What Must Zig Must Zag

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Angst, Drama, H/C, Missing Scene/Epilogue, Holiday, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  S10 - Febuary 1-14, 2006
Spoilers:  Dominion, The Ark of Truth
Size:  156kb
Written:  December 17-20,22-26, 2009, January 12,16, September 6-7, 2010
Summary:  The war with the Ori climaxes, leaving Daniel in utter despair and the entire team fighting for survival.
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,” “What Must Occur,” “What Must Transpire”
5) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Navi, Irina, Becca!

What Must Zig Must Zag
by Orrymain

“Danny, hustle!” Jack called out from the living room.  “Debriefing starts in an hour.  We gotta move!”

“I'm coming,” Daniel returned as he appeared at the top of the stairs.

~Don't I wish,~ Jack sighed.

“Jack, I don't even have to hear the words to know what you're thinking.”

“Hey, two days off spoils a guy,” the general mused, his facial features showing his pleasure.

Daniel reached the bottom of the stairs and then stopped.  He looked like he'd just seen a ghost.

“Danny?”  Jack frowned as he stared as his unmoving husband.  Walking forward a couple of steps, he called out more sternly, “Daniel!”

“I ... I just saw something.”

Jack looked in the direction where Daniel had been staring and assumed, “A sick fish?”

“What?”

Concerned, Daniel strode over to the fish tank and observed the various fish in his tank.  He was relieved when they were all not only present and accounted for but appeared to be quite healthy.

“Daniel, what did you see?” Jack inquired, stepping up behind his husband and quizzically looking at the fish tank.

“Oh.”  Turning to face his husband, the archaeologist hesitantly answered, “Merlin.”

“Merlin?”

“And a ... a chest.  I think maybe it has to do with his weapon.”

“Daniel, didn't we just use Merlin's weapon?” Jack asked incredulously.  ~I don't ever want to see my Angel as a prior again.  Once was enough in any lifetime.~

“Well, we know Merlin had a lot of devices, Jack.  Apparently, there's something else we need to find.”

“Great.”  His happy mood deflated, Jack headed for the door.  ~Guess Merlin isn't quite gone yet.~

“Uh, Babe.”

“What?” Jack responded with just a hint of an attitude, turning around and finding his husband close enough to kiss.

“I love you,” Daniel declared with a smile, proving it with a passionate kiss.  “Hey, we're gonna be late,” he teased, walking around Jack and heading for his sports car.

~Wow~  Standing in his tracks for several seconds, the general smiled, happy pleasure once again showing on his face.  “That's my geek.  Geez, I love him.”

====

The long debriefing was finally coming to an end.  There had been a lot to go over about Daniel's time aboard the Ori ship.  He'd spent three long weeks with the Ori, first as a prisoner and then as a prior.  With Merlin sharing his brain, he had convinced Adria, the Orici, that he was working to complete Merlin's weapon so she could use it to wipe out the Ancients.  In truth, he'd been setting her up.

With the assistance of his teammates and other personnel, Daniel had successfully fooled Adria and had sent the Ori ship through the Supergate and into the Ori galaxy with the device activated.  Shortly afterward, though, several vessels had appeared from the Ori galaxy.  No one knew exactly whether or not the device had worked or what damage it may have caused.

The other big piece of news to be revealed at the meeting was that Adria, who when last seen had been unconscious on the bridge of the Ori vessel Daniel had sent through the Supergate with Merlin's armed weapon, had survived and was apparently just fine.  She'd been present the previous afternoon on a planet that SG-12 had visited.

“Dismissed,” Hammond ordered when everything had been covered.

The lieutenant general was almost to his office when Daniel called out, “Uh, General, I ... I think I have an idea.”

Hammond turned, saw the still-seated archaeologist's thoughtful expression and returned to the table.

“I guess we're not done,” Jack told Sam and Teal'c, nodding towards the conference table and heading back for his seat.

“You said Adria's alive,” Daniel began, looking at Hammond.

“That's correct.”

“I think we should try to capture her.  That's the only way we're going to be able to stop the Ori now,” Daniel put forth, glancing briefly at Jack who sat next to him.

“And how do you suggest we do that, Doctor Jackson?” Hammond inquired.  ~Son, I do not think this is going to be a good idea.~

After Daniel explained his plan, Jack questioned loudly, “Are you out of your mind?”  He paused and reached over to his Love, tapping his fingers on the archaeologist's forehead as he half-teased, “I think Merlin's still in there.”

“No, Jack, he's gone,” Daniel negated, his eyes rolling upward on the tapping fingers until they finally stopped and were withdrawn.

“You want us to trust that ... woman?” Jack responded in disbelief.

“She's already helped us once.”

“Daniel, she was with you and General O'Neill then.  She'd be on her own this time,” Sam pointed out.

“She has a reason to want to help us.”

“This Tomin you mentioned,” Hammond surmised.

“Well, Sir, I can't think of anything more compelling to a person than wanting to save the life of your spouse.  Capturing Adria would go a long way towards us being able to do that, especially now that we know for sure that he's alive.”

“*Was*,” Jack interjected.  “We don't know his status today.”

“No, of course not, but I have a hunch Adria still thinks that she can use Vala to get to us, so ... why not use Vala to get us Adria,” Daniel suggested with a small smile.

“It is to her advantage to help us defeat the Ori,” Sam opined.

Hammond looked over at Jack, wanting his opinion.  Finally, Jack let out a sigh and shrugged, which was one of his normal 'okay' signals.

“Do it.”

====

After learning about Daniel's encounter with Tomin, Vala agreed to help.  Using a technology acquired from the Galarans, her mind was implanted with false memories.  She was then deposited on another planet where she was free to be her normal self.

Meanwhile, SG-1 was on another planet, twiddling their thumbs as they waited.

“Daniel, for all we know, Vala's taken off for parts unknown,” Jack grouched as he sat on a rock, waiting for something, anything, to happen.

“We have to give the plan time to work,” the archaeologist insisted as he sat on the steps of the Stargate platform where he was writing in his journal.

“DanielJackson is right, O'Neill,” Teal'c averred.

“We only have two more hours on our shift, Sir,” Sam put forth, referring to the rotation that had SG-1, SG-3, and SG-12 each watching this Stargate for eight hours each.

“Tell me again why you're so sure Adria cares so much about Vala,” Jack requested of his lover.

“It's a daughter thing,” Daniel answered.  “I think there's a small part of Adria that wants Vala's approval.  She talked about Vala a lot when I was on the ship.”

“But she barely knows Vala,” Sam interjected.  “She was a little girl when Vala last saw her.”

With a shrug, Daniel conjectured, “Every daughter wants her mother's approval, love even.  Adria would never word it like that, but she needs to convince Vala that Origin is the true path.  It's a ... form of justification.”

Jack raised his eyebrows and looked away, thinking the whole idea was crazy, not that they hadn't done lots of crazy things over the years.

“You really think Adria is gonna find Vala on that planet?” the general queried, unconvinced of the entire plot, even though he was going along with it.  “And that she's gonna buy this cockamamie story about Vala feeding us false information about this clavicle thesaurus thing *and* that we just let her go?”

“Yes,” Daniel affirmed, not bothering to correct the other's man misspoken phrase to the proper Clava Thessara Infinitas, which translated to 'key to infinite treasure'.  The archaeologist had read about this treasure map of sorts, which supposedly led to a vast storehouse of treasures hidden by the Ancients.  “I think she'll sense Vala's presence.  Besides, we planted the information on four different planets with priors.  One of them has to mention it to her, I hope.”

“And then the Orici is just gonna follow Mama?”

Closing his journal with a snap, Daniel returned with frustration, “Jack, if you didn't believe in the plan, why'd you agree to it?”

“I didn't have an 'or',”  Jack answered tersely, clearly unhappy about the situation.

Daniel nodded and was about to come back with a retort when the Stargate began to engage.

“Showtime!”

SG-1 took their positions and waited for the kawoosh to thunder.  If all went well, Vala and Adria would come through.  This would mean that Adria bought Vala's story about the treasure and believed that SG-1 would be checking out this planet.  They were banking on Adria wanting both the Ancients' goods and to capture SG-1 and would therefore go through the Gate, believing that she would arrive on the planet before the Tau'ri reached it by ship.

Their weapons aimed toward the event horizon, SG-1 waited in anticipation, all pleased when they saw the mother and daughter appear on the platform.

“Howdy!” Jack greeted facetiously as the Gate shut down.

Confident she could ward off the team, Adria smiled and lifted her hand, expecting something to happen.

Seeing the Ori leader's surprised look, Jack snarked, “Surprise!  We zapped your zapper.”

When Adria turned towards her mother, an angry glare on her face, Vala claimed, “I have no idea what's going on.”

With the implanted memories still in her mind, Vala's words came off as truthful and SG-1 said nothing to reveal the truth to the Orici.

“This way, Orici,” Jack beckoned, until he noticed some new arrivals.

Without warning, several Jaffa beamed onto the surface.  The attack group outnumbered SGC's flagship team three to one.

“Lower your weapons!” one of the Jaffa demanded, walking up to and around SG-1.

“Uh, excuse me, but ... we helped you guys defeat the Goa'uld,” Daniel stated, wondering what the heck was going on.

Ignoring the archaeologist, the Jaffa repeated, “Lower your weapons, or we will all perish.  My master, Lord Ba'al, has targeted this location from orbit.”

“Not Bocce Face again,” Jack grumbled.  Lowering his weapon, he looked at Adria and complained, “Your soldiers need better training.”  He was surprised when the Jaffa didn't approach him or his teammates, but instead went to Adria and placed a device on her upper arm.  “What are you doing?”

“Carrying out my orders.”

Within seconds, the Jaffa were beamed away, taking the Orici with them.

“Okay, that wasn't part of the plan,” Daniel sighed.

“What plan?” Vala snapped, feeling frustrated and confused.

“Don't get your panties in a wad,” Jack quipped, prompting his team to stare at him in utter disbelief.

~Where does he get these phrases from?~ Daniel wondered, shaking off the odd phrase.  “Vala, we'll tell you all about it at SGC.”

====

Back at Stargate Command, Vala watched a tape recording she'd made prior to undergoing the procedure that had implanted the false memories in her mind.  Convinced that the tape was authentic, she then underwent a second procedure to remove the memories, replacing them with accurate recollections of her time on the base.

With Vala back in her guarded quarters, SG-1 met with Hammond.  They had no clue how Ba'al knew to be on the planet, nor why he wanted Adria.

“Perhaps he intends to negotiate for shared control of the galaxy,” Teal'c put forth.

“She doesn't strike me as the sharing type,” Jack refuted.  ~Talk about a problem child, yeash.~

“Regardless of the specifics, it is not to our advantage to have Ba'al and the Orici in a position to make a deal.  Find her,” Hammond order.

“We're on it, Sir,” Sam acknowledged.

With Hammond back in his office, Jack asked his 2IC, “Exactly *how* are we on it, Carter?”

“Don't you have a plan?”

“Not a one.  You?”

“No,” Sam admitted with a shrug.

Jack let out a groan and looked over at Teal'c.  He was about to speak when the Jaffa beat him to the punch.

“Perhaps my contacts on Chulak will have some information that could help,” Teal'c suggested.

“Good idea,” Jack agreed, watching Teal'c head for the control home.  ~At least one of us has a plan.~

====

The next day, Teal'c returned with intel that included the coordinates in space where Ba'al's ship was known to be located.  Immediately, SG-1 boarded the Odyssey, which set course for Ba'al's vessel.

“Any ideas what we're going to do when we get to the ship?” Daniel questioned.

“Beam her here,” Jack answered simply.

“Okay, but how do we find her?”

“Actually, Daniel, it shouldn't be that difficult,” Sam stated.  “Ba'al must have some sort of technology similar to our own anti-prior device. Otherwise she would have used her powers the instant he beamed her on board his ship.  If we scan for those specific EM frequencies, we should be able to pinpoint her location with a fair degree of accuracy.”

“That'll work,” Jack acknowledged.  ~Technobabble works every time.~

====

With the Odyssey cloaked, a technology perfected just prior to this mission, the ship took its place right beside Ba'al's vessel.  A scan of the warship revealed a room with a high level of EM radiation, which is exactly what Sam was looking for.

The team beamed aboard the mother ship and quickly make their way to the room in question.  Opening the door, Jack wasted no time in going on the attack , killing two Jaffa guards and firing repeatedly at Ba'al, who fell to the floor.

Behind the general, Sam took position and used her zat to fire at Adria, who was in a locked cage.  When things settled, Daniel picked up a staff weapon and used it to destroy the lock.  While Teal'c kept guard in the corridor, fending off any Jaffa who approached, the archaeologist applied a tracking device to Adria's arm and then signaled Jack that the task had been completed.

Clicking his radio, Jack advised, “Odyssey, we are good to go.”

====

Back aboard the U.S. spacecraft, the general smiled and quipped, “I love it when a plan comes together.”  With several SFs aiming their weapons at the Orici, he ordered, “Get her to the secure room and *don't* turn your backs, not even for a second.”

As the guards surrounded Adria and led her away, Sam asked, “I wonder what Ba'al was doing with her?”

“He had her in a cage,” the archaeologist noted.

“I wouldn't let her run free, either,” Jack returned.  “Wonder what the snake was up to?”

“She wasn't wearing the pendant,” Daniel reflected.

“Ba'al must have been taken it off,” Sam surmised.

With Jack, Daniel, and Sam all staring at the now-empty corridor that Adria had been taken down, Teal'c suggested, “Perhaps we should ask her.”

“Good idea; let's do that,” Jack chimed.

====

When SG-1 entered the secured room in which Adria was being kept, Daniel looked around uneasily.

“Bad memories?” the general queried.

“Well, I wouldn't call being strapped into a chair 24/7 exactly fun,” Daniel responded.  “Especially when you're being threatened with becoming a ... Popsicle.”

“Yeah.”

The quiet conversation ended as the team approached Adria, who was strapped into the same chair the archaeologist had been while a prior.  She looked to be asleep, her eyes closed.

Tapping the arm of the chair strongly, Jack called out, “Hey.  Wake up.”

Right on cue, the Orici awakened.  Realizing her predicament, she tried to free herself but could not.

“Sorry,” Jack smirked.  “Nah, I'm not really.”

“It's not very comfortable.  Believe me, I know from experience, but we're not taking any chances,” Daniel told the inwardly fuming female.  “It's over, Adria.”

All of a sudden, the woman smiled and surprised the team when she spoke with a Goa'uld voice, saying, “I'm afraid you're mistaken.  Adria is no longer available.”

Seeing the glowing eyes, Jack remarked, “It's Bocce Man, seeing how the other half lives.”

“Your insults mean nothing, General,” Ba'al replied.  “I have more power now than you could ever imagine.”

“Having power and being able to use it are two different things,” Daniel pointed out with widened eyes.

“You cannot hold me for long,” Ba'al argued.  “You will all be at my mercy.”

“Cut the hype,” Jack ordered with a sneer.  “We've heard your crap for years.”

“Yes, and I am still here,” the Goa'uld reminded smugly.

“Strapped into a chair,” Jack countered snarkily.

“For the moment,” the calm adversary agreed.  ~Tau'ri: so easy to rile up.~

~I really wanna put that snake out its misery.~  With a groan, Jack motioned for the team to leave.  As he approached the door, he looked back at the Goa'uld and ordered the SFs, “If he so much as *looks* like he's gonna get out of that thing, shoot him ... to kill.”

Jack smiled and then left the room, following his team into the corridor.

“Well, that was ... unexpected,” Daniel stated as he stood with his hands in his pockets.

The team was standing in a circle, pretty much blocking the corridor as they discussed what they'd just witnessed.

“It actually makes sense from his perspective,” Sam stated.  “Not only has Ba'al taken on a more powerful host, but Adria is also in control of the Ori Army.”

“So he convinces them to do his bidding and not hers,” Jack sighed.

“Well, when you think about it, their goals aren't all that different,” Daniel pointed out.

“Control of the galaxy; worship by millions,” Sam concurred with a bob of her head.

“And if the Ori are dead, he'll never be called to the carpet by the boys upstairs,” Jack added.

“So ... what do we do now?” the archaeologist inquired, looking at his lover who was standing across from him.

“Kill them both,” Teal'c stated without emotion, though his teammates did a bit of a double take at the comment.

“A two-fer,” Jack finally acknowledged.  “Works for me.”

“Maybe, but there's no guarantee that her army would stop fighting even if she was dead.  The only way to be certain is for her to order them to stand down,” Sam countered.

“Then how do we get her to do that, especially now that she's king of Bocce Ball?”

“Jack, do you think we can get over the Bocce references?  It's like Yu.  It's gotten very ... old.”

“You're old?” Jack asked, blinking innocently at his Love.

“No, I mean Lord Yu.”

“Well, thank you, Daniel, for the promotion.  It's good to be lord.”

“Jack!” Daniel exclaimed, not seeing the smile on Sam's face, nor the irritated expression on the Jaffa's face.

“Sorry.”

“No, you're not.”

“No, I'm not,” Jack agreed.

“But ...”

“But I'll stop.”

“Thank you,” Daniel replied.  ~I can feel that headache coming on.~

“So what were we talking about?” Jack asked, having totally forgotten what had started the moment of play with his Heart.  Then he remembered, “Oh, yeah.  How do we convince Ba'al to do what we want?”

“Well, Sir, if Ba'al's symbiote is suppressing Adria's consciousness, we should be able to do the same thing,” Sam suggested.

“Swap Ba'al out for someone we can trust,” Daniel responded.

