Jack's Abyss

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, H/C, Romance, Missing Scene/Epilogue, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  NC-17
Season:  6 - September 1-30, 2002
Spoilers:  Solitudes, Menace, Meridian, Frozen, Abyss
Size:  264kb
Written:  July 24-27, August 11-12, September 4-5,12, October 3,5,19-21, 2006  Revised for consistency:  February 16-17, 2007  Revised for timeline:  March 24, April 13, 2008
Summary:  Jack undergoes one of the most traumatic experiences of his life and then wonders why his lover has forsaken him.  Where is Daniel, and can he save his lover from the abyss of his mind?
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my past fic(s), “They Don't Understand” and “Waiting”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  QuinGem, Linda, Jodi, Claudia, Lissa!

Jack's Abyss
by Orrymain

====
Chapter One - Choices
====

Jack groused, “I don't like this one bit.  You're going off to play in some hole, and I have to play nursemaid to Smiley Face.”

“His name is Jonas,” Daniel corrected as the lovers stood in an embrace.

The two men were in Daniel's office, the doors locked and the security equipment turned off upon their arrival there ten minutes ago.  Both had just completed their pre-mission examinations in the infirmary.

“I don't care what his name is,” Jack argued.

“Jack, you know this find on 329 is important.  Phillips is injured, and there's no one else in my department qualified to take this on,” Daniel spoke as soothingly as possible.

“SG-1 should be going with you,” Jack whined.

“SG-1 needs to see what's going on in Antarctica,” Daniel replied, a tiny smile on his face.

“It's a bit chilly there, and that's about the only thing I remember about the place,” the older man stated.

Daniel smiled as his fingertips walked playfully down his lover's neck.

“You're trying to distract me,” Jack accused.

Chuckling, Daniel replied, “Actually, I was just remembering how important Antarctica is to us.  I mean, uh, I know it wasn't fun for you or Sam, but ... that's when I found out, sort of.”

Jack drew his lover into a warm kiss, wishing the union could last forever.  As they kissed and held each other, both men recalled their brief time on the frozen ice so far away.

Years ago, when the first Stargate malfunctioned during a power overload, Jack and Sam had been redirected to the previously unknown second Stargate in Antarctica.  As Jack recovered from his injuries at McMurdo, he mumbled about being in love with another man.

Having been at Jack's side almost non-stop from the time of his rescue, Daniel had heard the admission.  However, it hadn't been until their return to Colorado Springs that he'd confessed to having overheard Jack's proclamation of love.  Once the confession was out, he had been further stunned when his friend revealed that the man he was in love with was, in fact, Daniel.

“It took you a while,” Jack said quietly after their kiss ended.

“Sometimes, I'm a slow learner,” the archaeologist teased.

Though Daniel had learned the truth, it hadn't been until months later, after nearly having been killed on a Goa'uld ship, that he'd finally realized that he also was in love with Jack.  Since their surprising reunion in the gate room at the conclusion of that mission, the two men had been a couple, though they were forced to hide that fact to avoid the Air Force colonel being court-martialed.  So far, they had gotten away with hiding in plain sight.

“I can't believe I'm going back there,” Jack spoke incredulously, shaking his head.

After the discovery of the second Stargate, the White Rock Research Station had been established.  Soon thereafter, two Jaffa, frozen in the ice, had been found, but since then nothing else of substance had been unearthed, until now.  Based upon approval from the Pentagon, the station was occupied once per year by SGC researchers.  These researchers were in the process of concluding their current research period when they came across something in the ice, though they weren't yet sure what it was.

“I wish I was going, but 329 is ...”

“I know -- too important,” the older man spoke for his lover.  “This is important, too.”

“Jack, General Hammond agrees that I need to go with SG-11.  SG-2 will be there for support, not that it will be needed ... *and* he wants Jonas to get some field time with the very best the SGC has to offer, and that's you,” Daniel asserted.

“I'm liable to knock his teeth out,” Jack confided gruffly, looking off to his right for a second.

“Jack, we've only known the Kelownans for a couple of months.  Please do not do anything that's going to cause an incident before our diplomatic relationship is solidified.”  Daniel rolled his eyes upon seeing Jack's pout.  With a smile, he ran his fingers along his lover's neck and reminded, “Babe, we have our orders.”

“Since when do you care about orders?”

Daniel grinned, replying, “Since we only have fifteen more minutes, and I really don't want to spend it talking about Jonas or the exchange program he's a part of, or Antarctica, or even 329.”

“You don't?” Jack questioned.

The archaeologist silenced the colonel with an enormous kiss, one that led to another, and another, and another, until twelve minutes had flown by, and it was time to say their farewells.

“I don't like this,” Jack echoed.  ~Crap!  I hate being away from you.  I want you by my side always.~

“I won't even be gone a week,” Daniel promised.

While SG-1's mission was only scheduled to last for a few days, Daniel would definitely be gone for four or five days, though the colonel feared it could easily turn into a full week or more, something that wasn't going over well with him.

“Too long,” Jack whined.

“It's not the end of the world, Jack, and we just had a great time acting like eight-year-olds with Mickey again,” Daniel reminded about the couple's yearly trek to Disneyland, from which they'd just returned a couple of days ago.

“Love you in your ears, especially when they're the only thing you're wearing,” Jack quipped as he leered lustfully at the other man.

“Gawd, I don't know how you get me to do that stuff,” Daniel responded, fighting off a blush.

The lovers kissed and leaned their foreheads together, a sign of their unity and closeness.  Neither said anything for a moment.

Daniel hoped his lover was calm now, but once the two pulled back, the older man's frustration over their impending separation caused him to gristle some more.

“Jonas 'the Teeth' Quinn,” Jack groused with a shudder.  “Him and those Kelowna cowards.  I swear, Danny, you are *never* going ...”

“I know, Jack,” Daniel acknowledged, trying to rein in his perturbed soulmate.  Now wasn't the time to argue about the virtues, or lack there of, of the Kelownan people.  He had to keep his Love from becoming too much of a grizzly bear, for the sake of their teammates.  “I'm not ever going to Kelowna without you by the side.  Not only that, Babe, but I don't want to go to Kelowna.  What I do want is you, so, uh, you make sure Sam and Teal'c cover your six since I won't be there to do it.”

“Don't you trust the kid?”

“He'll try hard,” Daniel replied optimistically.

“I love you, Danny,” Jack declared, knowing their time had run out.  “Remember, you're my Angel, and it's forever.”

“I could never forget that,” Daniel promised.  “Be safe, My Silver Fox.  I love you, too.”  After the couple shared a kiss, he urged quietly, “Go on.”

Jack reached out and caressed his lover's cheek, and the two men gazed deeply into each other's eyes, declaring their love yet again.

“Bye,” Daniel spoke.

“Bye,” Jack responded with regret.  Then he let out a groan, turned, and fled the office.  ~I may kill that kid if he smiles the entire mission.~

Inside Daniel's office, the scientist smiled.  He hated the separate missions, but he also knew the homecoming would be incredible.

~We may not get out of bed for a week,~ the scientist inwardly smirked.

====

“Carter, why do *we* have to go?” Jack asked his second-in-command as his team, along with Doctor Janet Fraiser, waited for the transport to the local field strip.

“Well, Sir ...”

“Because I ordered you to, Colonel,” Hammond spoke as he joined the team.  “Do you have a problem with that?”

“No, Sir.  Of course not.  None at all,” Jack answered with a deceptive smile.  “Love the cold.”

“Good.”  Hammond looked over at Jonas Quinn, who was smiling, and said, “You'll be with the best on this one, Jonas.”

“Thank you, Sir, for the opportunity,” Jonas spoke, eager to learn all he could about the SGC, Earth, and whatever was out there in the galaxy while he was able to.  He knew he was going with SG-1 under protest.  ~I don't think Colonel O'Neill likes me much, but I don't know why.~  He smiled and said, “I only hope I can do half the job Doctor Jackson would.”

“That'll be the day,” Jack mumbled.

“What was that, Colonel?” Hammond inquired with a hint of reproach in his tone.

“I said can't wait to get going on this mission, General,” Jack lied, something which everyone in the room knew.

“Get out of here, Jack,” the exasperated major general directed, seeing the transport vehicle pulling up.

====

“Sir, the relics on 329 are deep underground.  SG-11 reports that radio transmissions can't be received there,” Daniel reminded Hammond as he waited for the kawoosh of the Stargate later that day.

“Since the artifacts are deep underground and located a great distance from the Stargate, the scheduled check-in is scheduled for three days from now at 0800,” Hammond replied.  “If there's an emergency, we'll send in a team; otherwise, we'll wait to hear from you as planned.”

Daniel nodded, looking over as the Stargate engaged.

“Good luck, Son,” Hammond offered with a smile.

“Thank you, Sir,” the archaeologist replied as he and the members of SG-2 walked through the Gate.

The group would have a seven-hour walk before reaching the site of the discoveries.  SG-11 would be waiting for them, having left to return to the site the day before, sans their regular archaeologist, who was sick with pneumonia.

====

On the C-130 plane taking SG-1 to White Rock, Jonas was talking up a storm, going overboard with his appreciation of both the exchange program that was allowing him to study at the SGC and this particular chance to be a part of the flagship team.

~Doesn't he ever shut up?~ Jack wondered as he squeezed a rubber ball in his hand, imagining it was the Kelownan's neck.

“I won't let you down, Colonel.  This is so exciting.  I know I'm not Doctor Jackson ...” Jonas began, stopping when he saw the team leader's stare.

Sam leaned over and whispered, “He's a little sensitive where Daniel is concerned.  I wouldn't talk about him not being here, if I were you.”  ~Not if you value all your teeth!~

“Thanks, Sam,” Jonas replied.  He smiled even more widely, appreciative of any help he could get in trying to get along with the prickly leader of SG-1.  ~I just don't think he likes me.~

====

At the station in Antarctica, the SGC personnel were introduced to the local team members, which included Doctor Francine Michaels, who was in charge of the team, Doctor Osbourne, and Doctor Woods.  Then they were taken to the quarantine lab to see what had brought SG-1 to their location -- a frozen female whom Doctor Michaels named Ayiana.  The room was being kept at below freezing temperatures to help preserve her.

At this point, the young woman, who was still encased in a block of ice, was estimated to be several million years old, based on the oxygen content in the ice.

“Yeah, but didn't humans evolve on this planet somewhere between eight and nine hundred thousand years ago?” Jonas challenged upon hearing the conjecture about the girl's age.

“That's what we thought,” Doctor Michaels answered.

Smiling, Janet exclaimed excitedly, “Oh, this could be big.”

Doctor Michaels looked at Sam and stated, “As you said, evidence now points to the Stargate found here predating the glacier.”

At this moment, Teal'c interjected, “The Jaffa found near the Stargate could not have been frozen there that long ago.”

“Not even close,” Doctor Michaels agreed.

Jonas noted, “Doctor Jackson theorized that when the Gate from Giza was buried roughly two-thousand years ago that the Goa'uld managed to open up the Antarctic Gate.”

~Wish he was here,~ Jack opined sadly.  ~Bet he's having fun in the dirt.~

Sam replied, “Well, that's because a crevasse was formed.  It allowed the wormhole to connect and ultimately create a larger opening.  The Jaffa were frozen after that.”

Looking at Aiyana, Janet stated, “But she wasn't.”

“Much before that,” Doctor Michaels confirmed.

“So she's neither Jaffa, nor Goa'uld,” Teal'c deduced.

Doctor Michaels responded, “Well, whoever this is, she was probably around when the Antarctic Gate was first being used.”

~Geez, I wish Danny were here.  All this prattling is giving me a headache.  What the heck are they saying anyway?~ Jack wondered as the conversation continued.  Finally, he interrupted, requesting, “Listen.  Could somebody bottom-line this for me?”

Janet answered, “Well, Sir, we could be looking at evidence that human beings evolved long before we thought they did.”

Doctor Michaels elaborated, “And maybe not even originally on this planet.”

“Darwin would be crushed,” Jack replied.  ~Danny, where are you when I need you?~

====

Using the computer's videophone communication, Jack contacted General Hammond at the SGC.

“How's it going, Colonel?” Hammond inquired as he stood in the gate room where a special communication link had been set up.

“Slowly ... Sir,” Jack answered and then filled his CO in on the discovery found by the station's researchers.

“What's its significance?” Hammond inquired.

From his seated position, Jack answered, “Well, to be honest with ya, I'm not sure I quite understand it, something to do with human evolution.  They want to thaw it out.”

Sam walked over to Jack's position and leaned over his shoulder to provide additional information about the amazing find.

“Her,” Sam elaborated.  “We think it's a her, Sir.”

Jack quipped, “Apparently, it has mood swings, Sir.”

Sam glanced at Jack and stared for a moment, before she stated, “We don't want to risk damage to the specimen, so we ...”

“Major,” Hammond interrupted, not wanting to get a five-minute oratory on the specimen's thawing procedure.  “Do you believe the risk is warranted?”

“I do, General,” the blonde answered.

“Me, too, not that you asked ... Sir ... General,” Jack said with a quirky expression on his face.

“Very well.  You have permission to proceed,” Hammond ordered.

“I'll get on it.  Thank you, Sir,” Sam acknowledged.

“Is there anything else, Colonel?” Hammond asked as he stood with Sergeant Walter Davis at his side.

“Well, on a personal note, Sir, did you happen to tape 'The Simpsons' last night?”

Sam stared again at her CO, then decided she didn't want to have anything to do with the discussion.  She walked away, heading over to consult with Doctor Michaels and Janet.

Shortly upon their arrival at White Rock, Jack had realized that he'd forgotten to tape his favorite television show.  Teal'c hadn't been very sympathetic, even though his friend had claimed, “It's important to me.”

“I think you know the chances of that,” Hammond answered.  He shook his head, adding, “I don't understand your obsession with 'The Simpsons'.”

“Well, stab me in the heart, General.  Homer?  You don't see the genius?” Jack asked as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“Yes, Jack, I'm sure it's ...”

“It's my life, Sir,” Jack claimed as he stood and hovered over the computer.

“Keep me posted, Colonel,” Hammond ordered and then signaled for the communication to be severed.  ~Sometimes I do wonder how he got this far in the Air Force.~  He looked at Davis and asked, “Do you understand this fascination with 'Homer Simpson'?”

“I'm more into 'The Smurfs',” Walter Davis admitted.

Hammond stared at the sergeant, then turned and walked out of the gate room, wondering if the Air Force needed to reconsider their recruiting process.

====

“How long is this going to take?” Jack inquired as he sat down in the observation room, overseeing the quarantine lab.

“Several hours at least,” Doctor Michaels answered.  “We have to progress at a natural pace.”

Jack nodded and turned to face the room, watching as Michaels and her team, including Janet, began the painstakingly slow process of thawing out Ayiana.  Slowly, the ice gave way, revealing the girl's well-preserved figure.  Janet waved her penlight in front of the girl's eyes, shocked when there was a response.  She repeated the procedure.

~They look like they've just seen a ghost,~ Jack observed from the adjoining room as he watched.

Janet called out for Sam to join them.  Soon, they determined that Ayiana had brain activity.  With that discovery, the procedure immediately changed, and it was now imperative to free the young woman, estimated to be between twenty-five and thirty-five, from the ice.

When Delta waves were confirmed, indicating definite brainwave activity, Sam yelled, “Sir, crank up the heat.”

~I'd love to do that, Carter, but my personal heat maker is on 329 getting all hot and bothered without me,~ Jack bemoaned as he twisted around to face the control panel and did as requested.

As the temperature rose, the medical team turned their efforts to reviving Ayiana.  They were taken aback when she blinked, reaching consciousness unexpectedly.  The young woman was visibly frightened, so Janet and Jonas continually tried to calm her.

~He's got some weird connection with ice girl,~ Jack thought about Jonas as he watched from the observation room.  ~Danny would find this fascinating.~  He coughed, deciding, ~No, a little too much like Reese for my blood.  On second thought, it's probably a good thing he's got his toys to keep him busy on 329.~

====

“This is ... interesting,” Daniel commented to Lieutenant Menard, a member of SG-11.

The team was deep below the surface within what appeared to be a mountain, though Daniel was questioning that.

“When's the last time you saw a mountain with Goa'uld controls?” Menard asked.

Cocking his head slightly, Daniel answered, “Probably about the last time I saw a pyramid serve as a landing pad for one of the Goa'uld ships.”  He looked over at Menard and added, “Long story.  Don't ask.”

“So, do you think this isn't really a mountain?” Menard asked, looking at their surroundings.

“I have no idea,” Daniel replied, moving closer to a barrier that blocked what they believed was another part of the control room.  “Can we get in there?”

“We've been trying, but so far no luck,” Menard answered.

“Where's Major Ferretti?” Daniel asked.  Seeing Menard point, he nodded and headed to confer with the leader of SG-2.  ~Jack would be bored stiff, if he were here.  I'll bet he's having more fun at Antarctica.  Wonder what he likes so much about the cold?~

====

At White Rock, once things settled with Ayiana's revival, Janet and SG-1 met in the observation room.

“So, Doc, what happened?” Jack inquired from his seat.

Standing across from Jack, Janet answered, “We didn't do anything, Sir.  She revived herself.  It was as if the thawing process just triggered an internal response, telling her body to come back to life.”

“But, not a snakehead, right?” Jack asked pointedly.  ~Or we're outta here!~

“No, Sir,” Janet answered confidently.

“All right.  Then what are we dealing with here?” the colonel inquired.

The SGC physician answered, “Something not humanly possible, not as far as I know.”

Teal'c observed, “Then she may indeed be not of this world.”

Sam expounded, “As far as we knew up until now, all human life in the galaxy was transplanted to other planets from Earth by the Goa'uld.  Now the odds of a *totally* alien life form evolving to look exactly like us are ... are astronomical.”

“Actually,” Jonas chimed, “if she's as old as we think she is, wouldn't it be us evolving to look like her?”

~This kid annoys me every time he opens his mouth,~ Jack thought at the same time that Sam agreed with the Kelownan.  ~Give him a tube of Crest and send him home before he blows up the planet.~  He tuned back into the discussion to hear Woods and Osbourne deciding to go back to the site where the body had been found in the hopes of getting another sample they could use to verify their data.  “You guys need some help?” he asked eagerly, tired of just sitting around.  ~Say 'yes'.~

“We can handle it,” Osbourne replied.

~Crap,~ Jack thought inwardly.

As Jack dealt with his disappointment and began plotting ways of avoiding Jonas, Doctor Michaels entered to tell them that Ayiana had awakened.

“Think I'll try talking to her,” Jonas stated.

~Yeah, go on, Kid.  Smile at the pretty girl.  Anything to keep you from talking.  You talk almost as much as you smile,~ Jack whined silently.

====

Jack was beginning to feel like banging his head against one of the walls.  A cold front had blown in earlier than anticipated, meaning Woods and Osbourne, who were out collecting their samples, were now at risk of getting caught in a blizzard.  Plus, Jonas and Doctor Michaels had just told the group that Ayiana seemed to have amazing healing powers, as a wound she'd had on her arm was now completely healed.  As far as Jack was concerned that just made the girl more suspicious and a little too much like the Goa'uld for his liking.

~I have a hard time believing she's Sleeping Beauty.  Danny made that mistake with Reese; I'm not going to let that happen here,~ Jack thought about the revived woman.  He was determined to stay on alert and remain skeptical.  ~Someone around here has to be practical.~

====

Later,  while Jonas brought Ayiana something to eat and talked with her, Sam joined Janet in the observation room, where the physician had been conducting various tests on one of the computer terminals.

“Look at this,” Janet requested of her friend, showing Sam the EEGs she had taken of her daughter, Cassandra, when the teenager had been suffering the effects of genetic experiments by the Goa'uld, Nirrti.  She then showed Sam Jack's EEGs from when he had had the knowledge of the Ancient Repository downloaded into his brain.  “Now, I've been comparing them to Ayiana's,” the doctor explained as a definite connection between the three readouts appeared obvious.  She theorized, “... she's another example of an advanced stage in the potential human evolutionary process.”

“Leading to what?” the blonde major wondered.

As the two women talked, Janet reminded, “Given enough time, evolution can do some pretty amazing things.  Look, we know that humans can become much more powerful beings.”

Sam was still skeptical, countering with, “Uh huh, with the help of *other* powerful beings.”

“Yes,” Janet agreed, pointing over towards Ayiana as she added, “We think this woman might predate human evolution on Earth by fifty million years.”

“Yeah, but that would put her behind us on the evolutionary timeline, not way ahead,” Sam replied, still not quite picking up what her colleague was suggesting.

“Unless ...” Janet prodded.

Then the light dawned for Sam as she responded, “Unless ... our evolution isn't the first time it's happened.  That's not big, Janet, that's huge!”

“Okay, look, it's just a theory, and we certainly don't have any hard evidence, yet,” Janet replied even though inside she was jumping up and down with excitement.

“Yeah, yeah, but if you're right, this woman could be part of the race that first invented the Gate,” Sam asserted.

“One stage of their development, anyway,” the physician affirmed cautiously.

With wonder in her tone, Sam replied, “A living Ancient.”

“And we look just like her,” Janet marveled.

Sam noted excitedly, “That could mean tha...that our evolution wasn't just some biological accident.”

Suddenly, Jonas yelled Janet's name.  Without warning, Doctor Michaels had passed out.  Leaving their theories behind, both Janet and Sam rushed for the quarantine lab.

====

~Danny, Danny, Danny,~ Jack thought to himself from the observation room.  ~I wonder what you're doing.~  Now seated at a table, eating a snack, he whined inwardly about his sandwich.  ~Tastes like crap.~  He stared at the table, leaning his head into the palm of his right hand.  He was fighting a nagging truth.  He wasn't feeling very well.  He was warm, but he dismissed that, attributing it to the change in temperatures.  ~I miss you, Angel.~

“Not any good?” Sam asked as she walked in and sat down at the table.

“You want it?” Jack asked.

“No, I'm not really hungry,” Sam spoke.

“Me, either,” the colonel stated dryly.  ~Ferretti better make sure Danny eats.~

Almost as if hearing Jack's concern, Sam leaned forward and quietly opined, “I'm sure he's eating, Sir.”

Jack looked over at his teammate, nodded, and then commented, “He's not big on cold climates anyway.”

“He grew up in Egypt,” Sam unnecessarily reminded.

“Egypt is the place of the pyramids, is it not?” Teal'c asked, entering the room and walking over to where a terminal was.  He looked inside the quarantine lab, observing Jonas still chatting with Ayiana.  ~JonasQuinn likes this ice woman.~

“Yes, and there's lots of nice, warm desert there,” Jack replied a bit playfully.

“Do you suppose it is warm where DanielJackson is?” Teal'c inquired.

“I'm sure he's hot enough,” Sam commented.

~He better not be *that* hot,~ Jack thought as he glared at the blonde.

“I only meant ...”

“I know what you meant, Carter,” Jack sighed.  He shook his head, got up and tossed the sandwich into the trash, and then returned to his seat.  “They really need to get satellite in here.  A little TV would do wonders.”

“Yes, Sir,” Sam chuckled.

“Did I mention I forgot to tape 'The Simpsons'?” Jack asked.

“About ... ten times now, Sir,” Sam hesitantly acknowledged.

“Well ... it's important to me,” the team leader stated for the tenth time, tapping on the table a couple of times with his closed fist.

~I get that, Colonel,~ Sam acknowledged silently while avoiding eye contact with her CO.  ~I wonder how Daniel stands it.  I know he's not a 'Simpsons' fanatic.  The colonel is obsessed.~

====

A few minutes later, after tending to Doctor Michaels, Janet joined the others in the observation room.  As she walked over to stand near Teal'c, she told the team that Michaels had fainted and had a high fever, but that Ayiana was fine.  Seeing Jack's inquiring look, Janet admitted her fears.

“It's possible she may be carrying a contagion of some kind,” the physician spoke about the ancient girl who had been thawed out.

~Of course, she is,~ Jack sighed.  ~Now would not be a good time to mention I'm not feeling so hot.~

“Would she not also be ill?” the Jaffa asked, turning to look at Janet.

Janet explained, “There are a number of examples of diseases that have no effect on the carrier, but can still infect others.  It may be that her healing abilities are fighting off the infection in her own system without eradicating it completely.”

~Okay, I have to ask,~ Jack inwardly sighed.  “Should ... Jonas still be in there?” he asked, motioning towards the quarantine lab with his hand.

“He wants to be,” Janet answered.  “Chances are, he's already been exposed.  It's possible we all have.”

~Possible?  I feel like crap.  To be honest, Carter doesn't look so hot herself.  Doc, I'm not even sure about you.  Okay, I might be paranoid, but I'm betting the popsicle is a plague, and we're the victims,~ Jack lamented, not even shocked or surprised at the turn of events.

Janet continued, “If this did come from her, we need to know as much as she can tell us.”

~Good luck, Doc.  Why'd I come back to the Antarctic?~ the colonel silently pondered.

“C-130 is scheduled to pick us up tomorrow,” Sam mentioned.

~You don't have to say it, Doc.  I already know.  We aren't going anywhere,~ Jack predicted.

Shaking her head, Janet advised, “You'd better call it off.”

~Told ya,~ Jack quipped to himself.  Looking downward, Jack noted, “Yeah, they couldn't have flown in this weather, anyway.”  He got up and began to walk away, wanting to make contact with the two scientists who had yet to return from their expedition for more core samples.  ~Danny, now I really am glad you're not here.~

Janet advised, “Until I know a lot more about what's going on here, we're quarantined.”

“Right,” Jack said, nodding his understanding before he disappeared into another part of the facility.

====

Finally, Osbourne returned, on foot, with the core samples, but he collapsed just inside the facility where the snowmobiles and some other equipment were kept.  Woods was not with him, the two scientists having become separated after their snow cat vehicle became embedded in a snow drift.  After being brought inside, Janet immediately began to treat Osbourne.

Meanwhile, as quickly as they could, Jack and Teal'c geared up and left to search for Woods.

Once they departed, Jonas returned to the lab where Ayiana was and informed her of the events.  It was during this discussion that Ayiana indicated that she could understand what Jonas was saying and what was happening around her.  Unfortunately, Ayiana couldn't supply any substantial information about who she was or how she was able to heal herself.

====

Meanwhile, the tests on the core samples Osbourne had returned with were startling.

Sam announced, “The ice core sample that Osbourne brought back places Ayiana in the same vein as the Stargate.  She's at least three million years old, but if she comes from a race that actually predates the glacier and your theory is correct, she could be a lot older.”

Just then, Jack and Teal'c reported in.  They had found the missing snow cat and were continuing their search on foot.  Visibility was nearly zero, according to the leader of SG-1.

~At least I'm not staring at some friggin' computer,~ Jack thought as he searched.  ~Of course, I can think of better things to do in the cold than search for some lost scientist.  Then again, I wish my headache would go away.~

====

On PT6-329, SG-2 was working on destroying the barrier deep below the mountain.  Meanwhile, Daniel was studying the items found by SG-11 prior to his arrival.

“It's unusual for the Goa'uld to leave so many things behind,” the archaeologist noted.

“Maybe they had to leave in a hurry,” Menard suggested.

“Maybe, but, uh, then the question becomes why,” Daniel replied as he turned and began to study every inch of the walls once again.

====

In Antarctica, Jack and Teal'c eventually located Woods and headed back for the White Rock base.  As they did so, Jonas let Janet know that Ayiana realized she was responsible for the illnesses and that he was able to communicate with her somewhat.  While he was excited, Janet wasn't, since there hadn't been anything revealed that would help the ailing personnel.

“The problem is, Jonas, we don't know how much time we have,” Janet reminded.

