Sacrifices

Author: Orrymain
Category: Slash, Angst, Drama, Established Relationship
Pairing: Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  2
Spoilers:  Children of the Gods, The Nox, Enigma, Thor's Hammer
Size:  119kb
Written:  October 29-31, November 1-2,7-9, 2003  Revised:  January 13-14, March 19, October 4-8, 21-22, November 10-12, 2005
Summary:  SG-1 is offered an extraordinary opportunity to give their friends their ultimate happiness, but it comes at a price to them personally.  Will they pay that price, and if they do, what happens to SG-1 and their future?
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Hanky warning, so I've been told!
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 fics, “Echoes of the Past”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Michele, Drdjlover, Tina, StarShadow, QuinGem, Allexandrya, Claudia, Linda!

Sacrifices
by Orrymain

“SG-1, you have a go.  Good luck!” General Hammond stated over the tannoy as he stood tall in the control room.

With a subsequent nod from their team leader, the four members of the SGC's flagship team stepped through the Stargate to the planet designated P9X-418.  From the gray monotone aura of Cheyenne Mountain, the team entered a world of blue skies, sunshine, chirping birds, and a strange but pleasant harmony that seemed to be literally singing in the wind.  The difference couldn't have been more dramatic.

To their left was a large river, the peaceful waters flowing gently.  The air temperature was a comfortable eighty degrees.

“Well, all we need is the bluebird of happiness to fly by, and this would be a certifiable paradise,” Jack spoke with a touch of skepticism in his voice as he gripped his weapon.

“You do not like this paradise, O'Neill?” Teal'c asked as they gathered together several yards in front of the Stargate.

“I don't trust music that sings through the air.  What the heck is that?  Carter?” the colonel asked after turning to face his 2IC.

The blonde answered, “Sounds like ... singing, Sir.”

A loud thunderous noise interrupted the Air Force captain as she spoke.

“What's that?” Jack inquired of anyone who might have an answer.

SG-1 looked up and all around, trying to find the source, but they saw nothing unusual.  The noise grew louder, to a deafening screech.

“COVER YOUR EARS!” Sam warned.

~No, duh,~ Jack thought as he and the others put their hands over their ears, their bodies buffeted by the sonorous sounds.

Seconds later, a large transparent blue light appeared and slowly enveloped each member of the team, one by one.  Sam was the first it reached, and once the light completely surrounded her, she fell to the ground, unconscious.

“Sam,” Daniel called, urgently trying to get to her, but being held back by an unseen force.  ~I ... I can't move.~  “Sam!”

Teal'c was the next to be covered by the light, and he, too, passed out after a few moments.

“Daniel, get out of here; go back through the Stargate,” Jack ordered.

Seeing the light moving in on his lover, Daniel hesitated and cried out in warning, “Jack ... run,” but was too late.  The Air Force colonel fell to his knees, screaming as a clap of thunder within the cloud struck without warning within the cloud.  Daniel struggled to move, desperate to reach Jack, until finally, the strange light covered his own body.  “Jaaaack,” the young man cried out, as he lost his battle to stay conscious.

====

Daniel's eyelids fluttered open.  He raised his head slightly, looking down at his body, searching for signs of injury.

~I should be ... hurt or ...~

The archaeologist paused his thoughts, surprised to realize that he actually felt surprisingly serene.  He was lying on the ground, and yet it didn't feel uncomfortable.  Slowly sitting up, he surveyed his environment, assuming the canvas-like material that formed the walls of his shelter was a tent.  Pushing his body up, he brushed off his green BDUs and walked around the structure.

~There has to be a door, but I don't see any flaps or openings.  Hmm, maybe I just need to lift it, like an Indian teepee or something.~

As he tried to lift, pull, and push the 'canvas', Daniel discovered the fabric was unmovable.  He tried lifting it with both hands, cutting it with the penknife that was in his pocket, and just pushing it aside, but all the fabric did was ripple a bit.

~Okay, now that doesn't make sense.~

Finally, Daniel sat back down on the ground, again noticing that it was unusually comfortable.  He wondered what had happened to his friends, and his heart especially ached for his lover.

**Jack?**  As nothing but silence loomed, Daniel sighed.  ~Well, it was worth a shot, but I'm sure you're okay.~

Daniel grimaced.  He felt cut off from the rest of SG-1, and yet, that serene feeling kept him feeling hopeful and content.

~I should be upset; I mean I ... where are they?  I feel so isolated, and yet, I'm not concerned, not really.  I feel ... peaceful, almost ... happy.  Where are you, Jack?~

It was several minutes later when a tingling sensation began to flow through Daniel's body, disturbing him.  The tingling was coming from the inside out, almost as if someone were inside his body, scratching his arteries and nerve ends.

“Stop!” Daniel called out, putting his hands to his head where the tingling had intensified and closing his eyes.

Then the sensation evolved to a warm calm.  Daniel blinked a couple of times as he lowered his hands.

“That's ... strange.”

The archaeologist was again serene and peaceful.  For a moment, he felt a total tranquility that he'd never known before; it was full of love, innocence, and curiosity.  His mind began to wander involuntarily through his life, as if he were drifting through time.

“No, I don't want to remember,” Daniel pleaded, though he was surprised that he wasn't anxious or afraid.  In fact, Daniel was completely relaxed.  ~How can I feel so calm and yet be feeling all of the emotion of these events?~

Daniel didn't understand it, but as the events played out in his mind, he continued to feel relaxed.  Opposing emotions ran fleetingly through his body as years passed, but the overriding one was the feeling of peace.

Involuntarily, Daniel's mind journeyed through the decades of his life ...

The little boy eagerly watching the scientists work at the dig sites, helping by bringing them tools and books.

His mother singing him soothing lullabies at night.

His father proudly carrying him on his shoulder as he walked along the dig perimeters.

“My Little Pharaoh.”

Listening happily as his parents excitedly discussed the mysteries of the Pyramids, debating on their origins as well as the lifestyles of Egyptians.

Seeing the large coverstone fall and hearing the screams of his dying parents.

Hiding alone in the corner, no one caring.

“I am sorry, Daniel.  My work is too important, but you will always be my grandson.”

Watching his foster siblings go to birthday parties, making Valentines, going trick-or-treating while he stayed behind.

Being the last one picked for teams in school.

“No, we can't adopt you.”

Mocking laughter: “Look at the four-eyes!”

“Give me your lunch money now or ...”

Being beaten up and bullied ... in elementary, high school, and college.

Skipping grades, outshining his peers, being teacher's pet over and over.

Recognition of achievement and merit.

Watching as his fellow archaeology classmates went to sorority parties, football games, and dates while he stayed behind and read books.

Sarah, using him to gain recognition for herself, cheating on him with Steven, joining with those who bullied him when he refused to do what she wanted him to and go after power.

The beauty and majesty of the pyramids, being awed and inspired.

Realizing the secrets of the pyramids, the thrill of the discovery.

Being laughed at by Academia, losing the respect of his colleagues.

Being alone, penniless, not knowing where he'd go next.

Catherine's faith and belief in him.

Jack O'Neill, stern, unfeeling, the colonel, no ... Jack, in pain, needing a friend just as he did, no ... Jack, his friend, best friend, touching, teasing, smiling, no ... Jack, lover, partner, forever ... Jack ... love ... Jack.

Sha're, mystery, intrigue, beautiful, gift, obligation, love, caring, responsibility, warm, beautiful trusting Sha're.

Jack ... Jack ... “We'll get her back.”

Sha're giving birth, conflicting emotions, love, caring, wanting, needing, desire to save her, helplessness, hope ... guilt.

Jack ... dress blues ... Jack ... “Space Monkey” ... love, passion, heat, want as he had never felt before, trust, faith, “Forever and Always, I love you.”

Suddenly, there was a gentle breeze as the sensations stopped, and Daniel realized he had control of his thoughts again.  He sat confused, uncertain, and also angry at someone, or something, for having invaded his memories.

~I want out of here,~ the young man thought as he stood up and again tried to exit the enclosed space.  ~There has to be a way to open this ... whatever it is, up.~  Still, the fabric remained firm.  Defeated, Daniel sat down and asked aloud, “Jack, where are you?”

====

~Light!  Everyone run!~  Sam awoke, realizing she was no longer out in the open.  ~Where is everyone?~

The captain called out for her teammates, but heard nothing in response.  Obviously, wherever she was, they weren't with her.  Standing, she walked to the thick material that was the wall of the tent-like structure.

~Okay, what is this made of?  There has to be a way out!~

Frustrated at the lack of an exit, Sam took stock of her personal situation.  She was still in her BDUs, but her weapons had all been removed. Scanning the room, she carefully looked for something to use as a weapon, but didn't find anything.  There wasn't much in her hut-styled environment except for some scarves and short, sheer panels that hung across the top of the tent.

Though disturbed somewhat about the absence of her weapons and her solitary confinement, Sam became aware of an overwhelming feeling of peace within her.  She took note that everything she saw was a calming blue or green in color, including the canvas, which was a sky blue color.

Sam paced the length of her 'tent' when she felt something force her to the ground, placing her in a seated position.

“Hey, wait a minute!” Sam objected, but it was pointless.

As Daniel had experienced, her body tingled and then warmed as her mind was accessed, memories, both good and bad, flooding involuntarily through her consciousness.

Moving around a lot as a child, going from base to base.

Her mother's beautiful voice.

Playing with her Major Matt Mason dolls.

Her parents fighting.

Her mother's unending support: “You can be anything you want, Darling.”

Excelling in her studies and recognition of achievement.

Her mother's death.

The distance of her father.

The Gulf War, the fighting, the tragedy, the success.

Her promotion to captain.

The excitement of the mysteries of the Stargate.

Being close, so close to solving the mystery.

Being rejected for the first mission and forced to stay at the Pentagon.

Having to prove herself over and over.

“But, Sir, I've been working on this for a full year.”

The disbelief:  “He solved it in two minutes?”

“Jack O'Neill, another egomaniac male.”

Walking through the Stargate for the very first time.

“Doctor Daniel Jackson, wow, cute, genius; oh, yeah, I could like him ... shucks, he's married.”

“Teal'c, strong, powerful, commanding, wondering what it would be like to ... no, scratch that.”

“Jack, not so bad, just loud and very handsome.”

Working with three teammates who were respectful, caring ... trust, love ... family.

Envying Daniel's ability to “think outside the box.”

Stranded in Antarctica, cold, frustrated.

Her father dying of cancer.

The Tok'ra miracle, reunited with her father, the distance not quite so far anymore.

Martouf, goodness, love?

As the sensations ended, Sam was shocked at the experience.

“Holy Hannah, what was that?”

====

~What is this place?~

Teal'c awoke to the relaxing feel of the area that entrapped him.  Calmly, he evaluated his situation and decided to exit the enclosure.  Tugging on the coarse fabric, the Jaffa cocked his head in disbelief that he couldn't part the material.  He grasped the canvas with both hands, yanking downward.  Next he tried to rip it apart.

~This is one of O'Neill's odd Tau'ri jokes,~ Teal'c thought at first, mainly because he did not feel threatened in any way by his confines.

Soon, though, he realized he was truly alone and after trying again to open the 'tent', he became momentarily frustrated, knowing that even his unusual strength could not move the fabric.

Like the others, Teal'c found no weaponry, and he, too, felt the calmness of his environment.

~I could kelno'reem here with great ease,~ Teal'c thought as he felt at one with himself and his place in the universe.

Suddenly, the tall Jaffa was forced to the ground, though he struggled as best he could against the unseen force.  He stared down at his body as he felt the odd sensation moving upward from his toes.  Then, a soothing warmth flooded him, only to be followed by his mind being coerced to relive one-hundred-plus years of life.

One by one, events were played out against Teal'c's will, events that included the agony of slavery, his father's death, the helplessness and necessity, as well as the pride of being First Prime to Apophis, the gratitude of being gifted with a house, the love and beauty of Drey'auc, the honor and respect of family, the joy of his son and his birth, and the faith and learning from his mentor Bra'tac.

Teal'c relived meeting the Tau'ri of SG-1, trusting Jack O'Neill, guilt at having brought such tragedy to the life of Daniel Jackson who miraculously forgave Teal'c for everything he had done, the beauty and intelligence of Samantha Carter, the respect and command of Major General George Hammond.

Decade after decade of life on Chulak, being a warrior, fulfilling obligations, the duty of a family, the bravery of being a traitor -- the sholvah, the friendships of his new family, being reunited with Drey'auc and Rya'c -- over a hundred years worth of recall played through his mind, the Jaffa unable to stop it until the strange warm sensations ceased, leaving him in silence to ponder what had happened.

====

“Oh, for crying out loud, either show yourselves or let me out of here,” Jack bellowed.

The Special Ops colonel had awakened to the unusual surroundings, just like the others had.  He, too, had been trying with no luck at all to free himself from his confines.

“I'd better get it back!” Jack barked as he became aware his MP-5 was gone, as was his knife.  ~Didn't get it all, did you?~ Jack smiled, pulling out his Swiss Army knife.  “Crap!” he exclaimed when unable to cut or even scratch the unknown material that served as the walls to his 'tent'.

He had immediately searched for weaponry, but having found none, Jack memorized every inch of the tent-like area he was in, making note of each item present, though there wasn't much.  He wondered about the colors, knowing the blue and green were hues meant to put people at ease.