“The Tok'ra,” Teal'c stated.

“Suppressing the host does go against their fundamental beliefs, but I'm sure they'd make an exception in this case,” the archaeologist opined.

“We've been trading intelligence with the Tok'ra since the Ori ships first arrived,” Sam reminded the team.  “They wanna get rid of them just as much as we do.”

“I'll contact Hammond and make sure he's on board,” Jack advised.  “Daniel, see if you can get in touch the Tok'ra and get their cooperation.  Carter, Teal'c, keep an eye on Bo...Ba'al and make sure he doesn't try anything funny.”

Their plan set, SG-1 separated to attend to their duties.

====

Later on, Jack and Teal'c entered the secured room and approached the Goa'uld in the Orici's body.

“So, have you decided what you intend to do with me?” Ba'al inquired of his enemies.

“Well, we're still weighing our options.  Teal'c here had a good idea.”

“I can imagine,” Ba'al responded, smiling.

As seriously as he could ever be, Teal'c corrected, “No, you cannot.”

As Ba'al's smile faded, he warned, “I must caution you against doing anything too rash.  In fact, your best course of action would be to release me.”

“I don't think so,” Jack refuted.

“My whole plan was to order the Ori Army back out of this galaxy,” Ba'al claimed. “You let me carry it out, we'll be rid of them forever.”

“That is our plan as well, only without your participation,” Teal'c stated.

“What do you mean?”

Jack informed Ba'al of the Tau'ri's intent to bring in the Tok'ra.  In response, Ba'al threatened to kill Adria, although Jack didn't care, even when Ba'al argued that killing Adria meant losing her knowledge.

“For example?” Jack questioned.  ~Let's see if he has anything worthwhile.~

“For one thing, I can confirm the Ori are dead, and that's just the beginning.  With my knowledge and your ... pluckiness, we can accomplish a great deal. Remember how we worked together to locate the Sangreal?”

“I wouldn't use that argument, if I were you,” Jack negated.  “You mostly whined and were in the way.”

“Of course, it's your decision, but it seems you only have two options: work with me to our mutual benefit, or kill us both and miss out on everything I have to offer.”

“You keep using that old chestnut, but you never really tell us anything.”  Jack leaned in close and accused, “I think you're just playing a game with us, and you know how I feel about Bocce.”

Jack hovered menacingly over the Goa'uld and then nodded towards Teal'c that it was time to leave.

====

“Anything?” Daniel asked when Jack and Teal'c entered the ring room where the archaeologist and Sam were waiting for the Tok'ra to arrive.

“He's bluffing,” Jack determined.  “He keeps talking in circles.”

“O'Neill is correct,” Teal'c asserted.  “I do not believe we are risking Ba'al's help by proceeding with the plan.”

“Well ...”

Sam's comment was interrupted by the arrival of three members of the Tok'ra, including Ta'seem, who would be performing the procedure.  It was necessary to start the operation immediately since the symbiote, Zanuf, could not remain outside of a host for very long.

====

Returning to the secured room, Ba'al stared inquisitively at SG-1.

“How about we flip for it?” Jack suggested.

“Uh ... Sir, there are only two sides to a coin,” Sam reminded.

“We could make it a three-part round, the winners facing off,” Daniel put forth.

“Or I could do this,” Teal'c stated, raising his hand and firing his zat one time at the Goa'uld/Orici, knocking him/her into unconsciousness.

“Or ... that,” Daniel acquiesced.

“Nice job,” Jack praised.

“I never get to have any fun,” Sam whined.

“You can knock out the next false god we come across,” Jack promised.

“Thank you, Sir.”

Daniel let out a tiny laugh.  There wasn't really anything funny about what the team had just done, but amid the daily risk and seriousness of the war they were fighting, sometimes human nature just had to come out.  Sometimes, like just now, the team needed a release.  However, the time of fun was done, and it was time to get back to fighting the battle.

====

Within a half-hour, the procedure had begun.  Sam, now in scrubs as were the Tok'ra, was assisting.  All too soon, though, it was also over, and it hadn't gone as planned.

“Carter?” Jack called out expectantly.

“Ba'al decided to be even more difficult than usual.  We were able to extract him, but not before he released a deadly toxin into Adria's nervous system.”

“Toxin?” Daniel echoed.  “Well, can't the symbiote heal her?”

“Unfortunately, we were unable to complete the implantation.  The host body was simply too weak.  Adria is unconscious at the moment, but when she awakens, she will suffer greatly before she dies.  The one thing we can do for her is an increased dosage of the toxin.  It will kill her instantly.  In the interest of patient care and for our own safety, I recommend that we administer it immediately,” Ta'seem expressed calmly.

“Do it,” Jack ordered.

“Jack,” Daniel interjected.  “Look, I think we should beam Vala up.”

“What?” the general asked incredulously.

“Vala is Adria's mother.  Now, granted, it's not a normal relationship, but she has right to be here.”

“Daniel, you're out of your mind.”

“No, but you are, if you don't believe that Vala won't feel anything.  Regardless of how the pregnancy happened, regardless of how much, or how little time they spent together, regardless of the fact that Adria ...”

“... is the spawn of the devil?” Jack argued.

“Okay, yes,” Daniel agreed.  “Regardless of that, Vala gave birth to Adria, and if she chooses, she deserves the chance to say goodbye.”

Jack stared into his Love's eyes and saw the deep conviction there.  Inwardly, it steamed the general big time, but yet, Daniel was always SG-1's moral compass so maybe Vala did deserve the opportunity.

“Carter, get Vala up here.  I'll notify SGC.”

“There isn't much time,” Ta'seem reminded SG-1.

“Do it now, Carter,” Jack stated.  “We'll wait five minutes.”

With a nod, Sam sprinted towards the ring room while Teal'c remained to supervise the SFs guarding Adria.  As for Jack and Daniel, they quickly made their way to the bridge and contacted Hammond.

“Jack, are you sure about this?” Hammond inquired.

“No,” Jack answered.  He stared at his lover and added, “But Daniel is.  Carter's waiting for Vala in the ring room.  We don't any time to waste, General.”

“Very well.”

====

Having been filled in on the details, Vala stood at the foot of her daughter's hospital bed in the Odyssey's infirmary.  No longer decked out like the Orici, Adria looked almost like any sick young woman, draped in a blue hospital gown with medical equipment all around her.  The difference was that her arms and legs were strapped to the bed.

Vala walked slowly up to the head of the bed and stroked the hair of the unconscious woman.

“I never imagined myself as a mother.  I don't think I'm cut out for it.”

“Maybe not,” Daniel responded, getting a surprised look from Vala.  “But you are, a mother.”

Vala blinked and then refocused on Adria.  She was well aware that Jack, Sam, and Teal'c were watching from the observation room, ready to pounce should anything happen.

“She's not your average daughter, either,” Vala remarked.

“Ah ... no, she's not.”

“Why did you bring me here?” the woman asked straightforwardly, though not looking at the archaeologist.

“I thought you had a right to be here.”

“To watch her die,” Vala stated coldly.

“To say goodbye,” Daniel corrected, shoving his hands into his pockets as he watched the mother and daughter in front of him.

Vala looked over at Daniel and responded, “I can't figure you out.”

“Neither can Jack,” the archaeologist replied flippantly.

Vala looked up at the general as he stared right back at her and commented, “He really doesn't like me.”

“He has a long memory.”

“The Prometheus,” Vala deduced.

“Yes,” Daniel confirmed.

At that moment, Ta'seem entered, advising that it was time to give Adria the toxin.  He prepared the syringe, but paused, looking at Vala.

Stunned by the consideration, Vala remained motionless for a moment, but then she nodded, giving her consent for what was to happen.

“Thank you, Daniel,” Vala whispered, reaching out one more time to caress her daughter's cheek.  “Goodbye, Adria.”

The tender moment was disrupted when, just as Ta'seem was injecting the toxin in the IV, the Orici awoke and used her telekinetic powers to toss the Tok'ra across the room and into the wall.

“Crap!” Jack exclaimed, immediately standing and leading his teammates out of the observation area.

The Orici was full of anger, using it to toss Daniel all the way out into corridor, while also knocking out two guards.

Just as Daniel regrouped and stood up, the doors to the infirmary closed, locking everyone out, except for Vala who was still inside, amazed at the turn of events.

“Daniel, what the heck ...” Jack began as he reached his lover.

“She just woke up and ...”

“Yeah, we saw,” Jack sighed.  ~Crap, this is gonna turn ugly.~

--

“Adria!” Vala called out in astonishment to the young woman who'd she'd given birth to just months ago.

“You and your friends were trying to kill me, Mother.  I can't let that happen,” Adria stated and then undid the restraints that bound her to the bed.

--

“Carter?”

“She's generating EM interference, Sir.  I can't get the door open from here,” Sam reported.  She thought for a moment and then advised, “There's an auxiliary control console on this level.  If I can get to it, I might be able to override it.”

“Go!”  Jack looked at an SF and ordered, “Blowtorch.”

--

“Are you going to kill me?” Vala asked candidly.

Weak and pale, Adria answered, “Don't be silly, Mother.  If I wanted to kill you, I could have done it a long time ago.”

“What about ... Tomin?  Is he still alive?”

“Mother, why are you interested in that twit?” the Orici inquired with a sneer, clearly not in the mood for questions.

“He's not a twit, Adria.  He's a very nice man.  He's sensitive.”

“So is Daniel,” Adria replied.

“Daniel?”

“You like him, Mother.  You always have.”

“I am in love with my husband, Adria.  Daniel was just a ... diversion.  All men have been a diversion to me, a means to an end.  I've had to make my own way in this galaxy.  I didn't care about Daniel anymore than I cared about ...”

“Me?”  Is that what you're saying, Mother?  That you don't love me?”

“Is that all you want, for me to say I love you?  Fine, I love you.  Now stop acting like a spoiled brat and open those doors,” Vala huffed, arms crossing indignantly across her chest.

“Sorry, Mother, I can't do that.  I need time to prepare.”

“Prepare for what?”

“Ascension,” Adria revealed as she collapsed further down onto the hospital bed.

--

“What are you doing?” Daniel questioned his lover.

“Beats standing here,” Jack responded as he took the just-delivered blowtorch and protective goggles from the guard and prepared to start using it.  “Daniel.”

Realizing he was too close, Daniel backed away, allowing Jack to try to get the door open.  He watched anxiously while his mind processed what had gone on and the continued silence from the other side of the door.

“Oh, gawd,” Daniel mumbled to himself.  “Jack, hurry!”

“I am,” Jack shouted.

“I think I know what's she's trying to do,” Daniel stated anxiously.

“What's that?” Jack shouted over the sound of the blowtorch.

“Adria's trying to ascend.”

For a moment, Jack stopped his work, glancing over his shoulder at his husband.  He shook off the comment, scary as it was, and returned to his task.

--

“You don't have to do this, Adria,” Vala insisted.

Weakly, Adria returned, “Granted, this wasn't part of my plan, but I can still accomplish a great deal; perhaps even more.”

“There's no point,” Vala argued.  “There's just death and slavery.  Surely, you must see what's wrong with that.”

“Don't attempt to play on my compassion, Mother,” Adria snapped.

“You're my daughter.  Some part of you must feel compassion for the human race,” Vala stated desperately.

“I'm not your daughter, I'm an Ori,” Adria refuted as she struggled to maintain her hold on life long enough to ascend.

“Part Ori, part human,” Vala corrected.

“That will soon change.”  Adria let out a cackle like sound and then added, “Don't worry, Mother.  Your precious Tomin is still alive.  He wasn't worth my time to kill ... yet.”

--

Outside the infirmary, the blowtorch attempt was a complete failure.  In addition, Sam had realized that Adria wasn't controlling the ship's systems, but was simply keeping the doors shut mentally.

Deciding that a cutting torch would take too long, Jack and Teal'c took possession of crowbars brought to the area by airman and quickly used them in an attempt to pry open the infirmary doors.

--

“Your friends are very determined, Mother.”

“They are not my friends,” Vala refuted.  “I'm a prisoner here.”

“Then you should have gratefully taken your place by ... by me,” Adria stammered as she continued to lose ground over the living body.

“I would rather be in prison,” Vala stated coldly.

Closing her eyes, Adria focused on creating more difficulty for SG-1 as they tried to stop her from ascending.  She created a toxic coolant leak into the hallway.

Spotting the leak from the auxiliary control room, Sam advised urgently over the radio, “Guys, that stuff's toxic.  You need to get out of there ... right now.”

“Carter, can you shut it down?” Jack questioned while still trying to open the doors.

“I'll have to re-route coolant out of the entire section.  I'm on it.”

“I've heard that before,” Jack sighed snarkily as he grunted from the pressure he was applying to the crowbar.  “Daniel ...”

“Right.”

Though Jack had meant for Daniel to leave, the archaeologist picked up a third crowbar and managed to get into a position between Jack and Teal'c.  With the Jaffa working the highest point on the door and Jack taking the middle part, Daniel stooped low and tried to assist from the lower third section of the door.

“That ... wasn't what I meant,” Jack grunted.

“Sorry.”

“No, you're not.”

“No, I'm not,” Daniel acknowledged lightly before leaning hard against the crowbar.

--

“Mal Doran, you want to prove yourself to us?  Give us a hand.  She's killing us with some coolant,” Jack yelled through the doors, which the three teammates had managed to open just a couple of inches.

“Adria, stop this!  It's murder!”

When Adria failed to respond, Vala picked up one of the SF's guns and aimed it at her daughter.  Unfortunately, the dying Orici tossed it out of her hands and began to choke the woman who had given her life.  In response, Vala raised her hands to her throat, struggling to get air inside her lungs.

“That's it!  Sir, I got it,” Sam called out over the radio and then left that post and began to run back to the infirmary.

Coughing, Jack responded, “'Bout time,” knowing the three couldn't have held on much longer.

--

“I always wondered if you had it in you to kill me,” Adria told her mother, who was suspended in the air and choking.  Then the Orici slumped back onto the bed. “Goodbye, Mother.”

All of a sudden, Vala fell to the floor and the doors to the infirmary opened.

Sam caught up with her unit just as they entered the room.

Jack looked around, confused, and asked, “Where's Adria?”

“She's gone,” Vala answered blankly, staring at the empty bed.

With a sigh, Daniel commented, “She couldn't save herself; she had no choice but to ascend.”

“Great,” Jack groaned.  “Now what?”

“To be honest, I'm not sure.  If the Ori are still out there, then presumably she's joined the fight, but if Ba'al was telling the truth and the Ori are dead, then she just assumed all the power they once had.”

“Either way, we could see some incarnation of her again down the road,” Sam added.

“And I have a hunch she wouldn't be happy to see us.”

“At least we may take comfort in the knowledge that Ba'al is dead,” Teal'c interjected.

“Are we sure about that?” Jack asked he led the group out of the infirmary.

“A clone?” Daniel questioned.

Some time back, Ba'al had cloned himself, not once, but dozens of times.  It was impossible at this point to know if the real Goa'uld was dead or not.

“Let's get back to the Mountain,” Jack instructed while they walked.  He shook his head in frustration.  “The rotten thing about today is that Adria is gone and Ba'al, or his clone, is dead and I have no friggin' idea if this war is still on or not.”

“It's on,” Daniel put forth quietly.  “Merlin wants us to the find that weapon.”

“What weapon?” Sam questioned.

“I have no idea,” the archaeologist answered.  “I've been having these ... visions, of Merlin and a ... a box.  Whatever is in that box, we need to have.”

“So you're saying the Ori aren't dead?” Jack probed.

“No, I'm saying that we need to find that box.”

“Oh, well, good.  Where do we look?”

“I have no idea,” Daniel responded with a shrug.

“Sometimes, Daniel, I just want no witnesses,” Jack groaned.  Then he smiled and patted his lover on the back.  “When you figure it out, let us know and we'll go zigzagging across the universe to find it.”

====

Not having to be to the Mountain until noon, Jack and Daniel had slept in, especially since they hadn't arrived home from Cheyenne Mountain until after one in the morning.  They'd eaten omelets that Jack had made for breakfast and then Daniel had actually gone back to bed.

Two hours later, Jack sat down on Daniel's side of the bed and smiled at his wide-awake lover.  On Daniel's right as he stared up at the ceiling was Katie, enjoying the short, gentle rubs on her ears, nose, and neck that she was receiving from her human.

“What's wrong, Danny?”

“Is this ever going to end, Jack?” the younger man asked.  “We don't even know what's going on.  We take a step forward and end up getting kicked in the face.”

His hand gliding gently along his Love's arm, Jack sought to verify, “This is about the Ori, not us, right?”

Daniel smiled lovingly, which was all the answer the Silver Fox needed.

“We're close.  Daniel, it took several years to beat the Goa'uld, and it took us a couple of years to get rid the Replicators.  We've only been up against the Ori for four months.  Look at what we've accomplished in that time.  I don't think we're doing so bad.”

“I guess I'm just tired.”

“Soon, Angel, we're going to leave the bad guy hunting to Carter and Teal'c.  It's almost over,” Jack assured, placing a kiss on Daniel's shoulder closest to him.

“Tell me, Jack.  Tell me our dreams,” Daniel whispered, shifting blight blue eyes from the ceiling to his Heart.

Jack knew his soulmate was taking the blame for the entire Ori situation.  It didn't matter that events in the Milky Way had transpired a bit differently than they had in some of the other realities or that it had been Vala who had led the Ori to Stargate Command.  Millions had died and millions more were enslaved by Ori soldiers, regardless of whether or not the Ori themselves were dead.