“Right,” the Kelownan responded.  ~But it is exciting.~

====

Once Woods was brought back to the facility, Janet fought to save the dying man.  His fate seemed to be hopeless, until Ayiana surprised everyone by entering the medical area.  While Jack wasn't thrilled about her presence and was prepared to make sure she vacated the room, Jonas was curious.

“No, no, no.  Wait.  Wait.  Let's see ... let's see what she does,” the alien suggested.  ~I have a feeling about her.~

~Why am I listening to him?~ Jack wondered as he stayed put and took no action.  ~I must be sick ... in the head.~

As everyone watched, Ayiana placed her left hand over Woods' forehead and her right hand on his chest.  Suddenly, the injured man gasped, and his feet arched.  In less than a minute, the de-iced woman collapsed to the floor.  Moments later, Woods' vital signs returned to normal, and he awoke not long thereafter.

~Okay, that was from 'The Twilight Zone',~ Jack thought, still feeling grateful that his lover was playing in the dirt on PT6-329.

====

“So, what was that?” Jack asked when things had calmed down.

“Ayiana healed Woods, just like she healed herself,” Jonas commented.

“Sooooo, she's an empath?” the colonel surmised in question.  He saw the blank stares, and asked, “Don't you people watch 'Star Trek'?”

“We don't know what she is, Sir, but, apparently, her healing powers go beyond herself,” Sam commented, ignoring the television question.

~This could be good,~ Jack thought.

“I'm going to go talk to her again,” Jonas said.

Jack nodded his permission while thinking, ~Bet they don't even have television on Kelowna.~

====

After Jonas talked with Ayiana, the girl agreed to help cure Doctors Michaels and Osbourne as well.  She was successful, but the process drained her own energy significantly.  Janet reported the female was exhausted, and it was just too early to tell what would happen.

~Well, I still feel like crap, so I hope the news is good,~ Jack thought.  ~In fact, I think I'm gonna lay down for awhile.~

====

Jack lay on the bunk in the observation room, staring upward.  He felt odd.  He knew he had a temperature, but saying so wouldn't achieve anything at this point, not until Janet completed her testing.  Ultimately, if the girl helping him would mean her own demise, he knew he couldn't allow that to happen.

~Dang it, Danny.  You'd kill me if I let her sacrifice herself for me.  You wouldn't let her do it for yourself, either.  Crap, why did I agree to this mission?~ the ailing colonel wondered.  ~Didn't I already ask myself that?~  He snorted, earning him a stare from Teal'c, who was still at the terminal.  “Just thinking.  It hurts sometimes.”

The Jaffa stared at his friend, but said nothing as he returned his focus to the lab where Jonas and Ayiana were.

~Danny, I love you.  Remember that, Angel.  I love you.~

Jack closed his eyes, hoping to get some rest, but suspecting that rest might be the only thing in his future soon.

====

After doing further testing on Ayiana, Janet reported, “I can't say for sure, but her white cell count is down significantly.  White blood cells are a major part of our immune system, and ... she's still basically human.”

From his spot on the bunk, Jack inquired quietly, “What does that mean?”

Janet answered, “It means that you, me, Sam, and Jonas are all going to get a lot worse over the next day or so, and ... I don't know what will happen if we let her try to heal all of us.”

“She could die,” Sam replied emphatically.

~I knew that,~ Jack internally sighed.

Janet theorized, “She could save some of us, or all of us.  Who knows?”

Michaels suggested, “Yeah, maybe she just needs some time to get her strength back.”

“Well, for the moment, none of us are in dire need, so I suggest we get some rest,” Janet advised SG-1.

“I will stand watch,” Teal'c volunteered.

“No,” Janet quickly responded.  “Teal'c, if you don't kelno'reem, your immune system will be vulnerable too.”

“We'll watch her,” Woods offered.

Minutes later, SG-1 and Janet were doing their best to rest, while Michaels and her team ran examinations on themselves, hoping to find an antibody or something that might be helpful to the others.

====

Hours later, Jack, Janet, and Sam were all visibly showing signs of the strange virus.  Each had fevers and were dramatically weakened by the condition.  No cure was in sight.

That night, Ayiana awoke, surprised to see Woods sitting with her.  He explained that he was grateful, but he felt bad since Colonel O'Neill and the others were now so ill.  He was about to request her help when the girl unexpectedly leaned forward and touched him.  Immediately, Woods keeled over, passing out.

Ayiana sought out the affected personnel one by one, healing them.  She was about to work her unidentified magic on Jack when her strength dissipated.  Before reaching him, she collapsed to the floor.

Soon thereafter, Osbourne found the unconscious Woods and went to check on the others.  They began to search for Ayiana, finding her just feet away from Jack's bunk.

Janet went to check on her friend, saddened to find that he had not been healed by the girl as she and the others had been.

“He's burning up,” the petite physician reported.

“I feel fine,” Sam announced.

“So do I,” Janet echoed.

“The girl?” Osbourne inquired, looking down at her.

“She must have healed us, but ...”  Janet looked back at Jack O'Neill.  “I guess she didn't make it all the way.”

“What do we do now?” Sam asked.

“Take him back to the SGC, and keep him quarantined,” Janet responded.  As the others took Ayiana back to her room, she stood and walked a bit closer to the blonde.  “Sam, I think he'd rather be at the SGC than ... here.”  She glanced back over at Jack, then back at Sam and asked, “Do you think there's a chance of reaching Daniel?”

“Not in time,” Sam answered, knowing her CO's days were numbered.  “But, we'll have to try.”

“They're best friends,” Janet commented.  “Very close.”

“Very,” Sam affirmed, wondering if Janet knew the truth about Jack and Daniel and just hadn't said anything.  ~With all those medical exams, I'd be surprised if she didn't.~

“Help me get him ready,” Janet requested, moving back over to the ailing colonel.  “Maybe we should contact his ex-wife, too.”

“Maybe,” Sam hesitantly concurred.  ~Or maybe Janet doesn't know ... or maybe she does know, but doesn't know that I know, so she is trying to protect Jack and Daniel.~ Sam theorized.  ~Or maybe I shouldn't worry about this because I'm giving myself a headache.~

====

Once the transport arrived, using isolation pods, both Jack and Ayiana were taken to the SGC.  Janet and the others followed once they had been examined and cleared of any contagion.

====

Jack's mind was floating.  He felt lost, but he knew there was someone out there who could help him.

~Danny?  Where are you, Angel?  Daniel?  Hey, I'm swimming, or something. This is really strange.  Danny?~

The colonel was placed in one of the ISO rooms in a quarantined section of the infirmary.  Everyone who entered wore biohazard suits for protection.

“Come on, Sir.  Hang on,” Janet urged encouragingly, hoping her friend could hear her, but knowing he couldn't.

====

Later that day, with the entire team now back at Stargate Command, Sam entered Hammond's office, but before she could say a word, the major general inquired, “Any change?”

“Nothing,” Sam answered.

“I was just about to go down and see what Doctor Fraiser has discovered,” Hammond noted, standing up.

Sam nodded, then asked, “Sir, about Daniel ...”

“They checked in right before I received the communication that the colonel was the only one still sick and you were returning to the SGC.  They aren't scheduled for another check-in for three days, Major,” Hammond responded.

“Um, General, the colonel and Daniel ...”

“I'm aware of their friendship, Major, but Doctor Jackson is needed on this mission,” the SGC's leader maintained.

“Even if ...” Sam hesitated, unable to complete her sentence.  ~Holy Hannah, what a dilemma!~

Hammond sighed.  Sometimes it was truly difficult to balance Earth's safety and battle with the Goa'uld and the friendships and personal loyalties established amongst the personnel and allies.

“Major, I'll meet you in the quarantine area in fifteen minutes.  Tell Doctor Fraiser I'll be expecting a full report,” Hammond ordered.

“Yes, Sir,” Sam acknowledged, walking out of the man's office.  ~I wonder if he'll extract Daniel.  I don't want to be the one to tell Daniel the colonel died while he was ... playing with his toys,~ she thought sadly, knowing that was how her CO often referred to Daniel and his artifacts.

In his office, the bald man sat back down on his chair, sitting back as he proceeded to make a very difficult decision.

====

Several minutes later, Janet informed Sam and Hammond that, “From what I've been able to learn so far, Sir, the virus ultimately acts like cerebrospinal meningitis by attacking the brain.  Despite the physical similarities, Ayiana's brain chemistry seems to be quite different from ours.  I suppose it's possible she's able to trigger an immune response in us that she can't muster in herself once the disease reaches an end stage.”

“What are the odds he'll survive?” the major general asked, his response being just a shake of the physician's head.

Sam wanted to ask Hammond about Daniel at that point, but she knew better than to push the issue.  Still, she felt an uneasiness about the archaeologist not being with the man he loved.

~Maybe I should tell him the truth about their ...~  Sam sighed, knowing she couldn't risk Jack's military career by making such a big decision on her own.  Yet, she continued to be torn.  ~Daniel will never forgive me if the colonel dies.~

Part of the blonde knew she was putting too much guilt on her shoulders.  It would be so much easier if she just didn't care, but that was exactly the problem. SG-1 was a family, and she did care, a great deal, about Jack, Daniel, and Teal'c.

Silently, Sam stood, pondering the many choices she had in front of her.  She prayed that whatever she did over the next few hours would be the right thing.

====

Not long thereafter, Jonas visited Ayiana to thank her.  He also wanted to remind her she that they still needed her to save Jack.

Hearing his words, the ancient survivor shook her head.  She truly wanted to help, but she was simply out of time.  Ayiana spoke a sincere, “Sorry,” and then died, potentially dooming Jack O'Neill to the same fate.

====

“I think there was a major battle here,” Daniel surmised about what he and the rest of SG-11 had discovered in the mountain on PT6-329.  “Somehow, someone had the Goa'uld on the run.  They abandoned this place in a hurry.”

“Why?” Menard asked.

“No idea, but we need to find out.  This could be crucial to our war with the Goa'uld.”  The SGC's leading archaeologist ran his fingers along some writings he found near the opening where the barrier had once been.  “This is a warning.”

“To whom, Doctor Jackson?”

“I'm not sure, but we need to find out,” Daniel opined firmly.

====

As soon as Hammond had heard Jack was being transported from Antarctica back to the SGC, he had contacted the Tok'ra, hoping they might be able to help in saving Jack's life.  Now, as the colonel battled for his life, a Tok'ra representative named Thoran arrived at the SGC.  He conducted a brief examination of Jack and then met with Hammond, Sam, and Teal'c outside of the major general's office.

“His condition is beyond the healing of a hand device,” the Tok'ra announced.  “However, there is a symbiote who is in dire need of a host.”

“What happened?” Sam questioned.

Thoran answered, “The former host was mortally wounded on assignment, and the symbiote was unable to heal him.  We believe that would not be the case with Colonel O'Neill.  Physical trauma is much more difficult to deal with than disease.”

The Jaffa opined, “I do not believe Colonel O'Neill would choose to become a Tok'ra.”

“I am aware of the colonel's dislike for our kind; however, I am surprised that you think he would choose death over blending,” Thoran responded.

At that moment, Jonas joined the group, informing them about Ayiana's death.  He was then introduced to Thoran and told about the offer of the symbiote implantation.

“What does Colonel O'Neill have to say?” the Kelownan asked.  ~I haven't known him long, but I've known him long enough to know he doesn't want a symbiote.~

Hammond responded, “Colonel O'Neill's in a coma.  The fact is we may be in the position of having to decide for him.”

“How can we do that?” Sam asked.  ~How would I explain it to Daniel?  Gee, Daniel, I wish you were here to take care of this.~

Thoran stated, “No Tok'ra symbiote would choose to blend with an unwilling host permanently.  Perhaps a temporary arrangement can be reached.”  He went on to say, “The symbiote, Kanan, is someone I know well.  I have no doubt that he would be willing to blend with O'Neill, cure him, and then leave him again if another suitable host can be found.”

Teal'c pointedly challenged, “If not?”

“I assure you, he would ultimately sacrifice himself rather than remain with an unwilling host.  Kanan's former host died before he was able to reveal the details of what we believe was vital intelligence about the undercover mission he was on.  I cannot stress enough how important that information could be,” Thoran elaborated.

~The colonel needs to make this decision,~ Sam thought.  Looking at the leader of the SGC, she stated, “Sir, I think it's obvious we all want to do anything we can to help Colonel O'Neill, but I really think this is something we at least have to give him the opportunity to decide for himself.”

“I concur, Major.  I believe you are the best one to present the situation to the colonel,” Hammond stated.

“Me, Sir?” Sam queried.  “I thought perhaps Teal'c ...”

“Major, with your experience with the symbiote Jolinar, you are the best qualified to speak with Colonel O'Neill.  Advise Doctor Fraiser of the situation, and have her call me when you're ready.  I want to be there to observe when you discuss the situation with the colonel,” Hammond ordered.

“Yes, Sir,” Sam begrudgingly acknowledged.

====

“I don't know why the general thinks I'm such an expert,” Sam whined to her best friend.

“Sam, you were blended with Jolinar,” Janet reminded.

“Not for very long,” Sam responded.  “Actually, it was just long enough to confuse me for years.  I'm still confused.”

“Martouf?” the physician questioned.

“I never knew if I ... well, I was never sure of my feelings.  Janet, were they mine, or were they Jolinar's?”

“He loved you,” Janet replied.

“That's what he said,” Sam sighed.  “I wish we could have found time or some way to ...”  She paused, shaking her head, wanting to refocus on the current situation.  “Life or death, Janet.  How do we make that choice for the colonel?”

“I'm a doctor, Sam.  I have to choose life,” Janet answered frankly.

“Even if it means doing something the colonel is one-hundred-percent against?” the blonde queried pointedly.

“It wouldn't be permanent,” Janet answered.  She glanced over towards the isolation room and added, “I'm glad I'm not the one who has to make the decision.”

“I wish I could say the same thing,” Sam spoke.  When Janet looked at her with a bit of surprise on her face, she elaborated, “It feels like I am the one making the decision, Janet, and I don't feel qualified.”

“I'm going to check on Colonel O'Neill,” Janet responded.  “Sam, just ... follow your heart.”

Sam nodded, wishing that advice was as easy to do as it was to say.  She sat down, knowing she had only a few minutes before General Hammond and the others would join her.

~I hope I make the right choice, Sir,~ Sam thought, adding, ~And I hope I can live with myself after making it.~

====

“O'Neill would not wish this, SamanthaCarter,” Teal'c intoned as Sam was about to put on her biohazard suit and present the Tok'ra offer to her CO.

“I know,” Sam spoke emotionally.  “But it's his life, Teal'c.  A few weeks with a symbiote, and he could live.”

“Life is not always worth the sacrifices that must be made,” the Jaffa opined. “O'Neill is like a brother to me.  We must honor his wishes, no matter the price.”

Sam bowed her head, not knowing what to say.  She thought she'd made the right choice, but all of a sudden, she wasn't so sure again.

“I believe DanielJackson would also support O'Neill's decision,” Teal'c stated.

A bit emotionally, Sam looked at her friend and responded, “In all honesty, Teal'c, I think if Daniel were here he'd do everything in his power to keep the colonel alive, even if it meant being blended with a symbiote.”  She blinked; then turned and began to put on her suit.  ~The symbiote gives them a future together.  This is for you, Daniel.  The colonel would do anything for you.~

Teal'c stared at the major for a moment and then walked away.  He didn't believe what they were doing was right, nor did he share Sam's belief that Daniel would support this plan.  Still, the least he could do was remain at his friend's side and ensure the Tok'ra honored their word.  His 'brother' would not remain a host against his will.

Sam glanced over at the exiting Jaffa and sighed, thinking, ~What would you say if the colonel's death meant Daniel's death, too?  That's what I'm afraid of.  You didn't see Daniel when he thought the colonel had died in Iraq.  I won't lose both of them.~  Sam took a deep breath as she made sure the suit was on properly, others also helping.  ~Sir, I know this isn't what you want.  Then again, don't you want to be with Daniel?  Oh, Daniel, I wish you were here.~

====

Getting the go-ahead from Hammond, Sam entered the quarantined room, walking over to her CO's bed.  Janet was already there, prepared to administer a shot that would hopefully revive Jack long enough to advise him of the latest events.  Once that was done, the redhead stepped back, moving to the other end of the room, giving Sam plenty of room to speak with the colonel.

Sam leaned forward and began her pitch, saying, “Sir, I don't know if you can hear me.  The Tok'ra have offered you a deal.  There's a symbiote that needs a host.  They think it could cure you.  Now, it may be your only chance.  It would only be temporary.  It would come out of you as soon as they found another host.  Sir ... are you getting any of this?”

Sam looked over at Janet as Hammond and Jonas watched from the observation room.  All were concerned that Jack had not responded.

Suddenly, though, the colonel weakly called out, “Carter?”

Leaning back over the dying man, Sam replied, “Yeah, I'm right here.”

Looking into his second-in-command's eyes, Jack stated as firmly as he could, “Over my dead body.”

~Oh, gawd,~ Sam thought, closing her eyes and nodding her head.  ~But I have to try ... for Daniel.~  She regrouped and explained, “Sir, the symbiote's host died while they were on a mission. The Tok'ra have strong reason to believe that the symbiote has vital information to reveal, and this would give him that chance.  Now, they promised that if no other host was found within a reasonable amount of time, the symbiote would sacrifice itself rather than stay in an unwilling host.  Sir ... please ...”  ~For Daniel,~ she thought, wishing she could speak the words aloud, but knowing she couldn't, not with so many ears listening.

Jack remained firm.  He wanted no part of having a symbiote implanted inside his body.

~Danny, I love you.  Danny ... no, if I die, Danny will ... our pact ... oh, crap,~ Jack internally sighed.  ~I don't want to go along with this, but my Angel.  He ...~  Jack stopped, feeling himself slip away.  He couldn't speak again, but gave a little nod.  ~For you, Angel, just for you.~

~Thank you, Sir,~ Sam said, seeing the nod.  She looked back at Janet, who smiled in return.  ~If you knew he just saved Daniel's life, too, you'd understand why I had to try so hard.~

====

“Okay, okay, so ... it's a warning to the ... Goa'uld.  From who?  Who wrote this?” Daniel spoke with wonder and curiosity.

“Doctor Jackson, are you certain?” Menard asked, knowing that if there were another force in the galaxy stronger than the Goa'uld, then that could be a help with their own battles.

“Whoever they are, they have knowledge of ... maybe the Ancients?  Or maybe ... may...be ...”

Daniel frowned suddenly and placed his hand over his heart, which had just started ebbing to a very slow, methodical beat.  He felt a jab of pain that he didn't understand.  It wasn't physical, but mental.

“Doctor Jackson?” Menard called out, walking over to stand next to the SGC's Head of Archaeology.  “Are you all right?”

Daniel blinked, saying, “I'm not sure.”

“Doctor Jackson,” Lou Ferretti called out formally.  When Daniel turned, Lou motioned over towards SG-3.  “They're here to extract you.”

“Jack?” Daniel asked.

Major Warren, leading SG-3 on this particular mission, stepped forward and said, “Sir, General Hammond requests that we get you back to the SGC as soon as possible.  There's been an incident.  I don't have the details, but we need to move -- now.”

Daniel's heart skipped a beat.  He knew something had happened to Jack.  He could feel it deep within himself.  Nodding, he dropped the device he was holding and quickly headed for the sleeping area, where he grabbed his personal belongings and departed with SG-3.

**Jack, I'm coming.  I don't know what's wrong, but I'm on my way,** Daniel communicated, though he was fairly certain there was no way for his lover to hear his message.

====

Hammond looked at his watch as he stood in the control room.  He looked over at Sergeant Davis, who was on duty.

“Sir, they're ready to move out,” Janet stated as she walked in.

“Do we have any time to spare, Doctor?” the man in charge inquired.

“No, Sir.  We may have waited too long as it is,” Janet regrettably replied.

“Sergeant, any word from SG-3?” Hammond asked as he turned to look at Davis.  ~I'd prefer to wait, if there's a chance.~

“They haven't had enough time to reach the mountain and return yet, General,” Davis answered.

~I'm sorry, Son.~  Hammond nodded, then stepped forward, and spoke over the microphone, “SG-1, you have a ... go.  God speed.”

As the Stargate engaged, the major general shared a look with the chief medical officer, both anxious about the departure taking place.  They looked out the large control room window, watching as the contamination rescue pod that once again held Colonel Jack O'Neill was carried through the wormhole by Sam, Teal'c, Jonas, two medical technicians, and Thoran.

~I'm sorry, Jack, but you'll be alive,~ Hammond thought silently.

====

Six hours later, Sergeant Davis knocked on the VIP quarters where General Hammond was resting.  The major general had decided to stay on base, awaiting the return of SG-3 with Daniel.  He felt it was his responsibility alone to explain to the scientist he considered a son what had transpired during his absence.

“Enter,” Hammond called out, sitting up and still fully dressed.

Davis opened the door and announced, “SG-3 is due back anytime, Sir.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Hammond spoke.  He stood and prepared himself for what he knew would be a difficult task.  ~One I wish I didn't have to do.~

“Would you like me to send Doctor Jackson to ...”

“No,” the general interrupted.  “I'll meet him in the gate room.”

“Yes, General,” Davis said, turning and heading back to his post.

Ten minutes later, the klaxons blared, announcing an off-world activation.

====

Daniel walked through the Stargate, worry etched on his face.  He immediately saw the concerned, fatherly face of Major General George Hammond.  The expression was so dire that the archaeologist knew his worst fears were true.

**Jack?  Gawd, Jack, please answer me!** Daniel requested urgently as he walked down the ramp to what he was sure was doom.

“Son, we need to talk,” Hammond said, turning and leading Daniel, not to his office, but to Daniel's.  Once inside, he closed the door.  “Daniel, Jack was taken ill at White Rock.”

“Ill?  How ill, Sir?  Uh, where is he?” Daniel asked, trying to maintain his composure as he slumped back slightly against his worktable, having already dropped his backpack onto the floor.

“The research team at Antarctica discovered a young woman, apparently frozen there for millions of years,” Hammond began.  “The amazing thing was that she was alive.”

“A...live?” Daniel stuttered.

“According to reports, Jonas Quinn developed a nice rapport with her.  Unfortunately, however, the girl was a carrier for some ancient disease,” Hammond intoned.  He saw Daniel's breathing hitch a little.  “The science team assigned to White Rock were the first to come down with it, but the girl was able to heal them.”

“He...heal the...them?  How?” a very anxious Daniel inquired.  ~He's dead.  He's trying to lead into it.  That's why Jack won't answer me.~  **Jack?** he called out as he began to self-hug, much as he had done during his first few years at the SGC.

“I'm afraid you'll have to get the specifics from Doctor Fraiser,” Hammond answered.  “After the girl cured the researchers, most of SG-1, as well as Doctor Fraiser, became affected.  The girl was able to heal them ... except for Colonel O'Neill.  She collapsed before she could reach him.”  The military leader took a breath, then continued, “Apparently, healing the others hurt her.  She died after she and Colonel O'Neill were brought back to the base.”

“Where's Jack?” Daniel asked quietly, desperately needing to know.

“Son, the Tok'ra ...”

“Tok'ra?” the archaeologist echoed.  “Wha...what do the Tok'ra have to do with Antarctica?” he asked, having an odd feeling come over him all of a sudden.

“They were the colonel's last chance, Daniel,” Hammond answered without saying the actual words.

Daniel stared into the man's eyes, and he studied the general's face intently.  He shook his head in disbelief.

“A ... symbiote?  You let the Tok'ra take him and ...” Daniel paused as he struggled to control his breathing, knowing that he was on the verge of allowing his panic to overtake him.

Hammond walked to within a few inches of Daniel and gravely stated, “If we hadn't, Jack would be dead now.  He agreed to it.”

“Jack would never agree to having a ... a snake,” Daniel said, almost choking up on the word, “inside of him.  He ... he wouldn't.”

Hammond walked over to Daniel's desk, picking up a report he had placed there before the archaeologist's return.  He carried it over to the young man.

“This is a full report.  I suggest you look it over, take a shower, and put on some clean clothes.  You depart for the Tok'ra base in one hour,” Hammond announced.

“Sam?”

“Sam, Teal'c, and Jonas Quinn are already there.  The procedure has probably been done by now, but I'm sure you'll want to see Colonel O'Neill.”  Hammond headed for the door, then turned back to face Daniel, who had just opened the report.  “Son, Jack O'Neill is a fine officer, and he's a good man.  I know this wasn't what he wanted, and, given a choice, a real choice, I doubt he would have agreed.  I'm afraid neither he, nor we, had any alternatives, except to let him die, and I couldn't allow that to happen.”

Hammond nodded as if to emphasize his point and then left the office, closing the door behind him.

Daniel slumped down to his desk chair, trying to take it all in.

“One hour.  I only have an hour,” Daniel reminded himself, quickly opening the report and beginning to review it.

====

“Daniel!” Sam called out, rushing to her friend as she saw him approach.

“Sam, how's Jack?  Where is he?” Daniel asked anxiously.

“He's in there,” Sam answered, motioning towards a room that was uncharacteristically closed off with a door.

“I thought they didn't like doors,” Daniel replied dryly.

“Apparently, they've changed.  A lot of the rooms in these tunnels have doors now,” the major observed.

“DanielJackson,” Teal'c called out in greeting as he reached his two teammates.

“Teal'c,” Daniel acknowledged.  “Jonas,” he added, seeing the Kelownan approach as well.  “Did they ... do it?” he asked hesitantly.

“O'Neill was implanted with a symbiote several hours ago,” the Jaffa revealed.

“Hours?”  Daniel looked at the three and asked, “Haven't you seen him?”

“Not yet, but Thoran ...” Sam began.

“He's the Tok'ra that came to the SGC?” Daniel asked, having not met the man before and having only read his name in the report.

“Yeah, that's him,” Jonas confirmed.

“Major Carter,” Thoran called out as he exited the room where Jack was.

“Thoran, this is Doctor Daniel Jackson.  He's a member of SG-1,” Sam stated informatively.

“Doctor Jackson,” Thoran greeted.  “General Hammond insisted you be allowed to join us here.”

“Yes, it, uh, would have been nice if we didn't have to wait for a Tok'ra team to come and fetch me,” Daniel stated sarcastically, feeling a bit like a dog having to be led on a leash to their current location.

Not wanting to reveal the location of their latest base, the Tok'ra would not give the SGC the coordinates to the planet.  Instead, they sent through two representatives to escort Daniel through the Stargate.  The arrangement had been made prior to Thoran's departure from the SGC.

“I want to see him,” Daniel spoke forcefully.

“He's fine, I assure ...”

“I want to see him *now*” Daniel reiterated, sounding surprisingly like Jack to his friends.

“This way, Doctor Jackson,” Thoran said before turning and making his way to the room with Daniel close behind him.

====

Daniel followed Thoran to the room which, like the rest of the Tok'ra underground facility, was made of crystals.  Jack was resting on a slab which Daniel was sure had to be uncomfortable.  Two Tok'ra attendants stood at the head of the slab bed.

“Jack?” Daniel called out as he approached the table-like bed, stopping just a step behind it.

Jack tilted his head to get a look at the younger man and spoke weakly, “Daniel?”

“I want to talk with Colonel O'Neill alone,” Daniel requested.

“We prefer to stay with him,” Thoran spoke.

“Is he a prisoner?” the archaeologist asked sharply.

“No, he is not, Doctor Jackson, but he has not recovered from the transference.  It took place only a short time ago,” Thoran explained.

“I want to speak with him ... alone,” Daniel repeated, his eyes cold and harsh, refusing to give even an iota.

