What Must Occur

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, H/C, Missing Scene/Epilogue, Holiday, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  9/10 - December 6-24, 2005
Spoilers:  Window of Opportunity, Crusade, Camelot, Flesh and Blood, Morpheus, Counterstrike
Size:  233kb
Written:  November 27-30, December 1-5,22, 2009, January 3,6, April 28, May 8,16-19, 2010
Summary:  SG-1 continues to lead the battle against the Ori, risking their lives in the process, and then take time out to celebrate Christmas.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) This is truly my interpretation of these episodes and it definitely does not follow the chronological order of events as seen in the TV series.
2) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
3) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
4) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my other fic(s), “What Must Be,” “What Must Happen,” and “The Art of Friendship”
5) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Navi, Irina, Claudia!

What Must Occur
by Orrymain

“Daniel!” Sam called out, smiling when the archaeologist turned around to acknowledge her.

“Hey, Sam.”

“I was just headed to the mess for some breakfast,” the blonde stated as the two began walking.

“I'm out of Twinkies,” Daniel admitted with a smile.

“Your private stash depleted?”

“Well, with the way we've been going, I haven't had time to go shopping.”

“Tell me about it,” Sam sighed.  “Last night I cleaned out my fridge.  I've seen mold that looked more inviting than some of the meat and produce I had to throw away.”  She heard a sudden groan from her friend and asked, “What?”

“I haven't been to the house in ... in a long time.  I think maybe I'll get the Prometheus to just beam ...”

When he realized what he'd just said,Daniel stopped walking, bowing his head as he leaned up against the corridor wall.

“It's a natural mistake, Daniel.  I've done it, too.  We're all ... tired.”

Daniel nodded, though a wave of sadness was now hovering over him.  Just over a week ago the secret United States spaceship, the Prometheus, had been obliterated by the Rand Protectorate.  Daniel had negotiated a truce between that faction on Tegalus and the other main faction of that world, the Caledonians.

Unfortunately, the bloody events had cost thirty-nine crewmen, including the commander, Colonel Lionel Pendergast, their lives.  Not only that, but after the treaty Daniel had negotiated, the two sides had returned to their warring ways within forty-eight hours, virtually annihilating each other.

At one point, Daniel hadn't known the fate of his teammates.  He also felt tremendous guilt and responsibility for those who had died when the spaceship was destroyed.  He'd been trying to forget about it, and now he'd brought back all of the pain and suffering himself.

“I am tired, Sam,” Daniel confided, leaning more heavily against the wall and closing his eyes in sorrow.

Sam rubbed her friend's upper right arm supportively and suggested, “Let's go get those Twinkies.”

With a slight nod, Daniel continued on towards the commissary with Sam at his side, the blonde beginning an entirely new conversation about Christmas shopping for Cassandra Fraiser.  Neither of them were willing to contemplate the possibility that they wouldn't get the chance to get off base soon.

====

“We'll have eight teams off-world; SG-1 will make nine,” Hammond stated as he and Jack met in his office, reviewing the current status of operations.  “Jack, how certain is Doctor Jackson about this Gate address he saw on Merlin's device?”

“He's pretty sure, Sir,” Jack sing-songed, the smile on his face fading as Hammond's reaction was a mere stare.  He sighed, “Daniel believes we'll find it on that planet.”

“We need that weapon.”

“It may not be a conventional weapon, General.  According to Daniel, it's probably more of a neutralizing thing; you know, zap and no more prior power, or something like that.”

“So he doesn't really know what it is,” Hammond surmised incredulously, an eyebrow twitching.

“He has no idea, General, but he'll figure it out.  He always does,” Jack praised confidently.

Hammond nodded and leaned forward, clasping his hands on the desk as he sighed, “We have one more problem that needs handling.”

“Mal Doran,” Jack grumbled, looking away and actually making a growling sound. ~Call me prejudiced, but the woman tied up my lover while trying to kidnap the Prometheus, and that was just for openers.~

“Do we keep her here, or send her to Area 51?” Hammond questioned, though it was a bit rhetorical in nature.  “The IOA wants her at Roswell.”

“Oh, let them have her,” Jack replied eagerly.  ~Good riddance I say.  Keeps me from being court-martialed for strangling her.~

“I may just do that,” Hammond agreed half-heartedly.  “But will we need her here before we're done?”

Though he had no love, like, or even tolerance for the crude and rude woman named Vala Mal Doran, Jack had to put aside his personal feelings and consider what was best for Earth's survival.

“General, my gut tells me she knows more than she's said, and I'm pretty sure Daniel has some of the same suspicions.”

“Are you saying she's in cahoots with the Ori?”

“I'm not sure how that could be,” Jack replied dubiously.  “I'm just saying she has some secrets.  Maybe we'd better keep her around until this is over.”

Hammond nodded his agreement and motioned for Jack to leave, their agenda now completed.

As he stood, Jack quipped silently, ~Of course, this is one time I'd like to be wrong, because if that little tramp is involved with the Ori, I'll be happy to break her neck.~

====

“Hey, Jack!” Lou Ferretti greeted his friend as they passed in the corridors.  “Good to *see* you.”

The comment was in reference to an event from a few days earlier when Jack and Sam had been shifted out of phase, going into an alternate dimension, thanks to Merlin's invention.  Daniel, too, had eventually been swept into the same other dimension.  Fortunately, the skilled linguist had determined how to return the three back to this reality before the day was out.

“Wipe that smirk off your face, Ferretti,” Jack ordered.

“Ah, come on, General.  Where's your sense of humor?”  The lieutenant colonel looked all around and quipped, “I don't see it.  Guess that explains that serious look on your kisser.”

“Ha, ha, ha ha ha,” Jack groaned.  “You're sure in a happy mood.”

Turning serious, Ferretti explained, “I'm still alive, Jack, and not long ago, I didn't think I would be.  I've seen my wife and kids and had a good Italian meal.  Yeah, I'm in a happy mood.”

SG-1 hadn't been the only team to face danger during the Ori crisis.  Lou and his team had been afflicted with the Ori plague while off-world, the first Tau'ri to have been affected by the killer disease.  Luckily, SG-2 and those on the planet had been returned to health by a prior.  Apparently, they had had been cured to demonstrate the power of the Ori.

Realizing the truth and harmony behind his friend's words, Jack smiled, tapped Ferretti on the arm, and returned, “Stay that way, Lou.”

“Can't beat happy.”

“I meant alive.”

With a nod, Jack continued on his way, leaving Lou Ferretti to contemplate the remark for a moment before moving forward.

====

In the gear-up room, SG-1 was just finishing preparing themselves for their mission to the coordinates obtained from Merlin's device.

Jack was sitting on the bench, leaning over to comfortably secure his boots while Daniel was fastening his vest and trying to decide whether to wear a hat or boonie.  Sam was adjusting her jacket and preparing to reach for her protective vest to put it on.  Meanwhile, Teal'c was ready and standing with his hands behind his back, just listening to the conversation.

“This should be fun,” Jack quipped.  “I've always wanted to be King Arthur.”

“Not Sir Lancelot ... Sir?” Sam mused with a cute smile as she banged her locker shut.

“Lance may have gotten the girl, Carter, but Arthur ruled the kingdom,” Jack asserted with a smile of his own.  ~Besides, who needs the girl when I've got my Angel?~

“Actually, Arthurian mythos ...”

“Daniel, don't ruin the fun,” Jack requested, knowing all too well that myth and reality were two completely different things.

Daniel shrugged and smiled in a 'well, okay' manner and then grabbed a hat, though he tucked it into the large pant pocket of his green BDU, not in the mood to wear it at the moment.

“Okay, kids, let's go find Merlin's weapon,” Jack ordered, standing and leading his team out.  “Tally ho!”

====

As SG-1 walked on the strange planet in search of their objective, Jack looked around at the lightly wooded area and playfully sing-songed, “Camelot! Camelot! I know it gives a person pause, but in Camelot, Camelot, those are the ...”

“O'Neill, do you not fear that your warbling might frighten the people of this Camelot?” Teal'c interrupted, tired of his CO's off-key musicality.

“T, are you saying you don't like my singing?”

“That's not singing, Jack,” Daniel corrected.  ~I know what his singing is. He has a beautiful voice.  His voice makes me weak at the knees when he sings to me.  This, though, was not singing.~

The archaeologist was very much aware that his general wasn't vocalizing in his true musical voice.  Rather, what he'd been doing for the last twenty minutes was simply testing the patience of his teammates with a nerve-wracking, Smurf-like rendition of several songs from the musical soundtrack of the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederic Loewe hit play and movie, “Camelot.”

“Everyone's a critic,” the general accused wryly.

“Daniel,” Sam called out, motioning towards a village in the distance.

As they closed in on the village, SG-1 could see the medieval architecture with stone buildings set close to another.  A large stone wall surrounded the village with a gated entryway for all to use when coming and going.

“Well, it's old,” Jack observed.

“But is it old enough?” Daniel questioned as he and his teammates looked onward.

“Only one way to find out,” Jack replied as he headed towards the village.

====

“We must have missed the rain,” Jack remarked as the team walked through the mud which he assumed had resulted from recent rainfall.  ~Yep, looks like a place Arthur might rule over.~

The team was inside the village square, a place full of activity as merchants sold their goods.  Seeing the strangers, however, the villagers were leery, gaping at them and watching with curiosity.

“Well, it certainly looks like a place where Merlin might have lived,” Sam observed, watching a mother push her child behind her.

“Could there not be many villages like this one that might have been the home to Merlin?” Teal'c questioned.

~Okay, he has a point,~ Jack agreed.  Aware of the villagers' looks, he kept his hands on his P-90, ready to go into action, if the need occurred.  “There's no way to know for sure this is the right village.”

Gesturing ahead of the team, Daniel put forth, “Well, there's ... that.”

“Oh, happy memories,” Jack retorted as he saw a sword sticking upwards out of a stone platform.  “I hope I'm not gonna have to use this thing.  My fencing is rusty.”

The team walked to the platform and studied the sword and its resting place atop the squared rock holding place which stood nearly waist-high on the tall men.

“We have company,” Jack quietly told his team when he saw a group of villagers approaching.

“Travelers,” a robed man called out.  He walked forward a few more feet and announced, “I am Meurik, Governor of this village.”  He appeared a bit nervous, but when he spoke next, it was to greet the team warmly.  “Welcome to Camelot.”

“Camelot?” Jack and Daniel questioned in unison.

“Uh, I'm Daniel Jackson,” the peaceful explorer began, completing his introduction and then doing the same for his teammates.  “We're from Earth.”

“I do not know that village,” Meurik replied, cocking his head to the side in thought.

“It's way, way ... way far away,” Jack explained, waving his hands around.

“We'd like to talk with you,” Daniel requested.

“We need information,” the general added.

“Please, let us celebrate your visit with drink,” the Governor welcomed, leading the way to the village pub.

====

Greeted as welcomed guests, SG-1 was treated to a some bread and ale while they talked.  It wasn't long before the village's historian, Antonius, sought them out, having heard about the distant travelers from other locals.  Right off the bat, they learned about one misconception, that stemming from the Battle of Camlann in which the Tau'ri believed that Arthur had been mortally wounded by Mordred.

Setting SG-1 straight, Antonius informed them that, “Arthur defeated Mordred at the Battle of Camlann, after which he and his fellow knights set off to find the Sangreal.”

“That's the Holy Grail,” Daniel stated.

“That was long ago, but we know in our hearts that one day he will return to us,” Antonius asserted in a friendly and upbeat tone.

When Daniel asked about Merlin, though, Meurik and Antonius both reacted strangely.  In fact, the Governor excused himself.  Finally, the historian explained that Merlin's name was rarely spoken in public because many believed he was a “wizard of darkness.”

Then Daniel discovered something that made his heart go pitter patter.  Though Merlin hadn't been seen since Arthur left, his library was still intact in Camelot.  It was, however, sealed by a powerful curse.

“It is said that all those who enter Merlin's sanctuary forfeit their lives to its guardian, the Black Knight,” Antonius explained.

“Met him; not a problem,” Jack interjected confidently, causing Antonius to look at him in confusion.

“I must go,” Antonius stated, abruptly leaving SG-1 to themselves.

“That went well,” Daniel sighed, seeing the literal trail of dust that the historian left in his hasty retreat.

Standing, Jack put his P-90 back in place, as did the others, and headed outside.

“Okay, so, best case scenario, this Curse of the Black Knight is a story Merlin made up to scare off the locals.  Worst case scenario, he's got another holographic knight protecting his goods like he did back in England.  Either way, I don't see a big problem.”

“Jack, I don't think it's going to be that easy,” Daniel disagreed.

“DanielJackson is correct, O'Neill.  Given your narrow victory over the knight in the Avalon cave, it would seem that your over-confidence is ill-advised.”

“Skeptics,” Jack growled.

“There is a difference here,” Daniel began, wanting to move the conversation forward.  “In Avalon, the Black Knight appeared as a test designed to measure a challenger's worth.  This time it sounds more like a defense mechanism set up to protect Merlin's research, which means it could be a lot tougher and the same rules might not apply.”

“Okay, Carter, Teal'c, go that way and see what you can dig up.  Daniel, you're with me.”

**Always, even when you're overly confident,** Daniel responded via the couple's unique non-verbal communication link.

With Sam and Teal'c out of hearing range, Jack retorted, “I never said I'd be the one to do the fighting.”

“We'll see,” Daniel replied, turning and walking away.

“Hey, I said you're with me, not I'm with you.”  When his archaeologist continued walking and simply waved a hand, the general growled.  Not wanting to lose sight of the younger man, he then jogged several steps to catch up with him.  “You really think it'll be harder this time?”

“Yes, I do, so be careful with your six, and all the hours on the body clock,” Daniel requested.

Jack gave his soulmate a quick grin and then refocused on their quest for discovery.

====

In the square, Jack and Daniel came upon a young boy and a girl, who appeared to be a couple of years older.  They were fencing with wooden swords.  Amused, Jack gave the two a couple of tips and then watched as they put his advice into practice.

“Where did you learn to fight like that?” the girl whose name was Valencia asked.

“Broomstick battles with my older brother and goofing off in college,” Jack answered.  Feeling like he'd made a connection with the kids, he inquired, “Do either of you know where we can find Merlin's library?”

“Of course, we do.  Everyone knows where it is,” Valencia responded, though she had a hesitant look on her face.

“Would you ... show us?” Daniel asked lightheartedly, not letting on that the elders of the town had practically run away from them just from hearing Merlin's name.

“Okay,” Valencia agreed, not fazed by the request as she headed for the library.

Jack and Daniel shared a 'that was easy' look and followed the black-haired girl as she led them to a building on a small street.

“This is it,” Valencia announced, adding, “The door is magicked.”

Daniel reached for the door, but quickly withdrew his hand, flexing his fingers as they tingled from their contact with the force field.

“Yes, it is,” the archaeologist agreed.  “Is there another way inside?”

“There is a key, but no one dare use it.”

“Do you know where it is?” Daniel inquired hopefully.  ~I really don't want Jack pulling out the C-4.~

“It is kept in the village archives,” Valencia answered.

“Show us,” Jack requested with a nod.  ~Or I could just try and blow the thing.~

“I cannot,” the girl responded.  “Only the village historian can access the key.”

“Ant...lerrrr....”

“Antonius,” Daniel corrected for his name-erring lover.

“Yes,” Valencia acknowledged.

“Thank you for your help,” Daniel told the girl, who smiled.

As Valencia walked away, Jack called out, “Don't forget not to bob those swords.”

“I won't.”

“So ...” Jack prompted.

“So I find Antonius and convince him to help us.”

“*You* and not *we*?” Jack queried, his eyebrows trying to reach his hair line.

“Jack, diplomacy isn't exactly your thing, especially when you can't even remember the man's name.”

“Do you think you can get Antonio to go along?”

“Antonius,” the younger man corrected with an exasperated sigh, “and I hope so.”

“How?”

“I'll talk and then I'll talk some more and then I'll ...”

“Nag?”

“I'll get him there,” Daniel stated confidently.

Jack nodded and then retorted, “I'll go see if Carter and Teal'c want to play.”

~I don't believe it,~ Daniel chuckled, breaking out into a laugh when Jack actually skipped down the street.  ~Gawd, I love him.~

====

“Find out anything?” Jack asked his teammates when he joined up with them.

“No one wants to talk about Merlin,” Sam sighed, fighting the urge to bang her head.

“Where is DanielJackson?” the Jaffa queried curiously.

“He's trying to convince Antonius to let us into Merlin's library,” Jack answered.

“You found the library?” the blonde returned.

“One of the kids showed us.”  Jack looked around and suggested, “Let's get back to the square and see if Daniel's had any luck.”  Turning around, he let out with a profanity.  “I hate it when it rains like this,” he complained as he adjusted his cap to try and prevent the raindrops from hitting his face.

“Maybe we should ask for umbrellas to be standard issue,” Sam joked.

“There you go.”

“Sir?”

“Dual-purpose issue: bayonet and an umbrella,” Jack proposed.

“Somehow, I don't think Washington would approve that,” Sam replied.

“They might after spending a few days on one of these rain-soaked planets,” Jack responded as the rain began to fall even harder.

====

“There he is,” Sam pointed out as the team neared the marketplace.

“Daniel, an...where's your hat?”

“My hat?” the archaeologist echoed absentmindedly.  “Crap,” he sighed, reaching into his pant pocket and pulling it out.  As he put it on his wet head, he lamented, “I forgot I had it with me.”

Jack laughed, but then returned to the more important issue of Merlin's library.

“Did you talk to Antonius?”

“Yes, I did, and ... yes, he's going to help, tonight, after dinner,” Daniel advised.

“Good job,” Jack complimented.  “How'd you do it?”

“Well, I tried telling him that we knew what we were doing, but when that didn't work, I appealed to something that is commonplace wherever we go.”

“And what would that be?”

“Curiosity,” Daniel replied with a weary grin.

“Let's hope it doesn't kill us cats,” Jack retorted as he began to take in the various fruits and foods that were in the bins.  “Time to eat.”

Daniel and Sam both chuckled, while Teal'c smiled at Jack's always-hungry mentality.

====

The team found a quiet corner of Camelot to await the hour of their meeting with Antonius.  Teal'c stood off to the right, by habit studying all the activity going on nearby.  Sam was seated on a stone bench, her mind focusing on a new enhancement for the dialing program.

Jack was leaning back against the side of a building, humming, as he'd done off and on for the past two hours.  When he wasn't doing that, he was once again warbling various tunes from the Camelot musical, causing his teammates to wince frequently.

A few feet in front of the general, Daniel was seated on a step, hunched forward with his head bowed.  Silently, he was pondering what might be found in Merlin's library, which had also been the legendary figure's sanctuary.  His peaceful reflection was interrupted by what could best be described as caterwauling.

“But if I'd ever leave you, it couldn't be in autumn.  How I'd leave in autumn, I never will know,” Jack sang in an overly dramatic fashion, causing a few passersby to stare.

“Jack, excuse me for saying this, but ... shut up,” the archaeologist ordered.

“That's a classic,” Jack argued.  “Carter likes it, don't ya, Carter?”

As Sam answered, Daniel communicated forcefully, **Babe, I love you, but if you sing one more note of 'If Ever I Would Leave You', I will.**

**Will what?**

**Leave you,** Daniel responded strongly, though he hadn't made eye contact with his husband.  Still, he could hear Jack mumbling lyrics.  “Teal'c, let's get some exercise,” he suggested, standing up.  “You can tell me about Oprah's latest book selection.”

“Indeed,” Teal'c responded, looking back at the general and smirking.

“You'll miss me,” Jack called out.  Suddenly, he realized what he'd said and urgently corrected, “My singing, that is.  I could be a star!”  When Sam snickered, he looked over and claimed, “Richard Burton couldn't even sing.”

“Then you have something in common.”  Sam grinned nervously and stated, “You know, Oprah picks great books.  I think I'll catch up with Daniel and Teal'c.”

Before Jack could say anything, his 2IC was out of sight.

“Their loss,” Jack opined softly and then continued with his mock-singing.

====

Finally, when the activity in the square was virtually nil, Antonius met up with SG-1 and used the key to open the door of Merlin's library.  Using a lantern and flashlights to see, the group took in the dusty room full of books and all manner of trinkets.

“Daniel.”

Answering the unasked question, Daniel responded dryly, “Yep, this could take a while.”

“Let's light some of these candles,” the general suggested.

“I think we'd better dust and get rid of these cobwebs,” Sam added as she brushed one of the cobwebs away.

“Hello, Charlotte,” Jack called out at a spider that was dangling in his path.  “Okay, cleanup first.”

====

With the library dusted, cleared of cobwebs, and lit up in candlelight, Daniel reviewed one of the books in the library.  He found an interesting passage which talked about Merlin aging backwards in time, though he felt it should not be taken literally.  It was possible that time travel technology was a part of the Merlin mythology.

Then Jack, by touching and pulling random books off the shelves, discovered a secret passage that led to another chamber.  For Antonius, that was the end of the line.  He felt as though they had all tempted fate enough for one night, so he left, taking with him one of Merlin's tomes.

Investigating the dark chamber, the team was surprised when logs in a fireplace begin to glow and torches lining the wall suddenly light up.

“Okay, this is one of those time looping machines,” Jack observed about the large object in front of him.

The rectangular shaped pedestal with its movable blocks was all too familiar to SG-1.  Jack actually cringed at the recollection of the infinite number of time loops he and Teal'c had had to endure before the team had finally managed to end the vicious cycle.  While having been fun at first, reliving the same moments over and over was something Jack never wanted to experience again.

“Actually, it's an Ancient control device,” Daniel responded.

“Whatever.  That was longest day of my life, Daniel.  It lasted for months, literally.”

“Seemed like a normal day to me,” Sam teased, raising her shoulders and looking away at the glare her CO was sending her way.

“It does a lot of things, Jack.  We just don't really know how to operate it,” the archaeologist pointed out, ignoring Sam's quip.

“As long as it doesn't break like the last one we ran across.”

“Jack, it was never broken.  It was Malikai trying to go back to see his wife; you know that.”

“It makes me nervous.”

“Would you like to wait outside, O'Neill, where it's safe?” Teal'c inquired, his face as stoic as it'd ever been.

“What is this, 'pick on the general' day?” Jack asked sarcastically.

“Sometimes it's so easy,” Daniel quipped lightly, taking a breath as he moved forward and stepped up on the platform.

~Whoa, there, Dannyboy.  Not without me, you don't.~

Just in case something unexpected happened, Jack also stepped up onto the platform upon which the control device was placed.  If anything were going to go wrong with the machine and affect his lover, he was going to make sure he was there to deal with it, too.

“Lights!  Action!  Camera!” Jack exclaimed when lights activated on the panel.  He motioned toward the scribbles that appeared on the machine and asked, “Is the same mumbo jumbo writing that was on the time loop one?”

“I think so.  Activating it is a matter of correctly interpreting these symbols,” Daniel explained, lightly tracing the Ancient words with his finger.

At that point, a scream was heard from outside the library.  The team ran outside to investigate and saw the locals running towards Antonius' home.  By the time SG-1 reached the place, word was filtering out that Antonius had been violently killed.  The stunned locals were standing in groups, whispering together.  Instinctively, Jack moved a little closer to Daniel, wanting to make sure he was near his lover in case events took an even uglier turn.

====

“I don't think we're very popular around here at the moment,” Jack observed as Antonius' body was being taken away, the villagers shifting between looks of sadness for the loss of the village historian and stares of uncertainty at SG-1, clearly wondering if they had caused the man's death.

“They know it was the Black Knight who killed Antonius,” Teal'c pointed out.

“Yeah, but we brought the Black Knight here,” the general sighed.  “Okay, kids, let's find a spot to make camp and get some sleep.”  He looked around at the gawking villagers and commented, “I don't think we're getting an invite to the local inn.”

“It's starting to rain again,” Sam remarked.  “Hey, that rhymes.”

“Not hard to do, Carter.  I do it all the time.”

Daniel rolled his eyes at his lover's smug expression and suggested, “Why don't we just go the library.”

“I don't know, Daniel,” Sam replied.  “The villagers may not like us going there.”

“I know, but it's dry.”

“And then you'll want to play with the books all night long,” Jack surmised.

“Jack, if you want to stay out in the rain, no one's going to stop you, but *I'm* going to library,” Daniel stated, walking away as the raindrops became more frequent.

Sam and Teal'c looked at each other and then both followed their friend.

As Jack looked up, a large group of droplets splattered on his face, prompting him to reply, “Dry, you say.”  With a resigned smile, he double-timed a few steps to catch up with his team.  “This doesn't bother your moral ethics?” he asked his lover.

“Merlin hasn't objected,” Daniel replied lightly.

“There's that,” Jack agreed.

====

As Jack feared, Daniel used most of the night to go through the books in Merlin's library.  With so many volumes, it would take more than one night to go through them all.  While he was fascinated by the writings, by morning, Daniel had yet to come up with anything that would lead the team to the weapon they needed to defeat the Ori.

As for Jack, he slept for a short while, but for the most part, he'd kept an eye out on his soulmate.  That meant that, having already been behind on their sleep, both men were extra tired when daybreak came.

As the village began to bustle with activity, SG-1 headed for the pub to get some breakfast.  They'd barely made it inside when the Governor entered, full of anger and accusations.  He had with him the book Antonius had taken from the previously sealed library.

“You went into the wizard's library, didn't you?” the Governor accused the team from Earth.

“Yes, we did,” Daniel confirmed directly.

~That was defiant and without remorse~ Jack noted about his husband's unrepentant response to the Governor.  He didn't want Daniel in the line of fire, however, so quickly took the stage.  “Look, it wasn't supposed to go down like it did.  We figured if the knight was going to appear, it would be in the chamber, and he wouldn't go after anybody but us.”

“You were warned of the danger and you refused to believe.  You awakened the curse,” the Governor accused angrily.

“The Black Knight is not part of any curse.  He *isn't* magical and he isn't unbeatable,” Daniel stated forcefully.