Interposed between the carnage of the war and the desire to protect the galaxy was Jack and Daniel's dream to have a family.  Their retirement was so close they could almost touch it.  They were within a whisper of deciding who they'd like to be the surrogate mother of their children.  That whisper seemed chapters away, though, the war with the Ori threatening to push back the couple's much deserved dream.

“You and me and baby makes three,” Jack declared quietly.  He smiled soothingly before continuing.  “One to start, another down the road, and a couple in need to make us complete.  All of us, here,” he looked all around the room, though his eyes extended beyond the four walls of the bedroom to include the entire home and yard, “loving one another and making our lives better than anyone can ever imagine.  We'll be an average, artifact-loving family.”

“Artifact,” Daniel mused lightly.  “I'm surprised you know the word.”

“I love you, Danny.  Our dream is going to come true.  We're almost there,” Jack promised and then leaned down for a tender kiss.  “We made the right choice to fight the Ori.  They were coming and because of you, we were better prepared than we would have been otherwise.  You saved this galaxy, Daniel.”

“It doesn't always feel that way,” Daniel admitted, fighting back tears as a wave of sorrow swept through him.

“War is hell,” Jack replied.  “People die.  I don't like it, but as much as we've lost, we would have lost a helluva lot more if we'd worn blinders.”

Daniel's hands raised up and began to caress Jack's neck, reaching all the way to the back, his fingers tenderly running across the edge of Jack's silver-gray hairs.

“I guess those steps forward are a little deceptive, not ... easy to see, and I'm having trouble dealing with that now.”

“Think of it like a maze, Love,” Jack suggested.  “Visualize us moving forward, but not in a straight line.  We zig to the right and then we zag to the left.  It may not look like we're getting anywhere, but we are, one zig and one zag at a time.”

“What's with you and ... zigzagging?  I mean, uh, you used that term yesterday, too.”

“Did I?” Jack mused.  “Maybe it just fits what's happening right now.  It explains the craziness of the unknown.”

“I guess you're right.”

Katie sensed what was coming and decided it was time to seek out her mother and let the two men be alone.  Sure enough, the lovers kissed, their tongues co-mingling happily for a few minutes.

“We have to go to work, don't we?” Daniel sighed, knowing the answer.

“There's no rest for the wicked.”

Daniel's hands dropped down slightly, sliding around Jack's arms until they took hold of his hands.  His eyes gazed at the strong hands as he brought them forward, kissing the knuckles and then sighing.

“I want that dream, Jack, more than ever now,” the archaeologist began.  “I think that's why this is so hard.  I'm afraid something will happen to destroy it all before it can even happen.”

“Never,” Jack insisted with a stern shake of his head.  “Nothing; do you hear me, Danny?  Nothing is *ever* going to interfere with our future.  We've worked too hard and been through too much crap not to get our day in the sunshine.  This friggin' war is going to end, and we're going to make sure of it.”

“How?”

“You tell me,” Jack shot back, holding Daniel's hands tightly.

“What?”

“Daniel, you're having more of those visions, and I know you're not telling me about that.  I'm guessing you're thinking I'm thinking that you're nuts.  Okay, you're nuts.  So am I.  My brain's been zapped so many times, I'm lucky I still know my name.  Merlin's trying to tell you something.  Listen to him, and let's end this thing.”  Jack gazed into his Heart's eyes, watching as his words were absorbed and became a part of the younger man.  “Now, what is it Merlin is saying?”

“There's an ark.  It's called the Ark of Truth, and it will save us and everyone.  We have to find the Ark.”

“Where do we start looking?”

“Dakara.”

“Merlin told you that?” Jack queried, not expecting such a clear answer.

“I'm not sure, but when you asked the question just now, Dakara like ... exploded in my mind.”

“Okay then.  Get dressed.  It's time to go work.”

As Jack began to stand, Daniel pulled him back down and into a kiss.

“I love you so freakin' much, Jack.  It consumes me and I'm ... I'm ... I'm so tired of lying and hiding.  I can't do it much longer.  I want out, out of not asking and not telling.  I want ... I want our family.”

“We're on the same page, Angel.”  Jack pulled Daniel up and into his arms as they kissed.  The union was intense to the point of both men gasping from the touching of their lips and the closeness of their bodies.  “I love you, Danny, to the moon and back again and to the end of time, and even beyond that.  It's time to finish the war.”

With a nod, Daniel smiled, still weary but believing in Jack's words and the hope that their future was close at hand.

====

SG-1 was on Dakara, a planet that was now nothing but rubble after having been destroyed by the Ori shortly after the war had begun.  Jack and Sam were guarding the perimeter while Daniel and Teal'c were searching the ruins.

“Daniel, any luck?  I'm getting hungry,” Jack whined over the radio.

“We found a chest with Ancient writing on it, but I haven't been able to open it.”

“Blast it.”

“Jack, I'm trying,” came the exasperated and crackling reply over the radio.

The general groaned and clarified, “I wasn't complaining, Daniel.  Blast the lock.”

“Oh.  Well, that's too risky.”

“Dan...”

The next thing Daniel heard was Sam calling out to her commanding officer in alarm.

“Daniel, we have incoming -- Ori troops,” Jack advised.  “We're coming to you.”

Quickly, the team reunited and prepared for the skirmish that was at hand.  Desperately, Daniel began to chisel away at the lock that kept the chest's contents a secret.  His teammates began to fire at the soldiers, but there were too many.

“Daniel, this isn't going well.”

Daniel put down the chisel and joined in the fight, but the team was outnumbered and the sound of gunfire ceased as the soldiers closed inn.

In the distance, SG-1 could hear a soldier calling out to his commander that the team was surrounded.  What happened next was a surprise.

Risking being shot, the Ori commander walked calmly towards SG-1's location.

“Tomin,” Daniel acknowledged in a quiet voice.

“You know me,” Tomin replied, changing his course to walk up to the archaeologist.  Staring intently into Daniel's blue eyes, a flash of recognition raced across brown orbs.  “You were on the ship.”

“I'm Daniel Jackson.  I was taken as a prisoner by Adria.”

“The Orici,” Tomin stated.  “She is missing.”

“She's ... yeah, she's missing,” Daniel agreed.  ~Well, that's not a complete lie.  Adria is around here somewhere ... ascended.~

“I heard of a prior who betrayed the Ori,” Tomin responded, wondering if that was the man he was facing now.

“Yeah, well, I guess that's me,” Daniel acknowledged while continuing the staring match Tomin had started with him.

“But you are not a prior.”

“And you're not a prisoner anymore.  Why is that?” Daniel questioned, turning the tables after having answered Tomin's queries.

“I am looking for Vala.  Betraying my own beliefs is the only way I could so.  You told me she was alive.”

“She is,” Daniel affirmed.  “Look, join us.”

“Whoa, Danny,” Jack called out.  ~What the heck are you doing?~

“Jack, this is Tomin, Vala's husband,” Daniel clarified, a bit upset that Jack was objecting to his decision.

Not thrilled with the request but willing to go along, Jack nodded his hesitant assent.

“So, come with us,” Daniel requested of Tomin.

Before the man could respond, a prior and another soldier approached.

“Here we go,” Jack mumbled.

“Tomin, why are they still alive?”

“Prior, they wish ...”

“Actually,” Daniel interrupted.  “See this chest here is valuable,” he advised, looking down at it.  “We just can't get it open.”

“What is it?”

Daniel grinned and answered, “I'm not totally sure.  Don't you know?  I mean, if you're the all-knowing gods of the universe, shouldn't you know everything?  But you don't, do you?”  He looked over at Tomin for a second before looking back at the prior as he walked towards him.  “But you don't have a clue what's in the box. What's more, you're going out of your mind with curiosity because you can't even open it.  You're powerless.”

“Tomin, I command you to open the box.”

Using his weapon to open a box was something Tomin was willing to do.  It was much easier than killing an innocent person whose only crime was not wanting to follow the Book of Origin.  In a split second, he aimed and fired, blasting open the chest for all to see.

When nothing happened, Daniel quipped, “Well, not exactly what I expected.”

“Kill them,” the prior ordered.

“Sorry, gonna have to butt in here,” Jack stated.  “Killing us is not an option.”

When Tomin failed to carry out his order, the prior grabbed the soldier's weapon.  He aimed it at Jack.

Jack, however, wasn't about to just stand there.  He elbowed the soldier next to him, pushing the man back.  He grabbed the soldier's staff weapon and fired at the prior, killing him.

Tomin was wide-eyed as he stared down at the dead prior and spoke in amazement, “He's dead.”  He looked over at Jack and asked, “How did you do that?”

“We have an anti-prior device,” Sam answered for her CO as she picked up said device to show Tomin.

“The Ori are not gods, Tomin,” Daniel informed the man.  “And the priors are only mouthpieces, sent out to do their dirty work.”  He paused and encouraged, “Tomin, come with us to Earth.  Vala's there.  You can see her.”

“You have Vala?” Tomin questioned, hope lining his voice.

“Come with us.”

Daniel looked over at the empty chest and silently lamented that it wasn't the real thing.  Then he walked over to Tomin and put his hand on the man's shoulder while giving a nod to Jack.

“Odyssey, beam us up,” Jack ordered.

====

As the Odyssey made the short trip back to Earth, SG-1 took the opportunity to discuss recent events with Tomin as well as see if he might know anything that could help with their search.

“I do not know much,” Tomin stated.  “I am not trusted.”

“I can understand that,” Daniel replied.

“We'll take anything,” Jack prodded.

“Ships are being built at a rapid pace.  I believe that soon a large-scale attack on this galaxy will commence.”

“Anything more specific?” the general inquired.  ~Come on, give me a bone here.~

“The priors do not tell us very much.”

“Need to know,” Jack sighed.

“The priors believe that all we need to know is what they command,” Tomin stated.

“Yeah,” Jack lamented about the lack of helpful intel.

“Tomin, a while back we sent a ... ship through the Supergate,” Daniel began cautiously.  “Did you hear anything about that?”

“No.  I was only released from my cell a few days ago.”

“Timing's right,” Jack opined.  “They need bodies.”

The team told Tomin about the events at the Supergate, surprising the involuntary Ori follower.

“The Ori are dead and gone?”

“As we said, we don't exactly know for sure.  We know we sent a weapon to the Ori galaxy that was supposed to be capable of destroying them,” Daniel reiterated.

“But not those that worshipped them?” Tomin asked.

“No,” Daniel answered, shaking his head.  “Not humans; just the ascended beings.”

“The point is, Tomin,” Jack began, wondering why they were working so hard to tell the stranger their secrets, “unless we stop the insanity, this holy crusade in the name of the Ori could end in a bloody mess for all humans.”

“A futile bloody mess,” Daniel elaborated.  “That's why we're trying to find the Ark.”

“What is the Ark?” Tomin inquired, inadvertently asking the question that ran through everyone's mind at one point.

“We think it's an Ancient weapon,” Daniel explained.

“And your hope is that this Ark will convince those that still believe in the Ori to stop believing as they do?”

“In Ancient, it's called armeria verimas.  Now, loosely translated, it means 'the Ark of truth'.”

“I know I have no right to say this, it just seems wrong,” Tomin stated subjectively.

“Hey, I'm not saying it's right.  Obviously, the Alterans didn't think it was morally right to use it, or we wouldn't be in this situation.”  Daniel sighed and then continued, “We think the Ark may be capable of brainwashing people to believe whatever it's programmed to make them believe.”

“But how did you know where to look?” the man from the distant galaxy questioned.

“Yes, the million-dollar question,” Jack quipped.

“That's the problem, Tomin,” Sam interjected.  “Daniel's doing his best, but we really don't know where the Ark is.”

“But you must have some idea,” Tomin beckoned in disbelief.

“I've ... been having visions, of a chest with a bright light.  Merlin's there.  A mountain exploded, burying the chest.”

“You've seen this in a vision?” a skeptical Tomin inquired.

“Yeah,” the archaeologist sighed, realizing how it sounded to the Ori soldier.  “It's complicated, but I recently shared my brain with a former Alteran named Merlin for a short time.  His consciousness is gone now, but he was the one who helped me build the device that was sent to eliminate the Ori.”

“When you were a prior,” Tomin surmised.

“Yes.”

Suddenly, Tomin leaned forward and began, “You were a prior.”  He paused thoughtfully and continued, “You must have read the Book of Origin, have you not?”

“Yes,” Daniel confirmed with a nod.

“I prefer Zane Grey,” Jack mused, ignoring his husband's glare.

As he stood up, Tomin asked, “Do you not remember the part about Ortus Mallum?”

“Uh, you'll have to forgive me, but I don't know it by heart.”

“Ortus Mallum is the birthplace of all evil.  The passage speaks of a mountain that erupts and buries the place where all evil once sprang forth.  I only ask because you mentioned a mountain that explodes in your vision.”

“Jack ...”

“We'll talk to Hammond as soon as we get back.”

“What of Vala?” Tomin questioned.

“She's fine,” Daniel assured.  “As soon as we get to Earth, we'll take you to see her.”

“She helped me to see to that the path the Ori were taking was wrong.  I only returned to service to find her.”

“Yes, well, she's done a lot to find you, too,” Jack responded.  “We'll be back.”

SG-1 left the room with Jack nodding at the SFs to continue to guard the soldier.

“What do you think, Sir?” Sam asked as the team walked down the corridor towards the bridge.

“I think we're in for a long trip.  I just hope we aren't being set up.”

“We have to trust him, Jack,” Daniel proclaimed.

“No, we don't,” Jack refuted.  “But we will.”

====

The next morning, SG-1 brought General Hammond up to speed.

“Bottom line it for me, Doctor Jackson,” the lieutenant general requested.

“The Ancients didn't bring the Ark with them, Sir.  It's still in the Ori galaxy.”

Jack clasped his hands together as he took a breath and added, “Which means that's where we need to go, General.”  He saw a funny look on his CO's face and asked, “Problem?”

“I hope not,” Hammond replied mysteriously, getting up and returning to his office without saying anything further.

“What was that?” Daniel questioned.

Jack just shrugged and stood up.

====

SG-1 was readying for their adventure to the Ori galaxy when Hammond called Jack to his office.  Unfortunately, the International Oversight Advisory was insisting that an ex-CIA and Black Ops specialist named James Marrick go along with the flagship team.  Jack was suspicious of the man from the beginning. Something in his gut just screamed this guy was trouble, but there was nothing he could to prevent the man from going on the mission.

“Jack, the IOA is a pain in our backsides.  Just try not to shoot him,” Hammond requested in a tone which suggested he was absolutely serious.

“Yes, Sir,” Jack acknowledged.  “General, there is one more thing.”  When his fellow general looked at him, the question in his eyes, Jack groaned, “Tomin wants to come with us.  He thinks he might be able to help.”

“That's your call, Jack.”

“Yeah, well, Daniel thinks we should take Vala, too.”

With a mock laugh, Hammond sat back and observed, “Nothing like fanning the flames with a gusty wind.”  As Jack nodded, Hammond shrugged.  “Jack, this is your mission.  Do what's necessary to end this war.”

With another nod, Jack departed the office, silently hoping he was making the right decisions to do exactly what his boss had requested.

====

“Do you think they'll come out before we get to this oompa place?” Jack asked about Tomin and Vala, who hadn't departed their quarters since the Odyssey had left Earth.

“Probably not,” Daniel answered.  Looking at his Love, he asked, “Would you?”

Jack looked around the area and, seeing no one near enough to hear, responded, “I think you know the answer to that, Sexy Thang.”

Daniel's eyes widened at the seductive sound of his husband's voice.  He wasn't sure, but he knew he was probably blushing, which wasn't a good thing to be doing at the moment.  His heart fluttered, but as his physical excitement increased, he began to recite a surefire list of depressing people and events which always calmed his body.  As always, the list worked.

Calmed, the scientist turned to Jack and, also ensuring that no one else could see, made a suggestive motion with his lips and tongue, one that always lit Jack's fire.  With a smile, he left the bridge, leaving Jack to work on his own surefire list of depressants.

====

Eventually, Tomin and Vala did emerge.  While Vala was elated and smiling constantly, Tomin was still more subdued.  However, it wasn't because of being reunited with his wife, but rather the growing guilt he felt for what he'd done by order of the priors.  Recognizing the pain, Teal'c joined the man in the mess hall, sitting down opposite him at a table near the window.

“You are thinking about your past,” Teal'c began.

“I should have let them kill me,” Tomin responded, not looking at the Jaffa.

“You refused to do their bidding.”

“Not soon enough, and then I did it again.”

“For ValaMalDoran.”

“I know what others have said about her.  She wasn't welcome at first in my village, but all I know is how she is with me.”

“O'Neill often quotes an Earth saying.”  Teal'c paused and then elaborated, “Assumptions are dangerous.”

“I've heard gossip about her and Doctor Jackson aboard that ship, the Pro...” Tomin stopped, not recalling the exact name as he looked over at Teal'c.

“The Prometheus.  DanielJackson is my friend.  He honors all, men and women.  ValaMalDoran presented a challenge.”

“Vala says nothing happened, and I believe her.  Most of her life she's used sex as a cover, to protect herself.  She has told me this, and I believe her.  I do believe her.  If you are successful in the war, there will be nothing preventing Vala and I from returning to our village and living our lives, except ...” Tomin paused, shaking his head as he again looked out the window.  “How can I live with what I've done?”

There was no doubt within him that he knew what Tomin was feeling, so Teal'c replied honestly, “Nothing I have done since turning against the Goa'uld will make up for the atrocities I once committed in their name.  Somewhere deep inside you, you knew it was wrong.  A voice you did not recognize screamed for you to stop. You saw no way out.  It was the way things were.  They could not be changed.  You tried to convince yourself the people you were hurting deserved it.  You became numb to their pain and suffering.  You learned to shut out the voice speaking against it.”