Thoran nodded at the two attendants and followed them out, the door closing behind them.

Tentatively, Daniel walked towards the top of the slab bed.  He looked down at his Love and saw the anguish in his eyes.

Smiling to try and assure his soulmate, the archaeologist greeted, “Hey.  Look what happens when I let you go on a mission without me.”

“It was a bad idea,” Jack replied, raising his left hand to rub his head.

“Are you in pain?”

Jack let out a snort, shaking his head as he answered, “I feel better than ever, except I don't.  I let them talk me into this, for the good of the Tok'ra.”

“The Tok'ra?” Daniel asked.  He knew that wasn't the main reason Jack had agreed to this.  Jack would do anything for Daniel, just as Daniel would do anything for Jack, including playing host to a symbiote for a while, even if it was personally distasteful.  ~No, I don't believe you did this for a race you can barely tolerate.~

“Dang symbiote has information they need.  I'm still trying to sort it all out.  This is weird, Daniel,” Jack commented, lowering his hand.

“I imagine it's, uh, strange,” the younger man replied, folding his arms across his chest so that he didn't give in to the urge to clasp Jack's hand.  The last thing the couple needed were spying Tok'ra discovering their relationship and using it as blackmail.  “So ... it was bad in Antarctica?”

“It was boring, with a capital 'B',” Jack complained.  “I don't like that place; remind me never to go back.”

“I'll make a note,” Daniel promised.

Jack groaned, “His name is Kanan, but I can't figure out what he's trying to tell me.  How does anyone deal with a snake in their head?  Don't answer that.  I don't even want to hear that expression again, especially not relating to me.”

“Well ... you're alive,” Daniel remarked.

The older man sighed, nodding as he looked up at the crystal ceiling.

“Two times two is four,” Jack inexplicably spoke.  He turned his head towards his archaeologist and asked, “What's your favorite apothegm?”

“Apothegm?” the linguist inquired.

“Apothegm, Daniel.  You know -- a witticism -- some short, snappy little saying.  What's your favorite?” Jack inquired.  “You do know what I'm talking about?”

“Of course, Jack.  I'm a linguist.  Apothegm, from the Greek apophthegma, meaning something clearly or plainly spoken.  It's taken from apophthengesthai, meaning 'to speak simply' and is made up of ...”

“Daniel, I don't care about the word's etymology.  I just want to know what your favorite one is,” Jack interrupted a bit tersely.

~This is a crazy conversation.~  Daniel twisted around and tilted his head slightly as he thought.  He shrugged, answering, “I ... I don't think I have one.  Do you?”

“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional,” Jack answered.  He looked at his soulmate and added, “Kathleen Casey Thiesen said that.  Right now, I'm thinking I may not be in any pain, but I'm in on the optional suffering.  You have to have a favorite.”

Daniel shrugged, saying, “Uh ... well, there's always Thoreau's, 'Thank God men cannot as yet fly and lay waste the sky as well as the earth'.”

“Very funny,” the older man smirked.

“Just seeing if you still have your sense of humor,” the linguist spoke.  **Jack?**

**NO!** Jack responded.  “No, I don't have a sense of humor, and I don't plan on having one until this ... thing is gone,” he said, hitting his head with the palm of his right hand.  “I can't believe I agreed to this -- for the Tok'ra.  Daniel, what have the Tok'ra done for us?”

Daniel stared at Jack, a little confused.  Their conversation was banterous, but distant, and, obviously, Jack didn't care to use their non-verbal communication.

~He's trying to ... oh, gawd.  He doesn't want the symbiote to figure out about us.  I didn't even think about that,~ Daniel surmised silently.  “Do you want to hear about the mission to ...”

“No!” Jack exclaimed with stern eyes.

The response was confirmation.  Jack O'Neill was using every ounce of will to keep the Tok'ra from learning about him and the SGC.

“Daniel, the codes ...” Jack began, stopping his words, but giving his teammate a nod.  Right now, that is exactly what Daniel was to the colonel -- a teammate.  “You know what to do.”

“I understand ... about all of it,” Daniel replied.

“Go back to the SGC,” Jack instructed.

“Jack, I ...”

“Daniel, don't argue with me about this.  I *need* you to stay away,” Jack expressed as firmly as he could.

Nodding, Daniel backed up a few steps, then turned and headed for the door.

“Danny?” Jack called out.

Daniel turned and smiled, saying, “I understand, Jack.  You sure you're okay?”

“Just peachy.  I'm gonna sit here and think about more apothegms,” Jack stated. “How's this one -- 'We are here, and it is now.  Further than that, all human knowledge is moonshine'?”

“H. L. Mencken,” Daniel acknowledged.

“Personally, I prefer beer,” the older man said quietly.

“Old Cogsman?” Daniel asked about the summer pale ale that was light in color and featured a mild bite in taste.

The lovers had enjoyed it on a short yet very romantic retreat to the Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery in New Hampshire the previous summer.

“Are you implying I'm old?” Jack teased.

“I'm implying you like beer with crazy names,” the younger man jested.  For a moment, the two just stared at each other, but Daniel knew he needed to leave.  His presence was hard on his life partner.  Jack had a plan, and Daniel needed to help him make that plan a success.  “Bye, Jack.”

“Take it easy, Daniel,” Jack replied casually, putting his arms behind his head and focusing on the ceiling again.  He began to ramble, “Mencken had a lot of sayings.  Thoreau, too.  Let's see ...”

With a sigh of resignation and acceptance, Daniel turned and exited the room.

====

“Sir ...” Daniel began as he tapped on General Hammond's door.

“Come in, Son,” Hammond greeted, noticing that Daniel shut the door behind him.  “How's the colonel?”

“He's, uh ... he's okay.  He wanted to make sure that you change all the command codes,” the archaeologist intoned.

“Already done,” Hammond confirmed.  “I expected that you'd spend a bit more time with the Tok'ra.”

“Jack ...” Daniel began, then sighed.  “General, you know how he feels about the Tok'ra.  He's focusing on revealing as little information about the SGC, and himself, as possible.”

“I didn't think it was possible,” Hammond responded.

“I don't know if it is or not, but Jack just wants to get the information from Kanan, tell the Tok'ra, and then ...”

“Get rid of the snake,” Hammond finished for the young man.  After Daniel nodded, he suggested, “Get some rest, Doctor Jackson.  SG-1 has a mission scheduled in two days.”

“What about Jonas?”

“I've arranged for him to continue with SG-1 until Colonel O'Neill is ready to resume his duties,” the major general answered.

While both Sam and Teal'c had wanted to remain with the Tok'ra until Jack's symbiote was removed, the Tok'ra had objected, and Hammond had been forced to admit that he'd have difficultly justifying such a stay to the Pentagon.

“Sir, the work on 329 is very important,” the archaeologist spoke.

“Would you prefer to return there?” Hammond asked.

~I'd rather be with Jack,~ the concerned man thought.  “I think it would be a good idea.  I think it's possible that a race we've never before been aware of may have defeated the Goa'uld.  I can't say for certain that we'll learn enough to help us, but the potential is there.”

“I want you to take twenty-four hours,” Hammond stated.

“That's not necessary,” Daniel replied, shaking his head.

“It's an order,” the man behind the desk spoke emphatically.  “You can return at that time.”

Daniel nodded, then quietly turned and headed for home, or rather, to his apartment.  He just couldn't stand the thought of going to the house he and Jack shared together, not without his lover.  He wanted to be with his Love, to comfort him, to take care of him, and to remind him that he was needed, but none of that was possible.  Instead, the archaeologist would need to busy himself.  He wasn't sure how to get through a day of downtime alone, but he was eager to get back to work.  Work would be his salvation, just as it had been prior to meeting Jack O'Neill, his Love, his soulmate, his life partner.

====
Chapter Two - Separation
====

“I got nothin',” Jack stated flippantly.  ~I want out of this insane asylum.~

“Colonel O'Neill,” Thoran said, a tone of exasperation in his voice.  “If you would relinquish control, Kanan could speak.”

Jack grimaced.  He was carrying a Tok'ra symbiote, but he was suppressing him, not allowing him access to his mind or soul, if he could help it.  His body was healing, and he knew the reason for it was the 'snake' now inhabiting his body.

“Where's Garshaw?” Jack asked about the Tok'ra leader the Tau'ri had dealt with for so many years.

Feeling insulted, Thoran brusquely answered, “She is elsewhere and cannot be disturbed.”

“Of course, she can't,” Jack grumbled, not liking Thoran's attitude and preferring to deal with Garshaw, whom he had at least a small amount of respect and trust for.  “What about Jacob?”

“Colonel, if he were available, he'd be here.  He is not,” Thoran stated sternly.  “I know you find us curious and repugnant, but the sooner Kanan provides the information, the sooner you can leave.”

“Right,” Jack sighed dryly.  Hating every moment of this, he closed his eyes, giving in to the lifeform inside of him.  “Thoran, we must assemble the council,” a voice a bit deeper than Jack's normal voice stated.

“Kanan ...”

“We must hurry,” the symbiote urgently instructed.

====

Meanwhile, on PT6-329, Daniel was continuing to work with SG-11 to discover the mysteries of the underground tomb-like structure that, surprisingly, held a number of Goa'uld relics.  In fact, they'd discovered more here than they'd ever found before.  The archaeologist believed a great battle had taken place on the planet, and, as a result, the Goa'uld had fled in a hurry.  Near the barrier they had destroyed to unearth their current research area, was a warning.

“Daniel, have you translated the warning?” Lieutenant Menard from SG-11 inquired as he sat down next to the SGC's Head of Archaeology.

“It's ... difficult,” Daniel sighed.  “I think it says something about peril and staying on the planet, but the words are jumbled.”

“Could they have a different meaning for them?” Menard wondered.

“Maybe,” Daniel acknowledged with a nod of his hand.  “Orrrrr ... or maybe, this is how they talked, a sort of ... jumbled type of speech.”

“But, is it a warning for the people who live, or lived, on this planet, or for the Goa'uld?” Menard asked.

“I have no idea,” Daniel admitted as he returned to his task.  ~And I wonder how Jack is.  I hate not knowing.  It's been days; he should be back on Earth now.  When I get back, we're taking some time off.  I've ... decided.~

Blinking three times as he realized he'd been staring at the same artifact for several minutes without processing a single piece of information about it, Daniel sighed.  Instead of getting lost in his work, he'd been thinking about his soulmate.  He was full of worry and anxiety about Jack.

~Focus, Jackson.  It's what Jack wants, and we need to know what all this means,~ he thought as he looked around the room and continued to try and make sense out of it.

====

“Look, I want this ... snake *out* of my head *now*!” Jack barked, his tone full of frustration.

Jack was now fully recovered, and Kanan had passed on the urgent information he had to his comrades.  Thus, the colonel was eager to rid himself of, what he internally thought of as the 'infestation', sharing his body and leave the crystal compound.

“We are working on finding a new host,” Thoran advised calmly.

“You've been saying that ever since I woke up with a snake wrapped around my spine,” Jack stated.  “I want this thing out of me.  You got what you wanted.”

“As did you.  We're doing the best we can, Colonel O'Neill,” the Tok'ra responded.

“Your 'best' isn't good enough,” Jack spat argumentatively.  “I intend to go back to the SGC tomorrow, so you get a new host for this thing, or that's it,” he added, moving his arms so that they crossed in a 'cutting off' fashion, with the palms down.  He was frustrated and beyond fed up with their delays and empty promises.  ~One more day.  I'll give them one more day, and then I am *so* outta here.~

“You would have us kill one of our most loyal comrades?” Thoran asked.

“You said it would be temporary. *Find* a host,” Jack stated, turning around and laying down on the hard bed.  ~The constellation ...~ he began, filling his mind with detail, anything to keep Kanan from invading his mind.

Thoran left, and Jack continued to use the techniques he'd learned years ago in his Special Ops training to keep his mind as safe as he could from the invasive creature.

Hours passed, and the colonel began to tire.  He started to feel strange, and he sensed that the creature dwelling within him wanted to take over.

~You can't have me,~ Jack maintained.  Somehow, he heard an apologetic response along with an insistence that it was necessary.  ~I said 'no'.  Don't you understand 'no'?~

The internal response was a 'no', and then Jack closed his eyes as Kanan took control and prepared to covertly leave the Tok'ra base on a mission important to no one but himself.

====

Two days later, having lost control of his actions and living under the influence of the Tok'ra symbiote, Kanan, Jack had successfully slipped away from the Tok'ra base and made his way to another world unfamiliar to him and Earth.  Now, he and a woman he'd rescued were running through a wooded area in the middle of the night.  They were desperately trying to reach the Stargate and escape from the Jaffa chasing them.

“It's too far,” the female spoke, stumbling to the ground.

Under Kanan's influence, Jack paused, returning to her side.  He knelt down, reaching out to touch her arm.

“I can't,” the woman spoke apologetically.

In the deep voice of Kanan, Jack responded, “Hide here until the chappa-ai is activated.  Go.”

Jack headed for the Stargate, splashing through puddles as he ran.  Finally, he arrived at the DHD and began dialing his destination.  Suddenly, a staff blast from behind connected with his right shoulder, causing him to fall, face down, on the ground.  He struggled to stand, but was unable to do so.  Then Kanan, the Tok'ra symbiote, slid out of Jack's mouth and slithered away.

~Blasted thing.  Where the heck am I?  What's going on?~ Jack wondered as he tried to crawl away.  ~Crap!~ he internalized when his hand was suddenly stepped on by a Jaffa.  ~I am so gonna pass out now.~

As the Jaffa conferred with another warrior, Jack fell unconscious, having no real recollection about the recent events that had taken him from the current Tok'ra home base to this unknown planet.

====

“Sir, shouldn't we contact Daniel?” Sam asked.

“And tell him what, Major?” General Hammond inquired, his frustration evident.

Sam sighed, “I'm not sure, but I know he's probably worried.”

“We all are.  I can't get a decent answer out of those people,” the general complained, slamming a file on to his desk.

“Thoran promised they'd find a new host for the symbiote as soon as possible,” Sam stated.

“Major, for the past five days, the Tok'ra have been giving me the run around.  I can see through a scam with my eyes closed, and there's something they don't want us to know,” Hammond confided.

“Do you think the colonel is in some kind of danger?” Sam asked, concerned for her CO.

“I don't know, but if the Tok'ra don't give us a decent response soon, we're going to have to try other tactics,” Hammond stated.  “Have you heard from Jacob?”

“No, Sir,” Sam answered, looking away.  “Well, he sent me a brief message, but he didn't really say much, just that he was safe and would contact me soon.”

Hammond and Sam exchanged a knowing look.  What they both knew was that Jacob knew something he wasn't ready to share, and, odds were, that 'something' concerned Jack O'Neill.

====

Later that day, the Tok'ra finally signaled the SGC.  As the representative walked regally down the ramp after coming through the Stargate, Hammond approached, wanting definitive answers concerning the whereabouts and anticipated return of his second-in-command.

“Counselor Thoran,” Hammond greeted, though his tone was a combination of anger and contempt.  “I'm afraid my patience on this matter has just about run out.  You've been promising the safe return of Colonel O'Neill for days.  Where is he?”

“I'm afraid I am the bearer of bad news,” Thoran replied.

“I don't think I like the sound of that,” Hammond stated.  “Sergeant Davis, ask SG-1 and Doctor Fraiser to meet us in the briefing room immediately,” he called out as he looked up towards the control room.  “This way,” he said a bit tersely to the Tok'ra.

====

“Let's have it,” the major general demanded as he took his seat in the briefing room.

The battle lines were drawn.  Sam, Teal'c, and Janet were all seated on one side of the table, while Thoran was alone on the other.  The Tok'ra were allies, but right now, they weren't friends.  Even Jonas Quinn, who was still temporarily assigned to SG-1 as part of a special exchange program with his home world of Kelowna, was looking at the Tok'ra with suspicion.

“Colonel O'Neill left our base undetected,” Thoran explained.  “We do not know where he is.”

“Colonel O'Neill?” Sam challenged.  “Or Kanan?”

Thoran sat back, taking offense at the accusation, saying, “Kanan would have no reason to leave our base.”

“Perhaps that is true, but O'Neill would have cause if he were being held against his will,” Teal'c pointed out, staring intently at the Tok'ra.

“He was not a prisoner.  We saved his life,” Thoran pointed out as he stood and walked over to the large window to look out at the Stargate.

“And he just walked out of your base.  Nobody noticed he was gone until it was too late,” Sam questioned skeptically, glancing over at the man.

“With the attack on Revanna, our numbers have been severely diminished.  We had no reason to expect this.  I see no reason to assign blame,” the Tok'ra representative rationalized as he returned to his side of the table but remained standing.

Jonas quickly pointed out, “Colonel O'Neill did put his life in your hands.”

“Receiving a symbiote was his only hope for survival,” Thoran pointed out.

Teal'c noted, “He could have refused.”

Janet responded, “In which case, you would have never been able to retrieve the knowledge in Kanan's mind.”

“A more than fair exchange,” Thoran asserted.

Hammond, who was clearly unhappy with the turn of events, stated, “Colonel O'Neill would not agree to a blending with a symbiote unless there was more at stake than his life.”

Thoran suggested, “Perhaps it was that repugnance of blending with another mind that caused O'Neill to behave so irrationally.”

~Oh, no, you don't,~ Janet thought.  Looking at Hammond, she intoned, “General, I can't speculate on Colonel O'Neill's state of mind, but while a mature symbiote can take control of the host body whenever it wants to, it *doesn't* work both ways.”

Sam added, “I can vouch for that, Sir.  There's no way Colonel O'Neill could have walked out on his own.”

Teal'c surmised, “Then he was forced to do so *against* his will by the symbiote.”

Looking at the comment as an affront, Thoran replied, “You accuse an honored Tok'ra of behaving as a Goa'uld.”

“Counselor ...” the general began.

The angered Tok'ra interrupted, “Kanan has fought the Goa'uld longer than any of you have lived; yet, you *spit* the word *symbiote* as though you spoke of vermin.  Whatever you may think of our form, Kanan was as a brother to me.” He paused, then continued, “The Tok'ra council accepts that Kanan may be lost to us.”

“That's the big difference between us, Counselor,” Hammond stated, trying to keep a cap on his own anger that was growing inside of him.  “We don't leave our people behind.”

“I'm not suggesting ...”

“Counselor Thoran, I believe we've heard enough for now,” Hammond interrupted, cutting off the man's words.  “If you'll excuse us.”  He nodded toward two SF's and ordered, “Take Counselor Thoran to his quarters.”

Thoran stared at the general and then at the others at the table.  He said nothing, however, as he followed the two airmen out of the room.

“Suggestions,” Hammond asked of his personnel.

Sam sighed, “We can contact our other allies and see if anyone has heard anything.”

“I do not believe O'Neill would have left the Tok'ra base on his own,” Teal'c reiterated.

“Neither do I, Teal'c,” Hammond agreed.  Looking at Sam, he ordered, “Major, contact anyone you feel is necessary.  I want answers.  Dismissed,” he said, standing and returning to his office.

As the others stood, Sam waited, pondering the situation.  She once again considered asking the general to have Daniel extracted from PT6-329, but as she stood and began walking towards the general's office, she stopped.

~What could he do?~ Sam asked.  ~What reason could I give the general for needing Daniel?~  She sighed, deciding, ~We need to find some concrete information first.  He'd just worry, anyway.~

Sam turned and headed for the control room to begin her inquiries, starting with the Asgard.

====

Having awakened on the planet in a completely disoriented state, Jack was helpless as two Jaffa led him inside a structure he'd never seen before.  They entered a moderate-size room, in the center of which was a platform.  The Jaffa and Jack took two steps up to the platform, then turned and faced a webbed wall.  All of a sudden, Jack was sucked into the webbing.  He couldn't move.

~Great -- flypaper, and I'm the fly,~ the colonel thought as he clung to the webbing.

As the Jaffa took positions at an opposite entrance, a Goa'uld entered the room.  About the same time, the colonel managed to turn himself around to face the center of the room.

~He's new,~ Jack thought, not recognizing the Goa'uld from any past encounters.

“Who are you?” the Goa'uld inquired.

Jack replied, “You go first.”

~The host is brash and impudent,~ the Goa'uld thought as he picked up a large knife, examining its blade.  He took a seat on a bench that was on the platform.  “You claim you do not know me?” he asked as he faced his captive.

Snarkily, Jack answered, “Well, take no offense there, Skippy.  I'm sure you're a real *hot*, important Goa'uld.  I've just always been kind of out of the loop with the snake thing.”  Inwardly, he thought, ~What an ego!~

The Goa'uld intoned, “I am Ba'al.”

“That's it?  Just 'Ball', as in Bocce?” Jack quipped.

Angered, Ba'al stood, walked forward several steps, and responded, “Do you not know the pain you will suffer for this impudence?”

Ba'al took the knife and held it out so that it was horizontal, the sharp point facing Jack.

~He's full of himself,~ Jack observed.  “I don't know the meaning of the word.  Seriously, impudence.  What does that mean?”

Ba'al released the knife, the magnet-like allure of the webbing drawing the sharp object to it.

Jack responded to the pain as the knife impacted the upper left side of his chest, near his shoulder.  He groaned from the ache.

Ba'al picked up another knife and stated, “I shall begin again.  Who are you?”

Jack answered, “Colonel Jack O'Neill, U.S.  Air Force; two 'L's' in that.”

Ba'al responded, “That may be who you once were, Tok'ra.”

~Now that's an insult,~ Jack thought, complaining vocally that, “I may be a lotta things, but I'm no Tok'ra!”

The Goa'uld intoned, “It is true we were only able to capture the host.  Your symbiote fled the body out of cowardice, but it is also true that Tok'ra share body and mind equally.  You will know all that it knew.”

As his left hand rested over his abdomen, Jack replied, “I think I know less than you think I know.”

Holding out the knife he currently held, Ba'al again asked, “Why have you come to this outpost?”

His voice now a bit raspy from the pain, Jack answered, “Now, see, that's a perfect example right there.  I haven't a clue.”

The Goa'uld released the knife, and it made contact with the colonel's right pectoral muscle.  Jack grimaced as Ba'al picked up yet another knife.

Ba'al insisted Jack had been to the fortress before, that he had abducted his slave.  In response, Jack maintained that he didn't remember anything after agreeing to let the Tok'ra implant a symbiote inside him.

“... I would have *died*.  Right now, I'm kinda wishin' I had,” Jack admitted, feeling the pain from the two knife wounds.

Smiling, Ba'al replied, “A wish easily granted.”  Looking at the third knife, he asked, “What was your mission here?”

The exchange continued, Ba'al wanting to know what Jack wanted with the female he had apparently abducted, and Jack insisting he didn't know anything about the woman or the escape.

Finally, Ba'al threatened, “Death will only offer a temporary escape.  I can revive you again and again, a thousand times if need be.  Only once you've told me everything I ask, will you be allowed to die ... one ... last ... time.”

Ba'al released the third knife, which struck Jack right in his heart.  Moments later, he died, but was quickly taken to a sarcophagus and revived.

====

Back at the SGC, SG-1 was grilling Thoran to learn everything they could about Kanan.  The Tok'ra's last mission had been on a mother ship in the Goa'uld Zipacna's fleet.  He had escaped during a battle and reported that all mission objectives were completed.  Thoran offered to contact their operatives in the places where Kanan's last few missions had been, though he said it might take several months to actually learn any news.

Teal'c and Sam also requested to see Kanan's mission reports, hoping to glean something from them, such as any unfinished business that might explain the recent events.

“Their contents are not relevant,” Thoran insisted, not wanting to hand over the information.

Jonas replied, “Well, Colonel O'Neill's life is at stake.  I believe that is relevant.”

Thoran maintained, “What you ask ... is not possible.”

Sam asked, “Really?”  ~We'll see about that.~

“I'm sure you can respect our position,” Thoran stated.

“No, I can't.  Excuse us,” Sam abruptly stated.  She, Teal'c, and Jonas moved to the other side of the room, leaving Thoran standing near the starmap.  “We need to see those reports.”

“The Tok'ra have always been secretive about their actions,” Teal'c opined.

“But this is Colonel O'Neill.  Why wouldn't they want to help?” the Kelownan inquired.

“I think I know what the colonel would say,” the major answered.

“What's that?”

“You do not want to know,” Teal'c spoke parentally to the smiling, young alien.

“Well, so far none of our allies have been any help, but they're still trying,” Sam commented.  “I'm going to try and get in touch with my father again.”

“Do you believe he will help us?” the Jaffa inquired.

Sam began to answer, but then she looked away, not really knowing what to say or think.  With a shrug, she walked out.

Teal'c and Jonas returned to Thoran and continued their quest to learn all they could about Kanan, his missions, and any potentially unfinished business that might have caused him to essentially abduct Jack.

====

Jack awoke from the sarcophagus and was led down the halls by Ba'al's servants.  Rounding a corner, two Jaffa pushed him through an octagonal opening into a long room.  One of the Jaffa activated a device at the doorway.  Jack felt himself being forced down to the floor.  Suddenly, the gravity changed, and he slid all the way down the floor to what he thought was the wall opposite the doorway.

In reality, the other wall was the floor of his cell, and the doorway he had just entered was the ceiling which remained open.  He stared up at the opening as the Jaffa walked away.  It was unlike anything Jack had known, the room orientation changing from a long octagonal to a smaller space, almost like a bottle.  In a way, it reminded him of an hourglass that, when tipped to its side, allowed him to walk in and go out, but when totally vertical, was a slender cell.

Two benches were on opposite sides of the space, and there were four tall and narrow light panels on each side of the room.

~Okay, this isn't good,~ Jack thought as he finished examining the area, banging on one of the lower light panels.  ~No windows, no doors.  Sweet -- a bench to sit on.  Thoughtful of them, whoever 'them' is.~

The Air Force colonel sat on one of the benches, frowning.  He leaned forward, burying his head in his hands.  He groaned, then jolted up fairly quickly.

~I was in Antarctica.  Nothing good ever happens there.  I refuse to go back.  Okay, where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Carter talked me into going along with the insane notion of putting a snake in my head.  The Tok'ra needed me for something.  Of course, they did,~ Jack sarcastically thought.  ~Okay, it healed me.  Thanks, but then what?  Crap, one minute I was thinking about how Burns is a Goa'uld, then I ... I what?~

Jack groaned, “Then I was tortured by some snakehead and ... crap, I died.  Great, I'm acting like ...”  ~Danny.  Where's Danny?~

The confused colonel continued to try and put together the pieces of the last several days, but wasn't having much luck in doing so.  His mind was a blur, and he wasn't sure of anything at the moment.

====

Not long thereafter, Jack began to pace the room when, all of a sudden, the floor began to move, throwing him down to the new 'floor'.  When he looked up, two Jaffa were staring down at him.

“No room service?” Jack asked.  “You know, your elevator isn't very customer friendly.”

One of the Jaffa jabbed Jack with his staff weapon.

“Yeah, fine, all right,” the colonel said, standing up.  “So, where are we going? Back to Mister Knife Man?” As they walked in silence, he quipped, “You guys don't make very good tour guides.”

Jack didn't like what he saw.  He didn't see much chance of breaking out of his cell, and the rest of the outpost was well guarded, making the opportunity for escape that much tougher.

~Looks like a fortress,~ Jack thought silently, not realizing yet how accurate his thought was.

In the room of torture, Jack was once again thrown against the webbing that made him feel like Velcro stuck to a wall.

Ba'al entered and began his knife tricks, showing that he had several available.

“Have I mentioned I have a dislike of sharp objects?” Jack questioned sarcastically.