Glancing at his lover, Jack told himself, ~Daniel's too angry.  This isn't like him.~

“Your world as well as countless others are in danger of being overrun by an enemy far more powerful than you could ever imagine.  They are called the Ori, and they *will* destroy anyone who does not kneel before them,” Teal'c expounded, his words strong and emphatic.

“We learned that a long time ago, Merlin was working on a weapon that could be used against them, and the key to finding that weapon is inside that library,” the linguist advised urgently.  ~I need more time there.~

~Okay, Danny, we need a timeout.  I get it.  You're afraid of not finding out what we need to know, but you can't let it tear you apart,~ Jack thought, continuing to observe the younger man with some concern.

Meurik didn't accept the argument and ordered SG-1 to leave the village, after which he stormed out of the pub.

Frustrated, Daniel walked over to one of the tables and sat down.  Since the locals had all disappeared when their angry governor entered the room, there was no one else around.  This allowed the team to talk freely.

“Well, we can't just give up,” Daniel put forth.

“Daniel, we're not exactly welcome here anymore,” Sam replied, though feeling sympathetic to her friend's desires.

“Don't you see?  This is exactly what Merlin wanted.  Why do you think he designed the Black Knight to attack in the village and not the chamber?  To incite terror.  I mean, if he just killed whatever was inside the chamber, then there'd be no great public incentive to keep people out.  You'd go in at your own risk, and there'd always be someone ... foolish enough to give it a try.”

“Yeah, someone like us,” Jack interjected.

“Look, the point is that he designed it that way because he was worried that someone might stumble onto the solution, which means there is a solution, and it's *inside* that chamber.”

~Whoa, Danny.  Settle down,~ Jack urged internally.  ~I should have made him sleep longer last night.  He's too on edge.~

“A shut-off switch,” Sam surmised.

“Exactly.”

“Daniel, that's great, in theory, but right now these folks want us gone,” Jack noted, seeing some glares thrown their way by some of the villagers who were walking outside the pub.

“Think of something,” Daniel implored, his eyes begging for some his Love's cooperation.  “I just ... you have to give me a little time to talk to these people.  If I can get ... some of them on our side, we might be able to get Meurik to reconsider.”

~I should make him take a nap, but ... that's not what he needs.  He needs the Ori to be gone; he needs this nightmare to end.~  Jack let out an audible groan-like sigh and then permitted, “You have until 1500 hours, Daniel, unless the Governor tosses us out on our sweet sixes before then, which he just might do.”

“Distract him; use your natural charm and powers of diplomatic persuasion,” Daniel suggested with a bit of a smirk.

Although Daniel frequently pointed out Jack's lack of diplomacy, he knew his lover could be diplomatic and persuasive when necessary.

“Go on,” Jack instructed.

Picking up his P-90, Daniel left the pub.

~P-90.  That's my baby.  You can handle that thing as well as I can, but it's wrong, Daniel.  It's wrong seeing that in your hands.~

“Sir?” Sam called out, seeking orders.

“Let's just lay low.”

Walking forward, standing in front of his CO, Teal'c questioned in surprise, “You wish us to remain here?”

Jack looked over at Sam and then back at Teal'c, realizing what they were really asking.  He shook his head and sighed.

“You know the drill.  Lay low, and make sure he doesn't see you.”

Sam smiled and looked over at Teal'c.  Then the two left the pub and began a covert surveillance of the team's archaeologist, thereby ensuring his safety.

Looking around, Jack reconsidered his orders for a brief second, but then confidently walked out into the square.  He had no intention of causing problems, wanting only to give his lover the promised time to enlist assistance.

====

A few hours later but still with time remaining on Daniel's 'question clock', Jack found himself staring at Arthur's sword and the stone platform.  For a minute, he was a little boy, acting out a scene as one of the knights at King Arthur's Round Table.  His older brother had been Arthur, the wise ruler of the kingdom; that is, until one day when Billy O'Neill had surprised his kid brother by letting him be the ruler.

“Billy, why'd you let me be the king today?” Jack had asked his big brother at the end of their role playing game.

“The best part of being king, Bro, is letting others think they're the king.”

Jack let out a laugh as he remembered the exchange.  Of course, back then he hadn't laughed.  He'd taken off, chasing his brother all through the house and, naturally, he'd gotten in trouble.  While he'd gone to bed early without dessert, his smart-aleck brother had enjoyed two helpings of their mother's mouth-watering chocolate cake, not to mention the homemade ice cream.  The latter was a fact that Billy had flaunted all night long.

~Brotherly love,~ Jack sighed now, cherishing the memory even though he'd been on the losing end of the deal.  ~Nah, I didn't lose.  I learned from the best, Billy, how to let others think they're kings; idiots don't know they're really just the latrine cleaners.~

“Only he who is pure of heart and true of spirit can pull the sword from the stone.  It is said Arthur will not return from his quest until one among us succeeds in removing it.”

The words drew the general from his childhood memories and had been spoken by Valencia, who now stood at his side.

“You ever try it?”

“Of course not,” Valencia replied, explaining that it was only something the men could do and that they would be ready to serve Arthur upon his return.

“And you're not interested in that.”  Jack smiled at Valencia, who reminded him of his 2IC years ago.  ~At least Valencia's not ranting about hormones and internal organs.~  He looked at the young teen and advised, “You're a female, Valencia, but you're not helpless.  You can fence; you've got the skills.  Why shouldn't you use them for more than just helping your brother?”

“It's not considered appropriate.”

With a smile, Jack encouraged, “Change begins with one person.  I'm thinkin' you could be that person.”

Valencia stared at Jack with great curiosity.  She was actually confident in herself, but she knew the ways of Camelot were that it was up to the men to be the protectors.

~But I could protect the village better than most of the boys,~ Valencia asserted.

All of a sudden, Meurik's voice was heard, and it didn't sound friendly in the least.

“Valencia, leave us,” the Governor ordered as he stormed towards the general.

With the public official were several villagers, as well as Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c.

Still facing Arthur's sword, Jack groaned as he heard the order.

With the girl gone, Meurik stated pointedly, “You abuse my tolerant nature, General.”

~I hate a closed mind.~  Finally, Jack turned around and walked towards the group.  Looking at his lover, he surmised, “I take it, it didn't go so well.”

Walking over to join his husband, Daniel replied, “Not really.”

Seeing Sam and Teal'c there, too, Jack sighed, ~Uh oh.  Sure hope Danny didn't catch them covering his six on the QT.~

**I did, but it's okay,** Daniel acknowledged, a bit surprised that he had apparently read a silent thought of his soulmate's.  **I've learned to accept your need to protect me, even when I don't need protecting.**

Jack wanted to smile, but with the Governor staring him down, it just wasn't the time to blink, or smile.

“These men will escort you to the great ring and ensure that you leave as requested,” the Governor informed the team.

“Look, you're making a mistake,” Daniel responded.  “There is no curse.  Now, the Black Knight is a security feature, created by Merlin through the use of science and advanced technology.  There is no magic involved ...”

All of sudden, SG-1 was beamed aboard the Odyssey, Earth's new spaceship, commanded by Colonel Paul Emerson.  The interstellar craft had been on its shakedown cruise a little more than a month ago when it had been called in to rescue Stargate Command's flagship team from P6G-452 where they'd been captured by the Lucian Alliance.

Helping with the shakedown, several members of the Prometheus crew, including then Lieutenant Marks, were aboard the Odyssey at that time.  Sadly, a few of those brave personnel had lost their lives during the Rand Protectorate attack on the Prometheus three weeks later.

“That was bad timing,” Daniel stated quietly as he stared at the view screen.

“SG-1, welcome aboard the Odyssey,” Emerson greeted from his seat.

“Colonel.  What's going on?” Jack questioned.

Emerson informed SG-1 of new intel received from a Jaffa vessel that had been investigating some unusual energy readings.  He displayed an image that showed the cause of the high readings.

“It's a ...” Sam began.

“Supergate,” Jack and Daniel stated at the same time.

“My orders were to pick you up and proceed immediately to the Supergate,” Emerson stated.  “Unfortunately, the Daedalus is still in the Pegasus Galaxy, but the Korolev will be joining us as soon as possible.”

The Daedalus was Earth's second spaceship to be built.  Its primary duty from the start was to serve the personnel in Atlantis.  The Korolev was a brand new ship originally known as the 304, which had been given to the Russians during a recent political crisis between that country, the United States, and China.

“I didn't think it was operational yet,” Sam noted.

“It's been rushed into service,” Emerson explained.  “We're to meet up with as many Jaffa and Tok'ra ships as we can muster and destroy that thing by whatever means necessary.”  To the just promoted Major Marks, one of the seventy-six crewmen to have survived the Prometheus disaster, he ordered, “Set a course.”

“Yes, Sir,” the major acknowledged.

Walking around the bridge to face the ship's captain, Daniel objected, “Wait a minute.  We ... can't go yet.”

“Why not?” Jack questioned.

“You know why not,” Daniel argued as he looked at his husband.

“We don't have any more time, Doctor.  By all indications, that Supergate's operational.  There's no telling when the Ori are going to start sending ships through,” Emerson explained.

“Okay, go, but leave me behind.”

“Whoa, Danny,” Jack called out, shaking his head adamantly as he walked over to stand at his archaeologist's side.

“Jack, the key to defeating the Ori is on that planet.  You know it, and I know it,” Daniel argued forcefully.

“Maybe,” Jack agreed cautiously.  “But they don't want us there.”

“The villagers won't let us back into the library,” Sam interjected, agreeing with her CO.

“Since when has that ever stopped us?” Daniel challenged his teammates pointedly.  “Look, I just need some time.”  After a second, he looked at Emerson and suggested, “Just ... beam me in.”

Emerson contemplated the request and looked to Jack for the final decision.

Letting out a grunt, Jack acquiesced, “I'll go with Daniel; make sure he doesn't get distracted by any of the ladies fair.”

Daniel closed his eyes and shook his head.  Even in the middle of what could be their most serious battle ever, Jack was teasing about Daniel and damsels.

“We'll have the Russians swing by and pick you up on the way through.  You have until then,” Emerson advised.

“Ladies fair?” the archaeologist argued quietly as he and his lover headed for the beaming area.

“Change of pace from DID.”

“Did?”

“D-I-D,” Jack spelled out.  “Damsels in distress.”

This time, Daniel groaned, his eyes looking upward in complete disbelief of his husband's thought processes.

====

When the lovers reached the beam area, Jack looked over at the technician operating the system and smirked, “Beam us down, Scotty.”

“Aye, aye, Captain,” the technician acknowledged with a mock salute, her voice Scottish.

Jack grinned at the woman as his body was demolecularized into the beam.  When he rematerialized with his lover inside the library, he was still smiling.

“We need her at the Mountain.”  Jack looked around the library and asked, “So, what now?”

The first order of business was to shut down the Black Knight, which Daniel assumed could be done by inputting the correct code into the control panel.  Finding the correct code among Merlin's numerous documents, however, was the hard part.  The linguist walked up the stairs, looking for a specific book which he knew would contain the desired information.

“You do realize we're on the clock, right?” Jack asked, looking up from the ground level.

“Aren't we always?” Daniel replied, opening the book.

“That's beside the point.”

“Then what is the point?”

“Time, or the lack thereof,” Jack returned, watching his Love sit down and begin to read.

“Well, time is fleeting,” Daniel acknowledged, flipping over one page having decided it didn't hold any of the answers he needed.

“And elusive,” Jack added as he walked around.  “Time and time again,” he muttered.

“Did you say something?” the linguist asked, glancing slightly over his shoulder in the direction where Jack was perusing the bookshelves.

“I said ... never mind.”  Turning back to the shelves, the general chimed, “Time flies when you're having fun.”

“I'm glad you're having fun, Babe.”

“Just ... find that code,” Jack ordered.

“All in good time,” Daniel replied with a smile.

“Preferably in the nick of time,” the older man requested.

“You mean you don't want me to wait until the last minute?”

“Now would be good,” Jack insisted.  “After all, there's no time like the present.”

Daniel chuckled and then turned over another page that was interesting but not relevant to his current search.

====

The time cliché game had ended quite a while ago.  Daniel had settled into his research, using several books as reference as he sat at a table, while Jack had simply settled into a chair, kicking back and relaxing, even as he tapped softly on his P-90.

“That's it,” Daniel called out as he closed the book he'd been reading.  Not hearing anything to his response, he turned around and sighed, seeing his lover had fallen asleep.  ~My Jack, my protector, when he's not sleeping.~

Smiling, Daniel reached down for his canteen.  Moving covertly, he maneuvered himself to stand behind his husband.  He grimaced as he opened the cover for the canteen as quietly as he could.  Then he began to let the water pour out onto Jack's face.

At first, Jack reflexively tried to swat the droplets of water away, as if it were rain.  Then the downpour increased, until he began to swallow water and jumped up.

“What the ... Daniel!”

Hearing the archaeologist's laughter, Jack turned around and snapped, “What's the big idea?”

“I found the code.”

“Why didn't you say so?”

“I did,” Daniel replied.  “You were asleep.”

“I was *not* asleep.”

“Were so,” Daniel insisted.

“No, I wasn't.”

“Oh, yes, you were.”

“No,” Jack maintained.

“Yes,” Daniel argued with a smile.

Jack stared at his husband and questioned, “How am I supposed to argue when you're standing there looking so beautiful?”

“Well, I and my so-called magnetism certainly didn't keep you awake,” the younger man replied, smiling so that his dimples were showing.

“I was not ...” Jack paused, grimacing.  “We already did this.  What's the code?”

Hurrying back to the table, Daniel paused to give his husband a very quick kiss.

“What was that for?”

“It seemed like the thing to do ... at the time,” Daniel answered, grinning.  Picking up the tome with the answers in it, he returned to the problem of the code.  “Okay, so I've cross-referenced half a dozen passages that mention the Black Knight.  Now, there's a series of recurring words and phrases that stand out, if you .. know what you're looking for.”

“An access code?”

“I think so,” Daniel affirmed as he continued to study the book.

Jack gently patted his Love on the back and praised, “Good job, Daniel.”

“I want to go over this one more time.”

“Time's running out,” Jack reminded.  “And that's not part of the cliché game,” he clarified.  “The Korolev could arrive at any time.”

“You're right,” Daniel sighed.  “Let's go.”

====

As Jack and Daniel stood in front of the Ancients' control machine, the archaeologist holding a stack of books in addition to his weapon, there was a moment of hesitation.  Daniel feared that if he were wrong about the code, his husband would have to fight the fierce Black Knight.  Although Jack was confident in his own ability, especially because he anticipated using Arthur's sword, Daniel was still concerned.

“Daniel, we can stand here and debate this all day.”

“Actually, that's not true,” Daniel refuted.  “The Korolev, remember?”

“The point is, do we have a choice?”

“No.”

“Well then,” Jack responded expectantly, extending his hand towards the platform.

“Okay.”

In synch, the lovers both stepped up onto the platform at the same time and like before, the panel lit up immediately.  Daniel put down his P-90 and the books and began to key in the code.  However, the Black Knight failed to appear as they'd hoped.

“Uh oh.”

“What oh?” Jack questioned, not liking the tone in his lover's voice.

“Nothing happened,” Daniel answered.

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Hearing a screaming woman, the couple exclaimed in unison, “Bad!”

“Daniel, get that dang thing to work,” Jack ordered as he ran off the platform.

“Be careful, Jack.”

**Love you,** Jack declared in his mind.

**I love you, too.**  Daniel turned back to the device and mumbled, “Work; gotta get you to work.”

====

“Not good,” Jack spoke aloud to himself as he observed the Black Knight spinning his sword and preparing to fight.  ~Gotta get to Arthur's sword.~

Unfortunately for Jack, the Black Knight was interfering with his plan.  There was no time to retrieve the magical sword stuck in stone.  Jack was going to have to do this the hard way, using nothing but his own skills and Earth weapons.

~This won't work.~  Figuring it was worth a shot, the general fired repeatedly at the oncoming Black Knight, though it was all for naught as the bullets merely passed through the figure.  “No, I didn't think so.”

Within seconds, the Black Knight attacked.  Jack dropped his gun and began to duck the swinging sword.  The villagers gathered round, watching with concern but unwilling to interfere.

As he struggled to fight his foe, Jack heard Daniel over the radio.

“Jack, how's it going out there?”

“Peachy,” Jack replied sarcastically.  “Get that thing to work -- *now*!

As he continued to try and evade his adversary, Jack saw a sword on a nearby table and grabbed it to use in the fight, but it was no use.  It had nothing to do with age.  Jack was fighting an incredibly strong hologram, which seemed odd to him anyway.  Before too long, he fell to his knees, weary and taking repeated blows from the knight.  Each impact of the sword sent jolting volleys through his body.

~Come on, Daniel,~ Jack gasped inwardly.  ~You can do it.~

A reprieve came when Valencia, fearing for Jack's life, ignored the traditions of her people and ran to the stone, successfully pulling out Arthur's sword.  While the villagers simply watched in stunned silence, she ran over and, once Jack saw her, tossed him the sword.

~There you go,~ the general thought as he caught the sword by the handle, getting a new wind now that he had something to fight with.  Swinging the sword and finally effectively hitting his foe, Jack was able to maneuver the knight backwards.  ~Take this, you oversized tin man,~ he warned as he continued the match.

Jack was far from out of the woods, though.  This fight was definitely going to be intense and could go either way.

====

In the secret chamber of Merlin's library, Daniel tried again to input the code, and this time, something happened.  Treasures appeared all around the room, just as they had in Avalon.  Not only that, but Merlin appeared, much as myth had portrayed him, as a white-haired sorcerer wearing robes and adornments usual to a wizard.  Plus, he wore a large, red pendant around his neck.

“Greetings, friend.  I am Merlin.”

“Yes, you are,” Daniel replied in awe as he watched anxiously.  ~Mythology comes to life.  If the world only knew.~

“The prize you seek, like the pendulum swing, marks the passage of all that is before you,” the hologram advised.

~Okay.  Merlin's talking.  Jack should be in the clear.~  Clicking his radio to verify his belief, Daniel called out, “Jack, I did it.  Is the Black Knight gone?”

~Is he kidding me?~ Jack asked rhetorically.  “That would be negative.”

~I don't understand.~  The archaeologist's face drooped at the response.  “What?”

“Daniel, try another code, or something ... and make it fast.  I'm hungry,” Jack replied.

Jack's voice had been strained, and the sounds of the fight coming over the radio felt like knives in Daniel's heart.

“I already tried all of the combinations I came up with,” Daniel responded anxiously, his heart rate overly fast from his fears about his lover fighting the Black Knight.  ~Do something,~ he told himself.  “Jack!”

“No time to ...” Jack's voice faded as the transmission ended.

~Crap!~  Daniel knew he had to act in a hurry.  Looking at the control device, he pressed a button, causing a drawer containing several lit crystals to open.  ~That's the power source,~ he deduced.   ~I don't know how to ... this is Sam's specialty.~  Fearing time had run out on his Love, he made a desperate decision.  “Ah, screw it.”

With that, Daniel moved back a couple of feet, knelt down to be eye level with the blue-lit crystals, and fired four times in rapid succession.  The lights turned off, and the hologram disappeared.

~I hope that's a good thing.~  Breathing hard, Daniel pressed the button his radio.  “Jack?  Jack, are you okay?”

--

On the village street, the villagers were applauding.  An exhausted Jack smiled in thanks at Valencia and then just collapsed in a supine position on the hard ground.  He was just happy to be alive, especially once he heard the voice he cherished above all other's.

“Yeah.  The Black Knight went poof,” Jack answered.  “How are you?”

“Oh, I'm fine.  I'm just sitting here in the dark.”

Both men smiled, knowing they'd just escaped personal disaster.

“You coming out, or ...”

“Coming ... out?” Daniel questioned at the double entendre.

Jack began to laugh, too tired from the fight not to react.  He spread out his arms and just let his body ripple from the chuckles flowing through him.

~Geez, I love him,~ Jack thought happily.

====

A few minutes later, Jack entered the chamber, rejoining his soulmate.

“I'm back!” the general announced, looking around and noticing that a lot had been added to the room.  ~Riches everywhere.~

“Alone?”

“Oh, yeah!” Jack replied.  ~There's my greatest rich,~ he opined as he smiled at his husband.

Daniel smiled and hurried to his Love, the couple kissing and embracing for over a minute.

“You know, this is a ... a bad idea.”

“Kissing you is never a bad idea,” Jack refuted.

“We're doing it too much.”  Daniel sighed, seeing Jack's dubious look.  “Babe, you know what I mean.”

“Close calls with death tend to bring on emotional reunions,” Jack rationalized, totally okay with their increasing need for intimacy during the war with the Ori. “But time to hop to it, so enough of the emotional reunion, except ... I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Daniel vowed.  “But for the record, I'm not hopping anywhere and I really think we should stop the time jokes.”

“If you think it's time to stop.”  Jack couldn't help himself and laughed at his husband's glare.  Then he cleared his throat and nodded.  “Okay.  So, where are we?”

“In Merlin's secret chamber that is part of his library, or sanctuary as he apparently sometimes called it, in a medieval town called Camelot on an unnamed planet at coordinates 20-2-35-8-26-15, designated PX1-767, in ...”

“Daniel!”

“Sorry,” Daniel responded.

“No, you're not,” Jack accused.

“You're right.”  Leaving his amusement behind, the archaeologist turned around and stared at the control panel.  “Okay,” he said, as if re-engaging his brain on the task at hand and then picking up the book he wanted to use as a reference.

Seeing the broken crystals, Jack deduced, “Had a little shoot out, did ya?”

“Pretty much.”

“Sounds like something I'd do.”

“I know,” Daniel acknowledged with a mock frown.  “Scary, isn't?”

Jack smiled at the barb and, as he began to walk all the way around the control device, asked, “How come you didn't do that in the first place?”

“Well, because I had to find the access code first.  If I hadn't, none of this,” Daniel gestured at the treasure which surrounded them, “would have beamed in, and I wouldn't have seen Merlin's hologram message.”

Stretching his back, Jack inquired, “So what did Merlin say?”

Daniel took the book over to his life partner and showed him the page he was looking at.  Though he'd believed Merlin's words to be a riddle at first, he now held a different belief.

“You see this pendant.  Now in every depiction of Merlin from his library, I've seen it, and in fact the hologram message was wearing it as well, but I've never seen it before, not in any reference material back on Earth.”

“And you think that's the device we're looking for?”

“The riddle mentions a pendulum.  Now at first I thought that was a, a reference to a passage of time, like a pendulum clock.  Then I realized it was more literal -- something that hangs.  It also said it was right before my eyes.”

Looking skeptically at the image in the book, Jack queried incredulously, “Doesn't that seem a little small?”

“Just remember we're talking about things that transcend ordinary space-time, here.  Relative size has no meaning.”

“*No* meaning?” Jack questioned, his head going back and forth slightly.  “None ... at all?”  With wide eyes, he asked, “Are you saying size doesn't matter?”

“Jack, focus,” Daniel urged.  “I'm talking Ancient technology, not the size of your ... you know.”  He smiled and added, “Or mine.”

Jack saw Daniel's grin, but now wasn't the time to get into the 'whose is bigger' game they sometimes played.

“We need to find this pendant, Jack.  It's why we came here.”

“Okay, let's start looking.”

====

Aboard the Odyssey, the Asgard Kvasir had responded to Sam's message for help and had come aboard to assist.

“We have been analyzing the information that Daniel Jackson was able to retrieve from Merlin's phase shifting device,” Kvasir began.

“Unfortunately, he didn't get very far before it permanently ran out of power,” Sam replied.

“There was enough data for us to surmise what this so-called anti-Ori weapon might be.”

“Really?” a surprised Sam questioned.  “I wasn't able to make heads or tails of it.”

Smugly, Kvasir echoed, “Really?”

~Sometimes, being a genius is overrated,~ Sam thought.  “Just tell me what you've got.”

The answer was an energy transfer device in which the energy was channeled into the dimension occupied by Ascended beings.  Per Kvasir, it would act as interference.

“A simple analogy would be two standing waves canceling each other out,” Kvasir advised.

At first, Sam was still confused, not understanding how the Asgard device would actually work.  Then she finally figured it out.

“You're talking about the Supergate.  We dial out before they can dial in,” the colonel surmised with some excitement.

“Precisely.”

To make the plan work, however, they definitely needed Merlin's weapon, which Sam was confident Jack and Daniel would find in Camelot.

~Daniel is nearly always right about these things and together with the general, they are unstoppable.  I hope,~ the blonde wished to herself.

====

“Daniel, how much longer do you figure we should search for this needle in a haystack?” Jack complained, throwing a gold chalice over his shoulder.

“Until we find it.”

“We've already gone through everything twice,” the Silver Fox whined.

“You're right, Jack.  It's not ... here,” Daniel sighed, looking around the room in frustration.

“It *has* to be here,” Jack insisted, his annoyance at how much time they'd spent looking shifting to the sheer aggravation of Daniel saying it wasn't here.

“I thought you were complaining,” Daniel returned as he stood with his hands on his hips.

“About what?”

“About us not finding it.”

“Daniel, we came here for this.  No way are we leaving without it, even if we have to go through this stuff a third time.”

Daniel stared at his lover, blinking a few times.

“What?” Jack asked guardedly.

“Are you just arguing with me because you're ... bored?”

Jack looked like a child who had just been caught lying.  Searching for a small item among a room full of treasure just wasn't exciting enough on its own.

“I'm just saying maybe we're looking too hard?” the older man answered in question.

Daniel chuckled, well aware of his Love's evasive response.  He was about to respond and keep the game alive when Meurik entered the cavern along with several of the villagers, including Valencia.  The conversation was pleasant, with Meurik being surprised that SG-1 didn't want the treasure.

“You do not wish to claim a prize for defeating Merlin's champion?” the Governor asked.

“Well, there was one thing we were looking for, but we can't find it,” Jack revealed.