“There's always a choice.”

“Indeed, there is,” Teal'c agreed.

“I chose to ignore it.”

“Yet you sit here now.”

“I sit here ... and I cannot imagine the day when I will forgive myself,” Tomin confided.

“Because it will never come.  One day, others may try to convince you they have forgiven you.  That is more about them than you.  For them, imparting forgiveness is a blessing,” Teal'c opined intently.

Finally looking at the Jaffa again, Tomin asked earnestly, “How do you go on?”

“It is simple.  You will never forgive yourself.  Accept it.  You hurt others, many others.  That cannot be undone.  You will never find personal retribution, but your life does not have to end.  That which is right, just, and true can still prevail.  If you do not fight for what you believe in, all may be lost for everyone else; but do not fight for yourself, fight for others, others that may be saved through your effort.  That is the least you can do.”

“You just go on,” Tomin surmised skeptically.

“It is a choice, Tomin,” Teal'c stated, using the other man's argument.  “You must choose to live your life and to do so in a just and honorable way.  It is for yourself that you must choose.”

“I would be no good for Vala if I don't make that choice,” Tomin realized.

“Together, when the war is ended, you can lead your village, help them to move forward.  No doubt there will be change from how they lived before, under false gods.”

“Thank you, Teal'c.”

The Jaffa bowed his head and gave the man a small smile.  He hoped Tomin could find some peace.  He had, though the memories of what he'd done as First Prime had never left him.  Faces haunted him.  Still, his attempts at personal retribution, though incomplete and never ending, in helping others had enabled him to move forward and live a worthy and valuable life.

====

The time had arrived to venture into uncharted territory.  The Odyssey was now at the Supergate.

Daniel and Sam arrived on the bridge with Sam taking her position at the navigator's station.

“Carter?”

With a nod, Sam affirmed, “We're ready, Sir.”

“Dial it up,” Jack ordered, watching as the Supergate engaged.  “Take her in.”

Activating the sub-light engines, the Odyssey moved forward, entering the wormhole and slipping out without incident on the other side.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Ori galaxy,” Jack stated.  “Now what?” he asked his lover.

“Now we mingle,” Daniel replied.  Looking at Tomin, he put forth, “You know what we know.”

“I know of a place where people might be willing to help,” Tomin offered.

“It's the Ori underground, small and very dangerous to be a part of,” Vala added as she clung to her husband.

Twisting back around to face the front, the general thought, ~She almost looks like a normal wife.  She's even dressed for the part: no boobage, not that there's anything wrong with boobs.  I like boobs.  Always have.  Sara always said ...~

“Jack!” Daniel called out, having already said his lover's name twice without a response.

“Daniel?”

“Should we go to that planet?”

“Planet?” Jack asked, blinking slowly.

“Jack, have you been listening, or ...”

“I'll take the fifth,” Jack confessed.  “Carter, take us to wherever,” he pointed at Tomin, “he thinks we should go.”

“Yes, Sir,” Sam chuckled as she locked in the coordinates.

====

On the planet Tomin had led them to, Daniel and Vala sat at a table in a tavern.  Daniel had just seen another vision of Merlin, which convinced him that they were on the right track.  After a few minutes, Tomin brought over a man named Hertis who engaged in a game of verbal sparring with Daniel.  The man had knowledge SG-1 needed, but he desired to be convinced that he wasn't being lied to.  As a result, Hertis was taken aboard the Odyssey and was persuaded to believe that Daniel was telling the truth.

“There are ruins of a village high in the mountains that border the plains of Celestis that is believed to be the location the Book of Origin references as the birthplace of evil,” Hertis advised after looking out the Odyssey's window at his home world.

“Well, it makes sense,” Daniel claimed.  “The Ori followers built their holy city on the planet where they believed their gods once triumphed over the Alterans.”

“Celestis is not on this planet, though,” Tomin interjected.

“You got us here,” Sam told Tomin.  “If we showed you a star map, could you direct us to the coordinates of the planet where Celestis is?”

After Tomin nodded, Jack asked, “We're talking about the Vatican of the Ori followers, right?”

“Well, if the fires are out, then it's likely Merlin's device worked and the Ori are dead,” Daniel noted.

“But the priors are not,” Teal'c stated.

“We didn't come all this way to stop now, did we?” Daniel queried, knowing the answer already.

Hertis interposed, “Many times throughout history the ruins at Ortus Mallum have been searched by both the priors of Ori and those that believe as we do.  We have long searched for the artifacts that would prove the truth about our past, our ancestors, and the falsehood of the Book of Origin.  Nothing has ever been found there.”

Though Jack and Sam looked concerned about the comment, Daniel theorized, “That's good.  Let's hope that means what we're looking for is still there.”

====

“That man's an idiot,” Jack spouted about Marrick, with whom he'd just had a heated argument with.

“What happened?” Daniel inquired.

“He's in a snit because Hertis was on board,” the general explained, fuming as he started to pace.  “I almost slugged him.”

“Jack ...”

“Daniel, he blocked my path and began reminding me of protocol.”

“I assume you reminded him of our mission,” Daniel replied.

“You betcha'!” Jack confirmed.  “Told him we were after the Ark and if he didn't like it, he could fire me.”

“Jack.”

“Daniel, the man's almost as bad as Kinsey,” Jack whined as he stopped and looked at his soulmate.  “He followed me all the way to the bridge before he finally shut up.”

“So you're not fired?”

“Fired up, oh yeah, but that's it.”

“Good, because we need you in charge for this mission.”

“Daniel, who else is Marrick gonna get?  We're in the friggin' Ori galaxy.  How's he's gonna replace me?”

“Good thinking,” Daniel smirked at his Silver Fox.

“Thank you,” Jack acknowledged with a smile.  More seriously, he stated, “Danny, we're getting close.  Whatever happens, make sure you watch your back.”

“You, too.”

====

Having reached their destination, the planet on which both Celestis and Ortus Mallum were located, the Odyssey dropped out of hyperspace and cloaked herself. Leaving Major Marks in command, SG-1, Tomin, and Vala beamed down to the surface, materializing on a plateau.

“Any idea where to start?” Jack asked his lover.

“Not really,” Daniel answered.

“Ooookay.  Fan out,” the general ordered.  “Don't keep any treasures you find a secret.”

The last order Jack had directed specifically to Vala.

“Hey, I’ll have you know ...”  Vala trailed of the tirade she was about to start when she saw the general's pointed stare.  “... Errr, never mind.”

The group hadn't been searching long when Marks radioed Jack that Marrick had activated the Asgard core.

“I don't like this,” Jack muttered, glancing over at Sam who was nearby and had heard the transmission from the Odyssey.  “That idiot.”  Looking down the hill where Daniel and the others were, he shouted, “Daniel, Carter and I have to go back to the ship.  Keep looking.”

“What's wrong?” the archaeologist questioned loudly.

“Marrick's up to something.  He's turned on the Asgard core,” Sam advised.

“That will alert the Ori ships to our presence,” Teal'c stated.

“Yeah, I think that's the idea,” Jack shouted back.  “We'll handle it.  Daniel, find that Ark.”

Daniel watched his lover and Sam beam back up to the Odyssey and then returned to his digging, while Teal'c continued to scan the area.

====

Meanwhile on Earth, Hammond received a communication from Colonel Marc Reynolds whose SG-3 was on P6X-437.  The team had been approached by a prior who somehow knew they were there.  The prior claimed he had a message for the leaders of Earth and insisted that he had to be delivered in person.

“He's pretty adamant,” Colonel Reynolds relayed over the radio and through the Stargate.  “Says the message is key to human survival on Earth.  Says he knows that we have the technology that can temporarily neutralize his powers.”

“Give us an hour to make the necessary preparations,” Hammond ordered.  He looked at Sergeant Davis and ordered, “See to it that all safety protocols are put into place.”

“Yes, Sir,” Davis acknowledged and then slipped out of the control room.  ~Never a dull moment around here,~  he thought as he started the required preparations.

====

Jack and Sam hadn't been able to open the door to reach Marrick and the Asgard core.  Their shouts and threats through the door and over the intercom hadn't garnered any reply, either.

“S.O.B. wants the Ori to find us,” Jack groused angrily.

“Why would the IOA want to intensify the war and why would they risk this mission?” Sam countered in uncertainty even as she continued to work the controls to attempt to bypass the system.

“Good question, and the man with the answers isn't talking.”  Jack waited several seconds and urged, “Come on, Carter.”

“Almost.  There.”

The doors opened and a team of SFs entered, zats at the ready.

“I should shoot you right now,” Jack told Marrick, who backed away from the control panel and raised his hands into the air.

“General, it won't shut down,” Sam advised from the panel.

Jack observed Marrick assume a calmer position, crossing his arms over his chest and looking very smug in the process.

As it turned out, Marrick had been sent on the mission to perform his own covert operation, one designed to stop any further Ori invasion.  At first, SG-1 assumed it was the open warfare of battling spaceships that was behind the madness, only then they discussed the truly maniacal plan.

All of a sudden, Jack and Sam noticed a platform upon which an object was forming.

“Carter, is that what I think it is?'

“I wish it wasn't, Sir.”

Unfortunately, it was.  Marrick had unleashed a Replicator aboard the Odyssey.

“Crap!”  Jack hurried to the intercom and ordered, “We need an ARG in the Asgard core room, now!”

“Don't worry, General,” Marrick called out.  “It's being contained by a force shield.”

“For now!” Sam argued angrily.  “If you knew anything about these things, you'd know nothing will hold it for long.”

“I really should shoot you,” Jack reiterated.  “Once again, the IOA has proven how incompetent it is.  You're a moron, Marrick.  Do you have any idea what it finally took to zap these bugs into oblivion?”

“Exactly why it'll be so effective in neutralizing the Ori fleet,” the man claimed as he sat down, totally nonplussed by what was happening.

“Carter, I'm gonna shoot him.  Any objections?”

“Yes, Sir.  You said I'd get to shoot the next bad guy.”

“You're right.  Go for it.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Sam said, pulling out her zat gun and aiming it at the man.

“Don't blame me, Colonel,” Marrick spoke nonchalantly.  “It's not my plan.  It was the IOA's.”  He sighed, “In the event that the Supergate on this side was impossible to destroy, a backup plan was devised.  We knew we could draw the Ori to the Odyssey by turning on the core.  Yes, we might lose an all-out battle with a large number of them, but we'd certainly be able to hang in long enough to get this Replicator on board one of their ships, at which point, hopefully, we'll be able to escape; and since you were unwilling to even try to destroy the Gate, you left me no choice.”

“We came here to find the Ark; you know, that thing that's going to save the galaxy, ours *and* theirs.”

With a huff, Marrick explained, “Nobody expected you to find it.”

Just then a guard arrived with an ARG and handed it to Jack, who acknowledged it with a “Thank you.”  He looked at Sam and said, “I've had enough of him.  Do it now.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“You don't want to do that,” Marrick argued, staring at the zat in the colonel's hand.

“Actually, I do ... but,” Sam sighed, “Sir, we might need him.”

After Jack groaned his acceptance, Sam hastily went over to the control panel.  “The ARG won't penetrate the shield.  When I shut it down, don't hesitate and don't miss.”

“Oh, don't you worry about that,” Jack replied, aiming the weapon at the Replicator.

When Sam deactivated the shield, Jack fired at the Replicator as it dropped onto the table.

“Crap!” Jack exclaimed when the bug wasn't destroyed.  Instead, it lunged at the general and then took off through the open door.  With Jack and SFs firing, the mechanical object scurried quickly down the corridor.  “That's *not* what was supposed to happen!”  Looking at the guards, he ordered, “Get the P-90's.”

Back at the controls but not having any success, Sam commented, “If we can't stop it, it will cannibalize this ship and start replicating.”

“Yes, I know, Carter.”  Jack looked at Marrick, his anger growing.  “I'd say something, but I can't find the right word to describe your lowlife, stupid, squirmy butt.  What are you and the IOA gonna do if those bugs decide to take a little trip back through the Supergate?”

“Precautions to prevent that scenario have been put in place.”

“Oh my gosh,” Sam expressed with surprise as she realized what had been done to the Odyssey.  “Self-destruct.  You built in some sort of shut-down command into the programming.”

“I told you.  It wasn't me,” Marrick stated, still completely not comprehending the danger.

“Go!” Jack ordered, using his just-acquired P-90 to jab Marrick in the back.  “Carter, keep working on it.”

“Sir?”

Jack thought about it and then acquiesced, “Okay, let's go.”

Together, Jack and Sam took Marrick to the brig.  Opening the door, Jack shoved the man inside.

“Oh, one more thing,” Jack stated in mock thoughtfulness.  With Marrick staring blankly at him, the general hung a powerful right cross, knocking Marrick to the cold floor of the cell.  “If I have anything to say about it, you'll rot in here.”

Just as Marrick slid back up to his feet, Sam got the nod from her commanding officer.  She smiled innocently, raised her zat, and fired at the IOA man, watching with satisfaction as he fell back down to the floor.

“Feel better?” Jack questioned.

“No, but it helps.”

Jack smiled and then locked the door to the brig.  From there, he turned his attention to finding the Replicator.  Teams were formed and a search pattern put into place that would cover the entire ship.

Meanwhile, Sam returned to the room with the Asgard cord to try to discover how to get around the program Marrick had downloaded into the computer and find the self-destruct command.  On the down side, the user friendly program meant that all the IOA program had to do was tell the computer what it wanted to do and then the core filled in the blanks.  This meant the program was only available within its database and that had to remain on in order for Sam to find the self-destruct code.

“Do your best, Carter.  No pressure,” Jack stated as he checked in with his 2IC after ensuring the search teams were aware of the severe danger the Replicator could cause.

“Just the Ori fleet attacking us?” Sam replied in question.  ~We're only sticking out like a sore thumb; sorry, cliché,~ she smirked inwardly.

“We'll go to hyperspace and hide there for awhile.  Of course, we can't stay there forever.”

“Don't worry, Sir.  If I can't find the command code, forever won't be that long.”

“Right,” Jack responded dryly, walking out and heading for the bridge.

====

On the planet below, Daniel had another vision, one that led the searchers to a below-ground tunnel.  They used their flashlights to see as they walked through the structure.

“Daniel, this is O'Neill.”

“Hey,” Daniel greeted over the radio.  “What's up?”

“We have a little problem here.  We're going to have to beam you aboard immediately.”

“Uh ... no,” Daniel refuted.  “I mean, you can't; not yet.”

“That blockhead Marrick activated the Asgard core, so we're expecting Ori ships around here sometime soon.  Plus, we have a little Replicator problem, so we're gonna jump into hyperspace to avoid the bad guys while we deal with it.”

“I'm sorry, did you say 'Replicator problem'?” the surprised archaeologist asked.

“You got it.”

Daniel blinked and responded, “Okay.”

On the ship, Jack ordered, “Major Marks, transport the team on the planet back up to the ship.  As soon as they are safely on board, take us into hyperspace.”

“Sir, I am attempting to transport the team from the surface, but the system is not responding.”  As he observed his systems, Marks' frustration grew.  Finally, he threw up his hands and communicated, “I've lost control of the ship's computer.”

Switching gears, Jack contacted Sam and asked, “Carter, we've lost control of the navigation systems.”

“It's plugged itself in somewhere,” Sam responded over the radio.

“That was fast,” the general groaned.

“Well, it doesn't have much learning to do.  Everything about the Odyssey and its systems has been preprogrammed into the Replicator's memory.  I'm attempting to isolate life support, navigation, and hyperdrive command, and restrict it to the Asgard core.  Hopefully, I can maintain some measure of control from here,” Sam advised.

“Okay, keep me posted.  I'm gonna join the search.”

“Uh, Jack?” Daniel called out from the tunnel.

“Sorry, Daniel, but it looks like you get a little more playtime down there,” Jack informed his husband.  “Scotty's having troubles with the transporter.”

“The Odyssey doesn't have a transporter, and it doesn't have a Scotty,” Daniel responded dryly.

“It's a Scottish lass,” Jack mused.  “Carry on for now,” he ordered seriously.  “Good luck.”

“Yeah, you, too,” Daniel wished, somewhat worried about the Replicator situation.

“What's a Replicator?” Tomin inquired.

“You do not want to know,” Teal'c answered cryptically.

“Okay, so ... onward,” Daniel concluded as he began to walk further into the tunnel.

====

Eventually, Daniel and the others discovered the chest.  He knew it as soon as he saw it.

“Are you sure, DanielJackson?”

“Definitely.  We found it,” the archaeologist stated, a bit in awe by the Ark.

Daniel began to dust it off and study the box, observing every inch of it carefully.

“Well, open it up,” Vala urged impatiently.

“No ...” Daniel sighed when the woman opened the box.  He was a little surprised when nothing happened.  ~But I know this is it; it's the Ark.~

“That was a big bust,” Vala stated.

“I don't think it's activated,” Daniel opined, closing the lid and reviewing the top of the chest.  “It has something to do with these symbols,” he theorized as he motioned towards the dome structure at the top and then brushed it again.  “They look like buttons.”

Daniel pushed a button, but nothing occurred, except for a disturbing rumbling in the tunnel along with some falling dust.

“Perhaps we should examine it more closely on the surface,” Teal'c advised, getting an agreeable nod from his teammate.

====

Back on Earth, Hammond watched SG-3 arrive with the prior through the Stargate.