“Tell me who you are, and why you came here?” Ba'al asked curtly.

“Mork.”

“Mork?” the Goa'uld asked, being unfamiliar with the name.

“I'm from Ork -- cute little planet,” Jack quipped.

“I've never heard of Ork,” Ba'al replied.

“Orson will be so disappointed; he's my boss,” Jack snipped.  “We travel by egg.  I suppose you came in a rotten one.”

Ba'al moved forward and turned one of the knives into a horizontal position.

“I suppose that's coming my way,” Jack surmised.

“Who are you?” Ba'al asked, not believing Jack's story.

“Okay, I'm not Mork.  He's just my cover.  My real name is Sky -- Sky King.  I fly planes and sell cereal on television.  You have heard of television?” Jack asked.

Sensing Jack was still lying, Ba'al released the knife, the object piercing Jack's left thigh.

“So ... you don't like TV,” Jack responded, grimacing when Ba'al released a second knife, this one jabbing Jack in his abdomen.

“Why did you come here?” Ba'al asked, undeterred by the colonel's nonsensical quips.

“I came to find my sheep,” Jack answered.  “Just call me Little Bo Peep,” he spoke weakly.

“All you have to do is reveal the truth to me,” Ba'al reminded.  “Your pain will be ended,” he said, examining another knife.

“Ever tried to juggle three of those things? Try it; I'd like it,” Jack smirked, his pain growing worse.

“Very well,” Ba'al said, aiming three knives in a row at Jack and sending them forward within seconds of each other.

~Danny,~ Jack thought before he died again.

====

Two days later, Daniel sighed, “I don't think we're going to be able to learn much more here.”

“We still don't know who the warning was for,” Menard stated.

“We might never know,” Daniel reluctantly admitted.  He looked around, saying, “We've found all I think we're going to.  I just ... whoever these people were, they defeated the Goa'uld.”  He walked back over to the warning and read, “Do not wait.  Depart, and do not return.  We will not tarry in ending your lives if you interfere with ours again.”

The linguist wasn't totally sure of every word he'd just read, but it was his best guess.  The language was reminiscent of that found on two or three other ancient worlds, and he was having to mix and match to come up with the translation.  Still, he was fairly confident of the warning's essence.

“Daniel, why would they post that warning there?” Menard asked.  “The people of this planet don't have a clue about anything that happened here.”

“It was centuries ago,” Daniel noted.  “The warning isn't written in their language,” he added about the current inhabitants of the planet.

“They've never heard of the Goa'uld,” Menard reminded.

“And ... they have no record of them, either,” the lead archaeologist added.  He sighed again, shaking his head as he stood with his hands on his hips.  He looked down, trying to debate whether to look for something more or end the current mission.  It was his call.  “One more day,” he decided.  “Get everyone together.  I want to make sure we utilize our time the best we can.”

“Okay,” Menard acknowledged, leaving Daniel alone in the area where they'd been talking.

Daniel blinked, his mind suddenly leaving the mission and focusing on his lover.

~I have a bad feeling, Jack, but I don't know why.  If something had gone wrong, they would have told me,~ Daniel thought, the pit of his stomach feeling nauseous from his worry.

====

Meanwhile, Jack continued to endure the torture Ba'al inflicted upon him.  Over and over, the Goa'uld asked questions, and, likewise, Jack refused to answer.  The colonel was interrogated, injured, and ultimately killed time and time again.  It was a nasty ritual that left Jack not just confused, but also disoriented as he fought for survival.

~Or do I want to survive?~ Jack asked himself as he sat in his cell.

The Special Ops colonel didn't have long to contemplate the question as the Jaffa returned, and he was once again taken to be questioned, knifed, and pushed to his limit -- death.

====

“We're ready to go, Doctor Jackson,” Menard reported.

Daniel nodded, wondering if they'd wasted their time on the planet.  In the end, he'd found nothing but questions.  He doubted they'd ever find the answers.  He did believe that out there, somewhere, was another race capable of defeating the Goa'uld, or perhaps, it was just the ancestors of the planet's inhabitants.  Even though the history discovered in the tomb was unlike anything else related to the people's history, maybe time had simply wiped it out.  The anthropologist just didn't know.  Maybe the answer would be found on another planet out there.

For now, though, the questions would be all they could take away; those, plus a few relics and some Goa'uld weaponry for the armory.  It was time to go home, and Daniel was happy about that.  He was certain Jack would be there, waiting for him.

~At least, I hope he is,~ Daniel thought as he gave the word to head back to the Stargate.

====

An hour into their seven hour trek to the Stargate, the teams were walking through a mountain pass when the earth began to shake.

“EARTHQUAKE!” a member of SG-11 shouted in warning.

The violent tremors sent boulders rolling to the ground, tumbled shrubs, and caused cracks to open in the earth.  The SGC personnel were tossed to the ground, unable to remain standing.

Although the mighty quake lasted for only fifty-five seconds, it felt much longer and was severe enough to do some mortal damage.  When the earth settled, Daniel was buried alive in a mound of mountain residue, while the members of SG-2 and SG-11 were either unconscious or dead.

====

Minutes later, Menard came to.  He felt something against his head.  Blinking, he realized that it was a branch from a tree.  Reaching to his forehead, he felt blood.

“Is anyone out there?” Menard yelled.

“Menard, is that you?” Lou Ferretti called out, looking around to try and detect where the voice was coming from.

The major hadn't been injured at all during the earthquake, something he considered to be a tremendous blessing.  He'd been knocked out for a split second, but didn't even have a cut on him.

“Major Ferretti, there's a tree on top of me,” Menard shouted.

“Keep talking,” Lou ordered, trying to find the archaeologist.  Eventually, he found Menard and was able to pull the tree off of him.  Fortunately, the injured man didn't appear to be badly hurt.  ~Light concussion maybe; he's lucky.~

Others from Earth weren't so lucky.  Two of Lou's team had been killed by falling boulders, and a third had a broken leg and internal injuries, judging from his coughing up blood.  As for SG-11, Menard was the only survivor.

~Where is he?~  Lou looked around anxiously, shaking his head.  “DANIEL?  DOCTOR JACKSON?  CAN YOU HEAR ME?” he shouted as loud as he could.  ~Crap!  Jack's going to kill me.~  He'd already tried the radio with no response.  “DANIEL?  DANIEL JACKSON!” he called out again as he roamed the area, tripping over the fallen debris, searching for signs of the missing archaeologist.

Menard was lightheaded, and his shoulder hurt a bit, but he didn't think anything was broken.  He began to look for Daniel as well.  Ten minutes later, he noticed something in the dirt.

“Major Ferretti, I think I've found him,” Menard spoke into his radio.

Lou hurried over, kneeling down when he saw the familiar edge of the green boonie cap sticking out from a mound of dirt.

“Daniel?” Lou called out as he began to dig away at the dirt.

With Menard opposite him, the two dug gently but rapidly with their bare hands, certain Daniel had to be there.  Finally, Lou felt a hand.

“Got him!” the major exclaimed.  Leaning over, he felt the man for signs of life.  “He's got a pulse, but it's weak, and he's down here a ways.”

Together, the two SGC personnel worked methodically until they retrieved Daniel from the hoard of dirt he'd been encased in.  The archaeologist was still unconscious when freed from the ground, and Lou and Menard feared he had head and internal injuries.

“I'm not sure we should move him, Major,” Menard commented.

“Yeah,” Lou agreed.  He looked at Menard and asked, “Do you think you can get to the Stargate by yourself?”

“I know I can,” Menard answered, willing his injuries to the background of his body and mind.

“Do it!” Lou ordered, opting to stay with his injured team member and Daniel.  ~Jack would kill me if I left Daniel here alone,~ he thought silently as he watched Menard take off for the Gate.

====

~Where am I?~ Daniel wondered.  He felt like he was drifting.  ~Oh, no.  Not Oma again,~ he feared, remembering the last time he'd felt this way.  He hadn't seen her; it was just the feeling he had at the moment.  ~No, this is ... it's different.~  He processed his feelings, sorting through the oddities of them.  ~I'm ... here.  Earth moved.  Jack makes the earth move.  No, not that kind of move.  Focus, Jackson.  Planet.  We were going home.  Shake.  Yeah, that's it.  Okay, so ... so what's happening?  I ... yes, I'm here, but I can't move.  Why can't I move?~

Daniel struggled to make his arm move, but he couldn't.  Then he realized he couldn't see.  He was in the dark.

~Eyes.  Gawd, can't get my eyes to open.  Jack?  Oh, he's back on Earth.  He's ...~

At that moment, Daniel took a huge breath, alarming Lou because it sounded like a raspy gasp for air.  His head involuntarily lunged upward, but then fell back to the ground.

“Daniel?” Lou called out as he checked on the scientist.

~Wha...what happened?  Am I ... am I dead?~ Daniel wondered.  ~I don't feel dead.~

In his unconscious mind, Daniel frowned.  He felt himself being drawn faraway to a place he'd never seen before.  Nothing about the location was familiar to him, except for a lone figure that he struggled to focus on.  Slowly, the image became clearer.  It was his lover, but it wasn't a happy scene.

~I don't understand,~ Daniel thought.  He watched his soulmate being dragged into a room and then tortured by a Goa'uld he didn't recognize.  ~Jack!  Noooooo!~ he shouted internally as Jack died.  ~What are they doing? ... Sarcophagus?  Fight it, Jack.~

Daniel was moaning and thrashing about, unable to be calmed by Lou Ferretti.

~This isn't real.  Jack's with the Tok'ra.  Okay, it's just a nightmare.  I'm just ... having a nightmare,~ Daniel decided.  ~Am I dead?~ he suddenly asked himself, wondering why he couldn't feel his body.  ~Maybe I'm dead, and this ... this is hell.~

Lou checked his watch and sighed.  Menard had only been gone ninety minutes, and Daniel had developed a high fever.  The leader of SG-2 was worried, very worried, about the archaeologist.

====

An hour later, after preparing rations for his injured teammate, Lou returned to Daniel's side and took his vital signs.  He wished he had more than a med kit; yet, at the same time, he knew it wouldn't make much difference if he did as the injuries sustained by his friend were internal and beyond his capabilities.

“Hang in there, Doc,” Lou quietly urged.

Daniel let out a groan, his head turning from side to side.

~Jack?  I feel so ... so funny.  Why, no, uh ... where ... I ... I don't know what's happening to me.  Save Jack.  Why do I think I have to save him?  Is he in trouble?  Wait.  Saw him.  I ... yes, I saw him in a ... cell.  Don't know where.  No, just a nightmare.  Must be a nightmare.  Jack?  Jack, can you hear me?  Focus, Jackson.  It looked real.  Jack needs you.  Focus.  Help him.  You don't matter; Jack does.  Focus on Jack.  Fo...cus on ... on ...~

“Doc?” Lou called out to the restless man.

Daniel began to toss and turn more vigorously, almost violently.  Lou hated doing it, but he had to forcefully restrain his friend from moving.  Finally, Daniel stopped thrashing, but he was far from peaceful, his head turning from side to side, and his arms and legs twitching uncontrollably.

“You're burning up, Doc,” Lou spoke.  ~Burn a fever,~ he thought, finding everything he could to cover Daniel's spasm-racked body.  “Wish I could do more.”

The archaeologist was mumbling words that Lou couldn't make out, and he was sweating profusely.  He had become delirious, and Lou was having to make sure Daniel didn't knock off the coverings he'd used to provide warmth for the feverish man.  He continued to do all he could to make Daniel comfortable.  He just wished the trip to the Stargate wasn't seven hours long.

“Menard, this is Ferretti.  Status report,” Lou anxiously requested over the radio.

“Sir, I'm going as fast as I can,” Menard reported, his voice a bit weakened from his own ordeal.  “The earthquake has caused a lot of damage.”

“I know you're doing your best.  Be careful, and keep me informed,” Lou instructed, not only concerned about Daniel, but also about Menard.  ~Can't push him.  He might be hurt worse than I realize.~

====

Jack had endured yet another round of torture, death, and revival and was thrown back into his cell.  He'd been a victim of the interrogation and sarcophagus 'magic' for days now.  He longed for Daniel, but he had only allowed himself brief moments to dwell on his lover.  He couldn't risk the Goa'uld discovering the romance.

At the same time, Jack's Special Force's training was draining him mentally. Trying to keep himself sane while not revealing any vital information was beginning to haunt him.  Everything felt like a dream and all too real, both at the same time.  The truth just out of reach -- so close, but still so far.

After this last go around, Jack wasn't even sure of what he had invented in his mind to fool Ba'al and what was the truth.

~Danny?  Are you real?  Did I make you up?  No, you're real, but are you alive? Oma.  Glowy thingys give me a headache.  I remember a glowy thing.  Was that you?  Do I even have anything to live for, or are you gone?~

Jack sank to the floor, putting his head to his hands as he struggled for the truth.

====

Over the past two hours, Lou had done a more extensive search.  He'd unearthed the relics they'd bagged to bring back to Earth, and he regretfully but reverently pulled out the water rations from those who had died.  Daniel's fever was even higher, and Lou wanted to keep a cool rag on his head to try and help.

Daniel was still murmuring strange things in his delirium, most of which Lou couldn't make out, though he did hear the words, 'Oma', 'ascended', and 'cell'.

~If it was a nightmare, it would be over,~ Daniel's still-unconscious mind thought.  ~I want to wake up and be in Jack's arms.~  His right arm suddenly flung up, striking Lou, who automatically fell back to prevent being hit again.  ~Jack, what's happening to you?  Why can't I wake up?~

~Come on, Menard.  Get that help here pronto,~ Lou encouraged silently, not liking the downward spiral Daniel seemed to be on.

====

“It's futile to continue to resist me,” Ba'al stated.  “Why did you abduct my slave?”

“This is really getting old.  I'm getting older.  You know something?  So are you? How are your knees?  Mine aren't doing so hot.  It's a funny thing about knees.  They ...” Jack grimaced, closing his eyes.  Ba'al released another knife, which impacted his left shoulder.  “Can't you do any better than that?”

“Your impudence grows tiresome,” Ba'al stated.

“Yeah, well, if you can't do better than this ...” Jack hesitated, then smirked, “I know you.”

“You are ready to tell me what I want to know,” Ba'al commented smugly, thinking Jack was finally willing to confess everything.

“You're Burns.  Yeah, that's why you're familiar.  Stay away from Homer; he has a family to raise.  Okay, so Bart's not the nicest kid in the world, but how would you be if you're father worked for a snake?”

“Your games are pointless.  You *will* tell me what I want to know, and soon,” an irritated and confused Ba'al stated, killing Jack with the next knife that drove deep into Jack's heart.

====

When Jack was revived, two Jaffa took him to his cell.  He was angered by being closed in and again banged against a light panel.  He felt disoriented, especially when he heard a voice.  He looked up towards the opening that was the ceiling and saw a female, dressed in black, staring down at him.

“Is it you?” the woman asked.

~That's not Sara,~ Jack thought.  ~Have I lost my mind?~  He continued to stare, not knowing what to think about anything.  ~I don't even know ... jack,~ he mused in desperation.

Then, Jack heard a voice that he was sure meant that he was certifiably insane.

“Hi, Jack.”

Jack looked to the other side of the cell and beheld Doctor Daniel Jackson, dressed in an off-white V-neck sweater, sitting on one of the benches.  Not wearing his glasses, Daniel gave him a little wave.

“Daniel?” Jack asked softly.  ~Friend?  Best friend?  More?  No, not more.  My mind.  I've lost my mind.~

Daniel spoke, “I leave, and look at the mess you get yourself into.”

Jack gave Daniel a quizzical look as he silently pondered the reality of the moment.  He blinked, wanting to see the younger man so much.  Yet, he knew it wasn't possible.

~Dream?  Was it real?  He ... he died.  Doc couldn't save him.  He's dead.  Daniel is dead.  That's it.  He's supposed to be dead.~

“It's good to see you,” the archaeologist spoke casually, yet tenderly.

~Did I create a ... what are you thinking, O'Neill?  He was married, and he died, ascended to be a glowy thingy.~  Cautiously, he intoned, “Yeah.”  He made his way over to the opposite bench, still not believing what he was seeing.  “You, too.”  He sat down and stated, “It's a shame you're a delusion.”

Daniel replied, “No, I'm here.  I'm ... I'm really here.”

“Sure you are,” Jack responded sarcastically.  ~You're a figment of my warped imagination.  You're dead.  I dreamed it.  I mean, I lived it.  You said 'goodbye'.~ To prove his point, more to himself than to the image of the man opposite him, he took off one of his shoes and threw it at Daniel.  When it passed through the archaeologist, bouncing off the wall and going back towards Jack, the colonel felt both right and sad.  He was right, and Daniel was some ascended being.  ~This stinks~

Daniel responded to the shoe-throwing by saying, “Here in the sense that my consciousness is here, if not here in the full physical flesh and blood sense, which is really neither here nor there.  The point is, you're not imagining this.”

Jack reminded, “I just tossed my shoe through you.”

Daniel acknowledged, “Yes, you did.  That's because I've ascended to another plane of existence.”

“Ohhh,” Jack replied, as if he'd needed to hear the words.  ~I don't want to hear them.  Why did I think that was a dream?  Why did I think Daniel and I were ... I *have* lost my mind.  Sara?  Where's Sara?~

Daniel stated, “Remember Oma Desala, the whole ... glowing thing.  You helped me out.  I couldn't have done that without you, remember that?”

~Friggin' nightmare ... I think,~ Jack thought.  “Yeah.”  ~Can I forget it now?~

“I'm ... I'm energy now.”

“How's that workin' out for you?” the colonel asked a bit snarkily.  ~Happy out there by yourself, leaving your friends behind, leaving ... me behind?~

Daniel answered, “Good, actually ... very.”

Jack acknowledged the comment by echoing, “Good.”

The archaeologist repeated, “Very good.  You, however, not ...”

“Yeah, well, you know what it's like...” Jack began as he got up, walked to the center of the room, and then continued, “...comin' back from the dead.”  He bent over and picked up his shoe.  “Takes a while to get the color back in the cheeks.” ~Trust me, I know first-hand now.  Why'd he die?  Oh, yeah, the smiley coward,~ he thought, remembering Jonas Quinn of the planet Kelowna, as he returned to the bench and sat down again.

====

Still in his delirium on PT6-329, Daniel's mind was a blur of images, none of which he liked.  He saw Jack, alone in a small room, dressed in a warm, earthen brown sweater.  The older man looked withdrawn, his despair evident.

Aware of his Love's physical agony, the archaeologist wondered if he was still in the middle of a vicious nightmare.  What was even worse, was that now, Jack was hallucinating.  His lover would talk as though Daniel was in the cell with him, and though Daniel couldn't hear the exact words, he could tell the older man was pleading for help.

~I'm not there, I'm ... here, wherever here is.  Jack?  What's going on?  Why can't I hear you?  I ... I know you're talking to me, but ... but, Jack, I'm ... here, not there.  I don't understand,~ Daniel thought, feeling despondent at his lack of control over the strange 'nightmare' he was having.

All of a sudden, Daniel went blank.  Maybe the nightmare was ending at last.  It was as if he just went to sleep, and the color of the world faded to black.  He wanted to wake up, to feel his body again, but he couldn't.  Slowly, he slipped deeper into himself, no longer really aware of anything but the vastness of his unconscious mind.

====

In his cell, Jack's mind had already turned a corner in what he believed was reality.  He wanted so much to protect Daniel that, beginning with Kanan being implanted, he had begun to block his lover from his brain.  The more time passed, the more difficult it was to do, but he didn't want the Tok'ra knowing about their love affair, and now, while being tortured, it was even more important to protect Daniel.

The colonel had done such a good job that he no longer knew if Daniel was his lover or not.  He questioned his own inner thoughts on the subject.  Still, he never dwelled on it for long, somehow knowing that he needed to maintain distance.

Though still battling deep within his soul, Jack was now at a place where he believed a dream, shared with his lover, was now the truth, that Daniel had faced a heroic death, saving a world but taking in a lethal dose of radiation in the process.  That angered Jack because while Daniel was saving the alien world, one of its inhabitants, Jonas Quinn, simply stood back, doing nothing.  Thus, to Jack, Jonas was a coward.  Then, Daniel had ascended, thanks to Oma DeSala.

Of course, it had all been a dream, and in that dream, Jack and Daniel were lovers.  Now, though, desperate for some connection with his lover and struggling to hang on to his sanity, but still wanting to protect the younger man, Jack had turned the dream into a reality.  Not only that, but his lover was now his best friend who had been turned into some powerful glowing creature.

Jack looked across his cell, at his friend, the ascended being who had left an earthly existence behind a few months earlier.  At least, that's what Jack's mind thought.

“Takes a while to get the color back in the cheeks,” Jack had sarcastically spoken a moment ago.

Daniel agreed, “Yeah.”

Jack asked, “So ... not a delusion?”

Shaking his head, Daniel affirmed, “No.”

“Okay, show me your stuff.  Bust me outta here,” Jack challenged.  ~If you're ascended, prove it.~

“I can't.”

“Why not?”

“I'm not allowed to interfere,” Daniel explained.

“You're interfering right now,” Jack pointed out.  ~What does it matter? I'm nuts!~

“No, I'm not.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I'm not.  I am consoling a friend,” the younger man rationalized.

Jack questioned, “What good's the power to make the wind blow or toss lightning around if you can't use it to spring an old friend outta jail?”

Daniel answered, “I would if I could.”

“You can't do that stuff?”

“I can,” Daniel admitted.  “I just ...  I can't.”

Jack flippantly replied, “Well, thanks for stopping by then.”  ~You're not real anyway.  I think I'm lost in my mind.  I can't find the truth.  That dang sarcophagus.  Make that blasted alien contraption go away.~

Daniel refuted, “Ba'al is torturing you, and I wasn't just gonna sit by.  Look, all he wants to know is the reason you came to this planet.”  Seeing Jack just stare, he asked, “You really don't know?”

“Do you?”

Daniel answered, “Well, all I know is that you, or more accurately, the symbiote the Tok'ra placed inside of you ... congratulations, by the way ... walked off undetected in the middle of the night and came here.”

In frustration and disbelief, Jack responded, “I can't believe I actually *let* them put a snake in my head, *my* head.  I agreed to this.”  ~Which proves I'm insane, that you're just of my insanity, and that I don't know which way is up anymore.~

“It never shared with you why it would walk alone into a heavily fortified Goa'uld outpost?” Daniel inquired.

“There was no sharing.  I was sick,” Jack explained.  ~And I worked friggin' hard to keep that snake as much out of my mind as I could.  I put you out of my mind.  I buried you.  Maybe I lost my mind on purpose.  I don't know anymore.  What was the question?~

Daniel replied, “I know.”

~You do?~  Jack stated, “They did the implantation -- a word I intend *never* to use again -- and I woke up here.  That's my week, so far.”  ~I think, but don't bet on it.~

“So, you really don't know.”

Jack grimaced, then admitted, “Something to do with one of Ba'al's slaves.  I got a visual, but I've never met her before.”

Switching gears, Daniel noted, “Nobody knows you're here.  Even if they did, they'd never be able to pull off a rescue because this place is a fortress.  Ba'al is just gonna keep on torturing you to death and reviving you in a sarcophagus until he finds out what he wants, which is impossible because you don't know anything, or until you're not worth reviving anymore.  But you'll cease to be the Jack O'Neill we know long before that.”

“Well, apparently, I've got a big day tomorrow,” Jack commented.

“No, I'm not gonna let that happen.  I won't let him destroy you,” Daniel promised.

~He sounds like he cares.  Danny, is that you?~  Shaking off the duality of his feelings, Jack remarked, “You just said you couldn't help.”

“No, I can't stop Ba'al from torturing you any more than Oma could heal my radiation sickness, but ... I can help you ascend.”

~Crap, it wasn't a dream.  The whole friggin' thing was reality.  He died and went to that ... wherever with Oma DeCrapa,~ Jack thought.  “So, you wanna be my Oma?” he asked, his arms folded across his chest.

“You could put it that way,” Daniel agreed, rubbing his joined hands together.  “I mean, I wouldn't, but maybe that's just me.”

“And then what?”

The apparently ascended being replied, “Then ... then I don't know.”

“You don't know,” Jack asked sharply.  ~Who says ascension is so wonderful? He can't even answer a simple question.~

“No ... no, ascension doesn't make you all-knowing.  I mean, I really ... don't know,” Daniel intoned.

“If I'm catchin' the next plane of existence outta here, you gotta give me somethin',” Jack spoke.  ~Like I'd ever really do it.  Geez, what am I saying? I let them put a snake in my head.  Why not jump the rails?~

Daniel replied, “It's your journey.  No one but you can choose what you become or the path you take.  All I can promise you is it will be an amazing journey ...”

~He's out of his mind.  Wait a minute, he's not real.  I'm out of my mind for thinking this,~ Jack thought as he let out a sneer of skepticism.

Daniel completed his thought, saying, “... once you release your burden.”

“Daniel, so help me, if you start talkin' like Oma ...” Jack began tersely, waving his hand in front of him.

“I'm not talking like Oma Desala.”

Jack quipped, “Sounds like Oma to me.”

Daniel quickly refuted, “No, no, no, no,” his speech rapid and emphatic.  “You see, Oma DeSala would say something like, uh, uh, 'if you immediately know that the candlelight is fire, then the meal was cooked a long time ago', or something like that.”

“Why?” the older man asked.

“To open your mind,” Daniel answered succinctly.

“Though a candle burns in my house, there's nobody home,” Jack snarkily responded.

“Okay,” Daniel said as he stood and began to pace.  “Let's take this one step at a time.  This has to be something you want.  I can't do this for you.”

After a moment, Jack sighed, “One step at a time.”

“One step at a time,” Daniel concurred.

~He's out of his imaginary mind.~  Looking around, Jack replied, “Oh, there's gotta be another way outta here,” as he stood up.

“Jack ...”

Walking to Daniel, Jack suggested, “What if you did a little scoutin' for me? That'd be all right wouldn't it?”

“No.”

“I'm not askin' you to knock down walls or anything, just a little recon,” Jack stated.

“Ba'al is just gonna torture you again.”

Undeterred, Jack passionately suggested, “Or ... uh, uh zat gun.  Help me get my hands on a zat gun.”

“The next time is gonna be worse,” Daniel commented.

“That's when we move,” Jack stated.  “The next time they come for me.”

Daniel argued, “You can't fight your way out of this.”

“Then *help* me!”

“Not that way!” Daniel responded.  Hearing the sounds of Jaffa approaching, he looked up toward the cell's entrance and noted, “They're coming.”

“They can see you, right?” Jack asked.  “We can use that.”

“I'll be back,” the younger man promised.

“A distraction -- that's all I'm askin' for.”

“I promise,” Daniel assured.

Jack looked up, seeing the Jaffa, then looked back at Daniel, only the archaeologist was no longer there.

“Daniel?”

The Jaffa triggered the device on the wall, causing the room's orientation to change again and Jack to be pulled down to the new floor.  Once it stopped, the Jaffa picked him up and headed for the room of torture.

~Okay, what was that hallucination about?~ Jack asked himself as he was dragged through the fortress.  ~Can't think about Daniel.  Not safe.  You're losing it, O'Neill.  You're going to risk his life.  Life? He's dead.  He said so.~ Jack shook his head, and the Jaffa thought he was trying to get away.  They tugged on him forcibly.  “I'm coming.  Hold your horses.  Horses.  Hey, I know this good Jaffa joke.  Okay, not so good, in human standards.  Oh, you're not human, are you?”

At that moment, Jack was thrust against the matting.

“I hate being a fly on the wall in this place,” the colonel whined.