~Canvas tent with sheer panels hanging from the center?  Sure, makes a lot of sense.~  “What is this?  Tent Beautiful?” Jack asked sarcastically as he stared up at the hanging scarves and sheers.

Within minutes, Jack was pushed down by an invisible force to the ground.

“You don't have to push; you could have just asked!” the colonel shouted to whoever or whatever might be listening.

Forced into a seated position, Jack noticed the tingling sensation.

~Feels like bugs crawling on me; no, in me, but there are no bugs.  Okay, now I feel a little like one of my grandmother's pincushions?~  Grimacing from a temporary headache, he yelled, “Get out of my head!”  ~Ewww; it felt like bugs on my brain.~

Suddenly, Jack felt warm and any anxiety he had experienced was gone.  As his teammates had experienced, Jack now relived the highs and lows of his life, witnessing some events he didn't care to remember ever again.  The joys and the sorrows played out in his mind.

His doting and loving parents holding and playing with him.

Fighting with his older brother, Billy.

Billy's constant schemes, always beginning with, “Okay, Sport.  Here's the plan ...”

Fishing in Minnesota.

“But Grandpa, why don't we ever catch a fish here?”

Going to the matinee and watching John Wayne movies.

His grandmother's folksy but wise adages and clichés.

Standing in the corner in first grade after pulling Linda Grady's braids and saying, “Giddy-up, Horsey.”

Receiving his first model airplane kit.

Realizing Sally Fitzpatrick was 'hot'.

Saying a sad goodbye to Billy as he went off to war.

Deciding to join the ROTC and subsequently the Air Force.

“I'll make you proud, Billy.”

Meeting Sara and knowing she was the one.

Being selected for Special Forces training.

“It's for the good of the country; forget his face.”

“You have orders; follow them; it's for the better good.”

Promotions to captain, major,  lieutenant colonel, and finally colonel.

The death of his grandfather.

“We're going to have a baby, Jack.”

Billy's heroic actions, and then heartbreaking news that he was MIA, presumed dead.

Flying -- the sheer and utter joy of piloting a plane through space.

“My son -- Charles Tyler O'Neill, the pride of my life.”

“Where's Charlie?” ... <BANG> ... “CHARLIE!”

Being devoid of life and wanting his physical existence to end.

“Stargate?  You want me to blow up a planet?  With me on it?  Yes, I know it's for the better good.  Sure, when do we go?”

“Geek!”

Feeling rejuvenated after the first mission to Abydos.

Speaking into the phone, “Sara, what the crap is this about leaving me?“

“Wonder how the geek is doing?”

“Sir, I regret to inform you that my report was not entirely accurate ... Daniel Jackson is alive and living with the people on Abydos.”

Daniel leaning against the column, dying, on Apophis' ship.

“I'm ... cold.”

Making love with the man of his dreams.

Jack's memories vividly played through his mind, his soul wanting to grieve for the losses, but his heart strangely tranquil throughout the recall.

Back in control of his thoughts, Jack stood and looked upward.

“And what was that all about?  Come on!  You can't just butt into my life and leave?”

--

For each member of SG-1, the mind-probing experience had caused them to relive every moment of their lives, each joyful bliss and each stressful pain.  Yet, each event or benchmark in time had only been a moment, a flash of actual time.  Decades passed in only a handful of minutes.

Both good and bad, happy and sad thoughts had flickered through each of them in a twinkling of an eye, never allowing them to become so engaged in the pain that they succumbed to it, or to be so wrapped up in the celebrations that it overwhelmed them.

Within a couple of minutes of the probe ending, each member of SG-1 had felt a renewal and a cleansing; and then shortly after the end of the life cycle recall, each had laid on the ground, finding it oddly comforting, and fallen asleep.

====

Jack found himself surrounded by clouds.  Everywhere he looked, he saw only blue sky with fluffy white puffs all around him.  Then, he heard a voice speak.

“There is light in the darkness, just as there is darkness in the light, is there not?”

Jack winced at the riddle.

~Why can't anyone speak English?~  “Listen, whoever or whatever you are, you're speaking to the wrong person if you're going to start that philosophy mumbo jumbo.”

“The scholar is fast becoming a warrior, but has the warrior learned that some battles are fought in the light and not in the dark?”

~I'm going to have a headache after this.~  Jack flinched, wondering if the voice was actually referring to Daniel, and if the voice's comment was a reply to his own prior statement.  “Huh?  Look, like I said, you're talking to the wrong guy here.”  Raising his voice, Jack asked, “Where is my team?”

“You are concerned about the scholar.  He is whom you believe we should be speaking to.”

Jack looked around, not liking the situation at all.  He repeated his question sternly, only this time, he made it an order.

“My team: I want to know where they are -- NOW!” the colonel demanded.

“Your Daniel is safe,” the voice calmly informed Jack.  “Your team ... they are all safe.  Do you not understand the importance of acknowledging the darkness of the light?  Do you not see that the lightness of the dark can deceive as well as brighten the path?”

Jack shook his head in frustration and confusion.

~Where's Danny when I need him?  Actually, I need him all the time, so he should be here.  Where's the wizard behind this crazy voice, anyway?~

“Do you not see?” the voice asked again.

“All I see is a blue sky and some clouds.  Try speaking English,” Jack bellowed.

“Your son is your pain, Colonel O'Neill.”  Jack paused, unprepared for the mention of his son.  “He is your light and your dark.  Do you not see the confusion?”

Jack said nothing, not understanding, and not caring to get into a discussion about his deceased child.

“Jack O'Neill, we can give you that which you desire above all else.  It is no game, no joke as you call it.  You can have your son, your life back as it was,” the voice offered.

~Great -- a comic.~  Jack bobbed his head up and down as he looked all around him.  “So where's the camera?”

“Camera?” the clueless voice asked from overhead.

Jack quipped, “I thought maybe we were on 'Candid Camera'.”

“We do not understand that reference, but what we offer is genuine.  Your life, as it was, and beyond, is yours, for the taking.”

“Yeahsureyoubetcha; and what's the price of this gift?” Jack inquired.

As the voice answered, it surrounded Jack, sounding like the most precise Home Theater System.

“All things come with a sacrifice,” the voice informed Jack.  “We can undo the moment, the tragic decision that caused your fate, but if we do, the timeline changes.”

~Daniel,~ Jack thought.

“That is correct,” the voice responded.

Jack looked up in surprise at the sound of the voice, thinking, ~They can hear me?~

“All will be as it is.  You are a colonel, married, with a healthy son.  Your life will have continued, with all the happy memories and experiences since that moment when your son opened the drawer.  Even the Stargate exists.  Your teammates, the SGC -- none of that changes, except for the relationships and the natural order.”

“Natural order?” Jack asked, not liking the sound of that.

“Your life is happy.  You and your family.  Your career is all you dreamed.  The natural order,” the voice answered.

“And Daniel?” Jack asked hesitantly.  ~What about Daniel?~

“Daniel is a friend.  He is on your team,” the voice stated matter-of-factly.

“And?” Jack anxiously prodded.

“And it is as it was on Abydos, the first time,” the voice explained.

“He's alone,” Jack practically muttered.  Louder he asked, “What about Sha're?”

“All that happened, happens.”

“Then he'd be alone?” Jack queried, his voice soft and quiet as he looked down, staring at the blueness of the sky that was apparently beneath him.

“The natural order,” the voice responded.

“Look, this is crazy.  You can't do any of this,” the colonel scoffed in disbelief.

“It will be done,” the unwavering voice assured.  “What is your decision?”

Jack fidgeted and paced the clouds as he pondered.  He smiled at the memories he had of Charlie, of Sara's beauty, and the happiness the three of them shared as a family.  Their life together had been wonderful, full of precious times and special moments.  Then he thought of Daniel and how he loved him.  Could he give up that love to go back to a happy life that would have continued had Charlie not found his gun?

~Sara?  I did love you, and Charlie?  Ah, Sport, to see your smile again and play another game of catch, but the price -- Danny?  Can I walk away from you, knowing you'd be alone and feeling unloved on Abydos?~

For a moment, Jack thought he could, but he loved Daniel too much, and knowing Daniel would be alone if Jack let it happen caused Jack's heart to stop beating.  How could Jack abandon his lover to such a lonely fate?

“No,” Jack answered flatly.

“There will be no more chances, Colonel O'Neill.  Surely your family is worth a change of the natural order.”

“He'd be alone, still living like an abandoned child,” Jack stated.  “No, I won't allow that, not just ... no.  I can't forget him and what we have together.  I don't want to.  I love Danny.  NO!” Jack announced definitely, waving off the voice that surrounded him.

“Very well.  You have one more chance.  One more decision to make,” the voice advised.

“Fine.  What now?” Jack asked, completely frustrated by this strange voice.

“Daniel's greatest pain is the loss of his parents.  We can give him his timeline, if you are willing to meet the sacrifice.”

Jack flinched, wishing whatever nightmare he was in would end.

“Sweet,” Jack responded skeptically.  “What sacrifice?”

With the same unending calm of its first offer, the voice said, “He can have all he desires: his parents, a happy childhood, parties, birthdays, family trips, brothers, a sister, and even a dog.  There would be no emptiness, but his path, his natural order, would change.  There would be no Stargate for Doctor Jackson.  He would not be on your team.  And your natural order would be unchanged, except for the impact on the Stargate.”

“Charlie?” Jack asked.

“Your natural order would not be changed.”

“But Daniel -- he'd be happy?” Jack clarified.

“He would have all he dreamed of as a young boy.”  There was a pause and then the voice said informatively, “There is no more time.  What is your decision, Jack O'Neill?”

Jack closed his eyes, remembering all the pain and tragedy of his lover's life. If he went along, Jack would be miserable.  His son would be dead, and he would be dead because he would no longer have his heart, his Daniel.

“Yes,” Jack answered, sinking down to the sky floor in misery.

====

~Okay, where am I now?~  He looked down at a floor of blue.  ~It, uh, it's the sky because there are clouds all around me.  This is different.~

As he stood pondering the clouds, Daniel suddenly heard a voice.  ~Surround sound?~

The voice was calm, almost soothing as it asked, “Is it not true that in desire there is need, and in need there is desire?”

Daniel tilted his head to the right slightly, and his mouth was open as he thought about the question, eventually answering, “Yes, I suppose so.  Where ... Where am I?”

“Everywhere; anywhere,” the voice replied.

Looking around, Daniel saw several shimmering circles of images all around the skies.  He pointed to them, to the images of himself, his family, and friends.

“What is ... I don't understand,” Daniel commented uncertainly.

“You see the portals?” the voice asked, a surprise evident in the tone.  “Your colonel did not.  He sees only black and white.”

~My colonel?~ Daniel thought silently, but inwardly smiling at the concept of Jack being his.

“He is, is he not?” the voice asked straightforwardly.

Daniel was stunned, stuttering, “Um, we ... well, I mean, uh, anyway, Jack ... he's, uh, military.”

“His vision is limited, as is that of your friends.  They do not allow themselves to see the strands of the portals without assistance,” the voice informed Daniel.

Daniel wasn't sure what to say, or what it really meant, but he was curious about the images.

“The images:  what are they?” the archaeologist asked.

“They are portals, each part of your life, what was, what is, what could be,” the voice responded.

“No, thanks.  We've been through this before,” Daniel sighed.

“No, Doctor Jackson.  Our friends, the Nox, are right.  The human race is quite young, perhaps too young, and yet we see potential, even though you do not yet comprehend even the most fundamental aspects of time.  Still, we see something in you which gives us hope for your future,” the voice explained.

Confused, Daniel inquired, “Time?  What do you mean?”

“Time is like a fabric with a multitude of strands in which the journey takes place,” the voice proclaimed.

“Alternate universes.  We've done that,” Daniel answered, feeling a bit disappointed.

Quickly, the voice responded, “No, you do not understand.”

~Sometimes, it feels like I never do.~  Daniel sighed, “Omoc.”

“Correct.  The Tollan tried to show you, but your mind is too limited, but I assure you, these portals are true and real.  They are your natural order within the strands of time.”

Daniel felt sad and lost.  He had no idea what the voice was saying, anymore than he had understood what Omoc had tried to explain about space.

“Sit, Doctor Jackson,” the voice commanded.

“Sit?  On what?” Daniel asked, looking around.

The voice smiled.  Daniel thought that was odd.  How could he see a voice smile?  Yet, that is what his mind and eyes told him had just happened.

“Broaden your mind.  Movement along the strands is simple.  Use your mind.  Sit,” the voice encouraged.

Daniel shrugged.  He had to be dreaming, so he decided to play along.  He reached out, pulled over a cloud, and sat on it.

~Okay, uh, I'm dreaming for sure.~

Again, the young man felt the voice smile in approval.  He also felt even more comfortable than before, the cloud soft and pleasing to his body.

The voice, steady and with conviction, began to speak again, saying, “Your worst moment was watching your parents die.  Your unhappiness stems from that one event and the abandonment that followed.  It is your pain.”

Daniel winced, the dark memories dancing through his mind.  He'd been working hard to leave those recollections behind.

“Your happiness,” the voice continued, “is still in the distance, but your peace, your current contentment, it comes from Colonel O'Neill.”