“Actually, maybe you can help us,” Daniel suggested, walking over to the control device and retrieving the book with the image of Merlin in it.  He showed the picture to Meurik and pointed at the pendant.  “Do you recognize this?”

“It is the Sangreal.”

Stunned, Daniel queried, “This is the Sangreal?”

“It is also known as the Blood Stone.”

“Of course,” Daniel acknowledged, looking over at his husband.  “Sang, blood. Blood red for the color of the jewel.”

“Whoa!  Wait a minute,” Jack called out excitedly.  “You're saying this is the Holy Grail, right?  Every movie I've seen, that's a cup.”

Daniel then explained that the idea of a cup being the Holy Grail was a “late addition to the myth.”  Prior to that, it was said to either a dish or platter and in the view of many middle eastern-influenced chroniclers, it was described as “a stone that fell from the heavens.”

“If this is what you seek, you will not find it among these trinkets,” Meurik told the teammates.  “Arthur and his knights left on their quest for the Sangreal long ago.”

“Do you know where they went?” Jack inquired hopefully.

“Of course,” Meurik answered.  “It is said that they journeyed to three distant lands mentioned in Merlin's prophecy: Castiana, Sahal, and Vagon Brei.”

None of those places rang a bell to Daniel, but he knew they needed to be investigated in order to find Merlin's weapon.  Jack was frustrated by the notion of having to search through all of the volumes in the library.  They just didn't have the time for that.

“Searching for Arthur's whereabouts in this library is not necessary,” Meurik interjected.  “Now, thanks to Valencia, we've been given a sign that Arthur will return soon, and you are welcome to stay with us and wait.  As the men that conquered Merlin's Curse, you will be given a place of honor.”

~Oh, come on.~  Daniel was frustrated by the continuing belief that everything happening had been some kind of magical influence.  ~Some people wouldn't acknowledge the truth even if it paraded in front of them naked.~  With a sigh, the archaeologist responded, “Look, once and for all, there was no curse, okay?”  Pointing at the pedestal, he continued, “This?  This is a device.  It's a machine.  It's like a flour mill or a catapult.  It's just a lot more complicated.”  Emphatically, he added, “There is no magic.”

At that moment, Jack and Daniel were beamed off the planet.  When the beam stream subsided and the archaeologist stood, looking out into space, he just couldn't believe it.

Dramatically, Daniel exclaimed, “Boy, my timing's off today.”

“Been there, done that,” Jack sing-songed.

“General O'Neill, Doctor Jackson, welcome aboard the Korolev,” Colonel Chekov greeted from his command chair.

“Never thought I'd see the day,” Jack heard himself say.

“Really?” Chekov questioned.

“Ah, come on, Comrade.  You know what I mean,” the general returned somewhat good-naturedly.  ~For a Russian, you're not so bad ... at least, not all the time.~

“Unfortunately, General, I do,” Chekov sighed.  “Today, however, we are ...”

“... allies,” Jack interjected.  “Thanks for the lift,” he spoke appreciatively.

====

The happy times on Camelot were soon a memory as the Korolev traveled swiftly through space to rendezvous with the Odyssey and as many other ships as possible at the Supergate.

Though Jack and Daniel had sent word that they hadn't found Merlin's weapon, Sam still believed the Asgard crystal could still work.  While they wouldn't be able to 'cancel out' the Ori as planned, they could still use Kvasir's replacement crystal to dial out, thereby preventing the Ori from dialing into the Milky Way galaxy.

“It's possible that with the power generated by the singularity, we can maintain this connection indefinitely,” Sam concluded.

Soon, Sam found herself in space with a magnetic lock holding her steady at the appropriate control panel.  Carefully, she removed the original crystal and replaced it with the Asgard one.  As it was initiating, a horrid realization ran through her mind.

~Holy Hannah!  I've lost my lock!~

Unable to hang onto anything, Sam began drifting helplessly out into space.

--

Everyone was shocked to realize the Supergate was engaging.  Worse, because she was so close to the event horizon, the Odyssey couldn't get a lock on Sam to beam her back aboard the vessel.

At that point, the Korolev jumped out of hyperspace and requested a status report.

Over the radio, Emerson responded, “We've got an incoming wormhole. I suggest you prepare for battle.”

Moments later, four powerful Ori ships appeared through the wormhole.  Seconds later, both the Odyssey and the Korolev received a message: “And those who are prideful and refuse to bow down, shall be laid low and made into dust.”

On the Korolev, Daniel requested an open channel and responded, “Then did Tyolus say to the people of the low plains, 'seek not wickedness amongst your neighbors, lest it find purchase in your own house'.”

“What was that?” Jack asked.

“Book of Origin.”

“Think it'll help?” the general questioned.

Daniel shrugged, feeling anxious and helpless.  He prayed he'd made a difference. All too soon, he knew he didn't.

The battle was on.  The Ori ships were powering weapons, and the Odyssey opened fire.  They didn't make a dent against the strong shields of the Ori ships.

It was only a minute later when one of the smaller Milky Way ships was destroyed, and then the Korolev took repeated blasts, as did the Odyssey.  Crewmen were scrambling, racing to control the massive amounts of damage, but the Ori fleet continued their bombardment.

--

As she drifted in space near the Supergate, Sam could only watch in horror as she watched the apparent deaths of her friends and colleagues.  She was powerless to help them, or even herself.

~I'm not sure how much oxygen I have, but ... who's here to rescue me?~

Sam knew that when her oxygen supply was depleted, she'd die, just as her friends were dying now.  All she could do now was stare at the sight in disbelief.

--

“Shields down to fifty percent,” Marks called out to his captain.

The Odyssey lost her sub-light engines and began evasive maneuvers, while the Korolev lost power just seconds later.

Jack and Daniel stood near Chekov's command chair.  Realizing the ship was in danger, the general walked to the side of the chair and stated, “We have to scramble the 302s.”

“No, they'll have no effect against that,” the Russian argued, waving to the screen giving a clear view of the incoming Ori ships.

“No choice.  I'll draw their fire while you get the ship back on line,” Jack suggested.

“Go!”

Jack walked a foot or so behind Chekov's chair and stopped.  Daniel reached out, his hand grabbing his husband's forearm.  Their gaze was long and deep.  The archaeologist's eyes began to mist, and Jack swallowed hard, needing to maintain composure for the fight ahead.

The general smiled at his archaeologist, who smiled back.  There were no words, not even those spoken through their non-verbal communication.  They both knew all they need to know.

Daniel's hand slid down slowly, finally reaching his Love's hand.  Jack took hold and squeezed it.  They were so close to their dream coming true, of their nation of two expanding as they started family.  The Goa'uld were now only a minor menace, the Replicators were gone completely from the galaxy, and they'd found Atlantis, though Daniel had yet to travel there.  The time was drawing near when the military, and the Stargate, would become secondary to an archaeological firm and children.

A violent jolt threw Daniel to his left, severing the contact with his husband.  When he was able to get up, his Heart was gone.  Slowly, Daniel looked around and saw the inevitable.  It had begun with Tegalus, then the Prometheus, and now what?  He didn't want to think about it and yet, he had no choice.

~What have I done?~

====

Emerson was doing all that he could to protect the Odyssey, but he feared his command was about to come to an end.  Then a bit of a miracle happened.

“Sir, picking up approaching ships,” Marks announced.

Surprisingly, the new arrivals were three Lucian Alliance vessels, hovering behind and above the Ori ships.  Without hesitation, they opened fire on the Ori.

From aboard one of the Lucian ships, Teal'c appeared on the view screen, saying, “Apologies for my late arrival.”

“Better late than never,” Emerson replied.  ~Maybe we'll get out of this after all.  The Lucian Alliance?  How'd he pull off that one?~

“Indeed.”

“Forget the engines.  Give them everything we've got!” Emerson ordered his crew.

More destruction and loss of life occurred with more of the smaller Jaffa and Tok'ra vessels exploding, creating a sad fireworks show for Sam as she continued to watch in horror.  Military or not, right now she just wanted to cry and yet, she was too numb from the devastation to do so.

====

On board the Korolev, Jack struggled to get to the fighter plane.  He was being bounced all around as the electrical systems shorted out, causing bursts of hot charges everywhere.  He realized he could be the only hope, small as it was, to save the Odyssey.  He hurried as fast as he could, finally reaching the bay and climbing into one of the F-302 fighters.

The destruction on the vessel was evident throughout.  It was hard to hear because of all the electrical shorts and blasts.

“Sir, sensors are indicating a slight energy fluctuation in their shields, coinciding with their own weapons fire!” the weapons officer advised Colonel Chekov.

“Beam a neutron bomb,” Chekov ordered.

“Odyssey is reporting no success with the attempts to beam weapons aboard enemy ships,” the weapons officer reported.

~There has to be something ...~  An idea coming to him, Daniel went over to Chekov's side.  The noise was deafening and he had to shout to be heard.  “What about rings?  I know they use them.  The matter stream might get through.”

“How can we lock on?”

Knowing time was short, the archaeologist requested, “Just set our rings to seek out the nearest other set.  It's worth a shot.”

Daniel Jackson was one of only a few Americans Chekov had any real tolerance for.  He thought the negotiator to be a straight shooter.  Even more straight from his heart.  That's why he quickly agreed to Daniel's plan to utilize the rings.

“Go!” the Russian permitted.

“Move closer,” Daniel instructed about the ship.  “I'm on it!” he called out as he began to leave the bridge.

“I want that warhead transported to the ring room now!  Take us closer to the nearest enemy ship,” Chekov ordered.

Moving rapidly, Daniel made his way to the ring area and began to work on the control crystals.  Nearby, crewmen worked on the warhead, which was already inside the ring platform.

“Set it to go off five seconds after activation,” Daniel ordered the Russian crewmen.  Not sure if they understood English, he repeated his orders in Russian. ~Can't afford a mistake.~

All of a sudden, the Korolev shook, resulting in the warhead being blown off the platform.

~Oh, gawd!  It's going to explode,~ Daniel thought about the brand new vessel.  On instinct, he inserted the crystal, closed the panel, and activated the rings.  As he dove onto the platform, he closed his eyes and begged of the brave crew he was leaving behind, ~Forgive me.~

====

As fire from the explosion died down, Sam watched the unscathed Ori ships slip into hyperspace and disappear from sight.  She was beyond stunned.  All she could see was wreckage.  She'd never witnessed anything like it before.

Gathering up all her strength, Sam communicated over the radio, “This is Lieutenant Colonel Carter, come in please?  Can anyone hear me?  Please respond.”

Time passed without any response and Sam feared there was little possibility of her being rescued.  She would die in space.

====

As the invisible tock of the clock clicked on, Sam felt more alone than ever.  She'd tried repeatedly to get a response from any survivors that might have made it through the attack, but no one had responded.

One more time, the woman called out over the radio, “If anyone can hear me, this is Lieutenant Colonel Carter.  Please respond.”

Inside the F-302 cockpit, Jack began to rouse.  Blood ran down his face, a result of his head having banged against the backboard after the F-302 had been impacted by the blast that took out the Korolev.  He looked all around, trying to hone in on the voice and also his surroundings.

“This is Lieutenant Colonel Carter.  I'm in a space suit drifting free, approximately two-thousand feet off the front right position on the Supergate.”

“Carter?” a weakened Jack spoke.  Regaining his senses, he reactivated the fighter's systems and then replied to Sam's hail through the communication system.  “Carter, it's O'Neill.  Can you hear me?”

“Sir, it's great to hear your voice.”

“Yeah, you too,” the general responded, though his voice was eerily calm.  ~Daniel: I want to hear Daniel's voice.~

As if knowing what her CO was thinking, Sam reported, “I saw the Korolev explode.”  There had been a small quiver in her voice indicating just how horribly she'd been affected by the carnage.  ~You're alive; I'm alive.  Maybe Daniel and Teal'c are, too.~

“I didn't see it; the shockwave must have knocked me out,” Jack advised his 2IC.  ~Daniel did not die.  He never dies.  No, he's ... alive.  He has to be.~

Emotionally, Sam questioned, “Daniel?”

~Crap, Carter, did you have to ask about him?~  Swallowing hard and steeling himself against the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him, Jack forced himself to respond.  “The last time I saw him, he was on the bridge of the Korolev.”  Somberly, he added, “He was on board when ...”  He stopped speaking for several seconds.  “I think he was still on board,” he finally cracked out.

Sam closed her eyes, her heart swelling with sadness, but then she thought, ~We've thought you were dead before, Daniel, more than once.  Please ... surprise us again.  Use another one of those nine lives.~

Burying his personal feelings of loss, Jack inquired, “What happened to the Ori ships?”

“They left here approximately four and a half hours ago.”

~I was out a long time,~ Jack realized.  ~Danny, where are you?~  He closed his eyes to center himself.  ~O'Neill, find your people; get them home and then you can ... fall apart.  If Danny's dead, you carry out your pact.~

The mantra ran through Jack's head as he tried not to dwell on the coldness creeping into his soul and heart.  He didn't have to look far to find some of those people he'd just thought about as right after his private decree was made, Colonel Emerson radioed.

“We got our sub-light back on line and then tracked the Ori safely from a distance using our long-range sensors, till they jumped into hyperspace about an hour ago. We're still just getting back our basic operating systems.”

Unfortunately, the ship's beaming technology was still off-line, stranding Sam in space for the near future.  Jack, however, was able to land in the right docking bay.

As he sat in the fighter, the general took another moment.  It used to be so easy for him to just move forward.  After almost a decade of being one half of 'Jack and Daniel', though, moving forward without his other half just wasn't something he could do without some preparation.  He sat there, his helmet still on, until one of the docking crew called out to him.

~Guess I can't crash here,~ Jack determined as he began to climb out of the F-302.

====

A few minutes later, Jack had his game face on as he spoke with Colonel Emerson about how the Ori had left the Odyssey without finishing the vessel off.  Jack suspected it was because the Ori needed witnesses to their power, people to talk about what had happened, essentially spreading the word.

“Colonel, did any of the Korolev crew beam over before the ship was lost?”

“A half dozen -- not Doctor Jackson,” Emerson answered, knowing that the real question had to do with Daniel's whereabouts and safety.  “We located the data recorder, and we're working on retrieving it.”

“Where the heck is Teal'c?”

“We heard from him briefly.”

“Heard?” Jack repeated incredulously.

“He's aboard one of the Lucian Alliance ships.”

“What?” Jack asked, not knowing when or how that had occurred.  ~We really have to work on our team communication.~

Though going through motions, the next bit of time was a bit of a blur to Jack.  He was going through the motions, doing all that he possibly could to assist Emerson and try to figure out a way to save Sam, but his mind was on Daniel.  Non-verbal pleas for a response went unanswered, and his heart was about as somber as it had ever been.

The Odyssey was also on her own for the time being, since they couldn't communicate with Earth and there weren't any other space ships in the galaxy.  The ship had a day, or less, of life support, which was actually better than Sam had since she now had less than two hours of oxygen remaining.

Even of more immediate action than that was the current threat coming from Netan, leader of the Lucian Alliance, who had contacted the ship and demanded the Odyssey's surrender.  Teal'c had been taken prisoner and was being blamed for intentionally bringing the Alliance into the Ori battle.

Jack tried to get Netan to understand the reality of the situation, that is, the danger the Ori posed to everyone, but Netan wasn't interested in the whys and wherefores of the events.

Fortunately, Netan's vessel had been damaged more than he'd let on, and that allowed the Odyssey to move away to safety.

The next problem on Jack's docket was getting his 2IC back aboard the ship.  The problem was complicated by the beaming system that Kvasir was having great difficulty in repairing.

Frustrated, Jack looked at Emerson and stated, “It's time for Plan B.”

“General, what exactly is Plan B?”

“We ram her down her throat,” Jack answered as he took charge of the navigational controls.

Much to Emerson's dismay, Plan B meant essentially scooping Sam up into the cargo bay.

Even Sam was wary when she picked up on her commanding officer's plan.  He hadn't told her what he had in mind, but when she saw the Odyssey coming towards her, she knew.

“Sir, the sub-light engines don't have that much control.  If you hit me, even at minimum velocity ...”

Interrupting, the general declared confidently, “I am not gonna hit you.”  Quietly, he added, “Not on purpose.”

“I'd prefer it if you didn't hit me at all ... Sir.”

“Relax, Carter.  This'll be a piece of cake,” Jack promised.

“Right.”

Jets, Goa'uld Tel'taks, or Earth spaceships, Jack could fly them.  He was a skilled pilot, one of the best ever.  This would take precision, but he was confident in his abilities.  Soon, the ship passed over Sam until she floated safely inside the docking bay.

Once it was confirmed Sam was aboard and was okay, Emerson complimented, “Nice flying.”

“Yeah,” a subdued Jack replied.  He was unable to feel any joy.  His lover was still missing, and that's how Jack thought about him -- missing, not dead.  ~Come on, Angel.  Talk to me.~

====

“Jack, you'll want to see this,” Emerson called out, a small smile on his face.

The general walked over to Emerson, who was leaning over the shoulder of Major Marks.

Seeing his commander nod, Marks advised, “We downloaded the black box data from the Korolev.  Six of their crew managed to evacuate before it went up.  None of them was Doctor Jackson, but look at this.”

Jack's eyes widened and he smiled, certain he was right.

“General, there's no way of knowing who activated the rings on the Korolev, but someone did,” Marks reported.

“It could have been Doctor Jackson,” Emerson stated, hoping for the best.

“Oh, yeah,” Jack responded, his heart beating just a tad stronger now.  Patting Marks' shoulder, he praised, “Nice find.  Thank you.”

Walking away, Jack realized he hadn't been breathing.  He was certain of it because it wasn't until a few seconds ago that he'd felt alive.

~My Danny activated those rings.  Every bone in my body tells me so.~

====

“How ya doing?” a somewhat chipper Jack asked as he walked towards Sam's bed in the infirmary.

“I'm fine, Sir, thank you,” Sam answered with a smile.  “I should have the all clear in a few minutes.”

“Good.  Kvasir needs help with that beaming stuff.  I'd tell you what, but it's all technobabble-ish to me.”

Sam nodded, watching as Jack quieted while taking a seat on the stool by her bed.

“We'll find him,” Sam contended strongly.

“The rings were activated before the Korolev exploded,” Jack informed the blonde.

Sam brightened as she asserted, “Daniel.  He must have ringed aboard one of the Ori ships.”

“He's a survivor, Carter,” Jack responded, not really sure why he'd just said what he had.  Everyone knew Daniel was a survivor.  “Yeah, we'll find him.”

====

Not long thereafter, Netan's ship approached the Odyssey and warned that they were now able to take action.  Fortunately for those aboard the U.S. spacecraft, three mother ships suddenly dropped out of hyperspace, surrounding the Odyssey protectively.  It was Bra'tac and a group of Jaffa.  At the same time, the Odyssey also regained beaming capability.  Thus, just as the mother ship was exploding into nothingness, Kvasir beamed Teal'c safely onto the bridge of the Odyssey, though he still had wounds from his beating on Netan's vessel.

With their leader's ship destroyed, the other two Lucian Alliance crafts entered hyperspace to return to their homes.

“I guess we've all had enough fighting for one day,” Emerson told Jack.

“They just didn't want us to be able to salvage their ship when they turned tail and ran.”

“We were lucky.”

“Almost,” Jack agreed half-heartedly, hoping that Daniel was all right.  ~Luck for me means holding Daniel in my arms.~

====

Exhausted and mentally drained, Daniel hid aboard an Ori vessel.  It was loaded with Ori soldiers, all spouting religious platitudes as they quoted their Book of Origin in almost every conversation.  It was making the linguist sick, hearing it so much.

~Jack, are you alive?  Did you get out?  What about Sam and Teal'c?~

The anguished man heard a noise and quickly turned a corner, finding yet another cubbyhole to hide in.

~I can't do this forever.~

====

The next morning, Bra'tac received disheartening news.  The Ori ships were preparing an attack on Kheb, a once mythical place for the Jaffa which had finally been discovered several years ago by SG-1.

“Why Kheb?” Sam wondered.

“It is still a much revered place for all Jaffa.  By destroying Kheb, they destroy our souls,” Bra'tac theorized.  “I must depart.”

“You won't be a match for the Ori, Bra'tac,” Emerson replied.  “They kicked our butts.”

“We are only three small ha'taks, but we will be there for our brothers,” the master Jaffa proclaimed.

“I will go with you,” Teal'c announced, which wasn't much of a surprise to anyone.

“I'll tag along,” Jack stated.  ~It'll take my mind off of Daniel.~

“Me, too,” Sam agreed.   ~If the Ori ships are there, this might be our best shot at finding Daniel.~

“It's suicide,” Emerson pointed out.

“There's always an 'or',” Jack rebutted.

“Good luck,” Emerson wished in earnest.

====

As the Jaffa ships approached Kheb, Sam advised, “As soon as we drop out of hyperspace, I'll start broadcasting on all radio channels.  If Daniel's still alive, hopefully he'll get the message that we're here, and he can ring aboard.”

“No 'if's, Colonel,” Jack rebutted adamantly.  ~He's alive.~

“You're right, General,” Sam replied with a nod.

The stern correction made, Jack actually felt vulnerable, even sheltered as he took cover behind his commanding general persona.  He wasn't sure if his gut instinct that Daniel was alive was real or make believe.  Regardless, he wanted nothing but positive energy surrounding his team, and he had a job to do now.

Stepping back as the conversation continued, Jack covertly placed a small device onto the back of Bra'tac's armor.

~Jaffa honor, Jaffa revenge things -- they both get you killed unnecessarily,~ the general thought about why he'd just planted the object on his Jaffa friend.

====

Daniel had managed to get through the night undetected, but it was only by adhering to the Special Ops lessons his lover had taught him over the years.  With the amount of activity on the ship, however, one of his methods was to stay on the move.  Consequently, he was one very weary archaeologist.

~Don't these priors ever sleep?~

Of course, there was one advantage to staying on the go and having to be so alert: not having time to think about whether his husband was alive or dead.

Squeezing into a tight corner, Daniel had hoped he might be able to relax for a while, but just as he started to close his eyes, he heard a word that caused his entire body to wake up in a split second.  He was agape and completely stunned.

~If this is true ...~  Daniel couldn't fathom what it could all mean or if it could really be possible.  ~I have to find out more.~

Employing his skills, Daniel began to follow one of the Ori soldiers as he traversed the large ship.  He just needed to make sure he stayed clear of the priors whose staffs just might help detect his presence.

====

As the Jaffa ha'taks took up a defensive positions over Kheb, the members of SG-1 assisting Bra'tac readied to put their plan into effect.  They'd all wished they had more to work with, but they were doing the best they could with what they had at their disposal.

From the pel'tac, Sam began her message, praying that one person in particular would respond and that she wouldn't alert the Ori to the fact that they might have a stowaway on board.

“This is Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter calling any survivors of the Earth ship Korolev.  Please come in.”

--

~Sam?~

Daniel looked down at his radio, thankful none of the Ori had been close enough to hear the transmission.  He was appreciative of the Special Ops lessons his Love had given him, lessons that included the reminder to keep his radio off or the volume down low when inside enemy terrain such as he was now.

Aside from these rational thoughts, Daniel's heart beat with joy.  The transmission meant that Sam was alive.  Somehow, she'd beat the odds, and if Sam was alive, than maybe Jack was, too.  He walked hurriedly away from where he'd been eavesdropping, hoping to pick up more intel on the shocking news he'd heard earlier.

~Bad timing.~

“Repeat.  This is Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter calling any survivors of the Earth ship Korolev.  Please come in.”

Finally, the archaeologist felt he was far enough away to interact over the radio with his science twin.

Clicking on his radio, Daniel whispered, “Sam, it's me, Daniel.”

Beaming, Sam responded, “Daniel!  I knew you'd made it.”  She was so glad she couldn't even express herself.  ~I don't know how I did, but I did.  This time, I really did.~

“Yeah, it's good to hear you, too.  Listen, I'm kinda in the middle of something right now.”

“We're in orbit, trying to blow up one of the Ori ships,” Sam revealed.

“Yeah, I'm in one of the ships that's landed on the planet.  I'm going to have to tell you the rest later.”  Daniel paused and couldn't help himself, even though he heard steps approaching.  “Sam, you said ... 'we'?”

Gulping and knowing what the information would mean to her friend, Sam acknowledged, “SG-1 is all accounted for, Daniel, and we're all here.”

Daniel closed his eyes, letting the reality sink in.  His husband had made it, as had his best friends.  He felt such relief, but he also knew he had to get back to business.

“Requesting radio silence,” Daniel stated a bit emotionally.  ~If they hear, I'm a cooked goose.~

~Be careful, Daniel,~ Sam thought as she gave thanks that her friend was alive.

Regrettably, the lieutenant colonel didn't have time to bask in the good feeling the vocal reunion had given her.  The Ori had just opened fire on one of the mother ships.  She looked over worriedly at Bra'tac who was at the controls.

“I am detecting the fluctuation in their shields; almost in range,” the master Jaffa remarked.

Sam then used the comm system to give her commanding officer the latest news.

“General, I have ... good news and bad news.”

“Don't keep me waiting, Carter,” Jack replied in the ha'tak ring room.

“The good news is, I just made contact with Daniel.  We were right.  He's alive and on board the Ori ship that's landed on the planet.”

Sam smiled, knowing the relief Jack was feeling.  He didn't have to say anything.  In fact, he hadn't, not for several seconds.

--

In the ring room, Jack backed against the wall, glad that the only other person with him at the moment was Teal'c, who he knew wouldn't bat an eye at anything he saw or heard.

~Maybe I'm getting too old for this,~ Jack wondered, considering the enormous relief he was feeling right now.  He'd been fighting off his worst fears, while working so hard on convincing himself Daniel was alive.  ~Maybe it's time to let those wet-behind-the-ears kids fight the universe,~ he thought.  He sighed as he considered, ~Maybe I just need a nap.  I *love* being off-world.~  Then he grew more serious as he came to another possible realization for the reaction he'd just had.  ~Maybe I just have too much to lose now.~

Jack wasn't sure what the answer was.  It simply wasn't as easy as it used to be to put on the brave and stoic face.  He remembered his son, Charlie, and how he'd felt on his first mission after the boy had been born.  That's when he became aware of the difference.