“You demonstrate great courage facing me in person, General,” the prior stated.

“Courage is only required when facing that which you fear,” Hammond responded.

Smiling, the prior returned, “The flames of ignorance burn without pain.  Beware the power, or it will consume you before you know.”

“Let's skip the fire and brimstone routine, shall we?  You wanted to deliver a message.  This is your chance.”

“It is not too late.  Allow me to deliver the message to your world that Origin is the way to salvation, and you will all be spared.”

Amused, Hammond replied, “Is that it?  Well, you can forget about that.  Earth is not interested in your religion.”

“Then you are all doomed.”

“I doubt that,” Hammond said, walking towards the exit of the gate room.

“I would not be so sure.”

Turning and walking back to the prior, Hammond challenged, “Mister Prior, your presence on my base tells me one thing: that the Ori are desperate.  You're not near as confident as you claim.

“Your defenses are no match for the might of the Ori, which shall rain down apocalypse upon ...”

“The Ori aren't going to rain down on us or anyone.  They're dead.  These beings you call gods, the ones who lied to you and manipulated you for their own selfish, power-hungry reasons, are gone, and everything you think you're doing in their name is entirely without meaning.”

“I was wrong,” the prior stated.  “You are not courageous, General.  You are without reason.  Your planet will burn in all the depths of darkness.”

“Maybe so, but if we do, you're coming to that barbecue with us,” Hammond countered, turning and finally leaving the gate room, after which the prior was taken to a holding cell and put under constant guard.

====

On the Odyssey, Jack discovered that the Replicator had multiplied and the Odyssey was now under siege from the killer bugs.  Sam figured that the first bug was now the queen and that her workers would be bringing her raw material to build new blocks with.

After firing on the Replicators non-stop, Jack ran out of ammo and hid inside a small storage area  until the Replicators passed by.

“General, four Ori mother ships on sensors.  They're moving to surround us,” Marks reported over the radio.

“Copy that.”  Jack clicked the radio again.  “Carter?”

“Got it.  Jumping to hyperspace,” the blonde colonel stated as she went to a console and entered the command.

====

In the forest of Ortus Mallum, Teal'c attempted to contact the Odyssey while Daniel kneeled down to further study the chest.  Without warning, the Jaffa  was shot and fell over.

“Teal'c!” Daniel shouted as he unhooked his P-90 and dove behind a large rock.

Tomin grabbed his wife, ensuring that they both were protected by boulders.  He could see Ori soldiers approaching.

Daniel glanced over at Tomin and Vala and smiled at them.  He felt like SG-1 had accomplished something by reuniting the couple.  His smile faded.  What about his own reunion?  Where was Jack?  Where had the Odyssey gone?

As the Ori advanced, the archaeologist closed his eyes and issued a potential final declaration -- **I love you, Jack, forever and always.**  Then he opened fire, using up all of his ammunition before facing the inevitable.  ~Crap.~

When the soldiers drew within feet, Daniel, Tomin, and even Vala attacked.  The soldiers were strong, though.  The archaeologist got the worst of the fight.  His body was beaten and battered by the soldiers.  Knocked to the ground, barely able to breath, his glasses broken and tossed aside, and his body rich with bleeding scratches and cuts, Daniel felt all energy drain from him.

Looking up at the soldiers standing over him, the scientist who seemed to have nine lives uttered a weakened, “I ... I surrender.”

For Daniel Jackson, life felt over.  He'd found the prize and it hadn't mattered.  He believed Teal'c was dead, and he had no clue about Jack and Sam, except that they hadn't responded to Teal'c's hails.

~He wouldn't have left me behind.  Jack's ...~

The tired scientist couldn't even think the mortal words.  Instead, he just closed his eyes and slipped into unconsciousness.

====

Aboard the spaceship, Jack made his way back to the Asgard core room where Sam, Major Marks, and Captain Binder were all working diligently on finding the self-destruct code.  What mystified Sam was why the Replicators hadn't tried to get to the core.  They had, however, sealed off most elevators and bulkheads, trapping the crew in various parts of the ship.

“They've also shut down systems over much of the ship,” Marks reported.

“It takes a lot of power to replicate.  My guess is the queen has set up shop somewhere close to our main conduit,” Sam conjectured.

Looking at Binder, Jack ordered, “Position all the personnel you have right here. Protect that room at all costs.”

Then Sam suggested welding the door shut, even though that would mean she couldn't get out.

“Do it,” Jack stated.  “I'm gonna go find the queen.”

====

It didn't take the general that long before he found the queen in Cargo Hold 3.  He was surprised at first that Sam didn't want him to blow it up, but when she explained that would just draw the Replicators' attention to them before they had control of the self-destruct, it made sense.  Besides, he knew they might need a distraction.

To that end, the general placed a block of C-4 atop a box and armed it.  As he began to leave, he spotted Marrick blocking his way.

~Something tells me he's not himself,~ Jack observed.  Moving forward, he shone his flashlight on the IOA representative, noticing his re-worked face and that he had a Replicator attached to his back.  ~Holy Android!~

Marrick headed closed to Jack, taking robotic steps.

“Not sorry,” Jack muttered as he opened fire.  ~I was afraid of this,~ he sighed when Marrick was unaffected by the bullets.

Marrick grabbed the P-90 and tossed it and Jack over against some boxes.

“That hurt,” Jack acknowledged after he fell off the boxes and landed hard on the floor.

--

Elsewhere, Marks studied the code on the computer and observed, “This program is huge.  It could take weeks to go through.”

“Skim,” Sam ordered urgently.

“What if I miss it?”

“It's a base directive.  It's like the one that tells them to replicate, only this one, when transmitted on a certain frequency, will command them to disassemble.  It should stand out,” Sam explained.

Minutes later, the colonel made a startling discovery.  There wasn't a shut off code for self-destruct.  She'd have to write one.

--

“How about we start again.  You know, a new beginning.  I'm Jack, Jack O'Neill, two 'L's.  There's this other guy who ...”  Seeing Marrick marching towards him, Jack sighed, “Yeah, I know.  It's an old story.”

On his knees, Jack pulled out his Beretta, but before he can get off a shot, Marrick picked him up and threw him against some barrels.  Groaning from the pain, Jack rolled back and forth on the ground as he felt the pain of a cut near his left eye.

“You know what.  Forget what I said about the new start.  You're still an idiot.”

Getting up, Jack lunged towards Marrick and punched him.  He continued to try to land blows, but they weren't having much of an affect.  Finally, Marrick pinned Jack to the wall and hit him in the face.

Over the radio, Jack could hear Binder reporting that the Marines were about out of ammunition.  It was time for the distraction.  Of course, since he'd just been thrown against the wall and had collapsed to his knees, that wasn't the easiest thing to do at the moment.

“Sir?” Sam called out over the radio.

Gasping a bit, Jack responded, “Working on it, Carter.”

Jack pulled his knife and tried to get an advantage over Marrick, but the man evaded his moves.  The fighting escalated, causing the general to have to pull out moves from his Special Ops days.  He was fighting for his life, and he wasn't necessarily winning at this juncture.

Knowing time was short, the general got up and impaled Marrick with the knife in his right shoulder.

“Don't like that, eh?” Jack asked as he gasped for air, the fight taking a huge toll on him physically.  ~My knees are about to blow out on me.~

Then Jack heard the urgent plea over the radio.  The Replicators were getting into the core.  Staggering, he reached into his pocket for the detonator, not realizing that it had fallen out in the scuffle.  A few feet away, Marrick picked it up.

“You looking for this?” the metallic voice of Marrick ringed through the cargo hold.

“Yeah.  I guess I dropped it.  You know, I'm really too old for this, so how about you just ... flipping that switch and blowing us both up,” Jack requested sarcastically.  ~I didn't know he could still talk, not that I care.~

Having tossed the detonator down, Marrick ran towards the general.

~Okay, let's try the direct approach, via Rickey Henderson,~ Jack thought about one of baseball's greatest base stealers.  Without warning, he ran right past Marrick, confusing the Replicated man.  Jack slid along the corridor, grabbing hold of his P-90.  ~Not bad for an old man.~

The fight continued, but Jack felt his strength going.  He hadn't been in a battle like this in a very long time.  It just wasn't ending.  His knees felt like soggy paste, ready to give way at any second.

--

While Jack continued the fight, Sam and Marks realized the vessel had dropped out of hyperspace.

“The Replicators took back navigation and hyperdrive control,” Marks announced with concern.  Then he looked at a different screen and advised, “Four Ori mother ships just appeared on sensors.”

Before anyone could react, the Odyssey took a hard hit, almost knocking Sam to the floor.  In an instant, two Replicators dropped from the ceiling onto the deck next to her.  More were following.

~Can the day get any better?~  Sam wondered in disbelief.

--

~I don't think I can do this much longer,~ Jack bemoaned inwardly.  His face was bloodied and his energy all but gone.  Moving a step felt like it took an hour.  He felt himself being shoved up against some power conduits on the wall.  Then hands were at his throat, and he could barely breathe.  ~Okay, that's it.~

Jack reached around Marrick and with all of his might pulled out the Replicator leg that had been encased in the base of Marrick's skull.

The IOA operative weakened and returned to his human self, begging, “Kill me.”

“Believe me, I'm trying.”

“They did this to get the self-destruct code,” Marrick stated.

“What is it?  Tell me!”

“I don't know,” Marrick answered.  “It's on the other side of the crystal.”

A moment later, the two were separated and the Replicator was back in control of Marrick.

~Sorry.~  Jack pulled a conduit from the wall and when Marrick charged him, he used it like a spear and stabbed his attacker.  ~That was electrifying.~

Jack stumbled his way through the corridor, every step a challenge.  The detonator was back in his hands.  Being in the clear at the moment, he clicked on his radio.

“Carter, I hope you can hear this.  The self-destruct program is on the other side of the crystal.”  Weary, Jack leaned over, desperate for breath.  He repeated, “The program for the self-destruct is on the other side of the crystal.”

Hearing footsteps, Jack straightened, shaking his head when he saw Marrick walking towards him.

~I can't.  I just ... I'm done.~  Jack blinked, breathing heavily as he watched the unstoppable foe getting closer.  **Danny, I love you.  Forever and always, Angel.  Geez, you're so beautiful.  Thank you for giving me back my life.  I love you, Danny.  I love you.**

Jack swallowed and stood up straight.  He pulled back the safety cover of the device he held.

“Screw it!”

With that, Jack pressed the button and began to run with whatever strength he had left.  The blast threw him against the side of the corridor, causing his world to go dark.

====

In a dungeon complex in the city of the gods on the plains of Celestis, the three captured humans were tossed into individual prisons, neither knowing the fate of the other.

Shoved to the floor and feeling like every pore in his body ached, Daniel didn't move, not even when he saw the Doci enter his cell.

“Oh, gawd.”

“Your gods cannot save you now, Daniel Jackson,” the Doci spoke.

“Actually, that's just a statement of general dissatisfaction,” Daniel corrected, rolling away from his tormentor.

“It does not matter,” the Doci stated, closing his eyes and using his powers to inflict great pain on the archaeologist.

~No!~

The Doci stood at the doorway to the cell, chanting platitudes from the Book of Origin.  With each line, more pain was applied.

Daniel felt like his muscles were being stepped on.  His lungs felt constricted, and his stomach was on fire.  His mind tried to fight the mental torture, to tell himself it was just a mind game, but when his ribs felt like meat being pulled off the bone, he couldn't ignore the torture.  Every passing second was excruciating.

The Doci began to repeat the same phrase over and over again.  Daniel could translate the sentence.  He remembered this one.

~Verily, the corrupted sinner will be cleansed from within,~ the archaeologist translated.  ~Not a sinner.  Need this to ... to stop.~

Daniel's face contorted from the constant pain, and his bloodshot eyes showed the depth of the pain.  His body throbbed, and it was as though his skin were being peeled back inch by inch.

~Why ... why am I ... fi...fighting?~

====

When Jack awoke, his first thought was surprise that he was alive.  His second thought was that maybe now they could go back and find Daniel.  Then he had his third thought, and it was full of expletives.  As he slowly stood up, the pain riveting through his body, he saw a Replicator rising from what had once been Marrick's body.

This Replicator was different, though.  It looked like a human skeleton, and it was moving towards Jack.

“Oh, for crying out loud.  Give me a break, will ya?”  Jack clicked on the radio and called out, “Carter, if you're there, now would be a really good time.”

“Working on it, Sir,” Sam replied.  “Our hands have been full.”

“Yes, I know the feeling.”

Sam put the crystal in the slot and resumed firing as she and the others tried to fend off the Replicator attack.  As for Jack, he had nothing left and just watched as the skeleton approached.  Suddenly, though, it stopped, let out a siren-type whine, and then disassembled itself, falling into thousands of pieces onto the ground.

“Cool,” Jack quipped as the other Replicators did the same thing.  “Nice job, Carter,” he sighed over the radio.

“Thank you, Sir, but we still have a problem,” Sam responded as she rushed to the console.  “Shields are at eighteen percent.  Hyperdrive is still offline.”

--

The Odyssey was taking a beating from the Ori vessels.  Most of its systems were offline.  Jack staggered into the bridge and sat down in the captain's chair.

~No one is gonna buy this.~  Jack activated the comm link and spoke, “This is Brigadier General Jack O'Neill of the Earth ship Odyssey.  We surrender.  Please, cease fire. Repeat, we surrender.”  He waited, but the firing continued, the ship bouncing from each blast it took.  Into the radio, he stated, “Carter, I don't think they're gonna stop.”

Shaking her head, Sam replied, “I'm sorry, Sir.  I'm not going to get the hyperdrive back in time.”  With frustration, she added, “We can't take much more.”

~Win one, lose one.~  Jack nodded and responded quietly, “Don't worry, Carter.  There's no pressure.”

Sam smiled weakly and acknowledged, “None at all, Sir.”

On the bridge, Jack sighed, ~I wonder what's happened to Daniel.~

====

After being tortured, Vala was brought into the Ori Hall and placed by the Ark, which had been cleaned.  One part of the wall was filled with flames.  It was the Ori, apparently not destroyed after all.

Then the flames on the wall turned into Adria, though the flames remained a part of her human look.

“Good to see you, Mother.”

“Torturing me is how you welcome me here?” Vala countered, sensing the hostility in her ascended daughter.

Not responding directly, Adria stated, “You'll be somewhat satisfied to know that Merlin's weapon did work.  The Ori were destroyed.”  She disappeared, reappearing in another part of the room.  “Somehow, you and your simple human friends managed to destroy quite a large group of very powerful ascended beings.”

“Well, I always say, you never know what you can do until you try.”

“I agree.”

“You don't seem too cut up about it,” Vala accused, her eyes following Adria around the room.

“No.”  Repeating her disappearing act, Adria went to another part of the room and expounded, “The energy transferred to the Ori by their human followers used to be spread out among many.  Now that I have ascended, I get it all,” she stated smugly.

“If you don't kill us all first.”

Adria continued her disappearing flame game, bantering words with her weakened mother for a couple of minutes.  They debated the use of the Ark and then Adria let her true desire be known.

“Once the Ancients have been destroyed, I will be a being of unchallengeable power, worshipped by all those beneath me.  A true god by any definition, wouldn't you say?”

Vala put her hands on the Ark and asked, “Why do you need to take on the Ancients?  Seriously, how many human worshippers do you really need?  Can't you just live with what you have and be happy?”  She walked over to her daughter and elaborated, “I mean, my own mother used to say to me, 'Vala, happiness is no something you can buy', or in my case, steal, but I think the point is ...”

“They are a threat to me,” Adria admitted as she was face to face with her mother.

The conversation continued and Vala realized how determined Adria was, something she lamented as being like herself.  Then Adria returned to the flames in the wall, after which Vala noticed that some of the buttons on the Ark had lit up.

====

Back on Earth, Hammond was getting a report from Colonel Abe Ellis aboard the Apollo, one of the newer ships in Earth's fleet and one which normally served in the Pegasus Galaxy.  He noted that seven Ori vessels were now in the solar system, but were in a holding pattern, something he found to be strange since the weapons platform in Antarctica was incapable of defending Earth against the Ori fleet.

“Sir, given how seriously outgunned we are, I don't see how a little more time really helps.  What could possibly save us at this point?” Ellis inquired.

“I was hoping SG-1 might show up at some point,” Hammond answered truthfully.

“Yes, Sir,” Ellis responded a bit skeptically.

“Colonel, don't give up on SG-1.”  With a determined air, he added powerfully, “Don't worry.  We're not going down without a fight.  Hammond out.”

====

In Daniel's cell, there was the aroma of despair, the kind of sorrow Daniel had never felt in his lifetime.  He'd felt the doom of Jack's death before, but never this personal despair, this dread that life wasn't worth living.

The archaeologist was lying on his side, facing away from the bars that bound him to this spot.  His head was placed on his hand, and his eyes were closed, not from sleep but simply from not wanting to see anymore.

“It's not over.”

Daniel opened his eyes at the words coming from Merlin.

“Don't give up,” the voice of Merlin encouraged.

“You're not Merlin,” Daniel stated in a voice that just didn't seem to care.

“I'm here to help you,” Merlin claimed as he sat in a glowing form.

Letting out a haunting laugh, though his eyes were closed again, Daniel challenged, “Then help me.”

“You must find the strength.”

~That's a joke.~  Again, Daniel opened his eyes.  He rolled onto his back with a painful groan.  “No.”  He began to sit up and repeated, “No.”  Resting on one elbow, he continued, “No, I've had it, and I'm really not in the mood for games right now.”  His voice was sad and choked.  “You're not a figment of my imagination and you're not ... Merlin.”  Finally, he looked at the glowing image and asserted, “You're Morgan Le Fay.”