Daniel startled, not prepared for that acknowledgement.  The two soulmates had to be very careful about whom they revealed their love affair to.

“We make you an offer, Doctor Jackson.  The expansion of time is yours for the taking, but to gain, you must sacrifice.  The contentment of today gives way to the happiness of the little boy.  You must sacrifice your colonel ...”

Angry at the idea of doing anything to hurt his lover, Daniel harshly responded, “No!  How dare you threaten Jack ...”

“We do no such thing, Doctor Jackson.  All are safe.  All will be safe.  We do no harm.  By sacrifice, we mean the natural order along the strand shifts.  It goes back to what was,” the voice stated.

“I don't ... understand,” Daniel replied.

Clarifying its position, the voice said, “We offer you your childhood.  The coverstone is put into its place.  Your parents take you to the zoo, on the park rides, to baseball games.  There are more archaeological digs, more pyramids to visit, and more adventures to experience.  There are holidays, your first date, working with your father on projects, assisting your mother in her goals.  Your parents have more children.  Your childhood evolves into adolescence and into adulthood, together, with your family, all in the natural order.”

~Gawd.  Life with my parents and ... siblings?  I can't even imagine it, and what about ...~  “The Stargate?”

“Not for you,” the voice admitted.  “You work with your parents and siblings. The Jackson Exploratory Society is very respected and very well known.  It is the natural order of the strand.”

“Jack,” Daniel said softly to himself.

“He lives his natural order, without you,” the voice stated.

Hearing the words, Daniel's heart stopped.  He swallowed hard, trying to comprehend all that was being said about the strands.

“Sara and Charlie?” Daniel asked, wanting to know if Jack's life would somehow magically become a happy one, too.

“The natural order was preserved.  That cannot be changed,” the voice revealed.

“He ... hates the world?” Daniel asked sadly as he folded his arms in front of him.

“He hates himself,” the voice clarified.

“Does he ... I mean ... would ...”

“His natural order would continue.  You would not be there to affect change,” the voice announced.

Daniel studied the clouds that surrounded him.  His heart was heavy as he considered Jack's fate.  Though he usually dismissed his role in Jack's choice, he knew that without his presence, Jack would destroy Abydos, or at the very least himself.

“Time does not wait.  The strands call.  What is your decision?” the voice beckoned.

~He's everything to me.  Forgive me, Mommy and Daddy, I ... I love you, but ... I just ... can't,~ Daniel sadly decided.

Daniel loved Jack.  There was no way he would selfishly leave his lover to a miserable existence, or worse, just for his own happiness.  How could he sacrifice Jack for himself?  Besides, Jack was his heart.  Daniel didn't think he could survive the loss of Jack's loving presence, and somehow, he believed that he would know that he was missing out on something spectacular in his life without the older man there to love and be loved by.

“No,” Daniel answered.

“Very well.  We offer you one final alternative.  It is the only other movement in time allowed.”

Daniel fixated on the clouds, wishing he could float away like they were.

“Your Jack can have his natural order, before his son's death.  His life with his wife and child would be preserved.  They would have three more children.  Charlie would grow up.  All things would be in the natural order.  The O'Neills would be as they would have been before the accident,” the voice announced.

Daniel didn't want to ask the question, so he didn't, but the voice answered it anyway.

“And you would go on as you were.  Your timeline would be as it was.  Abydos.  Sha're -- she would be lost to you.  The Stargate exists.  You would still be a member of SG-1, but Jack O'Neill is but a leader, perhaps a friend, but no more.”  Daniel closed his eyes, his fingers kneading into his green BDU jacket, as the voice continued.  “You would do as you did before.  You earn two more PhD's.  Study comes easy for you.”

~Yeah, right.~  Daniel softly remarked, “I guess I'd have lots of time to read.”  The archaeologist stood and walked atop the blue skies.  ~How could I deny Jack the chance to undo his pain?  He misses Charlie so much.~

“Your decision, Doctor Jackson?” the voice requested.

“Yes,” Daniel agreed, his heart breaking in two as he did so.

====

Like Jack and Daniel, Sam, too, found herself in the peaceful surroundings of blue skies and luscious-looking clouds.  She had been told about the strands, though she couldn't see the portals as Daniel had.  It was time for Sam to decide her future.

“Captain Carter, you must make your choice now,” the voice instructed, still as calm and steady as ever.  “You can achieve your greatest desires, be respected, treated as an equal, and your mother will not have died; but you must sacrifice as well.  The Stargate will not have existed for you.  You would not have been part of SG-1.  You would not have been there to pull Doctor Jackson out of the way when the Jaffa began attacking on Abydos.  The timeline, the natural order will revert to its path, a path where Teal'c would not choose to listen.  The price would be high, but you, you could have your natural order.”

Sam sighed, but this one was easy.  She could never sacrifice Daniel's life and Teal'c's freedom for her own welfare, no matter how much the idea of success and recognition for her achievements meant to her.

“I choose to change nothing,” Sam told the voice.

“You have another chance, Captain.  We can give Teal'c his freedom, his life on Chulak; the Jaffa would be free.  His wife and son would be at his side, living with honor.  You could give Teal'c and all Jaffa their freedom; they could live their lives with honor, with their families, if you sacrifice.”

“Sacrifice what exactly?” Sam asked nervously.

“Your natural order.  The fabric of your time takes you along another path, one outside the SGC.  You do not join the Stargate.  All that has happened since, would not, not with you, but with others, others to gain the glory, others to have their family saved.”

Sam stepped backwards, stunned and frightened by the words.  Hesitantly, she asked, “My father?”

“It is a great sacrifice,” the voice acknowledged with a softening that hadn't been there during its other words.

“How can you ask me that?  Who do you think you are to ask me to choose between my father and an entire race?”

Steady once again, the voice explained, “It is the strands.  Only you can decide if one is worth many, or if many is worth one.”  Seconds passed and then the question was asked.  “Your decision?”

“You can't do this,” Sam argued, unable to choose.

“We won't; the decision is yours.  Teal'c, his freedom, his family -- and those of all Jaffa -- they are in your hands.”  Another pause that seemed liked forever passed by.  “Choose,” the voice commanded.

“Yes,” Sam said with a heavy sigh.  ~I'm sorry, Dad.~

====

“You have refused to alter the strands of your time, giving up personal gain in both material wealth and political glory.  You said 'no' to ensuring that your wife and child go without want and that the Jaffa would be free.  You have refused all of this in order to secure that the current fabric is unchanged.  By doing so, you have safeguarded your friend, Captain Carter.  Her place in the universe, and that of her family, is unchanged, but we offer you one more layer of the fabric,” the voice informed Teal'c as he stood among the clouds.

“Indeed,” Teal'c responded skeptically.

“We can give Captain Carter her natural order with all she has desired:  her parents alive, together, her brother and his family part of their everyday existence; respect, caring, and love.  She will find happiness with Martouf of the Tok'ra.  She will, as the Tau'ri say, have it all -- career and family.  Her natural order will make her a general, with four children.  She will be a leader with homes on many planets.  She will outshine anyone who might compete with her.  She will have all she dreamed of as a young girl.”

“And the price?” Teal'c inquired.

“Your freedom.  Your natural order will revert to what once was.  You will be First Prime of Apophis, forever hoping for what you now have.  Your freedom for Captain Carter's deepest wishes.”

“What of the Jaffa?” Teal'c inquired curiously.

Calmly, the voice replied, “Their natural order would be unchanged.”

“They will be free,” Teal'c said, his statement an unasked question as well.

“If that is the natural order,” the voice responded.

Teal'c stood tall as he observed the nearest cloud.  He considered his options as he remarked, “CaptainCarter would do great things as a leader, and as a mother.”

“Yes,” the voice acknowledged, adding, “and her children with Martouf would affect the world beyond what is present now in the timeline.  They would be leaders in their own right, giving the captain more pride and pleasure than her dreams are capable of envisioning.”  There was silence as Teal'c considered his options.  “Your choice?”

Proudly, Teal'c answered, “I agree.”

====

To each member of SG-1, after their final decisions had been made, the voice spoke, “There is no turning back, no second chances.  The sacrifice is permanent.  You will have no good-byes, no possibility for recreating what you now have in the natural order.  Life will be as it is in this portal.”

A force drew each to the shimmering circle of the new chosen path.  A minute passed for all as they watched their friends in their new lives, seeing their smiles, hearing their laughter, and sensing the peace of their souls.

“This will be the fabric of your forever.  What you say now seals your fate in the strands.  Do you wish to follow the natural order of this portal?”

Unable to deny the happiness of someone they considered family, and willing to sacrifice their own personal peace, each member of SG-1 gave the same answer -- “Yes.”

Their decisions made, each felt their eyelids drooping.  Gently, their bodies were lowered to the strangely comfortable ground.  Within seconds, each went back to their slumber, the skies and the clouds gone, the voice quiet.  In their rest, they dreamed of their past lives, celebrating the good times and lamenting the bad times.  When they awoke, they knew life would be different.

====

Sometime later, Daniel awoke with an overwhelming feeling of sadness.  The serenity that had flowed through him while in the canvas-like tent was gone, just as the actual structure itself had disappeared.  Daniel's eyes had opened to see green grass and a towering tree overhead.
 
~I'm ... alone again.~

 Daniel was acutely aware that the next time he saw Jack, life would be different.  Jack would be the father of not just Charlie, but others.  He'd be talking about his anniversary with Sara, not the upcoming anniversary with Daniel.

~One year.  We didn't even make it through twelve months.~  The aching archaeologist sat up slowly, leaning his back against the tree.  “Be happy, Jack.”

The young man suppressed the tears that threatened to fall.  He let out a sad laugh thinking about what the voice had said, that he would be getting more PhD's.

“It's all I have now,” Daniel whispered, his heart heavier than it had ever been, the ache unbearable.  “I'll, uh, be the geek of the geeks.”

Standing, Daniel put on his boonie.  He realized, too, that his Beretta was back in its holster.  On the ground, was his backpack.

“Goodbye, Jack.  Gawd, I love you,” Daniel said, as he prepared for the painful reunion he knew would come soon.

====

With a sudden burst of yellow light, Jack found himself back at the Stargate.  He was instinctively tapping his MP-5 as he stared off in the distance.  Coming from different directions, the team leader caught sight of three people walking towards the Stargate.  As he focused, Jack caught the images of two people he assumed were Sam and Teal'c, though he observed they seemed a bit unsure of where to stand as they neared the Gate.  There was no sign of Daniel.

~He's not part of the Program anymore,~ Jack thought with a sad heart.  “Be happy, Danny.  I love you,” he whispered out of hearing range of his approaching teammates.

Jack had prepared himself for what was about to happen, but he felt empty.  He'd go back to the SGC and home to nothing, and then he would become nothing.  Still, Jack had no regrets.  His love for Daniel was stronger than anything he had ever felt before, so although Jack's current natural order was sadly lacking in any happiness, he took solace that his one-time lover's life was all he had ever wanted.

Jack closed his eyes, remembering all those times he had prayed and even said out loud, “If I could change it, Danny, I would.”  As he stood at the Stargate, Jack realized that was exactly what he had been given the chance to do, and for once, Jack knew he had done the right thing.  His Daniel would be happy, and that is all that mattered to him.

As his teammates merged together, Jack realized they weren't who he expected. He didn't recognize them at all, and yet they spoke like he knew them.

“Mission accomplished, Colonel,” a strange blonde woman spoke.

“Let's get out of here.  I've got a hot date,” a tall, rugged looking man said with laughter in his voice.

“We're, um, not missing anyone?” Jack asked the two.

“Like who?” the blonde asked.

“No one,” Jack responded.  “Dial us out of here.”

Two minutes later, Jack returned to a SGC that was foreign to him.  While still Stargate Command, the symbol was different.  Little things like that couldn't be missed as he looked around.  On a bigger scale, there was more firepower in the gate room.  As for the staff, the colonel didn't recognize a soul on duty.  He felt like he had just walked into the Twilight Zone.

~It doesn't matter.  I've lost Danny; he was all that mattered.~

Quietly, Jack went about his business, waiting for the debriefing to begin.

====

General Bauer briskly entered the conference room, with Major Samuels at his side.

“Colonel O'Neill, after this briefing you will coordinate with the new 2IC of this facility.  You will report directly to him from now on,” Bauer ordered after he sat down.

Jack nodded.  He didn't really care what his position was in this new existence of his.

Bauer continued, “Colonel Maybourne will be waiting for you in his office.  Your first task is to work out the attack on Chulak.”

“Attack?” Jack questioned as he sat up a little straighter.

“Yes, Colonel,” the general affirmed.  “We want to follow up the success of the Andraji Mission with a quick kick to their flank.  Chulak will be the perfect place.”

“Excuse me, Sir?”

“Colonel Maybourne will have all the details,” the general stated.  He turned to the blonde and addressed her, saying, “Captain Tobias, report.”

“General, the bomb went off as scheduled.  Andraji was completely destroyed.  No survivors.  No residue.  The new Naquadah Plus elements worked completely as expected.”

~Are they out of their friggin' minds?~  Jack looked stunned.  Andraji was the planet they had just been on.  It was the world that had forever changed their lives.  It was peaceful.  ~Why?  There was no reason to attack.~

Pleased the destruction went as planned, Bauer stated, “Very well.  If there is nothing else ... dismissed.”

