jack.  We're going back,” Daniel added without the least bit of hesitation.

“No one goes through that Stargate, Doctor, without my permission,” Hammond stated, his eyes locked onto the archaeologist's.  He sighed and then said, “Get Teal'c.  You'll embark just as soon as you're ready.”  He looked towards the Stargate and called out, “Colonel, your team will be there shortly.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Jack said, disengaging the connection.

“SG-3,” Hammond began over the tannoy, “You're mission's been postponed for one hour.  Major, Doctor Jackson will not be accompanying you.”

Castleman nodded and left the room, following his team members out.

====

After walking through the Stargate, wearing their hazmat suits, SG-1 was shocked to see how old their team leader looked.  Jack used humor to try and cut through the shock and then led his friends to the remains of the statue where he'd found the object.

“Daniel, what are you doing?” Sam questioned when she turned around and saw the man removing his hazmat suit.

“I'm taking this off,” Daniel said simply.

“Daniel ...” Jack called out in warning.

“What?” Daniel said, his eyes communicating more than words could.

“This is where I found it,” Jack stated, walking by Daniel over to the crumbled statue.  On his way past the archaeologist, he tapped his friend's arm in a silent thanks for the showing of solidarity, even if he didn't really think it was necessary.  “The drawer was on the bottom.”

“I'll see what I can find out,” Sam said, kneeling down to examine the area.

Jack turned, walking away a few feet, motioning for Daniel to follow him.

“That was stupid,” the colonel stated.

“Only if I plan to have sex with one of the Argosians, and I don't,” Daniel stated point blank.  “How about you?”

The question seemed to have a double meaning as Daniel's eyes went over to the doorway of the temple where Kynthia was now standing.

“Been there, done that ... once, not exactly by choice, and couldn't now even if I wanted to,” Jack responded.

“What if you could?” Daniel challenged.  After a moment, he shook his head and put up his hand, saying, “Sorry.  It's none of my business.”

“Daniel, you're the only one I've really talked to about this,” Jack spoke in a raised whisper.  “You know where I stand.”

Daniel nodded, feeling strangely reassured by Jack's comment.  He was, indeed, still in love with Sara.  He wouldn't betray that love now, not even in this extraordinary circumstance.

“I'm sorry,” Daniel replied.  “It's just ...” he paused, pointing subtly at Kynthia.

“She likes to follow me around.  She thinks we're married.”

“Married?”

“That cake is their version of a priest,” the colonel explained.  “I've tried to tell her to go find some young stud, but she keeps coming back.  No clue why.”

“It's your charm,” Daniel teased, earning him a stare from the older man.

“Why fight it?” Jack questioned rhetorically.  “Kynthia, you remember Daniel -- the midwife.”

Daniel rolled his eyes as the woman came closer, and the two said their hellos.

“I'd better ... go and see, uh, if Sam needs help,” the archaeologist said.  “Oh, this is ... only for you,” he semi-snarked, pulling out a small box from his backpack and handing it to Jack.

~Snarky geek,~ Jack thought as he watched Daniel head over for where Sam and Teal'c were working.

“What is that?”

“Froot Loops,” a smiling Jack spoke.  “We'll wait over here,” he said, walking slowly over to the platform steps and then opening the box of cereal to eat it.

“You're angry I am here,” Kynthia spoke, shaking her head when Jack offered her some of the colorful cereal pebbles.

~See how easy it was for her to say 'no'.  You're an idiot, O'Neill.  You should have said 'no' to that cake the moment she said it was only for me,~ Jack sighed.  A bit frustrated, he spoke, “Kynthia, I am not angry, but you shouldn't be here.  You should be out there, with someone who can love you.  That's not me.”

“They are asleep, remember?” Kynthia reminded.  “My place is here,” she insisted, sitting down by the colonel, her arm on his,  ignoring or not seeing Jack rolling his eyes.

====

Sometime later, the team and Kynthia were seated on the steps of the Stargate, the device, hooked up to a computer, in front of Sam.  None of the team wore their hazmat suits any longer.