~Charlie was safe at home with Sara; Daniel's right here, getting shot at.~

“Sir, are you there?” Sam called out over the radio.

“O'Neill,” Teal'c stated quietly.

“I'm here,” Jack responded into his radio while standing up straight once again.  He let the questions and doubts flee his mind.  All that mattered was that his soulmate was alive.  He'd beat the odds one more time.  Relieved and recomposed, the general rejoiced, “Hallelujah.  What's the bad news?”

“We just lost one of our mother ships.  If our plan doesn't work, this will be a very short battle.”

“We are in range,” Bra'tac announced from the bridge.

In the ring room, Jack waited for the word from his 2IC.  Seconds later, the word came.

“Now!  They're firing.  Send it!” Sam ordered.

Already in position, Jack armed the previously prepared bomb that was in the middle of the ring platform.  As he jumped off, Teal'c activated the rings.

“This had better work,” Jack stated, waiting for news.

“Sending a bomb to the Ori ship should have an explosive effect, O'Neill,” Teal'c opined.

“It'll be a blast,” Jack jested, certain the plan would work, or at least acting as if he were.

--

On the pel'tac, concern grew when the Ori ship continued to move through space, unaffected by the bomb's delivery.

Sam stared at Bra'tac, the two waiting for fireworks to light up from the bomb's detonation.  They were still waiting when Jack and Teal'c sprinted onto the pel'tac.

“Well?”

“It didn't work, Sir,” Sam responded dejectedly.  Checking the sensors, she advised, “We just lost another mother ship.”

~Crap!~  The plan hadn't worked.  Kheb was doomed.  There was no hope left.  Now there was only one thing to do.  “Carter, let's get Daniel and get the heck out of Dodge.”

Resolutely, Bra'tac objected, “I am sorry, General O'Neill.  That is not the plan.”

~I knew it.~  Jack glanced at the view screen and saw an Ori ship coming in their direction.  “Bra'tac, what are you doing?”

“I believe he intends to ram the enemy vessel,” Teal'c surmised.

“Yeah, I got that.  That'll kill us.”

“I think he knows that,” Sam sighed.  ~I don't like this plan.~

“Indeed,” Teal'c agreed.

Jack had just found out his lover was alive.  He wasn't about to die because of some Jaffa craziness, and that's what this was in his opinion.

“Teal'c, this is crazy, and not the good kind of crazy; you know that,” Jack argued.

“What would you have me do, O'Neill?”

Angrily, Jack answered, “Talk to him.”  Seeing his warrior friend's smirk, he grew even angrier.  “Teal'c, we've been here before.  This may not be a revenge thing, but there are more lives affected by Bra'tac's decision than just his own.”

Bypassing Teal'c and trying to get Bra'tac to see the reality of the situation, Sam offered, “Chances are we'll just impact the shield.  We won't do any damage to them.”

Going to stand very close to the master Jaffa, Jack challenged, “From the day we met, you've acted superior to us.  You know what?  We took it, because you're good; you're very good, but so are we.”  He looked out at the view screen, pointing as he argued, “What do you think you're going to accomplish by committing suicide?  Trust me, there's nothing to be gained by that.”

Jack groaned, seeing Bra'tac standing firm, not reacting in any way to anything he'd said.

“It's like talking to a brick wall,” Jack mumbled.

“Master Bra'tac, perhaps O'Neill is correct.  The battle is lost.”

“Teal'c, you know as well as I that we cannot let our brethren die alone.”

“They're dead,” Jack shouted, getting Bra'tac to look at him.  “Look, I mean no disrespect, and,” chuckling nervously, “I know this ship is your playground and that we didn't have to join in the games, but you know, helping our friends, that's who we are.  However, it doesn't make us happy when our friends are the ones who end up *trying to kill us*!”

Sam bowed her head as the general walked away, putting his hands over his face in frustration.  It was obvious to her that her CO wasn't making any ground.  She looked at Teal'c and saw that he was conflicted, wanting to support SG-1 but also feeling immensely loyal to his mentor.

~I want my life with Daniel,~ Jack asserted mentally.  ~I am not going to die because of this; no way!~  Still angry, but refraining from physically restraining Bra'tac, he decided on another attempt.  ~Let's try meeting him halfway, at least, verbally; that's what Danny would do.~  Turning around, he returned to Bra'tac's side.  “Maybe it is better to die in battle, like you say.  I really don't know and I don't particularly want to find out.  I do know this, Bra'tac.  There's no point in dying when you're going to lose anyway, *not* when you have a choice.”

Whebn Bra'tac scowled in response, Jack became even more frustrated.  He walked over to Teal'c, who was standing a couple of feet behind him.  His eyes had a question in them, and to be honest, he wasn't sure of Teal'c's answer.

Sam gulped as she witnessed the silent communication between her teammates.  She was fairly certain of the question, but like Jack, she wasn't at all sure of the answer.

Time was of the essence as the Ori ship closed in way too fast.  Jack needed an answer, and he needed it now.  He cocked his head to the right at the tall Jaffa.  It was a final plea.  No matter what, he would try his plan.  He had no choice.

With a resigned look, Teal'c finally gave his CO a nod.  Their eyes met, warrior to warrior.  This time, Teal'c would do what was right for SG-1.  This time, perhaps for the only time in his life, he would dishonor his mentor, who was as much his father as his teacher.  This time, the need for revenge for the deaths of the Jaffa would be second.  This time, but probably only this time.

~I owe O'Neill.  I will do what I must and then I will take my revenge on the Ori,~ the Jaffa resolved.

Jack turned back towards the view screen.  In one more second, he'd try to pull Bra'tac away.  He looked at Sam, a gaze that told her what to do.  Her blink acknowledged the command.  Once Jack pulled Bra'tac away, Teal'c would assist her.  Sam would move in and take evasive action.  There was still a big chance they wouldn't be able to flee, but they could try.  They could beam Daniel on board and jump into hyperspace.  That was the plan.

Just as Jack stood on the balls of his feet to move, a voice caused him to stop.

“General O'Neill, Colonel Carter, this is Emerson, come in.”

“It's the Odyssey,” Sam stated happily, hurrying over to the comm system and opening a channel.  “Colonel, this is Colonel Carter.”

“What's your status?” Emerson asked.

Into the radio, Jack ordered, “Beam us on board; you should have four beacons transmitting.”

Bra'tac turned to Jack in shock at the words.

“I planted one on you earlier, just in case.”

As the four materialized aboard the Odyssey, the ha'tak crashed into the Ori ship, doing no damage to the alien vessel but totally disintegrating the Jaffa ship.

“General, wel...”

“Forget the welcome,” Jack interrupted.  “Daniel's on that Ori ship on the planet.  Get him up here -- now!”

Emerson looked over at Marks, nodding as he ordered, “Do it!”

~And don't delay~  Jack's heart was pounding as he waited for Marks to get a lock.  ~Come on!~

Crouched down, Daniel's eyes darted around as he realized his change of location.

Standing, the archaeologist smiled and greeted, “Hi, guys.”

“Daniel!” Sam exclaimed, breaking protocol and walking over to hug her friend.

As Sam turned around after the hug ended, she saw Jack nod and walk a little closer.

“Hey, Space Monkey.”

“Are you *ever* going to forget about that nickname?” Daniel groused as the two embraced.

The lovers knew they had to be careful.  Though their hearts and bodies both wanted to do much more than this friendly hold, they couldn't.  They were in public view.  At least they had this quick moment, to touch the other and know they were really there, together.

“When you stop dying,” Jack answered as he reluctantly pulled away from his soulmate.  “You okay?”

“Actually, I'm just fine, but ...”

“But what?”

“She knew, Jack.  I'm not sure how, but she knew.”

“Sheeeeee ... who?”

“They were talking about her, saying she's the mother of the Orici,” Daniel advised anyone who cared to listen.

“Orici?” Sam questioned curiously.

“That's sort of the Ori version of a harsesis.  She's human, but she has all the knowledge of the Ori, and she's their leader now.  She ... gawd, if what they say is true, she matured at an incredible rate.”

“Daniel, I'm glad you're safe,” Jack began guardedly.  “You look good,” he said lightheartedly.  Then with force and skepticism, he raged, “But I don't have a clue what you're talking about.”

“I'm talking about Vala Mal Doran.  She knows all about the Ori, Jack.  She does because ...” Daniel paused, still not believing it himself, “... because she's the mother of the Orici.”

“She set us up?” Sam interjected, stunned by the news.

Daniel glanced over at the blonde, giving her a quick nod, and then looked at Jack as he elaborated, “I don't know how she did it, how she knew to come to us, but somehow, she did.”

Jack turned to Emerson and ordered, “Get this ship back to Earth -- *now*!”

“Marks, set a course,” Emerson ordered swiftly.

“That ... witch is gonna tell us the truth, or she's not gonna a hide left to hide behind,” the general spat angrily as he stormed off the bridge, his team following him.

“Uh ... Jack,” Daniel called out as the team walked swiftly down the corridor.

“What?”

“Where are we going?”

Jack stopped abruptly, turning to stare into his husband's stubbly face.

“We have to get home first before you can ... uh ...” Daniel stammered, really wanting to relax instead of think about Vala.

“Good point.”

Though there were a lot of questions about what each of the teammates had gone through over the past forty-eight hours, there was something else they all wanted desperately -- a shower.  Food was a close second, and sleep was unanimously the number one runner-up.

The trip back to Earth would take a couple of days, so SG-1 would have plenty of time to get the answers to all of their queries.

Jack led his team back to the bridge, since they really hadn't gone that far, and then asked Emerson, “Colonel, where do you want us?”

Emerson nodded over at another crewman, who then assigned rooms in the VIP area for each member of the team.

“Bra'tac, I did what I had to do,” Jack told the master Jaffa.

“As did I,” Bra'tac responded.  “I have just sent a message to Chulak.  A Tel'tac vessel is being dispatched.  I shall rest until its arrival,” he added, nodding at Teal'c before walking off the bridge.

“How long until we make contact with that ship?” Jack inquired of The Odyssey's commander.

Colonel Emerson answered, “We should rendezvous with the Tel'tac tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Jack acknowledged.  Looking at his team, he suggested in what was really an order,“Let's get some rest.”  

“I want everyone to get eight hours,” the general ordered quietly.  “That means *eight* full hours of turning your mind off.  Carter?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Daniel?”

“What?”  When Jack glared, the archaeologist smiled and explained, “If my brain is off, how can I know how to respond your question?”

Jack chuckled and then motioned toward the corridor.  It felt good to have his team in one piece.  It felt even better to be walking behind his Love and enjoying said Love's sweet six.  The odor might not be as pleasant as he'd like, but the showers would take care of that.

~Not that I mind that much.  Danny's perfect, no matter how he smells; as long as he's not disobeying my orders.~

Teal'c had the first room assignment and nodded to his friends as he went inside.  Then they came to Sam's cabin.  She opened the door, but turned around, looking at Jack and Daniel.

“Sam?”

“I ... I'm just glad we're all together,” the colonel admitted.

“Me, too,” Daniel agreed, giving her a soft smile.

“Sleep,” Jack ordered, a firm but friendly smile on his face.

Sam nodded and disappeared inside her room.

Then Jack and Daniel continued on to the archaeologist's room.  Daniel opened the door and walked inside, not looking back and knowing his husband was following.  There were no security cameras in the crew or guest quarters.

Locking the door, Jack walked over to his Heart and embraced him with all his love.  He let out a long sigh and just held Daniel to him.

Daniel's head nestled into the side of Jack's face.  He wanted to be enveloped in his husband's arms, to know they were okay and together once again.

“Carter believed you were there,” Jack whispered.  “I wasn't so sure this time.”

“I had to believe,” Daniel admitted.  “But ... it wasn't easy.”

Daniel turned around and cupped Jack's face with his hands.  His thumbs rubbed gently along the stubbly skin of his general.

“You're hurt,” the archaeologist noted, seeing the small cut on Jack's forehead.

“Believe me, I never felt it.  It was that fast,” Jack replied.  “Danny, we can cover the timeline later, but right now ...”

“Oh, yeah, right now ...”

Right now, the lovers again chose the risky option.  They made love aboard the U.S.S. Odyssey, though they made sure they were quiet, which wasn't easy.  Easy didn't matter to them, though; only being together in a physical union of their nation of two mattered.

Happy and safe, Jack and Daniel fell asleep in each other's arms.

====

The next morning, after spending some time with Bra'tac discussing the future of the Jaffa Nation, Teal'c joined his teammates in the briefing room.  All looked sharper and felt more refreshed than they had the day before.  Still sipping on coffee, the team began by catching up on their adventures.

“That was gutsy,” Jack responded in reaction to hearing that Teal'c had gone on his own to enlist the aid of the Lucian Alliance.

“I had no choice, O'Neill.”

“Yeah, well, it was still gutsy.”

“We're just glad you made it, Teal'c,” Sam sighed.

“From what you said, Teal'c, they aren't too happy with us,” Daniel surmised.

“Yeah, like we invited the Ori here just so we could pull those kassa-loving imbeciles into a war.  Sure, that makes sense,” Jack quipped with a roll of his eyes.  “Carter, you doubted my driving ability.”

With a smile, Sam replied, “Well, to be honest, General, seeing a deep space carrier hovering right over your body when you're stranded in space is a little ... disconcerting.”

“Hovering?” Daniel questioned curiously.

“Uh, yeah,” Sam acknowledged as she then related her experiences.

“Kvasir just wasn't cuttin' the mustard,” Jack opined about the Asgard scientist.

Sam laughed, “I don't think he liked that you went over his head, so to speak.”

“Where the heck was Thor anyway?” the general asked.  “His little gray butt should have been here.”

“I'm sure he would have come if he were available,” Sam returned.

“He's the only one of those Roswell guys without an attitude,” Jack whined.

“Well, Kvasir did get the beam fixed, eventually,” Sam acknowledged.  “What about you, Sir?”

Jack looked down as he began to recollect his narrow escape into the F-302.

“I had to do something,” the general concluded.  “Only I was unconscious from the moment the 302 took off until I heard Carter's voice over the radio.”  For a few seconds, he contemplated the battle.  “Emerson's a good man; he showed a lot of moxie.”  At that point, Jack turned to his husband and chimed, “Daniel, you're on; can't wait to hear this.”

Even though the lovers had spent all their time together since being reunited, they hadn't spent even a minute discussing their ordeals.  Instead, they'd focused strictly on merging their bodies into one, which they'd done until both had fallen asleep.

As soon as he'd asked the question, Jack saw something in his lover's expression. When he looked deeper, reading the soul of his Love's eyes, he saw pain and self-retribution, something that confused him.

“Um, I was ... I thought we could send a bomb ... through the rings,” Daniel began, after which he summarized his discussion with Colonel Chekov.  “It just ... it didn't work.  I felt the blast, and I just ... I knew.  It all happened in a second, but it felt like it was slow motion.”

Daniel was facing straight ahead and although that meant he was looking at Teal'c, the reality was that he was seeing the events in mind.  He wasn't looking at his teammate, he was looking at an exploding ship, seeing men on the brink of death.

“The rings were there, right there, and I knew that in seconds, nothing will be there anymore because ...”

“Daniel,” Sam interjected softly.  She knew what Jack did, that Daniel had chosen life over death, that he'd left the Korolev knowing he was leaving others to die in the explosion.  “Anyone in your place would have done the same thing.”

“Indeed,” Teal'c agreed, staring confidently at his good friend.

Jack said nothing in reply.  His comfort would come later, in private.

“I didn't even know what I was doing.  I saw the bomb.  I felt the blast.  I sensed ... death, and I ... I wanted to live.  I didn't know where I'd end up, but as long as I was somewhere, I had a chance to live.  That's more than Colonel Chekov had.”

“He wasn't a bad guy,” Jack began, “for a Russian.”

“I knew immediately where I was,” Daniel stated, continuing his story and leaving behind the question of his departure from the Korolev.

“How?” Sam examined curiously.  “We've never seen the inside of an Ori ship.”

“I saw a prior right away.”  Daniel explained how he'd hid most of the night, catching Jack's eyes to let him know the secret Special Ops lessons had once again been invaluable.  “Uh, in case we need it ...”

Reaching inside his pocket, the archaeologist pulled out the journal he kept with him on missions.  He shoved the papers inside it over to Sam, deciding she could do the most with what he'd done.

“Drawings of the ship,” Sam observed in an upbeat tone as she shuffled the papers.

“I'm not sure how it might help us, but I had the time, so ...”

“You never know,” Jack commented, impressed that his lover had thought to map out the Ori vessel.  “What about this harsesis Ori?”

Daniel chuckled.  Any other time Jack wouldn't even get out the word 'harsesis', but because they were about to discuss the Orici, that had become the name to fumble over.

“The Orici,” Daniel stated.  “Apparently, Vala gave birth to her about six weeks ago.”

“Six weeks ago?” Jack questioned.  “We're worried about a kid?” he asked incredulously.

“She's not a child anymore, Jack,” Daniel refuted.  “And even if she were, she's just as dangerous.  You see, she's an Ori in the body of a human.”

“Isn't that cheating?” the silver-haired man asked.  “I thought these ascended folks were supposed to have some kind of code of honor, not that I buy into it anyway.”

“Well, in the alternate reality, Orlin broke the rules by taking human form and telling the truth about the Ori,” Sam reminded.

“Yeah, and didn't he pay for that?”  With Sam's nod, Jack opined, “If Daniel's right, and he usually is, this kid's going to be a big problem.”

“DanielJackson, how old is this Orici?” Teal'c inquired.

“I don't know.  All I know is that she isn't a child now.”

“How could she have been born a month and a half ago and be all grown up?  For that matter, how do we know this Arrid person is a she and not a he?” Jack questioned as only he could.

“Jack, we know the *Orici* is a she because that's what I overheard, and the reason she's an adult and not a child is because she's been genetically altered.”

“Saw that coming,” Jack interjected.

“From what I heard, she went from newborn to adulthood in about a week,” Daniel reported.

“See?  Cheating,” Jack pointed out argumentatively.

“Yeah, I gotta admit the Ascended rule book's getting a little hard to understand,” Daniel agreed.

“I don't think there really is one,” Jack replied.  ~Though one would be nice.~

“There are rarely rules in war,” Teal'c put forth.

“Rules get in the way of annihilation,” Jack sighed.

“I remember when we first opened the Gate,” Sam stated.  “The Goa'uld had total domination over the galaxy.  They had massive superiority over us.  A lot of people didn't think we had a chance.”

“I wasn't sure we'd get the best of those bugs, either,” Jack added, referring to the Replicators.

“We did defeat the Goa'uld and the Replicators,” Teal'c stated with strength, his head held high.

“All we need is a plan,” the general remarked.  He smirked as he added, “And a few minutes alone with Vala Mal Doran.”

“You may have the time after me,” Teal'c quipped, causing Jack to grin.

~Oh, Jaffa interrogation.  Gotta remember to bring the popcorn for that one,~ Jack mused.  “Daniel, did you learn anything else on that ship?”

“No,” the archaeologist sighed thoughtfully.  “Jack, we have to go Atlantis.”

“Atlantis?  Daniel, it takes three weeks, *one* way, to go to Atlantis,” Jack responded.

“I know that, but we have to attempt to get information from the Ancient database there.”

“What information?” the general questioned.

“Meurik told us the name of the places where the weapon might be -- Castiana, Sahal, and Vagon Brei.  Those are the Ancient names.  We need to learn what they're called today.”

“Can't we just ask Weir to do it?”

“We could, but she doesn't know what I know.  Now, I'm not being arrogant, but I'm the one with the knowledge of the Ancients.  There might be information in the database that will help us which Elizabeth wouldn't recognize.”

Jack nodded, resigned to the trip.

“It might not be a bad idea at that,” Sam chimed in.

“Carter?”

“I have an idea, but I need to do some calculations to see if it really has a chance to work.”

“How about a hint?” the general requested.

“Explosions and ... black holes,” Sam answered cryptically.

“My favorite things,” the general teased dryly.

====

Later that day, Jack found Daniel in his room, writing in his journal, and questioned playfully, “Writing about me?”

“Indirectly,” Daniel acknowledged, sitting back down at the tiny desk that was in his room.

Jack plopped down on the bed, placing his hands under his head and smiling at his lover.

“We're not going to ... you know,” Daniel responded.  “We shouldn't have last night.”

“I didn't hear any complaints,” Jack replied, grinning at his soulmate.

“You know what I mean.  We took a chance.”  Daniel sighed, looking away as he noted, “We've been doing that a lot lately.”

“We're changing, Danny.  We're on the verge of that new life we've been wanting for years.   I'll review the list again.  We beat the Goa'uld, incinerated the Replicators, and we even found Atlantis.  That's the list.”

“The Ori,” Daniel stated somberly.

“Working on it.”

Daniel nodded and then looked at his journal, reading his last paragraph.

“You chose life, Daniel.  From where I'm lying, that was a great choice,” Jack stated emphatically.  “Staying with the Russians wasn't going to change their fate.  In five seconds, they were all going to be dead, whether or not you jumped on that platform or not.”

“I feel like a coward,” the archaeologist whispered.

Jack practically leaped into a sitting position on the bed, hunching forward as he refuted, “Daniel, there's no way in Netu that you're a coward.  All you did was take advantage of the opportunity presented to you.”  He paused and argued, “Did you want me to stay on that ha'tak, just to prove a point?”

The archaeologist looked over, his face a curious question mark as he queried a much surprised, “What?”

“Danny, Bra'tac was committing suicide, and he was taking us with him.  Kheb was going down no matter what.  Two mother ships had already bit the dust.  The Ori had won, again, and ramming the ha'tak into that sucker wasn't going to change a thing.  All it was going to do was add to the hit list.”

Jack got up and walked to the edge of the bed, sitting down again.  This put him within a couple of feet of his saddened soulmate.

“I had a choice, too,” Jack stated softly.  “I could stand there and let Bra'tac kill all of us in some crazy quest to be an honorable Jaffa by dying with the others, or I could fight him.”

“Fight him?  You didn't say anything about that before,” Daniel replied alertly, suddenly realizing there was a little more to the story than what had been said earlier.

“Daniel, I knew you were alive, and I want our life together.  I knew we might die anyway, but it wasn't going to be by becoming one with an Ori ship,” Jack expounded.  “I was about to take out Bra'tac when Emerson radioed and beamed us off.”

“What about Teal'c?”

“He was going to help,” Jack answered.

“I'm ... a little surprised at that,” Daniel admitted as he blinked, knowing how hard that decision would have been for both Jack and Teal'c.

“I think this time he got the message that there was a lot more at stake; at least, for me.”

“Jack ... he scares me sometimes.  It's ... it's like when I activated the device in Bill's lab, when we were all in the alternate dimension.  I didn't know what would happen to you, but I saw Sam, standing there.  I had a responsibility to her, to make sure that she had a chance to live her life.  I had to get us back, even if ...”

“Even if it meant leaving me stranded in that other dimension, although I also know you would have found a way to bring me back, or join me,” the general opined with a smile.

“I made that choice, but Teal'c ... I never know how he's going to respond.  I don't blame him; it's his culture.  It's just ...”

“I know, Danny.   I remember.”

A few years earlier, Daniel had actually pulled away from his Jaffa friend, and he'd become very anxious about Jack spending any time with Teal'c.  More than that, he had questioned Teal'c being on the team.  It boiled down to Daniel being afraid of another situation occurring in which Teal'c made a choice to go after revenge or doing something in the name of honor that would endanger Jack.  He'd done it more than once and for Daniel, once had been one time too many.

“He knows I have a lot to live for now; he didn't know that before,” Jack continued.  “The point is that my dying on that ha'tak would have been as pointless as you dying on the Korolev.  You chose life, Danny, and so did I.  I take that as a good sign.”

In spite of the seriousness of his feelings, Daniel smiled and agreed, “Me, too.”  Jack stood and walked over to his husband.  He leaned down to share a quick kiss.

“I love you,” Jack declared with shiny brown eyes.

“I love you, too.”

“Any idea what Carter's big plan is?” Jack inquired as he returned to his original position on the bed.

“Something about ... explosions.”

“Boom!” Jack exclaimed teasingly while patting the bed next to him.

“We're not going to ... you know,” Daniel reminded as he stood and walked over to the bed.

“I accept that, but we can snuggle.”

Getting on the bed next to his Heart, Daniel sighed contentedly.  He felt safe and loved.  Even better, he felt alive.

====

After another day of traveling in space, SG-1 was beamed inside Cheyenne Mountain, where they were greeted by General Hammond.  After undergoing the customary post-mission medical examinations, the team met with Hammond for what ended up being a very long debriefing.  Of primary concern was the news about the Orici and Vala's involvement in the entire Ori situation.

Hammond wished he could give his flagship team some much-earned downtime, but with the Ori a bigger threat than ever, the best he could do was send them home for the night before needing them back on base by 0800 the next day.

Jack, however, was seething.  Reviewing the entire Ori mess had stirred his juices again.  In fact, the more he thought about the game Vala might be playing, the angrier he got.  The entire SGC was on alert, and the Ori were steam rolling their way through the Milky Way.  In a the short span of a month, worlds had been destroyed and millions had died.  Could Vala have prevented it all?   He'd never liked the woman and now it seemed he had even more reason to hate her.

With a full head of steam, Jack stormed his way to the holding cell where Vala was under guard.  He had a lot of questions and this was the time to get the answers.

“Open it,” Jack ordered the SFs.

“Jack.”

“Daniel,” Jack called out strongly.  “We're going to find out what she knows,” he insisted as the door opened.  He entered, his lover following, and then motioned the guards to close the door.  ~I don't need witnesses.~

“Finally, some healthy testosterone,” Vala stated with a grin.  “Let's make babies.”

“You already have one,” Jack retorted, noting the shock on the woman's face.