“Then tell me what I want to know,” Ba'al stated as he walked in.

“Sure.  What do you want to know?”

“Who are you?”

“Now, see, the problem is that right now, I'm not so sure.  I used to know.  I think I have an idea, but I'm really not sure, and you wouldn't want me to pass on inaccurate information, would ... crap, that hurts,” Jack admitted when a knife pierced his arm.

“My slave.  Why do you want her?”

~I don't ... maybe I do know.  No, don't think.  Danny?  Danny, I need you.  Daniel, where are you?  Wait -- can't think about Danny.  It's not a dream.  Yes, it was a dream.  I don't know, but I can't ... I can't think about ... him.  Slave?  What slave?  The stars are bright tonight.  Stars over Minnesota.  Fishing.  Need to go fishing,~ Jack thought just before the next sharp blade penetrated his kneecap.

The colonel cried out in pain and longed for the nightmare to end.  The torture, however, was far from over.

“Your deaths will be slower and more painful from now on,” Ba'al promised.

“How messy of you,” Jack stated as blood dripped down his leg.

====

On PT6-329, Lou applied another cool cloth to Daniel's sweat-dampened forehead.

“Jack ... try ... live ... fight ... Oma ...”

The scattered words, often unintelligible, continued to spill from the archaeologist's mouth.

“I wish I knew what you were trying to say, Doc,” Lou Ferretti commented.  “Where's that med team?”

Hours had passed, and Lou was beginning to fear Daniel might not make it.

====

At the SGC, Thoran was incensed that he was being prevented from returning to the Tok'ra base.  The Tok'ra had continued to refuse to provide Kanan's mission reports.  For this reason, he was being detained as a guest at the Mountain.  Still, the Tok'ra considered himself a prisoner.

Sam informed the man that he would be “free to leave as soon as you provide us with the mission reports we've requested, under article nine of our treaty.”

“Such a request to the council must be made in person,” Thoran replied.

Jonas asked, “Why's that? This control facility is quite capable of relaying a request on multiple frequencies, including those used by the Tok'ra.”

Smugly, General Hammond noted, “Of course, if you choose not to avail yourself of that capability, we would be pleased to provide you with comfortable quarters until you decide to change your mind.”

Though Thoran continued to argue, he soon realized that Hammond wasn't about to give in, even though the Tok'ra stated that the alliance between the two powers would be at risk.  At last, Thoran agreed to request the needed reports.

~I thought you'd see it my way,~ Hammond thought upon hearing of Thoran's agreement to turn over the reports.

====

“Sir, incoming activation,” Sergeant Davis announced just as Hammond reached the upper level.

Having detoured to the control room instead of continuing on to his office, the major general asked, “Who is it, Sergeant?”

“SG-11.”

“Open the iris,” Hammond ordered, expecting to see SG-2, SG-11, and Daniel Jackson.  Seeing just Menard stumbling through, he rushed to the gate room.  “Lieutenant, where's the rest of your team?”

“Sir,” Menard gasped, folding over and collapsing to the ramp.  He hadn't even made it halfway down the metal apparatus.  He was out of breath and a bit dehydrated.  “The ... the ...”

“Take your time, Lieutenant,” Hammond urged.

As a medical team arrived and began to attend to him, Menard spoke, “General, there was an earthquake.  The rest of my team, two members of SG-2 -- dead.  Major Ferretti stayed behind.  One member of his team has a broken leg, but ...”

“And Doctor Jackson?”

“He's injured, Sir -- badly.  Need to send a medical team through.  Hurry ...” Menard urged, stopping when he was handed a drink.

“Sergeant,” Hammond shouted up at the control room.  “Assemble SG-3, and tell Doctor Warner we need a medical team ready to go *now*.”  He looked back at Menard and said, “Well done.  Get some rest.”

“No, Sir,” Menard responded, shaking his hand.  “The earthquake has altered the landscape.  I need to show them the fastest route.”

Menard was concerned the rescue teams would become lost.  In his trek to the Gate, he'd had to take some unexpected detours.  He knew time was of the essence and didn't want to risk the rescuers being delayed.

Hammond reluctantly agreed, adding an extra medical team member to make sure Menard was properly monitored on the long journey.  As he headed to notify SG-1 of the situation, he was unexpectedly sidetracked by a call from the President, wanting an update on Jack's status and the willingness, or not, of the Tok'ra to help locate him.

====

Meanwhile, as SG-1 met to discuss the files they had finally received from the Tok'ra, Jonas observed, “His motive had to be personal.”

Teal'c questioned, “For what reason?”

“Well, the Tok'ra claim that all of Kanan's spy missions were a complete success; therefore, he'd have no reason to go back to any of those planets.  If we take them at their word, we can rule out any *logical* reason.  Now, Kanan had to be motivated by something *profound* enough to not only risk his life, but also the life of his host,” Jonas explained.

In the middle of their discussion, General Hammond entered, having finally finished his phone call with the President and attending to a couple of other matters that couldn't wait.

“Sir, any word?” Sam asked, straightening up to attention mode.

“None about Colonel O'Neill, but there's been an earthquake on PT6-329.  Doctor Jackson's been injured, as well a member of SG-2.  Two members of SG-2 and three from SG-11 are dead.”  Hammond waved his hand to stop the offers of rescue and stated, “I've already dispatched the rescue team.  Your place is here.  We need to find Colonel O'Neill.”

“GeneralHammond, how badly is DanielJackson injured?” Teal'c inquired.

“I'm not sure, Teal'c, but we lost five people out there today,” Hammond lamented with a slightly bowed head.

“Major Ferretti?” Sam inquired.

“It's my understanding the major was unharmed.  We won't know anything for at least thirteen hours.  Find Colonel O'Neill,” the general ordered as he turned and left.

“I'm not used to seeing General Hammond so subdued,” Jonas commented about the bald man's demeanor during the brief discussion.

“O'Neill and DanielJackson are like sons to him,” Teal'c wisely observed, causing Sam to smile and nod in affirmation.  “He is worried.  We must find O'Neill.”

The three returned to their review, hoping to find something that would lead them to their team leader.

====

“I grow tired of your refusal to answer my questions,” Ba'al stated.

“Wanna take a nap?  I'm sure there's a nice crib around here.  Betcha' some snake in the grass would sing you a lullaby,” Jack snarked from his spot on the webbed panel where he was once again pinned in the room of torture.

Ba'al took a bottle and squeezed out a drop of liquid, which quickly flew onto the center of Jack's chest, where it spread.

~Crap, where does he get this stuff?~ Jack bemoaned through the pain.  ~Ascension.  Me?  Glow like a candle?,~ he thought about Daniel's plan for Jack to ascend as a means of escaping the pain.

Ba'al stated, “The Tal'vak acid will take some time to burn through all the way.  Though it cauterizes the flesh as it burns, a very small amount often finds its way into the blood and begins to spread.  Why have you returned here, Tok'ra?”

“I'm human,” Jack refuted.

“Hmm ... betrayed by your symbiote,” Ba'al noted.

Jack agreed, “It used me.”  ~Dang snakes; can't trust 'em as far as you can throw 'em.~

“To do what?”

“I don't know, and I don't care!” the colonel exclaimed, the pain becoming almost unbearable.

Ba'al asked, “What did the symbiote call itself?”

Struggling, Jack responded, “I don't remember.”  ~Danny, we may have been a lie, or just a dream, but right now, I wish you were here.~

The Goa'uld pointed out, “Tok'ra retain the identities of both host and symbiote.  You are O'Neill.  What was the name of your symbiote?”

~When ... when did I tell him my name?~ The pain was increasing, and Jack's confusion was stronger than ever.  He struggled for his sanity, for the reality that would save him.  “I ... I just told you,” he screeched out.

“What Tok'ra secrets could a single name reveal?” Ba'al challenged.

Jack's anguish grew as his skin burned.  There was no end to the torture as Ba'al's voice continued to interrogate him.

~Shut up,~ Jack inwardly barked.  He felt like he would explode at any moment.  He'd never endured a torture quite like this.  Ba'al was enticing him with criticisms of the Tok'ra, while at the same time picking up the bottle of Tal'vak.  ~No, don't.  I can't.~

With his arm stretched out, threatening to release another drop of the burning Tal'vak, Ba'al continued, “Even when we thought they had been wiped out, they've become all the more ... insidious, like acid, burrowing their way into our empires.”

“Kanan!  That's a name,” Jack revealed, hating himself for living and not letting the pain continue to eat away at him.  He saw Ba'al lower the bottle and repeated, “Kanan.”  ~Kill me, and get it over with.  I want to stay dead.~  He was shocked when Ba'al picked up another bottle and released it.  Only this time, the liquid didn't cause pain; rather, it caused him to feel better.  ~I'd rather die.  Oh, crap.~

“This neutralizes the acid and numbs the pain,” Ba'al explained, adding, “So, you see, the truth is rewarded.”

“I don't know anything else,” the colonel responded.

“There may be much more of this Kanan still in your memory than even you know.  It'll come to you ... in time,” Ba'al insisted, pushing a device on the table, after which the web panel opened, and Jack fell into a long, black tunnel.

====

Eventually, Jack was returned to his cell, and as he lay on the floor, he saw the woman he'd seen once before.

“Is it you?” the woman asked.

“What?”

“You shouldn't have come back,” the female spoke.

“I don't ... remember,” Jack admitted.

“If I leave with you, he will know,” the unknown woman warned.

Jack began, “You ...” but just then, he was interrupted.

“Jack, who are you talking to?” Daniel asked as he stared down at the older man.

“The woman,” Jack answered.  ~She's about as real as you are.~

“There's nobody there,” Daniel observed after looking up and not seeing anything.

“Look who's talking,” Jack quipped more forcefully.

“Does it still hurt?” Daniel asked as he walked around Jack.

Moving his hand from his chest, Jack answered, “No.”

“Told you I'd come back.”

“If the Daniel Jackson I knew was really here,” the colonel began.

Daniel claimed, “I am...”

“Then *do* something,” the older man insisted.  ~I don't know who you are anymore.  I barely know who I am.~  “You listen to me,” he said strongly.  Jack jumped up and faced the image of his best friend, lover, or whatever Daniel was. Emphatically, he stated, “I don't wanna go through that again.  If you were really my friend and had the power to stop it, you'd *stop* it!”

“The hardest part of being who or what I am is having the power to change the things I want to change and knowing that I can't ... even when I'm certain, even when it's ... absolutely clear to me, even when it affects the people I care about ... because for all I can do ... I'm no more qualified to play God than the Goa'uld are.”

Part way through listening to Daniel's response, Jack turned and pounded his head against one of the light panels, his hands on each side of it, tapping in frustration against the walls.

~You're a ghost.  Oma da witch.  Lost my best friend, and for what?  So he can be an observer at my death and its sequel and the sequel to it and the ... geez, I have a headache.~

Daniel bowed his head briefly and then warned, “Ba'al will keep this up.”

His hands still on the wall, Jack backed up slightly and stared down at the floor as he responded, “Yes, he will.”

“So we don't have an unlimited amount of time,” Daniel advised.

“Gotta be some place, do ya?” Jack asked somewhat sarcastically.

“No.” Daniel paused.  “Look, there must be a reason that Kanan came back here.  Was it for the woman, the one you were just talking to?  She must have something to do with all of this,” he surmised.

Tired of the tricks his mind was playing on him, Jack quietly said, “You know ... screw it.  It doesn't matter.  Carter and Teal'c will think of somethin'.”

“Even if they could find out where you are ...”

~I'll get him, this ascended do-gooder who can't do me any good,~ Jack bewailed agitatedly.  He looked over at Daniel, pointing with his hand as he asked, “And you know Jonas?  He's at least as smart as you.”

“There isn't always a way out, Jack,” Daniel replied.

“Hey, if that was true, I'd a been dead a long time ago,” the colonel responded, turning to fully face the younger man.

“How many more times do you think you can go into that sarcophagus before it starts changing you?” Daniel inquired.

~Was it real?  Danny, I ... no, can't ... not safe.  Ascended.  The dream is the reality, and the reality is the dream,~ Jack forced himself to think, even as he listened to Daniel's impassioned plea.

“How many times has it been already?  It can regenerate your body, make you strong enough to go through that all over again, but all the time, it's destroying who you are, and once that happens, you won't be able to ascend no matter how much you want to,” Daniel spoke in earnest.

“Hey,” Jack interrupted, bringing both of his hands shoulder level, palms towards his friend.  It was a visual 'stop sign'.  “I appreciate what you're trying to do,” Jack replied quietly.  ~He's still Daniel, still has a heart.~

“I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe you could do it,” Daniel opined strongly.

“This is *me* we're talkin' about!” Jack exclaimed.

“Yes, it is.  Now, please.  Just try ... to open you're mind,” the younger man pleaded.

“Oh ... stop it, will ya?” Jack responded as he sat down, frustration swelling within him.

“Come on, Jack,” Daniel argued.  “Yo...you think the Asgard named a...a ship after you because they thought it was a cool name?  Now's not the time to play dumb.  You're a lot smarter than that.  They saw our potential in you ... because of who you are and what you've done -- *humanity's potential*.  That's the same thing Oma saw in me.”

“I am *not* you,” Jack replied.  ~Never could be, and don't mention that witch to me.~

“Yeah, when has that ever stopped you from doing anything?” Daniel challenged.

“Okay, put yourself in my shoes and me in yours,” Jack retaliated.  ~Yeah, let's see how he handles this ... good assumption.  Of course, I'd be here for you.  I'd have busted you out, blown this place into oblivion, and made Ba'al regret the day he became one with a human host ... stop using the Others as a crutch.  Oma and that bunch are a front for, well, for something.~  Jack was angry, at the image of Daniel, at the torture, at everything he'd experienced since going to Antarctica.  Having stood back up, he was arguing loudly.  “Ba'al would be dead,” he stated.  ~If you were being tortured, he'd be nothing but dust.~

“Jack ...”

“... and don't think I'd stop there!” the older man stated pointedly.

“You're a better man than that,” Daniel insisted.

Loudly, Jack denied, “That's where you're *wrong*!”

The exchange had become loud and heated as the two argued.  Now, though, they simply stared at each other.

~Why am I arguing with a figment of my imagination? This reality sucks,~ Jack thought.

Daniel nodded and turned away, saying, “Right now, I can't imagine ... doing or being anything other than what I am.  I see things, I understand things, in a way I never could have before, but I chose this.  Even when Jacob was trying to heal me, I *chose* this, but you, in the place you're at right now, you don't have any other choices.  This is not your life we're talking about, Jack.  This is your *soul*.  This is it.  What I'm offering you is your only way out.”

Jack replied, “You're wrong about that, too.”  ~Dang compassionate geek.  This has to end.  Real or not, it has to end.~  Staring at his friend, he spoke, “I have another choice.”

Daniel queried, “What are you talking about?” though the unspoken truth was clear.  “No.”

“Any minute they're gonna come,” Jack reminded.  “Ba'al is gonna kill me again.  You can make it the last time.”

“Don't ask me to do that.”

“You can put an end to it,” Jack insisted.  ~Consider it a challenge.  Prove to me this reality is the real reality.~

“I won't do it.”

~You have to.~  At that point, they heard a noise.  Jack knew the Jaffa were coming for him again.  He argued, “I'd do it for you, and you know it.”  He lay down on the floor, preparing for the orientation of the room that will transport him to the upper area.  Sternly, he stated,“I don't wanna see this cell again, Daniel.”

The Jaffa led Jack down the hallway towards the room where Ba'al awaited.

~I can't do this anymore.  Daniel?  End it; end it for me.  I want to die and stay dead.  My mind is ... Daniel?  Were you here?  Danny?~

====

On PT6-329, the rescue team had reached Lou and the injured men, and the medical team was attending to Daniel and the injured member of SG-2.

“Most of the time, he's been delirious, Doc,” Lou reported about Daniel's condition.  “He struggled to get up for a while and wouldn't keep still.  Then he calmed down, but a few minutes ago, it started again.”

“J'CK!” Daniel shouted, trying to get up, though his head only shot up an inch or two.

“We need to get him back to the SGC STAT,” the doctor commented.  “Let's get the transports ready.”

Daniel's mind was aloft once again, sensing an almost insurmountable anguish within the heart of the man he loved.  He wanted to make the pain go away, to comfort his soulmate, but how could he?  Everything was muted and cloudy.  He didn't know where he was, and he still couldn't feel his body, nor could he see Jack.  He could, however, feel his partner's misery.

~Where are you, Jack?  I'm trying to find you.  That cell -- are you there?  Where is it?  Help me, Jack.  Help me find you,~ Daniel begged in the unexplained corridors of his mind and beyond.

====

At the SGC, Sam finally made a connection between something in Kanan's reports and his 'abduction' of her CO.

“The mission where Kanan worked undercover as a minor Goa'uld in Ba'al's service -- how long ago was that?” the major asked.

Teal'c answered, “Several months.  Ba'al has kept the existence of the outpost hidden from the other System Lords.”

Jonas added, “The outpost was a secret test facility for weapons technology and gravity field generators.  Over a period of several months, he was able to map out the entire facility, catalog its defenses ...”

Sam interrupted, “That's what Kanan reported to the Tok'ra Council, but something just struck me.  He used Ba'al's lotar, his personal slave, to access much of that information.”

“Yeah, the lotar gave him access to Ba'al's chamber when he was away,” the Kelownan pointed out.

Teal'c questioned, “Do you believe Kanan withheld information in his report?”

Sam answered, “No, but think about it.  A lotar is a Goa'uld's most *trusted* servant.”

“Why would he so blithely betray his master?” Teal'c queried.

“*Her* master -- the slave was a woman.” Seeing Teal'c and Jonas staring at her, Sam continued, “Access to Ba'al's own chamber?”

Teal'c asked, “Are you suggesting that Kanan engaged in an affair with this slave in order to gain access to her master's quarters?”

Sam speculated, “Well, something had to be going on between them; otherwise, why would she take the risk?”

Teal'c responded, “A Tok'ra would go to great lengths to accomplish a mission.”

“So, maybe he was just using her, but who knows?  I mean, the Tok'ra are a very passionate race,” Sam stated.

Teal'c replied, “The Tok'ra accept sacrifice as a function of war.  I do not believe this slave was sufficient motive for Kanan to return.”

Jonas repeated, “Sufficient motive for Kanan.”  He made a face.  ~What is the first lesson the colonel pounded into my head?~  Suddenly, he was sure and stated, “The decision to act came after blending with the mind of Colonel O'Neill.”

“At which point, he would have been confronted with every thought and belief that makes the colonel who he is and be forced to judge himself by that same code of honor,” Sam surmised.

Jonas added, “Especially what General Hammond referred to as the difference between us and the Tok'ra.”

Suddenly, the truth seemed clear, and Sam stated, “We don't leave our people behind.”

“You believe O'Neill went after the lotar,” Teal'c stated in question.

“No,” Sam answered.  “Kanan went after her.”

“Taking the colonel along for the ride,” Jonas added.

====

Jack was plastered to the wall, about to undergo another round of torture.

Suddenly, the woman materialized, appearing only inches from his face, and asked, “Is it you?”

“You shouldn't be here,” Jack answered.

“You look so different.  How can you be Kanan?” the woman asked.

“I'm not.”

“If I leave with you, he will know,” the female said, repeating earlier comments.

“He used both of us,” Jack stated.

The woman vanished, leaving only Ba'al in the room of torture with Jack.

“He did use both of us,” Ba'al agreed.  “How long were you host to this Kanan before he convinced you to come here -- days, or merely hours?”

“I don't remember,” the weary colonel answered.  ~Was she here? Daniel? Get me out of here.  You're part of the elite, the glowy society.  You can end this.  End this, Daniel.  Please, end this.~

The torture continued, Ba'al asking questions that had no end, and Jack saying, “I don't know” until his voice was coarse.  Ba'al brought out new ways of making Jack's skin crawl.  The pain was incredible, and he was at his breaking point.

====

In the briefing room of the SGC, General Hammond learned the results of SG-1's investigation.

“You're telling me Kanan was *compelled* to rescue a slave he encountered months ago,” Hammond stated, rephrasing what he'd just heard.

Sam confirmed, “As a direct result of blending with Colonel O'Neill, yes, Sir.”

“Based on the arrogant notion the colonel would never have left her behind,” Thoran smugly stated.

“Sir, I know from first-hand experience how deeply the emotions can be shared between a Tok'ra symbiote and its host,” Sam stated, recalling her blending with Jolinar.

“So do I, Major Carter,” Thoran responded.  “Still your theory seems to be based on nothing more than intuition.”

Sam replied, “I won't argue with that, but it's not without reasoning.  I *know* that's where Colonel O'Neill is.”

“As do I,” Teal'c stated firmly.

Jonas added, “We're all in agreement.”

“It makes no difference,” the Tok'ra representative insisted.  “If, indeed, Colonel O'Neill is in Ba'al's hands, then he is far beyond our reach.”

“We have plans to the outpost,” the Jaffa announced.

“Then you know it is a fortress.  An army could not hope to penetrate it,” Thoran maintained.

“Kanan obviously thought it was possible,” Sam pointed out.  “Sir, if we went in with a small force, maybe two SG teams.”

“I'm sorry, Major, but I agree with the counselor,” the general stated.  “I've gone over the intel we have on this outpost.  A successful attack of any magnitude is beyond our capabilities.”

“But, Sir ...”

“Dismissed,” Hammond spoke, getting up and starting to leave.

“General Hammond,” Sam called out.  When the general turned, she stated, “We're leaving Colonel O'Neill behind.”

“I said 'dismissed', Major,” Hammond snapped, turning again and heading to his office.

Jonas and Teal'c stared at Sam, both a little surprised at her courage in making that last remark.

“It seems a little ironic that we're leaving the colonel when he's in the situation he's in because Kanan couldn't leave the lotar behind,” the blonde lamented, staring briefly at Thoran and then walking out.

Teal'c gave the Tok'ra a glare, then left the briefing room as well.  Jonas smiled and walked out a few moments later.

In his office, General Hammond stared at the report on his desk.  Sam's accusation rang in his ears, though he was positive his decision was right.  He couldn't risk personnel on what was surely a no-win scenario.

Hammond sighed, hating his job at the moment.

====

Jack sat in his cell, feeling more despair than he could ever remember feeling before, except for when his son, Charlie, had died.  He kept seeing the woman and had slowly recalled that she was the lotar for Ba'al.  He couldn't hold on to the memory of coming to the planet, but she was familiar.  It was more a feeling, than a firm mental recall.

The colonel's mind was running rampant with thoughts of his torture, the lotar, and Daniel.  The problem was, Jack had used so much of his training to guard his mind from Kanan and then from Ba'al, that he was no longer sure of what the truth was.

Somehow, in hiding his inner most thoughts and feelings, Jack had lost sight of his reality.  He wasn't even sure if Daniel was his lover.  Part of him thought it was just a longing.  He knew he loved Daniel, but he couldn't allow himself to think about it, so he buried that truth as deep within himself as possible.  When he thought of the archaeologist, it was as his best friend.

Still, he worried about the truth surfacing.  Jack and Daniel's friendship had always been unusually close, and so, the Special Ops officer had gone a step further.  He'd taken a dream that he and his lover had shared not long before.  It was a strange dream, one that had Daniel saving the entire planet of Kelowna by preventing a nuclear explosion, while the 'coward' Jonas Quinn stood by and did nothing.

Then, suffering from radiation sickness, Daniel had died, only it wasn't a traditional death.  Instead, he'd allowed Oma DeSala to help him ascend to another plane of existence, even as Jacob Carter was using the hand device to try and heal him.

Both Jack and Daniel had been stunned by the dream, though the ultimate end to the dream wasn't a surprise at all, because Daniel had come home, home to his heart -- Jack.

Now, Jack's mind had taken that dream and made it his reality.  Daniel had died and was an ascended being who had come to try and rescue his old friend.  It seemed wrong to Jack, but that was the truth he had come to accept.  As such, he was angry at Daniel for not using his ascended powers to kill Ba'al and rescue him.  Yet, on another level, Jack only wanted to be comforted by his best friend.

~Daniel, help me,~ Jack inwardly pleaded as he sat alone on the cold, hard cell floor.

====

The SGC personnel on PT6-329 were headed back to the Stargate.  Daniel's fever was raging as he continued to mutter things no one could understand.

Inwardly, Daniel was drifting, desperate to help his lover.  He knew he was running out of time.

“Daniel.”

The archaeologist blinked, staring at the woman in front of him.  He wasn't sure how she was there or where he was.  Of course, he hadn't known that for a while, anyway.

“Oma.”

“When last we met, I was ill,” Oma spoke, appearing to Daniel in human form.

“I ... I remember,” Daniel responded, recalling how the ailing ascended being had taken him against his will, trying to get him to ascend so they could be together.

“The candle dims for your heart,” Oma spoke.

“Help me,” Daniel requested, willing to do almost anything to save his soulmate from the torture he was going through.

Oma nodded and said, “Use your mind, Daniel.  All knowledge is within you.”

Daniel closed his eyes, cringing as he realized the fullness of his lover's despair.  Through Oma, he saw more clearly Jack's torture and the tiny cell the older man had been kept in.  Daniel wanted to stay with Jack, to be with him, but he felt something tugging at him.

“You cannot help him there,” Oma stated.

“But you can,” Daniel stated sternly, knowing Oma's powers were great.

“I cannot help him directly, Daniel.  You know that,” Oma chastised.  “You must use the powers within you to contact those who can help.”

“Why can't you do it?  He's being tortured!” Daniel exclaimed, not caring about the rules the Ancients lived by, not even the 'bent' rules Oma followed as she lived on the proverbial fence with her fellow ascended beings.

“You know the rules, Daniel.  Dreams teach,” Oma commented with a knowing smile.

Daniel couldn't contemplate what she was saying, not now when time was of the essence.

“Your friends have discovered the fortress, but they feel it's hopeless.  You must give them courage, Daniel, and light their way,” Oma instructed.  “You must do it now,” she warned.  “My time grows short here.”

“What do you mean?”

“They are watching me.  Hurry, Daniel.  Concentrate,” Oma urged.

Suddenly, Daniel felt a jolt.  He couldn't explain it, but it was as if the knowledge of the last several days at the SGC had been put into his brain.  He knew the doubts and the problems.  Now, he just needed the answer.

~Tha...that's it!~ Daniel thought as he focused again.

“Move quickly within your mind, Daniel.  They will pull me away soon.  You must hurry,” Oma repeated, though her voice was calm and steady.

Daniel drifted to the SGC.  He found Teal'c, meditating, the Jaffa surrounded by candles.

“Listen to me, Teal'c,” Daniel began.  “This is important,” he began as he filled his friend's mind with inspiration.  When he was done, he waited, looking for a sign that the Jaffa had heard him.  “Come on, Teal'c.  Gawd, you have to hear me.”

When Teal'c's eyes popped open, Daniel smiled in his mind.  He watched, making sure his plan played out properly.  Sure enough, the Jaffa went directly to General Hammond's office.

“I believe it would take the power of a Goa'uld mother ship to do so,” Teal'c spoke about invading the fortress Ba'al ruled.

“Unfortunately, we don't have one of those,” Hammond noted.

Teal'c responded, “Perhaps not, but there are many System Lords that do.”

Hammond stared, then asked, “What do you have in mind?”

“I suggest we send a message to Lord Yu,” Teal'c spoke.

“He's been receptive to assisting us, in round about ways, in the past.  You think he'd help extract Colonel O'Neill?” the general inquired.

“I do not.” Seeing the general's stare, he added, “He will, however, act on the information.”

Hammond nodded, then said, “All right, Teal'c.  Contact Yu, and keep me posted.