“I was right.  It's a transmitter,” Sam reported.

“Uh, there were two sets of glyphs that were quite tough to translate until Teal'c realized they weren't words,” Daniel spoke as he leaned back against a few of the steps, rubbing his right thigh briefly.

“They were, in fact, numbers,” the Jaffa reported.

“Two different frequencies, one to put the villagers to sleep and to activate the nanocyte, the second one to shut it all off for the day,” Sam revealed.

“When you broke the statue, you must have damaged the wake-up call,” Daniel supposed.

“Can you recalibrate this thing to wake these people up?” Jack asked.

“No, Sir, it's useless.  I'm going to have to use the equipment that we brought with us.  I've loaded the frequency.  I'm switching it on now,” Sam spoke and then flipped the switch, causing the equipment to light up and begin emitting a humming sound.

The team and Kynthia walked outside the temple, witnessing the awakening of the Argosians.  The inhabitants were frightened, but were soon calmed by the team.

“We'll start doing tests,” Sam stated.

“How long before we know?” Jack questioned.

“Later today,” Sam answered confidently.

====

“Our tests indicate that your body has been cleansed of the machines that plagued you,” Teal'c informed the Argosians later that day.

“I figure the immune system must attack them if they aren't operating,” Sam stated.

Looking at Kynthia, Daniel spoke, “From now on, you and your people should age at a normal rate.”

“What about Jack?” the woman asked with concern.

“Me?  I'll probably move to Florida, get into a little retirement home of some kind,” Jack replied.

Grinning, Sam responded, “You'd look pretty out of place there at your age.”

“Why?  I look like my grandfather,” Jack said a bit snarkily.

“'Look' is the operative word here,” Sam stated.  “If our hypothesis is right, the nanocytes in your system were only meant to imitate aging.  They weren't meant to start the process in a full-grown adult.”

“What are you saying to me?”

“Well, without these little buggers in your system to maintain the changes, you should return to normal within a week or two,” Sam stated.

“That is wonderful news,” Kynthia responded happily as she helped Jack sit down when his knees gave out suddenly.

“I don't know.  I was kinda looking forward to a little shuffleboard with the fellas,” Jack quipped.

“Then you are leaving?” Kynthia asked.

~She's a slow learner,~ Jack thought as he faced straight ahead.

Sam understood the meaning of the gesture and motioned for Daniel and Teal'c to walk away a few feet, giving Jack a chance to talk more privately with the woman.

“You will not be staying with me then?” Kynthia asked.

“No, I won't,” the colonel answered.

“What will happen to us now if Pelops returns?” Kynthia questioned.

“I don't think that's going to happen, but just in case, we'll send some folks by now and again to check up on you,” Jack stated.  ~But it won't be me.~

“My heart would be glad if you were one of them,” Kynthia spoke hopefully.

~And that's why it won't be me,~ the colonel thought.  “Sweet Kynthia, I've learned so much from you.  I'll treasure every day of my life, because of you,” he said, smoothly exaggerating the truth of his experience on Argos and caressing her face gently.  ~Danny will approve.  It's really from him I've learned how to forgive like this.~

“For thousands of days?” Kynthia asked with an amused smile.

“I sure hope so,” Jack answered.

“That is almost forever,” the woman laughed.

“Almost,” Jack agreed.  ~Okay, Danny, this is for you and your lessons of kindness.  I should win an Oscar for this.~  He leaned forward and gave Kynthia a chaste kiss on the cheek.  ~That will have to do her.~

“Maybe you will change your mind.”

“No, no, I won't,” Jack assured.  “My life, my family, my wife: that's on Earth, not here.”

“Maybe I could come with you,” the woman proposed.

“No, Kynthia,” Jack said, shooting a 'help me' glance over to Daniel.

“Uh, Jack,” Daniel said, walking forward.  “We need to get back.”

“You can stay another night.”