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Vala lied, sounding more reserved than before.

Suddenly, Jack lunged forward, pushing Vala back to the wall, pinning her there with his hand under on her chin.

“Jack!” Daniel called out in alarm and as he hurried over to the wall.

“Listen to me.  We know that you're the mother of the Orici,” Jack told Vala, his voice cold and harsh as he retained the force of his hold.  “You have one minute to start talking, or I'll break your neck, and if you doubt me, think about this.  The Ori are here.  It's just a matter of time before they make a full-fledged attempt to take over Earth.  We aren't going to capitulate, which means they'll wave a magic wand and kill us.  What I'm saying is that I'm not worried about what happens to me.  The Ori will wipe us out long before the court-martial.  So, I repeat, you have one minute to start talking.”

“Daniel, you aren't going to let him talk to me like that, are you?  Remember what we went through on the Prometheus.”

Vala tried vainly to divert the focus of the cold brown eyes that promised much pain or worse away from herself.  She didn't like being backed into a corner or forced to do anything.

Daniel's head snapped up.  He'd been thinking about how to stop his husband, even though he was fairly certain that Jack was bluffing.  Now, though, Vala had once again become her worst enemy.  Bringing up the Prometheus reminded the archaeologist of all the tragedy that had gone on for the past five weeks.  If Vala was responsible, she deserved whatever Jack might do.

“The Prometheus was destroyed.  Thirty-nine members of its crew, including Colonel Pendergast, died.”

Surprised, Vala responded, “I'm sorry.”

“We need to know what you know,” Daniel stated in a quiet voice.

Her temporary softness gone, Vala maintained, “I don't know anything.”

“Your daughter would disagree,” Jack rebutted, his hand forcing Vala's chin up a little higher, causing her to gasp.  “The clock is ticking.”

“I had to come here.  They made me,” Vala claimed, her voice strained by the tight grip of Jack's hand.

“*Who* made you?” the general examined, releasing the woman, but not backing away.

“The Ori,” Vala answered, rubbing her sore neck and taking the opportunity to walk away from Jack.

“Keep talking,” Jack ordered, turning and keeping an exact fix on the woman's position.

Daniel watched his Love closely.  He could feel the hate oozing from him and prayed that Jack wouldn't do anything rash.

~Not that I can't understand his feelings,~ the archaeologist acknowledged.

“You won't believe me,” Vala whined as she ambled casually around the room, contemplating whether or not to tell her story.

“You'd better hope we do,” Jack warned, noticing that his husband had gone into a familiar stance, crossing his arms in front of him as he readied himself to hear the brash woman's story.

“And don't embellish,” Daniel warned sternly, prompting Jack's eyes to veer to his right towards his lover once again.

“It wasn't my fault,” Vala began.  “It was Starnum.”

“Starnum?” Jack asked.  ~What kind of a friggin' name is that?“

“He's a dealer on a little planet I know.  I do a lot of trading there, only he wasn't happy with the last trade we made.”

“Gave him the shaft, did ya?” Jack assumed.

“He got what he wanted; it just wasn't exactly all that he thought,” Vala admitted defensively.

“Please don't tell me that ...”  Jack waved his hand towards Vala's mid-section and then let out a groan.  “Never mind.”

“I beg your pardon,” Vala objected.  “I'll have you know I'm more woman than you can handle.”

“I doubt it.  So what did you do to this Starnum guy?”

“You're so hostile.”

“The clock,” Jack reminded, tapping his watch for emphasis.

“You should be asking what he did to me,” Vala returned.  “I was just an innocent bystander.  I mean, a girl has to make a living.”  She chortled, “Daniel knows what I had to offer.  Remember how you undressed me?”

Daniel's head lowered.  He just knew that had been the wrong thing to say.

“I'll bet,” Jack stated dryly.

~Calm before the storm,~ Daniel thought.

As Vala ended up nailed against the wall for a second time, Daniel was proven right.  He considered calling out, but he just had to trust that Jack wouldn't kill her.  The archaeologist was just too annoyed himself at Vala to interfere.

“Listen to me, Minx Van Tramp,” an angered Jack began, oblivious to Vala's look of confusion over her misspoken name.  “I told you we're on the clock.  I've *had it* with your innuendo and attempts to evade the issue.  Get to the point fast because if we don't walk out of here with the intel we need, you won't be walking anywhere ever.”  Jack backed away, his glare still deeply focused on the coy female.  “Tick, tick, tick,” he reminded sarcastically, touching his watch yet again.

~I think he means business, the brute,~ Vala opined.  “Starnum had a device.  It was really very pretty with lots of crystals.  I could have made a lot of money selling those.  He ...”

“Vala!  Focus,” Daniel interrupted, being very short on temper himself, which was very unusual for the normally mild-mannered scientist.

“Pushy.”

“Lady, you haven't seen pushy yet,” Jack stated, his best look of intimidation on yes face.

Vala stared back, but soon retreated, unable to match the general in the glaring department.

Jack turned to face his husband and advised, “Daniel, I'm gonna kill her.”

“Fine,” Daniel sighed.  ~Gawd, I hope he's playing good cop, bad cop.  Crap, if he is, I just blew it.”

“Oooookay,” Jack expressed almost gleefully before turning back to face Vala.

This time, Vala felt the daggers from the general, and for her own survival, she responded, “Well, it's quite simple really.  He was angry with me and since I didn't deliver what he thought he was buying, he kidnapped me.”

“Hard to believe,” Jack sighed.  ~You cannot be kidnapped if you go willingly, lady.~

“He did!” Vala claimed.

Standing, Jack called out, “Daniel, this is a waste of time.  Let's just shoot her.”

Just to make his point, Jack inched his hand towards the gun strapped to his side.

“You'd do it, too,” Vala accused, looking at the weapon wearily.

“In a heartbeat,” the general confirmed as he actually took out his sidearm, raising it up to his side.

“Daniel, you wouldn't really let him ... shoot me ... would you?” the threatened woman queried with great concern.
 
“Maybe.”

Jack grinned menacing, his eyes unmoved as they bore into Vala's unsuspecting mind.

~I think I answered that right.~  Daniel's head was bowed slightly as he let out a long breath.  “Vala, Jack has a ... a very short fuse right now, and frankly, so do I. Do you have any idea how many worlds have fallen to the Ori?  How many people are being oppressed?  H...how many innocent people have *died* because of the Ori?”

“It's not my fault, Daniel,” Vala replied.  She smiled as innocently as she could while approaching the archaeologist, who had an expression of stunned disbelief.  “You must believe me,” she spoke lightly, her seductive expression trying to win over the handsome scientist.  “I wouldn't lie to you, Daniel.  I had nothing to do with those people dying, and I'm sure if they'd had some sense, they would have just gone along with the Ori.”  She put her fingers on his lips and began lustily, “I'm all out of willpower.  I want sex with you ...”

“That's it!” Jack exclaimed, holstering his Beretta.  Before even Daniel could react, the general spun Vala around and hit her on the jaw.  When she fell to the floor, he straddled her as he pulled her up by the collar of her blouse.  “You just spit on the grave on some brave folks, and that's where I draw the line, lady.  You have ten seconds, and if you aren't straight with us, I *will* kill you.”

~Oh, gawd.  He'll do it this time, and I can't say I blame him.  I can't believe Vala just tried to seduce me.~  Watching his lover again pull out his weapon, Daniel urgently urged, “Vala, you might want to consider telling us the truth.  I realize that's something completely foreign to you, but then again, it depends on how much you want to live.”

~He always was good at poker,~ Jack thought.  ~He bluffs better than anyone else I know, except maybe me.~

“I'm telling you the truth, but you aren't listening,” an exasperated Vala claimed. “Starnum's device was very old.  It was like a dome with little slots where the crystals went.”

**She's describing the communication device,** Daniel told his lover.

**How many of those things are there?**

**In ancient times, it could have been used regularly by the Alterans,** Daniel theorized.  **There could be several.**

“Are you listening to me?” Vala shouted, really wanting Jack to get off of her.

“Just keep talking,” Jack instructed without averting his strong stare at all or putting away his gun.  ~Good cop, bad doesn't work with her, but bad cop, bad cop does.  Keep it up, Danny.~

“I took one of the crystals,” the woman admitted.  “A girl has to eat, you know.”

“You look healthy enough to me,” Jack responded.

“Is that a compliment?”  Hearing only silence, Vala sighed and continued, “He found it.  It was a ... very long search, grueling.  I think he liked it too much.”

“Vala, get to the point,” Daniel demanded impatiently, “or he's ... gonna shoot, and I really don't want to have to do a report tonight.  I mean, uh, when he kills somewhat, we have go into detail, and ... I haven't had dinner yet.”

~Whoa!  Good one.  Way to go, Danny.~

“To protect my virtue, I gave him the crystal back; well, actually, I placed it on the device, and when I did, I was transported to some very unforward-style little village.  They thought I was some woman named Cesna.”

“Like the plane?” Jack asked, finally getting up and putting the Beretta into its holding spot.

“Jack,” Daniel interjected, his tone indicating his husband should just be quiet and listen.

“Forgive me,” Jack responded insincerely.  “Please, go on with your fairytale,” he bade as the woman stood up and moved as far away from Jack as she could.

Daniel rolled his eyes at the snarkiness of his soulmate, but simply continued to listen to Vala's story.

Jack and Daniel listened as Vala told a story similar to the one they'd heard about in the alternate reality.  While she hadn't been transported to this other world physically, her mind had been transferred to the body of a distant woman.  There was one huge difference in the tale, though.  Vala hadn't had Daniel to temper her actions and remarks.  As a result, she had started spouting off about having had her mind kidnapped the moment she came into contact with a prior.  Naturally, she'd also mentioned that she wasn't even a resident of the village.  That had led to questions from the prior and to Vala having been whisked away to the Plains of Celestis.

Unlike the alternate reality's Daniel, Vala had never gotten past the lengthy lecture about the Book of Origin.  Instead, she'd talked endlessly, rambling on about her adventures throughout the galaxy, how sought after she was, and how she could make the Ori rich, if they'd just let her.

The woman had no idea what she was doing or how she had just opened up the doors to what would become the Ori invasion of the Milky Way Galaxy.

“Okay, just hold on a minute,” Jack interrupted.  “You want us to believe that your mind was teleported to this little village, right?”

“Absolutely,” Vala affirmed.

“And then you ran your mouth off,” Jack surmised with snark.  He held up his hand to stop the objection that he knew was coming.  With Vala staring at him agape, poised and ready with a rant to defend herself, he continued, “Don't bother arguing.  We already know *that's* the truth; and then the Ori just sent you back to the village?”

“They sent me back to Vilnea.”

“Vilnea?” Daniel repeated.  “Where or ... what is that?”

“The planet Starnum lives on.  The poor man was positively apologetic for what I'd gone through.  He thought he'd killed me.”

“Too bad he hadn't,” the general quipped, glancing at his husband, surprised he wasn't being reprimanded, verbally or mentally.

“You'd collapsed and were unconscious,” Daniel surmised.

“For over a day from what Starnum told me.”

**Danny, how'd she get back?**

**I have no idea.**  Taking a breath, Daniel inquired, “What happened to the device?”

“That was odd,” Vala answered, making a funny face.  “Starnum said it just burnt, turned to a pile of ash in seconds.  It was right before I awoke.”

~Interesting,~ Daniel thought.  ~Maybe this wasn't the exact same communication device, or maybe the prior's just have more control over it than we know.~

“Keep going,” Jack demanded, unaware of his husband's pondering.

“Well, I thought maybe it had just been a bad dream, except a couple of hours later, a prior appeared, preaching about Origin.  They sought me out.  I tried telling them they weren't my type.  I wanted to let them down gently.  You know what I mean -- those drab robes, the bleached skin, all the wrinkles.  Like yuck,” Vala expressed distastefully, shuddering as she pictured the prior in her mind.

“Vala!” Daniel exclaimed anxiously, eager to know the rest of the story.  “We need to know what happened.  We really don't care about your personal feelings about the prior.”

“I suppose I can't argue with their choice,” Vala rambled.  “They wanted to know what it was like here, so they took me.”

Jack was fuming at Vala's arrogance and vanity.  Even so, he steeled himself, never unlocking his stare.  He wanted Vala to feel afraid, to know she was in danger of him tearing her apart or shooting her brains out, depending upon his mood.

“They dropped me in this other place, Ver Isca.”

“Dropped you?” Daniel questioned, raising an eyebrow.

“Very rudely, if I do say so myself.  They knocked me out and left me on this man's doorstep.”

“Merry Christmas,” Jack quipped about the unwelcome gift in his estimation.

Glaring at Jack, knowing he was being sarcastic even if she didn't understand the reference, Vala continued, “A very nice young man named Tomin took me in.  He thought I was gift from the gods.”

“So ... delusional then?” Jack questioned snarkily.

~He's so annoying.~  Vala's dislike of Jack was growing, but then again, it was obvious that Jack hated her so in her mind, they were even.  “I let him continue to believe I was a gift because, well, I am ...”

“Vala, we don't have all day,” Daniel interrupted, perturbed by her non-stop focus of all things Vala.

“He took care of me,” Vala told the two men.

For the first time, there had been a tender quality to the woman's voice, something both Jack and Daniel noticed, though neither communicated that fact to the other.

“His name was Tomin,” Vala continued, still speaking more softly than she ever had before.  “I realized he was a devout Ori follower and probably would have been standing on the front line cheering while they burnt me to death, if he knew the truth about me, but he was very sweet in his own way, and not bad looking, actually.”

“This Tomin fella, he's a villager, a soldier ...?” Jack prompted.

“I know you're in a hurry, but if you want to know the truth, you'll let me tell it my way,” Vala stated strongly.  “If not,” she sashayed daringly up to Jack, “you can kill me now.”

“You really don't want to push me at the moment,” Jack cautioned without batting an eye.  “Tell your story while you still can.”

The woman turned around, walking a few steps away from Jack.  Then she twirled around again, facing the teammates as she told what had happened to her in the other galaxy.

“I think Tomin had been on his own before I came along, mostly due to a limp that had left him crippled since childhood.  He didn't like to talk about it much, but I could see that the other villagers looked down on him because of it.”  Vala's tone was much more reverent and calm as she spoke now.  “In their minds, the Ori must have deemed him unfit for normalcy, so that's how they chose to see him.  I did my best to blend in.  At first, according to Tomin and therefore as far as the villagers were concerned, I was the woman who fell from the sky, which made me feel kind of special.  I later learned that they always suspected I'd escaped from another village as a result of some scandal, and then I started to feel much more like I'm used to.”

“Vala, no disrespect here,” Jack interrupted.  “I'm sure this Tomin's a great guy, but we don't have time for your domestic situation.  Fast forward.”

“You are the impatient type, aren't you?  Sex must be so blah.”

“Get on with it,” Jack ordered, totally frustrated by Vala and beginning to seriously consider going through with the whole bad guy scenario.  ~They wouldn't court-martial me; they'd hand me the keys to the universe.~

“Fine, we got married.”

“Married?” both Jack and Daniel questioned in unison.

“I had no choice.  I told you, he was very devout, and there's no way he would have slept with me out of wedlock.”

“The Orici,” Daniel deduced.

“When I realized why I was feeling sick all the time, I figured I had to do something.  I decided my only choice was to marry Tomin as quickly as possible and pray the timing was close enough so he could be convinced the baby was his,” Vala explained.

Jack and Daniel shared a look, saying nothing, which Vala interpreted as them not believing her.

“I swear, I did none of the necessary bits,” Vala stated.  “Between my arrival in the Ori galaxy and my wedding night, which was definitely after I knew for sure, there is no way humanly possible, that I know of, that I could have gotten pregnant.”  She paused, desperate to be believed.  “I'm telling you the truth.  Surely, this has happened to others.”

“One time,” Daniel conceded.  “Actually, some of the legends about Merlin say that he enchanted the queen who bore Arthur.”

“Enchanted?” Jack contemplated.  “Is that what they call it?”

“Well, remember that on television you couldn't even say the word 'pregnant' until the 70's,” Daniel pointed out.

“Okay, let's say we buy that the Ori impregnated you, what happened next?” Jack asked.

“The Ori healed Tomin's limp and turned him into one of their soldiers until he saw them destroying worlds, using Origin as their justification.  He questioned, not the religion, but the interpretation of the priors.  It made him suspect to the Ori.”

“They killed him?” Jack supposed.

“No.  They told him the truth about the baby, which turned him against me.  In hardening his heart towards me, he bowed to them.”

“So he's on their sacrilegious bandwagon,” Jack surmised.

“No,” Vala answered, confusing the general.  “He needed time to think and to realize that I really did,” she paused, suddenly feeling vulnerable, something she wasn't used to, “love him.  He rejected the Ori and they imprisoned him.”

“Imprisoned?” Daniel echoed, unconvinced.  “That's not what they do, Vala.  You're either on their side, or ...”

“Or you're nowhere,” Jack completed for his husband.

“They wanted something from him.”

“And what was that?” Daniel prodded.

“Me,” Vala stated smugly, pointing to herself.

“They had you,” Jack snapped, leaning forward as he spoke.

“Look, I'm trying to tell you what they said,” Vala maintained.  “After Adria was born ...”

“Adria?” Daniel interrupted, wondering who that was.

“My daughter, in some sense anyway,” Vala answered.  “I named her after my stepmother, a witch of a woman.”

“Funny thing to name your kid.”

“I didn't name her until after I met her,” came the exasperated reply.

“Okay, now you've lost me,” Jack admitted.  ~Being lost sounds like heaven right now.~

“She aged rapidly,” Vala explained.  “They took her from me the moment she was born.  The next time I saw her, she was a little girl, three or four years old.  She was already spouting Ori nonsense.”  She sighed, “I didn't want to believe it, but I knew she was ... evil.”

“So why did you come here?” Daniel examined harshly.  “I mean, uh, how'd you get away?”

“When I left, Adria was still a little girl, but I was told she was to become their leader.  While she grew and prepared to lead the Ori, I was to stay, locked away in some silly room.  Tomin was kept from me.  One day, a prior told me I was to come to Earth.  I guess I must have said something at some time about ... Daniel and, well, the big ship you had.”

Jack was seething again, and Daniel was just trying not to show any emotion at all.

“I was supposed to bring you to the Plains of Celestis, Daniel,” Vala finally admitted.  “They didn't tell me why.  That's why I had the bracelets.”

“How?” the curious archaeologist inquired.

“Once we were bound together, I was supposed to take you to Cesna.  The prior would have been there, waiting,” Vala replied.  “That's all they told me.”

“You led them to us,” Daniel deduced coldly from all that he'd heard in the cell.  ~Stay calm, just ... stay calm.~

“If I didn't cooperate, they threatened to kill Tomin.  They knew they could threaten me, and I would do nothing stop them, and they knew that I would do everything to fight for Tomin.”

“You could have told us the truth,” Daniel argued.

“Who knew you'd believe me?” Vala shouted.  “You hate me, Daniel.  Tomin is the first person who ever looked at me like a real woman, even after he knew the truth.”

“Honesty goes a long way, lady,” Jack interjected.

“I ask you both, if your wives were in danger, wouldn't you do anything to save them?”

Vala's eyes shifted back and forth from the couple, both of who had been silenced by the query.

“Yes, yes, I would,” Daniel answered quietly.  “I would do anything to save my ... wife or the person I loved.”

The archaeologist looked at Jack and then turned around, knocking on the door to be let out by the guard.

“Daniel, you have to help me find Tomin.”  As Daniel walked out the door, Vala loudly pleaded, “Daniel, I'm telling you the truth!”

When his lover was gone, Jack approached Vala, going deep into her personal space.

“If you're telling the truth, we'll help you.  If you're lying, the next time we meet, you'll take your last breath.”

Vala watched anxiously as Jack left her alone in the small room.  She walked over to the bed and sat down, feeling alone and lost.

====

Jack walked into Daniel's office and saw him sitting in his chair, just staring at the door.

“Waiting for me?”

“I knew you'd be behind me,” Daniel answered, shifting his eyes to meet his husband's.  “Jack, I think she's telling the truth.”

“How did I know you'd say that?” the general asked in a strained voice while pulling up a stool to sit on.  “Daniel, she admitted she came here to get you.  Now here's my question.  If the Ori wanted you so desperately, why didn't they keep you when we were there?”

“I don't know,” Daniel responded.  “Things had changed, Jack.  The plan didn't go as expected.”

“Because we already had a heads up.”

“Exactly.”  The archaeologist looked over at his desk and all of the opened books on it.  “Jack, we know now that the Ori did know about us for ... months, and they were here already.  We just didn't know.”

“It's a big galaxy, Daniel.  We can't police every friggin' planet out there.”

“I know that,” the younger man agreed.  “They learned about us through Vala, and they came.  I don't know why the Doci didn't try to keep me there when he had the chance.”

“Deodorant?”

“I used yours that day,” Daniel replied dryly.

“Ouch,” Jack mused.  “Okay.”

“Okay, well, plans change, and maybe the Ori just ... didn't need me like they thought, or maybe it was the fact I told them I wasn't going to go along, and they could kill me if they wanted to.”

“You're a challenge?”

“Apparently,” Daniel concurred.  “The truth is we might never know.  More importantly, we have to decide what to do next.”

“You want to go to Atlantis,” Jack sighed, believing the trip to be inevitable.  “Okay, I'll talk to Hammond,” he said as he got up and put the stool back in its place.

“I'm gonna review the notes from the other dimension.”

“I thought you did that already.”

“There are a lot of notes,” Daniel pointed out, fighting the urge to bang his head on the book in front of him.  “Don't say it, Jack.”

Jack grinned but then ordered forcefully, “Review them tomorrow.”

“Jack ...”

“Daniel, I'll talk to Hammond ... tomorrow.  Think about the girls.”

His heart clenching as he thought about the two beautiful beagles, Daniel whispered, “The girls.”

“Time to go,” Jack reiterated, this time getting a nod from his husband.

As the couple walked the corridors, Jack's thoughts turned to Vala as he wondered if she really had told them the truth this time and if she had more secrets she hadn't yet revealed.

~You better have told us the whole truth, Vala, or I'll ring your lying neck.~

====

“You didn't say anything,” Jack stated to his Love on the drive home.

“I said a lot of things,” a yawning Daniel replied.

“Not about it.”

“What 'it' are you referring to?” the younger man inquired.

“I punched her.”

“I know.”

“You didn't say anything,” the older man repeated.

“You didn't kill her,” Daniel pointed out.

“I was tempted.”

“That's why I didn't say anything,” Daniel asserted, a small smile gracing his face as Jack glanced over for a second.

“Got it.”

With that, Vala Mal Doran became a forgotten personage; at least for the time being.

====

That evening, Jack found his husband outside, sitting on the grass and looking up at the stars.  Katie was in his lap, and Bijou was in front of him, lying down, but staring at him.  It was very cold out, but the skies were clear.  He smiled as his Love.  For some reason, when he was most troubled, Daniel found peace in their backyard, just sitting, surrounded by night.

“They look worried,” Jack stated as he sat down beside his lover, immediately having a lap full of Bijou to pat.

“We haven't been home much; they know we're worried about something,” Daniel surmised, his voice soft as he leaned over to rub noses with Katie.

“Yeah, their world is as screwed up as ours,” the older man agreed.  “Daniel, maybe we should take a few days away from all of this.”  At his husband's inquiring look, Jack amended his statement.  “Not the girls, work.”

“We can't,” Daniel returned, exhaustion seeping into his voice.

“A few days can't hurt.”

“They're here.  We can't afford to think only of ourselves,” Daniel asserted, his body tensing.

“That's not what I'm saying.”

“Isn't it?  Jack, who else can do what we can?  I'm not being egotistical, but my linguistic skills happen to be pretty important right now.”

“Danny ...”

“People have died, good people, and every second we're out here, sitting on the grass, more people are dying, or being forced to devote themselves to false gods.  Haven't we seen enough of those?”

Daniel shooed Katie out of his lap, giving her an apologetic pat before standing and hurrying back towards the house.  Bijou jumped off of Jack and ran after Daniel, just making it through the patio door with him.

Katie stared at Jack with drooping eyes.

Scooping the youngest beagle into his arms, Jack massaged her neck and ears while sighing, “Something's brewing in Danny, Katie, but don't worry, I'll get it out of him, and once I do, he'll be okay.”

“Woof,” Katie responded sadly.

“Yeah, there's a lot going on.  That's why we've gone so dang much.  Too many bad guys in the universe, but we're gonna fix that, too.  You and Bij have to take care of the house for a while, okay?”

Katie lunged upward, giving Jack a slew of kisses.

“Thanks.”

====

Walking inside the house, Jack was about to go upstairs when he heard Bijou bark.  Following the sound, he sighed.

“Thanks, Bij,” Jack acknowledged, reaching down to pat her once.  Then he opened the front door and walked out, closing the door behind him.  He walked to front step and sat down next to his husband.  “This view better?”

“Not really.”

“Daniel, I'm worried about you.”

“I'm fine.”

“No, you're not, and I'm not sure why, but you've been a bit ... unlike you lately.”

Daniel looked at his lover, surprised by the remark, and asked, “What do you mean?”

“You're angry, Danny.  At the library, you were wound up tight, especially after Antonius died and you didn't think Meurik would let us back in.”

“We needed access to Merlin's books, and was right about that.”

“It's not about being right,” Jack sighed.  “What's going on?”

“I'm just ... tired.”

“Which is why we should take a few days off.”

“Not ... that kind of ... tired,” Daniel rebutted slowly.

“Do you want to quit?”

“Gawd, yes,” Daniel admitted in a rush, letting his head drop down for a second.  “No, I just ... Jack, I'm learning so many fascinating things.  I mean, Arthur and the Holy Grail.  That's mythology that archaeologists would die to be able to research like I've been.  The mystery of Merlin has always been bewildering and now the, the truth is right here, right in front of us.”

“But?”