Jack fled quickly to his office, which he eventually discovered had moved one floor up and was much smaller than the one he was used to.  In it, he reviewed the history of the SGC.  Life was nothing like it had been.

In this strand of time, the Tau'ri had decided that to protect Earth, they had to fight offensively.  The war with the Goa'uld was fierce, and the cost had been high.  As Jack reviewed the events, he realized the single factor that had changed the timelines -- Daniel Jackson.

Daniel hadn't been there to stop Jack from destroying Abydos, though somehow, Jack had apparently survived the destruction.  Daniel hadn't been there to talk peace on the new worlds they explored.  They had not gone to the Land of Light because Daniel hadn't tried to convince them that scientific study was as important as defense.  The Tau'ri never cared about studying the Broca Divide because Daniel hadn't been there to insist on it.

Daniel hadn't been a part of the SGC to suggest the creation of the Sagan Box.  They had no such device of communication set up to assist the Cimmerians or anyone who might be in need of their help in the future.

Ernest Littlefield was still 'dead'.  SG-1 had never gone to Ernest's Planet, or Heliopolis as it was called before the more common designation had been used; they'd never discovered the elements that were the basic building blocks of communication.

Event after event wasn't at all what it should be.  People were dead who should be alive.  Earth was at war, destroying entire worlds without caring all that much about the victims as long as the Tau'ri remained the most powerful and had the best weapons.

~Gawd, Daniel, you'd hate me for this.~

Jack was angry.  He had been prepared to return to a world where his own heart ached.  He was ready to end his life, but he hadn't thought that the entire universe would change, that giving Daniel his happiness would affect creation so greatly.

Jack closed his eyes and remembered his lover of another existence.  He knew Daniel wouldn't want this.  Every fiber of Jack's being told him Daniel would rather die than have these changes be the reality.  But what could he do?  It was over and done with.  Andraji had been destroyed.

~I'm sorry, Danny; I'm so sorry.~

====

Jack O'Neill had taken a leave of absence to try and sort through what he had learned.  Colonel Maybourne had laid out their plan of attack.  It was D-Day multiplied a thousand times, planet after planet being raided, attacked, or destroyed, all in the name of protecting the Tau'ri from the Goa'uld.

Now, Jack stood in the distance, watching a young man carrying a small boy on his shoulders.  He smiled.  The shaggy hair was unmistakable, the small boy the mirror image of the man who still owned Jack's heart.  He watched as the young man kissed a beautiful brown-haired woman, the two laughing and smiling before and after the tender kiss.

Then, Jack recognized Claire and Melburn Jackson, older but still much the same except for shorter hair on both of them, emerging from the pyramid, holding several relics in their hands.  It was a happy scene.

Jack turned from the edge of the perimeter of the pyramid.  It was disgustingly hot, the sun shining brightly in the sky.  He didn't know why he was there, by the pyramid, but he was; nor had he realized he had stood in place for such a long time, until he heard a familiar voice calling out to him.

“Hello, can I help you with something?” the young man asked with a smile.

Jack was so stunned that he turned and immediately said, “Danny?”

The young man looked confused, but soon answered, “Um, yes.  Have we met?  I'm sorry if I've forgotten.  Suz tells me that I'd forget my head sometimes if it wasn't attached to the rest of my body.”

“Suz?” Jack asked.

“My wife,” Daniel said pointing to the beautiful brunette.

“She's beautiful,” Jack remarked as he looked over at her.  “So's the little boy.”

“Ah, yeah, that's my son, Jack.  Actually, it's Jonathan, but we call him Jack; it just seems to fit him somehow,” Daniel said with a bit of a mischievous smile.

Jack was totally taken aback, not expecting that piece of news, nor was he expecting to speak to his one-time lover.

~Look at him.  Geez, he's beautiful, and I think he's happy.~

“So, do I know you?” Daniel asked.

“No,” Jack said with a cracked voice, shaking his head slightly, and then clearing his throat to try and cover up his emotion.

Daniel asked, “What's your name?”

Jack smiled as he answered, “Jack.  Jack O'Neill.”

Daniel laughed, saying, “How about that?”  After a pause, he asked, “Would you like a drink, Jack?”

Jack nodded in answer, and as they walked towards a large tent, he felt the happiness of this man he was so near.  This Daniel Jackson was clearly happy and confident in his life.  Disregarding his own pain, Jack smiled inside at the younger man's joy.

====

Over the next few hours, Jack was gifted with seeing a happy Daniel Jackson.  Daniel was married, the father of two, with loving and ever-present parents who were now grandparents.  Daniel had siblings, too.  They weren't here, in Egypt, but Jack had been treated to photo albums and stories about the Jackson family, a tight-knit group, for sure.

Daniel's wife was kind, intelligent, and gentle.  The woman was beautiful, charming, and unpretentious.  She joked with ease as she multi-tasked her various household duties.  Jack smiled again as Suz fussed over her husband, causing Daniel to smile brightly.  Yes, this Daniel Jackson was a happy man.

The children were well-cared for, laughing and playing games.  Jack judged them to be smart and well-behaved from their demeanor and actions.  They also loved to socialize, as Jack found out while he held the child Jack in his lap during part of the evening.

~This feels a little strange, but he's happy, and little Jack is happy.  They're all happy.  That's what I wanted,~ Jack thought as he listened to a tale about Daniel and one of his younger brothers getting lost on a dig in Peru once.

Jack told his hosts that he was a traveler out exploring and had come upon their site accidentally.  Daniel accepted the comment, though Jack had the feeling the archaeologist hadn't totally believed his story.

~Perceptive in any reality, or strand of time, aren't you, Doctor Jackson?~ Jack silently mused.

Now it was late, the skies dark, and the campsite lit by lanterns.

“Thank you all for your hospitality.  It's been a *great* pleasure to meet you,” Jack said to Claire and Mel.  ~I knew they'd be great folks.~  He turned to Daniel's wife and smiled.  “You've been very kind; thank you.”

“Look, it's awfully late.  Why don't you stay the night?” Suz asked, her eyes warm and inviting.  “We can pitch a tent for you next door.”

“I don't want to impose,” Jack replied quietly.

“Oh, it wouldn't be an imposition.  Besides, Danny loves meeting new people,” the delightful woman responded, adding, “It gives him someone new to talk to, tell all those tales of ghosts in the tombs.  My Danny has a real gift of gab,” Suz laughed.

~I remember when you were My Danny,~ a melancholic Jack thought.  ~Geez, I miss you.  NO!~  Jack shook his head, trying to rid himself of his current train of thought. ~Daniel's happy, and that's the most important thing.~

“Suz,” Daniel chuckled, “you're exaggerating.  Besides, you always say you love the sound of my voice.”

Daniel grabbed his wife and brought her close to him, holding her as they teased, their eyes shining with love and affection.

“Oh, I do, Dearest,” Suz laughed endearingly.  Then she focused on their visitor and requested, “Please stay.”  Gazing lovingly at her husband, she spoke softly to Daniel, saying, “I'm going to bed, Sweetheart.  Are you coming or staying up?”

“I really should do some of the research, Suz, but ... I'll miss you,” Daniel said, kissing his wife tenderly, causing her to blush in front of their new friend.

“Danny, I do love you, but don't do that in front of our guest,” the giggling wife jostled.

Daniel laughed, “You're so shy, Suz.  Get a good night's sleep.  I have plans for us tomorrow.”

With another sweet kiss, Suz headed behind the barrier that was the sleeping part of the large tent.

Daniel lead Jack out of the canvas housing, intending to pick up one of the spare tents for Jack's use.

“What research are you going to do?” Jack asked curiously.

“Inside the pyramids.  I do my best work at night.  I'm good with words, and I like to study the writings as we excavate.”

“Can I watch?” Jack surprised Daniel by asking.

“Aren't you tired?” Daniel responded in question.

“Aren't you?”

“Okay, but if you decide to sleep, let me know, and we'll set up the tent.  I should warn you I tend to get lost in my work,” the archaeologist advised.

“I would never have guessed,” Jack replied softly, a small chuckle evident in his words.

====

Feeling content, Jack watched Daniel work for some time, while at the same time remembering the tenderness and connection of the young man and his wife.  Daniel had teased her about being shy, and that had warmed Jack's heart.  His Daniel, this new Daniel, wasn't the least bit embarrassed about loving or being in love.  Why should he?  Daniel was totally adored, surrounded by the love of parents, siblings, a wife, and his own children.

~They all call you Danny, and it's as natural as can be,~ Jack thought, actually smiling as he pondered Daniel's current life.

Jack's eyes never left the man he loved, observing the careful movements as Daniel traced the writings on the wall or sometimes on small objects.  Jack longed to hold those hands and kiss the slender fingers, but all he could do was watch them work.

~Beautiful; so beautiful,~ Jack silently spoke about his lover.  He hadn't noticed any physical change in Daniel, except, ~I think his eyes are even bluer, if that's possible.~

“Have you been to Egypt before?” Daniel asked.

“A long time ago,” Jack answered.  When Daniel looked at him, prodding for more information, the older man replied, “It was another life time ago.  I didn't see much.”

Daniel was so free and easy, outgoing even in their conversation.  No part of his life was difficult to talk about.  There was no hesitancy, few stutters or stammers, and no self-conscious looks.

“I was born here,” Daniel commented at one point.  “It was so great, though, to finally go to America.”

Jack smiled and asked, “How old were you?”

“Eight,” Daniel responded.  “My parents were putting together an exhibit for the New York Museum of Art.  They took me with them.  I guess I played in that place most of the day.  There are some great places to hide in a big place like that.”

“Hide?” Jack asked curiously.

“Daddy and I played 'Hide and Seek'.  Well, except for when they were making sure the exhibit was set up correctly, overseeing the coverstone and the placement of some bigger pieces,” Daniel informed Jack.

Jack's breath paused for a moment, and his heart skipped a beat just thinking about what had occurred in his reality to that little boy.

“Putting up a coverstone must take precision,” Jack replied.

“Sure does, but my folks excel at that stuff.  When it was in place, Daddy chased me all through the museum.”

Jack laughed, “He's a great guy.”

“Oh, yeah.  He's my dad, and I'm very proud of him.  We had a great time in New York City.  I've always described it as a magical time.”

“Magical?” Jack queried.

“I can't describe it, but it was the perfect visit.  We went to the zoo, rode the Staten Island Ferry, visited the Statue of Liberty, went to the top of the Empire State Building, saw the Yankees play a double header; oh, and I caught a foul ball hit by Thurman Munson; now that was awesome!”

“*You* know who Thurmon Munson is?”

“Sure.  Why?” Daniel asked, pausing his work to stare at his guest.

“Nothing; I just didn't think you'd be into sports,” Jack explained.

“Sports are great, especially baseball.  I still have that foul ball; it's next to another one I have that I caught in the bleachers several years later -- one of Reggie Jackson's homers.  Wow, that was fun,” Daniel said, remembering the event.

“Sports,” Jack said quietly, looking down and shaking his head in amusement.  “So what else did you do on that magical trip to New York City when you were a kid?”

“Oh, lots of things.  One of my favorite memories was watching the twinkling lights of Times Square with my parents.  It really was a great time.  The exhibit was a great success, and it led to other opportunities for my parents.  Of course, the best thing that happened,” Daniel said, pausing and looking at Jack with a grin, “is that Mom got pregnant.  For a while there, I thought I was going to be an only child,” Daniel laughed.

“That would have been a shame,” Jack said.

Throughout the night, Daniel tried to get Jack to talk about himself, but Jack was evasive, not really knowing what to say.  Finally, with Daniel's gentle prodding, Jack talked a bit about growing up in Chicago, joining the Air Force, and his home life with Sara and Charlie, omitting, of course, that Charlie was dead.  Mostly, though, Jack brushed over his life as much as possible.

At one point, Jack and Daniel went down to where the current excavation was being done.  Daniel was searching for anything new, certain there would be more.

“You love to get your hands dirty, don't you?” Jack asked.  ~Some things are universal constants.~

“Every boy's dream, Jack, is to get paid for playing in the dirt,” Daniel laughed playfully.

Jack laughed as he replied, “Can't argue with that, Danny.”

“Hey, look at this,” Daniel said as he pulled out an ancient relic, studying it carefully.

“Looks like a toy soldier to me,” Jack teased.

“You think everything's a toy, Jack,” Daniel lightheartedly accused.

“Do not,” Jack refuted.

“Do, too.”

“Not.”

“Too!” Daniel maintained.

“I *so* do not,” Jack responded with attitude.

“Yes, you do!” Daniel insisted.

Suddenly, the two looked at each other, the silly smiles from their banter turning into something Daniel didn't understand.

~That was ... odd.~  There was something about Jack that Daniel couldn't figure out.  The banter had felt familiar, right, and when it ended, he felt a bit melancholy, and he didn't understand that either.  ~Who are you, Jack O'Neill, and why am I drawn to you?~

Jack, meanwhile, had become melancholy himself.