“No, he can't,” Daniel stated sharply.  “I just mean ... General Hammond expects us to get right back.”

“That's right, Colonel,” Sam stated, having stepped forward and figured out what was happening.  “You know how the general is about orders.”

“Orders: can't break those,” Jack spoke, ignoring the irony of his words.  “Have a good life, Kynthia,” he said, standing up with Daniel's help.

“Carter ... dial,” Jack said, wanting to get off the planet as soon as possible.

“I will walk with you,” Kynthia offered.

“No, I ... want to remember you here, like this by the beach, *our* beach,” Jack said, playing it up.  As he turned around and began walking towards the temple where the Stargate was, Daniel at his side, he spoke out of the side of his mouth, “If I fall down, pick me up and get me out of here.”

“No problem,” Daniel replied, glancing back and waving at Kynthia and the other Argosians who were now watching them leave.

====

“Jack, it's good to have you back,” General Hammond spoke after the debriefing had ended.

“Thank you, Sir,” Jack said.

There was a look exchanged between the two military soldiers.  It talked about choices, protection, duty, honor, and friendship, all at the same time.  Nothing more would ever need to be said about Hammond's decision to potentially leave the leader of SG-1 stranded on Argos.  It just wasn't necessary.

“So, anyone up for a good game of shuffleboard?” Jack quipped as SG-1 walked out of the briefing room.

“I think Doctor Fraiser is expecting you in the infirmary,” Sam answered with a bit of amusement.

“I'm too old to have a needle stuck in me; might die from being pricked,” Jack spoke wryly.

“Or of being one,” Daniel snarked, earning himself a glare from the older man.

“Don't you mean having one?” Jack retaliated, surprising the younger man by invoking a somewhat vulgar and slang definition of the word.

“What are you talking about?” Sam questioned.

“Nothing,” Jack and Daniel said in unison as they reached the elevator.

====

“You're just fine, Colonel, for a man of ninety,” Doctor Janet Fraiser reported at the conclusion of her examination.  “Will you be staying in one of the VIP rooms?”

“The general wants to make sure I don't keel over and die,” Jack mused in affirmation of the question.

“It would be difficult to explain if any of Jack's neighbors saw him.”

“Say I'm my grandfather.”  Jack looked down onto one of the silver metallic trays in the infirmary, studying his image.  “I look just like him.”

====

“I could stay,” Daniel offered as he stood by the door of the VIP room, his arms folded across his chest.

“Daniel, people would talk,” Jack teased.

“Oh, I just meant ...”

“Daniel, I was kidding.  I'm surrounded by people who keep trying to help me.  Go home,” Jack mock-ordered.

Daniel nodded and said, “I'll see you tomorrow.”

“Shuffleboard,” Jack replied.

“Right,” Daniel said, uncrossing his arms and leaving the room.

====

“That's how he looked the day I returned to Argos after we did the preliminary testing,” Sam reported.

“It seems to be reversing itself then in the exact time of the progression,” Janet surmised.

“I'm a little surprised by that, Janet,” Sam replied.  “I would have thought it would take longer to reverse itself.”

“It's a foreign technology to us, Sam.  What I'm concerned about is how it effects the internal organs.  That's a lot of dramatic change, both ways, over the course of two weeks,” the redhead commented.

“True, but ...”

“Ladies, hello!” Jack said, raising his hand as he sat on the cot in the infirmary.  He'd been watching the exchange between the two women like it had been a tennis match.  “Can we just get to it?”

“I see the mind wasn't affected,” Janet teased as she took hold of her stethoscope to begin the examination.

“Darn.  I'd better get back to work.  Good luck, Colonel,” Sam said as she headed for the door.  “Hi, Daniel,” she greeted as the two scientists passed each other.

Daniel nodded as he walked by Sam and entered the infirmary, immediately heading over to where Janet was doing her examination.

“I'm still alive,” Jack spoke, seeing his friend.

“You're looking ... good,” Daniel replied.

“Try saying that with more conviction next time.”