“You're delirious,” the image argued.

“Merlin died.  He didn't ascend.  His consciousness left me.  It's ... it's gone.  The Ancients must be able to see through your disguise.  I know I can.  I just don't know why you think it's necessary.”

Giving up the ruse, Morgan appeared and stated, “You know Oma DeSala.  You know how complicated it can be.”

The distraught scientist smiled solemnly as a tear ran down his face.  He'd lost all hope now.

“Interfering with the lower planes is not allowed,” Morgan reminded.

Tears still falling, Daniel acknowledged, “Yeah, I know.  Helping me is forbidden and letting me know you're helping me, well, that's ... worse.”

“I did it once and they stopped me.  I was exiled for it,” Morgan revealed.

Daniel rolled onto his back again and responded, “Yet, here you are.”

With a sigh, the Ascended being explained, “Merlin saw the Ori for what they were.  He knew they needed to be stopped.  I was the one who prevented him from doing it the first time.”

“You kept him alive.  You helped us find him.”

“I realized he was right.”

“The Ori were going to destroy the Ancients,” Daniel stated, lifting his head to look at Morgan.  “Now, whether they want to admit it or now, we saved them.  I think we deserve the Ancients' help in return.”

With a nod, Morgan agreed, “So I believe.”

With a plea, Daniel cried, “Then, then help us!”  Inwardly, he bewailed, ~I've done everything I know to do.  What do you expect one man to do?  Gawd, I'm just a scientist.~

“I've done all I can.”

Angrily, Daniel accused, “No, you can do more.  You can do much more and you have to!”  He felt nauseous, so sick to his stomach.  ~Jack's right.  Ascention isn't what it's cracked up to be.  It's a joke; a cruel joke about what the pinnacle of humanity is supposed to be.~

“Not on my own.  She's too powerful for me,” Morgan confided.

“She?”  Then Daniel made the connection and he reclined back onto the floor, letting out a prolonged sigh.  “You mean Adria, don't you?”

“She took on the mantle of the Ori.”

“Yeah, I was afraid of that.”

“She has their collective power,” Morgan told the still-defeated archaeologist.

“Then take it away from her!” Daniel demanded while looking over at Morgan once again.  “And not just for our sake.”  He wanted Morgan to leave him in peace, though that notion was ridiculous, and Daniel knew it.  ~Why don't The Ancients see what I do?~  He closed his eyes, thinking, ~I don't even care anymore.~

“I've distracted her.  I've helped you when you needed me.  I promise you, Daniel, I've done all I can.”

Daniel was so full of despair that he couldn't hardly breathe.  He just couldn't understand the Ancients and their attitude.  He cried more, bringing his hands to his head.  There was no hope, not for himself, for his husband, or for the family he knew now that they would never have.  All he felt was a void, a channel lacking of love and hope.

“No!”

Morgan urged, “You need only use the Ark on one prior.  The crystals in their staffs are linked to one another.  It's how the Doci communicates with all at once. If you can turn just one of them, Adria's power will be greatly diminished.”

Daniel didn't want to ask and yet something down deep inside beckoned him to.

“How?”  Taking a deep breath and unable to fight that strong voice from within, he repeated with intensity, “How?”

At that point, Morgan disappeared, and Daniel wondered what the point of living was.  He fell back to the floor, hopelessness swimming through his veins.  He heard a prior approach and turned his head to see.

Then the prior removed his hood and Daniel raised up slowly.  Tears fell again, but not out of hopelessness.

“DanielJackson.”

“Teal'c?” Daniel called out in a small voice.  Slowly, he stood up and walked to the cell door.  “Teal'c?”  He caught his breath as life began to flow through him again.  “I ... I thought you were dead.”

“An ascended being saved me.”

His head bowed, Daniel whispered, “Morgan.”

“Morgan Le Fay?” Teal'c inquired, raising an eyebrow.

“She's here.”  A smile began to form on Daniel's face.  “She's ... helping us.”

With a nod, Teal'c unlocked the cell door and inquired, “What of Tomin and ValaMalDoran?”

“They should be here.  We'll find them,” Daniel assured as a renewal swept across his heart.

====

With Adria having disappeared into the flames, Vala found herself unguarded, so she went in search of her husband, finding him in a cell, lying quite still on a stone bench.

“Tomin,” Vala called out gently as she hurried to her husband.  “Tomin.”  Her touch was gentle as she helped him to sit up.  She saw his gaze, though he hadn't spoken.  He was pale with red, swollen eyes.  “They hurt you.”  As her hands caressed his face, she vowed, “Everything's gonna be okay, I promise.”  She smiled and encouraged, “We're going to beat those boring pieces of slime.  Are you with me?”

Though Tomin had been severely beaten by Ori soldiers, he nodded and tried to gather his strength to move forward.

“Good.  We have to find Daniel.”

“I'm right here,” Daniel announced, sounding surprisingly lively considering all that had happened in the last couple of hours.  “Are you guys okay?”

“I don't feel very good,” Tomin admitted, still lurching on his feet.

“Don't worry, Darling.  I'll spoil you rotten once we get out of here,” Vala promised.

“Okay, well, let's find the Ark,” the archaeologist put forth with a gust of positivity.  ~We can do this.~

====

As the group headed for the Ori hall, Vala told them about her earlier conversation with Adria.

“And then she just suddenly disappeared somewhere, as if she had something really important to do, and when I turned around, about seven symbols on the Ark were glowing,” Vala concluded just as the group reached the Ark.

Daniel began to examine the Ark and explain how Morgan had been helping the entire time.  The topic shifted quickly to which seven symbols had lit up on the Ark.  Vala, though, was frazzled and rebelled at having been asked to recall such a thing.

“With the fate of two galaxies hanging in the balance, I expect you to remember the essential clue given to you by a powerful ascended being,” Daniel stated a bit snarkily at the woman.

“It's not that they were glowing for that long.  It was more like a bright light, and when I turned around, I realized I was alone and went to look for you.”

“Which ones?” Daniel asked insistently.

Gesturing, Vala pointed at various places on the Ark and explained that they didn't come on in any order but lit up all at once.

The urgency intensified when Teal'c heard someone coming.

“Uh, okay, seven symbols,” Daniel stammered.

“Just ... make a guess,” Vala urged.

“Verimas is, uh, truth in Ancient,” the linguist advised, though after he typed it out, nothing happened.

The approaching footsteps belonged to the Doci who deflected Teal'c's staff weapon and then used his telekinetic powers to toss the Jaffa across the room.  When Tomin tried to fight him, the Doci repeated the action to him as well.  Suddenly, Adria appeared.

“It's over.  You can't win.  There is only one path,” Adria declared as she looked at Daniel and Vala.  Raising her hands, she proclaimed, “The power and glory of Origin.”

Adria's words sparked an idea in Daniel.  He motioned to Vala, hoping she'd understand, which she did.  Standing, the woman engaged her daughter in apologetic conversation about their relationship.  It was the distraction that Daniel needed so that he could type in the correct word to activate the Ark.

The action culminated with Adria realizing what Daniel was doing and throwing him into a corner.  At the same time, Teal'c fired his staff towards the leg of the Ark, causing it to fall towards the Doci.  Suddenly, the lid to the Ark opened and a beam of bright white light engulfed the prior.

The beam then passed through the city, going from prior to prior, drawing the attention of everyone and ultimately freeing the inhabitants.  The Ark shut off.

“No, you can't take away my power!” Adria exclaimed angrily.

“Too late,” Daniel replied with a smile as he rubbed his shoulder.

“You will all burn in the fires of eternal damnation!” Adria threatened cursedly.

A white light entered from the corridor, became Morgan Le Fay, and expressed with a hint of delight, “Not if I have anything to do with it.”

“You're no match for me.”

Morgan looked over at Daniel. It was a fleeting moment of thanks, from one to the other.  Then she smiled, an overwhelming confidence about her entire demeanor.

“I am now,” Morgan told Adria.

With that, both Adria and Morgan changed into balls of energy and collided with each other until both disappeared.

~Goodbye, Morgan,~ Daniel stated inwardly.

Still confused, the Doci spoke, “Mia clementia denar esto.”

To her husband, Vala asked, “What?  What did he say?  I don't understand.”

Tomin answered, “He said, 'Have mercy.  I was blind, but now I see'.”

“Teal'c, the Odyssey?” the archaeologist inquired, full of concern for his soulmate.

“They had not responded to my hails.  I shall try again.”

====

Jack had passed out in the command chair and when he awoke, he was shocked to see that he was still on the bridge of the Odyssey.  In fact, looking out the front window, he could see the Ori warships just floating out in space.

“Carter?” Jack called out into his radio in confusion.

From the core room, Sam questioned, “Why did they stop?”

“I don't know, but I'm glad they did.”  Jack grimaced from his movement and let out an, “Owwww!”  Then he smiled and asked, “Can we move?”

“We don't have hyperdrive yet, but ...”

“Good.  Get us back to that planet.”

“Yes, Sir.”

====

It took a while, the Odyssey having been severely damaged from the battle, but finally the ship reached the Celestis planet.

“This is Daniel Jackson to the Odyssey.  Come in, please.”

Daniel and Teal'c had been alternating shifts, each of them trying to communicate with their teammates.

“Daniel Jackson, this is Scotty.  Okay, not Scotty, but ... hey, what's going on down there?”

With a happy heart, Daniel answered, “Oh, we're just zigging and zagging.  How about you?”

“As a matter of fact, I did some of that myself today.  Everybody okay?” Jack questioned.

Daniel looked around.  Vala and Tomin were huddled together, talking quietly with a smile popping out from time to time.  Teal'c was with many of the former Ori soldiers, already teaching them what freedom meant.

“Daniel?”

“Yeah, Jack, we're all good.  Why don't you and Sam beam down?  You might want to see this,” Daniel put forth, feeling lighter than he had in months.

====

A few minutes later, SG-1 was reunited and catching up on what had happened.

“So what did activate the Ark?” Jack questioned.

“Origin,” Daniel answered.  “I realized while Adria was talking, the Ancient version of the word also means 'truth' in older dialects.  I guess the Alteran that built it must have thought it was ironic.”

“Irony is very overrated,” Jack sighed.  He looked at Teal'c and said, “So, you were shot?”

“In the back.  When I awoke, I began to walk the mountains until I could walk no more.  I was certain I would die, but when I opened eyes, a bright light appeared. It touched me, and I was healed.”

“That was Morgan,” Daniel explained, grateful that the Ascended as able to help them some what.

“So she broke the rules,” Jack surmised.

“Big time,” Daniel acknowledged.  “She came through in the end.”  He sighed and then asked, “How's the Odyssey?”

“In pieces,” Sam responded.  “It's gonna take us a while to get home.”

“Okay, well, let's go,” Jack suggested.

Daniel looked over at Tomin and Vala and then turned his attention to his husband.

Jack knew what his soulmate was thinking without hearing a word and responded, “I'm going back to the ship.  If a couple of people give you the slip before you get back, then ...”

“... oops?”

The general shrugged and then he just smiled at his Love.  They were both suffering from physical injuries, not to mention the mental grind they'd been through.  Unfortunately, they wouldn't be able to console each other for a while yet.

Jack turned, walked over to Vala and Tomin, and stated, “Thanks for your help.”  Then he clicked his radio and ordered, “Marks, beam Carter and me on board.”  He looked over at Daniel and Teal'c and advised, “Five minutes.”

As Jack and Sam dematerialized, Vala exchanged a look with her husband and then stood up, asking, “You're letting us go?”

“There's a lot to be done here,” Daniel pointed out.  “These people need a leader.”

Vala smiled and rubbed her husband's arm, agreeing, “Tomin will make a great leader.”

“When I was being tortured by the prior, the teachings of Origin gave me the strength I needed,” Tomin stated.  “There are still so many things about it that mean a great deal to me.”

“I don't doubt that there's morality and wisdom in it.  That's what made it such a powerful lure for so many people.  I think in principle, the idea of bettering ourselves and seeking ascension in one way or another is what it's all really about,” Vala replied.

“The book just needs some revision,” Tomin added as he shared a smile with his wife.

“And that's what you two will be doing,” Daniel interjected.  “We'll be around, if you need our help.”

“Thank you, Daniel,” Tomin responded, shaking the archaeologist's hand.

“Good luck,” Daniel responded.  He looked at Vala and shrugged lightly.  “I can't say it's been fun.”

“No, fun's not the word, but we had our moments.”

“No, I don't think so,” Daniel denied with a thoughtful expression.

“Okay, well, I had my moments.”

With a slow nod of his head, Daniel conceded, “Yeah, yeah, you did.”  He smiled at Vala and said, “I hope you have a good life.”

“You, too ... and General O'Neill.”

Daniel stared at Vala, his eyes focused and not sure how to respond to her statement, especially when she smiled coyly.

“I'll pass on your good wishes.”

“I'll bet you will.  Goodbye, Daniel.”

“Bye.”  Daniel looked over at Teal'c, seeing that he was ready to go.  He clicked his radio and communicated, “Odyssey, two to beam up.”

“But you really like me.  You know you do,” Vala called out, causing Daniel to laugh as he dematerialized.  She looked at her husband and laughed, “His loss, and your gain, Tomin.”

“You could go with them,” Tomin suggested lightly to his wife, placing a hand around her shoulders.

“Now why would I want to do that?  My place is here, with you.  I love you,” Vala stated as she kissed Tomin passionately, elated at what their now bright future might bring.  ~Who says happy endings never happen?~

====

“Welcome aboard,” Jack greeted his Love.  “Teal'c, if you're feeling up to it, Carter could use a lot of help getting this bird back up to speed.”

Teal'c nodded and went on his way, leaving the lovers on the bridge with the other crewman.

Jack nodded towards the exit.  Daniel nodded, and the two began to walk off the bridge.

“Can I be honest?” the younger man queried.

“Always.”

“You look horrible.  What happened to you?” Daniel asked, wanting so badly to comfort his husband and wash away all the visible marks.

“I zigged when I should have zagged,” Jack sighed as they turned the corner.

“I ... have no idea what you're talking about.”

“I had a Rocky type encounter with a Fifth-like Replicator.”

“A human Replicator?  Another one?”

“Marrick.”

“Wha....Jack, what are you talking about?”

“When we got back to the ship ...”  Jack told Daniel all that had happened during Odyssey's run-in with the Replicators.  “And then he crumbled into a thousand Lego pieces.  I went to the bridge and surrendered.  They kept firing until they didn't.  They just stopped.”

“That must have been when the Ark began to work.  This ... beam arced.  It spread through the city.  I mean, uh, you saw the result.”

“Good timing,” Jack responded.  “Another minute and the Odyssey would have been toast.”

“Good timing then,” Daniel agreed softly.

“Danny ...”

“Not here, Jack.  I ... I have a lot to tell you, but not here.  Besides, you really do look like crap.”

“Yeah, well, I feel like crap.  Danny, I think my knees are shot again.”

“It'll be okay,” Daniel assured.  “We just ... we need to get home.”

“Yeah...”

“...sureyabetcha,” Daniel completed, smiling at his lover.

There was so much to say and share about what had occurred over the course of just a few hours, but it wouldn't happen aboard the Odyssey.  It was too personal and too emotional.  It would wait.  For now, the lovers would relax in the infirmary and then fulfill their obligations at Stargate Command.  Once at home, they'd share all.

====

On Earth, Janet confined Jack to the infirmary.  Daniel, however, had only a minor sprain to his shoulder, so he was free to attend to his duties, which included an urgent visit to the prior being held in one of the holding cells.

The prior stood arrogantly, still spouting passages from the Book of Origin, even as Daniel entered.

“We brought you a gift,” Daniel stated, looking over at Teal'c as the Jaffa wheeled in the item on a table.  “It's life changing.”

The prior's expression altered almost instantly as the Ark opened and a bright light engulfed him, lighting up his staff.  As it had done in the Ori galaxy, the prior's staff sent the signal from the Ark to all the priors in the Milky Way Galaxy.  Now aware of the real truth, he fell to the floor, full of shame.

“That should do it,” Daniel told Hammond.

Shortly thereafter, Earth forces confirmed that the Ori vessels had departed.  At long last, the war was officially over.

====

Later that day, as he walked through the corridors with General Hammond, Daniel stated, “I know I was the one who found it.  I'm not entirely happy about the fact that we were forced to use it either, but I think it was better than the alternative.”

“No one disagrees with you.”

“But it is a very dangerous piece of technology to keep lying around,” Daniel opined.

“It's out of my hands, Doctor Jackson,” Hammond stated as they arrived at the elevator.

Intensely, Daniel argued, “Sir, with all due respect, let's say someone does figure out how to reprogram it, or worse, let's say it falls into the wrong hands, it could be the most powerful weapon we've ever come across.”

“I'm well aware of the risk,” Hammond responded.  “The IOA has their tail between their legs right now because of what happened with Mister Marrick.  For now, the Ark is being studied at Area 51, but I'll make some calls.  I can't promise you anything, but I'll try.”

“Thank you, General,” Daniel responded, hopeful that Hammond could at least keep control of the Ark at Stargate Command.

====

“Daniel, please tell me you've convinced Little Napoleon to let me go home,” Jack pleaded.  ~The walls are closing in on me.~

“Tomorrow morning,” Daniel responded.

“Daniel!”

“Jack, she doesn't even know how you managed to walk around the Odyssey after that fight,” Daniel stated, standing with his arms folded across his chest.  “Marrick almost killed you.”