~That was so right, sword fighting with words.  I'll miss that, Danny,~ Jack lamented as he evaded Daniel's prying look by walking away a few steps and then asking about another part of the excavation.  When Daniel began to prattle in response, Jack smiled and thought, ~Like I said, some things are universal constants.~

Finally, Jack and Daniel called it a night.  Daniel helped Jack pitch the tent they had retrieved from a supply tent, along with some supplies.

“Goodnight, Jack,” Daniel said.

“Goodnight, Danny,” Jack replied.

It seemed like hours, but it was only a minute before the two parted hesitantly.

====

Jack didn't sleep much, dreaming of Daniel when he did, thinking about him when he didn't.  Daniel was happy, and no matter how messed up the world was, Jack didn't know if he could take away that happiness.

Meanwhile, Daniel cuddled next to Suz, who awoke when he came to bed.  They kissed and held each other close, but just before he closed his eyes, Daniel's last thoughts were about the stranger in the tent next to theirs, and the strange lure Jack seemed to have over him.

====

When morning came, Suz and Claire prepared a wonderful breakfast for all.  Jack had intended to leave, but Claire and Melburn invited him to spend some time with them working the dig site, while Daniel continued with their colleagues.

Jack agreed.  He had always wondered what Daniel's parents were like, and this would give him a closer glimpse.  He spent the entire day with them, occasionally crossing paths with his lover from another existence.

When night fell, Suz cooked dinner, and they all ate, their appetites plentiful. Daniel hadn't needed any prodding.  He had eaten with delight and pleasure, even taking two helpings of some things.

Jack felt like he was watching “Leave it to Beaver” or “The Donna Reed Show” because everyone was so happy and unified.  It was exactly what he had wished for when he had agreed to the time portal.

~I guess I just needed to see for myself, to make sure he was happy.  Geez, he is.  Be honest, Jack; maybe you were hoping for a loophole, a Plan B.  Well, O'Neill, there is no Plan B.  Life is good for Danny, and you can't interfere with that,~ Jack told himself.

Having reached the conclusion that the Jackson Family was as he hoped, Jack excused himself, insisting it was time for him to move on.  He said goodbye to the older Jacksons, using a sad tone in his voice that did not go unnoticed by the younger man, and then he bid farewell to the children and Suz Jackson, receiving a tender hug and kiss from her, along with a goodie bag to take with him on his journey.

“Why did you really come here, Jack?” Daniel asked as he walked Jack out to his rented jeep.

Jack looked at the younger man and said with amazement, “Some things never change.”

“I don't understand,” Daniel responded.

Jack sighed and then asked, “Did you ever make a choice that changed your world, and then you wondered if maybe that choice was wrong?”

“I hope not.”  The younger man laughed lightly, and then added, “But I do know what it feels like to miss something.”

“Now I don't understand,” Jack admitted.

“No complaints,” Daniel said firmly, putting his hands in front of him to support his words.  “I have a good life, the greatest.  I mean, you met them,” Daniel said, looking over towards the family tent.  “But sometimes, I come out here, or wherever I am in the world, and I look up at the stars, and ... and I wonder.  I feel strangely drawn to them, to the stars, like they're calling me.”

“Maybe you should have been an astronaut,” Jack teased nervously.

“No, that's not it,” Daniel responded, shaking his head.  “There's ... I don't know what exactly, Jack, but there's a universe out there that's far beyond what we imagine.  Life is out there, and I'm missing something by not being there, not that I'd trade my family for it, it's just ... I feel it,” he spoke and shrugged.  “I know it's out there.  Does that make any sense at all?”

“Yeah, it does,” Jack answered.  “But you're happy, Danny, right?  I mean, it's what you wanted: a family, a childhood with your parents and your own kids.  I've seen it here in the last day-and-a-half, but I need you to tell me you're happy.  I ... I have to know that,” Jack vulnerably requested.

~Who are you, Jack O'Neill?~  Daniel blinked a few times.  There was something unique about this stranger.  ~I need more time to figure you out; something tells me we'd be great friends.~  In answer to the question, he nodded and smiled, saying, “Couldn't be happier.”

Jack sighed, a smile on his face, as he bobbed his head up and down.  His soul warmed, having this verification of Daniel's happiness.

“I have to go.  Good luck with your rocks,” Jack laughed, turning to walk the last few feet to the jeep.

“Artifacts, Jack.  Artifacts,” Daniel responded automatically.  He saw Jack turn and saw the surprise on the older man's face.  There was a question on his face that Daniel didn't understand.  To Daniel, it felt like hope.  “I ... don't ... I don't know why I said that,” Daniel stuttered.

“Goodbye, Danny.”

“Jack?”  When Jack looked up from the driver's seat, Daniel continued, stuttering more than he had since Jack had first met him in this portal of time.  He was hesitant, not understanding something that was swelling within him.  “That ... thing I'm missing.  I think maybe it's important.  I don't know how someone trades one life for another, one choice for something else, but sometimes I wonder if I'm where I'm supposed to be.  Gawd, I can't imagine anything else, and yet ... there's ... there's this voice that ... well, it nags at me.  I think ... I think there's some place else I'm supposed to be.  Do you know anything about that?”

Daniel's eyes bore into Jack's, searching for something undefined, and yet something he would swear was there.

Jack just stared at this amazing young man, amazing in any existence, in any time phase.  He wanted to snatch Daniel into his arms and tell him everything, but he couldn't be that selfish; at least, not yet.

“If I did, Danny, you might lose this.  You wouldn't want that,” Jack urged.

Daniel looked back at the tent, at the bliss that was there.  He turned back to stare into the stranger's chocolate brown eyes that suddenly didn't feel so strange to him.  He blinked several times, his heartbeat increasing, as was his breathing.  He sensed an urgency he didn't comprehend, a panic he couldn't explain.

“Jack, what's the cost?” Daniel asked, not even sure what it was he was asking.

“The cost?”

Daniel wet his lips and nodded his head back towards the tent as he answered, “For this?  For my happiness?  There's a price, isn't there?”

“There's a price for everything, Daniel,” the older man replied a bit dryly.

The archaeologist gulped, his hands slipping into his pant's pockets.  He returned to their true discussion, his voice soft as he asked, “But was the price too high?”

Jack stared and stared ... and stared into Daniel's luscious blue eyes.  There was a time, Jack remembered, when they could speak with more than voices.  Their hearts and their souls were almost telepathic.  Jack remembered loving Daniel, holding him, keeping him safe.  He pictured  the smile that Daniel had only for him.  Jack didn't know if the universe was too high a price or not.

~How high is too high, Danny?~  Jack's stare continued, the two gazing into each other's eyes, both totally still otherwise.  ~I love you, Danny.  Heaven help me, I'll love you forever.  I only wanted you to be happy.  Was the price too high?  Gawd, I don't know.  Everything's changed, but look at you.  You have everything, everything you ever wanted.  How can I turn around and try to take that away from you?  I can't answer your question because I love you.~  He sighed.  “Goodbye, Danny ... Daniel.”

Jack turned the key, the jeep's engine igniting instantly.  He paused for one last look, and as he unleashed the parking break, Daniel spoke.

“Nox.”  Daniel saw Jack's head shoot up, a look of surprise written on his face.  “The ... the ... Nox?” Daniel repeated with a low voice.

“Danny?” Jack asked with a voice that was barely audible.

Daniel was in full panic-mode.  Something wasn't right.  He had no idea what Nox meant or why he had said it.  It had just come to him, and he had to vocalize it, to stop Jack from leaving.  He looked back at the tent and the pyramid with a desperation.  He watched all the people he loved, the people who were his life, and then he looked back at the stranger who had hopped out of the jeep and was now standing just a foot away from him, breathing as hard as he was.

“This is wrong, Jack.  It's not supposed to be like this.  I'm not ... they're not ...  it's ... it's wr...wrong, isn't it?” Daniel stammered out.

Jack stood, speechless, shaking his head as he replied, “I don't know.  I just ... oh, for ...”

“... crying out loud,” Daniel said in unison with Jack.  Daniel shook his head and stated, “It's wrong.  My life here is ... it's wrong.”

A single, mournful tear fell down Daniel's right cheek.  Out of habit, without thinking, Jack reached out, and with his hand wiped the tear away.  Daniel's eyes widened with the feel of the touch, and Jack suddenly realized what he had done.  He started to take his hand away quickly, but Daniel raised his hand and grabbed Jack's.

They stood, their hands joined together, both staring as they lowered  their hands to waist level.

“Who are the Nox, Jack, and how do we find them?  We have to find them.  I know we do.  It's ... important,” Daniel said with urgency in his voice.

“Danny, the cost ...”

Daniel shook his head and squeezed Jack's hand.  He had no words.  He just knew that somehow he was connected to this Jack, and somehow, the world was a mess, and these Nox, whomever they were, could fix it.  Daniel knew that like he had never known anything before.

“You'd have to leave them,” Jack warned.  “You couldn't even explain.”

“I know,” Daniel replied quietly.

“Do you, Danny?” Jack challenged.

Daniel was almost hyperventilating, the only thing keeping him grounded was the feel of Jack's hand, something that felt peculiarly perfect to him.

“Stay here.  I'll be right back,” Daniel stated.

====

Jack tapped the steering wheel with his thumbs.  He had paced back and forth for a moment until Daniel was out of sight, and then he hopped into the jeep, determined to leave Daniel to life's joy that he so richly deserved.  Now, though, Jack bowed his head as he struggled to find the courage to turn the key.

“I can't.  Geez, I thought I could, but I can't drive away now,” Jack told the night air.

Five minutes after walking away, Daniel returned to the jeep, holding a small duffel bag.

“They're used to me going on quick jaunts.  They don't question it,” the younger man explained as he got into the jeep, tossing the bag into the back.

“A man of mystery?” Jack quipped.

“Uh, a man unafraid of mystery,” Daniel responded.

Jack smiled and again started the jeep.

“Last chance, Danny,” Jack warned.  Daniel's nose scrunched the way Jack had seen it do so many times when he was deep in thought.  “Danny?”

“Chances? Decisions?  Gawd, that means something, but I can't ...”  Daniel was frustrated and looked as if he was trying to remember something, and then with a plea in his voice, he uttered, “Jack, we have to get to the Nox.”

“We will.  Trust me,” Jack promised.

“I ... I do ... I ... gawd, Jack, I do,” Daniel said.  ~I really do, and I've only just met him, haven't I?~

Jack said nothing as they moved further away from the pyramid and the campsite along its perimeter, but in his mind, he still wondered if he had a right to take Daniel away from his happiness.  Yet, as he drove with the sand flying through the air, his mind replayed the many moments from the past year when he and Daniel had laughed and loved.  He had made Daniel happy; well, at least, more content than before.

Still, in this place, Daniel had a wife and children, doting parents, and a history: wasn't that Daniel's happiness?  Did Jack have a right to be driving away from that, down a road full of uncertainty?

The military man didn't have the answers, but he couldn't stop the jeep.  The drive inside him was as powerful as the four-wheel drive he was piloting.  Daniel was beside him, and something told Jack that no matter what, this is where his lover was destined to be.

====

Pulling into a parking space, Jack turned to Daniel and quietly asked, “Okay, are you sure you understand what is going to happen?”

In disbelief, Daniel truthfully answered, “No, it sounds like a fairy tale, Jack.”

“Yeah, well, sometimes it's more Grimm than ... never mind.  Just follow my lead, and act like you belong.  You're my guest, but the further down we go, the more likely we'll get stopped, and if we do ...”

“I know.  I understand, Jack,” Daniel assured.

“Okay, let's go,” Jack said, climbing out of the truck.

“Jack, what kind of car do I drive?” Daniel asked as they moved towards the check point.

“One that breaks down every other day and needs a paint job,” Jack answered.

“It can't be that bad,” Daniel responded.  Seeing Jack's look, Daniel shrugged and said, “Well, I'm sure it has ... had ... will have character.”

Jack groaned and signed himself and his guest, Daniel Jackson, into the SGC. Nonchalantly, they took the elevators lower and lower down Cheyenne Mountain.  It was almost midnight so only a skeleton crew would be on duty; at least, that's what Jack hoped.  After all, this was a different strand of time.

Jack used his special training to maneuver past some of the security cameras and to get through the halls of the SGC as undetected as possible.  He didn't want to answer questions about his sudden return or Daniel's presence.

~It's like a spy movie,~ Daniel thought as he followed Jack's lead, doing his best not to draw any attention to himself.

Relieved they had made it this far without drawing any undue attention, Jack led Daniel into the control room.

“Walter, how about ...” Jack began.

The technician turned around and said, “Who's Walter, Colonel?”

“Someone who might thank me for doing this someday,” Jack said, knocking the man unconscious with one blow.

A second technician threw down a clipboard and charged Jack, who easily got the best of him, knocking him out as well

“Who's Walter?” Daniel asked.

“Ever watch 'M*A*S*H'?” Jack inquired.

“Hawkeye, Korea -- sure.  Who hasn't?”

“Who hasn't?” Jack chuckled at his geek who in this time strand knew television and loved sports.

“Walter is the Radar O'Reilly of the SGC,” Jack answered.

“Oh,” Daniel answered as he looked at the two unconscious staffers.  He had been impressed, in a weird kind of way, at the ease in which Jack took out the men.  ~I don't think this is the first time he's ever done anything like this.~

“This is the hard part,” Jack sighed as he stared at the computer console.  “This is your thing, and Carter's.”