--

Daniel felt a relief come over him.  There was hope now.  He blinked, then he moaned.  Oma was gone, as was his sense of Jack's agony.  Suddenly, Daniel was aware of nothing but his own pain.

“Stop!” the doctor on PT6-329 ordered, moving to check on Daniel.  He smiled, saying, “His fever has broken.  How much longer until we reach the Stargate?”

“Two hours,” Lou reported.

The journey to the Stargate was taking longer than the normal seven hours because not only had the terrain become more rugged as a result of the great quake, but they were also transporting two injured men.

The SGC personnel decided to take a ten-minute break, after which they would continue their journey.  Other members of the rescue team had volunteered to transport the dead back to the SGC, so that their families could give them a proper burial.  That team was about an hour behind since the doctor ordered that Daniel and the injured SG-2 team member be transported back to the SGC right away.

====

At the SGC, Hammond entered the control room where SG-1 was already assembled and stated, “Counselor Thoran is threatening to end diplomatic relations.”

Sam asked, “What did he say?”

The general answered, “Among other things I won't mention, that this is precisely the reason they've been reluctant to share intelligence.”

Teal'c declared, “So be it.”

“That's more or less what I said,” Hammond intoned.  “The Tok'ra need us right now more than we need them.  Do we expect any response from Lord Yu?”

“No, Sir.  We know he received the plans to Ba'al's outpost and the message that went along with it, but we have no way of knowing if he'll act on it,” Sam replied.

“I believe he will,” Teal'c replied.  “Ba'al has kept the existence of this outpost from the other System Lords.”

Jonas commented, “I still don't understand how destroying the power generators first is going to help the colonel.”

The Jaffa explained, “It will give O'Neill a fighting chance, nothing more.”

“That will be all he needs,” Sam confidently added.

“Indeed,” Teal'c agreed.

====

Meanwhile, at Ba'al's fortress, Jack was undergoing yet another round of unbelievable cruelty.  He just didn't think he could hold out much longer.

“What was its name?” Ba'al asked.

~I ...~  Jack answered, “Kanan.”

“There.  You remember his name.  What was his mission?” the Goa'uld inquired.

~No, can't.~ The colonel ushered up all the resolve he could and replied, “No mission.”

“Was it to steal the slave from me?”

“I don't know,” Jack responded.  ~Daniel?~

Ba'al asked, “Did Kanan believe a slave could know my secrets?  There's something else you're hiding from me.”  He pointed a knife at Jack, but remained seated on the bench.  “I sense it.  I feel it.”

Quietly, Jack asked, “When are you gonna end this?”

“If you tell me what I wish to know, I will end this,” Ba'al promised, his voice angry as he waved a knife in front of himself.

“Daniel?” Jack asked.  ~I can't anymore, Danny.  I just can't.~

“Your mind is beginning to fail,” the Goa'uld spoke.  “It's time for the sarcophagus, but as you regain the strength to return here, consider this.  It will be far worse next time.”

“Daniel?” Jack repeated.  ~End this, Daniel.  Where are you?  Why have you left me?  Daniel?~  A weakened, but not-quite-dead Jack was taken to the sarcophagus.  As it closed, he said again, “Daniel.”

====

Having been revived again, Jack was taken back to his cell.  He sank down the side of the wall in despair.  Time passed, though he had no way of knowing just how much.  As he had said many times in the last few minutes, he called out the one name that was his world.

“Daniel.”

“I'm here,” Daniel answered.

Jack sighed as he looked forward, and then as an accusation stated, “You were gone.”

“I know; I'm sorry,” Daniel apologized softly as he knelt down.  “There was something I had to do, but I'm back now, and I promise I'll stay with you 'til this is over.”

“It'll never be over,” Jack bemoaned.

“Yes, it will,” the younger man assured.

“Daniel, you have to end this.”

“Jack, you just have to hang in there a little while longer,” the archaeologist urged.

Jack replied harshly that he couldn't go back.  He was afraid of telling Ba'al the little bit he'd remembered, that Kanan was in love with the lotar and wanted to save her.  Jack knew that if Ba'al found out, he'd torture the woman just like he was torturing him.

“... I'll tell him,” Jack finished fearfully.

“You won't have to,” Daniel promised.  “It's almost over Jack.”

Jack turned to look at his friend and asked, “How?”

Daniel answered, “You were right.  There's always a way out; at least, there's always a chance.  Your journey isn't over, Jack, not yet.”

“What'd you do?” the colonel inquired, his voice stronger now.

“I didn't do anything,” Daniel answered, giving all the credit to his teammates at the SGC.  “They thought of something.”

Sensing there really was hope, Jack stood up and inquired, “What?”

At that moment, an explosion drew their attention, and the lights began to flicker.

“This is it,” Daniel said, standing and looking upwards.  “All you ever wanted was a fighting chance, Jack.  Now you have it.  If anyone can make it out of here, you can.”

Jack heard a shout of, “Lord Yu attacks!”  He looked around, realizing Daniel wasn't there any longer.

“Daniel?” Jack asked as he reached out to the wall that became a floor whenever the room changed.  Slowly, the cell tipped, the wall becoming the floor.  Jack paused for a moment and, when nothing happened, simply walked out.

Almost immediately, Jack came into contact with a Jaffa, battling him.  When the Jaffa was knocked out, he took the zat gun and began to search for the lotar, eventually finding her cell.

“Come with me,” Jack urged, holding out his hand.

“No, he'll stop us,” the woman replied, having backed away in fear of being caught.

Jack grabbed her hand, saying, “Come on,” and began running through the halls of the fortress.

With the distraction of the battle, Jack escaped the fortress.  Heading for the woods, he and the woman were stopped by a Jaffa guard.

“You are O'Neill?” the Jaffa stated as a question.

“Yeah, I hear I'm famous,” Jack answered, keeping his body in front of the woman's.

“Lord Yu awaits.”

“Yu? Ewwww,” Jack was able to quip.

Soon, Jack and the woman were ringed to the mother ship.  Jack was surprised they were still alive, but he was sure that would be short-lived once they were taken to stand in front of Lord Yu.

“We will return you to your planet,” Yu spoke.

“You will, Yu?” Jack asked, surprised.

“We incur no debts,” Yu answered cryptically, motioning at two Jaffa, who then grabbed Jack and the woman, taking them to secure quarters.

Once the mother ship reached an agreed-upon planet, Yu handed Jack and the woman over to a group of Tok'ra, after which the mother ship immediately departed the area.

“Now that was odd,” Jack spoke to no one in particular.

“We will return to our home base,” the Tok'ra on the planet commented.

“No, I don't think so.  I want to go back to Earth *now*,” Jack demanded.  He looked at the woman.  “What about you?”

“You are kind, but you are not him,” the lotar spoke.

“No, I'm not,” Jack agreed, feeling no real kinship to the woman.

“Then I will go with them,” the woman stated, nodding over at the Tok'ra.

“Good luck,” Jack spoke.

====

“Sir, the rescue team is back with Doctor Jackson,” Sergeant Davis announced just as soon as the SGC commander had finished his phone call with a member of the Pentagon.

Hammond rose and headed for the infirmary.  He had heard the klaxons go off earlier, signaling the return of a team, but had to remain on the phone, the Pentagon lieutenant general he was talking to insisting on getting a weapons status report and refusing to be put off, in spite of Hammond's attempt to do so.  Almost twenty minutes had elapsed before he finally entered the infirmary, where he immediately noticed Doctor Warner examining the still-unconscious young man.

“How is he, Doctor?” the general asked.

Moving upright after being hunched over the archaeologist, Warner answered, “Dehydrated.  We're checking for internal injuries.  Doctor Fraiser is reviewing his X-rays.  We'll know more in a few minutes.”

The general nodded and backed out of the way, stopping about two feet inside of the doorway.

“Daniel?” Sam asked, hurriedly entering the medical area.

“Doctor Warner is examining him now, Major,” Hammond said as he faced the blonde.

Sam stared over at her friend, worried for his wellbeing, but she finally had good news to share.

“General, we just got word from the Tok'ra.  Yu's attack was successful, and Colonel O'Neill escaped.  They didn't say much more, but indicated they were returning the colonel to Earth as soon as possible,” Sam stated.

“Let's make sure that means now, Major,” Hammond spoke sternly.

“Yes, Sir,” Sam responded, taking a step backward as she was about to turn and walk out to pass on Hammond's 'request'.  “Uh, General ...”

“Major, when you're done, I order you to return to the infirmary,” Hammond stated.  He smiled, “He'll have a lot of questions.”

Sam smiled, then turned and left the infirmary.

====

Hours later, Jack woke from his nightmare, realizing he was at the SGC.  At the foot of his bed were Sam, Teal'c, and Jonas.

~Daniel?  Forgot.  Dead.  Not dead; just ascended,~ the colonel thought, still unclear of his reality.  ~Okay, play it straight.  Don't let them know I'm off my rocker.  Daniel didn't do anything.  It was them.  Daniel ... Daniel wasn't there.  Daniel ... Dan...ny ... no, stop.  Wake up.  You're at the SGC.  Stay focused, or they'll send you off to see Quack MacKenzie,~ he warned himself.

“Doctor Fraiser says he'll probably suffer withdrawal symptoms from so much time in a sarcophagus, but otherwise she expects a full recovery,” Sam intoned.

Jonas asked, “What happened to the woman he went back for?”

Sam answered, “Her name's Shallan.  She decided to stay with the Tok'ra.”

Teal'c added, “So she may continue Kanan's fight in his name.”

“Hey.  Tryin' to sleep here,” Jack weakly spoke, deciding not to remain silent anymore.

“Sorry, Sir.  Glad to see you're okay,” Sam intoned happily as she turned her body slightly to look at her CO.

“Listen; was a good idea you had there,” the colonel praised.

“Actually, Sir, we all contributed to it,” Sam clarified as she walked to the other side of the bed.  “Do you need anything or ...” she began, thinking he'd ask about Daniel.

“Water,” Jack answered.  ~I need Daniel.  He's gone.~

“Sure,” Sam acknowledged, walking out of the room to get the water.

Teal'c and Jonas followed her out, confident Jack was on the road to recovery.

~Why did he go?~ Jack wondered.

Suddenly, Daniel was in front of Jack's bed and spoke, “I always seem to be saying goodbye to you.”

“Yeah, I noticed that,” Jack agreed.  ~Okay, I'm still delusional, or ... he's really ascended.~  “Why don't ya stick around for a while?”  ~It can't hurt.  I need you, Daniel, even if you're a glowy thingy.~

“I can't ... really.”

“You just did,” Jack refuted.

“Special occasion.”

“Christmas?” Jack asked, wanting to see his friend again.

Daniel answered, “No.”

“Groundhog Day?”

Again, Daniel replied, “Nooo.”

~He's leaving me again.~ Jack acquiesced, “I've got my journey, you've got yours?”

“Something like that, yeah,” Daniel affirmed.  “Look, I know you don't think so ... right now.  I mean, I know you have your doubts, but, uh ... because you've been through something that no one should have to go through ... I guess what I'm trying to say is, you're gonna be all right.”

“How do you know?”

“You're just gonna have to trust me,” Daniel replied reassuringly.

“I can do that,” Jack spoke, getting a smile and nod from his friend.  ~I need you.  Crap, what a nightmare.~  “You gonna be okay?”  ~Can't be easy not butting in.~

“I'm gonna be fine.”

Just then, Sam returned to the infirmary with the water, saying, “Here you go, Sir.”

“Thanks,” Jack replied, knowing Daniel had gone again.

“Goodnight.”

Sam left Jack's room, after which Jack turned his head slightly to look straight overhead.

~Daniel is ascended, but he came back to save me.  Be happy for him, O'Neill.  He's ... crap, he's happy being a glowy thingy.~  He smiled ever-so-slightly and said, “Thanks.”

Seconds later, Jack was asleep again, believing Daniel was still an ascended being and questioning that their love affair had ever really happened.

====

Sam walked into another part of the infirmary, going over to the bed on the far side.

~Daniel's bed,~ the major mused as she approached.

For a moment, Sam simply stared at the archaeologist.  She was about to leave when she heard him mumble his lover's name.

“Daniel.  Daniel, it's Sam,” Sam stated, leaning over and taking his hand.  “Daniel, you're in the infirmary, and you're going to be just fine.”

“Sam?” Daniel asked as his eyelids fluttered open.  “Jack?  Where's Jack?”

“He's here.  Janet has him in another room so he can get some rest.  He's exhausted,” Sam commented.  She saw the plea in Daniel's eyes and smiled.  “Look, he just went to sleep.  You're too weak to move yet yourself.  I'll, uh, make sure that in the morning ...”

“Thanks,” Daniel interjected when the woman paused for a moment.  “Tell me what happened to Jack,” he asked.

Sam sat down and filled Daniel in on what she knew.  There were still gaps in the story, but she told him everything she could.

====

The next morning, Teal'c was the first to check on Jack, entering his room and taking a position on the right side of the bed.

“T,” Jack greeted, his voice stronger than it had been the night before.

“It is good to see you awake, O'Neill,” Teal'c spoke.

“It is good to be awake,” Jack responded.

“DoctorFraiser informs me that you and DanielJackson will both recover,” the Jaffa spoke, standing with his hands clasped behind his back.

“Daniel?” Jack asked, frowning.  “What are you talking about?”

“DanielJackson's injuries were minor.  He must remain here for two days before returning to rest in his home,” Teal'c said, relaying information Janet had given him earlier.

“Daniel's dead,” Jack stated.  “Okay, not dead.  He's one of those ... like Oma.”

“O'Neill, DanielJackson is not an ascended being.  Perhaps I should get DoctorFraiser,” Teal'c suggested, walking towards the door.

“HE'S DEAD!” Jack shouted.  “HE LEFT.  WHAT ...”

Jack tried to get up from his bed, yanking out the IV that was providing him with much-needed nutrients.

“*O'Neill*,” Teal'c chastised, forcing the colonel back to the bed.  “DOCTORFRAISER, COME QUICKLY,” he shouted.

--

From another part of the infirmary, Daniel heard the commotion.  He had just awakened and was getting his bearings when he heard Jack's shouts.  He watched as personnel scrambled to respond to what was happening.

“Jack?” Daniel pulled his covers off and tried to stand.  He was weak and almost fell down. **Jack? Jack, can you hear me?**

There was no response.  Daniel hurried, following the sound of Jack's shouts.

--

“Colonel, calm down,” Janet ordered as Teal'c continued to pin his CO to the bed.

“YOU PEOPLE ARE FRIGGIN' OUT OF YOUR MINDS.  DANIEL IS DEAD.  YOU KNOW THAT.  WHERE AM I?”

“Sir,” Janet stated.  “You've undergone a lot of stress recently.  Daniel is just fine.  He survived the earthquake and ...”

“Earthquake?” Jack asked, his blood pressure rising even more.  “I WANT OUT OF HERE.  THIS IS ONE OF THOSE FRIGGIN' ALTERNATE REALITIES.  TAKE YOUR HANDS ...”

“Jack?”

Jack turned abruptly to his right, shocked to see a fatigued-looking Daniel, dressed in a hospital gown.

“Daniel?” Jack whispered.  “You ascended.”

“Ascended?” Daniel echoed as he walked closer.  “No, Jack, I didn't.  I never did that.”  **It was a dream, Love ... remember?**

“You're trying to trick me,” Jack stated firmly.  He tried to get up again, shouting and demanding his release.  “BA'AL, YOU CAN'T HAVE ...”

Janet injected the colonel with a tranquilizer, causing the man to slowly relax and collapse down.

Jack stared at Daniel and whispered, “Not real.  Don't know what's real.”

Janet, Teal'c, and Daniel all watched as Jack's eyes closed, and he went to sleep.

“Janet?” Daniel asked.

“He was tortured, Daniel.  I'm afraid the colonel is going to have a longer road to recovery than we first thought,” Janet answered.  She sighed, then looked back at the weakened man and ordered, “You, back to bed.”

“But ...”

“Daniel, I need time.  Please,” Janet asked, wanting to concentrate on Jack, but not being able to do so.  She looked over at the Jaffa and asked, “Teal'c, please help Daniel back to his bed.”

“As you wish,” Teal'c agreed, moving to Daniel's side and assisting the reluctant archaeologist in returning to his own infirmary bed.

====

In the middle of the night, Daniel slowly made his way into Jack's room.  He just couldn't stay away.  His attempts to talk to his lover via their special non-verbal communication had gone unanswered, and while the doctors had kept a close eye on him earlier, most of them had gone home for the night, leaving the infirmary empty of personnel except for occasional checks on critical patients.

Daniel sat down at the edge of Jack's bed, just watching his Love sleep.  He could see the weariness on his face, and he wondered just how much Jack had truly endured over the last several days.

~Did what I ... experience really happen to him?~ the archaeologist wondered.  He was still trying to piece together his own memories, aligning them with the things Sam had told him earlier.  He knew he'd been struck by a high fever and that according to Lou Ferretti, he'd been delirious.  He remembered drifting and then ... ~Oma.  She was with me.~

Daniel recalled the strange drifting of his mind and how he'd sensed Jack's trauma.  He also remembered Oma's unusual appearance.  Somehow, she'd helped him to contact his teammates.  Some of it still didn't make any sense to him.  His attempt to reconstruct his recollections was interrupted when Jack moaned and raised his left hand to his forehead.

“It's okay, Jack,” Daniel spoke, his voice calm and steady.

Jack's fingers pressed against his forehead as he opened his eyes and turned his head slightly to stare at the younger man.  He said nothing, but his mind was trying to process the illusion he was seeing.

“Jack, they put a symbiote in you to save your life.  His name was Kanan.  Apparently, he ... well, I know you were trying to keep him from ... from getting to you, who you are, and, uh, I think ... us,” Daniel spoke quietly, looking over to make sure they were still alone.  He had considered closing the door, but was afraid a night nurse might get curious and come to investigate.  “Kanan sensed your work ethic, Jack, and he tapped in to some of the beliefs that make you who you are.  Mainly, that you don't leave anyone behind.”

Jack lowered his hand to his side, but his eyes remained focused on the imaginary Daniel he was listening to.

“Kanan used one of Ba'al's slaves, Shallan, to get information about the outpost,” the archaeologist explained, believing a review of the events would help his lover.  “He left her behind; didn't think much about it until he blended with you.  Then he knew he had to go back.  I, uh, I guess you did a pretty good job of keeping him from sharing with you, but he was able to take control.  You went back to the planet, to the outpost, to rescue her.  Apparently, you didn't get very far, though, and that's when Ba'al began to torture you.  We don't know the specifics on that, of course.  You ... you haven't told us much.”

Jack blinked once, not wanting to think about the torture.  He was transfixed on the hallucination.  To Jack, it was beautiful.  His heart longed for it to be real, but his mind told him that it wasn't.

Daniel continued, “While that was happening, Thoran was here.  Sam said they, the, uh, Tok'ra, weren't being very cooperative.  They more or less forced him to turn over Kanan's mission reports.  By the way, it was Jonas who figured out that Kanan had acquired your 'don't leave anyone behind' mentality.  Sam pinned down the mission that it applied to, realizing that Kanan had used the lotar.  Teal'c -- he came up with the idea of contacting Yu.”

“You?” Jack finally spoke.

With a tiny smile, Daniel answered, “No, not me.  Lord Yu.”

“Not you,” the older man said quietly.

“No.  I was on PT6-329 with SG-11, trying to ... it doesn't matter.  SG-2 was with us, and when we were done and headed back to the Stargate, there was an earthquake,” Daniel stated.  He bowed his head reverently as he stated, “Five men were killed.  Lou's fine,” he added quickly.  Then he sighed, “I guess we got back just before you did.  Jack, I don't know what's going on in your mind.  You're ... shutting me out. I'm ... I'm real, Jack.  You keep talking about Oma and ... me being ascended, but I'm not.  That was just a dream we had, a horrible dream that will never happen.  Jack, I'm here.”

Daniel reached out to touch his lover's cheek, but Jack swatted it away, turning his head to face the wall and then closing his eyes.  The younger man blinked as he tried to deal with what was happening.

“It's okay, Jack.  You just need time to remember, that's all,” Daniel reassured.  “I'll be back.  I promise.  Uh, one thing.  If I'm not real, in the flesh, then what was it you just swatted out of the way?”

Full of sadness and regret, Daniel stood and returned to his bed in the other part of the infirmary.

Just after Daniel disappeared through the doorway, Jack turned his head and lamented, ~Nothing there.  Danny, I wish you *were* real.~  Then he pondered the last words the image had spoken.  After a moment of contemplation, he looked at his hand, thinking, ~I touched him.  No, it's just the power of the mind.  I wanted to feel it.~

Sadly, Jack closed his eyes, wanting to fade away from life.

====

Shortly after seven in the morning, Daniel again made his way to Jack's private room.  This time, the older man was already awake, and, unfortunately for the archaeologist, the colonel wasn't as calm as he'd been in the middle of the night.

“Get out,” Jack requested firmly when he saw Daniel, convinced he was just a vision created by his own desperate mind.

Daniel moved to his lover's bedside and stood, self-hugging, as he intoned, “Jack, it's okay now.  Kanan is gone.  You escaped.  Shallan is safe.  I'm safe.  It's okay.”

“I said get out,” Jack stated more forcefully.  ~I don't want a pretend Daniel.  I only want the real thing.~

“Jack ...”

Suddenly, the older man lunged upwards, pulling the various medical devices with him.  He pushed against Daniel, shoving the man to the floor.

“O'Neill!” Teal'c exclaimed, having heard the sounds of machinery and loud beeps.  He hurried to block Jack from moving forward, pushing him back onto the bed.  “You must stay in bed.”

Janet and Sam both ran in, looking all around to take in what must have happened.

“I'M GONNA KILL HIM!” Jack shouted, wanting the hallucination to disappear.

Sam walked over to Daniel, who was still on the floor, and asked, “Daniel, are you all right?”

“I'm fine,” Daniel nodded, allowing Sam to help him stand since he was still weakened from his own injuries.  He watched as Janet made sure the medical equipment was reset and properly hooked up.  **Jack, we'll get through this.**

Jack was continuing to fight, wanting his freedom from the image he was seeing. He didn't respond or react to Daniel's silent words.  Instead, he kept shouting and struggling to get away.

Finally, Janet had no choice, ordering the colonel to be put in restraints, his hands and legs tied to the bed.

SG-1 watched in despair, not truly aware of the depths of Jack's torture as yet, though Daniel had a good idea of what had probably happened.

“Everyone out,” Janet ordered as Jack shouted over her words.  “Colonel, if you don't calm down *now*, I'll have to sedate you.”

The physician hoped that if left alone, Jack would calm down without medication.

Teal'c departed the room, and Janet began to follow.  Daniel, however, looked at Sam, his eyes requesting a favor.  The blonde pursed her lips as she realized what Daniel wanted.  She sighed, giving him a slight nod.

Janet looked back, at which point Sam stated, “Janet, let's give them a chance.  You know how they are.”

The petite doctor looked over at the angry man tied to the bed and then at the anxious, but amazingly calm archaeologist.

“Two minutes, Daniel, and if he keeps this up ...”

“I know, Janet.  Thank you,” Daniel spoke sincerely.

Sam followed Janet out and, as she closed the door, whispered, “I'll be right here.  I'll do my best.”

Daniel nodded, knowing Sam would prevent anyone from entering the room without warning.  He also knew he had to work fast.  He approached the bed, not the least bit daunted by Jack's shouts.

“Jack, please listen,” Daniel requested, his left hand touching Jack's cheek.  Seeing Jack calm, almost involuntarily, he continued, “Words aren't working.  I know you took yourself to a place that would keep Shallan and me safe.  You did that because that's your nature -- to protect, no matter what the cost.”

“I have to,” Jack stated in a raspy voice, his body sweating from his exertion.

“I know,” Daniel acknowledged with a smile as his thumb ran gently along Jack's jaw line.  “I love you, Jack, and everything we have is *so* real.  You beat that Goa'uld, and now you need to come back to me.  Let go.  Trust me.”

“I ... I can do that,” Jack whispered, though not totally convinced the man was real yet.

“Words are just words,” Daniel spoke as he leaned over and pressed his lips against the older man's.  “Words can't speak what our bodies feel,” he said just before starting another kiss.  This time, he demanded entrance into Jack's mouth, his tongue swiping against his lover's as the passionate union grew.  He remained close, their faces barely separate.  “Forever and always.  It's what we say.  It's okay, Babe.  We're alive, and we're together.  I love you so much.  I love you, Jack.”

Daniel kissed his Love again, making it as passionate, yet tender, as he could.  He prayed Jack's mind would get the message.

**I love you, Jack,** Daniel intoned with their special language.

**Love.**

It was just one word, but Daniel felt hope.  Jack did hear him.  He was still fighting, but the real reality was beginning to get through.  After a few more kisses, with Jack fully participating in each one, Daniel pulled back, his hands caressing Jack's cheeks and neck.

“Okay, this is what we're going to do,” Daniel stated, taking firm control of their situation.  “You're going to cooperate with Janet.  She's going to make me stay here another day, and you need to get your strength back.  Tomorrow, we're going to the cabin, just the two of us.  I ... I don't know how I'm going to convince her.”  He smiled, saying, “We may have to break out, but you need ...”

“You,” Jack spoke softly, his eyes suddenly misty.

Daniel smiled a bit more brightly, nodding as he affirmed, “Gawd, I hope so.  You have to do whatever Janet asks today.  Give me a chance to convince her that we'll both be okay.  Sam will help.”

“Danny?”

“Yeah, that's me.  Your Danny,” Daniel stated, knowing Jack needed to hear words that Daniel didn't often speak the way he was now.  “We'll get through this.  You're the best, Jack, but the colonel can relax now, and let my Silver Fox come out.”

Daniel took hold of Jack's hand, squeezing it gently.  Then he bent down and kissed it.

“Oma?” Jack suddenly asked, a fear in his eyes.

“Oma's with the Others.  She helped us, Jack.  I'll tell you how at the cabin, but she didn't do anything to me.  I'm here, flesh and blood, just like you,” Daniel assured.  He heard a warning knock on the door and glanced over towards it.  “Remember, do whatever Janet says.  Tomorrow, we'll ...”

“Blow this joint?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, together, like we're meant to be,” Daniel spoke as confidently as he could.  The truth was that his belief in their eternity, in their nation of two, was growing every day.  Though some doubts of their romance ending and Jack abandoning him remained, he knew that right now he needed to be strong.  He couldn't allow any uncertainties, no matter how small, to interfere with his soulmate's recovery.  “What is it you always tell me?”

“What?”

“About us being together.  Tell me, Jack.  Make me believe it,” Daniel requested.

Jack stared at Daniel and finally said, “Together, we're unbeatable.  We can do anything.”

Smiling brightly, Daniel nodded, saying, “That's right.  I love you, Jack.”

Daniel placed one more tender kiss on the older man's lips before stepping back. His timing was perfect as one short, abrupt knock preceded Janet's reemergence into the room.  Sam followed closely behind her.

Janet was prepared to pounce, but she was stopped cold in her tracks by a very calm patient and his equally calm visitor.

“He doesn't need the restraints anymore, Janet.  Please,” Daniel requested.

The doctor looked over at Jack to gauge his reaction.

“I'm okay now, Doc.  I'm sorry for disturbing your toys,” Jack stated, looking over at the medical equipment.

Sam smiled at Daniel, realizing he'd gotten through to the leader of SG-1.

“I'll talk to you later, Jack,” Daniel intoned, leaving the room and motioning for Sam to follow.

“Yeah, later,” Jack replied as he watched Janet undoing the bindings that had kept him on the bed.