“There's no time to enjoy it, to dig into it and see what other parts of the legend are true or ... just made up tales handed down for centuries.  Instead of reveling in Merlin's library, we're grabbing our P-90's and looking for ... brainwashed emissaries.”  Daniel took a breath and then sighed, “I'm sorry, Jack.  You're right. I've been uptight about this for a while, and I guess that when the opportunity comes up, I've been taking advantage and letting off steam.”

Jack reached over and took his Love's hand, squeezing it gently as he replied, “Tell you what.  When we finally get rid of those bleached zombies, we'll go back to Avalon, and you can play for days in Merlin's library.”

“And what will you do?”

“Take fencing lessons from Valencia,” Jack mused.  When Daniel laughed, Jack opined, “Now that's what I like to hear.”

Even though they were outside, it was late, and frankly, Jack didn't care if they were seen.  Neither did Daniel, so the lovers kissed.

“Let's go back inside,” Daniel suggested.

“Works for me,” Jack agreed as he stood up and gave Daniel a hand.

“I want to spend some more time with the girls.”

“Oh, yeah, right, of course,” the deflated general responded.

“Then we can ... you know,” Daniel suggested, wrapping his arms around Jack's waist.

Daniel leaned over for another kiss, pleasing his husband very much.

====

The next day, Daniel alternated his time between reviewing the notes given to Jack from the alternate Daniel and researching the three planets Meurik had told SG-1 about where the Sangreal could be.

Sam, meanwhile, was also reviewing notes from her counterpart while also working on an idea to knock out the Supergate.

Jack met General Hammond and was pleased that he didn't have to work that hard to convince him to allow the trip to Atlantis.  The Daedalus was already en route to Earth anyway, so once she arrived, SG-1 would be returning with her.

The rest of Jack's time was spent with other SG teams, discussing strategies and plans of attack when confronted with priors.

As for Teal'c, he left through the Stargate early in the morning to meet with Bra'tac and other Jaffa on Dakara.

That night, Jack, Daniel, and Sam all stayed on base overnight, along with the majority of the frontline teams.  Jack tried to make sure his lover got a good night's sleep, but the archaeologist was determined to find the answer to where the Sangreal was located.  As a result, he ended up falling asleep at his desk.

~Predictable,~ Jack thought upon discovering his slumbering husband the next morning.  ~That's what I get for telling him to meet me in my office.  I never should have left here.~

Once he was done berating himself for his lapse in judgment, Jack reluctantly awoke his Heart and ordered him to the commissary to eat a decent breakfast.  He was sure it would be another long day, and if Daniel didn't eat now, he might not eat at all.

~Except for Twinkies.~  With a grimace, Jack pondered the status of Daniel's private food stash.  Coming up with a decent excuse, he doubled back to the archaeologist's office and covertly checked the stash.  ~Gotta get Siler to go shopping.~

His snooping completed, along with a quick call to Siler to take care of the shopping needs, Jack hurried to mess hall to join his husband.

====

Mid-morning, Daniel was once again focused on his research.  Absentmindedly, he stood up and carried a book with him to the drawer where he secretly (so he believed) kept a lot of goodies.  He opened it and took out a package of Twinkies, closing the drawer behind him.  He returned to the desk and settled back into his chair.

Then Daniel blinked as he looked up.  He looked over at his favorite stash spot and blinked several more times.  He realized the drawer was full of goodies.

~I thought I was out of everything.~  Daniel looked at his new package of the Hostess delights and then shrugged.  ~Apparently, not.~

====

Elsewhere, Sam needed a break from her research and decided to meet Teal'c  in the gate room since he was due back at any time.

“Morning, Sir,” Sam greeted, seeing Jack in the gate room.  ~He must have had the same idea.~

“Carter.”

With the klaxons blaring and the event horizon formed, Teal'c, wearing Council robes, appeared and walked down the ramp, his staff weapon held upright in his hand.

“Teal'c, welcome back,” Sam greeted with a smile.

Somberly, the Jaffa advised, “Six more worlds have fallen to the Ori.  Two are Jaffa strongholds.  They attempted to resist, but were overwhelmed within a matter of hours.  According to those who witnessed the battle, the enemy was led by a young woman of extraordinary powers.”

Jack and Sam looked at each other.

“The witch of a daughter?” Jack asked, referring to Adria.

“I am afraid so,” Teal'c acknowledged.

The teammates exited the gate room and headed down the corridor.

“The Ori are everywhere,” Jack sighed.  “Six planets in just the last few days?  Unreal.”

“Why haven't they made a move against Earth?” Sam wondered.

“In all probability, the Ancient device in Antarctica is giving them pause,” Teal'c put forth.

“At least until ...”

Jack's words were interrupted by his husband, who was running through the hallway on Level 28 looking for his teammates.

“I got it!” the archaeologist shouted, though he couldn't yet see the rest of SG-1. Coming around the corner, breathing hard as he held a book in his hands, he exclaimed again, “I got it!  I made the connection: Sir Gawain to Gwalchmei. Culwhch and Olwen.  Verus Gen Bree.”

“Ooookay,” Jack responded.  “Daniel, you're sounding like Carter and it's way too early in the morning for that.”

“Oh, oh!  It's ... it's Vagon Brei, one of the planets Arthur and his knights went to in their quest for the Holy Grail.  I got the gate address.”

“Now *that* I understand,” Jack replied.  “I'll see if the general's available.”

“You sure?” Sam asked as she walked over to Daniel.

“Absolutely,” Daniel affirmed.

“How did you find the information?” Teal'c inquired as the three began walking toward the elevator.

“As much as I want to spend time reading the books in Merlin's library, we just don't have time for that.”

“You started thinking outside of the research box,” Sam surmised.

“Something like that,” Daniel admitted.  “I knew we were going to have to narrow the search parameters a little and that's when I thought about Sir Gawain.  According to myth, he visited several lands to help rescue a lost love.”

“How does that help us, DanielJackson?”

“It helps us because one of the places he went to is Gwlad Gan Brenhinol Gwir.”

Sam laughed, “I'm glad the general isn't here.”

“Yeah, well,” Daniel responded, shrugging.  “Anyway, in Welsh that translates to 'Land of Royal Truth' and when you translate that into Ancient you get 'Verus Gen Bree'.”

“Vagon Brei,” Sam surmised with a nod.

“Yeah,” Daniel stated brightly as the three waited by the elevator.

“That does not give us a gate address,” Teal'c replied.

“Let's leave something for the briefing, Teal'c, or we might fall asleep,” Sam teased, rubbing her friend's arm supportively.

====

The briefing was held within the hour and Daniel re-stated everything he'd explained to Sam and Teal'c earlier.  Then he expounded on just how he came up with the gate address, which was related to Gawain.

“Now, based on this information, I started scanning through the titles, and I found this.  The entire volume is dedicated to Gawain's adventures and includes several very interesting illustrations, including a depiction of a sword he once carried.  Note the symbols engraved on the blade,” Daniel instructed, passing the book over to Hammond.

“A gate address,” Hammond observed as he looked at the picture.

“Vagon Brei,” Jack assumed, grinning at his soulmate's work.

“Well done, Doctor Jackson,” the base commander praised.  “SG-1, you have a go. The Ori are overtaking our galaxy with extraordinary speed.  We need that weapon.”

Hammond stood and walked into his office.

“He's right,” Sam sighed.

“I'm sure this is Vagon Brei,” Daniel asserted, reclaiming the reference book from SG-1's leader.

“Let's go find a weapon,” Jack interjected and then led his team out of the room.

====

“More trees, but no leaves,” Jack observed about the gloomy planet as SG-1 walked in the woods towards a village.  ~Not a place for a romantic picnic, that's for sure.~

“Everywhere we go can't be a paradise,” Daniel countered.

“Okay, but I always pictured Arthur in a more ... leafy surrounding.”

Daniel looked over at his soulmate thoughtfully, trying to decipher what was going through his mind.

~Not a good idea,~ the archaeologist decided as the team continued their trek.

====

A few minutes later, SG-1 reached a village.

“Feels like an abandoned town from the old west, only darker,” Jack opined.

It didn't take long for the team to realize the village was abandoned.  There was no sign of life anywhere.  Everything was still; the only sounds were the ones they made themselves.

“Carter, check that house,” Jack ordered as he glanced over to his 2IC, who was ahead of him by several yards and to his right.

With Daniel on her six, Sam cautiously entered the home.  As she went to the right, Daniel focused on the door ahead of him, which led to the bedroom.  Opening it, his P-90 at the ready, he walked inside.

~Wasn't expecting this.~  Daniel returned to the doorway and called out to his teammates.  “Guys, you should, uh, take a look at this.”

Immediately, Sam walked into the room, after which Jack and Teal'c approached the doorway.

~I knew this town was dead,~ Jack thought as he stared at two skeletons on the bed.  “That's what I call sleeping in.”

Looking around the room, Sam commented, “Nothing seems unusual or out of place.”

“So they just laid down and ... died?” Daniel questioned, knowing no one had the answer as yet.

“Carter, contact SGC and get a medical team here.  Let's see what they can tell us.”

Acknowledging the order, Sam headed for the Stargate while her teammates continued looking around.  They came upon more skeletons, some lying around on the street or floors of their homes, but most in their beds.

“This is definitely what I'd call a dead zone,” Jack remarked as the three finished walking most of the main street.  ~I just hope this doesn't turn into The Twilight Zone.~

“Hey, I think this is the archive,” Daniel called out from the other side of the street.  He stood in the doorway and then went into the room, taking in the vast number of books that were present.  When his lover joined him, the archaeologist stated, “I, uh ... think I'll see what I can find out here.”

Jack nodded and returned outside to wait for the medical team to arrive while Teal'c remained with Daniel, assisting him in locating the town records.  Then Daniel sat down at a table and began to pour over the various books and documents which he thought might provide some information about what had happened to the townspeople.

====

As he read, Daniel learned about a cave overlooking the village that was once home to Morgan Le Fay, King Arthur's half-sister and a foe of the great Merlin.  According to the Arthurian legend, Morgan was a powerful sorceress.  As he thought about what he'd read, he surmised that Morgan, like Merlin, had to have ascended at some point.  It was possible that Morgan saw the same dangers as Merlin and went into hiding, possibly on Vagon Brei.

~We *have* to find that cave.~

====

“Jack,” Daniel called out.

“Yeah,” Jack acknowledged, walking away from a member of the medical team which had arrived several minutes earlier.

“We need to do a little ... reconnaissance.”

Jack raised his eyebrows as he listened to his lover's explanation.

“Okay, a cave hunting we will go,” the general sing-songed.  “Carter!” he beckoned, interrupting her conversation with Doctor Reimer, another member of the medical team.  “We're hunting caves,” Jack announced.

====

SG-1 began their search, taking with them Bernie Ackerman, who was part of the medical unit.  They hiked through the forest, looking for Morgan's cave, if it truly did exist.  Suddenly, Teal'c stopped walking, the Jaffa staring curiously at the surrounding forest.

“What is it?” Daniel questioned, walking up to his friend.

“Birds,” the Jaffa answered, his dark eyes scanning the forest around them.

“What birds?” Sam queried as she approached the two.

“My point exactly.  I first noticed it in the village and now here in the forest as well, an unusual stillness.  There are no birds or any other animal life for that matter,” Teal'c stated.

~Dead trees, too,~ Jack pointed out to himself.  It gave the whole place an eerie feeling.  “So what happened to them?”

“I have no idea,” Daniel replied as the team continued their search for the cave of Morgan Le Fay.

====

“Here,” Teal'c called out a few minutes later.

“Yep, this is a cavern all right,” Jack agreed as he followed the Jaffa inside.  The group explored the cave for a few minutes, their flashlights acting as guides, lighting the way through the murkiness of the dark space.  Finally, Jack stated what everyone was thinking.  “There's nothing here.”

“Maybe it's the wrong cavern.  We should continue searching the area,” Daniel suggested.

“Well, it's getting dark out, Daniel.  We should head back for the village,” Sam opined.

“Carter's right,” Jack responded, motioning for the team to exit.

On the way back, Sam and Teal'c walked several yards in front of Jack and Daniel, giving the lovers a chance to chat quietly.

“You still think something's there?” Jack asked.

“Well, obviously, we didn't see anything in that cave, but it's a big planet, Jack.  Considering what we're looking for, I think it's prudent to be thorough.  Don't you?”

“Daniel, it took us hours to find that one cave.  I'm a little skeptical at how many more might be out there.”

“The town archives wouldn't write about Morgan Le Fay for no reason.”

“Okay, I'll give you that one,” Jack acquiesced.  “But, doesn't it make sense for the archives to talk about something local versus something that might be on the other side of the planet?”

“So you think it's nothing?”

“I didn't say that, Daniel.”

“When we get back to town, I'm going back to the archives.  There has to be something more there.”

“Whatever makes you happy.”

Suddenly, Jack felt eyes directed at him.  He turned and saw his soulmate's sweet smile.

**You make me happy, Jack.**

**Backatcha, Love.**  With his own adorable smile, Jack also promised, “We'll look some more tomorrow.”

“There has to be more than one cave,” Daniel maintained.

“That's why we'll keep looking,” Jack reiterated.

====

Late in the evening, Doctor Reimer, the head of the medical team sent to try to discover what had caused the deaths of the villagers, called out, “General, we're about done.”

“Okay, I'll get Daniel and we'll go back together,” Jack responded.  ~Maybe we can get in some snuggle time before breakfast.  He walked over to the archive building and smiled inwardly as he saw his soulmate pouring over a bunch of books and papers.  ~That's your passion, Danny.  I wish you could do this all the time, minus the fate of the galaxy depending on what you discover.~  Striding calmly over to the table, Jack greeted, “Hey.”

“Hey.”

“Red team's wrapping it up.  I figured we'd do the same.”

“This can't be a dead end, Jack,” a frustrated Daniel lamented.  “There has to be something here.”

“That's why I said we'd come back tomorrow.”  Jack watched as his husband removed his glasses, resting his hand against his face for several seconds and then rubbing his eyes.  Putting his hand on the archaeologist's shoulder, he quietly reminded, “Tomorrow.  I'll even help ya, if you want.”

Putting his glasses back on, Daniel looked up at his husband and smiled at the offer, knowing it would bore Jack stiff to be stuck in the archives, reading old books and documents all day long.

“Thanks, but you can guard the perimeter,” Daniel responded.  “And ... you're right.  A little sleep would be a good idea, and then I can get a fresh start in the morning.”

Daniel closed the book he'd been reading, picked up his P-90, and headed out the door with his soulmate.

“All right, kids, let's go home,” Jack ordered as all of SG-1 and the medical team gathered together on the street.

“Hang on a minute,” Grimsby of the Red team called out as he looked around. “Where's Ackerman?”

The group began to look around.  It wasn't long before Jack found the man sitting at a table inside one of the homes.

“Ackerman, we're outta here!” Jack ordered casually.  He groaned when he didn't get a reply.  “You medical guys have no stamina,” he complained as he walked over and nudged Ackerman.  He'd started to return to the door when he realized the man had fallen onto the floor.  ~Yep.  No stamina,~ Jack quipped, not yet sure if the man was dead or asleep.  He whistled and then yelled, “In here!”

Sprinting to his general's location and stopping next to Jack, Daniel stared at the man and inquired, “What's wrong with him?”

“Beats me.”

Sam and Reimer began to examine Ackerman, both concerned.

“What's the verdict?” Jack asked.

The colonel looked at Reimer and saw that he was as clueless as she was.

Then Reimer advised, “General, we can't go back to SGC.”

“He's right, Sir,” Sam concurred.  “Until we find out what's wrong with Ackerman, we can't risk bringing a contagion back to Earth.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jack sighed, knowing his 2IC was right but not liking it anyway.  ~There goes snuggling time with Danny.~

====

With Ackerman placed on one of the beds in the bedroom of the house, Reimer and his team conducted a more thorough examination.  In addition, he took blood samples from everyone as a precaution.

“He said he was tired,” Jack pointed out as SG-1 waited to find out the results of the examination.

“We all pull long shifts,” Daniel rebutted.  “We're all tired,” he added.  ~Of course, actually falling asleep on duty isn't normal.~

“It goes with the territory,” Sam agreed, knowing that this was headed towards being one of those very long shifts, especially since the late night was becoming the wee hours of the morning even as they discussed the situation.  “I'm going to see if they've made any progress.”

As Sam headed into the bedroom, Daniel put forth, “I have heard of people just collapsing from not getting any sleep.”

“You'd know,” Jack quipped as he paced the living room.

“The problem is that what's happened sort of makes sense.”  Daniel saw Jack's confused stare.  “Jack, these people died of something ... I don't know, but it's like most of them just went to sleep and ...”

“Well, Doctor Reimer says Ackerman's sound asleep,” Sam advised, unknowingly interrupting her teammates.

“He's taking a nap?” Jack asked incredulously.  ~This is definitely going down as one of the strangest missions ever.~  He just couldn't believe it.  “Couldn't he be in a coma, or something?”

At that point, Reimer entered the living room and explained that there was no way that Ackerman could be in a coma.  He was reacting to stimuli, but just wouldn't wake up.  He also informed them that everyone had an elevated white cell count and a marked increase in serotonin levels.

“Whatever it is, we've all been infected,” Reimer concluded grimly.

“You think this is the same thing that killed the villagers?” Sam queried.

“Let's just say that for the time being, I recommend we all try and stay awake for as long as possible.  If we fall asleep, we may never wake up,” Reimer answered.

“Sweet,” Jack lamented as he glanced over at Daniel, who had just closed his eyes upon hearing the news.  The general managed to resist the urge to nudge his lover, knowing he hadn't actually fallen asleep.  “I'm gonna get to the Gate and check in with Hammond; let him know what is happening.”

“I'm ... gonna go back to the archives.  Maybe there's something there that will help,” Daniel stated, trying not to sound as tired as he felt.

Jack nodded and ordered, “Carter, Teal'c, stay here with Reimer and try to figure this thing out.”  He also gave the Jaffa a silent order, one done before and given with just a look and a cock of his head.  In response, he saw Teal'c's usual nod of understanding.  ~Just look in on Danny for me from time to time.  I'm counting on you, T.~

====

It was early morning when Jack returned, bringing with him a crate sent through the Stargate from Janet Fraiser.  It included various pills, including caffeine ones, and coffee.  As he talked, and yawned, with the others, it became clear that everyone was more tired than normal, including Teal'c, who rarely showed symptoms of weariness.

“It has to be the infection,” Sam surmised.  “It doesn't just keep you from waking up, it makes you want to sleep in the first place.”

“Okay, then,” Jack said, offering pills to Teal'c, who refused, and then to Sam, who took them.  He sat down and, after swallowing the pills, asked, “Has Daniel been back?”

“Not yet, Sir,” Sam answered.

~I'm going to have to go get him after I get caught up here,~ Jack told himself.  “Give me a status report.”

“Since we started monitoring him, Ackerman has been in stage-four level of what they call delta sleep or slow wave sleep,” Reimer reported from behind his laptop.

“We also noted that his brain is producing a surprising amount of melatonin.  It's a hormone synthesized from serotonin, a sleep-inducing agent.  That's what's keeping him asleep,” Sam elaborated.

“So, all you've gotta do is figure out why his brain is producing melatonin,” Jack surmised.

“We're working on it,” Sam acknowledged.

Just then Daniel entered, carrying a large book with him.  He closed the door behind him and walked over to stand beside Sam.

“Daniel, I was just coming to see you,” Jack stated.

“Oh, well, now you don't have to,” Daniel chirped, though he wasn't near as chipper as he'd wanted to sound.

“What'd you find out?”

“Uh, a handwritten entry from the village doctor in which he mentions a sleeping sickness that affected the town.  Now he doesn't go into any great detail, but it does make mention of a possible source for what was happening -- Morgan Le Fay.  See, it seems the, uh, villagers believed she cursed them for revealing her whereabouts when King Arthur and his knights came looking for her.”

“So, did Arthur find her here?” Jack asked.

“Probably not.  If the villagers believed she cursed them, then it's more than likely she escaped.  In any case, we have to go back to that cave,” Daniel asserted.

Jack let out a groan and then agreed, “Okay, let's go.”

“Uh, actually, Jack, I think I should keep looking through the records.  There could be more information there,” Daniel suggested a bit sheepishly.

“Fine.  Frasier sent coffee.”

“Oh, good.  Thanks,” Daniel replied as he headed over to get a cup, or two or four or six.  ~I must really be tired; didn't even smell the aroma.~

With a grunt, Jack motioned to Sam and Teal'c, and shortly thereafter, the three left the house to return to the cave.

====

At the cavern, Sam took some soil samples at the request of Doctor Reimer and then began to scan the cave, eventually discovering a faint energy spike.  As she ran her hand along the wall, a small section began to depress, after which an entire part of the wall gave away, allowing entry to a long passageway.

“I guess Daniel was right after all,” Sam stated, blinking into the hidden passageway.

“Isn't he always?” Jack asked as he prepared to go inside and see what he could find.

Seeing Jack entering the passage, Teal'c wondered, “Would it not be prudent for one of us to return these samples to Doctor Reimer as quickly as possible?”

“I'll go,” Sam volunteered.

“We'll stay in radio contact,” Jack instructed.

====

Back at the home being used as a base camp of sorts, Sam took some pills and waited for Reimer to review the samples she'd brought back.  She also ordered Grimsby to check on Daniel and stay with him while he continued his search.

“I'll stay with Reimer,” the colonel had ordered, figuring it was a smart idea to stay in pairs.

Fairly quickly, Reimer discovered a dormant parasite which essentially awoke when put in contact with live tissue.

“I'll lay odds that's your culprit right there,” Reimer spoke.

“These people would have had no understanding of microbiology.  They probably came up with the story of Morgan's curse because they couldn't comprehend what was happening to them,” Sam expounded.

At that point, an exhausted Daniel returned, bringing with him a pile of books which he just dumped onto the table.  He hung his head, never recalling feeling this tired before in his life.

“Hey,” Sam greeted, looking beyond her friend and expecting to see the other member of the medical team.  “Where's Grimsby?” she asked cautiously.

The weary archaeologist answered, “He said he was on his way back.  He isn't here?”  He saw Sam shake her head.  “Oh no.”

Immediately, Daniel and Sam went in search of Grimsby, eventually finding him asleep in the forest a few minutes later.  Though the two were beyond tired, they worked together to carry the sleeping man back to the home, placing him on the floor in the corner, since there wasn't anywhere else to put him.  Then they received some startling news.  Ackerman was dead.

====

Having turned the bedroom into a makeshift hospital, Sam and Reimer performed an autopsy.  Once again, they were shocked at what they found.

“Morphology is identical to the parasite we found in the soil sample,” Sam observed.  ~This is bad, really bad.~

“Only it's grown a thousand times bigger,” Reimer pointed out.

====

Meanwhile, in the cave, Jack and Teal'c were searching for something, though they didn't really know what.  Both were greatly fatigued, but Jack was more exhausted than he could ever recall being.  In fact, he stopped, taking off his gloves.

~This is friggin' insane.  I can't even think I'm so tired,~ Jack bemoaned.

“O'Neill.”

The powerful voice of his friend broke Jack away from his lament, which was a good thing since the two heard a strange noise in the passageway.

“Let's go check that out,” Jack urged, pulling on all of his inner resources to take the next step and the one after it.

As he walked down a steep grade, Jack used his flashlight to see.  All of a sudden, he observed a four-legged reptilian creature crawling on the wall and then going through a small hole.

“Whoa!”

Moving towards the hole, Jack suddenly fell to his knees, unable to stop the enormous lethargy he felt wash over him.  He felt a tad better when he noticed Teal'c had also bent over and looked tired.

~Don't feel better, you dork,~ Jack lambasted himself.  ~One of us has to stay awake.~  Trying to refocus his mind on the creature and the sleeping sickness, he wondered how the reptile could be alive when everything else was dead.  ~Doesn't make sense.~

“It may possess a natural immunity to this mysterious affliction,” Teal'c supposed.

“Right.  We need that ... the, uh ... bug for some anti-venom type stuff,” Jack stated, his voice weakened by his condition.

“Indeed.”

Jack reached for his radio, barely managing to click the button, and called out, “Daniel?  Carter?  Anyone?”

Hearing nothing but static, Teal'c concluded, “We have progressed too far within the cave system.”

“Yes, we have,” Jack agreed.  “All right, let's go Reptilan hunting and then we'll contact Daniel and Carter when we get back up to the surface.”  Silently, he prayed, ~Geez, Danny.  I hope you're managing to stay awake.~

====

Returning from having done more research in the archives, Daniel plopped down into a chair next to the door and listened as a raspy-toned Sam and Reimer explained their theory.  The two believed that when the parasite entered the bloodstream, it triggered the body's immune response and the production of serotonin, after which it made its way to the patient's brain where it lodged and fed on melatonin.

“It stimulates the production of melatonin which floods the body; that's why the urge to sleep is so powerful,” Sam told Daniel.  “Once you give in, the parasite just keeps on feeding until ...”  She paused, looking at her friend, who motioned for her to continue with the explanation.  “The engorged parasite affects the surrounding cranial tissue, eventually provoking a lethal aneurysm, *but* ... we're thinking that it may be possible to starve out the parasite.  So, to that end, we have isolated a specimen that we awakened from a dormant state.”

Daniel could barely keep his eyes open.  Inwardly, he worried about his husband.  He hadn't heard from him in hours.  The burden of concern just added to his weariness.

Sam also showed signs of the strain and not just in her voice.  She was having a hard time holding her head up and even her techno-speak wasn't filled with its normal excitement.

However, both teammates were jarred from their sedentary ways of the moment when Reimer suffered a heart attack.  Daniel ran for the defibrillator, almost dropping it in his haste.  Urgently, he placed the lifesaving equipment down by Sam, who turned it on and began to apply it to Reimer's chest.  The attempts proved to be fruitless.

“Sam, he's dead.”

The blonde became emotional, in part from her sleepiness.  She wanted to try to revive Reimer one more time, but she didn't have the strength to make the attempt.