“Almost only counts in horseshoes,” the older man mused, letting out a depressing sigh afterwards.  “I don't want to be here.”

“I know.”  Daniel walked over and sat on the edge of the bed.  That in itself was a risky move, considering the infirmary was full of injured personnel from the last battles with the Ori.  “It's only one night.”

“You don't sound so upset about it,” Jack accused sarcastically.

“Don't make a scene, and you know better.  It's just ...”

“Just what?”

“It's just I want to make sure you're really okay.  Jack, your whole body is sprained.  Janet says you're very lucky that you didn't really break anything.”  Daniel smiled, his dimples showing momentarily as he spoke again.  “By the way, Janet says your knees are fine.  She did say they couldn't take much more, and if anything like this happens again, you'll probably need surgery again.”

“She's not eighty-sixing me?”

“No, you'll be cleared for more Gate travel in a couple of days.”

“How'd it go with the Ark and that prior Hammond said came through?” Jack questioned.

“He's full of guilt,” Daniel answered.  “Uh, the Daedalus is going to take him to meet an Ori ship at the Supergate so he can go home.”  He looked away and then continued, “Jack, I'm worried about the Ark and what might happen to it.”

“I don't think we're going to be able to control that,” Jack sighed wearily.  “We can't destroy it.”

“General Hammond promised he'd try to keep control of it.  It's already been shipped to Area 51.”

Jack nodded, grimacing from turning his head the wrong way.

“That would be your concussion,” Daniel observed about the pain.  Standing, Daniel said a simple, “Well,” and began to walk away.

“Hey!” Jack objected.  “That's it?”

Turning back around, Daniel walked forward a couple of steps and responded, “Oh, uh, aren't you coming?”  He shrugged and added, “Or did you want to spend the whole night here?”

“I thought you said ... Daniel!”

Smiling, Daniel returned to Jack's bedside and told his Love, “Janet needs the bed space.  She knows we know the routine, and, uh, she was ... *very* specific about the what *not* to do.”

“I suppose you intend to honor that?”  Jack asked, still in shock of his Love getting a fast one over on him.

Daniel looked over at Janet, who was busy with a patient at the other end of the infirmary.  Then twisting around to make sure no one was tuned into his conversation, he leaned down and grinned.

“To be honest ... no, I don't think so.”  Daniel stood up straight and looked wickedly at his soulmate.  “Let me help you up.”

“Here and later,” Jack agreed, even as he let out a grunt from the moment of pain.

====

Their first night home, Jack and Daniel concentrated on two things: reassuring their beagles that life was back to normal as they lived it and reassuring each other that their nation of two had not melted away.  Their lovemaking was extremely gentle, with Daniel taking the lead, considering Jack's sore and weakened body.

When they fell asleep, the lovers held each other close, their bodies not separated by even a millimeter and without a stitch of clothing.

When morning broke, Daniel prepared breakfast in bed for his soulmate.  With the dogs at their feet on the large king bed, they relaxed and just enjoyed the pleasure of the moment.

Jack was still in quite a bit of pain, but the medicines Janet had prescribed were helping, and as the hours past, the general felt better.

Most of the day was spent leisurely, the lovers cuddling on the sofa or sitting on the patio deck, watching their girls play.

That night, though, after watching a triple feature -- “Star Wars”, “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi” -- and enjoying a glass of wine with some crackers, the silence over that torturous day ended when Daniel got up and suggested the beagles enjoy the warmth of the beanbag upstairs.

As always, the dogs understood.  Bijou and Katie stretched and went up to the master bedroom, settling in on the bed instead of their beanbags, the two figuring what Jack and Daniel didn't know wouldn't hurt them, especially since the girls were being displaced from that warm fire in the living room.

Daniel returned to the sofa, sitting down and motioning for his Love to place his head on his lap.  Looking, the archaeologist smiled and ran his hand down Jack's cheek.

“I gave up, Jack,” Daniel admitted as his smile faded and his head raised so that he was looking forward.  His hand continued making gentle strokes, sometimes going beneath Jack's chin, but Daniel's face was focused straight ahead, looking at nothing.  He didn't see the wall, the kitchen nook, or the stairs; all he saw was himself in a deep abyss to nowhere.  “I was so tired, not physically, but mentally.  I just ... I was done.”

Jack listened carefully.  It wasn't his time yet to speak.  The time to soothe and make it all better would come later.  Right now, his job was to take it all in.

“I wish I could intellectualize it, but I can't.  I can't even blame it on not knowing what was happening with you and the Odyssey.  There was just this moment.  We were under fire.  I looked over at Tomin and Vala and I thought ... 'Why'?  Why was everything such a struggle?  Nothing we did was working.”

Jack took hold of Daniel's hand as it was lingering near his chin.  He brought it forward, kissing the palm before releasing it.

“All the death; the loss.  Colonel Pendergast.  Colonel Emerson.  Colonel Chekov. Millions of people who fought the Ori, like Leda Kane.  Months: it all happened in months.  Kheb and Dakara destroyed and so many other worlds.  We tried so hard and all I could see was death and destruction.”

Jack swallowed, sensing there was much more to the story he was hearing.  Daniel's despair was evident even now by his demeanor and his refusal to look at Jack.

~Get it all out, Danny.  Something happened to you, and it had nothing to do with those people dying.~

The storyteller sighed.  Jack hadn't been at the debriefing due to his injuries.  His report wouldn't be due until he returned to duty.  That's when he'd see the reports prepared by his team and learn about things he hadn't witnessed or already heard about.

“The, um ... the prior came to my cell almost as soon I'd been thrown in there.”

~I am *so* not going to like this,~ Jack deduced from the shaky timber of his Heart's voice.

“He read from the Book of Origin and then he just kept repeating this line, over and over again -- 'Enim lupin purnum pravus intus', Verily, the corrupted sinner will be cleansed from within.”

Daniel paused, his hand actually shaking for a moment.  Jack took hold, silently calming the tremor.  This time, he didn't let go.  Instead, he brought Daniel's hand down to his chest and held it firmly in his.

“I'm not ... sure exactly what he did, except it hurt like hell.  Every muscle in my body felt stepped on, stretched, torn apart, and just ... like I was on some archaic rack from medieval days.  I've never felt anything that hurt so much.  I'm not talking about ... pain, but ... sheer agony an...and hurt.  I couldn't take it.  When he finally left, I just rolled over on the floor, and I didn't want to move ever again.”

“But you did, Danny.  You fought it,” Jack asserted softly.

“No, not then.  Morgan appeared, trying to make me believe she was Merlin.”

“Well, you were seeing Merlin in visions,” the older man reasoned.

“No,” Daniel denied, shaking his head while still staring forward.  “Merlin died; he left me on Odyssey before we sent the weapon through.  Everything after that was Morgan Le Fay.”  He leaned his head back, sliding down a tad and causing Jack to shift his body slightly to stay in position.  “She wasn't going to help.  I kept thinking about what you always say, that ascension isn't all that it's cracked up to be.  I thought about Oma and her rules.”  Closing his eyes, he continued, “I couldn't make sense of it.  I wanted it to be over, and it didn't matter how anymore.”

“Okay, but you changed your mind at some point.”

“I thought everyone was dead.  I didn't know about Tomin and Vala, but I thought you and Sam and Teal'c ... I ...”  Daniel let out another sigh.  “Morgan was giving me the same old Ascended rule book, but then Teal'c showed up.  She healed him.  She interfered.  I guess in that second when I made that realization, that she'd been looking over all of us, doing what she could, I knew that the battle wasn't lost; at least not yet.”

Jack chose this moment to right himself, sitting up and then caressing Daniel's cheek as he gently ensured they were looking at each other.

“Danny, we all hit bottom at some point, and that's what you did.  You hit bottom. The key is what you do once you get there.”

“I cried.  I'm not sure I ever cried in front of anyone but you before; I mean, since my parents.  Tears, my tears, have always been private.”

“When you hit the bottom, you don't care about who sees you wallowing there.”

“I guess not,” Daniel agreed.  “No, I didn't care.”

Jack's thumb slid from cheek to cheek and then his left hand glided back along his Love's silky though very short hair.

“It's okay,” Jack assured.

Daniel's eyes began to water for reasons he didn't understand.

“Danny, listen to me.  For a brief minute, you sank.  There's nothing wrong with that.  You're human.  I did the same thing.  I was so sick and tired of fighting Marrick the Bug that I stopped fighting and pressed the button.  It was the easy way out, and I took it.”

“Jack?” Daniel asked in surprise.

“That guy nearly killed me.  I haven't been in a fight like that in twenty years, and I'm not joking around when I talk about feeling old.  I felt like a rag doll being slammed right and then left.  I thought my organs were swishing around with my blood like a cocktail.  I made my decision.  I couldn't do it anymore, so I didn't.  Do know why I'm still alive, Danny?  Do you know why we're here, right now?  Do you?”

Shaking his head, the younger man whispered emotionally, “No.”

“I'm alive right now because of you.”  Jack saw the confusing stare and then smiled.  “What makes a man is what he does when he hits bottom.  You know what you did?  You cried and licked your wounds for a few minutes, but then you stood up and you fought back.  You went back to work, Angel, and you turned on the Ark; and that prevented the Ori ships from ripping the Odyssey part, taking me and Carter along with it.  You saved us.  *You ... saved ... us -- you.*”

Daniel was stunned.  He'd known the series of events, but he hadn't thought about, or rather, he hadn't let himself think about how and when they'd come about.  Had he not responded to Teal'c's arrival or had Teal'c been just five minutes later in showing up, everything would have been different and Jack very well could have ended up dead.

“I didn't think about that,” the archaeologist muttered reflectively, his hands clinging to Jack's shirt as his head hung low.

“Well, think about it.  It's not where you've been that counts, it's where you're going.”

Daniel looked up and smiled as he returned, “Isn't that a cliché, Babe?”

“I take the fifth,” Jack jested.  He saw new tears just seeping down Daniel's face, so he wiped them dry.  “I love you, Danny, and I'm so proud of you for facing that demon and beating it.”

“It didn't feel like it at the time.”

“It never does,” Jack asserted.  “The point is, you did it and in beating it, you saved the entire friggin' Milky Way, and I'm not talkin' candy bars, either.”

Daniel laughed, which had been the whole point of Jack's joke.

“I love you, Doctor Jackson ...”

“O'Neill!” Daniel insisted, giving his husband a pointed stare.

With a bright smile, Jack amended, “Doctor Jackson-O’Neill, I love you so dang much.”

“I love you, too, Jack.  Gawd, if you only knew.”

The strong emotion of the moment grew in intensity as the two grew close and kissed.  It was soft and reverent at first and then their lips pressed harder together until passion took over and their bodies connected in a heated intercourse of desire and need that had each being more demanding than their gentle union of the previous night.  When they had reached their elation, they fell asleep, Jack cradling his Love with strength and assurance as they slumbered through the night.

====  

Having told each other every bitter detail of their individual experiences and the associated feelings, Jack and Daniel spent the next day as leisurely as they had the last, only with Jack feel better physically, it was an even better day.  Daniel's slightly sprained shoulder had never been much of an issue and the prior's torture may have felt real, but it was more mental than anything else, so both men were doing darn well in spite of what they'd endured throughout the mission.

When nine o'clock rolled around, Daniel went up to the roof deck at the request of his husband, although he had no clue where the man was at the moment.  It was a clear night, though it was very cold.  In fact, it was under thirty degrees.

Raising the collar of his jacket, Daniel mumbled aloud, “He'd better have a good reason for this.  I don't want to become a Popsicle.”

“I do,” Jack affirmed, smiling when Daniel turned around and looked at him.

Immediately, the younger man was surprised to see Jack was carrying two bottles of Jack Daniel's Whiskey.  It wasn't something they drank all that often, but simply because of the name, it was an alcohol beverage they imbibed on occasion.  Apparently, this was going to be one of the occasions.

Zipping up his jacket a bit further, Daniel asked, “What are we drinking to?”

Jack walked over to the small table that was placed between the two deck chairs. He placed the glasses down and then popped the cork on the first bottle of whiskey, after which he poured out two full glasses.  He turned and handed one of the full glasses to Daniel.

“The first one is to us,” Jack stated, clinking his glass against Daniel's.

“Okay, to us,” Daniel agreed, freezing too much to argue and knowing the alcoholic intake would warm him up.  After taking a big swig, he asked, “Now what?”

“To Lionel Pendergast,” Jack stated, raising his glass.

“He did all he could.”

“He saved seventy-six,” Jack reminded his Love before their glasses clanged.

“To Clint Mathias,” Daniel stated.  He smiled and explained, “He was one of the Prometheus crew who didn't make it.  I didn't know him very well, but he was engaged to Shirley Weinhard.  She's a civilian on my staff.”

“To Clint *and* Shirley,” Jack agreed.

Their glasses didn't clang this time, but both Jack and Daniel nodded and extended out their glass-filled hands slightly.  Jack nodded, and with the bottles and their glasses, the two headed for their favorite spot on the tiny deck.  They sat down in the freezing weather, their jackets zipped and collars raised as much as possible to protect their skin from the icy temperature.

Daniel was further surprised when Jack reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper.  In solemn reverence, he read off each name before taking a drink, as did the archaeologist.  It was the list of the dead from the Prometheus crew.

“To Paul Emerson, shot down like a bird in flight,” Jack lamented as the lovers continued their ritual, the cold not feeling so grim anymore.

Then they came to Colonel Chekov.

“Jack?”

“I don't like the Russians,” Jack sighed.  “I've never drank a toast to a Russian in my life.”

Daniel looked down, unsure of how to reply.

Clearing his throat and his voice trembling slightly, the general raised his glass and whispered, “To Colonel Chekov.  I guess we've clashed for the last time.”

The younger man gave off a slight smile and replied softly, “That was nice, Jack.”

“He couldn't help where he was born,” Jack rationalized.  ~Plus, he was the only Russian I knew who had good moments.~

Over the next half-hour, Jack and Daniel toasted everyone they could think of who had died during the war with the Ori.  In fact, Jack had taken to drinking two shots per toast.

“To Merlin and Morgan Le Fay,” a rather tipsy Daniel toasted.

“To Mergan and Morlin Fay Le,” an intoxicated Jack agreed.  After drinking his toast, he turned the second bottle upside down and observed, “Daniel, we're out of booze.”

“But we still have each other.”

Jack grinned sappily, dropped the bottle, and kissed his husband, which led to another kind of warming of their bodies.

“I love you,” Daniel declared from the depths of his soul.

“Love you, Danny, so friggin' much.”

====

“I hate hangovers,” Daniel groaned the next morning, finally taking his head out of his hands and then putting on his glasses that had been on his nightstand.

“It was worth it,” Jack opined as he zipped up his pants.

“Yes, it was.  It was ... needed.”

Jack nodded, smiling at his husband, and replied, “Good people need to be remembered.”

“As do the innocent who were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Daniel added.

Tucking in his shirt, Jack walked over to his husband and suggested, “It's all over, Danny.  The war's done.  We can't change any of it.  Just remember, if you hadn't convinced us to be ready and if you hadn't activated the Ark, we'd be dead.”

“Or worse.”

“That I don't want to think about.”  Jack put his arms around his Love and asked, “Are you ready to go back to work?”

“It might be kind of boring, Babe.  I mean, uh, no one to shoot.”

“I can deal with it.”

With a kiss, the couple finished getting ready and then headed for the Mountain where the entire team would be back on duty, although it would be light duty for this first day.  After that, SG-1 would be back in the normal rotation, as would all the other SG teams.

====

Just over twenty-four hours later, a fully geared up SG-1 walked through the corridors towards the gate room.

“Well, kids, what do we do now?” Jack questioned playfully.

“It is kind of weird not having a big bad guy to fight anymore,” Sam mused.  “Of course, that's how we felt when we defeated the Goa'uld ... and the Replicators ... the first time.”

“There are still many planets in our gate system that remain unexplored,” Teal'c stated as the team entered the gate room and walked over to the foot of the ramp.

“Exploration,” Daniel sighed as he gazed forward at the Stargate.  “When's the last time we did this, just ... went out to explore a new world, not looking for intel about the Ori or the Goa'uld, but just to see ... what's out there?”

“It's been a while,” Sam admitted quietly, smiling at her friend.

“Too long,” Jack agreed.  More boisterously, he declared, “But it's a new day.”

“Yes,” Daniel agreed in an upbeat tone.  “Let's see what mysteries P3K-546 will hold.”

Jack looked up at the control room and ordered, “Walter, hit it!”

====

Ninety minutes into their mission, Sam began to laugh.  When Daniel looked at her, he surprised himself by laughing as well.

“Okay, what's so funny?”

Sam held out the container in front of her and announced, “It's a soil sample, a harmless, normal, non-threatening soil sample.”

“And you think that's funny?” Jack asked his lover.

“Actually, I was laughing at this,” Daniel answered, running his fingers along the front panel of obelisk-like object on which was yards away from where Sam had been taking her samples.  “It's Babylonian text.”

“I, too, feel a sense of joy.”

“You do?” Jack and Daniel both asked the Jaffa, the lovers looking at each other after asking the same question at the same time.

“For the first time in many years, I do not feel the need to carry more than my staff weapon.”

“No more Rambo?” Jack questioned.  ~For a while there, Big Guy, you carrying around two P-90 weapons was almost like an over-the-top comic strip.~

“It does not feel necessary,” Teal'c admitted sagely.

“Yeah,” Jack whispered as he looked around, tapping his P-90 as he nodded.