“This is, uh, like our third day on Argos,” Daniel reported.  “It's definitely reversing itself in the same time pattern as ...”

“We've been through that,” Jack interrupted, not wanting to hear a replay of the discussion he'd already gotten a headache from.

Jack's stay on Argos had lasted seven days, beginning with the team's initial arrival on the planet.  This was his fourth full day back.  If things continued, he'd be back to his normal self in just two or three more days.

“Well, I've got some news from General Hammond.”

“Will you get that out of my eye,” Jack requested emphatically, pushing aside Janet's penlight, which was one medical tool that he had just never liked and figured he probably never would.  “Good or bad?”

“What?” Daniel asked.

“The news!”

“Oh, uh, well, the general said that if Janet gives the okay, we can sneak you back into your house tonight, as long as you promise not to go outside until you're completely back to yourself,” Daniel informed.

“Sweet!” Jack replied with a smile.  “I'll be ready in five minutes.”

“Aren't you forgetting something, Colonel?” Janet asked with a pointed expression.

“Come on, Doc; be a sport.”

“I'll consider it once I'm done with my examination,” Janet responded.  “Daniel, if you don't mind ...”

“Oh, uh, sure.  I'll talk to you later, Jack.  Bye, Janet,” the archaeologist said as he walked away.

====

At eleven o'clock that night, Daniel drove Jack to his home.  The older man was wearing a baseball cap and coat, with the collar upturned to prevent anyone from getting a good look at him as he walked from the driveway to the front door.

“It's good to be home,” Jack spoke as he walked in.

Daniel closed the door behind them and said, “Your mail is on the counter, and I watered the plants, so everything is good.”

“Did you mow the lawn?”

“No,” Daniel replied.

“It must look like a field out there,” Jack remarked.  “I hadn't cut it in a couple of weeks before the mission,” he chuckled.

As his friend disappeared into the kitchen, Daniel suddenly became aware of the fireplace and closed his eyes, thinking, ~Oh, crap!~

“I've been dying for a beer for two weeks,” Jack said as he walked back into the living room and handed Daniel a beer, opening it.  As he turned, he realized why his archaeologist had looked so pale a second ago.  “Daniel, why is there a loaf of moldy bread in front of my fireplace?  Not to mention, some dead-looking flowers and a ... candle?”

“Uh, it's a ... long ... st...story,” Daniel stammered.

While the younger man had been to Jack's house a few times since that night to take care of things, he'd been rushed each time.  In fact, all he'd really had time for was to bring in the mail and water the plants.  He'd just been so preoccupied with things at the SGC, including Jack's return to his youthful self, that he'd never really thought about his impromptu shrine.

“I'm listening,” Jack replied, walking over to his favorite chair and sitting down.

“Uh, well,” Daniel spoke hesitantly as he fidgeted with his beer.

“Before I'm ninety ... for real,” the colonel called out.

“It was actually your idea,” Daniel informed.

“It was?” Jack asked, grimacing.  “Just *how* was it my idea.”

“Well, it was your book,” Daniel stated, hurrying to the bookshelf and pulling out the item in question.  “This one.”

“A friend of mine just gave me that,” Jack stated about the book of Roman history.

“Yeah, well, it, uh ... got me thinking,” the younger man said as he walked back towards the sofa, still carrying the book.  “You see, in ancient Rome, the Goddess Vesta was one of the Dis Consentes, which was a group of twelve gods that were especially honored by the Romans.”

“This is gonna be good,” Jack spouted before taking a sip of his beer.

Daniel smiled nervously and then began a long lecture on the subject at hand, saying at a rapid-fire pace, “Vesta was intertwined with the fruits of the earth and sedentary farmers.  This dates back to the earliest Latin occupation in central Italy when Romans resided in primitive huts.  Each family had to propitiate the maternal spirit that presided over the home.  She was the last deity to be invoked in any Roman religious custom.  Over time, the rites evolved into community events and then eventually were done on a state level, where they were maintained by the Vestal Virgins, the, uh, female priesthood of Vesta.  Caesar built her a temple, but oddly enough, it didn't really look like Vesta, not that anyone really knows what she looks like, but that's neither here nor there at the moment.”