“Why would he have a heart attack?” Sam questioned urgently.

“Maybe it's the strain, Sam.”

Uncertain of the answer and beginning to wonder if she'd ever see home again, Sam closed the defibrillator and put it back with the other equipment, while Daniel moved Reimer's body into the bedroom and then covered it up reverently.

====

A bit later, Daniel was leaning over a book with his elbow resting on the table, propping up his head.  Although he was still awake, his eyes were closed, sleep being ever so close.

Daniel's mind was full of color, unlike the dreariness of Vagon Brei.  He saw the vivid hue of burgundy, which always added to his husband's handsome physique.  He saw the smooth shade of silver, his lover's hair that made him look so sophisticated and full of wisdom's grace.  The silver matched Daniel's sports car, and he pictured them now, out for a drive, seeing the pure blue skies and green meadows of Colorado Springs racing by.

The visions in his almost dream were complete with the color of life, of happiness and joy, and of playfulness with two very adventurous beagles.  It was fun.  In another moment, he could touch it.

“Daniel!” Sam exclaimed as she approached after having gone to check on Grimsby.

The sound of Sam's voice caused the archaeologist to rouse a bit, his head rising from his hand.

Walking over to her friend, Sam ordered, “You can't fall asleep.  Do you hear me?”

Sam placed her hand supportively on Daniel's back, gliding it all along the back from the left to the right side, keeping her hand steady there for several seconds.

“Yeah,”  Daniel sighed and then reached for the pill bottle, the actual coffee long gone.

Quickly, Sam grabbed the bottle, taking it out of Daniel's hand as she explained, “Uh, we can't take any more of these, either.  With our serotonin and melatonin levels spiking, it's too dangerous.”  More softly, she added, “We're going to have to rely on each other, all right?”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed with a sigh, feeling Sam squeeze his shoulder for a minute returning before sitting down by her laptop.  **Jack, can you hear me?**

This wasn't the first time Daniel had tried to communicate with his lover.  Of course, the two never knew when their special way of talking would work, especially when on a strange planet and separated by distance.  Still, sometimes it did work and that's why he had to try now.  Though Jack was full of bravado, Daniel sensed that his Love was having a difficult time staying awake.  He wished they were together and considered trying to find him.  After all, Jack and Teal'c had been gone for hours now.

~I should have gone with him to the cave,~ Daniel lamented.  He glanced at Sam and quickly realized that she'd be alone if he weren't here now.  ~I need Jack, but I can't leave Sam by herself.~

====

A little while later, Sam had gotten up to go to the bathroom.  When she returned, she walked around the living room and eventually sank down to the floor.  She  just needed a moment to feel something different on her bottom other than that wooden chair she'd been sitting on for hours on end.  It was a slight, albeit a minute one, change of scenery as well.

“Sam?” Daniel asked out of concern as he twisted around in his chair.

“Just resting,” Sam responded with a smile.

Daniel thought for a moment and then stood.  He ambled over and sat down next to the blonde, the two of them leaning against the side of the house.

“Nice wall,” Daniel teased.

Sam laughed, her crystal blue eyes showing the weakness of her body which she was trying to cover up.

“I'm thinking of having the Asgard beam it up and put it in my backyard,” Sam joked in reply.

“Actually, Jack and I, we ... sit and talk like this a lot.”

“Closer to the ground, closer to ... reality?” Sam guessed.

“I have no idea,” Daniel mused, his head bowing as he smiled.  “It just ... feels right.”

Silence loomed for several seconds and then Sam looked over at Daniel and surprised him by saying, “The last several years have been fun because of you, Daniel.”

“Fun?”

“Sure,” Sam affirmed pleasantly as she smiled.  “Watching you frustrate the general, giving him orders while not taking his -- fun.”

“I'm ... not sure Jack would agree with you.”

“I think he would,” Sam insisted a bit dreamily as her head leaned a bit towards Daniel from the sluggishness she felt.  “We're all better because of you.”

“Hey.”  Daniel reached out, his arm going around Sam's shoulder as she fell into his hold.  It was an uncharacteristic move and a very unusual position for the two to be in.  “We're not going to die here, Sam.”

“Of course not,” Sam agreed.  “We're SG-1.”

“Do you ever think we take that too seriously and sort of ... I don't know ... take it for granted?”

“It's our shield,” Sam conjectured, shrugging weakly.

Contemplatively, Daniel nodded.  The team had been through just about everything imaginable since 1997.  They'd laughed in the face of danger and been nonplussed by their adversaries.

“I hope it lasts,” the archaeologist whispered.

“The Ori,” Sam stated succinctly.  “Daniel, if you hadn't warned us and pushed us into action, we'd be in a worse situation today.  We have a chance because you insisted we take action.”

“I'm not sure about that,” Daniel disputed, rubbing one hand over his face.

“I am.”  Sam took a breath and looked over at the table and her laptop.  “I'd better get back to work.”

“Sam?”

“Hmm?” the colonel questioned as she leaned forward, about to get back onto her feet.

“This is ... one of those cliché things, but ... thanks for being my friend.  I ... count on you.”

Sam smiled brightly and leaned forward, giving Daniel a kiss on the cheek, after which she replied, “I count on you, too, Daniel.”

Feeling momentarily invigorated, Sam jumped up and returned to her laptop to see if she could figure out a solution to the parasite problem.

Daniel remained in his spot for a minute more before rising and going back to the table where he continued his own research about the town and Morgan Le Fay.

====

Approaching the reptile, Jack watched it curiously, seeing it go from rock to rock, until suddenly it stopped and stared at him.

“Easy, fella.  I've never met a reptile I didn't like,” Jack told the creature.  He moved slowly towards it.  “Don't worry.  I'm not going to hurt you.”

Jack pounced on the reptile, but it got away from him, escaping into Teal'c's aptly placed jacket.  Immediately, Teal'c picked it up and nestled it to his chest.

“I have it, O'Neill,” Teal'c proclaimed, still wrestling with the large carnivore.

“Way to go, T,” Jack responded, his voice almost a whisper because he was so tired.  He tried to get up, but found he couldn't.  “Teal'c, get that ... get it back to Carter.”

“I will not leave you, O'Neill.”

“I'll be fine,” Jack refuted.  “I'll wait he...here for you.”

“I will carry you if I must,” the Jaffa insisted, determined to not let his friend down.

“Teal'c, Junior's gone.  Tretonin only goes so far.  You're affected.  Think ... big picture,” Jack urged, tiredness infusing his bones as his mind tried to cloud over in sleep.

“I will return for you,” Teal'c promised.

“And I'll be right here ... waiting for ... you.”  With Teal'c gone, Jack closed his eyes, his mind drifting.  **Danny?  Danny, Love, you're so beautiful.  Let's go to bed.**

Jack had never had a problem staying awake on prolonged missions.  He'd done it numerous times during his career.  He tried now to figure out how long he'd been awake now.

~Twelve, no, more than a day.  Twenty-four?  That's a day, idiot.  Thirty ... thirty-six maybe.  Have to stay awake.  Need to go to bed with Danny.~

Jack shifted, his face skirting the dirt of the cave.  With the sudden awareness he'd just taken in some dirt, he spit it out.

~That's not Danny.~

Determined not to fall asleep, the general focused on counting the blessings of Daniel's body.

~Slender fingers, silky hair, big ... big, big, big ...~

A smile on his face, Jack continued his silent enumeration of all things wonderful about Daniel Jackson-O'Neill.

===

In the village, Sam stood, wanting to walk around the room just to keep herself awake, only she couldn't make it.  She collapsed to the floor, her body giving out on her.

“Sam!  Sam!” Daniel called out as he hurried to her side, grabbing his friend and helping her to sit up against the table as he crouched down in front of her.

“I can't do it anymore,” Sam replied weakly.

“You have to,” Daniel urged.  “You gotta hang in there just a little while longer.”

Sam closed her eyes and Daniel plopped down to the floor, leaning back against the other table.  He, too, closed his eyes, unable to continue the battle.

~Jack; can't stay awake.  Sor...sorry.  I love you, my Silver Fox.~

Just then, a man in hazmat gear entered, calling out to his team, “In here!”  He hurried over to SG-1.  “Doctor Jackson, Colonel Carter, where's the rest of your team?”

The words barely resonated within Daniel, but they did, and he managed to respond, “Reimer and Ackerman are dead.  Grimsby's ... he's over ... over there.  Teal'c and Jack went to the caves.”

Before he could answer in more detail, Daniel fell asleep.

With Daniel, Sam, and Grimsby placed in isolation pods and taken safely back to Stargate Command, the hazmat team went in search of the other team members and finally found Teal'c just outside the cave.  Noticing the reptile and guessing at its importance, the team also tended to it.  After locating Jack, the two teammates were  returned to the SGC in isolation pods.

====

As a new day dawned, Janet Fraiser tended to SG-1.  Her research team was working vigilantly on finding a cure for the sleeping sickness.  Finally, using the reptile Jack and Teal'c had secured on the planet along with the research that Sam and Reimer had done on Vagon Brei, the research personnel were able to produce a serum that isolated the parasite and essentially starved it out.

Janet injected Jack with the serum and monitored his reaction closely.  She did the same with Daniel, Sam, and Teal'c.  From then on, it was a waiting game.

--

“Daniel,” Jack whispered.

“General.  General O'Neill, can you hear me?” the petite physician queried.

Jack focused in on the redhead and worked hard to form the word he needed to say, but he was still too weak.

“Sir, your team is here.  I fully expect all of you to make a speedy recovery.  You'll feel better in a few hours and, if all goes well, back on duty in two days.”

Janet observed a more peaceful look on Jack's face.  She walked over to Daniel, who was in his customary bed at the end of the infirmary.  She was certain he'd awake at any moment, which he did.

The archaeologist let out breath, his head turning from side to side as he transitioned from an unconscious to conscious state.

“J'ck.”

Janet smiled, putting down her patient's chart, and leaning over a bit to say, “Daniel, it's Janet.”  She waited for the eyelid flutter to cease and then said, “He's fine.  Everyone is waking up now.”

“J'ck?” Daniel repeated, having not been cognizant enough to make out all of what Janet had said.

“He's perfectly okay.  Go back to sleep for a while.”

~Jack's okay.  Love Jack.~

Janet ran her hand gently along Daniel's arm, seeing his relief as well.  It had been a very long morning that had begun just after midnight.  Still, her day wouldn't end until she had SG-1 up on their feet, which she anticipated would be that evening.  With Jack and Daniel rousing, Janet turned her attention to Sam and Teal'c.

====

The next time Daniel woke, his husband was staring down at him.

“Hey.”

“Jack.”

“How do ya feel?” the general questioned.

“Like I've been asleep for a year,” Daniel sighed.  “Are you okay?”

“Fit as a ...”

“General!” Little Napoleon chastised as she hastened her step to reach Daniel's bed.  “I can get a needle, if necessary,” motioning to the hospital bed on which she expected Jack to be resting.

“Listen to her,” Jack began.  “She doesn't even give complete threats anymore.”  Seeing Janet pulling out a needle from her white medical garb, he raised his hands and said, “Going!”  He smiled back at his lover and communicated, **Love you, Angel.**

**Love you, too.**

====

For the first time in days, SG-1 gathered in Sam's lab, all now recovered and cleared for duty.  They were each drinking coffee and taking a final moment to recount the horrors of Vagon Brei.

“I kept dreaming about really big bugs,” Jack stated.  “I was their dinner,” he related with a shudder.

“What about you?” Daniel asked Sam.  “Any hallucinations?”

“Yeah,” Sam affirmed.  “When they put me in the pod, I imagined I was being put in a coffin.  I thought I was being buried alive.”

“I regret that the we did not find anything of consequence in the cave, DanielJackson,” Teal'c stated.

“I wouldn't say that, exactly,” Daniel refuted.  “I did find one reference in that library that might prove to be useful -- Atlantis.”

“You think the location of Merlin's weapon is hidden in their database?” Sam asked and then sipped her coffee.

“I think it's worth checking out.”

“The Daedalus is still on the way, Daniel.  They haven't sold our tickets,” Jack teased.  He looked at Sam and asked, “How's that idea coming?”

Sam coughed, “Actually, Sir, it's a dead end.”

“How come?” Daniel inquired.

“Well, when I went deeper into the notes from the alternate reality, my idea was there.”

“Didn't work?” Jack questioned.

“No,” Sam sighed.  “It was pretty much of a disaster.”  Perkily, she added, “I do have another idea, though.”  Facing the archaeologist, she elaborated, “It involves Merlin's device.”

“Really?”

“I figure if we can control the phasing process, we might be able to use it as a defensive weapon.  I should know if it has a chance to work soon; I think it's important.”

“Sam?” Daniel asked, seeing something in his friend's demeanor.

“The trip to Atlantis,” Sam began.  “I'm not sure I should go.  I feel like I could do more here, working on the technology we have.”

“It is a long trip,” Jack remarked.

“I agree with ColonelCarter,” Teal'c stated.

“Okay, you and Carter stay here, and Daniel and I will go make happy with the Atlantis database,” Jack ordered.

“Jack ...”

“You're not going alone, Daniel,” Jack interrupted.  He glanced at his watch and announced, “Reunion time is over.  Back to work.”

====

A few hours later, Jack went in search of his missing husband, who wasn't anywhere to be found.  The general checked with the security gates and the rest of his team.  Daniel hadn't checked out, nor had he talked to Sam and Teal'c since their reunion meeting that morning.

There was only one more place to look, that special place atop the Mountain.  That was where Daniel had found Jack not too long ago.  Now it was Jack's turn to seek out his lover, which was exactly what he did.

As he emerged from the emergency shaft, Jack sighed, “Oh, crap.”  A light snow was falling, and it was freezing cold.  ~I'm guessing he didn't bring a jacket with him, either.~

Buttoning his BDU jacket and lifting up the collar to provide at least a minimum allusion of warmth, Jack trod through the white covering on the Mountain until he caught sight of Daniel, leaning against a tree, his arms folded across his chest and his head bowed.

~Something's definitely wrong.~

The general continued walking, not stopping until he stood right in front of his lover.

“Hey.”

“Why is it, Jack, that some things are just ... never meant to be?” Daniel asked with a quiet voice.

“Fate's a fickle lady, but what is it that isn't meant to be?”

Daniel closed his eyes for a second and let out a sigh before answering, “The alternate ... me included notes from Atlantis.  That SG-1 actually hadn't been there yet, I mean, when we were all there the first time, but when the plague hit here and you went back and got his notes?  They'd just come back about a week before that.”  He looked away, shaking his head from the internal sadness he felt. “Morgan Le Fay pretended to ... to be the ancient database.”

“Huh?  What?” a confused Jack questioned.

“She wanted to help.  She gave Daniel the modern names for Castania and Sahal, Taoth Vaclarush and Valos Cor, which allowed him to find their coordinates.”

“Wait,” Jack interrupted.  “So Morgan *is* an ascended being?”

“Apparently, and she did try to help more, but all she could say was, 'Merlin's weapon is not ...' and then the Others ...”

“... snatched her away?” Jack concluded, knowing the Ancients were also fickle people.

“Yeah,” Daniel affirmed.

“Maybe you should verify the information,” Jack suggested.  “The Daedalus will be here tomorrow.”

Daniel smiled as he looked into the eyes of his lover.  He reached out and caressed Jack's check.

“Thank you, Jack, but we don't have time for sentiment.  The Ori are too close to taking over the Milky Way.  Even if we return through the Stargate from Atlantis, we're still talking a three-week trip to get there.  We just ... can't afford that.  I have the information and I think we should give it to General Hammond tonight so that we can see schedule recons right away.”

“I'm sorry, Danny.”

“Me, too, but there's something else I am.”

“What's that?”

“I'm cold.  I'm so cold, Jack.”

Incredibly, as the lovers had done so often, they risked everything.  Freezing cold or not, they satisfied each other's needs in the snow on Cheyenne Mountain, the touches of their hands and lips taking each from the bitter reality of both the war with the Ori and the cruelty of the Fates that had once again intervened in the archaeologist's quest to see Atlantis.

====

Shortly before midnight, Jack left his quarters and went to his office.  He'd gotten a couple of hours of sleep, but something was weighing on his mind.

With just the desk light on in his office, the general logged in to a secure system and began to study the accumulated data on his topic of interest.  He read every line of every report, whether it was good or bad, and then he opened up various personnel files.

When he was done, Jack stood up and walked around his office, stopping at a small globe that was on his shelf.  Smiling, he spun it around, the world twirling around on its pedestal.

“Screw the Fates.”

His decision made, Jack headed for the commissary.  Night had turned to day, and it was time for breakfast and the next challenging blow from the Ori.

====

Later that day, Daniel knocked on the door of Hammond's office.  His head was down and he didn't immediately notice that Jack was sitting in one of the chairs in front of Hammond's desk.

“Oh, was I ... interrupting?”

“Not at all,” Hammond responded, waving to the other chair across from him.

Holding out a report he'd prepared and dropping it on the base commander's desk, Daniel advised, “It looks like we're striking out on Castiana and Sahal, or rather, Taoth Vaclarush and Valos Cor.”

“Explain,” Hammond requested while opening the file the Head of Archaeology had given him.

“The toxic atmosphere on Castiana is impeding the process of the search team.  They're having to,” Daniel took a deep breath, “move slowly.  Now we did find evidence of stone structures on Sahal, but they appear to have been abandoned over 40,000 years ago, which means we've pretty much got ...”

“Nothing?” Jack deduced from the information he'd just heard and the look on his partner's face.

“I keep thinking about something in the notes of the Daniel from the alternate reality.  Morgan Le Fay tried to tell him something, but then she was spirited away by the Others.”

“What was it?” Hammond inquired.

Shaking his head, Daniel shrugged as he answered, “She said, 'Merlin's weapon is not' and then she was gone.”

“Not what?” Jack queried.

“That's the question.”  Raising his hand to his chin and pressing a finger there for a minute, Daniel continued, “General, it might be a good idea to go back to Camelot.  The answer has to be in Merlin's library.”

“Sir,” Jack spoke up before Hammond could respond.  “Carter's working on converting that phase shifting doohickey of Merlin's and Teal'c's anxious to check in with Bra'tac.  How about I accompany Daniel to Camelot?”

Hammond nodded and ordered, “Leave at will.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Daniel stated, turning and leaving the office.

“Are we ...” Jack began, wanting to know if the meeting between the generals was done for now.

“Jack, we'll open the Gate for a report every six hours,” Hammond ordered.  “These reports,” he pointed to mission reports the two had been discussing prior to Daniel's entrance, “are disturbing.  We need a win.”

“Yes, Sir.”

====

“Woof!”

Daniel laughed through the phone at the playful barks he was hearing on the other end of the line.

“We have to go ... out of town today.  I wish we could come home and see you, but ... we love you.  Be good for Mrs. Valissi,” Daniel requested of the beagles.

Happy 'woofs' of acknowledgement came over the phone.

“Okay, well ...” Seeing his Love enter, Daniel interrupted his goodbye and advised, “Girls, Jack just walked in.”

“Woooof!”

With a smile, Jack leaned in between the phone and Daniel's ear and called out, “When we get home, it's gonna be a full day of playing in the sandbox and wrestling.”

More barks came in response.

Jack laughed and then his smile faded as he concluded, “I miss you both.”

Daniel looked back as Jack straightened and walked away from the desk, his face shielded from the archaeologist.

“We love you girls.”  Daniel took a resigned breath and spoke more strongly into the phone.  “Mrs. Valissi?”

“Daniel, you should see your girls.  They're so happy you called.  They're running around like wildfire.”

Daniel smiled and replied, “Thank you so much for spending time with them.  Uh, we have to go so ...”

“Don't worry about Bijou and Katie.  Andie and I are taking good care of them,” the senior citizen assured as she referred to the beagles and her own dog.

“Bye.”

Hearing Daniel hang up the phone, Jack turned around and asked, “Ready to go?”

His lover was wearing a mask, one that didn't want to show his vulnerability over a brief conversation with a couple of dogs.  Daniel smiled as he stood up and walked around his desk.

“They're safe, Jack.  That's the important thing.”

“They're going to stay safe, too, Danny, because you're going to find what we need in that little playpen of Merlin's, and then we're gonna make the Ori wish they'd never even heard of us.”

With the security systems on and the sounds of personnel outside in the corridor, Daniel mouthed, 'I love you.'

“Backatcha,” the older man responded verbally.

====

“Shoulda brought a game boy,” Jack groused from his chair in Merlin's library.

“What?” Daniel asked from the table where he had his nose into multiple tomes of Merlin.

“Nothing.”

Jack and Daniel had been on Camelot for a day now, and while the older man had thought they might have a few hours to enjoy being off-world together, he'd quickly learned that his expert in ancient times intended to spend every waking moment ensconced in his research, and he had.  What's more, when it came time to sleep, that's exactly what Daniel had done, although he'd at least rested beside his husband.

“Shoulda brought Froot Loops,” Jack lamented, trying to get more comfortable in his chair.

“What?”

Jack stared over at his Love, who hadn't even glanced back at him.

“I said my sex change operation is scheduled for this afternoon.  Do you think I should get boobs like Dolly?”

“Whatever you want, Jack,” Daniel replied mindlessly.

Jack stared down at his chest and shook his head as he opined, “Nah.  Too much chest hair.”

====

The silver-haired man sighed, “Copy that, General,” and looked back toward the library.  He'd just received some not-so-good news and now he had to go and end his lover's fun.  He knew Daniel was frustrated by not having come up with anything solid to help find the weapon, but at the same time, the archaeologist was immersed in ancient research, and that was something that brought joy to his spirit.  ~Sorry, Danny.  Back to work.~

====

Having heard the rumors that the Orici was going to speak on a medieval planet, Hammond recalled Jack and Daniel and ordered SG-1 to go undercover to investigate the claims.  They arrived early enough to blend in with the crowd and watched curiously as a prior appeared on a balcony and began to speak.

“Mark this day, for the darkness of your world has been lifted so the light of Origin may shine upon it,” the prior spoke as SG-1 took note of the crowd's joyful reaction to the words.  “You have cast aside the shackles of the past to welcome a brighter future.  Now, hear the words of the Orici.”

A young, slender woman looking to be in her early to mid-twenties walked gracefully onto the balcony.  She had a strong, authoritative demeanor about her as she looked out over the villagers.  Her strapless dress and decorative pendant that she wore around her neck highlighted her beauty.

“Add twenty years, a few wrinkles, and a bit more bust, and I suppose that could be Vala,” Jack opined snarkily as he observed the woman.

“Dark hair, independent,” Sam added as the team continued to observe.

“Well, we know Vala gave birth to the Orici, and that the Orici's name is Adria, so if that's the Orici, she's Adria,” Daniel deduced.

“The unbelievers amongst you sought to hinder our message.  They took up arms in an attempt to suppress the truth, but they failed and were vanquished; a reminder to all that Origin cannot be extinguished.  It will flourish throughout this world and countless others,” Adria orated to the Ori followers, who were cheering.  Appearing to become aware of something, she held up her hand to silence the crowd and then quickly concluded her remarks.  “The believers amongst you have been richly rewarded -- with truth, with Origin.  It is now up to you to help others see as you have seen, to spread the message by joining the armies of the Ori.”

Saying something to the prior, Adria then disappeared inside the building.

“Well, that was ... enlightening,” Daniel quipped.

“Did you see that look on her face, right before she finished her big pow wow?” Jack asked, still looking at the archway the Orici had left through.

“Yes, Sir,” Sam replied.

“It was like she sensed something,” Daniel put forth.

“Like what?” the general questioned.

“Well ...”

All of a sudden, SG-1 was beamed away from the village and onto the bridge of the Odyssey.

“What happened?” a surprised Jack examined Colonel Paul Emerson, commander of the Odyssey.

“That's what we're trying to figure out,” Emerson answered.

“Sir, I'm not picking up any life signs on the planet,” Major Marks reported.

The team was stunned by the statement.  Verification of the scan, however, showed that thousands of occupants of the planet below were now dead.   It had begun with a wave of radiation which had emanated from the Stargate and then spread over the entire surface of the planet before breaking up.

An on-site investigation further discovered that whatever the destructive element was that entered the planet's environment, it had targeted only living tissue.

====

A bit later, Jack exited his quarters on the Odyssey at the same time as Daniel walked out of his.

“Seen Teal'c?” Jack asked.

“No,” Daniel sighed.  “I think he's drawn the same conclusion that we have.  I mean, there's only one thing we know of that can do that kind of damage.”

“Hammond's not happy,” Jack advised.

“I'm not particularly thrilled about it myself.”

The lovers made their way to the bridge and were soon joined by Sam and Teal'c.

“Sir, we have Stargate Command,” Marks announced.

Pressing a button, Emerson stated, “Stargate Command, this is Colonel Emerson.”

“Colonel, this is General Hammond.  We've confirmed from Master Bra'tac that the Jaffa used the weapon on Dakara to destroy that planet.”

Jack looked over at Teal'c, whose head bowed just slightly as he struggled to retain his honor.

“According to Bra'tac, the Jaffa believe that using the Ancients' device is their only hope of defeating the Ori,” Hammond continued.  “He's blaming this on their new leader, Se'tak.  I have advised Bra'tac that this command frowns on mass murder.”  The lieutenant general paused.  “Colonel, be careful.  This Se'tak sounds like a bit of a rebel.  I don't want to lose anyone because of a hot head.”

“Understood.  Odyssey out.”

As the team stood together, Teal'c expressed quietly, “I am ashamed that my brothers have utilized these methods.”

“They're desperate,” Jack attempted to rationalize.  ~He didn't have anything to do with it, so why should we make him feel bad.~

“There is no honor.  Freedom without honor is meaningless,” Teal'c asserted.

“We can't change what's done, Teal'c,” Daniel interjected.

“Besides, we still have an opportunity here,” Jack stated.

“We've got an Ori ship sitting on the ground, unmanned and unguarded,” Sam elaborated for her CO.

“We must act quickly,” Teal'c stated, needing to salvage something from the dishonor served upon him by his people.  “The Jaffa will also try to seize the ship.”