“Carter?” Daniel asked, clueless about the name.

“Captain Samantha Carter, blonde, prattles a lot ... never mind,” Jack rasped as he silently prayed he was hitting all the right keys.  He searched for the address to the Nox home world.  “Why don't I memorize these things?” Jack growled.  “Geez, I wish you could remember the symbols; it would save a lot of time.”

Without realizing what he was doing, Daniel moved forward and inputted the address.

Jack looked at him, asking, “What did you do?”

“I don't know.  You said you wanted the address and ... and I don't know ... I just ... did it.”  Daniel shrugged, saying, “Maybe it's wrong.  You go ahead.”

Jack chuckled, but looking up on the monitors, he saw their time was ticking away.  It was all too reminiscent of their escape to save the world, the second time Daniel had died, or was that the third?  Jack sighed as he silently thought that his lover had died way too many times in his young life.

“Danny, I'll take your hunches over my sure things any day,” Jack stated convincingly, letting the Gate lock in on the seventh chevron.

“Wow,” Daniel said, stepping back after the kawoosh of the Stargate.  “It's ... magnificent.”

“No time to impress you.  They'll be in here in two minutes.  Let's go,” Jack said as he tugged on Daniel's arm.

Together, they entered the gate room.  Daniel stared at the shimmering blue water, his eyes alight with awe and wonder.

They walked to the top of the ramp where Daniel's mouth remained opened.  He looked like the guppy Jack often teased him about.

“Piece of cake, Danny,” Jack said to the younger man.  “It's second nature to you.”

“It is?” the younger man asked in surprise.

“You're the one who opened it.  Just like you said, you're a man unafraid of a mystery, and when you solved its mystery, we walked through and found new mysteries to explore,” Jack explained.

~Stargate: it's a beautiful name for a wondrous thing,~ Daniel thought as he nodded, his eyes intently focused on the odd symbols.

“You love it, the Stargate,” Jack said.

Daniel replied softly, “The Stargate; it sounds very poetic.”

“I don't know about that, but if we don't go through now, it won't matter,” Jack said, hearing the klaxons blare.  “Time to go.  Believe me, it'll be a snap.”

“I do believe you, Jack,” Daniel said.

A moment later, the two men walked through the Stargate to the surface of P3X-774.

“So?” Jack asked.

Daniel turned back to face the Stargate, watching the wormhole-like opening close.

“That was ... awesome!” Daniel replied.  “So ... this is really another planet?”

“Yeah.  We came here looking for some bird that could make itself invisible.  Turned out it wasn't the bird, but the people with the funny hair who could do the funny tricks.”

“Funny hair?” Daniel inquired as they walked.

“You'll see,” Jack promised.  “I'm just glad they've reopened the Stargate.”

“Uh, it has a stop sign?” Daniel asked, clueless still about exactly how the Stargate worked.

“They buried it, but just recently, we managed to convince them we weren't still in our infancy.”

“I have no idea what that means,” Daniel responded.

“You will; I hope,” Jack said as they continued on their way.

====

“There sure are a lot of trees here,” Daniel commented.

Jack burst into laughter, saying, “Danny, that's my line.”

“Oh,” the younger man commented, shrugging afterwards.

“The worlds we visit tend to have trees.  You call them nature's oxygen filters, or some such thing,” Jack noted.

“I do?”

“You do,” Jack said with a nod.

====

Jack and Daniel had walked for quite a while, trying to find the huts where they had first encountered the Nox.

“I think we're walking in circles,” Jack commented, shaking his head.

“What about your compass?” Daniel inquired.

“It shows we're heading the right direction, but I think Nafrayu is playing games with us,” Jack replied.

~Nafrayu?  Oh, well,~ Daniel thought, deciding not to focus on yet another unfamiliar name.  “It's beautiful here,” he remarked as they traveled through the forest.

“Yeah, it is,” Jack agreed.  He looked at his lover and smiled playfully.

“What?” Daniel asked.

Jack mused, “Lots of trees.  Of course, we find trees everywhere.  Trees, trees, and more trees.”

Daniel grinned and obligatorily replied, “Well, trees are like nature's oxygen filters.”  Then he added, “If we go to other planets all the time, then the worlds we go to must be compatible.  I mean, uh, it stands to reason that ...” Daniel stopped, seeing Jack's huge smile. “What?  Was I talking too much?”

“No.  You're right, Danny.  Trees are a beautiful and natural thing to find on any world,” Jack said, silently adding, ~especially any world that you're on.~

====

Sometime later, as they continued walking, Daniel asked, “Uh, Jack?”

“What?” Jack asked, ducking slightly to miss a low-hanging tree branch.

“What language do the Nox speak?” the unknowing linguist asked.

“Nox, I guess,” Jack answered.  “But they learned English from us.”

“Oh, we taught them?”

“No, we gabbed in front of them, and they taught themselves,” Jack answered.

“That must have taken some time,” Daniel observed, jumping over a clump of brush.

“Yeah, an hour,” Jack said, shaking his head.

“An hour?” Daniel asked in amazement.

“Maybe it was two, but it wasn't long,” the colonel answered.

“Wow,” Daniel commented off-handedly.  “Well, that must have made it easier to negotiate a treaty with them.”

“No treaty, remember?  Our alliance came later, after we met the Tollan,”
Jack explained.

“Right,” Daniel responded, shrugging again, slightly frustrated at his lack of memory.

“Daniel, remember the conversation about trees earlier?” Jack prodded.

“Uh, the trees are everywhere discussion?  Yes,” Daniel answered.

“Well, everywhere we go, they speak English, too,” Jack stated informatively.

“That's, uh, convenient,” Daniel said, blinking a few times.

“According to you, it makes perfect sense,” Jack remarked.

“Oh, well, then if I said it, it must be logical,” Daniel quipped, smiling.

Jack stopped and looked back at the younger man.  He nodded, “Yeah, it's logical, and you're right.  Let's keep going.”

====

After a while longer, Jack glanced at Daniel and noticed he seemed far away.

“You miss them, your family,” Jack said.  With Daniel's confirming nod, Jack requested, “Tell me about them, how you see them.”

Daniel couldn't contain his smile or keep his eyes from shining with love and delight as he answered, “Suz is great.  I met her at Harvard and fell head over heels in love.  She's like my mom in a lot of ways, very caring.  She likes to do things with her hands: pottery, sculpture, even knitting.”

Daniel laughed, the sound engaging and alluring, and his smile was even brighter than before.

“What?” Jack asked, unable to stop his own face from smiling after seeing Daniel's expression.

“It's how she told me she was pregnant the first time.  She knitted a little blue bootie and put it on my pillow,” Daniel answered.  “Our first baby; he was such a gift.”

“Why'd you name him Jonathan?” a curious Jack asked.

“I don't know.  She wanted to name him Clark after her father, and Mom thought he should be named after Dad, but, I don't know, I just felt like I needed him to be Jack, Jonathan ... I don't know,” Daniel's answered, his voice suddenly full of confusion.

Jack nodded as he listened and replied, “He seems to be following in your shoes.”

“No, not really,” the archaeologist admitted.  “He likes to help, but he loves the sky, you know, airplanes and gliders.  He says he wants to be a pilot.”

Jack smiled, suddenly feeling like the world was an eerie place, and the Nox were right -- that they, the Tau'ri, understood nothing of the universe, though he was sure they would continue to lie to themselves that they did.

“The baby has your eyes,” Jack whispered, surprising Daniel.

“Jenny's a hoot.  She loves to play with things.  Jack teases her all the time, and Mom is spoiling her rotten.  Dad is so funny.  He wears one of those backpack things; you know, on the front, not the back; he takes Jenny into the pyramids and tells her ghost stories.”

“I thought your wife said you told the ghost tales?” Jack asked.

“Oh, I do,” Daniel confirmed, smiling.  “I get them from Dad.  He told them to me growing up, so I guess I just inherited them.”

“The baby doesn't get scared?”

“No, she loves it.  Dad has a way of making everything sound fun and exciting, even to a baby,” Daniel explained.

~And I took him away from that?  Geez, I don't know that I did the right thing.~  Jack sighed, “Your parents are great.”

“Yeah, they are.  Gawd, I wouldn't know what to do without them.  They've always been there for me, supporting me and loving me.  They've never let me give up on anything.  I love them a lot.”

Jack grew suspiciously quiet, and when Daniel glanced at him, he saw something disturbing.  He swallowed as a sad truth suddenly hit him.

“They're not part of my world, are they?”  Jack didn't answer, and that answered Daniel's question.  “She's pregnant.”

Jack stopped, his eyes locking on to Daniel.  Stunned, he asked, “How could you leave?”

“Because ... it's not really real ... is it?  My whole life, everything I trust and value: it's not the way it's supposed to be.  Tell me I'm wrong, Jack.” Daniel requested, his eyes begging for a false truth.

Jack shook his head, wanting to lie, but knowing he couldn't.  Softly, he answered, “I can't, but I wish I could.  She must not be far along.  I mean she looks great,” he commented.

“Twenty weeks; she just doesn't show very much,” Daniel replied softly.

“Do you know if it's a boy or a girl?” Jack inquired.

“We just found out.  It's a girl,” Daniel answered quickly and with eager anticipation in his voice.

Jack nodded in acknowledgement and then inquired, “Picked out a name yet?”

“We were thinking Cassandra; it's kinda exotic,” Daniel responded.  He watched as Jack chuckled a knowing laugh as he shook his head.  Sensing there was a connection to the name that Jack hadn't mentioned, Daniel added, “It just came to me when Suz said she was pregnant.”  After a pause, Daniel hesitantly added, “We ... do that a lot, don't we?”

“Do what?”

Daniel answered, “What we did in the pyramid, that not, too stuff.”

“Banter,” Jack acknowledged.  “Yeah, all the time.”

“It felt ... familiar, safe, like home,” Daniel said almost inaudibly.

Jack didn't say anything as they continued to walk, mostly in silence now, each lost in their thoughts of the things they didn't comprehend.

====

~I think we're lost.~  Thirty minutes later, Daniel asked, “Jack, do you know where we're going?”

“Haven't a clue,” the colonel replied.

“Oh.”  Daniel hid a chuckle.  ~Well, being lost with him isn't so bad.~

“I'm just grateful the Nox reconsidered,” Jack stated.

“Reconsidered?  Oh, what you said earlier about them burying the Stargate and the alliance coming later?” Daniel asked as he recalled their previous discussions.

“Yeah, when they sealed their Stargate after our first visit, I didn't think we'd hear from them again,” Jack commented.

“Aren't they friends?” Daniel asked, brushing aside a low-hanging tree limb as they walked.

“Yes, but we're ...”  Jack stopped walking, looking all around for signs of familiarity as he spoke.  “Geez, I hate this word, but we're primitive, and they didn't want to deal with us dirtying up their perfect world,” Jack answered.

“Oh,” Daniel said as he stood with his hands on his hips, his thumbs in his tan pants' pockets.

“But after we proved ourselves, with a little help from the Tollan ...” Jack saw a thousand questions in Daniel's eyes and just shook his head in response.  “It's a long story, Danny, but a lot of stuff has happened since we first met them.  We'd only been exploring the galaxy for six months when we first met the Nox.”  Jack sighed, thinking that was a very long time ago, though only a year had passed.  “Anyway, while we're still primitive, they've agreed to an alliance, so that we're at least in some sort of limited communication with them.  It's why they unsealed the Gate, but of course, if we abuse it, then they'll sever their ties with us completely.”

“They won't be angry that we ...”

“I hope not,” Jack sighed, never truly able to read the Nox.  ~but I believe in them; at least, they're more up front than the Tok'ra or the Tollan.  “We'd better keep going.”

“Sure.  Any idea where we're going?” Daniel asked as he followed Jack through the trees.

“To find the Nox; they're here somewhere,” Jack asserted.

====

A while later, when they stopped for a break, Jack noted, “This looks familiar.  I think it's where Apophis killed us.”

“Who?  Did what?” Daniel asked, feeling like he was in a foreign movie.

“With any luck, Danny, you'll know soon enough,” Jack answered.

“Jack ... what ...”  The younger man looked away.  ~I'll find out soon enough,~ he thought, echoing Jack's previous answer.

“What what?” Jack asked, looking curiously at Daniel until their eyes met.

Daniel felt the intensity; it was something unlike anything he had ever felt before.

“What are we?”

Jack tilted his head as he looked away and responded, “We work for the SGC. It's complicated, but ...”

Interrupting, Daniel said, “No, that's not what I meant.  What are we, you and me?”

Jack sighed, “Not now, Danny.  Here, you have a wife and two point five kids, and parents and a childhood that was happy.  Wait, okay?”

Daniel nodded and began to study the area, finally observing, “You're right; there are a lot of trees here.”

“And moss.  Trees and moss, everywhere we go,” Jack reminded.  “And rain.  Geez, it rains a lot off-world.”

“It rains a lot on-world, too,” Daniel commented as he stood up and walked around the area.  A few minutes later, with nothing but nature filling the air, Daniel spoke softly, “I left them.”

Jack stared at Daniel, about to ask what he was talking about; but then, he knew.  Nodding, he replied, “I know you left your family, and like you said, there's something important out there for ...”