“Not sure I wish I were here at the moment, either,” Jack quipped.  “The bread,” Jack prompted.

“Right.  Well, Vesta's temple was equated with the survival of Rome.  They kept some of the most sacred and valuable of objects of the State there:  wills, legal documents, the Palladium ...”

“Daniel, I feel my wrinkles coming back.”

“Right,” Daniel acknowledged again.  “There was a flame kept there, the sacred flame.  To the Romans, it represented the eternal flame of Rome's hearth.  It never went out and was relit annually on the first of March by rubbing two sticks together.  It was tended eternally by the Vestales, her priestesses.  Essentially, the Romans believed that for how ever long the flame would burn, Rome would endure.”

“Someone must have been derelict in their duty,” the colonel pointed out.

“They took it seriously,” Daniel responded.

“But what does that have to do with moldy bread and dead flowers?” Jack asked with impatience.

Sitting down on the sofa and placing the book down next to him, Daniel took a swig of beer, and then another, before continuing, “Vesta has several festivals that honor her, even to this day.  One of them,” he sighed and took another swig of beer, “is Vestalia.  Long story short ...”

“This is short?” Jack spoke sarcastically.

Ignoring the verbal jab, Daniel continued, “Basically, on Vestalia, the Vestal Virgins cleaned the temple.  Offerings were made and ...”

“Daniel!”

“Vesta is still identified with the hearth, the proverbial home fires.  She's like the flame, warm, and she reminds her believers that her flame is always near, always burning and always harboring the universal strand of life,” Daniel spoke, speaking faster than Jack had ever heard him talk before.  “In ancient Rome, her days of celebration fostered the sanctity of domus, mentis, and somes -- home, mind, and body.  Her flame is revered as a way of procuring emotional and physical comfort, as a source of stability, and as a conduit to penitis pax -- internal peace.”

“Daniel!” Jack practically screamed.

“It was a vitualamen, an offering,” the archaeologist sighed and then took a very long drink of the beer.  “Vesta's believers light a candle and say a prayer to her on June 9.”

“Prayer?”

“Yeah, uh, something like the Homeric ...” Daniel began, quickly running through the short verse:  “Vesta exerioisti, Come, Vesta, In is ea id domus formosus, To live in this beautiful home, Exerioisti cum sensi ferventi ab hospitium, Come with warm feelings of friendship.  Aducera nous tui, Bring your intelligence ...”
 
“Cut to the chase, Daniel,” Jack interrupted.

Quickly, Daniel completed the prayer, this time speaking in English only:

“Your energy and your passion
To join us with your goodwill.
Burn brightly at my hearth.
Burn always in my soul.
You are welcome here.
I remember you.”

As soon as he was done reciting the prayer and ignoring Jack's stare of disbelief, the cultural expert moved on, saying, “They ... prepare offerings of special foods ...”

“Banana bread?”

“I had to use what was in your cupboards,” the younger man admitted.  “They ... the believers, make a special place where they can light the candles and place the offerings ... and meditate.”

“Banana bread?” Jack repeated again.

“Well, I didn't have time to make mola salsa.  You had bread, and a lot of believers make bread of different types.  They use a lot of special things, too, like juniper and bay laurel.  You didn't have any, so I just used bay leaves.”

“The flowers?”

“Violets,” Daniel stated.  “I did the best I could.”

Jack got up and examined the offering more closely, shaking his head.  The candle, that had been quite large, was down to its end.

“It burned out,” the colonel observed.  “Should I be dead?” he chuckled.

“I needed something to think about other than what I was ... thinking about,” Daniel confessed.  “It just ... I had to do something, and I felt ... helpless.”