====

“We already have an idea of what's where, thanks to Daniel's drawings,” Sam stated as the team boarded the Ori vessel.

“Let's check it out,” Jack ordered as the team moved out.

For the next while, SG-1 walked the Ori ship, using Daniel's sketches as reference points.

“Whoa!” Jack exclaimed as he looked inside a room.  “Daniel, this wasn't on your map.”

“I didn't see the entire ship, Jack,” the younger man returned dryly.

“Indeed,” Teal'c stated, almost in awe of the multi-story chamber.  In the middle of the room was a tall structure with a white glowing ball at its center.

Sam surmised that the room was a power generation chamber, making it the perfect place in Jack's estimation to plant some C-4 explosives.  If the team wasn't able to fly the ship and take possession of it, they could always blow it up.

“Carter, you and Daniel find the bridge.  We'll meet you there when we're done planting the C-4,” Jack ordered as he and Teal'c took the walkway that went towards the center of the generator to affix the explosive blocks.

====

“I take it you didn't see the bridge, either,” Sam remarked when she and Daniel observed the area.

“Uh ... no,” Daniel responded as he walked around the bridge.

The teammates immediately noted the presence of a chair and command interface that was very much like the weapons platform in Antarctica, something that made perfect sense to Daniel since it was based on technology from the Ancients.

As she reviewed the chair while reporting to Jack over the radio, Sam concluded, “I think the ship is driven by the priors, which unfortunately means that the chair is keyed to their unique brain physiology.”

Sam's conversation with her CO was interrupted somewhat when Jack and Teal'c found themselves facing off against a group of Jaffa who had plans for the Ori ship themselves.  Led by a warrior named Bo'rel, the Jaffa surprised the teammates as they'd been walking towards the bridge.

“Sir, what's going on?” Sam questioned over the radio.

“Just a little misunderstanding, Carter,” Jack responded calmly, staring down at the zat aimed to his chest.

“There is no misunderstanding,” Bo'rel refuted.  “We achieved this victory; therefore we claim the spoils.”

“What you have done is sacrifice the lives of thousands of innocents,” Teal'c returned.

Bo'rel wasn't moved, which pretty much meant that Jack and Teal'c had just become his prisoners.

====

On the bridge, Daniel told Sam he was going to see if he could assist Jack and Teal'c.

“Will you be okay?” the archaeologist questioned.

“Of course,” Sam assured confidently.  “I have plenty to do here.  I want to see if I can get anything to work.”  As her friend headed away, she called out, “Daniel?” When he turned back, she smiled and urged, “Be careful.”

With a small smile, Daniel nodded and exited the bridge.

====

As Sam sought to figure out how to control the Ori vessel, she hit a button that caused the lights to dim.

Jack and Teal'c used this as a distraction to try to get away from Bo'rel and his men.  Unfortunately, it didn't work, and Jack took a zat blast in the process and eventually Teal'c was also overcome.

Worse, Sam contacted the Odyssey to request beam out of her team, only to discover that the U.S. ship wasn't able to get a lock on them.  The signal degradation was too low to achieve a successful beam-out.

“Guys, we've got a problem,” Sam advised over the radio, hoping that all three of her teammates could hear her.  “The Odyssey can't beam us out.”

“Why not?” Daniel asked over the radio, ducking into a chamber room where he was sure no one would detect his presence.

“Well, I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I think I may have activated the shields,” Sam admitted.

“Can you reverse it?”

“I can try.”

~Trying is good,~ the archaeologist thought as he went on the move again, searching for his lover.

====

After three Goa'uld ha'taks approached the area, the Odyssey moved out of range to avoid detection and to make repairs, leaving SG-1 on the Ori vessel with the Jaffa.

As Sam continued to do what she could on the bridge, Bo'rel was questioning Jack and Teal'c, wanting to know where the rest of the team was.  Naturally, neither man was forthcoming, so finally Bo'rel took hold of Jack's radio and sent out a message.

“My name is Bo'rel.  My brothers and I have taken this ship in the name of all free Jaffa.  We have Teal'c and General O'Neill in custody.  Surrender now and no harm will come to them.  If you do not identify yourselves immediately, we will have no choice but to assume your intentions are hostile, in which case we will deal with the prisoners harshly.”  Not getting a response, he spoke defiantly.  “So be it.”

Daniel's heart dropped, which was physically impossible, but something he was certain had happened anyway.  He still hadn't found his teammates as he ducked into one of the rooms.  The silence over the radio was deafening, especially when he heard a small sound, like a weapon being whisked through the air.  He had to do something fast or he feared his Heart, and his heart, would both stop beating.

“Bo'rel, this is Daniel Jackson of Stargate Command.  Listen, there's no reason we should be fighting each other.  We should be working together.”

“I'm afraid that would not be possible,” Bo'rel replied.

“Look, we're dealing with some very advanced technology, and we have some experience that might be useful,” Daniel spoke anxiously.

“You doubt our ability to fly this ship?” Bor'el accused incredulously.

“I'm just saying there's not a lot of time and it would be in everyone's best interest if we pool our resources,” Daniel explained.  ~It's common sense.  Teal'c gets it; why can't you?~

“My orders are to take this ship and all on board.  You will reveal your location to me now.”

Hearing that same whisking sound through the air, Daniel turned and saw Jaffa aiming their staff weapons at him.

Dejectedly, Daniel responded into the radio, “That won't be necessary.”  With his hands atop his head, he tried to plead with the Jaffa.  “You're making a big mistake.  More Ori ships will be here soon.”

“Then they will suffer the same fate,” the Jaffa responded.

“I think not.”

Daniel was stunned.  Standing just a few feet away from him was the Orici.  He watched as she began choking the Jaffa and then lifted them in the air.  Suddenly, they fell, unconscious, to the floor.

“You have telekinetic powers,” Daniel surmised.  ~What am I doing trying to talk to her?~

The archaeologist knelt down and grabbed one of the Jaffa zats.  As he aimed it at Adria, it was pulled from his hands.  At the same time, she levitated a staff weapon and pointed it at Daniel.

~Can't ... breathe,~ Daniel realized, grabbing his throat just as the Jaffa had done a minute before.

“No, I won't kill you,” Adria stated, the weapon dropping just as Daniel began to take in air again.  For some reason, she was attracted to this man and she'd decided to spare him, at least for the moment.  “Do you know who I am?”

“The Orici,” Daniel answered, his hands still on his throat.  “Actually, more of a dictator and a pain in the mikta.  In other words, you force yourself on others.”

“They need me.”

“I don't think so.”

“They look to me for guidance, for protection, and for answers,” Adria insisted.

Daniel just rolled his eyes, preparing himself internally to battle whatever torture might be in his future.  He just hoped his lover and teammates were having better luck.

“You were in the village.  Who was with you?”

“Just me, myself, and I,” Daniel lied.  ~That would be three of me.  Jack would have a headache.~

Walking closer, Adria demanded, “Tell me what happened to my people here on this planet.”

~No, I don't think so,~ the scientist determined silently.

Adria's facial expression become even stronger as she bore into Daniel's mind, seeking the information she wanted.

~No.  Daniel.  You can't find out about that.  Jackson.  No way.  I've been through worse.  Focus.  Basic archaeology tools:  trowel, flag tape, soil ...~

Within seconds, a frustrated Adria released her hold, saying, “You have a strong mind, Daniel Jackson.”

“Apparently not strong enough,” Daniel gasped as he tried to regain a normal breathing rhythm.  “You look ... alive.  How'd you survive ... whatever it was that ... happened to the people of this world?”

Touching the large pendant on the necklace she wore, Adria answered, “I was saved by this.  It holds a piece of the holy city of Celestis.  It protects me; keeps me safe.”

“Lucky for us,” Daniel replied sarcastically, something that visibly upset the Orici. ~I can't believe she answered my question.  We have to get that pendant from her.~

Before the discussion could go forward, the lights of the ship dimmed.  Unknown to Daniel, Sam had managed to cut off the ship's power and then she'd left the bridge, taking the prior's staff that had been on the bridge with her as she attempted to assist her teammates.

====

Fairly quickly, Sam was able get the drop on Bo'rel and his Jaffa, allowing SG-1 to overtake the group.

At the same time, Adria probed the mind of one of the Jaffa she'd previously knocked unconscious.  From him, she learned about the powerful weapon on Dakara that was able to send out the killing poison.  Having gotten the information she wanted, she tilted her head.

Daniel's eyes widened as he saw the Jaffa's neck break.

~This isn't good.~

====

As SG-1, minus their archaeologist, walked swiftly through the corridor using their flashlights to see, Sam brought her CO up to speed.

“I don't know where Daniel is, General,” Sam mentioned as she continued her oral report.  “He left the bridge quite a while before I did.”

“Why?” Jack questioned.

“To rescue you and Teal'c,” Sam answered with a wry smile.

“Of course he did.”  Clicking his radio, the general called out, “Daniel?  Daniel, report.”

“Maybe he's in hiding,” Sam suggested hopefully, though she could sense Jack's worry about her fellow scientist.  Then she told him about the Odyssey's failed attempt to beam the team out.  “At first I thought it was something I had done, but after checking the controls I realized it wasn't me.”

“That means there's someone else on board,” Jack sighed.  **Daniel?**  When there wasn't a response, he cursed inwardly.  ~That means he's either unconscious or ... stop thinking, O'Neill.~

“Where's the Odyssey now?” Jack asked.

With a sigh and cock of her head, Sam answered, “The Odyssey had to retreat in order to avoid being detected by the three mother ships.”

“Then the Stargate is our only means of escape,” Teal'c pointed out.

“Daniel, if you can hear me, it's time to get out of Dodge -- *now*,” Jack advised over the radio.  “Daniel, answer me!”

--

**Jack?** Daniel called out mentally.  **Jack!**

The archaeologist's facial expression remained unchanged, but inside, he was worried about what was happening.  He wanted to break free of Adria's trappings, but with her telekinetic powers, he wouldn't get two feet.

~Just stay calm, Jackson; see what you can find out.~

--

All of a sudden, the ship's power returned, lighting up the corridors.

“Bad sign,” Jack remarked.

“We're taking off,” Sam noted from the subtle feel of the ship's movement.  “I might be able to override primary systems.”

“Do it!” the general ordered as the group ran through the corridors.

Reaching the bridge and seeing no one there, Jack asked curiously, “Here's a question for ya.  Who's flyin' this bird?”  After a moment, he again attempted to contact his lover, but as before, there wasn't a response, not to his verbal call over the radio or his non-verbal communication through their special link.  “Teal'c, we need to find Daniel.”  He looked at his 2IC and ordered, “Carter, find a way to get control of this ship.”

“Yes, Sir.”

====

“Where is my mother?”

The question surprised Daniel somewhat.  Adria hadn't said anything to him for the last few minutes and suddenly this was the question chosen to break the silence.

“Your ... mother?” the archaeologist queried, trying to feign ignorance.

“She was sent for you, Daniel.  I want to know where she is,” Adria demanded firmly.

“Why?”

“She is my mother and must take her place by my side,” the Orici stated as if it should be the natural order of things.

“I don't think that's on her list of things to do today,” Daniel retorted.

“I am aware of her indecision, which is all the more reason why I must find her. Until I have brought her into the fold, my mission is a failure.”

“What a shame,” Daniel quipped, noting that Adria's comment seemed to verify Vala's story.  ~She doesn't look happy I said that.  Oh, well.~

“I will convince her to accept the truth that is Origin.”

“Uh, how?” Daniel asked.  “From what I've seen, Vala can be ... stubborn.”

“Then I'll be ... patient and very ... determined.”

“What about all the other people that refuse to bow down to the will of the Ori? Are you gonna show them the same courtesy?” the archaeologist challenged pointedly.

“There is a limit to my patience,” Adria advised as she stared at Daniel.

“And there's a difference between devotion and blind submission.  You can't expect to win the faith of your followers through fear and intimidation,” Daniel imparted passionately.

“What would you have me do?”

“Give people a choice.”

“I'm trying to bring an entire galaxy from darkness into light.  In order to do that, all doubt must be removed or it will spread like a cancer.  It's that simple.”

“Simple?” Daniel echoed incredulously.  “There's nothing simple about killing innocent people just because they don't share your beliefs.”

“Perhaps it is you who needs to be convinced.”  The Orici walked forward and raised her hand to caress Daniel's cheek.  “I have plans for you.”

“I have plans for you, too, but, uh, I have a feeling my plans are ... different from yours.”

====

“Where the heck is he?” Jack asked in frustration.

“We still have many areas to check, O'Neill.”

The two had been searching for Daniel for quite a while.  In fact, they'd even come up against Bo'rel and his Jaffa again, though this time they managed to convince them that there were other priorities worthy of their attention, such as who was really flying the ship.

“Uh oh,” Jack remarked as he looked into one room and saw a planet on the view screen.  He caught a glimpse of Teal'c to his side and recognized the concern.  “You know why this ship is here?”

“Indeed,” Teal'c acknowledged, sounding unusually stressed.  Then he stated, “With the engines activated, there may be a significantly greater reaction to the C-4.”

~Hate it when he's right,~ Jack thought as he pulled out the detonator and turned it on.  **Daniel?  Just in case you can hear me, this is it.  The C-4.**

“The ship may well be destroyed.”

**Daniel, I love you.**  Jack held up the detonator as he replied, “Yep.”

“We must not allow this ship to launch an attack.”

“Nope.  I mean, yep,” Jack agreed.  ~Daniel: my heart and my soul, forever and always.~  He pressed the button, expecting mortal life to end, but nothing happened; and then he repeated the process, but still, the C-4 didn't explode.  ~Okay.  Reprieve.~

====

“You should thank me.  I just saved your life,” Adria informed Daniel.

“Thank you, I think.  How?” Daniel responded.  The question was interrupted by the sound of staff blasts against the closed door.  “It won't be that easy.”

“Why wouldn't it be?  I'm about to destroy the only real threat against us.”

“You're forgetting about someone.  What about the Ancients?”

Smugly, Adria responded, “You know as well as I do they'll never get involved. We have free reign in this galaxy.”

“We'll stop you.”

“You do not possess the technology to stop my Ori fleet.  More ships are coming.  This galaxy will learn the ways of the Ori.”

“I hope not,” the archaeologist sighed.  ~Come on, Jack.  Where are you?~

====

On the bridge, Sam finally lowered the shields of the Ori vessel and then clicked on her radio, advising, “Odyssey, we're good to go!”

In the same passage of seconds, several events occurred -- the powerful Jaffa weapon opened up, emanating a wave of the poison across the surface of the planet; SG-1 was beamed off the Ori ship and onto the Odyssey, after which it immediately went into hyperspace; and the approaching Ori vessels opened fire on Dakara, targeting the destructive weapon.

Jack looked around the bridge and breathed in a refreshing dose of air, happy to see his lover standing nearby.

**Danny?**

**Hey, Babe,** the archaeologist responded lightly.

After learning how close their escape had been, SG-1 all felt a sense of relief and that luck had been on their side.

“Any guesses on who was flying that ship?” Jack asked.

“Adria,” Daniel answered.

“Vala's evil spawn?” Jack questioned in reply.

“That would be her.”  Daniel paused, scratching the side of his head for a second as he elaborated, “We were having a ... discussion.  Well, I was discussing; she was postulating about the wonders of Origin.”  He looked over at Teal'c, who was solemn and staring out at the view screen as space warped by.  “Teal'c, you okay?”

“I am not,” the Jaffa responded, turning and walking off the bridge.

Daniel looked over at Jack, who then glanced at Sam.  All three felt the heaviness of their teammate's despair over the actions of Se'tak and the current Jaffa council.

====

The next day, Jack, Daniel, Hammond, and Bra'tac were already seated in the briefing room when Sam and Teal'c entered.

“There is news,” the Jaffa reported.  “A cargo ship dispatched to the area has reported complete and utter devastation.  Dakara is no more.”

“Meanwhile, we received word that five more planets have fallen to the Ori, including Hebridan and Langara.  So far we haven't heard anything from our allies on either world,” Sam added sadly.

“This isn't a war; it's a butt kicking,” Jack bemoaned angrily.

“Merlin's device may be our only shot at stopping the Ori,” Daniel sighed realistically.

“Then find it!” Hammond ordered as he stood up.  “Dismissed,” he ordered and then returned to his office.

“The council is in disarray,” Bra'tac sighed as he looked at Teal'c.  “The Jaffa nation is fractured, and without Dakara to bring us all together, I fear everything we have fought for all these years will be lost.”

“The war is not over, old friend,” Teal'c assured.

“If only I could have done more to oppose Se'tak,” Bra'tac lamented, shaking his head.

“Next time,” Jack chimed, nodding at Bra'tac and then leaving the room, followed by Daniel and Sam.

====

Early the next morning, Jack tapped on the open door of Hammond's office and called out, “General, you wanted to see us.”

“Yes, Jack, come in.”

Hammond closed the folder he'd been reading and watched SG-1 enter his office.

“For almost two months, this facility has dedicated itself round the clock to defeating the Ori,” Hammond began.  “SG-1 has been at the forefront of that charge, working tirelessly to ensure we meet our goal.”

“Are we being ... retired, Sir?” Jack quipped, thinking the speech was sounding like some kind of farewell.

Hammond chuckled as he lowered his head for a moment and then continued, “No, Jack, but I'm wondering if you people realize that we're in the midst of the holidays.”

“Christmas,” Sam acknowledged with a smile.  She sighed, “I haven't had time to do any shopping for my nephews.”

“First time in the last few years I don't even have a tree,” Jack pointed out.  ~Dang it.  I don't want Danny to miss any Christmas', not after that crappy childhood of his.~

“Well, for the next few days, this base is going to enjoy the season,” Hammond stated.  “Barring a major affront by the Ori or some unforeseen crisis, SG-1 is on downtime through Christmas day.  I'm giving similar orders to other frontline personnel.”  He saw the smiles and also the hesitancy to walk away from their jobs, even for a few days.  “That's an order.  Unless you are ordered to return, I don't want to see any of you here until the 26th.  Is that understood?”

“Yes, Sir,” Jack responded enthusiastically.

“Thank you, General,” Sam added.

Daniel smiled and nodded his understanding, and Teal'c bowed his head as he so often did when acknowledging an order.

The team began to leave when Hammond called out, “One more thing.  When you check your mail, you should all find an invitation to a party at my house tomorrow evening.  I realize it's late notice, but I hope you'll all be there.”

“Your first shindig since you've been back,” Jack surmised, his smile bright at the happy memory of when he'd stepped down as commander of Cheyenne Mountain and Hammond had returned after a year of starting up and leading Home World Security.

“Even in the worst of times, we need to take time to celebrate the fact that we're here.  I want to see smiles, people, and there's to be no talk of this crisis.  Merry Christmas,” the bald-headed general expressed with a smiling face.

“Merry Christmas,” the teammates responded, each wish stepping on the others as they left the office with smiles on their faces.

“Okay, kids, let's get out of here before the man changes his mind,” Jack told his team.

====

Yawning, Daniel walked down the stairs with Bijou and Katie both trailing after him.  He was looking somewhat unkempt with his hair uncombed, his face stubbly, and his feet bare.  He was in his navy blue sweats, a result of the chilly weather this month, although it was actually not as cold today as it had been recently.

Though it was ten-thirty in the morning, to Daniel it felt like seven-thirty, a combination of both his natural body time clock that preferred sleeping in and having been exhausted from the Ori war.

After Hammond had ordered their downtime yesterday, Jack and Daniel had gone holiday shopping.  They'd decided to have their presents gift wrapped at the various stores so that they could deliver some of them in the afternoon, though the vast majority were taken with them to Hammond's party that evening. It had been a wonderful event with many friends and co-workers present.  For a few hours, the Ori didn't exist.

Today was Christmas Eve, and all Daniel wanted to do was sleep, drink coffee, sleep, and drink coffee some more.

~And make love to my husband,~ the archaeologist thought in the middle of his latest yawn.

All of a sudden, the quiet of the house erupted into sounds of Andy Williams singing 'It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year' and a slew of bright lights began to twinkle.  The lights were everywhere, lining the mantle, framing the patio door, and decorating the tall Christmas tree.

~Christmas tree?~  Daniel's eyelids blinked as he attempted to focus.  Yesterday the couple had decided not to get a tree.  ~Didn't we decide that?~  The couple had worn themselves out just doing their shopping.  ~Maybe I'm dreaming.~

“Woof,” two excited beagles declared as they zoomed past Daniel over to the tree that also had numerous presents beneath it, some of which had their names on them.

“You'll have to wait until tonight and tomorrow,” Jack chuckled and then let the girls outside to take care of business.  “Morning, Love,” he greeted his husband, walking over and giving him a sound kiss.

“Jack, I hear music,” Daniel tried to explain, making sure he was not in a dream.

“That's good, Danny.”

“And there's a ... a really big ... tree in our house.”

“Yes, I noticed that myself,” Jack acknowledged, grinning at his still dazed soulmate.

“Jack?”

“Yes, Daniel?”

“There are about twenty presents under that tree,” Daniel observed.

Twisting around to look at the tree with the presents of varying sizes all around its base, Jack nodded and replied, “More like ... twenty-five.”

“Jack ...”

“Merry Christmas, Angel,” Jack wished and then kissed his lover.

The silver-haired man continued kissing his soulmate, not letting up until they'd made love, right beneath the mistletoe that he'd hung all along the living room ceiling.

====

The time was 12:04 p.m., and the lovers were sitting down to a simple lunch of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, accompanied by Tortilla chips and soda.  Daniel was still dressed in his sweats, but he'd shaved and combed his hair.  His feet, however, were still bare, something that Jack rather enjoyed.

~My Danny has very sexy feet with scrumptious toes, especially the big toes ... and the pinky toes,~ Jack opined as he sneaked a peek at his husband's feet under the pretext of picking up a fallen napkin, one he'd intentionally dropped.

“Babe, when did you do all of this?”

“While you were in dreamland, Angel,” Jack answered, feeling pleased with himself.

“I can't believe you decorated the entire house in a few hours,” Daniel remarked, looking into the living room and then looking at the counter and kitchen nook area and seeing various decorations placed throughout.

“Not the entire house,” Jack sighed, wishing he'd had more time to do the outside and the rest of the house.  The reality was he'd gotten up bright and early, decorating as much as he could before going out and being the first customer at the neighborhood tree lot.  He'd only just put on the strings of lights when he'd heard Daniel rousing less than two hours ago.  “But it does look more like Christmas in here now.”

“What about the ...”

Jack followed his Love's gaze to the presents and explained, “Never doubt the magic of the Claus.”

Daniel grinned and replied, “Okay, I won't, but don't you be surprised when that pile of presents grows before we decide to open them.”

Smiling brown eyes gazed into mischievous blue ones and laughed.  Somewhere on the grounds, Daniel apparently had his own secret stash of gifts.

“I love it when we're on the same page,” Jack mused.

====

With the gentle sound of Nat King Cole singing “The Christmas Song” in the CD player, Jack and Daniel swayed to the music, their eyes locked on the other's.  It was late evening now.  They'd opened their presents, each managing to both surprise and amuse in their gift selections, and they'd played with the beagles, giving them some special treats and breaking in some new toys.  Now, with the girls watching from the warmth of their beanbag and with a fire roaring in the hearth, the happy couple enjoyed the closeness of their bodies and the love that their nation of two brought.

“It's amazing, Jack,” Daniel spoke, his fingers gently caressing the back of his Heart's neck as they danced.

“What is?”

“Today's been perfect.  It's like ... like nothing's wrong, anywhere.”

“Nothing is wrong, Danny,” Jack replied, snaking one hand beneath Daniel's sweatshirt to feel the smooth skin that melted him like butter in a hot skillet.  “Right now, the universe is a perfect place because we're here, together, and that's all that matters.”

“For now.”

“For always, Angel.”

“I just wish ...”

“Daniel, we're on downtime for another thirty-four hours.  During that time, there's nothing but harmony in our world, okay?”

“Okay,” Daniel agreed, leaning in for a kiss.  “Let's toast some marshmallows.”

“Smores!” Jack exclaimed.

“Chocolate, mmm,” Daniel began, closing his eyes and having a positively blissful expression on his face.

Daniel's delicious noise was cut off by a kiss and then the lovers retrieved the needed items and sat down by the fire to prepare their treats.

With both men holding their marshmallow-clad skewers over the fire, Jack became aware of a stare in his direction.

“What?”

“I just ... Jack, I love you so much.  You've changed my life so completely and, just like today, you always know what to do, even if I don't know it's what I need.”

“You always need Christmas, Danny,” Jack replied.  “It's about believing, and I believe in us.”

Full of joy, Daniel leaned over and kissed his husband tenderly.  He was tempted to take the kiss to another level, but he didn't want to ruin their treats.

~Priorities,~ the archaeologist mused, knowing he was just having some silly fun.

“Perfection!” Jack exclaimed as he withdrew his skewer and observed the toasted treat.

“Not quite,” Daniel corrected, gazing playfully at his husband.  “But very, very close.”

Jack chuckled, shared another kiss with his Heart, and declared, “Love you, My Angel.”

“My wonderful Silver Fox,” Daniel began, his eyes smiling so bright, “I love you, too, so very, very much.”

For Daniel, this brief respite from the war with the Ori was much needed.  He'd been so tired, emotionally and physically.  Tonight, though, he felt nothing but joy and happiness.  The peace of the Christmas season flowed through him, and there was still a full day of Christmas contentment to experience, one that included a turkey dinner, something else that Jack had quietly planned and surprised his husband with, and, as promised on the phone, lots of playing and wrestling with the beagles, both in and out of the sandbox.

Though the world, and the universe, was far from being in true harmony, on this Christmas Eve in 2005, there was only the serenity of true love and eternal togetherness that existed for Jack and Daniel.  In their world, the universe couldn't be a better place.  As they kissed, sharing a sticky marshmallow that warmed their lips, nothing could beat a warm fire and a perfect night like tonight.

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