====

Outside Jack's room, as they headed for Daniel's bed, the archaeologist told Sam of his intent.

“Daniel, I don't think Janet will go for it,” Sam opined.

“She has to.  Sam, Jack needs me,” Daniel spoke emotionally.  “He can't get reality back here.”  He looked around even as he talked with his friend.  “He was protecting me.  He blocked Kanan from his mind as much as possible, and then he did the same thing with Ba'al.  He convinced himself that ... well, that this dream we had once was the truth.”

“Dream? I don't know, Daniel,” the blonde responded skeptically, not really having a clue what her friend was talking about.

“I know you don't understand, but Jack does.  He ... he's become confused.  Look, he's had special training on mind control, right?”

“Right,” Sam affirmed.

“Well, he used what he learned, and more, to keep our relationship a secret,” Daniel spoke, almost in an inaudible whisper.

Knowing the truth, though, Sam nodded, understanding the hushed words.

Daniel continued, “I need to help him focus on the truth and not that wacky dream.  I can't do that here, and the longer we're apart, the harder it'll be.  Help me, Sam.”

“What about the general?” Sam inquired.  She saw Daniel's look of 'help me' and sighed.  “You want *me* to talk to him?”

“After we're gone,” Daniel affirmed.  “Sam, I don't think he'd let Jack go because of the torture.  He hasn't been ...”

“Debriefed,” Sam acknowledged.

“He needs this, Sam.  Please,” Daniel pleaded.

“Okay,” the major agreed, silently wondering if she was about to be a captain again.

“Thanks, Sam,” an appreciative Daniel intoned as he slid onto his hospital bed.

====

The next evening, Sam helped Daniel to convince a reluctant Janet to agree to Jack's release.  Actually, looking at the two men, the petite doctor knew she had little choice.  She recognized the determined look in their eyes.  Even if she'd refused to allow their release, the hour would come when she'd walk into the infirmary and discover they'd both gone.  Preferring to make sure both men had proper 'care and feeding' instructions for the other, she filled prescriptions and provided instructions designed to help both regain their full strength.

As quietly as possible, the two men left the SGC.  They returned to their home only long enough to pack a few essentials and pay the most urgent bills.  Then, with Daniel driving Jack's truck, the two men headed for the cabin in Minnesota.

“Jack, are you okay?” Daniel asked.

“No,” Jack admitted, still struggling with the two realities warring in his mind.

“You will be,” the younger man promised.

Daniel drove on.  He and his lover had survived their physical injuries, but they now had to win the battle of the mind.  The younger man knew, with Jack's training, it was going to be a long, hard-fought war.

~But we're going to win,~ Daniel determined, reaching over to take Jack's hand for a moment.  Though Jack pulled his hand back at first, Daniel took it again.  This time, Jack embraced it.  “I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, too, Danny,” a weakened-in-the-spirit Jack replied as he stared at his window.

The soulmates were now fighting for their souls, but it was a fight, they inwardly vowed to win.

====
Chapter Three - Dark Abyss
====

“WHERE ARE YOU?” Jack shouted out in the darkness of the night.  “WHY AREN'T YOU HERE?”

“Jack!” Daniel called out as he sat up a bit.  He noticed Jack was sweating and was still asleep, deep in the throes of yet another nightmare.  “Jack, wake up.  I'm here.  I'm right here.”

“I'D BE HERE FOR ...”

“Jack!” Daniel said, gently tapping his lover's right cheek.  “Wake up!” he urged. Still, the older man remained lost in the abyss of his nightmare.  Daniel pulled him up, shaking him fiercely.  ~Gawd!  I'm shaking him so hard.  Why won't he wake up?~

Feeling increasingly desperate at hearing the rising distress in Jack's voice, Daniel took a deep breath and lightly punched his lover.  Although it hurt the younger man deeply to do so, he couldn't bear to let his life partner continue to suffer alone in his nightmare.

“Danny?”

“Hey,” Daniel responded, swallowing hard and trying not to let the tears escape.  He caressed the spot where his fist had impacted Jack's jaw.  “I love you.”

“Did you just hit me?” Jack asked.

“You wouldn't wake up; I ... I needed you to wake up,” Daniel spoke as he tried to hang on to his emotions.

“I was there again,” Jack admitted, gently pushing his lover away as he sat up.  He hunched forward, placing his face in the palms of his hands.  “I don't like that place, Danny.”

“No Froot Loops there,” the archaeologist lightly jested as he reached out to rub Jack's back.

“Gotta have Loops,” Jack acknowledged, trying to forget his torment for a moment.

“They make you loopy,” Daniel teased.

“Yeah, that's a good word for me right now,” Jack observed in the darkness of his despair.  He got up and quickly changed his clothes, removing his pajamas and replacing them with his burgundy sweats.  “I'm going for a walk,” he said as he disappeared from the bedroom.

Daniel sighed as he watched his lover disappear from his sight.  The two had been at the cabin for three days, and every time Jack had closed his eyes, he'd had disturbing nightmares.  What was worse was that sometimes he wondered if Jack really believed that the horrible dreams were the reality.  There were moments when the older man just stared at Daniel, as if waiting for him to disappear from his sight.

At other moments, Jack would reach out and touch his lover.  He'd squeeze his arm or hand, then blink, as if surprised to feel the flesh of another man.  Then he'd back away or smile slightly as he tried to move forward in his life.

The archaeologist scooted out of their bed and put on his own pair of navy sweats.  He wasn't sure how to make his soulmate whole again.  Though they'd talked about what had happened, it often seemed like Jack wasn't hearing the words, and, even though they were sleeping together in the same bed, they hadn't made love since before the older man had gone to Antarctica.  Jack had a wall up, a protective veil that Daniel hadn't really seen before.

~That's not quite true,~ Daniel thought.  ~It's just Jack has never used any of his walls against me before, not ... not like this.  This is the first time he's shut me out as if I had never existed.~  He stared into the mirror, his worried image being reflected back.  Suddenly, the image blurred and, for an instant, he saw a woman, blonde.  “Sara,” Daniel whispered.

Daniel backed away, suddenly feeling very vulnerable.  He began to wonder if he was just another rung on the ladder, as cliché as that sounded.

~Is this how Sara felt?  Did Jack do this to her?  He ... He said he shut her out.  Maybe ...~  The insecure lover looked down and began to self-hug, doubts and fears beginning to consume him.  “No!  Stop!  I'm not Sara, and he's only shutting me out because ... it's only temporary,” he stammered.  “It'll be okay.  He needs me to believe in us, in him, like he does when I'm ... when I ... gawd, what a mess.”

The archaeologist hoped it was just a question of time, and time was something both men had at the moment.

~No, I know it's just a matter of time.  Hoping is good, but ... I have to believe.  I have to focus on Jack.  This isn't about me.  It's not.  Don't lose sight of the truth,~ the angst-ridden younger man reminded himself.  “I just hope the truth is what I think it is.”

====

Outside the cabin, Daniel followed the path he guessed his lover had used.  It went alongside the lake, where they often went for walks.  A few minutes into his journey, he caught sight of the older man, sitting by the bank, watching the water flow serenely by.

“Jack,” Daniel called out quietly, not wanting to surprise his lover and end up black and blue from the colonel responding with his well-trained, automatic reflexes.  ~Actually, I wouldn't mind ending up black and blue if I thought it would help you, except it wouldn't.  You'd just feel guilty.~  He knelt down behind and slightly to the right of Jack, placing a kiss at the base of his neck.  His right arm wrapped around the older man, while his left hand began to caress Jack's back, shoulder, and left arm.  “It's beautiful out here tonight.”

“I'm trying to figure it out, Danny.  I've never reacted like that before, not even in Iraq,” Jack stated, his head turning slightly to his right in an effort to see his soulmate, though he really couldn't.  He felt Daniel's head lying against the top of his back, and the gentle, soothing motions of the younger man's hands on his abdomen and arm.  It felt good.  “This was different.”

“I know.  You didn't have a choice,” Daniel stated.

“I get so messed up,” Jack responded as he stared out at the lake.

“It's understandable,” the younger man quietly intoned.

“That makes you smarter than me,” Jack quipped.  “Forget I said that.  We've known that for years.”

“Jack,” Daniel chastised, turning his head and looking out at the lake, his head leaning in so that his chin just touched his lover's shoulder.  “You were trying to keep the Tok'ra from knowing about us.  That was what you were protecting.  You knew General Hammond would automatically change the codes.”

“I figured he'd do what was necessary,” Jack agreed.  “That friggin' snake kept trying to find out things.  I felt him, Danny.  He made my skin crawl.”

“But you didn't let him, did you?” Daniel probed with a tiny smile on his face.  “Jack, you weren't so much worried about the Tok'ra learning about ... military maneuvers or SG teams as you were about them finding out about you and me.”

“I don't trust them,” Jack opined, bowing his head as he shook it.

“You had to protect me,” Daniel softly stated, rubbing his head for a moment against the back of his lover's.  He could feel the tenseness overshadowing his Love.  “You *did* protect me.”

“I gave that snake the runaround like I'm sure he's never had before,” Jack snarked proudly.  “I double-talked him with everything I had, and then I replayed every episode of 'The Simpsons' in colorful detail.  I kept him as far away from us as I could.”

“You were successful, Love,” Daniel spoke, letting his left hand roam all the way down his soulmate's arm.  “You kept Kanan from discovering anything important.”

“He took over my body, Daniel,” Jack refuted.

“Yes, he did, but, uh, he still didn't get your mind, not really, but you know what he did get?” the archaeologist asked.

“Daniel, I'm not in the mood for pop quizzes,” Jack wearily responded.

Wrapping both arms around his life partner, hoping to provide Jack with a feeling of security, Daniel elaborated, “He got the best of you; I mean, the part of you that cares about people and takes responsibility.  Kanan took over, Jack, so he could rescue Shallan, and he did that only because you believe so strongly in not leaving anyone behind.  He left your body when they caught you to protect both of you.  He knew you had guarded your mind; that's why you still don't remember much about him or Shallan.  He left, so that when ...” Daniel paused, not even wanting to say the words.

“... when Ba'al decided to play life and death ... and life and death and life and death and ...”

“Jack, stop,” Daniel requested, ending the flippant reply.  “Yes, that's what I mean.  If Kanan had stayed with you, eventually, you couldn't have held out, not against him and the Goa'uld both.  It would have been too much.”

“Don't make that snake out to be heroic, Daniel,” Jack quietly barked, not feeling any warmth toward the Tok'ra after the hell he'd been through.

“I'm not trying to,” Daniel responded.  “What I am saying is that what he learned from you was honor and sacrifice.  I know he was probably worried about divulging Tok'ra secrets, too, but ... I really think Kanan left when he did to protect you and Shallan.  What you didn't know, Jack, you couldn't tell, and all you knew was ...”

“Nothing,” Jack completed for his lover, letting out a sigh.  He began to shift, and so, Daniel moved in response.  Now, Jack was lying down, his head in his lover's lap.  He smiled seeing Daniel's smile, and his forehead enjoyed the massage the younger man's fingers were giving it.  “I barely remember her.”

“He was right, Jack,” Daniel spoke.

“What?” Jack asked, confused.

Daniel smiled, saying, “I think Kanan left you because he knew you'd save her.  At that moment, he did all he could to leave you an imprint of her and how much he loved her.  He was a Tok'ra, and he wouldn't have come back, even though he loved her, if it hadn't been for you.  The last thing Kanan did was put her in your mind.”

Jack looked upwards at the sky, lined with stars as he considered Daniel's words.

“I really don't remember anything but her face and that he loved her,” the older man admitted.  “There's a couple of scattered images, but I can't really make them out.”

“He knew you'd save her, if you could, and you did, Jack.  You did exactly what Kanan expected,” Daniel pointed out.  “That's a good thing, by the way.  You saved a life.”

“She went to live with the Tok'ra; she'll probably let them ... you know,” Jack said, grimacing from his thought as he waved his right hand over his body for a minute.

“Probably,” Daniel agreed, believing the odds were good that Shallan would become a host to a symbiote at some point in time, if she wasn't already.  He leaned down, placing a short, tender kiss on his lover's forehead.  Then, he looked into Jack's eyes and spoke, “So, you met your objective.  The Tok'ra didn't learn anything from you.  Kanan got nothing from you but your morals and ethics.”

“I had to pretend you didn't exist,” Jack whispered painfully.

“It was only pretend,” Daniel soothed as he fingers tenderly ran through the older man's silver-gray hair.

This was the longest and calmest conversation they'd had yet about Kanan and Jack's experience as host to the symbiote.  Daniel knew there was more to be covered, but he viewed this as progress.  Maybe Jack was finally beginning to heal the emotional wounds he'd sustained.

“Babe, tell me how it feels,” Daniel requested.

“How what feels?” Jack asked.

“How it feels to ... well, to ...”

“I don't want to talk about it,” Jack said, quickly moving upward, out of his soulmate's reach.  He stood and walked over to the very edge of the bank.  “Maybe we'll go for a swim tomorrow.”

“Jack, we have to talk about it,” the younger man maintained.

“On second thought, why wait?” Jack asked, taking off his sweatshirt.

“Jack!” Daniel called out, standing up in alarm when Jack removed his sweatpants as well.  “Jack, don't be ...”

The splash of the lake's waters was loud and unmistakable.  Daniel bowed his head for a moment, then walked to the edge of the bank, watching as Jack tried to swim away his demons.

~You have to say the word, and you have to come to terms with it, Love.  Then we can put it behind us and ... gawd, and move on to Ba'al and his torture.~

Daniel crossed his arms in front of him, carefully keeping an eye on Jack to make sure he didn't put himself in danger.

Jack swam rapidly, going over to the other side of the lake, then back again.  He wasn't done yet, though, and began to swim back towards the cabin.

Quietly, Daniel picked up Jack's discarded clothing and made his way along the edge of the bank, only diverting from its edge when he reached the old, dilapidated boathouse.

Finally, Jack climbed up onto the small dock, turning to face the lake as he sat on the edge of the wooden structure.  It was cold, and he had nothing to warm him. That is, nothing until Daniel wrapped his arms around him, having knelt down to embrace his Love.

“You'll get wet,” Jack pointed out.

“Too late,” Daniel responded, his navy sweatshirt plenty damp now from the contact.  “Jack ...”

“Not yet,” Jack interrupted.

“Okay, but it's cold out here.  Let's go inside and dry you off,” Daniel suggested, tugging firmly on his lover's arm.

“Always so demanding,” Jack semi-teased, twisting around to look at Daniel and then allowing himself to be pulled up into an upward stance.

“I have a reputation,” Daniel lightly mused.

“Me, too, but mine isn't as good as yours,” Jack stated as he turned away from the younger man and headed for the cabin.

~Oh, Jack, please don't start doubting yourself,~ Daniel silently pleaded.  He let out an audible sigh, then walked slowly to the cabin's door.  ~We will get through this.  We will,~ he determined, opening the door and going inside to comfort his lover and get both of them through the night.

====

“Uh, what are you doing?” Daniel asked early the next afternoon.  He'd been outside reading when he decided to come inside and see about having something to eat.  “Jack?”

The older man startled, having been deep in thought.  He dropped the knife he held in his hand to the counter, staring at it as another tortuous memory flooded through his mind.  Quickly, he blanked it out.

“Daniel, don't do that,” Jack barked, looking out the small window that faced a forested area.

“Sorry, but, uh, what are you doing?” Daniel asked again.

“Making us sandwiches for lunch,” Jack answered, picking up the knife again and continuing to spread mayonnaise over a piece of bread.  “What does it look like I'm doing?”

Jack's face was expressionless, and his eyes cold.  He was focused on his objective, and Daniel wasn't it.  All morning, the older man had avoided the younger, pushing him away and then glancing to see if Daniel was still there.

~Sometimes, you act like you want me to go.  Is that what you did with Sara?  Treat her like an inanimate object, pretending she wasn't there half the time?  Is that what you think of me?  Maybe you don't love ...~  Daniel took a deep breath, regaining control over his insecurities yet again.  He reminded himself that the issue at hand had nothing to do with him, not really.  They needed to focus on Jack, on getting him to believe that the present was indeed the true reality.  ~Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Jackson, and do for Jack what he's done so often for you -- put him first.~  Full of resolve once again, he observed Jack's sandwich-making actions.  “Don't you think you got a little carried away?”

Jack looked at his lover, then followed the motion of Daniel's nod toward the small, circular table that was positioned between the kitchen and the living areas.  It was stacked with sandwiches.  The colonel's face drooped in realizing what he'd done.

“Well, we'll be prepared with sandwiches for ... another week, at least,” Daniel mused.

Jack sighed, “I'm sorry, Danny.”

“Hey, it's okay,” Daniel responded, reaching out and rubbing gently against Jack's forearm.  “I've done a lot worse.”

“Yeah, coffee stains all over the floor,” the older man chuckled half-heartedly.

“Exactly,” Daniel affirmed with a smile, recalling a moment when he'd been so distracted that he had not only let his coffee mug overflow, but the pot of coffee had drained all over the table and onto the floor before he'd noticed what had happened.  “Let's wrap a couple of these so they'll stay fresh.”

“A couple?” Jack questioned.  “Danny, I went through the entire loaf of bread.”

Daniel placed a kiss on Jack's cheek and said, “That's good.  Now we don't have to worry about lunches and snacks for days.”

Jack smiled, watching as Daniel pulled out some aluminum foil to wrap the sandwiches.

~Geez, I love him,~ the colonel thought.  His smile faded.  For a moment, things had seemed normal, but just as suddenly, that normalcy faded.  ~Why can't I get over this?~

====

Having eaten lunch and stored the excess sandwiches, Jack and Daniel were playing the card game of 'war'.  It was mindless, yet took a long time to play, which is exactly what Jack wanted right now.

As Jack's eight took Daniel's six, he commented, “I felt invaded.  I still feel invaded.”

Daniel looked up, noticing Jack wasn't looking at him, but was focused on the cards.  He played a ten and took Jack's three.

“There's no choice in it.  They stick this thing in your head and say it's nothing.  They think it's an honor.  They're wrong,” the older man stated, giving up another card to his lover.

Daniel didn't respond, sensing the time wasn't right.  Jack was still focused on the cards and hadn't even glanced at him.  His lover needed to talk, uninterrupted.  He gave up a jack to Jack's queen.

“I can't believe I agreed to it.  Carter -- she said the Tok'ra needed the information.  Fine, they got it, but what about me?  What have those ...” Jack paused for a moment as he tried to come up with a word bad enough to describe the Tok'ra and concluded that there just wasn't one.  He shook his head and continued, “...friggin' Tok'ra ever done for me?  For us?  For Earth?  Okay, yeah, they've helped, but they've held back, and sometimes it's been costly.  I like Jacob.  Garshaw's cool, but the rest of 'em can go rot in some slimy hole with the devil.”

The archaeologist reshuffled the cards.  He'd won that round.  Jack still wasn't looking at him.  As he dealt the cards, splitting it into two equal piles, he covertly watched his lover fidget, rubbing his hands together and looking over at the window, then the fireplace, and then the front door.  Jack was looking everywhere but at Daniel.

“They took advantage of me.  I bet they could have done something to heal me without that friggin' snake,” Jack spoke harshly.  “A SNAKE.  I LET THEM PUT A FRIGGIN' SNAKE IN MY HEAD, AND WHY?” he yelled, suddenly getting up and pushing the table over, making sure it didn't hit his lover, but still knocking the piece of furniture to its side, the cards floating down to the wood floor.  “WHY?” Jack shouted, moving quickly to the sofa, picking up a pillow and throwing it against the wall.  “WHY DID I LET THEM DO THIS?  IT'S INSANE TO THINK I'D *EVER* LET THEM DO THAT TO ME.”  He hurried to the front door and kicked it with his foot, grimacing and grabbing his knee for a split second before shouting, “IT'S SOME SICK PLOT.  WHY WOULD I AGREE TO IT?  WHY?  TELL ME WHY!”

“Because of me,” Daniel answered softly from several feet away.  He'd remained calm, content to let his soulmate destroy the cabin if it would help him return to sanity.  He wouldn't rush Jack, either.  Instead, he waited.  If Jack finally looked at him, then he'd move on with his comments.  If not, he'd watch, making sure the older man didn't hurt himself amid the destruction of the cozy haven.  ~It's up to you, Jack.~

For the first time, Jack looked over at his lover.  He was breathing heavily from his tantrum and was red-faced.  He felt out of control; that is, until he saw the love in the younger man's eyes.

Daniel walked slowly to Jack, stopping when he was just inches away.  He smiled very subtly, and then he raised his right hand to Jack's cheek and began to caress it with small strokes of his thumb.

“Sam, the general, the rest of the world -- they think you did it out of a sense of duty, that you agreed to the ... implantation because the information the symbiote had was important.  They all believe that, and it sounds very noble, but I know the truth, Jack, and so do you.  You didn't agree to it out of loyalty or duty.  It wasn't an order.  Sam didn't convince you that it was for that greater good the military loves to talk about.  It wasn't for you.  If it had been just you, you would have died, but it wasn't just for you.  It was me, too, because we're a pair, a set, a ... a couple, and we have a pact.  If you had died, then right now, I'd be dead, too, and you didn't want that.  You knew you were dying, and the only way to keep me alive was to do the very thing you detest the thought of the most.  You let them give you a symbiote.  You lived -- for me.”

Daniel's blue eyes were filling with tears as they gazed into his lover's chocolate brown eyes, eyes that were misty themselves.

“You did it for me, Jack,” an emotional Daniel spoke.  “You were violated, essentially against your will.  You had to work so hard to keep yourself separated from the Tok'ra mind within you.  Then, gawd, then you were tortured and died ... over and o...”

Daniel looked down, lost in the emotion of the moment.  Then he felt Jack's right hand under his chin, forcing him to look back over at his Love.

“I did it for you,” Jack stated calmly, adding, “and I did it for us.”  After another few moments passed, he smiled, saying, “And I'd do it again, if it meant life for you.”

“I love you, Jack.”

“I love you, too, Danny.”

“Tell me more,” Daniel requested.  “How does it feel now, knowing what you do know now about the Tok'ra?”

“I hate it, but I don't regret it,” Jack spoke.  Suddenly, he cocked his head.  He'd just made a major realization about himself and what had happened.  “I don't regret it because you're alive.  I just hate the thought of it.  I don't remember the actual ... that word,” he said, referring to the implantation, the moment when the symbiote first entered his body.

Jack led Daniel over to the sofa, ignoring the overturned table and scattered cards.  They sat down, holding hands.  Both wanted the contact at the moment.

“I woke up one day, still feeling a bit woozy, and then I remembered,” Jack stated.  “How could I not? There were all these serious faces staring down at me, asking me how Kanan was, wanting to talk to Kanan.”  He shook his head.  “No one asked how I was, just that friggin' snake.”

For the next couple of hours, Jack opened his soul to Daniel.  Of course, it was usually open to the younger man, but since his return to Earth, Jack had kept it to himself.  Finally, having gotten to the truth of why he'd agreed to the implantation, Jack was now able to confide all the feelings he'd had from the moment he'd awakened in the Tok'ra room until now.  They didn't talk about the events at the fortress yet, instead choosing to concentrate on Kanan and how it felt to be a host.

It was enlightening for Daniel, a release for Jack, and a catalyst for bringing the two men even closer together than they'd ever been before.

====

Daniel felt a fist smash into his face, waking him with a start.  He looked over at his lover just in time to stop Jack's hand from unintentionally belting him yet again.  Quickly, but with some difficulty, Daniel restrained the older man as he attempted to wake him.

“TAKE YOUR KNIVES, AND USE 'EM ON YOUR ...”

“Jack, wake up!” Daniel called out as he straddled his lover.  “Jack!”

“LUKE SKYWALKER, AT YOUR DISSERVICE,” Jack shouted snarkily.

Daniel shook his soulmate, trying to pull him out of the nightmare, but Jack was so deep into the abyss that he wouldn't wake up.  This is what made his recent nightmares extra traumatic for Daniel.  In fact, a part of the archaeologist feared that one day, he might not get Jack to wake at all.

Three times now, he'd had to punch his lover.  Another time, he had thrown water on him.  That was the technique Daniel preferred, and he'd begun taking a bowl of water to bed with them.  Of course, that tactic was dependent on him being able to reach the bowl while still restraining Jack.  Once when he'd been unable to reach the water, he'd resorted to actually pulling Jack off the bed, letting the fall to the floor wake him.  It was a nightmare for both men.

The archaeologist was still struggling to keep Jack from hitting him again, while attempting to bring him out of the nasty memories that were haunting him.  He reached over for the bowl of water and cursed.  It was just out of his reach.

“I DON'T KNOW ANYTHING.  O'NEILL -- TWO 'L'S.  NOT A TOK'RA.  WHY WOULD I WANT TO BE ONE OF THOSE ...”

“Jack, please wake up!” Daniel exclaimed, leaning forward to try and grab the bowl of water.  Unfortunately, he lost his grip and found himself the recipient of a hard punch which knocked him backwards.  ~Gawd,~ he thought, putting his hand over his right eye.  He sighed, having a suspicion he was going to end up with a black eye.  ~Guilt.  Crap, he doesn't need that added bonus.~

At least he had now been knocked close enough to his bedside table to reach the bowl of water and having no choice, Daniel emptied it over his Love.

“What?  Holy cold water!  Daniel, what the blazes ...” Jack paused, realizing what must have happened.  He also saw Daniel flinch as his eye ached.  “Did I hit you?”

“It was an accident,” Daniel stated softly.

“Danny, I'm sorry,” Jack said, getting up quickly and taking his soulmate into his arms.  “I'm so sorry.”

Daniel let himself be comforted for a moment.  He needed this -- Jack taking care of him.  It was right, and it made him feel safe.

“I'm no good for you, Danny,” Jack stated melancholically.

The archaeologist gave an internal sigh, but didn't begrudge his current role of looking after his lover.  Jack had certainly chased away Daniel's demons often enough.

When Jack pulled away and walked into the living area, Daniel was hot on his heels.  He watched the older man sit down in the middle of the sofa and bury his head in his hands.

“No good,” Jack stated again.

“Jack, you've saved me from my own darkness.  If it weren't for you and our love for each other, my life would be so different now, and I'd ... I'd be alone somewhere, with my nose buried in a book,” Daniel quietly refuted.

“Your nose is still buried in a book half the time,” Jack lightly argued, running his palms along his cheeks as he sat up a bit straighter.

“That's the difference, Love,” Daniel spoke, a small smile on his face as he walked from the bedroom doorway to stand in front of his partner.  “Half the time.  If you didn't love me, it would be all the time.  I never would have gone to Disneyland.”

Jack had to chuckle at the memories of their very first visit to the Magic Kingdom.  He sighed and leaned back against the sofa pillow, looking over at his soulmate.

“I'm so messed up,” Jack bemoaned.  ~I'm scared; I've never felt like this.  I've always been in control.~

Daniel blinked a couple of times and then sat down on Jack's right.  He took his lover's hand as he rested his head against Jack's shoulder.

“We're going to ... unmess you,” Daniel asserted.

“Unmess?  Daniel, is that a word?” Jack asked as he leaned his head against his lover's.

“No, but I'm off duty as a linguist, so it doesn't matter,” the younger man mused.

“I've corrupted you,” Jack intoned.

“Yeah, isn't it wonderful?” Daniel chuckled.

“How about we eat some of those sandwiches?” the older man suggested.  “I don't want them to go to waste.”

“Gin?” Daniel suggested.

“I'll get the cards, and you get the food,” Jack offered as the two men stood up.  Before Daniel got away, though, Jack pulled him close.  Gazing into his Love's eyes, he spoke, “I need you.”