~Crazy geek,~ Jack thought fondly as he looked at the remnants of the now-not-so-delicious-looking bread.  ~He must really have been worried.~  He stood up, smiled, and said, “Thank you, Danny.”

“You probably think I'm crazy,” the younger man replied.

“Not any more than I did the day we met.”

“Oh,” Daniel expressed with a small smile.

Sitting back down, Jack took another drink of his beer and opined, “Aw, yeah.”

Still fidgeting with his bottle, Daniel sighed and licked his lips.  Finally, he put the beer on the coffee table.

“Jack, about Kynthia ...”

“Didn't we cover this?” Jack asked, knowing what the topic was intended to be and having no desire to go there, not even for a minute.

“I just ... if you ever need to talk, I'm ... here,” Daniel offered.

“Thank you, Daniel,” Jack replied with sincerity.  Then he asserted, “But there's nothing to talk about.  Kynthia's a beautiful woman, and I admit that nothing would have happened if she hadn't drugged me; but she did, and it is what it is.”

“I guess the question is, what is it?” Daniel questioned.

“A fact of life that can't be changed,” Jack answered.  ~Time to move on.~  He leaned forward, saying, “Danny, I spent the first couple of days there pretty much wallowing in my losses, but then I thought about you.”

“Me?” Daniel almost squeaked in disbelief.

Jack nodded and explained, “You're one of the most forgiving people I've ever known.  I forced myself to think of the Argosians as victims, doing only what they knew.  Kynthia was an innocent victim, so I did what I figured you'd want me to do.”

“You forgave her.”

“And the Argosians for thinking that that monster was a god.  Even after everything I told them, they were still afraid of that ...” Jack began, about to spend several minutes spouting negative slurs towards the false god.

“But you helped them get through that.  You put your own feelings aside,” the younger man surmised, stopping the onslaught of bad Goa'uld names before it could get started.

“Don't make me out to be some saint, Danny, because I'm about as far from being one as a person can be.  I just tried to do what you'd want me to do.  I was stuck there.  I didn't think I'd live for more than a few more days.  Why should I make them feel bad for the rest of their ... hundred days?” Jack put forth.

“I didn't think that you actually listen to me,” Daniel stated.

“Don't get used to it,” Jack teased, taking another drink of his beer.  “Chess?”

“Yeah,” Daniel said, ready to forget the lateness of the hour just as his friend was, preferring to do something instead that lent itself to normalcy.

====

“You're cleared for duty, Colonel,” Janet spoke, making some notes on her medical chart.

“Thank you, Doc,” Jack said as he hopped off the bed and headed for the general's office, anxious to get back into action.

Visually, Jack had returned to his proper appearance two days earlier, but Janet was being cautious, wanting to do a full-scale physical to ensure that, internally, the colonel was just as healthy as he was externally.

“Castleman, how's it going?” Jack asked as he passed the major.

“Fine, Colonel,” the man said as he walked by.  Suddenly, he held up his finger and spun around, calling out, “Colonel O'Neill.”

“Hmmm?” Jack responded, stopping and turning to face the other man.

“Will Doctor Jackson be joining SG-3 on an evaluation mission?”

“Evaluation?”

“Apparently, he was supposed to check us out and decide if we needed an archaeologist on the team,” the major informed.

“SG-3 is a combat unit,” Jack pointed out.

“Yes, Sir,” Castleman acknowledged.  “He said they were re-evaluating the needs of my team, but I haven't heard anything about it since he backed out of the mission.  Colonel, I really don't think it would be appropriate for a scientist to be part of SG-3.  Colonel Makepeace agrees, and ...”

“When was that mission scheduled for?” Jack asked, cutting off Castleman's statement.

“I believe it was the day you sent the transmission through about that device you found.”

Jack nodded and replied, “I doubt there's a need for it, but I'll check into it.”

====

“Oh, General,” Jack called out.  His meeting with Hammond was over.  SG-1 was back in the regular rotation, and Jack had been brought up to speed on events that had occurred since his time on Argos.  He cocked his head to the side, his hands extended out in front of him just a couple of inches, as he asked, “Do you know anything about this re-evaluation of whether or not there should be an archaeologist on SG-3?”