“No, Jack,” Daniel interrupted.  “I left them for you,” he said softly and then walked to a tree stump and sat down.  “It sounds crazy.  It *is* crazy.  Two days ago my world was set.  I was certain who I was, who my family was, and what our place in the universe was.  Gawd, I was happy, but I ... I knew it was wrong.”

“It's not wrong to be happy,” Jack practically whispered.

Daniel nodded in acknowledgement and said, “No, it's not wrong, but it wasn't real.  Every day of my life I've felt there was something not right, like it was a lie.  It wasn't Suz or the kids; it wasn't my work.”  He shook his head as he pondered his life.  “Sometimes I've looked at my parents and felt so grateful they were there, and sometimes, I was afraid that if I closed my eyes for too long they'd be gone when I opened them again.”

“Danny ...”

“And then there's you,” Daniel continued, ignoring Jack's attempted interruption.  “Something clicked when I saw you, something I don't pretend to fathom, but I knew we knew each other, and ... and when you touched me, there was no turning back for me.”  Blue eyes begged brown ones for truth as Daniel again asked, “What are we, Jack?”

“Best friends.”  Jack smiled seeing Daniel's 'not buying it' look.  “And ... we're together ... together,” Jack added.

“Lovers?” Daniel responded quickly, surprising Jack a little.

“Forever and always, Danny.”

Daniel stood and walked several feet away.  He had never considered the possibility of another existence.  He had only felt somewhere deep inside of himself that he was missing something.  He thought it was the universe, but as he turned and stared at the stranger turned friend turned best friend turned ... lover, he realized the universe was this man.

Slowly but purposefully, Daniel walked over to Jack and raised his hand to Jack's left cheek.  It was tentative.  He almost felt afraid, and yet, it was eerily familiar.

~It's right; I don't understand it, but this feeling, it's the right feeling,~ Daniel thought.  He blinked, flashes going through his mind.  He shook his head somewhat violently, but kept his touch to Jack's cheek.  “Sp...space ...”

“Space Monkey,” Jack whispered, trying not to lose control, knowing they had no time for emotional reunions, especially those that made no sense.

“Jack?”

Jack didn't know if it was right or wrong, but he heard the question and saw the invitation, so he took Daniel into his arms and kissed the man who was his heart.  It was much more than their first kiss had been back on Earth, on Jack's roof deck.  He hadn't been that sure of what to do back then, but now, he knew every inch of Daniel's body, what pleased him, what made him laugh or moan.  Jack poured his soul into a kiss he knew Daniel would crumble under, one that was long, hard, and lingering.

“Gawd, Jack, what the heck did you do to get us into this mess?” Daniel asked with impatience, leaning his head for the first moment in this portal of time against the shoulder of the man he knew he loved.

Jack let out a tiny snort as he confessed, “I made a decision I thought was for the best, but it was wrong.  It was so wrong, but I wanted you to be happy, Danny.  Listen, we don't have time.  I don't even know if we can ...”

“Yes, we can.  We have to,” Daniel said strongly.

Gazing into his lover's eyes, Jack spoke, “I'm sorry, Danny.”

“For what?”

“That it has to go away,” Jack answered, referring to the happy life Daniel had been living.  “Geez, I hate that.  I wanted this for you so friggin' much. I ...”

“It's okay, Jack.  I wish ... I'll miss them, but they aren't supposed to be here, and maybe there's something else for them, too.  I don't know, but that life wasn't my destiny.  I know that now,” Daniel said, full of anticipation for his future, and yet, full of sadness for the family he'd never see again.

“I love you, Danny, and I don't expect you to say it back, so don't feel ...”

“But I do love you, Jack,” Daniel interrupted, “even if I don't quite grasp it all; I just ... feel it.”

Jack nodded gratefully, but he knew they needed to find the Nox as quickly as possible.

“Come on, I think we're close,” Jack stated as he led Daniel further into the woods.

“That's what you said an hour ago,” Daniel teased.

“He's a critic already,” Jack mused.

“But I'm right; you did say it an hour ago,” Daniel responded.

Jack chuckled and replied, “Danny, you're always right.”

“Oh, well, good.  I'll remember you said that.”

“Geez, I hope not,” Jack smirked as the lovers sought out the Nox in the hopes of recapturing their true strand of time.

====

Soon, the two came to the place where Jack was sure the huts of the Nox had been.  He was tired and eager to get things back to the way they should be.

“OKAY,” Jack spoke loudly.

“Jack, why are you shouting?” Daniel asked.

“Just trying to make myself heard, Love,” Jack said, stopping to do a double take at Daniel for his 'slip' of endearment.  To Jack's pleasure, Daniel smiled. “ANTEAUS?  LYA?  OHPER?  I KNOW YOU'RE HERE.  WE NEED YOUR HELP.  PLEASE.  IT'S IMPORTANT.  NAFRAYU?”

The two waited for a response; of course, Daniel wasn't sure what he was looking for, but whatever it was, nothing happened.

“Maybe they aren't here,” Daniel spoke sadly.

“LYA?  LISTEN TO ME; I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME,” Jack shouted, looking upwards, not towards the heavens but to where he believed their city in the sky was.  “LOOK, I MADE A BIG MISTAKE, AND I NEED YOUR HELP TO FIX IT,IF NOT FOR MY SAKE, FOR DANIEL'S, AND MORE THAN THAT, FOR HUMANITY.  PLEASE.”

Jack and Daniel waited impatiently, but at last, some two minutes later, Lya and Anteaus appeared before them.

“Well, it's about time, and yes, I know, we're young,  me especially,” Jack admitted.  “You're right; we're very, very, very young, and we make mistakes.”

Lya smiled and said, “Hello, Friends,” and then she looked at Anteaus, who was staring intently at the two visitors.

“You're the Nox,” Daniel said with a touch of wonder in his voice, his eyes studying the two intently, but he was smiling, too, and he wasn't sure why.

“Tell me what you did,” Anteaus calmly requested.

~They do have funny hair,~ Daniel thought, ~but I like them; I just have a hunch that they're good people.~

“Okay, well we were on a mission ...” Jack began, telling the Nox what had transpired in the last few weeks.

It was the first time Daniel had heard the entire story, so he listened, glued to Jack's words just as the aliens who listened were.

When Jack was finished, Anteaus and Lya exchanged a look of disbelief between them.

“Please,” Jack begged.  “You guys know everyone around the universe worth knowing.  You *have* to know who has the power and ability to make this insanity happen.”

“We do,” Lya confirmed..

“We will return shortly.  Eat, and then you will go,” Anteaus told Jack and Daniel.

“Gladly, if you can fix this,” Jack replied.

With a nod, the two Nox disappeared.

Blowing out a deep breath as he brushed his head with his right hand, Jack sat down.  He was feeling relieved and hopeful, until he looked over at Daniel and spied a tear falling down his cheek.

“Danny?” Jack asked tenderly.

“You did all that for me?  You gave your life so I could ...”

Jack completed the question by answering, “So you could be happy, have parents, brothers and sisters, a dog -- the things every kid should have.”

Daniel walked to where Jack sat, sitting next to him.  He leaned his head on Jack's shoulder, saying nothing.  His heart beat faster when Jack put his arm around the young man.  Silently, each relished the closeness and the feel of the other.

“You did have a dog,” Jack stated, though it was a question.

“Always,” Daniel chuckled.  “I love dogs.  Actually, we have three beagles, but they're with my sister right now.  They're crazy little things; I love them.” Daniel looked at Jack and asked, “Why wouldn't I have a dog?  I mean, the way you said that, it was like dogs were strangers or something.”

Jack almost lost it.  Knowing his lover had dogs was the final sign of Daniel's happiness in this time portal.

~I hate this.  I know we have to get things set back the way they should be, but he's living the life I've always wanted for him.  Geez, this may be the right thing to do, but I hate this,~ a dejected Jack thought as both doubt and guilt consumed him.

The older man never answered Daniel's question, but as they sat together quietly, as they touched gently, as they each enjoyed the presence of the other, Jack had to admit that he felt alive again.  Holding Daniel had brought him back to life, just like Daniel had done on the first Abydos mission.

Under the blue skies, amid the trees, Jack and Daniel sat and waited for Lya and Anteaus to return.

====

Several minutes later and without warning, Jack and Daniel were transported from where they sat.  One second, they were on a log, the next, they were in the clouds.  Jack recognized it immediately.

“It's you, isn't it?” Jack asked.

“The Nox have requested an audience for you.  Speak now,” the familiar voice stated.

“I made a mistake,” Jack offered up quickly.

“What have you learned?” the voice inquired.

“Learned?”

Jack looked at Daniel and then out at the cloudy blue sky.  For the first time in his life, he had to find words that mattered.  He would be fighting for his life, for Daniel's, for their love, and for Earth.  This wasn't a time for jokes or sarcasm; he had to speak with the perfect words, or all would be lost.

“I learned that we have to let go of what we can't change, that life is a struggle we have to move forward in, not backwards.  As much as I wanted Daniel to have his parents and his childhood, the man he became on his own, the experiences that he lived through as a result of his pain, ultimately made him the man who opened the Stargate, the compassionate soul the universe embraces, and the man I love.”

Jack paused, glancing at his lover, and added, “I wanted him to be happy, but I didn't have the right to make that choice for him.  He's the only who could do that.”

Jack ran his hands through his hair and looked back up at the cloudy sky as he continued, “Look, words have never been my thing.  All I know is that the world is wrong now.  The Stargate program needs Daniel.  People's lives changed because he wasn't there.  If it was just me, I wouldn't be here now. I made my choice and was ready to live with that, but it's not just me.  You have to know that.  You had to have known that.”

“Yes, you did,” Daniel interjected strongly, a passion in his voice as he stepped forward.  He briefly looked at Jack, but then turned his attention towards the voice above.  “This is wrong.  You knew that we couldn't change ourselves without changing others, without altering lives that we have no right to alter.  How could you let us do that?”

“Danny, it was me,” Jack said informatively.

“No, gawd, no, Jack,” Daniel refuted.  “It was me, too.  I ... I chose ... I chose for you, too,” he revealed.

Daniel's voice had gone from loud to quiet, his eyes darting all over the area as his mind began to give way to something else.  The memory of another existence was creeping into his mind.  The life that Daniel was now remembering was one where he was miserable and alone, Earth was different, there seemed to be more war, and his only consolation had been that Jack had Sara and Charlie back.  In that other life, Jack also had two other children.

Daniel looked at Jack, but his lover didn't seem to be remembering that existence.  Thinking back, the archaeologist remembered first coming to this planet and the voice's surprise at his ability to see the different portals.  He wondered if that was why he could remember both strands of existence.

“Maybe someday,” the voice spoke calmly, “we will meet.  We look forward to that time when your world and ours can learn together.  The Nox were correct.  You are young, but capable of much, with time.”

A blue light enveloped Jack and Daniel, and suddenly the two were in front of the Stargate.

“Sam, Teal'c, where did you two come from?” Daniel asked as he saw his two teammates.

“I don't ...”

Before Sam could finish or Teal'c begin, the voice 'appeared' above them, saying, “You have given us hope for the Tau'ri.  Each of you was offered the chance for personal gain, to make your deepest wishes come true, and each, knowing the cost, turned it down.”

When the voice finished speaking, each member of SG-1 was suddenly flooded with images of other existences.  In addition to their 'true' reality, each could now remember living four different lives.  Jack, for example, remembered the existence he had chosen so that Daniel could be happy.  He also recalled the life Daniel had chosen for him to be happy.  In addition, he was aware of memories where things were different because of Sam's and Teal'c's decisions.

~I have a headache,~ Jack thought as he tried to sort out all of the memories and emotions.

SG-1 looked at each other, each feeling a bit self-conscious.  All had gone through incredible experiences, and now they were aware that both their sacrifice and their gain was a result of their love for their SG-1 family.

The voice continued, “And then, when offered the chance to make the life of another better, though it meant great sacrifices on your part, you agreed.  Your sacrifices spoke of your inner hearts, the best of human kind, but the real test was passed only now, when you realized, slowly, that destiny is not to be tested, that one person affects many.  Sacrifice, even when well-intentioned, often comes with its own ... price tag.”

“This was a test?” Jack asked sharply.

The voice 'smiled', something that still unnerved the human beings.  Seeing a voice smile was impossible, and yet, it was happening.

“You were given choices, and your decisions were honored,” the voice answered.  “Live well, members of the Tau'ri, and when you have grown more in wisdom, we welcome your return.  The portals have been closed.  Be assured, all that happened, did occur.  It was not a game.  There have been no lies, no deceptions.  Time *is* as complex as space, but as we are now, so are you.  Your natural order is truly restored.  All is as it was.”

Just as suddenly as it had appeared, the voice was gone.  The confused yet grateful members of SG-1 looked at each other, full of questions.

“Daniel, dial us out of here.  It's time to go home,” Jack said quietly.

====

**Danny, we have to be careful what we say,** Jack communicated as they entered the briefing room.

**Thanks for the news bulletin, Jack.  We'll be okay.**

“Welcome home, SG-1,” General Hammond said as he entered the room and sat down.  “Let's begin.”

Jack leaned forward, sighing as he clasped his hands together.  He looked down at the table and nodded.