The four teammates all shared a look that was almost magical.  They didn't speak, the words both unnecessary and impossible to express.  One at a time, they returned to their investigation of this unexplored world.

====

“That felt good,” a happy Daniel stated as the team walked towards the locker room.

“I can't remember the last time we truly were able to just explore a new world,” Sam added.

“Indeed,” Teal'c added.

“Yeah,” Jack sighed.  “I wasn't looking over my shoulder the whole time for prior puppets.”

“We have hundreds more planets to visit,” Sam stated with a smile.  “Like Daniel said, it feels good.”

“With the Jaffa Nation finally in order, there is no reason why we cannot explore all of those words, ColonelCarter,” Teal'c responded.

Jack and Daniel glanced guiltily at each other. There wouldn't be hundreds of more missions for them, but they had yet to tell their friends about their decision to retire in a matter of months, if even that long.  Saying the words out loud to Sam and Teal'c, as well as others, would make it too real.  Soon, though, everyone would know that Jack and Daniel were a nation of two, a nation that was about to add a territory to their world.

The lovers tuned back into the conversation, which had shifted to a dream Sam had had recently.

“Dreams are a funny thing, Carter,” Jack began lightheartedly as the unit rounded a corner.  “You just never know when they might come true.”

Daniel caught the smug grin on his Love's face.  He'd seen it a lot recently, but whenever he asked Jack about it, all he got in response was a bigger grin.  Obviously, something was up, but he hadn't a clue what it might be.

====

The calendar showed the date: February 14th, better known for the romantics in the world as Valentine's Day and as luck would have it, SG-1 was only scheduled for a half-shift, meaning they were off at noon.  Although both Jack and Daniel gave each other reasons why they were driving to the Mountain separately, both knew the unspoken truth -- shopping and preparations for a very special evening together.

Arriving home first, Jack grinned.  Now he could make sure the house was prepped the way he wanted it to be.  He'd done it before, but never was his plan needed more than it was now, after the months of intenseness from the threat of the Ori.

Jack walked inside and began to get the house in order.  After a while, he wondered why Daniel was home yet, but he figured there had to be a reason.

~Last minute shoppers.~  Standing back to take in part of his handiwork, he asked Bijou and Katie, “What do you think?”

Two supportive woofs reverberated through the room.

“Good.”  Jack smiled at the beagles and said, “You two do realize you're spending the night in your doghouse?”  Quickly, he added, “I put in two very warm new blankets by your beds, and new bones.”

With the beagles wagging their tails, satisfied with their bribes, Jack moved on to the next part of his preparations.

====

“Danny, where the heck have you been?” Jack greeted, advancing on his Love like he'd been gone for weeks.

“I love you, too,” Daniel chuckled, his arms going around his husband's neck while he leaned in for a very long welcome home kiss.

“I missed you,” Jack whined.

“Well, I didn't want to rush you.”

“Rush me?”

“I know you.  You have something planned.”

“Don't you?” Jack asked, looking around for gifts or anything indicating shopping.

“Maybe,” Daniel responded noncommittally.

“You're a sneaky geek, Daniel.”

“Maybe,” the archaeologist chuckled.

Holding his husband's hand, Jack led him to the first surprise.

====

“I was hoping for this,” Daniel sighed from the warm water of the bathtub.  He was leaning back against Jack's chest.  “It's so peaceful.”

Candles were burning just about everywhere Jack could safely get them in the bathroom, and in the background sounds of light jazz hung in the air.  A tropical incense was burning just lightly to give the room a meditative feel.  Instead of flower petals lining the floor, Jack had placed red roses all over the room, wiring them to anything he could.  Four dozen roses were strategically placed in the bathroom and the bedroom.

Surrounded by lavish bubbles, the lovers sipped on St. Julien's wine, Daniel's favorite, and enjoyed a deliciously rich chocolate truffle.  For Daniel, life couldn't be more blissful.  It was perfect, and he was content to stay in the tub with his soulmate for hours, which in fact, they did.

====

By previous agreement, Daniel was in charge in the evening meal and since all the couple had eaten since breakfast were truffles, they were plenty hungry when they got out of the tub.

Jack was about to reach for his robe when Daniel tugged at his elbow and said, “Uh, no, I don't think so.”

“Are we dining au natural?”

“Come this way.”

Smiling at Daniel's bare back and bottom as he followed him out of the bathroom and into the bedroom, Jack was surprised when Daniel reached under the bed and pulled out two boxes, one wrapped, one not.

“When did you do that?” Jack asked, surprised at his soulmate's sneakiness.

“I've been trained in covert operations, General, remember?” Daniel answered without really answering.

Still naked, Jack opened the box, secretly enjoying the seductive leer Daniel was giving to his midsection.

“Whoa!  Wow, Danny, this is ... whoa!”  Jack slipped on his new robe, while Daniel did the same and put his new robe on.  The couple's current robes were old and very average.  Their new ones were soft and plush, not to mention roomy and thick.  “Turkish cotton?” he questioned, looking over at his Heart.

“Only the best for my best and only Love,” Daniel responded with sparkling eyes, watching as Jack examined the shawl collar and then the looped belt for the sash.

The robes had overly long sleeves, making it easy to stay warm and cuddle up inside.  There were two large front pockets, and the completely absorbent material was fifty-two-inches long.  For a couple of tall guys, it was just about the right length.

“Hey, it's got my initial on it,” Jack noticed about the large, italic 'J' over the chest.  Then he saw Daniel's with the 'D' on it.  “It's perfect.  Thank you, Danny,” he stated, walking over and giving his lover a kiss.

“You're so handsome, Jack.  I love how the forest green looks on you,” Daniel opined.

“And you know how I feel about the navy blue,” Jack noted about Daniel's robe color.

“That's part of your present.  Otherwise, I would have purchased brown for me.”

“Daniel!”

The younger man laughed and then the couple kissed.

“Shoes, and then time to eat, I hope,” Jack mused.

“Um, bottom drawer,” Daniel called out smugly, pointing to the nightstand on his side of the bed.

Studying his husband carefully, Jack opened the drawer and laughed when he saw the two boxes inside.  Pulling them out, he tossed Daniel the unwrapped one and then opened the one with his name on it.

“New Uggs,” Jack sighed happily as he slipped on the warm, black house slippers, immediately feeling the comfort of the genuine sheepskin.  “Non-skid?”

“Of course,” Daniel assured as he put on his black slippers.  “From Oz, too.”

“Not a copy?”

“Nope,” the younger man answered with a grin.

“I love my Uggs,” Jack remarked with a delighted expression on his face.

====

Finally having made their way downstairs after a short make-out session to celebrate their new in-home attire, Jack and Daniel prepared to enjoy their meal. Jack had been sworn by his honor as a general and lover to stay completely out of the kitchen that afternoon and evening so that the entire dinner would be a surprise to him.  It had been hard, but every time he'd started to get the urge to spy on what might be in the kitchen, Jack would remember Daniel's begging blue eyes, pleading with him to be a good spouse and not peek.  Somehow, he'd managed to honor that promise not to investigate, but had Daniel gotten home any later, Jack wasn't sure he would have made it.

“Sit, My Love,” Daniel insisted, the palms of his hands firmly pressing against Jack's shoulders to move him onto the chair at the table.

In short order, the archaeologist pulled out a low, crystal bowl that had short-cut flowers filling it up decoratively.  The aroma was calming and once placed in the center of the table, it added a touch of elegance to the setting that Daniel was quickly creating.  Once again, lights were replaced by the flickering of candles and playing in the background was a set of five romantic CDs.  If confronted, Jack and Daniel would both deny owning such sentimental music, but they loved listening to it on ultra romantic occasions like this.  Sometimes, they even danced to it.

Daniel retrieved two large and two small plates as well as two small bowls of previously prepared food from the refrigerator.  Removing their protective covers, he revealed plates of food that looked like pieces of art.  Each of the big dishes included a crab spread that had been contoured on the plate in the shape of a big heart and some cold chicken and pepper risotto which was actually spread out within the crab spread heart.

The small platters featured a small heart-shaped carrot pineapple freeze salad and to the side and two groupings of almonds, one each in the symbol of the male and female.  It was a symbolic representation of their children to come.

The bowls contained a chocolate desert that was a blend of chocolate, oranges, Grand Marnier, eggs, and butter.  Before sitting down, Daniel actually cut two thin slices of an orange, slicing those into quarters and putting them with points facing each other atop each bowl.  Then he dashed just a splash of Grand Marnier on top of the dish, lightly covering the entire bowl.

“I'm impressed,” Jack stated as Daniel brought over their drinks.  He  laughed, “Beer doesn't quite seem to fit, especially not with the Grand Marnier.”

“I know, but we've had plenty of wine and whiskey over the last couple of days.  You love beer, so it seemed ... appropriate.”

“Thank you for being My Valentine,” Jack acknowledged with a smile.

“I love you, Jack,” Daniel proclaimed as he stretched out his hand, smiling when Jack's hand slid into his.  “It's been a perfect evening.”

“It's far from over,” Jack promised.  “How'd you get all this done anyway?  You weren't even home and this was definitely not in the fridge this morning?”

“You taught me well, Babe,” Daniel smiled smugly about his covert training.

“Yes, apparently,” Jack agreed, squinting as he studied his lover.  “Too well maybe.”

Daniel laughed, as did his Heart, and then they began to enjoy their Valentine's meal.

====

The clock was approaching eleven as the lovers sat on the carpeted floor, facing the fire.  They were still in their robes, naked as the proverbial jaybirds beneath them.  Daniel's head rested on Jack's right shoulder, their hands clasped together as sweet music continued to play in the background.

A box of chocolate candy sat a third empty in front of the lovers as well as a bottle of St. Julien's wine, also a third empty with their wine glasses both showing remnants of their drinks.  They were warm, inside and out.

“It really has been a perfect Valentine's Day,” Daniel sighed, full of happiness and not feeling tired for the first time in months.

“There's one more thing; another present,” Jack stated, twisting around to sit opposite his husband, the roar of the fire now to his back.  “Danny, I want us to go ahead with our plans.”

“We are.”

“No, we're still pussyfooting around.  Kayla Armentrout: she's the one, and we both know it.  We've checked her out five ways from Sunday, and geez, she's the Doc's niece.  What better recommendation could we have?”

“None.”

“We first met her almost three years ago, and the emails and the phone calls ...” Jack let out a sigh.  “Danny, if we don't know by now, we'll never know.”

“We know,” Daniel averred softly as a tear of joy escaped from the corner of his eye.

“Then it's time.  The Doc says Kayla's due back anytime from her latest adventure, so let's get her over here as soon as we can.  Look, we've investigated the procedures.  We know the process.  Let's ask her and get the show on the road.”

“What if she says 'no'?”

“Daniel, I think she would have backed away from us by now if she wasn't interested.  Granted, we haven't asked, but she knows what we want,” Jack reminded his Love.  “So, what do you say?  No more vague tomorrows.  Let's seal the deal.”

Daniel was barely breathing.  It's not that any of this was a surprise, but it was his deepest dream and a part of him was still afraid that if he spoke any of it out loud that the whole dream might fade away.

“We beat the Goa'uld, destroyed the Replicators, found Atlantis, and kicked Ori butt,” Jack enumerated.  “We'll invite Kayla over, get the green light, call Syl, and we're done.”

“We can't just ... walk away without notice,” Daniel replied weakly.

“I'm okay with that.  Pick a month.  How about April?”

“April,” Daniel echoed, a nod beginning.  “Jack?  It's going to happen, right?”

“Oh, yeah,” Jack promised.  “So we're a 'go'?”

“A very big 'go',” Daniel agreed, leaning forward to share in tender kisses to seal the deal.  “Thank you for the present.”

“That wasn't it.”

“It wasn't?”

“Danny, we ...”

All of a sudden it was Jack who became emotional.  He looked away, his voice so choked up that he couldn't speak.  In an instant, tears fell from his eyes.  Quickly, Daniel closed the short expanse that had separated them.  He held Jack's head to his chest and swayed gently from side to side.  His hands supported his Love's head as his head rested against Jack's.

“It's okay.  Whatever it is, it's okay.  I love you so much, Jack,” Daniel soothed, curious what was occurring, but wanting his lover to calm from whatever was upsetting him.

Slowly, the normally steady military man regained his composure and attempted to explain his emotional state by saying, “It's just I know what you've sacrificed for me.  I saw ...”

“Babe, I haven't sacrificed anything.  You've given me life,” Daniel proclaimed unwaveringly.

Jack broke from his lover's protective hold, raising his head to look into Daniel's eyes.

“It's there, in your eyes.  It was in the eyes of all those other Daniel's in the other reality, too.”

“I don't know what you're talking about, Jack,” Daniel responded, perplexed at what Jack was talking about.

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I don't.  I'm right where I want to be, and I have no regrets about our decision.  If that's what this is about, we can quit today.  I ...”

“No, Daniel, that's not what this is about.  My dream was to be an Air Force pilot, to command missions, and then to do whatever I had to in order to protect my country.  I've lived my dream.  I've piloted alien spaceships, for crying out loud.  I'm a friggin' general,” Jack chuckled in amazement.  “I've broken more rules than I even know exists; and here I am.  I've lived my dream.  It's time for you to live yours.”

Extremely confused and scared to death at the same time, Daniel repeated, “I don't know what you're talking about.”

“I slipped something your pocket earlier,” Jack advised.  He smiled, “You're not the only member of this family who knows covert operations.”

That made the archaeologist smile, so he slowly reached into the big pocket of the navy blue robe.  He felt something metal and slowly pulled it out.

“A key chain?”

“Look at it.”

Daniel raised his hand and studied the decorative part of the key chain.

“Of course, that's not the real thing, but it's amazing what crap is for sale out there,” Jack mused.  “It's ...”

“Atlantis,” both men spoke simultaneously.

“Danny, the one thing you've wanted to do for as long as I can remember is go to Atlantis.  I wouldn't let you go.”  When Daniel started to interrupt, Jack raised his hand, pressing two fingers against the younger man's lips.  “The couple of times you could have gotten there anyway, things happened and you never got there.”

“I'm where I want to be,” Daniel whispered emotionally.

“I know, and I thank the stars for that, but you need to live your dream.”

“What are you talking about?”

Jack pulled out a piece of paper he'd put into his pocket earlier, at the same time he'd retrieved the key chain.  It was on a routine trip to the bathroom.

“Read it.”

Carefully, Daniel unfolded the paper and quickly realized he was looking at the upcoming mission schedule.  Uncharacteristically, there was a large gap for SG-1.

“I pulled in some markers,” Jack explained.  “Hammond,” he sighed.  “I think he's pretty fed up with us forcing these things on him, but he's okay with it.  After all, we just saved the universe, again, and that was because of you mostly, again.  He knows this is for you, and he knows you're entitled to it.”

Once again, Daniel's eyes were watering.  He swallowed hard as he stared at the paper.  His heart was beating so face that he thought he might faint.  Jack had called it a dream, and for Daniel, it was.

“Three weeks, Daniel.  That's a three week gap, and it's all for us to go to Atlantis.”

“Jack, this is great except ... it takes three weeks to get there.”  Seeing his husband shaking his head, Daniel questioned, “Doesn't it?”

“It seems the Asgard have been experimenting with this sort of super, super hyperdrive.  It's more like a booster rocket, only it burns a helluva long time, days actually,” Jack explained.  “It's new, not perfected, but they've been doing a lot of test, zooming across space.  As a thank you for saving their little gray butts again, Thor's willing to take us to Atlantis.”

“How long?  I mean ... how long does it take?”

“According to Thor, that three week trip?  That's a snail.  With this rocket thing attached to The Daniel Jackson, he says the trip can be made in under six days.”

“Si...six ... six days?” Daniel queried in total disbelief.

“The IOA is feeling a little ... oh, let's call it stupid,” Jack continued.  “They don't have a problem with our vacation, and Weir's okay with it, too.  There's no mission, Danny.  You ... we will have free access to all of Atlantis.  You can stick your nose in their library, explore the place from top to bottom, or just enjoy the view, but from the time Thor beams us in, the place is ours to explore.  No meetings, no briefings, no permissions -- you do what you want.  We come home through the Stargate in time for that mission on the schedule.”

“Atlantis?” Daniel choked out emotionally.

“Atlantis, Angel, and this time, *nothing* is going to interfere with you're getting there because this time, I'm going with you.”

“Gawd, Jack,” Daniel called out, lunging forward and happily devouring his husband's mouth.  “Love you.  Love you so freakin' much.”

Jack would have returned the declaration, but he was too busy returning Daniel's passion.  This was a Valentine Day's that neither man would ever forget.

After four months of sadness, anxiety, and despair, Jack and Daniel were now on the brink of a brand new world, one that would include children of the human kind for the couple.  It was something they wanted passionately, so much so that after ten years, they were finally ready to walk away from the exploration of space, and Stargate Command.

What would Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson's future be?  They couldn't say, but all that mattered was that they were together, expanding their personal universe to something even more wonderful.  It was their destiny.  It's what had to be.  Everything that had happened in years past, all the tragedy and sadness that had occurred, and all the fighting, misunderstandings, and near separations that had transpired, had led up to this moment in time.

The same sex couple, living in a Don't Ask, Don't Tell military world had come full circle.  After zigging and zagging around their love, hiding and pretending it wasn't real to protect their careers and even their lives, now they would reveal to the world that they were indeed, Jack and Daniel, two strong-willed men who were madly in love.

At last, they were Jack and Daniel Jackson-O'Neill, a nation of two, forever and always, and always and forever eternally in love.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~
Feedback Welcome - click here to email the author


track all hits
Staples Coupons