Nodding, Hammond answered, “Doctor Jackson requested it while you were gone. He felt it was necessary to get a first-hand point of view, and I didn't see any reason to interfere with his decision.”

“Interfere?”

“Dismissed, Colonel.”

“Yes, Sir,” Jack responded warily, blinking once and then slowly backing out of the bald-headed man's office.  ~Okay, just what were you up to Daniel?~ he pondered as he walked.  ~Why would you ...~  He sighed, ~For crying out loud.~

====

“Daniel ...”

“Hey, Jack,” Daniel said, looking up from his desk where he had some notes on Norse mythology spread out.

Jack picked up a piece of paper, crumbling it into a ball and began tossing it back and forth in his hands.

“Uh, those are ... notes,” Daniel pointed out.

“Nothing important then,” Jack smirked.

Daniel sighed, shaking his head.

Looking at the paper ball as he played with it, Jack spoke, “Major Castleman is anxious to know when you'll be going on that re-evaluation mission.”

“Oh, that,” Daniel spoke quietly as he fidgeted with his pen while looking a little embarrassed.

“I told him you'd be happy to spend a full month with SG-3,” Jack said as seriously as he could.

“Uh, actually, that was just a ... a temporary idea, but I ... well, I don't really think it'll be ... necessary.”

“I wouldn't want you to sacrifice the health of your department.”

“No, really, it's not ... I mean, I ... it was just a passing thought,” the archaeologist stated.

“We could get by without you.  I'm sure you're just *dying* to accompany SG-3,” Jack challenged.

“Not really,” Daniel replied.  For a moment, he wondered if maybe Jack wanted him to switch teams.  His self-doubts and fears threatened to take him to an emotional low.  He wondered if perhaps the colonel did blame him for the events on Argos.  Holding in his insecurities, he added, “I'd just as soon not ... now.”

“It wouldn't be a problem.”

~Maybe he sees now how badly I failed him on Argos.  I let him down, no matter what he says.  Maybe ...~  Daniel was about to give in to his guilt when he caught a gleam in his friend's eyes.  Jack was just playing with him.  ~Or is that just what I'm hoping to see?~

“I'll type up the transfer papers myself,” Jack offered.

“No, it's okay,” the younger man said, bobbing his head up and down rapidly and trying to believe the other man was just teasing.

Jack looked at his friend, brown eyes meeting blue eyes intently for several seconds, and then expressed, “You never cease to amaze me, Daniel.  SG-3 will have to go on without you.  You're on SG-1, and that's where you belong.”  He could swear his archaeologist let out a sigh of relief.  ~Geez, he's still doubting himself.  We'll have to work on that,~ he determined.  “Thank you, Daniel.”  He tossed the ball back to the archaeologist, teasing, “Just in case it is important.”  Turning and going to the door, he called out, “Oh,” as he twisted around.  “Hammond knew what you were going to do.”

“No, he ...”

“Oh, yes,” Jack confirmed.  “I thought you'd want to know that.”  He tapped on the doorframe and then said, “Chinese.  1600 hours.  Don't be late.  I plan on beating you at Chess tonight.”

“You're a glutton for punishment, Jack.”

Jack nodded and then smiled before heading for the door.

“Oh, Jack,” Daniel called out.  When the colonel stopped, the archaeologist smirked, “The boonie: it really doesn't work for you.  Stick to the baseball cap.”

Jack chuckled and then walked out, whistling as he proceeded through the gray corridors of the SGC.  It felt good to be forty-something and alive, and it felt even better to have a certain geeky and extremely loyal archaeologist as his friend.

Daniel smiled, too.  He straightened out the paper ball and smiled again.  Only Jack O'Neill could get away with that, and Jack O'Neill was back.  Still smiling, he returned to his work, feeling good that his goofball of a good friend was home again, safe and healthy.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
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