“Sir,” Jack began.  “You aren't going to believe it.”

Hammond sat back, amazed about what he heard about the voice as the debriefing progressed.

“So each of you turned down a chance at a better life for yourselves, but then you also sacrificed yourselves for the opportunity to make one of the other of you happier?”

“That's about it, General,” Jack answered.

“And how did that happen?” Hammond asked, looking at each of the team members.

The briefing continued for hours with the four detailing their choices and the effect it had on their lives.  Jack and Daniel, without having time to discuss their stories beforehand, did remarkably well to say what happened without exposing their romantic relationship.  With each story, all four realized even more so the error of their decisions.  The clearest memory each had was of the existence where they had sacrificed their own happiness, but as they listened to each other, they recalled more about different parts of the other existences.

“We had such good intentions,” Sam commented.  “I should have known better.”

“Carter, you can't blame yourself.  We all agreed to it,” Jack replied.

“O'Neill is correct, CaptainCarter.”

“Thank you, Teal'c,” Sam said with a smile.  “Uh, not for agreeing with me, but for, well, you know.”

Teal'c nodded his head in acknowledgement, adding, “And I appreciate your sacrifice on behalf of my family.”

Sam blushed as she nodded, looking uncomfortably back at the general.

“How did you straighten things out?” Hammond asked.

“I realized it was wrong,” Jack, Daniel, and Sam all said at the same time.

Teal'c stated, “The reality of the new events were incorrect.”

Hesitant glances were exchanged by all for a few uneasy moments.

“Captain Carter?” Hammond prodded.

“I knew the reality was wrong.  Life was very good, but it seemed too easy,” Sam spoke, choosing to speak about her 'happy' time strand.  “I don't really know how to explain it.  My problem was I didn't know how to fix it, but as I reflected on my history, I finally realized that P9X-418 was when things changed.”

“I had made the same revelation.  I was about to return to Earth from Chulak when I suddenly found myself standing in front of the Stargate again,” Teal'c informed them, also speaking from the point of view of the free Jaffa.

“Doctor Jackson?” Hammond asked.

“Uh, well, I ... I was happy in one reality, General, but in the other ... well, life had been better.  The problem was that the world was a mess.  Things had happened to make things very unpleasant, not just for the United States, but in several countries abroad.  I knew that ... I mean, I felt that somehow Jack's ...”  Daniel paused to regroup, then stated, “There's a lot of things that go on behind the scenes in the name of country and peace that we don't like to think about.  I realized some of those things didn't happen because an alternate strand of time was in place.  The, uh, Stargate wasn't used for the purposes we're using it for.  I just couldn't ignore the reason for all of that change.”  Daniel looked down, admitting, “It was the hardest thing I'd ever done.”

“You convinced me, didn't you?” Jack asked, almost forgetting anyone else was around.

Daniel turned his head to face his lover and smiled, but he said nothing.

After Jack gave his somewhat altered summary of how he returned to the planet, the debriefing went on to discuss the resolution of the situation.

“Do we know who these people are that are responsible for these portals?” the general asked.

“No, Sir. They never told us,” Jack answered.

“We're very young, General,” Daniel said with a smile.

“Maybe someday, Sir; that's what the voice said,” Jack added.  

Finally, General Hammond dismissed them, giving SG-1 seventy-two hours of downtime to recoup, having seen that this oddly intimate experience had affected his flagship team greatly.  He also recommended they see Doctor MacKenzie if they had any trouble at all in adjusting to their experiences.

“Well, that was unusual,” Sam said after Hammond walked out.

For a few minutes, the four exchanged some private comments, each having a better sense now of what they had all experienced.  Then they parted, checking on other obligations before leaving for their leave.  All had already undergone their post-mission exams.

**Our place?** Jack asked before he went by his office.

Daniel smiled, still a little uncomfortable with Jack's choice of a pronoun to describe Jack's house.  They were still going back and forth a bit between the house and Daniel's apartment, but over the past year, Daniel had spent more and more time at his soulmate's country-style home.  He liked it and truly felt comfortable there.  He nodded and headed towards his own office, eager to checkout and talk with his lover privately about all that had occurred.

====

In his office, Daniel prepared to leave, but as he got to the door, he stopped.

~What was that man's name?~ Daniel asked himself as he tried to remember an incident from one of the other strands.

Suddenly, Daniel returned to his worktable, pulling out his current work journal.  Feverishly, he began to write about his other existence.

====

When Daniel arrived at Jack's at 8 p.m., he found his lover sitting in a chair on the roof deck.  Daniel walked over and stood behind the chair, placing his hands on Jack's shoulders, gently massaging them as well as Jack's neck and upper back.

“Mmmm.  Feels good,” Jack whispered.

Daniel leaned over and kissed the top of Jack's head, moving his arms to hang over his lover, his hands sliding inside Jack's brown and white striped shirt.

“I'm sorry I'm late, Jack, but I had something I had to do,” the archaeologist spoke.

“I love you, Danny,” the older man spoke tenderly.

“Love you, too.  Jack, do you remember it all?” Daniel asked curiously.

“Some,” Jack admitted, adding, “It's fading, though.”

“For me, too.  I don't remember the details very much any more.  Uh, that's why I was late.  I realized I was starting to forget,” Daniel confided.

“Your journal?” Jack asked.

“Yes, the work one with a lot of the technical information; I, uh, want to record my thoughts in my personal journal soon; the memories are slipping away,” Daniel sadly confided, not certain he really wanted to forget anything that had happened, no matter how confusing it all seemed.

It had only been an afternoon, but in that time, SG-1 had effectively lived four different lives.  Only once the team had stepped through the Stargate and returned back to the SGC did the memories of their other lives begin to dissolve.

“It's probably for the best,” Jack observed, speaking in a sad tone.

Daniel knew the reason for his lover's melancholy.  His hands caressing Jack's chest, the younger man kissed Jack again and leaned his head to rest on Jack's.  A minute later, Daniel walked in front of Jack and kneeled down in front of him, taking hold of his hands.

“Listen to me, Jack.  I love that you love me so much that you'd give up ... us ... for me, that you'd ... give up your life ... for me.  It's going away, but I still remember what it felt like to have that family, to be a son and have birthday parties and bedtime stories, but I love you, and as much as I wanted that, as much as every minute was a treasured jewel, I wouldn't trade you, Jack.  You have to believe me.  Gawd, I love you so freakin' much, and even more now that I know ... that ...”

Tears escaped from Daniel's eyes, and Jack moved their hands, still joined, to Daniel's face so he could dry them.

“I was thinking the same thing, Danny,” Jack said.  “The thing is I'm not sure what that says.  How do I compare you with my son?  How do I choose? And yet I did.  What if Charlie hates me for that?”

“No, Jack,” Daniel answered, shaking his head.  “Love, don't you see what they were trying to teach us?  We shouldn't try to second-guess our lives, to change our history.  We just don't realize how one seemingly innocent act can affect the world.  We have to move forward, to let go of the past, no matter how hard it is, because our destiny is always ahead of us, not behind us.”

“How'd you get to be so smart, Danny?” Jack quipped, smiling slightly.

Daniel thought for a moment, and in all seriousness, he looked at Jack and answered, “My parents died.”  Seeing his lover's surprised expression, he explained, “Jack, when you found me in Egypt, you assumed I was the same person, didn't you?”

“You were.  You were on a dig.  I even watched you work,” Jack responded.

“Yeah, but there weren't any PhD's after my name.  My dad was the big wig, Jack.  I'm not saying I was dumb or anything, but I hadn't put my life into books.  Jack, I didn't have the theory about the pyramids in that life.  I didn't question it, not in the same way.  See?  For me to be ... me, my parents had to die when they did, and that was their destiny, as painful and cruel as it was, it was their life, their fate,” Daniel said sadly, looking down in regret.

“Geez, Daniel.”

“I'm not saying I can forget.  I'm not saying it's suddenly going to be easy to move on from the abandonment.  Jack, the warmth of their hugs and their touches ... those memories ... they're already going away, but I know in my heart that they love me,” Daniel commented.

“Danny, they did.  I saw it, and I know it was the same in this portal,” Jack assured.

Nodding, Daniel added with even more certainty, “And I know they loved me because they showed me every day that they were alive, and I know that because you've helped me to remember them, to honor them, like when we went to New York earlier this year.  Jack, I want to think of my parents as people who gave me life, and I want to make them proud.  I don't want to think of them as people who made a bad choice and died in front of my eyes.”  Daniel kissed Jack's hands and rubbed them against his right cheek.  “Charlie.  I wanted you to have him just like you wanted me to have my parents.”

“I know, Love,” Jack acknowledged quietly.  “He was amazing, Danny.”

Jack paused.  Life could be very confusing.  Not only did Jack remember his experience where he went after Daniel in Egypt, but in some quirky Twilight Zone sort of a way, he remembered another life, the one Daniel had sacrificed his happiness for him.  It was a life where he and Sara were happy, with a house full of kids.  In that strand, a day came when Daniel had paid him a visit, much as he had done in his time portal.

Neither Jack nor Daniel understood the natural order, the time strands, or the unusual memories that had each member of SG-1 recalling four separate realities, each the result of the choices made by the other team members.  It felt strange and was almost overwhelming.  Jack had scoffed privately at the suggestion of seeing a psychiatrist, but if the four realities remained in his brain, he wondered if maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea.

“Danny, how can we have memories of four simultaneous lives?” Jack asked. “It's giving me a headache,” he scoffed.

Daniel chuckled.  In a sense, it was all he knew to do.  Then he answered, “We're young.  We don't yet understand time and space.”

Jack laughed, “At least they're fading.  Part of me wishes they wouldn't, but keeping these lives sorted is freaky.”

“I know; very, uh, freaky,” Daniel agreed.

Still chuckling, Jack said lovingly, “I missed you, Danny; even as I was holding Sara and playing with the kids.  There was a hole in my heart I couldn't understand.  I know that was you.  I knew it the moment you showed up at my house.”  Jack shook his head.  ~It still gives me a friggin' headache.~  “I'll never understand how this happened.”

Daniel considered their options, then suggested, “Babe, let's not try, which I know seems like a funny thing for me to say, science and all of that, but all I care about right now is that this ...”  He kissed Jack's hands again.  “This is right.  It's our destiny, at least for now.”

The younger man had hesitated, having caught himself in a moment where he thought about forever, something he tried not to do in the past because it usually preceded the end of whatever good had happened.

“Oh, no, you don't,” Jack said as he stood up, pulling Daniel up with him and scooping him into his arms.  “You are so not getting out of that one.  Say it, Danny, for me ... please.”

“For...forever and always, Jack, I love you.”

“My beautiful falling star.  Never giving you up, Danny, and this time, there won't be any exceptions.  Do you hear me?  I won't let you go, and so help me, you ever again do something that separates us because you think it's what I want, I'll haunt you.  I'll haunt you forever.”

Daniel leaped into Jack's mouth, their tongues igniting a fiery passion that was about to combust.

“Jack?”

“What?” the older man responded.

Thoughtfully, Daniel asked, “This may be a strange question, but, what did you and Sara name your other kids?”

Jack smiled, a big, full smile, as he kissed Daniel again, and then answered, “Daniel, Jennifer, and Patrick.”

“Jack?” Daniel said softly, unable to hide a grin.

“Pretty cool, huh?  Even the Jennifer.  I don't even know anyone named Jennifer, but I insisted on it.  Danny, do you know anyone named Jennifer?”

“No, but I ... Jack, I was the one who insisted on Jenny's name, too.  This is really weird.”

“Did you ever call her Jen?” Jack asked.

“Sometimes, yes,” Daniel acknowledged.

“We did, too,” Jack said about he and Sara in that strand of time.

The lovers held each other close as they let this information sink in.  Patrick was Daniel's middle name, so Jack had named two sons after his lover.

“You really didn't forget me?” Daniel asked.

“No, never could.  You're in my soul, and not even time and space can change that,” Jack said.  “Let's go to bed, Danny.”

“Jack, I want you desperately, but the memories are getting foggier and ...”

Daniel was handling the awareness of the four lives a little better than Jack; he felt they could learn from their experiences, not just on a personal level, but for professional and world events, too.  It saddened him to know the happenings of those other existences were going away.

Intellectually, the archaeologist knew it was a good idea for the other lives to fade, thus preventing any of them from changing their fate.

~Maybe fate is the natural order,~ Daniel thought.

If so, losing the recall of those lives would definitely be required, but still, Suz, his children, his siblings, and his parents in the three strands in which they had been present were real to Daniel in every sense.  In some ways, losing the memories felt like they were all dying.  Daniel felt an urgent need to capture as much as he could in his journal now to preserve at least some remembrances of people he loved and who loved him.

Understanding and aware of Daniel's need, Jack interrupted, suggesting, “Let's go to bed.  You can sit in front of me, and I'll massage your shoulders and keep you warm while you write in your journal.  I won't even peek,” he said playfully.

“Not even a little?” Daniel challenged.

“Only if you want me, too,” Jack answered with shining eyes.

Smiling, the younger man spoke softly, “I love you, Jack, forever and always.”

“Forever and always, My Love, forever and always.”

Forever and always, the soulmates promised to love and cherish each other, and those were promises Jack and Daniel intended to keep.  It was their destiny and their joy.

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