“I need you, too, Babe, so much.”

The lovers shared their most tender kiss in days, and it left both tingly and wanting more.  The time wasn't yet right, though, so they smiled at each other and carried on with their plans.

====

“Son, how's he doing?” General Hammond asked Daniel via the cell phone.

Jack was outside, fishing at the moment, and Daniel knew it would be only a matter of time before the SGC came looking.  Therefore, he'd decided to cut them off at the pass by phoning the general directly.  The fact that he knew Hammond genuinely cared and worried about Jack's welfare made it easier, too.

“He's better, Sir,” Daniel answered, keeping an eye on the door in case Jack made a surprise return.

“When do you expect to return to active duty?” Hammond inquired, concerned about his 2IC, but anxious to get SG-1 back in action.

“I ... I'm not sure.  General, he was tortured.  He'll be okay, but we have to give him time to adjust,” Daniel stated, trying to sound as distant and professional as he could, instead of emotional.

“Doctor Fraiser has reminded me of the same thing, Doctor, and she seems certain that getting him to see a psychiatrist wouldn't help.”

“I would have to agree wholeheartedly with her, General,” Daniel said quickly, mentally thanking Janet.

“Very well.  I won't expect you back for at least another week.  In the meantime, I'll assign Major Carter and Teal'c to other teams temporary,” Hammond stated, already pulling out the team rosters to review in order to decide where to place both SG-1 team members.

“Thank you,” Daniel stated as he ended the call.  “Oh, uh, what about Jonas?”

“He's returned to Kelowna.  He'll be returning to the SGC for additional duty later on,” Hammond responded.

After another minute, the conversation ended.  Quickly, Daniel returned his cell phone to his duffel bag, not hiding it really, but, rather, just keeping it out of the way.  He wasn't even sure if Jack knew he had brought the device.  ~I'd better check on him,~ he determined, going outside and walking around to find the colonel, smiling when he saw the relaxed look on Jack's face.

The older man was not too far out from the dock, relaxing in his old, but much beloved rowboat.  He was leaning back, wearing a silly, multi-colored fishing hat that had a facsimile trout sticking out the top.

**I love you, Jack.**

Jack looked over and replied, **Love you, too, Angel.  I'm gonna stay out here a while.**

**Break a hook,** Daniel mused before turning and going back inside.

**Very funny,** Jack replied at his lover's variation of the good luck saying, 'break a leg'.

====

The next morning, the archaeologist awoke to an empty bed.  He wasn't panicked as he would have been had this been their first day at the cabin, though.  Rather, he felt frustrated.

~Crap!  I hate it when he does this,~ Daniel bemoaned as he got off the bed.  He had always told Jack to wake him if he got up early, but, sometimes, either for convenience or because he just didn't want to disturb the sleeping man, Jack would get out of bed, letting his lover sleep.  Yawning, he walked into the living area, surprised not to see the older man.  He looked around, finding the cabin empty.  ~Maybe he went for a walk.~

Daniel returned to the bedroom.  After he dressed, he went in search of his lover.

====

The archaeologist began to go down the path that was the two men's favorite walking trail, but then he stopped, feeling himself being pulled towards the woods.  On a hunch, he retraced his steps and went in another direction.  It wasn't long before he found Jack, wandering aimlessly, a twig in his hand that he was in the process of breaking.

“I needed some air,” Jack spoke, sensing his lover's presence.

“I understand, but ... there's more to it, isn't there?” Daniel asked as he stood with his hands in his pockets.

Jack turned and confided, “I started to have another nightmare.  Somehow, I woke up.  I was afraid if I went back to sleep, you'd have another black eye to match that one.”

Daniel smiled and approached his soulmate.

“Does it hurt, Love?” Jack asked as Daniel drew nearer to him.

“No, not at all,” the younger man answered.  “It's nice right here,” he commented, looking around at the beauty of the trees and hearing the birds chirping happily.

By silent agreement, they sat down, Daniel leaning against the trunk of a tall tree.  Jack took a position in front of him, resting his head against his lover's right shoulder.  Daniel wrapped his arms around Jack, undoing a couple of shirt buttons to caress the older man's abdomen.

This was a position the two men often took, only normally, it was Jack with his arms protectively encircling Daniel.  This week, though, Daniel was the comforter, and Jack the one in need of reassurance.

“I can feel every knife that hit my body,” the colonel spoke, breaking the quiet of the last couple of minutes.  “He was so calm.  He stood there, playing with the knives.  Then he'd just let go, and the next thing I knew, I was the sheath.  He kept asking me questions I didn't know the answers to.”

Jack had tensed, but as he'd done so, he actually tried to back even closer into Daniel's protective hold.  Daniel kept making little circular motions on Jack's abdomen, hoping it would help relieve the muscular tension that was growing with every second.

“I hated that smug expression on his face,” Jack spat angrily.  “Arrogant snakehead.”

“They're all arrogant,” Daniel pointed out.

“You haven't met Ba'al,” Jack stated.  “Geez, I hope you never do.”

“Odds say ...”

“I know,” the older man interrupted.  He sighed, “I wasn't gonna give him anything, not one friggin' thing, but ...”

“Relax, Babe,” Daniel soothed, sensing Jack's anger and anxiety was mounting to a level he didn't believe was healthy, or would be very helpful.

“This was different than Iraq.  There was time there, lots of time to process what was happening.  What they did to me there was ...” Jack stopped, beginning to feel overwhelmed.

“It's okay, Jack.  You're safe, right here with me,” Daniel quietly reassured, placing a kiss at the side of his lover's neck and continuing to massage his abdomen.

“The things I learned in Special Operations, they ... Danny, I don't know what happened to me,” Jack spoke vulnerably.

“Jack, it began with you trying to protect me and our relationship from the Tok'ra.  Then, without warning or your consent, Kanan took control of you, and you found yourself at Ba'al's fortress, being asked things you had no clue about. Knowing you, I imagine you, uh, snarked back,” Daniel spoke.

“I did my best,” Jack replied.

“And ...” Daniel prompted.

“And then I didn't know what was real anymore; sometimes, I'm still not sure,” Jack admitted quietly.  “There wasn't any time to change gears,” he spoke with sudden realization.  “My mind had worked out a plan to keep you a secret.”

“Apothegms,” Daniel chuckled.

“There are thousands of those things, and millions of stars, and between the two, that snake couldn't find out squat,” Jack stated proudly.

“But on the planet ...” the archaeologist prodded.  ~Come on, Babe.  It's time to talk about it.~

Jack's head turned to look towards his left, his silver-gray hair tickling Daniel's chin.

“No time to figure out a game plan.  I didn't know why I was there.  For a while, I thought the Tok'ra had turned sour,” the colonel revealed.  “The thing is, it was like I was undercover undercover undercover.  I had so many scenarios in my mind that I lost track of what the truth was.  I still wanted to protect you, and this Bocce guy was new.  I wasn't sure how to read him.”

“The reports we got on him indicate he's pretty clever, maybe, uh, more clever than most of the other System Lords, except Apophis,” Daniel opined.

“He's finally dead, right?” Jack asked, his eyes spiraling upward to look at Daniel.

“Yes, Jack, Apophis is dead,” Daniel affirmed.

“I was so tired, Danny,” Jack spoke emotionally.  “It went on and on, and then there'd be nothing.  Then it started all over again.  I buried us in my mind.  Once I admitted the truth, but I was afraid if I didn't kill the thought that he'd find out, so I found something that would let you hide in my mind.”

“Our dream,” Daniel deduced.

“It was a way to keep you, but not too close,” Jack said.  He twisted around to face Daniel and added, “We couldn't be lovers.  I couldn't chance that, so we were friends.”

“I know.  I understand,” Daniel replied, smiling as his hands cupped Jack's face.  “You protected us.  I'm so proud of you for that, Jack.  I know how difficult it was for you.”

Jack gave a tiny nod as he turned back and resettled into his original position, relieved when Daniel's warm hands again found the skin just above his waistline and began another gentle massage.

“I needed you there, Danny, so I imagined you, talking to me and ...”

“Driving you crazy?” Daniel teased.

“Making me insane,” Jack commented.

“Challenging you,” the younger man spoke more seriously.

“You wanted me to ascend.  What a piece of ...”

“Jack,” Daniel chastised.  “If that dream ... or reality, or whatever you want to call it, if it had been the way you imagined it, if it had been real, then I would have done exactly what you thought I did, and no way ... I mean absolutely no way would I let you get away with saying you're not as good as me.  If ascension is based on goodness and character, then you qualify.”

“Personally, I don't think ascension is all that hot,” Jack opined.

“I'm not sure I do, either, nor do I want to find out,” Daniel spoke firmly, leaning his head on Jack's for a moment as he rocked them both gently.

The woods became quiet again, except for the birds and an occasional squirrel playfully roaming the trees.

“Are you real, Danny?” Jack whispered, his voice cracking.  He'd tried so hard to believe what Daniel said was the truth, but still, down deep, he wasn't sure if he'd just invented another version of his life.  Occasionally, he wondered if he was still in Ba'al's cells and had just lost touch with reality completely.  ~I need to know if I'm losing my mind or not.  Are you real, Danny?~

“Yes, Babe, I'm real,” Daniel answered.  He knew it was time, time to show his Love that Jack and Daniel were forever, and that this reality was the only reality. Illusions end; their nation of two never would.  He moved gracefully atop his lover, gently pushing Jack to a supine position.  “I'm definitely real.  You're real.  Together, we're the most real thing there is.”

Daniel leaned forward and kissed his soulmate, Jack's hands automatically going up to rub his partner's back.  The younger man began placing a trail of kisses from Jack's earlobe, down to his chin, and across to his other earlobe.  He lingered there, nibbling slightly, and then he used his tongue to trace the older man's ear.

“I love you,” Daniel whispered as he continued his kisses.

Jack's head tilted back, raising his chin up and giving Daniel better access.

As the younger man continued the kisses and occasional alluring licks with his tongue, his fingers unbuttoned Jack's shirt.  When Jack began to help, Daniel paused.  He raised up to gaze into the older man's eyes.  He smiled and shook his head, while at the same time, putting his fingers over Jack's mouth.  His fingers traced Jack's lips.

“Let me show you how real I am,” Daniel stated, pressing his lips against Jack's and then moving down lower.  He pushed his lover's tan shirt to the sides, letting Jack's hairy chest show through.  He tingled, just thinking about the silver-gray hairs that drove him to a tizzy inside.  “Love this.  Love them.  Love you,” he almost gasped as his lips made contact with various parts of Jack's chest.

As Daniel went lower, his lips encircled Jack's belly button, and then his tongue flicked all around it.

Jack's body arched in reflex as his head turned from side to side, his soul giving in to the loving assault.

As the kisses continued, Daniel's hand worked to undo his lover's pants, and slowly, with an amazing smoothness and ease, he slid Jack's clothing off, his own body making its way down his lover's.  This wasn't about rushing, or getting 'the deed' done.  It was about proving to Jack that every second, right now, was breathtakingly real.  Passion was growing, but today, it would be the tenderness that would prove the point.

Daniel's hands caressed his lover's thighs as he worked his way back up, after removing Jack's pants, boxers, shoes, and socks.  He teased gently with his tongue and mouth as he reached Jack's very-erect length, then moved upward even more, returning to the hairy chest that drove him wild.  His kissing and sensitive touches continued as his right hand began to work Jack's length -- slowly, carefully, methodically.

Jack's hands were at his side, and they began to dig into the dirt.  His anticipation was huge, and now, with each touch of his soulmate's fingers and lips against his skin, Jack reacted, his body rippling in response.

“You and me, Babe, that's the truth.  Best friends, lovers, forever -- just the two of us,” Daniel cooed as he positioned himself at the older man's erection.  “This is real, our reality, and it's the best.”

“Nation,” Jack gasped.

“Nation of two -- Jack and Daniel.  Sounds perfect, doesn't it?” Daniel asked, after which his tongue licked the whole of Jack's length.

Jack's fingers went deeper into the dirt, and he let out several deep-sounding moans.  He glanced down at Daniel, trying to focus and wanting to ensure it was real, that he wasn't doing this himself, imagining his pleasure.

As Daniel engulfed his length, Jack's head made contact with the ground again.  It was real.  It was Daniel.  He knew it was Daniel.  Wasn't it?

The dream began to mess with Jack's mind again.  The abyss called out with images of Daniel crashing through a window, Daniel's skin sloughing away, of telling Jacob not to continue trying to heal the archaeologist, and so many more. They were images that weren't real, except in a shared dream and, now, in the colonel's mind.

~No, not real!  He didn't die, not that time, not from radiation.  Not real,~ Jack argued within himself, feeling his lover sucking on him.  His body was so ready, and it wanted to release the demons within it.  The darkness brought more random images of Jack with his best friend in the cell at the fortress -- throwing his shoe at a mass of energy in Daniel's shape, arguing that he wasn't good enough to ascend, begging Daniel to kill him.  ~Yes, I wanted to die.  I wanted ...~

Jack's eyes had been closed, but now they flung open.  He had wanted to die, permanently, and he'd wanted it because Daniel wasn't a part of his life in the reality he'd created.  It was a world designed to protect the archaeologist, but in protecting Daniel, Jack had essentially killed himself, or at least, his soul.

At Daniel's command, Jack's release sprang from his length, filling his lover's mouth.  It felt so amazingly good.  It was almost a cleansing, but before Jack could get lost in that wondrous feeling, Daniel's finger went inside of him.

~Danny, only Danny,~ Jack thought.  He wanted so much more.  He wanted Daniel, and now.  “Need you,” he gasped.

“I need you, too, Jack, more than you know,” Daniel commented as he inserted two fingers, tapping teasingly inside his soulmate.

Daniel withdrew his fingers, hearing the regret in his lover's moans and eyes that fluttered closed in loving frustration.  He removed his clothing and then resumed his position on top of the older man.  He leaned down for a kiss.

“Lovers, partners, soulmates -- that's who we are.  Best friends, too.  We'll always be that, but our love is what has kept us strong.  It's real, Jack.  You and me -- we're the truth, the only truth that matters,” Daniel spoke as his eyes locked onto Jack's.

“It was an illusion,” Jack spoke softly.  “You, in that cell.”

“It was ... you staying alive, for us,” Daniel put forth just as he slid his length inside his lover, earning him an eager moan and a soft 'yes' from his soulmate.

Daniel's need for Jack was tremendous.  They hadn't made love since before his departure to PT6-329, and he was desperate.

~Not about me,~ Daniel reminded himself, putting his lover's needs before his own.  ~Slow.  Let him process.  He has to feel us, together, like this.~

The younger man's moves were smooth and full; there was nothing rushed, jerky, or abrupt in his tender glides within Jack's body.  Back and forth, steady, complete, touch, settle, push, calm -- those were the words Daniel focused on to make sure the experience was the one Jack needed.  In between his contacts with Jack's prostate, he placed more kisses on Jack's chest and sometimes going higher and connecting with his Love's moistened lips.

It was difficult to make love this way, to hold back when he longed so much for the passionate union the two normally would have had after being separated for a time, but Daniel continued to put Jack first.  He'd follow the older man's cues.  He would know when the time was right to push harder, to bring them both to the edge.

~Daniel.  Real.  My Danny,~ Jack thought as Daniel's length made contact again.  “Yes, gawd, yes!~” he exclaimed, breathing harder now than before.  ~He's right.  Geez, O'Neill, he's always right.  Fiction -- you created a fiction in your mind.  That's ... that's what you did.  You threw a shoe through nothing, talked to nothing, argued with nothing.  All an illusion.  You friggin' idiot!~

Again, Daniel made contact.

“Will you *get on* with it?” Jack suddenly barked.

The archaeologist smiled.  That was his lover.  That had been pure Jack O'Neill, his Jack, his very sexy and demanding Jack.

“You, uh ... you want ... something, Babe?” Daniel asked amid his deepened breaths.

“Yeah -- you, you geek.  Need you ... dang it, Daniel!”

After a laugh, Daniel worked harder, his thrusts becoming faster, connecting with a deeper impact.  Sweat rolled down his body at his labors, and he felt Jack's legs hooking up around his.

“Danny,” Jack called out quietly, and then more loudly, “DAN...NY!”

“Love you ... love ... you, Jack,” Daniel panted as he moved inside his soulmate.

Now, the two men became lost in their rapture, rocking, groaning, working their love to a passionate crescendo that blended their two bodies into a harmonic melody of one.  With a powerful, final push forward, their bodies felt the ultimate pleasure of their joining, Daniel's release filling his lover.  He collapsed down onto Jack's chest, smiling as Jack's arms wrapped around him.  The only sounds they heard were each other's deep breaths as they gasped for air.

“Now *that* was real,” Jack stated a few moments later, still panting from the activity.

“Real ... true very,” Daniel spoke, his words jumbled from his pleasure.

Jack chuckled, “Yeah, this is real -- the linguist who can't talk.”

“Talk ... can ... lots ... love,” the younger man sighed happily.

~Oh, yeah -- this is the reality I want,~ Jack thought, placing a kiss atop his lover's dampened hair.  “I love you, Angel.  Thank you for being here, for not giving up on me, for loving me ... for everything.  You were there when I needed you to keep me sane, and you're here now, when I needed grounding in reality.  No one but you could have done that, Danny.”

“I love you, too,” Daniel replied softly, his euphoria settling as the two held onto each other.  “No thanks are necessary, Babe.  I only did what you've done for me, for us.  Our nation of two, Jack -- that's the only thing that matters.  Our goal is to make it as strong as we can, and the only way to do that is together.  Don't you know I'd do anything for you?  You'd do the same for me.  Do you know how lucky we are?”

“Yeah, Danny, I think I do,” Jack sighed as he held on tighter to his Love, his future, his life.

====

Sometime later, after awaking from a blissful nap, the two decided to go for a swim.  Naked, they hurried to the lake and dove in.  Soon, they had found each other and began to kiss.  One kiss led to another, and soon, they were making love again in the coolness of the water.

When Jack and Daniel finally emerged from their watery heaven, they sunbathed to let their bodies dry, neither wanting to go inside for towels.  Eventually, they began to dress.

Daniel was standing, slipping on his pants, not paying attention to his lover at the moment.

Jack was seated, having already put his pants on.  He had just put on his socks and was about to slip on his shoes.  Suddenly, a devious expression came over his face.

“Oh, Daniel?” Jack called out.

Daniel looked up and over at his soulmate, responding, “What?”

With a playful grin, Jack tossed his shoe at his lover.

“Hey!” Daniel objected when the shoe made contact with his abdomen.

“Yes!” Jack exclaimed, bringing his arms even with his head, putting his hands into fists, and pulling them downwards in a sign of victory.  “Human!”

“Gawd, Jack, didn't you figure that out when we, uh .. you know?” Daniel inquired with a bit of exasperation in his voice.

“The word is sex, Danny.  Sex -- s - e - x.”

Jack was grinning so much that Daniel couldn't help but grin as well.  Things were definitely getting back on track.

====

Later that day, the lovers were walking hand-in-hand, enjoying the day.  Jack was calmer and more at peace then he'd been in days, and Daniel could feel his lover healing emotionally.

“Okay,” Jack said, stopping them.  “Let me get this clear in my mind,” he began as he turned to face Daniel.  “I used diversionary tactics to keep that snake out of my mind, and it worked, but when he took over my body and friggin' kidnapped me, it messed me up.  I didn't know where I was or why I was there.”

“You didn't have time to process the change, Jack,” Daniel expounded.  “You went from one extreme to another, and your mind couldn't quite keep up.”

“So,” Jack continued.

“So ...” Daniel prodded.

“Still using the ole mind control game, I invented one of Carter's famous alternate realities,” Jack surmised.

Smiling, the archaeologist nodded, adding, “... using our dream as the framework for it.”

Jack sighed, “I couldn't keep you in my mind as my lover, so I warped the dream into something I could use.”

“You made us best friends, but, Babe, don't you see?  You had me fighting for you, just as you knew I would.  I challenged you, but, Jack -- that was you,” Daniel spoke.

“Daniel, you're giving me a headache,” the older man replied, not understanding what the younger man was saying.

“Jack, I wasn't there, not physically, or ... gawd, not as some energy being, either.  You were there.  *You* told yourself to ascend, not me.  You gave yourself the incentive to keep going, to stay alive, not me,” Daniel suggested.

“I just know you,” Jack responded, dismissing the message being delivered.

“No, Love.”

“Daniel, I told you, or that image of you, that I wasn't you and couldn't do what you did.  I'm not good enough,” Jack refuted.

“I didn't believe you, did I?” Daniel asked.

“No, you were just as stubborn there as you are normally,” Jack answered.  Both men smiled.  Their hands still joined, Jack brought Daniel's to his mouth and kissed it.  “Stubborn geek,” he intoned.

“Mule-headed colonel,” Daniel mused in reply.

“Danny, tell me again about Oma,” Jack requested.

“When I was delirious with the fever on 329, I felt myself drifting.  Then, she, uh, was just there,” Daniel commented, shrugging his shoulders slightly.  “I had seen glimpses of you in the cell.  I could feel the torture.  She didn't say so, Jack, but I think that was Oma, too.  I don't know how.  When it comes down to it, we don't know very much about the powers of the Others, not really.  I, uh, think that when the time was right, she made herself known to me, and then she gave me this crash course of what had happened.  I mean, I knew you were on the planet, that Ba'al wanted information you didn't have, and that you'd been tortured.  I knew about the sarcophagus and that time was running out,” Daniel explained.

“I want to hate those things, Danny, but, at the same time, they've brought you back to me,” Jack reminded about the Goa'uld devices that could heal the body.

“And you to me,” Daniel noted.  “Though I could live without the side effects.”

“Yeah,” Jack groaned.  “So ... Oma and her instant memory zapping ...” he prompted.

“She apologized for what happened a while ago, when she was sick, and I guess she wanted to make up for it.  Once I knew what was happening, she sort of ... took me to the SGC.  I knew Teal'c would hear me,” Daniel commented.

“That's Teal'c -- tuned in,” Jack quipped.

“When he meditates, Jack, Teal'c really is.  He heard me, about using Lord Yu's ships.  Yu doesn't like being sidestepped, and I knew from the reports that he didn't know.  He, uh, well, he ...”

“He likes you,” Jack snarked, his eyes boring into his lover's.

“Jack, so help me, you get jealous about a System Lord, and I ...”

Daniel's words were cut off by his lover's deep, passionate kiss, one full of love and possession.

“You'll what?” Jack asked, when he pulled back slightly.

“I have no idea,” Daniel replied.  “I forgot.  What was the question?”

Both Jack and Daniel chuckled and then they continued talking about Jack's nightmare and Oma's assistance.  They'd gone over all of it before, but, now, for the first time, it was finally clear in the colonel's mind.  Their dream had been a dream, and there was nothing more to it than that.  Finally, at long last, Jack's mind was at rest.

The nightmares weren't completely over, but they were focused totally on the torture and not the mixture of realities.  As Daniel held his Love, Jack was certain that the present was the truth.  He'd come back from the abyss.

For Jack and Daniel, their future was again bright and their nation of two secure. There was only one thing still bothering the older man.

“Jack, let it go,” Daniel requested for the fifth time in two days.

“But you know how I feel about 'The Simpsons', Danny.  Crap, I can't believe I forgot to program that VCR,” Jack whined.

Danny rolled his eyes, but, inside, he was smiling.  Things were definitely back to normal.

====

“Welcome back, Colonel,” General Hammond gleefully spoke three days later when Jack and Daniel finally returned to the SGC after their time away.

“Thank you, Sir.  It's good to be back,” Jack replied cheerfully, bouncing a moment on the heels of his feet and glancing over at his life partner.

“Doctor Fraiser informs me you've both passed your physicals and can return to active duty immediately,” the general spoke, clearly pleased with the news.

“We're ready to go, General.  Ready to go out there and blast some butt,” Jack enthusiastically spoke, causing Daniel to lower his head and chuckle.

“Since you and Doctor Jackson have already debriefed about the recent events, I've scheduled a briefing at 1100 hours for SG-1's next mission,” Hammond announced.

“Next mission,” Jack responded happily.  “Yes, Sir.  Thank you, Sir.  We'll be there with bells on.”

“Jack, get out,” the general replied, nodding towards his door.

“Missed me, didn't you, Sir?”

“Like the measles.  Out!” Hammond said gruffly, but with a smile on his face.

Jack exited the office, cheerfully greeting various SGC personnel as he passed them.

“He looks good, Doctor Jackson,” Hammond noted.

“It was hard on him, Sir,” Daniel admitted, adding, “But, uh, as you can see, he's ...”

“As aggravating as ever,” Hammond completed.

“Something like that,” Daniel affirmed with a smile.

The archaeologist turned and headed for the door.

“Son,” Hammond called out, waiting until Daniel turned around.  “I don't know how you did it, but it's good to have both of you back.”

“Thank you, General.”

====

As Jack walked to the commissary to get some blue Jell-O, he ran into Lou Ferretti at the elevator.

“Hey, Jack, how ya doing?  And how's the Doc?” Lou asked as Jack came to a stop next to him.

“Fine and fine,” Jack replied just as the elevator doors opened.

“Thanks, Lou,” the colonel spoke quietly as the two men got into the elevator.

“For what?” Lou questioned.

“For staying with Daniel, and ...”

“You don't need to thank me.  I consider the Doc my friend, too.  We both know he would have done the same for me,” Lou noted.

“Yes, he would,” Jack agreed with a small smile.

“Plus we all know what happens to people around here who don't look after Daniel,” Lou half-joked.  “I have no desire to go anywhere that's home to a polar bear.”

“I have no idea what you're talking about, Major,” Jack feigned innocently.

“Of course not, Jack,” Lou agreed, trying to hide his knowing smile.

After the elevator doors opened, Jack began to exit, but then he stopped, bracing the doors open with his hands.  He looked again at his long-time friend and nodded.  He didn't say anything, just looked into Lou's eyes.

Lou nodded, understanding the gratitude of his one-time team commander and friend.  It was a silent acknowledgement that both knew how close Jack and Daniel were and that Jack was truly grateful he still had his best friend, in part thanks to the efforts of Lou Ferretti on the planet.

Jack stepped back, allowing the doors to begin to close.  He blinked, his eyes uncharacteristically a tad moist.

With the elevator doors shut, Lou thought about the emotional thanks he'd just received a moment earlier.

~Don't sweat it, Jack.  I know how you and the Doc are -- two peas in a pod.  You can't have one without the other.~

====

“I should have programmed that VCR.  I hate VCRs.  It's a conspiracy!” Jack whined as he and Daniel headed for the scheduled briefing.

The whining was amplified by the fact he'd now missed two additional episodes.

“For crying out loud, not watching Homer and Burns is like missing out on a good steak,” Jack lamented.

“Jack,” Daniel called out forcefully, reaching out and stopping his lover from moving forward.  “I taped them.”

“What?” Jack asked incredulously.

“I wanted to make sure the VCR picked them all up before telling you, but before I left for 329, I set the programmer.  When we ...” Daniel paused, waiting for an airman to walk by, then continued, “...got home, after we, uh, well, you know, I checked the tape, and all of the episodes are there.”

“They are?” Jack asked, both delighted and surprised.

“They are.  Now, can we please focus on the mission and not the fact that Burns is an animated Goa'uld on Earth?” Daniel begged.

**I love you, Danny.**

**I love you, too, Jack.**

Smiles on their faces, Jack and Daniel entered the briefing room, greeting their teammates with warmth and fond hellos before settling down to prepare for the next mission.  Once again, life was more than good in Colorado Springs.

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